World Fantasy Convention – the highlights

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As much of the weekend is already blurring together, what remains are the highlights.

– The cab ride from Albany to Saratoga Springs. The cab driver, a florid and gregarious man who kept up a running conversation the entire drive, barely waits until the car is in motion before asking: “So, are you a writer or a publisher?” “Is it that obvious?” I ask. As it turns out, I’m only the second trip he’s taken north that day. The first pair were my agent (notice the coat) and darinbradley, my editor. While it wasn’t surprising that the cab driver had a book he was working on (a children’s book about a butterfly), the interesting part of the trip (hurtling through the darkness, watching reflections of lights) was the discussion about how stories are parables. His grandchildren remember the stories he’s told them over the years, and they’ve become part of their moral make-up. “Ah, I wouldn’t want to act that way, because I’ll be just like the bird with a tear in its eye. Like grandpa says.”

He mentioned at some point that he and his family were church-going folk, and while I thought of asking how he thought his stories were more functional and useful to his grandchildren than, say, the parables of Jesus, I thought such a question from an impertinent secularist was a little much for our briefly established relationship. (Though, I know more about his three grandkids than they’d probably like.) Still, getting into a philosophical discussion about the responsibility of a storyteller before I had even gotten within the city limits set the tone for the weekend.

– Looking for coffee the next morning. I’m standing outside of Uncommon Grounds, the hipster coffee shop on Broadway, deciding . . . actually, I don’t remember what the hell I was thinking, probably not much at all . . . and the woman standing next to me (flame haired, wearing a orange leather jacket and a white gauzy scarf) pitches me on the coffee shop and asks if I know anything about the fantasy convention going on up the street. I admit that I do, and she says she and a friend have already gone and checked it out, wondering just what it is that these crazy science fiction and fantasy writers do at conventions. She was disappointed that they weren’t as “crazy” as she had hoped. I tell her she could come back after 9pm when the drinking starts. We talk about books for a minute; I mention the one I just sold, and she admits to having more than a passing interest in magic and mysticism (nor was she being polite, she really does).

I run into her again at Target the next day, while Bill Shunn (shunn), John Klima and I are out shopping for John Con 3. She helps us find the tupperware (because we are that tired and disoriented), and we help her pick out a movie (Descent. What? She asked for something that had both good scary and gore-hound ick in it. The first hour of that movie traumatized the fuck out of me.)

– the business card swap with Tim Powers. He probably won’t even remember this, but it was one of those surreal fan boy moments. I’m sitting outside Uncommon Grounds, sipping a coffee, and he wanders out with a couple of other people, one of whom I know fairly well. They stop to say hi, and I get introduced to the others. The card swap happens, and Tim says, “Oh, cards. I don’t have any.” And he seems chagrined to be caught short. It took a huge amount of strength not to blurt out: “Dude, I’ve got six of your books–in hardback–on my shelf at home. I’m gonna remember you.”

Going to WFC is still one part surreal for me. I know everyone writes and wears pants the same way, but still . . . some of these writers have really impacted me over the years, and it is hard not to get all 12-year old schoolgirl on them. I mean, Gene Wolfe and I looked at the same book in the dealer’s room at almost the same time. Was he thinking the same thing I was? I could have been having a Wolfe-class thought right there! Next to the man! I could have turned to him and said, “Hey, Gene, I realize that my puny brain still can’t wrap itself around the way you managed to pull off a flashback structure with an unreliable narrator while keeping the narrator’s identity obscured from me for three fucking books, not to mention how you can write a book about a guy who doesn’t remember the day before in a way that’s actually readable (and win a World Fantasy Award for it, no less), but are you thinking what I’m thinking about that book cover? Yeah, could she be wearing anything less, and how is that an effective costume for a space ranger?”

– The Paper Cities Anthology. Mat Kressel has a stack of the Paper Cities book, and we do a reading Friday afternoon. I’m delighted to be in a reading group of Cat Rambo (catrambo), Cat Sparks (catsparx), Cat Valente (yuki_onna), Ben Peek (benpeek), Kaaron Warren (kaaronwarren), and Hal Duncan (hal_duncan). I’m even more delighted when I don’t completely ass it up entirely and manage to eke out a few laughs from the audience. A guy stops me at a party later that night to ask about other things I’ve written as he was quite taken with my story. Bonus!

– John Con 3. We do the drink rainbow: a row of alcoholic beverages in PowerAde bottles (they were on sale, they were the same size, they had colored labels–leave me alone). Red (Malibu Woo Woo, or “Smooth”), Orange (Coma 666, or “Orange!”), Yellow (Happy Ending, or “Toxic-ade”), Green (Ghostini, or “Simple Green”), Blue (Magic Woman, or “Deadly”), and Indigo (Flying Purple Squirrel, or “Agent Killer”). Yeah, I know. We missed a color. We had the ingredients for it, but I think we lost track of one of the PowerAde bottles. Yes, we did drink most of the PowerAde as our pre-function party.

John Con 3 was a smashing success. We started late, ran later, packed the room so tightly I had to do all my bartending without moving my feet, got our first noise complaint at 2.30am (adjusted for daylight savings), and the die-hards wandered down to Compton’s for breakfast at 3.00am.

– Compton’s. Opens at 4.00am weekdays, 3.00am on weekends. When we were leaving town Monday morning to catch our 6.00am flights, we saw folk going into Compton’s and it was a little sad that we weren’t able to stick around for one last meal. However, Sunday morning Bill Shunn, Eric from Tor, and myself get in first, get our orders in first, and get served last. Like, everyone else has finished already last. It’s not like our order was hard: bacon and egg omelet w/ white toast, bacon and egg omelet w/ wheat toast, bacon and egg omelet plus tomato w/ rye toast. Okay, maybe it was Shunn’s “plus tomato” that fucked us. Or maybe it was the starfucker quotient in the table across the aisle (World Fantasy Award Nominee, Senior Editor at Major New York Publishing House, New York Times Bestselling Author, and Some Dude in Pimp Hat Whose Face Is On All Those Damn T-Shirts). We were just “bacon and egg, bacon and egg, bacon and egg plus tomato.”

When I came back with another group six hours later (for my second breakfast, of course), we got served incredibly fast. I’m sure it wasn’t because they recognized me from earlier (I had slept, showered, and changed), but because the bacon and egg omelet machine in the back was working again.

– The sense of family. More than ever, WFC is a family reunion, but filled with all those relatives you enjoy seeing. All the bullshit about death of fiction markets and genre wastelands and shrinking audience readership aside, it’s four days of being locked away with a bunch of people who love what they do. Unreservedly. Completely. Unapologetically. It’s what sustains us for the rest of the year, and when we get cranky with each other during that time, it’s only because talking through the Internet isn’t the same thing. Damnit. Not at all.