I was determined to get there, so I hitched a ride with my friend Elaine Isaak and her family. Shared a room with two other people who were nice enough, but one of them snored thunderously. These were my early, inexperienced days, before I knew enough to carry earplugs. I improvised using wet toilet tissue.
I went mostly for the Shimmer magazine Pirate Party to celebrate the release of their Pirate Issue. The guest editor for the issue was none other than John Joseph Adams of Fantasy and Science Fiction (shown here with a pirate wench). Mary Kowl, the Art Director for Shimmer, served up a hearty pirate grog, which had in it rum of course, and orange juice to prevent scurvy. Beth Wodzinski, editor-in-chief, sported an elegant pirate hat and hoisted the Jolly Roger over the buffet table. And of course, yours truly, with my tale of the “Perfect Hook”.
So, why do we go to conventions, anyway? There are the professional reasons, of course: making connections, learning what’s going on in the business, following the cutting edge, finding out who’s who and doing a little hihowaya. No matter what the nature of the convention and its participants—Cat Fanciers or Funeral Directors International—most events of this sort have a few things in common.
Freebies, for one. Kitchen magnets, product samples, brochures and pamphlets by the gross. At World Fantasy http://www.worldfantasy.org, one picks up one’s registration packet and gets a large duffel bag with the logo on the side (of course). In the 2007 duffel bag was a bottle of genuine Saratoga Springs mineral water (the city of Saratoga Springs hosted WFC this year), a box of Freihofer’s chocolate chip cookies (why not?), copies of Black Gate magazine and Fantasy & Science Fiction, an Eos Books reading guide, a catalogue of new Australian Fantasy and SciFi, and a hard-bound copy of Joe Hill’s 20th Century Ghosts. Why Joe Hill? Might have to do with the theme of the convention, “Ghosts & Revenants, Memory, History & Folklore.”
“What’s a ‘revenant’?” we were whispering to one another. Aside from being the name of a computer game and a heavy metal band, it is, according Wikipedia, “a folkloric corpse that returns from the grave”, or “a creature brought back to life to fulfill a special goal.” And appropriately enough, the Special Guests of WFC 2007 were Joseph Bruchac, master story-teller and authority on Native American folklore, George Scithers of Weird Tales fame (yes, this classic horror rag is still publishing, largely thanks to George and his associates) and Barbara and Christopher Roden of Ash Tree Press and the Ghost Story Society, experts in the supernatural.
There were a few folks who dressed for the occasion, but not many. The halls of the convention center were not filled with ersatz fairies, wizards, warlords and Frodo wannabes. Fantasy is serious business. In fact, writing is serious business. These folks were here to peddle their wares and see who else had something to peddle. The Big Names had special tables at the book signings, and got to star in their own events (Joseph Bruchac did a presentation to a packed hall entitled, “A Voice from the Dark: Native American Ghost Stories of the Northern Woodlands”, and kept his audience spellbound for the all-too-brief hour).
Broad Universe, an international organization with the primary goal of promoting science fiction, fantasy, and horror written by women, had a reading by its members. New Hampshire Fantasy author Elaine Isaak read from The Eunuch’s Heir, the sequel to her novel, The Singer’s Crown (“You do not want to be my hero.”). By the way, the organization isn’t just for women, and there were a good number of men in the room for the reading. As they say on their website, “Men can also be broad-minded and are welcome to any Broad Universe event.”
There were panel discussions such as “Ghosts and Revenants Down Under”, which featured Australian fantasy writers such as Deborah Biancotti, Robert Hood and Garth Nix. This panel, by the way, was absolutely delightful. Not only is it simply fun to listen to that Aussie twang, but they had a grand sense of humor. They got the whole audience singing “Waltzing Matilda” at one point, which is, after all, a ghost story. Jack Dann, another of the panelists, was talking about an anthology of Aussie horror and ghost stories he was compiling, and how he was going through the piles of submissions, and zombies kept coming up.
“They do that, you know,” Nix quipped.
Another panel was on the topic of “When Fantasy Becomes Science Fiction and Science Fiction Becomes Fantasy”. The participants included George R.R. Martin, whose long history of credits includes being a writer on the original Twilight Zone. He has his own huge fan club, which put on one of the best parties at the convention. Two of them, in fact, Friday and Saturday nights, serving killer mixed drinks in the reception rooms upstairs, the atmosphere set by streamers of blue lights festooning the darkened rooms and a specialty called “Blood and Flame” which involved blood orange juice, gin, and a flake of orange peel ignited and dropped into the mixture. It was almost as good as the “Zombies Need Brains” party, put on by a writer’s group boasting members such as Barbara Campbell, S.C. Butler and Patricia Bray. They had tubs of ice filled with an assortment of microbrew beers.
But I digress. The “SF Becomes F” etc. panel was held at 10:00 at night, a bad choice considering the panelists involved. Now, most of these folks were witty, intelligent, and superbly entertaining. Nancy Kress guided the spirited discussion, which deteriorated at times to shameless plugola, “Well, my own novel is a perfect example of exactly the point you are making…” but all done with hearty camaraderie. “Hell, if Walter is going to plug his book, I might as well do the same. In my book….” But unfortunately, one of the panelists, who is rumored to be brilliant when sober, had been to a few too many parties before lurching up to his chair on the stage. His fellow panelists tried gamely to keep him away from the mike (which wasn’t too difficult when he began nodding into his water glass) but he managed to wrest it away from his neighbor a couple of times and beguiled us with rambling diatribes of dubious coherence.
I had two gigs at this convention. The first was a midnight Ghost Story Slam for which I had written a modest tale of haunting. I was in excellent company. Some of the other offerings at this zombiefest were delightful and disturbing, and not all of them standard fare. My own reading went well, and attracted the attention of Barbara Rodan, who asked me to send her the story for the next issue of All Hallows. (Okay, shameless self-plugola. When in Rome…)
My other gig was the biggie, the long-awaited Shimmer magazine Pirate Party to celebrate the release of their Pirate Issue. The guest editor for the issue was none other than John Joseph Adams of Fantasy and Science Fiction. Mary Kowl, the Art Director for Shimmer, served up a hearty pirate grog, which had in it rum of course, and orange juice to prevent scurvy. Beth Wodzinski, editor-in-chief, sported an elegant pirate hat and hoisted the Jolly Roger over the buffet table. There were five of us there to read excerpts of our work as featured in the magazine: Rajan Khanna, whose story “Furies” is a brilliant blow to the male cannon (ahem); J. Kathleen Cheney, with a chilling tale of heartless piracy, Marissa K. Lingen, who gave us an 8-year-old’s perspective on pirates, and Jill Snider Lum, who reveals to us the true and most appropriate fate of Edward Teach, the notorious Blackbeard. And of course, yours truly, with my tale of the “Perfect Hook”. (The Deerfield Public Library has a copy available to be checked out—you can read all these marvelous stories and more. Or better yet, go to Shimmer and subscribe, and be assured of a steady supply of extraordinary tales.)
There were lots of other things to do. I browsed the art gallery, where there was on display a stunning collection of artwork done by illustrators of SciFi and Fantasy publications and artists who work along those themes. And there was the dealers’ room, where you could pick up copies of magazines, large press and small, books by all the authors in attendance as well as classic titles by legendary authors, and collector’s editions of magazines and books, some of which went for jaw-dropping figures. (I discovered that some of my old H.P. Lovecraft, purchased in my youth, are actually worth something.)
At the Book Signing I spotted another local celebrity, James Patrick Kelly, whose table was swarmed by admirers. Last May he took the prestigious Nebula Award for Best Novella for his novel Burn. He’s won the World Science Fiction Society’s Hugo Award twice: in 1996, for his novelette “Think Like A Dinosaur” and in 2000, for his novelette, “Ten to the Sixteenth to One.” Jim’s been a NH resident since 1975, and currently lives practically next door to me in Nottingham.
There’s a huge, marvelous world out there beyond the limited offerings of the best-sellers list, and the latest same-old cranked out by whoever. Take a chance on a small press or a new author. Follow the links in this article, and you may discover a new favorite. A lot can be read for free on-line, and the frugal may sample unknown authors at the local library. But remember, the success of a writer or a press hinges on sales. Support us all with your dollars, and keep the creativity flowing.