Having made the decision to go back to ConDor on Saturday I prepared better. Knowing that I would go straight through the day and that there were no decent affordable places nearby to have a sandwich for lunch, I fortified myself with eggs, bacon, and toast. Then I was off to the Con. I had already acclimatized myself on Friday. I knew what to expect. I was not going in blind. I had had a good sleep. I arrived with vigor and confidence.
The first panel I attended was on linguistics. It was presented by David Peterson, a linguist who had created four languages for the “Game of Thrones” TV series. He explained how he went about building languages from scratch, and his motivations for choosing the grammar, syntax, pronunciation, and so on. It was fascinating. I loved it. I kept asking question after question, and rather than the speaker becoming annoyed the questions seemed to fuel him to further animation and expostulation. It was clear that this was not just a job for him; it was his passion, his calling, his life’s work. He was into languages as much as I was into writing. This panel alone would have been worth the price of the day and the time spent traveling to the Con, but there was much more to come.
Next was the guest of honor speech by Connie Willis, whose writing has won more Hugo and Nebula awards than any other writer’s in the history of science fiction literature. It was to be in the same room, so I just sat tight in my seat near the front. She started off by saying that she didn’t have a speech prepared; instead, she planned to let the audience ask her questions on any subject they wanted. Guess who asked the first question? I was on a roll. No wallflower status for me that day, no sitting in the back cringing and afraid that someone might talk to me. Bold as a lion. Here was a successful, award-winning writer, and there was something on my heart that had been bothering me for weeks, for months, for my entire writing career. I asked, “In the early part of your career did you ever despair that you would ever make it as a writer?” She spent fifteen or twenty minutes of the allotted hour answering that first question of mine. She had indeed despaired, she said, and she still despairs every day. Doubts continually assail her. In the beginning you think you will never get published, but once you are published, once you start winning awards, you continually wonder whether you have lost it, whether you are washed up, whether you will ever create anything worthwhile again. She told a story of a time before she got published when she received a slip in the mail for a package, except when she went to the post office instead of a package it was a dozen rejected stories all sent back at the same time. She said she almost quit then and there, but since she already had stamps and envelopes ready she decided to send them out again, and one of them sold. She said that self-doubt, discouragement, and despair were things you just had to put up with if you wanted to be a writer, and if you couldn’t handle it you should get into an easier business. It was exactly what I needed to hear.
The next panel was on world building; specifically it was on creating biological beings, sentient races to put into fiction. There were some worthy panelists, but the discussion for some reason never got off the ground and into intellectually stimulating territory. Ah, well. You win some…
Anyway, by that time I was ready for a break, and as there were no other panels in the next hour I was frantic to attend I headed up to the Con suite for coffee and a snack. It turned out that in honor of Connie Willis’s award-winning book “Blackout/All Clear” they had a World War II London survival theme going on, and were passing out ration booklets with coupons you could redeem for sandwiches and other goodies. So I grabbed some coffee and sandwiches and looked around for a place to sit. There was a seat free next to a fellow who looked about the same age as me on a couch, so I sat myself down. We got into a conversation right away, he and I. It turned out he had lived in Europe too. He was intensely interested in my decision to move back to the States, my sons, my life in Europe and Asia. He reiterated several times that my life in so many cultures must make great opportunities for story background, and I assured him that it had. I had no idea who he was until someone came up with books and asked him to sign them. It turned out he was Todd McCaffrey, the son of Anne McCaffrey; he had collaborated with his mother on the famous Pern dragon series and after her death had taken over the franchise. Not that I am one, at least not any more, to be intimidated by famous people. But it surprised me when I found out who I was sitting next to and chatting with. Then, lo and behold, the linguist from the morning panel showed up, sat down, and began to chat. Apart from the panels themselves, this is what I had come for: to meet interesting people and have intellectually stimulating conversations.
The next panel I attended was on how to prepare if you were going on a time traveling expedition into the past or future. It was on the light side, but it was entertaining.
Next was a panel on out-of-body experiences. I thought that this would be a fascinating speculation on how such things could be used in fantasy, but it was not so. Whoever had programmed this panel had made the mistake of pairing two writers who were open-minded and intelligent with two oafish skeptics. I’m not saying all skeptics of paranormal phenomena are oafish, but whenever one of the writers would say something intriguing or tell an interesting story, one of the two crusading skeptics felt it was their duty to ridicule the idea. These skeptics were way out of their league. It was as if they could perceive only two dimensions and the two writers were aware of a dozen. The skeptics were hopelessly outclassed, but they kept rudely intruding and monopolizing the time, trying to throw wet blankets on any possible flare-ups of sense of wonder. I tried to interject some commentary a few times, at one point mentioning that emotional context seemed to be important in so-called ESP, but the skeptics continued to attempt to throttle speculations about any phenomena that could not be explained and displayed and proven in a cold stark laboratory setting. Anyway, one of the writers, Bruce McAllister, managed to tell some fascinating stories of people he’d interviewed, who during the trauma of war managed to communicate with each other across continents and oceans through some sort of extrasensory perception. And the other writer, Matthew Pallamary, talked a bit about his experiences experimenting with hallucinogenic plants in the jungles of the Amazon. I would have liked to have heard more from those two. In fact, later I ordered Pallamary’s book about his Amazon journeys.
The last panel I attended was on writing short fiction. Though I love writing short stories and have written a lot of them, I sat back and listened in this one, content to hear what the professional writers on the panel had to say about the short story writing craft.
And that was the end of it. I had held up much better on Saturday than Friday because I was better rested, better nourished, and somewhat familiar with the venue and what was going on.
All in all, ConDor was not what I expected. I had thought that it would be more crowded and crazy. It was more crowded Saturday than Friday, as would be expected, and there were more people wandering around in bizarre alien costumes. But overall it was low-key, sedate, controlled. Maybe the parties started in the evenings, after I left; I don’t know, and it doesn’t matter. I haven’t been much into the party scene in recent decades anyway. I came for intellectual stimulation, not rah-rah wild carousing, and in that I was not disappointed.
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