AT THE START, it always seems like you have all the time in the world… and then suddenly, it’s over and everyone’s on a plane back home. World Horror Convention 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 o’clock 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!
The Stoker Award Ceremony
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.