Heart-Shaped Con

This past weekend, I attended NECon 36, aka The Northeastern Writers’ Conference, aka
The Great Liver Disaster of 2016.


Just kidding … I’m fine … sort of …

(Google … the only place where you can type in “cartoon livers” and have multiple images show up, one more adorable than the next.)

NECon is a convention for writers, artists, and fans of the darker side of speculative fiction. Held at the Baypoint Inn, in Portsmouth, RI, it is a relaxed and welcoming convention that is affectionately referred to as Camp Necon.

NECon was full of love and laughter this year–seemingly more than the usual amount. And that’s saying something.

My theory?   Binge-watching.

Yeah … it’s a little weird, but I’ll get back to that later …

First, let’s discuss the usual stuff: the people and the panels.


Many amazing people attend NECon. That’s why I think it’s one of the best cons around.

At the many cons I’ve attended, I’ve been blessed with wonderful roommates.

Which means I’ve never had to endure anything like this:


or this:


The guy-in-green’s face kills me…

And this year was no exception. I’d spent time with Marianne Halbert before, and I knew she was great. But I had a feeling she went beyond great, treading into awesome territory. Turns out, I was right.

Marianne is kind and sweet, fun and intelligent. If you’ve never met her, you’re missing out.


On Friday, we went out to dinner with three lovely and talented gentlemen: Jack Haringa, Errick Nunnally, and Bracken MacLeod. We laughed a lot. And the conversation went in many directions, ranging from pleasant to raunchy. We even created two, detailed recipes for an adult beverage that shall go unnamed … mostly because my father reads this blog, and I don’t want to be responsible for putting this expression on his face:


Love you, Daddy!

Then there’s Kristin Dearborn and Stephanie Wytovich. Both are super talented, and both are hilariously funny. Kristin’s quick wit and dry sense of humor are delightful. And Stephanie might have the best laugh I’ve ever heard. It is loud and exuberant and beautiful. It brings joy to everyone around her.

After hanging out with them, I have a better appreciation of the phrase “side-splitting laughter.”




Seriously … if you ever get to hang out with them, your stomach will look like this in no time flat.


I had extended conversations with many wonderful people, including Bev “He’s as hilarious as he is erudite” Vincent; Tony “The nicest guy in horror … and maybe anywhere” Tremblay;  John “Don’t let his stories fool you: he’s a giant teddy bear” McIlveen; Mike “I can’t believe how busy I am, but I’m having so much fun” Squatrito; Dana “I don’t think we’ve mocked the Pub Trivia Game enough” Cameron;  Chris “Snap into a Slim Jim! … then read Wrestletown” Irvin; Jim “Who’s next to challenge me in a hug-off?” Moore; and Linda “I will cut you, but not really, because I’m too awesome and empathetic to do anything other than love” Addison.

And just when I thought the people at NECon couldn’t get any cooler, I met Michael Rowe.

Of course, I spent time with many other amazing people, all of us laughing, discussing writing, and enjoying each other’s company.


I went to many wonderful panels this year, but two in particular stick out in my mind.

The first was called Broken on the Outside and In: Experts Discuss Writing about Physical & Mental Trauma (and Their Effects). The panelists included Karen Deal, Rena Mason, Ellen Williams, Kenneth Vaughan (the moderator), Marianne Halbert, and Mercedes Yardley.

Underneath the title of the panel, the program literally said this:

***(WARNING: May contain graphic content)***

In other words, they weren’t going to be talking about anything that looked like this:


or this:



or this:


I wasn’t kidding about the adorable liver thing.

It sounded ominous, but my roommate was on it–not to mention some other fabulous people–so I wanted to go.

Among the panelists were a nurse, a pharmacist, and a lawyer who works on legislation for mental illness. Their diverse backgrounds informed their perspectives, each one tackling mental and physical illness from a unique and fascinating point of view. But they all had something in common: each one approached the subject matter with a compassion and intelligence that should be bottled up and sold.

I gained a lot of knowledge from them and hope to bring it to my writing with that same compassion and intelligence.

The other panel that stood out was the Guest of Honor Interview, which featured Joe Hill, Mark Morris, and Laura Anne Gilman as the guests of honor and Sandra Kasturi and Brett Savory as the interviewers.

The panel provided a lot of insights into the GOHs, both as people and authors. Sandra and Brett were terrific. Instead of asking traditional questions, like “Do you use an outline?” they opted for questions like “What are you favorite TV shows?” and “Do you listen to music when you write?”

The questions were unique, but the outcome was still the same: authors talking about their writing process. And hearing about process is always informative and helpful.

I was even on my own panel, entitled Lessons Learned: Moving from Tyro to Journeyman. My fellow panelists were Kristin Dearborn (see above abs pic), Scott Goudsward, Dan Keohane, and Trish Cacek, our moderator. Many of us had been on a panel a few years ago about the mistakes we, as newbies, had made. This time we were able to talk about the things we’ve gotten right. Despite being at 10 a.m. on Sunday morning, the panel was well-attended, and we were bright-eyed and bushy-tailed.


And caffeinated … very, very caffeinated.

My co-panelists were awesome and had lots of note-worthy advice. I’m glad I brought a pencil. I’m honored the planning committee asked me to be on a panel again. It was a lot of fun.



One of the more memorable comments of the weekend came from the Guest of Honor panel. As the panelists were talking about television, Joe Hill turned to the audience and asked us if we ever binge-watch any shows.

Many of us raised our hands.


And Netflix’s heart skipped a beat…

Joe Hill, however, did not, saying (and this is some heavy-duty paraphrasing) that binge-watching didn’t allow you to really think about the show, to let it dance around your head, to let you daydream about it, and process it, and ponder it.

That struck a chord with me–I think because we all get so caught up in the 24-hour news cycle and this insane “Now, Now, Now!” mentality. It’s easy to lose track of the quiet spaces in our lives, where we can get bored, relax, and daydream. This is healthy for everybody, but particularly writers: we’re chronic daydreamers and some fantastic stories can come from those quiet spaces.

And when I was thinking about the weekend, overall, the idea of binge-watching seemed to apply, although from a slightly different angle.

NECon is always great. Always. But part of me knew there was something a little special, a little different about this one. After reading the flood of NECon posts on Facebook, I realized I wasn’t the only one.

When I asked myself why, one of the reasons I came to was binge-watching.

For the past bunch of months, we, as a country, have been essentially binge-watching a horrible reality show. From the shootings to the terrorism to the election.

The news coverage has been unrelenting. The Facebook posts and memes never stop and become more and more divisive every day. We are bombarded with fear and anger and hate, and we have nowhere to go with it.

We haven’t been given a chance to ponder what’s going on, to figure it out, to fix it, or, at the very least, to escape it.

So when we lucky few were able to congregate with like-minded people–away from the news, away from the vitriol of Facebook, away from all the negativity–I think it enhanced our usual good feelings about NECon, giving them a euphoric glow. Not that there isn’t a little euphoria every year, but when contrasted with the seemingly ceaseless horrors of the world, this year was all the sweeter.

We got to see friends we hadn’t seen in many months, we got to talk about writing from every angle, we got to drink, we got to laugh, and we got to be shielded from the world.

Nobody was angry or dismissive; nobody was blaming anyone for anything.

We basically binged on writing and happiness and laughter. We binged on each other. And it felt really, really good.

I swear to god, I’m not going to go all sunshine and rainbows and can’t-we-all-just-get-along on you now.

We have a long way to go before anything like that can happen.

But, for me, I’m going to try and keep that NECon euphoria in my day to day. If that means I have to avoid every article about the election,then so be it. I already know who I’m voting for, anyway. If it means I only read the fluff pieces about cops and their communities, then fine. And if it means I up the snuggles with my kids, the laughs with my husband, the reading and writing time, and the silly comments on my friends’ Facebook posts, then I will happily do that, too.

