Friday, March 4, 2011

Once you've met Asimov, it's all downhill from there by Andi Shechter

Andi Shechter is a two-time Left Coast Crime Chair ('97 and '07) and was honored ten years ago as Fan Guest of Honor at LCC in Anchorage.  
She served on the committee for the Silver Anniversary Bouchercon in 1994. Andi lives with the medical mystery of the century.  She can frequently be found, surrounded by her gorilla pals, watching figure skating, reading cookbooks and swooning over really good mystery fiction.

Andi lives in Seattle with Stu Shiffman and spends far too much time on her laptop playing games. She is also a blond, coke-addicted runway model with an attitude from New York. Go ahead, ask her. 

You can follow her blog here:

Once you've met Asimov, it's all downhill from there 
by Andi Shechter

When I was  a high school student, I was a fan of "Star Trek" . As a college student, I discovered the "Star Trek convention" some years after the show was gone. At the same time, I developed the serious orthopedic problems that were to complicate my life. But funny thing, both things have had huge impacts on me.  The world of fandom and the world of disability and pain.

It all began about 45 plus years ago. In all that time, physically, things have gotten worse.  Fandom, however, my second (and third) families, hasn't changed that much.  We communicate by email now. And social networks and mailing lists and cell phones and faxes, but wow, in so many ways, we haven't changed that much.  However, I have. And I don't really like it.

That first convention that I attended in Manhattan, I think I rented a room at the YWCA.  Staying at the convention hotel was too costly and what the heck?  It's easy to get around New York. Oh, I had a blast.  I met a bunch of strangers, one of whom became a long-time friend.  A friend good enough that when we drove cross-country a few years later, we remained friends throughout and after the trip (not easy.)  I hooked up with some people and we roamed around together. It was easy.  We were young and had Star Trek in common. There were panels and writers and autographings, a dealer's room and an art show.  And it was that Trek con or the one following where I met My First Author.  And as folks who know this story have heard me say far too often, and with apologies to the hundreds of amazing writers I have met, when you start with Isaac Asimov, it's all downhill from there. And we became friends, we really did, but that's a story for another day.

After attending two Trek conventions, I thought, okay, that was fun, what now?  And "what now?" appeared right in front of me in the form of those people who seemed to know what was going on, what to do. And I joined them.

Since those very long-ago days in the 1970s when I joined the "Hole in the Deck Gang" as a convention "gofer" and learned my way around, I've attended and worked on so many that I lost count, but well over 50 genre conventions.  I've attended and worked on conventions in New York, Chicago, Racine, Madison, Minneapolis, New Orleans, Santa Rosa, Los Angeles, San Diego, El Paso, Austin, Atlanta and Portland.  Oregon, not Maine. And Vancouver, BC, Oakland, Eugene, Milwaukee, Denver, Scottsdale, Phoenix, Toronto, Boston, Providence, Tucson, and that's just sitting here right now without looking anything up.

Much of the time that I was employed, I used skills gained working those conventions . I spent most of my working life as a legal secretary and an administrative assistant. But my expertise came from working safety/security/ops/C&C.  I've worn a radio on my hip and a lapel pin that says I can go anywhere in the hotel.  I've done crowd control for major actors who were struck by cream pies (heh) and I've had political conversations with actors on television shows that were lucky to have them (right on, George). I've met authors I admired so much I had to wipe my sweaty hands off on my pants. Twice.  I've had dinner with authors whose books made me cry, made me laugh, made me think.  I have, in other words, been lucky.

In those earliest days, I went from the room at the YWCA to cramming nine women in a two-bed double (I think someone had the tub, but I could be wrong) to a triple on the concierge level (staff and gofers and guests were all somehow accommodated) but we could, I suppose guard against crazed Harlan Ellison fans to requiring a full-out "handicapped accessible" room has required major changes in how I go to a convention.  Carrying a second bag full of books to get autographed and of course several to read because ok, yeah, there's a dealer's room but I want to read this one (seriously? Who am I kidding? I almost never manage to get anything read while at a convention.) has ended. Because of the changes in my life, and the need to travel with a power wheelchair, my suitcases are now more likely to be full of all the damn medications I need, along with a battery charger and extra socks (one gets cold sitting when others walk.)

