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October 17th, 2006

Home for the Holidays

My last major trip of the year finally came to close yesterday, when Parris and I flew home from New York City. I'd spent almost a month on the road, partly for pleasure, partly for business, doing signings in five midwestern cities to help promote my YA book, THE ICE DRAGON, and the paperback release of A FEAST FOR CROWS.

Started out by flying into Chicago, where I attended the Old Toy Soldier Show in Schaumburg (the world's best toy soldier show, and always great fun, when I can find the time to attend it) and spent way too much money on toy knights, picking up some beautiful old Courtenay, Ping, and Vertunni figures (if you don't know what those are, you obviously haven't been reading the Knights page of my website), some beautiful new miniatures by Brian Rodden, a great new siege tower from King & Country, and various other choice collectibles. I also signed and read at the Border's down in Water Tower Place on the Magnificent Mile, and enjoyed dinner at the Greek Isles with some of the local members of the Brotherhood Without Banners. I never miss a chance to eat at the Greek Isles. Opaa! Opaa! (That's Greek for "the cheese is on fire!")

After the toy soldier show, it was off to Dubuque, Iowa for another ICE DRAGON signing and a couple of days visiting my old haunts. The original story that was the basis of the YA was written in Dubuque during the winter of 1978-79, so it seemed only proper to include the city on my tour. Given my feelings about the TSA and airport "security," I decided to get a rental car and drive to the rest of my midwestern appearances. Not much slower than flying, given how short most of the hops were, and far more pleasant. The car had GPS and I had my ipod, so the short drive to Iowa was fast and fun. I had a nice signing at a small independent bookstore, the River Lights, and also had the time to poke around the city. It was the first time I had returned to Dubuque since moving away in 1979, and all in all the city had not changed nearly as much as I feared. My old house was still standing, as was the college (Clarke) where I once taught journalism, and the old Julien Hotel where my ex-wife and I once held Dubuqon, the city's first (and last) SF convention. The pizza at Marco's is still pretty good (for the midwest), and the Fenelon Place Elevator was still there, though now it only runs in summer. On the other hand, all the old movie theaters are gone, and there's now an ugly four-lane highway cutting off downtown from the Mississippi, not to mention a huge and hideous fake "riverboat" casino. I did like the new river museum, however. Across the river, East Dubuque remains as sleazy as ever, but the chili at Mulgrew's was not nearly as hot as I remembered... which may have more to do with me living in New Mexico for the last couple of decades than with the recipe.

After three days in Iowa, it was off to Indianapolis and a signing at Barnes and Noble in Carmel. I did not want to have to contend with Chicago traffic again, so I headed south out of Dubuque and followed the river road down to I-74. That had to be the nicest drive of the trip. Autumn was just coming in, the days were warm and sunny, the trees were turning, and the little river towns along the banks of the Mississippi remained unchanged from the last time I passed this way, twenty-odd years ago. I had another good event in Indianapolis, reading from THE ICE DRAGON and signing a lot of books. My hotel was right across the street from the Hoosier Dome, and when I realized that the Colts were playing my Jets that very Sunday I had a brief moment of excitement, thinking I might be able to snag a ticket and see Chad take on Peyton... but alas, the game was being played in New Jersey, at the Meadowlands. I did, however, ride up to Auburn, Indiana with my friend C.D. Doyle to check out the Auburn/ Cord/ Duesenberg Museum there, which proved to be well worth the trip. Room after room after room of gorgeous vintage automobiles, each more impressive than the last. Most of them were Auburns, Cords, and Dueseys, of course, but they also have a '55 T-bird, a Jaguar XKE, a gullwing Mercedes 300SL, a Shelby Cobra, a classic Ferrari, and a lot of other vehicles that made me drool. If you ever find yourself driving down the interstate past Auburn, take the time to pull off and have a look at the musuem, it's well worth it. As for me, I think I want my next car to be a Cord.

After Indy, it was on to Cincinnati, where I did a reading and a signing at Joseph Beth. The good folks at Joe Beth always get a big turnout for their events, and this one was no exception. I spent a couple of extra days in Cincinnati, long enough to spend some time with Denise and Steve Leigh, catch the first day of the Tall Stacks riverboat festival (real boats, not tawdry jokes like the "riverboat" casinos you see permanently moored all up and down the river, most of them no more than concrete barges, lacking even an engine) and take a cruise, enjoy some ribs in Montgomery, visit with Bob Hornung and with Tom and Carin Meier, and see the latest batch of Night's Watch figures that Tom is sculpting for the miniatures game forthcoming from Testor's. Spectacular work, as always. Tom also has a terrific 54mm version of Loras Tyrell in the works.

