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.

The Nightmare Lullaby 1: Meet Pierpon

If everything goes as planned, Spring 2016 will see the release of The Nightmare Lullaby, the second of my “Magic Music” novels. As one can tell from the title, nightmares play a significant role, so it shouldn’t be too surprising that the first of the four main point-of-view characters the reader meets is Pierpon, an imp whose responsibility (until recently, that is) has been the crafting of nightmares. He’s proud of his job, believing that a good nightmare can rouse the conscience of an erring human. Unfortunately, after his dark visions failed to frighten the fearless young sorcerer-apprentice Valeraine, he was kicked out of the dream realm, given corporeal form, and bound to Valeraine until he can find a way to scare her. It’s in this state that we meet him.

The drawing of Pierpon is done from a description I based on an earlier draft, in which he was more surly and out-of-temper than he ended up being in the final version. Still, the black curls, the big dark eyes, and the porcupine mustache are on-the-nose accurate. Many thanks to Kaysha Siemens.

The following excerpt from Chapter 1 shows the result of Pierpon’s ill-advised attempt to run away:

“Pain seared through Pierpon, turning his breath into daggers of ice in his chest. His eyelids froze shut. In his mind’s eye he saw the winter-devil of so many nightmares, its gaping mouth sending forth a cloud of bitter breath to sting him. Then a balm swept over him. A hand, he realized after a moment, warm as a hearth-fire, lifted him free of the smothering cold.

Nearby a drunkard swung from a bell-pull, creating a head-pounding clamor.

Water dripped from Pierpon’s eyes. Through the blur he could discern the outlines of a massive woman in a long black cloak. As his vision cleared he found green eyes staring down with cat-like curiosity. A tremble started in his toes. In his exile he’d grown used to the idea that only magicians, with their supernatural sight, could see him. This creature was either a sorcerer or something other than human. Perhaps both.

Clad in the simple style of a traveler, she wore black boots and trousers and a high-collared indigo tunic under the cloak. But it took him two good blinks and a rub at his eyes to make out anything like a face, near-invisible as it seemed against the snow. Her skin and her long, tangled hair were white – not pale, but the absolute white of an ivory statue given life by a demigod.

She had a clear brow, a sharp, slender nose, upswept cheek-bones, a delicate mouth, pointed chin, and slightly pointed ears, a little like his own. Her elfin face seemed out of tune with her gigantic stature. From his vantage point of four inches, ordinary humans looked enormous, but he took the measure of the folded legs, along with the length from her waist to her head. She was an authentic giant, at least eight feet tall. Such towering brutes lumbered through slumberers’ nightmares, swinging their clubs and threatening to roast any flesh-bearing thing within reach. He rolled in her palm, glancing about for an escape path.

She did not look hungry. A muted glow in her eyes suggested distraction. Her head tilted toward that ringing row nearby.

She set him down upon her leg and scooped up a handful of snow. As she breathed upon it it dissolved into water. With her free hand she helped him to sit and brought the water to him. He sniffed at it. ‘It’ll warm my insides, it will,’ he remarked with a pat of his ribs. Pierpon for Kelley AWA 09_small‘Much gratitude, ma’am.’ He lapped up the water from her palm, and by the time he’d drunk it dry, the last remnants of the killing cold had left him.

With a self-conscious twinge he attempted to smooth the wrinkles from his damp gray smock and breeches. He bowed from his waist. ‘Master Pierpon of Jicket-Castle, at your service, madam.’

The giant put a finger to her smiling lips and shook her head. He read her gesture easily enough. Pray keep quiet for now. He followed her gaze to a ledge a little above them, where sat a wagon with a shining silver roof. The wagon’s sides quivered whenever the racket swelled. Something inside it was making this noise.

The faces of a listening crowd in the valley beneath echoed the giant’s rapturous look, though perhaps less intense. Among them he spied a familiar lace-trimmed straw bonnet and under it honey-gold ringlets, a dimpled face, and a bell-skirted gown of bright coral taffeta standing out amidst the dark woolen coats and scarves and caps like a pink rosebud sprouting from a patch of brown leaves. Like the others, Valeraine stood stock still, attention riveted to the racket-making wagon. What did she and the rest hear in it that he could not? At least, distracted by the clamor, she did not miss him, and would never dream he’d managed to slip out of her basket hours ago.

The row faded to silence. Pierpon’s rescuer gazed at him with friendly eyes. A soft voice sounded in his ear. ‘Pier-pon.’