Aug 282023

They say that Fate is a cruel taskmistress. I believe it to be so. As if this trip already hadn’t had enough surprises, the road home gave me one more twist.

I drive an eco diesel pickup—the Maroon Marauder (as I call her). The newer diesels have an ingenious method for reducing emissions. They spray uric acid (also known as Diesel Exhaust Fluid (DEF)) into the exhaust. The reaction reduces those nasty things that made diesels so smelly and horrible in the past. Well, I’m minding my own business, looking forward to being home. I’m in the wilds of Montana when I get a message from my truck: “DEF system failure. See Dealer.”

I’m thinking, OK. I’ll be back in a day and a half. I have two repairs on my truck that need to be performed when I get home anyway. I’ll just add this to my list when I go into the dealer.

I’m all fine and good until thirty minutes later the message changes to: “DEF system failure. Vehicle will not restart after 200 miles.” This began a countdown of mileage. Oh, fudge.

Luckily (he says with a bit of sarcasm), Bozeman, MT was just thirty miles away. I pulled into the dealership in town with one hundred sixty-ish miles left on my countdown. I go inside to find out that they can’t even put my truck up on a lift for three days. Calling about, I find no relief for that three-day period.

Now a little issue that I’ve failed to put out there… My son’s wedding was in about eleven days, so I have a deadline.

I looked into several options: renting an RV spot for a week, including renting an alternative tow vehicle (none available), renting a hotel room (ludicrous cost as it is the height of the season).

Eventually, the only feasible option that presents itself is an RV spot about thirty miles away. I will rent it for the week and see how it goes. So off I go to park my tentative home for the week. Along the way, the countdown and message about the failure went away.

“What do I do now?” I thought. “Is it still counting or did it just go silent?”

I end up going and talking to the dealer again and the answer is inconclusive… Only that it failed at some point and isn’t failed now. Can I succeed in going the rest of the eight hundred miles? No one is willing to commit. I do ask what it means by saying it wouldn’t restart. What if I keep going and never turn it off? Apparently, after the two hundred miles it would throttle my speed to five miles an hour if I dropped below 15mph. After fifty miles it would shut down the engine. I wallowed in angst for some time before making the decision to press on.

It appears I made the right choice. I never got the message again. I was able to travel without interference the rest of the way home.

Thus ends one of the more eventful Great Road Trips.

 August 28, 2023  Uncategorized No Responses »
Aug 272023

Leg 8 Indianapolis to Davenport, IA

On this trip, I have a lot of time. I’ve got 4 days to travel 6 hrs of driving. So, I’m doing it about an hour at a time… rest area to rest area, with stops for ice.

Started out poorly. I was going to stay another day at the Indianapolis park but they were full up. Add to that I got a very late start AND it was raining like cats and dogs. I was hooking up my trailer in 3” of standing water (no exaggeration).

I had only one issue on my trip to Davenport. Before I tell you what happened, I have to tell you that I’ve been RVing pretty extensively for six years. I have a good deal of experience. OK, enough preamble.

One morning, I got up to move to the next rest area. I did my morning routine and finally was ready to travel about an hour. I reeled in my power cord and climbed into the truck. I start driving. I get no more than 10 feet when I can feel something isn’t right. It feels like I haven’t lifted my stabilizing jacks. But I had lifted them. I look back in both side-view mirrors. All four are up. I edge backward and still, something isn’t right. I wonder if the trailer’s emergency brake has been triggered. I get out and walk around and don’t see anything. I get back in and drive forward again. The grinding feeling definitely indicates a problem.

This time I take out my checklist, something I’ve not been using of late because I’ve been doing the same thing over and over… “I know what I’m doing.” Airline pilots have checklists, too. Why? They do what they do over and over and over again. Surely they know what to do. Well, they do it because they just MIGHT miss a step. I have one, too. But I hadn’t been using it. (Can you see what’s coming?)

I go out and go down each of the checklist items. Lo and behold, I found that my tongue jack, the one that you use when parking your trailer and hitching your trailer, was still down. Granted, it had a wheel on it, but a crude one only for moving it around when not connected to a tow vehicle.

In this case, that plastic wheel had been ground down to a semi-circle. Yes, I was an idiot and not pulled up the tongue jack and put away the wheel and thus the weight of the back of my truck and the front of my trailer sanded away that plastic wheel to half its original size.

All that being said, it was a minor nuisance. It necessitated a stop to get a replacement and a cost of $45. Needless to say, the checklist became my bible for the rest of the trip and the future.

Anime-Zing: I hadn’t been to Davenport in eons (yes, I’m that old) so I don’t remember it. I was looking for a place to stealth camping because the convention is in the middle of town. To my surprise, there were a number of choices but they all gave me a feeling of concern. I ended up traveling ten minutes through town to stay my nights at a truck stop outside of town.

Anime-Zing takes over the RiverCenter in downtown Davenport. I am surprised at the sprawling location. But going into the dealer’s room dampens much of my enthusiasm. Over half the room cordoned off with drapes makes the area seem small, but even that small area seems oversized. There are twelve main vendor locations, but only nine showed up all weekend. The artisans’ booths along the edges were all filled.

I think I’ve mentioned before that I’ve never attended a strictly anime convention as it isn’t my genre or that of my books. This set my expectations low. The setup in the dealer’s room made them even lower. I wondered if I would even cover my booth costs. Day one didn’t dispel those fears with only a couple of sales and only a couple hundred attendees. The convention did pick up both in attendance and sales. I did reasonably well. That being said, I didn’t make many “friends”. We didn’t really speak the same language…. I spoke SF and games, they spoke anime.  

I won’t say that Anime-Zing is a barn burner but I’d do it again if my path crosses it.

 August 27, 2023  Uncategorized No Responses »
Aug 092023

This has to be one of the more eventful segments of my entire life. The day I am scheduled to leave, I have an eye issue. I have a floater in my left eye the size of… well, make a stop sign of your hand and hold it at arm’s length. The entire size of your hand is a spiderweb across the focus spot of my eye. Troubling!

A few calls to my eye doctor back home sent me to someone local to check it out. $150 and the flash blindness that goes with eye dilation later, it isn’t serious but rather something that comes with age. It will go away over time.

Next, I decided to stop and visit my friend, Bruce Graw, in Kettering, OH and his family a bit more as it is on the way. While I’m sleeping in my trailer on the edge of his lawn, the driver of a car on a perpendicular street has a medical emergency. At ludicrous speed, he rams a large pickup (spins it around 110 degrees, totaling it), The runaway car flips over in mid-air and hits an SUV (and shoves it out of the way), lands on its roof, and slides to a stop 14” from my trailer. His headlight assembly flies out of his car and slams against the side of my trailer putting a fist-sized dent in the side. Had either pickup or SUV not been there, the runaway car would have torn my trailer in half. NOTE: the driver was taken to the hospital with minor injuries.

OK, that’s two bad things, and according to sayings they come in threes. On the way to Indianapolis from the Dayton area, I get a flat in a tire I’d planned on replacing when I get home. On the surface of things, this wouldn’t seem too bad, BUT, I have to unhook the trailer and swap the tire on the truck. Pickups are NOT built for serviceability. I’m a seasoned mechanic and it took me 90 minutes to get the tire off and the spare put on. $500 and two and a half hours after that, I had new tires on the back of my truck. The money didn’t bother me, but the time did as it meant I missed my arrival at the Indy RV park. But I was able to get a late arrival and all was good.

GENCON 2023:

OK, There were many goods and bads to GC this year. I’ll start with the bad and get those out of the way.

  1. They moved the marshaling yard with effectively no notice. The marshaling yard is where vendors go to get in a queue to be able to drive in and offload their stuff. We had to drive around to find it. Oh, and they haven’t solved any problems of the past yet. 1hr sitting around waiting for them to let us in. 30 minutes to load in, get our badges, and set up.
  2. There is a street between the convention center and Colt’s stadium. Bruce and I have always used this as a place to drop off each day (short walk to the back door), and to load out (and avoid the dreaded Marshaling Yard on the return). The city had blocked this off during the convention. (Grrrr) Longer walks in and out as well as marshalling yard OUT took 2+ hours just to get to the same location we normally pack out!
  3. I vended next to a young lady who poached people I was talking to. This is extremely rude. It didn’t happen to just me. Several other vendors around her said the same thing. And on the final day she used a pitch that I think is just wrong (and other vendors) about “helping me by buying books so I don’t have to carry them to my car” or something like that.
  4. I didn’t reach my goal of having record sales (but did respectably). I suspect I might have reached record sales if it weren’t for #3 above.
  5. Really getting homesick… this trip seems interminable.  

Now the good things that happened.

  1. I had a single record sale of 17 books. It started out normal enough. He asked about one book. I told him and he said “I’ll take that one.” Everytime he asked me about a book or a series the answer was the same. We got up to 9 books and he started to check out. I’d already run the sale when he said… “Wait, you didn’t tell me about this one.” Eight more books joined the pile. This is the single largest sale I’ve had, ever!
  2. Great to see all of my fans! In fact, Michael (last name withheld because I don’t have permission) 3D printed me a parabola slinky. It’s a good deal of fun. Wonder how the cats will react to it back home. Special shout out to Beth, a fan who got married since our last meeting.
  3. While we didn’t reach our record sales, we did quite nicely.
  4. Got to mingle with all of my author friends.

 August 9, 2023  Uncategorized No Responses »
Aug 092023

While not exactly planned, I had a full week plus to kill before GenCon and it was only about 6 hours away. So, with the heat of the summer and the issues between my generator and AC, I decided to find a state park to camp in. I found one about 90 minutes east of Columbus. I registered for a 3 night stay (Tues-Fri). Best laid plans of mice and men.

Early Monday morning, I found my black water tank (the one that stores the icky bathroom stuff) is right at the brim of overflowing. I must find a dump. I had planned on staying Monday night at a rest area that had a dump, but it was closed. So now, I had to find an alternative. No problem. I pulled up my rv dump site app only to find there weren’t any free dump sites unless I headed hours out of my way. Dirty rats bottoms and other expletives. There were several pay ones that ranged in price from $12 to $25. Bah!

Well, I thought, my campsite at Salt Fork was only $31 per night… why not see if I can sneak in early to dump, OR take an extra day in the luxury of having electricity without the rattle of the generator? I did the latter.

Salt Fork State Park is a lovely, groomed park. If you are looking for the wilds of camping this isn’t the place for you. It does have miles of wonderful hiking trails, but you aren’t camping in the wilderness. There are jungle gyms and slides for the kids and the first day I was here, I had the mower spending a couple of hours outside my RV. There are showers, bathrooms, and other accommodations.

Salt Fork has so many amenities that I can’t possibly list them all, but there are multiple lake beaches, a marina, boating, hiking, and even gem finding. I spent a nice few days here relaxing. I recommend this place to anyone who wants a break from boondocking.

 August 9, 2023  Uncategorized No Responses »
Aug 092023

Ok, I’m heading the farthest east I’ve traveled with TANSTAAFL Press. But, along the way, I’m stopping at Bruce Graw’s house for a visit and to pick up some things I had shipped there (I was short of some books and business cards).

I did dinner with his sister, we went and saw a couple of movies (Indiana Jones, and Spiderman), and I attended D&D with him.

I also managed some prosaic things like laundry, a minor trailer repair, and catching up on sleep! Nice visit but I had to make it march to get to Confluence in Pittsburg. Besides, Bruce comes to GenCon with me and helps me man the booth there. We will chat more there.

Welcome to Confluence in Pittsburg! This lovely convention had many surprises in store for me.

 First, let’s start with accommodations. I was able to boondock in the parking hotel lot, but at a cost. No, not a monetary cost, but a physical one. To be out of the way, the only spots available were not even sort of level. Where I ended up, I had a list of approximately 10 degrees from the driver’s side down to the passenger’s side and a slight head’s down angle, but nothing like the side-to-side problem.

Now, nominally a slight angle isn’t an issue but this was severe enough to cause problems. I had to sleep on my bed diagonally (and not sleep well). It also didn’t allow for cooking. And my spare hours really only had one position that was even halfway comfortable… leaning up against the wall in my dinette area. That doesn’t even talk about doing bathroom issues and other things.

