Hello, internet! It feels like it’s been so long since I’ve seen you! After an intense-but-awesome weekend, Phoenix Comicon has come and gone, until it swings around again in 2015. It was just as amazing as last year (if not more so!), not least because there were even more authors I completely adore in attendance. That alone would’ve been enough to make the event spectacular, but there were some fun surprises in store, too—like free books! I believe last year the only publisher in attendance was Tor, but this year Del Rey and Angry Robot also had booths and panels. And maybe because Phoenix Comicon is gaining a higher profile thanks to all the word-of-mouth buzz generated by author guests and attendees, there was a bit of a BEA model in place this year. When I walked into the exhibitor hall on Thursday night, Del Rey was handing out free copies of books by authors in attendance and some who were not, and they hosted signings for those books during the rest of the convention. Tor also had books to give away and signings for some of their authors, and all sorts of other swag. Angry Robot wasn’t tossing out any free books, but they were very friendly and recommended which of their books you might be interested in based on other books you like. Between the publisher giveaways and signings, the comicon-scheduled signings, and the time authors spent hanging out at their own tables to sign books, it was a busy weekend with many opportunities to interact with the writers you fangirl or -boy over.
After picking up my badge on Thursday night and doing a pass around the (huge) exhibitor hall to get the lay of the land before the masses arrived on the morrow, I headed over to the Books and Authors Kickoff Panel. This was high on my list of must-see panels because the one last year was frikkin’ hilarious, and because I thought it would be a good opportunity to see some of the authors interact who wouldn’t have panels together later in the con.
Scalzi gesticulating while Pierce Brown, Naomi Novik, L.E. Modesitt, and Carrie Vaughn wait for the panel to start.
The room filled up and the panel moderator got things underway, joking about how some say Phoenix Comicon has become “Author Con,” and then introduced Paul & Storm. Scott Lynch noted that his niece loves them, to which Paul replied, “Beloved of nieces everywhere!” They then introduced themselves and said, “We’re gonna do the song that makes all the people sitting up at this table mad at us… But it comes from the heart, and it probably comes from your heart, as well.” And so they launched into “Write Like the Wind,” which I hope you’ve listened to by now. If you haven’t, here’s that video again:
DID YOU WATCH IT?!? If so, good. If not, you don’t know what you’re missing…
Moving on. Everyone found the song to be hilarious (as well they should’ve!), and after we’d all recovered from our laughter, the moderator introduced the panelists: Seanan McGuire, whose recent books include Sparrow Hill Road and Parasite (the latter under a pen name, Mira Grant). John Scalzi, writer of the Old Man’s War series and Redshirts (he greeted us with, “hello, nerds”). Scott Lynch, who, when the moderator mentioned he writes the Gentleman Bastard series, replied that he also has “a forthcoming book called The Doors of Stone,” the first of many good-natured digs at Patrick Rothfuss over the course of the weekend. (Pat responded, “Oh, so it’s going to be one of THOSE cons!”) Pierce Brown, who debuted as an author earlier this year with Red Rising. The moderator said she’d heard it would be a trilogy, to which he deadpanned, “Yeah, everything is a trilogy now.” Naomi Novik, author of the Temeraire series featuring dragons and the Napoleonic wars. L.E. Modesitt, who has written many things, including the currently-17-volume Saga of Recluce series (someone, probably Scott Lynch, joked, “It’s a trilogy!”). Carrie Vaughn, author of the Kitty Norville urban fantasy series. And lastly, “the beard himself,” Patrick Rothfuss, author of the Kingkiller Chronicles (“More or less,” he amended).
The moderator started off the questions by asking for how many of them was it their first Phoenix Comicon, and how many are returning guests.
(Someone): Do we raise our hands?
Mod: You can raise your hands, go down the line…just talk. That’s what John does.
John Scalzi: What did I do??
Seanan McGuire: There’s a reason we didn’t let you sit at the table! (There weren’t enough chairs at the panel, so Paul & Storm sat on the floor until chairs were found for them, Scalzi was seated further back from the table, and Rothfuss was standing at the end of it.)
