Category Archives: Events

Goodbye, @Ragbrai_Iowa. Hello, @Gen_con

The Ragbrai chapter of my life has ended. Probably. We’ll see. I’d like to go back again someday, maybe when my publishing schedule is better arranged to slide in training. Here are some pictures in case you missed them on Twitter (I’m @AuthorLeeFrench).

First pie of Ragbrai, actually had at Shari’s in Moses Lake, WA.

My home away from home for the week of Ragbrai. This year, I splurged and got the tent rental from Pork Belly Ventures. Worth it.

A nice, welcoming touch in Orange City, IA.

I think I got snookered with store-bought pie this time.

The best pie of Ragbrai 2017. Blueberry with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

A town called Mallard where they make duck jokes. I’m so surprised. There was a rubber ducky race in town, and a lady holding a sign that said “Release the Quackin'”. The picture didn’t turn out. Alas.

Breakfast on Day 7. By then, it’s just like, to heck with yogurt, let’s skip to the pie. The banana made it healthy, of course.

Me at the end. Look how relieved I am to only have about one mile left to go. It’s like Ragbrai is hard work or something.

If I ever go back, I’m going to angle for a really difficult year, like the least flat ever, or the longest, or something.

Next up is a trip to Indianapolis, IN for Gencon. I like the show a lot, and this is Gencon’s 50th year. If you’re going, take a moment to wander the Author’s Avenue aisles. I’ll be the one in the hat with the dragon on top. Say hi and ask for a demo of Dwago.

The Casual Cyclist’s Guide to Last-Minute @RAGBRAI_IOWA Prep #cycling

This happened on the 12th. By day 1 of Ragbrai, I won’t have ridden my bike for 10 days. This is not a disaster, it’s just a recipe for needing Butt Butt’r and ibuprofen.

I have to travel a pretty long distance to reach Iowa, so I’m leaving tomorrow. My packing includes books and gear for MALCon in Denver, where I’ll be August 4-6. Your packing, on the other hand, should not stuff your car full to the brim. Unless you’re moving your own vehicle from town to town somehow, you’re limited to two duffels while on the ride.

Herein is a list of things I’ve found helpful while on Ragbrai, but are not obvious.

  1. A flashlight. You’ll want this in case you ever need to do anything at night. Which you will. I promise. It’s best to have one with a clip of some sort so you don’t have to turn it off in the dark inside a kybo.
  2. Clothespins or similar clips, possibly 2-4 small carabiners. I use these to hang wet cycling clothes after rinsing them out. You may also want a 6-10 foot length of rope. I don’t bother, as I can always drape everything over my tent. The clothespins hold things in case of a breeze or awkward placement needs.
  3. Walking shoes. Probably with regular socks. If your flipflops are super-comfy for walking around, more power to ya. I’ve never had a pair of sandals in which I was happy to walk more than a half mile or so, plus regular shoes means no sunburns on my feet. In most overnight towns, you’ll have to walk a fair distance to get to the expo, the entertainment and/or the food vendors. Even when you use the shuttles, you’ll still end up walking around quite a bit.
  4. Hand sanitizer. All kybos should have either a hand washing station or a hand sanitizer dispenser. Should.
  5. Emergency food substance. Maybe you, like me, have trouble forcing yourself to eat first thing in the morning. Maybe you’re a grazer. Maybe you just want to save a little money. Whatever you might come up with for a reason, it’s in your best interest to have a little something along with you. Anytime you feel yourself powering down between towns, stuff your EFS into your food hole, give it a few minutes to settle, and get back in the saddle. Protein-heavy bars work well for this.

Other than those things, don’t forget your sunscreen, toothbrush and toothpaste, and as much cycling gear as you feel comfortable bringing. I always get a new water bottle at the expo on Saturday for the week. Also, bring a sweater or light jacket, and expect to sleep in a sleeping bag, because it can get cold. You never know. I got mild hypothermia on Ragbrai once. Try not to do that.

I’ll be riding with Pork Belly Ventures, as I usually do, so I don’t have to worry about some toiletries and other things. You should consider how much of that kind of stuff you want to bring. If you aren’t riding with a charter, you’ll wind up showering in a wide variety of interesting locales. Be prepared for cold showers, not warm.

