I really enjoyed the lively and detailed comments last week, both those about
various experiences at science fiction conventions and those related to the question of meeting authors.
Meeting authors – and being the author met – is such a complex picture I couldn’t give a fair response in a short comment, so I’m going to have a go at it here. Mind you, this is not meant to be the Final Word on the subject, but just, as always, one person’s experiences.
Where to start?
I mentioned last time how I went to my first SF convention specifically in hopes of meeting Roger Zelazny. That went really well. (I’ve told the story elsewhere, although not on in these wanderings, so I’m not going to go into it again. Let me know if you want to hear it).
However, I can’t say all my meetings with authors whose writing I’ve liked have gone as well. One such experience, however, caused me to make a rule that I follow to this day. Many years ago, when Roger was still alive and we were both still writing for Avon Books, we were seated at a table with another Avon author. I’m not going to use this author’s real name for reasons that will be obvious as I continue. Let me call him Sandro Sands.
Well, I’d read some of Mr. Sands’ work and, while I didn’t think it was a great as some people did, I was interested in meeting him. First meeting went nicely. Mr. Sands was quite polite, if very, very lively. Later the same day, I spoke to Mr. Sands again. This time Roger (who was very, very admired by Mr. Sands) was not present. Mr. Sands could not have been a more different person. He was so brash and arrogant as to be unpleasant to be around. I thought: “Hmm… Here’s another of those people who have one face for Roger and another for the peons.” I disliked him greatly.
Time passed. Another convention. Another year. I encountered Mr. Sands again at another Avon Books-sponsored event. Roger was not around, nothing about me had changed, but Mr. Sands could not have been nicer. We had a great chat. Moreover, he has been lovely every other time I’ve met him in the many, many years that have passed since. We are not bosom buddies, but we are certainly more than polite professional acquaintances.
I’ve often been glad I gave Mr. Sands another chance. If I had judged him based on that first bad impression, I would have lost a wonderful opportunity to know an interesting person. I might have missed some great books (since, like Maria said in her comment, I have trouble reading books by people I dislike). This experience meant so much to me that I have made myself a hard and fast rule to always give an author a second chance.
The fact is, as Alan said in his comment, authors are humans too. However, sometimes, even when addressed with polite friendliness, they may not react the same way. Maybe they’ve just had bad news. (Remember, authors often are doing business at a convention as well as seeing fans.) Maybe they have an upset stomach or slept poorly. Maybe they are coming off a stressful panel.
That brings me to judging authors merely by their behavior on panels. I’ve talked to fans who obviously believe that panels are easy and fun for the authors. They figure we just get up there and breeze through the material. It’s not like that at all. Most of us spend a lot of time preparing – often more time than the panel itself will take. Yes. A good panel is fun, but easy… Oh, no! Questions come out of left field. Another panelist may go on a rant or decide that he or she is the only one the audience wants to hear. The moderator may decide that being moderator means he or she is actually the only panelist.
This year at Bubonicon, a young man complimented me on a panel I’d been on. Then he commented with an ingratiating grin, “A whole lot easier without Mr. X? Right?” I was baffled. I’d liked Mr. X. Yes. He could talk the hind leg off a whole herd of donkeys, but he was nice and had opinions. He’d even shown up to pour tea at the last minute.
I said as much and the Nice Young Man said, “But he seemed to get to you on that panel last year.” Then I remembered the panel. Mr. X had decided the whole topic boiled down to one or two jokes he liked. He kept making them. I actually thought the panel had a lot more potential and I tried to take it there. Did that mean I didn’t like Mr. X or that I’d refuse to work with him again? Absolutely not!
Then there’s the question of when you choose to talk to an author. Fact is, a lot of well-meaning fans often insert themselves into what are private conversations. When this happens, the author is at a loss. On the one hand, it’s a compliment that someone likes your work enough to want to stop and chat. On the other, you were just taking to a friend. Maybe you were saying something that wasn’t meant for general consumption.
I hate being rude to a fan, but when to do when the fan is rude, especially when the rudeness persists over an entire weekend? I’ll admit that I have asked for a moment to finish what I’m about before turning my attention to the newcomer. If that makes me rude… Well, I don’t know what the solution is.
Fact is, it’s hard facing the expectations placed on an author at a convention. I walked down a corridor early one morning and overheard the following statement: “I was just in the elevator with Lois McMaster Bujold. She didn’t even look at me. She’s so rude! I’m never going to read one of her books.”
I wanted to shake the speaker. She judged a writer based on an elevator ride? An elevator ride where the writer did nothing worse than not look at her? Wow! It’s enough to make me afraid to walk over the threshold of my hotel room into public areas!
Okay. Not really. But I think you see what I mean.
So meet the author by all means. Chat. But remember to extend the courtesy you would to any other human being. Wait for an opening. If you want to chat, have something to say other than “I love your books,” because, reasonably, the only polite response the author can give you is “Thank you.” Questions are good, because they open up the chance for conversation.
Finally, as I learned with “Mr. Sands” all those years ago, give the writer a second chance. You may be glad you didn’t close a door too quickly.
I’m sure some of you have come up with other guidelines or stories about good and bad meetings. I’d love to hear them. After all, I’m meeting authors all the time!