ConFusion is a regional convention in Detroit, well organized by friendly staff who cook up interesting panel topics and are always on hand if you have any issues or concerns. The attendees are friendly and ask great questions of panelists, and there’s a larger author presence than I’ve usually seen at smaller conventions. If you’re actively trying to avoid well-known writers when you head to the bar, or even walk down the hallway, you’re out of luck.
I’ve made it a regular stop every year for the last three, when Saladin Ahmed first invited me up, and I’ve been looking forward to the return trip all winter.
I arrived in the Detroit area early Friday morning and then spent the day wandering around with my brother-in-arms (well, words), John Chris Hocking, and we had a fantastic visit, then a wonderful meal with his wife Cinda. Afterwards, Chris took me to three great Ann Arbor bookstores: The Dawn Treader, The Vault of Midnight, and Aunt Agatha’s, an award winning bookstore specializing in mystery. Given my newfound interest in noir (discussed here and here), it was a great place to be, and Hocking, being a noir expert, was a fabulous guide — not to mention a generous one. Not only did he present me with several duplicates from his own collection, he insisted on purchasing a number of books for me that I HAD to read. I eagerly accepted them. I don’t know that Hocking’s suggestions have ever steered me wrong.
While I was visiting with the mighty Hocking, a number of ConFusion authors were gathering for a massive archery contest off site. The convention itself got underway Friday afternoon; Hocking and I showed up around supper time and caught up with with my convention room mate, Brad Beaulieu. What a bright, gentlemanly person he is, with a fantastic work ethic. Even late at night Brad would come back to the room and edit or draft a little. By late at night I was ready to collapse, but not Brad.
I had to bid Hocking farewell until Sunday (when I tried to buy him a nice dinner and accidentally took him and his wife to one of the worst restaurants around — even the Coca-Cola was off) and then headed down to the hotel restaurant, ostensibly to join Brad and Justin Landon (of Staffer’s Reviews), although dinner went on so long and so many people rotated around the table it’s hard to remember who I spoke with when.
Once, long ago, I used to wonder why people went to conventions. If you’re wondering yourself, I addressed that in a practical essay for first-time con goers. While something of a con report, this particular essay is more of an illustration of what results from regular convention attendance.
John O’Neill once likened a convention to a reunion, which didn’t ring true to me until I’d been in the industry long enough to know various authors, editors, and fans. You learn about the industry. You mingle with other people who love the same stuff you do. You reconnect with people you like and admire, deepen friendships, and forge new ones.
For instance, now when I see Saladin Ahmed or Amy Sundberg my heart brightens a little and we instinctively embrace. A few years ago we were strangers, tentatively smiling or offering a hand in greeting, but now we’re fellow travelers and allies on this strange career path. Last year I had a few short conversations with author Michael J. Sullivan and his wife Robin, but this year I spent hours in their company. They’re caring people, full of wise words about the industry. Earlier this year I gamed with Howard Tayler at GenCon, but I didn’t get a chance to really know him until a lengthy chat over dinner Saturday. (I discovered that we were born in the same year, but that he arrived first, which means, alas, that he outranks me Howard wise.)
Another advantage of attending a convention is that you get to interact with people you’ve known primarily, or solely, over the Internet. Steve Drew, reddit fantasy co-ordinator and visionary, has been a friend and supporter for several years now, but I’d only met him electronically, and it was great to spend so much time in his company. He’s warm and genuine and generous. I met Justin Landon of Staffer’s Reviews two ConFusions ago where we had a brief chat about our shared knee trouble, but in the intervening years he read and championed my Dabir and Asim novels and we’ve become firm friends, which meant that speaking with him face-to-face this time was different from the first.
Much as I’d like there to be, there simply isn’t time to spend with everyone you wish. Brian McClellan and I had hoped to chat at some point, and we managed to exchange books, but by the time we were across from each other with spare time it was late Sunday and I was about as interactive as a stale bagel. Fortunately, Howard Tayler was there with interesting details about painting miniatures, so no one at the table was left with the impression that Howards are boring.
Between panels or in the early mornings I found myself sitting down with a number of my favorite industry people — John Klima, Michael Underwood, Myke Cole, Dave Wohlreich, Patrick Tomlinson, Kameron Hurley, Nancy Fulda, Al Bogdan, Sam Sykes, Janet Harriet — but, see, now I’m in danger of turning this post into a name check list. As much as I enjoyed all of these conversations, you probably have little to no interest in hearing me recount EVERYBODY I saw and spoke with.
You meet new people as well. For instance, at the big reddit “Ask Me Anything” gathering, where multiple authors were in the same room at laptops answering questions from across the Internet, I encountered Matthew Thyer, a writer new on the scene who’s kind, well-spoken, and funny. I’m looking forward to reading his book, The Big Red Buckle, which I purchased at the con.
Speaking of books purchased at the con, I picked up the graphic novel Clockwork Game after I saw John Scalzi sitting with it, and was soon marveling at the artwork and font. Scalzi waved over its talented creator, Jane Irwin, so she could hear the marveling.
Later that same evening I got to kick back with Scalzi for an honest and insightful discussion about careers and healthful approaches to life itself, immediately followed by a similarly deep discussion with Amy Sundberg about finding one’s way amid the expectations of others. Then Sam Sykes pulled me away because he and Justin Landon and a few others decided that Ian Tregillis and I looked enough alike that we could be brothers.
The next thing I knew we two strangers were posed beside one another for a photo (It’s not an especially GOOD photo). Afterward Ian and I turned to make polite conversation and then discovered so many mutual interests that we sat and talked in the bar for the rest of the night. Both of us have recently found the magic of Raymond Chandler’s prose, and were quoting Roger Zelazny and Vance to one another. We shared writing tips and tricks and worries… in short, tossed together as strangers as sort of a lark, we discovered we were kindred spirits. It could only have happened at a convention. (Just this morning I recalled a review of The Desert of Souls that mentioned Ian’s first book in the same breath as mine and I now wonder why I’ve never looked into his writing before. It’s something I’ll remedy as soon as possible.)
I have a little more to say about the panels and events at the con over on my own web site.
Howard Andrew Jones is the author of the historical fantasy novels The Desert of Souls and the The Bones of the Old Ones, as well as the related short story collection The Waters of Eternity, and the Paizo Pathfinder novels Plague of Shadows and Stalking the Beast. You can keep up with him at his website, www.howardandrewjones.com, and keep up with him on Twitter or follow his occasional meanderings on Facebook.