Back when DEFINING MOMENTS was about to be published, I sat down and wrote an author’s preface to the collection. The preface gives a bit of insight into each story included in the book. At the time, I didn’t know the book would get me another Bram Stoker nomination (two actually) or that one of the stories would actually win me the award for short fiction – which I am very proud of. At the time, it was a collection of words – stories chosen by editor / publisher Robert Morgan. Here’s what I had to say back in 2006…
* * *
I’m happy to have the opportunity to write an introduction to this collection, because it gives me a chance to talk about the stories that were chosen, why they were chosen, and where they fit in the great puzzle that is my life’s work. The process of creating this book was interesting, and I think the selections were very nearly perfect. Having over a hundred and thirty stories in print it isn’t easy to whittle that number down to thirteen, but we attacked them a pile at a time, and with Robert’s help, I think the representative pieces will do very well indeed.
I want to comment briefly on each of the thirteen tales, in no particular order, so that I can lend perspective to each piece and hopefully show how and why I came to write them. I don’t know if this is helpful to the reading experience, but I know that I’m usually fascinated when another author reveals their process. Here’s a bit of mine. (more…)
The moon hung high in the sky and lit the empty streets with a white, hazy glow. The radiance was painful to Father Prescott’s eyes, so brilliant that it cut through his senses and prevented focus on anything but the dirt of the street before him and a brighter light ahead.
He stumbled forward, though the sensation was of floating, not walking. The street was longer than he remembered, longer than it should be. He felt the weight of their eyes. They stood in doorways, between the homes, in the windows of stables and on the steps of the small adobe schoolhouse.
They followed him with their collective, accusing gaze. Every face was chiseled into a frown of disapproval, or of hatred. They stared at him like the liberated characters in an ancient painting of loss or damnation. They stared at him and he moved on, fighting to look away from their bitter faces, only to face them again in whatever direction he turned.
Ahead the light grew in intensity until it shone like a small sun, or a captured star. It sparked from the base of the chapel, leaped brightly to the sky and washed away the encroaching figures. Father Prescott wanted to hurry forward. He wanted to move into that brighter light, away from the eyes and the stares and the ancient pain that dogged his steps, but his progress was not his own to control.
As he drew nearer, he saw the statue. It pulsed like neon, or white hot metal, molded into the form of a man. Rays of light slashed from a gash in the side of the figure’s skull. Something beautiful and overpowering poured from that small hole and Father Prescott wanted to drop to his knees before it, but he couldn’t. He was held, prevented from drawing too near to the statue itself; prevented from escaping those who closed in now on all sides.
Shadow forms, their features clear, but their bodies obscured, melted into the light. He had the impression that they were pressing their features into the exterior of that light, pressing inward but unable to penetrate the glow.
He tried to cry out, tried to call to them, but he had no voice. He tried to raise a hand to his lips, but found that he couldn’t move his limbs, except in that inexorable march forward.
He came at last to a point in the road parallel with the leading edge of the chapel. The light surrounded him on all sides, and there was a SNAP of energy. He stood within the light, firmly rooted on the ground and able to walk.
The statue gleamed and glittered, flickering now with multi-colored beams of light. The radiance still emanated from the gash in the figure’s head. Father Prescott drew closer, and knelt in the hard packed dirt of the street. The eyes of the statue glared at him in dead, unfeeling anguish.
He noticed, a leather thong had been hung about the throat beneath that glowing head, and from this a pouch dangled. There was no radiance where the pouch touched – it was the single shadowed thing, and Father Prescott recognized it with a gasp.
It was not possible, he knew. This pouch could not be hanging here, and it was so long ago that any of this had happened and yet…
He reached out gently and tried to cup the leather bag in his fingers. It was slick and rubbery, and where he touched it, it grew damp. Frowning, Father Prescott pulled the thing away from the throat of the beautiful, glowing statue, but as he did so, something dripped from the interior of the bag onto his fingers, and from there to the ground at his feet.
He jerked his hand back, but it was too late. The sack began to leak, slowly at first, and then in a steady stream that poured over the white figure, washed down the statue’s body and leaked into Father Prescott’s skin. It spread rapidly upward, like a coffee-stain on paper leaking from the center outward until the entire statue grew dark – all but that hole in the side of its head. Where the dagger should be. Where the light poured out.
Father Prescott cried out and reached toward that light, tried to catch it in the palm of his hand, and failed. The brilliant illumination filtered through his fingers and splintered, fragmenting in all directions and then – very suddenly – went dark.
~ * ~
Father Prescott sat bolt upright on his cot. His skin was clammy and the sheets clung to him damply. His entire frame shook in the aftermath of the dream – vision?
It was still dark, hours before the sun would peek over the jungle and slip in his window. He drew the rough blanket at his feet back over himself, rolled into a ball, and pressed his back solidly into the stone wall of the room.
There was a rustle in the back of his mind. Something unfolded that was as familiar as his own voice, but spoken in another’s. It echoed through his mind, as he lay shivering and waiting for the dawn.
Just four words.
“I believe in God.”
The late afternoon sun filtered through the heavy blinds of Bishop Michaels’ office, striped the walls and angled just over the heads of the two men seated on either side of the ornate mahogany desk. Tapestries hung on the wall, and the deep pile carpet was thick and soft. The wooden furniture was polished to a high gloss and the sunlight gave each surface the aspect of mellow, glowing flame. Nothing in the office was new. It whispered of ancient times, and power.
Crystal goblets surrounded a carafe that rested on a sumptuous buffet along one wall. The leather of both chairs creaked with each slight motion, and the air hung thick with silence.
Bishop Anthony Michaels sat in his dark, comfortable chair, and regarded the young priest across the desk from him over steepled fingers. The Bishop was the epitome of decorum. He had light blue eyes and a ruggedly handsome face. His hair was dark, graying at the temples – a look that was very distinguished when taken in conjunction with the carefully pressed vestments and the manicured nails. No hair was out of place. No crease or fold of material was out of order. Ordered, in fact, was the word to describe it all, ordered and proper. Immaculate.
On the desk before him sat an array of documents. Some were clipped from newspapers, others were photocopies and faxes, and all were arrayed like a silent army readying itself for the attack. The Bishop didn’t look at them, but the tips of his fingers rested on the papers firmly.
Seated across from him, Father Quentin Thomas leaned in toward the Bishop’s desk. He had tousled brown hair, matching eyes, and a trim, athletic build. He was not as “immaculate” as the Bishop, but perhaps a bit more honest. His eyes had a dark, haunted aspect that spoke of weariness beyond his thirty-four years.
“So,” Bishop Michaels said at last, “what you are asking me to believe, in essence, is that you have experienced The Stigmata.”
It wasn’t a question, but a statement, as though the older man were gathering his thoughts.
Father Thomas replied, his voice quiet and strained.
“I’m not sure what I’m asking you to believe. I’m not even sure what I believe.”
“There is certainly no doubt what these — people — believe.” the Bishop replied, flipping the ordered papers into a jumbled mess with a quick slash of one hand. “People are easily manipulated, Quentin, as I’m sure you have come to know in your own right. The question is, to what are they being led?”
Father Thomas didn’t glance at the papers. He knew well enough what they were. Letters to the Editor. Headlines from “The Rooftop,” a local tabloid newspaper. Faxes from Quentin’s own parishioners, and from The Vatican, and a small paper clipped pile of requests from the local television station. All of them wanted the same thing. Answers.
Bishop Michaels slowly swiveled his chair and gazed out the large, curtained window into the blue sky beyond. He rubbed the fingers of his left hand along the bridge of his nose, and then curled them under his chin. He remained that way for a few moments, and then he spoke.
“I have been a part of the church since I was a young man, Quentin. I have seen a lot of things over those years, and borne witness to a great many – experiences — that I can neither explain, nor understand.”
Father Thomas sat forward expectantly, hanging on the Bishop’s words. His hands trembled.
Then, without warning, Bishop Michaels spun back to face Father Thomas, slammed his hands down onto the desk and scowled at the younger priest.
“I have never heard anything like this.”
He hesitated to let his words sink in. His expression slipped from its austere, almost fatherly aspect to an expression of deep disdain. He continued, biting off each sentence as if he was having a hard time passing the words.
“Your hands itched. You felt something trickle down your forehead in the heat of Easter Mass. You had a stitch in your side – and your feet hurt. Do I really need to tell you, Father Thomas, that these hardly constitute a miracle? You’d be hard pressed to find a priest in Mother Church who has not experienced each and every one of these symptoms during a Mass.”
Father Thomas sat back as if he’d been slapped. His eyes were wide in shock, and his mouth fell open, though it took him several attempts to form words.
“Surely,” he said at last, “you don’t believe I would make something like this up? I know you heard what I said. I did not have itchy palms; I bled in front of my congregation. It ran down my arms – my face.”
He fell silent for a few moments, and then he went on, the tone of his voice far away and bitter. He choked back anger – or tears – but when he spoke, it was controlled.
“I came to you for help.”
Bishop Michael’s countenance remained icy, but he leaned forward over his desk. His hands gripped the edge of the wooden surface so tightly his knuckles were white spots of tension.
“Then I will grant you that help,” he replied. “Make no mistake; I will put this nonsense to rest.”
Father Thomas sat still as stone. His face was trapped halfway between confused anger and hope. He had never seen the Bishop so angry, never seen him lose his calm demeanor, even for a moment. He didn’t recognize the man facing him across the desk, but he very much wanted to be able to trust him.
Bishop Michaels caught that glimmer of hope, and stomped on it quickly and viciously.
“Don’t mistake me, Father Thomas, I see through you. I don’t know how you did what you did, or why. I don’t know what you think you saw or felt, or what you sold to those appointed to your care, nor does it concern me. If I had the slightest inkling that you had experienced a miracle that inkling died when you told me, not more than a few minutes ago, that you don’t even know what you believe.
“I know that there is something to this, but I know equally well that it is not a miracle from God. Miracles, in this day and age, are rare, and very precious. I will not have you making a mockery of them in a parish under my control.
“I also have no idea what we are going to do about these,” he swiped his hand through the pile of papers, and the frustration behind his anger shone through clearly.
Father Thomas remained rigid, as if all flexibility had been lost to his limbs, but he managed to respond, and he managed to do so in a clear, level voice.
“It is nearly Easter, Excellency,” he said simply. “All that I have asked of you is that you attend, and, if something like what occurred a year ago should return to me, that you should see, and advise me.”
The Bishop smiled then, but it was not a pleasant expression. He pushed off from his desk, fell back into the heavy leather of his chair, and laced his fingers together, holding them against his chest.
“And what is it that I will see, Quentin?” he asked smugly. “Will there be lots of blood? Will I hear angel choruses in the background? Will there be souvenir programs handed out at the door, do you think, or will I have to purchase that? What would be the price, I wonder? Will the walls tremble? Will I get to be on national television and cry ‘Praise Jesus’ like some white-suited flame-tongued televangelist?”
The sarcasm hung in the air like a bitter cloud.
Michaels hesitated, just for a second, and then said, “I will be there. Count on it.”
Father Thomas stared at the Bishop for a moment of unbelieving silence, and then lowered his head. He nodded slowly and turned, his shoulders bowed. He had come expecting something; he didn’t know what it had been, but not this. The Bishop’s reaction had shocked him to his core. He exited without reply, leaving the heavy wooden doors open behind him.
Bishop Michaels watched the doorway until all trace of Father Thomas disappeared, and the soft brush of robes and vestments ceased to echo. The afternoon had grown late, and the light that streamed in through the windows had fallen away. The shadows lengthened slowly, stretching out from all corners of the room and following the light.
On the edge of the old wooden desk, the Bishop’s grip tightened again. His nails threatened to dig into to the polished surface, and his hands trembled so powerfully that the shivers ran up his arm and shook him back to his senses. Almost absently, he reached out and gathered the scattered papers back into a neat stack.
He stared at the doorway where Father Thomas had disappeared and fought back the anger that threatened to boil out of control. He didn’t glance down at his desk, because there were loose objects on that surface, and he didn’t trust himself not to throw them. There were beautiful, ancient things surrounding him, on the desk, the shelves, hanging from the walls, and he was on the verge of devastating it all, rushing around the room to smash the Tiffany lamp into an ancient Sumerian vase, or to yank the hand-woven rug from beneath the table that held his cut-crystal.
When he had slowed his breathing enough to trust his hands, he released the desk and reached to the bottom right hand drawer. There were two tumblers there, and a small flask. He pulled one tumbler and the flask free, and poured two fingers of amber liquid. He stared at it, frowned, and then tipped the flask again, doubling it.
When the heat of the brandy began to seep through his nerves and calm him, he poured again, and reached across the now shadowed surface of his desk for the ornate black phone.
~ * ~
On a nightstand across the world, another phone rang. The shrill sound drove itself through the darkness and snatched the room’s occupant from the warm, comfortable arms of sleep.
Cardinal Sean O’Brien, thick, swarthy, and not at all happy at the prospect of being awakened before his appointed hour, rolled in his bed and pulled the pillow more closely over his head. It did no good. The phone was loud, insistent, and came with none of the amenities of American phones – like an answering machine.
Groaning, O’Brien rolled over and slapped ineffectually at the nightstand, nearly overturning the glass of water he kept by his side at night. As he came fully awake, his fingers regained their dexterity, and he managed to snag the receiver from its cradle with an irritated grunt.
“Yes?” he said.
The sound of someone breathing was the only answer for a long moment, then, Bishop Michaels’ voice crackled over the line.
“Sean?” he said. “It’s Tony. I . . . I’m sorry to call. It’s so late. I should just let you . . .”
O’Brien sat up and ran his hand back through what remained of his hair. He was alert now, and he detected something odd in his old friend’s voice. Something he knew he should recognize, but that did not come to him immediately.
“It’s fine, Tony,” he said. “You never were one for ceremony, in any case. What is it?”
“I’m not sure,” Bishop Michaels replied. There was a slight slur to his voice, and suddenly Sean knew what it was he’d heard. Tony was drinking. It had been a long time since he’d last helped his friend with that particular demon, but once the circuits connected in his mind, Sean knew.
“It’s San Marcos, and Father Thomas. You remember I told you about the – disturbance last Easter Mass? Since then things have gotten a little crazy here, Sean. The media is up in arms . . .”
Sean thought quickly. There were a number of ways this could be headed, and he didn’t like any of them, but if he chose wrong, he would be no help to his friend.
“So,” he said softly, “I take it you still think there’s nothing to it?”
“How could there be, Sean?” Bishop Michaels asked. He sounded as if he were pleading, as if he needed someone to either back up his opinion or set him straight quickly.
“This is California,” Michaels continued, “not the Holy Land, or even the Vatican. Oddballs and lunatics are regular citizens here – and the Church has had its fair share. I’m sure I’m on the speed dialer of every tabloid reporter and crackpot in the city.”
Cardinal O’Brien leaned back against his headboard and focused. He knew that Tony wanted something, something he could provide, but he wasn’t sure if it was help – or just a set of ears to listen, or a wall to bounce this off of. It was critical that he figure it out, because if the slur remained in the Bishop’s voice, they’d have to send someone in – and Cardinal O’Brien did not want to see his old friend in that position.
“What can I do,” he asked at last.
“I’m not sure,” Michaels replied, his voice weary. “I’m not sure if I can do anything, either, but I intend to try.”
“How,” Sean asked.
“I wanted to give you a heads up, Sean,” Michaels said wearily. “I intend to attend the Easter Mass at San Marcos this year. I’m going to film it – cameras directly on Father Thomas. The media will be excluded, of course. I’ve called in favors from the local police. They’ll be lined up in the parking lots and on the road, probably even bring in helicopters, but they won’t get into the church.”
“Is that wise,” Sean asked. “How will the parish react? Do they support him? Are they afraid? We wouldn’t want to seem intrusive, or harsh.”
“I’ll keep it all as low key as I can,” Bishop Michaels said. “I will do everything in my power to make it seem routine, as if maybe we want to have the film for training, or a documentary. I’ll even pretend to believe, if it can help us through this and on to normalcy. Something. I won’t come across as the ogre, but I have to set this to rest.”
The line went silent for a moment, and Cardinal O’Brien broke that silence.
“What if you can’t?”
“That’s what you’re there for, isn’t it Sean?” There was a light chuckle at the other end of the line, and Sean relaxed slightly.
He stared off into the shadows of his dark bedroom. His mind was drifting, and he was thinking about other churches, other places, and other times. He shook his head, realizing the line had remained silent for too long.
“Try to keep an open mind, Tony,” he said softly. “Call me, one way or the other, the minute the services have concluded.”
“Of course,” Bishop Michael’s chuckled again. “That’s why I called you now, Sean. If this thing blows up in my face, I know you’ll be there to wipe it off – but if it doesn’t, I expect full credit for my good deeds.”
They both laughed for a moment, then O’Brien’s tone grew grave once again, and he asked.
“How have you been, Tony?” He hesitated, and then added, “You sound a little more tense than usual. Maybe you should pack up your things and pay a visit to Rome – unwind a little.”
There was silence, just for a second, and then Michaels chuckled again.
“When this all blows over,” he said, “I might just do that. It’s been a very long time.”
“That it has,” O’Brien agreed in mild relief.
“Get some sleep, Sean. I’m sorry to have woken you so late. I spoke with Father Thomas, the priest I mentioned, earlier this afternoon, and it just wouldn’t let me go, you know?”
“I do,” O’Brien replied. “More than you know, Tony. Sleep, now, that has never been a problem for me. May God be with you, old friend.”
“And also with you,” Bishop Michaels replied.
There was an audible click, and then the dial tone blared to life. Cardinal O’Brien sat for a while, holding the receiver in his hand as the tone buzzed angrily through the silence. Then, as if waking from a light doze, he stared at it and placed it back onto the cradle, returning the room to silence.
He thought briefly of another man, a younger man. The Cardinal reached up without thought and pressed against his nightshirt with the palm of one hand. He felt the familiar bulge of soft leather, and he stroked it as he thought. Father Prescott was in South America, but he would be returning soon. If things progressed… Still, that was something to think about only if necessary.
He lay back, stared at the intricate pattern of shadows on his ceiling, and off to sleep.
I have become alarmed over my short period as a publisher by what seems to be a significant lack of concern on the part of my fellow authors toward their own work. Most of us are good at keeping backups of the work in progress, getting through the edits, and getting a book to print, but what is SORELY lacking is an understanding of the importance of “maintaining” those works. Seriously. You spend all that time – all those hours of your life – creating a novel…and you don’t even have a file copy of it? The only thing you have is some old paperbacks in the garage, or maybe a file on a floppy disk your last two computers wouldn’t even read?
This is important, so listen up – particularly in this new age of digital magic, where old words can come back to life and reach out to new readers. If you don’t keep a copy of your book, no one will. It takes very little time and effort to make an archive copy of your books, and being text, they really take up very little space…here are some things to consider.
Keep only the latest draft of books. Don’t allow for the mistake of an older version making it back into circulation – or bypassing copy-edited versions in the publishing process – unless there is a reason to preserve the earlier draft – like a removed chapter, or a shift in plot required of you by a publisher.
Keep a file copy of every book and story you write on your computer. Get something like a Dropbox.com account and put a copy there too (Tell them I sent you, I’ll get free space). ALWAYS have the words available to you quickly and easily.
When you upgrade or change operating systems or Office products, convert your old files to the new format and save them again. If you wait too many versions, you may lose formatting, or not be able to open the file at all. When you update the copy on your computer, update the backup copy as well. It REALLY won’t take that long.
When you turn in a manuscript, and the publisher comes back to you for edits, and you create that final, clean copy – SAVE IT. Don’t save just your working copy that will have to be copy-edited all over again. Also save .pdf proofs if they are sent to you. This way you have the cleanest manuscript possible if you need it again.
It doesn’t matter if you are writing licensed, work-for-hire fiction, short stories, poetry, lyrics, or the Great American Novel. Make sure that once you do the work, you don’t LOSE the work.
I have become a lot more aware of this as I work to bring back the nearly lost books of a number of Crossroad Press authors. It’s good that technology and an IT background have allowed me to scan, recompile, and resurrect these old manuscripts. I hope that the authors I’ve done it for have taken the files and saved them – but if they haven’t? I have. Other publishers and companies are charging what I consider exorbitant amounts of cash to do what we do for our authors free of charge…if those authors had maintained their books and files and stories, there would be no such service necessary.
If you are an out-of-print author, and looking to get your old books back into the hands of readers…drop me a line at email@example.com – drop by our store, http://store.crossroadpress.com and see what we’ve already done…
Care for your words…
This is another excerpt from my Live Journal back in the day. One of my friends – someone I lost back then, D. G. K. Goldberg, she of the sharp wit and love of NASCAR, sent me some questions one day as a sort of “challenge,” or “meme,” or whatever. I answered them…this is what I said. I’m saddened to see that some oriental spam-bot website has assumed control of the url dgkgoldberg.com – but in actuality, I can imagine what she would have said/written about it, and smile…
Current mood: amused
Current music: Still Nick Cave…
Questions From dgkgoldberg and answers from Me
This is a five question “challenge” sort of interview spawned in the live journal of dgkgoldberg I decided to post her questions and my answers here so everyone could share in the nonsense. Besides, I almost never get interviewed….
1. What do you know now that you wish you had known when you started writing?
This is obviously a trick question assuming that I know things now. I can hardly even figure out where to START an answer, because if I’d known any particular thing, all the other things that led up to me knowing the rest of what I know would be skewed. I guess that if there was one thing I sort of hoped to be true at the beginning, but know to be true now, it’s simply that I am good enough to do it. The writing, I mean. When I started outI was not good enough – I was the best who ever lived and would soon eclipse everyone. Now I know that the truth is simply that I have some things to say, and a way of saying them, that people are interested enough to read, and in the end, it’s better than eclipsing things would be. If you cause an eclipse, one side of you always gets burned.
2. What is the one item for resale that you would most like to come across and resell?
There are a lot of things that would fall on the most like to find column, but the hard part is making yourself resell. I think if you are talking actual items that really exist, I would like to find that last existing copy of The Declaration of Independence that is still missing. Why? Not because it’s the most valuable thing I could find, because it isn’t, though I’d be rich for the rest of my life after selling it. The reason is because I’d like to hold it in my hand, read the words inscribed there for myself, and then – when I got the chance to return it to the country and to whatever weasel-snouted politician is currently called Mr. President to his face and a laughingstock on the Jay Lenno show, I’d get the chance to commentate. I have a lot to say about the Declaration of Independence, the rights of Americans, and the country in general, and I think if I found and resold that particular piece of parchment, I might get the chance to make those comments, and actually have a few people hear them. It would be spitting in the wind, but at least – for a change – it would be my spit.
Barring that, there are some lost films that no copies of have survived that it would be cool to locate in a frigid vault somewhere.
If you allow the fanciful, I’d probably take something simple like The Holy Grail, or Jesus’ actual remains – both of which would be worth enough to bankrupt the Catholic church. I remember what happened when a guy found that body in a novel called “Another Roadside Attraction,” though, and it might be more trouble than it’s worth.
3. What is the one thing that if you came across it at a yard sale you would most fear?
Hmm. A lot of things would bring downright terror, but the question says specifically at a yard sale. Again, you open two doors with one question. Should I be artsy and interpret this to mean anything real or fanciful, or should I interpret it as straightforward and pertaining to something one might find at a yard sale.
Cursed objects would bring me that fear, particularly if the person ‘s item was up for sale because the curse took them out. Let’s do this with a bulleted list, all organized and some junk:
· A painting of myself, beginning to molder right where my hair is thinnest on top? · A cheesy romance novel with #1 Bestseller at the top, a raunchy pirate bending back a buxom maid with my byline on it in a dusty box of books I didn’t write, dated 3001? · A sealed, carved box with a label that says “If found, please return to Pandora”· Any relic or holy object that proved the narrow-minded Christians have been right all along.· Any relic or holy object that proved Christians were, without a doubt, absolutely WRONG, because it would be like a train wreck. I would have to buy it, and I would have to make it known, and they would kill me, as they have so many others – not to protect their faith, but to protect their power.
4. Which writer who has not been alive in your lifetime would you most like to spend an evening with?
It I only get an evening, I would have to go with Byron. I love his poetry, and only the dim among us don’t know he has inspired everyone up through Stephen King. He wrote about vampires, and he provided us with lines like, “She walks in beauty, as the night…” while instilling Polidori with dreams of Dracula, and Mary Shelley those of Frankenstein. He played Cricket though he was lame, and drank like a fish (thankfully before there was any driving to be done, and in any case, he was rich enough to BE driven). I think the night would be memorable, and if he can send others off with the inspirations that became classics, why not myself?
Many who know me would have guessed the Marquis de Sade, who, while a horrible author of porn and nonsense, was also a brilliant man, but I suspect he wouldn’t have been much fun at dinner, and I’d hate to think what sort of entertainment he might provide.
5. If you had to be a character in a book and live it out as it was written who would you be and in what book?
I could cheat again. I could say Judas Iscariot from “This is My Blood” – my own novel, because I would be the real hero of the gospel, and being a vampire-born-of-fallen-angels would still be alive to tell the tale, but that would be wrong.I think I’d have to say I’d like to be Roland of Gilead in King’s Gunslinger novels. He’s a hero, and a desperado, an asshole, and a legend. He had abilities and memories that others can only dream of, and his destiny? To save not only this world, but all worlds…or die trying. He has loved, been loved – yep. Roland of Gilead for me.
Of course, I wouldn’t turn my nose up at being Harry Potter, though his life tends to suck at times. (Don’t’ they all?).
This is the entry I made long ago about Bunting Miles’ tombstone, which does, indeed, still live in our living room, propped up against the NEW fireplace. It’s an interesting story. We have since learned that he was probably a laborer, a black man living in a portion of Norfolk that used to be called something else. We have not been (quite) able to track relatives. He is welcome right where he is, if he traveled with the stone. We’ve had some odd, ghost-like goings-on near where the stone has been placed for years…anyway, here’s what I wrote a few years back:
|deep_bluze (deep_bluze) wrote,
@ 2004–03–05 08:41:00
|Current music:||Bauhaus – 1979-1983 – Volume II|
I own a tombstone. It isn’t MY tombstone, but it does live in my living room (perhaps not so well named), propped against the fireplace in the main living room where all our most precious, gaudy, and should-be-living-in-a-Victorian Whorehouse furniture, gold gilt, dark velvets, old wood are kept. And Bunting. Bunting Miles, to be precise.
Years back, my good friend Richard Rowand came to visit. Richard was then editor of a sci-fi mag called STARSHORE – four glorious, full-color national distribution issues, one of which carried “A Candle in the Sun,” My first really big sale, the story that was reprinted in Karl Wagner’s Year’s Best Horror (despite his threat never to print anything with a vampire in it) and later became This is My Blood, my first critically acclaimed work (that no mass-market place will touch, despite the great PW review). But that’s neither here nor there.
Richard came to visit me in a house I’d just bought at the time (long gone down the drain of bad marriage and bankruptcy). He brought a house-warming gift. Sort of.
He brought me a concrete tombstone. It is so old the material threatens to crumble slowly away. It is marked, simply, Bunting Miles – who died in 1867 ( or it could be 1857, I will put up a picture, eventually). I have searched the net. I have contacted the freaking MORMONS who have a great database for this. I have consulted libraries, the 1870 census, have discussed it at length over food and wine and whiskey and I cannot find a trace of this man. I do not know who he is, where he came from. I have his tombstone. Every year I put lilies on it and drink a glass of cognac while I’m watching them wilt.
The tombstone came in a load of fill dirt. The fill dirt was delivered to Richard’s neighbor, and when he went to spread it, there was the stone. The dirt came from either Portsmouth VA or North Carolina. It was delivered to Virginia Beach. The neighbor, knowing Richard was “Strange,” brought it to him. Richard’s wife, who is NOT strange, consigned it to his garage, and later on, just wanted it gone. Thus it passed to the next strangest acquaintance up the chain. Me.
The fact is, it probably leaped and bounded its way to the top of the strange pile, because I kept it. I have tried to find its original home.
I’ve had it suggested that this was the marker of a freed black slave, or a native American. I have had it suggested the fill dirt actually came from the ballast in the bottom of a cargo ship and could be European. Many scenarios have been offered. At one point I was nearly certain I’d nailed it down to a freedman who worked a farm in Virginia who actually worked for an ancestor of mine, but that fizzled.
I intend, when time permits (soon I hope) to put a link from www.deepblues.net called the Hunting Bunting page with all pertinent info in pace. I’d love to bring him home.
If not, there’s probably a book in the hunt somewhere…
I’ve decided that, while I wait for the final bit of this project to come to pass and fall into place, that I’ll try and find where I was when it first began. I wrote a post in my Live Journal back in December of 2003. That was the day that I announced that the publisher of the upcoming collection, Lost & Found, had greenlighted the project and that we could begin work. It seems like a lifetime ago, but things are what they are. Everything has shifted around me, and so, I will go back to those early days and remember the work that I did – the stories I wrote, and why, and share it all again here…
Lost & Found will be a book of stories inspired by the kinetic art of Lisa Snellings. Lisa has inspired my writing more than once, including providing the original inspiration for the noveltte that became my novel Deep Blue. When I realized that I was not the only person she inspired, and that at least one other author had written a number of pieces brought to life through her images, I got the idea to invite that other author, and Lisa, to create a book with me. That book will be Lost & Found – and at this writing it is one half a story from completion – just waiting on my much more famous and incredibly harried collaborator to find some days / time to do it justice. Not going to dwell on that – going to remind everyone of my own part in this ongoing project.
Here is what I wrote back in 2003 about the story that would become “Square Magic,” and that is inspired by a photograph of one of Lisa’s 3D pieces, “The Bendyman”. That story is complete, and spooky, and waiting on my hard drive to be released on an unsuspecting world…
Here’s what I wrote:
deep_bluze (deep_bluze) wrote,
@ 2003-12-12 13:22:00
At this point, I tried not to let anything leap fully formed into my mind. I work better that way, I think, with a vague image, but no set-in-stone outcome. What ended up sticking in my mind was an image Lisa named “The Bendyman.”
If I get the okay from Lisa, I may link to a picture of the 3D art piece that she photographed to give you a better idea of what I was looking at. The Bendyman is a crouching, leering, harlequin character with a truly evil expression on his face. He is crouched sort of Batman style, one hand on the ground before him. On the ground at his feet, much smaller than he is, so he looms over her, is a woman. She is on her hands and knees, hair draped down to cover her features. Over her is a dome shaped cage that might have been formed by bending down the monkey bars on a playground.
The image evokes several sensations immediately. You get a sense of something repressed. Something trapped deep inside, and very powerful, will not release her. You get the impression of something larger than life behind that repression, something – or someone – that she can’t escape, and an underlying sense that this force, or presence, is active, malevolent, and filled with glee over the situation. It’s a powerful piece of art.
That is the foundation. What swirls around that foundation, currently, is a sort of whirlwind of images and ideas I’ve already been playing with. I don’t know a better way to describe it. I go over and over the current obsessions in my mind, and then, eventually, one overlays itself onto the foundation I’m trying to fit, and catches. That is how I got to where I am now. Where that is, is the beginning.
I have had a long time fascination with Talismanic magic. I once owned a book that explained how the sigils of demons, elementals, and angels were to be discovered. This involves, according to the source I read, taking the number that is associated with whatever force you are interested in, and then finding the “magic square” for that number. A magic square, for those uncertain, is – in this case – a square divided into rows of smaller squares. In the smaller squares are numbers, and in every direction you can go, in all rows, they add up to the same number. This gives you a backdrop for drawing the sigil. Then there is another process by which you take the name of whatever it is you are trying to summon, or control, or draw some quality from, and you trace the numbers involved with that name across the magic square. The resultant design is a sigil of supposed power.
Anyway, all of that is neither here nor there. I have no evidence, one way or the other, as to the efficacy of such a process, but it got me thinking. Then I read a story about the folklore behind hopscotch. I started to wonder what might happen if you played hopscotch on a magic square. I started to wonder a lot of things, and when I wondered them at the right time, I saw a hopscotch square warped and bent over the figure of a woman, over-looked by a leering harlequin, and I started to write. Thus far, I have finished the first 1000 words. The working title of the tale is “Square Magic.
Today I decided to try and go back through my old Live Journal in search of the first time I mentioned a particular project. That project, a three-way collaboration that is very important to me, turned out to date all the way back to December of 2003. In fact, it dates back to about a week before Katie was born – because when I found it, I also found another memory – the realization that Trish and I were going to create a life together…a collaboration of a much more intimate and important kind…still in progress, and doing very well, in case you wonder.
I discovered a lot of things digging through all those years of blog posts. I found, for instance, that I used to post every day. I always talked about writing, because I was always writing. We were in our “American Pickers” stage, using eBay and local auctions to fill in the gaps in our ability to pay bills – so there were descriptions of antiques and collectibles. I actually reviewed every CD in my collection (at least the ones I had at work) which was about 200 reviews…four or five a day.
Now I post irregularly. I write the same way. I am caught up in ghost-writing projects to supplement our income, which takes up a lot less of our house than the eBay business did, but also takes up a lot of creative energy…and I post about publishing. Digital publishing, audiobooks – I’m caught up in a whole lot of new things that I hadn’t even dreamed up back in 2003.
I’m going to go digging some more and find some of the cool things I posted back then…and share them here. I’m also going to try to be more “in the moment” – more creative, and more “real.” AND…
If that one author out there who could finish the project I went all the way back in time to discover the roots of sees this (unlikely as he is immeasurably more famous than I am and incredibly busy) I hope he finds the other half of the words needed for the last story in that book…
I want to see it published…and to see what people think. I finished my five stories for the book back in 2005 – and I have records (in the Live Journal) of the process of writing most of them. Those are five stories no one has read…and that makes me sad…because it’s readers that matter. Writers are a dime a dozen…
Sometimes you have to step back, consider your options, and punt. A few years ago I wrote a book titled Vintage Soul. This book was loosely based on a plot that I tried to sell long ago for White Wolf’s World of Darkness. They didn’t like it – it didn’t fit their universe. The idea stuck with me. Don’t get me wrong – there is no WOD in my novel…just the basic conflict between a magician and a vampire.
Anyway. I wrote the novel, building it around the character “Donovan DeChance,” Donovan DeChance is a supernatural jack of all trades. He’s a collector of old books, manuscripts, and spells, which he is in the process of scanning and archiving onto a huge computer memory array. He works as a private investigator and troubleshooter in times of supernatural crisis. The darker, inhuman elements of the city come to him when things are going wrong, or when they need a particular spell or ancient secret. Donovan understands the balance of powers in the universe, and has dedicated his life to seeing they remain balanced. It has been a very long, very interesting life.
That first book, about the kidnapping of a beautiful 300 year old vampire, came out a coulpe of years ago (two years after being written) and it died on the vine. It was bought for an SF / Fantasy line that died before it was published, and moved to that company’s mystery line, where no one (apparently) knew what to do with it. It got decent reviews, but few sales. It’s now remaindered, and I’ve retrieved the rights. I have also collected comments from fans and readers and have great ideas for revising it before it ever sees the light of day.
Meanwhile, though, expecting that it would NOT flop, I wrote another novel. This novel, Heart of a Dragon, is also based on an older idea – a story I published long ago in Deathrealm Magazein and that has been reprinted at least once in collections. That story was “In His Heart Live Dragons,” the story of a young artist named Salvatore Domingo Sanchez. I incorporated that into a new Donovan DeChance novel, and I have to say – I think it’s one of the best things I’ve ever written. It is ALSO a pre-cursor to Vintage Soul, chronologically. This is what I’ve done.
My own company, Crossroad Press, has released “Heart of a Dragon” in all the various eBook formats. It has become Volume I in the DeChance Chronicles. I will be revising Vintage Souland possibly even retitling it, and bringing it in as Book II – both will also have audiobooks available and down the road, print editions. The third book, “Kali’s Tale,” will follow eventually. The hope is that a fandom will build,. If you like series books like The Dresden Files, you should love Donovan DeChance. If you like the idea of a book collector as a hero…it’s another plus. I also plan on ding some shorter pieces that will be “origins” stories for various players in the novel…Donovan, his lover Amethyst (who is a Geomancer by trade) possibly Club Chaos, the local underworld/overworld gathering place … Old Martinez from the Barrio…there are a lot of shorter pieces I could write to fill in gaps. I intend to have fun with this, and I hope it will build into something special. With that in mind, I offer you the links to HEART OF A DRAGON – it’s only $3.99 for Kindle, Sony, Ipad, Kobo, and almost any eBook device you can imagine. Unabridged audio to be announced soon, once a narrator is lined up for the series. I hope you’ll read with me and meet Salvatore Domingo Sanchez, a young artist with an amazing ability – The Dragons, the bike club that befriends him, Old Martinez, sorcerer and guardian of the Barrio, Anya Cabrera, crazed Voodoo priestess, and — of course – Donovan, his cat Cleo, and Amethyst. I hope you’ll love them as much as I do.
—David Niall Wilson
You can buy Heart of a Dragon at:
Style is a word you see tossed about a lot in literary circles. There have been epic battles fought over stylistic writing vs. plot-driven writing vs. character driven writing. There are authors who understand words and punctuation and the painting of images in sequences of letters so well that they can twist and turn the language into intricate pretzels of brilliance…and there are an even larger number claiming “style” to hide a lack of proper grammatical understanding, or a simple misunderstanding of the term.
My take on it is as simple as my take on most of the big writing arguments. In fact, let me qualify this by stating my opinion on most such squabbles up front. If you are arguing over style, or plot, or who is right about what particular aspect of the craft of writing, you aren’t writing. If you spend all your time worrying over how other work, or whether you are doing it “right” then you aren’t concentrating hard enough to actually create anything useful. Creation requires your full attention – don’t waste it on irrelevant nonsense, because, in the end, if you don’t actually create something it’s all so much wasted breath.
Style is what it is. While I believe you can recognize a style that you like, emulate it, study it, twist it and turn it – it isn’t your style until it develops into something so ingrained in your psyche that it occurs without thought. It’s like I tell my oldest daughter, who is fond of telling everyone how she likes to be random. If you are trying to be random, it’s not random. If you are trying to write with a particular style you may be in a developmental stage, but it can’t be considered completely your own. I would go so far as to say that even if you absolutely LOVE the style of another author, unless it molds itself to your mind and becomes something entirely new, you are writing in someone else’s style, and can never be more than a reflection.
I wrote early on in this piece about influences. You can’t avoid them, and should not try. On the other hand, you also can’t get caught up in them. Like drinking, or television, or video games – if you let yourself get too tangled up in one influence or another, you will lose yourself, and if you don’t personally have anything to say, why are you writing? If you don’t believe your own words, in your own style, will reach out and grab people – or get your message across – or do justice to the voices in your head, what is the point? It’s not arrogance to believe you are as good as anyone out there, it’s mental survival. Never strive to be second best, or the next “so-and-so” – strive to make what you are a thing that others envy and want to emulate. Be the first you.
And with that in mind, a bit about style. Just like everything in the arts, you have to be careful with that hat that says “stylist” on it. The publishing world, and subsequently the world of readers and consumers, is very fond of labels. The thing about literary labels is that they come with their own particularly sticky and difficult to wash off adhesive. If you write a horror novel, and it does well, you are a horror writer. You can overcome this over time – particularly if you are a pretty successful author, like Dean Koontz, or Poppy Z. Brite – but it’s not an easy task.
The problem from the publisher’s side of the fence is a simple matter of marketing. To create a best-selling author, you begin by publishing and marketing that first book – and you build on it. You try to create a recognizable brand – a product you can quantify, qualify, and pop onto the right shelf. If the aforementioned horror writer turns in a mainstream novel or a mystery, you have to either build parallel paths (possibly with one genre under a pseudonym to keep from getting it all messy) or start all over in the new genre, building that brand. I get this – and you should too, if you plan on putting that stylist hat on.
For one thing, if you are going to be a stylistic writer, you had better have the standard styles down pat. You’d better be able to communicate and articulate, punctuate and prove it. If you become a rule breaker, you have to be able to prove that you know you broke rules, and didn’t just do it because it sounded “cool.” You’ll get called on it. The problem with writing as a stylist is that most of the readers who are interested in that type of writing are a very literate crowd, and they are quick to flush out “poseurs”.
Also, think long and hard about your reasons. Some authors, Caitlin Kiernan comes to mind, write the way they do because it’s the way they write. Kathe Koja has a “voice” that has been present since her first novel. It’s not an affectation, in other words, and I believe that to be effective, style can never be an affectation. It has to be a naturally occurring voice.
That brings me to the actual point (sometimes I really get there if you stick with me). The point is, we are all stylists. Your ‘style’ is how the words come out when you are in your ‘zone.’ The Zone, for me, is that place where I’m working – the words are flowing – and I am not thinking about them at all, just pounding the keys and letting it flow. That’s the natural state of your work. It is possible to force that work into other voices, and styles, but a rare occasion when you pull it off without losing something in the translation.
It’s also important to understand what stylistic means. There are any number of quirks that can distinguish one literary voice from another. Short sentences, long sentences, punctuation that uses flips and tricks to reach an end, stream-of-consciousness, quirky first person, clipped phrases …you get the idea. Early in my career, I used WAY too many ellipses. Sometimes I still do. I used to think it was part of my “style” and now I know, sadly, that it’s a flaw in my grammar.
One of my pet peeves in writing could, I suppose, be considered nothing more than a stylistic preference. The use of the word “could” to modify verbs irritates the crap out of me. If you take a paragraph full of “He could see the campfire from where he stood” like sentences and change them so they read in the immediate, real-time way I think they should, you get “He saw the campfire.” Over a few pages, this can tighten and trim up a manuscript with incredible swiftness and aplomb. That’s what I think. In practice, I see everyone from Stephen King to John Grisham tossing the “could” word at verbs and I have to live with it, or not read their work. It only bothers me when I notice it one time in a jarring sentence, but from that point on it can irritate me right out of my happy place.
The point of this short aside is just to note that this is a quirk of my own style. I’m not necessarily right, or wrong about it, but in my own writing you’ll not find me using that sentence structure very often. It’s the tip of a huge iceberg. I will be getting further into my own style as we progress, and hopefully examining where elements of it came from – why they stuck with me while others did not – and how this may, or may not relate to your own writing. Stay tuned.
When I started writing seriously, I attacked the challenge of the short story. The first few times out the gate I remember how difficult it was to hit what I considered the minimum length for a serious story – 2500 words. I worked out characters ahead of time, almost like a role-playing game stat sheet for each one – not because I intended to use all of that information, but because if I knew it, it could inform the decisions and dialogue of the character.
I believed that there needed to be a set number of plot twists, and that there was a particular point in the story where you had to be working on the conclusion. I was fond of twist endings, cliché as they usually turned out. I read constantly through the pages of Writer’s Digest and The Writer, and I bought all the popular books on writing. Oddly, what I don’t recall doing is sitting down and trying to emulate a particular formula or style. Considering all the dissecting, prodding, poking and plotting that was going on, it’s an odd omission.
I don’t want to dwell on formulas just yet, though, I want to talk about the constant desire of authors I have known (myself included) to keep score on the words. As I said, in the beginning, a 2500 word story seemed pretty long to me. Over time, I started to stretch them out to 3, 4, and even 5000 words, but throughout that time I managed to hold onto the ability to be succinct. To this day I can write flash fiction under a thousand words without much effort, and with pretty good results.
Unfortunately, in the world of short fiction, you are paid by the word. In the world of novels, you often have guidelines you need to fall within – like 70-80k, or “about” 100k. If you are winging your novel, writing from the seat of your pants, these sorts of guidelines can drive you crazy. They are one reason that I took up the fine art of the outline a few years back. I don’t need explicit instructions when I travel – in this world, or one I’ve made up – but I like to know where I’m going and about how far I expect to travel before I get there.
I remember clearly a cruise I took on board the USS Guadalcanal, one of the ships I served on in the US Navy. I had two computers at the time – I took the older one with me to the ship. It was an old 386 with Word Perfect 6.0 loaded and ready. Along with that computer I had a Hewlett-Packard Deskjet 500 – the sturdiest, most reliable printer I have ever owned. I took a drawer full of ink cartridges, and a case of paper. I remember sitting down before I left and figuring out that, at 250 words per page, there would be half a million words printed if I used that entire case. I came very close.
I was the Leading Petty Officer of the Electronics shop during that period. I didn’t have an office of my own, but I had a UHF Transmitter room that I sort of took ownership of. Most of the equipment in that room was mine to maintain, and there was a workbench that would hold my computer. I also had a large “boom box” and a box of CDs. Those became the soundtrack for several novels; not all written on that cruise, but at the very least revised and completed. I had floppy disks with all my books and stories, and I worked constantly. The ship served dinner between 4:00 and about 5:30. After that, every night that I did not have duty, I was in that room, typing away, until around 11:00 PM – sometimes later.
Depeche Mode and Concrete Blonde were my friends. I memorized the first two Crash Test Dummies CDs and learned to love a band called Ten Inch Men, whose album Pretty Vultures is still one of my all-time favorites. The singer from that band, Dave Coutts, went on to sing for “Talk Show,” along with members of the Stone Temple Pilots. I met Dave, and several other members of Ten Inch Men, when they found my review and comments on their music in my Live Journal online. Again – another story.
The point is the words. You just don’t see how they add up until you let yourself think about it. Most professional writers I know claim about a 2,000 word per day output. In those days on the Guadalcanal I averaged 3500-5000 a day and had days that topped 10k. These days I fall in the 1500 -2000 word range, but here’s the thing.
One of my great pleasures every year is participating in the National Novel Writing Month challenge. 50,000 words in thirty days. When you say it that way it seems like a horrifying challenge. When you break it down to the reality – 1,667 words a day, you see that a lot of working writers write more than that every month. If you add in what I do for the Crossroad Press site, and the blogs I write to promote my work, I’m sure I’m still doing the 5k a day shuffle myself.
So…in reality…if you concentrated, you should be able to churn out 3-6 novels a year with some regularity, although broken up by short stories, essays, reviews, etc. Writers write, and though there are certainly times this is less true than at others, a steady stream of words produces a prodigious output over time. I have been at this a very long time, and have determined that I do not – at this point – want to know how many words I have written. In fact, I cringe at the thought of it and want to run away, pulling out what little hair remains to me and go screaming off into the night. I’ve written so much, and yet, I feel as if there is so much still to accomplish. There are so many stories waiting, and now they are piling up against the end gate as I plow into them, trying to fight my way through in the allotted space of a lifetime.
You can get buried in the words. You can get lost in worrying over the numbers. In the end, those that can’t be held back will escape your fingers, and your personal mountain of words will grow. I’ve decided to make mine tall enough to touch the sky, beautiful enough to attract climbers and wildlife, and solid enough to withstand time. Foolish, simple dreams that make me smile, and keep me working. I have always loved the mountains.