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Leadership at home

September 25, 2011

I really wish there was more to the local SF community where I am.  Tennessee isn’t devoid of skiffies (Chattanooga has a small but active community and Memphis seems to thrive), but I’m in a bit of a dead zone here between Nashville and Knoxville.  And neither of those cities really has any events worthy of a trip.  But what I really want is a group of quasi-academics that can get together and celebrate SF in all its glory without having to play a card game or have a LAN party or heaven forbid LARP.

Maybe it’s my social circles that limit me.  Most of my exposure is to high school students, recent high school grads, and a few teachers.  Thus I am fishing in a pond of mostly guppies.  I went through all the same stages: when the Empire/Jedi discussion in the movie Clerks was the model for deep philosophical debate; when a weekend meant a twelve pack of Dew, a bag of Doritos, and pirated anime; when every book I read for a year was a sequel to every other book.  These are great and important stages in the development of true geeks nerds SF fans,  but these are stages I can’t wallow in any more.

I’m looking for a social group where I can drop words like “steampunk” and “cryonics” without pausing to describe them.  I want to tell people about the writers I’ve met at WotF and cons (Niven, Pournelle, Turtledove, Tim Powers, Kevin J. Anderson, Robert J. Sawyer, Mike Resnick, Eric Flint) and get at least one nod of recognition.  I’m convinced that there is a community of such people here where I live — heck, this is the retirement capital of all places that aren’t Florida; I could hang with some septuagenarians.  But I’m not aware of any such gatherings.

So I suspect it falls to me to build a local SF community if I want to participate in one.  I am in a good position to do that, I suppose.  But I am a busy boy and this would be quite a commitment to get the thing off the ground.

It has been proposed to me that I start a writing/critiquing group instead.  I cringe at the thought of reading some gardening memoir or wanton love story as much as people who write those would cringe at the thought of reading about extra-planetary colonies or zombie humor.  No, I’m looking for a genre community.

Suppose I was to start one.  How to go about it?  I would LOVE some feedback from anyone that has ever started any sort of local science fiction community.

  1. Plant flyers at the used bookstore.  It’s the only bookstore in town and thus my only option.  I suppose I could drive west instead of east (I live in between) into the college town of my alma mater where there’s a Books-A-Million.  I don’t envision being able to draw from both towns, though, and I’m more entrenched in the east where I teach.  But it’s an option.
  2. Plant flyers in the library.  We have a nice new library in the eastern town in question, but even I have never been there.  Reports of the library’s under-use are legendary.  I suppose I could have my (as yet theoretical) group meet at the library to combat those rumors.  This may actually be working itself out…
  3. Facebook bombing.  Just get friends and acquaintances to spread the word through social media.  It’s likely that people interested will have some sort of e-presence.
  4. Offer something tangible at the first meeting.  Free books, free food, free…something.  Maybe a book swap.  Bring three books — leave with three books.  I don’t know, maybe I’m getting a little cliche now.  Would I be won over by free food or a book swap?  Not likely.  I’d just need to hear about it.

So what’s stopping me? Well, lack of success.  I sponsor the science fiction club at the high school and club membership is…well, it’s low.  I hit double digits on the sign-up sheet, but I’ll be shocked if that many show up.  It’s partly how clubs work at the school; they all meet at the same time and if you’re interested in two, you have to pick.  So when given the choice between a club with 100 people or a club with 10, peer pressure lures most students away.  Once upon a time I had over 100 kids in the club, back when different clubs met on different days.  Then again, most of those members were video game/anime/card game types that lost interest when ten minutes of club time passed without an explosion or cartoon nipple.  (I’m rambling now, aren’t I?)

So, do I start a hometown SF community?  Do I call it a club? A community? A hive?  Or do I keep to myself and avoid effort and disappointment?  This is all academic right now, but maybe someday…

[ETA] I followed up this post with some nosing around for existing local groups I might not be aware of.  All I found was my old college’s science fiction club which hosts a con.  Last year they report having around 200 attendees.  How did I not know about this?  Anyway, I sent next year’s con chair an email offering to participate in said con.  We’ll see if it amounts to anything.

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