The Saga of a Decision

So as I mentioned at the end of the last blog post, I’ve quit my job. Well, technically, I haven’t quit yet. I’ve given my notice, though, and Friday, October 15th will be my last day of working in North Carolina. On October 18th, I’ll pack up what fits into my Hyundai Elantra and drive west– basically, until I can’t drive west anymore. Destination? The Emerald City. Seattle. Land of rain, coffee, Puget Sound, Mt. Rainier, and the Science Fiction Hall of Fame… among plenty of other things.

It’s a decision that’s been a long time coming. As far back as March, I was hinting about it— though what finally arose from months of agonizing looks a lot different than my original plan. Originally, I had planned to sell my house in the Spring and move to Europe in the summer. That July trip I took to Europe? It was supposed to be a one-way trip.

But things happened– for example, the housing market. I bought my house in 2007, right as the market was peaking. Back then the conventional wisdom was “Of course you should buy a house! It’d be stupid not to! You’re just throwing money away if you don’t!”

There’s an expensive lesson in there about listening to conventional wisdom.

Long story short, the house didn’t sell. I decided to rent it out, although things didn’t come through until less than two weeks before I was due to leave for Europe. I decided to go anyway (after all, I wanted to go to the Rock Harz Festival), then come back and sort things out before leaving for good.

But other things happened, too. I came to the realization that I really, really wanted to be a writer. Enough to consider it a life goal and not just a hobby. Writing is, to put it simply, what I want to do when I grow up. And that doesn’t mean it’s going to be easy, or accomplished in a short span of time… but just because a goal is difficult doesn’t mean it’s not worth having.

In the meantime, being in Europe for two weeks quenched my travel-around-Europe bug a little bit. I was lonely traveling by myself, and wasn’t really anxious to do it again. I was more interested in moving to continental Europe than the UK… but in that case there would be a language barrier to surmount, on top of and amidst the general chaos of moving and settling down somewhere. And while I’m not opposed to learning a new language by any stretch, moving to a foreign country just wasn’t a leap I wanted to take when I could be writing instead. Admittedly, moving could also help my writing, especially in the long term… but enough had changed that I was no longer so enthusiastic about moving across the Atlantic.

Seattle, however, began tickling at my mind. It’s much more urban than Raleigh (an aspect that had also drawn me to Europe), but for the outdoor enthusiast in me, there’s also Puget Sound, the Pacific Ocean, and the Cascades right there. It’s a large, left coast city, with lots of culture (the Pacific Northwest is particularly packed with writers), it’s a tech hub (for the tech geek in me), consistently ranks high on the singles scene (one site suggested 30% of its residents are single), and plenty of coffee shops for me to get my write on. And moving there gives me the opportunity to do something else I’ve wanted to do for years: EPIC ROAD TRIP!

Yep, I’ve written about trips to Australia and Europe… might as well do one through America. I’ll be swinging north through Cincinnati, Indianapolis, Chicago, Milwaukee, Minneapolis, then heading west, through Mount Rushmore, Yellowstone, Montana, and whatever destinations I find along the way.

So there you have it… the saga of my decision. I’ve lived in the Raleigh area for sixteen years now; as much as I love it here, it’s been all too easy to get stuck in a rut. It’s time to throw caution to the wind. It’s time to have an adventure.

Dragon*Con Part 4: An Affirmation of Insanity

When I woke up on Monday (hangover-free, although certainly not fatigue-free), my “costume” was still mostly intact, so after re-attaching the ear I slept on, I headed out to Monday panels. I wanted to squeeze what remaining drops of Dragon*Con essence I could out of the day before embarking on the 6-hour drive back to Raleigh.

Over a week later, as I type this up, I’m still surfing the Dragon*Con high, although it’s mostly faded into a bit of post-con depression. Real life is just so boring when you aren’t constantly walking past Star Trek characters, remote-controlled R2D2s, and beautiful women in chainmail and/or bodypaint. Here, the most pressing issues of the day have nothing to do with whether the eleventh Doctor is adequately stepping into David Tennant’s shoes, or what’s coming down the pipeline at Tor Books, or having to pick between the Adam Savage Panel and the Jim Butcher signing. Instead, if you follow the “real world” news, the biggest stories are either depressing (Afghanistan: Still a Moneysink Run By Corrupt Warlords!), pointless (See Pics of Kim Kardashian Going Shopping!), or just plain idiotic (More Inanity Spewed From Sarah Palin’s Pie-hole!).

Go on… tell me Dragon*Con isn’t an improvement.

Back in reality, the thousand pressing details of day to day life take a dreary precedence over the images and stories that conjure brilliant, fiery passion in the minds and imaginations of countless people. And in my opinion, the world is a duller place for it.

For me, Dragon*Con was an affirmation and a release. It was a release because when confronted with situations that make my inner introvert quiver– like a party, or a group of professional writers going to dinner– I didn’t retreat into the corner. I stepped up and joined in. I made friends. And I had a hell of a lot of fun.

It was an affirmation because for four days, I was surrounded by fantasy and science fiction fans, by writers, by geeks of all shapes and stripes. Here, if you say “I want to write fantasy novels!” people will cheer you on and encourage you. In reality, people will often look at you as if to say, “Don’t most people get past that stage by the time they’re out of high school?” For someone like me, not always comfortable with the oddities of his own personality, it was affirming to be around thousands of people with similar oddities, indeed, celebrating them.

And in a broader sense, it’s not just being geeks that unites us. I think it’s something even bigger. The people who attend Dragon*Con are people who, by and large, live their lives, set their values, and define their happiness according to their own rules, not the rules that society tries to impose. Whether that means spending hundreds of hours on elaborate costumes, or writing novels and stories for years simply because you love to, or even skeptically thinking about the religion you grew up with– it all comes down to thinking your own way, finding happiness in unusual places, and living life the way you want. I think in one sense it’s a side effect of being a geek, but it’s also deeper than that. It’s an all-too-rare combination of independent thought and passion, but at Dragon*Con for four days I was completely surrounded by it. It was incredibly energizing, and affirming, and I miss it already.

So there you have it. This whole Dragon*Con series of posts has been a little more personal in nature than might ordinarily belong on what is supposed to be a writing blog, but to the extend that my journey as a writer mirrors my journey as a person, then they belong just fine. And the trend’s probably going to keep up, because a lot of plans that have been in the works for a long time are finally coming to fruition. (Stay tuned for a blog entry about why I quit my job.)

But regardless of where I end up in a year, if I can make it back to con, I’ll be happy.


Dragon*Con Part 3: No Sleep ’til Labor Day

When I met Dan Wells at Mary Robinette Kowal’s reading, I was carrying a hardcover copy of Warbreaker by Brandon Sanderson. I had planned to get it autographed earlier in the day, but missed the signing, so the title page was still sadly devoid of a signature. When Dan saw it, he immediately asked if he could sign it instead, which led to an amusing reaction from Brandon when I caught up with him (with Dan’s help) later Friday evening. (And yes, the squiggly line at the bottom is Brandon’s signature. He’s definitely mastered the art of the speedy autograph.)

By then it was about midnight, and the Dragon*Con party was in full swing. I was still feeling a bit like an outsider, though. The only people I knew well were off doing their own thing, and weren’t really into the party scene anyway. So I walked around for a bit, taking pictures of the cool costumes and mainly just people watching. I thought about joining in on the drinking, but the crowd around the Marriott bar was rather large and intimidating at that point, so feeling a bit discouraged and more than a bit tired, I called it an early night.

When Saturday evening rolled around, I kicked it off by going to a late-night panel on writing sexy science fiction. Dragon*Con panels tend to get more interesting around 10 pm, but this one continued a trend of somewhat-disappointing writing panels at the con. The trend had been started on Friday when a somewhat-interesting panel on Let’s Build a Story in an Hour! turned into Let’s Build a Story out of Tired Crime Drama Cliches! Now, in the author’s defense, he was trying to construct a serious story by taking audience suggestions… but the audience was really only useful for silly suggestions, as is wont to happen during that sort of thing. Trying to build a serious murder mystery when the starting concept is a bagel is not easy.

