Thursday, September 6, 2018

DragonCon 2018!

I see I have not updated my blog in an entire year. Well, welcome to my annual DragonCon wrap-up post for 2018!

For those of you who are interested, my fun fantasy novel Skytown is now available as an ebook as well as paperback, and you might also like my family-friendly science-based podcast Strange Animals Podcast.

Usual warning: this will be long. I'll try not to make it too boring.

I arrived in Atlanta fairly late on Thursday night, too late to do anything except get my badge and try to get cash out of an ATM. I forgot my PIN (you know, the same number I've had for years) and by the time I remembered it, I'd been locked out of my account.

Fortunately, I had my credit card with me because other than my debit card, I had exactly one dollar in cash.

This year I stayed in a downtown hotel, a Budgetel Inn that's only a ten-minute walk from the Marriott but which has free parking and rates no higher than the Smyrna Red Roof Inn I've stayed at the last few years. It wasn't exactly a five-star hotel, but it was clean and it's not like I spent much time there anyway.

I got a decent night's sleep and was at the convention really early on Friday morning. I found the Secret Food Court and ate breakfast at Dunkin Donuts, then kicked around for a while feeling good about life, before heading to my first panel of the weekend.

Above: Atlanta early Friday morning

This year I was scheduled for my very first DragonCon panel on the podcasting track. It wasn't until Sunday, but I wanted to start off the con in that track so went to their kickoff panel. It was fun and interesting, and I introduced myself to the track director and dropped some stickers on the freebie table. I also grabbed a free lanyard advertising some company I'd never heard of, because the lanyard I'd brought had an orange background like the DragonCon volunteers and I didn't want anyone to confuse me with someone who knew what they were doing.

Next I went to a Welcome to Night Vale panel with Cecil Baldwin, Symphony Sanders, Hal Lublin, and Mark Gagliardi. It was a really funny panel that I thoroughly enjoyed even though the room was huge and I was too far back to get decent pictures.

Above: Symphony Sanders building an eight-tier castle out of water cups

After that I went to the YA in SPAAAAAACE panel, which was also interesting and funny, then headed out to a puppetry track panel, The Puppetry of MST3K. While I was waiting in line, I texted my friend Kevin of The Flopcast to see if we could figure out a time to meet later that day. We texted back and forth a few times, and then Kevin mentioned he was in line to see The Puppetry of MST3K.

I looked around. Kevin stood not ten feet away from me, but neither of us had noticed the other.

The room wasn't too full so we were able to get seats together. The panel was great, and Joel Hodgson was naturally very witty and interesting. He had Crow and Tom Servo bots with him and a couple of the people working with the new iteration of MST3K joined him too, one of whom Kevin knows. Kevin knows everyone.

It was 4pm after that panel let out and I hadn't even had lunch yet, so I said goodbye to Kevin and went to the Secret Food Court again to get a burger, fries, and a gigantic Coke because I was so thirsty. It wasn't an especially hot day but it was humid and I was sweating like crazy.

After I ate, I headed to the Sheraton for a panel at 5:30. But as I waited to get in, I remembered that I had gone to a panel very like that one the year before, or maybe 2016, and had left early because it wasn't as interesting to me as I'd hoped. I checked the schedule and decided to head to the Marriott and attend an American Sci-Fi Classics track panel about movies released in 1968. I mostly just went to have somewhere to go, but it was really funny and interesting. It was presented by the people who do Retroblasting, so they're worth checking out.

After that, same room but two decades later, I attended the Geek Year 1988 panel, which was also good and I had even seen a few of the movies they mentioned. And after that, it was back to the Sheraton, still sweating, for a panel about pirates in popular culture.

Above: Sideshow Bob Ross. Sorry the lighting is so bad.

I was tired after that, and because I'd been playing Pokemon Go, not only did my phone need charging, my phone charger also needed charging. I walked back to my hotel room and plugged both in, ate some trail mix, and lay down to rest for a bit and finish reading a murder mystery I was almost done with.

The book took longer to finish than I expected, and since I'd turned off my phone so it would charge faster, I didn't realize how late it was. I'd been planning to attend a late panel at 11:30 in the Westin, but when I turned my phone back on it was already 11:25.

I hurried, and made it to the Westin at about 11:45. But it turned out that the panel was not for me, so I left after only a few minutes and walked back to the Marriott to look at costumes and wait for the Aurelio Voltaire concert to start. I was parched but had no cash, and couldn't find anywhere open where I could get a cold drink with my card.

It took a long, long time--like seriously, at least twenty minutes--to get everyone into the ballroom who had been waiting in line. Usually I'm in line too but this year I'd planned to skip Voltaire. I'm glad I didn't, though. Even though I couldn't get as close to the stage as I wanted, I had fun and the show was great as always.

I headed back to my hotel afterwards. Since it was after 1am I'd brought a pair of drumsticks in my bag as a makeshift weapon, just in case. I never did have even a momentary problem the whole weekend, though, and after Friday night I didn't bother to bring the sticks.

I got to talking to a guy also walking back to the same hotel from the convention. I should have known when he told me I was "braver than most ladies" for walking alone that I was dealing with an asshole, but I like to assume the best about people. I told him I had a pair of drumsticks in my bag, and that the area seemed perfectly safe anyway. He agreed, then said that he hoped Atlanta didn't elect any liberals to the city council since things would go downhill fast then. I snapped, "Well, I'm a liberal," and he doubled down, insisting that violence in big cities was due to liberal policies.

You know, there was a time about two years ago that I would have just changed the subject. But NOT. FUCKING. ANYMORE. I'd just come from a concert where Voltaire had stressed acceptance and tolerance, and this rando was the opposite of everything me and millions like me find important.

So I shut him down hard. I told him, "I don't know about those cities, and I'm pretty sure you don't either. I'm from Knoxville and our crime rate is low, and we have a liberal mayor." I can't remember what all else I said, but he finally gave up--or maybe I was coming across as angry enough that he remembered I had those sticks in my bag. He was the one who changed the subject.

Fortunately, that was the only negative all weekend, and it didn't leave me with a bad feeling because I'd stood up to the guy instead of simmering in silence. Also, my cousin Molly texted me the next day that Atlanta does have a liberal city council--is, in fact, famous for it. So there, ignorant asshole guy.

I got about four hours of sleep and sprang up the next morning to greet day two of DragonCon!

I was pretty bleary and it took me a while to get breakfast. I don't like Starbucks so I went to the food court attached to the MARTA station to find a less crowded and more appealing coffee shop. Kevin told me later that the Secret Food Court was actually open on Saturday this year, and I wish I'd known.

I took my coffee and food to the Hilton to catch part of the Saturday morning cartoons being shown in the Brit Track room. I thought it would be packed, but when I came in, there were only about a dozen people scattered around the room, sipping coffee and watching the tail-end of Wallace and Gromit in stony silence.

I stayed long enough to watch one episode of the new Thunderbirds Are Go, but left when a second one started (even though it was the far superior original). I was worried that if I waited too long, I wouldn't be able to get to the Marriott for a 10am panel about Schoolhouse Rock, because the skybridges and roads are closed during the parade.

The Schoolhouse Rock panel was great! The first half was a panel discussion, including Kevin, and the second half we watched some of the shows and sang along. Kevin had come in costume, cosplaying Cloris Leachman in the 80s-era VHS release of Schoolhouse Rock, which was hilarious! It was even more hilarious when I realized how extremely hungover he was.

I still didn't get a chance to catch up with Kevin, though, because we both had to leave for our next panels. I went back to the Hilton for another podcasting track panel, this one about audio editing. I got some good tips from it, too.

After that I got lunch, sort of. I grabbed a chicken salad sandwich at CVS along with some snacks. It was horrible. Seriously, it was SO horrible. In fact, I've been blaming the pizza I had later that day on my upset stomach the next morning, but I wonder if the chicken salad was the culprit.

Anyway, once I'd choked down the sandwich I headed to the Westin for the goth music/goth scene panel I always attend. This year it was called "Goth A.D. 2018." There's a Starbucks in the Westin and I decided to get a vanilla bean frappuccino as a special treat after my disgusting lunch. Only I ordered the wrong thing. I ordered a venti vanilla frappuccino, and ended up with a gigantic coffee and caramel thing that cost me $6 and tasted nasty. I don't like coffee much. I drank it anyway, or half of it. My food choices on Saturday were not good ones.

The goth panel was awesome, as always. Immediately after that I headed to the Marriott to another American Sci-Fi Classics panel, the roll-a-panel for 1978 and 1998 movies and TV shows. Kevin was on that one too (everyone is on the roll-a-panel panels). I don't think I'd seen any of the shows it covered, but it was funny and that's all I care about.

After that I went back to the hotel long enough to take my contacts out, although I regretted taking the hour off when I checked the DragonCon schedule and realized I was missing like three panels I'd have liked to attend. But I was back at the Marriott in time for a Star Wars panel speculating about Episode IX. It was really interesting! If I have a fandom at all, it's Star Wars, although I'm only interested in the movies, not the extended universe stuff.

If you want to listen to the panel, the Skytalkers podcast recorded it and it's available for download.

After being so thirsty the night before, I had come prepared Saturday night. I had one of those good water bottles that actually keeps things cold, and not only had I been pounding water all day, after the Star Wars panel I found a place selling beer singles that also took cards. The choice wasn't good, so I ended up with a Heinekin. I got a slice of shitty con pizza to go with it and tried to figure out how to transfer the beer to my water bottle without spilling it all over myself or dropping my pizza.

I decided to attend whatever panel was going on in the American Sci-Fi Classics room. As it happens, it was a panel about V, which I do remember watching--at least the first episodes--but have no clear memory of the show itself. But the panel was lively, the audience engaged, I laughed a lot, and I was able to complete the transfer of beer from (tall) can to water bottle. It just fit, too.

I'd texted Kevin earlier to see if he was going to see the Doubleclicks that evening, and he said sure, if I was going. After the V panel I had an hour or so to kill, so I wandered around for a while, sipping my shitty beer and getting pleasantly tipsy because I cannot hold my liquor, and ended up at the Hyatt concourse where bands play all day and night. I watched part of I:Scintilla's set before I left to get in line for the Doubleclicks.

A guy in the Marriott dressed as the Marriott

It was a while before Kevin was able to join me, but I had fun talking to a couple of people in line near me. One couple was from Knoxville too and asked me where I'd had my tattoos done. I couldn't remember, because I was drunk. (It's Vivid Tattoo, incidentally.) Another woman in line had a teeny tiny rubber duckie that someone had given her. I wanted one of the teeny rubber duckies SO BAD, but I never got one.

Above: Kevin and me. I am not entirely sober. Photo taken by the girl with the tiny duckie

Kevin finally joined me, which gave us time to actually talk and catch up until the line started moving. The Doubleclicks were playing in one of the big ballrooms this year, which hold thousands of people. They had a full light show and everything, and they were clearly delighted. They were both wearing shiny outfits that they said were new just for the show. They played a great set, including a cover of "In the Middle" that as you recall made me cry last time I heard them play it at DragonCon. But I'm in a much better place now than then, and I didn't cry.

I might have teared up a little bit.

It was a great show, not too crowded, relaxed and fun. Kevin and I were literally right up against the stage. I wanted to tell Aubrey I loved her earrings, because we were actually close enough that I'd hardly have to raise my voice, but I didn't. But I did totally love her earrings.

I headed back to the hotel after the concert, and got about five hours of sleep. I'd wanted to attend one of the new diversity track panels at 8:30, but I overslept and didn't get to the convention until after it had started, and then I decided to get breakfast first. So my first panel of day three was part of the Silk Road track, a presentation called Bento 101.


Seriously, I've been bringing my lunch ever since in a cheap $3 bento box, and I'm eating so much more healthily and enjoying it so much! I'd been eating out way too often because I was sick of sandwiches and chips, but now I throw some rice in the cooker when I get home from work (with chicken broth instead of water, and some baby carrots), and pack it in my bento box the next morning along with veggies and fruit. I've also ordered a bunch of cute and useful things to make my bento fancier--rice presses and a hardboiled egg mold shaped like a skull, and food picks and little food cups. But I don't actually need any of it to eat well.

Anyway, okay, back to DragonCon. (Hey, you know what else goes well in bento? Microwave a sweet potato for about 8 minutes, then when it's cool, cut it up and pack it in your bento box. So good.) After the bento presentation I went to the skeptics track room. I used to spend a lot more time there, but in the last few years it seems like they've been doing less fun stuff and more naval-gazing. This was a panel about Skeptoid, a podcast I used to listen regularly, and I thought it would be fun to see what was going on. It turned out to be about listener feedback, not only recorded live for a future episode, but they wanted volunteers to read listener letters. And I volunteered.

I went second, so didn't have much time to prepare--plus my letter was long and barely more than gibberish--so I don't think I did a very good job reading it. But I had fun. After that I had an hour free before the next panel I wanted to attend, so I went to a Subway and got a boring but filling lunch. I took it back to the Hyatt to see what band was playing.

It turned out to be Landloch'd, and they were fantastic! I'd only planned to stay a few minutes, but I couldn't tear myself away. When their set was over I bought two CDs and wish now that I'd gotten one of them signed, but I was in a hurry to get to my next panel and didn't think of it.

Above: Landloch'd

The next panel was "Workshop - Kickstarting Your Album." I don't have an album but I do write YA about musicians, so I figured it would be useful. Laser of the Doubleclicks was on the panel along with all four members of the Misbehavin' Maidens. I took notes, and I was writing so fast it felt like I was back in college taking notes for a final. There was just so much good information! Laser said they're writing a book about the topic too, so if you're interested, keep an eye out for that.

And after was time for my own panel. I bolted from the Hyatt and made it to the Hilton in eight minutes flat--seven if you count the extra minute I spent trying to find a bathroom that didn't have a line out the door. I gave up finally and went to the panel room. Kevin was already there as my cheering section, and he introduced me to the moderator, Mike Faber of the ESO Network. Kevin's podcast is part of the ESO Network, and anyway we've already established that Kevin knows everyone. Kevin also knows Jay and Steve Novella of the Skeptics Guide to the Universe, who were also on the panel, along with two women I didn't get a chance to talk to. Their names were Tiffany of the North by North Quest gaming podcast and Lauren, whose podcast name I didn't catch. I feel bad about that--it's a true crime podcast, that's all I know.

The room filled up quickly. At one minute until four, I got a text from my aunt asking if I wanted to come over for dinner. I texted back to remind her that I was in Atlanta and my panel was starting in one minute. She wrote back wishing me good luck, and then it was time to start.

Public speaking doesn't bother me and I knew there was nothing I'd be asked on the panel that I couldn't answer comfortably--I mean, it's not like it was an oral exam or something--but I was still a bit nervous. When I poured myself a glass of water and raised it to drink, I realized my hand was shaking.

But the panel went well. Mike did a good job keeping things moving but relaxed, the audience asked intelligent questions, and I don't think I said or did anything too boneheaded. I made everyone laugh a couple of times.

Above from L to R: Jay Novella, Lauren, Tiffany, Mike Faber, me (Kate Shaw), and Steve Novella. Kevin took this photo, which is why it's so much better than the others.

The hour flew by. Then it was over and I had survived. I thanked Mike, talked to Kevin for a few minutes, and wrote my name and podcast on the banner behind the table. Then I headed for the next panel.

This one was about the Victorian Music Scene, part of the alternate history track. I enjoyed it, although I was also distracted by all the texts and tweets I'd received wishing me well and asking how the panel had gone. Also, Molly and I were meeting to eat after the panel and I was STARVING now that I wasn't nervous.

We decided to go to a Mexican place called the Bone Garden, which sounded amazing! I took MARTA to the Arts Center stop and met Molly, and from there we drove to the restaurant. But it took me a while to get to the MARTA station, plus the train was late, and it was Sunday evening. By the time we reached the restaurant, it had already closed.

We went to another Mexican place not too far away. It took a while to get seated, but it was really good and worth the wait. I told Molly ALL ABOUT BENTO while we waited. Then we ordered margaritas and I got tipsy, of course. Apparently most people don't get tipsy from one drink? I don't know, seems weird.

It was late when Molly dropped me back off at the convention, because in addition to taking a long time to get a table, after we ate we wanted to get ice cream but the only place open literally had a line out the door and down the sidewalk. We ended up at a gas station where we bought Klondike bars.

I wandered around for a while, looking at costumes, and ended up in the Hyatt Concourse again to see who was playing. It was Crystal Bright and the Silver Hands, not really my favorite kind of music but I stayed because the drummer was amazing! I have to write up two concerts for my drum class this semester, so I'm definitely including this one.

Above: that blur is the drummer for Crystal Bright

I really wanted to stay up and go to the Mayhayley's Grave concert at midnight. I'd seen them play in the concourse briefly--long enough to know they'd put on a great show--but I just couldn't stay awake. I left around 11:30, walked back to my hotel, and fell into bed.

When I woke, it was Monday morning, last day of DragonCon. I packed the car up, then walked to the Hilton and got breakfast at the little overpriced cafe. Then I took my caffeinated blood to the blood drive and donated. It was still early so I didn't have to wait at all. The nurse said I filled my blood bag in only eight minutes, which as you'll recall is the same amount of time it takes to walk from the Hyatt to the Hilton on Sunday afternoon during DragonCon.

There were only two panels I wanted to attend that morning, but I had to check out of my hotel first. I assumed I'd need to move my car after I checked out, but I asked if it was possible to leave my car in the parking lot for a few more hours before I left Atlanta. The lady at the desk said sure, which just made my day and saved me $20 too.

I attended my last podcasting track panel, Writing for Audio Dramas, which was interesting. Then I went back to the American Sci-Fi Classics track for one last panel, Classic Sci-Fi Court. They did this last year too and it was incredibly funny, so I was glad to see it again with different movies. Kevin was on the panel this year too. It was really funny, a great ending to my DragonCon.

