The Scholarship from Hell (My Trip to StokerCon 2019)

– by Thomas C. Mavroudis

scholarshipfromhellThe first thing work folks asked was why, of all the places to travel mid-May, was I going to Grand Rapids, Michigan?

Answering “StokerCon,” maybe two people immediately connected Stoker to Bram Stoker, author of a little book about a Romanian nobleman named Dracula.

“So, is that like ComicCon, but only vampire stuff?” they asked.

I replied it was more of a conference than a convention, culminating with the Bram Stoker Awards ceremony—like the Pulitzer Prize for horror. They were enthused.

“What were you nominated for?”

I repeated it was a conference, too, there were lectures and classes and workshops.

“Oh, congratulations! What are you teaching?”

“I’m not, I won a scholarship. It’s called the Scholarship from Hell.”

They stopped asking questions after that.

This was my first StokerCon, and to be honest, I was completely star-struck. Then again, writers—horror writers in particular—are my celebrity idols. This year’s guest of honor list included Kathe Koja and Robert R. McCammon, who along with Clive Barker, were my Horror Trinity as a teenager. I told Kathe Koja this, and she asked if she could be the Holy Spirit. Later, sitting together at the Bram Stoker Awards banquet, she and I exchanged Clive Barker stories—but I’m getting ahead of myself.

My shock and awe were padded by good friends from my MFA program, three women who are on their way to this sort of stardom themselves: Lisa Quigley and Mackenzie Kiera from the award-winning podcast Ladies of the Fright, and Kathryn E. McGee, book club host of The Thing in the Labyrinth at The Last Bookstore in Los Angeles.

As the conference attendees gathered at the opening night cocktail reception, my friends, who had been to previous StokerCons, led me around the room introducing me to everyone they could, from editors (Ellen Datlow, for one) to award nominees (Gwendolyn Kiste, whose Rust Maidens took the award for Best First Novel).

If this sounds like name-dropping, I assure you, it’s not. This is in fact a reflection of the warmth I received by the greater genre community—a family, really—of not only like-minded writers, but readers. Everyone I met seemed to be in awe of someone else, no matter how many books or stories they’ve published. The entire crowd seemed to be peers who equally revered one another.

This was reinforced the next day at the massive author signing (and ice cream social) where I told Robert McCammon that I always favored him over Stephen King. This is where I discussed with F. Paul Wilson the possible future of his Adversary cycle returning to screen. And this is where I discovered the wares of authors just a few career steps ahead of my own.

Of course, StokerCon was more than just eating cheese and crackers (and ice cream) with generations of horror greats. Over the three days, more challenging than deciding what books to buy in the dealer’s room, was deciding what panels and workshops to attend.

There were two sessions in particular that were significantly beneficial to me as a writer and member of the Denver Horror Collective. The first was writing horror non-fiction conducted by Kevin J. Wetmore, editor of Uncovering Stranger Things and author of Post 9/11 Horror in American Cinema. Earlier in the weekend, I had been telling people about my ideas for essays on horror. The only problem was, I didn’t want to actually write them. Kevin Wetmore’s course, focusing primarily on the plethora of paying markets out there, sparked my motivation. (Note to editor: How much am I getting paid for this, btw?) [Editor: Tom, your check for $0 is in the mail.]

The second was a panel devoted to creating and assembling an anthology. And while no alchemical secrets were learned—I sought some magic key to funding DHC’s upcoming Terror at 5,280’—the panel’s enthusiasm for their successful collaborations invigorated my involvement with the Denver Horror Collective and all its current and future projects.

Other highlights included: the ubiquitous goodie bag (filled with books and a t-shirt), Josh Malerman’s performance piece/book reading, and a half-pint of vodka given to me by a woman who was very likely a ghost.

I am compelled to say that without the Denver Horror Collective, I would not have been awarded the Scholarship from Hell, and thus not attended StokerCon. The DHC has filled the chasm left empty by completing grad school, and what that former void represents is community, family. This message was reiterated by Stoker Awards emcee Johnathan Maberry, out-going Horror Writer’s Association President Lisa Morton and in-coming President, John Palisano.

I think what I discovered most from my first StokerSon experience reverberates in the week to week activities with the Collective: it takes a village to make monsters. And on that note, StokerCon 2021 will be in Denver.

Husband, father, Denver native, and Collective member Thomas C Mavroudis hosts the horror literary event (nearly) every last Sunday of the month called Frights and Flights at Denver BookBar. He has stories forthcoming in Weirdbook, Tales from Gehenna, and the anthology Behold the Undead of Dracula: Lurid Tales of Cinematic Gothic Horror