Renaissance Festival Fun

I use reenactments and historic society gathering as research.  When I’m writing about WWII era life or fourteenth century Germans I find reenactors give me a more real life perspective on the time. It’s the difference between knowing people wove cloth and seeing someone weave cloth on a reproduction loom. Reenactments are a great way to see a fairly close to realistic piece of history.

Renaissance festivals are the opposite. They’re not concerned with realism or even getting things pretty close to right. You’ll pass a tent set up as a Victorian tea shop on your way to one selling medieval garb made of rayon and nylon. Ren Fests, as they’re lovingly called, are all about having a good time. Most Fests pursue this with abandon, setting up multiple drinking areas, usually in the shade of a large tree. A band will play, and the songs may stray into bawdy drinking ballads. It’s probably the closest thing you’ll find to live Dungeons and Dragons game – assuming you’re not into LARP (Live Action Role Play). When the Georgia Renaissance Festival opened back in April I took advantage of the first cool sunny day to check it out.

I was stunned by how very anachronistic and clearly out-to-have-a-good-time the Georgia Renn Fest was. The Fest holds a series of themed weekends – pirate weekend, Celtic weekend and so on. My visit fell on pet weekend, which also happened to be time travelers’ weekend, which I’m sure explains (some how) the Batmobile parked out front:

It played a series of audio clips from the 1970s Adam West Batman tv show. For a small fee you could get your photo taken inside.

It played a series of audio clips from the 1970s Adam West Batman tv show. For a small fee you could get your photo taken inside.

Pets were on display, but not the type I expected. I imagined large dogs like dire wolves, parrots on pirates’ shoulders, and maybe a well placed iguana or two. Instead, I saw all sorts of fairy dogs wearing wings. There were scary fairy dogs with gargoyle-like wings and pretty princess pugs with light gossamer wings.

Bat Dog on the right, winged-something dog on the left.

Bat Dog on the right, winged-something dog on the left.

And then there were the Ghostbusters:

 They brought their dog too. He’s in a Ghostbusters uniform, but couldn’t sit still for the photo. I couldn’t blame him.

They brought their dog too. He’s in a Ghostbusters uniform, but couldn’t sit still for the photo. I couldn’t blame him.

The Fest offered an array of distractions, like any sort of food you could imagine served on a stick. My favorite was the macaroni and cheese on a stick. Deep fried cheesy nuggets of pasta skewed and served up hot is my new favorite once a year indulgence. On the other side of a grassy area a unicorn waited for someone to purchase hay for a dollar. Feeding the majestic white pony with a wooden horn attached to its head felt like an act of kindness. Not petting the bunnies next door in the petting zoo felt equally compassionate. A reptile group displayed a menagerie of rescued animals, including a tortoise who plodded about with a bucket on his back accepting tips.

Fire eaters, mud throwers, and a belly dancer who danced on a bed of nails rounded out the entertainment. I skipped the jousting match, but enjoyed the glass blower demonstration, as well as the women spinning wool. I almost came home with a wicked looking dagger, but the “Made in China” sticker stopped me at the last minute. If you’re in the area, or if you’re lucky enough to have a Ren Fest in your area, I heartily recommend spending an afternoon as part of the foolishness. It’s a good time, even if it isn’t realistic or really educational.


DragonCon Report

Panels: My panel, Brigands and Buccaneers: Myth and Reality of Pirates, went well. We had a variety of authors and pirate fans giving some great different perspectives. Ann Crispin, author of Pirates of the Caribbean: The Price of Freedom, led the group on a discussion that covered pirates from sweet Disney to bloody historic.

When I wasn’t behind the microphone I spent most of my time in the Science and Skeptic tracks. Sunday’s “How to Raise a Mad Scientist” with Dr. Pamela Gay taught me how to make fireballs with the things I have around the house. Later that day the Skeptic track’s “Very Superstitious….” explored some interesting research about how people form superstitions. Two years ago at DragonCon I viewed Jupiter, and Io (the saucy little moon that she is) winked at me. This year I viewed solar flares and sun spots through three different solar telescopes. Sadly, I didn’t see the dragon.

Corsets: This was the first year I didn’t bring a new corset home from DragonCon. I blame two things. One of my favorite corset sellers treated me poorly/rudely. The cost of her corsets had doubled from 2009, but I could still see buying one. However, after lacing me into a corset that clearly didn’t work for me she told me she didn’t have any more time for me and walked away. I won’t be recommending her ever again. I held out hope that the always wonderful Brute Force Studios would have something for me. Sadly, the recent hurricane damaged most of their stock. They came to Con with only a handful of corsets, most in patterns I already have. Ah well, that just means two corsets next year.

Hotel: I stayed at the Marriott Marquis this year. I’ve split my DragonCon time between the Marquis and the Hyatt, and I’m wondering if it’s time to try something new. While the Marriott still offers a wonderful central location there are no almost no track rooms (places where the bulk of the Con programming takes place) in the hotel. Easy access to shopping (all three dealers rooms) and the vaccination clinic is handy, but not as good as being able to pop down a few stairs to get into a panel on short notice. As always, rooms for next year’s Con need to be booked in October (a full 11 months ahead of time) so I’ll be deciding where to go soon.

As always the spectacle of DragonCon – the costumes, the people, the crowds – blew me away. The hard work that goes into the outfits (and bodies) you see on the show floor clearly shows.  But this year, my favorite was fairly low tech.  Baby Steampunk:

Dystopian DC — My Earthquake Experience

The shaking felt gentle, like someone grabbing my chair. Until the rumbling came I didn’t think earthquake. When I did my mind quickly passed my flimsy desk and decided on the stairwell as a safe place to be. When I got there a wave of people swirled around me. There was no way to avoid the group of anxious, crying people, instead I moved with it, going barefoot so I didn’t risk slipping and getting trampled. The shaking stopped before we reached the bottom of the stairs, but the building security shouted at us to get out of the building and into the street.

The street filled with confused people, all of them trying to get cell phone service when there was none to be had. People whispered terrorist attack, others said earthquake. Building after building emptied, until cars could barely move. Now a second wave of security personnel ordered us out of the street, but demanded we stay away from the buildings. They sent us to a small park we used as a meeting place during  fire drills. Arriving in the space I barely had time to relax when the squawk of a bullhorn cut through the noise of the crowd. We were to move again, this time to the National Mall. We would be evacuated by bus from there.

Except there were no buses ringing the wide open space, only ice cream vendors who had already quadrupled the price of water bottles. I watched two men come to blows over 16 ounces of Aquafina, and quickly moved on. I went toward the Washington Monument, thinking the promised buses would be there. Along the way I passed FBI staff, who told each other loudly ‘we’re FBI, we’re going back to work’ but none of them moved. I asked what it was, earthquake or terrorism. Instead of answers I started a debate. I walked away before it finished.

I found a Smithsonian security guard, and asked again.

“Earthquake,” she decided. “And the Fed’s not re-opening. Everyone should just go home.”

“On the buses?”

“Yeah, sure.” Her voice was decidedly unsure.

I walked farther, found a DC cop. “Are there buses?”

“I don’t see any.”

“So how are we getting home? Metro?”

“Metro’s shut down.”

(Later I would find out he was wrong. My friends would tell me of packed stations where knees and elbows flew causing near riots, trains that seemed to run more to the good sides of town than the bad, and station masters who walked off duty after cursing loudly that their pay wasn’t worth this.)

“So how do we get home?”

“You could walk.”  He pointed toward the bridge in the distance. I started walking.

I passed two other officers. They had less to tell me. Their radios weren’t working, they had no communication. I made it to the bridge, my home state stood on the other side of twinkling water. An officer stopped me from crossing, this bridge was closed to pedestrian traffic. Why? He didn’t know. He didn’t have radio service either. He told me to try the Memorial bridge and jerked his thumb over his shoulder. I got the message and went back to walking.

I passed a snack shop at the base of the Washington Memorial. The workers clustered in the shade, the store closed like every other federal building. Tourists came up and demanded to use the bathroom. The workers shifted in the heat, looking at each other, wondering if they should break the rules. The man screamed at them, demanding to know if they spoke English and why they wouldn’t answer. Not wanting to see another fight, I left.

With no phone calls and no text messages getting through I walked wondering about the people I cared about, if they were safe. I found a boy’s ball cap on the sidewalk, picked it, brushed it off, and kept the sunburn on my face from getting worse. I dunked the cap in a water fountain, cooling my hair. I found a vendor who had only doubled the price of water and bought two bottles. And I walked more.

I walked until I felt blisters form on my feet. I walked when they broke, filling my business heels with a squish. It was when I stopped that the pain came, and I struggled to start again. Two blocks from a metro bus stop, I asked the group gathered there if anyone had seen a bus. They hadn’t but one would come soon, it was already an hour later, how much later could it get?

I knew I couldn’t walk any farther, but I didn’t trust the bus. Across the street traffic stood still, I watched for cabs. The first three wouldn’t acknowledge me, a single rider in the back looked away. I waited. The fourth cab driver would take me, and I made him turn around, circle back to the bus stop.

“I have room for two more,” I called out, and two women grabbed at the chance to get out of the city. The ride should have taken 15 minutes. It took 45. It should have cost $11. I paid $45 and considered myself lucky.

I consider all of us lucky. The earthquake was such a small thing. I’d always thought dystopian fiction had it wrong, that it would take a lot to break down society. Last Tuesday I learned otherwise.

Avoiding Scams at DragonCon (or any other Convention)

Writing scams are many and varied. No one does a better job of covering them than the amazing Writer Beware blog.  If you’re writing you need to read their blog on a regular basis. It will protect you and your work.

But what about your pocket money? What about the money you’re hoping to blow at DragonCon or ComicCon or the money you’re saving up for next year’s Romance Writers of America conference? That’s what I want to talk about, because even though we’re a year away from some Cons (SDCC, RWA), we’re only 30 days away from others (DragonCon). My tips to keep your money safe at any Con:

Be cautious when buying commissioned work. Walking through an artist alley your fingers itch to take things off the walls. In the dealers’ hall your eyes are nearly blinded by the sparkly objects. What you see is amazing, but it could be truly awesome with just a few small changes. An easily approachable salesman strikes up a conversation, and moments later you hand over more money than you expected to spend with the promise of a custom piece in the near future. But will it ever come?

Maybe. Most artists are honest people. They know they live by their reputation in the community and they won’t risk that for your commission. Mistakes do happen though, so before you plunk down money do a little homework.  Check out the artist or creator on the web. Do they have a web page? Is it filled with grammar and spelling errors? Are there people complaining in their Facebook feed? Check Twitter and MySpace for complaints too. Google the name of the artist and words like ‘scam’ or ‘commission’. Ask if they’re delivering any work at the Con. See if you can speak to some of their customers.

Remember there are no returns. The one-of-a-kind light saber, the prop from your favorite movie, and the amazing software package to use on your author website all have the same restriction: once you’ve bought them you can’t return them. Protect yourself by doing research, is this item truly one-of-a-kind or are there fifty of them on eBay? Take a close look at what you’re about to buy, does it seem sturdy? I’d walk away from any sale where I couldn’t touch the item before I purchase. For software and collectibles, check to see that the box is truly sealed, and not just resealed with glue after having been opened. The web is your friend again, google to see that you’re getting all the parts you should be getting. If it’s software, check the web for reviews. In general, don’t spend so much that you’ll be crushed if something falls apart before you get it home.

Don’t be pressured. It’s easy to believe that a special show sale is the only thing that will ever make a book editing service affordable to you, or that if you walk away from a set of stormtrooper armor someone else will snatch it up. However, it’s just as possible that you don’t need that editing service and the armor will sit until Monday morning when you’re sure about it. Most of us don’t make our best decisions under pressure. Watch out for used car salesman techniques like failing to give a firm price, being unwilling to put a price in writing, blaming someone else for a price or policy, or pushing you off from one salesman to another. If you know you’re bad at this, enlist a friend or a stranger for help. It’s easy to say to someone “what do you think?” and break the salesman’s strangle hold on the conversation. Remember, you can always walk away.

Know your limits. If you’re arriving at a convention with twenty dollars in food money, don’t seat yourself in the most expensive restaurant in the hotel. If you can’t resist shiny new corsets (that’d be me) don’t stop at the corset booths without someone to bail you out. If you have a set budget for purchases, don’t take more than that amount of money on to the trade floor. If your credit cards are maxed out don’t carry them in your pocket, stash them in your  hotel room safe.

Don’t trust people just because they share your passion. Writers, Trekkies, and Steampunks can all be scam artists. The MMO player you’ve exchanged a few messages with here and there can hurt you just as much as a total stranger you meet in a bar. We want to believe that our fandom is filled with kind and giving people but that isn’t always true. Trust but verify. Be cautious, real fan clubs have letterhead, t-shirts, and a logo. If a deal seems too good to be true, it probably is.

Above all, please remember that if you can’t trust someone with your wallet, don’t trust them with your body.

Have I missed any tips? Am I too gloom & doom? Am I just plain wrong? I can’t wait to hear about it in the comments. 😉


Connecting at The Con

Flying involves a hint of fear. It’s impossible to dismiss the chance of death completely from your mind. Flying into an area currently under a hurricane evacuation with the CNN news crew seated across the aisle from you typically increases that anxiety. I felt none of it. When the flight attendant prepared a package of peanuts, cookies, and miniature bottles of water wearing the Delta logo, I thanked her offhandedly.

I was going to a Con.

Hurricanes? Not a problem.

Closed restaurants and grocery stores? No worries.

Straight lines of traffic crawling along the highway? No big deal.

It’s hard to explain to someone who fits in, but a simple truth to the geeks, freaks, and lovers of the weird. Science Fiction conventions, whether a gathering of forty thousand or just a few hundred, are the only place where everyone gets my jokes, the only place where I’m not the odd man out. They’re my laughing place, and I never miss a chance to visit.

I’ve attended big cons and little ones, long established cons and brand new ones. They all fill me with the same sense of belonging. There’s DragonCon where I go on yearly pilgrimage, losing myself in the crowds of people, just watching them all. Earlier this year was the very first InterventionCon, just a handful of truly devout geeks turning a boring business hotel into something special.

My new favorite Con is MarsCon. Next month, I’m not just attending but I’m also speaking about breaking into the publishing industry on a Friday night panel. As I read over the list of guests I’m honored to be among them. Checking the schedule leaves me with my usual quandaries of which impossible-to-miss has to be missed. Between obsessively checking for updates and gleefully debating what costume to wear, I’m reminded a Con is a gathering of friends I can’t wait to meet.