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.

“Girls Can’t Be Knights” by Lee French – A Review



   This is a very different sort of YA story, dealing with a young girl (Claire) who has been orphaned and finds herself in the foster care system.  Trouble seems to find Claire at every turn, until she meets a young father-figure knight named Justin.  Even more trouble follows as the two alternate between the modern world and the fantasy world, battling corrupt spirits.  When I first read Lee French’s “Girls Can’t Be Knights” from the Spirit Knight Series, I began writing a review from an adult’s point of view.  But having written several Young Adult fiction books, I knew the difficulty that adults can have when trying to critique something written for a much younger audience.  So I asked my twelve-year-old to read it and tell me what she thought of it.  This is how much our views differed!


Character Development

Me:  This was my main complaint as I didn’t feel I knew enough about the main characters.  I wanted more fleshing-out.

12 y.o.:  Claire and Justin were awesome.  I liked how she seemed like some girls at my school.


Me:  I wanted more background so that I could understand why the characters acted as they did, rather than having to wait until the end for explanations.

12 y.o.:  I liked how it moved so fast without having to read a bunch of pages about every small detail.


Me:  The story was rather short and setting descriptions were on the minimal side.

12 y.o.:  There was enough description of places to move the story along.  I was so interested in the action that I thought there was just the right amount.


Me:  There was an abundance of conflict, but I wasn’t always sure I understood what some of the terms really meant (such as ur and ne-phasm).

12 y.o.:  Lots of it!  There was always something going on that kept your interest.  It made me want to keep reading until the end!


Me:  The resolution did satisfy me, but I would have preferred it not to come all in a rush at the very end.

12 y.o.:  Everything that I was hoping would happen, did come together at the end.  I loved how it ended.

Desire to continue reading the series

Me:  I did enjoy this book, but probably would not continue with the series.

12 y.o.:  There are more?  Can we get the next one now?

So you see, Lee French has targeted her audience well.  The young teen and preteen reader seem to love or not mind the very things that I did not care for.  I’m betting your young reader will too.

Kathleen Barker was born and raised in Baltimore, Maryland. A graduate of Blessed Sacrament, the Institute of Notre Dame and Towson University, she spent twenty years as the much-traveled wife of a Navy pilot and has three children. While working for a Fortune 500 insurance company in New Orleans, she wrote feature and human interest articles for their magazine and received the Field Reporter of the Year award. After Hurricane Katrina, she returned to her beloved state of Maryland where she started work on “The Charm City Chronicles”. All four volumes, “Ednor Scardens”, “The Body War”, “The Hurting Year”, and “On Gabriel’s Wings” are available in Amazon’s Kindle store.

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.

French, Lee

Lee French lives in Olympia, WA with two kids, two bicycles, and too much stuff. She is an avid gamer and active member of the Myth-Weavers online RPG community, where she is known for her fondness for Angry Ninja Squirrels of Doom. In addition to spending much time there, she also trains year-round for the one-week of glorious madness that is RAGBRAI, has a nice flower garden with one dragon and absolutely no lawn gnomes, and tries in vain every year to grow vegetables that don’t get devoured by neighborhood wildlife.

She is an active member of both SFWA and NIWA, as well as serving as a Municipal Liaison for her NaNoWriMo region.

Please click on the covers below to find out more about her books:

Girls Can’t Be Knights by Lee French

Girls can't be Knights_Portland has a ghost problem.

Sixteen-year-old Claire wants her father back. His death left her only memories and an empty locket. After six difficult years in foster care, her vocabulary no longer includes “hope” and “trust”.

Everything changes when Justin rides his magical horse into her path and takes her under his wing. Like the rest of the elite men who serve as Spirit Knights, he hunts restless ghosts that devour the living.

When an evil spirit threatens Claire’s life, she’ll need Justin’s help to survive. And how could she bear the Knights’ mark on her soul? Everybody knows Girls Can’t Be Knights.