Monday, September 7, 2015

DragonCon 2015

I'm home! As always, this will be really long. Like, super stupid long.

This year I went down to Atlanta earlier than ever before, on Thursday instead of Friday. This was partly because there were too many events on Friday that I didn't want to miss, partly because my hotel (in Smyrna, GA) is close to a birdwatching hotspot and I thought I could spend a few quiet hours birding along the Chattahoochee River at Chochran Shoals before plunging into the madness of DragonCon. But when I reached the end of my directions to Cochran Shoals, I was in the middle of a gated subdivision with nowhere to park and no access trail in sight. Probably for the best, in retrospect, because it was storming.

I got some lunch instead and checked in to my hotel. Then I headed into Atlanta.

I only expected a few people to be hanging around the con area. There's not much official programming on Thursday. But not only were thousands of people already there, a surprising number were already in their cosplay outfits. I guess if you spend a whole year making your costume, you wear it as much as possible.

For some reason I never got my postcard this year and had printed out my receipt instead. There was no delay to get my badge, though--just a few minutes including standing in line--and then I was free to wander around

In November I'm coming to Atlanta again to see King Diamond play at The Tabernacle, so I decided to find the place to see what my parking options will be (since I'll be coming directly from work and will be hard pressed to get there in time even without having to worry about parking). It wasn't hard to find and it's a handsome place. I've been a King Diamond fan for 25 years but have never seen him play live, so I'm excited for the show for sure.

My friend Kevin, cohost of The Flopcast, a fantastic and hilarious weekly geeky podcast, texted me while I was on my way back to the con hotels. We met for lunch at Hsu's and had a great time catching up. DragonCon is the only time I get to see Kevin since he lives way up north in the Boston area, so it was great to have a few hours to relax and talk without either of us needing to rush off somewhere. The food was excellent too. Unfortunately I sucked down four glasses of unsweet tea first and then for some reason was not able to finish my walnut shrimp, which in retrospect is a tiny sliver of agony because those shrimps were damn good.

We went to my first DragonCon event after that, a Geek Music Singalong. The room was unexpectedly full, and of course everyone was in a great mood. DragonCon was starting and we were all among our people, about to sing along with theme songs from cartoons and stuff like that! It was a lot of fun but neither of us stayed for the whole thing. After about an hour we both ducked out, since he had something else to go to and I wanted to get back to the hotel and grab as much sleep as possible to shore me up for the weekend.

When I got back to my hotel, I discovered I'd left my toiletries at home. That wasn't a big deal since there's a Target within walking distance of the hotel, but it meant my fresh set of contacts was at home and I had to make do with last month's for the whole weekend. My poor eyeballs.

From my Twitter:
Hypothetical question. Let's say you go out to eat and get delicious shrimp, but you drink four glasses of iced tea so you can't finish it.
So you get a box and put it in your car for 3 hours, then take it to your hotel room without a fridge. The room is sort of air conditioned.
Can you eat that shrimp for breakfast without dying? Asking for a friend.

(Responses all indicated that I would be a complete moron to eat that shrimp so I didn't, and I will regret it forever.)

I got about seven hours of sleep and was up early to get to the convention. The first panel I attended was about Rifftrax. Kevin went to that one too, as did a friend of his whose name I caught as Christian but may be wrong about. If so, apologies to not-Christian and I am so sorry I got your name wrong. I am terrible at names. Anyway, this is a picture of us. Kevin's in the middle, I'm the girl one, and that third guy is maybe named Christian. (I should add that he's an awesome guy whatever his name is and I got to talk to him at a few other panels, so probably I should have been more careful with his name.) [Kevin tells me that I was right about his name! Hi, Christian, I was just kidding that I was wrong about your name, ha ha ha!]

The panel was fantastic and a great start to the day, but immediately after the three of us went our separate ways I had a problem. The DragonCon app seized up and refused to do anything, froze my phone so that I had to reboot, and when I uninstalled it out of desperation I couldn't reinstall it because I didn't have good enough internet access for a download. My schedule was in there! I went to the Sheraton to get a paper schedule but they were out.

Above: Bill Corbett and two people whose names I should remember but don't. Me and names, not a thing.

For a while I wandered around not knowing what to do with myself. I texted Kevin finally and asked him where the skeptic track was located since I couldn't remember. That's my go-to track when I don't have anything else I want to do in any given timeslot. I headed that way and actually found a paper schedule in the skeptic track room! I guess it was a miracle. So things were looking up, and looked up even more once I realized the reason I couldn't see very well was that my contacts were in the wrong eyes. I fixed it and lo! another miracle!

I found a burger place to eat and got a table to myself, since it was still fairly early. While I ate I went through the schedule and wrote down the panels I wanted to go to. Unfortunately I'd missed one I really wanted to attend, but after I ate I went to one about 80s animated movies and that was fun. When the Last Unicorn trailer played I actually got chills, so when I'm done writing this ridiculously long post I'm going to watch the movie. Clearly it's been too long.

After the animated movies panel, I attended one about the Beale Papers, an unsolved code from the 19th century that's supposed to lead to hidden gold and silver in Virginia. It was a fascinating, well-researched panel and even though it seems likely it's a hoax, I still enjoyed learning about it. I also wrote down a lot of books the presenter (Elonka Dunin, and I had to look that up because you know I didn't remember it) recommended.

Above: I think I get a picture of this Captain Morgan every year. I love him. (That is not me in the picture. I would never wear a costume that covers the tats on my legs.)

I went to an event after that that was supposed to be funny, but it wasn't meshing with me and I slipped out and just wandered around looking at stuff and people. I bought an Abney Park t-shirt since it was a design I didn't have.