Above: Judge Joe Crow presiding

Before I left, Kevin and I took a quick turn through the walk of fame to see who was still there. We saw some of the people from Sesame Street and Lou Ferrigno of The Incredible Hulk TV show, and some other folks. Then Kevin and I hugged and said goodbye, and I left DragonCon until next year.

I gave my dollar to a homeless man, if you were wondering.

I've already bought my membership to DragonCon 2019. See you next year!

Tuesday, September 5, 2017


Usual warning: This will be long. And probably pretty boring, although it's not like I'm forcing you to read it at gunpoint.

This year I was able to take Thursday and Friday off, and left for Atlanta on Wednesday after work. I got to my hotel in Smyrna around 7:30pm. I didn't try to go into Atlanta that night, just relaxed and walked to Target to buy snacks and an umbrella. I ended up with crackers, cheese slices, and a pair of gray socks with black bats on them. I forgot the umbrella, which was a shame as you will soon see.

I was too excited about DragonCon to sleep well, and when my alarm woke me at 6:30 on Thursday morning, I already felt like I was three days into con weekend and feeling ragged. But I perked up quickly when I remembered I was up early to go birdwatching with my friend Kevin!

Kevin is cohost of the fun podcast The Flopcast, which I highly recommend. We've known each other probably close to 25 years at this point but the only time we see each other is at DragonCon. Last year Kevin mentioned being kind of interested in birds, so I invited him to go birding with me before DragonCon started this year. I drove into Atlanta to pick him up, and while I was waiting for him to come down, I stopped by registration to see when it would open. To my surprise, it was already up and running, and it only took a few minutes to get my badge!

Kevin and I grabbed a quick breakfast at the coffee shop in the Sheraton, then jumped in my car and headed to the Chattahoochee River. It's not far from where I was staying--in fact, two years ago I tried to find it to do some birding but the directions I had just sent me into a subdivision. This year I had better directions.

By then, of course, it was pouring rain. Kevin had brought an umbrella but I didn't have one, remember. We sat in the car for a few minutes until the rain slacked up a little, then jumped out to see some birds!

It didn't go so well. We saw some Canada geese right off, which made me hopeful that we might also see some cormorants or grebes or maybe some ducks at least, but nope, just Canada geese. Then nothing for a long time while the rain increased and the only pair of shoes I'd brought to Atlanta got wetter and wetter. The light wasn't good so the few small birds I spotted were just silhouettes.

We kept going, and then, miraculously, we spotted an osprey! It flapped wetly across the river and landed in the top of a tree. While Kevin watched it through my spare binoculars, I tried to ID the swallows skimming over the river's surface. When one landed in a dead tree not twenty feet away, I saw it was a Northern rough-winged swallow. I was so pleased that I'm afraid I pestered Kevin to stop looking at the majestic bird of prey and instead feast his eyes on the tiny bird sitting on a twig and looking not unlike every other swallow species in the world except to the trained eye.

At that point it started thundering, the rain increased to a deluge, and we decided we'd better turn back. I was so wet by then that there was no point in trying to keep partially under Kevin's umbrella, so I just walked and got wetter and wetter. Luckily I keep a towel in my car, and in fact discovered, when we got back to the parking lot, that I had a second towel in the back too for Kevin to use. Also luckily, my hotel was really closeby, because I needed to change.

Kevin waited in the car while I ran up and changed into dry clothes--all but my shoes, which were sodden. I threw my wet clothes into the tub to dry. Then we drove back into Atlanta for DragonCon!

Official programming didn't start until Friday, but there were some things going on Thursday afternoon. Kevin left to help run the newbie walking tours, and I got some lunch, belatedly bought an umbrella at CVS, and wandered around looking at costumes. As the afternoon progressed the hotels got more and more crowded--nothing like the weekend, of course, but lots of people nevertheless. I tried to find a pair of flip-flops to buy, but the only ones I could find were hideous, cheaply made, and $10. I refused to spend that much on ugly flip-flops so I just walked around in wet and stinky shoes. Eventually they dried out, although they smell like a zombie died in them. I need new running shoes anyway.

I didn't realize immediately that I was doing my own walking tour of the convention area until I was nearly to the AmericasMart 2 building even though I knew the dealer's hall wouldn't open until the next morning. I never go to the dealer's hall anyway. What I was doing, subconsciously, was getting myself oriented. It worked, too. I only got turned around once the whole weekend, and that was early on Sunday morning when I was running on only a few hours of sleep and hadn't had coffee yet. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Later that evening I met Kevin, his wife Felicity, his sister Christine, and two friends of theirs for dinner at a Mexican restaurant, where I ordered goat. It was good, and I was able to mark it off my bucket list as a food I wanted to try.

It was fairly late when we left the restaurant, and after some more walking around I decided reluctantly that I was too tired to stay up for the Ego Likeness show at 10:30pm. I went back to the hotel room instead and got less sleep than I needed but more sleep than the night before.

I've written over 1,000 words and DragonCon hasn't even officially started!

I woke on Friday headachey and tired. I should mention that I'm still getting over the con crud I picked up at WorldCon in Finland a few weeks before. It was a mild cold, but it settled in my chest and chest colds are so hard to get rid of. I skipped the 8:30am panel I'd been thinking of attending and got breakfast instead, coffee and an egg mcmuffin type thing at Dunkin Donuts. And a cruller.

The first panel I attended was "Dollars & Sense: The Business of YA," which was interesting and made me feel I was using my DragonCon time wisely. After that I rushed to get to the "How to Fight Like a Woman" panel/swordfighting demonstration. Every year I try to get to a swordfighting demonstration and every year the room fills up before I can reach it, but this year I made it in! It. Was. AWESOME! If I was half my age and didn't already have 500 hobbies, I'd want to take it up.


After that I attended a panel about the pop culture of 1987, which was a lot of fun, then a Skeptics Track panel called "Weird Mysteries: Applying Science to the Paranormal." That turned out to be a presentation by Ben Radford, whose presentations I've enjoyed at DragonCon before. This one was good too.

By the time it was over, it was 3:30 pm. I'd grabbed a piece of pizza earlier (Papa John’s, made in a big truck behind the Marriott and carried to various kiosks throughout the con; still $6 a slice!), but I was hungry again so got a bottle of that Naked drink that's orange and made partly of carrots. I love that stuff. Then I found a bathroom that was reasonably uncrowded and put my contacts in, brushed my hair, and basically made myself presentable, because after that I went to the "Goth: Heart of Darkness" panel. In past years this has been called something like "State of the Goth Music Scene" or some such. It had a slightly different focus this year, but it was still goth musicians, including Aurelio Voltaire, Rogue of the Cruxshadows, and members of a few other bands, and moderated by DJ Ichabod of the Out ov the Coffin podcast, whose voice I love. I honestly don't care who's on the panel or the precise topics they cover, it's just great to listen to people discuss music I enjoy.

After that I went to an 80s cartoon singalong, where they played the opening credits to a ton of cartoons, many of which I'd never even heard of--but they did have Star Blazers, which made me happy. The presenter commented on a lot of them and she was really funny--I think her name was Renee, but I'm bad with names so I could be wrong. I think she said she was a co-director of the animation track.

It was 8pm by then. At 9pm GLANK! was playing. I wasn't sure I wanted to go, but I thought it would be interesting and I might be able to use it for a paper for my drum class this semester.

Well, I'm now a GLANK! fan. They're a percussion group something like Stomp or Blue Man Group. Members are anonymous, dressed in cleanroom suits, and play a mixture of traditional and found percussion instruments. They also have a couple of other instruments--I saw an upright bass and a guitar, but it's all subtle and mostly just all about the hitting things with sticks. The crowd wasn't as big as I'd expected and not really hot at first. I was having a blast the whole time, but things really heated up when they started audience participation. They passed out shakers to those of us in the front of the dance floor, and later did some fun and somewhat complicated clapping (that kept people from clapping on 1 and 3--seriously, people, don't clap on 1 and 3. Just don't. Please.).

They had a short intermission partway through their set where members of the group came down to take selfies with audience members. I don't usually participate in that kind of thing because I hate taking selfies, but one member joined me and I didn't want to be a jerk so I got a picture of us. And I was having a lot of fun, so it's actually great to have a picture of me and a member of the band even though I look like I'm possessed by demons.

The show finished at eleven. I was thirsty and sweaty from dancing and hungry again, so I grabbed another piece of pizza and a beer. I needed a beer because I was going to see THE STAR WARS HOLIDAY SPECIAL.

Now obviously they didn't really lock the doors and make people pay to get out. But that was the vibe. DragonCon matched donations up to $100,000 this year for the Georgia Special Olympics, and tracks were also collecting money for Hurricane Harvey relief. So there was a panel member sitting outside the room with a donation bucket, and as people left they could donate if they liked, and they got a card and/or a button.

I lasted 45 minutes. I've seen the holiday special before and didn't feel the need to see the whole thing again. Besides, beer makes me sleepy.

Next day was Saturday, and I set my alarm for 6:30 am again to make sure I was at the convention well before the parade traffic. I started the day at an 8:30 am panel, "Classic Sci-Fi Court," where panelists make a case that a particular bad movie is not as bad as it's said to be. Kevin was on that panel and defended Howard the Duck, a terrible, terrible movie. The panel was a lot of fun and a good way to start the day. Immediately after that one was a roll-a-panel in the same room. Kevin was on the panel of that one too--he was on eleven panels in all, in fact. The roll-a-panel has a big 20-sided die and every face is a different movie released in a specific year, in this case either 1982 or 1992. Someone from the audience rolls the die, and panelists have two minutes to discuss the movie. It's really fun.

Above: the Classic Sci-Fi Court, with Kevin (standing in the green shirt) begging us to not be too harsh on Howard the Duck

After that I went to the Bill Corbett Show, a panel where Bill Corbett has some hilarious guests and basically just makes everyone laugh until they're sick. His guests were Cecil Baldwin of Welcome to Night Vale, comedian Joseph Scrimshaw, and voice actor and comedian Hal Lublin. It was incredibly good, and sweet too. That was something I noticed over and over this whole weekend, in fact: various panelists and presenters mentioning either obliquely or outright that we're going through a hard time right now in our country and the world, and it's okay to seek comfort in the things we love.

There were other panels I wanted to attend after that, but I was starving. I wandered around trying to figure out what I could eat besides pizza, and ran into Kevin. We ended up getting pizza together after all, but as Kevin pointed out, even bad pizza is pretty good. After he left for his next panel, I got a vanilla frappuccino at Starbucks (the only drink at Starbucks worth having) and wandered around for a while, looking at costumes.

Then I remembered I really wanted to get a GLANK! shirt, so I went to the Marriott where all the bands have their merch tables. Sometimes it can be hard to catch someone at a particular table, since band members want to go around and have fun too, not just sit at their table all day, plus of course they usually have multiple performances. But I was lucky and a woman with her sparkly hair in two ponytails was at the table. And the first thing she said was, "Hey, you were at our show last night! I danced with you!" It turns out she was the performer who'd approached me at intermission for a selfie, and she was really awesome! We talked for a few minutes and I told her how much I'd enjoyed the show and that I'd been telling everyone about it. She asked if I was coming to their next performance that evening and I said I'd try. I bought a shirt (I’m wearing it now, in fact) and she gave me a sticker and a pin.

After that I went to the Animation track again for the Schoolhouse Rock singalong. Basically they just put the DVD of Schoolhouse Rock shorts on shuffle and everyone sang along. When "I’m Just a Bill" started, a cosplayer dressed in a Bill costume showed up and joined us, dancing along with the song. It was epic. And it's eerie how I know so many of those shorts word-perfect.

I got more pizza and did more wandering around. I wish now I'd gone to see The Pyrate Queen play at seven, but I missed my opportunity. I joined Kevin and Felicity in line for the big Gonzaroo Comedy and Music show at eight. We were in line quite a while and talked with the people around us, which was fun. I shared out some of my fun-sized Hershey bars and one of the other guys had some Hot Tamales cinnamon candy he shared too. We were close to the front of the line and got really good seats, and I forgot to take any pictures.

After Gonzaroo ended, it was ten till eleven and almost time for the Voltaire concert. I was glad it was at eleven this year instead of midnight. I skated in right before it started and wormed my way as close to the stage as I could.

He started his set with the same breakup song from his new album that he started last year's set with. I hate that song. Fucking. Hate. It. I even remember thinking that if he kept playing slow sad songs I'd leave early. But after that he played "Vampire Club" and "Brains" and basically put on a high-octane, incredibly fun show--probably the best show I've ever seen out of the six or seven times I've seen him live.
Above: the only picture I took at the show, very blurrrrry

I didn't stay after that, just headed back to the hotel, but I had to shave my legs and bring my journal up to date and find my phone that I'd somehow dropped into my pile of dirty clothes, so it was after two before I actually got to bed.

Oh, and remember those wet clothes in the bathtub from Thursday morning? They still weren't dry. Not only that, I'd managed (don’t ask) to drop a sock in the toilet so I had to wash it and its mate, and they weren't dry yet either. That left me short two pairs of socks, and I'd only brought three. Fortunately I had the new pair I'd bought at Target.

The towels in my car weren't dry either, and they were starting to stink of mildew. In fact, Saturday afternoon out of desperation I'd spread the towels on the roof of my car while it was in the parking garage. I figured if someone stole them, they weren't exactly my good towels. That helped a lot--they were mostly dry by the time I'd returned to the car after midnight--but the car still smelled sour.

I got a decent night's sleep and woke up feeling a whole lot better than I had for the last two mornings. In fact, I think I turned a corner that night in my cold (although as I type this I'm coughing my head off so who knows). I made it to the Sunday morning 10am Reel Crime panel with Bill Corbett, Frank Conniff, and Trace Beaulieu but only by skipping coffee. It was worth it, though.

I grabbed Starbucks and raced to the next panel I had on my schedule, which I thought was going to be about movie musicals. But when I got there, just after it started because for some reason I got turned around and couldn't find the room, it turned out to be about musical theater. As I wrote in my journal later, "Opera or GTFO." I don’t care about musical theater. I left and sat down against a wall, grimly choking down as much of the shitty Starbucks coffee as I could stand, along with some aspirin for the headache I'd developed while trying to find the right room.

While I waited for the caffeine and aspirin to work its magic, I scrolled through the DragonCon schedule app to see what else was going on that might interest me. I decided to head to a panel called "DIY Musician: Touring with The Pyrate Queen," which I thought might be useful when I write the sequel to my newly completed YA (it's called Kick Drum and it's about a high school girl who plays drums in a band, and my agent doesn't even have it yet so don't ask when it'll be published). Well, I wish I hadn't missed the first half of the panel because it was awesome! There weren't very many people in the audience so the panel had a low-key conversational tone. Sometimes those are the best panels of all. That's when I regretted not going to see the Pyrate Queen play the previous evening, because their only other set was at 1pm that afternoon, the same time as the "Famous Unsolved Codes" panel that I was not going to miss.

I hit the bathroom after the touring panel, and ran into the same GLANK! musician I'd talked to yesterday. She recognized me and asked if I'd made it to their 8pm show the night before. I said, "No, I really wanted to but my friends wanted me to go to the Gonzaroo show instead," and tried hard to imply that they had dragged me to Gonzaroo against my will. She looked disappointed but thanked me for my support. I felt like I'd kicked a puppy. I asked if they had another performance and she said no, but that at 1pm they had a session where they were going to talk about the instruments they used. I said I'd try to go to that one, knowing I was lying through my teeth because again, that was when the "Famous Unsolved Codes" panel was.

I will admit, I considered skipping it to see the GLANK! instruments up close. I wanted to ask how they got their bass drum sound, because I hadn't seen anything on the stage that looked like a bass drum. But I really didn't want to miss Elonka Dunin's unsolved codes panel! I enjoy her presentations every year.

Well. I enjoyed it this year too. But it was the same presentation that she gave either last year or maybe the year before. I remembered it and while I don't really regret seeing it again, I should have been more flexible in my schedule.

By the time it was over, I was starving and frantic for something that wasn't terrible pizza. I decided to walk down to the Waffle House past the Sheraton. But evidently everyone else at DragonCon had the same idea. When I got there, it was packed to the walls. I waited a few minutes, but the thought of a pile of greasy food just didn't appeal to me anyway, so I went next door to the nearly empty Subway.

The clerk at Subway seemed really intrigued by DragonCon. He asked me how long it was going on and kept pausing to watch cosplayers walk by. I got my food and sat down, appreciating the quietof the almost empty room.

While I was eating, a guy in an amazing costume walked past the windows. I don't know what it was from, and I didn't get a picture, but it was one of the big elaborate ones--probably eight feet tall including the wings. I saw him later posing in the Hilton. A guy stopped him for a picture, and then the cosplayer shuffled on, slowly because he probably couldn't see very well through the headpiece.

The Subway clerk suddenly appeared out of the Employees Only door near me, phone in hand. He rushed to the main door, but stood there staring wistfully after the cosplayer, who had passed the restaurant and was making his way down the sidewalk. The clerk had obviously been dying for a picture but wasn't fast enough. I told him if he wanted to go catch the guy I'd be happy to tell anyone who came in for a sub that he'd be back in just a minute, but he shook his head sadly and went back behind the counter.

I sat there eating the last crumbs out of my chip bag and thinking sad thoughts about people who have to work on Sundays and feeling bad about letting the GLANK! lady down too. That's how I knew I was overly stressed. My cousin Molly was out of town this weekend so she wasn't around to whisk me away from the madness of DragonCon for an hour or two, and suddenly I realized how overwhelmed I'd been. Mostly I'm used to DragonCon these days, especially now that I can find my way around without getting lost, but it was good to have a quiet moment to myself for a short time.

I took my time heading back to the convention, but I was still back by 4pm. I went to the "Creating Animated Films" panel, which I'd hoped would give basic techniques about various types of animation styles--that's what the panel description sounded like--but which turned out to be about how to become an animator. The answer to that was basically: know lots of people in the business and be easy to work with. I always wanted to be an animator, but I'll stick with writing, where at least there are official channels you can go through to break in.

Next I went to a fun panel about murder ballads, both traditional and contemporary. The panel members were the bands American MurderSong and Valentine Wolfe, both of which sound awesome and I plan to pick up some of their music along with the Pyrate Queen's. Then I went to a panel about joining a podcast network--my own podcast, StrangeAnimals Podcast, is getting popular enough that I've been approached already by one network and turned them down politely, but I did want to hear what the panelists had to say about the pros and cons of networks vs staying indie, and so forth. Unfortunately, like the animation panel, the actual panel didn't really resemble its description, so I left after half an hour and wandered around for a while. With more pizza.

Eventually I ended up in the Hyatt Concourse, where Crystal Bright and the Silver Hands was playing. The music isn't really my type but it was good and I stayed for the rest of their set. Then I stuck around for Bella Morte, who were playing afterwards. I was hoping they'd have a full band with drums, but they just did an acoustic set. I have seen bands play the concourse with full drum kits, but not in the last couple of years. I don't know if that's a new rule (too loud?) or if it's just coincidence. Either way, I was tired and decided to head back to the hotel instead of sticking around for American Murder Song's set at midnight. My wet clothes were still wet, and the socks were smelling pretty rank.

Above: one member of Crystal Bright and the Silver Hands, and some random people. There was a post in the way, okay? And mostly I was just interested in how he was playing a hi-hat and electronic bass drum along with that guitar.

In the past, I’ve never attended any of the Monday programming at DragonCon. I always just check out of my hotel and head home. But there were three panels I really wanted to see on Monday morning. Because I'd left so early on Sunday night, I actually felt remarkably well rested the next morning. I got to the convention way early, before 7:30am, and got coffee and pastries at Caribou Coffee, which is one million times better than Starbucks although that's not hard. I took my breakfast to the Marriott since the 8:30 panel I wanted to attend was there, and found a band merch table that didn't have any stuff at it. I sat there to eat my breakfast and watch sleepy-looking people wandering by.

The hotel staff were cleaning wearily. Considering that some 82,000 people were anticipated at DragonCon this year, the hotel staff do an amazing job keeping the con hotels clean. Saturday night in particular is a flat-out riot, and I barely notice when I step over puddles of vomit or passed-out partiers late Saturday night. In the mornings, the hotels are carpeted with a thin layer of glitter, feathers, sequins, and other bits of costume.

Kevin was on the 8:30 am panel, "Superhero-versary: Batgirl, Spider-Man, Hulk, Thor, & More." It was low-key because everyone was sleepy (except me), but a lot of fun. After that I rushed to the Hyatt for a "Future of Fantasy" panel. I was especially eager for this one because I'm starting a new writing project soon and want to choose something that will sell. It's always helpful to get an idea of what publishing trends editors and agents are seeing.

Unfortunately, since it was Monday morning, there had been some shakeups on the panel and only one panelist was actually a part of the publishing field, an agent. I actually know her name but she probably doesn't want to be connected with this panel so I'll leave her anonymous. The other panelists were the moderator, an old guy who was a writer although I didn't catch his name and couldn't even see him because of where I was sitting more or less behind a post, and another guy who I don't even know who he was--someone connected with the fantasy lit track in some way, but not a publisher or anything. I guess he was just there to help make up the numbers? Anyway, the panel started well, with the agent giving a lot of really solid advice on what is selling right now and what is not.

Basically, steampunk is out no matter how good it is because it just doesn't sell so acquisitions won't buy it no matter how hard an editor fights for it. Urban fantasy is hot again, although I don't know if she meant actual urban fantasy or paranormal romance. Grimdark epic fantasy is flying high because of Game of Thrones. YA dystopian has morphed into something closer to modern cautionary tales. Retellings of any kind are easy to sell to acquisitions because they understand what they are.

So that first half of the panel was great. But then...I don't remember how exactly it happened, but the old writer guy suddenly launched a rant about the NYT book reviews. He had already shown he was totally out of touch with current trends because he kept talking about the 80s, when I guess he was still relevant in publishing. Now he started ranting about how White Dragon had only made the NYT book reviews list because McCaffrey was a woman and it was all unfair and he was hard done by whine whine bitch, on and on. I zoned out for a while and when I tuned it again he was still at it, although he'd switched to ranting about publishers who gave away or sold at a deep discount the first book in a series, which he didn’t think would work even though two seconds before he'd said it had helped George RR Martin.

The moderator didn't say anything. I know it's not always easy to be a moderator, but a simple, "Let's get back on topic. So and so, what do you think about such and such?" would have derailed the rant. But no, it just went on and on. Then the old guy said publishers were no longer putting "Hugo Award Winner" on covers because it didn't help sell books and sometimes hurt sales, because the Hugo awards were out of touch and no one went to Worldcon anyway, and that was why "we" started the Dragon Awards. (You know, the ones where every single winner this year was white and all but one winner was a man.) To my utter shock, the other guy on the panel agreed with this and said this year's Hugo slate was totally out of touch.

The only person I could really see on the panel was the agent, because of the post and other people in my way. It may be my imagination, but from her expression she wished she was anywhere else besides in that room. She didn't say anything. The moderator didn't say anything. I raised my hand because I had a lot to say, but I was behind the post and I guess no one saw my hand.

I should have left right then. But there were only five minutes left in the panel. The old guy got one last jab in after someone asked whether standalone novels were selling. He said, "No," flatly. At this the agent said that that was not the case in middle grade and young adult, where standalone novels were selling well, and then thank goodness the time was up.

If anyone knows who that old guy was on the panel, please let me know. I'd like to avoid every single project that he's connected with even tangentially in the future. I wouldn't buy a bottle of water from him if I was dying in the desert. What a fucking asshole.

Anyway, that enraged me, but fortunately it wasn't my last panel of DragonCon. I went back to the Marriott for another roll-a-panel, this one about 1977 and 1997 movies. Kevin was on that panel too. In stark contrast to the fantasy panel, everyone was happy, inclusive, intelligent, and funny. It wasn't long before I was back in a great mood even though I'd only seen two of the 20 movies listed on the die. At the end of the panel they auctioned off the dice for charity and got $20 for one and $30 for the other, which was awesome. I threw all my remaining dollars and change into the bucket too.

Then I said goodbye to Kevin and left the convention.

I didn't use the umbrella I bought once all weekend. 

The minute I got home--I mean that literally; it was the very first thing I did after I walked in--I threw all my clothes in the washer and started laundry. Now my socks smell nice and I have two fresh clean towels to put in my car for next time I get rained on. And my shoes are demoted to yardwork shoes.

If you get one message out of this superlong post, it's that you should support GLANK! They are awesome. Oh, and if you’ve read this far you clearly like something about my writing, so go check out my new book! Its called Skytown and it’s available from Fox Spirit Books.

See you next year, DragonCon.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

DragonCon bound, how to find CheapSleep Helsinki, and Skytown giveaway!

I'm heading out for DragonCon, directly from work--only two hours from now! I'm still not fully recovered from WorldCon in Finland but I'll survive a few more days of mayhem.

Oh, I have a Goodreads giveaway going for my new book, Skytown! It's open to anyone in the U.S. and Canada.

One of the things I've wanted to do since my trip to Helsinki was put a note in for future CheapSleep Helsinki guests so they can find the hostel more easily. As of my stay in August 2017, take the #7 tram (not bus--trams are the ones that ride on tracks) from either the downtown train station or the Pasila/Bolle station. The tram will get you to the Hattulantie stop and then you just walk around the nearest corner (cross the road, cross the road again to get catty-corner from where the tram lets you out--there's a sign for a jazz bar and the crossing is one of the ones that make noise). When you're across, turn right and walk about half a block. There are signs. You'll need to press the buzzer and wait for someone to answer. Someone is on staff all day and night so if you don't get an answer, keep trying. Everyone in Helsinki speaks English so don't worry that you won't be understood. Reception is on the fourth floor. There are lifts. Staff are very nice but very overworked, so be patient!

Tuesday, August 22, 2017


My book Skytown is available now from Fox Spirit Books!

It was actually released a day before WorldCon75 in Helsinki, Finland. I was in Finland that whole week and the next, so only now can I really appreciate having a new book out! It looks amazing with that cover by Jenny Haines, and it's available in paperback from Amazon (and Amazon UK).

WorldCon and Finland were amazing and I got to meet so many good friends from Twitter! Now I'm doing my best to catch up on my sleep (and shake the con crud) in time for DragonCon in Atlanta a week and a half from now.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

My new book and a friend's new book!

My fun steampunk fantasy adventure novel, Skytown, which stars Jo and Lizzy (from various short stories I've written about them) is releasing on August 8! It's published by Fox Spirit Books. I'll be in Finland for Worldcon 75 when it releases, but as soon as I get home I'll update here with a link!

Here's the cover, made by the awesome Jenny Haines:

While you're waiting for Skytown's release, you can buy and read J.B. Rockwell's incredible SF novel, Hecate! It's a prequel to her equally amazing Serengeti and Dark and Stars, all available from Severed Press. And look at that fantastic cover!

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Podcast and Schedule!

I've pretty much fallen off the wall when it comes to blogs--either reading others', or updating my own. But here's a quick update on what I've been up to.

In February I started a podcast called Strange Animals Podcast, which is a lot of fun and updates weekly. It's available pretty much everywhere, and if you can't find it on your preferred listening app let me know so I can take care of that.

My schedule for the rest of the summer is going to be extremely busy, in a good way! I'll have the full details up on the podcast site (see link above), but basically I'll be at WorldCon 75 in Helsinki, Finland in August, then at DragonCon in Atlanta as usual over Labor Day weekend! I definitely want to say hi and meet up with you so let me know if you're going to be at either con so we can get together!

I also have a book coming out very soon from Fox Spirit Books. It's called Skytown and is a full-length Lizzy and Jo story, which means lots of excitement and action, and lots of picnics. I'll post when it's available!

Wednesday, March 8, 2017


Occasionally I contribute to a Kickstarter or Indiegogo or something of the sort--not that often because I'm not rich, but often enough that I'm all too familiar with the aftermath.

Here's how it usually goes. You get excited about a project, look the rewards over, think about how much money you can spend, and contribute. Then you wait. Sometimes the project doesn't get funded and you're secretly relieved that you're not out that $10 or $20 or whatever.

If the project does get funded, you then get 10,000 emails about it in the next six weeks. Then silence. Then one day, if you're lucky, your thing shows up. You've forgotten about it by then. You wonder why you ever gave money for such a stupid gimcracky thing.

Actually, I've gotten a lot of awesome stuff from Kickstarters. But not always. Here, I'll break it down.

If you contribute to...

An album: It will be 4-6 months late but when it arrives it's been signed in silver gel ink by all the band members. You listen to it a couple of times. One or two of the tracks are really good.

A podcast: Your stickers will arrive on time and your laptop will no longer look so bare.

A TV show: The show will be picked up by Netflix. A year after you contributed you'll receive an email with a code to watch a special behind-the-scenes/making-of special, which you will never watch. You will also never watch the actual show because you don't have Netflix. For some reason you feel cheated.

A movie: Every six months you'll get an email saying the DVDs/Bluerays are shipping. They never ship.

A tabletop game: It's 6-12 months late but it arrives. You never play it but the artwork is really pretty.

A computer game: It's 1-2 years late but you finally get the Steam code. You play it once. It's okay.

A book: It's a year late but it when it arrives it's an attractive addition to your "to be read" shelf, where it will stay forever.

A practical item: After a flurry of emails about production issues, it arrives 6-8 months late. You wonder why you thought you needed it. You put it in a drawer.

An art item: After a flurry of emails about the artist's life issues, it arrives 6-8 months late. It's not as pretty as the picture online made it look. You put it on a shelf and forget about it until you need a last-minute birthday present for someone you don't know very well.

A comic: It's six months late and you read it in five minutes. It's okay.

A band's tour: The band never comes anywhere near where you live but the t-shirt looks good on you.

A performance art project: Six people contribute to the project, which is run by a friend of yours. They cancel it before it ends. You commiserate with them but are secretly glad.