On World Fantasy Convention 2014


World Fantasy Con is over.  I’m home.  I’m alive.  I’m back to the life of a grad student and adjunct faculty, with a side of writing.  And these are my mystical thoughts on the whole experience:

I began my journey in the fashion of a handrail used by a string of infected boat passengers.  On Tuesday, I started feeling a cold coming on, and I frantically chowed down Vitamin C and everything else I could find to stifle the monster growing within me.  Alas, the cold was up to the task and settled in by Wednesday morning, leaving me so wiped by Thursday that I had to cancel class in order to get a lot of rest before the 2-hour drive to Jacksonville and the 2-hour flight to Arlington.  My flight was delayed by almost 3 hours, leaving me in an uncomfortable airport with death dribbling from my nostrils.  The flight itself was terrible for the simple reason that sinus pressure + plane cabin pressure = a terrible combination.  By the time I got to Arlington, I was completely wiped.  Thankfully, I started feeling better by Friday, though spent most of that day (the 1st day of my WFC experience) napping.

I also, thankfully, had the venerable Max Gladstone as a roommate — something which I would repeat again if we were ever at a con together and wanted to save money.  He’s a pretty awesome guy, so getting to have morning chats with him certainly got my days off to a good start.  Also:  the rooms at the Marriot were basically studio apartments, which were surprisingly cheap.  It certainly made rooming a much more comfortable experience.

Despite beginning the convention as a plagued, sniffling monster, I thoroughly enjoyed WFC.  I must admit that I missed all of the panels, which I blame on being sick and on taking the opportunity to check out D.C. (for the first time) with Arley Sorg and James Bradley (a good reason, after all).  I was told before I even signed up for WFC that this particular con was more social than con-y.  That’s certainly what I took away from the experience.  There was so much chatting, hanging out, networking, and social silliness going on at WFC that I can completely understand the exhaustion many felt by Sunday afternoon (my exhaustion came in a different form, as I usually find myself very much becoming a little social butterfly at these things — a new thing for me, as I’ve only recently become a “con-goer”; being sick takes a bit of that away).

On Friday, I joined Alyc Helms’ posse of dramatic readers, in which I played Ms. Wu, a Chinese tea lady who is secretly a hungry demon.  Laughs were had, not just because of me (duh); the chapter from her upcoming novel, The Dragons of Heaven, was quite hilarious, and the various other cast members, including former Angry Robot editor Lee Harris, put on a good show.  It was easily one of the most exciting readings I’d been to, and it gave me some great ideas for ways to conduct readings in the future.

On Saturday, I read from my short story entitled “Sublight Smiles.”  A handful of people were in attendance, which was lovely.  My Nook decided to crash two paragraphs from the end, which is a reminder that one should not rely on technology for such things.  Overall, I think the reading went well; it was my first real reading, and I suspect it won’t be my last.

On Sunday, I somehow managed to snag a ticket to the banquet partially on the basis of looking rather sharp and spiffy in a sweater vest and tie.  I hadn’t planned to attend the banquet for financial reasons ($65 = gah), but I’m thankful I did because I got to sit at a table with Scott Edelman and Jamie Todd Rubin.  Jamie and I had a great conversation about writing over our meals (I had a delicious salmon for the main course, and an even more delicious chocolate tart for dessert — omg, the tart…OMG!).  The Awards ceremony was pleasantly short.  Mary Robinette Kowal told one of the most hilarious marionette stories I have ever heard.  It involved costume malfunctions and penis swords, but I won’t tell you the story because there’s no way to do it any justice.  Just ask Mary.  The winners were a pleasant surprise, too.  Sofia Samatar received the Best Novel award, which made me happy on so many levels.  A Stranger in Olondria is an exceptional book, so it’s nice to see it getting recognition.  Neil Clarke, Kate Baker, and Sean Wallace pulled in a Lovecraft bust for Clarkesworld, Andy Duncan & Ellen Klages won for Best Novella, and so on and so forth.  A lovely evening was had by all.

Well, maybe not all.  Sofia took the opportunity to mention the controversy surrounding Lovecraft’s bust.  Her acceptance speech could be summed up as “I am thankful for the recognition, but as a woman of color, I feel awkward accepting an award with this man’s head on it.”  She, of course, has a point, so I’m glad the con organizers saw fit to announce that they are thinking about what to do with the award bust.  My hope is that they’ll shift it to something more inclusive; I don’t see a point in using a person’s head for an award in a genre includes so many people from so many places — no matter their importance.

