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As I entered Providence I saw trees and water and then felt the wheels of the plane touch the tarmac. My flight in had taken me from Kansas City to Atlanta, where I was able to find a bottled Pepsi (a rare jewel in that land of endless Coke) and thence to the gabled roofs of Rhode Island.

As those who have traveled through it already know, the Atlanta airport is one of the largest and busiest in the world. By contrast, the airport in Providence (technically Warwick) feels like someone’s country house. Small and cozy, to the extent that airports can be, and sparsely populated.

Phil Gelatt picked me up from the airport and drove me in to Providence proper, where he and Victoria Dalpe let me crash in their guest room for the first night of NecronomiCon. I am happy to report that Providence looks today much like I picture it when I read Lovecraft. Hilly and beautiful and brooding, with plenty of old buildings and narrow streets.

68673330_10217195634057071_6145592798889377792_nTheir house is tall and old enough that it has a historic plaque on the outside. The rooms within feel old and yet are cluttered with modern and eclectic comforts, Phil’s attic office filled with movies and books and mannequin ghosts, as one would expect.

That first night we ate food and talked shop and dodged rain and the next morning I rose early and walked around the neighborhood, ducking into an old bookstore to browse. Phil drove me past the Shunned House, to make sure that I saw it.

That was Thursday, when NecronomiCon proper began. Phil dropped me off at the Omni hotel–across the street from the Biltmore-cum-Graduate–where I met up with Amanda Downum and Joshua Hackett, with whom I was rooming for the weekend.

We had drinks in the hotel bar, ate Korean food, and wandered over to an Eldritch block party, complete with alien dancers and giallo-tinted lights in a parking lot behind the propped-up facade of a building next to one of the oldest malls in America.

In said mall, the Lovecraft Arts & Sciences store, where I took photos of some of my books in the wild. Unfortunately, Thursday, the night of the block party, was a thousand degrees and dripping with humidity, which would break the next morning and the weather would remain pleasant for the rest of the trip.

Friday was the first day that I had any real obligations, and those not until late in the night.  We caught a panel on forgotten authors first thing in the morning and browsed the dealer’s room.

Amanda and Joshua caught a panel on mysterium tremendum, which I gather was phenomenal, while I signed books in the dealer’s room and tried to say “hello” to a whole lot of people. Mike Bukowski brought me the original artwork for the cover of The Cult of Headless Men.

Friday night, I introduced a secret screening of Matango and then poked my head into the Outer Dark room party, though by then it was after midnight, and exhaustion put paid to my enthusiasm relatively quickly.

Saturday morning I was a bit worse for the wear from the previous night’s debaucheries, so I missed some morning panels, but managed to slouch to my own first panel of the convention, in which Nathan Ballingrud, Mike Bukowski, Adam Bolivar, K.H. Vaughan, and I all talked about Manly Wade Wellman and American folk horror.

From there, I stuck around for a panel on creepy puppets, mannequins, and other simulacra featuring Messr. Bolivar again, Matthew Bartlett, Jon Padgett, Molly Tanzer, and teri zin.

My next obligation was also a pleasure (as were they all), the book release event for Pluto in Furs, where I read my story “Stygian Chambers,” and listened to readings from Gemma Files, Richard Gavin, Adam Golaski, Clint Smith, and Jeffrey Thomas.

That night, we walked a very, very long way to a delicious vegan place where I had ramen (apparently I traveled to New England to have Asian food, which I ate at probably half my meals) and pleasant discussion before walking back to watch the late showing of Occult.

Sunday morning, I was on my next panel, ostensibly about cinematic adaptations of other weird writers besides Lovecraft. Despite the early hour and some less-than-optimal conditions, I think we managed to extract an adequate panel on the subject. A little later, I attended my final panel of the weekend, on “kaiju as device and metaphor in weird fiction.”

John “Deathginger” Goodrich moderated, introducing us all in pro-wrestling style, while I shared the mic with Larissa Glasser, Seia Tanabe, and Dempow Torishima. Given the fact that two of the panelists held forth through the intermediary of an interpreter, I would not have been surprised if the panel had been less-than-usually focused, but actually I think it was one of the smoother and more rewarding panels I have ever been on.

68938930_10217230781255729_4321960358001508352_nI missed a showing of Phase IV and instead walked up the hill to find the Ars Necronomica art exhibit and take another peek at the Shunned House. Then it was back to Phil’s place for a backyard hangout that was the perfectly understated cap on a perfectly weird and wonderful weekend.

Regrets? Sure, I have a few. There were panels I really wanted to see that I had to skip for one reason or another (one on cosmic horror in Warhammer being near the top of my list) and readings and screenings that I would have loved to attend.

Always, there are going to be people I miss who I had truly wanted to catch up with in three (or more?) dimensions. Tom Breen and s.j. bagley are high on the list of folks who I would have loved to have seen in what passes for “person.”

And there were many others I got to see only briefly with whom I would have loved to have discoursed at great length–Sam Heimer, Nick Gucker, Yves Tourigny, Jason Bradley Thompson, Dave Felton, the list goes on and on and on.

Even the people with whom I spent the most time all weekend felt much like ships in the night, and I came away missing Providence and all the weirdos I met there, whether briefly or for longer stints. If that isn’t the sign of a great convention, I don’t know what is.

And NecronomiCon was, for me, a great convention. A reminder of why I do what I do, why this work and this world fill me with so much love and excitement. From my first moments on those fabled streets, Providence felt like the weird homeland, which makes sense, after all.

I’m back home now, with a bag full of books and strange little plastic critters and albino bats that hide behind their wings and lots of memories and snapped photos of a nighted city and people and places I already miss as though I have known them all my life.

A lot of other things happened over the weekend. It would be a fool’s errand to try to summarize them all. The people I met, food I ate, places I went, things I bought and wanted to buy and saw. Already, they are jumbled together in my mind. One thing I know, though; I will be back.

I may not be Providence but, after this weekend, it is at least a little bit of me.

I can’t remember a time that I didn’t love resort towns. I never got to go to them very often when I was a kid, but anytime I did I felt instantly enchanted. This goes double for resort towns along the beach, even though I’ve been to all of maybe three or four of them in my whole life.

I’ve thought a lot about why this is. I think it’s because they are such a combination of liminal spaces. Resort towns are ethereal constructions at best; built on a population that is temporary and ephemeral. They are made up of structures and infrastructures that feel theatrical. Like set-dressing rather than real places.

Resort towns that are built on the edges of the water are more liminal yet. Their boardwalks occupy that unclaimed space between the sea and the land; a space that transforms with the coming and going of the tide.

Or maybe I just watched The Lost Boys when I was really young and never got over it.

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Whatever the case, I was excited to go to Myrtle Beach for an actual vacation in July. I travel a couple of times a year, usually, but it’s to go to conventions. Traveling just to travel is a rarity indeed. And traveling with Grace is rarer still.

We flew in to Charlotte, North Carolina to meet up with two of our best friends from college, spent a day or two with them, then we all drove down to Myrtle Beach. It was fun, absolutely, but also disappointing. The hotel room was very nice, with a balcony that looked out over the beating waves, but many of the logistics of the trip didn’t work out as intended.

I loved being so near that strip of beach, even if the closest I came to going in the water was a midnight walk along the swash and beneath the piers as high tide rolled in. I wanted to ride the skywheel and never managed it, but I enjoyed it always being there, lit up at night and hanging over the boardwalk. I wanted to go to the haunted house down the way, but passed for various reasons.

We did go to an amusement park (basically a midway, another liminal space I have loved ever since I was a kid) down the beach, where we rode a dilapidated wild west-themed dark ride (the best kind of ride) where we shot light guns at outlaws.

I went with Grace on a chartered fishing trip that never actually managed to go out into the deeper ocean because the sea was too rough. The fishing was bad, though they caught flounder and a shark, but we nonetheless got to see a sea turtle and a ray and I got to hold a cannonball jellyfish which had a tiny little crab living inside it who came out to say hi.

Things never really got better than standing on the balcony at night, the lights of the boardwalk off to my right, a red, red moon rising over the waves as the surf crashed against the sand.

Then we drove back to Charlotte, played King of Tokyo, which I really loved and am going to have to buy, though I’m holding out for one of the original printings because I like the old artwork much better than the new, and then flew back to Kansas City.

Probably the best parts of the trip actually happened in Charlotte, not Myrtle Beach. We went to an exhibition of Tony DiTerlizzi artwork at the Mint Museum in Charlotte which was absolutely amazing.

My first ever exposure to D&D was through DiTerlizzi’s artwork in Planescape and the 2e Monster Manual, and he was probably one of my first ever favorite artists. Seeing that art, which I had grown up with, in person was a rare pleasure.

Now I’m back, chopping my way through the thicket of freelance deadlines that sprang up while I was away. On the other side of them, I hope to make some time to watch a few movies – I had a lot of good mail just before I left and waiting for me when I got back – before I get ready for my next trip, which will be to NecronomiCon in Providence in the second half of August.

Even though I just got home and am generally a pretty sedentary person, I’m already looking forward to that next trip. I can’t wait to see a bunch of my favorite people who I see altogether too rarely and, in several cases, have never actually met in person before.

In a rarity for me and conventions, I’m actually looking forward to many of the panels being presented, and I’m on a couple of them, where I’ll be talking about Manly Wade Wellman (one of my favorite topics) and film adaptations of weird fiction authors (another of my favorite topics). I’m also participating in a group reading for the recently-released anthology Pluto in Furs, which includes my very weird story “Stygian Chambers.”

There’s a lot to be done between now and then, though, so I had better get back to it.

 

 

Long, long ago, as the internet reckons time, I was a contributor for a magazine called The Willows, which also has a role to play in my secret origins. Named for the Algernon Blackwood story, the remit of The Willows was to publish weird fiction in the classic style. What this meant, in practice, was partly stories inspired by the weird fiction of the turn-of-the-century and partly stories that were set prior to 1920 or thereabouts.

I actually got involved with the magazine because I wrote to its publisher, Ben Thomas, with my complaint that I felt that these two guidelines were not intrinsically tied together — by which I mean that I thought it was possible to write classic-style weird fiction that was set in modern times. The dialogue that followed developed into a friendship that has persisted these many years, though Ben and I never met in person until this year’s Outer Dark Symposium on the Greater Weird.

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“Contributor” in this case means that I published a couple of stories in The Willows, to be sure, but it also means that I occasionally helped out in other logistical and editorial capacities, and that I wrote an infrequent column called something like “Sir Orrin Grey’s Cabinet of Esoteric Manuscripts,” one installment of which was later re-adapted into what became my first major non-fiction sale, “The Condition of a Monster: A Personal Taxonomy of Supernatural Fiction” at Strange Horizons.

While my own poor contributions to The Willows are probably best consigned to the dustbin of history, the same isn’t true for all of my fellow contributors–writers, poets, and artists of the decadent and Weird, thriving around the turn of another century, in a time that seems almost as long ago as the Victorians we were aping. Now, however, that time can be resurrected.

Ben has returned from his globe-spanning adventures with a scheme to bring The Willows back into print in the form of an attractive hardbound volume collecting all the extant issues of the magazine, along with new stories by yours truly, Gemma Files, Brian Evenson, John Langan, and Jesse Bullington. He just needs a bit of your help to do it.

It seems that all the original files of the magazine were lost during one of Ben’s many excursions into strange, far places. Fortunately, I still had all my print copies of the magazine, which I handed off to him at that fateful meeting at the Outer Dark Symposium, itself so much like something from the annals of Weird history. Now, all that remains is to raise the funds to bring The Willows back in a new and more glorious form.

For my fans, this means a new story, but it also means a glimpse at some juvenalia unavailable in any other location. For my enemies, some ammunition to back up any claims that I am a hack writer not worthy of the epithet. For everyone else, plenty of work by other luminaries of the field, not to mention forgotten gems lost to the ravages of time.

All you have to do is click this link, and your journey into mystery will begin…

 

While I was in San Jose, Grace was doing some remodeling around the house. I knew this much already, though I hadn’t stopped to consider the thematic unity of it, what with me being at the Winchester House and all. We had talked before I left about some of it. Replacing the old TV stand, lowering the bar in the kitchen and putting some built-in shelves underneath it on the living room side. That sort of thing.

When I came home, I stopped at the bottom of the stairs, intentionally not looking around, because I figured she might want me to be surprised by the changes to the house. And when she was ready and I walked up the stairs, I expected to be surprised, indeed.

I didn’t know the half of it. Could not even imagine. I’m sitting in the midst of it now, and I still can barely imagine. I was so overwhelmed by what I came home to that my brain processed the information it was presented with backward. Hey, I thought, the TV is on the wall now! Only then, moments later: Wait, that’s not my TV…

The speakers are up in the corners of the ceiling, my brain informed me, translating information thrown to it from my widened eyes, pupils no doubt expanded in their attempts to process this new data quickly enough to make sense of it. Followed only later by the added information: There are speakers now.

My sound system went out some time back, and for ages now I’ve needed a new TV. Grace and I had talked about what my plans were in both regards, but they had been pipe dreams for me. “In a few years, when I finally get around to it, this is what I would like to do.” While I was in San Jose, Grace had done it. Done it all. But not alone. Her family had come to help, Steve and Bear, Jeremy and Jay, Darin and James and other friends had all pitched in, in various ways, to bring this project to fruition while I was away.

I write this now because last night, when I was too exhausted from my trip and a day spent flying that I couldn’t process any of this information, I promised an explanation. Even as I type these words, though, I feel enormously inadequate to the task of summarizing what all this means to me, just as I know this post should be accompanied by a photograph, but no photo can capture it all. It’s more than just the TV and the sound. New lights in the living room and kitchen. So many things. But it’s more than just the things, too. It’s the people who came together to help make them happen.

Perhaps this is not the part that I should share of this experience, but when I saw everything, I just sat down on the couch and wept. I was so touched, so overcome. Maybe that doesn’t make any sense, or maybe it makes perfect sense. I’m not sure I know which is which anymore; maybe I never did.

That’s the surprise that I came home to, what so many of the people closest to me were working on while I was in California, with some of the other people closest to me. I wish I had some better way to express how it makes me feel, but I don’t. Right now, this is all I have. There’s apparently a betting pool about what I’ll watch first. I haven’t decided what that’s going to be yet, but I’ll let you all know when I do.

Never Bet the Devil CoverAs you have no doubt gathered by now, the brand-new deluxe edition of Never Bet the Devil & Other Warnings from Strix Publishing is a real, physical object that has actually happened and is currently sitting on my shelf. What you may not yet know is that it can also be sitting on your shelf, even if you missed out on the Kickstarter and/or didn’t see us at the H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival. Through the magic of something called “the internet,” you can now order your very own copy of Never Bet the Devil & Other Warnings, featuring two (2) new stories not published in the previous edition, all new illustrations and header images for every story by the phenomenal M.S. Corley (who is also responsible for that amazing cover), and a new (and very kind) introduction by Nathan Ballingrud!

(And hey, if you’re going to pick up a copy, now’s the time to do it, because you can get it at 15% off thanks to Strix’s Halloween sale!)

Speaking of Halloween, I recently wrote up a recommendation list of five vintage vampiric movies for you to watch on Halloween, which you can read over at Innsmouth Free Press? Why would I do that, you ask? The better question might be, Why wouldn’t I? But in this case it’s actually all part of an elaborate scheme meant to help promote Monsters from the Vault, my collection of essays on vintage horror cinema, collected from across more than five years of writing columns for Innsmouth Free Press. Why vampires, though? Well, that just kind of happened. But you’re certainly not limited to vampires. Pick up a copy of the book and you can find plenty of mad scientists, alien invaders, werewolves, mummies, murderers, unusually large insects and rodents, blobs, apes, skeletons, cults, and just about anything else you might want for your seasonal viewing pleasure.

The list also serves double duty by making me feel a little less bad about not being a very good contributor to the Countdown to Halloween. This October has been a little rough. It got off to a good start with the HPLFF, but there have been a variety of other setbacks that have kept me from celebrating the season with the same vigor that I might have on previous occasions. Fortunately, I have at least gotten Halloween decorations up, and tomorrow night I’m heading out to the Tapcade for a horror anthology triple feature courtesy of the Nerds of Nostalgia. I attended the first of these “Nerdoween” triple-features a couple of years ago, and they’ve since become an annual tradition. Thanks to them, I’ve discovered both Demons and Night of the Demons and, to a somewhat lesser extent, both 28 Weeks Later and Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2. Since this year’s entertainment is anthology film-themed, the odds of me not having already seen all of them decrease sharply, but we’ll see what they can dig up!

Those who’ve been around here awhile are probably already familiar with Pseudopod, but in case you’re not, they’re a terrific horror fiction podcast. I sold my first story to Pseudopod clear back in 2009, when I was still three years away from having a book out with my name on it. It remains a favorite, and you can listen to it here.

Over the years I’ve enjoyed a good working relationship with Pseudopod, and sold them a few more stories. The folks who work there are all great people who do great work, and though we (or at least I) tend to think of podcasts as something separate from, say, magazines, there are few horror publications going that consistently produce the kind of quality that you get from Pseudopod, full stop.

This year represents their tenth anniversary, and in honor of the occasion they’re holding a Kickstarter to raise funds to help pay narrators. (They already pay their authors pro rates, making them also one of the only consistent pro-paying all-horror markets around.) The Kickstarter has all sorts of great reward tiers, and one of the most exciting aspects is that the folks at Pseudopod have assembled their first anthology for the occasion, including some classic reprints from their archives but also featuring new tales by Damien Angelica Walters, A.C. Wise, and yours truly, to name a few.

I’m really happy with “New and Strangely Bodied,” the story that I wrote for For Mortal Things Unsung, and I’m excited for it to make its way out into the world. Besides the anthology, there’s a backer tier where you can get every one of my books, in case you don’t have those already, including the forthcoming deluxe edition of Never Bet the Devil & Other Warnings from Strix Publishing. (And speaking of Strix, there’s also a backer tier that gets you Never Bet the Devil along with Strix’s first publication, The Book of Starry Wisdom, featuring a deluxe illustrated treatment of three of Lovecraft’s stories, along with essays by myself and several other, more notable voices in the weird field.)

But really, I don’t need to be telling you any of this, because a picture is worth a thousand words, and there’s only one thing you really need to know: Look at this freakin’ tiki mug!

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Almost all of this story is true. Or no, wait, maybe most of it is a lie. Either way, I’m not going to tell you which part is which.

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So there we were, standing outside that bar near the Hollywood Theater–the one that isn’t the Moon & Sixpence or a pool hall, I can never remember the name. Pulver had stepped outside to smoke, and I had gone along to continue our conversation about jazz and improvisation and writing and how they all went together. Had I just met him for the first time earlier that day? I can’t remember now. It certainly wasn’t my first HPLFF, but I couldn’t recall if he’d been at the last one, if we’d been introduced. It was definitely the first time we’d talked at length.

I’d heard things about him, of course. Some people said that he was an actual wizard, and I knew that they called him “the bEast,” though I couldn’t figure why. He seemed cuddly enough, with his cookie duster mustache, like Wilford Brimley or a human Lorax. Of course, Wilford Brimley wasn’t so cuddly with that fire ax in The Thing, so I guess you never can tell, right?

Anyway, we were talking, expounding, improvising, when I noticed the shape. Not like the Shape, not Michael Myers or anything, but it was spooky. Just this person sitting on a bus stop bench across the street, like a clump of rags, but seeming somehow too dark in the gathering dusk. Pulver must’ve noticed me watching it, because he put a hand on my shoulder. “Don’t worry about it,” he said. “It’s not here for you.”

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That’s the last part that anybody but me knows about; the last part that even I know about for sure. Here’s the rest, though, and you can make of it what you will. The last evening of the Festival, I was walking back from the Moon & Sixpence at the ass end of the night. My hands were jammed in my pockets because it had gotten damn cold, and I was walking fast, my shoulders hunched. I’d had a couple of drinks that night, which was unusual for me, so you can chalk it up to that, if you want.

The neighborhood was deserted by then, even the last dregs of the revelers having finally turned pumpkin-shaped and headed off to one bed or another. I was cutting across back parking lots and through dark alleys, making a bee-line for the shortest route back to my room at the Banfield, when I saw something move out of the corner of my eye.

It was in this dark crevice between two buildings–you wouldn’t call it an alley, not really, because it wasn’t wide enough for a car, barely wide enough for two people to walk abreast. The shadows in there were moving wrong, the humped, jerky motion of marionettes with twisted wires. And in the midst of them was Pulver. They were gathering around him, and they didn’t look friendly.

I thought about going to his aid–I may be a coward, but I’m not a complete asshole–but something stopped me, and it wasn’t just the memory of his hand on my shoulder, his reassurance that the shape on the bus stop bench wasn’t there for me. It was something about him, and it took me several skipped heartbeats before I realized what it was. He seemed to be growing, expanding. Like that guy in Big Trouble in Little China, but not funny. He was adding mass, adding height. Like he was drawing something up inside himself, like he was maybe eating the shadows that grew up around him. At least, that’s what I thought at the time.

My head spun, and I stumbled. When I woke up, I was in my bed back at the room, unsure whether I had dreamed the whole thing or what. I’m still unsure, so I’ll let you draw your own conclusions, but I’ll leave you with this: I saw Pulver the next morning, while those of us who hadn’t left the night before were still straggling out of our beds and our cocoons. He looked just as he always did, nothing amiss, but when he spotted me across the parking lot, he gave me a wink.

For Joe Pulver