May 15th, 2006


Okay, kids, you get a long one today, as Lisa regales you with her photojournal of her trip to San Francisco for the World Horror Convention:

A True and Faithfull Accounting of a Journey to a Writerly Affaire; or, Why O Why Did I Just Have to Drink That Last Cosmopolitan?

(View from my hotel room)

The adventure begins with an early-morning arrival at Union Station in downtown L.A. on Friday. Del Howison and I had insanely decided to take a redeye train into San Francisco, leaving L.A. at 1:30 a.m. and arriving at 11:30 a.m. However, the first part of the trip is a bus to Bakersfield, since trains don't actually cross the Grapevine (and this strikes me as incredibly weird, considering they did 100 years ago, as I discovered while researching Netherworld).

Hey, you ain't had fun until you've waited at Union Station at one in the morning to board a bus.

First, there's the middle-aged guy screaming at a bored security guard who has ousted him from an area for ticketed passengers only (the guy didn't have a ticket - how DARE that security guard!). He's shouting on and on about how the guard threatened to break his arm if he didn't leave, and he's demanding the police be called. The guard mutters something about "you know, you do this all the time". I tell Del I'd like to break this idiot's arm.

Then there's The Miner, who will (unfortunately for my olfactory sense) join us on the train. This guy's wearing a red hardhat with a sweatshirt tied around it, wads of cotton stuffed in both ears, an indeterminate number of shirts, denim shorts with a 5" square patch inexplicably cut from the back of one leg, knee pads, and carrying a cane. Onboard the train he will turn out to be both a coffee addict, requiring lots and lots of trips down the aisle past me, and just incredibly rank. At least he doesn't sit near us.

At Union Station, turns out there are two buses going to Bakersfield ("How many people want to go to Bakersfield at one in the morning?" Del queries me). The driver of Bus #1 is an efficient young guy named David who has the sort of pleasant, bland good looks you know your parents would love to see on your fiance; the driver of Bus #2 tells some passengers, "You guys probably know the route better than I do!" We, ah, opt to ride with David on Bus #1.

The bus is about ready to leave, when a guy runs up and asks if it goes to Glendale, and can we wait while he buys a ticket. David agrees, while Del and I wonder, "Glendale?! Who takes a bus to Glendale at 1:30 in the morning?" This guy does. The Glendale stop is in a sort of dark and isolated part of town, and indeed when this fellow steps off he looks a little lost.

As does the next passenger to disembark, at the Newhall station (which is really just a bench by the side of the road). This little old man totters off the bus, looks around in confusion, then asks David to drive him to his destination. David politely explains (about ten times) that he can't detour from our route. Finally the little old man goes wondering off down San Fernando Road at two in the morning.

Del and I both nod out as the bus heads north, both waking shortly before arrival in Bakersfield about 4:15 a.m. Bad news: The entire town of Bakersfield smells like The Miner. Good god, people live here, smelling this half cow poop-half chemical smell all the time?! Good news: The station is modern and attractive, the full moon is setting and has been turned an intriguing coppery-crimson shade by that crap in the air, and the train's ontime.

The train's a double-decker, and we take two seats on the upper half; we'd been warned in advance that the train would be cold, and it is. The ride, however, is fairly comfortable, except for The Miner's traverses and the 300-lb. guy who wobbles by very unsteadily and always causes me to inwardly pray, Don't fall on me, please don't fall on me...

The train heads north through California's flat, boring central valley, stopping at little towns with names like Wasco, Turlock and Hanford; at some of these towns, the "station" is nothing but a gravel road and a sign. The sun comes up about 6, and by 6:30 Del's gotten us both Bloody Marys, marking the first of the (many) alcoholic drinks I will consume during the next 48 hours. I'm not normally a big drinker - if I have one glass of wine in a week, that's amazing - but this is a writer's convention, after all. Drinking is mandatory.

It's about 8 a.m. when we stop in Modesto, and about 50 high school kids clamber onto the train; turns out they're bound for a field trip to Marine World. They turn out to be pretty cool kids, and I'm particularly taken by one handsome boy who sits facing us, with his large liquid brown eyes, curly black hair and flawless olive skin. I try not to be a total freak as I keep stealing glances at him.

Just before the kids are to disembark at Martinez, the conductor makes an announcement: "All passengers bound for Marine World: Amtrak sometimes works in conjunction with the Department of Homeland Security, and they've just informed us that a situation at Marine World has required closure of the park until about three p.m. today. However, we have made arrangments for you to spend the first part of the day at a library..." Just as the kids are gasping and groaning, the conductor adds, "...JUST KIDDING!"

I adore this conductor.

After the kids disembark he comes through and wryly notes to us that the train is suddenly much quieter...

The final part of the journey is at least visually interesting, as we leave the farmlands behind and curl up around the interior of the San Francisco Bay. It's a lovely day, and the train travels literally on the lip of the water, at one point passing through an amazing stand of eucalyptus trees.

We arrive at Emeryville only slightly behind schedule, then catch a last bus into San Francisco. We pick up a cab to our hotel, and find that our driver is a chatty young beatnik who asks why we're in town. We tell him about the horror convention, but it turns out he's much more interested in the recent NORMaL convention, which is an organization devoted to legalizing marijuana. I give him a huge fat tip.

We arrive ahead of schedule at the Holiday Inn, where I conveniently run into my roommate, Nancy Holder, in the lobby. We have over an hour to kill before we both do a panel, so we head up to check out the room. Nancy's nine-year-old daughter Belle is with her for the first part of the day, and although I can be...uh...impatient with kids, Belle is a delight. In the hotel room she impresses me no end with a performance of her karate form (I would not mess with this kid!), and then sits quietly throughout mom's panel.

Belle Holder, martial arts expert, and mom Nancy

At 1 p.m., Nancy and I head to our panel, which is a gathering of the ladies of the Persephone Writers Organization talking about famous female horror writers of the past. The panel turns out to be both entertaining and informative - hey, did you know that Louisa May Alcott turned out some kickass ghost stories? I cover Ann Radcliffe, who I have been interested in for some time (she's the true queen of the gothic novel, for those of you who missed the panel!). I receive lovely compliments on the panel throughout the weekend. We did the ladies proud!

Head Persephonistas Karen Taylor and Barbara Ferrenz

Next it's lunch with Nancy, Belle, Del, and a wonderful young writer named Alice Henderson. We find a terrific sushi joint across the street, where I have a fabulous house roll made of barbecued eel, spinach and cucumber, and chat about The Great Agent Hunt with Alice, who is also on the lookout (and has been for longer than I have). Of course I'm thinking, Oh good god, Alice is cuter than I am, younger than I am, can undoubtedly write like hell, has published several Buffy novels, and is still having trouble getting an agent?! I try to quash my rising panic with more raw fish.

Alice Henderson and Bill Gagliani

Back at the convention, I finally start meeting some of the people I was looking forward to meeting - all of those I've known only via e-mail and internet (in some case, for years). Bill Gagliani, Lee Thomas, Ray Garton, Mort Castle, barbara_ferrenz, Robert Allen, Rick Kleffel, and the very debonair nick_kaufmann are all everything I'd hoped for (and what is up with you New York ladies when it comes to Mr. Kaufmann? C'mon, girls, you should be all over that!). I'm sorry I don't get to chat with tjcrowley, but the poor guy's got a convention to run and is always in motion. I also get to see all the old pals and some more recents ones, including ladyeuthanasia, faustfatale, karenetaylor, Steve Jones, Kim Newman, Mandy Slater, Glen Hirshberg, Pete Atkins, Jonathan Reitan, Vince Churchill, and Mike McCarty (no, not the Mike McCarty who is on the Stoker ballot this year - this is the Mike McCarty who is a special effects guy working at KNB and who will undoubtedly be signing a plethora of his own books soon).

In the dealer's room I run into a bookseller friend, Sarah Woods, who is attending her first horror convention and is surprised by the, uh, quality of most of the material for sale in the dealer's room. As Sarah puts it: "We're in the city that served as the setting for Fritz Leiber's Our Lady of Darkness, and there's not a single Fritz Leiber book in this room!" I agree that it's a sad situation (just how many Edward Lee books does one dealer's room need?!), and tell Sarah she'd probably enjoy my story "The Death of Splatter" from Dark Terrors 6; later on she does indeed come up with a copy that I sign for her.

For some odd reason the hotel's bar doesn't open until 4:30 (don't they know this is a WRITER'S CONVENTION?!!), and by 4:45 I'm being passed gin-and-tonics by Del and Milk Thistle capsules by Mandy, who swears they significantly cut down on the negative side effects of alcohol (fortunately she's right). I actually end up engaging in some HWA work, discussing how WHC 2007 could host the Stoker awards, with chairperson Amanda Foubister, Steve and Mandy.

The afternoon passes in an alcoholic haze, and soon it's time for the mass signing. I have chosen (wisely, I think) not to technically participate; I'd rather wander about and have people come up to me with books to sign than sit forlorn and bored at my little table (by the way, I'm amazed at the number of books I was asked to sign throughout the weekend, although most of them were of course those edited by Steve). I spend time with one of my new favorite people, Mike Arnzen; the only book I've brought with me to be signed is his novel Play Dead, because it's really, really good. Mike was a fan of my own "Black Mill Cove", and we commiserate on how each other's work should have been on the final Stoker ballot, dammit.

Although I know I should be attending parties after the mass signing, I end up back in the room, where I pick up a copy of Nancy's latest book, Daughter of the Flames, and am flattered beyond words to find out I'm one of the dedicatees. Of course Nancy begs me not to read it in front of her, and it's a good thing, since I'm sound asleep by 10:30 p.m. After all, at this point I basically haven't slept in about 40 hours.

We tentatively plan a Persephone business meeting for 10 a.m. on Saturday morning, but Nancy and I are both moving pretty slow (and Nancy's actually working, trying to meet a Monday deadline on a novel), so I regretfully miss said meeting. I do, however, show up in time for my pitch session at 11 a.m., with Laurie McLean of the Larsen-Pomada Agency. This is actually a team pitch, since Del and I are writing a novel together; we pitch that first, then I do a solo for Netherworld. It all seems to go well, and Laurie asks for the usual suspects of three chapters and outline. I like her enthusiasm and energy, although she does mention that she really goes after mass market paperback deals, and I persist in being vain enough to believe Netherworld warrants a hardback deal. By the way, comments/news/disgusting bits of gossip on Larsen-Pomada are welcome - feel free to e-mail me privately or post here.

After the pitch, I meet up with a dear old friend, Rocky Heck, who I haven't seen in several years. Since Rocky's a native, he gives me the spectacular walking tour of San Francisco, and I have to confess it puts the city in a whole new light for me. I've always thought of San Francisco as that place where, as a skinny little nine-year-old child, my mom had to clutch my hand tightly to keep me from blowing away down a long hill; a few drives through the city haven't improved my opinion. But (unlike L.A.) San Francisco turns out to be a city that can only be appreciated on foot, and our long hike is wonderful: We head from the hotel to Chinatown, where we have a delectable lunch of duck congee and kung pau chicken at a tiny hole-in-the-wall called Sam Wo's; then it's through Chinatown (with, of course, a few trips into DVD stores and a couple of purchases of older Andy Lau movies) and onwards to City Lights Bookstore, which is some place I've always wanted to go; then it's a shared bottle of white wine at Vesuvio's, next to City Lights. I get drunk and immediately consider buying a copy of Ginsberg's Howl at City Lights just to do it, then realize the clerks would probably secretly make fun of me, so I settle for just taking Rocky's picture in front of the beat mecca:

We return to the hotel just in time for the bar to open, and after chatting up Nancy and Chelsea Quinn Yarbro for a while we soon find ourselves back at the temple of alcohol worship that is Steve Jones's table. I've already had half-a-bottle of wine and really would only like one gin-and-tonic, but people keep buying drinks for Steve's table, and well, it would just be plain rude to turn those free drinks down, wouldn't it? So...uh...four or five gin-and-tonics later...We chat with Kim about movies and writing (I'm thrilled to discover that Kim loved "The Death of Splatter") until Kim has to head off to a reading. Rocky finally heads out, and I stagger up to the WHC 2007 party, where Christa, Vince, Mike McCarty and I hang out for a while, and somehow people keep pressing Cosmopolitans into my hand. Really, I keep meaning to just set them down undrunk...but that would be impolite, wouldn't it?

After the party (which climaxes with a raffle - no, I didn't win anything, although Mike did), Del and I reel off down the street for a late dinner, then I'm up to my room (where Nancy is still slaving over a laptop). It's about 1 a.m. now, and I have to leave in about four hours. Too bad I can't really sleep because the room won't stop that spinning thing...

I do make it out on time (well, considering I couldn't really sleep), and Del and I soon find ourselves at a stop awaiting arrival of our Amtrak bus. I'm surprisingly only a bit tired and queasy from yesterday's insane amount of alcohol consumption, and so I praise Mandy's Milk Thistle capsules again. As we await the bus that will take us to the train, the sun is rising over San Francisco and catching the corner of the lovely old building across the street in a picturesque light:

The train ride home is unremarkable. I shake off the last of my queasiness somewhere around Merced, and I feel fine by the time we board our final bus for home. There's one last event at Dark Delicacies, since Steve, Mandy, Kim, Nancy, and Nancy Kilpatrick have all flown in for a 6 p.m. signing. The event is sparsely attended, but Dennis Etchison does show up, and I'm shocked to discover that the screenwriter also signing, Dan Madigan (who wrote See No Evil) is the same Dan Madigan whose brother is an old good friend I haven't seen in ages. Small world.

Del said something to me during the convention at one point, as I was signing books and pressing flesh - he said, in all seriousness, "You really have to do this more often." You know, he's right.

Looking forward to the Stoker event next month. I'll bring the Milk Thistle capsules this time.