Thursday, July 28, 2011

Adventures in Conland - FandomFest thoughts

I would've called this a "postmortem" but I think that implies an exhaustive overview of the experience and not only am I trying to work on writing shorter posts (the idea being that I'll blog more), but I'm a little loopy on pain meds after another instructive and painful session of my Monday Night Fight Club. Since I haven't mentioned it before, it's basically just a chance for me to get some mild exercise, hang out with people I like, and refresh and expand my skills in unarmed self-defense. Mostly it reminds me that the best way to defend yourself is to carry a gun, but you should always have a plan B. Well, make that Plan C, Plan B is to run the fuck away.

Anyway, I'm back from FandomFest and it was a mixed bag. I had some good experiences. One great thing was the Liquor Barn, a giant warehouse of booze the like of which I haven't really seen here in the ATL, though some places come close. They even had a station where you could buy a "growler" - basically a huge-ass jug - and get it filled with fresh, cold beer. That is awesome and probably illegal in Georgia, in fact I'm sure lots of awesome things are illegal in this state. I also hung out with William "Billy" Zabka, who you would remember as Johnny from the Karate Kid - the evil blond guy who Ralph Macchio kicks in the face at the tournament at the end of the movie. I didn't recognize him at first and then I played it cool until he told me who he was. Since we were out back of the hotel smoking I figured let the guy have his down time. I know a little bit about working the table at a con and I can only imagine how much it must suck to have to sit there for 8 to 10 hours signing autographs, even if you get paid for it. He had a lot of great stories about making his short film MOST in Bulgaria and Poland and I hope the new project he's working on makes it to the screen.

In fact I think that if you don't smoke and you're looking to network at a con, you should pick it up. Try cloves or bidis, those are easy to smoke casually. I like these little cigarillos I got a good deal on from the catalog I buy most of my cigars from. They smoke quick and you can throw it away if you need to without feeling too bad about it. Not only did I hang out with Zabka several times (to the point where he recognized me every time he saw me and would call out my name like the party had officially started with my arrival), but I also got to briefly hang out with one of my few living heroes, John Carpenter. I told him how I'd taught a class on his films in college and he said "Why the hell would you want to do that?" I responded that BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA was one of my favorite films and it made me want to learn more about him and he said "You have excellent taste", though from the expression he made I guessed he was also remembering the famously tough road he walked to get that movie made and how underappreciated it was at the time. And that was all in a brief cigarette break. I guess you can just hang around wherever the smokers congregate, but I think it looks a little weird; I wouldn't do it.

I also talked a bit with Jim Kelly of BLACK BELT JONES and ENTER THE DRAGON fame. He was not smoking but was at his table in one of the dealer rooms selling signed photographs. I thought twenty-five bucks was a bit much for that but I figured what the hell. I don't think I'll run into him again and I thought he should've been in more movies back in the day. Plus the picture is really cool - him meeting Muhammad Ali in Chicago in the 70s. That'll look good behind my bar. He seemed a bit lonely - he mentioned that he usually brings his daughter with him to help out but she couldn't make it that weekend. I guess I should've got a picture of us squaring off or something but I didn't have a camera. I never have a camera with me and the one in my phone sucks. I wanted to say "you should've been in BLACK DYNAMITE" but I figured that would be a sore point.

Talking to celebrities is a little weird. You want to tell them how much you've enjoyed their efforts but I feel a little foolish doing it. I know they've heard it all before and maybe even they're bored talking about it. And if they have a new project they want to talk about that. Often times you just end up blurting something out if you're not careful. But they're just people and I know I appreciate compliments even though it feels a little weird, too. My wife saw Curtis Armstrong walking around and just blurted out "I loved you in MOONLIGHTING" and he just said "Oh, okay! Uh, thanks!" In a way it's more about how you as a fan feel than how they do, which is a bit creepy to me.

FandomFest had a lot of problems, though. Seems a lot of people just flaked out and as a result my pal Stephen Zimmer ended up having to shoulder a lot more responsibility than he'd planned. So the fact that things came off at all was an accomplishment (he'd want me to spread the praise around to the other volunteers and the committees and all the rest, so there you go). This year was an impressive grab for the brass ring, as FandomFest, which is your basic small scifi/horror/etc con, was combined with the Fright Night FilmFest, which is why all the celebs were there. The idea, I'd guess, was to essentially move up a weight class or two to get into the same club as cons like, say, DragonCon, or at least closer to that size. An ambitious goal, and as always with things like that, there were some logistical problems.

I liked the hotel, though unfortunately it looked like it was renovated some time in the mid 90s with a lot of kludgey retrofits and quick fixes, so it was the worst of all possible things, a hotel that was run-down without even having a decent vintage style to it. It is actually two hotels that were combined a while back and so unfortunately it was divided up - the film people got one building and the book people got the other. So there wasn't a lot of cross-traffic. And it didn't help that Louisville was smack under the so-called "Heat Dome" that was causing record high temperatures all over the eastern half of the country (weirdly, the ATL was passed over). So the hotel's aircon units couldn't really keep up and the building with the literary/etc tracks wasn't all that easy to cool to begin with. So when I hit the floor Friday evening to hook up with D.A. Adams and see who else was there, it was sweltering. Even I broke out into a sweat, which is saying something. I didn't mind the heat but then I never do, everyone else was miserable.

I had two panels, a signing, and a reading. The panels went okay and I think I was able to make an impression on some people. The signing, as usual, failed - I'm about done with those, I think. Maybe I'd do one after a reading, otherwise no one knows who the hell I am.The reading was one of my better ones and actually attended by people who weren't also reading, so that was good. So other than that I didn't have a lot to do. I spent most of my free time walking around talking with people while they were stuck at their tables - I talked a bit with John Johnson and got to bitch about living in Charlottesville for a stretch, which was good. I also talked with A.Jarrell Hayes, Sean Taylor, Bobby Nash, Nic Brown, Brady Allen , Jeff Chitty and Tammy Jo Eckhart and swapped cards.

I didn't do a lot of partying - there didn't seem to really be many parties. There were two on my floor but that seemed to be it for the whole con. One I didn't get to before they wound down for the night, and the other one I didn't crash because I am me and I am weird about just walking into a hotel room even if the door is open and a party is going on. I feel like I need to be invited even if it's just by a sign or something.

I think in the future I might have to more strictly program myself for these things because I end up just walking around talking to people instead of going to panels or seeing movie screenings or things like that. It didn't help that the schedule wasn't available when I checked in, and there wasn't a good map to show you where things were. The movie screenings didn't have a schedule, either, so a lot of people missed out, I think. I heard a lot of people trying to figure out where and when movies were going to be and walking away confused. You had to hunt down the posters, remember the time and place and then figure out where it was going to be.

The programming was pretty good, it went pretty much wall-to-wall and even ran until Sunday evening. Though I'm still mystified why things get scheduled before 1100 at these things. People are there to have fun and I would've loved to make some of the panels and movies but they were at 0900 or 1000 and unless I'm getting paid that's tough for me to do when I've switched over to a daytime schedule. I know that you end up with less programming if you block off time for people to get out of bed and go to parties, but I think less is more in general. A lot of these cons have the same generic panel topics and I don't know that we need to have them over again.

I didn't think much of Louisville in general. I don't think I had a great meal the whole time I was there, nothing terrible, just not that great. The whole town is a ghetto and the street signs are either non-existent or hard to read. The place was crawling with cops and that made me a little nervous; generally a big police presence is not a good sign. I hit one thrift store that was pretty good, though, and found some cool stuff to bring back with me, including another Hawaiian shirt for my collection.

So what did I walk away with? I didn't regret not having a table, and not just because it would've been like sitting in a sauna. I didn't make any sales but I don't know that having a table would've helped that. Technically I had a table for an hour for my signing and I didn't even get anyone stopping by. I think having a table would be more useful for me if I had someone to work it for me, and I find it more helpful to have my wife with me so that she can remember all the people I meet and remind me about things. Also, bookstands. So many people did not have them and their books kept falling over on the table and distracting everyone. Really, you can get like 5 of them for a dollar at the dollar store. To me it just makes you look more like you have your shit together. I don't want to take anything away from anyone, just calling it like I see it.

So I guess overall this more confirmed for me things I already thought I'd figured out. As always I'm amazed by how much competition I have, how slow a writer I am compared to a lot of other people. But at the same time I felt better about what I've put out. Frankly I saw a lot of crap. I know people buy it but still. It's good to know that when you have a decent publisher who helps you put out quality product, with decent cover art and production values, it sets you apart. Really, if your book cover is made with Poser, or a stock photo with your title pasted onto it with MSPaint or something, you need to try harder. Yes, Virginia, you can pretty much judge a book by it's cover, that's why they have covers.

Will I go back? Hmm, good question. Louisville is not a bad drive for me and it's not stupid expensive to go and stay there for a weekend. And I believe in the people that were working this con and what they were trying to accomplish. I got treated pretty well for what little I asked for, and I got to be a "guest" so that was cool - I liked having a badge where fans just got a little wristband. Small thing but it helped, and the badges looked good too. There were a lot of problems, but I think next year when they start rolling out info for the next one we'll see that it's much improved. And I got to a little different area of the country (Kentucky's not the South, sorry, it's pretty much half Midwestern and half what I'd call Mountain States), so that's good for my exposure. I'll keep an eye on them for next year, leaning towards wanting to go.

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