So after a few weeks of silence where I’m sure most of you thought I must’ve died in a space shuttle explosion, I’ve decided on something special for all of you: to regale you with the story of my experience at this year’s World Horror Convention.
The World Horror Convention (for all non-horror readers) is the annual gathering of people who work in the horror genre (authors, editors, artists, etc.) and up-and-comers (me and my ilk) who want to become better at what we’re endeavoring to do.
It’s not really a fan affair; you wont find many of the usual staples of the conventions that I’m prone to attending (cosplay, special Q&A events, etc.). It’s more along of the lines of a training camp where someone can learn more about their chosen craft.
That was all I was really expecting when I boarded my plane in the wee hours of the morning, just hoping to learn more about the horror genre and my place in it.
I really had no idea what was in store for me.
Apparently, this year the convention was going to be held in Provo, Utah… I know what you’re thinking because it was the exact same thing that I was: Where the freaking world is Provo, Utah?
Well it’s about a forty-minute drive south of Salt Lake City nestled at the base of the Rocky Mountains. This required me to request a shuttle service to the hotel where I was staying and, conveniently, where the convention was taking place.
I was picked up by the two quirkiest shuttle drivers I’d ever met, and to my everlasting regret I can’t remember their names, but we had the best conversations on the way down. We talked all about what I was doing there and what I hoped to accomplish. Before I’d left for this adventure, I had been wondering if I should rent a car, but I was glad that I didn’t because it was a wonderful conversation that I wouldn’t trade at all.
Long story short, they dropped me off at the Marriott Hotel and Convention Center, the hub of this year’s WHC and where I would be living for the next few days.
I said farewell to my shuttle drivers and walked through the doors, ready to meet others like me. In my then 25 years, I had never met another horror author before… the doors opened… I walked in with my bags and the biggest smile plastered across my face… and discovered an incredibly empty lobby devoid of everyone but the concierge.
I must’ve looked completely lost because the Concierge gave me one of those are you lost, little boy? looks as I reluctantly trudged over to the desk.
Me (thinking): Pen name or real name? I don’t remember which one I reserved the room under.
Concierge (A little more forcefully): Name?
Me: Connor Rice, here’s my card
Concierge: Ah yes, Mr. Rice, we have a lovely room for you.
I walked myself up to my room, looking around for any familiar faces, while my thoughts raced. Was I in the right place? They had my reservation, so I must be… but what if I had the wrong hotel?
After dropping my things off in my room (and deciding that since I was a single traveler, I would be alternating between my two queen sized beds like a crazy person) I went exploring around the Hotel and Convention center.
The conference rooms matched the room names for the convention, but still there was no one who looked official or who I recognized (or could reasonably guess was there for the convention).
Defeated but undiscouraged, I decided to venture out into the world of Provo, Utah. I took a shower, tried to look my best, and journeyed forth, intent on seeing the sights… the landmarks… maybe interact with a local or two…
Instead, I found a comic book store a few blocks away and that sucked up my allotted exploring time. Afterwards, I still had time to eat, so $100 down, I set out with my new load of comic books to find something to devour.
One place promised the best authentic TexMex that Utah could provide, and being that I’m from Texas and this was Utah, I was rather skeptical, so I chose the Italian place beside it where I managed to eat quite a bit of a pizza before claiming the rest as leftovers.
At that point I was quite done with exploring the things that Provo had to offer and decided that my best bet would be to go back to the hotel and maybe get some writing done. I knew the convention actually started the next day, but I had been hoping to meet some other writers like me and talk shop or, at the very least, make some new friends.
These are the thoughts that passed through my mind as I realized something: I was the only person wearing a different color other than white on this street. Every man wore a white button-up shirt and black pants. That was when my mind flashed to that good ole Utah stereotype: Mormonism.
Now I don’t have anything against Mormonism, far from it in fact. It was just awkward at the time because I felt like an alien in a world of normal people. My blue dress shirt and jeans undoubtedly stood out to the crowd (the pizza box and comic books probably did too but I digress). Either way, I made my way solemnly back to the hotel, an observer from a faraway place in a land full of the people who interrupt me at home on Saturdays.
The lobby was still depressingly empty as I passed once again through the entrance and made my way up to my Fortress of Horror to type a little more on Don’t Reel In for lack of better things to do.
After that was finished, I found myself at a crossroads: sit in my room and write more (or possibly some Utah-based television?) or go downstairs and try to mingle with whoever might be down there. I decided on the latter option, but took Stephen King’s 11/22/63 just in case no one was there; always be prepared in case you have to sit in a hotel bar by yourself.
