The Curious Case of WorldCon 2016

Something was different at WorldCon 2016. I felt it from the moment I walked in, but getting there at all was not something I planned until the week before. In the space of hours I made the decision to go, found a ride with friends from Colorado Springs, found a spare bed with a fellow Superstars, and had a friend transfer their membership to me. Add to all of that awesomeness that I had a place to sell my books thanks to WordFire Press and a standing invitation to lunch with one of my heroes, and I was set up for a great experience.

Now, a disclaimer: There is no humanly way possible I can give a “shout out” to everyone I saw through the course of the weekend. I’m going to touch on two of my personal highlights, if you don’t mind.

There were two main things I really wanted to do at WorldCon this year. I wanted to see my friend and celebrity stalker Neil Clarke. Neil is the award winning publisher of Clarkesworld Magazine and we’ve known each other since flying in to San Antonio on the same plane for WorldCon in 2013. That entire weekend, every where I went, I saw Neil. His being my stalker became a running joke. In February 2014 when I was recovering from an illness that tried to kill me, I was very depressed. One night, I reached out to Neil because he’d survived a massive heart attack a couple of years before. In the course of my email, and his responses over the next month or so, I gained a lifelong friend. On Friday night (really Saturday morning) after a few drinks with great friends, I was ready to go to the hotel and crash when I saw Neil sitting in the lobby. He waved me over and I sat down and we both managed not to cry. I am forever in his debt for getting me off my ass and back to writing. I would never have submitted a novel if he hadn’t helped me realize that surviving the illness was only the first step in a new journey. At WorldCon, I got to talk with my friend for a good long time and I had the opportunity to give him a copy of the book he pushed me to finish.

The second thing I wanted to do was make good on an invitation my good friend Lou Berger made a long time ago. In one of our conversations, Lou told a story about taking Joe and Gay Haldeman to lunch in Chicago several years ago. I commented that I’d love to have that opportunity because Joe’s FOREVER WAR is one of the novels that taught me how to take care of soldiers and ultimately inspired my own writing. I had the opportunity on Thursday to sit down with Joe and Gay for lunch and we talked about a lot of things and I did my best not to act like a raving lunatic in the presence of one of my heroes. I did pretty good – that moment actually happened about 48 hours later, when Joe and Gay came by the WordFire booth…and bought SLEEPER PROTOCOL.  My hands shook as I inscribed my book to them. I very nearly cried for about two hours afterward. I had to go and sit down, and my friend Lou sat with me and forced me to talk and drink a bottle of water.

Now, between those two personal highlights I had many more conversations and experiences than I could possibly post here. On Thursday morning, though, I knew what was different than the last time I’d been to a WorldCon. I walked into the vendor’s room and set up my books in the WordFire booth in the space they allocated – right next to Chuck Gannon. My books were there. My books. And on one particular occasion, a woman walked up to the table and made a beeline for SLEEPER PROTOCOL and said “I’ve heard about this one.” Another fan initiated a meet-up and we had a drink. How cool is that? But, it was the last night I left BarCon (when we writers invade a hotel bar) and spent a half hour saying goodbyes to my friends that I realized something had been very different this time around. It was me.

I’m not a big name author. I’m certainly not a household name in the SF community, but at WorldCon I realized that in a very tangible way, it was different. I was different.  There’s no going back now.