Last weekend, I had the honor and pleasure of being a featured guest of the fourth annual Geek Media Expo. The convention, which offers a diverse slate of programming to appeal to a wide range of self-professed “geeks,” was held at the Cool Springs Conference Center & Franklin Marriott in Franklin, TN, a close suburb of Nashville.
Friday, October 26
I was met at Nashville International Airport by Driver John, the convention’s transportation captain, and a member of his staff. John drove me to the hotel, where I was met by GMX staffers Joe and Drew. They invited me to have a seat and be comfortable while Drew took care of picking up my con badge and checking me into my room. This professional and very Southern-style hospitality set the tone for what quickly proved to be an amazing weekend.
Despite the fact that I had never before met any of the convention’s staffers or any of its other guests (except for Garrett Wang of Star Trek Voyager, who remembered me from our previous meeting at FedCon XX in Dusseldorf last year), everyone made an effort to make me feel welcome and included. Once the Green Room opened, I made a point of stopping in often to socialize with other GMXers.
The one miscommunication of the weekend (for me) happened in connection with the Opening Ceremonies on Friday evening. It wasn’t clear what role the con’s large list of guests would play in the proceeding, and we were all asked to gather backstage 15 minutes before the event.
Then, just before it began, the emcee informed me and most of the others backstage that only the con’s nine “VIP” guests would take part in the ceremony, and that the rest of us were “not needed.” Since I was standing next to actress Marilyn Ghigliotti of Clerks fame when this news was delivered, I immediately channeled that film’s main character, Dante Hicks: “I’m not even supposed to BE here!”
With my schedule suddenly clear, I went to the bar and then the green room to get lit up before my 10pm panel with Garrett Wang, “Star Trek: From Paper to Screen.” In front of an intimately sized (read: small) audience, we discussed how a tiny idea gives birth to a Star Trek story idea, how a script is developed, and then how the cast and crew turn it into a finished episode. Getting more than a few words in edgewise isn’t easy for a non-actor sitting next to an actor, but I feel that I did all right, sharing the stage without upstaging or being upstaged.
Post-panel, I haunted the bar and Green Room again, then I lurked through some of the con’s “NSFW” late-night adult programming before calling it a night.
Saturday, October 27
I crawled out of bed, showered, dressed, and plodded down the hall to the Green Room just in time to scorf the last of the scrambled eggs and some tepid coffee before they switched over to the lunch menu.
I was supposed to take part in the “Orion Slave Auction” for charity, in which I offered to name a character in my next Star Trek novel in honor of the high bidder. The auction had ended by the time I got downstairs, but I was later informed that the Tuckerization had been auctioned off in absentia — and the winner was: EMERSON HARRIS! I’m told Mister Harris bid $50 for this privilege; in recognition of his generosity, not only will his namesake character be killed in my classic “Angel of Death” fashion, I will make sure a major Star Trek character feels sad about it. He’ll also receive a complimentary autographed copy of the book after it’s published.
My first panel that afternoon was “Storycraft with Friends II: Write Harder.” It was an interactive writing workshop in which the author panelists helped guide the audience through the writing of a “crowd-sourced” very short story (about 500 words). We suggested very broad concepts or genres, and then each member of the audience added a sentence of either exposition or dialogue, or a plot twist.
I suggested the first story concept: “A comedic tale of revenge gone wrong.” Fellow author Janine Spendlove suggested the second idea, “A horror-romance.” In both cases, I was asked to provide the first sentence. I’ll say no more, as I don’t want to spoil the contents of the stories, because I am told they will both be posted later this year on the GMX website. I’ll post links to them when that happens. Be warned: both tales are quite pun-tastic.
My second panel on Saturday was “Talking Heads: Author Q&A.” I joined fellow authors Janine Spendlove, Bryan Young, our moderator (whose name escapes me), and another writer (whose name I’ve also forgotten, because I suck). We answered questions about our work, our process, the craft and art of writing, and everything in between. That was a fun back-and-forth, and I was intrigued by how much common ground we authors shared in our inspirational sources (all seemed to be rooted in emotional pain and loss).
After finishing my panels, I hung around my signing table, autographing books and talking with anyone curious enough to stop by. I also took a few breaks to check out the exhibit in the room behind me: the steampunky coolness of the Apparition Abolishers. I even got a photo of myself “driving” their steampunk mecha.
After that, Saturday afternoon and evening became a bit hazy. An indeterminate number of Tom Collinses may have been involved. I recall spending a lot of time in the Green Room, the bar, and roaming around the Fourth Floor party zone.
Sunday, October 28
Woke up late, packed for my flight home, and got some breakfast before checking out of my room. I hung out at my signing table, admiring GMX’s throngs of terrific cosplayers, determined to make the most of my last day at the show — and then Mother Nature threw me a wicked curve ball.
Hurricane (later downgraded to Superstorm) Sandy forced the preemptive closure of LaGuardia Airport, meaning my flight home that afternoon was cancelled. I went from saying good-byes to trying to line up a place to stay for the next few days.
And this is where I can’t sing enough praises to GMX: even though they had no contractual obligation to house me once the convention ended, they generously arranged for me to take over one of their empty staff rooms on Sunday night, and they paid to lodge me for two additional days at the Marriott.
Because I no longer had to depart in mid-afternoon, I had the opportunity to take part in the convention’s closing ceremonies, which was kind of fun. Then the staff invited me to join them for their post-show dinner outing. After dinner, we all returned to the Green Room for drinks and a new episode of The Walking Dead, winding down the weekend in fine fashion.
Monday, October 29 & Tuesday, October 30
Before the final GMX staffers left for home on Monday, some nice gals from the programming team took me to breakfast at a nearby IHOP, then they drove me to the local Barnes & Noble to buy some books to fill my suddenly copious spare time.
After that, the hotel turned into a virtual ghost town, when compared with the dense madness that had been GMX. Here is a short video I took that I think poetically captures the essence of what it feels like to be left behind alone at a con hotel after the show is over:
Wednesday, October 31
With my flight home delayed again, the con’s top dog, who everyone knows as “Zot,” moved me from the Franklin Marriott into a room at the Doubletree in downtown Nashville. It was just as nice as the Marriott, and walking distance to a lot more points of interest.
After I settled in, I made a quick tour of the neighborhood and scoped out places I’d want to go to for food, booze, and music. Of particular interest were Printer’s Alley, 2nd Ave. North, and Broadway.
I ended up scorfing an early dinner in the hotel, and after darkness fell, I ventured out into the streets of Nashville looking for tunes and brews. My first stop was in Printer’s Alley, at the Bourbon Street Blues & Boogie Bar, where a cool cat strummed out some mellow blues.
Next, I checked out Benchmark on 2nd Ave. North, but the band there didn’t interest me, so I wandered down to Broadway, where I was drawn in by the honky-tonk groove coming out of a place on the corner called Bootlegger’s Inn. Inside, a five-person band with a great guitarist and two awesome vocalists (one male, one female) were playing their hearts out to a room that didn’t seem to care. I took a seat up front, sipped some Woodford Reserve neat, applauded (sometimes by myself), and tipped the band well when they passed the bucket.
I stayed until they finished their set, and then I drifted down Broadway, looking for another place that would strike my fancy, but found nothing. Knowing I had to get up early the next morning to make what I hoped would be my long-delayed flight home, I called it a night.
Thursday, November 1
Zot picked me up from the hotel and drove me to airport, where I was pleased to find my flight was still listed as “on-time” for departure. And it was a good thing: I’d come packed for a weekend and had ended up staying nearly a week. Fortunately, my past as a producer has taught me to always plan for worst-case scenarios, so I had brought a week’s worth of my prescription medications, as well as some extra clothes, so I managed to get home without smelling too ripe.
GMX was not only impressively organized and professional, it was a lot of fun, and its staff bowled me over with their generosity when I became stranded by Superstorm Sandy.
At one point over the weekend, when someone asked why I hadn’t brought along any books or merchandise to sell at my table, I explained, “I didn’t come to GMX to make money; I came to make friends.” I feel as if I did that, and I hope my hosts feel the same in return — and that they see fit to invite me back again in years to come. This is a convention to which I’d very much like to return as a professional guest again and again.