Back in 1997, after publishing my first couple short stories in a few small-press horror magazines, I started taking part in local conventions that catered to the sci-fi, fantasy, and horror crowd. Being on panels was a way of getting my name and face out there, as friend and Bram Stoker Award-winning author, Owl Goingback, advised me. Of course, this was long before social media. And at one of these local conventions, after a panel, that I met author John Urbancik. Needless to say, John and I became friends. While the type of stuff John wrote differed from my own, I immediately realized John was immensely talented. Given his publishing successes since we met, yeah, I was right.
John and I (along with my wife at the time) decided to travel together to Atlanta to attend DragonCon, which was the largest sci-fi/fantasy/horror convention of its kind back then. I was fortunate enough to be invited as a guest writer and John was largely going to meet with his agent, who was trying to get him into HarperCollins. And Clive Barker, who was with HarperCollins at that time, was a Guest of Honor.
Authors Clive Barker and Poppy Z. Brite on a DragonCon panel.
While there, John got an invite (from his agent) to attend a special private party for Clive at a club downtown called The Secret Room. The invite was for just one person, but because I begged him to get me in, and because John is just an all-around good guy, he got me in. The Secret Room was not just any club. It was a place for those who were into ritual body-piercing.
Performer at The Secret Room...just hanging out!
The place was dark and dingy, as it should be, and thronged with people, most of them there to see Clive, along with other notable guests like author Poppy Z. Brite. John and I eventually split up, and at some point we managed to find him. He'd been off to the side, surrounded by people, graciously spending time with each and every one. John got to chat with him, and when I saw a break, I shouldered my way over in his direction. His back was to me and, because the place was loud with voices and music, I tapped him on the shoulder. He turned around and I leaned in to introduce myself. Because I knew he was also a cigar aficionado (as I was), I had brought him a La Gloria Cubana. He took the gift, thanked me, and remarked how he looked forward to smoking this later. We chatted for a few minutes and he even allowed my picture to be taken with him. Sadly, and this was obviously years before smartphone cameras, the picture was lost.
Author John Urbancik...with a couple friends!
The rest of evening went by in a blur, as we stayed to watch the ritual body-piercing performers impale and hook themselves, blood pooling onto the tiled floor, to be mopped up later. I remembered seeing Barker watching this gruesome bit of performance art from the other side of the center stage (surrounded by a chain link fence type barrier on three sides) and thinking how ironic but cool it was that the creator of such notoriously gory and erotic works appeared just as disturbed and spellbound as everyone else. And the next morning, at a casual writer's workshop, hungover and sipping coffee like the rest of us, Clive admitted that very thing.
With the release of THE SCARLET GOSPELS, his long-awaited novel, Clive Barker hasn't lost his gift for serving up delicious horrors. The book is phenomenal, and well worth the wait.
Big thanks to my good buddy, and kick-ass writer, John Urbancik, for getting me into that club all those years ago, to meet one of my literary idols.