Scarlet Letters

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

Monday, July 25, 2011

HeatFest 2011

Everyone else has already blogged about the sweatfest that was Fandom Fest. At this point, complaining about the heat seems like kicking a dead dog. I think it's clear the Fern Valley Hotel of Louisville, Ky. has significant problems, and any convention considering it as a venue should reconsider.

That said, on Sunday I told the beleaguered Stephen Zimmer that I thought the literary track could have been spun off into a small convention of its own, preferably at a hotel with air conditioning. This is the second ZimmerCon I've attended this year, and that man knows how to do a panel schedule. We authors privately said that Zimmer's involvement makes us more likely to do a show; some shows we'd ordinarily pass by, unless someone says, "No, Zimmer's doing it." Then we're there, because we know the panels will have smart topics and there will be good people doing them.

Everyone shouted about it being a divided con. Maybe it's just being an eight-year veteran of DragonCon (oh my zod it's only a month away), but I wasn't bothered by the bulk of the celebrities being on the other hotel. After all, we got Boba Fett and Lois Lane. (I cracked up Margot Kidder! Geeksquee.) I didn't mind that all the book people were in one place; after all, I know everybody.

The heat, I minded. Me and everybody else. The hotel was passing out free water bottles to those of us standing in line to check in, but I hear that's the only time water was free, in a hotel crammed with thousands of people without air conditioning. I requested a nonsmoking room and ended up with a smoking room, so it's good I don't have asthma. The room itself left a great deal to be desired, with mold and broken curtain rings in the shower and a less-than-comfortable bed, plus half the lamps didn't work. I spend more than 30 nights a year in hotels, and this wasn't the worst... by a fairly small margin.

Celebrity moment: the Young Boba Fett walked into the party late Friday as we were shutting down, and it wasn't until after he left that Kiddo realized he had been talking to a Real Star Wars Actor. Geeksquee all over the place.

We had a good setup, sharing space with New Babel Books. Finally got to meet Frank Fradella's bride-to-be, and she is awesome. (And makes kickass cookies.) Everyone was there, including about seven members of the Literary Underworld. We officially assimilated Terry Sofian and his steampunk RPG, much backstage business was discussed, deals were made, plans were formed, evil was hatched.

To me, there are three sides to any convention experience. One: Sales. We can't do a show if we don't make money. Two: Business. Most of my work comes from contacts made at conventions. Three: Fun. There is value in the socialization with other writers and publishers. Writing is a solitary occupation.

Sales were at best anemic. We needed a big show badly, and we didn't get it. It was a combination of the heat, being tied to a media con where most of those fabled 5,000 were saving their twenties for autographs instead of books, and sheer competition. Hey, I love being in a room with Apex, Kerlak, Sam's Dot and Seventh Star. But I sell better when I'm the only book babe in the room. :)

Business, however, was very good. I had important sit-downs with both my main publishers and got details straightened out for upcoming projects. The LitUnd panel went well and an idea was born that will likely complicate my life in a delightful manner. I've been pitched on several more ideas and a cooperation that may resolve several problems we've had with our business model. Yes, I'm being intentionally vague. Stay tuned.

Fun, of course, was awesome. As expected when this many awesome people are together, but really, it was our best two-day room party ever. Shorty Bergman did his award-winning walking tacos, Dani Burke provided yummies and Angelia Sparrow delivered on her mixed-drink extravaganza and spiked watermelon. It was terrific to just throw our doors open and have Instant Room Party.

Everyone was there: D.A. Adams, Eric Wilson, H. David Blalock, Frank Fradella, Shirley Damsgaard, Shane Moore, J.L. Mulvihill, Maurice Broaddus, Allan Gilbreath, Jason Sizemore, Bobby Nash, Herika Raymer, Jackie and Dan Gamber, Steven Shrewsbury, Sean Taylor, Brady Allen, Mari Adkins, Jon Klement, Kimberly Richardson, a bunch of readers and nice people who brought more booze, plus  dozens more I didn't get to see or have forgotten to mention. At any moment I expected to be shut down by security, but our winning streak continues.

This is the part I really love. I talked about writing production and work-ethic discipline with Shrews, the man of 400 short stories. I talked about the changes in the bookselling industry with Gilbreath and Sizemore. I traded snark with Sean Taylor. I finally got to have more than six words with Maurice Broaddus, whose work I have enjoyed for many years and yet we rarely get to speak at conventions (and I STILL forgot to bring my copy of Orgy of Souls for him to autograph!).

I always come back from con with renewed enthusiasm for the craft, but this one was more invigorating than most. Frank spun an analogy in the LitUnd panel about the pre-Raphaelite artists that I found fascinating: they were not necessarily better artists than those working in any other period, but they worked together, they learned from each other and they became known as a group as well as individuals. Just like the Rat Pack singing in Vegas, individual artists that work together can achieve much greater things in concert than in solitude. I joke about how the specfic small-press world keeps getting more and more incestuous, but there is strength in our cooperation, in the way we work together and improve each other's craft. Or maybe I just like to drool on Maurice's shoes.

We always do a Friday-night party, and yet we end up throwing our doors open Saturday night as well. It's the "drink up the leftovers" party, and somehow ends up being even more well-supplied than night one. It's like the loaves and fishes, as everyone shares what they brought and still we end up with extra Bloody Marys.

The only flaw was that apparently we were visited by a troll late Saturday night who started spouting stuff that drove out half the room. I didn't find out about it until much later; I was buried on the far side of the room. If I'd known what was happening I would have put a stop to it. I guess I don't have the room party dynamic down just right yet.

Regardless, I am not unhappy with the show. Zimmer and his cadre of minions did their damndest with no help from the hotel or whomever was supposed to be planning this thing. If sales were not what I hoped, they were also not the worst of the year. I don't know if we'll be back next year, but I am glad we went.

Extra credit goes to Jon Klement and his flunky for transporting our racks and some of the books across the country to spare the load on my poor Toyota; to Frank, Shrews, Angel, Klement, Adams and Dani for helping to work the table; to Shorty for his yummy catering; to Jimmy, my awesome partner who built the monkey cage by himself and as usual was my right hand the whole weekend; and of course to Zimmer, who worked his ass off and didn't even get to drink at the party.

Zimmer, we're all buying you a drink at the next show.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Blackfire review!

My Google-fu is failing me. There are reviews for Blackfire and I didn't catch them.

Try this one on, from Wolfen Moondaughter at Sequential Tart:

There is a lot of story, both action and strong character development, packed into this 179-page trade paperback!... I like that there are basically three villains in this, one of which will obviously be ongoing for the series, and another being of more obscure folklore than is typically tapped. I also like that the book explores how not all monsters are supernatural... While I wouldn’t say it’s necessary to read (The Cold Ones) first, I do believe reading both increases the enjoyment of each, which on their own are both quite enjoyable. 

There's also a few people starting to talk about it on Amazon. Remember: Amazon is probably the only place in the world where readers' reviews actually sell a book. If you read Blackfire and liked it, please feel free to share your opinion with the world (and with me). Of course, if you read Blackfire and hated it, now is the time for reflective silence...

Sunday, July 10, 2011

a boy and his dragon

We're spending the weekend at the lake, at the tail end of my folks' annual Grandkids Week. I was only able to come out for the weekend due to work, but Spawn has been here the whole week.

There was a Harry Potter marathon on today, so peeling him away from the damn TV and out into the sunshine was a bit of a chore. At bed time, I insisted the box go off so he could sleep. Instead, we opened the draperies to his little balcony (it's an awesome beach house) and watched the moonlight on the lake water.

"Look how beautiful it is," I told him. "See the way the light moves on the water? It's kind of like rippled silk, the way it keeps changing."

"Stare at it a while without blinking," Spawn told me. "See?"

Sure enough, if you stare at the patterns of moonlight on lake water without blinking, soon you will see the most marvelous patterns, shifting scattered magic on dark water.

I was killing time with my boy in part because I was hopelessly blocked on the book. Why not write about this instead, I thought. "I should put a monster in the lake," I told him.

"No, that'll ruin it," he insisted. "Make it a good monster."

"You know, I'm supposed to write a story about a dragon," I told him.

"A boy and his dragon," he replied. "A boy named Mason."

"I was going to name him after you," I said.

"No way! You'll kill me!" he replied. Smartass.

We determined that Mason was an unhappy kid, maybe a kid with lousy parents or problems with bullies. The point is, Mason makes up imaginary friends, so no one believes him when he sees a chameleon dragon named Ang rise up out of the lake water while he's visiting for that one week a year.

Ang becomes Mason's best friend. And like the Chinese legends, Ang can control weather.

That's as far as we got. At some point I had to write and he had to sleep. But it amazes me, the quality of his imagination. Stephen King wrote most descriptively of it in IT, that imagination we possess as children and sadly lose as we grow up. Magic spells and moonlight patterns are replaced with credit card bills and brake repairs, and we lose something essential to the human experience.

Worse: we take it away from our children. We forget in their flights of fancy and energetic play that they are heirs to our unspoken stories. We tell them to grow up, act their age, sit down and be quiet. Or worse: we tell them nothing at all, letting the electronic babysitters dull their sharp edges and they exercise their thumbs instead of the twisted fairytales of dreams.

I wish he would write the story of Mason and his dragon. He's already moved on to the comic strip of bacon escaping our fridge and running about town wreaking havoc. Mason's fate is in my hands.

But first, I wanted to remember what it looked like, staring at the moonlight scattered on the water without blinking, my son leaning against my shoulder. Magic spells.