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.
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.
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.
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?
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: