Tuesday, May 16, 2017

My True Convention Story That I Wish Was Fiction

We're going into convention season, and I keep meeting new writers who are nervous about making bad impressions. Especially early on, you dread that anything you do will kill your career. In order to make some anonymous writers feel a little better, I want to share a story that I wish wasn't true.

My greatest convention shame began with a great short story. It was nominated for an award at this con I was attending, and was one of the funniest Science Fiction shorts I'd ever read. It was vicious, sometimes repulsive, using impossible plots for hilarious ends. It was so funny that I got up in the middle of it to annoy friends by reading random passages aloud.

As I spread glowing reviews across social media, I discovered something: most reviewers hated this story.

Many of the reviewers were attracted just because it was nominated for this Prestigious Award; they argued that it was too morbid, too awful, or not even a story. After a while, I felt the author was being wronged. Dear reader, I argued on the internet.

It turned out that the author was attending this convention. I wanted them to win the award, and when they announced they were doing a reading, I blocked out the hour on my schedule. There was nothing else I'd rather do than laugh with a full room at the author’s new stories.

No, I will not name the author. They don’t deserve what happened.

Their room was perhaps a quarter full. Worse, by then it was clear their competition for the award was much more popular and likely to win the award. Awards suck in a lot of ways, especially when it gets your work beaten up in fandom just so you can lose. I felt so badly for the author that I made loud conversation with the other audience members about how good the author’s stories were. I noticed the author smiling shyly as they went up to the table.

They said they had a few popular old stories, but wanted to read something new.

"Is it ____?" I blurted out the title of the story that had brought me here.

They smiled, and pointed at me, and said, "Yes!"

I was giddy, leaning on the seat in front of me. At the end of the first paragraph, I laughed hard. It wasn't affected laughter - the lines held up.

No one else laughed. I felt awkward for the author.

So after the next paragraph, which I admit was gruesome, and the author paused again, I laughed again.

Again, I laughed alone. All the other audience members kept listening with somber attention. The author's shoulders tensed, continuing reading dryly from this hilarious story.

Periodically, the author looked up, kept making eye contact with their audience. Authors do this at readings to foster a sense of connection with their audience, and for support, because a lot of us get nervous as hell at public readings. They looked at the front of the room, and to my left, and to my right. They never looked at me.

I’ve been refused basic accessibility needs at conventions, been sexually harassed, and even blacked out from pain, but I have never had a worse feeling at an event. My wrong-track enjoyment of a thing had harmed an innocent author’s day. I spent the rest of the reading period puzzling how I’d so misread the story, and how I could apologize.

Dear reader, I should have left. When the author finished and said there was time for questions, I kept quiet. I could not possibly ask what I wanted. It would make everything worse.

There were only two questions.

"Where do you get those ideas?"

"Is it hard keeping an idea so short?"

The author gave long and polite answers, but still had a lot of time left on their reading block. Things awkwardly tapered into people checking their phones and asking for autographs.

My head knew that I should just leave, but my feet brought me up to the table. I thanked the author for creating such distinct fiction, and when they warmed to that praise, I asked if that one story could ever be considered humorous.

They said, "My work can be very dark, and it's interesting how people react to horrors so differently."

Their tone said, "Please get away from me."

I thanked them, said it was one of my favorite stories of the year, and left briskly. The least I could give them was space. I haven't talked to this author again, though I hope they've forgotten me, and what happened at that reading, and the awards show that night where their more popular competition won.

Their career has gone very well since then; I doubt they read to quarter-full rooms in anymore. Which is good. They deserve rooms full of people that are not me.


  1. That sucks when you're the only one who gets it - and even the author doesn't get it. It's over, it's history, and you've both recovered.

  2. Ouch.
    That is the sort of memory which can have me quivering in shame. Even years later.

  3. Yikes! You meant well, though. And they've done well for themselves. Early cons are a learning experience for everyone, I think.


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