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StokerCon 2023.


Good times. l-r: Mark Matthews, John F.D. Taff and me at this month's StokerCon, out in Pittsburgh, PA, U.S.A.


For the past couple of years, I'd attended StokerCon, but virtually - in other words, online. The coronavirus pandemic meant that, for many, the 'normal' would have to evolve. Businesses, clubs and organisations that would do business in person were forced to do online/virtual events. Or do an in-person event which was also available for an online audience - a hybrid event. So it was/is for StokerCon.


In case you're not aware: StokerCon is a 4-day/long weekend convention of horror fiction and its exponents; the writers, editors, publishers, reviewers, podcasters, designers/illustrators, et al. This event is hosted by the HWA; the Horror Writers Association, who are, as per the HWA website, horror.org, 'a non-profit organisation of writers and publishing professionals around the world, dedicated to promoting dark literature and the interests of those who write it.' StokerCon also culminates in the Bram Stoker Awards a.k.a. the Stokers - think of the Oscars/Academy Awards, but for horror fiction.


There.


In case you didn't know, I live in London, U.K. More often than not, StokerCon is held in one of the states of the U.S. And even though I do some travelling now and again, the past couple of years had me attend online. But this year was different - I decided to attend in person.


Why? I'll get to that.


The past few years have seen me putting in work, which includes working hard on my craft - striving to bring you the most skillful, engaging and terrifying stories. It also includes the business of the craft. Promoting/marketing my work, connecting with the wider genre community, whether it's Q&A sessions, podcasts, conventions, beta reading, mentoring. The HWA has a mentorship scheme, for which I'm one of its mentors, guiding and supporting less experienced writers in the craft and the business of it. Even in an unofficial capacity, I give back to the genre, regularly giving constructive feedback on stories of my peers, promoting their work, offering advice, a straight-up peptalk, or serving as a sounding board. I'm hustling, and evolving.


Bear in mind that while the HWA is global, not everyone in the global horror community is a member. As someone who's done the U.K. convention circuit for a number of years in a number of cities, my attendance - for me - needs to evolve as well. And while the online version of StokerCon is engaging, it's not the same as the in-person event; which I'd prefer.


So this year was the first year I went to a StokerCon. This year in Pittsburgh, in the state of Pennsylvania. In what's now standard practice for a convention, I:


stayed at the convention hotel.

appeared in the programming (I was on just one panel this time).

met with the usual suspects (albeit those I'd only IM'd or video chatted with).

indulged in shenanigans.

made some new connects.

drummed up some new business.

got through a decent volume of food and drink.



Putting in work - on the Psychology In Horror Panel. l-r: Patrick Freivald, P.M. Raymond, Sarah Hans, Rook Riley, me, Paul Tremblay.



Logistics mean that a number of North American authors may not travel to further states of the U.S. let alone cross the globe - the U.S. is that big. Regardless, I have no qualms about getting my travel done. And so I did, meeting a number of peers, such as Brian Keene and Paul 'Noige' Synuria, known since before I was a horror writer, Jake Wyckoff and Eric J. Guignard from my early days of writing, David Thirteen, Sephera Giron & Colleen Anderson; authors I know from Canada that swung by. Breakfast with the likes of Johnny Compton, Nelson W Pyles, Gabino Iglesias, and Roni Stinger. An all-too-brief catch-up with Clare Castleberry.


StokerCon itself, as with other conventions, allows your community - your tribe - a chance to gather in the same space. Schedule-wise, there are panel discussions, a dealer room (where you can buy books from the publishers set up in there, along with any additional merchandise they might have; bookmarks, t-shirts, and such). StokerCon also has pitch sessions, where you pitch a story to a publisher and see if you pique their interest. And then there's also the award ceremony (remember I mentioned the Bram Stoker Awards?), along with the pre-award show banquet. In spite of all the programming, it's not surprising to only attend a fraction of it. And that's okay. The idea of the convention is to bring the community together.


Post-convention and getting stuck in. clockwise: me, Alexa Moon, John Crinan, Daniel Willcocks, Ally Wilkes, Catriona Ward, and Gemma Amor - all of us at Redfin Blues.



Be it known that I was a shy kid. Back when I was infant enough that Mama would take me to see the doctor, I was literally the shy kid in the room. Sat next to Mama, head down, swinging my legs (and I was small enough back then that my feet wouldn't touch the floor), because I couldn't make eye contact with anyone. As an adult, I don't suffer that shyness now, but I can appreciate how daunting/debilitating it might be for some people. Plus, I accept that shyness - whether it's dating or socialising - can cost you some serious joy. So, yeah, I mingle. I wouldn't say I'm a people person, but I appreciate people for being different, writers included. Writing is serious business (and it's not for everyone) - so the chance to hang with your peers for everything from shop talk to shenanigans is welcome. I can't comment on any such conventions for other genres, but for horror conventions, the camaraderie runs high in what's largely a supportive and welcoming community; it's a joy. But don't take my word for it - just look at convention pictures taken by anyone in the genre. And the sheer volume of authors out there is vast in the horror genre, let alone overall.


Which leads me back to a major reason of stepping to StokerCon.


Remember when I said, 'I'll get to that'? Here we go.


As much as I love to meet my peers - and truly, I do - I'm mindful to keep an eye on *my* hustle. After all, it's my responsibility and if I don't keep an eye on it, who will? I'm also mindful of the wider audience of genre lovers; which is much broader than the audience of your peers (the authors, editors, reviewers, et al). The nine-to-fivers, the kids skipping school to watch a new horror film and then thinking about the novel tie-in, the flyers-to-be, looking for something to read on their next flight, etc. But as far as I'm concerned, not nearly enough people in the genre know who I am, or the work I've written - let alone the wider audience. But this isn't a lament, it's an assertion. Because whether you see me doing the rounds or not, know that I'm putting in work so that everyone gets to know who I am, and how I do what I do. So if it's now with a mostly U.S. audience in addition to the U.K. contingent I see on the regular, so be it.


Only recently, someone asked me if I'd do StokerCon again. And my answer's the same:


"Damned right I will."



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