Last year, I made a decision to commit fully to the “being a writer” thing. So, toward the end of last year, I asked some Bay Area-based writers on Twitter about local conventions. A number got back to me and enthusiastically recommended FOGcon.
The Friends Of Genre convention, which I attended this past weekend (March 10–12) in Walnut Creek, brands itself as a literary-themed Science Fiction and Fantasy convention which focuses on bringing together the speculative fiction community for the exchange of ideas and a mutual love for the literature of imagination. An inspiring and smile-inducing description, if you ask me.
So here’s my summary of the con experience, day-by-day:
I took Friday off work and drove to Walnut Creek about an hour-and-a-half before the con started. It took fifteen minutes to get there. I was excited, but nervous about waltzing into the convention space too far in advance, so I milled about, listening to The Divine Comedy audiobook before deciding to bite the proverbial bullet, park, and make my way into the hotel.
Shortly after I got settled in the convention space, badge around my neck, the first session started: a seventy-five minute writing session hosted by the con’s founder, Vylar Kaftan. The session was fantastic. I had a great time working on the exercises, and even managed to break some blocks I’d been facing on two long-form pieces I’d been working on in an on-again-off-again capacity over the last year. I was electrified. Sitting in a room full of people with similar interests, typing or scribbling away at ideas—there’s nothing quite like it.
The first panel I attended, Living Between, was ambitious in its scope. The intent behind the panel was to examine the huge array of non-binary existences that encompass the human experience—not just along gender lines, but all planes of our lives. While the panel itself was inspiring and somewhat difficult, my disappointment in it stemmed not from the conversation’s direction, but from the lack of connection about these real, lived experiences to authentic representation in fiction. I do not begrudge anyone the opportunity to share their emotional hurts; there’s catharsis in open expression, but I would have loved to tie it back to craft, to look at how I can do my part in telling non-binary stories of all kinds in a more effective way. But while the panel didn’t directly address craft, there was lots to unpack that can be applied to my writing going forward. For what it’s worth, a good panel.
The next panel was Medieval POC—inspired by the Tumblr blog of the same name—which focused on reframing our generally mistaken historical perspective on the homogeneity of Europe in the middle ages. Evidently, there was quite a bit more diversity at the time than most of us have been taught to believe. (No surprise there.) I took a few things away from that panel: a desire to read Remy Nakamura’s fiction, a curiosity for the wider world in the middle ages, and a one-liner that left me grinning: “Your idea of history is historically inaccurate.”
The final panel I attended that evening was Alternative Moral Perspectives, which spent a bit more time talking about sympathetic villains than really alternative morality that subverts or challenges every aspect of our moral framework. Nonetheless, another very interesting panel that cooked up a lot of philosophical questions that will only serve me as a writer in the future.
I missed the first panel, which I’d really been looking forward to, called My Driveway’s Underwater, So Now I Swim to Work—Climate Change and the Geography of Daily Life. Ah, well. Perhaps next time I’ll paddle out to the con early enough in the morning to make it on time.
The Gaze was a great panel, focusing on the way privileged, dominant groups view members of the groups they dominate—or anyone that doesn’t fit within that group’s purview. Again, there was less of a direct connection to either subverting the gaze or illustrating it effectively in craft, but the conversation was vital.
The Writer as Resistor was a panel that really kicked the conversation into high gear, for me. The same sense of unity and purpose that filled my every pore during the women’s march suffused the room, people genuinely wanting to put pen to paper and push for a better future.
But something new occurred to me during the panel, which I brought up (and was subsequently answered effectively). But I want to ask this of the ether, because I think the conversation is worth having again: We often write words for our peers, preaching to the choir and shoring up the walls of our own echo chambers. (Enough catchphrases/metaphors for ya?) How do we go about writing the fiction that today’s conservatives might want to read, and impress upon them, say, the benefits of collectivism and social democracy? Is that kind of subversion right? Is it what we want to do at all? How do we even get people to read in the first place?
The final panel for me on day 2 was on pitching, presentations, and proposals, and was supremely helpful across the board. The panel delved into the differences between the three, and the components of each. I don’t intend to go into the details here, but suffice it to say the panel was excellent.
I missed out on the evening’s festivities because I had to finish up some homework, but if photos are any indication, it was a fun-filled evening that I missed.
The day started with a panel on outlining, another craft-focused avalanche of information that was both informative and entertaining. It gave me new motivation to improve my outlook on—and skills in—outlining. ‘Nuff said.
The final panel of the con (for me, as I had to get back to that homework) was Speculative Fiction in the Age of Post-Truth. A provocative title indeed. As we careen out of control in the sociopolitical sphere, we are confronted with a question that would be funny, if it wasn’t so depressing: how do we create compelling fiction when reality has become so absurd?
The panel was interesting, but not hopeful—I doubt that was it’s intent. It raised intriguing points about psychology, technology, and sociology, and inspired introspection, especially in regards to personal, preconceived notions of the opinions and intelligence of those on the opposing end of the political spectrum.
Because nearly all of public dialogue has been infected with divisiveness and spin, because the notion of “fact” has been poisoned by a deliberate campaign to discredit Empirical Observation, because someone can say “the people are tired of experts” and not ruin his career—we find ourselves in a seemingly intractable conflict. On the one side, we have the ghost of fascism rearing its vile head—this isn’t hyperbole; the “alt right” movement is following the same steps as the fascists and Nazis did. On the other side, a utopian vision that of collectivism that, I worry, cannot come to pass until many economic issues are solved.
But I’m not here to talk politics. I’m here to talk about my experience at the con.
The con was wonderful. I met like-minded writerly folks that made me feel like I belonged. Not that I don’t generally feel a sense of belonging, though. The feeling was different at the con. When I looked around, I saw people typing or writing away, chatting excitedly about this-or-that book, and connecting with one another through a love of the written word. It was tremendous. I loved it.
I felt like asking questions. Like learning from this group of people who have pondered the questions I’ve pondered, engaged in the fantastical futures that I love, and get as excited about books with dragons on them as I do.
So, my first con experience was a success. Thanks, FOGcon, for showing me how wonderful it is to be part of the SpecFic community.
Also published on Medium.