Monday, August 31, 2015

Necronomicon 2015: A Trip Report by Scott Valeri

I was fortunate to attend Necronomicon 2015 as my personal stars aligned with the dates of the convention: Thursday 8/20/15 ( HPL’s 125th birthday) to Sunday 8/23/15.  The FB promotions for the event were too tantalizing to resist, although I had some trepidation in having no idea what the experience would be like. I have gone to Howard Days and a hometown comic book convention on a regular basis but Necronomicon promised to be somewhat odder or unusual, at least in my imagination. After all it was HPL’s 125th birthday and these guys celebrate Cthulhu and other Lovecraftian Old Ones. They even have a Cthulhu prayer breakfast on Sunday! I hoped they had some idea of the forces they might be unleashing. No one wants to be at ground zero of the Cthulhu Apocalypse. So I approached it a little like the opening of the Large Hadron Collider, where scientists were pretty certain they were not going to generate a giant Galaxy devouring Black Hole, but … not 100% certain. However, I knew Howardians would be there as Rusty Burke, Jeff Shanks and Mark Finn were manning an REH Foundation table in the Dealers Hall. So there was  barbarian backup if needed.

My travel plans immediately hit a snag as weather cancelled my 8:30 PM Wednesday night flight and I could not get on another until 8:40 PM Thursday night. I would miss the opening ceremonies at the First Baptist Church which fortunately can be seen on You Tube where guests of honor Leslie Klinger (The Annotated Lovecraft) , Ramsey Campbell (World Fantasy Life Achievement Award winner), and Robert M Price (writer, scholar, and anthologist) all gave speeches. Flying into Providence late Thursday night the pilot announced that we should not worry about the cloud banks on either side of the plane that were putting on a lightning show as we were flying in a ‘clear’ corridor between them. Very reassuring.

Friday morning (8/21) I met Jeff Shanks at the Omni Hotel coffee shop for a quick breakfast and then attended his first  9 AM panel where he gave a wonderful talk on Darwin and the Deep Ones: Anthropological and Evolutionary Anxiety in Lovecraft’s Works. One of the other talks on this panel was by a terrific guy named Fred Lubnow on The Lovecraftian Cosmos and Modern Science. He has written extensively on modern science and how it generally favorably intersects with Lovecraft’s views of the cosmos. My brain was immediately stretched, and remained so for the rest of the con.  Jeff Shanks sported the academic attire that he would wear the entire con which consisted of a professorial tweed jacket with either a Frazetta Conan or Death Dealer t-shirt underneath.  A Howardian to the core!  Note to self: order one of those T shirts when you get home.

Omni & Biltmore Hotels in Providence, RI

At 10:30 AM I went to the Biltmore Hotel across the street from the Omni to the 17th floor Grand Ballroom, a trip made repeatedly throughout the con as lectures were spread between the two hotels. The panel was The Annotations of Madness where Rusty Burke, Leslie Klinger and the ubiquitous S T Joshi talked about the challenges of editing and annotating HPL, REH and others. Klinger has annotated Sherlock Holmes, Dracula, and Lovecraft in beautiful volumes. I did learn that he suggested reading the story through first then go back and read the annotations for the best experience. This was helpful to me as I have driven myself nuts trying to read text and annotation at the same time.

I then went to the Dealer’s Room at the Omni which was kind of con central as all of the booksellers and publishers were represented as well as vendors for T Shirts and cool Lovecraftian craft items. This was a Wayne’s World “ shwing-worthy”  moment as almost all of the great small press publishers were represented like Hippocampus Press, PSPublishing, Fedogan and Bremer, and Dim Shores.  Jeff Shanks pointed me towards an independent vendor who had two original copies of The King in Yellow for sale. Beautiful books surprisingly sized like modern day mass market paperbacks. No I did not buy one, but I did hold them and had a long enjoyable conversation with the seller.  I also met Derrick Hussey of Hippocampus Press which was wonderful as I have made many purchases from him and respect the great scholarship that he makes available to the Weird reading community. All the volumes of Lovecraft’s letters  and the new HPL Variorum editions … I almost became “verklempt”. Derrick was a very nice personable guy.

REH Table (LtoR) Mark, Jeff, Rusty
I sat with Mark, Rusty and Jeff at the REH  table and watched them tirelessly promote REH to all who came by. I believe they sold all but one small box of the many Foundation books they brought with them over the course of the con and they sold all 15 copies of Bloodand Thunder that they had with them.

I was barely able to pull myself out of the Dealer’s Room to attend a 4 PM lecture in the Biltmore Grand ballroom on The New Weird with Lois Gresh, Scott Nicolay, Joe Pulver and Jeffrey Thomas. Caitlin R Kiernan was to be on the panel but could not attend the con this year due to writing deadlines.  It was still a wonderful discussion of  the modern day Weird lit scene. Joe Pulver is warm, generous, and funny. He made a big fan in me.

Rusty, Jeff, and Mark were able to get me a Guest Pass so I could accompany them to the presenters reception Friday evening. Mark and I were both ravenous and put a dent in the excellent heavy hors d'oeuvres that were served.  Robert M Price was given the Robert Block Award at the reception and luminaries were everywhere. Daniel Look and Laura Brown of the REH community were there and I had a great conversation with Daniel about the stylometric work he is doing on Almuric. Head stretched again. End of a very full and wonderful day.

Saturday (8/22) at 9 AM I attended: Lovecraft: A Critical History with S T Joshi, Robert M Price, Peter Cannon, Steve Mariconda and Paul di Filippo. This was a historical retracing of how Lovecraft went from an obscure pulp writer to the influential and acclaimed figure that he is today. Robert M Price is hilarious with a razor sharp wit like a bearded Johnathan Winters. Note to self: never pass up an opportunity to hear this guy talk. He was the editor of the journal Crypt of Cthulhu for 107 issues and has done many anthologies for Chaoseum Press centered on stories about individual Lovecraftian Elder Gods. You know,  Yogg -Sothoth or Azathoth etc in addition to writing his own fiction. His day job, I kid you not, is a preeminent academic Jesus historical scholar and a fellow of the elite Jesus Seminar. The panel was again terrific and informative. S T Joshi is just a gem of scholarship and a fount of knowledge. I then took a break and ate an early lunch.
Lovecraft: A Critical History Panel
(LtoR): Steve, Robert, S.T., Peter, & Paul

At 1:30 I went to a lecture on Chambers and The King in Yellow. Joe Pulver is a Chambers expert and entertaining speaker. Lovecraft liked Chambers’ work but read him later in his career so he was not influenced much by Chambers.

At 4 PM the main event of Necronomicon for REH fans occurred when Jeff, Rusty, and Mark did a 90 minute panel called Two-Gun Bob Rides Again. Scott Connors was the moderator. He is the S T Joshi of Clark Ashton Smith scholarship. I did not know this but Jeff kindly clued me in. Rick Lai also was on the panel.  He is a sweet and wonderful man who may have more pulp fiction knowledge in his head than any human on earth. Even Rusty is in awe of the guy.

The panel was attended by at least 50 people and was, in my opinion, one of the best I attended during the whole con. Our guys gave a new perspective on REH that was much more expansive than just “the creator of Conan”. The Howard erudition on the panel was mind blowing. A long discussion ensued describing and laying the case for the under appreciated world building of REH, which clearly was new information to the audience and opened a new understanding of viewing Howard’s place in literature. People were asking if a book was in the offing about all this and Rusty volunteered Jeff. It should be out by Christmas. Just kidding!

REH Panel (LtoR): Jeff, Rusty, Scott
Mark, & Rick
But Jeff does have a new scholarly book about Weird Tales coming out later this year with many great contributors. We then retired to a local pub for libations and victuals. Several adoring fans accompanied the group of victorious panelists. All kidding aside, the guys did an amazing job representing REH all weekend long and were unflagging in their enthusiasm. We retired early after dinner as Mark had to prepare for his presentation Sunday.

Which I missed because, with trepidation, I attended the Cthulhu Prayer Breakfast at 8 AM Sunday morning in the 17th floor Biltmore Hotel Grand Ballroom.  I had to keep an eye on these HPL guys to stop some unholy monstrosity from being unleashed on Providence!  Black cloaked and hooded figures were slipping into the room as I waited in line. To my surprise the first 50 minutes was a scrambled egg buffet. Rick Lai, and Scott Connors sat with me which was nice as I knew no one else there.

Then, along came Ramsey Campbell and his lovely wife Jenny who joined us for the whole event. Unbelievable! They couldn’t have been nicer people. Great table conversation. Scott had to run off  early to do a Clark Ashton Smith panel back at the Omni. Robert M Price was the Grand Hierophant of the event with Darryl Schweitzer as a red fez wearing official and Cody Goodfellow was the DJ.  Cody, in sunglasses, assumed a persona that was a mix of  Pee Wee Herman and ZZ Top with a dash of Weird Al Yankovic thrown in. Price was like an Eldritch Pope, occasionally covering his face with a yellow hanging mask and channeled a message from Cthulhu to the crowd; something about it’s hard to find good minions these days. A speak and response piece had as a response chant “Nug and Yeb, great dragons black and red, come prepare thy fathers table.” The robed and hooded figures were a choir and sang tunes like “Got the Old Ones Religion” to the tune of Got that Old Time Religion. The showstopper was a tune about Cthulhu sung to the tune of  Baby Got Back.  Ramsey Campbell almost fell out of his chair. It was a combination of Saturday Night Live, Bennie Hill, and Monty Python! Note to self: do not ever miss this event if you have a chance to go! The New Yorker even published an article on it that is on FB now.
Cthulhu Prayer Breakfast

I then quickly said goodbye to my new friends Ramsey and Jenny and Rick Lai who all went off to do a broadcast of Lovecraft eZine together right there overlooking Providence. Just kidding about “my friend” Ramsey as he has no idea who I am. However, on Friday I did follow him to the bathroom and waited outside to get his signature on a book which he very graciously obliged.

When we were having breakfast on Sunday he told me a story about Stephen King’s last con appearance where King was sitting in a bathroom stall and a fan pushed a book underneath for a signature! At least I wasn't that bad. Ramsey does have a new Lovecraftian Trilogy he is working on and has written the first draft of the first book. Something to look forward to.

I ran off to hear the panel on CAS by Scott Connors  along with S T Joshi and heard the last half of it . Awesomeness! Scott shared his encyclopedic knowledge of CAS with the audience. This panel is available on You Tube. He is coming out with paperback editions of the Night Shade Books five volume collected CAS series with the first book, The End of the Story, available on Amazon. The hardcover editions have skyrocketed in price so this is good news. He has been working on a biography but wants to get the fiction available in affordable volumes first. Then right after this, S T Joshi did a panel on Lord Dunsany (DunZANEY is the correct pronunciation). Awesomeness! I learned so much. Looking back over the weekend I inadvertently scheduled myself for a Joshi-thon. A very nice accident indeed!

Jeffrey Shanks' Presentation
When the weekend was over, I ran to the airport and had an easy trip home to resume normal life. But I did leave with a faded Miskatonic University black t-shirt. You can order one from Before I left, I managed to say a quick good bye to Rusty and Jeff, but missed Mark. By the way, Mark has a short story in a new anthology titled Barbarian Crowns. He did not have any at the con but you can buy it now on Amazon.

All in all Necronomicon was an amazing convention. I don't know all the people who put it together but they all deserve a serious pat on the back for a spectacular event. Neils Hobbs was everywhere and did a superhuman job coordinating everything. There were roughly 2000 attendees, so I heard. I hope I can attend again if the stars align for a Necronomicon in 2017.  There will not be one next year.

My ramblings above are given in the spirit of sharing a perspective of the con to those who could not attend. I love to live vicariously through the stories of others who get to do things that I can’t. It is almost like being there for me and I am sharing my experience to spread the fun.  Jeff, Mark, and Rusty were very busy at the REH table and preparing for their talks. They couldn't have been nicer people to hang with and better ambassadors for the REH legacy.

I left “on the table” a whole lot of other convention experiences. First, every 90 minute period starting at 9 AM to after 5PM the con had at least 5 panels or lectures that you could attend. I could only pick one, and my choices were more historical in interest. Many other interests could be pursued by picking different panels or readings to attend. Second, I did not have time to do a walking or bus tour of Lovecraftian sites in Providence, which many people said was the highlight of their experience. Rusty did one with a friend. I did not see the Lovecraft grave. Also, There were book readings from fantastic authors like Simon Stranzas, Paul Tremblay, Joe Pulver, and Richard Gavin that I would have loved to have seen. I also missed a presentation by Jason V Brock and his lovely wife Sunni. Additionally, there were film showings at night and an art gallery with a great exhibit. Unfortunately, I missed them all because there was simply not enough time or they overlapped one another.  That is how full and rich this con experience was. But I did come away meeting some impressive new people like Scott Connors and Rick Lai and experiencing people like Robert M Price, Darryl Schweitzer, Cody Goodfellow and Joe Pulver who were priceless. And no Cthulhu Apocalypse!

Scott Valeri

No comments: