Normally at conventions you get the term "Toastmaster", but, well, I tend to seem to dodge normal terms. One might wonder how Michael Hemmingson is a follow-up to an Eternal Toastmaster like Edward Bryant. Or think "Why Crack-Toast this time?!". The evolution of the title stems from William Vollmann having originally been slated as a Guest of Honour this year, and from certain works by both himself and our humble Crack-Toastmaster. Unfortunately Vollmann can't make it due to a personal conflict, but the influence remains.
Maybe because, in a way, I can see Michael Hemmingson living partly in Vollmann's shadow. Not entirely, obviously Hemmingson is known for writing endless amounts of fiction and we've all seen him in most of the magazines and anthologies out there (or so it feels, anyway) and we've heard him read fiction here at Death Equinox.
We've also heard him talk about Art Bell and drugs and being a good sleazy Cnidarian, and all sorts of other fun topics.
So Iíll stick with "partly", maybe even "very partly", and I'll explain my reasons for it.
I first heard about Vollmann from two people. One was Bruce, who was diligently reading some epic tome or other by him. The other was Mike, who told many a tale about Vollmann's dangerous adventures. It's easy to be fascinated by tales of someone surviving a car bomb that killed two of the other journalists with him.
Perhaps Mike himself was too fascinated with those types of tales.
In 1994 Mike Hemmingson was writing travel articles, and I do not mean the "hereís a nice place to visit" variety. As much as some of his fiction might stick in my head, the two things that stick the most are his articles from Brazil and Rwanda that year. People should read his articles rather than read about me giving too many details, so I'll be brief. I found myself feeling rather, well, moritifed and impressed as he detailed talking to child prostitutes in Brazil and, rather than glossifying it and spinning it with a PC "Won't somebody think of the children" theme, sticking as well as he could with the gritty details and the culture of it all.
Such a wonderfully depressing travel writer. He also gets deeply personal in his articles. You find yourself reading the dirt about him as well.
A corner of my brain was still glowing with pride about that Brazil article when I learned that Mike was headed for Rwanda. Right after I'd learned that things had gotten so bad in the genocide escalation there that Red Cross and journalists were being killed. I can't even begin to express how diametrically torn I felt at that moment.
Part of me wanted to scream and lecture him about how he was going to get killed and this was a completely ridiculous and insane thing to do. The other part of me was grateful that, if he survived, there would be at least one very serious, very personal, very gritty account of how things were there. So I yelled at him (via email) and told him he was nuts and he was going to get himself killed, and then I told him how proud I was and how much I was looking forward to reading what he would write about it.
He survived! Obviously! But you don't go through the experiences he went through there without it permanently impacting your psyche. Six years have passed, but I still feel depressed thinking about the resultant article. And impressed. Deeply impressed.
I remember when he first resurfaced in New York City and emailed a brief note about still being alive. He seemed a bit out of it. I was a bit out of it as well, I was recovering from a little heroin incident (an "I was in love with a junkie and had some passing stupidity" kind of incident). Perhaps he seemed a bit out of it for a long time to come... I know I was worried about him. It took a while for him to sort his mind out enough to write the article, but he managed to do it reasonably quickly.
And so it was with that event and article eternally stuck in my head -- with thoughts of numerous bloated corpses in rivers, and random sex in the face of too much death, and Mike burning his clothes in New York City because he thought he couldnít purge the rotting smell from himself -- that I decided he is a perfect choice for introducing and narrating Death Equinox.
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