WFC 2009 Part 3

There were a couple things I did differently about the convention this year: one was that I went to more readings than usual, and the other was that I attended two of the art-related presentations instead of going to purely book stuff. I was particularly impressed with Lisa Snellings, this year’s Guest Artist. She’s primarily an artist, but she’s an excellent writer, too, in how she frames her thoughts.

Highlights from the rest of the weekend were:

1. Seeing agent Joshua Bilmes for the first time since Austin in 2006. We laughed about how at that infamous dinner (our first face-to-face meeting — our first visual impressions of each other), Joshua had a bug of some kind and had completely lost his voice; all through dinner, he was writing on napkins and using gestures to express himself. I, on the other hand, had the 24-hour stomach flu [which I’m told doesn’t officially exist — there’s apparently no such thing as “stomach flu” — but I’m calling it that so you’ll know what I had] — so I couldn’t eat a bite, and spent the entire dinner trying not to pass out or throw up on anybody. We were both in much better form this year, and Joshua related that story to all the agency’s clients who were present at this year’s dinner.

2. Having lunch with Eddie, Joshua’s associate, the agent I now work primarily with.

3. Seeing S.T. Joshi, probably the world’s leading authority on H.P. Lovecraft, and having him invite me to the MythosCon party that night. (Mr. Joshi was the most influential early reviewer of Dragonfly, in Weird Tales — and although he can be scathing, he gave it a very good review.) The next night, Saturday, he and I actually talked one-on-one for about fifteen minutes.

4. Reconnecting with a lot of writer acquaintances I see only at the conventions each year and catching up on one another’s projects — as well as always making a few new friends.

5. At the mass book signing Friday night, instead of trying to sit and sign books (I was pretty sure I wouldn’t have any to sign, since it’s been so many years since Dragonfly), I walked around and got other writers to sign their books, which was a lot of fun. Since Garth Nix was one of the special guests this year, I’d brought my Abhorsen Trilogy for him to sign. He’s as courteous and down-to-Earth in person as he always seems to be. When he said something I didn’t quite understand, he joked about how his accent gets thicker when the jetlag kicks in (he’s Australian).

6. The agency dinner on Saturday evening was very nice — a chance to either meet or get reacquainted with some of my fellow clients of JABberwocky. The two newest clients actually received their agency contracts from Joshua right there at the restaurant, to resounding applause!

7. At the signing, I talked face-to-face with Jeff and Ann VanderMeer, Jay Lake, Laura Anne Gilman, Cecelia Holland, John Shirley, Jon DeCles, Richard Lupoff, Daryl Gregory, and probably several I’m forgetting. I was within scant yards of Robert Silverberg, though I didn’t actually see him because of the long, long line of people waiting to get their books signed by him. Ditto with Peter Straub. I finally saw Stephen R. Donaldson in the flesh! I was oddly surprised that he looked older than he used to look on book covers when we were reading him back in the eighties. (Duh, Fred!) Michael Swanwick was there, and I heard him on several panels — he’s very cool and always has great things to say. Lisa Snellings said hi to me in the art room. Tim Powers looked up from a conversation to smile and say a very bright “Hi!” to me in a hallway — I’m almost positive he mistook me for someone else! David Drake was at the con again this year, as were Guy Gavriel Kay, Scott Edelman, Nina Kiriki Hoffman, Kij Johnson, Tad Williams, Lisa Goldstein, Ellen Kushner, Patricia McKillip, Darrell Schweitzer. . . . Jane Yolen won a Lifetime Achievement Award, but she had some speaking engagements and couldn’t be at the con this time. Writer Laird Barron always says hi to me, because we were both part of a dinner party organized by Gordon Van Gelder in Austin (just before I got the stomach flu) — but when Laird and I got to talking at the MythosCon party this time, I realized he thought I was someone else! Heh, heh — funny! — mistaken identities at the cons can be very amusing. [At the con in Saratoga Springs, an attractive young woman materialized out of nowhere and kept talking and talking to me . . . I wondered why I was suddenly so magnetically attractive . . . finally she started talking about “your magazine,” and I realized she’d seen me sitting at the Black Gate table earlier with John O’Neill and thought I was his assistant! Once she realized I wasn’t an editor, she vanished in a cloud of dust!] Okay — I think that’s the end of my fanboy rant!

