The subtle art of fan-girling

 I was riding in the car with my husband, heading back to the office after a doctor’s appointment when I got the email. My schedule for an up-coming convention had been updated. I knew the panel I had submitted had been accepted several weeks back, but now I was able to see who the convention decided to put on my panel.

I don’t recall if I’ve ever truly hyperventilated before, but at that moment, I was glad my husband was the one who was driving. My panel was not going to be graced by one, not by two, but by three of the cast members of the Writing Excuses Podcast. The thought of moderating for Mary Ann Mohanraj, Amal El-Mohtar, and (be still, my heart!) Mary Robinette Kowal forced me to contain my squeals.

But I had to pull it together. I had to be professional. I was a professional, I reminded myself.

The only thought that kept circulating through my head was the time I met Ralph Macchio at a Wizard Con. I approached his autographing table, garbed in medieval armor. I had to have looked ridiculous. Then, a piece of mascara fell into my eye, and I couldn’t get it out. I handed him the photo for him to sign, my eye watering and twitching like crazy, my armor clinking and creaking, and my brain trying to think of something cool to say. How many girls before me had said variations of “I loved Karate Kid 2, it’s my favorite!” No, that wasn’t going to be me. I forced my eye open as far as I could, plastered a smile on my face and said, “I watched you on Dancing with the Stars! I voted for you every week!”


Yes. I told Ralph Macchio that I watched him on Dancing with the Stars.

I was not going to let that happen to me again with the Writing Excuses cast – especially Mary Robinette Kowal.

As the moderator of our panel, it was my job to prompt questions and keep people from rambling on too long. And for me, the key to keep from stumbling over my words too much was to be organized and prepared. Or, in my case, overly organized and prepared.

I had questions prepared in advance, and I wrote them down just in case Mary Robinette’s stunning glow blinded me too greatly that I couldn’t think clearly. I had a notecard with the questions in front of me, and a pen to check off the ones I had asked.

The next part was the most difficult. I reached out to each person on my panel via email. I introduced myself and asked if anyone had any specific topics they wanted to cover during the panel. Of course, no one did, which was a relief since I didn’t have to add any additional questions to my notecard.

The day of the panel dawned, and my heart was racing. But, at least I felt prepared, and I didn’t put on any mascara that might fall into my eyeball. I walked into the room, and everyone was already there, working on arranging the seats.

“Who’s our moderator?” I heard Mary Robinette ask as I approached the table.

My tongue was still stuck to the roof of my mouth, so I simply raised my hand in the air and smiled.

Breathe, I told myself. They all started where you are.

“Hi! I’m Cassie,” I said, and offered my hand to each panelist.

We settled into our seats, made our introductions, and had the absolute best conversations best and forth for an hour. It was more relaxed than I could have dreamed because these were real people having real conversations with each other. Even though everyone on that panel had far more experience than I did, it did not diminish or overshadow my own advice and opinions I voiced.

I attended a few more panels, both as a panelist and an audience member, with the cast throughout the weekend. Each time, I gave them space but wasn’t afraid to ask questions during Q&A.

After closing ceremonies, I found Mary Ann, Amal, and Mary in the hall. I approached them and thanked them for being so amazing to work with. I shook their hands (or in Amal’s case, hugged her), and smiled, my heart racing just a little bit less than three days before.

The subtle art of fan-girling is not to hide your love for the people you admire so greatly. It’s about respect. You aren’t the first or only person who has placed these people on a pedestal, and you won’t be the last. But it’s important to remember that whether it’s Mary Robinette Kowal or Dwayne Johnson, celebrities and industry professionals are at these events for a purpose. Education, making people happy, being real. They can tell how much you admire them just from the way you smile. And there’s no shame in it. Be professional, be kind and polite, enjoy the moment, and remember not to wear clumpy mascara.