Approaching Cons as a Professional Writer

I just returned from a fabulous Sirens, where this year I was reader, presenter, writer, and staff, a new intersection of roles for me. As always, I’ve returned with a lot of thoughts, more a coalescence of ideas accumulated over years of cons rather than a response to a particular experience. (Which is to say, if you think I’m talking about you, unless you know I think of you as a scholar and a gentleperson, you’re probably wrong.)

I’ve had a chance to attend a variety of cons over the last few years before traditionally publishing, which has given me time to realize I have opinions not just on what kind of writer I want to be in the sense of storytelling, but also on what kind of public professional I want to be. I hear writers talk regularly about their public internet/social media presence, but less about the way they approach con-going. Professional writers go to different cons for different reasons, those broadly being:

  • Networking/Meetings
  • Learning craft
  • Selling books
  • Being with friends who get you

Attending a con will usually involve some combination of those goals, but some cons are better for particular priorities. Big cons–like book expos or comic cons–are the best way to get books in front of lots of fans. A tiny regional con or workshop is a better bet for craft. A genre establishment con–WFC, Nebulas, RT–is going to have a high density of pros, which is ideal for scheduling meetings with a lot of publishing professionals.

A con is also an investment: of money, and of time. In general, writers are paying their own way to these events, and they’re events that take time away from writing and editing. More than that, they’re exhausting, physically and emotionally. It’s hard to be “on” all the time. Add to that, a lot of professional writers are introverts. Being social, in public, with people we don’t know, is hard.

But writing is also a job. Cons are, ideally, rejuvenating in a personal fashion, but for a professional writer, they’re also work. I think it’s important to consider what writers get out of cons, and what they want to get out of them, and what that means in terms of approach.

It’s possible for writers to only talk to people at cons they already know–whether because they have many people to catch up with after years of attending a con or years of being away, or many meetings scheduled, or overwhelming shyness and enormous relief that they’re no longer fighting to break in, that they have their group, that they don’t have to put themselves in awkward social situations anymore.

It’s not only possible, it’s easy. It sometimes takes more effort to not end up only talking with people I already know, and I’m glad I’ve had the chance to learn to be aware of that so I don’t, because I think it’s a huge missed opportunity. If I only wanted to talk to friends, I could schedule a retreat, or set up a private group chat. Part of the value of cons is not just bringing together people I already know, but people I don’t already know.

When I go to cons, I want to make deep connections–in ideas, and in relationships. I always want to learn, grow, and make friends.

And not just with other writers and publishing professionals. Readers are smart. Some of the most insightful story craft and emotionally supportive discussions I’ve had were with people who will never type a word of fiction in their lives.

I do also want to make friends with people in my field, but the idea of “networking” without friendship fills me with unease–the kind of hollow foundation it implies in my head is harder for me to navigate than the prospect of demonstrating sincere interest in people and knowing them better. That I don’t have to fret about how to do well, because I am interested–if anything I’ll have more trouble keeping my interest in hearing absolutely everything contained.

So here it is: if I go to a con you’re also at, I want to meet you. No matter whether you’ve been in the industry for decades or never been to a con in your life, I want to hear what you’re excited about, and I want to have a conversation about it and not just small talk.

That’s a choice, and every choice has consequences. I know it means I won’t sleep enough in favor of talking with people, and although I’m an introvert I won’t spend much, let alone enough, time alone. I know it means I’ll need to compensate for the sleep deprivation with making sure to eat extremely healthily, which is often complicated at a con. I know it means I need to stock up on introversion before and after a con, that I’ll lose another day to get my body and mind back in working order. I know it means I need to schedule time at the con, not just to see my friends, but to make sure I have time to see people who aren’t already my friends. I know it means I’ll end up in conversations I want to flee, and I’ll miss visiting with some people I care about.

But I’ll also make new friends, and I’ll have conversations and thoughts I couldn’t have had otherwise. That’s the goal, and that’s the reward.

Cons are a balance, and for every person that balance falls differently. Selling books isn’t currently a top priority for me, for instance–but even once it is, I don’t think my choice on this will change much. One of the professional benefits of putting effort into a public presence is to help readers feel personally connected to writers, which encourages them to buy books and spread the word, and in my experience conversations are way more likely to establish connections than listening to someone sitting up on a panel pedestal. For another, everyone has different mental and physical health needs, but I’ve had time to learn how to balance mine in a con setting. Not everyone can make the same choice I do, nor should they necessarily want to.

