Thursday, December 12, 2013

NecronomiCon 2013 Providence: an exhaustive and exhausting personal account

On Tuesday, August 20, I made a 14-hour trip from my home in California to Rhode Island to attend NecronomiCon Providence 2013, a convention dedicated to the life and works of one of America's most important horror authors, H.P. Lovecraft (1890-1937). I checked in to the Providence Biltmore on Wednesday, and stayed there until Monday, when I flew back home. The intervening five days were like an alternate reality, a skewed and superior variation of my normal life and my normal self. I felt a strong connection with my fellow attendees, a sense of inclusion that I rarely find in my everyday existence. It was also a revelation to share physical space with so many people who I had formerly known only as names and avatars on the internet, and/or through their published works. A rarefied atmosphere seemed to hang over Providence during that time, and I had such an amazing experience that I have found it hard to leave behind.

To preface, I should say that I don’t do things like this very often. NecronomiCon was only my second convention as an adult. I attended World Horror Convention 2012 last year in Salt Lake City and had a blast. I met a lot of great and interesting people, and had a lot of fun. It energized me, and spiked my love for the weird and horror to new heights. I was hoping for a similar experience at NecronomiCon; my hope was met, then far exceeded.

Also, this is a personal account of the convention, not a comprehensive overview. I ended up missing most of the major events, and never even saw a number of the featured guests. Other folks have posted excellent recaps covering more. This post is mainly for my friends and family who were curious and/or concerned about me traveling 3,000 miles from home to do odd things with odd people...

TUESDAY 08/20

The trip out was a little rough. My itinerary was changed a couple of times by the airline, and the original nine-hour trip blossomed into 14 hours when they gave me a four-hour-plus layover in Phoenix. I found a bar with somewhat comfortable chairs, settled in, ordered a couple of beers, and continued reading my current book. THE GRIMSCRIBE’S PUPPETS is an anthology tribute to Thomas Ligotti, one of my favorite authors. A number of the authors featured in the book would be at NecronomiCon, and I had a good time just sitting and drinking and reading.

A great book that will become significant later in the narrative, promise.

WEDNESDAY 08/21

I arrived at TF Green Field in Providence on Wednesday morning filled with bad food and high hopes. While waiting for the shuttle, I made the first of many new friends. Filmmakers Edward Martin III and Katrina Martin of Hellbender Media shared the shuttle with me, and we talked movies, books, and InDesign during the drive to downtown Providence. Off to a good start.

I was very early arriving at the hotel, so I left my bags at the bell desk and went looking for real food while I waited for an early check-in. As soon as I walked out of the lobby, I saw author and editor Joe Pulver with Lady Lovecraft in front of the hotel, talking to a small group of people. I recognized them both from Facebook and the Thomas Ligotti Online web forums, but did not want to interrupt their conversation to introduce myself. I hoped I would run into them again at some point over the weekend. Little did I know…

I had marked a nearby Irish pub during the shuttle ride, and had no trouble locating it. Murphy’s took good care of, pouring proper Guinnesses and serving up a big bowl of macaroni and cheese with ham. Waitress Becca was familiar with Lovecraft and very excited about the fancy dress/costume ball happening that Saturday night. In fact, I would come to find out that many bars had “Lovecraft specials” that week. The convention was fairly big news, and Providence probably hasn’t seen that much black clothing in one place in quite some time.

The hotel called -- my room was ready, a good three hours early. Thanks Biltmore! I walked back, and a number of notable people were now milling about the lobby. Mike Davis, publisher of The Lovecraft eZine, and artist Nick “The Hat” Gucker were there, along with a few other people I would meet later.

My swanky room. It had a big plasma TV, happy to say I never turned it on. I did request a mini-fridge though. For, um, food, Yeah, food.

I took it easy for most of Wednesday afternoon, resting and reading in my room. That evening, I walked a few blocks to a small theater to see some short films, including one I had backed via Kickstarter (Mars Homeworld’sTranscendent”). I was a little early, but fortunately there was a bar nearby. While knocking back a couple of pints, I made the acquaintance of stylish raconteur Matt Black. I drank beer, he drank rum, then we went next door to watch the films.

The films were of varying length, and on the whole very good. Standouts include “Stay At Home Dad” by Cody Goodfellow, John Skipp, and Andrew Kasch; the aforementioned “Transcendent” (well, at least what I saw of it – the DVD was scratched, and the movie cut out before it was over); and Bryan Moore’s adaptation of “Cool Air.” The closer was the hilariously insane “Frank DanCoolo: Paranormal Drug Dealer.” Bryan Moore was there, and talked to some of us afterwards about his projects. Bryan introduced me to his friend and fellow film maker Sultan Saeed Al Darmaki, who had traveled from Abu Dhabi to be there. Sultan has a new venture, Dark Dunes Productions, dedicated to making horror, SF, and fantasy films. Their first co-production, "Lord of Tears," just came out and looks fantastic.

This was also my first spotting of one of the convention organizers, Niels Hobbs. Niels is a marine biologist, as well as a founding member of Lovecraft Arts and Sciences Council. He showed up, made sure things were running smoothly, then disappeared into the night. I would see Neils many times over the next few days.

It was almost midnight, and I made my way back to the hotel. I was bummed to find that there was no food available, although the desk clerk directed me to a nearby food truck, Haven Brothers Diner. I got a bacon cheeseburger with fries, and left to devour it in my room. When I returned to the hotel again, I stumbled upon a newly-arrived Wilum Hopfrog Pugmire, a delightful man and fantastic author whom I have known online for a few years. He was sitting alone in an overstuffed chair, writing. I was hesitant to interrupt, but I did, and found him to be just as kind and gracious as his video blogs and forum postings would indicate. (When I first joined the TLO forums in 2009, Wilum sent me one of his books with a flyer and hand-written note, just because.) We talked for a few minutes, then I went upstairs to eat my food and let Wilum write in peace.

My initial experience meeting Wilum played out numerous times over the course of the convention. I would see someone I knew from the TLO forums or with whom I was “friends” on Facebook. I would introduce myself, and the person would seem to actually know who I was. The person would be unbelievably nice and down to earth, no matter their place in the genre food chain. I would see the person again multiple times, and they would remember me and seem to actually enjoy talking to me.

THURSDAY 08/22

I woke up fairly early Thursday morning and ventured out to find coffee. The hotel had a Starbuck’s right off the lobby, but I try to consume as locally as possible when I can, and since I had time, I wandered around a bit until I found Coffee King. One large black coffee and one bottled water later, I headed back to the hotel.

This time there were even more people in the lobby. Standing right in the center was one of the convention’s two Special Guest Authors, Laird Barron. As should be obvious from my review of THE CRONING, Laird is one of my favorite authors working today. He wasn’t currently engaged in a conversation, just sort of hanging out and soaking in the atmosphere. He must have seen me gawking at him, as he made eye contact and smiled. I introduced myself, and the routine described above kicked in. We talked for 10 or 15 minutes, and somewhere around this time I also met Joe Pulver and Lady Lovecraft; a number of authors whose work I admire, including Mike Griffin (with his charming wife Lena), Jeffrey Thomas, Pete Rawlik, and Miskatonic River Press main man and author Tom Lynch. At some point I ran into Justin Steele; Justin does The Arkham Digest review blog, and turned out to be one of my good con buddies.

At 11:00, I went down to the lobby for a special event. I had backed the hell out the convention’s Kickstarter, and so was entitled to a picnic with Wilum Pugmire and certain other backers in the burying yard at St. John’s Church. When everyone was assembled, Wilum led us on a roundabout walk to the cemetery, taking us past a number of Lovecraft landmarks and explaining the significance of each. (I touched “The Shunned House” house!)

We special Kickstarters on our way to St. John's with ye Hopfrog front and center. Picture courtesy of the redoubtable Matt Carpenter.

We arrived at St. John’s, and sat down on the grass near the headstones. Some picnic food was already there, and then Niels Hobbs showed up with a basket of more food. Both Edgar Allan Poe and H.P. Lovecraft had frequented this graveyard during their lives, so Wilum read us some appropriate poems, including one by August Derleth. I’m not an expert by any stretch, but I think it is safe to say that Derleth is a controversial figure in Lovecraftian circles. He did much to ensure Lovecraft’s work remained in print, but his own authorial contributions have been divisive. Wilum playfully told us not to tell his friend and pre-eminent Lovecraft scholar S.T. Joshi about the poem, as Joshi detests Derleth.

That's me soaking in the atmosphere with Wilum. Picture courtesy of the intrepid Matt Carpenter.

We began composing a group poem, an acrostic in honor of Lovecraft. Then, as a group, we posed for pictures on a large tomb slab where Lovecraft once sat and wrote.

The weather is growing ominous, as evidenced by my wild hair. Picture courtesy of the right honorable Matt Carpenter.


Lovecraft and Poe both wandered these paths. Some headstones are so old as to be unreadable.

Not an alternate cover for the first Black Sabbath record, just St. John's doing its eerie thing.

About this time we heard the first peal of thunder, and the picnic wound down. Wilum and some others continued walking around the College Hill area, and some of us (including me) headed back to the hotel. By the time I made it to the lobby, rain was pouring, thunder was booming, lightning was arcing, and I was soaking wet. Over the next couple of days, Wilum’s room was robbed (while he was in it!) and he fell off the stage at a panel. I don’t believe in curses, but I also will not be reading any Derleth poems at hallowed Lovecraft sites any time soon.

After changing into some dry clothes, I made my way back down to the bar. The afternoon passed in conversation and solitary reading before the evening really started picking up. I had offered to watch the Miskatonic River Press vendor table for Tom Lynch while he participated in a few panels the next day, and I must have a trustworthy face because he took me up on it. That being the case, I was included in the great MRP dinner at the hotel’s restaurant, a McCormick and Schmick’s seafood place. This is how I came to find myself dining with Jeffrey Thomas, Mike and Lena Griffin, Joe Pulver and Lady Lovecraft, Pete Rawlik, Tom Lynch, Mike Davis, and a few other folks I was happy to meet for the first time: David Rankus, Vince LaRosa, and Blair Leggett. Way too many appetizers were ordered, drinks were drank, food was eaten, and good conversations were had. Thanks to Tom for a great time, and for picking up the check!

Hey, who let the red shirt guy in? That's me, David Rankus, MRP honcho Tom Lynch, Joe Pulver, Jeffrey Thomas' arm, and Mike Griffin. Photo courtesy of lovely Lady Lovecraft.

MRP is the publisher of THE GRIMSCRIBE’S PUPPETS, and I had my copy at the table (I am rarely without a book). I am normally not an autograph kind of person, but this was too good to pass up; by the end of the convention, 10 different contributors had signed my copy. Of special note, Mike Griffin said it was the first time he had been asked to sign anything, so that was cool.

How can Mike Griffin never have signed anything before? Lucky me!

There were some special events scheduled for that night, including a private party at local bar Thee Red Fez for convention guests and Gold Key and Silver Key holders; Gold and Silver Keys were the top two tiers of convention passes, pricier but with special perks like this party. I had a Gold Key, and accompanied much of the dinner crowd on the short walk to Thee Red Fez. Justin Steele was with us by this point, and I spent a good deal of time hanging out with him over the next few days. Photographic evidence says Nick Gucker and Alex Houstoun were there in varying degrees too, and we slowly shambled our way towards the party.

From out of nowhere, I looked to my right and saw noted author and scholar Darrell Schweitzer walking next to me. We spent a few minutes discussing the selling of t-shirts at conventions (this man is a wide and deep reservoir of all sorts of arcane knowledge), then he just as mysteriously disappeared. S. T. Joshi also made a brief appearance, but did not accompany us to the bar.

Providence, beware! From left: Lena Griffin obscured by a pole, Justin Steele looking coquettish, Alex Houstoun cold busting a move, Joe Pulver patiently indulging my slack-jawed questions, and Darrell Schweitzer in conversation with a barely-visible S. T. Joshi. Behind Mr. Pulver and myself is Kelly Young and Brandi Jording of STRANGE AEONS magazine talking with a completely hidden (even his arm) Jeffrey Thomas. Nick Gucker lurks somewhere off frame... Photo courtesy of the stunning Mike Griffin.

The Red Fez turned out to be crowded to the point of ridiculousness. A small place to begin with, there was barely room to stand or walk, let alone any place to sit. Still, I can be quite determined when important things are on the line, and I grimly made my way towards the bar. It took a few minutes, but I soon had two pints of IPA and a shot of something in hand; one pint was for me, and I figured someone in our group would appreciate the other drinks. I quickly ascertained that the rest of the group had left Thee Red Fez, and I couldn’t really blame them. I ran into Anthony Teth, another convention organizer, and he gave me my Gold Key pin. I downed my pint, and left the other drinks in his capable hands.

There was another bar up the street we had seen on way to Thee Red Fez; McFadden’s was much more spacious with only a small crowd, and as I figured, the rest of the group had convened there. I think this is where I first met Patrick McKitrick, another guy I saw numerous times over the course of the convention. We had some beers and talked about Thomas Ligotti, a very good time indeed.

After that, it was time for bed. All this, and the convention hadn’t even officially started yet.

FRIDAY 08/23

I woke up nice and early Friday, and may have even eaten breakfast. I went down to the lobby and officially checked in with the con as Gold Key member, then headed to one of the vendor areas to find Tom and the MRP table. Vending was split between a number of connected suites on the 2nd floor, and a more open space on the 18th floor. An odd arrangement, but no doubt necessary given the Biltmore’s layout and the number of vendors present.

The MRP table was up on the 18th floor, located right next to The Lovecraft eZine table. I settled in, and spent much of the day there slinging books. This may sound like work, but it was honestly a very fun experience.

Lord loves a working man, don't trust whitey, see a doctor and get rid of it.

I talked with many different – and different types – of people, some of whom were much more socially awkward and shy than myself. You wouldn't know it from my behavior at the convention, but I am a very introverted person and I generally try to keep interactions with strangers to a minimum. This was different. Not only was I surrounded by other oddballs who shared my love for all things dark and weird, but I will go on record as saying the attendees and guests of NecronomiCon were, as a group, the most polite, respectful, and kind collection of 1,000+ people I have ever seen. I had a ball talking with people from all over this country, and quite a few from others. Besides England and Australia, I met a handful of people from France, and saw Sultan again.

Another perk of being a junior book salesman was the fact that many of the authors at the convention have connections with Miskatonic River Press or The Lovecraft eZine, or both. The upshot is that over the course of the day, almost all of them stopped by the tables to sign books or just chat. In addition to seeing Laird Barron, Wilum Pugmire, Joe Pulver, Mike Griffin, Jeffrey Thomas, and Pete Rawlik again, I also met Paul Tremblay, Michael Cisco, and Cody Goodfellow. Paul, Michael, and Cody signed my copy of THE GRIMSCRIBE'S PUPPETS; by the end of the convention, that book was signed by no less than 11 of the authors featured in the book. Dang.

Laird Barron signing some random books for unsuspecting future customers, Paul Tremblay, Alex Lugo making me feel even older and out of shape than I actually am, Lady Lovecraft and Joe Pulver, and the back of Justin Steele's head making a break for it.
The Lovecraft eZine table! Pete Rawlik selling and signing copies of his new book REANIMATORS, while eZine main man Mike Davis looks on with author Brett Talley and the first of many people whose names I will shamefully forget. A bifurcated Tom Lynch also makes an appearance.

Later that day, I was privileged to attend the wedding ceremony of Joseph S. Pulver, Sr. and Lady Lovecraft. Robert M. Price was dressed as the King in Yellow, and if you know Joe and his work, you’ll appreciate that. It was an amazing site, and even got me a little teary.

Mike Griffin walks Lady Lovecraft down the aisle.
A great shot of the almost-married couple, courtesy of the ubiquitous Matt Carpenter.

This led into the special reception for Gold Key holders and invited guests of the convention; hors d'oeuvres were served and small bar appeared, thankfully serving bottles of Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. That afternoon I also met my room mate, author and renaissance man Scott Nicolay. Some people back home had questioned my judgment in sharing a room with someone I had never met in person, but it worked out fine. Scott was there Friday and Saturday night, and even though (or perhaps because) he doesn’t drink, he stayed out much later than myself both nights, and was careful not to wake me up when he came home. I awoke each morning with all internal organs intact and accounted for, he paid more than his share of the room, and he gave me a copy of STRANGE AEONS magazine featuring one of his stories (issue #10, to be precise). Scott is a good guy, and an exceptional writer.

Friday night was The Eldritch Ball, where a costume or semi-formal wear was requested. I dressed as I seldom do, complete with tie and wingtips, and attended with Justin Steele and Scott Nicolay. We hung out towards the back and discussed varied topics of interest. The Biltmore’s Grand Ballroom is indeed a beautiful place, and the crowd was both large and lively. I ran into Matt Black again, as well as Wilum, and a couple I had met at the movie screening whose names have fled my brain. The line for the bar was long and I’m not much of a dancer, so after a little while I decamped for more hospitable environs.

All dressed up with somewhere to go!
Wilum Pugmire and reptilian friend making the Ball scene.

Justin and I ended up in a booth at the hotel bar with Jeffrey Thomas, and I had one of the best conversations in recent memory with these two fine gentlemen. Jeffrey is not only a fascinating guy, he is also one of the nicest people I have ever met. (Later on I met his brother and fellow author Scott Thomas, and while I didn’t get to talk with Scott very much, he was warm and friendly, and also struck me as a kind soul.) One more pint, then it was time for bed.

SATURDAY  08/24

I expected Saturday to be the busiest day of the convention, but it was about the same as Friday, at least as far as crowd size. The convention in general was well-attended, boding well for future events.

The day started with another quest for coffee. I walked back to Coffee King, only to discover it closed on the weekends. Damn. I kept walking, and came across Murphy’s again, which was open. I figured they would have coffee so I went in. Once in there, I decided to enjoy a different dark brown liquid instead (you are allowed to do this when away from home), and ended up having a few pints with breakfast.

I hustled back to the Biltmore for the first big event of the day: Joe Pulver and Laird Barron were reading at 9:00. This my first author reading of any sort, ever, and I was surprised at how small and intimate the space was. I found a seat in the second row and settled in. Newlywed Joe was up first, and he read an as-yet unpublished short story/poem riffing on “At The Mountains of Madness.” It was a treat to hear him reading his own story, and I let the words just sort of wash over me, my usual approach to reading Mr. Pulver. Some of his stories are quite experimental, and rather than follow the plot lines, I like to just soak in the atmosphere and let his art bring on different feelings and moods.

