I went to the Nebula conference last weekend, and even though I returned a week ago and this post is really late, the part of me that has Feelings is still so warm inside.
I didn’t expect to get to go–it wasn’t even an option that I had considered until Diane Turnshek emailed some Alpha Workshop alumni, asking if any of us would be interested in being on a panel about what teens want from young adult fiction. Still riding a wave of post-ICFA professional confidence, I impulsively said “yes.” Two other girls responded to the email as well–my friends Ana Curtis and Kyra Boisseree. I spent about a week freaking out about this, because who was I to talk about literally anything with any measure of authority in front of real live actual people, especially real live actual people who are capital-P Professionals in their field?
And then college and finals and academic stress made me stop thinking about it for a while, at least at intervals. I bought plane tickets, we booked hotel rooms. Thanks to the Powers That Be of con organization, our memberships were free, and I can’t put into words how grateful I am for that, because otherwise, I know I wouldn’t have been able to attend. Amal El-Mohtar, who was one of the guest authors from my year at Alpha, asked me to be on a panel about “what’s next in genre,” full of people who I am both intimidated by and look up to immensely. But I couldn’t say no to Amal (I don’t think anyone can say no to Amal), so I ended up on two panels on the same day, which, scared me to death at the time. (I still have no idea how I pulled that off.)
I was also volunteering at the con–I worked registration and stuffed bags full of books on Wednesday, before it started, which was a lovely way to meet people and prepare my introverted self for meeting…many, many more people. So many people.
I was the first of the Youths(TM) to arrive, so I was letting everyone else into the hotel room, which meant that when Ana arrived at 5:30 in the morning, I was ready and waiting with hugs and I-haven’t-seen-you-in-a-YEAR feelings. I was a sleepy mess, but I was ready. I was much more put-together for Kyra’s arrival, and for the beginning of the con, where I worked registration for a few hours before running away to get a flash fiction piece critique from the wonderful Tracy Townsend. She read my piece out loud, which I was not expecting, and then ripped it to little tiny bits in the most beautiful way, which I was expecting, and I will be eternally grateful to her for it.
On Thursday night, I was really, really shy. Like, painfully so. I went on the observatory tour, with Diane and Kyra–Ana was recovering from having been on a train for the entire previous night–and several other wonderful people, and got to see Jupiter from the top of a hill overlooking Pittsburgh, which blew my mind a little. Also, did you know there are people buried in the basement? There are people buried in the basement in the Allegheny Observatory. I got back in time to say hi to Amal, after much self-convincing–shyness is fun like that–and to sit and converse awkwardly with delightful people whom I felt very small next to, through no fault of theirs. It’s just not that hard to make me feel small–I usually seem to just do it to myself in advance, so that nobody else has to. I’m working on it.
Friday, I went to flash talks and panels and learned so many cool things about other careers for writers, writing and gaming, non-western names for characters, and using Patreon as a writer. That night, I also volunteered at the mass signing, helping set up and giving out bookmarks to promote Parsec–and, by extension, Alpha. I got to meet up briefly with Alyssa Wong, who I’d met at ICFA, and I got Seanan McGuire to sign my ARC of Down Among the Sticks and Bones, and I may have melted a little (a lot. I melted a lot). I fangirled at several more people, whom I will not name, because I was so painfully awkward and I’m still cringing about it. I was also introduced to the wonderful Patrick Ropp, and met up with Carrie DiRisio, of Brooding YA hero fame, and I have claimed them both as my mom friends. I was also a little more adventurous on Friday night. following people down to the bar and attaching myself, Ana, and Kyra to people we all recognized, because that’s the best way to not seem awkward, right?
Friday night was also when several people, including my third mom friend Sam Miller and Mary Robinette Kowal, convinced me to start writing an idea that I wasn’t confident at all about starting. I’m still not confident about starting it, but now that so many people know about it, I kind of have to follow through, which is a good thing. (I’ll do my best not to disappoint.) Also, I’ve never seen anything more impressive than Mary Robinette Kowal shutting down a loud drunk guy at one in the morning, and I doubt I ever will again.
Saturday was panel day. The first panel was at 2PM, so I spent the hours of 6AM to 1:30 PM unable to sleep and unable to stop listing all the things that could go wrong. It didn’t help that I had also been told on the Tuesday before that Jane Yolen would be on the YA panel with us, which was both awesome and terrifying at the same time. Then, I had to figure out what I would say about “the future of genre” on a panel with Charlie Jane Anders, Jason Sanford, Navah Wolfe, and Amal El-Mohtar.
I was kind of a mess.
I have no idea how I made it through, but I’m immensely proud of how both panels went. I’m still absolutely blown away by the conversation I got to have with my fellow Youths(TM) about the state of young adult fiction right now (spoiler: it’s getting more diverse and, on at least on some levels, YA publishing is respecting its target demographic more than I ever remember it doing so before, and it has a long way to go but I like where it’s going). I’m also beyond honored that I got to discuss current trends in genre with the people who are actually shaping it. I also later saw that some people had quoted me and my fellow panelists, on both occasions, on Twitter, which melted me all over again. I’m glad I was able to provide some insight for some of you.
And that night, the banquet! and the awards! We wore fancy dresses, and I got distracted every few seconds by other people’s outfits–people were just aggressively beautiful. The awards ceremony was emotional and beautiful and I’m so happy for all of the winners. The three that stand out most in my mind are Amal, whose story made me feel SO MANY THINGS, Charlie Jane Anders, whose book I read on the plane to the Nebulas and which scared so much of me and delighted the rest, and Seanan McGuire, whose novella Every Heart A Doorway has a special place in my heart as the first time I remember ever seeing an asexual character in a book.
I spent the rest of the night following friends around, congratulating people, having very loud, happy conversations, and staying up until three in the morning because I didn’t want to miss a single thing.
I left on Sunday, but not before getting to catch a panel on fairy tale retellings, where Navah, Amal, Seanan, and Jane discussed what makes a fairy tale retelling, and Seanan told us all how terrifying Snow White actually is when you think about it.
I got to the airport exhausted, but warm, and I’m so grateful for having been able to go. I’m already examining my options for next year–I don’t know if I’ll be able to make it, but I’m definitely going to try and come back.