I hope you’re able to find a little bit of the NECon euphoria in your life, as well.

Okay … so I went there a little bit:

unicorns  rainbows

But it’s pretty spectacular, isn’t it?

Special thanks to Sara Booth, Mary Booth, Dan Booth, Matt Bechtel, and all the other members of the planning committee. You give us a wonderful safe-haven every summer. And because of your hard work and dedication to us, we are able laugh, learn, and bask in each other’s awesomeness.


StokerCon 2016

This year, the Horror Writers Association put on a new convention: StokerCon. It promised to be a great, new con with a ton of special guests and panels, as well as the Bram Stoker Awards.

And they decided to have it in Vegas, baby!

Many people, upon hearing they have an opportunity to go to Vegas, might react like this:



I am not one of those people.

At the thought of all the gambling, smoking, drinking, flashing lights, noise, ass cheeks, and excess, I felt more like this:


One of my goals is to use this gif in as many blogs as possible…

But I’d never been to that part of the country before, so I took it as an opportunity to see something new, if not partake in some of the greatest people-watching in the world.

And I was excited to go to the convention to talk about writing, sit in on some panels, and, above all, hang out with friends.

With respect to Vegas, I’d set some modest goals for myself:
1) See the fountains and glass ceiling at the Bellagio
2) See the gondolas at the Venetian
3) Maybe ride the roller coaster at New York, New York
4) Play a round or two of craps–one of my dad’s favorites–and see what the big deal is.
5) See some Elvises  (Elvi? Elvii?  Shit … they never went over how to pluralize Elvis at Boot Camp …).

Guess how many of those things I did?



I saw this guy on the Strip.

I’m not gonna lie: when it was time to leave on Sunday, I felt kind of silly. I mean, I must be the least adventurous adventurer ever. Only I can travel 2,500 miles to a part of the country which I’ve never seen and still not see any of it.


But then I thought about all the great things I did do.

It was great that the very, first person I ran into was Chris Morey, the man behind Dark Regions Press. He was super awesome and friendly. He was also the guy organizing one of the two book signings I was doing that weekend.


This was for Madhouse. Beyond me are Megan Hart & Mercedes Murdock Yardley, both talented and fabulous ladies. Photo credit: John Palisano.



This was for Chiral Mad 3. With Gene O’Neill, Michael Bailey, and Eric Guignard, three very cool guys.

It was great to have jet lag (stay with me), because I was up and out at 7:30a (seriously, stay with me) with the full intention of exploring the Strip. Then serendipity intervened, and I bumped into Gene O’Neill, who was waiting on Scott Edelman to go to breakfast. Gene and I chatted for close to an hour, and after some Abbot&Costello-esque moments, we found Scott.
Then they invited me to go to breakfast with them, and I’m glad I accepted. Bearing witness to the friendship and camaraderie between these two was a lot of fun. Scott & I had never met before, and I found him to be wonderful company. Plus, any man who brings jelly beans to a book signing is okay by me.


Scott & Gene. Such a pleasant way to spend my first morning in Vegas.

It was great to have extended conversations with Stephanie Wytovich, Kristin Dearborn, Rena Mason, and Erinn Kemper, four fun and talented women. We talked about writing and books and the con, and we shared many laughs.

It was great to meet RL Stine, to hear him interviewed by the awesome JG Faherty, to have him sign books for my kids, to tell him about the scary story workshop I did with my son’s class using lesson plans based on his books, to have him surprise the hell out of me with his terrific sense of humor.


Although I should stop being surprised by that at this point: horror writers are some of the funniest people I’ve ever met.

It was great meeting Eric Miller—my editor for 18 Wheels of Horror—and learning he’s just as awesome in person as he is online.

It was great to get a sweet pep talk from John Palisano after a not-so-great pitch session. But it was also great to follow that up with a much better pitch session.

It was great being with F. Paul Wilson and Tom Monteleone.


It’s always great being with Tom & Paul.

It was great going to dinner with them and David Morrell. I’d never met David before, either. He was intelligent and kind, and also a great conversationalist. And we talked about everything from Calvinism to So I Married An Axe Murderer.


