World Horror 2011: Well run and lotsa fun

Hats off to everyone that made Austin’s World Horror 2011 such a fun, friendly and downright productive con.

It was my first World Horror, and certainly not my last. I can only hope future organizers follow the lead of Lee Thomas and Nate Southard, who managed to bring in a collection of great panelists (Joe Hill was especially insightful, even if I didn’t care all that much for “Heart Shaped Box”) and kept things running smoothly. Even the busload of braindead frat boys who showed up at the hotel couldn’t ruin the mood.

Rhodi Hawk did a commendable job putting together the pitch sessions. She did her best to take the fear and apprehension out of the process and managed to match up publishers, agents and authors with a minimum of muss and fuss. I’m happy to say I had some degree of interest in the novel I’m shopping. We’ll see if any of those three-chapters-and-a-summary requests actually bear fruit. Stay tuned.

As usual, it was great to catch up with the usual Texas con folk like Joe R. Lansdale and family, Stina Leicht, Mikal Trimm, John Picacio, Vincent Villafranca, Joe McKinney and John DeNardo of the spectacular SF Signal blog. Hell, I even think my buddy Thomas McAuley (who I dragged along even though he’s more of a fantasy writer than a horror guy) found it worthwhile.

And, yeah, yeah, I know it’s been more than a week since the con, but cut me some slack for this late post. As soon as I got back from the con I had to dig myself out of an end-of-semester grading Hell.

Horny Toads and Ugly Chickens: A&M’s speculative fiction collection

The first issue of Amazing Stories is just one of the items in Texas A&M's speculative fiction collection.

Ever heard of the 1975 novel “Doomsday Clock,” published in San Antonio with an actual fuse sticking out of its cover? What about “Overshoot,” a 1998 Ace paperback about an elderly Alamo City woman reflecting on how global warming brought down civilization? Or the Asimov’s story “One Night in Mulberry Court,” in which a blue-skinned alien anthropologist moves into a San Antonio trailer park?

Don’t feel bad. Until a couple days ago, I hadn’t either.

I discovered their existence virtually via the online site for Texas A&M’s Science Fiction and Fantasy Research Collection. Seems the Aggies have amassed a 54,000-piece collection of speculative fiction plus related history and criticism, much of it Texas-related. The collection houses the papers and manuscripts of Chad Oliver, Michael Moorcock and George R. R. Martin. What’s more, it contains over 90 percent of the American science fiction pulp magazines published prior to 1980, including the 1923 debut issue of Weird Tales.

Perhaps even cooler, it’s all searchable by author, title, imprint, and subject terms via an online database.

As an added perk, the A&M site also includes Bill Page’s 1991 essay “Horny Toads and Ugly Chickens: A Bibliography on Texas in Speculative Fiction,” which draws the “Ugly Chickens” part of its title from Austin writer Howard Waldrop’s wildly imaginative short story of the same name.

“The mystique of the old west has long been an alluring subject for authors; even Jules Verne and Bram Stoker used Texans in stories,” Page writes. “As one reads science fiction and fantasy novels set in Texas, certain themes repeat themselves. There are, of course, numerous works about ghosts, vampires, and werewolves. Authors often write about invasions of the state, not only by creatures from outer space, but also by foreigners, including the Russians, the Mexicans, and even the Israelis.” (There he goes with another Howard Waldrop reference. This time, Waldrop and Jake Saunders’ novel “The Texas Israeli War.”)

The essay gives an exhaustive listing of Texas sf/fantasy/horror authors, both known (Robert E. Howard and Joe R. Lansdale) and not-so-known (Leonard M. Sanders and Joan Johnston), and a list of stories and books by non-Texans set in the Lone Star State. Bummer it’s almost 20 years old, though.

And while you’re there, you might as well peruse other features, including extensive bibliographies of Robert Heinlein, Judith Merril and Sam Moskowitz.

All told, the A&M site is an impressive resource for those of us who just can’t get enough Lone Star lore in our speculative fiction.

Latest issue of Tissue

Necrotic Tissue: It's a contender

Necrotic Tissue: It's a contender

A few days ago, I received a comp copy of Necrotic Tissue No. 9 which contains my story “The Circus.”

Loved it. And not just because it contains one of my pieces. The digest-sized magazine clocks in at around 120 pages, contains a diversity of high-quality horror prose and one of the best interviews I’ve read with Texas scribe Joe R. Lansdale. Not to mention, the colorfully grotesque cover looks pretty sharp. This mag has turned into a real contender.

