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?
“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.