I just endured two and a half days of pure horror! But that’s kind of what you’d expect from a conference called StokerCon, which is organized by the Horror Writers Association. This past weekend, I attended the second annual StokerCon on board the Queen Mary in Long Beach, CA. Once one of the finest ocean liners in the world, she now serves as a hotel and historic site. The ship actually saw some action during WWII, when the Queen Mary was conscripted into the war effort. She was then known as “The Grey Ghost” due to her new paint job, and she played a role in transporting troops from the United States to Europe. Oh, and she’s also haunted.
Needless to say, the Queen Mary served as a fitting location for a convention dedicated to horror fiction. The ship itself has been restored — for the most part — to its former glory. Art deco lovers would definitely find themselves at home on board the ship. I liked the vibe of the different public areas, but I wasn’t too fond of the hotel rooms. Because this ship is moored and no longer cruising the seven seas, you can easily hear your neighbors. There are no roaring engines to drown out conversations, arguments, or the the kinds of events that often follow arguments (i.e. a couple next door made up VERY nicely — I almost applauded their efforts). The food situation on the ship was also hit or miss; the pseudo-Starbucks cafe charged ridiculous prices for a plain turkey sandwich and a bag of potato chips. For $9 I could’ve made out like a bandit at the grocery store. The Chelsea Chowder House, however, had very good food. Still pricey, especially because it was a sit-down restaurant, but I enjoyed the clam chowder and roasted chicken.
The convention itself was a whirlwind of fun and horror. The program schedule was packed with plenty of panels, presentations, readings, workshops, etc. covering a wide variety of topics, from YA horror to tabletop gaming. I spent a good amount of time Thursday night coming up with a plan of attack for the next two days. Even then, I failed to accomplish all of my goals.
The panels that I did manage to attend often delivered focused information on the topic at hand. Although one panel about novel outlines/beat sheets got a little derailed because of time constraints, I enjoyed the talks StokerCon offered. One of my favorite panels was about “creepypasta” and contemporary urban legends (i.e. Slender Man). The speakers all work for blumhouse.com and were an entertaining bunch. They explained the origin of creepypasta, and how this phenomenon has managed to spread and transform into a new medium of horror storytelling. Another wonderful panel was on YA horror, and why adult readership is trending up for this particular sub-genre. Moderated by J.G. Faherty, the panel featured Gretchen McNeil, Nancy Holder, Jonathan Maberry, and Jeff Strand (Maria Alexander was also scheduled to take part, but missed the panel). Some reasons postulated for adults enjoying YA horror included a strong sense of nostalgia, the longing for an idealized childhood, and characters not bogged down by adult worries (i.e. death and taxes).
Aside from the expected panels, StokerCon also featured workshops, interviews, paper presentations from the Ann Radcliffe Academic Conference, a short film contest (Final Frame), tabletop gaming, and of course, the Stoker Awards. I attended the interviews for Tananarive Due and George R.R. Martin, both of whom shared some wonderful — and oftentimes funny — stories about the early days of their writing careers. The Final Frame film contest had some real gems: “Tethered” terrified me in 12 short minutes (yes, I even jumped a couple of times), and “Death Metal” was hysterical and horrific at the same time. Sadly, neither of my favorites won, but I enjoyed all that the competition had to offer. And finally, watching Bill Bridges act as gamemaster for a session of Werewolves of Los Angeles with players George R.R. Martin, Maria Alexander, Stephen Graham Jones, Chuck Wendig, and Nancy Holder was probably one of the highlights of the convention. The group was supposed to investigate a haunted house, but Mr. Martin kept sidetracking the main quest in his attempts to make money — it involved a stolen ring, a pawnbroker, and an auction house. I couldn’t stay for more than the first 90 minutes, but it was hilarious watching these horror greats attempt to work together.
On top of all the awesome events going on — often at the same time! — StokerCon also provided opportunities to network with other writers, editors, and even an agent. I got to meet some heavy hitters in the field, and despite my social anxiety, I forced myself to talk some of them. I met George R.R. Martin briefly during a signing and managed to get him to crack a smile after I referenced his role on the TV show, Z Nation. I also got the opportunity to reunite with members of the Stonecoast community. It was really cool to hang out with my fellow alumni (hi Kelsey and Karen!), current students (hi Peter, Lindsey, and Carina!), and the always amazing faculty members, Nancy Holder and Elizabeth Hand (who was one of my mentors).
I had so much fun at StokerCon that I’m already looking forward to the next one in Providence, RI. Hopefully, the Biltmore Hotel won’t be as noisy, though I hear rumors that it’s much more actively haunted than the Queen Mary. I guess I’ll find out!
If you’re a horror writer or a fan of horror fiction, I highly recommend checking out StokerCon. You won’t be disappointed.
Title Quote: “Although the villagers had forgotten the ritual and lost the original black box, they still remembered to use stones.” — from “The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson