I’m at the point where I literally blog once a year. And that blog is always about Necon. Necon is the New England Writers Convention, held in Portsmouth, RI at the Bay Point Inn & Conference Center. It’s for writers, artists, readers, and fans of horror and dark fiction. It is affectionately known as Camp Necon. Seriously, it’s so laid-back and easy-going, it is definitely like summer camp for adults.
I’m not gonna lie: the lead-up to this year’s Necon was a little rough. We learned one of the pillars of our community, Jim Moore, has cancer. In case you don’t know Jim, he’s the author of dozens of books and stories, an amazing mentor and supporter of the horror writing community, and one of the Best. Huggers. Ever.
Initially we didn’t know how bad it was, that unnerving uncertainty all too familiar and awful. All we knew was that he was in the hospital with a feeding tube and would obviously not be coming to Necon.
Within hours of learning this, we found out another beloved member of our community, Tony Tremblay, was also in the hospital, facing down one, maybe two, surgeries for kidney stones. Fortunately his prognosis was good, but he was unsure if he could come to Necon.
It was a rough day. These are two of my favorites (two of everyone’s favorites) and to learn I might not see them at Necon and, more importantly, to learn they were in this kind of pain was terrible. A gut punch. My mood grew considerably darker.
The next day, however, we’d been informed Jim’s cancer hadn’t spread. He’d be starting chemo immediately and would even be able to go home in a few days. And Tony’s first surgery was successful. So much so that he’d be able to come to Necon the whole time.
I was elated. Yes, Jim still has a battle ahead of him, but he’s a total badass with a lot of good fight in him.
If you’ve read my Necon blogs before, you know I always beat up on Connecticut for its traffic. It invariably extends my drive by at least a half hour.
Surprisingly, CT traffic did not slow me down on the way to Portsmouth. The sheets of rain in CT slowed me down on the way to Portsmouth. I don’t know if I’d call it ark-worthy rain, but I did see a pair of deer on the side of the road, so who knows?
On the way home, however, CT did not disappoint.
Not long after arriving at the hotel, I ran into my roommate, Marianne Halbert. We hooked up with Diana Catt, Brian Matthews, and Jennifer McMahon and headed to 1776.
Despite what that sounds like, we did not go to some quaint, Revolutionary war museum with exhibits like this:
No. When you go to Necon, 1776 means one thing:
Many Neconers go there … so many, in fact, 1776 is probably in the black for the rest of the year.
After grabbing our provisions, we headed to Mike Squatrito’s. Every year on Thursday night, Mike opens his home to us for a wonderful meal cooked by his brothers (who are chefs). This year, we had a clam boil, which included clams, corn, onions, potatoes, hotdogs, and sausages. So delicious.
In years past, this event has been outside, but because of the buckets of rain, we were in the house the whole time. If you know Mike, you know what a kind and generous person he is. In my mind’s eye, he always has a smile on his face. And a little rain wasn’t going to get him down.
I’m sure when his wife came home from work to find 30 horror writers in her house, slobbering over clams, however, she was like:
After that, we returned to the hotel, reuniting with old friends and meeting new ones. A great start to the convention.
Necon has a lot to offer, and two of my favorite things are the panels and the people.
So let’s talk panels.
One was called The Art of Unease: Weird Fiction, Strange Stories, and Other Surreal Horrors That Mess With Your Head, with panelists Laird Barron, Nadia Bulkin, Victoria Dalpe, John Foster, Todd Keisling, and KH Vaughan.
To listen to the panelists discuss this topic was fascinating. None was comfortable defining “weird,” yet each one gave me a clear picture of what it was: the degradation of mundane reality, when everything familiar becomes unfamiliar, something’s going on but you can’t tell what it is yet.
I don’t often write a lot of weird fiction, but this panel showed me the possibilities and made me want to try.
Another was the Guest of Honor Panel. This year’s guests of honor were Linda Addison, Grady Hendrix, and John Langan. A truly fun and entertaining trio, if there ever was one. Moderated by toastmaster (and all-around wonderful person) Kristin Dearborn, the panel was every bit as entertaining as the guests.
Kristin would throw out a question, and they went for it: the conversation took many circuitous (but logical) turns. Their answers were full of wisdom and honesty about the craft of writing. They played off each other and were clearly enjoying themselves. We—the audience—were enjoying ourselves, too. I learned a lot about writing, specifically that the self-doubt never goes away.