A few other tips:

  1. Keep a list handy with the names of the places you expect to camp every night. This way, if you feel lost, you can ask a local for directions.
  2. Bring cash for food. Gear dealers will generally accept credit cards, but food vendors don’t always, especially in the pass-through towns. Plan a budget and bring a little bit of a cushion if you can, in case you’re way off for how much you’re going to eat.
  3. Follow the basic riding rules and suggestions in the official Ragbrai booklet. Really. They’re designed to prevent problems like injury and heatstroke.
  4. Do not expect the SAG wagon to find you out on the road. This is my fifth time, and I’ve seen one on the route once. Once. They often fill up in the early towns and take the vehicle route to the overnight town. In the event you get hurt, your bike gets trashed, or you absolutely can’t go any further, try 911 on your phone. Flip your bike upside down if you can. People will stop to help you. I promise. If you *can* make it to the next town, do that and seek help there.
  5. The only reason you need two water bottles is if you want two different drinks in them. There will be opportunities in every single pass-through town to refill. Do not panic about water, just remember to drink it.
  6. For day 1-3, take the painkiller before you get on the bike. There’s no point to waiting until you feel pain. Trust that you will and prepare accordingly. By day 4, you should be okay to go without.

Internet and phone service are spotty and questionable all week long, especially since we won’t be going through any large towns this year, so plan to be disconnected the whole time. Don’t expect to hear much from me on Twitter or FB until it’s all over, because I don’t have either app on my phone (on purpose!).

Good luck, and see you on the road!

Packing for #NASFiC #amwriting

If you’re in the US, I hope you’re enjoying your favorite form of patriotic whatnot. For me, today is the deep breath before the madness. Tomorrow, I’m leaving for Puerto Rico to participate in NASFiC, the North American Science Fiction Convention. This is the convention held in the US when WorldCon isn’t. This year, WorldCon is in Helsinki, so we get NASFiC.

I’ve never been to PR before, and I’m pretty sure I’m not going to know anyone there. This is both exciting and terrifying, as I’ve never gone to con where I knew no one. There will be one person with whom I have a passing acquaintance, but that’s it, so far as I’m aware. Everyone I know who would ordinarily go prefers to drive to big sales cons, not fly to small conference-y cons.

I’m hoping it’ll be fun. But also, I’m a cynic, so I know it’ll be awful. At least the weather is predicted to be pleasant, and the hotel is supposed to be nice. As a bonus, like Hawaii, it’s tropical and a chance of pace without requiring foreign currency, which means no currency exchange fees. Yay!

I’ll be participating on several panels about writing, alongside people with more experience than myself. Which doesn’t intimidate me in the slightest. Not a jot. Nope. Really. No vending for me at this show, as I have to fly there and am not hauling multiple copies of 16 titles on a plane. (16!)

And when I get back, I’ll have two days to finish Ragbrai training before shipping my bike to Iowa. Then I’ll have another few days to slave away in the word mines before leaving for that bike madness. From then, it’s an almost nonstop dash to the end of August.

In writing news, ICYMI, the second installment of Darkside Seattle is a thing. Street Doc was a story about an asshole. Fixer is a story about a woman who gets shit done. The Greatest Sin #5: A Curse of Memories releases next Tuesday, July 11. The ebook is currently in pre-order for 99 cents. It’ll go up to regular price of $4.99 on the 12th, so snap that up if you’re at all interested. The entire The Greatest Sin series is also available on iTunes, Kobo, and a smattering of other sites if you prefer those platforms.

I’ve started working on Spirit Knights 5 with a plan to have it ready next March. Darkside Seattle: Mechanic is tentatively scheduled for a December release. And finally, I have no less than 3 super-secret projects in the works. Three!

Happy 4th of July. ūüôā

Summer Is Coming #amwriting

The start of June means I’m busting my butt to finish whatever I can in time for GenCon. Here’s my con schedule through September:

July 1-2: GEARCon in Portland, OR

July 6-9: NASFiC in San Juan, PR

August 1-3: MALCon in Denver, CO

August 20-24: GenCon in Indianapolis, IN

September 9: Readerfest in Renton, WA

September 30-Oct : GeekGirlCon in Seattle, WA

And that’s it. Looks like not much. Lies. All of it. I’m driving to all those places, except Puerto Rico. Turns out PR is an island. Who knew, right? July 23-29, I’ll be in Iowa, riding Ragbrai, which I’m also driving to. I also have other personal matters to tend to, which will result in me traveling all but a week or so from the last week of June through the end of August. For a value-added bonus, I’m having long-overdue dental work done in there somewhere.

And that leaves…not much time for writing. As usual.

