The NECon Line

neconWhen my daughter was born, one of the first things I did was draw a line on the wall to measure her height. Later we moved and I put another higher line in a new place. She was six when I bought that house. A year later I went to my first NECon. It was 2003.

Over the years, a lot has changed in my life. As she grew, I’d make her line higher. Some years she’d grow an inch or two, some years not at all. And with each year I attended NECon, my career grew a little. Some years the leap would be big, sometimes small.

When I attended my first NECon, brought by John McIlveen, I was terrified. I hated being away from home. The idea of meeting 200 strangers scared the hell out of me. But he brought me just the same. I roomed with him and his four daughters (this was back before the newest Mac, who is now 9). I’d never spent any time on a college campus before. Not one where I slept and ate in the cafeteria. I’ve been going to night school forever at Northeastern but this was different. I felt like this was my new home. That first night I spent the most time with Stan Waiter, Dallas Mayr, and then F. Paul Wilson. I think we played cards in John’s suite. I don’t know when I went to bed but it was really late. By the end of that weekend, I had so many new friends. When I arrived I had never published a single story, much less a book, though I’d been writing my whole life.

Another year rolled around, and another. My daughter’s lines on the wall got higher. Still no sales for me but I was meeting people, learning how to write better. I was randomly assigned to room with Rhodi Hawk, Lori Perkins, and later Jan Kozlowski who have become dear friends. Plus all the ones I friended all on my own. The list is too big. Paul Wilson and I started working on a project (The Proteus Cure) and that led me to Thrillerfest. And Thrillerfest led to me other Cons and friendships, like with Heather Graham (who made her way to us). I had more confidence suddenly. Enough to leave the bad relationship/short marriage I was in.

So I took my kid and left, sad that the marker lines on the wall were gone to me. We started new lines at this place when she was 11 and still pretty short. The week I left “him”, I sold my first story, then another (Doorways and All Hallows). I couldn’t wait to go to NECon and tell people. Back then Shocklines was our only outlet. I had a MySpace but could never warm up to it. But NECon was where all the real people were. 200 hugs. People who had met there, people you looked forward to meeting that you knew from Shocklines.

Over the years, I had a few relationships I’d rather forget. I published a kid’s book I’d rather forget. I’m sure many of us regret watching Headers that time in the auditorium. And there was that time we had to spend at Salve and I lost my car in the middle of the night because the campus was too big and confusing. There has been a lot of uncertainty in my life, a lot of change. But one of the biggest constants, one of the only constants, has been NECon. Year after year I’d show up, embarrassed that I was no longer with X (in the true algebraic sense, X is a variable). But it was okay. Lots of my old pals showed up with new wives or husbands.

This month was my 10th NECon (okay my ninth but it was 10 years ago I started). I’ve published 3 novels, a short story collection, a whole bunch of short stories in anthologies and magazines. Almost all my friends are writers. All the negative hurtful people in my life have been replaced by cool people who, one way or another, I can trace back to NECon. They say you can do it with Kevin Bacon but I’m willing to bet that everyone is probably just a few contacts removed from NECon. It has changed that many lives.

My daughter is 17 now and her height line is as high as it will go. She’s full grown. But I still go to NECon and each year there is growth. Emotional, professional. They say “Don’t forget where you came from.” NECon 33 reminded everyone of that.

We have all changed in the last ten years. People have married and divorced, babies have been born, our loved ones have passed. Careers have taken off. We’ve gone gray, and our legs have grown weary. And if you look at pictures from all the NECons, you can watch us all grow up. It’s like the line on the wall. A marker, a reminder of where we were before.

There is no way to say thank you enough, except maybe to make a toast, just like at the end of It’s a Wonderful Life. Thank you Bob Booth for providing a place for us to come alive. To the richest man in town.

toast

Why AnthoCon is the Next Big Con

Maybe the best thing about AnthoCon is that it’s not a big conference. This is the second year that Shroud Publishing and the Four Horsemen: Tim Deal, Mark Wholley, Danny Evarts and Johnny Morse have hosted this event in Portsmouth, NH and it was wonderful. I don’t know the final tally of attendees but I’d guess about a 100.

I’ve been to a lot of conferences over the years: NECon, Thrillerfest, ReaderCon, World Fantasy, World Horror, CrimeBake, Love is Murder, and probably some others I’m not thinking of. They each have their great and bad points and most are genre specific.

 The first year Thrillerfest ran, they hosted it in Arizona and it was amazing. It was reasonably priced, they had great panels and guests, workshops for writers, the rooms were inexpensive and luxurious. There were a lot of attendees but it was small enough so people could get to know each other.

But the next year they moved it to NYC which drove up the room cost, and food cost for nonsponsored meals. In addition they split off the Con to add CraftFest, for writers, from ThrillerFest-supposedly a reader/fan conference. So you had to pick one or the other or spend an insane amount of money and 6-7 days. And many of the “big guests” were sequestered behind tables. They signed books but did not hang out after hours. It was a fancy, dress up con and if you were an aspiring writer you’d make great connections. But it was expensive and exhausting, for me at least, to be that dressed up and to schmooze for four days. It has its merits, as there’s a lot of talent all under one roof, including pitch sessions with agents and publishers. But in all the years I went, I never once could relax.

On the flip side there’s NECon which I will always hold dear in my heart. It’s a small con, capped at 200 people.  One low price and everything is included for the weekend: room, board, panels, games.You don’t go to NECon to make connections or pitch ideas; you go to hang out and meet people like yourself. You make lasting friends. And somewhere in the midst of that you make “connections” but it’s not about finding a publisher. It’s the place award-winning published writers can go and not be hounded by fans, and a place where new writers can meet them as people, not as icons. You don’t dress up. You just get to escape and relax for four days.

What AnthoCon has done, and I love them for it, is to make an autumn-weekend-in-New England Con with multi-genres, that is a perfect mix of other cons. It was informal yet also had a business aspect with pitch sessions and people breaking off in groups to talk to publishers and make deals. Last year the sponsor was a man from the Lucid Absinthe company. This year is was Sam Adams. Very cool.

Someone referred to AnthoCon as NECon-lite and they were correct. Many of the local New England Horror writers attended, but there were also dozens who write in different genres from all over the world. I can say “world” because Richard Wright comes all the way from India for this. AnthoCon has brought us all together.

This year marked their first anthology, stories and poems selected from last year’s members and called Anthology. It has a stunning cover and a brilliant and touching collection of works.  There will be another Anthology  next year which is also incentive for new people to join. You can’t submit if you haven’t attended.

The con will no doubt grow as word spreads about all they have to offer: low admission price and vendor table cost, cheap but classy hotel, easily accessible location, concurrent and well-thought out panels, art and book dealer rooms, and a large amount of really cool but humble people. As this conference increases its numbers, I have a sense the mood and comfy intimacy level will stay the same.

I eagerly look forward to AnthoCon 2013. Hope to see you there.

Check out my new thriller, Restitution on Amazon, which made its debut this year at AnthoCon.

Book Expo 2012

I’m just on the way home from my first Book Expo at the Javitz Center in Manhattan. It was a long day but surprisingly fun. I’ve spent a good deal of time whining the last few weeks about the time and expense of going to BEA. It was a free slot but I had to buy all the copies of The Soul Collector I’d be giving away, hopefully to librarians, distributors and bookstore owners. I also had to buy a train ticket. Because I was determined to do this in a day trip, I took a very early train (6:21am) to arrive in plenty of time for my 11am signing slot. The train station is 55 miles from my house so I was up at 4am, and shaking which is was happens when I get that tired.

But the day got better. I took a Business Class Acela on the way in which is so nice. Roomy seats, quiet people, most of whom were sleeping, like me. When I awoke, I was happy to see I had a Wi-Fi connection. I edited some stories and listened to The Martian Chronicles on my audio books on iTunes (courtesy of my boyfriend who is always providing me with cool stuff).

I arrived in NYC at 9:45 and smiled when I saw the sun. It was in the 60s but sunny. I took short brisk walk (15 minutes) and arrived at the mammoth Javitz Center. I walked in and was instantly overwhelmed, and that’s even before I got to the signing floor. I got my registration badge and found the Horror Writers association booth.

My 75 copies of The Soul Collector had arrived from the printer and were waiting for me. It was 10:40 by the time I sat down and got settled, and already people were crowding around asking for books. It was dizzying and fun. I unloaded all the copies to happy takers within my one hour alloted time. If you’re a writer, you know how much a kick you get out of signing just one book and seeing someone get all excited. So a dose of that times 75 was amazing. Sure, I gave them away and didn’t sell the them, but the people wanted to book and smiled. And that’s really what it’s all about. It really motivated me to start setting up book signings again and put the finishing touches on my next two books: my short story collection and my Women’s thriller.

I got to see some old friends, Gary Frank and Charles Day, Trish Wooldridge, and got to meet Vince Liaguno in person. Plus I met a new person Joshua (don’t remember his last name despite spending time with him in the booth). The place was absolutely packed which says something to all those naysayers who keep blabbing “No one reads anymore.” I beg to differ.

When my books were gone, I wandered the floor and got a few free books. I could have gotten more but didn’t want my bag to get too heavy. I ended up with Rich Dad, Poor Dad by Robert T Kiyosaki, which they weren’t giving out but I asked nice and they said okay. I got an ARC of The Stress Pandemic by Paul Huljich because I know stress like nobody’s business and can always use tips. I also got a fun little romance called, Does This Church Make me Look Fat? by Rhoda Janzen.

There were so many rows of publishers and booksellers and authors it was intimidating. How could I possibly make it to the level they’re were at, with a booth at this expo, selling books and schmoozing? Then I laughed because I WAS at the expo sharing a booth and signing books just like everyone else. Note, at this point I was hungry, having had only an Atkins Bar and an Atkins shake since 4am.

I walked the “quick sunny brisk walk” back to Penn Station (saw this funny sign) and this time it was a long painful walk. I’m not used to heels and certainly not used to dragging myself along all day in them. It’s a reminder that my frequent Con days are far behind me. I’d forgotten all about Con Foot (squishing shoes that are used to loafers and sneakers into pretty heels to look nice and wincing with every step).

I finally saw Penn Station in the distance. Yes! Right outside I ordered a Chicken Shish-kabob. No sauce or rice. Just meat on a stick and a Diet Coke. $6. I brought it in and looked around the station. Not a single bench. I was just making myself a spot on the floor when I saw and then remembered that if you have an Amtrak ticket you can sit in the comfy section with seats and Wi-Fi and power outlets.

So here I am, finishing this blog, with only 45 minutes until my train takes off. All in all, a nice day. Looking forward to a relaxing ride home. I’ll be on the regular old Amtrak local this time, with a million stops and seats that probably aren’t as comfy or new as the sleek ride this morning, but at least I’m not driving. I’ve got lots to read and listen to.

There is piano music playing the background, half a kabob in my lunch bag and some cheesesticks for later.

For all my whining, it was a really fun and productive day.

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