Dragoncon, Day Four and More
Funny thing about the demon in my knee: he remains asleep for the most part unless I’m walking. On Sunday morning, I awoke relatively pain-free and forgot that I was injured. Then I got out of bed.
That little fucker stabbed the back of my kneecap with his pitchfork and yanked the nerve bundles at the same time. Oh yeah, still injured. By now the calf muscle had also decided it hated me, and tied itself up into a little pretzel. You know after you get the charleyhorse, how the muscle stays knotted up, tight and painful like you’ll never relax it again? Yeah, like that.
No time to whinge; I had the most important obligation of my weekend ahead. I consider my reading vitally important, and I don’t get why any author wouldn’t. It’s the chance for established readers to hear what I’ve got coming up next, and for new readers to hear my stuff for the first time.
I usually advertise the hell out of my readings. However, the new material from Moonlight Sonata isn’t tested before a live studio audience yet (which means I’d better test some of it on Jimmy before the next show) and I haven’t selected anything from King of Swords I can use yet, and if I’m going to read something from Absolute Zero it would probably help to, y’know, write it.
So I approached the reading with no idea what the hell I was going to read, and had forgotten to mention my reading at any of my panels or distribute the flyers I had printed at great expense. Oh yeah, Donald, you know what you’re doing.
Fortunately I had a shill: Wrenn had agreed to come to the reading with me and even brought coffee. And someone else showed up. Fuck it, I’ll read to two people. I’ll read to one person. I’m not proud.
Since both were new to my work, I picked “Sisyphus” from Setting Suns and the Piasa sequence from Blackfire. Those are two of my most requested pieces. They stayed through both, they didn’t yawn. Bonus.
Then I had a bizarre realization: Spare time. Sure, my books were available in the dealer’s room, but I didn’t want to bother the booksellers by loitering about and getting in the way. So I had time to shop.
First stop: the hall o’ celebrities. My son is a big stargazer, and has a binder full of autographed photos I’ve brought him from my travels. This year’s priorities were the cast of Warehouse 13, John Barrowman of Doctor Who, Michael Dorn of Star Trek: The Next Generation and Adam Baldwin of Firefly and Chuck. I got Dorn, which also enabled me to ask how his romantic comedy project was going. I had read about that in a recent interview and resisted the urge to ask for them to put CultureGeek on a reviewer list.
Alas for the kid, the Warehouse 13 crew was on their way out, and I could only tell them in passing that they had a giant fan in Edwardsville, Illinois. True enough, Warehouse 13’s quirky steampunk adventure has filled the Smallville- and Chuck-shaped hole in my boy’s heart.
Then I visited Mitzi. My dear friend Mitzi lives in Kansas, so I don’t get to see her much. We missed this year’s Independence Day camping trip because we were in Florida, so I needed to catch up. Mitzi volunteers for the Walk of Fame and helps handle celebrities. This year one of her charges was Felicia Day, of The Guild and Doctor Horrible fame.
Apparently Ms. Day was desperate to escape the signing line, and asked Mitzi where the authors’ row was. So Mitzi texted me about it. I was having lunch with Keith, Wrenn and Jay at the time, and we had ourselves a sad little giggle about that. Authors’ row. What a beautiful idea that would be: a walk of fame for guest authors. We’d be happy as the proverbial clams if such a thing existed. Dear Dragoncon…
So I dropped by to visit with Mitzi, and since Ms. Day had been unable to cruise the mythical authors’ row, I gave her copies of the zombie novels with my compliments. She was delighted and we took a picture together.
Then I cruised the dealer’s rooms. Usually I start my Christmas shopping at Dragoncon; with the number of geeks on my list, it’s a good place to begin. But this year I was sadly disappointed. It was much the same material as in previous years, with fewer books than ever before. Two independent booksellers, plus three big-name authors (Kevin J. Anderson, Laurell K. Hamilton and Sherrilyn Kenyon, mainstays of Dragoncon) and I think I spied one small press and the Authors’ Lair, a cooperative similar to my own Literary Underworld. That’s it.
I considered buying yet another Harry Potter wand for the boy, but he’s broken three in a row, no kidding. Sure, I thought about the Avengers movie poster signed by the entire cast plus Joss Whedon, but that was $2,500 and I’m not insane. There were fake ID badges from every fandom in the universe, costumes, lots of bootleg-looking anime and obscure horror movies, costumes, stuffed animals, endless T-shirts, swords and other sharp things, costumes, posters, gaming supplies and costumes.
In the end, I picked up Magic cards for the boy and yet another Godzilla T-shirt for the man. These were my burnt-offering presents, gifts I offer so they’ll let me back in the house after they’ve degenerated into Lord of the Flies for four days. Seriously, the half-drunk cup of milk Sara Harvey’s little girl left on the dining room table on Wednesday night was still there when I returned on Monday. Buncha fucking savages in this town…
But no, we’re not done! Time to talk short stories, back in the bowels of the Hyatt. By now my knee had warmed back up to an aria of galactic proportions, that little demon yanking away on the long nerve fibers inside my leg. They were kind enough to let me prop my leg up on a chair, bless them, so the entire audience could see that I had also ripped the hell out of my black slipper at some point during the festivities, and I am just the classiest dame in Atlanta.