I highly doubt Rambo & Brian Dennehy were talking about Calvinism and using Scottish accents …

It was great spending time with one of my first writer friends, Michael Bailey, and his soon-to-be-wife Kelly. I had my first Irish Car Bomb with them, as well as Paul, Tom, and Erinn Kemper. Not to mention the soon-to-be-trademarked Soccer Mom Bomb. We also had a nice lunch with Tom, Erinn, and the always wonderful Jack Ketchum.


These two … so awesome.

It was great to watch Michael receive a Bram Stoker Award—the highest honor a horror writer can get—for all of the hard and beautiful work he did for his anthology, The Library of the Dead.

It was great to be sitting with two of his mentors, Tom & Paul. To see the pride on their faces when they realized three winners that night had gone through their Borderlands Boot Camp. I hope they feel good knowing they’ve played a role in the successes of those winners, as well as the successes of countless other writers, myself included.

So, yeah. I missed some shit in Vegas. The thing is, Vegas doesn’t care if I saw the water show at the Bellagio or lost a hundred bucks at the craps table. Vegas doesn’t care how many Elvises I saw. And Vegas will be there when I go back.

This adventure wasn’t really about places. It was about people. It was about strengthening bonds and forming new ones. It was about laughter and writing and camaraderie.

It was exactly what I had hoped it would be.

Plus, I got to see this guy:


Chiral Madness

Chiral Mad 3 is now available!


So pretty, right?

I’m psyched to have my story, “Watch Me,” included in the table of contents.

My very first published story, “Inevitable,” was in Chiral Mad, the first installment of this series of psychological horror. I’m glad to be back!

Chiral Mad 3 is edited by Michael Bailey and contains beautiful art by Glenn Chadbourne. It’s published by Written Backwards, an imprint of Dark Regions Press.

You can order from Amazon here.
Or you can order from Dark Regions Press here. At the moment, a few deluxe, limited editions are left, so get them while you can.

Here’s a list of the complete table of contents:

Introduction: Observations on Horror Burnout – Chuck Palahniuk

01. The Poetry of Life – Richard Chizmar
02. The Last Rung on the Ladder – Stephen King
03. A Rift in Reflection – Hal Bodner
04. Windows, Mirrors, Doors – Jason V Brock
05. Prayer – Mort Castle
06. The Agonizing Guilt of Relief (Last Days of a Ready-Made Victim) – Paul Michael Anderson
07. The Black Crow of Boddinstraße – Emily B. Cataneo
08. A Flash of Red – Erinn L. Kemper
09. Red Runner vs. The Surgeon, Issue 18 – Jessica May Lin
10. The Dead Collection – Mercedes M. Yardley
11. Watch Me – Meghan Arcuri
12. The Bigger Bedroom – Josh Malerman
13. That Perilous Stuff – Scott Edelman
14. Know Your Code – Ramsey Campbell
15. 3-Dot People – Gene O’Neill
16. Silver Thread, Hammer Ring – Gary A. Braunbeck
17. Those Who Watch From on High – Eric J. Guignard
18. Blood Dust – Max Booth III
19. The Offering on the Hill – Richard Thomas
20. The Whipping Girls – Damien Angelica Walters
21. Seconds – Jack Ketchum

01. Fair – P. Gardner Goldsmith
02. Fail-Safe – Jonathan Balog
03. Folie à Deux – Sydney Leigh
04. Reflecting on Reflections – Bruce Boston
05. Mirror Image – Marge Simon
06. Black River #1 – Elizabeth Massie
07. Prescience – Rose Blackthorn
08. The Speed of Sound – Ciarán Parkes
09. Welcome Home, Darling – Stephanie M. Wytovich
10. Whisper #1 (A Warning) – Erik T. Johnson
11. Whisper #2 (A Prophecy) – Erik T. Johnson
12. Put Me to Dream – Stephanie M. Wytovich
13. Recognizing Trees – Ciarán Parkes
14. Arbitration – Rose Blackthorn
15. Black River #2 – Elizabeth Massie
16. Reflections Through the Raven’s Eye – Marge Simon
17. Beyond Symmetry – Bruce Boston
18. Folie à Plusieurs – Sydney Leigh
19. Insomnia in Reverse – Jonathan Balog
20. Promise – P. Gardner Goldsmith

So pretty, right??

