Giving Thanks From The Abyss
With Thanksgiving just a few days away, I started to think about this past year and the roller coaster ride I call a life. I’ve had great highs and scary lows that have left me numb, sometimes empty, sometimes full, but neither for long.
It’s easy to be thankful for the good that comes our way. But I’ve come to realize that what we have to be most grateful for are the hard times. When we face adversity, we learn a lot about our true nature and the importance of the people that surround us.
Case in point. For the past couple of weeks, my father had his first health scare, his first surgery, and his first brush with the big C. We found out today that the surgery was a success and he’ll be fine. But that 10 day waiting period to get the great news gave us all pause and made us realize how little time we have together. We’ll make the most of it on Thanksgiving. I can assure you that.
Another case. For the past year-plus, my wife has been battling an unknown infection and lupus. We’re at the point where the doctors think radiation is the only cure. Talk about a cure worse than the disease. It’s like watching the person you love most being tortured every second of every day as radiation sears its way through the cells of her entire body. It shows me, daily, how much she means to me, and how little everything else matters if you and the ones you love don’t have the gift of good health.
Looking back at what I’ve written, I saw that this is an overriding fear in almost all my work. In Forest of Shadows, John Backman’s wife dies in her sleep, forever altering his life and his mind. In Evil Eternal, a strong man named Liam watches his wife’s murder and offers his soul to avenge her death, becoming the undead Father Michael. His torment is sealed to go on for infinity. Even in Swamp Monster Massacre, my crazy skunk ape romp, when John’s wife is killed, so is his soul, and soon after, his body. All of these things crept into my work, my conscious mind completely unaware. I’m forcing myself to look into the abyss so I can be grateful that though at times I’m at the precipice, I haven’t fallen through. My wife battles on, and so do I.
In hard times, we turn to others, or God, for strength and support. It’s at these moments where we’re truly thankful for all of the good people and happy moments in our lives.
So this year, when you look back at those moments of hell in your life, don’t ask ‘why me?’ Use them as touchstones and appreciate what they reminded you of, or how they brought you closer to someone, or even changed your life for the better.
Most of all, give thanks.
The Art Behind The Evil
I thought it would be fun to share the vision of a couple of artists I had worked with on Evil Eternal, back in the day when I had dreams of starting it as a graphic comic. I haven’t given up that dream. Please feel free to petition your favorite comic publisher to make Evil Eternal come alive in the panels of a comic!
This first one of the character Father Michael was drawn by my close friend, Mike Chella. Dude looks badass. Unfortunately it comes out grainy here, but I loved the dark style that Mike brought to the project. The panels Mike drew are what inspired me to keep working on the story and escalating the madness!
Next is a slick, computer graphic version of our favorite undead priest by author and artist, Ron Leming. The crucifix trident is pretty freakin’ cool.
And speaking of comics, Saturday, May 5th is National Comic Book Day. If you’re a fan, please visit your comic book store and pick up a few issues of your fave. I also wrote an article, more an ode to comic books, to celebrate the day. Click here to take a gander.
Dance With The One That Brought You
“You gotta dance with the one that brought you.” – Lyric and title to a Shania Twain song and a much older adage.
Everyone reading this has someone in their life that set them on their current path. Right now, it’s time for me to hit the dance floor.
When I was a kid and people asked me what I wanted to be, I usually gave one of two replies. I was either going to be a radio DJ (thanks to WKRP in Cincinnati) or a Playboy photographer. Mom was so proud. As I got older, my future plans grew fuzzier until my only goal was to make it to the next day, hopefully employed.
Did I want to ever be a writer? I think there was a three month period around the time I was 16 when it sounded like a pretty cool idea. After hammering out a couple of quasi-sci-fi stories, I opted to go cruising and hitting on girls instead.
So who brought me to the writing dance? I have one person to thank for that. His name is Norm Hendricks. I’ve mentioned him in some interviews in the past. It’s about time I gave him his full due.
You see, Norm and I meet when we got a job in customer service at the phone company. That job sucked so bad, I still have mental and spiritual scars as pink and fresh as the day they were made 20 years ago. It was a terrible place, run by dolts that would make Dilbert cringe. Norm was one of a handful of people who made going to work worthwhile. Plus, he was a fellow Mets fan, elevating him to the top of the good guy list. Better still, he made me laugh my ass off, daily. Case in point, in a department meeting with our new director, for shits and giggles, he introduced himself as Nemo Cranston. I nearly had an aneurysm holding in my laughter when the director replied, “It’s nice to meet you, Nemo.”
One day, I spied Norm working on a book and was intrigued. I thought writers all lived in cabins somewhere and lived full, rich lives that didn’t involve descending into the 7th circle of hell each day, hawking Friends & Family. Yet there Norm was, a guy with one of the funniest and most unique minds I’ve ever come across, working at his novel.
He took writing seriously, and I was blown away by his skill. With his encouragement, I started to dabble, terribly, but it became a wonderful escape from the banality of real life. Plus, it strengthened the bond between us. It was a win-win before that asinine phrase came into being.
Since that time, Norm has published three books: Forever Indian Summer, Monstrous and The Forgotten Sleeper, which I’m reading now and slack jawed with amazement at the concepts he’s woven within its pages. He hits on heavy topics with a poetry all his own, expressing ideas that I could only guess at in fever dreams. I read his work with a real sense of pride. And where others may only get to know him through his work, I’m one of the lucky ones to have watched him secretly throw Certs into people’s drinks at parties or performed with him on stage with a band of merry, musical misfits.
What inspires me more than anything is the fact that Norm writes because he loves to write. He doesn’t give a crap about what he could potentially get in return for his hard work. He is a true writer. He’s given more to me than he’ll ever know.
So yeah, my dance card will always have Norm’s name on it.
Who’s on yours? It’s never too late to dance.
Agents in the Crosshairs : How to Find Your Target
OK, this one is for all the aspiring writers out there toiling away behind keyboards, attending writing workshops and reading every inspirational and how-to book they can find. It’s exciting, crazy, fun, scary, daunting, passionate. I know, I’ve been there. In fact, I’m still there. Writing, for me, is like touching a live wire while standing in a puddle. I get that kind of charge from it.
I know there’s always been a debate whether an agent is necessary or not. I’ve expressed my opinion on the matter before and in upcoming articles : hell yes! I know that finding one is just about as arduous a task as getting a book deal. For most, it can be a long slog. For the lucky few, it happens in the blink of an eye. But, it doesn’t happen to either if some homework isn’t done first. So, while you’re busy writing your next book, take time to start looking for your target agents. Build your list so you know who to query when your work is complete (and as near perfection as you can make it).
How do you find them? Actually, this part of the entire writing and publishing process is quite easy.
- Hopefully you read lots of books in the genre you’re writing in (otherwise, how do you know what sells?). Look at the dedication and acknowledgement pages. Plenty of writers take time to thank their agent. Add their name to your list.
- You can go online to Writer’s Market or buy a copy at your local bookstore. They have a full listing of agents. Go through the entire list to find ones looking for work in your genre.
- Join a writing organization. For example, I’m part of the Horror Writer’s Association. They provide lists of agents and publishers that work in horror.
- Attend trade shows and conferences. You’ll not only meet real live agents, but you’ll also build a network of writers with a similar passion. Feel free to pick their brains. Most of us writerly types are happy to share our trade secrets.
- Subscribe to Writer’s Digest and The Writer. Both have great articles by agents, how to find an agent and listings.
If you can manage to do at least most of the above, you’ll have a robust list of agents to reach out to when you’re ready. It’s best to list them in order of preference. I had my dream team of 5 agencies I wanted to work with, and am happy beyond belief to be signed on with one now. The time it took me from saying I wanted to write to getting to where I am today took a long time, but I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t do my homework.
In the words of David Lee Roth, Class dismissed! Go make your list…and don’t forget to keep writing.
Getting The Book Deal And How It Nearly Killed Me
The title of this post is no exaggeration. The entire process of writing my novel, Forest of Shadows, and getting it sold very nearly ended my life…sort of. More on that in a bit.
I’ve been a fan of horror ever since I was a kid. The passion for writing horror overtook me somewhere in my early twenties. I dabbled with horror short stories, then spent years writing non-horror novels so I could get in the practice and find my voice for my first big horror novel. Once I felt I was ready (which meant I had spent almost a decade writing and thirty years reading as much as humanly possible) and I had a concept that could sustain a novel, I got to writing. All along I had one goal : to have it published by Leisure Horror (part of Dorchester Publishing). Leisure was the gold standard for horror publishing, thanks in large part to the leadership and skill of editor Don D’Auria. I consumed Leisure novels like Jaws munched on skinny dippers. I wanted in the Leisure Club more than anything in the world.
I spent the next 4 years writing my book, originally titled Frozen Harbor. After going through a dozen rewrites, I felt it was good to go and I immediately sent my query letter to Leisure’s slush pile (this is the massive mountian of unagented queries and manuscripts that sit in every publishing house). I knew the odds of getting out of the pile were slimmer than Kate Moss, but I had a goal and I was going to live or die with it.
A little under a year later, I received a letter asking to see the first few chapters. I nearly jumped out of my shoes, but knew in the back of my mind this was by no means an acceptance. So I sent it. And waited. And waited some more.
Over a year after that, I recevied another letter asking for the entire manuscript. OK, there was obviously some interest. It had been almost two years now, and every time I was about to give up, the fates came along to reignite my hopes. Could they be so cruel as to guide me to shore, only to dash me on the rocks? Being a New York pessimist, I leaned to that being the case.
I kid you not when I say I had all but forgotten that I had sent in my manuscript when a year and a half later, while checking my email, I saw a letter from Don at Leisure. Holy crap! He liked the book! He wanted to publish it! I had my deal with my dream publisher and editor! I was at work when I opened the email, and after almost having a stroke, I rushed home to celebrate.
The next few months were spent getting an agent and working with Don on the book and getting the final details done on the contract. I was flying higher than Balloon Boy. Naturally, the fates saw my happiness and stepped right in to kick my ass in short order. Dorchester Publishing, after 40 years in business, was in complete upheaval. They weren’t paying authors and had decided to stop printing paperbacks. Don parted ways with them just before I signed my final contract. The deal was dead.
And so, nearly, was I. Granted, the turn of events made me physically, emotionally and spiritually ill. But it was the horror writer doppelganger in me that nearly died last summer. I was done. No matter how happy a face I put on, I figured that part of my life had taken a permanent dirt nap. I didn’t have another 8 years in me to do this all over again. R.I.P.
Here’s where agents can be a godsend. My agent, Louise Fury (with the L. Perkins Agency), did her best to keep my spirits up. “Don’t panic. If it was good enough for Don, it can be sold elsewhere. We can even wait to see where Don lands and hope he’ll still be editing horror.”
So I waited. But this time it was much less than 8 years. It was only 5 months. Don joined Samhain Publishing and yes, he still wanted my book! The dead part of me had been revived (kinda like a zombie, only without the eating flesh part). So yes, the entire process did nearly kill a very real part of me. But like any good movie monster, I live! And as long as I live, I will continue to write.
To read the book that nearly killed me, click here.