After receiving my pass and perusing the vendor displays (I purchased a book and art print by fantasy artist J.P Targete, and a book from fellow HWA member, Pamela Kinney), Dusty and I made our way to the GRRM reading. No electronic devices were allowed; if they saw you so much as check your phone or tablet, the reading would end. I found that a bit harsh, but I waited with everyone else in that crowded room. Including two infants who were most enthusiastic to see the infamous architect of the Red Wedding.
GRRM walked in, wearing that customary hat and suspenders that lend a dark Santa Clause air about him. Well, he was dressed all in black. And lots of characters die in his books. Badly.
He was going to read two chapters from his upcoming novel, The Winds of Winter. You know, the novel all fandom is waiting for, from A Song of Ice and Fire. The passages were interesting, but gave nothing away (and certainly left every mystery unanswered, all of you Jon Snow hopefuls). But that’s all I will say about his text; you’ll have to wait like everyone else to find out what we heard in that room. Though it was cool, finding out something before the rest of fandom, I was glad when GRRM finished, because I’m not fond of readings (much rather be at home, alone, reading, with tea or coffee handy). Dusty almost fell asleep, I think.
From there, we sampled a panel about colonizing Venus. After realizing these people had no idea for how they would deal with planetary surfaces reaching 800 degrees Fahrenheit, much less the massive atmospheric pressures, Dusty and I left. I wish those people luck, but I’m certain we’ll have colonized Io before they convince anyone to live on Venus. And Io’s covered in frigging volcanoes.
By this time, many more attendees had shown up. Cosplayers, fans, and even writers like myself. It felt weird and fun at the same time, knowing these people shared many of my own interests. In my Star Trek t-shirt, complete with the rainbow warp colors, I felt at home. No one realized I was trying to cosplay Neil Gaiman in that leather jacket, though.
Dusty introduced me to a favorite local writer of his, P.S. Belcher, and I purchased one of Belcher’s books to sign, The Six-Gun Tarot. He said he’d heard of my own book, and I simply smiled and said ‘cool’ (Oh shit, did he read the positive or negative reviews? Had he heard good or bad things? Hey, we writers are an insecure lot.). Dusty and I stayed for a few moments as Belcher took part in a panel on beta readers. But, alas, we had to run, to once again trail GRRM through the fan-filled halls of the hotel.
Once we finally found the signing line, our wait was relatively short. That was the good part. The bad? GRRM would only sign one item, without inscriptions, and if I wanted a photo with him, I had to have my camera out and already set to the camera app. This wouldn’t have bothered me if I hadn’t already purchased two copies of A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms (one for me, one for my cousin, who is a huge GRRM fan) from the Barnes & Noble vendor in the hotel. I pity anyone who bought all five volumes of A Song of Ice and Fire in the hopes of getting them signed.
But that wasn’t the best part. By the time I got to the small room where GRRM was signing, I had the single book out, the camera was ready, and I’d cleared my throat to say something. As GRRM was signing his angular scribble on the book’s title page (I’d have been pissed if he had marred the colorful, illustrated end paper), I said ‘Hello, Mr. Martin.’ Respectful, friendly, not attempting to start a conversation because the con staff wanted us to move our asses faster than a Sand Snake could kill a man. GRRM looked up and said ‘Hello, how are you today?’, and I replied, ‘I’m fine,’ as I took my signed book and retrieved my phone from the con staff member. Once I was away, I examined the picture they’d taken.
Holy shit. It was terrible. But in a way, it was hilarious.
The photo, which I uploaded to social media, shows me apparently frowning down at GRRM, and he’s looking up at me, his pen scratching over that title page. It appears confrontational, like a stare down. Of course, when I uploaded the photo, I typed in a caption: ‘I’m warning you…if Brienne dies, we riot.’ Game of Thrones fans will get it.
After we grabbed lunch at Bellacino’s (excellent toasted subs), we returned to the hotel so that we could listen to the GRRM Q&A. We attended another panel, this one with another local writer, Tiffany Trent, on it (author of The Unnaturalists), who received us warmly, and mentioned seeing my book advertised in the local newspaper. That made me happy and embarrassed at the same time; I’m not accustomed to praise or attention. The panel discussed raising children in a post-apocalyptic world, which I found quite interesting, but—yep, you guessed it—we left early to stalk GRRM one last time.
This time, Dusty and I managed to get a seat just to the left of the Q&A table, being closer to GRRM than anyone else. Yet, when the venerable slayer of favorite characters arrived, he made eye contact with me as he neared the stage. The dude probably thought I was some crazed fan, seeing me once again, but I managed to refrain myself from prostrating. I did smile, though. A Littlefinger kinda smile. Well, not really.
The Q&A was both entertaining and enlightening; GRRM came across as a down to earth guy, and, as Dusty commented, he was very generous with his answers to the audience’s questions. This was easily the highlight for me, for, as I watched and listened, I considered my own writing hopes and dreams. GRRM makes no secret of his dislike for fame, and I got the impression he just wants to enjoy fandom like the rest of us. He really cares about the genre, and about the fans. Yes, it might seem that I complained about the limitations of the book signing, but honestly, there are far less famous and accomplished celebrities out there who charge far more for the opportunity, and GRRM lacked such arrogance. I’d do it all over again. Especially for another photo like that.
I almost got in line to ask him a question, but I couldn’t think of anything worthwhile (I wanted to crack a joke about, ‘hey see you at the next Hugo Loser’s Party’, but that’ll probably never happen for me). I’m not a novice any longer, but I’m far from a master of my craft, and no doubt, there is much GRRM could fill me in on. But I found the best way to learn, in this situation, was to simply listen and observe.
Afterward, as Dusty and I passed through a Roanoke fading into twilight, I knew I would come back to Mysticon, and to other cons. My swag bag may have been filled with signed books, but my mind was filled with the possibility that, yes, I belonged there.
But I’ll try not to creep out the guest author next time.