2019 4th Street Programming

Hello, 4th Street Fantasy community! Here is our finalized programming for 2019! Thank you to everyone who volunteered to be on a panel, made suggestions for topics or revisions, or otherwise helped us out!


3:30 PM Welcome to 4th Street Fantasy!

4:00 PM – Fantasy About Everyday People

Maurice Broaddus, Jo Miles, Don Pizarro, A. Merc Rustad, Django Wexler (M)

Fantasy has a reputation for focusing on warlords and princesses, and one theory goes that we see so much royalty in fantasy because they’re the only ones with the power to make decisions and affect their worlds on a grand scale. But are they? Power within a narrative and character agency are completely different things. How do we shift our focus away from the idea that those born to wealth, power, and privilege usually get to matter the most in our stories? What are some ways we can use fantasy to tell the stories of “ordinary” people? This panel will discuss brilliant fantasies about “ordinary” people who worry about their budgets and getting their chores done, how we make small stakes feel epic and epic stakes feel plausible on smaller scales, how our heroic protagonists must be extraordinary and how our ordinary protagonists can be heroic.

5:00 PM – Meal Break

7:00 PM – When Gods Step In

Robyn Bennis, Pamela Dean, Benjamin C. Kinney, Scott Lynch (M), Jenn Lyons

In fantasy, it’s no surprise to see gods taking an active hand in the story—except sometimes, that fundamentally changes all the rules. With stories that can feature beings of unprecedented power, how do we manage stakes and agency? How can gods act as divine intervention without becoming narratively unsatisfying deus ex machina, how can characters do anything that matters if free will is negotiable or fate isn’t, and how do you depict their faith or understandings of magic in a nuanced way when gods are provably real? When we reference gods in our determinations of how the rules of fantasy worlds work, that affects what it means to challenge of any understanding of what has “always” been “true,” and it shades how we read stories about exercising freedom under systems we can’t comprehend or influence. This panel will discuss how we navigate the awesome potential for power and problems of gods literally and figuratively stepping into our stories.

8:30 PM – Book Speed-Meeting

Icebreaker, Orchard Room


9:30 AM – Cultural Registers in Fantasy

Maurice Broaddus, Jennifer Mace (M), Reuben Poling, Chelsea Polk, DongWon Song

Cultures have different ideas of what constitutes “high” vs. “low” culture in different art forms, and that is as true in our fantasy as it is in our world. This panel will examine how cultural registers play into what work and whose is seen as “valuable” and how we can use this in crafting our fantasy stories to build tension and historical depth: how characters can or must navigate different expectations of entertainment and assumed education between cultures, the kinds of tales people value across times and what that says about them, how art that is seen as safe or challenging can reflect or drive political moments and thematic beats, and the implications of what it means to value cultural registers of art differently. What does it mean for societies to uphold certain standards or canons, and how do we apply those ideas in our fiction–and subvert them?

11:00 AM – Representation Without Endorsement

John Chu, Ctein, Seth Dickinson, Beth Meacham (M), DongWon Song

Our fiction often involves sensitive, disquieting, and alarming subject matter. How do we grapple with the presentation of such things while making it clear they might not actually represent an author’s preferred state of the world and that there is a difference between character and author viewpoint? From a discussion of whether it’s possible and if so how to write bad characters behaving badly without harming the reader, to when narratives need to take a clear stance on an issue rather than leaving ethical questions unanswered, this panel dives into the nitty-gritty of working with nasty plot elements and considering their effect on the art and the reader.

12:00 PM – Meal Break

YA/MG Writers Meet-up; Tea Gathering

2:00 PM – Monster Mash and Smash

Claire Eddy, Catherine Lundoff, Vivian Shaw, John Wiswell (M), Fred Yost

Writers and readers are endlessly fascinated with monsters. Other-izing faceless hordes has clear racist underpinnings, and we have a multitude of examples of gritty, difficult monster stories that challenge how well we think of ourselves—and we also have countless stories of monsters we would die for, monsters who make us die laughing, and monsters who challenge us to think better of ourselves. What is it about monsters that makes us so hungry and excited for their stories? What makes them fun? Why are we driven not just to tell stories that contain monsters but that are about monsters? Why do we love to come up with and endlessly learn about (proven clearly by Pokémon evolutions and D&D Monster Manuals) bizarre creatures that don’t exist? Why do we cheer for Godzilla, adopt the Babadook as an icon, and crave the perspective of Grendel’s mother? This panel will discuss how we use stories to own our own monstrosity and claim outsiders, and how writers make it so the incorporation of monsters into their stories can be validating, awesome, and full of wonder and delight.

