A couple of weeks ago I attended the World Horror Convention and Bram Stoker Awards weekend in New Orleans. What a blast. I’d never been to the town before, and even though it was a quick trip, it was fun to stroll around the French Quarter and take it all in.
My wife spent some time in New Orleans years ago when she was a teenager traveling with a carnival (yup, I married a carny and she married a rock singer and God help our kid), so she’s always wanted to go back with me and show me around. It was cool to have dinner on Bourbon Street on Friday night with live jazz, and in the morning…the croissants…to die for. They must put a fucking stick of butter in each one. Croissants, man… Yeah, we uh, don’t party like a carny and a rocker anymore.
The convention was cool too, and a little overwhelming. A year ago, when JournalStone picked up my first book, I didn’t know anyone in publishing. And the idea of socializing with other horror writers? Well, I wasn’t going to take out a craigslist ad. But to be in a gorgeous old haunted hotel rubbing elbows with so many people I admire, people whose books I’ve read and loved—that was awesome.
♦Meeting my publisher, Christopher C. Payne in person for the first time. After a hundred emails, it was great to finally shake the man’s hand.
♦Hanging out with my fellow JournalStone authors, which felt like a reunion of old friends. And authors from other presses, many of whom I’d become acquainted with on social media, but it’s different in person, of course. There was just a lot of good energy in the air, a real sense of mutual admiration and support everywhere you looked.
♦Seeing Steel Breeze in print for the first time and signing a stack of them!
♦Picking Ellen Datlow’s brain about her editorial process at a Kaffeeklatsch. So far I’ve been too intimidated to submit any of my stories to her (first impressions, and not having the right thing for the right anthology and all) but how often do you get to hear about the nitty-gritty of story selection and editing from her point of view? She’s a titan!
♦Sharing a table at the awards banquet with a great group of people including Megan Hart, J.G. Faherty, Greg Bastianelli, and Brad C. Hodson was a pleasure, even though it was mostly too loud for conversation. Sharing a table with Joss Whedon’s Stoker award for best screenplay (Cabin in the Woods) was also pretty damned cool. J.G. Faherty presented and accepted the award on Whedon’s behalf. Hey Joss, I voted for you, man, you owe me.
♦The Clive Barker tribute. This was the heart of the convention for me. Clive Barker is one of my biggest influences, so to sit in on a roomful of writers and friends of the man paying tribute to his work and sharing stories about his resilience and passion for creativity was really inspiring. We almost lost Mr. Barker earlier this year when he spent some time in a coma after a dental infection. I remember back in January, hearing that he could have slipped away, and how forcefully it reminded me of the immense influence he has had on my interior life. He’s much more than an entertainer. He’s a philosopher.
My first book was published just nine months ago. I’m a small fish. The convention gave me a sense of the pond: the genre, the marketplace, and the community that I’m now a part of. It was, at times, enough to make my head spin (riding in an elevator with Ramsey Campbell after the awards, or with a dripping wet Glenn Chadbourne on the way down from the rooftop pool). In an environment focused largely on awards, marketing, and networking, it’s easy to get distracted. But taking time to reflect on Clive’s legacy reminded me of what inspired me to write fiction in the first place: a fearless and original voice, a visionary artist exploring the extremes of human experience: horror, sex, death, and spirituality. Clive may have redefined horror with The Books of Blood and Hellraiser, but he very soon transcended genre with Imajica, Weaveworld, The Books of the Art, and Abarat. Painter, poet, mystic, storyteller. I truly believe he is the William Blake of the 20th century.
I’m not a natural when it comes to networking and schmoozing, and I’m sure I missed a lot of opportunities over the weekend, but at the end of the Barker tribute, I stalked Mark Miller (Clive’s collaborator and representative at the convention) and raved like a rabid fanboy for a minute before stuffing a copy of The Devil of Echo Lake into his hands. Sorry, Mark, but after hearing you speak with so much authentic affection for Clive’s genius, I just couldn’t help myself, and the only way to really continue the conversation about Clive’s influence was to say, “this book wouldn’t exist, nor would I be here in New Orleans today, if it weren’t for Clive.”
I only met Clive once, at a book signing in Cambridge when I was about twenty-one. I asked him if he had any advice for an aspiring writer, and he said, “Always try to be as original as possible, no matter how strange or taboo that might be. If you’re true to yourself, there will be an audience for it.”
I can’t tell you how often I’ve reflected on those words. Words that put me on a path to find my own vision and voice. I’m still finding it, and it was good to be reminded that that’s what writing is about. It’s an act of remembering, like Gentle in the Imajica or Candy in the Abarat, who you really are.
And so, at a convention devoted to a genre that is still close to my heart, the big takeaway for me was the realization that my true ambition is still to write stories that reach beyond genre.