Yeah and behold, I didst go upon vacation, and 18 days later I did return alive. In the meantime I went to a family reunion, yelled at many children, met awesome people at the Stoker Conference, got sick at Disneyland, spent the night with an old girlfriend (note: not as salacious as it sounds), delighted an old woman, and convinced an old man of his withered and useless condition . And that’s not even counting the Gay Pride parade. All in all it was a super awesome trip, which I shall now illuminate for your pleasure.
We began with a family get-together in Snowbird, a place in the mountains just outside of Salt Lake. During the winter it’s a really expensive ski resort, and during the summer it’s a really expensive hiking/biking/etc. resort, but for a few weeks in the spring it’s a really affordable place that no one’s really interested in. We went with my parents, my brother’s family, and my sister’s daughter (the rest of her family was, alas, not able to join us). It was a lot of fun and included both outdoor swimming and intermittent hailstorms. Utah has crazy weather.
On June 10 we left Snowbird, drove home to Orem, and packed our car for an early morning drive on June 11, bringing us to Burbank at about 5:00pm. I took my stack of books into Dark Delicacies, a completely awesome horror bookstore/specialty store. I introduced myself to Del and Sue, the owners and operators, and had a fantastic time at the mass signing held there. I reconnected with a friend from last year’s HWA conference, Lynne Hansen, and finally got to meet F. Paul Wilson, a fabulous writer who had earlier given me an awesome cover quote for the US version of my book. Paul turned out to be far friendlier than I had dared to hope, and we talked several times throughout the weekend, and he took several opportunities to pitch my book to other people. Just a class act all the way around. I sold six copies of my book at the signing, and made plans with Del to come back for another signing next spring when the US version comes out. I’m excited. (Also, maybe next year I’ll finally break down and buy the incredible sculpture of Basil Rathbone from The Pit and the Pendulum; I can’t even tell you how cool that was.)
Friday the 12th was actually spent in Huntington Beach, introducing my children to the Ocean. It was way too cold to be playing on teh beach, but is was our only chance so we did the whole thing–sand castles, wading, diving into waves, etc. We were so from out of town it wasn’t even funny. Also, we learned that my wife was far more scared of the ocean than our kids were (she couldn’t handle not seeing her feet). That night we went back to the conference where I hung out for a while and talked to people.
Saturday was the big day of the conference, with all the panels and pitches and readings and the actual Stoker Awards themselves. Starting at the beginning:
7:00am: I was still on Utah time, so this was about when I normally get up. There was no free wireless in the rooms so I snuck downstairs and found a good signal and rode it for an hour or two, trying to get caught up on everything.
9:00am: I found Jeannie Eddy, the saint who put together all the pitches, and found out that I was meeting with my first movie producer (Zac Sanford of Suntaur Entertainment) at 9:45. I hung out and talked to Jeannie and her husband for a while, learned that Zac had been delayed by a power outage, and ended up being the only one free when he showed up at almost precisely 9:45–so instead of having to wait, I got the first pitch. I think it went very well, but we could both tell my book wasn’t a great fit for their needs. Things might change, though, and at the very least now I know someone in Hollywood, so huzzah. A good personal contact is worth its weight in gold.
10:00am: This years Lifetime Achievement Stoker winners were F. Paul Wilson and Chelsea Quinn Yarbro, and at 10 they had a panel where they just kind of chatted about stuff. It was like collecting brilliance, and I filled the margins of my program with scribbled notes and scattered bits of wisdom that I totally intend to steal and use on Writing Excuses some day. Here’s the best bit: horror, boiled down to its essence, is a mix of terror and fascination, and both of those are built on the foundation of uncertainty as seen through the lens of a very strong character.
