Cultivation & Connection at StokerCon 2018

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A professor from my alma-mater 

told me I needed to start going to conventions.

I’d been feeling down and unaccomplished. I still only had a handful of articles published and getting an agent seemed to be a very far away dream. I was toying with the idea of getting a Ph.D. and had applied to Georgia State and the University of Colorado. I thought about trying my hand at being an agent and looked into internships. I had shopped a book around that was drafts away from being ‘complete.’

I was Lost with a capital L.

If you’ve ever been Lost, you’ll remember, you tend to get desperate and look for help in every nook and cranny. You hope that someone, anyone, some other fellow traveler, might hold that one piece of helpful information. That one crucial tidbit that will nudge you off the edge into what would hopefully be much needed water.

I (unprofessionally) began to talk about my plights at my grad school’s alumni party. A professor I hadn't worked with and had only spoken to a handful of times during my studies pulled me aside. He said that I needed to stop spinning in circles. I needed to start going to conventions and shaking hands.

“That’s the only way you’ll meet people,” he told me, empathetic and kind.

I gave the usual excuses.

“I’m broke. What about my husband, job and dogs?”

“Figure it out,” he said.

That’s where is started. He’s one of the people I need to go back in time and thank, because he was the fellow traveler who took the time to set down his drink and explain it to me in small, understandable, meaningful words.

So: Thank you.

I went to conventions. A blog I worked for at the time (Dwarf+Giant) was only too pleased to have me go and be boots on the ground. The first one I attended was StokerCon 2017. I knew a couple of my friends were going and figured it was a good place to start. I was so broke I stayed for only two days instead of four, mostly drank green tea and crashed on friend’s couches on the way down to LA from Northern California.

I drove the entire state for this one.

And three incredible things happened. What do they say about life? Most of it is just showing up?

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One. I was able to give Dwarf+Giant five interviews and a write up of the Con. I had new material to share and publish. To this day, the authors I spoke with are near and dear to me. They’re the first ones to reach their hands out into the void and offer their assistance should I ever want to talk to anyone else. All I have to do is ask.

Two. One of those authors hired me.

A fledgling literary magazine, Gamut, was hot off the press and I desperately wanted in. They were dark and gritty and aware. The editor-in-chief was Richard Thomas, a friend of my graduate program. After we met at the Con, Richard reached out to me and asked if I could help out.

Three. I got to meet George R. R. Martin. My former professor-turned-mentor, Stephen Graham Jones, knew I had a deep, unhealthy love for GRRM. You know. The kind where you just want to revert back to a five-year-old, sit on the person’s feet, squeeze their legs hard and keep them rooted to the ground?

But I’m way chill about it.

Stephen introduced us. Not only did I get to chat with Martin, but he also asked to
see an essay I wrote about his craft during graduate school. Regardless of if he actually
read it or not, my essay sat in GRRM’s inbox.

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So, by putting myself out there at just ONE convention, I changed the trajectory of my life. Gripped the bull by the horns. Ran the train off its tracks.

 Later, I had the pleasure of going to World Fantasy for Gamut, where I met with Tananarive Due and Karen Joy Fowler: two amazing powerhouse women who dominate both the fantasy and horror genres. Not only did I go with the intention of meeting people, but that time, I got paid for it.

StokerCon 2018 was the first event Lisa and I attended together to represent our fledgling project, Ladies of the Fright. I’m pleased to report that just by reaching out our hands, just by being there, we rerouted everything in the best way. Ladies of the Fright took root. We aren’t going anywhere.

We started our podcast as a fun way to talk about everything dark. We thought it was a cool and interesting idea. To our great surprise and delight, people agree with us.

Because of StokerCon, Lisa and I were able to grab the wheel and turn.

Hard.

May our past life trajectory remain quiet and untraveled. Gather snow. We’re on a new road now, and we’re so thankful for everyone who’s helping us pave the way.

Please: new reader, author, editor, enthusiast. Go to these conventions.

Go to the classes. Watch Grady Hendrix perform stories. Listen to Paul Tremblay lecture about Shirley Jackson. Hug Ellen Datlow. (I mean, ask her first. Be cool.) Wait forever for the elevator, and then sidle in among friends. Buy books. Introduce yourself. Bring business cards. You never know who you may run into. Who you may just click with.

Oh. And look for us. We’ll be there. By the glass elevator that overlooks the city. One way or another, Lisa and I will be bringing our podcast to these events because the people, that’s what it’s all about. And we want to find them, tell their stories. Help them get their words out into the world.

We’re going to.

Go find yourself at StokerCon. Wrap arms and legs around the new you and never let go. 

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Grady Hendrix: MY BEST FRIEND'S EXORCISM

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It’s 1988 and everything is perfect.

Abby and Gretchen have been best friends since they were ten.

They’ve shared everything. They eat together. They play volleyball together. They share the same group of friends and sleep over at each other’s houses, even on weeknights. When Abby has terrible, awful skin problems, Gretchen buys her make-up. When Gretchen isn’t allowed certain kinds of music, Abby introduces her to Madonna. They sing Billy Joel at the top of their lungs and call each other at 11:06 every night.

And then a demon possesses Gretchen.

Abby watches Gretchen grow distant, dirty, and overall just not herself. To Abby, it seems like everywhere Gretchen goes, evil, destruction, and chaos follow. As the one who knows Gretchen best, Abby is the only one who can truly help her.

Abby will have to call upon an unlikely exorcist, her love for Gretchen, and a different brand of faith to get her best friend back.

The back of the book says it best. “My Best Friend’s Exorcism is a heartwarming story of friendship and demonic possession.” This book? It’s like someone combined The Exorcist and Breakfast Club. The Omen and Sixteen Candles.

Fire up the DeLorean, this book takes you to the past and gives you everything you could expect from a demonic possession story (vomit, blood, and evil) while simultaneously pulling you along a classic 1980’s high school story that spills over with the usual tropes of love, best friend adventures, and a solid soundtrack. When it’s over, you’re left in a puddle crying, wanting more.

Damn you, Grady Hendrix. Damn you for writing the perfect book.

In Convo with Dino Parenti at StokerCon 2017

Mackenzie Kiera – Hi, Dino! So, what can you tell my readers  to pick up? 

Dino Parenti – Well, two days ago I finished the Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead which just won the Pulitzer and the National Book award in the same year. The book is amazing, it’s beautifully written, wonderful prose, but it is a brutal, brutal book, subject matter-wise, but it’s amazing. Just started reading today The Book of Joan by Lidia Yuknavitch. I’m only in chapter one but the book, it’s just awesome. I’m already hooked. She wrote The Small Backs of Children. Lidia Yuknavitch is an amazing writer and that’s pretty much it right now, and really whatever short stories I can get my hands on. 

MK -And what is it you do for the industry? 

DP – Right now I’m a writer and I’m also one of the fiction editors for Gamut. We’re in hiatus right now because we just fulfilled our slots for 2017. 

MK – I know! That’s incredible. Congratulations.

DP – We were getting slammed with submissions. The first time we opened for submissions we closed in twenty-four hours. The second month we closed within twelve hours.

MK – Twelve?

DP – We cap at three hundred submissions. They just rolled in, which we are thankful for. We’ve had some great work come in. I don’t know when we’ll open up for 2018, I mean, assuming we’ll still be up and running at that point. 

MK – I’m sure you will, if you’ve had this much traction in just the first part of the year. 

DP – Yeah, but we are subscription based, so go to the website and subscribe. You’ll benefit from some wonderful and awesome fiction you can really sink your teeth into. 

MK – Go to Gamut! Keep them alive! Now, you, Dino Parenti, are one of the sponsors here at StokerCon

DP – Gamut is a sponsor. Our names are on the gift bags and we’re here and we have this purple tag on our name tag so, we’re fortunate enough to listen to all of the wonderful panels and so far it’s been fun.

MK – Have you been to other StokerCons?

DP – No! No, this is my first ‘con’ ever. And this is my first interview ever. 

MK – It’s a pleasure. Tell me, would you encourage writers to come to StokerCon? I realize it’s only the second day but…

DP – If you really want to meet the writers, you’re not going to find a more open and accepting bunch of people and I mean, people think ‘horror writer’ and assume we’re weird but really…

MK – They think we’re scary.

DP – Right? And we’re teddy bears. Teddy bears with issues but still, teddy bears.

MK – I’ve heard too that horror writers are more empathetic, because if you write horror, you tend to want to connect with what makes people tick, what makes them scared.

DP – Yes! And I’ve been to the literary functions and there are some incredibly stuffy people hanging around so, it’s hard to find down to earth people. The great thing about this field is, it was known as “genre”, but it’s becoming so much richer than that. There’s incredible literary merit in everything you’ll find here, for sure. 

MK – Indeed. I did a study last year where I read the most beautiful horror I could find. BirdBox, When we Were AnimalsMongrels,  The Fisherman. So, I have this theory that the horror authors are making a breakthrough that other writers in other genres aren’t. I have read some beautiful fantasy and sci-fi but it seems to be the horror writers that are making the most drastic leaps. Could you give me a comment on that idea? 

DP – Good craft is good craft, whatever genre you are writing on. Gamut is doing a series of “craft videos”—you can buy them online—and mine was how genre and literary actually make perfect bedfellows. The rules still apply, regardless of if you’re writing a straight literary piece or a “genre” you still have to delve into character arc and motivation. How you employ language, point of view, setting and atmosphere and how they all work together to tell the story. Horror writers get the worst rap because I think it’s hard for people to think that the horrific can also be beautiful or, vice versa. 

MK – Totally. We all need to respect each other as writers. 

DP – Exactly. We’re all in the same boat. [He says this, arms extended, aboard the Queen Mary] Literally! It’s a disservice to pit writers against each other, to say that what someone does in the New Yorker is any different than what someone in Cemetery Dance does. If you could lay them out on a cutting board, all the same stuff is coursing through their system. 

We’re all in the same [totally haunted] boat.

MK – Anything you want to add? 

DP – Read more horror! Read reviews and get your hands dirty. Be brave. Read horror. It may be scary but it’s stuff we all deal with. 

When not scribbling twisted musings into spiral notebooks, photographing the odd puddle or junk pile, or building classy furniture, Dino Parenti earns a little scratch drawing buildings. He’s also one of the fiction editors at Gamut Magazine. When not plowing through slush, he writes. His work can be found in a several anthologies, as well as the following journals: Pantheon Magazine, Cease-Cows, Pithead Chapel, Menacing Hedge, and the Lascaux Review, where he won their first annual flash fiction contest. His short-story collection, Dead Reckoning and other stories, has been recently accepted for publication and slated for an early 2018 release with Crystal Lake Publishing.

*This interview originally appeared in Dwarf + Giant