Friday, September 29, 2006

The Other Boy With Brown Hair.

My dad was always running from something. When I look back on it, that’s what growing up with him was like. He hated the government, religion, politicians, Society, people. He really hated people.

In my sophomore year of high school we had moved to Gilmer County where my dad had purchased 120 isolated acres of dense woodland and had put in a driveway. In fact, our “driveway” was a mile-long road leading down to where he’d built our three-bedroom house in the bottom of a valley. And this valley had been so isolated that a bear had lived in it until we drove him out with our noise. Our nearest human neighbor was two-and-a-half miles away; the nearest paved road was four miles distant; the nearest phone was five miles from our door. All of this is true although people scarcely believe me when I tell them these facts in the day of town-homes and apartments and sprawling neighborhoods with houses and shopping centers cheek by jowl.

So, my mom and dad had opened a used bookstore in Chattanooga, which was not too far across the Georgia/Tennessee border and which took about an hour and some change to drive to. My dad had weighed his options and had decided that Chattanooga was a good place to open a bookshop. He’d already opened such stores in Atlanta, Macon, Columbus, and Athens. Those stores were all gone, tribute to how he could screw up a good thing as easily as he could set up a successful business. I guess he just didn’t know how to leave well enough alone.

In the beginning, in the summer months when there wasn’t any school, or on weekends, we’d all ride to the shop and back together: my parents, my younger brother Cliff, and me. We had a big, heavy, four-wheel drive Chevy Blazer with singing mud-tires and a huge V-8 engine. I remember the roads between our house and Chattanooga were surprisingly level, passing between huge, wide valleys and along low plateaus rather than over the mountains that seemed to rise all around us. In the summertime, the woods that stretched on and on were unbelievably green and when the sun was shining bright and golden these flatlands between the peaks would get dreadfully hot. I was always glad for the air-conditioning.

We had made the trip so many times that we now followed it pretty much by rote, and we knew each intersection, each road, and each bend. There were also our favorite places to stop and gas up and buy a soda or a snack if our parents felt like it.

I recall one particularly warm summer day when we pulled in to buy gas at the station where my father liked to stop. The sun was very bright; the air was very heavy, and the breeze nowhere to be felt. Our Blazer had hardly come to a halt before my brother and I were tumbling out to head into the store where we could find our favorite soft drink. As I got out of the SUV (in the days before they were called such) I looked at a kid not much younger than myself who had come to the pump to ask my dad what grade of fuel he wanted and how many gallons or dollars worth he needed. “Fill it up,” my dad told him. A fair boy with light brown hair. To me, at the time, and seeing him just so briefly, he looked sad.

My brother and I picked out our drinks, showed them at the counter, and we quickly retreated to the Blazer. The kid who had pumped the gas was done with that job and was headed back into the store. Cliff and I chattered, fifteen-year-old me, and thirteen-year-old he. We waited for our parents to pay. It was getting hot. As our drink bottles got emptier and the Blazer got hotter, we continued to wait. Outside, a dragonfly buzzed along on the thick, humid air and I could almost hear his wings through the glass. Or I imagined I could.

Finally, our sodas all vanished, the two of us holding empty pop bottles, our parents emerged from the station and they walked toward the vehicle. I looked at them. Born as the seventh and eighth children (the last who were still at home), my brother and I were almost, but not quite, accustomed to having parents who were far older than those of our friends. Watching them walk toward the Blazer, I was reminded again of their mortality. My mom was very fat and completely white-headed. My dad, over six feet tall and still dark-haired possessed an enormous potbelly, and his face was creased with weathered skin that told of each hard day of his years on Earth. Sitting there, looking at them, something seemed wrong.

They climbed into the SUV and my father fired up the engine. Quickly, with a crunching of gravel beneath those huge mud tires, we pulled out of the gas station and onto the highway, headed back toward home again. Still, my parents were silent. I looked at them; Cliff looked at them. My parents were generally full of commentary and conversation. We rode along silently, the tires rolling atop the road, the woods scrolling along endlessly. From the angle I had in the back seat, my mom looked upset, a frown of concern marking her brow.

She turned to me.

“Those people tried to give us that little boy,” she said.

“WHAT?” I blurted it. That made no sense to me. “What do you mean?”

“That little boy who filled up our gas tank wasn’t their son. He’s a foster child.”