3:30 PM – Deconstructing Concepts of Purity and Degeneracy in Fantasy

Stella Evans, Amanda Hackwith, Patrick Nielsen Hayden, Fade Manley, Reuben Poling (M)

The notion of the fallen world or the descent from a paradisical origin is intrinsic to many world mythologies and has informed a great deal of fantasy fiction. This panel will analyze not just the concepts of degeneracy and purity applied to setting, but also the individual and biological implications of those frameworks, looking at notions such as “pure bloodlines”  and “pure languages” in fantasy. We’ll take a clear-eyed look at how these concepts inform eugenic and supremacist hierarchies in the real world, and we’ll talk about unspooling unrealistic, romanticized, and narrow views of tradition. How well or badly has our fiction handled these concepts, and what can we do with them moving forward?

5:00 PM – Non-Written Structural Memory

Casey Blair (M), John Chu, Jennifer Mace, Arkady Martine, Reesha Rugroden

Last year’s Talking Across Ten Thousand Years panel delved into how we leave messages for future generations, but there are many other forms of memory aside from the written word, both personal and cultural. Ruins are memories, and so are changed landscapes; what we discard or choose not to save defines our world-building as much as what remains. Oral histories have communicated stories and values across generations, there are incredible textile works like the Bayeux Tapestry, and there are even techniques like memory palaces developed to record and transmit memory in particular ways beyond writing. What forms of non-written structural memory can we apply in our written fantasy? How do we use song and rhythm to help teach and learn, what are the functional differences between oral and written records in art and culture, and what strengths of oral storytelling can we steal and adapt for written? This panel will discuss how we use narrative and story both to form and pass down cultural identity, and whether there is a distinction between culture and what a culture remembers and how.

6:00 PM – Meal Break

8:00 PM – The Role of Narratology in Adaptation

Casey Blair, Kent Davis, Seth Dickinson, Marissa Lingen, Arkady Martine (M)

All art is in conversation with other art, and nowhere is that more clear than in adaptation. Transforming works of art is a fundamentally creative process that, done well, keeps core pieces of the story familiar while also shifting the narrative focus to appeal and make sense to new audiences with different perspectives. Fanfiction and the act of retelling tales are as old as stories and equally worthy creative pursuits, giving us opportunities to center the experiences of other identities, to explore issues previous story iterations didn’t. Applying concepts of narratology as they pertain to how we transform stories so their meaning makes sense to a different audience, this panel will discuss the artistic challenges and pitfalls in adapting stories as well as why this kind of narrative iteration is culturally critical.

9:30 PM – Mead Tasting (Con Suite)


10:00 AM – Fiber Arts in Fantasy

Sarah Goslee, Aimee Kuzenski, Elise Matthesen, Teresa Nielsen Hayden (M), Chelsea Polk

Our culture has ignored and devalued women’s work for generations, and so have a lot of our prominent fantasy series. This is not a discussion of why work traditionally done primarily by women matters—we take that as read—but on how we can apply knowledge of one particular, vastly overlooked discipline in both understanding and writing fantasy: fiber arts. This panel will examine how fiber arts are a fundamental underpinning in economies, how we can apply their functions in engineering and coding, what they mean for the politics of fashion, and, of course, what it means for this critical form of art and skilled labor to be associated with women, with a focus on what all this means for fantasy world-building. Even following a pattern, fiber art is a both art as well as craft and a fundamentally, literally creative act: how can we apply the lessons from this work to the creation of fiction?

11:30 AM – A Consideration of Death in Fantasy

Elizabeth Bear, Robyn Bennis, K.A. Doore, Monica Valentinelli, Django Wexler (M), John Wiswell

What exactly has good old death given to fantasy literature over the years? Let’s look not so much at the meta question of reader reaction to “death” and endings, but on how writers use death within a text, and the power of what it can do, from fictional death coinciding with the ending or transformation of an entire narrative (e.g., Morpheus’ death leading to the actual end of the 75-issue original run of SANDMAN) or to, conversely, how it functions simply as another marker in the long walk up the mountain of story. In particular, this panel will consider death’s role in fantasy: rituals and ceremonies surrounding death, building consequences and lasting effects for surviving characters and grappling with mortality when magic is real, the disparities in approach between death as plot device and death as symbolic and magical concept threaded through fantasy narratives, and cultural concepts of revenge fantasy.

12:30 PM – Meal Break

Crit Partner Interest Meet-up (Orchard Room)

2:30 PM – But That’s a Different Panel…

3:30 PM – Thanks! And What About 2020?