Feb 202020

Roseberg, OR to La Grange, CA – 522 miles

Go here to see the all the blog posts.

The truck stop I boondocked at had no fewer than four score and seven trucks bedded down for the night. I wedged my vehicle between two big rig trucks that cycled generators every thirty minutes or so. Add to this annoyance that when I did the death cleaning of my trailer, I forgot to put back the metal fence piece so I had nothing that would keep my blankets from draping down into my heater (I’ll note that I found a Home Depot and replaced it during the day today so I don’t have to worry every night). As you can imagine my sleep wasn’t the best ever recorded. On the plus side, I think I have the temperature control inside down to a reasonable art. I was never too hot or too cold. And I actually had room to move about. I never felt like I was totally jammed up. Getting to things is still like one of those number puzzles where you have to move the tiles around to get the numbers in order, but imagine instead of one empty space in the four by four grid, that there were two or three empty spaces. Much easier.

I knew that not making Ashland would have its consequences. The time in saddle today proved it. I woke up, performed my ablutions, wrote for an hour (yes, I take the time to write when possible), and had some cereal for breakfast. I hit the road at 8AM. I didn’t arrive at my destination until 9PM. I stopped for necessary breaks such as toilet, gas, and drive-through food, but that was pretty much all. I felt every one of my years of age by the time I put up in front of my parent’s home. I’ll try NOT to do that again. Thirteen hours is too much.

For those who don’t know, the border between Oregon and California is mountainous. Via I5, the trip is all up and down, up and down, rinse and repeat. My poor RAV4 strained up the steep mountain sides but did it nearly at speed, dodging around trucks plodding up at significantly less than half the posted limit and trying to stay out of the way of high-powered cars racing up like it were a segment of the Tour D’France.

As I was focused on the end point, I missed two photo opportunities (Welcome to California sign and the mountain pass elevation sign). My apologies. I did get a pic of majestic Mt. Shasta. I still prefer Mt. Rainier, but Shasta is also quite the imposing visage.

For those of you who have never had the joy of driving solo on a long trip, you have to keep yourself amused. I have four main activities to keep me from going berk while driving. 1) music… I love my music. Usually Pandora radio running eighties music (Sir Elton John, the Beatles, most anything from the eighties, and more. 2) Letters to/from a friend. No, I don’t read/write an actual paper letter while I’m driving, but long ago a good friend and I started sending cassette tapes back and forth instead of paper letters. We’d blather on as we drove and that would keep us up to date with one another. We’ve grown with the technology and now send audio files back and forth. I can listen to his adventures (he is a huge travel buff), or record my own daily activities. 3) Write / Author. No, I can’t actually type words while I’m driving and I never graduated to the voice recognition software, but I CAN develop plots for upcoming books / stories, hash out the next scene of my current writing project (Of Demons and Coal). For those that care, at the moment I’m dealing with a character who is feeling survivor’s guilt for somehow not saving some people. It is emotional writing. 4) I listen to movies. I did say that correctly. If I’m paying attention to my driving, I’m obviously not watching movies, but I can listen to them. I pick movies I’ve seen before that have a good deal of dialogue and don’t necessarily rely on visual effects. A really bad choice of movies for this would be: Any JJ Abrams movie, Castaway, Live/Die/Repeat, Dances with Wolves, Godzilla, Jurassic Park, etc. For the record I listened to three movies on this long trip segment. Apollo 13, My Cousin Vinny, Ike: Countdown to D-Day.

Off topic: Looking through my pictures I realize I forgot to share my booth set up at RadCon last weekend, and a mystery guest who I just had to grab a snap of (No, I really don’t know who it is.)

And finally, as promised, a couple of shots of my “desk”. Yes, it is crude beyond belief, but it works. Totally worth the time and lumber scraps I threw together to make it. It doubles the usable space.

I won’t be adding to this blog for a couple of days as I’m visiting family. Important to me, but likely boring to the extreme to anyone else I’ll touch base again when I get on the road south toward LALA Land. By plan that will be the 21st.

Next Post: Off to LALA Land

 February 20, 2020  Uncategorized No Responses »
Feb 172020

Feb 17 Castle Rock, WA to Roseburg, OR – 237 miles

My plan for the day was

  1. Reset the trailer (removing things I mentioned yesterday)
  2. Build a little “desk” to put into my passenger seat
  3. Leave no later than noon
  4. To visit with an online marketer in Eugene (Hi, Renee)
  5. To visit with my cousin Joy also in Eugene.
  6. to get to Ashland, OR to make the second leg down to my parents’ home an easy one. 

Items 1-5 all went off without a hitch. I even had time to take my wife to breakfast. Where I missed was that my visit with my cousin turned into a marathon dinner/gabfest lasting three hours. As I pulled into Roseburg, I realized I was tired, it was 10PM and while I might make Ashland if I pushed myself, I doubted the value. Driving tired is almost never a good option. So much for my plan. Still 83+% isn’t a bad grade.

As I’m tired, I’ll take a picture of my desk a little later and add it to tomorrow’s post. The issue was that the passenger seat is all wonky (technical term of highest value) in shape, angles, etc. I wanted a close to level platform I could put things on. As I’m handy with rough carpentry, have the tools and scrap materials on site, I spent maybe 30 minutes hacking this together. It’s crude, but it performs admirably.

All for now.. Sleep is calling.

To see all of the posts go to www.tanstaaflpress.com/tgrt

Next Post: ???

 February 17, 2020  Uncategorized No Responses »
Feb 172020

Feb 16 – Pasco, WA to Castle Rock, WA   265 miles

First, I want to start this by saying that my expectations of RadCon, while higher than my previous years, didn’t come even close to the reality. I appreciate how us book sellers are now out where people can see us. HUGE improvement over the hole we were in before.

I can hear the joint voices crying out to me, “So why was it so much better than before?”

Finding out how many loyal fans I had in the area,

~40% better sales,

A request by Barnes and Nobles to come and do a book signing/reading and possibly even have my books stocked on the shelves,

A possibility of having one of my short stories (“Programmed Loyalty” which can be found in the Impulsive Walrus Anthology “Well… It’s Your Cow”) turned into a dialog play by an international voice actor!

Now all authors (but maybe not readers) know that getting ANYONE to take notice of your works or you is difficult. At RadCon I not one but TWO such wonderful interactions in the space of the weekend. I can tell you I was walking on air the whole weekend.

But all wonderful things must come to an end. Sunday rolled around and I found out that the dealer’s areas closed at 2PM, not the 4 or 5 I’m used to. This made it possible I could make it HOME to sleep in my own bed (and other reasons I’ll note below).  I decided to grab hold of this opportunity with both hands (which is why you didn’t get this blog yesterday).

So, why head home? Well, why not? Also, I’d learned that living in the trailer, as I’d stocked and packed it, very difficult. Primarily I needed to be a yoga master to move around. I’m not that young any longer.  I needed to remove several items, move others, and make a few items in my woodshop to make the trip more viable.

The cassette toilet was a mistake. It took up a HUGE amount of real estate inside and even as an emergency use, would fail (It took me a goodly amount of time to get it out). I removed several other remnants of an earlier camping trip (two chairs and a backpacking mattress) as well as some leveling jacks that I’ll never use. I moved some blankets (just in case it gets REALLY cold) into the storage as well as my dirty clothes bag. I can tell you that this alone made it feel like I’d just added an extra bedroom to my mobile closet.

To see all of the posts go to www.tanstaaflpress.com/tgrt

Next Post: Best Laid Plans

 February 17, 2020  Uncategorized No Responses »
Feb 132020

Castle Rock, WA to Pasco, WA (265 miles).

First here is a short peak into how close I am packed inside the car. Mostly Full RAV4

Welcome to Pasco, WA.

I chose to take the Columbia Gorge (I84) rather than going via I90 (over the aptly named Snoqualmie Pass) or near a similarly snow-covered Mt. Rainier. The change only added about twenty minutes to my trip. The Gorge is VERY windy, but I’d already had the trailer through winds before. It came through like a trouper. I’ve travelled the gorge many times. It has some beautiful scenery, including Multnomah Falls (where I proposed to my wife – see my poor snap but there are many better images online), the river, and many rock formations. In all the trip went by with no issues.

I’m camping at a Flying J Truckstop. Seems fine and after some questions it is unlikely I’ll be troubled here.

Ok, one disaster story prior to leaving. I keep the trailer in a pole barn both to protect it from the weather, and the marketing wrapper. So it is out of the ever-present PNW rain and wind. That is where I installed the solar panel. Since its installation I’ve used the trailer twice, once for a trip down this same said gorge to WagonCon in the Dalles, and on a personal camping trip with my son with no issues.

Prior to leaving on TGRT, I decided I needed to test out the new heating system so I pulled the trailer out and parked it in front of my house. That night I chose not to sleep in the trailer (I wasn’t feeling great) but the trailer remained parked out there. In the morning (feeling better) I went out to set things up to stay that night, only to find a wet spot on my bed and lightly dripping from the mounting screws I’d used to hold the solar panel. I realized that in my previous uses we hadn’t been rained on.

Frack and other dirty words. Moved my trailer back into my pole barn and let it dry before climbing back up. My sealing job seemed adequate (construction adhesive for extra holding power to the roof and silicon seal around the edges) but obviously wasn’t. Sooooo, I stripped it all off (no easy task), removed the solar panel and started thinking about how to fix it.
I picked up some roof repair caulking material from a local RV store. Laid down a thick layer (at least ¼” thick) between the solar panel and the roof. Put the solar panel back on and tightened it down (oozing all of that sealing goodness outward to form a good seal. And then to make sure, I covered the bolts, nuts and the whole of it with even more caulking material. I then waited for it to dry. And waited… and waited. Small quantities had firmed up but much of it hadn’t before I had to try to test again.

Time to sleep in my upgraded trailer for the first time. Got in and fired up the heater, kicked on my fan (to keep my feet warm and my head from baking), and waited. I will note that it was raining at this time. About an hour later I noticed moisture on the bolts on the inside. Panic ensued, until with good lighting I realized that the very warm air hitting the cold bolts caused the moisture in the air to condensate on them. As the bolts warmed, there was no more moisture.

Disaster averted, the trip could take place.

Previous: T Minus 1 day

Next time: AWESOMECON!

 February 13, 2020  Uncategorized No Responses »
Feb 122020

Even More Preparation!

Fuel sources for all my different off-grid materials became a problem quickly. I need gasoline for my generator (backup for my car) and propane for my heater, I decided that I didn’t need to carry yet another fuel (white gas) for my Coleman camp stove. So instead I splurged and bought a folding propane stove and installed a five gallon propane cylinder to handle the demands. Small issues with the propane like drilling a hole through the wall to run the hose, grommets around the hole edges to prevent damage to the hose, and venting just in case there is a leak to prevent fire/explosions.

Ohhh, how to stay clean! That was a fun problem. The primary thought that came to mind is “What do long haul truckers do?” They use three primary methods: they stay dirty (ewwww), they use truck stops where you can purchase a shower (good for occasional use), and baby wipes. Oh they aren’t really baby wipes but something similar and larger. Take one of those, wipe yourself down and you are nearly as clean as a shower. It leaves a little bit of a sticky feeling to it that takes getting used to (yes, I tested them), but good enough for road days. BTW, most truck stops also have coin op laundries so you can do your laundry while you shower. I figure once a week.

Thankfully, all of the books and show materials all fit within my Toyota RAV4 leaving the trailer for sleeping and sanity alone time.

With the way I interact with people at shows, many don’t understand that I’m an introvert, almost to the point of being a hermit. Without the trailer to retreat to I would soon be in people overload making me a good candidate for a rubber room. Even with that, I don’t have much space.

My simplified packing list went something like this:
Clothes (don’t forget con specific clothes like kilts)
Toiletries (don’t forget toilet paper, soap, spare glasses and sunglasses),
Medications/first aid,
Ice chest,
Rechargeable batteries of all sorts (CPAP, mouse, lights, phone, etc),
Books to sell and read (figure out max you can sell as you are unlikely to be able to get extras on the way)
Show materials (tables, tablecloths, lights, banners, etc)
Electronics and any chargers (phone, laptop, cpap, etc)
Tools (in case of a breakdown or issue with RV)
Games (to share with new friends)
Emergency gear (low temp sleeping bag, thermals, fire extinguisher, etc)

Now look at what is left of space for me in my trailer. Hope you aren’t claustrophobic.

Also I wanted to share my mood. The last couple of days I could have left at a moment’s notice. The excitement/anxiety has been building. I think the closest I can come is the anticipation of a race horse in the starting gate. It’s gonna open soon… soon… soon… soon…

Next Time: Kick off and the Disaster!

