I was almost to Chicago last Thursday when I realized I’d gotten so wrapped up in the audio book of The Name of the Wind that I’d missed my turn. Fortunately, I found another way to Interstate 90 and the Hyatt Regency. And when I finally reached the dealer’s room, I was able to lodge a personal complaint with Patrick Rothfuss himself for writing so well that I got distracted.
It wasn’t long ago that I’d arrive at a convention and be surrounded by strangers or literary luminaries I was too nervous to approach. When I turn up these days, there are still a lot of strangers, but there are plenty of familiar faces as well. Before I’d even checked in, I bumped into Tom Doyle, and shortly after registering my complaint with Patrick Rothfuss, I was welcomed by Arin Komins and Rich Warren to their used books booth, Starfarer’s Dispatch.
Rich showed me a rare Harold Lamb book, then, as I noticed it contained an insert about Lamb I had no knowledge of, he handed me a CD with scans of the material. That was incredibly kind of him. I then signed a complete set of the Harold Lamb books I’d edited and personalized Arin’s copy of The Desert of Souls, which she had liked so much that I gifted her with an ARC of The Bones of the Old Ones.
Purely by chance, I kept down the aisle to the left and came instantly to the Black Gate booth where John O’Neill, (now with beard) occupied a booth surrounded by old but well-cared for paperbacks and stacks of Black Gate magazines. The booth remained a gathering spot for friends, acquaintances, and staff members throughout the convention, which is why the talented Peadar Ó Guilín and Donald Crankshaw were manning the booth with O’Neill. I’d never had the chance to meet Peadar before, but his gentle humor put me immediately at ease. We chatted for a while and then James Enge wandered up with his brother Patrick. While the Mighty Enge was settling into the room we shared, I retrieved a box of The Desert of Souls hardbacks to sell at the Black Gate booth. (We sold ’em all before the end of the convention!)
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Worldcon was, shall we say, a little spread out. To get to the Enge/Jones room from the land of the dealers, you had to ascend three escalators, cross a shaking tunnel, then travel in a cube of power to the twelfth floor.
As scattered as things were, though, there were some people who seemed to have clones, so often did I see them. One of them was Steven Silver. It was almost as though you’d glimpse him on one floor, climb into an elevator, exit and turn a corner, and find him there ahead of you.
Another was Saladin Ahmed, who I discovered at the top of an escalator as I came wandering up with my box of books. We compared schedules and exchanged the secret Arabian Fantasy author handshake, then Saladin introduced me to Josh Jasper. Josh was just the first of many interesting people Saladin was able to introduce me to over the course of the con.
I wandered off with James and Patrick (to whom James’s newest book, A Guile of Dragons, is dedicated) for a noodle dinner where we chatted about classics of science fiction and fantasy, then headed over to Bryan Thomas Schmidt’s reading, where we saw Christopher Kastensmidt — although I’m sure I bumped into him at some earlier point in the day. After, we met up with fellow sword-and-sorcery writer, Violette Malan, and her husband Paul at the con bar and traded writing anecdotes.
We were joined by O’Neill and then Saladin, and an ever widening circle of writers, editors, publishers, readers, and even agents when Myke Cole arrived and waved over Joshua Bilmes. Before too long, Saladin was introducing me to the only other Thomas Dunne Books author I’ve ever met, Alaya Dawn Johnson, and her agent, Eddie Schneider. Alaya has some of the finest author business cards I’ve yet seen. I’m totally stealing her “book covers on the back” plan.
At some point, I discovered I was sitting at the same table with agent Jennifer Jackson, another of those people who seemed to be everywhere. (At one point late Saturday, I remarked to James that there were a lot more agents at this convention than World Fantasy, and he quipped “well, eighty percent of them are Jennifer Jackson.”)
As the night was wrapping up, I joined Donald Crankshaw and his wife Kristin and went off in search of con parties. I ended up at the SWFA party and sat down briefly with Bryan Thomas Schmidt. I spoke in passing with Jim Hines in the last, fleeting days before he had been Hugo’d. And then I returned to the room and readied myself for a whole new day of adventures.
Alas, I slept poorly. I was fighting a cold and had stuffed myself so full of stimulants that I didn’t manage more than a few hours of sleep. Despite the fatigue, my body insisted on waking at 6:00, because that’s the time it’s trained to rise to rouse children for school and pack lunches. It wasn’t all bad, though. As James opened the curtains, we found ourselves looking out on a very fine view of the Chicago river, the Navy Pier, and Lake Michigan. None of the other mornings dawned as beautifully.
The wizard of Enge helped steer this groggy author down to the con “suite” (really a vast open area at the bottom of a long flight of stairs) and we joined Arin and Rich for a breakfast of bagels, juices, and fresh fruit. James and I never did clue in to where decent breakfast food was to be had, but that morning the company was good, and the food was free and healthy.
