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LibertyCon AAR

I started this on July 4th, a perfect time to celebrate LibertyCon XXX. And celebrate we must. LibertyCon is the best-run science fiction and fantasy convention out there and I had a great time.

I arrived at the Chattanooga Choo Choo fairly early on Thursday, having broken the trip up in multiple sections thanks to friends who have offered me crash space. I knew I was going to push myself pretty hard during the weekend, so I did my best to ensure I was as fresh as possible after the drive.

The big event of the weekend for me was on Saturday, where I had a joint release party for Where Now the Rider and For a Fistful of Credits, the new Four Horsemen Universe Anthology. Thursday evening I did some pre-planning and moving of stuff around to figure out the best arrangement of beverages and food.

After I got pretty much all I could do done,  I went to ConSuite, which was not technically open but was still the gathering place. There I hung out with a few people and listened to Sarah Hoyt do a reading from a book that shall remain nameless. They say that traumatic events can cause selective amnesia. It was awful. All I can say is that it wasn’t written by anyone at the con. Oh, I can say one other thing. We laughed a lot.

Most of Friday was spent organizing stuff. I decided on the layout in the room and arranged things as best I could. I also went to the Opening Ceremonies and got reacquainted with old friends. I didn’t have panels on Friday, so mostly I lounged around during the afternoon.

My main thing on Friday was my stint on Author’s Alley from 8pm to 11pm. Basically, I moved all my books and set up in front of the rooms where panels were being held. I sold a few, while meeting a number of potential readers. It’s a lot of work, but it needs to be done, and in the long run it’s worth it.

After that I was tired but had enough energy to enjoy some room parties and hang out with some friends. I especially enjoyed hanging out by the pool with Aaron Mays, Jonny Minion, and a couple of others.

As I was getting a beer from my cooler, I ran into Sarah, Dan, and Robert Hoyt. It turns out that Roberts around the world like IPAs, so I got him one and we stood around chatting. It was my first time actually having a chance to chat with Sarah. Her at LibertyCon is like me at Pennsic, only with a much smaller site and a correspondingly higher chance to find another conversation.

Saturday was a really long day. At 11am I was part of a panel discussing various ways to get your plot unstuck and overcoming writer’s block. There are a ton of possible ways to do this, but it all boils down to finding what works for you. Whether it’s changing the environment, taking a shower, driving around, or something else, it’s the kind of thing that varies for everyone.

At 2pm was a panel I was very much excited to join: The Middle Ages as Inspiration for Epic and High Fantasy. Thanks to my grad school work, I anticipated I’d have lots to say, and I did. I enjoyed it quite a bit, and hope to do it again. I could have gone on for a while.

I then had several hours before my reading with Dave Schroeder at 6pm. There were a couple of very interesting panels to attend, but I chose wisely and took a bit of a nap, arranged my books and display for the party, and got as much prep done as possible.

I did not have time to create a 20-minute long reading from Where Now the Rider, so my reading at 6pm on Saturday was one from I Am a Wondrous Thing that I have done before. It’s a scene where Irina is convinced to give up the title of Velikomat and the immediate aftermath of her stepping down. It’s an emotional one for me, and I always cry when I read it. It’s a powerful section, and I get a pretty good response from those that listen. Dave read a bit from his new fantasy series, the Congruent Apprentice, which sounds interesting but which I’ve not yet read, and a small bit from his Xenotech Rising series, which I have read some of and really like.

The Four Horsemen Universe is a series of stories about humans discovering that interstellar mercenaries are their best export good. It’s a large sandbox created by Chris Kennedy and Mark Wandrey and many fantastic mil-sf authors are joining in. I am looking forward to reading these stories, just as much as I’ve enjoyed the novels in the universe. Oh, and I just might be working on a short story for the next anthology.

However, this party was to celebrate the release of their first anthology, as well as my newest book. The writers of the anthology brought all the food and I brought nearly all the beverages. As usual, I am coming home with about the same amount as I took out, but at least we didn’t run out of alcohol. Many thanks to Kacey Ezell, one of the contributors to the anthology, who also contributed her cooler to help organize the drinks.

Which is a good thing because we were packed. It was a great party and I sold a goodly number of books, as well as added to my mailing list. Basically, we went four solid hours with guests.

Around 12:30, the crowd dissipated, and with the help of Aaron and a few others we transported the leftovers over to the ConSuite and shut the party down. I was toast. So toast that it took a while for me to relax enough to get to sleep.

I was still tired Sunday, but I had expected that. I started the day at the Kaffeeklatsch. I had a great conversation with the Science Guest of Honor, Dr. Elisa Quintana and Dr. Tom Barclay, who is also a scientist. They study exoplanets and we discussed the most efficient ways we can get humans in space. Well, I asked questions and they taught me stuff, which was wonderful from my perspective.

Immediately after that was my turn at the signature table, where I joined Gray Rinehart and Charity Ayres. The signature table can be packed if a David Weber, David Drake, or John Ringo is sitting there, but for us was fairly quiet. I think we all sold a book or two, with signatures, but mostly the three of us had a great conversation.

One of the joys of LibertyCon is comparing notes with other professionals, because there is such a high percentage of professionals to fans. LibertyCon caps its attendance at 750, and over 150 attendees are professional writers, artists, scientists, or something else relevant. Also, I would bet that a large number of the remainder are people like me at my first LibertyCon, those who want to become professionals. It’s a great chance for us all to learn, and over the years I’ve learned a ton.

Anyway, my last panel of the weekend was Cooking Out of this World. This panel went off the rails. At least we were funny, but we were all a little tired and we strayed from the topic early and often. Todd McCaffrey did ask one interesting question that we talked about a bit but not enough, and that’s what are the environmental factors that will affect the way things taste in space? Obviously, things taste differently on airplanes, which is something airlines are already dealing with, but will be an issue for interplanetary and interstellar travel.

The last session of LibertyCon is the Bitch at Brandy session. Brandy Spraker is the chairman of the con, and she does a fantastic job. The closing ceremonies each year are a chance for people to suggest things that could be improved. Once everyone has had their chance to make comments, good and bad, about the con, she officially closes the con. They take these suggestions seriously, too, and I have seen some implemented in the four years I’ve gone.

Much of the rest of Sunday involved me finishing cleaning up after the party and doing most of my packing. I have learned that I want to stay  overnight on Sunday and leave Monday morning, but I basically pack everything but Monday’s clothes and shower stuff.

I got that done in time to join about 35 of us at a Brazilian steakhouse. I had the fortune of sitting next to a few people I knew, but had never really talked with, including Miriam Ringo, the wife of one of the best mil-sf writers around, John Ringo. What a fun and generous person she is. She had a bracelet on that I admired and thought Giulia would also like. Miriam immediately removed it and handed to me as a gift. By this point were about 3 minutes into our conversation. I was stunned by her generosity then, and still find it amazing and admirable now. Then we had a long and wonderful conversation.

Actually, everyone at dinner had a great time. It has been decided that this will be a LibertyCon Sunday evening tradition.

Following dinner was something that is already a LibertyCon tradition, the Dead Dog party. Basically, those who stay on Sunday evening eat drink as much of the leftovers as possible and play games or hang out.

Again, I had some incredible good fortune. Steve Jackson, of Steve Jackson Games, the inventor of Munchkin and a bunch of other great games, was playtesting some games and I got to join in. Steve is a wonderful and fun guy, and the rest of us had a blast tossing out ideas and picking them apart.

Getting to toss out suggestions on games, even bad ones, to a legend like Steve Jackson is definitely a highlight for me.

Around 12:30, we called it a night, and therefore the end of the con. I went to bed and left for a fairly smooth drive back. The only real excitement was seeing a collision about a half-mile ahead of me in the oncoming lane. The truck driver did a great job and controlled his 18-wheeler in the median so our lane never had to worry.

As I’ve mentioned, LibertyCon is a different beast from other cons. I will be going back there every year, though there’s some question as to when and where the next one will be.

For the four years I’ve attended, it has been at the Chattanooga Choo Choo hotel, but the hotel has sold off about 80% of its rooms to make apartments / condos. Basically, while the convention space is fine, there are only rooms for about 20% of the con goers. This means many are off in the Marriott, which is not far but still puts a crimp in the con experience. Part of the fun of cons is going to room parties which are elsewhere in the hotel. Have fun, drink a few beverages, and then trundle to your room. No travel logistics to speak of. Even free shuttle buses are not a great solution, though of course those were provided.

In short, the Choo Choo simply cannot work anymore. Unfortunately, convention sites are notoriously difficult to find at times, and Brandy and her folks are casting about for a solution. I heard a rumor that a new convention hotel is getting built in Chattanooga, but will not be fully ready by summer 2018. I’m not sure if that’s true, but while they aren’t at all sure of time and place next year, or even if they might take a year off, they all seemed confident that things would be fine by 2019.

Whatever they come up with, I’ll be back.

CoastCon AAR

Greetings all

I attended CoastCon in Biloxi, MS this weekend as part of my longer Gulf Wars trip. I’m now spending the week in Biloxi, looking out over the Gulf coast. Today the Gulf is restless with a 23mph wind out of the southeast. It’s 72, but it feels much chillier as the wind picks up water from the Gulf and carries in onshore.

Quite nice in a brisk way, actually, but it’s going to be a rainy week. My sunny days here I spent inside at the con. Ah well.

The con was quite enjoyable, if not terribly productive. It was fairly small, and I only had two panels. Hence, I had a lot of free time.

Fortunately, a couple of days ago, I read an article on Passive Voice about the difference in bookstores as opposed to comic book stores. Brick-and-mortar bookstores are dying while comic stores are often thriving. The reason, according to the writer, is the sense of community that comic stores create. Whether it’s a gaming event, or simply just to hang out and talk to other fans, people go to comic stores to just be there with friends far more than bookstores.

This struck a chord with me, in part because I totally agree with her assessment. I have not done enough to be a part of the science fiction and fantasy gaming community. This is especially silly on my part given the influence of D&D on my writing. I’m not saying only gamers will enjoy my stuff, only that gamers are likely to be some of my strongest readers, if they know I exist.

So, I’m resolved to fix that. Yes, mom, I did just find an excuse to game more often. Especially when I go to a convention and there are people I can hang out with for hours and talk about my books periodically. If I’m not on a panel, gaming is a place for me to meet people.

I know it’s obvious that gaming is a place to meet people. Oddly, it’s because gaming is something I always want to do that has held me back. I go to conventions to work, after all. So, it’s been a bit of an oversight on my part.

But this weekend convinced me I need to be more active in the gaming community, whether in KC or at a con. I spent virtually all of the weekend playing Pathfinder Society games. Pathfinder Society is just that, a society of people playing essentially D&D at cons. In other words, many times it’s the same people at a table, meaning I have a chance to make more meaningful connections. It helps that Pathfinder is one of my favorite games to play and I rarely get the opportunity.

In any case, I had a good time, but more importantly, made some connections and even sold some books immediately.

And I have some potential ideas to do some crossover things in the future.

When I wasn’t gaming, I did have two panels. Now, I must say that the way CoastCon set up their panels seemed odd to me. They consisted of one speaker, not three or four. In other words, it was me talking for an hour. More teaching a class than a collection of ideas.

Fortunately, I’ve taught a class or two here and there.

The first panel was about Blending Noir in Science Fiction and Fantasy. I’ve talked about this before and will again, but this time I had to structure it a little more precisely. I only had three attendees, which actually turned out pretty good as I pulled them close and I led them in a discussion. I think it went well.

The second panel involved adding history to fiction. I really enjoyed this one and all of the seven attendees said it worked well. What I decided to do was recount the Martin Koszta Affair of 1853 and, as I did so, look for things that could inspire plot points or worldbuilding. I’d like to do this one again, even though it does require me to be the lone panelist, or at least just me and maybe a moderator to prime the audience’s pump for questions or comments here or there.

Overall, the con itself was very small and the venue was too large. It was at the Gulf Coast Convention Center and CoastCon was only one of four events happening there this weekend. There was the Everything Embroidery convention. I’ll wait a moment for all the embroiders out there to catch their breath. Yes, there was a time when a huge embroidery convention happened in the same building as a SF/F/gaming convention happened. Yes, you could have done both, or dropped the significant other off at CoastCon.

In any case, on Saturday there was also a Monster Truck thing in the Arena, and in the end of the convention center was the Seabee Ball.

Yes, parking on Saturday sucked, why do you ask?

Not only was the parking on Saturday inconvenient, I suspect that hurt attendance at the con. I can absolutely envision some people who wanted to get a Saturday-only pass to the con coming to the parking lot, finding there’s a parking fee (which was waived for people with weekend passes to CoastCon), and deciding not to attend after all.

I don’t know that I’ll ever come back to CoastCon. I only came this year because it was the week before Gulf Wars, meaning I could drive here, stay here, and then go an hour north to the event. I used Airbnb for the first time and found a condo across from the beach for $433 for 9 days, which is even better when you factor in it has a real kitchen and a washer/dryer. It’s small, but no smaller than a hotel room and I’ve saved some money by eating in.

The schedule might work again next year, so it’s not out of the question, but it’s also true that the weekend after Gulf Wars is MidSouthCon in Memphis. I might be able to find a place in Memphis for the week or possibly crash space.

I will say I’ve enjoyed the condo here. Part of it is the idea of staying in the same place for 9 straight days. If I’m calculating correctly, this is only the second such stretch in 2017.

We’ll see how productive I am this week. Early returns are very productive, given what I’ve done since the end of the con yesterday. I think I’ve got a good shot at finishing Where Now the Rider this week. If I do, then this week has been worth the price.

I think it’s time for me to take a nap so I can write again this evening. Have a great day.