LAST YEAR, FOR NO good reason, Bill Breedlove and I decided to roadtrip to WHC in Toronto. It was a great time, and somehow we didn’t kill each other over the music selections for the trip. So this year, when we decided our press Dark Arts Books was going to run both a party at World Horror and a Dealers Room Table, we opted to road trip again… despite the fact that the trip was twice as long (18+ hours without stops!)
This time around… the roadtrip wasn’t quite as fulfilling, as the roadside attractions disappointed at every stop!
Three hours into the drive, I had lost my voice — and no, not because I’m a rampant chatterbox — I’d been having allergy/asthma problems for the past couple months, and my doc wouldn’t renew my steroids to control it before the trip. Hence, I spent the entire weekend croaking like a frog — my voice never came back. In fact, 12 days later, I STILL don’t totally have it back!
We made good time on the way out on Wednesday, March 26, and rolled into Cheyenne, Wyoming around 9:30 at night. That’s when the first snarl in the roadtrip appeared… we drove around looking for hotels, and when we found three in a row booked up, with a little trepidation we opted for a trucker-friendly Motel 6 (a rare bargain at $40 split two ways!). The woman at the desk and a woman waiting in line behind us for a room regaled us not only with where we could go for dinner in town, but also with where the best strip clubs were, if we were so inclined. It was very thoughtful of them… if a little surreal. We headed for a brewpub just down the street, but by the time we arrived it was after 10:30, and the kitchen was closed. Turned out…the whole town pretty much rolls up the sidewalk at 10 p.m. on weeknights in Cheyenne, and we ended up at The Village Inn, a chain of Perkins-style diners in Wyoming that I won’t recommend to anyone.
THURSDAY, March 27
The next morning we stopped at the next town, Laramie, for gas and realized we should have stayed the night there — the nightlife possibilities looked much more promising, and we found Coal Creek Coffee Company, a cool little coffee shop near the train station downtown. Aside from brief visits to a pawn shop and a Pokes memorabilia store, the coffeehouse turned out to be nearly the only good time we had in Wyoming!
Back on the road, we had our first experience with sideways-blowing snow on hilly terrain, and Bill spent some white-knuckle time at the wheel. That’s when we first noticed the signs and gates along the road warning that when the lights were flashing, the road was closed — turn around and go back.
Luckily, the lights weren’t flashing.
Thanks to the snow, we hit Salt Lake a little later than planned — two hours after the dealer room opened. We quickly reviewed the rooms we were assigned for the Dark Arts party, said hi to some old friends on the fly and then rolled our boxes of books into the Dealers Room and set up the table by 5 p.m. Once that was up and running, I ran up to change for a dinner meeting with Erin Galloway, the publicist for Leisure Books. It was great to finally meet her, as we’ve been emailing back and forth for the past few weeks about my upcoming Leisure novel Covenant.
After what turned out to be my best dinner in Salt Lake City, I watched Erin moderate a panel that included Leisure Editor Don D’Auria, and during that panel finally met Michael McBride – who I’ve corresponded with since doing the cover for his Delirium novelette Blood Wish. Then I went upstairs to rest for a little while…. but rest turned out to be sleep – an hour later I decided that maybe if I skipped the Thursday night welcoming party and just turned in early on the first night, I’d kick the frog in my throat and be fresh for the rest of the con. Eleven hours later… I woke up… still croaking.
So much for the magic of a good night’s sleep!
FRIDAY, March 28
Friday I spent a lot of time at the Dark Arts Books table, and somehow managed to not see a single panel in the process, though I did get to talk to lots of friends like Jeremy Lassen from Nightshade Books and Alan Beatts and Jude Feldman, from Borderlands Books, whose tables were directly across from me. The Dark Arts table team of Martel Sardina, Whitney Lakin, Loren Rhoads, Bill and I came together all at once for the first time – and I have to publicly send a huge hug of thanks to them all for helping out — Bill and I could not have covered the table without them!
Multiple cups of coffee and tea on Friday did nothing to bring back my voice, but at least I was well-hydrated by the time I did my afternoon HWA table signing with Maria Alexander. We ended up talking more to each other than to anyone else, which was cool, because we haven’t had a chance to really catch up since she got back from a year in France, and now I have a dinner date for my business trip to Los Angeles this weekend :-). Along the way, John Palisano, Nick Grabowsky and Dave Benton all dropped by to say hi.
A couple hours later, I relinquished the Dark Arts table and had a meeting in the hotel bar with Don D’Auria to talk about plans for Covenant and Sacrifice, and to talk about the current novel I’m working on, which will be complete in a couple months, as well as some future projects. Oddly enough, I didn’t have anything to drink in the bar, and it was the only time I was actually IN the bar during the entire con. I think that’s a first at a convention!
Afterwards, I was able to continue — through transference — a Carrie Rapp WHC tradition, and gave Debbie Kuhn a dizzyingly unexpected twirl in the hotel before it was off to dinner with her and a group including Brian Knight, Shrews, Jen Orosel and more. (Thanks to Ann Laymon for shooting a photo for us (see right) with Tracy Jones’ camera). We walked down to the Red Rock Brewpub, which had a great microbrewed Nut Brown Ale. I just ate a Reuben, but I wanted to go back the rest of the weekend for more of the ale.
When we got back, it was time to grab books for the Mass Autograph Signing. I snagged my own, and then Bill helped me get copies of Dark Arts Books’ Like A Chinese Tattoo for Cullen Bunn, Waiting for October for Jeff Strand, and Sins of the Sirens for Loren Rhoads and Maria, who sat with me and Bill Gagliani.
The signing was a lot of fun, and I think I signed more copies of On Writing Horror than anything else, as Mort Castle was just a couple tables away and kept sending people my way with that book! I got to catch up a little bit with Deborah LeBlanc, and shot a couple pictures with Bill and Don D’Auria. I also talked with Ed Bryant and Beth Gwinn wandered by with her ever-capturing camera.
Then it was off to the Leisure Books party — my first as a Leisure author 🙂 It was pretty cool to see Covenant flats on the party tables, and a blow-up version of the cover mounted on foamboard at one. Leisure’s Tim DeYoung played bartender and kept me well supplied with Jack-and-Cokes as I chatted with Beth Gwinn, Bill Gagliani and sat some of the night with Anne Laymon to talk about her panel on the proper handling (and setup for) a literary estate. Definitely must-hear info for any author who gets some books in print and doesn’t want his or her heirs to have problems managing those any any unpublished properties if left behind.
While I was in the Leisure Party, I unfortunately missed the annual Gross-Out Contest (which I’ve been to almost every year for the past 9 cons, and even participated in three or four times!) I picked a bad one to miss — in her first shot at it, Dark Arts’ own Whitney Lakin ended up taking the top spot of (dubious!) honor for the grossest tale, which I understand involved some form of corpulent coprophilic vampire. Here’s a photo that Bill snapped of her prepping for the read:
SATURDAY, March 29
I started the next morning by moderating a panel on making the most of your small press release as an author. Thankfully, I’d asked Dark Arts Books author and former Morbid Curiosities magazine editor Loren Rhoads to join me on the panel, because otherwise, for most of the panel, it would have just been me and Jason Gehlert... and I still had no voice! Later on, Jeremy Lassen apologetically joined us (though we agreed later he should have really been slated on the small press publishers, not authors panel!) From websites to MySpace to bookstore signings and promo cards to podcasts, we managed to run through a variety of ways that authors with small press releases can promote themselves and their works, pointing out the fallacy that “it’s the publisher’s job” to promote your work. Whether your story or novel is appearing in a print run of 250 or 25,000, it is almost always up to the author to find the ways to promote and sell those books… because those who don’t move sufficient copies of their books will ultimately find themselves without a publishing deal.
At some point during the day I finally caught up a bit with GAK and Jim Argendeli, who gave me a rundown on Dragon*Con (where I’ll be guesting this fall) as well as a rare offer of hospitality!
Bill Breedlove and I tried to get out of the hotel for lunch, and ended up walking in a long circle… we headed towards someplace called the Dead Goat Saloon, a pub and music hotspot in the basement of an old building, but after 10 minutes of hiking, it turned out the place didn’t open before dinnertime on Saturdays… so we walked back at the hotel restaurant and settled for a burger. Then I ducked down to the Con Reading Room — unfortunately, with my voice shot, there was no way I could perform (which sucked, since I enjoy doing readings, and had planned on reading the story from Needles & Sins that was on the Bram Stoker ballot for that evening’s award ceremony). However, Cullen Bunn agreed to perform one of his amazing pieces from Like a Chinese Tattoo in my reading slot, so those who came to see me probably got a better deal! I introduced Cullen, and then watched Jeff Strand read as well.
Bram Stoker Awards Ceremony
After the readings, Bill and Whitney and I went with the amazing Charlie Harmon, the convention chair, to go over the setup details for the Dark Arts Pajama Party rooms later that night.
I left them to do setup while I changed for the Stokers. I sat at a Leisure table with Gord Rollo, Bill Gagliani, Wrath James White, Jim Argendeli, Erin Galloway and Tim DeYoung. I wasn’t nervous about the awards until Bill asked me if I was… and then suddenly I found myself trying to think of what I would say in my head if “Letting Go” actually won in the Short Fiction category. Then I suddenly realized there were butterflies, and I couldn’t wait til the dinner portion of the evening was over so we could just get through the awards! Jeff Strand’s over-the-top humorous emceeing soon set everyone at ease, and I was truly sad when they announced Bob Weinberg‘s lifetime achievement award — Mort Castle accepted on his behalf, but I wished Bob could have been there. I sat next to Bob at my very first Stoker ceremony some 8 or 9 years ago, and he was one of the only people I knew at the convention back then. At that time, he was up for an award in two categories, but lost in both. How things have changed! This year, it seems like I knew most of the people at the convention, was up for an award myself, and there was Bob was getting a career award. I wished I could have been sitting next to him again that night.
When the Short Fiction award came up, I was ready for anything… and while I would have liked another haunted house statuette for my office, I was glad when David Niall Wilson’s story took the award home — it was my favorite in the category.
Shortly afterwards, Weston Ochse and I, as former winners of the First Novel award, went to the podium to present this year’s First Novel Stoker… which went to Joe Hill. I made a comment about having lost my voice for the convention, which elicited applause from Kelly Laymon, and turned the vocal duties over to Weston.
Dark Arts Books Pajama Party
Once the Stokers were done, the real work of the day began — hosting the Dark Arts Books Pajama Party. I changed into my pjs and robe, and joined Bill and Whitney and Martel, who did a great job setting the room up during the Stokers, with a full bar, lots of snacks, music and various cool deco touches (thanks to Whitney) like severed fingers, skull lights and a black light. When Bill had first suggested the pj theme, I’d been worried that not enough WHC-ers would dress up for it to make it work… but thankfully I was wrong. At least a third of the partygoers made at least some attempt at pjs, and the main party room was packed all night — with an overflow room across the hall filling by midnight.
Dark Arts authors Loren Rhoads, Maria Alexander, Jeff Strand and Cullen Bunn were all on-hand, along with scores of others who turned up for the bash. The full photo gallery is on the on the Dark Arts website, but here are a couple thumbnails:
Visit the full gallery for pix of Mort Castle, Larry Roberts, Edward Bryant, Alexandra Sokoloff, Sarah Langan, Gerard Houarner, Linda Addison, Bailey Hunter, Eunice Magill, Cody Goodfellow, Jimmy Z, Jeremy Lassen, Alan Beatts, Jude Feldman, Christopher Treagus, Kelly Laymon, Wrath James White, Weston Ochse, Bill Gagliani, Dave Benton, John Palisano, Gord Rollo, Monica Kuebler, Lynne Hansen and many, many more.
Bill and Whitney served as bartenders, while Martel handled beer delivery and I was set as the roving host “greeter” and garbage disposal person (irony?). I think I had the best end of the deal, since I got to walk and talk with everyone at the party — and took a lot of pictures. All I can say is it was a great time, and I was sad to see us have to start closing up at 4 a.m. so that we could get the room clean by 6. We shut the doors on the final diehards at 4:30, and went back to Bill’s room for a final (and his first!) beer of the night.
SUNDAY, March 30
It was a good thing I didn’t drink much at the Dark Arts party, since I opened the Small Press Publishers panel at 9 a.m. with Bloodletting’s Larry Roberts, and then was part of a group breakfast meeting with Stacy Whitman, the YA editor for Moonstone. Then after talking a bit with Gerard Houarner and Linda Addison (and finally buying a hard copy from her of her amazing Stoker-award winning poetry collection Being Full of Light, Insubstantial, which I’d previously read as a PDF), I quickly packed up my room and relieved Loren and Whitney from the Dark Arts table, so they could head to the airport. The result was that I couldn’t do my Music and Writing Horror panel (which I was looking forward to) because Bill was decamping from his room and the rest of our help was homeward bound.
Adam Pepper and Bill and I hung out in the Dealers Room for a couple hours in the afternoon, making some last minute sales at the table before Bill and I finally packed up the SUV and said our goodbyes.
It felt good to get on the road and head back towards home — which we knew was more than a day away — and I took the wheel since Bill had driven the bulk of the way coming out. But unfortunately, we weren’t able to stay on the road for long… within three hours I had white-knuckle duty as we were slogging slowly through a small blizzard in Wyoming…and an hour later we came to, literally, the end of the road.
Those gates we saw on the highway at the start of the trip?
Of course, we weren’t the only ones. The highway exits were lined with semis whose drivers were camping it out in their rigs. But we soon realized that we might be camping in the SUV, as we canvassed the town’s hotels and one by one found them full. Someone suggested we stay on cots at the armory, but in the end, I think we found the last room in town — it was the last room at the dingiest motel we pulled into (a rare ripoff at $50 – evensplit two ways!).
