Catching Up – Balticon 2016

Before I get started, I want to take a few seconds to send a wish to all you fathers out there:

Happy Father’s Day! May your “To Do” list be lighter than mine, your grill more bountiful, and your beer colder…though not too much colder. Frozen beer isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

So, where the hell have I been? It’s been a really busy few weeks and I’ve been unable to post updates to the blog (I’m sorry, thanks for bearing with me). Here is where I start catching you all up. I’m going to break it into pieces rather than trying to get it all in one go.

Ready?

First stop – Balticon 50

For those of you that don’t know, here’s a description of Balticon from their website:

Balticon is sponsored and produced by the Baltimore Science Fiction Society, Inc. (aka BSFS) At Balticon, members experience science fiction and fantasy topics presented through literature, film, art, and music presentations, discussion panels and workshops.

Highlights include introduction of the Compton Crook, BSFS Heinlein, Balticon Poetry, BSFS Amateur Writers and Jack L. Chalker Young Writer’s Awards winners, one of the finest Masquerades in SF/F fandom, our Short Film Festival, and Balticon’s internationally famous science program. Programming features hundreds of writers, editors, agents, publishers, artists, scientists, musicians and professionals showcasing their talents, sharing their knowledge and skills, offering readings, and signing autographs.

I know…Awesome, right?

This year was their 50th anniversary and, in addition to bringing in George R.R. Martin as the Guest of Honor, they did something really cool by bringing back as many of the previous 49  GOHs that they could.

Extra Awesome!!!

I’m going to try and summarize my experience with the con in about 50 words or less.

um…

Oh, hell no. There’s no way I can do that.

So here it is, my experience at Balticon 50:

First, I need to point out that this was my first Balticon ever.  Indeed this was my first trip to Baltimore ever.  Before I get into the con, let me say that the city is beautiful. My hotel was about 4 blocks away from the convention hotel (which was – understandably – booked solid) so I got a chance that not to many first time tourists get: I got to wander around downtown Baltimore while the city was in the process of waking up and while it was settling in around 11:00-Midnight.

Yes, I know that some folks out there would tell you that walking around Downtown Baltimore at Midnight isn’t the safest thing you could do, but I didn’t have any problems going either to or from the convention*.

Balticon took up floors 5, 6, 8, 9, and 12** of the The Renaissance Baltimore Harborplace Hotel. From what I heard, attendance this year was at least double what it was from previous years.

So, there I was: First time to Baltimore, first time to Balticon, and first time as a guest of ANY convention ANYWHERE.

and I knew “Zero” people going in.

Ok, that’s not exactly true.  I’d met Gail Z. Martin before (more on her later), but I only saw flashes of her in passing.  I never caught up to her until her launch party (More on that later) on Saturday night.

So I’m feeling more than a little out of place here. Actually “Total Stranger” would sum it up nicely…until someone I’d never met before asked me if I was going to try and play for my pipes tonight.

I confess to being caught a little off guard (I hid it masterfully, if I may say so myself) until I remembered that, at the time, I was wearing a t-shirt proudly bearing the name of “The Eolian”, the bar from Patrick Rothfuss’s The Name of the Wind.  I won’t go into details here, but if you haven’t read this book, GO READ IT!!!

Up until that moment, no one – not one person – had ever indicated that they knew where the heck the shirt was from, or what the Eolian was. Nothing.  And I’d had that shirt for a good couple of years now.

Right then, I knew I wasn’t alone. I wasn’t a stranger. These were my people, we just hadn’t met yet.

That was going to be the theme of the next four days.

Following the press of the crowd, I made my way to the dealer’s room where I made one of my first (among many) friends.

The reason why I got invited as a guest to Balticon was that my publisher, E-Spec books, was at the con, holding the launch party for, not only my book (The Weird Wild West) but also Gaslight and Grimm, the reissue of Dogs of War, and The Side of Good/The Side of Evil.

Danielle Ackley-McPhail and her husband Mike took a total con newb-a-saurus under their collective wings and made me feel welcome.  They also taught me something really important to know when you’re at any kind of book signing anywhere and you’re signing your own books.