Previous: The Great Road Trip

 February 12, 2020  Uncategorized No Responses »
Feb 112020

Episode 3

The trailer (a Backpacker 2 ), as I purchased it as an older model, had a couple of issues, not with its structure or operation, only in my needs and wants for a longer road trip.

If you go to that link, remember that I have an older model without the WC area, a toilet, spare tire, or heater. So let’s address those one at a time.
Without the WC, I do have more kitchen and storage space, but what to do about a toilet? Well, I ended up purchasing a cassette toilet (link if you care). It sits inside near my bunk for emergencies.

I’ve never understood a vehicle without a spare. I’ve had it happen once to me in my life. Early in my life I took the spare out to make room for other things and found myself stranded in the middle of nowhere. One of my more embarrassing moments. So, I found a spare tire mount for the trailer tongue. Bought a tire and wheel from a reputable tire company and voila. I’m set if I end up with a flat on the trailer.

Heating posed a different problem. Electrical heating is just too power hungry (as I will be boondocking most nights). So I ended up with a propane heater. Unfortunately you either have propane heaters that are too small or are too big. As my average nightly low for all of the spots on this trip will be 32 degrees, I went slightly too big. It means I’m VERY warm even with all the windows open wide and the heater at its low setting.

I have sleep apnea (yuck) which means I need to have power to run my oh-so-sexy CPAP machine. My first thought was to put solar on the roof. Unfortunately it isn’t enough “oomph” (highly technical electrical engineering term) to run my system, but it would help with all of the other features of the camper so I installed a panel on my roof (more on this later). So I found a CPAP battery pack that will run it at least two nights on a single charge, but how to recharge this and all of the other items?

It’s amazing how much we take power from wall outlets for granted. Let’s take me as typical. On this trip I’m carrying a laptop (150Watts), a cell phone (6W), lights (say 30W LEDs), CPAP (150W), and I have a DC fan to help the heating issue I mentioned before at about 60W or say 400W nominal to charge all of my toys… or what have become required bits of our daily lives. I also carry batteries for my LED show lights that need to be charged and a few other items. Your car cigarette lighter outlet is going to produce about 60-150W (while the car is running), and maybe another 15W if you have a USB charger. I already mentioned that I got a solar panel that on a good day will produce 100W (zero at night). So where do you come up with the rest?

Oh, and are all of your recharging voltages available? Laptop takes 110 volts AC. Cellphone 5 volt DC, CPAP battery recharges on 110V AC or 24V DC. What a nightmare. This is why I chose to purchase a 110 volt AC generator that produces 1200W. I can run it for about an hour each day and charge up everything and then use the car/trailer to keep things topped off. As a backup, I purchased an inverter (aka DC-AC converter) that plugs into my car’s cigarette lighter. It can produce (as I mentioned above) about 150W.

Other than the itinerary the power issue was the most serious issue I had to solve for logistics.

Next time: Even more preparations.

 February 11, 2020  Uncategorized No Responses »
Feb 102020

So I decided I was doing this long book tour. Where was I going? Could I find a route that made some kind of sense?

First requirement, stick to what I know works – conventions. Limit that to SciFi, board/roleplay gaming, comic, book, and fantasy conventions. Throw anime conventions in there as well just to round out the field. After doing some significant searches online, I found over seven hundred shows in North America every year. That sounds promising.

Second requirement the route has to make a loop with as few double backs as possible. While there might be shows in Sacramento one week, Miami the next, and then back to Denver the week following, the cost to drive that kills the driver, the vehicles, AND the bottom line. But with seven hundred shows, surely we can find something!

Third, with no air conditioning (see the preparation discussion on the following days) and dealing with a moderately heavy trailer, only shows in spring and fall. When I concocted this outrageous plan in the summer of 2019, there wasn’t time to coordinate a fall tour, spring it was.

Fourth, no more than ten weeks. As my wife couldn’t come with me (she has her own business www.bloomingartichoke.com where she is doing her own shows), I didn’t want to be away too long. After twenty two years married, I’m more in love with my wife now than when I proposed. This would be a hardship for us both.

As a nice to have, I would like to stay in the continental US. I’ve done research on doing business in Canada and the regulations make it neigh on impossible.

Oh, I had a few other things I’d like to add in there: a stop in Memphis to see a long lost friend, as well as friend/family visits in Vegas; Amarillo, TX; Sonora, CA; LA, CA; Dallas, TX; Dayton, OH, and more. But all of these were just N2H.

If I wanted to expand my customer base, any convention I would be attending would be somewhere I’d never been and never experienced. With over seven hundred shows you would think there would be some route that matched my needs. I never appreciated the effort that goes into routing planes for the airlines until I started this task. It took the better part of a month to come up with what I’m going to blithely jot down below.

I needed to research the show to see if it was even worth doing. Find out when it was going to be in 2020 (as shows wiggle around every year). And then find shows that would line up.

Location                      Con Name                   Start date

Pasco, WA                  Rad Con                      2/14

Las Vegas, NV           Dice Tower West        2/26

Salt Lake City, UT      Salt Con                      3/5

Dallas, TX                   All-Con                       3/12

Memphis, TN              MidSouthCon             3/20

Chicago, IL                 Adepticon                   3/25

Chicago, IL (again)     CodCon                      4/3

Seattle, WA                NorWesCon                4/10


9+ weeks, 8 shows, ~6500 miles

Couple of notes:

I’ve done both RadCon and NorWesCon before, but it has been a couple of years for each of them due to conflicting priorities on my time.

I couldn’t find a show for the week of 2/21 that would fit in the trip so I’m taking the opportunity to visit with friends/family that are kind of on the way.

Previous: The Great Road Trip
Next: The Preparations

 February 10, 2020  Uncategorized No Responses »
Feb 092020

Welcome to the beginning of an adventure for TANSTAAFL Press and me, Thomas Gondolfi. I will be chronicling the trip on this website / social media. I hope you will follow along. I’ll talk about the trials, tribulations, and more importantly achievements of this event.

I’ve always wanted to expand TANSTAAFL Press’ range of personal distribution outside of the Pacific Northwest but the costs to fly to different cities, hotels, vacation time, and book shipping had made this problematic.

Early last year I was given the opportunity to purchase a small travel trailer (something just bigger than a teardrop trailer). Not only did I grab it but I decided to make it one of our marketing devices (as you can see in the post we made earlier).

Time had been an issue in number of shows I could attend in the past. As many of you know, I was able to retire from my day job as an engineer. This gave me the freedom to go beyond the few weeks I’d had available to myself in the past.

So with all of this in mind, I made the commitment to take on a long road trip to bring my wares to where they can be seen by a wider public. The trip will begin on Thursday 2/13/20 and will end 4/13/20 — eight conventions and ~6500 miles in nine weeks.

I’ll talk more about the trailer, the trip, each stop and more as I travel along. I’ll try to blog every day, but as you can imagine, that won’t be possible on such an epic journey. In any case, tune in here often to see the latest.

The full list of episodes in chrono order.
The Itinerary
The Preparations
Even More Preparations

 February 9, 2020  Uncategorized No Responses »
Oct 282019

Time to compete with Amazon and all of the other sites that offer free shipping within the USA. But, as our name says, TANSTAAFL – There Ain’t No Such Thing As A Free Lunch. In this case for you this lunch is mostly free.

Mostly. However we have been keeping our prices low despite the increasing cost of getting books printed which have increased by about a dollar a book. This means I will have to increase our print book costs to cover the print cost increase, both in our online store and at conventions.

 October 28, 2019  Uncategorized No Responses »
Aug 112019

One of the holes in our plan to offer something in every sub-genre of SciFi is High Fantasy, something many of you love. We have a number of urban fantasies, but haven’t checked the high fantasy box yet. I did offer a contract to an author, Verna McKinnon, who wrote an awesome story about a female, dwarven bard (“The Bardess of Rhulon“). She chose to sign elsewhere (I’m not upset, she did the right thing for her) and I still support her and her book! But it leaves me with a hole 🙁

I would write my own high fantasy novel but as a famous character once said, “A man has to know his limitations.” Every attempt I’ve made at writing high fantasy has ended in disaster. Just about any other area within SciFi I can give you exceptional writing but not high fantasy.

So, what to do? I keep looking for someone that will match our business model, but in the short term we will be doing a high fantasy anthology with the working title “Of Witches, Warriors, and Wyverns.”  If you are interested go to Of Witches, Warriors, and Wyverns anthology guidelines. 

Our plan is to have this available before GenCon 2020.


 August 11, 2019  Uncategorized No Responses »