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Archive for July 10, 2017

The Shore has been Left

This time, I’m sitting in cousins Barb & Mark’s house about an hour’s drive from the convention hotel, taking advantage of some quiet time to recover from the past few days of conventioneering, if that’s the word. So now’s my opportunity to gather my thoughts about Shore Leave and post my recollections.

My second day of driving was much better weather-wise than the first, nice and sunny all day. The one snag I hit was financial. I didn’t get cash before I left, figuring I had enough for the trip and would get more from my convention stipend and book sales — but I didn’t take into account that the Pennsylvania Turnpike tolls had increased. It occurred to me to check the tolls on my phone browser at a rest stop just before I had to get off, and I found I didn’t have enough cash and needed to use the ATM there (complete with $2.50 service fee). Okay, maybe they would’ve taken a credit card, but I didn’t want to chance it. I belatedly realized that they have the prices printed on the tickets — I don’t know why I didn’t consider before that all those numbers on the tickets might actually convey useful information. If I’d thought of that ahead of time, I would’ve gotten off the Turnpike earlier and taken the highway through Maryland instead. I’ll probably do that going  back. I generally stick to the Turnpike despite the tolls because the other route is tricky in bad weather, with all the mountains and fog and such, and there’d been a flood warning in that area the day before. But the weather was clear on Friday, so it probably would’ve been fine.

Anyway, I made it to the hotel a bit poorer but otherwise intact, and once I checked in, I managed to find a free parking space right next to the closest entrance to my room, so I didn’t have to carry my bags very far. (I had the same parking luck at my motel the night before, although I’d unwisely asked for an upstairs room that turned out to be in back, so it was a bit more of a schlep even so.) I got in a bit late, so I only had a few hours before my first panel, but I managed to find a bunch of fellow writer guests in the bar, including Dave Mack (of course he’d be in the bar), his wife Kara, Aaron Rosenberg and his daughter, Bob Greenberger, and I think Keith DeCandido (sorry, I was tired so my memory’s fuzzy), and we sat around and listened to Dave regale us with stories about what’s going on behind the scenes in Star Trek, which are unrepeatable for two or three different reasons. Although Dave, who’s working closely with the Star Trek: Discovery producers on his tie-in novel Desperate Hours, did leave me reassured that the writing on the new show will be solid and that it won’t invalidate our vast tie-in continuity, at least not right away. It was a thrill to hear about how our friend and colleague, Voyager novelist Kirsten Beyer, is doing on the writing staff of the show. It’s awesome to see a friend achieve something like that, and it sounds like she’s already made herself indispensable. Although it’s too bad that her work out in Hollywood is keeping her too busy to attend Shore Leave this year.

My first panel was on Star Trek Literature as Science Fiction, ably moderated by Strange New Worlds author Derek Tyler Attico and including Dave Galanter and John Coffren, and we all had an interesting talk about what we think SF is and what makes ST’s brand of it distinctive. Later I had a quiet dinner in my room (finishing off the sandwich I’d bought on the road, along with a cup of hotel-room coffee) so I’d be nourished and alert enough for Meet the Pros that evening. As usual, I was seated next to my Only Superhuman editor Greg Cox, who was touting his new tie-in novels to TNT’s The Librarians and his novelization of War of the Planet of the Apes, which unfortunately was just a week away from being released so he couldn’t sell copies at Shore Leave. I was also across from Keith and his longtime girlfriend Wrenn, who recently got married at last, and they had a huge sign at their table saying “MARRIED LIFE IS PRETTY DANGED AWESOME,” no doubt pre-empting a question they knew they’d be getting asked a lot otherwise. As for myself, I signed a number of copies of The Face of the Unknown that they had for sale at the book vendor’s table, but only managed to sell three of the older books I had for sale at my own table. It was a pretty quiet evening — in fact, a pretty quiet con, in terms of guest attendance — but that just gave us writers more time to socialize and catch up with each other. It’s nice to connect with the fans, but it’s also nice when the event dies down and the writers can just wander the hall chatting with each other.

I had three panels on Saturday. First was “History for Fun and Profit,” where we talked about using history in our SF/fantasy writing — mostly involving writers of alternate history SF/F, but I talked about how my history studies helped me write about future events, first contacts, cross-cultural interactions, and so forth in my SF. After a quick lunch (a peanut butter sandwich I’d made for the trip), there was “Defending the Light Side,” which was about optimistic and/or humorous writing, refuting the attitude that such things are fluffy or insubstantial. Then I guess I just hung around with various people I ran into for a couple of hours — it’s all kind of blurred together about what conversations I had when — and I did my first hourlong stint in the “author chimney,” the narrow space between brick pillars that’s the only place the book vendors usually have for authors to sit and peddle our work. But it was a slow afternoon — most of the guests were probably in the big ballroom watching Marina Sirtis and Michael Dorn give their talk. So it was mainly just a chance to sit and rest between panels. Finally, we had the “Upcoming Star Trek Books” panel with me, Dave, Dayton Ward, and Scott Pearson. We didn’t really have much in the way of new Pocket novels to discuss beyond what’s already been announced, so I thought we might have to do a Q&A about our recent books to fill the time, but Scott also talked about all the other books and comics coming out from other publishers for the rest of the year, and that ended up occupying most of the hour after all. But I got to talk some about my upcoming Rise of the Federation: Patterns of Interference, and how it’s the climax for the Trip Tucker/Section 31 arc I inherited when I started doing the ENT novels.

Right after that came the annual tradition of Saturday dinner at Andy Nelson’s Barbecue a few miles from the hotel. In years past, I’ve always gotten a pulled turkey sandwich with cole slaw and cornbread as sides, because it’s so unique in my experience to have cole slaw and cornbread that are actually good, indeed really good. But this year, I finally decided to try something different — still the pulled turkey, but with macaroni & cheese and stewed tomatoes as my two sides. (I considered mac & cornbread, but I figured I needed a vegetable.) Right off the bat, I accidentally dropped a piece of macaroni into the tomatoes, which proved a happy accident that I did on purpose quite a bit thereafter. I also got to talk about a bunch of stuff with a bunch of people, some work-related, some not. I learned a lot about the comics business from Glenn Hauman, who’s done some Trek writing but mainly works in comics and knows a ton of the people in the industry, so it’s hard to talk to him and not learn a lot about comics. After dinner, back in the hotel lobby, he and Richard C. White (a comics author who then moved into prose) got to talking to me about an early Alan Moore/Dave Gibbons “Dragnet as time police” spoof from 2000 AD that was a master illustration of the economy of comic-book art, and also a sort of spiritual antecedent of my Department of Temporal Investigations novels. They both found the story on their smartphones to show it to me, but there was no easy way to call up the next page, so it became a two-phone bucket brigade operation — while I read one page on one of their phones, Glenn would navigate to the next page on the other, and we’d swap phones when I was ready. There’s got to be an easier way to read a comic, but luckily it was only five pages. And it was a cool story.

Sunday morning, I got up a bit late and had an 11 AM panel, and I had to have breakfast and check out of my room before the panel, so I didn’t have time for much else that morning. But it was a fun panel, called “Where No Tale Has Gone Before” — Dave, Keith, Dayton, Scott, and myself talking about whether there were still new Star Trek stories to tell after all these decades. Answer: Yes, of course. There are always untapped areas to explore, and every new story introduces new elements that can be explored further. But it was a good talk. Afterward (and after briefly running into my cousin Scott and his son, who’d arrived at the con too late to do more than say hello), it was time for lunch. Due to my tight finances, I was just about to settle for my remaining emergency peanut butter sandwich (now several days old, but it had spent the majority of the intervening time refrigerated), but Aaron Rosenberg was kind enough to treat me to a sandwich from the hotel Starbucks — a chicken sandwich with cranberry mayonnaise, of all things. I sat and talked with him and Greg for a while, and ultimately followed Greg to a panel on genre mashups which he did along with with Keith and Roberta Rogow. I could’ve easily joined them on the panel, since Only Superhuman counts as a hard-SF/superhero mashup (in fact, Glenn Hauman coined a good pitch line for it this weekend, “Superheroes meet The Expanse“), but I welcomed the chance to be an audience member and just be quiet and listen for a while. (Although I couldn’t resist asking one question.)

I was done with panels after that, but I hung around a few hours longer to talk to people, and I did an extended stint at the book vendors’ table — but fortunately there was a larger space available this time, so Greg and I sat together again and pitched our books to passersby. We were competing with Sirtis and Dorn again, but eventually their show ended and the crowd in the hall grew, and I finally managed to sell a couple more Only Superhuman copies. Later on, I briefly got to meet Marina Sirtis and give her a copy of Orion’s Hounds, which she insisted I sign for her. I hope she likes it.

All in all, a pretty good Shore Leave. I didn’t get to accomplish as much business-related, err, business as I’d hoped, but I got to socialize a lot with old friends and new, and I learned some interesting stuff. And then it was a reasonably easy drive to my cousins’ (aside from a brief traffic jam), and for once I didn’t get lost in the maze of streets around their house (GPS isn’t always helpful here), and as usual we had dinner at their friend Charles’s, and I had a really good turkey burger with a slice of remarkably good tomato. I’ve had good luck with tomatoes this weekend. And later today, I’m going to go visit Aunt Shirley and Uncle Harry at their retirement home, and tomorrow I’ll set off for home. Hopefully I can make it in one day this time.