Hypericon

 Last week I sojourned to Nashville for a little reading, a little signing, a lot of selling and plenty of catching up with old friends. I love Nashville, even with half of it metaphorically still bailing out from the flood. Remember, that OTHER natural disaster that's been pretty much ignored by the rest of the country?

THURSDAY

We first spent a couple of days staying with Stephen, a friend of mine from the dim dark years of college. There is a certain comfort in a friend who has known you since both of you were teenagers, a shorthand that allows you to talk without barriers because you speak the same language, you come from the same place. Stephen exclaimed over how much the boy has grown; I teased him about the horrifying cleanliness of his house; all was as it should be.

On our "be a tourist" day, we drove out to Cumberland Caverns. Usually we go to the Opryland Hotel, which is my favorite hotel in the wide world and I have never stayed there because I lack the funds. But unfortunately, it fell victim to the terrible flood that has devastated this city, and is still closed. My heart simply broke to see the news photos of those beautiful arboretums buried in waist-deep water.

Cumberland Cavern was fascinating. I love caves, and tour them any chance I can get. In this one, I was haunted by the intense feeling that I had been there before. I'm pretty sure I never have, but each formation and even the steep climb at the far end of the cave seemed familiar. It had a lot in common with Meramec; maybe that was it. And I've never understood why so many cave tours feel the need to include a patriotic/Christian light and sound show. The glory and majesty of the millennia-old formations is more than enough - why do we need the story of Creation played out in a light show?



On the way back through the cave, I asked the tour guide whether there were any ghost stories or folklore about the cave. She told me the terrible story of a boy sent to his aunt and uncle when his parents died, and the uncle abandoned him in the cave so they could get his trust fund. The boy's name was Chuckie and he has been spotted and heard several times in the cave.


Then, all through the rest of the tour, the lights kept winking off. The guide had to keep going back and turning lights back on as they kept malfunctioning. "Every time I talk about Chuckie, the lights stop working," she said. Stephen said it was the last time he tours a cave with a horror author.

Despite my horribly out-of-shape breathlessness at the 300-step climb (times two) at the back of the cave, the tour reaffirmed my wish to do more caves as my travels permit. We drove back to Stephen's suburb of Murfreesboro, where I indulged in girliness (manicure/pedicure) and the boys went tromping off somewhere. We ate dinner at this wonderful place Stephen knows called Old Chicago - terrific food and a nice variety of beer.

The evening finished up with us munching chocolate-chip cookies (I am the houseguest who brings baked goods) and watching DOCTOR WHO. The boy has three more specials before he bids farewell to David Tennant.

FRIDAY

We began with breakfast at the Pfunky Griddle. If you are in Nashville at any point in your life, you must find this place. It's a charming little cafe with griddles embedded in the tables. You get an unlimited supply of batter and a dish of mix-ins, and you make your own pancakes at the table, all you can eat. It is so much fun - much more fun than making them at home. It's also a nice way to teach kids how to make pancakes - and the boy delighted in teaching Stephen, who ordinarily is allergic to cooking.

We met several friends for breakfast, including author Sara Harvey and artist Loren Damewood. We gave our drink orders and Sara ordered a decaf coffee. I gave her a Look, because decaf perverts the true purpose of coffee and seems remarkably out of character for my friend.

Sara returned my Look and grinned. "You can't have caffeine when you're pregnant."

Jaw drop, squealing and hugging commenced. The boy about leapt out of his seat - he's a big old teddy bear at heart, and he loves babies. I told Sara to buckle in for the parade of Totally Unsolicited Advice, and she said she's already created a Gmail folder for it. Ha!

We went on to the convention after breakfast, and got ourselves signed into the room and the dealer's room. Everything had gone so well that I just knew there had to be a snag. And of course there was. Somewhere between staging the booth boxes in my living room and unloading in the hotel ballroom, a box disappeared. The box containing all my copies of NOCTURNE and ABADDON. Which are only my biggest sellers and books that are 100 percent profit for me.

I considered going out and standing in traffic, but Stephen wouldn't let me. The loss of those books changed the financial dynamic of a weekend convention drastically - they sell extremely well, and their profit status means they kind of pay for everything else. The books I sell from the authors are only a 20 percent commission, which is half what a normal bookstore charges. I cannot live on commissions alone.

I devised a brilliant plan: Offer the pair of books at a small discount and free shipping. So I dug out my personal copies from my rolling red reading bag (say that three times fast) and created a display with them. Stephen still wouldn't let me stand in traffic.

My first panel was a mystery writers' panel. No, not for writers of mysteries; His Fredness (Lord High Con Chair) wanders around, grabs random authors who don't look busy and sticks us on a panel where the topic is a mystery. Then he throws random questions at us, ranging from serious (Do you outline your books before you write them?) to silly (What's your shoe size?). I had serious problems with the shoe size, as I have gargantuan feet. But I did get to warn Sara that you gain a shoe size when pregnant - and you don't get it back. The men all scratched their heads. They have no idea.

When I arrived, I sat at the end of the table and then realized I was blocking the older gentleman to my right. "I'm sorry, don't let me block you," I said, moving my books out of his way. "It's quite all right," he said in a charming British accent. I nearly fell out of my chair, because the accent could only mean that I was sitting next to Ramsey Campbell, guest of honor. Throughout the panel, we talked quite frankly about the writing life, and I could talk about the fangirl thrill when he riffed on some of my thoughts, but then I'd just be fucking shameless.

Then we shut down the booth - having sold very few books, meep - and went to dinner with Sara's gang who run the Haunted Nashville tours. It was at Past Perfect, which is a nice downtown pub with excellent but pricey food and a fantastic drink menu. Alas, I had two more panels to go, so I told the waiter that in solidarity with the pregnant lady, I would have a Shirley Temple. It wasn't bad.

As always seems the case in Nashville, I barely got back to the hotel in time for my next panel and ran like a madwoman through the halls. I am not the physique that should run, folks. I arrived and found: It's the Allan and Elizabeth Show!

This keeps happening. Allan Gilbreath is a primary editor with Kerlak Publishing, and the two of us end up on panels where the other panelists don't show. Perhaps they're afraid. Allan and I can snark and smartass for an hour with no problem whatsoever.

The panel was officially about marketing, so we told our marketing stories. Allan told us about a mall signing he finagled at which he sold more than 500 books, and I informed him that I hate him now. Then I told the story of the emergency zombie bite kits I created for THE COLD ONES' release. Those bullets were the cheapest and best promotion I ever did.

But like just about every business-oriented panel I've been on in the last year, the subject morphed into the state of the publishing industry. Allan expressed his opinion that the publishing industry as we knew it died in the last month, and something entirely new will take its place. I said I think we will see a tumultuous couple of years as the platforms fight it out, and in the end we will have a healthier blend of traditional and electronic publishing that will help level the playing field between New York and the small press. An author in the audience was advocating for the current model - the Apple backlash continues strong, despite a statistic Allan threw out that I didn't know: Apple is now worth more than Microsoft.

That went right into the roundtable readings. A hilarious typo said that "Steven Gilbreath" was in the reading with us. Now, this could have been Stephen Zimmer or Allan Gilbreath, but neither apparently figured that out. Alethea Kontis read her "Death of Brian Keene" piece from the Shirley Jackson charity, and I was highly amused. Then David Jack Bell read from his new book, which I found quite interesting.

I had been tempted to read from BLACKFIRE, but I wussed. In part, I didn't think I'd get all the way through the opening sequence in 15 minutes, which was all we were permitted under His Fredness' war on readings. *pfftft* In part, I was just a wuss. So I offered the audience a choice between the aswang battle and the opening sequence. They always go for the opening sequence. So I read the scene of Parish eating Jeff Pagliei's arm and Sara kicking ass again. I love the aswang sequence, but I never get to read it.

Then Angelia Sparrow and I wandered about, visiting the Xerps party and the Spam Poetry Slam (reading spam email as beat poetry, a Hypericon tradition). Angel called it a night shortly before I did, but first I needed to go to the roof and look at the Nashville skyline under the starscape. It is special to me, something I view alone.

SATURDAY

My body clock has been set at a ridiculous 7:30 a.m. wakeup time, and I'd like it to stop. I was up before anyone else in the room and far before I wanted to be. We shared a pleasant breakfast in the hotel lobby - yes, I said a pleasant breakfast at a cheap hotel. That's because of Mildred. She's a sixtysomething black woman who runs the breakfast room, and she's fantastic. She makes sausage gravy from scratch every morning at home and brings it in to serve to the guests. She keeps us all fed and happy, and we love her.

Breakfast was shared with Allan Gilbreath and Kimberly Richardson of Kerlak Publishing, after which we got ourselves ready for the day's commerce. Kerlak was our dealers-room neighbor and Stephen Zimmer shared the corner, so we've all gotten fairly comfortable with each other. We had to, considering we were practically sitting in each others' laps.

Angelia took the morning shift so I could spend a little time with the boy before his father came to get him. He dressed in his Angel outfit - that's Angel the brooding vampire, in case you were wondering. It's black slacks and a black shirt, with suspenders and a full-length black leather trenchcoat. He looked terrific. We spent some time together before his father arrived, and I bid him farewell for the next few weeks. Wibble.

For the afternoon, I worked the booth. Sales had been very slow on Friday and in the morning, but the afternoon started to pick up some. I sold several COLD ONES, which was probably due to the reading the night before. I wasn't selling much of other authors, not even the ones physically present, but I was doing okay considering my two top sellers were unavailable. Gah.

At least three times during the weekend, I was presented with copies of Kerlak Publishing's DRAGONS COMPOSED anthology. This is a running gag now. For some reason, rumors abound that I am in this book. Even members of Kerlak's editorial staff (cough*Allan*cough) have mistakenly informed people that I'm in the book. I've never written a dragon story. I've never been published by Kerlak. And yet.

H. David Blalock, who is a taciturn smartass, was one who requested such a signature. I sighed and told him I was not in the book. "Neither are they," he said, showing me the title page. Sure enough, it had been signed by at least a dozen authors, each of whom indicated that they were not actually published in the anthology. Laughing, I signed, "Also not in this book! Elizabeth Donald, 2010."

Jonathan Pass, fan and friend, came by to pick up my latest, as well as some gifts. Lacking a flat surface behind the desk, I borrowed the signing table for a few minutes to sign his copies. As I was finishing up, the real person assigned to the signing table showed up: Sherrilyn Kenyon. She greeted me with familiarity as she always does, and I'm always amazed that she can remember me even though we're on a panel together no more than once or twice a year. She's just that kind of celebrity author: generous and friendly and makes an effort to remember people.

Speaking of friendly authors, Ramsey Campbell signed the single-author collection GHOSTS AND GRISLY THINGS, and the GALLERY OF HORROR anthology I had picked up at a used bookstore months before. He smiled when he saw it and said, "I haven't seen one of these in years." I confessed I hadn't gotten around to reading it, but he didn't even blink. I saw something interesting; I spoke while he was signing, and when I spoke, he stopped writing and looked up at me, listening and responding. If he could only focus on one thing, he would focus on the interaction with me, not the task of signing the book. It would wait. He was a true gentleman and I enjoyed meeting him and speaking with him. Plus, the British accent rocks. He asked if I spelled Elizabeth with a "zed." It took me a second to realize what he meant. I'm such a Yank.

The steampunk people were setting up in our room by the time the dealers' room shut down. I was marginally pleased with the take, but I knew we needed a big Sunday to make our money back. We brought up a collection of books, all the titles by authors present at the convention, and set them up in the room.

Then it was time for the most fun panel thus far. It was supposed to be about time management and writer's block, with Eric Wilson, Stephen Zimmer, Sara Harvey and me. We elected Eric moderator because he's published more books than the rest of us. He declared the subject of the panel, which we soon left in the dust. Eric had an interesting analogy between seducing his wife and seducing the Muse, and Sara and I started running with the double entendres, until the audience was in stitches and we were all twelve. "I just want to point out that it was the Christian author who started it!" Sara declared. Since then, some rumor has run about that Eric Wilson made me blush. I have no idea what these people are talking about. "Flush," perhaps. He was getting quite spicy with the descrip.

Yes, we were funny, but we also had some of the more solid discussion of the convention on the writing life, on ways to balance your time and develop a work ethic that will help you succeed. We talked about idea generation and marinade files and where you write and how you write and the pluses and minuses of Nanowrimo and all sorts of things that hopefully were useful. The audience asked intelligent questions and many in the back were authors or publishers themselves. They gave us the big room, to my shock, and it was nearly full. I really enjoyed it, and later I heard from several people how terrific that panel was. Best panel of the show.

Afterward, Sara and at least two helpers laced me into the rose corset as they finished getting ready for the steampunk party. Jonathan, the traitor, took cell-phone pictures while they did. "If those end up on Facebook we're gonna have words," I warned him.

Next door was a beer-and-barbecue party hosted by John Everson and Bryan Smith. Eridani had a party up the hall, and there were a few fan-run parties as well. The eighth floor was the place to be Saturday night.

We managed to haul Stephen out of the TV room several times, forcing him to socialize (and even take a sip of a drink!). The traffic flow through the room was strong and steady, but more than that, it was smart and fun. I stationed myself by the books to answer questions, and to my surprise, several people wanted to know about the Literary Underworld, what we do and why. I talked about Richard Matheson vs. George Romero, I answered questions about the books, I had my picture taken in the Victorian gown.



Then a girl named Victoria Dunstan came in. She was in a steampunk costume that strongly resembled an aviator's uniform, with a steampunky gun. Her chestnut hair was bound up in a bun that was attractive but functional. She was my mental picture of Coleen Greenlee, the heroine of the moribund KING OF SWORDS sf novel, though Coleen has darker hair.

KING OF SWORDS lasted 20,000 words before it died of extreme suckage. Ever since I attended Steamposium a few months ago, I've wondered about writing some steampunk. In the furor before the party, I found myself staring at the clockwork art on the wall and thinking about KING OF SWORDS. Perhaps, if KING OF SWORDS was steampunk, it would not suck. I think it wants to be steampunk. Sara wholeheartedly approved - of course, she would.

I asked Victoria Dunstan if she would let me take her picture. Of course, my camera was sitting on the kitchen table in Edwardsville, right next to the box of vampires. So I begged Jonathan to step outside and get a picture of her, then email it to me. She was remarkably patient and comfortable with my insanity. I write her real name here so I remember to thank her in the notes, should KING OF SWORDS ever prove to not suck.

The party was a nice success, and when we ran out of food and booze, we shut it down. I bid farewell to Stephen and Jonathan and others commuting, gave my respects to the various funfolk and finally had a drink, courtesy of Angel's spiced-rum flask. It was my first and only drink of the convention. I must be getting old.

SUNDAY

You know, if I'm going to feel that rotten getting out of bed, I really should have gotten blazingly drunk the night before. I've never had a hangover in my life, but I feel like nine miles of bad road on every Sunday morning of convention weekends no matter how much or little I drink.

I took the morning shift so that Angelia could appear as an exhibit in Sara's traditional Sunday-morning costume lecture, this year on steampunk. It was characteristically slow at first, as the denizens of the con stirred themselves from post-party stupor. But as people packed out of their hotel rooms and hit the dealer's room to blow whatever money they didn't drink up this weekend, we started selling. And selling hard. I had been somewhat disappointed in our take of the first two days, and I still don't have our final totals. But the speed at which we were selling on Sunday gave me hope. I know we did better than the year before, not that that's saying much.

Nobody presented me with a Dragons book on Sunday. However, I had a brilliant moment of stupidity. Someone asked me to sign copies of SETTING SUNS and THE COLD ONES. I sign the former "Beware the teddy bear!" and the latter "Aim for the head!" But undercaffeinated and overdistracted, I signed the second book, "Aim for the teddy bear!" I was horrified and apologized profusely to the customer, who found it utterly hilarious. "It's a collector's item!" I said lamely, and he even found that funny.

I had a true ego moment later on to help compensate for my brainlessness. A customer was trying to decide what to get, and I handed him a copy of THE COLD ONES. Behind me, Stephen Zimmer piped up that he really liked that one, and from the next booth over, another reader said, "Oh yeah, that one is terrific." I laughed and said apparently I don't need a marketing department! The customer agreed and bought the book. THE COLD ONES is now within 20 copies of selling out its second print run, and I couldn't be more pleased. I love that book for my own reasons, but it is equally gratifying that so many people really enjoy it and are not shy about saying so. I also got several comments on how funny the writers-block panel was. See? If you don't know what you're talking about, make 'em laugh instead.

Angelia and I took turns womanning the booth while we packed out of the room. It's amazing how much more smoothly the process goes with an army of minions. Once the dealer's room closed, we were able to pack up the books quickly. Then upstairs for closing ceremonies.

Hypericon's closing ceremonies are always the funniest (and longest) of any show I attend, and thus I always appear. This one was a little bittersweet, because longtime chairman Fred Grimm and his marvelous wife Stephania are stepping down. For some reason they want to actually attend other cons and have a life and stuff, and Stephania would like to see something besides the consuite someday. We've informed them that they're not allowed to simply vanish. Not that they could; we'd find them. Brian Cooksey is taking over for them, and I think the con is in good hands.

They're also going to change hotels, to my regret. I have a bizarre fondness for the Days Inn in demilitarized downtown Nashville. It holds mostly happy memories for me. I like the layout, I like the larger-than-standard rooms, I like the potluck of possibly getting one of those giant tubs (god, I miss baths) and I love the view from the rooftop. At least the management promises that they'll keep the room price sane in whatever hotel they pick.

Afterward, I thanked Fred for his years of service, even if he's always giving me shit. Then I shook Brian's hand and congratulated him on his sentence - er, chairmanship.

ME: I'd like to request guest status for next year.
BRIAN: It's pretty much permanent with you.
ME: *laughing* Just saying, I want to come back.
BRIAN: You just need to tell us when you don't want to come.

My marching mass of minions (poetry!) got the booth Jenga'd into my car with top speed, and then Stephen and I caught a late lunch at the Noshville Deli. It's always good to come to Nashville, to see my friends and spend time with people who knew me when I wasn't quasi-famous. Stephen pointed out that I seem to be building quite a following in the Nashville area, which is funny considering I've never lived there. He thinks I should do signings more often there, and I very well might.

On the way home, I stopped for a venti mocha with four shots, because I needed it. Thus fortified, I followed the signs through a labyrinthine detour to see the Bell Witch Cave, which is about fifteen miles off the interstate in west Tennessee. I found my way to the dirt road leading to the site… and it was closed on Sundays. Gah! Next time. Even so, the experience - and the quaint countryside through which I drove - inspired a truly horrific short story with which I will torment my readers soon.

It was great to see the town again, but even better to see how its spirit is surviving after the cataclysmic flood that was unconscionably ignored by the rest of the country. It's as though the streets were scrubbed clean, for better or for worse, and nearly everyone seems to know someone who lost everything to the floodwaters that deluged the town only a month or so ago. The official charity of the con was Hands On Nashville, a corps of volunteers who worked their tails off to assist the less fortunate with flood damage and relief. I donated a book, as did several of my authors.

But more than that, I was impressed with the strong spirit of the Nashvillains. They are not complaining about the shameful way they have been ignored by the country. The large sign in the lobby, courtesy of the city government, thanked us for visiting Nashville and bringing our tourist dollars to town. While my heart breaks for the damage inflicted on the Opryland Hotel, I know that it will be back to its old beauty by the time I return. My friends will be there (one extra, now that Sara's cookin') and I'll be glad to see them all.

We are Nashville.

Comments

  1. BTW, Opry says that the plants in the conservatory and most of the plants in the hotel WILL PULL THROUGH!
    And they should have the hotel back open by the end of the year.
    So, next year, you, me and our kids can go play at the hotel (so strange to stay that!)

    ReplyDelete
  2. "taciturn smartass"? Hmmm... that works. Look forward to seeing you again soon.

    ReplyDelete

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