This weekend, I attended Ad Astra 2014, an annual literary SF/F/H convention held in Toronto. Ad Astra was the first convention I ever attended as a young person (to the best of my admittedly shoddy memory, I was around 17) and it has always been a lot of fun and a great learning experience.
Ad Astra is where I first started to connect with the indie writing community, and picked up some of the first books that were outside of the mainstream, feature shelf at Chapters Indigo category. It’s actually where I wrote my first published short story as part of a flash fiction contest. Before that point, I had scarcely ever written any flash fiction. The mental stretch of trying a new form among friends, I believe, helped to push me to that next level and make every word count in a way that finally caught the attention of an editor.
Ad Astra was also one of the first places that I learned about the ins and outs, the opportunities and pitfalls of self and indie publishing. I was intrigued that so many people were out there, doing it for themselves, and not waiting for someone else to tell them it was okay to begin. I met people who were producing high quality work that didn’t fall into easy categories, and I loved it. Yes, over the years, Ad Astra has provided a fertile ground for the seeds of my creativity and business sense to grow in.
These past few years have not been easy for me. A lot of the initial inspiration, strength and conviction I found through my passion for writing and art have been shaken by the perspiration that it takes to get somewhere with your work. I’ve faced severe financial hardship, job uncertainty, hostile work environments, and drifting away from friends. For several years, I also faced self-alienation from the fan community after a horrible experience with a stalker that went unaddressed and left me feeling vulnerable and unsupported within the community. All of these things have led me to question my work, my conviction, and my reasons for doing what I do.
Things reached a low for me this past fall when I was forced to drain most of my funds for upcoming cons and business appearances in order to pay rent, because a contract I had been promised fell through at the last minute. The business was left with a skeleton budget, barely limping along and unable to grow until such time as I found the money to breathe new life into it. With credit card debt mounting, and a job that paid a fraction of what I would have gotten with the other contract, I felt hopeless and bogged down with obligations.
A few months went by, and I tried to figure out what to do, but nothing I came up which seemed realistic. I got a car, got out of debt, and generally stabilized things, but I was still feeling discouraged artistically, and a little bit lost trying to manage my art time with a full time job. That was when I got an amazing email, one that I’d forgotten was coming. Ad Astra was writing me to confirm my place in the dealers’ room, which I’d booked two years before but hadn’t been able to follow up on. Since I now had a car, I could keep costs low, and potentially fund some future projects, if the weekend went well.
Suffice it to say, the weekend went well. We sold out of our second anthology, Spirits of Suburbia, and had to direct more people to our e-store. We made enough money for more books, more appearances, more everything, and better than that… I got inspired again. I learned about some amazing opportunities for marketing my books nearby that didn’t involve table fees or gas money. I looked into some really great volunteer opportunities that I hope will bring me closer to the local writing community. I got two (two!) interviews! There’s way more to tell on that front, but hopefully that can all wait until I have official announcements to make. I also received praise for our books from several writing colleagues whom I greatly respect, which… well, I just have to say thank you to everyone who offered words of encouragement. You have no idea how much your support and friendship meant at this point in time, and continues to mean going forward.
Ad Astra has done it again. I came in tired, discouraged and on my last legs, and I left inspired, supported, and empowered for the battle ahead. Thank you to everyone involved with the convention, and I wish long life and health to this wonderful organization. Thank you for making grass-roots arts and literature possible for the fan community with integrity and inclusiveness.