My first World Fantasy Convention was way back in 1996. I was an aspiring writer with a bunch of short stories and stack of rejection letters under my belt. I wasn’t interested in costumes or games, so the well-known fan cons held little appeal. What I wanted were contacts in the publishing industry, the more the better. A friend invited me to room with her at WFC and promised the convention would be full of opportunities to meet editors. So off to Schaumburg, Illinois we went.
The first day I walked around in a daze, nearly giving myself whiplash as I spied writers whose books I’d read and admired. By day two I felt a little more at home. Early that morning I headed down to the hotel coffee shop for breakfast. Sitting at a small table in the corner was Ellen Asher, one of that year’s Guests of Honor. Ellen was the editor-in-chief of the Science Fiction Book Club, of which I was a long-time member. I sat at the table next to her and ordered breakfast. Instead of going over the program book, as I’d intended, I pulled out the latest catalog from SFBC, spread it out before me, and began reading. Ellen leaned over and said, “I couldn’t help but notice what you’re reading. What do you think of this month’s selections?” I spent the next thirty minutes engaged in a delightful conversation with a woman whose finger was firmly on the pulse of the genre I loved.
The panel discussions were eye-opening, and motivating, and just plain fun. I will never forget one in particular. The title was, “Is there a market for 1,000-page novels?” The panelists were mostly editors, which was why I was in that particular session. I listened as they discussed the realities of increased production costs, and higher cover prices, and whether or not readers would be willing to pay that much more for a book. One by one they seemed to come to the consensus that, “It would be nice, but there probably isn’t a big enough market for books that size.” All except one guy on the end. He remained mostly silent, leaning back in his chair with his hands folded across his stomach. Finally, he answered the question with a simple, “Well, I hope so.” That man was a writer I’d never heard of – a guy by the name of George R. R. Martin. His book, A Game of Thrones, had been released 2 months before.
One of my goals for the convention was to connect with Kristine Katherine Rusch, then editor of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. She’d contributed heavily to that stack of rejection letters I had at home. I attended a panel she was on with her husband, Dean Wesley Smith, and afterward in the hallway joined a cluster of people talking to them. When I had a chance I introduced myself – and she knew me! She remembered my name! I was flabbergasted. Then Dean started introducing me to the others standing there. Someone asked jokingly, “You’re both Smiths. Are you related?” Dean put his arm around my shoulders, and said, “Yeah. She’s my little sister. We’re proof that you don’t need a stand-out name to make it in this business.”
That first WFC remains one of my favorites. Not because of the schedule, or the location, or the ice cream social, but because I felt like I’d found my people. I joined a close-knit group of people who loved to read and write the same stories I did. They spoke my language. (And no, I don’t mean Elvish!) WFC still feels that way to me. Networking? Yes. Making contacts? Certainly. But mostly, it’s like a family reunion.
I’ll see you in Salt Lake!
Ginny Smith is a Co-Chair of WFC 2020. When she’s not running conventions, she is an award-winning author with thirty-seven books in a variety of genres written as Virginia Smith. In 2019, she returned to her literary first love with the release of Sister of the Brotherhood, an epic fantasy novel written under the pen name Ginny Patrick. Find out more at www.VirginiaSmith.org.