Tuesday, September 5, 2023
Monday, June 19, 2023
StokerCon 2023, held in Pittsburgh during the same dates as two Taylor Swift concerts, was a collision of different worlds. Sequins and glitter; girls and young women in their sparkliest dresses. Zombie and skull T-shirts; black-clad horror fans in combat boots. For me, though, the collision was more about reality itself, as dozens and dozens of people I only knew from Twitter manifested in person.
My first StokerCon in 2019 was an odd affair where I felt transported to middle school and a world of cliques to which I didn’t belong. My book, Baby Teeth, had been nominated for Superior Achievement in a First Novel, but I'd never been to a convention of any kind, nor had I at that point become truly part of the online community of horror writers and readers. Everyone in 2019 was very nice, but I'd never felt like such an outsider before, and that was more than a little daunting. This time around StokerCon was in my backyard, so it was never in doubt that I would attend. But I was a little unsure about what to expect.
I can't overstate the degree to which I'm a hermit in my everyday life. Some people use that term to mean that come Saturday night they prefer Netflix-and-chill to going out on the town. I use hermit to mean that in any given week I may not leave the house. Occasionally I need to go out for an appointment or to do some errands, and if I'm lucky I'll do something fun with my sister or a friend a couple times a month. But in general, I live my life within the four walls of my house (plus my deck, which borders a small greenspace filled with wildlife).
I started becoming reclusive as a teenager, dealing alone with health problems, and as I became more removed from the social milestones of my peers, the more reclusive I became. There were periods of my life when I made concerted efforts to "put myself out there," and there were periods when I was deeply lonely. It took a long time for me to understand and embrace my solitary existence, but once I came to terms with it I understood that, for better or worse, I am just not a person who moves through the world easily. Which brings us to the social mayhem that was StokerCon 2023.
This time around I had four published novels under my belt, and hundreds of writer and reader "friends" online. I was determined to make the most of those few days, aware that I might not attend another event like this for several years (or more). It was a whirlwind—and a rare and spectacular pleasure—where avatars and names turned onto living, breathing people. O, the people I met! I cannot explain to you how less isolated I feel now to be able to say I "know" twenty (forty?) more people than I did a few days ago—and some of them are people whom I hope to be friends with for a long time.
I stepped out of my comfort zone and organized, via Twitter, a drop-in supper on Day One of StokerCon as a way to make sure I met a few people. It was wonderful to sit down with new writer friends and talk shop while literally breaking bread together—though the restaurant experience was a bit more than I'd bargained for. In spite of offering fondue, The Melting Pot was not as similar to Station Square's former home for fondue, The Cheese Cellar, as I thought it would be. It was a bit too fancy and extravagant, though in the end we did all get our cheese and chocolate fondues. I think everyone had a good time, and miraculously we didn't miss any of the Opening Ceremony remarks in spite of running late at the restaurant.
Because of all the Swifties in town I ended up pre-booking my Ubers to and from the convention: as a hermit, one of my absolute greatest fears is getting stranded somewhere, and word on the street was that it would be impossible to get rideshares during the days that Taylor Swift and StokerCon overlapped. Pre-booking turned out to be a reliable (if expensive) form of transportation, though it cut down on my ability to be spontaneous. I was just starting to chat at the Opening Ceremony with folks I'd really looked forward to meeting when Uber announced my driver's early, one-minute arrival (without previous warning).
Once I was home I needed to unwind and get ready for Day Two, but I soon learned that my brain had other ideas. I was exhausted, but I had a hard time sleeping during StokerCon. Whenever I shut my eyes I was transported into a busy mob of people—people talking, walking back and forth, yelling to be heard over other people, holding out their hand to greet me. I didn't have any strategies for quieting my thoughts except to lie still and hope they would dissolve eventually. And somehow, for those few days, I managed to function on less sleep than normal.
Day Two was my busiest day in terms of being a public person: I was part of a panel, and then later participated in the Mass Author Signing. I may be biased, but I think my Friday panel was one of the best of the convention. Called "Monstrous Mothers and the Women Who Write Them," we had a very competent moderator and a panel full of smart, articulate women. If given more time, there was much more we could have discussed, but everyone on the panel had equal time to speak, and the large audience seemed fully engaged. On a personal note, one of my answers earned the audience's applause—and that was a wonderful, affirming experience that made me feel a little more confident in that moment.
Confidence is a constant struggle for me, and speaking publicly has become a source of tremendous anxiety since going through menopause. For a couple of years now I've had Menopause Brain—which is a real fucking thing that no one ever talks about. If I had to sum it up I'd call it a Confidence Killer. Or to be more visceral, I'd say that where once I was fully conscious, now I'm swimming beneath the frozen surface of a lake, hoping to find a crack in the ice before I drown. I frequently experience a loss of access to my once-effortless thoughts, which makes public Q&A's extremely taxing. Now I'm not always sure if I'll find the thing I'm trying to think about, which turns extemporaneous speaking into a particular kind of nightmare.
My Menopause Brain peaked during the release of my fourth novel, Mothered. Somehow I've been able to get through my handful of interviews and author events, but it has been nerve-wracking. I'm left to believe that from the perspective of others everything appears normal. Within myself, I experienced my StokerCon panels as swimming beneath the ice, hoping I'd find a timely connection to fresh air—which, in this metaphor, are my thoughts and words.
It is a very strange thing to be a writer with a broken brain. Most of the time I am home, alone, and it doesn't matter if I need an extra minute to connect the synapses in my head. My memory, always bad in certain areas, is now atrocious, and the brain fog I was lamented over now sounds like something quaint when compared to the deadening thickness that I sometimes find crammed inside my skull. All of this to say: it felt like a victory to be part of such a lively and thoughtful panel discussion.
The Mass Author Signing didn't require a lot of brain power, just a lot of smiling and thanking people. When I attended my first Mass Author Signing in 2019 I was left feeling like a bit of an ass: I hadn't realized there was a book selling component to the event, and I was empty handed (empty tabled, more accurately). In 2019, my assigned table was at the end of a distant hallway, under a burned out light, and the handful of people who came by asked, "You don't have any books for sale?" No. I had bookmarks and bookplates. I was clueless. And clueless, too, when one of the people who asked me to sign a bookplate turned out to be someone rather famous (I Googled them after they left my table). It wasn't a great moment, and I was determined to redeem myself in 2023.
In my effort for redemption, I filled my half of the assigned table with copies of all my books. I had hardcover first editions, audiobooks, international versions of Baby Teeth—I brought a sampling from my closet full of author copies. It was probably overkill (and overcompensation), but people came by and wanted their books signed—books they brought from home, books they bought from the Dealer Room, books they bought from my smorgasbord of offerings. It was mayhem. It was stuffy and loud in the crowded room. But it was wonderful chaos. And my tablemate was lovely and his good humor kept me calm. (If I ever again do a Mass Author Signing I'll learn from my two experiences and bring half as much stuff to sell.)
By Day Three I was becoming weary, looking forward to returning to a more normal routine, while also looking forward to my final, and more relaxing, day at StokerCon. My schedule for the day was to appear on one panel, and then attend (or drop in on) as many panels as I could. Soon after finding a quiet place to sit and relax before my "Different Paths into Darkness" panel, I recognized an author heading my way: she'd come to my fondue meet-up, and was a fellow "Different Paths" panelist. (I'm intentionally not dropping any names in this wrap-up, as no one asked to be part of my story—and there's always the danger of making others feel left out if I only mention a few people by name.)
The "Different Paths" panel went by way too quickly—again, there was so much more I wanted to say—so I may actually write an essay about that at some point. Afterward I sat on the floor at the back of a packed conference room, eating a peanut butter and jelly sandwich as I listened to a few minutes of the "Publicity of Horror Fiction" panel. By the next panel, through no fault of the panelists, I felt my eyes starting to shut and I was ready for a nap. A short time later, I went home. My last Uber driver of the convention arrived playing Taylor Swift music. After one look at me he explained, "I thought I was picking up a Swiftie," and turned the music off. (Though I wasn't wearing black, I also wasn't sparkly.)
There is a certain kind of collective high that one experiences when engaged in a large group activity. But soon—after a good night's sleep—the dreamy quality of the experience starts to fade. StokerCon 2023 was more than I'd hoped it would be, and yet I'm still left alternately saying to myself "You were a moron" and "You did it!" In truth, things got off to a rocky start when I went to the special Horror Archives event the day before the con officially kicked off. I'd thought it was going to include a lecture or presentation—I came prepared to take my seat and listen—but to my horror, it was a party. I felt unprepared, and alone. A part of me was even regretting that I'd committed to the next three days of the convention. And maybe I would've chickened out if it hadn't been for two people—who must have seen my awkwardness, and made a point of conversing with me. Thank you, people whom I shall not name.
In one regard I feel better prepared to attend such large events in the future. But in other ways, I recognize just how unlikely it is that I'll ever be a traveler, attending conventions or going on tour. As I said earlier, I don't move easily through the world. I'm incredibly grateful to everyone who said hello to me, who smiled and waved, who shook my hand or gave me a hug, who spoke to me—in the crowded hallways between panels, or in other random places. I'll try not to chastise myself too much for being less socially accomplished than I might like. And please know that I loved meeting every single one of you!
Thursday, June 1, 2023
I will be attending StokerCon 2023 here in Pittsburgh and I'd love to see you there! Below you'll find my official events, but I'll also be at Terror From the Vault, Opening Ceremony, and out & about! Please stop me and say hello - and I apologize in advance for being terrible at recognizing people! See you soon!
STOKERCON 2023 @ Sheraton Pittsburgh at Station Square
16 June, 3pm: Monstrous Mothers and the Women Who Write Them
16 June, 5pm: Mass Author SigningI'll be selling 1st editions from my personal collection! Pay via cash (preferred) or PayPal (w/ a QR code). Add to your schedule here
17 June, 1pm: Different Paths Into Darkness
Friday, April 7, 2023
"Intricately plotted and perfectly paced...With prose that moves from languid to sharp, Stage mimics infection through language, drawing us in, wringing us out. Each twist and turn is a feverish dance, drawing us deeper into Grace's nightmare. And the further we go, the less sure we are, until we reach an explosive end. And what a brilliant spike of horror that ending was."
Wednesday, March 22, 2023
|Carnegie Library Lecture Hall, before the event|
|In conversation with Gracie Doyle|
|With Stephanie Flom, signing books backstage |
before the event