World Horror Con and the 25th Anniversary of the Bram Stoker Awards gave Atlanta a spookier edge over Mother’s Day weekend. Though I only attended Friday and Saturday, it was absolutely wonderful to not only make the acquaintance of some new people, but to see and spend time with my friends. Being a horror writer isn’t easy (especially when non-writer types catch a glimpse of your search history), and I was lucky enough to get to share my experiences as both a panelist and an attendee.
There’s something incredibly exciting about sitting on panels, immediately followed by sheer panic and nerves. World Horror Con is the second convention I’ve been a panelist for this year, and sadly that nervous edge doesn’t go away. It’s a bit weird sitting on the other side of the table, staring out at a room full of people, and this was the first time I not only had a nameplate, but a microphone. My first panel started at 9 a.m., so thankfully the roomful was more like a handful.
There is nothing more horrifying than a 9 a.m. panel. Bless the coffee shop and the large chai tea I bought.
I started Friday discussing horror in the headlines, or how we use current events to influence our writing. I was one of two panelists who doesn’t write on current events for fiction, but did write as a journalist. Believe it or not, there are serious risks, including legal action, you take when using something like the Ebola scare or a mass murder as the basis of your story. Libel, or character defamation, can lead to law suits in the worst-case scenario. Last year, Stephen King got heat on social media for “exploiting the victims” of the BTK murders in his latest film, A Good Marriage, based on his short story of a wife discovering her husband is a serial killer.
My fellow panelists spoke about the tragic events of 9/11 and how the ripples of fear and hatred have continued to cascade into the society we have today. I spoke about the murder of a close friend. Large scale versus small scale.
Nothing is scarier than reality, but for the most part, we’ve been desensitized to it. School shootings happen yearly now, and many hardly bat an eye. Later that day, a plane crashed onto the highway and a friend told me his first thought was, “Great, now how do I get home?”The main debate questioned how soon was too soon. It ended up being a very heavy panel for so early in the morning. Several of us wrote as a means of catharsis, dealing with the emotional fallout as best we could. Nothing is scarier than reality, but for the most part, we’ve been desensitized to it. School shootings happen yearly now, and many hardly bat an eye. Later that day, a plane crashed onto the highway and a friend told me his first thought was, “Great, now how do I get home?”
After that, I sat through the far more lighthearted panel on Southern folklore, watched the live recording of the pilot episode of the Three Guys with Beards Talk Show featuring Jonathan Mayberry, Christopher Golden, and James A. Moore, and hit up the YA ROCKS track. I don’t write YA, but I love reading it.
My nerves started up again shortly thereafter. My second panel was the one that terrified me the most. I know, I know, I asked to be on it. The track was titled Stabbing Through the Glass Ceiling: Advice for Women Writers Starting Out. Well, that’s me. I was a little late because I couldn’t find the room, so I plopped my nameplate onto the table and sat in the last chair. Right next to Kami Garcia, co-author of Beautiful Creatures. Me, on a panel with Kami Garcia.
That did a whole lot of good for the fanged butterflies fluttering in my chest.
Along with Kami, the other panelists were Lisa Morton, president of the Horror Writers Association, veteran TOR editor Melissa A. Singer, and author Lucy A. Snyder. I felt extremely out of place. I’ve been querying a book for several months, have one short story out, and I had to own that in front of a packed room. Right before my introductions I felt weak, like I didn’t belong, and then I realized I was teetering on the edge between starting out and making it. And it was good to talk about my experiences.
As women in horror, we face the same thing. “You don’t know horror. You’re too pretty/nice. You should stick to writing romance.” Bless my hatchet purse and the prime opportunity to use it as a prop. No one knows horror better than women; we face it every day. From childbirth to catcalls to being threatened with sexual assault or violence, women know horror well. We’re on a first-name basis and grab cocktails every Thursday night.
I hope the audience felt as empowered as I did after the panel reluctantly ended.
From childbirth to catcalls to being threatened with sexual assault or violence, women know horror well. We’re on a first-name basis and grab cocktails every Thursday night.It’s always the ones I’m most terrified of that turn out to be the best. Linda Addison was a fantastic moderator. Kami is fierce and full of sassiness. We all wished the panel had been three hours longer – or a whole weekend. There was so much left unsaid, and I hope in part my job here at Girls in Capes will cover even a fraction of it.
We only had time for one question. The audience member asked what happens when you fight and fight and you find all your boldness fading.
That’s me, too. So I answered. I told her that her fight will fade. Linda told her she was human. I said the most important thing you can do when you can no longer push yourself back onto your feet is let your friends help you up. I’m incredibly lucky to have the support system I do. The publishing industry is hard. It takes its toll on you physically, emotionally, and mentally. You fight until the fight runs out, and then you get up and fight harder. You can’t always do it alone, and finding a community of friends in your same boat, who understand, is the best gift you can give yourself.
My friends and I commandeered a table after that and sat working on books or illustrations. Saturday, I got to enjoy the con as just another attendee. I didn’t go to as many panels as I’d thought I would, but I was determined to hear Kami’s interview. One of my dearest friends and the Young Adult track director for World Horror Con, Catherine Scully, was her interviewer.
Kami was brilliant. She said so many things I needed to hear, so much I didn’t know I needed. We spent an hour talking to her afterward. It was such an honor to get to panel with her and hang out and my mind is still blown. It was a small convention—maybe 150 people—so it felt like we as panelists were talking to ourselves. Sometimes that’s exactly what you need.
It’s strange switching from panelist mode to normal mode, and I think the weirdest thing is finding they’re the same. Saturday was spent with my friends, hanging out, writing, eating nachos and talking shop, but people from Friday recognized me, told me how much they enjoyed my panels, asked if I was going to be on any more. It was the coolest thing because most of the time, I don’t realize how far I’ve come from where I was a year ago.
If you have the chance to go to World Horror Con, or any convention, do it. You never know what doors will open for you, who you’ll meet, or what you’ll learn about yourself.
I missed the awards ceremony, but Lisa Morton announced the first StokerCon to take place next year in Las Vegas, May 12-15. R.L. Stine has already been confirmed as a Guest of Honor, and I’m betting you don’t want to miss him. The next World Horror Con will be held in 2016 in Provo, Utah. You can check out horror.org for more information.
Meghan Harker is a Horror writer for Girls in Capes. She graduated from Brenau University in 2011 with a degree in English. She attended Cambridge University for a semester, but still didn’t master an English accent. When not writing, she’s either drawing, reading, hosting the Counting Casualties podcast, hunting antiques, or lamenting that she wasn’t born in the 1800s. If you follow her on Twitter @ExquisitelyOdd, you might get the chance to play Guess Who’s Dead!, her favorite post-mortem photography game (no one else likes to play.)