NECON 38: A Retrospective

In Fall 2017, I attended the Gamut Writer’s Workshop, and one of the many (not entirely sober) conversations I had with Rena Mason was that I should join the “NECON group–they are all horror writers  from your area and are a lot of fun.”

“Sure,” I said, after hearing more about this writer’s convention. “Sounds like fun!”

Then, I fucking forgot.

At Stokercon earlier this year, I was chatting with Tony Tremblay and Matt Bechtel who told me (again) ALL about this conference called NECON and that I’d have a really great time.

“Great!” I said. “I’ll sign up right away!”

Then, I fucking forgot. Again.

Finally, I think it was Todd “Tarbox” Keisling who said (rather kindly, I thought), “are you gonna sign up motherfucker,  or do I have to kick your goddamn ass?”

“Fuck you, Wood”

I might not be remembering that accurately. I’ve had strokes.

Anyway, I signed up. So the weekend right after Readercon I caught a lift with my editor Amelia Bennett, her husband Paul, and Brian Kirk (IT WASN’T MY FAULT, BRIAN) and set course for Rhode Island and Camp NECON.

Holy Mother of God. What a fantastic experience. Damn, I hate saying Rena, Tony, Matt, Todd (and the others) were right–but they were.

You KNOW they’ll lord that over me until Cthulhu comes back.

I’m still processing the experience, but let me take a stab at why NECON was so amazing.

DAY ONE

We checked into The Roger Williams University Baypoint Inn and Conference Center where NECON has been held for some time. The place is what you’ed expect for a Inn on a college campus: 80’s architecture, basic rooms and amenities.

BUT.

I’ve never met so many NICE staff members in one place in my life. I was told the folks at the Bayport Inn liked the NECON crowd–but I didn’t understand what that meant until I walked through the front doors. Resourceful, ready (and genuine) smiles, always offering to help, always receptive. I dropped my luggage off and proceeded with the Crew to “1776” to pick up a few last minute things.

“Last Minute Things”

The first afternoon was geared toward setup, folks arriving, and the “In Real Life” reconnections that happen when you mostly chat with friends online for the better part of a year.

As evening fell, I found myself out in the quad–the courtyard of the Bayport Inn– where there was an organized Scotch tasting going on. I brought my newbie offerings: a bottle of Laphroaig Lore and a distiller’s edition of Oban. I also had a bottle of Single Barrel Select Jack Daniels for anyone not into the Scotch tasting.

“Damn it, there’s that bug spray…wish I’d actually used it.”

The problem is there were DOZENS of bottles of scotch brought to the quad for tasting. Okay…that really wasn’t the problem. The problem was that by the end of the evening IT WAS ALL GONE.

“Yes, I’m drinking a Newcastle. It was intermission.”

Tony Tremblay ( in the photo above) and Bracken MacLeod organized the shindig. In fact, I brought the Laphroaig specifically for Bracken to try–but he was late getting back from dinner. He found me cradling the Islay Single Malt, muttering “No more. Bracken only. G’way.”

After assuring me it was, in fact, himself, he took the bottle from me gently and poured himself a “wee dram.” The rest of the evening went very well. And I learned what a “Saugy” was…

“Bracken and Tony–I think this was from Tony’s camera but who the hell knows?”

DAY TWO

Awake. God help us all.

One point of order before I continue. I might add a few notes here and there, but most of the kaffeeklatsch/panel notes below come from the NECON online program. 

After a breakfast that wasn’t half bad compared with the normal hotel buffet-style grease-fest, I hit three kaffeeklatsches:

Upon Further Review: Book Review Kaffeeklatsch
Stephen Cords, Brian Kirk, Frank Raymond Michaels, Madelon Wilson, Craig Wolf

An interactive discussion of reviews–what should and shouldn’t be in them. Some comedic moments when discussing some of the worst reviews people have received.

Read Any Good Books Lately?: The Year’s Best Books Kaffeeklatsch

Barry Lee Dejasu, Jaime Levine, Hildy Silverman, Erin Underwood, Hank Wagner

 

A nice discussion of the latest and greatest since NECON 37

 

And the Oscar Goes To: The Year’s Best Films Kaffeeklatsch
Michael Arruda, Scott Goudsward, Rena Mason, Charles Rutledge, Matt Schwartz, L.L. Soares

From the program: “Black Panther. There, I saved you all an hour.”

I agree with this. NEXT!

After lunch (pasta salad, sandwiches, and fruit) I sat in a few of my first NECON panels.

Angry Little Gods: The Art of World-Building
Dana Cameron, Charles Colyott, Craig Shaw Gardner (M), Charlaine Harris, James A. Moore, Nicole Peeler

For some authors, it’s not enough to simply create characters and plots; some feel the need to create their own worlds as well. Sometimes those worlds are identical to our own with just a few tweaks, and sometimes they’re vastly different. Our panel of architects discuss what it’s like to build your own sandbox before letting your characters play in it.

The Spark: What Inspires a Great Short Story
Meghan Arcuri-Moran, Christa Carmen, Nicholas Kaufmann (M), Toni L.P. Kelner, Ed Kurtz, Helen Marshall

 

It’s the question all short fiction writers hate — “Where do your stories come from?” And since most Necon Campers are too old to believe that old wives’ tale about a stork, we’ve gathered some of the best in speculative short fiction to give us a glimpse into their creative process.

At this point, I blew off the podcasting panel (sorry about that) to take a “too many people” break. And maybe get a beer. Maybe.

Changing Lanes: Writing in More Than One Genre
David Wellington, Dana Cameron, Chris Irvin (M), Helen Marshall, Errick Nunnally, David Demchuk, F. Paul Wilson

Horror, mystery, science fiction, crime, fantasy … How are authors successfully writing and building audiences across multiple genres? Our extremely versatile panelists discuss how they pull it off.

Dr. Wilson had the BEST response to multiple genres and the possibility of losing your audience if one switches. Paul writes the delightful Repairman Jack series among many other things…he decided when he wanted to write a medical drama, that Jack would be hired by a doctor. A noir crime story? Jack would be hired by a police department. Etc.

After a “class photo” was taken, it was off to dinner (chicken medallions) then the toast/update with a Hall of Fame induction ceremony. For the record, Errick Nunnally did a fucking awesome job as host–even adding a Dallas Mayr (Jack Ketchum) fitting memorial:

“This bottle of scotch has to be gone in five minutes…starting now”

We all stepped up for a shot. It was empty in two minutes flat.

The shenanigans were followed by the “meet the author” party where I apparently proposed to Christopher Golden, cried a little when I finally picked up James A. Moore‘s Dinner for One (his memoir of dealing with his first wife’s death), and hung out with Todd and Erica Keisling who had copies of his wares, including his latest novelette The Smile Factory. I may have completely blown my book budget for the con in one night. 

“Budget blown. And this is only the first night. I believe the total stood at 42 new books by Sunday #SorryNotSorry”

The evening turned into a social event in the quad afterwards. I have no pictures of the afterparty, officer.

And I never did find that Cards Against Humanity game.

DAY THREE

“For fuck’s sake. I’m a 53 year old disabled fat white guy. I need more than four hours of sleep!”

Remember that line. It bites me in the ass later.

Breakfast, then the morning programing started at 9:00. I was pretty excited–in the afternoon I was going to run an errand then go into Providence to hit some bookstores and have dinner with the Bennetts and the Keislings.

Doin’ It For the Kids: Children’s Literature vs. Mid-Grade vs. Young Adult
Patrick Freivald, Lynne Hansen (M), Peter Johnson, Kya Stillson, Jeff Strand, Trisha J. Wooldridge

You can never start a reader too young, but the business of publishing has made putting a book into a kid’s hands more and more complicated. Our panelists will discuss writing, selling, and marketing books aimed at the different pre-adult audiences.

I’ve been thinking about publishing some mid-grade fiction. My first indie book, The Prodigal’s Foole was considered by some to lean more MG or YA…except I used the word “fuck” too many times. Imagine that.

BOO!: Modern Ghost Stories
P.D. Cacek (M), Tom Deady, John Foster, Michael Rowe, Sheri Sebastian-Gabriel, Tony Tremblay, Dan Waters

 

The oldest horror tales in the world involve ghosts and haunted places, and they’re still going strong today. What keeps the public interested in hauntings? What are some modern examples that both honor this age-old tradition and put a new spin on it?

I love ghost stories–from Dickens classic A Christmas Carol through Rolad Dahl’s numerous collections and Rin Chupeco’s The Girl from the Well–I adore the genre. My upcoming Bayou Whispers is a Southern Gothic Thriller, but you can bet your ass there is a ghost or two in there.

Closing Time: Remembering the Life and Work of Jack Ketchum
Linda Addison, Jill Bauman, Ginjer Buchanan, Sephera Giron, Gordon Linzner, Doug Winter (M)

The horror community lost a giant when Jack Ketchum passed, but Necon lost our friend, Dallas. Our panelists discuss the man, his work, and his legacy.

Many of the Dallas anecdotes were personal and heartfelt. I met him once in New York–we were both smokers at the time and he was an amazing, talented, and generous man. It was a glorious five minute chat. About Scotch.

Leaving the compound was bittersweet. First, the crew dropped Brian Kirk off at T. F. Green airport as he needed to leave NECON a day early. It was great meeting him, though, and as a reminder IT WASN’T MY FAULT. Just sayin’ man. 🙂

Second, we hit a couple of bookstores in Providence, including the famous Lovecraft Arts & Sciences.  Wallets lighter, we then settled in for an amazing sushi dinner with martinis before heading back to Camp NECON.

All in all, a marvelous and hysterical (“Tarbox” and “Porno Batman”) afternoon/evening.

 

We got back in time for the infamous NECON Roast–this year’s victim was Matt Bechtel. By sacred oath, no more can be said in public about any NECON roast–sorry to “short” change you.

Remember when I wrote earlier that I said I would be bitten in the ass later?

Yeah. It’s later.

I was in quite a bit of pain (a leg filled with old blood clots will do that) and decided to call it an evening. I’d been in the quad two evenings in a row and knew what to expect. I was sad not to hang out with friends new and old of course, but c’mon! There would be nothing really new this evening right?

RICHARD WOOD YOU DUMB SOM’BITCH.

James Moore and Cullie Seppälä (Tessa) got MARRIED in the quad, and the ceremony was officiated by Bracken MacLeod.

And I missed it. Fuck.

“Credit the pic to David Wilson. I think. I dunno…I WASN’T THERE.”

DAY FOUR

Last days at conventions are always so bipolar–on one hand, I’m sad to be leaving an amazing group of wonderful people. On the other hand, the cosmic evil that is social anxiety is telling me to get the fuck out of there.

Eggs and sausages with a gallon of coffee made me feel a bit better, and it was time to get on with it.

All week, the weather had cooperated. But on Sunday, the last day of NECON, the rains came, fitting my mood perfectly. I went to one panel and the closing ceremony/town hall meeting before heading out with Amelia and Paul.

Being Weird in the 21st Century: Cosmic Horror and Weird Fiction Beyond Lovecraft’s Mythos
John Goodrich, Paul McMahon, Mary SanGiovanni (M), Darrell Schweitzer, K.H. Vaughan, Halli Villegas

The Old Ones may be timeless, but that doesn’t mean Weird Fiction doesn’t occasionally need to be refreshed. How has this style of literature stayed so popular and relevant through the years? Our experts share their insights.

I loved this panel–three separate Bayou Whispers epiphanies occurred during the conversation. By the end of the hour, I had eight pages of notes.

Necon Closing and Town Meeting
Tell us what we did wrong, what we did right, and what you’d like to see us do next year. Also, we award the Necon Olympic Medals!

The goodbyes were coming. Many folks left for the airport first thing that morning. Others were trickling out throughout breakfast and the last panels. There was a sense of closure in the air. Or mildew. Not sure which.

NECON is a family. We are weird, and “out there.” We will play RPGs and card games while drinking like fish and discussing whether or not Stephen King’s latest is as good as his last (SPOILER: Yeah, The Outsider is pretty good, IMHO).

This was the first convention that I din’t feel like an outsider. I was made welcome from the start, considered family by the end.

When Amelia and Paul dropped me off, I sat in my writing Lair for a few hours just processing the experience. I finally met the Bennetts and the Keislings in real life. I reconnected with Mercedes M. Yardley, Rena Mason, Hillary Monahan, Cat Scully, Jim Moore, Christopher Golden, Tony Tremblay, Jeff Strand, Peter Halasz, Bracken MacLeod, and so many others. I met Brian Kirk, Sephera Giron, Errick Nunnally, Heather Lovelace-Hack, Mary Hart, April Hawks (MAAAA!), David Demchuk, Vikki Ciaffone, Duncan Eagleson, Paul McNamee, Max Bechtel…

You get the idea.

Authors. Artists. Editors. Book Dealers. Renegades and rogues. Call them what you will.

I call them family.

Am I ready for NECON 39 in 2019? Goddamn right, I am. Where’s the Scotch?

 

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