Hi folks! I’m not normally here on Wednesdays, but Diana Pharaoh Francis had a family emergency to deal with, so I agreed to step in and take the day for her.
I’m still recovering from a weekend at Atomacon, a brand-new con in Charleston, SC. This was their inaugural weekend, and I’m pleased to say they did very well. Preliminary numbers suggest that they may have made a profit. Yay! I love the Lowcountry, and it tickles me to death to know fandom in the south is growing and strong. I took pictures in the Tardis and posed with R2-D2. I shopped in the dealer’s room. I was interviewed by the charming guys at the Weakly Villain Podcast (my interview isn’t up yet, but keep checking. They also interviewed John Hartness and Emily Lavin Leverett, and I’m excited to listen to their chat my own self!) And of course, I sat on a number of great panels with other interesting writers.
The cool thing about going to a con you’ve never visited before is getting to meet new people. We want to meet other writers, make contact with editors and agents and publishers in the hope that we might score an anthology invitation or an offer of representation. We hope to meet fans, so we can sell books and we hope to meet like-minded friends with whom we can argue about episodes of Firefly or whether or not Thomas Covenant is worth reading. But there are more people to meet than just con-goers and guests. Most of these events are held in hotels with convention space, so you’re sharing elevators and hallways with possible non-fans. I love putting on garb and walking through the hotel. Lots of non-con-attendee hotel guests have stopped me to ask about what I’m wearing and why, which gives me an opportunity to introduce myself and maybe even attract a new reader to my work. But that’s not even everyone. When you’re in a hotel, there’s a whole crowd of people we often forget to pay any attention to, and that’s an awful shame. I’m talking about the staff.
Many times staff in a hotel are just as much fans as anyone wearing a con badge. But they can’t stop working and come play with us, because if they stopped doing their jobs, the cons would fall apart. These are the people who make sure we have plenty of icy water so our throats don’t close up halfway through our third panel in a row. They bring us towels and pillows and make our beds when we accidentally oversleep and have to run to the first panel of the day. They bring us coffee and food in the restaurant, and drinks in the bar.
On Saturday, my friend and I only had about an hour to grab some lunch, so we decided to stay in the hotel and eat in the bar. It had a nice, inexpensive menu, and plenty of tables. There was only one man waiting tables at the time, and he had an accent we couldn’t quite lock down. I was intrigued when I had to explain how to pronounce “tortilla”. We could have gone on wondering, but instead, when he brought us drinks, we asked him where his accent originated. We learned that he was from Uzbekistan, had emigrated to Dubai to work, then came to the US. He became naturalized and was studying to become a customs agent with the Coast Guard. He told us a little about how hard life had been back home, how different Dubai was, and how much he loved the US. He had learned English by watching television and living with three roommates from South Africa. And he was terribly interested in the con. We told him what it was about and who we were in relation to the con. Yes, he was still waiting on the table for us, bringing us food and drink, but by the time lunch was over, we had made a new friend.
So don’t ever forget, when you’re watching people and trying to get ideas for characters, that the service people around you have fascinating stories too. Talk to them. You might be amazed. And next year about this time, please consider coming to the Lowcountry to Atomacon 2. I hope to be there myself, and I know it’ll be fun. Maybe I’ll even introduce you to my friend Ali.