Post-Conference Post: ICFA’s delights

I LOVE the International Conference for the Fantastic in the Arts. Love it. I hate travelling to and from it, which is why I come to this blog post a little worn at the edges, possibly lacking in eloquence, but doggedly determined to let the world know that ICFA rocks.

I got there on a Tuesday evening in advance of the opening. I had a plan to pace myself: scheduled naps, cod liver oil capsules, B-Vitamin supplements and careful selection and timing of meals. I even slotted in two sessions of Zumba (thanks Karen Hellekson!) to compensate for the ridiculous amount of sitting I would be doing. It worked pretty well, I think, except that no-one is a match for the nonsense that is trying to make a connecting flight in Miami Airport. I arrived with a bruised knee; my departure resulted in sacroiliac pain.

Highlights of the conference included meals and conversations with … oh no, I can’t bring myself to list all the names. I’m going to forget someone, which isn’t fair and certainly will have more to do with the fried state of my brain at present than the importance of those conversations to me personally. But let me try …

Karen Burnham, Liza Groen Trombi and Francesca Myman of Locus Magazine. Karen gets a first-mention not only due to her name (ICFA was well-supplied with Karens, let me tell you), but because in addition to running the Locus Roundtable, she is my science and technology advisor for the sequel to The Best of All Possible Worlds, my sci-fi novel due in March 2013. Since Karen is an engineer at NASA as well as a book reviewer extraordinaire, I’m in good hands. Her husband Curtis Potterveld and their adorable baby Gavin are also excellent company! Also of Locus, and known for the Coode Street Podcast, is Gary K Wolfe. I had the pleasure of recording a podcast with him and co-caster Jonathan Strahan along with Nalo Hopkinson (always an honour!) and Ellen Klages. So much fun!

I met the VanderMeers at last! Jeff, I thought you’d be taller 😉 We had a great lunch and chat and they put me completely at ease. I still feel very much the newbie, and they have been so supportive and kind. Another kindness I shall never forget is Guest of Honour Kelly Link’s conversation with me at the opening reception. This ICFA was my first time meeting Kelly and her little daughter Ursula (not so little! That child is going to grow tall!). I’d already met Gavin Grant at the 2010 Brooklyn Book Festival. Together they are the amazing Small Beer Press, the first publishers of Redemption in Indigo and my portal into this magic world of spec fic community. Without being too luvvie about it, I must say I’m huge fans of Gavin and Kelly and all the work they do. But hey, it’s hard not to gush a little at ICFA; you feel this immense fondness for all those people who understand and love and work hard at the same things you do.

A Tiptree gathering meant that I got to meet Karen Joy Fowler (another of the Karens). It thrills me that as a Small Beer Press author I get to be listed with people like her and Delia Sherman and Ted Chiang and Nancy Kress. Oh, Nancy I am so sorry about the one-legged squat, honest! I know it wasn’t the best etiquette, but they dared me!

I enjoyed a long conversation with Andrea Hairston, this year’s Tiptree winner and last year’s winner of the Distinguished Scholarship Award at ICFA. We discovered much to our amazement that a friend and former student of hers is one of my former students from when I taught secondary school physics in Barbados! The serendipity did not end there. While in conversation with Farah Mendlesohn, we discovered that the friend who I’d promised to visit on my next trip to the UK is chaplain at Anglia Ruskin, where Farah will be taking on head of department duties very soon!

So many good conversations and pleasant encounters: Charles Vess, Rachel Swirsky, my Crawford cousins Daryl Gregory and the newly-minted Genevieve Valentine, Siobhan Carroll, Theodora Goss (shared a reading slot with her; her story, and her delivery of it, was amazing), Andy and Sydney Duncan, Stacie Hanes, Mari Ness, Peter Straub, China Mièville, the brilliant Brit Mandelo, Dennis Danvers, Nancy Hightower … and all those whose names I have forgotten, whose name-tags I failed to read properly, especially those who gave me rich conversations on literature and folklore and pure, beautiful, creative silliness.


International Conference for the Fantastic in the Arts

When I’m late, I’m late. The conference ended last Sunday, but I came back home and ran smack into an assault course of deadlines. Now there’s a little lull, I’m seizing the moment to write my mini-report.

I had a great time. I arrived for the tail end of the conference, so I missed a lot, but what I managed to fit in was marvellous. I felt like a bit of a literary-luvvie, constantly using superlatives and beaming recklessly at people, but that’s the kind of atmosphere it was – the kind of punch-drunk, adrenaline-hyped buzz you get when there’s a sudden release of tension after a stage production. Over four hundred people were there – academics, students, writers, editors and reviewers. Many people would have been presenting papers or doing readings or interviews, all things that require the extra energy of showmanship, all things that have the fear of failure lurking in the background.

I’ve never been to a convention, but conferences are very familiar to me. I enjoyed talking to students and academics about their work. I love that combination of terror and delight that a junior academic has when discussing their thesis. I didn’t go to any papers or readings (long story, mostly involving my misbehaving MacBook, two Genius Bar appointments and not being able to get the iPad I wanted), but there were many informal conversations about the study and experience of writing. It was like food – good, nourishing, tasty brain-food!

I don’t actually do that well in crowds. I am not good at names (unless they are written down) and I am not good at faces. I tried my best to do a little research with the programme and figure out who was who in advance, but in the end if I was introduced to you and did little more than shake hands, smile and stare like a stunned lemur, forgive me! It was because I was desperately flipping through the mixed-up files of my memory, chanting ‘I know that name, I know that name’.

So many good conversations! I especially look forward to chatting again with Nalo Hopkinson (face to face meeting at last!) Ellen Klages, Liza Groen Trombi, Gary K Wolfe, Nisi Shawl (another person I was hoping to meet), Peter Straub, Jay Lake, Karen Burnham, Brian Evanson, Gwenda Bond, Farah Mendlesohn and so many more. At the awards banquet, I sat with a group of frighteningly talented writer-academics: Siobhan Carroll, Theodora Goss, Marie Brennan, Veronica Schanoes, Helen Pilinovsky and her husband Jonas, and Nisi. And yes, at times I did feel like a fraud in all that stellar company, but I’ve been assured this is a normal state of affairs for a writer!

Next year’s ICFA theme will be ‘The Monstrous Fantastic‘. Guest of honour is China Miéville. God willing, my aim is to come back, actually take in some papers this time around, and maybe even remember some names and faces.

Thank you IAFA for the Crawford Award, the experience of ICFA, and the opportunity to connect with an amazing network of SF folk.