Manuscripts Burn


"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."

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Scares That Care Autopsy

On Friday my sister graduated with a nursing degree from Johns Hopkins in Baltimore.  Now bear in mind she is 36, got her undergrad from York College in Psychology at 22, and her Masters in Social Work from Tulane at 24.  Am I name-dropping?  Yeah.  Well, I don't get to name-drop when it comes to my own education, so, yeah, I am.  More name-dropping to come when I get to the actual convention part.

So, anyway, my sister reached a point where she had essentially reached the pinnacle of her career as a social worker.  Her options were to stagnate or go into an administrative role where she would no longer be doing any actual social work.  And she wanted to keep helping people, but have a job with actual growth potential.  So she became a nurse.

It's all pretty amazing to me.  But, then, I've never looked at my day job as a vocation.  To me, my day job has always been a way to earn a paycheck to pursue my real goal, which is, of course, writing.  My sister genuinely wants to do good all day.  So I guess changing careers in her mid-thirties is just part of walking the walk.

My father, stepmother, aunt, and I finally met my sister's "special person" (or whatever the kids are calling it these days.)  The actual ceremony was blissfully brief, and I caught several Rattatas and an Eevee.  Then we had lunch at one of those hipster places where you just keep staring and staring at the menu, willing some actual food to appear listed on it.  For the pièce de résistance (French: piece of resistance) we played a few rounds of pinball at a local bar.

From there it was on to Williamsburg, Virginia.  As an avid fan and former employee of Wawa I've been delighted over the last few years to see that estimable chain finally making its way to Richmond and environs.  My last few trips to Raleigh to meet with my publisher Red Adept usually resulted in a Wawa pit stop, which is usually only something I can accomplish on my trips to Philadelphia, thanks to the overbearing predominance of garbage convenience marts Turkey Hill and Sheetz here in central Pennsylvania.

The only problem is deciding when, exactly, to stop at Wawa, and hoping not to miss the brief window around Richmond where they exist.  Unfortunately, on my way to STC this year, I missed my window and ended up having to stop at an Exxon.  And then, of course, they immediately started back up again, as if mocking me with their delicious, delicious tuna hoagies.

When I arrived in Williamsburg, I was in a shirt and tie, having just come from my sister's graduation.  I figured it would be the weirdest thing anyone was wearing at the con, so I left it on and finally got to meet John Urbancik, my roommate and fellow author.

Perhaps I should back up.  I had been seriously considering attending STC this year, but I missed the window for a vendor's table, except on the second floor, and I wasn't really interested in finding out whether a second floor vendor's table was going to be worthwhile or not.  And then I ended up pussyfooting around so much the hotel sold out, which ended up being a second strike against the convention.  (There's nothing worse than getting drunk at a con and realizing you have to drive, even a mile down the road, to your sleeping quarters.)  I had a reading scheduled on Sunday, but when my sister initially told me (or I initially misunderstood) that her graduation was on Saturday, I decided not to bother to drive five hours for a few hours of convention-going.

Everything turned around in the space of a few days after that, then.  I realized my sister's graduation was actually on Friday, which meant I would have two solid days of conning.  It would also be in Baltimore, which was an hour closer to Williamsburg from where I am.  Then it turned out that John was looking for a roommate, which put me back in the hotel.  So I stopped vacillating and decided to come.

The first night, I caught up with my sister-from-another-mister Rachel Autumn Deering and her wife, Jessica.  I also got to meet Matt and Melissa Hayward, the glitterati of the Dublin horror scene.  John and Melissa then realized, "Sixth Sense"-like, that they were actually ghosts, as Matt received a message his sister never sent indicating that she and John were dead.  Then the lights went out.  It was all very spooky if you believe in bullshit like ghosts.

Adam Cesare and Scott Cole also were around, and, of course, filmmaking maestro and diseased mind Mike Lombardo.  Gathered in the hotel lobby we lacked only one thing: alcohol.  And when the bar closed, our intoxication aspects grew dim indeed.  We ended up staying up until after 6 anyway, partially because the conversation was good, but also partially because I wanted John to have at least a few solid hours of sleep before discovering my secret snoring habit.

The next morning somehow I woke around ten and decided to finally see what the con was all about.  I had promised to get copies of "The Zine" (a short throwback to the zines of the '90s featuring stories by six of the authors at the con) for heroic super-fan Kenny Hughes and one half of the Sisters of Slaughter, Michelle Garza.  Kenny had also asked Jonathan Janz for a copy of "The Zine" so I decided my first stop was to meet Janz (which I wanted to do anyway) and find out if I needed to procure one or two.

"The Zine" signed by Brian Keene for The Sisters of Slaughter

Janz was busy running for mayor or something, so I wasn't able to talk to him, but I did get to meet his table-mate, Kristopher Rufty, and then move down the line to talk to a few other authors, including John, Mary SanGiovanni, and Brian Keene.  I managed to catch Janz for just a second, introduce myself, tell him how my roommate Meghan Hyden had regaled me with stories about him, and find out that he had, in fact, gotten Kenny's "Zine."  So that meant I just had to get one, for Michelle.

Everyone was selling copies of "The Zine" but I also had come to STC with the specific intention of meeting Jay Wilburn.  Jay has been featured in just about every anthology I've ever been in, including the micro-mini-press published ANOTHER HUNDRED HORRORS, which was my very first publication ever and is now out of print.  Jay had shaved his beard, which made him look...well, not good, but better than when he had the beard.  I also got to meet Armand and Shelly Rosamilia.  Then I began collecting autographs, meeting Yvonne Navarro, Bryan Smith, and Weston Ochse in the process.  Then, promptly as soon as I had finished that fetch quest, Aaron X tweeted me and asked for his own copy of "The Zine," so I started  all over again.  This resulted in Jay and Armand dubbing me "Aaron" for the rest of the con (and my life, apparently.)

"The Zine" signed by Yvonne Navarro for Aaron (the real Aaron)

As long as I'm doing all this name dropping, let's drop some fucking names.  In the guest room was the guy who played Father Gabriel on "The Walking Dead" (replete with a sign that read "No, I don't know who Negan killed.")  Sid Haig of "The Devil's Rejects" was there, as was The Cigarette Smoking Man from "The X-Files" and Mitch Pileggi, and the guy who played the warden in "The Shawshank Redemption."  Joe Lansdale was there, too.  I apologize if I forgot anyone or forgot your real name - this is just a hotwash, not a record for posterity.

I moved on to the vendor's room, which was just as bopping as the celebrity room in a lot of ways.  There I got to see Christian Jensen, who I actually met earlier this year at Amazicon, and we traded Amazicon war stories.  I saw Adam and Scott again, and got to meet Matt Serafini.  Then I got to meet Matt Manochio, who I know because Meghan has a stack of his novels on my end table right now, as well as Glenn Rolfe, whose BLOOD AND RAIN I'm currently reading.

Then I saw Lombardo again, and sold him a copy of BILLY AND THE CLONEASAURUS, and got to watch the trailer for his feature-length debut "I'm Dreaming of a White Doomsday."  We also discussed Lombardo stuff, which is a prerequisite for being around Lombardo, and, no, there is really no other way to describe it than "Lombardo stuff."

I shoved a ham sandwich down my gullet because, despite being surrounded by people I knew or wanted to know, I couldn't find anyone to have lunch with.  The con was just too damn busy.  And I realized I hadn't even attended any of the programming.  So I checked my schedule and saw that Armand had just started a reading with Hunter Shea.  Now, a few weeks ago I reached out to Hunter to ask for some advice about cryptids, so I definitely wanted to shake his hand in person, too.  But Hunter wasn't there!

Instead, I got a sweet surprise in the form of Jaime Johnesee.  Armand had (I guess) changed the double reading into a panel discussion with Mark Tufo and a few other authors I didn't know from Devil Dog Press.  But Jaime is another sweetheart contemporary of mine along the lines of Jay.  Well, less ratlike and hate-filled than Jay, but still.  So after the panel I walked up to introduce myself, but I didn't have to, because Jaime was already shouting my name and leaping into my sturdy, manly arms.

I neglected to mention I wasn't wearing underpants.  It wasn't particularly pertinent until just now.  But, you see, I hadn't packed any.  Which is exactly the sort of problem you find yourself embroiled in on the con circuit.  So, at about 2:30 in the afternoon I hit the mean streets of Williamsburg looking for skivvies and liquor, as, I suppose, countless sailors have before me.  I was determined not to spend a second night sober, because, really, I wouldn't wish sobriety on anyone.

Everything you need for a successful con.

So, finally powered up with a handle of vodka, a handle of bourbon, and five pairs of Hanes, I settled in for an afternoon nap.  I emerged from my hibernation later that evening in search of someone to have dinner with.  I was hellbound and determined not to repeat my lunch mistake.  Rachel, Jessica, and Mary had already eaten so my first line of defenses had been penetrated.  I repeatedly made Adam, Scott, and Mike promise not to eat without me.  Then, around 7:30, I left to go eat without them, because I'm an asshole.

Jay, Armand, and Shelly were eating at a place called the 2nd Street Bistro, and I didn't understand why they had driven so far for a meal until I sat down and joined them.  In place of my customary "Team Horror" Red Adept pin I was wearing a magnetic version of Jaime's SHIFTERS cover.  At what turned out to be an astonishingly good dinner, I got to meet Chuck Buda and Frank Edler, while Jay regaled us with his stories about his father being a terrible man, even in church.

(Editor's Note: I suspect Jay Wilburn's father is not a terrible man, church notwithstanding.  In fact, this was a reference to an audiobook narrated by what sounded like Foghorn Leghorn, which had turned into a running joke.)

When we left the restaurant, my phone started dinging and I realized that Scott and Adam had not, in fact, ditched me, but that I had ditched them and 2nd Street Bistro simply had no service.  Luckily, they hadn't left for dinner until about the time I was leaving from dinner, so I was able to catch up with them at the hotel bar.  The gods were smiling upon me, though.  Not only was I sitting in the middle of scaryoke, but I was surrounded by dudes who were into it.  (Except for Scott.)

Adam Cesare and Matt Serafini

So Adam and Matt sang "The Time Warp" while Glenn Rolfe seemed to be headbanging for every song.  Patrick Lacey later clarified for me that Glenn was deep, deep into his fourth pint of the night, and would actually wake up later outside at sunrise, confused as to what had happened.  India Inke joined Adam and Matt for "Summer Lovin'" and I did my own rendition of "Macho Man," which had seemed like a much better idea when it had played in the car on the way down.  Then the other karaoke standards filtered down: "Bohemian Rhapsody," 4 Non Blondes, Insane Clown Posse, you know, the basics.  Joe Ripple, the head of STC, appeared in a bra and we began stuffing money into his cleavage.  It's all for charity, you know?

"The" Glenn Rolfe

When we finally called it quits on scaryoke, it was time to head for the authors' room, where more drinking was afoot.  I got to meet David Bernstein and his wife, Sandy Shelonchik, who is just a ray of sunshine in the boundless morass that is Facebook.  I chatted with David and Patrick about the various publishing kerfluffles I've been involved in.  By the end of the night Matt Hayward was pretending to be Brian Keene on a panel, taking questions from an imaginary audience to which the answers all seemed to be a Groot-like "Brian Keene, Brian Keene."  It was another night where I was not in bed before 6:30.  The last thing I did was try to check up on Glenn, but I guess he was still asleep on that park bench, so I didn't hear back from him until later.

The next morning - and by morning, I mean afternoon - was my panel, the only thing I actually had to be present for all weekend.  I did not feel so good.  And Rachel hates doing panels.  I also had not decided what to read yet.  So I sat down and as Rachel read her reading, I was flipping through my books, trying to pick something out.  I settled on the brothel scene in BRAINEATER, which is usually everybody's favorite.  But just to be sure, I asked the audience if there was anything they wanted to hear.  The response was a hearty request for my 2016 World Horror Convention Gross-Out Contest-winning entry, "Dildoey McDildoFace: A Poop Dildo's Odyssey."  Three people promptly stood up and walked out about thirty seconds in.  I consider it a rousing success.

Afterwards I got to actually sell some books.  I got to meet Alicia and Chris Stamps, who I knew from Twitter, as well as a few other fans.  I'm not sure if the others were long-time fans or just really enjoyed scat humor, but Alicia, at least, had loved it.  Then I wandered off to sell David a book I had promised him, and while turning a corner I heard the first unpassupable pitch of the weekend: a band of four squirrel brothers run a reputable marketing firm by day and solve paranormal mysteries by night.  I had to buy SPOOKY SKWERL STORIES on the spot, and I don't even read YA or have kids.

There's a thing called I think "stage sobriety" where, in the light of an audience, you're able to pull your shit together.  That wore off immediately.  I was stumbling around, incoherently mumbling at 2:15 on a Sunday when Brian yelled at me to go to bed.  So I did.  And when I woke up later I was surrounded by Lombardos and Urbanciks, and we finally had a chance to talk about publishing and (of course) Lombardo stuff.  Then it was time for a proper dinner with the crew who was staying Sunday night.  Bryan and Jennifer Smith (who had gotten married the night before at the con) joined Brian, Mary, Rachel, Jessica, Alicia, Chris, Matt, Melissa, and myself at the Italian place across the street from the hotel.

Being Sunday night we naturally all decided to take it easy by which I mean we started drinking earlier rather than later.  We saw Sid Haig and shouted until we got his attention but then all promptly decided we were too scared to invite him over.  So, yeah, Sid, that was us.  Sorry.

At some point I passed out in my seat, which seems to be a recurring thing with me likely.  But unlike Glenn the night before, I managed to make it back to my room, where I was promptly joined by Lombardo crawling into bed with me and whispering sweet Lombardo things into my ears all night.  And thus Scares That Cares III ended in the best possible way imaginable.  (For those wondering, the child-thing shall be named Lumpy.)


  1. Aaron, it was great to hang out with you!


    1. I'm going to find a picture of your food and comment on how I would have improved upon it SO HARD!

  2. I have to say that sitting next to you at dinner was an honor and I had a bit of a fan girl moment. You were awesome along with all the other authors I met last weekend. And seeing my name on your blog in the same sentence as the word "scat" made me giggle. I'd rather read about it than experience it if you know what I mean.

    1. Well, I appreciate it, although I feel like fangirling over me is a bit like getting drunk on O'Doul's. And I'll be happy to include a reference to scat play in all my sentences about you from now on. :)


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