Autographed Books Make Great Gifts!

They really do. And I happen to have a few books lying around at the end of the convention season. So here’s what I’ll do – I’ll SELL THEM!

These are all paperback, unless otherwise noted, and all from my convention stock. There will probably be a bookmarks or two stuffed inside each book, and maybe a free download card or two tucked along. Prices do not include shipping, pay attention below for shipping options. I will ship books no later than 12/15 to insure delivery before Christmas (or at least the best I can), so orders have to be in by THIS SUNDAY, 12/13 at some arbitrary time like 6PM Eastern.

I will inscribe the books to whomever you’d like, and I’ll write pretty much anything in there you want, as long as it’s not offensive or truly dickish.

Here are the books I have on hand and the Holiday special pricing I’ll offer –

Black Knight Omnibus – collects Hard Day’s Knight, Back in Black, and Knight Moves – Cover Price $22.95 – Holiday Price – $20

Paint It Black – Black Knight #4 – $12.95 cover – Sale Price $10

In the Still of the Knight – Black Knight #5 – $12.95 cover – Sale Price $10

Black Knight Bundle – All 5 volumes – $40

The Big Bad II – Hardcover – Cover Price $30 – Sale Price $20

The Big Bad II – Paperback – Cover Price $15 – Sale Price $10

Scattered, Smothered & Chunked – Bubba Season #1 – Cover Price $15 – Sale Price $12.50

Grits, Guns & Glory – Bubba Season #2 – Cover Price $15 – Sale Price $12.50

Bubba Seasons #1 & #2 – $25

The Chosen – $10

Genesis – $10

Raising Hell – Quincy Harker #1 – $5

Straight to Hell – Quincy Harker #2 – $5


Some of these I have very limited quantities of, so they might sell out quickly. Like Genesis, I think I have one print copy. Bubba Season #2 I have three. So if you want something, don’t screw around. It’s an end-of-year inventory liquidation because I don’t want to have a lot of inventory for the next two months when I don’t have any shows.

Shipping – I will ship USPS Media Mail anywhere in the US for $5. If you need it faster, or a different way, or international, we’ll discuss shipping when I confirm the order.

Gift Shipping – Yeah, I’m happy to send these as gifts. Just allow enough time, and let me know it’s a gift.

All orders must be prepaid via paypal to johnhartness AT gmail DOT com.

Merry Christmas and Hannukah and stuff!


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Patreon, Conventions, and Why I Do Them Both

I’ve had a few people ask me how my Patreon campaign is working out for me, and my response is always pretty much the same. “It’s great. It brings in a little extra money each month, it lets me have more direct contact with some of my biggest fans, and it funds some of my convention travel. I can’t ask for much more than that.”

And that’s the deal. That’s the broad brushstrokes, thousand-foot view description of it. This post is about the details, because some folks have asked. BEWARE – there’s a lot of information here about how the sausage gets made as far as the life of a struggling midlist writer. If you just want to read cool books and don’t want much behind the scenes crap about finances and all that other stuff, click on one of the buttons at the top of the page, buy one of my books, and enjoy!

Still here? That probably means you’re either a real fan of mine and are counting on me to say something hilarious (probably unintentionally) or you’re a writer and are interested in the business side of things. So here we go, down the rabbit hole.

Patreon is a fundraising platform that allows creators (me) to connect with fans (you) to create ongoing funding streams for long-term projects like webcomics or podcasts, or series of other projects like music videos, or just support the creator with a monthly pledge to keep doing what you’re doing. Since I release new work almost monthly, I set my Patreon account to be a monthly funding source. This allows my fans and patrons to support me, and in exchange they get perks, kinda like Kickstarter rewards. My fans get early access to the stories, and they get the stories for free. So if you know you want to read everything I write, and you want to be the first one in your book club to read it, you can pledge to my Patreon and get it via email before anyone else.

So on the one hand, why would anyone pay for that from me? I don’t really know. I have a dozen or so patrons right now, some of them I know personally, some I’ve met once or twice, some I’ve never met. Could be they feel like they get more joy out of reading my work than the cost of the book. Could be they see me at conventions and really want me to continue to be able to travel and amuse them at cons, so they help fund that travel. Could be they just have more money than sense and want to support the arts in a more direct fashion than their local arts council allows them to do.

How much do I make? It varies as pledges get added and dropped, but it ranges from $75-100 each month. This year, that has so far totaled $947.44. Not an insignificant sum of money, but not rock star numbers, by any means. What does an extra thousand bucks a year mean to a midlist author?

For me, it means I go to Connooga and Con-Gregate. Straight up, those two conventions would not have made it onto my list in 2015 were it not for the extra money from Patreon. And I love both of those cons, and I sold like gangbusters and Con-Gregate this year. But they’re smaller shows, and I am guaranteed to lose money by attending those cons, almost no matter how well I sell. So without Patreon, those are two conventions in 2015 that would have been on the chopping block. For 2016, it would be Arisia and MystiCon, two shows I’m very excited about attending, but without Patreon money, wouldn’t be able to afford.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the convention circuit, just let it be known that I could be out of town every single weekend working a convention somewhere, and I am out of town about once a month doing a con. And I lose money on almost every single out of town convention I’ve ever done.

Want to take a second for that last sentence to sink in?

Want me to say it again?

I lose money on almost every single out of town convention I have ever done.

Wanna know what’s worse?

I’m better at selling books at conventions than 75% of authors out there. So most of the writers you see at conventions, unless they are listed as “Guest of Honor” or “Special Guest” are paying for the privilege of being there, knowing that it’s money we’ll never see back. So when people ask why I don’t run Facebook Ads, or do a lot of paid advertising, it’s because my marketing budget consists of convention attendance.

I’m a numbers guy, so here are some rough numbers –

Connooga – one of my worst cons of the year, sales-wise. I love the show, I love seeing all my friends, I love seeing my Tennessee fans, but I think after 2016 I’m taking a year off from the show because I’ve been there too many years in a row. The attendees have all my books, which means they aren’t buying anything at the show. If I give it a “breather year,” then the attendees have more time to be excited about seeing me again, and they’ll buy more stuff.

2015 Sales – 19 books totaling $230

Book Costs – $142

Net sales – $88

Hotel – $200

Gas – $60

Food/Booze – $150

Net for Convention – (-$322)

What could I have done to reduce costs? I split the room with my assistant and another friend. I don’t currently pay my assistant, so I should at worst cover his room. And my other friend picked up the tab for Congregate 2014 when I was out of work and really needed that help, so this was my payback to him. Going forward I could split the room, but after two people, three max, you see a point of diminishing returns on rest v. savings, so the most I would save there is $100. I could split the drive and gas costs, but food costs money, and I network over meals and in the bar, so those expenses aren’t going to budge much. I already travel with a cooler and sodas and Pop-Tarts for breakfast, so $150 for food and booze for three days is pretty damn good. Being super-frugal, I could reduce expenses on this show to where I’m only $200 in the hole, but that’s probably the best I can do.

And Connooga is just used here as an example of a small to mid-sized show that costs me gas, food, and a couple nights in a hotel room to do. You could change the year and substitute JordanCon, MystiCon or any of several other conventions into this slot. The point is, if I have to have a hotel, I have to either sell like a boss, or I lose about $200 just attending.

So let’s look at a con where I sold like a boss – Con-Gregate. I moved a ton of books at that show this year, a marked improvement over the (1) I sold in 2014. Here are the numbers –

2015 Sales – 37 books totaling $479.00

Book Costs – $287

Net Sales – $192

Hotel – $200

Gas – $30

Food/Booze – $150

Net for Convention – ($-188)

Same cost-saving measures here could have gotten me very close to breaking even. Or I could have sold more books, but most authors will tell you that selling close to $500 in a weekend is pretty damn good. In fact, Con-Gregate was my 4th-highest grossing show of the year! After a few years of doing this, the only way I can be in the black on a show at the end of the weekend is if I don’t have any hotel costs associated with the show. And even that doesn’t always cut it. By my reckoning, I lost $50 on MonsterCon this year, and I drove to and from Gaffney each day to do the show. I also spent more on food than I should have there, but there were extenuating circumstances. In other words, I wanted to.

Overall, I spent about $400 more than I made in 2015 on conventions, and that doesn’t include leftover stock, which I have tried very hard to keep to a minimum. So if I lose $500 every year (extrapolating and guesstimating moving forward), why do I keep going to conventions?

Well first, I love conventions. I love meeting fans, I love converting people to become fans, and I love meeting other writers and hanging out. I also really enjoy being on panels and pontificating about things I may not really know anything about.

Secondly, this is what I consider my marketing. I don’t do much direct email marketing right now, I don’t do much paid advertising, and I do limited swag, so this is where most of my marketing money goes.

And Patreon allows me to do it. If not for Patreon providing funding, I couldn’t have afforded to do the West Virginia Book Festival, which was a lot of fun, and my biggest sales show of the year.

So if you like seeing me at conventions, and want me to come to one in your area, hit me up. I’m always interested.  Here’s the 2016 Schedule – Tentative. I haven’t gotten confirmations on guest status as all of these yet, so everything is always subject to change until I arrive.

January 14-18 – Arisia – Boston, MA

February 19-21 – Connooga – Chattanooga, TN

February 26-28 – MystiCon – Roanoke, VA

March 2-5 – SouthEastern Theatre Conference – Greensboro, NC (completely different life, but if you’re there, we can hang out!)

June 3-5 – ConCarolinas – Charlotte, NC

June 17-19 – HeroesCon – Charlotte, NC

July 15-17 – Con-Gregate – High Point, NC

September 1-September 5-DragonCon – Atlanta

October 27-30 – World Fantasy Con – Columbus, OH

November 18-20 – Big Fandom Greenville – Greenville, SC

That’s nine conventions, not counting one-day signings and appearances. And we’re not into 2016 yet! So thanks to everyone who has given to the Patreon, I would never be able to plan this much travel without you!




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More Newsletter Cultivation

Facebook continues to dwindle as a way to connect with readers and bring new fans into the fold, so I’m going to continue pushing to grow my mailing list so that i can keep folks apprised of all my goings on. So here’s my new offer –

Sign up for my Mailing List and get Three FREE ebooks! 

That’s right, all you have to do it follow this signup link, do what it tells you, and then in a few days I’ll send you a link where you can download a free ebook!

Then the next month you’ll get my newsletter, and it’ll have a code in it for another free ebook.

Then for Christmas, I’ll send out another code, and you’ll get another free ebook!

So you get THREE FREE EBOOKS if you sign up now!

The first book you get will be Knight (Un)Life, a collection of Black Knight short stories.

Then you’ll get a Bubba book.

Then you’ll get a Harker book for Christmas!

So if you haven’t joined my email list, sign up now and get THREE FREE EBOOKS! If you’ve already signed up, refer a friend and get my undying gratitude (plus the TWO FREE EBOOKS all my subscribers will get).

Remember, this deal ends after Christmas, and you’ve got a lot of shit to do between now and then, so sign up now!

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Here’s a quickie for you about what’s going on and what’s coming up soon.

First, a new Bubba the Monster Hunter Novella just dropped yesterday. Moon over Bourbon Street is the beginning of Season 3, and the beginning of an arc of novellas featuring everyone’s favorite monster hunter. Check it out at Amazon or wherever you buy ebooks! Bourbon Street Cover

Then we’ve got the print edition of Grits, Guns & Glory, Bubba Season 2. It is FINALLY on the way, thanks to the layout talents of one Matthew J. Saunders, who helped me with the interiors and did a far nicer job than I ever could. So I’ll be using him or someone like him for future self-dubbed print projects. You’ll notice that GG&G has a different cover in print than it does in ebook, and that’s all about my Photoshop limitations. The cover I made for GG&G looked decent in thumbnail size on Amazon, and it looked okay in low-res, but it looked like flaming shit when I went hi-res for printing. So I took the image from Bad Moon Rising and built a new cover around that. Sometimes the best-laid plans, and all that. But here’s the print cover, and I think it turned out okay.

Bubba Season 2 Print Cover


There’s a LOT brewing on the audiobook front. First, all five Black Knight Chronicles books are now available on Audible, so if you’d rather listen than read, you can keep up with the adventures of Jimmy and Greg. Also, Bubba Season 1 should be available on Audible in mere days, followed shortly by Raising Hell, Harker #1. Harker #2, Harker #3, Bubba Season 2, AND Knight (un)Life, a Black Knight short story collection, are all in production. So there should be a lot of audio available between now and the first of the year.

I’m hard at work on Black Knight #6, about 2/3 of the way through the book, and I’m working on a new Harker novella for next month, so stay tuned for more releases.




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Newsletter Sign-ups – the push and the why

I’m making a big push right now to be more consistent with my newsletter, add value for subscribers, and increase the readership. To that end, on Halloween (October 31 – next Saturday) I’ll be giving away a free ebook of Grits, Guns & Glory, Bubba the Monster Hunter Season 2, to one lucky mailing list subscriber. All you have to do to enter is go here, fill out the form, and then you’re on the list!

Now I’m not the first author to make a mailing list push in recent months, and I won’t be the last. The reason is, Facebook has changed their algorithms again to make it more difficult for us to stay in touch with fans. I certainly don’t begrudge FB the monetizing of their site – that’s their job. I’m simply reacting to the market and finding better ways for fans to stay in touch with me, and me to stay in touch will y’all. So please take a minute to sign up for the mailing list, I promise  your name won’t be sold, and if it’s used for any big marketing thing, it’ll be something that I’m directly participating in, like a multi-author swag giveaway.

For more info on the multi-author swag giveaway, go here. 

There’s also NEW Bubba coming this week, I promise!

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How to trade/sell/buy Magic the Gathering Cards without getting ripped off or being a buttface

So a lot of folks who stop by here know that I play Magic: the Gathering. A lot. Like several times a week I’m at a local game shop playing cards, and pretty much every day I’m reading articles about the game, tweaking my deck lists, checking the value of cards, swapping out good stuff for bad stuff in my trade binder, etc.

You could say I’m into the game. Just like I was into poker before this. Yes, I understand that part of my nature and continue to posit that it’s better than drugs. But really, it’s just like drugs – I spend all my money on magic and therefore I don’t have any money to buy drugs.

Since I’m only a mediocre player of the game (leave me alone, the game is complex, and I’m not really all that bright), one of my favorite things to do is trade magic cards. I also will often buy collections from people and resell them for money, or sell cards when money is tight. This post is intended to help you maximize your fun and profit without being a dick to the people you’re trying to trade with. We’ll talk a little about buying and selling, too, but mostly about trading. If you follow these simple rules, you don’t have to worry about getting ripped off, and you’ll have a better time trading.

1) Tomorrow/yesterday/next year/last year values don’t matter – In most cases, it makes no damn difference if Bonfire of the Damned was a $50 when it was legal in standard, it’s a $5 card today. Nobody cares that Snapcaster was $20 when Innistrad was in print, it’s $60 today. Prices fluctuate, and you’re trading based on the current value of the card, not the recent value or the possible potential value. Live in the now, trade in the now. The possible exception is when you’re trading new cards for old cards. Depending on how bad your trade partner wants an Unlimited Chaos Orb ($100), you might be able to get 2 Snapcaster Mages ($120) for it, because there are fewer Chaos Orbs in print that there are Snapcaster Mages. So you may be able to get a premium for older, more rare cards, but that’s typically part of what determines the market price anyway, so it’s unlikely except in extreme cases. And don’t get butthurt when you trade away a card that goes through the roof the next weekend. Yeah. maybe somebody had extra information that gave them an edge, but you’ve probably been on the other side of that experience, too. Or you will one day. It’s all one big cycle, like my buddy Richard and my Circle of Cinder Glade, where we traded the same land back and forth four times in a weekend because we needed filler for different trades.

2) It doesn’t matter what site you use for pricing. Ever. I use Star City Games because I find it easier to navigate. If you want to use TCGPlayer, that’s fine, but I’m going to make you look everything up because I find their interface clunky. As long as you are on the same page, literally, then it doesn’t matter if you use SCG, TCG, eBay or the kiosk in the local game store. Just make sure you are both on the same site, because you don’t want to be valuing your cards from a notoriously lowball site and have your trading partner value their cards from a notoriously high-dollar site. That ends in drama. And nose punching.

3) It’s okay if you don’t want anything in my binder. My binder is small, and eclectic, and it won’t hurt my feelings if you don’t want anything there. But I also do a lot of trades just for value, so if you find something, don’t be shy about asking to trade for it. We’ll find a way to get there. Last night I wanted a foil Windswept Heath ($40) off a guy at the shop. He wanted a bunch of Unglued basic lands off me ($60), so when we locked in the deal for the foil Heath, I just poked around his trade stock until I found an extra $20 to get the rest of the deal done.

4) Don’t be a dick. Don’t be that guy haggling over a quarter. Nobody cares that much over a quarter. Don’t be the guy making fun of what’s in somebody else’s binder. They might only have enough money to draft once a week, and this is their draft rares. Or maybe they just put a binder together and don’t really care about trading (I don’t understand this mindset). But basically, trading is an opportunity for social interaction, often with new people. Take the time to be nice, to be welcoming, to say something nice about their binder or cards, point out something unusual or cool that they have – a funky foil that looks really cool, or something. Make a friend. Trading is a chance to interact with other players when you’re not actively trying to beat them in a competition, so make it pleasant. And really, don’t be that guy who haggles over quarters. Usually, if I get within a dollar or two on a decent-sized trade, I’ll let the difference slide. It makes it easy, it keeps the trade from getting bogged down, and prevents a lot of hurt feelings.

5) Don’t expect retail for your shit. This is a strictly selling thing, not a trading thing, but you’re not a store, so don’t expect to get the same price as a retail store for our cards. Retail stores have overhead – rent, lights, employees, taxes, inventory and much more – that you as an individual don’t have. So most normal people, when they look to buy a card from an individual, are going to expect a discount. A steep one. Personally, if I’m paying cash for a card, I look to pay about half what I could get it from a store at. So if I’m buying Snapcasters for cash, I’m looking to pay about $30. Snapcaster is in high and consistent demand, so I’d pay $40, but that depends on the card. I’m looking for a 30-50% discount if I’m paying cash, and that will move your cards quickly and without complaint. At the very least, and this will still take you a while to move, you should be cheaper than the cheapest place to buy singles online – eBay. If you aren’t cheaper than eBay, be prepared to trade at retail, or sit on your card for a while.

There are a few tips to help you trade magic cards more effectively and enjoy the process more, and move your cards for sale more quickly. Feel free to tell me how wrong I am in the comments, I don’t really read them. :)

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Brief Preview – Moon over Bourbon Street

New Bubba is coming soon, here’s a little tiny taste that I thought was funny. 

“What happened?” Skeeter asked, his voice going all high and panicky. This time I didn’t blame him. I was starting to think pretty strongly about cutting and running myself.

“Eddie just showed up.”

“Eddie the voodoo priest from last night?”

“In his butt-nekkid glory with a dozen other necked folk walking behind him chanting and glowing.”

“Did you say they were glowing, Bubba?”

“Yes, and before you ask, I only had three Hurricanes, they were half-strength and it was a couple hours ago, so yes I am sober, and yes, there are necked voodoo people walking through the cemetery glowing like somebody shoved a million candlepower flashlights up their hoo-has. Now if you will excuse me I am going to go talk to a nekkid houngan about how to get two hundred zombies back in their graves where they belong without having to shoot each and every damn one of them in the face. Wish me luck.”

“Good luck,” Skeeter said, and I clicked off my comm to go deal with the weirdest damn thing I’d seen since coming to New Orleans, and that bar was getting higher by the minute.

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AudioBook Review – Yes! by Daniel Bryan

51+5CFPE7NL._SX328_BO1,204,203,200_I don’t do many book reviews. The reason is simple – I read mostly in the genre in which I write, and if I don’t like a book, I still work with these people, so I’m keeping my fucking mouth shut. Also, if I don’t like a book, I seldom finish it. There’s a lot of shit on my TBR list, and it’s gotta be pretty good to make it to the top.

But I had a long road trip this week, from Charlotte to Nashville and back, so I decided that a new audiobook would be just the thing for my trip. I’ll go ahead and apologize  to all my Tennessee and Nashville friends for not visiting – but here’s the schedule for the trip. I left Charlotte at 11AM Wednesday. Got to Nashville around 4:30 PM, had dinner at 7PM with a couple of guys from work (BTW, I also started a new day job, which I’ll talk more about later, and I’m starting a small publishing company later this year, which I’ll talk more about later as well). Then I slept, got up and was at Skyway Studios in Nashville at 11AM for an Arri Lighting LED demo from 11-4, then drove home, arriving home a couple minute before midnight last night. So I didn’t really have any time to stop and say hello. I’ll catch you next time, I promise.

But anyway, the book I chose for the trip was Yes! My Improbable Journey to the Main Event of Wrestlemania by Daniel Dryan with Craig Tello. And while I enjoyed the story, and much of the narration, there are some bits I wanted to talk about.

First off, the structure of the book was strange, and disjointed. The odd-numbered chapters were a third-person narrative, I assume written by Tello, detailing the events of the week leading up to Wrestlemania 30 in New Orleans. It was a fairly close look at the activities of a WWE superstar leading up to the biggest event of the year, but it was dry as toast. It was written in very much AP reporting style, which is fine for newspapers and internet articles, but over 20,000 words is kinda like listening to paint dry. Then there’s the narrator for those sections of the book, who I hated. Peter Berkrot would be a fine narrator for fiction, but a guy with a moderately strong Southern accent narrating the actions of a Pacific Northwest wrestler working in New Orleans was jarring every time his voice came on. And his inability to pronounce some of the wrestler’s names was just sloppy and shoddy work on the part of the producers. I know how the deal works – you either give your narrator a pronunciation guide, preferably recorded, or they get in touch with you and ask how they pronounce names.


Sorry, but there’s zero excuse for getting the pronunciation wrong on a WWE diva’s name. She’s famous, for fuck’s sake.

Then there was Bryan’s part of the book. The even-numbered chapters were Daniel Bryan telling his life story leading up to Wrestlemania 30, and it was okay. Bryan admits early on that he’s not a writer, and isn’t comfortable talking about himself, and that shows. His prose is pretty dry and workmanlike, and could certainly have used the help of a good ghost writer to punch it up a little, but it was fine. He reads well enough, and if he never gets too excited about anything, it just goes to emphasize the things he says about his real-life character, that he’s pretty even-keeled. His narrative bits are totally bland, but harmless, like mashed potatoes.

The most jarring part of the book was at about the one-third mark, when suddenly Bryan was narrating one of the third-person sections, and talking about himself in the third person. I don’t know if the chapter was missed when the other guy was recording, or if it was recorded and sounded like crap, so they just had Daniel do that chapter, but after alternating for several hours, suddenly there were three DB-narrated chapters in a row, and they weren’t the first-person narrative that we were used to from him. So that was a production thing that I found really jarring.

So I give it only two stars for production, and really only three stars as a book. I’d give it more if Daniel’s sections had been longer, and the reporting sections had been much shorter, because listening to him talk about his career, his setbacks, his love for Brie, the loss of his father, his family life, his frustrations at WWE, his love for the indies – all that stuff was gold. I wanted twice as much of that stuff and less than half as much of the shit surrounding WM30. That story has been recounted over and over so many times that any wrestling fan is sick of hearing it, and let’s face it – a casual fan isn’t buying a Daniel Bryan autobiography. The stuff that was there, in Bryan’s words, is gold, there just needs to be more of it.

My final verdict – 2.5 stars out of a possible 5. It’s worth it if it’s on sale or you have some Audible credits, but don’t waste full retail on this one.

Narration – Berkrot – 2/Bryan 4

Production – 2

Story – Tello – 2/Bryan 4


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Starfuckers and the cons that feed them

I hate starfucker conventions, and I hate most of what they stand for.

There you go, kids, career suicide by a barely midlist genre fiction writer. Just what you wanted for your reading entertainment.

But it’s the truth. I hate the conventions, and you know the ones I mean, where the main focus is getting as many people run through lines to have autographs and photo ops as possible, with the least possible interaction with the people you’re there to “meet.”

For the record, Dragon Con is not what I consider a starfucker con, nor are any of the cons I attend as a guest. That’s not always been the case. Fandom Fest is definitely a starfucker con, with some programming glommed onto the side of it, and a horror con tacked on for good measure. Mad Monster Party is a starfucker con with a badass party attached, and people seem to love it.

I just don’t. If it’s your thing, that’s awesome. If you can actually manage to connect with someone for the ten seconds you get to talk to them, or if you want to support them and thank them with your dollars for the joy they’ve brought into your lives with their work, that’s your choice. For me, I want people to enjoy my work, not the spectacle of meeting me (and God knows meeting me sometimes turns into a goddamn spectacle).

There’s gotten to be a lot of talk all over the place about everybody charging for autographs, all kinds of folks from writers, to comic artists, to Magic:the Gathering Artists, to actors, etc.

Here’s my promise to you – I will never charge money for an autograph on a book that I’ve worked on unless you’re obviously just getting it autographed to increase the value of it. If you’re a fan, and you’ve spent money on my book, or even if you got it as a gift, or just happen to have it, I promise I’ll sign it for free. Personalized or not, your call.

Now if I ever convince someone to hire me to write comics and you show up with a stack of twenty copies of Issue #1 and want them all signed, none personalized, then the first one’s free and we’re gonna have to talk about the other copies you want for eBay.

Because I understand that sometimes people are just in it to monetize a signature, and that’s not cool to the artist/actor/writer/musician. When I did Mad Monster Party a few years ago, I think Corey Feldman was only personalizing thing, he wouldn’t do just a signature. Because he wanted to sign things for his fans, not for eBay. And I respect that. And I understand that people have costs to recoup associated with travelling to cons. God knows I understand, I just dropped almost $2K to go to Dragon Con.

