[Special Report] Dispatch from the World Horror Convention!

The World Horror Convention last came to Salt Lake City in 2008.

I dropped by to watch and review one of the films featured in their humble film festival, but didn’t get a chance to explore all that the convention had to offer. When they announced that the convention would return to Salt Lake City in 2012, I jumped at the opportunity to attend on behalf of Bloody-Disgusting. With the introduction of e-books, interest in horror fiction (and fiction in general) has spiked. And I want to be where the action is. Most of our readers will never have the opportunity to visit the World Horror Convention, but their curiosity deserves to be sated. I dropped by the Con for two fun-filled days, gathering intel for the devoted fans of B-D. My report follows. Thursday, March 29, 7:00 p.m.
Salt Lake County Library Q&A/Autographs

Authors Sherrilyn Kenyon (the Dark Hunter series), Joe R. Lansdale (The Bottoms), and Robert R. McCammon (Swan Song) have a Q&A/autograph session with locals at the Salt Lake County Library. P.N. Elrod and Rick Hautula are no-shows; Jeff Strand and Joe McKinney come off the bench as late substitutions.

Most of the 50 fans in attendance are obviously there to see the almighty Sherrilyn Kenyon, but that doesn’t stop Joe Lansdale from dominating the Q&A with a hidden batch of well-worn stories from his early days as an author. The predominantly female audience seems bored––they just want Kenyon to sign some shit. Things finally start getting frothy when a question regarding e-books is raised. “A book is a book,” says Lansdale with a shrug. “Amazon is a bully,” counters McCammon. Kenyon looks on in silent bemusement.

The Q&A is efficiently disbanded after an hour, and the authors retire to their respective tables to tag books. About 2/3 of the crowd immediately moves into Kenyon’s line––the remainder beeline for Lansdale and McCammon. (I have to stifle laughter as I watch one man haul two full boxes of used books through the line and plunk them down in front of Lansdale…who graciously signs them all.)

Strand and McKinney, who arrived unannounced, kick it alone at their table like prom wallflowers. As a fan of both authors, I immediately regret leaving my copies of The Sinister Mr. Corpse and The Red Empire at home. But how was I to know? How was anybody to know?


[Sherrilyn Kenyon, Jeff Strand, Joe R. Lansdale, and Robert R. McCammon at SL Library]

Friday, March 30, 2:00 p.m.
Dealer’s Room

One of the best kept secrets of the World Horror Convention is that most of the activities cost nothing at all. The more prominent indie horror publishers set-up shop in the “dealers’ room”, packing themselves into tables and booths until the hotel conference room resembles an enormous occult book store. Unbeknownst to most, it’s free to visit and open to the general public. So is the two-hour “mass autograph signing” involving dozens of horror authors. Yep, you heard me, totally free.

If you buy a pass to the convention, you’re essentially buying the panel discussions. They’re intimate discussions, scheduled throughout the day, populated with spotlight authors, and focused on topics that range from “Women in Horror” to “Understanding the Mind of a Serial Killer”. In my opinion, convention passes are for ambitious authors who want to learn how to develop and sell their work. But the convention experience is about more than just pitching your bullshit novel idea. It’s about rubbing elbows with your favorite authors…finally getting to interact with the people who LOVE to write the stuff you LOVE to read.

Visiting the dealers’ room on Friday afternoon, I feel like I’ve entered horror nerd mecca. Books, books, everywhere, and more horror anthologies than you can shake a dismembered arm at. There are familiar faces (Redrum Books and intriguing strangers (Bloodbound Books), and I’m eager to molest them all. As I speak to the various authors and publishers, e-books continue to arise as a subject of conversation. Some publishers seem to be pushing e-books awfully hard––and I’ll admit, there’s no denying the cost-cutting benefits. Yet other publishers––even teeny-tiny indie ones––are still clinging to physical books. It seems to come down to a question of ownership. And on that count, I agree.

Two young boys (I suspect they’re Mike Mignola’s) are bopping all over the dealers’ room, attempting to hand out cardboard Hellboy masks to anybody with a pulse. I’m offered a mask about a dozen times…by the same kid. There are vintage paperbacks and comics for sale, sealed in clear plastic, and (obviously) a booth filled with dismembered dolls. I blow $50 on some cool-looking fiction and retire to a nearby park, where I eat a sandwich and read under a tree.


[Mass Autograph Signing]

Mass Autograph Signing
Friday, March 20, 9:00 p.m.

One of the biggest draws of the World Horror Convention is the “mass autograph signing”, which collects over 70 authors in one room and seats them at signing tables that form a circular pathway. You wander between the tables languorously, glancing briefly at the name placard sitting in front of each signing station, possibly getting a signature from one of your favorite authors, or possibly avoiding eye contact once you realize you have no interest in the author. It’s a little bit like being at a flea market.

I bring a handful of books I want autographed only to immediately wish I’d brought more. Especially horror anthologies. Although there are only a few high-profile novelists in attendance, I see that the autograph session sports a host of prolific short story writers. Listening as other convention goers brag about obtaining 7 or 8 signatures for one anthology , I realize that I’ve missed the entire point of the autograph session. It’s all about quantity.

As editor John Skipp (Book of the Dead) signs my copy of Demons, I introduce myself, and am stunned to find that he knows who I am! He begins spewing quotes from my Bloody-disgusting review of Demons––to my eternal delight–– while scrawling heavily inside the front cover. It turns out to be one of the highlights of the convention. [The next night, Demons will win the Bram Stoker award for best anthology.]

Another highlight comes a few moments later when I buy Robert R. McCammon a drink at the hotel bar. Most of the middle-aged-to-elderly authors (and there are a lot of them) bail at 10 p.m. after the autograph signing, leaving the publisher parties at minimum capacity. McCammon is one of the few people I meet at the convention who hasn’t heard of Bloody-disgusting, but he’s gracious and friendly, he’s still awake and mingling with his fans, and I loved the hell out of Swan Song, so I’m willing to let that go.


[Bram Stoker-winner John Skipp regales judges Kelly Laymon, Joe R. Lansdale, and Rich Hautula with his gross-out talents.]

Gross Out Contest
Friday, March 20, 10:30 p.m.

Going into the Gross Out Contest, I know I have a very limited grasp of the rules, but unbelievably, things manage to get even more confusing as the event progresses. As I understand it, each author stands in front of the group and reads an extremely disgusting short story. It must have a beginning, a middle, and an end. There’s a time limit involved, as well as “bouncers”… but well, that’s where things start getting hazy. If the author goes over his allotted time limit, the “bouncers” surround him with their chests puffed out in an intimidating, alpha-male fashion, until the audience gives a sufficient amount of thumbs-up to deem the “bouncers” properly satisfied, at which point they retreat to the wings and allow the author to continue reading. Costumes are apparently welcome…but none of the participants are costumed. The Gross-Out Contest is part of a very rich, very storied World Horror Convention tradition, full of strange rituals not known to common man. In short, I am completely lost.

No matter, since Jason Reinhardt completely crushes the competition with a well-performed corpse-incest story that sweeps the audience votes. Judges Kelly Laymon, Joe R. Lansdale, and Rick Hautula take a few moments to confer on the final decision (somehow including the audience votes in a bizarre Miss America tabulation system) before proclaiming Reinhardt the undisputed Emperor of Gross and protector of Innsmouth or some such shit. He wins a T-shirt. John Skipp’s highly improvised “dogfucker” story––which starts out strong before spiraling into sheer madness––doesn’t stand a chance.

In conclusion, while you may spot random celebrities at film festivals and somehow coerce them into a photo, the World Horror Convention offers the rare opportunity to genuinely interact with horror fiction legends. Not just photo ops or fleeting smiles in the hotel hallways––I’m talking genuine conversations. The authors are there to talk, to listen, to offer advice, and it’s unlike any festival or convention environment I’ve ever experienced. These writers are accessible. They will answer your questions. They will listen to your stupid fucking stories. They are there for you. And that’s what makes the World Horror Convention so goddamn awesome.

2012 Bram Stoker Award Winners:

Best Novel: Flesh Eaters, Joe McKinney
Best First Novel: Isis Unbound, Allyson Bird
Best Young Adult Novel: (tie) The Screaming Season, Nancy Holder; Dust and Decay, Jonathan Maberry
Best Graphic Novel: Necronomicon, Alan Moore
Best Long Fiction: The Ballad and Ballard of Sandrine, Peter Straub
Best Short Fiction: Herman Wouk is Still Alive, Stephen King
Best Screenplay: “American Horror Story”, Episode #12, Afterbirth, Jessica Sharzer
Best Fiction Collection: The Corn Maiden and Other Nightmares, Joyce Carol Oates
Best Anthology: Demons, edited by John Skipp
Best Non-Fiction: Stephen King: A Literary Companion, Rocky Wood
Best Poetry Collection: How to Recognize a Demon Has Become Your Friend, Linda Addison
Lifetime Achievement Award: Joe R. Lansdale; Rich Hautula

Source: Official website