Scarlet Letters

The not-so-private thoughts and rants of Elizabeth Donald, journalist/author and founder of the Literary Underworld.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

the bitch is done

It's funny how the end of the rough draft always feels like I've spent the last mumblety months slugging it out with the Muse, and that bitch does not fight fair. I've got the bruises to prove it.

Someday maybe rough drafts won't be like pulling teeth sans anesthetic. Someday I might even be able to write a book ONCE and be done with it. But no - whenever I write a book, the first draft is a long, awful slog through the story I know I want, and no matter how good I think I am, the book is never, ever as good as it was in my head.

This one is no exception. Finishing the first draft always feels a bit of a letdown: "Well, that wasn't nearly as good as I thought it would be. I suuuuuck."

It's the second draft when it gets fun. Because I'm deranged, I rewrite a book from scratch. As in, I retype the entire thing, rewriting as I go. I wish I could do like other authors; print out a copy, mark it up with red pen, make the changes and off we go. But my mind won't work that way. I have to retype all 67,200 words (and it'll grow by at least 10 percent by the time I'm done).

It's in that second draft that language comes into play, when the characters that were only shades when I began take on their three-dimensional shape, wake up and start to talk. It's in that second draft when a narrative arc and theme begins to suggest itself, when the story deepens and widens into a rich tapestry that (hopefully) will suck the reader in.

I love the second draft. And when I finish that draft, I sit back and think, "Damn. If that doesn't make 'em cry..."

The first draft... not so much. The first draft rocks me back and I think, "Shit, she really punched my lights out this time."

But whenever I finish a draft, whether it's the first or the last time, I have a little ritual.

Once upon a time, I was sent to tour the Titanic exhibition at a Chicago museum and write it up. Generally I don't pick up souvenirs when on duty, but as it wasn't a junket and I did pay for it, I decided to buy myself a little something. I'd always been fascinated by the Titanic, by its mystery and luxury, and so I bought myself a museum-quality replica wineglass exactly like the kind they used on the Titanic. It even has a White Star Line imprint.

I promptly forgot about it for years - we never used it, as it didn't match the rest of the wineglasses. But when I finished the rough draft of Nocturnal Urges, which was on spec for a real live publisher that might pay me in dollars, I wanted to celebrate.

See, that was a rough time for me, friends. I was going through my divorce, living in my father's guest room and taking care of my four-year-old son on my own for the first time. I wrote NU, primarily, because they gave me money. Finishing the rough draft felt great, because it felt like I was accomplishing something that might help us get out of the guest room and into our own place, something like restarting our lives out of the mess they'd become.

I went searching around and the only wineglass I could find was my White Star Line glass. Dad said it was cursing myself - look what happened to Titanic! - but I said screw it and poured some of his excellent chardonnay into it.

The rest is history. Jasmine-Jade loved NU and had me expand it into a novel, which was a runaway success, had great reviews, won the Darrell Award and was a finalist for the Prism. It launched a three-book series (maybe more someday) and a career as a novelist. Oh, and it got us out of the guest room.

Every time I've finished a novel draft, I drink from the White Star Line wineglass. And every book so toasted I have eventually sold, with the exception of my beleaguered Yellow Roses. And I still have hopes for that one, considering it's the best book I've ever written.

Oh, BLACKFIRE's gonna be pretty good, guys. When I'm done with the rewrite, it might even be better than YR. Maybe.

So now I'm going to finish off this really dreadful two-buck chuck in my White Star Line glass. Shaddup, it's all the wine I've got. Y'all start buying some damn books and I can afford better wine. But then I'm going to go write a couple other things for a week or two, and then it's right back on the horse. No time for the usual six-week vacation. Sara's got to be done by November if you want to see her next March.

And Memphis is never gonna be the same.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Dragoncon: Denouement

Angelia woke me up again Monday. I fired her again. I got to my panel on time and rehired her.

The morning panel was on horror and comedy, starring Lee Martindale as moderator and several other fine folks. I barely remember this panel, as I neglected to consume caffeine before it, so hopefully I didn't say anything too stupid. Death is easy; comedy is hard.

Then began the mad dash. Angelia and I returned to the room to pack up and pack out; most of our roommates had already vacated the premises. First we had to haul my six boxes of books down to the booth, then my suitcase, cooler and bag o' food to luggage storage. The only upside was that I checked out on the in-room TV, which was a nice bit of the future and saved me standing in that line.

Thus I bid farewell to Angelia with my soberest gratitude for manhandling me through the convention. When talking to her father, Angelia said the best part of being my flunky was access to the VIP greenroom. I snarked that I thought the best part would be carrying the Rolling Red Bag of Doom (full of books) around to panels. She snarked back, "No, the best part is watching you wake up." There may or may not have been a rude hand gesture tossed about.

I am not a morning person.

At any rate, off to the last panel, which was about doomsday cults and the apocalypse. I spent so much time talking about the apocalypse that I was about to join the bleary-eyed stare off the Marriott balcony, but I managed to get through this one since nobody got around to blaming the media. We blamed Christianity instead! Heh. Still, it was a lively and intelligent discussion - in fact, all my panels were way above standard this year, enough that I frequently felt outmatched. We really have some of the smartest people in the nation at this show.

The end! Not quite. I had a little time to kill, so I caught lunch with Parish and then meandered over to the Walk of Fame - which was nearly deserted - and bumped into Selina Rosen. I had to get in a few more digs about the carrot-based economy, and she responded with her usual profanity. She was chatting with Eddie McClintock, the actor who plays Pete on WAREHOUSE 13. Now, that just happens to be my son's favorite show that doesn't have the word CHUCK in its name. And he ADORES Pete. I did not have the money for an autograph, having sold like shit all weekend, but McClintock dashed off a signature and gave it to me anyway.

You may have heard the squee on Tuesday evening when I presented it to my spawn. It now resides in his small autograph album beside Jonathan Frakes, John DeLancie, David Prowse and Michael Rosenbaum (who hit on me when I got that one, I'm just saying, it's a long story). At any rate, thank you to Mr. McClintock. My son adores autographs and I can only afford one per year, so I was very glad not to have to return empty-handed.

Then a quick cruise through the dealer's room to whimper over shiny things I can't afford - and bribing someone to take a picture of me next to a Tardis - before packing out the booth. David came to assist me in my flight, helping to haul not only my luggage but all those damn books out to my car and load them up for the drive. Many thanks to David, who helped make it all possible.

But wait! There's more!

The tire held all the way back to Nashville, thank you God, and in time to make the author dinner that Stephen had set up among some readers in the Murfreesboro area. We had a lovely dinner at TGI Friday's, and I met some wonderful folks who really liked my work. (I got carded! It was beautiful.) They had lots of questions, including the ever-present "Will you write any more Nocturnal Urges books?"

Um. Well. It's complicated. Shorthand: I want to.

BUT. I can announce this. New Babel Books and I have decided to do another collection of short stories. New Babel, as you might recall, is the wonderful small press that published my first book, SETTING SUNS. This new collection will be tentatively titled MOONLIGHT SONATA, and it will include some stories that are written and some yet to be written.

At least one will be from the Sanctuary universe.
At least three will be from the Nocturnal Urges universe.
At least two will feature Sgt. Shane Moore, the cop from the as-yet unpublished YELLOW ROSES who sees dead people.
And look for other recurring faces.

I'm doing this in part because I love short stories and I hear from you guys that you like my shorts. Pardon the expression. But really, I'm doing it because I hear all the time from readers that they want more in my serieses (is that a word?). You want to know what's been going on with the NU crowd since the end of ABADDON. You want more SANCTUARY - always with the SANCTUARY!

So I'm doing it for you.

It'll be out sometime next year, particularly if I get off my ass and work on it. I'm looking forward to working with New Babel again, as those folks are really top-notch and put together a good product.

All right, enough about me and my massive ego. Let's talk about you.

Yeah, YOU.

This was a rough trip, not the least of which was because that one bad tire turned out to be FOUR bad tires and a front-rear alignment, not to mention the aforementioned starvation plan that didn't work out so well.

But if there was ever a time for me to re-learn what I had unlearned, it was this trip. Five days in four states and three lodgings (and a partridge in a pear tree), with nothing but forty bucks in my wallet and a bag full of canned goods balanced on a leaky tire. But I got through because I had a friend who woke me up at yuck-thirty, a friend who bought me lunch, a friend who bought me tires, a friend who bought my books.

A friend who told me, "Why do you make it so hard for people to help you, when you know that the only way any of us are going to make it through this terrible time is by helping each other?" When the only response I could give was "pride?" I knew I needed to relearn a few lessons.

I am reminded of Clarence's Law: No man is a failure who has friends. I am truly blessed in friendship, far beyond my fair share. I am not very good at showing this, but I am deeply grateful for my friends, my readers, my fans and all those who support me in my twisted little imaginings - including the track directors and volunteers in marching legions who organize and plan and put on this gigantic circus.

Thank you all, and I'll see you next year. May we all be in a better place by then.

Dragoncon: Sunday

Angelia woke me up again. I fired her. But I unfired her when she gave me tea, so I think she’s holding them in reserve.

My signing was scheduled with Mercedes Lackey and A.C. Crispin. When Mercedes saw the line to Spain for her books, she declared in a loud voice, “You are all insane!”
Note to self: Mercedes had pre-signed bookplates for those who had more books than she could sign. That would be a good choice if/when I ever become famous enough to need them. In the meantime, I'll sign whatever you put in front of me. We sold a few books, mostly to Lackey fans who wandered over. It's funny that I do 10 times more signing in halls and after panels than I ever do at my actual SIGNING. I don't mind at all, but it's so dull sitting there at the signing that I wish people would come by just to chat. :)

From there I went to the reading, and that went really well. The room had a decent crowd, including a few people I didn’t know. As always, I had to duck out for the five minutes before it began. I can't just stand there and stare at people. It freaks me out too much.

I read the popobawa flashback from BLACKFIRE, which is one of the more vicious killers I’ve ever written AND it includes onscreen sex, so I felt a little awkward. Not as awkward as I’d have felt reading some of Samantha’s sex scenes aloud!

When I finished, it had only been 45 minutes. I always read faster in front of an audience than in my room the night before. I thanked them for coming… and they protested. “Read more!” they insisted.

Well. I guess they weren’t bored, then.

Laura Underwood was next in line and very gracious, so I spent the next fifteen minutes reading BLACKFIRE from the beginning. I got as far as the springheel’s initial attack when I ran out of time.

“Sorry! You’ll have to buy the book to find out what happens!” I declared gleefully. Mental note: I can read the popobawa and the springheel sequences in 1.5 hours.

We sold some more books during the reading, which was beginning to counteract my mood of DOOM about sales. It was very slow at the beginning, enough that booksellers were drinking like fish and there was much talk about not coming back next year.

I also am noticing far fewer booksellers – whether publishers or retailers – this year than in previous years. I know Dragoncon is becoming mostly a media con, but I would really hate to see the literary side of the con disappear. Buy books, people! It’s important.

I had a little time off, so Angelia and I went to the VIP greenroom to snag some free food. There I met a charming gentleman named Robert Pralgo, an actor and movie producer who appeared in THE VAMPIRE DIARIES, among many others. We talked for at least an hour about the changing nature of our industries. I had no idea – though it makes perfect sense – that the collapse of video stores was so catastrophic to the movie industry. People used to rent movies by browsing in stores and looking at boxes, just like they used to select books by browsing the shelves.

No more. With Netflix and Amazon, people have to know what they’re looking for. That means getting attention for your small-press book or indie film is like searching for a needle in a stack of needles. At any rate, we had a very intelligent conversation and I was sorry to see it end. I scuttled off to the 2012 panel.

This was by far the most populated panel I was on this year. The room was full and people were turned away by the door. DCTV filmed it. I was there not so much for my apocalyptic fiction, but for my expertise as a reporter. I still crack wise, but being Reporter Me uses an entirely different skill set than being Writer Me. For part of the panel, I had a hard time following the topic, as they talked about iterations of the Mayan calendar and so forth. It didn’t help that I was getting seriously dizzy.

But when they started in on how the media is responsible for the hysteria because we blow everything out of proportion, I stepped up. I shall spare you my usual rant, mostly because it’s probably on DCTV by now. But I started to see that theme over and over, that of vilifying the press because it’s too hard to decide which side of the issue is more worth vilifying.

I was bone-tired and ready to jump off the balcony after that, but instead Angelia took me up to the room and put me to bed. I was too despondent to check in with the booth, given the cascade of bad news, so she went for me to find out how it was going. The answer: better than yesterday, but not like last year.

Angelia did yeoman’s duty this weekend as my flunky/bodyservant/Sherpa this weekend, folks. She got me up, got me to my panels, walked ahead of me so people would get out of the way and was willing to be the SuperBitch in my place so she could get me onto elevators in time to make my panels. She kicked my ass when it needed kicking and kicked others out of the way so I didn't have to. I know there are authors who manage to do Dragoncon without a flunky, but I have no bleeding clue how they do it. Brava to Angelia, folks.

Next, I took a nap. Apparently I needed it. Also: cold Chef Boyardee out of the can. Yum. The glamorous life of a small-press author, ladies and gentlemen.

Sunday evening was far more low-key than I recall any other Sunday at previous Dragoncons. Yes, it had the masquerade, and as my roommate Tricia and I commiserated: we’re spoiled. There’s nothing wrong with Dragoncon’s masquerade, except that it isn’t Archon’s.

Angelia and Tricia wrestled me into the black leather corset and harem pants. I meandered back up to the VIP greenroom, hunted some costumes and spent some quality time with friends.

I tell you what: there are far worse ways to spend an evening.

Dragoncon: Saturday

I am too old to stay up until 4 a.m. and get up at 8:30. Just. Too. Old.

My flunky for this show is Angelia Sparrow, who was kind enough to volunteer her services as “bodyservant.” That’s a new title for the person who gets me from point A to point Z, makes sure I do things like “eat” and “drink water,” and generally kicks my ass.

Angelia woke me up at 8:30 to remind me that I volunteered to join Walking With the Stars. It’s an effort by Stu Segal to counteract the health-destroying aspects of con: get up a little earlier and go for a walk around the block. To entice the fans, Stu asks authors and artists and other famous people to walk, so the fans will exercise in order to spend time with us. It’s an excellent goal and I clearly remember volunteering as a “star.”

So I fired Angelia and told her I was going back to sleep. Fortunately she’s impervious to being fired, because she watched me fire Dana several times last year and God alone knows how many times I fired Katie. I haven’t fired Becky yet, but she’s only been my in-town flunky for a little while and she's never had to wake me up at con.

Angelia made me get up and make myself slightly presentable. She made me a cup of tea, so I unfired her. We joined Stu and Steven Segal and several other fine folk, and we went for the walk.

I am so glad I went. The weather was marvelous: warm but not hot, sunny and beautiful. It really was a leisurely stroll, not a deathmarch, and we had a great time. I do hope word spreads about this new tradition, because I think it’s excellent. Bravo to Stu and Steven for setting it up.

On the way back, I actually felt quasi-human, so when I saw that the parade was starting up, I hung around to watch. Six years of Dragoncon and I finally saw the parade. Oh my, what fun! The marching legions of Stormtroopers (led inexplicably by a small group of Stormtroopers in kilts – I ask no questions). The Incredibles family. The walking Jayne’s Hat. The marching periodic table. Batman – old school and new. A real DeLorean, complete with Marty and Doc running madly about. The legions from 300 – and gentlemen, we really appreciate your efforts. Mrow.

Then I returned to the room, to ungross myself and fret over sales. Since the lack of internet access means my Dragoncon wrap-up will not appear until I get home, it’s safe to say that I was frankly terrified. It was the end of Saturday before I sold a single book. I have NEVER been that far behind at any convention, much less Dragoncon. Granted, I don’t expect to ever have a year like I did in 2005 or 2006, whichever year it was that I sold at the New Babel Books booth and brought home a thick wad of cash. But one book by Saturday? When I have good placement in a booth in the exhibitors’ hall? Something has gone very wrong.

Speaking of going very wrong... the author kaffeeklatsch failed due to poor planning on my part. I set it for the Atrium Level, misremembering which level had all the chairs. The only chairs on the Alcohol Level were in the bar, and they didn't want us sitting there unless we bought their overpriced drinks. Not that anyone could find us there, except for one reader and three authors.

Next Year: Ten-Forward, as Angelia dubbed the 10th floor with all its empty tables and chairs. And I'll get it in the Daily Dragon, on the LJ list and elsewhere far more in advance.

My next panel was a fascinating discussion of oil disasters and the oil crisis as it relates to potential apocalypse. Panelists included the irrepressible Selina Rosen and Kevin J. Anderson. Selina and I have been armwrestling at cons for years, but Kevin was new to me – and I am pained to report that he is a TERRIBLE punster. Oh, the puns.

What? I never do puns. That’s just mean.

Selina immediately started in with the references to my cleavage. Her version of MidSouthCon had me forcibly implanting her face in my breasts. As I recall, it was Selina who shouted my name, ran across the hall and faceplanted in my cleavage. I have witnesses.

But I got my revenge. Poor Selina. We were trying to explain the psychological aspects of a post-oil society, how entrenched oil is in the American way of life and how difficult many people would find it to switch. Selina started on an analogy of a society in which everyone ate carrots and suddenly there were no carrots.
Hey, I followed it.

But it was on.

Every few minutes someone would make another carrot joke. “Well, in the carrot-based economy…” It became a running gag, and afterward I reminded Selina that we will be together again at Archon – and I will remember the carrots. “Fuck you, Elizabeth,” she said cheerfully. It took the whole panel to get a “fuck you” out of Selina! I must be slipping.

Dear Archon: Kevin J. Anderson is your guest of honor. We both think that a gift-wrapped bunch of carrots would be the perfect gift for toastmaster Selina Rosen. I'm just saying.

I could have tried to make a panel or two that I was actually not on, but to be honest, I was flagging badly. So I went back to my room and talked to Jimmy for a while, watched some Dragoncon TV, then took a nap. I didn’t really intend to – naps generally don’t help me, just make me feel worse – but apparently I had the look of death on me, because Angelia let me sleep. She also got me a sandwich, so I unfired her again. When did I fire her the second time? I forgot.

Then came the corset. Angelia wrestled me into the rose corset while Kelly provided running commentary. Saturday night was the Victorian Lady, with black-and-roses corset, floor-length black skirt and shawl. The corsets needed much less wrestling this time than previous cons this year, and I discovered that I have somehow misplaced 15 pounds without dieting this summer. Roh? Not that I'm complaining! I could misplace another 75 pounds and be perfectly happy.

On to the famous zombie erotica panel, with Jean Marie Ward and John Everson, among others. We managed to keep the bad jokes to a minimum and talked a good bit about romance, erotica and the definitions; the inherent problems with zombie erotica and zombie romance; the few examples of people that have pulled it off; taboos in our society and the erosion thereof… etc.

Partway through the panel, Pennywise the Clown strolled in. With Georgie. Pennywise held a bunch of balloons; Georgie carried a paper boat. Pennywise had the teeth and the silver eyes. They sat halfway back and freaked me out the whole panel. When we were done, I demanded that Pennywise come up front and get his picture with me, because IT is my favorite book of all time and Pennywise is the boogeyman of my youth – and I have no problem with clowns at all. I make an exception for Pennywise.

After the panel, Angelia took my Rolling Red Bag of Doom back up to the room and I went costume-hunting before wending my way to Vernard’s party. The dress was a big hit. When I walked into the hallway, Parish fell to his knees. He always was dramatic. Vernard did a casual faceplant a la Selina. Melodee groped me, because that’s Mel. I chatted some with Jeff Pagliei, whom I killed in THE COLD ONES and I butcher his last name every time I do a reading.

I’m always amused by the glee my friends feel at being maligned in print – I named the vampire queen in ABADDON after Melodee’s online persona, Zorathenne. The vampire Zorathenne is batshit crazy, a murderer and psychotic. Melodee is delighted. Of course, Zorathenne’s trigger was the grotesque murder of her husband, Martin. He was burned alive on the steps of the cathedral. Now, I stole Vernard’s last name for that victim, and that was the image chosen by Cerridwen Press for the cover. When Martin dies, he is clothed and writhing in pain. On the cover, his arms are up high in defiance and his torso is bare. And it’s a very fiiiine torso.

“Do you know how much shit I have taken over that?” Vernard told me. I informed him I have a giant eight-foot poster of that cover, and Melodee insisted she wants one.

A few words about Vernard. He has the consummate ability to look at a person and gauge their mood, tolerance, inebriation level and taste, and mix the perfect drink to match. He has always managed to find the perfect drink for me. Vernard is one of those people that creates a sense of family around him, and everyone is at home when he’s around. When you’re in Atlanta, the party is wherever Vernard is.

The party was lovely, and I even remember it. I sailed back to my hotel to crash at about 4 a.m., because I keep forgetting that I am thirty-five years old.

Dragoncon: Friday

Thank goodness, the Kerlak booth was up and running before I even got there. My books are happily ensconced on the shelves, hopefully not to stay there long. Hello, book lovers! You can find me in the center of the exhibition hall, near the Troma Films booth. I will happily sign anything you put in front of me.

I got into the hotel room with a minimum of fuss, which is remarkable. Now that I’m here and most of the nonsense is behind me, I find that I’m not all that stressed anymore. Maybe it’s because as I write this, I’ve spent the last couple of hours lounging around my exceedingly luxurious hotel room. I may quibble with the Marriott’s prices, but I must say, they know how to make a comfy room. It may be less comfy when the hordes descend, but that’s okay too.

I wish I had money. They have a spa in this hotel offering all kinds of ridiculous body wraps and massage and facials. Just once I want to be rich enough to have all that kind of stuff on a trip. Alas, I’ll have to settle for my travel-sized Mary Kay in my hotel room… which, to be honest, is good enough.

I met up with Vernard Martin and Jeff Pagliei and a few other miscreant souls by happening into the same elevator with them on my way through the Habitrail. (For the uninitiated: the Marriott, Hilton and Hyatt hotels at Dragoncon are connected via glass tubes between each other and the Peachtree Center food court. Therefore we scuttle from hotel to hotel in tubes that make us feel like gerbils.)

I wasn’t going to spend money on nonessentials like food, but I was weak and succumbed to the lure of bourbon chicken and good conversation. My friends are so sweet – they all want to know how they can help me succeed. My answer is always the same: buy my books, encourage others to buy my books, tell people online about the Literary Underworld and me. Word of mouth is the only way I’m going to get anywhere, because I have no money for self-promotion and certainly the publishers can’t pay for it. Nothing against my publishers, whom I love, but if the choice is buy ads or pay royalties, please pay royalties. I’ll do what I can on the promo end.

I’m nervous about the reading on Sunday. It’ll be the first time I’ve read BLACKFIRE out loud. I’m trying to decide between the opening sequence with the springheel and the popobawa flashback. Probably a better choice than lounging would have been to time those readings and see how long it would take. Meh.

But Angelia (this year's flunky) has just called to tell me she’s here, and there was a bank robbery nearby so the streets are cordoned off. Seriously, if the robbers were wearing Capt. Kirk masks, they’re out of the club. More later!

Later:

I’ve finished my first panel, and I think it went all right. Phil Nutman moderated, which was more like zookeeping with this crew. I got to see John Everson again – he’s one of my Literary Underlords and a good friend. Cherie Priest was also there, as was JAMES A. MOORE! Finally!

Jim and I have been acquainted online for several years now, introduced by our mutual friend and fellow horror nut Jeff Strand. But alas, until today Jim and I have never met. We’ve been at Dragoncon together a couple of times, but never on the same panel and somehow we always seemed to miss each other.

So when he came in he pointed at me and said, “You, get over here.” I guess he could tell which woman was me and which was Cherie Priest, since Cherie as usual had her crazy-awesome blue hair.

Naturally I complied and gave him a big hug. He’s much less ferocious than his author photo. *ducks* After the panel, I gave him a copy of THE COLD ONES, since his blurb decorates the back. Jim’s support of that novella meant a lot to me, as he is far more established in the horror genre than I am. He’s also a great guy.

Of course, I had brought my copy of BLOOD RED for him to sign… and left it in my hotel room. Brilliant, Donald. So I guess I’ll just have to hunt him down later.

I have a couple of authory things I must do, and then some kind of social gathering has been planned, I understand. Heh heh heh.

...later

There was a social gathering. Vernard poured out. Enough said. *hic*


(Note: These are obviously being posted post-con, because I categorically refuse to pay $13 a day for internet access.)

Friday, September 03, 2010

Dragoncon: Thursday

THURSDAY

This is the year of being broke. Okay, I’m usually broke. Especially at Dragoncon. But this year I have discovered new depths of poverty. And misfortune, as I discovered the key to my cash box has vanished, leaving the small amount of cash and a few checks inside inaccessible to me short of rolling over the damn thing with that cartoon squishy thing from ROGER RABBIT.

Wednesday night I drove down to Nashville and crashed with my good friend Stephen. The starscape over the Land Between the Lakes is something to behold – the faint stars-between-the-stars you can only see when you get well away from the lights of civilization. It was almost worth how utterly exhausted I was post-drive.

Thursday allowed me to sleep in, so I did. Then I drove from Nashville to Atlanta, which let me meander over the foothills of the Cumberland Mountains. Along the way I suspected my tires were soft due to excessive rattling, so I stopped at the Sam’s Club in Murfreesboro to fill up a bit. That’s when I discovered one of my tires is down to the steel belt. Oops.

As I lack the funds for a new tire until a) I sell a gazillion books or b) I get paid next week, I risked it. As I am writing this, you know I did not have a blowout on the mountain pass and die. Hopefully the same will hold true for the drive home.

I passed into the Land of Peachtree and Eastern time in midafternoon. Seriously, Atlanta. What’s with the Peachtree thing? I’ve been here once a year for six years running and have yet to see a tree with peaches on it, but holy Zod, how do you people navigate in a town with 800 Peachtree streets?

Still, I keep meaning to return to Atlanta sometime when it isn’t Dragoncon. I hear there’s an Atlanta that exists beyond the four blocks of the show, and even in the weeks that aren’t Labor Day. Probably just one of those stories.

I off-loaded my books at the Kerlak booth, though the Kerlakians had yet to arrive. (Sounds like a Star Trek race with bumpy foreheads!) I met up with my good friend David, who was kind enough to offer me lodgings for the first night, as I could not afford a hotel room for four nights. No offense, Marriott, but when $185 a night is your CON rate, that’s a little excessive. Love your hotel, but damn.

David went to his normal-person badge line; I went to the VIP line. I followed the yellow brick tape all the way back, picked up my badge and that of my flunky (Angelia Sparrow, take a bow!) and was done in five minutes.

Three hours. Minimum. That’s how long poor David was in line. It streteched all the way around the Sheraton, before the tape and ballroom switchbacks that make the baby Jesus cry. Meanwhile I wandered around – as I tweeted, between the sweating, walking and not eating, I should lose five pounds every Labor Day. It’s the Dragoncon Diet Plan! Seriously, I am always amazed at the huge number of people who will stand in that godawful line every year. There has to be a better way, but I’m not smart enough to think of it.

Meanwhile I was counting fez. Fezes? What’s the plural of fez? Too many, that is, as fez after fez wandered by. I had a hideous suspicion they must have something to do with DOCTOR WHO, as the Doctor temporarily adds a fez to his already-godawful costume and River Song won my love by blowing the fez to smithereens.

But I was curious about the fez, so I employed my redoubtable skills as an investigative reporter and started asking people questions. Soon I tracked the fez to a man in a red silk suit who was handing them out. At first he denied his identity, but then he admitted it.

It seems a few years ago, he and a few friends all happened to wear a fez on the first day of the show. First Day Fez became a habit with them. Then it started to spread. Now he gives out fez to strangers. His costume is that of the Unknown Fez, hiding his face behind a mask.  Photo pending due to technical issues.

Then I scoped out the Atrium Level, where we will have our kaffeeklatsch on Saturday. Oops. I managed to pick the only part of the Marriott without much seating that isn’t in a bar. They’ll make us buy drinks to be in there. Damn. Too late to change – it’s on all the flyers. Meh. This is why I shouldn’t be in charge of things.

At long last, David got his badge and we escaped. Tomorrow I’ll be there early to help Kerlak set up the booth, and wandering about until my panels start that evening. People who are direct-messaging me shouldn’t; I can’t get them until I get back to my computer. I don’t have Twitter sent to my phone.

In the meantime, I leave you with this PSA: Give blood. People need it, you can spare it and there are cookies. I am medically barred from donating, so I’d consider it a favor if you go give blood. LifeSouth is on site all weekend.