World Fantasy Winding Down

The convention was pleasant, though somewhat abbreviated for me since I didn’t arrive until Friday night, having missed the first day and a half of the con. Though I’m still not certain what the lure was of the Tempe location, the immediate area was pleasant enough, an off-campus area of shops and crowded restaurants, such as My Big Fat Greek Restaurant, where a group of us including Marina Fitch and Mark Budz and an ever-expanding group of friends and friends of friends, including Cecelia Holland and Isabel Glass, had dinner last night… And the weather was very nice, sunny and mild and almost warm. The hotel, the Mission Palms, was ideal, a four-storey rectangular building with a large central courtyard of paths and grassy areas, perfect for mingling and hanging out away from the lobby and bar. (On the other hand, it’s under the flight path of planes landing at Sky Harbor International Airport, and they start landing about 7:30 each morning.)

I saw a couple three panels, including one on books that influenced one as a child, with Stephen R. Donaldson, Kij Johnson, Graham Joyce, Jay Lake, and Ruth Nestvold, in which the most fascinating examples were the books that they discovered didn’t stand up upon adult rereading– E.R. Eddison for Joyce; Oz and Narnia books for Donaldson. The topic drifted to a discussion of current YA books, and Sharyn November migrated from the audience to the panelists’ table to cite favorites Philip Pullman, Tamora Pierce, Garth Nix, Philip Reeve, and Lloyd Alexander, and to express approval that the pendulum was beginning to swing away from the ‘problem novel’ trend of YA fiction the past few years.

Another panel on the spaces writers create for themselves in which to write, and the tricks they use to compel themselves to get their work done, only showed there are no rules; every writer discovers whatever works for them. Nina Kiriki Hoffman, Jane Lindskold, Patricia McKillip, Irene Radford. One works in bursts of creativity; another puts in a diligent four hours a day; another (Jane) cited Roger Zelazny’s rule to write 3 or 4 sentences 3 or 4 times a day, as a minimum, every day.

This morning was the usual panel covering recommendations of *this* year’s best fantasy books, with Charles Brown lording over the others with a draft of the Locus recommended reading list. He cited books by Straub, Pratchett, Stewart, Kay, and Hand in particular as among ’04′s best novels. Steven Saffel and Ginjer Buchanan offerred examples of books they were particularly proud to have published: Greg Keyes and John Birmingham; Jeffrey E. Barlough, James A. Hetley, and Caitlin Kiernan [Murder of Angels]. Miéville’s Iron Council and Wolfe’s The Wizard Knight (one novel in two volumes) got their share of discussion as well. Betty Ballantine was on the panel too, as decoration she claimed, though she did chime in to opine that Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell (with no period in “Mr” Brown emphasized) was unreadably self-indulgent.

I also heard most of the post-banquet judges’ panel, moderated by WFA admin John Douglas, with Michael Stackpole, Sherwood Smith, Alain Nevant, and Scott Wyatt discussing the processes by which they arrived at this year’s winners (and nominees). John Clute, the fifth judge, did not attend the convention. There were no great battles among the judges, according to what they said, unlike what’s been rumored in some years; the only difficulty resulted in the one tied category, for best artist. They discussed the difficulties in sorting out candidates for some categories — e.g. the difference between the professional and non-professional special award categories — and also expressed regret that some kinds of works do not really fit anywhere, such as YA novels or novels that are parts of series. Audience suggestions that additional categories might be added to the awards to cover such items, or even additional awards created for them that would be announced in conjunction with the WFAs, were met with grave doubts for the prospect of such changes by Douglas, who expressed the administrators’ reluctance to contribute to the proliferation of awards or categories within awards. As an aside, it was mentioned that Clute recused himself from voting in the category for best collection, but was delighted that the other judges settled on the book by his friend Elizabeth Hand.

Cheryl Morgan, and perhaps others, had their laptops in the banquet hall to post the winners as they were announced; I didn’t even consider the idea, the tables being cramped, though I did return to my room immediately after to post the results, and a photo, before returning downstairs for the judges’ panel.

The dealers’ room was not large, but had a good share of book dealers. Somehow I wasn’t in the mood to do much buying; in addition to Shepard’s Viator mentioned last time, I bought only one other book, the new James Tiptree Award anthology from Tachyon; both will duly be listed in the next Monitor-New Books page. Michael Walsh of Old Earth Books, in the lobby earlier this evening, reported that dealer sales were rather dismal this weekend, for reasons he could not explain; I hope it wasn’t all my fault.

The art show was moderately sized, and had an impressive array of work by Janny Wurts and Don Maitz, as well as good stuff by John Picacio and many others, but nothing that motivated me to bid or to buy.

Today wound down with a nice dinner with Diana Gill and Charles Brown (whom I’d barely seen all weekend, aside from the year’s best panel) and Liza Trombi (who since Jennifer Hall’s departure has been CNB’s right hand person at events like this) at Roy’s, an asian fusion restaurant miles and miles from the hotel. Phoenix and its suburbs sprawl across the desert; we learned that “just past”, as the hotel concierge described the restaurant’s location relative to a major cross street, means more than 2 miles, in local parlance. And speaking of Jennifer Hall, she showed up at the con last night, having flown in from the Bay Area in the late afternoon, just to greet old friends and hang out at parties and the bar for the night, until a return flight at 7 a.m. this morning — at least, that was her plan, and since I didn’t see her today, I assume that’s what she did.

Next year’s con is in Madison, Wisconsin; David Hartwell announced that the con in 2006 will be in Austin, Texas.

Tomorrow morning I drive home, to return to the challenges of domestic life.

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