Wednesday, May 11, 2011

WHC 2011 Postmortem - Day One - Thursday 4/28/11

Thursday me and the wife got up and went down to the front area to get signed up for the con. Along the way I had the unusual experience of running into people I'd met the night before and having them not attempt to avoid me, in particular Vincent "Vinny" Chong, who was still recovering from jet lag, and the ubiquitous and redoubtable Gardner Goldsmith, who didn't even have a damn card though he has a book, website, podcast etc. that he could've been promoting. Sure, it's not horror but what the hell. The rules aren't always the rules, in fact hustle often makes its own rules, though there's a fine line between hustle and spam. So much of the progress I've made is because my wife told me the rules I'd come up with in my head for how things were done were either wrong or that maybe as much as I thought I understood "how things are done" that it wasn't always the case.

Great example while I'm thinking of it. I did exactly 0 pitch sessions at WHC. In retrospect I feel like an ass for that. But I don't have anything else complete that I think any of these people would want, and what I do have that's complete I'm not sure anyone would ever want. That's the rule, you see. You only pitch what's finished. Too bad that later after many overheard conversations between publishers who had been doing pitch sessions it turned out that many, many people had ignored this supposedly ironclad rule; and what's more, to no ill effect. Well, maybe I'm wrong. But a part of me wonders if maybe I shouldn't have just said "fuck it" and brought one of my many ideas along with a brief write-up along with me. I have something that I think just about anyone there would have been interested in if it was done, or, if my intelligence is to be believed, wrote a credible query and treatment for.

I guess there's always next year.

After signing up I went to see if the Dark Regions dealer table was set up yet. It wasn't, so me and the wife went for an late lunch/early dinner at the amazing Pars Deli. Part of my wife's brilliant con organizing was her use of restaurant.com gift certificates, which she loves to the point where many times if a place isn't on that site, we don't eat there. I walked in dubious about Mediterranean cuisine in general but walked out loving the place. Amazing food - I even liked the hummus! And I motherfucking hate hummus. Like if I were the President, I would send the DevTeam to assassinate this nasty,ass-crack smelling bean paste with extreme prejudice (I guess as opposed to, you know, a medium-sized amount of prejudice). So yeah, everyone who goes to Austin should eat there. Hell, no one from there I talked to had ever heard of it so you people should eat there, too. Plus they were really nice people, I think they were Persians but I'm not sure. It's a real family type place. One thing they won't tell you on their website is that they are closed from 1500-1700 every day for "prep and nap". This pissed me off until I got to see the people who ran it and ate the food. It's one thing when some loser hipster takes a nap instead of hustlin' some gyros. But I figure it's part of their culture or whatever. I'll admit I don't know if Persians take siestas but again, really good food so whatever. They could have said they were closed for a Modern Warfare tournament and the food would've been worth it.

This is a good time to point out something about Austin I hadn't heard: it seemed like every place I went to eat had really tasty food - and was stupid cheap. My wife kept buying these coupons, $25 off a $35 check, so a great deal. But damn, we had to work hard to hit that $35 (especially if they didn't include booze in that figure, which they usually didn't). We often ended up bringing food back to the hotel with us (where we conveniently had a fridge thanks, again, to my amazing wife). Many people flew instead of driving and didn't get to experience Austin, which was too bad that they had to walk to the two restaurants near the place. So I came up with this idea for another con tip:

4. Meet a local, buy them dinner. Seems to me the way to solve the problem of being stuck walking across the street to the Denny's for every meal is to meet someone who's local, offer to buy them dinner or at least a beer, and get them to drive you to wherever. And unless your convention is in Assholistan or worse, Massachusetts, you will have no problem meeting friendly, like-minded people who are more than willing to drive you around for free food and/or booze. I didn't have to do this but probably will at some point in the future, and know of people who did this (Boyd Harris apparently was running a damn taxi service). I won't go so far as other people and say that everybody I met was friendly - there were a couple of people who made it clear that I was nothing to them and treated me accordingly - but overall everyone is at a con to have a good time and usually is so you're pretty safe.

Returning from our meal, my wife needed to run back out to the store to get some things so she turned me loose in the con. I hung out at the dealer table for a while, talked with Weston Ochse and some other writers, I think this is when I met Jim Chambers, G.O. Clark, Nick Stantzas, and Norm Prentiss, but I can't remember, that might've been Friday. I sold a few books, which was awesome, and then fucked off for the bar.

I had been building the foundation Wednesday night, and now I decided to see how sturdy it was. My tips and friendly chat with the bartender, being able to hold my booze and knowing a little bit about the bartending lifestyle and ethos helped a lot, and as a result I got prompt service and excellent drinks. After a double Glenfiddich neat, I for some crazy reason decided to have a Gibson, which is basically a dry martini with cocktail onions instead of olives. I'm not a big olive fan and to me somehow the bitter tang of the onion goes just right with gin. And you're damn right I drink a martini with gin. I have a whole thing on this but I'll just put it out there for now - Gin. It's for the Pros. I need to do billboards.

Anyway, I then decided to roam around the con with my drink, which struck me as an excellent idea as not only was I the only guy wearing suits, which already made me stand out (really, I think I was the best-dressed guy there, not that anyone in this culture seems to care about sartorial splendor), but I hadn't seen enough drinking in public for my taste and decided to correct this. So I went to Norm Prentiss' reading, the one reading I managed to make it to the whole weekend, and thoroughly enjoyed it, as it was a funny story without being slapstick, very dry humor. Too bad he said he didn't usually do that kind of thing. I wish I could have made it to more readings, but there it is. I was to be visited with karmic justice later, but that is a story for another entry. I made a choice between hustling books in the dealer room and other author-type stuff. At other cons I will probably not have a dealer table so I will be free to do more of these other things like going to readings and panels.

I took a turn out in the wide, lobby-ish area between the smaller, reading rooms (also the "other" dealer room that a lot of people didn't find - how the hell did Ketchum end up in there?) and the two larger ballrooms that the convention used for panels and one of the dealer rooms. Some people were talking and I decided to try one of the tips for talking to people that my wife gave me:

5. Stand around while people are talking, wait for an opening, than throw in an intelligent, salient comment. Obviously you can only do this for so long before you seem like a weirdo, but it helps if the people are talking about something interesting as you can just listen to whoever's talking. A white-haired man noticed my outfit and my drink and said something that prompted me to respond, "Ah, yes, so nice to get out of this wet weather and into a dry martini." Which is a line I've always wanted to use and saw no reason not to even though Austin was not exactly a humid climate. The man looked confused and asked me if it was raining. I realized my bon mot had gone over his head either due to a failure in my delivery or a literal-mindedness on his part, and was efforting to double-down with a funnier quip when the man said, "your pocket is singing." It was my wife calling, and I excused myself to take her call, her letting me know she was back at the hotel and wondering where I was.

So that was how I met Gene O'Neill. I never talked to him after that. I wanted to but he was always doing something else. And anyway talking to him had been odd. Like we somehow were speaking different languages. This was not just him, this was me, too, and I have no idea what the hell was going on. Oh well. I guess that's why we're writers and not politicians.

Back at the bar, I went for another martini and of course this had to be the moment where I met Jack Ketchum. My wife introduced me - turned out she'd met him the other night when he helped her through a door or something like that. She was great for stuff like that throughout the con. After getting over my initial nervousness, I hung out with Jack Ketchum for a short while. He's pretty cool, even after I screwed up the title of the only book of his I read (SHE WAKES - the only one I could find at the library. I don't count TRIAGE). Weirdly, I never attempted to call him by name. I guess it was because I already knew about his whole pseudonym thing and figured it would just confuse me and I'd look like even more of an idiot. We talked about scotch and I finally solved a mystery about the man that has always bugged me. For those who also picked up on it - the reason you always see Ketchum (he never asked me to call him Dallas so I don't feel comfortable using it) with a big glass of scotch is not because he has poor taste. Actually like all real-deal scotch drinkers he prefers it neat or technically with one or two ice cubes. Single-malt of course. But it's easier when in a bar environment to just go with a brand of blended scotch you know will be there, doesn't taste like crap, and that you can sip on while having conversation. I found this solid reasoning and plan to follow his example.

Actually the whole beginning of this was awkward. I hit him with my One Question about the scotch thing, and he hailed me as a fellow scotch drinker, but then, of course, noticed I was holding a martini, and gave me a quizzical look. This would've been a great time for a quip like "Man cannot live on scotch alone", but l'esprit de l'escalier was fast becoming my watchword for the night if not the whole damn convention. Fortunately I'd imagine he has met people even more socially awkward than me in his time and perhaps even been that way himself, so I skated by with a C, I think. He really seemed to like my wife a lot more. Anyway, we did that for a while, out in the courtyard, and then we went to some parties, me and my wife I mean. I think this was when the WHC2012 party was going on in the con suite. I don't understand the point of these - apparently the idea is to throw an awesome party to get people to come to your con. I can see this for "con bids" - parties where groups of people try to get cons that move from city to city to come to theirs. But Boyd Harris seemed like a gent so what the hell. He tried to explain the reasoning behind it but it didn't really come across. I'm sure at some point someone will lay it out for me in a way that finally penetrates my thick skull.

After that it was more hanging out with the Eraserhead crew. Like I said, I ended up doing this a lot. I couldn't say why exactly. It wasn't just their bathtub full of tasty IPAs, though, I'm sure of that. The party went pretty late and another day had ended. The real deal was about to begin, as tomorrow was Friday. But that's another post.

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