Report: ArmadilloCon 32
Well, I’m back from ArmadilloCon 32, having spent the entire weekend down in Austin at the lovely Renaissance Hotel (which was home to the World Fantasy Convention in 2006). This was my third time to attend ArmadilloCon, and it was, as expected, an excellent event all around.
Two themes dominated the weekend for me. The first was the sheer pleasure of hooking up with old (and new) friends. The second was the pleasant power of happenstance (or synchronicity?) in enhancing my panel-speaking opportunities.
FRIENDS, FOOD, BOOZE, AND HOTEL SECURITY
I hung out extensively with several author friends: Joe McKinney (San Antonio homicide detective, and more than just a zombie novelist), Lee Thomas (proper chastiser of errant behavior; see below), Nate Southard (praised by Laird Barron!), Sanford Allen (writer , member of Satan’s Boxcar, savorer of fine whiskey), and Brent Bowen (interviewer extraordinaire and keeper of the Fastest iPod in the West). This afforded not just conversational fun but culinary delight. On Saturday some of us ate at the nearby Cheesecake Factory. It was my first time dining there — I formerly knew it as the restaurant where Penny works on The Big Bang Theory — and it was quite good. On Friday some of us ate at Five Guys Burgers. It was also my first time, and it was fairly good. And I had the opportunity to drink some rather excellent single barrel whiskey, generously provided by Brent. Late night conversations were full of zany tangents.
I hung out not nearly enough with A. Lee Martinez, whom I met and dug at last year’s con, but still had the chance to get in a couple of conversations with him. He continues to be One of the Funniest Guys Ever.
I attended a late-night party staged in an eighth-floor room by author, editor, and recovering college philosophy major Matthew Bey under the auspices of his wickedly funny publication Space Squid. The event was memorable not only for being crowded and loud, but because hotel security appeared on the scene twice: once to ask us all to shut the door for noise control, and once again to tell us that the party had to stay in the room. We had accidentally migrated out into the lobby around the elevator.
I had the rare honor of having my hand slapped by the aforementioned Lee Thomas when we shared a lunch together at a nearby Texadelphia. He was chastising me for what he held to be my overly apologetic and self-effacing performance in a recent and, as I discovered over the weekend, rather well-known Internet conflagration stemming from something I wrote here a couple of weeks ago. And I don’t mean this metaphorically: he literally slapped my hand. Note to self: In the future, remember Lee’s advice to “grow a pair.”
In the dealer’s room I probably chatted more than I ever had with the always-pleasant Otto Filip, proprietor of Realms of Fantasy Books, after having met him for the first time at World Horror 2001 and re-encountered him several times since. He had copies of both of my books for sale, Divinations of the Deep and Dark Awakenings, which proved especially helpful during my book-signing on Saturday, since several people bought copies from him specifically so that I could autograph them. I also signed his whole stack of Divinations and Dark Awakenings. This means anybody who buys from him online will receive signed copies. In a first-ever development, a childhood friend of mine ordered a copy of Divinations from him not long before the convention, and since he had no signed copies left, he held off on fulfilling the order until I could sign and inscribe it there in the dealer’s room.
I also chatted in the dealer’s room with Patrick Swenson, proprietor of Fairwood Press and owner/editor of the late, great horror ‘zine Talebones. We hadn’t seen each other for something like six years. He’s a high school English teacher. I’m a former high school English teacher. Naturally, the teaching profession came up as we talked.
An interesting development grew out of my attending a panel about worldbuilding in genre fiction, not as a speaker but as an audience member. At one point I expressed disagreement with one of the panelists, Texas fantasy and SF author Steven Brust, regarding some comments he had made about the historical status and likely future of religion. He held his ground, and I jokingly said we should argue after the panel was over. And that’s what we actually ended up doing, at a sunny outdoor table on the hotel’s patio. Three people who had been at the panel came to listen to us. Alas, it turned out that Steven and I were more in agreement than was originally apparent, so the hardcore debating opportunities were limited. But it was still great to make a new friend, and a very sharp-witted one (in both senses of the word) at that.
