World Horror 2013 in New Orleans was no different… this was my 11th World Horror Con, and a special one for me, since my novel NightWhere was a Bram Stoker Awards finalist for best novel (the awards were held Saturday night).
I flew in Thursday morning and after checking in and getting the “lay of the land” in the Hotel Monteleone (a beautiful, classic hotel), I stopped in briefly at the hotel’s famous Carousel Bar – a round bar that slowly moves around its center. I’m not sure who thought this was a genius idea… I’d think the last thing that you’d want to encourage drinkers to feel is that the room is slowly spinning. I only had half a NOLA Blonde Ale there and I had to get off the merry-go-round and sit somewhere else.
After that, I took a walk through the quarter to Turtle Bay on Decatur, so that I could find a NOLA Brown Ale on tap – my favorite micro-brew in New Orleans. It’s a darker ale, like Abita Brewing’s Turbodog, but has a fuller, maltier aftertaste. Abita Brewing is on tap everywhere, but the smaller NOLA brewery, for my money, is crafting better beer.
After talking with my bartendress for an hour or two about her experiences in growing up in New Orleans (I never did get around to asking her what the skillsaw tattoo on her shoulder was all about!), I hit the restroom, focused, aimed and flushed, and headed back towards the Monteleone – now fully ready to join the convention.
This turned out to be the only day I was actually walking more than a couple blocks from the hotel in the quarter, so I’m glad I caught the performance of the Cajun band (complete with standup bass, fiddle and washboard!) on the streetcorner.
I sat in on John Little’s entertaining reading, and then got up to the mic myself, reading the prologue of NightWhere and then the title story to my second collection, “Vigilantes of Love,” which is set in New Orleans (I wrote it 10 years ago, inspired by my first trip to NOLA in the late ’90s).
After that reading, someone came up to me with a copy of In Laymon’s Terms with a request to sign it… I declined, since I’m not in the book… turns out he had me confused with John Urbancic. Once she caught wind of that story, Kelly Laymon began plotting to find other people to send to me to sign the volume. She ended up calling me Urbancic all weekend.
That night, Loren Rhoads invited me to join a group that went to Café Du Monde, and so I met Dana Fredsti and her husband David Fitzgerald, Craig Delouie, Erika Holt and Tammy Lindsley, who’s heading up next year’s World Horror Convention in Portland. We had coffee and beignets at midnight there, where Dana unwittingly demonstrated how NOT to eat beignets (she was covered in powdered sugar by the end!), but then after a nightcap (and a book trade with Dana – NightWhere for her Plague Town) we called it an early night.
The next morning I went to the “Anthologies – How To Get Your Story Into Them” panel with Angel Leigh McCoy, Vince Liaguno, R. J. Cavender, Bev Vincent, Ellen Datlow and Tom Monteleone before heading to the “New Media Presentation” by Guest of Honor Amber Benson (in which she showed her web series for BBC on Ghosts of Albion, written with Christopher Golden).
From there, I wandered into the “Zombie Apocalypse – Now What?” panel with Joe McKinney, Don D’Auria, F. Paul Wilson, Rio Youers, James Chambers and John Joseph Adams.
After an excellent lunch with my editor Don D’Auria at Redfish Grill, Chad Hensley grabbed me and Mikey Huyck for a beer (at the non-revolving bar), which turned into a chat session that lasted the rest of the afternoon, and was eventually joined by John Urbancik, Sephera Giron, Hal Bodner and Hank Schwaeble.
Finally, Hal, Hank and I decided we could stall no longer and headed to our 5 ‘oclock panel on “Extreme Fiction,” which also included Don D’Auria, Bracken MacLeod and C. W. LaSart. We seemed to be hung up on defining “torture porn” for awhile, but it was an entertaining panel, I think.
Then it was on to the “Mass Signing” where they sit all the authors of the con at tables and let everyone sign books that others bring, or sell their own books if they want. I shared at table with Damien Walters Grintalis, and we also had fellow Samhain authors David Bernstein, Brian Pinkerton and Russell James on either side – it was like the Samhain aisle!. I signed several copies of V-Wars, as well as some old Leisure paperbacks and a couple copies of NightWhere. Thanks to Sandy Shelonchik (and Deb Kuhn for the last one) for snapping these photos:
In turn, I had Yvonne Navarro and Jonathan Maberry sign MY copy of V-Wars, and brought Lucy Taylor a couple books to sign, including the Silver Salamander edition of her excellent Close to the Bone collection from the ‘90s.
After the signing, there was a “costume” dance party with a live band of authors, sponsored by Heather Graham (who also fronted the microphone). That led into an 11 p.m. party in the con suite with the lights low and lots of glowsticks available… which made their way to some interesting places in the following couple hours.
They also had a photo booth that spit out sheets of instant pictures, which was a big hit… especially with those who had been enjoying the open bar for awhile.
