As a longtime reader of science fiction and fantasy I follow some of my favorite authors on twitter. From their tweets I’ve been aware of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Association’s annual conference and auction for a few years now. The auction is online; attendance at the conference is not required. Some of the more intriguing items up for auction each year are hour-long “kaffeeklatsches” with authors, writers, illustrators, and others involved with the science fiction world. Usually there are four seats for every kaffeeklatsch, each auctioned off separately.
Having watched from the sidelines in prior years I decided to dive in this year. I bid on a session with a big name author and watched the price go way beyond my budget, so I looked around at other possibilities. The starting bids are around $20 or $30; I found a group of other authors, put in some bids, and watched how the auctions went. I was outbid on a seat with one author but noticed other seats for the same session were still in my price range. I bid on those at the lower, starting price.
In the end I won seats at three kaffeeklatsches, for a total price of $70.00; this is a bargain! I had only read works by one of them, though I had looked up the others online (Wikipedia, their websites, reviews, etc), and thought they sounded interesting.
The first two sessions were on the same day (watch the dates / times of events when bidding so you don’t end up doublebooking yourself). There was only one other person in each of those events, and, as it turns out, it was the same person. That made it interesting for several reasons. For one that person was really smart and interesting, and I enjoyed talking with them as much as with the authors. For another the audience was a constant while the authors changed so it was almost an experiment in how changing that personality affected the interaction.
I had not read anything by either of the authors, but I had familiarized myself with their works, reading snippets on Amazon, looking at reviews, and short biographical sketches. Honestly, we didn’t talk that much about their writings. One of the authors was more interested in engaging with me and the other participant, asking us about ourselves and our interests; at one point we had a wonderful conversation about a rather grim musical that we had all seen and enjoyed. That author teaches writing classes, so we also talked about writing methods and plot development. It was not just a fascinating conversation but very educational as well.
The second session focused more on the author’s writing, and I have put some of their books on my “to be read” list. We talked about where the author’s inspirations came from, and about the author’s life, which is worthy of a novel in and of itself. This author was not born or raised in the US and the other participant had a non-American accent so the discussion had a much more international feel to it.
The conversations were wonderful and I felt that the other participant and I meshed well. It was great fun talking with that person and the authors, very much like if we had all sat together at a table during lunch or shared stood around a hallway between sessions at a convention. The kaffeeklatsch comparison is both excellent and apt. That is exactly what it felt like, a group of people just sitting and chatting; in fact, that is exactly what it was.
The third kaffeeklatsch was a few weeks later. This was with an author whose works I had read, at least some of them, and who had a larger name recognition that the other two, at least in my view. There were two other people in the session with me. As before, the participants were all very respectful of each other, talking in turn, not talking over one another. Everyone contributed and the conversation was very natural and organic, jumping from one thing to another, and then going back to pick up a thread that someone had started but had gotten lost in the larger discussion. This author has some unusual and unique book tie-ins; something I had never considered, and it was fascinating to hear about them.
Each of the sessions was interesting and really enjoyable, in overlapping and also different ways. Seventy dollars is not a lot of money to spend for three hours of stimulating conversation, especially after two years of covid related isolation. People spend more than that for a photo with an actor at cons. My worries going in were that I would be quizzed on my views about the author’s work, or that one participant would monopolize the conversation. Nothing even remotely like that happened. Everyone involved in the process, the auction organizers, the authors, and the other participants, were delightful.
I’ll be watching next year’s auction, and will certainly place a few bids for kaffeeklatsches. It is for a good cause; this year’s auction raised $18,000 for SFWA, an organization that spends its money wisely. According to the emails I received from the auction site at least part of the cost is tax deductible, an added plus. This really is a great way to interact with authors, and meet people with similar interests.