HWA-VA is a broad and dynamic group. We have people from all different walks of life on all different paths in this world. We do have one thing in common, the love of dark fiction. Every year, the greater organization has the annual StokerCon which takes place at various locations across the globe. This year it was held in Grand Rapids, Michigan. While I wasn’t there, I was able to get some help from our good friend Daniel Green. Not only is he an excellent writer, but a great friend of the horror world.
Take it away Daniel!
Event: StokerCon 2019
Place: Amway Grand Plaza, Grand Rapids, Michigan
I’d never had the pleasure of attending one of the Horror Writers Association’s annual StokerCon conventions, but I was glad I did. It proved to be educational and a ton of fun.
I flew in on Wednesday night; naturally I was delayed through Chicago O’Hare. I was pleasantly surprised to run into fellow authors, Craig DiLouie and Chris Marrs, coming from Canada. They were thankful for the delay, as their plane was late coming in and they were out of breath from sprinting across the airport. We finally got to the Grand Rapids airport about an hour late.
Most of the attendees were staying in the downtown area for the convention. My experience was a bit different as I have family in the region. Yes, I am a Virginia transplant, so I had a plethora of family activities built into my weekend.
On Thursday morning, I drove into Grand Rapids. It has a small town feel, even though it’s the second largest city in Michigan. The hotels and convention center are located on the beautiful Grand River, and there are plenty of good restaurants to choose from. Grand Rapids is also proclaimed as the nation’s “Beer City” with abundant taprooms and breweries for those wanting to indulge in craft beer and microbrews. Navigating the town was relatively easy, and there was parking near the hotel.
The Amway Grand Plaza is the old Pantlind Hotel built in 1913. While parts of the hotel are modern, you can tell that there has to be a ghost story or some other paranormal activity in there somewhere. Registration was a cinch. They had welcome goodie bags for attendees with t-shirts and roughly ten books. As an author and avid reader, you give me a stack of books and I will find them time well spent. I got a sticker on my nametag that identified me as a ‘newbie’. As a veteran of the Rocky Horror Picture show, I was immediately suspicious, but quickly realized by the reactions of the fellow attendees that it was a way for the senior members of the show to seek me out to ensure I felt welcomed. I had multiple people approach me and introduce themselves, which was nice as I was attending by myself.
I took some pictures in front the StokerCon backdrop and waited to attend my first panel. One thing I really enjoyed about the con was the scheduling process. For most of the day, there were 3-4 panels/readings and Horror University courses happening in conjunction with one another. They had a very diverse selection of topics, and you could pick those you were interested in attending. I selected an academic discussion on ‘Capitalism in Horror’, ‘Lifetime Author Earnings’, and ‘Professional Etiquette: The Business Side of Art’. You can probably see a trend here. I am very interested in the business side of writing, as I know it is vital to being a full-time author. That night, I didn’t attend the opening ceremonies as I had a family event planned.
Friday kicked off the first full day of StokerCon. The panel on ‘Historical Horror’ was fabulous. In particular, I really enjoyed listening to Alma Katsu, who wrote the novel The Hunger featuring the ill-fated Donner Party. I attended a reading block with Tim Waggoner, John Skipp, and Autumn Christian, which was fun. Then, I sat in on panels about creature fiction, military horror, and beta readers. Once again, the great part about this convention is that you can pick anything you’re interested in attending. It’s totally customizable to your interests. It was a pleasure to listen to and learn about all the different experiences of so many different authors. Jonathan Maberry was one of my favorites and I ended up attending many of his panels due to shared interest in genre/topics. To finish my day, there was an ice cream social and the convention opened to the public for a mass autograph session.
Saturday continued with more panels and talks. I found the ‘Financial Planning for Authors’ session insightful and brutally honest. The talk was geared mostly at the traditional publishing industry and the authors on his panel were candid about their struggles and successes related to writing. They also stressed the importance of financial planning. I really felt this could have followed with a breakout session including some financial planners. There were many people who needed/wanted further instructions on how to set themselves up for success.
The highlight for me was a 90-minute Q&A with Robert McCammon hosted by Jonathan Maberry. Listening to McCammon’s life experiences that made him the author he is today was fascinating. He was forthcoming about personal aspects of his life and what his author journey looked like. Maberry did an awesome job interviewing and leading the discussion. Saturday night, they had the awards ceremony. I did not attend, but the pictures looked like everyone had a great time. The convention finished up on Sunday, but as this was Mother’s Day, I opted to not attend. I’ll call it self-preservation.
I would highly recommend to all members of the Horror Writer’s Association to attend the StokerCons of the future. Go to at least one so you can have the experience. Being surrounded by fellow authors and aspiring authors is motivating and, in many ways, comforting to know that you aren’t in this alone. Writing can be a lonely endeavor, but there are so many people out there that are doing the same thing you are. This is a way to connect with authors, as well as agents. Although I didn’t do any pitch sessions, those were available with some very good literary agents.
I gained important insight into the traditional publishing industry. My only recommendation would be to provide some sessions with independently published authors to share their experiences, because they are a growing part of the industry/community. It was exciting to put some names to faces and listen to some of my favorite inspirational authors. I hope to attend more StokerCons in the future and run into many of you there!