Stormie-con was held over the weekend of March 14-16, 2003 at the Ramada Inn Airport in St. Louis, MO. This is a new con that just started this year and sort of replaces Name-That-Con, the old springtime convention. In fact, NTC used this hotel in 1999, when it was a Holiday Inn. Unfortunately, the change of franchise did nothing to improve a number of serious problems that we'd experienced that year.
We started early on Friday, after staying the night in a smaller hotel nearby. When we got there, we couldn't find anybody from the convention to tell us what was going on. But since we'd used the place before, we knew roughly how to get in and where we needed to go to find the dealers' room.
Here's where the fun began. Because of the lousy way the hotel was built, most of the function space is on a floor halfway between the second and third floor. In order to get to it, you have to climb stairs. This is a major problem for my husband, who has arthritis in his knees and had recently injured a hip in a fall at another convention. There is a wheelchair lift from the second floor to this intermediate floor, but when we went to it, it wasn't operating. We finally discovered that it had been turned off, and we had to get after the hotel to get it turned on.
When we got into the dealers' room, it was completely dark. However, it had been set up, and once we found a light switch and got the place illuminated, we were able to locate our tables. That was when we discovered that we had gotten only two tables, instead of the three we thought we'd ordered. We also discovered that the light bulb directly over our table had burned out.
Then we found that the door to the loading dock was open, so we went through the kitchen area to the freight elevator we were to use to get our merchandise into the dealers' room. The kitchen was just as nasty-looking as it had been in 1999, with food and spills all over the place and a lingering icky odor. The area just outside the door was a total disaster area, with nasty messy trash cans all over the place. I was sure glad I wasn't going to be eating from that restaurant any time over the weekend, and I advised other people to avoid it if at all possible.
Since we'd located our tables and knew how to run the freight elevator, we went ahead and started carrying some of the lighter stuff in. But after a few loads, my husband was really getting sore and miserable. Luckily, Stormie and her family finally showed up then, and we were able to recruit some strong young men to help us carry the rest in, particularly the really heavy loads of books. Even with a cart, it still takes a lot of work to pull it in.
We also got the table issue straightened out. Apparently the hotel had given them a mixture of 6-foot and 8-foot tables, and they gave us two 8-foot tables instead of the three 6-foot tables that we were supposed to have had. We pointed out that two 8-foot tables comes out to two feet less than three 6-foot tables. So Stormie gave us two extra feet on the next table over, which her son was using for his business and was getting free. She also let the hotel know about the dead light.
Once we got everything loaded in, we started setting up. This meant a lot of work, and we had boxes all over the place, including on some tables belonging to other dealers who hadn't arrived. By the time we were fairly well set up, some of the other dealers began filtering in. However, most of them didn't have nearly as much stuff as us, and didn't need as much time to load in or set up.
Once we were set up, I went down to the art show to put my art on. However, they didn't have paperwork ready to fill out, so I just set up my art and headed back up to the dealers' room. By that time we were able to get checked into our sleeping room, so we went out to the van and brought in our personal belongings.
By that time, the dealers' room was about ready to open, so we headed back there to do business. However, we had almost no customers. A few people were looking around, but for the most part I sat around and made notes for the novel I'm trying to finish. I also had time to go back to the art show and get my paperwork finished.
We also called in a pizza so we could have some supper, since I had multiple activities that evening. My first one was right when the dealers' room was closing, so my husband had to close our tables by himself.
At 6PM I had my first panel, "B Movies: What Were They Thinking" with M. R. Sellars and Mark Racop. We talked about our favorite B movies, and about the difference between those which were intentionally made as B movies, often as satires of various movie cliches, and those that were made seriously but failed for various reasons. We also talked about how all science fiction and fantasy movies start with one strike against them in the eyes of the critics and award committees.
After that we went to Opening Ceremonies. Since I was one of their relatively few programming participants, I got asked to come up front to be introduced. The toastmistress is the granddaughter of Wilson "Bob" Tucker, and one of the neat things she did was made him a phone-in guest of the con (due to his health, he is no longer able to attend in person). She called him up on her cell phone, then passed it around so we could each say hello to him.
After opening ceremonies, we went down to the VIP suite, to which I was admitted because I was a programming participant and an exhibiting artist, and got some of their food. However, getting to the VIP suite was not easy because someone had turned off the wheelchair lift again. We had to holler again to get it running. Then we went up to the hospitality suite (the general con suite) on the third floor, but all they had was drinks and chips. They serve beer, but they'd probably be better off to get rid of the booze and concentrate on getting some real food instead. They were also incredibly anal retentive about the drinks, and wouldn't even let us carry our cans of pop out. Instead, they had to pour it out into a cup for us.
After that, we headed down to the art show for the wine and cheese reception. Because there are two steps at the one and only entrance to the art show, my husband had to sit on them and pull himself up. He was not at all pleased at the difficulty of getting in there. Once we got in, the art show was really cool, with almost all the material being of very high quality, even if there wasn't very much of it.
Once we left the artists' reception, we decided to turn in for the night. There didn't appear to be any parties, and we really needed to catch back up on our sleep.
Saturday began bright and early as we headed down to the VIP suite to see about some breakfast. They had been frying bacon and making pancakes on portable electric grills, but they'd just blown a fuse and lost power to half the VIP suite. It was really weird to walk in there and have half the room in darkness and the other half lit. They were moving the grills outside, but when they went to unreel the extension cord some more, they discovered that the orange outer layer of insulation had literally melted from the heat of having that much cord all coiled up together. This was very likely the reason for the power loss.
After a little work we finally were able to get some pancakes and bacon for breakfast. Then we headed down to the dealers' room, but it wasn't open yet and nobody knew when it would be open. Also, the wheelchair lift was out of commission, which meant that my poor long-suffering husband had to go through the back and use the freight elevator to get up to the intermediate level.
Once we finally got the dealers' room open, we uncovered our tables and settled in for sales. However, we continued to get sporadic and unspectacular sales, mostly little stuff here and there. And the hotel hadn't replaced the light bulb that was out.
At 11 I had my second panel, "Authors Among Us" with M. R. Sellars and Cullen Bunn. We talked aboout how everybody who is literate is an author in one sense, by leaving a writen record of our lives and activities -- letters, diaries, etc. I talked about how many of these unpublished records are important primary sources for the historian's work, and how non-fiction has often been a much larger proportion of my professional income than fiction.
From there we talked about what it means to become a published author of fiction, and the risks it entails. M. R. Sellars points out that no matter what you write, there is going to be someone who does not like it and who will go out of their way to make sure you know they hate it. He told about some hate mail that he's gotten, including some that has gotten pretty frightening. I also pointed out that it can be just as frightening to get fan mail from someone who is liking something you wrote for all the wrong reasons, to the point it seems that they are reading something completely different from what you've written. I also pointed out that it can be even more upsetting to get absolutely no response at all -- for instance, to have your story in a magazine or anthology completely ignored when the other stories are commented on favorably or unfavorably.
We also talked about how publishing one's writing involves the risk of embarassment because to write honestly, one must necessarily bare one's soul, even if only in coded form. This lead to a discussion about how we draw upon ourselves and people we know in creating the characters in our books. One simply cannot draw believable characters out of a vacuum -- they may be composites of traits from many different people, but they have a source.
My next panel was at noon, "Lord of the Rings from Page to Film -- What did they do right or wrong?" with Thomas Strattman, Mark Racop and Stormie. We actually had the four-disc DVD release and were able to watch key scenes and discuss them. We noted that one of the most crucial elements of the success of the movie was the profound respect for the book on the part of the people producing the movie, something that often isn't present in a lot of Hollywood productions. If anything, a lot of Hollywood directors and producers seem to hold the books from which they are working in contempt, and feel free to take whatever they want and change it however they wish. Yet at the same time, we noted that it's not always possible to transfer a book verbatum to film, simply because they are two different media that involve different techniques. Thus one must perform a sort of translation, which means that some elements will inevitably be lost. We also saw a parody bit that makes me wish the brain had a delete key.