At some point late in the evening David Bernstein and I began talking shop and went out on the balcony overlooking the Quarter… and somehow 2:30 arrived and we were the last people in the room! So we finally called it a night.
Thanks to being awake ’til 3, I didn’t make any of the panels on Saturday morning, but I did go on a coffee run with Damien (who treated me to caffeine!), and then went to Alan Clark’s “Accidental Art” demonstration, where they used paint, balloons, a bit of water and a hair dryer to create some really beautiful acrylic paintings.
After that, I went to the Dealer’s Room and talked a bit with Shane McKenzie, Chris Morey, Armand Rosamilia, Mandy Slater and Steve Laurent. Then Loren Rhoads and I grabbed lunch at NOLA, a great Emeril restaurant near Jackson Square. I had some decadently rich shrimp and grits (with mushrooms!) and Loren had the biggest Po’ Boy I’ve ever seen.
To kill time before the Stokers, we checked out the rooftop pool (wish I would have brought a suit!) and met a fellow writer and fan who said she was rooting for NightWhere that night, since she’d really loved the book (always a nice thing to hear!)
I talked a bit with Tim Waggoner at the bar and Chad Hensley shot my picture in front of the big lobby grandfather clock (I need one of these for my house!) and then hung out in the art room for an hour with Alan Clark and Chad Savage… then … suddenly, it was time to get ready for the big night!
At the Stokers, the Samhain reserved tables were right up in front, so I literally was right in front of the podium – best seat in the house! Don D’Auria and his wife Leah Hultenshmidt flanked me on one side and Sandy Shelonchik and David Bernstein were on the other, giving me moral support for the night. And across the table, was fellow Chicagoan Brian Pinkerton and his wife. We also had Adam Cesare and Mason Bundschuh, so it was a pretty supportive table! Plus, my wife and son were watching the ceremony on the webcast, since they couldn’t be there, so thanks to that and frequent texts, it was like they were with me! But unlike past Stoker banquets, I wasn’t really nervous this time around. I think just feeling all of the love and support from so many at the convention over the weekend about the book put my nerves at ease – I didn’t need to win, I already had the affirmation of my peers about the book.
There were some great moments over the course of the night; Jeff Strand was his typical hilarious emcee self, and Ramsey Campbell set up the Best Novel award with an amusing story about looking back on what a “book” is from the future. (yes, he joked, they used to actually be these things on paper that you opened and touched!)
I was proud to be at the ceremony where Clive Barker received his Lifetime Achievement Award, since his work has been such an inspiration and influence to me over the years (and he was there in 2005 and took a picture with me when I won my Stoker Award). I served on the Lifetime Achievement jury this year, so it was great to see that part of the ceremony in person! Unfortunately Clive couldn’t be there this year, but his assistant gave a speech on his behalf. Robert McCammon was also a recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award, and he was there to accept, which was awesome.
As a Chicagoan, I was very proud and happy for Mort Castle, who has been an inspiration and strong supporter of my work – Mort took home two awards, one for his short fiction collection New Moon on the Water and one for Shadow Show, the Bradbury tribute anthology he co-edited with Sam Weller. Later that night, the three of us grabbed Chad Savage and Brian Pinkterton and took a “Chicago boyz” photo at the Stoker After-Party.
While the innovative V-Wars anthology he pulled several of us into unfortunately didn’t make the Stoker ballot, I was happy to see Jonathan Maberry win a haunted house for his Young Adult novel Flesh and Bone.
And then… it was the end game… I thought about what I would say if NightWhere won the best novel award – thanking my wife, Geri, and Don, the editor of all my novels. Thanking people like Charlee Jacob, Lucy Taylor, Tim Waggoner and Mort Castle for their inspiration and support.
The envelope opened…
And NightWhere was not the winner. No need to be all nervous about a speech!
A letdown… but I was OK with it all. When I wrote the novel, I never even considered that NightWhere would end up as a Best Novel finalist — none of my other novels have been in that category, and this one was the most “out there.”
After Caitlin Kiernan took home the Stoker for Best Novel, the formal ceremonies ended, and I dumped the suit and tie for jeans and went to drink a few at the Stoker After Party sponsored by Samhain. They had a giant poster of NightWhere there, which ironically right after its loss, was the first time the poster had “come out of the closet” all weekend (it had gotten locked up with some other packing materials and never got set out during the rest of the panels and sessions over the weekend!)
Brian Pinkerton shot a picture of me in front of it, and returned the favor with his giant Killer’s Diary poster.
I also shot a video of the impromptu jam session that Mort Castle and Mason Bundschuh staged in the corner near the bar.
Harmonica and ukelele blues?
It all wound down, ironically, to the same group that I started the con with, three nights before. Dana, David and Tammy took Brian Pinkterton and me back to a room party for a glass of wine with Seph, Chris Morey, Matt Schwartz and a couple others, and then it was a flurry of goodnights and goodbyes… five hours later, I was on a shuttle on the way to the airport (having had almost no sleep, thanks to the street revelers outside my window!)
