This past weekend was the 2021 World Fantasy Convention, and I was so excited to get to attend virtually!
My story “The Nine Scents of Sorrow” was nominated for the Best Short Fiction award this year, alongside several other amazing stories. The World Fantasy Convention was a hybrid convention this year; I didn’t feel up to braving border crossings just yet, so I was excited to be able to participate virtually. This was my first time attending a con of any kind, so the virtual experience was also a good way to first dip my toes into that world.
I attended six different panels over the course of the weekend, and took lots of notes.
Though some of the virtual coverage of events and virtual shopping and signing options felt thrown together at the last minute, the virtual panels were awesome and well worth the cost of a virtual membership. I’d have paid far more to attend six hours of writing classes – and not have gotten to “meet” (virtually) so many authors and editors I admire!
The first panel I attended Friday afternoon was “Gendering Genre” with panelists Colin Alexander, Alyc Helms, Andrea Stewart, and Susie Williamson.
I enjoyed the discussion, especially as it was relevant to “The Nine Scents of Sorrow,” and came away with a list of books to check out!
The panelists recommended:
- Weave the Lightening by Corry L. Lee
- The Empress of Salt and Fortune by Nghi Vo
- No Gods, No Monsters by Cadwell Turnbull
On Friday, I also attended “The Moral Dilemma” with panelists J.T. Greathouse, Brenda Carre, Maura McHugh, Gregory A. Wilson, and Jane Ann McLachlan.
This was one of the best panels I attended. Not content to stay surface level, the panelists really dug in to what makes readers care about characters and the stories we tell, and what our responsibilities are as a writer – to our characters, to our stories, to our readers, and to the wider world. It was also great to meet J.T. Greathouse, whose novel The Hand of the Sun King I’ve heard so much about!
On Friday night I got to – virtually! – attend this year’s mass signing event, and spoke for a moment to Delia Sherman, whose short story collection Young Woman in a Garden is one of my absolute favorites. I’m so grateful to the volunteer who carried around a tablet with me on Zoom for this event – it was a slightly bizarre and awkward experience but she pulled it off with great patience!
“Kill the Parents” on Saturday morning with Amanda Sun, Edward Willett, and Donna J. W. Munro was another great panel.
This one focused on the abundance of orphans in middle grade and YA fiction, other ways to get those pesky parents out of the way of our characters and plot other than literally killing them, and whether it’s better to show healthy, happy family dynamics instead. The panelists came down on the side of “it always depends on the story,” and offered a lot of practical ideas for handling family dynamics and teen independence in kid lit and YA. Though I most often write for adults, I do sometimes write for younger age groups, and this panel provided the greatest wealth of practical advice of any I attended. Amanda Sun was an especially great resource – though I haven’t seen her work before, I’m now eager to check it out!
Saturday afternoon, I attended “Is it in the Trope or in the Telling?” with Summer Hanford, Brian Evenson, and Amanda Sun.
This was the one panel I felt rambled a bit – there was no moderator – though the panelists certainly did a better job of keeping the conversation going on their own than I would have! The real take-away from this panel was the importance of striking a balance between managing reader expectations and not making plot points so obvious readers feel they’ve gotten a glimpse “behind the curtain.”
Saturday evening’s “The Gothic in Horror and Fantasy” with John Picacio, Elizabeth Crowens, Jenny Green, F. Brett Cox, and Kathleen Jennings was my favorite panel of the weekend!
This is the one I was most excited about – I’m currently working on a gothic novel, and I’m a huge fan of Kathleen Jennings’s art and writing. Her book Flyaway (also a World Fantasy Award nominee this year) was one of my favorite releases of the past year. I’d really wanted to attend her reading earlier that evening, but my spouse and I had ordered a celebratory takeout dinner and it came right around the time her reading was starting. (Next time, Kathleen!) Though a lot of this discussion centered around things I was already thinking about for my own novel, it gave me some fresh ideas and helped me see some things in a new light, and it was an absolute blast to be a part of. Kathleen was a lovely person also!
The last virtual panel I attended was Robin Hobb’s interview on Sunday morning before the awards ceremony.
Robin Hobb has had a long and incredible career, and had some deep insight on crafting characters and series. The notes I took during her reading are ones I can tell I will come back to again and again.
On Sunday afternoon I was able to watch a live-stream of the awards ceremony, and participate via chat.
Though I did not win the award for my category, I’m honored to have been nominated alongside so much incredible work. The short story award winner was Celeste Rita Baker for her story “Glass Bottle Dancer,” originally in Lightspeed Magazine. Congratulations to Celeste, and to all of the award winners!
Something I heard several times over the weekend – from Robin Hobb included – is that we don’t know the themes of our work until readers come up to us afterwards and tell us what they are. So this isn’t a theme I had in mind while writing “The Nine Scents of Sorrow,” but it’s one that, in looking back over the story and looking back over the past year, really stood out to me. That’s the idea of rebirth – that we can take the broken pieces of the world, or ourselves, and use them to create something beautiful and new.
I may not have won an award, but I’m honored to have been able to attend the World Fantasy Convention – virtually! – and I’m honored that idea resonated with the judges and so many readers as well.
Next year’s World Fantasy Convention will take place in New Orleans – a city I love and that’s on my spouse’s list of places to visit. I had a wonderful time virtually this year, and would love to be able to attend in person next year!