Posts Tagged ‘WFC 2009’

WFC 2009 Part 5: Random Notes

November 22, 2009

What follows is a trip through my notebook pages from this year’s World Fantasy Convention — things I wanted to remember, many of which are authors and the titles of their books and stories, some of which may be misspelled. [I think I’ve noted the spellings I’m not sure of.] The stuff is in no particular order — it’s like a junk drawer dumped out onto the tabletop. It’s a starting point: the place to begin intriguing searches and maybe discussions. Feel free to jump in with corrections, information, comments, or further queries.

It’s from such soup that great ideas might come. (Artist Guest of Honor Lisa Snellings said “You can’t go wrong with a soup analogy. It’s all in there.”)

Poe . . . Stephen King . . . background in poetry.

The Last Unicorn poses a riddle that is never answered in the book: “Why is a raven like a writing desk?” One panelist, frustrated for years, eventually caught up with Peter S. Beagle and asked him for the answer. He allegedly said, “The answer is either ‘Poe wrote on both’ or ‘Both have inky quills.'” Someone in the audience chimed in and suggested a third answer: “Both produce notes that are generally not musical.”

There’s a folkloric connection between ravens and the Tower of London — if ravens cease living in and around the Tower, England’s monarchy will fail; the royal line will break. So even now, there are special attendants who look after the ravens and make sure they’re happy living there.

There’s a curious relationship between wolves and ravens in the real world. They play together. Ravens will swoop down and pull wolves’ tails, and the wolves will snap and chase the ravens. (I’m not at all sure the wolves are “playing”. . . .) They also hunt together, helping each other for mutual benefit. Ravens will scout out likely-looking prey and call the wolves’ attention to it. Wolves will leave leftovers that ravens can eat. Ravens follow wolf packs, and wolf packs follow ravens.

The panelists were somewhat divided on whether the raven is more often a wise, instructive friend to humankind or a treacherous opportunist who is not at all our friend. In The Hobbit, the ravens living on and around the Lonely Mountain are long-term noble friends of the Dwarves. The raven who sits on the bust of Pallas in Poe’s “The Raven” may just be making mindless noise; it may be leading the narrator to consider his situation; or it may be mocking him and/or actively trying to push him over the edge. The panelists talked about the raven who leaves Noah’s ark and doesn’t come back, because it finds what it wants and needs elsewhere; they didn’t mention the ravens that bring Elijah food. (Have I got that right?) I keep coming back to the “Twa Corbies,” who will be making a sweet dinner of the dead knight — feeding on his heart, feeding on his “bonny blue eye,” and using his hair to weave into their nests. One panelist had a very good feeling about ravens she’s actually met; one always felt coldness from their eyes, and the sense that, if she died, they would gladly eat her. At Niigata University, there are abundant black birds — I’m not sure if they’re ravens or big crows — who come and hunt through the garbage and glare at passersby. I often get a very unfriendly feeling from them. There was, however, one early summer a couple years ago when I would often give little pieces of my lunch to a big one who would find me regularly and watch and hop as close as he dared. Of course I don’t think he was my “friend.” 🙂

Robert Chambers [I think], The King in Yellow

L to R: Jay Lake, Lisa Snellings, Garth Nix, Michael Swanwick, Donald Sidney-Fryer, Richard A. Lupoff, Zoran Zivkovic, Ann VanderMeer, Jeff VanderMeer: World Fantasy Convention 2009, San Jose, California

E.F. Benson, “Negotium Perambulans” (I may have read this years ago, and that’s what inspired me to include that inscription in Dragonfly, above the shaft where the Thanatops lives. It’s a quote from the Psalm, “Negotium perambulans in tenebris” — “The pestilence that walks in darkness.”)

“A Voice in the Night,” by William Hope Hodgson —  one panelist said a teacher read this out loud to them in gradeschool, and the room was utterly silent, and the kids were totally freaked out and never forgot it.

Same group, same caption

The Sun Bird, by Wilbur Smith (an excellent lost race novel) 

The Moon Pool, by A. Merritt — Lovecraft loved the novelette but condemned the novelization — which is probably the one I have on my shelf here.

David Hartwell’s The Dark Descent (I gather this is some kind of an overview of weird/horror fiction. Very intriguing.)

These next are all from Lisa Snellings:

It’s best not to write some stuff down. Sometimes when we do, when we capture the idea and put it down on paper, that satisfies us, and we’re done with it. Don’t worry: Good ideas persist. If it keeps coming back to you, it’s probably a good one. [This thought really made me nod in recognition. I agree.]

She says Ray Bradbury told her: “A general direction is better than a plan, because plans rarely work out. Keep working.”

The best ideas ring like a bell. The best ideas make you sweat. You just want to work, and don’t care if your shirt is on inside out. [Again, I recognize the truth of this. I’ve been there, now and then!]

In general, people who are successful work very, very hard.

Lisa Snellings says: “Why I’m never blocked: because I go to work every single day. It’s your job.” [Stephen King says pretty much the same thing in On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft.]

When you’re working or doing some kind of playing that you’re totally into and the rest of the world disappears, you’re in the Zone. For our well-being, our brains need to be in the Zone. It’s like a shower for our brains. She’s in the Zone often when she’s playing video games. But you can get there when you’re working, too — on art, music, writing, etc.

Moving back to general notes:

Garth Nix: “Some books are good enough to survive the most horrendous authors and constant exposure to them.”

He says “Sabriel” with a long a, as in saber.

Ellen Kushner: “Real life is a great impediment to grace and elegance.”

Tim Powers doesn’t read his contemporaries at all. He has a horror of ever being in a writer’s group, because he’d be expected to read the other group members’ manuscripts. (He says not to tell anyone about this; he hopes no one will post it on-line.) 🙂

When Ellen Kushner was a little girl and realized some other people didn’t like her, her father said, “Do you like everyone you meet? No? Then why should they all like you?” And she never worried about that again.

Something Garth Nix said that I really identified with: He’s a “story-driven character writer.” He knows very little about the characters as he begins writing. He learns about them as they go through the story, as they face the events and act. So he doesn’t try to figure out all that about the characters before he starts. I find this to be amazingly comforting, because I go at it the same way and always wondered if there was something wrong with my approach. This seems so much more real to me than filling out all those character sheets, writing profiles for them, pretending to walk around talking with them for months before you write your book, etc. I’m so relieved!

Someone asked if the panel was supposed to be 55 minutes or exactly an hour. Ellen Kushner said, “It’s 55 minutes. It’s a therapy hour.”

Ellen Kushner: “We live in an age that devalues the imagination.”

Some writer said: “I am all my characters, but none of them are me.”

Michael Swanwick pointed out how in Lud-in-the-Mist, the conflict is between magic (Faery) and the law. [True! In Lud, the modern people are in denial of the existence of magic, and to say “fairy” is like saying the worst swear-word, and their legal language has euphemisms for magical things.]

Swanwick: “At the heart of fantasy is mystery. The universe is unknowable. In sf, it’s the other way around — the universe is knowable and follows noble rules.”

Swanwick related how William Blake saw ghosts all the time. Blake drew a picture of the ghost of a flea to show people what he was looking at. [And this is me: still one of my favorite Blake-related quotes was from his wife: “I seldom enjoy Mr. Blake’s company. He’s always in Paradise.” Blake was in the Zone!]

Swanwick: The weakness of the “deal with the devil” story is that the very existence of the devil offering the deal proves the existence of the afterlife, testifies to eternal consequences, etc. — so who would take such a deal? [An old first-grade classmate of mine, no longer with us in this world, was a fine writer who actually took that into account in writing a “deal with the devil” story.]

Swanwick: “If it’s said in front of a writer, it belongs to him.” [Fred: By this point, most of my friends know this to be true!]

Guy Gavriel Kay: “If almost anything is done well, it can work.” [Isn’t that also extremely comforting? Your idea doesn’t have to be Earth-shaking. Just tell the tale well. Eight centuries ago, the Japanese poet Fujiwara no Teika (1162-1241) told his writing students: “Do not strain for novelty.”]

Guy Gavriel Kay liked the Emma Thompson film Sense and Sensibility — very good film overall — but he intensely disliked how the filmmakers played the manners of the time for laughs from a modern audience. They pandered to a modern audience. It was almost bad enough to kill his enjoyment of the movie. [At my first-ever writers’ conference — I was in high school — Paul Darcy Boles told me that a good thing about my writing was that I didn’t poke fun at my characters. If we write about people in a different time or culture, we have to let them be who they would be in that time and place.]

Modern readers are very averse to dialect. In the 19th century they loved it when characters spoke in dialect on the page, but not now.

Ellen Kushner made the point that, to represent the language of another era or place, you can use the rhythms of that culture’s language. One skillful writer she cited, to give French characters the “flavor” of speaking French in her English-language books, consciously employed the beats of standard French poetry. And the English lines do somehow give the illusion of being French!

Avoid trendiness in speech patterns. [Note to self: Do not have characters in an epic fantasy say, “Tuh. As if!”]

Deanna Hoak: “Copyediting is like bathing. No one notices it unless you don’t do it.”

Guy Gavriel Kay (on writing dialogue that sounds authentic): “There’s no formula for success, but there are avenues for authenticity. It depends on maintaining a consistent tone.”

[In my Hokkaido days, I was the D.M. for a small group that played Dungeons & Dragons in the parsonage of Asahikawa Lutheran Church. As a non-native speaker of Japanese, I spoke — and still speak — the language at one level of politeness: the standard, safe-in-all-situations level that foreigners are taught in classrooms. But Japanese has a huge range in levels of politeness, each appropriate in a different situation depending on the speaker’s relationship to the listener, their relative ages, genders, statuses, etc. Sometimes my D&D group would burst out laughing because my orcs spoke so politely: “Please drop your weapons. If you do not, this will turn into a fight! — Grrr! Aargh!”]

Everyone says read Mythago Wood, by Robert Holdstock. The direct sequel is Avilion. [I’m not sure about any of those three spellings.]

Lavinia, by Ursula LeGuin, is absolutely amazing.

Little, Big is evidently a great book.

Alice Henderson [sp?] has a really good-sounding horror novel set in Glacier National Park.

The Weirdstone of Brisingamen, by Alan Garner — apparently really excellent — one panelist whom I respected re-reads it every year.

In Cold Blood by Capote is really disturbing, really scary.

Final note: It would be a very good idea to read the World Fantasy Award-winning novels and runners-up each year. The ones that win seem to be highly original, hard to categorize.

And there we have it!

Let us go forth and read, write, love, and live!

World Fantasy Convention 2009, Part 1

November 6, 2009

I once saw Valery Gergiev conduct the Kirov Orchestra here in Niigata (we’re not that far from Russia, so they do a Japan tour now and then). A friend and I had seats right back up behind the orchestra, so it was almost like being in the group, and we had a perfect view of Gergiev’s face, close enough to see his expressions. Gergiev is one of the most prominent and best conductors in the world; at least over here, the classical section of the music store is filled with his CDs. And watching him, one truly gets the sense of being in the presence of greatness. I can honestly apply the term “larger than life” to perhaps three or four people I’ve encountered in my forty-odd [VERY odd] years, and Gergiev is one of them. I had the sense that he was chiseled from something other than flesh and bone — a great, moving statue, whose baton seemed more a liquid than a solid.

Why do I tell this story now? Well, the final thing he did that deeply impressed me was that on the final encore, he put down his baton, got the orchestra started on a Christmas medley with a few beats of his hand, and then he walked away from the podium and leaned against a side wall, just listening, basking in the music, and letting the Kirov Orchestra shine forth. The clear message was, “It’s all about them. They’re the group you’re here to hear, and they’re awesome.”

My point is, this blog is all about you! You’ve proven this week that you can all carry on just fine when I’m away in San Jose. What we have here is a community. My role is to get things started with a wave of my hand, and then I’m just reading along. A “Table Round,” as we’ve talked about before! Thank you all for those fantastic Hallowe’en stories and movie comments. The rambling house was plenty lived in while I was away, and it’s so good to see lights on when I come home!

Anyway, I know you’re waiting to hear about World Fantasy. I’ve been incredibly busy since getting back (I finally just unpacked today, Friday, after getting back on Tuesday night!) — had to jump right back into teaching on Wednesday. I’m correcting student compositions, and I’ve got homework to do from my agent — which is a good thing — a very good thing — but being away for a week has its costs!

So what I think will happen is that this convention report will be spread out over several posts. That will work out well, actually, because there are several discrete topics to address. (I mean “discrete,” not “discreet” — don’t get all disappointed when I don’t bring up any scandals!)

It was a wonderful time — beyond wonderful! I can’t say enough about how important these conventions are in keeping things in perspective for me. Seeing the reality of the fantasy publishing world firsthand is both good and potentially terrible. On the one hand, it’s enormously uplifting to be among one’s own people — all those engaged in doing the same thing, valuing most of the same things, etc. On the other hand, for the faint of heart, that could be extremely daunting. The WFC always reminds me of just what a lot of incredibly wise, smart, erudite, brilliant, talented, experienced people are working in the field. It’s humbling — who am I to think I can write books among such company? But then again, the conventions reaffirm just what a wide and diverse family we are. The World Fantasy Award judges said that, too: their judging experience revealed what a vast assortment of books and tastes the fantasy field embraces. We’re a family with young and old folks, hopefuls and successful and streetwise and weary, ambitious and lazy, charismatic and unbelievably eccentric members . . . we’re a family with skeletons in the closet. But we are a family, and it’s good to reconnect in person every year.

When I came back to Japan, the first class I taught on that Wednesday was my writing class, and it went the best it’s gone this year. I think there’s something about that reaffirmation of my identity that supercharged me.

I have two sets of notes to work through here: my daily journal, and my WFC notebook, which I take to the convention each year. Of course I won’t bore you with every detail, but I guess I’ll start by hitting the highlights more or less chronologically. Then, in later posts, we’ll get into more of the content of the panels.

I noted that I do not like LAX, the Los Angeles airport. The security there is the most stressful of any I’ve encountered. If you can avoid flying through there, do so. I flew into there from Tokyo on October 28th, and then took a connecting flight up to San Jose. The scenery was quite interesting as I soared northward over California — so different from either Japan or Illinois — lots of low, brown mountains, and fields of various colors. In the Midwest, we plant vast amounts of things that are the same color. In California, they seem to plant little fields of different hues. Crayons, perhaps? Is that where crayons are grown?

I was proud of myself for doing the economic thing and taking public transportation from the airport to the hotel, instead of springing for a taxi. There was a free bus to the Light Rail system, and then I bought a $2.00 ticket at a vending machine and took the Light Rail to the back door of the Fairmont Hotel. I chatted with Peter, a writer who was going to the same place. I checked in, received my name badge and


Every year, attendees of the World Fantasy Convention receive a bag of new books and magazines that publishers wish to promote; and the bag itself bears the convention logo.

massive bag of books, and explored the hotel. The Wednesday-evenings-before-the-conventions are among my favorite times: it’s all still ahead of you, and people are just beginning to arrive, and you can get a feel for the place and venture out into the neighborhood for supper.

In the convention literature, I’d read that there was an O’Flaherty’s Irish pub nearby. So that’s where I went for dinner: the Smithwick’s was okay, the Harp was great, and the shepherd’s pie was out of this world! They had a really cool Hallowe’en decor: giant spiders dangling from the rafters, cobwebs strewn over the walls, and a bizarre skeletal bat near my table. I wrote a couple postcards and just soaked in the ambience.

Back at the hotel that evening, I took a nap, practiced my reading (for


The contents of the freebie bag are worth considerably more than the price of the convention membership!

Thursday night), and ventured down into the lobby late at night to see if anyone I knew was there yet. The first person I saw was John Joseph Adams of Fantasy & Science Fiction. We passed near the elevators and said hi to each other.

Okay: I think I’ll stop there for right now, but be advised that this will be a week of postings — I may not post every single night, but I’ll be back tomorrow night, and quite often until I’ve told the whole story of this convention. So if you’re at all interested, stop by often!

I’ll close with a couple tidbits from my WFC notes:

For one thing, one panel raved about Stephen King’s It, about how well constructed it is. Master craftsmanship, etc. I concur. For awhile back in 1988/1989, I was going around saying It was the second-best book I’d ever read. It impressed me that much.

Another fascinating thought that was brought up: The human condition is always being on the edge of survival. That’s why the true literature has always been about what’s out there in the dark.


My room in the Fairmont Hotel, San Jose.



World Fantasy Convention, 2009



Early morning view from the 18th floor of the Fairmont Hotel in San Jose.





Isn't this cool? My room looked right down at the pool. It was warm enough that I actually saw people swimming now and then! California is definitely sunnier and warmer than Niigata in October/November!

All Hallows Eve

October 24, 2009

We’ve talked before on this blog about attempts to recapture, as adults, those visceral feelings of excitement and anticipation we had as kids on the night before Christmas, lying in our dark bedrooms . . . or before our birthdays . . . or at the notion of school letting out for the summer or even for the weekend. I remember getting some of that feeling in the darkened movie theater, waiting for the feature to start.

Well, one time I’ve discovered that I experience that shivery, excited, tingly-stomach feeling as a grownup is in the few days before the World Fantasy Convention. I leave for San Jose on Wednesday the 28th, and I get back on November 3rd, so be advised that there won’t be a blog post during the Hallowe’en weekend. That very night, the 31st (Lord willing), I’ll be having dinner with my agents and some other clients of JABberwocky, the agency that represents me. (That wasn’t a typo in the name, by the way: the first three letters are the initials of the agency’s owner.) So this weekend I’m battening down the hatches, preparing lessons, packing, and timing & practicing the public reading I’m scheduled to do at 8:30 Thursday night, California time. Please hold a good thought for me — I’m desperately hoping even a few people will come to my reading. It’s awfully hard to draw a crowd when you’re an unknown writer, at a Con where so much cool stuff is going on. And I know none of my usual friends/loyal reading-supporters will be there this year. . . .

Anyway, I’ll take my camera along, and I hope to have a bunch of pictures to post next time.

If anyone wants to take a look at what the convention is all about, here’s the website:

And here’s a nice grid they made of what’s happening where at what times:

But anyway. . . . here we are in Hallowe’en week, and I hope everyone has been enjoying the season! One thing I did to celebrate was to rewatch the Buffy Season 2 episode “Halloween” — one of the classics. And I’ve been reading a couple things by the old-time horror writer Arthur Machen, who greatly influenced H.P. Lovecraft. More about that in the future. . . .

But for now, we need a Hallowe’en story, and here’s a true one, courtesy of my dad. This actually happened to him. He told and retold this tale throughout his life. There are no ghost stories like old family ghost stories, because you get to grow up with them; you get to hear them over and over, spanning different ages of your life. You internalize them, as the trees swallow the leaning fences.

When he was a child, the family moved from within the city of Taylorville to an old, two-story farmhouse in the country. It stood alone among the fields, isolated and dark against the sky, far removed from the homes of the nearest neighbors. Such houses still stand today; I’ve seen hundreds of them, lonely patches of human habitation amid the endless acres of whispering grain.

We’re talking about the end of the 1930s. This was an era when electricity was still somewhat tenuous in the countryside, and when they moved in, the power had either not yet been hooked up or not yet turned on. The family used oil-burning lamps for the first stretch of nights in the house. During the sunny Illinois day, they hauled in loads of furniture, clothes, and cookware, placing things as best they could in the rooms where it all belonged.

In the kitchen, they discovered a huge, heavy wooden cupboard that had come with the house, left by the previous owners. It towered from floor almost to ceiling in one corner. My grandma was delighted by its charm and solidity, and she gratefully loaded it up with her best plates and cups to get them out of harm’s way. The rest of the dishes would require more careful sorting. For the time being, they were left in some big metal washtubs set on the table . . . and perhaps in some boxes on the counters, on the floor.

Exhausted by the day of hard work, the family retired to the living room, carrying their flickering lamps. The adults sank into chairs and onto the couch, bone-weary. The children played on the floor in the reddish glow. Beyond the little circle of light, the prairie darkness closed in, filling the empty rooms, covering the fields. It was an era such as we can scarce imagine today, in our neon age, when the world is brightly lit 24/7. It was an age of quietness and impenetrable shadow.

Suddenly, to the shock and horror of all, pandemonium erupted in the black kitchen. There came the sound of the tubs sliding from the table, clanging and ringing on the floor — the sound of dishes shattering, silverware bouncing, glass breaking into shards.

The adults sprang to their feet, hearts pounding. Had some animal found its way into the house? Pans crashed; boxes tumbled; the terrible destruction could only be deliberate. Some vandal — a prowler? As the final blow, there came the shuddering impact of the great cupboard toppling onto the table, smashing its own glass doors and the table’s wooden legs, everything collapsing to the floor. Panes and lattices flew apart. Shelves splintered. Grandma’s best dishes — such as they were in that time when the Depression had been deeply felt — were now junk to be swept away. But why? What? Who. . . .?

Summoning their courage, seizing anything that might be wielded as a weapon, the adults raised their lamps and ventured into the kitchen, eyes wide, faces colorless, breath held. I can picture them as they must have approached that kitchen, a row of sheet-white faces peeping around the door frame at various heights.

As the wicks’ flames pushed back the darkness, the kitchen slowly became visible. And there . . . there in the unfamiliar belly of the ancient house . . . nothing was amiss.

The tubs remained on the table, stacked high with plates. The boxes rested on the counter and on the floor, still intact, still packed. In the shadowy corner, the grandfather of cupboards stood unperturbed, the glass doors secured, the rows of dishes guarded within. No damage at all had been done. There were no TVs, no radios blaring; no other houses nearby, from which a sound might have emerged. Nothing. Just a kitchen in a worn, brooding farmhouse, steeped in silence and memory. If it was a hallucination, then the entire household had the same one at the same time.

It was the first strange incident in the old house, but certainly not the last.

So Happy Hallowe’en to all! If anyone has a ghost story (or any creepy story) to tell us — whether it be true or not — please do so!

And here’s an idea: why doesn’t everyone stop by here on or around Hallowe’en night and tell us how you spent the evening — did you do anything seasonal? I’ll be away that night . . . the blog will be empty, and full of echoes. But that shouldn’t discourage you, on this night of all nights!