Another Week With Storm Constantine, and Jim

Background | Rough Itinerary | Observations and Anecdotes | My review of Wraeththu | Her triumphant return, June 1997


Storm has been one of my favorite authors since I discovered her Wraeththu trilogy several years ago, and discovered is the right word for it: although the trilogy has received some critical praise here in the States, it's difficult to find others who've read it, and her other novels, many of which (Hermetech, Burying the Shadow and the recent Stalking Tender Prey) are really excellent, are only in print overseas.

I had become enamoured of her work -- and her characters -- so much that I'd gotten a special license plate for my car: PELLAZ. Ah, yes, Pellaz-har-aralis, Tigron of Immanion, who spins the tale told in the first Wraeththu book, The Enchantments of Flesh and Spirit, and then in the background until the end of the series.

Storm lives in England and had never been to the States, so I never dreamed I'd have a chance of meeting her....

--Until I noticed that my friend Ed K., who edits anthologies had bought a story or two by Storm for various projects. Ed was also Chairman (and chief visionary) of Dragon*Con, the world's largest multi-focus convention, held here in Atlanta, and so when I mentioned her as a possible guest for Dragon*Con Ed said "Sure! I like her writing style." Since Storm is far from being a household name in the US, I had no expectations that Ed would pay for her entire visit, and I was right; he said he'd cover her hotel room during the convention, but couldn't cover her airfare from England. Oh, well.... I figured that was the end of it, since transAtlantic airfare is expensive.

It was at about this time that I got email from Storm herself concerning Inception, her British-based information service. I mentioned Dragon*Con and she asked for more information on it; when she read it she wrote back. "This sounds right up my alley....I'd love to come!"

I was delighted, and a bit bemused; transAtlantic airfare is expensive. Ed worked out the convention's end of things with her, and I worked my will, as much as I could, with the folks who were doing the scheduling ("She's good for a vampire panel, sure!" "Someone else wants to talk about angels, too? Great!")

There was only one kink in the plans -- in order to get the cheapest possible airfare for herself and her partner Jim, Storm had to stay in the US for a full week. Dragon*Con was based at the Atlanta Hilton that year, so Ed tried to find alternate accomodations for them (room-rates were pretty high at the Hilton :)), and I booked a standby reservation at the midtown Day's Inn as a backup, at the quite-reasonable rate of $57/night -- right before the Olympics, too, which I thought was outstanding.

It's a rare event when you can meet one of your favorite authors under casual circumstances, and even rarer when you work out a way to get them to your own country! To say I was hyped even before Dragon*Con '96 started was an understatement. I had a lot going on anyway as a director of the convention (see Part I of my D*C convention report, but this? A year ago I'd never have dreamed it...and the story gets even better! :)

Background | Rough Itinerary | Observations and Anecdotes | My review of Wraeththu

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Rough Itinerary

Wednesday, June 19th, 1996 -- Arrival

I've already described Storm and Jim's arrival in the States, hassles with US Customs and all (they don't look like typical ocean-hopping tourists or businesspeople :) ), in Part I of my D*C convention report. After getting them safely back to the hotel and ensconced in a smoking room, I went off to attend to other things (the convention daily 'zine, plus my friends' band, Bonedance, in concert that night at the Hilton).

After their flight from Birmingham UK to Amsterdam, then their 9-hour flight from Amsterdam to Atlanta (the, uh, non-Euclidean routing helped lower the fare), Storm and Jim needed to rest anyway. And rest they did; they came down later during the concert and saw me, right in front of the stage during my friends' energetic set, but didn't want to bother me.

Thursday, June 20th, 1996 -- Opening Day

Thursday was the first "formal" day of the convention, and I returned down to the hotel and got myself a room. Storm had a panel at 2:30, a vampire discussion panel on the Writers programming track with Amelia G of BLUE BLOOD, Nancy Collins, Caitlan Kiernan and Ian Keith McDowell. Held in a room accomodating c. 80 people, it was easily overflowed and the crowd was SRO. At first Storm was bypassed by much of the conversation, but when someone mentioned how many modern vampires in fiction don't get to enjoy sex, etc., I just had to toss in a comment about Wraeththu getting to enjoy sex, food, long life and daylight.

Storm was able to say a few words and there were clearly a couple of people in the audience who had read Wraeththu.

Either at this panel or one on Friday a certain cheering section for Storm became apparent -- three writers, CJ Cherryh, Jane Fancher and Lynn Abbey -- who tried to be at as many of her panels as they could to lend moral support. Storm really appreciated this, since she was very much a stranger in a strange land in the States, with few friends.

