Yesterday, I posted a transcript of my acceptance speech for the WHC Grand Master Award. Now, here’s a run-down of what else I did at this year’s WHC. (All photos copyright Brian Keene unless otherwise noted).
As I get older, I’ve found the key to keeping one’s sanity and health when doing a string of convention appearances is to get into town a day early and stay a full day after the convention is over. So I got into Portland on Wednesday. Luckily, several old friends had done the same thing. We hung out in the hotel bar for a bit, and then me, John Urbancik, Michael T. Huyck, Lisa Manetti, John Palisano, and a few others walked to the H.P. Lovecraft bar, where we met up with Jeff Burk, Mykle Hansen, Anderson Prunty, and a few others from Portland’s author collective.
As you might expect from the name, the Lovecraft Bar is built around the theme of H.P. Lovecraft’s mythos. There’s a giant Elder Sign on the ceiling, and a coffin on the dance floor. The DJ (on the night we were there) was playing industrial and techno (most of which I didn’t recognize, but at some point he must have noticed us old people in the crowd because he played some Ministry and Jesus and Mary Chain). I’m told the bar is the official hangout for the Deadite Press crew, and I can see why. I was a little disappointed there weren’t themed drinks, though (Shoggoth Shots, Tentacle Tequila, etc.)
Proving that he’s an excellent editor, Jeff told us he was picking up the bar tab. But at the end of the evening, what we really needed was someone to pick up Mikey. Luckily, between the combined efforts of John Palisano’s strong back, Lisa Manetti’s ability to find a cab on a deserted city street, and a little fast talking from me when the cops began circling, we were able to get back to the hotel unmolested.
I had a reading and a panel on Thursday, but most of the day was spent greeting old friends. WHC is often the only place I see these friends. WHC is not a fan convention. It’s a trade show for horror writers, artists, editors, and publishers. One of the things I enjoy the most about it is watching the next generation of authors come up. The one I’ve been most impressed with, especially throughout the weekend, was Shane McKenzie. He’s outgoing, prolific, and savvy. He’s not afraid to ask questions, but more importantly, he knows when to be quiet and just listen. Here’s how Shane broke into the business — he thought I was too intimidating to approach, so instead, he signed up for fighting lessons from Wrath James White. After two months of letting Wrath beat the shit out of him, he admitted he had no desire to be a fighter, and instead wanted to become a horror writer. And he will. I’ve no doubt he will. And I also have no doubt that he will become much more than just a horror writer. Currently, he’s known for bizarro and extreme horror, but once he expands his voice and goes beyond those expectations, he’s going to hit this genre like a bomb.
Two other old friends I was delighted to see were Weston Ochse and Norman Partridge. Like Urbancik and Mikey and Wrath, Weston and I have come up through these ranks together, getting our start at the same time, and sharing the same triumphs and foibles and pitfalls. And guys like Norm have been there to guide us and holler at us when we needed it. I love them both, and made sure I had plenty of time to duck out of the crowds, find quiet corners of the hotel bar, and catch up with them throughout the weekend.
Of course, given the number of attendees at WHC and the fact that everyone is doing business, sometimes you don’t get to see old friends as much as you’d like, unless you make time. An example is my old friend — writer and KNB FX superstar Mike McCarty. We were scheduled opposite each other for most of the weekend, so our only chance to catch up was dinner on Friday night, and some time spent talking afterward. Sadly, there were other friends — folks like Jemiah Jefferson, Del Howison, Jonathan Reitan, and Tim Waggoner, who I barely got to see at all, and for that, I am bummed.
Luckily, I was rooming with three of my best friends (one of whom is now the woman I love) — so I got to see Urbancik, Mary, and Kelli throughout most of the weekend. The four of us have done enough public appearances together over the years that we’ve developed a psychic shorthand. We know when each other needs to get away from the crowds for a little bit and take a break in the room, and we can deftly make that happen without anyone knowing better. And Kelli, who used to be one of my pre-readers until I kicked her out of the nest so she could focus on her own writing, got to be a pre-reader again when I read a draft of my speech to her early Friday morning. She helped me hone the final draft while still in her jammies.
On Thursday night, Michael Arnzen, his wife Renate, and myself went off-site to meet up with Greg Rucka and Jen Van Meter. Knowing that Shane was a fan of Greg’s and knowing that one of the things he wants to do is break into comics, I invited him to tag along. His reaction was one of the highlights of the con for me. Along similar lines, another personal highlight of the con was sitting down with new author Bryan Killian. He was one of many who sent me a manuscript when I offered to review them. I had just finished his before the con, so we went over it, and I showed him what he did right and what he’d done wrong, and then we pitched it to Deadite. More on this later in the year. (There are four of you still waiting on manuscripts, along with Michael Bailey, who I touched base with at the con. They’re coming. Please be patient just a little longer).
Greg and I swapped comic gossip, and agreed that we were well off with a business decision we both made last year. Then it was time to get back to the con for a panel, so Shane and I hoofed it back in the rain. Shane shouted, “That was so fucking cool” the entire way back to the hotel.
I was on a number of panels throughout the weekend, with topics ranging from writing for comics to what’s next for zombies. My favorite panel, and one that attendees seemed to enjoy the most, was about creative couples and the unique challenges they face. Panelists were myself, Mary, Weston, Yvonne Navarro, Jeff Strand, Lynne Hansen, Cameron Pierce, and Kirstin Alene. It was a standing room only crowd, with additional attendees trying to listen from out in the hall. The panel started off great, with Mary and I, Lynne and Jeff, and Kirsten and Cameron all agreeing that it was wonderful being in a relationship with another author. Weston and Yvonne agreed that this was so, but due to Weston’s contrary nature, by the end of the hour, he’d convinced us all that we are doomed. Look at the expressions on our faces in the picture above, which was taken at the start of the panel. Now, here’s what we looked like later on.
Everyone thought it would be me or Strand that knocked it off the rails, but no, it was Weston. That’s because Weston Ochse is evil incarnate, and has secretly been responsible for at least half the things our peers have blamed on me over the years.
In case you’re curious, Mary told the crowd this about being in a relationship with me: “He’s the perfect combination of Indiana Jones, Tony Stark, and Tony Soprano.” So there’s that.
On Friday morning, Urbancik, Mary, Kelli, Mikey, Russell Dickerson and I headed out to breakfast. While in the lobby, we met a new author named Brian Kirk and invited him to join us. (It occurs to me as I write this that I met two new authors this weekend whose initials are BK. Soon, I will have more competition on the K shelf of the horror section…
The Grand Master Award was presented Friday afternoon. The picture above is probably my favorite from the weekend. Kelli snapped it on the fly, about ten minutes before the presentation began, while we were waiting for the room to fill. And fill it did. Don D’Auria, formerly my editor at Dorchester and now the editor at Samhain, introduced me and talked for fifteen minutes or so about our relationship and my career. I was immensely pleased an honored by his words, and surprised by some of the things he remembered. At one point, he made me cry (Mary can attest to this).
When Don was finished, Beth Gwinn presented me with the award on behalf of the WHS, and then I gave a speech which you can read here. Then I did a Q&A, during which many peers stood up and said nice things. I was pleased and honored and humbled, and although I still don’t think I deserve the award, I accept it gratefully.
The mass autograph signing took place Friday evening. Deadite had me covered for books, having brought along all of my titles. I also signed books that people brought with them. This was one of my favorite parts of the weekend. I always enjoy meeting readers, and chatting, and finding out about them. Unfortunately, due to the length of the line, I wasn’t able to talk to each person as long as I would have liked. But thanks to each and every one of you who had me sign something. After nearly two decades with this gig, you’re still the reason I do this.
I was especially jazzed to meet Nathan from Witch Mountain – a metal band I discovered last year. He signed an album for me, and I signed a book for him, and we had planned on getting together Sunday for me to record a spoken word bit on their next album (more on that below).
During the signing, Alan Clark, Urbancik, and myself were seated across from Michael Marshall Smith and Stephen Jones. When the line slowed down, this presented a wonderful opportunity for Stephen and I to engage in a past time that we both enjoy — fucking with each other. We did that every time we saw each other — so much, in fact, that I never got a chance to tell him how pleased I was that he was receiving the HWA Lifetime Achievement Award. He absolutely deserves it. In my opinion, Stephen Jones is to the horror genre what John W. Campbell was to science fiction. So, congrats, Mr. Jones — and I hope you don’t mind that I charged my bar tab to your room.