“What?” I still didn’t understand. “Aren’t they supposed to take care of him? Who takes care of him?”

“They thought, because your father and I are old, that we had adopted you two. And that we would adopt another kid. They thought we’d want to take that little boy as our own.”

Goddamn, I thought. But I didn’t say it, still not old enough at fifteen to swear in front of my parents. The thoughts running through me then were so many and so varied that I couldn’t voice them. I could not understand how a little boy of twelve could be left with no parents to care for him. I could not understand how he could have no family to love him. I could not understand how he could be in the company of someone who wanted to give him away. I couldn’t understand this at all, except that it seemed to confirm much of my father’s sentiments toward society as a whole, and toward human beings.

We made that trip to Chattanooga and back many more times before that little used bookstore failed and my parents were left with no way to support themselves in their old age. We made that trip over and over until it was obvious the store was not ever going to turn a profit and my parents closed it down for good and retreated to their last redoubt before they faded.

But in the hundreds of times we took that drive, we never again stopped at that particular gas station or went into that particular store or laid eyes upon that particular child. And I was glad for that, because I didn’t want to see the expressions I saw on my parent’s faces on that summer day. The one that now passes over my own as I think back, recalling that other little boy with brown hair, doing his best, I’m sure, to make certain someone might keep him around.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

The Old Fart Almost Buys the Farm.

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It’s funny how small decisions can make a huge difference down the road.

I had the day off and had planned a quick drive up to Pisgah National Forest to hike to the top of Looking Glass Rock. I’d seen that mountain dozens of times from the Parkway and had even been to the trailhead twice and once to the base of The Nose (500 ft cliff), but had never hiked up. So I had decided to take care of that.

I’m pretty good at preparing for day hikes. I had my pack ready the evening before, with my lunch all prepared and in the refrigerator. Everything was laid out and ready to go when the alarm went off at 5:30 am. All I had to do was clean up, grab my stuff, and go. The only real decision I had to make was which boots to wear. I had three pair to choose from. My heavy-duty boots that I bought when I hiked Katahdin three years ago. My newer boots that weren’t broken in yet. And my old tried and true pair that are the most comfortable. I looked at the heavy-duty boys, but decided I didn’t want to deal with the weight. The trail was only 6.4 miles round trip with, I was told, no scrambling. I passed on the new boots because I figured I’d get a blister or two breaking them in and I just didn’t want to deal with that. So, despite the fact that I’ve just about worn the treads right off the comfortable pair, I put those on and took off.

Right away I encountered a few traffic problems getting out of town, and then some road construction delays near Hendersonville on 64 West. Because of these delays and a stop at the Ranger station to talk to the folk in the know, it was 11:00 am by the time I was at the trailhead.

I started right up and found the Looking Glass Rock Trail to be pretty steep. It gains 1800 feet over 3.2 miles, and there are many more switchbacks than I had been expecting. I stopped counting them after I hit a dozen.

The forests on the flanks of the peak are mixed cove hardwoods and hemlocks. A pretty mature, vigorous forest, I’m glad to say. Not sure what’s going to happen to the hemlocks with the Hemlock wooly adelgid invading the southeastern US. It’ll be sad to see the hemlocks go. As I climbed I found the trail to by typically southern, following along the ridges and hearing the patter of water nearby. But soon I was climbing out of the wet coves and onto the drier ridges. And sweating like a full sponge. Still, I’m a strong hiker and passed everyone in front of me and left them in my wake. This trail is a busy one, even on a weekday, and I passed about ten people on the way up.

I found the trail to be pretty well taken care of, but very eroded in some places, really swampy in others, and almost all of the switchbacks suffer from idiots cutting across. (I’ve never understood that. It’s no easier and seems to be inviting an ass busting.) Pretty soon I found myself very near the summit and approaching the lower cliffs and the emergency helipad.

One of the rangers had told me that the best view on the mountain was just beyond the helipad (merely the exposed rock with a huge “H” painted on)

She told me to follow the yellow dashes I’d find on the rock and that they would take me out to the cliff face where I would have a fine view of the opposing peaks and the cliff face at the summit. She was right and these turned out to be, indeed, the best views on the mountain.

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After pausing to take a couple dozen photographs I headed on back to the main trail and continued to the summit. I passed a fine spring gurgling heavily and in a bit I was standing on the true summit, all closed in with oaks and some pines. Going on, I followed the well-worn trail down to the cliff face just below.

Here, unlike the lower cliffs, the face drops off dramatically. There isn’t a lot of space up there to muck about safely, so I was tending to stay close to the trees to sit and to take more photographs. In addition, the forest floor of the summit bleeds water onto the cliff so that much of it is damp, or wet, or slick, or slimed with algae, or all of the above. I wanted a shot from a spot near the edge of the cliff and so was carefully picking my way over toward it. I saw a dry spot between some slick mats of lichens and stepped there. But what looked like dry granite was not only wet, but also slick. My boots, the “comfortable” pair I had worn, had no proper treads and I slipped, both feet going out from under me.

For a second I could see myself going over the edge of the cliff to my death. I was very close to the slope. But instead of sliding, I landed solidly on my back with quite a loud thud. Lardass down! For a second I just lay there and kept what was left of my wits about me. I didn’t want to get up only to slide closer to the edge. So I turned, got to one knee, and was able to reach up and grasp the limb of a green pine and used that to steady myself. Carefully, I moved away from the cliff and back to where I’d stashed my pack.

Sitting there, I drank down about a liter of water, calmed down, and decided to trash the boots when I got home. They were certainly comfortable, but not worth what I’d just experienced. I’ll buy a new pair of scrambling boots next week. I’ve got them picked out and only have to drive to the shop and pick them up. And I’ll be breaking in that other pair.

Going back down the mountain, I went straight across to the river opposite the trailhead. I put down my pack, took out my beach towel and my bathing suit and using the towel as a cover, I changed into my trunks. My shirt was, quite literally, wringing wet with perspiration. The crowds of locals who had been swimming in huge numbers when I’d arrived were all gone. I had the river to myself, and took my soapfree, clearwater bath here:
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After a short dip, making sure I was clean and refreshed, I got into some dry clothes. I took this photo of my stuff on the bank, and not until the following morning did I realize that I’d left my best hiking staff on the riverbank! Alas.

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A postscript: When I was sitting there with my daypack, after my slip, I decided to have a sandwich. But I soon realized, digging through the pack, that I’d left the sandwiches I’d prepared the night before sitting in the fridge. Maybe I was trying to tell myself something. (Or else I’m just getting even more forgetful as I age.)

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

What They Do!

Well, they’ smilin’ in yo’ face.
All th’ time dey wanna take yo’ place.

The animals.

All of my pals and relatives know that I have a unique way of looking at the critter world. The animals that co-populate the Earth with us in ever-shrinking numbers as we squeeze them out of their habitats as we move ever and ever into more and more living space.

I’m not sure, exactly, whence my feelings about the other creatures of this planet. I like to blame Ernest Thompson Seton, who wrote so well and so sympathetically of the lives of the hunted. One of his greatest works is entitled Wild Animals I Have Known. Known. Not “seen”. Or “killed” (although he did kill them, from time to time). Or he could have used the word “witnessed”, or some similar term. But he didn’t do this. He knew these wild animals. The way you might know a person you meet. He elevated animals to the level of humans. That always stuck with me, even though I was probably only eight or nine years old the first time I encountered his work.

When I see an animal, I wonder what they’re thinking or feeling. Most people look upon almost all animals as some kind of automaton; pre-programmed by genetics to do a specific thing at a specific time under a certain stimulus. Well, one could argue that about Homo sapiens, but it wouldn’t fly. I’ve watched animals doing things that took conscious thought and decision-making abilities. And I’ve seen emotions in animals. Fear, of course. And aggression. But sadness, too.

So on my recent vacation, as with almost all of my vacation, I look for animals. I like to see them, to know that they’re still there in some numbers. They reassure me that we haven’t quite destroyed all of their homes and all of the habitat necessary for their continued survival. I like to see them as they go about their lives, which are often far more detailed than most could imagine.

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We encountered the usual suspects on this trip. Because we were in a bird sanctuary, we saw a lot of birds of many types. Storks, and ibises, and cranes, and gulls, and terns, and raptors, and pelicans, and so on. We saw quite a number of alligators. We happened across a mink as he was hunting along the edge of the bay one afternoon. He looked back at us for a time and let us get quite close before he decided we might pose something of a threat and he vanished from our sight so quickly he might have been a passing shadow.

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All of these creatures that we watched were rather larger, more complex animals. Birds, and reptiles, and mammals. The familiar trio. But on our last night of vacation, we decided to tramp out onto the beach late at night to see what was there. We hiked out in the cool far away from the campground and found a spot at the edge of the dunes, sat down, and waited. The night was very dark (no moon), and the breeze was blowing briskly off the sea. Every so often we would switch on the flashlight we’d brought along and shine it up and down the beach, looking for something to see.

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After some time, we did see something. A small, pale form appeared far down to our left. Something about the size of my fist. I immediately recognized it as a ghost crab. We turned off the light and waited for a bit. Shining the light again, we saw that he had moved closer to us, closing the distance between him and us from about fifty feet to thirty feet. Mainly, ghost crabs run like Hell when they spy a human. For some reason, this one was coming closer to us.

We waited a couple more minutes and turned the light on again. This time, we caught him in movement and he froze. He was now about twelve feet away and he was definitely coming to us. There were miles of beach and many yards of territory that would have taken him far from us, and yet he was actually moving closer to this pair of giant naked apes. He certainly wasn’t acting like any ghost crab I’ve ever seen.

Once more, we turned off the light for a few minutes, and then turned it back on.

The little fellow was less than two feet away from us; his eyestalks fully emerged from his carapace as he checked us out. I’d never thought of a crustacean or something of that order as having any kind of feeling beyond pain or hunger. But here this little guy was, exhibiting what I can only call…


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As I said, I’ve always had a way of looking at the wild world that’s always seemed slightly askew from most people I know. And I reckon I’m just a little more askew after this encounter than I was before it. Because I’m convinced this “brainless” little ghost crab just wanted to know what the hell two huge mammals were doing on his beach at this hour of the night when the sands were supposed to belong to him and his fellows. (Or she and her ladies, as the case may certainly have been.)

A curious ghost crab.

One more ghost for the blog.

An amusing encounter.

This little fellow is a ghost crab.

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We encountered one another on my recent vacation as my wife and I sat on a stretch of pristine beach the last evening of our vacation.

More on him tomorrow, when I've rested from the long drive.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Evermore anthology.

The Arkham House Books anthology that I co-edited with Stephen Mark Rainey is getting closer to publication. I just got the final look at the jacket art, and it's a beauty.

The Poe-themed anthology has been a very, very, very long time coming. Mark and I have shepherded this wonderful book for a couple of years and it's great to see it finally coming to bookshelves.

Sunday, September 17, 2006


When I was a younger man, I spent many hours per day writing. Sometimes eight to ten hours sitting at my old electric typewriter. It was fun, and I admit I was obsessed, and that’s how I taught myself to write.

But that obsession came at some cost. I went through periods when I have to admit that my time spent writing stories and novels and articles and scripts caused me to ignore my family. I was so focused on getting the word down on the page that I failed to pay the kind of attention a family requires. It took a while, but I had to admit to myself that I had to back off.

So, after a while, I managed to find a happy equilibrium between my eight-hour workday, my family life, and my time spent writing. My output suffered in quantity, but everyone in my home was happier.

Still, my writing had become not only a kind of second job (perhaps even a first job, with the principle bills-paying employment relegated in my mind as secondary). Before writing had overtaken my leisure time, I’d had a number of hobbies. First among my hobbies had been hiking and backpacking. In my youth I had spent uncounted hours in the outdoors and had hiked many, many hundreds of miles along the trail systems of our parks and wild lands. My writing had put an end to this.

And so, at the age of forty-two, I took stock of the way things were. I’d enjoyed some small success as a writer. In some years, I made as much as $8,000.00 from my writing. Decent, but nothing to get too terribly excited about. I’d managed to sell scripts to major comic book publishers, had gotten into some great anthologies, and had still failed to sell a novel, despite some near misses. For the first time since I was 26 years old, I tried to take an objective look at what I was doing as a writer.

And the first thing that I realized was how much I missed the times I’d spent hiking the high country and backpacking into the South’s wilderness areas. So my wife and I bought camping equipment, and I got a new backpack and all of the equipment necessary to get back into that pastime…and I said goodbye to writing for a while.

For months I barely wrote at all. Instead, I climbed mountains and swam in whitewater streams and looked for big trees in virgin forests and took photographs of bears and looked at rare wildflowers and hiked into gorges and bagged hundreds of peaks and canoed pristine rivers and witnessed a million natural tales. My wife and son and I had a blast.

I didn’t miss writing, because I’d never stopped writing. But I’d placed it where it belonged.

In perspective.

I don’t think that it’s an accident that soon after that I wrote the book that has become my first published novel. And it’s no accident that I come back to my writing after each trip I take with my wife and my son with a new enthusiasm. I’m a better writer than I used to be. My work shows it.

In the darkest lines, I can spy a ray of light.

My son, Andy, and me at Juniper Springs Recreation Area in Florida.

Friday, September 15, 2006

I do believe in ghosts, I DO believe in ghosts...

I’m a skeptic. And I mean that in the hardest, most adamant terms. For me, the scientific principle holds. If there’s no evidence, I’m not convinced.

When I was younger, and would hear tall tales by others that they’d seen, or heard, or felt the presence of a ghost, I would roll my eyes if I was in a good mood, and tell them they were full of shit if I wasn’t feeling very gracious. I didn’t then, and don’t now, believe in any kind of an afterlife. There just can’t be anything like a ghost. Show me one, or show me how to detect one, and maybe…just maybe, now…we’ll talk seriously about it. Until then, it’s just so much hot air.

So what I had concluded, after some little thought, was that anyone who claimed to have seen a ghost was either:

A: lying like an incumbent politician.


B: Doin’ some ‘shrooms.

There was no middle ground, and no other alternative. If you told me you saw a ghost you were either a liar or you were floating wrong-side up.

And then I became a mailman, and within two weeks, everything changed.

It’s not that I saw a ghost. Well, not exactly. But what happened was that I gained…well…a new perspective. I began to see things a little differently. What I’m talking about are dogs. As in, dawgs. Mongrels. Flea-bitten mutts. Filthy, snarling, barking, biting, stinking fecal-factories. Those generally large, highly territorial, extremely aggressive carnivores that Mankind has dragged along for the ride into oblivion.

No, I did not see the ghosts brought to me by a dog. Although, I genuinely wished to send many hounds into the hereafter. (You know that movie, All Dogs Go to Heaven? For me, that’s not a title, but a reasonable proposition. All of them. Like, right now.)

No, no ghosts. What happened was that, as a new letter carrier, schlepping mail in the worst possible sections of the worst routes in town, I began to encounter dogs by the dozens. By the scores. Dogs tied up with rope. Dogs restrained by battleship chain. Dogs behind fences. Dogs on the other sides of doors. Dogs raging through closed windows. And, Jove help me, dogs running loose and slavering like speed-freak zombies for my precious flesh.

Within a week I was quite frightened of dogs. Within two weeks I began to hate them with a white-hot passion. Within three weeks I was carving notches in my postal vehicle steering wheel; one for each dog squashed.

I learned, in short order, fear of doggies. Yes, I was a caniphobe.

And here’s where I found a new respect for those who claim to see the ghost of the old maid who used to live down the block and at whose yard they rolled with tp in their junior year; for those who said they heard their drowned little brother calling out from the drainpipe in the sink; for those who said their husband’s spirit was haunting them for screwing around that time five years into their marriage.

I found that new respect because, by the regal head of Anubis, I was seeing dogs every-freaking-where I looked. I’d be lugging my mailbag down a garbage-strewn side road near the corner of Crip Street and Blood Avenue and look up and see a German shepherd waiting to pounce. Only to realize I was looking at a holly shrub. Or I’d be rounding the corner in the Hicksville Apartment Complex and see a Doberman scratching to leap from the edge of a building, only to realize it was nothing but a broom propped against a brick wall. In short:

I was seeing ghosts.

After about a year of being a mailman, I stopped seeing these dog shades. I learned how to just stop being scared witless of them all of the time and just be cautious and careful. Yeah, I’m still a little bit afraid of the worthless ass-licking bags of stench. But not to the point that I see them where they aren’t.

And I found, along the way, that while those people who say they see those ghosts aren’t really seeing anything at all, I do believe that THEY believe they’re seeing ghosts.

As for the notches in my steering wheel? Sixteen and counting. In mailman parlance, I’m an ace three times over.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Memoir of a Ghost

Back in the day, I was doing first reading for Mark Rainey at his late, and very much missed, Deathrealm Magazine. He phoned me one evening and asked me if I’d be interested in taking on some of the reviews for a certain Andrea Locke.

Andrea Locke was a featured reviewer whose work I’d noticed in the magazine. Mark informed me that, in fact, there was no Andrea Locke. She was actually a creation of his and the reviews listed as Andrea’s were by other, anonymous, folk. “Would you like to write some Andrea Locke reviews?”

I agreed. It meant free books and magazines, and it meant I’d get to write, and in those days I wrote many hours a day. I was always looking for an excuse to write more stuff.

In the years since the passing of Deathrealm, some folk have occasionally asked me if I had been Andrea Locke. Well, yes…sort of. I like to think that I wrote the best Andrea Locke columns, but I by no means wrote them all. Who was she? Who were the folk who made up the many facets of this creation?

Well, I don’t know the answer to that. What I do know is that there were at least six other Andrea Lockes. And there may very well have been more. It’s hard to say.

In addition, over the years--and at the time of publication--I would sometimes get the credit for writing a particularly biting review with which I had no connection. And sometimes I’d get the blame for something Andrea had written which I had not penned. In one instance, I was considered for membership in a kind of author collective. But one of the writers was pissed off that I’d negatively reviewed one of their works as Andrea Lock, and so I was blackballed from joining. Alas. I simply shrugged it off. But the humor in that particular situation was that one of the other members of the group, with whom the blackballing author was friendly, had in fact written the Andrea Locke column that had so insulted.

So it goes, eh?

When Deathrealm closed its doors and retreated to history, I was sad that I’d no longer get the opportunity to write any more columns under the pseudonym of Ms. Locke. She’d developed something of a following, this nebulous creature. And I have to admit that I missed the free books and magazines. Free stuff is always cool.

Later, I was offered the chance to resurrect Ms. Locke, this time purely under my own pen. I agreed to do so, but the publication that made the offer closed its doors before I could get a head of steam, and they also failed to pay me for the few reviews I did write for them. (Ms. Locke isn’t losing any sleep over it.)

In recent months, a couple of acquaintances have written to me to ask if I had been the semi-famous Andrea Locke. So I would explain to them the situation and try to count the number of folk who had contributed to her output. In the end, though, I don’t know who had written which column. I was kept in the dark as to the authors connected to specific works, save in a couple of cases.

As far as I know, Andrea Locke is totally dead, now. She has parted ways with the publishing world, unless one of the other lords of her has resurrected her hoary ass.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

A Fistful of Writers and a Few Prima donnas

A few years back I managed to sell a story I had been sending to various editors for almost eighteen years. Yep, you read it right: eighteen years. I’d always thought it was a good story, and finally a couple of professional editors agreed with me and so it was published (“Visitation” in CHILDREN OF CTHULHU, Del Rey Books).

Now, I have to say that I lost count of the number of rejections that story had received over the years. Dozens, yes. Not a hundred—at least I don’t think so—but it’s possible. I kept sending it out, and editors kept rejecting it. It was obvious that I disagreed with them, because I kept packing it back up and finding a new market somewhere else. (You truly had best develop a thick skin in this game.)

Through it all, despite the rejections, I never let any editor who had rejected it know that I thought that they were wrong to have done so. If anything, I perhaps let the odd editor here and there know that I appreciated the time they’d spent with my story. Because that’s what editors do. They are devoting some of their time on this mudball to reading your story, and by Jove they may very well have much better things to do. So the least one can do, if anything at all, is thank them for that time.

Some time after “Visitation” saw print, it occurred to me that the premise of the story (that being that Poe had returned to this mortal coil) could make a decent basis for an anthology. So I whipped up a proposal and started looking for a way to sell such an anthology. No matter that I had never sold an anthology, and no matter that I didn’t have the foggiest idea how to go about it. I came up with a title (Evermore), and a nice pitch (starting with a quote from a Lovecraft poem), and began sending it out.

No one bit.

After a year or so of this, I thought that perhaps I would have better luck if a professional editor worked with me to sell it. So I wrote to John Pelan and asked him. He thought it was a good idea, but he didn’t have the time, and put me in touch with Peter Crowther. Crowther also liked the idea and we began to send it out. A few publishers rejected it, but one thought the idea had promise and wanted to sit on it for a bit. A bit turned into months, and months into...well...a couple of years.

As already stated, I’m pretty patient and damned well tenacious when it comes to selling a project. But one small-time publisher sitting on an anthology pitch for two years was too much even for me. I asked John to pull the anthology from said publisher and Crowther and I amicably parted ways. The anthology pitch for Evermore returned to my office where it sat again for some time, as I had pretty much run out of publishers to whom to pitch.

