Why I Recommend Volunteering for the HWA
James Chambers, HWA Board of Trustees
The HWA is a pretty special group. We’re international. We’re dedicated to promoting the horror genre and fostering the talent and careers of horror writers everywhere. And we’re one of the most dedicated and service-oriented communities I’ve ever met. I’ll point briefly to the great work the HWA does in providing a mentorship program, offering a variety of scholarships, fostering networking opportunities for writers, and hosting the annual StokerCon™—with its Ann Radcliffe, Horror University, Librarian’s Day, and Final Frame Film Competition all creating opportunities for authors to better their work, better their understanding of the genre, advance their careers, and connect with this wonderful, talented group of people obsessed with the dark side of things.
What I want to discuss in particular are a couple of initiatives and activities I participate in directly and how they have contributed not only to positive things in the horror community and my growth as an author but which have led me to connect and collaborate with an amazing variety of people, many of whom have become my good friends. This column is called “From the Trenches” for a reason. It’s where we discuss the nuts and bolts of what’s going on behind the scenes at the HWA, a progress report of sorts. So consider this a peek behind the curtain with a spin on the social and networking benefits of taking on a little grunt work.
Last week, September 10, I attended a Suicide Prevention event organized by HWA member Steven Van Patten. Steven is a talented author very active in our New York chapter, often helping to organize readings and events, and acting as our one-man tech team, managing the PA system and providing us with SFX and mood music. When he took on this event, he asked me if the HWA might be interested in co-sponsoring it because he had seen our new blog event for Mental Health Awareness month back in May. With the help of Brian Matthews and Lee Murray and contributions from Edward P. Cardillo, Ace Antonio Hall, Dave Jeffrey, and Lee herself, we hoped to simply to provide a starting point for discussions of mental health, from how to accurately depict mental illness in fiction to offering people resources for finding help. Steven took the next step and asked the HWA if it was interested in getting involved in this similar event. The HWA enthusiastically agreed to co-sponsor it and continue our commitment to raising awareness of this subject.
At the same time, I’m in the process of writing the first draft of the StokerCon Manual. This handbook will become the roadmap for future StokerCons, handed off from con chair to con chair so that no one is starting from scratch when it comes to planning the HWA’s signature event. To do this, I’ve had to tap into the expertise and experience of Meghan Arcuri-Moran, Nicholas Diak and Michelle Brittany, Brad Hodson, Jonathan Lees, Rena Mason, Becky Spratford, and Brian Matthews. And that’s only so far! The Manual will be going to our past con chairs and coordinators and the Board of Trustees for further review and comment. Once approved, it will become a living document, to be updated and expanded after each StokerCon, to evolve with the convention.
The common thread here is that all of these people are volunteering their time to support not only the HWA but all of its members, our StokerCon attendees, and writers in general. For Steven, asking for our involvement is a way to give the HWA an opportunity to continue supporting a relatively recent part of our mission. One thing leads to another. Ideas are exchanged. The impetus for our Mental Health Awareness initiative in May came from a panel Lee Murray conceived of for StokerCon 2018, which sparked me to take action—and those ripples are still making themselves felt. My interest in co-chairing StokerCon and volunteering at cons in general came from recognizing, after years of attending conventions, how much effort goes into them behind the scenes and how much they rely on people willing to lend a helping hand. Those volunteers inspired me. As a result, I became part of a fantastic team of people who have guided the world’s signature event for horror writing, StokerCon.
And here’s the thing. These teams don’t only talk HWA business and StokerCon. We talk writing. We talk about life in general. We offer each other advice and support. It’s inevitable that we help each other out on many fronts. It makes us a tight-knit group, but one which is very open to new members. It relieves a lot of the stress of isolation writers so often face, whether that’s from working alone or simply being cut off in day-to-day life from people who share our interests.
Ultimately, the more people who step up to lend a hand, the more we can accomplish, and the more we all find ourselves connected and helping others with their writing and careers as much they help us. So if you’ve never volunteered or have been on the fence, consider this an invitation to step into the trenches and see what it’s all about. There’s quite a lot of cool stuff going on there.