About eight years ago I was a completely newbie author with a couple of fantasy books out and maybe three horror short stories published to my credit (I have a lot more horror stories published now), and I went to Horrorfind Weekend convention in Baltimore, Maryland. I sat at a table in the dealer room and sold a few books and met a few people. It was fun.
But I stayed in the dealer room for 99% of the weekend, convinced no one there would give me the time of day. And, unfortunately, I was kinda right. A couple of authors were friendly (Michael Laimo said hi to me) but I was just there. And it was my own fault, because I didn’t talk to anyone or make any effort. Believe it or not, I was shy and insecure among all these great authors.
Cut to the bar area that night.
Brian Keene was sitting there, and I knew who he was thanks to MySpace (remember MySpace?) and because his book The Rising had completely knocked me off of my feet. I kid you not. I owe the Dying Days zombie series to this man, because without his book I wouldn’t have attempted zombie fiction. I even wrote a piece about it conveniently titled “Why I Write About Zombies” (feel free to read it and then come back for the rest of this post… I’ll wait…)
I walked up to the bar, as close to Brian as I could get without bumping into him, and casually turned and stared at him like a little schoolgirl. Brian Keene turned to me with a smile and said hi.
I said blahbehchickablehblehugghhhh and felt my chest and throat tighten. Then I did what every cool person does when meeting an idol… I ran away like a little schoolgirl.
Cut to eight years later and across the country in Portland Oregon.
The World Horror Convention, and while I’d come a long way but had much more to do and to rise, I felt I’d earned a place at least at the kid’s table. And I was fine with it. And when I heard Brian Keene was going to be the Grandmaster of the weekend, I was excited. And then nervous.
I wanted to meet him. I needed to meet him. I posted on Facebook about my last and only encounter with him, and how this was going to be cosmic payback. I would stride up to him with a grin, pat him on the back and we’d hug it out like real men. Or something like that.
Of course, on Thursday afternoon, as Special Gal and I had lunch in the hotel restaurant, Brian Keene walked into the lobby and I might have squealed a little. She thought it was quite amusing and ‘threatened’ to call him over, but I was not ready. I needed time to prepare.
Cut to a few hours later.
Special Gal and I were walking through the lobby, minding our own business, when I saw Brian Keene chatting with a few people. As I went to go past him he suddenly turned and noticed me. He smiled and said hi. He put his hand out and I turned my brain off and gripped his hand, shaking firmly.
He said something but I have no idea what because I was too busy trying not to talk or say something incoherent. I nodded, smiled back, and walked away. Special Gal busted my chops the rest of the night but I was flying.
The next time I saw Brian Keene was at a zombie panel, and as it wrapped up Special Gal turned to me and said in no uncertain terms we weren’t leaving the room without a picture of me and Brian together.
I nodded dumbly. She asked him to take it and he smiled and took us into the hallway.
Then he put his arm around me and said “we need to do the Devil Horns, right?”
He had either done his homework and knew who I was (and that I was a fellow Metalhead) or it was an excellent guess. Either way, I was damn proud as the picture was taken. But, wait… there’s more…
“Are you going to the Gross Out Contest tonight?” Brian asked me.
I had no intention of going but I said yes. Of course I was going to go!
We made small talk for a few minutes and the guy was just genuine. He gave me a few minutes of his time and even said to find him at the bar that night so we could have a drink.
I learned three things from this encounter…
1. I am still such a FanBoy when it comes to him but at least I strung a few sentences together
2. THIS is the way you treat fellow authors, no matter how big or small they are. Brian Keene’s WHC posts aren’t just about what he did and accomplished but about pointing out all the new writers he met during the con, and praising the new batch of authors who are inspired by him
3. Special Gal is the greatest woman I have ever met and I am damn lucky to have her in my corner to help me fumble through the non-writing parts of this career. Friends lucky enough to have met her in Portland can attest to this
My goal for years to come is not only to emulate him but also to remember this lesson. Oh, and now I want to hang out with him again and pick his brain for hours… and I’ll try not to make it too creepy…