World Horror Convention 2007 – A Journey to the North End of the Earth

SO, AT SOME POINT, this year’s World Horror went from a standard annual convention to… a Road Trip (capital R).

Initially I thought… what the hell. It’s an 8-9 hour drive from Chicago, right? I can listen to a lot of good albums at full volume during that time, and honestly, if I flew, door-to-door from home to hotel was probably 6 hours anyway, right? And then there were all those worries with customs. I mean… I was going to the con with the second offering from my Dark Arts Books imprint. It would be embarrassing if 150 copies of Waiting for October ended up stuck in airport customs.

So I decided to drive. And then Dark Arts co-founder Bill Breedlove opted to drive with me. A roadtrip’s more fun if you can fight over the CD deck. And so the planning began. I ordered my passport. I made up long, obsessively detailed Excel sheets to prove to the customs agents that they shouldn’t tax me on more than half of what I was taking over the border because it was stock that was returning to the States after being signed by the authors. I talked with Martel Sardina at Twilight Tales, planning the best route to cross the border at a point where we wouldn’t be harrassed overly much.

I fretted.

I re-made my Excel lists.

I packed and then repacked and left books out of my luggage because I didn’t want to get stuck paying Canadian tax on them if questioned.

And then on the morning of the trip Bill emailed me and said… “you got your Canadian proof of insurance card from your auto insurance company right?”


That situation was quickly (and nervously) rectified with a quick phone call and stop at my agent’s office on the way out later that day. And finally, on a cool rainy Wednesday, after packing the car with two sets of luggage, Bill and I left Chicago and sat through a 2-hour Chicago rush hour before finally really hitting the road north. Four hours and a surreal argument in Michigan about the heat factor of Taco Bell hotsauce later, and we were approaching the bridge that would take us from our homeland to the strange and foreign soil of Canada at about 11 p.m.

The conversation with the nice man at the customs toll booth took about 40 seconds. It went something like this:

Where are you going?


How long are you staying?

Til Monday.

Why are you going there?

Writer’s conference.

What are you bringing?


Any firearms?


OK, have a great trip!

My armpits were all wet for nothing. Instead of trekking on to Toronto until 2 a.m., we opted to check in to a hotel just across the border, and subsequently closed down a local bar before catching a few hours of sleep.

Thursday Morning.

After about 12 cups of coffee and long discussion about the potential ingredients of pea bacon (seemingly endemic to Canadian menus), we hit the road and clocked nearly 3 hours before we opted to make a detour.

You know, not much is happening at the con this afternoon, and Niagra Falls is about 45 minutes that way.

We hung an abrupt right hand turn. How often do you get to see Niagra Falls when you live in Chicago? (Well, a lot I suppose if you like 8-hour drives, but…)

The falls were as awe-inspiring as the tourist trap town surrounding the natural wonder was depressing, and after an hour shooting pictures and casting for gold in a barrel of pyrite souvenirs, we re-joined our route to Toronto arriving just before dinner after narrowly avoiding driving across a forbidden cobblestoned landmark.

Somehow a 9-hour drive had turned into 24!

I spotted a bunch of old pals in the lobby right away, from Kelly Laymon (who noted that for once we hadn’t shuttled from the airport together — she’d driven, too) to Brian Keene, Lucien Soulban, Jeff Strand, Deborah LeBlanc and more. But exhausted from the drive, instead of diving instantly into chatter, I ducked upstairs to unpack and shower and regroup before hitting the mob for real.

When I came back down to the lobby ready for dinner, Bill and I quickly found Adam Pepper, one of our authors from Waiting for October, and headed out to an English pub down the street. The food wasn’t great, but the conversation was, and Adam voiced a sentiment I feel every year at this convention when finally surrounded by like minds: “damn, it’s been too long.”

