Last weekend, I went to RavenCon with my daughter Halliburton. Like me, she’s got the writer fever, and she’s got this general attraction to geekdom. Which is fine by me, as this is just a healthy rebellion against my rough-hewn blue collar outlook, and the guys into that kind of stuff are much less likely to impregnate her than the guys on motorcycles. Icing on the cake, the location was a big attraction–it was useful to have a legitimate reason to be in the area along the plantation side of the old James River. More on that later. So we went up this past weekend, registered all official-like.
It was my first convention, so I didn’t know what to expect. In case you’re not familiar, RavenCon is a convention that covers horror, science fiction, and fantasy. This is frankly a lot of waterfront. To add confusion to the matter, the Raven in RavenCon refers to Edgar Allan Poe, who, unbeknownst to all but his most avid fans, is actually kinda-sorta from Richmond, not Baltimore. But he did live in both places, and for the h3ll of it those Baltimorean ba$tards appropriated his memory, going so far as to name their football team after him. Which is pretty sh1tty, considering Baltimore already has Old Bay seasoning and pro sports teams, neither of which Richmond has. It’s kinda like an older, better looking sister banging her chubby younger sister’s ex-boyfriend out of spite, then blaming it on a simple Tinder mix-up. So apparently the naming of this convention, when it was initiated way back when, was some kind of shot across the bow from the city of Richmond to reclaim Poe’s memory or something. But then to really give Richmond the shaft, they moved the convention from Richmond to Williamsburg this year, which beknownst to me has pretty much nothing whatsoever to do with Edgar Allan Poe. So that’s kind of like a post-menopausal, over-perfumed great aunt getting sloppy seconds on the chubby younger sister’s ex-boyfriend, then blaming it on opportunity and the ready availability of roofies.
If you weren’t following that last paragraph, I am so very sorry, but I just drank three Rock Star Energy Drinks with vodka and can’t really help it right now.
With all that scholarly background sh1t out of the way, let me say that it was a very enjoyable convention. Like I said, nothing to compare it to, but there were a bunch of people walking around in costumes, a huge room full of vendors selling merchandise (though none accepted Bitcoin), speakers in break-out rooms, book signings, authors hawking their books, an art show, music, comedy acts, and old school game room (Dungeons and Dragons, etc). They had no objection to drinks, as long as you kept it in the rooms. Plus, the hotel was pretty good, right by Busch Gardens, with a solid indoor/outdoor pool and comedy shows on the weekends. Good restaurant on site (though crowded), and some Italian and Thai within walking distance. More than enough to keep you entertained for the two and a halfish days it ran (Friday afternoon through Sunday afternoon). More here, assuming you want to go next year: http://www.ravencon.com
Halliburton loved it, running around in a horror-show Steampunk rendition of Little Bo Peep. She was showing a little more leg and cleavage than I liked, but the guys there had relatively low creep factor. And anyhow, she’s well-versed in the arts of self-defense, to include krav maga and enough Okinawan martial arts that she could use the costume’s shepherd’s crook to devastating effect. And finally, having her there was helpful with my alibi. As in, “Do you remember a teenage Little Bo Peep running around with some old fuc7er in a vintage Star Trek shirt and douchebag fedora?” “Why, yes, officer, I do! They were here the whole time!!” And no one would be lying, because there was always some old fuc7er buzzing around her, whether it was me or just some random dude. With Halliburton there to draw attention, I could duck back and forth to the plantations cemeteries pretty much at will. The furthest were an hour from the convention, most a lot closer.
So I’m back and forth between the convention and these cemeteries, a few at a time, trying to find “an old oak tree that stands out upon the ridge, below the house but overlooking the cemetery proper”, and from thence “an old family crypt, with no words left visible, but a shield of sorts above it all”. This is all the evidence I have to go on from an old cleaning woman in a county nursing home in the Carolina lowlands. She got these tantalizing scraps from reading a book hand-written by her grandmother, who had jotted cryptic notes and odd geometric figures in a diary of sorts. This grandmother in turn had learned sympathetic magic as a young woman the hard way, under the tutelage of a hoary old magus and his two wives, who were inhabitants of an aging but once-fine estate on the flat lands between the York and James Rivers. And somehow this little book just disappears, and leaves nothing but the most gossamer of traces upon the fragile and fading mind of a lonely old woman waiting to die in the Carolina lowlands.
So I know that these sorts of clues get sorted out ALL THE TIME on TV shows, in books, whatever…but in real life, why don’t people just use addresses? Or at least names? I mean, shit, this old grandmother spends a lifetime learning arcane and esoteric mysteries. Hands this shit off to her grand-daughter to have her chase it. The granddaughter doesn’t find it, gets derailed by life or whatever. So that lifetime of study is pretty much shot. But it was not all for naught, because the granddaughter finds me; and I am in need of money and know people who are willing to pay a small fortune for the slightest leg up in the spiritual world. So I’m stuck looking for oak trees, or the stump of oak trees, or the memory of oak trees, or the oral history of someone who once knew of an oak tree, and basically planning to run around cemeteries late Saturday or early Sunday with a crowbar.
And here’s the pisser of it. These clients have approached me, because they know I’m a guy who can get things done. The kind of guy who can sniff out rumors, and go at a problem with the single-minded tenacity of the president of the chess club dry-humping his prom date in the employee parking lot behind Home Depot. I’ve offered to bug the houses of any number of magi, get inside intel at a palm reader’s, make video of any ceremony held anywhere at any time, yet they tell me not to, “because it’s sacrilegious”. I mean, really? It’s okay to trespass and rob graves, but a discreet little pinhole camera in the ceiling tiles of the local esoteric book store reading room is off limits? But as always, I do try to be as agnostic as possible, and not judge people on their little foibles. Particularly when they are paying the bills.
So I can tell you, the attempts at grave-robbing were a bust. First of all, these old plantations are not exactly right off the road. Apparently, in the days before cars and abolition, nobody really gave a sh1t if roads ran straight. They probably just zig-zagged back and forth in their coaches between the houses in whatever easiest meandering way worked. Plus, people apparently used the rivers as roads, so there was more a focus on running stuff from the fields to the water rather than back and forth on dry land. So it wasn’t like I could just pull up in my rental car, whip out my binoculars, and spot the oak tree and the cemetery below.
Second, this stuff about crypts was perhaps complete and utter bullsh1t. There were more than enough family cemeteries, but all I saw were a bunch of rude stones and a few phallic monuments. Crypts…no. I pulled into an old country store to try to make small talk and perhaps weasel some info out of one of the yokels, but one foot inside the door convinced me otherwise. All heads turned towards me in suspicion, as an outsider. Compounding matters, there was a fish-eye video camera above the cash register. Not wise to ask questions about graves, then rob them so soon thereafter. So I grabbed a tall boy of Steel Reserve and a pickled egg, paid with cash and strode back out, deciding to lunch in peace.
Dejected, I returned to the convention to regroup on the grimoire and at least get the lay of the land for my future as an author. I met up with Halliburton, and we bought a few more books of various genres as an excuse to chat up the authors. Young Adult paranormal cross-fictional whatever, and we just interrogated them regarding what does and what doesn’t work to sell books. I gotta figure out which schtick will work for me when I hit it big or at least get to the point of pimping my sh1t at conventions.
Most everyone had swag like book marks or fridge magnets, eye-catching business cards. Some had little candy dishes, anything to get you to stop and chat. None of that’s my style. The prohibition on alcohol outside of the bar and hotel rooms means that throwing a kegger or handing out jello shots is a non-starter. T-shirts are too expensive. I may get some custom Finnegan Daley temporary tattoos. Perhaps “Future Fourth Ex-Wife” tramp stamps for the ladies, and classic World War II-era nudies for the men. For bumper stickers, maybe “My author can kick your author’s ass”. You all can probably come up with some better stuff; if so, please drop it in the comments below.
