(Sylvie, Me, Aura, – part of our writing group the Underground Writers)
This is my fourth Ad Astra (I think). The first one I just felt so new I didn’t know what to do with myself. The panelists felt like gods, and I didn’t know how to talk to them, and mostly I was just a little star struck. I also only wanted to travel in packs, and had a hard time going off on my own – a fear I don’t much have anymore, but it’s always nice having someone you know sit in the audience with you.
My first Ad Astra, I distinctly remember being out in the hall telling a woman I loved her shoes, or was it a hair piece? I can’t remember, but I do know I paid her a compliment, and then we get in the room and she was a panelist. And I was kind of like OMG I just talked to her, enter panic mode, try to keep it cool. That woman was Leah Bobet.
There was another panel that first time where they where talking about the end of the world. It got into the survivalist area, and I was there for the zombie talk personally. So we have two older gentlemen, who start preaching about a thing they are passionate about, but perhaps a little too intense know it all style, and a lot off topic from where we where supped to be. Then there is this breath of fresh air on the panel, this woman named Karina Sumner Smith. Who through quip put these guys back in there place.
Side note, when I meet you as an author my brain will always give you what’s on your book for your name, all of it, always. Example E.K. Johnston, is still E.K. Johnston, even though I know she prefers to go by Kate. My brain is wired a certain way, and even getting to know authors I still sort of think of them as magicians, because that’s what it feels like when I’m writing. I’m conjuring nothing into something.
Leah and Karina where my first two authors, except at the time, they where on the brink of publication. They where at that almost stage. I met them at the beginning of their journey, and it has been amazing to follow them since. To get to know them, and feel not just like the girl on the outside looking in, but the girl who can have a conversation with them about ideas for writing, or the world in general, and who we are in it.
This convention was different, and by far my favourite (yes, I know even topping the year I met E.K Johnston and totally fangirled over her book recs, and fell in love with her writing). Maybe it’s because I had been going for a few years, and I had an idea of how this would play out. I knew the landscape of the con, and I knew how it worked best to pace ourselves. Maybe it’s because I had been writing for some time now, and I know my craft a lot better, I felt more like I could talk at their level. Maybe it’s because I follow my industry and have done my research, and I knew what the journey would look like, so I didn’t need to ask them the basics and make those newbie faux pas. What I can tell you is that I met a bunch of amazing young woman, doing what I want to be doing, and willing to have those conversations between panels and hang out.
It started with Friday evening, and walking into the panel Gender Terminology in Science Fiction and Fantasy, and I thought oh no, there she is. There is a person who ends up on panels that says things that are so dated and condescending to the category she writes for, I have a hard time listening to her opinions. She writes YA, but how she talks about it is like an authority figure who needs to shove a moral down your throat because they are right and you are wrong. But at this panel an amazing thing happened. The panelist and the people in the room came out and where like, I don’t agree with what you are saying, and this is why. It brought out the best in everyone around her. New rules, use this woman whom we don’t like as a barometer on Friday evening panels to find out how everyone around them reacts, and those who show gumption with good ideas, follow them. Follow them hard! (sorry no pic for this panel. I forgot.)
(As a side note Christina Vasilevski, was on the gender panel, and held her ground and was willing to take the conversation where it needed to go. She also wrote an amazing blog post about her experience of ad astra this year. I feel you when you talk about the gravitational pull you felt at the con, and the friendships formed there. I got to catch up with her a bit more on Saturday.)
I had a game plan with panels that sounded interesting. I even have some names I know that I avoid, so I already had a couple of panels crossed off because I couldn’t take their opinions. But I also left room for flexibility. There where three things I was not missing come hell or high water, and I made sure I got to those. But everything else was in flux. This made it so I could adjust my schedule to the panelist, or to having a bit more social time in-between, or shopping time, or food, or in this one case a nap. This is what works best for me, knowing what I want to do, but leaving space for be flexible as needed. The true gem of this conventions are the people you meet and connect with because holla, you all love the same thing.
(On my forearms, part of the look I was rocking on Saturday – these are temporary, and sadly almost all gone now. Though I am thinking of getting Knit Punk on one arm, and Book Dragon on the other. Will ruminate more on making it permanent.)
Saturday I took a little extra time to get ready, and look badass, and when I walked off the elevator, there stood Leah Bobet and Karina Sumner Smith, and the rest of my writing group. It was like a light had split the sky, and said today is going to be awesome, watch out, I gift you with this great start to the day. I mean I had panels I wanted to go to, but grabbed a coffee so we could sit and chat with these lovely ladies instead. It was not a mistake. It was a great conversation and really set the tone for the day. Leah Bobbett is one of those amazing souls who we follow each other on twitter and Instagram, and who smiles and welcomes me every time I see her. I keep thinking of her as this magical feisty character, something I could evolve into some day. She is kind, but fierce. Also her writing is amazeballs. It’s an amazing feeling being able to call her a friend (and a small part of me is like, is that too presumptuous?).
