I’m still glowing from Back to the Confusion (2015), So many great people, so many explosively creative ideas. I just started going to conventions in 2012 and that year’s Epic Confusion was my first real con experience. (MoCon IV back in 2009 was technically my first “convention” but that jewel-like gathering is something so very special and wonderful that it doesn’t seem proper to call it a convention.) Though I adore Confusion, this is the first one I feel I really did “right” and part of that was due to actually listening to something I’d heard said for years: “The writers are in the bar.”
Last year, I remember wishing I could bump into some of the other authors in a casual situation like at a room party and I felt vaguely disappointed that I must have kept missing authors on the room party circuit. I humorously conjectured a super-secret party where the writers hung out. Yeah, “the writers are in the bar.” I’d heard variants of this statement for years but found clever ways to misunderstand. I always figured the classic formulation merely repeated that eye-roll-worthy cliché that “all writers are drunks.” When I heard, for instance, “Look for <Famous Author> in the bar” I took it to be a sour-grapes-y comment about this author’s non-participation in fandom. At the last Context, Jennifer Brozek even mentioned a word to describe this phenomenon, namely “bar con,” or “the practice of connecting with other writers in the bar.” For crying out loud, Maurice Broaddus said he hasn’t paid for a particular convention in years which I initially took to mean he was so famous he was comped. “No,” he corrected me explicitly, “I just hang out in the bar.”
Still, I didn’t grok it.
I am a fan of consciousness, of the mysterious processes surrounding awareness and learning and enlightenment so it’s amusing to me how I “knew” all these things only on the level that I had heard those words, parsed that grammar… and interpreted it all completely wrong.
Until Friday night.
After all the panels had closed but before the room parties cranked up, I took one last stroll around the hotel and found one area crowded with folks. Folks I recognized. Other writers. Until that very instant, I might have argued that the hotel didn’t even have a bar. Come to find out, it had one and that really was where all the writers were.
I stumbled in like Alice into Wonderland, entirely unprepared for what I found. I saw folks who I knew were teetotalers, just hanging around chatting with others. I got it, sort of, namely, they’re not drinking; they’re just “in the bar.” I stammered out a couple embarrassing sentences or two to a few folks. I got to show off my Krampus mask to Mary Robinette Kowal, which was a win. But after one drink, I scurried back to my room.
It was long after my usual bedtime but I must confess, I’m not a “let’s just hang out kind of guy.” The idea of, say, lying on a beach fills me with dread and anxiety. I would far rather be making something, fiddling with something, breaking something. Parties terrify me. Part of this neurosis, one that drew me to writing in the first place, is the sense that I’m only wearing a human-suit, that I don’t even understand how humans interact and that someday, they’ll notice I’m not really like them and they’ll mount up with pitchforks and torches to drive me into an abandoned windmill or something. Nothing feels quite so artificial to me as acting natural.
But on Saturday night, I rolled sixes with my ability to chill. Confusion, like a great dungeon master, assisted in this achievement. At 8:00 PM, I was on a delightful panel about Books and Beer. Steve Drew had done great homework and assembled a nice variety of questions as well as a nice selection of fantasy-themed beer. (Like what? I recall a Smaug Stout http://www.beeradvocate.com/beer/profile/684/134742/?ba=LiquidAmber)
Fellow panelist Michael J. DeLuca brought examples of his homebrew (including a stellar hot pepper and chocolate nib stout). We sipped and pondered topics like Dwarven Ale (what the hell did they have to ferment in those dark tunnels?) and why the Ale-wyfe isn’t a standard character class in more spec fic. The conversation persisted after the panel ended and drifted, oddly enough, bar-ward. Without really noticing what I was doing, I kept chatting about beer and beer-brewing, a topic I feel comfortable with and before I knew it, I was one of those writers in the bar.
Hours rolled by. I chatted with other writers about deadlines, both ones that whiz by and ones that glare down when stacked one after the other. We bantered about sympatico agents and the soul-killing ennuie of searching for that first one. I heard candid commentary on the Clarion and Odyssey writing workshops. We shared our different strategies about how to get those damned words on those blasted pages, including Kameron Hurley’s utterly fascinating idea of hammering out 10,000 words on Saturdays. Gotta try it. Interspersed was more idle speculation about, say, what Mary Robinette Kowal had in her flask (Laphroig, I believe the answer was,) duck feather pillows and whether Desperate Housewives has/should have a fandom.
In other words, I successfully passed for human. Achievement unlocked.
As I re-read this post, I blush at how name-drop-y it sounds. I started to edit out specific identities but darnitall, that’s kind of the point, isn’t it? Hanging out seems to be about individual persons speaking to other individual persons, whomever they might be, hearing each other, listening and at least sometimes understanding. One enduring value of fan-run conventions, whether it be a moderately large one like ConFusion or a tiny miracle like MoCon, is that meeting folks face to face is fundamentally different from chatting on a computer. I learned more this weekend than in a hundred AMAs or dozens of blog posts.
The writers are in the bar and next Con, I’ll be there too.