Times are a-changing at the annual World Horror Convention. Genres are blurring and blending, small presses are popping up like dandelions, and the convention is drawing new attendees, including those in two sought-after demographics: people under 40 and women. (Ethnic diversity was less in evidence.)
“I’ve been coming to World Horror off and on since 2002 and in the last 10 years it’s changed a lot,” said Leah Hultenschmidt, an editor at Sourcebooks who acquires both YA horror and romance for adults. “There are a lot of new faces, a lot of young folks and a lot of new writers I haven’t seen. It used to be you’d see the same people, every single convention, and now I don’t know a lot of these folks—and that’s exciting!”
This year’s convention was held in New Orleans from June 13 to 16, in concert with the Stoker Awards, which are voted on by members of the Horror Writers Association (HWA). The venue was the storied Hotel Monteleone, appropriate both because of its literary history and because of rumors that a couple of the floors are haunted.
Ninety-degree temperatures and high humidity kept many attendees indoors during the day, perhaps increasing attendance at the panel discussions. These covered a variety of familiar topics primarily of interest to new writers, such as “Are You Ready for an Agent?” and “The Rules of the Genre.” Much of the program was taken up by readings, autograph sessions, and interviews featuring the numerous guests of honor. There were also scheduled pitch sessions for various attending editors.
“World Horror is very oriented toward writers who are also very big fans of the genre,” said Hultenschmidt. “I saw a marketing panel, but not as much about market trends or how to get published; it’s much more celebration of writers and what they do and the industry.” She added, “With horror there’s a lot of media surrounding the genre—movies and video games and books and magazines and posters and so much more. The attendees are excited to meet other people who are well versed in the genre so they can geek out together.”
Much of this year’s geeking out was focused on taxonomy, said Christopher C. Payne, president of JournalStone, a relatively new small press focusing on horror and dark fantasy. “The genre of horror seems to be blending more and more into other areas with the term ‘cross-genre’ being thrown about throughout the weekend,” he said. “I heard terms like ‘dark fantasy thriller,’ ‘dark urban fantasy,’ ‘paranormal thriller,’ and ‘paranormal fantasy’ used quite frequently. I personally had a few debates on what horror really was being defined as today versus the definition 10 years ago. What really makes a book horror? It seems to be getting a little vague as more authors cross over into other areas.”
The convention’s population may be changing, but veteran anthology editor Ellen Datlow says it continues to serve the same purposes it always has: socializing and networking. “World Horror allows me to reconnect with my professional colleagues and provides me with inspiration,” she said, “when I see so many writers, editors, publishers, artists, booksellers, and agents all gathered in one place, celebrating the field we all love. Horror literature in all its forms is alive and well.”