Heart-Shaped Con

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

Liver.jpeg

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.

THE PEOPLE

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:

roommate1

or this:

roommate2

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.

MarianneNEcon16

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:

Unknown-1

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.”

 

 

abs

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.

THE PANELS

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:

Liver

or this:

 

liver3

or this:

Liver2

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.

coffee

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.

BINGE-WATCHING

 

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.

binge

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.

 

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