October 15 (Merrimack Valley Halloween Fest)

Well, the Merrimack Valley Halloween Book Festival more than lived up to the hype. Because of the significant drive involved, it could’ve easily been a “Well, that was fun, but probably not something we’d do again,” event, but we’re already planning for October 12, 2019!

(Planning = Putting the date on my calendar. I mean, I’m not packing or anything.)

As previously mentioned, the drive up from Georgia to Massachusetts suuuuuucked. My wife Lynne Hansen and I left a day early so that we weren’t driving alongside Hurricane Michael, but it still rained almost the entire way. A 10-mile stretch right before Baltimore may have taken two hours to get through. But at the end of it, we got to have dinner with Norman Prentiss and his husband Jim. Energized by my burger, I drove a couple more hours, where we stopped for the night at a gross motel.

Eventually we did make it to Haverhill, Massachusetts. With a whole extra day in New England, we made a trip over to Salem. The city is absolutely terrifying in October, although I’m referring to trying to find a parking spot. We had lunch of deep-fried full-bellied clams, which is a bonus value because your meal includes what the clams ate.

We had an early dinner with Tony Tremblay, and Diane and John Buja, who were all joining us in staying with John McIlveen, who had generously offered to let us lurk in his home for the weekend. We ate light, because many of the authors would be gathering at the McIlveen place that evening, and I’d heard whispered tales of the legendary food John’s wife Roberta would prepare for such events.

Oh, yeah, the legend was real. The chicken wings alone were mythic.

Some of the less intelligent authors hung out on the outdoor porch, which was a very nice porch but a) outdoors, and b) in Massachusetts in October. I come up to Rhode Island for Necon every year, and there were so many familiar faces that this was like a mini-Necon with way better food.

The next day was the big event, the Merrimack Valley Halloween Book Festival, run by Christopher Golden. This was the fourth year. The premise was pretty simple: Over 60 horror authors sat at tables in a library. There were panel discussions upstairs in a surprisingly large auditorium.

And it rocked! I’ve done many, many events where you get to know your neighbor very well because you’re kinda just sitting there waiting for somebody to take pity on you and approach your table, but this had a constant flow of people, and they were there to buy books! I sold a lot of books and signed a lot of books that people brought from home. Plus this event was the launch of Hark! The Herald Angels Scream, which contains my story “Good Deeds,” so I signed a bunch of copies of that, too.

I was on a lively panel discussion about how horror sneakily infiltrates other genres. I meant to bring up the fate of Gus Fring on Breaking Bad, but forgot.

The enthusiasm level was crazy. Scares That Care is also filled with passionate readers, but that’s a three-day event and this was only six-and-a-half hours, so there were no dead spots. There really weren’t even any slow spots until maybe the final hour, and that was only slow compared to how it had been before. I’d been told this was how the event would go, but I was still surprised at just how flat-out great it was. Keep in mind that I once did an event called Asylum Tampa where the guy at the next booth asked me when the vendors room we were in opened to the public, and I told him it had been open for the past forty-five minutes.

It’s really all about the energy of an event like this. Again, it was basically just rows of tables with authors behind them. (Note that I am not for one second suggesting that coordinating an event like this is anything less than a nightmare. I know what our kind is like.) But the energy was fantastic. Everybody was having a great time. Many people spoke of spending too much money, and for them I am grateful.

After that, it was off to sate our ravenous hunger. We returned to John McIlveen’s home for a low-key evening, went to bed early, and set the alarm for 5:30 AM. We were unhappy when the alarm went off, but it was time to depart.

Because the weather and traffic didn’t suck on the way back (minus one significant delay, where the heavy fog, light rain, and red taillights gave a pretty good visual approximation of driving into Hell) we said, screw it, let’s try to get home tonight. We took many short breaks but no long breaks, and arrived home at 1:45 AM.

Thanks to everybody who helped work on this event, to all of my author friends who attended, and to all of the wonderful readers. It was freaking awesome.

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