But if you’ve bought something of mine, and aren’t looking to monetize it, then I’m not going to charge for an autograph. I just don’t think it’s right. I also will not charge for photos taken with me, because if you want my ugly mug in your camera, you must really be a fan. And I sure as hell will never charge just to come up to my table and meet me, that to me seems the height if hubris. I do admit that if I’m ever famous enough to where a convention pays for me to be there, and I’m working for the con all weekend, I may not be in charge of what the convention charges for those things. But I won’t ever do it, personally.

This is inspired by a bunch of things that I’ve seen this past year – a blog post by a dad who paid almost $300 to have his kids’ picture taken with the Weasley family from the Harry Potter movies, a comic artist at Heroes Con charging for signatures on anything you didn’t buy from his table, a Magic artist charging for signatures on cards he did the art for, and a general growth across all parts of the creative industry of a desire to get as much out of the fans as we can, all because somebody else is milking them, and they’re willing to pay it.

Well, maybe, just maybe, you should give something back to the fans who allow you to have the life you have. I’m not saying give away free shit, but certainly if someone who loves your work enough to carry a heavy-ass hardback all the way across a convention center to get it signed, give them a little personal attention and a moment of your time, instead of trying to get a couple bucks out of them for the minute and a half you spend with them. You’ll make more in the long run by modeling yourself after folks like Mark Poole, Brandon Sanderson, Pat Conroy, Orson Scott Card and others I’ve seen or heard of staying long after signings to make sure everyone’s stuff is signed, or just folks that are super-accommodating to their fans.

I know this is long, and I know there are parts where I seem to contradict myself, but it’s a complicated issue. At the end of the day, being at a convention is for the fans, and we’re all fans, too. It does us well to remember that, and to wonder how we’d feel if we walked up to a creator with our favorite book, comic, or Magic card, only to be greeted with a sign telling us it’s $3 for a signature.

So before you try to squeeze more blood from the stone of fandom, maybe ask yourself if you’re giving enough back. A lot of you are, but maybe a few could look outside their wallet a little more.

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Twelve Months Later

MamaOne year ago today, at about this time in the afternoon, I was driving north on Highway 49 towards Sharon with the driver’s window down on my truck and Ray Wylie Hubbard blaring on my stereo, singing how we never cut cut loose of our rock n’ roll ways. Tears rolled down my cheeks, and it was hard to drive, but I grew up driving that road and as long as I could avoid the tractors I probably wouldn’t roll up on anything too quick for me to deal with it.

I had spent the day saying goodbye to my mother, talking with my sister, my father and my aunt about what was going to happen the next few days, and finally telling her that she could let go anytime, that she could go now. In that last moment we had together, she opened her eyes, and in a voice stronger than she’d had all day, she said “Let’s go. Where are we going?”

That was my mother’s mantra for many years – “Let’s go.” If there was a defining characteristic of my mother for most of my life, it was motion. She hated to sit still, and it didn’t matter the destination, she was ready to go. And wherever she decided to go, she went. And whatever she decided to do, she did.

Sometimes people ask me how I’ve managed to do the things I’ve done in my life. I’ve worn a lot of hats – million-dollar salesman, manager, award-winning designer, theatre owner, stage director, actor, poet, spoken word performer, blogger, poker journalist, novelist, short story writer, husband. Sometimes folks ask me how I manage to fit that into 42 years, and I usually tell them that “I’m too stupid to fail.”

That’s a lie.

I accomplish things because I watched my mother accomplish things she wasn’t supposed to accomplish. I succeed because I have no concept of failure, because I grew up watching an extraordinary woman decide on something, and do it. I never heard her ask if anybody thought she could do it. I sure as hell never heard her ask anyone’s permission. I just watched her, time and time again, decide that something needed to be done, or that she wanted to do something, and then watched her bend the universe to her will until it happened.

I was in second grade the first time I saw my mother do what she wasn’t supposed to do. My elementary school was short on substitute teachers, and with her youngest child (me) out of the house, Mama decided that she would be a sub. One problem – to be a substitute teacher in Sharon, SC in 1980 required either a high school diploma or a GED, neither of which my mother had. She had dropped out of high school in tenth grade to help raise her 11 younger siblings in a household with an alcoholic father. So she didn’t have the paperwork required to babysit a bunch of rowdy eight or ten-year-olds, according to the rules.

So my mother went to night school at York Tech and got her GED. I think she was forty-eight when she got it. Then she went to the schoolhouse and signed up to be a substitute. I loved and hated when my mother worked at the school. I loved it because I didn’t have to ride the bus, but I hated it when she was my sub, because I couldn’t get away with shit, my mama was watching.

emily baptismA few years later, she decided that smocking looked pretty and she wanted to try it. So she bought the pleating machine and learned to smock, then went around to craft shows selling handmade baby bones and dresses. A few months ago, one of my nieces found her baptism dress that Mama smocked for her, and her daughter wore it to be baptized. Mama would have approved. That’s a picture of my great-niece Emily in her mother’s baptism gown over to the left.

After I got done with elementary school, Mama decided she was done with substitute teaching and wanted to make extra money as a substitute mail carrier. Now that she had her GED, all she had to do was take the Civil Service Exam and pass it, and then she could work one or two days a week delivering mail.

She passed on her first try, and soon her red and white pickup was bouncing all around the roads of Western York County delivering mail.

Always involved in the church, she served multiple terms as a deacon, often at the same time that my father was serving as an elder of the church. She served at least two terms as Chair of the Board of Deacons, and spearheaded efforts for our church to acquire its first church van and to install a wheelchair lift to the sanctuary. She wasn’t alone in working on all these things, of course, but I don’t think I exaggerate much when I say they wouldn’t have happened nearly as quickly without her. Later in life, in her late sixties, the Deacons of the church asked her to come back and serve one last term. The church had a new pastor, and needed some institutional memory. She went back, and served one year as Chair before passing that torch on to a younger man, one I’d grown up with in church youth groups and Sunday school.

That last run on the Board of Deacons was the end of her service life, as the dementia started to take hold pretty severely not long after that. Eventually she couldn’t drive anymore, and her travels were over as well, as her own brain turned traitor and locked her alternately in confusion and the past. The last few years and after her passing we would find things wrapped up with little notes telling us what they are and where they came from. She knew what was coming as her mind betrayed her, she’d seen her own mother suffer from dementia and finally succumb.

But until that time when her body and mind turned on her, she was a remarkable woman. She helped raise eleven siblings, almost all of them at some point either living with my parents when things got too bad at home, or just working for my father in his peach shed or chicken farm. She raised four children, none of whom ended up in prison and all of whom lived to adulthood no matter how stupid we were (and a couple of us set that bar pretty high). She helped raise six grandchildren, none moreso than my youngest niece, who was her sidekick for years.

She was a pillar of the community, one of the women leading the fire department fundraisers whenever someone lost their house to fire, or got cancer, or just needed help. She was part of the grapevine, the Western York County Trinity of Miss Tot, Miss Faye and Miss Frances. If you wanted news to get out, you only had to call one of those three women and everyone who needed to hear it would know. She sold Tupperware, held toy parties, ran a booth at a flea market on weekends when I was at college, and taught me everything I know about sales and selling. She never met a stranger, and could sell ice cream to Eskimos. She was a square dancer, a rose gardener, a seamstress, ran a fabric store out of a converted peach packing shed, held out a helping hand to a local drunk and gave him work fixing up our roof and outbuilding when he needed it, and wasn’t afraid to be the first one on the scene at a fire or traffic accident.

She was raised in the Depression, and only ate her meat well done. She had a sharp tongue, and would peel the skin off your ass with a word if she needed to. She was a teetotaler, the child of an alcoholic, and judgmental as hell. She taught me at a young age not to say the “n” word, and to treat people right no matter what the color of their skin. She taught my sister how to make the world’s best fried chicken and rice and gravy, and taught my oldest niece how to make the world’s best banana pudding. And I will whip the ass of any man who challenges that fact.

She taught me that I could be anything I wanted to be, and I did.

A year ago this coming Monday, I was finishing my morning shower at Dragon Con, getting ready to hit the last day of the show. I didn’t have any panels, so I was just gonna take it easy, see a few friends and get on the road early. My roommates knew what was going on back home, and we’d been waiting all weekend for “the call.” As I dried my hair and turned off the water, I felt it. I felt something change, and I realized that somehow, she had known how important that weekend was to my career, and she’d held on for me. And I felt her go. I shed a few tears in the bathroom, then stepped out and started getting dressed. Before I even got my socks on, my phone rang.

She waited for me to finish what I needed to do, because that’s the life she had always led. Then she went home.IMG_0983100_1005100_0999

Bonnie & Tommy