Scarlet Letters

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

Monday, September 10, 2012

Dragoncon, Day One

Fair warning, folks: This is long. I was just going to do a quick summary post, but apparently I only do "quick" and "summary" when doing fiction. So if you lived and suffered through Dragoncon with me... here's the nonfiction version.


THURSDAY
My Dragoncon trek started with a special treat: a visit from Sara Harvey and family! Sara was on her way to Worldcon in Chicago, and they stayed with us Wednesday night. This enabled us to play with the adorable baby Beatrice, and for Sara to assist me with my convention wardrobe.
By “assist,” I mean, “shake her head in disgust and threaten to send two-third of my closet to Goodwill.” Sara has mad skills, and was able to cull a respectable four-day wardrobe out of my boring pile of momclothes.
Nothing particularly spectacular, since I’m not doing the corsets this year. But enough to get by, even though she hates my blue paisley skirt. I love my blue paisley skirt. I kept putting it in the suitcase and she kept taking it out. I told her I was only taking it as a precaution, and I might not even have been lying. And yet later I discovered it had vanished from my suitcase… and has never reappeared. Woman, give me back my skirt!
Also among the missing were my Square scanner, all iPhone sync cords and the charger for my camera battery. Only a sync cord reappeared. This is still a problem: that charger is a ridiculous $50 to replace. Did I mention my ghost Isabel likes to hide things?
It was nearly 2 a.m. when I finally got to sleep, my to-do list almost complete. The alarm went off at 5 a.m. This was not a good plan.
Jimmy took me to the airport, still sniffling that I was going away for a whole four days. Unlike most other people I know, I actually like flying. I like airports, I like getting where I’m going in hours instead of days, I like seeing the earth grow small under me. I don’t like the rigmarole, but I’ve almost never had a problem with the TSA. I pack properly, I’ve only once been pulled over for extra screening and the airports I’ve flown through are still on the X-ray and metal-detector system, no full-body scans.
However, it helps if you read your ticket. I brilliantly sat in the wrong seat, foolishly thinking I had scored a window seat and would be able to sleep on the 90-minute flight. When the real owner showed up, I had to move to my real seat, a center seat between two strangers with zero leg room. With my rolling bag of doom beneath the seat in front of me, I had to hold myself in a terribly uncomfortable position all 90 minutes, with my legs scrunched up and folding my arms over my chest because otherwise I’d be jabbing my seatmates with my elbows.
Thank goodness for Harlan Ellison. The documentary about him, “Dreams with Sharp Teeth,” is loaded on my iPhone. It doesn’t seem to matter how many times I watch/listen to it, I always find some new inspiration in it. Ellison is perhaps not the most admirable human being, and the documentary does a good job exploring his flaws as well as his brilliance. But his relentless pursuit of the written word and the magic it carries both inspires me and reminds me how far I have to go.
I landed in Atlanta about the time Ellison was explaining why he wrote in bookstore windows. It is to demystify the writing process, he says: because we are so distanced from literature in the United States, we tend to think writing is accomplished on an ethereal mountaintop instead of being a job, just like laying pipe. It is interesting that all the writers I truly admire look at it that way, and probably worthy of future introspection.
But first, I had to get off the fugging plane. It seems to take longer to get off a plane than it was to ride it. I finally escaped into the Atlanta airport.
Which is huge.
I mean, it’s long.
Really long. You thought my last book was long? You could read the whole thing in the time it takes to walk through the Atlanta airport from the farthest concourse, which is where I was.
Now, the sign said there was a tram to my right. But it also said that baggage claim was ahead. So I walked ahead. After all, baggage claim was that way. That’s the way I walked.
And walked.
And walked.
Concourse after concourse, gate after gate. After a while, I began to smell a rat. The signs kept saying the baggage claim was ahead, but it neglected to say how much farther ahead. I suspected I had been eaten by the Langoliers, crossed over into another universe where the airport just keeps going around in a circle and you never reach baggage claim. It doesn’t exist.
I finally gave in and asked someone. One concourse away, he said. Take the tram.
Take the tram. Sure. I could’ve taken the tram 45 minutes ago. Seriously, I was so late arriving at baggage claim that the AirTran employees were taking the lost baggage off the carousel and I had to show my ticket to claim Monstro, my trusty trunk-like suitcase that has survived so many cons with me.
Fortunately, David Wallsh is a patient man and a good friend. David had agreed to pick me up at the airport, which saved me having to haul my cookies across Atlanta by train or forking over $40 to the taxis.
David and I reached the host hotels, and already the lines were wrapped around the block. Fortunately for us, badge pickup is pretty quick for guests (and thanks to my friend Vernard, badge lines are no longer than 1 hour no matter how scary they look). I bumped into Vernard and Jeff Pagliei, and much hugging ensued.
Then David and I found a lovely little café he knew well, which had good sandwiches and absolutely wonderful pie. We had a great lunch and caught up; one of the perks of Dragoncon for me is the chance to actually see my Atlanta friends and get updates on their lives.
David then delivered Monstro and me to the home of Sean Taylor, my editor at New Babel Books. Sean happens to live in Atlanta, and was kind enough to offer me lodgings for the night so I wouldn’t have to fork over an extra day in the hotels.
I had a wonderful time with the Taylors. I got to meet Sean’s kids and his lovely wife, Lisa. At the same time, I was as flummoxed as I am listening to Ellison. Sean has three teenagers, a wife, three cats, two dogs, a full-time day job, far more fiction contracts than I could dream of and edits the likes of me and Shane Moore, and yet he still manages to write and stay sane. Just like my friend Angelia Sparrow, who has a husband and four children while working full-time as a truck driver, yet manages to publish four or five books a year on average.
I have a full-time job, a fiancé, a teenager and a house. Yet I have nothing like their output. I am doing something fundamentally wrong.
Sean and I talked shop for a few hours, and then I enjoyed a quiet evening with the family, crashing at a relatively sane hour because – news flash – I was exhausted.

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