It’s hard to describe the room’s negative appeal. Even the pictures I took don’t do it justice. The sign on the inside of the beatup door read “The Bucking Horse Lodge,” though the marquee outside read “The Express Inn.”
The carpet was an indoor-outdoor green. The spot where the second double bed should have been was empty, though the bed reading light was still in place above where a bed once sat, and the unburied electric piping held an outlet shakily to the wall. The bathroom was tiny and ancient and we both decided that we would NOT set bare feet on the shower floor.
The side of the room boasted 1950’s era dark brown paneling with white grout at the top (!?) in the seams, and a beatup bureau with a warm mini-fridge and microwave. I staked out the floor with a comforter for my mattress, though I stuffed towels in the cracks under the bed, with the irrational assumption that it would keep the roaches from running directly out from beneath the bed and into my mouth in the middle of the night. Actually, in the darkest hours, I started to wonder more about the potential for rats coming out from beneath the bed… but in the end, I think we survived the pit without meeting any vermin.
To prepare ourselves for the long night, we headed back out to town to find food and beer, and had burgers at a local bar that boasted an electric Guinness sign in the window. Taking this as a positive cue, I ordered a large, and Bill cringed when the waitress brought me what looked like a small pitcher, and one of the local patrons asked “what the heck’s that stuff you’re drinkin’?”
What can I say, i didn’t want any of the bottled crap they were selling, though maybe I should have, since the beer went down with what felt like the tickle of tiny skins in my throat. I drank it anyway.
Well fortified with alcohol, and minds abuzz with some bizarre conversations among the locals about global warming, spirituality, Al Gore, and some relationship issues that I never did quite understand and which I could never hope to capture in fiction, we spent an uneasy night in the (un)lovingly dubbed Motel Hell, waking up a couple times to check the roads (“still closed,” I remember Bill saying at 3 a.m.). By 9 a.m., we were feeling desperate and trapped as I-80 was still closed, and decided over coffee that we would sleep in the SUV if it came to that rather than stay in the depressing room again. But luckily, by 10, the road was open, and we were on it… desperate to get out of Wyoming before they pulled down the gates again.
We stopped in Laramie for gas and again wished we’d been able to camp the night there as planned… and then we cheered when the sign for Nebraska flew by.
Our luck in bad roadside food and lodgings continued through the rest of the day, as we planned to stop of for a big dinner in Omaha… and then as we looked for a promising exit, we suddenly realized we were past Omaha and heading over the Mississippi. No promising exits had presented themselves and we were in Iowa! We stopped for gas and asked about an exit with decent restaurants, and were directed to the next stop down the road… which turned out to have a healthy dose of fastfood chains, but no place where we might find a decent steak. So we decided to hop back on the highway and eat in Des Moines… Bill looked up some possible spots in Des Moines near I-80 and found a well-rated steakhouse… he called and they said they were open til 10… so I stepped on it and we pulled in their lot at just past 9:30… only to find the doors locked. So much for closing times.
The search for dinner was not going well. After an unproductive drive through downtown Des Moines (we found one good-looking Irish bar — but the kitchen closed at 9!), we pulled off at another exit and stopped at the local Casino for a trip to their well-advertised steakhouse. We got inside and walked to the door…. Closed on Mondays. Seemed to be our luck for the week.
We ate at a truckstop diner with the unpromising name of Grandma Max’s. (Grandma Max? I kept picturing a 70-year-old Jewish man wearing a fake wig and falsies as we walked to the door.) But hell. It was food. It was late. It was just about the end of the line.
And five hours later, we finally pulled into my driveway at 4 a.m. after a solid 18 hours on the road. It was as if the drive we did on Sunday hadn’t counted at all. But all I knew was… it was good to be home in a state where they don’t put gates on the roads and where you can always find a decent restaurant open after 9:30 p.m.
——— ———————————— ———
It’s now a week since we left Salt Lake City, and you know what — I still don’t have my voice back fully. But… I did visit the doc a few days ago and got some new steroids and allergy/asthma meds… so hopefully this week I’ll finally be back to normal.
While I suffered some health issues and probably was hidden too many hours behind the Dark Arts table instead of being out at panels and whatnot, I had a great time at World Horror Con this year — as I always do. The Dark Arts Pajama Party will live large in my memory for years! As always, there were too many people I didn’t get to talk to enough… but it was still great to see everyone, albeit whirlwind-briefly, again.
As usual (though I may not drive it)… I can’t wait until next year!
Thanks to Bill Gagliani for these additional photos:
And a couple photos from the Leisure Books page on the convention (at http://dorchesterpub.com/Dorch/SpecialFeatures.cfm?ID=2455)
Here are a few more stray photos from my camera from the trip: