Tuesday, July 25, 2017

How I Spent My Summer Vacation: Scares That Care 2017

This year, I decided to check out the Scares that Care Weekend in Williamsburg VA. When I first announced I was going to attend (as a fan this time around, not as a working author), I had several people ask for me to give a run-down on how it was and what I thought of it, so that’s what this is. If you’re curious about a first-timer’s experience as a member of that strange mid-ground world of both a fan and a writer, read on. If not, well, feel free to skip to the pictures and then move along.

A quick note on said pictures: most were taken as I met folks, and being a writer, authors are where most of my attention fell this weekend. There are some groups on Facebook where you can see the awesome cosplay pictures from the con, as well as the other actors and movie guys, so feel free to check those out as well.

GPS declared this to be a ten-hour trip, so my friend and I decided to leave the Nashvillle area at around four in the morning (Central time) in order to arrive at the hotel just as it became check-in time. The trip actually took eleven hours, and neither of us got much sleep the night before, so Thursday already had all the earmarks of a strange and interesting day before it even got started.
Partners in crime! With Somer Canon.
The only event for Thursday night was Scaryoke at the hotel bar, so after kicking back and trying to relax, and grabbing a bite to eat, we headed from our hotel down the street to the Doubletree where the convention was being held. Almost immediately I ran into Somer Canon, whom I’d become Facebook friends with, and got the chance to finally meet in person. As I stood there having a beer and chatting with Somer and her husband, Kane Hodder decided to start messing with me over the length of my hair, and proved he is one of the funniest and nicest assholes in the business. Kane managed to pull C.J. Graham and Steve Dash into the joke, too, meaning I had not one, but THREE Jasons giving me shit. Kane promised this would be going on all weekend, and I had no doubt he was sincere. Want to insult me? Go for it. I took shit from Jason Freakin’ Voorhees, okay? You got nothin’.

Somer told me that there was a room aside for writers to hang out in and talk instead of the crowded hotel bar, so we headed there and got to watch as Brian Keene, Mary SanGiovanni, and a table full of other friends and authors held an impromptu remembrance for J.F. Gonzales while they signed the signature sheets for the Clickers Forever anthology done in his honor. This was recorded for Brian's Horror Show podcast, so you’ll all get to hear it for yourselves some time soon.

He might have given me shit, but he's
genuinely one of the nicest guys I've
had the chance to meet.
After this wrapped up, it was social hour for everyone. Somer pointed out the people I didn’t recognize, and I finally got to put names to faces for all the folks I’ve interacted with on Facebook since being graciously welcomed into this strange and wonderful horror community. Adam Cesare stopped by to introduce himself, having recognized me and remembered that I’d done a review for his novel The Con Season, and also succeeded in making me feel more welcomed than I could’ve expected.

Since we’d been up since before the ass crack of dawn, my friend and I called it a night early and headed back to our own hotel, which put an end to the pre-con festivities. A few hours’ sleep, and it was time for the first official day of the convention!

Things kicked off later in the afternoon today, so I actually got to go in well-rested this time around. Met Armand Rosamilia and Jay Wilburn when we went to trade our tickets for wristbands, and then headed to lunch based on an awesome recommendation from Armand. Grabbed a quick nap, and then we were off to the races.

Friday is typically the slower of the days (aside from Sunday, which is the slowest) and the place was still full of people. I had an hour and a half to kill before the first panel, so I hit the celebrity room and decided to meet some of my heroes and now co-wanderers on this crazy road of writing.

The Warlock himself, Julian Sands.
In addition to great guys like Armand, Ronald Malfi, and Wrath James White, I also managed to get a picture and an autograph from the Warlock himself, Julian Sands. Considering that movie was my first favorite horror film, it was a definite dream come true.

In between panels and readings, I managed to wander through the vendor rooms, where I met even more awesome folks, and like as not, picked up signed books from them as well. I spent an especially fun time talking with Chuck Buda, comparing notes about being a new author in horror (we’re both just now in our second years of it), and then it was off to a reading. A final trip to the celebrity room where I got to meet and chat with one of the fathers of splatterpunk, John Skipp, and the most recent addition to my influence list, Jonathan Janz, and then it was time for things to wind down in one sense and kick up in another.
The man with more energy than you
could believe - John Skipp.

I wound up having dinner with a herd of authors as well as Mike Lombardo—who is exactly like he sounds on Brian Keene’s aforementioned Horror Show podcast—and then it was back to the Doubletree for some libations. After some discussion on what was happening where, and a bit more wandering, I found myself in a room with a different herd of authors and some readers playing a round of Werewolves (think the party game Mafia, only horror-styled). After much conversation and fun, it was time to head back to my hotel for a few hours’ sleep before the insanity that was Saturday at Scares That Care began.

(And for the record, Kane kept his promise and gave me shit again today, too….)

The longest day of the con, and one of the most fun and interesting. Somehow I even escaped Kane Hodder giving me shit, which is a minor miracle, too.

The insane hosts of The Mando Method,
Chuck Buda and Armand Rosamilia.
Most of the day was spent in various panels and such, from an exploration of splatterpunk, extreme horror, and bizzaro from several key figures in those genres to a couple of live podcast recordings. The first was Armand and Chuck’s Mando Method, where they pulled me in from audience and made sure to say my name roughly a thousand times. Thanks to both of them for that, by the way. They put me on the spot, but that’s a ton of unexpected exposure, so I will definitely take it.

