SMOKING BUNNIES: WORLD FANTASY 2005
UPDATE 11/16: Photos now posted here. Check 'em out.
Note: I might add stuff to this as I remember more. I'll re-post if so.
"I remember that people asked me a lot in 2005--why a smoking bunny? Why photographs? I told them I didn't know. But look at me now." - Jeff VanderMeer, 2050, in an interview with Smoking Bunny Nation
The 2005 World Fantasy Convention was an oddly fragmented experience for me, because I'd set up so many meetings with people beforehand. So I was continually leaving to go to some breakfast/lunch/dinner or returning, and thus coming in on and leaving conversations in the bar and on the sixth floor (party central) so that I tended to float over the top of things. Like, walking into a party late Friday night to find Alan DeNiro dancing in a wig (well, he was wearing clothes, too). How had this come to be? Why was he so fucking happy? And what was with the big gloating grin on Matt Cheney's face? And who was the guy in the chair giggling? Okay, so maybe that was Nick Mamatas, and maybe he was giggling because he's just a twee kind of guy. (Meanwhile, lurking in the shrubbery, that shadowy figure in the dark blazer—that was Sean Wallace, I was pretty sure. And that Devil gibbering and drinking and calling me "Vanderthing," that had to be the notorious Jay Caselberg.)
The main point being, Ann and I generally hadn't had as much alcohol as those we were joining and had missed whole long conversations about venom cocks and twee anthologies, among other things. However, everywhere we went, we brought with us the Smoking Bunnies. And not just any Smoking Bunnies: The Pimp Daddy Godfather Disco Inferno Collectors' Edition. This tended to help us catch up for some reason.
Still, I pretty much remember the convention as a series of events rather than a continuous narrative—all framed by Ann's car accident.
The night before we left for Madison, Ann was in a very bad car accident. She turned left against three lanes of traffic. Two had stopped and waved her on. In the third, a car came speeding through and hit her in the side. T-boned her, a term we'd never heard before but we heard about fifty times over the next few days. ("Oh—yeah, I got t-boned once." "Yeah—you got t-boned." "Oh. T-boned. That's tough." "T-bone." "T-bone." I was seeing the word in my sleep. I'm sure Ann was, too.) The car completely caved in—totaled and thrown forward into a decorative pond outside of the drycleaners Ann was trying to get to. She was knocked unconscious and when she came to, the police and emergency medical personnel had arrived at the scene. She called me, scaring the shit out of me, and I drove over as quickly as possible. When I saw the car, I just about lost it because it didn't look like anyone could have survived the accident. But then I saw Ann on the protective stretcher next to the car and could see that she wasn't bleeding and seemed to be talking to the police.
In fact, she was basically telling them, "I don't have time for this shit—I've got to be in Madison tomorrow for the International Horror Guild Awards." I don't know if this made the paramedics believe she was less or more lucid than when they first pulled her out of the car. Making it worse, they asked her basic questions like what day it was and who the president of the United States was. Instead of answering the second question, Ann just grimaced, so they had to repeat it, "Who is the president of the United States?" At which point I said, "She knows who he is, she just isn't fond of him."
After she got checked out at the hospital and they found that she was bruised and banged up but had no internal injuries or broken bones, I took her home and told her we should just cancel the trip so she could rest up. But she wasn't buying that. "I'm going to be just as sore and messed up here as in Madison, so I might as well go to Madison and try to have some fun." I knew she really didn't want to miss the IHG Awards ceremony, since she was supposed to say a few words about Gahan Wilson, the living legend award winner and help out in general, as well as see some old friends. And it didn't really make sense for her to stay at home, since lying down made the pain worse.
So we loaded up on painkillers and went to Madison anyway. I had to make sure to ask Ann how she was doing several times a day because she has a high pain threshold and is often too tough for her own good. (If I seemed distracted sometimes, it's because I was, with good reason!)
We're both glad we went—we had such a good time. And Madison is a great city.
I know I'm not going to mention everybody and I apologize in advance for that (just no time to do a long report), but the things I remember most are:
* Surprising Jim Minz Thursday afternoon as he was unloading booze from his car by stepping in front of his assigned helper and taking the box from Jim.
* Breakfast with Rusty Morrison & Ken Keegan of Omnidawn Press and Eric & Kelly from Rain Taxi at a breakfast place called Marigold's. They're all such great people, and the food was wonderful.
