October 9th, 2006

Fantastic Genres Conference II: Con Report


I am thankful to this con. Really. The fact that I attended it this weekend kept me from watching the massacre that was the dismantling of the NY Yankees. Coming home to learn the NY Giants had won their game to raise their record to 2-2 eased the hurt, but baseball is dead to me until next year. Long live football, which is my favorite sport anyway. As to the con itself . . .

My weekend started Friday morning, when Chis Cevasco--publisher/editor of Paradox--and I met up with John Joseph Adams in Hoboken, to drive up to New Paltz. Having driven to a few cons now I have to say that I particularly enjoy this process. Stuff a bunch of geeks into a car and naturally we geek out, which gets us in the perfect frame of mind for a speculative convention, which is basically a geek fest. Anyway . . .

We arrived around 1:00 or so, and after grabbing lunch at a diner we met up with John Langan, a regular contributor to F&SF Magazine, a teacher at New Paltz, and one of the organizers of the con. John brought all three of us to his creative writing class, where we answered some of the basic questions you might expect from students concerning submissions, cover letters, our responsibilities, etc. We finished off the class by critiquing the first paragraphs to stories written by students as homework. Kind of fun, even if it did force us to come up with intelligent stuff to say on the spot. This marked the first time I lectured to students at a college, so I was grateful for the opportunity.

The rest of the day was spent hanging out and attending the occasional panel. The next event worth mentioning was dinner that night, since my posse ate out with the in-crowd of the convention. Notable figures included John Langan, Guest of Honor John Crowley, Alex Irvine, Brett Cox, and a few other people I'm sure I'm forgetting. Dinner lasted far longer than expected, which delayed the big academic conference that night (which was very boring), which in turn delayed my reading. It was supposed to take place at 9:00 p.m. The actual time was closer to 9:45. The good news is besides my posse, two other people attended, which brought my total up to a whopping four people (with a cameo by John Langan--long muddled story). Since this was my first reading, the fact that strangers showed up was a victory. The fact that they stayed through the whole reading was another victory. The response seemed fairly positive, although it's hard to say for certain, since people always feel obligated to clap at the end of a reading. For the reading itself, I chose my rewrite of "The Song That Binds," currently sitting on the e-desk of the editor at Intergalactic Medicine Show. Fingers still crossed regarding what the editor shall tell me. So once again I was grateful for this opportunity, since it was my first reading. After this came some more hanging out, followed by passing out in the motel.

Day two featured lots of readings and panels, with more guests arriving. I also sat on my one panel for the weekend, this being BREAKING INTO PRINT: HOW I DID IT. Chris Cevasco was my co-panelist, along with Hannah Wolf Bowen, who was filling in for Amy Tibbetts, who was unable to attend the con. JJA was the moderator. There was a nice turnout of New Paltz students for this one, and they were very appreciative to learn about our experiences. I for one was glad to do it since I'd never done a panel of this sort before. At some point after this the posse and I grabbed lunch with Hannah, Nick Mamatas, and Jeff Ford. This was the first time I ever sat down with Ford, and I see why everyone has such great things to say about him. Really nice and funny guy. The best panel of the day was probably READING SPECULATIVE LITERATURE: WHERE TO START. I'm a little bit beyond the "starting" phase, but I was curious as to what books might be suggested. Panelists Gordon Van Gelder, publisher/editor of F&SF, and writer & reviewer Paul Witcover had some wonderful thoughts regarding this.

Now I must go on a brief rant. Without naming names, some people on some of these panels came to them with an agenda. It's one thing to introduce yourself and mention your credits. People are curious about this sort of stuff. It's another thing entirely to go off on tangents that have nothing to do with the topic at hand because you like to hear yourself talk and consider your irrelvant thoughts to be the most important ones at hand. News flash. They're not. People that conduct themselves in such a manner make fools of themselves, and you annoy the rest of us. Likewise toward those who act dismissive toward any opinions differing from theirs. Even more mind boggling is that such people have the audacity to act dismissive when their accomplishments amount to less than a flea bite. I'm far from a dog but I consider myself more than a flea bite . . .perhaps a flea. :) The point is that certain academics (so yes, you know my beef is with certain academics now) come to these cons with big chips on their shoulders, intent on posturing and strutting because that's what they've done at the other academic conferences they've attended. But even if this was an academic conference more than a "con," it was rooted in our genre. Which means most of the people attendeding were there to have fun. Those who came with something to prove proved how pathetic they are. Moving on . . .

