Thankful Thursday – My First ICFA

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.

Thankful Thursday – Surrounding Yourself with Awesome

I’m right now at the International Conference for the Fantastic in the Arts (ICFA).  It’s a conference dedicated to the scholarship of the fantastic in the arts, and I am so grateful to have been invited to attend this year as a Creative Participant.  Unlike most academic conferences, ICFA tries to keep a balance of academics and creative writers to stimulate intellectual and creative growth, and the best part is that we all have a deep love for science fiction and fantasy.  So awesome.

I’ve always heard good things about ICFA and am excited to be here.  My first night I was lucky to have dinner with independent scholar Kathryn Allan, who has kindly introduced me to awesome scholars at ICFA.  She and I met a few years ago through my friend Na’amen at Worldcon in Reno, where she was contemplating editing an anthology of academic essays centering on disabilities in science fiction and fantasy.  It was a fresh, unexplored topic and a project that excited me, and we bonded quickly.

The fact that Kathryn was an independent scholar inspired me to write and present papers as an independent scholar at a couple academic conferences, including the most recent EATON conference, where my laptop died literally one hour before my presentation on time travel in international television shows.  And I did not have a back up.  Thankfully, Kathryn kindly loaned me her laptop so I could have some sort of visual aid to share screenshots of from Korean time travel dramas.

Kathryn is not only brilliant, she is a kind and generous soul, heavily invested in helping underrepresented people in marginalized spaces.  I’ve enjoyed watching her grow in her scholarly career.  She’s traveling in an untraditional manner, having left institutionalized academia to forge her own path that’s dictated not through tenure but through pure passion and advocacy.  It’s a scary journey, but Kathyrn has been able to make independent scholarship viable by supplementing her income with her private tutoring and editing business.  Not only did she managed to publish her anthology, but she also is the first ever Ursula K Le Guin Fellow in Feminist Science Fiction.  

In short, Kathryn is a rock star scholar in the making, and I feel so thankful to have known her since the beginning of her career.  During our first dinner at ICFA, she said that she found the confidence to finish her anthology because Na’amen and I were so excited about it when we met at Worldcon.  I was honored and humbled in learning this.  It also made me wonder about the power of personal cheerleading, the happy spark that starts a bonfire of creativity.

Sometimes that’s all it takes, a bit of genuine, excited support, to encourage individual creativity to blossom.  It reminds me of a quote by Kurt Vonnegut:

“We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be.”

This quote can be interpreted as a warning towards how we choose “what we pretend to be,”which implies we not only have a choice in identity, but that we also can become something that perhaps we were not originally.  It’s a nice thought, this agency.  Yet the reality of identity is that it often influenced by people around you.  There are so many people who can be unsupportive and toxic, draining your energy to the point where you might become your worst self.  But when you surround yourself with awesome people, those who give you positive and/or constructive energy, those who encourage you to become your best self, then often good things happen.

Thank you, Kathryn, for being an awesome person to me and inspiring me to be my best self in return.  May our sisterhood of awesome continue to flourish.



Which One Will Be My New Author Photo?

So now that Summoning the Phoenix will soon be out in the world in April, it’s time to update my official author photo.  I’m grateful that my friend Donia, with the helpful comments of Alex, took some photos of me with her awesome fancy camera.  But there are so many options, and though I narrowed to four, I still cannot decide.  So I need your help.  Please vote for your favorite in the comments.  Thanks!

Below is Option 1 aka Emily with Camellias


Below is Option 2 aka Emily with Red Berries


Below is Option 3 aka Emily Holding Her Book Summoning the Phoenix


Below is Option 4 aka Emily Reading Book Summoning the Phoenix


And finally, just for laughs, not for serious votes…Emily Rolling Her Eyes at the Absurdity of Getting Her Photo Taken.


Thanks for your thoughts!