DogCon 2 Recap by Emory Barrett Pueschel
August 2-4, Columbus, OH
We as human beings often don’t stop to think about measures of time in relation to our average lifespans. Either an event occurs so long ago that we think of it as history, or it is coming towards us through the aether of the future and often barely registers as “impending.”
Think now of ten years. A decade. One-seventh to one-ninth of your life expectancy. That is a big chunk of time to us. Not even a quark in an atom of the drop in the bucket on cosmic scales, really. For people, though, it is a long time and for a business it’s a respectable amount.
In the publishing industry it is an eternity.
It is with that in mind that I am writing in recognition of Raw Dog Screaming Press’ tenth anniversary, and about the celebration that was DogCon 2.
Note: What follows is a heavily biased account of the event that was DogCon 2. Some things may have slipped my notice; with others I may have omitted specific details to protect… oh, who am kidding? It was an insane blur that had to be experienced.
Upon arriving at the Red Roof Inn in Columbus after a pleasant seven-hour drive from Charlotte, I met my first of the many wonderful people I would get to know this weekend: K. Ceres Wright, author of one of Dog Star Books’ first releases Cog. I called to her from a ways off, and like any reasonable person in an unfamiliar city she gave me a classic “who-the-hell-are-you-and-how-do-you-know-my-name” look. I did quickly identify myself, and it was a hug/how are you/what are we doing from there. Together we met Seton Hill alum and RDSP supporter Johanna Gribble. After getting checked in, we three talked a moment. I agreed to call John Edward Lawson to see who else had arrived and where to meet. Hanna hitched a ride with me across the street to the hotel parking lot, from there we walked to the The North Market.
Now, I have an irritating tendency of repeating myself in conversation, but I feel compelled to reiterate this idea I mentioned to several people during this wild, wonderful weekend. John Edward Lawson and Jennifer Barnes have created not just a business with RDSP, but a family built on respect, passion, and genuine affection for/between everyone involved. Not just a professional relationship between the authors and the publishers; I myself am a relative nobody by any measure, and yet I was welcomed with hugs/handshakes/combinations of both from everyone when I first arrived at The North Market. I had never met anyone present in person before, and yet it was like we were all old friends separated only by distance for a while.
I should mention that at this point I felt a bit like an ass, as we had kinda/sorta abandoned Ceres at the hotel. You could argue we got separated, but still, I like to think I’m a man of my word.
Once everyone had their fill of the culinary delights the Market had to offer we made our way to the Kafe Kerouac to set up for the Friday night reading.
During the ride over, D. Harlan Wilson did something I could not expect. He said to me, “Emory, I’m going to be blunt. I’m just a blunt guy. How’s that divorce thing going?” Here is a man with a family of his own, successful careers both as an author and a professor of English, a man whose work I have admired since first being introduced to the world of independent presses and he has taken time to basically ask me “how’s your life going?” To say that this moment was special and touching would be the greatest of understatements.
We got the merch and branding stuff in the door, I bought John a long over-owed beer, and settled in for the first round of spectacular performances of the weekend. Jason Jack Miller (VIDEO), Stephanie Wytovich (VIDEO), Michael A. Arnzen (VIDEO), K. Ceres Wright (VIDEO), John Edward Lawson, Donna Lynch (VIDEO), Matt Betts (VIDEO), and D. Harlan Wilson (VIDEO) presented old, recent, and new work in equal measure; Arnzen and Wytovich’s dueling “Scanners” themed poetry was incredible to watch, but I think Wilson stole the show with his purple “Macho Man” shirt.
During a short break between authors at the Kafe Kerouac, I stood outside and shared a cigarette break with Wilson. Standing before me is the author of some of my favorite novels (his SciKungFi Trilogy) and I feel like I should be squealing like a boy-band fan. It just wasn’t possible, he wouldn’t let me. Not by anything he said, but simply because he, like the others gathered for the event, is as far removed from the prima donna image of the famous author stereotype as you can get. We talked about a lot in those few moments, but most important of all I think was the real secret to RDSP’s success. I must paraphrase, but in summary he told me that John and Jennifer “don’t work with assholes.”
Even the really-truly rock stars of RDSP, Donna Lynch and Steven Archer of the band Ego Likeness, were possessed of a humility that quickly put me at ease. As with Wilson, we spoke on several subjects, and never once did they make me feel like I was monopolizing their time or annoying them (as I often feel I do to everyone at some point.)
Back at the hotel, we gathered in Jason Jack and Heidi Ruby Miller’s room for chocolate, strawberries, and copious amounts of spirits, spirited conversation, and conversing with spirits thanks to Chris Stout and his tarot decks. RDSP friend Andersen Prunty shared some delicious craft brew from his local brewery (Yellow Springs) that absolutely had to be consumed within forty-eight hours. I was certainly happy to help in this task while conversing with K. Ceres Wright regarding the better Doctor. I said David Tennant, she says Christopher Eccleston (he looks good in leather.)
Even after we went our separate ways for the evening John, Prunty, author C.V. Hunt and I went downstairs and engaged in one of those discussions that always happen when smart people get drunk: a horrible wreck of derailed trains-of-thought that somehow organically came together in a serendipitous exchange of knowledge and laughter. Prunty told us the secret to making a lot of money as a writer, John told me of his ideas for the future of RDSP, and in between there were some shocking revelations about some of the perceptions and reality of the independent press scene.
The following morning, everyone tried to gather for breakfast, and for the most part succeeded. In gathering, that is. The hotel’s “continental breakfast” was more like a state or county affair in scope. Stephanie Wytovich, Michael A. Arnzen, Johanna Gribble and I supplemented the meager offerings with a visit to Starbucks before heading to the James Thurber Center to prepare for the main event of the day.
Attendees of the Thurber Center event (VIDEO) were treated to the official launch of Dog Star Books (RDSP’s new science-fiction adventure imprint) a writer’s workshop with the incomparable Michael A. Arnzen, and tying into author Matt Betts’ novel Odd Men Out: steampunk dress-up for kids and other activities courtesy of the crew of the Airship Archon. Steven Archer read from his children’s book Luna Maris, while Stephanie Wytovich was next door performing a tour of the James Thurber house.
Fun, learning, and chicken salad sandwiches were had by all, I believe; but no sooner did we get everything packed and cleaned then we had to rush to the nearby Bexley Public Library for the second round of readings. Donna Lynch shared flashbacks from her new novel Red Horses, and Michael A. Arnzen disturbed us all with his continuation of Richard Matheson’s short story “Born of Man and Woman.” His voice still haunts me all these hours later… that and the fact that he performed some deft, adrenaline-dumping maneuvers in his car while taking Ms. Wytovich and I back to the hotel. His only words on the matter: “That street sucked.” I am inclined to agree. Should he ever retire from horror writing, I’d like to extend a personal invitation to him to come drive for NASCAR here in North Carolina. His skill with the macabre is matched only by his skills as a wheelman.
I can’t say for certain, but I believe Matt Betts was interviewed by a local publication. I saw him engaged in a serious discussion with a gentleman with a notepad after the readings. I did not see the gentleman’s credentials. Perhaps a guardian angel/editor will grace this paragraph with an (ed. note: In fact, our event wound up on the front page of the local newspaper.)
After all the delightfully exhausting things we did that day, we began our early evening at the nearby Max and Erma’s. Food, drink. More talk of books, life, humorous musings…
Then Jennifer stood. She talked to all of us about how she felt about the weekend and the last ten years, and everyone who has helped them make Raw Dog Screaming Press the success that it is. I wish I had recorded her words, because I am failing miserably here to accurately convey the emotion she brought out, the genuine gratitude she exuded for everyone in attendance. She even had a few gifts for “special” people. D. Harlan Wilson, who had learned Adobe InDesign to assist with layouts (among other things,) Matt Betts who had salvaged the almost-scrapped DogCon 2 from the debris of the canceled Confluence convention, Heidi Ruby Miller for taking on Dog Star Books, and finally, surprisingly, for me. I’ve never felt I’ve done anything particularly special or above-and-beyond for RDSP; everything I’ve done I would think that any fan of great books would do. In my mind it is they who have put a lot of trust and confidence in me. From John being among the first and most enthusiastically supportive authors to submit work for my first anthology and using my unsolicited editing notes for a 2.0 version of his free novel “New Mosque City,” to Jen graciously sending me books to review, opportunities to interview their authors, and even promotional material for a library display. They have offered me numerous opportunities to develop myself as an editor, a critic, and a writer. Most important of all to me: they’ve generously offered their knowledge, experience, and guidance which is more valuable to me than a small moon made of gold.
Jen’s words made for a tearful, joyous, and dare I say triumphant, moment for everyone. I will say that as a gentleman I did try to refuse their gift, but they’d have none of it. When I got home Sunday evening I finally read John’s inscription in my copy of Pocket Full of Loose Razorblades he had signed Saturday: “All your years of dedication have not gone unnoticed… restraining order is in the mail.” That made me feel better.
We gathered later in yet another hotel room for alcohol, good-natured debate, parenting fails, and legal advice. Slowly we drifted off to our own beds.
The next morning we met in the lobby and chose to get a decent breakfast at the Sunny Street Cafe. It certainly lived up to its name, exposing many of us creative-types to unhealthy amounts of sunlight, but the service and food were excellent. Imagine the surprise of this Southern boy finding grits on a menu that far north of home! Though it was a damn shame that I had to sweeten my own tea. We discussed films, Bruce Campbell’s awesomeness, what to expect when ordering tea in the South and our guilty pleasures from popular fiction (my lips are sealed.)
With breakfast done it was time for me to begin the long journey home. With a heavy heart and a full stomach, I said my farewells and returned to the hotel to check out. If only we all could have afforded to make a week of it. I tremble at the thought of what could be born out of such a retreat.
Aside from a brief sighting/avoidance of a pack of Hell’s Angels at the Virginia-North Carolina border my drive home was uneventful. The vistas were beautiful, and my mind raced at the thoughts of what I had learned, what I had been inspired to do, and gleefully wondering when and where DogCon3 would be held.
Above all that, a feeling of inadequacy in expressing MY gratitude. So in conclusion:
John, Jen: Thank you for raising this Dog from a puppy to the healthy beast we all know and love. Thank you also for welcoming me into the family. My Mithril Red Pen of Proofreading +4 is yours to command.
And to everyone else in attendance, thank you for coming together and making this weekend so very special. I sincerely hope to see you all again, sooner rather than later.
You’d better COGging believe that.
Here’s to ten more years of fiction that foams at the mouth! Congratulations Raw Dog Screaming Press!