Saturday, July 5, 2014

Phoenix Comicon 2014: Panel Salad

And now for a roundup of some of the other bookish-and-author-y things that went down at Phoenix Comicon last month! Jeez, was that really a month ago? I need to get a move on, little doggie, and finish up these reports. Probably only one or two more after this one, so I’ve been making progress! Anyway—rather than my traditional transcription of Q&As and other dialogue from panels, I think these ones are better served by the summary/bulleted list approach, supported by a healthy smattering of photos and other people’s YouTube videos to further enhance your vicarious PHXCC experience. What say you??! I say let’s check out…

Authors Being Silly

The Taco Council

After my enjoyment of the Author Chair Dancing Panel at last year’s comicon, I made a point of fitting into my schedule this year’s apparent analog, The Taco Council Panel. Blurb as follows: “The Taco Council convenes to give its mandates and rulings for 2014. Really, hang out with some awesome authors while they hang out with each other.” I knew not this Taco Council of which they spoke, but it sounded like fun silliness, and I’m always looking for more silliness in my life.

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The Council speaketh

The author-panelists from left to right are Leanna Renee Hieber, Sam Sykes, Delilah Dawson, Chuck Wendig, Kevin Hearne, Brian McClellan, and Jason Hough. The panel did end up being similar to last year’s in that it featured a bunch of authors who are prominent on Twitter/spend a lot of time talking to each other there/are possessed of awesomely goofy senses of humor, and that the focus was not strictly on their books and writing. But whereas last year was kind of a free-for-all with wide-ranging topics and tangents, this year was focused on their latest project, the Holy Taco Church. What is a Holy Taco Church, you ask? Well, handily enough, I have this helpful flyer to show you:

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But no, it’s not just a flyer—they have an actual website, too! Turns out it’s a place for them to talk about food, share recipes, and have some information about their upcoming books. Of course, with this here blog of similar interests (reading and eating really do go hand in hand after all, or more often, hand-in-bag-of-chips-and-then-on-book-leaving-a-greasy-fingerprint), this is something I am totally down with. The panel mostly consisted of them talking about what the Holy Taco Church is and giving silly and hilariously deadpan serious answers to silly questions from the audience. Half the reason the panel was so fun was because the audience was completely willing to go down this rabbit hole of Mexican food madness and bookish fun with them! A smattering of topics that came up:

  • Dr. Pepper carnitas
  • Whether or not a Choco Taco counts as a true taco
  • What the Taco Church’s gesture of benediction should be
  • The dictation of a churro recipe from author Beth Cato (it now appears on the site here)
  • The Taco Church’s conception of the apocalypse
  • Taco vs. Burrito
  • Holy days on the Taco Church calendar

It was fun to hang out with these guys for an hour and join them in the silliness of the Church and the coolness of the website. (I’m going to be making those churro bites for sure!)

The Author Batsu Game Panel

Similar in tone and craziness was the Batsu Game panel, advertised thusly: “Join Sam Sykes and a group of author friends for a rollicking good time. Batsu is a type of Japanese game show where contestants are given a challenge—and punished if they fail to complete it.” I remember my junior high students in Japan always asking me if it was a batsu game when I told them I had a game planned for class, so this was particularly amusing to me. The potential for hilarity here seemed pretty high, especially with John Scalzi and Pat Rothfuss involved. The other authors who unwittingly got themselves into this were Aprilynne Pike, Delilah Dawson, Leanna Renee Hieber, Myke Cole, and Chuck Wendig, with Sam Sykes on board to run the show.

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Left to right: Myke Cole, Chuck Wendig, John Scalzi, Delilah Dawson, Pat Rothfuss, & Leanna Renee Hieber, with Sam Sykes running things in the red jacket.

What it came down to was this: The only rule was not to laugh. If you laughed, you had to eat a spoonful of salsa. Every time you laughed, you had to eat a spoonful of salsa. With Sam Sykes pulling out all sorts of tactics, from reading humorous essays to making someone wear a Gandalf hat, following the One Rule was easier said than done. Predictably, John Scalzi was the first to cave and burst out laughing, and all the other authors fell in turn. The women held out for quite awhile, especially Aprilynne Pike, but everyone laughed eventually and had to pay the price. For the audience, the enjoyment of this was definitely rooted in schadenfreude—cackle at the misfortune of those being forced to consume straight spoonfuls of spicy salsa!!! Seeing how we the audience showed no mercy in condemning those on the panel whose smile may or may not have been an actual laugh to a dose of salsa, it’s easy to see how that whole gladiator thing happened in Rome. Some things that happened:

  • Making authors write the sexiest sentence they could think of, and then Sam reading them out loud
  • Pat Rothfuss eating a paper napkin
  • Myke Cole showing an astonishingly low tolerance for capsaicin
  • Myke Cole possibly, uh, ridding his stomach of salsa into that blue bucket you see in the photo
  • Rothfuss being forced to wear a wizard hat, with the penalty for removing it being a shot of salsa
  • Scalzi texting his wife to bring him a glass of milk
  • Scalzi’s wife actually bringing him a glass of milk

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The hat was eventually transferred from Rothfuss to Scalzi.

This is merely a sampling of the shenanigans perpetrated at this panel. I had hoped someone out there recorded the whole panel to put on YouTube, but I could only find this short clip. Here it is for your enjoyment, to give you a little taste of the madness (and thanks to Rachel Thompson for uploading it!):

Nighttime Revels

The Paul & Storm Concert

On Friday night, after a full-to-the-brim and rather exhausting day, we trekked to the huge North Ballroom to attend the Paul & Storm concert. We knew Scalzi and Rothfuss were going to be part of it, and had heard rumors that Seanan McGuire and possibly others would make appearances, too.

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This astonishingly blurry photo gives a good impression of our state of mind at this point in the day—woozy, a bit out of it, unable to focus , but still able to appreciate pretty bright colors.

To give our poor aching feet a rest, we arrived early, got pretty good seats, and had the pleasure of watching Paul & Storm do the soundcheck and get all the equipment squared away. They were cracking me up even when they weren’t technically performing yet! I can’t quite remember how exactly it came about, but I think Storm joked about it being the Celebrity Cheese Panel, which led to many more cheese-related jokes throughout the pre-show setup. It was asserted, among other things, that George R.R. Martin loves gruy√®re, and that Seanan McGuire is a fan of cheddar so sharp it can cut you.

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The Celebrity Cheese Panel getting ready. (Paul on the left, Storm on the right with the guitar.)

Scalzi was also wandering around the stage a bit during this time, which made this awesome moment of a mini The Cure singalong possible:

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Scalzi retweeted this photo and posted it on his blog, which very nerdily made my day!

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It was a real bonding moment between the performers and the audience. (That’s Amber Benson, Paul, and Scalzi up there.)

John Scalzi started the shindig off as the opening act, making his first-ever go of public stand up comedy. Pretty much every panel of his I’ve attended or book of his that I’ve read has made me laugh A LOT a lot, and his premiere stand up performance was no different. Maybe not Scalzi at his absolute, punchiest best, but pretty damn good for his first ever foray into stand up, I’d say! Following that, he and Amber Benson (y’know Tara from Buffy, and an author in her own right) performed a script he’d written called “Denise Jones, Super Booker,” in which a man interviews this Denise Jones about her work as the Super Hero Booking Coordinator for the International Society of Super-Beings, wherein she helps cities under attack book superheroes to help them out of whatever nasty situation they find themselves in. You can check out both amusing parts of this opening act in this video posted by Transmatrix:

They were followed by the evening’s second and headliner act, Paul & Storm! This musical comedy duo is great fun to see perform live, and serenaded us with such worthy ballads as the afore-and-oft-mentioned-on-this-blog “Write Like The Wind,” a hilarious song about boxing nuns, an ode to an American hero, and many others. Their banter between songs had us in stitches as much as the songs themselves, with all the great “______ is the name of my ______ cover band” jokes, and other such gems as cockatiels and catheters as the newest hipster affectations and the logic tree for determining if you are Pat Rothfuss. These guys seem like they’re really cool people to hang out with, and it was great to be able to do so for an evening. There’s also a surprise song performance by Seanan McGuire hiding in the middle! Check out the hilarity of this segment of the show in yet another video awesomely posted by Transmatrix:

Paul & Storm were followed by Patrick Rothfuss, who favored us with a reading from his Auri novella (coming in October), as he had promised on the blog. (I seriously think there might have been a riot if that reading didn’t happen.) Before Auri, though, he read us one of his old advice/humor columns from his college years about keeping pets in dorms illegally, and whether a guinea pig can be considered a fish. (I got a bit mixed up while writing these reports and had originally thought this was something he read at his spotlight panel on Saturday, but alas, it was at this event instead—sorry for the confusion!) Following that, despite his worries and anxiety about sharing it with the world (because it’s weird and not like a normal story, he says), he read us a sample of the Auri novella, and I honestly think it sounds great. I can’t wait to get my hands on the rest of it in the fall.

And the Roth-fun didn’t end there! Next up was a reading/slideshow of the first of his not-for-children-children’s-books, The Princess and Mr. Whiffle: The Thing Beneath the Bed. I had always been curious about these books, and this ended up being the perfect way to be introduced to them—through story time with the author himself! It was so cool—he read it to us once, and then went back through and broke it down for us a little bit to ensure we got the most out of it that we could. It’s a story that messes with the reader’s expectations, and it was awesome to hear him talk about that a little bit, since that whole messing-with-your-expectations aspect is one of my favorite things about his epic fantasy series, The Kingkiller Chronicle.

So ended the Rothfuss portion of the evening, and by this time the exhaustion of a very busy day had caught up with me and I was seriously fighting to keep my fingertip-hold on consciousness. To finish off the night, everyone came back on stage to perform a, uh, NSFW song called “The Captain’s Wife’s Lament,” that involved lots of pirate argh-ing and puns and audience participation. It took at least 25 minutes to get through the song, and in my head it was a war between being genuinely amused by the hilarious chaos of the performance and my desire to go to sleep and recover for the next day. It really was hilarious (I’m laughing again as I watch the video), and I found myself making chronic arghhh puns for the duration of the weekend. Check it out, and thanks again to Transmatrix for making and sharing these videos! The concert was an awesome experience and I’m glad I stuck it out to the end. If you like laughing and geeky things and have the chance to go to a Paul & Storm show, DO IT. And maybe prepare some pirate puns in advance.

Drinks With Authors

I wasn’t really sure what to expect from this event, besides the titular authors and drinks. Was it a panel? Was it a party? Which authors would be there? Big ballroom? Smaller, more intimate setting? SO MANY QUESTIONS. And, of course, only one way to answer them, so at 8 o’clock on Saturday night it was off to the Renaissance Hotel we frolicked! (“Frolicked” might be a generous term to describe our ambulation in the direction of these festivities—after two crazy, hectic, fun days and very little sleep, “shuffled zombie-like” might be more accurate.)

I was surprised (though in retrospect I don’t know why) to see that there was already a long line snaking through the hallways of the Renaissance when we arrived. I was also surprised (again, I’m not sure why) to see many suspiciously underage-looking comicon-goers eagerly awaiting the opening of the doors. Surely the drinks in “Drinks with Authors” meant adult beverages, and not simply hot cocoa and cola? I was too busy focusing on staying awake and giving the impression of being a pleasant individual to stand near in line to give it too much thought. But sure enough, a con worker soon came walking up and down the line to remind us that it was an 18-and-over event, and that they would be checking IDs at the door. Even through the haze of sleepiness I managed to feel both amusement and sympathy as at least a third of the line dejectedly trudged away.

I chatted with some people near me in line, and once the doors were open the line moved quickly. A few of the meeting spaces (or “salons,” in fancy hotel-speak) had been opened and connected to create a nice-sized mingling space—neither huge like the convention center ballrooms, nor too small to fit a goodly number of authors and fans. There were some tables and chairs around the area, but mostly the tall, bar kind of mini tables with no seating. (I imagine this promotes mixing and mingling with people you don’t know, but after a day of standing and walking I would’ve loved to sit down for a bit.) To the excitement of the attending bookworms and SFF nerds, there were copies of Django Wexler’s The Thousand Names lying about on the tables as swag for the guests. And on top of that, throughout the night there were drawings to give away prize packs of books from various publishers. So cool!

But I’m getting a little ahead of myself. After I’d scouted the bar and decided the drinks were a little too dear for my wallet and would probably only send me off to sleepyland anyway, I settled on some nice, cold water and found a comfortable-looking wall to lean on while I struck up a conversation with some nearby strangers. It was also at this point that I noticed that there were various authors sprinkled throughout the crowd, chatting with people and doing a very good job of blending in. It was kind of like Where’s Waldo! I had spotted Jim Butcher, Jason Hough, Pierce Brown, and Delilah Dawson engaged in conversation at various points around the room when Myke Cole and Sam Sykes made their way to the front to make the inaugural address. I did not have the presence of mind to think of taking any photos at this event, but Jason Hough tweeted this excellent picture of the author-totem kicking things off:

Myke Cole (top of the totem), appearing to have made a full recovery from his Batsu experiences, welcomed us and explained the idea behind the event a bit—how it’s fun to see your favorite authors on panels and things, but how it’s also cool to sometimes break down that barrier and get to interact more personally. He continued, saying that since we are the ones buying their books and making their livelihoods possible/worthwhile, they thought a party where we could all mingle, have a good time, and talk to each other as fellow humans sounded like an awesome idea. And with the ribbon cut, so to speak, the shindig commenced in earnest! I didn’t end up staying very long since I was dead on my feet and finding it hard to be an interesting and attentive conversation partner with those around me, let alone to muster up the energy and confidence to go say hi to an author or two, but for the hour-ish that I stayed I had a good time. I think there were two drawings for book prizes during the time I was there, and though I didn’t win I thought it was nice addition to the party. Who doesn’t like door prizes and swag? (I gave my ticket to a random person as we were leaving, so hopefully their increased chances of winning scored them a prize!) And even in my sleep-deprived stupor, I managed to be pleasantly startled/starstruck to see John Scalzi and Pat Rothfuss hanging out together outside the doors to the party as I was leaving.

I think I would’ve enjoyed the evening even more if I’d had a chance to sneak in a nap and some rest for my poor little feet some time during the day, but even so, it was a really cool, unique event and I hope they do something like it again next year! Authors and fans, together at last. :)

It looks like I’ve got only one panel left to recap after this: the awesome “Writing Rogues” panel from Sunday of the con. Until then, what do you think of some of the events covered in this panel salad post? Will you check out the Taco Church? Find some Paul & Storm songs on YouTube? Satisfy a sudden craving for salsa? Let us know what you think in the comments!

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