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World Fantasy Convention 2009 Report

My second WFC. The first was Austin 2006, right after I signed with Tor. This year WFC felt different–not only in the physical details of city, hotel, programming, but also in the spirit of the convention. I must have had five different conversations about the “present state of publishing and the economy.” Some of this was the familiar game-of-publishing-houses gossip: who’s the authorial darling of what house, which houses are rising, which setting, and so on. But there was a new tone. A sense that the market was contracting, a sense that only the strong would survive. Those coming into the world feared stillbirth; those experienced in it, an early senescence. Part of this must be unique and created by the still unmeasured effects of a flagging economy and new technology (e-books, the kindle, etc). But some other part of the gloom must be old as publishing itself. Other ages have been lean and in those times authors have produced wonder-inducing and successful novels

It’s also possible that this gloomy spirit was present in the WFC 2006 and I, still exhilarated by signing a three book deal, was not yet aware of the professional novelist’s very thin margin of error.

However, though I was aware of this more pessimistic feeling, it was by no means overbearing. The con was, as before, wonderful fun. Because it is such a publishing industry heavy convention, the place is packed with authors, agents, editors, booksellers, etc. There are no readers, which is a shame because the whole game is played for their love. But given that I don’t have readers (yet?), it didn’t dampen my spirits any. In fact, WFC is a bit like Summer Camp for Industry Pros: you get to see a group of close friends that rarely come together, they’ve done a lot in the meantime, sometimes changed a lot in the meantime (though, sadly, back in summer camp we used to grow up, and now the trend is to grow out). None the less, I had a magnificently wonderful time. There were so many highlights, some of them late night in the bar, that I won’t be able to remember them all. So here’s an incomplete list of the trouble I got into:

  • Shortly after arriving I read the prolog and first chapter of SPELLWRIGHT. Many friends were in attendance and more than a few folks just curious. Everyone was marvelously enthusiastic.
  • The first night there I had a wonderful dinner with fellow Tor fantasists Kate Elliot and David B. Coe. Kate has been a good friend for several years now, and it’s always a pleasure to talk shop with her. David I hadn’t meet before and getting to know him (and trading snide remarks) was one of my con highlights. We were brought together because we have all worked or are working with the same eccentrically brilliant editor. In fact, we were walking out to dinner when said editor noticed us trucking together and asked if he should come along. I had the great pleasure of saying that “Sorry, adults aren’t allowed in the treehouse.” Said editor laughed and took it good naturedly and we got to compare notes about the writing life.
  • I had the pleasure of shaking Guy Gavriel Kay’s hand and having him sign my copy of THE LIONS OF AL-RASSAN, which I am currently reading for some world-building in SPELLBOUND.
  • In the bar I ran into Peter V. Brett and Brent Weeks, both rising stars in epic fantasy. And both in the forefront of the hooded-man-on-my-epic-fantasy-cover moment. They being more or less directly responsible for my UK cover, we exchanged a few salvos of snide comments. Laughing with and (mostly) at them was some of the most fun I’ve ever had at a con. Sometime on Saturday night, Peter broke out a handheld video camera and began filming episodes of our bar room frivolity. I’m pretty sure he could end any and all of our careers by posting certain sections. I got a hold of the camera and tried to instigate a round of Epic-Fantasy-Smack-Down. Peter’s answer to “Would you rather have sex with a night elf or a cylon?” was classic.
  • After a fascinating conversation about the medieval Muslim world with Saladin Ahmed, I checked out his online story “Where Virtue Lives.” It’s a wonderful scimitar-and-sorcery bit. Eager to see more, I’ve got Saladin on top of my new-authors-to-watch list!
  • The new princess of steampunk, Gail Carriger threw a late-night high-tea for her breakout first novel SOULESS. Everyone was dressed to their Victorian nines and have a ripping good time. I had the pleasure of meeting Gail’s  nurturing editor Devi Pallai, who’s account of WFC can be found here. At this party I also had the honor of sitting down with Diana Paxson, she of epic fantasy royalty. Diana told me about an idea she’s been cooking up for a new YA series based in the California Gold Rush. Being a native North Californian I’m very excited to see what she produces.
  • My sometimes con-roommate, editor, and good friend John Jospeh Adams came down with a nasty head cold and gave all a H1N1 scare. I got to pack my stethoscope and practice the medical voice a few times at the con (does this mean I can write it off as medical education as well?). JJA emerged just fine toward the end of the con and attended the banquet in a glorious zoot-suite to bask in the glory of his World Fantasy nomination for best anthology. Didn’t take home the trophy this year, alas, but I’m guessing it won’t be long until he does.
  • On several occasions, I had the pleasure of chatting my dear friend, the lovely Deanna Hoak. She lent me a great deal of assistance when I was reading the copy edited pages for SPELLWRIGHT. I was too late to get her into the acknowledgment section (at least I think), so I was extra glad to get to tell her in person how wonderful she is.
  • After reading his hilarious interview on A Dribble of Ink, I was very excited to shake hands with Jesse Bullington. I’m happy to report that he’s a classy gentleman and very funny. I’m looking forward to getting my hands on THE SAD TALE OF THE BROTHERS GOSSBART.
  • At my first World Con in 2006, I spilled a beer on Paolo Bacigalupi’s shoes while he was talking to Liza Trombi. After that the three of us have been bosom-buddies, at least at cons. Sadly, as we’ve started to “grow up”—Liza is now captaining Locus and Paolo is busy promoting THE WINDUP GIRL (which Publisher’s Weekly just listed as among the best books of 2009!)—it’s gotten increasingly harder to spend time together at cons. This year we did find a gloriously silly, late-night patch of time after all the parties and after a few beers. An author had printed up a whole lot of drink coasters (those cardboard squares that protect furniture from a wet mug) to promote his book. A massive stack of these lay in the room we sitting around in. Inevitably the evening evolved into a coaster fight, with each party member flinging coasters ninja-throwing-star-style at each other. Liza, she of bartending experience, managed to nail me in the forehead so hard it left an angry read weal that’s still there. This year we were joined by Daryl Gregory (who’s PANDEMONIUM was up for best novel). Last I saw him, Daryl too was wearing the scar of Trombi.
  • At the awards banquet, Jay Lake made his opening remarks into a wonderfully inspiring examination of the nature of fantasy. I’ve been looking without luck so far for a transcript of the speech.
  • The last night there I had a dinner with my editor and Nalo Hopkinson, who’s work I have no idea how I have not yet discovered. We talked about many things, but among them the difficulties of creating audiobooks. She gave the recording of her THE NEW MOON’S ARMS her seal of approval and I can’t wait for my audible credits to bump up again so I can download it.