That basically concludes what I was up to at the convention in a sort of official capacity.  The real highlight of the convention, though, was meeting old friends and making new ones.  I met up with fellow podcasters Mike Underwood and Stina Leicht, enjoyed catching up with Arley Sorg, Michael Martinez, Natalie Luhrs, Amy Sundberg, Fran Wilde, Myke Cole, and Carrie Patel.  I met all sorts of people, too:  Chadwick Ginther, Crystal Huff, Scott H. Andrews, Nina Niskanen, Melanie R. Meadors, Marco Palmieri, Django Wexler, Jeff Patterson, Courtney Schafer, Shaima Nasiri, Joe Monti, Meghan O’Keefe, Joey Hewitt, Sunny Moraine, Sofia Samatar, Wes Chu, Casey Blair, Doug Hulick, Garth Nix, Stefon Mears, Connie Codington, David Levine, Chuck Gannon, and about a bazillion others.  I even met Dominick D’Aunno, an astronaut doctor (or doctor who works on astronauts), which was super cool.  If I’ve forgotten a name here, it’s not personal.  I just met so many bloody people!

WFC was an enormously welcoming environment, too.  I met so many people and never felt as though I didn’t belong.  That’s pretty important.  There’s so much hostility on Twitter and the blogosphere; one would think that’s what sf/f is like all the time just by paying attention to those spaces.  But it isn’t.  It’s warm and lovely, generally speaking, and the idea that a guy like me, who has frequent bouts of impostor syndrome, can waltz into that place and be welcomed without question is truly a wonderful thing.  Plus, some folks actually recognized me as the Skiffy and Fanty guy!  So cool!

One thing I came away with after the con was a desire to actually write a novel.  Every con I’ve been to this year has had someone ask me “so are you a writer.”  And every time, I say “sorta.”  It’s stupid, but I always have this weird feeling of inadequacy as a writer because I just don’t write enough.  All these folks are working on novels (or releasing new ones), and here I am piddling away a little bit each year, but nothing of real consequence.  Am I really a writer?  Yes.  I am.  And I should be a better one.  Having talked with a number of writers at WFC about their processes and their struggles, I realized that I really need to find a way to carve out time for writing a novel.  In fact, I need to find a better way to manage all of my time, because I am terrible at it.  This post alone took me hours to write, even though it’s not a tremendously complex piece.  I have a tendency to space out, to wander, or to get stuck on other things, or to procrastinate altogether.  And that sucks up so much of my time that it’s no wonder I never get finished with my grading or academic work.  So what I need to do is carve out a proper schedule for all of my things.  Writing, grading, academia, blogging, reading, movies/TV, and playing with the cat. (OK, the last one isn’t my choice; he decides when we play.)  Maybe that will help me get things done.  Maybe.

As for my trip to D.C.:  it was awesome.  I’d never been before, so getting the opportunity to check out the Washington Monument, the Vietnam War Memorial, the National Gallery, the reflecting pool, the WW2 Memorial, the White House, and Abe Lincoln’s oversized statue hands was a one-of-a-kind experience.  The National Gallery was easily my favorite because it had an enormous number of Claude Monet’s paintings, including two of his Rouen Cathedrals and one of his Houses of Parliament.  I may have squeed uncontrollably at one point.  The gallery had a lot of other incredible works, too, so if you ever get a chance to go, you really should.  But I am such a huge Monet fan that seeing some of those paintings in the flesh was amazing.

I also had some solid food while I was there.  There was a great Ethopian restaurant near the hotel (a style of food I’ve never had) and a superb Italian restaurant.  D.C. proper had some excellent food trucks.  I did my best to enjoy me some food 🙂

Lastly, a little sappy stuff:  Having never been to the nation’s capital, it was pretty inspiring to be among the monuments.  I can see why so many people view it with patriotic goggles, because it has this uncanny effect of making one think about the promise of the United States — all those things they made us believe and learn as kids, but which we start to discard as we get older (well, I did, at least).  Being reminded of people like Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King, Jr. and so many flawed, but beautiful humans from the past who took a stand for a better world also reminded me of this nation’s potential.  Call me naive and stupid, but I really loved that feeling.

All in all, I mark the trip as a success.

Now back to work!

About the Author:

Shaun Duke is an aspiring writer, a reviewer, and an academic. He is currently an Assistant Professor of Digital Rhetoric and Writing at Bemidji State University. He received his PhD in English from the University of Florida and studies science fiction, postcolonialism, digital fan cultures, and digital rhetoric.

2 thoughts on “On World Fantasy Convention 2014

  1. Thanks for the recap. Sounds like an awesome time and like the event is as I've heard others describe it: a great setting to hang out with SFF people and make new friends. I'm planning to attend next year, so hopefully I'll see you there!

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