World Fantasy: Namedropping, Narcissism, and Superheroes

As I've been thinking about what more to say about this year's World Fantasy Convention, I've realized that a general report of all I saw and did would be immensely dull, because most of my time was spent sitting around talking with people. I'm going to do it anyway. I'll try to keep the namedropping compact. (And if I forget anyone, I'm entirely sorry and will be immensely nice and generous to you in the future.)

World Fantasy is a different sort of convention from the previous two I've attended -- ReaderCon and the World Science Fiction Convention -- because it is so focused on the publishing industry. I can't imagine what it's like to attend if you're not a writer, editor, publisher, or reviewer, because there really aren't that many panels or other sorts of events. There are certainly enough things to fill the time, but also not so many that I ever felt guilty for spending so much time just hanging out with people.

I had the best time I've had at a convention so far, though, because of that hanging out. I finally got to meet so many people I have wanted to meet for years. I met in person a couple people I have interviewed via email: Alan DeNiro and Paolo Bacigalupi. I finally got a chance to spend some time with Ellen Datlow, whom I'd previously only said hi to while passing through busy hallways of other cons. Gordon van Gelder, editor of F&SF, and I had just enough time to finally shake hands and say hello, but not much more than that. I saw the winner of the Mumpsimus Award, Rudi Dornemann, a couple of times, and he told me he's getting good use from the coffee mug I sent him. I got to have meals with large groups of people -- with Liz Gorinsky of Tor, Forrest Aguirre, Rusty Morrison and Ken Keegan of Omnidawn, Mark Kelly, Rajan Khana (whose site features some in-depth WFC reporting), Kelly Shaw, David Moles, Paula Guran, David Schwartz, Megan McCarron, Gregg van Eekhout, and Brett Cox (who was, with Dave Schwartz, my roommate -- though none of us slept very much, so we enountered each other outside the room far more than inside). I killed some time in a bar with that brutal woman Kameron Hurley and her roommate, Jenn Whitson. Et cetera et cetera et cetera.

I was amazed at how many Australians made their way north for the convention, and I spent quite a bit of time with Deborah Biancotti and Trevor Stafford, who is organizing Conflux 3. Because Jeff VanderMeer had recently spent three weeks in Australia, I was sure it couldn't be a place of dignity and discriminating taste -- apparently they'd let any old squid-eater in. But I was pleasantly surprised at how much fun both Deb and Trevor were -- how industrious, jovial, lively, and long-suffering. And then I remembered that this was the little continent that produced Jonathan Strahan and K.J. Bishop. Clearly, it is a secret continent of superheroes. (My first amazed acknowledgement of the Aussies' humanity can be found at Emerald City, with a reply from Jonathan Strahan and an explanation from Cheryl.)

I ended up being on two panels: On Friday, I was on a panel moderated by Jeff VanderMeer about "fringe fantasy", and then another on Saturday moderated by Ann VanderMeer about the reader's role in fantasy fiction. Ann must have some Australian blood, because she is a superhero. On Wednesday night, as I was packing to go to the convention, Jeff sent me a note saying Ann had been in a car accident, the car had essentially been cut in half, but she was okay and insisting they still go to the convention. She showed up bruised and aching, but in remarkably good spirits. I don't know how she did it. Both panels went well, though I managed to be pretty annoying on Ann's panel when I insisted that every term being used needed to be defined, and that everything depended. After beginning my third or fourth answer with, "Well, it depends," Ann interrupted and told me I just kept saying that. She was right. I explained that I think everything is socially or culturally determined, that there is no inherent meaning to abstract terms such as "art" or "the reader", and that if we don't define our terms, then we're working from unstated assumptions, and we all have somewhat different unstated assumptions. Jay Lake accused me of being a situationist and an existentialist. Luckily, Hal Duncan was on the panel, and he cleared everything up, though I'm not sure how many people realized this, as Hal is from Glasgow, and may need in the future to be equipped with subtitles.

Hal is a marvelous person -- we first met on Thursday night in a hallway outside of a party and ended up talking for quite a while about the wonders of Guy Davenport. Hal is the first person I've met who's actually read much Guy Davenport. But then, as anybody who has even glanced at Hal's novel Vellum can tell, Hal has read all sorts of esoteric things, and can talk about them with a speed and energy known to few mortals. I expect he has family in Australia.

I also got to chat a couple of times with L.E. Modesitt, whom I knew fifteen years ago, when he was first writing The Magic of Recluce, a book I remain quite fond of. I think we're going to do an interview, so you'll be hearing a lot more about him soon.

And now we must talk about twee. I said to Jay Lake at one point that something seemed to have been okay, given that the subject was ... and then I struggled for the right words. "Inherently twee?" Jay said. "Yes!" I cried (while thinking "Eureka!" and "Avast!"), and said, "There should be an anthology called Inherently Twee!" Jay looked at me skeptically. "Would you want to be known forevermore as the man who edited Inherently Twee?" he asked. "I was born to be that man," I said. Jay dared me to propose the anthology to Sean Wallace of Prime Books, and I did, and Sean did try to smite me.

And so it began. Evermore, until the last day of the con, where'er I went, the twee followed me. I told all and sundry of my plans. I schemed with Australians to invite other Australians to write for Inherently Twee. I proposed a sequel: a collection of flash fiction called Wee Twee. Someone suggested a holiday anthology: Christmas Twee. Liz Gorinsky avoided me for two days, knowing that I planned to ask for a three-book deal. Deborah Biancotti took to calling me Captain Twee. (Stop laughing. It's not funny.)

Why do I bring these things upon myself? Why can I let no bad joke, no awful pun, no silly rhyme go unstated?

Juliet Ulman, the endlessly amazing editor at Bantam who has brought such books as Light, The Etched City, and Veniss Underground to a larger audience, seemed relieved that, when she brought me down to the bar after the awards ceremony, I did not press her to publish Inherently Twee. She is clearly experienced at telling people their grand ideas will not be published by her company. Luckily, she is publishing Barth Anderson's first novel, which she tells me is brilliant and also lots of fun to read, a fine and rare combination. Clearly, both Juliet and Barth are Australian. (Barth was at the convention, but I only got to talk with him very briefly.)

There is so much more I could say, but very little of interest. Alan DeNiro looks great in a wig. Peter Straub and Graham Joyce are hilariously good MCs of awards ceremonies. I was thrilled when Brian Evenson's collection The Wavering Knife won the International Horror Guild Award. I saw Nick Mamatas tell Dave Schwartz he'd sold a story to Spicy Slipstream Stories, which Dave took quite calmly (and be sure to read Nick's account of reading slush at the con.)

Enough. It was a marvelous convention. Everyone I met was generous, loveable, intelligent, and Australian. Who could ask for anything more?

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