Panel audience at NECON 36. Photo by Tony Tremblay.
NECON 36- July 21-24, 2016
Every summer, a group of writers and readers descend upon Roger Williams Convention Center in Bristol, Rhode Island for a writer’s convention unlike any other, NECON.
What makes NECON so special is that in addition to the first-rate writers’ panels, there is also ample time for socializing, meaning that you’ll have access to authors that you just don’t get anywhere else. It’s the most laid back and casual con going.
I’ve been going to NECON since 2001. This year’s NECON 36, was the most electrifying yet— literally!
THURSDAY July 21, 2016
Registration opened at 2:00 at the Roger Williams Convention Center on Thursday, July 21, 2016. Authors Dan Foley and Jason and Jil Salzarulo hosted the first event, the Necon Primer for Newbies, an informal information session on what Necon is all about, for those first-timers, and this year there were quite a few folks attending Necon for the first time. That’s a big reason why this year’s Necon was sold out, as attendance reached the capped number of 200 Necon Campers. I did not attend this event, since I’m not a newbie, but I heard it was very successful.
At 10:00 the famous Saugie roast was held, where the campers partake in that famous grilled hot dog found only in Rhode Island. For me, this first night is always special, as I get to see familar faces I haven’t seen since last year. In this case it was extra fun hanging out with both L.L. Soares and Pete Dudar, as they both missed last year’s Necon. I also got to see old friends Paul McNally, Morven Westfield, and Daniel and Trista Robichaud, who I hadn’t seen in about seven years!
FRIDAY July 22, 2016
With fellow Cinema Knife Fighters L.L. Soares, Nick Cato, Paul McMahon, Pete Dudar, and newcomer Catherine Scully, I took part in the 10:00 Kaffeeklatsch: The World Died Streaming: The Year in Film in Theaters and Online. This was our annual movie panel, which is always well attended, where we discuss the movies we’ve seen this past year. There were tons of recommendations, but the hot topic this year wasn’t a movie but a TV show, as everyone was talking about the new Netflix TV show, STRANGER THINGS. And it wasn’t just on our movie panel. I think I heard STRANGER THINGS mentioned on nearly every panel I attended this year! It definitely was the highest recommended show of the weekend.
Yours truly and L.L. Soares at NECON 36. Photo by Nick Cato.
As usual, we also received plenty of recommendations from Craig Shaw Gardner and Barbara Gardner.
After lunch, I attended the 1:00 panel The World Died Screaming: Apocalyptic SF, Horror, and Fantasy, moderated by Douglas Wynne, and featuring Joe Hill, James Moore, Craig DiLouie, Lynne Hansen, and Mark Morris. This panel focused on writing about the end of the world, especially in terms of the zombie apocalypse. The point was made that these types of stories are popular because they resonate with people’s own fear of dying.
I next attended the 2:00 panel Not Dead Yet: The State of Publishing Today, moderated by Matt Schwartz, and featuring Gina Wachtel, John Douglas, Sandra Kasturi, Ginjer Buchanan, and Jaime Levine. The talk here centered on the Ebook trend which, rather than obliterating the traditional book publishing industry as some had predicted, has settled in nicely as a balanced alternative. Ebooks and traditional print books seem to be coexisting together agreeably. One area of growth in recent years that was not predicted was the growth of the audio book, which continues to grow as a market.
There was also discussion on the use of social media by authors to promote themselves and how today’s authors are extremely media savvy.
The 4:00 panel, The Scream of a Distant Sun: Mixing SF and Horror, moderated by Brett Savory, and featuring Don D’Ammassa, Patrick Freivald, Erin Underwood, Linda Addison, and Gordon Linzner was a fascinating and highly entertaining and informative look at the way horror and science fiction go hand in hand, or not. There was a lot of talk on getting the science right in a science fiction story, as getting the science wrong is a major turn off, so the advice to writers was do your homework.
There was talk about how movies like ALIEN (1979) while considered both horror and science fiction, are mostly horror, since its story about a monster can take place anywhere, not just in space. In pure science fiction, you can’t take the science out of the story.
There was also discussion on Mary Shelley’s novel Frankenstein, originally considered a horror novel but in ensuing years it has been also classified as science fiction.
Don D’Ammassa, who with his vast personal library is one of the most well read people on the planet, is always a joy to listen to. As usual, his comments were on the money and pointedly informative. I could listen to him all day.
After dinner, it was time for the Official Necon Toast by Toastmasters Sandra Kasturi and Brett Savory. Tradition dictates that this toast pokes fun at the Guests of Honor, and Kasturi and Savory did not disappoint in this regard. My favorite line came from Kasturi, who when speaking of Joe Hill, remarked that “it would have been nice had your dad showed up- Benny Hill.” Of course, Joe’s real-life famous dad goes by a different last name, King. Yep. That King.
This was followed by Necon Update with Mike Myers (no, not that Mike Myers!) at 7:30, and Myers was funny as always.
After the Update, it was time for the NECON HALL OF FAME INDUCTION CEREMONY. The recipients this year were authors Stephen Bissette and Linda Addison.
At 8:00 it was time for the Meet the Authors Party, that special time at the con when you can buy books from your favorite authors and have them signed up close and personal. No surprise, the biggest line this year was for Joe Hill.
I set up shop next to fellow authors and friends Nick Cato, L.L. Soares, Peter Dudar, Dan Keohane, and William Carl. Always fun to sell and sign a book or two.
After the party it was time to socialize, and I was fortunate enough to sit down and have a long chat with author Morven Westfield who I hadn’t seen in a few years. It was great to catch up. Morven started coming to Necon right around the same time I did, back in 2001.
Remember I called this the most electrifying Necon ever? I wasn’t just talking about the electricity generated by the authors. I’m also referring to the wild thunderstorm which descended upon us around 10:00 pm and blew wind-swept rains and insane lightning at us for quite some time. Perfectly atmospheric!
During this time, I caught up with author Sheri Sebastion-Gabriel, among others. It was also time for the “Rick Hautala Cigar Tribute” in which a bunch of authors gather around to smoke cigars in honor of Rick, who sadly passed away in 2013. Rick, a best-selling author, was a Necon fixture. I always enjoyed talking to Rick and listening to him speak on the panels. Every time I heard him speak I learned something new. Speaking at the informal but emotional tribute were Rick’s wife Holly Newstein, and Christopher Golden.
The relentless thunderstorm with its brilliant lightning flashes went on into the night, as did the social gatherings, where friends chatted long past midnight—.
SATURDAY, July 23, 2016
After breakfast, I caught the 10:00 panel Panel by Panel: The Peculiar Power of Horror Comics. moderated by Angi Shearstone, and featuring Jason Ciaramella, Rebekah Isaacs, Stephen Bissette, Joe Hill, and James Chambers. The panel discussed the happy marriage between horror and comics. It also covered some history, explaining that the modern reign of superhero comics owes itself to the ridiculous reports decades ago that erroneously linked horror comics to emotional problems in children. This led to the outright banning of horror comics in the 1950s. Superheroes then stepped in to fill the void, and they’ve been going strong ever since.
For my money, the 11:00 panel, Broken on the Outside & In: Experts Discuss Writing about Physical & Mental Trauma (and Their Effects) may have been the best panel of the weekend. Moderated by K.H. Vaughn, it featured Karen Deal, Rena Mason, Ellen Williams, Marianne Halbert, and Mercedes Yardley in a fascinating discussion of both physical and mental trauma. On the physical side, it covered how much punishment a character can really take and survive, and it also discussed when you can get away with exaggerating these things. For example, in the Marvel superhero films, Tony Stark would be dead from brain injuries from all those impacts in his Iron Man suit, but audiences are perfectly comfortable to let this slide. We suspend disbelief because this is a superhero story, and we don’t hold the lack of accuracy here against the storytelling.
On the mental side, the bulk of the discussion covered how to write characters with mental illnesses in a realistic way. Do your homework and research both the illnesses and the treatments, which change from year to year, was the major advice.
There also was a wince-inducing frank discussion of autopsies and all that goes on in an autopsy room.
After lunch it was time for the Guests of Honor Interview in which Toastmasters Sandra Kasturi and Brett Savory interviewed Guests of Honor Joe Hill, Mark Morris, and Laura Anne Gilman. These interviews are always informative and enlightening, and today’s was no exception.
I caught the 2:30 panel Edge of Your Seat: Pacing and Plotting the Thriller, in which moderator Bracken MacLeod and panelists Megan Hart, Michael Koryta, Chris Irvin, Sephera Giron, and John McIlveen discussed, among other things, how to pace oneself while writing a novel, including the use of outlines.
I missed the next two panels as I got caught up in a discussion about movies with L.L. Soares and Nick Cato that covered a lot of ground, and a lot of time.
After dinner, it was time for the Artists Reception which featured fine art work by the various artists in attendance this year, and also plenty of goodies and coffee. The art show had a new venue this year, and the set-up was perfect. Very comfortable with easy viewing access to the paintings and prints.
At 8:00 it was time for the first ever Necon “Pub Quiz” Trivia game, which in reality was a variation of Necon’s infamous “Game Show.” This time around, volunteers were assembled into teams. I was on Rebekah Isaac’s team, and we led the competition throughout, due mostly to having the knowledgeable Darrell Schweitzer on our team. Alas, we finished in second place as we were overtaken in the final round, done in by a bonus round on music.
This was followed by A Very Special Episode which is code for the Necon Roast. This year’s victim- er, honoree, was author Rio Youers, and he was a really good sport about the whole thing. Host Jeff Strand did an awesome job, and other speakers included Christopher Golden, James Moore, Joe Hill, Linda Addison, Richard Dansky, and Matt Bechtel, among others. This year’s roast also featured a new “lightning round” in which 10 folks each delivered a 30 second bit, and I was fortunate enough to be among this new group of ten.
The roast is always a highlight of the weekend.
Afterwards followed late night parties in the quad which go on into the wee hours of the morning, where we gather for the last time as a social group until next year. The other event tonight was April Hawks shaving her head for charity.
Speaking of charity, this weekend my roommate and New England Horror Writers leader Scott Goudsward had himself “yarn bombed” for charity, as Trisha Wooldridge stitched an insanely ludicrous covering over him over the course of the weekend. The final product had Scott resembling a long lost crew member of the Beatles’ Yellow Submarine.
Cinema Knife Fighters Pete Dudar, Paul McMahon, Nick Cato, myself, L.L. Soares, and Bill Carl gather for a group photo by Paul McNally. That’s NEHW head honcho Scott Goudsward lurking in the shadows in between Paul & Nick.
SUNDAY July 24, 2016
I attended the 10:00 panel Lessons Learned: Moving from Tyro to Journeyman in which moderator P.D. Cacek and panelists Kristin Dearborn, Scott Goudsward, Dan Keohane, and Megan Arcuri-Moran discussed how they’ve moved on from being newbie writers and have gradually become established writers. Their advice was on the money and invaluable.
At 11:00 it was the Necon Town Meeting in which awards were distributed to the winners of this year’s Necon Olympic events, and the ensuing discussion involved all things Necon, thanking the volunteers, and looking ahead to next year by listening to suggestions and complaints. Speaking of complaints, there weren’t any. This is an awesome con any way you slice it.
As always, thanks go out to the Booth family who run Necon every year, especially to Sara, who’s done an awesome job leading the con, and also to Dan and Mary, and to Matt Bechtel. And of course, we continue to remember Bob Booth, Sara and Dan’s dad, and Mary’s husband, “Papa Necon” himself, who passed away from lung cancer in 2013. Bob and Mary founded Necon back in 1980, and his spirit continues to be felt at Necon.
Bob also founded Necon Ebooks, which published my first novel, first movie review collection, and first short story collection.
After lunch, it was time to say so long to everyone until next year, which is clearly my least favorite part of Necon.
I enjoyed a fun conversation with Carole Whitney, as she shared with me her love of Hammer Films and told me the story of how her love for horror began in 1958 when she saw HORROR OF DRACULA at the movies. Great story!
And that’s what Necon is all about. The people and their stories.
If you’re a writer and/or a reader, plan on one day making the pilgrimage to Necon, a one-of-a-kind con that is more than just a con; it’s family. And it’s still going strong.
This year’s Necon was absolutely electrifying, and we had a thunderstorm to prove it. Who knows what’s in store for next year?
Whatever it is, I’ll be there to find out.
Thanks for reading!