* Playing pool with Juliet and Anne from Bantam. My Ann was hurting from laughing so much—laughing was hell on her ribs, but, as she said later, worth it. We went to this place called Cuenique, which I was calling Cuetical by mistake, which might be why it took so long to find. Everyone played well, but Juliet, despite not playing for awhile had an uncanny precision in figuring out the angles—I could see her doing the geometry in her head. Which is kind of how she is as an editor—sharp, sharp, sharp!
* Ann moderating the relationship between reader and writer panel. You could tell that the panelists thought they were tanking in places, even though they were all giving incredibly interesting answers. I thought this was one of the strongest panels of the convention, but sometimes what's strong to the people attending can be an endurance test for the panelists, because the topic is one for which answers cannot always be easily articulated.
* Forrest Aguirre leading a group of us on a tour of Madison Friday night. Our group included Mark Kelly, Rajan Khanna, Rajan's friend Gigi, Trevor Stafford, Deborah Biancotti, Matt Cheney, Liz Gorinsky, Rusty Morrison, Ken Keegan, Kameron Hurley, Kameron's friend Jenn, Tina Anghelatos and her partner Charley, and probably a few I'm forgetting momentarily (forgive me). One of the funniest things was entering the student union and smelling a rather bizarre smell that I hadn't experienced before. Turned out it was pot mixed with popcorn, since both substances were prevalent there. Forrest was a great guide—telling us all about The Onion and how that august publication used to get its writing done. Specifically, by gathering together as many caffeinated beverages the night before the deadline, then drinking them until four in the morning. At four in the morning, they'd start writing and not stop until their noon deadline. We also peeked into a cheese shop that had hats made of cheese. You could even get a bust of yourself done, carved from a huge block of cheddar cheese.
* A reader coming up to me after a panel and telling me he disagreed with my blog comments dissing George R.R. Martin's work. "What comments?" I said. "Sand Kings kicked ass and was a major influence. I haven't read the fantasy novels but I hear they're good heroic fantasy." "Oh—well, I heard on some message board you were dissing Martin's work." "Not true," I said. Mind you, this guy was polite. Just repeating something bogus. (Reminded me of some quote attributed to Paul Di Filippo about how if I know a writer I can't read their work because I heard their voice in my head. Also not true. Only holds true for one or two writers.)
* Sitting next to Al Duncan at the autograph session Friday night and realizing glumly that his schedule and mine were probably going to be so divergent this was the only time I was going to get to talk to him, and me about as low-energy as I would be the whole convention.
* Sitting down at the table for dinner with my agent, with Stephen R. Donaldson opposite me, and realizing the fly on my tux had been open the whole way from the hotel to the restaurant—in the middle of a downpour—and immediately hoping that it wouldn't be obvious in the photo Beth Gwinn had taken of all of us for Locus. And, before that, watching Ann get complimented again and again on her amazing sea-green dress, with train, her not caring at all about all those poor green-blue bruises on her arms. And, later, Jeff Ford making me, Jonathan Strahan, Ann, John, and Beth Gwinn bust a gut (and busting me on my nonfiction collection) and just generally cracking us up during the whole dinner. Later still, smoking a few good Cubans with my agent and Jeff. Latest, sitting down with Cat Valente, Nick, Matt, Eliana, and a couple hundred others, and listening to Matt explain "twee."
* Peter Straub and Graham Joyce having a great time emceeing the International Horror Guild Awards—the two of them were a laugh riot. And seeing Ann up there doing her thing, including show a bit of leg for the Locus photographers. I also really enjoyed Daniel Abraham's win. He's a great writer and he's a genuinely nice human being. Not to mention being thrilled that A Serious Life from Savoy Books won in the nonfiction category. I was also thrilled Lucius Shepard's Viator won and Brian Evenson's The Wavering Knife. I thought The Wavering Knife not being up for a World Fantasy Award was a major oversight in the best collection category, so was doubly glad it won the IHG Award. The anthology Acquainted With the Night winning multiple awards made me want to pick it up and see what all the fuss was about.
* The sweet brevity of Carol Emshwiller's lifetime achievement award speech ("I was happy before I won this. Now I'm even happier." [sic]) contrasted to the poignant length of John Picacio's speech. John's speech, in which he talked at length about each of the other finalists and their many virtues, really touched a lot of people in the audience. It may be the best speech I've yet heard at one of these things.