Then, one day I was exchanging emails with my old pal, Stephen Mark Rainey, and I asked him if he’d like to hang his name on the anthology with me and we could try to sell it. He agreed. Mark sent the pitch out to a house with which he had a relationship and we waited. No dice.

Then, it occurred to me that I had not yet tried Arkham House. Yes, it seems so darned obvious, but for some reason that option had escaped me. I had once submitted a novel there, and it was rejected. But I had written to the editor at Arkham to thank him for the time he’d taken to review the manuscript. Since I had their name and his address, I sent the pitch for Evermore to them.

Arkham House accepted it. Hoorah!

Budgets were discussed and contracts were signed. Mark and I set about searching for stories. The word went out that we had a deal and a new anthology and the tales began to come in.

Ah, yes, I read a number of very fine stories, and these we accepted. In addition, I wasted my time reading a lot of very bad stories, and these we rejected.

Back to the subject of manners.

Some writers assumed that I would accept their work based on the fact that I had known them for a long time. That I would pay them money for our friendship in accordance with some kind of professional nepotism, if you will. These writers were wrong. I rejected the stories of some long-time acquaintances. Most took the rejection with good nature and thanked me for my time. But a few were upset to the point of complaining that I was unfair in some manner. Oy.

Then there were the cases of the prima donnas. There were a couple of these in the stew, whose work I examined and found wanting. These, too, Mark and I rejected for good reason, to be met with reactions that I can only term petulant. How dare we reject their excellent tales? (Keep in mind that on at least one of these stories, I had been sorely tempted to let the author know they’d penned a 9,000-word sleeping pill. But out of good manners, I held my tongue.)

My own reaction to these unfortunate instances of very bad form was to remain silent. Well, yes, I’ve got a little list, but that’s beside the point. The main thing was to be professional.

In the end, though, these writer-folk did not understand that the world does not owe them a sale, and that Mark and I do not engage in any kind of favoritism. I don’t care how long I’ve known you, nor what your present reputation among other anthologists might be. All I care about is that if you send me a lousy story, I’m going to reject it.

Currently, I have a line on selling another anthology to a much higher end market with far deeper pockets. As with my first anthology editing experience, I’ll be searching for excellent stories by writers who know how to spin a good yarn. I won’t care how long I’ve known the author, and I won’t care how special they think they are. All I’ll care about is that they deliver the goods.

But I’ve got a certain list.

(Look for Evermore, co-edited by James Robert Smith and Stephen Mark Rainey to appear very soon--hopefully by October--from Arkham House Books.)

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Egos and the Moral Superiority of the Downtrodden

Some years ago, a pal of mine spent part of a day with a certain best-selling author. They were on a panel together signing autographs and talking to various fans and other interested parties about writing. After a while, my friend had to leave, because he couldn’t bear to hear anymore of the rants of this best-selling author. And what was it that she was ranting about?

Stephen King.

She was frustrated to the point of mania that Stephen King’s books outsold hers by a very wide and healthy margin. No matter the fact that the two authors generally don’t write in the same styles or even within similar genres. It was merely the fact that he left her, economically speaking, eating his dust that drove her completely bats.

Which got me to dwelling, again, on the egos of writers. Despite what any writer tells you, almost all of them have pretty hefty egos that are easily bruised. Some of them will talk a good fight and lay claim to a thick skin, but that’s rarely true. Just the fact that a writer thinks his stuff is good enough for everyone to read is evidence enough of a pretty large ego at work. (Mea culpa.)

Some years ago I had a friend who was a writer and sometime editor. He did what he could to sell a story here and there, getting into some really impressive anthologies on occasion. And he was managing to edit on a very small scale, hoping to do more in that line.

Along the way, he decided to write an article about a certain sub-culture with which he had become familiar. So he wrote a piece suggesting to other writers how one might go about creating characters who lived within this certain sub-culture. I read it. It was a pretty good article, and quite innocuous.

However, a couple of other writers read it and they were not pleased. Apparently, they considered themselves a part of this certain sub-culture and felt that the article by my friend was something akin to blasphemy. They put their little heads together and decided to punish my friend for his heresy. They were determined to declare a fatwah upon him and to implement a jihad against his lonely self.

