A Bear and an Agent Walk Into a Bar (Part 1 of 2)

You would think the second one would have ducked.

So, this last weekend, I went to the Tucson Festival of Books. According to the organizers, this is the largest free event of its kind in the country.  The Festival confiscated the outdoor mall of the University of Arizona and set up a whole lotta pavilions.

Using my vast vocabulary and all the writing experience I can muster, I would describe the Festival as one thing:  big.  Thousands of people swarmed through the tents, scooping up books.  Authors signed pages.  Vendors hawked their wares.  Singing troupes performed.  And everywhere, people talked books.  The guest list was pretty impressive.  Some well-known authors such as Noam Chomsky, Dave Barry, Joyce Carol Oates, and Amy Tan were on hand, giving talks and interacting with fans.

So here I was, thrust into this.  The festival staged a number of seminars and I found a few that were interesting.  I was really not prepared and I had an old man (Hi, Dad!) in tow, so I decided not to stay out there all day.  Next year, I plan on hitting both days and a lot more panel discussions.

Anyway, the morning of the first day was one titled The Next Big Thing:  Trends in Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror.  The panel included Elizabeth Bear, Brian Keene, Jonathan Maberry, and Weston Ochse.  We got in line about 40 minutes beforehand, which was overkill; the room was full but not standing-room-only, so we could have come later.

(Sidebar:  My Dad looked around the room and said, “What a bunch of geeks.”  I said, “Hey, these are my people.  If they are geeks, what am I?”  He said, “A geek in jock’s clothing.”  Thanks, Dad.  I think.)

I found the discussion illuminating.  Out of the gate, the panel agreed that the reading public is looking for stories outside the Euro-centric paradigm … so that will bolster some associates of mine who are hard over on the same thought.  I did think it interesting they also agreed that standard medieval-style fantasy will have an audience, too.

On the subject of chasing trends, unsurprisingly, they agreed it was a bad idea.  Bear noted that it is incredibly hard to predict what will be hot, citing the decline of vampire fiction until books such as Salem’s Lot and Interview with a Vampire revitalized a slowing genre.  Keene made the point that especially in horror, everything has pretty much been done so the key is for the author to put a unique imprint on the concept, calling out Warm Bodies as a zombie fiction with a twist.  They did, sadly, agree that vampire style romance will continue to be popular as there is “a regenerating crop of teenagers.”

A couple of interesting things came up.  Mayberry (I think it was him, I should have taken a damn recorder) leaned towards seeing a surge in “post-post-apocalypse” stories.  Not what happened after the zombie collapse, but what happened with the next generation, those who grew up with no memory of what the world was before and how their world worked.  Ochse predicted a rise in what he called “MMO fiction.”  Not necessarily based on the mythology of online games but works involving those who live their lives on their electronic gadgets, and the generation shaped by the internet.  Keene made an interesting point about seeing horror diverging back into a separate genre rather then being classified as general fiction as it is at big box boookstores.  He saw that horror for horror’s sake was becoming more marketable.  Ochse concurred at this, saying when he sold one of his books about a military unit that fights angels and demons, the marketing was pitched back to him as a “supernatural military thriller.”  That’s mouthful, rather than just calling it horror.  Lastly, somebody said they expected to see a rise in “fun” spec fiction – you know, the kind where you are actually enjoying it.  I don’t know that they meant pulp-style adventure but just something more enjoyable to read than the grimdark that seems so prevalent now.

All in all, it was a good discussion and even Dad seemed to get into a little.  There were some softball audience questions.  I wanted to ask that since Terry Pratchett’s passing (the person who came to mind when I asked myself who wrote  fun spec fiction), who else did they think was really nailing it?  But they ran out of time before they got to me.

So the first part of the day was enlightening and fun.

(Muse:  You mentioned a Bear but what about an agent?)

Next installment.

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