Mythos Migraines! A NecronomiCon Providence Review
Well, if you’ve been following me or Martian Migraine Press on Facebook and Twitter over the last month, you’ve watched as I worked myself into a lather over the impending visit I made to Providence, Rhode Island, “birthplace of the Weird” and of course the home of Lovecraft, the “Copernicus of Cosmic Horror”, and so on and so on, yadda yadda. In the weeks prior to actually stepping onto the plane, I probably overshared about my mega-gut-butterflies at sitting on a ‘Religion & Lovecraft’ panel with stone-cold atheist and HPL scholar S. T. Joshi, or watched us fret collectively over how many books to bring to the vending hall for the MMP table. Would they like us? Should they like us? And the like.
Basically, all this fuss and bother was down to a simple fact: NecronomiCon Providence 2015 was to be my first convention. Of any kind. Until this past week, I had never set foot in a convention venue for purposes of… convening? Yes. Never sat on a panel. Never sat in the audience for a panel, even. I was going in blind, mostly. A virgin, in need of gentle handling. Oh sure, there were tales about what to expect, and I picked the brains of folks who knew what was what. Oh, how I picked! At brains. Like a fevered monkey I dug into the thinkmeats of those who consented to the assault. But, like a fever, I was not easily cooled. The nerves were singing like the harps of angels on high, if those angels were, say, actually high on some kinda celestial stimulant.
I needn’t have worried, though. NecronomiCon was amazing. Stimulating, fun, enriching, and yes, problematic. Last things first, then…
The Thing in the Pulpit
You’ve heard, likely, of the shadow that was cast over the event at the Opening Ceremonies on the evening of Thursday 20 August (Lovecraft’s birthday, incidentally, for those who don’t know). I don’t want to necessarily go over the details here, as others have done a very decent job of breaking that down. Steve Ahlquist, a longtime Providence resident, has a great article here, and of course NecronomiCon organizer Niels Hobbs had a lot to say about the issues raised on Thursday in the excellent ‘Lovecraft & Racism’ panel on Saturday, which I managed to attend (and which you should watch, if this issue is important to you). More upsetting, I think, than Mr Price’s comments at the Opening Ceremonies (I’m pretty sure there are still dropped jaws gathering dust on the floor of the First Baptist Church) were the foul comments of folks rising from wherever these people rise from, defending that kind of xenophobic rhetoric, and proving, sadly (as Ask Lovecraft impresario and wit Leeman Kessler puts it), that for many people, Lovecraft’s racism (in his letters, in his stories) is more of “a feature than a bug.” I dunno. Ask the Stormfront people how they feel about Howie. You’ll need a wash afters.
So yeah, that was… not super. Not a great way to start. And you could tell how much of a pall it cast on Niels, the organizers, and everyone there who came to celebrate the creations of the man. There’s a lot of work to be done, if Weird Fiction is to move into the future. And that work is going to have to be done by all of us, by making our books and world open and inclusive: the doors must be opened, and the welcome mat laid out for everyone, if the genre is to grow and become as challenging, interesting, and entertaining as it was when it was in its infancy. As has been pointed out, this year was the ONE HUNDRED AND TWENTY FIFTH year since HPL was born. It’s time. Time to move on. A good start was made here (much of it serious, and one particular instance quite humorous, but more on that below!) but there’s a road ahead to the event in 2017, and much of it uphill. S’alright, we’ve got the legs for it, as a community. This can be done.
On that note, I should mention that we here at Martian Migraine Press have opened submissions to our 2016 anthology, Cthulhusattva: Lovecraftian Tales of the Black Gnosis, and we want to strongly encourage and invite all writers of every colour, gender, LGBT, and traditional outsiders to the Mythos to submit stories to this book. Especially considering the theme of the anthology, which is (and I’m boiling it down here; please consult the submissions page at the link above for details) takes on the Mythos from the perspective of the enlightened cultist, as opposed to the crusty academic white man for whom profound confrontations with the Other trigger madness and general flapping about and gibbering about “mongrel hordes”. Seriously, if you have “horde membership”, we’d love to hear from you. OK.
Veni, Vini, Vending…
(That’s Latin, right? Right?) This was certainly a highlight for me. The Vending Hall, or Cave of Freaking Wonders, more like! Anyway, if I had a worry here, it was the niggling thought that all the books I had sent along to Providence ahead of time (and thanks to that prince among men s. j. bagley for allowing his PO Box to get clogged with MMP books and t-shirts!) would be coming right back home with me.
THIS DID NOT HAPPEN.
The opposite of that happened: we sold out at the MMP table. All our copies of my own When The Stars Are Right: Towards An Authentic R’lyehian Spirituality were gone by mid-day Saturday. Justine Geoffrey’s PRIESTESS by close of shop Saturday. (Possibly the best quote of the final hour? “Thanks for peddling smut!” Oh. Oh, you’re most welcome.) RESONATOR: New Lovecraftian Tales From Beyond took longer to disappear, but then, as our latest, brightest, and most awesome title, we brought a lot of copies of that, so the last few copies went into deserving hands around noon on the Sunday. And we sold some t-shirts and ephemera besides. So, a huge thank you to everyone who stopped by the Martian Migraine Press table (which we shared with my friend and editor Ross Lockhart’s Word Horde, who also sold out of all his stuff!) and endured our carnival barker patter.
If there’s a downside here, it’s that by spending a good chunk of my con time in the Vending Hall TCBing, I missed… well, a lot of stuff. Like, so much. Panels. Shows. Didn’t get to see Ask Lovecraft LIVE. Missed the Ramsey Campbell reading. Ohhh, if I start listing things, I’ll only depress myself. Suffice to say, I’d like to do it differently next time. And I will. Less Vending, More Viewing/Visiting. More actually getting around to all the other artists and publishers and Mythos weirdos with arcane bric-a-brac to fill up my return luggage with. Yes.
The Dread Panels…
Yeah, I was terrified of these. I’m a decent public speaker: grew up in a millenarian apocalypse cult and was groomed for the podium, spent a good chunk of time on public radio talking into thin air, and was blooded in the slam poetry scene of the early ’00s. I can talk, sure, my tongue can waggle like a happy lil puppy on demand… but to sit with noted authorities on subjects (Lovecraft & the Occult, Lovecraft & Religion) and talk sensibly, in a way that didn’t show me up as a complete fraud? Well. I had some doubts going in, let’s just say.
Again, unfounded. I discovered to my surprise and actual delight, that panels are essentially the kind of diverting conversations you have with like-minded and interesting people over coffee, just higher up off the floor on a riser and with anywhere from 30 to 100 people watching and listening to that conversation! The moderators were insightful and balanced (Anthony Teth for the Occult panel, and Ross Lockhart for Religion) and really made the experience a great one. On the Occult panel, we managed to skip all the hoary old goofy questions (“How bout that Necronomicon? Real? Whaddaya think, huh?” or “Lovecraft: Secret Priest of the Great Old Ones?”) and really get down into the grit of what it means to map fictional constructs onto occult practice. “God is Dead, but Dreaming”! I was very grateful and humbled to be on that panel with Doug Wynne, Justin Woodman, and Richard Gavin (who in my opinion is one of the finest weird writers working with this material today). The ‘Religion & Lovecraft’ panel was slightly hairier… S. T. Joshi was, like, right there. As in, on my right. The energy on that guy is palpable. And of course, considering the other panelists (Robert M. Price, for one) and the subject matter, the panel was held in the Grand Ballroom of the Biltmore. This was my view from the table…
Yup. Big room, and most chairs filled. Kinda terrifying. But y’know what? It was fine. I barely got a word in edgewise, sure (though I did get to tell a fun story about my son dressing as Superman for Halloween. It applied, honest!) but I was happy with what small part I had in the conversation and pleased that, as the only theist at the table, I didn’t get strung up by my intestines from the nearest wall sconce! This is how it should be, folks. You can view the whole panel here.
I also had the great pleasure, earlier in the con (Friday morning) of reading with three other authors (Nathan Carson, who read from his excellent tale in Cthulhu Fhtagn!, Vincent O’Neil, who read a very creepy passage from his novel Interlands; and Ian Welke, who I sadly had to duck out on because something had to be attended to in the Vendor’s Hall, I forget what. Regrets!)
The Grassy Knoll… with Extra Bacon
The infamous Cthulhu Prayer Breakfast is something you hear about in Lovecraft-land, sure. As a Guest of the convention, I wasn’t sure whether I had to buy a ticket or not, and what with everything going on, whenever the idea of attending came to mind for a moment (“I should ask someone about this…”) it was invariably diverted by something more pressing in the next moment (“Ooh! Cool thing!” What can I say. I’m a magpie) and the CPB would be forgotten. On Friday night, however, having left the Eldritch Ball in hopes of finding a room party of actual living writers, I ran into Cody Goodfellow in a hallway of the Biltmore. Cody is, of course, one of the spiritual leaders of the CPB, so I asked him how I could get in.
“Gosh, sir! Can I ever!”
And like that I was recruited to serve as a Cyclopean backup dancer for Goodfellow’s Temple of Yog-Sothoth. This meant a number of things: 1) I would be able to eat as much bacon as I could stand; 2) I’d have to wear a repulsive vinyl mask, with the left eye hole positioned in such a way that a thin lip of material would scrape the surface of my actual eyeball the entire time it was on my face; 3) The aforementioned ululation. (Note: Goodfellow cornered me the night before, Saturday, and dragged me out back of the Biltmore to prove, in the street, that I could indeed produce the needed sounds. Because he’s a pro); 4) I (along with Tom Lynch, my fellow Cyclops, whose mask fit just fine, apparently) would, at a verbal signal from Goodfellow, assassinate the Hierophant of the Esoteric Order of Dagon. Yes, Bob Price would go down in a froth of foam from the carefully concealed bubble guns we were packing. (Mine malfunctioned the first couple of times I pulled the trigger, but the third time? Charming.)
It was goofy fun, obviously, but also served a purpose in the larger context of the convention, particularly vis a vis the shadow that Price had cast over the proceedings on the opening day. I think, in more than a few ways, it was a watershed moment: a changing of the guard, even. Certainly it signaled, with humour, that even the casual milquetoast racism of the “Feature, Not a Bug” Lovecraft fandom, will no longer be shrugged off if the Weird is to evolve at all and grow into the 21st Century. Think HPL had some good ideas about swarthy types? That it’s “more important to know what to hate, than what to love”? Sorry, not sorry, but from here on out, you’re gonna get called on it. We’re packing.
The High Point…
Permit me a small moment of pride in my accomplishments…
Years ago, I came to Weird Fiction through, not Lovecraft, but one of his later acolytes, Ramsey Campbell. I think it was his The Hungry Moon I picked up at my local buy-paperbacks-by-weight secondhand bookstore, or possibly Cold Print. Anyway, it was Campbell that got me started, and when I did finally encounter Lovecraft, old Howard suffered greatly in comparison. Ramsey needs no introduction here, really. Not gonna sugarcoat it, he’s a master. I’m a big fan, and his writing has meant a lot to me over the years. So what a treat it was to see him interviewed on Friday morning (by some fella who strangely thought it would be OK to go on about himself for a ten-minute block of Ramsey’s time, but honestly, though this was off-putting, the remainder of the time was so engaging it hardly mattered) and find him to be affable and generous with his advice and anecdotes.
I’m a fan, sure, but acutely aware of being too fanboy about things, so I didn’t line up to meet him after the interview. However! Earlier in the year I had sold a story to the Word Horde anthology Cthulhu Fhtagn!, a story which riffed on Campbell’s own The Render of the Veils and which was dedicated to him, and further, editor Ross Lockhart had brought copies of that freshly released book to NecronomiCon. I really wanted to gift Ramsey with a copy, so I messaged him on Facebook to that affect. The next morning he and his lovely wife Jenni swing by the MMP table in the Vendor’s Hall, and I was honoured to present him with a copy, which he insisted I sign for him! (I’m still so unused to signing things I’ve made or been a part of making; being Canadian, it all seems so arch to me, but this past week went a long way to my becoming somewhat OK with it!)
Three hours later, Nathan Carson (a fellow contributor to Cthulhu Fhtagn!) and his gracious partner Erin Laroue, arrive at the MMP table to let me know that Ramsey had just dropped my name and the story (which he had obviously gone ahead and actually read!) in answer to a panel question along the lines of “name the best writers of weird stuff out there right now”. Nathan tells me that Ramsey claimed that Assemblage Point was better than the original. Which was when I had to go behind a curtain for a bit and bite the fatty part of my thumb to keep from hollering.
It was just a really, really decent moment. The highlight.
But it wasn’t over. After the rush of the remaining days (meeting so many authors and editors and publishers I look up to and am inspired by, drinking with not-a-few of them, the EARTH concert at the Columbus Theatre, but mostly, as mentioned, vending vending and more vending) I finally packed up the MMP table and managed to find my way to the ‘Writing the Mythos’ panel. It was half-over by the time I got there, but I learned a lot from Campbell, Pulver, Pete Rawlik and the rest during that time. But then, during the Q&A, the panel was again asked “who’s who in the Mythos zoo?” (I’m paraphrasing) and this time I was in the audience, hearing with my real live earholes, as again Ramsey enthused about Assemblage Point. (The words “infinitely superior to my original” were used.) I plotzed, basically: I wanted to simultaneously hide behind a chair and crow. Cody Goodfellow was sitting two rows ahead of me and to the right, and had seen me come in; he signaled me to do the latter, and I deferred to his years of wisdom. I very carefully put up my hand and said a meek thank you to Ramsey. At which point Ramsey lit up and pointed me out to the folks in the room, told them to remember my face, since they’d be seeing a lot of it in the future.
Anyway, that’s when I died. I don’t know how I’m even writing this right now. Not even the panel moderator (who I’ve had some small unpleasant interaction with in the past, and who had spent the weekend resolutely looking right through me whenever we passed) with his little dig of “well, only until he’s eaten by a shoggoth” could diminish that moment. I’m assuming it’s just some random firing of my dying brain introducing a brief note of hellishness into an otherwise beatific hallucination as I starve for oxygen in some pre-death realm of being. Ramsey liked my story, and said so in front of a lot of people.
RAMSEY CAMPBELL LIKED MY STORY.
I honestly don’t know what else I can say after that. In short, it was a great time, even though I didn’t do two-thirds of the things I could have done while in Providence. The walking tours? The film showings? Most of the panels and readings? Yeah, I’ll have to hit those next time. But even with all I missed, I left NecronomiCon uplifted and inspired, ready to dive back into writing, editing, building cool books, and creating the future of the Weird with this amazing community of people.
Thank you Niels Hobbs and the entire staff of organizers and minions; I can’t imagine what a truly boggling enterprise putting on an event of this magnitude must be, and I along with many others thank you for all your hard work and tireless effort. NecronomiCon Providence 2015 was my first convention experience, and you made me feel welcome and at home and a part of things. Thank you. See you in 2017!
Scott R Jones is the author of the short story collections Soft from All the Blood and The Ecdysiasts, as well as the non-fiction When the Stars Are Right: Towards An Authentic R’lyehian Spirituality. His poetry and prose have appeared in Innsmouth Magazine, Cthulhu Haiku II, Broken City Mag, Flesh Like Smoke, Cthulhu Fhtagn!, Broken Worlds, and upcoming in Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine.