Young Malaysian writer Ika Koeck has recently visited her first Worldcon, in Australia. She reports…
Looking at Worldcon 2010 through Myopic, Malaysian, and Newbie lenses
By Ika Koeck
Being way out here in Malaysia where the fantasy/sci-fi writing community is small and conventions are practically nonexistent seeded my desire to attend such an event someday. So when I heard that this year’s Worldcon was happening at the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre, Australia, I decided that this was IT! My chance to attend a con, at last! *insert fan-girl squeal*
Now mind you, I had no idea what happens at conventions – I mean in theory I knew what conventions were, what Worldcon is. A place where magical beings with the power to rule and shape the publishing cosmos gather to trade their latest conquests in the writing/publication industry and slowly plot to take over the mortal world! *insert rainbows, unicorns, pirates and fire-breathing dragons here*
But seriously, no amount of reading and picture gazing was enough for me. I prepared as best as I could – reading up on past Worldcon reports, checking out other con attendees’ websites and keeping a close eye on the Worldcon website for updates. I didn’t know what would happen when I got there – I just knew I had to be ready for anything I could think of.
I applaud the organizers, members and volunteers of this organization – They were very helpful, and I needed only to post a short article on my blog about my concerns during Worldcon, and within hours one of the committee members responded to my post, clearing up some questions I had. They have a very keen eye indeed. Yay, committee! And they were extremely patient – even when faced with someone who’s so new to the con experience that talking to her would be like talking to a goldfish.
Right from the get-go I knew I’d have a blast. Worldcon revolves around several activities: Panels, Readings, Kaffeeklatsches, Signings, Games, Masquerades, The Hugo Awards Ceremony and After Parties. There may be more, but I’ll skip to the ones I participated in so at least I know I’ll get the facts right (on some levels at least).
My Reading Experience
One of the most surreal moments for me during the con happened during my reading session. This wasn’t the first time I was reading for an audience, but the combination of seeing my name up on the screen outside the room, and the unexpected crowd turn-out lent me such strength and power that I felt like super-writer-girl for a while.
I have to say it went smoothly! Thank God. Smooth enough that the listeners nodded their approval and clapped and told me they wished they could hear more. It was more than what I could’ve ever expected at my first convention. I skipped away happily from the occasion, damned pleased with myself, until I realized that I had to run off to my first ever panel.
My Panel Experience
Avatar, the Last Airbender: Race and Hollywood Cinema:
I was slotted into 3 different panels for the convention, and by God, it was both the most fun and yet gut-clenching-frightening experience I’ve ever had. The first panel, Avatar, the Last Airbender, discussed the well-known fact that a) the movie wasn’t the best movie to be made, ever and b) the casting was so poorly done that it probably made almost everyone in the audience wince, cringe, and cry mercy!
I was nervous. I am a huge fan of the animation series, but compared to my co-panelist, Christian Sauve, I was like a kindergartener comparing notes with a sophomore. I would’ve seriously been lost without his help, and I mentioned this somewhere on my previous posts, but I would’ve probably said little more than a few words and filled the silence with incomprehensible jabber if it hadn’t been for Christian. His expert handling of the crowd had them participating in the panel as well, and it was very interesting to hear what the audience had to say and what their take was on the issue.
Getting Published in YA Spec Fic:
My second panel was for publication in the YA genre with Peta Freestone and Stephen Higgins. I touched mostly on my experiences here – how I got myself into the business and what my advice was for writers starting out. Peta, who edits for Scapezine, spoke of how the YA publishing scene is in Australia and how she started the magazine.
It was another surreal moment, primarily because I never thought I would have gotten this far in writing in the first place, and my advice was actually sought.
I had some time in between one session and the next, and I spent these moments hunting down panels discussing topics I desperately wanted to learn and hear about. I managed to catch up with fabulous fantasy author, Glenda Larke, whose reading session was so engaging that listeners were stunned silent by her pages, engrossed as we were. She took me around for a bit, and I met many, many wonderful writers, journalists, fellow con-goers, who I’m very certain I will meet again at the next convention.
In my head I carried myself with the calm dignity of a pro con-attendee, but in truth I guess my facial muscles must’ve contorted between absolute glee and slack-jawed shock, especially when I meet a writer, agent or editor. The best part is, everyone I met here, regardless of whether they were just starting out, or are at the top of the industry, had a kind word of encouragement, a word of advice or three, exchanged cards with me, and even took the time to sit down with me and discuss my writing and how to improve it. I didn’t hear a single negative word, and I could barely hold back my tears each time I received a clap on the shoulders, a reassuring handshake and wishes for my success, and the words “I can’t wait to see your books at the shelves. You are getting there!”
I can’t thank all of them enough. It is my hope that they read this, because if they do, *HUGS!* Thank you! You have my eternal gratitude.
Academic Panel: Racism and SF:
My fellow panelists included a stellar list of writers and academics from various parts of the world including China Mieville (Britain), Alaya Johnson (USA), Christina Lasaitis (Brazilian), Anita Harris Satkunananthan (Indo-Australian). The panel was moderated by the very cool Malaysian-born-Australian Sheldon Gill and based on an article of similar concerns by Samuel R. Delany. Christina said that works written by Brazilians on Brazil are not getting translated; hence outsiders have had to read material written by no-Brazilians, primarily English speakers/writers. I spoke of the difficulty of getting materials published here because when I approached an editor earlier in my career, I was told my setting and characters weren’t Malay enough for the market. But circumstances may have changed now, I’m not so sure. Alaya deftly pointed out that there’s this misconception that books that have African American protagonists revolve around racism.
I dreaded this one for several reasons. Being very, very new in the industry, I wasn’t counting on having waves of adoring fans lining up to sit and have coffee with me. In the list of “people who would be attending the con”, I fall under the category of new writers who want to get noticed. That’s me. Hence the red hat.
So when I walked over to the registration table on the day the Kaffeeklatsch booking list came out, I wasn’t surprised to find the list under my name empty, and I thought oh hey okay, I’ll have a whole table all to myself and have all the tea I could drink, hah!
To my delight and muchos, muchos appreciation however, I was greeted by friends Kevin, Jan and Steve when I arrived at my table. And as my face broke out into a broad grin, I was greeted by Satima Flavell, editor at The Specusphere, who said Glenda sent her to check me out (Yay Glenda!) They were the best bunch of people ever, and for a young writer who has never left the safety bubble of home to attend her first convention thousands of miles away, they made me feel very welcomed.
(Note: There was someone else as well, a very nice man from Boston, but goodness, I can’t remember his name! I’m so sorry!) I must admit to being incredibly nervous, and was very very glad Satima was there. She spurred the conversation when I faltered, and I think I learned a lot from her on how to conduct myself at kaffeklatsches. I promise, in future, I’ll be a better hostess at a table, thanks to Satima.
At this point of the convention I was being stopped at the hallways outside and on the street by individuals who had very nice things to say about the panels I was in, and my reading. Much of what I was told was that they wished I had spoken more because they were very interested in what I had to say. I felt a huge gush of relief, mixed with exhilaration, mixed with awe at the way things have unfurled. I never thought I’d get even this far. Yep, will strive to do better at panels at future cons!
The Dealer Room & Art Show
I made many friends during the convention, one of whom is Kevin Maclean. He wasn’t kidding when he told me he knew practically everyone at Worldcon because, he does. On my second day there Kevin took me around the Dealer Room & Art Show, showing me the artwork showcased there. I must admit to gaping and gawking (and pointing and staring). There were plenty of astonishing paintings to see, and we spent I think about forty minutes walking around the room, talking about the talents and people Kevin have personally met through conventions. It was awesome. I laughed a lot, and asked a lot. I was this close to buying all the books I wanted from the booths they set up in there.
Hugo Awards Ceremony
Hugo, can be succinctly described in three words: Oscars for Writers. It’s an awards ceremony for writers whose work has been voted for the year’s best by Worldcon attendees and members alike, and knowing that people dressed up for this, I wore my LBD. Garth Nix did a wonderful job as the emcee, and seeing the Hugo awards given out to deserving writers was just as fulfilling as being there among people who “get” what sci-fi/fantasy is all about.
To the very nice gentleman who stood outside the hall with me while I was waiting for my brother aka bodyguard aka chaperone, thank you for the pleasure of your company! I wish I got your name!
I have been inflicted by the con bug, in which I see very little hope of recovery. The convention opened my eyes to degrees I wouldn’t have imagined, and also, allowed me to re-focus my writing goals and intentions. If you’re just starting out in this industry, or even if you’re fans, readers, etc, I urge you to get yourselves to Worldcon whenever you can. It’s an investment worth making, and while I won’t be attending Renovation next year in Reno, I am making an aim for London in 2014. And who knows, if I get published in between, I’ll be able to attend MORE cons!
For those of you who are attending a convention for the first time – It helps to make friends before you get there. I was very fortunate to have a guide and friends there who helped me make the most of my con experience. (Will talk about making contacts and the handy things you should prepare before conventions in a future post) So, in the words of my mentors and writer friends whom I emailed before I left for Australia: Expect TONS of fun! And learning! When you’re at a con.