And I got to catch up just the tiniest bit with Joe Lansdale, with whom I shared a great conversation about martial arts at last year’s ArmadilloCon. He was, as always, funny, relaxed, and highly interesting.
THE POWER OF PANELS: DARK FANTASY, HORROR, RELIGION, WORLDBUILDING, AND H.P. LOVECRAFT
On Friday night I spoke on a panel titled “Links between Fantasy and Horror,” about the commonalities between dark fantasy and horror as genres and publishing categories. My fellow panelists were William Browning Spencer (whose Resume with Monsters was already firmly in my sights but has now ascended to a way-high place on my list), Skyler White, Jessica Reisman, and — of special interest to current vampire fiction fans (although not the sparkly kind!) — Gabrielle Faust, who moderated. The audience was gratifyingly large, and the conversation was meaty. I led with Lovecraft as somebody in whose work, sensibility, and psyche we can see the boundaries, commonalities, and divisions between dark fantasy and horror on full display. Bill responded by expressing some reservations about Lovecraft’s ubiquity in such conversations. Much good stuff followed.
On Saturday I was slated by appear as a panelist on the “Religion in Worldbuilding” panel, but programming coordinator Jonathan Miles came to me ahead of time to ask if I could moderate, since the planned moderator, Matthew Sturges, had fallen ill. I accepted, and so the panel’s direction was shaped by me. The official question/topic we were supposed to address was: “Religion plays a part in worldbuilding, but if you just lift aspects of current religions, they may not fit well into the world you are creating. How can religion be added without making it a caricature?” I thought that sounded a bit too narrow to fill an hour, so I started by asking us all — including the audience — to try and define religion. This elicited great audience participation, although I later found that at least a couple of audience members hated the time that was taken up by such an insoluble question. Ah, well, You can’t please ’em all, and I was deliberately using the motivational trick, refined from my nine years of teaching high school and college, that gets people aroused and interested by eliciting strong emotion about a controversial topic. It worked, too; energy was high throughout the room, and I loved it. The final two-thirds of the panel were then devoted to the question of religion’s proper use and role in fictional worldbuilding, and all of the panelists — Matthew Bey, Mikal Trimm, and Madeleine Rose Dimond — had substantive things to say.
The single panel that I most wanted to attend was scheduled for Sunday at 11 a.m.: “Is Lovecraft Hurting Horror?” I mean, are you kidding me? I would have gone to that one if I skipped all the others. The proposed topic and direction as stated in the programming book were, “H.P. Lovecraft was a brilliant writer. However, some of the people following him are less so. Is Lovecraftian writing hurting horror by giving people shortcuts?” As I was waiting outside the meeting room for the previous panel to end, one of the planned Lovecraft panelists, Skyler White (with whom I had shared the Fantasy and Horror panel), came up and asked if I would want to take her place, because she had only read five or so Lovecraft stories many years ago, and was really mislocated as a speaker on the subject. I was grateful for such an unexpected opportunity, so I said yes, and then got to spend the next hour speaking alongside Joe Lansdale, William Browning Spencer, Sanford Allen, Aaron Allston, and moderator Don Webb, the last of whom I had specifically wanted to meet at this con. Don did a really able job of moderating, and we all had a substantial discussion that ended up talking not just about Lovecraft’s influence on horror but about the shape of modern horror fiction in general, from the 1970s to the present. Great stuff.
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There’s more, of course, like the fact that I got to say hello for the first time in awhile to John DeNardo of SFSignal (whose ArmadilloCon report is already live), and also to fellow author Josh Rountree. I’m sure that I must be failing to name a few people who helped to make my personal experience of this year’s ArmadilloCon great. But the bottom line is that it was an interesting, stimulating, and productive way to spend 72 hours. I’ll post some photos later if I can find any relevant ones at anybody else’s con reports.
Next up: MythosCon in January, and then back to Austin in April for World Horror. It remains to be seen whether fate will again conspire to assign me pleasant panel and/or moderator duties that weren’t planned ahead of time.