Monday, November 19, 2007

Fantasy Matters Conference (or, Proof of the Growing Geek in Me)

I'm just back from the Fantasy Matters Conference at the University of Minnesota. It was good stuff. I liked this event the minute I heard about it because its a rare academic conference devoted to Fantasy Literature. Lots of papers, lots of panels, lots of readings, lots of authors!

I got to spend time quite a bit of time with Patrick Rothfuss. We'd just hung out a couple weeks back at World Fantasy, but it was nice to actually sit down and get to know each other. He's absolutely a great guy, an ambitious writer and really smart (and funny) in talking about literature. His debut, The Name of the Wind, has been kicking ass all year, but it hasn't gone to his head yet - and I don't think it will. He's taking his sophomore effort seriously, and I've no doubt he's going to be a fantasy star for a long time to come.

It was terrific to meet Nnedi Okorafor-Mbachu. Her debut, Zahrah the Windseeker, was well-received, and her second novel, The Shadow Speaker, looks great too. (She's got blurbs on the new book from Tananarive Due, Diana Wynne Jones and Ursula K LeGuin!) And Drew Bowling (the absurdly young guy in the picture with Neil Gaiman below) was a ball of energy and enthusiasm. This kid was born when I was a junior in high school, and already his first book is out to strong reviews, and he's working on the next two of his trilogy as he works through college. He's got strong opinions on dragons. Jim C Hines was great to hang out with. He writes about Goblins and Princesses, and from what I heard his writing is sharp and witty. So that was all good fun. It was nice to meet Caitlin Kittredge and Bryan Thao Worra also.

One of the highlights, though, was meeting Neil Gaiman. I'd heard tales of the rock star effect Neil has on people. I knew he was suppose to have the biggest fan base in fantasy, but I hadn't thought much about it ahead of time. I'd been casual speaking with lots of famous authors just a couple week’s back, so why should Neil be any different?

I don't know. I really don't, but he is. When I first saw him, instead of running over with my book in hand I found myself lurking behind columns, strolling by nonchalantly, circling. I had a sudden fear of opening my mouth. What stupidity would jump out if I did?

I might not mention this reaction to anybody if it hadn't been so universally shared by all the other authors. Nnedi looked like she was going to faint after speaking to him. Drew, after debating buying a copy of American Gods, decided to buy three. Patrick was shocked and a bit unnerved to hear that Neil was actually waiting to meet him. When I did speak to him I was fairly close-mouthed, just covering the basics, getting the signatures, choosing to listen instead of talk much.

Perhaps part of the whole strangeness of his effect on people is that he's so terribly nice. He's also funny, yes. His intelligence is clear. He manages to mention everything from his friendships with all sorts of famous people to his various movie projects without the slightest pretension. But at the end of it all is just the fact that he seems an attentive, generous, nice person. He took a picture with anyone that asked. And was as courteous to the last person at the end of his massive signing line as he was to the first person. So not only is he a superstar in the comic world and a first rate novelist and a great short story writer and a wonderful children’s author and a scriptwriter and film producer and husband and father... he's also a model of how to contain all these gifts with class. I took notes.

Which leads me to conclude that - in addition to getting on with my work as an author - I want a black leather jacket for Christmas. Or something else to build my "signature" look... Suggestions?...

Oh, and, yes... I did manage to do my duty in self-promoting terms. Neil walked out of there with a signed copy of Acacia in hand. Hee hee.

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Blogger Jim C. Hines said...

'Twas great getting to meet you and hang out, David! (Though I'm still bummed I missed out on the discussion with Gaiman.)

6:22 PM  
Blogger Constance Brewer said...

Sounds like an awesome time. People that take fantasy seriously!

Oh, and I think your wife needs to knit you a kimono in some bright colorway, because first it'll be a black leather jacket, then chaps with the fringey things, next thing you know, you'll be riding a Harley and pontificating about quantum physics, and we'll lose you to the Dark Side- Self Help books...

So, do they post the papers anywhere for us geeky types to read?

7:50 PM  
Blogger David Anthony Durham said...


I wish I could say that you didn't miss anything, but that would be a blatant lie... Ah, sorry that some creatures (Goblins maybe?) kept you from Gaiman. It was a very good time.


The Dark Side is Self Help books?... Okay, I guess I knew that. Won't happen. I'm adverse to self help. It would be like really, really selling my soul to the American Devil. (One of them.) I like the kimono idea, but knitted? Gudrun's got mad talent, but she's not big in Japan... yet.

Good question about whether or not they post the papers. I don't think so, but I'm also sure the folks that presented would love to know that somebody out there in the world was interested. You could drop the organizers an email. You might find many fantasy scholars ready to send you papers!

11:32 PM  
Blogger Bryan Thao Worra said...

Great meeting you at the conference, David! :) You really did a great job with your presentations and helped make this a historic and memorable event. :) Looking forward to the next time you can swing by through Minnesota!

11:58 PM  
Blogger Dirk said...

"suppose to have the biggest fan base in fantasy"

I think Gaiman has such a big fan base because he has a large base of fans that are outside the usual fantasy fan base.

I think there are a ton of Gaiman fans that have never heard of George R.R. Martin and probably never read the LotR trilogy.

12:02 PM  
Blogger David Anthony Durham said...

Bryan, Great to meet you, too. I'm glad to have your book and I'll look out for more in the future!

Dirk, Yeah, you're right. Gaiman works in so many mediums and has fans in all of them. Thing is, those fans show up where and when he shows up. There were definitely faces in the crowd at his reading/presentation that I didn't see at the conference before or afterwards.

6:43 PM  
Blogger Reginald Harris said...

Hey David, check out the photo here!

10:41 PM  
Blogger Larry Nolen said...

You ought to see Gaiman's forum, David, especially the World's End part. That was one of the wackiest and yet most fun author forums I've ever been a part of, but sadly I got busy the past few years and had to drop that for my unpaid "job" forum.

But I really would like to know more about the topics you heard/discussed. If it weren't the holiday season, I'd be very tempted to ask if you'd like to do a short interview based on the field as a whole. Maybe in the near future?

2:29 AM  
Blogger Michael Damian Thomas said...

It was a pleasure meeting you. I’m really looking forward to carving out some time to read your novels.

7:12 AM  
Blogger David Anthony Durham said...


Thanks for that link! I love it. A little subliminal Acacia-messaging. I might post about it.


I can't guarantee I have wisdom on the field, but I can say I'm happy to do an interview whenever you like. Just let me know.

And Michael,

Great to have met you also. Best of luck with your writing aspirations, and with everything else as well. I hope to bump into you again somewhere. (And I hope you do carve out some of that time for my books. That would be nice.)

12:10 PM  
Blogger Corby Kennard said...

Gaiman is a great guy. I met him when we was touring for American Gods, and he was on a couple of panels at Comic Con - now it's hard to read anything he's written without hearing his voice - and that's a good thing.

8:17 PM  
Blogger David Anthony Durham said...


Yep. The guy has got a voice, and that unhurried, humorous way of speaking. I was listening to the audio version of Fragile Things as I traveled to the con. So I was very familiar with it. And then I stood before the face to match with it...

9:14 PM  
Blogger Corby Kennard said...

BTW, thanks for the comment about my baby. I appreciate it! :)

Thanks also for the comment on my Race in Writing post - I couldn't figure out how to respond so I just made a new blog post about it - as if there was any question, you are 100% correct in your comments, and I would never think about you accusing me of being a racist after our initial exchange.

Anyway, just thought I'd let you know. Are you going to WisCon or coming to San Diego anytime soon? I'd really enjoy meeting you, and I use author signings as an excuse to force my wife into letting me buy hardcover books. :)

4:01 AM  
Blogger David Anthony Durham said...


I appreciate your new post. Thanks for putting it up. It all makes sense to me. Again, nice to communicate! If folks are interested, you can see it here:

(BTW, I put a space in there so it would fit on this narrow column.)

I'd love to go to Wiscon. It's on my short list of cons I want to get to soon. I don't know if it'll happen next year, though. That depends on other things in my life. As for San Diego... Perhaps. Anchor is making some noise about touring me for the paperback of Acacia. If they do I'll put San Diego as a preferred destination. It might work, considering that Mysterious Galaxy and at least one of the Borders there pushed the book strongly - had me sign a ton of copies, etc.

So, if not at Wiscon than perhaps late summer or early fall in San Diego. I'd be happy to meet up.

5:32 PM  

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