It was too late in the evening to lose sleep over luggage. I set my alarm to go off an hour earlier so I'd have more time to figure things out in the morning.
I took a quick stock of what I needed: comfy clothes, business clothes for the convention, my promotional material, and travel toiletries. I slung the comfy clothes on and zipped the business clothes up in a garment bag. Everything else was stuffed into a tiny knapsack. After a banana and a cup of coffee for breakfast, I was road-ready in fifteen minutes. Within another twenty I was at my friend Chris's house. He and I hit the expressway by 4:30 a.m.
It was full daylight by the time we pulled up to the Lake Mary Marriott. We'd arrived just in time, too - we had scarcely an hour to get checked-in and set up for my author event at 11:00 a.m. We changed into our business clothes and signed up, then started unpacking the promo gear out of the truck of my car.
In the short span of about two hours, I think I beat my previous record for most introductions made in a single day. The amount of hand-shaking performed can only be described as "carpal-tunnel-inducing". All kidding aside, it was a wonderful opportunity to meet and learn from talented authors and other individuals passionate about the craft of writing.
Chris and I regrouped for lunch, then explored the hotel and soaked in the pool a bit. It had been a long day, and the high point of the trip - the awards banquet - was yet to come.
The awards ceremony commenced once dinner was through. An expectant hush fell upon everyone in attendance as the mistress of ceremonies took the podium. One by one, the winners in each category were called. Each winner's photo lit up on the hall's projector screens as he or she took the stage to accept the award.
Chris nudged my elbow when the humor category was called. My heart leapt into my throat when second place was announced - there was no third place this year, so it was an all-or-nothing shot. I sighed when my name wasn't called for second place. While I didn't come out to the conference just for an award, the thought had crossed my mind that it would be nice to take one home.
I thumbed through the program as first place was announced. It took all of the first sentence for me to register that the announcer was reading the synopsis of my book. My jaw dropped. I elbowed Chris a little harder than I should have (I was excited, can you blame me?) and pointed to the projector screen by the stage. It was my face on the screen.
You can't imagine my surprise. Heck, I can't, and it happened to me. My novel won first place.
By 10:30 we were packed up and on the road. We stopped at Giordano's Pizzeria for a famous Chicago-style stuffed pizza.
Note: the pizza in the photo is not to scale; the real thing is actually much bigger. In fact, the pizza our waiter deposited on our table was about three inches deep. Were it any deeper, local building authorities might mistake it for a small swimming pool and require the erection of a fence around its perimeter to prevent animals and small children from drowning.
Seriously, though, this thing is delicious.
6203 West Sand Lake Road, Orlando, FL 32819
After lunch we figured we'd kill some time. We had a long drive ahead of us, and so we stretched our legs a bit before heading out again. That's when we came across this particular establishment, The Zombie Survival Store, in the same shopping center as Giordano's restaurant.
At first blush, the store looks like any army-navy surplus outlet, except that its theme is preparation for the coming zombie apocalypse. It's fully stocked with just about everything an outdoorsman - or zombie hunter - might need... except zombies. Those you have to find yourself.
6203 West Sand Lake Road #D, Orlando, FL 32819
Unpacking could wait until Monday.