Anyway, for some reason– call me crazy, but I suspect it was because the panelists were mostly female– the Writing Sexy Science Fiction panel turned into a discussion on why men don’t share their feelings these days. (To which I reply: duh, that’s what blogs are for!) So, somewhat disappointed at not having learned how to better write steamy sci-fi sex scenes– I suppose I’ll have to rely on reading Heinlein novels for that– I skipped out early. And with my trusty camera at the ready, I headed out into the general chaos of Saturday night Dragon*Con.

A quick lesson in Dragon*Con geography, for those who have not personally experienced it: the convention spans five large host hotels in downtown Atlanta. The Sheraton and the Westin are a little bit out of the way, but the other three, the Hilton, Marriott, and the Hyatt, are all in a line and connected by sky bridges. This is where the big party happens: it’s essentially a mix-and-mingle party that spans three city blocks and numerous bars scattered across the hotels. From what I’ve seen, the Hyatt is where the heaviest drinking happens (not that it doesn’t happen elsewhere, it’s just heavier at the Hyatt), while the Marriott, with its wide open lobby spanning three spacious floors, is the best place to show off and admire costumes. The Hilton’s main attraction is a karaoke bar, for those who are into that sort of thing… and it’s a little less crowded, for those looking to escape the claustrophobia-inducing conditions at the Hyatt and Marriott. There are also a myriad of concerts and themed parties in the hotel ballrooms that stretch until the wee hours of the morning, and plenty of lesser-known, more exclusive parties for those with the right connections (i.e. connections better than mine).

I made my way through the crowds, stopping frequently to take pictures, and having a few drinks of my own. By 2 am I was feeling pretty good, so I moseyed back on over to the Hilton and listened to karaoke for a bit. The crowd was really friendly to the singers, even to the ones that couldn’t carry a tune with both hands and a bucket, so with alcohol-fueled courage I weaved my way up to the front to sign up for a song. But, alas, foiled! Karaoke was so popular they had cut off sign-ups. I stayed to listened for a bit over one last rum and coke, and called it a night about 3 am.

Sunday evening: the last night at Dragon*Con. I still felt like I hadn’t really experienced the party. Sure, I had had some drinks and taken some pictures, but not really talked to anyone or done anything. And this was the last night of the con! Clearly, something needed to change.

I decided what I needed was something to help me feel more at home with the crowd: I needed a costume. But I didn’t want something flashy or flamboyant; I just wanted something subtle, a little reminder that I wasn’t just out to take pictures.

But what to do? I’ve avoided costuming at cons so far, not because it doesn’t appeal to me, but mainly because I haven’t had anyone to do with. Well, I thought, to heck with that… I’m going to do it anyway. But when it comes to cosplay, simply dressing up in unusual clothing doesn’t interest me so much as the idea of transforming, of becoming someone or something else. (Insert psychology thesis here about how this relates to my various neuroses.)

I passed a little booth that was selling latex prosthetics, and an idea hit me: devil horns! Not the fabric ones that clip onto your hair; actual latex horns glued on with spirit gum. It would be subtle, but not too subtle. And as those were being painted to match my skin, I mulled the collection of pointed ears and, well, what’s a demon-fae-creature-thing without pointed ears? So sporting horns and pointed ears, and feeling just “different” enough to blend in with the crowd, I made my last stop: a facepainting booth, where I let Natalie of Doozers Workshop have her way with my face. End result:

I actually think the horns blended better with my face than it looks, but they also reflected the flash better. Here’s another pic of me and Brandon Sanderson, when I ran across him in the Dealer’s Room signing books:

I wasn’t feeling the need for a wardrobe change; pretty much the only concession I made to my “devil-ized” face was to put on a red t-shirt. And to be honest, I sort of liked the mix of strange face and street clothing. It wasn’t exactly going all out, but I had done what I wanted: join, in both mind and appearance, the ranks of the weird.

I still didn’t know anybody out party-surfing, but dammit, I was going to party anyway. That night I made my way up to the bar, hung out and downed drinks with the best of them. I tried for karaoke, but once again did not get there early enough to sign up… geeks and karaoke are apparently a potent combo. Oh, I still took pictures (who couldn’t!), but for the first time, I felt like I was part of the crowd, not just observing it from the other side of a camera lens. I even talked with a few people, although I never really found anyone to hang out with for long. This was probably why I made my way to the Hyatt around 2 am to attend a Cruxshadows concert. (Cruxshadows is a gothic rock band with a big presence at Dragon*Con and some rather sexy dancers.) The interesting thing about this is that I don’t actually remember attending the concert, but I must have, because I found pictures of it on my camera:

It was a good party.

Afterward I do remember throwing up outside the Hyatt and falling asleep in a corner of the hotel patio, then getting woken up a short while later by a trio of concerned-looking EMTs. Man, I remember thinking as they helped me to my feet… that’s gotta be a sucky job. Wandering around Dragon*Con at 3:30 am, checking passed-out drunks for signs of life?

Puking up most of the alcohol had apparently saved me, as I was able to walk with only a minor wobble, and eventually they let me go and I made my way back to the Hilton. Karaoke had long since ended, so I hung out for a while and chatted with some equally-out-of-it members of the Dragon*Con skeptics track. Like everybody else at con, they were awesome. It wasn’t until the clock was getting on toward 5 am that I gave into reality and made my way up to the room.

Yup. Definitely a good party.

Part 4 here.

Dragon*Con Part 2: Networking for Nerds

In my previous post, I mentioned the two sides of Dragon*Con: on the one hand, there’s the uber-science fiction convention with a dealer’s room, hundreds of panels and discussions, art galleries, and all sorts of other craziness.  On the other hand, there’s the party.  Nerdy Gras, as it has become known.  But what they have in common is this: getting together and having a good time surrounded by your fellow geeks.  For four glorious days in Atlanta, weirdness is the norm.

And of course, there’s all sorts of weirdness.  Really, the only unifying theme is that all of it falls under the banner of what mainstream society might consider “geek”.  There’s sci-fi and fantasy geeks, gaming geeks, roleplay geeks, cosplay geeks, writing geeks, science geeks, computer geeks… you  get my point.  If you’re a geek and you’re at Dragon*Con, you are surrounded by your people.

As for me, I was hoping to get a chance to network with the writing crowd, much like I was able to do at NASFIC.  The chance to hobnob with successful writers, to hang out among people who embarked on this crazy dream and are actually doing it, is great.  Of course, Dragon*Con is a much different beast than NASFIC– larger, much more chaotic, and in general less conducive to actually meeting the panelists and guests.  Nevertheless, several authors and editors from NASFIC were coming to Dragon*Con, including Matt Rotundo, Gray Rinehart, and Mary Robinette Kowal.  Also coming: one of my favorite authors of all time, Brandon Sanderson. His books are great, but the main reason I’m such a big fan is a podcast called Writing Excuses, which he co-hosts with Dan Wells and Howard Tayler, and which I’ve raved about before.

I got to indulge my writing jones for the first time on Friday afternoon, when Brandon gave a reading from his new novel, Way of Kings… and then from his children’s series Alcatraz, and finally from a book called Scribbler that he’s working on for next year.  I mostly sat there in awe.  The man has released three large fantasy novels this year, and has plenty coming down the pipeline.  He is a MACHINE, and his writing is getting progressively better.  This is even more impressive because his work was dang good to start with.

A short while later, I attended Mary Robinette Kowal’s reading of her novel Shades of Milk and Honey.  Matt Rotundo and Gray Rinehart were there, so already it felt like a NASFIC reunion. After the reading ended, Mary was immediately caught up in various conversations, but I hung out, waiting for a chance to say hi. Around that time, I looked toward the back of the room and saw a man sitting by himself who looked vaguely familiar. I did a double-take, peered at his badge, and realized it was Dan Wells, co-host of previously-mentioned podcast Writing Excuses and phenomenal horror writer!

Feeling only a brief twinge of anxiety, I walked up and introduced myself, and proceeded to chat with him about Writing Excuses, his upcoming book (Mr. Monster, due out September 28th!), and even had the chance to ask him some questions about living as a writer. After a few minutes, the crowd had thinned enough that the only people still left in the room were Mary, Matt, and a few other professional writers who were all friends of Mary’s. Dan went up and join them, and I did so as well, even though, much like at NASFIC, I was feeling far too professionally unqualified to be standing there.

It was about 6:30 in the evening at that point, so talk turned to dinner. The introvert in me (which, let’s be honest, is the vast part of the brain) was screaming that it was time to head for the hills. In fact, almost every fiber of my being was twinging that I needed to leave, that it was awkward for me to be here, that this wasn’t my place.

But for possibly only the second time in my life (the first time being at NASFIC), I fought that urge. I didn’t blush and bow out. I stood my ground as introductions were made, and then as the group filtered out the door, I asked Matt, “mind if I tag along?”

He didn’t, of course. Every professional writer I’ve met has been extremely down-to-earth and friendly. Which was, how a short while later, I found myself having dinner at a table with Dan, Matt, and his wife. Mary was also in the group, as were Leanna Renee Hieber and Alethea Kontis, although thanks to the over-crowded restaurant they had to sit at a separate table. Later, after Leanna and Alethea had to leave, Mary joined us at our table for dessert, and so I sat between Dan, Mary, and Matt over a shared slice of cake, chatting about the con and quizzing them about what it’s like living out West (Dan lives in Utah, Mary lives in Portland, Matt lives in Omaha). Not only did I get a lot of useful information and make some new friends, I also– and I can’t really over-emphasize how important this is from a personal perspective– didn’t give into my introvert’s natural urge to flee at the first opportunity. I’m slowly coming to the realization that networking and talking with fellow writers and fellow geeks is really, really fun and I want to do it more. The long-delayed budding of a seed of extroversion? I suspect it has a long way to go. But it’s a start.

Part 3 here.

Also, I’ve finished uploading my Dragon*Con pictures. The full collection can be found here.

Dragon*Con Part 1: Geeks Unleashed

For those who aren’t familiar, Dragon*Con is a a convention in Atlanta that gets attended by, depending on who you ask, between 40,000 and 60,000 people. At its roots it’s a science fiction and fantasy convention, but it’s grown to be much more than that. Dragon*Con is, to put it simply, where geeks go to party.

On one level it’s a massive sci-fi/fantasy convention. There are dealer’s rooms, art galleries, and booths where comic book artists display and hawk their wares. There are fascinating panels and discussions on everything that could even be considered remotely “geeky”: science fiction, fantasy, computers, NASA and space travel, fantasy and comic book art, writing, even rational thought and skepticism. People in these businesses come to meet their peers and network. Famous people come to give talks, answer questions, and sign autographs. And everyone comes to meet friends, hang out with a bunch of like-minded people, and party.

Because this is the second level of Dragon*Con: Nerdy Gras. Four solid days of geeks both shattering and confirming the stereotypes, proving that you can party with the best even while you’re dressed like Spock. Here, thousands of people who normal society would call weird get together and celebrate, nay, revel in their weirdness. The music blares, the drinks flow, and the people are awesome.

Last year I went to Dragon*Con, and I had fun, but really, I was just an observer. I didn’t arrive until Friday evening, so I missed an entire day. I stayed by myself at an offsite hotel. I didn’t dress up. Sure, I went to panels, and bought cool swag, and had enough fun that I wanted to come back, but it simply didn’t compare to this year. This year, I drank fully and deeply from the cup that is Dragon*Con. And I’m not just talking about the beer.

This year I stayed on-site, which just by itself made a huge amount of difference. Not only did it mean I could party into the wee hours and then walk back to the hotel room, it also meant I was interacting with more people. By staying on-site and having roommates, I was much more connected with the con community, which in my opinion, is really what makes Dragon*Con fun. Even though I didn’t hang out with my roomies that much (we were all busy doing our own thing), simply having that connection was nice. And it did provide interesting moments, like when I got rope burn from helping a girl do up her corset for a party. Or when I got into the room on Friday evening, only to find Zombie Marie Antoinette setting down her cake and taking off her wig.

I was sharing a room at the Hilton with seven other people, which sounds like a lot… heck, it is a lot. But it fits right in with the crowded chaos of the con. (Hey, if I’m going to embrace it, might as well embrace it wholeheartedly, right?) Luckily, we kept different enough schedules that the room never felt too cramped, and it was usually even possible to get a shower when I wanted. Doesn’t mean I’ll be looking for seven roommates next year… but all in all, it wasn’t bad. And at least as far as embracing the chaos, it laid the foundation for the rest of the con.

Part 2 here.

Also, I’m still uploading and organizing photos, but the set can be found on Flickr here. It will grow considerably over the next few days.