Thoughts From Stokercon

Steven Barnes
8 min readJun 3, 2024


(Tananarive won “Best Horror Novel” at the 2024 Stokercon. These are my first thoughts since returning home)


So Jason’s two-week vacation is over. We finally found a job toward which he expressed some enthusiasm: movie extra. Huzzah! That gives us a range of possibilities, and I’m sure that between our friends, business contacts, lawyers, manager and agents…we can get this done. With no need for him to start at the back of the line: we stood for him.

I’d say all good parents try to claw their children a little advantage in life. Without that, they are forever starting at zero, while other kids get to stand on the shoulders of their ancestors, and are often oblivious enough to think they got there alone.

I’m sure that he can feel intimidated by his mom and dad, but what I tell him is that he has his own gifts, and what we have to do is find them so that he can start focusing early enough to catch every scrap of luck life might offer him. He is starting where I ended (well, I’m not done yet) but the most important things I can give him are survival (room and board), love, and a clear pattern that will allow him to multiply his efforts and reward his focus.

The MAGIC formula is my best bet on how to “get into” the mastery game, a way to actually diagnose your current habit patterns (Who are you modeling? Are you taking daily action and measuring the results, changing behaviors as required? Are you in a constant state of GRATITUDE?, more than fear and anger? Are your goals crystal clear? And do you have ultimate FAITH that your actions are congruent, aligned with your basic nature?). Got a “zero” in any one of them, and that is a glaring indication of where you need to work.

Get up to a 3–5 in all categories, and you are MOTORING. Get up to about a “7” and you enter the land of “serendipity.” Luck. It is genuinely strange and wonderful. Life starts getting REALLY fun.

He has had a “zero” in a couple of categories, but what we’ve demonstrated is that if we provide the “executive function” by establishing clear punishment and reward for actions, he can get excellent results. That means that the ONLY thing he lacks is the clarity and discipline. Frankly, you could hire an assistant to bug you enough to compensate for this. And once you gain that clarity…nothing can stop you but death.


Tananarive and I have an important meeting today. Then, I have three weeks to finish Project Niven before a major contract lands on my desk for a new project. We have to plan out a terrific summer, including our yearly family get-away (this year sounds like renting a beach house near San Diego and chilling with Nicki and Nala the Wonder Dog), get Jason a couple of jobs extra-ing, finish the MAGIC book, do a screenplay for my story ATROPOS, and really nail down the training program for Manila in 2026. All while having FUN. This will require me lifting my own game to a new level, to create a sort of “vacuum” that can pull Jason along with me.

I was watching Tananarive work the room at Stokercon. The most interesting thing was the reaction of fan girls and boys (often older than she, but you understand). I noticed that there was a difference between the people at the horror con and at SF cons. Not in quality or capacity, but focus. SF con people often project “genius kid” energy. The strange, smart ones. Horror people seem to be all heart. I mean really…often wounded, usually weird. But really loving, open people, kind of LEADING with their hearts the way SF people often seem to lead with their “heads”.

And when they approached Tananarive, it was like they were drawn to her fire, and humbly grateful that she would spare them a spark. The trick, of course, is that she was ignited by the sparks of others. They have to have their own “fuel” so to speak, but when an aspirant can look in the eyes of one who is blazing, and that person says “you have this as well,” it is like they are given permission to burn. And in that burning, the ego shell they created to protect themselves from an uncaring and often threatening world is consumed. And the thickness of the shell you created to protect yourself produces the very heat and power you need to achieve escape velocity…if you can find the courage to step into the fire.

Every smile, hug, word of encouragement was her saying “you too must burn. And your fire will be divine.” And the people, the “Halloween People”, share their fire, their sparks, and together are luminous.

It is fun to simply accompany her, being casually protective, so that she can focus on managing her fire. A spark for you…a spark for you…and hey! I can spare TWO sparks for you…

Its all so wonderful, and I remember those who shared theirs with me, and it all felt so right, so appropriate. Mastery is a specific path, and those on that path are always learning, always doing, always teaching. Sharing their sparks.

At the banquet, I got into a conversation with a young writer, and we spoke of fear, a central subject of any horror convention. That’s what you do, you know. You find something YOU are afraid of, and start your metaphor there and build outward. My next novel ATROPOS will be techno-horror. Tananarive and I will write the script together, and then I’ll turn that into a novel. I’m doing this because I intend to put my ego aside and say: “teach me!”

At the table, the question of fear came up, and I said something similar to what I’ve heard from teachers all my life: “We feel guilt and shame about a past we don’t really remember accurately. Fear a future that may never come. And in so doing, miss the present moment, where we spend our entire lives.” The moment. Yes.

In that moment, we burn. And in burning, have sparks to share.


A bookseller hoped that Tananarive would come by his booth and sign stock Sunday morning. But Tananarive had given all the sparks she could healthfully offer, and needed to go home. I told him this, and to my happy surprise understood INSTANTLY. And spoke of how much he loved her work, and how he understood that artists must protect themselves. The moment he said that, I knew I didn’t have to be the Warrior, protecting her loving genius child heart. I could soften, and tell him that I would tell her what he said, that that the result was a vastly greater likelihood that she would want to come to his store for a signing in the future.

By the way…this protection of her “child” self by my “adult” self explains Harlan Ellison (whose vest I wore to the banquet. Another story for another time). I will leave this as an exercise for the reader.


Let me try to bring this all back together. Jason wants to stay a child. Of course. But simultaneously have the advantages and privileges of adulthood (say, sex). This requires growing up: executive function, sales, marketing, organization. That stuff. Money. Navigating this is difficult, but he can see his mom and dad winning that game (for the moment. Who knows about next year?) and his little monkey-mind will have difficulty releasing one vine to grab the next.

But if something that sounds like fun (movie extra) is also profitable (adult world) and plausibly follows in the path of his parents WITHOUT requiring he compete with them (we are horizons distant in terms of sustained discipline. He’d break himself on that wheel) that is also “exotic” enough to brag about to his friends (and therefore protect his ego, which protects his heart)…it is possible that we’ve found a tiny hold in his armor, one through which we can whisper “come on in! The water is fine!”

We give him “sparks” every day. Only he controls whether they will connect with his deepest being, that little creature peering out at the adult world wondering how it all works and how it might be able to enter. Come on out, little one. The water is rough, but you are strong. You can swim.

But if he has a Model or Map, takes action, maintains positive emotion, keeps his goals clear, and KNOWS that his path is in alignment with his being…he is on the path.

And if he can then look at a pattern like “Think And Grow Rich” and use it as leverage to take himself further…I have given him the very best foundation I can. Not just a spark, but a map he can read in the light of a blazing heart. And starting tomorrow we will go back over the 13 principles, and begin relating them to his interest in being an extra.

  1. Does he have the DESIRE?
  2. Does he have FAITH that he can bring this to life?
  3. Has he aligned his inner world with the external path, through AUTO SUGGESTION?
  4. Has he done the research to gain SPECIALIZED KNOWLEDGE? Doe he, in other words, understand the job, how to get it, and where it might lead?
  5. Is he engaging his IMAGINATION to generate tons of ideas about how he can enter the arena, thrive, and win the game?
  6. Has he created ORGANIZED PLANS to achieve his intent?
  7. Has he DECIDED and committed to action?
  8. Is he engaged in SUSTAINED ACTION? Does he understand the need for failure here, and interpret it correctly?
  9. Does he have a MASTER MIND of others who either share his goal, or will align with him to create it? Does he know how to “Win Friends and Influence People” by appealing to THEIR needs rather than his own?

Those nine steps, taken one at a time, will also show you where you are “blocked”, where your “success chain” is broken. If we can feed his spark enough to resist the winds of change, and show him where his supply of “fuel” is within him (just connect your love to your survival drive, and combine with faith!) and he is taking a step, and on a higher level than that where his father began.

This will be a very soft, gentle beginning to his actual adult existence. All I want for him is to be an Adult, Aware human male. One who can “be admired by the men he admires, and desired by the women he desires.” One who passes the Three Gates and is balanced in the Three Centers.

If I can do that, my mom and dad’s spirits will smile at me. I will have been inspired by their positive examples, but not inhibited by their flaws. I have stood on their shoulders, hoisted my son onto my own, and given him the spark that can burn within him so that he will not be tempted by the whispers of snakes, or the happy obliviousness of sleepers.

I will have been a good dad. More than that, I cannot ask.





Steven Barnes

Steven Barnes is a NY Times bestselling author, ecstatic husband and father, and holder of black belts in three martial arts.