World Fantasy Convention 2012 – Toronto, Canada

Report by Evie Kendal

 The World Fantasy Convention 2012 has just concluded so I thought I would send DMF (Dark Matter fanzine) a brief account of my adventures! The event was hosted at the beautiful Sheraton Parkway Toronto North Hotel, Suites and Conference Centre and attendees could choose to stay at the Sheraton or the adjoining Best Western hotel. The convention started on Thursday 1st of November and concluded with the awards ceremony on Sunday 4th of November. The schedule was jammed packed and obviously I couldn’t attend everything – so here is a run-down of what I attended and the highlights therein.

 General reflections

 Far and away the thing that impressed me the most about this convention was the enormous bag of free books every attendee received on registration! As many people came in couples a table was set up throughout the convention where double-ups could be swapped for new titles – which I thought was very well organised. At the end of the convention a few of the left over bags from people unable to attend were added to the table (unfortunately hurricane Sandy meant 122 delegates were absent). Apparently the remaining books were to be donated to charity. As an Australian resident each hardcover worth $20 here, represents $30-$40 at home (plus shipping), so the opportunity to experience new authors without this expense was a welcome surprise!

The convention centre was spacious and beautiful and the staff very organised. The Best Western hotel where we stayed was clean and the restaurant reasonably priced. My husband and I are still getting used to adding tax to advertised prices though, and the concept of tipping is a little foreign – but hopefully we’ve done ok. The only downside of the convention location was it was a significant distance from downtown Toronto and there wasn’t much around. We did visit the nearby Jack Astor’s restaurant a few times though and that was nice.

One thing that struck me about the convention attendees was the median age was higher than I expected. I only saw two children (and both were over 10 years old) and there were no teenagers and very few young adults that I observed. I was also surprised to find that almost everyone considered themselves a “writer” and most of the authors I met were surprised when I identified myself as a “reader” instead.

 DAY ONE: Thursday 1st November

 2pm – Reading by Patrick Rothfuss, author of The Name of the Wind

 My first impression of Rothfuss was that he had crazy hair and a rather odd sense of humour. However, once he started reading his short story “How Old Holly Came to Be” from the Unfettered anthology, I decided he was a very good storyteller. The vocal quality was good and the story engaging. It had a poetic and rhythmic feel and repeated the phrases “it was good…it was bad…it was neither…it was both.” The audience asked the usual insipid questions one expects at a convention – What’s your favourite food? What inspires you to write? etc. but for me what was interesting was hearing a little bit about the fundraiser Rothfuss has set up. He finished his section with a funny poem and then was inundated with autograph requests outside the door.

 3pm – “Romancing the Monster” panel with Nancy Kilpatrick, Patricia Briggs, Sephira Giron, Maureen McGowan(authors) and Chris Szego (publisher)

 This was a very interesting panel that focused on urban fantasy/paranormal romance. As I wrote my honours thesis on this sub-genre I wanted to see what these authors had to say about the taming-the-bad-boy aspect of such tales. Throughout the session most of my favourite comments were made by Patricia Briggs, an author I have not previously read but whose books I intend to get hold of in the future (I purchased the first Mercy book at convention and got it signed).

When discussing the domineering vampires in Christine Feehan’s series, Briggs claims if she met one in real life she would probably shoot it. She notes that when it comes to why grown up, independent women would be attracted to such novels, that Feehan “gets it…we don’t want to romance these vampires – we want to read about a romance with these vampires.” (Personally I couldn’t stand Feehan’s series but each to their own!)

When the authors were asked whether they got turned on by their own sex scenes McGowan countered, “Why don’t thriller authors get asked whether they get a thrill from stabbing people?” I thought this a very valid question, however I also liked Briggs’ comment: “If you don’t feel it, you’re not doing it right!” Giron then made the audience chuckle when she added, “You write for yourself first, the reader comes…[awkward pause]…second.”

Giving the best answer that I’ve heard to date to the uncomfortable how-to-avoid-romanticising-rape question, Briggs responded: “No means no…if there’s a rape in one of my books, the bad guy is the bad guy. My good guys don’t rape. Heroes need to be heroes. Villains are villains and they’re as bad as they can be, because they’re villains. But heroes need to be different.”

Later Briggs also noted that a true romance depends on establishing a “power balance” between the love interests, something that often requires some creativity in paranormal romances. When asked if she felt responsible for the kind of messages her romance novels reinforced she answered: “As a writer I feel a responsibility for the relationships, that they are healthy, or if they’re not healthy that I tell the reader.” Giron then humorously added, “I write horror – nothing healthy about that!”

I particularly liked the fact that the panel members had clearly read extensively in the field – there is nothing I hate more than an author that is ignorant of their own genre (especially if they claim they don’t want to be “influenced” by other works – rather self-deluded and pretentious to think they could ever avoid such a thing!) I also liked that most of them had some grounding in older traditions (Dracula, Frankenstein etc.)

 4pm – OPENING CEREMONY

 A processional with bagpipes led the guests of honour into the hall where Gary K. Wolfe was the MC. After briefly introducing the guests the ceremony was over (13 minutes in total!) and most of the audience seemed a little surprised by how abrupt it was.

I used the rest of the hour to visit the Art Room where some beautiful fantasy art was displayed. I didn’t consider purchasing any, as most of it was hideously expensive and impractical to transport (including a rather impressive glass dalek). It was very nice to look at though.

 8pm – “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly” panel with David Malki (cartoonist), Irene Gallo (editor), Jennie Faries (typeface artist), Lauren Cannon (art teacher), Brett Savory (author) and Charles Vess (artist)

 This was a panel about fantasy book covers that the audience assumed would show some examples of good, bad and ugly covers, however only a few examples of good covers were given and a very vague list of instructions for self-publishers about what to avoid in their own covers. However, there were some good quotes.

When showing one of his favourite book covers Vess said, “The viewer makes the picture 3D. That’s your job. The artist makes that possible.”

Excusing examples of “copying” the cover styles of other successful books the panel members noted that such tactics help readers identify similar stories they may enjoy. Also, regarding “house styles” it was suggested that such things help build a brand and make it easier to recognise. However, when an audience member complained about the “bait-and-switch” (when the cover has nothing to do with the content of the novel) the panel members claimed such things were rare. In my experience this is not the case. As I read a lot of romance novels the covers on those are almost always stock images of some Fabio who looks nothing like the protagonist of the actual story. However, it was also noted that artists don’t have time to read all the books they are sent and that sometimes they are drawing images for books that haven’t even been written yet.

A couple of interesting points raised were that with Amazon and other online stores it is important to consider how a cover will look as a thumbnail image. Faries also claimed: “A good painting does not necessarily make a good book cover.”

 9pm – “Our Monsters, Our Selves” panel with James Alan Gardner, Lena Coakley, Christopher Golden (authors), Ellen Datlow (editor) and Richard Kirk (artist)

 This panel was about what monsters symbolise and how monsters can be too human and humans too monstrous. It covered aspects of the “uncanny valley” debate about robots, and how monsters in literature change according to the time and culture from which they arise (vampires = aristocracy bleeding dry the peasants etc.)

When asked what his monsters symbolise Golden claimed: “A monster doesn’t have to be symbolic of something else – unless you’re Joss Whedon.” I thought this a fair comment, however since I love Joss Whedon this meant I went away believing that a monster should in fact symbolise something else – because that’s what Joss would do! When asked to differentiate between vampire and zombie narratives, Golden noted: “The generic zombie story has no 3rd act,” which various of the panel-members disagreed with. When the discussion shifted to other possible reasons vampires are more popular, Coakley said, “It’s hard to sell a romantic zombie.” Although I have heard of a few authors who have tried this, I tend to agree that bits falling off is not attractive!

 DAY TWO – Friday 2nd November

 9am – “Faith and Fantasy” panel with Jonathon Oliver, Ada Milenkovic Brown, Bill Willingham, James Moore and Kari Sperring (authors)

 I was extremely jet-legged during this panel so didn’t catch much of it, but it had some interesting points about how religion is portrayed in fantasy. I liked the identification of the dominant one-true-god-religion-evil-any-alternative-good trend in fantasy at the moment, which is getting a little old. I also loved Bill Willingham’s quote about being raised Catholic/Jewish: “I had to go to confession, but I was allowed to bring a lawyer.”

 10am – “Young Adult Urban Fantasy” panel with Joel Sutherland (librarian), Leah Peterson, Charles de Lint, Isobelle Carmody, Alyx Harvey and Holly Black (authors)

 A lot of interesting discussion regarding YA fantasy in this panel, and minimal useless question time from the audience! Peterson described YA as a literature describing first experiences, e.g. first kiss, discovering your own powers etc. which I thought was a good definition. Carmody notes for this very reason adults shouldn’t be ashamed of reading YA, as they all remember those first experiences as well.

When discussing limitations on content Black claimed YA authors shouldn’t feel that they have to avoid sex and violence, noting however that publishers were often more concerned about the former than the latter. Carmody then raised the point that parents are often the buyers of YA and may wish to impose some sort of morality, but that this wasn’t the author’s responsibility. She said she dislikes “issues” novels, but that when it came to her own novels, “if you’re a prude like me you’re not going to write about sex. You may want to do it, but you don’t want to read about it.”

De Lint raised the point that while adult urban fantasy is almost all witches and vampires at the moment, YA is still “open” for original content. Black also said of YA fantasy, “I like to think of it as gateway fantasy,” bringing attention to the fact that young adults will feed into the adult fantasy market. She claimed the major difference between these two forms of urban fantasy is that while YA is rooted in folklore and myth, adult urban fantasy comes from noir/horror and is also crossing over extensively into the romance genre. She included a useful quote defining urban fantasy: “It’s taking the big city and putting the dark forest in it,” which I thought was an apt description.

As to the purpose of YA, Carmody claimed it allowed for an investigation of the shift to and from the “powerlessness of children and the responsibility of adulthood,” while Harvey claimed: “We are a tribal culture without any tribal rites of passage anymore. YA fills that void.”

 12:30 pm – Reading by Jack Dann, author and editor

 I appreciated the fact that Dann launched immediately into reading his short story, “The Island of Time,” from a new Gene Wolfe-inspired anthology of SF, and spent his entire session reading (no wasted time). The story had an Australian setting and was written in the 2nd person – a very difficult style that he pulled off very well. The narrative itself was very engaging and was about a 12 ¾ yr old boy from an abusive household who just wants to be able to protect his sister and become his “true self.”

 2pm – Guest of Honour Interview – John Clute interviewed by Michael Dirda

 This was a very entertaining interview, although Clute answered few questions directly and Dirda was constantly interrupting his responses! It was clear the two got along very well though and the banter was amusing to listen to. Clute’s vocabulary impressed me as it always does and I agreed with Dirda’s claim that his reviews are “a kind of prose-poetry. As much art as criticism.”

 3pm – “Bibliofantasies” panel with Helen Marshall (academic), Tina Connolly, Michael DeLuca, Don Pizarro (authors) and Jennifer Crow (poet)

 This panel focused on books within books, including those that are real and those that are made up for the story. Aspects of forbidden knowledge, the art of reading, and the fascination of a book that you can never read were discussed. I also liked the point made about books that are considered necessary to preserve, even if we don’t allow or encourage access to them.

 8pm – Autograph Reception

 A very large ballroom was opened up with author signing stations. This was handled very well and lines were minimal. I got all the autographs I was after, except two, as I could not find the relevant authors. It was possible to have a brief chat with the authors too, which was nice. For those without books, the back page of the convention guide had an autographs section that was useful.

 DAY THREE – Saturday 3rd November

 11am – “The Patty and Mike Show” with Patricia Briggs being interviewed by her husband, Michael Briggs

 This playful interview was quite amusing, although some of the audience were quite rude which was awkward. Briggs spoke about the process of publishing, and particularly how she has to deal with errors in the printed versions of her novels. Her husband then spoke about how he responded to fans’ claims that a werewolf hunter wouldn’t be able to cast silver bullets – by casting them himself with the assistance of a metallurgy professor. Briggs then said she was asked to be the guest speaker at the faculty dinner recognising publication achievements of staff at the university that this professor worked at – and that everyone was more interested in the fact they had made silver bullets together!

Briggs said she became a writer because she was always a big reader. Her mother was a librarian and there were always books around the house. She said her husband has always been a big support, and judging from his behaviour during the interview this is certainly true.

Briggs said she receives both positive and negative feedback from feminists about her novels. I particularly liked her response: “We are equal, it doesn’t mean we’re better or worse. It doesn’t mean we can’t cook and have kids and stay home with our kids – for both genders.” She said when her husband came home and told her she had just been added to a list of feminist SF authors online that she was standing in the kitchen, barefoot and pregnant! Mostly she seemed to support feminist ideals of equality, but said some radical feminists take things too far. This seemed fair – I am just hoping her novels are in line with this philosophy.

 3pm – “The Lexicon of Horror” panel with John Clute, Gary K. Wolfe, Michael Dirda, David G. Hartwell and Peter Straub (critics)

 I attended this panel with my husband, but as horror is not an interest of mine I didn’t get much out of it. I did like Clute’s point that nowadays critics can operate on a “presumption of availability” when it comes to mentioning obscure texts in their reviews, as the text will be available online somewhere if the reader feels motivated to find it.