It’s nice to see NT evolve from an online publication into a print pub of such high quality. Lord knows, with fewer and fewer paying outlets for short horror fiction, we need it.

Joe R. Lansdale on Edgar Allan Poe

ravenSpeaking of Poe, I got a real kick out this recent piece by Nacogdoches, Texas’ own Joe R. Lansdale. Joe praises the master of all things dark and dreadful for inspiring his creative spirit and saving him from a dreary life toiling inside an aluminum chair factory. Right on.

San Antonio’s reading, but not enough

San Antonio's main library: Use it or lose it.

San Antonio's main library: Use it or lose it.

As most, sf/fantasy/horror fans know, San Antonio has always been a good market for movies, TV and other mass media. Books? Eh, not so much.

But a new study hints that may be changing — a little bit at a time.

San Antonio ranks 61st among the 75 largest U.S. cities in overall literacy, according to the newly released 2009 AMERICA’S MOST LITERATE CITIES study. The annual review, by Central Connecticut State University, ranks metro areas by factors including number of bookstores, education levels, Internet resources, newspaper circulations, library support and number of publishers.

San Antonio’s ranking near the bottom of the list doesn’t exactly give us bragging rights, I know. But stay with me.

Our city advanced from 64th last year, according to the study. That means we pulled ahead of cities including Los Angeles and Long Beach, Calif., and Henderson, Nev.

At the same time, many big metros including Dallas, L.A. and even techie San Jose, Calif., took considerable steps backward from last year. Let’s face it, 2009’s dismal economy and governmental budget cuts didn’t exactly do any favors to booksellers, libraries, schools or publishers.

And before we beat outselves up about how we compared to the rest of the state (a longstanding Alamo City tradition), consider this: Texas, as a whole, fared poorly on the study. San Antonio is neck-and-neck with Houston (ranked 60th) and ahead of three other Texas cities. Apparently, Austin — with its huge university, tech industry and seat of state government — was the only Texas metro area to even break the top 20. It was 16th.

So, what should we take away from this study?

I think it shows that, despite prevailing trends, our city is taking steps in the right direction. Finally.

San Antonio’s education levels and number of booksellers (still mostly chain stores, but that’s a whole other story) improved year-to-year, and our Internet resources — basically, online book orders and use of newspaper websites — ranked a formidable 20th in the nation.

At the same time, the study demonstrates that to become a truly book-embracing city like Seattle; Washington, D.C.; or Minneapolis — the survey’s three top-ranked metro areas — we’ve got considerable work ahead.

So, Alamo City readers, let’s keep the momentum going. Keep buying books, magazines and newspapers and supporting your local booksellers. And demand that our elected officials not pull the rug out from under our libraries and places of learning.

It would be great for our city to be a place where the latest MICHAEL MOORCOCK, JOE R. LANSDALE or DAVID LISS book is greeted with an enthusiasm that matches the opening weekend of AVATAR or the new season of LOST


“Bramblevines” winds its way into Morpheus Tales


Morpheus Tales IV

Another story has found a home.

“Bramblevines,” a dark little piece I workshopped with the San Antonio Writers Guild earlier this year, will run early 2010 in the U.K.-based mag Morpheus Tales. Should be a fun read, so stay tuned.

Incidentally, Morpheus Tales is shaping up to be a real contender of a horror publication. The folks behind it have done a great job of placing pieces by established writers like Joe R. Lansdale and Ray Garton alongside those by newer names in the genre. Not to mention, the art and layout are just plain slick.

Still recovering from Armadillocon

Hardest working man in showbusiness: Mr. Joe R. Lansdale. (Photo swiped from John Picacio.)

Hardest working man in showbusiness: Mr. Joe R. Lansdale. (Photo swiped from John Picacio.)

I’m back and still digging myself out from under work I put off to attend Armadillocon 31 in Austin, the state’s longest-running literary sf/fantasy convention.

It was great to see old pals like John Picacio (fellow Missions Unknown blogger), Scott Cupp (the con’s toastmaster), Chris Roberson (the editor guest of honor) and Joe McKinney (S.A.’s zombie-writing homicide detective) — and to rub shoulders with literary giants like Joe R. Lansdale, who signed books like a madman, and Michael Moorcock, who made a surprise appearance opening night.

I also got to meet swell new folks like Mario Acevedo, Nancy Hightower, Matt Cardin and Vincent and Michelle Villafranca. (By the way, any of you folks ever check out Vincent Villafranca’s art? You really owe it to yourself.)

Can’t wait to do it again next year.