Which is comforting. Really.
Speaking of panels, I was on a panel entitled The Shadow Out of Time: The Influence of Classic Horror Fiction On Today’s Horror Fiction. My fellow panelists included Jack Haringa, Grady Hendrix, Michael Rowe, Matt Schwartz, and Nancy Kalanta.
My knee-jerk reaction when put on a panel is something like this:
Couple that with the fact that Grady is one of the genre’s leading experts on classic horror (and the fact that Jack does not suffer fools gladly), I felt a little like this:
So like the giant dork that I am, I started prepping two weeks in advance: taking notes, memorizing titles, practicing my answers out loud. I found books around the house—many of them children’s books I read with my kids—worthy of discussion. I even brought a couple as props.
Ultimately the panel went well. And Jack didn’t make fun of me.
Remember how I said Grady Hendrix is one of the genre’s leading experts on classic horror? That’s because he wrote the non-fiction book, Paperbacks From Hell, which discusses the history of most (if not all) horror novels written in the 70s and 80s.
He also gives a presentation about it, and the brilliant programming planners asked him to give it at Necon. It was fantastic — one of the most entertaining and informative pieces I’ve seen in a long time.
We laughed. We cried. It was better than Cats.
My intention was to get to many more panels than I actually did, but one thing kept getting in my way: people. I had so many conversations, some meaningful, others silly, all interesting and fun. That’s because Necon draws some of the best people around.
So let’s talk people.
On Friday night, we had a toast for Frank Michaels Errington, who had recently passed away after a long battle with a kidney illness. Frank was an avid horror reader and reviewer. He was a gentle soul with a great sense of humor. Always a pleasure to be around, always a pleasure to talk to. Thanks to Stephen Cords for organizing the toast and to Errick Nunnally for creating the beverage with which we honored Frank, the Bazon Gas. So yummy!
Can we all agree Marianne Halbert is incredible? (I guess if you don’t know her, this might be difficult, but take my word for it: she is.) Not only is she kind and smart, she’s super talented. She even sold out of her second collection, Cold Comforts, at the author signing in no time flat.
I also had the pleasure of seeing her panel on unreliable/unlikeable characters. Every time I see her on a panel, I am in her thrall. She is articulate and knowledgeable, and she relays that knowledge with humor and confidence. I always learn something from her.
Saturday night, we went out to eat at The Lobster Pot. We’d driven past there any number of times over the years, but finally decided to give it a try. The food was delicious, the view quintessential New England. And the company was just right.
Out on the quad, I talked Iceland with John Goodrich, pizza with Angel Colon and Mike Squatrito (apparently the best pizza joint is in Maine … what the what?), and I spent deliciously satisfying amounts of time with both Kristin Dearborn and Michael Rowe.
I finally had a chance to talk to Mary Hart, who is just as delightful as I thought she’d be. We had a lovely chat with Trisha Wooldridge, who is charming and generous and talented. Truly. She’s killing it lately. I can’t keep track of all her successes.
I also had a number of great conversations with John Langan. I met John a few years ago at a reading he’d given in downtown Manhattan. On our shared cab ride to Grand Central Station, we discovered we both lived north of the city, and–wouldn’t you know it–we’d both be taking the train home.
The exact. Same. Train.
Now, I’d just met this guy, so the thought of sharing a 90-minute train ride home with him kinda made me feel like this:
As it turned out, it was one of the most pleasant 90-minute train rides I’d ever had. John was intelligent, engaging, and so very funny. (Even though he grew up in a neighboring town and went to the rival high school. Go, Patriots!)
Embarrassingly, I have not yet read his work. He recently wrote The Fisherman, and it’s been on my radar. Since he was a GOH, I knew I’d be able to snag a copy at Necon. And I did. And he signed it. I’m totally looking forward to it.
I had many other conversations with many other terrific people, old friends and new. I wish I could mention them all.
Suffice it to say if you’d like to meet some caring and supportive horror writers, and learn a lot along the way, you should definitely come to Necon.
As always, special thanks to the Booth family, Matt Bechtel, and all the members of the planning committee. Without your hard work, Necon wouldn’t be half the con it is. xo