Dispatch from Providence: Matthew M. Bartlett Reflects on NecronomiCon 2015

The uninitiated might picture a convention dedicated to H.P. Lovecraft thusly: bent, twisted Practitioners of the Weird slink and lurch down the streets of Providence, heads in hands, some nearly clipped by rushing traffic as they navigate the orange- and white-striped construction cones, bemoaning the modernity of the whole affair. Silent, frowning men loom in booths, purveying worm-riddled tomes and moldering artifacts. In dimly lit elevators that stink of low-tide at some seaside resort gone to rot, fish-faced writers in tattered overcoats pick at the sores that fester on their necks. At night, from a high room in the storied Biltmore, a solitary writer looks down upon wretched creatures in the park below as they stare up at the stars with gape-mouthed dread. He retreats to the expansive bed, head swimming with thoughts of forbidden things, sleep an unlikely prospect. He scribbles madly on hotel stationery, occasionally crying out at the terrors leaking from his pen onto the tear-mottled page.

NecronomiCon was a touch sunnier than that.

I left Northampton at around 10:30 a.m. on Thursday, bags packed, along with a box of books I hoped to have the authors sign, as well as books of my own that I hoped to sell. Behind me, I left a time of financial uncertainty and banal dread. It disappeared in the rear view mirror.

I pulled my car into the convention center garage and contacted Sam Cowan using Facebook Messenger. He was busy running around trying to get his table set up, so I took the elevator down and sat in the lobby. The air was cool, almost chilly, a relief from the powerful humidity that would wait until Saturday to break. I wandered upstairs and happened upon the registration table, where I gave my name and retrieved my badge and pin. I turned around to see Sam rushing along. He looked…well, exactly like he looks in Facebook pictures, longish hair, bright eyes. The only difference was that he wasn’t ten feet tall like I’d pictured. He was trying to find the loading dock. We introduced ourselves and I joined him in his quest. The convention center staff were baffled by the question.

“Loading dock … hmm, loading dock …,” one said, scratching his head. Eventually, someone gave us vague, decidedly non-Euclidean directions. We headed bravely into the bowels of the convention center.

By some miracle we managed to locate artist Dave Felton in a side alley standing next to a car full of books and art. He was bald, bearded, and, like us, excited to be there, despite the stultifying humidity. Back the three of us went into the center, boxes in hand and on cart, down hallways crowded with stacked chairs and giant spools and rolled-up vinyl signs and miscellaneous this-and-that. We got turned around a few times. It reminded me of that scene in This is Spinal Tap when the band is lost backstage, yelling “Rock and Roll!” as they look in vain for the entrance to the stage.

“Weird fiction!” I yelled. Dave and Sam held aloft their books and bellowed, “Literary horror!”

At some point, Sam and his wife Rachael and I found time for lunch over at Murphy’s, an Irish pub with a pastrami-heavy menu. The Cowans were kind enough to provide me lodging in their room’s second bed for my first night, before I moved over to my reserved room at the Biltmore. They are kind, gracious, genuine people, and one of the best parts of NecronomiCon for me was that we became friends.

Soon after, we met up with authors Scott Nicolay and Anya Martin and helped them carry their stuff to the table.

The next few days were a joyous blur, and I fear I would bore you to death if I continued in narrative form. I want to get the highlights down. I want to remember them. Somewhere along the way someone said that going to this con was like Facebook come to life. It was better than that: it was Weird Fiction come to life, on every corner, in lobbies and in vendor rooms and in elevators and in restaurants.

So, the highlights:
-Meeting author Scott Nicolay (Ana Kai Tangata, After) for the first time.

-Meeting Scott Thomas for the first time, and hanging out with Jeffrey Thomas again (we’d met at Readercon).

-Watching Justin Steele emerge from the darkness like a plaid-clad Shuggoth (and I mean that in the nicest possible way) in the park across from the Biltmore, having had to make backup travel arrangements when his flight was cancelled.

-Sharing meals and/or drinks with Jeffrey Thomas, Damien Angelica Walters, Dominique Lamssies, Scott Nicolay, Anya Martin, Dave Felton, Michael Cisco, Nikki Guerlain, Michael and Lena Griffin, Sam and Rachael.

-Seeing both Ross Lockhart and Scott R. Jones in person, standing proudly behind the books they’ve published … and getting my Word Horde and Martian Migraine Press books signed. Both guys sold out of the books they’d brought—not a surprise. First-rate stuff.

-Attending readings by Daniel Mills, Sean Hoade, Joe Pulver, Scott Nicolay, Simon Strantzas, Richard Gavin, Anya Martin, Michael Wehunt, Peter Rawlik, David Neilsen, Tom Lynch, Robert Waugh, Jeffrey Thomas, and Scott Thomas.

-Meeting Nick Gucker—who will be illustrating the cover of my next book, Creeping Waves—and Dave Felton, who will be doing the cover and interior illustrations for The Stay-Awake Men, the book after that. And Michael Bukowski, who did the artwork for Scott Nicolay’s excellent book after. Are all horror/weird artists this great in person? I can only assume from this representative sample that, indeed, they are.

-Listening in on Simon Strantzas and Scott Nicolay’s late-night conversation about the coming Weird Horror boom, that is, Hollywood taking an interest: is it inevitable? Will it be good or bad for the writers swept up in it?

-Meeting Daniel Mills and swapping books with him.

-Seeing my friends Tom Breen, Joe Pastula (in from Japan), and Ray Majerski for lunch on Friday. Tom and I had gone to NecronomiCon 2013 together, and we marveled at how much had happened since then.

-The Future of Weird Fiction Panel: S.J. Bagley’s expert moderation; hearing Justin Steele mention Gateways to Abomination; listening to Joe Pulver talk about the writers and stories he loves.

-Telling Ramsey Campbell I loved his work when he was behind me in line at Starbucks.

-Talking with John Langan, whose work I love.

-Signing books at the Dim Shores table and dropping by the New England Horror Writers’ table.

-My wife Katie joining me on Saturday night and meeting a lot of the people about whom I’ve been raving for months, people whose work moves and inspires me.

-Seeing paperback copies of Rangel for the first time

-listening to Joe Pulver talk about…well, about anything.

-Spending money in the vendor room. I’d saved up bonus money from work and earmarked it specifically for NecronomiCon. In 2013 I did buy a few books, but spent most of my money on shirts, memorabilia, and artwork. This time around, it was mostly books. Let’s see if I can recall my haul from memory:

At Fear’s Altar by Richard Gavin
Conference with the Dead by Terry Lamsley
Bone Idle in the Charnel House by Rhys Hughes
The Lord Came at Twilight by Daniel Mills
Revenants by Daniel Mills
Children of Light by Daniel Mills
Cthulhu Fhtagn! edited by Ross Lockhart
The Darkest Part of the Woods by Ramsey Campbell
Cassilda’s Song edited by Joe Pulver
The Doom That Came to Providence edited by Joe Pulver
The Infusorium by Jon Padgett
The Narrator by Michael Cisco
Cthulhu Attacks by Sean Hoade
The Glittering World by Robert Levy
Purge Status by Shawn Mann
When It’s Time for Dead Things to Die by Clint Smith
I (Heart-cat) Ulthar t-shirt
Resonator artwork by Nick Gucker

I didn’t get to every talk and panel I wanted to, and there were events I had to miss, but such is the nature of NecronomiCon.

It might sound disingenuous to say, but it’s the plain truth: to a person, everyone was friendly, everyone was enthusiastic, everyone was great. The writers I mention above are people whose work has excited me and inspired me. It was a kind of oasis—dream-like and beautifully strange. Maybe some of it didn’t happen. I hope it did.

I’m already looking forward to 2017.

Matthew M. Bartlett is the author of Gateways to Abomination, The Witch-Cult in Western Massachusetts, and several short stories in multiple anthologies. His upcoming collection, Creeping Waves, is due out in early 2016, published by Muzzleland Press.

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