When 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.