But I know how much I’ve valued the people over the years who have taken the time to be patient, to listen, to take me seriously, to engage with me earnestly and thoughtfully, to see me when I’ve been alone. How much it’s mattered, and how much I’ve learned. And I know that’s the kind of professional writer I want to be.

So the next time we’re at the same con, I hope we get a chance to talk. I want to hear what you’re excited about.

experiments in defensive fortifications


Scandinavia Itinerary

I’m heading off to Scandinavia shockingly soon HOW IS IT TIME ALREADY. O_O


I’ll be at Histories of the Future in Uppsala, Sweden on August 4th and 5th for a conference on the legacy of empire and the SFF genre, which I am extremely excited about.

From there I’ll be doing actual, you know, vacation-ing, on account of traveling all the way to Scandinavia anyway, spending the next few days in Stockholm, Sweden and Bergen, Norway.


And then I’m on to Helsinki for WorldCon! This will be my first WorldCon, and it looks like it’s going to set the bar pretty high. I’m more a creature of small cons (where small cons are, like, 100 people, for context), so we’ll see how this goes! I have loaded a shocking number of books onto my ereader to stock up on introversion in advance. =)

I’ll be arriving in Helsinki in the afternoon on August 10th. If you’re going to be at WorldCon too, ping me and let’s hang out!

Our Archetypal Hero

I want to try to recapture the essence of a conversation over dinner at 4th Street Fantasy before any more details seep away. (I call on dinner companions Jen, Steve, Nicole, Aliza, Lydy, and Skyler to supplement if I miss something important or get this horribly wrong.) If you’ve never had the pleasure of meeting Skyler White, one of the things you should know about her is that she asks the most interesting questions.

Here’s the basic premise: different ages invent and popularize different archetypal heroes in relation to fears and values within the context of their times. Take, for instance, Sherlock Holmes: emerging into the public consciousness at a time when our understanding of science fundamentally changes along with the philosophy of rational thinking after the Age of Reason, Sherlock gives us a hero who can use science and deductive reasoning fluently. Moreover, in a time becoming increasingly centered in cities and crime rising accordingly, Sherlock applies skills and mindset unique to his time and place to solve societal problems particular to that time and place.

So the question, then, is what is our archetypal hero?

I submit two archetypes for consideration.

The first is the conman-as-hero. They’re all over the place these days, in our books (for instance, The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch) and our TV shows (“Leverage,” “Burn Notice”…). I could list contemporary examples forever. What conmen are doing specifically is manipulating identity. In a fast-paced, rapidly changing, increasingly surveilled world, conmen-heroes can change their public identity as needed while still maintaining a firm sense of self, private and separate from their public personae. And they use this ability to fight the powerful on behalf of those abused by power with no viable (legally, financially, etc.) recourse. (I trust I don’t need to elaborate on why that problem resonates in our culture?)

The second archetype I propose is the tech-savvy (cool/hipster) nerd. These are the characters (like Hardison on, again, “Leverage,” or Tony Stark, or let’s not even get me started on SFF book examples) who are hyper-competent at using technology that the general populace is surrounded by but doesn’t really understand, anything from robotics to coding. These tech-savvy heroes navigate technology adeptly and successfully for largely the same reasons as the conmen-heroes: subverting power. In the wake of increasing awareness of how technology is abused and used to infringe on our rights by our own government and massive corporations, the notion of being able to use the tools available to us to protect our date and our selves also really resonates.

What do you think?

Dinner at 4th Street

4th Street Fantasy

4th Street Fantasy is a small con in Minneapolis, a little over 100 people attending this year. Unlike most SFF cons I’m familiar with, it is much less business-focused but very interested in craft. Most con panels I can take or leave, it’s mostly things I’ve heard before, but at 4th Street the panels are fascinating, riveting. Even better, the whole weekend is like an extended conversation, and everyone is delighted to launch into further explorations of the topics over meals. One of the ways it accomplishes that is with one-track programming, so everyone has a shared vocabulary of how to talk about the subjects outside, and also by keeping it small.

If you go to cons only to make connections with editors and agents, this con isn’t for you. If you want to improve your craft and think about the hows and whys of story writing, then it absolutely is.

Last year, I was mostly silent in the corner, listening and absorbing. Not so this year. Partially because I’ve relearned how to interact with people in group settings, but more because I understood what kind of con this was.

By which I mean, it’s the kind of con where I can get into the nerdiest of arguments. Argument is the easiest way for me to learn about my own thoughts and others’ ideas, and I found people at 4th Street happy to oblige me. I’ll expound on something we came up with over dinner in a few days, when my brain has recovered from con.

So anyone who knows me well is going, “No wonder Casey had a good time if she got to argue with people and nerd out!” Seriously, best. Everything from story structure, to investment in relation to suspension of disbelief, to voice as charisma in characterization, to the relative merits and definitions of genre distinctions, no subject was too sacred.

4th Street is not just about improving fantasy, though; it’s also about building community. Minneapolis hosts an active fandom, but this con (by which I mean Elizabeth Bear and Steve Brust’s powers of word-of-mouth) draws fabulous people from all over. Favorite authors and Twitter friends descended, and multiple Viable Paradise classes invaded this year. For me, that meant a mini-reunion with VP classmates, who are equally ready to fence about storytelling into the wee hours of the night or to collectively retreat to make words together. Even better than the discussions is reveling in the feeling of Tribe.

Arun Jiwa, Nicole Lisa, me, Aliza Greenblatt

VP 16 Mini-Reunion: Arun Jiwa, Nicole Lisa, me, Aliza Greenblatt

I ran out of braining capacity Sunday afternoon, but I had a good run until then. Best people, best conversations. Wonderful con.

Now to sleep the sleep of the just.

All The Deadlines

I know I’ve been quiet around these parts lately. A number of deadlines just converged on me suddenly. It’s strangely fortuitous I’m unemployed for the moment or this would be madness. (It’s already kind of madness.)

My drama project is on hold indefinitely, for those who’ve been asking: its main job was to help me re-learn how to have fun writing, because the Novel of Doom left me in a not-great place. That purpose accomplished, it can wait while I focus on other projects. So here’s what I’m up to now:


  1. Editing and Submission Packet Prep

I’m starting to get beta feedback for SHADOWCAST back, and it’s been pretty positive (so far, anyway). Obviously there’s work to do, but the comments are not in the vein of “BURN EVERYTHING IT’S THE ONLY WAY,” so. I’m trying out a complete rewrite of the first chapter for Cascade Writers (First submission deadline: met!), and I’ll tackle the rest of the edits in July. I’d like to have the bulk of the editing, the query letter, and the synopsis done before Cascade, but realistically it’ll probably take much of August, too. I’m also going to take a look at SOUL HARVESTER again now that it’s been out for a while and see if there are any tweaks to make. I want to be actively submitting both of these novels in September.


  1. The Rising Wall

My friend Katie from Sirens is putting together this really cool thing. If you’ve read Mira Grant’s Newsflesh series, you may be aware that the zombie apocalypse has begun. With Seanan McGuire’s blessing, Katie is building the Wall from the series, which means she’s collecting from fans and friends fictional posts from bloggers during the early weeks of the Rising. I haven’t actually read this series of hers, but Katie’s put together an introduction and cheat sheet, so if you want to play too let me know! The deadline for the blogs isn’t flexible, since we have to match timing with what’s canon in the books. This is such a fun idea, and I’m really excited.


  1. Drafting a Short Novel

Here’s the real kicker. Let’s rewind about a year and a half.

I’ve just finished Viable Paradise and my brain is melting out of my ears. I go deep into edits for SOUL HARVESTER for a couple weeks, attend my first World Fantasy, and then think I’m going to do NaNoWriMo when I’m already starting a week late, I have no plan, and my brain is still reeling from the last few weeks. Haha! Oh, past Casey.

So I write about 8k, decide I need to switch from close third to first person, rewrite the whole thing, get up to about 20k, and promptly run out of gas. Hitting a wall at 20-30k is part of my process; I take a break at that point to work on another project for a while and then pound out the rest of the first draft in one go a few months later. For this one, deciding to abandon it was easy. It had been a post-VP experiment and NaNo novel, and I could already tell even if finished it would clock in around 50-60k max. For adult high fantasy, that’s a hard length to sell. I still liked it, but I had no pressing need to finish, so I put it aside.

Back in the present day, some of you may have seen the announcement for the Imprint toward the end of May. They’re going to be publishing short novels, novellas (yes those are two different lengths), and serials. I read this and went, Hey hold on. I had a thing…

I took a look at that partial draft. Some problems, unsurprising given a) it was a NaNo rough draft and b) my brain was in a puddle when I wrote it, but overall I liked what I was seeing. So I looked at the announcement again: they’re taking unsolicited submissions through August.

And I thought, Do I have time to do the thing…? I WILL DO THE THING.

I figure if I can draft and get it cleaned up by the end of June, that gives me all of July to get feedback, and then in August I can edit like the wind and submit before the window closes. I spent a couple days doing some light editing to refamiliarize myself with the story, outlined myself out of the hole, and leapt into the word mines.


SO. Deadlines. A lot of editing. Once I have it under control, I’m picking up the YA mecha space opera novel draft again (where I reached the 30k point and switched projects), because robot battles in space. That’s my light at the end of the tunnel, but I have to make it there first — bearing in mind I have two cons in the next month and also need to acquire a new part-time job.


Norwescon Wrap-Up

Last weekend was my first Norwescon, and it was a blast. Norwescon is one of those old-school SFF cons: this was year 37. Aside from Anime Boston, this is also the biggest con I’ve attended to date, with something like 5,000 attendees (I don’t know where that estimate came from, but I believe it: I waited for about 40 minutes just to get my con badge). It was held in the same hotel as FaerieConWest, so I wasn’t quite as lost as I could have been, and I kept meeting and running into people happy to help me out.

My favorite panels were on completely disparate topics: Viking era clothing and directed energy weaponry. The writing track panels are geared toward beginning writers, and they weren’t particularly useful for where I’m at. I’m finding this to be a trend at most cons, with the glaring exception of 4th Street.

From the dealer’s room I came away with tea from Friday Afternoon, which specializes in blends for nerds (she’s got D&D, Firefly, and BSG themes). I got cards from a couple of other shops I would have liked to patronize, but — PRO TIP — if your website is inaccessible, poorly navigable, or requires me to change obscure coding in order for it to function, I’m out. Don’t make it hard for me to give you money.

The best part of Norwescon for me was talking with friends and meeting people in either the hotel bar (which is really not set up for ease-of-bar-con) and the parties. I helped host a get-together for Cascade Writers, and I got to hang out with folk from Rainforest and from the SF2W meet-ups. It’s strange to realize I’m actually starting to know a fair number of repeat offenders at SFF events in the area; maybe I’m finally starting to put down some roots in the Pacific Northwest. Or maybe I’m just beginning to learn my way around SFF-dom and cons.

It bears mentioning that there are sort of two separate worlds at Norwescon., which helps me understand a little better why RustyCon and FaerieConWest weren’t the right fit for me. There’s one world where most of the writing industry pros frequent, between their panels, the bar, and the presidential suite, and they tend to be pretty low-key.

The other world is for the fans and for fan culture. Having not come up through cons and fandom, this world is the one that to me seems wondrous and strange. For instance, evidently the Red Gnomes (so discerned by their pointy hats) and the Cult of Scott Bakula (“Because His Career Died for Your Sins,” you see — they have a life-size cardboard cutout and everything) have merged. There are also yearly room parties where people have collected strobe lights and blacklights and lava lamps, brought in their own DJs and sound systems, covered suites floor to wall to protect from damage, moved beds elsewhere to set up a bar (with a bouncer at the door to check IDs and stamp) and a dance floor, and people arrive in varying degrees of undress or elaborate costumes. And I’m not talking about a single party occurrence here. The parties I popped into were all awesome and welcoming — I also want to give props to Norwescon for posting signs all over that read “Cosplay is Not Consent” — but those gatherings are otherwise Not At All like those of the other world.

My main regret is that I missed most of the singing. I got to hear some of Vixy and Tony’s concert, which was gorgeous, but I missed Seanan McGuire’s entirely. I also find it irritating that apparently SakuraCon and Norwescon are intentionally scheduled for the same weekend every year, because apparently you can’t be a fan of both anime and books at the same time. -_-

I did skip Sunday entirely for my sanity, and really it’s a wonder I remained mostly coherent and socially competent for that long, since I had total novel brain. On Monday I finished the rough draft of the Novel of Doom, so named for how it has been weighing on me for so long. The first draft clocks in at about 147,000 words, making it the longest I’ve ever written.

I’ll save comments on quality and experience for another time, and I do want to do a writing statistics post at some point (because numbers and metrics are fun!), but for now I’ll just say that since going part-time, in a little over two months I wrote nearly 100,000 words. I’m not wasting any time with this. I beat my end-of-April deadline (so no indiscriminate punching: you’re all safe), and I refuse to even look at that monster until June. In the meantime I’m getting back to all the many things (XD) I pushed in March and April and starting a New Shiny story.

Semi-coherent Reflections on Rainforest

Last week I attended the second session of Rainforest Writers Village Retreat in Lake Quinault, Washington. Going in, I was kind of worried.

A lot of that has to do with a recent flare of imposter syndrome. I’ve been struggling a lot to get this story out at all, let alone at the speed I would prefer. I was nervous everyone would already know each other and no one would talk to me and I would sit quietly in my introvert corner staring blankly at a screen unable to write more than a thousand or two words the whole time. I was worried I’d disappoint myself.

Happily, that’s not at all what happened.

As with Viable Paradise, I came away from this week with the feeling that I’ve found another branch of my tribe. Even when I awkwardly introverted, people were consistently welcoming, supportive, and wonderful. I went in nervous and left sad to part, empowered to go forward, and hopeful for the future. The best possible outcome.

And as for the time there, well. There is something very focusing about communal writing, and there is something about writing communities that almost promises music.

Afternoon Invasion of the Lodge

Afternoon Invasion of the Lodge

Much ukulele. Very singing. Such Jonathan Coulton. Many antimaths. Wow.

Much ukulele. Very singing. Such Jonathan Coulton. Many antimaths. Wow.

Photo credit to Andrew, who took some truly incredible photos over the course of the retreat. I also feel compelled to say that Rainforest is held in an absolutely gorgeous location, which was more relevant than I’d anticipated. This (just about the only photo in this post not taken by Andrew) was the view from the sitting room attached to the room I stayed in:

Lake View

In the days leading up to Rainforest, my worries drove me to outline next few chapters pretty extensively. By Friday night, I’d written so much that I ran out of outline. Saturday morning I hiked through the forest over waterfalls until I had enough to move forward again, and I actually got through all the chapters I’d wanted to write there.

In the course of the retreat, there were some excellent talks, but Fran Wilde’s about the care and keeping of deadlines was exactly the one I needed to hear. I really like deadlines and find them motivating, but when I’m overwhelmed, missing deadlines then becomes THE WORST THING. Because what I consider one of my strengths becomes the thing that is causing me to let people down in a cascading way. And I hate that.

My father has always been fond of saying that the first rule of holes is to stop digging. I’m working on it. Removing myself (literally and electronically — there was pretty much no connection of any kind functioning there) from dealing with other aspects of life at Rainforest helped me get a grip on one of my biggest stressors right now: the belief that I can write this book at all, and that it matters.

That probably sounds ridiculous — both that particular fear and that it’s been stressing me out to such a degree. In all seriousness, I love this story so much, but I feel like I’ve been slogging through this book on and off forever. It is gnawing at my brain. I’ve written and edited whole other novels in the time I haven’t finished this monster. It’s been the deadline I have pushed and pushed and pushed until I’ve driven myself crazy with my failure to actually finish the damn thing, because it feels like as long as I can’t finish this, this story that matters to me so much, I can’t finish, or do, anything.

And, come to think of it, I think maybe this is part of the reason I’ve been so anxious about writing this story. A major part of my protagonist’s character arc is coinciding perfectly with my life right now. Not in the fun way. Writing it is both cathartic and excruciating, but at least at Rainforest I made some serious headway.

So, um, yes. My fear about utter word count fail? Unfounded. Over four days, I wrote about 25,000 words. And they aren’t crap words, either. We had a bit of a competition going, and in the end I actually got first pick of prizes for writing the most of anyone in our session (though I’m reasonably convinced the Marks let me win).

First Choice

My prize — don't think I'm going to forget, Patrick =).

My prize — don’t think I’m going to forget, Patrick =).

I read the prologue of this novel aloud  a first for me  and got some very positive feedback, though I’m not terribly shocked to learn I need to speak more slowly.

I’m getting the next section organized now. I’ll keep pushing through. And best of all, I’m back at a mental place where that prospect excites me.