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CONvergence 2021 Recap

CONvergence is a special sort of con, as it’s not one focused on big name celebrities. The guests are usually more intellectual, often local, and emphasis is put more on the panels and coming together to game, shop, and discuss the wonders of being a geek.

Even though attendance was capped at 3500, with many other precautions in place to protect people from spreading COVID-19 (and anything else for that matter), I had a blast at this convention and was honored to be one of the con’s invited participants.

Besides some great conversations at my book signings, I had the pleasure of participating in three memorable panels.

1. Growth of Queer Fiction

I was joined by moderator Gabriela Santiago, and we chatted together and with a late-night audience about trends we’re seeing in queer fiction, the question of whether it’s more prevalent today, and what we can do to connect and help create more content.

For me, the biggest trend is the shift into more light-hearted works in recent years, which makes me happier than I can say. For so long, queer fiction was delegated to tragic stories, and while tragedy, especially stories of facing and overcoming adversity are important, it’s comforting to encounter so many more stories about happily ever afters, non-heteronormative worlds, domestic bliss and families, as well as so many more sexualities and identities than what used to be “allowed” in media.

I think it very much is more prevalent, and by encouraging the younger generation to create content, we can ensure this doesn’t go away. My communities tend to be virtual, on Facebook groups and Tumblr, but people also shared about TikTok and Bookstagramers, as well as how to reach out to your local libraries and booksellers for books, recommendations, and potential writer groups.

For me, one possible threat to queer fiction is us NOT supporting each other or thinking one part of our community is less valid or less deserving of telling their stories than others. I think it’s also important to not assume and not force creators to explain their identities as justification for the stories they’re writing. It’s awful seeing so many people forcibly outed recently just so they are allowed to write what they’re writing. If the story is good and the intent pure, anything and everything is valid from anyone who wants to tell those stories. I hope the growth of queer fiction never loses sight of that.

2. Traditional or Self-Publishing

One of the guests of honor at the con this year was on both of my Sunday panels, Laura Anne Gilman. With an incomparable moderator in T. Aaron Cisco, we did this interview style with both Laura Anne and I offering up our personal experiences with traditional, indie, and self-publishing. Laura Anne and I also both have the experience of being editors within the publishing world.

We agreed that one method isn’t better than another, but the approach toward and uses of each varies. Especially if you start with no publishing experience, jumping right into self-publishing isn’t recommended. For me, I started with an indie experience, but with people who knew how to craft a well typeset book with a beautifully designed cover, and from there, I built up enough of a catalog to feel more confident when approaching a larger publisher. A larger publisher is going to be able to reach more readers, pay you more, and make you a better writer with their editing team, but you do have a little less control. That said, I would always send my main books to my main publisher, anything more fringe to secondary smaller publishers, and short stories I publish myself.

There’s no magic bullet for getting something published. It really is about try and try again. Today, you don’t need an agent, though if you’re having trouble breaking into the industry, depending on your genre, it may help get your foot in the door.

Most important is researching publishers that fit your genre and who are reputable. Read submission guidelines before submitting anything and STICK TO THEM. If the publisher you want isn’t open to new submissions right now, watch for when they’ll have open calls for specific topics or genres. The most important thing is to not give up, and if you decide on the self-publishing route, either learn to kick ass at every portion yourself, or outsource what you can’t do to people who can.

3. Fanfiction as Writing Training

This was a great panel to end on, as it was the most engaged and “fun.” Laura Anne joined me again, along with Marguerite Krause (mod), and Elliott Kios Dean. Spanning different generations and fandoms, we all had our own perspectives on this subject but had the consensus that fanfiction is different from original works in that it does the heavy lifting for you by world-building, but it is in no way inferior when you consider the integrity of a written work.

Fanfiction is great writing training because it’s like having training wheels. For me, it helped me first learn to finish a story, because I wasn’t as obsessed with getting everything perfect, and again, I didn’t have to build the world or imagine these characters into existence—it was all already there. After practice, practice, practice, I was able to take my growing skills and turn them toward original works with newfound confidence.

I also cannot stress the wonders of immediate feedback, chapter by chapter, which can help hone your skills as you learn plot progression and the different ways readers might interpret something, even if it wasn’t your intention. Initial fandom feedback would often help craft a story for me, changing my plans entirely, and afterward, I had more proficiency toward coming up with those ideas myself for later stories.

As far as flipping fics go, or adapting fanfiction into original works, it’s important to remember that not every fic can be flipped. It needs to be something not so ingrained in canon that you can’t make it wholly unique. A great way to practice this is with alternate universe fics, but other stories can also be adapted if done carefully.

Fair use is so important, fanfiction is so important, and while all creators need to respect each other’s works, once you put something out there, it belongs to the fans, and I wish for every creator to have the courage to allow fanworks of their stories. It’s not only flattering but helps foster the next generation of writers.

Want to see me in person yourself? I’ll be at Fall Con XL, Saturday September 25th, presented by the Midwest Comic Book Fans (MCBF) at the Minnesota State Fair Grounds. Don’t miss it!

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