So I’m back from the World Horror Convention and Stoker Awards, which was held this past weekend in Salt Lake City, Utah.
WHC was unlike other conventions I have attended, and I was a bit unprepared frankly. The ratio of creators and publishers to fans and readers was a bit more lopsided than I’m used to. I arrived at WHC hoping to have a good reading, get the word of my books out, and sell copies of Merkabah Rider. Well, the reading turnout was pretty sparse and I sold maybe a handful of books compared to my usual haul. I should’ve expected this, being in the room with luminaries like Robert McCammon, Mike Mignola, Rick Haulata, and one of my literary heroes, Joe R. Lansdale, to say nothing of really talented authors like Joe McKinney, Weston Ochse, Jeff Strand, William F. Nolan, and a slew of others.
But, I was a bit on the low side come Saturday night. Understand, a lot contributed to my bad mood besides the going generally unnoticed for the first half of the Con.
First off, when my flight got in I was operating on about three hours of sleep thanks to some last minute book proposal preparations and general packing stuff. I flew in with Del Howison, proprietor of Dark Delicacies books in Burbank, which I think is the largest bookstore specializing in horror in the country, and the very talented Mr. John Skipp. Not to say I flew in with them as in together. We’d never met. I recognized Del by his famous snow white mane, and John introduced himself when he found out I was heading to WHC as well, and then graciously introduced me to Del. I wanted to get in with these guys, but I’m a terrible gladhander, particularly when I’m sleep deprived, and I’m afraid beyond the handshake, I didn’t make much of an impression.
So I was sort of beating my head against the cab window about that all the way to the Motel 6, and I just wanted to crawl into bed and catch up on my sleep till I had to be at the Radisson for my first event, which I think was the Kaffee Klatch with Joe R. Lansdale. Arriving at what would be my accomodations for the next three days however, I received my first real blow. The lobby and half the rooms were under rennovation, and the other half of the place was occupied by Latter Day Saint Church members who had flown in for some big annual meeting or address.
The guy suggested I come back around 2pm.
This was at 10AM.
So that meant not only no sleep, but a mile and a half hike to the Radisson with all my crap, and no prospect of sleep at the other end of it.
I phoned my fellow Damnation Books authors, live-action GI Joe Lincoln Crisler (editor on Corrupts Absolutely? and author of WILD) and my sometime editor Tim Marquitz (author of Dawn of War and The Demon Squad series) and they kindly offered to let me crash in their room at the Radisson. However, when I got there, I found the excitement of meeting these two long time e-collaborators to be too lively an occasion to spend unconscious. We blathered back and forth for a while (there’d been a SNAFU between Lightning Source and UPS and the copies of Corrupts Absolutely? Lincoln had worked like hell to promote weren’t going to arrive in time to premiere at the con – no copies of my own Merkabah Rider 3: Have Glyphs Will Travel either), then went down and commiserated a bit with Kim and William Richards of Damnation Books.
I then headed to the meet and greet with Joe R. Lansdale.
I’ve talked to Joe now and then on Facebook (we both hated the Matrix and loved Real Steel), but meeting the guy in person got me a bit fidgety in an unfortunately fanboy sorta way. They say you should never meet your heroes, but Joe was just as funny and personable and easy going as you’d want your heroes to be. It was a bit of a one man show, but what the hell, nobody’d come to hear me talk, and in my experience people from Texas either talk a blue streak or hardly at all. I was frankly glad it was the former so it just wasn’t a bunch of us goombahs staring at each other.
The guy cited Robert E. Howard and quoted Bruce Lee and echoed most of my own thoughts on the writing work ethic and always keeping your reading horizons as broad as possible. Wish I’d had the opportunity to sit down and just have a beer with the guy, but I think maybe I was a bit starstruck. I mean, Joe Lansdale. For me, there’s Howard, Matheson, and Lansdale. Meeting Kazuo Koike a few years back in San Diego is the only thing that’s come remotely close for me.As it was, after the deal was done, I sought him out at his table (where he was sitting with Robert McCammon and his awesome wife Karen, all three of them co-founders of the HWA) and told him that he was the second guy I’d dedicated the first installment in the Merkabah Rider series to (the first being Bob Howard), and that I’d just like him to have a copy. He thanked me, and asked me to sign it for him, and I in turn asked him to sign my copy of Dead In The West.
Without Dead In The West and Joe’s Jonah Hex stories, there would be no Merkabah Rider. It was a shining moment for me. The man is a class act, and I hope we have a chance to connect again further down the road.
No pics, I realized. Yeah, I don’t tend to take pictures of people unless we’re close. Definitely not total strangers. I don’t know if the subjects find it intrusive, but I know I feel pretty dang intrusive sticking a camera in somebody’s face, or asking them to stand beside me and pose for one.
Now I have done this, but when I look at those pics (this one of me and Bill Duke comes to mind), I feel sort of silly. Here’s shlubby ass me and badass Bill Duke. I’m lowering the property value. Just feels kind’ve artificial to me. I guess it’s proof you met the person, but….oh I dunno. I mean, we’re not buddies, and if you want proof I met Joe Lansdale, I’ve got my copy of Dead In The West. And if you don’t believe me….screw you, cowboy.
So then I had my reading, which, as I mentioned you could hear the wind blow at. C’est la vie. Like a one two punch comes the mass autograph session, which was pretty much dominated by the bigger names. Looking back on it now, I see I was prepared for a different experience. The point of WHC was not to sell books, but to make a splash, do a little politicking, get your name out there. Nobody understood this more in my line of sight than Lincoln Crisler. Watching the guy in action is like watching a dynamo. He’s everybody’s buddy, and he’s somehow everywhere. I have a newfound respect for the guy’s ambition. Combine it with his talent and I expect to see him at the podium during the Stokers in the next couple years.
I had another chance at the DB books party celebrating the release of Corrupts Absolutely? Lincoln (dang him) talked me into reading from my story Conviction to a crowded room full of strangers. Now if you’ve picked that one up yet, or read about it here on the blog, you know that one’s a bit of a departure from my usual work. It’s told from the point of view of an abused African American kid in the Cabrini Green housing projects. So picture me (don’t bother, look up at that shlubby pic of me next to Bill Duke) and imagine me (after a couple quickly downed beers) reading (in part):
“Know what I’m sayin? This is how we do, folk. All day every day, nigga. Right-right. LK Killa! ‘Ay nigga! Who this ‘lil nigga? Who you steppin’ to, nigga? What set? What set? Man chill BillDawg, s’that trick nigga Punkinhead. Whatchoo lookin’ at, Punkinhead? Ugly ass bitch! God-damn you ugly! Go on in nigga, get yo grammaw’s diapers.”
I was a little reluctant at first, but screw it. I’m not ashamed of anything I write, certainly not Conviction, which is a good little story, I think. If somebody can’t separate the character from the writer, it’s there problem not mine. I have no regrets, and I thank Lincoln for nudging me into it with drill instructor aplomb (‘Just read the freakin’ thing!’). No real idea how it went over as I was reading from a laptop screen and couldn’t really look up, but I know the party quieted down till I was done and the only guy that came up to me besides Tim was a guy who suggested I turn Conviction into a theater piece, so I guess it went over OK. Nobody jabbed me with a broken bottle, anyway.
Although the night was young, I am not. I had a 1.5 mile walk back to the Motel 6, so I undertook it.
Now during the day, and I know a lot of the other con-goers will bear this out, it was wall to wall khakis and short sleeve shirts as the LDS people had the run of the place. But night time in SLC is a bit different. The homogenous scene of the daytime totally disappears around 2AM when the clubs let out. There is a sweet street machine subculture that roams the streets at night, peeling their tires and thumping bass, the souped up engines roaring like dragons in the dark. Cars both vintage and sleekly modern.
SLC has a button down reputation, but the liquor flows freely at the clubs, and the raucous crowds attest to it. I saw a couple fights on the walk home, and the splash of police mars lights on the concrete, and sidestepped an 80 proof puddle of vomit at least once. Nothing too harsh was going on I don’t think, but don’t be fooled into thinking that SLC is a square town, because it’s not. All that homogeny disappears (at least at 2AM anyway). All the minorities you don’t see in the downtown area during the day are in full effect at night, and I’m not just talking about ethnicity. There is a thriving gay community as well, apparently, full in the shadow of the Mormom Temple’s illustrious spires.
More on that later though (the spires not the gay community, sorry).
Saturday morning I had pitch sessions with a couple publishers, one seemed encouraging, the other not so much. OK.
Then I was fifth wheel on the Vampires in Literature panel with Hal Bodner moderating Leslie S. Klinger, James Dorr, and Thomas Roche (two of them voting members on the HWA’s Most Influential Vampire Novel of the Last 100 Years committee). God bless Hal for remembering to ask me things when the panel already had such a worthy crew of knowledgeable persons. I did my best to hang in there and contribute, but even found myself asking questions.
After that I was feeling a bit self-piteous. I had tried my hand Friday night at the Gross Out Contest (where contestants read the most disgusting piece of prose they can come up with), and even though I realized my story Wrath of Benjo from Dark Moon Books’ Slices of Flesh was way outclassed (if you can really call it ‘classed’), but I had signed my name, so I went up and read anyways – besides, Joe Lansdale was one of the judges, and it was a chance to read my own stuff in front of the guy. I got sandwiched between John Skipp (who, at the audiences’ cajoling, spouted off an entirely extemporaneous bit about dog molestation) and Jason Reinhardt, who elucidated us on the finer points of necrophilic incest (just a boy in love with his mom). Yeah the judge forgot to even call my name at the end. Haha. Lincoln was there too, and placed fourth.
So I hoofed it back to the Motel and worked for a few hours on a pulp novella I’m doing for Airship 27, which I’ll announce when I get the dang thing done and in. I lost track of time actually in the court of Haroun al-Rashid (that’s a hint, true believers), and headed back to the Radisson in time to catch the last half hour of the Stoker Awards. A lot of deserving people walked away with those beautiful little castles, and Rick Haulata seemed to speak directly to me when he said that the most important thing to do was to just keep showing up (he also said the difference between a writer and a pizza is a pizza can feed a family of four). I got to hear Alan Moore’s rambling backhanded acceptance speech for best horror comic, which was better written than most books I’ve read lately. Also got to see Richard Matheson accept the Best Vampire Novel of The Century award for I Am Legend via video. Pretty amazing.
Now at the after party my experience at WHC really got into the swing for me. A little late, sure, but that was my fault. I was hanging around, watching Rick and Joe talk, waiting for an opening to just go in and shake Rick’s hand and thank him for the inspiring words, when a pair of ladies came up to me and told me frankly I looked like a wallflower. Well, I had been one pretty much all weekend after all, so they were calling it plain. The two ladies were none other than Jeff Strand’s wife Lynne Hansen and Alice Henderson (a fellow Star Wars contributor it turns out, who had a similar experience in writing for the franchise), who were good enough to draw me out and get me talking about writing, HWA, and my experiences thus far. I really can’t thank these two enough. Had I turned around and walked out prior to their talking with me, I likely would’ve gone home feeling I hadn’t made much stride at the con. But, they introduced me to people, who introduced me to people and so forth. I didn’t wind up going home till about 4AM, at which time I discovered Salt Lake City has an awesome 24 hour Mexican place called Alberto’s that serves a mean machaca burrito and adobada tacos (I had never heard of them either, but if you like guacamole, you’ll like these).
Sunday morning I walked out of the Motel 6 in a t-shirt right into a Chicago-style ice storm. So, I walked back in, wrote a little more, got dressed, and checked out (which is why I didn’t get to attend the HWA business meeting – sorry, guys). Had lunch at the La Trang, the best dang Vietnamese restaurant I’ve ever eaten at, and hung around the Radisson, even sold a couple books. I had a great talk with Weston Ochse about this colorful thong-wearing bookstore owner in Quartzsite, Arizona, and our various relations in the military. Even had words with William F. Nolan about our mutual admiration for his friend Richard Matheson’s Incredible Shrinking Man (my favorite Matheson book) and The Beardless Warriors.
Now here’s where things get really interesting (or not, depends on your point of view).
Lincoln, Tim, and Laura Hickman and I headed over to BJ’s (er JB’s) for lunch and I decided to take a walk over to the nearby Mormon Temple to take a couple pics while they ate (since I had a bellyful of Vietnamese yet).
Now everybody has their preconceived notions about the Mormons (well everybody who is not a Mormon anyway). Stepping into the Temple Square area on this, one of the biggest Sundays of the year for them, was like stepping back into the past. Throngs, I mean throngs of people were crowding the area, so much so that SLC police had deployed in vans to direct both foot and vehicular traffic. Wading into the midst of this is like getting caught up in a river. You can’t really go against the tide, you just sort of float along.
Dotted along the thoroughfare were anti-LDS protesters. I strained to listen to what their bullhorn beefs were about, but let’s be honest, who can understand the tinny stuff coming out of those street preachers’ handhelds? Half of them wore placards that were legible but a bit vague, and one guy even had a bunch of apocalyptic stuff pasted to his car.
