Between stylish old vampires, mysterious wolf-beasts, man-eating crocodiles, anacondas terrorizing whole communities, colonial-era witch’s curses, alien abductions and the collected works of one Stephen King, Maine sounds like a pretty terrifying place.
For the writer’s group, Horror Writers of Maine, however, there’s no place they’d rather be. In fact, in many cases, Maine’s hidden, shadowy corners are a major source of inspiration for their writing.
“There’s just something scary about the woods,” writer Duane E. Coffill of Windham, who founded the group in 2012, said. “You don’t know what’s in there. The unknown is the scariest thing. I remember seeing ‘Jaws’ when I was a kid, and what was scary was that you didn’t know what was in the water. … And there’s a lot of Maine that’s unknown, even today.”
Horror Writers of Maine — a group comprising about 80 writers who specialize in the frightening side of speculative fiction — will be at this weekend’s Bangor Comic & Toy Con, scheduled for May 26 to 28 at the Cross Insurance Center.
Among the many booths at the convention featuring comic book writers and artists, cosplayers, actors, pro wrestling stars and vendors, a number of members of Horror Writers of Maine will be on hand, selling copies of the group’s new anthology, “Northern Frights: An Anthology by the Horror Writers of Maine,” a compilation featuring short stories from 23 different Maine writers, published last month.
Those authors range from the H.P. Lovecraft-inspired historical horror writer Joshua Goudreau of Lewiston to Bram Stoker Award-nominated author Peter N. Dudar of Lisbon Falls to Knox County-based Katherine Silva, author of the Maine Literary Award-nominated Monstrum Chronicles series of supernatural horror books. An introduction to the anthology, as well as a contributed story, was written by Holly Newstein of Portland, widow of acclaimed Maine horror writer Rick Hautala, who died in 2013.
Coffill, 43, has been writing horror and suspense fiction for most of his life. At age 16, he wrote his first novel, “Night Beast,” which he later revised and published in 2017. When a few other Maine horror writers he knew suggested the idea of forming an official group for networking and events for writers such as themselves, Coffill took the initiative to start Horror Writers of Maine.
“There just weren’t a lot of opportunities for writers like us,” Coffill said. “There are a lot of us out there, and we’re all trying to get our books and stories out there. It made sense to form a group to help each other out.”
Although it started as a Facebook group, it has since grown into a busy organization holds events on a regular basis including writing workshops at middle schools around the state, book signings and booths at events such as Bangor Comic & Toy Con.
Horror Writers of Maine held its first event at BCTC in 2015, in fact.
“It’s definitely one of our biggest events of the year,” Juss Stinson, a Whitefield-based writer who handles public relations for Horror Writers of Maine, said. “It’s just so great to talk to all different types of people who love all different types of speculative fiction. … All of our writers do something a little different. There’s a lot of diversity in the group.”
Stinson specializes in creature horror, with a special emphasis on werewolves and on supernatural romance, including “Blissful Books and Beasts Beneath,” which was a finalist for a 2019 Maine Literary Award for Speculative Fiction. Not everything she writes is geared toward adults, however: She published a children’s book last year, “An Anomaly in Space,” written with her 3-year-old daughter in mind.
“It’s about a werepup who wants to go into space, but the werewolf mother talks him out of it,” Stinson said. “I wanted to write something not for adults but for kids, because they like the supernatural and paranormal fiction too.”
Though the horror genre does tend to be geared toward adults, Stinson counted the R.L. Stine children’s horror series “Goosebumps” as a major early influence in her writing, as well as the Nickelodeon TV show “Are You Afraid of the Dark?” alongside newer TV series like “Supernatural” and “Penny Dreadful,” and, of course, the writing of Stephen King.
“I think horror as a genre can be anything you want it to be. We all have our different interpretation of it,” Stinson said. “Some of us like ghosts, some like creatures, some like demons. Some of us like the suspense and the ‘Who dies first?’ angle of it.”
The growing membership, however, begs the question: Would Stephen King ever become a member of Horror Writers of Maine?
“Oh, believe me, we’ve said that one day, if we ever were at that level that we could grab his attention, we’d all be on cloud nine,” Stinson said. “It’s one of those fun things to wonder about — like, if one year at Bangor Comic & Toy Con, if he even just walked by and saw our sign, I think we’d all just be astronomically happy. I would say the word ‘rad’ about 55 times.”
Members of Horror Writers of Maine will participate in a panel discussion at 1 p.m. Sunday, May 28, at Bangor Comic & Toy Con, in addition to their booth on the convention floor all weekend.
For a full schedule of all events and participants at this year’s convention, visit bangorcomictoycon.com.