…the World Fantasy Convention, that is, held this year in Austin, TX. The hotel was luxurious (though located way out in suburbia, disappointing to those of us who’d hoped to see some of Austin), the programming stimulating, the event well-planned and attended (I heard a rumor that it was the biggest WFC attendance ever). I sat on a couple of panels, and attended the autographing session–which I was dreading, because I hate it when you sit there and no one comes over with books–but it actually went well. One person even had a copy of my very first novel, which was extremely cool. Best of all, I had the chance to connect with people I don’t see very often, such as my editor, Diana Gill, and to meet in the flesh a number of people whom I’d previously only known online or via email.
I also attended the awards banquet, feeling somewhat self-conscious in my fancy duds (when you work at home and don’t really have any pressing reason to get out of your pajamas, it’s a serious shock to the system to put on pantyhose and high heels) and a little like a deer in the headlights as well, because I was one of the WFC judges this year, and we were all a bit afraid people would throw food at us if they didn’t like our choice of winners. There were some gasps as the winners were announced, and I heard a few disapproving comments, but all in all, no one seems too unhappy. So far.
Going into the judging process, I heard many stories of judge-ly discord and disagreement, and wasn’t sure what to expect. But I and the others (Steve Lockley, Barbara Roden, Jeff VanderMeer, and Andrew Wheeler) were a very friendly group (it sounds awfully boring–at the Judges’ Panel on Sunday, where we got to explain the process and our choices, people looked at us rather skeptically when we said it–but it’s true). While there inevitably was some variance of opinion, we were able to resolve it–and in many of the categories, we were remarkably of a mind. I think all of us are happy with the final ballot and with the winners–plus, we’re all still speaking to each other, which I gather isn’t always the case.
It was, however, a tremendous amount of work. Over a six-month period (February to July), we saw more than 300 books from publishers large and small–plus magazines, printouts, fiction published online, and sundry items to be considered for special awards, such as Jess Nevins’s fabulous Encyclopedia of Fantastic Victoriana. To answer one of the questions I was most frequently asked over the weekend, I wouldn’t rush out and do it again next year, but it was an extremely rewarding and challenging experience. I feel that I gained a much more concrete sense of the breadth of the field–there is a HUGE variety of work being done in fantasy, from the pulpishly popular to the impenetrably literary and every conceivable style and nuance in between. I also was introduced to wonderful authors whose work I hadn’t encountered before (such as Haruki Murakami, whose transcendent Kafka on the Shore was the winner in the Novels category), and was reminded of how much wonderful work is being put out by small presses such as Prime Books (winner in the Special Award, Professional category), Wheatland Press, PS Publishing, Monkeybrain, Telos (winner in the Special Award, Non-Professional category), and others.
Most rewarding of all, I rediscovered my love of short fiction, which had fallen by the wayside over the past few years. All the short stories, novellas, and collections on the ballot are very fine–but if you’ve any interest in short fiction (and even if you’re not normally a fantasy reader), I urge you to seek out this year’s winner in the Collections category, Bruce Holland Rogers’s small press-published The Keyhole Opera, which unfortunately seems to have flown below most people’s radar. Rogers is an astonishingly subtle, accomplished, and innovative writer. He’s capable of compressing an entire story arc into five hundred words, of turning a story inside out with a final line, of showing you connections you didn’t think were there. While others experiment with style and content, he experiments with form, pushing the short fiction envelope in fascinating and entirely original ways–for instance, he has transposed a staple of poetry, the fixed form, to prose narrative, creating a fixed prose form that he has named the symmetrina. As original and subversive as some of the collections on the final ballot are, Rogers’s is in a class by itself–far and away the best work I’ve read this year. I hope (and I know my fellow judges do also–I wasn’t the only one who was passionate about this collection) that the award will bring him more of the recognition and acclaim he deserves.
So now I’m home, and thoroughly exhausted–more so than I might be otherwise, actually, because my flight home yesterday was canceled and I had to stay the night in a motel (with no restaurant, nor any within walking distance, which the airline people kindly didn’t see fit to tell me when they handed me my meal voucher, so I went to bed hungry) and then get up at 4:00!! am!!! to drive to the airport to catch a 6:00am flight (I had a meal voucher for breakfast too, but it was too early for any of the airport restaurants to be open–I was ready to eat my baggage, or maybe my fellow passengers, by that time). But it’s a good kind of tired.
I now return you to your regular Writer Beware programming.