A few weeks ago I got to attend San Diego Comic-Con for the first time as press. It was a vastly different experience than going as an attendee. I’m hesitant to say that one is better than the other, because it was just… different. There are trade-offs. But this is just meant as a recap of the event.

 

I arrived in San Diego on Wednesday, met up with my friend (and co-blogger) Meghan, grabbed some lunch, and headed downtown to the convention center for Preview Night. As press, we got to be inside the exhibit hall when they opened it up to the masses, which was an event unto itself, but I particularly enjoyed those few minutes to get our bearings and plan out how we’d cover that part of the convention. We stayed for a while, chatted with some exhibitors (and took photos of things for later), and headed out to a networking event.

I spent a good bit of the convention live streaming over at Geek Girl Pen Pals as I walked the exhibit hall floor and generally tried to provide an “experience” of the event for those who couldn’t make it. We are, after all, international, and California is a long flight, and convention badges are HARD to come by, so the goal was to make the event as accessible as possible for the community. (Random photo of the Batmobile is the actual, drive-able vehicle from the movie!)

Thursday afternoon, I headed to the Hyatt and checked in for our first big event– the Her Universe Fashion Show. You can read my full coverage here, but it was so much fun going to the fashion show. I had a clear view of the stage (in fact, seated right behind the judges, I had to work on keeping a neutral face in case one of them was on camera), the production quality was excellent, and the designers themselves put forth some amazing pieces. I can’t wait to see what new styles come out of the show, as the three winners get to collaborate on a spring line (Disney princess themed, no less!) for Hot Topic. (Winning styles pictured above in my blurry phone snap.)

Friday I covered the Let’s Get Fashionably Nerdy panel which included some of my favorite geeky clothing designers (not to mention Jordan Ellis whose Jordandene NYC tops I wear at least twice a week) talking about the shift from the “nerdy t-shirt” to actually fashionable attire that can subtly (or not) express the fandoms people love. Friday night is a bit of a blur but I feel like we had good food that night. Honestly, it starts to blur together. (WAIT!) Friday night was the Geek Girl Pen Pals meet-up! We went to a sushi place in the Gaslamp district and it was so fun! (See? Blurring together!)

Saturday morning Meghan and I got up pretty early because we covered some of the off-site events. San Diego Comic-Con is somewhat famous for these events, which are usually some type of immersive environment produced by a particular brand, production company (Netflix has one, for instance), or for a specific show. We started at the Game of Thrones experience, which was fairly neat. I have a lot of photos from it that I’ll post in a separate page about it, as the experience itself was pretty much one giant photo op. People waited in line for hours to get into this thing, and I have to say… it was cool, but not nine-hours-in-line cool. (I don’t think much is, to be honest.)

Next we visited the Netflix experience, and this is where the “cost” of being press starts to come in. I got to go through the Stranger Things themed part of the Netflix experience, but as I had to be at a press conference at 3:15, I couldn’t take the time to do the rest of the exhibit. I got an awesome photo– but I didn’t get to see everything. I don’t mind. It’s just the reality. (We get into these events at scheduled times but can’t always participate in the full experience.)

Saturday afternoon I attended the press conference for the upcoming series, Star Trek: Discovery, and I have to say that it sounds like it’s going to be a great show. Here is my bad photo of the full cast. I borrowed photos from another blogger and the official press docs for my full coverage. But it was fun, and I’m looking forward to watching when it premiers next month.

After the press conference, I met back up with Meghan for our appointment to go through the Bladerunner 2049 experience, and I have to say that it was the best of just about any off-site experience I’ve ever done. (Sorry, HBO, the Game of Thrones one wasn’t this good.) Even though as media we didn’t get to do the whole virtual reality portion of the immersion, we still got to walk into a huge hangar that was converted into a street corner from the Bladerunner world. In-character actors inhabiting the whole space, “rain” falling, mist and puddles, a noodle bar (not to mention noodles and whiskey tastings for those old enough), and no rush to hurry through. It was SO well done.

After all of that I was pretty worn out, and I had to get up at 4am on Sunday to catch a flight to North Carolina for the next leg of a whirlwind two weeks. But I learned a lot and I covered a lot and I can’t wait to do it again next year when maybe I can just go home at night in between (or maybe figure out a way to get a hotel room downtown.)

Because this is the big thing I’ll say about going to San Diego Comic-Con as press– YES there are perks (like appointment times for off-site experiences), and we had a lot of fun, but we were there to work. I spent a lot of time moving as fast as I could through a throng of 200,000 people trying to make it to appointments on time. I bought new inserts for my shoes. I drank pedialyte like it was my job. I loved it. But it wasn’t the same as being an attendee.

Here’s an example: I didn’t have time to stand in line when I wanted to. This may sound weird, but bear with me. There’s a reason they call SDCC “Line Con”– eeeeeeverything has a line. But you’ve got to make a time commitment to get into certain things. If you, say, wanted to get into the DuckTales panel (and didn’t realize in advance that David Tennant, the new voice of Scrooge McDuck, was going to be there because you were at Comic-Con to cover, say Geek Fashion), you wouldn’t be able to get in line far enough ahead of time to make it into the panel room. As I keep saying, THIS IS OKAY. I did many amazing things. Being press comes with, y’know, appointments to keep. It’s all balance.

Summary: I can’t wait to do it again next year.

An old stretch of Route 66 in Dwight, IL

I like roadside attractions. You know this by now. (See: Cabazon Dinosaurs for previous stop.) And in the US at least there is no place for roadside stops quite like Route 66.

Route 66 has become, in and of itself, a bit of a roadside attraction in its own right. Begun in 1926 and decommissioned in 1985, it nevertheless remains in the cultural consciousness of the US. It was the road that could take you from Chicago to Los Angeles, the Main Street of America, the Mother Road, and it embodies the automotive spirit of America like nothing else. Countless communities along it prospered as long as the traffic came. And did that traffic come! Especially after WWII, the whole stretch of Route 66 became one of the most popular road trips in the country, and the little towns and mom and pop shops along it became iconic stops. But the traffic got to be too much, and the Interstates were born.

You can still find most of Route 66 if you know where to look. It’s been recognized by Congress and the World Monuments Fund as a significant cultural site, and there is an organization committed to preserving what remains. The National Park Service even has a published itinerary with links to popular roadside stops and essays and maps. And there’s something really enticing about it, after all. Two lane roads and tiny diners and places ranging from the comfortable to the just plain bizarre.

I’ve been to the beginning, in downtown Chicago. I’d like to go to the end some day, in Santa Monica. In the meantime, I’m exploring the section that’s within a day’s drive of where I currently reside.

The Lily-pad Room in Onandaga Cave State Park‘s Cathedral Caverns.

For the July 4th weekend, we followed I-55 (which runs parallel to the old Route 66) down to central Missouri and the northern stretches of the Ozarks to meet friends who live in Kansas City. It was a lovely trip, but on the way down and again on the way back, we made a point of stopping on Route 66 as often as we could. Even our final destination, at Onandaga Cave State Park, is part of the cave system that includes one of the oldest stops along the famed highway, Meramec Caverns.

Jesse James Wax Museum outside of Meramec Caverns

Outside of the Meramec Caverns visitor center is a Jesse James Wax Museum that combines my love of roadside attractions with my love of interesting conspiracy theories: the museum posits that the famous outlaw Jesse James faked his own death and lived to be 103, dying in the 1950s. It was bizarre and entertaining and worth the price of admission (if you like that sort of thing, which I do).

The Mill on Route 66 in Lincoln, IL

On the drive home, we stopped at a site called The Mill which has just re-opened after about a decade of fundraising and refurbishment. If you look at some of the old photos, this place was brought back from near collapse by a dedicated team. I like that it sits right at the intersection of the train tracks and the old highway.

We’ve made a few other stops along Route 66 over the last couple of years, but these are the most recent. Have you driven any of Route 66? Do you have a favorite roadside stop that I should add to my list?

Last Friday, my publisher (50/50 Press) hosted an online cover reveal party and I got to be part of it, releasing the cover of Threadwalkers out into the wild for the first time. WOOT!

I really love the cover, and it fits very well with the story, though of course you won’t get to find out exactly how until it comes out this fall… but trust me when I say it’s pretty much perfect.

As part of the event, I took questions from social media, and will leave them here, in case you wondered any of the same things.

Did you get to design it?
I did not get to design this cover, but the publisher was very generous in taking my preferences into account. (I specifically requested no headless female torsos, which has been a bizarre trend in YA covers for years now.) I was sent some mock-ups to look through and my favorite was the one that eventually developed into the final cover. It was the publisher’s favorite, too, so that worked out well.

What was the hardest part of this whole process?
Honestly, every stage has been hard in its own way. Plotting time travel stuff? Hard. Editing and getting good feedback from beta readers? Hard. Querying agents/publishers? HARD. But it’s also hard in a satisfying way, like how I imagine people who enjoy working out feel after a really good workout. I am not one of those people, but I can imagine it’s similar.

What was the most exciting part?
Finding people who were excited about the story, too. It’s easy to write for yourself, but finding someone else who likes it, and who wants to make it into a real, physical Thing? That’s something else entirely.

When can I pre-order it?
Not just yet…. but I should know soonish (meaning, by end of the summer). It’s currently set for a mid-autumn release, so I imagine it’ll turn up online a little before then. I’ll keep you posted. Promise.

Is it going to be available in my country?
This one’s important to me because I know so many folks around the world, and I can tell you that YES it will be available internationally. I get to have some input on that, which I really appreciate. Will be it everywhere? No…. but it’ll be on Amazon in a lot of places, which is fantastic. Again, I’ll keep you posted.

So there you go. If you’ve got any other questions, just ask and I’ll do my best to answer.

Do you want to know my favorite thing about the cover? It’s got my name on it.

Early on Sunday morning we were first in line for the Willis (née Sears) Tower Skydeck. The doors opened at 8:00am and by 8:15 we were on the 103rd floor with a couple of other sailors and our families and Jared signed up for 4 more years* in the Navy.

I don’t do well with heights, but Jared wanted something specific to Chicago (and this duty station and that we couldn’t do anywhere else) so the Skydeck was it.

Re-enlistments are a lot like tiny military weddings, except that the military member is re-committing to their branch of service. You’ve got to have three elements: the sailor (in our case), an officer to perform it, and another sailor (also in our case) as witness. They’ll sign the papers, too, and make it all official (once the Navy’s had enough admin time to get it done).

One of the things many non-enlisted/non-military folks might not realize is that the location of the ceremony is wherever the service member chooses. Within reason, anyway. And that means there have been some pretty wild places chosen. We know people who’ve had their ceremonies in the nose cones of submarines while underway, from the yardarms of their ships, on the deck of the USS Constitution, and in their own front yards. It’s just one of those little quirks that makes Navy life interesting. (Last time he re-enlisted was on the USS Missouri in Hawaii, standing under the big guns.)

That also means that, like little weddings, they can get a little pricey if you’re thinking in terms of a big event. I can tell you, though, that there are a lot of ways to make interesting or unique re-enlistment ceremonies happen. The USS Missouri, for instance, didn’t charge us at all, and was able to schedule a morning time slot for us on the day of Jared’s choice (his birthday, five years ago). Many military sites (and even some National Park sites) will work with you on this and they love supporting military members and their families. In the case of the Skydeck, if it hadn’t been a holiday weekend, we could have booked a private deck time for a pretty reasonable rate, but being that they had early hours for Memorial Day weekend, we just made sure we were there first thing.

You can also make it more like a fun picnic event, inviting the whole division to a cookout somewhere for a party to celebrate. I find that a bring-your-own thing to grill works out well because it leaves the most expensive items up to the guests, plus everyone gets to eat what they want.

All of this isn’t to say you can’t have just a simple, quick-and-done thing one day at work, either. Jared’s first was like that, with him extending an extra couple of years on his first enlistment. The ship’s galley (if you’re at sea, and even sometimes on shore duty, if you’ve got galley access) is good about making cake, though. Re-enlistments call for cake!

Anyway, Jared wanted something that was a just-Chicago thing, and it worked out that his mom and my parents were able to come, and the weather held so we could actually see and generally it was fantastic.

Obviously I’m really proud of him for reaching this point in his career, where this enlistment will take him all the way to twenty years and the possibility of full retirement (we shall see what happens in the next couple of years, though… might stay in longer), but can I just take a moment to also be really proud of myself for actually going out there on that platform with him?

As I said, I don’t do heights. This smile is a LIE (or a deep cry for help right before I scurried back to the psychological safety of the not-see-through floor). Anyway, me going out for a photo? That’s love, right there. (And a smidge of my recent efforts to face fears, and to just put myself out there and try things even when I’m scared. Deep, y’all. Deep. Except also really tall. Deep and tall? Deeptall? I’ll stop now.)

Anyway, that is done now. We survived. We had a lovely brunch and then went home and had a lovely nap (while Jared did one of his ridiculous workouts).

I guess we’ll do four more years of this Navy thing then. Here we come, 2021!

*Symbolically. Paperwork is a separate thing. Really, the best metaphor for this whole thing is a like a mini-wedding. Ceremony, paperwork, cake.

Hey, all! I’ve got a small bit of NEWS related to my book!

Are you ready?

NEXT MONTH, my publisher will be having a cover reveal party and my book is one of the covers they’re showcasing! YAY!

So SAVE THE DATE!

  • When: June 9
  • Time: TBD but probably afternoon
  • Where: I’ll post here, and on social medias including my Facebook page!

I can’t tell you anything about it except that I like it, and that I really like how it goes along with the story itself. (I know, that’s totally not helpful to you at all. Sorry!)

In the meantime, have you read chapter one yet? You can check it out over on the book page!

I told you last week that I have a particular soft spot for odd roadside attractions, and since I’ve recently been to one I thought I’d share a little bit about it. I’m as much interested in the stories behind the peculiar stops as the stops themselves, and this one is no exception: the Cabazon Dinosaurs.

The first dino, Dinny the apatosaurus, was completed in 1975 and “Large Marge” the t-rex was as close to being finished as she’ll ever be in 1988, at the time of the creator’s death. The dinos were meant to be a good advertisement for the Wheel Inn, the diner located in the adjacent parking lot, but have now outlived the restaurant, which was bulldozed in late 2016. There’s a, well, peculiar museum attached now, but you don’t need to pay admission to take photos of the giant dinosaurs, nor to go into the gift shop inside Dinny’s stomach (entrance in his tail). Free is the best way to go for this one, if you ask me.

These two were all over TV in the 1980s, and appeared in Pee Wee’s Big Adventure, so they’ve got a good bit of nostalgia appeal, plus, y’know, they’re giant dinosaurs. They are a fun place to take photos.

The stairs for the gift shop go through Dinny’s tail….

It’s a kick to be able to actually sit on these guys’ feet, and to go up into the gift shop (even if you’re not going to buy anything) because it’s a chance to actually touch something and interact with it.

My friend Kara stood on Marge’s toes!

That’s one of the best things about a good roadside stop– the tangible connection not only to it, but to all the people who’ve come before. Kids climbed on Dinny before I was even born.

It’s a little surreal to see these massive figures standing above the palm trees, with the California mountains behind them, and they are obviously much larger than their fossilized counterparts, but that adds to the whimsy and charm of the experience.

I was recently there because of a weekend roadtrip with a couple of friends that took us to Joshua Tree National Park (if you follow my instagram, you’ve seen all the desert spam lately!) and this was along the highway on our drive back to San Diego from there. Definitely worth the little detour.

Have you visited the Cabazon Dinosaurs? Or do you have an off-beat roadside stop you’d recommend? I’m always looking for new places to add to my list! 

It has been nearly six years since I first wrote up a cheeky little blog post about not believing North Dakota is a “real” state.  Six years later, and it continues to be my most-read post, and I also continue to get some really rude and yet really humorous comments from people who don’t know how satire works. (You can scroll to the bottom of that post to see them, along with every time I’ve linked to the definition of satire in response. Nobody ever seems to want to follow up after that. Strange.) Just this week it’s been more than 4 times as popular as anything else I’ve posted, and I’ve been purposely sending people the links about my novel.

photo taken by me in Fargo, North Dakota, 2007

I love a good conspiracy theory, which is why I wrote my own. I also got a kick out of posting all of the photos from my own visits to North Dakota along with the very tongue-in-cheek things I wrote. But I’ve realized over the years that I haven’t given enough space here to my other off-beat interests and weird hobbies, so maybe it’s been a little out of context. I’m going to try and fix that a little.

Things I enjoy include, in no particular order:

  • Weird roadside attractions.
  • Cryptozoology (and cryptozoologists!).
  • Conspiracy theories, particularly if they involve aliens, which, at some point, all of them eventually do.
  • Historical murder mysteries.
  • Folklore, especially about things related to everything above.

Michigan Upper Peninsula, 2016

I know that many of these things are related, and overlap, but culture is such a weird and wonderful thing, and humans come up with such clever ideas for things that I find myself fascinated. I will go out of my way to see a giant pickle barrel turned into a house, or to make a stop at the UFO Crash Museum while on a cross-country roadtrip. I will watch shows about the hunt for the Loch Ness Monster, and tales of haunted houses, because they’ve all got one thing in common– really interesting humans.

Foamhenge (near Natural Bridge, Virginia), 2007

Humans are, if nothing else, creative. We come up with fascinating stories about the world around us, and our tendency to share stories (and embellish them when we re-share) leads to all kinds of fun tales that linger in corners and forests and small towns. It’s why I love the podcast Lore, and why I have a real interest in where Foamhenge will be relocated, and why I will pay money to see a Mystery Spot. We create little mythologies around us all the time, in the name of art or nostalgia or just the fun of the story.

Roswell, New Mexico, 2014

So what about you? What’s your favorite folklore/conspiracy/roadside attraction?