Steven Marc Harris
Friday, August 20th, 1999
The day began with Daniel and I pairing up, whilst our womenfolk decided to journey north to Boston. Daniel and I had bigger fish to fry. In particular, the Providence courthouse. I won't go into too much detail since the visit was obviously related to Daniel Harms' own researches. I think it's safe to say it was Necronomicon (the book) related and it involved going through the most rigorous security I've seen in a public building. It worked like this: You came into the main building lobby through a metal detector with several armed guards around. You then proceed to the elevators, which also has an armed guard on duty there. (Though during our visit, he was flirting with some women, so I doubt he even knew we passed by.) You then go up in the elevator, which is fitted with a security camera, arrive at your floor and then come across another metal detector with two armed guards. This time, the metal detector is much more accurate since it forced Daniel Harms to remove his belt and I had to rid myself of my loose change and my watch. These removed items are then placed on a conveyor belt and x-rayed. Then you find yourself having to open a steel-door (which will lock tight at the flick of some button somewhere) and you find yourself in a little room with bulletproof glass between you and the employees. I suspect it is safer to work at the Providence courthouse than it is to be President of the United States. At one point, Daniel had to excuse himself to use the bathroom. An arduous process of using a key, going through a metal detector twice and leaving some form of ID behind took place that made me decide to hold water a bit longer.
It was during this visit that another interesting incident took place. Monika had woken up that morning to tell us all that she had had a vivid dream where Daniel and I had to make photocopies at twenty cents each. Lo and behold, she was right on the dot when it came time to set the manuscripts we had on the copier and insert our dimes. Twenty cents exactly. For the rest of the trip we kept hoping that Monika would dream the numbers of the state's Super Lotto, no such luck.
After being determined as "relatively harmless" by the courthouse security, we then found ourselves being let loose upon the streets of Providence. If you ever wish to kill or maim someone in Providence, wait for them to come out the courthouse. I can guarantee you that they have nothing by which to defend themselves by. A fact that came to me as we found ourselves suddenly being given a lecture by an elderly gentleman about the lack of intelligence in the city government.
We then proceeded to check out Daniel's Lovecraft tour before hand. Daniel wanted to get an idea of where to go and what was on the route since Providence had decided to close some roads and such. We found the fleur-de-lis house under reconstruction and therefore almost impossible to see. A bridge just next to the hotel was out so Daniel and I found an alternative route. So for all you people who went on the tour and were wondering why we ended going through an apartment complex, that is why. It was also during this time that we checked out the John Hay Library Exhibit. It wasn't as good as the last time, but there were still a few things of interest. The exhibit was mainly foreign editions of Lovecraft and comic book adaptations. It was fun to try and figure out the connections between the cover illustrations and the stories contained within. Who knew there was a werewolf in Shadow out of Time???
Most of the attention was paid towards Jason Thompson's Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath comics, which held an honored place among the yellowed Dr. Strange and Archie comics. (Ok, ok, there is no Cthulhu-related Archie comic. But I just swear that Betty has the Innsmouth look!)
Then we walked towards the Marriott for the registration process. As was expected, the organization was flawed. Not only had there been confusion with Daniel's registration, but they once again spelled my wife's name wrong even after a few emails had been exchanged to clarify things. Luckily, I'd been through this before and let it slide like water off a duck's back. This was around noon and we decided to wait in the lobby for the Dealer's Room to open at 1 pm. It was during that wait that we came into contact (that's the only way to describe it) with Dan Clore. He stood there amid the chaos of the Con and glanced at the childish antics of its inhabitants with a smug feeling of justifiable superiority. I approached him and introduced myself.
SMH: Dan Clore? Hello, I'm --
Dan: Have you bought Brian McNaughton's The Throne of Bones yet?
SMH: Umm, yes, actually I have. I'm Steven M --
Dan: Buy it again. Keep buying it. It changes its text with every reading.
SMH: No, it doesn't. I've got two copies from the last con and they are both the same.
Dan: Look, I'll level with you. The Throne of Bones is a magic book that if buried in your backyard will sprout a beanstalk far into the sky.
SMH: What the hell are you talking about?
Dan: Look, are you going to buy The Throne of Bones or not?
SMH: Ok, ok, I'll buy another copy when the Dealer's room opens. Sheesh.
Dan: I've got a copy right here, how about buying it now? You can take it over to the bar and have Brian sign it.
SMH: (Looks over towards the bar) Is he really in there?
Dan: Don't look away from me!!!
But the spell had been broken and I was no longer under his influence. I quickly walked away while Dan Clore looked around for another victim. I should point out at this point that this was indeed the real Dan Clore and not a double of Dan Clore as has been suggested by various people throughout the convention. The confusion stems from the fact that Dan Clore's name tag said he was from some town in Vermont while all Dan Clore fans know he dwells in the cold dark wastes of Portland, Oregon. As has been pointed out numerous times in this posting, the organization for the Con was imperfect and the assigning of Dan Clore to the forested mountains of Vermont was an error. (Though after rereading "The Whisper in Darkness," I have to wonder. . . .)
It was also during this time that I did indeed see Brian McNaughton depart from the aforementioned bar area and walk his way to the Washington room for his panel on "Why I Write Mythos Fiction." Both Daniel Harms and I yelled out to the man . . .
Daniel Harms: Brian McNaughton! Over here!
SMH: I'm not wearing any pants!
Unfortunately, Mr. McNaughton either didn't hear us, or wisely didn't want to see me without any pants.
Then the Dealer's Room opened. Off we all went in search of treasures. I found Michael Shea's The Shadow Out of Space and a few old Crypts of Cthulhu I was looking for. I got sticker shock from looking at the price of The Lost Continent. $60!! Or some such nightmare. Sorry fellows, I didn't pick a copy up and judging from the rest of the Con, few did. But considering that I could pick up three copies of Joshi's Lovecraft biography for the same price, something isn't right. If John Pelan or the publishers of The Lost Continent wish to sell me a photocopy of the book minus illustrations with no attempt at binding or correlation for $20, give me a call.
But aside from that was the complete absence of Chaosium. I had consciously not bought any Chaosium product produced since December since I knew I would eventually have the opportunity to do so at the Convention. I had even contemplated producing a few odds and ends of my own (Neon Elder Signs, a few original designed T-shirts, etc.), which I had thought to give to them to sell with the profit going to them and merely the cost of the product going back to me. (A charitable act to do my part at helping Chaosium out of their current economic slump.) Thank goodness I never found the time to help out Chaosium, because I'd have arrived at the Con with a car load of stuff and no one to give them to. In any case, I simply assumed at the time that Chaosium was late. At the last NecronomiCon, Pagan hadn't been able to set up their booth until Saturday, so I didn't worry. I just figured that the Pagan curse (i.e., Life will get in the way of every Convention but GenCon) had infected Chaosium. And who can say, maybe it has.
After fifty minutes of the Dealer's Room with people jostling around to pick up Lupoff's Lovecraft's Book or The Annotated Herbert West Reanimator, it was time to rest in the lobby again. This time, Brian McNaughton was again in the bar area after his first panel, drinking and eating with people that seemed to laugh behind Brian's back every time he turned away. Nearby Robert Price ate breakfast (or brunch) with his wife.
Eventually, Dan Clore came and sat with Daniel Harms and me and talked a while about the Necronomicon hoaxes for a bit (I bought two copies of The Throne of Bones while Daniel bought three thanks to this informal chat) when we were suddenly interrupted by Fred Chappell.
Fred: Excuse me gentlemen, do any of you happen to have a schedule?
[A pause as Dan Clore, Daniel Harms, and myself glanced around for the mysterious gentlemen he was referring to.]
[To his credit, it was Daniel that first realized what was happening.]
Daniel: You are . . . (gasp)
Fred: I'm Fred Chappell. Glad to meet you. And you are?
Daniel: You probably haven't heard of me, I'm Daniel Harms. I know Professor [name withheld] and he used to talk about you all the time.
Fred: Yes, [name withheld] and I are good friends that go way back. And I have heard of you. You're the gentleman behind the Encyclopedia. I read your description in the back of the program. [to me] And you are?
SMH: I'm Steven Marc Harris and I know for a fact you don't know who I am. But you can see my schedule.
Mr. Chappell thanked us and went on his way after learning that his panel was in the Washington Room. Mr. Chappell still doesn't know my name, I'm sure of that. But he will remember the young man that handed him his schedule.
I've met Brian Lumley and Fred Chappell thanks to the NecronomiCon and I find myself describing both Guests of Honor in the same way, they have charisma. Yet both have the quality in different ways. Lumley's charm comes from his down to earth manner of talking. He tells you what he thinks and that's the end of it. Chappell however has a charm of being the kind of guy who is just genuinely happy to meet people. I guess the best way to put it is that if you get stuck on an island with little chance of survival, you'll want Lumley along. But if you are going to spend a few days in New Orleans, Chappell is your man. Take that any way you want to.
After Chappell left us, I suddenly realized that it was to the very same room that Chappell was going that I was also heading for. Eventually, Daniel Harms left to explore the hotel or whatever he did. It was during this time that I met up with Steven Kaye (a friend I had made over usenet), a man with whom I continue to get confused with by innocent parties on the Internet due to my nickname being Kayven.
Mr. Kaye was slyly walking around the lobby area looking at people's name tags. Which leads me to the topic of the name tags. The names on these name tags are small enough that the only way to read them is to enter into another person's personal space. It's a violation of territory that can get ugly when you suddenly realize that the fellow with whom you are suddenly staring in the face isn't someone you know and there isn't any way to get out of hurting their feelings. "Oh, I thought you looked like someone I know, but now that I can see your name, I realize that I have little interest in getting to know you." In any case, I noticed that Steven Kaye's name tag said "Steven K . . .," so it was either "Kaye" or some strange coincidence. Fearing that it was a strange coincidence, Steven Kaye and I performed a ballet where I tried to get a better look at his name tag while he seemed to look at every name tag except mine! Eventually, however, I caught a better glimpse of the tag and was able to judge that the time had come to go in for the kill. While Steven Kaye looked around confused by the bright lights of the lobby and the continuous drone on the nearby TV over the newly opened mall, I sundered up to him and said, "Psst," at which point Steven Kaye jumped in the air. A reaction I later learned was a result of having been grabbed and assaulted by a Darrell Schweitzer "hard sell" in the Dealer's Room. In any case, I let him see my name tag and awaited his shower of praise and admiration. I was heartily disappointed. It was almost as if Mr. Kaye was awaiting for me to shower him with praise. After a stare down, I noticed that the panel I wanted to attend was starting, so I asked him if he would like to attend.
Panel: "Lovecraft as a Fictional Character"
with Peter Cannon, Fred Chappell, and Robert Price
I showed up and sat in the back of the room. It was at this moment that I realized that the hotel had, since the last Con, included little candies in the back along with the water. Later I would come to find out that these little treats seemed to magically be replaced between panels. It was glorious and I found myself feasting like a king on pineapple, cherry, and other assorted flavors. In retrospect I can see that it was at that moment that I began to realize that hotels were capable of being plundered. And it was my first step towards the dark side that Monika (Daniel's girlfriend, who was at that moment causing havoc in Boston) would later take my hand and force me into. I won't go into details, since I prefer to avoid lawsuits and jail time, but suffice it to say that the perks of the Marriott are some of the best in the business!
But to the panel. We began by having an impromptu quiz of the audience to determine how many stories and novels we could come up with that included Lovecraft as a character. Then the discussion began. I won't write out the panels line by line because first of all, I'm lazy. Secondly, if all panels were written out and placed online, there would be little to encourage people to go. And I don't want to be blamed for that! The convention organizers do enough discouragement without my help.
So what were the highlights? We learned that Peter Cannon wrote 99% of Lovecraft's dialogue in his novel Pulptime by lifting them straight from Lovecraft's letters. We also learned that Fred Chappell included Lovecraft in his story "Weird Tales" because as a teen he recalled reading a dismal story (the title of which escapes me) that had only one saving grace, Lovecraft showed up for a brief moment in the story. It was, he said, like meeting a long-lost friend and was the only thing he could remember from the story. So his "Weird Tales" was an attempt to write that feeling out.
It came up that in all the stories that Lovecraft appears in, either in name or in personality, Lovecraft is something of a literary device. That the story seems to follow a pattern where 1) strange event occurs, 2) initial investigation that uncovers more mystery, 3) Lovecraft appears and reveals the awful truth, and 4) horror occurs and the narrator meets a horrible death.
I myself contributed the interesting observation that Long's The Horror from the Hills takes a different course. There, the occult and horror are quite evident at the start and when Lovecraft's character (under the guise of a mystic) shows up, instead of getting worse, Lovecraft's character actually takes the story in a Weird Science direction and the eventual saving of mankind. I pointed out that it was fascinating to see how a story written before Lovecraft's period of mild popularity and ultimate degeneration towards a stereotype viewed Lovecraft more in a pulpish style than a typically horror genre fashion.
Eventually we came to a discussion of Lovecraft appearing in dreams. (Price brought that one up.) Chappell described a dream where he entered a room to see a large leather chair that he somehow knew that Lovecraft had, only moments before, been sitting on. He said that although he had never seen Lovecraft in a dream, the sight of a chair that Lovecraft had only just vacated was enough.
Next panel: "The Origins of the King in Yellow"
by Christophe Thill
Marvelous!! Mr. Thill, who used to post much more frequently to alt.horror.cthulhu than these days, brought to the NecronomiCon one of the best presented panels there. Clear, concise and interesting. Thill went over each story from the The King in Yellow collection, pointed out the geography and historical contexts, and then wrapped it all up with the answer to the panel's topic. What was the origin of the King in Yellow? What play exists that fits the description of TKIY as a play that causes its readers to lose their minds? I won't answer that one, that's for Mr. Thill to do. But I wish to thank Mr. Thill for the exciting hour. I've already started rereading the stories.
Next panel: "In Memory: James Turner of Arkham House"
with Peter Cannon, W. Paul Ganley, ST Joshi
Nothing too spectacular about this panel. But this isn't to say it was boring. Quite the contrary. We were given the inside scoop on how the Arkham House editions were created. Learned about how apparently there aren't any pictures of Derleth to be had at Arkham House. Oh, they are there somewhere, just no one knows where they went. Not even his own daughter.
It was six o'clock and the gang all got together for dinner. Monika and my wife returned from Boston. Daniel Harms, Steven Kaye, and I waited in the lobby for their appearance and then off we went. We stopped at Boston Market and munched away an hour getting to know each other.
Eventually, we found our way back to the hotel and went to the mixer. For some reason, nearly half the people at the Con decided to just skip the mixer. It was at the mixer that Gary Libby (another usenet friend) met us after revealing The Horror At The Blue Fin. Seems that poor Gary had just spent $100 on a dinner for two at the hotel's little restaurant. This revelation made me determined to never eat at the Blue Fin and to abuse the hotel. Steven Kaye, who actually had gotten a room at the Marriott, was our perfect unwitting accomplice. It was time to take the hotel for everything it was worth. Monika sat us all down and sent out instructions on what each of us could do. Apparently, if one knows certain secrets (no doubt revealed in the Hotelnomicon), one can live life to the fullest at a hotel without spending a cent. Free food, free clothing, free everything! That night at the mixer was when I joined the Dark Side.
Also, I was asked to perform a little private ritual I like to call "The Grey Rite of Azathoth." I was a bit more careful about it and proved to draw the attention of a few individuals. It confirmed my belief that the tragedy that occurred at the last Con when I performed this rite was due more to not having a steady chair than anything being wrong with my back.
It was after dinner that the highlight of the con took place.
"Close to Home" CoC Game
with Jason Thompson (Keeper)
In the winter of '36, Lovecraft meets five of his friends and peers for the 1st time: Smith, Howard, Derleth, Bloch, and Long.
From 10 pm to 3:30 am, Jason Thompson pulled out all the stops to allow Daniel Harms (Howard P. Lovecraft), Steven Kaye (Clark A. Smith), Gary Libby (Robert E. Howard), Robert Capelletto (Frank B. Long), Steven Harris (August W. Derleth) and Ben Farr (Robert Bloch), to become the Lovecraft Circle and have the time of our lives. I admit to feeling sorry for Jason every once and a while since we seemed to be having so much fun that the sense of terror didn't catch on for a while. But I assure Jason that it was there. Hidden under the jokes and absurdity, we were all hoping to stick it through to the end.
The highlights? Long's bad luck with his car that seemed to continuously become damaged, scratched and overworked; Robert Bloch's innocence as an eighteen-year-old in New York City for the first time, and the eventual placing of Bloch in a straight jacket because he kept getting into trouble; Lovecraft unexpectantly pulling out a thirty page essay on the danger and immorality of heroin use from his coat pocket; August Derleth's ego going out of control to the point of getting our heroes involved with a police corruption racket; Clark Ashton Smith's prophetic words as he got off the train that New York was a modern Babylon full of sin and corruption; and Robert E. Howard's dark depression suddenly expressing itself towards the end in a fist fight to the death with a supernatural entity that should not be!! And I imagine none there will ever forget that moment when the Lovecraft Circle, as a group, decided to lift a dead man up, stick his head out a window and move it around like a puppet. An event that should have caused an NPC who witnessed it to make a SAN check if it hadn't been for his already zero score.
The best part is that everyone stayed in character and did everything that seemed reasonable at the time. Brilliant music and atmospheric pictures/maps. Bravo Mr. Thompson! Bravo!!
For those curious: Smith & Howard went insane. Long, Derleth and Bloch died. Lovecraft came through without a scratch and died a few years later of natural causes.
I'm proud to say that I gave one of the many best quotes of the evening. As Derleth finds himself thrown up against the wall by a shotgun blast, his dying words are announced loud with a shrill scream, "I never wrote any of my works!"
Another great quote was when confronted by Lucky Luciano, Lovecraft agreed with him that ghosts could exist. After the gangsters left, he turned to Derleth and stated, "And don't you think I've compromised my principles, you self-blinded little earth-gazer!"
It shouldn't be surprising that we went to bed soon after this.
Created: December 5, 1999; Updated: August 9, 2004