new horror

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 Stephen Graham Jones at StokerCon 2017

Mackenzie Kiera – Dr. Stephen Graham Jones. Good to speak with you again, thanks for meeting with me.

Stephen Graham Jones – Absolutely. 

MK – Sir, was hoping you could tell my readers at The Last Bookstore what books to pick up? Give us some ideas. What are you currently reading? 

SGJ – Currently reading Elizabeth Hand's’s Wylding Hall and audiobooking John Scalzi’s The Collapsing Empire

MK – He’s so cool. I like Red Shirts.

SGJ – Red Shirts is amazing, that’s one of my favorite all time novels.

MK – What else have you read this year?

SGJ – This year? Man, my favorite has got to be Grady Hendrix’s My Best Friend’s Exorcism.

MK – I’ve heard good things about that book. 

SGJ – I love that book. And, just got to hang out with Grady. He’s a cool dude, smart. I think I’ve read that book three times this year.

MK – This year? You don’t have to put it down or…?

SGJ – No, no what happened was, I finished reading it, then started another book and thought: “This sucks.” So, I just went back to reading what I knew I liked. Also? He and I are the same age and it’s set in 1988, I think? So, it feels like a landscape, a cultural landscape I’m familiar with, I guess. Same way Ready Player One spoke to me.

MK – Because you’re from the future?

SGJ – Ha! No. I was born the same year Earnest Cline was born so, for some reason it’s comforting to read about my growing up through people who also grew up in the same time. 

MK – So, in the late eighties, you would have been an adolescent. I heard you say once that writing adolescent characters was something you preferred if not what you bend towards. 

SGJ – I do, I don’t know why but that’s where I’m really comfortable. 

MK – How many of your books are in that age range?

SGJ – Counting Mongrels, five. So, five of sixteen.

MK – Why not more? If that’s where you’re comfortable.

SGJ – Um, probably, you know, when I published The Ones That Got Away in 2010 I guess, I didn’t realize it but some of the reviews said, I mean, they liked it and all but some of the reviews said: ‘This really is a neat way of haunting up childhood.’ I guess I didn’t realize that all those stories are from, like, a kid. I didn’t even know I was doing that so, that told me I probably need to do that less. 

MK – So, what do you think of YA horror? 

SGJ – It’s totally a thing. Gretchen McNeil who is here I believe, she does YA horror. I just read Wolf Road for my class at UCR, and that’s totally YA horror/science fiction. Yeah, I like YA horror. It’s fun to see what you can sneak past the gatekeepers. 

MK – Totally important. Are you allowed to tell me what’s next? Can you talk about Mapping the Interior

SGJ – Yep, it’s about a family trying to hold together after the father died, they are living a few hours off the reservation but then, one night, the oldest son, he’s about twelve, he sees his dead father walk through the living room. Decides to chase him or, follow him. And then, yeah, things happen. Also, there’s this. You seen this yet?

MK – No, tell me. 

SGJ – It’s a comic book called My Hero and it’s coming out in June.

MK – So you have two things coming out in June. Awesome. What made you write this one? 

SGJ – I wanted to engage the comic book form, and I wanted to do it in a way nobody had and, well, a comic book without pictures is a way no one has done comic books before. 

MK – You really got to play. 

SGJ – Yeah! Yeah, I did get to play. 

MK – May I take a picture of this?

SGJ – Yep. Absolutely. 

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MK – It’s like you were trying to find all of the corners no one ever writes in.

SGJ – I was trying to get people to read words as images. 

MK – You succeeded. So you have those two coming out and also, you were writing a slasher?

SGJ – Just finished it, it’s going to New York on Monday. 

MK – Good luck!

SGJ – Thank you. Thank you. I’ve also got a crime novel called Texas is Burning, going to try to get it in bundled in with the slasher somehow. And what else? I have another novel called Washed in the Blood. I wrote it in a month and, I mean, it was a month four years ago, I just never sent it out. It’s about bow hunting in West Texas. 

MK – You always come back to West Texas in your writing, don’t you? 

SGJ – I do. Really I think we all, as writers we have only one place where we know all the emotional contours of that place, and for me, that’s West Texas. So, any other place I’m writing about, peel back the scrim and it’s West Texas, whether it’s off planet or inter-dimensional. 

MK – So, you have a lot of desert planets, then?

SGJ – I do. And a lot of tumbleweeds. 

MK – “The Night Cyclist” though, that’s Colorado, isn’t it?

SGJ – It is, and I have another that’s based in Colorado, coming out in Gamut soon, I believe. 

Mk – What was the other one you had in Gamut?

SGJ – That was “Love is a Cavity I can’t Stop Touching.” Also, I think I’ve had another in there, um. “Spider Box,” “Second Chances,” and another called “Teaching a Sociopath to Cry.” Oh! And “The Lazarus Complex.” But the one coming up is “The God of Low Things.” It’s about prairie dogs.

MK – How do you teach a sociopath to cry?

SGJ – I think that’s what it was called. I don’t know. I wrote that one at a talk, and I mean, I got bored at the talk so, I wrote a short story. As you do. 

MK – I remember that. You had a whole bunch of paper in your fists and you were just, “Hey, guys. Wrote a short story.” And then you disappeared. So, wait, you teach for the University of California, Riverside and also for Boulder. Don’t you have a new title for CU Boulder?

SGJ – Yep, I’m an endowed chair now. 

MK – Congratulations. Any other books you can recommend? Before we sign out? 

SGJ – Scary books?

MK – Up to you. 

SGJ – Man, I just finished Bracken MacLeod’s Stranded and that book impressed me a lot. But I mean, all of the Stoker Con finalists have amazing books. 

MK – And you are one of the finalists?

SGJ – I am, I am. For Mongrels.

MK – Well, best of luck to you sir, and thank you for meeting with me. 

SGJ – Thank you. 

Dr. Stephen Graham Jones was raised mostly in Greenwood, Texas. Currently, he teaches English and Creative Writing for the University of Colorado, Boulder and University of California, Riverside-Palm Desert. He is the author of twenty-three novels and some 250+ short stories. His latest novella Mapping the Interior and comic book My Hero will be available June, 2017. Dr. Jones lives in Boulder, CO with his wife, two teenage kids, some dogs and too many old trucks.

*This interview originally appeared on Dwarf + Giant