Monday, November 10, 2003

WORLD FANTASY CONVENTION REPORT...sort of (nothing weird happened, so...)

World Fantasy Con 2003, in Washington D.C., for me, was about three things: spending time with my wonderful wife Ann, sightseeing; hanging out with an idiosyncratic, fun, always interesting group of people; and pimping the fake disease guide until I thought my own tongue was going to grow disgusted with me and escape my mouth, so as not to have to say "The New Yorker asked for review copies of the Guide" or "The Guide is being featured on the new hardcover fiction table in every Borders in the United States." The utter repetitive boredom of having to do the used car salesman routine for the first half of the con, while also organizing or helping organize the readings and other events, made me a mere shell of a VanderMeer.

From Borders reading (photo by huge stack of books; book featured in front window; Jay Lake in black goggles; my close friend and co-editor Mark Roberts' excellent bio introductions; Stepan Chapman's "in character" reading as a doctor, complete with stethescope) to con suite party reading (Alan M. Clark, Robert Wexler, Jay Lake), to autography party (pleasant sensation of wrist aching from volume of books to sign) to late night convention reading (where, too exhausted by it all to stay, I slipped in to take photos and then slipped out again, my tongue telling me, "I will leave you one day, Jeff, if you don't take a break. I will go away while you are not looking."), there were long blurs of time caused by the disease guide where my attention span was fragmented, shattered, recombined in sound bite-sized time slots.

Luckily, as the convention slouched closer and closer to the awards banquet, it became less about the disease guide and more about meeting interesting people. And throughout this time, Ann and I would slip away to do more sightseeing. A few things about D.C. struck us. One, there's an awful lot of construction work being done that tends to ruin the view. Two, it's a very walkable city. Three, it was definitely bittersweet visiting the capital of the U.S. with a fascist idiot in the White House, a point driven home at the National Archives, where the Declaration of Independence, Bill of Rights, and Louisiana Purchase were juxtaposed with a nattering nabob of a piece of legislature by George W. Bush. That Bush did not belong to the same lineage that had helped compose the great documents of our country could not have been better underlined if the Bush document had been written with a crayon.

Politics aside, we enjoyed ourselves. The Spy Museum, which I thought looked cheesy, but went to with Ann because she wanted to (and, frankly, she's always right, so now I've done away with the grumpy attitude because it always ends with me saying, "You know what--that was fun."), was…well, tons of fun. From an air duct you could crawl down to spy on other visitors (although I preferred to think of it as the air duct from Alien, just to make it more exciting), to the full array of spy toys, an exhibit on the history of spies in film and television, the Spy Museum was worth every penny. (Of special note, the copies of Prisoner novelizations written by Thomas Disch!)

The Lincoln memorial, with its etched excerpts from Lincoln's most famous speeches, was oddly more moving to me than the Vietnam memorial, whereas it was the exact opposite for Ann. Somehow, the black wall of names, although in their multitudes, rendered all of the dead anonymous to me, whereas the Lincoln memorial, with that oddly serene, almost giraffe-like rendering of Lincoln, flanked by his words, struck a chord.

The Smithsonian natural history museum and the Library of Congress were both somewhat disappointing--the British natural history museum and library in London are vastly superior--but the Smithsonian's bug museum, with its cross-sections of honeypot ants, and the gem sections were spectacular. The Library of Congress just did not have the kinds of exhibits we expected. We expected to see opened books under glass--famous and popular texts. Instead, we got an exhibit on Lewis & Clarke and the Wright brothers.

After these various perambulations, and in between them, we would return to the convention and immerse ourselves in the parties, and meeting people. Our own posse or group often consisted of (the truly fun and wonderful) Jason & Molly and Jeremy from Night Shade, Forrest Aguirre, Allen Ruch from the Modern Word (who posted truly inspired photos and captions here), Dan Read, Gabriel Mesa, Eric Schaller, Mark Roberts, K. J. Bishop, Michael Cisco, Robert Devereux (on the last day), Rudi Dornemann (one day), Allen's friend Christopher (who was kind enough to guide us around DC one night), Stepan & Kia Chapman, Sean Wallace, and Robert Wexler, with others slipping in and out. (I've probably forgotten someone, alas. Please do not wish me ill because of it.)

I wish I had freakish stories to relate to you, dear reader, but I do not. It was fun. It was hilarious at times. Mark Roberts' undulations with a certain hat were a highlight one night. As was a mutual admiration shouting match at an Irish pub over the subject of Nick Cave, with the effervescent Jeremy. (Now that I recall, I think we spent much of most of our evenings in an Irish pub…) Also great--talking politics and novel writing with the wonderful Paul Witcover, getting a chance to talk briefly to Kelly Link, Lou Anders, Jeff Ford, Jason Lundberg, Chris Roberson, John Picacio, Jim Minz, Christopher Rowe, Greg from Dreamhaven, Peter Cannon, Michael Walsh, Paul Barnett, Jonathan Strahan, Holly Black, Ms. Snyder (who loaned me more whiskey when my wife took my first cup and refused to relinquish it), Laura Anne Gilman, Ellen Datlow, Theodora Goss, Delia Sherman, (watch me name- check like a playah), Gavin Grant, (and still I will forget someone), Alan DeNiro and his wife Kristin Livdahl (we had a fun conversation about meerkats in fiction--she too has written of meerkats in a SF setting!). My attempt to turn to hard liquor due to being on the Atkin's Diet led to almost-tragedy one night as I attempted to drink seven scotches (Dan Read had found a scotch that was too damn smooth!; positive repercussion: no nerves when doing my well-attended individual reading the next morning--in fact, no nerves, no feeling in my extremities, no particular idea of where I was or might have been...). Hanging out in the bar with the funny and knowledgeable Lucius Shepard, Deborah Layne, and several others to watch football for a couple of hours created a nice cocoon of relaxation in between events, as did a lunch Ann and I had with the lovely and funny Juliet Ulman. The annual agent dinner, with the always charming and graceful Howard Morhaim, all of us replete in tuxedos or fancy dresses (I won't tell who was in which), was great as usual, as penguin-like as I felt throughout.

The awards banquet and ceremony went off without a hitch. Even the sharp shooting pain that flashed through my chest when City of Saints lost in the short story collection was quickly healed by winning in the anthology category, and the fact that my good friend Jeff Ford had won in the short story collection category. Although the high point of the convention, for me, was accepting Zoran Zivkovic's award on his behalf in the novella category. (And then rushing back to our hotel room with Ann, Kirsten Bishop, Michael Cisco, and others to email Zoran to let him know immediately.)

After the awards ceremony, we sat in the bar and drank Gabriel Mesa's excellent whiskey (although we had to keep the bottle under our chairs so the Bar Nazis wouldn't see it and kick us out) while smoking some great Nicaraguan cigars I had brought. To relax in that moment, drinking whiskey and smoking cigars was to relax utterly and forever. (And what a kick having Leslie What, among others, join us and light up!) Later, after another Irish pub experience, a group of us walked down to the famous giant obelisk in the dark, enjoying both the night and each other's company.

What else shall I report? That I have good friends. That it was a joy to see friends of ours who had not met each other before hit it off so well. That it was wonderful to see disease guides fly off the Night Shade table as if they were manna from heaven. That it was the simplest and most profound pleasure to just be walking around D.C. with my beautiful monosyllable Ann, with the trees beginning to change color, with the mallards bobbing serenely in the many ponds, with the scent of winter in the air.


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