Storytelling and the Future of Fantastic Fiction

Authors Janny Wurts and James “Hawk” Bassett joined afternoon panels in a merry romp through fantastic fiction. The first panel featured Wurts and authors Michelle Belanger, Holly Black, Glenda Finkelstein, Mitchell Graham, and Nancy Knight. Storytelling was the topic, which included not only the panelists’ own personal favorite writers, ranging from Homer to Tolkien to Ray Bradbury and Ellen Kushner, but also an examination of the heart of storytelling.

Wurts maintained that a good story must do three things, allow her to see things and have experiences she would not otherwise have seen or experienced, and move her in some way emotionally. Graham said that character was always the focus for a story for him, that it was not the ray gun that was the centerpiece of a tale, but the person holding the ray gun.

Black described reading as offering a variety of pleasures and said that we go back to the books that offer us the most enjoyment. Finklestein liked stories that incorporate humor, challenge, and struggle, books that make us grow and give the reader something to take back with her.

Belanger touted stories that electrify us like Dracula and The Phantom of the Opera, even though the original tellings of exciting tales may not be the best writing. A comment by Graham about mental patients liking his books started a storm of personal revelations. Wurts confessed that she had to write to get the crazy stuff out of her head. Belanger said that if she can’t get the story out, she might as well put on the “I love me” coat, mimicking a straightjacket’s hugging posture, and just be done with it. Black said that she looked at the whole spectrum of mental disorders in conceiving characters and had to push along that line to write about them.

Wurts commented that the amazing amount of creativity at Dragon*Con could change the world. The authors then related their own personal history with storytelling, beginning with family tales and childhood recollections.

The burst of excitement in fantasy for children and J. K. Rowling’s phenomenal success with the Harry Potter series was just one of the topics batted around at the final panel of the day. Gary Hayes (soon to be known as “Rick” due to this reporter’s gaffe), Nancy Knight, Rob Sommers, and James “Hawk” Bassett batted around the future of fantastic literature both by looking at new trends and at their own experiences.

Knight said that we can try to predict the next big trend in science fiction, but may be beat to the press if we try to turn today’s headlines into plot lines. She recommended writing what you love rather than succumbing to the latest popular fad. Sommers questioned who could have predicted the success of Neuromancer and the cyberpunk explosion while Hayes said that he tried to write in that subgenre, but couldn’t, cautioning to write from what you are.

Hayes also predicted that we would see more genre bending in the future, citing the incursions of romance into almost every other field. Sommers agreed about the mixing of genres, but wondered how we would convince the public to read such work. Knight cited a friend’s experience that illustrated how financial concerns often contradicted editorial decisions at the publishing houses.

The panel also discussed copyright issues, the lamentable growth of pirating of all creative work, and the interest in books which controversial religious issues have raised—such as Dan Brown’s The DaVinci Code. Bassett summed up what many of the authors and the audience may have been thinking: “Hopefully the future of fantastic fiction will include a lot more of my work.”

Author of the article

Amy L. Herring (Louise Herring-Jones) writes speculative fiction, with a preference for historical fantasy and alternate mystery. Her stories, appearing in fourteen anthologies, include “The Poulterer’s Tale” in God Bless Us, Every One—Christmas Carols beyond Dickens (Voodoo Rumors Media, 2019). Amy is a NaNoWriMo co-municipal liaison. She also coordinates the Huntsville (Alabama) Literary Association’s writers’ group. Visit her online at