Yesterday I mentioned that For Exposure: The Life and Times of a Small Press Publisher was eligible in the Hugo Award category of Best Related Work. I know many people have not read For Exposure, so I wanted to give you a taste of the craziness.
This chapter covers my experiences at Archon. I reckon I owe Sara M. Harvey and an anonymous kid (who kept calling me “Kentucky”) my life.
Should this chapter cause you to pull for your credit card, you can grab For Exposure from many places collected here.
A 2011 AP-GfK poll revealed that 77 percent of adults believe angels are real. We’re talking the floating down from heaven, halo glowing around the head, majestic wings variety. Angels watch over God’s flock of troublesome lambs and guard us from harm. Scripture tells us in Psalms chapter 91, verse 11 (King James Version) “For he shall give his angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways.”
Count me in that 77 percent of adults who believe.
Depictions of angels through time have changed little. If the great artistic minds of past and current humankind are to be believed, these workhorses of heaven dress as though they belong to a cult: flowing white robes, beatific smiles, chubby naked children clowning about, an urge to intrude upon your life.
I’ve seen angels. Two of them, though they looked slightly different than our culture’s popular artistic renditions. My angels were beautiful, with ample décolletage, magical glitter, and gorgeous flowing skirts.
Without my two guardian angels…well, I shudder to think of how my trip to Archon in St. Louis would have turned out.
To meet Sara M. Harvey is to be in the presence of a Force of Nature. She’s a charming, erudite, Southern lady with a delightful twist of SoCal snark. Her boundless energy and winning smile is nature’s anti-depressant.
As you can see, I think highly of her.
I had been running Apex for three or four years. The company was doing well on the coasts and north of my home base of Kentucky. Sales from the Midwest were miniscule, so I set my sights toward the Mississippi River and decided to travel and meet the fandom in the Heartland. I wanted their money.
Sara had suggested I bring the Apex show to Archon, a fairly large media and fan event held each year in St. Louis. She and Elizabeth Donald—a fellow vendor and author—described the crowd as being book-friendly. It was within driving distance, Sara would be in attendance, and Jacqueline Carey (I get the fanboy quivers typing her name!) was scheduled to be a guest. A weekend with Sara, meeting Jacqueline Carey (quiver), and making money. This promised to be a magnificent weekend!
As so often with my plans, the heart was willing, but the body was not.
Archon, as it turns out, is a rather fancy convention. The venue that year was in a clean hotel—I’d say moderately upscale, even. The vendor hall was large and roomy. I had a good feeling about the weekend. Even the slow Friday evening sales didn’t deter my optimism. Most Friday evenings in vendor halls are lackluster in terms of volume and interest. Folks drive a long way for conventions and prefer to meet up with old friends and attend panels headlined by famous people rather than go shopping.
Sara was popular at Archon. The event organizers had filled her schedule with panels and demos (besides being a talented writer, Sara’s also a highly skilled costumer and teaches the craft in her spare time), so I saw little of her on Friday. Once the vendor hall closed, I ventured out to engage in afterhours activities. Archon had sectioned off a large hallway where attendees of legal age could get free beer. Even though I don’t drink beer—frou-frou drinks all the way for me—I was impressed by the offering. Lots of people had their rooms open for socializing and room parties. I had found my Mecca. I had found my people.
Except I wasn’t feeling well. All day my stomach had been giving me problems. I also felt unusually fatigued. The foreboding sense that I might be coming down with an intestinal ailment or even the flu hovered over me like a storm cloud. I could not let that happen. I would not let that happen. The weekend beckoned me. I had Jacqueline Carey to meet!
In a rare display of prudence, I elected to skip all alcohol, limit my socializing, save my strength, and go back to my room to rest and sleep.
This self-imposed confinement wasn’t so bad. I had been placed in a nice suite with a large screen television, a couch, and other fineries.
I told myself that taking it easy the night before would give me the reserves of strength to push through the weekend. I had money to make. Friends to greet. It takes a lot of energy to keep up with Sara Harvey. But despite turning in early, the next morning, I felt no better. In fact, my stomach gurgled and complained much worse than it had the day before.
After a light breakfast of fruit and granola, I made my way to the Apex table. Sara was already there, bright, bouncy, and happy.
“Good morning, boss!”
She calls me ‘boss’. I never stop getting a kick out of it.
“Oh, you look more pale than usual,” she said, concerned.
My stomach agitation had grown to an uncomfortable level. A gnawing pain invaded my side.
“I don’t feel well,” I said.
Like most people when they hear somebody state this, Sara took a step back. “Are you contagious?”
I put my hand against my left side. “Sadly, I don’t think so.”
“You go back to your room and relax. I’ll watch the table until 11.” She had a panel at 11 and five more hours of Archon events to do that day.
I nodded. I needed to be fit for the long section of the day when I wouldn’t have table backup. “Okay, I’ll be back soon.”
The walk back to my room was lengthy, so I made haste. As I exited the vendor hall, I ran into an old friend.
I have the worst luck.
“Hello, Mr. Sizemore, I need to speak with you for a minute.” Hickory Adams, dammit. My gaze was immediately drawn to his coarse eyebrows, which had grown since I’d last seen him. They stuck out beyond his face like two white bundles of wires.
“Mr. Adams,” I said, “I don’t mean to be rude, but I’m really in a hurry.”
The old fella squinted at me. “Funny, because that seems to be the case every time we talk. If one isn’t a young and pretty thing, then you’re too busy to talk.”
A sharp pain stabbed my left side. My stomach gurgled in dismay.
“That is categorically untrue, Mr. Adams,” I said. “I’m not feeling well and I need to get back to my room.”
“Who’s the comely lady working your table this weekend? Is it another sixteen-year-old? Or let me guess, another college intern coed looking for extra credit on her resume?”
“Sara Harvey. She’s one of my authors.” As I said it, I knew I was only making matters worse.
“I know Ms. Harvey very well. Just your type, right? I heard her call you ‘boss’. Some little inappropriate publisher/author game you play?”
“Look, I need to go.”
“Can’t you give my latest novel pitch a fair shake?”
I bit my lip, holding back the building pain, the scream.
“I’ve set this one on a generational ship. The earth is being destroyed by a liberal agenda to monetize tree leaves.”
“Damn liberals always destroying the planet,” I managed to say.
“After twenty years, the heroes on the G-ship discover that all the women are barren.”
I frowned. “That’s awful.”
“I agree, Mr. Sizemore, that is a terrible predicament for humankind.”
My stomach cramped. “No, the novel idea. It’s terrible.”
“It’s 455,000 words. We can split it into three different books. A series.”
“Oh God, I think I’m going to puke.” Stomach acid burned my throat. My left side was one persistent nexus of pain and agony.
A mesh of purple veins spread over Hickory’s face as he mounted his opprobrium. “Mr. Sizemore, you are the biggest asshole in the business. I’m filing a formal complaint with the SFWA.”
That was the last thing I heard him say. The pain had become unbearable and I’d broken out in a sweat. I had to get to my room before I lost my breakfast and left my mark in the hotel hallways.
By this point, I was 100% certain I was in the grips of a kidney stone attack.
I’ve been plagued by kidney stones since I was 22. Over the past decade, I had battled three major stones that required lithotripsy surgery, where the urologist uses lasers to blast the stones into smaller pieces. Sometimes the stone will pass without further incident. Other times, you can flush your system with water and draw the stone out. I had been through this song and dance before and knew the steps.
Being a frequent kidney stone sufferer, I always come prepared and pack some Vicodin on every trip. If I have stone problems, I pop the Vicodin, wait on them to take the edge off the pain, and seek medical assistance if I can’t flush the stones out after eight hours. At least, that’s the game plan.
Back in the room, the first thing I did was vacate the contents of my stomach—not that I had a choice in the matter. I knew I had to get the pain medicine in me quickly before dry heaves set in and I wouldn’t be able to keep the pills down.
I crawled to my suitcase and rummaged through all the pockets to discover I had left my Vicodin at home.
The only thing I had was a bottle of ibuprofen. I took the maximum suggested dose of 800mg and drank a glass of water. Anybody reading this who has suffered through kidney stones knows the effectiveness of 800mg of ibuprofen against the pain. The muscles along the urethral wall cramp and spasm as they try to push the offending obstruction out of the urethra. Imagine the worst muscle cramp you’ve ever endured. Now place the epicenter of that cramp in a spot just below your kidney on your lower back. That pain is a tsunami and 800mg of ibuprofen is a small boat in the way.
The nausea was growing. Without my Vicodin, I had to find medical attention. The pain left me shaky and not thinking straight. All I knew was that I needed an emergency room. I looked through the phonebook for hospitals. This was before I had a smartphone and Google Maps. The yellow pages listed some hospitals, but I had no clue how close they were or how to get to them.
I grabbed the keys to my truck and stumbled to the hotel lobby where I found the concierge. The concierge was a young guy, probably no more than twenty years old. I explained to him that I was having kidney stone pain and needed to know where I could find the nearest emergency room. He wrote down some sketchy directions, and wished me luck.
Thinking back, I don’t know why the guy didn’t offer to call me a cab. Or possibly have the hotel escort me to the nearest clinic. Perhaps I should have thought of it myself, but my brain had a singular focus: keeping me from falling to the floor and curling into the fetal position.
I made it to my truck and started to follow the directions I was given. Twice I had to pull over to throw up. Twice more I had to stop to scream and squirm my way through the pain.
After about fifteen minutes, I realized I was lost. And not just lost; I was lost in what looked to be a sketchy part of St. Louis. Half the buildings were run down, the other half were tore down. Not many people were about. Eventually, I spotted a group of teenagers loitering about on the steps of a burnt out house. The pain was so bad that it made me forget that I’m scared of young people. I pulled over and rolled down my passenger side window.
“I need help,” I gasped out. My voice had grown husky due to the multiple regurgitations of stomach contents.
The teenagers, four of them in all, looked at each other, puzzled by my appearance. One lanky kid had his head shaved, tattoos etched up and down his arms, and sported a skullcap and a mouthful of crooked teeth. He spoke up for the group.
“You’re not from around here, are you?” he asked.
Laughter. “Thought so. You talking like you’re straight on up out of Deliverance.”
The kids laughed. I heard a couple of “Squeal for me, piggy” jokes.
“I need help. Can you show me to the hospital?”
Skullcap frowned at me. “Old man, you tripping on something?”
“I need Vicodin…”
More laughter. “Don’t we all, Kentucky. You got any?”
The lanky kid opened the door and took a seat in my truck. “Yo, you fools, I’m taking Kentucky to the hospital. Be back in a few.”
I pulled out into the street and slumped over the steering wheel, setting off the truck’s horn.
“You okay to drive, brother?”
“No,” I said. He gave me directions and I followed.
The hospital was only a few blocks away. I got out of the truck, and for some reason I thought Skullcap would go inside with me. As he turned to leave, I called out to him.
“Remember, anybody asks, you don’t know me, right?”
I blinked. “Right.”
“Good on you, Kentucky boy. Good on you,” he said. And then he was gone.
The hospital’s parking lot was empty except for three vehicles. None of them were ambulances. Even through unimaginable pain, I found this odd. The emergency room door slid open, so I entered. What other choice did I have?
Inside sat a skinny black lady behind a desk protected by bulletproof glass. She acted surprised to see me.
The waiting room consisted of a pair of dented, tan fold out aluminum chairs. Half the lights were off. One even flickered. I began to wonder if I’d walked into a first person shooter video game: perhaps Dead Space or F.E.A.R. 2.
A pain wrenched my side and I doubled over. I dry heaved right there in the middle of the empty room. The lady behind the desk stood up, concerned.
“Honey, what’s wrong?” she asked.
Through clenched teeth and heavy breaths, I said “Kidney stones.”
Another lady appeared—this one wearing a nurse’s uniform. She took me by the elbow and led me through a door where a gurney rested against the hallway wall. “Lay down here.” As I gasped and cried in pain, she took my vitals.
“Did you know your blood pressure is elevated?”
I was so desperate for medical assistance that I bit back a snarky response. “No.”
“The doctor will be out to see you in a minute.”
I may have passed out. I don’t recall. My next memory was sticking my bare ass in the air to receive a shot of morphine. The agony receded. The world came into momentary focus.
I looked around. I was still on the gurney in the hallway. The doorways up and down the hallway were covered with opaque plastic hanging above the frame. Where were the doors? Why was this place so deserted? Had I fallen into the Silent Hill universe?
A young doctor, maybe twenty-seven years old, patted me on the shoulder. “Feel better?”
I nodded. He’d given me morphine. This man was my hero.
“Tell me your symptoms.”
I gave him a rundown, complete with medical history.
“Yes, it sounds like kidney stones. But I can’t give you any more pain medicine without a proper diagnosis. Lucky for you, the x-ray machine here still works.”
“Why is this place so empty?” I asked. I noticed my words were slurred—an effect of the morphine.
“That accent is awesome! You’re not from around here, are you?”
I shook my head no.
“What’s your name?”
“Jason Sizemore. I’m from Kentucky.”
“Ah, okay. I was afraid you had suffered brain damage.”
This guy had jokes.
“Anyway, this hospital is closed. The emergency room closes tonight at midnight. So whatever is wrong with you, we have to have you out of here before then. Lucky for you, I think I remember how to take x-rays. Who needs techs, right?”
I get the x-rays and, back in the hallway, doze off. The doctor woke me up with a gentle prod. “I see what appears to be a two-centimeter blockage in your left urethra. Your kidney appears undamaged and normal sized. I can give you another shot, a script for Vicodin, and you can be on your way.”
Then he was gone. Even in a hospital devoid of patients, the doctor moved as though in a hurry.
The nurse returned and asked me a few questions. “Do you have anybody who can take you home or to another hospital?”
In fact, I did not. My wife was in Lexington with our baby. I was six hours from home and trapped in a scary hospital. I could call her. Theoretically, she could fly out the next day, and then drive me home in my truck. But there was no way she could get to me before midnight.
I mumbled. I must have been pitiful because the nurse put her hand on my cheek and said, “Poor thing.”
She leaned closer. “Anybody? A friend? A guardian angel?”
Then I remembered. Sara Harvey. I was too doped to talk, so I fumbled in my pocket and drew out my crappy flip top phone. I found Sara’s number and handed it to the nurse.
I had told the nurse that two beautiful angels would be coming to save me. She cooed, “Okay, okay, whatever you say Mr. Sizemore” and stroked my head.
The next couple of hours are hazy. I remember getting another morphine shot. Apparently it was the last bit of injectable pain medicine they had remaining. Lucky me! I slept in the hallway and had terrible dreams. At some unknown interval later, I awoke to the sound of the desk clerk arguing with a familiar voice.
Sara Harvey at Archon (Photo credit Elizabeth Donald)
“He has red hair. Has an accent. He’s wearing a T-shirt bearing a giant alien head.”
“I’m sorry, ma’am, but I can’t let you back there dressed like that.”
“Oh, please. Whatever.”
A door opened. Two women appeared. My two angels. Glitter adorned their faces. They wore black leather corsets that lifted their bosoms to their collarbones. The fading afternoon light shone from behind them as the clerk stood with her arms crossed, holding the door open. The angels were beautiful. The doctor, the nurse, and the clerk stared at them, mouths agape.
Sara rush over to my side.
“Oh, honey, you’re okay,” she said, placing her hand on my cheek. “We’re here to take you home.”
Sara and her friend Katie Yates took me back to my hotel room. They had dressed up for the Saturday night masquerade parties. I felt bad that I was making them miss time with their friends, but grateful to be back at the convention venue, safe and sound. That night I took pain and anti-nausea medicine, drank a gallon of water, and slept. I tried to flush the stone out, but to no avail. The pain did not recede, so I had to keep taking Vicodin. That meant I couldn’t drive myself home. Sara stopped by the room several times to check on me, making sure I took my medicine and that I was comfortable. She even stole my Mt. Dew and gave me a bracing lecture about the unhealthy benefits of sugared sodas.
That evening, Sara and my wife Susan discussed our options. Susan could fly out the next day and drive me home late Sunday night. The other option was that Sara would drive me home Sunday afternoon in my truck. Her husband, Matt, would follow in their car. From there they would depart together from Lexington back to Nashville. For reasons I don’t remember, we chose the Harvey Taxi Service.
There are lots of other things I don’t remember from that Sunday. Like most of the drive back from St. Louis to Lexington. Apparently, I was the most charming and entertaining I had ever been with Sara Harvey. Pain, delirium, and Vicodin can work powerful miracles!
Perhaps Sara, Matt, and Katie are not the mystical type of guardian angels the Good Book describes (though Sara would probably argue they are), but they made sure I made it home safe and that I didn’t suffer more than I had to.
They’re the best type of angels a guy can have: awesome friends.
(FYI: Sara M. Harvey has written a humorous and enlightening rebuttal to my account. You can read it in For Exposure that you can buy here!)