World Fantasy Convention 2016: Delayed Live Blog


Thursday October 27

4:30 AM. My cousin drives me to San Jose airport from Gilroy, CA, to make my 6:20 flight to Columbus, OH. Howard Stern is on the radio and Lady Gaga plays "A Million Reasons" live in the studio. I start to cry in the dark truck, and I cling to my cousin on the curb, gripped by separation anxiety. Seriously. WFC? What was I thinking?

Inside at the check-in desk, I apologize to the check-in attendant. ‘It’s all right, no problem,” she coos like a dove. She takes my phone and gets my luggage tagged. I tell her I suck at good byes.

‘Good byes?’ she says. ‘So you’re going home?’

I shake my head. I have no idea where I’m going. 

5:30 PM. Touch-down in Columbus. No surprises out the window. Patch work of fallow browns and deep greens. Buckeye Country. What is a Buckeye? 

The taxi pulls up to my hotel, across the road from the Convention Center. The conference started a couple of hours ago, but if I hurry, I can make the opening ceremonies. I wanted to spend that extra day with my cousin—he lost his dad, my more-than-uncle a few months earlier and the whole family is still a mess—but maybe I should have got in that time at the other end. There are no signs of any other late arrivals. Everyone must be deep inside, in Con Land. Where do I register? Where do I go? The place looks huge from my window. Like something from Blade Runner.

Things to do/not to do at your first WFC - #1: Do get into town the day before or at least a good few hours before registration to get your head in the right place.

I want to sleep for a week. I shower and rummage for a change of clothes and pour a glass of wine from the bottle I’d bought on the Amtrak from LA to San Jose. I miss that ride, staring endlessly out the window at the ocean.

I call my husband, ask about the kids and pets. My dog Eric is sixteen years old, blind and deaf and frail. ‘He’s refusing to go for walks,’ my husband says. “But otherwise—.’

The call’s not helping. I hang up and take a deep breath, but whether in or out I can’t say.

Things to do/not to do at your first WFC - #2: Do not call home as often as you want to. Be where you are, terrifying, weird, fantastical as it is—after all this is World Fantasy Con. For the next three-four days, and for better or worse, this is who you are.

6:30 PM.  I register in the lobby. Get my nametag and voucher for book bag, and head to the bar.

It’s this huge mezzanine area called Big Bar on 2 with TV screens bringing news from the US Election nowhere. A bar at one end, and lounges against railings that look down a couple floors to the lobby where I’ve just been. There are hundreds of people and not one familiar face.

‘It’s a real writers conference,’ my agent texts. ‘You’ll make friends.’

I check the list of names he’s given me. I look for name tags which, because a lot of people are lounging on stools, hang really low. My eyes scan crotches, over which name tags dangle like fig leaves. It’s hard to put a name to a crotch. How am I going to find a face in this crowd, much less a name, much less a friend?

A vodka sets me back 7.29 before the tip. I circle the bar once and again. The third time I imagine people are beginning to look right through me. Maybe I'm not even here. I text my friend in Sydney in a panic, just to make sure. She texts back, ‘So mingle already. You can do this.’

At AWP a couple of years ago, where I launched American Monster, I was part of the Lazy Fascist-Eraserhead family and all of our Indie cousins at ChiZine, CCM, Little Doggies, 2 Dollar Radio, Broken River Press and others. We moved in a pack from readings to parties to panels to signings flanked by our intrepid publishers and editors. Because of them, and each other, we were never more than a text or phone call away from feeling that we belonged there.

At Big Bar on 2, I watch someone wriggle into a group and then suddenly he’s part of this thing. He belongs.

I’ve been awake since 4 am. I don’t think I can do that.

My uncle would tell me not to be a pain in the ass. He had my back. He’d write to me, send me clippings about weird fiction. The last clipping he sent me was about Kelly Link. He scribbled over the title, “Looks like you’re onto something, kid!” It’s been hard getting used to doing this without him in my corner.

My agent has given me a list of names. Big names. It’s getting more and more packed. Writers and editors and publishers whose faces I am beginning to recognize now and who don’t look like they need any more friends.

8 PM. The dinner break is over and I head to the panels. The conference center is labyrinthine. Windowless hallways and windowless rooms. I regret not getting here early to orientate myself. I stumble into a panel called “Long Tail of the Tall Tale,” with Andy Duncan, Mimi Mondal, Amal El Mohtar, and Anatoly Belilovsky. From Amal El-Mohtar, I learn a thing to say in Arabic when shit gets real: “May a flesh eating disease devour you.”

9 PM. I check in at Big Bad Bar. It's like a giant reunion party. Then I go back to Panel Con. This one is  “The Supernatural vs. The Occult” with Jonathan Oliver and Joelle Reizes, Bernadette Bosky, and Dena Bain Taylor.

I sit next to the writer Tim Waggoner, who I met on Facebook. We introduce ourselves.

It’s a great panel but I’m blind with exhaustion. I perk up when they start talking about Santa Muerta. I want to raise my hand to mention the works of Gabino Iglesias, Kevin Lucia, and others but there are so many other hands raised.  I decide it might be a great conversation starter back at the bar. But I don’t make it back to the bar that night. Instead I head back to my hotel via a hole in the wall place that sells wings and I eat in my hotel room after going through the sections I’ll be reading from my upcoming book.

In my journal for the day, I write FAIL!  

Friday October 28

10:00 AM. I go to the window of my hotel room. Columbus is still there. The Convention Center is still there. It has not magically transformed back into my cousin’s little farm in Gilroy, or the Pacific Ocean out the window of a train, or my dog wheezing at my feet in Sydney. The challenge from WFC remains as unyielding as ever. A message comes in from a Facebook friend, the writer, Robert Freeman Wexler that he’ll be at my reading.

Holy shit. My reading. That didn’t go away either.

I make it just in time to the hotel's complimentary breakfast, a purgatorial combo of Fox News, bad coffee and instant oatmeal.

11:00 AM. Big Bar on 2 is quieter, with people tapping on laptops and lingering in the café finishing their real breakfasts. I buy a coffee and head over to a reading by the Australian writer, Juliet Marillier. She reads the dialogue in the voices of her fantastical characters, something I find really hard to do. There is a long line after the reading for book signings.

NOON. I drift in and out of panels, but I’m too nervous about my reading to concentrate.

Head to Dealer’s Room, force myself to say hi to Michael Kelly, editor and publisher of Undertow Books. He’s slated to moderate a Weird Fiction panel I will be on tomorrow night, bizarrely, with Ellen Datlow and Steve Rasnic Tem. It's like a nightmare that I haven't had yet.

But Michael Kelly is the best. One look at me, and he gets where I am. It’s like a dam has burst. It feels so good just to open my mouth and say, “Hi, I am—”

We talk about the panel, how it's so late on Saturday night, maybe no one will be there. Then he introduces me to his wife Carolyn Kelly and to the writer Jason (Jake) Wyckoff. I am envious of Carolyn Kelly having a table of books to sit behind.

2 PM. I should nap. Instead I write. I feel more grounded after that. I take a beta blocker.

3 PM. Dark Fantasy vs Horror Panel with Ellen Datlow, Rio Youers, Christopher Golden, Jonathan Oliver and Steve Rasnic Tem. I introduce myself to Ellen and Steve outside the panel, and follow them in. It’s packed.

The panel is awesome. Everyone on it is awesome. Ellen nails the distinction in terms of tone. I agree. Horror has to be tragic, even when it’s comic. Those are its roots. Dark Fantasy can end on a more hopeful note, even when Dystopic. Like this conference (the panel rooms are literally from hell). I feel sorry for all the people who have to tear themselves away from such a cool panel to go to my reading, but at 3:30 I’m the only one who leaves.

3:30 PM. There are a handful of people waiting in Union C, where I am scheduled to read from my forthcoming novel, Aletheia. One of them is Robert Freeman Wexler and with him is his friend, Alex Lamb. We all introduce ourselves, and they both seem very cool. I set out the postcards of the cover art I had printed, and then I read from my iPhone. One of my characters is Irish. I read his lines in brogue. Thank you, beta blockers.

After the reading, a lady introduces herself to me and asks about my Dutch last name. I give her a post card. I chat with Robert and Alex on my way to the next panel.

4 PM. Shirley Jackson at 100. The panelists are Eileen Gunn, Peter Straub, Gordon Van Gelder, Karen Bovenmyer, who is the 2016 Mary Wollstonecraft Shelly Scholarship awardee for new female horror author, and Stephanie Feldman. Everyone is passionate, expert and above all, humble in the enduring presence of Jackson’s genius. Peter Straub puts it best by saying that the hardest thing to do is to write simply about things of great complexity, and that is what Jackson did. 

There is a woman in the front row in Yoda Ears.

5 PM.  I go back to the Dealers Room to buy some books. At the Undertow stand, I choose Simon Stranza's Aikman’s Heirs and VH Leslie's Skein and Bone. Michael Kelly introduces me to an Australian writer Kat Clay, who lets me latch onto her like a giant squid. She is staying at the Con Hotel, the Hilton, but is rooming with another guest to cut down costs. We peruse the book stands and chat and then head over to the bar. She knows a lot of people from last year and introduces me and I talk with some other writers about Patreon accounts, Kindle and free food.

They can’t believe I didn’t know about the Con Suite. It’s downstairs, they tell me. Free food, three times a day.

Things to do/not to do at your first WFC - #3: Do stay at the official hotel if you can—find a roommate to split costs if you need to. You might save money by staying at a cheaper hotel nearby but you miss out on crucial info, for example, about free food and alcohol (at the hospitality suite on the fifth floor), about roommates. You miss out on passing people in the lobby, the elevator, and the Con Suite which are all great places to make friends.

7 PM. In the Con Suite,  I sit next to a couple from Alabama and chow down on pasta and salad. She is a writer and he is an artist and has jewelry made from chain mail in the art room. She tells me about her journey to publication, her love of history that has taken her all over the world and works its way into her epic fantasy.

I wonder what they would think of my work. I am glad there are people like the Kelly’s here, horror writers like Straub and cross-over editors like Datlow and Jonathan Oliver and Gordon Van Gelder as well as the hard fantasists. It’s a crazy mix.

8 PM.  Mass autographing in the Regency Ballroom. More free food! There is a banquet and a bar set up outside the ballroom. Kat and I cruise the book tables, buying books and getting them signed. I introduce myself to Paul Tremblay. We know some of the same people from his early days in the Indie scene, and although I’ve never met him before, maybe because I was so totally into A Head Full of Ghosts, that it’s like meeting an old friend. The Kelly’s are there of course, and across from them, Peter Straub is signing books. I don’t have a book for him to sign, so I ask him to sign my program and he does and then he looks up from his pen.

“I know you!” he says, and I take it, and then I kind of float away.

Things to do/not to do at your first WFC - #4: Do bring books to sign/sell. I incorrectly assumed that if I am pumping a book, it has to be my current one. Aletheia does not make it in time for October release, so I come empty handed aside from a few American Monsters to give away. If I’d brought a box of them, I could have set up a table. Writers and editors are here signing books from across their entire careers right up to their latest publications. Bring books. Chapbooks, zines, anything.

9:30 PM. Stuff face with wings and enchiladas from the banquet .

10 PM. Head up to release party for an anthology, on the fifth floor. Approached by a beautiful woman who has kind things to say about American Monster. As any writer knows, talking to a reader about your characters and their worlds is a head trip.  I find out she’s Gio Clarval who I’ve met online, and we’re chatting like crazy when a guy introduces himself as Alec Brownie. He asks me to sign one of my Aletheia postcards. I sign it and he says his mom was at my reading, and where can he get a copy of American Monster?  And I tell him I’ll bring a copy tomorrow. He asks me to make sure I sign it and bring one for his mom too.

Kat and I party but I’ve had it by around midnight—my head is spinning with fractured recall from my own reading, the panels, new friends. I head back to the hotel.

In my journal for that day, I write, “Pass.”

Saturday October 29th

10:00 AM. I’m on the Weird Fiction Panel at 9 pm tonight, and as I race across to the Convention Center for a decent coffee, I try to assemble some kind of coherent ideas about a subject I’m supposed to be an expert on. 

11 AM. Robert Freeman Wexler’s reading from his amazing novel which sounds like Cormac McCarthy meets Joe R. Lansdale. Talk with Alex Lamb in the mezzanine lounge area after that about novel-writing software and book sales. Two days ago I was looking at people talking to each other just like us, unable to imagine knowing anyone here well enough to kick back like the cool kids, and now, hi, here I am.

I offer up a little prayer of thanks to the Goddess of Socially Awkward writers before I head down to lunch at the Con Suit. I sit with Kat and two of her friends and we talk about Indigenous Australian writers and the panels we’re all going to. I tell them about the Weird panel, which is on at 9 pm, the last night in Columbus for a lot of the guests who will probably be out partying instead of paneling.

1 PM. Back in the hotel room. I have some papers to grade. I am still teaching my online classes when not over at the Con.

2 PM.  Peter Straub reading. I hang a little piece of my soul on every word.

3 PM. Hang out with Tim Waggoner, who’s become a real friend by now. I meet the lovely Australian writer, Janeen Webb, and Paul Tremblay introduces me to Jonathan Oliver, from Solaris, who explains to us what a Buckeye is. I allow myself a glass of wine, and then I go back to my room to get in the right head space before Panel Con.

9 PM. I stand outside the Panel Room  with Ellen Datlow and Steve Tem trying not to make any sudden moves. Michael arrives and we go in. I have notes written on my hand, like that quote from Laird Barron about weird fiction being “An inconclusive encounter with an ineffable force." But in the end I don’t need it.  Even though it’s the last event on the last night of the Con, the room fills up with people, and Michael Kelly gets the ball rolling by throwing it out to the audience, and then he gets us all to introduce ourselves.  At that point I wish I was wearing my Stephen Graham Jones werewolf mask, but I’m not, so my intro doesn't take long. Neither does Ellen’s or Steve’s but for entirely different reasons.  And then we get right to it. Steve admits to having read the VanderMeer Weird Fiction Compendium from cover to cover and begins by identifying a common theme of dislocation. Ellen throws Laird Barron out there—horror or weird?—and Bizarro, too—weird or what? I throw in my two cents worth about how love is what’s weird, and in the best weird fiction, there’s a kind of lovesickness, like homesickness, for a place, or a feeling that’s lost or never was.  I agree with Steve Tem, who says that it seems to comes from a broken place, rather than a place of terror, although there is sometimes terror in weird fiction, sometimes unease, and Michael Kelly describes it as discombobulation. Jake Wyckoff in the audience says something smart too, and people in the audience chime in, and then Gordon Van Gelder joins the party, and the whole thing goes off.

10 PM. Bar Con begins. I buy a drink and there are folks I now know, who call me over. I chat with Christopher Golden and Paul Tremblay. People come up and talk about the Weird Fiction panel, how it was one of their favorites. Two writers join us and talk basketball with Paul. The World Series is on the big screen in Big Badass Bar Number 2. I buy another drink.

1:30 AM.  I am starving. I order a pizza from the hole in the wall behind my hotel. Some skaters outside waiting for their order tell me I’m glowing, but they’re the ones who glow. I take their picture.

Sunday October 30th

11 AM. Want to see a bit of Columbus. Head down High Street to the Markets but it’s way too crowded for me. Kids in costume and their harried parents. I find a place to have a quiet cup of coffee and even though there is a forty-minute wait for food, the transvestite waiter says she’ll get me a biscuit. I eat the biscuit and drink coffee and watch the game. I’m in my comfort zone for the first time in days, but If I don’t hurry up, I’ll be late for the ball.

1 PM. World Fantasy Award Banquet. It’s like the Golden Globes but quieter. There isn’t music or any alcohol that I can see. Kat saves me a seat. Heather J Wood, a nominee for her anthology, is at our table.  So what I took for silence, is just nerves and anticipation.

Heather’s husband is a poet and is impressed by me having done a reading, being on a panel, by what he calls my being “in the thick of it” for my first WFC.  At first I think he says “in the thicket,” like Carcosa, in "True Detective." And I think about that, about how impenetrable the thicket seemed three days ago, and here I am in the thick of it.

Things to do/not to do at your first WFC - #5: Do get into the thicket if you can.

There are speeches. There are winners and runners up. There is an ASL translator in a red dress as big as a heart, who would have been the winner had there been an award in the category of 'Words Are Not Enough.' 

We circulate, congratulate. I hug and get hugged. I talk with one or two last people on my agent’s list and many who aren’t.

We congregate at the bar. We end up at dinner a few blocks away. Afterward, there are shivery hugs and good byes on High Street.

I watch my new friends walk off together toward their hotel, and I walk by myself to mine.

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JS Breukelaar

Column by JS Breukelaar

JS Breukelaar is the author of the novels, American Monster, and Aletheia (forthcoming, Crystal Lake Publishing). Her fiction and poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in Lamplight Magazine, Gamut, Lightspeed, Juked, Prick of the Spindle, and Opium among others. Her work has also been anthologized in Women Writing the Weird, States of Terror, and elsewhere. She travels in space and time between Sydney, San Diego and New York. You can also find her at twitter.com/jsbreukelaar and www.thelivingsuitcase.com.

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