A Weekend at the World Fantasy Convention

Amongst the various conventions I’ve attended over the past few years, World Fantasy was an unusual one. There were no cosplayers, no fan panels, no Masquerade. In the dealers’ room, only books and a few pieces of jewelry lined the tables– no massive displays of T-shirts, or board games, or steampunk regalia. World Fantasy’s focus is squarely on the world of speculative fiction literature. There are no superheroes here, unless you count the writers, editors, and publishers responsible for a sizable chunk of the sci-fi and fantasy books out there today.

So there are no stormtroopers wandering the hallways… big deal. Where else can you stand amongst a small crowd and watch Brandon Sanderson and Patrick Rothfuss shoot the shit while coming up with dream projects? Or chat one-on-one with L.E. Modesitt Jr. for fifteen minutes at the hotel bar? (That actually happened.) Sure, some folks who are there are more famous than others, but ultimately, everyone who attends World Fantasy has one thing in common– a love of speculative fiction, and of telling and reading fantastic stories. And that’s really the important thing, as I found out over and over again.

Like at any convention, there were author panels and readings. The panels that I went to were good ones, well-attended and often diving more in depth than the writing panels at other conventions I’ve seen. I attended a few panels on fantasy archetypes (including the eternal wanderer and the changeling), one on fantasy mapmaking, and several readings, all of which were extremely good. (David Levine’s impression of a mad scientist stands out in particular amongst the readings.) And– a highlight of the con for me– I got to do a reading of my own. On Friday night I signed up for the flash fiction readings, in which 18 different writers read over the course of the hour, and I read The Taste of Failure, my story from Flush Fiction. It was my third time reading the story for an audience, and each time my delivery improves (in my opinion). It went over well, and got a good laugh from the audience. I enjoy reading out loud more and more every time I do it.

In the end, though, WFC wasn’t about the programming. At least, it wasn’t for me. It was about spending time with friends, and folks with common interests and obsessions, not even necessarily talking about literature– mostly just hanging out and chatting over meals, drinks, or for no particular reason at all. The room parties were fun, if occasionally a bit crowded– at times the size of the crowd made me lock up in full-introvert mode– but all in all, it was fun. I hung out at the bar plenty (highlights included a Star Wars geek out with Andy Romine and Aliette de Boddard, and a long chat with James L. Sutter), saw some old friends who I hadn’t seen in a long time, and met plenty of new ones.

My only major complaint about the con was the location, about half an hour’s drive outside of Toronto, which I would describe as “urban congestion, without the urban convenience.” Lots of construction and closed sidewalks in the area made crossing streets (for example, to get to restaurants or other hotels) nothing short of an ordeal. All of the interesting Toronto attractions were far away– which may have been part of the point, as it kept the focus on the con, but it was still kind of disappointing.

Luckily there was a well-stocked con suite, which served meals and drinks and generally kept me fueled on caffeine and snacks throughout the day. In fact, all in all, the con was fairly well-run: the dealers’ room was well-organized and laid out, the con suite was excellent, and the programming was good (although some of the panels were repetitive). There were some flaws– handicapped access at the hotel was terrible, and often nonexistent; there were only two elevators in the whole building that led all the way up to the tenth floor (where the con suite and all the room parties were); and at one point a funeral reception was held in an area of the hotel that essentially divided the con in two. There was a little suburban mall with a tiny food court attached to the hotel, which ostensibly provided some eating options, but was mostly just creepy whenever I walked through it, with most of the stores closed and the halls generally empty.

All my nitpicks were minor, though. In the end, this con was one of my favorites that I’ve ever been to, mostly just because I got to hang out with and talk to so many awesome people, both old friends and new ones. That alone made the trip worth it, and it reinforced to me why I love the writing community so much, and why I want to be a part of it. (Pic to the left is me and Folly Blaine, con roommate and former writing group compatriot.)

For those who are interested, here’s my full WFC photo set. There aren’t many pictures, just a few of readings, friends, and the like. To everyone who was there, thanks for making WFC awesome.

And now, it’s time to get back to writing.