The Year for Horror

The Year for Horror

By Jan S. Gephardt

Apparently this was the year for horror. At least, when it came to author readings at SoonerCon 31, it certainly seemed to be. I’m not sure why quite such a consistent stream of horror prevailed at the readings I attended. Perhaps living in the twilight of the Pandemic could be some of it. Maybe life at constant risk of mass-shooters the banners of books has done something to our collective psyche?

Whatever the reason, SoonerCon 31 became the year for horror readings. Anyone who knows me is aware (1) that I love to go to author readings at sf cons and (2) Horror is not my favorite genre. I duck out of horror movies (even classics). No, trust me: not everyone needs a good jump-scare. Honest: we really don’t. And if a book is described as “horror” I nearly always pass it by in favor of the many other not-horror options.

Against a black stone background shot through with red, a square SoonerCon 31 social media promo image is partially covered by viscous, wet, red drips. In the “cracked” font, the words overlaid across the image say, “The Year for Horror?”
Design by Jan S. Gephardt. See image credits below.

First Reading? No Excuses

Unfortunately for me, the only author reading I could fit into my Friday schedule was clearly labeled as “Horror Writers.” Oh, my. But I went anyway, so that one’s on me. And, fortunately for me, I heard some interesting excerpts.

Probably the ones I enjoyed most are works that I hope are available in the future. They currently live in the “pending future acceptance” space. Rook Riley is a teacher and writer (and teacher of writing). Her short piece, Room 36 chillingly evoked an active shooter incident in a school. It deserves publication, so I hope an editor snaps it up soon and publishes it someplace prominent.

Riley also read an intriguing Chapter One from her novel Daughters of the Grove. Its protagonist is a former homicide detective turned sheriff, who also is a grandmother (gosh, why would I find that interesting?). It’s not yet published, but I hope when it is I can find it and read it. I’d like to see where she takes the story from there. I’ve decided to follow her on Facebook, too, hoping to hear how the submissions go.

L-R, a little black rook (bird) figurine with big eyes wearing a gold crown, placed next to a plate of Mexican food; Rook Riley’s Facebook profile picture, which looks like a cartoon TV with a cartoon skull inside; a digital painting of a brown dog walking through a dark woods; and the cover of the book “Mother” by Steven E. Wedel. Other than the title and author, the cover shows a view from inside a cave with an opening up high and a dirt floor below.
L-R: Rook Riley’s Rook visits Juan in a Million, plus her Facebook profile pic; Dennis Spielman’s dog emerges from the Sutton Wilderness, and the cover of Mother, by Steven E. Wedel. See credits below.

Fresh Horrors Await

I don’t want to minimize the other two writers on the Friday panel. Dennis Spielman introduced me to the “goat man” tradition of scary stories, and also to the Sutton Wilderness Park, which is a real place near Norman, OK. Unlike with Rook, you can actually read his selection, titled I’ll Never Walk Sutton Wilderness in the Dark Again. Dennis is also a dog lover, so you know he’s good people. I hope you enjoy his story.

The third writer on the Friday panel is the “old pro” of the group with more than 40 novels to his name. Steven E. Wedel writes in a wide range of genres from romance to horror, including werewolves, westerns, literary novels, children’s books, erotica, and more. He read a very creepy excerpt from his horror novel Mother. In case “very creepy” is your groove, I’ve embedded a link.

In the left-hand photo (by Gerald Burton), Linda Donohue, at right, and I, at left in my tiara, listen to Brian A. Hopkins read part of a story from “Road’s End.” I took the other photo, in which Craig Wolf reads from a chapbook.
L-R, Jan S. Gephardt, Brian A. Hopkins, Linda Donohue, and Craig Wolf. Photos by Gerald Burton and Jan S. Gephardt.

My Reading on Saturday

The next reading I attended was my own. It wasn’t billed as a group of horror readings, but my fellow authors somehow tapped into the zeitgeist that this was the year for horror. I shared the time slot with three other writers: Linda Donohue, Brian A. Hopkins, and Craig Wolf. Well-known Oklahoma fan Gerald “Captain Coconut” Burton and several others joined us. I mention Gerald in particular, because he took pictures and shared them with me (Thanks, Gerald! 😊).

Moderator Linda Donahue read an excerpt from a story about someone working for Satan (horror, indeed!). I didn’t catch the title of this clever piece, however. When I asked her via IM for a reminder, she focused instead on a couple of her latest releases. One, The Wrath of Satan, is the latest in the “Four Redheads” series, written with Rhonda Eudaly, Julia S. Mandala, and Dusty Rainbolt. The other is Traitor’s Game, the most recent in the “Corimar” series she writes with Julia S. Mandala. Both series are published by Yard Dog Press.

Brian A. Hopkins, a Bram Stoker Award recipient with a long list of publications, gave an animated reading of a dread-infused paranormal Western story from his collection Road’s End. I believe it was one of his “One-Eyed Jack” stories, of which there are at least three in Road’s End, part of a series of Brian’s short fiction collections, along with Salt Water Tears and These I Know by Heart. I have a feeling every year is the year for horror in Brian’s stories.

The banner shows a 3D mockup of the story’s cover on an e-reader, plus the headline, “What else could possibly go wrong?” Under that, it says, “Left to sift through a jumble of reeking, noisome trash for possible evidence, Officer Pamela Gómez and rookie Detective Balchu Nowicki strive to stay professional. They do their work well, despite the stench and the complexity of the site. But then their day gets worse . . . “ There’s also the credit line: “Cover artwork ©2022 by Chaz Kemp.”
This is the banner for the Newsletter story from which I read an excerpt. Artwork ©2022 by Chaz Kemp. Story © 2022 Jan S. Gephardt.

The Year for Horror Continues

Craig Wolf brought a chapbook to our reading and read an excerpt that definitely fit into the horror genre. He also had quite the publishing horror story to tell as well. He’d just turned in the book from which this excerpt had been drawn, sequel to his Queen of All the Nightbirds, when his publisher went out of business. There’d been no warning from them, of course. Just poof, as far as Craig was concerned.

But apparently the trouble with ChiZine Publications had been quietly brewing in the background for a while. I found an article in File 770 about how the scandal boiled over on social media. I’ve experienced what it’s like to have a publisher “die” on me (my very first almost-sale came way back in the mid-1980s. My agent had forwarded an offer from Zebra Publishing, but before we could answer, they’d filed for bankruptcy and closed up shop). Craig was less lucky than I was: he was already under contract. That was definitely the year for horror, for him!

Did I contribute to “the year for horror,” too? Well, maybe just a smidge. Do you consider a “meet-cute” that involves finding a dead body to be a walk on the “horror side”? It’s probably about as close as I’m likely to go. In any case, I read an excerpt from an XK9s-related short novelette that’s only available to my newsletter subscribers. Titled Anywhere but Sixth Level, it tells how series characters Pam and Balchu first met, and it’s a free download (to subscribers only).

L-R: Karen Thrower reads her selection. Jan didn’t get a photo of Selina Rosen, but she read from “Bubbas of the Apocalypse.” An audience member in the back ground closes her eyes and listens as Ted Pennella reads. And Tommy B. Smith stands to read his excerpt from “Oblivion’s Child.”
L-R, Karen Thrower, the cover for “Bubbas of the Apocalypse,” the book from which Selina Rosen read, Ted Pennella flanked by an audience member, and Tommy B. Smith. Photos by Jan S. Gephardt; book cover courtesy of Yard Dog Press.

The Final Horror Reading

Yes, the year for horror held all the way to the end of the final reading I could attend. In that relatively late Saturday time slot, Tommy B. Smith read an excerpt from Oblivion’s Child. As with many of the writers I listened to at SoonerCon 31, Tommy has a well-established history of writing horror.

Ted Pennella read a short story, The Dragon’s Curse, from the Wolfsinger Productions dragon-themed collection, Crunchy with Ketchup. Ted’s day job is as an architect in the Oklahoma City area. His short stories have been published in several anthologies, and he probably ought to get an author website one of these days (hint-hint-hint!). Karen Thrower’s lively and funny story The Family Business counts as both horror and humor, a rare blend  – but it is as yet unpublished. This is a terrible shame. I hope she finds a home for it soon!

The fourth author in this reading was a force of nature named Selina Rosen. (I sat beside her, so I didn’t get any good photos. That’s why she’s represented by her book in the photo lineup). Selina’s the creative dynamo who created Yard Dog Press, publisher for several of the books mentioned in this post. Her selection combined horror and humor plus a side of social commentary, with a title that’s also a literary sendup. I Zing the Bubba Electric comes near the beginning of Bubbas of the Apocalypse. Yard Dog’s most natural wheelhouse is sometimes-dark horror humor, and Bubbas of the Apocalypse is a prime example. It’s a collection of stories by a variety of authors about a world in which the Yuppie 25 virus has wiped out or “zombiefied” everyone except the good ole boys (& gals).

The upper row of book covers shows, L-R those for “Bubbas of the Apocalypse,” “Crunchy with Ketchup,” “The Four Redheads: The Wrath of Satan,” and “Mother.”
On the lower row, L-R: “Oblivion’s Child,” “Queen of All the Nightbirds,” “Road’s End,” and “Traitor’s Game.”
All of these books were mentioned in this post. See the credits at the end for direct links. Design by Jan S. Gephardt.

Will the Horror Never . . . Oh, wait. We came to the End!

I hope this post has opened you to some new authors (especially if you love the horror genre.) A major purpose of this blog is to shine a light on less-heard-of authors who have unique and interesting voices and their own tales to tell.

So. Did my round of author readings in “the year for horror” at SoonerCon 31 dampen my enthusiasm for author readings? Not in the least. Like any live performance in a small, intimate setting, author readings will always fascinate and invigorate me, even if I don’t like all of the selections equally. This “horror tour” also may have broadened my tastes just a bit. I keep discovering that, for me at least, horror goes down better if I’m also grinning ruefully.


Many thanks to SoonerCon 31 for the cover image from their website for SoonerCon 31, as well as 123rf stock artists (Ukrainian) bsteve777 and (Belarussian) kseniiv for the “ingredients” I used to create the “The Year for Horror?” header image. I appreciate Rook Riley’s Facebook page for the photo of her traveling rook and her profile picture. Gratitude also to Dennis Spielman for the detail from the illustration for his story, and to Amazon for the ”Mother” cover, all used in the montage representing the Friday author readings.

Taking things a bit out of order, please note that the cover for the ebook of Anywhere but Sixth Level is ©2022 by SoonerCon 31 Artist Guest of Honor Chaz Kemp. Thank you, Gerald Burton, for taking the photo that included Jan S. Gephardt, Brian A. Hopkins, and Linda Donohue. Jan took the photos of Craig Wolf, Karen Thrower, Ted Pennella and his audience member, and Tommy B. Smith.

Finally, we are grateful to Yard Dog Press for the covers for Bubbas of the Apocalypse (twice!), The Four Redheads: The Wrath of Satan, and Traitor’s Game. Many thanks also to Amazon for the covers for Crunchy with Ketchup, Mother, Oblivion’s Child, Queen of All the Nightbirds, and Road’s End.

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