I’m back from Columbus, Ohio, and as usual, World Fantasy was fantastic and productive! I’m sure I won’t get it all talked about in this first posting, so I’m calling this “Part I.”
About the trip itself: Chicago lived up to its nickname of “the Windy City.” I had a brief connection layover there, and because of high winds, our plane was ordered into a holding pattern before it could land. We were about a half-hour late getting down, and it was a wild ride. I was sitting next to a young, very cute Chinese mom and her restless little two-year-old girl, and the mom seemed really upset and half sick from the bumping and shaking. When we finally got on the ground, she dazedly asked me why the landing had been so rough, and I realized she hadn’t been able to understand the English announcements. I explained to her about the wind, and she said “Ohhh” with an air of revelation. She must have been thinking that American Airlines planes and/or pilots were really bad! The connecting flight was also about thirty minutes late taking off, so it all worked out. The flight schedule monitors at the airport showed nearly every flight DELAYED DELAYED DELAYED DELAYED. Anyway, there were no disasters, so it was a good trip for all of us passengers.
Remember how, at the Con, they give you a bookbag stuffed with free books that publishers are trying to promote? My convention-going friends and I had a good laugh over a distinct pattern on book covers this year. What’s extremely hot right now are books about a tough female protagonist who usually isn’t completely human. She’s half-fairy or half-vampire or half-werewolf or half-something else. She has a big-time rivalry/love interest with a brooding, mysterious guy who is also not human. And here’s the funny part — I am not making this up! — you can lay the books out side-by-side and see this pattern: the tough, beautiful girl is on the cover, but you don’t see her whole face. You see her from about her nose to her knees. She’s invariably wearing close-fitting leather and carrying some kind of formidable weapon, either a big knife or a big gun. Her chest is right about in the center of the cover. And the book’s title very likely is some combination of the words “Angel,” “Dark,” “Moon,” “Blood,” and/or “Hunt.” Heh, heh — if Dragonfly had been published this year, it would have been called Dark Blood Moon Angel Hunt, and Dragonfly would be gasping for breath in her tight corselet. And she would be older than 10/11, at least on the cover!
So, where to begin? I won’t try to do this in any particular order. For several years, I’d been wondering about Arkham House. I hadn’t heard a peep from them, and it was hard to tell from their website whether they were still there or not. Well, talking to some friends in the dealers’ room, I heard that they’ve been going through a rough stretch, a dormant period, but that new life has just been kindled in the embers. On the last morning of the Con, I walked into the dealers’ room for a final time, and my friend Michael (who, I was honored to learn, actually reads this blog!) told me there was someone who wanted to meet me.
It turned out to be a distinguished gentleman named Dr. George A. Vanderburgh, who is one of two editors dedicated to getting Arkham House back on its feet. He shook my hand and pinned an Arkham House pin onto my shirt. We talked for a while. He gave me a photocopied letter explaining the new focus and direction of Arkham House. I’ve since heard from him that Dragonfly is still in print with AH and is still selling slowly — which, eleven years after its publication, is none too shabby! He told me that April Derleth, the owner and publisher of AH, speaks very highly of me, and he said that if I have any unpublished dark fantasy, he would like to have a look at it. I was most honored to meet him and thrilled to see that AH is in good hands, that it is moving forward. It’s the last remaining small-press publisher of weird fiction from the classic pulp era, so it’s a treasure we don’t want to lose. For any blog readers who don’t know: April Derleth is the daughter of August Derleth — who, with Donald Wandrei back in 1939, started Arkham House as a way of getting the works of their friend and mentor H.P. Lovecraft into book form. I have corresponded directly with April Derleth — so I’m just three persons removed from H.P.L. himself! Back in early 2005, I drove through Sauk City, Wisconsin, in a rented car on my way to Illinois. Sauk City is the home of Arkham House. I was there late in the day, so the publishing house was closed, and I hadn’t given them any warning that I was coming. But I saw the entrance driveway and the picturesque cemetery where August Derleth is buried. And the physical layout of Sauk City, combined with my own hometown, became the setting of “The Bone Man,” which I wrote that fall.
But I digress. What I’d really like to do in the near future is write a sequel to Dragonfly and submit it to AH. The book was written with full expectation of a sequel. “So many books, so little time . . .” Anyway, meeting Dr. Vanderburgh was one highlight of the convention for me!
Two guys at different times brought me their copies of the hardback Dragonfly to sign. (I believe they were SF Book Club editions, as the covers were slick, not the ordinary paper finish of the AH edition.) One was at a publisher’s party and one was at my reading. And my book-dealer friend Otto had four copies of the hardback that he had me sign, so that he can sell them as signed copies.
My readings went well! The first was Saturday night at 8:10. I went to dinner with the JABberwocky Literary Agency at 6:00. JABberwocky kindly invites all its clients who are present to dinner one night during the Con, so that we can get to know one another. Because of my readings, I had to bow out before any of the food came — but my very gracious agent Eddie later came to my reading and brought me a box of leftover pizza from the dinner — above and beyond the call of duty!
Anyway, that first reading was for Black Gate Magazine. Editor John O’Neill put together a mass reading of BG authors. We all had a ten-minute time slot to read from our stories in BG. This was another real highlight of the Con for me. Since so many were reading, the room was packed — it was wonderful to read to an actual audience! Some friends came to support me, too. John knew about my own reading, scheduled for 9:00, so he went out of his way to let me have an early slot. I was the second reader, right on the heels of the now-famous James Enge. I couldn’t have asked for a better time — the audience was warmed up, but they weren’t tired yet. I read a selection from my story “World’s End,” forthcoming in BG #15 (the very next issue!). I think it went over well — several people sought me out afterwards to tell me I’d done a good job, and one editor of a small-press magazine gave me his card and said he hoped I’d submit some stories to him! (I wouldn’t want to be on a panel, where you have to sound intelligent and be erudite; but give me an audience and something scripted, and I’m in my element — a fish in water, a salamander in the fire!)
My own reading was at 9:00 in the Knox Room. I liked the room a lot better than the venue I was given last year, which was the middle of a corridor. A Con volunteer brought me a name card. Instead of the high desk, towering over the room, I opted to stand down on the floor just in front of the audience. I had nine people in attendance, exactly the same number as last year! This year five of them were close personal friends: two from Minnesota and three from Pittsburgh. The sixth was Eddie; the 7th and 8th were a young married couple I know from previous Cons [I was grateful they came!], and the 9th was a gentleman I didn’t know. He asked me to sign his hardback Dragonfly before the reading. He just wanted my name, not a personalization, so I assume he means to re-sell it. But he did stay for the reading!
During the Q and A after the reading, my friend S. asked me a good question: How am I able to write from the perspective of women and girls? (Dragonfly, The Star Shard, and Agondria are all from the perspective of female protagonists.) My answer had two parts: one, on the whole, I prefer the company of females. If I’m going to spend a whole novel in someone’s head, I’d rather be with a lady. But two, answering more seriously: there’s really nothing I change about myself to write from a female perspective. I’m not sure what that says about me! Dragonfly is essentially written from my own perspective at ages 10-11. Are 10-year-old boys that different from 10-year-old girls? I don’t really think so. Cymbril in The Star Shard is basically me, and she’s about 12. The women of Agondria are me. I guess the ultimate answer is that I don’t think gender is that big of an obstacle. Novels such as Corin Booknose and The Fires of the Deep have been written through the POV of a male character. “A Tale of Silences” has a male protagonist, as have most of my Cricket stories. The characters who find me are sometimes male and sometimes female.
I think this is a good place to end Part I. More will be coming in a couple days.