I’m about to share that with you.  Get a pen, this is something that you’ll probably never hear in any creative writing or MFA program***

Ready?

When you sign your own book, DON’T use the same signature that you use to sign your checks.

Seriously.  Keep that in mind, because I nearly forgot no less than 5 times.

Danielle and Mike were awesome. They were con regulars and they showed me around and introduced me to folks and helped me find a comfortable place.

I met a ton of other folks at the con, but I want to mention two people, specifically:

Lauren Scribe Harris and Gail Z. Martin

I’ve listened to Lauren (and her friends) on the Pendragon Variety podcast (literally) for years.

This, too was a common theme for me at Balticon.  They have a pretty heavy Podcasting track and I ran into a ton of people whose names (and voices) I recognized after listening to them, sometimes for years. It was kinda surreal. I’d ask about stuff they had mentioned that they were working on (maybe a year ago on their podcast…not in the current conversation) and I’d get a “How do you know about that?” kind of response.

Lauren and I have never been at the same con at the same time and she is (was!) one of the folks in the writing community that I’ve always wanted to meet, but never have.  When I heard, that she was going to be at Balticon, I looked through the panel schedule to see where she would be**** and I went there.

At the time, she was scheduled for a reading, so the room opened up and…I walked clear past her without seeing her.

Fortunately, she’s got better spatial awareness than I have and she spotted my guest name tag and tapped me on the shoulder.

First: Meeting her was pretty, damn cool.  I confess to geeking out a little (I hid it masterfully, if I may say so myself).

Second: She was there for a reading with three other people…three of which didn’t show.  When we realized this, I asked her if I could crash her reading.  Let me put this in perspective. At readings, 4 authors have about 50 minutes to read an excerpt from their work. This is HUGE. It could lead to sales, word of mouth sales as folks talk about the awesome stories they just heard, etc.  HUGE.

And she had the entire room to herself – the entire hour to herself.

And she let me in.

I can’t express how grateful I am for that.

And, it generated a little bit of comedy:

Lauren is setting up her stuff and is just about to begin reading.  Me, I’ve got to grab a copy of my book from Danielle, because I – officially- wouldn’t be needing mine until the next day at 9:30 Pm (more on that later).

So I get up to grab my book.

Lauren: Wait, I allow you to crash and you’re going to get up and leave just as I’m about to start reading?

Me: I need to get a copy of my book. I’ll be right back.

Lauren: But you’re leaving as I’m about to start reading.

Me: Which book are you reading from?

Lauren: Exorcising Aaron Nguyen

Me: Oh, I bought that book. It was great.

Lauren (turning the the crowd, and not missing a beat): That is the only excuse I will accept for anyone leaving in the next 50 minutes.

I run***** back to the dealer’s room, pick up a copy of my book and run****** back to the room where Lauren is giving her reading.

The story is amazing, even the second time around. Even with me sitting on the “Other” side of the table than I’m used to.

Then it’s my turn. I don’t even have a name plate. I hang a lantern on that fact by saying that I’m such a new author that I don’t even have a nameplate yet.

As an aside…Lauren drew one for me while I was reading and I used it the next night.

How did the reading go?

I think it went well. It was kinda terrifying, but it went well.

If you’ve ever read your work aloud in front of a room full of complete strangers who, outside the bounds of common courtesy, have nothing preventing them from getting up, proclaiming that your work is crap on a galactic scale, and walking out, then you’ve probably felt the same thing I did.  I was ok during the reading, but my hands shook for 10 solid minutes afterwards.

It was amazing.

Now let me tell you about Gail Z. Martin:

Gail is awesome.  She and her husband, Larry, are wonderful writers. They are prolific writers. Seriously, I see how much work she produces and I feel like an utter slacker.

(Note: Other members of my writing group have referred to me as a “Machine” based on the amount of words I knock out.  My last short story was a tiny bit over the maximum word count…so it’s really all about perspective, folks)

How awesome is Gail?

Saturday Night she’s holding a launch party for Modern Magic and an unreleased (It’s out now.  Go get it!) book called The Shadowed Path.

I showed up because I wanted to support her and (this still gives me a high) we’ve got stories in the same book. There were maybe 12 or 13 people in the room at the time, and some of them were names I’ve got on my bookshelves. Others were folks that I’ve heard of, but hadn’t read yet.

This is her party. She’s launching stuff. This is a really big deal for her and, out of the blue, she asks me – in front of everyone there – what my story was about in the Weird Wild West.

So I pitched my story (I’ll cover what that means in a different post).

And people thought it was a cool idea.

That’s how awesome Gail Martin is.

She’s one of the folks I want to be when I grow up.

 

The Release Party and (Scheduled) Reading

Sunday night was the launch party. It kinda went by in a blur. I know it happened because there were pictures:

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I roamed around the room (it was huge…and we packed it to the rafters!!!) looking for folks that bought the Weird Wild West and asked if they would like it personalized.

Only one person didn’t and that’s ok.

One person wanted a picture.  With me!

Seriously, someone out there has a picture of me and them standing behind a copy of the Weird Wild West!

Best feeling ever.

The 9:30 Reading that almost didn’t happen:

I was scheduled for a reading on Sunday Night at 9:30 Pm. Opposite Gail Martin doing a panel on Loveable Rogues…I didn’t think I’d garner much interest.

I was right-sorta.

9:30 rolls around and I’m there, behind the table, with my name plate (Thanks Lauren!) and two folks from the previous panel in the back of the room continuing the conversation that had just been taking place.

I had the room to myself…but not in a good way.

There’s something else you never hear about in a creative writing class or a MFA program or a workshop: What if you give a reading and nobody shows up?

I had ten minutes (I had already decided I was going to give folks 15 minutes to show up before sitting in on Gail’s panel) to wonder about that when a few folks started trickling in, including some of the other panelists.

We did our intros and invited the folks talking in the back to stay – they said they would, but couldn’t stay for the whole thing – then we began reading.

This reading that almost wasn’t, went really well. The other authors had great stories and I brought up the rear…and snagged the two that said they couldn’t stay. Mwuhahaha…

We ended on time (I have no idea how that happened) and we left folks asking for more.

Which is how a reading is supposed to go.

 

Wrapping things up:

There were other high points to the con.  My sister and her husband drove up on Sunday to visit. That was a real high point for me. It had been a while since we last saw each other and it was cool to see them there. She got her picture taken with a Dalek and then we all got to meet Peter S. Beagle (Yeah…)

Regrets?

Not many, but a few.

I never did manage to meet Mur Lafferty, though I’m hoping to correct that, maybe, at ConFusion in 2017.

This year was also the year that Tee Morris and Pip Ballantine decided to skip Balticon, so I’ll have to catch up with them some other time.

Did I get to meet George R. R. Martin?

No, but there were at least as many GRRM cosplayers as there were Deadpools…maybe more. I probably could have walked past him and not known it.

I think my biggest regret was not buying the hell out of this picture at the art show. John Picacio was the artist Guest of Honor and that picture was up for auction. It sold for $125 and I see traces of every strong female character I’ve ever written in her face, her posture, and that almost smile. I stopped and looked at that picture no less than 3 times during the weekend but couldn’t get around the price tag – or figure out how to get it home******

I’m working up the courage to email John to see if he’s got any other copies and how much he’d want for them.

 

All told, Balticon was a fantastic trip. It cost a good chunk of change to go, so I can’t say that it’ll be a regular thing, but it was definitely worth it.

 

* This could be, simply, right place-right time, or fortune favoring the foolish, or any number of things. Just be aware of your surroundings and be safe wherever you are.

** These were the floors that I knew of. It could have been every one from 5-12.

***Maybe this is common sense, but reality kinda feels like it’s tipping sideways when you’re about to sign your first book for someone.

****Yes, this sounds a little stalkerish, but it’s not. We’re facebook friends, I mentioned that I was going to be there and was going to try and catch up with her, etc.

*****Don’t run at cons. You could hurt someone (including yourself)

******Seriously, don’t run. I’m using a figure of speech here.

******* Yes, I could probably have had it shipped home.  Hindsight being 20-20 and all that…

 

Time: It is *so* past my bed-time

Music: None at all (I’m trying to be quiet). Playing in my head is Blind Guardian – The Script for my Requiem

 

 

 

 

 

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