Behind The Convention Table

by Lee French

It’s 9:54 on a Saturday morning. I’m standing in front of a table laden with books. A third of the books have my name on the cover. Another third have the name of the guy sitting behind the table, Jeff. The rest are anthologies and books by our friends. In the midst of all these tomes of assorted size and thickness resting in stands, on a bookshelf, or lying flat, we keep a pet dragon. Dwago the clockwork dragon is our mascot and conversation piece.

Dwago, performing a quality control test by taste.

Jeff notices the time before I do because I’m straightening books. I like my table tidy. Everything else in my life is messy and I don’t care. The table, though, must be tidy or everyone will die in horrible, screeching agony.

He puts on his hat. I notice and mumble something about hat time. We wear embellished hats. It’s a thing we do to make us easier to remember and recognize in these venues.

A voice from above, or maybe the other side of the room, announces the doors are open. It’s 10am.

I keep straightening. I can stop any time, I swear. As I shift the books, I choose one title to deliberately leave askew. It’s a book that, for reasons beyond the ken of mere mortals, gets little to no attention at conventions. Maybe it’s the color scheme, or maybe it whispers darkness into the ear of anyone who dares to glance at its cover with the intent to read it.

People filter through the room. Some wear t-shirts announcing their fandom of choice. Others wander in costume. Still others seem slightly dazed and a bit confused about how they wound up inside a fantasy and science fiction convention. Like they tripped and accidentally paid admission, or were forced at lightsaber-point.

Passersby drift past without looking at our table. Or they take a quick look and jerk their head away. Don’t make eye contact with the wild authors. They might scent the money in your wallet and try to talk to you about books.

Jeff sits. He has knee problems bad enough that he needs a cane to walk. I stand, sit, even kneel on my chair, because staying still drives me bananas. There’s a banana in my bag. I brought it to have for lunch with a granola bar, a room-temperature stick of string cheese, and whatever random pre-packaged thing I snagged from the stash for my kids’ lunchboxes. Sometimes I get Pirate Booty. Other times, I get a second granola bar or a pouch of applesauce.

Someone approaches our table with a big smile. “Books! I love books!”

“We have lots of books!” One of us says. It’s usually Jeff. He’s more of a people-person than me and quicker on the verbal draw.

He unfurls our basic spiel and susses out their preferences while I watch for other unwary souls lured by our array of colors and clever titles.

The customer buys a book or two. I handle the money. Jeff continues to pay attention to the person who may dump our books onto a giant To Be Read pile unless we continue to make an impression. Jeff is better at that than me.

We talk to the people at the next table on both sides, and across from us, and any other authors we can find. The jokes flow freely. Everyone wants to know how everyone else is doing. Does attendance seem lower this year? Sales? How was your drive? Did you do this other show? How was it? Wasn’t that other show horrible? Can you believe that guy at WhateverCon did that thing? Did you hear about this anthology? What are you doing for dinner tonight?

Everyone wants to talk about politics, and no one wants to talk about politics.

Something bad happens, because something bad always happens. It doesn’t stop the convention or destroy any merchandise, but everyone grumbles about it for the rest of the show. Until we start saying we think they built this hotel on a Hellmouth. Or maybe it’s designed so if you walk the hallways in a particular order, you summon an elder god.

“Hey,” another person says, “didn’t I see you at WhateverCon?”

“Yes,” we say. This is what we do more weekends than not. If you think we were there, we were there.

We sign books as we sell them. On request, we personalize them with the person’s name. There are a lot of ways to spell a lot of different names. I manage to mess up someone’s name and laugh as I tell them there’s a reason I type my books. It’s called crappy handwriting.

Between customers, I get onto the floor and pull out back stock from the plastic bins hidden by our tablecloth. Jeff can’t do this because of his knees. He also has no sense of graphic design and no ability to lay out the table so it looks nice with 30+ books across it. That’s my job.

I replace sold books and straighten the rest. I can stop anytime.

We take turns getting up during the lulls to walk around, use the bathroom, refill water bottles, or eat. Sometimes we sit and chat about our various in-process projects, bounce ideas off each other, or crack jokes. Working a table by myself is one long, boring stretch punctuated with short flurries of excitement. Working a table with Jeff is a collection of in-jokes and writing ideas punctuated by short flurries of excitement.

“I love books, but I have too many!”

We smile and nod, pretending like no one has ever said that to us before.

Time flows in fits and starts. I check my phone–it’s noon, which explains why I’m hungry. The next time I check, it’s three in the afternoon. Then it’s 3:15. 3:31. 3:37. 3:42. 3:45. 3:50. This day will never end. Suddenly, it’s five. An hour to go.

“Which book is your favorite?”

We both cringe inside. There are over thirty books on the table, and they cover multiple subgenres. Just because I like book A the best doesn’t mean a random person reads superhero fiction. Instead of answering, I pretend the question is the same as asking which child is my favorite and ask what they like to read. We don’t have any werewolf cyberpunk romance, but that author across the room does, and they’re awesome, so go talk to them.

Behind their back, we snigger about the idea of werewolf cyberpunk romance. Five minutes later, we both have ideas for writing a werewolf cyberpunk romance, but won’t because we each have five thousand other ideas in our respective queues already.

Ten minutes to go. I yawn. This is hard work and I’m hungry.

“What do you like to read?” Jeff asks a customer who apparently has no idea the room closes at six.


“We have some of that.” Jeff proceeds to deliver the quickie pitch for every series on the table. The room closes halfway through, but he keeps going. I keep smiling and pointing at the books he can’t reach. We all keep talking.

Five minutes after six, the person buys a book. They walk away. We take off our hats and feel ten pounds lighter. I say something surly or snarky because I can finally stop being a salesperson. Jeff laughs. The people at the nearby tables laugh.

We hide everything that’s easy to walk off with. Some folks cover their wares with tablecloths, but our setup makes that impractical.

I don’t straighten the books.

That’s a lie, because I nudge one. I can stop anytime.

Dragon in one hand and cashbox in the other, we go forage for dinner. Because we have to do this all over again tomorrow.

Lee French has written a bunch of fantasy and science fiction stories and routinely sells them at conventions, fairs, and festivals. Her next convention is Miyakocon in Salem, WA, and her latest book is Darkside Seattle: Mechanic, which released yesterday, January 30. Find all her work here.

Nut-free Banana Bread #recipe

I not only hate walnuts, I’m allergic to them. Finding a recipe for banana bread that doesn’t get funny when you take out the walnuts is challenging. This one works and has my kids’ stamp of approval. Makes one loaf of bread, which you can slice into as few pieces as you want.

This is too many, but they look nice.


  • 1⅓ cups flour
  • 1 Tbsp rolled oats
  • ¾ tsp salt
  • ½ tsp baking soda
  • ¼ tsp baking powder
  • 5⅓ Tbsp unsalted butter, softened but not melted
  • ⅔ cup sugar–brown or white
  • 2 very ripe bananas
  • 1 Tbsp brown sugar
  • 2 large eggs


  • Electric mixer
  • Wire whisk or similar tool
  • Three mixing bowls
  • Something to mash your bananas
  • Scraper spatula
  • One loaf pan, prepared for baking in your preferred manner


  • Preheat oven to 350.
  • Combine flour, oats, salt, baking soda, and baking powder in one mixing bowl and whisk together. Set aside.
  • In the second mixing bowl, use the electric mixer to beat the butter and sugar together until creamy. This will be the bowl you add everything else to. Set aside.
  • Use the third mixing bowl to mash the bananas with the extra tablespoon of brown sugar. Set aside.
  • Return to the butter mixture. Gradually add the flour and beat together so you don’t coat yourself with flour.
  • Beat in the eggs, one at a time.
  • Using the scraper spatula, fold in the mashed bananas. Use only as many cutting strokes as it takes to combine the two.
  • Pour the batter into your loaf pan.
  • Bake uncovered for 60 minutes.
  • Turn off the oven, prop the door open, and leave the bread inside until the oven cools.
  • Remove from the pan and let cool as long as you can wait to eat it.


  • The baking time may need to be adjusted by as much as 10 minutes in either direction for your oven. When the crusty edges on top darken to a deep brown, turn off the oven to avoid burning.
  • This recipe adapts well to gluten-free flours used with xanthan gum.
  • Adapting this recipe to vegan can be done, but I recommend instead using a recipe designed for vegans.
  • Replacing up to half the flour with whole wheat flour works fine.
  • Change this to apple by replacing the banana with 1 cup applesauce and adding 1 tsp total of apple pie spices.
  • Change this loaf to pumpkin by replacing the banana with 1 cup pumpkin puree and adding 1 tsp total of pumpkin pie spices.
  • This bread freezes well, sliced or unsliced.
  • If your bananas are frozen, make sure to thaw completely before using.

Deluxe Apple Pie Cake #recipe

This cake is full of appley deliciousness. It serves however many people you can talk yourself into sharing it with, up to about twelve. This recipe isn’t well suited to cupcakes, but it can be done.Peeling optional! Yay!


  • 1 Tbsp unsalted butter
  • 2-3 apples, sliced and cut into chunks, preferably Granny Smith or another tart variety (peeling optional)
  • 1 tsp apple pie spice or ½ tsp cinnamon, ¼ tsp nutmeg, ¼ tsp cloves (or any other combination of apple pie spices to your taste up to one teaspoon)
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • 1⅓ cup flour
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp apple pie spice or ½ tsp cinnamon, ¼ tsp nutmeg, ¼ tsp cloves (or any other combination of apple pie spices to your taste up to one teaspoon)
  • ⅓ cup cream
  • ⅓ cup apple cider or apple juice
  • ¼ cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 egg


  • Large frying pan with a tight-fitting lid
  • One mixing bowl
  • Electric mixer
  • 11-inch rectangular casserole pan, or any other baking container(s) able to hold about 8 cups of batter. No greasing is necessary, but you may wish to line the pan with parchment paper for ease of removal, especially if your baking pan isn’t attractive enough for to meet your standards for serving.


  • Melt 1 Tbsp butter in the frying pan.
  • Add apple chunks. Stir until coated.
  • Cover the apple chunks and leave them for 5 minutes or until mildly squishy.
  • Add 1 tsp apple pie spice and ¼ cup sugar. Stir until coated.
  • Cook until the juices become thick and bubbly.
  • Pour the apples into your baking container(s), but reserve as much of the liquid as possible. Set the pan aside with the liquid still in it.
  • Preheat oven to 350.
  • Whisk together flour, sugar, baking powder, and remaining apple pie spice in the mixing bowl.
  • Add cream or milk, apple cider, softened butter, and egg.
  • Beat with the mixer at your preferred speed until thoroughly combined.
  • Pour over apples in baking container.
  • Pour the reserved apple liquid over batter.
  • Bake for 30-35 minutes. Adjust as needed for your baking container.
  • Let cool on a rack before devouring.


  • Keep your apple chunks uniform, as if you were making an apple pie. ¼ inch thick squares of about 1 inch are ideal.
  • Any kind of apple cider or juice will work for this recipe. If you use a spiced cider, you may wish to eliminate the spice in the cake, depending upon the tastes of your audience.
  • If you use apple juice, consider eliminating all the spices and add instead 1 tsp of vanilla to the cake for an interesting change of apple pace.
  • Although cream and butter are listed, these can be replaced with any form of milk-like and butter-like substances. However, the lower the fat content, the less delicious the cake will be, and the shorter a shelf-life it will have. For the first step, genuine butter is strongly recommended to provide flavor.
  • When reserving the liquid, also reserving some of the apple chunks works fine and can make the cake more attractive.
  • Frosting is not recommended. Anything you’d normally eat with apple pie is a better choice as an accompaniment.

Dragons vs Christmas (Lights) #flashfic #amwriting

This story by Lee French originally appeared on Edgewise Words Inn.

Enion poked the wad of Christmas lights with a claw. “What is it?”

“It’s pretty!” Pimkin snapped her silver wings out and jumped onto the tangled wad of bright colors and dark green wire. She landed on top with a toothy grin. The ball pitched her forward, wiping away her triumph as she thumped on the table. Flapping her wings to escape, she found them snared by the wires. All four legs had wires wrapped around them too.

“I’ll save you!” Enion plowed into the tangle. The devious wires seized his head, wings, and tail. They slid across the table in a clump to stop at the edge. One end of the wires fell off the side and clattered on the linoleum floor.

Both tiny dragons wriggled and squirmed to escape, pulling the wires tighter around their bodies. The ball quavered on the verge of falling. Enion noticed and froze.

“Stop! We’re going to fall.” He shoved one foot through the wires to the table and scraped his claws on the table. Its plastic coating foiled his efforts to dig in.

Pimkin tried and failed to fold her wings in. “Why is this pretty thing so mean?”

“It’s evil.”

“Then we must defeat it!”

Enion pulled his neck back only to have the frill of tiny horns around his head catch on the wires. He snapped at a wire, sinking his sharp little teeth in and grinding. The soft plastic coating gave way to metal underneath. Electricity jolted through his body until he let go.

Not knowing which way was up anymore, he slumped. His weight sent the tangled ball over the edge. Enion and Pimkin both shrieked until the wad hit the floor. It bounced, cushioning both dragons from the fall, then rolled until it hit a kitchen cabinet.

More ensnared than before, Enion gasped.

“No more pretty lights!” Pimkin thrashed her tiny legs in frustration.

“It’s evil,” Enion agreed, his words slurred.

Pimkin gave up with a heavy sigh. “It wins.” She sagged in the wires.

Ready to also admit defeat and wait for a human to find them and fix everything, Enion gave one last heave. He caused the ball to roll far enough for him to put all four clawed feet on the floor.

Now facing up, Pimkin noticed one foot fell through the wires against he body, leaving it free so long as she didn’t move it again. She tugged gently on her other foreleg and discovered she could move it a tiny bit to the left, then pull it through. Suddenly, she had two legs free.

Enion sank his claws into the linoleum enough to gain traction. He dragged the ball away from the cabinet. “Not giving up yet!”

“Wait. Stop.” Pimkin eased one back foot free, then the other. “If you move slow, you defeat it!”

Pausing in his trek to the living room, Enion looked down at his raised foot. He’d lifted it to take the next step and only now noticed it had come free of the wires. With a step onto the wires instead of the floor, he lifted his other foreclaw and freed it also.

“Hurray!” Enion looked up and saw Pimkin’s wing near enough to reach. If he bit the wire around it without trying to chew through, he could loosen it.

A few minutes later, both dragons stood two feet away, glaring at the ball of lights attached to the wall socket by an orange extension cord.

“It’s pretty.”

“It’s evil.”

Working F/SF Conventions

I’ve spent the past year working conventions almost every weekend. While that hasn’t left a lot of time for writing, it has gotten me out of the house to meet people I otherwise wouldn’t. Having all these experiences helps recharge my writing batteries.

As I type this, I’ve just wrapped MidAmericon II, this year’s WorldCon in Kansas City. The previous weekend was Myths & Legends Con in Denver, and before that was GenCon in Indianapolis. Over the past 12 months, I’ve worked GEARCon, GenCon 2015, Sasquan/WorldCon, Rose City Comic Con, Steamposium, Jet City Comic Show, OryCon, OrcaCon, RustyCon, FLYA, Norwescon, ArtsWalk Olympia, Lilac City Comic Con, The Brass Screw Confederacy, the Fremont Solstice Festival, Westercon, and a collection of small craft and book fairs. I may have forgotten a few.

Along the way, I’ve learned a great deal.

Most famous authors are ordinary when you meet them, person to person. Some people take their hobbies much more seriously than I do. There is good cosplay and there is attempted cosplay, and both are entertaining to see. People who claim to not have space for more books usually do, but they just don’t want your book (which is totally okay). Working a convention is more work than it looks like. Overestimate the number of business cards you need by 100, then add 100 more. Fancy displays will only get you so far–you have to know how to pitch your books or you won’t do very well in person.

And so much more. All this and much more was compiled into book format with my friend and ConBuddy, Jeffrey Cook. Working the Table: An Indie Author’s Guide to Conventions is the first of its kind, a compilation of tips and anecdotes to illustrate how to go about handling the potentially daunting task of selling books at conventions.

Also, I’m tired.

Lee French is the author of twelve novels, two of which are Myrddin titles: Girls Can’t Be Knights and Al-Kabar.


Strawberries & Cream Cheese

Strawberry In true Pacific Northwest fashion, summer has come in the middle of April. Wait, I blinked. It’s gone again. Around here, clear, warm weather is like a somewhat crazy, noncommittal lover. He waltzes in when you least expect it and turns everything upside down. Just when you think you’ve adjusted, he drifts out the door and leaves you in the cold again.

To me, summer means more than heat and sunshine, of course. It means strawberries. Strawberry shortcake. Strawberry pie. Strawberries in the salad–fruit or otherwise. Move over winter squash, I’ve got some strawberries to devour.

My favorite simple way to turn strawberries into a dessert worthy of a fancy restaurant is to slice them one way or another, arrange them on shortcake biscuits, and drizzle them with my favorite cream cheese frosting. Ice cream works in a pinch, but cream cheese frosting is surprisingly easy to make.

Take 2 Tbsp cream cheese, 2 Tbsp sugar, 1 Tbsp butter, and beat into submission with an electric mixer. Add 1 Tbsp heavy cream or buttermilk and churn it until blended. If you must use something else, any kind of liquid will work, but I claim no responsibility if skim milk or the tears of innocent almonds don’t live up to your expectations. Some might appreciate a splash or lemon juice in with the cream. That’s it. With your ingredients at room temperature, this frosting takes about 5 minutes to prepare.

This recipe doubles, quintuples, or whatever-uples nicely.

Strawberries of the area beware.

Romance Equals Fun

Recently, I had to fly from Seattle to Virginia and back for personal reasons. I took one book and my laptop, expecting to switch between reading and the last round of style editing on my next book, Al-Kabar. I dutifully pulled out my laptop early in the first flight and prodded at a few unnecessary adverbs and prepositional phrases. About three pages later, I couldn’t stop yawning. I put the laptop away and grabbed my book.

By the time I perked back up enough to maybe consider working a bit more, I’d gotten engrossed in the book and couldn’t convince myself to put it down. Alas–the curse of a good book. I finished it shortly before the second flight landed at Dulles and heaved a sigh because I knew I’d have no book for the return flights.

(I have a kindle, but for assorted reasons, could not use it during this trip. The turnaround was too short and complicated to get a new book, even at an airport store.)

On the first of two flights back, I pulled out my laptop again and gave the manuscript the ol’ college try. Still tired, I managed another few pages. We landed in Denver and switched planes. As seating went on, someone found a book on a seat and gave it to the flight attendant. She looked it over, then offered it to anyone who wanted it. Being bookless and bored, I took it.

Lo, the book was a Harlequin romantic suspense novel. Romance is not my first choice for reading material (or second, or even third or fourth). I opened it up anyway because I had nothing better to do than stare at the seat in front of me for the next three hours.

Predictable and formulaic, the story had everything one expects of the genre: the handsome man with a Problem, the pretty woman who will Fix It, a Secret That Could Tear Them Apart, Instant Attraction of the Intense Variety, and a Bad Guy. Despite that, it was actually pretty good. The story held my attention, kept me engrossed and forced me to take the book home to finish it when I still had 20 pages left to go at the end of the flight.

This left me wondering if maybe, in the zeal to be original and unique, we sometimes forget that the predictability and formulas can be comfortable and enjoyable. People read for lots of different reasons, and it’s not wrong sometimes to want familiarity, to want not to be challenged, to want to relax with something fluffy and full of complacency. You learn nothing by doing so, but does everything always have to be about learning?