Seven NECons in Heaven

I blog approximately twice a year, and one post is always about NECon.

And my NECon posts follow the same, basic formula:

  1. Answer the question: What is NECon?
  2. Make fun of Connecticut traffic
  3. Talk about the panels
  4. Talk about the people
  5. Make more fun of CT traffic
  6. Marvel at the amount of alcohol consumed
  7. Squeeze in another CT joke, if possible
  8. Say Thank Yous

This was my seventh NECon, so it might be time to change it up a bit.

What is NECon?

(I did say, “a bit”)

NECon is the Northeastern Writers Convention held in Portsmouth, Rhode Island. It brings together writers, artists, and fans of horror and dark fiction.

It has panels and presentations and an awesome art show.

It has mini-golf; and a super nice cafeteria staff with super okay food; and humid guest rooms with lumpy beds but no one really cares because we’re all in the courtyard drinking, anyway.

It has yummy saugies; a hilarious roast that we can’t say too much about (except that this year’s roastee, Matt Bechtel, was excellent); and a game show that we love to hate but secretly love because it’s kinda fun to tease Doug Winter and Craig Shaw Gardner about it.

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Me with my teammates, F. Paul Wilson & Tom Monteleone. Doug made me participate this year. I was nervous because I totally suck at trivia. But I answered 2 correctly, so it wasn’t *that* bad… (Photo Credit: Elizabeth Monteleone)

It has a wedding. Okay … not every year. In fact, this was the first in NECon’s 38-year history. We were blessed to watch Jim Moore and Cullie Seppala marry each other. Although I don’t know Cullie well, I know Jim and can say he deserves every happiness coming his way. And she seems to make him very happy.

It has a toastmaster. This year’s was Errick Nunnally. With his sharp blazer, cocktail making kit, and thoughtful toast, he was all class.

It has a Hawaiian shirt contest, author signings, and a Town Hall meeting at the end because the organizers are awesome and give a damn what the attendees think.

And it has people.

Some of the kindest, most passionate people you’ll ever have the pleasure of meeting.

People like my roommate, Marianne Halbert. She’s genuine and smart and from Indiana – so she’s really nice and sweet … but not so nice and sweet that I can’t swear in front of her.

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Marianne!!   (Photo Credit: Tony Tremblay)

Or people like Mike Squatrito, who’s down-to-earth and funny and opens his home to us every Thursday night at NECon for some delicious concoction his brothers have made. This year, it was a clam boil. So quintessentially New England, I swear to god I became a Red Sox fan for half a second*.

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Wut?

Or people like Tony Tremblay, aka The Nicest Guy in Horror, who totally lives up to his nickname and makes even the shyest and most introverted among us feel welcome (and in a roomful of writers, that’s saying something). And he’s NECon’s unofficial photographer, so we’re all thankful for that.

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Tony!!   (Photo credit: Tony’s camera…sorry….I can’t remember who took this.)

 

Or Erik T. Johnson, who is wild and crazy and fun and scary smart, and I think his bones might be made of rubber.

Or Armand Rosamillia, whom I’d never met in person before. We had been in contact through Facebook when he was running the super cool program, Authors Supporting Our Troops, but that was it.

I have a story coming out in Tales from the Lake Vol. 5 (Crystal Lake), and the editor, Kenneth W. Cain, provided us with a list of interview and podcast opportunities, which included Armand’s podcast, Arm Cast. Since I recognized his name, I scheduled an interview for August. When I then saw his name on the NECon attendees list, I decided to introduce myself in hopes of making the interview a touch more comfortable.

When we met, he said, “I’ve got some time in about an hour. Wanna do it then?”

“Sure!” I said, trying to sound confident and positive, while actually feeling like this:

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I went back to my room for some fast and furious prep, then found Armand.

Turns out, all that worrying was for nothing. As soon as I sat down with him, Armand put me completely at ease. And instead of feeling like an interview, it felt like a conversation with an old friend. Yes, it was business, but I also got a friendship out of the deal. (If you are so inclined, you can listen to the interview here. Prior to mine is an interview with fellow NECon attendee, Paul McNamee. It’s definitely worth your time.)

Then there are people like Michael Rowe, who is super smart and has one of the smoothest voices around (he was unable to join us last year, and I missed him. Being with him again was fun and comfortable and perfect); or Brian Kirk, whose positive energy is contagious; or John Harvey, who’s an all-around good guy and talented blacksmith; or Kristin Dearborn, who just … well … god, she’s just awesome.

Or, finally, people like F. Paul Wilson, Doug Winter, and Tom Monteleone, who are my generous and erudite Borderlands Bootcamp instructors and – I think I can say at this point – trusted friends.

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Doug!!   (Photo credit: Chris White)

Worth noting are also the Guests of Honor: Dana Cameron, Helen Marshall, and David Wellington.

I’ve met Dana at previous NECons, and she’s one of the good ones: deliciously funny, intelligent, and kind.

Helen Marshall and I were on a panel together, What Inspires A Great Short Story? with Christa Carmen, Nick Kaufmann, Toni L.P. Kelner, and Ed Kurtz. She was witty and engaging, and I loved how she articulated her thoughts on short stories.

And David Wellington was charming.

Errick Nunnally (he’s everywhere, this guy) interviewed them for the GOH panel. I try not to miss this one, as the panelists are usually interesting and always drop at least one pearl of wisdom on us. And this year was no exception. Errick asked them great questions which showcased their talent, intelligence, and self-deprecating humor. They were delightful.

And the pearl?

Challenge yourself.

None of them explicitly said this. But Dana said** when she feels like she can’t or shouldn’t write a particular scene or genre, that’s when she’s most-likely to try it.

That hit home, and reminded me that the challenge is what keeps it interesting. The challenge is what makes us better.

Of course, there are other people – many other people – who are amazing and wonderful, and I’m sorry I don’t have the time or space to mention them all.

So … What is NECon?

NECon is many things, but it’s mostly the people.

Oh, Yeah. And Heaven. NECon is Also Heaven.

As I said, I’ve been to seven NECons so far, but this one felt a little different than the others. I’m always excited to attend, but that excitement is peppered with some stress and nerves, particularly with respect to time: I don’t want to arrive late; I don’t want to be late for the panels; I don’t want to miss a meal.

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I feel like this even if I’m early…

But I didn’t feel that this year. I arrived when I was supposed to, I cruised in and out of panels, and I definitely didn’t miss any meals.  Everything seemed to fall into place.

I was blissfully content and relaxed. As such, I listened better, learned more, and reveled in the company of my peers.

I had an even better time than I usually do (and that’s saying something, as well).

The reason for this, however, eludes me. Perhaps it’s because this is my seventh time at the dance, and I’m finally comfortable with my partner. Perhaps it’s because I’m working on being more present and being a better listener.

Or perhaps it’s because of the extraordinary amount of Canadians who joined us this year, bringing that whole “nicest people on the planet” vibe to the party.

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How can you not love Canada? They have Mounties, for god’s sake…

 

I don’t know that it matters. I’ll take bliss whenever I can get it.

Thank Yo—Oh My God, I Almost Forgot the Connecticut Joke!

Connecticut has so much traffic.

How much traffic does Connecticut have?

Connecticut has so much traffic, its state motto should be:

road-work-ahead-sign-x-w20-1-a

 

Thank Yous

Sara Booth, Mary Booth, Dan Booth, Matt Bechtel, and many others (including Jack Haringa, whom we missed a ton) put together a magical convention. Ask anyone who’s been, and the smile that blossoms on his or her face will tell you all you need to know. Thank you, guys. As always, I can’t wait to do it again.

 

*Just kidding, Mom.
**These are probably not Dana’s exact words, and she may have even said them on another panel…

Let’s Go on a Journey

I was in Providence, RI this past weekend for StokerCon2018. I will definitely be blogging about that later, but I wanted to share a conversation I had with some friends*.

It was about — of all things — Journey.

You know, the band fronted by Steve Perry and his luscious, feathery hair.

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We were talking about music we liked, and I brought them up because I’d always enjoyed their harmonies.

The room got quiet.

They all gave me funny looks.

Then they started saying things like:

“What harmonies?” and
“I’ve only ever heard Don’t Stop Believin’” and
“They’re terrible” and
“What the hell is wrong with you, freak show?”

Okay … maybe they didn’t say that last one. But I could see it in their eyes…

I found myself in the strange position of defending the shit out of Journey.

I’m not even that big of a fan. As a kid I had one, maybe two, cassette tapes (yes, cassette tapes … lord, help me) that I really liked, but that was it. Never saw them live, didn’t have their posters, didn’t know anything about anyone other than Steve Perry and his luscious, feathery hair**.

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So I dragged out my phone and Googled their songs. About 20 came up, and I’d heard of most of them. They’d only heard of one or two.

How was this possible? How could they not know Journey’s songs?

In the 80s, Journey was everywhere:  MTV, movie soundtracks.  EVERYWHERE.

I felt like every time I turned on the radio (yes, the radio … lord, help me), I heard something by Journey. They’re even on the radio now (and they’re one of those bands I find eminently listenable).

So I played them a few songs. And I swear to god, they all looked at me like this:

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It was a losing battle. So I cut my losses and shut the hell up.

But … after seeing all the titles listed together, I noticed something:  when put in the right order, those song titles could probably tell a story.

So I wrote one … sort of … it might actually be a poem.

Here goes (song titles are in italics):

 

A Journey in Titles
by Meghan Arcuri

When You Love a Woman,
Nothing else matters.
And you really Don’t Stop Believin’ that.
You believe it Faithfully.
Because she’s the only one that gets you Feeling That Way.

But sometimes you’re too intense.
So she leaves you, and you go your Separate Ways.
You think, I’ll Be All Right Without You.
But you’re lying to yourself.
Ask the Lonely. They know.
And Who’s Crying Now?
You.
But don’t blame her: Girl Can’t Help It.
Sometimes she needs a break.

After the Fall, you apologize, saying she takes you to a Higher Place.
Turns out, she misses you and feels Just the Same Way,
So she comes back to you with Open Arms.
When she returns
You don’t get it Anyway You Want It,
But there’s plenty of Lovin’, Touchin’, Squeezin’.
So turn out the Lights.

 

*To add context, these friends are in my generation and the generation before mine. So we were all alive in the 80s. And I know plenty of people in the generation before mine who know Journey’s stuff.
**Just so we’re clear:  I don’t think Steve Perry is hot. But his hair was pretty amazing, wasn’t it?

 

NECon is the Best Medicine

Let’s get the embarrassing thing out of the way first: I have not posted anything here in a year. I’m not proud of that.

Truthfully, my creativity has been kind of zapped since, let’s say, November. And although I hate blaming others for my failures, something has been weighing heavily on my mind. (Hint: it rhymes with Bonald Brump.)

But this past weekend I went to NECon, and that has helped a lot.

NECon is a convention in Bristol, RI that brings together writers, readers, artists, and fans of dark fiction. It’s a bit different than other conventions in that it has a more laid-back atmosphere, providing many opportunities for people to connect and catch up. It’s so laid-back, in fact, its nickname is Camp Necon.

I am from New York, so any trip to Rhode Island involves driving through Connecticut. And I would be remiss if I did not complain about the atrocity that is known as Connecticut traffic.

I Googled the state nickname for CT and knew that whatever it was, I would make the joke that it should be called The Traffic State.

rimshot

But Google told me that, at one point, CT was called The “Land of Steady Habits,” which I think works better because if you have to sit in all that traffic for all that time, there are any number of steady habits you might develop.

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The effects of NECon were almost instantaneous. As soon as I set foot in the Bay Point Inn, the husk that was my creativity started coming back to life. It was almost as if my whole body knew what was coming. Knew about the fun I would be having, about the conversations I would be engaging in, about all the laughing I would be doing. It felt like that scene in Underworld when Kate Beckinsale digs Viktor up one hundred years too early and feeds him her blood.

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Me before Thursday.

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Me on Thursday.

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Me on Sunday. 

 

And NECon did not disappoint.

I immediately found my roommate, Marianne Halbert, and the fun began. Mike Squatrito was hosting a delicious dinner in his lovely home, and we were looking forward to seeing him. As we were about to head over, we ran into Amber Bliss, a newbie whom we’d never met before, and invited her to join us. She immediately agreed, and said, “Never get into a car with strangers, unless you’re at a con. Then always get in a car with strangers.” Which is generally true.

We were happy she decided to come with us — she’s awesome. Although if my car had looked like this, I might have questioned her life choices, con or no:

van

 

The next day, the panels began. I’ve been on panels before at NECon, and they’ve always been fun. But this year, along with Errick Nunnally, Linda Addison, Hal Bodner, Larissa Glasser, and Elizabeth Black, I was asked to be on the panel entitled “Heroes Like Me: The Importance of Representation in Genre.” Diversity and representation have always been important to me, and I have always given them a great deal of thought. So I was truly honored to be picked for this panel.

But I was nervous. Really nervous. Like, this kind of nervous:

13147-airplane

What if I said the wrong thing? It could get very ugly, very fast. Yes, I am usually careful with my words and yes, I am usually good about knowing when to shut the hell up, but people make mistakes.

What. If?

So I spent the week prior to NECon researching and thinking and practicing what I wanted to say. And when the time came, things went well, and I touched on some of the points I was hoping make. My fellow panelists were engaging and enlightening, helping to broaden my mind on a topic so important to me.

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Tearing it up with Hal Bodner, Larissa Glasser, and Linda Addison. (Elizabeth Black and Errick Nunnally just out of view.) Photo credit: Christoph Paul

I went to a number of other great panels, but the one that sticks out the most was the Guest of Honor panel, which included Laird Barron, Gemma Files, and Weston Ochse, moderated by Lynne Hansen.

I always try to go to the GOH panel. They have been invited to NECon for a reason, and I am curious to hear what they have to say. Usually I walk away with a valuable tidbit that helps me grow as a writer.

This year was no exception. All the panelists said many interesting things, but the one thing that stuck with me came from Laird Barron. He said (and I’m paraphrasing) a lot of times authors feel they don’t have enough ideas—because they reject what’s coming from their brain as too silly or too frivolous. As a result, the brain eventually stops giving ideas altogether.

Essentially, your brain becomes Jack:

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Therefore, we should accept it all, take it all in, because inspiration can come from anywhere.

I am guilty of ignoring the ideas, especially as of late, so when I got home, I bought a billion notebooks at Staples. I plan on filling them so my brain won’t turn into this:

shining-frozen

The other thing that made the GOH panel a standout was the openness and honesty of the panelists. At some point throughout the conversation, each one spoke about a personal and difficult experience in his/her life. It was organic and moving, and everyone in the room felt it. Speaking in front of a bunch of strangers about any topic can be challenging. But to open yourself up like that requires a certain amount of bravery. And it made for a special panel.

Overall, the panels were great — they are every year. But in my opinion, the best part of this convention is sitting down and talking with people. I had so many small, quiet conversations with people like Doug Wynne, Cat Grant, John Langan, Tony Tremblay, and Jonathon Lees. Simple chats about writing or movies or whatever, that bring you one step closer to knowing a person and remembering what’s so great about this community.

Although many of the conversations naturally focus on writing, many do not.

For example, I had a wonderful discussion with Brian Kirk and KL Pereira that started with mathematics and meandered its way to feral children.

Was alcohol involved?

Maybe.

Then there was the one with Frank Michaels Errington where we railed against CT traffic.

Then there was the other one with Jack Haringa, Marianne, Diana Catt, and John Harvey where we railed against CT traffic.

(Are you getting the point yet, Connecticut?)

The five of us, along with Patrick Freivald, Bev Vincent, Mike Squatrito, and Ellen Williams had an amazing dinner at Thames Waterside Bar & Grill.
For whatever reason, “Thames” is pronounced the way it looks. If you ever want to see a group of writers get uncomfortable, make them say “Thames” they way it looks.

necon2017-Thames

John, Me, Ellen, Patrick, Bev, Mike, Marianne, Jack, and Diana. 

Then there was the conversation with Errick Nunnally, KL Pereira, and Bracken McLeod where we talked about … um … well … golly, Errick makes a strong margarita …

margarita

And it was on the rocks, no salt … just the way I like it.

Finally, there were my conversations with Bev Vincent. Quite frankly, any conversation with Bev is a good one. Although he is unassuming and soft-spoken, he shifts effortlessly from one topic to the next with intelligence and wit. He’s a fascinating guy with a wicked sense of humor. I hope you’re lucky enough to meet him one day.

As I said above, as soon as I arrived, I could feel my creative energy returning. By the time I left on Sunday — after all the conversations and the panels and, most importantly, the laughter — I felt completely rejuvenated. It’s one of the best parts of a convention: the inspiration and good spirits that come from your peers. And my NECon peers provide me with so much of both.

As always, thank you to Sara Booth, Mary Booth, Dan Booth, Matt Bechtel, Laura Hickman, and all the people who work so hard to put on such a wonderful con. Once a year is not enough, but it makes our time together that much more special.

And, Mary … this boa’s for you! xo

boa

Thanks to Elizabeth Massie and the other ladies for including me in this. It was awesome!

 

 

 

 

 

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:

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or this:

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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.

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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:

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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:

 

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or this:

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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.

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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.

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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:

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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:

excitement

 

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:

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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?

One.

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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.

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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.

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

 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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:

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Chiral Madness

Chiral Mad 3 is now available!

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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

Fiction:
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

Poetry:
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?

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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:

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or this:

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or this:

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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.

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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.”

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… 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:

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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.

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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:

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and I also feel a little bit of this:

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… 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.