Both of these writers--who I am sure considered themselves a part of some downtrodden minority--had followings of a sort. (Also known as “fans”.) In this particular case, they had fans that number in at least the low thousands. They sent out a few choice emails pointing out my friend’s transgression-of-an-article. The army was quickly mobilized.

Ignorant of either his crime or the conspiracy afoot, my pal went to his email box to download the morning’s messages. Surprise! It was filled beyond capacity with hundreds of emails. But not just any email! It was hate mail! Nasty-grams from near and far, berating him for daring to write such nonsense. Forget the fact that most of the letters were delivered from folk who had never read his article. That didn’t matter. They’d been spurred to action by two of their glorious leaders, and so: attack!

This pair of writers, who I know consider themselves champions of a certain kind of justice, showed themselves to be no better than the nastiest of the nasty. This one event showed me of what stuff they are made. I flush that stuff.

My friend has since vanished from the writing scene. I haven’t heard from him in years. I’ve tried to locate him, but have been unable to find where he’s gone. He’s no longer a part of the writing community, as far as I’ve been able to tell. If it was the aim of the two fan-favorites to drive him out of the little genre ghetto, then they by and large succeeded. While all of that bothers me to no end, I have always felt somewhat advantaged to have witnessed this vicious act, for it allowed me to realize that there generally is no moral superiority among the downtrodden. Quite often, they are as mean and as cruel and as hateful as any from whom they claim persecution.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Til the Last Hemlock Dies

Other writers make me sick.

It’s a sad truth.

Their work doesn’t necessarily sicken me, (fairly often, alas), but the writers themselves.

They are a self-centered lot, unfortunately. And as the years have passed and I have shared their company and listened to their constant droning, I finally concluded that I could not stand another reading, another convention, another social gathering with writers in attendance.

Some writers are my friends. I may have met them because they were fellow writers, but it’s not their status as writers that keep them as my friends. It’s a fact, by and large, that the ones who remain my friends are so in spite of the fact that they are writers.

When I was younger I thought that writers, by their nature, were better than most of the rest of the mass of mindless baboons. I thought they’d think free thoughts and live free lives and not be slaves to the dogma that dictates the movements of so many of my fellow humans. But I found, too quickly, that this was not the case. Writers are just as stupid, just as witless, just as mired in a kind of slave mentality as any other group I could choose.

So it goes, so it goes, so it goes.

Because of this, I chose some years ago to stop seeking the company of writers. Invariably I would have to listen to the droning of their own accomplishments, the whining of their own failures, the unfolding of their future projects which they found oh-so-fascinating and which I, without fail, found insipid and lacking in vision.

In short, I discovered that writers were a bunch of puling, crying, self-centered louts.

And so, some time back, I began to avoid the very mention of genre conventions. I no longer went to read what was going on at various author websites. I wanted nothing to do with the blogs of so-called writers crowing about their so-called creative works.

Writers, like the rest of humanity, had ultimately disappointed me. And, worse, they made me sick. Truly.

Bubbles, along the way, were burst. I found that writers were just as hateful as the meanest Christian. I found that writers were just as greedy as the most ruthless Republican. I saw that writers were just as closed to change as the most powerful plutocrat. I realized that writers were every bit as intolerant as any cross-burning racist. They cheated on their wives. They abused their children. They drank to excess. They drove recklessly, shit their pants, farted in elevators, voted for Bush, owned guns, ate at McDonalds, enjoyed Jurassic Park III, watched television, supported the troops, read about movie stars, denied Global Warming, thought their vote counted. And worst of all, I found that they cared about things that don’t. Really. Matter.

So it goes. So it goes. So it goes.

Ah, you writers. I discovered things about you that made knowing you unrewarding. I found out that you were just subnormal, after all.

So, go live your lives. Wander aimlessly. Inhabit your little genre ghettoes and read about your fellows’ latest publications. For myself---I don’t give a rat’s ass about you anymore. If, somehow, we are passing and you see me before I see you, please duck and cover. I’d like to remain ignorant that we actually shared the same general locale.

But that, of course, is doubtful. I spend my free and leisure time in the outdoors. I hike forest trails seeking the last hemlocks before they succumb to invasive species; and I paddle the shrinking number of undeveloped rivers; and bag the few peaks that remain unpaved. Fortunately, I’m not likely to see you there, you church-going, blackbox-voting, TV-watching, hamburger-eating, numb-skulled bunch of idiot writers.

And so it goes. And all is well.