Here I Am Again
Delivered at Disclave 1983
So here I am again.
“Again?” some of you Disclave regulars may be muttering to each other. “What does he mean, again? He lives out west in Wyoming or Arizona or one of those other funny states, doesn’t he? He’s never been here before, has he?” This shows what you know. I have been to Disclave before. Once. That was why I was so pleased when Alan Huff asked me to come east. Because it so happens that I attended the 1971 Disclave, and it so happens that It was my very first SF convention. I don’t even want to think about how many I’ve attended since then. Hell, I’d have a hard time remembering half of them. But I remember that ’71 Disclave well enough. Your first con is like your first sale, or your first lay, or your first Hugo — you don’t forget it.
Maybe a few of you were here in ’71 too. If so, maybe you remember me. I looked a little different back then. My hair was shoulder length, just like everyone else’s, but I was still clean-shaven. I didn’t stop shaving until 1974. Even then, I was a snappy dresser. In fact, I was a hell of a lot snappier. As I recall, I wore my Psychedelic Hippie Pimp outfit to the con; ankle boots with zippers, burgundy bell-bottoms, a bright solid green tapered body shirt, a black satin apache scarf, and — the piece de resistance — my famous double-breasted pin-striped mustard-yellow sports jacket. Perhaps now you veterans recall me. I was the one wandering around the con suite doing permanent retinal damage.
Actually, I still have my wonderful double-breasted pinstriped mustard-yellow sports jacket, when I was asked to be Guest of Honor here, I thought it would be a nice, nostalgic touch if I brought it with me and wore it while making this speech. Two things decided me against it. First (sigh), there was about twenty-five pounds less of me in 1971, so I no longer quite fit the double-breasted pin-striped mustard-yellow sports jacket. Second, Parris told me she’d ask Alan to dis-invite me if I contemplated any such thing. But it’s a great jacket, really.
You might wonder why I dressed up like I did. After all, it was only a con. Why didn’t I just put on jeans and a funny hat and my LET THE WOOKIE WIN t-shirt? Well, you got to remember, this was 1971. Fannish fashion was different; we didn’t have LET THE WOOKIE WIN t-shirts yet. We didn’t even have Wookies. Besides I was used to dressing like this. I was a graduate student at the time, spending three months in Washington covering the hill as part of an internship program sponsored by Northwestern. Of course, you can’t dress like a slob when you’re interviewing senators and congressmen and such, so this was more or less the way I dressed when covering Senator Eastland and Senator Stennis for the Delta Democrat-Times of Greenville, Mississippi. Except, for senators, I would wear a tie instead of an apache scarf. I had some very nice bright silk ties. I always believed in a having a little spark of color to liven up the basic drabness of men’s clothing.
Besides, I figured I had to dress well because I was gonna be such a center of attention at Disclave. You see, I wasn’t no mere neofan wandering into his first con. Hell no! Not me! I was a filthy pro! Well, maybe not filthy, but dirty anyhow. Smudged a bit around the edges. I’d sold two stories. My first story had been published in Galaxy just that February. (Anyone here remember Galaxy?) My second I’d just sold the month before to Ted White for Amazing, It hadn’t even been published yet. In fact, I hadn’t even been paid for it. But I knew Ted was going to be at the con, and I was looking forward to meeting him. He was the editor of a major prozine, after all, and I was a brilliant new writer that held just discovered, so I figured he’d certainly want to take me out to an expense-account dinner at Sans Souci, and I didn’t want to be underdressed. Besides, figured I had to impress all the fans who’d be coming up to me for autographs. After all, I’d published a story! Hell, I’d made a career total of $94 from SF writing at that point, and I was gonna bust through into triple figures once Ted paid me.
(If any of you are worried about me, put your minds at ease. In the twelve years between Disclaves, I have managed to hit three figures, even on a single story!)
Well, things didn’t quite work out the way I’d planned at that first Disclave. I must say, though, they started off promisingly enough. Once I found the con, that is. This was 1971, you must recall, and Washington didn’t have subways then, just holes-in-the-ground that screwed up traffic, plus a lot of busses. The con was at a different hotel, the Shoreham I believe, and I’d never been there, so I got on a bus line I’d never ridden before and asked the driver to let me know when we came to the Shoreham Hotel, and settled down to read or lookout the window or do something or other. Next thing I knew we were at the end of the line and everyone else had gotten off the bus. I had to ride all the way back, but finally I did find the hotel, and after that I managed to find the con suite. Just inside the door, there was a table set up where they were taking registration. Sitting behind it was the very first science fiction fan I ever met. He was a very skinny guy with hair down to his waist and an extremely scraggly beard and a manic gleam in his eyes. He looked sort of like an orange Rasputin. He was not as well dressed as I was. But I forgave him that, because when I paid my money to register, he recognized my name! “Where have I heard that name before?” he asked me.
I modestly allowed that I’d had a story in the February Galaxy and perhaps he had seen my by-line.
“Shit!” he yelled. “I bought that story!” Then this skinny, hairy, orange guy introduced himself. His name was Gardner Dozois, he claimed, and he was an editor at Galaxy.
Now, I read Orbit, you know, so I recognized Gardner’s name. And I’d even started getting this little mimeographed newszine called Locus, but you got to remember, this was 1971. Richard Nixon was in the White House and Locus didn’t run pictures. So the only SF editor I’d ever seen a picture of was John W. Campbell, Jr. I noticed right off that Gardner didn’t much look like John W. Campbell, Jr. Already I could see that expense-account dinner at Sans Souci receding in the distance. Still, it was very nice meeting a real editor and having him remember me and all. “Hey,” Gardner said, “that story was . . . okay.” Then he buttonholed another skinny, hairy guy who’d come over to check on registration or something. “Jay,” he said, “here’s a guy I fished out of the slushpile.” Jay, as I recall, hadn’t read the story. In fact, although Gardner was to introduce me to several other people at the con as a guy he’d fished out of the slushpile, none of them had read the story either. Or heard of it. Gardner was the only person at Disclave, or in the entire District of Columbia, it seemed, who was cognizant of the fact that I’d published a story.
I really didn’t meet very many people at that first con. I observed a number of folks from afar, and stood on the outskirts of a good many interesting conversations, and wandered around the consuite, and went to all the programming — but it was my first con, and all these people were strangers, and some of ’em were pretty damned strange strangers at that, and I was a kind of shy guy who tended to blend into the background, so long as the background was mustard-yellow and pin-striped. Most people do feel more than a little lost and awkward at their first con, and it was certainly true of me. Still, I have some vivid memories, and I did meet a few people besides Gardner.
Terry Carr was one. Terry Carr was Guest of Honor, but he seemed to be on all the programming, and he was always hanging around the con suite, being accessible. He was really incredibly nice, and I asked him all the stupid, naive questions that neopros ask editors and told him about all the great stories I was gonna send him for Universe that he’d surely want to buy, and Terry listened to me patiently and talked to me like I was a real person and answered all my questions, and he even remembered who I was a month later, when sending back one of those stories I’d promised to send him. Later, when I discovered that not all GOHs were as open and friendly as Terry — a discovery that didn’t take me long — I told myself I’d remember the way he treated a rank neo at that first con, if the time ever came-that I was GOH. And now, what do you know, an even dozen years have passed, and I’m GOH at Disclave just as Terry was. And I do remember. So I want to say, if there are any neos out there who are feeling a little lost, and lonely maybe, who are full of stupid questions that they are dying to ask, who aren’t getting invited to any parties, and who’d like to tell me about the story that they’re writing and maybe even ask me to collaborate, to all you confused unhappy neos and would-be writers, I want to say —
— bugger off and leave me alone. I don’t look like Terry Carr, do I? I’m going to the secret pro parties to get drunk with my friends.
You can go hang around the con suite. That’s what I did at that first Disclave. Of course, the con suite was a pretty exciting place in 1971. 1 remember sitting on this couch having lively discussions with other neos about whether Amazing was going to win the magazine Hugo that year. I thought that was what you did at SF conventions, what’d I know? My opinion was that Amazing had it bagged. After all, they had one of my stories coming up. All through the convention there was a woman wandering around the con suite wearing nothing but a bikini, and people were writing all over her body. I was too shy to write on her body myself. Years would pass before I would become important enough to be asked to autograph a portion of a woman’s anatomy. That happened . . . but no, that was a different con entirely. I must admit that I thought this scantily-clad human autograph book was passing strange, stranger even than Gardner, stranger even than some of the stuff I covered in Senator Stennis’ office. I wasn’t sure what I thought of it. On the other hand, I approved right off of the kegs of free beer. I was a very poor grad student, remember. Free beer seemed like a positively delightful idea to me. They even had programming in the con suite to go with the beer. One midnight Gardner climbed up on this chair in the middle of the party, and this other guy named Joe Haldeman climbed up on another chair and they read their correspondence. It sounds pretty damn stupid, but I nearly choked on my beer I was laughing so hard.
I went to the programming during the day, too. I mean, that was why I came, right? I still remember the first panel I ever attended at an SF con. It was, of course, a new writers’ panel. Since I was a new writer, I was hoping they’d call me up out of the audience to join them. Well, that didn’t work. They had -four new writers already, plus a moderator. The new writers had placecards in front of them on the table, but not with their names on ’em. Instead the cards said things like, “the Homer Eon Flint of his generation,” the “Otis Adelbert Kline of his generation,” and “the Captain S.P. Meek, U.S. Army, Ret. of his generation.” The Otis Adelbert Kline of his generation drank too much of the free beer (later I discovered the beer is even freer for pros than it is for fans), tipped his chair too far back, and fell off the platform. He lived.
I enjoyed the panel, but not everyone did. That night in the con suite, one veteran fan complained very vociferously in fact. In particular he denounced the Stanton A. Coblentz of his generation. Stanton A. Coblentz was a great writer, this man kept saying, and those no-good New Wave punks had no right to make fun of him. Remember, it was 1971. Richard Nixon was in the White House, John Campbell was editing Analog, and Harlan Ellison had just closed The Last Dangerous Visions, We took this Old Wave/New Wave stuff seriously then, and nobody had ever heard of the Labor Day Group. So a big argument broke out. The Stanton A. Coblentz of his generation, whose real name I discovered was George Alec Effinger, was nonplussed. “I don’t even know who Stanton A. Coblentz is,” he said. “I just sat down and they put that sign in front of me.”
This Effinger fellow had more names than anyone else I’d ever known. He had three of his own, and two of Stanton Coblentz’s (not even counting the initial), and a couple of secret pseudonyms, but everybody just called him “Piglet.” Gardner explained that this was to avoid confusing him with George Zebrowski. “George Zebrowski is George,” he said, “so he had to be Piglet.” Then it occurred to him that my name was George too. “You can’t be George either,” he said. “You’ll have to be Railroad.”
“But I don’t want to be Railroad,” I protested. Gardner pointed out that it was better than Piglet. Or Stanton A. Coblentz, for that matter.
There was an SCA tourney at that convention. They held it out on the back lawn of the Shoreham. I’d never seen the SCA before, and so I watched some of it. These people hitting each other with wooden swords seemed even odder than the woman with writing all over her body. The Saudi Arabian diplomats who were sharing the hotel with us found the spectacle engrossing as well. That’s the only time of my life when I’d wished I could speak Arabic.
I finally met Ted White. He wasn’t as well dressed as me either. “So this is what the editor of Amazing looks like,” I thought, visions of Sans Souci withering even as I shook hands. The Amazing Look in ’71 was denim. Today it’s plaid. Times change, fashions change. Only pin-striped double-breasted mustard-yellow sports jackets endure.
Disclave changed my life, no doubt of it. I went home that summer and wrote my fool head off, determined to produce and publish enough stories so that someday I- too could ascend to the glory of a new writers’ panel. Little did I dream that once I got on that panel, I’d remain on it for about nine years. But with the dream and a lot of sheer pustulating envy to drive me, I had the most prolific period of my life, and every story I wrote that summer eventually sold. Without Disclave, I might still be a journalist. Without Disclave, I might still be wearing ties.
Disclave taught me other things as well. I learned about WSFA meetings and BSFA meetings and about the Guilford Gafia and all the good people who lived around D.C. Unfortunately, my Washington internship was up within two weeks, and I left D.C. without ever attending any of these various functions. It would be more than three years before I returned to Washington for Discon. But fandom grabbed me a lot harder than D.C. did, and just a bare few months later, I attended my second SF convention ever, a little do up Boston way called Noreascon I. Neofan or neopro, I was undeniably a bit naive when I attended Disclave. But with that experience under my belt, I was better prepared for Noreascon. More sophisticated. More at ease. I even knew people. The more cons you go to, you more people you meet. In fact, I ran into a guy from Disclave seconds after arriving at Boston and registering. I’d strolled into the programming room nonchalantly, and I spied him right off. They were having an auction of some sort, and this guy was coming down off the stage, having just acquired an original Morris Scott Dollens.
Filled with fannish cameraderie, I waved hello, and bought myself a manuscript by Otis Adelbert Kline.
Even more humiliating, the Dollens fan didn’t recognize me at first. I had to prompt him. “Martin,” I had to tell him. He looked at my name badge, and I thought for sure the double initials would make him twig. I’d sat on the couch with this guy for a couple hours, drinking free beer, arguing about the upcoming Hugos, and telling him about the story I’d published in Galaxy and the one upcoming, in Amazing. “We met at Disclave, remember? In the con suite? George Ar Ar Martin,” I stressed.
Finally recognition flickered in his eyes. “Oh, yeah,” he said. “Railroad.” I winced. “Oh, yeah,” he continued, “you’re the —”
“— writer,” I started to say.
“— the guy with that yellow jacket,” he finished.
To have a career in this field, you’ve got to make an impression on the fans.
It’s nice to be remembered. And it’s nice to be back.