Horror folks running for
the woods...
Not too long after this, the fire alarms in the hotel went off, prompting an evacuation. No one seemed overly alarmed at this, so it seemed like a good chance to grab some food. While eating, I found out some idiot had been smoking in his room and set off the alarms, so while that guy was apt to have a horrible day once they figured out who they were, everything else would continue as normal.

At a guess, it was over a hundred degrees
in this room....
Next up was a live taping for two episodes of The Horror Show with Brian Keene, one of which included an interview with the legendary authors Joe Lansdale and Chet Williamson, and a Q&A from the audience for the regular hosts of The Horror Show (except for Coop and Dungeonmaster, who were unable to attend). It was an awesome experience, except that the air conditioner was broken so it quickly became the hottest room in the world with the number of people who attended.

Once that was over, it was time to hang out and have some fun again, and I once again joined the “after-hours” group from the night before for pizza, bourbon, and Werewolves (where Melissa Hayward and Rachel Autumn Deering officially christened me "Best John", which makes me smile just to type). I had to be back for an appointment at nine Sunday morning, so I called it a night after one round, and headed back to the hotel.

Waiting for food before the bourbon; half of the "village" for
Saturday night's round of Werewolves. Photo by Hannah
Sunday was coming, and with it the end of this year’s Scares That Care. While there was a part of me that was ready to get home to my wife, kids, and herd of doggage, there was another part that was hoping it wouldn’t come, inevitable as it was….

As I mentioned, I had to be up for an appointment at nine this morning. Well, I woke up, looked at the clock, and thought “oh, it’s 8:30, I can grab something from the free hotel breakfast before I….” and then I actually looked at the clock. It wasn’t 8:30. It was 8:50. Thankfully, the hotel I’m staying at isn’t that far from the Doubletree where the con was being held, so I made it by 9:02. No coffee, but I was able to get some before we got started, so it was all good.

(And yes, that’s vaguebooking, but I’ll announce what it is when I have more details, so just bear with me. Trust me, it'll be good.)

Quite possibly the nicest guy working
in the field of horror fiction, Jonathan
Janz. Not pictured: the flowered pants
he was wearing....
Back to the hotel, pack up, check out, and then off to the bittersweet final day of Scares That Care.
Today was definitely slower than the other days, and everything was much more relaxed as well. I did manage to catch the reading from Jonathan Janz and Mary SanGiovanni, both of whom blew the audience away. After that, it was time to make those dreaded rounds to say goodbye to all the awesome folks I’d spend the last weekend getting to know and hanging out with.

After that, I headed up to the live recording of Armand’s ArmCast Dead Sexy Podcast, where I was included as a participant alongside the wonderful Wile E. Young, who is working on his first novel for Deadite Press. We both had a blast talking to Armand, and then I hung out in the audience for a few more guests. When that was over, the time had come. As much as I hated it, I had to go back home.

I said goodbye to the last few folks I’d promised to meet up with before heading out, and then we hit the road for the long trip back to Tennessee. We got stuck in an accident cleanup within the first hour, fought through rain so hard you couldn’t see the road and almost constant cloud-to-ground lightning as we made our way out of Virginia and into Tennessee, but finally, we made it.

In Summary…
This wasn’t my first convention, but it was my first in over a decade, and definitely my first where I had a “vested interest” in going. It was also my first purely horror-themed one, so I really didn’t know what to expect.

This is just the swag from Day One...
Uncertain expectations aside, I was blown away. Everyone I encountered was open, and welcoming. I walked away from that convention feeling like I’d not just met some contemporaries in the horror fiction field, but that I’d actually made some friends. It’s one thing to be “friends” on Facebook, but after meeting and hanging out with these guys, it feels like so much more than that. I can honestly say that while I’ve only been home for a few hours now as I write this, I genuinely miss them, and am going to be heartbroken that I won’t be able to wake up and go see them all again tomorrow.

I’m not even going to try and name everyone who I enjoyed meeting this weekend, because the list is so long and I’m sure I’d forget someone or something. What I will say is that this weekend made me feel like this is what I’m supposed to be doing. Everyone I talked to made me feel like I belonged, and there are no words to express how that feels. It also reinvigorated me to the whole process of writing and got me fired up for whatever project is next for me.

One of this year's convention hosts,
the multi-talented Brian Keene.
Some people have a preconception of horror writers, actors, and fans as being strange and scary people. While that may be true in some cases, I’ve seen the exact opposite is more true than not. Here we all were, at a charity convention that supports those who really need the help. Not once did I see anyone made to feel anything but welcomed and appreciated for who they were—whoever they were. Will I go back again? Unquestioningly. I was asked more than once why I didn’t have a table there this year, and will be looking at rectifying that for next year as soon as the opportunity arises.

That was how I spent my summer vacation. And as I sit here preparing this post for publication, looking at those pictures, I realize how much I already miss all those guys and how much I can't wait to see them all again next year. Now to relax and recover, and to savor some memories that will definitely last a lifetime.

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