 3:30pm – Reading by Garth Nix, author of the Old Kingdom series

 Nix read the prologue to an upcoming Old Kingdom novel, Clariel, and then excerpts from chapters one and three. The expected release date of the novel is 2014 and Nix noted that some parts read out would no doubt be edited before then – which made the experience even more unique. Nix’s reading style was clear and engaging and the tale sparked my interest in a series I have not yet picked up (I have read some of Nix’s children’s series, Keys to the Kingdom).

After the reading I stuck around to get an autograph on the copy of TroubleTwisters: The Magic I picked up on the book swap table, from both Nix and co-author Sean Williams, who also attended the reading. They were very friendly and I had a good discussion with both.

 5pm – “After Twilight: Whither the Vampire” panel with Nancy Baker, Rio Youers, Nancy Kilpatrick, Michael Rowe, Sean Hayden and Stephanie Bodwell-Grime (authors)

 This panel was mostly focused on how Twilight has impacted adult vampire fiction. I had a nice chat to Hayden outside the hall before the panel began (we had just crept awkwardly through a bunch of mourners from the funeral going on in the conference room next door – a unique bonding experience!) and discovered he had actually read all the Twilight Saga because his daughter liked them. I was a little surprised (and disappointed) to discover not one other panel member had actually read the series they were hating on though. The audience were somewhat more qualified to speak on the matter than the panellists, and a few intelligent comments did arise in this sector throughout the debate.

I did appreciate Rowe’s comment that you can “chart sexual mores through vampire fiction,” as I have always believed this to be true. When I asked him afterwards whether the new incarnation of the teenage-sexually-repressed vampire is therefore indicative of a new puritanical sex culture arising, he stated it was more likely a result of concerns regarding teenage pregnancy etc. This seems likely.

Regarding Twilight there were a few interesting objections noted by Baker including: “You mean these vampires are hundreds of years old and they can’t find anything better do to than go to high school?” This I wholeheartedly agree with! When addressing how Stephanie Meyers must feel about the backlash against her sparkly vampires, Youers smiled and noted, “She doesn’t give a f*ck about the bad reviews coz she’s reading them on a big pile of cash.” A few of the panellists noted that her wide appeal is likely to feed adult readers into the horror genre at a later date, however most objected to how their work is being perceived now, as they all write distinctly for adult audiences. Rowe noted they were possibly just jealous that the success of YA vampire literature means “that’s where all the hardcovers are going.”

Bodwell-Grime made the valid point that “vampires are a very versatile myth” and that vampire literature is in no risk of disappearing, even though it may be stuck in YA for awhile. Rowe admitted it was good Twilight was getting young audiences to read, however he worried about whether such poor quality writing could be considered at all “enriching” for young minds. Kilpatrick countered with, “You read anything and you will read something else…it’s a learning experience.” Youers claims that Twilight hasn’t lost them readers in the adult vampire fiction market as even though most fans will only be looking for more teen romances, there will be a few that progress to adult vampire novels, and those that don’t were never going to anyway.

An audience member noted that while vampires used to symbolise otherness and societal concerns regarding sexuality and sexual disease, the vampires in Twilight instead glorify privilege and “fitting in, not standing out.” Hayden then added, “Ten years ago everyone wanted to be a vampire. Now everyone wants to date one.”

 8pm – Art Show Reception

 I didn’t actually get to attend the art show but my husband went and said there were several additional pieces on display than when we visited the art room before. One piece I really wish I’d seen was a watercolour version of a black-and-white image I’d seen before entitled: “Inappropriate Use of a Scythe” (by G. Ogawa) which depicted Death using the blunt end of his scythe to dangle a toy in front of a cat who is playfully jumping up to catch it. Her work is on the deviantART website.

DAY FOUR – Sunday 4th November

 11am – “Reality Made Fantasy or Fantasy Made Real” panel with Isobelle Carmody, L. E. Modesitt Jr, Greg Wilson, Karl Schroeder (authors) and Sally Harding (agent)

 This panel discussed fantasty world-building and mentioned some interesting series the authors are working on. I especially want to check out Schroeder’s zero gravity series where apparently gravity is a “municipal utility” and town buildings are tied down with rope. Rocks and water float, and when at war enemies can throw neighbourhoods at each other!

Carmody noted that there are expectations involved with writing fantasy – for example, she didn’t realise she was supposed to have a fantasy map at the beginning of the novel and had to add one retrospectively based on the text. She also said she believes “fantasy is a way into philosophy” and that not everyone will like every fantasy world, but that some will see things the same way as the author and will enjoy their stories.

Wilson highlighted the importance of creating a fantasy realm that is “internally consistent, ” while Modesitt claimed authors often had to “bow to a higher reality” by giving editors and readers “what they want.”

Harding gave some insight into the importance of marketing factors such as book covers, blurbs and character naming.

12:30 – World Fantasy Awards Banquet and Presentations

 The banquet meal provided for ticket holders was very fancy and included such things as Saskatchewan wild rice soup with Bala dried cranberries, and warm smoked arctic char, maple syrup and mustard seed sauce, bagel chips, new potatoes, Cookstown baby arugula and leek salad, capers and red onions – and those were just the appetizers! Finishing off with a traditional Canadian baked butter tart was a nice touch.

After the banquet meal other attendees were allowed to enter the hall to watch the awards presentation. Lifetime Achievement Awards were conferred on Alan Garner and George R. R. Martin. The nominations for each of the other categories are listed below, the winner in bold:

Special Award, Non-Professional

Kate Baker, Neil Clarke, Cheryl Morgan and Sean Wallace for Clarkesworld

Kat Rambo for Fantasy

Raymond Russell and Rosalie Parker for Tartarus Press

Charles Tan for Bibliophile Stalker blog

Mark Valentine for Wormwood

 Special Award, Professional

John Joseph Adams for editing anthologies and magazines

Jo Fletcher for editing Jo Fletcher Books

Eric Lane for publishing in translation for Daedalus Books

Brett Alexander Savory and Sandra Katsuri for ChiZine Publications

Jeff VanderMeer and S. J. Chambers for The Steampunk Bible

 Artist

John Coulthart

Julie Dillon

Jon Foster

Kathleen Jennings

John Picacio

Collection

Bluegrass Symphony, Lisa L. Hannett (Ticonderoga)

Two Worlds and In Between, Caitlin R. Kiernan (Subterranean Press)

After the Apocalypse, Maureen M. McHugh (Small Beer)

Mrs Midnight and Other Stories, Reggie Oliver (Tartatus)

The Bible Repairman and Other Stories, Tim Powers (Tachyon/Subterranean Press)

 Anthology

Blood and Other Cravings, Ellen Datlow, ed. (Tor)

A Book of Horrors, Stephen Jones, ed. (Jo Fletcher Books)

The Thackery T. Lambshead Cabinet of Curiosities, Ann and Jeff VanderMeer, eds. (Harper Voyager US)

The Weird, Ann and Jeff VanderMeer, eds. (Corvus/Tor)

Gutshot, Conrad Williams, ed. (PS Publishing)

 Short Fiction

“X for Demetrious” by Steve Duffy in Blood and Other Cravings

“Younger Women” by Karen Joy Fowler in Subterranean Summer 2011

The Paper Menagerie” by Ken Liu in F&SF 3-4/11

“A Journey of Only Two Paces” by Time Powers in The Bible Repairman and Other Stories

“The Cartographer Wasps and the Anarchist Bees” by E. Lily Yu in Clarkesworld 4/11

Novella

“Near Zennor” by Elizabeth Hand in A Book of Horrors

“A Small Price to Pay for Birdsong” by K. J. Parker in Subterranean Winter 2011

“Alice Through the Plastic Sheet” by Robert Shearman in A Books of Horrors

“Rose Street Attractors” by Lucius Shepard in Ghosts by Gaslight

“Silently and Very Fast” by Catherynne M. Valente in WSFA Press/Clarkesworld

 Novel

Those Across the River by Christopher Buehlman (Ace)

11/22/63 by Stephen King (Scribner/Hodder and Stoughton)

A Dance with Dragons by George R. R. Martin (Bantam/Harper Voyager US)

Osama by Lavie Tidhar (PS Publishing)

Among Others by Jo Walton (Tor)

While the only one of those I correctly guessed was Tim Powers, I must confess I didn’t know many of the works so couldn’t make a very good prediction! It was a bit disappointing that so few of the winners were actually in attendance, but the thing that struck me the most was that Tidhar seemed genuinely shocked by his win and it appeared he hadn’t even prepared an acceptance speech. This made his simple “Thank you very much” all the more endearing!

Well that’s it for my con experience. Next one will most likely be LonCon 2014!