Tranquilize the Mind with a Steady Purpose (ICFA 2018)

I attended ICFA (the International Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts, operated by the IAFA) for the first time last month. This academic conference is pretty special; I’ve never experienced anything quite like it. Eclectic is a good way to describe the vibe, as the attendees come from varying fields of study. There were undergrads and postgrads, professors and independent scholars, writers and editors, all specializing in topics like Indian science fiction, the portrayal of robots in Japanese pop culture, or monsters in Victorian literature (the theme for this year’s conference was the 200-year anniversary of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, after all). I’ll admit that it was overwhelming at times, and yes, exhausting too. I would have never survived without those revitalizing coffee breaks! The overall experience was so exhilarating and intellectually stimulating, however, that losing a few hours of sleep was well worth it. I walked away (or rather, flew away) from Orlando equipped with new approaches to literature and some inspiration for future projects.

My personal highlights for the conference included:

Presenting my paper, “The Lingering Effects of Colonialism on Modern Philippine Speculative Fiction,” on a panel about patriarchy and colonialism in non-western science fictionGetting my abstract accepted by IAFA was exciting, but the prospect of actually presenting the paper left me riddled with anxiety. Thankfully, there was a strong contingent of fellow Stonecoasters in attendance, and my friends saved me from imploding into a bundle of quivering nerves. I think the presentation went really well. I received some great questions and even compliments from complete strangers afterward. People seemed to be genuinely interested in my work, and for that, I’m grateful. My subject matter was quite personal. I’ve seen firsthand how much Spain and the United States have impacted my culture, oftentimes negatively. To be able to shine a light on those difficult moments in Philippine history and to show how contemporary writers are addressing them is very important to me. The Philippines has spent hundreds of years trying to fit into boxes defined by colonial powers. Now, the people are breaking free from those imposed boundaries and forging their own path to a new identity. If I can amplify those voices, even for a moment, then I know I’ve contributed to that journey in some small way. I feel I owe it to my family, and indeed my ancestors, to represent our culture in a western-dominated world.

Panels, panels, everywhere and not a moment to spare! If you’ve read my other conference write-ups, you know I’m a glutton for a good panel session. ICFA has them in spades. Every day I agonized over choosing which one to attend because there were SO MANY going on at the same time. Do I attend the panel on robots or fairy tales? Monsters or fantastic animals? And oh, there’s a panel about Stranger Things, I Am Legend, and Frankenstein! Here’s one about magic, and another about cyberpunk, and wow, look, a whole panel on scary video games! Yes, the struggle was real, people. No matter where your interests may lie, ICFA is guaranteed to have something that will satisfy your scholarly itch (though you may still want to get that checked by a professional).

The flash play festival was phenomenal. There were five plays in total, all written and performed by members of the IAFA. Each one had to use at least one of three props: an inflatable banana, a “pitchfork” (actually a skewer for roasting marshmallows), or a “meteorite” (a plastic ball filled with glitter that lit up). Each play also had to incorporate the line, “It looks like someone dug you up and stitched you together.” I don’t remember if that’s the exact line, but seeing as how Frankenstein was the theme, you get the gist. The plays were so damn good. Jim Kelly combined the theory of panspermia with the need to answer nature’s call. I never thought waiting in line for the restroom could be so entertaining. Fellow Stonecoaster J.R. Dawson wrote a beautiful play about a robot grandma, and the story squeezed tears out of the audience. My personal favorite was “A Perfect Match,” but sadly, I don’t remember who wrote this one! It was hilarious. Frankenstein’s creature ends up at a matchmaking service, and the woman in charge tries to help him build a respectable dating profile. I loved it so much my sides hurt from laughing.

I hung out with a bunch of Stonecoasters, some of whom I haven’t seen in almost two years. Reunited and it feels so goooooooood. Peaches and Herb, ladies and gentlemen. When I started my MFA program in 2015, I thought maybe I’d get lucky and make a friend or two. Fast forward three years later, and it’s like I’ve been adopted into a large, crazy family of ridiculously talented people. Most of them were presenting papers themselves, and I tried to attend as many as possible. They all did fantastic, presenting their topics with a gusto and fielding questions like pros. Hell, they ARE pros. I’m so proud of my peeps. And of course, no Stonecoast gathering would be complete without a bit of mischief, like risking our lives for some Korean fried chicken by running across a highway (thanks, Alex) or almost dying over breakfast at Denny’s — shout out to my roomie AJ Bauers whose willpower stymied the attempt of “America’s Diner” to send her to the afterlife.

I rubbed elbows with my former teachers and other writers I admire. It’s always fun to chill with one of science fiction’s OGs, James Patrick Kelly, who was my first workshop leader ever at Stonecoast. He moderated a great panel about adaptation that also featured Therese Fowler, Ted Chiang, Karen Joy Fowler, and Guest of Honor, John Kessel. I also got to catch up with one of my former Stonecoast mentors, Theodora Goss, who has strongly influenced my style of writing and my approach to genre. As an aside: she highly recommended this Pilot founatin pen for those who like to write longhand. I bought one recently and use it for my bullet journal — it’s amazing. Dora had a wonderful round table discussion about her debut novel, The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter, where she revealed her process behind all of the crazy research involved with writing this book, as well as its upcoming sequel, European Travel for the Monstrous Gentlewoman. Needless to say, it required a LOT of travel. I also ran into Paul Tremblay again after my initial encounter with him at StokerCon. I don’t think he remembered stabbing me with his thumb. That’s okay because he did recognize me. We even had a pleasant conversation about attending conferences, as he doesn’t usually go to many of these. I managed to keep my excited, inner fanboy locked in the recesses of my mind, despite all the fireworks going off in there. The biggest moment for me at ICFA was meeting A.M. Dellamonica in person. Alyx was my first writing instructor ever. I took her class, Creating Universes, Building Worlds, online via the UCLA Extension Writers’ Program 10 years ago. Alyx was the only instructor at the time who accepted genre fiction for workshop and highly encouraged her students to write it. My experience with CUBW forever changed my life. I knew from that point on that genre fiction was my home; I belonged here. It was a joy to finally talk to her in person and thank her for encouraging me to keep going all those years ago.

Many fellow attendees were friendly and approachable. It was surprisingly easy to meet others who shared my enthusiasm for mutual topics of interest. As I mentioned earlier, ICFA has a fantastic mix of writers, editors, scholars, and students from all over the world. They’re not kidding when they call this an “international conference.” Great conversations were just as easy to find by the pool as they were in the meeting rooms. Business cards were happily exchanged. Well wishes were given on the last day, along with promises to see each other again next year. Overall, the conference had a very warm and inviting atmosphere.

I had an awesome time jumping into a whirlwind of scholarly discussions, geeking out over literature with strangers, and hanging out with friends, both old and new. I certainly hope to be back in Orlando for the next one. I’m already brainstorming ideas for the next paper. 🙂

Thank you, IAFA, for such a wonderful event!

–LA

Title Quote: “… I feel my heart glow with an enthusiasm which elevates me to heaven, for nothing contributes so much to tranquillise the mind as a steady purpose—a point on which the soul may fix its intellectual eye.” — Mary Shelley, from Frankenstein

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