But soon we tired of that, and Halliburton drifted off to make a few phone calls and promenade a while. I ended up at the art show, and there was this Japanese girl there, snapping a few photos of the artwork with her phone, and doodling in a notebook. I probably wouldn’t have noticed her, but there was the hint of a platinum-blonde merkin peeking out from between her thigh-high stockings. It both perfectly matched her wig, and brilliantly offset her olive skin. There were a few crew members of an imaginary star ship hanging around her, but none brave enough to make contact with this alien (and possibly dangerous) species. As she left and headed out the door, I drove them back with a vicious snarl and the darkest of looks. Afraid to make eye contact, they hovered around an exhibit of dryer lint art, suddenly taking great interest in the unique medium.
The girl headed into the snack room, which was pretty much right across the hall. We were making nice chit-chat, and I soon discovered her name was Miho-chan, and that she wasn’t really that young. Probably in her early thirties. She was an art teacher who was at UVA to get her Masters. It was like her third time in the States for education. Family money, presumably. She missed the Cosplay subculture back home in Tokyo, and saw a brochure for this convention on a billboard at school. All very interesting, but at that point I was trying to figure out if there was time to dump a few drinks in her and seal the deal before Halliburton would come looking for me. Miho-chan was stalling a little, but that was mostly just form. We had both already decided there wasn’t anything going better than each other at this joint.
To kill time, I asked to see her drawings. They were pretty good, and based on a cycle of esoteric themes. Constellations, magic squares, nudes, figures dancing, tarot cards. It was almost like a miniature Voynich manuscript, and all the drawings appeared to be old.
“These drawings…You did all these?”
She smiled and nodded in answer.
“They’re great! How come they look so old?”
“It’s a project. I like old things. I don’t like things from my age.” At this point, my greed had run away so rampantly with me, that I didn’t notice the double entendre until writing that just now.
“And the book?” I asked, closing it and looking at the leather cover, “Did you do that?”
She shook her head sadly, “No, eBay. It’s an journal from a store that closed a hundred years ago. The first three pages were ledgers, money.” She shook her head sadly, “All business. So I took the book apart and removed those pages, and sowed it back together with the same thread.”
“You really like it? It’s very fine paper, very old. The ink is old too.”
“Oh, I like it. You have no idea. Any chance I could buy this book?”
She looked confused, “On eBay?”
“No, not a book LIKE this. I mean, this book, right here. How much would you sell it for if I bought it right now?”
She continued to look stunned, “But it’s just a drawing journal. A project.”
I thumbed through it, “OK, so it’s got what, 80 drawings in it? And over there, drawings go for what, $20 apiece?”
She shook her head, “Mine aren’t so good. They wouldn’t cost so much.”
“So, how much then? Ten bucks apiece, sold separately? Five apiece if I bought them all? That’s $400. What if I rounded up? Gave you $500 for all of them? And then commissioned more? That is, if the buyers like them.”
Miho-chan looked a bit overwhelmed, but in the end warmed up to both my offer, and the celebratory bottle of Asti. I mean, hell, isn’t that your secret hope when you go into art? That you’re going to sell some of it while alive? She obviously didn’t need the money, but who doesn’t need validation of their life’s work? I paid her for the journal, and advanced her enough to purchase five additional ones and start work. When we were exchanging contact information, I was in for a real shock. Miho-chan was actually a Maryland girl of German and Irish descent, who dressed up like a Japanese girl who did Steampunk cosplay. This was actually some kind of meta-cosplay on her part, and it gave me something to think about the whole ride home. Was it the sign of a brilliant and decadent irony? Normal behavior at a convention? One just one more red flag concerning picking up strangers from sub-cultures to which I don’t belong?
After making it back home, I was able to visit my contacts in Savannah, who admired the work copiously. I was quite circumspect about its origins, providing an entirely truthful, yet completely misleading tale concerning its provenance. As predicted, they bought the book and pre-ordered whatever else I could round up.
As I pocketed my tidy two grand profit, I took it as a good sign that the Convention circle is going to be good to me.