Friday, May 25, 2012

On the road again: Balticon, day 2

The con kicked off in earnest today.  Most of the daytime went to work, which I started after some much-needed sleep.  Getting almost eight hours of rest was heavenly.  The hotel's bandwidth, on the other hand, is so bad that downloading a 13MB email attachment consumed hours of elapsed time.  Amazing. 

My first panel, Early Favorite Authors, started at 5:00 p.m., when most of the con's attendees were still on their way here.  Though our audience was fewer than ten people, we three panelists did our best to discuss the topic and entertain the room. 

I spent the next couple of hours going over and revising scripts with folks on the con committee and the tech crew, a good use of time that turned our rough Opening Ceremonies conversations into a real plan.  When the show began, we were ready, and everything went quite smoothly.  I had a good time acting as Master of Ceremonies, and as best I could tell from the audience's reactions and the post-show comments, all went well.

A group of us then hustled off to Woodberry Kitchen, where we enjoyed a tasty meal and good conversation.  I heartily recommend this restaurant to anyone who lives here or is visiting.  Its atmosphere is sort of up-scale down-home, its food is for the most part from local suppliers, and every single dish I've ever eaten there has been tasty. 

Now, more work, and then a bit of sleep before a very busy Saturday. 

Charleston disappoints

I almost never write two blog entries in a day, but I felt this one deserved its own place separate from the discussion of my Balticon activities that I just posted.  

Long-time readers of this blog will know that for many years I have been a big fan of Chef Cindy Wolf's Charleston Restaurant.  For that entire time, I've been telling people that if you're seeking a great meal in Baltimore, the one certain winner was Charleston.  I've also made sure to eat there each time I was in town.  For the last couple of years, I felt the place was sliding a tiny bit, but I was willing to chalk up the less than perfect experiences to off nights.

After tonight's experiences, though, I won't be going back next year. 

Before I get into the details, let me note that our meal was good.  It was not exceptional, however, nor did it live up to its cost. 

A big part of the problem was the service.  Our main server, who might well have been the captain tonight, was wonderful.  Everyone else, however, messed up and failed to live up to the restaurant's past standards.  The people who presented each dish were mush-mouthed and unclear.  The man who brought the cheese cart--a pale shadow of what was once one of the more magnificent cheese offerings I've seen--was nearly inarticulate and knew little about cheese.  When I asked him to tell us what he had on offer, he replied, "What do you want?"  For one cheese, all he knew was that it was a triple cream; for another, he shrugged when I asked its origin.  Sad. 

The worst service moment, however, came courtesy of the woman supplying water and bread.  Clearly out of her depth and either overtaxed or under-trained--or both--at one point this server stepped in front of one of our party as she was returning from the rest room.  The woman had to swerve to avoid the server, fell, twisted her ankle, and rug-burned her knee.  The server never noticed or offered to help her up, nor did any of the four other servers within five yards of the accident. 

The kitchen was also not on its game, even though Chef Wolf was present.  My foie dish came cold in the middle, for example.  The dishes were all tasty enough, but none was exceptional, and Wolf's past inventiveness was barely evident.

It saddens me to watch a restaurant take this dip, but it happens.  Maybe in a while, I'll read stories of how Charleston returned to its former glory.  I certainly hope so.  For now, though, I'll give it a pass on future Baltimore visits, and I have to recommend you do the same. 

Thursday, May 24, 2012

On the road again: Balticon, day 1

The convention actually starts tomorrow, but we drove up today so that I would be certain to be here in time to meet all of my Friday obligations at the con.  "What obligations?" you might well ask.  Here's what I'll be doing this weekend. If you're at the con, please drop by one or more of these and say hi. 

Friday, 5:00, Chase, panelist, Early Favorite Authors 

The con's instructions are for us to talk about the writers we read and valued most when we were young, the ones who influenced our literary preferences and our writing. I'm sure we'll do some of that.  If past experience is any guide, we'll also end up wandering into other, related topics.  It should be an interesting time. 

Friday, 9:00, Valley Ballroom, Master of Ceremonies, Opening Ceremonies

I'll be that guy standing at the mic, introducing a lot of people and telling stories and bad jokes any time the tech crew or the backstage team need me to buy them some time.  One of the coolest parts of Balticon's opening ceremonies is the awarding of the Compton Crook Award for best first SF or fantasy novel.  I had the privilege of winning that award in 2008 for One Jump Ahead, and I look forward to seeing who grabs this year's.  As a special treat, the con is celebrating the 30th anniversary of the award by having multiple past winners attend and speak.  That makes this event a great chance to listen to and, afterward, meet a bunch of cool writers.

Saturday, 12:30, Garden Room, moderator, Baen Travelling Slideshow

See slides of cover paintings before and after they turn (via the artistry of Baen's cover designers) into covers!  Hear inside scoop from me!  Win free cool stuff from Baen!

What's not to like?

Saturday, 4:00, Pimlico, reading 

If enough folks show up, I'll do the first public reading of bits from No Going Back.  If not enough folks show up, God only knows what I might do alone in a hotel meeting room without adult supervision.  All I can say is that I hope the next occupant of the room brings a broom, some friends to remove the broken gear, and something to clean up messes. 

Saturday, 5:00, Salon B, panelist, Collaborative Writing

We're supposed to talk about the joys and agonies of co-authoring work.  I've done a few stories and one book with others, and I've edited two books with collaborators, so I can bring a little relevant experience to bear on the topic.  Not that possessing relevant experience has ever been a requirement for me to talk.  If they decide at the last minute to turn the panel into a gathering to discuss the dangers of man-dolphin sex, well, I'll find a way to talk about that one, too.  Or not.  You never know. 

Sunday, Noon, Garden Room, moderator, Liars Panel

Grab a lot of dollar bills, and head over to this panel.  Watch four of us tell outrageous stories--most of which will be true.  Challenge the ones you think are lies; if you catch us, we pay ten bucks.  If you're wrong, you pay one measly buck.  All the money goes to buy books for kids who can't afford them.

You will laugh your ass off for an hour, and you will help a bunch of kids. 

Do not miss this one.

Sunday, 2:00, Salon A, panelist, Xenoarchaeology Road Show 

Speaking of laughing your ass off, if you're in the mood to keep the good times rolling, come to Salon A and watch as Guest of Honor Jody Lynn Nye and I, along with three other panelists (John Hemry, Christina Ellis, and Grig Larson), examine strange objects from the perspective of archaeologists five hundred years in the future.  The audience will bring some of those objects, and we'll provide others.  It should be a blast.

If you're at the con and can't make any of these, catch me in the dealer's room or the art show and say hi anyway.  If you don't know me and are nervous about meeting me, I can tell you that nothing warms a writer more than someone with a stack of books for autographing.  Seriously, though, no purchases are necessary; just come by and say hello. 

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

One Jump Ahead meets real life

In my first novel, One Jump Ahead, Jon met Lobo in a square in the small capital city of an emerging frontier planet.  At that time, Lobo's main weapons control system was useless from damage on a mission, so he was there as a reminder of the might of the Frontier Coalition, the group of allied planets on the edges of human space.  Kids were playing on and near Lobo when Jon first encountered him.

Check this out, courtesy of the fine folks at io9:  kids playing on old tanks in Russia.  I doubt this is the first time this has happened, nor will it be the last, but it is cool to see nonetheless.

Tomorrow morning, way too damn early, I head to Balticon, where I'll be doing all kinds of stuff.  I hope to give you a preview of my con activities in tomorrow's blog entry.  Now, though, I have to finish working, pack, and grab a few hours of sleep.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Another chance to win free books!
New Web site design!
Much e-stuff happening!

Today is a big online day for me.

First, over at Baen's Web site, Publisher Toni is hosting a contest to see which of two book trailers people prefer.  The cool part for me is that both trailers are for No Going Back! To help influence the types of trailers people produce for books, all you have to do is go there, watch both, and then vote for the one you prefer.  After you vote, email Baen--instructions are on that page--and they'll enter you in a drawing to win a signed hardcover first edition of No Going Back plus five free Baen ebooks.  So, you can have a good time watching two nifty trailers, and you might win cool stuff in the bargain.

Next, if you check out my home page, where you can also watch those trailers, you'll notice that we've completely redesigned the site.  By "we," of course, I mean that I provided input and designer Jennie Faries did all the hard work.  The new site is easier to use and more up-to-date, plus it provides information not previously available:  easy links to my upcoming appearances, and the first complete list of my published short fiction.  Thanks, Jennie!

If the art at the top of each page--including this one--looks familiar, that's because it's a sample from the background of the cover of Jump Gate Twist, my omnibus collection of the first two Jon & Lobo novels and a bunch of other neat material.  John Picacio, friend and artist extraordinaire, who did both that cover and the amazing cover to No Going Back, was gracious enough to give us permission to use the art on the site.  Thanks, John!

Finally, you may also notice that every page of the site gives you easy access, via the familiar icons, to the blog, the RSS feed for the blog, Facebook, and Twitter.  Yes, I'm not only on Facebook, I'm also now on Twitter.  I haven't really started using either yet, but give me time; I will.

Oh, yeah:  A week from today, No Going Back hits the bookstores!  I'm psyched to see it.

Monday, May 21, 2012

James Bond returns

this year in Skyfall, and I am irrationally excited about seeing it.  I am a huge Bond fan and have seen all the films at least three times each--yes, even the bad Roger Moore ones (and they were terrible).  Daniel Craig is either the best or the second-best Bond, so it's going to be great to watch him again.

All of this is relevant because now, we can see a teaser trailer for the film.


Sunday, May 20, 2012


When Greg Cox, the News & Observer's restaurant critic, recently awarded four and a half stars (of five) to Mandolin, a relatively new Raleigh restaurant, I figured I'd have to hit the place soon.  When I then learned that the chef was Sean Fowler, who had helped restore the Fearrington House Restaurant to the heights it had once enjoyed, I made an immediate reservation. 

I'm glad I did. 

Mandolin's frequently changing menu emphasizes local ingredients and traditional Southern food, but with modern cuisine touches.  The bacon-and-mushroom-infused foam on the delicious chicken and waffles is a simple example of the interplay of these two approaches.  The bourbon-marinated hangar steak was tender and flavorful and worked well with the other ingredients stacked both under and above it.  Every dish our group sampled was delicious. 

If you want to see if the place is for you, the online menu is not a bad way to start.  Though last night's menu was not the same as the one online,  the overlap was high, so you can use what's online as a reasonable guide. I should also note that the portions are quite large, so bring a healthy appetite, keep your order short, or plan on asking for boxes to take food home.

Oh, yeah:  Do not miss the miniature corn muffins in the bread basket.  They are wonderful. 

I was pleasantly surprised to learn that the kitchen staff included the redoubtable Jeremy Clayman, who is one of the best chefs in the triangle.  I only wish Mandolin would feature him more.

Mandolin definitely is one of the better restaurants in the Triangle, and I recommend it. 

That said, Mandolin is not in the very highest tier of local establishments, at least not yet.  At that level, the restaurants, such as Panciuto, deliver such wonderful preparations that even the foods you know you don't like (in my case, Brussels sprouts spring to mind) surprise you by how delicious they are.  That wasn't quite the case here, as the vegetarians in our group noted. 

Nonetheless, I will certainly go back to see how the restaurant progresses.  I encourage you to do the same.


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