Monthly Archives: March 2013
Con Survival Guide, Post #16: How to Treat People in Costume Or Excuse Me, Flash, Could You Hurry Up?
Con Survival Guide, Post #16: How to Treat People in Costume
Excuse Me, Flash, Could You Hurry Up?
People who are dressed in costumes at conventions are quite different from people who dress strangely in public places. Okay, there are exceptions, like you can generally assume that adult women who dress like Sailor Moon frequently (and by frequently I mean there may be an exception somewhere) take themselves too seriously and at least seem to be somewhat unhinged.
Con-goers, on average, are more intelligent and more educated than the general population and therefore have more of a sense of humor. A few years ago, after Star Wars Episode 1: Phantom Menace was released to menace us all, there was a line of Princess Amadilas waiting to be in the costume contest at DragonCon. By a line I mean somewhere between 50 and 400. Since I was walking through that section anyway, I was looking at the various costumes, including the one Jango Fett, when I noticed a six-foot-five, burly man with a cigar sticking out of his bushy beard dressed as the Princess. I immediately burst out laughing while about fifty people around me stepped back, looking scared. He reached up one meaty hand, pulled the cigar out of his mouth and in a booming voice said to me, “Thank you! I worked hard on this outfit and you’re the first one to laugh!” The crowd around me let go a huge sigh of relief and several people immediately admitted that they thought it was funny but were afraid to laugh in case he was serious. He couldn’t believe anyone could think he could possibly be serious with the huge beard and cigar. After that, everything went much more smoothly and everybody was happy.
Most con-goers are sane. I mean there are the exceptions like Miss Marvel/ Rocker Girl, but even most of those are harmless. The truth is that fandom is full of people who are just bad with names, so generally speaking it is usually acceptable to call someone by the name of the character they’re dressed as (especially if they’ve done a good job of it) or the name that’s on their badge. It’s always good form, however, to call someone by their own name once in a while if you can remember it. The good news is they probably don’t remember your name either.
This generally applies as long as they don’t think that you think that they are that fictional character. In fact, it is generally not acceptable to either believe they are a fictional character, or that you are a fictional character. While there are some people who are not sane who go to conventions, and they are generally tolerated, and some are genuinely liked, it is not the best way to make friends. Over the years, some have been viewed kind of like mascots so long as they weren’t causing any trouble.
It is generally never acceptable, however, to call an actor by the name of the character they play or act like you think they actually are that character no matter how incredibly cute Kaylee might have been or how hot Ivanova was. Girls, this also applies to anyone who has played The Doctor or John Barrowman, who played Captain Jack. While Amy Pond was hotter than a summer day in Georgia, I have to admit that I don’t remember the actress’s name. Those of us who are bad with names, of course, have strategies for getting around that kind of problem.
While it is perfectly acceptable to call someone by the name of the character that they are dressed as and compliment them on their costume, interacting with them as the character should be done with some caution. If you happen to be dressed as another character from the same story, then this can be extended somewhat as long as they’re willing also.
Costumes can be as subtle as wearing a shirt, a pin, or a hat that identifies you as a part of a particular world to a fully detailed 7-foot tall costume of an alien with or without Sigourney Weaver. I once wore a sheet over my head with two eye-holes cut in it and a sign on my back that said Ghost Writer to a convention. Unfortunately, nobody took me up on it. Some of the subtlest costumes consist of having the name of a particular character as a badge name. Generally, the person’s real name is underneath the badge name in small print.
A number years ago, there was a big movement for a small number of near-professional level costumers to enter contests with costumes worthy of movie sets, and while I don’t know if this helped any of them ever get a job, it did scare off the amateur costumers. As a result, there are a lot fewer people in costume these days than there used to be, except at anime conventions. I personally don’t think that these people should be judged in the same category as everyone else, and I honestly have greater respect for a creative or original costume than I do for a well-made knockoff.
Another sad loss to costuming has been the virtual disappearance of the costumed skit. I and others miss this wonderful aspect of conventions. Certainly they provide great memories for those of us who were lucky enough to see the Dead Perry Sketch (yes, a Dr. Who/Monty Python crossover) and the Star Trek Red Shirt Zombies.
You don’t have an automatic right to take someone’s picture and monopolize their time without asking. Most people are more than thrilled to get their picture taken in the costume with you if you ask, but if they’re trying to get to the bathroom or last call for the costume contest or, God forbid, their diabetes kit because they’re about to have a problem and you’re demanding to take your picture with them and won’t let them go, then don’t be surprised if they have the Hulk throw you off the balcony or security eject you from the convention.
Now, if you see things differently from them you may feel compelled to go up and make a comment on how you would have done one or two things differently, which is understandable, and goes over much better if it includes a compliment about something they’ve done that you wouldn’t have thought of, but unless they’re a costuming geek who is getting into the conversation, you might want to limit it to that. Let me just say on their behalf: “Well if you think that you can do so much better of a job, then shut up and go do it yourself. Did you go around and critique the other kids on Halloween, too?” In fact, how good your costume is isn’t really the point. Whether you’re at a Ren Faire or a convention, the real point is to have fun. Different people have fun in different ways, but ideally we can all have fun together.
So until next week, have fun.
Con Survival Guide, Post #15: Dealer Interactions
Stick to the Plan
Dealers at science fiction and other related conventions are a different breed from other entrepreneurs I have known. They vary from the convention goer who treats his table as a glorified flea market or garage sale to the obsessively focused businessman, with most falling somewhere in the middle. An awful lot of convention dealers resemble nothing more or less than characters out of Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere. If you have not seen the British mini-series, I highly recommend it. There is also a book, but this is one of the few cases where I recommend the video first. They’re both good. They’re both different. The video came first. The book has more background and is a little different. It is, nevertheless, the video that will truly speak to you in my opinion. The Floating Market from Neverwhere is kind of like a very well lit Dealer’s Room, and a certain comic book dealer friend of mine, when this is discussed, always comes up before I can mention him. Everyone agrees that he’s like a cross between Old Bailey and the Marquis De Carabas.
I don’t think the average con-goer actually thinks about the dealers themselves so much as the actual Dealer’s Room, with all of its glittering trinkets from alien worlds and mystic realms. Unfortunately, theft has become an occasional problem at conventions, particularly Anime conventions. This goes against the unspoken community code that many of the noobs are unaware of. Dealers are an integral part of the convention scene, and these people travel long distances and pay money to set up and sell their wares. Stealing from them can mean the difference between them making and losing money, and whether or not they will ever come back to the convention. With just the wrong timing, it can cause a dealer to go under entirely or quit the convention scene because it’s not worth it. Certainly, for those odd people who go to conventions entirely for the Dealer’s Room, this is a disaster, but it is harmful to the rest of us as well. Dealer doesn’t go to the convention, convention doesn’t get dealer fees, convention loses money. Voila, no convention. So, whether you are an old-time convention goer or a newbie, it’s in your best interest to make sure your friends don’t steal and to turn in people you see stealing from dealers.
When you work conventions as a dealer, you quickly learn that there is a rather tight-knit dealer community. You quickly learn which people are nice, which people are jerks, and which people will always ask, “You’ll owe me a favor? What kind of favor?” Dealers talk to each other. They know more about who is selling knock-off crap and who is selling a good quality product, and they know which conventions make them money and which ones don’t. A convention that treats its dealers poorly will find that the word gets around very quickly. And, yes, dealers barter with each other. But I will not reveal all of their secrets. It’s a guild thing—I hope you understand.
The best dealers are ones like Aardvark Tees, who concentrate on one job and doing it well without ever losing sight of The Plan. Most of their t-shirts are original (at least until other people copy them,) they do a quality print job that doesn’t fade when you wash your clothes, they are nice and friendly, and have been known to leave me feeling like I should have paid them more on occasion. They use all of their booth space without any elaborate outlay for displays, they do not look like a cluttered flea market junk booth or an alien Zen garden consisting of a table with three items on it and a missing salesman. On top of that, they have built their reputation over generations. Some people have booths that just consist of items they have bought elsewhere that they are retailing to you, and that is good because it allows a variety of items that would not be otherwise available. Other small businesses like Aardvark Tees actually make the majority of their products, and there are people like Wolfhome Adventuring Outfitters who do a little of both.
There are a lot of good guys out there. J & J won’t sell you a knife or sword unless it’s good quality, and you know which end to point in which direction. Wes won’t let you get away from him after buying a comic book without telling you a story that’s probably better than the comic book, or at least funnier. Dave Cain Jewelry is one of the top five chainmail jewelry makers in the world, but he doesn’t charge you like he’s one of the top guys in the world, and he guarantees his work. There are many others, and of course the landscape is constantly changing, and varies from convention to convention all over the country. There are people who aren’t good, don’t stand behind what they do, and are jerks. Fortunately, most of those don’t last very long.
So I keep talking about remembering The Plan. What is Remembering the Plan, you may ask? Well, I’m glad I put words in your mouth, and I hope you are, too. The Plan is to go to a convention and have fun. That’s what they’re there for. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a guest, a dealer, an attendee, or even a staff member. You’re there to enjoy the convention. If you’re not a paying member, but one of these other things, then you’ve gone to a great deal of effort to get yourself to a convention in a way that you can afford. If, along the way, you forget why you are at the convention, and why we’re all at the convention, spending coveted time around people where you can use your entire vocabulary, and if people don’t know what you’re talking about they are very likely to be interested in hearing about it and becoming converts to your favorite show, and, frankly, even if they make fun of your favorite show, book or whatever, they are unlikely to make fun of you. If they do without huge provocation, then they don’t deserve to call themselves Fans, Otaku, or a part of Fandom. They are just not a Fan. They might be an air conditioner, but most likely they are a sump pump. But definitely not a Fan.
Personally, I had not heard of calling it, or defining it as, Stick to the Plan until the last convention I was at where the artist Rick Jackson introduced me to it and gave me a badge that said it, but certainly I’ve been talking about this aspect of Fandom for many years.
So in conclusion, remember that while they are trying to make a living, dealers are not just human beings also, they are Fans. They help make the convention scene work. So have fun and, until next time, Remember The Plan.
Copyright © 2013 Julian Thomas Reid III
The Highs and Lows of Writing
Writing is the most difficult job that I have ever done. Since the wreck where I got brain damage and spinal damage and the black widow bite that gave me even more neurological damage (the hospital had no antivenin) even doing the research exhausts me mentally. Before that, absorbing new information was like breathing. No, wait; I take that back. I was asthmatic, so breathing was actually much harder than learning. Still, the payoff when you finish something is wonderful.
My first book was returned to me six years after Jim Baen said he would buy it and then had a stroke and died, with a note that said they did not have time to read it. I was relieved. The wait was finally over. By then I didn’t care where the shoe dropped. When I finished my first book, it was both a great relief and one of the most incredibly elated feelings I have ever experienced. I had gone through a great deal of hardship to write that book despite numerous people interfering (some intentionally), computer problems, numerous deaths in my family, and other obstacles.
Despite all this, I find myself a little giddy over the fact that a book was recently released with a foreword that was half written by me. A Dark and Stormy Night is the recently professionally released anthology by Percy Bysshe Shelley, John William Polidori, Lord Byron, and Mary Shelley created on that fateful night that gave birth to the monster Frankenstein and his creation Adam. If you’ve not actually read the story, then you probably don’t know what I’m talking about.
There’s a sense of relief and elation when you finish a piece. There’s a certain amount of elation that comes with that piece being accepted, but at least for me, there is a certain unreality to it until you actually see it in print.
It has always been difficult for me to write and to read. I was born premature and dead. A combination of farsightedness, a lagging eye, dyslexia, and brain damage as well as neuromuscular damage made it very difficult to learn to read and write. I never learned to print and can only write in cursive. It is difficult for me to read cursive; it is much easier for me to read print. My hands cramp up painfully when I sign my name and I’ve been told my whole life that I have the handwriting of a doctor. That is why the majority of my writing is done with a text to speech program—oh, I mean a speech to text program–named Dragon.
In 1980, when I finally decided to submit a story to a contest being run by one of the two science fiction magazines to which I subscribed, it promptly declared bankruptcy and folded. The other magazine to which I subscribed purchased that magazine and then declared bankruptcy and folded. This took two months. Later, after I was published in many fanzines and running my own semi-pro-zine (Planetary Previews Magazine), around 89 or 90 I sold a piece to what was going to be the first online book. This was a while before the web. They had already given me a small advance and we had a verbal agreement on Friday to be followed up by a contract on Monday. Unfortunately, Monday morning the vice president of the company walked from her adjoining office into the office of her husband, the president of the company, and found him on the desk with his secretary. The company was dissolved in the divorce and the book never came out. These are not the only instances of this sort that happened in my career, but they were certainly the most interesting.
Currently, in addition to doing this blog, I am working on the design of two different games for two different gaming companies, and doing freelance writing in the hopes of getting the proverbial promised cheese sandwich they talked about so much in the Golden Age. It is my belief that finally getting published in a professional book has finally broken the curse that began when Harlan Ellison looked me in the eye and said, “Good luck with your book.” Yes, Harlan actually said that to me. I get along well with both Harlan Ellison and Brad Linaweaver. Harlan–most people really don’t understand Harlan. What you have to realize is that Harlan is a Dungeons and Dragons gnome.
The first time I met Harlan, he was surrounded by 20-40 sycophant fans. As I walked by, he told a very dark joke similar to the kind my mother would tell, but not dirty. As they all stepped back and gasped, I burst out in laughter. I got the joke; they thought he was serious.
I know a Chi Gung that would help Harlan get over all that anger, but I know of nothing that will help you get over the fact that other people are stupid other than realizing that you are stupid too. We all are. We are also brilliant, noble creatures. I have found out, as Harlan has, that no one becomes more cynical than a disappointed idealist. Unlike Harlan, I’ve spent my whole life trying to infuse an equal amount of realism into my life.
So what is it like to see your name in print on the cover of a book? You know that feeling you get when you wake up on Monday, dreading high school, and find out that it’s a snow day, that feeling you get when that girl you have the crush on but are too shy to talk to asks you out, that feeling you get when you realize your first paycheck has covered all your bills and you’re walking down the street without a penny to your name and no food for the next week and you see a $100 bill on the sidewalk, that feeling you get when as a child you wake up on Christmas morning and find that under the tree, Santa has left you the present that you wanted most but didn’t ask for because you knew you couldn’t get it? Well, really, it’s nothing like that.
Something I didn’t realize until today, and it’s probably a good thing or I would have quit writing years ago, is that writing is kind of like gambling. It’s long, hard, miserable work with an occasional payoff. Every time someone asks you for your autograph, it’s an incredible stroke to your ego. The first time someone asked me for my autograph, I was astonished and asked if they were joking. But the feeling you get when you actually see your name in print is like nothing else I’ve ever experienced. The middle of your chest feels light, like you could float away, and you feel like jumping up and down. I tend to have a feeling of joy tinged with disbelief, or more appropriately, it feels a little surreal. I’m sure it’s different for other people, but this is how it tends to be for me. I thought I resisted the urge to jump up and down, but people who saw me open the book and see my name on the cover tell me I failed. I still feel like I showed much restraint, but I have to admit that most of the restraint stemmed from feeling, no not feeling, being somewhat in shock, even though I had been waiting for the thing for four days. I can also tell you that I wasn’t waiting patiently.
I started writing out of a desire to entertain, inform and help the world. From my experience, the world doesn’t care. A lot of people don’t even care how hard you worked to entertain them. The real reason a person writes is because they have no other choice. I hope that I can help someone somewhere either with my martial arts instruction or my writing but ultimately I do it because that’s what I do and writing is a necessity, but martial arts give joy to my life. The people who have come back to me and told me that I have saved their life have made it worthwhile, but I’m still hoping that someday someone will tell me that I have transformed the way they look at the world for the better. For me this is a very difficult task because I feel the need to show people options and let them decide where they want to go and what they want to do and ultimately who they want to be. This is not propaganda, this is life and I hope you have a good one. Until next week . . . .
Copyright © 2013 Julian Thomas Reid III
Con Survival Guide, Post #14: Dealing With Drunks
Last night, there was a girl passed out on the floor in the hall outside a room party at the convention I’m currently attending as a guest. She was sleeping quietly while being watched over by one of her friends. When we passed her later, she was being watched over by a different one of her friends. While that’s good and kind of cool, you should really try to avoid cramping your friends’ style that way. She definitely owes them a big favor now. Hopefully she realizes it. Drinking responsibly is definitely the way to go. You have more fun, and if you do it you don’t get a hangover and you remember what happened.
Drinking irresponsibly, on the other hand, can lead to getting mugged, waking up in a hospital, mysteriously finding out you’re pregnant a couple of months later, being ejected from conventions, being ejected from hotels, or waking up in bed with a strange man, which can be particularly bad if you are a straight male or a lesbian. Of course, it’s a much bigger deal if you’re a straight guy and wake up pregnant, but most likely if that happens you’ll make enough money off your story to never have to work again, so there are pros and cons.
Generally if you’re going to drink, you should start by drinking some water and taking a vitamin pill would not be a bad idea. It’s also a good idea to try and make a decision on how much you’re planning to drink beforehand. Let’s be honest: If you don’t remember what happened, then you did not have a good time. If you think otherwise, your life is miserable and you need to work on it. If you’re at a con, you’re most likely hanging out with a bunch of friends. When you go drinking, you should go as a group and look out for each other. Whether or not you intend to drink responsibly, things happen. If someone else has gotten really drunk, try to keep in mind that next time it might be you, whether you believe that is true or not.
A few years ago, I was at a convention and had had a really hard day, partially from dealing with my job as a track director, and partially from dealing with my ex (who was not my ex yet) and the guy whose room she was in. So that evening, I had the most I would normally drink at room parties. And then I heard in rather fast succession from two different people about how first one and then another of my friends had died recently, which I did not know prior to that. This resulted in me going into a room party and getting a 32 ounce drink of half blue Powerade and half either Golden Grain or Everclear (if you don’t know, those are just pure alcohol). I downed the drink in less than three seconds, and what happened after that is Con Legend, but I don’t remember a thing. I can tell you that I felt really bad for a week. The next day, when I woke up in a strange hotel room between a couple of my friends, I was disoriented, drunk, and hung over. And then I had to go do a panel.
Just a couple of years ago, one of my kung fu students and I got between an incredibly drunk trucker and the young lady she was trying to grope, at which point we both became the objects of attempted groping. We kept her occupied and distracted her from her original target long enough for her to go somewhere else, and eventually shook her off and got away ourselves. The next day, the trucker was genuinely embarrassed and humiliated by her behavior of the night before, but it could have been much worse.
Even an amiable drunk lacks judgment but is absolutely sure that their judgment is sound and reasonable. The most belligerent drunk may well be a really nice person under ordinary circumstances and not really someone who deserves to have the crap beaten out of him. If you are sober, the thing to use is your brain to convince them to do whatever they need to be doing, like returning to their room where hopefully you can get them to lie down and pass out before any other problems occur. On a number of occasions, I have given drunks shot glasses full of water which they slammed one after another while convinced they were getting even drunker.
The old myth about sobering somebody up with coffee only gives you a wide-awake drunk. However, if they were drinking beer it may result in them spending hours pissing in the bathroom rather than running around acting stupid, and you can always tell them they had a great time. Hell, if you want to you can tell them they had a great time making out with a guy in drag. I’m not actually recommending that; it wouldn’t be nice. One thing’s for sure: You would much rather have them sleeping it off. The last thing you want is a wide-awake drunk. Despite the fact that energy drinks mixed with alcohol kills people, I still see people going on about how great it is. Please don’t be stupid and don’t let your friends be stupid. I have on many occasions seen people convincing their drunken friend to follow them back to the room when it was obvious they were too drunk to walk correctly and almost ready to pass out by telling them they were going to another room party. As these people generally had to tell the person where they were going or what was going on about every thirty seconds, usually preceded by the drunk person insisting they wanted to go to another party and wanting to know where they were going, it required high maintenance. I have also seen two or more people practically carrying a vaguely ambulatory but entirely disoriented person back to their room. Unfortunately, it’s more important to make sure your female friends are not left out with possibly untrustworthy men or lesbians while drunk.
A luggage cart can be a convenient thing to load a drunk on. If you can get them on a luggage cart, then you can just cart them back to their room. George Leonard (author of Mastery: The Keys to Success and Long-Term Fulfillment) used to tell a story about a belligerent drunk on a train in Japan when he was young and full of himself because he’d had a few years of martial arts. He was about to step up and start a fight with the guy when an old man stepped between them and asked the drunk what he was drinking, and started talking to him about how he used to drink that when he was young. Within minutes, the belligerent drunk was now crying on the old man’s shoulder, telling him his troubles, and George Leonard realized that the old man was far more of a master than he had mistakenly imagined himself to be.
In short, most situations call for thinking and compassion rather than violence and aggression.
Copyright © 2013 Julian Thomas Reid III