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Jeff Baker, Boogieman In Lavender at the World Fantasy Convention

Panel LGBT Characters Done Well” L to R: Ellen Klages, Naseem Jamnia, Alex Jennings, Elizabeth Leggett. Photo by Jeff Baker.

World Fantasy Convention 2023

by Jeff Baker

The World Fantasy Convention, a celebration of all things in Light and Dark Fantasy was held in Kansas City, MO right before Halloween. And LGBT people were well-represented.

Held this year at the Sheraton Kansas City Hotel at Crown Center it featured author readings, panels and interviews as well as the Dealer’s room with everything from posters, the latest paperbacks and even a 1970s magazine with a first publication of a Stephen King story!

With scheduled events held on three floors, using the stairs gave me a lot of exercise (I didn’t know the hotel had a gym; I didn’t need it!)

It was actually my third major convention (I had attended Bouchercon in Cleveland and Worldcon in Kansas City years earlier.) And I realized that this was my first trip to stay at a hotel by myself without family or friends with me.

The panel “LGBT Characters Done Well” featured Alex Jennings, Naseem Jamnia (they/them), Elizabeth Leggett, Ellen Klages and (via Zoom) Fiona Moore. There was a nice-sized crowd for the panel, probably filling a third of the space the size of a grade-school gymnasium.

Among other thoughts/points from the panel were Klages’ comment that “it’s nice to see broader stories being told,” and Jennings noted that LGBT-themed stories have “become less sensational.”

There was a long discussion from the panel about using pronouns, as well as a fun discussion about “Bad” 1950s Lesbian novels. (Klages has a shelf of them!) In addition there were questions about how writing Queer characters has changed in the past ten years.

“I like that it’s now becoming joyful. Now becoming lighter.” (The orientation is not) “all the plot,” said Legett.

Another panel “Queer Themes In Horror” featured Izzy Wasserstein, Lauren Raye Snow and Brandon O’Brien as well as Katherine Maximoff via Zoom.

Speaking about the popularity of horror fiction in the Queer community, Snow said; “it’s about embracing the thing (people say) is wrong with you…it’s a superpower.”

The panel also referenced Jessica Amanda Solomon’s anthologies about early coded queer themes. Also mentioned was the book “Something In the Blood; the Untold Story Of Bram Stoker, the Man Who Wrote Dracula” by David J. Skal, about the probably Gay author, recommended by Snow.

Demonstrating that Queer-themed fiction is not just an anomaly there was another panel scheduled for the same time as that one; “Neurodivergence In Fantasy,” which I couldn’t go to. Competing panels are the bane of convention scheduling!

Other highlights of the convention included;

A panel “The Fantasy Fiction of Robert Heinlein,” with Gordon Van Gelder, Michael Cassuit (who had known Heinlein!) and John Kessel (via Zoom.)

The panelists recommended Heinlein’s neglected fantasy story “The Man Who Traveled In Elephants.”

Heinlein had lived in Kansas City and afterward I chatted with the panelists who said they love Heinlein’s “Juveniles” (We call them YA Novels today) and brought up “Citizen Of the Galaxy.”

An incredibly exuberant reading by Carlos Hernandez from his soon-to-be-published story “The Boy On the Ghost Horse” (in the forthcoming anthology “Scaring and Daring Adventures.”) I recommend Hernandez’s own collection “The Assimilated Cuban’s Guide to Quantum Santeria,” and I wish I’d known he was going to be there, I would have brought the book for him to sign!

An early-morning reading featuring writer/editor Darrell Schweitzer and writer Deborah Millitello was sparsely-attended. Events that early (it was ten A. M.) usually don’t get big crowds, but Schweitzer and Millitello more than made up for it with Millitello’s storytelling and Schweitzer’s readings of several of his poems and a creepy story “Corazon.” He described it as “a cross between Lovecraft and Zenna Henderson.”

A reading by Convention Guest Of Honor “Adam-Troy Castro of his story “Cards On the Table.”

A scholarly talk about the novelist and ghost story writer Marjorie Bowen by Professor John Tibbetts which got even more applause when Tibbetts interrupted his own talk to announce that the University of Kansas had won their basketball game!

Another high point was attending “Spotlight: Steven Barnes,” where the writer was interviewed by his wife of 25 years, writer Tananarive Due and hearing him reminisce about Octavia Butler and Ray Bradbury as well as talk about writing for the 1980s incarnation of “The Twilight Zone,” and I realized I was wearing a Twilight Zone t-shirt. (Showed it to Barnes after the talk and he smiled.)

Barnes said that the purest form is to answer the questions “Who am I? And What is true?”

The weather was typical Kansas/Missouri weather for October—Sun, rain and just a little sleet on the drive back to Wichita. All in all the trip was well worth it. And if anybody gets the chance to attend one of these conventions, take it! Go! They are worth it!

And one last recommendation; Kansas City can be very lovely with plenty of things to do,

including the Negro League Museum and the steaks and music the city is justifiably proud of. (And, of course, the sports teams!)

KC has memories for me; my parents grew up in St. Joseph, MO just up the highway and I spent part of my childhood traveling through KC on the way or visiting to take in the sights. Yes, I’m going back sometime, just to visit.

AUTHOR’S NOTE: Jeff Baker writes about reading and writing sci-fi, fantasy and horror and other sundry matters on or around the thirteenth of each month. Despite still having family in the Kansas City area, he remains a classic Bisexual nerd and is amazed he knows who Patrick Mahomes is.

His fiction is in the new QSF anthology “Rise,” and appears regularly on RoMMantic Reads https://rommanticreads.wordpress.com/ He regularly posts fiction on his blog https://authorjeffbaker.com/ and wastes time of Facebook https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100063555483587 and Mastodon (as “Mike Mayak.”) https://mastodon.otherworldsink.com/@MikeMayak

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