To wrap up this series on conventions and con-going (See Parts I, II, III, and IV), Jeff Ford reminds us that sometimes weird s–t happens at cons. Read his tale of a stranger dressed in black, and commentary from Stefan Dziemianowicz, myself, Cecelia Holland, Karen Joy Fowler, Gardner Dozois, and Gary K. Wolfe.
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The weirdest encounter I ever had at a con was at the Tempe Arizona WFC back quite a few years now. The hotel had a giant courtyard at its center, and at night you could drink out there under the sky. The weather was perfect — nice during the day and the nights were a little cool. One night, I was sitting near one end of a long table of people, all drinking and talking. Across from me was Chris Roberson. This guy walked up to us, dressed really well in an expensive black suit. He had dark hair and either a mustache or a goatee, I can’t remember. The word “sardonic” instantly came to mind. He moved kind of stiffly, formally. He inquired if he could join us — there was an empty chair at the very end of the table. We said, “Sure, go ahead.” When he sat down we turned to talk to him to try to include him in the conversation. He asked if we were writers and we told him, “Yeah.” He took a cigarette out of a shiny metal cigarette case, some high end brand, and lit it. Then he asked us, “What are you worth?” He asked it with a very imperious attitude, as if any answer we gave might be found wanting. Chris said, “You mean how much money do I have in the bank?” “Is that what you think I mean?” he asked, and snickered. “What do you mean?” I asked. “What is your moral worth?” he asked. We both thought he was kidding and laughed. Although this seemed to piss him off. “You obviously can’t say what you’re worth. Don’t you think that’s pathetic?” he said. “What are you worth?” I asked him. He waved off my question and asked something like, “Do you consider yourselves good writers?” He went on like this for a while, kind of taunting us and dismissing us, and then he finally got around it seemed to what he was getting at all along. “You see these lighted windows surrounding us?” he said. We looked up at the four inner sides of the place’s 8 or 10 stories and the hundreds of lit windows and nodded. “In one of those rooms a great man lies dying,” he said like he was serving up a soliloquy. “This man is the greatest Fantasy writer of the 20th century. As we speak, he is losing life. Too weak to even get out of bed. Too weak to finish his great work.” “Is this guy famous?” I asked. “What’s fame?” he wondered aloud. Chris wondered if this great writer was so sick what was he doing at a hotel. What it came down to was the guy was searching through the hotel of writers to try to find someone who could finish the dying writer’s magnum opus. I think that’s what he was getting at anyway. We laughed at the absurdity of the whole thing and the guy was obviously put out by us. He shook his head, excused himself. “Gentlemen,” he said and pushed his chair in. “I can see you don’t possess the qualities necessary.” I don’t know who this guy was, who the great dying writer was, or what was really going on. The affect of our visitor reminded me of Mephistopheles, of Deniro in Angel Heart. About a half a year went by and I remembered this incident, but couldn’t tell if it was something that was actual or something I’d made up in my head. I sent Chris an e-mail and asked him if he remembered it. He wrote back — “You mean the guy who was dying by inches up in the hotel room? The greatest fantasy writer in the world? Yeah, that happened.” I know people are going to think I made this up cause it’s so goofy, but Roberson will back me up on this, I’m sure.
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