StokerCon 2017

If you’re a writer of dark worlds or intent on giving your readers a case of the squirming heebie-jeebies, you owe it to yourself to attend the next StokerCon. I knew I had to attend in 2017 because of the venue. I mean, 500 or so horror fans and writers running amok on a haunted ship for four days? You know it’s gonna be good.

My primary reason for going this year were the great workshops offered through Horror University. Alas, the class I really wanted to take was canceled, so I had to make some last-minute substitutions. I wound up attending Mistakes Were Made with Johnny Worthen, aimed at giving writers some solid editorial tips to help tighten up their writing. Editing is my gig, but I never stop learning, so I went in looking for a few golden nuggets because the last thing I want is to be that editor that everyone rants about on Twitter. (And yes, I said that.) I also caught Tim Waggoner’s Ultimate Guide to Writing Horror and Making Readers Squirm by Michael Arnzen. Horror University was the main reason I attended, and I was not disappointed.

Chuck Wendig and Matthew Wallace

I also met several people who were instrumental in my return to writing after 20 years. I thanked Dr. Alex Scully, who gave me an acceptance letter four hours after I submitted my story, met another editor who had rejected my story but gave me valuable feedback, and thank-blamed Chuck Wendig for having a blog that handed me a prompt that turned into my first semi-pro sale since 1996.

Selfie with my boss, Divya Breed

All in all, I managed a fairly good imitation of a human and didn’t get too overwhelmed by the crowds. During the con, I met up with some editors, a handful of authors, and assorted friends connected to EscapePod and PseudoPod, and we invaded the Overlook Bar for lunch and beers and lots of gabbing. Most everyone nodded sagely when I excused myself because I needed to go back to my hotel room, take off my human mask and be a lizard for a while.

I didn’t flail too hard at authors I admire. I went to readings and workshops. A new friend grabbed me and dragged me into a panel on the gloriously cheesy horror novels of the 70’s and 80’s that was oh, so very worth it. I got a lot of autographs, made new friends, and enjoyed the hell out of the Queen Mary.

We also went ghost hunting on the sly, but I’m not sayin’ a word because . . . shenanigans.

Highlights

Opening Ceremonies involved alcohol. Angela, a con buddy I met last year in Las Vegas, had claimed a table before I arrived, and we hit the bar like we meant it. A crew of gregarious dead guys from Decayed Brigade hammed it up with the crowd, so she and I took selfies with them and declared we had new boyfriends (spouses notwithstanding). I gave up some of our chairs to Ellen Datlow (never deny her anything) and then we realized one of our tablemates was stealth GoH Bill Bridges, who was unmasked when someone came to usher him to High Table.

My roomies showed up in the wee hours due to airline delays, so I staggered into the pseudo-Starbucks well after 9 am and found myself behind a guy in a loud tie-dye shirt who turned out to be my favorite instructor, Johnny Worthen. I assumed he was stalking me for calling out a homonym error on his PowerPoint slides because he was there, every morning after, glowing in all his multicolored glory. Whatever. He’s nice, and I like him.

One presentation left me with an art hangover so bad, all I could do was doodle, “I want her to be my BFF” on my notebook with hearts and flowers. Seriously. I showed it to my friend, who just nodded in mute agreement. The panel was Slit Open: Getting Inside the Minds of the Women Who Create Horror—from Frankenstein to Beloved—and Inside the Bodies of their Victims given by Laura Lee Bahr. This was no ordinary presentation. Bahr performed a ceremony of blood and women and memories and monsters and magic, inhabiting the characters of Mary Shelly, Shirley Jackson, Toni Morrison. This was among the top three most memorable panels I’ve attended in decades.

After a day filled with events, signings and meeting some very cool people, the roomies kidnapped me, threw me in a car driven by a local cousin, and hauled me to a pub. We held down the table for hours, enthusiastically sharing our creative and intellectual passions as well as cat pictures. The bonus round came later when one roomie did a practice run for a reading, and I got to hear an excerpt of their forthcoming novel.

On Saturday, I got in line at the pseudo-Starbucks. Johnny and I grunted pre-cuppa greetings at each other. A young woman in front of me turned around to glance out at the Promenade. Her face stilled; her eyes went wide.

“Is that–“ she paused, then half-whispered, “Is that George R.R. Martin?”

I didn’t turn. “Yes.”

“He’s here?” she squeaked.

“Yes.”

She drifted out of line and wandered down the Promenade in pursuit of greatness, her need for coffee forgotten.

***

Next year, StokerCon 2018 will be at the Biltmore Hotel in Providence, RI.

Hundreds of horror writers and fans in a haunted hotel.

How could I not go?

 

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