A new and different look at conventions.

When my husband and I were first married, he was expected to attend a national business convention in his field each January, and since these were held in interesting places like Miami, Las Vegas, and New Orleans,  I took my own vacation from work at the same time and went along.

This was back in olden times when business heads were male, therefore convention planners organized day-long events for wives who had come. I  can’t remember what was planned for the women, because I never attended. Though I wasn’t really involved in my husband’s business, I went to the men’s meetings as an observer, sitting silently in the back of enormous meeting rooms full of suits.

Of course there were the usual strategy speakers, discussions of advertising campaigns, and so on, and many were interesting.  But you know what I remember best? The comradery.

During breaks those guys, whether they’d met before or not, greeted, slapped backs, smiled, laughed, joked, and even had semi-serious discussions. No one was a stranger.  Passersby were invited in shouts to come join a group, offer ideas, tell a joke. I stood in corners and watched. It looked like loads of fun.

“It’s a guy thing,” I thought.

Many years later I attended a convention of my own. It was Bouchercon in Austin, Texas, 2002, and I was a newly published mystery author.  This was even bigger than my husband’s long-ago business conventions, and, unexpectedly, I felt bewildered and overwhelmed.  Everyone but me seemed to know a lot of people, and also know exactly where to go and why. A majority of the attendees this time were female, but I was still the observer, watching groups of women I didn’t know chatting, laughing, telling jokes, and having semi-serious business discussions. I walked up to a few groups, got smiles, but stood back as the conversations continued.  What was wrong here?

Was it me? Was I destined to be the always outsider?

At that Bouchercon, yes, I was. I was an introvert, uncertain of protocol. I had no mental guidelines based on previous contacts. In other words, I hadn’t a clue how to be a part of all this comradery!

Did this ever change?  You bet, because I did! At smaller conferences and conventions in my area, I learned.  I swallowed my hesitation, gulped, joined chatting groups, listened, and even dared ask questions or offer ideas.  In no time at all, I was a part of what was happening. I was an “insider.”

Since that time I’ve been to dozens of relatively small writer’s conferences (for learning), and conventions (learning and bookselling to fans), in the central United States where I live. I’ve spoken or appeared on panels at a majority of them. And I’ve loved enjoying sisterhood and brotherhood connections at all of them.  I’ve learned I can go up to folks I’ve never seen in my life and begin a conversation.  I can also have normal conversations (!) with those deemed most famous and favored in my profession without a single blush or hesitation.  At these events, we’re all real folks. We understand each other, and 99% of us are willing to extend a hand offering friendship and help to fellow attendees.

I love it!

In recent years I’ve attended three of the largest writer’s conventions in the world:  Malice Domestic in the Washington, D.C. area, Left Coast Crime when it visited El Paso, and, recently, Bouchercon in St. Louis.

The 2011 St. Louis Bouchercon was huge. Big, rabbit-warren of a hotel, meetings and panels on two floors, other events and conversations  scattered everywhere.  I had a wonderful time, (whether I got lost in the crowds or not),  and would go again in a heartbeat.

What brought me into full-time participation?  Simply understanding that, at these events, no one needs to play the part of a stranger.  If I want to confine myself to the position of observer, I can. But, introvert or not, I now leap into the river of humanity and swim as part of the whole school.  I act like a comrade, therefore I AM ONE, giving and receiving.  And I love it!

Meet me at a conference, or at http://www.RadinesBooks.com

 

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7 Responses to “A new and different look at conventions.”

  1. Jenny Milchman Says:

    I hope to see you at one before too long, Radine! I expect to be a bit on pins and needles at my first Malice next month…

  2. Gayle Bartos-Pool Says:

    It is hard for new writers or longtime introverts to cut through the fear and join the conversation, but you are totally right that writers are a nice group. We’ve all been there on the outside, but it only takes a step to be on the inside. Thanks for encouragement.

  3. Sunny Frazier Says:

    Yeah, Bcon is overwhelming and one needs to work up to it, like training for a marathon. Get your footing at smaller, local cons. The key is to network; I meet people, exchange business cards and immediately contact them when I get home to strengthen the connection. With Left Coast Crime, the West Coast writers feel like it’s a class reunion. We become familiar with each other and can’t wait to hear news.

    None of this happens if you stay at home.

  4. Mary Lee Barton Says:

    I’m so grateful for this blog post! I’m attending my first conference at the end of March–Left Coast Crime–and I’m going by myself. I was wondering whether I’d feel like an outsider, especially since I’ve only published nonfiction. I feel much better about joining in conversations now.

    • radine Says:

      Mary Lee, I wish I could be there to say hello. And, as you can tell, most of us have had to break through that outsider feeling in the beginning! Forge ahead!

  5. radine Says:

    I was at a conference Saturday that was geared for beginning writers, and most expressed qualms about conferences/conventions. I have also read several questions about Malice on DorothyL, all of them designed so answers would help the one writing feel more comfortable from the get-go. Oh my, could I identify with how these people felt.

    Sunny says it all above. I can’t attend the biggies often enough to feel that class reunion high, but certainly did at Mayhem in the Midlands, (Nebraska) Hardboiled Heroes and Cozy Cats, (Texas)and The Manhattan Mystery Conclave (Kansas). All of these have closed, and they are sure missed, especially by those of us who can’t easily travel long distances to attend a convention or conference..

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