The Horror (World Horror Con 2008 report)

by Alex

In one of my patented insane tour moves, I split my time last week between the Public Library Association conference (see here) and the World Horror Convention in Salt Lake City – and if that’s not a dichotomy, I don’t know what is. The only unifying factor was the snow, actually… what a freaking long winter some parts of the country are having, I’m telling you…

I am a cross-genre kind of girl, which puts me in several convention loops: mystery, thriller, horror, and romance. I’m too dark for some of the attendees of Malice Domestic, but I’m a passionate traditional mystery reader myself and there are enough readers there who enjoy a supernatural edge to their mysteries that it’s always worth it for me to go.
By the same token, I’m not a hard-core horror writer, but my subject matter is dark enough to satisfy most horror fans, even though my plot structure owes a lot more to traditional mysteries, and the scares I offer up are more psychological than overt. And then of course there’s the whole paranormal slice of romance readers – fans of the Bronte sisters, Daphne DuMaurier, Shirley Jackson and Anne Rice – who are attracted to the spooky eroticism of my books.

Which means, basically, that I end up at more conventions than is really healthy for any one sane person. Oh well.

One con that I’ll probably never miss is World Horror. It’s a literary conference, in contrast to most horror cons which are heavy on movies and gaming. And I have to admit – my real love is the mystery beyond the mystery – what happens when even reality seems to warp. So even though I will never see SAW 1, 2, 3, 4 or 13, because I think torture porn is, well, evil – there is nothing so cathartic to me as a horror film or book in which the real battle between good and evil is played out, and in which good ends up with some sort of even temporary upper hand.

I can’t give anything like a full conference report as I didn’t get actually get to WHC until early Saturday morning – I was at PLA for three days and had to get from Minneapolis to Salt Lake City in a mad rush. But despite my incredible lateness I had a very full conference experience – three panels (“On Screenwriting”, “Thinking Outside the Horror Box” on marketing, and “Promotion, What Works and What Doesn’t” – which turned into a roundtable with back and forth discussion between Deborah LeBlanc, Sarah Langan and me and all of the audience, with special help from David Wellington – and turned out to be as illuminating for the panelists as it was for the audience, I think.

It was interesting to me that there were so many cross-genre panels – and two bestselling cross-genre authors, F. Paul Wilson and Heather Graham, were prominently featured. Of course, horror is languishing as a genre right now, and everyone seems to be looking to “The Once and Future King” – Joe Hill (author of HEART SHAPED BOX and son of Stephen King, for those who haven’t been following) and Dan Simmons (author of the brilliant THE TERROR – run, do not walk, to purchase and read this book – it will turn you inside out) and Scott Smith (THE RUINS) to revive the genre, while the rest of us tiptoe uneasily around the H-word at the request of our publishers. That’s okay – I can be a thriller writer, or a mystery writer, or a paranormal writer just as easily. Or just call me “dark suspense” and be done with it. (Actually, I should really write a whole blog on the subject of “When genres tank”. I’m making a note of it.)

I got my academic fix from the fascinating lectures on serial killers, and a chance to hear a taped interview with Ted Bundy… malevolently fascinating. I was also happy to get professional confirmation for my long-held suspicion that Aileen Wuornos is NOT a serial killer (but that’s also a different post).

Heather Graham and I managed to sneak some time to hit six bookstores in the area to sign stock and meet the managers (I drove in the SNOW – very proud of myself!). It’s always a treat to see how a real pro does this – Heather is well past 100 books at this point… I am in constant awe.

The climax of the conference was the Bram Stoker awards – it was of course completely thrilling to see the awesome Sarah Langan (THE KEEPER, THE MISSING) win for Best Novel, and FIVE STROKES TO MIDNIGHT win Best Antho (yay, Gary Braunbeck, Hank Schwable and Deborah LeBlanc!).

Jeff Strand is the Toastmaster of the Gods, as far as I’m concerned – SO funny – can he just please emcee ALL cons from now on, all genres?

F. Paul Wilson was in fine form as he announced Sarah (“I think we should have just named this ‘Sarah Langan Con’. She’s got panels, she’s got Coffeeklatches, she’s got readings… I’m stating to feel like Jan Brady. ‘Sarah, Sarah, Sarah…'”

And Gary Braunbeck had the whole room in tears as he dedicated one of his TWO Stokers to his late daughter. All in all, a much funnier and more emotional evening than you often get at these events.

So I was running around like a crazy person, but I still got a chance to catch up with a lot of people because I stayed over Sunday night for the Dead Dog Party… (it should always remembered that Sunday night is often the most professionally productive and wildly fun time of any con).

And then I was snowed in at the airport the next morning. But despite the fact that it took me 36 hours to actually get home, I got a lot of work done on my third book revision – airports do that for me, and the con inspirational magic was working in full force.

Now, as THE PRICE tour continues, I am in New Orleans this weekend with my darkside-cross-genre pals Heather Graham and F. Paul Wilson, Harley Jane Kozak, Kathy Love and Erin McCarthy, at a conference hosted by the incomparable Molly Bolden of Bent Pages Bookstore. They are going to work us and party us, Cajun-style, into the ground (yes, I can hear the ominous unsympathetic muttering right now, but I deserve this, OKAY?) so forgive my slow response.

But my question is – do you cross genres, as a reader or an author? And what genres do you cross?

(So very, very sorry to be missing NoirCon and the well-deserved tribute to Ken Bruen. I am absolutely there in spirit… X)

7 thoughts on “The Horror (World Horror Con 2008 report)

  1. J.D. Rhoades

    Whatever you call it, Alex, THE PRICE is a fantastic book. There are images and lines in there that are going to give me chills for years, and that’s something only Clive Barker and, occasionally, Stephen King have been able to do.

  2. Louise Ure

    Alex, I’m still stunned at your schedule and your energy.

    I guess I’d call my style Desert Dark, so I don’t know if I cross genres so much as I have to create my own.

    And my reading is across all sub-genres, although I tend to avoid too many serial killer books in a row.

    Going to lie down now.

  3. Rae

    I think of it more as changing tone than crossing genre. In fiction, I tend to vary from darker to lighter and back again. And I tend to read in streaks of fiction and non-fiction. Right now I’m reading a light-hearted little romp called “American Theocracy: the Peril and Politics of Radical Religion, Oil, and Borrowed Money in the 21st Century”. Once I get through that, it’ll definitely be time for some Charlaine Harris or MaryJanice Davidson.


  4. JT Ellison

    Go, Santa Tom!!!

    We’re segmenting so far that it’s becoming meaningless. The hot new genre, the next big thing… we need to reframe the discussion, I think. I say I write psychological thrillers. When I say mystery, I feel like I’ve implied that it’s incumbent on the reader to try and figure things out, instead of just reading and letting the story unfold. I like to think I’ve got a literary bent to mine, a la John Connolly and Greg Iles. Whether I’ve achieved that is certainly in question : ) But I don’t want to go any further into the description than that. Of course, serial killer books works just as well and readily identifies the style and tone. Isn’t it the writers who stress about the labels more than the readers?

    Have a blast, Alex!!! I wish I could do what you do — I’m afraid my meager schedule is overwhelming enough.

  5. Catherine

    The majority of the books I read whether they are adventure suspense, fantasy, sci fi, romance,comedy, thriller suspense, horror, gritty mean streets(pick a street), all have a redemptive quality to them, a good triumphs over evil feel. There may be blood, tears and guts flying about, wee bit of angst, sometimes hard won struggle, usually some humour, mostly dark humour but things work out…usually not a Pollyanna solution, but the world is slightly better for a time type solution.

    However I do also enjoy some noir short stories. I’m working my way through Akashic’s city series.Also the odd bleak novel where the character is just so well drawn I can endure their journey…

    Additionally, I like the description someone gave some of Charlaine Harris’s mystery books, cozies with teeth. I think that is a excellent description for some of the books I’m drawn to at times…the cozies with teeth genre.

    I read a fair amount of university inspired reading, text books, journals et al, which usually sends me off for further research to make it of more interest to me. Reading material at the moment consists of anything Media related, and Australian business law…

    I’m not even sure if this type of book is a genre, but I know them when I see them, they’re the books where generations of family make each other miserable and throughout the book they really slowly move to a new arrangement of misery. I avoid them like the plague. Although I judge not those that enjoy these, they’re just not my cup of tea.

    Scattered in between all this I’ve started reading books about the pyschology of crime/thriller books. I have them scattered in various handbags for waiting room situations.One close at hand, is ‘Crime in Literature, Sociology of Deviance and Fiction’ by Vincenzo Ruggiero.

    Mixed bag reading, but with intent.

    The length of this post is due mostly to my inability to be access genre or subgenre terms that really describes what I do read.

  6. a Paperback Writer

    Ah, c’mon, Alex, that was a spring snow! It didn’t stick on the ground for the whole day! That doesn’t count!(Yes, I live in SLC, and I had NO FRICKIN’ CLUE there was a horror convention going on because all I’ve done for 3 months is grade papers.)Anyway, I want to know which bookstores you visited. Tell me, please, you went to The King’s English? (That’s my favorite.) Or Sam Weller’s? Or Frost’s? Those are the best independent bookstores in town.

  7. Pari Noskin Taichert

    X,I can’t believe your schedule. You astound me.

    I think I cross genres in my writing but don’t know how to define it beyond that.

    As a reader, there’s no question that my tastes are scattered all over the place: mystery, science fiction, fantasy, nonfiction, lit., a tad of horror. I’ll try just about anything — any genre, that is — once.


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