Flat Stanley Goes to World Horror 0
A friend approached me recently, asking if I would participate in a school project for her seven year old daughter; it involved Flat Stanley, a children’s story about a boy who gets flattened when a bulletin board falls on him. He miraculously survives, and subsequently goes on all kinds of adventures. The project aspect is that the kids color their own Flat Stanley (mine came drawn with a ninja outfit) and then send it to someone, who takes him along wherever they go.
And I just happened to be going to the World Horror Convention in Austin, Texas.
Another friend, fellow writer, and convention-going partner Steve Scearce suggested I bring Flat Stanley to the WHC, and pointed out that our new flat friend would make a good ice-breaker to approach a number of famous writers. This was a fantastic suggestion, and I took it to heart. Besides, a boy being flattened and still somehow surviving—if that doesn’t have a nice horror underpinning…
I started documenting Flat Stanley’s visit on Easter weekend, the week before WHC. I had him help us (ok, my wife) make cupcakes, he visited the chickens at the family farm, played with some cats. I took him to lunch (he did not eat much), and he helped me pack. He travels in his own flat envelope, by the way – very low-profile!
Very quickly Flat Stanley became a presence in my every day doings, and he always brought with him his cheerful (or perhaps slightly crazed) smile.
I pulled him out a few times at the airport. While waiting at the gate, the area was packed full, but still he came out and I showed him the plane we were to fly on. Several people gave me amused smiles, and a few ladies we were sitting next to seemed to check us out a bit more than they had. Flat Stanley is not a puppy—or a baby—but being able to pull out a kid’s drawing in public and photograph him in situ must say to the opposite sex “he seems like a nice guy!”
And I am a nice guy! Just ignore some of my writings.
Flat Stanley made an appearance on the plane, seated between Steve and me. It’s always nice to have a bit of extra room, and someone so thin certainly doesn’t encroach into shoulder or leg space. He was also becoming quick to whip out, something I could do within seconds—this would prove useful.
After we landed, we had a quick bite to eat. Flat Stanley watched us down some beer and margaritas before going into the convention itself. I did not know that veteran horror novelist Peter Straub was going to be at WHC, and that first afternoon we sat in on a reading of his latest work. I had read quite a bit of Straub in the late 80s and early 90s, and by the end of the reading I knew he would be my first catch.
I will take a moment to say that I don’t care to mob celebrities. I’m sure they’re used to it, and it is part of becoming famous, but it still seems rude. I like treating everyone like they’re a person, not a thing. Plus, as I stated before, I am a nice guy.
So I felt a bit nervous approaching Peter Straub and getting in his way while he attempted to exit the reading room. But I felt confident. Not only was I not asking for his autograph, I was not even asking him to pose with me – but with a kids drawing.
Mr. Straub was incredibly gracious about it all, taking time to hold his smile while I fumbled with the camera. The best part of it all, though, was when his wife said to me “we’ve actually done a few Flat Stanley’s in our time.” Ok, so I wasn’t as creative as I had thought, but I also felt better in that I wasn’t bothering them with something as silly as it seemed. Or at least I wasn’t the only one to have done so.
After Peter Straub, the ball rolled quickly.
Next up was the always-intriguing Mr. Jack Ketchum, who writes some of the most horrific and graphic stories on the market. He asked us to follow him out while he had a smoke, and I gave him the quick story on the project (he was unfamiliar with the Flat Stanley story but willing to play along). He gave us a great picture and even managed to keep his cigarette out of the frame, which I probably would not have caught until much later (I would have just cloned it out with Photoshop, but still).
I grabbed Joe Hill as he was walking out of a conference room. One of the people with us at the time was too nervous to meet him, but I wish she had stayed around—I could have gotten her into the photo as well. Joe was in a bit of a rush, but I had started keeping the phone ready for taking a picture and it was a quick process.
The rest of the people photographed with Flat Stanley came during the mass signing, and it turned out to be a great time to hit them up. I got Robert J. Bennett in on the action (he was hanging out with us already, but I realized a bit later into the conference that he should be a part of it), as well as Steve Niles and Joe Lansdale. Carlton Mellick III – author of such books as The Baby Jesus Butt Plug and The Faggiest Vampire, A Children’s Story – did a great pose with Flat Stanley, and Briane Keene started off giving Flat Stanley the bird (I captured that as well as a more kid-friendly photo).
Flat Stanley went everywhere with me, traveling in a small computer bag just big enough for him, an iPad, and a wireless keyboard. It probably looked like a purse, and I’m ok with it.
Some photos were still kid friendly: Flat Stanley getting a dragon tattoo on the back of his neck from a wonderful artist, or Flat Stanley hanging out over food (it was an absinthe bar, but not identified as such in the photo).
Others pics were less so: the trip to the liquor store or hanging out with all the half-empty bottles in the hotel room. These latter images did not go back when Flat Stanley was returned.
On the last night of the trip we went to a book launch not associated with the convention. It was for The Steampunk Bible, and one of the contributors was fantasy fiction legend Michael Moorcock. I had read some fantasy before Moorcock, but he was the first author that resonated so deeply within me. It was his writing that made me craft my own stories and ultimately want to become a writer myself. I can safely say that I would not be writing this if it were not for him. And he happily posed with Flat Stanley.
I do regret not making a few copies of Stanley before the trip. I could have had a lot of fun with an “editable” copy, one that could get wet, or dirty, or even mutilated. Of course I would not have shared those photos with the girl, but it would have been great fun for the whole group. I should have printed off some base templates for others around me so they could have created their own.
In the end, though, I had a good time with project, and I think those around me did as well.
The final piece, when I returned home, was to write up his adventures for the class, print off some photos, and send him back. I tried to have fun with the written part of the assignment, available here, and I hope the kids (and teacher) enjoy reading it as much as I did writing it.
Should you ever find yourself receiving your own Flat Stanley, I hope you embrace the adventure and are able to treat him to a good trip. Or, you could just print and color your own and make up your own adventures. We won’t judge.