Each summer in July, writers from around the world congregate at Camp Necon, arguably the most laid-back con on the planet, the place where you can really get to socialize and mingle with fellow authors, and most important of all, the place where those of us who return year after year get to be with our “Necon family.”
Necon was founded by Bob and Mary Booth back in 1980. Today it continues to be run by the Booth family, who year in and year out work their tails off providing a con like no other. This year’s Necon, Necon 39, was no exception.
My first Necon was back in 2001. I’ve been back every year ever since.
The chairpersons for Necon 39, which was held on July 18- July 21, 2019, at the Baypoint Inn & Conference Center in Bristol, RI, were Sara Booth and Matt Bechtel.
This year’s Writer Guests of Honor were Linda D. Addison, Grady Hendrix, and John Langan. The Artist Guest of Honor was Reiko Murakami; the Toastmaster was Kristin Dearborn; and the Legend was Thomas Tesser.
As always, this year’s con kicked off on the Thursday evening with the Welcome to Necon: We’re Here to Help gathering for folks attending their first Necon, hosted by Toastmaster Kristen Dearborn and Hank Wagner.
At 10 p.m., it was time for the Saugy Roast, that event outside on the quad where campers partake in the now infamous eating ritual of consuming charred saugies, that delectable hot dog found only in southeast Rhode Island. There was one difference this year. Because of torrential rains outside, this year’s Saugy roast was held inside the cafeteria. Not quite the same, but hey, a Saugy is a Saugy, so while we may have missed the usual grilled flavor, there was still a long line for this yummy snack, and the conversations around the “campfire” were still second to none.
Friday, July 19, 2019
9-10 a.m.: The Frank Michaels Errington Five Star Books Kaffeeklatsch. James Chambers, Frank Raymonds Michaels, Bev Vincent, Madelon Wilson.
I was up early to attend this first Kaffeeklatsch , a look at the best books of the year. This panel was named in honor of literary critic and Necon regular Frank Michaels Errington, who passed away earlier this year. Stories were told of Errington’s kindness and generosity. I knew him as well, and he was always easy to talk to, someone who always had a twinkle in his eye and a kind word to say.
In addition to fiction, nonfiction titles were discussed, including Lady From The Black Lagoon by Mallory O’Meare about the woman who designed the costume/look for the CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON, and how to this day she has yet to receive substantial credit for her work.
10-11 a.m.: Year’s Best Movies Kaffeeklatsch. Michael Arruda, Asher Ellis, April Hawks, Michelle Renee Lane, Jonathan Lees.
My personal favorite Kaffeeklatsch of the weekend. Of course, I’m biased since I’m on this kaffeelatsch. But that being said, I love talking about movies, so even if I wasn’t on this panel, it probably still would be one of my favorites.
The consensus among the panelists was that so far 2019 has been a down year for movies. Discussed were recent releases MIDSOMMAR and CRAWL, two films I described as completely different but both very well-made and very satisfying, for various reasons. The discussion focused mostly on MIDSOMMAR since it’s the more high brow of the two, and one part of the discussion was on whether it’s a horror movie or a drama. We agreed that it’s a horror movie.
We also discussed US, which we thought underwhelming, and that Jordan Peele wrote a script that was ultimately rather far-fetched and dumb. Other films discussed included the CHILD’S PLAY remake, ANNABELLE COMES HOME, THE DEAD DON’T DIE, the PET SEMATARY remake, GODZILLA: KING OF THE MONSTERS, THE CURSE OF LA LLORONA, THE NUN, the HALLOWEEN remake, all underwhelming or flat out bad. My pick for pleasant surprise, though not a horror film, was BAD TIMES AT THE EL ROYALE (2018).
11-12 a.m.: Year’s Best TV Shows. Queres Abuttu, Elizabeth A. Black, Steve Cords, Gordon Linzner, Robert Macary.
This was a new Kaffeeklatsch this year, and I was excited about it, since there are a lot of quality TV shows out there right now. Nearly half the panel time was used discussing the current state of streaming television, and how with so many new streaming services starting, like Disney, CBS Prime, and others, the feeling seems to be that these services will not be sustainable. To watch all the shows you want, you’ll have to buy all these separate services which may end up costing as much as cable. No one had any predictions as to what happens afterwards, but right now the feeling is that things will get worse before they get better.
The panel discussed many shows, including Marvel shows, THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE, MINDHUNTER, GAME OF THRONES, and others.
Just a quick word about Necon panels. Since Necon is mostly known for its social scene, and rightly so, as I said at the outset it’s an extremely laid-back con where you really could hang out in the lobby or in the quad and talk to people nonstop, people don’t always talk about the panels. But the panels, in general, are always excellent.
I try to attend as many as I can because I usually learn something new at every panel. And how could you possibly not, considering the talent and experience of the people who sit on these panels and talk, most of the time casually and relaxed, about their experiences?
It’s a wealth of knowledge that I simply wouldn’t want to miss. And so, I go to and enjoy as many of the panels as I can. With that said, let’s get to them!
1-2 p.m.: The Art of Unease: Weird Fiction, Strange Stories, and Other Surreal Horrors That Mess With Your Head. Laird Barron, Nadia Bulkin, Victoria Dalpe, John Foster (Moderator), Todd Keisling, K.H. Vaughan.
This panel covered in great detail how to write weird and surreal fiction.
2-3 p.m.; The Shadow Out of Time: The Influence of Classic Horror Fiction on Today’s Horror Fiction. Meghan Arcuri-Moran, Jack Haringa (Moderator), Grady Hendrix, Michael Rowe, Matt Schwartz.
Some of the classic horror influences cited here included Mary Shelley, Bram Stoker, Shirley Jackson, Stephen King, and Clive Barker. The main discussion included whether these authors influenced modern writers more in terms of style or plot. It was also discussed that we use the same tropes that these authors used, and we are constantly striving to reinvent them. Panelists mentioned that, in spite of the love of these classic tropes, there’s also a need for new ones.
3-4 p.m.: In Poe’s Footsteps: Drawing on Horror’s Rich Literary Tradition For Your Own Writing. Richard Dansky (Moderator), Kristin Dearborn, John Langan, Jennifer McMahon, Paul Tremblay.
Lots of good conversations here. One of my favorite revelations from this panel was Paul Tremblay‘s story of how he was inspired by THE EXORCIST when he wrote A Head Full of Ghosts because he was upset by how the film ended, that Regan forgets everything, and then lives happily ever after. Tremblay believed that such trauma would not be forgotten so easily, and it would scar a young girl who went through it.
4-5 p.m.: Speaking in Strange Tongues: Writing both Poetry and Prose. Linda Addison, Jill Bauman, Gary Frank, Sandra Kasturi, Thomas Tessier, Trisha Wooldridge (Moderator).
This panel, which focused mostly on poetry, was one of my favorite panels of the weekend.
Award-winning poet Linda Addison spoke of the importance of keeping a notebook full of ideas and titles. She also spoke of playing with norms, of taking things and flipping them on their heads, making them opposite. For example, changing light to dark and going from there. Rather than “love is like a ray of sunshine,” using “love is like the empty darkness.”
Addison said she reads everything out loud. For her poetry, there’s a musical quality that drives it forward.
The panel discussed differences/similarities between writing poetry and song lyrics. For some on the panel, these two categories were very different. Some folks said writing songs came easy for them, while others did not feel comfortable writing songs but could easily write poetry.
Addison stressed poetic forms. She loves the various poetic form, like Haiku, and mathematical forms like Fibonacci.
In addition to the panels, Necon is also about fun and games. Heck, it is a “camp,” after all! At 9 that morning, campers headed off to Mini-Golf, a Necon Olympic Event! What’s a Necon Olympic Event? Events that run all weekend in which the winners receive “valuable prizes!”
Speaking of valuable prizes, there’s also a Necon Hawaiian Shirt Contest that runs all weekend! Campers wear various Hawaiian shirts, while judges secretly take notes and decide upon a winner!
Other games on Friday included RPG-Palooza! hosted by John Goodrich, Chris Irvin, Robert Macary, and Ogmios.
At 5 that afternoon, it was time for the Necon 39 Class Photo, a grand photo-op of the entire Necon attendees. At the same time, folks have the chance to purchase Del’s Frozen Lemonade, a refreshing treat on a hot summer’s day.
After dinner, at 7, Toastmaster Kristin Dearborn made the Official Necon 39 Toast, and Kristin did an awesome job.
At 7:30, it was time for “Weekend Update with Mike Myers,” a chance to laugh it up, as Myers pokes fun at the con and its campers.
At 8 p.m., it was the Meet the Authors Party, where authors set up tables with their most recent books, and you get the opportunity to chat with these folks up close. You just can’t get better access to your favorite authors than here at Necon. It’s also a chance to offer your own books for sale, and this year I shared a table with fellow author Bill “Skippy” Carl.
At 10, two Necon Olympic events, Darts and Foosball, started. It was also time to gather on the quad and socialize long into the night. Heck, some folks socialize till the sun comes up.
Saturday, July 20, 2019
9-10 a.m.: Funny Bones: We Can’t Teach You to Write Well, But We Can Teach You to Write Funny. William D. Carl, Craig Shaw Gardner, Mary Hart, John McIlveen (Moderator), Kyle Rader, Halli Villegas.
This panel talked about humor in horror, specifically that a lot of it comes from the situations and characters, and it’s humor that happens naturally. Much of it is nervous laughter. In real life, people often laugh during stressful times. It’s why people laugh at funerals; they need to get their emotions out and often don’t know how to do it. Humor thrown into novels to try to be funny most of the time doesn’t work.
Comedies are difficult. Back in the 1980s it seems movies forgot how to do comedy. Lots of things that were funny then are not now, especially in the current MeToo era and racially sensitive times. Even today comedies struggle. The panel agreed that there just aren’t many good movie comedies anymore. It was pointed out that the best comedies of recent years have all featured women in lead roles.
Panelists also remarked that even the Marx Brothers comedies wouldn’t work today. The panelists also discussed their influences, which included Monty Python. Woody Allen was mentioned, and it was agreed that while he’s nearly impossible to watch now because of the personal accusations against him, his comedies remain some of the best ever. AIRPLANE (1980) was also discussed, as an example where if you throw enough jokes at the audience in five minutes at least one should work. Preston Sturgess was also mentioned as a huge influence.
10-11 a.m.: Caught In Charlotte’s Web: The Children’s Books That Scarred Us For Life. Dana Cameron, Tom Deady, Jaime Levine, Hillary Monahan (Moderator), Jeff Strand, Dan Waters.
This panel got down and deep about so-called children’s books, citing even Dr. Seuss as creepy. A conversation on Seuss’ Cat in the Hat centered on the idea that the book is really a story about a home intruder. These authors spoke of being traumatized by Seuss, and worse that the adults in their lives simply didn’t notice.
Likewise, Grimm’s Fairy Tales and also Mother Goose were also traumatic. Many fairy tales were morality stories to scare children into not misbehaving. One, on thumb sucking, featured a boy who ignored his mother’s warnings, only to have the thumb-sucking monster come in and cut off his thumbs. When his mother comes home and he shows her his stubs, she says you should have listened to me. Ouch!
During the 1960s with Dr. Seuss, main characters weren’t hurting children. The Cat in the Hat messes up the child’s house, but then cleans it all up before parents come home. The subversive message was let’s do these things together but don’t tell mommy and daddy.
Author Roald Dahl was also discussed, and it was pointed out that his stories showed he clearly hated children. The panel unanimously panned Willy Wonka.
These “children’s” stories showed that adults simply didn’t get it. They would give kids these books because they were “children’s stories” but not pay attention to the content.
This panel revealed just how horrifying these stories are.
11-12 a.m.: Such Sights to Show You: A Celebration of Clive Barker’s Books of Blood On Its 35th Anniversary. P.D. Cacek, Larissa Glasser (Moderator), Bracken MacLeod, Armand Roasmillia, Hank Wagner.
This panel discussed how Clive Barker burst on the scene with Books of Blood in 1984. As Stephen King wrote back then, Barker was the “future of horror.” For the most part, King used classic tropes in his fiction, as he was inspired by Stoker, Jackson, and Matheson. But Barker was pretty much all new.
Barker also made violence/gore watchable. Other horror authors would usually cut away from the violence in their stories, but with Barker, it was “stay and watch this a while.” Barker specialized in the beauty of horror/gore. He also perfected rhythm in his collection and alternated between hard-hitting and soft stories. For many on the panel, CANDYMAN was their favorite film adaptation of a Clive Barker work.
1-2:30 p.m.: Guest of Honor Interviews. Linda Addison, Grady Hendrix, John Langan interviewed by Toastmaster Kristin Dearborn.
Langan told a story of how writing is often a struggle to sit down and write. He said it’s like a puppy with a toy. It comes to see you, and you say no, you don’t have time to play. It keeps coming, but after a while of getting the same answer, it stops coming, and that’s how people stop writing. Langan said to say yes to the puppy! That’s right. Say yes when the puppy comes to play, even if just for five minutes. What happens is you feel good, and eventually, you might see other toys that belong to the puppy and say what’s this and play even more.
Addison talked about having a tough life growing up. She didn’t live in a safe neighborhood or home. She was an ultra-quiet kid, even at school, and to escape, she’d go to the library and read everything. That’s how she was influenced by books.
Hendrix said that he grew up in a very comfortable setting, as his dad was a doctor. Visiting relatives who were struggling financially made him nervous. His drive to write comes from the fear of not having money and losing everything.
2:30-3:30 p.m.: Let’s Get Visual: Telling Stories by Crossing/Mixing Media. Aaron Dries, Duncan Eagleson, Lynne Hanson, Reiko Murakami, Cat Scully (Moderator), Angi Shearstone.
Panelists discussed the art that goes into book covers and how it important it is for a book to have a good cover. These artists talked about how they take covers very seriously. They really want the best possible cover for the book. So, they said they often ask for patience from authors, as sometimes writers are nitpicky about certain items on the cover, when the artists are thinking about the entire work when they design covers.
Sadly I had to take a break and I missed the 3:30 panel, I Know I Made You, But I Don’t Really Like You: Unreliable Narrators and Unlikeable Protagonists.
I was back at it for the next panel.
4:30-5:30 p.m.: It’s a Bird! It’s a Plane! Writing Superheroes in the 21st Century. Rachel Autumn Deering, Carol Gyzander, Nicholas Kaufmann (Moderator), Errick Nunnally, Charles Rutledge.
The question that Nick Kaufmann asked was, What makes someone a superhero as opposed to just a hero? Is it the cape? Costume? Answers included heroes save the day in a particular instance, but superheroes go above and beyond that. They save the world. Superman did what was right because he knew it was the right thing to do, not just because he had superpowers.
At 6:30, it was the Artists Reception, featuring, as always, phenomenal art by several artists. New this year was wine and cheese, rather than coffee and sweets.
Speaking of treats, we received a special treat at 8 p.m., a live performance by Grady Hendrix that was one of the best things I’ve seen at Necon in years. Nonstop hilarious.
At 9 p.m., it was time for the infamous Necon roast when someone we hold dear is roasted without shame. Who was the roastee and what was said? Well, as they say, what happens at Necon stays at Necon!
At 10, two more Necon Olympic events were scheduled: High-Low Jack and Ping Pong. Also, it was time for more Saugies! And this time we got to grill them outside! Yum!
And then we socialized on the quad until the sun came up.
Sunday July 21, 2019
I missed the GAME OF THRONES panel at 9 a.m. Why? See above. That part about socializing till the sun came up.
10-11 a.m.: Noir, Noir, Noir! How Do You Like It? How Do You Like It? Doungjai gam bepko, Angel Luis Colon, Barry Lee Dejasu, Nik Korpon, Hildy Silverman, Tony Tremblay (Moderator).
This panel defined Noir as things that are dark and bleak. It features a hero in a bad situation that’s about to get worse. Noir usually takes place in an urban setting, but not always. Classic examples of Noir include hardboiled detective stories from the 1930s and ’40s.
Moderator Tremblay asked his fellow panelists how they draw inspiration to write these characters when obviously “your life isn’t as bleak as theirs?” Some on the panel answered that they often base the characters on others they know, while others admitted they’ve had it rough and simply channel their own pain.
11 a.m.-12 Necon Town Meeting
The Necon Town Meeting is that time to hand out all the valuable prizes and also to hear feedback on the con, and what should be added in future years. As always, the response was overwhelmingly positive, especially from first-timers, who spoke of being accepted into this Necon family immediately. One suggestion was for more Kaffeelatschs, which people said they find more interactive than the panels. I have to agree.
After the meeting, it was time for lunch, which is always the most difficult time of the weekend, saying goodbye to everyone. I have friends here who I’ve been seeing since 2001 and, for many of them, I literally see them just once a year.
Next year is Necon 40, which promises to be a very special con.
I can’t wait.