I need a moment

On some crime show I saw recently, a man suspected of murder has just been told his wife is dead. After being subjected to a brief but intense grilling, he tells the detectives, “I need a moment.” On the off chance that he’s innocent and they may have just broken devastating news to him, they leave him to himself in the interrogation room.

When I heard today that Graham Joyce had died. I needed a moment. I won’t say he lost the battle with cancer, because—as he so eloquently stated in this BBC Radio 4 piece—he rejected that language. He had the same peculiar breed of cancer that my father did, so I knew the prognosis wasn’t great, but still we hope. Alas, it was not to be.

I was introduced to Graham Joyce the writer by Peter Straub. The first time I met Peter, at a book signing in Dallas in the late 1990s, we went to dinner at a barbecue restaurant after his event. We talked about who we were reading, and Peter mentioned Graham. Naturally, I took the recommendation seriously, and thus began my adventure in the fascinating, ambiguous, magical, terrifying and amazing worlds of Graham Joyce. I’ve read virtually everything he’s written—except for a couple of his YA books—and I’ve never been disappointed.

When I started to write novels, it was Graham more than anyone else that I wanted to emulate, not that other guy with whom I’m most strongly associated. I was and continue to be fascinated by the manner in which he was able to present both sides of a possible supernatural occurrence. It either happened or it had a logical, mundane explanation. Both interpretations were valid, both for the characters and for the reader. It’s something I attempted to capture in the first novel my agent tried to sell. Clearly I hadn’t quite learned the lesson well enough yet.

The first time I met Graham the man was, I believe, at the World Horror Convention in Chicago in 2002, though we had already exchanged email by that point. I was at the Subterranean Press booth in the dealer room when Bill Schafer opened a box that contained Graham’s chapbook, Black Dust, fresh from the printer. I bought the first copy, and Graham passed by a few minutes later and I got him to sign it for me.

Our paths have crossed a number of times over the years, in person and online. He was a Guest of Honor at Necon one year and he fit right in to that quirky event. I remember a World Fantasy Convention (Albuquerque, I believe) where he arrived at the  hotel late in the evening straight from his transatlantic flight, to discover that he was scheduled to do a 9 pm reading. I think he’d had a little courage on the long flight, so he was a tad disoriented. I knew where his reading room was, so I got him there on time and he regaled us with an excerpt from his latest work.

I wrote a long essay about Graham’s work for a book that never materialized. I can’t recall at the moment to which point it is current, but I should go back and look at it some day to see if it’s worth an overhaul. I always recommend The Tooth Fairy and Requiem to people, but you can’t go wrong with any of his novels, and he got stronger and more amazing over the years.

Later this summer, PS Publishing is releasing 25 Years in the Word Mines, The Best of Graham Joyce, a collection of his short fiction. I had already sprung for the signed edition (which has a chapbook containing extra stories). Sad to think that this is probably the last we’ll hear from such an exceptional author.

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Ellie Hatcher, Jack Reacher and OJ Simpson

I received word yesterday that my short story “The Best Defense” took third place in the mystery writing competition sponsored by the Law School at Hofstra University and Mulholland Books. The story is a courtroom thriller (the main character had to be a lawyer, per the rules), and the judges were two lawyers and a law school graduate: author Alafair Burke (daughter of James Lee Burke), OJ Simpson prosecutor and author Marcia Clark, and thriller writer Lee Child, creator of Jack Reacher. There were over 130 submissions, so I’m quite pleased by this. Only the first place winner will be published, so now I have to submit the story somewhere for publication.

I’ve been watching Hemlock Grove on Netflix while I exercise in the morning. It’s cute and has my interest, so I think I’ll stick with it. Makes the 30 minutes on the elliptical trainer go by faster, at least.

The kidnapping scenes in this week’s The Bridge were pretty odd. If you’re going to kill someone in a few minutes, do you go to the trouble of helping them go to the bathroom? And Marcus didn’t even give the guy a chance to surrender. Bam! Bit of a blood bath at the end, too.

Part Four of my Haven retrospective is now up at News From the Dead Zone. This installment looks at the events of Season 3, together with an episode guide, a list of Troubles and a list of Stephen King references. I have two more installments to put up before the new season begins on September 11.

This post is brought to you by WordPress 4.0—I took the plunge and upgraded.

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Culture clash

It was supposed to rain a lot this weekend.  It didn’t. We did have a couple of good showers, but nothing near what I was expecting. Instead, it was hot and very humid. The humidex added 20° to the mercury temperature at times, making it feel like it was over 110.

So, as you might imagine, a great portion of the weekend was spent in air conditioning, except for a round of yard work yesterday morning and a carpentry project with my daughter that is finally getting off the ground.

My summaries of Season 1 and Season 2 of Haven are now up. I’m working my way through the seasons as a way of catching up before Season 5 premieres in just over a week.

We went to see The 100 Foot Journey on Saturday. Originally we planned to see Calvary, but it turned out that movie wasn’t showing anywhere within 40 miles of us. The Mirren film was good, though. Charming and quaint. It’s about a family from India who move to Europe after a tragedy. They start out in England, but it’s not to their liking, so they strike out for the continent trying to find a new place to set up a restaurant and settle on a village in the southwest of France mostly because of serendipity. The place the patriarch chooses is directly across the street from a Michelin-rated French restaurant run by Mirren. Thus begins a clash of cultures and palates, with some romance thrown in for good measure. Light entertainment, but it sure did leave me craving a good Indian meal. One scene struck us in particular: the young Indian chef makes Mirren an omelet (her test of a chef’s merits). Filmed from behind, we see a slouching Mirren straighten her neck and then her back as she tastes the unexpected concoction. No words at that moment: it’s all in body language.

Then we watched The Railway Man starring Colin Furth and Nicole Kidman. It’s about a man obsessed with railways who was part of the POW group that were forced to build the Burma railway line by the Japanese during WWII—an event that was fictionalized in The Bridge on the River Kwai. This story is based on a memoir, so was presumably closer to the truth. Furth’s character suffers terrible PTSD. His greatest venom is reserved for a Japanese translator who oversaw his torture. When he finds out that the man is not only still alive all these years later (1980) but running a museum at the prison camp, he decides it’s time to return to Burma and confront and perhaps kill the man. The Japanese officer is played by Hiroyuki Sanada, who was recently in Spiral is currently plays on Extant. A powerful story with a redeeming finale.

Speaking of Extant, we did a five-episode binge on Sunday afternoon to get caught up. We also watched the first episodes of Doctor Who and Intruders, based on the Michael Marshall Smith novel and starring Mira Sorvina and John Simm. The latter has a 10-year-old actress playing a nine-year-old character, and she is astonishingly good. She is both herself and a previous personality, so she gets to switch between little girl and menacing mystery man. I’m impressed.

Our last viewing of the weekend was Darby’s Rangers, the next installment in our gradual James Garner marathon. This, too, is based on a real WWII event about the formation of an elite group of Army Rangers who were trained by British officers and sent into battle in North Africa and Anzio. It’s funny and campy until it gets deadly serious. The second half is far superior to the first, but there are some interesting moments along the way, including the impact billeting soldiers had on some British families.

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Who wants to make a circuit?

So I heard from a bunch of people in Germany last week who saw me on Meister des Grauens, the VOX channel’s 2-hour documentary about King. I haven’t seen it yet, but Robin Furth and author Stewart O’Nan also contributed, along with a bunch of German authors and celebs. Instead of subtitling the English dialog, they did voice-overs, so it will be interesting to hear me speaking German.

The Lilja and Lou Podcast in which we discuss Haven and Under the Dome is now available. I also posted the first segment of a six-part series I’m doing as a build-up to the launch of Season 5 of Haven. The next four segments will look at the individual seasons and the final one will summarize what we know about the main characters after four years and where things might go next.

I posted my review of the new Ian McEwan novel, The Children Act this weekend.

I finally got a chance to see Season 4 of The Killing this weekend. I had to do a little Googling first to remind myself what exactly happened in Season 3 and where things were left. It was pretty good. Condensed to six episodes, they didn’t waste much time. Joan Allen was a force to be reckoned with as the head of the military academy. I was intrigued by what they didn’t show. Even though Netflix had a lot more latitude than AMC (Holder’s language was saltier), they did not show the brutal crime scene. This made it even more impressive when we see it later, with the bodies removed but the blood still in place. It was like a Pollack painting. Jonathan Demme directed the final segment. I would have been happy, I think, if the finale had ended with a certain character driving off from the house, but it did go on and wrap things up more neatly. Perhaps a little too neatly.

I liked this week’s installment of The Leftovers a lot. It was a flashback to the day leading up to the momentous event that’s at the heart of the series. We get to see the two main families—the Garveys and the Dursts—in “happier” times. No one was really all that happy, but things were better than they are now (in story time) three years later. It was a little like a Lost episode seeing all of these familiar characters in different lives. And there is still an air of mystery, even though the inexplicable hasn’t happened yet. What drove the deer crazy? Why are there cracks appearing around future-Chief Garvey? Who were the four older people in the car looking for? What was Patti sensing? And, most importantly, what must it have been like to have your partner vanisher while you’re having sex?

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Whoa. Rented lips.

I’ve been very busy lately, hence a paucity of updates. I have about seven things all going at the same time and I’m hoping to get at least a few of them knocked out by the end of the month. I don’t think multitasking is all that efficient.

Mason James Cole is the pen name of RJ Sevin who, many years ago, published my story “The Smell of Fear” in Corpse Blossoms. He has a new book out called Buster Voodoo, which I liked a lot. You can read my review here.

I’ve been listening to the audio version of the Ice Cold anthology from the MWA that contains my story “The Honey Trap” recently. I’ve had a few of my stories released on audio, but this is the first one I’ve heard from a big audio distributor. The stories are read by different people. Mine is narrated by actress Meredith Mitchell. I enjoyed my story all over again. It’s a cool experience hearing it in someone else’s voice.

Yesterday afternoon, I spend an hour and a half on Skype with Lilja and Lou, recording segments for forthcoming episodes of their podcast. We talked mostly about Haven: where the show is at the end of Season 4 and where it might go in Season 5. We also discussed my visit to the set in June. Then we moved on to Under the Dome, about which many feelings are mixed. I’m not sure exactly when the podcast will debut, but it will probably be before Haven Season 5 begins on September 11.

The day after I visited the Haven set, I spent nearly two hours in front of a camera for an interview with VOX television for a documentary about Stephen King. The show is called Meister des Grauens and it will air in Germany this Thursday evening. Here’s the trailer for it. I don’t expect to be able to understand much of it when I get a copy.

Our slow-motion marathon of James Garner movies continued last weekend with The Children’s Hour and The Thrill of it All. The first starred Audrey Hepburn and Shirley McLaine in a film based on a play by Lillian Hellman. It’s about two close friends who run a school. One irate kid starts a whisper campaign about an inappropriate relationship between them after she’s punished. For 1961, it’s a surprisingly frank movie, although the word “lesbian” is never uttered. It’s an interesting story, but I found the acting to be melodramatic and unconvincing. There were several young children actors, too, and they weren’t terribly good. Garner was his reliably solid self as Hepburn’s fiance. The second film is vastly different, a comedy in the Doris Day / Rock Hudson mold about a housewife who suddenly becomes the star of a series of TV commercials, turning the household dynamics upside down. It’s light and frothy (literally) and funny. Doris Day is impressive: she has a very credible acting presence that matches well with Garner’s. There’s a cameo by the actress who played Mrs. Kravitz on Bewitched, too. Some improbable scenarios, but all in all entertaining.

I’m not sure that I saw the Happy Days episode that debuted Mork, though I probably did. I certainly watched Mork & Mindy. I even had a Robin Williams comedy record that I listened to several times and it never ceased to be funny. He was running on all throttles and when his mouth got ahead of his words he said, “Whoa. Rented lips,” which is a phrase I used to haul out every now and then when I stammered. I can’t say I’ve seen every movie he did, but I’ve seen a lot, including some of his darker performances, such as the ones in One Hour Photo and especially Father of the Year. He was better when a director was willing to reign him in a little, or a lot in some cases, but his mind always seemed to be going at the speed of sound, if not the speed of light. Put him and Jonathan Winters together and you risked achieving critical mass. I’m sorry he’s gone.


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Dreaming of October and Hemingway

I don’t often remember my dreams in great detail, but I woke up this morning with last night’s dream bouncing around in my head. I visited a guy who in my dream I knew to be Ernest Hemingway, even though he looked little like him at any point in his life. (In fact, I think he looked like a young Kasey Kasem.) I was young, and felt the need to contribute to the conversation, so I asked him when he moved to Chicago. He talked about how famous he was for suicide—that there had been many attempts. And then he showed me something on YouTube. He had taken a video of a bunch of surfers all riding a wave together and PhotoShopped (VideoShopped?) himself into the scene. “It’s gone viral,” he told me, with no small amount of pride.

So, it was only slightly surreal when I issued a Tweet about my dream this morning and a few minutes later I received a notice that Ernest Hemingway was now following me on Twitter.

I’ve known about this for a while but now that the table of contents has been announced I can say publicly that my story “The Boy in the White Sheet” will be in October Dreams II from Cemetery Dance. The story reveals what happened after the events of my first published story, “Harming Obsession.” I often wondered over the years what took place the day after the end of that tale, which is also my most-reprinted story, and I finally came up with a story. I’m in good company in the anthology: among the marquee contributors are: Ray Bradbury, Dean Koontz, Robert McCammon, Robert Bloch, Stewart O’Nan, Joe R. Lansdale and Al Sarrantonio, along with some of my Necon friends, such as Elizabeth Massie, Matthew Costello, Kealan Patrick Burke, Sephera Giron, and many more. Looks like it will be a massive volume.

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I really liked last night’s episode of The Leftovers. It was another of those single-character pieces that gives the focal actor a chance to shine, and Carrie Coon, as Nora Durst, did just that. She’s always been one of the show’s more intriguing characters, but we got to see her at much greater depth. Her meeting with Holy Wayne obviously changed her—she’s no longer stalking her ex-husband’s lover, or buying cereal for her kids and, more subtly, not influencing her interview subjects. I hope she and the Chief get together.

My latest book review: Riders on the Storm by Ed Gorman. I haven’t read enough by him.

I recorded several of the James Garner films that TCM ran last Monday and we watched two this weekend. First was Marlowe, based on the Chandler novel The Little Sister. It’s from 1969 and Garner’s character is not too many steps away from Jim Rockford. The film also stars Carroll O’Connor, Rita Moreno, William Daniels (St. Elsewhere) and, yes, that’s Bruce Lee martial-arts-ing himself off the edge of a building. I’ve seen this before, but it’s been a long time. Have to say I thought it was only passing fair. Garner is fine, but the story wanders at a leisurely pace and the plot is convoluted. Plus Sharon Farrell as “Orfamay” is annoying.

Then we watched The Americanization of Emily, which I’d never heard of before. Apparently it was only released on DVD in 2005. It was Julie Andrews’ second movie, filmed before Mary Poppins was released. The script is by Paddy Chayefsky and the film also stars James Coburn and has Keenan Wynn in a bit part as a besotted sailor. Garner plays a “dog robber,” a guy who kowtows to the every need of his Admiral. Sort of a Radar O’Reilly crossed with Mr. Carson from Downton Abbey. Personal dresser and procurer. Garner likes this gig because it means he won’t have to face military action. He’s not ashamed to call himself a coward. However, his Admiral goes a bit dotty in the weeks leading up to D-Day and decides that the first man to die on the beaches of Normandy will be a sailor, and he wants it filmed for posterity (and to keep the Navy from being disbanded after the wary). Andrews plays a British driver who catches Garner’s eye: she lost a brother, her father and her husband in war. She refuses Garner’s offer of chocolate (he can get his hands on any luxury item, despite rationing) because the British aren’t supposed to be enjoying the war. It’s from 1964 and is quite surprising for its anti-war stance, given the era. Garner vehemently believes that everyone who dies in war should not be automatically considered a hero. He doesn’t want young men back in the States to be deluged with “hero” stories that will inspire them to sign up and risk their lives. It’s an occasionally hilarious movie (Garner is always walking in on Coburn in bed with a different woman) with a serious message. We both loved it.

I’m watching Haven from the beginning to prepare for an essay I’m going to write in advance of Season 5. It’s surprising how much I’ve forgotten about the story. On one hand, I wish I’d done this before I went to the set, but on the other now that I’ve been to the set I’m picking up on all sorts of little things. For example, the cell door is made of wood, so the sound it makes when it slides open or when someone slams their hand against it is all done in post production. I’ve sat at the Chief’s desk and wandered around inside the offices of the Haven Herald. I saw Vince & Dave’s tandem bicycle and the books stacked up in the stateroom of Duke’s boat. I made it to the end of the second season yesterday, plus the out-of-series Christmas episode, which is a lot of fun, especially since it is in part inspired by Under the Dome.

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In Country

This morning, I started my first new short story in a while. I was inspired by a British news article I saw last week and I’ve been building up an alternate storyline around it for the past couple of nights. It’s not there yet—I have no idea where it’s going—but I wrote out the opening scene that I dreamed up overnight. The characters don’t have names yet, just placeholders, but these couple of pages help set the tone.

I find myself reading two short works based around the Vietnam war. The first is Buddha Hill by Bob Booth, part of the Necon Novella series. It’s about an Air Force newbie who arrives in Vietnam and his experiences on base. It also ties into the monks who used to set themselves on fire in protest. There’s  a cute, oblique Stephen King: The protagonist picks up a copy of Startling Mystery Stories at the BX and likes a story called “The Glass Floor,” except, he says, “There is just no market for this kind of thing…the poor bastard was probably doomed to spend his life working in some factory.”

The other is Riders on the Storm by Ed Gorman, a short novel in his Sam McCain series. It’s set stateside and features a murder where a Vietnam vet is the prime suspect. It deals a lot with the war’s aftermath and the contradiction between its overall unpopularity and the attitude toward people who protested it.

I just finished Those Who Wish Me Dead by Michael Koryta and posted my review. I tore through this one and now I have to go back and read his other books. Dude can write.

I’m hanging with The Leftovers, although many people are jumping ship because of its lack of incidents. There’s no identifiable villain other than the shadow of the past, the mysterious event that has rocked everyone’s understanding of reality. There are interesting developments, but no real goal. There’s no ultimate mystery to solve, no island to leave, no villain to vanquish. Still, I’m fascinated by it and curious to see where the story is headed.

I recorded the TCM James Garner marathon yesteday, so I know what we’ll be watching this coming weekend, and beyond…

I’d heard a lot of good things about Snowpiercer, so I found it OnDemand this weekend. It’s a fascinating post-apocalyptic story set entirely on a massive train that is a self-contained ecosystem, hurtling on a thousands-of-miles course around the world once per year. It’s been running for over 17 years when the story starts. The world outside is frozen because of an ill-advised strategy to end global warming.

The wealthy are at the front with lavish accommodations, food and perqs, while the poor are back in steerage, jostling for space and eating gooey protein slabs. After yet another insult to their dignity, they decided to press forward to the front of the train to take control and have a variety of encounters along the way, many of them violent. I especially liked the shooting match between train cars that happens when the train is in the middle of a sweeping curve.

Tilda Swinton is the face of the opposition, adorned with big teeth and a funny accent, reminiscent of Margaret Thatcher. Assisting the resistance is a Korean man and his daughter, the latter having been born on the train. He designed the security system, so he knows how to defeat the locks at each stage, and she is prescient, able to sense what they will face when a door opens. They perform this service in return for a drug. Nothing is quite what it seems, though, and there are surprises aplenty as they make their way from car to car. Some stunning visuals and a very clever plot. Though it’s been described as a horror film, I’d categorize it more as a thriller.

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Pining for the fjords

I haven’t read a Dean Koontz novel in quite a while. The last one, I believe, was From the Corner of His Eye, and I was not impressed. However, when NetGalley offered a proof of The City, I decided to give him another try. Again, not so impressed, as you might tell from my review. He’s off my list. I did like Linwood Barclay’s new thriller, No Safe House, even though I didn’t read the book to which it is the sequel, and enjoyed Dennis Lehane’s The Drop and Sarah Pinborough’s Murder, as well as JK Rowling’s new one, The Silkworm. I had some issues with the new Robert McCammon, River of Souls. (Reviews at the links).

I read Michael Koryta’s The Prophet last year and really liked it. I’ve been hearing a ton of good things about his new one, Those Who Wish Me Dead, so I picked up a copy at Necon and got him to sign it. The opening chapter is amazing, and the setup has me intrigued, so I’m looking forward to this wilderness adventure with two sociopathic killers (who remind me of the cousins from Breaking Bad, only chattier) in pursuit of a teenage witness who has been placed in a small group of troubled teens for survival training.

I went to Monty Python Live (Mostly) Encore last night with high hopes. I really expected to laugh my butt off. I watched Flying Circus a lot when I was in high school (it’s hard to believe there were only 45 episodes) and I remember seeing Holy Grail  for the first time in the dorm cafeteria—reels of film projected on a screen, not video—during my first year at university. We howled at everything, even the moose-themed credits and the sackings. There may have been beer involved.

I was the only person in the theater last night until about 15 minutes before the show started. The grand total was 11. Oh, what it must have been like to be at the O2 amongst 15,000 people. Laughter is contagious, and being with so many other fans enables laughter. Our audience was mostly silent. There were a few chuckles here and there, and I laughed a lot during the dead parrot sketch, which has long been a favorite. I laughed especially at the parts where Cleese messed up and lost the thread of the sketch, which he did here and in the “crunchy frog chocolate” sketch. I could have done without the long orchestral prologues (one per act), though I amused myself by noting that the conductor bore a striking resemblance to Mike Ehrmantraut from Breaking Bad. There were a lot of song-and-dance routines, some of which didn’t feature the Pythons at all. If you distilled all the live sketch work, that aspect took up maybe 45 minutes, an hour, tops, out of three hours (including a 30-minute intermission).

I wanted to enjoy it more, but I came away feeling a tad disappointed. I probably would have regretted not seeing it, but I won’t be lining up to buy the inevitable DVD release. Some of the sketches fell flat for me. I like Michael Palin a lot, but the Blackmail sketch just didn’t work at all, and the appearance of Mike Myers for no apparent reason simply baffled me. There are better ways to use cameos, like the one featuring Brian Cox and Stephen Hawking, which was pretty funny. I liked Cleese’s off the cuff remarks about the newspapers that have been bedeviling him lately and Palin’s advice to him across the counter to not waste oxygen on them or give them any publicity, which felt unscripted. It wasn’t dreadful, but at the end of the evening, my butt was still attached. I hadn’t quite managed to laugh it off.

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Necon 34: On Lovecraft’s trail

Back from Necon. People ask me how many times I’ve gone, and I’m not entirely sure of the answer. I believe my first time was in 2003, the year I had a story accepted to Borderlands 5. I went six years in a row, and then missed out on 2009 and 2010. I was back in 2011, and attended last year and this year, but I’m not entirely sure about 2012. I don’t think I was there that year. So this would make my ninth.

Connections were a little dicey on the outbound trip. A squall blew through Houston while we were on the way to the airport, which delayed take-offs. My flight pushed away from the gate right on time, but we stayed on the tarmac for nearly an hour. Given that I had a 50-minute connection at Dulles, that was bad. I received a text from United saying they had rebooked me on the next flight between Dulles and Providence which, unfortunately, wasn’t until the following day. However, we made up most of the time en route, so I had fifteen or twenty minutes to scramble from gate C-high number to gate D-high number. Got there with a few minutes to spare and, fortunately, I didn’t have any checked bags to worry about.

I arrived at the Necon hotel by mid-afternoon on Thursday. Found Brian Keene via Twitter and hung out with him in the lobby for a while. The highlight of the evening was a concert given in the courtyard by Kasey Lansdale, the daughter of Joe R. Lansdale and a fine musician in her own right. Her concert brought everyone to the courtyard. On Thursday night, people tend to be scattered, so this was a good thing, and everyone stayed on afterward, so there was a lot of socializing. Surprise vocalist at the show was Chris Golden, along with backing vocals by Amber Benson (who you may recognize from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but she’s also an author). Thursday was also the first appearance of the famous Saugies, which are cooked in the courtyard and consumed with the (usually alcoholic) beverage of choice.

I was very pleased to get a chance to meet and talk to another writer Guest of Honor, Michael Koryta, whose novel The Prophet I’d read recently and enjoyed. His newest book, Those Who Wish Me Dead, has been getting rave reviews. I haven’t read it yet, but I bought a copy at Necon and got him to sign it. Koryta has ten books out (nine of which are optioned), so I’ve got some reading ahead of me. He’s one of the people who seemed to get Necon right away, and I think he enjoyed himself. Also had a good talk with Amber Benson about Scandinavian TV shows.

On Friday, I was shanghaied into joining the “best books of the year” kaffeeklatsch in the atrium, which was well attended and interesting. With four people on the panel with varied reading interests, people were pretty much guaranteed to come away with a good list of potential material to read. I was also co-opted onto the non-fiction panel, which turned out to be an interesting discussion of book reviewing, primarily. Sixteen of us went out to Jackie’s Galaxy, our regular Necon restaurant, on Friday night. That evening was the toastmaster’s welcome, aka Jack Haringa’s pre-roast warm up. Then it was the mass signing, followed by a return to the quad until the wee small hours.

On Saturday, a group of us that included Brian Keene, Mary Sangiovanni and Nick Kaufmann took a meandering tour into Providence to track down a few sites that have Lovecraft connections. Last year we visited his grave. This year, we went to the house where he wrote many of his most familiar works, another house that was an inspiration for one of his stories, and a graveyard where he and Poe used to hang out. That’s where I’m standing in the accompanying photo, taken by Brian.

In the afternoon, Jack interviewed the writer guests of honor for two hours. Saturday evening’s entertainment consisted of the “even longer than the game show” talent-less show, which was enhanced this year by the presence of a gong, followed by the roast. Usually the people organizing the roast use one level of subterfuge to misdirect the victim. This year, there was an additional level as the person who was roasted thought he was hosting the event. When Nick discovered how he’d been tricked, the look on his face was priceless. The roast is a no-holds-barred insult fest, and the honoree isn’t the only victim. There is a lot of collateral damage. Afterward, a small group of us stayed in the bar until the even wee-er, small-er hours of Sunday morning. Then I had to get up and head for the airport for the return trip.

It’s hard to convey what Necon really is. It’s a conference unlike any other. Repeat attendance is high and it’s addictive. If I can only swing one convention a year and I have to choose between Necon and, say, World Horror, Necon usually wins. It’s a family reunion, in a sense, and there are people who have been to almost every one (and a couple of people who’ve been to them all). Sure, a little business is done on the side, but it’s more about making connections. Those connections often give rise to writing opportunities in the future, but that’s not what it’s all about. It’s something of a busman’s vacation. I always come away from the four-day weekend simultaneously exhausted (I don’t function well on 4-5 hours of sleep for three nights in a row!) and rejuvenated. The weekend is full of little moments that you could never really explain to someone who wasn’t there, but it’s kind of magical.

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