Then it was back west again, to Archon in St. Louis... well, Collinsville, Illinois, actually, but close enough. I was Archon's very first GOH back in 1977, and this year was the 30th Archon, so I had to be there. It has grown into quite a large con over the past thirty years, from 300 people in 1977 to about 2700 this year, and these days the con draws more costumers and gamers than it does readers, but the parties are always fun, and the St. Louis fans have always gone the extra mile to welcome guests and take good care of them. Unfortunately, the mood at the con turned somber on Friday when the word reached Collinsville that Wilson (Bob) Tucker had died. Tucker lived most of life in the area and had been a huge part of many of the past Archons, leading endless "smoooothes" and welcoming hundreds of newcomers to fandom. There was never a more friendly or accessible pro, or one more beloved in midwestern fandom, so his loss was deeply felt. Nor was Tucker the only ghost roaming the halls of the Holiday Inn this year. I also missed Dan Patterson, a good friend and talented artist who was a fixture at Archon until his death, and always threw the best party at the convention. We've lost too many good people of late, sad to say.

I did have a good signing, I'm pleased to say. Some of you may have heard the story of what happened at my last bookstore event in St. Louis back in 1996, during the GAME OF THRONES tour, when I was scheduled to sign in downtown St. Louis while Ray Bradbury and Ray Harryhausen were signing in Collinsville, thirty minutes away. That one did not work out well, but I did much better this time in Brentwood... maybe because I wasn't up against the Two Rays.

Parris was supposed to join me at Archon, flying in on Friday from New Mexico, but she sprained her ankle packing for the trip and postponed her departure a day... and then, on Saturday, she got a flat tire on the way to airport and missed her flight, so it was Sunday before she finally reached St. Louis, and by the time she reached the hotel the con was over and there was nothing for her to do but grab a burger and some shoestring fries at Steak 'N Shake, crash, and fly out with me the next morning for New York City and the Quill Awards.

Having already lost the Hugo Award and the British Fantasy Award, A FEAST FOR CROWS made it three-for-three by losing the Quill. This time I was beaten by Diana Gabaldon and A BREATH OF SNOW AND ASHES. Ms. Gabaldon was gracious enough to say that FEAST should have won when she got up to accept her award, which was very kind of her. Despite losing, it was a swell evening. The event was black tie, held in the American Museum of Natural History, beneath a stupendous full-size blue whale, and Lewis Black opened the festivities that telling us all that we should enjoy the dinner before the awards, since most of us would be losers before the evening was out. (A man after my own heart, Lewis Black). Also, Parris looked especially gorgeous in her new dress. MSNBC will be telecasting an edited version of the awards later this month, which may or may not include a shot or two of me.

The rest of our stay in NYC was great as well. I got to eat real pizza several times, saw my agents and caught up, and had some very productive meetings with editors from Bantam, Tor/ Starscape, DC Comics, Marvel Comics, Random House Comics. I did a drop-by signing at both of the Fifth Avenue B&Ns (if anyone there in the Apple is looking for a signed book, those two stores have plenty), saw my family in Jersey, and on Sunday, thanks to my brother-in-law Gerard, Parris and I got to attend the Jets game at the Meadowlands and chant J-E-T-S JETS JETS JETS along with Fireman Ed as Chad tossed a couple of touchdown strikes to Laverneous and defeated the Dolphins (the defense did almost give the game away at the end, but never mind).

So... it was a long trip, but a good one. I covered a lot of miles, had a lot of fun, signed a lot of books, but I'm glad to be home. I've done an awful lot of travel since A FEAST FOR CROWS came out, and while I have enjoyed it, it does wear me out as well, and I have always found it impossible to get any writing down while on the road. There's nothing else on my schedule until February, however, so for the rest of the year I will be right here, shackled to the computer and pounding the keys. I have half a dozen different projects on my plate, but the big one is A DANCE WITH DRAGONS, and I am going to be pushing hard on that in the weeks and months to come, in hopes of wrapping it up by the end of the year.

Wish me luck.

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