“…an emperor without a stitch of clothes on”

He thinks that he’s bad, when his shit is so sad
But he’s taking the bows for what he’s never had
(And he never will)
-Bill Champlin, “Stone Cold Hollywood”

That song lyric kept running through my head as I simultaneously looked forward to and dreaded Readercon.

Cross-reference my list of literary idols with Readercon 21’s guest list, and you’ll see a great many names in common.  The thought of sharing oxygen with those writers just blew my mind.  I did my best to prepare for a war against my shy, introverted nature.

For awhile, it was a war of attrition.

I tried explaining to a friend, who isn’t a writer, that this was more than fanboy nerves.  Because I wasn’t going as just a fan.  I was going as a writer.  Not that I had a clear idea of what “going as a writer” meant.   Just that my worst fear was striking up a conversation with one of my idols (say, Howard Waldrop), mention I’m a writer, and get told, “Go ‘way kid, you bother me.”

I told my friend, “It’s almost like I don’t have the right to be there.”  To which she responded, “What–you paid, right?”

Yes, I’d paid the con registration, entitling me to a name badge.  And yes, according to Hoyle, I am a writer, insofar as I do write and have gotten published once in a blue moon.  I’ve even been paid for some of those acceptances.  But, none of that helped me feel like a writer going in to Readercon.  The idea of walking in, declaring myself “a Writer,” and even tacitly imply that I’m remotely in the same ballpark as some the con’s guests–well, that just seemed delusional at best, and pretentious at worst.

Howard Waldrop is a writer.  Mary Robinette Kowal is a writer.  Junot Diaz, who came as Samuel “Chip” Delaney’s guest–they’re both writers.  What was I, compared to them?

It was a conversation with Jaym Gates during a late-night caffeine-run that finally put a name to it.  She said what I’d been feeling:

“I feel like a fraud.”

Yup, that was it.  That was what I felt like.  Suuuure, I was a writer… the way someone who got a standing ovation one night singing “Sweet Transvestite” at a karaoke bar can call himself a singer.  And, I’m damn sure not a singer.

Oddly enough, that feeling became easier to deal with once it had a name.  I could unpack it a bit: I realized that I wasn’t defrauding anybody.  I certainly wasn’t going around telling people that I was in the same league as Waldrop or Kowal or Diaz or Delany or Hopkinson or Rosenbaum or Hand or Valente–obviously, I never even thought that of myself.  And, just what the hell is being a “Writer” supposed to feel like, anyway?

Those realizations allowed me to be at Readercon as what I was, and to do what I went there to do.  Remember that John Waters quote I fixated on awhile back?  Well, I’ll be damned if focusing on my Readercon goals, rather than my personal insecurities, didn’t help me to “ignore how maladjusted [I] would be if [I] had the time to notice it in the first place.”

By the end of the con, I met almost all of my Twitter peeps I’d intended to meet.  I got the one autograph I coveted.  I met 98% of the idols I planned to meet and even one I didn’t.  Yes, I let a few slip away (namely, ‘zine editors who’ve rejected me).  And my insecurities didn’t just vanish.  But the important thing was that, on at least two occassions, I was able to tell people who asked me what I did:

“I write stories.”

So, that’s how I processed my feelings of being an emperor with no clothes.  Now, go see Jaym do the same thing.

10 thoughts on ““…an emperor without a stitch of clothes on””

  1. Oh, man. I feel y'all on this so hard. Though my insecurities include not being half as well-read as everyone else at the con. I mean, I haven't even HEARD OF half the guests!

  2. You know, I gotta wonder if ignorance is bliss. Because I had heard of most of the guests, which made me painfully aware of just how much I haven't read. I haven't read any Stross and haven't finished the one Hopkinson story collection I own. I wasn't going to tell Delany I hadn't read Dhalgren. I'm only one chapter in to Hand's Generation Loss.

    There just isn't enough time in the world to read everything, is there?

  3. There just isn't enough time in the world to read everything, is there?

    That's so true. My to-read shelf is scary, and that doesn't even get into the books I need to *borrow* (from a friend or the library).

    I have a lot of insecurities, relating to even my fandom – I don't like a lot of the critically-acclaimed writers, and many of the books I read won't earn much acclaim.

    (And I'll get to feel even more like a fraud at NASFIC, when I'm actually going to be ON PANELS with people. Shit?)

  4. Yeah, my fandom definitely isn't mainstream. That was Readercon's big draw for me: the work from the crop of writers that was there was more my speed than that of the writers at the last con I attended.

    You're on NASFiC panels? Cool! Well, you wouldn't be on if you didn't have something you could contribute, eh? I'm sure you'll be wonderful!

  5. Okay, I'd only say this on your blog, but THAT IS SUCH BULLSHIT!

    Every writer who ever lived did the same thing you do: put one word after the other, following the voices in their heads until the stories were complete. Pahlaniuk, Milton, Diaz, Shakespeare… every single one went through the same process as you do.

    That's common ground, my friend. That's a point of contact. I don't subscribe to this idolizing of published authors. Respect? Hell to the yeah. You're-better-than-me-simply-because-of-the-way-you-string-words-together? Hell to the no. They're just different. I tell my stories my way, you tell yours your way, they tell theirs their way.

    Screw inferiority complexes. Your fiction is every bit as valid as theirs. Believe it, brother. I'm glad by the end of the conference you could own your dreams. Everyone should have such passion.

  6. Heh, one of them is about Harry Potter, and another I have no idea why I'm on. I just wanted to be in the Broad Universe reading, and I have other things to do, too. Which is cool!

  7. @Simon: You're-better-than-me-simply-because-of-the-way-you-string-words-together? Hell to the no.

    I agree in principle: That, in itself, is no reason to worship some of these people.

    But if I unpack that in the same way I unpacked my love for derby girls, there's more to it, at least for me. Yes, they're my idols 'cos they write the kinds of stories I want to read and I'd love to write like them when I grow up.

    Aside from that, the fact that they have "idol" status for some (me) means that for whatever fears my idols and I might share, they overcame theirs.

  8. @Conni: There is something to be said for faking it 'til you make it! Although you wouldn't be the first panelist I've heard of or seen who'd start out with, "I have no idea what I'm doing here." ๐Ÿ™‚

  9. Yay for successfully conquering fears! And YAY for no clothing! I totally hear you on how hard it is to talk to people we are impressed with, so well done for overcoming it.

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