Wednesday, May 6, 2009

DemiCon 20 and my Iowa Adventure!

DemiCon 20, in Des Moines Iowa, was a very well run convention, one that I would not hesitate to recommend to anyone.

First, though, a few words about the trip...

After a bit of a haul through Indiana, Illinois, and Iowa, I made a stop in Iowa City to visit Prairie Lights Books. This is a multi-level independent bookstore located near the Iowa University campus. It is situated in a very pedestrian-friendly district loaded with restaurants and shops.

The store itself features a great fantasy section, which Paul Ingram (the book buyer for Prairie Lights) took me to see right away. A nice range of titles, and I picked up a couple of books while I was there. Terry, who oversees the sci-fi/fantasy section, then returned from lunch and I was able to meet him in person. Truly, Prairie Lights Books is a first class store and it is a real privilege to have The Exodus Gate carried there.

After departing Iowa city I completed the trek to Des Moines. I drove underneath bright blue skies, with a radiant sun showering down upon a low, undulating terrain dotted with clusters of farm buildings and silos. Very picturesque and quite enjoyable.

I was struck by how clean and friendly both Iowa City and Des Moines were. I wouldn't be surprised if their crime level is very minimal (I haven't researched the figures), as the people in these cities were uniformly polite and welcoming.

I arrived in time to get unpacked, pick up my badges, and settle in. I touched bases with Shirley Damsgaard (author of the Ophelia and Abby Mysteries on Avon), who had just arrived as well.

The layout of DemiCon was very easy to navigate. The dealer room and registration desk were next to the biggest panel room, with most everything else on the 3rd floor (Con Suite, other panel rooms, etc.). The dealer room included a nice variety of folks, from author Glen Cook (Black Company series, also one of my personal writing influences), to Tyree Campbell of Sams Dot Publishing, to the independent music label Horizon Music from Chicago (Some very good electronic and ambient stuff, highly recommended to fans of this genre). Steve the Chain Mail Guy also had a table here with some amazing pieces on display and for sale. One chain mail shirt he had there was not ornamental, but rather usable in a medieval battle! (Not for sale, it took him months to make)

Shirley and I had a panel on Paranormal Trends in Literature coming up later that evening, but first up was the opening ceremonies. The hall was packed, and the toastmaster was a very interesting fellow with Gandalf-like long white hair and an extensive beard named Rusty Havelin, who has evidently been their toastmaster for every one of the 20 DemiCons. Rusty exhibited great humor and a warm personality, and one can quickly see why they have him back every year.

After announcements and introductions we were treated to a full-blown theater performance that was prepared especially for DemiCon. Following that, Shirley and I hung out for a while, and then joined up with author Lettie Prell who was the third in our triumvirate for the panel.

The panel went very well, as we got into a nice discussion of the paranormal and its role in speculative literature. As Shirley's series deals with a main character who is a witch and psychic, and as both Lettie's book and my book have numerous paranormal elements, we had alot to relate to.

Saturday involved a whole lot of activity. I went to visit Beaverdale Books in the morning, which is a bookstore in Des Moines that is carrying The Exodus Gate. I had the pleasure of meeting Alice, the store owner, and even discovered that there is a Lexington, Kentucky connection involving one of her former staff who is now in graduate school at the University of Kentucky. Beaverdale Books has a very relaxing atmosphere, which is easy to browse in. I had an opportunity to sign the book that was in stock, and got to talk to Alice for about half an hour before returning to DemiCon.

Back at DemiCon, Shirley gave a fantastic presentation on the path to publication, involving a discussion of agents, editors, and alot about the major league publishing world. I found alot of the insights that she had very valuable and fascinating, as Shirely is the type of person that cuts to the chase and is not afraid to tell you like it is.

Lettie then had a reading for Dragon Ring (published by Flying Pen Press), her fantasy novel, following the presentation. Lettie is very, very good at reading her work, and sold me on the book right then and there. She also provided a bounty of chocolates to everyone, which was mightily appreciated as I had forgotten to grab breakfast! Dragon Ring is a novel that has many crossover elements, involving fantasy, sci-fi, the paranormal, Mayan elements, and more. It also has a heavy virtual reality element, as well as an alternate energy one. Very original, flows well, imaginative, and I have already gotten well into it. Expect my thoughts on this one when I finish.

We then had a book signing in the mezzanine outside of the dealer's room. I was very pleased that several individuals picked up The Exodus Gate, both from Tyree Campbell's table as well as the signing itself. Many thanks to Jolie, John, Donald, Mike, Sheila, Susan, Steve the Chain Mail guy, and everyone that is giving The Exodus Gate a shot.

We had another panel that afternoon on the Hero's Journey. Very focused on the Joseph Campbell roots, and Shirley and I joined with Susan Satterfield (writer on Yard Dog Press) and Adam Stemple, a very multifaceted guy with talents in music, writing, and even poker playing! This was probably the panel that I spoke on the least.

My own reading came later that evening, and I am pleased to say that it went very well. In fact, I have finally settled on a section that I am happy with for public readings! I had a few show up for the reading, and we got into a discussion of some of the roots of The Exodus Gate, as far as Angelic lore, aprocryphal texts such as the Book of Enoch, Sumerian/Babylonian mythology, and much more. It was alot of fun, and everyone made me feel very welcome and comfortable.

That night I attended the hotel party given by the committee of OsFest, which is a science fiction and fantasy convention in Omaha that is going to be held in mid-July. I hung out with John and his wife Trudy, Susan Satterfield, Lettie, and many others.

Sunday involved a panel with myself and Joe Haldeman. All I can say here is wow! The topic was Writing for Movies, and to be on a panel with a Hugo award-winning writer was definitely a fantastic experience.

Joe was very gracious and made me feel at ease right away, and the audience was treated to a number of very interesting movie-related stories from Joe's very accomplished career involving figures like Steven Spielberg and Ridley Scott. Woven into the discussion were my experiences as a newer indie filmmaker and writer just coming out of the gate (and Joe's wife Gay really helped prompt this part of the discussion). The audience seemed to enjoy the contrast alot, as far as I could tell.

After the panel, I said some goodbyes to folks in the dealers room and conference staff, and then hit the road for the 10 1/2 hour trek back to Lexington. Thanks to some good hard rock-playing radio stations on the way back, I got through without getting too overly drowsy, and arrived back home without incident.

Overall, one can tell that DemiCon is a fan convention that has established a solid legacy and continues to innovate and grow. Its smaller size makes for a very relaxing experience, where one is able to interact with readers and other guests without distraction. The guests were outstanding, and it was a real privilege to be on panels with Shirley, Lettie, Susan, Adam, and, of course, Joe Haldeman. This is a convention that I hope to return to, and one that I would encourage people to drive in for if you don't happen to live in the immediate region.

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