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On April 11-13 I attended the HP Lovecraft Film Festival/CthulhuCon in Portland, OR. Though I tend to be pretty dark, being a child of the 80s gave me a rather one-sided chainsaws-and-splatter view of horror, so I only started really getting into horror/weird when I started playing Call of Cthulhu and reading Lovecraft a few years ago.

CthulhuCon was tentacles hands down the best convention I’ve ever attended. It was fun, but I also learned a lot about Lovecraft, storytelling, and gaming.

Here are some of the highlights.

Panels and Talks

Keynote Speech: Year of the Witch

(Kenneth Hite)

One of HP Lovecraft’s major influences was The Witch-cult in Western Europe by Margaret Alice Murray (Wikipedia |Project Gutenberg). In the book Murray said that there was a horned god religion that predated Christianity and survived until the witch trials. While Murray’s theory has been pretty much discredited anthropologically, it’s a fantastic story, and modern horror may not have been possible without it.

Panel: History and Lovecraft

This panel was about understanding where Lovecraft was in his historical context. A major issue that Lovecraft fans have to grapple with is HP Lovecraft’s racism. The discussion in this panel was really thoughtful, and I wish I’d taken better notes.

The biggest take-away for me was that it’s almost impossible to read anyone who wrote 50+ years ago without running into ideas that would be objectionable (or just plain wrong) today. If you’re going to read old books, you have to find your own way of filtering for the good stuff without rewriting history.

Panel: Beyond the Tentacles: Summoning the Spirit of Lovecraft on the Tabletop

(Kenneth Hite, Sandy Petersen, Scott Glancy, Keith Baker)

In this panel, they talked about how to make a tabletop game truly Lovecraftian.

On the subject of influences, an author who was recommended for inspiration and who also influenced Lovecraft’s work was the English author and Medieval scholar MR James (Wikipedia | Project Gutengerg). James was a writer of ghost stories, who is known for setting his stories in contemporary settings instead of the spooky castles of his predecessors. The theory is that putting monsters in settings readers are familiar with makes the story more scary.

A tip that came from Sandy Petersen is to be sure to use three senses when describing a scene. Instead of leaning on sight all the time (“You walk into a dark room.”) or occasionally on sound (“You hear the scurrying of tiny rodent feet.”), taste and smell tend to be underutilized and do a lot to bring a scene to life. (“The room is dark, and you hear the scurrying of tiny rodent feet. You smell blood, and it leaves a coppery taste in your mouth.”)

Talk: Gametime with Sandy Petersen

Because the group that attended this workshop was small (wtf?), Sandy spent the hour walking us through how he designs a Call of Cthulhu campaign. He with two elements: where does this scene take place and who is the monster. We chose a laboratory and a Shoggoths (Wikipedia). Then he asked someone what one of their favorite horror movies was and then to choose a scene from the movie, and we ended up with Shoggoths in the laboratory climbing out of someone’s TV set. We spent most of the rest of the hour speculating about how that might happen, who would have a reason to make Shoggoth’s crawl out of someone’s TV, and who would help them do it. By the time we were done we had a pretty complex scenario with four well-developed NPCs and lots of intrigue. What a nifty quick and dirty way to come up with new material!

Resources

Lovecraft eZine – I burned most of the morning after the con reading through this site. Nuff said.

Dark Discoveries Magazine – They publish horror/dark fantasy/dark scifi/dark mystery stories as well as articles and interviews. I talked with the founder of the magazine who said that they’re trying really hard to reach out to women writers. Fiction submissions are currently closed, so don’t send them anything now, but if you are a woman who writes dark stuff put them on your list of places to submit.

Innsmouth Free Press – A Canadian micropress that publishes horror and weird fiction. Their editor Silvia Moreno-Garcia was on the History and Lovecraft panel (as well as a panel on diversity that I, sadly, missed).

On a Personal Note

Gaming with Sandy Petersen (?!)

For me the highlight of the con was somehow managing to talk my way into a Call of Cthulhu game run by Sandy Petersen, the creator of Call of Cthulhu. I’m still not entirely sure how that happened, but it was incredible. I learned so much just by watching him GM, and I’m really looking forward to putting what I learned into practice in my next game. (No spoilers.)

A big thanks to the community for being awesome to women (or at least to me)!

I’ve experienced the dark side of male-dominated communities. I’ve been harassed, made to feel unwelcome, and treated like either my husband’s accessory or a unicorn. But the first thing I thought when I woke up the morning after CthulhuCon was that I had just spent the weekend at a convention where women were in the extreme minority, and I only thought about it three or four times the whole weekend. Granted, two of the times I thought about it were when a weirdo grabbed my ass, but CthulhuCon might be the first time in my life where I experienced what it’s like to be just a fan. When I talked to people, they assumed that I knew just as much as they did. When I gamed, people didn’t assume that I needed everything explained to me. Sandy Petersen went out of his way to make sure that the Call of Cthulhu game I was in was gender balanced, and I never once felt like a unicorn. It was, needless to say, extremely refreshing.

Hello, Lovecraft eZine readers! Welcome and thanks for stopping by. If you’d like to chat about the con, please, feel free to connect with me on Twitter @kristyharding.