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Paizo Publishing Attends World Fantasy Convention

Where would you expect to see a “Punch & Judy” show, hear bestselling authors read from their work before you purchase their books, watch intellects wrestle verbally with each other on panels designed to resemble a World Wrestling Federation booking, experience live presentations of public radio shows (or parodies thereof), and gather autographs from plenty of famous fantasy authors? This year’s World Fantasy Convention had all of those features and more. Whether you were there for the readings, the panels or the parties, you should have been happy with this year’s convention. Jesse Decker, Editor-in-Chief of Dragon, and Johnny Wilson, President of Paizo Publishing and occasional writer for Dragon and Dungeon, attended on behalf of Paizo. Here we feature some photos and observations taken from the convention.

Neil Gaiman dramatically pauses to refill his glass during his reading.

The level of author readings seemed quite exceptional this year. We particularly enjoyed those by Joe Haldeman, Neil Gaiman, Ramsey Campbell, Patrick O’Leary and Kathe Koja. Campbell read from a piece written for an anthology called “Taverns of the Dead” and called “The Winner.” It is a hilarious story set in a pub called the Seafarer, or at least, it was hilarious when read by the jovial entertainer. Campbell is of such a gregarious, charismatic nature that when his voice began to give way toward the middle of the reading, he managed to interrupt a painful coughing with the comment, “This is the intermission.” Without providing too much of a spoiler, the story has an interesting twist on winning a contest—where you couldn’t possibly want the prize. Gaiman’s story, A Study in Emerald, is a Sherlock Holmes meets Cthulhu story. Like Alan Moore’s League of Extraordinary Gentlemen comic stories, this story has references to other fictional Victorian characters like Victor von Frankenstein and Dr. Henry Jekyll in the fictional advertisements that open each chapter in the story. It offers a tantalizing idea of what might happen if the Sherlock Holmes mythos and the Cthulhu mythos were combined.

Patrick O’Leary displays Gahan Wilson frontispiece for “The Bearing of Light.”

Kathe Koja presented a story as yet untitled. It explores what would happen if faerie was real and has a moral ending which compares the ubiquitous nature of desire and the boomerang nature of wishes. One outstanding question in the mind of Koje’s protagonist is wondering why meeting some mythical or supernatural being isn’t scary to the vast majority of characters in fantasy stories. The protagonist simply thinks characters in stories are too blasé about encountering supernatural creatures. Patrick O’Leary also opted to unveil the supernatural in his reading. The Bearing of Light from Conjunction 39 wonders what would happen if Lucifer were offered a pardon for his sins. In a story full of clever lines, my favorite was Lucifer’s summary of the biblical idea of grace. My boss is big on freebies,” says Lucifer at one point. Joe Haldeman read from his upcoming Guardian and offered one of the most difficult conceits possible for a science-fiction novel, a Victorian woman in the U.S., who is forced to flee from an abusive husband. The character is very fresh and the concept is wild. He also shared from a novel in progress inspired by an article in New Scientist about the possibilities of life in globular clusters. Again, this story had a vivid and amazing protagonist.

Joe Haldeman toasts Hannibal Lector as a human monster.

Many of the panels were quite vibrant. The panel entitled Human vs. Inhuman Monsters was quite thought-provoking, even though Kathe Koja suggested that comparing human to inhuman monsters is really comparing apples to apples with the only real difference being whether one likes Granny Smith or Green Delicious. She stated that Evil is real and it is NOT a matter of being cool. Evil is based on evil desires that are within all of us. Moderator Peter Atkins agreed by stating that you can’t really make hierarchies of evil because dead is dead. The beauty of the horror story and novel is that when Lovecraft summons the old ones, it is no longer about the body but about the desecration of the soul. Joe Haldeman agreed that the horror story is much more metaphysical. “When we talk about supernatural horror, we aren’t talking about our everyday experience. We can understand the [DC] sniper. What we can’t understand is ‘God’ coming down and killing somebody?” Koja followed up by observing that when we hear about “real” horror in real life, we ask WHY? She went on to pose an intriguing question, “Why don’t we ask that [why?] in supernatural horror?

Gene Wolfe immediately responded by stating that no one is interested in examining the motives of an incredible [in the literal sense] figure. He stated that authors have to make readers believe in the premise before they can care. If it is all just silliness to the author, it is unlikely that the reader will be horrified or even care. Deep in the mind, contended Wolfe, the fear is ingrained. Our species grew up with sabertooths and we have enough racial memory that we remember the man-eaters and we want to be horrified. Joe Haldeman countered that we not only want to be horrified, but we want to be entertained. “Compare Hannibal Lector with Vlad the Impaler. Vlad killed tens of thousands of people in the purpose of independence, but Hannibal Lector killed them one at a time with style.” He pointed out that the fictitious is moved into a different dimension where we are safe enough that we can be entertained by them, like a James Bond villain who must be over the top enough to be interesting. Atkins responded that we eventually cozy up to the monsters, no matter how atavistic the original fears may have been (someone cited Count Chocula cereal as showing that Dracula offers no more fear for us). Atkins cited that by the third book in the series Hannibal Lector killed people who were rude and asked if we wouldn’t all like to do that? Joe Haldeman brought everyone back to the topic by succinctly observing that when one is doing a story, the villain has to be worthy of the hero and vice-versa. And since the hero must be greater than the average person, the villain has to be interesting, not banal. Koja was still concerned that authors might be making evil characters “too cool,” but oberserved that authors have a responsibility to tell the truth. FuManchu is different from Hannibal Lector is different from Adolf Hitler. Why don’t we eat Hitler cereal? [At Paizo, we figure any cereal is frightening if you actually read the ingredients.]

William F. Nolan engages in informal conversation at the show.

Another great panel was entitled, Sympathy with the Devil: Writing the Monsters in Fantasy. It began with an immediate disagreement between Moderator Peter Crowther and Gene Wolfe. Crowther contended that it is more interesting to deal with bad guys because you don't want to know what made a good guy “good” but you want to know what made a bad guy “bad.” Wolfe immediately retorted that it is interesting to see why the reader chooses ‘good,’ even if it is between two evils. William F. Nolan, author of the Logan’s Run trilogy and The Human Factor, noted that there has to be some sympathy for the villain. He insisted that the reader is not going to be interested if they don't feel like something is happening inside the villains that is real. Nolan talked about Hell Tracks where the villain worked to quit smoking but still had the “little” strangling problem. He felt as if the villain was stronger because he was trying to change himself. Stephen R. Donaldson—I have a great schematic picture of what a character is, but one reason I write is because I write to discover what the characters will do. For me, the writing is always a process of discovering (although some of the secondary characters were completely fleshed out before I started writing). Interestingly enough, Suzy McKee Charnas stated that her villains always start out as ordinary people (one was her doctor) who have gone through imaginary experiences that have turned them bad. Joe Haldeman chimed in by noting that Robert Louis Stephenson once wrote to H.G. Wells that the basics of Long John Silver’s character were inspired by a fine, upstanding minister. Nolan responded, “It’s very difficult to write about good characters, you have to give them some dimension, make them rough around the edges, and put some heat under the gas tank.”

Stephen R. Donaldson signs autographs at World Fantasy.

Asked if real events and authentic villains in real life affected their work, several authors quickly responded. Stephen R. Donaldson suggested that real events like terrorism encourage sloppy writing because no one has to “develop” the characters for the terrorists. They merely have to call them by that name and everyone knows what to expect. Joe Haldeman explicitly stated that 9/11 hasn't changed his approach at all. He did claim to have described just such an attack to a U.S. Air Force think tank years before it happened. What he did believe was challenging would be to discover what makes a person do what the terrorists did. William F. Nolan interposed that if one intended to fictionalize Osama bin Laden, one would have to find a reason that is strong enough for both the author and the reader to believe that what bin Laden did was right and why. Gene Wolfe contended that the most interesting villain is always the one who thinks he/she is a hero. They all believe that they are the only ones with the strength to do what needs to be done. Nolan quickly agreed, “We always justify our own behavior so one can assume that villains would do so as well.” Donaldson took the discussion in a slightly different direction when he stated that the characters he has found to be the most interesting over his career have been those who were conflicted because they realized the consequences of their actions upon other people. Gene Wolfe had the most telling observation on the panel, however. He stated that the drama of goodness is far more interesting than the drama of badness.

David Drake shared the most amusing anecdote at the show.

In our opinion, the most amusing anecdote at the show was delivered by David Drake in a panel on the Children of Lovecraft. Drake shared about visiting August Derleth at Arkham House, being inspired by a Ramsey Campbell story and eventually submitting a story to Derleth. “I received the most brutal acceptance letter ever—‘This still isn't right and I'll have to rewrite it. Please compare the printed version with your carbon and learn how NOT to write a story. Enclosed is $35.00.’”


George Scithers of Weird Tales insists that he won't give up his H.P. Lovecraft award.

While Drake’s anecdote told of brutal “acceptance,” veteran editor George Scithers (famous as editor of Amazing Stories, Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine, and Weird Tales) had one of the finest acceptance speeches we’ve ever heard. Upon receiving the aware for Lifetime Achievement, he simply stated: “I don’t deserve this.” He paused for effect and clutched the Gahan Wilson statuette of H.P. Lovecraft tighter before finishing, “But you’re not getting it back!” What an incredible finish to a great convention! What a delightful way of acknowledging the privilege of working in this field and yet, admitting how precious it is to be recognized for one’s achievement therein. No matter what he says, George does deserve the award.


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