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The 2007 World Fantasy Convention

November 1-4, 2007, Saratoga Springs, New York

Reviewed by Howard Andrew Jones

Copyright 2007 by New Epoch Press. All rights reserved.

Harrison For - er, Howard Andrew Jones and Eric Knight.
photo 2007 by E. E. Knight

John and I had a wonderful time at the World Fantasy Convention, but in addition to the good memories and the books, I seem also to have flown back with a mild bug: sore throat, headaches, low-grade fever. Blech. After teaching this morning, grading papers, and then teaching a night class this evening, I’m running a little low on energy and feeling a bit sluggish, thought-wise, but I’ll do my best to make my recap interesting. I hope you’ll forgive me if I’ve forgotten a name or three.

Eric Knight has a wonderful post about the convention that features some fabulous pictures of Saratoga Springs and the surrounding countryside. (There’s also a picture of me, although it looks a lot less like young Harrison Ford than I usually do. Normally we’re twins, I swear.) Saratoga Springs is a lovely little town — or at least the blocks around the convention center are — full of old buildings, well-maintained. There’s a lively night life full of bars and pubs where bands played and people gathered, and dozens of fine restaurants offering multiple cuisines lay either on the main street or just off of it. I was frequently walking back to the hotel from the convention center late at night, and the streets still felt safe.

My plane landed in Albany after John O’Neill’s on Thursday, right after noon. John passed the time lunching with folks who were waiting for the shuttle to the convention, including Twilight Tales’ Tina Jens, Thomas Jay Lewis, the marvelously-named Kat Feete, and Dan Zlotnikov. When I landed we hopped the bus to Saratoga Springs and headed straight for the dealer room.

There we had confirmation that, thanks to the Herculean efforts of the volunteer convention staff, a copy of Black Gate had, indeed, found its way into every attendee bag at the convention — all 1140 — and John and I set up shop at our table, proudly displaying all eleven issues of the magazine. Tina Jens joined us a little later, although her stock didn’t show up until the next day. All around us were booksellers and other small-press outfits displaying treasures. John was dying to lay hands on a first edition of H. P. Lovecraft’s The Outsider and Others, the first book Arkham House ever published, but didn’t want to have to mortgage his house to purchase it, so had to pass. It was worth four or six thousand dollars, I forget which. Far more than I’ve ever paid for a book!

Mark Kelly, Judith Berman, and F. Brett Cox.
photo © 2007 by Scott Edelman

From Thursday to Saturday each day was similar: we worked the table in the dealer room from 11-6, went out to dinner, then came back to swing through the various parties or attend panels. Mostly we went to parties.

Meeting Black Gate writers, contributors, submitters, and readers is one of the best things about any convention and it was no exception at WFC. We met new authors interested in working with Black Gate, put faces with some who we’d corresponded with online, and got to spend more time with others we’d met at previous conventions.

It was great to see so many Black Gate writers — including Judith Berman, Jay Lake, Karen Jordan Allen, Richard Bowes, Steve Carper, Amy Sterling Casil, David B. Coe, F. Brett Cox, Charles Coleman Finlay, Jeffrey Ford, Ellen Klages, and Darrell Schweitzer. Even some writers whose works are still upcoming made an appearance, like Frederic S. Durbin, E. E. Knight, Renee Stern, and Amy Tibbetts. It reminded us just how many people Black Gate has published over the years. At times hanging out in the booth felt like one big reunion.

It was also great to meet up with some of the familiar faces we’ve gotten to know at various conventions over the years, like smiling David J. Willoughby, a terrific fan who helped cover the Black Gate booth for John when he worked the early cons solo. John finally got a chance to introduce me to W. Paul Ganley, esteemed editor of Weirdbook, which John credits for being the original inspiration for Black Gate, and SF Site editor (and WFC awards presenter) Rodger Turner. John also chased after Lee Modesitt, Jr. and Alan Dean Foster to autograph books for his son Tim, who is twelve and becoming a stalwart SF fan.

We met authors we’d love to publish in Black Gate — including Bruce Taylor, Catherynne M. Valente, Alexandra Honigsberg, Scott Edelman (check out all of his WFC 2007 photos here), Marie Brennan, Daniel Archambault, Sarah Monette, Jana Paniccia, Tiffany Trent, Josh Rountree, and the altogether charming Heidi Cyr. Heidi slipped a signed copy of her chapbook X and Y onto the table, and it turned out to be John’s preferred reading material for his long trip back to Black Gate‘s rooftop headquarters (before it was stolen and read by Tim when he got home).

Authors weren’t the only people we met. Regular reviewer Charlene Brusso came by, and we finally connected with some of our regular letter-writers, including Gabriel Dybing, Nicholas Ozment, Frederic S. Durbin (again!), and Michael Tresca. They proved to be great fun to hang around with at the parties, and Nicholas even shared a copy of his own recent publication, Ozment’s HOUSE OF TWILIGHT. I didn’t get to see a copy, but John reports that he’s impressed with it, and recommends you check it out.

As enjoyable as it is to chat with folks who swing by the booth, we were there to sell magazines. Consequently anyone who lingered too long was pressed into service at the booth. This included Judith Berman, sharp-dresser Ted Chiang, Meg Turville-Heitz, Jeffrey Ford, JoSelle Vanderhooft, Rhona Westbook, and future contributor Renee Stern. I got to speak with the talented JoSelle at length, and had multiple talks with the energetic Rhona. I wish I had even half her moxie. I’d met Judith before, but as we got to know each other better I saw more and more of her sly sense of humor. Renee and I traded Star Trek and zeppelin anecdotes.

Dave Willoughby.
photo © 2007 by Scott Edelman

A few people we’ve been corresponding with dropped by as well, and it was good to connect a live face with a flickering on-screen persona. This includes writer Matthew Hughes, Clarkesworld Books mastermind Neil Clarke, and author and editor Kelly Link. Kelly complimented John on his editorials, saying they were “unusual page turners.” John’s ego noticeably swelled and he was annoying to be around for about two hours.

I’d met Paradox editor Christopher M. Cevasco at the Madison World Fantasy con, and F&SF slush reader John Joseph Adams at Austin, and it was a pleasure speaking with both of them again. I met Realms of Fantasy Magazine Assistant Editor Douglas Cohen and swapped favorite Sword-and-Sorcery titles with him, and spoke at length with Inter-Galactic Medicine Show Editor Edmund Schubert. He suggested that all us editor types should get together at a coming con and trade notes and tips: a fine idea, sez I, and began working on secret handshakes for the meeting.

Outside the dealer’s room, John and I had a chance to hook up with some of the friends we’ve made at WFC over the years, including dark fantasy writer Laird Barron, Night Shade publisher and ubercool guy Jeremy Lassen, Locus online maestro Mark R. Kelly, F&SF editor and industry guru Gordon Van Gelder, Tor editor David G. Hartwell, Shimmer magazine Art Director Mary Robinette Kowal, Wheatland Press publisher and editor Deborah Layne, short story author Tempest, and many others. You couldn’t throw a rock in the halls at WFC without it hitting someone you wanted to meet, and then rebounding off two people looking for you.

One of the people we actively sought out was Prime publisher Sean Wallace, whom we chatted with about possible anthology projects. Sean is one of the most business-savvy guys in the industry, and it was great to get his insight on the state of the industry, including what’s selling and what’s not. Another was William Jones, publisher and editor of Dark Wisdom magazine, who has built his small-press magazine into a staggering success story.

Even with all the big names who came by the booth, John and I are big enough fans that we made a special effort to reach out to certain authors. It was great to finally meet people like George R. R. Martin, Gene Wolfe, Tim Powers, Carol Emshwiller, and especially Alan Dean Foster, who stopped and chatted vintage Star Trek books with us. When I was young Alan Dean Foster was one of the first writers whose works I actively sought out, and he kindly talked with me at length when I asked him some technique questions. Especially exciting for us both was meeting the reclusive Michael Shea at the autograph session. John ran all the way back to the dealer’s room to get a copy of Black Gate to press into Michael’s hands, and when Michael came by the booth the next day to say that he was impressed with what he’d read and was considering finishing a Nift the Lean story for us, it made the whole convention worthwhile.

Dinner and lunch is always a social event at these conventions, especially if you know the right people. The right people in this case were Tina Jens, E. E. Knight and Judith Berman, and we tagged along with them to terrific food with the likes of authors Laura Anne Gilman, Paul Witcover, and Bruce Taylor, comic artist Roberta Gregory, publisher Ron Drummond, talkative Martel Sardina, Chicago booksellers Katie Redding and Claire Cooney, and many others.

After dinner there were often late-night panels, parties, and music. There was even some dancing, courtesy of Katie and Claire, who dressed in elegant Renaissance garb and danced in the lobby. In particular, John says he’ll remember Claire’s off-the-cuff reading of her ode to Beowulf for a very long time.

This is only my third year at the World Fantasy Con, but it may be my favorite year yet — although I did enjoy the topics of last year’s panels more. Certainly I saw some of my favorite art pieces yet at this con. John and I took notes about art we wanted to investigate for covers, and even made arrangements with the talented Bill O’Connor to purchase one of his originals for a forthcoming cover. Small world that it is, Bill is close friends with artist Jim Pavelec, who’s already done some fabulous interior work for the magazine, and Jim is close with one of my very best friends, Eric Knight. Eric’s just a grand fellow, and is very giving of time and energy. It’s been a real pleasure seeing his career take off. It couldn’t happen to a nicer guy and I’m sure even bigger things are on the horizon for him. His wife Stephanie’s great too. She and I have similar senses of humor. Several times over the course of the con we’d see or hear something and it would only take the arch of an eyebrow on my part or hers to set us both chuckling. I wish I got to see both of them more often.

John O’Neill, too, is giving of his time and energy, and, like Eric, is extremely generous. Both men are gallant: John will often swoop in at just the right moment to say or do the right thing, whether it be throwing a few bucks down for a talented (and cold) street musician, or encouraging shy young writers, or buying hungry managing editors and authors dinner. When we encountered someone in a motorized wheelchair whose wheels were caught on some long plastic strips (I think they were tree guards; whatever they were they were all stretched out, like those old Hot Wheels race tracks) Eric immediately leapt to aid the man’s friends help him “unstick” while my addled brain was still registering exactly what was going on.

In short, I’m lucky to have such good people as best friends.

John O’Neill and Frederic Durbin.
photo © 2007 by Scott Edelman

I meant to attend more panels, but time got away from me. I was in the bar (where, incidentally, more deals tend to take place than anywhere else) talking with REH guru Mark Finn, writer and publisher Chris Roberson, and a sharp pulp expert whose name has unfortunately escaped me, and was having such a great time that I completely forgot about the one panel I’d really been looking forward to attending, one on the Ballantine Adult Fantasy series. Ah well. I got pulled out of that conversation to talk with Del Rey’s Liz Scheier, who proved vivacious and witty company. She put me so at ease I almost forgot to pitch my novel to her. I never did manage to find Mark again, though I looked around for him — I love talking heroic fiction and Robert E. Howard and had plenty more to say.

I did make it to two panels. I ended up moderating a panel on psychic detectives. Seems like whenever I’m on a panel David Drake’s on it too; he’s always gracious and kind to me. He spoke with authority on Manly Wade Wellman’s contributions to the genre. Along with David Drake were other heavyweights; Kim Newman, Robert J. Sawyer, and publisher Barbara Roden.

The other panel was one of the last functions I managed to attend (unless I count the informal and fascinating roundtable with Jeremy Lassen late Saturday night in the hallway, where he held the attention of John and myself and others with fascinating publishing anecdotes and tips for most of an hour). I was pretty zoned by late Saturday night and, I now realize, in the first stages of the illness I brought back with me. Still, the panel on Small Press and Independent Publishers held my interest, and gave Edmund Schubert and myself another chance to compare notes in the time before and after.

I left for the airport early Sunday morning and shared a cab with Daniel Archambault and Elizabeth Bunce. We talked both in the cab and at the airport. Elizabeth ended up flying on the same plane as myself, so we talked at length about publishing and writing theory as we waited in the chilly departure lobby. Her first YA novel, a fantasy historical titled A Curse Dark as Gold, is coming in March of 2008.

I was home by 5:30. I am so used to seeing my lovely wife as a blonde that I was momentarily surprised when a shapely redhead threw herself into my arms. She’s actually been a redhead now for a couple of months, but she’s been a blonde since I met her in 1990, and I’m used to thinking of her with the one hair shade, not the other.

I started this note Monday night and it is now Wednesday. I should delay for a bit longer and add a bunch of links, but that will take even longer, and I have things to do. I’ll try to get to that later.

Soon I’ll post on a great historical fiction book I read on the plane, and on some swell noir-related news, but I’d better get busy on some editing and writing.

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