Dinner was back in town, this time just with the posse. The town is always crowded, because all the college kids have nowhere else to go. After dinner there were a bunch of readings. Jeff Ford's and Sarah Langan's were particularly excellent. The next fun event came that night in the field near one of the motels, after all the formal panels and readings had wrapped up. Besides the posse, notables included Jeff Ford, Alex Irvine, John Langan, Sarah Langan (no relation), Brett Cox, Nick Mamatas, Hannah Wolf Bowen, and Paul Witcover. Lots of boozing passed the evening, and I was annoyed that I missed the shooting star. Two other notable events marked our outing in the field.

First was the destruction of property. At one point a few of us tried to move one of the picnic tables right next to the one that everyone was already gathered around. The table refused to budge, so rather than take the hint we geeks flexed our muscles and uprooted the legs from the grassy earth in a mighty heave. Only afterward did we discover that blocks of cement at the bottoms of the table legs had been rooted inside of the earth . . .and we yanked them out in a primal surge. Nothing but a bunch of hooligans we are.

The other notable event was my rapping. JJA informed John Langan of my rapping abilities, and then Langan insisted that I had to rap for Jeff Ford. So after a few beers I did precisely this. JJA later claimed that I wanted to do this all along but I pointed out that I wasn't the one who brought it up. Regardless, the rap went over quite well (and my audience outnumbered that for my reading by a ratio of 4:1). However, since I was made to rap at another convention, I find myself wondering if this trend will continue. Hopefully not.

Sunday was fun, with the most interesting panel being the roundtable horror discussion. Afterward I attended the dead-dog party. What is a dead-dog party? When a con reaches its official end the stragglers get together and throw a final bash. Usually this involves consuming the remaining booze but there was none left this time. So we just grabbed lunch at a diner, but I still consider it my first dead-dog party. Notables included the posse, Nick Mamatas, Hannah Wolf Bowen, Sarah Langan, John Langan (still no relation), Brett Cox, and Michael Cisco. Laughs and goodbyes were had, and then we drove home and geeked out again.

End of report. Later.

A Word of Warning

As many of you know, I'm currently immersing myself in researching the world and stories of Arthuriana in preparation to write a novel.  Considering this, it is only understandable that as my knowledge and appreciation for all things Arthurian grows and deepens, if I come across an Arthurian story in "the piles," I am going to be that much more critical of what I read.  It can't be helped.  So consider yourself warned.  And don't try fudging your details.  I'll sniff out mistakes, oversights, laziness, and uninspired recreations like a starved bloodhound chasing down a three-legged hare.  If you're going to reivent the myth you better bring something damn interesting to the table.  My patience level is becoming razor-thin for any kind of second-rate material in this vein of fantasy.  If I came across Karen Abrahamson's "Lady of Ashuelot" (my first slush survivor accepted for publication) tomorrow I'd still pass it along (it's an Arthurian tale obviously), because that was and is a damn good story.  The author knew what she was doing.  She understood/appreciated/respected the mythos she was delving into.  But some people . . .most people . . .sound of teeth gnashing.

Look.  I'm not trying to scare anyone away from sending us Arthuriana.  I love this kind of fantasy.  But for the love of God, PLEASE, respect the myths you're writing about.  There are reasons so many of figures from Arthuriana are iconic.  There are reasons these stories have lasted through the centuries.  There are reasons why new, worthwhile versions continue to spring up all these centuries later.  But if you don't understand these reasons your chances of writing an Arthurian piece that is worthwhile are marginal at best.  You need to do more than know the facts of Arthurian literature.  You need to UNDERSTAND them, or your efforts will fall short.  And if anyone reading this has managed to write a kick-ass Arthurian tale despite my rant, more power to you!  

My two cents.