I really can’t decide between the two, since both things operate as a portal to where the fantastic reigns. This is a fitting metaphor since I so often feel like a freakish hybrid of a non-academic academic, art critic, and sometimes fiction writer. What I needed was a conference that didn’t splice my identity into all those separate selves but rather let this monstrous me out to play a little.
And play I did. For the readings I got to hear Ben Loory read about the most delightful of ducks and boys who could fly. I was listening to the most surreal of readings while sitting next to China Miéville when Maria Headley read the prologue to her new novel. And while she read, the most fantastic, sensuous, gorgeous images filled my imagination and blinded my eyes, so that I went out and ordered her other novel, Queen of Kings. I wish I could have attended the readings by Maria and Kat Howard early Friday morning, but they seem to have scheduled all the H’s together, so I was giving my presentation on The Island of Dr. Moreau and the art of Patricia Piccinini at the same time.
On Saturday, Christopher Rowe, Andy Duncan, and Dennis Danvers transported me to the southern fantastic with their performances (they went far beyond readings with such comedic timing). Then it was off to hear Jeff VanderMeer and others talk about “Rethinking the Canon,” which was an engaging (and rare) dialogue between editors, writers, and academics. It was an important conversation to have, too, with editors like the VanderMeers coming out with their new anthology on the Weird (which CU professor Stephen Graham Jones is using in his class this semester). I attended a late night verbal romp on "The Monstrous" where panelists including Miéville, Theodora Goss, Kelly Link, and Peter Straub tried to pin down that slippery beast. I loved Dora and China’s answers, and was live tweeting the conversation with Jeffrey Jerome Cohen (the guest scholar of honor). Good times. I’ve been an admirer of Jeffrey for a while now since the book he edited, Monster Theory, helped form my own definitions of the monstrous and the grotesque.
More important than the readings and panels, though, were the conversations I had with people—by the pool while drinking something frozen and very pink called a Miami Vice, or late at night at the bar. Didn’t matter where I was or how tired I felt—sometimes, I just need to spend time with other lovely freaks and geeks who understand you. A nice long, chat with Daryl Gregory reminded me that I was as much a writer as an academic. It seems that many of us are on strange pilgrimages, not sure of where we are headed, exactly, but so thankful to be on the journey. And just as I thought the conference was over, Karen Lord and I ended up at the same terminal, so we decided to have a post-con coffee. There was no better way to end ICFA, and it again cemented the idea that this conference is a kind of TARDIS, allowing me to enter fantastic, hybrid worlds I never knew existed, but had always hoped were true.