Many Meetings: World Fantasy 2011

Doesn’t this sound like I’m describing a bizarre dream? I mean the kind you have at night, when you’re sleeping. Doesn’t this sound like one?

I’m walking and walking, but I can’t get anywhere. I can see the building I’m trying to reach; it looms in the near distance, behind a grove of dense jungle vegetation and some courtyards. The walkway I’m on doesn’t lead there. I cut through a gap onto a large expanse of concrete, its perimeter arranged with patio furniture. Famous writers, editors, and publishers are sitting in the shade of parasols. I walk to the plaza’s middle and discover it has no exits; even the gap I came through has vanished behind me. The palm trees are laughing. No . . . no, it isn’t the trees. It’s a party going on somewhere close by. It’s night now. I can see the warm glow of light from a verandah where the shapes of people are half-visible through the silhouetted fronds; I can hear them laughing and talking, but I can’t reach them. In a little fountain, stone lions spew water from their mouths. Suddenly there are archways all around me, leading off the plaza, each offering me a tantalizing avenue between hedge walls. I hurry along the most promising one, only to find a swimming pool blocking my path. I retrace my steps and follow another, which brings me to a snack bar that sells cups of coffee for one thousand dollars each. I know I’m staying here somewhere . . . this place is a hotel, and I have a room, but I’m not sure exactly where it is any more. I can almost swear the hedges and palm trees shift. For an instant, I’m sure I know the way now . . . but I come to a cast-iron fence. A few people wearing name tags the same color as mine wander along the other side of the fence. We stare at each other as if across a vast gulf that swallows sound. I can’t get to them, and they can’t get to me. We smile at one another and wander in our several directions. I glimpse Neil Gaiman on my side of the fence, not fifteen feet away. He’s clearly searching for a gate in it, too. I’m closer to the party now, farther from the lions. The palm trees are definitely chuckling. I’m not sure what day it is. Sometimes, just when I’m about to expire, I stumble into a suite staffed by wonderful volunteers where there’s free food and coffee. Now I’m back in my room on the second floor, looking down at the garden below, which is surrounded by a low wall with no doorways or gates in it. I tell myself that I can vault over that wall — it’s low enough — and then I can make another attempt at getting back to the building I was first heading for, somewhere beyond the hedges. There’s Neil Gaiman again, dressed in his customary black, a shadow flitting among deeper shadows. In my room, there’s a near-lifesize portrait on the wall of a little Victorian girl in a blue dress. She’s staring at me with piercing eyes. Wherever I go in the room, her gaze follows me. Somehow I understand that she alone knows the route through the mazes of this place where the stars blaze, where brown hills shimmer on the horizons, and where never a shred of cloud crosses the endless blue sky . . .

It sounds like a dream, yes, but that’s the experience (or part of it) of World Fantasy 2011. Don’t get me wrong: it was a wonderful time! I thoroughly enjoyed the chance to connect and reconnect with so many other fantasists. Professionally, this was my best convention yet. And it’s always, always a great and rip-snorting good time! I’ll try to hit some of the highlights here.

San Diego, site of the World Fantasy Convention 2011

 I’m not the only one who noticed the eeriness of the girl in blue. Apparently that same portrait hangs in ALL (or many?) of the rooms in this hotel. Con-goers were talking about her, and there are mentions of her all over the Internet, and not only by those who attended this convention. One blogger I’ve read hung her shawl over the painting so that the eyes wouldn’t follow her. Fortunately for me, the picture hung in my roommate’s half of the room, so she didn’t really bother me.

California: land of fantasy plants, brown hills, and a preternaturally blue sky

Before I forget: I’ve been thinking about steampunk again lately, probably because the book I’m trying to work on has some steampunk elements. [For more about steampunk than you probably want to know, I covered it in a blog entry two years ago–specifically:

 http://fredericsdurbin.wordpress.com/2009/11/16/steampunk-wfc-2009-part-4/

Not long ago, I saw a brown T-shirt with these words on it: “Steampunk: When Goths Discover Brown.” I really like that. But a short while back, I came up with my own definition. “Steampunk is historical science-fiction for humanities people.” Don’t you think that’s pretty good? I’m not trying to exclude math and science majors who enjoy the genre — I know there are some of them, too. The point I’m making is that steampunk uses technologies that are comprehensible to non-scientists. Writers, poets, and artists can design fictional machines that we ourselves understand. All the parts make sense, unlike in real science. Steam technology and buoyant air bags that bear ships aloft are very satisfying to us laymen. See what I mean? Steampunk is the science of what should be. “This is how I’d build the airship, and this is how it would work in a romanticized world.” Irresponsible, you scientists say? Well, yes, on one level. But the story still has to work. It has to be engineered like the delicate clockwork mechanisms that steampunks adore.

