It’s been several years since I’ve gathered with fans and other writers in person. I used to attend local science fiction conventions regularly, but the last one was FogCon (Walnut Creek CA) in February 2020. I find it amusing that my last haircut was in March 2020, although one is not necessarily causative of the other. I attended book signings at local stores and gave presentations at our local branch library. I also organized a monthly lunch and support group with a group of local writers. Needless to say, all these came to a screeching halt with the pandemic, and while some have ventured into in-person conventions, I have not done that yet. I’m in my mid-70s, which in itself increases my risk of serious disease or death, but I feel strongly that no one should ever feel pressured to defend wearing a mask or justify staying away from indoor gatherings. (In my case, there’s the personal risk, plus that my younger daughter spent the final year of her medical residency in Family Medicine taking care of desperately ill and dying Covid patients — this was before vaccines were available — and she is fiercely protective of me.)
All of which leads to social isolation, especially from my peer group, other genre writers. Video conferencing has helped ease the loneliness, although nothing entirely takes the place of hugs and shared adventures. My first forays included skyping my husband every night when I took care of my best friend in another state during the last weeks of her life; we finally went to phone calls because the video kept pixelating, the signal was so poor. Then my daughter attended medical school on the other side of the country and we video chatted regularly until her last year, when she was in clinic most of the time.
When the pandemic hit, I was fairly comfortable with many things video, and I started attending conventions remotely, for example, The Nebula Awards weekend, InkersCon, and various panels at other conventions. Hang-outs, mini-conventions, and themed chat sessions (such as those hosted by Lemon Friday) have proven to be great ways to meet new writers and learn much cool new stuff. I love being able to watch recorded events so I wasn’t forced to choose between two panels I wanted to attend. And to re-watch things at my own convenience. I even moderated a panel, although the inconsistency of my internet connection (due to living in a remote, mountainous place) knocked me offline for a full 10 minutes. Thankfully, the panelists carried on in fine fashion and no one seemed the worse for my absence!
Besides virtual conventions (and telemedicine doctor visits), I’ve participated in other ways of networking through video chats. Three other professional women sf/f writers and I formed a career support group, and we meet a couple of times a month. We’re on 2 coasts and 2 continents, so with the exception of the time difference, geographical proximity isn’t an issue. A colleague and I have bi-weekly writing dates, which have worked out splendidly for both of us. We chat for a few minutes about what we intend to work on, then we leave the chat window open while we each dive into our respective projects. The improvement in focus and accountability is extremely helpful. SFWA (and, I assume, other groups) host regular Writing Dates and I’ve attended a few of these. The structure of the sessions I participated in didn’t work for me; there’s a break at 45 minutes and then chat in breakout room, interrupting my concentration. My colleague and I picked a length for our sessions that allows us to go deep into our work without taking up all day. We’ve both been known to take a short break at the end of our session and then return. Having only 2 participants means we can adjust to our individual needs.
I still miss seeing my friends in person, strolling through the dealers rooms at conventions, autographing books for my readers, and all the fun of masquerades and other fan-run performances, and I’m looking forward to doing all that again. But modern internet technology plus our own creativity has produced a bevy of alternative ways to get (or stay!) connected. I hope that when or if the pandemic eases and we’re back to “real life,” we’ll keep these discoveries, too!