As always, it all felt much too short, but it was great to catch up, albeit briefly, with old friends, as well as meet some new ones. And now the clock begins counting down to World Horror 2014… next May in Portland.
Over the past couple weeks, I’ve been to Ann Arbor, Michigan and Calgary, Canada on business trips. Both turned out to be great micro-brew towns, with a handful of small breweries all within a few blocks of each other. So over the course of a few days I poked my head in, snapped a couple pictures and sampled a variety of ales. Click on any of the pictures to see larger versions…
For such a small town, they had an awful lot of busy brewpubs downtown! Interestingly, I had two different locals tell me that the best brewpub in town was Grizzly Peak, so we hit there for dinner the first night. While the menu looked great, the food we had was lackluster (my potatoes came out nearly cold) and the beer we sampled was thin and flavorless. I thought the Bear Paw Porter was OK, but nothing to return for.
The next night we stopped for a beer at Jolly Pumpkin after a great Mexican dinner across the street. I wish we could have spent more time there! The atmosphere at the Pumpkin was better than Grizzly Peak’s, it looked like a good menu and a much better mix of taps. As it stood, I only tasted the Siren, a decent amber ale.
The next night for dinner, we went to Arbor Brewing Company, which had good burgers and an excellent Olde Number 33 German Alt. Both Arbor and Jolly Pumpkin feature some pretty arty labels for their bottled beers – I looked at some of the posters of the bottle art on the walls and wanted to hang them in my basement!
Finally, on the last night, as we were heading out of town, we decided to stop at Blue Tractor BBQ and Brewery. And we hit the mother lode. The barbecue was excellent (great cole slaw, tender brisket, a couple of good tableside sauce options) and the beer was quite good as well – I enjoyed their Sudworth Bock, which apparently has won a couple of World Beer Championship gold medals. That will definitely be my first stop the next time I’m in Ann Arbor!
Another smaller city, I found Calgary to be a pretty big beer town in the couple nights I was there. On the first night, I just walked across the street from my hotel to The Palomino to have some barbecue (pretty decent) and found several area microbrews on tap.
The next night, I had a couple hours free to walk around, so I mapped out a couple places to check out.
First I stopped at Craft Beer Market, a hip brewpub with over 100 Beers on Tap. I had a bowl of their Cheese/Jalapeno soup, which was phenomenal, paired with an equally pleasing Howe Sound Rail Ale Nut Brown brewed in Squamish, BC. I could have kept drinking that, but with 100 taps to choose from… I figured I should taste something else. So I had a couple samples of things that didn’t bowl me over, and then settled on a pint of Central City Red Racer IPA from Surrey, BC which was a nice little IPA – surprisingly drinkable for 80 IBUs.
I pulled the plug then on Craft Beer Market, to check out another place for dinner, but pledged to come back the next night.
I decided on dinner at the Design District Urban Tavern, a really fun gastropub that changes their menu daily.
They have chalkboards on the walls as well as on wheels throughout, so that you really had to look the place over to figure out what you wanted!
They also turned out to have the best Poutine (with roasted jalapenos!) I’ve ever had. I’ve been to Canada quite a few times, but it was only in the past year or two that I finally realized the allure of their Poutine (french fries with cheese curds doused in brown gravy).
The District Burger wasn’t bad either. 🙂
On my last night in town, I decided to have dinner at Craft Beer Market… but when I got there, I found that every seat in the place was taken! It was mobbed (I can understand why… but I was pretty disappointed!).
Instead, I walked a couple blocks to Hudson’s Canadian Tap House. The place had a perfect brewpub atmosphere – great bar, some nice booths… but after a couple of appetizers and their Bale House Ale, I’m afraid I wasn’t terribly excited by any of it.
I wrote there for awhile, but then cashed it in because I didn’t want anymore “just ok” beer when there were plenty of options in town. I stopped back at Craft Beer Market, but the mob there was even worse than before — in fact, they pull all the chairs from the bar on Fridays because it’s so crowded!
So then I walked down to Brewsters, a nice brewpub with their own microbrews. They are also physically connected to Beer Revolution, so if you don’t like the house taps at Brewsters, you can walk down the hall and be in another restaurant/bar with essentially the same menu, but a host of microbrew taps. Their taps change so regularly, that the place is outfitted in lighted menus showing what’s on tap that day and how long it’s expected to remain available. Pretty cool system for the hop head!
I wish I’d had more time to explore Calgary – it seemed like a really friendly, homey city – with a rich network of gastropubs and brewhouses!
I travel a lot both for my dayjob and book promotion… and I love tasting good craft beer. So that means I end up trying a lot of different brews in a lot of different places. I’ve been posting snippets and pictures periodically over the past few years, especially on Facebook, about my various discoveries. But I was thinking after my last flurry of travel that I should start a separate topic on this blog to collect and document some of my adventures in beer snobbery! For my first official entry (I should probably eventually go back and tag some previous blogs to be part of this category as well), I’ll focus on Seattle.
Every time I’m in Seattle, I have a great experience. Last month, while visiting there on business, I enjoyed a home cooked steak dinner that rivaled anything I’ve ever had in a restaurant. And we ate with a great hilltop view over Puget Sound. Amazing.
The first time I visited the town was probably a decade ago now, and I enjoyed seeing Tanya Donelly play the Showbox Theatre and visiting the famous Crocodile club. I also discovered The Pike Brewery, which I returned to the second time I spent a few days in Seattle on business, in October 2009. On that trip, I got the chance to see Stars’ Amy Milan performing solo at The Triple Door, one of the slickest dinner clubs I’ve ever been in, as well as The Sounds play at the Showbox.
So I was looking forward to perhaps catching some more good music and visiting The Pike again last month when I returned to Seattle for a few days. The music turned out to be missing, but I did discover a couple of new breweries.
On my first night in town, I was in the neighborhood of Elysian Brewery’s Tangletown Bistro, and so I walked a mile and enjoyed a Southwestern dinner there with a pint of their Superfuzz Blood Orange Pale which had a nice zing to it.
I’d been hoping to try their brown ale, which was listed on their website, but didn’t end up being “on” at the tap.
This trip, it turned out that I couldn’t spend a lot of time at The Pike – I stopped in briefly for a pretzel and a pint, but there was nothing particularly grabbing on tap.
I didn’t stick around The Pike because I wanted to head down the road to sample things at Pyramid Brewery. Some of their beer is distributed to Chicagoland, so I thought I’d see what their taphouse was like.
A big wide room, since they’re located near the ballpark and obviously get some big crowd traffic. But they had a decent pub menu and a good lineup of homebrewed taps, including some that aren’t bottled. Much to my chagrin, the one I liked the best – Weiss Cream Ale – is only served there.
Here are a couple other shots of Pyramid:
And a few shots from The Pike and Pike’s Market, the hub of Seattle’s downtown, and home of the world famous Pike’s Fish Market:
I’ve never been to South America before, and really didn’t know what to expect. People (and the Internet) insisted that folks in Santiago would have a good smattering of English, since it’s a cosmopolitan city and they’re teaching it now in as a second language in schools. I was hopeful for that, since my second language choice in high school was (foolishly) Latin. Which qualifies me to speak to nobody who is not conversing strongly in English.
The “sure they speak English” thing turned out to be the case… well… not so much! The longest conversation I had with anybody in the city was probably with a waiter who had recently emigrated from Belgium! Even in the most tourist-y areas, trying to ascertain from the waiter whether a beer was light or dark, or a food was spicy or not, turned out to be five-minute conversations, frequently with another waiter called in to help.
The city itself was nice… but really just a semi-modern city. But walking outside and seeing the Andes all around, not to mention a small drainage river from the mountains that ran through the middle of the city, pumped up the “exotic” factor. Well, that and all the foreign words. 🙂
The Sheraton Hotel we stayed at was really nice – surrounded by views of the mountains, and featuring a gorgeous pool and bar area. Here are some shots:
We shuttled back and forth every day for six days from the hotel to a convention center about 10-15 minutes away, and midway between, was a really cool area called Patio Bellavista. The place was filled with shops and restaurants and the zoo was located near there. I spent several evenings there, having dinner and doing a little writing, and bought all my souvenirs there as well. One night, I even had the opportunity to watch a local band play:2013-02-28 23.01.25_x264
Over the course of several dinners in Patio Bellavista, my hotel and a couple places in the downtown area near my hotel, I sampled a number of Chilean beers. I must admit, I wasn’t blown away by any… but was interested to note the German influence on a couple of breweries (particularly Kuntsmann). My favorite easy-drinking amber was Mestra, but I really liked the darker richness of Austral Yagan and the heavier, vanilla tinged flavor of Kross’s anniversary brew – 5. I brought home a couple bottles of Yagan home in my suitcase. Not sure what the “special occasion” will be to open them:
One of the best parts of the trip was a brief visit to the seaside town of Valparaiso, an arts-oriented community with a beautiful, hilly setting (it reminded me in places of San Francisco). I took as many pictures there in a couple hours as I did during the entire rest of the week in Santiago!
On the first day and the last day I was in Santiago, I walked through the city streets near the hotel, and shot some pictures of the riverway park area (where they have outdoor gym equipment!) as well as the city buildings and restaurants themselves.
At the end of the week, I was definitely ready to go home, though I had learned how to mentally convert 20,000 Chilean pesos in my head to $40.
I packed my Pisco (a Chilean liquor made from grapes) into my suitcase and had my last Pisco Sour at the airport… and then after an exceptionally long plane ride (with a stop in Miami) I was finally back to home sweet home.
