Monday, May 16, 2016


I got home less than 24 hours ago from my first HWA convention, and I'm still feeling the buzz. Warning: this blog post may be the equivalent of a drunken text.

It was a fantastic weekend.

I went in not having met anyone there in person, only online dialogue, so I approached it with some apprehension.

The voice of my social anxiety imagined all sorts of nasty scenarios. The weekend would be full of me anxiously approaching other writers, who would then ask me, "so what books have you written?" I would then go through  my publishing pedigree in a jarbled elevator pitch. There would be a pause while their brain computes if I am worth talking to, and then many would move on. My three horror novels weren't worthy of their time.

What I found was the opposite. Warm, welcoming, egalitarian. I can honestly say there wasn't a single writer there who did not seem genuinely happy to strike up a conversation. And strike it up I did.  I was going to get my money's worth, and was introducing myself to anyone who had a convention nametag. If you had a pulse, I stuck my hand out and said hello. If I saw you in the casino, on the elevator, next to my urinal (okay, not that one) I was going to meet as many people as I could and it all felt so natural and welcoming. So many writers and editors that I met, it would be impossible to name them all. 

I had some goals for the convention. To meet people, to get motivated, to give myself direction, and of course to be a fanboy to some of the talent.

I checked off a picture with Jack Ketchum from the list the first night, and then I got so much more including a signed book and a handful of conversations with "the scariest man in America." We discussed the Girl Next Door and how I was blown away by the POV he chose to write the story in. We discussed his books with Lucky Mckee, both "I'm Not Sam" and his next release. Then, in another conversation out of the blue he asked what Stephen King book I like best.  (Gotta go out of the ordinary, I told myself, so I went with The Long Walk, one of his Bachman books.)

Jack was engaging, inviting, approachable, all of which epitomized the whole HWA convention experience, where massive talent shared space and didn't shade out the tiny little seeds of talent (such as myself) trying to grow in the shade.  

I got to meet John FD Taff, someone who I have considered a near digital mentor ever since we were signed together with Books of the Dead Press and who has helped my writing life tremendously. Without him there, I may not have braved it, and he's got all the emotion and range of his books.

I broke bread with John Foster, got a signed copy of Mr. White, a book that was on my must-read list after reading the short story teaser.

I got signed copies of Library of the Dead (an anthology which won a stoker later on that day) and Chiral Mad 3.  Editor Michael Bailey noted that I have been to every single StokerCon ever held. (Damn straight) I met the ever-pleasant Eric J. Guignard, who extended his hand and hotel key for a place to put my suitcase for the last day of the Con, for I had to check out at 11 am but wasn't leaving until 12 hours later.

Another goal was to say hello to Nicole Cushing. I've read three of her books, each one of them blowing my mind a bit more than the last,  and I got a chance to talk with her and her husband on more than one occasion. We discussed her unusual sense of transgressive fiction, and I got a few copies of her incredible flyer/mock-religous pamphlet and tie in to Mr. Suicide. When she won the deserved Bram Stoker award, she was sitting right by me, and I couldn't help but feel the emotional explosion when she hugged her husband. I gave her my own hug, and I got perhaps the first picture of her with her prize.

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RL Stine is God-damned hilarious, only to be outdone by Jeff Strand who was born to be an MC.

Other highlights: The madness of John Skipp, who hopped about the plotting workshop like a drug-infused leprechaun helping an army of other leprechauns plot their next book. The subtle genius of Tim Wagoneer, who discussed "how to create a monster" and more importantly, how we react to monsters, The affable Jonathan Maberry, who happily signed a copy of Rot &Ruin for my daughter and personifies the convention spirit of cooperation and paying it forward.

I also sat on my own panel moderated by Jason Brock, trying to explain that, if you do it right, you can be a self-publisher who is actually a small publisher, just act like one. Beta readers, editors, arc copies, cover artists, pre-orders, advertisments, etc..  Of course, what I wanted to say and how it come out were two different things. You don't get to sleep on what you say and edit it the next day. It's why I write and do not public speak.

 Just to prove I know how to complain, the food at the banquet was pretty shitty, (but, who cares) the hotel was the armpit of the Vegas strip (no Coffee in the rooms, you have to take an elevator to the lobby, stand in line, and then pay 5 bucks for your morning fix. A bottle of 8 ounce water was 5 bucks, a slice of pizza 7 bucks) Vegas in general was largely a distraction. I did not play a single hand of blackjack or a single slot machine, just some minor sports betting at the Flamingo sportsbook. (the armpit of Vegas sportsbooks) 

Last thing: this is not the first time I went to Vegas sober. I've gone there twice in my early sobriety, so it is not like I feared I was going to lose my 24 years of being drug and alcohol free, but I did fear feeling "awkward" being sober, which is never a good place to be in. I never felt that, but I did buy some Crystal Meth. See, when one sees Mr. Walter White on the Vegas Strip, one can not help but buy some Heisenberg Blue. See below. (I did smuggle it home in my suitcase, and any extra I have will be attached to ALL SMOKE RISES, so buy a copy, 'right?)

Meanwhile, I need to start writing and making a few sales. The plane tickets to Long Beach for StokerCon2017 are not cheap, and this John Skipp plot isn't going to write itself. Huge thanks to the HWA who put this thing together. It was an unforgettable time. 

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