Summer 2018 Part 3: Quincy

The weekend of July 12-15 brought me back to Quincy, MA for Readercon 29.  With Boskone, Readercon is one of the conventions I try my darnedest not to miss, and it was great fun to re-connect with friends from Readercons past, as well as to meet new ones.  Probably the weirdest thing about the convention for me was the absence of several of my usual co-conspirators:  Laird Barron, Jack Haringa, and Paul Tremblay in particular.  But this was made up for by the chance to meet and spend time with a number of newer writers, from Nadia Bulkin to Teri Clarke to Mike Griffin to Gwendolyn Kiste to Farah Rose Smith to Justin Steele to Marcus Tsong to Brookelynne Warra.  Not to mention, more time with the terrific Alexa Antopol, Matt Bartlett, Brett Cox, JoAnn Cox, Ellen Datlow, Gemma Files, Karen Heuler, Nick Kaufmann, Veronica Schanoes, and Chandler Klang Smith and Eric, her pet halibut.  Oh, and who could forget Michael Cisco literally stepping out of an angle, cup of coffee in hand?  (Not me, no matter how hard I might try.)

Highlights of the convention included my Thursday night reading, which was smack-dab in the middle of a sequence beginning with Karen Heuler, continuing to me, then moving on to Brett Cox and finishing with Scott Edelman.

Image may contain: 1 person, sitting and indoor

(photo courtesy of Michael Griffin)

Despite the opening-night-scheduling, there was a substantial audience in attendance, as there was for my coffee-klatch the next day.  I had the great good fortune there to sit at a table with a number of up-and-comers, from Teri Clarke to Stephen Mazur to Marcus Tsong, and to engage in conversation that I found fascinating and rewarding.  Also on Friday, I participated in two scheduled panels, one each on Seabury Quinn and E.S. Nesbit.  (On Sunday, I also took part in a panel to which I was added later-than-last-minute, on endings in horror fiction, and  managed to try the collective patience of my fellow-panelists by complaining at length about the idea that horror narratives are supposed to impart some kind of lesson or moral to their audience.  Oy:  sorry about that, folks.)  Saturday took me to Tony’s Clam Shop, there to be interviewed by Scott Edelman for his Eating the Fantastic podcast.  (Which, I have to admit, was a bucket-list item of mine.)  The only other scheduled event I took part in was Sunday’s Shirley Jackson awards, where my introductory duties included the sad task of briefly memorializing both Kit Reed and Jack Ketchum, friends to the award and fine writers both.  Possibly the highlight of the award ceremony was Michael Kelly’s emotional win in the anthology category.

A good part of the weekend consisted of meals and conversations with various groups of people, a couple of them held at the Royal Hot Pot restaurant, which I highly recommend.  Chandler Klang Smith is frighteningly smart, and we had a brief but appreciative discussion of Dan Chaon’s Ill Will.  I also had the opportunity to listen to Nadia Bulkin discussing Michael Cisco’s theory of weird fiction with him, while I nodded sagely and acted as if I was keeping up with them.  Phil Gelatt and Vicki Dalpe attended their first Readercon, and solidified my judgement that Vicki is one of the funniest people, ever; but I also got to listen to Vicki discussing Experimental Film with Gemma Files, particularly its treatment of motherhood, and to hear Gemma talk about what she’s working on for her follow-up novel.

Image may contain: 9 people, including Brett Cox and Matthew M. Bartlett, people smiling, people sitting, table and indoor

Royal Hotpot!

(photo courtesy of Nick Kaufmann)

Once the con was done, I drove Michael Cisco and Farah Rose Smith to the train station in Beacon, enjoying the usual blend of intelligence and sheer ridiculousness I’ve come to expect from him on these yearly jaunts.  Cisco also came up with a story that I am not at liberty to speak about, but that I expect will be appearing soon.  Indeed, I would bet my ass on it.

 

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Readercon 28 Schedule

Next weekend, I’ll be returning to one of my favorite conventions, the annual Readercon.  I’m looking forward to seeing old friends, meeting new ones, and taking part in what looks to be some fine programming.  In case you’re at the convention, or are thinking you might like to drop in, here’s my schedule.  If you’re there, please say hello.