But I digress! Groink! (That’s the sound of changing the subject with a monkey wrench.)

Groink-sssssssss! (That’s a steam-driven monkey wrench.) 

San Diego, October 2011

 
One of the best things I heard at this year’s convention was an anecdote told by Neil Gaiman. He’d just finished writing a major novel, and when he ran into the novelist Gene Wolfe (who has been called “our Melville”), he gleefully exclaimed, “Gene! I’ve finally figured out how to write novels!” He says Gene looked at him pityingly and said, “Neil, you never figure out how to write novels. You just figure out how to write the one you’re on.” That is most certainly true! I know the basic rules of “good writing,” but invariably, every time I’m working on a book, I find a host of reasons that I can’t apply those rules in this case. Maybe on the next book, but not on this one. See, this one is different . . . They’re all “different.”
 
 
 
 At an excellent panel on fiction for children and young adults, William Alexander said this: “I love books now, but I’ve never loved books more than I did then.” He meant “than I did when I was a kid.” So it’s an immeasurably worthwhile and noble and wonderful thing to write for that audience — to aim our work for the time in readers’ lives when great stories have the maximum emotional impact. That idea makes me happy, and it makes me tremble with the awe and the tremendous responsibility it involves. It makes me glad to be alive in this world with this amazing privilege, this calling. Think about it! Writing books for readers — including young readers. What else IS there? Where, I ask you, would you rather be? What would you rather be doing?
 
 
 
Did you know that what was HUGELY popular among Dickens’s work during his lifetime was not the works of his that are mostly read today? They’re not the Dickens books that we study in schools and turn into movies and read at Christmas teas. In his day, crowds thronged the docks in New York, elbowing and jostling, nearly pushing one another into the harbor as the ships pulled in — waiting for copies of Ye Olde Curiosity Shop to be unloaded. We don’t know for sure which books are going to stand the test of time. So take courage! Write the stories that you must write, and don’t worry about the market. History will be the judge. Do your best, writer — that’s all you need to do.
 
The sea is the home we cannot return to. That’s the fear and the allure of mer-beings. If you follow them into the waves, you drown. In the sea or in the air, we are vulnerable from all sides. (Yes, Steven Spielberg was onto something very big in Jaws. That’s why it remains the greatest film ever made.)
 
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The ancient race of serpent-beings reportedly runs all through world mythology. Also this: vampires, werewolves, and sea beings that predate humankind — all world cultures have these myths.
 
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Our treatment of what we don’t understand says a lot about us.
 
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In the fiction of former eras, social class created the barrier between lovers. Now it’s often species. She’s a human, he’s a vampire. She’s a human, he’s a werewolf. Whoa! — my own flash of insight just now: he’s a human, she’s the Evenstar of her immortal people! Yes, Tolkien started it!
 
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One panel posited that the main sources of the zombie craze are HIV and Alzheimer’s. Diseases that you can’t come back from . . . it’s your loved one’s face, but your loved one is no longer there. To defeat a zombie is to defeat death.
 
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Do you see why I fight tooth-and-nail to go to this thing every year? As one long-suffering friend of mine put it: “Yes, I can see how that convention is Freddie Nirvana.”
 
“The Call of Cthulhu” was inspired by an earthquake that happened in the same year and season as when Lovecraft set the story! I never knew that. (My own “A Tale of Silences” was inspired in part by a series of earthquakes that rocked Japan.)
 
The constant, repeated cycle of building and collapse: Lovecraft was onto this. Sociologists and scientists of his day mostly thought that civilization was an ever-rising curve, that ours was better than anything before. Today, we’re increasingly aware of wondrous, fantastically-advanced civilizations that preceded ours — civilizations which have vanished. Lovecraft knew!
 
