Return of the Horror Writers: StokerCon 2022 Recap

            Everyone who’s venturing to a convention again for the first time in two years experiences a certain kind of euphoria and ecstasy. The kind where you see familiar faces and meet new ones beyond a screen or username. Where you can share space and ideas with people who understand. A time—even if only for a few days—where joy seems to be the dominant mood. That was StokerCon 2022 in Denver, Colorado.

            The last in-person convention was held in Grand Rapids, Michigan in 2019. The excitement for the 2020 UK meet-up was prevented by the onset of COVID-19 and postponed multiple times before becoming its own event. As I wrote about last year, 2021 held a virtual con that proved surprisingly accessible. With that in mind, StokerCon attempted its first hybrid convention this year: meeting in-person in Denver and virtually through Hopin at the same time.

            Luckily, Denver is on my side of the country, and I was able to finesse some financial help to get there. Conventions, like StokerCon, can be expensive and this often proves an obstacle for interested guests. For this year at least, I had multiple benefactors who helped pay for transportation, lodging, and food. I bought the hybrid registration early enough but, at $250, it was definitely an investment. The Horror Writers Association does have scholarships that can help pay for attendance to this con or others based on your application, and I’ll probably try that avenue in the future.

            Now, since it was in Denver, my mom decided to join me for the trip to spend time together, support my con-going, and go on her own adventures. We left on Wednesday and arrived in Colorado shortly before noon. The weather was surprisingly hot, especially since Reno had had snow flurries the day before. We took the light rail to Union Station, explored around, and decided to walk the twenty-ish minutes to our hotel. Did it take longer than that? Yes. Did we blame the altitude? Absolutely.

            The hotel we stayed at was not quite half a mile from The Curtis, where StokerCon was held. Luckily, my mom and I have good senses of humor because the first room we were given had a view that was blocked by a wall, and we later discovered the air conditioning was broken. The next room was an improvement (even if we were plagued by mysterious moths the entire weekend). Compared to 2019, I only ate at the connected restaurant once; the breakfast buffet had a surprisingly good spread and was just what we needed that morning. For my purposes and how much the room was actually used, it ended up working out.

            On Thursday, I revised and practiced my presentation for the Ann Radcliffe Academic Conference. I’d submitted a video presentation to the virtual conference but presenting in person required some cutting. Then I walked to The Curtis, picked up my name badge and some free swag, and began the official StokerCon experience. The first panel I attended was on blending romance and horror and provided great insight into why I’d had some issues with a certain story in the past. This was followed by the first panel I went to on the author-editor relationship. During each of these panels, I scribbled down notes in a Midsommar notebook and soaked up the brilliance. Thursday night was the Opening Ceremony, and, unlike in 2019, guests sat around banquet tables. I did my best to socialize and fight my awkward introvert nature (especially after two years of isolation) and met some amazing people.

            My shower scene presentation was first on Friday morning, and I’ll credit the additional years of teaching with how those jitters weren’t as much of a thing this time. The other presentations on ‘Film and Television’ were so cool. The Q&A following was pretty casual and a lot of it was me and the other presenters chatting or asking each other questions. Still, after working on this for months, it was good to talk through those ideas with curious people. This was my third time presenting for the Ann Radcliffe Academic Conference, and it’s honestly one of my favorite parts of the entire convention because I always come away inspired for the next year.

            This was followed by the next AnnRadCon panel on ‘Vampires’ which I walked away from with the need to binge Midnight Mass. I was busy on Friday going from panel to panel, absorbing everything I could: more information on the author-editor relationship (with great insight from Ellen Datlow and Stephen Jones), why the Gothic is like seasoning, and what horror novels are 21st century classics. I ran back to the hotel room to have a snack, spend some time with my mom, and grab books for the mass signing.

            In 2019, I felt awkward and unsure of how to approach writers during the signing. This year, I didn’t have the same trepidation. I used my souvenir book as a “yearbook” and asked as many authors as I could to sign it, and I bought so many books that I’d been waiting to get my hands on. The room was a bit crowded and quite warm as the time went on, but it was easier to focus on moving person to person rather than trying to search out specific writers. (Fingers crossed: one day I’ll have a spot in that room). Although my interactions with most of the authors were quick, they still felt meaningful in their own way.

            This was the first year I didn’t attend the Final Frame Film Competition. Unfortunately, the altitude or travel affected my mom and she spent much of the weekend with vertigo. Instead, I grabbed take-out from a restaurant we’d liked, and we watched 13 Going on 30 and part of Spider-Man: Far from Home in the hotel room. During cons, it’s easy to go-go-go with few breaks and I wanted to be more intentional with my time and take better care this year. I’d say, in the end, it worked out okay.

            Saturday morning began with a little bit of a time zone snafu, but I jumped into virtual StokerCon and attended the Q&A session for AnnRadCon. I answered a few questions on my research, listened to amazing answers from other scholars, and we all suffered with technical issues. After, I ventured to the in-person convention again for more panels. The nonfiction panel was, for the most part, good information that I already knew, but it contained a key piece of advice in doing what is best for your career. The panel on modern horror cinema made some nice points about the value of streaming.

Then, I spoke on my first non-academic panel! I’ll be honest and say that my credentials, compared to my other panelists, were not the shiniest, but I like to think I contributed some good recommendations and thoughts on ghost stories. I was often enraptured by what someone else on the panel had said and then had to formulate my own thoughts so I wouldn’t repeat something that had already been said. My short-term memory got a workout. Did I cover with humor more than a bit? Yes, but people laughed at my puns and bad jokes. It was an exciting opportunity and I hope, as my career advances, that I have more of these chances to share my thoughts beyond the page or screen.

I jumped into a panel on pitching and writing screenplays (just in case that interests me someday) and finished off the day with great information on epistolary horror. I said goodbye to some of the new friends I’d made, swearing that one day I will attend the StokerCon banquet and awards in-person, and grabbed dinner with my mom. As I packed for the trip home, I tuned into the virtual stream of the awards, and loved how this community came to life before me with people I respect and have come to know. The “Halloween people” took me in for the weekend, gave me a warm and spooky home, and then sent me off with new hope and ideas.

My early flight on Sunday prevented those last-minute panels and the closing ceremony. However, with that hybrid registration I purchased I have a year’s worth of access to some of the recorded panels. I’ll be honest in saying that, with a full weekend of panels and much of the other content becoming unavailable, the hybrid registration wasn’t quite what I wanted it to be and may not have been worth the extra money. I’m not sure if I would do it again, but I’ll revisit this opinion after I spend more time with the content.

Compared to 2019 and 2021, I socialized a little less since I didn’t venture to any bars or restaurants with my fellow writers. However, I did see a lot more of Denver than I did of Grand Rapids, and I ate at a lot of great restaurants compared to just one repeatedly. Even so, I felt the connection, met new people, said hello to old friends, and definitely did more than I have in recent years. Hopefully, in 2023, I’ll be able to find that happy medium between preserving my energy and meeting others at theirs.

Overall, it was definitely one of the highlights of my year so far, and I’m so grateful for the chance to go to Denver, to present my research, and speak on a panel. I’m happy I spent time with my mom on a kind of vacation. This was the last-first hurrah I needed to transition from one part of my life into another.

StokerCon is a family of its own, a community of people who understand why you can be drawn to weird and spooky things, and I recommend going at least once to anyone who loves reading or writing horror.