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Old 08-26-2017   #1
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Topic Nominated NecronomiCon Retrospective

DAY 1

I flew to Providence—my first but, I hope, not last trip there—from New Orleans by way of (a very long layover in) Detroit. I woke up at 3:30am that day and couldn’t get back to sleep. The whole way in, I was nervous about the MESMERISM AND MACHINATIONS panel to which I had recently been added, which included such luminary, literary powerhouses as Anya Martin, Steve Mariconda, Michael Cisco, Leslie S Klinger and Sean Moreland. I read and wrote, as if I was cramming for an exam, most of the way to Providence.

Speaking of which, the landing in Providence was in my top three most beautiful. The small city from the sky looked like an intricate dollhouse-sized fairy tale town, little towers and spires twinkling in the sunlight. I wanted to reach through the airplane’s window and grab Providence and stick it gingerly into my backpack. Upon landing, I was picked up by one of my dearest friends, Michael Calia, who had come into town for the convention with his spouse, Katie Lang-Calia, who I had never met before. He got me to the Biltmore before registration closed and kindly grabbed my back and delivered it to me.

My first impression was one of warmth in the opulent lobby of the Biltmore. I, of course, tried to get on the defunct, glass elevator in spite of the sign and eventually made my way up to the registration desk, where I exchanged greetings with Scott Nicolay and Anya Martin, both of whom I respect and admire as authors and critics. I felt out of whack, too enthusiastic—jet-lagged, exhausted and still stressed from over a week and a half of working 12-16 hour days.

The Biltmore itself is pretty wonderful. Their key-card system had gone down, requiring them to have unfortunate staff members individually opening the hotel rooms for guests over and over. They were all warm and patient. The room was quiet and peaceful. I had a gorgeous view of College Hill from my windows. Perfect.

After getting my bearings a bit and running into and chatting with the wonderful Catherine Grant, I made my way to the NecronomiCon opening at the gorgeous, austere First Baptist Church. The readings and speeches set the tone for what would be my take on the whole trip: generous, enthusiastic and accepting lovers of the weird sharing their thoughts and works. The Bach organ piece was one of the most remarkable musical experiences of my life (yeah, that shocked me as well), and those who left while it was playing really missed out.

One of the chief mistakes of the trip was made next: instead of going to the art gallery opening nearby, I decided to return to the Biltmore, take a break and go to the outdoor party. Don’t get me wrong. I had a great time, but I stupidly thought I’d have a chance to get back to the art gallery before I left, which didn’t happen. Also, I got badly lost for the first but not only time while trying to find the outdoor party.

Oh, but I got to meet Michael Cisco and Farah Rose Smith in the lobby at some point in there! Talking Ligotti with Cisco is always thrilling, and I was and am so appreciative to Rose for her wonderful panel planning, and all the rest of the NecronomiCon work she did. It was such a pleasure! I was also so pleased to relay to Cisco how very highly Ligotti regards Cisco’s creative output.

So, the opening party... I had a fantastic time drinking some kind of concoction called Pickman’s something or other. It was good and strong. Calia and Katie were there, and I had a blast talking to them and a fellow writer, Errick Nunnally, soaking up the atmosphere of downtown Providence, which reminded me of a cross between my own New Orleans and Savannah in atmosphere and architecture. I immediately loved it.

Mike Calia was the life of the party wherever he went during the whole convention, utterly charming and witty, which made it easy for socially-awkward me to tag along in his wake. I was delighted to get to know Katie, who was highly intelligent, sensitive and kind. I feel like I made a new friend, and I now count those two as one of the most perfectly matched couples I’ve known.

The crowd grew larger, the drinks kept on coming, and the music was great. I was curious about the Black Lodge Party around the corner, so Katie, Mike and I made our way there. It’s a damn cool bar, reminiscent of my favorite hole in the wall, Snake and Jakes. Both are similarly lit with red Christmas lights. I was a little disappointed that there was not some bizarre, cult, secret ceremony going on, but the food was FANTASTIC. I had a sweet potato burger and fries that were just superb and really hit the spot.

By 10pm or so, I was done, and walked back with Katie and Mike to the Biltmore. I was so tired by this point that I barely got my shoes off before I was asleep on the bed. Not from alcohol intake, which was pretty minimal for me but from the exhaustion of the work week, the early morning and weeks of anticipation (and pre-panel nerves).


DAY 2

The next morning I woke up nervous and started last-minute prep work for the MESMERISM AND MACHINATIONS panel, which concerned the Decadent and Symbolist movements and their impact on the weird. I also got in touch with my personal hero and all around mensch, Sam Cowan of Dim Shores, who very kindly sold hardcover and paperback copies of my book at his table, which he shared with The Outer Dark. I loaded up my suitcase with my stuff, brought it over to the Omni, and met the crew setting up shop up there, people I’ve wanted to meet in person for years, including Justin Steele, Mike Griffin and his spouse, Lena, and Tom Lynch among others whose names I’m no doubt temporarily forgetting. I felt welcome. I felt accepted.

After setting up, I walked around the vendor tables and bought some must-read books like LOOMING LOW and Philip Fracassi's BEHOLD THE VOID (so good and such a pleasure to meet him), as well as S.P. Miskowski's new collection, which I’m stoked about reading. I also met Derrick Hussey of Hippocampus Press for the first time, and had a great conversation with him. I hope to continue that conversation soon.

Then it was off to the races. The MESMERISM AND MACHINATIONS panel went well, as I didn’t make too much of an ass of myself and learned a ton, with Cisco on one side of me, Klinger on the other. I felt honored to be among this crew. Also, it was my first look at the Biltmore’s Grand Ballroom, which is—again—opulent and intimidatingly huge. Special thanks to Farah Rose Smith for her excellent planning.

After the panel was done, I was in a state of profound relief. My memory of what exactly happened next is muddled, but I ate something at some point. Memory gap! Oh yeah, it was Subway. There were two readings I planned to attend, of which I only ended up seeing one – an excellent Shadows and Tall Trees reading with Robert Levy, Simon Strantzas , Steve Rasnic Tem, and a missing Michael Wehunt (who I saw read the very next day, fortunately, and he was as terrific as I hoped).

The most important part of the day—and possibly the whole convention—came when I finally met Matthew M. Bartlett. We’d had a near miss entering and exiting an elevator the previous evening, but finally the time had come. I’ve felt a kinship with Bartlett for quite some time, especially after reading his work, most of which feels like it could be a (much better) companion piece to my own writing. We were both similarly inspired to write by Thomas Ligotti, among about half a dozen other strange to downright creepy similarities between us. We had a long conversation about reading, writing, and (of course) Ligotti. It was like being introduced to a long lost brother. We managed to spend quite a bit of time hanging out in the same company in the days that followed, including an excellent dinner with Sean M. Thompson and Charles of various writings and Miskatonic Musings fame, witty, fascinating and intense Jonathan Raab of Muzzleland Press, the great Tom Breen, and, of course, Matthew himself. This was a fantastic evening of conversation.

At the end of dinner, we moseyed down to a bar that I only stayed at for about 30 minutes, after meeting and having a good conversation with all around excellent William Tea. I was overwhelmed and exhausted by that point—but happily so. By the middle of the second day I definitely had the feeling that I was losing time—wanting to be in two or three places at once. For example, I missed both the Special Guest panel and Guest Receptions in favor of hanging out with the aforementioned group. I was realizing that my carefully constructed schedule had been thrown out the window. I would be winging it from that point on.


DAY 3


The next morning I took Mike Davis (who I’ve wanted to meet in person for years) up on going out to breakfast with a wonderful crew of new friends including Davis, Bartlett, Tom Lynch, Scott and Anya. Every joint we went to was sold out, and after walking around downtown Providence, which was decidedly pleasant—especially in such company, we ended up back at the Biltmore where we ended up in the hotel restaurant.

I was supposed to go on a walking tour of Providence at 9am, but that didn’t end up happening. Instead, after breakfast, Bartlett and I headed to the Omni for a Floor 1 vendor visit. I bought a ton of his books I already had so that I could get them inscribed! Finally spent a little time with the brilliantly talented and industrious Yves Tourigny, who got more of my business than any other vendor there. I also got to speak at long length with Jonathan Dennison, of Cadabra Records. See, I’m gonna be narrating Ligotti’s “The Bungalow House” for him soon, as well as my own story, “20 Simple Steps to Ventriloquism.” I bought a t-shirt from him and marveled at his work. We talked shop a long time.

After browsing some more, I ran back into Bartlett talking to talented young horror prodigy, Brian O'Connell, who seemed like he had entered some kind of new level of Nirvana. Brian’s presence there was heartening and makes me optimistic about the future of the genre.

I popped upstairs to see Sam Cowan again and drop off some more hardbacks of my book.

I’m uncertain what happened next. Another memory void. Note to self: remember to clean off those knives. I blame Bartlett. I think I ate at Subway again, probably with Bartlett. Or maybe that was the previous day. Damn your eye-slugs, Bartlett!

Anyway, the next thing I knew I was at the Outer Dark Podcast Live, which was excellent. But I was becoming increasingly nervous about and distracted by the upcoming Ligotti panel and decided to adjourn to my room for note taking, absorbing several Matt Cardin-written Ligotti essays and writing notes for prep. A Matt Cardin aside: I was crushed that he couldn’t make the convention, as I had been looking forward to meeting my good friend of 20 years in person for the first time in the best and most appropriate venue ever. Plus, I was looking forward to kicking back and listening to him put us all to shame (except for Cisco probably) in the Ligotti panel itself. You were sorely missed, sir.

Once I arrived at the 17th floor of the Biltmore, my fear disappeared. It was a huge kick sitting at the table with Michaels Cisco and Calia, Brother Bartlett, and Alex Houstoun before the panel, watching the ballroom fill up almost to capacity (the largest gathering I saw aside from the very last panel of the convention). It was impossible not to be moved. Thomas Ligotti, who twenty years ago and more before that moment I had despaired was not getting the attention he deserved, has a real following from sensitive readers who love and feel connected to his work, often as intensely and intimately as I do. Here we all were in Providence, celebrating that work together. It was a magical hour and fifteen minutes. Eternal thanks to Scott Desmarais for filming it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OlZGJ7c4W1k

Here’s how Tom himself responded to that video: “I have a pretty good computer sound system, so I didn’t miss much of what was said. I watched it nervously, because seeing people I know speak in public in almost as bad as doing it myself—or so I imagine since I’ve managed to avoid being in that situation all my life. You guys did an amazing job, and I’m humbly grateful. And while knowing you for as long as I have has been its own reward, Jonathan, your participation on that panel was a real bonus.”

That’s Tom: a quality human being.

After the panel, I got swept away, signing books and talking to half a dozen members of the audience—a couple of them for a very long time in the Biltmore lobby. Here comes the biggest mistake of the convention for me: I lost track of time talking about my favorite literary topic: Ligotti’s work.

Unfortunately, one of my most anticipated readings of the whole event, the Looming Low reading, was under way by the time I came to my senses again. Not only under way – almost done! This was a reading including such authors as Michael Griffin, Livia Llewellyn, Anya Martin, and Michael Wehunt. I only managed to see Wehunt’s, which was fantastic and make me all the more eager to familiarize myself with his work, but the other authors are some of my favorites in the field. I screwed up, and I’m still pissed off at myself for it.

Dinner was another memorable one, though, with Michael and Katie Calia, Nadia Bulkin and Paul Tremblay. I was one of the many readers whose heads were blown off by A Head Full of Ghosts, and everywhere I go, friends and acquaintances tell me how amazing Bulkin’s work is. I can’t wait to read it—especially now. It was a fantastic time at a Mexican joint filled with margaritas and laughter. What a warm, smart and funny group of people.

Later that evening, Justin Steele of Looming Low, Strange Aeons and Arkham Digest fame and Sam Cowan hosted a kick ass suite party that featured whiskey galore. It was overwhelming and fun as hell. But the day was catching up with me, and I needed to crash. I am pretty old, after all.


DAY 4


The next morning, I got up and had breakfast at Starbucks with that Bartlett guy and Sean M Thompson. By now, the cumulative effect of the convention had almost fully hit me, and I was feeling a steady euphoria from all the warmth and support from like-minded people. None of the negativity I had read about before (and, unfortunately, after) the convention was apparent.