What changed?  I went from a woman in her 20s with that back surgery behind her, that woman who could (almost) sleep on the floor, who could share a hotel room with a friend for a few hours then get up, hang out, work a 4 hour shift making sure things went smoothly, eat, hang out, buy stuff, hang out, work another shift, crash, lather rinse.  I attended and worked on conventions that turned into near riots (Trek con, Chicago) to conventions where things were so quiet and organized and easy that I threatened my radio rovers with a reading of the world's worst piece of fantasy fiction. I've faced down angry convention-goers standing there, all 5 foot 4 of me with my cane (and three darling men behind me who would never hurt anyone but glared well) and told people to behave. I've partied until 3 in the morning, singing "Teenage Death Songs" with a big-deal editor and I've sung four-part girl group harmony with someone who used to make her living as a singer. I drink rarely but drink at conventions because a massive amount of the best conversations can be found in the bar at any time. I've been in bars in hundreds of hotels, drinking Perrier and margaritas. Drinking Bloody Marys with a friend who loved them – we decided she should write a guide to good Bloody Marys. I was introduced to Chambord at a convention.  I've watched as one of the most amazing people I've ever known bought out a bar for the entire convention. I've watched bars run out of Perrier because they didn't 
believe us when we said "stock up" (the never believe us and there was this time when oh, Perrier ruled.)

I've attended parties that were so funny that we had to write things down.  I've hung out with the finest people in my world.  People who put words on paper in ways I cannot comprehend. I've had breakfast, lunch dinner and drinks with authors. AUTHORS. WRITERS. Rock stars, man.  I mean, I was reading at four years old, had an "adult" library card years before they normally were allowed. My mother worked the Hartford Public Library (or "Liberry" as the phone answering lady insisted on saying. No, really.) and my sister worked there.  My first job was in the West Hartford Public Library and I worked in my college library as a scholarship student. Writers, man.  Books line my house.  I get a library card before I even register to vote. Books have helped me manage my entire life.  Books were there when I hurt. And I've hurt pretty much all my life. I read everywhere.

My friends in fandom would talk about signs of the compulsive reader. We would laugh at the "symptoms".  They included knowing the MDA of riboflavin required in the adult diet from reading the cereal box as a kid.  Being able to read upside down because your parents read the newspaper at the kitchen table at breakfast.  Walking cross-legged to the bathroom because you simply had to have a book in your hand before you headed in there.  We would laugh and nod ruefully.  We had all the symptoms.

When I met Isaac Asimov that fine day, I was amazed.  Meeting someone whose books you've read. Are you KIDDING? At the end of that convention, I was down to my last few dollars and, because I'd sat in a room, rapt with attention at Harlan Ellison reading a story,  I spent those last few dollars on an anthology he'd talked about called DANGEROUS VISIONS which introduced me to "real" science fiction.  By the time I made that cross-country trip and settled in the East Bay, I was primed and oh, the places I went. I met authors and fans in my early days there, interesting, cool, intellectual people who loved books. Who read books, recommended books, sold books and wrote books. And I moved to the Boston area, where I knew dozens of people because we'd met at conventions – in the bar, in the hot tub, working Ops, at a party. Then to Seattle where I'd attended a convention for years, where I knew people from Ops and people who created the best science fiction fanzines ever. People who I knew and saw all the time at conventions. People who, I might add, also loved mystery fiction. And a few years after we moved here, we helped run Bouchercon, the World Mystery Convention.  Three years later, I finally realized that I probably knew enough after all this time and I chaired my first convention. Ten years later I chaired my last convention.

But conventions are expensive and travel hurts.  That's been the reality of my life for some time.  I went from "party until 3" to crutches, cane, scooter, to wheelchair. I use a power/electric wheelchair from morning to night. I'm on disability, an income that's about 1/3 of what I earned when I worked (I never made a lot!) and hotels and books and luxuries like that are things you usually should not try. But oh, it's home. Attending conventions where I see people I haven't seen in months, or years, or ever and we pick up where we left off.  Meeting a friend from DorothyL, telling an author "I loved your book", catching up with a friend you've known for years.  Spending time with the best people you know.  Talking about food, politics, movies, life, travel, love, friendship and books.

I used to schlep books and books and books. Checking the list of attending authors, trying to limit it to 8 or 10 or 12.  Books that wowed me, books by my favorite authors, books I'm "in" (I appear as a character in two mystery novels) books by friends.  It's not something I can do any longer. Travel is harder for all of us.  Travel is complicated and time-consuming and you have to decide about carry-on and checking and shoes and laptops and sealing wax and cabbages….

