As you’ll see in the long scroll of photos below, I was a lousy photographer this time around but generally had a good time at this year’s International Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts (ICFA 33), which transpired in Orlando, FL, last month (March 21-25, 2012). The photo brevity is a symptom of being overprogrammed and otherwise entirely focused on the events, rather than on shooting snaps. If you want photos, they’re already out there, anyway. If you’re looking for the best of the bunch, I recommend you drop by flickr and peruse the galleries of:
James Patrick Kelly , Ellen Datlow, or Kathryn Cramer.
But here are the highlights of my experience at the 33rd annual International Conference for the Fantastic in the Arts…highlights which may or may not reference any of the photos below. For the funk of it, I will employ a bulleted list of microevents with ambiguous summaries mixed into the programming descriptions.
+ Arrived. Casillero del Diablo in many bottles. Old friends under a dark umbrella in the dead of night. Laughter, followed by splashes in a nearby pool. Then: profound silence.
+ Thursday, 8:30am, fiction reading. Read my poem, “Creasing His Collar” as a good morning wake-up call to all who attended at this ungodly hour (surprisingly many). Then read Matheson’s “Born of Man and Woman” followed directly by my sequel, “She Screech Like Me,” from He Is Legend. Used weird voice. [Dave Sandner later told me I should talk in that voice all day. I was tempted.] Enjoyed stories by fellow writers in the panel, Greg Bechtel and Daryl Gregory. Greg’s reading gave some insights into his writerly process — with big projects afoot for the future. Daryl Gregory was particularly on fire; he read an amazing story from his new Fairwood Press collection UNPOSSIBLE — which I recommend — and then he told an unforgettably (unforgiveably?) bizarre “Aristocrats” joke…featuring Asimov’s robots. We signed together after the panel. I was surprised that folks showed up with books for me to sign — Bernie Goodman and Jacob Weisman (of Tachyon Publications) win the prize for having some of the rarest editions with my signature on them, including copies of Paradoxa and Last Drink Bird Head.
+ Registered. Academics don’t believe in goodie bags. But this place is fun. I got a conference program, banquet tickets and a limited edition China Mieville t-shirt that I happily pre-ordered. Was disappointed that it was China’s art on the tee, though, and not one of the soiled and sweaty old Hanes tank tops he wore while writing Kraken. [Actually, it was the same art that appears on the graphic of the program cover above… a neat ape/bride/tentacle face!] Regardless: the con opens with smiles, hugs and handshakes with old pals.
+ Thurs., Lunch. China Mieville gave a slide-show enhanced guest lecture on permutations of the uncanny. This was a provocative essay, even as it was parodic. I recorded the audio. Preter-uncannilly, I knew to record the speech in advance. It was one of the best lectures of the weekend. A profound auto-parodic work of criticism, that pleaded for us to not over-taxonomize everything we find strange. I think of Mieville as a Marxist, but this was deconstruction pure and simple. It was really, ultimately, yet another deconstruction of the failure of language to capture experience, even as we try to master experience through it. I thought his unwillingness to bring Kristevan abject into the picture — by denying she had any say in his topic even as he used ideas of trash and disjecta membra (in monstrous icons like ‘Garbage Man‘) was puzzling.
+ Thurs., 2pm. Responded to a theory roundtable discussion of one of my articles on teaching horror fiction, called “The Unlearning.” Great conversation, hosted by the effervescent Barbara Lucas. David Sandner (who not only teaches horror in a Gothic class at U Cal Fullerton, but also appears in The Gorelets Omnibus) wins for asking the hardest questions. Jacob Weisman, Brian Rapp and others got to share their experience or thoughts about teaching horror. I wished I would have recorded this. Something like it (a roundtable of horror teachers discussing the use of horror fiction and film in the classroom) appears in the new book, The Best of Dissections — a hard copy anthology that Gina Wisker was proudly sharing at the conference, and which hopefully will be available as an ebook someday soon.
+ Thurs., 4pm. Sat on a panel called “The Monster in the Room: Archetypes of the Monstrous in Children’s Literature” with Jessica Fontaine, Alaine Martaus and Bridgid Shannon. These folks were very impressive, and I believe many of them had studied at Hollins University, which has a fantastic Children’s Lit program. I was happy to be a part of this dialogue, but I probably didn’t belong on this panel, as I literally became the ‘monster in the room’ by talking about theories by Freud and Bettleheim that folks didn’t want to hear about. Maybe the only good thing I really contributed was my insistence that these books say as much about adults as they do about the kids they’re written for, which everyone already knew but perhaps likes to forget. I learned a lot about picture books and new titles I hadn’t heard of before. And one of the panelists used the phrase “Grover Studies” in answering a question about a book, which I will never forget whenever I hear an academic describe their field again. (It’s all Grover Studies, baby.)
+ Later that day: local writer friends who weren’t attending the conference pulled up in a minivan, tossed a bag over my head, and then drove away. They pulled the bag off my head and I found myself at a local seafood restaurant — one that would become my only foray into local cuisine the whole time. Jeff Strand, Lynne Hansen, Sally Bosco, Gina Wisker, David Sandner, and Andy Miller were a blast. We talked about the ebook revolution, cover art, bad zombie movies, Jeff’s latest novels, and the Bram Stoker Awards. Then a bag went back over my head and I woke up in my room, bruised and bloody.
+ Friday, 8:30am. This conference likes to balance the pleasure of good company with the pain of early morning panels. Ah well…I can drink coffee and shoot the breeze anytime, anywhere. But only if there’s coffee. This morning I moderated a panel on horror film directors, called “The Thing Is…Barker, Craven, Carpenter and Watts.” The title sounds like the typical “potpourri” of things that they lumped together because the organizers couldn’t figure out a more coherent theme. Yet this one worked and was groovy. Dominick Grace read a fantastic essay on Peter Watts’ so-called “fan fiction” tribute to John Carpenter’s famously tentacled film, The Thing — called “The Things” (and every Carpenter fan reading this NEEDS to read this story — it’s over on Clarkesworld Magazine right now for free reading). Joseph Lewis presented a piece on the Elm Street films which smartly cited Joseph Andriano’s excellent work on monsters. Tony Vinci also gave an awesome paper on Clive Barker’s Hellraiser and Nightbreed, rife with penetrating analysis. This is what I would call “a great panel!”
+ Friday, Lunch. Sat with Stephen Erickson, and talked about his days back in the Iowa Writers Workshop. Learned some things about T.C. Boyle. Then listened to guest scholar, Jeffrey Jerome Cohen, who presented a slideshow-infused after-lunch lecture called, simply, “Undead.” While the coverage was wide, the depth was still there all along the zombified cultural landscape. I knew a lot of this already, but he helped me to understand zombies as a popular trend in today’s culture a little differently. I loved his comment, “I wish we could have our zombies without demanding so ardently an apocalypse to go with them.” Here, here. And in my view, almost all of the ‘fun’ zombie titles (just think Shaun of the Dead) seem to domesticate them. But of course, the second you domesticate a creature, you rob it of its power. However, why must that power always be apocalyptic? That’s as stupid as having every James Bond villain a person who is set out to destroy the world. The scope is always too wide, too generic. Maybe that’s tied in with what zombies themselves are commenting on. My opinion anwyay.
+ Friday, later. Sat in on a fantastic poetry reading with David Kopaska-Merkel, Carolyn Clink and Bryan D. Dietrich. Poets who work in science fiction, fantasy and horror are really some of the smartest writers around, and I really wish they were read more often. This is why I remain a member of The Science Fiction Poetry Association and bought a lifetime subscription to Dreams and Nightmares magazine.
+ Saturday, 8am. Sleep, glorious sleep. Nightmares, glorious nightmares, filled with ropy mucous monsters and dopy doofus lobsters. Followed by glorious coffee.
+ Sat, 10:30am. Listened to the panel on Hal Duncan’s book, The Last Werewolf. Douglas Ford is one of my favorite horror genre critics working today and he presented a masterful analysis of the text that’s still got me thinking about the issues it raises, Sarah Benton smartly looked at Kristevan abjection in the book, and Chelsey Lucas explored the ‘humanity’ in the title. I’ve never been a huge werewolf fan, but I really must read this book. This panel was an example of how critics can love a book and celebrate it through literary criticism at the same time.
+ Sat, Noonish. Lunched with friends from Tachyon Publications. A butler statue with a strange and disgusting hole in its hands greeted us at a storefront. We swapped stories of neighborhood murders and other crimes we experienced, growing up. I remember Amityville and the Son of Sam. Good conversation. Orlando residents in earshot gave us funny looks. Story of my life.
+ Sat, mid-midday. Alerted that there was something waiting for me in the silent book auction. All books are silent, so this alert scared me.
+ Sat, 5pm. Attended the annual editorial board meeting for Dissections: The Journal of Contemporary Horror. Gina Wisker likes to have folks share poetry before we get down to the business of talking shop about the literary journal. I read my Zombie Haiku from twitter last Halloween (appears in The Gorelets Omnibus) while a young boy splashed in the nearby kiddie pool. I directed my reading at him, trying to gross him out or scare him away. Instead, he offered a giggly critique after each poem. It was hilarious, till Mom came outside to fetch him. I think she looked at me like I was going to drown the poor kid. I just made him swim in a pool of horror poetry.
+ Sat evening. Awards banquet. I always attend this formal end-cap to this conference, which is rife with good food, congratulatory speeches, and applause. Feels very genuinely like a gathering of friends. Only this year, I somehow managed to sit at a table where they delivered food last. And they ran out of food early…so they brought us bottle after bottle of free wine to pour into our empty stomachs until the food was prepared. People at the table were hungry and upset…but I couldn’t think of a better way to end the night!
+ Sun morning. No one is awake. I get on the shuttle bus like a zombie. Fly. Do not crash. Come home to catch up on work. Then write this. Still like a zombie. End.