Libertycon 34 AAR — The Pro Level Edition

**Forewarning — if I didn’t mention you by name here, it’s not because I wasn’t happy to see you but because I completely forgot and I am an idiot.**

This year at Libertycon was a special one for me. Not only was it the first time Libertycon was showing off a Baen Books cover of a Jason Cordova book (okay, I edited the anthology, but it still counts!), it was also my first Libertycon as a Baen employee. So on top of my usual responsibilities as a panelist, I also needed to make certain I had everything ready for the Baen Traveling Road Show and the Baen Reception after. Also, it was special because it was the first in-person Libertycon in three years, thanks to the <<UNSPECIFIED VIRUS OF UNKNOWN ORIGINS>>.

On to the After Action Review!

But first, the drive. You see, I had moved away from Virginia to North Carolina earlier this year for work. One thing I hadn’t realized was just how much further my drive to Chattanooga would be. What had once been a pleasant 5.5 hour drive was now a grueling 8 hour plus drive through lots of trucker traffic along I-40. Truckers with a vengeance and all of whom loved to play what we call “the bucket of crabs” game with one another.

Bucket of crabs? Yes, precisely. Crabs will pull each other back down into the trap to prevent one another from escaping the crab pots. Truckers (seemingly) deliberately block traffic in both lanes because one of them is going one mile per hour faster than the other. It’s a bucket of crabs and makes what should have been a scenic 8 hour drive something akin to surfing in Hell with no shorts and on a board made of Legos.

Oof.

We stopped along the way to pick up our friend Jasmine, who always rooms with us at Libertycon, and we made it in on Thursday evening without too much trouble (other than traffic, truckers, and one really determined Mitsubishi Galant who tried to wreck us like four times). The girls went and did their thing while I checked in, wandered around and found many friends whom I hadn’t seen in almost three years. However, we had dinner plans with Baen author and neuroscientist Dr. Robert E. Hampson, and 25 of our closest friends, so off to Meat Sweats we went!

Meat Sweats, for the uninitiated, is a term we use when describing Rodizio’s Brazilian BBQ in downtown Chattanooga. It’s really simple: vaquiero-like waiters and waitresses come around with giant spits of flame-grilled meat (and pineapple!) skewered through them until you throw in the towel. It’s an experience which always make me regret life later that evening as sweat drips from every pore as my poor guts try to work through the carnivorous abuse I’d just heaped on it. Yep, Meat Sweats is freaking awesome.

It was great seeing Brent Roeder, Chris Smith and his son, Casey Moores and his wife (whom I mistook for someone else later that weekend…), Melissa Olthoff and family, and a ton more people (see, this is why I put that disclaimer up at the beginning… I always forget names). Stuffed to the gills, we waddled back to the hotel (waddled gracefully, but waddled all the same) and met up with more people who wanted to get some drinks. I declined (which caused many people to wonder if I’d been replaced by a doppelganger or something) and crashed early. It’d been a long drive and I was hurting (yay meat sweats!), so bedtime was calling.

Friday morning I was up early. Ran into Jeremy, his wife Emily and their kids. Tried to get the kids loaded up on sugar to then pass off to mom and dad, but Jeremy was too savvy and saw through my evil plan. Maybe next year. Coffee attained, I started wandering around to see who had already arrived.

In no particular order I spotted Rich and Tish Groller, the International Lord of Hate Larry and Brigid Correia, and their daughter (it was the first time I got to meet author Hinkley Correia in person, which was pretty cool), Terry Maggert, Charles Matheny and his wife and son (I called Charles “Mark” twice this weekend, which earned me many a-glare), “Hillbilly” William Joseph Roberts, Leon Jester, and Sean CW Korsgaard, my coworker at Baen. I know I saw other people but again, my brain…

My first panel of the weekend was actually me having a table in the Author’s Alley. A smart move, really, as I sold quite a few books and made new fans along the way since this was right when they were letting people start to officially check-in for Libertycon 34. While selling my books, I spotted “Flight Doc”, who has been one of my biggest supporters over the years. He picked up a signed copy of “THE EXECUTIONERS” and we talked a bit about my new job. While he was there, national bestselling author Jacob Holo and H.P. Holo both stopped by and picked up a copy of WRAITHKIN. That made me squee quietly, since I love Jacob’s books (H.P. is no slouch either — in fact, her Edie Skye persona just released a book this past weekend which shot up into the Top 10 on Amazon!) and, last I heard, he was already reading my book.

Box of books much lighter, I hurried off to my next panel, which was CKP — The Year Ahead. Chris Kennedy, head honcho and founder of CKP, showed what was coming and it was where Kevin Ikenberry and I were able to announce that our next two Four Horsemen novels (On A Cloudy Day and The Misfits) were going to be coauthored as Sunshine and Jessica Francis team up to take down <<REDACTED>>, wrapping up both character’s storylines in the process. It was a lot of fun to hear the audience cheer and we’re looking at getting those done soon, possibly before Dragoncon (more than likely before Factorycon, but one can hope).

Afterwards it was on to Opening Ceremonies. Watching Brandy Hendren (ConChair and awesome person) get serenaded with “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling” by Chris Kennedy and everyone else was something to behold (Brandy got married in 2020 but with nothing going on due to <<UNSPECIFIED VIRUS OF UNKNOWN ORIGINS>> and it was the first chance most of us had to celebrate it with her).

Right after this I was on to my next panel. This was a two hour one for the WE SHALL RISE anthology, number three anthology in the Black Tide Rising universe, which came out June 2021. We got to talk a little bit about how we went about the story process. I admitted to writing a story specifically for the cover of the anthology. It helped knowing what the publisher, Toni Weisskopf, wanted and — being the mercenary I am — wrote a story about schoolgirls with guns during the zombiepocalypse (they’re not real zombies, I know, but it’s easier to describe them that way). Of course it was selected as the cover art. I gamed the system. #NoShame

There may have also been a dancing stuffed penguin during the panel thanks to the music from the Indian wedding going on next door. Can neither confirm nor deny.

Also… to this day I don’t think John Ringo realizes I Tuckerized him in his own universe.

**side note — interestingly enough, it was a wild weekend for the convention center. Not only was Libertycon going on, but there was an Indian wedding sharing the venue with us for three days (which is where the dancing penguin comes into play), as well as a national bodybuilding conference going on (the contrast between the average congoer and a body builder is… stark), as well as an MMA fight going on Saturday night. It was a wild weekend.

I actually had a bit of a breather here so I grabbed some food and ran into more people. I know I saw a lot of people, including the awesome Mel Todd (publisher and author), Doug Burbey, Mark and Joy Wandrey, and a few others, but I needed food because of what my next panel was.

“But Jason… why do you need food for your next panel?” I heard you ask. Well, because the next panel was the “Jason Cordova and Chris Smith Friday Night Chaos Hour,” aka our reading. It has steadily grown over the years to be one of the more popular things to do on Friday night, and we usually encourage 18+ because it gets a little wild.

The last time we had the reading was back in 2019, and it was damn near a full house in the room. Chris (who denies to this day he was drunk that night) was trying to read a scene from his forthcoming collaboration with John Ringo and Kacey Ezell (GUNPOWDER AND EMBERS… seriously good book, you should check it out) and had the hiccups. The. Entire. Time. So listening to Chris drunkenly trying to riff a spiel which sounded like Lee Emery and not Elmer Fudd (and failing thanks to the hiccups) had everyone rolling in their seats (my side commentary didn’t help, I was told). Afterwards, Chris asked an audience member to slug him in the gut because he read somewhere that it helped get rid of hiccups.

Hint: it did not. But we were all satisfied with the results of watching a strong woman punch my friend in the stomach as hard as she could, and the subsequent painful groaning of a grown man who was foolish enough to ask anyone to punch him as hard as they could.

But that was in 2019. It was the first con in 3 years, and we had some catching up to do. Chris suggested (FOOL!!! HAHAHAHA) that was read our novella “The Fallow Fields” from WE DARE: SEMPER PARATUS, which I readily agreed to. I also asked him before the convention to bring his flask, not giving him a reason. I spaced it out because I knew Chris wouldn’t put two and two together until it was too late.

An hour before the panel began (and me with a full belly of food), I sprang my trap. I told Chris that since this is an audience participation panel (it wasn’t yet, but I was going to make it happen, come Hell or high water) I told him that while we read our story, anytime someone flubs a line, they had to take a drink. Chris looked me dead in the eye and said,

“We’re going to die.”

#ChallengeAccepted

You see, the reason Chris was so certain of our impending doom was because “The Fallow Fields” had a lot of Russian in it. And when I mean a lot, I mean A LOT. Unfortunately, Chris decided to be a little bitch was concerned for my health because instead of bringing his flask to the reading, he brought regular beer.

Ugh.

However, the crowd had a blast (as usual) and we completed the reading with only a minimal amount of complaining (and lots of drinks… did you know your English gets worse and your Russian gets better the drunker you get?). Afterwards, I wandered off to the bar to see who wasn’t busy and, after a bit, remembered I am no longer 30 and headed to bed.

Saturday morning had me down in the coffee shop getting my java in anticipation for an even busier day. But first, over to Joelle Presby’s room. Joelle, who grew up in west Africa, was hosting a discord/livestream thing where we could chat with some of the authors from Africa who couldn’t make it. I stopped in for a quick hello but Toni was there talking to them, so I didn’t stay long. I’m dumb, but I try not to be rude as well. I ran into more people whose names escape me at the moment before I headed off to my first panel of the day, “Standing Fast on Foreign Shores” roundtable. William Alan Webb (creator of the universe, and editor) pretty much ran the panel smoothly and I was able to sit at the end of the table and stay quiet until spoken to, like a good little idiot. 😀

A bit of time until my next panel, so I went and met up with Senior Editor Jim Minz in the hotel lobby. While there, I also ran into bestselling author Rick Partlow. One of the things about my new job is introducing authors to editors, and this was a golden opportunity to introduce the two. After that, it was time for me to go help set up the Baen Traveling Road Show. Thankfully, Lydia Sherrer and her husband David saved the day because I’d brought too many books along to haul down by myself. They had a hand truck and let me borrow it.

A little backstory might be in order here. Toni had told me a few weeks prior to bring some books for the road show. Me, being the over-efficient little busy beaver, brought way more than “some”. My car was loaded down with so many books and foam poster boards I almost didn’t have enough room for luggage. But… with a little experience playing Tetris as well as packing techniques I picked up over the years, I managed. However… I vowed not to bring any of them back. Thankfully, all of the books were given out to a packed house and the show went off without a hitch. We got to show off new covers as well as old, and everyone had a great time.

Right after I started setting up for the Baen Reception, a private event hosted by Toni every Libertycon. I hadn’t realized just how many people we publish (even though I’ve seen all these people many times before) until I tried cramming them all into a small room. Everyone had a good time and then it was back to the bar in the lobby for shenanigans and whatnot. Since I (wisely) decided it was going to be an early night for me, I crashed early because I had an autograph session early Sunday morning.

Sunday morning quite a few people were packing up to leave. I, on the other hand, was off to my autograph session, where I actually sold a few more books. I decided to go an get some t-shirts over at Mystik Waboose’s. Got some good ones and then I had some time to prep for my final panel of the weekend, the Four Horsemen panel — which I totally crashed because it wasn’t originally on my schedule by Rich Groller helped me out.

It was actually one of my favorite panels of the weekend. We got to remind Mark Wandrey that he created this monster universe and share our favorite aliens, books, characters, and even some of what is to come. I did announce Matt Novotny and I (Matt wasn’t at Libertycon due to work) will be continuing The Executioners miniseries set within the 4HU, which made the fans and publisher happy. After that it was dinner (well, a very late lunch) over at the Pickled Barrel before hanging out in the bar to watch Jacob and H.P. Holo play Digimon card game while sipping drinks. Peak nerd was achieved this weekend!

Monday morning was the usual cluster of trying to get a cart to haul down all our stuff. Despite getting rid of five boxes of books, we still had a ton of stuff. Unfortunately, everyone all at the same time needed a cart, so I was waiting over an hour before one came free. **sigh** So we were over two hours late getting on the road… which meant after dropping Jasmine off (we really need to figure out how to live in the mountains of Tennessee while I keep working for Baen), we had a 7.5 hour drive ahead of us… in rush hour traffic.

It was a long, long ride home. It felt like the weekend simply flew by and now we had to get back to reality. We finally made it home and just crashed. I barely budged until this morning when it was time to wake up.

Once again, Libertycon threw one hell of a party in spite of it being three years since the last one. Brandy and staff deserve a standing ovation for their hard work and effort involved in making this a smooth-running con. Anytime there seemed to be an issue it was dealt with promptly, and (for me) there weren’t that many issues to begin with. Next year at Libertycon 35? Well, how about this for a lineup:

Guests of Honor — LibertyCon 35

  • Literary GoH: Larry Correia
  • 35th Anniversary Literary GoH: Timothy Zahn
  • Artist GoH: Amanda Makepeace
  • STEM GoH: Dr. Travis Taylor
  • Master of Ceremonies: Terry Maggert
  • 35 Anniversary Special Guest: David Weber
  • Special Guest: Regina Kirby

Yeah, I’m as excited as you are. Can’t wait for next year because I’m already missing my con family something fierce.

5 thoughts on “Libertycon 34 AAR — The Pro Level Edition

  1. Glad it went well. It was almost the perfect weekend, if I’d known about how things were going to go several months in advance. Hopefully we’ll be there next year.

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