I Was (Briefly) Providence

I decided to let a month go by so that I could look back tearfully at my first NecronomiCon experience. Or, well, I’ve just been busy. Either way, in late August I descended upon Providence, RI, and three days later I was a changed writer. But bear with me a few moments while I work my way toward my thoughts on the convention.

Weird fiction (and its frequent overlap and twining with horror) has fascinated me for about four years now. Having deprived myself of a classical weird education in my formative years, I found that I was sort of writing it before I truly knew what it was. Strict horror tends to bore me, to some degree. It’s a small-doses kind of thing when it paints by the numbers. I wrote my first story toward the end of 2011 (I should probably lie and say it was 2001, but I want to be forthright and try to revel in my naive joy of every milestone), and a month later, when I was working on my second, I read Ellen Datlow’s Best Horror of the Year, Volume Three. And just like that I was hooked and ravenous and lightheaded. I was writing this stuff! And never you mind that it was a fumbling, amateurish version. It felt as though I’d been adopted and was only now discovering who my birth parents were. I was flushed with the finding of something where anything could be colored with strange. There was no cattle chute of genre. There were no rules, if you wrote from the heart, and let the weird bleed in through the natural seams. Writing in a literary sort of framework was not only okay but embraced! There was a community out there waiting for me, sharing my genes! It would be another couple of years before I really started exploring all the origins of weird, the progenitors of weird (hell, getting married to the weird is more like it), but this, for me, was the way it should have happened, and I’m very grateful for it.

And so it was, in a way, like visiting my birth family for the first time up in Providence. It’s contradictory to say that the convention was both very much as I expected and not at all as I expected. But social media ensures you already know everyone long before you meet them, often interacting with fellow writers and editors more than you do with many “real” friends. (Sorry, real friends.)

So when I walked into the Biltmore hotel on Friday afternoon, I saw Paul Tremblay coming down the stairs as I ascended. Hey, that’s Paul Tremblay, I thought, I’ll introduce myself later. (Sadly, I never saw him again.) Immediately I was recognizing faces, all thanks to social media. But social media was nothing like the real thing. I met warmth at every turn, faces lighting up with a genuine gladness to meet me. To, for two and a half days, soak in all this goodwill, this love of goodness and the weird and well-crafted unease, was simply a wonderful experience, and I thank everyone who took even a minute out of their time to chat with me.

I missed the regrettable opening ceremonies in which a certain Lovecraftian scholar inadvertently illustrated the need for diversity, but I was able to witness the aftermath: a community even more excited than we already were to usher in a new and exciting era of weird fiction, in which every corner of the globe has a voice.

Some highlights of my weekend:

  • Providence itself. I’d never been to the city before, and while I didn’t do much Lovecraft pilgrimage stuff, I did something far better: explored a fantastic little city, browsing all the bookshops, eating all the food, seeing all the water. Coming back to the convention in 2017 will be doubly great just because I appreciated Providence so much. Only next time, I’ll hover around the con more and ingratiate myself into more inner circles!
  • The Aickman’s Heirs launch. This was my first author reading, and sharing it with such amazing writers was deeply humbling, educational, and invigorating.
  • Great panels with amazing panelists, covering such fascinating topics as the future of weird fiction, dreams, the occult, etc.
  • Meeting folks for the first time but only, sadly, for a moment: Joe Pulver, Mike Bukowski, Mike and Lena Griffin, Sam Cowan, Ross Lockhart, Scott Connors (the first autograph I ever signed!), Matthew Richey, Tom Lynch, Jeffrey Thomas, Scott R. Jones, Douglas Wynne, Bob Waugh, Chad Pilcher. I wish I could have talked to each of you more, and will look forward to doing so next time.
  • Much-admired folks I was actually lucky enough to have some real conversation with: Simon Strantzas, Silvia Moreno-Garcia, Richard Gavin, S.J. Bagley, John Langan, Justin Steele, Matt Bartlett (along with his awesome wife), Daniel Mills, David Nickle, Michael Cisco, Nikki Guerlain.
  • People I was lucky enough to see for a second time this year: Anya Martin, Damien Angelica Walters, Scott Nicolay, and David Nickle. Thanks for making me feel like an old friend, all of you.
  • Stealing a solid 40 minutes from David Nickle, who’s just a great guy and very gracious with his advice.
  • Meeting Simon, who’s been so great to me ever since we first electronically met a year ago.
  • The brief but genuine encouragement and interest from John Langan.
  • Talking with an artist about a thing.
  • Meeting Bagley. That guy is just awesome. And not-so-secretly a teddy bear.
  • Going to a “secret inner circle” party with many of the above. I didn’t so much network as gawk at the wonder that is Michael Cisco and his inimitable persona, and then try to fit a few great conversations in before sleep took me.
  • A nice chat with Justin Steele, who’s becoming one of my favorite people. You can see the love of weird fiction coming out of his pores, but somehow that imagery isn’t gross.
  • The handful of conversations I had with Richard Gavin, a deeply talented and personable writer whose eyes I kept expecting to start glowing.
  • The person I’m still holding a grudge against for not going: Mike Kelly.

If I could sum my takeaway up in one sentence, I’d say this: I felt welcomed, I felt wanted, and I felt at the beginning of really being known. Not well-known, mind you, but the on-the-cusp kind of known. And that’s all I wanted. I’ll work hard to earn the rest, because, in a way that really counts, these people are more than my peers. They are my friends and my brethren.

In 2017 I predict we’ll begin to leave Lovecraft in our wake when it comes to him being the one and only nexus of weird fiction. He’ll always have a place and deserve a place at the table, but there is just so much more. He might not have fully appreciated these endless horizons, these endless voices and colors of strange, but he helped create them. I will be in Providence again in two years, and I’ve already started exercising my hugging muscles.

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