Fantastic Vermont: The Panel Discussion

Image copyright David Hartwell

Yesterday, we hosted a panel at the Burlington BooK Festival titled Fantastic Vermont, with the aim at taking a look at the nature of speculative fiction in Vermont over the years. On the panel was Brian Staveley, Daniel Mills, Erika Nichols, myself, Aimee Picchi, Brett Cox and Kristen Dearborn, all of whom have published in a variety of means.

In this panel, we talked about a couple of broad topics, starting off with how Vermont has influenced us as writers. There was a general consensus: Vermont is a bit of a backwater in New England, and particularly, Vermonters are a group of people who really identify with one another. Three of us on the panel were native Vermonters, something we noted we pointed out right away, almost unconsiously. Everyone else coming in from out of state noted this, that there’s a certain level of feeling like an outsider in the state when they arrived, which we attributed to geography and some amount of history. Vermont is the only New England state that’s land-locked, and historically, it’s been difficult to reach, with little to offer most people (farmers, once the west began to open up, left the state in droves), something that’s changed as technology and infrastructure have opened the state up a bit more.

Another thing that we noted was Vermont’s two personalities: the utter beauty of the state, with its forests, mountains, lack of bill boards, small towns and more, and the length and darkness of the nights, when scary things seem to come out. It seems as though a number of us on the panel have been drawn to the snow, darkness and terror, as well as historical authors, such as H.P. Lovecraft and Shirley Jackson.

There was also some discussion on how the insular community culture really thrives with horror novels and stories: just look at how The Lottery was recieved, and how people thought that it was a real thing. Indeed, there’s some places where I can imagine it happening!

We also touched on how, with a state of so many writers, there’s so few science fiction and fantasy authors – we tacked this up to a long-standing impression that science fiction and fantasy stories are sub-par stories, with a legacy coming out of the pulps. It’s interesting to see how this idea lingers, and how it’s beginning to change a bit.

All in all, the event was well recieved, with a good audience in house. Thank you to everyone who came!