The year was 2015. World Fantasy Convention was held in Saratoga Springs, NY that year. As always, the attendees list was a Who’s Who of fantasy authors, editors, artists, and agents. I attended the convention with my long-time friend, Dee Ann Larsen. Dee Ann and I had traveled to London, England to attend World Fantasy Convention 1997, and she’d only missed one in all the years since. I had gone off to climb the corporate ladder for a number of years, and to write books in a different genre, but I missed WFC. This annual gathering is unique – not quite a writers’ conference, not quite a fan con, not quite an expo. The professionalism of the membership and the program has always appealed to me, not to mention the focus on my favorite form of fiction. So, I returned.
One thing I love about WFC is the atmosphere. Everyone is friendly and approachable: executive editors, bestselling authors, world-renowned artists. On Saturday I found myself standing in a hallway talking with a couple of people and Mr. David Hartwell, senior editor at Tor Books, joined our group. David was one of the founders of the World Fantasy Convention and headed up the executive committee of the board. Needless to say, I was a bit awed to have him drop over and chat, as if he was a normal person.
After a few minutes, he glanced at my badge and said, “Salt Lake City? We’ve never been there. You should put in a bid to host the convention.” I laughed. “I’ve never run a convention in my life.” He said, “No problem. I would help you. Come to the board meeting on Sunday.” I told him I’d think about it.
I told Dee Ann about the encounter, and we talked about what running a convention might look like. Of course, we both agreed that there was no way the board would ever grant the convention to a couple of inexperienced newbies. But we decided to go to the board meeting and just sit on the sidelines and listen.
It was like a gazillion corporate meetings I’ve attended. Lots of business stuff, a recap of the convention’s performance and attendance, stuff like that. We sat there, listening and honestly, a little bored. But then David said, “Okay, let’s get an update from the Salt Lake bid.” And he pointed at me! I cast panicked look at Dee Ann, thinking, “Oh crap!” (Only I was thinking a different word completely.) I’m sure we both looked a little dazed as we stood and faced the board.
Here’s the thing. I was a corporate director for a good many years. I’ve given presentations to far scarier boards of directors than those folks. And I’m pretty good on my feet. So I launched into a sales pitch for Salt Lake City, how Utah has a huge saturation of fantasy authors and artists, how the fans of the genre are among the most enthusiastic anywhere. How the Salt Lake International Airport was a hub for several large airlines. I mentioned the focused community effort during the 2002 Olympics. Dee Ann talked about how much WFC knowledge she possessed from twenty years of attending. When we finished, David said, “Good. We’ll expect your bid at the next board meeting.”
Dee Ann and I sat down and looked at each other. What had we done? In our room that night we talked it over, and we admitted that the idea of hosting a World Fantasy Convention was kind of exciting. It couldn’t hurt to look into it, right? Check out a few hotels. After all, David Hartwell himself had promised to help us. We went to work, and the more we investigated, the more enthusiastic we became.
And then, the following January, Mr. Hartwell died from a head injury sustained during a fall. That was a loss that shook anyone even distantly involved in the genre. I admit, my initial thoughts were, “But he promised to help us!” Without David’s patronage, we were even more certain that the WFC board would never accept our bid.
When we presented our bid at the 2017 WFC board meeting, the board grilled us pretty thoroughly. There was one other bid presented at the same meeting. Then they sent us all into the hallway while they made a decision. By then Dee Ann and I knew that running a convention was a lot of work, and asking a well-respected organization like WFC to entrust their annual gathering to a couple of inexperienced newbies was a longshot on the order of winning the lottery. We were confident that we would escape the task. I felt satisfied that I’d executed my duty to David Hartwell’s memory – I’d done what he asked, and that’s all anyone could expect.
The board room doors opened. Mike Willmoth, our board mentor, walked into the hallway, stuck out his hand to me and said, “Congratulations.” Tears sprang to my eyes. And they were not tears of joy! We’d done it. And now, we had to do it!
So that’s how Salt Lake City won the honor of hosting the 2020 World Fantasy Convention. The board awarded the 2021 convention to Montreal, the other bid presented that day. Since then we’ve put together an amazing committee full of experience, enthusiasm, and skill. We’ve got a fabulous line-up of guests who are worthy of being honored by this international organization. In other words, Salt Lake is ready to host the World Fantasy Convention!
How did we lose it? To that I have one thing to say: COVID-19.
We have the same awesome committee. The same wonderful guests. The same supportive board. We’ve successfully switched gears and are transitioning to an online environment, where we are confident we can offer some unique and innovative features while still providing the elements that WFC members expect and enjoy.
Are you in? I hope to see you online in October!
Ginny Smith is a Co-Chair of WFC 2020. When she’s not running conventions, she is an award-winning author with thirty-seven books in a variety of genres written as Virginia Smith. In 2019, she returned to her literary first love with the release of Sister of the Brotherhood, an epic fantasy novel written under the pen name Ginny Patrick. Find out more at www.VirginiaSmith.org.