Gina Penn, unabridged.

My World Horror Convention Experience

This blog is about my four day experience at the World Horror Convention 2011 in Austin, Texas.

The World Horror Convention began in the late 80’s when folks that loved horror attended the World Fantasy Con and decided they needed a con of their own. Not long after, in 1991, the first World Horror Convention took place in Nashville, TN.

Being a past attendee of the World Fantasy Convention (last year in Columbus), I can certainly understand why followers of horror felt this needed to happen. The Fantasy Con is close, but not quite the same. People that don’t write or try to understand horror won’t get this but it’s true; horror is an island all its own. There are different rules when it comes to writing horror. Horror isn’t really even a genre-it’s a feeling, an emotion that starts when a certain author, painter, filmmaker, or any orchestrator of something scary creates something that stirs something inside us. Maybe it jangles a long ago memory or maybe it reminds you of a horror movie you saw recently but the desired reaction is to scare you a little or a lot.

I arrived in Austin, Texas early Thursday afternoon after my flight from D.C. to Austin was delayed due to weather. It was on this delayed flight that I bumped into my first WHC friend-Scott Edelman. I could take up an entire blog writing about Scott Edelman and his long career in the horror industry. He’s published over 75 short stories, edited countless magazines, works for the SyFy channel, has been a Stoker award finalist five times and a Hugo Award finalist for best editor. Not to mention, an extremely nice and down-to-earth gentleman and I can’t say enough how privileged I am to have been stuck on a plane with him while we waited for the pounding rain to stop outside so our plane could take off. I attended a reading of his over the weekend and was blown away by this man’s talent. If any of you out there in Blogland haven’t read anything of his, I implore you; please do. He’s immensely talented and just awesome. He is the zombie writer extraordinaire.

Due to an unfortunate incident involving my back (for anyone unaware, I have arthritis in my spine and sometimes I’m forced to use a cane to walk with) my trek from Ohio to Texas made me extremely tired and so I didn’t attend Thursday’s opening ceremonies or any of the readings or panels. If anyone out there is wondering who I am, I was the girl with the black hair and the wooden knotty pine cane that hobbled around the hotel all weekend. Yeah, that was me. It seems that whenever I travel I have some type of injury. In November of 2009 when I flew to MN to a Stephen King reading, both my ankles were sprained. Yes, I flew to MN to see Stephen King read on stage with two sprained ankles. And yes, I’m nuts.

On Friday I attended a panel called “Why Write Short Stories?” and the panelists were Joe Hill, Molly Tanzer, Claude Lalumiere, Orrin Grey, Suzanne Church and Brad Sinor.

This was an interesting panel for me because I just recently published a short story collection and so I was interested in hearing what was said about short stories. Joe Hill began by saying “I think the short story form is the great classroom for writers to learn their craft”. He spent three years on a project called “Fear Tree” that was turned down everywhere and that’s when he decided he needed to “get small”. He also said it’s a “set of skills that are acquired through practice”. Claude Lalumiere commented that the skills it takes to write short stories aren’t the same as writing a longer work. A novel is a “long investment of time” while writing short stories does not “bog down the project when my mind is elsewhere”. Orrin Grey concurred this thought by saying short stories are “quick” and there’s an advantage, both creatively and also for the reader, in this. Suzanne Church said that short stories help to “build the brand” and your platform as a writer. Joe Hill went on to say that there aren’t “different rules when it comes to writing short stories versus long”. He also says that you have to “get your hooks in with an editor in the first page, first paragraph, first sentence, if possible and keep him there. And it’s not different in novels and you can’t have a chapter that floats around…It has to count.” He continues, “you create a trance in a short story…and it’s very hard to do that in a book.” Claude Lalumiere commented by saying the great thing about short stories is that you can read them in “one sitting” and all the panelists agreed that if they’re reading a short story, they want to read it in one sitting. (I have to agree here-it gives you such a sense of accomplishment when reading and finishing a story in one night.”  Brad Sinor commented that “…you have a 150 words to get the editor’s and reader’s attention” and it was said that “150 is A LOT”.  The opening paragraph is “scary” according to Joe Hill and Claude agrees that you have to “seduce” your readers. The panel then went on to discuss length and Brad Sinor said it depends on the “guidelines”. “Shorter is better.” Joe Hill: “I start with a concept. I need an idea I’m excited about. After that I need a character…and the third thing I need is the story has to be more than itself. It has to ask an interesting question.”

Joe Hill touched briefly on discovering new authors: “Short stories are the best way to discover a writer… Things are starting to change a lot in the last year or two and we’re pretty excited about it. People have new e-readers, the nook, Kindle and the iPad and those markets are very open to short stories. If someone writes a 20,000 short story, novella…they put it up on the Kindle, nook or iPad and it makes the perfect bite-size length for someone to download and read on their e-reader. There’s a magazine called “One Story” you can purchase on your Kindle, they publish one story a month and it’s great…”

Another interesting comment that was made was about editors being needed, regardless of what type of fiction, short or long, you write. Editors are needed to challenge you on your writing as well as finding all the mistakes you make.

The next panel discussion I went to was called “New Blood” and featured panelists Rio Youers, John Rector, John Horner Jacobs, Jesse Bullington, Guido Henkel, and Norman Prentiss. This discussion was focused mainly on the new generation of horror writers and what they bring to the table. (Unfortunately, I did not Pulse Pen this panel so I’m relying only on my notes!)

“New blood” isn’t necessarily “new” at writing. Writers can start in random places, such as video games, short stories, poetry, comics, etc… Rio commented that he received a blurb from Peter Straub and it helps to make connections from people bigger than you are. (I couldn’t agree more.) Guido Henkel commented that he “doesn’t like agents” and that socializing and networking are important. Guido also went on to say “trust your instincts-it doesn’t matter what people say.” There are opinions and there is advice and advice is not necessarily always good. (Guido mentioned that someone told him to change his name! Can you imagine?) One simple truth is that there is no simple truth. From here on out, the panelists discussed work that was done early in the careers of some well known artists and took a few random questions at the end.

The next panel I attended was a reading and interview with Joe Hill, a guest of honor at the convention.

Joe did a reading of his newest work, entitled “Nos 4 A 2”, an upcoming novel he’s currently working on. I have to admit, this work sounds interesting as well as maybe a little humorous, with Joe’s unmistakable style of writing leaning toward the sexually bent.

After Joe’s reading, he took the time to answer a few questions.

Regarding Twitter: “Twitter is great, Twitter is awesome, love Twitter. There are other formats, you know, and as a writer, I’m interested in any form where I can write…if I look at all the different things I’ve tried, short stories, comics, novels, or screenplays, the literary form I clearly suck at the most is blogging. I’m a terrible blogger, I hate doing it… but Twitter I get. Twitter is 140 character posts and essentially (embodies) the most noble literary form which is the one-liner. Mark Twain would have Twittered.” I like it myself, Joe.

On musical artists that inspire: “I listened to a song called “Beautiful Wreck” about 250 times…I listen to a lot of heavy metal, a lot of Kiss. I’ve listened to a lot of Tom Petty while working on this one (Nos 4 A 2).”

On his dad: “The elephant in the room is my dad, Steve King. And, you know, it’s something I’m fairly comfortable discussing, might not have been a few years ago… When I was in college, I got thinking about, I do want to be a writer, I do want to be a novelist, but the last name might be a disadvantage. Because, I figured, I’d write something mediocre and come out as Joseph King and a publisher might see it as a way to make a quick buck on the last name. And people would say, he just got somewhere because of his dad. Readers are really smart, they might buy your first book because your dad is someone famous but if it’s no good they’ll never buy the second one.  I decided to drop the last name and write as Joe Hill and was able to keep the pen name under wraps for about ten years. I had a great trick I used to keeping it under wraps, it’s called “failure”. It’s amazing, no one will figure it out if you can’t get anything published.”

Is he ever going to consider doing a video game? “No.”

On acting: “I was in my dad’s film, “Creepshow”. I’m the kid that gets slapped by Tom Atkins. They had to do the make up, so it was like, a bruise on my face, and after that scene, I went to McDonald’s and went through the drive through, “I want a milkshake! I want a milkshake!” and my dad, he’s like, “get the kid a chocolate milkshake” and he looks around and everyone in the drive-thru is looking at me and then looking at him like they’re thinking, “You piece of shit! You slap the kid and then bribe him with a chocolate milkshake.”


Tune in tomorrow for the remainder of the weekend, where I’ll blog about the panel “Why Horror Movies are Terrible”, the Grand Master Award Presentation (winner Jack Ketchum), the book launches, my reading with Scott Edelman, the panel “Horror Without Stephen King, “The Future of the Book”, “How to Break Into Comics”, and the Sunday mega panel on Zombies.

2 responses

  1. Aw, shucks. You’re too kind.

    May 5, 2011 at 9:58 am

  2. Sounds like an amazing con, Gina — thanks for sharing! 🙂

    May 5, 2011 at 12:34 pm

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