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PSA: Fourth Street Fantasy 2013


I’ve been looking forward to this weekend for the past year. Why? Because this weekend is the annual Fourth Street Fantasy convention. I first went last year, and found it to be a weekend full of fascinating genre discussions, in-depth literary conversation, great music, and wonderful fun. I got to see old friends and make new ones, and it was also the first SF/F con at which I got to be on on some panels.

I had such a good time last year, how could I possibly stay away? Here are the details for this year’s 4th Street:

What: Fourth Street Fantasy
When: June 21 – 23, 2013
Where: Minneapolis, MN
(at the Spring Hill Suites Marriott, 5901 Wayzata Blvd, St. Louis Park, MN)
Program: (link)
Web Site: www.4thstreetfantasy.com

This year’s 4th Street looks to be as awesome as last year’s (if not more so). This year’s program is full of thought-provoking topics ranging from fantasy of discovery, to syncretism, to the heroine’s journey, and more. You can check out the whole program here. This year, I’ll be on one panel and moderating another.

Here are the salient details from the official program line-up:

Saturday, 9:30am – 10:30am
Intertextuality and Originality
No book exists independent of the literary conversation, no matter how much its author may want it to. Elizabethan faeries are inevitably going to be compared to each other, just like dark lords, destined heroes, and vampire- werewolf-mortal love triangles will. Given that very little authors can do will seem novel to experienced readers, how should they approach topics that many readers have been conditioned to read in a certain light? How can works that aim to deconstruct clichés avoid being read as “just X from Y’s perspective”?

  • Lynne Thomas
    (Moderating)
  • Chris Gerwel
    (that’s me!)
  • Tappan King
  • Catherine Lundoff
  • Abra Staffin-Wiebe

Saturday, 3:30pm – 4:30pm
Narrative Conventions
…and how their pressures shape narrative into certain forms. Are we narrowing the stories we can tell by leaning on familiar story forms and Aristotelian notions of rising action, drama, conflict, and the like? To what extent are western narrative conventions culturally specific, and how much of our media (and media- influenced fiction) is being made to fit time-blocks and act structures in ways that aren’t necessarily healthy to export into other forms?

  • Chris Gerwel
    (Moderating)
  • Alec Austin
  • Emma Bull
  • Kit Gordon

If you’ll be anywhere in the vicinity and if you’re looking for some excellent and thought-provoking discussions, I hope you’ll join us! And if you do come, I hope you’ll say hello!

Fourth Street Fantasy 2012: Thoughts After the Con


As I mentioned in an earlier post, I spent the past weekend at Fourth Street Fantasy, a fantasy/science fiction (and that order does matter) conference in Minneapolis, Minnesota. While I’ve been to plenty of New York Comic-Cons and to BEA, etc. this was only my second genre con (after Readercon last year) and it was my first for both being on some panels and being able to stay for the entire event.

I had been looking forward to the con with a school kid’s mix of eagerness and trepidation. On the one hand, the program looked fascinating: panel after panel discussing thought-provoking subjects immediately relevant to my writing. On the other hand, the program was vaguely terrifying: I’d have to somehow avoid making an utter fool of myself, both on and off stage.

The Writer’s Seminar at Fourth Street

Friday morning featured an optional writer’s seminar not included in the con membership. Each of the seminar speakers gave a brief (thirty to forty-five minute) speech, discussing various facets of writing and storytelling, followed by extensive Q&A.

The presentations were interesting and entertaining, though the one-day format of the event didn’t really allow the speakers to dive deeply into a great many subjects. The two presentations that I found most interesting were Beth Meacham’s discussion of editor attitudes/processes, and Scott Lynch’s practical discussion of the reader/writer relationship. And from the latter, two of Scott’s statements particularly struck me as deserving repetition:

“Readers own their own experience of your book. They own the intensity of it. You provide an experience, but what they do with that is entirely up to them. You don’t dictate – and don’t get to dictate – the emotional keys that it plays.”

“Literary fiction is – in some respects – the literature of disconnection and alienation and ineffectuality. It is the literature of being a chip upon the flood, unable to affect the world around [you]. Fantasy is the literature of significant personal action, where you can take arms against your sea of troubles and actually do something about them.”

These are some meaty, insightful statements that might brook discussion or arguments and certainly demand exploration. They also set the tone for the rest of Fourth Street’s programming.

The Fourth Street Panels

Each of Fourth Street’s one hour panels featured a few minutes of moderator-directed questions, followed by a moderated discussion with the audience. While there was some variability, the ratio tended to be 25% moderator-generated, and 75% audience-generated questions, which made for a fast-moving, far-ranging, and insightful discussion. From conversations that I had with other attendees, this seems to be a reversal of the panel structure typical at most genre conferences; the emphasis on discussion particularly stood out for me.

The panels themselves tended to skew in the direction of theoretical/philosophical analysis of narrative structure, craft, technique, and current trends, and the exchange of ideas and opinions produced vibrant debate. Many perspectives and insights were exchanged, sometimes in stark disagreement, which left me with many concepts to think about later. Because there were only one hundred twenty or so attendees, anyone who wanted to participate could and did. This made the discussion flow more like a true conversation than a standard Q&A session, which was refreshing.

This was not only my first complete con, but also the first where I got to speak on two panels (respectively Accessibility, Genre, and Depth and Science, Technology, and Fantasy). Whether I made a fool of myself or not I shall leave to others to judge, but I know that from where I sat the conversation was stimulating, and hope that the other attendees and panelists agreed.

After each hour-long panel, Ellen Klages auctioned something off to raise money for next year’s Fourth Street Fantasy. She was engaging and funny and there was broad participation and laughs all around. The auctions made for a perfect segue to the brief coffee/bio breaks between the panels.

The Evening Revels

When the panels were all over, the discussions naturally continued into the evening. And continued into the evening means late into the evening. For me, it was a novel and wonderful experience to discuss – in detail and at depth – narrative structures, historical non-fiction, research processes, biology, and ecology, with much smarter people late into the night.

And the background folk music? Provided by an inordinately talented circle of musicians and singers? Simply amazing. The conversations eventually shifted to hilarious stories, more folk music, jokes: a bonding, entertaining, and thoroughly enjoyable way to spend the evening (PSA: should Scott Lynch ever begin a joke that involves purple ping pong balls, heed my advice and run for the hills).

The only “complaint” I could possibly voice is not really a complaint, and actually had nothing to do with the con itself. Instead, it has to do with Minnesota’s monstrous mosquitoes. Seriously, we’ve got plenty of them in NJ and since my house backs up to a swamp, I thought myself quite familiar with the little blood-suckers. But these Minnesotan vampires are more vicious than any I have ever encountered before. To give some sense of how hardcore they are, one bit my thick-skinned palm while I was slapping it out of the air. These beasts are not to be trifled with, and when I return next year, I am going to bring/buy some bug spray and bathe in it.

Final Conclusions on Fourth Street Fantasy in 2012

Overall, this was an amazing experience for me. Being able to discuss literature, history, art, culture, and fantasy with so many intelligent, erudite, and passionate people was new and energizing. All weekend long, I felt like a kid at a candy store, and I left Minnesota with new friends and many interesting ideas and thoughts floating around in my brain.

I strongly recommend Fourth Street Fantasy to anyone who is looking for in-depth and thought-provoking conversations about fantasy, literature, and culture.

PSA: Fourth Street Fantasy is Next Week!


So after the intensity of BEA last week, this week I’d just like to offer a brief PSA: next week is Fourth Street Fantasy, and this will be my first year there.

I first learned about Fourth Street Fantasy, Minneapolis’ premier fantasy conference, last year at Viable Paradise (BTW, if you haven’t applied to VP after reading about my experiences, you’ve got until Friday to do so!).

Here are the important details on Fourth Street Fantasy:

What: Fourth Street Fantasy
When: June 22nd – 24th, 2012
Where: Minneapolis, MN
(at the Spring Hill Suites Marriott, 5901 Wayzata Blvd, St. Louis Park, Minnesota)
Program: (link)
Web Site: http://www.4thstreetfantasy.com/

I’m very excited about going (with panels covering everything from POV, to politics in fantasy, or the use of teen labor in secondary worlds, it is shaping up to be a weekend of fascinating conversation.). This is also going to be the first con where I’m on a couple of panels. I’ve pasted their write-ups and times below, but suffice to say I’m both kid-in-a-candy-shop excited and noob-intimidated by the folks I’m going to be panelling with. I’ll try not to embarass myself too badly.

Here are the program write-ups for the two panels I’ll be on:

Saturday, 2:00pm – 3:00pm
Accessibility, Genre, and Depth
Making fantasy accessible to new readers without making it seem simple or “dumbed down” to a more experienced audience can be challenging. What can we learn from the burgeoning YA genre? What are some techniques for ensuring new readers won’t feel like they’ve been thrown in the deep end, and to what extent can these techniques be reconciled with the intertextual complexity and deconstruction of genre tropes that experienced readers often desire?

  • Michael Merriam (moderating)
  • Elizabeth Bear
  • Chris Modzelewski (that’s me!)
  • John Scalzi

Sunday, 9:30am – 10:30am
Science, Technology, and Fantasy
There is a tendency for fantasy to depict worlds mired in technological stasis, or to imagine magic and technology as polar opposites. Even when authors combine the two, as in more fantastic end of steampunk, they often choose to reproduce a subset of ideas from our world and prior art. What are some of the sources of this approach toward technology in fantasy? What sorts of narrative opportunities open up when you introduce disruptive technologies, magical or otherwise, into a fantasy story?

  • Ellen Klages (moderating)
  • Marissa Lingen
  • Chris Modzelewski (that’s me again!)
  • Sarah Monette
  • Catherine Schaffer

If you’re anywhere in the vicinity, or if you find yourself looking for some great discussions, please join us! If you can’t make it, don’t worry: I’ll be posting a detailed write-up of the event on Tuesday, June 26th. But for those of you who will already be attending Fourth Street Fantasy, I’m looking forward to seeing you there!

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