PEOPLE HAVE TOLD me for years that I should go to Dragon*Con in Atlanta, but I never found a good reason – while it’s a huge convention (30,000+ attendees) – it’s known for being a SF/F/Gaming con, not a horror home. Nevertheless, this year when I found out Covenant was being released the week of the con, I figured, what the hell?
I also figured, why not drive down, save a little on airfare, and do a couple signings on the way. So that’s how and why I headed south last week, driving from Chicago to Atlanta.
I left Thursday morning and drove an 8-hour leg into Nashville, doing a phone interview for Pod of Horror #47 along the way. When I got the the West End Borders, I found out that the manager had been down with meningitis for the past three weeks, so the store hadn’t posted signs or done any promotion for the event… needless to say, it was a slow night.
Luckily, Deanna and David Crews from Hypericon turned up to keep me company, and I converted a few idle browsers into Covenant buyers along the way.
Afterwards, I drove downtown to the “strip” where there are a couple dozen honky tonk bars with free live music crammed all together. I poked my head into just about every one of them, before heading another hour south and finding a $25.99 room somewhere in southern Tennessee (I have no idea what the town was.)
Friday morning, it was a little over 3 more hours on the road, before I finally arrived in Atlanta. The road had taken its toll, however, and I was worried I wouldn’t be able to pull off my 1 p.m. reading — which I had to be at within a couple hours of checking into the Day’s Inn. But a shower, caffeine and pure willpower got me my badge and registration and put me in the reading room ahead of time… not that there was much need… I ended up with only two audience members — including Elizabeth Donald, who had heard about Covenant on Shocklines. Ultimately, I did a pretty good reading of “After the Fifth Step” and the first couple chapters of Covenant… too bad hardly anyone heard! If I go back again next year, I will definitely lobby to not be the first reading slot on the program…
My Bad Mojo panel that night went a bit better, and I met Carole Nelson Douglas, whose work I’ve seen for years. She was very funny as the group of us (including Rachel Caine, Cherie Priest, Caitlin Kittredge, and Phaedra Weldon) dodged through a series of questions by our intrepid moderator, Mike Miller, who would turn out to moderate all three of my panels. That, actually, was one of the unique (and smart) bits of the DC program — having a staff member moderate the panels. At other cons I’ve attended, the writers end up moderating themselves… which sometimes works, but I thought the “uninvolved” moderator was more effective.
I wandered around halfheartedly after the panel, haunting the Cruxshadows booth and watching a bit of a short horror movie before turning in to get some sleep so that I might actually be alive for the con on Saturday. That was the one bad thing about driving down — by the time I was recovered and really ready to stay up most of the night, it was the last night of the convention (Sunday).
On Saturday morning, I drummed up an autographing flyer and ran that around to various “junk flyer and postcards” tables. In between, I saw some of the Dragon*Con parade, where scores of Stormtroopers and other Star Wars figures marched along with other characters. The “dress up” factor at this con in phenomenal — all weekend long people are standing in the lobbies of the hotels (FOUR of them) taking impromtu photos of other con-goers in costume.
I think it’s safe to say that thousands of the con-goers “dress up” in at least some way to attend this convention, which makes the atmosphere of the whole thing feel just a little like an adult Halloween.
Anyway, after the parade, I met Pam from a local Barnes & Noble store who had ordered some books to bring for my signing, and set up at a table in the Autographing room next to Star Trek novelist Keith R.A. DeCandido. I felt a little silly even sitting in the room with him — he had a good 20 books lined up across the table, while I simply had a giant pile of Covenants, with a couple copies of my Needles & Sins collection for good measure. I’m afraid I never achieved a signing line, but I did have someone turn up who’d seen me on a panel the night before, and I sold a handful of books in the first hour. I then stayed on for an extra hour, because Laurel K. Hamilton and Sherrilyn Kenyon were signing after us — I figured some of their audience might take a chance on Covenant… and I was right.
I signed for the second hour next to Jody Lynn Nye, which was fun since we’ve known each other tangentially for years because we both occasionally attend the Chicagoland Twilight Tales reading series. We also both had stories in the Spooks! anthology from Twilight Tales that I co-edited. She was actually the first person I talked to in two days that I really knew! I sold another 10 books over the next hour before we called it a day.
Then I headed over to the Sheraton for a couple hours to check out the “TrekTrak” where they were showing a fan-created two-part episode of a new Star Trek program: Star Trek: Phase II. It was astonishing how close the sets and sound effects mimicked the original, and every now and then the actors playing Kirk and Spock actually hit some phrases that were spookily like the original Trek. It probably didn’t hurt that the episode was taken from a script that David Gerrold (“The Trouble with Tribbles”) had originally written for Star Trek: The Next Generation, which was ultimately never filmed. I’m looking forward to downloading the episode when they release it online in a few weeks (there were still some special effects that needed to be input in the rough version I saw).
After that, I headed up to the guest Con Suite, and ran into Gigi Edgley from Farscape, which was tres cool, as she was my favorite character on the series. I also said hi to Mickey Dolenz from The Monkees, of all people.
As enjoyable as the Star Trek film viewing and meeting Gigi was, and as wildly entertaining as it was to simply people watch on Friday and Saturday, by the end of Saturday night, I realized I’d slightly miscalculated my con-going plan.
I’d spent the week before the con trying to use MySpace to drum up some attendees for my Nashville signing, and hadn’t set up any connections with the few people I DID know, at least through online forums, who were going to be at Dragon*Con.
Definitely a mistake.
I was feeling pretty isolated by the time I sat down Saturday night in the Hyatt and talked to a couple girls from Champaign-Urbana, IL (ironically enough, the home of my alma mater) about Stephen King books and movies. But after a Bass Ale and the chance King conversation, I took in the nunsploitation panel and felt better (they’re just too silly to NOT feel better after watching cheesy clips from nunsploitation flix!), before seeing a really hilarious indie sexploitation film that teaches women how to successfully overcome the obstacles of working in a skyscraper environment.
Not having any of my usual gang around to talk to, I turned in a bit early again (by 2 a.m.) and cursed myself for missing the Cruxshadows show. I’ve seen them a couple times before, in Austin and San Antonio, but I’d meant to poke my head into their set … instead I got sucked into the movie track and forgot to leave!
Sunday was my best day at the convention, because I was past the stressful part of the signing and reading, and more to the point, I finally hooked up with some friends. For the “Personal Demons” panel on Sunday morning, I sat next to Jonathan Maberry, who I’ve talked to online for a year or two now. It was great to finally meet him and his wife Sara. And to add to that, Garrett Peck, who I haven’t seen in a couple years (we’d met at World Horror Cons previously) turned up and “crashed” the panel, since he was part of the Lone Wolf Personal Demons CD-ROM a few years back. He saw the panel title and figured “what the hell – I should be on that.” Gary Raisor was also on the panel, and the group of us spent a bunch of time chatting afterwards which was nice — it was the first conversation I’d had with anyone I knew in almost three days! It was the kind of “shop talk” I’m used to having 24/7 at a convention.
Right after that, in the con suite, I met Toni Stauffer and Alethea Kontis from Shocklines, who I’ve known online for years. Toni showed me the shortcut to the Hilton, where I caught up with Gigi again and got a quick picture (shown above), and where I also saw Adam West and talked briefly with Walter Koenig (Chekov). I thanked him for being such a longstanding and entertaining part of my life (acknowledging that he’s heard that a million times before).
That afternoon, I hung out a bit at the Larry Smith Bookseller table, to try to help handsell the copies of Covenant they bought off Barnes & Noble’s overstock from my autographing session. Then I headed back to my hotel to hear the new edition of Pod of Horror which debuted that day with my interview on it (I love having email on my cellphone!)
After a quick dip in the pool to wake up, I headed over to my 8:30 p.m. panel Memento Mori, which again featured Jonathan and Phaedra (who’d been on my first panel) as well as Gail Martin, Elizabeth Donald and Christina Barber, who did dual duty at Dragon*Con as an author AND musician (her band Ego Likeness played that night at the Marriott). Elizabeth livened things up as she tossed chocolates to the audience for cogent points and questions as if they were trained seals.
Gail actually did a video podcast with the authors after the panel, which you can see below. My little segment is just over halfway through it.
It was the most fun thing I did at DCon, and afterwards, Elizabeth, Jonathan and his wife Sara and Mike, our moderator all went out to dinner with me to a little pub around the corner, since I hadn’t eaten since the morning. I wish we had thought to take a picture of THAT crew! Much shop talk ensued, and was great fun – I hated for it to end, but we stretched dinner to long after 11 p.m.
After watching Ego Likeness, I went to the horror movie track and caught one of the highlights of the con — a showing of a zombie musical called Zombie Love. It was so good, when I got back to my hotel at close to 4 a.m., the first thing I did wasn’t brush my teeth or go to sleep — it was to break out my laptop, go to the URL for the movie and order it. I can’t wait to show this to family and friends.
Sunday wasn’t as “sad” a day as the end of World Horror Cons usually are, because while the outflux of people was kind of a downer, I didn’t know any of them! (Usually at World Horror Con on the last day, you’re shaking hands or hugging every third person you see saying goodbye!) I did finally run into Chesya Burke for a quick chat (I’d seen her on an escalator my first day there), which was cool.
I also watched a 10 Best Horror Movies panel (and even agreed with about half the choices), took a last walk around the dealer’s room, saw Toni and comic artist Doug Preston again (who I’d met the previous day) and stocked Larry Smith Booksellers with some copies of Dark Arts Books, before I handsold a few copies of Covenant to people in the lobby (I hate hand-selling my own books, but I wanted to make back the money I’d spent buying some of the Barnes & Nobel leftover stock from my autographing).
At 4 p.m. I headed out of the con and a couple hours on the road later had dinner at a Big River in Chattanooga, where I learned the Big River chain has bought out one of my favorite other chain breweries, Rock Bottom Brewery. (They also now own Gordon Biersch). So now even brewpubs are becoming giant corporate conglomerates!
It’s kind of irritating that despite having towels in this budget motel (which cost me $18 more than my cheap-o stay on the way down, which did not) this is the only hotel where I’ve ever had the unwanted opportunity to swat a two-inch long cockroach (TV remotes are apparently good for more than just switching channels.)
I’m very depressed to say that while the giant roach lay apparently dead through the bulk of my penning of this journal entry, when I got up to start getting ready for bed, it was no longer dead on the floor. I didn’t realize you had to decapitate the damn things… so now, as I pen this final entry, I’m about to go to sleep in the same room as a giant roach that wants vengeance…
I’m loathe to sleep right now thanks to that, but tomorrow is another day… and another 8-hour day on the road in fact, so… wish me luck…
Here are a couple more interesting shots from Dragon*Con: