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Friday, August 1, 2014


My first Comic-Con in San Diego surpassed even the exceedingly high expectations I'd built in my mind for the ultimate in nerdvana. Celebrities, elaborate costumes, camaraderie, and superheroes. Comic-Con has it all. What surprised me were the inspiring sessions for writers, and the lessons Comic-Con can teach us all, writers and fans. Here's what I learned.

Lesson 1. EMBRACE THE COSTUME YOU WEAR. Comic-Con teems with costumed superheroes, villains, cartoon characters, and superstars that play (or voice) them in the movies, all proudly embracing their role and their fandom.

Matt, in his photographer costume, makes friends.

Whatever costume you choose to wear, for Halloween, Comic-Con, or life, embrace it fully, immerse yourself in the character, and become it.

For me, that's about embracing me as a writer, unapologetically and without an asterisk* and footnotes (* well, I'm a marine scientist, or I was, now I teach, and I write on the side. I've had two novels published, but no bestsellers or anything, just with a small publishing house in Sacramento, but I hope to someday be a real writer...)

Just as I embraced scientist-Lynne and professor-Lynne, I need to fully embrace author-Lynne. I'm proud of my work and have every intention to continue it. I might not be paying the bills with it yet, but very few authors do early in their careers, if ever. The costume I've chosen is that of a writer, an author. It's what I do and who I am. That I'm teaching, doing research, or consulting to help me afford to be a writer doesn't make me less of one. My name might not be well known now, but you never know what the future will bring. And so...

Lesson 2. BE NICE TO EVERYONE BECAUSE YOU NEVER KNOW WHO'S BEHIND THE MASK. Lots of celebrities were fans and geeks trolling the Comic-Con exhibit halls before they became famous (as someday, I hope to be!) The fan-boy/girl costume is still part of who they are, but getting around is a bit more complicated now, so they don a different outfit to hide--and continue to get their geek on. Peter Jackson roamed the exhibit halls as a court jester, Daniel Radcliffe and Maisie Williams donned Spiderman masks, and who knows how many other celebs were out rubbing elbows with the rest of us under the cover of Cosplay.

Peter Jackson in a jester costume (from his website)

Daniel Radcliff as Spiderman (from

How horrible would it be to get boorish or rude to a Cosplayer only to discover they were your favorite actor or actress? Why would that be any more horrible than being rude and boorish to anyone at all?

Not that I ever try to be rude. I'm from upstate New York--we talk to strangers all the time, not to be rude, but because we're friendly (and maybe don't recognize boundaries.) I struck up a lot of conversations with strangers in line, people sitting next to me, and, at a Random House reception for their authors at the San Diego Library, with a man who was standing by himself.

We had a lot in common: He was a writer, too! And his first book is coming out soon. We talked about how hard it is to find time to write around having another job. Turns out, his other job is also writing--but like a 9-5 sort, so he had to write his debut book around that. "So what do you write for your job?" I asked. "I write for television," he (very modestly) replied. "Oh, how interesting! What sort of television things do you write for?" "This show, maybe you've heard of it, The Big Bang Theory."

At which point I prostrated myself to my hero and bowed, humbled to be in the presence of a talented wordsmith like Eric Kaplan. But he was there, at his publisher's reception, not as the Big Bang writer, but as author of his first book, Does Santa Exist? That was the costume he wore that evening, downplaying his superstar-writer-of-the-best-show-on-television role to fully play this new role. Wow. Wow. Still a little (lot) star struck here.

Another, equally good reason to be nice to everyone (if you need a reason other than because it's the right thing to do), is because it really is a small world. I'm not sure which is smaller: the geek world, the writing world, or the island world. But they all collided at Comic-Con. The very first session I attended, Wonderbook: Writers on Creativity and Inspiration (with the book's author, Jeff Vandermmer, and Wonderbook contributors Lev Grossman, Charles Yu, Anina Bennett, and Paul Guinan) was moderated by Ann VanderMeer. As Ann read her own bio (editor for Tor Books, Hugo Award winning fiction editor for her work at Weird Tales, founder of BuzzCity Press...) I wanted to go into hero-worship, prostrate and bow mode, but I refrained. As she was leaving, I modestly and discretely told her how very much I enjoyed the session. I even held myself back from disturbing her for a round of gawking and hero-worshipping when I later saw her at lunch.

Wonderbook, by Jeff VanderMeer

After posting a pic of the panel to Facebook, a friend from St. Thomas days commented, "Hey! That's my friend Ann. Tell her I say hello." Turns out, Ann had lived in the VI, and we have a mutual friend...I had a valid reason to go up and gawk, er, I mean talk with her (and get her and Jeff to autograph my copy of Wonderbook.). Alas, by the time I discovered that connection, she'd left.

It's a small world, and you never know who's behind the mask, whether it's covering their face or their face just stays behind the scenes while their work does the talking. Best to be nice to everyone. No matter how famous you are...
Lesson 3: STAY HUMBLE, EVEN WHEN YOU GET CRAZY-FAMOUS. Clearly, lots and lots of very famous folks were running around Comic-Con. I can imagine constantly being flocked by screaming fans, hounded for autographs and photos, can be taxing. But, that sort of goes with the territory, doesn't it? Worldwide recognition means that you might have to change costumes or cover your famous face to do what you used to do when you were just a wannabe.
The importance of remaining, if not humble, at least not an asshole, was really driven home by the polar opposite responses and behavior of two authors to their celebrity: one threw it around like a shield to simultaneously draw attention to himself and fight it off. He made a point of complaining in every interview and and panel he appeared in, about how much he misses being able to walk the exhibit halls or go out in public any more. While lesson #1 is to embrace the costume, there might be times when you have to take it off, especially if your outfit is tied to your fame. This particular author has a costume that is quite recognizable. He appears in almost all publicity pics, cover-jacket photos, and events like Comic-Con in a distinct and instantly recognizable outfit (I'm thinking of dressing as him next year.) He could easily remove his costume and become one of the many older nerds strolling around the Con. Instead, he chose to whine about his fame.

Conversely, new author (but already a star) Evangeline Lilly (Lost, The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug) bubbled with enthusiasm, and clearly enjoyed interacting with fans. She reveled in her writer-costume. Her excitement over her children's book, The Squickerwonkers, was contagious, and the story behind her becoming an author, inspiring. She chose to self-publish because she wanted control of her vision, and she worried her Hollywood fame would lead to people thinking, "she got that book contract because she's famous; a ghost-writer must be behind it"; or, attributing it to the cliched, superstar  self-indulgent "passion project." But this truly is her passion, and has been since she first wrote The Squickerwonkers when she was 14-years-old. She read it to her mother, then stuffed it in a drawer. Her mother has hounded her to get it published ever since. Twenty-years later, she pulled it out, polished it up, got one of the artists at WETA (the company behind the Hobbit) to collaborate on illustrations (she wanted a collaborator to help her fulfill her vision of the tale, not impose their own), and she self-published it. A year later, Titan Books approached her and she got a contract. She gushed, blushed, and grinned ear-to-ear about achieving her lifelong goal to become an author. And she encouraged everyone in the audience to pursue their dreams, too.

The Squickerwonkers, by Evangeline Lilly

Getting her autograph, I brazenly slipped my card onto the table. "Look, I'm an author, too!" I said. "You don't have to take this, I just wanted to show you because I understand--I feel the same way about my books." She insisted on taking the card, congratulated me, and seemed genuinely pleased to meet a "fellow-author." Wow. Wow. Wow wow. THAT'S the kind of famous I want to be.

Me (the one looking like an orange Oompa-Loompa)
with Evangeline Lilly and her children's book, The Squickerwonkers.

Lesson 4: IT'S OKAY TO CHANGE YOUR COSTUME. Like Evangeline Lilly removing her actress costume and wearing her new, author outfit, Zachary Quinto of Star Trek and Heroes fame (he played Spock in the former and Sylar in the latter) changed out of his celebrity costume. Instead of Zachary Quinto, actor, he participated in a panel as a producer for the upcoming documentary series, "The Chair: One Script, Two Visions, One Winner." As with Eric Kaplan and Evangeline Lilly, the costume he chose to wear and embrace differed from the one that he's best known for.

He didn't hesitate, didn't fall back into what's probably a familiar role (star!), but instead, became this new persona, Zach Quinto, producer. In that costume, his job is to promote the show and the two new directors who star and compete in it. While it was clear many people attended the panel to see the actor Zachary Quinto, he deflected attention from himself to the stars of this panel (directors Shane Dawson and Anna Martemucci). It was also clear he'd taken measures to downplay that "other" persona--the session was away from the convention center in a nearby hotel, in a tucked-away room, and his name was buried in the session description. Attendance suggests the ploy to not be "famous Zach Quinto" succeeded. He also snuck out early while a short clip from the show played, leaving the audience to talk with the real focal points of the panel. While disappointed at the lack of opportunity for further gawking and hero-worshipping, I found myself truly interested in the project. His passion for this new role, like Evangeline Lilly's, was contagious. I'm looking forward to following "The Chair" this fall to see the outcome.

The screenwriter, directors, producer (that's Zach Quinto!), an actress, and the director
of, "The Chair: One script, two visions, one winner."

It takes a lot of courage to move out of our comfort zones. But, sometimes, it's the best thing for us. It's liberating to be someone else, to challenge ourselves to try new things. It's not only okay to change costumes, but it's what lets us grow and pursue our dreams.

That brings me to the last lesson, and a theme threaded throughout Comic-Con:

Lesson 4: FAIRY TALES CAN COME TRUE. From a panel of WONDERBOOK writers and artists talking about creativity and inspiration, to a movie star-turned-children's book-author, to aspiring directors, one message was loud and clear everywhere at Comic-Con: You can make your dreams come true. Don't be afraid to pursue your passion, whether it's writer, artist, actor, singer, animator, costumer, Cosplayer, producer, or all of the above, or anything else.

Comic-Con not only tells participants that, but abounds with opportunities--pitch sessions, employment stations, interviews, new and amateur film debuts, and contests--to get you started. In every session I attended, at least one or more panelist said, "I've been in your seat, there, looking up at Comic-Con presenters and dreaming about being in this seat one day. Now I'm here. It could be you next."

In a world where it often seems like our dreams are destined to be nothing but a fantasy, how amazing is the message that you can do this. Don't let your current costume dictate what you can or can't be in the future. No one downplayed the hard work involved, but they made it clear that fairy tales can come true.  


For more pics from Comic-Con 2014, head over to Matt's Flickr site.


  1. Terrific post, Lynne! Glad you had such a wonderful time. And that's a great list; I don't think I'll have to worry about being crazy-famous though. Does just crazy count?

  2. If crazy-famous isn't available, I'd take famous AND crazy as a good alternative ; )