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:

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Or this:

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Or (god help us), this:

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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:

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and this:

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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.

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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…

To selfie or not to selfie?

That is the question.

What might the Bard say about that one?

Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer                                     The slings and arrows of outrageous naked pictures,       Or to take arms against a sea of trolls…

I like to think I’m hip and with it.

What year did Austen Powers come out?

 

 

But let’s face it: I don’t have a Twitter account, I feel awkward when I post on Facebook, and sending an email is still my favorite way of electronically communicating with someone.

When I was a kid, we used all 10 fingers to type a message.

So the thought of a selfie makes me a little uncomfortable.
(Frankly, the word selfie makes me uncomfortable. It’s right up there with bestie and totes…and don’t even get me started about frenemy and cray cray.)

Part of me feels it just plays into this Culture of Me that we’re currently living through.
Look at Me!
Who’s more important than Me?
Try to be more like Me.
It’s all about Me.

Somewhere, Darwin is scratching his head.

And then I reflect on, well, Me and feel I might sound like this:

Get off my lawn!

This is the new millennium, after all. People do this shit all the time.

So the Horror Writers Association decides to do a promotional campaign using selfies to encourage people to watch, write, and read more horror.

I’m a member of the HWA. Just a lowly, little Supporting member, but a member nonetheless.

When I check out the horror selfies website,  I see a bunch of people up there, having fun, and, most importantly, encouraging people to read.

And I start to feel a little more like this:

Get off my lawn??

So I decide to do it.

HWA-selfie

Look at Me!

Then go read a book.

 

NEcon: The Thank You Note

Dear NEcon:

Thank you so much for another wonderful convention in Bristol, RI. I appreciate the opportunity to hang out with some of dark fiction’s most awesome authors, artists, and fans. This was my third time, and each one has been as excellent as the last.

I have many things to thank you for, but I’d like to start with the goodie bag.

With about a dozen books, comic books, and magazines, this was definitely the most generous goodie bag I have ever received from a convention. And I’m excited to dig into it.

Although in order to lift it, I kind of needed to look like this:

Whaddya think: another few shoulder reps?

Thank you, also, for offering another year of great panels. I attended a number of enjoyable ones, including “Man vs. Beast vs. Other: The Best Monsters in Modern Horror,” in which the panelists discussed their favorite monsters and what they thought the next big monster would be.

Even though I sometimes write horror stories, I am not well-versed in monsters. Read: they scare me and make me cry for my mommy.

For example, I couldn’t sleep well for days after I saw the movie with this guy:

Sometimes I still have trouble looking in the mirror…

The panelists included PD Cacek, Errick Nunnally, William D. Carl, Brian Keene, Mary SanGiovanni, and Nate Kenyon. Their passion for monsters was palpable, their knowledge vast. And that excitement and knowledge made for an entertaining and informative panel, even for someone as wussy about monsters as me.

Thank god my name’s not Helen…

And as far as where they thought the state of monsters was going? Let’s just say that, although there was some variation, I might be investing in one of these:

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Hello Kitty patch optional.

And I would be remiss if I didn’t thank you for putting me on a panel entitled “It Only Hurt a Little: My First Time (Writing a Novel).” To be honest, though, NEcon, when I first learned I was on it, I thought what some others probably thought: I didn’t know she’d written a novel.

Because I haven’t. Yet. But I’m working on it.

Read my blog about it here.

My fellow panelists included Richard Dansky, LL Soars, Dan Foley, Kristin Dearborn, and Laura Cooney. As with the monster panelists, they were informative and entertaining. And I learned a lot from them.

Because it was at 9am, though, I honestly thought we might be looking out onto this:

Complete with crickets.

But a surprising number of people came–coffee in hand–which was super cool of them.

The coolest part about being on the panel, though, is that now I need to actually finish the book. So thanks for the extra nudge.

No pressure. None. Whatsoever…

I should also thank you for giving me the opportunity to socialize with some of my writer friends, including my roommate, Tracie Orsi and our favorite Borderlands Boot Camp instructors Tom Monteleone, Paul Wilson, and Doug Winter (and his hilarious wife, Lynne).

Hanging out in the courtyard with these guys–and a host of other fantastic people–is one of the true pleasures of this convention.

Saugies at 1 am being another.

Forgetting how many beverages you consumed being a third.

Finally, thanks for reminding me of an old television commercial:

This is your brain…

This is your brain for the entire week after NEcon…

Any questions??

In all seriousness, though, I’d like to give a special thanks to the Booth family, including Mary, Sara, and Dan, as well as Matt Bechtel. Although I didn’t know Bob as well as many others did, I had the pleasure of meeting him two years ago. He was warm and funny and clearly loved this convention. His absence this year was unmistakeable, but his spirit was everywhere, from the touching tributes to the endless laughter. Thank you for continuing this con, however difficult it may have been. I’m sure I can speak for everyone in saying that it was wonderful and that we appreciate all of the hard work you put into it.

Thanks again.

Looking forward to next year.

Sincerely,

Meghan

Blog Tour

I was invited by the awesome and talented Sean M. Davis to participate in this blog tour. Sean and I met this year at Borderlands Press Boot Camp and have since caught up at the World Horror Convention in Portland, OR.

Sean is the author of Clean Freak and other stories. He is a good writer and a pleasure to hang out with. You can read his answers to the questions and learn more about him here.

And now the questions…

1) What are you currently working on?

In addition to editing some short stories, I am working on my first novel. Although it started out as a book about werewolves and vampires, it has morphed into something altogether different. Read: no fangs. I’ve constructed my own world and am enjoying setting the rules.

2) How does your work differ from others in the genre?

The novel would qualify as more urban fantasy than horror. I’ve always viewed urban fantasy as a mishmash of other genres, including fantasy, horror, and romance. My goal is for the book to have elements of all three.

3) Why do you write what you do?

Mostly I think urban fantasy is a lot of fun. I love seeing how supernatural beings behave in our regular, everyday world. Do the humans know about the super powers? If so, what challenges arise? And if not, how do those otherworldly beings get away with using their magic?

The magic is the key for me.

And I use the word “magic” broadly. Not so much the wands and potions you’d find in Harry Potter (although I think that’s great), but more along the lines of what you’d find in Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman or any of the scenes involving the House of the Undying in Game of Thrones.

When an ordinary object or place changes without warning, right before your eyes. That’s the stuff that really gets me going.

4) How does your writing process work?

You mean after the whining and crying?

At this point in my career, I have more experience writing short stories than novels. But a novel seems to require more structure and organization than a short story. I was pleasantly surprised to learn I would be able to use my skills as a former math teacher in such a creative endeavor. Writing a novel is like piecing together a puzzle, and my math brain loves that.

As such, I take many notes and use an outline. I know some people don’t like the outline, but I find it helpful. It’s not written in stone, so if I find myself being pulled in an unexpected direction by a character or scene, I go with it and re-write the outline.

When I’m writing a particular scene for the novel, however, I do find my process to be similar to my short story process. And for me that means it’s all about the dialogue.

In my head, I often hear one character yammering on about something, or two characters having a compelling conversation. And they won’t shut up until I write it down–usually at 11 pm, right as my head hits the pillow. After some grumbling, I convince myself that, no, I will not remember any of it in the morning, so I get up and basically transcribe what I’m hearing.

I love listening to what characters have to say to one another. Dialogue also helps me to develop voice and characterization. Later on, I go back and add the narrative and information about setting.

 

The three people I have asked to do this blog tour are Tracie Orsi, Chris Irvin, and Marianne Halbert. You can read their answers in about a week.

Tracie is the owner of the restaurant Ragin Cajun, as well as a great writer. We also met at Borderlands Boot Camp in 2012 and have been friends ever since. She’s recently had two stories accepted (“Salvation in Salvo” in We are Dust & Shadow and “Waiting for Jordan” in Behind the Yellow Wallpaper) and is working on many more. Check out more about her here.

Chris Irivn and I met at Anthocon…or was it NEcon…oh god, I don’t remember, but both are awesome. And so is Chris. He’s a great writer who can set a story’s atmosphere like nobody’s business. He recently released Federales, a fast-paced novella, and he is currently working on Expatriate, a comic miniseries about an American fugitive living in Rio de Janeiro. Learn more about Chris here.

Marianne and I also met at Anthocon. Not only is Marianne a wonderful writer, she is super kind and a lot of fun. I fell in love with her storytelling after reading “When Betsy Whispers” in Anthology Year One. She is the author numerous other works, as well as Wake Up and Smell the Creepy, a collection of her short stories. Check her out here.

World Horror Convention 2014

I spent the past weekend in Portland, Oregon at the World Horror Convention.

I’m from New York, so the three-hour time difference kind of kicked my ass. And since I never really got off my East Coast time, I spent a lot of the weekend feeling like this:

sick-prego-copy-red-eye

But I guess this is fitting for World Horror…

Of course, my zombie-like state had nothing at all to do with this

Thank you, Paul.

or this

Thank you, Doug.

or this

Thank you, me.

This was my first World Horror, and it was fantastic. I sat in on some great panels, including one called Horror from the Page to the Silver Screen. Each panelist had a unique perspective on watching his or her words come to life, as well as on losing creative control. And, although at times, I’m sure they must have felt like this…

What do you mean you want to add a unicorn and Justin Bieber?! It’s not that kind of horror!

…each offered great thoughts on how to handle oneself professionally.

Another memorable panel was The Short Form, which dealt with how to write effective short horror stories.

Pro tip: Be scary.

Seriously though, the members of this panel dropped some amazing pearls of wisdom about how to begin a story and keep it captivating. The whole weekend was almost worth those pearls alone.

Throughout the weekend, many other events were offered, including pitch sessions, the Bram Stoker Awards, and the infamous Gross Out Contest.

Yes, a gross out contest. I’ll get to that in a minute…

One of the best parts of the weekend was reconnecting with old friends and making new ones. I spent a lot of the weekend with Tracie Orsi, my Borderlands Boot Camp roommate. We shared many laughs and enjoyed spending time with two of our Boot Camp instructors, Paul Wilson and Doug Winter, and Doug’s lovely wife, Lynne.

I also got a chance to connect with people whom I’d only ever met on Facebook, including Benjamin Kane Ethridge and John Palisano. Both are as wonderful and funny in person as they are on Facebook.

We hung out in what’s known as the con suite: a large room on the top floor, where the hosts of the convention serve free food and drink.

Here’s how the hotel prepared for this:

I shit you not, they put plastic on the floor…kind of brilliant if you think about it.

And although Benjamin, John, and I may not know the proper pronunciation of the word meme, I think we can all agree there’s probably a good meme to be made involving plastic-covered floors and horror writers.

We also had a lot of fun at the Bram Stoker Awards Banquet. Emceed by the hilarious Jeff Strand, the show was organized and entertaining. And seeing fellow writers awarded for their hard work is always good.

Plus, we had a Borderlands Boot Camp table.

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Front: Tracie Orsi, John Palisano. Back: Me, Sean Davis, Jim Chambers, Michael Bailey, Paul Wilson, Gardner Goldsmith, Lisa Manetti. (But we really missed you, Tom Monteleone…)

If you’re not sure what Boot Camp is all about, check out my post about it here.

And that brings me to one of the highlights of the weekend: The Gross Out Contest.

This is a moment in the weekend when people stand before a panel of judges and a roomful of curious observers, and try their hardest to gross everyone out using words and/or props.

Yes…props.

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Judges: Rose O’Keefe, Doug Winter, Daniel Knauf, John Skipp, Brian Keene

Tracie, Michael Bailey, Kelly Rumble Westrope, and I walked in, ready to sit in the back. Before we could even grab our chairs, Gard Goldsmith pulled us to the first row, right in front of the action.

I felt like I was being set up and couldn’t help but wonder if we would witness something like this:

Except, instead of being sprayed with watermelon bits, I thought the food products might resemble blood, pus, and other goop sure to be mentioned in a gross out contest.

I learned a couple of lessons that night.

Number 1:

People tend to laugh upon hearing gross things, myself included. Although it’s probably more of a nervous laugh…

Oh my god, am I really laughing about a   #@$*   being shoved in a   #$*&   while smeared with mayonnaise? What is wrong with me?!

Number 2:

Grossing out people involves many common themes, including eating and harming various body parts. Also sure to be mentioned are placentas, disease, babies, and fluids. Of the 11 participants, I would say all 11 of them mentioned at least one of these things during their performances.

Gotta love batting a thousand for herpes.

At many points during the competition I found myself burying my face in Tracie’s shoulder, trying to find my happy place.

At least Rainbow Dash never talks about fetuses.

As a parent, I deal with my fair share of fluids, but even that was not preparation enough for what I heard and saw. I’ll spare you the photos, but let’s just say the event started with petroleum jelly and ended with mayonnaise and sausage.

Sweet Jesus.

Overall, I loved World Horror and would highly recommend it…especially if you like learning about writing, meeting great people, and, of course, hearing about fluids.

Boot Camp

A few weeks ago, I spent another lovely 3-day weekend in Towson, MD, participating in my third Borderlands Press Boot Camp. Why haven’t I blogged about it sooner? I’ll get to that in a minute…

Although we are affectionately referred to as “grunts,” it’s not this type of boot camp:

and we’re not treated like this:

Although I wonder how many adverbs it would take for Tom, Paul, & Doug to go over this particular edge…

Here’s how it works:

It’s an intense writing workshop put on by Tom & Elizabeth Monteleone of Borderlands Press. About 4 months before the weekend, you, the grunt, submit your work, whether it’s a short story or the first 3 chapters of a novel. During those 4 months, all the grunts and the instructors (Tom, F. Paul Wilson, and Doug Winter) read the submissions, line edit them, and critique them.

Then, during the Saturday of the weekend, you break into small groups (1 instructor, 4 grunts) and discuss each other’s stories in detail. The groups rotate throughout the day so everyone spends time with each instructor.

To be on both the giving and receiving ends of criticism is a daunting task. Especially for something that you’ve put a lot of time and energy into. And although most people are usually professional and kind, I think Tom should provide us all with one of these:

For hyperventilation or nausea, depending on one’s constitution…

At the end, you get to keep the manuscripts that everyone, including the instructors, has line edited for you. After 3 years of doing this, I’ve come to expect my manuscripts to look a certain way from each of my instructors.

Metaphorically speaking, Tom’s usually looks like this:

Paul’s is a little more like this:

And Doug’s?

I didn’t know that many red pens existed in the world…

In addition to getting your ass handed to you on Saturday, you are treated to some truly wonderful lectures on Friday night. The instructors go into great detail about the rules of writing, with a focus on voice, point of view, and plot. It is during those lectures that you realize how much the work you had submitted really sucked (see image of brown bag).

But…on the flip side, you learn a metric ton about writing. Not only are Tom, Paul, and Doug excellent writers, they are amazing teachers. They are clear and concise, use accessible examples, and field questions with ease and humor. Because of these three guys, and the many wonderful grunts I’ve met, my writing has vastly improved…so much so that I am proud to say I have 4 stories published. And that would not have happened if I hadn’t attended Boot Camp.

The only real drawback to Boot Camp is that it forever ruins your ability to read for pleasure. Whenever I read now, I feel a lot like this,

Not another adverb!

this,

Whose point of view are you in??

and this,

Who gives a shit what color his eyes are???

Another cool thing that happens during the weekend is a presentation by a guest speaker. This year’s was given by Richard Chizmar, last year’s was by Brian Keene–both interesting and nice guys  with a lot of helpful information. And not only are they motivational and informative, they have not read your submission and, therefore, cannot crap all over you for what you wrote.

Phew…Although the “crap all over” part is the thing that makes you better…

The last thing that happens is a writing assignment. Given to you Friday night, it’s a      500+ word scene/vignette/story. You are expected to write it using the rules you have been taught during the weekend. And it’s read out loud on Sunday morning by an objective third party. This year’s third party was Matt Warner. He was amazing…

…Academy Award amazing.

Because of this assignment, I usually end up logging 5 hours of sleep. Total. And by Sunday, here’s what everyone feels like:

I’m the one in the back…the cute one’s Tracie, my roommate.

Speaking of Tracie, I’ve met some amazing people at Boot Camp. It’s a work-intensive weekend, so you don’t get a lot of time to socialize, but you get to eat with your fellow grunts and sometimes brainstorm ideas for your assignment. This year, Tracie (the owner of Ragin’ Cajun) supplied dinner from her restaurant. On Saturday night, we were treated to something like this:

Plus, the shared experience of the weekend is something we all bond over.

So back to my original question: Why haven’t I blogged sooner?

The answer is simple: because of Boot Camp. One of the unexpected things that happens when you get home from your weekend is the amazing desire and energy to write. Yes, you’ve lost lots of sleep and yes, you might have taken a beating, but now you know something about writing. And now you want to put it to good use. So I haven’t blogged because I’ve been writing, working on some things I’ve been slacking on, as well as editing my submission from Boot Camp. It’s fun. Exciting. And two weeks out of Boot Camp and I am still riding that writing high.

Doesn’t get much better than that…for a writer.

Special thanks to the Monteleones, Paul Wilson, and Doug Winter for another fun and helpful year. And to Tracie…for making me laugh.

Anthocon

I spent the past weekend at Anthocon, a multi-genre literature and arts convention, focusing on speculative fiction and art. This is my second time attending and definitely not my last.

