Sunday, September 8, 2013

Bob Booth, 1947 - 2013: NECON FOUNDER

 Bob Booth, one of the great people of fantasy and horror, a friend of writers and a patron of the arts, died early Saturday, Sept. 7, after an eight-month battle with cancer. He died peacefully, his family said, at a hospice in Rhode Island, where he had been born and lived much of his life.

I happened to be working the Saturday shift at The Providence Journal and happened to be checking Facebook between more pressing responsibilities when Elizabeth Massie's post alerted me to Bob's passing. Two coincidences? Or something more, as Bob's wife Mary, co-founder with him of NECON, the Northeastern Writers' Conference, told me on the phone later in the day. In any event, I decided to write his obituary. Having known Bob from years ago, when I was a young writer and regular NECON attendee, I knew my words would receive greater prominence in the Sunday paper than the usual obit. And had I not been pulling the shift, it is possible there would have been no writer-written obit at all.

Here's a link to Bob's obituary, which indeed ran prominently in the print edition: bannered across the top of page B7, the cover of the obit section this morning.

I reached out to several writers who knew Bob well for commentary, and I was able to use some of their words in the obituary. Early deadlines, alas, prevented me from including everything. And some writers got back to me too late to be included at all. So what follows is the full text of how some writers who did not make it to the obituary paid tribute. And there is, of course, the tribute on Bob's beloved Camp NECON page.

I have not been to NECON in years, but I was honored to have a story included in The Big Book of NECON, which Bob edited for Cemetery Dance Publications. NECON helped launched my horror and fantasy fiction -- and relaunch it during the last year and a half, thanks to old friends and connections made there, notably Tom Monteleone and David Niall Wilson, author and CEO of Crossroad Press, which now publishes my fiction.

RIP, Bob, you were loved and will be missed by many.

Among the tributes:

“Bob Booth was one of those rare people who translate passionate interest into action. As founder of NECON and all its related ventures, Bob created a warm, lively focus for writers of fantasy and horror. His affection and his playful version of respect meant an enormous amount to a great many people.”

 “Bob Booth was a bit of a renaissance man who loved sports and art and literature, He co-founded a convention where we writers became part of his family. He loved us and we loved him. And we're going to miss his big smiles and sharp wit.”

“Bob Booth had a brilliant mind, better informed and more interested in the world than almost anyone else.  He was a writer and editor, a mentor and friend.  As a father and husband, he was an example to everyone who knew him.  Other than his children, however, his most lasting legacy must be the founding of NECON, a small writer's conference held in Rhode Island every July.  For more than thirty years, and despite its intentionally small size, Necon has been one of the most influential conferences in the horror and dark fiction fields.  Its convivial, family reunion atmosphere, shepherded by Bob and his entire family, has created a camaraderie and intimacy amongst its regular attendees and wins over newcomers instantly.  Bob established the tone for Necon, so that the entire community became his family, and he became Papa Necon, beloved by all.
 “He was one of the kindest, gentlest, most genuine and most personally generous human beings it has ever been my good fortune to know. I do not expect I shall ever meet another like him.

“Bob Booth was many things.  He organized conventions, he wrote short stories, he raised a great family, he was a good friend.  But he was also one of the people who changed the face of fantasy literature.  Back more than thirty years ago, he was one of a select few that brought about the World Fantasy Convention.  Before this, science fiction and fantasy conventions were mostly for hard core fans, and, if they were covered at all in the media, that coverage would show pictures of people in funny costumes.  But Bob, along with a small group of like-minded writers and editors, started a convention that was about the writers and the writing itself.
“A few years later, he decided to start a second, smaller convention with the same goals..  The convention became NECON, a summer retreat for writers and serious readers that has now lasted for almost 35 years.  NECON was about horror fiction, and over the years featured guests who were a who's who of the field -- people from Stephen King to Joe Hill, and dozens of other writers in between, from best-sellers to folks who published in the small press. More importantly, a lot of these writers, big names and small, became regulars at the summer convention.  Writing can be a very lonely business. Bob had the unique gift of bringing writers together, not just to be friends, but over time to join an extended family.  Those of us who came year after year started to call this event Camp NECON, because it really felt like a wonderful summer camp.  And Bob was Papa NECON, the founder of it all, who was always there for all of us with a smile and a story or two.

“NECON will go on.  Bob did too good a job making it indispensable over the years.  But it will never be the same.”

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