Thursday, April 26, 2012
So... Why Pulp: Doing the Con
I’ve just had a wonderful weekend. It’s not often you can say you went off on business trip and came away feeling rejuvenated—at least spiritually. For those of you who don’t care for metaphysical references, let’s just say I am once again motivated to expand my craft. Conventions can do that to you.
I’d love to go to more than one convention, but it just isn’t in the budget. As it is, this will be my one and only con appearance this year, and my sole vacation as well. I chose Pulp Ark 2012 because it is hosted by the company I write most often for, Pro Se Press, and they gave me my first break. It is one of the smaller conventions out there, but it is also totally free, and set in a very lovely area in the Ozark foothills. Batesville is a quaint little city; it reminds me very much of the mill towns of my part of Connecticut, and the local folks are some of the nicest, most polite and pleasant people I’ve ever met.
This is only Pulp Ark’s second year and yet it’s already made some significant growth. We had more visitors this year, and some really interesting and eclectic special guests, which you can read about here. We were in a new venue with more room to lay out tables so that all could be taken in at a glance, and hosted plenty of panels and entertainment. The weather wasn’t with us for the first day, but we got through it, and the enthusiasm of the 200 or so fifth graders from local schools who came to see the show and bought books or asked for autographs well made up for the rain. Those enthusiastic kids swarmed the hall after the outdoor presentation and entertainment for them was over, and it was a joyful sight to see. I love the fact that in this day and age of electronic gadgets; school children still love to read real books.
One of the nicest things about cons—especially small ones like Pulp Ark—is the people you get to meet and talk with. I renewed acquaintances with old friends and met some that I only knew from their writing, industry reputations, or online posts. I networked with a lot of folks. Our own Pro Se tables were overflowing with the largesse of our authors, with one strictly devoted to the magazines we have produced and the other was filled with novels and anthologies. When you consider that Pro Se itself has only been in business two years, that is quite impressive. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg, as we had eight other publishers present as well as folks selling sundry and varied items including books, masks, art, music, magic wands, collectibles... The night before the con opened we had a meet & greet in a local coffee house that makes the BEST chai latte ever known to mankind and several of us read excerpts of our work. During the con weekend I got to watch several new authors eagerly signing their first autographs or books, friends and peers humbly excepting awards for themselves and others, and some folks dressed up as their own story characters. We had a charity auction and a trivia game that both raised hundreds of dollars for local literacy groups, that aforementioned award ceremony with some very touching tributes included, and really, all sorts of activities going on throughout the weekend. It was like Woodstock, but with books and stories as the main draw, though we also had plenty of music. Pulp Ark is the little con with the big heart.
I enjoy talking to people about what I do, so I am always glad to be on panels and to have folks walking up to ask me about my writing, or how to get published. I found myself in the unique position of being a mentor and guide to some and a student listening carefully to others who have a lot more industry ‘chops’ than I do. You can learn quite a bit at cons if you hit the right folks. While I am far from experienced, having only attended two years of Pulp Ark so far, what I have learned has been invaluable. Pulp lovers and producers of all levels are some of the most generous folks in the world when it comes to sharing their expertise and knowledge, and you can soak up a lot just by walking around looking at displays and setup techniques. Just watching folks moving their stuff in and out, the way it gets packed or displayed, is an education in itself.
Behind the carnival atmosphere, there is a lot of serious, year round work that goes into putting even a small con together. It’s a monumental task even on a small scale, and I can sense that it is a learning experience too. Talking with the folks behind Pulp Ark, I am amazed at how much previous networking at other cons went into setting this one up. There is something to be said for the con experience, where you can gather all kinds of knowledge which will later impact your own ideas. Getting people to know you better definitely helps promote your work as well as any venue you are attached to. I try to learn more about the background and locations of those who have tables set up or come in as guests. Everyone has a story to tell, and they are all pretty interesting to talk with. Pulp is their love, but not their entire life, and I am so impressed with everything else these folks juggle to do what they so obviously enjoy.
Guest speakers generally have some sort of celebrity status or industry experience that makes them well known or considered experts in their field—at least by the reputation of their work. Pulp Ark had several this year, and I found listening to them very enlightening. You begin to realize that these are people who weren’t handed anything on a platter, and actually worked very hard to get where they are. Felix Silla was a great inspiration because he is a humble man who seemed to take everything in stride, and yet still found some mirth in the most frustrating circumstances. He was fun to chat with, and quite humorous, but I still got a strong sense of his love for the movie industry the way it was, and his frustration at it becoming a marketing scheme rather than a vehicle for entertainment. Having dealt with trying to break into mainstream publishing for so many years, I can easily relate to that, because this is the age of number crunchers running the show. It’s aggravating when you do good work and see it passed by repeatedly simply because nobody knows your name or cares about your reputation as much as they do what some industry wonk who doesn’t read claims should sell well. At that level, Mr. Silla and I connected, something we wouldn’t have been able to do without the con bringing us together.
Cons have plenty of interesting stuff for sale. You can walk through the aisles and drool, and pore through racks and boxes to your heart’s content. Deals are struck and there’s generally a story behind each purchase. I couldn’t afford to do much in the way of buying with my suitcase already stuffed to the gills and my living arrangements in a state of flux, but I did some looking. I got to see what others were buying too. A couple of folks came up to show me their treasures, and while my tastes might be different, I shared in the joys of finding something unique and special or anxiously sought after. I’m a long time bargain hunter who prowls the thrift stores, flea markets and yard sales looking for gold nuggets in what other folks consider discards. I understand very well the thrill of the deal of the day.
Ah, and then there is the before and after hours gatherings, where groups of folks from the con find they really don’t want to start the day alone or go slinking off by themselves once it’s over. Breakfasts and dinners together, impromptu hotel lobby meetings and clandestine celebratory parties, there’s plenty of evidence that this is more a brother and sisterhood experience than a bunch of enthusiasts thrown together by chance. I’m sure there are instances where there is some aggressively competitive behavior, but I’ve seen far less of that than I expected. The atmosphere was often all-ages friendly, as a few children of parents who work the con were in attendance, and it’s interesting how even at a young age, they adjust to hanging around all day with a bunch of geek adults. Watching the young ones getting immersed into this pulpy world of ours, it makes me smile to realize we are quietly but effectively passing Pulp’s torch to a new generation. To say we’re all one big family isn’t really stretching the term much. I felt sad when the final day ended and it was time to pack up and go home. The goodbyes were heartfelt and emotional, the handshakes and hugs very real.
Over all, the con experience is a very positive one, and I’m glad I can attend at least one every year. Eventually I’d love to do more, because I do enjoy meeting people and talking about what I do and love, which is writing and reading New Pulp. If you can make it to even one con a year, I urge you to go. You’re going to learn a whole lot more about your craft, and have a chance to share what you know too. You’ll come away with a far better appreciation for why we all do this crazy thing we do called New Pulp.