So, what does a Grand Master do upon accepting his award? Well, on Saturday, Mary and I posed for a publicity photo for FOSSIL LAKE, a book whose contributors consist mostly of authors who have been stalked and harassed by Nickolaus Pacione over the years, including Ramsey Campbell. Although neither Mary or I are in the book, we’re happy to help them promote it, as is befitting of a Grand Master status.
Saturday evening, while everyone else went to the Bram Stoker Awards banquet, I slipped out for an intimate dinner with Mary, Mikey, his wife Kerri, and Ryan Harding. We found Douglas Winter doing the same thing, and he snapped this picture of us in front of a phallic sculpture of money.
After returning to the hotel, we visited the Stoker after party for a while, where I got to catch up with more folks who I hadn’t seen throughout the weekend, like Christopher Rice and James Beach of Dark Discoveries. James and I talked some business, none of which I can tell you about, but all of which will be exciting. Then, I had to leave because it was time for the annual Gross-Out Contest.
A secret: I wasn’t looking forward to the Gross-Out Contest. After years of winning and more years of judging, I feel jaded. And the older I get, the further away from extreme my muse seems to be taking me. Well… I was wrong. A mostly new generation of writers and performers had me laughing and gagging, and I fucking loved it. I kicked myself for ever doubting. There were some wonderful entries (“PINEAPPLE!” Foodies. Q’s Rap. Father vs. Son. etc.), interspersed with commentary by the judges (who were Rose O’Keefe, Douglas Winter, Daniel Knauf, John Skipp, and myself). Jeff Burk did an excellent job as emcee, going so far as to let a half-naked clown staple a copy of his book to his back. (We’ve come a long way from when a much younger Brian Keene ate live worms on stage. Now motherfuckers are shedding real blood).
Shane McKenzie’s entry involved something with the consistency of tapioca pudding. He brought along generic tapioca pudding packs for each of the judges, as well as a jar of mayo and a package of sausages. We were supposed to eat the pudding while he read, but all of the judges refused. Sensing that my young protege was in trouble, I ended up eating my pudding on stage, as well as all of the other pudding cups. They were wretched. Warm, off-brand, and did not mix well with the 17 bourbons I had in my system by that point. But, I took a bullet for the kid.
And then I got my revenge.
We judges agreed to give Shane a special ‘Judge’s Choice’ award. His prize was that he had to dip one of the sausages he’d brought along into the jar of mayo and eat it live on stage. Which he did. Later, Shane told me that the sausages had been in his hotel room, un-refrigerated, for most of the weekend. I informed him that botulism was a right of passage, and that Laymon, Monteleone, Lansdale, Wilson, Ketchum and other mentors had all given various diseases to me over the years. He seemed to take this well.
And thus came the last night of the con. There was much celebrating and partying and good times with good friends. Rain Graves and I did a tango in the lobby.
And then Nick Mamatas and I did a tango together, as well. If we ever write a sequel to THE DAMNED HIGHWAY, you can be absolutely certain this will be the author photo.
On Sunday, lack of sleep and copious amounts of bourbon and conversation had caught up with me. Mary, Urbancik, Mikey, Kerri, Weston, Yvonne, and myself made a trip to Powell’s Books, and basically sleepwalked through the store like zombies. I regretfully texted Nathan and bowed out of recording (something for which I’m still kicking myself in the ass for), and then texted Rucka and bowed out of burgers and beer in his backyard, as well. Luckily, both Nathan and Greg know what these events are like, and understood all too well how exhausting they can be.
After an intense altercation with an asinine hotel security guard who I felt was being disrespectful to Jack Ketchum (“Nobody puts Dallas in the corner,” I remember saying before it almost came to blows), Mary and I said goodbye to everyone and retreated to Edgefield Manor, one of my favorite places on Earth (and thanks again, Carlton and Rose). We had a nice, quiet dinner (which I followed up with a Cohiba), looked at art, went for a walk among lilacs, and then took a nap that lasted 17 hours.
Here is a complete list of the rest of my appearances for this year. Come say hi.