* Among many fine conversations at the Bantam table at the WF award ceremony, I really enjoyed talking to novelist Marina Fitch about characters and story structure. I haven't read any of her work, I hate to confess, but will now seek it out.
* Moderating the Fantasy on the Edges panel, just because there was such a wealth of talent among the panelists: Graham Joyce, Kelly Link, Patrick O'Leary, Carol Emshwiller, and Matt Cheney. That's a Dream Team as far as I'm concerned. I also really enjoyed coming up with fake bios for the panelists, since I'd decided we'd eschew the normal introductions as being boring and usual. Although Graham did start when I introduced him as "A previously unpublished author currently shopping a novel around, and a priest in the Anglican church." (I did feel sorry for Carol Emshwiller, who came in late and looked very bewildered when I introduced her as "An ex-boxer and pro wrestler who once did color commentary with Howard Cosell.")
This was one of those hour-and-a-half panels, starting at four in the afternoon. Except for Patrick, I think all of the panelists were tired, too, and about half-way through I was worried it had started to drag. But everyone who attended seemed to really enjoy it. I don't know if we accomplished anything, but we didn't devolve into talking about marketing or bemoaning the SF/F ghetto or any general whining. Most importantly, we didn't start any new movements. Nor did we invoke the terms "Slipstream," "New Weird," or "Interstitial" at any time during the hour and a half. That, my friends, is what I call a startling achievement. (I've already talked about the Aussie panel in a previous blog entry.)
* Lunch with the SF Site crew, including Rodger Turner, who shared quite a few interesting stories, even one about my agent! I don't know if people understand the kind of commitment it takes for a website like SF Site to put out issue after issue every two weeks, with clockwork precision. It takes someone like Rodger, for one thing.
* Meeting Kameron Hurley and realizing that her Brutal Woman persona is much more severe than her real-life persona, and having a nice, relaxing breakfast with her.
* Meeting Nick Mamatas and realizing again that he's about as harmless as a purring kitten in person. And just about as cute.
* Talking crap with Otto from Realms of Fantasy books. Otto cracks me up. He's always finding ways to take the piss out of me, like telling me Prime just sold him 30 copies of the City of Saints hardcover when it's contractually supposed to be out-of-print. Very funny, Otto. And just in general, doing the rounds of the dealer's room and picking up books and talking to the dealers. I love the dealer's room. I love talking to booksellers. But that Otto—don't trust that guy. He was marking up a Tartarus Press book up from $50 to $400 when I first saw him. (Actually, I can't think of a better guy to buy a book from.)
* Having a chance to finally sit down and talk to my editor Liz Gorinsky at Tor. Liz is so knowledgeable on music, theater, graphic novels, and books that it was a delight. She's also a great editor and a genuinely nice person. I think you're going to be hearing her name a lot more over the next few years.
* Getting Jason Williams from Night Shade Books to join me on a trip to get a cigar cutter and lighter down on State Street and just shooting the shit about publishing and remembering the bad old days when we were selling the crap out of the Night Shade edition of the disease guide. I like Jason because I can talk normal around him—which is to say, with all the fucking curse words left in.
* Breakfast with Cheryl Morgan at a little coffee house called Michelangelo's. Cheryl is an interesting conversationalist and we talked about a lot of different things, from Emerald City to politics. I know a lot of people think of Cheryl in terms of genre fiction and her interaction with it, but she's knowledgeable on a broad range of subjects and I always come away from talking to her energized. I enjoy the hell out of her.
* The briskness of the weather, the orange-yellow-brown of the leaves—such a relief after the summer of hell in Tallahassee. We genuinely enjoyed the cold weather, delighted in it, in fact.
* In general, the reactions of people upon being asked to hold a smoking bunny and while I took their photos. (And where are those photos? To be posted shortly...)
I'm sure more will occur to me later, but, for now, that's World Fantasy 2005...a wholly fragmented, fragmentary experience for me that bears no real relationship to what actually went on. At the end of it, we were, of course exhausted. We shared a plane part of the way back with Lou Anders of Pyr Press, and neither of us was able to do more than grunt a few words at each other between periods of semi-consciousness.
Luckily, Ann's injuries have gotten better and it looks like the only permanent damage is to the car, which we need to replace. All I can say is, Ann's a lot tougher than I am. Tiny but fierce, as I like to say.