Monday, June 8, 2009

Post-Mortem: Hypericon 5 - Friday




A quiet Monday in my little neighborhood. Most days here are quiet, though; that's why I moved in here. Good day to rehydrate and think about the con over the weekend.

Hypericon was a weird mix of people who wanted to be writers and people who seemed content to just nosh on the free food and watch British TV the whole time. I had expected it to be mostly a fan's convention but there were all these discussion panels that were mostly serious. I enjoyed the panels except it felt a little too much like the Continuing Education I have to do for the Real Job.

I'm getting ahead of myself so we'll just go day-by-day.

Friday: Rolled into Nashville around 1200 CDT. The wife had slept most of the way, too bad for here since she missed the great scenery on 24 through the mountains. Not to mention the fog that put a nice touch of white-knuckle into the drive and kept it from being too boring. I wished I had some Earl Scruggs to listen to but then I probably would have driven too fast. Didn't see one cop on the way up, though. Got checked in, got the bags up and the wife ran to get cash, a bottle for the room, and see about getting the passenger window fixed - it has this periodic problem where it won't roll up. She did all these things and came back to collapse in the room for a few hours while I went to panels.

I managed to hit the "first novel" panel, which the wife had been saying was super-important for me to go to. It wasn't bad, there were some good tips, no one rambled too much. One thing that brought me up short, though, and would throughout was how interesting most of these people were to me. Now, I don't want to sound like an asshole (even though I am), but most people are boring to me. I feel like I can see through them in a second or two. They seem to live in small worlds, have simple drives, are easy to predict and don't have much personality. So the experience of seeing someone, hearing them talk and thinking to myself, "I would like to meet this person" is pretty rare for me. Maybe I'm just hanging out in the wrong places.

I thought about giving my impressions of these people but I figured as much as they'd like to have their names mentioned somewhere I'd better not risk it. Just like I didn't risk talking to most of them. I'd hate to make an enemy just because I gave someone what I thought was a compliment on this blog and they took it the wrong way.

The panel right after this was the "Mystery Panel", where the con's impresario, Fred, would grab random authors and bring them up to be on the panel. A cool idea and I didn't realize how many authors were just chilling at this con without really having to be there or having a table with their books on it. Hypericon was looking more and more to me like my old pal had been right. In between to kill the fifteen minutes I stared out at the Nashville skyline for a while - the panels were on the 9th floor ballroom so it was a pretty good view of industrial blight, very inspiring - and then I went down to the dealer room.

And I learned the first of many hard lessons I'm now starting to formulate looking back on it:

Jim's First Rule of the Con: Don't go into the Dealer Room unless you're prepared to buy something or can hang out with someone there.

Anyway, I've only a few times walked into a room and smelled the desperation. But I've never walked into a room and felt like every eye was on me, for real, not just my usual anxiety. I wanted to fight someone just to break the tension, and I started doing my writer thing and imagining the scene as I hopped over a table piled high with paperback books and bitchslapped the guy behind them giving me the fish-eye, shouting, "I just wanted to motherfucking browse, is that so wrong?!" A brawl would ensue, hopefully, because let me tell you some of these writers are definitely from the Robert E. Howard School, which means they are Big Motherfuckers that could hurt me bad in unarmed combat. Anyway I walked through the room in about two seconds, trying not to touch anything for too long, and split the scene before I started sweating. I saw Fred down there recruiting someone for the Mystery Panel and felt relief as I remembered it and realized it hadn't started yet. "Oh, it hasn't started yet, good," I said to Fred, and he looked at me like I'd just told him "Your Hawaiian shirt makes you look like a fag." This was not the first time this was to happen to me that day. I headed for the Mystery Panel.

Which was a lot of fun and really interesting. When I got up there I saw a guy who was talking about writing for comics. For a second I thought he was Chuck Dixon, but then I figured if Chuck Dixon was going to be here I would have heard about it, sat down, and found out they just look a lot alike. At least I think so. Fred got the rest of the writers wrangled in there and got the thing started. Lots of good questions from Fred, even the kinda stupid ones elicited good responses from just about everyone and I was starting to get a handle on their personalities. Maybe I shouldn't do this but I start profiling people as soon as I get interested in them, trying to figure out how they think, what makes them tick, trying to predict their responses. I'd like to say this was a skill I forced myself to learn but really it's just a tic, I can't help doing it. Hopefully it helps my writing.

I had to meet some of these guys. After the panel, I saw my chance. Not Chuck Dixon was hanging around waiting for the elevator so I went up there. NCD, by the way, is one of the bigger-time writers who was at this thing, with several mass-market books under his belt not to mention the comics and a couple of reference/nonfic books. He seemed like a really interesting guy and I saw eye-to-eye with him on a lot of what he was saying. So I figured he was a good guy to try to meet. "For a minute I thought you were Chuck Dixon," I said, "I didn't know there'd be any comic writers at this thing".

"Yeah, I must've put my Chuck mask on this morning," he said with a look that he probably hoped would make me feel like he'd given me a knee to the balls. Well, congrats, NCD, it worked. He got on the elevator and I went to contemplate the Nashville skyline a while longer.

Jim's Rule of the Con Two: Memorize everyone's bio before you talk to them, unless you already know they are not even remotely interesting.

Yeah, looking back on it now that might not have been the best thing to say. Maybe Chuck Dixon fucked the guy's wife or something. Staring out at Nashville - which was a really perfect scene, really, the composition was excellent, the ghetto just below, the railroad tracks dividing, the sweeping bridges across the river, the skyscrapers in odd shapes, the radio station's old-school neon sign, I should've tried to take some pictures - I resolved to try again.

I was really digging deep here, but I had to. I'd come all this way, spent all this money on a credit card that I've been trying to pay down, slaved over a copy machine to produce a few chapbooks, all chasing this stupid dream of mine. And the wife had probably worked twice as hard as I had.

One of the writers on the panel had thrown out a couple of references that I had seriously been the only person in the room to get. I thought to myself, this is one cool motherfucker. I also perked up when he mentioned an upcoming small-press project and thought, "Hmm, that sounds like something I've heard of." Turns out, no shit, I had actually seen this project a while back when my publisher pal was still talking to me. Small world. I'm just going to call him the Baron with zero explanation because even that nickname would make it too obvious.

The Baron had been hanging around talking with people while I was stepping on my dick talking to NCD and we ended up getting into the same elevator car heading down. Anyway, we're riding down and I'm working up the courage to ask the Baron the question the panel had run out of time before I could ask - he had mentioned a book with a title that no one else in the room got and how the subject matter had freaked out his editor (which was saying something given the Baron's body of work). Finally, I doubled-down and threw him a question over some shorter people's heads. "So what happened with that book?" I asked. "Did you change the title or did they refuse to publish it or what happened? It sounded interesting."

"I'm putting it out on a small press instead," he said, and threw me a psychic blast of Step Off, Punk. He got out of the elevator.

I think Phil Collins said it best when he said, "Did I miss again? I think I missed again. Oh, oh."

And all of a sudden I was sick to death of panels. I still had two hours before the wife's wake-up call - she'd been up all night as usual - and there was another panel I was supposed to hit, but now it was just feeling like a waste of time. I needed a drink bad. I checked my phone. It was 1700 in Atlanta. I hit the bar.

I had thought maybe some of the con crowd would be in there, but no. It was just me and the regular crowd and even I though I was relieved I was also in a Black Dog mood. The bar was run by a nice old lady with a chignon, Miss Alma, and there was a guy in a three-piece suit sitting just down the bar from me. I ordered a scotch and soda and sat there to dwell and not, that weird mixed feeling you get in a lonely, quiet bar where you're not sure if you want this Black Dog to go away or you want him to come and sit a while at your feet.

It was as big a moment of doubt as I've ever had, all my little Black Dog moods bundled together for efficiency. This Black Dog was not the usual terrier that visits me frequently. This one was a Pit, broad-shouldered and deep-chested, and he owned the space he occupied, he would not go away anytime soon.

I was two drinks in when people started asking me about the con. Suddenly I was the con Ambassador in the world of regular folks, and I felt stupid and proud at the same time, crossing between worlds again, as I explained to these nice people what was going on in the hotel. They were bewildered in a good-natured way as I told them what was going on.

"That sounds like one of your Shriner's conventions," said Miss Alma to Mike over at the end of the bar, drinking Jack and Coke. He had pulled up on his Goldwing a little while after I'd gotten in there. He and Miss Alma had talked about the death of a mutual friend's teenage son recently, killed in the bumper crop of teenage car accidents that come with the summer like suicides around Christmas. Right after him, Billy Joe had come in, an old man with a cane and really bad hearing and a nice grey straw hat that looked a lot like mine. He sat down next to me and Miss Alma brought him a Heineken. Then Mike's friend Todd showed up on his motorcycle and sat between me and him and they'd been talking about Todd's son who had just turned two.

Anyway all that had been happening while I was trying to fix my perspective with the help of some scotch and now I looked up. Miss Alma spotted my ring and said, "You're a Shriner, too, aren't you?"

I'd suddenly been surrounded by my brother Masons. Mike bought me a drink and we started talking about the Craft, Tennessee, about his wrecker business, just good conversations. I told them more about the con and how I'd never gotten around to joining the Shrine just because I had to keep my dues low, but apparently they're not too bad in Tennessee. Mike and Todd were on the motorcycle team and were going to practice for a big parade coming up soon. And looking back on it now, I think I was blessed, and I've felt that way few times in my life, but as I get older it seems to happen to me more, and this was one of those times. I didn't attach too much to it then, but now it seems to me a significant event. It's the reason I still pay my dues even though I don't go to lodge all that much. Joining the Masons was the best thing I ever did and apparently the Universe agrees with me.

Well, Mike and Todd headed off to get ready for the parade, and Billy Joe finished his beer and it was getting close to 1900. The con crowd was starting to come in and poor Miss Alma was getting slammed with weird drink requests. I felt a little embarrassed to be associated with the connies, even though they didn't really do anything wrong

I paid my tab, thanked Miss Alma for cheering me up, and headed up to my room. On the way up I thought about how I don't really fit in anywhere; sometimes that is a bad thing, and sometimes it's a good thing. It occurred to me that I had to learn to turn this curse I have to my advantage. I think I've gotten better at it over the years but I still need a lot of work. But this was one of those times, I see now, where not being part of any one crowd lets me be a small part of all of them. I'm always anxious, always feeling cut off, and I guess I just need to get used to it and work it. I'm still working on exactly how to do that.

While the wife was still half-sleeping, I suddenly went wild and started grabbing the chapbooks I'd printed up, not really sure what I was going to do with them, and started signing them and writing little inscriptions on the blank page after the dedications. I took out my sharpie and decorated the covers with quotes that I thought were funny, anyway, and threw them all in my briefcase and headed back to the anteroom in front of the Dealer's Room. Fortunately, the Dealer's Room was closed, but the free tables had space open. I dumped four copies of the chapbook, thoughtfully numbered and signed as Limited Hypericon Edition Chapbooks, and left a bunch of my cards. I went back up and got the wife and we went to dinner downtown.

Overall, I like Nashville. It's not too big and it has a more interesting downtown/midtown area than Atlanta. And it's not as expensive. Maybe it was just being on vacation, I don't know if I'd like living there or not. I'd figured the place would be wall-to-wall cowboys, but this was one of those times when I fell into a rather common misconception. The wife and I had a good Mexican dinner at El Rey while a couple of guys beat the Hell out of some African drums on a little corner of sidewalk outside the patio. The restaurant had a good deal on drinks, a big liter mug of Dos Equis for only 4 bucks, and the food was pretty good, too, for some reason not a lot of Mexican restaurants will serve you huevos y chorizo for dinner and the beer was just the thing. We finished up dinner and smoked on the patio as the drummers finished up and we watched a couple of guys in black-and-white jumpsuits do a breakdance routine to classic R&B songs. I was still coming down off the Black Dog vibe but it was a good time. I went back to the hotel and went to check out the free tables. Three of the chaps were gone. I skipped the parties and went to bed.

And this entry is really long so I think I'll break it up and just do a new entry for Saturday.

The image above is (C) Exothermic and used under a Creative Commons license. Check out his photos at http://www.flickr.com/photos/exothermic/ . Thanks!

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