Stoking the Fires of Inspiration: My First StokerCon

Jake at StokerCon 2017When I signed up for StokerCon 2017 it was more out of curiosity than actually practicality. I’d never been to an HWA (Horror Writers Association) event before, and I knew that several of the writers I’m friends with on social media would be there.  That was enough to assure me that I wouldn’t spend all weekend wandering the Queen Mary like one of the ghosts that haunt the grounded ship.

The Queen Mary is in Long Beach, California–about 20 miles away from my house (or a 45-minute drive on freeways in Southern California traffic)–so proximity wasn’t a problem. I spent the weekend a little star-struck, meeting folks like John Joseph Adams (editor-in-chief of Nightmare Magazine), Elizabeth Hand, George R.R. Martin, legendary editor Ellen Datlow, Philip Fracassi, and the crew from Gamut (Richard Thomas, Dino Parenti, and Mercedes M. Yardley), and do you know what I found? Everyone was welcoming. Everyone was there to have a good time.

It was easy to relate to everyone, too. See … we all have one thing in common. We love horror!

Writer conventions like StokerCon are full of panels and events based on the many facets of writing and publishing, and attending them might give any newer writer a leg up on the industry. Screenwriting, YA Horror, collaborations, graphic novels, public readings. I didn’t get to every panel I wanted to attend (still bummed about not making it to the Gamut panel, for example), but I went to more than I thought I would.

One of my favorite panels featured Matt Wallace, Nicole Cushing, Hank Schwaeble, Alvaro Zinos-Amaro and Stephen Graham Jones and was titled Everything Old is New Again: The Revival of Novellas. Listening to a group of horror writers discuss the merits and benefits of the novella in horror was very insightful. Stephen Graham Jones said a novella should have “about as much content as a movie.” He likened the story in a novella to a hallway, where it carries the reader from one room to the other down a long corridor. There are doors on either side of the hallway, but they have to stay closed. If you’re too curious and open the doors, the novella will expand into a novel.

Another panel featured a frenetic and charismatic Grady Hendrix giving a presentation of highlights from his latest book Paperbacks from Hell: The Twisted History of ’70s and ’80s Horror Fiction. I sat behind Elizabeth Hand and beside Stephen Graham Jones and watched Hendrix takes us through the most fascinating and entertaining dissection of the genre I’ve ever encountered. His book is out in September, 2017, and I know that after witnessing his passion and depth of knowledge I am definitely going to get myself a copy.

I took an excellent Horror University class from the incredible Jonathan Maberry. It was an intense two-day course, crammed into two-hours, on how to enhance your public persona. The course is popular, as evidenced by the packed room filled with attentive students, and absolutely was worth every penny I spent on it. He commands a room with his presence, and he taught us how we could do the same. I’m looking forward to taking more classes from the HWA, and also Mr. Maberry.

I was able to attend the Stoker Awards ceremony, too (where Philip Fracassi grabbed me and my wife and hooked us up with way better seats!) and I have to say that just being the room with so many living legends of horror–including this year’s Lifetime Achievement Award winners, Dennis Etchison and Thomas F. Monteleone–sent a thrill through me I’m still grinning about. Nobody knew my skill level or my publishing history, and it didn’t matter. For this weekend in April I was part of the family. I was surrounded by writers and readers who all thrived to make horror a better genre and to fill it with the best possible stories.

It was inspiring, to say the least. I came away from the experience ready to write more of my own stories, and to find them homes within the genre. When I return to StokerCon–the next one is in Providence, RI in March, 2018–I want to bring something more to the table. A bit more of myself and my own contribution to the world of horror.

And maybe I’ll see you there!




Here are the winners of the 2017 Stokers! Congratulations to you all!

Novel: The Fisherman by John Langan
First Novel: Haven by Tom Deady
YA Novel: Snowed by Maria Alexander
Graphic Novel: Kolchak the Night Stalker: The Forgotten Lore of Edgar Allan Poe by James Chambers
Long Fiction: ‘The Winter Box’ by Tim Waggoner
Short Fiction: ‘The Crawl Space’ by Joyce Carol Oates
Collection: The Doll-Master and Other Tales of Terror by Joyce Carol Oates
Anthology: Borderlands 6 by Olivia F. Monteleone & Thomas F. Monteleone, eds.
Screenplay: The Witch by Robert Eggers
Non-Fiction: Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life by Ruth Franklin
Poetry: Brothel by Stephanie M. Wytovich



Permanent link to this article:


    • Elizabeth Hand on May 11, 2017 at 12:39 pm
    • Reply

    Meeting you was one of the high points of the weekend, Jake — let’s stay in touch! Keep me up to date with what you’re working on!

    1. I will absolutely do so! I feel much the same way about meeting you!

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.