Ghoul lovers haunt Kansas City at this weekend's World Horror Convention.

Horror in the Heartland 

Ghoul lovers haunt Kansas City at this weekend's World Horror Convention.

Horror writer H.P. Lovecraft wrote that "searchers after horror haunt strange, far places." Among those ghoulish destinations, he wrote, were "the carven mausolea of nightmare countries" and "the moonlit towers of ruined Rhine castles." Now Kansas City has earned a place on the list, too.

At the thirteenth annual World Horror Convention, nearly 400 writers, publishers, artists and fans will spend Easter weekend at the Kansas City Airport Hilton, immersed in the propagation of their genre -- one that causes as much confusion as it does chills.

"Some of us, in defining horror, science-fiction and fantasy, call it speculative fiction," says horror writer Tim Keltner, a member of the Kansas City Science Fiction and Fantasy Society, which sponsors the convention with the World Horror Society. Keltner's short story "Grave News" appeared last January in Judi Rohrig's horror anthology Stones. Whatever you call it, the genre is a difficult one for aspiring authors, Keltner says. "Only four or five writers make their living at this, and you know their names -- Stephen King, Anne Rice and Clive Barker -- while everyone else writes and writes and writes." Most of the horror authors who will appear at the convention, Keltner says, aren't as famous as they are dogged and ambitious.

Workshops called "Women in Horror" and "Schlock" cover tricks of the trade, and guests include this year's Grand Master, author Chelsea Quinn Yarbro (former honorees include Rice and King); Vampirella creator and horror-film veteran Forrest J. Ackerman; and artist Nick Smith, whose popular "Cthulhu" character is spoofed by this convention's mascot, "Cowthulhu" -- an evil, tentacled heifer. Attendees who are simply fans of all things ghastly can attend Friday night's autograph session with as many as sixty authors, including Brian A. Hopkins -- the Writer Guest of Honor and a three-time winner of the Bram Stoker Award. Escape from the literary can be found at the weekendlong art show.

KaCSFFS Press, the society's publishing arm, commemorates the convention with a new anthology, 13 Horrors. Scheduled for release April 17, it includes short stories by Yarbro and British writer Graham Masterton.

Keltner's own anthology appearance, in Stones, conjures characters who talk to cemetery headstones. He says his affinity for the material is deeply rooted. "I grew up watching old Universal horror movies with my dad," he says. "To this day, he dresses up on Halloween as the Headless Horseman with the pumpkin under his arm." That horseman, along with icons like the Wolfman and the Mummy, inspired this year's convention theme, "Monsters in Time" -- which feels appropriate in a world populated by so many. The weekend includes seminars on mass murderers, a horror-themed casino night and a welcome letter from the Jackson County coroner.

But Keltner denies that a gathering of horror writers necessarily skews toward the gruesome. "The hotel's food and beverage director was worried about that," he admits. "But it's not a particularly macabre group. Just a lot of dressing in black and wicked humor."

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