Thursday, June 2, 2011

Tour updates

Look ma! Still no agent! And no need for one.

I told myself I would update every day. Pretty much impossible when you're on the road, in Redding, California, with no internet access, furiously typing at the Starbucks until they close and you have to go to Safeway to use their wifi until they close. So these updates will be every few days.

Oh my God, northern California is beautiful. I had no concept hills could be so green, or lakes so blue, or mountains so high, or there could be whole stretches of land so unmolested by human touch. There were times I felt like I was driving through a George Martin novel, expecting to see the Eyrie perched on one of those snow-capped peaks. That alone made the rainy, gloomy, 8-hour, treacherously winding drive worth it. I'm in Portland right now, typing from a hippie house that a friend of Kim's lives at. Today I'll do the 1000 Words reading at the Waypost. I think we're going to check out Powell's, too, do the tourist thing. It's pretty much a mini-vacation in PDX until we head to Boise.

Tour more or less began on Friday, when Kim and I read at Cafe International. The host was a seriously nice guy, even if he did butcher Kim's last name. Also a weird set-up: the cafe is a long room, with the microphone at the far wall and most of the customers sitting by the door. I felt like I was yelling down a hall at them. Since the crowd was small, we went early. I tend to get experimental when playing to smaller crowds, trying out new things, because, you know, why not? One of the acoustic guitarists at the mic accompanied me on "When the Law Come," and it all flowed together so well. I believe his name was Bolovo. Such a good musician, with a mellow style that works with the story's meandering narrative. People were into it.

After my set, I stuck around a little. This extremely high black dude did a 10-minute standup routine (seriously, MCs, enforce the time rules) in which he rambled on about how white people need to discipline their kids, and how he steals shit from the cash register at work, and made jokes for three minutes about some guy in the back of the cafe who wasn't even listening to him, and something about Voltron coming over your house to chill. He also said "motherfucker/bitch/nigga" every other word. This was some BET Comicview level shit. I was not really offended. More like shocked by the fact that we still do that kind of comedy. Seriously? "Black people and white people do things differently" jokes? Can we please stop that?

That guy's routine wasn't the highlight of the night. The highlight was reading my piece, seeing the customers come in, and that they were getting it and enjoying it. After that I caught up with some old friends. Perfect start to the tour.

This is as good a time as any to point out that Kim Vodicka is a seriously good poet. She does all her work from memory, and has a focus on wordplay that you know comes from hours of careful thought. I feel so honored to tour with her. She's told me that she's more interested in music production nowadays (the lady has an encyclopedic knowledge of musicians) but I really hope she keeps writing poetry. It's that good.
Seven hours sitting in an airport waiting to pick up my rental car. I have no idea why San Francisco closes their subway around midnight, forcing me to do such things. This is a major city connected to at least one other major city (Oakland). Is 24-hour BART service out of the question? So I went to the airport and picked up the Budget car. It was a Chevy Cruz, the nicest car I've been in for a while. On the way to Santa Clara, I reacquainted myself with pop radio. Heard "Forever My Lady" by Jodeci and cranked that newfangled volume control to 100. The trees in that area are majestic, shaped like arrowheads pointed at the sky.

Baycon was awesome. Nothing beats a huge crowd of genre enthusiasts getting together. I didn't stay long, unfortunately. I did my two readings, and caught the Mary Robinette Kowal puppet workshop. The morning poetry reading was a laidback bardic circle arrangement. Chaz Brenchley and I had a very enjoyable reading followed by Q&A. I'd never met him before, but he's published 50-some books and he's a lovely bloke. The best part was getting to talk with people about the urban fantasy genre, what sparked my interest in it, giving and receiving recommendations.

I feel somewhat strange doing conventions. For instance, I recently checked out the list of 2011 Hugo nominees. In the last five months, I have sold a book to one of the nominees for "Best Novella," did a panel with the husband of a "Best Semiprozine" nom, and handed a puppet back to a nominee for "Best Short Story." Last week I read with Brenchley and Diana Paxson, who literally have decades of experience in the field. I feel like there is this universe of fantasy masters that I am circling around in my own transient, con-going, yakking-about-literature way. I haven't made a lot of concrete connections at these things. I am not good at schmoozing, and have zero desire to kiss anybody's ass. However, I have been given the opportunity to connect with world-class artists, and I don't feel I've taken full advantage of this. These are the exact kinds of writers I can learn from. I've learned from them just by sitting with them on hour-long panels.

That is not to be self-effacing. I'm not an amateur at this; I'm a journeyman, one with a vast knowledge of genre fiction and huge talent. I am on every panel I'm on because I've earned the spot. It just feels interesting to be a close observer, yet outsider, to this World Of Highly Successful Fantasy Writers Who Are All Preparing For The Big Con In Reno That I Will Probably Not Attend Because I'll Be In School And It's Expensive And Last Time I Checked I Haven't Been Nominated For A Hugo. Will I ever be a part of this world? Eh. I'll focus on the craft and see where that leads me. I do think it is important to rap with other fantasists, especially those with more experience than myself, and that has been a great part of attending cons.

I left for Santa Cruz right after the urban fantasy reading. Almost didn't make it. On the way to Route 101 my rental car stopped accelerating. It wouldn't go over 40. I called Budget's emergency road service and asked what to do, assuming I pushed a wrong button. The useless person who picked up told me, after several minutes of muzak, to drive my crippled car on the highway to the San Jose airport and pick up a new one for my reading in an hour. I told her this would not work. Luckily, the person who she patched me through to at the airport told me it was just a case of pushing a wrong button, then I pushed the right one and I was good. Is it too much to ask that roadside service know the controls on the car? I guess it wouldn't be tour without some near-disaster. I made it to Santa Cruz exactly at 7, walked into SubRosa, where everybody was in the middle of a Weezer dance party. Naturally, I danced. "When in Rome" and all that.
Santa Cruz was a very fun reading. Gabriella, who set it up, was just super nice and accomodating. Kim didn't do Santa Cruz, instead opting to do her friend's reading series in Berkeley. I read with a poet named Laura, and a bearded dude named London who absolutely BROUGHT IT. He has this sort of stream-of-conscious, very humorous, rambling poetry that he does to beats. Very animated and expressive. At several points he ended up on the floor. I know he did a poem about aliens, and one about a temple crushing him, and a very poignant one about spinal surgery he had when he was a baby (he showed the scar). It's the kind of performance that seems off-the-cuff, but you can tell there's a ton of choreography involved in making it seem that way. Amazing.

Having no plans for what to read, I opened it up to the audience, who deliberated noncomittally until a homebum in the back said "Just read the book, man!" So I read "Dead Teenagers." I feel very confident in my skills as a storyteller, especially seeing how people pay attention. What was interesting to me was how somber the crowd was. "Dead Teenagers" is sometimes a laugh riot when read out loud, with people chuckling over the pop culture references. The crowd at SubRosa reacted most to the uncomfortable and sad parts. I was very happy to see those aspects of the story were moving for people. Eventually, the goth culture/late '90s stuff will be antiquated window dressing for readers, but the meat of the story is its emotional resonance.

I stayed the night at Gabriella's. We ate dinner and drank tea. I listened to "Forever My Lady" about ten more times on Youtube. There were all sorts of fun things happening at the con that night, like a belly dance circle, a DJ-ed dance, masquerade, room parties. By then, I was running on fumes, so I just crashed. Next year I'd like to do Baycon for real.

More updates soon.

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