Sunday, November 4, 2012

YA at World Fantasy Con!

Last Thursday, almost 700 authors, illustrators, editors, booksellers and fans descended on my home town of Toronto for the 38th annual World Fantasy Convention.  Grey weather from the tail end of Hurricane Sandy could not dampen the mood, although unfortunately some of the attendees had to cancel at the last minute due to the storm. 

From Thursday through Sunday, our days and nights were packed with lectures, readings, panels, book signings and parties.  As I did with last year’s wrap-up, I must begin with an apology.  So much was going on concurrently that no WFC attendee could possibly take it all in, and no two attendees would ever have the same experience—so I hope readers will understand that this is just a taste of what went on during those fabulous four days. 

These were some of the panels and discussions that I enjoyed, but I hope other attendees will tell us their favourites in the comments section—and post links to their pics!

Young Adult Urban Fantasy
with Joel Sutherland, Holly Black, Isobelle Carmody, Charles de Lint, Alyxandra Harvey, and Leah Petersen.

Authors Holly Black and Alyxandra Harvey
 Author Gillian Chan and Author/Librarian Joel Sutherland

Canadian Librarian Joel Sutherland led this lively discussion about the appeal of YA urban fantasy.  “Urban fantasy is gateway fantasy!” Holly Black said, making the point that a realistic, contemporary setting can be less intimidating to those new to the fantasy genres. 

Charles de Lint, considered by many to be one of the inventors of urban fantasy, surprised everyone by saying he didn’t use the term when describing his own work; he preferred the expression “mythic fantasy” because, although his books usually have a contemporary setting, they don’t always take place in a city, and to him the city is a key element of urban fantasy.  Most of the panel agreed, and certainly a city setting is crucial to many seminal works of YA urban fantasy such as Cassandra Clare’s Mortal Instruments series. As Holly Black put it: “The city is the new forest; the city is now the place we go to be transformed.” 

When panelists were asked why they wrote YA and not adult urban fantasy, Leah Petersen summed it up perfectly: “Because YA is about firsts—first kisses, first love, first coming into your magic…  Teens are doing these things for the first time—and I love to write about that.”

Garth Nix Reading from Clariel

Sabriel, Nix’s lyric high fantasy about a female necromancer (or “abhorsen”) who puts the walking dead back in their graves, is wildly popular, as are its two sequels.  However, the forth book, Clariel, has been a long time coming—and Nix’s readers were beginning to get restless.  As one fan on Goodreads put it: “If I die before this book comes out, Garth, I assure you that no Abhorsen will be able to prevent me from coming back for it.”

I’m happy to report that Clariel exists.  Nix read the prologue and first chapter to an enthusiastic audience and told us that the book would be out in 2014.

Artist Guest of Honour, Richard A. Kirk

At some World Fantasy Cons it’s hard to remember that it’s not all about the writers—but Richard A. Kirk never let us forget that fantasy illustrators are also honoured and represented at the event.  Not only our programs, but even our con badges and pocket guides were covered with his strange and surreal drawings. Alternately beautiful and nightmarish, Kirk’s work never fails to be arresting, from his illustrations of Clive Barker novels to his album covers for the rock band Korn.  (Also, I was on the Our Selves, Our Monsters panel with him and I can attest that he is an utterly lovely man.) If you have a few minutes, take a look at the galleries on his website.

Diversity and Difference in YA Fantasy
with Kathy Sullivan, Cinda Williams Chima, Megan Crewe, EC Myers and Cheryl Rainfield

Although the panel began by discussing some alarming events, such as the recent cover whitewashing of books by Justine Larbalestier and Jaclyn Dolamore, they were mostly optimistic about the changing views about diversity and difference in YA lit.  We’re seeing more main characters of colour, such as Crewe’s heroine in The Way We Fall and in books by authors like Malinda Lo
and Cindy Pon. 

Rainfield has summed up the talk on her blog and included an excellent booklist.

Authors Cheryl Rainfield, Megan Crewe and Kathy Sullivan
Charles de Lint’s Jam Sessions

On both the Friday and Saturday nights, author and musician Charles de Lint played impromptu folk music for World Fantasy Con attendees with a variety of other artists.  It was a great way to decompress after a long and busy day.

Author Charles de Lint
Author/Illustrator Martin Springett

Romancing the Monster
with Nancy Kilpatrick, Patricia Briggs, Sephira Giron, Maureen McGowan and Chris Szego

This panel dug beneath labels like “dark fantasy” and “paranormal romance” to see what lay below.  What we learned: monsters have rules, real humans don’t—dating a vampire has specific risks, but the risks of dating humans are amorphous and undefined.  So is dating a vampire safer than dating a man?  “It’s very appealing to be able to turn a beast into someone that loves you,” Patricia Briggs commented.  “That’s a lot of power.” Nancy Kilpatrick had the last word when an audience member asked if the panelists got turned on while they wrote.  “If I’m not turned on, I’m not doing it right!” she said.

