Monday, May 2, 2011

Scary fun for writers and readers at the Horrorcon in Austin, Texas

Fear but no loathing at Horrorcon 2011 in Austin

World Horror Convention ( ) chose Austin, Texas, this year for a horror-down that brings authors from all over the spectrum together for a four-day confab that leads to book deals and new friendships for folks who, by anyone’s standards, are unique. HorrorCon is a hotbed of emerging creative authors who read from their latest horror stories (some stories are still in the publisher’s web press) while pitching their work to a variety of largish and smallish indie publishers and editors.

The publishers and editors come from all over the US and the UK to meet aspiring writers of fantasy, terror, and mahem in a professional atmosphere of…oh, why bother to tone it done? It was a series of wild parties that went on and on into the night. Bloody great fun. Hands were shaken, deals were struck. Those with sufficient imagination could hear the primordial scream of networking, networking, networking, that filtered up from a circular book table in the curséd rooms #386 and #486, where bottles of champers nestled up against freshly minted tales of horror.

I discovered that the World Horror Convention was taking place in my own back yard just ten days before it occurred, which is kind of a slam on my awareness of what my own fellow writers are up to and a bit of a slam on local publications that did not talk Horrorcon up as much as it deserved. Just before the event, a nice mention was posted to the Austin Chronicle in time for collectors to pick up day passes for the dealers rooms, which were crammed with a selection of horrifying novels, chap books, collectors art hardback limited editions, toys, prints — and egos — related to horror and dark fantasy, including some very nice color illustrative work by artist Vincent Chong.

Chi-zine party pix at Horrorcon in Austin. I dare not make a snarky joke here, as I pitched House of Debauch to this extremely kind and charming UK publisher, Chris Teague, of Pendragon Press.

World Horror Convention 2011 Souvenir Book
Part of the cost of the event was offset by the generous bag of freebees, including a sampler souvenir paperback of stories from interesting horror authors including Joe Hill, Sarah Langan, Bret Savory, Sandra Kasturi, Joe R. Lansdale, Brian Keene, Del Howison, and Jack Ketchum.

Attendees also received free copies of The Keep by F. Paul Wilson (from Tom Doherty Associates), Horror Library Volume I from Cutting Block Press, Possessions by Nancy Holder (published by Penguin), Damnable by Hank Schwaeble (published by Penguin), and a two-in-one fantasy horror paperback, Slojan the Swordsman by Michael Moorcock and Under the Warrior Star by Joe R. Lansdale (originally published by Planet Stories).

The goodie bag even boasted a sweet little horror comic titled Fear, by Brian Keene, that comes off as a straight-up traditional horror comic right out of Tales from the Crypt. In a very good way.

Here’s some links to the works and authors above:

Books and authors I am crazy about

Derek Muk: When I encountered author Derek Muk, I swept the table, buying all his short books plus his dynamite first novel, The Occult Files of Albert Taylor (published by Impact Books). His short books are in collections such as Sin After Sin, Three Parts (and others you can find on Amazon). He also offered a nifty slim collection of shorts, published by parABnormal Digest, that included stories by Mr. Muk.

Jim Cavin: When I saw Jim Cavin and his delectable wife in the author signing room, I knew I had to find out more about this author, who (I suspect) lives in a world as intriguing as his stories. Dressed in fine white linen, sporting a stylish hat and even more stylish moustache, Jim Cavin looks like he might be an occult detective. (Full discloser: I also suspect his wife of vampirism). His book, Hard Boiled Vampire Killers, jumps off the page with style and punch. It’s everything you hope for in a classic detective novel.

When I asked him how his two main characters in Hard Boiled Vampire Killers, a vampire hunter and a vampire, managed a truce long enough to partner as lovers, he said, “Loneliness. When two lonely people find a connection…that’s rare. You have to hold onto that.”

The prose in Hard Boiled Vampire Killers is snappy, he-man action stuff and I like that very much. I love vampires, but I also love Bruce Willis in Die Hard, and when Jim Cavin’s vampire killers go on the hunt, it’s party time for them and lights out for Dracula, as sure as Hell, those vamps are going down.
Molly Tanzer: this woman is a genius and her description of wicked children in The Infernal History of the Ivybridge Twins was brilliantly witty, perfectly pitched to the time period of the story, and dead-on perfect. She happily marries Marquis de Sade’s moral tone to Jane Austin’s prose and Lovecraftian weirdness. I cannot wait for her latest book to come out. Molly Tanzer, when not writing brilliant fiction, is the managing editor of Lightspeed and Fantasy Magazine.