Then it was time for Laird Barron to read, but – what! – these two gentlemen changed the program. Laird and Joe are both established writers in the weird literary arena, and they had decided in advance that they wanted to spotlight some up and coming talent. They called up a surprised Mike Griffin to read from his story “Diamond Dust” in THE GRIMSCRIBE’S PUPPETS. This is one of my favorite stories in a volume absolutely filled with very worthy tales. “Diamond Dust” takes an original concept and runs with it to its mind-bending end (the Einst├╝rzende Neubauten references are a nice bonus).


Mike reads from his story while Lena Griffin and Joe Pulver look on.

After Mike had read for 10 minutes or so, my roomie Scott Nicolay was tapped to read from his story “Eyes Exchange Bank” in that same volume. Scott’s story is another home run, bringing the creep while laying out the little details that will be familiar to anyone who grew up in the bottom half of the economy. This book may be the widest exposure these guys have had yet, and their other work is definitely worth seeking out.

A blurry Scott reads from his story. (Scott usually appears in higher resolution.)

Laird then read his story “D T” from another Miskatonic River Press book, A SEASON IN CARCOSA, this one an anthology centered on the King in Yellow stories of Robert W. Chambers. I had not read this story, and I still haven’t read the whole book, although I did pick up a copy. “D T” involves a fictionalized take on genre legend Karl Edward Wagner, and is appropriately surreal and slippery. I liked what I heard, and look forward to reading the words myself.

After the reading, a bunch of people were hanging around outside the reading room, and I finally met Simon Strantzas and Richard Gavin, as well as John Langan. I am a huge fan of the work both Simon and Richard have produced so far, and despite Simon’s reputation, they both were warm and open folks. I have only read a couple of John’s stories so far, but both were spectacular. He also has one of the more infectious laughs I’ve heard in a while, and struck me as a great guy with whom to go drinking. All three have stories in THE GRIMSCRIBE’S PUPPETS, and were kind enough to talk with me and sign my book.

So much talent in such a small space. From left: Mike Griffin, John Langan's backside, Scott Nicolay, Richard Gavin, Simon Strantzas, and Jeffrey Thomas.

Taking a break for some refreshments, I retired to the bar before grabbing a seat at the first and only panel I attended. “The New Weird” was moderated by Jason Brock, and featured no less than Peter Rawlik, Lois Gresh, Joe Pulver, Jonathan Thomas, Laird Barron, and Richard Gavin. It was a lot of fun to watch, especially as everyone seemed to really dislike the category New Weird, and agreed that it was all just Weird. Excellent.

I had a couple of hours to kill, and wandered the vendor tables for a bit before settling in at the bar. Another perk of being a Gold Key was receiving ominous black robes and marching in a torchlight procession at Providence's public WaterFire event. I had to be at a safety meeting at 5:00 for the torch handling, and proceeded to very badly misjudge just how far I had to walk, and actually in what direction… After a half hour of being completely off course and starting to wander into a different neighborhood, I realized there was no way I would make the meeting. I emailed organizer Anthony Teth, then gave up.

Quite liberating, actually, and gave me time to prepare for another event I was very much anticipating: a concert featuring a rare live set from dark ambient master Lustmord, and headlined by a band I first saw 25+ years ago, Neurosis. Starting life as an angry metal-tinged hardcore punk band, Neurosis have taken their dual-vocal heaviness to new parts of the map and pioneered a distinct territory of the doom/post/rock empire. I hadn’t really listened to them in 20 years or so, but after a buddy loaned me their current release “Honor Found In Decay” (thanks Harrison) and I listened to it a couple of times, I bought it from iTunes. I met up with Justin Steele and young buddy Alex Lugo outside of the theater, and then ran into a bunch of other folks in the lobby, including Mike and Lena Griffin, Richard Gavin, Nick Gucker, and Scott Nicolay.

Alex Lugo, Richard Gavin, me, and Justin Steele. Photo courtesy of... someone. I borrowed it from somewhere.
Scott Nicolay and Nick "the Hat" Gucker.

I grabbed a $9 beer, then headed upstairs to the first row of the mezzanine, where Justin and I experienced Lustmord. One guy with a MacBook Pro and lots of peripherals, conjuring dark and beautiful and heavy sounds. A huge screen behind him showed shifting, abstract visuals, combining with the sonic landscape for an almost hypnotic effect. I’ve never seen that kind of music played live before, but it worked. The high volume, with bass notes you could physically feel washing over you, really adds to the feeling. I eventually just closed my eyes and listened, and was surprised at how relaxed I felt. That was pretty amazing.