You’ve Gotta Write to Write

Okay … I know what you’re thinking: Who let Yogi Berra take over the blog?


No one. Although I have to say my favorite Yogism is “Nobody goes there anymore. It’s too crowded.”

And, no, this is not one of those posts where I’m going to put on my tough guy voice and say, “If you’re serious about writing, you need to get your ass in the chair and do the work.” Yes, that’s true, but that’s not what I’m talking about.

I’m talking about when your ass is already in the chair, and you’re working on the genesis of an idea, the genesis of a scene.

I’ve recently started writing a new novel. It has nothing to do with the one I just finished, so I’m breaking new ground: new characters, new world, new magics, new backstory. It’s a little daunting but mostly exciting.

I still consider myself to be pretty new to this whole writing thing, especially novels, so I don’t quite have a routine down yet.

I have noticed that, in the beginning, I need to allow myself some time to think. Just some pure thinking and nothing else: to tease out an idea, as well as play around with some characters, plots, and settings.

That’s good and necessary … to a point.

If I’m lucky, the first part of the thinking stage is usually pretty productive: I hear some dialogue, envision a climactic scene, start to develop a character or two.

Then invariably I hit a roadblock, become frustrated, and get distracted by this:


or this:


or this:


It took all my will not to put the bathing suit photo here …

After my internet fix/snack break/day dreams, I get back to business and think some more. Then I get frustrated again. Because it’s worse than before. This time, nothing is coming to me.

What. The. Hell?

And after another ten minutes of annoying frustration, I’m back to the interwebs/food/James Bond stuff.

Vicious cycle.jpeg

I finally shake off the distractions (again).

Then the bad thoughts come. (And they always have loud, angry voices, don’t they?)

Maybe this idea wasn’t that good.
Maybe you’re not trying hard enough.
Maybe you should go back to being a math teacher.

But before I hang it all up, a tiny little voice worms its way through all those loud, angry voices.

It says, “Just fucking write. Write something. Anything. Write about your frustration. Write out the bio of one of the characters. Write out a scene where two of your characters argue over who the best James Bond is.”


… ahem …

The angry voices say, “But this is a fantasy. They don’t even know who James Bond is!”

To which the tiny voice says, “Who gives a shit? Just write it.”

And the angry voices think:


Someone’s got a potty mouth …

Granted, it’s not the most brilliant of brainstorms. I’m a writer; I should just write, after all.

For whatever reason, though, I get caught in that crazy, little cycle, and I freeze up.

Eventually I decide to listen to that tiny voice (who now says, “It’s about fucking time!”), and I start writing. Sure, the words that first hit the paper sound like a four-year-old wrote them.

But after a few minutes, the craziest thing happens: a whole world opens up. Ideas start to jibe; characters start to develop; a plot line becomes clearer; dialogue starts to flow more easily; and random, new characters appear out of nowhere.

The writing feeds the thinking, and the thinking feeds the writing.


That sounds like something I woulda     said …

All of these things may not happen in one sitting. But they do happen over the course of
time … after I’ve made myself put the words on the page.

And before I know it, I’ve made some decent progress.

It kind of feels like this:


and I also feel a little bit of this:


… although I don’t want to make this sound like more than it really is: it’s writing fiction not performing brain surgery (or giving out cars), for god’s sake.

But in the confines of being a writer, when you’ve created something out of seemingly nothing, when things start to gel in an unanticipated way … it feels magical.

And all it took was a little writing.


Post-Con Blues: the NECon edition

One thing I’ve learned since I started writing a few years ago is that writers don’t just write. They research. They outline. They cry. They read for pleasure. They read about writing. They cry. They edit. They edit some more. They cry.


