PANEL INSIGHTS: REFLECTIONS ON THREE MHI PANELS
In this month’s column, Del Gibson and Lee Murray discuss the recent HWA Weird & Wonderful Panel, P.M. Raymond reflects on the StokerCon 2023 Self-Care for Horror Writers Panel, while Anton Cancre offers a heartfelt response to the StokerCon 2023 Everyone Must Get Stoned Panel on addiction.
WEIRD AND WONDERFUL: A CONVERSATION
Del Gibson & Lee Murray
TRIGGER WARNING: This article discusses mental illness
In August 2023, as part of the HWA Halloween in July promotion, in support of the HWA scholarship programme, the Wellness Committee offered Weird & Wonderful, a panel discussion on their Mental Health Initiative. Moderated by Lauren Elise Daniels, with speakers Lee Murray and Brian Matthews, the discussion was intended to inform members, and the wider public, of the tenets of the initiative, the committee’s plans for further outreach, and suggestions of how members might be involved. Mostly, the committee hoped to widen the dialogue with our horror creatives wishing to destigmatise mental illness in their writing, and those who use writing to exorcise their own mental health demons.
You can watch the panel discussion on the HWA YouTube channel for FREE here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4cvl9PzRHHg
And it appears the panel has achieved its purpose to encourage dialogue, as, in the weeks after the event, New Zealand horror writer Del Gibson, wrote to committee co-chair and compatriot Lee Murray with her thoughts, opening the following insightful conversation.
Del: I am not sure how to voice my thoughts about what was discussed on your enlightening panel with Lauren and Brian. There is a lot for me to unpack.
I commend you for this initiative by focusing on dismantling the stigma surrounding mental illness and mental health in the horror genre. I cried a couple of times throughout your discussion, to see how far we have come, in the way we treat those suffering from mental disorders and disabilities. Although, as a society, we are getting there, with initiatives such as the one you are involved in with the HWA, we still have a long way to go. To see such a shift, from historical institutional psychiatric care, to where here we are now, talking about how this impacts the horror genre, is very thought provoking. To ensure our antagonist characters, the villains in some cases, are not branded with the mental illness brush, is vital to ridding the world of indifference.
Lee: Thank you, Del. I’m so pleased that the panel resonated for you and gave you so much to think about. If we can encourage critical thought and engender compassion for this much-maligned sector of society amongst our horror colleagues, then our Wellness Committee will have gone some way towards achieving its goal, so your spontaneous feedback is especially heartening.
Del: I hear you: we need to be careful, more aware of the terminologies we use in our writing, that could be deemed as insensitive to those suffering from a mental illness. I figure, from your discussion, you are talking about some terms we often throw around haphazardly – crazy, that was insane, absolutely nuts, he’s a psycho…with these terms, we do need to be careful. However, it is in my opinion that we have to make sure the sensitivity aspect doesn’t become too rigorous, impeding the writers’ authentic self. We need to put these types of terms, expressions, into context as to what is happening in the story. Some terms that a sensitive reader (good to hear Lauren is one of these readers) will be scanning our work for such terms as, crazy, which can have a double meaning, if you know what I mean? The situation our characters are experiencing at the time could cause an innocent remark to be taken the wrong way, “The party last night was insane! The number of people who turned up was crazy!” Does this mean writers are now having to walk on eggshells, so our words don’t offend or trigger someone? To ensure books aren’t deemed as insensitive. These are little nuances that can completely be taken out of context.
Lee: Yes, this was new to me too, and I’m grateful to Brian Matthews for bringing it to my attention. It’s such a simple thing to us, as writers, to change, swapping out these casual terms that denigrate and trivialise the struggles of mental illness sufferers for other more sensitive statements. To be fair, not all people with mental illness will find these offensive, but, given how easy it is to remove these from our writing in favour of other, possibly stronger, metaphors, it seems to me like a good place to start.
Del: But I wonder if it might be soul destroying to the writer more so than the reader. Horror is its own disclaimer if you know what I mean? One who is suffering with a mental illness should know already in advance what they are about to watch. There are trigger warnings, disclaimers, censorship ratings, reviews, and trailers. If someone is mentally unwell, wouldn’t that person know that a horror movie, book, will in fact be detrimental to their wellbeing? They’d surely know to stay away from psychological horror, and true crime. Literally, the news channels give horrendous details and accounts of true cases, yet people still watch it avidly, in some cases, it is their routine as they eat their dinner with the family.
Lee: You make a good point. Horror can be its own disclaimer as you say, and these days trigger warnings give us a handy heads-up to help us decide whether or not we will choose to consume certain media. However, traditionally, the horror genre hasn’t always done a great job at portraying mental illness accurately, with sufferers being reduced to villains and monsters, when the reality is much more nuanced. And these shallow portrayals, which are often based on cliché and misinformation, can be especially triggering for sufferers. Lazy stereotypes perpetuate the same old myths about mental illness in society, further stigmatising sufferers. We are more than our diagnosis, after all. That doesn’t mean horror creatives should exclude characters with mental illness from their narratives— World Health Organisation data (2022) estimates that one in eight people live with a mental disorder, so it makes sense they should be represented in our fiction—but ideally portrayals should be accurate, authentic, nuanced, rounded, well-researched or based on lived experience, and written in ways which offer deeper insight into the impact of those disorders on the character and the people they encounter.
Del: The reason why I found your discussion so enthralling is the fact I am battling with bipolar and a personality disorder, as well as anxiety, depression, suicidal ideation, PTSD, insomnia, and an eating disorder. I also had severe post-partum psychosis with the birth of my second child, 19 years ago, which kick-started my mental disorders. I have been admitted to the psychiatric hospital in Lower Hutt for treatment and therapy 6 times. I started writing as a way to help in my recovery. Since I began my journey into the world of creative writing, my mental health has improved exponentially. I have more focus, something to occupy my mind, and writing has been therapeutic for my mental maintenance and wellbeing. It also calms down the constant chatter inside my head.
Lee: I completely understand as I also suffer from anxiety and depression, an eating disorder, and suffered post-partum depression when my daughter was born—and I also use writing and creativity to explore things that cause me anxiety, to calm those demons in a non-destructive way (well, except for my poor characters!). I think there are a lot of us in the HWA who do this. The upside is that not only does this exploration result in some wonderfully dark stories and poems from our fellow writers, but when we read their work, we might see ourselves represented in some way, offering solace that we are not alone in feeling these things, because sometimes I think isolation is as much a problem as stigmatisation.
Del: My dilemma is this. Since I have lived experience with severe mental illnesses, I think I can add here my thoughts about characterisation and how we present those who have mental challenges, disorders, or disabilities in the horror genre. I’ve spent months on the psych ward with people who have extreme psychiatric disorders such as, paranoid schizophrenia, delusional psychosis, and when they are exceptionally unwell, they can become very dangerous individuals, for staff and for other patients on the ward. I’ve seen a patient throw a chair through a window. I’ve seen a man take on ten nurses before they finally sedated him. I’ve seen a young woman jump off a four-storey carparking building adjacent to the mental health ward. I gained the National Certificate in Mental Health and Support Services in 2008. I have worked in the mental health services for a few years, as a support worker and advocate. Although I no longer work in the field, I am still an advocate for those that come to me for advice, support, networking to source out appropriate mental health services, taking people to the hospital to be assessed during crisis to access the Crisis Assessment and Treatment Team (CATT), and helping to write referrals. I’ve been the coordinator of a community house, where I was fully engaged in the community, around mental awareness and wellness. In the physical disability services I worked at, after I left the mental health sector, I worked with people who not only had mental disabilities, but physical disabilities as well, dual or poly diagnosis. Some had neurological brain damage from car crashes or motor bike accidents, or childhood mishaps, coming off a swing, falling out of a tree.
There are many real-life examples of brain damaged individuals, conducting atrocious acts. One such extreme example is Jeffrey Dahmer, who had a double hernia operation before he was four years old, the most vital time in the developmental stages during the formative years that our brains are developing. This changed his disposition dramatically. It’s debatable, as to whether this may or may not have caused serious damage to his frontal cortex, which can impact the decision making, cognitive load, conscious thought, and problem solving. After this injury, he gained a fascination with dead animals, dissecting them with his father. There are some cases where childhood immunisation has caused brain damage, changing their psyche completely. A negative reaction to inoculations is rare but does happen. These particularly nasty traumas can, over years, rewire the brain completely. It can cause all sorts of mental illness, over a long period of time, due to childhood physical or sexual abuse, neglect, and mistreatment. Psychopathy is defined as persuasive emotional and interpersonal deficits, impulsiveness, and antisocial behaviour. Mental illness refers to a wide range of mental health disorders that affect your mood, thinking and behaviour; depression, anxiety disorders, schizophrenia, psychosis, insomnia, eating disorders and addictive behaviours.
We also need to consider neurological defects. The way in which the brain functions as a whole, and the different stages of brain development. How do we really differentiate between sociopathic disorders and mental illness? Sociopathy and psychopathy are not considered to be mental illnesses by the American Psychiatric Association or most mental health professionals. They are not official diagnoses in the DSM-5 (the mental health diagnosis manual), so we have to take that into account. I learnt from your podcast that we need to be careful how we are going to define what is deemed insensitive to the cause of maintaining the initiative you are pushing. What makes a monster…was he born this way due to chemical imbalances or underlying issues? Or childhood trauma, causing complex PTSD? Something occurring in-utero? Foetal alcohol syndrome? Can we use a character with these issues to become the hero, the top dog, and not the off his head villain? Would it work? What would it look like in a practical and realistic sense? The hero in the wheelchair can’t walk up the stairs to save his neighbour from a raging inferno. It’s too unrealistic, or is it? The elderly lady with sixty cats, who suffers from a hoarding disorder, would it be possible for her to go to the cemetery to fight a legion of demons, or a tribe of Skinwalkers? It could happen!
Do you see what I mean, how will this be done without taking away authenticity? Without looking like another token gesture, to ensure there is a PC number of characters portrayed in the movie or book, the token physically disabled character, as well as a mentally ill character, the black character, the overweight character, the transgender character. Would it get too much for the horror industry to make such drastic changes? Would it in effect muddy the waters even further and turn it into just another generic politically correct horror movie?
Lee: Thank you for this wonderful analysis, Del. I’m only sorry you didn’t get a chance to listen in to StokerCon 2023’s virtual Sense & Sensibility Panel, moderated by Wellness co-chair Dave Jeffery, with panellists Ramsey Campbell, Senah Saferight Lloyd, Lauren Elise Daniels, and Dan Rabarts, because that discussion may have addressed some of your concerns around sensitivity and ‘positive’ depictions of mental illness in horror. Positive / sensitive does not mean Pollyanna or HBO romance portrayals where everyone is ‘good’ and sugary. You can still have monsters and the monstrous in your narratives, but what we hope to do is show that the evil is not ONLY due to some mental disorder. I’m sure you’ll agree that not every woman with postpartum depression will become a monster. Rather, we need nuanced, rounded characters, rather than superficial, narrow, unresearched depictions so readers understand the impetus for those monstrous acts. Here, your point about authenticity becomes even more important—accurate portrayals based on lived and professional experience might offer deeper insight into a character’s motivations, for example. One helpful comment that Senah Saferight Lloyd made in the Sense & Sensitivity panel was that people with mental illness are far more likely to suffer harm (from themselves or by others) than to cause harm to other people—something to keep in mind. To read the Sense & Sensitivity Panel Report, the link is here: https://tinyurl.com/yk22hx2t
Del: Does an authentic approach mean a dilution in horror? Already we are seeing a shift in the classification of horror, by platforms like Netflix who couldn’t categorise a fly properly. I’ve seen movies classed as horror, only to discover by the end of it, there was only one scene where someone was shot! And they call that horror? That is not horror! Horror is not what horror used to be. I miss the old school horrors that really terrorised our nightmares. From movies like, Brain Dead and the likes of Evil Dead, to now, I think the horror genre, although it will never truly die, in a sense has morphed into psychological thrillers and true crime drama—with scenes of horror.
Lee: And here I’m afraid I have to disagree with you. Horror isn’t all blood and viscera, although it can be. Instead, I consider horror as being on a spectrum, ranging from moody disquiet right through to that ‘gross-out’ factor you might get if you ate a mouthful of maggots. And horror is affective, in that it elicits fear in the consumer, but since our fears are personal, based on a variety of parameters, including our personal experiences, culture, geography, time of our lives, and more, what frightens one person may not frighten another. Platforms like Netflix may have a lower threshold for splatter than you do, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t serving up someone’s brand of horror. That said, if they are bringing more mainstream viewers over to the dark side, I’m all for it! Bring it on! However, if we’re talking about mental illness specifically, then perhaps there is even more scope for portrayals at the quieter end of the spectrum, with deeper insights into the creeping psychosis of the character.
Del: As a mental health consumer and advocate myself, I think I am on the fence with this all. You see, although I have a mental illness, personally, I don’t have an issue with the portrayal of characters losing the plot and going on a rampage through town. Michael Myers who had a conversion disorder. Jason who had a dissociative identity disorder. I am trying to see how this will work for me. To be honest, as a writer I am concerned my writing will not meet such places as Notable Works, due to my mental illness, which crosses over into my words. Because I write from a place of pain, I write in that place in the most authentic way possible. I have been called crazy, insane, mental—it’s up to me whether I take that on board or not. I write, watch, and read horror because it is my happy place. Seeing a character with a disability come out on top is not going to make me feel either happy or not. The context of the story is what counts for me. What will make me feel better, is to watch a horror at the calibre the movie Brain Dead gave me. If we take away these characters, what does it do for my writing? What does that look like? I come from a place of knowing what it feels like to take that handful of pills, waking up and going through guilt that it didn’t work. How can I not portray the visceral effect and feelings, when I have been there and felt that? Well, it could mean my character goes through his pain in a more authentic way, due to my lived experience. How do I remain true to myself?
So with all this in mind, I am one for as much horror as possible. If the villain is truly psychotic, has narcissistic tendencies, an outcast, the underdog. Or if my character presents with the three stages that make up a pathological disposition: arson, bed wetting into teenage years, and cruelty to animals or small children. Do we now have to become clinical psychiatrists to be able to ensure we are not revictimizing those with psychiatric diagnosis? How do we make these changes? By eliminating double meaning words, like crazy, bonkers, insane, etc., without being judged for our terminology? In the 30+ years since the making of the goriest and funniest movie ever made, Brain Dead, by Sir Peter Jackson, I will use that movie as an example due to its extremely graphic nature, and that it would not be allowed to be made today, due to its large amount of objectionable content. Yes, it is so wrong on so many levels and would not pass the censorship boards if it were made in today’s social climate, that is for sure. But that is what made this movie one of the best. It pushes all of the boundaries. It makes the viewer think, it’s a squirm fest that makes us cover our eyes. It is over the top, and it worked. I have never seen anything remotely close, okay, perhaps, Evil Dead, the original. But those are the elements a horror fan is looking for. Is horror becoming too PC? Are we taking away the true beauty of horror by focusing on the words and actions of characterisation, are we changing plots to adhere to social norms? Is not horror abnormal? Are we having to rewrite the entire script to ensure we have it politically correct from all angles? When does a writer become a psychiatrist…in the characterisation, in the plot, the dialogue, the story arc…?
Lee: The HWA and the Wellness Committee don’t intend to dampen or dilute horror in any way at all. Definitely not! We all love a bloody good horror tale. Good horror can include accurate portrayals of mental illness, it can be both meaningful and entertaining, without being saccharine. Nor should a writer need a degree in counselling to write a character with a mental disorder. There are any number of tools we can draw on to create accurate, authentic portrayals, including (but not limited to) metaphor, imagery, anecdote, symbolism, motifs, good use of close internal thought, backstory, lived experience, research, and reaching out for input by sensitivity readers. If we are well-informed, we shouldn’t need to feel constrained. I think you, as a creative and a clinician, are perfectly placed to make a difference, to lead the way, and help us all do better.
Del: I am not triggered by the movies I mentioned. The only thing that triggers me is when a pet or animal dies. We are all different and triggers are purely that, an individual dilemma, or consequence of lived experiences. Movies are supposed to push boundaries, make you think and leave you with a sense of awe. I think we can try as hard as we can to make the horror genre as PC as possible, but at the end of the day, that is the beauty of horror. It can be presented in so many different ways with artistic deliverance. So, in essence I think your initiative may work but you need to ask more mental health consumers their opinion.
Lee: Yes! That is exactly what I mean—horror can indeed be presented in so many ways and it is the artistic decisions we make which can make all the difference. I like your suggestion about outreach and consultation with other mental health consumers, too. It’s the reason the Wellness Committee is endeavouring to increase our outreach, including with articles like this one.
Del: I thank you and HWA for putting such a huge topic out in the open. I really had to ask myself some seriously hard questions. Thank you for making me think about this. Good luck! The work you are doing is amazing.
Del Gibson lives in Wellington, New Zealand. Gibson has had 26 short stories published, as well as several articles and poems. Her horror short stories have been published in anthologies, Flash of the Dead, Flash of the Fangs, Flash of Nightmare, and Wicked Flashes of Fantasy (edited by Parth Sarathi Chakraborty) from Wicked Shadow Press. She is actively engaged in the writing community by helping other horror authors to revise, edit or read their stories. She is a Beta and ARC reader, and part of launch teams to promote other authors’ writing projects. Gibson runs a popular Facebook group called Horror Central, and collaborates with YouTube Podcasts where her short stories are read out by narrators. Gibson is an author of horror, but also reviews horror movies, books and music on YouTube Live streams, and on her social media platforms. In her spare time, when she isn’t writing, Gibson is a reading remedial teacher at her local primary school.
Lee Murray is a multi-award-winning author-editor, essayist, poet, and screenwriter from Aotearoa-New Zealand. A USA Today Bestselling author, Shirley Jackson- and five-time Bram Stoker Awards® winner, she is an NZSA Honorary Literary Fellow, a Grimshaw Sargeson Fellow, and 2023 NZSA Laura Solomon Cuba Press Prize winner. leemurray.info
STOKERCON® SELF-CARE PANEL
By P.M. Raymond
Trigger Warning: This report discusses mental health
P.M. Raymond hails from New Orleans but currently lives on the East Coast with 27 cookbooks and an imaginary dog named Walter. You can find her enjoying a café au lait and indulging in the storytelling mastery of Shirley Jackson, M.R. James, Paula D. Ashe, Tananarive Due, Nuzo Onoh, and manga maestro, Junji Ito. Her work has appeared in Flash Fiction Magazine, Kings River Life Magazine, Dark Fire Fiction, Pyre Magazine, The Furious Gazelle, Dark Yonder, and Illicit Motions anthology from Unnerving Books. She is named to 160 Black Women in Horror. Visit her at www.pmraymond.com.
A discussion surrounding mental health wellness as it applies to the writing community was explored with openness and candor at this year’s StokerCon®. The panel, Self-Care for Horror Writers, dived into the many facets of coping and confronting the complex tapestry that we all face on varying levels when exploring difficult feelings through our writing.
The panel was moderated by Jessi Ann York and the amazing discussion included Lauren Elise (L.E.) Daniels, Emily Ruth Verona, Mo Moshaty, and Geneve Flynn. Each speaker opened themselves fully to the topic and imparted a great deal of helpful and hopeful insights that writers and non-writers could incorporate into their wellness outlook.
The conversation vacillated between the main topics of coping and self-care skills, ways to decompress from the genre, the catharsis (or not) of dealing in the dark elements of horror, and handling rejection. All of the topics were of interest to me, so my active listening was engaged throughout the hour-long panel. The three key points I took away were:
Know your bandwidth.
Although horror is our passion, I also identified with the idea of balancing the need to write with the need to protect ourselves emotionally when delving into such visceral content. Multiple options for achieving balance were offered that included ones I was familiar with, and others were new ideas that piqued my interest. I especially gravitated towards understanding your body and mind in the moment and to check in with your feelings and emotions. One speaker advised to ask yourself if your feelings were a punctuation, what would it be. Does it end with an exclamation point or an ellipse? Trust your body to guide you in those moments and step back or pivot to something more soothing as an act of self-care.
Distance from a painful topic is a gift you can and should give yourself. Ideas for decompressing that I have found extremely effective are watching a rom-coms or other lighter entertainment, listening to music or audiobooks for distraction (may I offer you anything from Beverly Jenkins, the queen of historical romance?), or whatever brings you to a happy place.
Rejection can hurt but you can get through it.
I was looking forward to ideas and helpful hints on managing through rejection. Putting your work out into the world will inevitably involve rejection. And it never feels good, at least I haven’t found a way to make it more palatable!
The panel suggested that just as you celebrate with exuberance about your success with your champions, consider relying on them when you have a rejection. I am part of a Slack channel with three other writers created expressly for the goal of celebrating triumphs and consoling one another when we have a rejection (or need a kick in the pants to keep writing). Having that sense of community helps soften the blow when I see that ‘no thank you’ in my inbox.
The most common advice anyone gets for rejection, and what I hear most often, was also shared in this discussion. First, get out there and revise the story and submit it again. Rinse and repeat. The next is that writing is a game of attrition. Keep at it and eventually you will get a ‘yes’. Seems easy enough but it can be so hard to keep the faith but, in the end, you have to put yourself out there in order to have your work noticed.
Something that I came across recently on X (formerly Twitter) was an agent talking about the reasons she may pass on a potential client. And surprisingly, it can really boil down to if she can enthusiastically represent them, NOT that the quality of their work wasn’t good. In fact, she says she has passed on excellent manuscripts, but it wasn’t the right one for her to take on.
I definitely needed to see that post on that exact day! I too struggle with feelings of rejection being a statement on my abilities. It is NOT. Same goes for you. Know that when you get a rejection, it may have nothing to do with how good your writing is.
Writing when a wound is half healed.
The speakers agreed that when it comes to wounds that are flared by your writing, it is totally okay to spill it all out even if it’s raw. Freestyle write everything bottled up inside then walk away for bit. Come back when you have checked in with your emotions and tackle revisions.
Another technique that I found easy but had not considered was to record the story that is stirring up your emotions. Give an actual voice to it to delve more deeply into the pain and discomfort. Listening to it later can make it easier to unpack and process. It is a great piece of advice that I think I will use in the future. I would take it a step further and if you have ‘read aloud’ software on your computer, use that to give the story voice as well as to actively hear the words is another way to process.
If there is content in your story that is autobiographical, the panel suggested that if there is an ending you don’t want to think about, process it as a journey and write what you can live with. You are under no obligation to write something that is too much for you to dwell on in that moment.
I took so much away from this panel, and it was certainly one of the lectures that I took the most notes on! The bottom line of the discussion was to listen to your mind and your body when approaching your writing. Take a step back when you need to. I think that is very sound advice.
The amazing speakers that tackled this timely subject:
Jessi Ann York’s stories have been featured at several professional rate horror markets, including PseudoPod, Vastarien, Cemetery Gates Media, Love Letters to Poe, and more. Her first two stories, “Phases of the Shadow” and “Women of the Mere,” were mentioned as standouts in the Summation section of The Best Horror of the Year Vol. 13. She serves as an Associate Editor of PseudoPod, and her creative work is represented by Elizabeth Copps, the founding agent of Copps Literary Services. You can find her stories at: jessiannyork.com.
Lauren Elise Daniels is an awarded poet, senior editor, bestselling author, mentor, and trainer of professionals, academics, writers, and editors. A Queensland Johnno Award nominee [2021, 2022] and Aurealis Award winning co-editor  and Aurealis Award finalist  and Australian Shadows Award finalist , Lauren’s work has also listed on the Preliminary Ballot of the 2022 Bram Stoker Awards® and Queensland Writers Centre’s Adaptable program.
Emily Ruth Verona received her Bachelor of Arts in Creative Writing and Cinema Studies from the State University of New York at Purchase. In 2014 she won the Pinch Literary Award in Fiction. She is a Bram Stoker Award nominee, a Jane Austen Short Story Award Finalist, and a Luke Bitmead Bursary Finalist. Previous publication credits include fiction and poetry featured in several anthologies as well as magazines such as The Pinch, Lamplight Magazine, Mystery Tribune, Black Telephone Magazine, The Ghastling, and Nightmare Magazine. Her essays/articles have appeared online for Tor, Bookbub, Litro, BUST, and Bloody Women. In 2023, she founded the horror book blog Frightful. Her novel, Midnight on Beacon Street, will be published by Harper Perennial in 2024. She lives in New Jersey with a very small dog.
Mo Moshaty is a horror writer, lecturer, and producer. Flexing her horror acumen, coupled with her additional vocation as a Cognitive Behavioral Therapist, Mo has lectured with Prairie View A&M in Texas as a keynote speaker for Nightmares of Monkeypaw: A Jordan Peele Symposium, with Horror Studies BAFSS Sig for No Return: A Yellowjackets Symposium, with Centre for the History of the Gothic at the University of Sheffield and the University of California for The Whole Damn Swarm: Celebrating 30 Years of Candyman and Final Girls Berlin Film Festival’s Brain Binge on Women’s Trauma Within Horror Cinema.
Geneve Flynn is a two-time Bram Stoker Award winner and a winner of the Shirley Jackson Award. She is a freelance editor from Australia who specialises in speculative fiction. Her horror short stories have been published in various markets, including Flame Tree Publishing, PseudoPod, and Crystal Lake Publishing. Her works have been nominated and shortlisted for the Locus, British Fantasy, Aurealis, Australian Shadows, Rhysling, and Elgin awards, and for the Pushcart Prize. She loves tales that unsettle, all things writerly, and B-grade action movies; if that sounds like you, check out her website at www.geneveflynn.com.au.
EVERYONE MUST BE STONED – PANEL REPORT
by Anton Cancre
Anton Cancre’s mother wasn’t really pregnant with them when she went to see The Exorcist, but they tell people that anyways because it sounds cool. Their poetry collections, Meaningless Cycles in a Vicious Glass Prison and This Story Doesn’t End the Way We Want All The Time as well as their nonfiction book about Silent Hill, Nightmares of Blood and Flesh, are available from Dragon’s Roost Press. They’re also a luddite who still has a blogspot website (antoncancre.blogspot.com). Any/All.
At the 2023 Stokercon, I had the tremendous… well, pleasure doesn’t seem like quite the right word in this circumstance… Eye-opening opportunity? That seems better. I had the eye-opening opportunity to witness the Everyone Must Get Stoned panel, centered on dealing with issues of addiction in horror fiction. Panelists Brandon Ketchum, Jessica McHugh, Mark Matthews, Clay McLeod Chapman, and Christa Carmen used the opportunity to talk about both great and poorly done portrayals of addiction and the value of dealing with this particular horror in fiction. I’m not going to sugarcoat it: things got incredibly, often painfully real during this discussion. Personal fights with addiction were addressed bluntly and the loss of loved ones who fought addiction was discussed in excruciating honesty. I’m not too proud to admit that I cried. Quite a bit.
All the same, this honesty led to me learning much more than I expected over the whole weekend, let alone an hour. There is only so much you can gather from the cold, detached science of the subject. That information is important, but without the emotional context that can be provided narratively, whether in the fiction these authors have created dealing with the subject or in the true stories of their own lives they shared here, it falls flat and is easily ignored. Nothing here was easily ignored.
Brandon Ketchum is a speculative fiction writer from Pittsburgh, PA who enjoys putting a weird spin or strange vibe into every story, dark or light. He runs the Pittsburgh Writers Meetup Group, coordinated the 2019 PARSEC Short Story Contest, and won honorable mention with the Writers of the Future Contest.
Jessica McHugh is a novelist, a 2x Bram Stoker Award-nominated poet, & an internationally produced playwright running amok in the fields of horror, sci-fi, young adult, and wherever else her peculiar mind leads. She’s had twenty-seven books published in fourteen years, including her bizarro romp, The Green Kangaroos, her YA series, The Darla Decker Diaries, and her Elgin Award nominated blackout poetry collection, A Complex Accident of Life. For more info about publications and blackout poetry commissions, please visit McHughniverse.com.
Mark Matthews is a graduate of the University of Michigan and a licensed professional counselor who has worked in behavioral health for over 20 years. He is the author of On the Lips of Children, All Smoke Rises, and Milk-Blood, as well as the editor of Lullabies for Suffering and Garden of Fiends. In June of 2021, he was nominated for a Shirley Jackson Award. His newest work, The Hobgoblin of Little Minds, was published in January 2021. Reach him at WickedRunPress@gmail.com
Clay McLeod Chapman is the author of novels Ghost Eaters, Whisper Down the Lane, The Remaking, and miss corpus, story collections nothing untoward, commencement and rest area, as well as The Tribe middle grade series: Homeroom Headhunters, Camp Cannibal and Academic Assassins. His new novel, What Kind of Mother, arrives on September 12, 2023.
Christa Carmen lives in Rhode Island and is the Bram Stoker Award-nominated author of the short story collection Something Borrowed, Something Blood-Soaked. She has a BA from the University of Pennsylvania, an MA from Boston College, and an MFA from the University of Southern Maine.