The four of us talked at length about old books, science fiction, and role-playing games. If I’d been a little more alert, I would have caught the name of the gentleman carefully crafting wonderful origami dragons and leaving them on all the tables. I brought home two to show my children.
Much of the rest of the morning is a blur, possibly because my mind was on the reading I was giving at 12:30. I had a decent turnout, and despite my cold, I think I gave a fair reading from The Bones of the Old Ones. The audience chuckled at all the right places and seemed intent enough on what I was saying.
Afterwards, David Smith, Joe Bonadonna, and I went out to lunch with Andrew and Amber Jones. Andrew Zimmerman Jones and I share two out of three names, and, as we both work with Black Gate, we make a habit of saying “no relation.” I’m starting to think, though, that we ought to tell people we’re brothers. Andrew and Amber went on to have many amazing adventures of their own, some of which included consulting with Patrick Rothfuss in his secret lair and contemplating weighty matters.
Dave had some wonderful anecdotes about the silent film era, Leigh Brackett, and Edmund Hamilton, and it is always a pleasure talking with Joe. I had to cut lunch short to get back in time to catch Brad Beaulieu’s reading. I missed all but the part where a mummy rose from a crypt and attempted communication before being blasted by eldritch sorcery — which was a pretty cool section to walk in on.
As surrounded as I was by people I wanted to meet, I was feeling pretty drained, so I wandered back to the room for a nap. I woke in time to get to Saladin’s amazing reading (complete details at my web site) and then loitered in the bar talking with Sharon Shinn and new friend Randy Henderson. Soon after, I headed out for dinner with Enge, O’Neill, Rich Horton, Bryan Thomas Schmidt, and Jason Waltz. No matter how many times I see Jason, he’s always taller than I remember. It turns out that he’s also a fan of the same fairly obscure western writer I enjoy, Ben Haas (usually writing under John Benteen).
Friday night was the first of the big party nights, and most of our dinner crew wandered up to the Tor party, in one of the largest and grandest suites I’ve ever seen. It was naturally packed with people, and some of them I even knew.
Myke Cole introduced us to Joe Zieja, and I reconnected with Rome Quezada from the Science Fiction Book Club. I finally got to ask John Scalzi just how good those previously unpublished Ray Bradbury Martian stories were in the rare hardback he’d written the introduction for (good — and, no, he wouldn’t trade me his extra copy for my Traveller collection).
Jennifer Jackson and her assistant Michael were there, along with a hundred other luminaries. There also were other friendly faces, among them David Carani, a Writers of the Future award winner, and Jamie Todd Rubin. James Enge and I bumped into Jamie so many times we three finally decided it must be karma and started hanging around together.
Being wussies, Enge and O’Neill left early, leaving me and Doug Hulick to wander for a few more hours, visiting parties, righting wrongs, and, in Doug’s case, simply being tall. We dropped in on The Night Bazaar party and talked with Brad Beaulieu, Courtney Shafer, TL Morganfield, and Emma Swift. Doug and I began plotting a super secret project, the details of which are super secret, which is why I’m not even mentioning them. At some point, we bumped into Al Bogdan and the charming Amy Sundberg, a moment Al Bogdan memorialized on film. Notice how Doug is tall.
I had another lousy night’s sleep, then Enge and I rose Saturday to hunt for breakfast. We finally dined at the hotel, where we sat down for an expensive breakfast buffet.
After that, we headed off for my panel on “Writing What You Don’t Know,” perhaps the best moderated panel I’ve ever sat in on. Louise Marley, moderator, had done her homework on each of her fellow panelists. She set a high bar. The panel turnout was pretty good, especially for 9:00 Saturday morning, and I’d like to think that the other panelists and I were able to provide helpful answers to questions. Other fellow panelists included Jack Skillingstead, Lynda Williams, and Rachel Neumeier.
Afterward, I got to talk at length with writer friend Elizabeth Vaughan about romance writing and Robert E. Howard. And I bumped into Rome Quezada and handed him the Harold Lamb book (Wolf of the Steppes) he’d been curious about.
I ran into Scott Lynch at the top of the same escalator where I’d met Saladin two days previous and made arrangements to reconnect later. Scott’s car had broken down on the drive in, but you’d never have known it, looking at him. He’s got to be one of the friendliest, most well-centered people I’ve ever met.
I hung out at the Black Gate booth a bit more and I talked with Tina Jens and S. Hutson Blount (I was to see both of them many times); got to personally thank Glenn Cook for the wonderful cover blurb he gave The Desert of Souls; and joined O’Neill, Peadar, and Enge for the finest meal of the convention at the Khyber Pass, an Indian restaurant.
Finally sitting down with those three was among the best moments of the convention. While I can’t say, objectively, how funny we might have been to anyone else, we kept each other in stitches, and were all a little sad when we realized we were unlikely to be able to sit down together again for many years.
