Midsouthcon, or, I Had Dinner With Terry Pratchett

This, right here, is the nicest thing anyone's written about me since a reader asked me if I was Harlan Ellison incognito:

"But THEN there was Elizabeth's (reading), and she read the first few chapters of her newest book, which won't be out until September, Abaddon. This is the third in her Nocturnal Urges series, all of which are brilliant, AND SHE KILLED ME. Seriously, she pulls absolutely no punches in the beginning of Abaddon, and between chapters I keeled over on the seat and cried 'I'm DYING!' DAMN YOU, Elizabeth!! I will go absolutely nuts waiting for September to get here now!!! Later the three of us (Elizabeth, Alicia and I) were standing around discussing things, and Elizabeth was all grins and bounces as she contemplated the evil she will unleash once the book actually comes out. I like her so much."

That's Sabrina Hunt, author and publisher of Circle Dark Publishing, and bless you, Sabrina. You totally made my day with that.

Where to begin? In the dealer's room, which sucked up so much of our time that we barely got to see any panels? Nah, that would be boring. (P.S. Books, T-shirts and buttons still available on elizabethdonald.com! Support your favorite (?) authors!)

I did have a great reading, blessed with People I Don't Know who just came to hear it. Bless you, People I Don't Know. I hope you buy ABADDON and enjoy it. I had intended to read the beginning and then a short story from SETTING SUNS, because generally a reading is more satisfying if you get the beginning, middle and end. But they insisted on more ABADDON, so I read onward. Yay!

I also had a nice panel (at 10 p.m.! Carlin Stuart, I used to like you) with John Biefuss of the Commercial Appeal. For once, I was talking about my life as a journalist instead of my life as a fiction writer, and thus I did not wear the cleavage dress. Somehow it just didn't seem appropriate. :) We talked about the different ways we write online as opposed to in the paper, about how blogs let us explore subjects and language we usually don't get to try, about the future of newspapers as online media and all sorts of things probably far away from what poor Carlin had envisioned for the panel. We did get a running gag going with my utter inability to pronounce the word Mythbusters. You try it, three times fast. If you don't say Mythbuthters at least once, you clearly have a talented tongue. Wait a minute. Oh, never mind.

Friday night was the Pirate Party, hosted by us, to celebrate roommate and cool author Angelia Sparrow's new novel. As she put it, if the success of a party is rated by how fast it's shut down, we had the most successful party in the history of condom. Um, that's con-dom, a play on "kingdom," not... Oh, never mind. Anyway, the party started right after 11 p.m. because we were both in panels until then, and we were shut down at 11:42 p.m. and the room was clear three minutes later. Darn noisy fun. Still, less to clean up! We donated the rum punch to the party in 107, which had something decidedly un-kosher in the seemingly innocent watermelon slice I was given. Whee! Can't even trust the fruit at con.

Saturday was split between Shameless Commercialism and signings. Unfortunately, the powers that be had given guest of honor Terry Pratchett only one hour for signing, and the line stretched to Spain. When the hour had come and gone, the rest of us authors were supposed to take over. Fearing a riot, they instead decided to put us in a nearby ballroom.

I ended up next to Selina Rosen of Yard Dog Press, which always guarantees entertainment. Selina had threatened to arm-wrestle me at the Darrell Awards two years ago (long story), and finally made good on her threat. I'm sorry to say, I embarrassed myself. Funny that I'm stronger than a lot of women I know, but Selina - whom I never expected to beat, I'm crazy but not STUPID - is ungodly. As I tried to move her arm, she asked, "Are you trying? For real?" That was just sad. Back to the gym for me.

We had a few wanderers come find us, and I sold a book to a guy who made the fatal mistake of making eye contact for a moment. Whee! Occasionally Selina would yell out to the crowd waiting in the Line to Spain, "We will sign Terry Pratchett's books! No waiting!" Unsurprisingly, no one took her up on the offer.

Finally, someone gave numbers to the folks still waiting and ushered poor Mr. Pratchett into the ballroom for his reading. This let the rest of us escape to the main space and set up again for more signing. Only about five of us were left by then. We're not proud. We'll sit anywhere, in any conditions, to take your money. We're the "Not Terry Pratchett" gang.

Onward to the evening, and the banquet. Keep in mind that all this time I've been hearing about Terry Pratchett, I know he's at the convention and I'm certainly familiar with the gentleman and his work, but I have not actually SEEN him. He's this unseen force moving about the convention in other areas, drawing a wake of eager fanboys and fangirls. I'm not on any panels with him - please, little me that nobody's ever heard of?

So when I entered the banquet, nervous in my new cocktail dress and clutching my tiny good-luck charm, I simply selected a table that had some empty chairs and was relatively near the front, hoping I'd get the chance to pop up and receive an award or something. Not that I was nervous. Did I ever mention I have gigantic stage fright?

I asked if there was room, and was graciously invited to sit down. I was unaccompanied, of course, as my gentleman friend was manning our table and all others had decided not to fork over $20 for dinner. Some folks had their name tags, so I could see gamesman Sean Preston across the table, comics great Mark Waid at the next table and actor Bill Blair somewhere nearby. At my table, I was sitting one seat over from a friendly older gentleman in a black suit with subtle, sparkly stars imprinted on the vest.

Imagine my surprise when he spoke in a wonderful British accent, and someone referred to him as Terry.

Yup. I had dinner with Terry Pratchett. Eat that, ladies and germs. As Brian Keene would say, tell me my life ain't workin' out.

We all had a lovely time, conversation about the writing life and con travel over chicken that actually was not made of Goodyear tires. At one point, Terry Pratchett said he'd been doing some reading about Tennessee, in particular the famous "body farm." Blank looks all around, except me, because I know all about the body farm! Where they put donated dead bodies to watch how they decay! And we talked about how weird and cool it was, especially that when it's done they give the bones a proper burial, and everyone looked at their baked chicken as though it had suddenly turned over nasty. Hee.

As you know if you're on my YahooGroup, I won the award. I really didn't think I had a chance - while I like "Wonderland" okay, it's far from the strongest story in that collection, just the only one that fit the geographical requirements of the award. I am never a good judge of my own work - the stuff people seem to like the best is the stuff I consider fairly "meh." I never have gotten the appeal of the demonic teddy bear, for example. (T-shirts available on elizabethdonald.com. Snerk.)

I did my best to give a speech that was, well, short. If you can't be short, be funny, and try to be both. I thanked Tim Gatewood and the jury, not only for picking me, but for continuing to support the small press. "And you don't get much smaller than New Babel Books, which published SETTING SUNS, the anthology in which this story appeared," I continued. "So even though he's not here, I'd like to thank Frank Fradella, the publisher of New Babel Books. It was only the second book New Babel had ever published, and it was a big leap of faith for Frank to give the go-ahead to a horror/science fiction collection from an author who, up until that point at least, had only been known for paranormal romance. So thank you, Frank, and thank all of you for your support."

They clapped, anyway, and I sat back down at my table o' cool people, while everyone - including Terry Pratchett - congratulated me. I left out the part where "Wonderland" was the bitch of the collection, causing Frank to tear out his (remaining) hair as he laid out the book. Poor Frank. I called him after the ceremony, so he'd know it wasn't a total waste of agony.

Thank you, Frank. I meant every word of it.

Afterward, I fled upstairs to change my dress and call La Familia, as promised. And email you guys. Because I'm an utter geek that way. And because I was all glowy-bouncy and needed to be hidden from people until I came back down to my sour, cynical, hard-bitten self. (Shush, you'll ruin my rep.) Hey, you think a nobody like me wins an award every day?

The parties were, of course, a blast. The Hypericon crowd always knows how to throw a bash, and I only realized the next day that we had several drinks and forgot to pass Darrell* a couple of bucks for the till. Sorry, Darrell, I'll get you in Nashville! I was hugged by Bill Blair and congratulated by people who weren't at the banquet, so I don't know if it was posted on a wall somewhere or if everybody at Midsouthcon talks a lot.

* Darrell of Hypericon fame is no relation to Darrell of the Darrell Awards. I hereby declare a moratorium on "Darrell and his other brother Darrell" jokes, since I've endured them from 20 percent of my friends and my father.

We cruised the parties. We saw Batman and Ripley's Alien battle it out in the lobby with foam-padded weapons as Wonder Woman took pictures. We chatted with friends. We, by the way, was the misnamed Triumvirate - Angel, I think that should just BE our name, because it's funny. Angelia Sparrow, Sabrina Hunt, Alicia Sparks and me. With Chris Harrison strolling along in his kilt, and Panya and Michael spent some time with us, and if I listed every great person I hugged and greeted over the course of the weekend we'd be here all night. (Congrats to Neale and April! Woot!)

I love Memphis. That's why I keep infesting it with vampires and blowing it up with insane AIs. And that's why I love going back every year, watching my dear University of Memphis Tigers skate right up to NCAA championships (and not quite make it, yet again - sniff) and spend my weekend with the wonderful Memphis fandom. I love my blue suede shoes.

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