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ConBust Report

March 31st, 2008

I restricted myself to a Saturday visit, $10, a pass through the artists’ and dealers’ rooms, a couple of panels. ConBust is a very small, somewhat insular convention held on the Smith College campus, with a focus on women in the publishing industry and a slight intellectual bent due to the smattering of braniacal Smith professors in attendance. For all that, however, ConBust turned out to be a surprisingly silly affair. Lots of chainmail and renfaire dress-up, marshmallow-firing hand crossbows and nerf duelling on the quad. I imagine this was due to the undergrad influence, and my being more used to hanging out with grad students and the wise, reserved nerds of Small Beer Press.

I caught the end of what must have been a really fascinating discussion on Pan’s Labyrinth, and was dismissed in my attempts to argue that the flaws in its narrative are intentional comments on the conflict between the demands of realism, fairytale and horror. I could maybe have contested the point, but I had already made myself that guy by showing up late, and anyway I’m never very good at disputing the opinions of the person with the talking stick.

Also went to a thing about urban fantasy, which sadly (for me) ended up being more about serial novels than short stories or stand-alones, but did include some interesting insights about industry trends in categorization, the branching off of dark fantasy from fantasy and horror, urban fantasy from dark fantasy, supernatural YA from general YA, and the necessity or lack thereof for the people writing the novels to care what name they get called as long as the editors can be trusted to know what they’re doing. I wish they’d stuck more to that track, but the audience was comprised more of readers than writers and so the fan-oriented perspective prevailed.

For lunch I ate half a loaf of country sourdough bread from the Hungry Ghost, which is right down the street from Smith and I have been meaning to try ever since I moved here. It was freaking awesome. The Ghost is a tiny little brick building on a knoll in downtown Northampton, the inside of which is almost completely taken up by an enormous, beehive-looking brick oven. There’s a skinny rack for finished loaves and a cash register, and that’s it. It was like walking through a little blue door back in time to the Middle Ages. And the bread…damn. Best lunch I’ve had in a very long time.

Then it was back to (Un)Seelye Hall for an incredibly in-depth lecture by Kelly Link and Sharyn November on the state of young adult fiction. I took notes, and I do not usually take notes. It seemed like everything they loved best was stuff that twisted, broke or challenged the genre boundaries and industry categorizations that had seemed so insuperable in the other panel. That made me happy. I really like YA, both for the breadth of what it allows and accepts, and for the gloriously open minds of its readership, and while thus far I have only ever tried halfheartedly to write or sell things to that market, someday I will make it happen. And it just floods me with goodwill towards the world (though part of that may have been the smell of the uneaten bread in my bag) that there is all this vibrant and fascinating stuff being done with it that I’ve never even heard of.

And that was all, ’cause I had to be out of NoHo by four. I went to Forbes Library and wrote feverishly under the gaze of some pipe-smoking city founder’s portrait until my wife arrived to pick me up.

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