Friday, July 26, 2019

This One Time, At Writer's Camp....

It’s been close to a week now, and my brain is somewhat recovered, so I think I can detail my thoughts and feelings about my very first NECON!

One quick note before we get started: most pictures here were taken by Tony Tremblay, who acts as NECON’s unofficial photographer. If it’s an awesome shot, he gets all the credit, not me. I was just the subject.

The NECON 39 Camp Photo. Can you find me?
For those who don’t know, NECON is the Northeastern Writer’s Conference, held just outside Providence, RI every summer. It is a place where authors, editors, artists, and publishers gather to kick back for a few days, have a few drinks, do a little networking, and basically have some fun for a weekend to relax after dealing with the day jobs all year long. It is widely considered to be summer camp for writing professionals, and that is most assuredly the feeling I got from it. Maybe that wasn’t the original intent, but it’s a damn good definition, and it’s what I’m sticking with.

I first became aware of NECON shortly after starting my own foray into this insane industry. As time passed, I learned more about it, and thought it would be something I would really enjoy, but I was put off a bit by the cost of attendance. Then I found myself at the author’s after party for Scares That Care last year, where both Brian Keene and Armand Rosamilia informed me and my wife that I had to attend this conference. I was also informed that the cost wasn’t just an admission cost, but included my hotel room for the weekend as well as meals for the time I was there. Taken in that light, it wasn’t so bad. On the drive home, my wife informed me, in no uncertain terms, that I was going this year. I asked how we were going to pay for it, and the plane tickets to get me there, and she said it didn’t matter, I was going.

From August of last year until July of this year, I wondered how in the hell that was going to happen, but lo and behold, happen it did. On Thursday morning at the ungodly hour of 6 AM, I found myself on a plane bound for Newark, where I would have a two hour layover, and then it was on to Providence.

I landed just after noon local time and immediately went outside for a smoke since I’d spent five hours without one. I know, nasty habit, I need to quit, yadda, yadda. I still needed it. After that, it was back into baggage claim to find my ride. We had a couple of other people to pick up around one, and then it was off to The Roger Williams University Baypoint Inn and Conference Center.

We arrived just before two, so I was able to check in and drop my luggage in my room. I had no idea who my roommate was going to be for the weekend, but I figured I’d find out before the day was out. At this point, it was time to figure out what this thing was all about. I headed downstairs and ambled around for a bit, but didn’t find anyone I knew already, so I found myself outside on the smoker’s bench waiting to see what the day would bring.

Let me interject that writers, by and large, are massive introverts. Many have learned to engage “table mode” while at cons where we’re at a table trying to win new readers and sell our work, but we chose a solitary profession for a reason. It’s not that we don’t like people (well, in most cases), it’s just that we don’t know how to interact with them all that well. As such, I discovered that since NECON is not a “table mode” type of event, I was going to have to exert some effort in order to engage with people. This is where my being a smoker actually helped. See, in my day jobs, that was how I made acquaintances with people. Smoke with them, end up in idle conversation, and see what clicks.

Part of the smoker's bench on Thursday. L-R: Ed Kurtz, me,
and Gam.
Thanks to this procedure, I was able to finally meet (in person rather than Facebook) and chat with Ed Kurtz and his very patient partner Gam. If you know Ed, you know what I’m talking about. Gam’s most common comment over the weekend was to look at Ed and ask, incredulously, “what the fuck is wrong with you?”

Anyway, after a bit of that, I saw Jeff Stand and his wife Lynne Hanson arrive. I’d met both of them before, at Scares and at his signing here in Nashville. Lynne was actually originally tapped to be the cover artist for What Sleeps Beneath. I ended up having lovely conversations with both of them, made all the better when the Aussie crazy man Aaron Dries showed up. I got to talk to Jeff about his Nashville signing, and the venue he used, and came away from it positive I needed to try it for myself. He even offered to come up and do it with me, which I didn’t realize until hours later, and which kept me smiling off and on the rest of the weekend and beyond.

I also discovered that Thursday was the only day food wasn’t provided for me. There was a saughy roast at 10PM, but that wasn’t really the same thing as dinner. I shuffled this conundrum to the back of my mind and kept mingling here and there.

Around six, Armand Rosamilia finally managed to break free of the purgatory that is apparently Connecticut traffic and showed up with Chuck Buda, Jay Wilburn, and new up-and-comer J.C. Walsh in tow. We caught up after last seeing each other at Scares and talking a few times via Skype and Facebook, and then conversation turned to dinner. I ended up joining the four of them as well as Jeff and Lynne for a trip to a nearby Chinese place where we had an incredibly fun dinner, and then it was back to the conference for the first night of drinking.

Thursday night's Scotch tasting. If ever a picture summed
up NECON, this is it.
Let me make something clear. I’d been making the joke for months that since this was a gathering of writers, it was basically a weekend filled with drinking everything you could get your hands on. That turned out to be more true than I’d expected. Thursday night kicked off with a scotch tasting. That should tell you something. Drinking was definitely a major element of the weekend. Keep that in mind, even if it doesn’t seem like it’s important.

I’d been awake since 3:30 AM central time, so it didn’t take much for me to be done. I headed back to my room, where I discovered I still didn’t have a roommate. True, people would be coming in on Friday as well, but I sure wasn’t going to look a gift horse in the mouth. I kicked back and watched a little TV, then crashed for the night, curious and anxious what was to come.