This year, for the first time ever, I decided to take two straight weeks off and do a driving vacation with the family. We toyed with doing the Grand Canyon, but decided Shaun might not be quite old enough at 7 to really remember that, so instead, given his newfound love for swimming, we decided to aim for the beach. Based on comments from some friends who’ve recently been there, we settled on Gulf Shores, AL, just on the Alabama side of the Florida panhandle.
Over the course of almost 10 days starting at the end of July, we had quite an adventure. We stayed the first night near Birmingham, AL (where I discovered that they still won’t serve beer in a restaurant on “the Lord’s Day”… c’mon people, what decade is this? Hell, what CENTURY is this?). The following day we crossed a giant bridge and ended up on the long finger in the Gulf of Mexico that is Gulf Shores. White sand, warm weather, and a seemingly endless series of resort hotels and condo developments.
We stayed at The Caribe Resort which was a really nice development a little off the beach, but with views of both the Gulf and the internal bays. And for the next six days, (in between a couple of storms) we explored their pools and nearby beach (where we managed to catch a jellyfish and a saltwater catfish in our sandcastle bucket!).
We also went on a dolphin cruise, visited an alligator farm, and enjoyed the area’s restaurants. It was a very relaxing trip.
On the way home, we decided to take a detour and spend the night in New Orleans, since Geri had never been, and I haven’t been there since before Katrina. So we got her to try her first Pat O’Brien’s Hurricane in the French Quarter, and had breakfast at the famous Mother’s before hitting I-55 for a 14.5 hour drive home (longest I’ve ever stayed in the car!)
We took hundreds of pictures, but here are a few selected ones from the trip.
At Gulf Shores:
At the Gator Farm:
In New Orleans:
Nine months ago at my dayjob, the idea came up that I should attend a convention in Munich, Germany this spring. At first I didn’t take it too seriously. I travel domestically a lot for the dayjob, but there was talk of going to China last year too, but that didn’t come about. I’ve never left North America aside from visiting Hawaii, so I didn’t think it would pan out in the end. But the idea never evaporated, and then suddenly a few weeks ago, I was filling out paperwork and making travel plans. And then, last week… it was here. Eight days ago, on May 23, 2012, I boarded a plane to Munich. A plane with stairs — the bathrooms were downstairs on their own deck!
And now, already, it’s all over. Sometimes time moves too fast!
I stayed a few blocks away from the convention hotel to save my budget some money (like, $100 a night!) which turned out to be a double blessing. The Platzl Hotel, where I crashed for four nights, was just around the block from the historic Hofbrauhaus. One of the oldest breweries (founded in the late 1500s) the gigantic beer hall is one of the “Top Ten Places to Visit” in Munich on almost every list I found. And as it happened, I’ve visited one of its spinoff restaurants here in the States — there’s a Hofbrauhaus in Newport, KY that I’ve visited several times after my signings in Cincinnati. (There’s another one being built now here in the Chicago burbs!)
So I was pretty excited to be able to visit “the mother ship.” And what a ship it was. I opened my stay with a wonderfully smooth Dunkel, and found myself there again two nights later for dinner. Ironically, a couple days later I went to a bier garten in the midst of a giant city park (Englischer Garten) which turned out to be run by … Hofbrauhaus.
Anyway… I was in Munich on business my first three days, so virtually all of my pictures and sightseeing were done on the vacation day I took at the end of the trip (I figured if I was going to Europe for the first time… I should stay a little extra and see SOMETHING.)
However, after business dinners on the first couple nights, I did get out for a little while on a couple nights to explore and do some fiction writing at (wait for it…) an Irish Pub called Killians (yes, I really did manage to go to an Irish Pub in Germany.)
I also did some work on my next novel (Violet Eyes) at the Atomic Cafe and at a cozy little Zum Spöckmeier Paulaner’s restaurant by Marienplatz, where I found out that my favorite Paulaner’s brew, Salvatore, is only brewed in March, so it wasn’t on tap! 🙁
The same thing turned out to be true of Ayinger’s Celebrator Double Bock. Here I was at the “home” of both of my favorite German beers and neither were available on tap because they were “out of season.” By just over a month. Now that’s just wrong!
Anyway, back to the beginning of this travelogue.
After flying all night (left Chicago at 9 p.m. on Wednesday, May 23rd and arrived in Munich after noon on Thursday), I had my first brew at Hofbrauhaus while waiting for my hotel room to be ready. Then, after spending several hours in a suit, I enjoyed my first meal in Germany at the Ayinger’s Speis & Trank, just around the block from my hotel.
I had a peppered pig knuckle, sauerkraut and a great bread dumpling there, but the real eye-opener was the Cream of Horseradish soup. It was amazing, and now I have to find a recipe and try it!
It was right about this time that I began to realize that most German meals are fashioned from some cut of pork and accompanied by pretzels and beer. They serve hot pretzels with breakfast, lunch and dinner. And beer seemed to accompany every meal as well! I guess, when you do something well… you stick with it?
On Friday night after work, I had dinner with a colleague at Hofbrauhaus, and sampled the sausage platter (again with plenty of sauerkraut and bread dumplings – delish!) We sat outside in the bier garten on a beautiful night – I was lucky the weather was perfect the entire time I was there.
After my last working day in the city (Saturday), we had dinner at the Zum Franziskaner restaurant (obviously owned by Lowenbrau, given that Lowenbrau appeared on the uniforms of all the waiters, as well as the glasses and menus!) They served some great barbecued pork, as well as a sausage, cheese and pretzel appetizer. And a traditional band minstrel-ed around and blew on the largest horn I’ve ever seen.
After hearing the traditional music, I headed to the “hip” Atomic Cafe, hopeful to see what a good German dance club looks like, based on the description. But they were hosting a “retro” night, and virtually all the music they played was American soul and pop from the ’60s and ’70s. Not quite what I was looking for, but I did settle in with the laptop and write a little.
The next morning, I had breakfast at the Orlando, around the corner from my hotel, having the traditional morning meal of white sausage and pretzels. And most importantly, coffee. (No beer for me, though others were already imbibing!)
Then I headed out to my “day of adventure”!
I found out to my dismay that all shops (except food vendors) are closed on Sundays there, so my plans for souvenir shopping on my “day off” were shot. (Aside from the beer mugs I bought myself, all the souvenirs I brought back from Germany came from the airport!) But over the next 12 hours, I still covered a lot of ground.
I walked around Marienplatz again, and photographed and videotaped the famous tower Rathaus Glockenspiel in action, which I found out once I was back home, ironically tells the story of the marriage of the founder of Hofbrauhaus!
Then I visited the famous Frauenkirche (kirche = church) which survived WWII bombers because it served as a landmark for them. The church has a great legend about being built by the devil, whose footprint still exists in the vestibule.
From there I walked through a long street of shops to Karlsplatz, where there were a couple nice fountains, and then ended up at a small botanical garden to have a drink at the Park Cafe Bier Garten. From there, it was on to the Residenz Museum. I took the audio tour there to learn about the palace of Munich royalty, which was mostly destroyed in WWII, but has slowly been restored and rebuilt with many of the original furnishings.
From there, I took a long walk through Englischer Garten, a gigantic park that winds on and on. There were picnic-ers and soccer players and frisbee players and just lay-around-layers everywhere, all near paths that followed a river that runs through the center of the park. I barely got a quarter of the way through it after walking an hour, and finally stopped for dinner and a beer at a bier garten in the midst of it all run by the Hofbrauhaus.
Once back near my hotel (after both a very long walk and “I give up” cab ride), I had a nightcap at Ayinger’s, where I bought a mug to join my Hofbrauhaus glass (pictured here on my bar with some of the beer coasters I also brought home), and called it a night.
The next morning, I staggered on aching legs back to Marienplatz and at an Augustiner Berliner restaurant had another breakfast of white sausages (they’re good, but I must admit I wanted some eggs and a muffin, not pretzels, to go with them). Monday, it turned out was a holiday, so all the shops were still closed. I tried to buy a beer stein at the Paulaner’s and they were sold out of the one I wanted, so my paraphernalia plans were looking thin.
But after a last goodbye to Hofbrauhaus, I headed to the airport and found a couple shops to drop the rest of my Euros at, buying chocolates and t-shirts for the family. I also found a Black Forest Cuckoo Clock (which is what I’d really wanted to shop for in town the day before). My grandparents had one in their kitchen, which always fascinated me, and now I have one of my own, hanging in my dining room (see pic). All weights and pulleys that need to be wound everyday.
I’m still fascinated by them 40 years later!
It was a great trip, albeit far too short. I still managed to take over 600 pictures though. Here are a few of them, mostly from that Sunday walk-a-thon through Marienplatz, the Frauenkirche, the Botanical Garden/Park Cafe, Residenz Palace, Theatinerkirche and Englischer Garten.
I love roadtrips. For a couple years, I did a lot of them, since when my first few novels were released, I drove to Cincinnati, Nashville, St. Louis, Indianapolis and even Atlanta to do bookstore signings. Over the past year, with changes in the book industry and the collapse of Borders, it really hasn’t made any sense to drive around the country for books… but we did stage a family vacation a couple weeks ago, so I got my driving jones in this summer anyway!
It was the first true “roadtrip” that Shaun, my six-year-old son has been on, and he proved himself a true Everson – he had no problem sitting in the car for 8 hours as we drove from Chicago to Kansas City to visit my brother and his family. Of course, he also got to sleep through some of it!
We actually arrived in Kansas City during the big heatwave of summer 2011, so our first day there was spent at a pretty awesome water park — it turned out to be the hottest day of the year there, reaching 108 degrees!
My brother and his wife introduced us to a couple of Kansas City standards while we were there — we had dinner at Stroud’s, the “home of pan-fried chicken” as well as Gates Barbecue. Shaun’s cousin introduced him to air hockey (I have a feeling we’ll be buying a table!) and Monopoly… though the cat mercifully put an end to that ill-fated experiment.
After hanging with my brother’s family a couple days, we headed down to Branson, MO, where we’d rented a condo on Tablerock Lake. I have fond (if vague) memories of going there when I was a kid around Shaun’s age, so it was fun to introduce him to some of the things that I remember.
He got into the vacation spirit quickly… experimenting with all of the condo lounging spots over the next couple days.
I remember going to Silver Dollar City, a theme park in Branson where everything is styled like the 1800s, when I was a kid, so we spent a day there, watching artisans blow glass, carve wood, etc. We did a couple of rides, including a train around the park.
Shaun also got to see his first cave — which involved going up and down more than 700 steps. The cave is part of the Silver Dollar City set of attractions, and I remember going down it when I was there as a kid… and as we walked through the various rooms and grottos, I realized that this cave may very well have been the subconscious inspiration for Covenant, which I wrote some 20 years after visiting this cave with my parents. Geri called that a “full-circle” moment! I wonder if anything from this trip will have a future impact like that on Shaun?
We caught a fun “Blue Man Group” kind of show in Branson the next day called “Buckets & Boards,” which was basically two guys with a good comedy act and a lot of buckets used as drums (and a spot of tapdancing and nose-flute playing to boot)! Afterwards, Shaun got to meet the performers, who signed a pair of drumsticks for him. Thankfully, he hasn’t tried to use them on anything at home so far…
We visited the Butterfly Palace, which I have to say is a wayyyyyy overpriced attraction (there’s a room with lots of butterflies, an exhibit with a bunch of snakes and lizards in glass tanks, and a gift shop… that’s pretty much it!)
Then we had dinner at Montana Mike’s (probably my best meal in Branson) before heading over to the Wax Museum, where Shaun and I got to join the cast of Star Trek and Men In Black, and Geri posed with Hugh Hefner (I opted for Jeannie and the devil from the movie Gothic). Geri and I also provided a visual comment on the cast of Twilight.
The next day, we had to head out of town, but we did an afternoon detour to the edge of the state to visit the Precious Moments chapel, since Geri collects the statues. Talk about a place with a lot of large-eyed pictures… sheesh! The chapel is floor to ceiling (including ceiling!) painted art by the guy who created the precious moments statues. They even had precious moment stained glass windows. I had fun making Shaun pose like the various statues around the grounds.
After the Precious Moments chapel (which is only a few miles from the Oklahoma border), we headed all the way across the state to St. Louis on our way home. Despite having been in and driving through St. Louis many times in my life, I’ve never gone up in the gateway arch that is the “hallmark” of the city, and neither had Geri, so on Sunday morning we went and did the tour. It’s definitely worth doing once… it was very cool to be hundreds of feet in the air looking down on one side at the Mississippi River and on the other at the city. Geri is afraid of heights, so she wore a somewhat “concerned” expression as we looked out of the tiny windows at the top of the arch.
And so, after canvassing the state of Missouri for a week, visiting family, calling up the ghosts of my past and crossing the Mississippi a couple times… we finally headed home. Definitely a good way to spend a summer vacation!
So. Two and a half years ago, I stopped in Nashville for a night while driving — on my way to my first Dragon*Con in Atlanta. It was the week Covenant, my first novel was released in mass market paperback, and so, I ended up doing the very first booksigning for my novel in Nashville at the West End Borders Books.
On my way driving into town to that Borders, I passed a brewpub a few blocks away (they always catch my eye) called Blackstone Brewery. I didn’t get to stop that trip… and have subsequently been in Nashville a handful of times but didn’t get back to this particular area to check them out.
Right now? I’m in Nashville’s West End for a few days on a business trip, and tonight I’m working on some new fiction at Blackstone Brewery which happens to be just a block and a half from my hotel. And you know what? They have an amazing Nut Brown Ale. Thank you life, for spinning my wheels far and wide. And if you’re ever in Nashville – give Blackstone Brewery a stop. Try their Nut Brown Ale. And then have another. Their steaks aren’t bad either.
I don’t know what it is about this city, but something here calls to me. I’ve spent more time here than almost anywhere besides my home in Chicago, some by choice, some for work. I’ve set two novels just north of here, and a short story that I wrote about the Tenderloin district was on the Honorable Mention list of the Year’s Best Fantasy & Horror a few years ago.
Tonight I walked through the Tenderloin on the way back to my hotel to pack and leave, and I gotta say, during the whole walk back (aside from the nervous glances at various hookers, drunks and vagrants) I was saying to myself… But… I don’t want to leave. I love this place, with all its blemishes… I love the smell of the air even when it’s flavored by bum piss… and I love the chill of the uncertain fog. I love the bright glare of the sun on the downtown followed an hour later by the dark of the falling clouds. I love the clash of cultures and the freedom of style.
I didn’t get to go see them this trip, but I love the too-often cool beaches and the endless stretch of the Golden Gate. And the smell of Eucalyptus trees amid the scent of leftover pot near the Haight.
I love this place. But now it’s very late and in just over five hours, I’ll be off to the airport to go to another place I love (though not nearly so much… don’t be jealous San Franciso!) Santa Fe.
Here I ate Thai Food and crab. Tomorrow… it will begin a celebration of Southwest. Hot peppers flavor both… but tomorrow, the sun will actually be behind the heat.
I ended my brief stay today with a book signing for SIREN at the Borders on Market Street, and a nightcap at Edinburgh Castle on Geary after a “make it as hot as you can” Thai dinner down the block (they did. Wow.)
For now… it’s good night. But I wanted to capture these thoughts about San Francisco first. Because I really hate to leave. I love this place.
The last day of the trip happened to coincide with my birthday, so I took the opportunity to stay over in the city a few hours on Sunday and walk around a bit and just enjoy my favorite city. (This lollygagging unfortunately meant I got home at 1:30 a.m. early Monday morning, but… it was worth it!)
I got out to San Francisco on Thursday, and after spending a few hours setting up the conference logistics at the hotel, I went out for a walk through North Beach and China Town. I made the mistake of eating dinner at a place called The Pot Sticker (do NOT go there!) where the stickers were mushy and the chicken stringy. But that mistake was alleviated an hour or so later by my discovery of Edinburgh Castle, a Scottish bar that I’ve never gotten to in all my previous trips there. I spent over three hours there writing, sipping Newcastle and enjoying the ambiance and the ’80s retro DJ.
Friday was all business, though it was capped by an amazing dinner at a French Vietnamese restaurant near Union Square called Le Colonial. If you’re ever in San Francisco, look that one up, because you won’t stumble on it… the entrance is actually off the main street in an alley! Inside though, it was great food and great ambiance!
On Saturday night right after my conference ended, I got out to Borderlands Books, and did a book signing and reading for The 13th with my friend Alice Henderson, author of the novel Voracious (check it out if you haven’t!) After talking a bit with Alan Beatts and Jude Feldman of Borderlands (and picking up a couple gifts for myself!), I had dinner with Alice and her friends at The Phoenix, an Irish bar across the street; it was nice to catch up again!
When I got back to the hotel, I found the manager had left me a bottle of wine, however, it was a bit late to drink it. I tried to take it on the plane the next day, only to find that you can’t carry on wine, so I gave it to the baggage claim guy. Guess he had a nice dinner drink.
On Sunday, I wandered the Fisherman’s Wharf area, and visited Musee Mecanique, a museum of antique arcade games that one of Alice’s friends had told me about (I’d seen it last year when I was in town, but hadn’t gone inside). I spent an hour there, looking at the old player pianos and boardwalk fortune teller machines. I pegged some tin squirrels with an old BB gun on one game, and looked at some 3D “risque” photos from the 20s through a Viewmaster type device. And I plugged in a quarter to an old “Execution” machine where a door opens to show a tiny man-doll with a rope around his neck, about to be hung. The floor drops out from under him, he drops down, and then the front door closes. That’s it? Hard to believe they used to pay for this 15-second glimpse of the macabre for entertainment! (Of course… they didn’t have many horror movies back then, did they?).
Since it was my birthday, I decided to let a machine tell my horoscope. To play, after you inserted a quarter, you chose your astrological sign, put your hands on the wood and then the mysterious entity within the wooden machine typed on an old manual typwewriter … you could watch the forecast come into being on the paper as the invisible hands typed. At the end, the paper drops into a bin for retrieval. Mine said: “Emotionally you are responsive, but your intellect rules you. You are most appreciated as a mate, when married to an intellectual person whose work you can share, and who is able to use your undoubted talents in their own behalf.”
I said, “Huh. Not bad. Now about that lottery number…”
After Musee Mechanique, I walked over to have lunch on the Pier 39 (and on the way I passed a guy tap dancing to old-school hip-hop! Weird!). I ended up at Fog Harbor Fish House and got a great booth with a view of the bay where I wrote a couple of chapters of The Pumpkin Man novel there while enjoying some chili paste and peppered prawns and crab cakes, along with plenty of Anchor Steam and Makers Mark. The next three hours passed all too fast before I had to head back to the hotel to catch my shuttle to the airport. But the day on the pier (which was hopping with acrobats and performers) was definitely worth it. It was a happy birthday for me!
Here are some of the photos I shot with my phone camera: