SCARES THAT CARE Charity Weekend is an annual event which raises funds for 3 individuals in need: a sick child, a burn survivor, and a breast cancer fighter. There are authors, celebrities, vendors, cosplay, costume contests, karaoke, a 5K, games, and more.

My fortunate proximity to Scares That Care in Williamsburg, VA made it an easy decision to snag a vendor table as soon as I heard it would be an in-person event. Shortly after securing a table, I received a message from Brian fucking Keene asking if I would like to do a reading… at Scares That Care… me. I wanted to be like, “uhh… I think you have the wrong number.” But, after I peeled my carcass from the floor, I accepted the challenge and figured I’d worry about stage anxiety later.

Most of the time was spent at my table, getting to know my table-neighbors and new friends like Laurel Hightower (author of Crossroads), Sonora Taylor (author of Seeing Things), Briana Morgan (author of Unboxed), and V. Castro (author of Queen of the Cicadas). They were fantastic company for the entire weekend and even though I thought of them as “social media friends” before, I like to think they are “in real life friends” now. Same for some other standout folks I’d met and had the pleasure of having conversations with, like Todd Keisling, Ben Long, and Kenneth Cain, to name only a few. But it wasn’t all selling and signing books and making friends. Despite being so nervous, I enjoyed doing a live reading with Jacob Haddon of Lamplight Magazine, which wasn’t as terrifying as I had anticipated. I also had the pleasure of slipping away to visit the celebrity room and I attended a handful of the live readings.

Left to Right: Briana Morgan, Laurel Hightower, me, and Sonora Taylor. Front: Michael Clark.
(photo by @mikeclarkbooks on Twitter)

This con… this con… let me tell you… is amazing. And I mean that word, despite its overuse. I was amazed. It’s obvious the care that goes into selecting authors because I left Williamsburg truly inspired. The following people had a huge impact on me this past weekend:

Gabino Iglesias (author of Coyote Songs) taught me during his reading to never hold back with the violence when it serves the story well. Even if I’m clenching my fingers and toes, and hoping the bad thing doesn’t happen for my character. I should press the cold steel of the bolt cutters against the limb that holds me back, and sever it—despite the discomfort.

Gabino Iglesias also edited my collection Dismal Dreams. He rocks!

Cynthia Pelayo (author of Children of Chicago) taught me that by telling the hard stories—those stories people like to turn away from, the true things, the hard-to-look-at things—telling those stories can break an author. They can drive the writer into depressive states. And when those stories are read, they force the public to look at the bad thing. There’s no option to turn away. It’s in their face, tears unavoidable, snot pouring from their nose (glad I wore a mask to that reading), leaving them blubbering and broken. But those are the stories that are too often silenced, and they so desperately need to be told.

Cynthia Pelayo reads an emotion-shattering excerpt from Into the Forest and All the Way Through
(photo by @Zakk_Madness on Twitter)

Jonathan Janz (author of The Raven, and pretty much the author of everything!) has taught me that it is okay to expose those scars that used to define me. To tell that story. Despite the injuries being all too familiar to the injuries of others, the scars—the story—will be vastly different. A brief conversation with him in the celebrity room encouraged me to stoke that fire on my current work in progress and write it, against all doubts.

Jonathan Janz in the celebrity room. I got my copies of Siren & the Specter and House of Skin signed!

And finally, V. Castro gets a very special shout out. I knew V through some casual public Twitter discourse and admired her work prior to meeting her. She’s got the writing chops for sure! But meeting her in person, having private conversations, hearing her read at panel and answer audience questions—this made me admire her so much more. I am moved to write more passionately. To live more passionately. To understand my vulnerabilities, but also to stand—confident and strong—in front of others and inspire. She is a wonderful person who is doing the hard fucking work in a world that often tries to hold her back, and she’s breaking through anyway. And I am in awe of her as a human and a writer.

V. Castro reads a gorgeous, powerful passage from Queen of the Cicadas from Flame Tree Press.
(photo by @sonorawrites on Twitter)

So that’s where I was last night at 3am. Awake in bed, beautifully haunted by the valuable lessons I had taken away from Scares That Care. In tears, I was motivated by the talent and kindness and hard work of so many people, to not only persist in this industry, but to improve, both in craft and in character. To grow stronger and write with ferocity, exposing ghosts and scars until I too can be the type of person that stands during my reading and inspires another.

So many thanks for lessons, inspiration, and new friendships.

Hope to see you all again next year, my friends.

After-hours at Scares That Care
photo by Brian Keene

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