Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Horror Realm, or: I Came in Second!?

In case I haven’t mentioned it recently, I went to Horror Realm over the weekend. We’ve got a great zombie-themed convention going every fall here in Pittsburgh, and this is the first year it’s been held outside the Monroeville area. The whole thing went down at the Crown Plaza hotel beside the South Hills Village Mall and it was damn cool.

Two years ago, during the first convention (while it was still called ZombieFest), I wrote my first zombie-themed story after listening to Kim Paffenroth, Gary Braunbeck and Edward Holsclaw read their work at an author panel. As someone who, until then, focused mainly on vampire and ghost stories, I was struck by the sheer versatility of the zombie story. Before that point, I had a very narrow view of the subgenre, and seeing several very different (and altogether amazing) takes on it blew me away. That night, I wrote Wings, which will published in volume #69 of The Nocturnal Lyric a few months from now.

Last year the convention was held in the Monroeville Mall proper, with author tables set up amongst a lot of standard weekend foot traffic, and I didn’t get to sit in on any panels. I met Gary Braunbeck again and got him to sign my copy of October Dreams, one of the best Halloween-themed anthologies I’ve ever read. It’s one of my little treasures.

This year I got to sit in on two panels on Friday, and they were awesome. I was in the audience during readings by Jonathan Maberry, James Melzer, Rob Fox, Dave Dunwoody, Kim Paffenroth and Steven North. I got back to the con late on Saturday, unfortunately, and missed the panels for the day.

One of the reasons I was late is because I was stuck at Eric’s writing my entry for the Permuted Press Apocalyptic Flash Fiction contest. I got a bit drunk Friday night, woke up at seven Saturday morning, walked the Waterworks Mall and got breakfast to slough off the morning-after booze fog and came back to the house without an idea in my head. After a few minutes, I came up with the concept of beached orcas coming back from the dead and eating the people that were attempting to rescue (and then, when they failed, dispose of) them. It was an awesome story. I really, really love it. It’s called Blackfish, and I plan on submitting it somewhere soon.

However, despite its awesomeness, it didn’t seem to fit the guidelines of the contest. It takes place at the very cusp of a zombie outbreak, not afterward, and once I’d bounced the idea off Eric and got an “I like this a lot, but...” response I decided to go back to the drawing board. This time I wrote a story called Conference, about a woman barricaded in her office building.

Eric dropped me off at the con and took off for a friend of ours’ bachelor party and I wandered the hotel by myself for a while. When I turned my story in to the Permuted guys I was told that I was the twelfth entry so far. Seeing as how many excellent novelists and short story writers were in attendance, I didn’t think my chances were that great.

A friend of mine and a few other women she works with that I’ve met once or twice before showed up and we continued to wander a bit before heading over to the mall to search for Umbrella Corp. patches they need for a zombie home movie they’re making at work. Once that was over, they took off and, after running through the Dealer’s Room at the con and picking up a few more books, I decided to head home. I was tired and feeling a bit worn out and for some reason I seemed to have caught a bad case of the “shy and awkward” and was just wandering here and there not getting much accomplished.

Sunday came and went and I didn’t go back to the convention. It’s an hour’s drive and I had little money left to spend, was low on gas and I had a ton of stuff to do around the house. I debated driving down to make the last day’s author panels but by the time I had most of my work at home done I would have missed almost everything and it would only be an hour or so before the convention ended.

I wondered a few times Sunday and Monday about the outcome of the contest. I figured I’d hear about it over on the Permuted forums at some point this week, and to be honest I never really thought I’d had much of a shot at winning, seeing as who the other entrants more than likely were. Still, I was really curious about the stories and wanted to hear more about the whole thing, and so I kept my eyes peeled. In fact, I was thinking about it on the drive home from classes today while listening to The Funky Werepig’s post-Horror Realm podcast.

When I came home from my walk this evening, I had a message over on the forums from Jacob Kier, owner of Permuted.

I came in second, and my prize is a pick of two Permuted titles. These are some seriously slick books, trade paperbacks with amazing covers. I bought three titles over the weekend already, so I’m going to have a whole stack of Permuted books to tear through this Autumn season.

I came in second and I wasn’t there to acknowledge it because I’m a dork who had too much stuff to do at home to make the trip back down. I’d really love to smack myself right about now. In fact, I still may do it.

I was a bit shocked to find out that there was actually a panel for the contest winners. The judges were there to talk about the entries and James Melzer, author of The Zombie Chronicles (who also has a badass podcast called Unleashed that I like to listen to while I’m on the road and in the gym) read the three stories that placed and an honorable mention. He has an awesome radio voice and he did an excellent job with all of them. I was thrilled to hear him read my story to the audience.

If there’s a moral to this story, I suppose it would be “Don’t be a shy dork and don’t cut out early.” Next year I’m going to have to spring for a room at the hotel so that I don’t have any lame excuses.

Horror Realm Flash Fiction Contest from James Melzer on Vimeo.

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