Five Things I Love about… Chattanooga, TN

At the end of this week, my husband and I will journey to LibertyCon in Chattanooga, TN, where I’ll be signing copies of my novels, speaking on panels, and giving my first public reading of Nightmare Lullaby. (I can’t wait!) Over the past several years, Chattanooga has become our favorite day-trip destination. Here are some reasons I’ve given my heart to that sweet city.

LibertyCon.

I’ve already proclaimed my love for DragonCon, that sprawling four-day Mardi Gras for the geek-inclined that invades Atlanta every Labor Day, but that festival has its flaws. LibertyCon is much smaller, and while it may lack the rich diversity of DragonCon’s track and panel offerings, it also lacks the massive crowds and the claustrophobia they create. I don’t have to stand in a line extending around a city block to see a panel. If two panels that interest me take place back to back, I don’t have to choose between them; I have ample time to get from one to the other. The Dealer’s Room may be only a fraction of the size of DragonCon’s labyrinthine marketplace, but I can maneuver through it with ease, and spend a decent stretch of time browsing Larry Smith Bookseller, where just about every science fiction and fantasy novel on the current market can be found. My favorite purveyor of costume apparel, Holy Clothing, also has a rack in the LibertyCon Dealer’s Room.

Another favorite aspect of LibertyCon is the generous appreciation the staff and the guests show the Atlanta Radio Theatre Company. We’re a favorite attraction of theirs and they let us know it, in attendance and applause. Further evidence of this Con’s generosity is Author’s Alley. While other Cons charge heavy fees for a dealer’s table, Author’s Alley gives writers an opportunity to rent time and space at a table to sell and exhibit their wares. For small-press writers like me, this is invaluable.

I love both the vast DragonCon and the cozier LibertyCon, each for what it is. I’m grateful for the opportunity to attend both.

McKay.

Since 2012, my husband and I have followed a tradition for the day after Thanksgiving known as Black Friday: instead of battling our way through hordes of shoppers at one or more of Atlanta’s various malls, we spend the balance of the day in Chattanooga at our very favorite used media store. We’ve visited the McKay locations both here and in Nashville, and Chattanooga’s store is bigger, with a much more extensive selection. They also have an incredibly generous trade policy. While many used media stores will exchange only DVDs for DVDs, CDs for CDs, and books from a particular genre for others of the same genre, McKay gives us a set amount of credit for all the things we trade in, and we can use that credit to buy whatever the heck we want. We average three trips to McKay every year (Black Friday, LibertyCon weekend, and around my birthday), and I’ve been known to come away with between sixteen and twenty books without having spent one penny.

No bibliophile could fail to jump at the chance of free books, as long as she could find a fair amount of old material to trade in. I relish the chance to try out titles that intrigue me, knowing that if I find them disappointing, I won’t think, “Well, that’s $8.99 I’ll never get back.”

The Hot Chocolatier.

This little place stands right across the street from the Chattanooga Choo-Choo Hotel, where LibertyCon is held. Their menu boasts as many different varieties of hot chocolate as the imagination can conjure, and I’ve only just started working my way through them, having tried cinnamon, pistachio, and Mexican (spiced with pepper). If this weren’t enough, delectable desserts sit on display behind glass to make the mouth water and the heart yearn. Since I have a sweet tooth the size of a continent, I can’t resist the place. As much as I love the various chocolate dessert creations, I have to recommend the whiskey-butterscotch bread pudding with fresh whipped cream. A bread pudding that isn’t ruined by raisins! Be still my heart.

Urban Stack.

I am not a fan of hamburgers. I’m no vegetarian, either, but I don’t like my meat ground up into fatty bits. So why should I name a burger joint among my five beloved aspects of Chattanooga? Because fresh grilled chicken can be subbed for any burger, opening up an array of tasty possibilities for my chicken sandwich. My favorite is black-and-bleu style, spicy blackened chicken covered in a bleu cheese spread. Is it Friday yet?

(Urban Stack may be my favorite Chattanooga eatery, but I should send a shout-out to Sugar’s Ribs, my husband’s favorite, offering flavorful fall-off-the-bone ribs with a variety of sauces. Yeah, we eat well whenever we visit “The Noog.”)

Attractions.

When we’re in Chattanooga, we’re tourists, so why shouldn’t we do tourist-type things? We’ve seen both Ruby Falls and Rock City; the falls may be beautiful, but my heart really wants a return visit to the surprisingly charming Rock City. This year we hope to work in a visit to the Tennessee Aquarium. I’ve been before, and it’s amazing, but for me the real treat will be seeing my husband’s eyes grow wide with wonder.

Five Things I Love about… Brooklyn Nine-Nine

It’s the new fall television season, so it’s time for me to pay tribute to some of my favorite shows. I’ll start with the one that took me the most by surprise last year, Sunday night’s “cop comedy” Brooklyn Nine-Nine. Five things I love about this funny, good-natured show:

The characters are engaging.

This show took me by surprise because I don’t normally care for sitcoms. Too many of them, I’ve always thought, rely on one-note characterization and snarky put-downs, allowing little room for character or relationship development. I can recall an Entertainment Weekly article pointing out that sitcoms exemplify the charm of stasis; since the characters don’t change in any meaningful sense, the audience can rely on them to be funny in the same ways, week after week. Good for you, EW; you put into words why I prefer to avoid sitcoms.

Brooklyn Nine-Nine‘s first couple of episodes might not show much departure from that norm. The show needs to establish its characters’ principal traits. Jake is the wisecracking clown who rarely takes anything seriously. Boyle is the foodie nerd with the huge man-crush on Jake. Rosa is the humorless tough gal. Amy is the ambitious overachiever whom nobody in the office likes very much. Holt is the dour, deadpan authority figure who happens to be gay. The one most fleshed out from the get-go is Terry, the iron-strong sergeant and devoted family man. But in the course of the first season, the show carefully broadens these characters beyond these primary identifying traits. Jake is very good at his job and cares about his colleagues. Boyle is smart and observant. Rosa does have a sense of humor; it just manifests itself in unusual ways. Amy earnestly wants to do the right thing and can be a loyal, giving friend. And Holt… more on him in a minute.

Andre Braugher shows he has major comic chops.

Before Airplane!, Leslie Nielsen had never made a comedy. That one film showed he could be brilliant in the genre, and it changed the direction of his career. Likewise, Andre Braugher, who plays Captain Holt, has always been known for serious roles, and acclaimed in those roles even when the movie or show around him isn’t up to his level. To my knowledge he has never given a bad performance, but apparently up until Brooklyn Nine-Nine, it hadn’t occurred to anyone just how he might excel in a comedy. It turns out that Braugher succeeds in being very, very funny by playing Captain Holt absolutely straight. He rarely cracks a smile. He speaks in a deep, serious monotone. He never intends to be funny, or even amusing — an effective contrast to Andy Samberg’s Jake, who is quite self-consciously funny. Holt is hilarious because he has no idea he’s hilarious. One of my favorite moments from last season: Holt in tears as he sits in a theater watching his favorite movie, Moneyball. “Statistical analysis… it’s so beautiful!”

The cast is wonderfully diverse.

Jake and Boyle are white guys. Holt and Terry are African-American. Rosa and Amy are Latina. Holt is in a happily stable marriage with his husband, Kevin (played by Marc Evan Jackson, whom I also know as “Sparks Nevada, Marshal on Mars,” from the Thrilling Adventure Hour podcast). I’m hard pressed to think of a more diverse cast on a current TV show. Yet the show never sets aside its comic storytelling to hand down any heavy-handed sermons about diversity. It simply sets its characters in motion and lets them be who they are — which, in the end, may be the best message about diversity we could hope for.

Two of the main male characters are happily married.

One of the most disheartening features of current and recent comedy, on the big and small screen, is the prominence of the “boy-man,” the male character(s) locked in a state of permanent adolescence, unwilling to commit to a job or a romantic relationship or anything that smacks of responsibility. The Brooklyn Nine-Nine character who most nearly fits the “boy-man” type is Jake, the young dude who likes to flirt and can’t stop with the one-liners — though even he departs from the type, through his dedication to his job, and he may be settling down on the romantic front as well. Two of the show’s most significant male characters, Holt and Terry, go further than that. Mature, sensible men who are committed to both career and spouses (and, in Terry’s case, children as well), they offer sorely needed proof that male characters can be honest-to-goodness adults and still be very funny.  And, for bonus points, Terry’s children are named Cagney and Lacey.

It’s funny and good-natured.

The show isn’t perfect. Some of the elements I see as flaws have been praised by others, most notably Kyra Sedgwick’s Madeline Wuntch, whom many of the show’s fans see as a worthy nemesis for Holt but who comes across to me as an unpleasantly stereotyped caricature of the Evil Boss Lady. (Honestly, how many of those do we need?) Yet when we leave Wuntch out of the equation, we see a cast of characters who actually like one another, help one another, and support one another. Even Gina, Holt’s narcissistic assistant who seems to be around to fill that apparently necessary “snarky put-down” quotient, can on occasion be generous and helpful, usually when interacting with Jake or Holt. It’s clear the show’s creators like these characters, and so, even when they’re at their most mistake-prone, we like them too. It’s good to see a show that does not rely on mean-spirited hostility for its humor.