01 August 2009

Are we having fun yet?

Greg, cartoonist and spouse person, discovered something amazing at Otakon July 17-19: you can have fun at a convention.

After all the years I’ve been babbling about DragonCon, you’d think this would be a no brainer. In the midst of illness, career chaos and grief, I always made time for the con my writing partner called “the world’s greatest summer camp for wayward adults”.

But Greg's been too busy trying to get ahead at the comic and anime cons he’s attended over the past three years to lean back and smell the pocket programs. However, at this year’s Otakon, Baltimore’s gi-normous fan-run anime and Asian culture con, there weren’t any programs which would add to his digital skill set. No industry professionals to impress. No vendors with gadgets or applications he needed to assess. The only thing he could do was indulge his inner Ghost in the Shell fan boy, and attend panels and raves for pure enjoyment.

To his astonishment, he had a blast. Not only that, he got a tremendous egoboo when Kittyhawk, creator of the hysterical web comic Valkyrie Yuuki, recognized his name and cartoon blog, Intravenous Caffeine.

That same week, I hung out at the Romance Writers of America national conference. I wasn’t officially there. I opted not to spend the roughly $500 registration fee and who knew how much in hotel costs to attend conference functions (like the members’ meeting or mass book signings) guaranteed to stress me out.

Instead, I toured the Washington, DC, with friends, attended parties like the From the Heart Romance Writers Meet and Greet, the Samhain Publishing party and the Harlequin 60th anniversary bash where nobody checked my ID at the door. I tried to be the sort of person other folks wanted to be around, but I wasn’t “on the clock”, wondering whether the next person I met could advance my writing career or damn me to the outer dark forever.

Naturally, I couldn’t move without tripping over high-powered agents, chatting up bestselling writers or hanging with “people to watch”. We laughed a lot. Everybody had a good time, and even though I was very careful not to sell or pitch or do anything that might be construed as business, people encouraged—no, pressed me to talk about current projects.

Looking back, I wonder if RWA’s obsessive emphasis on “careerism” isn’t part of the problem in the organization’s various nasty, long-running (fifteen years and counting) internecine conflicts. The organization has focused so hard and so long on making romance “respectable” and “professional”, they’ve overshot their mark. Romance is the number one fiction genre. Everybody who matters, from New York to Hollywood and all the readers in between, takes romance writers seriously.

Except RWA.

We're beating ourselves up, and nobody else cares. Agents and publishers don't care if a saleable writer got their chops at their kitchen table, in a college writing program, e-publishing or self-publishing. Heck, a current bestseller allegedly plagarized her fan fiction. The only people RWA is hurting are the people who need it the most: its members.

It’s a damn shame, but I don't have a solution. What I do have is book to revise and a short story to write (from opening line to finish—eep!) by the end of summer.

Just as important, I have an upcoming appearance at DragonCon September 4-7. There will be editors. There will be agents. There will be panels where I will need to sparkle, even if I was out dancing until dawn. (Yes, I have. Ask any of my roommates.) There will be Mr. Spock—the original—and Monty Python.

More importantly, there will be fun.

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