The Queen Mary & StokerCon

It was an adventure from the very beginning – having got my dates wrong, I found out 10 days too late that I had purchased airline tickets for the 16th instead of the 26th – a few hundred dollars later, I was en route to Long Beach at the wonderful hour of 0500 hours MST. This would be followed by a wonderful bus ride of approximately two hours, including a transfer, to get to the Queen Mary (my taxi fare had gone to the second plane ticket). Then things started to improve.

I checked into my room early,  luggage, computer bag, and CPAP machine, my only companions (yes, I sleep like Darth Vader – you don’t know the power of the dark side!) I stepped into the bathroom for only a few minutes, after dropping previously mentioned companions on bed, and when I returned to the two-port-holed, wood-paneled cabin of yesteryear, my suitcase was gone. After a little bit of a search I found it conspicuously in a section of the room I had not visited, back behind the wardrobe, waiting for me on a chair.  I had heard the Queen Mary was haunted, but really, ghosts before lunch time? I would later find the deck I was staying on was the most haunted deck on the ship.

Now, to the convention. Well, to be honest, StokerCon17 was pretty cool – almost as cool as the spook, specter, or ghost who moved my suitcase – and the Horror Writers Association (HWA) did an excellent job of lining up presenters and panels to meet most desires and tastes. With paranormal activity in full force, I had a wonderful 3-day/3-night stay aboard the Queen Mary, aka the Gray Ghost, rubbing shoulders with some of the biggest and brightest, or darkest, writers in the horror field. The Queen Mary was several steps back in time, not quite Gothic, but close with all the activity, and to make my visit even better, presentations on Mary Shelley and Shirley Jackson, not to mention a small hint at magical realism and horror with Toni Morrison.

To begin, I spent most of my time with fellow writers C.R. Langille, J.H. Moncrieff, Theresa Braun, Terra Luft, and Callie Stoker, with special guest appearances by Johnny Worthen, John Palisano, and Chuck “Jon” Wendig & entourage, and probably others I am missing, including a few ghosts. I also had a couple of chats with the one and only George R. R. Martin, took a few photos for friends, etc. George was a wonderful and gracious guest of honor, and added, I don’t know exactly, maybe a cachet or validity or credibility to the whole thing. Anyway, on to the wondefulerrific.

In addition to the regular festivities, there was a paid Horror University curriculum, a paid Librarians’ Day, and an academic component. I was all about regular festivities and academia, so I started with Karen Bovenmyer and her presentation: Shirley Jackson and the Fear of Ordinary People. In my younger years, I would have probably enjoyed a class in college taught by Karen. She had her bases covered, including a most excellent Shirley Jackson Bingo Card to keep participants participating. The presentation was a nice walk down the path of Shirley Jackson beyond The Lottery, and included some very fine points on The Haunting of Hill House and We Have Always Lived in a Castle. It whetted my appetite for more Shirley, and I was not to be disappointed.

Laura Lee Bahr presented an interesting titled production called Slit Open: Inside the Minds of Women who Create Horror – from Frankenstein to Beloved – and Inside the Bodies of their Victims. and it was a production: Laura Lee is a one woman whirlwind without need of props or fellow actors, and I would like to think we reaped the whirlwind. This was the most entertaining and informational presentation of the whole convention for me. Laura Lee not only knew her stuff, but she presented in voices of the authors and their characters, almost channeling Mary Shelley and her creation, Shirley Jackson complete with Hill House, and Toni Morrison’s magical realism from a horror point of view. Laura Lee brought passages literally to life and had me, and several of my peers, wondering if we had really read any of these pieces of fiction before.  Not only did I gain a different point of view on the work, but the portrayal of the various passages breathed new life into the literature and I, for one, plan to re-read all of the stories, especially Shirley Jackson.

My final highlight was something unexpected: Writer’s Guide to the Occult: Craft Convincing Magick, Possession and Paranormal Threat presented by Michelle Belanger. Michelle is an author, singer, A&E Reality star, and just happens to be an expert on all things unexplainable: don’t think National Enquirer, think MIT or Oxford. It was the usual romp into medieval and modern misunderstandings of Judaeo-christian fun mingled with hints of Beowulf and Gilgamesh, or at least their periods. I was fasinated and asked a few questions, as well as waited after for some additional engaging conversation with the likes of Ereshkigal and Inanna, as well as Michelle’s take on some of the Mesoamerican cannon, for example, Tezcatlipoca aka Smoking Mirror.

I know I’m just scratching the surface, but feel free to contact me, ask questions, or check out the links I’ve provided for Karen, Laura Lee, and Michelle.

Two more things – I was able to read some of my work to a crowd of… well… some… I was paired with Dennis Etchison, who later won a lifetime achievement award. I guess it was nice to say I was able to read my work at StokerCon, and to have read with Dennis, but having my friends there was really the most important thing. I think that’s how we survive as writers: having friends, writer friends, who know what it’s like to live the dream. Needless to say, I think I’ll do StokerCon again next year. I hear it’s going to be in Providence, Rhode Island, the home of Lovecraft. Maybe I’ll see you there:)

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