World Fantasy Convention in a Really Large Nutshell, Part 2
(…Being a continuation of Part One…)
It began, as all good days should, with breakfast.
A breakfast with FRIKKIN SHARON SHINN, y’all!
This is how it went down. John O’Neill emails me a few weeks ago. It goes something like this:
Want to have lunch with me and Sharon Shinn? Come on, I’ll introduce you! – John
And I go something like this:
OH MAH GAWD SHARON SHINN!
I am not going to go on about my thing for Sharon Shinn’s books. It’s just one of those things. That you have. When you think, “Ah! Look! A little novella by Sharon Shinn in this collection! How nice!” And two weeks later you emerge from rereading ALL of her books, with little black suns bursting behind your eyes and a nervous twitch, and you assure people, “No, really. I’m all right.” Anyway, for an in-depth encounter with my Sharon Shinn thing, read my review of her book, Troubled Waters.
So then picture my face when she sits down next to me after fetching her breakfast buffet.
We were at a large table in the corner, a big dang group of us, with O’Neill the Robot Overlord beaming benignly over the feast from the head of the table. (Or maybe it was the foot. I suppose I could have been at the head. It’s all a matter of perception. But the likelihood is that I was at the foot.) And Sharon Shinn sits down and smiles at me.
“John told me that one of you at the table is a big fan. Is it you?”
Whoosh! went my face.
“Well, yes!” I said, or something like it. And then it turned out that we both like reading the same books. “The three Mc’s,” we said, almost simultaneously — McKinley, McKillip and McCaffrey. “That explains SO MUCH!” I told her. Everyone else at the table was also beautiful and witty, I’m sure, but I was too busy being dazzled. I hardly remember who was there.
Says John O’Neill:
The reason you don’t remember who was there is that you stole my seat next to Sharon, sent me down to the far end of the table under the plant, and then didn’t take your eyes off her the entire time.
Toward the end of breakfast, I double-dog-dared Sharon Shinn to come to the big poetry reading on Saturday night, and strongly hinted that she should maybe even submit her poetry to Goblin Fruit. (As Jess, Editrix of Goblin Fruit was sitting at our table, I felt that this was a hint with teeth in it, but what can you do?) And all in all, it was lovely. AND SO WAS HER POETRY. But I’ll get to that. That’s for Saturday.
Gosh. And then the READINGS came.
Of course there was Sharon Shinn at 10:30. She read from her upcoming novel The Shape of Desire, which she describes as quiet, contemporary and sort of a murder mystery. Patty and I, sitting next to each other, immediately noticed that all three of her shapeshifters were named after the Rossettis — Dante, Christina and William. (Now I can’t remember if there was a Maria. Mmn. Maybe Maria is a surprise character. WHO KNOWS?) So whatever this book is, we’ll be reading it. I mean, I’d’ve read it anyway. Patty hasn’t yet read Shinn. But she will. I saw that particular light upon her brow.
Ari Goelman had a reading next.
Patty and I know Ari because we were in a reading with him at WisCon called Goblin Girls and Bedlam Boys — along with several other friends. From the moment I first heard Ari read — a part of his YA novel, one that takes place at a girl’s camp — I liked his stuff. I thought to myself, “Had I encountered a full shelf of his books at the library, I would have taken them all home with me.”
But, oh, time passed. I had FORGOTTEN how good he was! It had been so long! And then at World Fantasy he read the most VILLAINOUSLY funny first chapter of a novel.
Okay, so it takes place at a school for gifted kids. (That’s not the fun part, although no matter how many times you do it, kids with superpowers and/or magic is pretty dang fun.) And the main character? Is this Arch-Villain’s only son… Who’s been left behind by his father in the care of his grandparents… Who are robots. And that’s just PART OF IT. This is his website. And you can find links to his stories here. (I HIGHLY recommend doing this!)
Ysabeau Wilce read from Flora’s Fury. Yes. That’s the third Flora book. I must have it. I must have it or perish.
She also gave us chocolates. The good kind.
Thankfully, I am not the only one who puddles down into goo around Wilce’s prose (and chocolate). Caitlyn Paxson and Jessica P. Wick would both give me a run for my money, if fangirldom were a competition. Which it isn’t. I mean, OF COURSE it isn’t. Right?
From 12-1, we all went gaga over Connie Willis doing her Toastmaster’s Speech. I’ve only read Doomsday Book, myself, although I am told from every interested party that I must, simply must, no really MUST read To Say Nothing of the Dog. She also made me want to watch the BBC series Primeval. She was all about Primeval. Here are some things I scrawled on the back of my program as I listened to her talk.
There are three kinds of research.
General research (where you go to get an idea of the time you’re writing in).
Specific research (where you find out what folks might have eaten for breakfast in, say, 1180 AD).
And then there’s what she called “The Secret Nerves of the Book.”
(For Doomsday Book, she said, she found the secret nerves in the bells. In medieval times, town bells would ring in the news. Bells at morning, noon and evening. Bells for weddings. Bells for funerals. When the plague came, you could hear the bells start tolling funerals daily in the next towns over. One by one the town bells would fall silent. You could hear the plague moving across the land — and know it was almost upon you in the silence. SHIVER!)
Twice she quoted Edith Wharton with this phrasing, or something like it: “Starting a novel is like starting a love affair. Writing a novel is like crossing the Gobi Desert. Finishing a novel is like recovering from a long illness.”
From what I can see, Wharton actually wrote this: “What is writing a novel like? 1. The beginning: A ride through a spring wood. 2. The middle: The Gobi desert. 3. The end: A night with a lover. I am now in the Gobi desert.”
From other things she mentioned, I got the impression that it is Willis herself who feels that finishing a novel is like recovering from a long illness. She intimated that it takes her quite a while to be able to even think about starting another novel without feeling sick.
Anyway, she was hilarious. She is writing a story about robot who wants to be a Rockette. How cool is that? And I really MUST see Primeval.
[ETA: Charles Tan, in his WFC round up, includes audio of the Toastmaster Speech, and of the Connie Willis and Neil Gaiman conversation! Go check it out!]
Rhysling-award winning (twice over) poet David Lunde was next. His reading was actually an hour, but I could only stay for half that, because I hadn’t eaten since the Sharon Shinn breakfast, and there was no break in sight. Katie and I dashed across the street to the mall, got accosted by a cute boy who wanted us to help him save tigers, grabbed some Panda Express, and hightailed it back to the hotel for…
Patty Ann Templeton. Had a reading. At World Fantasy.
AND SHE KICKED BUTT!
Oh, yes, she did. She read the Lobotomy at the Orphanage scene from her novel-in-progress There is No Lovely End. She cooed. She strutted. She did voices. She played the audience and pinched our chins and was generally radiant. I have never seen her give such a great reading as that, and I have been watching her giving readings since 2004, thank you very much.
After the stunning rendition of that ghost-haunted, shack-shaking, Dickens-on-crack episode, she read us from her short story “The Bee Charmer of Beckett Falls,” which I have loved in all its drafts, and which seems to be too danged interstitial to find a proper home. But I have no doubt it will. BEE CHARMERS! CARNIVALS! THE DUST BOWL! Anyway, she pretty much rocked the moon outta the sky.
Then there was Neil Gaiman’s reading at 2:30. I dashed in a tad late, because it wasn’t in the room we all thought it was going to be in, but in another building entirely. I was going to say that we had no Daedalus or Ariadne to lead us through the Labyrinth of the Town and Country Hotel, but that’s an arrant lie. There were very friendly people placed strategically along the path, holding up signs with arrows that said “NEIL GAIMAN” and we followed those, and found our minotaur. I mean, our Neil.
He was reading something beautiful and sad, about forgetting. It was about how the narrator will forget you but remember Shakespeare. How the words are leaving. How words are only the alphabet in endless codes. I did not catch the title, or where it was from.
[ETA: The story is called “The Man Who Forgot Ray Bradbury.”]
After this, he read a Sherlock Holmes story. I thought it was called “Death and the Bees,” but I have just Googled and realized it is called “A Case of Death and Honey,” and it is from an anthology called A Study in Sherlock. I thought it was lovely — and SPOT ON. (I have spent the two months eating most of Laurie King’s Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes series, so I’ve had Sherlock on the brain.)
Though Neil was mic’ed, his voice was quiet, and so, for all its immensity, was the story. The room was large. The crowd absorbed the sound. I wish I had been sitting closer. Still! I was close enough for rapture, which is close enough for me.
I went to see a panel called Ageless Literature at 4 PM, but I didn’t much enjoy it. The panelists were all fine — I was there specifically to see my pal Will Alexander, whose book Goblin Secrets is coming out next March — but the subject matter was a bit misty. What is a classic? What will be a classic in 100 years? What is YA? How is it different from Middle Grade? Maybe all our brains were fizzling out by then. Or maybe it was just me!
At five, we went to see Neil Gaiman and Connie Willis in conversation together. I wish I could quote to you from that directly, but the truth is, I was too busy paying attention to write anything down. Neil told a great story about the week he had five books on the New York Times bestseller list, and a well-meaning woman on an airplane, upon hearing that he was a writer, patted his hand sympathetically and said, “Well, keep working hard. Maybe one day, you’ll have a New York Times Best Seller!” Connie Willis talked about where the impetus to make stories comes from. Neil gave this advice to young writers, “Read outside your comfort zone.”
There was a Black Gate meeting set for that night, but the girls and I were late getting to dinner, late finding a waitress, and very, very late being served, so we didn’t even get our food until after the meeting was well underway. Okay! So I ditched the Black Gate meeting! That was me! Am a BAD BLOG EDITRIX. Just ask anyone. On the other hand, Katie and I split a rare prime rib. So that was okay.
The autograph session was from 8-11. Most of that time Caitlyn and I spent in the Neil Gaiman signing line, with folks occasionally joining us for chats or cuts. Patty had a moment with Patrick Rothfuss (adorable details in her blog), and then had to lie down. As depicted in the picture. It was a fairly sociable time and I enjoyed myself, although next time perhaps I will go and talk to all the other authors first.
There were parties after this, but man, I tell ya. I was plumb tuckered. And I’m not the HARDIEST PARTY GIRL EVER. I did better on Saturday night, because I was DETERMINED to be more sociable. But that’s for Saturday night.
For now, I shall leave you imagining me going to bed boring and early. But believe me, I was one of the only ones who did.