After that panel, I headed back to the dealers' room, where we had a few more sales. I also had a long and frustrating search for a bag of books that I knew I had brought, but couldn't find. After searching the whole backstock area under our tables, I finally discovered it in an area that I'd checked at least three times. It was just in an odd little space where I couldn't quite see it, and only when I moved another box did I finally get the right perspective to actually see it. So we were able to insert a bunch of overflow used hardcover books to replace ones that had sold.
At 3PM I had an autographing session. However, I never had anyone come to get my autograph, so I just spent the whole time talking with some of the people who were congregating in that area. We ended up talking about celebrity stalkers, and how a number of people have had trouble with them. St. Louis area writer Laurell K. Hamilton has had some trouble with one, and even M. R. Sellars has been having to deal with a girl who has a severe crush on him. I noted that the problem is getting so bad that even good fans are having to be careful and self-censor when talking to their favorite writers, lest innocent-seeming phrases come across as warning signals of a problem fan.
After that, I headed back into the dealers' room to cover the last two hours. We had a few more sales, but nothing spectacular. I kept making notes for my writing the whole time.
After we closed up our tables, we went over to the VIP suite to see about supper. Their door was closed, so I wondered if they'd closed early, but I noticed that the lights were on, so I knocked. Turned out that they'd closed the door because they were having problems with people wandering in and out who weren't supposed to be there, and who were making it difficult for the program participants to eat. We got a fairly good meal there, and plenty of interesting conversation. I talked to several experienced computer people about my current computer situation and what might be done about it, as well as possibilities for getting computers and parts for very low cost.
After supper, we went back to our room, since there didn't seem to be any parties. I worked on my con report in my PalmPilot, and we turned in for the night early.
Sunday morning we got up early and got our personal stuff packed and out of our sleeping room. Then we went down to the VIP suite for breakfast, and discovered that they were still having trouble with the fuses blowing constantly. The TV was on and showing "Maximum Overdrive" the movie Stephen King did which involved possessed semis and other machines trapping a bunch of rednecks in a truck stop. We talked some about how so many horror movies depend on the characters being helpless, stupid and incompetent, and how the ones that get killed are probably just as well removed from the gene pool.
After breakfast, we went down to the dealers' room to open our tables for business. Yet again the wheelchair lift was out of commission, so my husband had to go through the nasty dirty kitchen to use the freight elevator. When we got to our tables, we discovered that the light over them still hadn't been replaced, so our merchandise was still in a pool of darkness.
We were getting basically no customers, so I went ahead and got my art off the art show. I talked for a while to the art director, and when I got back up, I found that we still hadn't gotten any sales to speak of. We ended up packing early, so that we were actually ready to load out before the dealers' room closed.
Getting out was a nuisance, because we couldn't get good reliable help. We got one kid, but then he took off. Another stuck around, but wouldn't follow our directions and was running things down out of order, so we kept having to push inappropriate boxes out of the way. But we finally got everything out and loaded into the van. Since we were tired and everything was already shutting down, we didn't even bother going up to the con suite to say any final good-byes. We just hit the road for home.
However, our adventures weren't over yet. We'd no sooner crossed the bridge over the Mississippi River into Illinois but we ran into an enormous backup. According to the truckers on the CB, there'd been a truly gruesome multi-vehicle wreck with major injuries. It had just happened, and the police hadn't even arrived when we first joined the backup. So we turned off the engine to conserve gasoline and listened to the truckers who were within sight of the mess give us a continuous report. After more than two hours, we finally got to move again. We got home very late.
P.S. The computer problem turned out to not be a problem at all. So I have at least a little time before I have to do major work on it.
Copyright 2012 by Leigh Kimmel
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Last updated October 21, 2012.