Thursday July 13

8:00 PM    6    Footsteps in the Dark: The Sensory Range of Horror. F. Brett Cox (leader), John Langan, Darcie Little Badger, Elsa Sjunneson-Henry, Paul Tremblay. Horror is frequently thought of as a visual medium, and is often adapted for film and television. However, other senses are vitally important to the development of horror stories, and the experience of fear for the reader. Consider Josh Malerman’s Bird Box, which erased sight for the main characters, or the pounding in Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House. Consider also the recent uptick in films with disabled characters, such as the Deaf writer in Hush and the blind antagonist in Don’t Breathe. This panel will explore these and other works of multisensory horror, and address how writers can create vivid horror experiences for readers.

Friday July 14

4:00 PM    5    The Hidden Philosophies of Horror. Michael Cisco, Teri Clarke, Don D’Ammassa, Ellen Datlow, Maria Dahvana Headley (moderator), John Langan. Some works of horror imply that wickedness exists within everyone, and even the greatest heroes are doomed to succumb. Others seem to say that people are mostly good but poor choices with terrible consequences are inevitable. Supernatural horror and psychological horror often posit very different sources and types of evil. This panel will explore these and other philosophical concepts underlying various approaches to the horror genre.
5:00 PM    BH    The Deaths of Gods. Martin Cahill (leader), Greer Gilman, Max Gladstone, John Langan, James Morrow. In Philip Pullman’s Golden Compass series, two children literally kill God. In Victor Koman’s The Jehovah Contract, a hard-boiled PI is hired for the same job. Max Gladstone’s Craft books and Robert Jackson Bennett’s City trilogy explore the deaths of gods in polytheistic worlds. How do these narratives of mortals killing supposed immortals differ from ones where gods destroy one another? It’s too simplistic to think of these as atheist narratives; how do they explore the power of belief, and the intrusion of incontrovertible fact into a belief system?
8:30 PM    B    Reading: John Langan. John Langan. John Langan reads from an unpublished story forthcoming in his new collection, Sefira and Other Betrayals.

Sunday July 16

11:00 AM    5    Shirley Jackson Awards. F. Brett Cox, Jack Haringa, John Langan, Naomi Novik, Paul Tremblay. In recognition of the legacy of Shirley Jackson’s writing, and with permission of the author’s estate, the Shirley Jackson Awards have been established for outstanding achievement in the literature of psychological suspense, horror, and the dark fantastic. Jackson (1916–1965) wrote classic novels such as The Haunting of Hill House and We Have Always Lived in the Castle, as well as one of the most famous short stories in the English language, “The Lottery.” Her work continues to be a major influence on writers of every kind of fiction, from the most traditional genre offerings to the most innovative literary work. The awards given in her name have been voted upon by a jury of professional writers, editors, critics, and academics, with input from a Board of Advisors, for the best work published in the calendar year of 2016 in the following categories: Novel, Novella, Novelette, Short Story, Single-Author Collection, and Edited Anthology.
2:00 PM    6    Kafka-Klatch: When Old Becomes New. Michael Cisco, John Clute, John Langan, James Morrow, Eric Schaller. Franz Kafka is known primarily for stories that involve overpowering bureaucracies and intense absurdism and surrealism. Plenty of modern novels, such as Seth Dickenson’s The Traitor Baru Cormorant, deal with the same type of all-powerful bureaucracy that Kafka is known for. What are we seeing now that is in conversation with Kafka’s work, and what can we learn from it in the absurd, surreal 21st century?

After Readercon

This past weekend I spent in Burlington, MA, at the 26th annual Readercon.  It’s probably the convention I most look forward to each year, because it’s the one the largest percentage of my writing friends attend.  This year was no exception:  I roomed with Paul Tremblay, and spent time with a raft of people including S.J. Bagley, Michael Cisco, Brett Cox, Joann Cox, Ellen Datlow, Gemma Files, John Foster, Mike Griffin, Liz Hand, Jack Haringa, Stephen Graham Jones, Sandra Kasturi and Brett Savory, Nick Kaufmann and Alexa Antopol, Mike and Caroline Kelly, Sarah Langan, Rob Shearman, Justin Steele, Simon Strantzas, Peter Straub, Jeffrey Thomas, and plenty more whose names I apologize for forgetting.  Highlights of the convention included fiction readings by Mike Cisco, Gemma Files, Rob Shearman, and Paul, as well as this year’s Shirley Jackson Awards, which I mc’d for the first time without embarrassing myself or the awards too badly.  I read from my own work twice, first as part of a group reading for The Monstrous, Ellen Datlow’s newest anthology, in which my new story, “Corpsemouth,” appears, and then on my own on Sunday afternoon, after the Jackson Awards, to a surprisingly large audience, to whom I managed to read all of my story, “The Savage Angela in:  The Beast in the Tunnels” (forthcoming in Jesse Bullington and Molly Tanzer’s Swords v. Cthulhu).  In the midst of the convention came the awful news that Tom Piccirilli had lost his brave fight with brain cancer, and we raised a glass in his honor and memory that night.  There was flatbread pizza, and there was Korean barbecue.  Then the weekend was over, so fast I still can’t believe it, and it was time for the annual drive back west accompanied by Michael Cisco.  As ever, thanks to the Readercon crew for putting on such a great convention.  The Good Lord willing and the creek don’t rise, I’ll see you next year.

July Mourns: On the Passing of Tom Piccirilli

While I was at Readercon this past weekend, I heard the sad news that writer Tom Piccirilli had lost his fight against a recurrence of brain cancer.  He was fifty.  Like so many others who have taken to the internet to mourn his passing, I didn’t know Tom, personally.  That I remember, we corresponded once.  Like so many more, I knew Tom through his work.  And even as I mourn his passing, I’m struck by the accomplishment of that work.  Had he written only his 2003 novel, A Choir of Ill Children, his achievement would be secure.  The book is one that handily demolishes the cliche that horror can’t be written at novel length.  Tom followed the book with a series of novels that shuttle back and forth between horror and noir, as well as a host of shorter works that chart the same, shadowy territory.  It was one of these later works, his novella Every Shallow Cut (2011), that prompted our correspondence.  Bowled over by the story’s dark, relentless brilliance, I sent Tom an effusive e-mail, to which he replied in calmer fashion.  Years later, though, Every Shallow Cut continues to strike me as that overused word, a classic.

At Readercon, the annual Shirley Jackson Awards were announced.  It’s somewhat shocking to think that Jackson died at the age of forty-eight, so profound has her impact been on the fiction that’s followed her.  Reflecting on what seems to me the fundamental unfairness, the outrageousness, of Tom Piccirilli’s death, I also think of the writers to come, who will arrive at the shores of his work, and drink deeply of it, and carry it away with them, their eyes dark and shining.

Readercon–The Aftermath

This past weekend, I attended Readercon for the first time in a couple of years.  I had a blast.

I have to admit, I’m tempted to leave things there.  So much happens over the course of a convention that it’s difficult to know how much of it to describe in what amount of detail.  I suppose the principle reason for me to attend an event such as Readercon is to meet readers, and to connect with writing friends old and new.  I had a chance to do the former a number of times, signing more books than I have before and talking to a number of younger writers who told me they had read and even analyzed my stories (this last produced in me the disquieting revelation that I am no longer the new writer I still think of myself as).  As for the latter:  the weekend was an embarrassment of riches, from rooming with my old pal, Paul Tremblay, to hanging out with Paul and the other board members of the Shirley Jackson Awards, to spending time with the charming Glen Hirshberg, whom I’d met before but never had the chance to talk so much with.  And this isn’t even mentioning brief discussions with folks like Michael Rowe, Jeffrey Thomas, Mike Griffin, Justin Steele, Shawn Bagley, and Sean Moreland.

In the midst of all of this informal talking, there were panels, one on ghosts I attended and one on zombies I took part in, both of which sparked so many ideas I had to scribble them down on the nearest available surface.  There were also some spectacular readings:  Gemma Files’s dazzling reading/performance of her story in the new Fearful Symmetries anthology; Michael Cisco walking an intellectual tightrope with ease and grace as he read an excerpt from his novel-in-a-workbook about unlanguage; Glen Hirshberg giving a magisterial reading of a late chapter from his new novel, Good Girls.  There were good meals sprinkled throughout, perhaps none better than the Friday night dinner at the local Thai restaurant that’s become something of a Readercon tradition–at one point, I looked at the long table of eighteen people associated with horror and dark fantasy, and thought, If this were the con, with maybe a couple of additions, I’d be quite pleased.  Sunday morning brought the annual Shirley Jackson Awards, whose winners reacted with joy and grace.

Then it was back home, but even there, Michael Cisco joined me for a drive/conversation that took in Robert Aickman’s stories, Thomas Ligotti’s anti-natalism, Roberto Bolano’s fiction, and the pros and cons of owning a house in the  mid-Hudson Valley.

There were folks who weren’t at the con that I wish had been, especially the Three Musketeers of Toronto, Richard Gavin, Ian Rogers, and Simon Strantzas.  I also wish I’d found a way to spend more time with Peter Straub, and Livia Llewellyn and Robert Levy.  Overall, though, I can’t complain.

So that’s Readercon 2014.  Did I mention I had a blast?

Readercon!

Starting tomorrow afternoon, I’ll be at this year’s Readercon.  Readercon was one of the first conventions I went to as a newly-published writer, all the way back on 2003, and it has remained among the most consistently rewarding professional gathering I attend.  Here’s my schedule, for anyone who happens to be at the con:

 

Friday July 11

2:00 PM    EM    Fearful Symmetries Group Reading. Gemma Files, John Langan. Fearful Symmetries is a new all-original anthology edited by Ellen Datlow, published by Chizine Publications.
7:00 PM    E    Autographs. Glen Hirshberg, John Langan.
8:00 PM    F    Creating and Embodying Genres. John Clute (leader), Samuel Delany, Chris Gerwel, John Langan, Yves Meynard. In discussions of literature there is a tendency to identify books that establish a genre as separate from books that embody that genre, as if the former creates the conditions which the latter successfully fulfills. Consider for instance Anne Rice’s Interview with a Vampire vs. Laurell K. Hamilton’s Guilty Pleasures, Philip K. Dick’s The Man in the High Castle vs. Harry Turtledove’s Southern Victory Series, and Michael Moorcock’s The Warlord of the Air vs. K.W. Jeter’s Infernal Devices. What is the relationship between such books? Is it only historical distance that makes us look at a book one way instead of another? And what about works contemporary to but eclipsed by the genre-creators and/or embodiers—where do they fit in?

Saturday July 12

11:00 AM    ENL    Absent Friends. Michael Cisco, John Langan (leader), Sonya Taaffe, Gordon Van Gelder. In the past year, the field has lost many beloved writers, editors, artists, and fans. Come join us as we celebrate their lives and work.
1:00 PM    CO    The Shiny, Candy-like Zombie: Commoditizing the Undead. Scott Edelman, Max Gladstone, Catt Kingsgrave, John Langan, Sarah Langan (leader). On Twitter, M. John Harrison wrote about the appeal of zombies: “You can hate them without feeling wrong. You can kill them like eating sweets. Then you’re hungry again & you can kill more. They’re fully dehumanised. There’s no off-season, no moral limitation. They’re the *enemy*. What’s not to love? They’re what we really want.” So do we like zombies because they’re the consumer-friendly, ambiguity-free face of implacable evil? Are they, in fact, the most perfectly commoditised monsters?
7:00 PM    CO    Reading: John Langan. John Langan. John Langan reads an excerpt from the novel-in-progress, The Tunnel.

Sunday July 13

11:00 AM    F    The Shirley Jackson Awards. Chesya Burke, F. Brett Cox, Jack Haringa, John Langan, Sarah Langan, Kit Reed, Paul Tremblay. In recognition of the legacy of Shirley Jackson’s writing, and with permission of the author’s estate, the Shirley Jackson Awards have been established for outstanding achievement in the literature of psychological suspense, horror, and the dark fantastic. Jackson (1916–1965) wrote classic novels such as The Haunting of Hill House and We Have Always Lived in the Castle, as well as one of the most famous short stories in the English language, “The Lottery.” Her work continues to be a major influence on writers of every kind of fiction, from the most traditional genre offerings to the most innovative literary work. The awards given in her name have been voted upon by a jury of professional writers, editors, critics, and academics, with input from a Board of Advisors, for the best work published in the calendar year of 2013 in the following categories: Novel, Novella, Novelette, Short Story, Single-Author Collection, and Edited Anthology.
12:00 PM    G    Horror for Diverse Audiences. Gemma Files, Nicholas Kaufmann, John Langan (leader), Shira Lipkin, Jennifer Pelland, Shveta Thakrar. Stereotypes and -isms often come from the id, from a place of deep fear. Horror writers have made use of this for ages, particularly describing monsters and monstrousness in ways that evoke racial anxiety, sexual anxieties, and fears of bodily change. However, that only works if your audience is in the racial majority, sexual majority, and able-bodied. What is the place of horror based on normalized fears for someone who doesn’t or can’t identify with the norm? How can writers effectively write horror for diverse audiences with diverse fears and anxieties? Can horror be a tool for expanding social empathy and social justice?
If you see me, please feel free to come up and introduce yourself.  At my autograph session on Friday, I’ll have a special gift for the first few people who show up, so if you want something signed, please bring it.