Strawberry Daiquiris Blended With Beasts : The ICFA Conference Post

ICFA's ANGELS: Maria Dahvana Headley, Theodora Goss, Kat Howard by Jim Kelly

I got back from Orlando, and ICFA (as in the International Convention of the Fantastic in the Arts) yesterday, and it was so great, really so totally great, that I have to post about it. This, even though I’m far behind and generally quite bad at posting any kind of conference wrap-up, or any kind of wrap-up of anything at all, as it happens. This, despite the fact that in the last three weeks, I’ve done a ton of very cool and quite joyful and very bloggable things, among them The (AMAZING) Tucson Festival of Books where I played and paneled with the lovely Cherie Priest, Margaret George, Diana Gabaldon, Terry BrooksSam Sykes, Jennifer Lee Carell, and many more; a road trip to Chicago in which Neil Gaiman and I drove for six hours, terrifying each other by confessing all of our driving-related paranoias as we passed other vehicles…OKAY, one photo of that. There was a Big Orange Moose on our journey. Neil took me to visit it.


Then we both went to The Astonishingly Lovely Gene Wolfe Literary Hall of Fame event in Chicago at the San Filippo Mansion, where I got to a) wear a fancy green dress b) ride an extremely fast late 1800’s carousel, c)tour the inside of an 8000-pipe organ, hang out with people like Valya Lupescu, Kyle Cassidy & Trillian Stars, Peter Sagal, Peter Straub, Gary K. Wolfe, Michael Dirda, David Hartwell, and the magnificent Luis and Cindy Urrea, all of whom rocked my world.

Kyle Cassidy, Valya Dudycz Lupescu, Trillian Stars, Peter Sagal, JenniferSummerfield, Neil Gaiman, Maria Dahvana Headley at the Gene Wolfe Literary Hall of Fame Event, photo by 8EyesPhotography

Oh, and I also lost my phone in NYC. In a rooftop bar. And had to talk myself into a service elevator, in order to search a lost and found, where my phone was not. So, all the pictures i took of the above events? They live in someone else’s hands. And a few on Twitter, thankfully posted by me, and not by whomever the bastard who stole my phone was.

I was in a grumpy maddened state by the time I made it to Orlando. Traveling for three weeks. Twitchy. Even though everything above was gorgeous, you know. Your phone goes into the darkness, and you have to spend the morning of travel running madly around NYC trying to find/replace/keep its er, somewhat questionable contents off the internet? Things were grrrr.

But. I’ve been excited about ICFA for months, not least because its theme this year was THE MONSTROUS FANTASTIC.  I love the monsters. I write the monsters. Monsters are my milk and honey. And the guests of honor this year were Kelly Link, whose writing I’ve long been madly in love with; China Miéville, who is a) my friend and b) a fucking genius both as a writer and as a disembodied magical brain; and scholar Jeffrey Cohen, who writes monster theory. I like monster theory, even if I don’t always agree with it. I like that it exists. Fuck it, I like that monsters exist. I like to talk about them, while in dark bars, arguing about teeth and fangs and which kinds of monsters are the best: undersea monsters, monsters you can’t see, or insect monsters. (Insect monsters. Obviously.)

Oh, holy, I really like it.

Also. I grew up in Idaho, a wobbly child who oh, among other things, compulsively meowed instead of talking, and who hungered for the summer camp experience, but never went to one. This was likely to the good. Many of the camps in Idaho had a Christian element, something which I never learned how to fake. I think had I attended, I might’ve been drowned as a witch. Like, er, most of us in the field, childhood was not my peak time. Eventually, I went to 4-H camp, with high, high hopes of fitting in with other humans, and was nearly kicked out for  i)singing a medley of AC/DC’s Big Balls and the Violent Femmes’ Blister In The Sun as a campfire song with a posse of other teenage girl freaks  ii)ballpoint graffitti-ing King Missile’s apocalyptic ballad The Story Of Willy on a log cabin (“Willy went outside. He loved to breathe fresh air, but he went outside anyway.”)  iii) other assorted acts of wrongness and desperation. Eventually the whole camp was sent home due to a measles outbreak.

So, I’ve been looking for my people for um, a long damn time. The dream of a (non-prison) camp full of people like me has never left me.

By the time I finally got to ICFA, and checked in, my mood was improving.  A hotel full of monster fanatics, and not just Monster Fanatics, but the kind I especially like : people interested in the history of monsters, the makeup of monsters, the classical roots of zombies and vampires, and other myriad geek joy topics. My people.

And.  It was amazing. It deserves this blogtime, because it was the platonic ideal of the writing related SFF conference. I know there’ll be tons of round-ups. Here’s Jeff VanderMeer’s , which is full of things I agree with in terms of why ICFA was great. I’ve been to several SFF cons in the last year since Queen of Kings was published. I always have a good time. This one wins. Somehow, (and I’m no fool, I know that the somehow has to do with tons of people doing tons of work [Sydney Duncan, Jim Casey, this means you! And More!]) the mix was perfect. It’s both an academic and writers conference, for one thing, and the number of writers attending is relatively small. That’s nice, because that means we could all hang out around the swimming pool, procrastinating our deadlines, twitching about our panels, and drinking strawberry daiquiris.  I know: daiquiris are not an essential part of being a writer. I know. But the notion of a place where writers could sit in the sun? IN BATHING SUITS? I mean, really. It’s kind of too startling.

I have no photos of the posse of writers and artists and editors who gathered at the pool on Saturday afternoon, sun-hatted and bathing-suited. It seems wickedly wrong to photograph people in bathing suits, even if they look good in them. But suffice it to say, any group that revolvingly includes Ellen Datlow, Liza Trombi, Ellen Klages, Charles Vess, Nalo Hopkinson, Kat Howard, Joe Haldeman, Delia Sherman, Ben Loory, Rick WilberBrett CoxChina Miéville…um, wouldn’t you want to be sitting at that table, drinking those daiquiris? The conversation ranged from rabid chipmunks to vultures, to bad reviews, to hybrid genre, to the (debatable) notion that pizza grease  touching your skin is grosser than grub monsters touching your skin (China), to at some point a discussion of a Life-Sized Swan, Sculpted of Lard (Nalo). Because we needed to go there.

In the several days of the convention, I got to do so many brain-battery-powering things. Being a writer is a lonely occupation. Being around other writers makes these things better, because no matter who you are, no matter how famous, no matter how starry, you’re still this thing which makes universes up, and which periodically loses all confidence.

All of us. But that’s not the part of hanging with writers I love. The thing I love is that writers, pretty much all of them, wherever you are on the genre spectrum, are passionately interested in things. Sidenote, this is also something I particularly adore about the SFF field in general, both pros and fans. Everyone’s got a THING THEY LOVE. And in this field, there’s a lot of genuine, passionate appreciation of eachother’s crazinesses, talents and obsessions, too, which I also find utterly lovely. In addition to all of the above, I also spent time with Nancy Hightower, writer and scholar of the grotesque, the exquisite Theodora Goss, Liz Gorinsky (who shares my theater-geek ways), Nick Mamatas, Ted Chiang, Gary K. Wolfe, Peter Straub, oh, the list of people I adore/really fucking dig talking with/like to make dirty jokes in proximity to goes on and on. It includes everyone on here.

So, a few event highlights.

China’s luncheon talk “On Monsters,” specifically dealing with the perilous urge to categorize monsters, is one of those things that’s going to live on forever on the internet – I hear it’s being published at Weird Fiction Review, which will not be the same as hearing him deliver it. It was funny as hell, and also massively smart and interesting. I was sitting at a table of smitten-brained scholars (there was a Russell Hoban expert at my table! The Joy!) and they were right to be smitten. He manages to balance complexity with geek-giddiness, deeper conceptual stuff with tongue-cheek, and it just fucking works. And, um, who doesn’t love a lecture which involves giant chomping jaws as visual aids? And also, China’s reading a couple days later, which was a new story regarding insects and the torture memos was really, very, holy damn. The fact that it contained a reference to Lafcadio Hearn’s Kwaidan was also to my very joy, because that book came to China from my own obsession collection. Hearn’s insect writings are wonderful. As was this story. (Insect monsters. Really. They Win.)

Kelly Link‘s reading of her story Two Houses, a ghost story set in space, and dealing with (appropriately) a sort of campfire ghost-story-telling session was one of those experiences wherein you just turn into an Ear. Often when I go to readings, the reader’s voice tricks me into thinking I’m writing inside my head, and I get lost. I have focus difficulties. This story, though, was absolutely terrifying, as well as funny and strange, and full of images I will, I suspect, never get out of my dreams. Add to this the fact that I sat between Peter Straub and Ellen Datlow, and things were even more pleasing, because we were all overwhelmed by the kind of joy you get when someone incredibly nice writes a difficult story, and ROCKS THE HELL OUT OF IT. Not that there was any question that Kelly’s a fabulous writer, but it was wonderful to hear her read her own work, and to hear the entirety of this story, which is long, and which you’d never normally get all of in a reading setting.

And Kat Howard, Kij Johnson and I shared a reading slot. It was at 8:30 in the morning, and so…hmm. I was maybe slightly hungover?  But i managed to cut 1000 words from a previously recalcitrant lovers/monsters/labryrinth/disaster short story (GIVE HER HONEY WHEN YOU HEAR HER SCREAM, it’s called) madly in time for the reading, and read the remaining words in very nearly my allotted time. It was great to debut the story at ICFA, pre-publication, because, oh joy, now I can cut more sentences from it, and make it right before it goes into the world. Kij read a fabulous shore of the dead excerpt involving a trickster character, and Kat read BREAKING THE FRAME, a story that will be out in Lightspeed soon, and which involves transformed photographs. All in all, a happy morning’s work.

And at the banquet, we all dressed in our fancy things, and spun around each other telling our geek joy stories, and feeling as though things were pretty damn fine in the world. Here is a photo of me in my fancy, with Kat Howard in her sequins, and a bit of Theodora Goss in her gorgeous black ball gown behind us. The happiness on our writer faces is fully legitimate.

What else do I have for you? Mainly just giddiness and the desire to toast marshmallows and sing Blister in the Sun. ‘Let me go on!’

I’ll be back next year. It was a beautiful conference. Thank you, ICFA and IAFA!


4 thoughts on “Strawberry Daiquiris Blended With Beasts : The ICFA Conference Post

  1. Thanks for linking. I’m such an idiot I had it my head you were an academic there for that aspect of the conference. Now I realize you’re the one Matt C’s been raving about for ages, including, I think, your plays? I even have one of your books. Will add you to the post now because in another senior moment I couldn’t remember your last name. Urgh. JeffV

  2. Pingback: March Madness « Nancy Hightower

  3. Fellow Idaho girl here, who also managed to miss out on summer camp (for the same reasons). This sounds like the coolest summer (spring?) camp ever! Thanks for sharing the experience with us.

    – Shelby

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