…and holy shit am I exhausted.
Dragon Con was, as always, fantastic. Yes, there were general issues at the con, including an incident with people throwing chairs down the Marriott atrium (!), elevators and escalators not working properly, and the usual incredibly idiotic kerfluffles regarding the Dragon Awards (the energy people invest in these stupid fucking awards — and I put all awards in this category — would be much better spent writing more fiction), plus the usual desperate attempts to get anywhere on time when navigating the crowds, and events that had too little seating for the number of people who wanted to see them. (Wrenn missed a couple of program items due to the line being longer than the room’s capacity).
But the con dealt with these problems, and the hotels did superlative work in cleaning up messes that were made. In addition, while the crowds were huge, they were very well managed, in my experience.
Anyhow, my own experience was fantastic — and tiring, as I had 19 program items over the course of the four days.
The drive down went very smoothly. We left NYC at 4.15am and arrived in Atlanta around 8pm. Waze very kindly navigated us around three bits of horrible traffic that would have delayed us further. Instead, we got there in plenty of time to unload the car, check in, and then park the car at our friend Laura’s place in Decatur. Laura and I then Uber’d back to downtown, and everything went so smoothly that there was plenty of time for Wrenn and I to get our badges. Yay!
At this point, Wrenn and I have done this length of a road trip a lot — three times to Atlanta for Dragon Con, once to Atlanta for Treklanta, twice to Indianapolis for InConJunction — and we’ve pretty much got it down to a science. We both like to drive, and we both drive well, and being able to split the driving makes all the difference…..
Anyhow, we hung out with Laura for a while and then turned into pumpkins, as I was facing my busiest day Friday.
I originally had five program items for Friday, but I got a frantic text from Sue Phillips, a dear old friend and the director of the science fiction literature track, asking if I could join the “First Contact Improv” panel, substituting for Jim Butcher, who had to pull out of the panel. I rather insanely agreed, mostly due to fond memories of doing the same panel two years ago.
I started, though, with a panel on the Alien franchise, talking about the six movies, the tie-in fiction, the games, and more, alongside moderator Gary Mitchel (co-director of the American Sci-Fi Classics track), Jonathan Maberry (who edited Aliens: Bug Hunt, and had a story in it, as did I), Alex White (author of Aliens novels), Steve Saffel (editor of the Alien novels for Titan), and Andrew E.C. Gaska (who works for 20th Century Fox on the Alien end of things, and who was late for the panel, which is why he’s not pictured above). We had a grand old time talking about what we like — and what we don’t like — about the franchise. In particular it was fun arguing over the worth of Alien 3.
That was the first of four straight panels I had Friday — in four different hotels!
(Digression for those unfamiliar with Dragon Con: the con takes place across five hotels in downtown Atlanta, the Hilton, Marriott, and Hyatt, which are linked by skybridges, and the Sheraton and Westin, which are a block away from, respectively, the Hilton and Hyatt. In addition, they use the Americas Mart, a mall/function space between the Hyatt and the Westin for both dealers and gaming.)
My next panel was the only one in the Sheraton, which is the hotel I was staying in. Not the best planning ever, that…
Anyhow it was me, Jonathan, and Kevin J. Anderson talking about writing X-Files tie-in fiction. Jonathan edited the three XF anthos that IDW put out and wrote one of the two YA books recently released featuring younger versions of Mulder and Scully. Kevin wrote several XF novels and comics back when the show was on the air, and both Kevin and I contributed to the first of Jonathan’s anthologies. I also was hugely plugged into XF fandom back in the day. So that was a fun hour of geebling….
After that, it was on to the only panel I did the whole weekend where I had absolutely no professional involvement in the subject matter: Red Dwarf. I came to this solely as a fangoober, as I’ve had an unhealthy obsession with RD since college, and still love the show. Sadly, my plan — to use doing this panel as an excuse to finally catch up on the more recent seasons — failed utterly, as deadlines did not allow me to finally watch seasons 8-10, and I was only able to speak about the first seven seasons, as well as the four novels. Still, it was a fun panel full of lots of silliness and in-depth discussion, despite the subject matter being a science fiction sitcom. Kudos to the other panelists — Brian Doob, Mike Faber (the Dude abides!), K’Tetch, and Rob Levy.
Then I did a general panel about writing military SF for the military SF track, which was moderated by track director Karen Henson, and included Janine K. Spendlove and Ronald Garner (both of whom have served in the military) and my old buddy Van Allen Plexico (who, like me, has not served, but still writes the stuff; that’s me and him pictured below). We had a grand old time talking about the ins and outs of doing military stuff, in particular when doing tie-ins.