*     *     *
The things that survive the millennia are the dark fears of humankind. Someone asked at a panel what the panelists thought would be the equivalent of the Homeric epics from our own present time — what will be the literature that survives and is known a few thousand years from now, if the Earth is still here? Without missing a beat, Tim Powers said, “Lovecraft.”
 
I’d say he has a point. I’ve always taken great delight in the fact that our oldest work in any form of English is Beowulf — a monster story. (I’m dancing like Snoopy!)
 
Personally, one of my favorite panels was one on airships. That was quite important to me, because I seem to use so many of them. There’s one (albeit in a minor role) in the book I’m trying to get back to now. There’s the Jolly Jack in Dragonfly. And the airships are the real stars of The Fires of the Deep. It was designing them that got me started on that book.
 
Putting a sail on a fantasy airship wouldn’t make sense, you know. You can’t tack against the wind if you’re in the wind with no resistant surface beneath you. That’s the sort of wonderful nerd facts this panel was brimming over with. Yes, I took a lot of notes!
 
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Trouble is our best friend as writers. (Trouble for the characters, that is.)
 
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Did you ever think about the connection between The Odyssey and The Lord of the Rings? In both stories, after the great adventures, we come home to a home that isn’t in its perfect state anymore. It needs cleaning up. There’s still some work to do.
 

Peter S. Beagle

Peter S. Beagle was another highlight of this year’s convention. What a truly astounding writer! I took along my copies from childhood of The Last Unicorn and A Fine and Private Place and got him to sign them.  I’ll try to reproduce my conversation with him.
(He was wearing a shirt that said “What Would Buffy Do?” I knew from previous years that he is an enormous fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, as am I. It’s a brilliantly-written series.)
Me: I like that shirt! I know you’re a great Buffy fan. Me, too!
PSB: I would have sold my CHILDREN for the chance to write for that show. And they would have agreed to it — readily.
Me: Ha, ha! Yes! [Pause. He begins to sign.] You can see I’ve brought along my old, treasured copies of these.
PSB: Yes! These old Ballantine editions are wonderful.
Me: I love Gervasio Gallardo. I’ll buy any book that he’s done the cover for.
PSB: Absolutely. [He is genuinely friendly and treats fans like people, smiling and making eye contact.]
Me: The Last Unicorn meant so much to me when I read it as a teenager.
PSB: It was a HARD book to write. Tamsin was fun. But this one was . . . like pulling teeth.
Me: Wow! Well, thank you very much!
PSB: You’re welcome!
 
One of the very best times at this year’s convention was listening to Peter S. Beagle’s reading on Sunday. When you hear Beagle read, you know you’re in the presence of a master. He read a new story of his in its entirety, and he is truly an enchanter with words. At the end, I was misty-eyed at the sheer wonder and aching beauty of it.

Charlaine Harris

There she is: Charlaine Harris, author of the Sookie Stackhouse books, those Southern Gothic Vampire Mysteries. The TV series True Blood is based on those books. My agent introduced me to her — she shook my hand and actually chatted with me — very gracious lady!
 
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I also got Tim Powers to sign my copy of Declare. He’s always super-nice and a real joy to hear on panels. We celebrated our mutual left-handedness.
 
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And then there’s the man in black, the man of the hour . . . the creator of the Sandman graphic novels, books such as American Gods, Coraline, Stardust, The Graveyard Book, Anansi Boys, Smoke and Mirrors, Fragile Things, and others. He had a big hand in the screenplay of that latest Beowulf film, too. Here he is!
 

Neil Gaiman

So after I circulated through the mass book-signing on Friday night, collecting the signatures I had come after, talking with friends old and new, I went and got into Neil Gaiman’s long, long, long line. We were allowed three books apiece. I had bought three copies of The Dangerous Alphabet: one for myself, and one each for two dear writer-friends who couldn’t attend the convention this year. Waiting in line wasn’t bad at all. It was a chance to meet another writer and an artist (the people on both sides of me) whom I probably wouldn’t otherwise have gotten a chance to talk with. So yes — it was a historic night. I met Neil Gaiman face-to-face. We exchanged actual spoken words!

