Last month, horror writers descended on the town of Round Rock, Texas. The event: KillerCon. Brainchild of Wrath James White, Shane McKenzie, and a crew of other kickass writers and publishers, KillerCon is where splatterpunk and extreme horror writers meet to celebrate the genre. Packed with panels and readings, this annual conference features some of the best in the horror industry. Regulars like the aforementioned Wrath James White, Brian Keene, Jeff Burk, and Rose O’Keefe were in attendance. The guests of honor have included such greats as Edward Lee, Joe Lansdale, Elizabeth Massey, John Skip, Lucy Taylor, and Carlton Mellick III. Several indie publishers like Perpetual Motion Machine, Eraserhead, and Death’s Head Press, to name a few, are on hand peddling their wares, usually with a few authors from their roster in tow, ready to sign their books in person.
This was my second time at the conference, and there’s really no way to describe the overwhelming sense of camaraderie, inspiration, education, and emotion in any words. One must attend KillerCon to fully experience KillerCon. It’s too easy to say that KillerCon is a tribe. The sentiment is much deeper than that. This is family with all the trimmings. Limited to 250 attendees, the smaller headcount definitely helps to extend that family welcome. The panels and readings are carefully cultivated, yet on a tight schedule. There’s a lot going on, yet it’s easy to catch up with old friends, make new friends, and finally meet people you’ve only known on social media. Everyone is respectably approachable, even the guests of honor.
The panels feature a mix of up and coming writers sitting alongside seasoned pros and the guests of honor. A variety of topics are covered, including panels on professionalism and etiquette, humor in horror fiction, and writing diverse characters. One of the most exciting panels was called The Heyday of Horror, in which John Skipp, Elizabeth Massey, Edward Lee, and Joe R. Lansdale, talked about how they all got their start. The panel turned into a very entertaining session that said more about what not to do, than what you should do, to get published, and proved that persistence and originality can go a long way to getting a contract. Interesting points were made by Lansdale and Skipp concerning the origins of splatterpunk, with Lansdale focusing on developing your own voice as genre, and Skipp explaining that splatterpunk was a response and push back to the straight-laced, typical hero that happened under the right concentrations of cultural changes in religion, politics, and music of the early 80’s. None of the original Splat-Pack (John Skipp & Craig Spector, Joe R. Lansdale, David J. Schow, Richard Christian Matheson, Robert McCammon) actually knew each other when the splatterpunk genre began, which makes how it began even more interesting.
While there are tons of panels and readings through the days, the nights drive around three annual events. First, the KillerCon Wings of Pain Challenge. Panelist eat progressively hotter wings—with the first round already cranked up to eleven—in a last-person-standing takes it all shopdown, all while answering questions from the peanut gallery. First one to drink the milk loses. The next evening is the Splatterpunk Awards. This year’s J.F. Gonzalez Lifetime Achievement Award went to David G. Barnett, author and publisher/owner of Necro Publications. The awards were for excellence in the following categories (winners in bold):
Full Brutal, Kristopher Triana (Grindhouse)
Ring of Fire, David Agranoff (Deadite)
Camp Slasher, Dan Padavona (self-published)
Last Day, Bryan Smith (self-published)
A Gathering of Evil, Gil Valle (Comet)
Rabid Heart, Jeremy Wagner (Riverdale Avenue)
Kill For Satan!, Bryan Smith (Grindhouse)
1000 Severed Dicks, Ryan Harding & Matt Shaw (self-published)
Cockblock, C.V. Hunt (Grindhouse)
The Mongrel, Seán O’Connor (Troubador)
The Writhing Skies, Betty Rocksteady (Perpetual Motion Machine)
Dead Stripper Storage, Bryan Smith (Grindhouse)
Best Short Story
“The Seacretor”, Ryan Harding (Splatterpunk Forever)
“Diabolicus Interruptus”, Christine Morgan (Forbidden Futures 6/18)
“Fistulas”, Mame Bougouma Diene (Dark Moons Rising on a Starless Night)
“Rebound”, Brendan Vidito (Nightmares in Ecstasy)
“Seersucker Motherfucker”, Jay Wilburn (Beautiful Darkness)
“Virtue of Stagnant Waters”, Monica J. O’Rourke (Splatterpunk Forever)
DJStories, David J. Schow (Subterranean)
The Very Ineffective Haunted House, Jeff Burk (Clash)
Dark Moons Rising on a Starless Night, Mame Bougouma Diene (Clash)
Walking Alone, Bentley Little (Cemetery Dance)
Nightmares in Ecstasy, Brendan Vidito (Clash)
Splatterpunk Forever, Jack Bantry & Kit Power, eds. (self-published)
Year’s Best Hardcore Horror Volume 3, Randy Chandler & Cheryl Mullenax, eds. (Red Room)
Welcome to the Show, Matt Hayward & Doug Murano, eds. (Crystal Lake)
Monsters of Any Kind, Alessandro Manzetti & Daniele Bonfanti, eds. (Independent Legions)
The Black Room Manuscripts Volume 4, J.R. Park & Tracy Fahey, eds. (Sinister Horror)
Finally, KillerCon would not be complete without The Gross-Out Contest. Hosted by Jeff Burk, contestants are given just a few minutes to tell their grossest stories, using whatever props they need to pull it off. Crowd participation is essential to see who gets another couple of minutes to finish their story, then a panel of judges vote on the best overall from those that made the completion round. A long-standing tradition from the way-back-when days of World Fantasy, The Gross-Out Contest is where quick wits and twisted imaginations test your gag-reflexes while tickling your funny bone.
Please stay tuned for more information next year about KillerCon 2020, including conference dates, venue, and guests of honor. Join us here next month as we dive deep into the beginnings of Splatterpunk, covering the culture of the times and the writers that started the genre.