I said a few words about Dragon*Con itself in Part 1 of my con report. In this one, I’d like to share our experiences at the largest science fiction and fantasy convention in North America.
After a long journey, Black Gate publisher John O’Neill and I reached Atlanta late Thursday afternoon. Reviews Editor Bill Ward acted as our elite scout, and was not only waiting with con badges, but had scoped out the route we’d need to follow to unload our boxes and boxes of Black Gate magazines and vintage science fiction paperbacks. While John and I have been corresponding with Bill Ward for several years, we’d never before met him in person, and it was a pleasure to be able to do so. Bill proved to be just as indispensable, organized, and articulate as he is online, and possessed a dry, quick wit as well.
Jason Waltz, owner of Rogue Blades Entertainment, shared a quarter of the booth with us, and although he and his friend John Whitman had driven down from Milwaukee and we had driven down from Illinois and Indiana, we somehow arrived within a few minutes of each other without coordination. I doubt it would have worked out as well if we’d actually planned it. Between the five of us we managed to get all the Black Gate gear and RBE gear unloaded within an hour. Unpacking it and putting it on display took a bit longer, and required additional time the following morning.
For those of you who have somehow missed out, Rogue Blades Entertainment is a small press publisher devoted to sword-and-sorcery and heroic fiction. Jason has published three anthologies and some standalones featuring both newcomers and professionals.
His mission is near and dear to my heart, because he’s printing work from some of the guys and gals who were fighting in the trenches with me drafting this stuff when there was no call for it even in the small mags.
Now — gasp — sword-and-sorcery seems to be undergoing a renaissance at some of the big publishers. I’ve found a home at Thomas Dunne Books, James Enge is at Pyr (and boy-howdy, does Pyr seem receptive to sword-and-sorcery!), but talented authors like Steve Goble, Bruce Durham, S.C. Bryce, Brian Dolton, TW Williams, and Black Gate‘s own Bill Ward are still out there awaiting discovery. You can find stories by them and many other fine writers in Jason’s titles.
Jason and Bill had attended Dragon*Con before, but the rest of us had heard only rumors or seen only the pictures, and neither can truly do the experience justice. I think every fan of fantasy and science fiction should make the pilgrimage at least once, although it should be done with a group of friends, for it would be very lonely in that sea of humanity if there was no one you knew.
Joining us the next day was Black Gate art director John Woolley, along with his son Blake. He had recently created some stunning new Black Gate banners, which we deployed for the first time. In addition to being a talented artist and all-around cool guy, John W. has been practicing a martial art known as Isshinryu for at least twenty years.
If you came by the booth Saturday morning around ten you would have seen him demonstrating a variety of blocks particular to the Isshinryu style while I punched at him (and that would not have been the weirdest thing to see at the convention, not by a long shot). Isshinryu seems to utilize a maximum effect/minimum effort philosophy I found so fascinating that I may switch styles.
The exhibition and dealer rooms were open from 12-7 on Friday, 10-7 on Saturday and Sunday, and 10-5 on Monday, which made for long hours. A lot of times we simply had to skip lunch and keep working.
But our spirits were high. By the end of such an experience, I think you’d end up loving or hating each other, and we had similar enough interests that it fostered a real spirit of camaraderie. We sold a lot of issues of Black Gate, and a lot of old science fiction and fantasy paperbacks.
There was a huge run on Jack Vance and Samuel R. Delaney, for whatever reason, and we sold out of copies long before we ran out of people asking if we had anything from either author. Theodore Sturgeon and Leigh Brackett were popular as well, and if we’d brought more Robert A. Heinlein we could have sold it all.
Perhaps most popular of all was Doc Savage — we lost count of how many people stopped by the booth looking for the Bantam reprints of the original pulp superhero. Which is unfortunate, because we had not a one.
Situated beside Black Gate in the Exhibit Hall was a booth shared by several up-and-coming writers, and it was great to meet the faces behind many of the intriguing review copies that have recently crossed our desk. Rob Thurman, author of the Cal Leandros urban fantasy series set in New York City (Nightlife, Moonshine, Madhouse, Deathwish, and Roadkill), turned out to be Robyn Thurman, and she was entirely charming, entertaining us with tales of her tragic adventures in a Lady Deadpool costume at Comicon. The Cal Leandros books looked great — I bought Nightlife to read when I returned home, and Robyn was kind enough to autograph it for me.