Neil Gaiman, October 28, 2011, San Diego

One of the funniest experiences this year was a completely unintelligible panel. I won’t name names, but we all settled down to listen in anticipation, because the topic promised to be highly interesting. And I’d guess it was, but only the panelists themselves know, because they had a mumbled conversation that no one beyond six feet away could hear! I’ve never seen anything like it. Very near the beginning, when it became obvious that not just the moderator, but everyone on the panel was mumbling, an audience member yelled, “WE CAN’T HEAR YOU!” The panelist who was speaking glanced up at the audience for one instant, then turned back to the moderator and continued mumbling. In ones and twos, people drifted out and left quietly and politely through the double-doors.

San Diego sunset

Another highlight was the evening — Saturday, I think — when some friends and I ventured into a part of San Diego where there were shops and restaurants. We had a delectable Mexican dinner, but the best part was getting to see a Zombie Walk! I’d heard about them before and seen my cousin’s photos of one, but the real thing was very cool to behold! What seemed like about a hundred people had made themselves up as zombies (this was the weekend right around Hallowe’en). Some looked basically like unkempt (living) people — rumpled clothes, messy hair, maybe trickles of “blood” on their faces or shirt-fronts. But some had gone all-out, with elaborate makeup and costumes. In a long, growling, glassy-eyed procession, they shambled down the crowded market streets, sometimes “devouring” a friend in the crowds of spectators. Children watched in delight. Babies cried. Dogs barked. Shopkeepers came out to admire. Many of these zombies were teenagers, but sometimes whole families had gotten into it. One lady was an utterly terrifying zombie bride, with a bouquet of wilted flowers, a wild nest of hair, a desolate face, a dusky dress that scraped along the pavement like dry leaves . . . boy, she gave me the SHIVERS!
 
But my favorite was a young woman with a ratty cascade of hair and an artfully-applied pallor — and blood, and ripped-up clothes; I’ve always had a thing for dirt-streaked women. She LOCKED her gaze onto mine as she approached, and her expression was what I can only describe as an undead come-hither look — very seductive. She turned her head to keep staring into my eyes as she passed me, and even after she passed. I think she could tell I considered her a highly attractive zombie. Boy, was that fun! Quite an erotic moment. If the zombie apocalypse really happens and we all die, I hope she’s the one who eats my brain.
 
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Another great adventure was going to Mysterious Galaxy Bookstore, which is ALL fantasy and horror (mostly fantasy)! Bookstores do not get any awesomer than that! Boy, do I wish we had one of those close to home! They have a permanent signing station built right in, a counter with a curved cutaway section and a chair for an author to sit in, with a great writing surface. Tamora Pierce was signing on the day we went, and she had an unending line of fans for the entire hour or so that we were in the store. I looked at the calendar of events, and they have giant-name authors coming all the time! Good argument for moving to San Diego: Mysterious Galaxy!
 
These two (above) pictures were taken on the way back from that store. We successfully managed the train and bus systems!
 
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What else? I had wonderful and productive meetings with my agent and with the staff and friends of Black Gate. I met some amazing writers. Talked with friends I see only at World Fantasy. Made some new friends.
 
Okay, the best time of all at this year’s convention was getting to do my public reading. Oh, was that a good time! I had a fantastic audience this year! My heartfelt thanks go out to two excellent friends from the Dealers’ Room (you know who you are!); to the ladies I met on Friday night, who actually CAME on Saturday, as you promised — and brought a posse!; to my ever-faithful Pittsburgh compatriots; and to John O’Neill, editor and publisher of Black Gate, who not only attended the reading himself but gathered up several of his friends and dragged them along! To all of you who attended, laughed at the funny parts, sighed with happiness at the cool parts, and cackled with relish at the other cool parts, THANK YOU! You all made it an unforgettable convention for me, and you renewed my focus on who I am and what I need to be doing. Thank you!
 
 
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Tinkerbell is mean in the actual book. She actively tries to kill Wendy.
 
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Charlotte’s Web didn’t win the Newbery in the year that it was eligible; the book that did is now totally obscure. Kids still ask librarians for Charlotte’s Web, even when it hasn’t been assigned.
 
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One panelist said, “Buffy is one of the most accurate portrayals of high-school life ever.”
 
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Harry Turtledove pointed out that the rowers in the Greek and Roman ships were professional rowers, not slaves. Slaves weren’t used in that capacity until the Middle Ages! So, much as we love Ben-Hur,  his stint as a ship-rowing slave isn’t historically accurate. Which is okay — it’s still a great story. After Salamis, it was a badge of honor for Greek citizens to have scars on their bottoms from the rowing benches. They would go around showing off their bums to one another: “I was at Salamis! See?”
 
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“You can be old and cool and funky and wonderful. Stop being afraid of death and decay!”
 
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Neil Gaiman said: “We make our living telling lies, and the lies are all true.”
 
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Oh! One panelist — in fact, it was Robert Silverberg — quoted my favorite line from The Aeneid: “One day we’ll laugh even about this.”
 
That’s pretty much the news from World Fantasy 2011 in San Diego. Did we all get out of the hotel maze, or are some people still lost there in the surreal dream? I hear the zombies are moving in. Hot zombie chick, if you’re reading this, you can send me one of your ears any day!

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31 Responses to “Many Meetings: World Fantasy 2011”

  1. Stephanie M. Lorée Says:

    Frederic – Was great to meet you at WFC! Look forward to a repeat in 2012 in Canada. I think it will be colder than San Diego, but I suppose I’ll survive.

    • fsdthreshold Says:

      Stephanie! Thank you for looking in on the blog! It’s great to have you here! Thank you again so much for coming to my reading and bringing friends! It was very nice meeting you, and I’m also looking forward to Canada. (I really enjoyed the one in Calgary a few years ago.) Happy writing!

  2. Chris Says:

    “The point I’m making is that steampunk uses technologies that are comprehensible to non-scientists. Writers, poets, and artists can design fictional machines that we ourselves understand. ”

    Say that _after_ you’ve taken a physical chemistry or thermodynamics course. Most of the foundations of thermodynamics in chemistry were developed by people working on steam engines. If you can look at a steam engine after suffering through a course like that and still feel like you have any idea what a steam engine really does, then you are far, far less of a “humanities” person than you might wish to think.

    • fsdthreshold Says:

      I appreciate your point and I’m sure the actual workings of a steam engine are quite complex. But again, the point I’m making is that I can include a steam engine in a story (I’ve never actually done that) without being able to build a steam engine. That’s fiction I can write. But in much (most?) hard science-fiction, the core of the story itself depends on the writer’s intimate understanding of some intense scientific concept(s) . . . like the material in most of your comments, for example! You could write hard science-fiction — I never could!

  3. I am Mr Brown Snowflake Says:

    I must be a punk, ’cause I do not give a hoot about steam. What we need is the eggheads to get on with it and give us cold fusion in as many applications as possible …

    • fsdthreshold Says:

      Heh, heh! I’m amused by the steampunk phenomenon, because I’m not into steam, either — but remember how, in my late teens/early twenties, I was wearing a lot of khaki and old farm clothes in grays, tans, and browns, and then designers started coming out with outfits just like mine? Stores like Banana Republic opened in malls and charged customers hundreds of dollars for the Fred look, which I’d always achieved with hand-me-downs and shopping at Goodwill. Well, steampunk is kind of the same. Now everybody’s using airships and machines that didn’t evolve along the electricity line. Heh, heh, heh!

  4. jhagman Says:

    Actually the early steampunk writers like Jeter and Blaylock use the genre to satirize science- Jeter in “Infernal Devices” has his scientist villain build a spaceship, and his plan to get it into space is to destroy the Earth completely around it, and then it will be in space, Blaylock has fossil powered time-machines, and his use of chlorophyll is hilarious, both of them firmly poke science in the eye. Evil hunchbacked scientists, albino vivisectionists, well-groomed cavemen, as a reader your jaw drops, and you wonder what the Hell you are reading, and boy do you laugh!

    • fsdthreshold Says:

      Very interesting! I’m not sure who are considered the “first” steampunk writers — I leave that discussion to those who actually know something about the genre. But I don’t think we can talk about steampunk without talking about Jules Verne. 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea is a steampunk novel if anything is!

      • Chris Says:

        Must disagree since in JV’s time it wasn’t “punk” to write about steam technology.

        It would be kind of like me writing about a submarine powered by nuclear power today.

        Just sayin’….

      • jhagman Says:

        Actually in Verne’s time it was considered very hip to write about myterious islands and submarines, new discoverys were being made almost every day, and humanity seemed very perfectable. German academics even felt laws of human nature could be discovered, the early steampunk writers satirize this wistful, foolish beliefs about science. What makes steampunk “punk” (like the Punk scene) is an emphasis on knowing we were punked by science!

  5. Catherine Says:

    “Freddie Nirvana”! I love it!

  6. Daylily Says:

    Great post, Fred! Many interesting nuggets for thought!

    • fsdthreshold Says:

      Thanks, Daylily! That’s a great thing about World Fantasy: almost everything you hear gets your mental wheels turning. I’m always astounded by how smart some of these panelists and/or authors are, and how knowledgeable. So many fascinating facts flying around, and a community that loves and lives on Story . . . It’s really inspiring!

  7. I am Mr Brown Snowflake Says:

    From aspiring author Brandon Hardaway’s blog, Nov. 14, 2015:

    My friends — I had a wonderful time at the World Fantasy 2015! Charleston is a beautiful as everyone told me: yes, it is metropolitan, but not so much that it has lost its Southern charm.

    I will get to the rest of my adventure later, but first I am brimming with excitement to tell you about meeting Frederic S. Durbin!

    He was graciously signing books outside one of the seminars, and as we had been told that the guest writers would sign just two items apiece I had to choose what to bring! (You may recall that a prized possession is my signed Arkham House copy of ‘Dragonfly’).

    So, wanting to be sure that “The Eaves of Tanglethorn” was signed, I opted to bring along my copy of “The Star Shard.” Frederic was kind and posed for a pair of photos with me and we had a quick but pleasant discussion of our common love of reading outdoors.

    That alone would have made the trip worthwhile, but what happened later that night capped the whole adventure, as I bumped into Frederic in the parking lot of a local Japanese eatery as we were both entering.

    I was with Rodger Dornath and Doug Sommers and Frederic was with three others, so I dared not ask to join him, but, as our rentals were parked near each other I was able to work up the courage to have him sign “The Stones of Arnenvil!” WOW!

    He seemed impressed I would have a copy with the Ian Stengrist cover, and said …

    • fsdthreshold Says:

      This is a delight to read! :-) Brown, you’re a true friend! What fun it is to imagine! I love the fact that you set the date of my great fame so close! And I like the book titles! Guess I’d better get busy . . .

    • Daylily Says:

      Sir Snowflake, this is a topnotch piece of writing. And may it all come true . . .

  8. Patrick Doud Says:

    Such a great post, Fred!

    • fsdthreshold Says:

      Thank you, Patrick! And congratulations to you on your books’ making The Next Chapter’s short list of the best recent books! Wow! You’re among some amazing company on that list! The Winnitok Tales, everybody! The Hunt for the Eye of Ogin and The Mornith War, by Patrick Doud! Wonderful books!

  9. jhagman Says:

    Fred, of all the writers there, you are THE WRITER of the best book “Dragonfly”. In my very humble opinion (but yes I am very opinionated), the only writer at that convention who can touch you is Peter S. Beagle. My favorite book of his is “I See By My Outfit”, a nonfiction travel book. A writer who can with equal facility create fiction and nonfiction is a true master. But Gaiman,,,? Fun, but I could not get through “Anansi Boys”, too hipster for my taste. I loved “The Graveyard Book”, but I can’t say I’ll ever reread it the way I’ve reread “Dragonfly”. Tim Powers is always fun to read, but he has never written anything as beautiful as “Dragonfly”. I agree with The Snowflake, a highlight of a convention would be to meet, and get signed copies of your work, and to think standing in a loong line at a World Fantasy Convention, is the best writer there!

    • fsdthreshold Says:

      My goodness, jhagman! Of course I love hearing this, but . . . even egomaniacal me has to acknowledge that there are GIANTS in the field and at that convention — GIANTS. Not just in their fame or financial success, but in the quality of what they produce. Yes, definitely Beagle — but so many others, too! Blaylock was there, wasn’t he? I know how much you respect him. Connie Willis . . . oh, I won’t even TRY to name them all! People who can turn books out all the time and get them published . . . people who have broken through the need to have a soul-draining day job . . . those are the people who deserve our respect. I pray that I can cross that line. There’s so much that I want to write — so many ideas, so many projects on back burners — but will I be able to carve out the time while I’m here among the living? I’m going to try, because nothing else is as important to me. It’s what I’m here for. If only I had a patron!

      But about The Graveyard Book: at the convention, Neil Gaiman said that was the ONE book of his that actually turned out better than the vision he had of it in his mind. (The usual — dare I say almost invariable? — pattern for writers is that whatever we ultimately get onto the page, it’s a pale shadow of the way we know the book really exists, somewhere between our heads and the dreamworld. Sounds like Tolkien’s “Leaf by Niggle,” doesn’t it? In this life, we paint only one perfect leaf; but in the life to come, our work exists in its totality, an entire forest.)

  10. fsdthreshold Says:

    By the way, jhagman, I envy you your job as a bookseller! When I moved to Pittsburgh, I put my application and resume in at bookstores all over the place — everything within driving distance. I was called in for a total of two (2) interviews, and I was offered zero (0) jobs. After I was committed for a set time to my current job, two bookstores followed up with me. One of them was offering “nights and weekends for $10 an hour.” Dark times we live in . . . I’m really hoping to find a gig as a proofreader/editor, because that’s what I’m good at. That and teaching, but the teaching jobs also seem very scarce. As the eponymous comic strip character in Cathy would say: “AACK!”

    • Chris Says:

      Fred, what could you possibly bring to a bookstore position? I mean, what actual experience do you have with “books”? Well, you did aim high. But it’s good that the discerning bookstore owners in the Pittsburgh area knew not hire someone like YOU for a position in a bookstore.

      Maybe you could write some “alternate history” book where you had anything whatsoever to do with books and bookstores.

      I’m left wondering what it was, exactly, that you were thinking.

      (Oh yeah, and maybe the other part of the problem was that you need to remember that when you went to those big bookstores with the red letters over the door, those were “Hallucinatory” interviews. You were so out of your mind you walked into an empty building and had an imaginary conversation with ghosts. Those bookstores are no more. Just haunted empty warehouses with old ideas rattling around between the bare metal beams. Spooooooooky!)

    • jhagman Says:

      Fred, this will frighten you but $10 an hour is a princely sum in the world of bookstores! After seven years at Borders I made $11 an hour, and I was one of the highest paid there, and don’t get me started about what GM’s made (a pittance). I’ve seen P&L statements for a $5 million dollar per year stores, and they would NET $130,000, and this was during boom years. What I am saying is that temper your expectations when entering the world of bookselling, very few of us make alot of money, and most of us are lucky to have benefits, and make a living, and with online bookstores, and digital devices, the whole industry is going through (with apologies to Thomas Kuhn) a very painful paradigm shift. So Fred, fewer bookstores, and those with alot fewer payroll dollars, you did as well as can be expected in this Brave New World of Bookstores, but if you do accept a full time position in a bookstore, as the old adage states: be acreful what you wish for!

      • Chris Says:

        I have always fantasized that if I gave up the “rat race” I would love to work at a bookstore or a library. I look at that fantasy without blinders knowing that what I make now in industry is a horrid excess compared to what you guys make in bookstores (or any store for that matter).

        Industry is a giant soul-sucking monstrosity whose only value for the worker is that they provide more money at this level than at that level.

        That being said it is scary to realize that even if one gets a doctorate and works for years in technology that there is a point at which one can “top out”. I’ll probably never see six figures. I’ve seen a 1.8% pay raise over the course of the last 6 years while the CPI has gone up on average 2%/year. So now I make less than I did when I started. And I work for a major corporation.

        Again, talking to someone who works for $10/hour and kvetching as I am is appalling (even to me) but at some point the “nihilist” in me kicks in and forgets the pain and anguish of poverty as I saw in grad school.

        I’ve grown spoiled at the bounteous table I current sit and my existential ennui makes me “envious” of simpler positions.

        Yes, Industry can net you lots of money. Money I don’t deserve compared to the amount of work I do versus the actual labor folks at bookstores actually “do”.

        What Fred may or may not realize here in the U.S. is that _teaching_ (another proud profession) is treated as a joke as well. When I was doing the “community college” gig circuit (part time…I was working for industry and teaching at night) I read a lot about the plight of real community college teachers who had to cobble together something like a single job out of multiple teaching positions across a bunch of different community colleges. It was sickening to read.

        The American dream is dead and it died from the bottom up. The people who should be able to have a “life” because they step into what I consider the “priesthood” of academia, books or ideas, are treated as badly as the lowest unskilled labor imaginable. We as a nation no longer value an idea whose “NPV Analysis” cannot yield sufficiently high profits.

        From one sitting at the table engorging himself on the benefits of all these things few of you may ever see, remember, some of us feel for you. We’d pay more for books, we’d pay more for teachers. We’d pay more.

        But the reality is, it shouldn’t be a “choice” for us. We _SHOULD_ pay more.

      • jhagman Says:

        Hey Chris!While I admire your alruism, the American Dream is not dead. It is alive from the bottom up. I have been around immigrants my whole life, (my Mother South American), they hussle, they build businesses, and they have amazing families.I grew up on a horse farm, I always felt like an alien in that life, but it taught me to be self-reliant. and when I was around people of extreme wealth, who could not even change a tire, fire a weapon, or build a shed, (after having graduated from Brown University), these are the people to feel sorry for, and their children are crippled from having too much money, they are with few exceptions, a very flaccid lot. I am poor, i currently have $14 to my name, but I am surrounded by people who have my back, and who have always come through for me in a pinch, the wealthy people I’ve been around have been sued by their oldest friends. So from my view I can say with much life experience, that If the American Dream is rotting, it is doing it from the top down!

  11. morwenna Says:

    Fred, thanks for the great stories and pictures. The weird where-am-I-now? hotel seems like the perfect place for fantasy authors to convene. It sounds like you could have used a Marauder’s Map to point out a few secret passages!

    I’ve read The Old Curiosity Shop!

    • fsdthreshold Says:

      Good point, Morwenna! I guess that hotel WAS pretty appropriate for a fantasy convention!

      How was The Old Curiosity Shop? Should it be getting more attention nowadays?

      • morwenna Says:

        While I’ve re-read David Copperfield, Nicholas Nickleby, and so on a number of times, I’ve only read The Old Curiosity Shop once. That said, I enjoyed it very much for the book it is, and its sentimentality didn’t bother me. TOCS is packed with memorable characters and scenes.

        Did Dickens have a special feeling for one of his novels? This is from a preface to . . . I’ll let Dickens do the telling:
        “Of all my books, I like this the best. It will be easily believed that I am a fond parent to every child of my fancy, and that no one can ever love that family as dearly as I love them. But, like many fond parents, I have in my heart of hearts a favourite child. And his name is David Copperfield.”

  12. fsdthreshold Says:

    Oh, but Chris, it was pretty “punk” of Jules Verne to be writing, in his day, about such frivolous and not-respectable things as fanciful submarines and mysterious islands.

    • Chris Says:

      Actually my point was more to the “punk” aspect of steampunk which I understand to be a sort of “retrofuturism”. In which old technology underlays a view of a future that never actually was.

      So for JV to be “punking” it, he would have had to resort to some technology _prior_ to his time to envisage a future that was still fictional.

      Of course when you get to steam engines you really can only go back to open flames, maybe horses, but even those things were co-eval with JV’s time.

      I think the only way one could be the 19th century analogue of “steampunk” would be…well…next to impossible.

      Fancifulness, to my understanding, really isn’t a requisite of Steampunk except insofar as it is “fanciful” to envisage modern technology _if it evolved straight from victorian era_ manifestations of how that technology would have developed. (And also as a fanciful ‘aesthetic’)

      This is where one assumes a “linear” development curve versus a non-linear or exponential or, forgive the biz-speak, “disruptive” technological development.

      Steampunk is following the linear development curve to a science fictiony world of the unrealized future, whereas hard science fiction (as you call it, I like that term) often follows non-linear development curves predicated on indications of where the tech starts out.

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