Scalzi: I’ve got a tattoo that says “born to lurk.”
L.E. Modesitt: Which he does superbly.
Scalzi copped to it being his 4th or 5th PHXCC. “I can’t believe I come here every year when it’s a 118,000 degrees,” he said. “It’s amazing to me…if you left cake batter out, you would have cake!” Carrie Vaughn told us it was her first time here, and warned us that she’d probably be in a sweater all weekend because she freezes easily in hotel/convention center air conditioning. She said that normally when she steps outside at places like this she’s like, “Oh, it’s finally warm!” but here, that feeling lasts about 2 seconds before she goes back inside. It was also L.E. Modesitt's and Naomi Novik’s first time at PHXCC. Regarding the heat, Naomi Novik said, “I’m looking with astonishment at all the cosplayers. It feels like there should be a betting pool going on, like who’s going to keel over first…” Pierce Brown continued in that vein, saying, “I actually used to live in Phoenix when I was a kid and so I’ve keeled over a few times here… But it’s my first comicon—my second comicon overall, and my first one in Phoenix. I’m a newbie, so treat me nicely. Please.” Scott Lynch was also a first-timer. “I’m from Minnesota-Wisconsin,” he said. “I’d make a snarky joke about the weather here, but it’s humidity and mosquitoes carrying away small children up north, or…melting on the sidewalk down here. Take your pick.”
Things continued in the weather-introduction-how many times at comicon theme for awhile:
Seanan: I’m from the San Francisco Bay Area. It’s been 80 degrees for the last three years. Y’all are nuts!Paul also offered the next question to our panel: “I have a follow-up question for any or all of the authors…Scalzi alluded to it. What is the scientific term for a collection of sci-fi and fantasy authors, and/or is there a different term for fantasy authors—”
Rothfuss: Yeah, I’m with Scott. We kind of come from the same clime, but actually I kinda like this weather? As opposed to, you step outside, and it suddenly feels like you’ve been wrapped in a hot towel. But that said, I’m certainly not taking any long hikes here. It’s my first Phoenix Comicon—I actually heard about it from John. John sold me on it. He said, “If you’re not coming, then you're a chump, because they really like their authors here… It’s great to be an author in Phoenix.”
Scalzi: It really is. Comicons have finally figured out, hey, people write things with words, and maybe the people who come to these things might actually occasionally read them and want to meet people—I know, it’s a shock, right? But Phoenix has been up on this one for a long time now, which makes me really happy. I think this is the largest concentration of science fiction and fantasy writers outside of an actual WorldCon, which is where the Hugos go. It’s kind of nerdy concentrate. The fact that they have so many actual writers here is very cool. Especially these ones. Not him. (gestures to Scott Lynch)
Seanan: Doesn’t he look like a shampoo commercial?
Scalzi: He really does!
Seanan: Flip your hair for us?
Scalzi: Flip, flip!
Scott Lynch: John stays up at night, dreaming about getting me to do this on camera. (swishes his long hair back and forth like in a shampoo commercial) Another year’s inadequacy for John!
John: I’m not bitter at all… (Scott pats John’s bald spot)
Paul: (pops up from against the wall) I hope someone was filming that, because I want to see that turned into an animated gif before the end of this panel.
Scott Lynch: A shirking.
Naomi Novik: A procrastination.
Rothfuss: …it’s a trilogy, right?
Scott Lynch: We are a trilogy of fantasy authors!
L.E. Modesitt: Except that it’s never just three.
Storm: (pops up from against the wall) It’s either many more than three, or only two. (Everyone laughed as that one sank in. Humorous Digs at Rothfuss Count: 2)
Rothfuss: (ominously) We will be on stage together later, without all these people between us.
The moderator eventually brought it around to her next question: What is your favorite title for a panel you’re either on or have heard of at PHXCC?
Rothfuss: I can do this one off the cuff. It’s the “Epic Fantasy vs. Urban Fantasy” one, where there is only one epic fantasy person on the panel. I’m like, I don’t know if this is a real “versus…” Seems like that’s an intervention!The conversation then turned in the direction of what exactly is a Romantic Times Convention, and some of the authors talked about their experiences with it. Scalzi called it “awesome,” L.E. Modesitt likes it because they’ve given him awards, and Carrie Vaughn described it as, “Thousands of completely rabid readers. In a hotel. For 4 days. With a bar.” It sounds like one to add to the bucket list, along with BEA! After some shenanigans with Paul & Storm pretending to be male models while reenacting Scalzi’s acceptance of his Romantic Times award, the moderator moved on to her next question.
Naomi Novik: Patrick, have you counted the number of words on either side?
Scalzi: I remember meeting your work for the first time. I was on tour, and you left me a copy of your book. I was at Uncle Hugo’s in Minneapolis and they say, “An author has left a book for you, so if you want it…” I was like, “Alright,” and he comes over… (pantomimes carrying something very heavy) FWOOMP! And I was like, what the hell do I do with this…? I’m on tour! I packed really light, everything in a carry-on, and here’s this thing that can literally stun a yak. What am I going to do with this? So I have to carry it around in my hands. One, well played, Patrick, and the other thing is, he signed it. On the inside it says, “Mr. Scalzi, I’m a big fan, I hope that maybe you like it…” And it’s like, fuck—it’s like a puppy! I have to take it with me!
Scott Lynch: I was in England, Pat, when Gollancz did that to me, back when Name of the Wind was new and it was only in trade paperback. They’re like, “Hrmm, there’s this book you should bring with you. We think it’s cool. TH-THUD.” I’m getting on a plane! And they’re like, “You can just sit on it.”
Scalzi: What they do is, they come and say, “Could you put that on the other side of the plane? We’ve got to balance out the weight.”
L.E. Modesitt: Now, Patrick’s got this schtick, because I met him for the first time at a Romantic Times Convention, and he was sitting next to me and he says, “Oh, I love your work so much! THUNK.” I think he must’ve done this to every author he can get his hands on!
Scalzi: I thought what we had was special, Pat.
Rothfuss: (gestures to the panel as a whole) Honestly, I’ve never read aaaaany of your books. It feels better to finally get this off my shoulders.
Paul: I like to imagine everyone just keeps leaving the same copy… The Name of the Wind is like the fruitcake of books.
Rothfuss: I want that as the blurb on the back!
Scalzi: (to the moderator, after the laughter subsides) …does that answer your question?
Moderator: It was also recently mentioned that alcohol generally makes any convention better. We do have an event called “Drinks with Authors” that is taking place on Saturday night.Carrie then talked a bit about singing in her high school English classes and her teacher’s lack of appreciation for it before talk returned to the subject of authors and drinking.
Naomi Novik: Why wasn’t I invited to that?
Mod: You are now invited. What could one potentially expect from something called “Drinks with Authors?”
Scalzi: Drunk authors?
Mod: What does one get out of a drunk author?
Seanan: Iambic pentameter.
L.E. Modesitt: I don’t think there’s much difference between John sober and otherwise.
Scalzi: The funny thing is that I don’t actually drink. I can get stupid on my own!
Scott Lynch: John gets high on Coke Zero. This is normal. This is sober in John’s world. (After some discussion of what drunk Scalzi would be like, and how his wife would be both tolerant of talk of murdering her spouse and also kick the crap out of anyone who actually did so, the conversation moved on.)
Carrie Vaughn: I was at an event once, drinking, and I looked up at one point and noticed there were people just watching me because, apparently, I am an amusing drunk. I am an entertaining drunk. Show tunes have been involved.
Scalzi: So what we’re saying is, two martinis, and then it’s “Let It Go?”
Carrie Vaughn: I’ve only seen it once, so I’d have to hear it a couple more times. But I do Westside Story. I do Guys and Dolls. Into the Woods.
