Last week I was in Florida as an invited Creative Participant for the International Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts (ICFA). I had a fabulous experience reconnecting with so many people and meeting new friends. It would be a rather long, almost unending list if I named every awesome person with whom I conversed, so I’m sticking to personal antedotes.
My original plan was to attend as many scholarly panels as possible, but that plan was quickly abandoned when I encountered so many authors I liked and wanted to support at their readings. So I attended lots and lots of readings and limited the scholarly sessions of people I already knew and met by the pool, though it was difficult to choose.
There were a lot of firsts for me at ICFA, and here’s a list:
My First ICFA Reading with Keffy Kehrli & E. Lily Yu
I was super-nervous about my reading, scheduled for the early morning session (8:30 AM) of the very last day of the conference. The probability was high that most people would be exhausted and sleeping, though I was quite happy to be grouped with Keffy and Lily, who are so awesome and so fun. Lily and I even half-joked that if no one showed up, we would have our reading in the pool. Thankfully, the room was well-attended for a 8:30 AM reading, and I read poems from my picture book as if I were reading to a kindergarten class. I’m a children’s author now, and I thought it would be the best way to engage people. Because all adults have experienced what it was like to be six years-old, even if they don’t remember it. And the See’s Candy lollipops I brought from California served well as a reward.
I am grateful to have experienced my first ICFA reading with Keffy Kehrli & E. Lily Yu, two talented and amazing writers whom I love so dearly. I am grateful for the wonderfully caring and gracious host Valorie, who took the time to personally connect with all three of us and ask not only how we pronounce our names but also what we wanted to include in our bios. Valorie is, quite simply, awesome. I am grateful for each and everyone who attended my reading and who were willing to learn Mandarin with each flip of the page from my picture book.
My First Autograph Signing Session
Following our reading at 8:30 AM, Keffy & Lily & I were supposed to participate in an autograph signing at 10:00 AM. So I sat between them at a table, and much to my surprise, a line formed with people holding my picture book! It was an overwhelming experience, seeing wonderful, smiling faces holding my book and waiting for my signature. My mind went blank and my fingers went numb. To add to this whirlwind of emotion, an older gentleman with a trim grey beard arrived and sat right next to me at the autographing table, exactly in the spot that Lily had just vacated. I automatically extended my hand and said, “Hi, I’m Emily.” He kindly shook my hand and said, “Hi, I’m Stephen.”
One glance down at his name tag revealed that he was Stephen Donaldson, author of The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, a series of fantasy books that hugely affected with me when I read them at the age of thirteen. I’m pretty sure I stared for a long time at Stephen Donaldson, who is a popular author with one of the longest lines during the World Fantasy mass autographing sessions. I just could not comprehend why I was sharing an autographing table with someone so famous, and I could not stop my self from asking him, in a rather befuddled (Keffy’s word, not mine) tone: “Why are you here?”
“I’m here to sign books,” he said simply. Just then a man approached Stephen Donaldson carrying a huge stack of 10-15 books. He quickly got to work signing, and so did I.
Thank you to my wonderful friends who purchased my book and waited in line, in the lobby, in the hallway of the hotel for my autograph. I am forever grateful.
My First Podcast with Skiffy & Fanty Show with John Chu & E. Lily Yu
The wonderful duo of Julia Rios & Sean Duke invited me along with John Chu, & E. Lily Yu to chat for their Skiffy & Fanty Podcast. Don’t want to give away what we talked about, but here’s a sort-of-selfie of Lily & me being silly while John was talking. We’re quietly fun like that.
My First Encounter of “I Like Your Work” from a Stranger in Person
One of my new favorite people is Derek of Speculating Canada. We met the first night through the fabulous Kathryn Allan, and we just clicked. Perhaps it was because I caught his cane before it whacked me on the knee, and he marveled at my reflexes.
In any case, Derek has a lovely habit of introducing people. After dinner, when we were chatting without our name tags, he introduced me to a young scholar named Sara, who took one look at me and said, “Oh, I like your poetry.”
Whoa, I thought, someone knows my poems and knows me by sight? That’s just not possible! I took a step back, looking around to see if someone was setting me up for a prank. After confirming in a quick second that everyone looked genuine, I wondered if maybe Sara, who seemed like a very nice person, had mistaken me for E. Lily Yu.
So I asked, rather carefully, “What’s my name?”
“Emily?” answered Sara, her voice now lightened with doubt. “You’re published in Strange Horizons and Stone Telling and Goblin Fruit.”
“Oh,” I said, with relief. It had honestly never crossed my mind that anyone would remember my handful of poems & short stories published online, and wow, what a wonderful realization that Sara did actually recognize me. “Yes,” I said. “How are you?”
It turns out Sara is a folklore scholar AND a published poet! She has a lovely poem in Cabinet des Fees! I am always a fan of meeting more poets!!
I’m so grateful for everyone at ICFA. It is an amazing conference and I’m definitely going to try my best to return.