Then I got a break, which I spent napping and eating dinner, before heading out to do a panel on Nights of the Living Dead with Jonathan. The audience was disappointingly light for that one, but we got lots of people interested in the anthology, and Jonathan and I geebled about George Romero and our favorite zombie movies and other stuff, which was fun.
Then it was off to do First Contact Improv, where I introduced myself by saying I’m a white guy with long hair and a beard, I do martial arts, I write urban fantasy, I wrote a Spider-Man novel for Simon & Schuster in the mid-2000s — but I’m not Jim Butcher! (I was also described as the Emergency Jim Butcher Hologram.) As with two years ago, it was an improv of a very bad first contact, with prompts from the moderator (Robert E. Hampson) and the audience. As with two years ago, both Larry Correia and I went full silly with it, this time aided and abetted by Chuck Gannon (who was amazing) and Linda Robertson (who didn’t know what to expect coming in, and man was she surprised — but she did fantastic, also). It was, overall, a great, hilarious panel, the perfect surreal end to an exhausting day.
After sleeping the sleep of the just (or the fatigued, whatever), I had a nice slow ramp-up to stuff on Saturday. We opened with another military SF panel, this one on rewatching old TV shows. Van and I talked about how rough it can be to rewatch things you haven’t seen in a while, but sometimes you appreciate things you missed the first time. Bravo to James Henson for expertly moderating as well. We were opposite the parade (which was right outside the Westin where we had the panel), so attendance was sparse, but the people who were there had a grand old time.
After that, I had some free time, so I wandered the dealer room for a bit, scoping out where the Bard’s Tower booth was (I was scheduled to sign there Sunday and Monday), as well as the Insight Editions booth (where they had the Supernatural John Winchester Journal Ruled Notebook, for which I provided the text reproducing bits of John’s journal from the show). I also dropped in on some folks I knew in Artists Alley, including Georges Jeanty and Peter David, as well as Dean Motter, who was busy talking to people. I was hoping to catch up with Dean, with whom I worked at Byron Preiss a thousand years ago, but the opportunity didn’t present itself.
Missing Volume was also at the con, but they didn’t ask me to do a signing. When I went down there to ask why they didn’t love me anymore, they explained that they just moved and not everything was out of storage, including my stuff. However, they had copies of several anthologies I’m in — Nights of the Living Dead, Aliens: Bug Hunt, V-Wars, and V-Wars: Night Terrors — so I signed their stock of those. While doing so, I hand-sold a copy of Bug Hunt, so that was cool.
My first autographing — the official convention one — was at 1pm. They schedule four authors at once, generally, and for that hour it was Laurell K. Hamilton (who had a huge line waiting for her), E.K. Johnston (who had a good-sized line waiting for her), Jane Yolen (who had a decent-sized line waiting for her), and me. There was nobody waiting for me, and only four people came to see me, though one other person who was there for Jane bought one of Wrenn’s stuffed cats, which I had with me at the table.
For all that getting so small a crowd is frustrating (and it’s not like I haven’t had big crowds at signings at Dragon Cons past), the four people who did show up were very glad to see me, and one in particular is someone I first met two years ago who’s a huge fan of my work, and it was worth sitting there for an hour so that he had a chance to touch base with me.
And I got to see Jane, whom I haven’t seen in ages, which is always a delight. Jane is one of the finest humans extant, and it’s always a pleasure to bask in her presence.
I also want to credit Dragon Con with fixing the author signings, which was a disaster the last two times I was at the con in 2014 and 2015. Can’t speak to last year, as we missed it due to moving, but in ’14 and ’15 the author signings were set up in such a way that nobody could actually find them. This year, though, the International South ballroom was arranged in such a way that you could actually find folks. Bravo.
After that, I got to be a judge for the Pageant of Rassilon, which was the Brit Track’s Doctor Who Costume Contest. There were some amazing entries, and this was a tough one to judge. Track director and co-judge Caro McCully created a rubric that had us grade four points on a 1-10 scale, and nobody who entered got less than 30 from me. (No one got a perfect 40, either. I’m cruel, but fair.) My personal favorite was the woman who dressed as the Gallifreyan general from “Hell Bent” — specifically the form she regenerated into. I told her she needed to find a bald white guy so she could re-create the entire regeneration scene. Points also to the person who did David Tennant dressed as a Time Lord from a magazine photo shoot…..
Anyhow, the costumes were all great, and the winners were announced at the Doctor Who Ball Sunday night, which I didn’t attend, so I have no frapping clue who won. But they were all awesome. So there.
After a break to eat lunch and change, I went to the workshop space in the Hilton for my practical self-defense workshop.
I’ve done this workshop at bunches of conventions, and this was the fourth time I did it at Dragon Con. They gave me a bigger room this year than they have in the past, and I’m grateful, as I had upwards of a hundred people (the picture above doesn’t come close to showing how many people were in that room). It was mind-boggling, and flattering, and daunting. But I managed, and people learned how to defend themselves against a physical assault, and hopefully they’ll never need any of it………………
After the sparse autographing, this showing was very gratifying. I had a great time, and everyone was glad they came.
That night was a delightful panel about 80s vampire movies (and we got into vampire comics and books as well). It was a magnificent nostalgia fest, starting with The Lost Boys and working our way through all sorts of bloodsucking cinema. Kudos to fellow panelists Jonathan, Gary, Debbie Viguié, Scott Viguié, and two other people who’s names I’m blanking on.
After that, we hied to the Westin bar, which over the years since Dragon Con absorbed the Westin into its Borg Collective of hotels has become the Author Hangout. We got to spend lots of time with (or at least say hi to) Jaym Gates, John Hartness, Gail Martin, Trisha Woolridge, Lance Sibley, Anya Martin, Myke Cole, Morgan Skye, and many other people I’m blanking on because Saturday night was a very long time ago.
After a Mudder’s Milk (Kahlua, vanilla flavored vodka, half & half, and crème de cacao) and several shots of Scotch, we called it a night and collapsed in a heap.
Sunday was more busy, but still nifty. We opened the day with a panel on Aliens: Bug Hunt, which was a panel that, somehow, Jonathan was not on, even though he edited the anthology. However, the panel was filled with contributors to the anthology, including self, James A. Moore, Scott Sigler, Mike Resnick, and Marina J. Lostetter. We all talked about our stories and what we love (and hate) about the Alien movies, and some of the entertaining notes we got on our stories, and so on. Only two or three people in the audience had bought the anthology, so hopefully we made a bunch of sales with the panel…..
After that I did another run through the dealer room, including seeing my old buddy Sandra SanTara, then grabbed a bite in the room before meeting up with my agent. (We always bring coffee and food to Dragon Con, which is one of several reasons why we drive instead of fly. We bring our Italian roast beans, grinder, and coffeemaker, so the coffee is fresh and yummy; and we bring cold cuts and cheese from local delis here in NYC. Sopresatta is life!)
Lucienne lives in Florida (and I really hope she’s okay over the next few days), and we don’t get to see each other that often — and the last time we did was Wrenn’s and my wedding, and we really didn’t talk much business that weekend…..
So we drank and chatted and caught up and plotted and planned and gossipped and took a selfie:
After that, it was time for my second autographing, and my first of the con at Bard’s Tower. This is a traveling author show booth that hosts dozens of authors at various conventions all over the place. They were the ones who had me at Florida Supercon in July, and I will be doing more stuff with them in the future.
I also got another fan who wanted very much to meet me, Matt, who wanted a picture:
Next up was the Sherlock panel, which is another one I didn’t have a direct connection to professionally, though I have written Sherlock Holmes pastiche stories for the Baker Street Irregulars series….
Moderator Taylor Blumenberg did a superb job of moderating me, Kristin Jackson, Shannon Burgess, Allison Lane, and Wendy Qualls as we discussed the pros and cons of the fourth season, the character development over the course of the series, their fidelity to Conan Doyle’s source material, and the inevitable comparisons to Elementary.
Every Sunday at Dragon Con, the David family (Peter, Kathleen, Caroline) host a party where they bring in a ton of food from Fat Matt’s Rib Shack. First off, if you’re ever in Atlanta, fucking go to Fat Matt’s Rib Shack. Seriously, incredibly yummy foods. Great ribs, great fried chicken, great live blues music.
Anyhow, some of my fondest memories of Dragon Con are at these parties, most notably in 2008 when Peter, George Takei, Walter Koenig, Mike Baron, and I were discussing the presidential election. First of all, this is always a good occasion to remind myself of if I’m ever feeling down on myself or my life, that I got to talk politics with Mr. Sulu, Mr. Chekov, and the creators of Nexus, Badger, Fallen Angel, and Sachs & Violens. Secondly, it was a great conversation — this was only a couple of weeks after John McCain announced Sarah Palin as his running mate, and we were still learning things about her (pretty much all bad), and before the McCain-Palin campaign had quite turned into the Keystone Kops. Peter was utterly convinced that there was no way the American public would elect a black man president, and I was utterly convinced that Barack Obama would win in a walk. Months later, Peter would admit that it was the first time in his life he was glad to be wrong.
Also, when I entered the party, Caroline (who is now 15 and starting high school) called me over and then yelled at the top of her lungs, “KEITH DeCANDIDO SUCKS!” proving that David Mack was right — the roast never ends.
Anyhow, the party this year gave me a chance to meet some nifty new people and also catch up with John Hudgens, which was cool, before having to bugger off and another goofy improv panel at 8.30 at night, this one Aliens vs. Zombies. Robert, Allison Sky Richards, and I each picked a random alien, a random zombie, and a random location, and discussed who would win — as an example, a Xenomorph from the Alien franchise vs. Monster, Cersei’s bodyguard from Game of Thrones, in a middle school. As it worked out, the aliens won all but two of the confrontations. One took place in a roller derby, and we decided that the people playing roller derby would beat both the alien and the zombie in question, and the only one the zombies won was against the Coneheads by the zombie dudes from Game of Thrones.
After that was my one brain-hiccup of the weekend. I was hanging out with my friends Cassidy and Laura outside the Hyatt when I get a frantic text from Wrenn asking me why I’m not at the Orphan Black panel. I thought the panel was at 11.30, but it was at 10. Oops.
I literally ran to the panel and was only 15 minutes late. Sheesh.
The panel was a wonderful post-mortem of the show with me, Brian, Sue Kisenwether, and Andrew Hartley. I also got to share some insights I got while working on the coffee-table book Classified Clone Report. The audience was filled with enthusiastic fans of the show, and a fuckton of cosplayers. Wrenn kindly took a picture of me with a bunch of sestras (left to right, Rachel, Cosima, MK, Allison, and Helena, the latter with her “bebies,” Orange and Purple).
Monday morning I had to go with Laura to her place to retrieve the car and then pack it up and check out. We put the car in a lot near the hotel (they were only charging $30/day during the convention, which probably seems like a lot to people who don’t live in NYC….) and then I went off to do my final three items.
First was talking about roads not taken in military SF media shows, which had Karen Henson leading me, Georges, and John in a talk about what might have been. It was especially fun hearing Georges talk about the upcoming Serenity comics, and I had fun telling folks about the Farscape comics and my Trek fiction.
Then I did a solo talk about Star Trek tie-in fiction. I got to talk about David Mack and Dayton Ward’s upcoming Discovery novels and various bits of my own work over the years, as well as enlightening some folks in the audience — who’d been away from Trek lit for a while — what kinds of cool things the fiction has been doing the past two decades.
Afterward, I was made an honorary member of I.K.V. Predator fan group by the newly married Buddy Baker and Kathy Peck, who then took a picture with me:
After that, I headed to the Americas Mart for my second Bard’s Tower signing, during which I moved many books and talked to many neat folks.
Wrenn also had a good time, though much less physically grueling than mine. She did a good amount of networking, that may lead to more freelance work for her, which is good, she went to the Paul & Storm panel, and she spent lots of time talking to people and hanging out and having fun. (I think her high point was meeting Shamier Anderson from Wynnona Earp.)
After spending a little over an hour scribbling on books for Bard’s Tower, we meandered to the parking garage and got onto I-85 north. We made it up to Crouse, North Carolina (a suburb of Charlotte) to visit Wrenn’s old buddy Ed Aliff, who fed us and put us up for the night. After hanging out and babbling with Ed for quite a while both Monday night and Tuesday morning (when he fed us a hearty breakfast), we finally got onto the road a bit before noon and continued our way northward, stopping in Harrisonburg to eat and briefly visit with Peggy and Ren Smith.
At 12.30am we finally arrived home, hauling our crap upstairs, and collapsing onto our own bed, where the cats were very glad to see us.
I want to particularly give a shout out to Regina Kirby and Rachel Reeves, the guest liaison people, who did superb work, as well as to track directors Leigh, Gary & Joe, Caro, Karen, Shannon, Sue, and Garrett as well as their able and amazing staffs for all their hard work.
Now it’s back to the grind, including training for my third-degree black belt promotion. And finally finishing A Furnace Sealed. And revising the thriller. And doing the Kickstarter rewards for “Baker’s Dozen,” finally. And starting up my afterschool karate teaching. (See, this is why I don’t mind doing so much at Dragon Con — it’s just like my regular life!!!)