Category Archives: The Arcana Chronicles

July 2019:The Month of Shenanigans

Hi Everyone!

I hope the celebrations last week found you all in good form and relaxing with family in friends. I, myself, have been of two-minds for the last couple of years celebrating the 4th of July—so it’s good I had something else to focus on!

My upcoming novel, Bayou Whispers continues to progress. While I was delighted to type “The End” at the bottom of the last page of the manuscript, the end (in this case) is just the beginning of fine-tuning the story.

I currently have over 230 notes from the development editor I’ve been working with. She’s been a huge supporter, friend, and mentor to me during the final push to complete my first book in nearly seven years.

Walt and I will be doing the live show at ReaderCON together…

July is ‘the month of shenanigans” for several reasons this year. First, I have two conventions I’m attending (ReaderCON 30 in Quincy, Massachusetts, July 11-14–where I will be recording a live episode of my podcast The Word Count–and I’ll be at NECON in Rhode Island July 18-21). Second, along with the conventions this month, I’m just coming off a week visit with both my grown children. A fun-filled and hectic week, to be sure! An, of course, Third is the novel which is due to the Emerson Faculty reading committee on the 22nd of this month.

There also may be a series of announcements coming up regarding teaching and new releases–but that’s post-July.

When the current shenanigans are over.

NECON: German for “Shenanigans with Fucking Scotch”

That’s it for now…more in a week or so. Thank you again for being with me on this journey!

Peace, love, and hair grease,


Review: Sal & Gabi Break the Universe by Carlos Hernandez

Rubber Chickens for EVERYBODY!!

Review of

SAL & GABI Break the Universe

by Carlos Hernandez

5/5 Stars

First, a few words about the marvelous work the Rick Riordan Presents imprint is doing in bringing to the forefront of young adult literature amazing stories for different cultures, peoples, and perspectives.

While Riordan is known for his mythic tales of gods, demi-gods, and magic, Carlos Hernandez graces us with his own brand of magic filled with Cuban-American culture, cuisine and a delightful smattering of specific slang and flavor of Spanish experienced in the community of which he hails.

I meant it when I wrote ‘magic.’ Sal is an aspiring magician—and I ordered a rubber chicken in Sal and Carlos’ honor!

But what really makes the story soar are the characters and characterizations in the novel. These kids (and these days, anyone under thirty is a kid to this old man) feel extraordinarily real to me. How they speak, how they act, and how they interact felt perfect. They aren’t orphans or “Peanuts kids” (no parents around). Nor is anyone the pure “Christ figure” or the “Devil figure.”

The “bully” at the beginning of the story isn’t a bully at all. Gabi is NOT the brilliant “Hermione-Granger” type she starts off as. No one is all perfect or all flaws.

Just like…real people.

Of course, real people can’t yank things back and forth between Universes, but that sort of whimsical ability plays into the situational adventure Hernandez weaves here. Tension is created by events and we get to watch (me rather gleefully) as these delightful characters react in ways that are unexpected at first but make sense as you close the back cover.

It’s how Hernandez plays with the expected character buckets and tropes of the genre (helped by exquisite prose) that make this story so much fun.

If you aren’t cheering for Sal, Gabi, and Yasmany throughout the story, I don’t know what to say to you.

My only negative is the duration of the wait until we find out how Sal & Gabi Fix the Universe. Oh, book two…I need you now!

But I’ll be on the line at the book store day one of the sequel’s release to get me a copy. Of that, you can be sure.

Carlos at a reading, BOSKONE 2017 and his signature in his book “The Assimilated Cuban’s Guide to Quantum Santeria”


Review: Blood Standard by Laird Barron

Violence Was His Day Job

Review of

Blood Standard

by Laird Barron



4.5/5 Stars

Blood Standard by Laird Barron Is a violent, noir-esque mystery where the “hardboiled detective” is a mixed race (Maori/Caucasian) ex-mobster/hitter from Alaska.

Isaiah Coleridge’s love of animals gets him in trouble when he attacks a made-man of “the Outfit” who was heading up an illegal Walrus hunt to indulge in the black market ivory trade. Coleridge finds himself exiled to Upstate New York as a result and becomes a farm hand at a small, independent horse ranch. Where trouble is never less than a step behind the former hit man. When a local young woman with a troubled past goes missing, Isaiah quickly finds himself caught between local law enforcement, the Feds, mobsters, and street gangs–Familiar territory for Coleridge.

Barron does his normal Steller job creating deep characters who all walk in the grey areas between light and dark. His horror story background is used well in building tension and in creating a narrative full of twists and violence.

Laird Barron has crafted a terrific new series, and his fans from the horror genre should enjoy this fast-paced yet introspective tale typical of his writing. With the second in the series out now, I look forward to my next adventure with Isaiah and the quirky characters of rural New York.

Personal note: I had a wonderful hour-long conversation with Laird at the Merrimack Valley Halloween Book Festival last October, where we discussed his Coleridge series. He was the one who convinced me to take my upcoming novel Bayou Whispers and change it from a horror novel to a Supernatural Thriller.


Review: Good Omens

Armageddon Will Be Quirky

Review of

GOOD OMENS: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch

By Neil Gaiman & Terry Pratchett

4/5 Stars

This one has been on my “To Be Read” pile for far too long, and with the Amazon Prime series coming up, I thought it might be high time to give it a go.

I love Pratchett and I love Gaiman, so why not?

In a world that was created on Sunday, 21 October, 4004 B.C. at 9:00 AM GMT (give or take 15 minutes), this quirky and delightfully funny take on Good vs. Evil begins a weird ride with the birth (and subsequent misplacement) of the anti-Christ.

But a demon (Crowley) and an angel (Aziraphale) like the world as it is, thank you very much and would prefer Armageddon be put off indefinitely.

What follows is a mish-mash of perspectives and misadventures for the demon and angel, an Anti-Christ child named Adam and his little Gang called the Them, who has no idea who the child is, but Adam keeps making his conspiracy theories come true, a hell-hound named Dog who is a cute and fluffy mutt, a descendant of the titular Agnes Nutter, the last two Witchfinders in England and the Four Horsemen.

The story is more akin the Hitchhiker’s Guide in tone and lightness of prose than some of either author’s darker works. It’s a fun read, but I pulled a star for the significant amount of head-hopping that is, at times, confusing.

Overall, a good read. As always, I recommend reading the source material before seeing the movie/TV show





Meet the Irregulars: Karl Dandenell

Thirteen Questions with KARL DANDENELL

  • What literary pilgrimages have you gone on?

In the early 1980s, I spent a few days in England as part of a trip to Sweden, where my mother’s family lives. There was a heat wave going on, and the airlines had lost my sister’s luggage, so when we went off to Stratford-on-Avon and she had to wear all my gaming and athletic logo tee shirts. Man, you do not want to see British folks sunning themselves in the public park.

  • Does writing energize or exhaust you?

I would say that I prefer “having written” to “writing,” except for those times when the Muse actually bothers to stay for breakfast. That sort of flow is energizing but in a calming way. When writing is exhausting, it’s usually due to the fact that I’m writing the wrong thing, or fighting the POV, or just flogging a bad idea.

  • What are common traps for aspiring writers?

You know the old phrase, perfection is the enemy of the good. That one gets you every time. You don’t think about the fact that what you read is the end product of a long development process, with many hands (and eyes) contributing. Your own stuff on the page is just potential.

  • Did you ever consider writing under a pseudonym?

I did, back in college, because I was embarrassed about my (admittedly pedestrian) fantasy stories. I actually have a pseudonym in a way, since my earliest stories were published under my birth name, whereas everything since I got married have appeared under my married name, which is slightly different.

  • Do you think someone could be a writer if they don’t feel emotions strongly?

I don’t think lack of affect will sink your writing. It’s a bigobstacle to overcome, certainly, but you could potentially write amazing prose or explore outrageous ideas without all the icky emotions. I suppose it’s a question of compensation. Some of the early SF I read wasn’t exactly populated with emotional, three-dimensional characters.

  • Do you want each book to stand on its own, or are you trying to build a body of work with connections between each book?

Yes and yes. When I look back at my stories (no published books yet) I see some consistent motifs, themes, and character types. So you could say that my work exists in some sort of shared universe. Having said that, you could pick up anything I wrote and still enjoy it without getting the connections.

  • What was the best money you ever spent as a writer?

Good heavens, that would have to be Viable Paradise. It just kicked my ass in the best way, and forced me to get real. It also cemented the idea of having a proper tribe that supported your work and inspired you.

The worse money I spent was tuition at graduate school for MFA. I learned some valuable lessons and met some great people, but I attended the program at a very bad time in my life. I was too young, and my fiancée broke off our engagement about halfway through the process, so much of my time after that was a depressed blur.

  • What was an early experience where you learned that language had power?

I use to get in trouble in school for “acting out” and otherwise disrupting the educational environment. So my apology notes and punishment essays showed me that a good turn of phrase could fix a lot of situations.

  • How do you select the names of your characters?

With contemporary stories, I can usually draw from my own experience (office phone lists are great for this.) For fantasy pieces, I might use one of the random name generators and then tweak it until it sounds right. I’ve gotten lazy lately, and usually fire up a baby names website to pick a couple for each story, depending on the genre.

  • What was your hardest scene to write?

Transition scenes and housekeeping scenes are the worst me. Characters have to get from Point A to Point B, whether it’s a physical move, or just shifting the reader’s attention from one object to another. I envy writers who can see the movie in the their and follow their internal camera. For me, it’s more about doing stage directions and hope the actors can make it look natural.

  • What is your favorite childhood book?

Runaway Ralph. I was fortunate enough to meet Beverly Cleary at a school book fair-type event. We had to take a bus to Santa Barbara, and the bus was late, so we didn’t get as much time to see and hear the authors. Ms. Cleary was kind enough to stay later and answer questions for all the kids. What a class act.

  • Do you believe in writer’s block?

Believe in it? I have an annual membership, sir. It’s more real than the Easter Bunny and twice as deadly. I think the problem people have with writer’s block (or any other creative impediment) is a tendency to make it a binary state.  Blocked or not. Mauren McHugh described her writer’s block in this way: it wasn’t that she couldn’t write. It was that she felt she could only write shit.

  • What is your writing Kryptonite?

Anxiety. And depression. The Evil Twins. When I fall down the rabbit hole of worry, then the Muse pour her wine down the sink and grabs her coat. Serious depression makes everything harder, and you have also the lovely side effect of not caring about your work. Anxiety, on the other hand, can make you question every damn word and punctuation mark on the page.


Karl Dandenell is a first-generation Swedish American, survivor of Viable Paradise XVI, and active member of the Science Fiction Writers of America. He lives on an island near San Francisco with his family and cat overlords. He is fond of strong tea and distilled spirits. When not sitting in project meetings, he reads a lot of speculative fiction, and serves as a First Reader for The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction.


Twitter: @kdandenell


What’s Next?

“What’s Next?”

Before the phrase “what’s next” was made popular by the series The West Wing, it was popular in my household growing up. When my brother, sister and I were very young, that question meant there were more chores and more work to do. As we got older, that question morphed into setting goals, reaching for them, assessing, and asking that very question while moving on to the next item on our to-do list.

During this week leading up to the Emerson graduation festivities where I will receive my MFA hood and degree, I’ve been thinking a lot about that age-old question of what’s next.

My 33-year corporate career is over—has been for a few years now. The last two of those years has been spent studying, reading and writing. Yet I haven’t published (other than episodes of The Word Count Podcast) since 2016.

I have three rejections for short stories in that time—all from people I know putting together anthologies. These were token submissions, at best. I have 20 short stories that I’ve written during the Emerson program that I should start shopping around a bit more aggressively.

I know I need to spend the summer finishing Bayou Whispers—my supernatural thriller set in New Orleans. And I have a couple of ideas for another novel and a few novelettes after that.

Reading, of course, is on the to-do list—you can’t be a writer without being a reader. Besides, I DO love a good book. I want to add reviews for books I read moving forward–one a week should be achievable.

The MFA I’m receiving is a “terminal degree,” which means I could start looking for potential teaching gigs. The stroke-induced anxiety I suffer from might impact my ability to stand in front of a class, but there is the possibility of teaching online courses or even writing essays. It might be worth trying both.

My “what’s next” has other possibilities as well. I’ll continue my podcast until at least episode 100—a personal commitment I made 9 years ago which I plan on fulfilling.

And there is the ongoing physical rehab that takes hours out of each day.

There are also people in this crazy literary industry I would love to work with. Editors, writers, agents and publishing houses I have jotted down in a sort of bucket list of talent I want to engage with and learn from.

So “what’s next” is just about anything I want it to be.

At the end of 2015, I nearly died from a pulmonary embolism, a heart attack, dozens of strokes and cancer.

And while I physically and mentally cannot do what I used to do for a living, in 2019 I find myself actually enjoying life more than I ever have.

“What’s next” is a question my parents ingrained in my very soul. That question, I realized years later,  stemmed from the fear of an unknown future.

So what’s next? Anything that I want.

Now the question excites me.

Peace, love and hair grease,


Meet the Irregulars: Maria Haskins

Thirteen Questions with MARIA HASKINS

  • What literary pilgrimages have you gone on?

Back in my misspent youth, I spent a year living and working just outside London (I was a Swedish nanny/au pair of all things), and I since I am a huge (and I mean HUGE) fan of John LeCarré’s books about George Smiley, I went to look at the street where Smiley lives. It’s described in detail in several of the books, and I just had to see it for myself. A lot of my time in London was actually spent visiting locations from the books about Smiley. Like Hampstead Heath which is a “scene of the crime” in Smiley’s People. Oh, and Smiley lives at Bywater Street number 9.

  • What is the first book that made you cry?

The first time I finished Lord of the Rings I cried like a freaking baby because I didn’t want the story to be over. I wanted more of that world. I think I read the last half of Return of the King basically in one day and night (I was 13 or 14), and it just gutted me completely. I wanted to be inside that book, inside that story so badly.

  • What other authors are you friends with, and how do they help you become a better writer?

I’m friends with you, Richard! (I still owe you a drink, or more than one, when we get together in a pub some time.) Writing for the Word Count Podcast was one of the best decisions of my writing life. Being friends with you, and writing for this podcast, it’s my write club, it’s my monthly writing challenge, it’s what’s taught me about writing flash fiction. I don’t have writers that I socialize with in “real life”, but I know a lot of writers online, and it’s meant the world to me. It’s a community, it’s the people you chat with at the water cooler (AKA social media), it’s the company I keep to teach me things and find things out and just feel like I’m not crazy for pursuing this writing thing.

  • If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?

Don’t give up. You’ll achieve things you haven’t even imagined yet. And dump that lit-fic and go all-out (or mostly all-out) speculative fiction instead. That last one is a decision I wish I’d made sooner.

  • What are the most important magazines for writers to subscribe to?

Wow. That is a huge huge HUGE question. I just did the math the other night and I read about 50 different speculative fiction zines on a regular basis. If I was giving advice to someone who wants to get into writing and/or reading speculative fiction, I’d suggest they cruise the field of zines and find the style of speculative fiction that appeals to them, the stuff they want to read and write. Listen to the Escape Artist podcasts because you’ll get both originals and reprints. Read widely and with an open mind. Check out the established zines like Apex, The Dark, Lightspeed, Nightmare, Clarkesworld, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Fireside, Strange Horizons. Check out new stuff like Anathema, Fiyah, Reckoning, and Augur Magazine too. There is so much depth in the speculative fiction field right now, you will find a lot of stuff that appeals to you, and you’ll get a better feel for the field as well.

  • What’s your favorite under-appreciated novel?

I don’t know that it’s under-appreciated, but Angela Slatter’s trilogy about Verity Fassbinder should definitely be read by more people. Supernatural crime/urban fantasy, set in Australia, and the books are full of fairytale and myth and characters you just want to follow wherever they go. It’s three books, Vigil, Corpselight, and Restoration. Highly recommended.

  • How many hours a day do you write?

It varies widely. I work as a freelance translator, I write a lot of reviews and roundups, and I have kids, so I never really know how much time I’ll have to myself for my own writing. Some days I don’t write at all. Most days I write at least two-four hours. Though a lot of that might spent staring at the screen and backspacing to get rid of what I just wrote.

  • Have you read anything that made you think differently about fiction?

When I read Kai Ashante Wilson’s “The Sorcerer of the Wildeeps” it completely blew my mind. That insane mix of fantasy and scifi, of magic and science, of language and dialect and slang, the whole thing, the whole phantasmagoric, trippy awesomeness of it… I don’t think I’d ever realized you could write like that, and I loved it.

  • Do you read your book reviews? How do you deal with bad or good ones?

I am horribly thin-skinned and sensitive and I am really totally crap at taking criticism. Not as bad as I was in my younger days, but still. I revel in the good ones, while secretly thinking they can’t really mean it, and I have to sort of work my way through handling the bad ones. The bad ones don’t kill me like they did when I was in my 20s, but they still sting.

  • What one thing would you give up to become a better writer?

I’d give up sleep if I could. I love sleeping, but it just seems like such a waste of time some days.

  • What are your favorite literary journals?

Since I don’t read literary journals, I’ll list some of my favourite speculative fiction publications. I read a lot and I love a lot of them, but I’ll pick a few faves. I’m a huge fan of Flash Fiction Online, I loved Shimmer (which sadly published its last issue recently), and I am an enormous fan of Beneath Ceaseless Skies. I also adore Reckoning, Anathema, and Fiyah. There are so many excellent SFF publications, but I’ll leave it at that for now!

  • What is your favorite childhood book?

I read a lot as a kid. My sister and I both read tons of Tintin and Asterix, so I have really fond memories of those books.

  • Do you believe in writer’s block?

Yes, because I was unable to write for about 10 years. But I think people sometimes don’t talk about the same thing when they talk about writer’s block. There’s the “block” you get when you’re writing and you feel stuck on a story, whether it’s finishing it or starting it or whatever. That stuff I think you can work around by using some “tricks of the trade”. Then there’s the writer’s block like I experienced, which has nothing to do with a specific story, but has to do with the act of writing itself. For a variety of reasons related partly to writing, and partly to big life-changes for me, I basically could not write, could not physically get myself to think of stories to write or sit down and write any fiction for about a decade. It was almost like a phobia. The one thing I was really good at, that I loved doing, was all of a sudden a sense of anxiety. It was terrible. I thought I’d never write again. Finally it came down to a decision where I knew I either had to really, really give it a go or just … not. And, well, here I am. I think that kind of writer’s block is most likely connected to things going on in your life, rather than just having to do specifically with writing, and I am just so grateful I got back to writing. I still have a fear lodged deep inside me that I’ll wake up one morning and that block will be back again, that I won’t find words, that I’ll be unable to write, but it hasn’t happened yet.


Maria Haskins is a Swedish-Canadian writer and translator. She was born and grew up in Sweden, but now lives just outside Vancouver with her husband, kids, and a very large black dog.


Twitter: @mariahaskins

Welcome to 2019

2019. Well, shit. That happened fast!

Normally I like to reflect on the year that was and the year ahead the week of my birthday—but 2018 ended as it began—an Emergency room visit (this time, kidney stones) and an unexpected visitor (my daughter, which was a delight).

The end result is twofold—my “New Year’s Message” is late, and I’m grumpy.

That last bit is not unusual for my curmudgeonly self.

But it IS a new year, 365 (now 364) days of new opportunity, hope and excitement. At least I’m endeavoring to make that my focus.

Shall I begin again, then?

Happy New Year!

The year ahead is already shaping up to be a busy one.

Things I’m looking forward to:

  • My Son will graduate from College in May.
  • My Daughter is transitioning from music to English as her major in college
  • I will be graduating from Emerson with an MFA in August.
  • Boskone, StokerCon and ReaderCon are on the docket for the year and I just renewed my Horror Writer’s Association membership.
  • NECon in July
  • Season 9 of The Word Count Podcast(which kicks off in January)
  • A visit with my sister, mum, and cousins in Florida
  • A Summer excursion to Maine.
  • Extended stays by family at the Boston home.
  • Completing Bayou Whispersand shopping it around.

There are probably other things I’ve forgotten, but I’ll add them to the “must dos” list as I remember them.

2018 was the first year I haven’t published a story since 2015…I plan on correcting that. I have seven short stories now ready for submission (one is already under consideration) so I hope to up the count of published works from last year’s dismal “zero” to “greater than zero.”

And this month I’ve kicked off “NENoWriMo (New England Novel Writing Month)” for a few local writer-type friends and I. And I need to eventually decide on the fate of The Prodigal’s Foole  and the Arcana Chroniclesseries I began to pen earlier in the decade.

Working on my health is a major factor as well…I have my annual cancer check (post Thyroid cancer) in March and the Neurological rehabilitation is a long process which will continue as well.

There is a lot to look forward too in the New Year. So perhaps I should table a bit of the curmudgeon and look for more of the positive. That sound suspiciously like a…*shudder*…”resolution.”

All things considered—it’s not a terrible change to attempt.

From my family to yours—make 2019 YOUR year. Kick ass. Make me proud.

Just turn the music down and get off my lawn whilst making me proud, okay?


RBW-JAN 2019




The Word Count Podcast: Episode 80

Where Have Our Students Gone?

The 80th episode of the #WordCountPodcast was inspired by this picture:

You can play this episode right here:

There are THREE original stories for you this time around, and I think you’ll enjoy what the Word Count #Irregulars have in store for you!

This episode, of course, leads into our Eighth Halloween Special next month. Time flies when you are having more fun than a barrel of whatever.

Before I introduce you to this month’s authors and their stories, I have just a couple of house keeping items before I list the bios and credits.

A reminder that we are looking to increase the number of likes on the show’s Facebook Page, so hope on over there and tell you friends about us (use the #WordCountPodcast hashtag).

Second, as always, the WCP is FREE to download and listen  via iTunes or Libsyn. This show is brought to you by writers who love the opportunity to share their stories with you. In many ways, the #WordCountPodcast is a hobby for us, as there are no advertisers or revenue stream. It’s just us, a microphone, a four channel mixing board and a passion for sharing our words with you.

We are not asking, nor have ever asked, for monetary compensation. This is our playground, and once a month we invite you to join us around a virtual campfire and listen for a bit.

However, I, and my colleagues, would very much appreciate it if you shared links for podcast on social media, and perhaps check out each author’s links and bios (posted below).

In the meantime, allow me to introduce you to my talented friends:

Our Guests:

Eden Baylee – “Final Ride”

Eden Baylee left a twenty-year banking career to write and is now a full-time author of multiple genres.

She has written three collections of erotic novellas and flash fiction ~ SPRING INTO SUMMER, FALL INTO WINTER, and HOT FLASH.

In 2014, she launched the first novel of her STRANGER TRILOGY with Dr. Kate Hampton–a psychological mystery/suspense called “Stranger at Sunset.” In addition to working on her next novel, Eden created the LAINEY LEE SERIES about a feisty divorcée who finds adventure and romance in Hawaii.

An introvert by nature and an extrovert by design, Eden is most comfortable at home with her laptop surrounded by books. She is an online Scrabble junkie and a social media enthusiast, but she really needs to get out more often!

To stay apprised of Eden’s book-related news, please add your name to her mailing list.




Twitter: @edenbaylee

Bill Kirton – “School Bus”

Bill was born in Plymouth, England, studied French at Exeter University and graduated in 1962. While teaching at Hardye’s School, Dorchester, he started his PhD on the theatre of Victor Hugo and was a lecturer at Aberdeen University from 1968 to 1989.

He’s also been a voice-over artist, TV presenter and have extensive experience of acting and directing. His directing credits include many French language plays as well as works by Shakespeare, Orton, Beckett and Ionesco. He spent a sabbatical year at the University of Rhode Island Theater Department, which commissioned translations of 3 Molière plays from me, one of which he directed himself. The script also won third prize in the British Comparative Literature Association’s Annual Translation competition, 1999.

Bill wrote and performed songs and sketches in revues at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, stage plays, two of which were commissioned by Aberdeen Children’s Theatre, and radio plays for the BBC, two of which were also broadcast in Australia.

Since the late 1990s, his writing has concentrated on prose fiction. He has written many short stories and ten novels, two of which have won awards, with a third being long-listed for the Rubery International Book Award.

Bill has held posts as a Royal Literary Fund Writing Fellow at universities in Aberdeen, Dundee and St Andrews and, since 2015, have been organiser of a Scotland-wide scheme which places professional writers in schools to help students with the transition to writing at university. He still give workshops in schools from Orkney to Dundee as part of the scheme and he’s written five books in Pearson Educational’s ‘Brilliant’ series on study, writing and workplace skills. Bill also co-authored ‘Just Write’ for Routledge.

Website (and blog):

Facebook pages:

Maria Haskins – “The Monster Hunter’s Last Lament”

Maria Haskins is a Swedish-Canadian writer and translator. She was born and grew up in Sweden, but now lives just outside Vancouver with her husband, kids, and a very large black dog.


Twitter: @mariahaskins

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.


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.


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?”


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.


“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?


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.”


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?