A note about t-shirts. I like buying t-shirts when I see a live show. It's a great souvenir, gives a little extra cash to a band I like, and I always need something to wear. I only brought two shirts with me to DragonCon since I knew I was buying more, and I ended up with three new ones. The Abney Park shirt was most expensive at $30, the Here Come the Mummies shirt most comfortable (lighter cotton) and slightly better price at $25, and the Voltaire shirt was a bargain at only $15. I love all three, not just because I love the performers but because the designs are awesome.

Kevin and I texted back and forth a bit and I ended up joining him for the "Heckle-along" of the movie Starcrash. Basically the hosts show a terrible movie, riff along a la MST3K, and invite the audience to shout out comments too. It's chaotic and freaking hysterical. Starcrash was a particularly good choice.

From my Twitter:
I saw a viewing of Starcrash with Kevin. It's a hot mess of a 70s Star Wars ripoff, awesome in its cheesiness.
Afterwards I won a DVD of the movie! I remember screaming and jumping up and down and Kevin hugged me and everyone went awwww.
Most people only react that way when they win money.

I grabbed a piece of pizza and a Coke after that and got in line to see Voltaire at midnight. I was so close to the front of the line that when they let us into the ballroom, I had time to buy a shirt from the merch table and still get a spot really close to the stage.

From my Twitter (while in line):
The kid next to me won't stop talking to me and I accidentally told him I watch the show he's into and now I'm living a lie.
Omg just realized what this girl near me is dressed as and it's so incredibly specific I feel like an uber nerd.
Looks like the line has probably grown enough that it's outside by now. Enjoy the humidity, suckers.
Guy in front of me pointed out that we're in line for two hours to see Voltaire play for one hour. I told him it's like Disneyworld.
Dancing Stormtroopers will never not be funny.

The show was great as always, and as a fun addition Voltaire had the band This Way to the Egress back him during most of the set. The crowd was full of energy and I danced so hard my hair was wet with sweat. When the show was over I reeled outside into the breezy evening and realized with great joy that I still had the full weekend of DragonCon ahead of me.

I slept three and a half hours--I could have slept longer but I wanted to beat the parade traffic. I parked downtown at about 8:30am, my bag full of stuff I would need before I returned to my hotel at about 3am.

From my notes:
It's not that I'm carrying too much stuff, it's that I'm carrying it in the wrong bag. It all sinks to the bottom of the bag and it's lumpy and hard to find anything. Next year I will for sure get a Bag of Holding [this, and I just ordered myself one]. Kevin told me about them. He says ThinkGeek sells them and they're designed for con-going. I've seen quite a few around and they look trim and useful.

One of the first things I did was stop by CVS to buy moleskin for a blister on my heel. Then I got iced tea at Starbucks (nasty tea but better than coffee) and made my way to the first panel of the day, Permissible Mullets of Classic SF and Fantasy.

Yes, mullets. There was a powerpoint.

The panel was absolutely hilarious. I hope they do it again next year--the panelists discussed a mullet sequel next year early on Saturday morning for the people who don't want to attend the parade.

From my Twitter:
I go to the fun panels. Thinking is for losers.

The parade is sort of out of control, I think. It takes far longer than its allotted time, and police block off not only Peachtree Street but the only alternate route to cross Peachtree underneath through the MARTA station. I really wanted to see the airship races again this year, but I literally could not find my way across the street. It was frustrating.

My cousin Molly swooped in and saved the day by whisking me out of the crowds via MARTA to lunch. We went to midtown where the sidewalks were almost empty on a Saturday and restaurants were only modestly busy. We got a quiet booth in Front Page News, a southern/Louisiana style restaurant (although they did not have beignets). Molly ordered chicken and biscuits and I did too because it's always a good idea to copy someone with excellent taste in food. We also split an order of fried green tomatoes. Everything was fantastic and it was fun to talk with Molly and decompress, although our server was aggressively hipster and called us "m'dear" even though I at least was old enough to be the little squirt's mom, and Molly was old enough to have babysat him.

I drank way too much unsweet tea and couldn't finish my second biscuit, but I'd learned my lesson. I got a box for the biscuit and carried it with me for the next seven hours. If I didn't set it down, technically it hadn't been that long since I picked it up because what kind of idiot carries around a chicken biscuit for seven hours? I ate it in line that evening and it was wonderful and I did not get sick. So there.

From my Twitter:
I've been carrying this little box with a leftover chicken biscuit in it my whole life.

I went to the Year in Goth panel that afternoon. It's part of the horror track and I don't read/watch horror, but I love goth music and listen to a lot of it. (I recommend Nightbreed Radio, incidentally.) I really enjoyed the panel and snagged a free compilation CD afterwards that the moderator had put together to share some lesser-known bands. (I listened to it on the way home today and will definitely be hunting down more music by some of the bands.) [And the CD was put together by Ichabod, who has a goth music podcast called Out ov the Coffin, and I will be listening to all the back episodes over the next few weeks!] After that I went to a YA panel where I failed to win a door prize but wrote down a lot of great book recommendations.

That evening I met Kevin again and a friend of his whose name I think is Marietta but I am bad at names (see above) [Kevin tells me I am wrong and her name is actually Marianna; Marietta is a town north of Atlanta--but a pretty name for a girl nevertheless], and we went to a comedy show where the Doubleclicks, Paul and Storm, Molly Lewis, and a bunchton of other people performed. It was incredibly fun and lasted a couple of hours. I'd heard a few Doubleclicks songs online and kind of liked them, but now I think I'm going to have to get their new album.

