Windy City Recap

I arrived in Chicago on Thursday, on the way visiting my cousin Lisa from my mom’s side and my Aunt Carol on my dad’s. It had been more than a quarter century since I’d seen Lisa, and three or four years since I’d seen Aunt Carol, so it was an immense pleasure to reconnect.

The drive to Windy City was a long one, but I amused myself by listening to what had been an impulse choice from the library, the audio book Rogue Heroes by Ben Macintyre. The history of Britain’s secret special forces outfit in WWII  ended up being so gripping that once I arrived at the hotel I sat in the car for a few more minutes letting the chapter finish before I headed inside.

I met up with John O’Neill for supper. It was the first time in four or five years that we’d been in the same place, and it was a real pleasure to see him. We treated ourselves to a great sushi meal, then carried in a few dozen boxes to John’s booth in the dealer room. I looked around for my contact on the Dungeon Crawl Classics team, Deiter Zimmerman, and realized then it would have been clever of me to have gotten his phone number beforehand. Then I visited with John and I crashed in his room. I slept poorly and got up early for a little writing, a habit that continued throughout the convention. The sleeping poorly, I mean. Eventually I slept so badly I wasn’t up for much writing.

John’s giveaway books

I met Deiter Friday morning after he’d already set up the booth. He’s a cool guy with an interesting background that includes archeology, extensive training in swordplay, and gaming, and loves some of the same old writers I do. We’d never met before but we got on well, which was a good thing, given that we were sitting at a booth together all the time for two and a half days. From our own booth we had a great view of the convention.

There were five aisles full of amazing old stuff. Some dealers were publishing reprint anthologies containing stories from the pulps. Some were reprinting pulp facsimiles like Planet Stories or Jungle Stories or G8 and his Battle Aces or what have you. One or two were selling vids of old serials or tapes of old radio shows. But the rest were old books, old magazines, and old art FROM the magazines. A lot of the ORIGINAL art. The guy across from our booth was dedicated mostly to Burroughs, old hardbacks, old paperbacks, and various collectibles and art pieces. (We were graced with a clear view of a lovely sketch of a topless Dejah Thoris for most of the convention.)

I spent the most time wandering around picking out treasures on Friday, thinking that Saturday would be busier and there’d be no chance then. That didn’t turn out to be the case, which was good, because Dieter spotted some great deals on old books Saturday that he hadn’t seen the day before.

John Chris Hocking turned up around 2 or 3. He and I talk and text regularly but I hadn’t seen him for years. When Chris and Deiter and and I weren’t hanging out at the booth catching up or discussing our various interests we spelled each other so that the others could wander around and take in the con.

Over the course of the day a number of cool people dropped by the booth to chat, like Bill Cavalier and my friend and fellow Lamb scholar Kevin Cook, Rich Warren, Walker Martin (whose own Con report with many more photos is here) and many others, among them the owner of the excellent Pulp Flakes web site, Sai S. (I actually know his full name, but he doesn’t mention it on his site.) It was my first time meeting Sai, who was extremely kind, thanking me for my work getting Harold Lamb into print, and telling me how much he enjoyed my Dabir and Asim stories. 

Dieter and Chris and I met up with Black Gate blogger Bob Byrne, bookseller and all around great guy David Willoughby, and John O’Neill, and went to a fantastic Indian place for dinner. Some of the crowd was a little cautious about the Indian fare, but I think we won them over. I’ve corresponded with Bob off and on for the last couple of years about Sherlock Holmes and Solar Pons, sword-and-sorcery, and gaming, but it was the first time I’d met him in person.

After, we broke into smaller groups, and Deiter retreated to his hotel room to read some of his newly acquired treasures. Hocking and I drove over to the nearby Half Price Books (because apparently you can never have too many old books) and he got me a copy of the excellent graphic novel Coward by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips. Man, was that a great blast of hard boiled storytelling. That night the two of us ended up in a long conversation with Sai up in the con suite and it was one of the highlights of the con, owing to overlapping interests and mutual appreciation of the same writers — and suggestions for writers drafting in a similar vein to others we discussed.

Saturday was much the same: we were stationed at the booth and friends and acquaintances and friendly strangers showed up at the booth to visit and look over the merchandise. The illustrious Steven Silver dropped by for a while and we caught up a little. At one point a little girl came by and looked at the booth and fell in love with the Goodman Games dice. She came back with about half of what was required to buy a package, said it was all she had and asked if it was enough. She SO wanted those dice. So Deiter and I tossed the difference into the “kitty” and Deiter handed it over.

Neither Deiter nor I wanted to make the mistake of missing lunch again, after skipping breakfast for the second day. Steven Silver took Chris and Bob and me out to a tasty hamburger place and we caught each other up on our adventures in more detail. I brought Deiter back a burger. 

Late in the day Paizo’s Erik Mona dropped by the booth and we had the longest visit we’ve had in years. He’s a fellow pulp lover, as you may know, but the last few years he’s been so busy with Paizo that we haven’t managed more than a casual hello at GenCon. He’d been in town for another convention Friday and as soon as he heard Windy City was taking place he hightailed it over. He asked me to help him judge which Roy Krenkel drawings were the best in a certain price range, and we looked over a slew of sketches at one of the art booths together.

An hour or so before closing  my childhood pal Aaron Brooks drove in. It had probably been at least eight years since I’d seen him, but despite later claims that age was taking a toll, he didn’t seem to have changed. He’s a tall, lean, good-looking guy with a ready smile, and unlike me he still has all of his hair and none of it’s graying. I showed him around a little, and he was so taken with one of the art pieces that he purchased it on the spot. He joined Chris and me and a whole host of people for dinner at a great Persian place (among them Steve Silver, Bob Byrne, Erik Mona, Deiter, and Dave Ritzlin, whose excellently produced books I mentioned on the blog the other day).

Aaron kindly offered to drive Erik back to his hotel in downtown Chicago and Chris and I tagged along so we could all visit a while longer. Then Aaron and Chris and I relaxed in the hotel bar for a few hours and traded stories and reminisced.

John, Eric, Howard, and Chris.

Sunday morning Chris and I went out for breakfast at a neat little local pancake place named Blueberry Hill, then ventured into the con. Some of the dealers were already packing up their wares — we guessed we weren’t the only ones feeling a little homesick. E.E. Knight, writer of the Vampire Earth and Dragon Age series, dropped by. He’s another old friend and pulp lover.

At noon I sat in on a sword-and-sorcery panel. Beside me was David C. Smith, fellow REH fan and REH scholar and a writer probably best known for his Oron stories and his Red Sonja novels. Our fellow panelists were writers Andy Fix and Gordon Dymoski. As you might expect, when it comes to discussing sword-and-sorcery of the pulps, Robert E. Howard was one of the main topics. We had a good panel and received some interesting questions. I was a little dismayed when the topic of Robert E. Howard’s suicide came up. Honestly, I hate talking about that and would rather discuss his writing. But it was one of the most sensitive and thoughtful discussions about depression I’ve heard in connection with REH, and I walked away impressed with the way the moderator, Gordon Dymoski, had managed the discussion.

After the panel, I said goodbye to Deiter, to Chris, and to John, and got on the road. It was a long drive back to the Sea of Monsters, and I hit a traffic snarl and had to deal briefly with a confused Siri’s road directions. But I made it, enjoying my audio book the whole way.

It’s always a little bittersweet leaving a convention, especially when you’re visiting with people you really like whom you haven’t seen in years. But I was really missing my wife. I’ve been so busy since my return that I haven’t really had a chance to look over my treasures yet!