After dinner, I sat on the panel THE CARE AND FEEDING OF YOUR WEBSITE AND BLOG moderated by Nicholas Grabowsky, who I was happy to meet, as we’ve both been in two anthologies together in the past year edited by Giovanna Lagana. Cullen Bunn, Nicholas Kaufmann and Rodger Turner all kept things lively, and the hour was over before I knew it. Then I watched Mike Arnzen, Gary Braunbeck, Brian Keene, Deborah LeBlanc and Mark Morris try to define WHAT IS HORROR? for a bit, before retiring to the bar for a couple hours to talk shop and catch up with Arnzen, Bill Gagliani and more. I think we called it a night around 2 a.m.

Friday, March 30, 2007

Giovanna Lagana, John Everson, and Louise Bohmer.While we weren’t actually up that late, I ended up snoozing through opening ceremonies on Friday, but when I finally dragged myself down to the con, I distributed copies of Waiting For October and Candy in the Dumpster to the Dealer’s Room, finally met Giovanna Lagana and Louise Bohmer who have been both my online friends and editors over the past couple years, and then managed to duck in for the 2nd half of the WHAT ARE AGENTS AND EDITORS LOOKING FOR, AND NEVER WANT TO SEE AGAIN? panel that included Don D’Auria, Ellen Datlow, Liz Gorinsky, Dorothy Lumley and George Mann.

Friday was my crazy day at the convention — all of my key events were scheduled on one day! At 3 p.m., I did a reading from the first couple chapters of my new novel Sacrifice. Bill Gagliani shot a couple pictures of the event for me, including the one at right.

After the reading, I ran up to my room, grabbed some books and sat at the HWA signing table for an hour with Jeff Strand. We weren’t exactly overwhelmed with eager book-buying mobs, but did get to chat with some friends while we were there. And sold a book or two.

Then it was off to a scheduled pitch session with an editor, followed immediately by another pre-arranged editor meeting. When I finally caught up with Bill Breedlove, Bill Gagliani and Adam again in the hotel bar… I was more than ready for a beer. Of course, they had none on tap there, so after a quick bottle to wash down the day, the bunch of us headed to the sports bar and shot pool for a bit (where they did have some amber ale on tap…though not Newcastle :-(.

Fran Friel, John Everson and Kristy Tallman at the Mass Signing.I was bursting with news from one of my meetings, but (mostly) held it in, as nothing was official or confirmed yet.

Bill and Adam headed off then for steak, but I skipped dinner and went straight to the mass author signing, where I finally met my longtime MySpace pals Kristy Tallman, Fran Friel and others. It was great to finally put real faces to the names, and we caught a couple pictures of us mugging. (One is at right, courtesy of Kristy and whoever was using her camera!).

At the end of the signing, as I was talking with Lisa Morton, I got confirmation on some good news I’d received earlier that day (which I will reveal soon!) and at that point, as far as I was concerned… the con was over and the party was on!

But of course… it wasn’t – I still had two big events to get through that night! I dumped some books back in my room, grabbed a manuscript and headed down to the Gross Out Contest. I had a piece I knew wouldn’t win, not with the masters Cullen and Wrath James White in the contest, but I knew it’d be fun to read.

Cullen ended up reading first, and he absolutely killed. As I (and the whole audience) sat there afterwards gasping for breath from laughing so hard at so incredibly many wildly inappropriate and just downright-wrong images, I thought… why bother reading? Why should ANY of us bother reading after that?

My piece “The Eyes,” went over well with the crowd, but there was no question about who was going to take home the trophy – Cullen did. Followed by Wrath and Jeff Strand, whose Elizabethan take on the gross-out was a beautiful bit of comic inspiration.

Waiting For October by Jeff Strand, Adam Pepper, Sarah Pinborough and Jeffrey ThomasBut STILL, my night wasn’t over. The Dark Arts Books launch event for Waiting For October was scheduled for midnight.

I dashed up to my room yet again, retrieved a box of books and some signs, and quickly set up the reading room before Sarah Pinborough, Jeff Strand and Adam Pepper turned up, along with a crowd of a couple dozen. I had wanted to play it by ear — have the authors do short readings and see what kind of mood the audience was in — whether they preferred to drink and mingle or just be entertained by readings.

It turned out to be the latter, but the audience also turned out to be thirsty — and the assurances I’d had that the bar would be open for our party turned out to be false. The downstairs bar closed just before we began, so once Bill Breedlove began emceeing and getting the readings going, I dashed up to the con suite to see if I could wrangle some beer for the event. No dice, since the hotel insisted on selling anything that was imbibed on the lower floor. A letdown, but it didn’t dampen the event (no literally… there was nothing there to dampen it LOL!) I offered everyone $5 off on the book and suggested they use the savings at the bar upstairs, which seemed to make everyone happy. The authors signed about 125 copies of the book for people at the launch and for all the pre-orders I’d taken from individuals and bookstores (a big box of signed copies went right back in my trunk!) and then… the room emptied… and my insane day was finally done!

Here are shots that Bill Gagliani took of the event for us:

After wandering a bit and being shoed out of the hotel bar for holding open alcohol after the bar had closed, Bill G., Adam and I ended up back in Breedlove’s room to kick back and talk. At some point during the con, someone held my camera and shot the photo at left of Adam, Bill B., Me and Bill G. so I’ll insert it here.

Bill had brought an iPod stereo with him, so we had cool jazz in a cool room — he had somehow scored a full suite instead of a normal room… so we had a full “living room” to kick our feet up on the coffee table and lounge on the couch.

If only we’d known ahead of time, we’d have staged the Dark Arts Books Party there.

Around 4 a.m. we called it a night. The beer was gone and tomorrow was…already there.


Saturday, March 31, 2007

The one bad thing about this con for me was that I completely missed out on meeting or hearing Michael Marshall Smith. I just looked at the schedule and saw that he had a couple events on Saturday and god knows where I was at the time, but I wasn’t there!

I saw a bit of the MASTERS OF THE CRAFT and AGENT panels before heading out to lunch with Bill and Bill to the perfect English pub for Gagliani, author of Wolf’s Trap. The place was called The Wolf & Firkin, and had an ancillary room called the Wolves Den.

I forced Bill to pose in front of signs of both 🙂

I have to say, I quite enjoyed the preponderance of English pubs around Toronto – we ate at a different one for lunch or dinner every day we were there, and while I was amazed that nobody had Newcastle on tap, it’s one of the few times I’ve found Fuller’s widely available.

Is it wrong that my life revolves around whether a joint has Newcastle on tap and Maker’s Mark at the bar?

After lunch, Bill Gagliani and I went hunting for some alcohol to stash in Breedlove’s room for later, in case we had a repeat of the night before. The liquor store we found had no Maker’s Mark, so I picked up some Woodford Reserve at an insanely inflated price (especially considering the foul quality of the bourbon!) They did have Newcastle, however, so that made it all better.

Bill Breedlove and I both had pitch sessions that afternoon, and after that and wandering about the dealers room a bit, I headed up to change for the Stoker Banquet. The nice thing about driving instead of flying is that you can pack whatever you want… so after trying on 2 different shirts and 4 ties, I finally settled on an outfit (strangely rich in black) and headed down to the soiree, where I chatted with Mort Castle, Deborah LeBlanc, Tina Jens, Mike Arnzen, Mike Laimo, Brian Keene and a bunch more before they opened the doors for us to go in to dinner.

I sat at a table with Shannon, one of my MySpace friends, and Shocklines stalwart Jonathan Reitan among others. We had a lively conversation throughout dinner about books and publishing… and then it was time for the awards. Jonathan disappeared (he helped hand out the trophies) and they opened up the hall so others could come in and watch.

I think the highlight was Joe Lansdale‘s speech, but it was also cool to see Gary Braunbeck win for one of my favorite books of the year, Destinations Unknown. The full list of winners is here.

Some shots fired before and after dinner (thanks to Lynne Hanson for shooting the “Dark Arts” gang photo (#2):

After the Stokers, Adam and I dropped into the Flash Fiction contest since Bill Breedlove was emceeing.

Dark Arts Books donated a copy of Waiting for October as a prize, and I also ended up donating a good bunch of my bad bourbon to the judges who took an exceptionally long time coming to a decision on the winners. The ironic thing was, an old Twilight Tales stalwart, Larry Santoro won the award, and Larry has a reputation for NEVER managing to read a “short” story. So to win a Flash Fiction contest… there were rumors of hell freezing over and all that.

Afterwards, Bill and Bill and Adam and I all hit the con suite until about 5 a.m. where I talked with more people than I can possible remember. I do know I chatted a bit about In Delirium II with Brian Keene and Weston Osche, watched Wayne Allen Sallee drunkenly extol the virtues of ambidexterity in the hallway outside the suite, and after talking a bit with Bailey Hunter, editor of Dark Recesses, we took our annual mug shot.


Sunday, April 1, 2006

I hate Sundays at World Horror. The lobby fills early (some of them never went to bed) with people loaded with luggage (and books) waiting for their cabs to sweep them back to the airport and the mundanity of everyday life. Usually I’m one of them, darting back and forth from lobby to Dealer’s Room making last minute connections and goodbyes.

But not this year. I was driving – and Bill and I decided to stay the last night and amble back to Chicago on Monday. I said goodbye to a few folks in the lobby, including Debbie Kuhn, who I kept passing during the con but never really got to talk to, and then sat through the only two full panels I caught all weekend (with the exception of the panel I was on!) I drank copious amounts of water trying to re-hydrate during YOUNG BLOOD: NEW WRITERS TO LOOK OUT FOR panel (see photo right) with Mike Arnzen, Sarah Langan, Violette Malan, Sarah Pinborough and Alexandra Sokoloff. I grabbed some coffee and humus in the con suite where I finally met Robert J. Sawyer, who turned out to be both fascinating and friendly, and who headlined the TransVersions anthology I had a story in a few years back. Then I caught THE DIVERSITY OF HORROR: HOW TO REACH A WIDER AUDIENCE with Kelley Armstrong, Gary Braunbeck, Mort Castle, L.H. Maynard, M.P.N. Sims. Bill Gagliani introduced me to Maynard and Sims after the panel and we talked a bit about the potential of film-rights for books in which many characters are unseen (ie, ghosts!).

Since I had slept through the Opening Ceremonies, I had vowed to catch Closing Ceremonies, since I don’t normally have the chance. Instead, I found myself deep in a phone conversation with my publisher, Shane Staley at Delirium, updating him on the weekend, and I managed to miss the official con “Close.” But I did spend some time talking in the lobby with Tony Richards, and Mort Castle and his wife, and then hung out for a couple hours at the “Dead Dog party”, where for the first time all weekend, I finally chatted with Christopher Teague, who published the Nasty Snips anthology a while back that I had a story in.

Around 7, Bill Breedlove and I headed out to look for dinner, and found yet another British pub to feast at, before settling down for a couple hours at a bar across the street to talk Dark Arts Books business. At some point, we eventually made our way back to the hotel, and agreed to rise and shine by 6:30, to get an early start back to the United States of Discontent.


Monday, April 2, 2006

OK. we didn’t leave by 7 a.m. Or even by 8 a.m. But after a good deal of coffee, we were on the road before 9, and around lunchtime we finally hit Windsor, where we’d spent the night on Wednesday. The sun was out and we were feeling victorious (or hungover?) and so we put the top down to drive across the bridge to America.

Color us tourists.

Or fresh air lovers.

I felt like putting my arms in the air as if we were teens on a rollercoaster ride when we went across the big bridge and hit the other side to arrive on native soil. And Bill was driving so I could have (was weird to have someone else driving ol’ Haunter!) But instead I just turned around and watched Canada disappear behind the struts of the bridge.

Our customs cross onto American soil took a little longer than 40 seconds, but not because we had to get out of the car. Instead the agent was fascinated by the fact that we were horror writers, and started asking for book titles and talking about how silly horror movies are because it’s always the same thing. Kids have sex, monster-serial-killer-giant bug comes up and kills them. Girl screams a lot. For awhile I thought we were going to have to pop the trunk to show her our books…but then she passed us on, and we were back in the U. S. of A.

Somewhere south of Detroit, we had to admit that it was too cold to keep the top down, and it went back up. But for just a little while… we were driving in a Mustang convertible in the high cool air between Canada and America — in the great between…neither here nor there, not on land or sea.

And life was really good, ya know?

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