My first World Fantasy Convention was in 1981. That was number seven, held at the Claremont Hotel in Berkeley California. It was my third year selling professionally and 1981 had been particularly good with the publication of 13 short stories. I’d worked with a number of editors at that point, including Charlie Grant, Roy Torgeson, Lin Carter, Fred Saberhagen, and George Scithers, but I’d never met any of them. All our communications had been through the mail or over the phone. I’d also never met any of my fellow horror writers. I heard Alan Ryan, Karl Edward Wagner, and Dennis Etchison planned to attend, along with some of the British writers and editors with whom I’d been corresponding, and the anticipation of meeting so many figures I admired was overwhelming.
One thing you may have noticed about that list of writers and editors is that, unfortunately, all of them are gone now. My late friend Ed Bryant and I would sometimes read the glowing tributes to authors who had passed and Ed would say, “Well, I hope they told them these nice things while they were still alive.” Attending a World Fantasy Convention gives you a great opportunity to practice Ed’s advice. The sad fact is you may not have another chance.
Although my primary interest was horror fiction, I did that rare thing of actually attending panels, as many panels as I could squeeze in, representing all the branches of fantasy fiction. The somewhat eclectic theme that year was Mark Twain, Jack London, Ambrose Bierce, and Clark Ashton Smith. The guests of honor included Peter Beagle and artist Brian Froud. Karl Edward Wagner was the toastmaster.
I learned a great deal in a relatively short period (and even today if you see me in the audience at a panel I usually have a notebook and pen ready). The panelists talked about writers I had never heard of before and provided insight into technical and career aspects of writing I hadn’t considered. By the end of the convention I had a long list of works and writers I needed to track down and many questions I wanted to consider concerning my own writing.
But even more eye-opening were the conversations I had with other writers regarding markets, handling professional issues, and the current hot topics in the genre. Several of the horror writers in attendance were talking about Dallas Mayr’s first novel Off Season, published the previous year under his pen name Jack Ketchum. There was a lot of speculation that this might be a currently famous author writing under a pseudonym. Off Season was a controversial, violent novel, and several writers from the quieter, supernatural end of the horror spectrum didn’t much care for it and thought it a step in the wrong direction. Alan Ryan, however, thought Dallas brought a special quality to the genre and was on his way to becoming an influential figure. I bought a copy at the con and read it on the way home. I wasn’t sure if I liked it or not. Off Season was bleak and explicit and unlike anything I’d ever read before.
It’s been almost 40 years since that convention, and some of the details are a bit fuzzy. Wasn’t Joe Lansdale there handing out copies of his first novel, Act of Love? Or was that the following year in New Haven? And was that the convention where I first met Robert Silverberg, and British editor David Sutton, or did those introductions occur in Chicago?
I suppose the exact details of time and place aren’t important. Every World Fantasy Convention has meant more introductions, more information, increased opportunity, and a better understanding of the career I’ve devoted more than half my life to. I expect this one, WFC 2020 in Salt Lake City, to be no different.
Steve Rasnic Tem is a past winner of the World Fantasy, Bram Stoker, and British Fantasy Awards. He has published over 450 short stories, with some of his best collected in Figures Unseen: Selected Stories. His latest collection is The Night Doctor and Other Tales . Visit Steve’s home on the web at www.stevetem.com.
You'll have an opportunity to meet Steve in person in Salt Lake City at World Fantasy Convention 2020. Be sure to bring a copy of his book for the autograph reception!