Monday, November 9, 2015

The World Fantasy Convention Report.

This year's haul is noticeably smaller than in years past.
Warning: If you're looking for nuggets of writing advice, they're here -- but you'll have to put up with a fair amount of fantasy-fiction name-dropping and some fangrrl squeeing before we get there.

Sorry that I'm a day late in posting this week. Today is my World Fantasy Convention hangover day. I've been to enough of these now that I've learned to build in a post-convention day off, to help ease my re-entry into the normal world. This strategy first paid off after the WFC in San Diego, where guest of honor Neil Gaiman was treated like a rock star. I described this to an attorney I was working for, whereupon she said, "I don't know who that is." If we'd had that conversation the day after convention's end, I might have broken down sobbing. As it was, I was able to feign a simple case of mild surprise. (The sobbing came later, in private.)

This year's convention felt kind of thrown together from the start. There were fewer than the usual number of communiques from the organizers before the convention, and the book bags were a lot smaller than usual. At past conventions, I'd received between twelve and fifteen books in my bag -- some ARCs (advance reader copies), some overstocks, some because the author was a guest of honor. My hardback copy of Gaiman's American Gods came in my book bag in San Diego. This year -- well, reference the photo above. I bought the Donaldson volume in the dealers' room; four of the others came in my bag, together with a paperback copy of a book I got in hardback last year (David Baldacci's The Finisher) and a mass-market paperback of a book I'd received in my bag a few years ago (Peter Brett's The Warded Man). I picked up the Novik from the book exchange table. The author of Without Bloodshed, Matt Graybosch, told me his publisher had ordered enough books for every bag, but never heard where to send them or when the deadline was.

(The peppermint pig wasn't in the bag, either. It was a freebie at the registration desk.)

Anyway. As a member of Broad Universe, I participated in their Rapid Fire Reading Thursday afternoon. I had about five minutes to read, and chose the scene from Dragon's Web in which Rafe first meets Sage's father at the pizza place. I was gratified that the audience laughed in all the right places. (Note to authors: Broad Universe has a special rate at NetGalley, and you don't have to be a speculative fiction writer -- or even a broad -- to take advantage. The rate is $25/month for members and $45/month for non-members. Full details here.)

Once my reading was over, I was able to relax and be a fangrrl. Of course, that meant attending every panel Stephen R. Donaldson was on, and first up was a geek girl twofer: Donaldson interviewing guest of honor Steven Erikson, whose ten-book Malazan Book of the Fallen series is well on its way to becoming a classic of the grimdark subgenre. (Yes, grimdark is an actual thing.) Erikson's books are doorstop-sized tomes, running a thousand pages or more. He explained that he kept his editor from cutting them down to size by insisting that this scene here in book A was crucial to understanding a scene in book G -- which may or may not have been true. Donaldson (who has been known to say, of his own ten-book series, "internal consistency is a bitch") wanted to know how Erikson keeps all the details straight -- to which Erikson said, "Oh, please - when one character changes gender? Twice?" Turns out he has great intentions about note-taking, but lousy follow-through; the assistant he hired to organize all the details of Malazan discovered 50 or 60 notebooks, each containing about three pages of notes.

I ran into YA fantasy author Sarah Beth Durst in the elevator, and later saw her on a panel with Donaldson about whether quest narratives are in or out of fashion. Sarah, bless her heard, said she really enjoyed The Martian because everyone in it was so nice -- prompting Donaldson to blurt, "I was so bored!" He then invoked the spirit of Lester del Rey, who ran the Del Rey imprint at Ballantine in the 1970s and '80s. Donaldson said del Rey believed there were three types of conflicts in fiction -- man against others, man against nature, and man against himself -- and that while just one will make a good story, you need to include all three for a great story. Clearly, in Donaldson's estimation, The Martian fell short.

The other "quest" panel I attended was not nearly as interesting. Moderator Jeanne Cavelos, who runs the venerable Odyssey workshop program, kept a tight focus on the topic of what to take on a quest -- even though authors Carol Berg and Catherine Cooke Montrose kept trying to steer the discussion away from a packing list into more interesting territory. After all, the key element of any quest is the questers themselves: not the physical things they bring along, but how they survive, what they find, and what they bring back with them -- and that includes self-knowledge and maturity as much as it does whatever McGuffin the party has been sent off to fetch.

Finally: Walking back from the art show Saturday night, I stumbled across an impromptu concert featuring six or eight convention attendees (one of whom, I learned later, was Charles de Lint). Among the songs they sang was one called "The Family Car". I didn't get a video, but here's one of some other people performing it on "The Prairie Home Companion" a few years back.


Yes, there's irony in people who work in traditional publishing singing heartily about the car as America's safety net. Publishing is a tough business, no matter how you do it.

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These moments of convention-addled blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell.
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