There was much much more that happened at the con. If I remember more of it I’ll be sure to post later. Meantime, I’m back home and getting back into Dual Med-Student/Author Mode. WFC was at time exhausting, at times a bit concerning with the bleak spirit, but in the end wonderful fun and truly inspiring.


8 Responses to “World Fantasy Convention 2009 Report”

  • Sounds fun! I’m a tad jealous. I’m going to ignore all the negativity about the industry. It will bounce back.

  • We readers were there. Some of us were the people working on the convention (like the Hospitality Suite, my desmesne), and a goodly number of other local readers were in attendance.

    We were aware, however, that WFC is more for the people writing and publishing, not for their fans.

    • huh, well there you go. thanks kevin! i wasn’t aware. possibly because i’m still in the pre-published limbo & so interact much more with the industry side. hopefully that’ll change 😉 jay like saluted the readers in his talk during the banquet, but it’d be nice if the Con had a way to celebrate the readers who were there. don’t really know how but i like the idea 😉

  • I have to disagree with your statement that there were no readers there…witness the fact that everyone that attended are readers, that it’s a professional convention geared towards editors, publishers, authors and publicists who are themselves readers, and that 95% of the donated books given to attendees went home with attendees. World Fantasy is not a fan convention – never has been, never will – it is more of a trade convention for professionals to network, mix and schmooze. But it is all about the literature. And good parties 🙂

    • hi rina, you make an excellent point, which i had not considered. between your comment and kevin’s (see post above), i feel like i’ve learned much more about WFC. i considered changing the original post, but that feels like a “take back,” so i’ve decided instead to acknowledge my ignorance and salute you and kevin for putting me on the right track. and, i agree, it is all about the literature…and good parties 😉

  • […] is upon us! Last year’s ritualistic gathering in my hometown was grand, as documented here, here, and here. This year promises to be just as good. Check out the 2010 website and it’s […]

  • […] was my third WFC, and the tone felt very different. Last year, I talked to several different professionals about the declining economy and the potential dangers […]

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