Pros and Horror Cons
When I mention that I am going to a horror convention, I am invariably asked the same question: Are you going to wear a costume?
Once upon a time, back in more literate days, fantasy conventions mostly consisted of professionals in the field–writers, editors, artists, publishers, etc.–getting together to talk shop. Fans also came to meet and hang out with with the authors whose works they loved.
It’s not so much like that anymore. Oh, most cons have readers, and you’ll see self-published writers along with pros trying to sell their wares. However, the focus has largely shifted away from the written word.
I was walking through the Dealer’s Room at a con a decade or so ago, hanging out with a well-known writer of fantasy, horror, and adventure fiction. He was lamenting the state of things and made the humorous remark, “Twenty years ago a place like this would have been wall-to-wall books. Now every year there are more and more Beanie babies and shit.”
It’s true. There are a lot of craftspersons bringing trinkets and dolls and things, but very few booksellers. I’m not talking about authors and publishers, but those who sell miscellaneous genre books. I particularly miss antiquarian booksellers. There just doesn’t seem to be a lot of interest in that sort of thing these days.
Now we have cosplayers. I guess it makes sense in this age of YouTube and reality TV. Why go and discuss your favorite characters when you can be them?
I’m not complaining. At least not too much. God bless the delightful, mad, energetic individuals who come to conventions to don their elaborate costumes. Like it or not, they are the lifeblood of conventions. The celebrity autograph tables, too, of course.
Back when I was raising children, family vacations to conventions were wonderful experiences. The best convention for us as a family was The Horrorfind Weekend. These shows offered the best of all worlds: Writers and books for sale, celebs, costume contest, and other horror-related events. My kids loved the pageantry and they loved being involved in the costuming.
Horrorfind was great, but it died out. That was sad, but something better was born out of its ashes. Now we have the Scares That Care convention.
So far there have been two STC shows, and both have been magnificent. They have been incredibly well-organized, well staffed, and a general feeling of goodwill permeated the entire event.
The best thing about the Scares That Care con is the reason for its existence. It’s a charity event in which every penny of profit goes toward children in need and their families. All workers are volunteers. No one draws a salary or paycheck.
Of interest to Cemetery Dance readers is the large presence of horror fiction at Scares That Care. Brian Keene works for the organization, and he has lined up a stellar group of writers for the first two years of STC. This year’s guests included Brian himself, Thomas F. Monteleone, F. Paul Wilson, Edward Lee, Jeff Strand, Ronald Malfi, Tim Waggoner, Carlton Mellick III, Bob Ford, Kelly Owen, Adam Cesare, Kristopher Rufty, and many others.
In addition to the utterly cool opportunity to meet, buy books, and hang out with these fine talented individuals, there are readings and panels. Brian Keene and his collaborators premiered the short movie, Fast Zombies Suck, at Scares That Care 2015.
Then there are the celebrities. The Scaryoke. A film festival. A haunted house. Excruciatingly cool horror items being auctioned off. A costume contest. And a whole lot more.
For me, though, the best thing about a horror convention is the fans. I’ve mostly been alone in my life as a horror maniac, and spending a long weekend with like-minded freaks is magnificent. I love meeting other readers and talking about favorite books and writers. I love the movie geeks. It’s almost impossible to find people these knowledgeable and passionate in the real world.
Scares That Care is extremely family friendly, and it is a perfect place to introduce the young ones to the twisted world of horror fandom. I raised my kids up on a staple diet of horror and imagination, and they only benefited from it.
There’s nothing like a weekend escape from the mundane and boring everyday world than a horror convention., where you will encounter dozens of extraordinary individuals having the times of their lives.
And if my love of old books isn’t represented at cons so much these days, well, I guess I will just have to learn to live with it.
I urge you to consider coming to Scares That Care in 2016. It’s in Williamsburg, Virginia, which is in the immediate vicinity of Jamestown and Yorktown. Much of the formative history of America happened in these areas, and there is much to see and experience there. The hotel is also located very close to the Busch Gardens theme park, and Water Country USA for those interested in taking an extended vacation.
If this all sounds like a commercial for Scares That Care, well, that’s because it is. However, it is an unpaid advertisement that comes directly from my heart.
Just as I was about to submit this column, the numbers had been announced and Scares That Care made $13,000 profit to share with families in need. This is an increase of around $8,500 over last year. Everyone is obviously thrilled by this, but we all hope to see even more money next year.
Mark Sieber learned to love horror with Universal, Hammer, and AIP movies, a Scholastic edition of Poe’s Eight Tales of Terror, Sir Graves Ghastly Presents, The Twilight Zone, Shirley Jackson’s The Daemon Lover, The Night Stalker, and a hundred other dark influences. He came into his own in the great horror boom of the 1980’s, reading Charles L. Grant, F. Paul Wilson, Ray Russell, Skipp and Spector, David J. Schow, Stephen King, and countless others. Meanwhile he spent as many hours as possible at drive-in theaters, watching slasher sequels, horror comedies, monster movies, and every other imaginable type of exploitation movie. When the VHS revolution hit, he discovered the joys of Italian and other international horror gems. Trends come and go, but he still enjoys having the living crap scared out of him. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, and at www.horrordrive-in.com.