Anthocon is held in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. I would love to tell you how awesome Portsmouth is, but for both years, the only thing I saw in Portsmouth was this:

Chillin’ at the Holiday Inn…

The entire convention takes place at the Holiday Inn, and as I am not the most adventurous person, I tend not to branch out too much.

Maybe that makes me lame, maybe not; I like to keep this a judgement-free zone.

I don’t think Kelly Kapoor got the memo about judgement-free…

This year, however, I got a little wild and decided to go out to dinner Friday night. Beyond the actual walls of the Holiday Inn. Seven of us went to the Portsmouth Brewery and had a great time. We sat here:

I felt like one of the knights of the Round Table. Although if you have an inner math geek like me, it’s more of an Elliptical Table.

Anthocon is put on by a great group of guys known as The Four Horsemen. When I Googled “four horsemen” to find pictures, one image was cooler than the next. I couldn’t pick just one.

Here are a few of my favorites:

Not counting the LEGO, the general bad-assery of the work above is overwhelming (Although for LEGO, that’s pretty bad-ass, too).

The images are  foreboding. Scary, even. The stuff that nightmares are made of. And maybe that’s what the guys were going for.

But here’s a little secret: not one of those four guys is scary. Not even a little bit.

Now, I’m not saying they’re anything like this:

Although Rainbow Dash is pretty bad-ass.

But still…I’m not afraid they’ll bring the world’s end… In fact, they are four of the friendliest guys around. And pretty talented, too. (Ask jOhnny to sing for you one day…holy cow!)

The guys are, in no particular order, jOhnny Morse, Tim Deal, Danny Evarts, and Mark Wholley.

Class acts, all four of them.

Their con is well-run and professional, and, at the same time, intimate and laid-back.

On the professional side, I sat in on some great panels about what editors want (basically, read the effing guidelines) and how life experiences inform a horror writer’s work (basically, don’t ask). They also had many pitch sessions.

And I got to sit in on some great readings. Among the best I heard were by Chris Irvin, Errick Nunnally, and Bracken MacLeod.

Chris’s story, “Blind Spot,” knocked me out. And although his delivery was more subdued than the other two, he registered just enough emotion to enhance the awesomeness of the story. Learn more about Chris here.

Errick read from his new novel, Blood for the Sun, which is set to come out in March. Delivered with ease and style, this reading made me want to buy the book right then and there. I had a beautiful picture of the scene and characters and was captivated by their fantastical nature. All in a five minute reading. Learn more about Errick here.

Bracken read his story, “Mine, Not Yours,” which can be found in Anthology: Year Two: Inner Demons Out.

In a word: wow.

With his theatrical delivery, Bracken kept us on the edge of our seats; with his wonderful story-telling, he broke our hearts. I’ve also read his debut novel, Mountain Home, which is a fast-paced and amazing read. Check him out here.

I did a reading from my story “Mommy’s Not Perfect,” which is also in Anthology: Year Two.

AnthoconReading

Although I look like I just consumed lemons, I’m pretending to be my protagonist—a 5-year-old boy who’s dealing with his nightmares.

Anthology: Year Two: Inner Demons Out is available here.

On the laid-back side, Anthcon provides good opportunities to have extended conversations with many people. I spoke to too many awesome people to list, but I will say if you ever run into Tony Tremblay or Jacob Haddon at a con, do yourself a favor and talk to them…both are the embodiment of nice.

Like Necon (see that post here), a fair amount of drinking goes on at Anthocon. So those laid-back moments can go from this

saturday1

to this

saturday2

pretty darn quickly.

That’s me with (L to R) Gardner Goldsmith (great writer and super sweet guy…plus, he does a kick ass President Obama impersonation), Tracie Orsi (my awesome con roomie, writer and owner of the restaurant Ragin’ Cajun), and Michael Bailey (writer and editor and artist and proof-reader and mentor and IT guy and way cool person and…cyborg?? that would explain the never-ending list…). A photo credit needs to go to the fun and lovely Kelly Rumble Westrope. Thanks for the great shots, Kelly…I think…

Truth be told, though, I think among the five of us, we only drank one beer at this point…so maybe we really just need some supervision of this nature:

The bottom line is, Anthocon is a great convention. If you are looking to learn more about speculative fiction and art and, at the same time, be surrounded by amazing people, this is the place for you.

Thanks Four Horsemen!