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Meeting John Scalzi

The truth about John Scalzi:

I've just come home from Confluence 2009. It's a small convention in Pittsburgh, and I've gone there three years running; I missed one year in which I went nowhere, and was pretty much absent from the real world in all possible ways.

Ann Cecil ran the 'book-club' section of the Philadelphia Worldcon a while back, and she was in the session that I also signed up for; it was a discussion of a Nancy Kress book that I quite liked. At the end of it, she asked if I would come to her convention as a panelist if she asked, and I said yes. (It is very, very hard for someone like me to say No to someone like Ann Cecil because she is so very, very nice and very, very enthusiastic. I want to call her bright-eyed, but this implies a naivete which I wouldn't saddle her with. But ... she loves reading, she reads widely in the genre, and she loves books. She also apparently loves getting up on stage for stage-plays, but I missed that =/.)

It's not a large convention, but...I really liked it the first time I went. And the second. And the third. I like the panels; I like the other panelists. I have no idea if they particularly enjoy me, but. Well. I like the fact that the audience participates, asks questions, contributes. I like that it is not so large that I always feel pressed for time and begin to feel guilty if I spend more than five minutes talking to anyone because I should be someplace else. But the panels are better-attended at Confluence than they are at cons that are three times the size.

They also have a really impressive Filk track.

I intend to go back next year as well. The GoH next year is Wen Spencer. The Filk GoH next year is: PETER BEAGLE. Ahem. Sorry. I'm under control again.

What does all of this have to do with John Scalzi? Well, not much, really; it's the usual Michelle preamble, and I will now return to the subject at hand.

First: If you want more twitter followers--and it's not something that I've pressed at all--one way to get them is to hijack Scalzi's twitter account, even briefly. Seriously.

Second: I've been reading Scalzi in one form or another for a long time. I know his brand of humor doesn't appeal to everyone, but it does appeal to me. Yes, it can be bombastic, and yes, it can have quite an edge--but I never find it entirely ugly, and I never find that he takes himself seriously when he's on a rant.

But on-line persona is not the same as real-life persona -- and while I'm aware that in either case, blog or convention, I'm viewing a persona, I was very curious about what he would be like in real life. So, I went on a fact-finding mission, and I have come back with answers. Anyone who already has these answers, feel free to chime in. Or throw fruit. But throw the fruit at him, since he did say that no one actually threw fruit at his GoH talk.

Some people with larger-than-life on-line personas often tend to replicate those in real-life, and they are the centre of gravity in any room they stand in. They can grab all the attention in a room and hold it with ease, and mostly, they do. It makes them entertaining, but the entertainment goes in one direction; they entertain; we give them attention.

I wouldn't have been at all surprised had Scalzi been like this, because I do find him entertaining, and if someone does want all the attention in a room, and they work for it, it's theirs. But what I found, watching him in any group he was in (including the kaffeeklatch that I was co-author in), was that it's measured; he is hellafunny, but he is also very inclusive. He says what he's thinking -- and if I thought that were a crime, I would have to at least slit my own throat in some ceremonial fashion -- but he will also make space for what other people are thinking.

I see that a lot less in larger-than-life people. I see them making space for people they already know or are already attached to, but that wasn't what Scalzi was doing. He made certain to take questions from anyone who looked like they might like to ask them, and at least on the panel and the kaffeeklatch, to pass some of them to me (which I then frequently punted, but that was my call); nor did he balk when I took questions if I noticed them; he guided conversation but never seemed to feel the need to be in control of it. He also did this when he joined the usual bar or lobby groups; it never seemed to be entirely about him.

This shouldn't have surprised me, because what he's built over the years on the Whatever is a community, and by definition that makes him a community builder. But, you know, it did. I didn't expect him to be so generous. So, yes. Truthfully? He is, in my opinion, a considerate, funny, opinionated, talented guy. And he does talk almost as fast as I do when I'm on a tear.

But considerate is right up there on the top of the list of attributes I think are under-admired in society at large. So I came away wishing that I had more opportunity to cross the same spheres that he does, and wishing I had more time to spend in his company.


( 10 comments — Leave a comment )
(Deleted comment)
Jul. 27th, 2009 08:45 pm (UTC)
"almost as fast

I try to remember to slow down for readings, but I've never been courageous enough to actually ask anyone present if I succeeded. Well, and often I'm distracted.
Jul. 27th, 2009 02:13 am (UTC)
Hee, I found the line about hijacking Scalzi's twitter feed to get more followers amusing because while Scalzi got on my radar because Wil Wheaton mentions him from time to time, I didn't pay attention to his blog at all until you mentioned a few times here. ;)
Jul. 27th, 2009 04:06 am (UTC)
I noticed this at Worldcon in Denver and Loscon last year when he was GoH. When he was on a panel he did not dominate, but made sure everyone on the panel got "equal time." Nice guy, smart, funny. A lot like Pratchett in that regard.
Jul. 27th, 2009 08:47 pm (UTC)
A lot like Pratchett in that regard

What I've noticed about Terry Pratchett in his public speaking is that he so incredibly gracious. He's funny as all get out, yes, but he -- very much like Scalzi, now that you've mentioned it -- speaks from the floor, even when he's not on it.
Jul. 27th, 2009 04:08 am (UTC)
I am now really really regretting I never took a friend's longstanding offer to go to Millenicon this past year, where John was GoH (and, apparently, had his fill of karaoke as well). Between John and Jim Hines... Oh well, I guess there's always next year.
Jul. 27th, 2009 04:09 am (UTC)
His GoH speech wasn't so much a speech as him answering questions. We found out how he met his wife, what it's like for a guy from CA to live in rural Ohio, and a ton of other tangential stuff. It was a hoot. But also very inclusive, yes.

I also want to thank you for taking the time to talk to me (I was the last person at the autograph table who asked you about your writing process). I very much enjoyed the conversation.

Jul. 27th, 2009 08:49 pm (UTC)
I also want to thank you for taking the time to talk to me (I was the last person at the autograph table who asked you about your writing process). I very much enjoyed the conversation.

I also very much enjoyed that conversation :). Writing is mostly what I do, and like anyone else, I can talk for an almost inexcusable length of time about what I do *wry g*. And because it is a smaller convention, there's time to do that, and I enjoy the not-being-in-a-constant rush for that very reason.
Jul. 27th, 2009 02:14 pm (UTC)
John is very much like that. Online and offline he comes off differently, however what he says won't change much it's just in how he says it. John has been very good to me and other newbie and wannabe writers, making introductions, parsing out information, and being enthusiastically supportive. He doesn't suffer fools that well, but handles them in a way that just shuts off their access to the conversation by not allowing them openings instead of berating them. He's also willing to give people second chances (Lord knows I've needed them).
Jul. 27th, 2009 08:50 pm (UTC)
Aside from the usual two minute introductions, this is really the first opportunity I've had to meet him.

And! I wanted to say that the lack of ligatures that I pointed out, to the slight dismay of Mr. Butler, was also pointed out by half a dozen people on the mailing list (although only one of them actually used the term).
( 10 comments — Leave a comment )