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.
First read my previous post about last weekend’s ArmadilloCon, which I wrote on Saturday night during the con itself. Then read the following to fill in the rest of the details of my experiences there.
In no particular order:
After having orbited around him several times at several past cons, I finally got to meet renowned fantasy-SF-horror artist John Picacio. At least, I think this was our first meeting, and he thought so, too, although I think we both suspected we may have met before, years ago. Anyway, he had lots of stunning artwork on display in the art room. More pressingly, he has now uploaded a page full of con photos. One of them shows Joe, Lee, and me (see right). And I had the pleasure of meeting musician and horror writer Sanford Allen as well — who may, in fact, be the source of that photo, since he and John were both taking photos for Mission Unknown, which is where I found that one.
John or Sanford also snapped a photo of one of the more astonishing events at the con. At right you’ll see none other than Michael Moorcock making an unexpected appearance at the “Meet the Pros” mixer event, for the purpose of presenting the Jack Trevor Story Memorial Prize to Howard Waldrop. Color me bowled over. See how close that photo looks? That’s only about a person’s width closer than I was standing when somebody started shouting for everybody to quiet down and witness a special moment. For more about the prize and its awarding at ArmadilloCon, see a blog post by SF and fantasy writer Jayme Lynn Blashke. As Jayme notes in his post, it’s odd that such a momentous happening has received relatively little notice in the various con reports.
I attended the zombie panel that Nate Southard so eloquently described in a post earlier today titled “Twilight fans: officially more defensive than zombie fans.” Click through to read Nate’s brief and vivid recounting of what transpired — and then know that I was sitting directly behind the owner of the Furious Female Voice from the Back of the Room. Shudder.
On Saturday night I experienced one of the con’s highlights for me personally, and it lasted only about 15 minutes. By pure happenstance, Joe Lansdale and I ended up alone on an elevator heading to the second floor at about 9:30. We had already said hello to each other on Friday, having met previously at the 2007 ArmadilloCon, but during that private elevator ride on Saturday we sort of fell into a conversation about his life in martial arts. As I’ve mentioned various times, I practiced Japanese Goju-ryu for six-to-seven years during my teens, my first sensei being Jeff Speakman, after which I moved on to study under his teacher, Hanshi Lou Angel, after Jeff graduated from college in Missouri and relocated to California to study Kenpo under Ed Parker. Even though I haven’t actually practiced any martial art formally since then, I have remained fascinated with the field and very emotionally attached to it.
So when I started asking and Joe started freely talking about his life as a martial artist — his early beginnings, the multiple styles he has studied, his eventual and unexpected realization that he had effectively developed his own style, his induction into the Martial Arts Hall of Fame, and so on — I was fully fascinated. Most of this conversation took place in the second-floor foyer, where we stopped and chatted after exiting the elevator. When I asked him how he understands the connection between his passionate practice of martial arts and equally passionate practice of writing, with both of them constituting major aspects of his overall life path, he told me, “They’re both expressions, ways of expressing.” Naturally, that recalled Bruce Lee’s now-famous assertion in a television interview that “To me, ultimately, martial arts means honestly expressing yourself.” Donnie Yen also said exactly the same thing in an interview for the documentary The Art of Action: Martial Arts in the Movies. The idea has long resonated with me, and it was just cool to hear it being shared in person by somebody who really knows what he’s talking about.
Speaking of people who know what they’re talking about, I had the feeling that my comments on Saturday night’s panel on religion and mysticism in fantasy and science fiction were generally well received, and now here’s some confirmation from author Wendy Wheeler in her con report:
The panel on using religion in your stories, which I myself have spoken on in years past, was pretty cool. . . . I really enjoyed the editor and essayist, Matt Cardin, who has a masters in comparative religions and studies it in genre writing. When the talk would get silly, he’d make some useful, academic comment that would ground everything.
That’s me: Killer of silliness for 39 years and counting.
A quick update from Austin and ArmadilloCon 31 (with photos to follow within a couple of days, when I can swipe them from the sites of people who brought a camera):
It’s Saturday night — nearing the end of Day 2 of the three-day con — and everything’s going well. Lots of fun and productive schmoozing. As with most cons, this one is partly a reunion with friends I only see once in awhile. I’ve spent much time hanging out with Lee Thomas (a friend from conventions past and a really excellent writer), Joe McKinney, Nate Southard, and A(lex) Lee Martinez — all well-published writers, all cool guys.