The funk band Here Come the Mummies was playing at midnight. I only discovered the Mummies this spring and was instantly a rabid fan, so when DragonCon announced they'd be playing this year I screamed so hard some letters fell off the screen. Kevin said he'd come with me for a few songs, but he had something else to attend first so I got in line to make sure I got a spot way up close to the stage.

Oh my god. That concert. It was incredible. The crowd went batshit crazy from the first moment. I went batshit crazy. I am wearing my HCTMummies shirt right now and never want to take it off. Kevin went batshit crazy in his quiet way--I think he nodded to the beat a few times.

To go slightly off-topic here, this semester I'm taking drum lessons at the college where I work, because I am a shitty drummer and would like to be less shitty. One of the things I have to do is attend three concerts and write papers about them discussing the percussion. Here Come the Mummies was of course a pick because look at this shot of the stage before the show started.

Drums and more drums and more drums. And during the show, the band used various non-drum items as percussion instruments, such as a length of heavy chain dropped on a tin tray. It wasn't just innovative, it was an incredible addition to the music and the spectacle. But, well, my drum instructor is not much older than that hipster restaurant server and when he told me I could review rock concerts as well as classical and jazz, an expression of real pain crossed his face. And I am going to have to describe this percussion...instrument without making him blush or faint.

Best. Concert. Ever.

Ordinarily I call it a day after the midnight concert, but not this year. Not on Saturday night. Because at 1:30 am Rasputina was playing and I wanted to see them. Kevin did too, so we met up after the Mummies finished. But there was a delay and Rasputina didn't get onstage until 2am, and by then the Mummies-induced euphoria was wearing off and I was slowing down. Like, a lot. We only stayed for a few songs and then I had to stagger back to my car and drive the 20 minutes or so back to my hotel. (I have a 50 minute commute to work so 20 minutes feels like nothing, incidentally.)

Next year I will definitely stay up to see the Cruxshadows play at 1:30am. No, really I will. Every year I say I will but I don't, but next year I will, just watch.


I slept four and a half hours and made it back to the convention in time to get in line to see James Randi at 10am. Back when I was an undergraduate he spoke at my college and I was so impressed I can remember it clearly, unlike most of the things I did at college. I wasn't going to miss hearing him again after a quarter century.

Randi's talk was amazing. He's 87 years old but by gum he is still sharp and articulate, with lots of fun anecdotes. Afterwards I spent some time hunting for coffee that wasn't Starbucks, without luck, but fortunately at some point I realized it was lunchtime and I could skip straight to pizza and Coke. Which I did. I got in line to see the Reel Crime panel and settled down to eat and look at my phone. Because Twitter is how I talk to my friends.

From my Twitter:
I've been eating since I got in line. Pizza, half a banana, a few animal crackers, and now I'm digging scattered peanut M&Ms out of my bag.
I stood up partly to stretch my legs, but mostly to brush the crumbs from my skirt.

The Reel Crime panel was hilarious and fun, with Frank Conniff, Trace Beaulieu, and Bill Corbett, all formerly of MST3K. When it was over, I was pretty much thinking I was the best panel-chooser ever and skipped off to see a panel in the paranormal track.

It's probably a good thing the tweets I wrote about it didn't go through. They were pretty cruel. I won't say anything more about the panel except that I slipped out early and wandered around trying to decide what to do next. It was mid-afternoon by then and I was worn out.

From my Twitter:
I don't know what I want to dooooo. Sick of the crowds.

I ended up at the Bringing Steampunk to the Screen panel. I'm not a bit interested in making movies but the room was nicely air conditioned, the seats comfortable, and I could plug my phone in. I listened politely at first, then slowly got drawn into the topic. I like steampunk a lot and have written a couple of steampunk books (not yet available) and a lot of stories (some available here), but nothing lately. But as I listened to the panelists discuss ways to portray steampunk onscreen, how to find extras, how to decide on props and fabrics for clothes, how to slant your portrayed world to address issues you find important like inclusiveness and agency, etc., for the first time in a year I got excited about my writing.

Also that last guy on the right was nice to look at, just sayin.

My good mood restored, and my phone charged, I got another piece of pizza and another Coke and headed over to see the Magic vs. Mayhem magic show. Unfortunately, it wasn't in a very big ballroom and the line had already been capped when I got there. I finished my pizza and went upstairs to get in line for the Q&A session afterwards instead. Kevin joined me after a while, and while we were waiting a guy I used to work with stopped by and we talked for a few minutes. It was actually a pleasant way to spend an hour, just standing around looking at costumes of people passing us, talking idly, and waiting to see a panel with three professional magicians, including James Randi again. Kevin had missed Randi's talk that morning since he was on a panel at the same time.

The Q&A was excellent, and afterwards Kevin and I went to the panel "Geek Years 1985 and 1990: Years of Almost-Good Sequels." Kevin was on that panel too so I sat with possibly-named-Christian. The discussion was funny and relaxed, with lots of audience participation.

After that Kevin and I said our goodbyes, since he had a thing to go to and I was getting in one last line. I feel lucky that our schedules overlapped so much this year and we were able to spend some time talking. I know two members of my writing group were at DragonCon and I never did get together with either of them.

The Flying Spaghetti Monster blessed us with her appearance.

My last line was for Abney Park, and I got in it early. I love Abney Park and I was so afraid the ballroom would fill up and I wouldn't get in--not likely on a Sunday night, but I wasn't taking any chances. Before I got in line, though, I went to the parking garage to dump some stuff in my car. While I was there something happened that I've been debating about even mentioning here since it didn't have anything to do with the convention and I wasn't directly involved, and it's not a satisfying story. I'll just copy my tweets about it (changing a few word choices here and there to clarify).

From my Twitter:
Here is a bad thing that happened. It will take several tweets to tell and has an inconclusive ending. Real life is not like books.
After my last panel I stopped by my car to drop off some stuff. While I was in the parking garage I heard a man roaring all angry and
a woman screamed. So I ran to see what was going on and if I could help the woman. I heard car doors and more screams and yelling.
I never saw the people but I saw them drive off, the woman driving and still screaming, the man roaring and slamming the car door, which he
had broken so it was actually bashing the side of the car. Slam slam slam. Three cosplayers were nearby and saw better than me. They were
dressed as I think Gaiman characters, those French clowns with big weapons? Two girls and a guy. One of the girls had a baseball bat and the
guy took it and said "I'm going after them," and I said "I'll go with you" (because I am a fucking badass and was so hopped up on adrenaline you
would not believe). But we couldn't get close enough to get a picture of their license plate and they got away. The girls called 911 but the
cops and security couldn't find them either. And I feel awful that I'm going to be dancing to Abney Park in 90 minutes and I couldn't help.
So that is the bad thing that happened and I wish I had run faster, I wish I had gotten a picture of the license plate, I wish I was a superhero.

Several friends on Twitter reassured me that the cops would definitely be able to trace the car from both the parking garage's security camera pictures of the license, and the parking pass they had to have used to get out of the garage without going through the cash exit (I ran up and told the lady in the cash booth, who also called security while the girls were calling 911).

That episode made me feel awfully pensive although I tried hard to rekindle my excitement about seeing Abney Park. Knowing that this was my last DragonCon activity made me sad, too, although I was exhausted and also kept thinking about all the things I needed to do when I got home.

From my Twitter:
Tons of people in amazing costumes. Constant movement, unbelievable noise. It's chaotic and amazing and overwhelming and surreal.
And I love it and will miss it but it takes me a long time to recover once I'm at home and life returns to its quiet pattern.
A view of the main party floor in the Marriott while I was in line for Abney Park. Elves in the front, party in the back. I am so sorry.

Abney Park put on a great show, and I danced and sang along and wished it would never end. Except for the part where a really annoying woman elbowed me in the boob when she bashed past me to get in front of me and take up half my dancing space. I'm not one of those people who carve out a ten-foot radius of floor because I dance big, but I'm also not going to stand there and twitch slightly to the beat. I've come a long way since that first concert two DragonCons ago where I was embarrassed to dance at all. Now I love it, I look forward to it, and no too-skinny woman with sharp elbows and big hair is going to take that away from me. Even if she does have gorgeous tats. I moved over and got closer to a small woman in a big Groot costume, who had a lot of space around her because her Groot antlers/branches looked dangerous, but she was actually really careful about them so I had room to dance with Groot and no one got in my space.

Everything has to end finally, even amazing Abney Park concerts. Even DragonCon. I drove back to my hotel and fell into bed for five and a half hours, then packed the car, checked out, and drove home.

Practically the first thing I found when I got home was a mockingbird in my house. I recognized him as the undersized, scruffy male that's been hanging around my yard. I don't think he ever found a mate and I've felt sorry for him all summer. He let me catch him and when I took him outside and let him go, he flew off into the trees. I discovered that the kitchen window wasn't shut all the way from the top, but I still don't know why the bird came in. I hope he's okay. Half the reason it's taken me so many damn hours to write this stupid overlong blog post is that I've been cleaning all the things spattered with bird poop. Also, I have a cat. He was in the house with the mockingbird. Nobody died. WHAT IS HAPPENING

So that's that. That was DragonCon. It was a wonderful, weird, amazing, exciting, frustrating, chaotic, fun, geeky experience--as always. I've already bought my ticket for next year.

If you want to find me on Twitter, FSM help you, I'm @kc_shaw. You can see my books here and hopefully buy some. Come see me at DragonCon next year!

Taken in the hotel room this morning. I was not wearing pants.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Pre-DragonCon Plans

DragonCon is in less than two weeks! I've had a really busy summer and the last two weekends I've been out of town, so it snuck up on me. This is my fifth DragonCon so I've got some suggestions for folks who are going for the first (or second) time.

Self-care stuff:
If you wear contacts and you plan to be at the convention early to late, make sure to bring contact solution and eyedrops. Around late afternoon my eyes are feeling gummy; by midnight they're positively gross. I take my contacts out when they first start to bother me, clean them, and use hydrating eyedrops before putting my contacts back in. Then I'm fine until I get back to the hotel.

Bring a refillable water bottle. There are icewater stations all over the place. You're going to be sweating a lot and you may not be eating regular meals, so drinking as much water as you can hold will keep you from getting con crud later and will help keep your energy up.

Bring snacks, the healthier the better. Fresh fruit (and handwipes for after), fruit leathers, trail mix, granola bars, nuts, chocolate-covered raisins, peanut M&Ms. If you're driving in rather than flying, bring a loaf of bread and a jar of peanut butter, and put a sandwich in your bag for emergencies. The food court and restaurants are overrun all weekend, and you may be tempted to skip meals to save time. Having good snacks with you will keep you from getting grouchy and miserable.

If you're a full-on introvert like me, you're going to need some downtime to recharge. Schedule that! I try to get away from the con for an hour or so Saturday afternoon and again Sunday afternoon. I get a meal somewhere that's not mobbed with con-goers, maybe get together with a friend for a conversation. Then I'm ready to plunge back in to the excitement.

Dress for the weather, which will be hot and muggy. There may be an occasional quick thunderstorm in the afternoons. The air conditioning is good in the hotels, but there's also a lot of body heat from so many people, so if you run hot anyway make sure to wear cool clothes. If you wear a skirt and you've got healthy-sized legs, wear biking shorts underneath or use that cream that bikers use to stop chafing. Last year I wore a cute short skirt and within a few hours I had the worst case of heat rash ever on my thighs where they were rubbing together as I walked and sweated.

Similarly, bring a fan. For many events you may have to line up for a long time, and some lines are so long you'll end up standing outside in the heat. Everyone will envy you your fan. Especially if it's a black lace fan like mine that looks really awesome.

Phone stuff:
Bring your phone charger. If you have a spare phone battery bring it too. You're going to want to take lots of pictures so right now is a great time to go through your old photos and delete a bunch to make space. You might also want to upgrade your memory card.

Connectivity will frequently be poor, but if you go just a few blocks away from the con hotels, you can pick up wifi from restaurants without much trouble.

To maximize your battery life, before you leave for DragonCon delete any apps that you know suck your battery. You can load them back on your phone when you get home. During panels and other events, put your phone on airplane mode. Get to panels early so you can grab an outlet and charge your phone during the event.

There's a DragonCon app you can download for your phone. Not only will it help you keep track of your schedule, it contains a good map of downtown to help you navigate between the hotels. I get turned around easily so I'm always checking the map. Having the app also gives you something to play with for the week or so before DragonCon starts.

Keep It Low-Stress:
DragonCon is big. It's huge. It's held in five big downtown Atlanta hotels so you'll definitely be doing a lot of walking. Panels are scheduled with half an hour in between, but if you have mobility issues or if you get caught in post-parade traffic (DragonCon holds a full parade on Saturday morning that a lot of locals attend), it can take far longer to get where you want to be. If you're running late for an event, don't stress. Just slip in quietly once you get there and grab the first seat you see. If there's a particular event you REALLY want to attend, especially if it's a popular one, get there way early so you can get in line. Events can fill up fast depending on where they're held.

Bring cash. Wear it in a money belt or zip it into a secure (not easily accessible) pocket of your bag. There are pickpockets among the 70,000 or so people crushed into DragonCon's five hotels. ATMs will run out of money and have long lines anyway, so don't rely on them.

You'll need a bag to carry your phone, charger, snacks, water bottle, camera if you bring one, contact solution, fan, etc. Every year I bring a different bag because I have yet to find one that's perfect. It shouldn't be too big or you'll be thumping everyone with it. It shouldn't be too small or you won't have room to hold the T-shirt and books you impulse-bought. It should have a long enough strap that you can get into it while it's hanging off your shoulder. You should like it because it's going to be your close friend for the entire weekend.

The first two years I attended DragonCon, I had no idea there were major concerts at midnight every night. The ballrooms are huge and hold some 5,000 people, but for especially popular acts, or if you want to get close to the stage, you'll want to get in line at least at hour early. This is where you'll be really glad you kept your phone charged all day. There are usually chairs set up at the back of the ballrooms, but you can't really see the stage from there and anyway, hey, you should be dancing!

I drive to Atlanta and save a lot of money by staying in a hotel about twenty minutes away from downtown. That means parking. There are lots of 24-hour parking garages so you don't have to worry about moving your car if you're sticking around for concerts or other late-night events. Generally expect to pay $20 or $30 for a full day's parking--most of the cash I bring goes for parking, but it's still cheaper than staying at a con hotel. Once you park, take a picture of the parking garage, and a picture of the nearest intersection's street signs. That way you can actually find your car fifteen hours later.

If you find you're not having fun for some reason, go somewhere else or do something else. Get some food, take a nap, find a friend, destress in whatever way you prefer. You don't have to actually be doing something every second of every day. Some people come to DragonCon just to people-watch, because the costumes are spectacular; some people want to sit at a bar and catch up with friends; some people stick to one particular track's events and don't branch out, while others jump from track event to track event as something takes their fancy. Don't be afraid to ditch your plans and just chill, if that's what you want to do.

Have fun!

Friday, June 26, 2015

Deviled eggs

Okay, so, I put this recipe together for a thing and it occurs to me that maybe other people might like to know how to make perfect deviled eggs too. So here's my recipe. Trala!

Deviled Eggs

Yellow mustard (don't get fancy with the good mustard--you want your egg filling to be as yellow as sunshine!)
Paprika for garnish

Hard boil as many eggs as you like. Take care not to overcook the eggs or the yolks will get that greenish color that's so unappetizing (although you can still eat them, of course). I recommend using room temperature eggs; put them in plenty of water to cover, bring the water to a rolling boil for a minute or two, then remove pot from the heat, cover the pot, and let the eggs sit for ten minutes. Then carefully spoon the eggs into a bowl of ice water and let them sit for about five or ten minutes while they cool. They should be nicely hardboiled and you can handle them without burning your fingers.

Peel the eggs, then cut them in half lengthwise and carefully scoop the yolks into a bowl. Using the edge of a spoon, chop the yolks into crumbs as fine as you can make them without driving yourself up the wall with boredom. Don't mash them!

Add a big dollop of mayonnaise and a little squirt of mustard. Use less than you think you will need, stir it all together gently, and take a tiny taste. If the filling tastes too mayonnaisey, add a tiny bit more mustard, and vice versa. Don't obsess over this, though, or you'll end up with too much mayo and mustard and not enough yolk.

Spoon the filling generously into the egg whites. Top with a little paprika for color and a little extra bite.

Friday, December 19, 2014

In 1993...

I was digging around in my closet for something and found the 1993 Halloween issue of Reptiles of the Mind, the zine I published monthly for some four years. I flipped through it and wasn't really impressed--there's a reason I dumped all my copies of the zine years ago. But one thing caught my attention and I thought I'd share it here because it made me laugh.

Here it is, exactly as it appeared in the issue, stupid phonetic spellings and all.

Not Again!

Yeah, last weekend, dammit! I got into another wreck. [note to family members who skimmed the first paragraph: this happened in 1993, I am just fine, there is no wreck] This time, however, it wuz not my fault. It was rainy and slick out and some guy in a truck slid into the car stopped behind me at a red light, which subsequently bumped into my car. But amazingly enough there was not even a little bit of damage to my car. I had to hang around and wait for the cop to show up, though, since I was involved, and it took almost two hours. Then, when the cop did show, who would it be but my old buddy Miz Officer Massengill, the name you want to snigger at*, who was the main cop at my other wreck last spring. She remembered me too. I was very embarrassed.

[*note to young readers: there used to be a heavily advertised brand of douche called Massengill's.]

While we were waiting, however, I got to know the other people in this minor wreck rather well: Glen who is originally from New Orleans and who is married with 4 kids (two boys and twin girls); and Heather who is invited to parties only because the hosts know she'll dance all the time and keep other people dancing and who was on her way to church. In addition, Glen told us some very amusing wreck stories, one of which I will repeat here because I like it so much. I have no idea if it's true.

Somewhere in New Orleans, apparently, there's a road that goes under another road in a sort of tunnel, so there's a bar nearby called the Tunnel Inn. One day this guy ran a red light on that corner and smashed into another guy so hard that the other guy crashed right into the Tunnel Inn. Ha ha! When the car finally stopped against a pool table the bar was silent with horror and then this woman screamed "Oh my God, that's my husband! That's my husband!" It's sort of a two-pronged joke.

Monday, September 1, 2014

DragonCon 2014!

I did a post about my DragonCon experiences last year and decided to do it again this year, hopefully more coherently. Of course that's hard considering my blur of experiences over the last three days and my current lack of sleep. The TL;DR take is that I enjoyed myself hugely again as always. This will be long.

I got in around 4:30 and got my badge without a wait. I wasn't sure what to do with myself that early, so I went to the "State of the Goth Scene: Rock Edition" panel. From my journal: "One of the guys from Bella Morte (I think) mentioned Immortal Chorus [and this link, because "Mary Are You Sleeping" was my favorite IC song] and I quietly flipped out because I had their only cassette back in the 90s when I lived in Knoxville! I hadn't thought of them in years. I wish I still had it since I know it's not available online anywhere."

After that I went to a great panel, "Spirit Mediums of the 19th Century," then met up with my friends Kevin and Felicity for a celebrity improv comedy show, which was hilarious. It was good to catch up a little with my friends too, since DragonCon is the only time I get to see them.
By this time I'd mellowed into my happy-slightlymanic-adrenalinrushwon'tstop DragonCon mood, which lasted all weekend as par for the course. At about eleven I got in line for the Voltaire concert at midnight. Yes, he was here again this year! Last year he said he wouldn't be, but that changed, and I am so very very very glad. I was closer to the stage than last year but none of my pictures are any good. (I have lots of good pix from when he played Knoxville in May, but posting one of those instead would be cheating.)

The show was fantastic, of course. I actually really wanted to see the Marquis of Vaudeville afterwards, but I was wrung out and exhausted and my contacts were killing me so I didn't stay.

Even so, it was almost 3 a.m. by the time I made it back to my hotel. I slept about four hours, then sprang out of bed and went back to the con for SATURDAY.

From my Twitter feed:
Aug 29 I would commit actual murder for a slushee right now.

It was a hot weekend, and on Friday I'd worn a cute knee-length skirt with my Voltaire t-shirt and sandals. But all the running around outside between hotels while sweating had a side effect I never expected. From my twitter feed while standing in line to see Voltaire:

Aug 29 I'm right behind a very tall woman with no body fat, and I know this because she's wearing a net. Makes me feel very dumpy.

Aug 29 This is how hobbits must feel next to elves, only this hobbit has killer heat rash on her thighs. I had to apply chapstick in the bathroom.

Aug 29 Sorry, TMI.

So I didn't wear the skirt again on Saturday, I wore a pair of light gray shorts and a black T-shirt that spent most of the day damp with sweat.

That morning Kevin was on a panel about the movies and TV shows released in 1984. I thought I'd left myself tons of time to get downtown, park, and get to the panel before it started, but I got caught in the hellish DragonCon parade traffic and was a few minutes late after all. It was fun and funny although there were so many people on the panel some people didn't really get a chance to contribute.

It's like the Last Supper of Nerds. That's Kevin in the front row, fourth from the left.

I didn't get a chance to say hi to Kevin because immediately after the panel I had to rush to a different hotel for the airship races. They were so fun last year I didn't want to miss them this year. But the parade was still going on, which meant a lot of the main streets were blocked off to foot traffic--plus the hordes of people along the streets to watch the parade meant getting anywhere was nearly impossible.

I met a nice older guy, there with his daughter, who was also trying to make his way to the airship races, so since he was more familiar with the area I went with him. We made it, too, although it took us 45 minutes to go about three blocks. DragonCon schedules panels/events with half an hour in between so people can get to where they're going, but the parade jams everything up. Some of the people running the races or competing were late for the same reason, though, so we didn't miss much. And they were incredibly fun! I took some video.

 Please ignore that my voice sounds like a cartoon character's.

It's hard to express how huge DragonCon is. It's spread out across five enormous hotels and the AmericasMart and still everywhere is packed. Some 60,000 people attend a day, more on Saturday. It makes for some frustrating experiences but also some serendipitous ones. While we were still shuffling forward in the crowd funneling into the Westin Peachtree hotel, I was watching the people going by on the sidewalk nearby and suddenly recognized a guy who teaches at the same college where I work in Knoxville. I had no idea he would be there.

Of course I immediately shrieked, "Daniel! Daniel!" and waved dementedly. He turned around, saw me, waved back, and looked completely baffled. I don't think he recognized me. When we got into the airship races and I opened my phone to take pictures, I saw my reflection and realized I was drenched with sweat and looked insane, so presumably I don't look insane on workdays. That's a good thing to know.

A picture of a typical DragonCon crowd, taken (I think) on Saturday night in (I think) the Marriott.

Anyway, I went to a bunch more panels that afternoon. One of them was a Q&A with Grant Imahara. I was way way in the back so didn't get any pictures. He's an interesting, affable, funny guy, well worth standing in line for half an hour in the RELENTLESS MISERY OF THE AUGUST AFTERNOON SUN.

From my Twitter feed:

Aug 30 We are a lot of miserably hot people waiting in line outside with no shade.

Actually we had some shade. Just not enough. I'd forgotten to bring my fan, so I tore the cover off a spiral notebook and fanned myself with it. It rained for a while later that afternoon, which made the humidity worse until a small storm rolled through and cleared the air a little.

Aug 30 The science panel I wanted to attend at 4 filled up before I got there so I've been wandering the Hilton like an angry sweaty ghost.

Aug 30 In desperation I spent $3 for a tepid orange Fanta.

Aug 30 Currently lurking in the gaming room because it's nice and cold here and the upstairs is stuffy. It rained earlier and everyone's damp.

Around seven my cousin Molly and I met to eat. Molly lives in Atlanta and wanted to go to DragonCon this year, but couldn't because of her workload. She took us to a restaurant whose name I've forgotten but whose food I will remember always because it was so good and I was so hungry. We got frozen yogurt too. Then Molly dropped me off downtown again in time for a ten o'clock panel I wanted to attend. Those couple of hours to eat real food, relax, and talk to someone I've known my whole life helped me recharge a lot. I'm introverted, so spending time among lots of people--no matter how fun--is draining.

Also that morning while trying to make my way to the airship races [let's just pause here to savor that phrase. I mean, ten years ago would I ever have believed me about this?] I walked for a short time behind three people who were obviously a band bringing their gear to a hotel. I didn't recognize them but they were dressed in nice steampunk outfits, two white guys and a black girl, and I thought they might be The Cog Is Dead, playing that night at midnight. Their music started popping up on my Pandora station a month or so ago, and I liked it enough to buy a few songs. I decided to go to the show and see if it was them.

It was, and the show was a lot of fun! Also the girl is the drummer, which is awesome. In addition to a lot of their own songs, they covered "Minnie the Moocher," which just solidified my love of the band. I like that they don't restrict themselves to one musical style or era too. They're obviously just having a hell of a good time.

I only got one picture that wasn't blurry, and unfortunately the drummer doesn't show in this one. In fact it looks like she's just exploded.

It was two in the morning by the time I got back to the hotel. But I got five whole hours of sleep before charging back into Atlanta for Sunday, my last day at DragonCon.

I had intended to wear the gray shorts again, but when I looked at them in the harsh daylight I saw they were stained--and not just with salsa from supper, which I knew was there because I have the bad habit of loading up a nacho and then using it to gesture with while I speak, and the salsa goes everywhere--but with everything I'd touched all day. Also I'd sat in something. So rather than wear jeans (too hot, plus I have gorgeous leg tattoos now and like to show them off), I ran over to the Target next to my hotel and bought a pair of bike shorts. I wore them under my black skirt and they were amazingly comfortable. So hurrah for manmade fibers!

Aug 31 I'm rockin the Velma look today. All I need is a turtleneck but then I would die.

I met Kevin early for a panel called "MST3K: Reel Crime," with Trace Beaulieu, Frank Conniff, and Joel Hodgson. Kevin had gotten there super early and was almost at the front of the line, right in front of three cosplayers dressed as the presenters' characters on MST3K. Their costumes were great and they were a lot of fun to talk to while we waited for the doors to open. I didn't get their names.

Also here's me and Kevin before the panel started, with Tom Servo (made by the lady sitting on Kevin's other side). I look like I'm photobombing Kevin's picture with Tom Servo.

The panel was hilarious, a good start to the day. After that it was on to the tea dueling tournament! This was something I'd wanted to see but missed last year, and then missed another tournament at AnachroCon earlier this year. But I made it this year and it was even more fun than I expected.

These are the rules: the contestants get a cookie and a cup of tea, have to dunk their cookies 3/4 of the way in the tea to the count of five, then take the cookies out. The last one to eat their cookie without it falling apart wins the round. They have to get the whole cookie in their mouth without any of it falling, which is easier said than done. I lucked out and got a really good seat, so here are some videos I took.

"Aug. 31, 2014 about 2:15 pm
How did it get to be so late? All I've eaten today is a granola bar and half a Coke."

Last year I went to a sub shop called Jimmy John's, so this year I decided I'd go back. I found it, too. I'd forgotten their little trick of hiding the only stack of napkins where no one can find them, then not giving you a napkin with your food, then when you ask where the napkins are they gesture vaguely in the general direction without looking up. The same thing happened last year and I was so mad this year about it that I'll never eat at Jimmy John's again. Also when I did finally find the napkins I took about 20.

I went to a bunch of panels that afternoon, mostly in the skeptics' track but one called "Starship Smackdown!", where basically the group comes up with a list of starships from various movies and books and decides which would win. It's very, very funny even though I wasn't familiar with most of the ships.

Aug 31 I'm at a panel where they'll discuss various starships and which would win in a fight. It's a TOTALNERD panel.

Aug 31 No one has ever cared about anything more than the people in this room care about star trek.

I should note that my talk about nerds is not meant to come across as harsh. I mean, hell, I was in the room rooting for the Protector from Galaxy Quest to win (it didn't).

Aug 31 Going to a midnight concert tonight with friends, 3rd night in a row. Sleep? I'm running on PURE ADRENALIN AND CAFFEINE & not much caffeine.

Kevin had told me that I needed to see the band Anaria play Sunday at midnight. He described their music as metal with a melodic female vocalist, which sounded great to me. Kevin also knows their singer so he and Felicity were going. By the time I met up with them just before midnight I was starving again, so Felicity and I got pizza and Cokes. Kevin had also brought some other friends I didn't know, a lovely group of people who were hilariously drunk.

The pizza turned out to be a bit of a chore for me. It was good and I was hungry, but my piece was also really big and by the time the band started their set I was still working on it. It's hard to dance when you're also trying to eat pizza really fast. But it turned out that Kevin had a flask of rum, so he topped my Coke off and that helped me get the crust down more easily.

I really liked Anaria. They sound a bit like Evanescence but heavier, with an oldschool metal feel that made me very, very happy. Their drummer is amazing too.

That was it for my DragonCon. I said goodbye to everyone and drove back to my hotel, where I slept four hours, then packed up my stuff and stole all the tiny soaps and headed home. Now I need to do laundry, although it might be more hygienic to just set my suitcase on fire.

I've already bought my membership for DragonCon 2015. See you there!

OH I ALMOST FORGOT--last year my DragonCon roundup post got a fair amount of traffic and I felt bad later when I realized I'd forgotten to add links to the musicians and artists I mentioned. I think I got all the links in this time. Also, I definitely need to mention that Kevin and Felicity do a hilarious podcast with another friend of theirs, The Flopcast, which you should totally listen to. And I write fantasy and SF as K.C. Shaw that you can buy and read! I don't have anything new out at the moment but I've got some interesting stuff going on that I can't talk about yet, so hopefully when I post next year's DragonCon roundup I'll have some awesome news to share.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Chicken Enchiladas

I'd worry that this blog was at risk of becoming a cooking blog, but I suppose that's better than not updating at all.

A friend just asked for a recipe on Twitter, so I'm putting it here for everyone!

Chicken Enchiladas

Step one:
2 or 3 chicken quarters or 4-6 chicken thighs
1/2 c hot sauce (I use Valentina extra hot)

Remove skin and as much fat as possible from the chicken pieces. Put them in the bottom of a casserole and cover with the hot sauce (I don't measure, just pour it on until it looks right, but it works out to about half a cup). Cover casserole with foil and bake at 400 for 20 minutes, remove foil and cook another 20 minutes.

Step two:
1 onion, diced
1 can black beans
1 can diced tomatoes with peppers
spices to taste
While chicken is cooking, saute onion in a little oil until starting to go transparent. Drain beans and tomatoes and add to onions. Simmer on low heat until chicken is done. Add cumin, chili powder, cayenne, etc. to taste. You may need a little salt too.

When chicken is done, remove meat from bones with two forks and add to bean/tomato mixture. Cut up or shred to bite-sized. Don't worry if it's not quite cooked through.

Step three:
Shredded cheese and a lot of it.
6-8 corn tortillas
1 can enchilada sauce

Preheat oven to 350. Pour about 1/3 of the enchilada sauce into a square casserole (NOT the same casserole the chicken came from, that one's full of chicken grease). Pour another 1/3 into the chicken mixture and stir. Heat the tortillas in the microwave and fill each with chicken mixture and a handful of shredded cheese. Fold and place in casserole. When all tortillas are filled, pour remaining enchilada sauce evenly over the top. Place remaining chicken mixture over that, then cover with a bunch of shredded cheese.

Bake at 350 for at least 20 minutes, 30 if your chicken was not quite done.

You can stop after step one (cook long enough that the chicken is done through) and eat the chicken by itself. It's very good! Or you can use the meat to make chicken tacos instead. Definitely use thighs/quarters and not chicken breasts, though, since thighs have more flavor, more moisture, and are cheaper besides.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Scalloped potatoes

My brother asked for my scalloped potatoes recipe on Twitter, and since it's an easy recipe but hard to fit into 140 characters, here it is.

Peel and slice thin about six medium-sized or three large potatoes. Place slices in an ungreased casserole dish, overlapping them about half over each other. When you have covered the bottom of the dish, dot with bits of butter and sprinkle generously with salt, pepper, and grated nutmeg. Put another layer of potato slices on that layer and top with the same butter and seasonings. Put a final layer of potato slices on top but do not season yet.

Pour half-and-half (or cream, or whole milk) gently over the top layer. You don't need much, maybe half a cup or a bit more. Then add salt, pepper, nutmeg, and bits of butter.

Bake uncovered in a 350 degree oven for about an hour, or until a fork pushed down through all three layers goes through easily. The top layer will be a bit firm and browned, the bottom layers should be creamy and tender. You will want to eat all of it and burn your mouth.