Saturday, January 21, 2012

On the road again: Chattacon, day 3

We got up earlier than I would have liked so that we could catch the slide show of my pal, John Picacio, on his recent artwork. I've seen and enjoyed his show on several occasions. He makes it different each time, so I always learn new things. This one focused on his work for the George R.R. Martin Game of Thrones 2012 calendar, but it also included several other pieces and ended with his cover for No Going Back.

After a quick turn through the art show, we grabbed lunch, and then it was time for three hours of con work.

The first panel focused on questions about story length, such as whether some stories have a natural length, how we as writers choose the length for a piece, and so on. In the middle of it, I had to run to the room next door to talk for a bit at Toni's Baen Traveling Slide Show presentation.

My second panel's topic was technology and writing. Only one other panelist, John Hartness, showed up, and he proved to be a fun fellow, so we basically riffed all over the topic for an hour.

From there, I walked to the autograph area, plopped into a chair, and prepared myself for embarrassment. Fortunately, multiple folks brought me books to sign, so I wasn't sitting alone for much of the hour.

After more time in the art show and a snack, I focused on work for a bit.

Dinner was with a small group at a local Greek place, after which we crawled the con parties for quite a while.

Vampi requested in a comment that I post a photo of the light-up gloves. This one doesn't do them justice--my iPhone's camera couldn't really handle the strobing, multicolored light, but it is a great picture of Publisher Toni being silly in her Moon Princess tiara at her fun DeepSouthCon party.

(Click on it to see a bigger image.)

As the evening turned late, I headed back to work and then to sleep.

Friday, January 20, 2012

On the road again: Chattacon, day 2

The morning went to work, as usual. For lunch, we ran out to a local member of a small barbecue chain, Sticky Fingers. My ribs-and-brisket combo was quite tasty, though both meats were on the dry side.

(As always, click on an image to see a bigger one.)

Once again, I didn't finish my whole meal, but given the size of this one and the fact that it came with a loaf of cornbread, that was a good choice.

After lunch, we put up Jain's art for this con on a panel in the art show.

They're pretty cool pieces. You can hang them as art objects, which they are, but you can also pull out of each one a necklace or bracelet and wear it.

After some work and a chat with artist guest of honor and friend John Picacio, I worked madly until it was time for the opening ceremonies, at which I was, well, the toastmaster. I introduced all the guests, amused the crowd a bit, and then sent us all next door for snacks and further conversation.

When that ended, we toured the art show and grabbed some pizza at one of the hotel's restaurants. More work and some time in the con suite, which played loud rock and roll and offered a nice variety of drinks and snacks, finished the day.

I'm quite enjoying Chattacon. The good folks here know how to run a fun con. I'm looking forward to tomorrow.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

On the road again: Chattacon, day 1

The morning went to sleep and work, and the afternoon to driving. Along the way, we saw a sign for a Cracker Barrel. I've never eaten in or even stopped at a Cracker Barrel before, and today seemed perfect for it, so with a little bit of trepidation we took the exit and pulled into its lot.

Our trepidation was unwarranted. True, the goods on offer at the small attached store were a bit odd, but the food was entirely standard and reasonably tasty. It was also cheap. Here's what $7.99 can buy you there:

(As always, click on any image to see a larger version.)

I didn't even come close to finishing all that food.

We spent a short time in the store, but it wasn't short enough: I fell victim to the allure of gloves whose fingers light up in various patterns. I know, I know, but they seem so cool. I'm sure I'll find a use for them.

When we walked out, this beautiful old Hudson Rocket was parked right up front.

That logo alone is awesome.

When we reached the con hotel, the famous Chattanooga Choo-Choo, the redoubtable Regina Kirby, the con's guest liaison and also Dragon*Con's programming chair, met me and showed me my room. Waiting for me in it were these lovely treats.

In the cooler were some already chilled Coke Zero cans and bottles of water.

These folks know how to treat their guests!

For dinner we tried a local place, Table 2 Restaurant, that had scored a lot of very positive online reviews. The food was quite good, though on several dishes the chef put in too much of key acidic ingredients. One starter that was perfect was the hot rock surf and turf, which came with six pieces of fish, ten small bites of American Wagyu beef, some salt, and three dipping sauces. You cook the fish and meat on the stone. Here's ours partway through the process.

I'd happily go back, and I definitely recommend it if you live in the area or are at this con and in search of a strong dinner.

The rest of the evening will go to work and writing, to which I now return.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

On the road again: Chattacon-ward, Asheville, day 0.25

I spent most of today in Raleigh, working and living as usual. Then, in the early evening, we drove to Asheville. The idea was to minimize the amount of lost work time by creating space for blocks of work along the way. It worked out well tonight.

Dinner was in Winston-Salem at a strange little Mexican joint called Nacho Daddy's. The food was tasty enough and better than most road fare, and the service was reasonable. All in all, a decent choice and a lot better than a fast-food joint.

I've been up until six a.m. the last couple of nights, so I'm keeping this short and crashing.

Tomorrow, Chattanooga and the con!

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

A tiny sneak preview of No Going Back

As soon as I post this, I am going to file with the typesetter, the amazing Joy, the first chapter of No Going Back. I'm doing this because every paperback copy of Eric Flint's novel 1636: The Saxon Uprising will include that chapter as a teaser at the end. So, if you want to read a small bit (it is a short chapter) of my next novel ahead of its publication, you can pick up that paperback.

