The Dogly One and the Dragon Days
(I meant to write this post much sooner, right after this one, but never got around to it, partly because my life has been unusually busy this summer, and partly because every time I sat down and tried to write something, my brain shut down and all that came out was “gfbgklhhtkgshgirkcglhgrk!!r3!!!!!^1!!!1”)
(Also, it’s long. Consider yourself warned.)
I have written before about how I discovered the Tad Williams Message Board – then called the Shadowmarch boards and still affectionately known as Smarch.
I’ve been a member there for almost as long as I’ve used the internet, and quiet as the boards have gone, I am one of the handful of faithful, stubborn people who refuse to let them die.
One of the things that Smarchers have always done is hang out with Tad Williams himself – the Dog, as we call him, since he refused to be called our God – whenever the opportunity presents itself.
It did not present itself the last time Tad was in Vienna (when I was still desperately trying to keep my blogging self separate from my Smarch self), but then, I was the only Smarcher there and would probably only have embarrassed myself by babbling nervously (more than I already did at the signing).
This year, though, my dedication to the message board is paying off, with the power to smite spammers and mess with other people’s posts, an advance copy of Tad’s next book, and the chance to meet the Dogly One.
I always regretted letting a longer train ride deter me from joining the group of German and Dutch Smarchers who got the full VIP treatment and dinner with Tad a few days after the reading in Vienna. So this time, it didn’t take me too long to commit to going to Stuttgart, Germany, when I heard Tad had been invited to the Dragon Days fantasy festival.
I don’t know if I would have been able to do it by myself, but I met up with Ylvs, who had the honour of visiting Tad at home earlier this year, and Olaf, who collects Tadbooks the way I collect houseplants.
I started my day in Stuttgart by taking a ridiculous number of pictures of plants (which I will share as soon as I find the time), because that is what I do when I have time to kill, then met up with Ylvs and Olaf, so we could wander around Stuttgart (and most importantly, its bookstores) and have dinner together, before we headed to the Literaturhaus [Literature House], where Tad was to receive an award for his Otherland series.
Sadly, the picture of Tad reaching out to shake my hand, just after he had arrived and immediately bumped into Ylvs, is no longer online. But it makes me feel so special to know that one of those guys with the gigantic cameras thought this was a moment worth photographing.
Much of the evening was a blur to me – I was running on two hours of sleep, and there were too many people up on that stage for me to keep them straight. Lots of talk about Otherland, naturally, and about the creation of the Schwäbischer Lindwurm [Swabian Wyrm], the award that Tad would receive later in the evening.
The one story I still remember properly was told by Walter Adler, the director of the German Otherland radio play, who once picked up a book with a strange cover in a bookshop and found himself so captivated that he just kept reading there in the shop, before he finally bought the book, finished it and decided that City of Golden Shadow needed to be a radioplay… only to discover there were going to be three more books. And when they met, Tad – almost without voice due to a cold – croaked his way through the entire convoluted plot so that Mr Adler could go ahead with his plan.
I finally woke up completely when Tad – who had been sitting just across the aisle from us – got up on the stage to receive his award. Dressed in a black suit, red shirt, red tie and red shoes, he immediately made us laugh by pulling up his trousers to point out his matching red socks.
Tad talked about the origins of the Otherland books for a bit, which were partly inspired by experiments with virtual reality at the time he was working at Apple, one of his last jobs before becoming a full-time writer. Experimenting turned into playing games inside the VR. After throwing balls, hide-and-seek became popular, and the best hiding place, it was discovered, was… inside the other player’s virtual body. Which is not a place we expect people to be hiding in, so it got Tad thinking about how VR would influence the way we think.
I got drowsy again while a German actress read the foreword of City of Golden Shadow, but then Tad was back on stage, pointing out his socks again, followed by, “So you can properly appreciate my reading glasses.” Which he then held up to show they were red, too. He read a scene in Felix Jongleur’s point of view from River of Blue Fire, which was a lot less familiar than the beginning of City of Golden Shadow, so it was much easier to pay attention. One thing must be said for the foreword, though… it is set in the trenches of World War 1, which went quite well with the picture behind the stage. I know, that’s a whole different world war, but the rainy-muddy-grey hopeless misery is the same.
There was a question-and-answer session after the reading, during which I tried to keep notes, but failed utterly, partly because I was too busy laughing, and partly because I had heard most of Tad’s answers before. One stuck in my mind, though, in answer to the question, “How soon did you know you wanted to be a writer?” Unlike some other authors, Tad didn’t know that already in childhood: “As a child, I wanted to be an archeologist. The way I understood it, archeologists leave the house in the morning and discover a lost city, and then reporters come and take pictures of you. Only then I found out there was a lot of work and small pieces of pottery involved, and I decided to become a rock star.”
Olaf, Ylvs and I got to hold the beautiful (and heavy) bronze dragon statue Tad had received for his award. I’m sure it made the rest of the audience wonder who we were, which still cracks me up.
The three of us hadn’t brought any books to sign that day, but we bought several copies of the German translation of The Dirty Streets of Heaven and had them signed for friends and family.
The next morning did not go as planned, in the way that involves hospitals and grim news, but the afternoon still found all of us sitting in the shade outside a hotel café, having drinks and ice-cream… with Tad, who had kept several hours free of interviews to have time to hang out with us.
I had been nervous before, but what everyone has always been telling me is true: Tad really is that easy to talk to. Best-selling author and all that, but it didn’t feel much different from talking to any other Smarcher I have ever met, comfortable and funny. I don’t want to write too much about the things we talked about, partly because… well, typing up conversations with friends and putting them on the internet just feels weird and creepy, and partly because, when the conversation wasn’t meandering from Tarantino movies to Karl May to overprotective parents to gardening, we were discussing things that I’m not allowed to share. And partly because if I think about it too much, I will start giggling maniacally again and will have to resort to keysmashing instead of writing proper sentences.
But even if I keep my thoughts away from the awesome-but-secret things, the memory of that afternoon still puts a huge smile on my face even now, seven weeks later. (Yes, I am embarrassed that it has taken me this long to write this post.) Remembering how Tad urged us to order another drink, or maybe some ice-cream, and insisting on paying, because “they actually pay me to do signings here, so you have to let me spend some of that money before I have to give it to my wife and never see it again.” Remembering how he asked us where we were from, and how far we’d had to travel to Stuttgart and thanking us for coming. That is the moment that hits me over and over again – this famous author, all the way from California, thanking us – thanking us for coming!
And I look at this picture, again and again (grinning a little at the accidental colour-coordination we had going on that day, right down to the flowers) and shake my head and think, How is this my life?
We eventually went our separate ways again, back to our respective hotel rooms to prepare for the evening but – surprise, surprise – bumped into each other again outside the Hugendubel bookstore and chatted a bit before Tad’s second reading began.
That day, he was reading from The Dirty Streets of Heaven, and his German editor read from the translation (which was already available at the readings, even though it was still two weeks before the official publication date), and raved about the description of Heaven (just wait until he gets his hands on Happy Hour in Hell… when he reads the description of Hell, he is probably going to explode or something.)
I’ve always had a little trouble with the tone of Dirty Streets, haven’t been able to find it as funny as it is supposed to be – but something changed while I heard Tad reading from it. Suddenly I could hear how close the main character’s voice is to Tad’s own voice, and now it makes me laugh so much more.
Again, the reading was followed by a question and answer session, and this time I didn’t even attempt to take notes. But because Ylvs had had to leave early and miss the reading, I had decided to record the Q&A so she could be with us in spirit.
I blame the not-that-great quality of the videos to my ancient camera, and the wobbliness on Tad, who made me laugh too often. The sound is OK, though, and that’s what really matters.
They’re time-consuming (something like 45 minutes, yes it was fun holding up my camera that long!) but well worth watching. I’m still laughing about lines like, “Other questions? Statements? Death threats?” and stories like the one about Binabik and Yoda, and warmed by the knowledge that when Tad said, “I was just telling some friends – some friends who are here at this time,” he was referring to Olaf and me.
Afterwards, there was another signing, and I had turned into one of those people who show up with an entire bag full of books… two copies of The Dragonbone Chair for my best friend and my apprentice (who are both loving it, and I’m so excited that I can finally discuss my favourite book with them), and the rest of Memory, Sorrow and Thorn for myself (I had already had Dragonbone Chair signed in Vienna).
And then he got up and hugged us good bye. Hugged us.
I will go away now and giggle crazily to myself.