I FINALLY almost literally ran into S.j. Bagley on the street, and they could not have been warmer or kinder to me, giving me a big hug and a promise to talk more. All of the NecronomiCon staff and planners—Niels, Farah, Barry, SJ—were fantastic. I mean, I can’t say enough about the feat they pulled off. This was my first convention of any kind, and it was one of the highlights of a year that included many highlights.

Sunday morning I saw another amazing reading in what would be a day of them – this time featuring Gemma Files, Jeffrey Thomas and Paul Tremblay. Each and every one of these stories knocked my socks off. Stellar lineup. I had spoken with Thomas the day before and talked to him briefly. What a wonderful writer and, from first meeting, human being. His story was one of the weirdest of any of the readings. Tremblay’s novel excerpt was fascinating and suspenseful, and Files’ reading and piece kicked ass.

Next was the reading I was a part of, thanks to Cat Grant, with Ruthanna Emrys, Sonya Taaffe, me and the great Peter Straub. I went first, reading “The Indoor Swamp,” which I think went pretty well and set the stage for the readings to come. What can I say about the authors I read with? I was enchanted by each piece and wondered more than once why and how I was up there with them.

After a quick lunch (was this Subway with Bartlett?), I watched what would be the final reading of the convention (for me), and it KICKED ASS. Scott R Jones’ Breath from the Sky. I was not planning to spend any more money on books, but after this reading I threw that idea to the wind and bought it up eagerly. This was my single favorite reading of an event that included really stellar readings. Every story was riveting, every reader/writer knocked it out of their park. And Jones was cool as hell throughout, quietly confident and professional, with wonderful dessert treats at hand. Bartlett, Morgan Crooks, Raab, Gordon B. White, Sam Schreiber. Congratulations and WOW. Bartlett took his leave afterwards, which was sad.

I quickly went up to the Omni afterwards to help Sam Cowan break down his table, collect my books (all sold out but one hardback, which I gifted to the wonderful SJ Bagley), and helped carry the remainder of Sam’s stock to the Biltmore.

I passed out or something for a while. Next thing I knew I was at the Future of Weird Fiction panel, which was packed! Michael Kelly mentioned my name in a list of new weird authors to read, which almost made me pass out. SJ mentioned Bartlett, which made me fist pump. Yes! Weird Brothers!

The rest of the evening is a blur. I think I went back to my room and happily collapsed. Oh yeah, I went to a nearby Vegan restaurant that was pretty good. Barbecue seitan and green beans.

I watched Game of Thrones. I cried a little (don’t judge). I scoffed a good bit. I talked to my spouse then and many times during the event. I missed her and our daughter badly and wished they had attended as well. I went to bed pretty early.


DAY 5


The next morning, I woke up, ate a muffin at Starbucks, and hit the streets, walking up College Hill and soaking in HPL’s old digs the day after his birthday and Eclipse Day. It was marvelously quiet. I took a lot of photos, all of which were lost the next day when my phone crashed. That seemed right somehow. Some memories should stay un-photographed, and this was a strangely appropriate one to keep to my own imagination without visual assist.

I made my way all the way down to the local Lego Store and got my daughter a cat woman/bat girl/robin set with motorcycle (which she loved).

And, by the time I made it back to the Biltmore, it was time to check out. I sat in the lobby a long time, soaking it in. I took a cab to the airport. I flew home.

I was glad to be back home, but Providence, the convention and all my new compatriots had reinvigorated me, had made me happier, and made me feel less alone in this weird, chaotic world. Thanks again, so much, to Niels, Farah, SJ, Barry and the rest for making this possible. I’ll see you all in 2019.

"...the uncanny is to me the defining trait of this strange and terrible world and our strange and terrible minds." --Thomas Ligotti
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Old 08-26-2017   #2
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Re: NecronomiCon Retrospective

This sounded absolutely delightful! A great «behind the scenes» companion piece to the Youtube video of the Ligotti panel. Thank you for sharing this.

"For he who passes the gateways always wins a shadow, and never again can he be alone."
- H.P. Lovecraft

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