The Quarter-Life Crisis
by Kelly Laymon
(Richard Laymon served as HWA’s tenth President, from 2000 to 2001. He tragically passed away during his term. His daughter, Kelly, kindly provided this piece.)
Unfortunately, I can’t say very much about my father’s time as President of the HWA. His term ended up being unusually short. Who’s to say what would have been.
People can complain about the politics and the system for the awards to no end. God knows, I’ve done it once or twice. But when I think about the HWA, I usually try to focus on the great things. About the people who have been brought together. There are people I met through the HWA that I’ve ended up knowing for a decade or almost my entire life. I probably would’ve gotten to know them anyway, but, hey, the sooner the better.
Looking back on the HWA, I can’t help but remember my first Stoker banquet, which was also the very first Stoker banquet. Perhaps there are some flashes of the second banquet mixed in there as well. They were at the same location and I attempted to fact-check some of the details with three people who were there and failed. It seems no one quite remembers the differences between the first and second.
For the first year, I was present for the tallying of the final ballots at Dean Koontz’s house, along with my parents and Bentley Little. I remember many stacks of paper, people getting tired of counting, doing knitting projects with Gerda, and industry gossip. I seem to recall a few other local genre personalities making an appearance, but no one can confirm or deny those either.
Once we got to New York City, we stayed at the Hilton, which is diagonally across the street from the legendary Warwick Hotel, which was the site of the event. There was a story HWA legal counsel Sheldon Jaffrey enjoyed telling at HWA events about how trashed my father got at the hospitality suite that first year. There had been a misunderstanding with Charlie Grant just beforehand. After hanging out with Sheldon for several hours and landing half in the bottle, he decided Sheldon was Charlie and started breaking bread and making peace with him. A lot of drunken “You’re not a bad guy, Charlie!”-style lines came out of my father that night. This was in the early dawn of card keys and some guys had to drop dad off across the street at our room in the wee hours and had a lot of trouble finding the room. If you want to guess who they are, check out his short story, “The Tub.”
On the awards night, during the dinner portion of the banquet, my parents hid me away in Gary Brandner’s room. Before the awards began, my mother came up to get me and sat me down with them at the Tor table. Also at that table was F. Paul Wilson. They were still serving dessert and he gave me his. Smash-cut to fifteen years later and Paulie is still a close friend. We text about politics, cons, etc.. And we’ve had more than our fair share of joint merry-making at convention hotel bars. And if Tom Monteleone’s around too, we’ll just shut that place down.
The most poignant moment of the night was David Morrell’s speech about the death of his son. I didn’t fully understand the weight of it at that moment, but I knew it was something special. With age, I have grown to appreciate it more and more with each passing day. I remember how he spoke at length about his son reading a Stephen King book while in the hospital and the joy and level of escape it gave him. Saying, basically, that entertainment can mean things in our darkest hours. How some silly book, movie, tv show, or song can be so special, so much more. Or, that’s what my seven or eight year old brain comprehended and carries to this day.
In June of 2001, I began an HWA chapter for the Los Angeles region. Two high school acquaintances unknowingly re-connected at our first meeting at The Warehouse bar in Marina del Rey. They walked in and said, “Hey. You? I haven’t seen you in ten years.” I made friends through that experience who are still with me, some more than others. I met Jenny Orosel through my HWA LA work and we’re friends to this day. We hung out all the time at Dark Delicacies, she’s talked me through a break-up, I’ve attended her wedding, and so on and forward. And my baby gift for her not-so-newborn daughter Coraline is still sitting on top of a box.
Things are what we make them. The world would be a better place if we focused on the positive things. So, to everyone who’s ever made a friend thanks to the HWA, I say, “Cheers! Here’s how!”