Last night at 9:30 I gave a well-attended reading from Dark Awakenings. For the text I chose “The Devil and One Lump,” and surprised myself by being able to fit the entire story into the 30-minute slot. I had expected to read just an excerpt, but I got worked up and “into” the reading and ended up finishing the whole thing. At the end I gave the printed manuscript as a prize to the person who correctly guessed the number I was thinking. The winner was the aforementioned Joe, who’s not only a very nice guy but also an interesting (and good) writer of thriller and horror fiction who for a day job works as a homicide detective in San Antonio.
After the reading I participated in a panel titled “What happened to the monsters?” that centered around the question, “Is it harder to create horror now that most of the traditional monsters are used by everyone?” Other panel participants were Lee, Joe, Lawrence Person, and vampire novelist Jeanne Stein, who moderated, and who proved a very pleasant presence during the rest of the con. There was a solid audience for the 10 p.m. panel, and the conversation was wide-ranging, including a 15-minute-or-so excursion into the realm of the zombie, with comments flying that ended up being repeated at greater length in today’s panel (on which I wasn’t a participant) titled “Zombies!”
This morning at 10 I spoke on “Blogging and Podcasting” with Alan J. Porter, Melissa Tyler (no web link easily findable), Bill Crider, Matthew Bey, and moderator Julie Kenner. The panel was officially supposed to be about issues ranging “From keeping in touch with fans to building a community,” but seemingly by force of a gravitational pull emanating both from the panelists and the audience, we drifted in the direction of discussing the cultural desirability or otherwise of things like Facebook, Twitter, and blogging in general, which allowed me to inject some talk about Neil Postman and the destruction of culture via the Huxleyan-style dystopian scenario, which proved to arouse some responses among panelists who were also interested in such things.
Then it was lunch at a nearby Wendy’s with the aforementioned crew, after which I attended a really interesting science-oriented panel titled “Back to the Moon,” about the need for a serious resurrection and revisioning of the American and human project to go back to the moon and thence to Mars and further outward through the solar system.
Then I hung out with friends in the hotel bar for awhile, talking about 80s rock and metal bands until it was time for me to speak on the one panel that I had most looked forward to: “Religion and mysticism in fantasy and SF.” The other panelists were Joan Vinge (!), K.D. Wentworth, Paul Benjamin, Scott Lynch, and moderator Martha Wells. The room was packed to the point of standing-room only, and the conversation ended up getting fairly technical at times, with the question of how to define and distinguish magic, science, and religion coming to the fore. I talked at some length about the subject myself, bringing up Malinowski’s Magic, Science, and Religion and talking for a bit about Francis Bacon’s development of scientific method as a means to gain objective knowledge of the natural world in order to achieve power over it. I also became the only one to talk about horror specifically, as distinct from science fiction and fantasy in general, when I explicated the connection between religion and the basic premise of weird horror fiction, namely, that incursions from or encounters with any supernatural realm or reality would be inherently horrific for the human race, since these would break into the cosmic order as something from “outside” and, therefore, appear to human consciousness as something uncanny and nightmarish.
This was all great fun. So was, and is, the fact that Realms of Fantasy is one of the book dealers present here at the con, which has meant that I’ve had the chance to catch up with its proprietor, Otto, after a far-too-long hiatus. I was pleased to see that he had ordered additional copies of my Divinations of the Deep from Ash-Tree Press specifically for the event. Several have already sold. My Dark Awakenings flier has been seen by a lot of people, and quite a few have approached me after my panel appearances to ask for more information about the book and to ask me to sign copies of Divinations that they’ve just bought. So, on all fronts, the upshot so far is “Mission Accomplished.”
Gotta head back to the bar now. As Scott Bobo, a fixture here at ArmadilloCon, said to me just a moment ago as he passed through the lounge on the way to the bar and saw me sitting here at my table, pecking away at the laptop keys, “Hey, all the drinks are in there!”