Fandom isn’t just a Goddamned Hobby

Hi, my name’s Lynelle and I’m a New Zealand fan. I’ve attended most conventions in NZ since I joined fandom, been to one worldcon (1999) and visited Melbourne’s natcon scene too.

I was recently asked to describe how I got into fandom, and what I do within it. Well…the first is easy.

My boyfriend (now husband) took me to my first SF convention in 1993, six months after we started dating. I had fun, I found people I had things in common with. I discovered that I’d been a closet fan for years, and now was the time to get out of there.

So we kept attending cons, being there, doing stuff, having fun….and then one day, in 1998, that all changed…
Someone I knew from other circles – see, I know too many people, and volunteer in too many places – was at CONstruction in 1998 — the 19th national NZ con — and said she was putting her hand up to run a con. “Okkkaaaay,” I said, “I’ll help you.”

“You’re a journalist, you can do publicity,” she said.
“Okkkkayy,” I said.
Well…one thing led to another, and nine months out from Cond’Or,the 21st NZ natcon, in 2000 — I found myself the chair of the event – it was helpful that I wasn’t working at the time! We were the largest convention in a number of years (about 200 people), and made a reasonable sum of money – success! It wasn’t without its challenges (and there are fans who can testify that I chewed their ears off on the phone for hours), but we got there.

In 2000 a newly created organisation also became a huge part of my fannish life. SFFANZ, the Science Fiction and Fantasy Association of New Zealand, was formed, and with it, the Sir Julius Vogel Awards (SJVs). I’ve been on the board of SFFANZ since, and have managed the awards, which recognise excellence and achievement in science fiction, fantasy and horror by New Zealanders and New Zealand citizens, since at least 2006 (though I am sure I had a stint when they first started too!)

Because I didn’t have enough fun running the convention in 2000, I boldly put my hand up to run another one in 2005 (Icon, the 26th national convention).  I pitched for this event in 2003, with my seven-week-old son tucked under my arm. Yeah, that went ok too, we made more money, had lovely guests and a great time was had by all.
As if that weren’t enough to keep me occupied, I discovered the local SF club – Phoenix Science Fiction Society – and I started going along. I joined the committee….uh oh…..

 The editor of the monthly club newsletter, Phoenixine, resigned, others took his place, but no-one stuck. I’ve now been editor of the club’s SJV award-winning newsletter [1] for the past 132 issues and am now its longest-serving idiot (person) in the job. I’ve also been on the committee for more years than I can remember, and have held the roles of secretary, vice president (at least twice) and president (at least twice more). It’s not a huge club – we’ve got less than 50 members, but we’re well into double digits, but it’s made up of some of my closest friends.

All this work culminated in being offered a fan guest of honour slot at ConText in 2011, and the FFANZ delegate, the fan fund of Australia and New Zealand in 2017. The administrator said “It’s a reward for all the hard work you’ve done.”
“Yeah, right, you just want me to take it on because I’m good at fundraising…..”

When I have time off from all my day-to-day fan stuff, I find other fannish things to do – like assisting with worldcon bids and umbrella SF organisations. I expect that should NZ in 2020, for which I’m currently Executive Assistant to a con chair, win the bid, I won’t have a life outside fandom.

It would be fair to say that I can’t get a real job because it would get in the way of my fannish workload.
Why do I do it? Well, originally it gave me something to occupy my time and keep up my admin skills whilst I wasn’t working, or later, whilst I was home with young family. Now, of course, I’ve been doing the jobs so long, no-one else wants to take them on, so I’m stuck with them.
Fandom isn’t just a Goddamned Hobby – I make it a full-time job!

Lynelle Howell

[1] Winner of Best Fan Publication/Production 2010, 2012-16.


Addendum: Roman kept coming back to me and asking for more reasoning for why I continue to do this work. It’s perplexed me that “no one else will do the job as well as I can, or indeed at all” wouldn’t satisfy him.

I suggested “because I’m a crazy cat lady who likes herding cats” – because, let’s face it, organising fans is like herding cats, ie very difficult at the best of times. Again, that didn’t seem to satisfy him.

“Why?” is a question those of us in fannish infrastructure should contemplate often. Why do we stay in the roles we do? How do we avoid burnout?

I’m not sure I can answer either question – I’m burning out in some of my jobs, but I don’t feel like there’s anyone I can hand the jobs off to. I’ve been through assistants for some of the jobs, and they’ve all left feeling burnt out themselves, so I stay, like the ambulance at the bottom of a cliff holding things together. It’s not an ideal obligation to feel, but my love for the community, my friends, and what we achieve keep me here.

In desperation, I asked this question of friends, and interestingly, it was a non-fan friend. who succinctly said: “I think your desire to educate others and improve attendance and awareness indicates your love for the genre…”

I want more people to understand why I stay in fandom. I’m raising two minifans who have already attended many conventions who are as passionate about the genre and the people who enjoy it as I am – this gives me immense joy. But I’m not sure I can adequately put into words why I stay in the job. It’s many reasons. Sure, I am tired of some of it, but I wouldn’t be without it.

Here’s what I wrote more than a year ago – it’s as true then as it is now: “I stay involved in fandom because the membership is like a family – some of us have been in fandom for more than 20 years, and going to conventions is like having a family holiday. You have your crazy uncles, your dotty aunts and your closest cousins all in one place.”

I keep adding new family members every time I go to cons – I meet new people. I travel to other countries and met fans who become doting uncles, cousins, aunts. I reinvigorate my love of the genre and its people every time I attend a con, especially when I’m not required to “work”.

Attending Continuum 13 in Melbourne in 2017 was the most fun I’d had at a con in ages because I “didn’t have to work”, ie run awards, business sessions and the like. I could just be a fan meeting people and having fun. It was the spark I needed to reinvigorate me. Now I’m seeking the next big challenge…what that is I’m not sure, but with the spark reignited, I’m looking forward to finding out.