So what's to be done? Some months ago, I bought an ebook reader.  A friend was getting the newer fancier version and this was but a week or so before Bouchercon and I would be on an airplane for a few hours.  In honor of the location – San Francisco – I had found some Dashiell Hammett short stories that were in public domain and read one to get into the mood. But mostly I played word games on it because. Because it's not a book.

I had to stop a while back and think about why I get books signed and I didn't really know. Mostly it was to connect with someone, to have the chance to say something about that book, take time to connect.  I spent countless hours in the past few months trying to plan a convention trip. Hours of decisions over transportation and hassles and wheelchair issues and worrying that what that authority said might not be so true. And I cancelled. I cancelled my home convention, my family reunion.  So I still have time to figure out if there's a way to go up to someone and ask them to sign my Kindle. I just don't think it's such a great idea.


Unknown said...

Great post, Andi!

Jen Wendel said...

Andi, I admired you for years on DorothyL. What else can I say. Live long and prosper. :)

Jen Wendel

Vicki Lane said...

I'm so sorry I've never met you in person, Andi. I always loved your posts on DorothyL and I'm a lurker on your blog. I hope someday the stars will align and our paths will cross and you'll sign my Kindle. Because, you know what? You're a terrific writer.

Mary Jane Maffini said...

Loved your post, Andi! We used to run into each other at conferences,and I always enjoyed that. Now we can connect on Kaye's blog and other great hangouts. Something's been lost and something of value gained.
And you're right: it's home. That's a good thing.

Beth Groundwater said...

Wow, Andi, what a life you've lived! You've crammed more into your life than most people I know, and all while dealing with pain. I still hope to get the chance to meet you in person someday, but I guess I'll have to travel to your home turf to do it. I'm not adverse to that, though! I've got relatives in Seattle. :)

Pattie @ Olla-Podrida said...

I enjoyed getting to know you, Andi. You've certainly led an interesting life.

Diane said...

Wow! Loved your post. One question: what stops you from writing your own book? You have a flair for words.

Anonymous said...

Andi, you met Asimov? Your coolness factor ratchets even higher! Great post and Kaye you've got to have Andi visit again please! Thanks, Cara

Kaye Wilkinson Barley - Meanderings and Muses said...

Welcome, Andi!!

I'm tickled pink to have you here. And by the way - - - a little birdie mentioned that today is your birthday! Is that so, or did little birdie lie?!

If it's so - Happy Birthday!!!!

If it's not so - nevermind.

Earl Staggs said...

Andi, in spite of everything, you've lived one helluva life and an enviable one. The best part is, it ain't over yet. All my best regards to you.

Lillian Stewart Carl said...

Thank you so much for this great essay, Andi. My goodness, it takes me back as well -- not that I ever threatened anyone with "Eye of Argon".

Take care!

Andi said...

Wow, thank you everyone.
Kaye, My birthday is actually March 9. It is, if I may, exactly one day later but ten years earlier than that of soon-to-be-here blogger Cornelia Read, born March 8. But we do refer to each other as each other's long-lost twin.

Cara, indeed I did and saw him on and off for years, including STUNNING a class at SUNY Albany when I showed up to say "hi" when he was there one day and I got this HUGE greeting and they alllllllll looked at me......

Lilian my friend! I LOVE that you know the reference! YES, 'twas and Diane Duane, on rover shift that night, was all for it. WE decided it might violate some federal regulations about the use of radio airtime though.

Diane. I am not sure. I fairly suck at trying fiction and don't know what I'd write but it is why I blog. Thank you. What a huge compliment.

cncbooks said...

Andi, I miss you on DorothyL and wish you'd come back ;)

Lelia Taylor

Janet Rudolph said...

Great post, Andi! Thought I knew you, but learned even more from this.

jenny milchman said...

Hi Andi,

Oh, the things we used to be able to do...Even though you've obviously had more than your share, in some ways your post rang such a universal note. The floor just gets harder for sleeping, doesn't it? And you seem like you've rolled with it--not to use a poor turn of phrase--wonderfully, keeping your sense of humor and adventure. I hope the Kindle brings you to ever more new places where you encounter both giants and newbies in the writing, reading world.

Great post.

Anonymous said...

Hi, Andi:
You're missed on DorothyL. You may not remember but I snapped a great photo of you and Stu at checkout time after Left Coast Crime-Monterey. Did I ever send it to you? If not, and you want it, I'll e-mail it.
Pat Browning