Meanwhile, at the risk of annoying Publisher Toni (yes, I'm working on the book!), because you've all been so patient, here's the first line of No Going Back.

“Jon, this is a very bad plan.”
No, I won't tell you more. You'll have to live with the tease.

I bet you can guess, though, who's talking.

Monday, January 16, 2012

On the road again: Cayman Cookout,
Grand Cayman, day 6

On the way to the airport, the driver mentioned that Grand Cayman was only 23 miles long and 9 miles wide at its widest, and that almost all shops closed at about the same time as he got off work. His point, which other residents echoed in short conversations, was that there just wasn’t much to do on Grand Cayman.

I can certainly see their point, but for a visitor, none of those things matter. It remains one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever visited. Couple that with a conference full of amazing food and almost non-stop activities, not to mention work and writing, and I was never bored. Not even close.

Mind you, in the interest of science, I would be willing to stay there for a few months and see if boredom set in, so anyone willing to fund such a study should feel free to contact me.

Most of today went to travel, as per the plan. I found it a bit odd to be singled out for a manual luggage search in Grand Cayman, but my suitcase and I passed the test with flying colors. I may even come out ahead, because the very nice guy who searched my bag said he’d go buy a book of mine.

My first flight landed on time, but the second brought me home almost half an hour late. That would have been an acceptable, even normal bit of bad news, but when I arrived at the baggage carousel to claim my bag, a page over the loudspeaker said I should come to the American Airlines baggage claim desk.

That's never good news. I was prepared to hear my bag would be late, but unfortunately, the woman behind the desk delivered the news in the worst possible way for me:

1) She failed to lead with an apology.
2) She immediately went to passive voice.
Her opening line: "Your bag wasn't scanned in Miami and won't be arriving."

Now, I know that I should take this news in stride, and for the most part, I did. I kept a level voice as I asked the necessary questions.

Inside, though, the anger grenade went off, and I had to cope with an adrenaline dump that was none too pleasant. (Remember my various writings--and all the research--about the way PTSD sufferers experience anger?)

By the way, if you're wondering how I think she should have delivered the news, it's simple:
1) Lead with an apology.
2) Take responsibility.
What I would have had her say: "I'm sorry to have to tell you that for reasons I don't know and have been unable to find out, American Airlines did not put your bag on the flight from Miami."

I recognize the corporate bullshit concerns that probably made it impossible for her to say that line even if she had wanted to, but it would have worked for me.

Still, I spent multiple days at the Cayman Cookout, I am home, and my bag should arrive tomorrow, so I have little to complain about.

Now, I have 42 hours at home before I get on the road for Chattacon.

Much to do, so it's back to work for me.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

On the road again: Cayman Cookout,
Grand Cayman, day 5

Today began late, for which I was grateful, with a noon brunch and amateur chef cooking competition. The food tables filled a long hall and an equally long patio outside the massive ballroom, and every single dish I tasted was delicious.

The cooking competition was less successful than the food but still fun. The chef judges--Eric Ripert, Jose Andres, and Anthony Bourdain--were dramatically more kind than they would have been with professional chefs, which was appropriate and good to see. The commentator, Top Chef winner Richard Blais, was personable, funny, and also kind.

The two teams did their best, but after having watched shows with professional chefs competing, the gap between these amateurs and the pros was all too apparent. From knife skills to ingredient handling to plating, the chefs simply were not up to professional standards. Nor would I be, of course. I am not trying to mock them; rather, it is just remarkable how much difference there is between even a low-level professional chef and an amateur cook.

Their dishes looked generally tasty, and the judges deliberated quite a bit before tallying the scores. Everyone seemed to have a good time, and the audience enjoyed the show.

Next up was a small artisan market set up around the lesser of the two hotel pools. The books on offer were the most tempting items, but paying marked-up prices and then hauling books home simply isn't a good plan.

I passed the next few hours in a mix of work, writing, wading in the already cool sea waters, and sitting on a chair on the beach. I could happily spend multiple more weeks here, though my bank account would not be so happy.

Evening brought the grand finale, the Cayman Cookout Gala Dinner. The meal began with cocktails on the patio outside Blue, but the high winds quickly drove everyone inside. Once we were all seated, seven of the chefs--Ripert, Andrés, Blais, Bloomfield, Gras, Payard, and Rogalski--created a lovely seven-course meal for us. Here's the menu.

(Click on the image for a much larger version that will be easier to read.)

The folks at our table were entertaining, the TVs showing the action in the kitchen were fun to watch, and the food was...good--very good even, but not truly excellent. I don't regret at all being there, but I suspect that any tasting menu at any of the chefs' individual restaurants would be better.

The high points of the kitchen broadcast were the moments when Andres was shoving signs in front of the camera and generally being a goof. He worked the crowd with notes commanding us to cheer, and he summoned Bourdain to the kitchen. Later, he asked for single women to also come to the kitchen, and later still, he told us that two had in fact taken him up on his invitation. On and on he want, a bundle of humorous energy.

Now, to late-night work, and then to sleep. Tomorrow afternoon, I travel home.


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