Authors Nancy Kilpatrick & Sephira Giron, bookseller Chris Szego and authors Patricia Briggs & Maureen McGowan

 Some Favourite Quotes from the Conference

Authors Mette Harrison and Cinda Williams Chima
“If you think teenagers aren’t having sex, I wish you’d been my parents.”  Laura Anne Giman when asked whether there was too much sex in YA.

“Horror is the literature of hopelessness; fantasy is the literature of hope.”  Patricia Briggs.  (Horror writer Sephira Giron disagreed!)

“In horror you survive; in fantasy you triumph.”  Tanya Huff

“When I picture urban fantasy, I think of the bastard love child between fantasy and romance.” S. M. Stirling

“If you can remove the romance and still have a plot it’s urban fantasy; if you can’t, it’s paranormal romance.” Ginjer Buchanan

“Reality is a crutch for people who can’t handle fantasy.” Geoff Hart

“One of the great things about fantasy is that it is metaphor actualized.  (In a changeling story) not only do you feel alien; you are alien.”  Holly Black

“For me, fantasy is a way into philosophy; it’s the way to grapple with the big questions.”  Isobelle Carmody

The dealers' room
The World Fantasy Awards

Finally, on Sunday afternoon we all got into our finery for the World Fantasy Awards Banquet.  Winners were:

Life Achievement
Alan Garner
and George R.R. Martin
Osama by Lavie Tidhar (PS Publishing)

“A Small Price to Pay for Birdsong” by K.J. Parker (Subterranean Winter 2011)

Short Story
“The Paper Menagerie” by Ken Liu (F&SF 3-4/11
The Weird by Ann & Jeff VanderMeer, eds. (Corvus; Tor, published May 2012)

The Bible Repairman and Other Stories, Tim Powers (Tachyon and Subterranean Press

Lena Coakley’s first novel, Witchlanders, was called “one stunning teen debut” by Kirkus Reviews and won the SCBWI Crystal Kite award for the Americas.  It is a 2013 MYRCA nominee and a 2013 OLA White Pine nominee.  Lena is also the author of two children’s picture books and the former administrative director of CANSCAIP. Learn more about her at


  1. Great summary, Lena! Thank you so much for sharing the kind of details that make us feel we were right there. My favorite quote from your excerpts was:
    “Reality is a crutch for people who can’t handle fantasy.” Geoff Hart

    but I also loved Leah Petersen's description of YA as the literature of firsts! Definitely the reason why I love YA. The first experience is always the most intense.

  2. Thanks for filling us in, Lena! Such great quotes and photos! Lots to think about there. I especially liked Holly Black's "The city is the new forest..."

  3. What a great overview of events YA! I also enjoyed seeing Lena's panel, Our Monsters, Ourselves, with James Alan Gardner (M), Ellen Datlow, Christopher Golden, Richard A. Kirk, Holly Phillips.Enjoyed seeing Lena, Cheryl, Megan, Holly, and others at WFC!

  4. What a great wrap up! Thank you from Australia!

  5. Awesome summary! Thanks very much for this post! I had such a wonderful time at WFC and hope you did too.

  6. That sounds like a terrific few days! Thank you so much for giving us this vicarious glimpse . . . .

  7. Thanks everyone! I loved seeing you and Megan, Cinda! By the way, if anyone is interested in hearing Ken Liu's winning short story, The Paper Menagerie, Podcastle did a great podcast reading of it that you can listen to here:

  8. I loved reading some of the quotes about fantasy. They made me think of fantasy in a different light. Thanks.

  9. it was like i was there! great post, lena! thank you so much for sharing!!

  10. My Name is Kelly Williams from Canada, i turn to a vampire any time i want to, I become a real vampire because of how people treat me, This world is a wicked world and not fair to any body. At the snack of my finger things are made happened. Am now a powerful vampire and no one step on me without an apology goes free. I turn to human being also at any time i want to. And am one of the most dreaded and respected person in my country. i am now also very famous and rich with the help of the VAMPIRES EMPIRE. i get what ever a want. i become a vampire through the help of my friend who introduce me into a vampire Kingdom by given me their email:, if you want to become a powerful and a real vampire kindly contact the vampire kingdom on their email: for help. it is real. Contact them today.

  11. Are you tired of being human, having talented brain turning to a vampire in a good posture in ten minutes, Do you want to have power and influence over others, To be charming and desirable, To have wealth, health, without delaying in a good human posture and becoming an immortal? If yes, these your chance. It's a world of vampire where life get easier,We have made so many persons vampires and have turned them rich, You will assured long life and prosperity, You shall be made to be very sensitive to mental alertness, Stronger and also very fast, You will not be restricted to walking at night only even at the very middle of broad day light you will be made to walk, This is an opportunity to have the human vampire virus to perform in a good posture. If you are interested contact us on


Have your say...