By Gail Z. Martin
I grew up believing that I was not going to survive to adulthood. My parents were into doomsday politics and apocalyptic religion, so whether it was Soviet nukes or Armageddon, we were all going down in flames.
Everyone around me—extended family and religious social group—echoed the same fears and beliefs. I was pleasantly surprised to still be alive at age 12, but I didn’t figure it would last.
That’s the year I discovered Star Trek (original series) and read my first science fiction book (Destination: Universe by A.E. VanVogt). I still remember the moment when it hit me that other people saw the possibility of a completely different future than the fire and blood I’d been raised to expect. Cataclysmic destruction was not inevitable. I remember lying in the grass in my back yard, book open, tears running down my face when I realized I actually might live long enough to grow up.
Before I switched schools, I got bullied a lot. I decided when I was 14 that someday, I wanted to write the kind of sweeping adventures that I loved to read, the kind that took me away from bullies and terrifying predictions and showed me magic and space ships and heroes, a world that got better instead of ending up in a pile of ash.
I found two friends who liked the same shows and books. It was enough to get by. We went to my first sci-fi convention in Columbus when I was a junior in high school. I was surrounded by hundreds of people who had seen the same movies, read the same books, got the jokes. I felt like I’d gone to heaven.
Fandom saved my life. It gave me a place where I belonged, and it gave me a vision of another kind of future. It became a new kind of family, one that understood and supported me in a way my birth family never could.
My friends from conventions and fanzines encouraged me to write. They taught me that I could entertain people with my stories, and their nurturing and prompting gave me the courage to keep writing.
Fast forward a few decades. I’m now an author writing several series of fantasy books for major publishers. I still go to conventions—but now I’m up on the panels. Fandom anchors me and nurtures me. I’m more at home at a convention than at almost any other gathering. We have shared history and common ground. I belong.
But what continues to amaze and inspire me is how fandom takes care of its own.
When my friend, author C.J. Henderson, was dying of cancer, a couple of us came up with the idea of doing a charity anthology to help with medical bills. Within a few hours, we had nearly 50 authors on board with the project, all donating previously-published short stories, and a publisher willing to pull the anthology together to benefit CJ and his family. Dance Like a Monkey was the result. CJ lost his battle to cancer. Another book, The Society for the Preservation of CJ Henderson (and a GoFundMe campaign of the same name), helped to cover burial expenses.
I can’t count the number of GoFundMe campaigns and fundraisers I’ve seen in support of fans with health challenges and other catastrophic life events. So many cons have memorial scholarships given in honor of beloved members of the fandom community who passed away, people like Peggy Rae Sapienza https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peggy_Rae_Sapienza. Every con I attend has either a blood drive or a charity auction—or both.
One of the most powerful times I saw fandom taking care of its own came at a panel on the last day of a convention. One attendee who had recently experienced physical and family trauma (I’m being deliberately vague to protect privacy) responded to something one of us on the panel said by talking about committing suicide. The whole mood in the room shifted. The audience became quietly supportive. The panelists tried to let him know he was not alone. One of the panelists—an unlikely hero—was able to find common ground through a similar life experience. He stayed after the panel talking privately with the attendee for over an hour. That was five or six years ago. The man did not kill himself. Circumstances improved. He gets a big hug every year from me and we celebrate.
This past summer, ConCarolinas added a panel on coping with mental illness. The panelists were either authors who were medical professionals and/or authors who had personal experience with depression, etc. Not only was the panel standing room only, it ran over, and spawned a Facebook group. That’s one reason #HoldOnToTheLight is reaching out to convention organizers to encourage adding, promoting and expanding programming on mental wellness issues. ConCarolinas, Atomacon, Capricon, GenCon, Imaginarium and ContraFlow are all planning new panels, and we hope more cons will join in.
#HoldOnToTheLight was inspired by #AKF #AlwaysKeepFighting, a campaign from the Supernatural TV show fandom (http://www.supernaturalwiki.com/index.php?title=Always_Keep_Fighting) I’m especially thrilled to see the #SPNFamily Crisis Support Network creating a fandom-based peer counseling training opportunity. Details here: http://www.randomacts.org/programs/crisis-support-network/ (Yeah, I’m a huge fan of the show.) As Bobby Singer said, “Family don’t end with blood.” In other words, your true family is the one you gather around yourself.
#AlwaysKeepFighting #AKF showed the reach media stars have when they talk about issues, and I wondered what would happen if genre authors opened a similar conversation. I recruited my usual partners in crime—John Hartness, Misty Massey, Jaym Gates, Jean Marie Ward, Emily Leverett and my husband, Larry N. Martin—as the steering committee, and we started asking our colleagues and author friends to join us.
The result? More than 100 science fiction, fantasy, horror, paranormal romance and speculative fiction authors are part of #HoldOnToTheLight.
#HoldOnToTheLight is a blog campaign encompassing blog posts by fantasy and science fiction authors around the world in an effort to raise awareness around treatment for depression, suicide prevention, domestic violence intervention, PTSD initiatives, bullying prevention and other mental health-related issues. We believe fandom should be supportive, welcoming and inclusive, in the long tradition of fandom taking care of its own. We encourage readers and fans to seek the help they or their loved ones need without shame or embarrassment.
Please consider donating to or volunteering for organizations dedicated to treatment and prevention such as: American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, Hope for the Warriors (PTSD), National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), Canadian Mental Health Association, MIND (UK), SANE (UK), BeyondBlue (Australia), To Write Love On Her Arms (TWLOA) and the National Suicide Prevention Hotline.
I’ll be posting regular updates on this site with links to new author and convention blog posts. If you’re media or a blogger and you want to contact me,