Event Report: Necon 26

For the past 26 years, right under our collective noses, a host of famous horror/fantasy authors have been convening at a secluded college in the tiny state of Rhode Island to swap stories, meet fans, and partake in what I’m sure for most is a long-overdue weekend of reckless abandon. The event is called Necon (short for Northeastern Writers’ Conference), and if you’ve never heard of it… well, I’m not surprised. (FYI: Click on each pic to see it full size.)

Up until I had sat down with author Christopher Golden a few months back for a one-on-one interview regarding his latest book, The Myth Hunters (read the results here), I had not heard of it either. I know the concept of hanging out with a bunch of authors may not sound like the greatest party you could ask for, but trust me when I say these guys know how to have a lot of fun. Golden personally invited my wife and me to this year’s function, and over the course of the months between our interview and our Necon cherry being popped this past weekend, the event was hyped by pretty much everyone involved.

Thomas Monteleone, myself, and madman Christopher GoldenThe main reason you’ve likely not heard of the event is because the capacity is very limited at the school where it takes place, Roger Williams University. And by “very limited” I mean no more than 300 attendees, which includes writers and readers. Obviously, because of this the environment is the very definition of “intimate,” allowing readers to chat with their favorite authors at all hours of the day during the convention’s three-and-a-half-day run time.

Necon is unique on many levels, not the least of which being how it’s structured. Attendees who buy a pass for the entire event get room and board (in the college’s relatively nice dorm rooms), food and drink (non-alcoholic, of course, but booze is more than welcome), and a guaranteed spot at every panel that goes on, not to mention the chance to play on the softball team against the writers to deliver upon them yet another beating.

Gary Braunbeck explains the joys of horror to Peter Crowther and  Steven SpruillSince we had Fantasia last weekend and San Diego Comic Con next, the wife and I figured it’d be best to only hit Necon for one day and try to take in as much as we could with the express intent of delivering the word about it to you guys. I’m happy to report that it more than lived up to the hype; everyone I met for the first time was friendly and gracious, despite (and sometimes because of) the fact that I’m “press,” and the overall atmosphere of the event was one of relaxed revelry.

We showed up just in time to catch the last half of a panel about the difference between writing gore/extreme horror and more subtle ghost stories. Said panel consisted of Edward Lee, Jack Ketchum, Rick Hautala, P. D. Cacek, Sephera Giron, and Gerard Hoarner and was moderated by Beth Massie. Just by that list of names alone, anyone who’s up on horror fiction will know that this place gets the cream of the crop in terms of talent. The panel was informative and funny, another running theme of the Necon experience, and a great chance to hear a wide variety of wordslingers discuss why they write what they’re best known for and how they came upon the genre in the first place.

The mythology and horror panel, Peter Crowther, F. Paul Wilson, Chris Golden, Gahan Wilson, Craig Shaw Gardner, and Tom SniegoskiI should say here and now that we couldn’t have asked for a better Necon friend than Chris Golden. A nice guy through and through (an opinion shared by pretty much everyone who’s had a chance to meet him, though most will deny it), Chris showed us around, made introductions, and made sure we didn’t miss anything important. So, Chris, if you’re reading this (and you damn well better be), many levels of thanks from the Butanes!

We had a few more panels to hit after lunch, the first of which was interviewing this year’s Guests of Honor: Edward Lee, Peter Crowther, and Gary Braunbeck. Following that, Golden moderated a panel about the influence of mythology and fantasy in horror, which featured authors F. Paul Wilson, Peter Crowther, Craig Shaw Gardner, Tom Sniegoski, and famed cartoonist Gahan Wilson (if the name’s not familiar, chances are his artwork is; see some of it here), who was also this year’s Artist Guest of Honor. The panels were good, smart, and seemed to fly by, mainly because everyone was comfortable talking for long stretches about their works and influences; and the crowd seemed very into it all.

James A. Moore forgives me... roughlyThen it was time for shame. Chris took us over to watch the annual softball game, informing us on the way that each year it’s authors vs. readers, and each and every year the authors lose. Badly. We were certainly not let down this year when after only four innings the game was called unredeemable, the authors down 17-2. Now that is a loss and a half, folks. But it was really all about spirit, and everyone seemed like they had a lot of fun, despite the perfectly timed heckling from the bleachers. There’s nothing like seeing Jack Ketchum serving as first base coach, Thomas F. Monetleone as manager, or Rick Hautala on first base to realize you’re witnessing something special. And I don’t know if I mean that in the Special Olympics way or not… cause they really did get slaughtered out there…

Chris invited us to dinner with him, Tom Sniegoski, and one of their editors, which turned out to be a great time for all. Chris and Tom have worked together on many projects together over the years and have some incredibly hilarious stories to tell about ’em. Tom wrote a very cool series of books a while back called The Fallen that was adapted as a TV movie premiering on ABC Family this Sunday, which needless to say he was excited about. Check out more info on it here.

Elmo reads Edward Lee. Disturbing on many levelsWe made it back just in time to catch the last half of the bi-annual Necon talent show, in which authors and guests get to show off their non-writing skills for a full capacity theater, and I’ll be damned if it wasn’t funny as hell. Even if the mini-skits presented hadn’t been as hilarious as they actually were, seeing famed author F. Paul Wilson in drag was worth the cost of gas to Rhode Island alone.

After that the whole group did a roast of Gahan Wilson, which wasn’t nearly as funny as the talent show and lasted a tad too long… but it was still nice to see such a talented artist be honored by his peers and those who had grown up loving his work (as most of it was featured in Playboy…), and he seemed to enjoy the attention, even if everyone was essentially picking on him the whole time.

Gahan Wilson, legend, roastee, and all around great guyThe scheduled events over, we headed out to the quad to drink, talk, and worship at the altar of the Saugie. For those unaware (as I was), Saugies are a particular brand of hot dog featured only in New England (central to Rhode Island in specific, I believe), and everyone who was out (and pretty much everyone was) lined up to gobble them down. I passed the time in line talking to the lovely Kelly Laymon (daughter of Richard and slave to Cemetery Dance Publications), who informed me that my name is somewhat of a legend round the CD offices, mainly because they could never figure out if it was real or not (hint: it’s not). I should add that when I finally had a Saugie to call my very own, it was everything I had hoped for and more.

The rest of the night was spent making sure I met everyone I wanted to meet during my brief time there, including Thomas Monteleone (who complimented me on the site and our massive amounts of content… it’s amazing who you find out reads your stuff when you go to these events), James A. Moore (who forgave me for my negative review of his book, Rabid Growth because I had raved about his collaboration with Christopher Golden on Bloodstained Oz), Jeff Strand (author of one of my favorite books of the year so far, Pressure), Gary Braunbeck (working on no less than three books as we speak), and many others.

Gary Braunbeck and I are far less drunk than we look.... or are we?Like I said, everyone was incredibly friendly, and the overall environment was comfortable and mellow. If you’re a fan of horror fiction and want to be a part of it next year (day passes are available if you can’t make it for the whole thing) and get your chance to meet some of the best in the business face to face, be sure to visit their official site. Remember, space is very limited and they have no plans of making it any bigger any time soon, as part of its charm is how low-key the proceedings are, so start making your plans for it well in advance!

And to everyone who made our day at Camp Necon so memorable, thank you, and we’ll see you next year!

Johnny Butane

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