Monday, June 1, 2009

Dance of the BEA Virgin

Although I feel like Paul Sheldon from MISERY after his hobbling, I’ve returned from my maiden BookExpo America adventure with connections made, books to read (see my own haul to the left), and more than a few fun tales to tell. I’m probably going to be one of the few BEA participants out there who attended the event and was pleased by the experience. There was a universal sigh over how the annual booksellers’ convention has downsized, how the participating publishers gave away less swag, and how this whole thing seems to portend the end of publishing as we know it. My overall lack of perspective having never before attended blessed me with blissful ignorance and I simply enjoyed the dance. It was like going stag to the junior prom – no worries and no preconceived expectations.

I was there in support of the Horror Writers Association (HWA), having volunteered to take the reins from the far more capable hands of our Treasurer extraordinaire, Lisa Morton, who initiated HWA’s presence at BEA last year in Los Angeles. After the schedule of volunteers and fellow authors was completed and the booth set-up, there really was little to do but network, connect with old and new friends alike, and talk up horror and the HWA to anyone who’d listen. And listen they did. There were booksellers who stopped by and librarians who happily found a resource in us – interestingly, a few mentioned how interested their patrons were in horror but how it was so hard to select horror titles for their collections because the publishers are calling the genre anything but horror these days. There were book and film festival organizers who stopped by and an inquiry or two from publishers. We probably snagged a new member or two or three for the organization – staking the crisp Shane Briant out on his autograph line to pitch the HWA to him and picking up a hardback copy of his new book in the process. Briant’s an interesting fellow – a British actor of more than 60 films (including THE PICTURE OF DORIAN GRAY, CAPTAIN KRONOS – VAMPIRE HUNTER, and FRANKENSTEIN AND THE MONSTER FROM HELL) who has taken to writing horror. WORST NIGHTMARES is his fifth novel (he’s more widely published in Australia where he now lives) and his first US release.

The HWA booth was lots of fun. Finally getting to meet fellow HWA Board members Ellen Datlow and Deborah LeBlanc was terrific. Ellen was a gas, bringing an authentic cannibal’s utensil used to eat brains (civililized cannibals, anyone?) with her for show-and-tell and an interesting array of snacks ranging from Apricots to pretzels to peanuts. I highly advised her against putting the latter out on the counter for passersby, noting that folks with strong peanut allergies could suffer a strong reaction from just a whiff. Public safety be damned, Ellen put them front and center anyway in what I suspect was hopeful research for a new allergy-themed horror anthology. Deb LeBlanc is just all Southern charm, gorgeously tanned, and the epitome of professional.

So who else did I meet for the first time? Well, there is the fabulous with a capital “F” Alexandra Sokoloff, who is a whirlwind of blond hair and energy whom I have adored for some time through our correspondences and with whom I am now as totally smitten as a respectable gay man can be. Alex was there to promote her latest paranormal suspense novel, THE UNSEEN, and was very generous with both her time and with all those who stopped by our booth. There were fellow dark scribes Gary Frank and Kim Paffenroth, who each stopped by for signings. Both are easy-going, unassuming guys who you feel like you know after about thirty seconds in their presence. Funniest moment: When Ellen Datlow was introduced to Dr. Paffenroth and said “Gee, I thought you were taller.” It was also a pleasure to connect with one of the HWA’s international members, Aaron Sterns, who graciously stepped up to help man the HWA booth while on vacation here from Australia. Admittedly, it’s a bit hard to get past his Hugh Jackman good looks and that accent at first (some minor synchronized swooning from Alex and me at one point), but he’s a terrific, talented guy with his head screwed on right and a career plan he’s very likely to achieve with his level of commitment to the craft.

Meeting some of my own gay literary heroes like Dennis Cooper and William Mann (whose eyes are as impossibly blue as they seem in photos) was a real pleasure; walking away with signed copies of their newest books (Cooper’s UGLY MAN collection and Mann’s new Liz Taylor biography) was icing on the cake. I also had the distinct pleasure of meeting the charming Victor J. Banis, who is, quite frankly, a GLBT literary pioneer. It was delightful chatting with him on several occasions throughout the weekend, and he is every bit the icon he’s hailed as being. This is one of the guys who was writing GLBT stuff when it was actually hard – even dangerous (just read his bio) – to do so, and both I and the countless writers who came up the ranks behind him owe him a great debt of gratitude for his courage and commitment to telling the GLBT story. Banis is a real inspiration, demonstrating with his wit and charm and a playful hint that he’s still up for anything that maturity is not the gay man’s foe and that the 70’s are sensational.

High point of the BEA was finally meeting another of my literary heroes, Jameson Currier (WHERE THE RAINBOW ENDS), in person. I count myself so fortunate that Jim contributed to UNSPEAKABLE HORROR that I still pinch myself, and I largely credit his masterful “The Bloomsbury Nudes” with setting the tone for the collection. Jim agreed to help me support the anthology by coming out for a Sunday afternoon signing at the HWA booth. Note to self: If you help organize the booth, give yourself at least a slightly better time slot than the hour before BEA shuts down(!). Despite the lack of traffic, Jim and I had a ball – first chatting with Victor Banis (Oh, the gossip about some of our naughtier literary counterparts! Are you listening, Rick Reed?) and then being submersed in what can only be described as one of the most surreal book signings I’d ever done.

First up was the man I’ll refer to as “Hooter’s Guy”, a bearish hunk in camouflage pants and a snug t-shirt emblazoned with the legendary boob fest/eatery who was dragged up to us by Banis(!), who then went on about how he once shared a limousine with a bevy of Hooter’s babes (who you can apparently rent by the hour for $10) – all the while Jim and I inscribed a copy of our queer horror anthology to him(!). Then, there was the woman who mentioned how everything she read was then donated to the library in her mother’s nursing home; we told her UNSPEAKABLE would be an unmitigated hit with the geriatric crowd. We neglected to tell her that the nursing home should, ideally, be located in P-Town or Key West. Our bad. There were a couple of unfortunates who picked up the book and asked if it’d be appropriate for kids – we smiled politely and said, “No, dear, ‘fraid not”. Audience and volume aside, in the end, I felt like I had made a new friend. Jim is every bit as delightful as I’d imagined in our email correspondences during the UNSPEAKABLE submissions process – down-to-earth, funny, with just the slightest mischievous twinkle in his eye if you look close enough. BTW, Jim shared with me the news that he’ll have THE HAUNTED HEART AND OTHER TALES, a collection of short stories – including “The Bloomsbury Nudes” – coming out from Lethe Press in the fall. Gay, straight, twisted like a pretzel…his writing is simply not to be missed by any reader with a taste for good fiction.

There was new talent galore at BEA, too. Deb and I had the pleasure of being approached at the HWA booth by a young Adelphi graduate – as handsome as he was earnest – named Vincent Bivona, right here from Long Island. Mr. Bivona’s first novel – THE JOURNAL OF PETER RUBIN – is a cautionary tale about bullying. The book’s dedication says it all: “This novel is dedicated to the ones who cannot seem to find an out. Hang in there…” Bivona appeared at one of the tables in the BEA’s vast autograph room (which is organized, like an assembly line, into a series of 30 individual signings every hour on the hour) and Deb and I promised we’d come down and support him. Standing on Bivona’s line, watching him engage the people who had come for a copy of his book, I couldn’t help but swell a bit with unexpected, inexplicable pride for this young man whom I didn’t even know. The poise, the confidence…clearly, the byproduct of some very engaged parents who nurtured and supported him throughout his childhood and (painful?) adolescence. No doubt there are countless other parents who would be gratified to see their own sons or daughters shaking off high school demons with words and not the handgun and pipe bombs that Bivona’s protagonist contemplates.

Cutest moment of the BEA: Being approached at the HWA booth by a lovely 11-year-old girl named August Edwards who presented us with a copy of her first short story collection(!). Besides having a name clearly meant to grace book covers, this young lady was just a bundle of disarming maturity and professionalism that took me completely off guard. The best part was watching her father as she spoke to us, clearly beaming with pride and giving himself a well-deserved pat on the back for a job very well done thus far. Watching this accomplished young lady and her proud Dad restored my faith in modern parenting. BTW, if you feel like helping cultivate some extraordinary young talent, Ms. Edwards’ tome is appropriately called BOOK OF SHORT STORIES and is published by PlatinumACE and available through Amazon.

Well, it's back to the daily grind for me and those last minute plans for the trip out to Burbank in a few days.


Anonymous said...

Dearest Vince,

We are so proud of your literary success!! You are such an inspiration to us all but, especially to your goddaughter.We love you so much!! Knock em" dead in Burbank, no punn intended. LOVE YOUR BIGGEST FANS, Bill, Sondra, Billy and JACQUELINE!!!

ILozZoc said...

Wonderful rundown of events. Two things caught my eye: that horror is usually not called horror--wish that would change--and an 11 year old kid has a collection of short stories out--I'll need to check her book out.