The Writer’s Block: The Other Side of the Convention Table

I do a lot of conventions. It’s a great way to meet new readers, get my face and books out there, and yes, stalk celebrities. But conventions aren’t all fun and games. It can be exhausting greeting and talking with people for three days straight, and I’ll admit, by Day 3, I’m not at my perky best. There are snafus and cancelled guests and times when a potty break is desperately needed yet just can’t happen. I invite you now to Rhode Island ComicCon 2015 to witness the other side of the convention table.

Day 1 (Friday): We arrive a couple hours before the doors open to check in and set up. There’s a line to check in, so Jason drops off our inventory at the table while I stand behind a large, hirsute man who is complaining loudly that he doesn’t want to stand in line. None of us do, pal. It’s all part of the routine. I use the emergency tube of Nair I keep in my purse to depilate a smiley face in his back hair. Jason comes back to relieve me, and I go to the table to set up.

Setting up isn’t just propping up books on a table. I lay out the tablecloth, lint-roll the cat hair off it, set up book stands, arrange the books in an eye-catching way so that all of the black covers (so prevalent in horror) aren’t displayed together but the kids’ books are; pull out pens (for signing books), the receipt book (to track sales), and the antibacterial hand sanitizer (for those times people sneeze when perusing books, which happens more often than you might think). I greet our neighbors, like artist Karen Gosselin and jewelry dealer Charlie Flowers and fellow author Jackie Leduc and her mom. (You do enough conventions, you start making friends with the other vendors.) I put up my banner and arrange the extra inventory under the table and in the meantime, Jason comes back with our passes. We’re ready to go!

Six hours later, I’m tired, I haven’t met any of the thirty-odd celebrities billed to be here this weekend, and I’m already on my second bottle of hand sanitizer (it’s flu season, folks). Sales have been slow, but not terrible—not unusual for a Friday night. I’ve met a charming young man whose mother has MS, an older gentleman who wants to be a writer, and a woman who wants to go to clown school (strangers will tell you the most amazing things at these events). We’ve been invited to dinner by our friends Cat and Barry, so we head to their place, where I gorge myself on good conversation and mozzarella-stuffed meatballs.

Day 2 (Saturday): Saturday is traditionally the busiest day of the convention. Before the doors open, Jason takes me over to Lou Ferrigno’s table to introduce us. That’s right: the Incredible Hulk is in the building. Our exchange went something like this:

Me: I love you.

Lou: Thank you (shakes my hand).

Me: No, seriously, as soon as you stop touching my hand, I’m going to text my sister and tell her I touched you.

Lou: Security!

This elation over meeting the big green guy of my youth lasts for most of the morning . . . until I get my first sneeze-reader (God bless you).

The space behind our table is cramped, and if I’m sitting, I have to twist my body sideways, causing what will eventually be pretty severe pain in my back and knee (still with me seven days later as I type this). The people-watching is fun, though I’m resentful that the man dressed as Harley Quinn looks sexier than I ever have. I talk to one guy about a book project he’s been thinking of and another about how he hasn’t been to a dentist in ten years. I tell aspiring authors about different writing organizations and reiterate the importance of editing (I’m sitting across from a sign with an improperly formatted ellipsis, by the way, and it drives me nuts all weekend). Jason disappears for two hours to attend celebrity panel discussions, and I text him because I need the little writers’ room. He ignores me until I text him again, reporting that I have now peed my pants. He shows up five minutes later, panicked and with a handful of paper towels. (To clarify, I had not. It was merely a clever tactic to get him back to the table.)

By the end of the day, we’ve sold several books, I’ve met a ton of new people, and my socialization skills are completely depleted. I bark at Jason because I’m tired, I don’t like socializing, and I certainly can’t write or edit or clean the house when I’m at these things for three days straight. It’s his fault that he’s always trying to promote me and get free tables and invitations to be a guest at these things, the selfish bastard. He makes an emergency stop at Panera Bread to ply me with macaroni and cheese just to shut me up (can’t yell at him if I’m eating).

Day 3 (Sunday): Stick a fork in me—I’m done. For the first two hours, I can’t even muster up the energy to look people in the eye. I cradle my industrial-size coffee cup (urn, whatever) and try not to cry. I can’t do this. I’m an introvert. This is too much.

Then, a young woman named Anastasia picks up a copy of Ordinary Boy. She reads the back and looks up at me and tells me that the main character sounds just like her. She wants to buy the book and asks me timidly for my autograph. I instantly love this young woman. Okay, yes. This is why I do these things.

I get to meet wrestler Ted DiBiase and eyeball actors Ralph Macchio and Michael Dorn. I slink down lower in my seat when the organizers are questioning bystanders to find out who the vandal was that used a red Sharpie to indicate a space was needed before the ellipsis in the sign that’s been tormenting me across the way all weekend. I sell lots of books and meet even more people and at the end of the day, Anastasia comes back to buy a second book, because she’s the coolest kid ever and she loves to read.

The convention ends at 5 PM. We have packing up down to a science, and the car is loaded up by 5:15. We head home.

“We did well,” Jason says, and yes, okay, he’s right. But I’m burned out and I’m going to be useless for the next three days. These events exhaust me so thoroughly—mentally, physically, emotionally—that I don’t bounce back quickly from them. I want to tell him that we have to stop doing so many of these things (something I have, in fact, said several times) because I don’t have it in me. It’s too much. It’s all too much.

“That one girl came back twice. That was cool.”

Again, he’s right. That was pretty cool. And because of that one girl who shyly asked for my autograph, the whole convention was worth it. I decide not to gripe during the car ride home, and nap instead. Clean houses are overrated anyway, right?


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