I somehow managed to be up in time for breakfast, where I met back up with Armand, Chuck, Jay, and JC. Tommy Clark joined us, and we became the lobby version of the Mando Mafia. If we weren’t in a panel, at a meal, on the smoker’s bench, or drinking in the quad, you could find us on the couches in the lobby, watching people come to and fro.

Bloodshot Books and Silver Shamrock
representing! With Todd Keisling. Photo
by Erica Keisling.
Honestly, Friday went by in a blur. I know I finally got to meet my Bloodshot Books publisher Pete Kahle in person, and talked business with him a bit. I also met and connected with April Hawks, Vikki Ciaffone, and the awesome artist Ogmios on the smoker’s bench, where we could often be found holding court. Through Armand, I met my Bloodshot Books and Silver Shamrock stablemate Todd Keisling and his lovely wife, Erica. We ended up having some good conversations on Friday, but unfortunately, they got repeated on Saturday since I started on some Wild Turkey Honey after dinner and didn’t remember having the initial conversations.

Which brings us to Friday night. Me, Chuck, and Armand didn’t understand why the biggest party would be on Saturday since we were all leaving Sunday, so we decided Friday was our night to tie one on. There is a saying that “what happens at NECON, stays at NECON” so I won’t detail that much, but I will say I saw a side of Chuck I never expected, and that amused me to no end. 

When I got back to my room, I was amazed to discover that I’d acquired a roommate at some point. He was already asleep, so I tiptoed around and made it to bed without waking him, and then was out like a light for the end of night two.

Friday night on the quad. L-R: Todd Keisling, Erica Keisling,
J.C. Walsh, and my drunk ass. Photo by J.C. Walsh.
Incredibly, I was up in time for breakfast again on Saturday. I won’t name names, but that was more than many people managed. It was another day of hanging out, being part of the lobby Mando Mafia, attending panels, and basically getting to know people I’d only met online before that weekend. I also managed to finally meet up with Rachel Autumn Deering, my convention sister from Scares That Care, and her beautiful finance Ashley. We’d missed each other the last couple of days for whatever reason, but on Saturday we finally got the chance to catch up. I also got to meet the wonderful Hillary Monahan, and had an awesome conversation about our bassets and dogs in general.

Later in the day, I attended what turned out to be the high point of the weekend for me: Grady Hendrix’s live performance of Paperbacks From Hell.

Saturday morning Mando Mafia, with special appearance by
Aaron Dries. Where's Chuck? Wouldn't you like to know?
Meme by Tommy Clark.
For those who haven’t read it, Grady’s book of the same name is a history of paperback horror from 1967 up until the crash in the mid-nineties. What the book may not tell you is that Grady is a man with impeccable comedic timing and a knack for performance. I laughed my ass off and fought back tears in equal measure during his presentation, and strongly urge you to see this if you get the chance. Want to know why us writers do what we do? That presentation will explain it better than we ever could. And Grady? My skeleton thanks you for the encouragement that it can be anything it desires, meat sack surrounding it be damned.

After that, it was back to the quad for more saughys and more hanging out. I was determined I wasn’t going to drink, but author C.M. Heil convinced me to have a couple of shots. We ended up chatting a bit as well. I went to bed mostly sober, but still crashed hard. Next thing I knew, it was Sunday, and it was time for the fun to wind down.

I had breakfast with Armand and the crew again, but they were heading out right after, so it was bittersweet. Yeah, I was going to see them at Scares this year, but goodbyes always suck, no matter how temporary. I saw them off, and then it was time to start saying my farewells to a brand new family.

And yes, that’s what they were. In my mind, NECON might be summer camp with Scares That Care being the family reunion, but that doesn’t belittle the fact that the folks I met and connected with at NECON were also now family. If I make a connection with you, it is both meaningful and lasting. If you make your way into my heart, you’re not getting out easily. That was exactly what happened at NECON.

After saying my goodbyes, the only thing left was to wait until everyone was ready to head back to the airport. I didn’t want to leave, but I was missing my wife, my kids, my dogs, and my freakin’ bed. Finally, at around two that afternoon, it was time. We loaded into the van, and off we went.

Was it fate that my flight was an hour and a half delayed? Maybe. It sucked, but I got through it. Still, I left with the certainty that I would be back again. Maybe not next year, but I would be back.

Overall, NECON was a new experience. That occasionally terrifies me, and occasionally uplifts me. This was thankfully the latter. I came home feeling rejuvenated with my chosen career. I felt joyful at the time I’d had, and excited to experience it again. That was my best case scenario, and I’m pleased that it was the outcome I received.

To the Booth family and everyone involved with NECON, I thank you. To the people I met, connected with, had conversations with, and even just briefly interacted with, I thank you. In fact, to everyone who was a part of NECON 39, I thank you. You all helped to make this newcomer feel welcomed, and reinforced his belief that the writing community, and the horror community in particular, is the single best group of folks on the planet.

I had a blast, and I will definitely be back. You can count on it.


  1. I am living proof that even if you quit smoking, they'll still welcome you at the smoker's bench. It was awesome to meet you, and I can't wait to dig into your book -- right after I finish John Buja's and Laird Baron's. Seriously, yours is third up in my haul. Welcome to the family, and damn right, you're coming back!!! -- Vikki

  2. It was pretty fucking awesome, wasn't it?

  3. It was a pleasure meeting you--great writeup!