The Bookshelf: 'Anthocon,' Portsmouth's Speculative Fiction Conference

Jun 5, 2015

The Bookshelf is NHPR's new series on authors and books with ties to the Granite State. All Things Considered host Peter Biello will interview authors, cover literary events and publishing trends, and get recommendations from each guest on what books listeners might want to add to their own bookshelves. 

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This week, The Bookshelf gives us a preview of Anthocon. It's a celebration of speculative fiction and art based in Portsmouth. This conference yields an anthology of work produced by its participants and it begins today. NHPR's Peter Biello spoke with organizers Tim Deal, John Morse, and Mark Wholley.

The Anthocon Organizers' Top 5 Book Recommendations

1.    The Wayward Pines series by Blake Crouch, PinesWayward, and The Last Town. “I think Blake has a great balance of lean prose for his action scenes, but his language is also very beautiful, very literary.”
 

2.    Lighting the Earth by Merle Drown. “Merle Drown is a local (Concord) author, and he just wrote a novel about an incident of violence that occurred some years back.”
 

3.    The Drift of Things by Ben Schwartz. “It’s in a fictional New Hampshire town based on Dover. Pointed, hilarious, well-worth the read.
 

4.    They Call Me Crazy by Kelly Stone Gamble. “It was recently released by a small press. I think it’s well-worth a read.”
 

5.    Mountain Home by Bracken MacLeod. “It’s a fantastic book—really engaging story. And he’ll be at Anthocon.” 

How did Anthocon get started?

Tim Deal: In 2007, I launched a small press publishing company called Shroud Publishing, and with that, a quarterly journal called shroud magazine. To promote any kind of publishing company, it’s really critical that you go to different conferences. So I planned a number of conferences to attend. I was friends at the time with both Mark Wholley and Johnny Morse and Mark volunteered to help me at a conference because he had experience of his own setting up and preparing for conferences. So I took them along, and he ended up pretty much taking over for me, setting up the booth for me. The following year, we went to a conference. Johnny came along. It was great having the help. Their experience was invaluable. On those long drives to the conferences, invariably the discussion would come up about starting our own, because we felt that the conferences we attended were great, the community of people was fascinating, and we enjoyed interacting with that community, but we thought we could do something really big in the Seacoast New Hampshire Area.  

What is speculative fiction?

Speculative fiction is a fancy term for any of those genres of fiction that include horror, fantasy, science fiction, bizarro, neo-noir—anything that transcends the realm of mainstream fiction.

So we’re not talking Raymond Carver. We’re more along the lines of Stephen King, H.P. Lovecraft?

Correct.

Past anthologies have had themes, but there’s no theme this year. What can you say about the content of the next anthology.

Mark: So the next anthology that’s coming out is obviously people from the community who have attended are eligible to submit. It actually doesn’t have a theme, it’s mostly—the authors submit and it gives certain authors who are sometimes bound to their genre a chance to break out of their genre and write something a little different. All the anthologies have been a little bit of everything.

Can you give an example of an author who has broken out of his or her genre, as you describe?

Going back to Anthology year one, we have an author, T. T. Zuma, who mostly writes horror. He actually wrote a crime story, a short story, which got selected for anthology year one. He wrote a story about crime that takes place in a New Hampshire town.

Your website also says that this explores film, games, and art. I’m curious about the games part. What games are you talking about?

In the last couple of years, we’re trying to build an RPG leg, because a lot of people who write end up sometimes delving into the writing for Role Playing Games. Traditionally the most well-known is Dungeons and Dragons, but there’s actually a lot out there. This year, we have one of the gentlemen who owns Great Old Ones publishing that’s sponsoring a game called Call of Cthulu.

What else will you be exploring this weekend?

John: This will be the second year that we’ve done Anthojam, where we get the authors that are also musicians to get together to play a few songs so we’ve gone out and polled everyone to find the songs that we want to play. People take their parts, they’re rehearsing them wherever they live—folks from New York, folks from New Hampshire, all over the place. And we’ll come in and do a jam session on the Saturday night event, where we’ll all get together and get up and sing and play and have that other experience.

So this conference offers a lot to writers, musicians, artists. What about people who just like to read? Are those folks going to come along?

Absolutely. We want to make sure that the conference is as inclusive as possible. And while there are a lot of writers who are in attendance, and there’s a big writer and artist community, there will be a number of readings/signings for people who just enjoy this type of literature. So we definitely welcome a reader base and we’d love to get just pure fans there as well of our special guests and writers, so there’ll be plenty for them to do in terms of getting books signed, buy books, buy other items, specialty items, in the vendor space. The vendor space is free. They can wander the vendor space, browse if they want to without having to commit to the entire conference.

Why Portsmouth? What makes it so amenable to a conference like this?

Tim: We’ve all lived in the Seacoast area, although some of us have moved out. I’m still there. There’s a special attachment to the Seacoast. We all met each other while we were living in the Seacoast. I’ve been out in that area since about 1984. It’s a special place, a special community for artists and authors and it’s really conducive to that kind of vibe.

So if people are interested in attending, what do they have to do now?

Tim: So for people who want to attend the show and just show up, we’ll be selling day passes for $20 which would allow them access to a number of workshops, a lot of the readings, and other panel discussions during the day on Saturday or on Sunday.