Yes, it’s taken me a full week to digest and process the event known as Stoker Weekend 2009. The people, the connections, the parties, the panels…oh, yeah, and the Stoker Award. So much to sort through and to try and adequately capture in words.
The people. Let’s keep the focus of this recap there. After all, those human connections we make are so much more precious than all the rest combined.My trip started a week ago this past Wednesday. Standing on line to have my flip flops and nether-regions scanned for explosives at JFK, the lovely Nanci Kalanta – webmistress extraordinaire from Horror World – spotted me. Which meant that one of us owed the other a drink. I doubt that either remembers now which one owed and which one collected, so immediate was our connection, so instant our friendship. Yes, I believe Nanci to be yet another sister I’ve never had (the first being my longtime BFF Sondra Edwards, the third being discussed a bit later). Lovely, funny, sarcastic, candid…these are all the things I suspect I will love about Nanci for years to come, and they were on full display throughout the weekend.
Ok, for those of you who might have heard the rumors, yes, there was a traumatic mid-flight event. Now, depending upon who you listen to, there are slight discrepancies in the story. Nanci, as I’ve learned is not the best historian, given to untruths and the occasional nip of the bottle as she is, so one is well-advised to steer clear of her version of the JetBlue-takes-a-nosedive-over-the-Rockies incident. To further clarify, there were no screams — only an involuntary, manly shriek of “Oh, God!” Yes, one child may or may not have been frightened by said manly shriek, but 35,000 feet is a daunting height from which to plunge.
Moving on, we eventually landed safely at the peculiarly named Bob Hope International Airport in Burbank, after enjoying six hours of turbulent hell, one lousy complimentary bag of blue chips, and a bottle of water. There was no time to do much more than drop our bags and scream in delight that there was a Denny’s adjacent to the hotel; it was time to get to work. Off to the HWA suite, where Nanci and I helped stuff the loaded goodie bags. Met John Little and John Palisano for the first time, saw Deb LeBlanc and Connie Wilson again, and (finally) met the seemingly indefatigable Lisa Morton — now officially my third long lost sister. Lisa is an amazing person, an old soul who’s the epitome of calmness and strength under pressure. I was on the station adding Nanci’s Horror World contest envelopes, Greg Lamberson’s JOHNNY GRUESOME magnets, and bookmarks (so many bookmarks!) to the bags. Lisa and her co-organizer John Little run a tight ship, and those bags (all 250 of them) were stuffed by 10:00 pm or so. After a few delightful minutes sitting, chatting, and exchanging winks with Lisa over a catty inside joke we’ve shared since just before BEA, it was time to call pseudo Day One of Stoker Weekend officially over.
Wake up calls between Nanci and me kick-started Thursday morning. We decided to stop first at the Concierge Suite, access for which came with my small, but well-appointed suite in the hotel. Complimentary eggs, a toasted bagel, turkey sausage, bacon, and Earl Grey tea got us going and off we went to explore downtown Burbank. Charming streets with stores that ran in a rigid store-coffee shop-salon-coffee shop-store-salon-coffee shop rotation amused us for a bit, the best being a dusty used bookstore called, oddly enough, Movie World. Books piled as high as the eye could see created narrow aisles and a veritable death trap should anyone ever drop a match. Lots of elated “oohs” from Nanci in the horror section as she stumbled upon Matheson, Yarbro, and Faris titles that would serve her well during the upcoming weekend proper. Best reality-check: Spotting an ACCESS HOLLYWOOD crew that was stopping people as they passed the coffee shop storefront at which they were stationed for “random” on-camera questions posed to various celebs. Nanci and I made at least 4 passes in front of them before we realized – with great amusement – that we apparently weren’t Californian pretty enough to be deigned worthy of asking Paris Hilton where she shops for cheese.
Exploring Burbank is arduous work, and we needed reinforcements. We speed-dialed Kim Paffenroth (the other zombie guy), and the good doctor joined us within minutes. I had the pleasure of first meeting Kim a few weeks earlier at BookExpo, so meeting up was like seeing an old buddy again. A trip to the local mall (and a refreshing Mango Smoothie for me) was followed by an impromptu book signing at Barnes & Noble for Kim, where he signed their stock copies of GOSPEL OF THE LIVING DEAD. We left B&N, doubled-back and re-staged the signing when we realized we’d failed to capture the event on camera, and then took an ill-advised trek across one of Southern California’s infinite number of freeways to Burbank Boulevard. Once Nanci and I realized that flip flops and high-heeled boots (I’ll leave it to your imaginations who was wearing which) are not appropriate footwear for dashing across on-ramps and dodging gun fire from LA gangs, we made two final stops – one at a hat store, the other at a convenience store at which alcohol was procured and someone obnoxiously called for a potentially embarrassing price check on aisle three (again, I leave the assignment of actions to your imaginations). Kim was nearby the home of the friends he was staying with, so he chivalrously saw Nanci and me to our cab with promises of weekend meetings to come.
Nanci and I made our way back to the Burbank Marriott and quickly answered a distress call from lobby-stranded R.J. Cavender (the Stoker-nominated editor of the +HORROR LIBRARY+ anthology series) and connected for an early dinner in the hotel’s Daily Grill eatery. Editor-to-editor, R.J. and I shared our Bentley Little stories over a delicious Cobb Salad, Fried Calamari, and Nanci’s American cheese-less burger.
The arrivals were in full swing by the time we’d finished eating. The bar at the Daily Grill was quickly turning into a who’s who in the genre: Gord Rollo, Gene O’Neill (whose vibrant red hair mysteriously turns white in photos much to his consternation), the gorgeous Alexandra Sokoloff (of whom I’m officially a groupie), Brian Cartwright from Cargo Cult Press, Chelsea Quinn Yarbro (not so much at the bar, per se, but rather dining, dignified-like with a female companion, farther down in the restaurant), F. Paul Wilson, and Shocklines’ Matt Schwartz. Best fanboy moment: Sitting with Alex Sokoloff at the bar perusing the program for the following night’s Gory Ghoul Ball (during which Alex and the incomparable Heather Graham, F. Paul Wilson, and assorted other genre luminaries were to take the stage in an all-star musical extravaganza) and commenting on the name Harley Jane Kozak. Harley Jane Kozak — as in the actress from HOUSE ON SORORITY ROW, ARACHNOPHOBIA, PARENTHOOD, and TV’s daytime soap SANTA BARBARA. “She’s in the band?” I asked incredulously, adding “And going to be here?” Alex responding that yes, indeed, Harley Jane was in the band and that “Hey, she’s right behind you.” Jumped up, squealed like a fifth grade girl opening the new issue of TEEN BEAT and proceeded to gush at poor, dumbfounded Harley Jane about how much I loved her as Mary Duvall McCormick on SANTA BARBARA and how sorry I was that they killed her character off, crushed by the letter “C” of the Capwell Hotel! Got it together, told her how much I love her mystery writing, and suggested an interview at some point in DARK SCRIBE MAGAZINE. Alex clicked a photo to commemorate Harley Jane’s meeting with her strange, gay, soap opera-loving fan!
One much-need shower and costume change later and it was off to the famed Dark Delicacies bookstore for an once-in-a-lifetime book signing. Two phone messages before I left: one from my UNSPEAKABLE HORROR co-editor Chad Helder saying that his plane had been delayed and that he was coming right to the bookstore from the airport, the other from my actress pal Jamie Rose who was leaving her house and would be at the signing by 8:00 pm.
Shared a cab over with Nanci, the too-adorable-for-words Gabrielle Faust, and UNSPEAKABLE HORROR contributor Michael Hacker and walked in to a veritable meet-and-greet of the horror genre’s best and brightest. Chad showed up as the festivities began, and we quickly met up with other UNSPEAKABLE contributors Maria Alexander, Reesa Brown (who was there with her capital “F” fabulous mother, Deborah), and Lisa Morton. Astutely, we found the perfect spot under a colossal air conditioning vent and signed more copies of the anthology than I ever expected. If you’ve never been to Dark Delicacies, then treat yourself at least once the next time you’re in or around Southern Cal. The store is a treasure trove of horror goodness, with enough books, DVD’s, posters, action figures and collectibles, and unique merchandise to make your eyes bleed (in a good way!). Del and Sue Howison are the legendary owners of this equally legendary establishment and know how to throw a warm-up act for Stoker Weekend!
Best moments of the Dark Delicacies signing? There were dozens, but I’ll make mention of just two. First was meeting the delightful Amanda Reyes (who pens the fabulous MADE FOR TV MAYHEM and AMANDA BY NIGHT’S RETRO ECETERO PAGE blogs) and her charming fiancé David Cohen. Amanda may very well be my biggest fan – out of the dozen or so that I lay claim to – and absolutely made my night when she sheepishly asked me if I’d mind signing the copy of THE LITERARY SIX that she’d brought with her. Would I mind? Honey, where’s the paparazzi to capture the moment? Amanda has an encyclopedic knowledge of slasher films, making me adore her even more, and will be a contributor in my forthcoming BUTCHER KNIVES & BODY COUNTS anthology.High point of the evening was finally getting to meet my friend Jamie Rose, who was so unbelievably sweet to trek from Malibu out to see me and get a copy of UNSPEAKABLE HORROR signed. Jamie and I first became acquainted back in 2006 when I interviewed her for AUTOGRAPH COLLECTOR. With my love of slasher films (she was Megan in the ’81 backwoods slasher JUST BEFORE DAWN) and my fan worship of her in FALCON CREST (she played Victoria Gioberti), LADY BLUE, and just about every other movie and TV show she’s ever done, we clicked and have stayed in contact. In person, Jamie is even more stunning (heads turned when she walked into that bookstore, folks!) and is passionate about books and reading and dance. What a joy spending well over an hour with her and chatting about the arts, life, and comparing notes on various books. Her energy is contagious and she literally lights up a room with her intellect and warmth. You know how you build people up in your minds, only to be disappointed when you come face-to-face? Well, the opposite happened with Jamie. If it’s possible, I adore her even more now. (Plus, how cool for Amanda – also a fan of Jamie’s and her husband, the talented Kip Gilman –to meet her as well!)
Tired and worn out from talking to our adoring public, the weary horror writers made their way back to the hotel where the Daily Grill became a boisterous watering hole for the parched and sore-wristed. The UNSPEAKABLE gang was joined by Nanci, the marvelous Hal (BITE CLUB) Bodner, Angel Leigh McCoy, and DSM scribe Martel Sardina, who mesmerized us with the true life story behind a short fiction piece she’s working on that involves web cams and the emotional complexities of voyeurism. Funniest moment: When Chad and I were pondering aloud the possibility of a second volume of UNSPEAKABLE HORROR, perhaps involving the dangers of promiscuity and sexual compulsion in light of Martel’s story, and Mike Hacker suggested the subtitle “In the Bushes!”
As the night wore on and more drinks were consumed, our group began to disband, one-by-one, until only I was left to witness the entrance of Heather Graham and what can only be described as an actual, Hollywood-like entourage. I sat with Heather for a bit, meeting sons, adopted sons, drivers, costume designers, and the like, until my eyelids threatened to close for good. I bid the ever-voluptuous Ms. Graham, whose cups are forever spilling marvelously over (I can say that, I told her, because of my unequivocal gay good taste!), a good night and retired for the evening.
Next up: Stoker Weekend actually begins!