Dodge City (and don’t you forget it!)

This morning I awoke feeling surprisingly fresh, considering “3 a.m.” and “Scotch Whiskey” were the two most notable factors when I went to bed last night. This morning was the last event in the Campbell conference — a get-together between the writers who won awards and (primarily) the writers from the workshops. It was very interesting hearing what the awardees had to say about how they got noticed, how they approached their work, and a variety of other topics. One thing I learned: It is very difficult to get a story into F&SF.

Interestingly, I have had a story in F&SF. Furthermore, it was revealed that Gordon van Gelder, the editor, almost never says that if a story is fixed he might reconsider publishing it. I made a note to self: Make the changes he suggested and resubmit “The Importance of Being Paranoid.” So, that made me feel good, to have cracked a market that other, better-known writers had yet to break into. I managed to keep my yap shut during the discussion; it would have come off as boasting to mention my success.

Another thing I learned: Even successful writers rarely make enough money to support themselves. I’m going to have to get more serious about turing Jer’s Software Hut into a business, I’m afraid. So it goes.

There were a few other tidbits, some good humor, and an overall friendly atmosphere. There were references to many names I didn’t recognize. Then it was over, and lunch ensued. Remember how I modestly did not bring up my good fortune with F&SF during the meeting? As we gathered for one last lunch together, I managed to drop my previous success into every conversation, even as a little voice in my head gently suggested that I shut the hell up. So much for modesty. And now I’ve told you. I’d probably tell the waiter at the family restaurant I’m in right now, but he’d only pretend to care.

Finally it was time for me to beat feet. I lingered long enough to not be actually rude about taking off without appropriate goodbye-gestures, then I slathered on the sunscreen, turned up the tunes, and pointed the car west and south, back the way I had come.

After artfully dodging the toll road between Lawrence and Topeka, I found myself on a stretch of I-70, notable for having quite a lot less truck traffic than my old friend Interstate 40. I let the radio spin in search of electric guitars, and a song came on that took me back, the way a special song will, to another time. I relived the time I first heard the song while carving the sun-dappled curves of a tiny road in the Santa Cruz mountains. Those were the days.

I prefer small roads, and I regretted missing the chance to get the hell out of Dodge on the way out to the workshops. Who knows how long until such an opportunity arises again? I left the freeway behind. Dodgeward ho!

The drive was unremarkable, the rolling topography of eastern Kansas gradually losing amplitude. Just outside of Dodge City there was a point just high enough to allow for an overlook at the side of the road, providing a sweeping vista of a vast feed lot filled with filthy cows. You really know which way the wind is blowing around here.

Now I am in Dodge, cheap lodging secured for the night (free WiFi but the people in charge don’t know the password — they’re working on it). Dodge city is proudly living in the past; everywhere you look are reminders of the wild and wooly cowboy days. The brick streets of the old downtown are nice, but the place is pretty quiet on a Sunday evening. Much of the town is quite shameless in its catering to tourists.

After a fruitless search for a local place to get a burger and a beer (there was one tourist-trap looking place with a packed parking lot that I chose to drive past), I am in the climate over-controlled splendor of Applebee’s (rhymes with saltees). Maybe it’s regional, but every meal I’ve had in this corner of Kansas (both of them) have been so loaded with salt that the meal was almost ruined. Hey! Kansas! If I want to bury the meal in salt, I’ll add it myself! There’s a shaker right on the table! Although maybe all Applebee’s are this way. Bleah.

It’s not really fair to say after such a short exposure, but overall I’d say Dodge city is well worth getting the hell out of. Tomorrow will be a success after only a few miles.

6 thoughts on “Dodge City (and don’t you forget it!)

  1. We do have salt mines here in Kansas. In fact, I think they were a major aspect of western Kansas’s economy. So maybe that explains the salt thing.

  2. Not a fan of Applebees from just one visit. Any plate set down in front of folks could easily have fed a family of six no problem and they looked at me funny when the first words out of my mouth after thank you were, “Can I please have a to-go box?” I guess I was supposed to lick my plate clean. Oh well.

  3. One detail I forgot to put in the description of yesterday’s adventure:

    My hair is longer than it has ever been before; now it is practical for me to tie it back in a ponytail to keep it out of my eyes while driving (although some locks anchored at the front of my head are still just a wee bit too short). Anyway, after I packed up all the stuff in my room, I ponied up and in that moment I transformed from Jer the science fiction workshopper to Jer the nomad. Uncanny.

  4. Asaide from the Dan Browns and the John Grishams, it probably is hard to make a living. Even a hit non-fiction book probably pays…oh…I dunno, 200K, which sounds nice but when you spread it out over the 3 or 4 years you research your next investigative journalism piece it ain’t much.

    But what is the price of doing what you love? Many can make a mortgage payment but ain’t happy.

    stay free stay happy.

  5. Stephen King *I think or could even be Neil Gaiman* mentions in one of his afterwords that a fellow writer was in dire condition after long hospital stay and that forever stayed in my head. Don’t quit the day job just for the insurance alone.

  6. Be glad you got a motel and a meal. The only time I spent the night in Dodge was due to car trouble, and it was late enough that all of the motor lodge proprietors had gone to bed. We ended up at the downtown flophouse.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *