Summer 2018 Part 2: North Bennington

The afternoon of June 30th, I drove up to North Bennington, Vermont to take part in this year’s Shirley Jackson Day festivities.  It’s been about a quarter of a century since I’ve visited the Green Mountain state, and I forgot how lovely  a place it is, and immediately regretted that I would be there for only a few hours.  Somewhat ominously, when I tried to call home to let my wife know I’d arrived at my destination safely, my cell didn’t have service.  Not at all like the beginning of a Shirley Jackson story…

The event was held at the Left Bank, a lovely open space hung with art by local artists done mostly in a weird vein.  Before the reading, Brett Cox, Sam Miller, Sam’s husband Juancy, and I had a nice meal across the street, and then we joined Matt Bartlett in reading from Jackson’s and our own work to a packed house.  In a pleasant surprise, local author John Goodrich came to the event, and we had a fine time chatting afterward.  Many thanks to the fabulous Jennifer Rozycki, director of the John G. McCullough Free Library, for making all of this happen.

 

Brett Cox, Sam Miller, Matt Bartlett, and myself under the watchful gaze of Brown Thomas, the Goat with a Thousand Siblings.

(photo courtesy of Matt’s long-suffering wife, Katie)

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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!

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.