Nevertheless, I was happily surprised to see that the hotel restaurant and bar had filled up with a variety of different people, so I happily trotted my way in and looked for a place to sit. I noticed an empty seat at the bar next to two women who were chatting. One of them was a middle-aged blonde and the other an African American lady whose hair was out of this world.
I had a second to think, “Ha, that lady kind of looks like Linda Addison,” as I took my seat and ordered something to drink before diving into my book, intent on blocking out the outside world.
Now, it is a little known fact that I eavesdrop… oh man do I drop eaves… studied with eavesdropping masters in the mountains of the Himalayas. Well here I was reading my book in Provo, Utah and I couldn’t help but overhear these two women talking about Ridley Scott’s Alien (a fantastic masterpiece of Sci-Fi/horror).
I figured they had to be part of the convention, but due to the fact that I was obviously listening to their conversation and the fact that I’m an exceedingly private creature who doesn’t like butting into people’s business, I went back to my own little world.
That was when one of the women turned to me and asked, “Are you here for the convention?” I nodded and introduced myself and got their names: Kelly and Linda Addison.
If I had been sipping my drink at the time I would’ve most definitely choked on it. Turns out my eye is better than I thought, but more importantly I was talking to Linda Addison… The Linda Addison; the first African American woman to win a Bram Stoker award for her writing, a wonderful poet and storyteller, and someone whose work you should definitely read if you haven’t.
Confident and smooth Coyote went away for a few moments as I began thinking about what I was supposed to say to that: okay Connor, you’ve got this… be cool… be cool…
So I began talking to Kelly and Linda and for some reason they took a shine to me. Maybe it was because of some funny anecdotes I’d told them or how I listened with enraptured awe as they told about their own stories and experiences. Fast friendships are made in the strangest of places.
Kelly was not a horror author, but rather an editor who had quite the list of projects under her belt and was currently in the middle of moving across the country with most of her possessions in her car.
Linda asked me if I had a booth reserved and I told her no; I was just there to learn more about the Horror genre and how to fit in with it. I told them I had published two short stories and they applauded my accomplishments.
I recall Linda saying something along the lines of “Usually when we talk to newbies and they say they want to be a writer, they’ve either not finished whatever they’ve written or they haven’t sent anything off.”
They asked me about my influences and I rattled off those who had passed like J.F. Gonzalez and Tom Piccirilli and gave them staples like Stephen King and Dean Koontz.
“But there is one horror author who inspired me to become a writer in the first place,” I said, a small embarrassed grin on my face. “I’ve read virtually everything of his and I heard he’s actually supposed to be here, though I haven’t seen him yet. His name’s Brian Keene.”
Linda and Kelly both started laughing and for a moment I thought that I had said something incredibly amusing or that Brian was considered a joke or something, but then Linda said, “Shoot, we can hook you up. We knew Brian Keene before he was Brian Keene.”
I might’ve melted to the chair right there as my heart stopped.
I went into full fan boy mode for a minute, talking about my love of his work, but after that settled down, I tried not to be overwhelmed by whom I was rubbing elbows with.
Well that didn’t last long at all.
It might have been 30 minutes or it might have been three hours (time passes very slowly when you’re wondering if you’re in some sort of surreal fantasyland where all your heroes are at a hotel bar in Provo, Utah) but while Linda was saying something to Kelly, I noticed a small, kind of unassuming man walking towards us.
“Linda!” he said warmly as Linda turned around, her wild hair flowing around her.
“Dallas!” she replied as they hugged. My stomach fell out immediately as I recognized him vaguely from his pictures, and Linda saying his first name all but confirmed it.
She gestured at me and said, “Dallas, this is a young writer that we’ve found and love. Connor, this is Dallas Mayr, but you probably know him…” Oh yeah I knew him, but it was still unreal… “as Jack Ketchum.”
He shook my hand, grimacing a bit at my firm southern grip (I was raised in Texas; our handshakes aren’t just polite, but project strength) and we both gave each other the usual pleasantries.
I couldn’t believe it; I was talking to Jack Ketchum, one of the most monolithic horror authors of the age, a man that Stephen King himself described as “the scariest guy in America” and one of my writing inspirations.
Okay Connor, easy, be cool, be cool, act normal. Don’t nonchalantly lick him to show your admiration.
I found Jack Ketchum to be a rather personable man who gave the best advice and didn’t turn away anyone who wanted to talk to him (I learned all of this as the convention went on, at this point I was still awestruck). He asked me about my writing, cutting me off before I could tell him anything else because he said he would like to read it someday… maybe I was imagining things or maybe he wanted to encourage me, either way such a small thing might as well have been phenomenal praise for a writer starting out like myself.
I had to return to my room for a bit to make some calls and tie up some other odds and ends, but I promised Linda, Jack, and Kelly that I would return momentarily and liked to think that I made that walk with dignity and nonchalance. As soon as I entered that elevator, though, I reached out with a hand to brace myself against the wall, my mind whirling in a vortex of amazement.
So I made it to my room and back composed and ready to mingle, and it was quite a time; Jack, Linda, and Kelly are quite the people to talk to and it was very enlightening. Eventually Jack and Linda decided that it was time to hit the hay, but the question arose: who would wait up for Brian to get there?
Yours truly volunteered, of course, and Kelly volunteered to stay up with me. In the rush of meeting Linda and Jack, I realized that I had not caught Kelly’s last name. Wouldn’t you know I felt like an idiot when her reply was “Laymon”. For those of you who don’t know, Richard Laymon was a prolific horror writer whose impact on the genre cannot be compared. He unfortunately passed in 2001, long before I would have gotten a chance to meet him.
Kelly was his daughter (you could have colored me embarrassed). I might have launched into fanboy mode again, telling her how much I loved her father’s work (I remember vividly reading One Rainy Night in high school), but there is no proof that I did so unless Kelly feels the need to comment on this blog post.
We stayed up long into the night waiting for Brian and telling old tales of love and war and became good friends sitting at that bar for 3 hours in Provo, Utah. One conversation about Richard Laymon that stood out was when Kelly said “I have him with me.”
I must’ve looked really concerned, because I didn’t know that he had been cremated, so I think my subconscious mind just assumed Kelly had dug up her father and was transporting him across the nation. Sometimes I wonder if I’ve been breathing in things that make my mind work differently than other people’s… eh, what’re you going to do?
Time went slowly and I’m so grateful it did, but eventually Brian arrived. Kelly and I spotted him immediately and politely allowed him to check in and drop off his stuff at the hotel room. Kelly assured me that he would be back down soon, that he would be looking for something to drink.
Lo and behold, a few minutes later he was and Kelly introduced us…
And that is a story for next week’s blog post.
This has only been part one of my adventure that was WHC. It’s in the top three trips I’ve taken that’ve changed my life and I will say that every second was worth it. Before that, I was just a guy who wrote, but when I left I felt it in my heart that I was a writer.
The Coyote had truly been born in that moment and I set off to chase the roadrunner with zeal.
Wile E. World News
A man didn’t stand up this week during the playing of the national anthem at a football game. Time to put my offended hat on and focus in. Or I’m not, because I focus on things that have true importance in the world… *sigh* I can already hear the pitchforks and the torches of the mob outside of my door so just let me add: I think it was in poor taste that he didn’t stand up. I might not be the biggest fan of America, but I do respect the idea of it rather than our government’s rape of what it could be and so I agree that it was in bad taste.
But he has the right to do so and not be crucified for it, and I understand his reasons for doing so. Protest has taken all manner of forms over the years, so let’s just be glad that this man has chosen to protest in a nonviolent, peaceful way rather than through violence.
Last time I checked, this was a country where you were free to follow your own conscious; let’s see how long that lasts in the next two decades or so… The best way to deny freedom to people is to divide them and then build the fence around them while they aren’t looking.
That’s why we need people who truly respect us and truly respect and love the people who elected them.
Duke is a seven-year-old Great Pyrenees who was recently re-elected as mayor of Cormorant, Minnesota. He even managed to beat out a human candidate!
Obviously this dog is doing something right and all he asks from us in return is kibble… A small sacrifice, I know, but what wouldn’t you give for political stability?
#DukeforPresident2016, Slogan: Rolling Over For A Better Tomorrow!
Quote of the Week
Gr8tstorm: Did Batman find that out by asking a chair?
Due to the length of this blog post, I will not be posting a review of a book or film. I know, I know it’s sad, but dry your tears for salvation is at hand. I will write a review of a book and film that I have recently read and watched this week to be posted before the onset of next Thursday.
Joy and rapture all around and something for all of you to look forward to in the dismal abyss that is the workweek.
Wile E. Young signing off and chasing the Roadrunner over the abyss. Good thing I brought a jetpack.