Monday, September 7, 2009

DragonCon '09

This will not be a post-mortem because I'm exhausted and need to rest today. And anyway, I frankly didn't do a whole lot that I could really write a riveting series of posts like I did for Hypericon. So these will mostly be little quick-shot impressions and thoughts.

I think I'm learning more for every one of these I go to. One thing is that even if the con your going to is in your hometown, you should probably treat it like you're going out of town. Get a room at the con's hotel or as close by as you can afford. Budget for eating out. Plan departure and arrival times as if you were hitting the road. If I would have done all that - well I would have spent a lot more money but I don't know how much extra I would have done with it. But I can see now that this is the way you maximize opportunity.

So much of going to these things seems to me to be just trying to get up in a room where you think something's going to happen and be there when and if it does. That seems too passive to me but I'm not sure of a more active strategy.

Brian gave me a piece of advice - "go to panels of people you want to meet, or people you know and want to support". I agreed. I'm getting less and less out of panels and so often I'm sitting there and wondering how this is helping me. That goes double when it's a lame panel. But I did enjoy showing up to support DA Adams at one of his panels, ran into Jen Mulvihill there, and discovered that Gary Raisor seems like a cool guy. The wife told me, "That's how you would be on a panel," and in this case that was a good thing.

The party scene was quieter than I thought, but then I only prowled the Hilton; crowdscanning (my wife is a great lipreader and of course I always pay more attention to my surroundings in a situation like this) indicated my impressions were correct. People were talking about how the party scene sucked this year. That was okay, though, I spent the evening hanging out with an old friend and his 'bama crew. Handed out a few of the business cards so maybe I have my own little network I can use to sell some books after all.

Scenes from Dragoncon '09 #1: Hanging outside of the Hyatt, letting the wife finish her cigarette and watching people come down the big staircase. A fellow wearing your typical wolfshirt and leather "indy" hat suddenly stops dead in his tracks, pitches over and smacks face-first into the pavement, making a horrible sound as his forhead hits concrete and his beer smashes, sending foam and glass everywhere. He starts doing the funky chicken, straight-up grand mal, and everyone is frozen and I think "Goddamn crowd psychology, someone's gotta do something," and just as I start to move a guy shouts "I'm a paramedic" and gets to the fellow first. He was taken off without incident and I figure he'll be okay, probably need a few stitches for that forehead.

Everywhere at D*C there are people, a living ocean of people moving, struggling, pressing. Ungainly nerds kick the back of your shoes. People in costumes that cripple them have their helpers move them through the crowd (who thought dressing up as the smiley face from Watchmen was a good idea?). Women carry babies like sacks of potatoes and my wife keeps fussing how they should get strollers. Make room! Make room! I feel like Heston in Soylent Green and want to pull my piece out of the ankle holster and fire a shot just to clear the air. Some people love crowds, they think they're exciting. Me, not so much.

Jim's D*C tip #1: I know, first time I've been with a badge and I'm giving tips, right? Yeah, but okay. Here's the thing. If you're buying your ticket there, pay in cash. The line will be astronomically shorter. At least it was when I showed up on Saturday but the cash line is almost always shorter anyway.

One of the things I've learned about myself over the years is that the first time I do anything, I will hopelessly mess it up (I'm crossing my fingers here that doesn't apply to marriage or book deals). The second time I usually get it right. So in a way though there was a lot of ways I disappointed myself going to this thing, I got it out of the way. For a while I wasn't even sure I would go, even up until Friday I thought, "what's the point"? But I did it anyway. And now the wife is asking me about going to other cons in the area. Con*Stellation - well, maybe. Need to investigate and see if any of these chitterling-circuit cons are worth the time for a writer, not a fan, to go to. I'd appreciate any thoughts or maybe a point in the right direction for people who've been to them.

I certainly have enough goddamn business cards.

Been a long while since I've had Japanese whisky. Nikka with the samurai armor on is pretty good sipping whisky that is something like blended Scotch, but Japanese whisky has a taste all its own.  Good over ice, or have it neat and get the leather and rice notes in it. I feel like I went through a karate match, though.

Scenes from D*C #2: One room I had to get up into was Trader Vic's. Been there since '77 or so and I've never been so this time I had no excuse. Plus I always seem to have better luck in bars. But on Saturday night the place was packed all the way to the newspaper-covered ceiling. Three bartenders slaved away like devils and half the time all they had to do was draw out of a big plastic bin marked "Scorpion" or "Bahia". Since it was my first time I had the Mai Tai and my wife had a Sling. Both were pretty good, though the plastic hotel cup didn't help that much and the hurriedness of making the drink made the mix a little uneven as I got to the bottom (a little too much ice). I'd like to go back when it looks less like the boiler room of a sampan steamer, but for what it was it was still good. My wife blanched at the shark jaws above the bar and fear momentarily gripped her. The Bar Chief, Maitre'D, whatever you wanted to call this guy in a black dinner jacket, came out from the kitchen around 2345. "Call it," he said. "We're outta everything." Since the bar was closing at 0000, being a Sunday, I saw this as a masterstroke of logistics. Well, no shit, this ain't their first rodeo.

I was most disappointed to have never run across Toni Weisskopf. But I was so bad at making panels that I barely made it to the ones I did and I never bumped into her at either the parties or the chum that was the convention floor. I enjoyed talking with her at Hypericon. Well, seems like if there's a Southern con, she's there, so I'm sure I'll run into her again - I keep seeing her name on these lists of guests.

The more I think about it, I think two things: I hate cons. And I love them.

I hate people, crowds, goofballs, panhandlers, drunks, ridiculously expensive food, bad liquor, waiting for elevators, people thinking I'm in costume (I'm not Bob Dylan or Hunter S. Thompson and if you think so you need to check your eyesight), feeling lost and without direction.

But I love the action, the press, anything can happen, the shot or the knife can come from anywhere so my senses are all keyed up, snippets of conversations, crazy costumes, people making out in doorways, people throwing up in alleys, the hotel bar, the drunks, the lunatics, the freaks, the staff, the security, the street outside and the carpet inside, charting a course through the raging mass, smoking with ninjas, soldiers and fairies (the kind with wings) outside, the quiet parties, the loud parties, it's all something happening, RIGHT NOW, and I'm there, just to the side, making that little bit of quiet around myself and taking it all in.

I'm a writer and it's hell, other people are hell, it's like carrying a two-hundred pound rucksack but it's what I have to do. This is the burden God gave me. To not carry it would be easier but it's easier to lay down and die, too. And the more I carry it, the easier it gets, and the heavier it gets, but it doesn't matter because this is what I'm supposed to do. I hate it so much I love it and I love it so much I hate it.

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