Her sites are

Promising horror book I want to see published
I ran into the wonderful S.P. Miskoski and her sweet husband, Cory Herndon (a senior Quest games designer for Carbine), early on at Horrorcon. Over drinks and coffee, S.P. told me the story of Knock, Knock, her novel about three young girls who raise up something very, very bad. The book features strong female adult characters, who try to assist the girls as they struggle with the evil that threatens to destroy their world. She told me that two short sections of the book are available as short stories. I am seeking the links to those stories, as I very much want to read them. Cory described what it was like to work on game story design and it was fascinating. Gaming stories are designed to play out in ways that are limited only by the imagination of those who play them. But I like straight-up writing best of all.

Miskowki’s work on Amazon:

Her Amazon author bio page:

Wrath James White: I simply cannot believe that Austin are lucky enough to have this talented writer in its midst! Wrath is a transplant from Vegas — and he’s got a red hot gift for storytelling! A tall, handsome man with a golden voice, Wrath read to us from his erotic tale about a visit to a tattoo parlor. Reality twists and turns grotesquely like the tattoos of the beautiful dark goddess who performs unspeakable rites upon her tattooed victims. Wrath had the audience squirming in their chairs with embarrassed pleasure. Oh. My. Goodness. Hand me my fan.

I got him to autograph my cherished copy of The Book of a Thousand Sins (it’s very cherishable!). Wrath said that his motivation for becoming a writer was the birth of his son. The gentleman has seen much to write about, as he was once a professional fighter and fight trainer in Vegas and, before that, a bouncer. With his intimidating size, and with his gorgeous looks and voice, his next career should be movie actor.

Read Wrath James White’s blog at

His Amazon author page will lead you to various available books:

Charming woman makes vain attempt to get word in edgewise at Horrorcon 2011 party in Austin

Let’s Play White
After hearing author Chesya Burke speak about stereotypes and expectations in the horror genre, I could not wait to buy her book, Let’s Play White. Last night, I could not put this set of dark-themed short stories down, as they crawled into my soul and tormented my mind. The title story, Let’s Play White, has me looking nervously into dark corners, hoping I would not see the skittering of tiny three-legged fur-clad vermin. Er…talking vermin. In her short, Chocolate Park, life turns bitter when two sisters are forced to make a unholy choice, leaving the dead to come up with their own revenge. Creepy stuff; it’s written in a super smooth voice that makes me wonder if she likes to scare small children at night with bedside stories.

Just one snarky note: I heard Ms. Burke speak on a panel, but just barely, as the males on the panel rambled on and on (and on), often interrupting her “turn” to speak, when questions were leveled at the panel as a whole. Since I had witnessed something similar earlier in the week at a photography panel at UT Austin, where a male photographer droned on about his visions. He seemed to forget that there was another panel member who was waiting to speak. The incident was just one more confirmation that when the big men are holding forth, whether horror writers or photographers, the womenfolk are supposed to smile and nod, smile and nod. Ms. Burke’s comments during the panel were very interesting and I hope she visits Austin again soon.

A light opened up on the back wall at the Chi-zine party at Horrorcon 2011, and the Savage vortex of energy sucked several cover artists right out of the room

Weird moment where I became an agent
Late Saturday night, I did an elevator pitch – in an elevator – to a movie producer (the only hint I am giving is that he works out of Austin and his initials are D. A.) on a great novel by author J.E. Gurley.

I pulled out my Hell Rig bookmark and waved it at the movie producer. The graphic for Hell Rig looks like Towering Inferno in a night shot with ocean roiling in the foreground. In one graphic, the imposing figure of Gurley is superimposed, floating next to the burning oil rig. Damn, it’s a cool book cover graphic.

“You need to make this guy’s novel into a movie,” I said, getting up into the producer’s face and making hand gestures like I was about to toss a pizza in the air. “It’s he-man action adventure horror stuff. Rig 13 was called the Hell Rig by all the guys who worked the oil rigs, after there were 18 mysterious deaths that caused it to be shut down. But when someone is charged to reopen the Hell Rig, they discover that there’s monstrous, inhuman horror behind the deaths.” “NO!” said the producer, his eyes bright. “NO??” I replied. “I mean, YES! That exactly the sort of thing I am looking for!!” he exclaimed.

Why did I do this? Why did I run to the lobby and call J.E. Gurley in his hotel room, a man I only met once but whose book and personal style impressed me greatly, to tell him to come to the Cutting Block party and meet this movie guy? I got so excited. I think I should be an agent. That, or a yenta. Heck, maybe I am a yenta and I just don’t know it.

I’m not even sure that’s really the plot of the book. But I am dying for it to be made into a movie. It’s a great book. I got the sample on Kindle and I’m hooked; I’ll get the rest of it tonight and read it like my life depended on it. Something in there about voodoo, too. Oh, yeah, I LOVE this fraking book so much. I forgot to tell the producer about that, but I am sure that Hurley pitched that part to him.

I’m crossing my fingers that Hell Rig will be out soon on the big screen. Maybe Quintin Tarentino or Robert Rodriguez should make Hell Rig. Somebody is going to and it’s going to be great.

Two fab young authors
I truly enjoyed meeting two young authors whose work I look forward to reading. Both were also in pitch sessions on Friday. I am crossing my fingers for good luck for them both.

Abby Goldsmith, an Austin artist and writer, pitched her book to me and it sounded like a winner. Her calm, rock-solid persona will win her many friends and supporters in her future career. Abby is also an artist and her card reflected that work:

Laura Hickman, from Vegas, was pitching short stories plus a book, and I think she hit a strike on the shorts on her second pitch day. Laura has tons of energy and great story ideas. She’s the kind of gal I tend to end up on the top of a roof at 3 a.m. with, trading stories and keeping everyone else up when they want to go to sleep. Love the gal! Next time she’s in town, we need to go find ourselves a roof and some Johnny Walker Black, which was my drink of choice throughout this event. “Never mix, never worry!” As Richard Burton says in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

Earie spectral lights hovering over horror writer at Chi-zine party at Horrorcon in Austin 2011

Other writers network while doomed author is attacked by primordial air spirits at Horrorcon in Austin 2011

The Dark Magic of Jonathan Frost
Tweren’t just writers and publishers at HorrorCon: Jonathan Frost, dark magician, was there to consort with demons and set up future performances at horror events and, possibly, in an Austin venue. I pitched UT Austin and told him to contact the student groups that make decisions about bookings for the college. UT Austin is long overdue for the super scary mind games that are Mr. Frost’s specialty. Jonathan did some rocking prestidigitation with his business card that had me wondering just who owns his soul. But as long as he can make magic, who cares? Please come back to Austin and scare the life out of us!

Kevin Donahue, at Horrorcon in Austin, offering titles like "The Faggiest Little Vampire" (a childrens book) and "Night of the Assholes"

I didn’t meet the author, but the clown made me buy it
The Pilo Family Circus by Will Elliot, published by Underland Press, stopped me in my tracks with its arresting cover (by Heidi Whitcomb) of a clown. It’s like the clown tapped me on the shoulder and whispered, “Buy this book – or I’ll cut you into a hundred dirty little pieces.” What the clown really said was a quote on the back of the book: “You have two days to pass your audition. You better pass it, feller. You’re joining the circus. Ain’t that the best news you ever got?”

Funny, what will get you to buy a book – one book, out of so many wonderful, promising books. Sometimes it’s just stopping for five seconds and looking, really looking, until the book grabs you and won’t let you go. I loved the style of that quote; it made me want to read more. Next thing I knew, my money was on the table and Pilo was in my bookbag. I can’t wait to get into the heads of vicious clowns and lose myself in the horrific universe of The Pilo Family Circus.

Connecting with a caring publisher who will put the best possible quote and art on your book cover and then put that book on the table at events like HorrorCon is the reason why new writers like myself long for a “real” publisher. It’s fun to publish an e-book. It’s great to have the freedom of the interwebs to publish one’s creative work. But it’s also nice to have talented, professional allies who will polish your weird writing till it shines like a tarantula’s belly and then deliver it to fans of weirdo stuff.

Horror writer, already tipsy in broad daylight, makes useless attempt to keep track of parked car at Horrorcon 2011 in Austin

books that forced me, at gun and knifepoint, to buy them
I have a weakness for all detective stories. But, occult or horror detective stories? Oh, mama, bring it on! And to that end…

Those Who Fight Monsters, a collection of horror detective stories, edited by Justin Sustainus (published by Edge Science Fiction and Fantasy), shouted, “Buy me!” I am not one to refuse when the shout is a quote from Friedrich Nietzsche:

“‎Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster. And if you gaze long enough into an abyss, the abyss will gaze back into you.”

Synchronicity is the only explanation for the fact that a Facebook friend posted the quote last night as a comment on the death of Osama Ben Laden. I rooted through my books, searching for an echo within my horror bootie…literary bastards! I stand awkwardly, fumbling with my fingers, admiring my betters. I can hardly wait to read Those Who Fight Monsters to find out what sort of monsters they become.

Scott Johnson’s Haunted Austin, TX: Cold Spots Well, of course I had to have this one as I am intrigued about how he will serve up the horror in the town where I eat breakfast tacos. I was very happy to see the author at Horrorcon.

Pretty Brit laughs at the size of American food portions at restaurants, while attending Horrorcon 2011 in Austin.

The best table in the Dealers Room
Centipede Press brought fabulous books that every collector was drooling over, including oversize full-color artbooks, classic fine art combined with dark, original stories that paired well together, and specialty hardbacks such as Paul Monette’s Nospheratu the Vampyre, commissioned by Werner Hertzog and including color inserts of stills from Hertzog’s film, Nopheratu. I tried to tell myself I had “no money” left, but when I saw the Nopheratu, I lost all control and ran to the ATM for more cash so that I could call this precious book my own. Other collectors tried to walk by too, but the quality of the books was “sticky.” I saw more than one collector root into their jeans and pull out cash for a precious book they couldn’t pass up. Centipede Press has a nice print catalogue of their work, which you can probably order online. It’s a collector’s item all on its own.

What Lovecraft fan live without Centipede’s 1,200-page collection of selected Lovecraft stories combined with a (never before sold) volume of J.K. Potter photographs and a selection of Lovecraft portrait photographs. Bound beautifully and slipcased, of course, because that’s how Centipede does things: lasting tributes to the best authors and illustrators in their field of interest. There isn’t a book in their collection that I don’t crave, but...well, we can’t have everything. I’d kill for their special publication of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, illustrated by Greg Hildebrande. But I think it would be more appropriate to just use my Amex card and order it online.

Did I pitch?
Hell, yeah, I pitched, and to three very nice publishers who were kind and polite and who gave me honest responses immediately to what interested them, and did not interest them, in “The House of Debauch,” my Gothic tale about the Debauch family and their struggle with evil in 1909 New Orleans. All said to send them sample chapters, based on the elements of the writing or the story that piqued their interest. And as soon as I post this story and get a good night’s rest, I will send them samples and cross my fingers. For luck.

Did I bring a John the Conqueror root with me in my book bag, a root which was given to me by the owner of Voodoo Authentica as a charm to help me get Papa Legba to open the doors and let opportunity come my way? That’s for me to know and for you to find out.

Horror author William Ollie with his soon to be released book, "Fifteen Minutes" reads at HorrorCon 2011 in Austin

Read me a story
I attended one and only one panel event, and then decided to avoid all the anxious gamesmanship of dancing about architecture and spent my days basking in stories — horrible, disturbing, wonderful stories. The words were born from the lips of their creators, coming to life, condemning us to experience their nightmares. Almost every author I love is long dead. Hearing living authors read their work is a revelation for reclusive writer types (okay, I am speaking for myself). Hearing a story read out loud provides ample confirmation that the simple act of writing a story remains a vibrant, important, magical act and one that, like monsters under the bed, will never die.

I thank authors, not limited to but including Sheldon Higdon, Scott Johnson, Suzanne Church, Angel Leigh McCoy, Molly Tanzer, Scott Edelman, Rain Graves, Hank Schwaeble, Monica O’Rourke, Wrath James White, John Langan, William Ollie, Claude Lalumière, Wayne Allen Sallee, Jeff Strand, F. Paul Wilson, Rio Youers, Peter Straub, John Everson, and Joe Lansdale for sharing their work by reading it aloud. Some were old-timers at it; others were reading to an audience for the very first time. I continue to clap for them.

Links related to the authors above (and some have links elsewhere in this blog post):


  1. I'm so bummed that I didn't know about this. Clair, I had no idea we were so close! I live near Waco. Small world lol. I'm so going to have to look you up the next time we're in Austin. I have a writing buddy and we head down there on occasion. I loved your agent idea and can only imagine you doing this. So fun! Thanks for sharing, and now I'll have to watch for this next year! Rachel Firasek

  2. Yes, that would be lovely, Rachel. Not sure where Horrorcon will pitch its tent next year; it's a floating event. But it was a great event. I hope that some of the cool publishers, like Cutting Block Press, Chi-Zine, Centipede, Pendragon, Tor, Damnation, Samain, Deadlite/Bizarro, Solaras, Abaddon, Bad Moon, and others return to Austin for other writer-related events. It was a great opportunity to see what other writers are doing and how their work is promoted within the industry.

  3. WHC will be in Salt Lake City next year, the last weekend of March I think, not 100% sure of the date, but I remember reading that on the paperwork that was stuffed into my googie bag!

    Thank you again for such sweet comments about me. I am blushing now.

  4. Aw, Laura, you were full of great stories and enthusiasm this weekend. We all need that in our lives.

  5. Thanks for plugging my site in your blog! Your novel sounds awesome, and I really hope it gets a fair chance (we all know those are hard to find). I'd like to read it someday.

  6. LOL, Abby, that is why I ran home and wrote this post! Every link to our stuff online is another "stab" at our goal. (heh heh, well, after all, we are horror writers.)