Not the most comfortable of my stays on this trip.

The next surprise was the convention itself. I’m usually a good judge of how large a show is just from the website and talking with the convention committee. I had this down as a 1-2K attendee show. <BUZZ> Thanks for playing. More on this later. 

Day one was very disappointing with light traffic, minimal interactions by the people, and even fewer sales. Day two was turning better but still light. I wondered where all the people were. Until I heard a couple of the convention committee chatting near my booth that the total gate count was about 280 souls. Ack!

I’ll be honest, if I’d known that there were so few people, I may not have attended. And I would have missed out on what turned into a pretty decent show all, in all.

While for us, sales aren’t everything, they are a metric of how well the business is doing overall. There is a general tenant that for any show, a vendor should get 3-5x the cost of the show in sales to make it worthwhile. This show hit 6x even though we were only 2/3rds the nominal target sales we have for any show. So from a purely business perspective, the show turned out well.

From an engagement perspective, I had some problems. My normal patter (or flirting for those who remember my class Flirting for Fun and Profit) just wasn’t working as well as most every other convention. My rough guess is that it is an East Coast vs West Coast thing. I’m not at all saying that the EC folks were standoffish, only that I didn’t know the keys to properly engage. It did get better as the weekend went on, but I still felt there was a strain there that I don’t feel elsewhere. Maybe next time, I’ll get it right.

 August 9, 2023  Uncategorized No Responses »
Jul 202023

I’ve got lots of time to make it to KC. It’s only about an 8-hour drive and I have 4 days to make it. So, I’m taking time to smell the roses. Well, ok, laundry and dishes and cleaning the trailer.

It was well over 90 degrees and my aircon/generator combination wasn’t keeping it cool enough for me (I melt over 75 degrees), AND, I had some issues with my generator’s exhaust. <still having issues with uploading images and probably will until I get home 🙁 > Soooooo, I actually broke my general boondocking rule for these trips. I found a pleasant Missouri state campground that had electricity and stayed there for two nights (at $32 per night). Their grid power allowed me to keep the temp under 80 inside my trailer. I spent the time writing and catching up on all of the other things that often get pushed under the rug during a long trip.

One of those things was the construction of a more robust exhaust system for my trailer. Dr. Frankenstein had nothing on what I built, but, it works, and works well.

So now the convention! I did KantCon last year. It went reasonably well. I remember being pleased but not overly impressed. It is a small con, maybe 700-800 people. This year there were more folks. I saw one of the later badge numbers of just over 1100. This means a significant increase over last year. But the biggest increase was in sales.

Friday, day one, I had reasonable sales. I remembered this con I did most of my sales day one and then trickled for the rest of the weekend. So, with the sales day one, I figured I’d get close to my sales figures for last year. How wrong I was.

Saturday, I did 25% more than I did Friday. I have now had a nice increase over last year. I’m quite pleased at this point. I figure everyone has seen and bought from me and Sunday would be a big nothing burger. Wrong again.

Sunday, I did almost the same as Friday! This gives me a near record. Only MisCon and GenCon beat these total numbers. I’m so happy at the results that I could dance naked around a fire under the full moon! (Trust me that you wouldn’t want me to, but I’m that happy 😊 )

Barring a major disaster, I’ll be back next year.

Previous leg of Roadtrip – Leg 3
Next leg of the Roadtrip – Leg 5

 July 20, 2023  Uncategorized No Responses »
Jul 102023

Well, I stopped along the way to visit with some relatives… ex relatives? My niece and sister-in-law from when I was married to my first wife. I’m still on good terms with them and dropped by for a nice lunch. Very friendly and we had fun catching up.

Afterward, Google Maps has taken me off of I-90 (same length of time but there are tolls) and put me on Iowa’s Highway 20. I’m not sure I’m liking a highway that has stop signs and stoplights. Sigh. But I’m still making good time.

I seem to be leapfrogging a major storm cell. It washes over me when I’m asleep with masses of thunder, lightning, and drenching downpours. Then I seem to race through it during the day. It keeps things cool and exciting, all at the same time.

Arrived at the site of the convention and was invited by the hotel staff to stay in the parking lot in my RV. This will save me a good deal of traveling back and forth. I can stay at the con and enjoy some of the festivities after the dealer’s room closes.

InConJunction is a nice little SF convention with some great folks (maybe 1500 people) in Indianapolis. There were many different tracks of seminars and panels, six at the same time. One of the tracks was the Writer’s Symposium which had many different topics including a pair of open mic nights for authors, poets, etc. I gave them the first several pages of my novel Of Demons and Coal, “The Easy Way,” a micro story in my short story collection Window of Opportunity, and read my “Programming Loyalty” from the anthology It’s Your Cow by Frog Jones. We also had readings from two different authors who have been nominated for a Hugo – Mary Robinette Kowal and Marie Vibbert. Sales were OK. Nothing to write home about but I’d like to do this show again. Next year’s show is themed Steampunk! If I can fit it in, I’ll be there.

BTW, no longer cool! Approaching 100F during the days.

Previous leg of Roadtrip – Leg 2
Next leg of the Roadtrip – Leg 4

 July 10, 2023  Uncategorized No Responses »
Jul 052023

Vacation time – Black Hills, SD

I’ve lived for 12 years in SD. Got my degree here and much of my formative years. So the city is familiar, as anything can be 35 years later. One of my favorite childhood memories is going fishing up in the Black Hills.

BTW… If you have never been to the Black Hills, I highly recommend it. Peaceful. Calming. Scenic. You have Mount Rushmore (yes, THAT Mount Rushmore). Deadwood where Wild Bill Hickok got shot with his poker hand of aces and eights. In August, you have the Sturgis Bike Rally (more motorcycles than you can shake a stick at. The Needles Highway. You have the Crazy Horse Monument. Just over the border, you have Devil’s Tower. Just the dense pines and craggy mountains are impressive enough. And don’t forget the Badlands… very impressive that even has Wall Drug.

But for me, calming in the way outback fishing and being mellow is my plan. I’m near a little wide spot in the road called Rochford. Although on the way, I stopped in Deadwood and won a poker tournament. Made some dinner and listened to the wind through the pines and the burble of the water. I’d forgotten how voracious the mosquitos are here. Fortunately, I have repellant and have kept myself mostly bite-free.

I forgot how much work fishing is. I did manage to catch two but ended up with my back all cramped up.  

So what is it about people with just a little bit of power that turns them into NAZIs? I was parked at a nice little spot about 5 miles from Rochford. The brook. The scenery. About 10AM, less than 24hrs from setting up my camp, I get a bang on my door. I get presentable (I was changing after fishing) and open the door. There is an older gentleman on a bike wearing a scowl.

He tells me he is a volunteer trail warden (I’m parked right next to a bike/hike trail) and wants to know if I want him to make a call.


“If I have to call the sheriff, you won’t like it when he gets here.”

“I don’t understand.”

“You are camping on state land.”

“I thought this was on National Forest Land.” (BTW after I checked, if I moved 100’ in most directions I’d be on National Forest Land).

“No. Now shall I call the Sheriff?”

“No need. I’ll move.”

“You better. If you are here when I get back…”

“I said I’d move.”

I was blocking no one and troubling no one. I hadn’t left my camp a mess. An officious putz. If that weren’t bad enough, the jerk parked in a way that made hooking up to my trailer very difficult.

So, I moved. I was traveling along back the way I came when I saw a sign showing National Forest land. Travelled up that dirt road and found a nice place in the middle of a meadow. No water or streams near me so fishing pretty much went out the window (oh, darned, no more back cramps )

Fortunately, my new camping place worked out wonderfully. Spent some quality time in the Black Hills, and even managed a few profitable (for me) poker tournaments. Visited many of my old haunts, including my alma mater, the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology. SDSM&T added two buildings and is constructing a new one and expanding the student union. So many changes everywhere. It’s like every habitation in the entire Black Hills doubled in size. What do you expect for 35 years, eh?

BTW… I’d add pics but there seems to be some hiccups in uploading images from the road. I’ll look it over and try to figure it out later.

Previous leg of Roadtrip – Leg 1
Next leg of the Roadtrip – Leg 3

 July 5, 2023  Uncategorized No Responses »
Jul 052023

Castle Rock, WA to Rapid City, SD

Three days of driving. If you’ve ever taking a long road trip there wasn’t anything you haven’t seen. Uneventful. The only unusual thing is that I prepared for hot summer weather and it rarely broached 70 degrees F. Mostly it stayed in the 50s and overcast. Occasionally, I was rewarded with some light rain.

Made it to a friend’s house in Spearfish, SD, about 40 minutes from my destination. Here I stopped and played LOTS of games with him and his wife.

Friday was day 1 of BLACK HILLS CON. Unfortunately for attendance, the storms (yes, plural) that I’d been traveling under finally pushed over the mountains and descended on the Black Hills and poured rain, and hail, and spawned tornadoes all over. I did meet a lot of nice folks including a book vendor that I first met at MisCon.

I did my first seminar for the convention, “Making Characters of Your Characters,” with an interesting snafu, the first of several regarding my seminars here. I arrived about 5 minutes before my appointed time to find a young lady behind the “panelist” table. I remarked that I didn’t know this was going to be a panel and asked who was leading it. She claimed she was despite being massively nervous. Whatever. I’ll go with the flow.

We had about ten audience members (amazing for a con of this size). Without introducing me, this young woman (whose name escapes me but I have a picture!) starts talking about scare acting… that is being a member of a haunted house or the like. I’m trying to figure out what this has to do with characters. A number of the audience is looking at me in confusion as well. To make a long story short, she was scheduled for 5PM and it was only 4PM.

<insert picture>

Soooooooo, we all talked it over and let her continue. I didn’t get to start my seminar until just shy of 5. I got many kudos AND several people from this seminar came to see ALL of my talks. Being out of my booth for two hours was hard.  

Saturday started bright but by the time the convention started, we had another storm cell overhead. Marginally better than Friday, allowing me to cover my booth and cost of books and well into starting to defray the significant expense of driving out here.

Seminar snafu #2. Somehow, I was scheduled to give the same seminar “Believable World Building” both at noon and 1. Apparently, he thought I was going to do some interactive with the audience and would need more than an hour. NOPE. So, I gave my seminar. Somehow, the Q&A got partially hijacked about my favorite version of D&D and what RPG systems I’ve played. We got back on track but it was a weird diatribe. The seminar ended 10 minutes to 1, just in time for several people who wanted the seminar but weren’t available at noon. Not wanting to disappoint, I gave it again. Out of my booth again for two hrs.

Sunday, like many cons, was all but dead for us dealers. I had my last seminar, the biggest snafu of them all at noon. The problem was that I wasn’t supposed to give another seminar. When I’d talked to the folks about seminars they had me fill out a form. It was pretty typical. Name of seminars, brief descriptions, name of presenter, a brief description of the presenter, how much time for each, special needs.

Somehow, the brief description of myself got turned into a seminar: “10+ book published novelist and graduate of SDSM&T.” SDSM&T is the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology, my alma mater. Five people attended—two from my other seminars.  And I talked about all manner of things from how I got into the business of being an author/publisher, to the basic outline of steps to publish, to colleges, to … We were all over the place.

Before we wrapped up, I got an evil surprise. The con people delivered SD state tax forms. That I had to pay tax, I didn’t have a problem with. I charge it when I take a CC payment and I eat it when I take cash. Like most shows, I google the tax rate for the city I’m doing. I was told, on the .gov site, that the tax rate was 4.5%. This form said that was only the state tax and I had to pay an additional 1.5% for tourism tax (really?), and a 2% city tax. I had to pay 3.5% in addition to what I’d ferreted out. Ack!

Loud out was simple, but most of the vendors started tearing down an hour before the room closed. At most conventions I go to, that is a MASSIVE no-no. It will get you blacklisted. Oh, well.

Next leg of the Roadtrip – Leg 2

 July 5, 2023  Uncategorized No Responses »