Midsouthcon: Dark & Stormy Virgin
Oh, Midsouthcon. I love you even though you gave me confluenza. I love you even though the most horrific panel of my life happened this weekend. I loved you when we were at the Airport Hotel, and I loved you when we were in the Escher Hotel, and now that we're in a giant beer can I love you even more. (It helps that you buy my books.)
We can never just go to con. There’s always something we forgot, or some last brilliant idea. In this case it was both: I forgot contact lens solution and I realized I needed a shiny laminated sign for the Blackfire package deal.
So we left the Tylers, thanking them mightily for hosting us when Extended Stay America left us sad by the side of the road. On to Walgreens and Kinkos, and only twice was asked by a random stranger if I had accepted Jesus in my heart. Really, Memphis? I’ve missed you, but I thought my years in the choir got me off the hook.
On to the con, where the Spawn helped me unload and set up the booth. This goes much more smoothly when I have a second adult, but the Spawn did pretty well with a very tight schedule.
See, we had to set up and have the booth operational by 2 p.m., which was the opening hour for the dealer’s room. We also had to check into the hotel and decorate the room for the room party. My flunky would arrive midafternoon, fellow author Angelia Sparrow shortly beforehand, my boyfriend at 4 a.m. What could possibly go wrong?
In the middle of all that, I also had to feed the Spawn. He’s like a shark, he can’t go more than a few hours without eating or he goes into a frenzy. A quick dash out to grab sustenance turned into a $70 trip to the grocery store for party supplies, because feeding people is kind of important at a party.
On the way back, we got caught behind a train. That’ll teach me to buy doughnuts for my crew. As we waited, I noticed that the back of each train car was labeled in foot-tall letters: DO NOT HUMP.
I… got nothin’.
Then back to the booth, where my author and flunky had arrived. We traded off duties, with me and Flunky David heading up to decorate the room while Angelia took over the booth. Poor David was ducking security all the time because I hadn’t gotten his badge yet; my flunkies work for badges, because they’re awesome like that. (We did eventually get David a badge, after about three attempts.)
David and Angel’s kids and I got the room into some semblance of order, set the booze to chilling and tossed up the room décor. It’s starting to get a little beat-up – too many parties, too many cons. Fraying around the edges. Like me.
My first panel was about romance and horror. Some wit thought it would be funny to put me and Jimmy on that panel, but the joke’s on them, because Jimmy wasn’t going to be at the con until Saturday morning thanks to his work schedule. Poor Hilaire Smith was the moderator-slash-zookeeper, and as I chatted with her and Mallory Kane, Allan Gilbreath walked in.
Poor Hilaire had to sit between us. Con people have long learned that the Allan-and-Elizabeth Show is surefire snark waiting to happen. Someday someone’s going to put us on a panel with Selina Rosen, and then tranquilizer darts will be needed.
The panel went fine. I did my spiel on “Bram Stoker was writing Victorian porn” and we did our requisite snark on the Sparklepire Phenomenon.
Then upstairs to the party for final prep and corseture. Black leather for Friday. We had people coming in and out from the moment we opened the doors – almost before we were done hanging the last drapery. Selina Rosen made her requisite snarks as Angelia wrenched me into the corset – which I now wear with an undershirt to prevent wardrobe malfunctions.
You know what the best question in the world is for an author? “How do I buy this book?” I directed them to David, because if I touch the money it turns into confetti. I was signing books within fifteen minutes of opening our doors. I love Memphis.
I have to give David serious kudos: he hauled heavy stuff, obeyed my whims with the décor, fetched and carried, oversaw Spawn, ran out in search of supplies, handled on-site sales at the party, helped check IDs, and stayed to the very end of the party to help clean up. Then he came back the next day to man the booth while we all ran around like crazy people. Awesome job.
Speaking of kudos, a big one goes out to devious bastard and awesome guy Stephen Zimmer. He had warned me that he had a surprise for me. I replied, “Why am I afraid?”
Turns out Zimmer’s got himself a high-class buttonmaker. He swiped the famous photo of me emptying the magazine of an SKS and captioned it: Elizabeth Donald, Aim For the Head!
Zimmer gave me a bag full of them, buttons and magnets. They kept popping up all over the con! People everywhere were wearing my buttons, with a photo of me shooting! Given the subject matter of Blackfire, it was particularly appropriate. And hilarious. Thank you, Devious Bastard.
I had to leave my own party about half an hour in because I brilliantly scheduled my party for the same time as my reading. Now, I love Midsouthcon, but I hate the street corner readings. Don’t get me wrong: I’d rather read on the street corner than not read at all. And it’s a neat concept: Put the writers in a hallway under a fake streetlamp, and maybe people will stop to listen.
Unfortunately, my work is not safe for all audiences. It’s really hard to find a sequence that is appropriate for a place where families with young children or mundanes can happen by at any moment. I’m a horror writer who has dabbled in erotica. Two great tastes that… um.
Also, we need a giant sign in the corner that says, “SHADDUP.” Every time I do one of these, there’s a group of incredibly rude people who stand practically in the space talking at the top of their lungs and apparently oblivious that I’m trying to read my story. Last year was worse – we were in a stairwell and there were kids shouting for mom on one side and Mom shouting back on the other and a group of teenyboppers doing some kind of dance in the hallway right in front of me.
In the midst of this utter chaos, I have to create some kind of suspension of disbelief, capture them with my voice and prose, and help them fall into the hole in the paper.
Still, it went okay. I had a handful of people, and they seemed to enjoy it. I read a flashback from The Cold Ones and one from Blackfire, but not the popobawa sequence that I prefer to read because children shouldn’t hear tales of Tanzanian demons that kill with sodomy. Not yet, anyway.
Back to the party, which went on until nearly 3 a.m. Yikes. I’m getting too old for this shit. David helped me shut down, and I went keeeeerash.
We got a slow start on Saturday, as Jimmy had arrived very late and I was exhausted. There were doughnuts, however, so all was right with the world.
Angelia had taken the morning shift and would do so again Sunday, so I must give her kudos as well. Not only for the morning hours, but for putting up with my snark. See, Angelia had oral surgery shortly before the con and was missing her front teeth. This gave her a slight lisp. Slight, as in when she left for her panel on Friday night, I asked her repeat it because it was so much fun to hear her say, “Thteampunk Thethx.”
Tricking Angelia into saying words with an S in them became my hobby for the weekend. When she recovers, she’s so going to kick my ass. Or is that athhh?
Jimmy and I ran out for a quick bite to eat, and dashed back for various panels and sundries. Poor David was abandoned at the booth, as we all managed to have panels, signings or readings at the exact same time. This is why the Literary Underworld always needs a flunky.
My panel was on character creation for fiction and gaming. Angelia and I were both on it, and I tried to keep the S-baiting to a minimum. Which means she only tried to slug me twice.
And then the con fell (kinda) silent, as the Darrell Awards banquet kicked off and half the writers vanished into the banquet hall. None of us this time: for the first time ever, none of the LitUnd crew were up for the Darrell. However, my publisher Tyree Campbell was first runner-up for one of his own short stories, so congrats to Tyree!
On the other hand, Tyree was responsible for my pre-con heart attack. Less than a week to the book launch, he emailed me that the books were in and “they look great! Only one problem: they used the British spelling of the author’s name. We’ll fix it in the next print run.”
Now, I’ve had a friend go through this exact thing. Her publisher misspelled her name on the book cover and refused to fix it. My heart in my throat, I emailed back, “Whaaaat? They misspelled my name? How are we fixing this? How did they spell it?”
He replied, “They spelled it, ‘Elizabeth Donald.’”
He was chortling from the time I first saw him at Thursday’s author chat. I told him if he ever played a gag like that on an author three days before book launch, he would so regret it. Physically.
Throughout the con, people came up to me – mostly other authors, with an evil grin – and would say, “What’s the British spelling of your name again?”
The third one to ask got the response, “Oh goddammit I’m gonna kick his fucking ass…”
Tyree doesn’t publish me because I’m all sweetness and light.
Once the dealer’s room closed, it was time for sustenance again. And I had the brilliant idea that we writers should go find ourselves a real restaurant and eat something that wasn’t dehydrated into a plastic sack. Not that I have anything against such things, but we were only minutes from Huey’s, and I called ahead to make sure we could get a table fast. (You see where this is going.)
Then I made the mistake of inviting Allan Gilbreath of Kerlak Publishing. You see, Allan is the kiss of death for con dinner plans. Two years ago, he and I were among the denizens of BabelCon in Baton Rouge, La. I was premiering The Dreadmire Chronicles there. We fled the con for dinner in the hopes of finding real Loosyanna food, and wandered the city forever. It was like we’d fallen into an alternate reality where no restaurants ever existed or at least stayed open past 4 p.m.
We ended up at Burger King. I kid you not. I went all the way to Baton Rouge to eat a Whopper. It’s Allan’s fault.
So here we are, in a southern city, at a con, at which I am premiering a new novel. And I invited Allan to join us at dinner. I never learn.
“Us” included Allan, Kimberly Richardson, Tyree Campbell, H. David Blalock, Jimmy and myself. We invited a bunch of other folks, like Jon Klement and Stephen Zimmer, but those losers were so focused on work and panels and being responsible that they totally ditched us. *pffftftft*
We got to Huey’s and contrary to what the waitress said, it was packed. Slammed. People were standing about on the sidewalks. We had exactly 90 minutes until we all had to be back for panels. Ain’t no way. And by then it was too late to go to Corky’s Barbecue, which is the best BBQ in Memphis in my humble opinion and was almost literally across the street.
We ended up at Chick Fil A. I kid you not. I went all the way to Memphis to eat a chicken sandwich inexplicably festooned with pickles. It’s Allan’s fault.
Someone took pictures so we could memorialize this occasion. Classy with a capital K.
Back to the con, time to work. I was supposed to talk about champagne publicity on a beer budget with Dan Gamber, Joy Ward, Selina Rosen and Stephen Zimmer. Michelle Weston was supposed to be with us, but somehow I didn’t see her the whole con. Her or Auntie, who was at least captured on photograph.
This is one of those panels where I’d rather be taking notes, but Dan kept this unruly crew in line as best he could. Selina talked about the coupons of unusual value and I talked about the emergency zombie bite kits, and missed opportunity: we didn’t have any on us. Oops. Jimmy scrambled upstairs to find them, but nix. We talked about turning moments into events, about the room party that doesn’t suck and made 87 cracks about Selina’s carrot-based economy.
Selina and I armwrestled again. She won. Again. It’s embarrassing how easily she beats me every time. I think we should do this every time we have a panel or signing together. I could use the exercise.
Many people had asked us if we were going to have another room party. I hadn’t planned on it, but we had a ton of booze left over and nothing else to do – I mean, do you really want to see me dance? It’s aesthetically displeasing.
This party was a little more laid-back – open door, but really the only people who knew we were open were our friends. Stephen Zimmer and Jason Sizemore hung out with us for a while, plus the Kerlak Krew, and I poured Sizemore a drink that apparently knocked him over. “You could’ve gotten a book deal out of me ten minutes after that last one,” he told me later. Damn! Missed opportunities!
It was mostly authors and editors in the room, and much shop was talked. That’s the real professional value in these conventions, I think. Oh, it’s nice to move some product and I love seeing friends and meeting readers. But you also have to justify the business expense of attending, which ain’t cheap. I came out of Midsouthcon with two firm offers for more work and several more come-ons. So to speak. And I wasn’t even wearing a corset. (Thinking of retiring them, honestly.) I learn from these people, people who have done so much more than I have, and sometimes we can help the newbies avoid our mistakes, too.
I think we wrapped up at the relatively sane hour of 2 a.m. I’m getting way too old for this shit.
Scramble scramble scramble. Thank Zod we’d had the brains to clean up the party stuff toward the end Saturday, so that Sunday was just pack up the clothes and load the cars. Ugh.
I had me a little fun on Sunday. See, I had to bring over some of the Blackfire money to Tyree because, y’know, he published it and all. So I was standing on the far side of the dealer’s room with a fan full of twenties while Jimmy and Zimmer were standing over by our booth. We could see each other but not hear.
Tyree was writing up a receipt while I waited. I got silly. I started fanning myself with the twenties, then waving them around, dangling them in the air, and the guys grinned and said something to each other which was probably, “Man, your girlfriend is psychotic, you know that?” There is a picture somewhere of that.
Then Tyree took his money, and I raised something else in the air. But Jimmy had already turned around. I motioned for Zimmer to get him to look at me – look at me dammit! – but it was a minute or two before he got it.
Jimmy turned around and saw me holding up a black t-shirt that reads, “I [Godzilla] Tokyo,” like the I-heart-NY shirts but with a red Godzilla silhouette instead of a heart. He’d been drooling on the shirt all weekend, but I had to sell some damn books before I could afford it.
He let out a barbaric yawp that temporarily silenced the dealer’s room. I met him halfway and got myself one hell of a kiss. As he happily fondled the T-shirt, I told Zimmer, “He has an affection for Godzilla that is truly disturbing, we’re looking into getting him some therapy.” I got away with this snark only because Jimmy wasn’t listening.
Oh, and I also picked up a T-shirt for the Spawn. It was, in fact, the T-shirt I wanted for MYSELF. It’s blue and orange and reads, “Tardis Express: When It Absolutely Positively Has To Be There Before You Sent It.” I got it for him instead. I better get Mom of the Year.
Usually Sunday is the biggest day for sales, but for us it was our weakest day. We couldn’t sell for love or money on Sunday, and we were trying. I was within sight of selling out the whole print run, and came damn close. One of my bookstore orders was “between 15 and 25” books, so if I go on the high end of that order, then we sold out. Does that count? I’ll take votes.
But we moved an ungodly number of buttons and Pocky – they pay the booth fee every damn time – and Blackfire was a screaming hit. We packed and loaded and collected the Spawn, and… wait.
There was a final panel.
One last nightmare.
Dark & Stormy.
Whose brilliant idea was it to put me on this panel? I am finding this person and hurting them in creative ways. Dark & Stormy is a Midsouthcon tradition. It puts four writers up front with a bag full of quotes from movies, TV shows, books, etc. We get a premise from the audience, each of us gets a pile of quotes, and we take turns making up a story that fits. Kinda.
I had never seen Dark & Stormy. I was totally unprepared. I had not asked for this honor and was floored to be named to it, but I was usually in the dealer’s room cleaning up when D&S got rolling and had never observed it in person. All I knew was that it was some kind of improv for the folks up front and hilarious to watch.
I don’t do improv.
I didn’t do improv when I was in theatre, either. It was my biggest failing as an actress: an inability to make things up as I go along. I can see why they thought I would be a good choice for Dark & Stormy: I am good on panels, I give good snark and I make people laugh. I’m also a competent writer. The two do not go together well in my brain.
It didn’t help that Allan (cofounder of the panel) was cackling evilly and when Dan Gamber saw that I was a Dark & Stormy Virgin (shaddup), he joined with the evil laughter. I begged Jon Klement to pull a fire alarm, but he refused, the bastard.
The panel was, in order of appearance: Allan Gilbreath, Mary Robinette Kowal, me, and J.F. Lewis. Apparently Jeremy was the Virgin last year and it was my turn for sacrifice. I was already floored by Kowal, whose blog I’ve been reading religiously for years. And when she introduced herself with all the stuff I already knew – Campbell winner, up for a Hugo – she finished with, “And I used to compete in improvisational storytelling.”
Allan turns to me with that shit-eatin’ grin and says, “Elizabeth?”
“I’m Elizabeth Donald, and I’m not nearly that cool.” This got more laughs than it deserved.
In an attempt to explain the format, I asked Allan if we were supposed to construct a coherent storyline. “Well, a storyline,” Jeremy allowed.
“If we get anywhere near a plot, we might scare them,” Allan said.
And the games began. The premise was: Civil War era, Jack the Ripper, and hemorrhoids. I cannot make this up. It was from the audience, which was clearly filled with all the sadistic bastards not currently packing up in the dealer’s room.
It was the longest panel of my adult life. I suuuuuuck at this. I tried to keep an idea in my head so I wouldn’t blank when it was my turn, and then Allan or Mary would toss things sideways. It was Jeremy who turned it from the Civil War to a toy story, it was Mary who introduced the horny milkmaid (don’t ask) and I’m the one who brought Godzilla in to melt Gandalf.
It was my best contribution, shaddup. And Jimmy wasn’t even there to see it.
I hate being the lame one on a panel! Allan was awesomely evil, Mary was smooth and charming, Jeremy was wildly creative and I was laaaaaaaame. Stake me, please. There was Jon Klement, giggling over by the door, and did he pull the fire alarm? NO. I was so desperate I actually drank the Red Bull. Didn’t help. *bleech*
At one point I was stumped and said, “Pass.” This awful chant rose up out of the audience, those evil sadists, saying, “No pass! No pass! No pass!” They missed an opportunity: “You Shall Not Pass!” Someone suggested something that sounded like, “Meemaw,” and I queried what the hell that meant and they said, “MEANWHILE!”
Ah. Send the so-called plot spinning in a totally different direction. Like Jeremy and his goddamn toys. Gotcha. Oh, by the way, I had Jack the Ripper No. 3941 stake Edward the Sparklepire. You’re welcome.
It was hilarious. It was terrifying. It was sadistic and wildly entertaining. And I will kill whoever put me on it. I was never so relieved in my life as when Allan declared that he had the very last prompt and we were free. I told Allan he had been present for the most excruciating experience of my life, which was not entirely true. Twenty-nine hours of labor was worse. I think.
Thus ended our adventures at Midsouthcon. We fled Memphis, possibly chased by plasticine milkmaids, Edward the Sparklepire and Godzilla. We remembered to grab Corky’s BBQ sauce and Huey’s seasoning on our way out of town, and God thought it was funny to throw a snowstorm (!!!) in our way as we crossed the Mason-Dixon line again. I came down with a fever and nasty cold that persists two days later, and I don’t give a flying rat’s ass.
Midsouthcon, you rocked once again.