11:00am: “Breaking into the Mass Market,” a panel with David Hartwell, Hank Schwaeble, Alice Henderson, Cody Goodfellow, and John Skipp. I would gladly pay just to listen to David Hartwell talk about the publishing industry, and in the fifteen or so minutes he spent setting the stage for us at the beginning of this panel I learned all kinds of incredible stuff. Among the many notes I took from this panel was the perfect answer to a question people always ask me, and I never really know what to say; well, now I do: Q) If I’m struggling to break in and sell my first book, do I need an agent? A) “Very few agents can sell your first novel, because what you’re really selling is you, and an agent can’t do that for you. Go out, do the work, sell your book, and then get an agent.” Obviously there are exceptions to every rule, but that advice is very hard to beat for the vast majority of people.
12:00pm: Once again Jeannie Eddy comes through, and I got to join a handful of other authors to have lunch with Don Murphy, another producer. This was less of a pitch session than a chance to sit around and chat, which mostly turned into a chance to listen to a very knowledgeable insider talk about the business of Hollywood. I learned a ton, and I left him with a copy of my book, so we’ll see.
1:00pm: I was signed up for a Kaffeeflatch with F. Paul Wilson, but the lunch went long and I missed it. Alas. I got to talk to him many other times, though, like I said before, so it all worked out. Note: I did go and specifically apologize for not being able to attend. That’s good networking advice: never break a commitment if you can avoid, even something silly like a sign-up sheet for a Kaffeeklatch, and if you have to break it make sure to apologize. It can be a bigger deal than you think, for good or ill.
2:00pm: The next two hours were spent back in my room, consolidating my notes and reading through some extra materials and not getting burned out. I feel bad that I missed a couple of good panels, but there’s no sense pushing yourself too hard, and since lunch turned out to be very engaged instead of relaxing, I need to take some time.
4:00pm: This was my only panel of the conference, featuring me and four other new authors (all of them nominated for the “Best New Author” Stoker) talking about how to get your first novel published. It was a lot of fun, and it was good to meet some other new authors. After the conference many people came up to ask questions, and I started chatting with one of them and realized he was freaking Brian Freyermuth, one of the writers from the original Fallout. The tables turned rather suddenly, and I got to geek out and go all fanboy on him. We talked for a bit afterward, and he was a really great guy. We also talked a bit with Brad Hodson of Cat Scare Films, who was great.
5:30pm: This was a pre-Stoker party, which was a lot of fun, but most of the time the music was so loud you couldn’t hear anyone say anything, which made it hard to talk. I spent more time with Paul Wilson, and hung out for quite a bit with David Oppegaard, a young author from Minneapolis who was on the “first novel” panel with me. He was great to talk to, knows what he’s talking about, and I highly recommend that you pick up a copy of his book.
7:00pm: The Stoker banquet was tasty, but I assure you it does not take a full hour to eat dinner. Thankfully we had a couple of empty chairs at our table, so we passed the time cannibalizing their goody bags.
8:00pm: The Stokers themselves were fantastic, ably MCed by Jeff Strand. I called a few of the winners, but overall my guess percentage was pretty abysmal; you can find the full list here. I want to give special congratulations to John Little and Lisa Morton, who not only won some well-deserved Stokers, they put the whole weekend together and really hit it out of the park. I was overjoyed to hear that they’ll be involved with next year’s conference as well, because putting this kind of thing together is very hard, and they did a fantastic job (while, apparently, still writing Stoker-worthy stuff). I’m very impressed and very grateful.
The big news at the end of the conference was that Fantasy Flight Games is producing a Pegasus/New Caprica expansion for their Battlestar Galactica board game. Actually that’s not news from the conference at all, but I heard it the same night so this is where it fits in my brain. No, the big news from the conference is that next years’ Stokers/HWA conference will be held in Brighton, England, the same month my second book is being launched there, and just a few days after the Leipzig Book Fair, which I’m already attending. Unless something crazy happens, this means I’ll be in Brighton next March helping to launch Mr. Monster and enjoying another great Stoker conference. Huzzah!
That’s more than enough for Part 1 of this vacation recap. What surprises does Part 2 have in store? Well, obviously a Gay Pride parade of some kind; I already let that one out of the bag. But what else? And what about the Indian reservation and the polygamists? Be patient, dear reader. All will be revealed.