A couple of weeks ago, I mentioned that I was going to the Salt Lake City Comic Con. What sent me flying westward over hill and dale right around the time my epic adventure/horror novel Souldancer was winning at the first ever Dragon Awards on the other side of the country?
Partly SLCCC's rep as a big, fun con; but mostly other circumstances, to wit:
- Wanting to personally thank Larry Correia for BOOK BOMB!-ing my first book Nethereal
- SLCCC being the most cost-effective to get to of the cons Larry would be attending
- Not knowing that my book was nominated for a Dragon Award until the ballots were released a week after I'd already booked the Salt Lake City trip.
Undaunted, I deputized Declan Finn to receive the award on my behalf and set off into the West with my cousin Ben.
Foraging in Salt Lake City
Our travel schedule put us in SLC one day before the con was scheduled to start. Ben and I spent the first day gathering the supplies we'd need to get us through a long weekend in unfamiliar territory.
The essential and mission critical equipment we procured on site included:
- 5 days' worth of foodstuffs so we wouldn't have to eat out for every meal
- A Styrofoam cooler to preserve the perishable food items
- A coffee maker. Our hotel room already had one, but it was way too small to cook in (see below).
- A 1 liter bottle of Coke Zero that appropriately resembled an artillery shell in size--for Larry
As the veteran of many anime cons, I'm an old hand at living out of hotel rooms efficiently, on the cheap, and without developing Scurvy. Dear congoers: I shall now teach you secrets. They will give you power.
Your best friend is a four cup coffee maker, and not just for coffee. In fact, I advise against making coffee in it. Use the one that the hotel provides for that, and go pick up a cheap model at Wal-Mart. We got ours for like nine bucks.
With a decent capacity coffee maker in hand, you can now boil water, which means you can prepare any dish from ramen to hot dogs to instant stuffing in the comfort of your room. Don't be afraid to get creative. Ben likes to use chicken broth in his ramen, and I started running that tasty liquid gold straight through the machine.
Your second best friend is a mini-fridge. Some hotel rooms don't have them. Call the front desk and ask if they can bring one up to your room. If they drag their feet about it, tell them you're diabetic and need the fridge to store your insulin. That tends to light a fire under them.
If the hotel doesn't have mini-fridges, or they tack on an extra charge for one, go buy a Styrofoam cooler for a couple of bucks at the same Wal-Mart where you got the
coffee ramen maker. What you're gonna do next is fill up two plastic shopping bags with ice from the hotel's ice machine. Then you'll stock the cooler by placing one ice bag in first and spreading a hand towel on top of it. You'll lay any foodstuffs that need to be kept cool on top of that. Top it off by placing the second ice bag on top of the food and laying another towel on top. Bam! You've got a storage solution that will keep your milk, butter, lunch meat, etc. at a nice safe 40 degrees F or below for days. Do it right, and you'll only need to refill the ice once over a whole weekend.
Pro tip: keep the cooler in the bathtub (except, of course, when you're showering). They sometimes have nearly invisible pinhole leaks, and the last thing you want is getting out of bed and stepping onto an ice cold, waterlogged carpet.
That should get you started. Follow these tips, and you'll save a small fortune by cutting down on greasy fast food and overpriced restaurants. If you can't take the coffee maker home with you, consider donating it to a local thrift shop.
Hanging out in Salt Lake City
With our base camp fully stocked, Ben and I hit the town to scout our new surroundings. SLC has a pretty cool indoor/outdoor mall that reminded me of an airship station from a PS2-era Final Fantasy installment. Bonus points for making the information kiosk an awesome desk/waterfall combo.
The coolest find on our first night in SLC was Brewvies, an awesome cinema pub where you can watch a movie while not only enjoying a glass of beer, but a full meal, too.
We learned that Brewvies is having some legal problems brought on by a couple of staties who thought that going undercover to a screening of Deadpool and ordering booze made them Eliot Ness. What valiant public servants. If the Untouchables were around today, I'm sure their top priority would be guarding moviegoers from strange thoughts elicited by getting buzzed while looking at Ryan Reynolds' ass.
You can help Brewvies fight state censorship here:
Despite the iron fist of John Law hanging over our heads, we had a phenomenally pleasant evening watching The Mechanic: Resurrection. This movie is badass. It's like watching Jason Statham reenact a Hitman game from back when Hitman was good.
Arriving at the con
The next morning we hoofed it over to the Salt Palace to begin our SLCCC experience. Unfortunately, we misread the program and didn't realize that the doors opened at 10 AM for gold VIP members only. The rest of us plebs would have to wait in line for two more hours.
Thankfully, a con staffer saved our morning by informing us that we could still get in to see Mark Hamill at the arena where the Utah Jazz play. Score!
Ben and I walked a couple more blocks to the arena, where Mark Hamill was doing a sort of one man show/Q&A type deal, theater in the round style, at center court. The place was full of screaming Joker cosplayers waving lightsabers. That sort of thing. It was great.
My opinion of TFA is no secret, but I've always liked Mark Hamill--for his classic portrayal of the Joker on Batman: The Animated Series if nothing else. (Hate to differ with you, Mark, but your version of the Joker is in fact definitive.)
Starting from that foundation of basic fannish appreciation, my esteem for Mr. Hamill built to towering respect as he repeatedly expressed his clearly heartfelt appreciation for the fans who'd got him there. The gist of his talk was, "Ever since I found out that there's a guy who does Donald Duck's voice for a living, I've known my purpose in life. Thank you for letting me fulfill my vocation of entertaining you."
|Photo: Salt Lake Tribune|
Mark Hamill highlights:
- Really down to earth (married to the same woman, his first wife, for almost 40 years).
- Admitted that Harrison Ford is so rich that he stopped caring decades ago.
- Spontaneously delivered Heath Ledger's "Why so serious?" line in his patented BMTAS Joker voice.
- Told George Lucas and J.J. Abrams that Luke Skywalker shouldn't have been in Episode VII.
- Watching the R-rated animated version of The Killing Joke clearly creeped him out.
- Didn't want to leave when the clock ran out. Stalled to buy a few more minutes.
The Warpig and the International Lord of Hate
After Mark's handlers basically dragged him off the stage, Ben and I headed down to the Red Iguana gourmet Mexican restaurant. There we had the pleasure of meeting up with my esteemed Geek Gab cohost, the Alpha Geek himself, Daddy Warpig!
Having concluded our fantastic lunch and a rousing discussion of DW's forthcoming OMEGA role-playing game system, Ben and I bid the Warpig a fond farewell and returned to the convention center for my long anticipated audience with International Lord of Hate Larry Correia.
Larry had invited me to meet him at Kevin J. Anderson's Wordfire booth, so I shouldered my way through heavy dealer room traffic in search of the meetup spot. Here's a tip for anyone who wants to find Larry in a big crowd: look up.
Seriously, it's worked at Gen Con and now SLCCC. It's like: "Where's Larry?" *Cranes neck. Sees warm beige mountain peak in the distance.* "Oh, there he is over by the Warmachine dioramas."
I got to the Wordfire booth just as Larry was breaking for lunch. Since there was no way he'd hear me over the crowd, I held up the signed copy of Souldancer I'd brought for him. That got his attention, and he came around and took me to lunch, which was my second that day for those of you who are keeping track.
Walking across a busy convention floor with Larry is quite an experience. Every ten feet or so, a fan would stop him to shake hands, or he'd spot someone he knows and pause for a quick, friendly conversation. TL;DR the guy is super popular, which is why his predictions that Jim Butcher would win the Dragon Award instead of him didn't jibe with me. For the record, I'm pretty good at picking Dragon Award winners.
Larry chose a Cambodian food stand for lunch and bought me a lemonade (which qualified his entree and side for a combo discount--accounting skills FTW!). We talked a bit more about the Dragons, including how one of the Dragon Con admins encouraged him to blog about the awards, and never mind the Puppy-kickers.
The genuine appreciation Larry showed for the signed copy of my book made the whole trip worthwhile. Then, when I handed him the liter of Coke Zero that had been bouncing along next to me in the desert sun for hours, he stowed it behind the booth and said he'd wait till the next day to open it. I thought that was a good call.
Shout out to Wordfire booth authors Steve Diamond, Jason A. Anderson, Steve Rzasa, Julie Frost, Michael Brent Collings, Christie Golden, Eric James Stone, and of course, Puppy-in-Chief (retired) Brad R. Torgersen. It's awesome to be working in a field where you guys are my coworkers.
The Larry Show
The next day we reconvened for the How to Write Action panel, a.k.a. The Larry Show.
For any poor, deprived mendicants who haven't had the pleasure of attending one, the format of Larry's action panels is a one-man show where instead of sitting at a table up on stage, he stands in front of the audience, mic in hand, and regales us with the finer points of writing action scenes.
My impression: Larry's dramatization of using the Time Turner to go back and assassinate Tom Riddle convinced me that he is a physical comedy virtuoso who needs his own TV show.
I was totally digging the panel, and taking copious mental notes, when Larry suddenly gestured at me and said, "You did something like that in your book."
Full disclosure: I'd been halfway spacing out trying to come up with synonyms for "explosion", which I agree there aren't nearly enough of.
So I had a deer in headlights moment of "Oh crap, what was he just talking about!?" My knee-jerk response was to say, "Yes, just like in my book," while frantically trying to remember the topic. Luckily, Larry had been discussing the Holtzman effect in Dune, and that novel is seared so deep into my brain that I basically jumped to the right answer by default.
"They have personal shields in Nethereal," I added, not sounding like a total spaz.
Then the Mountain that Writes did me his biggest favor since the BOOK BOMB! Motioning for me to stand up, he announced, "Hey, everybody. This is author Brian Niemeier. He's up for a Dragon Award, too."
Still in shock, I mechanically stood up and turned to wave at the packed room behind me. "Hey, folks," I think I said. Many of them actually applauded. I sat back down after my first round of applause as an author at a major con, not really knowing what to make of it, but deeply grateful to Larry and all of the fans.
On Saturday night I attended a panel on characterization with a full roster of authors featuring Larry, Dave Farland, and Laurell K. Hamilton. For my money, the best part was how the moderator called on female audience members by calling them "sweetheart", "cutie", "darling", etc. All the while, the vocally feminist author on the panel had this sour look on her face that kept getting more pronounced, as if she took another bite out of a lemon each time the guy called on a girl.
The perfect end to a perfect evening.
Since I was flying home the next day, I thanked Larry again after the panel and said goodbye. He said it was great to meet me, which was awesome to hear. I also scored a hug, which was epic!
Yet my greatest triumph still lay ahead.
The next afternoon, Ben and I were nearing the home stretch of the three hour drive back from the airport when my phone rang.
At first I thought it was my family calling to make sure that my flight had gotten in OK, since I'd forgotten to call them that morning. I fished the phone out of the cup holder next to me and learned to my surprise that I was instead receiving a call from Supreme Dark Lord of the Evil Legion of Evil, Vox Day.
"I called to congratulate you," the Dark Lord said.
Now bear in mind, the con and two flights across time zones had pretty much destroyed my concept of time. Having forgotten what day it was, I replied:
"Why? What's going on?"
*Incredulous pause on the other end of the line*
"Here, let me just read this to you," said Vox. Another brief pause, and he quoted, "Winner of the Dragon Award for Best Horror Novel: Souldancer by Brian Niemeier."
Ben is probably better equipped to describe my reaction, because I was immediately caught up in the moment, reveling in the exquisite revenge that my fans had wrought on the CHORFs. I'm pretty sure I thanked Vox and Jesus before the SDL urged me to drive safe and hung up.
That was about it until this showed up, courtesy of Declan Finn:
I had a pretty good con weekend. So did my readers. How was yours?
The instruments of my readers' vengeance, available here: