So, last week, I attended Scares That Care 4, a charity event–to use Brian Keene’s term for it, since it’s a fitting one–down in Williamsburg, Virginia. It’s taken me a week to write this, not only because I have a kid and about a million other things to handle on a day-to-day basis, but also to…kinda lose my glow about the whole thing, I guess?
It’s been five years since I attended a con and, while the last con was fun–if nothing else, I have an awesome Gary Braunbeck story to tell from it and learned how fucking silent Jonathan Maberry is when he moves–I was also the head of horror programming for what is, really, an SF & Fantasy con. Programming’s something I wouldn’t wish on the person I hate the most. (Actually, I would, ’cause fuck that prick, but you get the idea.)
So, coming to Scares That Care, just as an attendee–I didn’t have a vendor booth and I sure as fuck wasn’t part of the celebrity room (you, in the back–stop laughing at that idea or leave, please)–was a completely different experience. It’s taken me the past week to get my thoughts in order to mention some of the highlights. I already fucking know I’m going to forget someone who was awesome and I had great interactions with, but don’t take it personally if it’s you, okay? I literally met scores of fucktastically-awesome people and some of the faces and names have blurred.
For those that don’t know, Scares That Care is a charity organization that raises money annually for various people–three families, I think, though I don’t know how those families are selected–who are suffering from cancer, or childhood diseases, or any of the millions of things that can and do fuck people up royally. The organization is 100% volunteer and after overhead–bookings, location rentals, etc.–is covered, all the money goes to the people who need it. I’m talking tens of thousands of dollars at a crack, going to kids and victims of cancer to help keep things on an even keel. At one point over the weekend, I talked to Brian Keene about it, just chatting, and one could literally see a wistfulness cross his face when he told me, “I’ve been along on one of the times they’ve delivered a check to a family. There’s nothing like it.”
Gotta admit, right at the top, I was a little nervous. I knew almost no one there beyond that faux-reality that is social media: the two people I felt I really did know–if only because we e-mailed and texted each other–were Damien Angelica Walters (if you don’t know who this is, but somehow know of me…what the fuck is wrong with you?) and Jacob Haddon, editor of LampLight. Damien had to bail on the weekend for a very good reason, leaving exactly one person I felt I actually knew, and I worried I would do that oh-no-I’m-in-a-strange-place thing where you kinda hang on onto the one familiar thing around. I wasn’t looking to be a millstone or an albatross, y’know?
Not that I needed to worry, really, and that’s the best thing about Scares That Care: it’s a family. It’s easy to forget who’s an attendee, a “writer’s block” (as the event called them) guest, a vendor, or a volunteer at the con. This is a place where a conversation can start with two people on opposing sides of the table (say, like, a signing) and, within five minutes, both are on the same side, sitting and chatting. Hell, half the people I met happened because I stepped outside for a cigarette.
The best part of a good event is the skewering of tropes. Horror fans are seen as, let’s be honest, mouth-breathing lunkheads, the kind of people who rate a film’s quality by the gore ratio and how many tits pop up on screen and for how long (actually, I envision the horror fan stereotype as kinda like Seth Rogen’s friends in Knocked Up). You can’t imagine these people putting together a single fucking sentence, let along reading a book that isn’t 85% pictures.
The reality, of course, is pretty fucking far from this tired trope. Sure, you have the pinheads (not the Pinhead, but, y’know, regular-ass pinheads), but even the pinheads can probably hold forth on the mise en scene in, for instance, Se7en, or discuss the writing of Bob Bloch.
Fuck, my thoughts are still really skewered on STC, with one thing or another jumping up and saying “talk about me next!”, “No–ME!”, “No, fuck those other things–ME-ME-ME, DAMMIT!”
So, lemme break it down this way, with scattered highlights; they won’t follow chronologically, and they’re not ordered from best to least-best (seriously, aside from one minorly awkward moment, there wasn’t an off-note about that weekend), but they’ll do as a kind-of abstract montage that gives you an overall of the weekend:
I wound up in the bar, starving and reading Detritus in Love by John Boden and Mercedes Yardley while waiting for my burger to arrive, when John Skipp walked in. After chatting with Nanci Kalanta , the former owner of Horrorworld, Skipp and I wound up outside, smoking and talking about kids (his grandchildren and my daughter) and the art they make, as well as the benefits of editing hard-copy versus editing on a screen. We finish our smokes and dump them in a trashcan–couldn’t find one of those alien-dildo-like-things where cigarette butts go–only to have Skipp worry that our cigarettes weren’t really out and we’ve set the trashcan on fire. We went back and forth for ten minutes, inside and out, bringing cups of water to dump into the can. It never did burst in the flame. So, win, I guess?
I step outside in the evening to have a smoke and find, amongst a crowd of people, this middle-aged dude talking to Skipp, only to have the dude realize he’s talking to Skipp. Dude geeks out, total fanboy moment, and excitedly babbles how he stole his local library’s copy of Book of the Dead because it’d meant so much to him. Skipp and the dude hug it out. Seriously, it was actually kinda beautiful.
11 p.m. reading, the first night of the con, called “The Witching Hour.” Kelli Owen, Jacob Haddon, and John Boden bring the house down in tears over their stories. The good-story tears, the tears that come when the story gets you in the gut and squeezes. Before Kelli reads, she turns to John, wiping her eyes, and goes, “Fuck you, John. Seriously. Fuck you.” She then proceeds to read and a handful of other people burst into tears.
Walking through the celebrity room, where people lined up to get Kane Hodder or Jeffrey Combs to sign something. The authorial pool is in the center. Skipp, sitting next to Wrath James White, recognizes me, introduces me to S.G. Murphy, who has a book of short stories coming out soon. We all realize we’re starving and leave the con for a seafood restaurant someone had heard of. Great service, great food. Skipp starts the conversation by ruminating how great the structure would be to film in, what kind of scene would take place here. Wrath, S.G., and I add on, talking about a group of guys bullshitting around the table with standard, over-the-shoulder shots for coverage, the camera eventually pulling back to reveal these guys are having normal conversations while a corpse lulls at the head of the table.
After the meal, we talk about cats versus dogs and farmer’s markets. Apparently, it’s perpetual hunger than makes us talk weird shit. Sun rain erupts outside, to which our waitress remarks, “The devil must be beating his wife.” We all loved the phrase (Wrath had heard it before, but not since he was a child).
We missed out on the fire alarm back at the hotel, so pluses all around.
Them – “So, you’re a writer? What’s your book called?”
Me – “Bones Are Made to be Broken.”
Them – “Nice title! Do you have a table around here?”
Me – “Nah, but I brought some books, just in case.”
I sold a few books that way, which was hoped-for, but not expected. (I apparently never told Jacob Haddon I had books, but I could’ve sworn I did.)
The podcasting room was small, too small for the crowd that came for Brian Keene’s The Horror Show. I’m sitting in the second row, beside Jacob and his wife, breathing in the scent of too-many-humans. More humans spill out into the corridor. People line the walls. I watch the writer Amber Fallon and others present Brian with an award, midway through the show (which consisted of two recorded episodes), a thanks for his encouragement of their respective careers over the years. My phone buzzes in its pocket and the call ID says “Heidi” – my wife. I hop, leap, and scurry around the people and the noise, opening my phone as I head downstairs. It’s my daughter. “When are you coming home?” she asks. I tell her tomorrow. She says okay, she misses me, and jumps off the phone–it was the only reason she called. Now I have to find my way back to my seat.
Saturday night reading, this one adults-only. The readers are David W. Barbee, Christian Jensen, and Wrath. Barbee reads a surreal tale about a father and son frog recalled a time when humans licked frog asses to get high; Barbee affects a Louisiana accent and utilizes a frog puppet for this. Jensen reads about Bigfoot sex. Wrath tells a story about a masochist on the hunt for a sexual serial killer to achieve the greatest pleasure. Brian Keene and Mary SanGiovanni sit behind me and John Wayne Comunale, and at one point I glance bacl to see Brian nudging Mary and pointing at our row, grinning. I learn later that Brian was telling Mary to watch our cringes and gasps as the stories unfold.
CV Hunt, on a panel about splatterpunk, extreme horror, and bizarre, gives the premise of her novella Baby Hater while illustrating another point. Edward Lee, also on the panel, shakes his head and leans towards Skipp, “That’s fucked up.” After the panel, I immediately go pick up Baby Hater from the Grindhouse Press table.
John Wayne Comunale and I talk punk rock in the side-lobby, going through our love of good pop-punk and hardcore. He tells me about his band, johnwayneisdead. The horror genre seems to be home to the punk rockers and metalheads. I love this industry and John’s band, I learn later, is fairly decent. Go Youtube “Party!”
Getting up Sunday morning, I get a message on Facebook from Jonathan Janz: “We need to talk.” The dude’s been besieged all weekend, so I hadn’t even had a chance to say hi to him, let alone talk. I message him back, telling him that I’ll be at the con around 11:30. I get there and do my goodbye rounds before visiting Janz, who just wanted to hang out and chat. This goes on for about an hour, enough time to pass for John Boden to come in and call me the worst-leaver ever.
Wrath, Barbee, and Jensen’s reading lets out and I run into Amy Harris as she heads into the Rocky Horror showing. I didn’t think I’d see her or her husband, Mike, again, so I wanted to say goodbye and asked where Mike was (I’d spotted them during the reading, but they’d dipped out). Amy leads me to a side room beside the restaurant where a handful of people sit and drink and eat pizza and play a game called Werewolves (Werewolfs?), which is kinda like an RPG mixed with that classroom classic Seven-Up. I’m the third Paul in the room and the group organizes us as Norse Paul (me, since someone had remarked I look like Thor), Thunder Paul (for the owner of Thunderstorm Books), and the Other/Original Paul (for Paul Tremblay, although a guy named Steve wanted to call Tremblay “Paultry Sum” since Tremblay is a math teacher). Mike, it turns out, is Christened “Nintendo Kevin”, given that he wore a Nintendo shirt on Friday and everyone’s drunk enough to keep forgetting his name.
The group of us play the game until 2:30 and both bottles are kicked (I don’t drink, but everyone else had a merry time). Melissa, an Irish woman with a personality as exuberant as her orange hair, keeps accusing me of being a werewolf and I kept getting lynched by the townspeople. At one point, Other Paul dashes in with a takeaway box with a one-bite-missing cheeseburger inside–he found it at a random table. Other Paul and I discuss our mutual love of Bob Mould and he tells me about Bob’s new record, which came out last year. We’re loud ghosts and the villagers keep telling us to shut up.
Are there more events? Possibly. Hell, probably, but they all jumble together like clothes in a dryer. It’s a mark of a good weekend.
Because I probably am forgetting events, let me just rundown every name I can remember. These people are awesome. I’ve sprinkled links throughout the above to various people’s projects and books and I hope you check them out. In any event…
To Dee South, D. Alexander Ward, John Boden, Jacob Haddon and his wife Leah, Mary SanGiovanni, Patrick Lacey, Jessica Deering, Rachel Rampage, Bob Ford, Andersen Prunty, John Wayne Comunale, Steven Wynne, CV Hunt, Hannah Carroll, Melissa Hayward, “Anna” (Αερικό Ποιμενικό), Amy Harris, Mike Harris, John Quick, Thom Lyons, Wrath James White, John Skipp, Brian Keene, S.G. Murphy, Armand Rosamilia, David Barbee, Paul Tremblay, Jonathan Janz, Paul Goblirsch,Nanci Kalanta…
…Yeah. Thanks for making the weekend not suck.
Also, my Amazon book wishlist is approximately a metric fuck-tonne, now. So, y’know, that’s good.