That was a hell of a convention. So much so that I didn't even get my shit together enough to talk about it on Monday, which was my intent.
So, a few months ago my good friend Martin Berman-Gorvine asked me if I thought getting a table at the World Horror Convention in Provo, UT would be worth it this year. I do a ton of cons local to my area (Baltimore, Philadelphia, and environs) but I honestly could not say what World Horror would be like. I do, however, have a nice network of horror authors I know, so I threw the question out to Facebook.
In a classic case of "no, it's not for me, it's for my friend" a ton of people told me I should go to WHC just to appreciate it, and not buy a table. Amongst those people was my hero, Brian Keene, who was quite insistent that I not waste my time as a vendor and actually enjoy myself at a con for once. Well, an opportunity to hang out with Brian is hard to pass up, and there weren't really any financial or relationship constraints, so I said "what the hell?" and bought my tickets.
I flew out of Harrisburg last Thursday at 7:00 am (!!!) and, after a brief layover in Chi-town finally arrived in Provo around 1:00 pm local time. I tried to check in, but check-in wasn't until 3, so I texted Brian and asked if I could come hang out.
"Come on up," he replied, "I'm about to interview Jack Ketchum for the podcast."
So I sat, mesmerized, a fly on the wall as two horror legends chatted in front of me. If you're a D&D or Pathfinder, the only way I can describe Ketchum is that he must have a +10 Charisma modifier. Even though we weren't recording live, it was like I was watching him wrap the podcast audience around his little finger. When it was over, Keene and I both looked at each other and then he said what I was thinking:
"Was it just me or was that the best interview I've ever done?"
Then I took a stroll with Brian Fucking Keene and Jack Fucking Ketchum and we had lunch at an authentic (well, for Utah, I guess) New York-style deli. That alone was worth the price of admission. But that was by no means the end of my trip. In fact, that was just the first afternoon.
Later that afternoon Rachel Autumn Deering and her lovely wife Jessica arrived. I spent the bulk of the con chatting and eating with them and a sharp young fellow named Richard Wolley about the crushing nihilistic existential dread in which I live my life while trying not to be too much of a bringdown artist. I couldn't swear I was successful but Rich, Rachel, and Jessica haven't unfriended me on Facebook yet so I guess I must be all right.
That night the drinking began and never really let up, although I suppose there were brief, unplanned periods of sobriety. I certainly had to pretend to be sober by 9:00 am Friday for my first panel, which was on social media. I was worried at first because our moderator was a paid social media consultant, but by the time we had jumped in I realized at least that the best practices I was suggesting she was agreeing with, so I guess I must be doing something right.
Later I had a "Horror in the Small Press" panel and got to extol the virtues of Red Adept, Severed, Mirror Matter, and Sinister Grin. Ironically, my phone went off that morning advising me that one of my manuscripts had just barely been edged out of contention with Ragnarok. Being at WHC and all, I had completely forgotten about it until someone brought up Ragnarok on the panel and I said, "Oh, yeah, I just got rejected by them!"
Then that night came the big event! The World Horror Convention 2016 Gross-Out Competition. Imagine sitting in a room packed with your horror author peers - and, oh yeah, Jack Ketchum and Brian Keene and Linda Addison and Jeff Strand and a half a dozen other heavyweights - and trying to gross them out. When Strand went, I was sure my goose was cooked. He writes YA so I'm not supposed to repeat his whole story, but a couple of lines brought down the house.
(Incidentally, I do not write YA, so I will be publishing my entry here on the blog on Friday. You have been warned.)
The competition was stiff. Paul Genesse (who we'll talk more about later) got up and extemporaneously riffed on his time as an extra on the set of "The Human Centipede." Connor Rice, a newcomer from Texas, spoke, also off-the-cuff, as it turns out, about a long, dark night of incest. Martin had signed up on the spot, and as the others, including Jack Ketchum, went, he was clacking away. Martin's story about a serial killer attempting to rape a breast cancer survivor, was the final entry.
But just before him I stepped up. I refilled my cup of bourbon from the bottle on the judges table as Keene introduced me. Then I turned to the audience and began to recite "Dildoey McDildoface: A Poop Dildo's Odyssey," which I had written the night before the con. I realized that I had one advantage, which was that in person I could act out all the parts of the story. And as I did, the laughter grew more and more intense.
Each of us were stopped at the three minute mark to determine if we should go forward. When my pause came, the audience was riotous, and I was pretty sure I had clinched it, unless Strand had managed to squeak past me with the judges. Then I finished and waited as Keene and Linda Addison put on a vaudeville routine that may well have been the highlight of the whole convention as the judges conferred.
To Richard went the runner up prize: a powdered donut with a bite taken out of it.
Paul came in third for his improve work, and received a Cthulhu bumper sticker.
When they announced Strand as second place, and handed him his fuzzy monster toy, I knew I had cinched it.
I stepped up and received a copy of Rachel's HUSK, Keene's GHOUL, and Vince Churchill's HYDE.
I was probably a little buzzed but I stood up there long enough for Keene to ask if I wanted to make a speech.
"Thank you!" I said, "I have waited all my life to be told I was a better writer than Jack Ketchum, and tonight you've all made my dream come true!"
What a delight. Anyway, that was the big highlight of my con.
I went on to meet Michael Bailey of Dark Regions Press and even to pitch him my latest sci-fi outing.
I got to moderate a panel with Joe McKinney, Bree Ogden, and Michaelbrent Collings on the evolution of the zombie.
I got to meet Kevin J. Anderson, who signed a book for my roommate and even told me he remembered me from when I sent him a copy of BRAINEATER. (In fact, that'll probably be the subject of an entire blogpost in the future, don't let me forget.) I even got to be on a panel later with KJA.
Oh, yes, mustn't forget about Genesse. When we first arrived, I remembered seeing that Genesse was going to be interviewing some of the guests of honor, and we were all in agreement when we said: "who the fuck is that?" I was even worried for a minute that the interviews would be terrible. But I sat on Keene's interview, and let me tell you: I was blown away. If you are ever organizing a con, Paul Genesse is the guy you want doing your interviews. He was agile, erudite, had obviously done his research, and his questions were probing, funny, and interesting. None of this, "So who are you and what are you doing here?" crap. He was asking Keene about deep cuts from his past, when he met Alice Cooper and things like that. The guy was a dynamite interviewer, and in retrospect I'm not surprised he placed in the Gross-Out.
At Keene's interview I also got to tell him how I really felt about him: that he's an asshole who's ruined horror. No, I'm just kidding. Although I did get to finally tell him how much his support has meant to me, and I'm glad I got to do that before he died, which judging by the amount he drinks, should be any day now. No, I'm just kidding again. But I am glad I got to say that.
And speaking of drinking...
The convention concluded in perhaps the best possible way with a huge party. I say "huge" but really it was pretty intimate. I got to hang out with Bryan Killian, who I found really is a kindred spirit of mine. I also got to see Sanford Allen again, who I had met the first night at the bar and then had dinner with. I probably wouldn't even talk about this party because it feels like talking out of turn, but there are pictures of it all over the internet, so I guess the secret's out. It really was a great way to end the con.
Er, well, although, I did get to drive back to the airport the next day with Vincent Price's daughter Victoria, Keene, all our luggage, an entire art show display, and a big black service poodle. And most exciting of all we didn't die.
"Manuscripts don't burn"
- Mikhail Bulgakov
Hi, I'm horror and science fiction author Steve Kozeniewski (pronounced: "causin' ooze key.") Welcome to my blog! You can also find me on Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, and Amazon. You can e-mail me here, join my mailing list here, or request an e-autograph here. Free on this site you can listen to me recite one of my own short works, "The Thing Under the Bed."
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