The Deep End: My Plunge Into the SFF Community

Maybe I’m feeling sentimental these days, but I’ve been thinking a lot about how freaking awesome the SFF community is, and how lucky I am to be a part of it. Okay, I know there are times when it’s not, and there’ve been lots of posts and discussion about that, but today I want to focus on the good; on the great. Because, on the whole, the community has been great to me, and great for me.

My first experience with genre-types came in the form of books. I’m not talking novels, but “how-to” books written by industry heavyweights such Stephen King, whose On Writing is both an entertaining and educational read for beginners and old-hats alike. Often before writing sessions I would browse a few pages from one of these books, pulling inspiration and motivation from the passion evident there to feed my output for the day.

I moved on to classes, figuring I needed some interaction with actual, you know, people. After having taken a number of creative writing courses through the Continuing Education program at the university, I decided it was time to find a genre-focused writing group, if such a thing existed. Don’t get me wrong: the literary writers I learned from were wonderful, but the word “plot” was literally never mentioned and ohmygod I could only handle so many stories about dysfunctional farm families. A link on the Alberta Writers Guild website directed me to the Imaginative Fiction Writers Association (side note: I’m not sure what un-imaginative fiction might be like, but I imagine it’s not good…).  I’ve posted about this wondrous group before, but in a nutshell it’s a place where local genre writers can go to learn All The Things about writing and the business of writing.

And here I will admit to failing the test to gain admittance to my first meeting. You see, IFWA didn’t mention on their website (at the time) that one was supposed to enter through the unmarked, sometimes locked back door of the bookstore (though in hindsight that seems entirely appropriate). I showed up and, silly me, tried to go in the front door, which was also locked. I rattled it to no avail, and shuffled back home.

Undeterred and armed with email instructions from the president, I returned, successfully gained access, then sat terrified as the group conducted a reading-out-loud exercise. What. The. Hell. Thankfully there wasn’t time for everyone (not even close) and it stopped well short of me. I didn’t go back for probably six or seven months just to make sure that god-awful exercise was over.

However, at that meeting I learned about the World Fantasy Convention happening in Calgary in October 2008, which would be my first ever convention. I plotted out a rigorous schedule of panels to attend, scribbled notes diligently, and went home feeling smug about all the wisdom I’d absorbed.

Oh, there were…parties? Oops. I guess I might’ve found that out if I’d talked to anyone.

I went back to IFWA and over time, gained enough confidence to participate in a meaningful way: critiquing stories, submitting my stories for critique, etc. I attended my first “fan” convention, Con-Version, which was…interesting.

Then came World Fantasy 2009, which was the single biggest turning point for me. I went on my own, not knowing anyone but determined to meet people this time. Not necessarily Important People—I didn’t have anything to pitch or any particular agenda—but just other writers like me. When a pink-haired lady stepped on to the elevator I was pretty sure she must be a convention attendee, and introduced myself. That was Christie Yant, who’d arranged through Twitter to meet a bunch of other folks and kindly invited me along. From there I met Sandra Wickham (a fellow Canadian), John Remy, Robert Jackson Bennett, and Morgan Dempsey. We were all at the aspiring, or just newly published phase (well, except Robert, the prodigy, who had his first novel out through Orbit), and just hung out together and had fun for the entire weekend.

In the wake of that amazing convention I did my best to stay in touch with everyone by email. But…they weren’t really email types, preferring Twitter instead.

I remember looking in on Twitter occasionally like a sad, lonely child with her nose pressed against the window watching other kids play outside. I was hesitant to sign up—I only knew five people on all of Twitter and everyone else seemed to have hundreds of followers. And what would I possibly say? But…these folks were too great to resist, and I created an account. My first direct message was from John Remy, welcoming me and saying it “made his day” to see me on Twitter. Aw.

From there I met a whole litany of other great folks, including anthologist Jennifer Brozek, who I interned for and who taught me a lot, and Jaym Gates, who I co-edited an entire anthology with before we ever met in person. (Me, an editor? How did that happen?) And of course more Inkpunky-types and all-around wonderful people: Wendy Wagner, Andy Romine, Adam Israel, and Galen Dara. Now I’d estimate that probably 90% of my Twitter feed is made up of writers, editors, publishers, and/or agents. And ask my local writing peeps: I’m always yammering on to anyone who’ll listen about how awesome the SFF community is on Twitter and encouraging others to join.

There have been other conventions: Orycon, World Horror, V-Con, Keycon, When Words Collide, World Con, and of course more World Fantasy Conventions; countless IFWA meetings and events; sundry workshops taught by amazing mentors like Robert J. Sawyer; various retreats, readings, etc. My sense of community—it just keeps growing.

So, what’s been great, if it’s not already obvious? For one thing I’ve learned tons. My writing’s gotten better (first, second, third, and fourth sales!) and my knowledge of the industry has grown by leaps and bounds, as has my familiarity with the SFF and horror genres in general (though I still have a ways to go). I’ve gained opportunities: editing anthologies, assistant editing for a pro-paying horror magazine (woooo!), and getting invitations to submit to various markets.

But you know what means the most? The support. If I tweet about a rejection, numerous people will respond to console and commiserate with me; if I tweet about an acceptance, probably even more people will chime in to congratulate me or retweet my good news.

And when I separated from my husband last summer, and during some other hard times that followed, I could absolutely count on my friends in the SFF community to be there—as much as my family and maybe even more so than many of my old friends. Emails and direct messages just to check in; post-cards with cheery notes; Gmail chats and Google+ hangouts; a mix-tape (sob); tight hugs when I was/am lucky enough to see them in person. Acceptance, understanding, advice, encouragement, and compassion.

Turns out I’m not alone in this business of writing, or in life, and that is a great feeling.

Thanks, my people.

Trackback URL

  • Christie Yant

    I have something in both my eyes. 

    <3 

    • Erika Holt

      Thanks for being such a wonderful friend. <3

  • http://www.jameslcarey.com/ James L. Carey

    Love it.  :)

    • Erika Holt

      Thank you! It was a fun, happy post to write. :)

  • http://lukemeup.com/ Luke EisBrenner

    Enjoyed your post, Erika. Quite the journey.

    • Erika Holt

      Thank you so much! And I hope to keep adding to the story… :)

  • Pingback: SF Tidbits for 6/13/12 - SF Signal – A Speculative Fiction Blog

  • John

    I can relate to all of this, but most especially the last section. I am so grateful that we can be here for one another. And so glad that I can be a part of your journey. Thank you for this post.

  • http://www.sarahgrey.net/ Sarah Grey

    I went to my first con in April, all by my lonesome.  I attended some fabulous panels, became close friends with my hotel room, and even wrote a couple stories in my free time, but I didn’t really talk to anyone, and I didn’t even figure out what a “con suite” was until they’d given all the free food away.  I think my sense of being an unpublished imposter paralyzed me.

    I wish I’d read something like this before I went.  It sounds like it’s absolutely worth taking the leap and getting to know people.

    Next time.  Definitely next time.

  • http://twitter.com/Lindsay_Kitson Lindsay Kitson

    Great post, I feel the same way about the geek world in general that I was introduced to the first time I went to Keycon. I had just moved to Winnipeg from a small city that didn’t have the population to have groups of geeks gather together. If you didn’t fit in with the jocks and the catty girls or the bullies, the only group left was the misfit outcasts who drank underage and did drugs or whatever else that got them cast out. Of course there was a couple of us just plain geeks, but it wasn’t a healthy environment.

    But then I moved to Winnipeg, and was kind of bewildered to find large groups of people like me. It was a big lonely hole in my life that was filled – suddenly there were whole groups of people with whom I could just be myself and talk about things I was interested in.