As popular as the Black Gate booth was, we frequently stopped to stare in wonder at the booth directly across from us in our busy aisle, manned by Chessex, a long-time manufacturer of dice and other accessories for gamers. I’ve spoken before about my love of table top role playing, especially Traveller and Talislanta, and I’ve been saddened recently by the growing perception that interest in role playing games — at least, RPGs that aren’t played on computers or consoles — seems to be waning. But if that interest can be in any way correlated with the non-stop crowd of all ages mobbing the Chessex booth, role playing is alive and well, and in fact may be more popular than ever.
With us working all day and then staying up late talking with peers and attending panels, you will probably understand that we were sleep deprived, which is why poor John O’Neill embarrassed himself with a lovely woman who’d wandered by to look over our paperbacks. She lifted up a copy of Eye in the Sky and John, innocently enough, asked her if she liked Dick. Meaning Phillip K. Dick, of course.
But many of the folks at Dragon*Con are into different genres, and judging by the look she gave him she assumed he was coming onto her in a really lewd and horrible way, and stalked off despite John’s rapid attempts at explanation. John was mortified; everyone else at the booth was giggling for a long while, wondering if we’d have to try and explain the incident to security.
It seemed like the whole of the world came past our booth, frequently in eye-popping costumes. We were visited once by the Flaming Carrot, and a gorilla warrior carrying a man-catcher straight out of Planet of the Apes.
Quite a few folks were sporting brain slugs from Futurama, great little clip-on critters that were so popular that when I left to buy some for my kids they were already sold out.
There were enough of us available to work the booth that we were sometimes able to escape to panels we were interested in, or speaking with other industry professionals we’d hoped to meet. A number of long-time Black Gate fans, friends, and writers dropped by the booth.
Jan Stirling, whose “The Lady’s Apprentice” appeared in issue 14, came by to say hello, and so did The Gneech. I was able to chat at length with Laura J. Underwood and Ari Marmell, both of whom I’d corresponded with, and wish I had more time to speak with Jon Sprunk, author of Shadow’s Son, when he swung by.
I did get a chance to chat with Baen author and editor Eric Flint — Eric’s published some of the most impressive and affordable single-author collections in the field over the past ten years, and I was able glad to be able to talk publishing with him for twenty minutes.
I also got to know Mary Robinette Kowal a little better. Mary not only dropped by the booth, at John’s invite she returned in full Regency garb to perform “The Broken Bridge,” an 18th Century English puppet show both for the delight of the Black Gate staff and passersby.
“Puppet show” doesn’t really do justice to what Mary can do, but then she’s a nationally renowned puppeteer. She’s also intelligent, articulate, and witty, and I wish I’d been a little less busy at the booth that afternoon so I could have spoken with her at greater length.
I did get a chance to dash off and buy a copy of her first novel Shades of Milk and Honey, brand new from Tor Books, and I’m really enjoying what I’ve read so far.
One of the real pleasures of having a booth at the con is making new friends, and we made a number, among them the delightful Joe ‘Jayme’ Gates and Natania Baron. Jayme is getting ready to put the finishing touches on Rigor Amortis, an anthology she’s co-editing, and Natania was on-site for Wired, Geek Mom, and Geek Dad.
Tor editor and Black Gate reader Paul Stevens visited for a while and we talked about Black Gate authors and the business of publishing.
I hope you will forgive me for playing favorites, but I have been corresponding and talking with James Enge for six or eight years now, and it was an immense pleasure to finally meet the man in person.
Two out of the three times he came to the booth I missed him, so I was relieved to finally be able to sit down with him and the three Black Gate Johns, as well as Jason, Jayme, and James’ brilliant and lovely bodyguard (also a “J” name, now that I think of it. I hadn’t noticed the conspiracy until now…).
Aside from James being a master Latin linguist and me often mangling a declaration of “E Pluribus Unum” the two of us have many similar likes and interests, and I have a profound respect for the man. He is just as warm, funny, and engaging in person as you would expect, although he still seems unaware of his tremendous talent. John O’Neill and I assured him that there had been no mistake in his nomination for the World Fantasy Award.
Once we shut down the booth each evening we headed out to various food venues. There were several fine meals, but by far the most amazing was at Cosmic Ray’s, a fine seafood restaurant that was worth every single one of John’s pennies. But I’d have loved it even if I’d been doing the buying. Delicious food and fabulous service.
After meals each evening we’d catch a few panels, and one of the very best was the Pyr panel, as John described in a recent post. We both agreed that we’d never been so excited by a major publisher’s entire product line, but it wasn’t just the products, it was the authors and their editor, for each did a great job describing their book (note to self, get better at describing your book) and the affection their editor Lou Anders had for them and their work wasn’t just obvious, it was infectious.
I sneaked away to see a few more panels, including a really interesting one on the good, the bad, and the ugly in cover art, and a sort of “best-sellers” panel where more than a half dozen New York Times bestselling authors spoke about their work, their trials, and their methods of writing. It was an interesting panel, and inspired me to seek out work by some of the authors I wasn’t familiar with.
One of those was Kevin J. Anderson, who I discovered signing books the next day right around the corner from the Black Gate booth (in a severe case of “small-world” phenomena, after my return home I learned that he’d recently spoken at length with Black Gate‘s Ryan Harvey and that he shared agents with my good friend E.E. Knight).
I don’t normally approach authors and say “I haven’t read your books” but I did with Mr. Anderson, telling him it was his panel talk that had inspired me to look into his fiction. He was very generous with his time and happy to share advice with a newbie author.
I also had a brief chat with Jim Butcher, whose work my wife and I have devoured over the last four months. Like Kevin, he has a great presence on stage and is very friendly in person, although so well-chaperoned that I would have had no chance to meet him without the aid from the wonderful Suzanne Church. The only author better guarded than Jim Butcher was probably Laurell K. Hamilton, who’s always a great speaker and someone all writers should pay heed to when she’s talking publishing, regardless of your genre interests.
John and Jason and some of the rest of the team had met Eugie Foster earlier on, but I didn’t get to do so until late Sunday night. Eugie’s another person whom I’ve corresponded with for multiple years, and is also one of the masterminds who helps keep the beast that is Dragon*Con running. She is not an evil mastermind, though, and in addition to being a real talent is extremely personable.
Eugie was up for a Hugo Award for her Interzone novelette “Sinner, Baker, Fabulist, Priest; Red Mask, Black Mask, Gentleman, Beast,” and the voting occurred Sunday morning in Australia at the World Science Fiction convention; unfortunately she lost out to Peter Watts’ “The Island.”
John and I made an all-too-quick walk through the Dragon*Con Art Show, where we met up with Black Gate artist John Kaufmann, who’s done some superb interior illustrations for us. On John O’Neill’s recommendation I bought a copy of the graphic novel Courtney Crumrin & The Night Things from creator Ted Naifeh for my daughter — and ended up thoroughly enjoying it myself. I’ll have to look for the rest of the volumes in the series.
One of the reasons John and I visit the Art Show at conventions is to look for cover art, and this was no exception. We were both struck by the work of artists such as Charles Urback, Mark Poole, and Brian Despain, but it was in front of Donato Giancola’s booth, taking in his gorgeous depiction of Red Sonja, that we knew we’d found the artist we wanted for our next cover. Stay tuned for further announcements.
We engineered a swift loadout when it was time to depart Monday evening, managing to get all the materials out of our booth in about an hour. John and I started our long trip back. John had been mocking me for mooning over the picture of my wife I keep on my cell phone, but I know he was missing his wife and kids just as much as I.
As eager as I was to be with them again, I was still a little sad to go. There were more folks I’d hoped to know better, and I’d really enjoyed getting to know the people I worked with in our booth. I wish we all lived a little closer, or that we really worked in that fantastic rooftop headquarters we sometimes talk about so that I could see them every day.
They’re a great bunch, and I hope that you’ll come by to meet them when we take the Black Gate zeppelin to World Fantasy con in October. I’ll be there to meet other writers, editors, publishers, and readers, and to cheer James Enge on towards the World Fantasy Award.
Photos by Bill Ward. Thanks Bill!