Most of the panel involved selling short stories, which also sidetracked into getting published. There was the usual bit about self-publishing in ebooks, and I said my standard piece about the need to learn your craft before you embarrass yourself, which went over like the usual lead balloon.
Afterward a young woman came up to me and said she had just made her third professional sale and qualified for SFWA, and wanted to know if membership was worth the cost. Embarrassed on both our behalf (behalves?), I had to tell her that despite seven books on the shelf and contracts for three more, I do not qualify for membership in SFWA or HWA.
See, both organizations require similar credentials: three short-story sales to magazines that pay 5 cents a word or more, or a book contract with a $5,000 advance and 7 percent royalty. But my living has been primarily in the small press, and nobody in the small press pays advances. My royalties have all been 7 percent or higher, and I like earning money from Day One.
My vampire series was published by a press no one could call small: hundreds of titles and millions in sales every year, even back when my vamps were new. I was in every Borders in America, had the multi-city book tour and sure, it was nice. But even they didn’t offer an advance.
I talked with some SFWA officers once, years ago. I pointed out all these salient facts to them, and asked if they had ever considered acknowledging the growth of the small press and the fact that advances are rare now. They said they knew this was a trend in the industry, but that they felt it was important to maintain the same standard, to encourage even the small presses to offer advances. Authors deserve that investment, they said.
Sure they do, but most of us don’t get it, I said. As SFWA, HWA and other writers’ organizations keep asking for more members, they shut out hardworking writers who are legitimately published by good presses that just happen to be small. I’d honestly put most of what I read in the small press above a lot of the stuff I see coming out of New York these days, with or without my own meager contributions.
So I directed the embarrassed young writer to some of the others on the panel, who had much longer resumes than mine and would be better able to advise her on the value of the organizations.
A quick drink in the VIP consuite later, I returned to the bowels of the Hyatt for my final panel: Stephen King, Pt. 2. Okay, that’s not it’s real name; something about what was new in the world of King.
Um. I was alone.
Not alone in the room; oh no, we had a very respectable crowd for a panel at 10 p.m. on Sunday. There was a moderator. And me.
I threatened to break into a song-and-dance routine to entertain them, except the demon in my knee would not allow such a thing. How was I going to enthrall this large room of people without anyone else to hide behind?
Fortunately my moderator – who had the difficult task of keeping his panel of me in line – was quite knowledgeable about King, especially the stuff I didn’t know, like The Dark Tower.
Look, I tried. I had to confess to the crowd: I read the first book twice. And I still couldn’t get into it. They swore if I read the second and third books I’d get bitten and once I read through all the books the first one would make sense. Oookay, says I.
I rehashed some of the same material from the previous Kingology panel, about how King’s work is about one thing on top and something else underneath. I bashed Kubrick around some more, since he can’t hurt me much, and we talked about the upcoming Doctor Sleep. I had to confess I hadn’t read the numbers book (11/22/63 for those playing at home) because my TBR stack has reached frightening proportions, but it’s high on my priority list. Then we debated whether they will ever make Eyes of the Dragon into a movie, and can they possibly find a way in the remake to do the final battle of IT justice, seeing as how it’s my favorite book?
In the end it was a blast, the first time I’ve carried off an entire panel with only a moderator by my side unless you count my readings. I was delighted by the crowd – “Why aren’t you all drinking??” I demanded – and of course I was talking about my favorite writer, so I enjoyed myself immensely.
And by the end of the hour, I had promised to try more of the Dark Tower books. Aw hell.
After a few more drinks in the VIP consuite, I wandered back toward the Hilton and finished my Dragoncon experience by catching up with my dear friend Parish Roberts in his room. Parish and I had managed not to see each other for most of the show, save a brief drive-by hug in the hallway, so it was lovely to catch up with him and his lovely wife and other friends in their room.
Until oh my goodness, it was 3 a.m. and my alarm was going off at 6 for my 8:45 a.m. flight. Poor planning, Donald.
I will spare you the details of my flight home, as it was mostly uneventful for me and the demon in my knee. My menfolk greeted me with hugs and kisses, and did not completely demolish the house while I was gone.
The next day my doctor X-rayed the knee and discovered the demon was not a break as I had feared, but ripped-up ligaments and damaged tendons and all that soft-tissue OW that comes with twisting a joint in a manner God never intended. At the time of this writing, I am still wobbling about on a brace and have had to rent a wheelchair on at least two occasions, but I am healing and will be fine probably by next week.
As usual, I am grateful to have the Dragoncon experience again – and not just because I have good friends I only see there. Dragoncon has an energy I love, excellent panels that challenge the mind and I never fail to come back with it rejuvenated and filled with a creative energy that I ride for weeks afterward. Thank you to the kind folks who run the tracks and continue to invite me to spew my blatherings on their panels. Thanks to the readers who fill the seats in those panels and ask such great questions, keeping us on our toes. Thanks to my friends who make a visit to Atlanta such a wonderful experience.
And especially thanks to Keith, Wrenn and Jay. The day after I came back, I opened a fortune cookie that read, “You will have many friends when you need them.” My three roommates proved that beyond a doubt, taking care of me despite my best efforts to stop them. I couldn’t have asked for better friends.
See you all next year, I hope!