stoker con 2017

Cultivation & Connection at StokerCon 2018


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?


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.


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.


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. 


In Convo with John Palisano at StokerCon 2017

Mackenzie Kiera – Hi, John! Could you tell me who you are?

John Palisano – I’m John Palisano. Vice President of the Horror Writers Association. Bram Stoker Award winning author.

MK – Very cool. What year did you win?

JP – Last year! 2016.

MK – What brought you to HWA? 

JP – I joined fifteen years ago. I met Lisa Morton when she was at the Iliad Bookshop in North Hollywood and I was trying to get back into the fiction world after being in the movie business—I’d been writing screenplays—and I love it. It’s an amazingly supportive organization for new writers and I felt like I had met my tribe. 

MK – So what’s the name of your Stoker award?

JP – It was a short story and it won for Outstanding Achievement in Short Fiction. It’s called “Happy Joe’s Rest Stop,” and it was in the anthology Eighteen Wheels of Horror, edited by Eric Miller. 

MK – What are you working on now?

JP – I’m writing a couple of short stories for a new anthology, it’s called Monsters Exist. And there’s another really fun story I’m working on for a book called Alternate Histories, or, something like that. I don’t think they’ve settled on a title. I chose Marilyn Monroe, and everyone thinks Marilyn was ditsy but she was actually very smart. In the story I have her as an undercover agent and she has the ability to call out demons, and there’s a demon that’s making the Korean war happen, so she goes into the jungle, does her little act and then she goes into the jungle while everyone’s asleep and glams this demon out of the forest—out of the woods of Korea—captures him in a diamond, puts him on her finger and walks out. 

MK – So, diamonds really are a girl’s best friend?

JP – [Laughs] Absolutely, because, if you know anything about Marilyn, she’s very intellectual. Avid reader.

MK – Was she?

JP – Oh, yes. That’s why she married Arthur Miller. She was wicked smart. So, for the short story, I thought it would be so perfect because no one would suspect that she really has a demon on her finger. The story is called: “The Prince of Darkness and the Showgirl.”

MK – Nice!

JP – It’s been really fun to write.

MK – So, short stories tend to be your wheelhouse?

JP – I write everything. I write non-fiction, I write for Fangoria, I’ve written for Dark Discoveries and soon, hopefully, for BlumHouse. I’ve done screenplays over the years, I have had some tiny films made. My first love is fiction and poetry. Like beat poetry. I love it. 

MK – Have you tried your hand at poetry?

JP – Sure. I have a couple published poems out there. I was in a collection that was Alfred Hitchcock themed and my poem was titled: “Mother You Can Watch.” I have another big poem in the HWA Poetry Showcase called, “Meet the Beetles.” That poem is about a battered wife who kills her abusive husband by putting poisonous spiders in his bed, and the poem is all watching him slowly decay as the flies and beetles go into him, and the beetles ultimately fly away with what’s left of him into big clouds and then disperse. It’s a riff on the Beatles album. 

MK – Very scarab-like.

JP – Yes, it absolutely has Egyptian-like qualities because, you think: “How can we dispatch of someone these days?” It’s really hard because they can find anything. And, for a while, you could feed a body to a wild boar. That doesn’t work anymore because now they can test the DNA of the pigs guts for traces, whereas they couldn’t before. I was so angry because I was like, well damn. I should have acted sooner. 

MK – Maybe now all of your stories can take place in the eighties? Before the DNA tech savvy stuff came out. So, what can you suggest for people to read at The Last Bookstore. What are you reading right now?

JP – What am I reading right now? I just read Michael Griffin’s Hieroglyphs of Blood and Stone and it’s unbelievable. A very slow burn. It’s more haunting than visceral, I tend to go towards that, because, I love the new horror that’s out, the weird-fiction and the noir. It isn’t about that crazy guy chasing teenagers, it’s about a different kind of ‘crazy’ and it’s more reflective of the times. What’s scary these days is that life is changing, the world is changing and a lot of people are getting upset. Political opportunities, doors closing, and all of it’s horrific because you start to wonder if you have a future anymore and there’s a collective helplessness that has invaded our country and I think the art is starting to reflect that. That’s something horror has always done, is reflect the times. If you think of the zombies, that’s when they first came out they were kind of immigrant based in the 20s and 30s. They came off ships. Then they were brought back in the sixties, around when there was nuclear fear. They were the ‘living dead’ zombies and were created from nuclear bombs. And then in the seventies, they were in the mall, and were reflective of consumerism. Now, with The Walking Dead, I think it’s reflecting terrorism. So, horror always reflects the times. 

MK – So, any other books you would recommend?

JP – The Fisherman, by John Langan was excellent. I think I’m not alone in being obsessed with Stephen Graham Jones and trying to track down everything he writes. I mean, Mongrels is just . . . it blew my mind and it’s a very different style. 

MK – Indeed. And the two books that you mentioned? Have you noticed that horror writers are bridging the gap between literary and genre? 

JP – Yes! You’re right! It’s a beautiful thing that’s happening, and I hear there are even publishers that are calling it, ‘literary horror.’ Trying to distinguish between say, a slasher from Frankenstein. But really, I think the thing with a writer, is it’s so much about the voice of the storyteller, people ask me, “Why was Twilight popular, why was Fifty Shades of Gray popular?” It’s all in the voice. So, if there’s a voice you can connect with, no matter what, you’re on board with that character. Think about Stephen King or Anne Rice, you feel it: the escape. The world.

MK – Is that what you like to create most? Other worlds? 

JP – I try. And you know, when you write a short story, there’s just as much world building as, when you write a novel, sometimes. Because if you really want to do it well, you’ve got to know all these details. 

MK – Absolutely. 

JP – So, a lot of times when you’re writing a short story you have to build it all and maybe you only use a sliver, in a novel you can use the whole thing. 

MK – And you enjoy that?

JP – I do. It’s pleasurable. 

MK – Anything else you would like to share?

JP – I’ve always enjoyed writing. I love everything about it. The process. I mean, I do a lot of other things. I’ll play music or draw or something. Actually, if you’re a writer, you tend to have many different talents because if you’re creative, you’re creative. 

MK – Absolutely. So, where can we look out for you? 

JP – My website is my name, and I’m on Facebook and Twitter, where you can find me pretty easily. I love talking to people, as you may have noticed. 

MK – It’s been a pleasure. Thank you very much for your time and congratulations on your Stoker award. 

John Palisano has a pair of books with Samhain Publishing, Dust of the Dead, and Ghost Heart. Nerves is available through Bad Moon. Starlight Drive: Four Halloween Tales was released in time for Halloween, and his first short fiction collection All That Withers is available from Cycatrix press, celebrating over a decade of short story highlights. Night of 1,000 Beasts is due soon from Sinister Grin press. 

He won the Bram Stoker Award© in short fiction in 2016 for “Happy Joe’s Rest Stop”. More short stories have appeared in anthologies from Cemetery Dance, PS Publishing, Independent Legions, DarkFuse, Crystal Lake, Terror Tales, Lovecraft eZine, Horror Library, Bizarro Pulp, Written Backwards, Dark Continents, Big Time Books, McFarland Press, Darkscribe, Dark House, Omnium Gatherum, and more. Non-fiction pieces have appeared in FANGORIA and DARK DISCOVERIES magazines.

*This interview originally appeared on Dwarf + Giant

In Convo with Richard Thomas at StokerCon 2017

Mackenzie Kiera – Richard, so nice to speak with you. I believe you and I originally met at UCR’s low residency MFA program. So nice to see you here at StokerCon 2017. Tell us what you’re reading these days?

Richard Thomas – I’ve been reading a lot of stuff for the classes I’m teaching. That’s been taking up most of my time, haven’t had a whole lot of time to read just for fun. The Best Horror of the Year anthology, edited by Ellen Datlow, which is really cool because one of the stories in there, “Wilderness,” came out of the Exigencies anthology I edited, and it’s by my friend Leticia Trent and her whole story went on this journey when we were starting Gamut. I asked her if she had anything and she said yes, she had something that had been previously rejected and she sent it to all the top magazines and she’d lost some faith. 

MK – Absolutely, it’s hard. 

RT – Totally, so I told her to send it to me. She sent it over and I immediately knew I wanted it. It’s just one of those stories where you read the first line, first paragraph and think, “Okay, if it can keep this up then I definitely want it.” I even led off the anthology with that story. In the end it’s all subjective, but I really loved this story and I really believed in it. It was also nominated for the Shirley Jackson award. 

MK – So, read the short story “Wilderness.

RT – Yes, absolutely. Read this story. We all doubt ourselves as writers, and I loved it from the start, couldn’t understand why it kept getting rejected, so, it was really wonderful to see it climb as high as it did and get nominated for the Shirley Jackson award. Made me feel like my intuition and aesthetic was sound and that’s important considering what I do for Gamut. But yes, it’s good to always read The Best Horror of the Year. Every year, as a writer, I want to see what’s out there, feel like I’m in the loop. And check out other annuals, too, such as The Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy, edited by John Joseph Adams, The Year’s Best Dark Fantasy and Horror, edited by Paula Guran, and Year’s Best Weird Fiction, edited by Michael Kelly. These are all excellent books.

MK – Absolutely. 

RT – Some of the other stuff I just got done reading for the class I’m teaching is all contemporary dark fiction. And that spans some time—China Miéville’s Perdido Street Station. It’s pretty dense and really dances between science fiction, fantasy and horror. That book has been out for like, twenty years but it really kicked off the whole “new weird” movement. It’s a brilliant book and there’s so much going on, but you don’t have to have a science degree to read it. That’s a book I have really fallen in love with. 

Also, All the Beautiful Sinners, by Stephan Graham Jones. One of my favorites. That’s more of a psychological thriller, it’s very slippery and surreal, but it’s also kind of at the heart of neo-noir, a genre I really love to read and write in. The biggest neo-noir name might be Dennis Lehane, such as Shutter Island or Mystic River.

MK – Both of those. Yes.

RT – But there are other voices, lesser known that are great—such as Craig Clevenger and Will Christopher Baer. In my class, we also studied Jeff VanderMeer’s Annihilation. It won the Nebula and Shirley Jackson award, and it’s part of the Southern Reach trilogy. It’s really tense and there are so many things in there. Oh! Also, Bird Box, by Josh Malerman

MK – That book is amazing.

RT – Right? It’s hypnotic. I read it over Thanksgiving when it came out and I literally could not put it down. It’s so good. I’m sitting by the fireplace just sweating and I mean, when’s the last time you read a book and you just could not put it down? 

MK – Best kind.

RT – Then, to go back and read it through a critical lens for my class—I just have such an appreciation for what all of these authors are doing on a sentence by sentence level, even the word choice and imagery, it’s just inspiring because I want to keep pushing myself to evolve as a writer and, while I have my style, you still need to grow. I like to read these things to keep me going and even the older books, like Perdido. That’s why I always read Tor and Nightmare Magazine. That’s all contemporary. 

MK – The critical eye that you use when you’re teaching, do you also use that for Gamut

RT – Yeah, when it comes to submissions I get or when you solicit from somebody it has to work on a couple different levels. It has to surprise me, but also, can’t be so weird that I just can’t understand it, it has to be accessible. Maybe it’s too scientific, or too smart for me. But if it’s doing something different, that always makes my ears perk up. Then, if it works? It’s sort of like a blend of the old and the new, which I talk about all the time, how can you write a book that’s familiar enough that readers understand you, but also be unique enough that they haven’t seen it a million times. So, how can you be accessible, but also, break the formula. That’s what I try to read. Intellectually, you want to be stimulated by what you’re reading, but it also has to have feeling behind it. You want to be able to relate, in some way. It’s why I don’t read a lot of series. By book ten, I tend to know the author’s tricks. Unless it’s Stephen King’s The Dark Tower series. 

MK – Or Game of Thrones.

RT – Absolutely. But that is so character driven that I’m in. I love all of the characters and I want to see what’s going to happen to them. So, I’m always trying to battle between what’s familiar and expected, versus what’s different and surprising. When I was younger, I’d rather read book twenty by Stephen King than read an unknown author. And that is a really narrow view and a shallow way to look at it, but as I’ve matured, getting my undergraduate degree, and my MFA, I’ve changed all of that and now I’m much more open. I just want to read something that’s great. I’m way more willing to take a chance. I remember reading Toni Morrison in my MFA and thinking, “What am I going to like about her work? What do we have in common?” And then I read Beloved and it crushed me and I thought, “I have to stop thinking this way. I have to change the way I think and write and edit.” That was several years ago. Now I am just more open to what I read on a global level. I still need to read more outside of the US and you know, at Gamut we’ve bought stories from people all over the world and that’s one of the great things about being online, is we can find them and they can find us and they can read Gamut regardless of where they are. Those points of view may be a little to the left, a little to the right but they’re bringing with them so many different experiences, and yet not so different that you feel uncomfortable chasing it. 

MK – Totally. Well, a while back, you yourself were unknown and so you have to say at one point, I was unknown and someone took a chance on me so now I need to read unknowns.

RT – Absolutely. Read unknowns. Take that chance.

*This interview originally appeared on Dwarf + Giant