This Ragbrai will be my last, at least for the foreseeable future. As I’m discovering this spring, training takes too much time away from writing. My parts aren’t very happy about the amount of riding I’ve been doing, either. At this point, I’m concerned about my knees and their ability to handle the whole ride.

At this time, I’m expecting to have two new books in time for GenCon. One is the fifth book of The Greatest Sin, title to be revealed with the cover in the near future. The other is Darkside Seattle: Fixer. More to come soon about both!

Working the Table: Getting Started as an #Indie at Conventions

Someone asked me recently how much money it really costs to get ready to work your first convention. What’s a good level of investment to plan on fielding for that first show? They asked me because I do this a fair amount, and have even co-authored a book on the subject.

Shameless self-promotion works! Sometimes.

I gave an off-the-cuff estimate of $200-300, then started thinking about the real answer. What’s the minimum needed to work a table, and what’s the minimum needed to be successful working a table?

The minimum expenses:

  1. Books. It’s challenging to sell books that you don’t have on hand.
  2. The table fee.
  3. Transportation costs–gas, parking, airfare, etc.
  4. Food.
  5. At least one pen–for signing your books.
  6. Something to hold cash and some bills to make change with.

These six¬†things are the absolute minimum. At many shows, you’ll be given a table with skirting and sign attached to the front with your name in block letters. You can get by with this if you’re on a tight budget. New vendors manage with this all the time. This minimalist option lets you squeak by on little more than the cost of your books. Your setup and teardown time will be short, and you’ll have little to transport.

To really succeed, you’ll need to invest a bit more:

  1. Some sort of promotional handout–bookmarks and business cards are always winners. An informal poll of other authors reveals these two are the best bang for the buck in promotion. This type of thing is cheaper per piece when you buy in bulk, so get as many as you can afford at once.
  2. A way to accept credit cards–I use and recommend Square, which requires either a data connection or internet on the device you attach it to.
  3. A reseller permit, which requires¬†a business license in your state. This allows you to buy copies of your own books without having to pay sales tax for that transaction. (Obviously, if your state doesn’t assess sales tax, you don’t need this, but you’ll still need the business license).
  4. Some sort of large promotional graphic thing with your name and/or your series name. Many authors and artists get a retractable banner to put behind their chair and a second banner for the front of the table. Other options include a table banner of 1.5-3 feet in height, a backdrop with a frame, a custom printed table cloth, and a banner with a stand. You can find a wide variety of sizes and shapes.
  5. A trade show tablecloth like this one. This isn’t necessary, but it makes your display look more professional.
  6. Book stands like these or these. I highly recommend these two types as cheap, reliable, inconspicuous, stable, and easy to both use and store.
  7. Some method of transporting your stuff between the table and your vehicle. I use one of these, but it’s overkill if you only have a few titles. A foldup handcart like this one or this one is a good starting option, depending on how you store your books.
  8. A plastic bin or similar container to hold pens, bookmarks/cards, book stands, and other whatnot.

Keep in mind that the more you add to your display, the longer setup and teardown will take. At most shows, I have a complex display with ~40 titles that takes 45-60 minutes for both setup and teardown, and it takes me, on average, three trips to my car. By contrast, the minimalist with 1-3 titles needs 5-10 minutes, and an average indie with 3-5 titles will need about half an hour.

In total, aside from the table fee and transportation, a good, solid start needs about $400 for books, banners, bookmarks, and odds & ends. If you can catch sales for banners and similar items, you can keep the costs lower. The good news is that many of these items won’t need to be repurchased for every show, so your costs come down to books, table fees, bookmark/card replacement, and transportation for subsequent shows.

Good luck, and don’t forget to order your books well in advance!

Road Trip Wrapup

I’m home. Finally. Because I had to fly across the country twice after I got back from Kansas City (for personal reasons), it’s taken me a couple of days to really recover from all the traveling. now safely ensconced in my bean bag chair once more, I have a lot of work to do. The goals I outlined earlier this year for my writing tasks won’t be met, and I already know that. Now, I’m focused on the most important things: Spirit Knights #4, Ilauris #3, cyberpunk, some dragons, and a few anthology submissions.

Coming soon: a cyberpunk novella still in need of a title! With luck, it’ll be available in time for GeekGirlCon.

In other news, while I was gone, someone stole the dragon from my front yard, which is a unique 70-pound reclaimed metal structure. May whoever took it get everything they deserve. I have serious doubts I’ll ever see it again, but it’s been reported to the police anyway.

I live in a dragon guarded castle

Should you happen to see it someplace, let me know.

