The Livid Scar

Leading up to Halloween this year, I’ve been writing a bit about various things that scare me, and why. So far, I’ve gone through movies, poetry, and music. I’ve got a few more things I want to write about but it’s time to take a turn deeper inward and talk about books.

On this subject, books present a problem. Like movies, there’s lots to choose from — and, frankly, a lot of junk food. I’ve read my fair share of stories that deliver the literary equivalent of “rubber mask” shock without lasting resonance (or, to my sensibilities, quality).

I’ve spent most of my life carrying around books. Like an alcoholic hiding booze around the house, so I am with reading. They’re in my car, virtually every room of the house, at the office, in my briefcase — just within reach if I’ve got a free minute or no one’s looking.

Growing up, books were everywhere. Most of my family were (and still are) big time readers, everyone has something on their nightstand at the very least. Which meant that, as a kid, I had access to a lot of books that were way over my head. One of the best things that ever happened to me was the simple fact that my parents didn’t discourage or prevent me from exploring those things. I can remember them suggesting things, recommending that something might not be interesting or suitable, but I can’t recall a time when anyone ever said “You can’t read that.”

At a certain point, my older brother seemed to have a lot of horror books lying around. Teenagers.

I remember picking up a collection of early Stephen King short stories that I found in his room. I was probably ten or eleven years old. The book scared the crap out of me.

And I couldn’t stop reading it.

One of the stories — “The Bogeyman” — stayed with me for a very long time. There’s no surprise about this. King does an excellent job of capturing that innate fear that small children have of the closet door being open just a tiny bit. Since I was still a little kid, his explanation for why the closet always seemed to be ajar (see the title of the story) rang the hotline of my imagination over and over again. As such, it was years before I finally stopped checking closet doors before I went to bed. Sometimes I still do.

Worst (best?) of all, though is the story that leads off the collection. “Jerusalem’s Lot” owes a great deal to H.P. Lovecraft, something I didn’t realize until much, much later. As stories goes, it follows the classic arc of a man returning to the ancestral homestead only to discover dark secrets and influences lurking in his family’s history. I could write for pages about the varied themes that King (and Lovecraft et al) explore in these kinds of stories, but what I really want to tell you about is a moment near the ending of the story.

The protagonist has ventured into a secret basement/crypt and come face to face with some nasty relatives who still bear the marks of their own self-inflicted deaths. And, of course, they’re still alive. I won’t transcribe it here (it really is worth reading, if that’s your sort of thing) but King’s description of the sheer, evil lunacy in their eyes is excellent. Pure King distilling pure Lovecraft.

They stayed with me, those two. As a child, they were lurking behind every heating register (we didn’t have basements in California). I could feel their eyes on me.

And I can still see them, in my imagination, as vivid as when I first read (and then reread) the story as a child.

Twenty years ago, I spent a few months living alone in a twenty-room mansion in Santa Barbara, California. It was over a hundred years old and I made the mistake of reading Lovecraft for the first time while I was living there. I regret it now that I never really explored the whole of the house, from attic to basement.

But I had no doubt that, had I done so, those two ghouls from King’s story would have been there… waiting.

Strangers When We Meet

“We travel, some of us forever, to seek other states, other lives, other souls.”
– Anais Nin

Been back home for a week or so — well, going on two weeks now — and I’ve been following up with the handful of contacts, leads, and introductions I made while at the BookExpo America.

Apart from some good connections, the only other notable thing to come out of the trip was that I started writing the next project, my third novel. If you’ve been following me on Twitter, you might have noticed more references to gods than usual. You might as well settle in and get used to it, because that’s what the new project is about.

It’s a bit of a shift, really. I’d had another project planned and plotted, ready to start writing . . . but it just wasn’t there yet. Anything I did felt forced somehow. After a few weeks of working but not feeling it, I decided to set it aside and let my subconscious work on it a bit more.

It wasn’t the project’s fault. There was something off in me and I just couldn’t get in the right position to flip the switch.

If the other project felt forced and difficult, digging out our old notes and sketches was like coming home . . . and I’ve already slid into the work with a sigh of relief.

Who knows, maybe in a few years I’ll come back to the other project and find it’s right there, ready to go.

The second project — the new project, the god project — was one from five years ago that was originally meant to be a collaboration with the excellent Keeley Geary (now my most excellent wife). Although she’s graciously relinquished the story and characters into my hands, I expect she’ll still be involved in the plotting and development process — if for no other reason than I’ll keep asking her annoying questions and trying out ideas on her.

LaDawn Driscoll (a new Twitter friend) recently twittered the quote from Anais Nin above, which serves as a perfect compliment to this one from Homer’s The Odyssey: “For the gods are never strangers when they meet…”

Taken together, Homer and Nin do a pretty good job of summing up where Keeley and I started with this new story, way back when.

I’m not in a position to say much more about the new project just yet, but suffice it to say that I’ve got a lot of writing ahead of me.

And I’m looking forward to it.

But for the Grace

Well.

This is what it’s like: A big convention hall filled with booths, books and people everywhere. Thousands of them. It’s overwhelming sometimes and, eventually, all that I have left are little slices of memory and anecdote…

…stormtroopers in full regalia, posing for pictures with anyone who asked…

…the gorgeously plastic stepford drone handing out free books by L. Ron Hubbard, tempted to ask if he’s still writing…

…a familiar face from the night before, enviously listening as he tells me about the cheeseburger he picked up after all the parties; I’ve not eaten anything of real substance in 24 hours…

…stacks and stacks of free books, people dragging totes and crates on wheels full of them, weighed down with swag like something out of, well, Dante…

…the self-publishing ghetto — a sullen, heartbreaking ghost town; there but for the grace of God…

…the first-time author in the overstuffed chair at the Wizards of the Coast booth, probably half my age, giving me some much needed encouragement, good humor, and advice…

…Alec Baldwin, getting his coffee situated before signing a woman’s book…

…realizing that my left hand has been shaking for over three hours…

…weighed down with books thrust upon me, so glad when one or two of them look promising as something I might actually enjoy reading…

…reminding myself that I’m not here to browse, not here to stand in line with the fanboys — I’ve got more important things to do with my time…

…facing a room full of what should be agents but finding only empty tables, abandoned at the end of a long week…

…doing my best to not remind the exceptionally snotty and rude women from a UK publisher that we kicked their ass at Georgetown, once upon a time…

…calling my wife, listening to her answering machine message because her voice is all I have, all I need to make it over this…

…some very kind and friendly ladies from Chicago who keep handing me the various horror and fantasy titles they publish…

…a line of people wrapped around the center, Leonard Nimoy at a little table at the front…

…the semi-famous comedian and his wife and child, navigating the crowd and trying to ignore the people following them; again, there but for the grace…

…one last friendly, familiar face from the night before — a quick chat outside on the sidewalk, a welcome little flash of grace before the end of a long day.

There was more, but that’s the day in review.

My highest expectations were not met and I barely avoided my worst (all the way through Georgetown, ladies).

I made some good connections, I got some good leads, a few business cards.

I might have even made a friend.

Altogether, that’s more than I had when I started.

Once I get back, the real work begins.

But first . . . I need to eat something.

blak citins sleyp

It isn’t too far into the evening that I realize why Neil Gaiman always writes about food and sleep on his blog. Apparently there’s neither in the publishing world.

An open bar, however, makes up for a lot.

Despite the lack of anything remotely resembling food, I spent a perfectly nice Friday evening talking with people who have written lots of books and movies, or who help get them published and/or produced. Everyone was very kind to me and I met some very nice people.

While I might not want to do that sort of thing every Friday night, I’d be perfectly happy to talk about comic books with Chris Miller for a few more hours.

Here at the house, there’s a child’s drawing hanging over the stove which shows a scene from each point in the kittens’ day: “Citins Eet” and “Citins Pley” and “Citins Sleyp”.

No eet for me but I need sleyp. Tomorrow is the Expo.

I have no idea what to expect — so I have the highest and lowest of expectations.

I expect that’s all I can expect.

Sleyp now.

Five Black Kittens

I’ve made it to L.A., heading to a few parties tonight populated with the West Coast literati. So I’m a bit out of my element.

But I did get to lend a hand feeding five stray kittens that my hosts found a few days ago. The kittens are very tiny and had difficulty accepting the idea of an eyedropper as a nutritional source. However, enough got in them to serve as dinner. And now they’re all camped out in the bathtub, happily grooming themselves and squeaking every so often.

About to head out to the Black Clock party — which sounds very cool and Poe-esque to my ears, but I doubt it will go so far as to have people wearing red masks — and will spend an evening meeting famous people I’ve never heard of.

I should have studied, I think.