At noon I bowed out and ran off to the YA Revolution panel where I got to see these women in action.
If you want to know a good moderator (and I can’t believe this is her first Ad Astra, because she was a total pro at it), Rebecca Diem was on it. She had questions for the panelists, brought her own introspection, helped lead the conversation without dominating it, and in general was absolutely lovely. I asked a few questions at the end, and having intelligent questions to ask, opened up room for conversation with these women later. Also the combination of Alyxandra and Rebecca’s bangs made me want bangs, and I know it’s a bad idea, but I’m easily susceptible to chopping my hair off at will.
Also, if you ever see me post writing on Wattpad, it will be because L.E. Sterling tipped the scale, and asked if I had posted anything there before, and suggested it’s a great place to build audience. I don’t know if I will blame or give her credit, but now it’s an itch in the back of my mind, that I’m thinking about.
L.E. Sterling signed Sylvie’s book, and I think that is the best compliment for our group ever.
The other panels that where total highlights for me where:
Space Opera and New Directions (Derek Kunsken, Andrew Barton, Christina Vasilevski, Jon Oliver) Derek has a book coming out in fall of 2018 which was described as a Space Opera heist, a cross between Oceans 11 and Guardians of the Galaxy, and I am so disappointed I have to wait that long to read it.
Leah Bobet’s Reading (Totally jealous of her writing voice, but in a good kind of way, the kind that is in awe. Her descriptions, emotional connection to her characters, and world building, in just that one scene was SOOO GOOD. I mean yes, I like the concept, but the writing alone is enough for me to tear through that. KEEP WRITING IT!)
Disrupting the Narrative (Left to Right: Rebecca Diem, Carolyn Charron, Eli K.P. William, Charlotte Ashley, Vanessa Ricci-Thode). The book recs on this panel where through the roof. Also we nominate N.K. Jemisin as the next GOH for Ad Astra. (I also caught up with Vanessa the Saturday evening in the con suite, who has amazing geektastic fashion sense, and a love of dogs)
Turns out that 90% of the panels I had selected had those amazing YA authors on them. It was like continuing one great conversation leading into the next. I could have just happy sighed my way through the entire convention.
Going back through the schedule on Saturday, while it felt so happy and productive while I was there, I noticed that I didn’t go to as many panels as I had intended. Still it was a reassuringly soul filling day. Don’t get me wrong panels are great, and a good launching pad for ideas and connecting with others However, it’s the conversations we have and the people we meet, that really opened it up for me. I talked to authors and panelists between panels, continuing to share ideas. I talked to authors and vendors in the merch room and connected with them there. I posted on twitter throughout the convention taking pics, and being witty, and garnered new followers (who I also followed back, because you are my people). I had ideas for how to improve my stories, and those aha moments you search for. We went to the con suites in the evening, danced with a storm trooped, had drinks with not just our group, but welcomed others into the conversation. To cap off this wild crazy day, I even made it to the dance before crawling up to my hotel room. However, through it all, the thing that shined the most for me where those connections, the people and conversations.
Our Storm Trooped both in and out of costume. You can find her on Twitter.
I don’t know if I have told you this but I HATE the word networking. It sounds so dirty, like the only reason you are talking to someone is to use them, because they have something you want. There is a distinct lack of respect for the person, instead treating them like goods or services.
One could look at my weekend, and be like, hey Julia, you networked. Technically they would be true. But I prefer to think I connected with people passionately over a shared interest. I prefer to think that we planted the seeds for friendships, or at least friendly acquaintances the next time we see each other at an event. The type of people you follow back on twitter or Instagram and cheer on their successes, or like their jam making, or lipstick selfies, or dog photos. The type of people you can gush over a good book, or grab a beer with when you are in town.
This event, I felt comfortable in my own skin, and who I am becoming. I used to look at life as a series of goals, achievements, a once I get there, I will be fully made kind of thing. Now I recognize that this is just one long road trip of learning about yourself. As long as I’m comfortable with being a changing being, it makes it easier to accept who I am, and be that person comfortably around others. This is me now, this is me learning, this is me – a work in progress.
These woman that I met this weekend, these are what I want to grow into. They are magical badass wordsmith warriors. They are also kind, and willing to make those acquaintances and friendships. They don’t snob off above you, but rather reach down and lift you up. The example they set is high, but worthy of achieving. Thank you ladies for everything, you made this weekend for me.
P.S. Seriously GO to Ad Astra, it’s got great content, and has a very intimate feel. This blog post only captures the tip of the iceberg of what actually being there is like. Experiences may very.