A trip to the US

Heide went to Stokercon for two reasons.

  • She wanted to meet people from the US genre scene. Writerly chit-chat with a new set of people is always great
  • It was onboard the Queen Mary.

The Queen Mary is permanently moored in Long Beach California, so a long way from home, but what a trip!
Iain wasn’t able to make this trip. Heide went with her husband, Simon.
Here’s Heide’s Stokercon diary:
Queen Mary, Long Beach

Tuesday 25th April

Arrived at Long Beach in the afternoon, but it was hard work staying awake until the evening as we’d been up for many hours already. Had a walk around the ship and went for a meal. The bay seems to come alive with birds at dusk. Watching pelicans fish is particularly spectacular (the bird in the picture is a heron).

Heron flying past Queen Mary

Wednesday 26th April

We met up with Will (a proof reader and long distance friend) for brunch. He’s local and he’d booked us in to a nice place called Plunge a short taxi ride away from the Queen Mary, but within sight, across the bay, as so many things seem to be. This restaurant is so cool that it has no frontage onto the street, it’s in an apartment block. You just have to know it’s there.
I’m not sure how Will knew who I was when we arrived, but he might have been tipped off by my performance in the lift (elevator). The receptionist told me that the restaurant was on level 2 so the lift dinged on 2 and then we walked out. We were clearly only one floor up from the ground so we got back in and repeated the performance. It took some time before realisation dawned that the ground floor counts as a number in the US.
Will was such fun to talk to that after brunch we went for an extended walk with him, chatting as we went. The path up the side of Long Beach runs for a long way so we didn’t run out of subject matter or places to walk. Eventually Will summoned a taxi and dropped us back at the Queen Mary on his way back to Santa Monica. One of the things that he told us about is the local fish called the Grunion. These apparently have an annual habit of coming up the beach to mate, and there’s quite a spectacle when it happens. He emailed afterwards to tip us off that that this week is good for the Grunion Run, as it’s known.
I’ve only been here a day and already I am hamming up my English accent. A couple asked if I would take their picture. They commented on my “foreign accent” and patted my hair, saying it was an awesome cut, like Pat Benatar.
Planned a quiet drink and early night but spotted some people in the bar that looked like horror writers. I went and said hello and they turned out to be the early birds who were organizing. Kate Jonez, Johnny Worthen and Lauren Candia amongst others. Got roped into a couple of hours stuffing goody bags and sorting name badges, which was a great way to meet people.

Thursday 27th April

After breakfast, we went back to help with some more of the organising: name badges, moving signs around etc. I was curious to find that Simon didn’t have a name badge, so I checked the booking that I’d made. I was horrified to see that I had never booked him into the con. I threw myself upon Kate’s mercy, and she sorted it out. We both now have volunteer ribbons.
The dealers all turned up. The dealers’ room is sited on the promenade deck, which is a vast airy corridor linking most of the con’s rooms. Feeling the pressure of my new volunteer status, I asked Mary Elizabeth of Mysterious Galaxy if she’d like some help setting up. Many authors and publishers have sent their books to Mysterious Galaxy to sell on their behalf, so they had an enormous run of tables, with piles of boxed-up books organised (and shipped) in alphabetised ranges. It took several hours to get all of the books out of the boxes and onto the tables, but it’s an impressive sight.
Mysterious Galaxy bookstore at Stokercon
PS Publishing from the UK had sent a whole load of books and when Peter Crowther stopped by to see that they had arrived safely he was perplexed by my accent and wondered which state I was from, assuming I was part of Mysterious Galaxy.
Lunch was provided for volunteers, which was great as all the food and drink (both on and off the Queen Mary) is eye-wateringly expensive.
A bit more goody-bag packing featured. It never seems to end – there are still more to be done. I slipped a few cards into some of them with details of my reading, which is tomorrow. If I’d realised I’d be doing this job I would have come armed with five hundred.
The day was punctuated by loud announcements that could be heard all over the Queen Mary. They were being made from a nearby cruise ship which had appeared in the morning, and which left in the evening. The tannoy (public address system) was used to bellow instructions, hints, tips and adverts to the cruise ship passengers (and the rest of Long Beach) all day long.
Bumped into Marie O’Regan and Paul Kane. They had made a long journey from the UK like we had, but they were a day later, so were still catching up with the time zone difference. They’d got a plug adapter for the US but it turned out to be the wrong way round (i.e. for US visitors to the UK) and so they were on the hunt for a new adapter.
The readings had started in the Wedding Chapel, and we went to see F Paul Wilson accompanied by Kerri Leigh Grady and Jeff Strand accompanied by Christopher Clark. All of the stories were excellent and everyone stuck to the thirty minute slots with remarkable accuracy.
After getting something to eat there was the opening party. If I’d stayed awake until later, there was a stunt team, Decayed Brigade, doing a display, but their make-up and entertaining jump-scares were all that I saw of them. Decayed Brigade
I chatted with Keri Kelley and Barbara Barnett whose book Apothecary’s Curse is nominated for a Stoker Award and features heavily in the goody bag and on the book stall. Lee Murray with her husband David introduced me to the term “sponsor”. It’s her way of introducing David, who is neither a reader nor a writer. They introduced me to Hank Schwaeble and Rhodi Hawk.
Spent a few minutes talking to Jeffrey Burton whose first stop in Los Angeles was the emergency room after his wife sliced open her thumb on the air sickness bag on the plane.

Friday 28th April

Attended a panel on marketing your work and getting paid as a writer, which seemed like 2 separate topics, but they were tackled jointly by a group of people from Blumhouse, a media company. The chair was Rebekah McKendry and the other panelists were people who worked in various forms for Blumhouse. They discussed the agile approach to writing that they had all employed in order to become full-time paid writers. They tied this in with marketing; that everything you write must be pushed out somehow, so that they it contributes to your brand and presence.
Got embroiled with a group of people who had decided to go to a workshop on giving a great interview, which sounded very interesting but I didn’t realise until part way through that it was on for two hours, so I had to slip away or I would have missed my own reading. I must apologise to Nicole Cushing, who was running the workshop, if I see her.
I went to the reading room early so that I could hear Lee Murray’s reading. She was accompanied by Delphine Boswell. On the way to the reading I found Will, who was there for the day so that he could hear my reading.
There were 20-25 people in the reading that I did (Erinn Kemper was my reading buddy). Jeff Strand came to see us, which was great as he is a busy man. Got a good number of laughs for Clovenhoof and the Spiders. I had a couple of Terry’s Chocolate Oranges and raffled them at the end. Lee Murray won them.
We walked around the deck briefly with Will and went to the bar for a while to relax with a drink and some snacks. He told us that the wind that was picking up was likely to turn into a Santa Ana, which is famous for unsettling people. I found that I was definitely unsettled when I noticed that the water bottles that kept turning up in our room were chargeable. This fact is written in white lettering on a pale pink background, almost invisible. I’ve already drunk my way through a small fortune!

water bottle
We met Jeffrey Burton again, with his wife Cindy this time. She appeared to have recovered from her thumb trauma. They recommended a place to eat, so we went round to the Yard House in Shoreline Village. By the time we got back to the Queen Mary the scheduled events had finished so we did some ninja-like sign swapping in preparation for Saturday’s events and went to bed, tired.

Saturday 29th April

Went to the registration desk to see if they wanted any help during the day. Got some crowd control jobs to do around George RR Martin’s events which were open to the public if they bought a special ticket. 
Met Lee Murray on the stairs. It turns out that we both know Chris Barnes, audiobook narrator extraordinaire. I told her that although Chris hasn’t yet narrated any of our novels he recorded the story that I read yesterday, Clovenhoof and the Spiders.
Went to a “pitch clinic” unsure what it was, exactly. It turned out to be literary agent Katharine Sands of NY agency Sarah Jayne Freymann talking about how to pitch to an agent, and promising to work with some “victims” to hone their pitches. A couple of the many key points that she made were:

  • Never lie, but keep to the high points. Complications in your situation or any kind of “backstory” can come later. The pitch is like a first date compared to marriage (you don’t talk about retiring together on a first date)
  • It’s important to think of a pitch as “sharing” rather than “selling”

She was incredibly generous with her time and knowledge. After the session six of us went into a side room to continue the discussion and she remained there for about 90 minutes, making sure that everyone had their questions answered and their pitches dissected.
Went to some readings. Johnny Worthen and Nathan Carson. Walking back from there Jeff Strand stopped me and said how much he enjoyed the reading that I did yesterday.
The crowd for George RR Martin turned out to be well-behaved so when the queue had died down I made sure that I got a picture of him with the infamous Baby.
George RR Martin with sinister baby
I got a picture of Stephen Jones with Baby as well.
Stephen Jones with creepy baby
I loitered outside the pitching sessions, and Mercedes Yardley of Gamut magazine had a sudden opening. I’d met Mercedes briefly before. I went in to ask whether Gamut might be interested in a 5k comedy piece that Iain and I have just written. I didn’t so much pitch it as re-tell it, but she was patient enough to sit through my rambling before telling me that Gamut don’t really do comedy, but she suggested a couple of other avenues that I might look at.
We went to the banquet and watched the Stoker Awards with Jeff Strand as Master of Ceremonies. Jeff pointed out that the Queen’s Salon, where we were sitting, featured in the Poseidon Adventure, and had us all pose for a picture as if we were on a sinking ship. 

Sunday 30th April

My Stokercon diary ends here. A morning of saying goodbye to new friends and wondering whether I can get to Stokercon 2018 in Providence.