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appearances

I’m writing this from my hotel room in San Jose, California on the day after The Outer Dark Symposium on the Greater Weird, which was held at the Winchester Mystery House, of all places. But more on that in a moment…

The day before yesterday, I got up at 4 in the morning, after staying up until much closer to that point than I would have preferred, and got on a plane bound for Los Angeles. On the way, I watched Blade Runner 2049 for the first time, a movie probably better suited to a bigger screen than the back of the seat in front of me, but one that seemed thematically appropriate for an early morning flight into LAX, and one that was almost exactly the length of my flight.

Unfortunately, my flight was delayed by just a few minutes, and the shuttle system at LAX delayed me even further, causing me to miss my connecting flight to San Jose by a mere 5 minutes, which was still enough. I was booked onto the next connecting flight, which was scheduled to leave some three hours later. After some more juggling around from terminal to terminal, I settled in to wait. Being stuck in LAX for three hours was an adventure, though not always of the most pleasant sort, and those who follow me on social media may have already heard about the guy I was sitting next to who was on what was clearly a business call, discussing Google search results for how to kill a werewolf. “The public knows why they’re searching for how to kill a werewolf and not a leprechaun.”

After a handful of other misadventures, I finally made it into the San Jose airport, where I was picked up by Sam Cowan, of Dim Shores fame, who was also going to be my roommate for at least the first leg of the weekend. Before we could get settled into our room, however, we were given a key card and a room number, as is the style at the time, and when we swiped the card and opened the door we found a room in disarray. Fold-out couch partly folded out. Children’s water wings lying on the floor. Half-empty glasses strewn about the place. A very distinctive black cowboy hat perched in a position of prominence atop the half-folded-out bed. (Ross Lockhart later reminding us that a hat on the bed is, distinctly, bad luck.)

We backed out of the room that was, clearly, not ours, and explained the situation to the front desk. They apologized profusely, gave us another room that was, in fact, ours, and things went on from there, though I can’t help speculating on the whereabouts and, indeed, the fates of the people who once occupied that room. Thoughts of Lowlife and other movies about low-rent criminal enterprises gone terribly awry flitted through my mind. Mostly, though, I just kept kicking myself for not swiping that very specific and almost certainly cursed hat.

Friday night was readings and mind-expanding, sometimes mind-altering discussions. But the real festivities began on Saturday morning, when we all carpooled over to the Winchester Mystery House. It was my first time attending that fabled structure, though it has been one of the places in the world that I most wanted to go at least since reading about a (renamed and fictionalized) version of it in Alan Moore’s run on Swamp Thing.

29571133_10213283720221670_1687390744750188255_nBecause of our special status as part of the Symposium, we entered through the gift shop, rather than exiting that way, and literally the first thing I saw when I walked in the door was a Drunkard’s Dream-style penny (actually quarter, in this case) arcade. One of those animatronic dioramas, this time a drunkard in a cemetery, sprawled atop a grave as devils and witches peered at him from behind the tombstones. For those who have read my story in Terror in 16-Bits, you’ll have some idea of why this delighted me so very much.

Ross (whose perspicacity is, you may have noticed, a running theme throughout this account) was perhaps the first to point out the… irony? The dissonance? Of having a symposium in a house built from a fortune generated by America’s history of gun violence – and, perhaps, if you believe the (probably apocryphal but always compelling and narratively satisfying) legends about the origins of the strange structure, built by the guilt or the ghosts or both that came from those deaths–on the very day that the March for Our Lives was kicking off. I don’t think the juxtaposition was lost on any of us, especially when, right outside the window of the room where the symposium was held, we could watch the public play at a shooting gallery, or pose in front of a green screen with what I assume were prop rifles, though I never looked close enough to find out for sure.

The Symposium itself: Like last year, it was as if you took a normal, weekend-long convention and compressed it, leaving behind something midway between a writing convention, an academic summit, and a discussion salon. Call it the essence of a con; convention extract. Or, perhaps it was just a writing convention run through Cody Goodfellow’s ingenious literary vaporizor, so that we could all inhale its most potent elements and get them delivered into our bloodstream that much more quickly.

I moderated a panel on the Weird in film, television, and video games; a panel in which I found myself in the unusual position (where discussions of cinema are concerned, at least) of being hopelessly outclassed, surrounded by actual filmmakers and those who labor behind the scenes to get movies made or distributed or both. It was a fascinating discussion, I think, and perhaps even an illuminating one? Time may yet tell.

After the panels and the readings we all filed through the house itself on an abbreviated tour. I took a number of photos from outside, which you can find on my Instagram, but photos inside the house were, sadly, forbidden. It was strange, as promised, with stairs and doors leading to nowhere, though some of the more extravagant items of legend were nowhere to be found, at least in the part of the tour through which we were conducted. (The seance room, for instance, was quite small, and lacked the thirteen fireplaces with which Alan Moore’s story populated it, though there were plenty of instances of the number thirteen throughout the rest of the house.)

It was also not the least bit spooky, which was both disappointing and not. Partly, it felt like what it is: a tourist attraction, whatever air of mystery or menace it might once have held dispelled by years of gradual conversion to a sort of amusement park. More, though, I think that it is just that there is perhaps nothing ominous to feel within the walls. The story that Sarah Winchester built the house at the behest of the spirits is a good story; compelling and filled with thematic potential. And of course that beautiful line, “The sound of hammers must never stop,” which has been used so well by so many over the years.

But the other explanation, that Sarah Winchester was a frustrated amateur architect, prevented from expressing herself in any other way than through the constant modifications and experiments of her own home, a form of expression that her vast wealth afforded her even while society denied others, tells a story that is just as compelling, and within the walls of the house, feels more likely, more real.

By the time we left the Winchester House, night had fallen over San Jose. We drove back to the hotel, had a few drinks at the bar, and retired to one of the rooms to continue our rambling discussions long into the night. Then, finally, we all slept, we all awoke again, and most departed, leaving me to type these recollections in my hotel room while they are still fresh. As is always the case in a situation like this, it was a delight to see everyone, and a shame, always, not to see everyone more. Thanks to Scott and Anya for putting this one-of-a-kind experience together, and to everyone who supported it, who attended, who read or did panels, and anyone else who in any way helped this happen. It is unique, and it is special, and it is, above all, Weird.

Now it’s time to get ready to go home, to get back to writing, reinvigorated by the thoughts and words that have passed through me during this time, in this place. Typing is not unlike hammering, after all, and the sound of hammers must never stop.

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In just a few days, I’ll be at the Outer Dark Symposium on the Greater Weird at the Winchester Mystery House in San Jose, California. Not counting a brief layover at LAX, this will be my first time in California, the only state west of the Mississippi that I haven’t visited, excepting Alaska and Hawaii, the “freak states.” At the time of this writing, you still have just over ten hours to support the Outer Dark Symposium’s IndieGoGo campaign, where you can snag copies of Never Bet the DevilThe Book of Starry Wisdom, and other, rarer delicacies while supplies last.

I’ll be around for the whole shebang, assuming that I don’t sneak off into the Mystery House early and get eaten by a ghost, never to be seen again. I’m not scheduled for any readings, though I will be present for the Friday night pre-party stuff sponsored by Word Horde.

On Saturday, when the actual Symposium itself kicks off, I’ll be moderating a panel on the Weird in movies, TV, and even video games. (Which, fortunately, there are some other panelists who seem eminently capable of tackling that last one, because I am way out on a limb there.) We’ll talk about some of the recent ones, and what they (hopefully) mean for more Weird on the big (and small) screen, but knowing me, we’ll probably also talk about some older stuff, too.

There are going to be a lot of great guests at this year’s Symposium, and if the last one was any indication, it should be a hell of a time. If you’re already headed there, I’ll see you in San Jose this weekend. If not, you can still support a cool program and pick up some great weird literature (or Kino Lorber DVDs or other stuff) by backing the IndieGoGo sometime in the next few hours!

It’s been a few weeks, but as you probably already know, February has been keeping us busy around here. Fortunately, we’ve had no more organ-related disasters for a few days, Grace has been recovering quickly and should go back to work next week, and I’ve gotten a bit of good news to help offset the bad. For starters, I’ll be a guest at the second annual Outer Dark Symposium on the Greater Weird, which will be held at the freaking Winchester Mystery House on March 24! There’s an IndieGoGo live right now where you can get tickets, pick up cool books, and what-have-you!

Astute readers will recall that I was a guest at last year’s Symposium, as well, and it was a hell of a good time. This one promises to be even better, and I have it on good authority that I’m already the person earmarked to go missing on the tour of the Winchester Mystery House, so everything is coming up Milhouse.

That’s the good news. Here’s the better news: Ellen Datlow selected my story “The Granfalloon” for volume ten of her Best Horror of the Year anthology series! This marks my second time appearing one of Ellen’s Best Horror anthos, and I could not be prouder! (“Persistence of Vision” appeared in volume seven back in 2015.)

I’m particularly happy that “The Granfalloon” was selected, as it’s a story that I tinkered with for literally years before finally finding the right set of pieces to make it work. The story previously appeared in Darker Companions, a Ramsey Campbell tribute anthology from PS Publishing, edited by Scott David Aniolowski and Joe Pulver. I’m extremely grateful to Scott and Joe for giving my story a home in the first place, and to Ellen for selecting it for the Best Horror of the Year. You can bet that you’ll hear more about that as it gets closer to publication. For now, I’ll leave you with a peek at the cover, with art by Chenthooran Nambiarooran:

Best Horror

 

CaptureOn social media I referred to this as a wrap-up, but that’s something of a misnomer, since this year’s Panic Fest proved too huge for one weekend and has spread into evening showings all this week, giving you another opportunity to see some of the best movies of the Fest, including Tigers Are Not AfraidVidar the Vampire, and Ruin Me all playing tonight, not to mention another shot at Tigers tomorrow and They Remain on Wednesday.

This year’s Panic Fest was, I think, my fourth one ever, and my second attending primarily as a civilian, rather than helping out with booths and stuff. I also doubled my previous weekend best when it comes to watching movies, and caught eight films at this year’s Fest, most of which were really good. Highlights include Ruin MeVidar the VampireTigers Are Not Afraid, and Lowlife. Of course, They Remain would be high on this list if I hadn’t already seen it at its world premiere at the H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival last year.

The list in full is: Ruin MeVidar the VampireThe CuredMohawkTigers Are Not AfraidLowlifeBirdboy, and Midnighters. I missed a few others that I heard good things about, including Mayhem and Mom and Dad, and I only watched one that I kind of hated myself for seeing, so that’s pretty good.

Tigers Are Not Afraid and Lowlife, in particular, are movies that I think you’re going to be hearing a lot more about in the future, while Vidar is going to be one of those bizarre sleepers that will become like a secret code for those who have seen it. I also saw the trailer for Ghost Stories something like three times, and it quickly climbed to one of my most anticipated movies of the year. For those who haven’t seen the trailer yet, it looks absolutely amazing, and like exactly my kind of thing. I am keeping my fingers crossed that it’s like the first half of Autopsy of Jane Doe, only the whole way through.

When not watching movies–and sometimes when I was–I got to spend some more time with Philip Gelatt and his producer Will, who were very gracious and a lot of fun, and who unfortunately opted to watch mostly the worst movies I saw with me. After seeing They Remain at the HPLFF, I had encouraged Adam and Tim to bring it to Panic Fest, and I was thrilled when it not only joined the lineup, but when Phil and Will decided to fly into town to introduce the film. I hope they had a great time in KC.

Other non-movie highlights include playing a Terminator 2 pinball game with Will and Phil, listening to Will’s Hollywood stories (which convinced me at last that nothing I make up about movie production will ever be as bizarre as the truth), intruding upon a couple’s very intense game of Connect Four (if either of you are reading this, hi and also sorry), saying hello to friends who I only seem to see at these events, and staying the night in a just-about-Banfield tier hotel with walls painted two different colors of brown, which really added to the horror fest ambiance, especially right after watching Lowlife. (It didn’t hurt that when I turned on the TV there was a women’s prison episode of Murder, She Wrote co-starring Adrienne Barbeau.) I didn’t take very many photos at this year’s Fest, and those I did take were a little odd, but I had an amazing time.

Panic Fest remains a great experience every year, and the Screenland Armour remains a great local movie theatre, run by great people who love movies as much as (probably more than) I do. If you aren’t from the Kansas City area, it’s worth your while to come in for Panic Fest some year. It’s always a hell of a time.

This may not be much of a wrap-up, and I may be making the trek back out for a few of the extended programming movies some evening this week, but for now I’m feeling a little worse for three days of wear, so this is about all I’ve got in me. More later…

Hey, I’ve been a little out of the loop recently, for one reason and another, but in the meantime I have been a guest on a couple of different podcasts. First, there was an epic two-part interview with me over at the This is Horror podcast, in which I talked with hosts Bob Pastorella and Michael David Wilson about monsters (of course), anxiety, finding your voice, tips for freelancers, and, yeah, even more about monsters. You can listen to the first half here, or find the second half here.

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Sort of in-between, I was also a guest at the Spooklights podcast from Muzzleland Press, where I talked with hosts Jonathan Raab and Tom Breen about making horror fun, writing licensed fiction, The Last Jedi, and monsters (duh). You can listen to that one right here.  As a bonus, I believe it contains the first official mention of what is going to be my third collection, coming hopefully next year.

This doesn’t (necessarily) have anything to do with podcasts, but next weekend I’ll be at Panic Fest right her in KC, where I’ll be watching a bunch of movies and hanging out with cool local horror fans, not to mention director Philip Gelatt again. I think they are already sold out of tickets, but if you’ve already got yours, I’ll see you there, and if not, I dunno, find a scalper or sneak in or something. It’s going to be a hell of a thing.

In my previous wrap-up of movies that I watched in 2017, I neglected to mention that I also attended the H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival in Portland as a guest again this year, where I think I only saw one movie, but that was Philip Gelatt’s really excellent They Remain, which I talked about right after the Festival back here.  For various reasons, I didn’t consider They Remain for my top 10 movies from last year, but if I had, it no doubt would have made the list.

I’m very pleased to say that They Remain will also be showing at this year’s Panic Fest right here in Kansas City, with director Philip Gelatt in attendance! I think it will prove a divisive film, but one that’ll get talked about a lot as more and more people get a chance to see it. I’m especially happy to have it playing here in my own hometown, at our kickass local horror film fest at our kickass local theatre, because I played a small (but I’m going to pretend pivotal) role in helping it find a home at Panic Fest.

If you’re local to KC (or even relatively close), Panic Fest is the place to be the last weekend in January. I’ve already got my tickets, and I’ll be there all weekend, probably haunting the dealer room when I’m not watching movies. So come find me and say hi!

Yeah, yeah, yeah, we’ve still got, like, a week left, but it’s highly unlikely that I’m going to publish anything more in those few days, so let’s go ahead and get this dumpster fire of a year behind us, shall we? (Remember when we all thought that 2016 was kind of the epitome of a bad year? We were so adorable.)

Given the way the last few months of this year, especially, have gone, with various health crises and escalating stress, it’s easy to forget that I accomplished much of anything at all during the rest of it, but I actually published a few stories and, hard as it is to believe, two books in 2017! And by “a few” I mean roughly five new stories of mine came out in 2017, six if you count the one new story in the deluxe hardcover edition of Never Bet the Devil. I had stories in The Children of Gla’akiFor Mortal Things UnsungTerror in 16-BitsTales from a Talking Board, and Darker Companions. (For those keeping score at home, that’s actually two Ramsey Campbell tribute anthologies, and not a single overtly Lovecraft-themed one. Maybe a record?)

On top of that, 2017 saw the release of my first novel, in a manner that I would never have expected in a million years. Godless, the first volume in a proposed series chronicling the adventures of Tristan, nicest of all the Protectorate of Menoth warcasters, was released by Privateer Press back in April. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I also got the distinction of being the first writer to permanently kill off a major in-game character, so that was pretty cool. The book was written in something of a rush to meet my deadlines, but it seems to have been received fairly well. I dedicated it to Ray Harryhausen, and earlier this month I got to visit an exhibit of Ray Harryhausen models, storyboards, concept art, and other ephemera in Oklahoma City, which was a rare pleasure indeed.

In non-licensed work, 2017 also saw the re-release of my first collection, Never Bet the Devil & Other Warnings, in a fancy deluxe hardcover edition courtesy of Strix Publishing. The (jaw-dropping) cover design and pitch-perfect interior illustrations are all the work of Mike Corley, one of my favorite artists in the business and pretty much my first and only choice to work on this book. Besides adding new illustrations by Mike, I wanted to make sure that the deluxe edition had some added value for those who had already purchased the (now out of print) paperback original, so we also included two additional stories that weren’t in the first release. One of them, “Goblins,” was entirely original to the collection, while the other, “A Night for Mothing,” is a difficult-to-find rarity that was originally published in The Mothman Files all the way back in 2011.

Besides heading out to the Ray Harryhausen exhibit in early December, I managed to make a handful of convention appearances throughout the year, despite my wretched health. I attended Panic Fest here in Kansas City back in January for the first time as a civilian (previous years I had helped out with booths and other odds-and-ends), something I plan to do again this year. I was a guest of the Outer Dark Symposium on the Greater Weird in Atlanta back in March and at the H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival in Portland in October, where we actually launched Never Bet the Devil & Other Warning. I’m told that no less a personage than Barbara Steele stopped by the booth to inquire about the book, but at the time I was out getting a burrito, which is probably just as well, so that I couldn’t pitch it to her by explaining that, “I think it’s got ghosts and stuff.”

In-between all of those, I also made a trip up to Minneapolis to see the Guillermo del Toro exhibit At Home with Monsters, and a trip to the Boulder area of Colorado, mostly to accompany Grace to a low flutes retreat, though I also used the opportunity to meet up with some writing acquaintances and do a bit of writing myself, including penning a story that I’m pretty proud of which is part of a lengthier story cycle that I mostly finished during the course of this year, though none of the new additions to it have seen print just yet.

Lots more stuff happened in 2017. I watched a lot of movies, read a few books, was sick a lot, had an emergency surgery, spent my birthday recovering from that, and did a whole host of the other usual stuff that you do in a year, even one where everything is on fire. I’ll have most posts about the movies I watched in 2017, as well as a Year in Creatures, most likely, but those will have to wait until the year is actually over. For now, that’s most of what I accomplished as far as writing and publishing go, and that’s what we’re here for.