I attended the Nebula Awards Conference for the Science Fiction Writers of America again this year. Even though I don’t qualify to buy a membership. Even though my Author Hat is not yet tough enough to protect me from panic sweats and queasy nerves in public venues. Even though…well, never mind the all the rest. That’s in the “Life Detours Art” post you can find on your own if you want.
Despite all the even thoughs, I learned so much at last year’s conference that I wound my courage to the sticking point and hit the Brave Button again. And I’m super-glad I did.
After one day of seminars I’d already earned my money’s worth, and I got to attend THREE MORE DAYS after that. Seminars on how to deliver a good reading. Seminars on work-writing balance. Seminars on how to navigate conventions as a creator who is still a fan. An hour of listening to C. J. Cherryh talk about this and that. (!!!!!!!) And lots more.
Both Nebulas conferences I’ve attended had a low-key atmosphere that reminds me of Borders sorts at their best: professionals who share a passion coming together to learn and do business and have a good time. It’s unique in all the SF gatherings I’ve attended so far.
This year the conference offered a program for early-career writers, which matched participants with an established writer as a con mentor. I can’t say enough good things about this program. I have never been able to stomach “New to the con?” orientations. One of the few things more terrifying than attending an event crowded with strangers is attending crowded event surrounded by strangers who I know don’t know what they’re doing. It pings some deep survival instinct, a reluctance to be labeled and cut from the herd for easy pickings. “Look!” I imagine some unknown predators saying to one another. “All the clueless newbies are in one place! Attack!”
I never said it was a rational fear. Only a deep and abiding one that has always deterred me from attending mixers and introduction dinners and all the rest.
But! One-on-one interaction with a cultural guide/experienced voice? A personal protector and source of knowledge? SIGN ME UP, I said, wishing I had a time machine to make this idea bloom two years ago when I needed it like air instead of merely needing it like food.
My mentor? Mary Robinette Kowal. Yeah. <picks self up from swoon> I could not have asked for a better conference shepherd. (And I have heard from others in the program that their mentors were equally awesome.) She was all things patient and helpful, supportive and available, and we share a proud love for the fantastic setting of Regency & Victorian England, so there was that too.
It’s a conference, not a convention, but it did have some of the trappings I now know are standard from being a big veteran of two classic SF conventions. Swag bag that has to be seen to be believed. Great con suite. The idea of free food for attendees still boggles me. I love it. (I wanted to volunteer, still squirming over having to back out because of Other Things…but I digress…) And more.
Anyhow. The conference also has the Nebula Awards banquet (notably decent food, superb company, and I only sort-of made an ass of myself, sorry, other guests) plus the Awards ceremony itself–this year hosted by John Hodgman, whose humor I adore. I can’t find any videos of his full opening speech yet, but it was chock-a-block with obscure Dune references and other nerdly delights.
It was a great four days. I made it through noon Sunday this year, which is a day longer than I lasted in 2015. Missed some post-con amazingness, but I am become ferocious about self-care now that I’m not the only person relying on me, and I was getting shakes by the time I boarded the train for home with one of the cool people I met last year (Hiya, Toni!) It took a full day+ of recup’ before I felt human again.
As the mood strikes throughout the year I’ll consult my notes and share what I learned in various sessions, but at least I’ve now covered the basics. It was phenomenal. I want to go next year even though it’s somewhere else. Pittsburgh, maybe?
The TL;DR version: if you write speculative fiction of any stripe and the SFWA Nebulas conference comes to a town within your reach (and especially if you can pre-register) I say DO IT.
Even if you never expect to buy into SFWA professional membership for reasons financial or political, even if you’re not part of “SF fan culture,” even if conventions overwhelm you, it’s still worth your time and cash. Truly. The other writers you will meet (aspiring, published, best-selling) the official events, the seminars, the HUGE BAG OF FREE NEW AND/OR UPCOMING BOOKS…it will be an unforgettable experience you can get in no other venue.
Here endeth the plug.
P.S. I’m not ashamed of using shoutycaps. Nope. Not even a little. It was that good.