Monday, July 21, 2014

In Lovecraft's Footsteps

I mentioned in my NECON Con Report that the Saturday day trip I took with friends was so cool that I wanted to save it for a post of its own. So here we are.
Last summer during NECON 33, James A. Moore (hereafter referred to as Jim), Dan Foley and I braved the record making heat and humidity to go into Providence Rhode Island and visit a few Lovecraft sights and sites. Unfortunately we only had my memory to go on and though we were able to see a few things, I wished I had come more prepared. This year, I showed up with OFF THE ANCIENT TRACK, a guidebook to Lovecraft's haunts by Jason C. Eckhardt. This handy little book, reprinted in 2013 and available from the Rhode Island Historical Society, contains maps and individual listings of the homes Lovecraft inhabited and the places he frequented. It's a nifty book and well worth having.
I had thought that this year would once again be a trip for Jim, Dan, and me, but horror writer and all around cool guy Brian Keene mentioned that he and his lovely significant other, Mary SanGiovanni, would like to go as well. We ended up being joined by a few other NECON campers and they know who they are.
Anyway, there was one place in particular I really wanted to see and we began there. This was 10 Barnes Street, Lovecraft's home from 1926 to 1933, and the place where he wrote most of his most famous fiction, including THE CALL OF CTHULHU, THE DUNWICH HORROR, THE SHADOW OVER INNSMOUTH, and AT THE MOUNTAINS OF MADNESS.
I have to say that standing in front of that house, knowing that HPL had walked in and out of the place and wandered the same streets where I was now, gave me a bit of a chill. I've stood at the desk where Charles Dickens wrote David Copperfield, held Mark Twain's letters in my hands, and eaten lunch at Conan Doyle's favorite watering hole, and now walked where Lovecraft used to walk. Made my day I can tell you.
From there we proceeded to 135 Benefit street, the model for Lovecraft's titular dwelling, THE SHUNNED HOUSE. The house is still pretty creepy looking. As we stood out front, I took the opportunity to tell my fellow NECONers about the Shunned House's connection to the late Bob Booth, the beloved 'Papa Necon'. When Joseph Payne Brennan wrote his 1979 novel, ACT OF PROVIDENCE, he made Bob Booth a character in the story. Bob drove Brennan's Occult Detective Lucius Leffing to the Shunned House and stood guard at the door in the basement while Leffing and Brennan (who acted as Leffing's Watson) went deep under Providence for a Lovecraftian adventure. One of the other campers told me that the Ford Pinto Brennan described was Bob's actual car at the time of the first World Fantasy Convention (1975) where the events of the story occur.
Then we walked down the street to The Cathedral of St. John. The tiny churchyard behind the cathedral was a favorite haunt of not only HPL, but of Edgar Allan Poe. Both men went there to think and meditate. The sense of history there was palpable and almost overwhelming. I'm not ashamed to say that I was moved by the experience, not just because of Lovecraft and Poe, but because of the feeling of connection to the past of my country. Many of the graves there preceded the American Revolution.
Anyway, we headed back after that. There were a few more places I wanted to visit, but I had to save something for next year. It was a great day though, made better by the company of like minded folks.

Con Report: NECON 34

As some of you may recall, last year was the first time I attended NECON, the North Eastern Writers' Conference. In last year's report, I mentioned that NECON, aka Camp NECON, is a cross between a convention and a family reunion. It's a place where writers, celebrities, and readers are all on equal footing. No egos allowed.
This year I returned for more fun and saugies and I had a wonderful time. Things started off a little shaky though, as Delta Airlines experienced some mechanical difficulties in a plane and my original flight was overbooked and I was one of the 17 unlucky people who got bumped from the flight. So was my pal and co-author James A. Moore, so we got put on a later flight and had to hang out for six hours in the Atlanta airport. (Delta did give me a $900 travel voucher for my trouble, so I can fly pretty much anywhere in the US for free now.) We arrived at the T.F. Green airport in Warwick RI about dinner time and the intrepid Dan Foley picked us up, along with a couple of other NECONers, and we stopped by Legal Seafood, where I had a stuffed shrimp casserole, filled with crab meat. I'm not a huge seafood fan, but when in New England, you want the seafood.
We made it to the convention center and hotel just in time to hurry to the inner courtyard and catch the opening concert by the amazingly talented and drop dead gorgeous Kasey Lansdale. Kasey sang some songs off her new album RESTLESS and did some cover versions of songs by others, and she and writer/actress Amber Benson did a duet of SOMETHING TO TALK ABOUT, which was great. So travel snafus notwithstanding, the con got off to a great start. Kasey is the daughter of Joe Lansdale and is a writer and editor herself. And boy, can she sing.
On Friday, my pal Paul McNamee made it to the con. I've been chatting with Paul online for several years and it was great to finally meet him in person. Last year I was asked to be on a panel at the last minute, but this year, no longer being the new guy, I was assigned a panel on crime and horror fiction and spent a fun hour chatting with fellow panelists James A. More, Jan Kozlowski, Chris Irvin, Michael Koryta, and moderator Bracken MacLeod. I really thought the panel went well and I learned some stuff which is always a plus. Spent the afternoon wandering the dealer's room and art show, then went out for terrific Chinese dinner with folks. That evening was the 'meet the authors' party and I got some books signed and even signed a couple, so that was a blast.
Saturday morning Jim, Dan Foley, and I went out for breakfast at a little mom and pop Polish place for more great food. When we got back we headed out to Providence with some other campers to see the Lovecraft sights. That turned into such a cool day trip that I'm going to devote a separate post to it. Saturday evening was the Artists Reception followed by the Infamous NECON Roast, about which my lips are sealed. What happens at NECON stays at NECON.
After that we had another saugie roast in the courtyard where I ended up in a fascinating discussion about non-genre books and Ray Bradbury with Jim Moore, Amber Benson, and some other folks. And after that I went to bed.
Sunday morning I barely had time for breakfast before Bev Vincent and I had to head for the airport to catch our planes home. I had one last glimpse of Shadow-Haunted Providence and then put in a grueling travel day beset with storm delays and traffic jams, but I finally made it home. My cat Bruce was very glad to see me and hasn't left my side since I got home.
On a personal note, I mentioned above that NECON is like a family reunion. Everyone went out of their way last year to make me welcome but I still felt like a distant cousin. This year I felt more like one of the family. There are some fine folks at NECON and I already miss them. And I made many new friends as well.

PS. The attached pic is just some of the swag I picked up at NECON.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

The Secret Files of Dr. Drew

   I first discovered the occult detective Dr. Drew in the pages of The Rocket Blasts Comic Collector fanzine and like many people I took it to be the work of Will Eisner, the legendary creator of The Spirit. As it turns out I was only partially wrong because the artwork on the feature was by Jerry Grandenetti, who was one of Eisner's 'ghosts' on The Spirit. Grandenetti reached the point where he could imitate Eisner's style so closely that it was difficult to differentiate Grandenetti/Eisner from pure Eisner.
   Originally appearing in the pages of Fiction House's Rangers Comics, beginning with issue #47 (1949), Dr. Drew fought all sorts of supernatural menaces. Ghosts. Vampires. Witches. Even the Devil himself. And now, thanks to the folks at Dark Horse Comics, you can read all 14 of Dr. Drew's adventures in a big hardback collection for only thirty bucks. Not only are all the good doctor's adventures included, but tons of extras like bios of the creators, a history of the Dr. Drew stories, and an interview with artist Grandenetti. Plus an introduction and art from Michael T. Gilbert, the creator of that other supernatural sleuth, Mr. Monster.
   The concept of Dr. Drew is pretty simple. Drew is an expert on the occult who lives in a mansion atop Bone Hill. From here he rides out in his horse-drawn carriage (no car for Dr. Drew) to fight supernatural menaces wherever they raise their ugly heads. Like the later comic book occult detective Doctor Adam Spektor, Drew has no super powers and instead must rely on his wits and his arcane knowledge, though he certainly is a man of action and doesn't mind mixing it up with fists or bullets when he has to.
   The writer for the Dr. Drew stories was a woman named Marilyn Mercer, who began working for Will Eisner as an office manager, but soon moved to writing scripts for the Eisner shop. There is a brief biography of Mercer in the Dark Horse collection but I'd like to know more about her, because she had some really good, creepy ideas and I wonder if she was a reader of horror or just had a really vivid imagination. Her prose is nice too. Check this out:

   "One evening a heavy fog rolled in from the sea and surrounded Bone Hill, clung to its sides, and slid into the valley, where it lay in a thick, blinding shroud. In the harbor, on the roads, all mortal life was, for the moment, halted"

   Nice and atmospheric, eh? And there's lots more where that came from.
   Anyway, I was really taken with this collection. Drew is almost the John Thunstone of comics and readers of Manly Wade Wellman, Seabury Quinn, and other occult tec writers should check out the adventures of Dr. Drew. Like most Fiction House characters, Drew is in the public domain, which means some other writer could pen new adventures. Were I a comic book publisher I'd approach Don Glut, creator of Doctor Spektor about a new Dr. Drew series. As it is, maybe I'll write something with the good doctor myself.

Saturday, July 05, 2014

Obligatory Cute Cat Pic II

My cat Bruce in a shoe box. Cats and boxes. A winning combination.

R.I.P. C.J. Henderson

  

   We lost one of our own, yesterday. I first discovered the work of C.J. Henderson through his Jack Hagee Private Eye series, back in the late 80s, when I was reading PI novels hand over fist. The Hagee stories were very pulpish and in fact even included locations and sometimes characters from the pulps. Later I read his Teddy London occult detective series and really enjoyed them.
   Last year at NECON (the North Eastern Writers Conference) I actually got to meet Henderson and chat with him a bit. He was very pleased that I had read his books and enjoyed them, and he asked me which of the Hagee stories was my favorite. I told him 'What You Pay For' because that was the one I started with. I bought several books from him that day including a new copy of 'What You Pay For' just so I could have one signed.
   And guess who ended up sitting beside me on my very first panel as a published author. Yep, C.J Henderson, who kept the audience in stitches with his quick one-liners. He was a funny guy and a genuinely nice man.
   Henderson passed away on July 4th at the age of 62 after a valiant battle with cancer.He'll be missed.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Lovecraft Reconsidered


   I spent most of the weekend writing, so my reading was pretty minimal. I did a partial reread of Frank Belknap Long’s memoir, H.P. Lovecraft: Dreamer on the Night Side, and sections from Lovecraft Remembered, an Arkham House book that collected various essays by people who actually knew Lovecraft. All this reading about HPL is part of some research I’m doing for a story idea, but also because I enjoy reading about the writer.

   I’ve come to the conclusion that Lovecraft’s reputation for being reclusive and misanthropic was pretty much wrong. He had many friends and he spent a lot of time visiting them. He even had ‘normal’ friends, people who lived in his neighborhood and who knew him just as a person and not the writer of Weird Tales. Over the years, folks who haven’t read about Lovecraft in depth have chosen to focus of the stranger aspects of the man’s life, as if someone who wrote such visions of cosmic horror couldn’t possibly be just a regular guy.

   Not to say that he wasn’t strange in some ways, but I think that part of his personality has been blown out of proportion. The thing you see time and again in the memoirs is what a nice guy he was, and how he would go far out of his way to help friends. He was also very funny and even whimsical, and though his one long term relationship went down in flames, (He was briefly married to a woman named Sonia Greene) the reminiscences of several of his female friends show that more than one of them would have liked to have been closer than just friends to HPL.

   I’m also reading a book about Lovecraft’s New York years, which is made up of the letters of one of HPL’s friends, George Kirk. Kirk and Lovecraft were part of a circle of friends, mostly writers, and Kirk makes no secret in his letters to his fiancĂ©, that Lovecraft is the most fun member of the gang to hang out with. This is a contemporary report, as opposed to someone saying nice things about the departed.

   Anyway, I know there are people who don’t want to let facts get in the way of a good story, and they’re going to cling to their image of H.P. Lovecraft as a strange and lonely man, living in seclusion in shadow-haunted Providence, but to a large degree, these folks are confusing the writer with his writing.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Aquisitions

A banner night at the comic books store. TWO Conan titles, the collected Jonah Hex stories of Joe Lansdale and Timothy Truman, and books by Andrew Vachss and my buddy, James A. Moore. Quantity and Quality!