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After Scares That Care … the three kidney edition

by Jay Wilburn

As we were getting ready to leave the convention this year, my wife commented how different each person’s experience and perception of the event would be depending on their interests. The vendors, those free to roam to every panel or event, those in the workshops, the volunteers and staff, those there for the cosplay, fans of movies, addictive readers and book hoarders (my personal favorites), where your table was positioned in relation to your neighbors and friends, which of your circles you fell in with, etc.

Scares 4 middle finger

It makes me wish every person would write a wrap-up so I could see the convention through all their eyes. This is a convention weekend, but it is something more and something more important. There is a depth to the effort with the charity behind it which makes Scares That Care as the broad year-round effort as well as Scares That Care Weekend the singular event both greater than the sum of parts.

I’ll attempt to sum up my narrow perspective of the event based on my experience there.

This was a very personal victory for me being at Scares That Care this year as I have expressed in a number of places already. It was bigger than me due to all the people who helped and sacrificed to save my life. Many of them were present at this convention and many others were supporting and encouraging me from home as I made my first public appearance as a writer since transplant and since the recent rejection episode I’m fight back from. You were with me in the valley and in the darkness and you were still with me in the light and on the way up the mountain.

Scares 4 group pic

We had to drive a few hours out to the transplant center before finishing to trip to Scares That Care. It was a fitting metaphor for my journey to be here. I passed another check-up and made my way a day early to be there on Thursday.

cap iron heart draft

Scares 4 zine 2

The Zine 2 raised $1200 for Scares That Care this year. I got to sign my story “Captain Iron Heart’s Long Goodbye” for a number of people. My living donor who gave up a kidney to save me asked to have a couple copies of the story and Zine for him and his family. Of course, I responded, “I’m busy. What have you done to … Oh, right, yes, I’ll get a few copies signed and mailed off to you as soon as I get home. No problem.” The celebrity authors were very gracious in signing my multiple copies for myself and for very special people in my life. I can’t wait to see who is in the Zine for next year. It is still my favorite piece to bring back from the convention. Respect to John Urbancik for starting this last year and Armand Rosamilia for taking the reins this year.

Scares 4 Armand hug

Project Entertainment Network has been great to me and my podcast Matters of Faith. All the hosts of the shows would agree, I’m sure. They were also a valued sponsor of Scares That Care. We all love the charity, the weekend, and everyone involved. Put your support and advertising behind this great organization as they continue to help Scares That Care fight real monsters. Advertise, check out their store for cool swag, and support their Patreon page.

Scares 4 buda shirt

I was on the “Relationships and Writing Panel” with Jonathan Janz, Armand Rosamilia, Ralph Bieber, Amber Fallon, and Chris Philbrook. It was an amazing discussion of finding balance in writing with the people you love in your life as well. It was also a great time to tease Jonathan Janz about what a dreamy profile he strikes. Fun and insight were had by all.

Scares 4 Janz

Now I know you’re thinking, he doesn’t look so dreamy and I get that. He’s only wearing his normal human pants today and clearly he did not bring his “A game” to this picture. But cover up my half of the picture so my animal magnetism and my third kidney glow aren’t such a distraction and I’m sure you’ll see what other folks sometimes see.

My next panel was a great discussion of horror movies from 1987 with Elizabeth Gray, Michael Darwin, Frank Edler, Tom Clark, and Amber Fallon. I almost missed it …

Scares 4 Ripple c3k

Joe Ripple sent a couple attending the convention as fans to meet me. He thought I could provide some feedback on resources to help. He was on dialysis from kidney failure among other things and getting listed for the transplant wait list. As soon as they approached the table, I met eyes with him and I recognized something there that chilled me to the core. I saw a hopelessness and desperation that I was personally familiar with. In the man’s wife, I saw an untiring hope and love which my wife had possessed through my struggles which saved my life.

The clock stopped at that moment and this meeting became the whole reason I was at the convention. We talked to them about resources and what we have done to get to where we are. But he needed to hear something else more. He needed to know there was hope. As others had done for me, I was able to reach down into the darkness and find him.

I told him why it was okay to hope. Why it was worth every step for that first day after surgery when you can taste food again, not feel cold all the time, and feel awake. No matter what goes wrong after that, it is all worth that first day and every day which follows. I told him everything that has happened to him will prepare him for the fights and victories which come after transplant and hope makes those victories mean so much more, if you allow yourself to feel it.

I also told him to be willing to open up his life to others, so he does not feel alone. If I had stayed quiet and suffered alone, I would have died alone and hurt everyone who loved me in the process. By opening up about what I was going through, I was able to be helped. Others on multiple occasions have talked about the benefits they get from hearing my story. If I had kept to myself, this man would not have been directed to meet me in that moment. And I saw his eyes. I recognized the look. I knew what he needed. It is one thing for everyone around you in the light to call into the darkness to tell you everything will be okay. It is another thing to have someone passing through the darkness with you tell you we will be okay. I am thankful Joe Ripple sent him to me the moment he needed it the most. I will continue to be a part of this man’s team, if he let’s me. We walk together now.

We should all have a better answer ready for why we create and love horror. My current answer is that I want to reach into the darkness and find something beautiful.

… the clock restarted and I ran late to my 1987 panel.

Scares 4 1987 panel

I enjoyed the discussion a great deal. Even being on the panel, I felt like a member of the audience enjoying revisiting these great films from 30 years back. The love these people had for these horror films made me more excited as a fan and as a creator.

Scares 4 astroman 2

Scares 4 astroman 1

I had a reading with Clay Astroman. He shared a cool section of his first novel and I think it is something special. I read “Links in the Chain; Boards upon the Back” and with time we had left I was able to read another story “Neighborhood Business.” I’ll share these stories along with other readings people have enjoyed in an upcoming short story collection. I’ll also do some readings for my Patreon page.

It was great to meet Astroman and his supportive significant other Mrs. Astroman. Great people behind a unique work. Check him out.

I was able to attend the Horror Show with Brian Keene. They had special guests who are heroes of mine, so be looking out for that episode coming in the next couple weeks. They recorded a great Q & A episode that will air soon as well.

Scares 4 Keene shirt

I was able to record an episode of the Matters of Faith Podcast which will air soon. Shelly Rosamilia was my guest and it will be worth listening to no matter what your perspective.

My only regret is that I did not spend more time with everyone. My after sundown stamina along with my timing on having to eat and take meds took me out of a lot of great things. I missed the late night hangouts at the bar. I ended up being a morning guy instead.

Scares Brent Jack

I don’t feel like a morning person, but my body demands it apparently even if I try to stay up later. This gave me an opportunity to eat with Armand and D Alexander Ward a couple mornings during the weekend.

Scares 4 D

I did a mini version of my morning walks around the inside of the hotel. This brought me past the volunteers who watch the convention area at night. There are so many people working hard behind the scenes to make this all happen. I was glad to be able to meet and thank some of them.

The cursed blessing of Scares That Care Weekend is that the circle of people who become family grows too large to be able to spend enough time with everyone. It does not make the moments you can spend any less precious and life is richer for all those important connections.

Scares 4 Shelman

I look forward to seeing the totals of what we accomplished together this year. I look forward to Jenny and I being a bigger part of helping Scares That Care in the coming year. I’m already fighting for my life and I know what it is like to have others fight with you. So, we will fight the real monsters together today, tomorrow, and all the days we are able. We will fight for those who are no longer with us to fight. We’ll fight the battles that matter and we will take the victories we can with hope and with gratitude.

We have lost some of our own along the way and this will continue each year the rest of us are granted on this Earth. We are allowed to be sad, we are allowed to grieve, we should remember, and we should honor both in word and deed. We are also permitted to feel joy and hope and be thankful for the days we did share even moreso once those days have passed and the rest of the days are left to us. We should be thankful and be deliberate in our days because we are still alive. Because that is not a blessing granted to everyone today.

Scares 4 Henry mask

We picked up a few things for our boys. Among them were the masks for my younger son from a table manned bravely by someone who lost one of her closest friends and an important part of the Scares That Care family. The proceeds from that table went to Christy Thornbrugh’s family still dealing with her recent loss. Her work and support touched many of us. What she created in the world still brought joy this weekend as shown above. My son’s smile in his favorite new Joker mask is my tribute to her memory.

There are many days and miles between us and next year. We will take them one at a time until we reach that spot again. Or we will take them until we reach our last day and our last mile until our journey is done and others take up the fight in our place. Either way, I will be thankful for this mile now and my last when it comes.

My journey is pointed in the direction of Scares That Care 5. There are many stops between here and there. I have no promise or right to believe that I will get there or I deserve to get there. I do have faith though and I have hope. No matter what happens I am thankful for that journey and it is worth every mile and every day between, starting with the next mile.

For this, I am grateful. For this, I will rise up and be thankful.

Scares 4 buda free

You can still give to Scares That Care here.

Check out these other posts on the event:

Eric A Shelman

John Quick

Chris Philbrook


Thanks for walking with me,

— Jay Wilburn


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Jay Wilburn
Jay Wilburn has a Masters Degree in Education that goes mostly unused since he quit teaching to write about zombies. Jay writes horror because he tends to find the light by facing down the darkness. He finds the journey through life easier by having you join him. Jay is the author of 2 series: The Dead Song Legend and The Great Interruption. He cowrote The Enemy Held Near with Armand Rosamilia. You can also find Jay's work in Best Horror of the Year volume 5 and Dark Moon Digest. Each year Jay has the pleasure of featuring many great authors in the genre through the Summer and Winter of Zombie blog tours on his website.

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