Now added to this din were lines of people who would seemingly spontaneously burst into chorus. We’re talking Mormon Tabernacle level of singing. Have you ever walked down the sidewalk between two rows of people lifting their voices in praise of God? That swell, that angelic sound of human voices in perfect unison assailing you from both sides – it’s an indescribable sensation. You can just about feel it pressing on your soul.
I wandered from the sidewalk into the temple courtyards and started snapping pics at the edifice. This is one beautiful building after another. The sky besieging spires (toldja I get back to those), the golden angel trumpeting at the top, the vertical architecture (which sorta reminded me of a Stoker, actually, but on an immensely grander scale), the total effect of the fervent believers and the reflecting pools and the monuments and landscaping, it makes the open heart soar, frankly. If God’s not your thing, just revel in the sheer majesty of what the human mind can conceive of and build.
Then, a heavily accented gentleman came up to me and told me he noticed I was taking pictures. I figured it was the LDS security, who had once already asked me to not remain standing in the path of the crowds filing into the huge conference center with its articially recycling waterfall, but no, this guy introduced himself (and I wanna say his name was Hector, and I hope it was) as just a pilgrim come up with his friends from Columbia for the conference. He took my picture a couple times and offered to show me around.
Sure – when would I have a chance to do this again, I figured. So Hector took me around the courtyard, explaining things and answering questions as we went. The Temple is only opened for special ceremonies and weddings. All these people, none of them were here to go inside that commanding structure. He pointed out the old Meeting Hall, and explained that ceremonies and lectures in every language in the world take place there. You see people walking around sometimes with flags on their lapels, flags from different countries. These are people who have taken it upon themselves to help others who come to the Temple from their respective nations. In the Meeting Hall, Spanish speakers, Japanese, even Tongans can gather and hear lectures in their native tongues.
Hector took me into one of the visitor’s centers then. In the middle is a big model of the ancient city of Jerusalem to scale – looks like the map room from Raiders of The Lost Ark.
All along the walls are beautiful paintings and displays depicting scenes and individuals from the bible. Prophets, Ezekial, Moses, Isaiah (in wax, seated in a mock up of a nomadic Hebrew tent), a staute of Adam and Eve, Daniel interpreting Nebuchadnazzer’s dream.
But at the top, you ascend a winding ramp into this planetarium like domed room painted with stars and nebulae, and in the center is a giant white staute of Christ. Hector explained to me that this represented their belief in Jesus as the center of the universe.
Now I kept waiting for the pitch. You know the pitch. The ‘free personality test’ pitch you get when you walk down Hollywood Blvd. between Ripley’s and The Egyptian Theatre. The pitch the guys in the short sleeved shirts who come to your door on bikes give you, or the guy on campus with the bullhorn, or whichever guy ‘the pitch’ conjures to mind.
Hector showed me a room depicting the charity work the LDS church does worldwide. I asked him if he had always been a Mormon, and he admitted he was the only one in his traditionally Catholic family. Perfect place for the pitch. I think he pointed out the wax figure of Joseph Smith to me. I admitted I was a Catholic to him as well. He said that then I understood, that LDS’ book of Mormon is a book added onto the New Testament. I did already know this. I made no judgment. I’ve never read the Book of Mormon and I think the extent of my education on it comes from that one South Park episode.
However, I am of same opinion of Robert E. Howard’s Conan, who said,
“Crom’s Devils! Let men worship what gods they will!”
I asserted that just as the Book of Mormon is an addition to the New Testament, so too is the New Testament an addition to the Hebrew Torah. Hector smiled to hear this, and clapped my shoulder.
He was nice guy, and when I told him I had to get back to my friends, he made no protest, no last ditch high pressure sales pitch, didn’t plead with me to see more. He advised me, if I ever came back, to visit the other building, which had a miniature model of the Temple with a cross section cut out, showing the interior. He escorted me to the Temple grounds gate and shook my hand.
“You have a generous spirit,” he told me. “I hope I will see you again some time.”
The world is a strange and wonderful place, full of diverse people who can get together on their common struggles with Star Wars and appreciation of the printed word, scary stories, and thong wearing booksellers.
So I came away from World Horror Con 2012 with some new friends, some new hopes, some new knowledge, and the realization that I have nothing in particular against Mormons.
PS – Picked up a copy of Dark Moon Digest #7, featuring the ghost story I wrote with my daughter Magnolia. Here’s her first ‘author pic.’