Or maybe the crying is just me. Oh god. *Is* it just me?

They also go to writing conventions.

I haven’t been going to cons for all that long, and I don’t know what it’s like when you’ve been doing it year after year, but what I have noticed is that in the days immediately following the con, I have a feeling of complete and utter elation. Euphoria.

I kind of feel like this:


Except I’m a chick, and I didn’t drown.

And this year’s NECon was no exception.

I’ve blogged about NECon a couple of times (here and here), but in case you are unfamiliar with it, it’s a small convention in Bristol, Rhode Island for writers, artists, and fans of dark fiction. It has a wonderfully mellow atmosphere, making it seem more like a family reunion than a writing convention. In fact, its nickname is Camp Necon.

Truth be told, in the days prior, I wasn’t sure how this year was going to go.

The people with whom I usually spend the most time were not going to be there.


I missed you guys.

But I really shouldn’t have worried. As I said, NECon is a lot like a family reunion. And since I’ve been going for a few years, I’ve met a ton of wonderful people.

So many things contributed to my aforementioned elation.

My roommate this year was Kristin Dearborn. It’s weird having a new roommate, as you never know how considerate the other person will be of your privacy and space. But when I walked into the room and saw her toiletries neatly arranged on one side of the sink, leaving plenty of room for mine, I knew I had nothing to worry about. She was fun, nice, and easy to talk to.

Plus, she made these:


Kristin rocks.

I reconnected and talked shop with Bev Vincent, Tony Tremblay, Peter Argano, Jose Nieto, James A. Moore and Dallas Mayr, among many other greats.

I laughed in horror with Catherine Grant and Barry Dejasu during “The NECon Update with Mike Myers.” Mike went into great detail about his colonoscopy. He said things like–


What happens at NECon Update, stays at NECon Update…and, Sweet Jesus, you should be happy about that…

I was on a panel called The Art of the Short Story. My fellow panelists included Jose Nieto, John Goodrich, Dan Foley, KH Vaughan, and Doung Jai Piscitelli. I have been lucky enough to be on panels for the past three years. The two prior to this, although awesome, were at 9 in the morning. On Saturday. After everyone’d been partying in the courtyard all night.

So when I found out this year’s panel was at 3 p.m. on Friday, I felt like this:


I also saw the Guest of Honor panel with Chuck Wendig, Paul Tremblay, and Seanan McGuire. I always love listening to artists and writers talk about their processes, and these authors were wonderful. I laughed a ton: the three of them had a great rapport. If the writing thing doesn’t work out, they might consider taking it on the road.


All three are wildly popular and prolific writers…

As an aside, I was psyched to learn that Paul Tremblay is a math teacher. Finding a math major/teacher at a writing convention is like finding a shred of human decency in the comments section of a Huffington Post article. I was a math major and math teacher, so I related to his path and appreciated his perspective. We didn’t get to geek out too much, but there’s always time.


Math geeks unite.

The bottom line is, I had an awesome time at NECon.

But after that elation wore off, something else happened. About five days after the convention, another emotion set in. It was mean. It was ugly. It was how I feel when I look at this:


And throughout my Facebook feed, I saw other NECon attendees were going through the same thing.


Maybe it’s not just me…

After having so much fun hanging out with friends, talking about writing, drinking tasty beverages (or swallowing vodka-soaked gummies), and eating saugies*, it’s hard to return to your normal life.

But that’s the thing about NECon. It’s super awesome. And coming down from that high is completely worth it. If you ever get a chance to go, I totally recommend it.

Special thanks to Sara Calia, Mary Booth and Matt Bechtel for all their hard work in putting this con together. You guys are amazing, and I love spending my third weekend in July with you.


*saugies…hmmm…in all the photos I Googled, they looked like hot dogs, and as someone who thinks hot dogs are Satan’s food, I’d rather not subject you to that. But they do not taste like hot dogs. They taste like miracles. They taste like unicorns and rainbows. They taste like awesomeness. Or maybe that’s the 1 a.m. alcohol-induced munchies talking…


Anthocon Revisited

This past weekend, I was in Portsmouth, NH at one of my favorite writing conventions: Anthocon. Run by Tim Deal, JOhnny Morse, and Mark Wholley, Anthocon celebrates speculative writing, art, and gaming. It’s a wonderful con: small and welcoming, professional and fun.

Writing can be an isolating and lonely endeavor, often making you feel like this:


…or this:


So conventions are important, allowing you to connect and reconnect with a number of fantastic people.

As usual, I was lucky enough to hang out with a lot of Borderlands Boot Camp friends, including Michael Bailey, Kelly Rumble, Olivia Monteleone, and Gard Goldsmith, as well as two of our instructors, F. Paul Wilson and Tom Monteleone.


Back (L to R): Kevin Lucia, Me, Paul Wilson, Tom Monteleone, Olivia Monteleone, Bob Meracle Front: Michael Bailey and Gard Goldsmith

Being with the Boot Camp people is important to me, because if it weren’t for them, my writing would be the literary equivalent of this:


I was also able to spend more time with the lovely and talented Marianne Halbert, April Hawks, Diana Catt, Errick Nunnally, and Tony Tremblay, strengthening friendships old and new.

And I met a ton of other wonderful people. Too many to name. But if you ever get to attend this con, you will be surrounded by awesomeness.

As in years past, the con was well-organized, offering interesting panels and ample opportunities to hear readings.

One that stands out (probably in all our minds) is Tom Monteleone’s reading of “When I Was.” I have heard Tom read before, and he never fails to impress. It’s really more of a performance piece than a reading. He, literally, cannot sit still while he’s doing it, and his accents, his inflections, his pacing are spot on.

Tom is a terrific writer. I enjoy his stories a lot. But sometimes I can’t help but wonder if he didn’t miss his calling…


The highlight of the weekend for me was AnthoJam. AnthoJam is a Saturday night event, where the more musically-inclined members of the community grab their instruments and perform. A playlist is set months in advance. Then these talented people practice by themselves, rehearse together a scant few times on Friday, and give a kick-ass performance on Saturday.

Last year’s show was amazing. I loved listening to the band and watching them have fun.

This year’s AnthoJammers were JOhnny Morse, Thom Erb, Frank Michaels, TG Arsenault, Erich Bruning, Marianne Halbert, Danny Evarts, and Alex and Bobbi Scully.

The guys played a number of rock songs, including “Ball and Chain” by Social Distortion and “Rockin’ in the Free World” by Neil Young.

Marianne did a great rendition of “Goodbye to You” by Michelle Branch and sang “Hallelujah” with Danny (reprising their awesome performance from last year).

Alex and Bobbi wrote their own lyrics to a classic Willie Nelson/Waylon Jennings tune, calling it “Mammas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to be Writers.” It was totally hilarious.

And this year, I was able to perform a song.


A shot of this year’s crew (L to R): TG Arsenault, Marianne Halbert, me, Erich Bruning, Frank Michaels, Thom Erb, JOhnny Morse, and Alex Scully (missing: Bobbi Scully and Danny Evarts)

A few months back, Tracie Orsi, a vivacious member of our community and my closest writing friend, passed away after a fast and furious battle with cancer. The guys at Anthocon wanted to do something to honor her.

I had heard her sing a song at a benefit in the fall. A duet. I thought it would be appropriate.

After hearing JOhnny sing last year, I knew what an awesome voice he had. So he was the first person I thought of to sing with me.  And when I asked him, he did not hesitate to say yes.

I knew he’d be great. But me? I don’t usually sing in front of people, so I wasn’t quite sure what to expect.

One thing was certain: I was nervous. Really nervous.


I’ve used this gif before, but if the nervous sweat fits …

Fellow AnthoJammer, Frank Michaels (bassist) said, “Just have fun. No one cares if it’s perfect. If you’re scared and nervous, everyone else will feel scared and nervous. But if you’re having fun, everyone else will, too.”

This was sound advice, which I totally took to heart.

Another AnthoJammer, Marianne Halbert, said, “I need a glass of wine before we go up there. Want one?”


I took this to heart, too.

The tricky part about wine is, you want to have just enough to feel like this:


without having so much that you turn into this:


Fortunately, I had the just right amount and, with Johnny’s brilliant performance on guitar and vocals, I had a great time. And I was able to honor Tracie in a way I knew she’d love: through laughter and song.

(The first half is an intro about Tracie and the song. The actual singing begins around the halfway mark.)

One final note:
In the days following the convention, my Facebook feed was filled with pictures and comments about the con. Positivity and kindness were reflected in everything.

It might be easy to envision authors and artists of dark fiction as something like this:


After reading those posts, however, the reality is more like this:


To be surrounded by people who are not only talented, but also kind and compassionate, is a true blessing. I am lucky to be part of this community.

Thanks again to Mark, Tim, and JOhnny. I can’t wait for next year.

Songs in the Key of Crass?

About a week ago, legendary singer Ben E. King passed away. Ever since his death, my mind has been flooded with various oldies tunes.

Most people are aware he sang “Stand By Me.” And for many in my generation, this song conjures certain images.

Like this:


Or this:


Or (god help us), this:


Do you think they used real leeches?


But I had no idea he was a member of The Drifters, who are responsible for great songs such as “There Goes My Baby,” “Save the Last Dance for Me,” and “This Magic Moment.”

These songs reminded me of other greats, including “I Only Have Eyes for You,” “These Arms of Mine,” and “Sea of Love.”

The music is so much fun. And the harmony? Kind of makes you want to soar.

What I really love about these songs, though, is the lyrics. They are creative and, most notably, clean. They lack the crassness often found in today’s lyrics.

Case in point: “Yeah!” by Usher, Lil John, Ludacris, and others. There’s a spot where Luda says:
And Rowl! These women all on the prowl
If you hold the head steady, I’mma milk the cow
Forget about the game, I’mma spit the truth
I won’t stop till I get em in they birthday suits

And here’s this little ditty by Nine Inch Nails:

I want to f*** you like an animal.
I want to feel you from the inside.

When I first heard each of those songs, I was equal parts this:


and this:


I know these songs are a couple of years old, but you get my point. And truth be told, I like them both. A lot. Each has something in it that works for me. But let’s face it: it’s not the lyrics.

Going back to “I Only Have Eyes for You“:

You are here and so am I
Maybe millions of people go by
But they all disappear from view
And I only have eyes for you

Coupled with The Flamingos’ beautiful background harmony, these lyrics could make Vladimir Putin’s heart melt.


Then again, maybe not…

Or “These Arms of Mine“:

Come on, come on baby,
Just be my little woman, just be my lover
I need me somebody, Somebody to treat me right
I need your arms, loving arms to hold me tight
and I need, I need your tender lips


Holy shit, Otis Redding. Holy shit.

To me, Luda, Trent, and Otis are basically talking about the same thing. Otis just chose a less direct route. A much less direct route. (Of course, Otis’s delivery carries 90% of the song’s meaning, so he has that going for him, too.)

Some people may call these lyrics simple. I like to think of them as subtle. And in their subtlety lies their strength. They hint at things intimate and erotic, dropping a suggestion here and there, making you wonder what exactly they meant. Maybe Otis simply wanted to hold her, to chastely kiss her on the lips. Or maybe he wanted to “go all the way.” But he leaves that up to us to decide. And it’s fun being given that kind of freedom. The imagination likes room to play. (This is true for a lot of prose, too.)

I don’t mean to get all nostalgic and get-off-my-lawn-ish. I love a lot of today’s music. There is some great stuff out there with lyrics as romantic and sensual as Otis’s (listen to “Mirrorball” by Elbow). And I feel like there’s a place for bold and daring lyrics (yes, that means Ludacris’s stuff, too).

But there’s just something about those older songs…