I think Thursday was the day we all went to eat at the Little Five Points Pub, an eatery in our 'counterculture enclave' district that was the birthplace of the Indigo Girls many incarnations ago. Here a pattern started: Storm and Jim would eat, remark on the quality of the food and the relatively low price, and sigh at the lack of decent places back home. :)

Storm and Jim enjoyed browsing the alternative shops down there ("This is some of the best incense in the world and it's cheap here!") It was the first of two visits they would make that year to Atlanta's venerable L5P neighborhood.

I think that was also the night I took them for dinner to one of my favorite restaurants, House of Peking (on Buford Highway in Doraville just inside I-285). It's an all-you-can eat Chinese buffet and (formerly) Mongolian barbecue, the latter cooked on a hot grill right in front of your eyes, and the pattern continued:
Storm: "Paul, if we had a place like this for this price [$6.85] in our neighborhood, we'd eat there every week!"
Jim laughs: "Every day!"

Once again, they retired early and I went to help with the convention's Daily Dragon 'zine before wandering the halls with all my friends from other states who I only ever see at Dragon*Con.....

Friday, June 21st, 1996 --

Now it was Storm and Jim's turn to treat me, so they said, so, referring to their incredibly handy Pocket Program and the restaurant guide (I, ahem, helped compile both), they took me for breakfast at Le Peep, a decent breakfast and lunch-type chain bistro. It was good, and I seldom have breakfast, so that was even better.

Storm had to be back for a panel at 1:00 pm, Magic and Religion, in one of the main ballrooms (prime real estate!) with Tom Deitz and Owl Goingback. Owl wasn't there, but there were several others on the panel who were added on-site; it was reasonably well-attended. Alas, it was scheduled exactly opposite Neil Gaiman's presentation on his show NEVERWHERE, something Storm really wanted to see. Neil G. is a friend of hers and was at a convention with her as guests in Australia recently. Jim snuck over and saw it, and I schlepped myself back and forth. Storm was a little more vocal on this panel, but alas I didn't see it except in a disjoint way. :) Happily, she was able to catch Neil's preview later in the weekend in Neil's suite. Storm is tickled by Neil's success, since he and she are both contemporaries who started out at about the same time.

Right after the panel Storm had an autographing downstairs. We were pleased to find that some fans were actually present with books to sign, and some of the books were books I hadn't seen before!

Storm had been invited to the Guest of Honor Banquet, which segued into the WIZARD magazine readers' poll awards, but Storm and Jim skipped out a bit early and found me. We had prearranged an interview with Shane Russell of Le Petit Mort, a local goth/fetish shop that publishes a magazine/catalog, and so we went upstairs for an enjoyable "short, 15-minute" interview that lasted nearly an hour. I'm hoping to get a copy of the interview on audio tape.

After this Storm and Jim went up to the room and I lost sight of them until the next day.

Saturday, June 22nd, 1996 --

Saturday was busy for me early because that was when, at some point during the day, the members of rock bands Anthrax and the Misfits would be showing up at the hotel for a quick look-around (they were playing together that night at an Atlanta club). Anthrax had been to Dragon*Con before under the same circumstances and enjoyed it, so we gladly comp'd them some badges. I had helped arrange this through email with Charlie Benante, Anthrax's drummer, and so I was very happy when they arrived at the hotel and we got them their badges, then downstairs into the dealers room, where I quickly lost them. That was okay, though, because..... 2:30 Storm had a reading scheduled. The "cheering section" and several dozen others attended, which really made Storm feel good, and she read a portion of the powerful ending of Stalking Tender Prey. Wow! She was able to read another passage and answer some questions during the hour, too.

For dinner that night, Storm and Jim were taken to a fine, expensive local restaurant, The Abbey, by CJ Cherryh and the other members of the Cheering Section. --Which worked out well, as I ended up taking Hunter "Techno-Destructo" Jackson of GWAR out to House of Peking (where he's eaten before, and loved it) for a quick get-it-to-go meal before they had to set up for their concert that night in the Hilton.

Sunday, June 23rd, 1996 -- Downtown to Midtown

Sundays are always hectic at conventions because almost everyone has to check out of their rooms that day. For Storm and Jim this was complicated by the fact that she was scheduled for two events in a row that morning: a signing at (horrors) 10 a.m. and then a panel, "Angels: Between the Light and the Dark" with Patricia Kenneally Morrison at 11:30. She was a bit late getting to her signing, but she and Jim had managed to check out of their room in good order and stored their bags with the bellstand (they pack light). I turned the convention over and made several radio calls before she showed up at the panel, but all was well and once again, there were a few fans there for her.

I had to miss the Angels panel, a pity, since PKM had happened to request one and Storm's new trilogy is about angels like, uh, white on rice :)). I went upstairs and checked all my friends out of the room (no easy task), then was able to get back with Storm after her 2:30 panel, "Why Should I Care?", a Writers Track panel about making even your villains a bit likeable so your editor won't say "I just can't seem to get interested in your characters." :)

Since I had prearranged a room for Storm and Jim at the Days Inn Midtown, we trekked up Peachtree Street to the new hotel and installed Storm and Jim there. Then I took my friend Chris home and returned for Storm and Jim before the Dead Dog Party that night. In the Hilton's lobby bar, CJ Cherryh had been telling Storm about kudzu, the South's resident vegetable plague, and also suggested a day-trip up to Tennessee to one of several touristy places. We decided to make that happen on Monday.

The Dead Dog was held at Flamingo Joe's, a nightspot in nearby Peachtree Center, and was well-attended by staff and pros alike. They had a food buffet that was good except for one small problem: all the entrees were chicken, and Jim can't eat chicken! So I politely mentioned this to the guy in charge and he obliged us kindly by making Jim a hamburger with a pile of fries -- exceptionally cool!

Monday, June 24th, 1996 -- Kudzu and Caves

I had scheduled Monday off as part of my Dragon*Con vacation, so this was the day I took Storm and Jim up to Ruby Falls, near Chattanooga. I missed the exit on the way up, so we stopped at the Tennessee welcome center, where Storm delightedly grabbed a flyer for a water-park. "Look, Jim, it says 'Get your pants wet!'" (I guess these sorts of adverts are rare in staid ol' England. :))

Then we continued on to the next exit, where my favorite fireworks store "just happens" to be, and I got some fireworks for the Fourth of July, just a week or so away. Back to Ruby Falls we went; from THIS side, the billboards actually say an exit number.

I had never been to Ruby Falls before, so I was as much a tourist as Storm and Jim. The place is as overblown-glitzy as you'd expect for a tourist mecca, but the displays are well-presented and the Falls are pretty impressive. Our guide was an overfriendly but clearly experienced girl named Melanie, good for the tour but a little too loud and rambunctious for Storm and Jim. We returned to Atlanta and had dinner somewhere -- I forget where, now -- and arranged with my friend Moebius, the homeless-waif street-poet, to take care of Storm and Jim the following day.

Tuesday, June 25th, 1996 -- in the hands of Moebius

I had to go to work on Tuesday until 4pm, so Moebius came up to their hotel on MARTA and took them to Little Five Points for the day. After I got off work I headed down there and picked everyone up for the ride to the Science Fiction and Mystery Bookshop, where I had worked with the proprietor, Mark Stephens, and scheduled Storm for a signing that evening at 6pm.

Alas, Mark had had little time and almost no opportunity to promote the signing, so the event turned into a fruitful discussion, with Mark proffering his experienced insights into the publishing industry. Storm bought some books, as did I, and we then turned to thoughts of dinner. It was then that I had probably the best idea all weekend:
"Hey, let's see if Ed's busy and have dinner with him at Rio Bravo!" In the back of my mind was the thought that Ed could probably do a better job than Storm's (alleged) current US agent, and I figured a dinner....

Ed was home, and glad to join us for dinner, so we dropped Moebius off and drove up to Rio Bravo, a good Mexican chain restaurant (long-since shuttered, unfortunately). Ed and Storm talked about getting her published here and the eventual outcome was that he'd be glad to take her on and get her published here if her UK agent agreed. Joy!

We've finished dinner and we're sitting on benches outside, Storm and Ed discussing his agenting for her, and me and handsome Jim on the other bench across the walkway. I turn to Jim and say drily "Let's just let them talk a while; I'm certainly in no hurry and this is probably the most important moment of Storm's entire trip here...."

As it turned out, it was: Storm was eventually published again in the U.S. as a result of that fateful meeting.

Wednesday, June 26th, 1996 -- A Fokker of a plane

Here it was Wednesday, a full week since Storm and Jim had arrived, and the Fulfilment of Time and Airline Requirements -- their low airfare was dependent on staying here a week. I paid their room tab for the three "extra" nights and, with some extra time, we went up to Lenox Mall to have a look around, since it's the city's biggest mall, classy and touristy. There's an HMV record store in there, very much like ones in England, and Storm and Jim got a few more cheap CDs to add to their collections. They also priced computer software, which, oddly, was the same price here, and sometimes even higher! At the inside fountain, Storm unlimbered their camera and we took several photos of eachother. It'll be nice to have some memories of their delightful visit.

Then, alas, it was time to head down to the airport. Moebius had wanted to join us, but due to a pager error his voice message didn't reach me ("Please pick me up on the way!") and he couldn't see Storm and Jim off. A pity, since he and they had grown close. At the airport the "feathered one" waited, a big KLM Boeing 747, with the name "Fokker" on her prow. We did our goodbyes and hugs and they sadly boarded for their long flight back to Amsterdam, then to Birmingham UK.

Storm and Jim were gone, but their magic stayed with us, and still does now, over a month later. Several days later I moped at Ed "Ed, I still miss 'em!" and he didn't have to ask me who I meant, 'cause he felt it too. All of my friends who met them over here were touched by their affection for eachother, their unfailingly sunny dispositions (and that couldn't have been easy, in a new country knowing only a handful of people), and their obvious delight in life.

I miss them dearly and hope they can return soon, perhaps -- who knows? -- on a booksigning tour or something. To paraphrase a moving quote from Swift, "Now I'm calling you again. Listen in the shadows; I'm whistling in the dark."

Background | Rough Itinerary | Observations and Anecdotes | My review of Wraeththu

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Observations and Anecdotes

Storm and Jim are from Staffordshire, in the English Midlands, so not only did they have British accents (which alone can thrill dumb Americans like me), they had unusual, not-as-often-heard accents. I delighted to hear them speak. :).... Storm and Jim are an affectionate couple, and sometimes their interplay just had me grinning for the sheer pleasure of watching their joy in being together.... Someone asked "Storm, do you have a day job?" Her reply: "No, I just write. That's why I'm so poor!".... Storm really doesn't like kids, at least, not the squalling variety, and especially not in airports when they might be seated next to her on the 9-hour ride back. She implied that she'd never have a kid.... Storm and Jim both share a deep interest in music -- no surprise! -- and they were like kids in a candy store when I took them to record stores here, since US prices are sometimes half what they pay in England. Jim's a KMFDM fan, and their new album came out on Tuesday while they were here, so he was glad to grab it and several others.... Storm mentioned in the interview with Shane (Le Petit Mort) that she thought the British gothic scene was dying, or at least anemic, but she enjoyed the gothic band Changelings at Dragon*Con, and bought their CD.... Storm likes Dead Can Dance, as I do. She was amazed to discover that I'd seen them live here, since she hasn't yet had the opportunity, and their visit here happened to fall during DCD's English tour, so alas, she missed them again; tickets for DCD's show here went on sale just three days after Storm and Jim's return flight. Fourth-row seats at Symphony Hall, zowee!.... There's a chance that Storm will have a chance to write a new Wraeththu book. It will depend on whether her UK publisher decides to rerelease the first three books in an omnibus edition, much like Tor/Orb did here, but if they do, she will write a fourth book in the t/r/i/l/o/g/y series. Either one about Thiede after his elevation from mere mortal flesh, or one about the harlings we saw in the series (Tyson, Swift, et al.) I like the second idea with the kids better.... The next book in the Grigori series after Stalking Tender Prey is entitled Scenting Hallowed Blood and has been delivered to Creed. Publication in the UK is not too far away as of this writing. She's at work on the third book now, as yet untitled.... On Sunday we transferred the flag from the Hilton to the Midtown Days Inn, a much smaller and less pretentious hostelry. The Days Inn desk staff joked amongst themselves while checking us in, obviously enjoying their work, prompting Storm to remark "Those Hilton folks were so haughty; it's refreshing to deal with humans again." "Yea," I added, "you get the feeling those stuffy Hilton front-desk clerks can't wait to get off work at night, and go change and work a runway or something".... Jim can't eat chicken, which probably isn't a problem in most places. In the American South, however, it can sometimes be hard to evade the cluck and the feathers. At the Dragon*Con Dead Dog Party, held at nearby Flamingo Joe's bar, the offerings were chicken quesadillas, chicken fingers, and chicken wings. Uh-oh! I managed to cajole the manager into making Jim a burger, and they brought out a nice-sized burger and a pile of fries. Thanks, guys!....

Storm and Jim Returned

Storm and Jim had such a fun time last summer that they returned to the US and to Dragon*Con this summer as well, and they brought another friend, Steve Chilton, with them. (Of course Steve was cool! This is a friend of Storm's after all!) They arrived a bit before the convention to reduce the effect of jet-lag while the convention itself took place, later in the week. I'll have more details on the visit posted when I have time. :)

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Background | Rough Itinerary | Observations and Anecdotes | My review of Wraeththu | My Dragon*Con '96 Report, Part I | Owner Paul Cashman's Home Page | Dragon*Con home-page