James and I wandered off to the SF Signal lunch, where we saw Jamie again, and where I met John DeNardo and a number of other people for the first time, among them Stina Leicht. James and I then hurried to catch Mary Robinette Kowal’s reading.
If you’ve never seen Mary read, you’re really missing something. I happen to think I’ve gotten pretty comfortable in front of an audience, and have pretty entertaining delivery (years of teaching will put you at ease in front of a group of people), but I don’t hold a candle to Mary, whose natural charm and wit — and, of course, sterling prose — enabled her to hold the crowd in the palm of her hand. I walked with her and Jennifer Jackson (I told you she was everywhere) back to the bar, and caught up a little. Although, as Saladin was to remark later that afternoon, at a con it’s difficult to get in any kind of full visit with one person — it was more like a series of snippets of visits.
Speaking of Saladin, he turned up again, and so did Joe Zieja, who tried to help me figure out why my phone hates Saladin (my address book refuses to divulge his name when I try to call even though it identifies him when he phones me). Shortly thereafter, I went from the mundane frustration of wrestling with a phone to meeting George RR Martin, to whom Saladin graciously introduced me. At the con, I always kept a copy of my ARC of Bones handy, which is why I showed it to Mr. Martin during Saladin’s introduction of me.
I was so gobsmacked that I actually wasn’t trying to hand it to him to keep, but when he asked if I meant for him to have it, I gladly turned it over, my hand shaking a bit as I said “I can’t believe I’m signing a book TO George RR Martin.” Martin was kind and gracious, and soon introduced us to some of the organizers of Brotherhood Without Banners, with whom I talked heroic fiction for some time.
I made a return visit to the restaurant of the previous night, but it was so loud (service was excellent — but the speakers, ye Gods) that I left with most of my meal unfinished. I’ve never been to a louder sports bar. Eventually I got together with Patrick Hester, who interviewed James, John O’Neill, and me for an upcoming installment of SF Signal. Andrew and Amber were there as part of the studio audience, along with Rich Horton.
I unwound at the hotel bar with Saladin a bit and finally managed to buy him a drink. He wisely suggested that, as I looked and sounded pretty wiped out, I might want to take a rest, but there were yet more people I hoped to meet. So, fortified by a couple of gallons of Coca-Cola, I headed off to party surf. I rendesvouzed with O’Neill and James, met Lynne and Michael Thomas, and received a really swell coin from a gentleman at the Brothers Without Banners party (The Game of Thrones fan club, basically) who makes professional looking coins. This one had one of the faceless men on one side. I’ll be turning it over to my friend Daniel soon, for he’s an even bigger fan of The Game of Thrones than I am. I sought out George RR Martin a final time and handed off some Harold Lamb books, for he’d expressed interest and familiarity with the name, but had never read the work.
From there I wandered downstairs to the bar again and had a long and glorious talk about plot structure and pacing with Scott Lynch. Orbit Editor Devi Pillai was there and not only shared some of her wine, but returned from the bar with extra glasses for us. We were joined by Saladin, Elizabeth Bear, and Doug Hulick and talked about the ins and outs of the writing business until the bar kicked us out. Doug and I wandered around just a bit longer, but I was flagging and it was very late, so I returned to the room and finally had a good night’s sleep.
Come Sunday morning, James and I were both talking morosely about how much we missed our wives. But I suppose if you’re happily married and too long away from your spouse, that’s going to happen. We paid too much for a lousy breakfast, then visited the Black Gate booth to say our goodbyes to O’Neill and S. Hutson Blount. James helped me cart my belonging to the car and we had a bittersweet farewell. We were both eager to get back to our families, but we knew it would be a long while before we saw each other in person again.
Leaving a convention is like that. For a while, you’re surrounded by a whole lot of your favorite people, having the kinds of conversations you wish you were having all the time. Yet you DO have to return to reality. So, one day I was talking with George RR Martin, the next day I was standing at my kitchen sink scrunging dirt off of silverware.
I didn’t stay for the final day, so I missed James and Violette as they gave their readings. And I didn’t catch the Hugos, either. Next year, I think I’ll try to stick around and see what it’s all about.
As long and detailed as this summary is, I know there are many events and people I’ve left out. Some of that’s because in the press of time I’ve forgotten names of the multitude I met (sorry!) and some of that’s because I remember seeing or speaking with folks (Cat Rambo, Paul Genesse, Martha Wells, Gordon Van Gelder, John Oliver), but I no longer remember on which day it happened.
Howard Andrew Jones is the author of the historical fantasy novels The Desert of Souls, and the forthcoming The Bones of the Old Ones, as well as the related short story collection The Waters of Eternity, and the Paizo Pathfinder novel Plague of Shadows. You can keep up with him at his website, www.howardandrewjones.com, and keep up with him on Twitter or follow his occasional meanderings on Facebook.