And now, some pictures from the trip. In reverse order, because I’m ornery like that.

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Nothing says excitement like Deadpool at WorldCon!

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The debut of The Greatest Sin’s new covers at WorldCon. Aren’t they pretty now?

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I’m still geeking out over meeting Mercedes Lackey and Larry Dixon at WorldCon.

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From a much-needed few days of downtime.

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GenCon had the truck and everything. They left markers so folks could write on the wall.

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Myths & Legends Con in Denver–a small con with a big heart.

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In Denver, I acquired a Temporary Helpful Writing Cat.

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Best cosplay of Mawg ever. At MALCon.

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Chimichangas, anyone? From GenCon

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This dude rocked the Finn cosplay. At GenCon

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I saw this guy and thought, “OMG, that’s almost Justin!”

#GenCon2016 was Awesome and Strange

GenCon was last weekend. The hotel I stayed at had really horrible and unrelaible internet, so as I type this on Tuesday morning, I’ve been in a nerd cave for a little over a week, driving and working. I have no idea what’s going on in the world, except that I’ve caught some random snippets of the Olympics, including the atrocious men’s gymnastics opening. Ouch.

Prior to arriving in Indianapolis, one exciting thing happened that I must mention. My car, a two-year-old Ford C-Max that I love, decided I should not drive for 5 hours without a break. This happened quite by accident, as I normally stop every 2-3 hours to use a bathroom, but my head was elsewhere, I suppose, and I wasn’t hydrating properly. When we did stop for lunch, the car chose to disengage its power steering, which was kind of scary in the sense of “OMG, we just started this trip and my car is breaking!”. Fortunately, after another two stops, it re-engaged of its own free will.

Fun fact: the C-Max doesn’t have a power steering fluid reservoir. The car is fine and hasn’t so much as hiccupped since. I got an arm muscle workout for several hours and no other effect.

We arrived in Indy on Tuesday, close to dead and ready to sleep. The con began with setup day on Wednesday. This was also errand day, since Jeff and I had been on the road for a week already by then. Thus, we discovered that while the hotel claims to have a laundry in its Guest Services booklet, and signs on the wall point to it, the hotel had to laundry. They hope to install one in the next year. Fantastic. Coin-op for us.

Setup went fine. It was hot and I had to haul books from a parking garage to the convention center. Could have used the marshalling yard. Chose not to. Exercise is good for me, especially after several days of nonstop driving. Car got a scheduled oil change, during which they found no longering effects of the power steering issue. I acquired pie from a grocery store. It was okay, but not as good as homemade or Ragbrai pie.

Thursday at con began with greeting all the people I met last year, including the Brain Lag folks, Rocco the Excellent, and several others. Of course, Tom Gondolfi of Tanstaafl Press was there, a good friend who I only ever see at cons despite living within 20 minutes of each other.

And then it began. A few things stood out this year. The Clockwork Dragon table was close to a main walkway, yet very few folks came down the aisle from that direction. Most con-goers approached from the other side, which I did not at all anticipate. Our usual bread-and-butter customers–teenage girls interested in the four series of female-fronted YA we offer–seemed magnetically repulsed by our table. They scanned our titles, saw our banners, then averted their eyes and dove for the urban fantasy at the next table.¬†Despite this, our YA book 1s almost sold out anyway, and we barely sold anything else. Very few people who bought a book from me last year stopped by to pick up the next in the series.

I actually brought a few extra copies of Illusive Echoes on the expectation that a few fans would top by and pick up book 4. Nope. Not a single one. Weird.

One woman did stop when she recognized Girls Can’t Be Knights, to tell me she wanted to whack that Lee French over the head with her cane, because the ending made it seem like there wouldn’t be any sequels. Didn’t recognize me, and she was mortified when we revealed she was, in fact, speaking to Lee French. And then she didn’t get Backyard Dragons or Ethereal Entanglements.

Normal cons have a few sales on Day 1, a few more on Day 2, then a rush for the remaining days, as people like to browse at first and not blow all their money right away. They come back later and buy. This is common and expected. Usually, Sunday is our busiest day. Sometimes it’s Saturday, but Sunday is much more common. At GenCon, we had a normal Thursday, then Friday, Saturday, and Sunday were all about the same. Lots of empty time with no one in the aisle, which I expected, but not so much on Saturday and Sunday.

Even so, Clockwork Dragon had its best show ever, and we’re looking forward both to MALCon this weekend in Denver, and to Gencon 2017.