8. I normally feel totally ignorant among such well-read company, but I was able to look cool twice: once, someone was looking for the word “Esperanto” (“What was that universal language they tried to get started?”) and I supplied it, and once someone was looking for the name “William Morris” (“You know, the wallpaper guy. . . .”) and I supplied it. I don’t get to do that very often — it’s one of those rare, rare occasions such as when I’ve read a book that someone else in the room (or his/her dog) hasn’t.

9. On Sunday, I had lunch with John R. Fultz, a widely-read and well-spoken writer of fantasy for Black Gate and Weird Tales, a writer for the comic books Zombie Tales and Cthulhu Tales, and creator of the graphic novel Primordia which is coming out in hardback in December. For a fantastic interview with John, visit:

10. It seems there’s always a clear-cut “final encounter” of the con, a meeting or image that sends me on my way. This time it was in the wee hours of Monday morning as I was leaving the hotel to catch my flight. Gordon Van Gelder was down in the lobby, too, waiting for the person with whom he was heading to the airport. We chatted for a minute or two about how it was too bad we hadn’t gotten a chance to chat for a minute or two. . . .

Okay — let’s move on to programming. These are the activities I attended:


Readings by Lori Ann White and Blake Charlton

Panel: “Poe’s Influence”

Opening Ceremonies

Readings by Janni Lee Simner, Catherine Cheek, and Louise Marley

Reading by Frederic S. Durbin — thought I’d better show up for that. Without me, he only would have had nine people, counting the sound lady and his agent. . . .

Publishers’ parties


Panel: “Writing Human Characters, Whether or Not Human”

Interview: “VanderMeer on VanderMeer” (The VanderMeers interviewed each other. It was quite entertaining as well as informative. Ann is the current editor of Weird Tales, and I was deeply impressed by her answer regarding her proudest moment. It wasn’t any honor or award — it was when a writer sent her his published book, which she read and absolutely loved, and then he told her how she’d sent him a rejection slip when he’d just been starting out, but it was a careful, detailed, instructive, and very encouraging rejection, and it pushed him to stay with his craft and not to give up. Ann got emotional telling the story — you could tell his letter had touched her. She said that’s why she does what she does.)

Presentation: John Picacio’s “Shelf Lives: The Art and Design of Book Covers” — a slideshow — fascinating!

Lunch with Eddie

Panel: “The Role of the Raven” (This was one of the best panels at the convention. The panelists discussed what ravens are actually like in the real world, what they were like in the Norse eddas, how Poe used his, and the role they’ve played and continue to play in fantasy fiction. More on this when we go through my “content” notebook!)

Panel: “Overlooked Early Writers of the Supernatural” (This was another of the absolute best this year!)

Panel: “The Last Resort” (This was a good one about the use of violence: what it’s really like to physically fight with someone; how violence is often used too frequently and/or casually by writers; how to find a balance and perhaps achieve violent tension without actual violence.)

Group Autographing



Panel: “Why Steampunk Now?” (More on this is coming!)

Presentation by Lisa Snellings: “Know the Soup You’re In”

Panel: “When People Confuse the Author with His/Her Work” (The panelists for this were Mark Ferrari, Scott Edelman, Ellen Kushner, Garth Nix, and Tim Powers. With a lineup like that, I would have gone to hear them if the topic had been the finer points of the tax code! And sure enough, it was fantastic.)

Panel: “Urban Fantasy as Alternate History”

Panel: “Coarse Dialog and Graceful Description — A Balancing Act” (#%*! Nice!)

Panel: “Notable Books of the Year”

Panel: “What Makes a Good Monster”

Panel: “The Sorcerer in Fantasy”

JABberwocky dinner



Panel: “Contemporary Rural Fantasy” (Another good one!)

Panel:  “Bad Food, Bad Clothes, and Bad Breath” (This was about what living conditions were really like in the ancient, medieval, and pre-industrial world. The panelists were incredibly knowledgeable — it was really fascinating. Did you know, for example, that in general, human longevity took a dramatic plunge when we started farming? We gathered together in communities, started wallowing in our filth and breathing on each other, and diseases abounded!)

Awards Ceremony

Panel: “Awards Postmortem” (The World Fantasy Awards judges talked about the task they had and how they made their decisions.)

Watch this space! As soon as I’m able, I’m going to do an entry on my “content” notes — a posting like the one last year that I called “Wisdom from World Fantasy” — and one on the Winchester Mystery House, which you won’t want to miss!


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8 Responses to “WFC 2009 Part 3”

  1. Bill Chapman Says:

    I’m glad you know the word Esperanto. I would like to argue the case for wider use of Esperanto as the international language. It is a planned language which belongs to no one country or group of states.

    Take a look at

    Esperanto works! I’ve used it in speech and writing in about fifteen countries over recent years.

  2. Elizabeth Says:

    Oh, yes — I think we’re all waiting for “World Fantasy Wisdom” from your content notes. (And also more about the fabulous and haunting Winchester Mystery House!)

    • fsdthreshold Says:

      Thank you, Elizabeth! Those reports will be coming. We’ve got the business out of the way, and now we can get into the fun stuff!

  3. Shieldmaiden Says:

    Great post Fred! I remember “Wisdom from World Fantasy” last year, and I still have two of the quotes hanging up from that one. I’m looking forward to your content notes entry for this WFC.! I would have loved to hear the one on frequent and/or casual use of violence and how to balance or achieve violent tension without actual violence. The one I am most intrigued by is “Coarse Dialog and Graceful Description — A Balancing Act” and if that topic was ever part of a future post I’d love it! I’m glad you didn’t have any stomach flu this year and that it all went so well. Welcome home!

    • fsdthreshold Says:

      Thanks, Shieldmaiden! The point is taken that the “Balancing Act” topic would be good for a future post. I knew that was a panel I didn’t want to miss. Not only about coarse language, but just dialogue and diction in general: it’s very often a struggle for fantasy writers to walk the line between authenticity and readability. Should your characters’ spoken lines convey the sense of what they’re saying, rendered into modern, natural English . . . or should you try to capture the flavor of what they’re saying in their cultural context? Should you try to find a balance between the two?
      My own glaring example of a poor choice was in The Fires of the Deep. In a fantasy, pre-industrial type setting, I had a character complaining about the disorganized written schedule at his workplace, and he said, “They call this a schedule? Tuh! As if.”
      Heh, heh, heh! Awhile after writing that, I realized just how closely “as if” in that usage is tied in with modern pop culture, primarily in the U.S., and particularly with the Valley Girl subculture. Not a good idea for my book. It was a case where that usage had gotten into my ears without my thinking consciously about it, and so when I wrote it, I thought I was inventing it as an interesting turn of expression. So we need to be constantly aware!

  4. John R. Fultz Says:

    Hey, Fred!

    Thanks for the kind words, AND for the Primordia plug! I didn’t know it had be rescheduled for a December release until I read your blog post…it’s been a long wait, but it looks like the book will finally be out in time for the holidays.

    Great hanging out and conversing with you at WFC. This was my first time attending, but it surely won’t be the last. What a terrific experience.

    John R. Fultz

    • fsdthreshold Says:

      Hey, John!

      It’s wonderful to see you here on the blog! I hope you’ll make it a regular stop on your virtual circuit! You’re welcome on the Primordia plug! I found out about the release date from Amazon; I signed up to get the notification as soon as the book is available! (I figured I’d wait for the collection rather than trying to track down individual issues.) I’ve seen ads for Primordia before and it looked great — I didn’t really make the connection that that was your work until after the convention — you know how much information is whirling around during those busy days!

      It was great talking with you, too, and I hope to see you there next year! (You read this post after I added in the link to your interview, right? That interview is AMAZING — I really liked what you said!)

      And, everybody reading this, you ought to know what a humble guy John is! I found out most of this stuff about his accomplishments through research after coming home — I didn’t hear it from him!

  5. I am WAY out of the loop Says:

    Quoth the crow: “Eh??”

    My ignorance of the universe most on this blog inhabit has been revealed to me in all its magnitude in one blinding flash, as I have never heard of ANYONE Fred mentions save himself, Donaldson (a draft dodger who wrote three good books once upon a time) and Mr. Poe. The panelson Poe’s influence and the role of the raven would have been interesting and I hope we hear more about them.

    This is what happens when someone who almost exclusively reads history (particularly military histories) and politics ventures outside his comfort zone: it does not take long to get lost. Guess I need to open the lens a little wider …

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