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February has been extremely busy for me so far, and I’m still behind on lots of things from the cough that has kept me a prisoner since the end of October (it’s still here, by the way, but it is gradually weakening). Which is why you haven’t heard from me much in the last couple of weeks.

But last Saturday I went thrifting with Eli (of Analog Sunday fame) for his birthday, then back to his place to watch some weird tapes, as we are wont to do. Thrifting was a huge success, and I’ve been posting some of my loot over on Instagram, if you wanna go be jealous.

I’ve made a few other stops various places while I was out running this or that errand lately, and had similarly great luck, as has Grace in her efforts to track down rare and unusual dice. So, while February has still been extremely busy, it has also been nice.

I’ll take busy and nice. And today, I got an email from a client telling me that I was getting an unasked-for raise on my regular freelance rates from them due to the “consistent positive feedback from our editors in regards to your work.” Which is always a nice thing to hear.

So, not every day is great, but today is pretty good. I’ll take it.

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eye_homepageIt’s that very special time of year again – Panic Fest time! Thursday night was opening festivities featuring Richard Stanley’s Color Out of Space, while yesterday (Friday) was the first full day of the Fest. Sadly, I’m out of commission today (Saturday), but I’ll be back at it Sunday and into next week.

I’ll be updating social media with one-sentence or so reviews of everything that I see, so if you want up-to-the-minute updates, keep an eye out there or follow along on my Letterboxd. So far, my favorites of the Fest are Extra OrdinaryVHYes, and the aforementioned Color Out of Space, but I’ve got a lot more movies to go.

I had hoped to be over this cough before Panic Fest rolled around, but it seems that isn’t in the cards. In spite of what several people have now tried to assert, this is not my new identity, and I am not going to become a consumptive Victorian dandy with decoratively bloodstained handkerchief. I will shake this cough eventually, but when is anybody’s guess.

I saw the doctor again on Thursday, and the prognosis continues to be that it’s nothing more serious than post-viral bronchitis – essentially minor nerve damage caused by coughing that is, in its turn, causing me to continue to cough.

Those who have been following along for a while now know that Panic Fest is an emotional time for me. It was years ago, at Panic Fest, that I got the call that began a series of tumbling dominoes that ended with my dad’s death – although, of course, that wasn’t the ending, just the beginning of a lot of work and therapy on my part over the intervening years.

But, thanks to that association, Panic Fest became the last weekend for a very long time that I got to feel “normal” for a couple of days. That isn’t the only reason it’s emotional, though. Not anymore, anyway.

Over the last few years, I’ve developed a new family here in the KC area. They’re scattered and scattershot and they aren’t often in the same place at the same time, but if this new family has a living room, it’s the Screenland Armour. And the one holiday that they all gather for is Panic Fest.

Folks like Adam and Tim and Eli and Andrew and Steph and Bryce and Amy and Liz and Blair and Kaleigh and Adrian and Brock and Viv and Tyler and Greg and Jenius and many, many others. These folks have become my Screenland family, and they mean a lot to me, even if I don’t see them as often as I would like, or always know how to say it.

For a long time, Panic Fest represented the last time I was really happy. The last time I didn’t feel like my skin was just draped haphazardly over a jagged jumble of uncomfortable emotions. Now, though, things are better, cough notwithstanding, and I feel more comfortable with myself than I ever did before. And Panic Fest has come to represent something else, too. A new family, and a new place where I feel at home.

I am not a person who has very many traditions. I don’t even manage to watch movies on a certain day every year, no matter how hard I may try to always catch The Fog on April 21 or Return of the Living Dead on July 3. But one tradition that I’ve managed to keep going for five years now–including the year I had an emergency appendectomy that nearly killed me–is Nerdoween.

Put on by Greg and Jenius of the Nerds of Nostalgia and Nightmare Junkhead podcasts, Nerdoween is an annual Halloween institution; one night, three horror movies that aren’t revealed until they’re shown, all following a theme. Nerdoween has been going for five years now, and I’ve been there every year, front row center. (That last part isn’t quite true. I sat in the second row this year because it was better for my shoulder. In other news, I am old.)

Every year, I’ve managed to see at least one film that I hadn’t seen before–until this year. The first year, the theme was demons, and I caught both Demons and Night of the Demons for the first time, believe it or not. The second year, the theme was sequels, and I saw both 28 Weeks Later and Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 for the first time.

The theme for the third year was anthologies, which seems a likely place for them to strike out, but I actually caught Tales from the Hood for the first time that year. (The other two were a couple of favorites; Creepshow and Waxwork.) The fourth year was sleazy sci-fi, where I got to see Xtro for the first time.

This year’s theme, as you may have gathered from the title of this post, was “nouns that kill.” We started out with killer cars and Stephen King’s cocaine-fueled rampage Maximum Overdrive, which is really an ideal movie for this kind of event. We followed that up with killer kids and Cooties, which the audience seemed to go wild for.

The final film of the night would have been animals that kill in the form of Arachnophobia, but that was destined to fall victim to a one-two punch. My adopted brother Jay has gone with me to every one of these since I started, and this one was no exception. Thing is, though, Jay doesn’t do spiders. And me? I had literally watched Arachnophobia 14 days ago for work.

Even that might not have been enough to doom the enterprise, but I’m actually going out again tomorrow for Dismember the Alamo (it’ll be my first time), where I’ll be watching four movies. Then Analog Sunday the next day. Then probably another mystery movie night on Monday. Then possibly Horror Roulette. Then definitely a Ghoulish Evening with Orrin Grey and Signal Horizon at the Afterword Tavern & Shelves on Wednesday. So an early night wasn’t a bad call for me.

Even if I had stayed for Arachnophobia, this would have been the first year that Nerdoween didn’t introduce me to a new flick that I hadn’t seen before. For someone whose movie viewing–especially in the horror genre–is as prolific as my own, that’s a pretty impressive feat. And I’ll be there next year, whatever the theme might be, front (or maybe second) row center.

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.