There are cons…and then there’s NECon

[July 2011] I’ve been going to writing conventions for a decade. I attended one local writers guild convention in the late 1990s (Joe R. Lansdale was a guest, which was a big draw). Then I resumed my long-fallow interest in writing and I wanted to start networking with other writers. My first big convention was the World Horror Convention in Seattle, which was a terrific experience. I remember sitting around in the lobby with Jay Clarke (Michael Slade), Chelsea Quinn Yarbro, Del Howison and few other people as they regaled us with stories about the business. I learned then that most of the important stuff at conventions takes place outside of the panel rooms. In the bars and in the lobby.

Over the years, I’ve attended a number of different conventions. World Horror, World Fantasy, Stoker & Edgar Weekends, Crime Bake, and local events like ApolloCon and the Houston Writers League convention. There are many I’ve heard about that I’ve never managed but hope to get to some day, like ReaderCon and BoucherCon. Maybe even ThrillerCon.

However, my favorite is NECon, for any number of reasons. For one thing, it’s comparatively small. It’s possible to spend four days at a World Horror Convention and not see certain people, or at least not get any time to visit with them. In four days at NECon, you should be able to find time to visit with just about everyone. There’s only one track of panels, so we’re all usually gathered in the same room at the same time. But, as with other conventions, the most important stuff takes place outside the panels.

From a business perspective, I’ve had more opportunities open up to me at NECons than at any other con. I was invited to participate in Thrillers: 100 Must Reads by Hank Wagner at NECon. I had an opportunity to submit a synopsis for a shared-world novel series to Ballentine through contacts made in Rhode Island. I met long-time long-distance friend Rich Chizmar in person for the first time at NECon. Pete Crowther, too—and meeting him in person gave me the chance to submit to PostScripts. Not every opportunity has panned out. My synopsis for Ballentine wasn’t accepted, and I’ve yet to crack PostScripts, but they were chances I wouldn’t have had at all otherwise.

From a personal perspective, the closest friends I’ve made in the business are the ones I look forward to seeing at NECon. I’m not a very social person, and I’m also not much of a late night person, but I’m much more social at NECon and I often stay up past midnight at this convention. The parties at the bigger cons are too big and too crowded for me. Even when I was younger, I found them loud and claustrophobic. NECon, whether it’s at the university campus or the nearby convention center hotel, has plenty of breathing room. I can talk to people at these parties. Hear and be heard. I don’t have to squeeze through a mass of humanity to make it to the snack table. There’s a reason we call it “Camp NECon.” It’s a break from real life, but it’s also sort of a break from big-scale conventions. Most of the attendees are writers or avid readers. Few of those who show up are just fans of a guest of honor. The atmosphere is relaxed and relaxing. We play miniature golf and throw darts. We have fun and laugh a lot. I usually come back from a World Horror Convention exhausted. I come home from NECon feeling energized.

Which is a good thing. NECon is this coming weekend. When I get back, I’ll have a little over 4 months to produce a new book, so I’m going to need that boost of energy I get from this particular little gathering of friends.

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