Sometime last spring, the lovely April White told me about this cool new convention called NerdCon Stories that was happening in Minneapolis and was being put together by Hank Green (of VlogBrothers fame) and Patrick Rothfuss, one of her favorite fantasy writers. (And now one of mine.) She was taking her son, and after checking out more about it on the website and Rothfuss’s blog, I decided that TallBoy and I would go too.
And then it was October and it happened! And it was really fun. And very thought provoking. And very valuable. And sometimes a little frustrating. (I did have a couple criticisms. Hopefully constructive.) And then more fun! And I will definitely be going back.
So this blog post will be a bit longer than my usual. Feel free to skip around.
The point of NerdCon: Stories was to celebrate story and the importance of story and the creators of stories, whether they be writers or radio programs or games or comedians or just regular folks.
Because everyone has a story. And telling that story is valuable.
TallBoy had a blast. He’s a big YouTube watcher (with all that is wonderful and terrifying about that) and so he was more aware of VlogBrothers and the Greens than I was. But I became a fan! Because John and Hank Green are hilarious with a capital H and you should be watching VlogBrothers.
Nerdfighters Q&A was a ridiculously funny sit down with John and Hank Green moderated by Maureen Johnson touching on the success of VlogBrothers, the amazing YouTube community, books, brothers, and unpaid betting debts. Johnson’s wry humor perfectly balanced the Green brothers’ sincerity and hilarity. It was probably TallBoy’s favorite program of the convention. So far, there’s no video up on YouTube that I can link to, but hopefully there will be more in the future. (Because I basically spent an hour straight laughing. And maybe tearing up a little. And then laughing some more.)
All the main stage activities were well done, whether they were monologues, games, puppet shows, musical tributes to Lil’ Sebastian, or mock debates. Funny and touching and real and everything that stories should be. Here’s a great video from John Green (Can I admit I’ve never read any of his books without people hating me? I haven’t, but I still really like him.) talking about “Why stories matter?”
And the panels!
One of the highlights to me was the No Pressure panel moderated by Patrick Rothfuss, where panelists including John Green and Rainbow Rowell talked about life after creative success and the “What happens now?” problems creators all deal with personally and professionally. It was really inspiring and encouraging and painfully relatable and REAL.
About three years ago, I was experiencing the first real flush of success, with three books in the Amazon top 100 list, agents emailing me, publishers emailing me, and even an anime producer I had no idea what to do with. It was amazing! And overwhelming. All this was happening on the heels of my separation from my ex and our subsequent divorce and all that fun stuff. So relatable? Definitely. Balancing work and life wasn’t (and isn’t) easy, though I like to think that after a few years, I’ve managed to get a better handle on things than I did then.
But it was really nice to hear from others who have navigated that particular labyrinth and hearing their stories about what worked, what didn’t, and how they’ve kept from becoming ego-monsters. Because here’s the thing: the first time you experience any kind of success doing “that thing you love and are now making money doing” you discover that no matter who you are YOU HAVE AN EGO. And that’s just a fact. And learning how to feed/control that ego monster becomes kind of a Gremlins-like balancing act so you don’t crash.
There were three other panels I wanted to talk about: the serial story-telling panel, the “Is this a kissing book?” panel, and the “How do you make your money?” panel.
Serial story-telling: This one was of particular interest to me, since I’ll be moderating a panel on serial-writing at the RT Convention in April. (Yeah, I’m totally cribbing some questions.) It was moderated by John Scalzi, and had wonderful panelists like Holly Black, Leslie Datsis, Joseph Fink (of Welcome to Nightvale) and Darrin Ross (whose Find the Starlight project is amazing and beautiful and I’m going to need an entirely different blog post to talk about). Lots of great ideas and challenging questions. It was undoubtedly a highlight for me, since I love serial projects so much.
“Is this a kissing book?”: A very fun panel moderated by Jacqueline Carey, who I had the pleasure of meeting for coffee (or, you know, wine and gin, whatever) during the convention. Carey is a fantasy and paranormal writer (please check out her work here) who’s been in the business longer than me. She was really wise and lovely and gracious. I loved meeting her and I’m enjoying exploring her books. The panel talked about the tension often felt by writers about when to include sex and romance in their books, how to write it, some of the backlash still (sadly) felt when you include it, and our culture’s hang-ups relating to that topic.
My only criticism for this panel was the rather obvious lack of ANY adult (as in adult romance as a genre) romance writers on the panel, which seems kind of odd if you’re talking about kissing books. Carey was a great moderator, but as someone who has written more romance and sex in her books than any of the panelists, I would have liked to hear more from her directly, instead of only asking questions. Stephanie Perkins was a stand-out as the lone romance writer holding down the fort, though she has only recently moved into more adult romance and out of YA. Still, she was lovely and thoughtful and a real joy to listen to. Go Stephanie! **romance writer fist-bump**
“How do you make your money?” was another great panel that drew from the experiences of several different creators in different mediums. They talked about Kickstarter, Patreon, and other crowdfunding options. Talked about how to reach your audience and how to take advantage of different platforms without losing your love for “that thing you love to do but now you’re making money from it” and how to maintain integrity with your audience. Again, really helpful and practical.
There were so many great things about these panels, but one little thing I noticed in the “How do you make your money?” panel slowly became a bigger thing the more I listened to the speakers.
Where were the indies?
As far as I could tell, there were no independent (or self-published, whichever term you use) authors on any of the panels. So while there were independent game makers and YouTubers and comedians, they were missing a REALLY BIG sector of current writers, which kinda bummed me out.
Now, I am NOT saying this was a purposeful slight. It could be that the writers they invited were friends of friends and long-time associates of other writers and organizers, and I totally get that. We tend to have a tribe, and that tribe is often formed from people we know who have gone on the same or similar professional journey that we have. So trust me, I get it.
BUT… particularly when you’re talking about making a living in the new digital age, or when you’re talking about the creative opportunities available in the new digital landscape (like serial story-telling), it feels really glaring to ignore the BIGGEST revolution happening for writers looking to reach their audience right now.
The fact is, more and more writers (like me) are bypassing the traditional publishing machine and going straight to their audience through direct publishing, Kickstarter (which was mentioned), and other platforms like Wattpad (which was not mentioned that I heard.) If you don’t talk about that, you’re missing out. And in an otherwise really progressive and exciting convention, it was a noticeable lack.
I don’t want to be too critical, but it was something I did want to mention, because it felt like the convention as a whole was missing out on those voices and perspectives. There are so many wonderful indie writers in fantasy and scifi. I would have loved to hear from some of them.
But it was a GREAT convention, especially for one only in its first year. It was beautifully organized. The crowd was fantastic. The boys were able to wander around on their own and even invited to play a card game with some older convention-goers. Everyone was friendly and generous. The writers and other guests were fabulous about signing things and making themselves available. I know Patrick Rothfuss skipped some of his break time so he could sign more autographs for readers and fans. I suspect other guests did, too. Seriously, it was a wonderful event.
Would I go back? In a heartbeat!
It was a blast. And I’d take my son again. It was a smaller convention, so it was the perfect size for him to feel the excitement while not getting overwhelmed.
(I was also getting way more of the cute, flirty eyes from the nerd-boys there. Apparently, you Midwestern nerds appreciate a California girl with tattoos and blue and purple hair. And I appreciate your beards and ironic t-shirts. So back atcha.)
NOW FOR THE BIG THANK YOU.
I feel like every other week I’m getting teary-eyed from you guys being awesome in some new way. This week, I want to say thank you SO VERY MUCH for the enthusiasm, review love, and sales of Beneath a Waning Moon, which has been out for twelve days now and has spent most of that time on the top of the Fantasy and Gothic romance bestseller lists at Amazon.
I think I can say with complete confidence that neither Grace nor I expected this level of love for this set of novellas. Once again, you guys overwhelm us. I’m so grateful. I really love both these stories, so I’m incredibly happy they’ve found such a receptive audience, and I’m also happy to let you know that Beneath a Waning Moon will be reviewed in RT Magazine’s January edition! Which is very cool because they don’t review many novellas and so we’re very flattered by RT’s attention for that.
If you have not purchased it yet, here are all the links. We will be doing a paperback and audio edition of this collection, so I’ll let you know when those things are happening.
Anything else? So much about Nerdcon that I COULD say. So little space. I may touch on some other panels or programs later, but I feel like this is waaaaay bigger than my usual posts already, so I don’t want to bore you.
Be well. And as the Nerdfighters would remind you: Don’t forget to be awesome.