On Comicons, Authors, and Gratitude

So, Phoenix Comicon happened this past weekend. It was my sixth year being involved with the show, yet in way, it was also my first. See, every other year I’ve attended as a staff member, which was incredibly fun and rewarding. This year, though, I attended as an author and invited guest. Let me tell you all the ways this was awesome.

1. The Panels
I’ve spent six years working with the Panel Moderator team, which meant I was host and emcee for a variety of guests and events. But this year I was also a panelist, a guest invited to sit with the other authors in front of an audience and discuss writing and publishing. I was very much the newbie this year – others had published lots of books and won tons of awards, some had hit the New York Times Bestseller list, and my debut novel won’t be out until December. So there I was, with only bookmarks and a picture of my book’s cover, feeling so grateful to be included. And you know what? The audience didn’t care one bit that I was so new. They asked lots of questions, paid equally rapt attention to each author, laughed at some of my silly jokes, and more than ever before I felt like a real and true author. The eight-year-old kid inside me could barely contain himself. He wanted so much for this to happen one day.

Then we had a crazy fun panel called Build A Story. I and three other authors (Amy K. Nichols, Mel Odom, and Travis Hanson) worked together with the audience, live and completely improvised, to come up with a story and outline as much of it as we could. No one had any idea what to expect from this panel. We’d never done anything like it. The Books and Authors programming managers had asked me to take the reins and lead the group, given my experience with moderating, so I just dove in and began outlining the way I normally would. Only this time it was out loud and in partnership with three other authors and a room of probably 75 people. Together we started with the basics, establishing setting and a core conflict, then conceptualizing what characters would fit in this world and what their motivations would be. Once everyone got warmed up, the story took off like a rocket, and suddenly we were all having too much fun to realize how quickly time was passing. In a flash we’d come up with a crazy cool story of sub-Antarctic jungles, mutant gorilla armies, Faberge-designed clockwork traps, and appearances by some surprising historical figures. When the hour had elapsed, the audience clapped and left with smiles on their faces (and our autographs on their story notes, a great idea from Mel Odom), and I was delighted to hear how much the other authors had enjoyed it, too. I hope this panel is scheduled again for 2016, and that I’m fortunate enough to take part in it.

2.The Fan Events
Saturday night, the Con hosted an event called Drinks With Authors, benefiting the Kids Need to Read organization. It was a chance for book fans and aspiring writers to rub elbows with some of their favorite authors…and me. LOL. I don’t mean that in any false self-deprecating way, but I want to drive home how surreal it felt. After so many years of working at it, then finally breaking into publishing, this was at once the strangest and most awesome feeling I’d had as a writer. At first, though, I did worry how I was going to fill three hours. I had visions of hovering awkwardly between groups and scanning the crowd for someone I knew. But I didn’t need to worry. To my great surprise, the previous panels had netted me some fans. They actually sought me out! They wanted to talk about books, pick my brain about publishing, hear a sneak preview of my book, and they actually got excited when I handed them signed bookmarks. When I wasn’t engaged with new fans, I was either taking publicity photos for Kids Need to Read or getting to know authors with whom I’d interacted online but never in person. They were a friendly and welcoming bunch, and I received more than one invitation to book launch parties and other author events. It was seriously cool.

3.The Authors
Now for my favorite part.

Let’s rewind the clock one year. I was a PCC staff member and an aspiring novelist, but I hadn’t yet gotten the book deal. I’d managed to get into the very first Drinks With Authors event on the coattails of a friend whose book had just come out, and because I knew the people who’d organized the event. It was a fun time, but I felt a bit awkward approaching the authors and gravitated more towards the people I already knew. As the event was winding down and the book fans floated away to other events, I overheard a group of authors making plans to slip away to a pub and unwind together and just hang out. I remember thinking how cool it would be to have a spot with such an awesome group of creative people. And not creative people with their game faces on – creative people who were letting their hair down and enjoying some time with colleagues who’d shared in the same experiences. More than ever, I felt acutely the barrier between published and not published. This was in no way due to their actions, I should add. Each of them were gracious and kind, but the fact was they all shared something that I didn’t.

Now let’s return to this year. It’s 9 p.m. and the benefit event has drawn to a close – and was a rousing success, as far as I could tell. Book fans were heading to other late-night events, and I began to hear whisperings among the authors – the plan was to slip downstairs and pretty much take over the hotel bar and chill out. The key difference this time? I was invited to join them. To anyone else it may seem like a small and petty thing, but I’d envisioned being a part of this community for two and a half decades. Now I was standing at their door, and it was actually opening. I was walking inside. And it was awesome. I stayed until almost midnight, trading stories and laughing over drinks, photobombing other authors’ group pictures, receiving more invitations to author events and even just bids to keep in touch. We were all authors, our game faces had been laid to rest for the evening, and I got my first true taste of being part of their community. Even they didn’t care that I’d published so little compared to most of them. They knew I’d crossed the same barriers, shared the same core experiences, and that made all the difference.

And that’s where the gratitude comes in. Gratitude that a lifelong dream is being realized, and that it comes with the amazing bonus of sharing in the author community. Readers and writers alike have been so supportive, and I continue to love this job more and more. So now if you see me with a huge grin on my face, you’ll know why. Because accomplishing a dream is great, but finding out it’s even better than you’d imagined – now that’s something altogether more awesome.

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