Rothfuss: Man of La Mancha?
Carrie Vaughn: Yes! I can!
Rothfuss: I do a good Sancho.
Rothfuss: Actually, I’m with John. I don’t drink, generally speaking. That’s because I’ve got about four inhibitions and they’re all working real hard. They’re reeeally important. But that said, somebody gave me a stone bottle of Danish mead at my signing last night, and it’s sort of like the book thing. He brought this from…Dane-land, or wherever— (much laughter)
Scalzi: You’re an edumacated man!
Rothfuss: —and I can’t just leave it at the bookstore. I kinda have to try this now. But y’know, the other thing is, I will sing without the influence of drink, so, uh, that’s what you’ll probably see—me with this stone bottle of Viking mead, sharing it around with people and having a rare drink. I can’t tell you what’s going to happen.
Scalzi: Actually, Pat, you bring up what I think is a really interesting topic, which is the whole thing of people giving you stuff when you’re on tour, and you’re like, what do I do with this?
Scott Lynch: “I’ve carved every character in your book from driftwood I’ve been collecting for 16 years.” We love this, but you used a Jeep to get it here…
Scalzi: The thing that I had recently was, people started bringing me buttercream frosting. I made this joke when I was coming up on 30,000 Twitter followers, that if I got to 30,000 followers I would strip naked and cover myself in buttercream frosting. And I didn’t really think I would—ha ha ha, it’s a joke, and then fucking Neil Gaiman retweeted it. And I’m getting closer and closer and closer to 30,000 and I’m like, Neil, you bastard, if this happens I’m doing it in your front lawn. It was supposed to frighten him off, and of course Neil goes (in a Neil Gaiman voice), “That would be lovely.” This did actually happen. On Neil’s front lawn. Me covered in buttercream frosting. There is a picture out there. Believe me, there is a picture out there. But in the interim I had a book tour for Redshirts, and people were just like, “Here’s your can of buttercream frosting. That will be of service to you.” In Minneapolis, apparently the capital of people giving authors weird shit, a guy gave me a ten pound tub of homemade buttercream frosting. I’m like, ten pounds?! What do you expect me to do with this? And he says, “Practice.”
Seanan: I have a thing for baked goods. It’s not a secret. So people are like, “Seanan’s coming, I’ll bring her cupcakes!” I also have a phobia of pudding. I’m terrified of pudding. I’m not kidding. It’s funny, but I’m actually scared completely out of my mind of pudding. And the number of people who think what really differentiates a store-bought cupcake from an exciting homemade cupcake is surprise fucking pudding! Sometimes people will give you a gift, especially when it’s an edible gift, and they’re like (creepy voice, invading personal space), “This is for you…” And then they just stand there waiting for you to ingest it!
Scott Lynch: I just get illustrations and heartfelt hugs, and you guys get the fucking Zodiac Killer! (creepy voice) I love your work, wear the frosting Scalzi…
There was more talk of interesting gifts authors had received, such as a mounted Temeraire head Naomi Novik loves but is also a little unsettled by, Rothfuss joking about receiving a mounted Kvothe head, and Carrie Vaughn receiving all sorts of werewolf-themed craft beers. L.E. Modesitt then brought the focus back to the drinks/authors theme and tied in gifts from fans, too.
L.E. Modesitt: Compared to all of these people I’m really boring. I don’t drink, but it’s not because of moral scruples. I’m one of those very rare people who is physically allergic to alcohol. (audience makes horrified, pitying sounds) I found out as a Navy pilot trying to be one of those macho types and almost ended up in the emergency room, because I’d been a competitive swimmer all the way through college which meant that I wasn’t drinking. Then I got in the Navy and said, “I can drink!” …No. So I don’t get any of that sort of stuff. The only thing I’ve really gotten that’s sort of neat was—those of you who’ve heard about my Saga of Recluce, the main character in the first book has a black staff, and a woodworker in my town actually created from scratch a black sycamore staff bound in iron, inscribed with the first lines.
Seanan: That’s amazing.
Scalzi: You get the handcrafted stuff, I get frosting.
(conversation wanders, then after some talk of fan tattoos)
L.E. Modesitt: I haven’t had that, but I’ve had a number of people ask if they could name their kids after characters in my books.
Scott Lynch: First baby this year. Someone named their kid Locke, that poor, poor child. It was a thing for many, many years, because George (Martin) actually had a gigantic gallery on his old website of literally dozens of children—and the funny part is these kids were named Arya and Bran 12 years ago, long before everyone found out what happens to this whole family!
Scalzi: Isn’t one of the most popular, upward trending names for girls in the last year Khaleesi?
Scott Lynch: I would get pictures from people saying, “We named a kitten after one of your characters!” And that’s awesome, that’s really cool, but it’s not a wall of baby pictures. So finally someone got crazy and sleep-deprived enough to say, “This kid looks like a Locke Lamora to me.” I’m sorry, kid, wherever you are!
Scalzi: Years of thievery ahead.
Scott Lynch: I hope so! I mean…that would be terrible.
Pierce Brown: I don’t know why you guys are complaining. I’ve had one gift ever. It came from Romania, and it was my head cut off, in 6 pictures, but put on underwear commercials. It’s the only thing I’ve ever gotten, and there was a lot of oil.
Seanan: I don’t think that’s a gift, I think that’s a restraining order!
Pierce Brown: He’s from Romania, so I’m cutting him some slack. Anyway, I’ve never felt proud to say this before, but I do drink. And I tend to karaoke when I drink. Usually it’s pretty embarrassing, but since I have a member of Hanson up here with me (gestures to Scott Lynch)…
Scott Lynch: (points into the sky) That’s your blurb, flying away…
Scalzi: What is your go-to song? What is your drunken go-to karaoke song?
Pierce Brown: There’s one. MMMBop.
Scalzi: Is that the one you actually sing?
Pierce Brown: Oh, no. Walking in Memphis. I try, and then I lose myself halfway through. Or Backstreet Boys.
More author singing and drunk stories ensued, not the least of which was Seanan McGuire’s tale of her friends taking advantage of her drunken state to win a prank war, involving being loaded onto a train, waking up in Canada, and stealing away back to the U.S. in a relative’s hot air balloon. The lesson of this segment of the panel was definitely “Attend Drinks with Authors on Saturday!” Jumping off from the earlier talk of crazy things fans have done for them, the moderator’s next question was about what crazy things they’ve done to other authors.
Carrie Vaughn: This isn’t crazy, but—I don’t know if you remember this, Pat—I don’t even remember what convention it was, but it was one of these… Sometimes panels get mixed up, and people who are supposed to be on them aren’t there, and so you try to kind of come up with a panel on the fly. I was on a panel with Brandon Sanderson and we had lost half our panelists, and then Brandon says, “I’m gonna get Pat here!” And he sends a text, and I’m sitting there kind of in awe, because I have just watched Brandon Sanderson summon Pat Rothfuss. And ten minutes later, there’s Pat walking through the door up to the panel! Summon Pat Rothfuss—Brandon Sanderson can do it, guys!
Scalzi: Pat, you’re a retiring type. I’m sure you don’t have any stories.
Rothfuss: Yeah…well, okay. Okay. You’re getting the phone ready so you can record this, right? This is a story I’ve been thinking about telling on the blog for awhile and I haven’t. I certainly don’t try to come off as a suave, sophisticated person by any means, but still, there’s a level of geeky fandom that I try to keep restrained. We all have at least one or two people that we are profound geeks for. It’s true with everybody. And for me, it’s Gaiman. And it was fine while I was a reader, because you can be a big geeky fan of somebody, and it’s cool. Then I got published, but I was still nobody, so it was still okay. And then I was kind of more published, and we would run into each other. And suddenly we’re kind of colleagues, and then it’s weird to be a big geeky fan of somebody. But in the rare instances when we come together, I take 80% of my brain and devote it to not freaking out. And so I look like I’ve been pithed, but I don’t embarrass myself in front of him, right? And that’s the important thing. One year, he did a ten year anniversary of the release of American Gods at House on the Rock, and that’s in Wisconsin. And I live in Wisconsin, and I’m kind of stalking Gaiman—
Scalzi: As we all are!
Rothfuss: —so I find out about this event, and I’m like, let’s go. So I sign up, I get on a few panels, I’m thinking, “Hee hee hee, I’m gonna get to see Neil Gaiman at this thing,” and I go, have a good time, am relaxing. I’ve just been through deadline hell so I’m kind of a mess mentally, and I run through in my head what will I do if I actually get to talk to him. Because you script those things, right? You know what I’m talking about. You’re like, what would I say—oh god, no, these are the things I can’t say—kind of come up with contingency plans…and so I’m prepped, as much as I can be. So the first night goes by and I watch him do some stuff and it’s fine, and then we go to the hotel and they have a breakfast buffet. I wake up, we’re going to the breakfast buffet, I’m not a morning person, and someone comes up on my blindside with their hand out. Gaiman and I, our readerships overlap, so people have been introducing themselves this way all con. And so I turn around and I’m like, “Hey,” and halfway through shaking the hand, it’s Gaiman. This was, like, four years ago, just for some temporal context. I’ve actually gotten to know Gaiman better and I’m marginally okay with it now. But he comes up and he’s like, “I didn’t know you were going to be here!” and “I’m doing a signing in your panel!” and I’m like, there’s nothing I can say that you don’t already know, and because it’s come out of nowhere and I’m not ready for it, I’m just a regular person, and he’s a regular person—which, by the way, is a good way to handle it—just be people, it’s cool, don’t worry about it. But when it’s the person you’re a geek for, it’s hard to remember that. So we’re talking, and I have 5 minutes of human conversation with Gaiman, I don’t freak out, I don’t have to devote most of my brain to not having a spasm, and then his assistant comes up and says, “You’re holding up the buffet line.” So we turn, and in the act of picking up my plate, it frees up enough of my brain to go, “…that’s fucking Neil Gaiman RIGHT THERE.” And so I start to have a huge, huge freakout about how I am loading my plate at the buffet. I mean like a real, legitimate, paralyzing fear freakout. And I’m like, “…is this a really fucked up amount of scrambled egg to get? Is this a really abnormal amount of scrambled egg? Do I get three sausages? Is that a gross number of sausages? What is Gaiman going to think of me?” I tough it out, I make it through the line with him behind me, and all the time I’m like, “You’re crazy, Rothfuss. Gaiman doesn’t care how much scrambled egg,” but at the same time I walk back feeling dumb and crushed, like he was going to go back to his table and tell his friends, “I just ran into Patrick Rothfuss. Dude is a freak for scrambled egg!” So there’s my shameful geek story.
Scalzi: It might be the wrong place to say this, but I was, uh, over at Neil’s house not too long ago…I came across his scrambled egg diary. The things he says about you in that…
Scott Lynch: You have at least, Pat, succeeded very convincingly in becoming a Neil Gaiman character. Because the narration you just gave us is right out of a Neil Gaiman book.
Scalzi: The story that I have is my first novel signing, at BosCon (Boscone? Hard to say.) in 2005. And the thing that they like to do is you have your signing session with another writer. So my book has been out for two weeks, and so I thought, “Oh, they’ll have me and some other first time author, we’ll have stories to tell, isn’t this so exciting,” and the writer that they gave me to sign against was…George Martin. So I had one person in my line that was a guy I went to high school with, and George Martin’s line goes out and around and around and out…to Rhode Island. But I’m being introduced to him for the very first time, and I’m like, “George Martin! I’m so glad to meet you! I love your books! This one time, in my office, there was a spider as big as my hand, and I didn’t want to try to touch it, so I picked up this book of yours and—it worked like a charm!” And he looked at me like I was some kind of asshole. But the good news is that when I got to know him, he’s a perfectly nice guy—
Scott Lynch: He only holds grudges for 16, 17 years.
Scalzi: The nice thing is is that at the 2011 WorldCon he married his longtime partner Parris, and he had a wedding reception and he invited me to it. It was only after I was leaving in the cab that I was like, “Oh shit, that was a George Martin wedding! I’m lucky to be alive!”
Scott Lynch: I was panel cockblocked by Mercedes Lackey. (audience makes sympathetic noises) My first year of publication—“I’ve got a book out! Look, I’m special now!”—no, no you’re not—I was on the most wonderful panel I’ve ever been on at my most favorite convention on earth. Uh, after Phoenix Comicon. It was great, it was scintillating, it was great people on it, they were all wonderful, and five of us performed this panel for three people. One of whom was my fiancee, one of whom was my housemate, and one of whom worked for the convention. What had happened was the Mercedes Lackey signing had been put right outside the doors, so her line blocked the door and went to the parking lot. And everyone in Minnesota is there, like my own grandparents—(old person voice) “Hi, we’re in line for Mercedes Lackey, are you here, too?” I write books, too, grandma!—it literally blocks the door, and we have a wonderful panel. Ten minutes into it, the person from the convention looks around, and they do that sort of half-motion, slow-walk thing, pantomime ninja, because apparently authors can’t see you when you move at half speed. They take two minutes to Pink Panther their way out the door, through the Mercedes Lackey signing. And it’s like, “We can see you! You are visible!” I felt really bad about this for a couple of years, but then I eventually realized if you go to a convention and you sit around having a wonderful conversation with seven people, this is not a failure mode of anything. It’s just a wonderful conversation. I later got to finally meet Mercedes Lackey properly, and she saved my ass and she’s a wonderful sweetheart, and I can’t say anything bad about her.
Scalzi: You know that the rule is if there are more people on the panel than there are in the audience, you all adjourn to the bar, right?
Carrie Vaughn: Just to backtrack a tiny little bit—these things move in cycles. I don’t know if you’ve heard George (Martin) tell the story of one of his early signings, where he was signing against Stephen King. And this was before Game of Thrones, this was before any of that, so he was like the rest of us, kind of the journeyman science fiction/fantasy author. He’s doing this signing with Stephen King, and he has zero people in his line at that point and Stephen King’s got the line going out and around. And apparently some kind person running this signing thought it would be generous to walk up and down the line to make sure there was nobody in the Stephen King line who really wanted George. So this person walked up and down saying, “No line for George R.R. Martin! No one waiting for George!” That’s the story that George tells.
Del Rey Editor, from the audience: He actually had a signing with minus people. It was very early on in his career, and he was sitting at this cafe signing. He was at the table waiting, and there were three people in the cafe. They announced, “And now George will read from his novel,” and the three people get up and leave.
Scalzi: I had a signing at Costco. It was just… I know, right?
Seanan: Did they bring you free samples of things?
Scott Lynch: Ten pounds of cream frosting!
Scalzi: It was before I started writing novels. It was the book I wrote called The Book of the Dumb, which was stupid people doing stupid things, and the distributor mostly sold those books in bulk at Costco. …And they were like, “You should go to the Costco and sign.” So they set me up right next to the pallet, and people would walk in and they’d just be like…(side-eyes). I wrote The Book of the Dumb, and it saved my life once. There was one time a light went out and I needed replace it, so…I’m a small man. I’m like five…(vague, noncomittal noise). So I get on a chair, and I’m still not quite tall enough. So I get another chair, and I put it on that chair, and I’m beginning to climb up the chairs. And then, in my brain… “BOOK OF THE DUMB AUTHOR DIES STUPIDLY.” I got down from the chairs and waited for my wife to get home because she’s 5’11”.
Seanan: It’s true, when you’re doing a signing at a place like Costco, or, back when we still had them, Borders, you become invisible. If people don’t want to buy your book, they’re afraid that if they make eye contact, they’ll have to. You’ll force it upon them! So I had a signing at a Borders one day. It was just after Rosemary and Rue had come out and nobody knew who the hell I was. I also hung out at that Borders a lot so it looked kinda like the weird chick who liked to read the comic books section had somehow found a table. So NO ONE would look me in the eye, but my table was right next to the comic book section, so I read my way through the entire new releases rack. So we finish, and I go up like, “I’m done. I’ve been here for three hours. I signed a book, and I didn’t even write it.” They’re like, “Sure, you can leave.” But I’m still feeling kind of invisible. We got out to the car and it wouldn’t start. And everyone that’s walking through the parking garage is someone who has just failed to make eye contact with me at Borders and are still afraid to look at me. We’re literally going, “Please, do you have jumper cables?” and they’re like, “I’m not interested in your book.” We had to go and flag down a trucker.
Rothfuss: The military is trying to harness this technology for stealth. Author desperation.
Seanan: They’re just going to strap first-time authors to all their jets.
Scott Lynch: They’re shooting at us, but at least they didn’t try to sell us a book! Ahh, it’s just a Sidewinder missile, and not a first book in a trilogy.
L.E. Modesitt: Talk about missiles. I’ll throw in my little story about being upstaged. It had been a couple years after the first Recluce book came out, and I was doing a signing in conjunction with the World Fantasy Convention in London. I was signing with someone else. I’d never heard of this lady before. Her name was J.V. Jones, otherwise known as Julie Jones. Julie’s not too active these days, but Julie Jones, especially then, looked like the movie star’s movie star blonde bombshell. She was absolutely gorgeous, and I am sitting next to her, and people come up—I get a quick glance, and everybody goes to Julie’s table. And they keep going to Julie’s table. Occasionally someone comes up, and finally this well-dressed fellow comes up and says, “I really like all your books.” I say, “Would you like me to sign one for you?” And he says, “No. I don’t care for you, I just like your books.”
Naomi Novik: I don’t know, that’s kind of complimentary?
Carrie Vaughn: Yeah, like, “Thank you?”
Scalzi: “I never want to see you again, when is the next book out?” Wow.
Carrie Vaughn: I’ve had that happen, where I’ll get someone who sends me an email. “I really hate what you did in the last book, and I hated this about it, and I hated this about it.” I try to respond politely, “Thank you for the note, I appreciate your feedback,” signed Carrie. And then, almost immediately I’ll get an email back going, “Oh my god, I didn’t realize you read your own email. I’m so sorry.” And I’m so confused!
Scalzi: Not all of us have assistants.
L.E. Modesitt: Well, I have to tell another story along those lines. I wrote a book series called The Soprano Sorceress, and it’s three books, followed by two books that take place thirty years later, about the main character in the first book’s foster daughter. In the fourth book, second one, Anna, who was the character in the first one, dies of old age. I get an email from a Barnes and Noble employee that said, “I thought you’d like to hear about this.” When a bookstore sends you something like this, you immediately wince. You know it’s not going to be good. And it says, “I just want you to know when a copy of The Shadow Sorceress came back, I had a customer who came in, and she looked at me and she held up the book and she said, ‘He shouldn’t have done this!’ And she threw the book at me.”
And on that note, the panel’s hour was up. We probably could’ve listened to them telling stories like this for hours, but it ended with a big round of applause and exhortations to go to both the Paul & Storm concert on Friday night and Drinks with Authors on Saturday. (And like a good little book nerd I did both!) It was a very auspicious start to the convention’s 2014 books-and-authors track, so if you’re thinking about attending PHXCC next year, remember—always go to the Author Kickoff Panel!!!
In case you’re interested in watching a video of the full panel with all the bits I cut out intact and to get the full effect of the authors’ storytelling/facial expressions (since I went a little scriptwriting-style here), I found this one on YouTube. It was a great help for me in double-checking the audio for the times when the speech in my recording was drowned out by the audience’s laughter and applause, so thank you, Transmatrix!