Lustmord preparing to hijack my brain.

Between bands, we went downstairs to the main level of the club. I bought a can of local beer, Narragansett something-or-other (blech), and talked with good people. With no introduction or any words at all, the house lights went down and Neurosis started playing. I broke off my conversation with a rude haste, and hurried down on to the floor. I picked a spot somewhat close the stage but not so near as to be smashed or pummeled. I spent the next hour or so rocking out and really enjoying myself and the music. This was the first club show I’d seen in 13 years.

Neurosis!

After the show, I was at the merch table and ended up talking with Paula, Neurosis’ tour manager. Paula was in Spitboy, a raging Bay Area hardcore band I remember fondly from way back when. She introduced me to Neurosis bassist Dave Edwardson; he was happy to meet an old-time fan from the Bay Area and we talked for a minute. I also said hello to singer/guitarist Scott Kelly, but he was clearly tired and not into it so I let him be. I have to say, my taste is more for the first couple of Neurosis albums that are in the hardcore vein, but I do genuinely like the newer stuff too. All in all, a spectacular event.

Now it was time for one of the highlights of the convention. WaterFire was happening in conjunction with NecronomiCon this month, and lots of cool things were scheduled for the evening. Had I made it to the safety meeting, I would currently be walking in formation with a couple dozen other people, all of us wearing our hooded black robes and carrying flaming torches. Something would be lit on the water, then Cthulhu himself was expected to make some kind of appearance. After that, costumed Lovecraftian rockers The Darkest of the Hillside Thickets were scheduled to play a set on the outdoor stage. I have been a Thickets fan for years, and was looking forward to seeing them live.

My poor navigation skills once again led me off track. WaterFire events happen along multiple parts of the waterway that winds through Providence, and I was never able to find the area where all that cool stuff was happening, although I probably could have tried harder and walked further. I decided to call it a night, and headed back to The Biltmore. I saw some of my new acquaintances there who also had trouble locating the WaterFire event, so at least I wasn’t the only one. One final stop a the hotel bar, then it was up to bed. I had be alive and alert early in the morning for the Cthulhu Prayer Breakfast.

SUNDAY 08/25

Going into the prayer breakfast I was pretty anxious. Another Gold Key perk was not only attendance at this popular event, but being part of the Infernal Choir, a group of robed figures led in parody hymns by Darrell Schweitzer. I was nervous about being up there in front of a ballroom full of people, but at least I was robed and surrounded by other similar folks. A church organist accompanied us as we sang from lyric sheets Darrell had printed up, each song a humorous Lovecraftian take on a popular hymn. (I never went to church and was unfamiliar with them, but that didn’t really matter too much.) Robert M. Price got behind the lectern and delivered one of his sermons. In addition to being a Lovecraftian author and prolific editor, Bob is a former Baptist minister and has a doctorate in theology, so he knows what he’s doing. Peppered with jokes and funny stories, Bob’s sermon went on for a while, then the choir sang a couple of songs songs. Next up was Cody Goodfellow. Bob and Cody do a lot of these prayer breakfasts, apparently, and Cody launched in to an energetic performance. And this is where some intrigue comes into play…

Conferring with co-conspirator Tom Lynch. Dig those crazy robes! Photo courtesy of the delightful Lady Lovecraft.

On Saturday, Cody had asked Tom Lynch and myself to be his undercover minions, as he had a surprise in mind. He gave us awesome Temple of Yog-Sothoth t-shirts (now available for purchase from Skurvy Ink) that we wore to the breakfast under our other clothes. We also had strategically cached bubble wands and bubble fluid near at hand. As Cody began his talk, I moved to the back of my robed compatriots, crouched down, and hidden from audience view, I took off my robe. I readied my bubble wand and waited for Cody’s cue. Just as Cody declared a schism in the church, breaking away to lead his own Temple of Yog-Sothoth, Tom Lynch and myself took up positions on either end of the speakers’ table to guard him, and invoked the form of Yog-Sothoth with our bubble wands. Mine had dried out, however, and this first attempt produced no bubbles. I got more fluid, and waited for the next bubble cue. This time, bubbles. Thankfully. I was pretty stiff (and terrified) up there, but Tom was a natural, leaping around and making a wonderful spectacle of himself. Cody’s speech was emphatically manic, and utterly hilarious. Cody finished, and the choir sang a couple more songs.

Tom Lynch properly invoking Yog-Sothoth. His wand worked fine, and as such he did not have to endure the totally mature and not at all inappropriate jokes lobbed at the other minion. Ahem. Photo courtesy of the unstoppable Lady Lovecraft.

Author Lois Gresh was the final speaker. She performed as a male rabbi, complete with beard, and gave what turned out to be her first prayer breakfast address. Despite some rough spots, she was funny too. A couple more songs from the choir, and that was it. I had been too nervous to eat before, and the buffet stations were broken down with admirable speed so I missed the breakfast part of the prayer breakfast.

This was the last day of the convention, and as it got later, more and more people were leaving. Wanting to squeeze every last little drop out of this experience, I wasn’t leaving until Monday and was able to enjoy the final day in a leisurely fashion. I ate, drank, wandered the vendor tables, and spent some time talking to local artists. James Quigley works under the name Gunsho, and makes cartoonish dayglo weird art. Once again, he was very cool and we discussed our mutual appreciation for the art of Skinner. Michael Bukowski is a talented illustrator whom you might know from Yog-Blogsoth or his beautiful zine Illustro Obscurum. We chatted, and I picked up a couple of neat things from him. I also talked with Erin Soule and Chris Potenza, two locals who comprise The House of Gozer. I bought a small print from them, and then talked one last time with Nick Gucker. I bought a sketchbook from him, neat to see his process and the evolution of different pieces.

That afternoon was the final big event (at least for me), another reading by Laird Barron and an unknown special guest. Apparently science fiction and fantasy author Alan Dean Foster was going to be a surprise headliner, but at the last minute something came up and he couldn’t make it. I ran into Laird just before the reading, and he told me that his friend Michael Cisco would be reading instead of Foster. He also told me to make sure I didn’t miss Cisco, as his readings were extraordinary. I have a mixed relationship with Cisco; I had read a few of his short stories, but they were so nontraditional as to be difficult for me. While intriguing, none of them had made a lasting impression, mostly because I felt like there was a lot that I just wasn’t understanding or getting about his words. Curious, I grabbed a front row seat and enjoyed a beverage, then it was time to start.

Laird talked a little bit about his writing, then read a section of the novella “The Men From Porlock,” one of the anchors of his newly-released third collection of short stories, THE BEAUTIFUL THING THAT AWAITS US ALL. I first read that story in Ross Lockhart’s excellent 2011 anthology THE BOOK OF CTHULHU, and even after reading it twice there and hearing Laird read a chunk at the convention, I still very much enjoyed when I read it for a third time on the plane ride home, it’s that good. Laird read a particularly grisly passage, and it was quite enjoyable.

Michael Cisco then took a seat, and gave an incredible reading of his story “My Father’s Friends.” Actually, it was more of a performance than a mere reading. Dressed in black, with glasses and a head of dark curly hair, the intense Mr. Cisco emoted, glared, gesticulated, and seemed as much a Beat poet as the accomplished academic that he is. (In addition to being an author, he is an English professor and translator.) I’m still not sure if I’m smart enough or tuned to the right wavelength to truly “get” him, but I am now making an effort. I bought some of his books, and this article at The Weird Fiction Review helps with some of the big-picture ideas and other stuff I miss.

After the reading was over and folks were milling about, Laird gave me a copy of his new book and signed it for me. I had pre-ordered a copy many months ago, but due to business problems with publisher Night Shade Books, Laird’s book and a number of others were delayed for months while things were worked out. Ironically, the copy I had ordered finally arrived while I was out of town at the convention, so I was very happy to have a copy to read immediately.

The only picture I asked someone to take, me and Laird Barron.

At some point I met up with mystery man Jordan Krall, author and force behind publisher Dynatox Ministries and its many imprints. He sold me his last copy of Nicole Cushing’s chapbook THE CHOIR OF BEASTS, and as a bonus included his own book NIGHTMARES FROM A LOVECRAFTIAN MIND. Added to the other stuff I had already bought and/or received from generous folks, I made quite a haul.

Obligatory convention haul photo. Includes previously unmentioned cool ambient CDs from Hypnos Recordings courtesy of Mike and Lena Griffin - thanks!

I retired to the hotel bar to eat, drink, and read, and passed a pleasant afternoon. By this point the bartender, who was there every single time I visited the bar regardless of the time of day, recognized me, and he began referring to me as Trouble. An ironic nickname to be sure...

That was pretty much it for the actual convention. I milled around the hotel and talked with a number of new friends on their ways home, and just generally took it easy. I read a lot, thought a lot, and tried to enjoy every waning minute of this unique trip.

MONDAY 08/26

I woke up pretty early, had breakfast, then decided to do a little walking. I had to catch my airport shuttle at 12:00, but that left a few hours for sightseeing. I had not yet been to see any of the Ars Nerconomica, an art exhibition happening at three different venues around town and featuring a number of Lovecraftian works. Two of the venues were closed at 9:00 on a Monday morning, but I resolved to visit the Cohen Gallery on the campus of nearby Brown University. I walked the mile or so uphill to the college, and marveled again at the beautiful old architecture, as well as how terribly out of shape I had become.

Wilum informed us that this is where the service was held for Lovecraft when he died. I was really captivated by that weird tree.
I just don't see stuff like this back home. Beautiful.

When I finally located the small gallery, I had the nice surprise of having it all to myself. Everything was interesting, with standouts coming from the reliable John Coulthart, as well as a couple of folks who were new to me, Justin Bartlett and Paul Romano. But the main event, the reason I was determined to make it out here, took up most of my time. I have been a fan of Nick Blinko’s music and art for over 25 years, and on display here were five original pieces of his unbelievably detailed pen and ink drawings. The two smaller pieces are actually aerial views, from very high up, of the “nightmare city” mentioned in the Lovecraft’s “At The Mountains of Madness;” at first they just looked like black ink washed on to a white canvas, but the more I looked, the more vague patterns and hinted geographical features I could see. Like all of Nick’s work, seeing it in a printed version is much, much better than any digital representation. Nick is one of two prime movers of legendary UK anarcho/weirdo punk band Rudimentary Peni, makers of strange outsider music since 1981. He is utterly fascinating and deserving of a lengthy article himself, but I’ll just point you here if you are unfamiliar. With time winding down, I walked back through Providence to The Biltmore, passing the newly-created H.P. Lovecraft Memorial Square along the way.

"Sightings of Brown Jenkin the Furry Blasphemy" by Nick Blinko, an original ink drawing made for this show. There is no way a JPEG can do it any sort of justice. Picture borrowed from the NecronomiCon Facebook page.



























Some hometown love for ol' Howard.

I ran into Joe Pulver and Lady Lovecraft getting ready to depart, as well as Bob Price and later Wilum Pugmire. I checked out, boarded the shuttle (really just a minivan), and started the trek back to T.F. Green Field. The shuttle stopped at another hotel and picked up none other than Edward and Katrina Martin, the two people I rode in with back on Wednesday. Small world! We talked all the way back to the airport, and after a short security delay, I was en route back to California.

Due to layovers and time zone changes, it was about 8:00 PM when my wife picked me up at the airport. I was starving, so we stopped at our local pub and I had a large mug of Guinness to go with my steak and mashed potatoes. I tried to relate all of the amazing things I had just seen and done, but it came out rather disjointed and probably not a little nonsensical.

AFTERWARDS

I had taken the next day off from work as well, and I’m glad I did. It took me literally days to come down from the unique high of NecronomiCon Providence 2013. It took weeks before I was able to start writing this account, and months to finish it. This post is very late to the party, but in addition to assuring my family and friends that nothing untoward occurred out there, writing it has helped me deal with and examine the experience.

It occurs to me now just how little of what I did and how few of the conversations I enjoyed at this convention dedicated to Lovecraft were explicitly about Lovecraft. An enthusiasm for this strange man born over a century ago was shared by everyone, and the bulk of the convention was of course centered on his life and writings, yet these were not the things that drew my attention. I did not hear the keynote speech on Lovecraft's life given by S. T. Joshi. I did not see the unveiling of a bronze Lovecraft bust at the Providence Athenaeum Library. I did not attend any of the multiple panels specifically about his philosophy and ideas.

I consider myself a fairly hardcore Lovecraft fan, having read and re-read his work for over 30 years now. However, it was not the past, but the present and the future that drew my attention and made this such a powerful experience. As much as I enjoy and admire Lovecraft's stories, they are a finite and well-trodden path I have walked for decades, and I know where that path leads.

It is the living and productive authors and their stories that excite me more than Lovecraft himself. The 21st century is proving to be something of a new golden age for weird fiction; print-on-demand books and thriving internet communities make more and more varied fiction available to wider audiences, giving authors who may have had small or non-existent followings through traditional publishing wider exposure. Many of these immensely talented and interesting people already have numerous stories that I have yet to read, and who knows what they will produce in the future.

This is not history, this is happening now, and I find it terribly exciting.

There are plans to put on NecronomiCon in Providence every other year, and while I doubt any future iterations will have quite the same level of impact on me, I will do whatever I can to go back. I hope my new friends will be able to do the same.

4 comments:

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  2. How wonderful to relive that magic weekend through your account. I, also, could not locate Cthulhu's Saturday night summoning, but was compensated by a solitary evening walk around College Hill. Looking forward to 2015, Sam!

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  3. Very cool. Good to hear everything I missed! HA!

    --Jason V Brock

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