Con Report: My First NecronomiCon (Part 2)

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Previously, I posted a summary of my first two days at NecronomiCon Providence (actually the two days before the con proper). TLDR version: Day One was awkward and uneventful, due mainly to my terminal shyness and a wicked case of imposter syndrome. Day Two started much the same, but took a sharp upward turn when I ran into fellow up-and-comer David B. Busboom, which helped make me fell less like an outsider. I’m happy to report the next three days followed the trend of skyward ascent, ultimately culminating in a peak of awesomeness that leads me to respond now to all the naysayers: NecronomiCon is alive and well, and if you’re a fan of H.P. Lovecraft and/or weird fiction in general, I can hardly think of any event more deserving of your time and money.

There you have it, con organizers, an official endorsement from William Tea, a legend in his own mind. I expect payment in full by Monday morning.

Without further ado, let me tell you about my Necro weekend…

FRIDAY (8/18/17)

After indulging in two of the proverbial three S’s (a shit and a shower; sorry, but you don’t get a manly beard like mine from shaving), my bleary eyed self attended two panels; first, “Wereweird: Lycanthropy, Animism, and Animal Transformation in Weird Fiction” (with Stephen Graham Jones, Cody Goodfellow, Sonya Taafe, and K.H. Vaughan), then “Machinations and Mesmerism: How Middle European Fantasists & Romanticists Informed Modern Horror” (with Anya Martin, Jon Padgett, Steve Mariconda, Leslie Klinger, Sean Moreland, and Michael Cisco). God I’m such a nerd.

Sidenote: Not to get too far ahead of myself, but I think it speaks to how friendly and down-to-earth everyone at NecronomiCon was that by the end of the weekend several of the people mentioned above would go from being panelists I looked up to and saw as separate from myself to folks with whom I shared post-con meals and casual conversation.

Following that, the vendors’ room was open at last and howling for my hard-earned moolah. More importantly, it was beckoning me to find the Muzzleland Press table so I could pick up my contributor’s copy of Terror in 16-Bits, a new anthology of horror fiction inspired by classic video games, featuring stories by yours truly, Matthew M. Bartlett, J.R. Hamantaschen, Orrin Grey, Amber Fallon, Sean M. Thompson, Brian O’Connell, Alex Smith, Jonathan Raab, Jack Burgos, Richard Wolley, Julie Godard, Thomas C. Mavroudis, Adrean Messmer, and Amberle L. Husbands.

I was lucky enough to get to meet Bartlett, Thompson, Smith, and Raab in short order (we talked about the games that inspired our individual tales, among other things), and I also ran into both Steven Rosenstein (who co-hosts the Microphones of Madness podcast) and Scott Dwyer (who runs the weird fiction website The Plutonian). Dwyer was kind enough to hook me up with a free copy of Phantasm/Chimera, an anthology he edited and published on his own, and which features fiction from some of the most singular talents in horror and dark fantasy today, including the aforementioned Bartlett and Padgett, as well as Livia Llewellyn, Christopher Slatsky, Brian Evenson, John Claude Smith, Jason A. Wyckoff, Mike Allen, Clint Smith, Thana Niveau, and Adam Golaski.

Two more people I met in the vendors’ room and had memorable encounters with were Jim Dyer and Tim Vigil.

Dyer is the grandson of C.M. Eddy, Jr., a pulp writer who contributed to the legendary Weird Tales Magazine back in the 1910s and ‘20s and who was a close personal friend of the man himself, H.P. Lovecraft. In fact, the two famously collaborated a few times, most notably on the notorious necrophilia tale “The Loved Dead” (which was so controversial it actually got issues of Weird Tales pulled from shelves) and an unfinished manuscript commissioned by Harry Houdini called The Cancer of Superstition. Dyer honors his grandfather’s legacy through his company Fenham Publishing, which maintains the rights to Eddy’s stories and keeps them in print all these years later for pulp junkies like myself to discover and enjoy anew.

Vigil, meanwhile, should need no introduction. How things should be, sadly, is not often the way things are, though. Despite being a highly influential comic book artist with an intense, surreal, hyper-detailed style reminiscent of Bernie Wrightson, Jack Kirby, and Richard Corben, Vigil remains mostly a cult figure to this day. He’s also one my own personal favorite illustrators of all time (as if my effusive praise thus far hasn’t already given as much away). Over the years, Vigil has done art for Heavy Metal Magazine, the Frank Frazetta-inspired sword-and-sorcery title Death Dealer and the zombies-in-Vietnam series ’68 from Image Comics, several titles from Glenn Danzig’s Verotik Comics, a whole bunch of damn titles from Avatar Press (including the long-running Webwitch, Threshold, and Raw Media Monthly), and even a couple Green Lantern and Wolverine books for The Big Two.

Despite all that, Vigil remains best known for Faust: Love of the Damned, a groundbreaking and controversial independent epic that took more than 20 years to complete, and which spawned some fantastic miniseries spinoffs (including the Stoker Award-nominated Faust: Book of M) and even a movie adaptation directed by Frank Yuzna (the b-movie maniac behind such cult classics as Bride of Re-Animator, Return of the Living Dead 3, and Society). Almost aggressively, actively noncommercial, Faust is a gothic, brooding, philosophical masterpiece of antiheroic, genre-bending horror awash in explicit violence and graphic sex. It is without a doubt, the most iconic series to come out of the post-TMNT black-and-white indie-comics movement of the 80s. The same things which made Faust such an incredible piece of work, however, are big reasons for Vigil remaining so much a fringe personality. Of course, the man’s casually confrontational fuck-the-mainstream do-it-yourself ethos might have played a role in that, too. Gotta love it.

As you can tell, I have a huge amount of respect for Tim Vigil, so it was an exciting opportunity to meet  in person. We actually hit it off, if you can believe it, which directly led to an amazing experience I got to have on Saturday evening, but we’ll get to that soon enough. As of Friday, I was content to merely gush all over him like a swooning schoolgirl. I also commissioned an original piece of art from him (a rendering of Jack Kirby’s Etrigan) which I plan to be buried with when I die.

20915662_265576717262825_5069277433062088082_nFollowing that, I attended a few more panels: “Writing Non-Stale Mythos Tales” (with Kij Johnson, Darrell Schweitzer, Peter Rawlik, Alex Houstoun, Tom Lynch, and Vincent O’Neil), “Women Directing Weird” (with Gemma Files, Andrea Wolanin, Heather Buckley, Izzy Lee, Diana Porter, and Gwen Callahan), and “Erotic Lovecraftiana” (with Paul LaFarge, Livia Llewellyn, Peter Rawlik, Sonya Taaffe, and Joe Zannella). Those last two were especially insightful and entertaining, with Erotic Lovecraftiana bringing out the ribald best in both the speakers and the audience, leading to discussion of everything from Lovecraft’s own sexuality to the pornographic pastiches of Edward Lee, to the fetishistic possibilities of Deep Ones not needing to breathe, to a sex-ed demonstration in which rubber tentacles stood in for the usual bananas. Nice.

After the con I met Jonathan Raab and a bunch of other people at a local pub for some artery-hardening bar food. While there I finally got to meet Jon Padgett, Tom Breen, and Scott R. Jones in person. I told Padgett how much I enjoyed his brilliant collection The Secret of Ventriloquism and we talked about the recent Dark Tower movie adaptation (which, dammit, I still haven’t seen) and the familiar experience of growing up as geeky kids made fun for loving books about monsters and alien worlds, only for us to age into adults and find the rest of the world now reflecting decidedly similar interests. Later, me, Jones, and Breen bitched about the state of U.S. politics, while Sean M. Thompson and I bonded a bit over our mutual affections for Goosebumps books and the old Nickelodeon T.V. show Are You Afraid of the Dark?.

Trump-bashing and ’90s children’s television, truly the kind of high-brow conversation you’d expect from us snooty literary types, eh?

I can’t believe I’m technically an adult.

SATURDAY (8/19/17)

Right off the bat, the first event scheduled for Saturday morning was one of the ones I had been anticipating the most. Horrorstor and My Best Friend’s Exorcism author Grady Hendrix presented a special preview of his upcoming nonfiction book Paperbacks From Hell, shining a light on all things good, bad, and utterly insane from the ‘70s and ‘80s horror novel boom. Though it was early morning, Hendrix sure as hell was the right person to wake my ass up, blazing a mile a minute through an enthusiastic, hilarious, and, frankly, loud survey of the trends, tropes, clichés and ridiculously lurid cover art that defined the era. The dude even sang a pair of original songs he wrote about cheesy paperback covers. It was a blast.

I got to say, as a nostalgic bargain-hunter whose personal library consists primarily of used books rescued from flea markets and secondhand stores, I’ve had the Paperbacks From Hell preordered since it was first announced. During the presentation, though, I got so excited that I actually went online with my smartphone and hunted down a few of the zanier titles Hendrix mentioned. I’m especially looking forward to getting my grubby mitts on William H. Johnstone’s Toy Cemetery, which reportedly features killer dolls, vampire-werewolf hybrid ghosts, and, of course, tons of incest. Be still my beating heart!

I attended a couple more panels later, including “Editing Horror (with Ellen Datlow, Peter Straub, Douglas E. Winter, Michael Kelly, Leslie Klinger, and Mike Davis) and “Teatro Grottesco: The Bleak Universe of Thomas Ligotti” (with Jon Padgett, Matthew M. Bartlett, Michael Calia, Michael Cisco, and Alex Houstoun). The former was especially eye-opening, not in the least because of the presence of ELLEN FUCKING DATLOW, as well as PETER FUCKING STRAUB and DOUGLAS FUCKING E. FUCKING WINTER.

Winter, if you’re unaware, edited two of the most essential tomes any horror fan should have on their shelf. First, in 1985 there was the World Fantasy Award-winning non-fiction book Faces of Fear (which includes must-read interviews with some of the all-time giants of the genre: Stephen King, Peter Straub, Clive Barker, Robert Bloch, Charles L. Grant, Richard Matheson, Ramsey Campbell, William Peter Blatty, T.E.D. Klein, Michael McDowell, Alan Ryan, Whitley Strieber, David Morell, James Herbert, Dennis Etchison, John Coyne, and V.C. Andrews). Then, in 1988 there was the classic fiction anthology Prime Evil (which includes original, never-before-published stories by King, Straub, Barker, Campbell, Grant, Strieber, and Morrell, as well as stories by even more genre giants like Thomas Ligotti, Jack Cady, and Thomas Tessier).

Straub, meanwhile, is probably best known for his two novel collaborations with Stephen King, The Talisman and Black House. The man has also won a frankly absurd number of awards over the years (including six Bram Stoker Awards, three World Fantasy Awards, one Locus Fantasy Award, and one August Derleth Award, not to mention numerous nominations) for such classic books as Ghost Story, Shadowland, Koko, and, my personal favorite, Floating Dragon. A gleaming highlight of my NecronomiCon experience was getting to shake Straub’s hand and tell him how much that novel meant to me, the impact it’s having on the novel I’m writing now, and the role his work played in making me want to be a writer to begin with. In all honesty, he probably hears that kind of thing all the time, but how often do I get to be the one to say it?

Naturally, I made a total fool of myself, babbling and shaking his hand no less than three separate times in the span of about two minutes.

It was worth it.

Less anxiety-inducing were my encounters with three talented artists who I managed to strike up conversations with: Nick Gucker, Liv Rainey Smith, and Yves Tourigney. I went home with art from every single one of them, because how could you not? Seriously, click Google their stuff and tell me its not eye-poppingly gorgeous. Tourigney in particular I had to hunt down; he and writer S.L. Edwards have been collaborating on a weekly webcomic called “Borkchito: Occult Doggo Detective,” which combines two of my greatest loves: paranormal investigator stories and doggo memes. Not only did I need to meet this mad genius, I needed to snag myself one of the limited-run print editions of the collected Borkchito!

As the day came to a close, I wandered back over to Tim Vigil’s booth to check on my commission and bullshit some more. As I mentioned earlier, we kind of hit it off earlier in the weekend. Even still, no way was I expecting him to say “Want to hang out later?”

One of my all-time favorite comic artists wanted to hang out with an absolute nobody like myself? Gah.

I somehow managed to put my inner fanboy back in his box long enough to say “sure” and suggest we grab something to eat. We went to a nearby restaurant and, over burgers and mac-and-cheese (classy artsy types, ain’t we?), we talked a good long time about the convention, his art, my writing, European horror movies, the current state of the comics industry, and porn. By the end of dinner it, he asked to read some of my stories and even offered to illustrate something of mine someday (like say if I ever put out a chapbook, hint hint).

My mind had basically blown out the back of my skull by this point. Fortunately, I was able to gather up enough pieces of my splattered gray matter to make my way back to the hotel so I could get ready for one thing I’d been waiting all day for. As part of the NecronomiCon festivities, the nearby Columbus Theater hosted a special concert featuring the bands Magic Circle, Beastmaker, and Coven.

20882366_266033790550451_8404608010217385461_nYes, that Coven.

The Jinx Dawson Coven. The “One Tin Soldier” Coven. The “Witchcraft Destroys Minds & Reaps Souls” Coven. That Black Sabbath-before-Black Sabbath Coven. The satanic-psychedelia occult-rock doom-metal prototype Coven. That fucking Coven.

Live.

In a beautifully restored 1920’s theater.

With two kick-ass modern-day doom bands opening.

Formed in 1968, Coven were one of the first rock bands to not just be associated with satanism and occultism, but to embrace and even enthusiastically flaunt such things. Their shows were half-concert and half-black mass, full of diabolic chants and theatrical rituals. Every single goth-rock witch-pagan, black-metal church-burner, shock-rock devil-worshiper, and doom-n-gloom bong-ripper on Earth owes a debt to Coven.

I’ll let you speculate which of those categories yours truly might fall into.

Honestly, this is not a band I ever actually thought I’d get to see live. It was a truly otherworldly experience. Icon frontwoman Jinx Dawson still knows how to dominate the stage; emerging from a black casket wearing mirrored mask, bathed in hellish scarlet light and surrounded by dark-robed druids, she demanded every last drop of the audience’s attention. And she fucking got it. True to Coven’s reputation, the performance felt as much like a transcendent, blasphemous, magic ceremony as it did a rock concert. By the time I got back to the hotel, my body was soaked with sweat, my ears were ringing, my head was pounding, and my godforsaken soul was at least 666 shades blacker.

Evil me then ordered cheesecake from room service and went to bed.

SUNDAY (8/20/17)

After weathering the demonic assault of Coven’s sinister occult rites, I felt like hammered shit, so I slept in on Sunday. This resulted in me missing a panel and a reading I was interested in, but, hey, them’s the breaks. Once I finally regained my strength and sanity, I emerged from the shadowy tomb that was my hotel room, hissing and recoiling from the light like a centuries-old vampire. The housekeeping lady may or may not have the sign of the cross as I passed.

I attended a few more panels on Sunday: “Small Press in the Weird” (with Cody Goodfellow, Derrick Hussey, Dragana Drobnjak, Mike Davis, and Dwayne Olson), “Faithful Frighteners” (with Richard Stanley, Bracken MacLeod, Tom Breen, Douglas Wynne, Izzy Lee, and Heather Buckley), “The Bleak Oblique: Aickman’s Influence on Contemporary Horror” (with Simon Strantzas, Michael Cisco, Paul Di Filippo, Jack Haringa, and Steve Rasnic Tem), and “The Future of Weird Fiction and NecronomiCon Providence” (with S. J. Bagley, Ellen Datlow, Sam Cowan, Ruthanna Emrys, and Michael Kelly).

I also ran around the vendor’s room like a chicken with its head cut off in a mad scramble to buy a few last minute items (I say “a few” here, when really I mean “a bank account-eradicating shit-ton”). Among the individuals I ran into while in the grip of this consumerist frenzy were author and con organizer Sam Gafford, German illustrator Fufu Frauenwahl, and artist/zinester Michael Bukowski.

I’d actually been looking for Bukowski on and off all weekend. He’s the prime mover behind the Illustro Obscurum zines, wherein he and some other artists bring to life the bizarre beasts and crazy creatures depicted in the stories of H.P. Lovecraft, William Hope Hodgson, Clark Ashton Smith, and more. Issues are often hard to get a hold of, because they comes in extremely limited quantities and often sell out fast. Thankfully, I was able to snatch up some of the few remaining copies Bukowski still had, including the Manly Wade Wellman issue, the Chuck Tingle issue, and the special Stories From the Borderland issue (which, for the first time in print form, compiles illustrations by Bukowski and essays by author/podcaster/grave-pisser Scott Nicolay, taken from the titular long-running blog series in which the pair rediscover forgotten gems from lesser-known pulp writers of yesteryear).

I also finally got to talk to author K.H. Vaughan for longer than three goddamn seconds, which proved a lot trickier than it sounds. Over the course of the weekend, our paths crossed many times but always when one or both of us was on the way to something else. Near the end of the final day of NecronomiCon,  we were able to sit for a while and properly get to know one another. I told Vaughan about my convention experience thus far and mentioned a few other cons I’m interested in checking out, and he pretty much sold me lock-stock-and-barrel on the upcoming 2018 Camp Necon. So, hopefully, you’ll be reading another rambling, long-winded con report from me about that event next year.

As the con came to a close, I ran into Sean M. Thompson and Scott R. Jones again, and they were nice enough to invite me along for dinner. Good thing, too. If it had been left to my antisocial ass, I probably would’ve ended up holing up in my hotel room, supping on cheap vending machine snacks. Instead, I accompanied them to a nearby restaurant, where we partook in that most holy of sacraments, delicious coal-fired pizza. Alongside Jones and Thompson, Cody Goodfellow, Alicia Graves, Liv Rainey Smith, Fufu Frauenwahl, Sam Cowan, and a few others were there. We talked about everything from Mick Foley’s infamous Hell in the Cell match to the politics of lady Ghostbusters to the cooking and consumption of human placenta. Y’know, typical chit-chat.

20914712_266221307198366_2915333657839673597_nGoodfellow, I should mention, is just as insane in real life as his fiction would have you believe. I first became a fan upon reading his novel collaboration with John Skipp, Jake’s Wake, back in the days when Leisure Books was still a thing. Seeing his mind work in-person was a great and terrible thing; at times he talks faster than light moves, his bearded pie-hole constantly overflowing with colorful anecdotes, philosophical asides, and outrageous factoids about fringe beliefs, such as the theory that human evolution is the direct result of ancient man engaging in brain cannibalism! At one point he briefly fell silent and spent a good five minutes staring off into space. When he returned to planet Earth, he brought back a fully formed story idea that was simultaneously deranged, ingenious, and way better than anything I could come up with in five days, let alone five minutes.

The pizza was damn good too.

After dinner, we said our goodbyes and went our separate ways. Parting was, as the Bard once scribbled, such sweet sorrow. I was bummed to have to say adios to all the cool and kind and brilliant and funny and altogether amazing people I’d met over the course of the convention, but I was happy that I’d gotten to meet them, that I’d somehow stumbled my way into some great new friendships, and that I can look forward to seeing these weirdos again in the future.

I spent the next few days staying with some friends in nearby Massachusetts, where we hunted for seashells along the shore and visited infamous murderess Lizzie Borden’s resting place. Hard to imagine a more perfect way to cap things off.

As I returned to rolling hills of Pennsylvania, so to did NecronomiCon return to the eldritch bowels of New England’s witch-haunted underbelly. I do not mourn, however, because I know, just as Cthulhu’s alien priests know, that eventually the stars will be right once more. In 2019, the shadow of NecronomiCon will fall yet again on the winding streets of Providence, Rhode Island, and I will certainly be there, lending my own darkness to that mammoth shadow’s deepening tenebrous black.

Especially if there’s more pizza.

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Con Report: My First NecronomiCon (Part 1)

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Just days before the first complete solar eclipse in almost 30 years, it emerged from out of the heart of that generations-old seaside metropolis, a many-headed monolith waking from hibernation to bask in the adulation of its black-clad worshipers, filling me with equal parts existential dread and perverse glee as it threatened to swallow me whole.

No, I’m not talking about some eldritch alien god from beyond the veil of corporeal reality. I’m talking about NecronomiCon Providence 2017. A celebration of weird fiction, literary horror, and all things Lovecraftian, NecronomiCon is a biennial event in ol’ HPL’s Rhode Island hometown. Half fan convention, half professional conference; all awesome.

Also, all terrifying. At least for me. As a lifelong Lovecraft fan who still considers the man one of the most personally relevant and influential writers of all time (even if he was, writing aside, pretty much a dick; see my blog post about the WFA’s), I’ve wanted to check out NecronomiCon for a while. And, of course, as a lifelong wanna-be storyteller finally making a go at this whole writing thing after too many years letting fear and self-loathing keep me from pursuing my passion, I’ve been eager to attend any event that might help me immerse myself better in the genre community, get to know some like-minded readers and writers, and hopefully get my own work out there a bit more.

Naturally, I was eminently excited for my first NecronomiCon. Doesn’t mean I wasn’t also nervous as all get out. Social anxiety and low self-esteem are absolute bitches at the best of times, but they only get bitchier when you feel lost at sea in a roiling tide of strangers, and even bitchier still when the whole damn lot of those strangers just so happen to be authors you yourself are a fan of and whom you feel pressure to make a good impression on. Surely, I thought, once I’m face to face with someone whose name is already known and respected throughout the community, and there’s little old me, an unknown nobody with hardly a handful of published works, surely they’ll be left wondering why the hell I’m bothering them, all while an agonizingly awkward silence envelops us in jet-black wings of mortification.

As it turns out, nope! First off, every single person I met at NecronomiCon could not have been kinder, humbler, or more inclusive. Maybe I thought of myself as an outsider among giants, but no one else seemed to share that perception. I’d say they went out of their way to make me feel like a genuine peer, but the fact that it all felt so casual and decidedly not like something they had to go out of their way to do, that alone speaks volumes about the positivity of my experience.

Second, there simply wasn’t any time for awkwardness. Going into the event, I was worried I would be given too much rope to hang myself with, but in truth there was so much to do at the convention and so many people to meet, I barely found enough time to rest, let alone put my foot in my mouth.

That said, I thought I’d share a recap of my experiences. Starting with…

WEDNESDAY (8/16/17)

nec1Though the con proper didn’t technically start until Friday, there were plenty of preparatory events scheduled for Wednesday and Thursday. I arrived in Providence Wednesday afternoon and checked into my room at the Omni Hotel (one of the con’s two main venues, along with the nearby Biltmore Hotel). After some much-needed rest from being on the road for several hours, as well as an equally much-needed shower, I enjoyed a short private rendezvous with a personal friend from the area, then made my way to the downtown Aurora nightclub for the NecronomiCon pre-party. On the way there, I came across a cat dragging a fake severed arm down the street and thought to myself, “Yes, this must be the place.”

Now, see, one of the things that made me so nervous about going to NecronomiCon was that I was essentially going alone. There were a few (actually more than a few) other attendees that I knew would be there, folks I’d interacted with somewhat via social media, but none whom I’d ever met in the flesh before. I’m an odd guy; my close friends would probably describe me as loud, outgoing, and talkative (if not outright obnoxious), but that’s only how I am when I get to know you. On my own, or with someone I haven’t yet developed a rapport with, I’m painfully shy. I don’t even know how to start a conversation, frankly, having never really mastered the beguiling art of simple self-introduction.

So it was that I found myself standing in a darkened corner at Aurora, nervously sipping a soda while a pair of already inebriated Call of Cthulhu players repeatedly explained to me how I needed to take charge and establish a RPG group in my own hometown, all despite the fact that, as I informed them again and again, I am not nor ever have been a tabletop gamer.

Ah, good times.

I confess, that first night I never did manage to loosen up, although I did greatly enjoy hearing Catherine Grant, J.T. Glover, Barry Lee Dejasu, Madeira Darling, and Farah Rose Smith read select pieces of work as part of the event’s open-mic component. Smith in particular blew me away with an excerpt from a current work-in-progress, so much so that I rue the fact that it’s still “in-progress” and not yet in my grubby little mitts. Shamefully, I lacked the self-confidence to go up to any of the readers and tell them face-to-face how much I enjoyed their cuttings. It took me a couple days to warm up to that.

As the night wore on, clips from old Night Gallery episodes and Paul Naschy movies played out on a screen above the club stage, and I made small talk with a few thankfully less inebriated con-goers before calling it an early night and shuffling back to the Omni in search of slumber.  Not a terrible first outing, but not great either.

THURSDAY (8/17/17)

Knowing that the next few days would be a blur, I let myself sleep in on Thursday. When I finally got up, I took a quick shower, found a nice sushi place nearby for lunch, registered for the con, then swung by the Lovecraft Arts & Sciences Council store in the Providence Arcade before heading to the opening ceremonies.

Having friends in Rhode Island, I’ve been to Providence before, and I always make it a point to stop by the Lovecraft store. Though not much bigger than my hotel room, the place is nirvana for any weird fiction fanatic. It’s wall-to-wall and floor-to-ceiling books, from the requisite Lovecraft collections and biographies, to fiction that runs the gamut from Robert W. Chambers and Arthur Machen to Clive Barker and Brian Keene, to nonfiction on such varied subjects as serial killers, world mythology, circus sideshows, fringe science, and new age spirituality. There’s also a buttload of art prints, shirts, and other tentacled tchotchkes, more than enough to clear out your bank account.

Considering the convention itself offered not one but two vendors’ rooms stuffed to the Innsmouth gills with similar offerings, I told myself I would only be browsing for now. Aaaaand that plan fell apart in about five minutes. I came out of the store with four issues of Fred Lubnow’s Journal of Lovecraftian Science, including two I already own but which are in pretty rough shape, and two others I haven’t yet read. If you’re not familiar already, Lubnow is a genuine smarty-pants with a Bachelor’s degree in Biology, a Master’s in Environmental Sciences, and a Ph.D in Limnology, who in his spare time runs a blog which explores the actual science in (or absent from) H.P. Lovecraft’s stories. He dissects the ideas Lovecraft puts forth and speculates on how they might be feasible according to modern scientific knowledge. Often I find Lubnow’s work not just a fun source of learning, but also a great way of getting my own imagination firing on all cylinders. I can’t recommend this stuff enough, people!

Of course, Lubnow was also at the convention, and in fact was scheduled to present several academic talks that I was interested in attending, including one on Lovecraft’s conception of the planets in our solar system and one examining both the accurate and inaccurate ways Lovecraft utilized evolution in his work. Sadly, I ended up missing these events, and in fact never managed to run into Lubnow the entire time I was there. Perhaps next time. Oh yes, there will certainly be a next time.

nec2Anyway, after forking over my hard-earned money to read essays about non- Euclidean geometry even though I flunked high school math, I made my way to the First Baptist Church in America for the NecronomiCon opening ceremonies. The irony of holding an event honoring an unabashed mechanistic materialist in a centuries-old house of worship was lost on no one, I’m sure. Lovecraft himself was vocally fond of the building despite his atheism, and it wasn’t hard to see why: It’s a remarkably preserved example of early English Georgian and traditional New England architecture, complete with a towering 185 foot-high steeple, an immaculate Waterford crystal chandelier, and a booming pipe organ from the 1800s.

Lovecraft himself reportedly attended Sunday school at the very building as a child. Needless to say, it didn’t take.

Arriving a bit early, I took a seat near the front of the church and looked around to see if anyone I recognized was around yet. No… no… no… n- OH MY GOD IS THAT ELLEN FUCKING DATLOW?!?

Yes, Ellen Datlow, the mastermind behind the annual Best Horror of the Year series, the woman who has edited more A-list horror, sci-fi, and fantasy anthologies than I could even read in a lifetime without sacrificing every other damn book on my shelves, who has won more awards for her contributions to genre fiction than I have reasons to live, THAT ELLEN FUCKING DATLOW… was seated two pews ahead of me!!!

Shamefully, I once again said nothing. I don’t know, groveling just seems sooo last season. Besides, what could I say? “Hi, nice to meet you, ELLEN FUCKING DATLOW, I’m someone you’ve never heard of and will likely never read anything by, and even if you do you’ll probably hate it. How are you enjoying Providence? Have you tried the clam chowder?”

Gah.

I managed to avoid fainting, which was worth the effort good. The opening ceremonies were definitely worth being conscious for. “Interesting” doesn’t quite describe the performance stylings of organist Gigi Mitchell-Velasco, who garnered as much attention from her baroque gothic wardrobe and eccentric theatrical mannerisms as from her beautiful renditions of classic Wagner tunes.

Additionally, Lovecraft scholar Steve Mariconda and NecronomiCon’s own poet laureate Donald Sidney-Fryer both spoke, among others, and it was encouraging that many did not shy away from addressing either the recent tragedy in Charlottesville or the controversy surrounding preeminent HPL researcher S.T. Joshi’s decision to “boycott” the convention (quote-marks there because, well, he still showed up to hustle his wares; such a gleaming beacon of integrity is he). As I’ve said before, Lovecraft’s contributions to literature do not forgive the ugliness of his bigotry, and being able to apply a nuanced, critical eye to the man and his work is vital in moving his legacy and the whole of weird fiction forward so as to keep it vibrant for future generations. This is especially true now, as regressive strains of ignorance and hate begin to reassert themselves violently in the current political climate. While some may not appreciate the real world intruding on their escapist reveries into the fantastic, the truth is that the fantastic is nothing without the real world to define it.

Following the opening ceremonies, I hoofed it up the biggest, steepest, most oh-my-god-why-did-I-eat-that-much-sushi hill in all of Providence to attending the opening reception for Ars Necronomica, the official art exhibit of NecronomiCon, which featured original pieces of Lovecraft-inspired art from almost 80 different creators, including guest of honor John Jude Palencar. This was definitely something I was looking forward to, as, much like reading Fred Lubnow’s science essays, drooling over dark and surreal artworks is one of my favorite ways of getting the ol’ creative juices flowing. Alas, I only got to see some of the pieces on display during my visit (though I did return a few days later to take the rest in), because I had the good fortune of running into David B. Busboom.

I knew David a little from social media, so it was a treat to finally meet in person. Like me, David is a relatively new writer still working on developing a published bibliography; in fact, we both had stories in the same anthology, Walk Hand in Hand Into Extinction: Stories Inspired by True Detective from CLASH Books. We talked about working on that project and on our individual experiences trying to improve as writers and get our work out there. We ended up hitting it off so well that we hardly moved from the spot, even as the reception began to wind down and the gallery had to close up for the night. So much for drooling over all that art.

We continued our conversation as we walked to the official NecronomiCon kick-off party, which transformed a parking lot near the Providence Arcade into a writhing mass of bodies bouncing along to the psychedelic glam-goth punk of The ViennaGram and the hilarious costumed spectacle and freaky-deaky funk rock of the decidedly Gwar-like Big Nazo Intergalactic Band. I’m especially bummed that my phone died before I could get more pics or vids of the Big Nazo performance, as it really does have to be seen to be believed: It included such sights as a triclops metamorphosing into a cyclops, a surprisingly limber mumu-clad housewife with rollers in her hair emerging from the guts of a giant dancing polyp, anthropomorphic cucumbers, and an octopus-man versus lobster-man showdown for the ages.

nec5The party also featured a beer garden (from local brewery Narragansett Beer) whose pleasures were lost on a no-fun teetotaler like myself, and a straight-up satanic goat sacrifice (okay, not really, but Great Northern BBQ was on hand serving goat-and-squid ink curry, and they weren’t at all shy about showing off where their butcher’s handiwork). All in all, Thursday was a much better experience than Wednesday and, happily, it set the tone for the rest of the weekend.

TO BE CONTINUED…

Roots Run Deep: Why this Spoopy Tree Matters

wfa

My favorite writer is H.P. Lovecraft.

I can remember a time when saying that garnered quizzical looks from most people, and the familiar owl-song of “Who?” Nowadays, being a lover of weird fiction and saying you venerate Lovecraft is like being in a metal band and citing Black Sabbath as an influence. It’s so much a given it’s virtually meaningless. For me, though, Lovecraft’s impact is not limited to a superficial aesthetic focused on tentacles, mystical tomes, and malevolent alien gods. For me, Lovecraft’s impact, though based in fiction, is evident not just in my creative endeavors, but in the very fundamentals of my worldview, the way I understand reality.

It was Lovecraft who introduced me to the idea of humanity’s ultimate insignificance in the grand scope of the universe, as well as the idea that the five senses and three spatial dimensions mankind can perceive are far from the limits of possible existence. Cosmicism. Atheism. Mechanistic materialism. These were radical concepts when I was still a kid reading Goosebumps books, rifling through paperbacks at a yard sale and fatefully finding an anthology of stories by Machen, Blackwood, LeFanu, and, yes, Lovecraft. In many ways, he helped make me who I am today.

Please keep that in mind when I say the following:

H.P. Lovecraft was an awful fucking person.

As a reader and wanna-be writer, I deeply respect Lovecraft’s work. I think he was brilliant, an artist misunderstood in his own time and often misunderstood still today. And there are many details of his life that are pitiable, unfair, and deserving of sympathy. Still, human beings don’t come in simple binary terms, just good or just bad, but rather shades of both. In many ways, Lovecraft was a good person. In just as many ways, though, he was an awful one. It is up to each of us, as individuals, to weigh his sins and virtues and come to our own judgements about whether he was one more than the other. But you cannot deny that he was awful in certain ways. And, my oh my, we’re not talking about bad hygiene here. We’re talking about racism, homophobia, misogyny, anti-Semitism.

It doesn’t matter if Lovecraft “softened his more extreme views later in life” or if he “was just a product of his time.” It doesn’t matter that he eventually married a Jewish woman or befriended a gay man. He still penned poems about how grotesque and subhuman people of color were. He still supported Hitler, for fuck’s sake. No matter how much we hem and haw and try to undersell the contemptibility of it, the fact remains: Lovecraft is on the wrong side of history.

Separating the art from the artist will only get you so far here, because a huge and important dimension of Lovecraft’s fiction derives specifically from despicable prejudices. His fiction brims with subtext about the “purity” of races and the “horror of miscegenation.” Even his less overtly bigotry-laden pieces are affected by it (and, as depressing as it may be to acknowledge, they arguably even benefit from it). They all express a shrill, hysterical dread of “the Other,” a fear Lovecraft was able to write about like no one else before or since.

Of course, Lovecraft is hardly alone in his awfulness. Any writer dead long enough for his or her work to be considered “classic” has more than a few skeletons in the closet: Rudyard Kipling was racist, Norman Mailer was homophobic, Charles Bukowski was sexist, Roald Dahl was anti-Semitic, and so on and so on. The ugliness of an artist’s beliefs does nothing to diminish the importance of their art, but the importance of their art does nothing to diminish the ugliness of their beliefs either. Just as people are so complicated and multifaceted that we cannot simply boil them all down to just “good” or “bad,” our approach to thinking about the authors who came before us must likewise be complicated and multifaceted.

As much as we want things to be simplified, nothing is ever truly simple. We can put Lovecraft on a pedestal for his contributions to storytelling while also taking him down a peg or two for the prejudices which directly led to those very contributions. That’s not contradictory or hypocritical. It’s just complex. It requires nuance, but it’s the same as the ability to be happy with the person you are now while still regretting the mistakes you made in the past that hurt others. We can do both. We have to do both.

See, progress is not made from simply recognizing the errors of history and that’s it. We have to learn from them, too. You are happy with the person you are not just because you are aware that you once did wrong, but because you regret those wrongs and have vowed to not repeat them. You have become a better person. You have changed. Progress comes from change; change is necessary.

Which brings me to the reason I sat down at my laptop just now: The World Fantasy Awards.

I know, I know. This is old news. The debate over Lovecraft’s racism and the WFA bust has been beaten into the dirt by now and the last thing the world needs is one more jabroni jumping in to regurgitate a bunch of opinions that plenty of other people have already stated and that even more people have viciously ripped apart. But, fuck it, this is my blog and I haven’t had my say yet. I may be a nobody with (at the time of this writing) naught but a handful of small-press publications to my name, which may mean that no one gives a good goddamn about which side of the fence I’m even on. Nevertheless, it’s the year 2017 and that means every over-opinionated loudmouth with an internet connection on Earth gets to at least pretend someone out there is listening.

Well, I’m over-opinionated. I’m a loudmouth. I’ve got an internet connection. And I live on the planet Earth. So, here we go. Let’s pretend.

First a quick recap, for all you nonexistent hypothetical readers who actually give a crap but who somehow don’t already know the details: For years, the World Fantasy Award has been shaped like H.P. Lovecraft’s lantern-jawed noggin. In recent years, a campaign kicked off with an eye toward changing the award to something that, y’know, doesn’t perpetuate casual acceptance of institutionalized racism. This resulted in a schism between those in favor of the proposal and those against it. Eventually, the World Fantasy Convention, which oversees the WFAs, announced they would change the award. There was some more outrage, but the pro and anti camps gradually stopped squabbling as the memory of the whole thing faded into the background. Because, hey, there’s other bullshit going on.

Then, the day came. Just recently, the new WFA was finally unveiled and it was…

A tree.

A spoopy tree, with a moon behind it.

Obviously something to lose your shit over, right? I mean, it’s not like the U.S. president just bombed the ever-lovin’ hell out of Syria and Afghanistan, is it? This is wayyyy worse.

In any case, the WFA is back in the limelight again and the pro and anti crowds are squabblin’ anew. Ah, just like old times.

For what it’s worth I personally like the WFA’s new look. I think it’s a lot of things: simple, elegant, timeless, primordial, atmospheric, evocative. Others say it’s meaningless, or that it looks like a cheap Halloween knick-knack. Whatever. At least it’s not a pewter dragon. Evaluating the aesthetic quality of the sculpture ultimately comes down to personal taste, and thus is an entirely pointless debate to have. There’s no reason to complain, unless you’re a whiny, Lovecraft-obsessed, fedora-tippin’ douche bag who thinks it’s an utter travesty that ol’ Howie got shown the door in favor of a piece of kindling. Boo. Fucking. Hoo.

By my tone here, I’m assuming you can tell where I stand on this whole thing.

Remember what I said about change and how important it is for progress? The WFA is a perfect example of that kind of change. It’s not just a shrugging compromise to them goshdarn politically correct snowflakes. I’ve made my feelings on this subject known before: I hate political correctness. Meaningful, respectful change made in the name of progress, inclusion, and justice, however? That I like.

Listen, making the award a bust of a single author was pretty dumb to begin with, regardless of why it was done (and, yes, believe it or not there is a decent justification for it beyond just “We loves us some Lovecraft”; just ask Gahan Wilson, the guy who designed it).

Besides the potential PR blunder of accidentally picking a vile goddamn racist, such an award becomes a celebration of the author it depicts more than the one receiving it (remember this point, we’ll come back to it later). What if the winner doesn’t like Lovecraft? Has never read Lovecraft? Is not influenced by him? Is completely ignorant of him? How does that honor Lovecraft or the award-winner?

What if the vein of fiction the winner works in has little to no connection to Lovecraft’s work? After all, “fantasy” is a pretty broad category. The idea that Lovecraft would be an appropriate representation of all possibilities that the word could convey is obviously ridiculous. It would necessitate someone asserting that Lovecraft embodies the entire spectrum of fantastic fiction on a fundamental level to such a degree that no living writer could ever not in some way be a reflection of him. And even I, the guy who attributes his entire understanding of his place in the cosmos to Lovecraft, won’t go that far.

“But what about the Oscars or the Grammys?” you say. “No one ever thinks changing them would be a good idea.” That’s true. Except the Oscar is a bald, naked knight and the Grammy is a friggin’ phonograph. Neither, you’ll note, are responsible for a poem called “On the Creation of Niggers.” Nor did either, to my knowledge, ever called homosexuality “repugnant” or refer to homosexuals as “damned sissies” and “cake-eaters.”

And don’t come at me with that “B-b-but the Hugos” claptrap; it was dumb naming them after some guy, too. Besides, the Hugos got all kinds of problems of their own.

Those of you who don’t know what it’s like, try this: Check your privilege for a second and put yourself in the shoes of someone who deals with racism, anti-Semitism, or homophobia in a very real, painful way… every… single… day. Imagine that in spite of the systemic prejudices working against you, you accomplish something so extraordinary that it merits a prestigious award. Now imagine you get the award, and it’s shaped like the face of someone who famously, unabashedly derided you, and everyone like you, as repellent and barely human, and who advocated Nazi-esque eugenics as a way of purging your kind from existence. Imagine being asked to pose with that award and smile. Imagine being asked to put that award on your shelf and have it look down on you every day of your life, a reminder of just what kind of legacy you labor in the shadow of.

One last thing: Imagine being told that your feelings on this matter are irrelevant, that you should be grateful to get this much, because the integrity of a fucking paperweight is more important than your integrity as a person.

Tell me, would you feel celebrated? Would you feel respected? Would you feel honored?

That’s what an award is supposed to do, honor its recipients (see, I told you we’d come back to this).

If you want to honor Lovecraft, build a fuckin’ statue in your backyard. Do anything you want, that’s all about you. But awards are not about you. They’re not about famous dead guys either, I don’t give a shit how important they are. Awards are about the people who win them, period. They are about the present and the future, not the past. They’re not memorials. Making an annual award into such a thing, at the expense of the people living in the here and now, is indulgent, morbid, and gross. It’s a neverending act of masturbation, like an ouroboros circle-jerk.

Granted, some will say it’s not about honoring just Lovecraft, but rather the values Lovecraft symbolizes, i.e. the values that the aforementioned Gahan Wilson cited when explaining why he chose ol’ Howard’s ugly mug in the first place. Wilson said: “The point of the awards was, is, and hopefully shall be to give a visible, potentially usable sign of appreciation to writers working in the area of fantastic literature, an area too often distinguished by low financial remuneration and indifference.”

Notice how he said “hopefully” there? That’s because things change, even the meanings of symbols. Don’t believe me? Ask the swastika. Nowadays, Lovecraft’s face has a lot in common with a swastika in some circles, whether we like it or not. Them’s the breaks. Adapt or die.

Seriously, do you want to be a dinosaur when that inevitable meteor called progress comes hurtling towards this hunk of rock we call home? Do you want to be on the wrong side of history like your homeboy Howie was?

Time marches on. Change is vital for the betterment of culture. That’s not to say legacies don’t remain important, but not to a degree where we should cling to them to the detriment of evolving paradigms. If anyone should understand this, it’s people who work in the arts. The best art has always been about shaking up the status quo. Lovecraft himself did this, in his own way, by subverting humanity’s egoism and superstitious mysticism with his philosophy of cosmicism and tales of sanity-shattering extradimensional malignance.

Believe it or not, change does not automatically delete the past from existence. Making the new WFA into a spoopy tree doesn’t send a ripple back through time transforming the previous years’ awards into spoopy trees too. Nor does it erase all those contributions to genre fiction Lovecraft is responsible for. It’s just like a Hollywood remake of a beloved classic; stupid people will bitch and moan, but the original is still available on DVD, just as good as it ever was. Nothing is “ruined.” No one’s talking about wiping Lovecraft’s name from the history books, denying his influence, or revoking his “Inner Circle of Literary Icons” membership card. All anyone wants is to promote a more nuanced understanding of what Lovecraft represents in his totality, not just the parts we want him to represent. Understanding is more meaningful than unquestioning reverence, don’t ya think?

At the end of the day, as I said before, the WFA is a fucking paperweight. Is it really worth getting bent of shape over? Is it really worth alienating already marginalized sectors of the literary community?

Even Lovecraft knew the final truth: Humanity is but a dust mote lost in sprawling, indifferent universe. The entirety of Earth’s history adds up to little more than a fraction of a split-severed second when contrasted against the vastness of infinity. Our differences are trivial, and we ourselves are trivialities.

It’s not important. You only think it is.

Get over it.

Five of My Favorite Horror Novels

Hello again, Internet. Since we’re still getting to know each other (this is after all, my first blog entry aside from that flimsy getting-to-know-you introduction I posted yesterday), I thought, hey, what better way for you to figure out what kind of wanna-be writer you’re dealing with than for said wanna-be to gush on and on about some of his own favorite books.

Originally I was going to do “My Top 10 Favorite Horror Novels.” But then it became “My Top 20 Favorite Horror Novels.” Then “My Top 30 Favorite Horror Novels.” You get the picture. There are so many amazing works of fiction that have influenced and inspired me over the years, its hard to narrow it down to just a few and not feel tortured by the countless others relegated to the nebulous domain of “honorable mentions.”

So why stop at just one blog post? How about a whole series of them? Starting with this installment, every once in a while I’ll bring this blog to a screeching halt and ignore everything else going on in the world, just so I can get my fanboy on.

I figured it’d be best to do this in increments of five, for the sake of brevity. Below you’ll find, in no particular order, Five of My Favorite Horror Novels. I’d like to emphasize the fact that these are all personal favorites. They’re not my votes for the most important horror novels of all time. They’re not even all books I’d necessarily argue as being technically the “best” horror novels of all time (whatever that means). These are just, plainly and simply, my favorites.

frnknstnFrankenstein; or the Modern Prometheus

by Mary Shelley

I wish that I could start this list out with a pick that’s a bit more original, a bit less obviously classic. But, c’mon, it’s Frankenstein! Almost two centuries of adaptations, parodies, and general indoctrination into the fabric of pop culture has not diminished the power of Mary Shelley’s masterpiece whatsoever. It can be easy to forget that in a world where the first images that come to people’s minds upon hearing the book’s title include the face of Boris Karloff or boxes of breakfast cereal, but actually pick the novel up and start flipping through its pages, and all those false idols will fade away in the brooding, electric, gothic thunderstorm that ensues.

The premise alone is not just revolutionary, but still relevant to this day (possibly even more so). It fuses together themes of mortality and morality, issues of science and spirituality, questions of life and death, and fears inherent in both parenthood and childhood. Every interpretation peels back another layer, only to reveal still more unexplored depths beneath. Take it as a critique of human hubris. Or as a warning against scientific progress without responsible application. Or as a forward-thinking feminist take-down of institutional misogyny. View it through a psychoanalytical lens, a philosophical one, a theological one, or even a political one. It holds up no matter how you look at it. And, best of all, it holds up just as strongly when viewed with no lens at all. At the end of the day, Frankenstein is the very essence of a damn good story.

amrcnAmerican Psycho

by Bret Easton Ellis

At first, American Psycho seems like little more than a test of your patience. The narrator, a Wall Street banker named Patrick Bateman, drones on at great length and with meticulous detail about the mundane consumerism of his life. Entire pages are spent describing, down to the most infinitesimal piece of minutiae, everything from his wardrobe to his exercise routine to his stereo system. Soon, though, the book becomes a test of your stomach when you realize that Bateman is also a serial killer, and one who spends just as much time and effort describing the minutiae of the grotesque, soul-crushing acts of violence he deals out to a never-ending conga-line of innocent, undeserving victims.

So extreme it faced censorship all over the world and had to be sold shrink-wrapped in cellophane to keep oblivious shoppers from accidentally reading the obscenities within, American Psycho is horror at its most ugly but also satire at its most biting, painting a take-no-prisoners portrait of the sick black heart of corporate capitalism. It’s a cruel, mean-spirited masterpiece that offers little respite from the in-your-face atrocities it depicts and even less answers for the damning social and psychological questions it raises. Not for the faint of heart, weak of stomach, or dim of wit.

dqoukThe Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath

by H.P. Lovecraft

Some will argue that The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath is more fantasy than horror, but I bristle at the idea of mapping even the tiniest corner of H.P. Lovecraft’s sprawling, inhospitable universe as dwelling anywhere but squarely in the realm of the horrific. Yes, that goes even for his wondrous Dreamlands, through which the slumbering Randolph Carter treks in search of a mysterious city he believes waits beyond the wall of sleep. As awe-inspiring as the Dreamlands are, they are equally terrifying, a surreal place of fearsome monsters and alien landscapes, polluted by the influence of the crawling chaos himself, Nyarlathotep, the thousand-faced avatar of the Old Ones.

While Dream-Quest is something of a rarity in the Lovecraftian library, with its refreshingly upbeat ending, the story’s message does not contradict the bleakness of the rest of the author’s oeuvre. In truth, it complements it perfectly, furthering the goal of inspiring readers to rethink their preconceived notions on the nature of material reality. In the end, part and parcel of dreams are nightmares. And, to my mind, no imagination has ever proven as capable of crafting both dreams and nightmares as stark, chilling, and mind-expanding as Lovecraft’s.

hHorns

by Joe Hill

Confession time: After struggling with self-doubt and guilt over “wasting” my time on as impractical a pursuit as writing fiction, Horns was the book that finally made me snap out of it. Horns was the book that made me say “Dammit, I want to do this.” Horns was the book that made me a writer again. With this book, Joe Hill, son of the modern horror lit’s blue-collar champion, Stephen King, tells the story of a broken pariah of a man who wakes up after an especially blasphemous drunken bender with a pair of, you guessed it, horns sprouting from his head. When people see them, they can’t help but confess their deepest, darkest secrets to him. It’s an effect that will come in handy as our protagonist tries to uncover what really happened on the night his girlfriend was murdered.

Horns is many things. A character-driven, non-linear supernatural mystery. A Kafkaesque meditation on the nature of religion, identity, love, family, truth, and deception (both of others and oneself). Most of all, though, Horns is one of the most effective, emotionally resonant novels I’ve had the pleasure of reading in my lifetime, leading to more than a few moments where I had to bury my face even deeper in its pages so that other people couldn’t see how misty my eyes were getting over a li’l ol’ book. Yes, I cried. I cried like an itty bitty baby. And you know what? You will too.

swSomething Wicked This Way Comes

by Ray Bradbury

Few writers have so perfect a mastery over not just language but also symbolism and storytelling itself as Ray Bradbury. All of these aptitudes operate at absolute peak levels in his carnival-horror juggernaut Something Wicked This Way Comes. It’s a coming-of-age story in the grandest sense, one that understands that none of us ever really stop growing and changing, that we are always in some way “coming of age.” If you’re young, you can relate to the book’s child protagonists, Will and Jim, who are entranced by the traveling circus that rolls into town and the tattooed man, Mr. Dark, who offers them entrance into a magical new world, brimming with the kind of fun and adventure fresh young minds crave, a world very unlike the humdrum of their daily lives. If you’re older, you may see yourself in characters like Miss Foley or Mr. Crosetti, adults with unfulfilled dreams, worried that their best years are behind them and perpetually aware of the ceaseless march of time.

Though at its heart Something Wicked is essentially “just” an epic extrapolation of the classic deal-with-a-devil narrative, Bradbury uses the basic concept to explore a wide range of human fears and desires with unflinching honesty, from past regrets and second chances to the rigors of age and a nostalgia for youth. Bradbury shows us fear and desire, adolescence and adulthood, friends and enemies. He shows us good and evil, love and hate, terror and wonder. And he shows what all these things have in common. That is, each of these pairs constitutes two sides of the same coin. A study in duality, Something Wicked explores these binaries by throwing the coin in the air and letting it spin so that the image blurs and both sides seem to be one and the same. The challenge is not to see which side lands face-up, but to determine whether we can even tell the difference between them.