In this rapidly changing world I think we tend to lose sight of the fact that we want and oft times demand things of people at a speed that is unreasonable. We want to put the past on trial every few years, looking at it with new eyes and new social and cultural viewpoints and want to try the lives of people and how they lived based on how we live.
A town born from secret horror.
A stranger with a hidden past.
A doomed destiny that entwines two friends and binds them in blood.
The road kill is coming.
My new novel ROAD KILL will be released on April 6.
Humans are a species joined by our stories. Our histories, our myths, our legends, all of those things unite us in ways that images alone cannot. Stories are the connective tissue between us and the unifying light that marks the path of humanity both forward and back.
As a writer I am always keen to create my own myths, meaning that I want to write stories or create art that has meaning deeper than the surface. I want to create things that stay with you. Now, not everything will, but some things may. That’s my hope. In ways I have worked to that end. I have towns that re-appear. Characters. Themes. Ideas. Echoes that ring through many works How impactful it all is for other people I can’t say but the hope is that it sticks with some.
When I started writing Road Kill as a kid some thirty years ago I envisioned it as two friends, obsessed with killing animals and heading down a very dark dead end.
It wasn’t going to end well and it didn’t.
It was about the idea that if the wrong people get together their evil can be amplified and intensified.
The story was one of supernatural retribution as well as the animals the boys had killed took their revenge in the end.
When I lost the story, having put the notebook I wrote it in on my mom’s car before she had driven off some place, the heartbreak from that loss lasted decades. I always loved the idea of that story and the main character of Bubba Diem stuck with me over the years. I kept thinking about revisiting the story but could never bring myself to do it, though I did start a sequel that didn’t get too far. It was the main story that had captured me.
Over the last few years I have been trying to clear old projects off of my plate, wanting to take care of writing projects I had begun but never finished. It was one of those things where I just wanted to feel as if I had told the stories I had meant to tell once upon a time, before time ran out for me.
Road Kill was the last of those stories.
The last story that was still waiting to be told.
Things have changed a lot for me over those years and so too did the story change. Bubba is the secondary character now with Spector taking the lead. I started mapping the story out in my head over the last few years and have lots and lots of notes as I started guiding the story forward. There was one image that stuck with me early on and that image stayed through the new version of the story. An image of the end, because I always knew how it was going to begin and how it was going to end, it was getting there that I never knew. The funny thing too is that the book continued to surprise me with the directions it took. I wrote in fits and spurts, never really focusing completely on it, but I managed to buy into the story I was writing and followed that through, to where it lead.
I am not sure that this was the story I meant to write initially, nor had begun writing. I can assure you that it’s not the story I wrote sa a kid.
This is darker, deeper, and while the name of the book stands true, it has a different meaning.
This is a mean book.
When I started writing as a kid it wasn’t for any other reason than because I had stories to tell. I didn’t see the stories as anything other than ways to be creative and to sorta share that creativity with the world. I dunno that anyone ever saw my stories outside of my mom and a teacher as a kid. It wasn’t until we started doing ‘zines that my stories got in front of other people.
As I wrote more though the more I dreamt about What If?
What If I pursued this, in whatever way that I could?
I didn’t have any thought that I’d be a Writer, but just that I wanted to write and to see where it lead. That’s what lead to me putting books out. Not the way I had dreamt but the way that worked. I came up with a DIY ethos of – if I can figure a way to do it then I will – and that was what I did. I got the stories out to people. When that was done I got the books out in front of people. I did conventions, art shows, book shows, whatever I could to get the book and me out in front of people to tell them about what I was doing. It took a while for a second book to come out, ten years, but it came out, and it was still in keeping with that DIY spirit that got me started with all my artistic ventures.
In putting this most recent book together I thought about the books I had put together, curious about how many it had been and where I was. I was honestly shocked to realize I had written and put out fifteen books with two other books done for private release.
That blows my mind.
Yeah, it wasn’t done traditionally, with a publisher backing me, but the books came out. And I will say this – anyone who goes through the process of putting a book out with the writing, editing, layout, art, release, and support, that isn’t something that you do unless you are passionate about it all. Yeah, it’s ‘easier’ to put books out via self publishing but that doesn’t make the process easy if you are genuinely putting some time and thought into it.
I never would have thought that was possible.
More than that, if you told me, at age 18, that I would write books, do shows, do conventions, and meet hundreds of people because of the books I’d never believe it. I’d be even more shocked if you told me that in those books I’d write four children’s books, and a fantasy trilogy. That just wasn’t something I woulda seen happening at all. It wasn’t that I would have thought I was better than that sort of work but that just wasn’t what I wrote. I wrote horror. I wrote scary. that was it. The thing I have found though is that I got to a point where I just wanted to tell stories. That was what the point was when I started. The fact is that all of my books are weird and creepy, just aimed at different audiences and telling different stories.
That’s the thing though, I am in it to tell stories. Whatever those stories are. Wherever they take me. That’s why I do this.
I never would have imagined I’d put fifteen books out. Three novels, four kid’s books, three fantasy books, and the rest are colletions.
Once this new book is out that clears my plate of all the old stories from my past that I wanted to tell. That’s the last thing I had always wanted to write/finish.
I dunno what that means but it means that, for this moment, my stories are told. The big ones. The forgotten ones. The lost ones. That’s a heck of a thing.
As 2019 dawns it brings with it two big anniversaries for me and two signposts in my writing.
My first book Back From Nothing was released in 1999.
I was a kid then, in more ways than one, and to have a book out was something I never imagined happening. I have gone into the story about it all but really, without the support of my folks, especially my mom, and without her investment in me and my writing, it never would have seen the light of day. I tried traditional publishing first, months and years and never got anywhere so I went the road I’d rather have not taken with subsidized publishing. I cant say I regret that path though because in all those years I never found any luck with traditional publishing. Even after all these years. Thankfully the market changed and opened up to allow people like me in, but it took a long time for that to happen. For the first few years after BFN was published I did everything I could to promote it. I did comic cons and took it with me. I made up chapbooks to keep pushing new work out. I created blogs and websites. I did readings. It got hard, promoting something that aged quickly – I put the book together in the late ’90’s so the stories weren’t new when they reached the public – but I never stopped believing in what I was doing and the path I had carved out.
The one regret I have, I suppose, is that all of the files for that book were from a word processor and are long, long gone so whatever exists of the book exists. Not that I expect to sell out, but it’s sad to think that if I did the book would just be…gone.
The book isn’t perfect. Far from it. It features the first writing from when I really got serious about things but it has some great ideas and is raw in a lot of ways but I love it for that. I went for it with those stories and just wrote and a lot of people don’t do that. It’s an imperfect book but that’s what makes it beautiful and it’s twenty years old this year.
In 2009 I was still promoting BFN at shows but I had reached a point of frustration where I needed to do something else. I had never stopped writing and had gotten some stories published in a magazine and in an anthology but I hadn’t progressed. I remember being at the Motor City Comic Con and my table was next to a guy selling one book, a huge fiction book about a superhero that he was selling for $25. He barely had a set up but was able to pitch the heck out of the book and his charisma sold it for people. I watched stunned as he sold dozens of books. I asked who he went through and he said he’d put it out himself and like that lightning struck me and I knew what I had to do. I immediately started looking into self publishing. What you have to remember is that before that time it would cost hundreds and thousands of dollars to put your own book out and it still held the mark of Vanity Publishing, the notion that if you were to put your own work out then it meant it wasn’t good enough for a publisher. We know a little better now. The times changed. Self Publishing costs came down, big companies got into things, and slowly we have gotten more acceptance. Telling an author that their work, if it’s self produced/published is no good or lesser than anything with a traditional publisher is to tell all artsits that unless someone tells them their work is good that it’s no good. Some of it was protecting the status quo but some of it was concern for lesser works flooding the market.
The market got flooded.
It’s a bit chaotic.
So be it.
Better that more voices are heard than less.
Better that more people get the opportunity to pursue their dreams than less.
Traditional publishing got languid and lazy and there had to be an alternative.
When I put This Beautiful Darkness out I hadn’t known if I’d ever get a chance to put another book out. My fire for writing, while low, had never died, and I found a way. The stories found a way. I still remember the reveal party I held, proud to be able to show my friends, family, and loved ones the new baby I had put together. And this book was a better reflection of where I was as a writer and where I was going. I finally had something else to promote and to sell and to build from.
I haven’t looked back.
Now I do.
It’s been ten years and wow, over a dozen more books written and released. Since then I have written novels, fantasies, children’s books, and none of it would have come to be if I had given up. None of it would have happened if I had not found self publishing. That gave me the opportunity to experiment and to play.
In honor of this anniversary I am putting a new version of This Beautiful Darkness out. Reformatted and with a new cover and new story added to it. I am not sure that the book and its anniversary would matter to anyone but me but it does matter.
Both books matter.
If I died today those are part of my legacy.
They are part of who I was and who I am.
I am not sure what this year holds but I want it to be special and I am working on making it that way already.
I discovered horror movies as a little guy, having seen my first one at six and then falling in love with the genre on the for real-real until I had seen THE THING years later. When I fell for scary movies, as they will always sorta be to me, I fell hard and the older I got the more insatiable I became. It was a new love and when you fall baby, you fall hard.
My tastes changed. Slashers to monsters to classics to foreign to gore. Oh yeah, that gore phase. It hit me heavy and hit me hard. I was a fan of special effects and dreamt of following that career path myself one day – spoiler alert, I for sure didn’t – and that was what really got me into the gore – the work behind the scenes. There was an artistry to all of it, a craft. I fell in love with the personalities behind the gore, the process of it, and the risque nature that it all catered too as much of the ‘good stuff’ was cut out. Gore, even the most realistic, was just another part of movie making. Another aspect of storytelling. It was a visceral part of it that conveyed the terror and cost of facing the darkness.
I have to admit though that I’d be lying if I didn’t admit to having been drawn but the sheer audacity of the gore itself. Yeah, I liked how it was made but I really loved the nastiness of it all. There was something dangerous about all of it. You’d see mainstream movies that would slip in an exploding head, or a gutted person that would rival what you’d see in the indie and foreign fare. Gore was, to my youthful self, the creme in the cookie of horror. Sure, sure, it was fantastic to find a movie with a goof story and great characters but darn it, what good was all of that if there wasn’t a head getting bisected or someone’s chest erupting into a crimson mist?
Gore is not for the faint of heart, and I get it. Even reading extreme violence can churn the stomach. What’s funny is that, as much as a kick as I got out of a bit of the old ulta-violence I didn’t really write a lot of it. I wrote some, but I never went all in for gore. I will say though, now that I have made a couple movies, I did go for a gross out in the second film, though a little bit of that ended up on the cutting room floor. There’s just something satisfying about creating an illusion of destruction knowing that it’s all done with some store bought meat, some fake blood, and quick editing.
What’s interesting is that as I have gotten older my gorehound status has sorta waned. Which is not to say I don’t enjoy a good gut munching but with the advent of ultra-gore movies coming out of the sub-basement of the underground horror movement, I find that without any reason or context, it’sjust a mass of fake blood and fake body parts. You can force ‘care’ for a character, in that, you never want to see anyone get tortured or abused (OK, I don’t want to see that) so you can take a complete stranger, a blank character, and drop them into that sort of an environment and you’ll elicit an emotional response but it’s not earned. It’s the equivilent of a jump scare. It’s cheap. With a smart filmmaker and good way to mask what they are shooting to give it authenticity you can for sure make some low rent horror look utterly believable and horrifying. Great. There is a skill to that. But it’s when you care about the character and understand the situation that it all begins to mean something. You can be affected by anything but the things that stay with you are the ones that put you in that place mentally and emotionally. So while I still get a kick out of gore, especially the fact that basic cable television gets away with things that ‘R’ rated movies didn’t just a few years ago, the grotesque thrill from watching gore with no reason or story just doesn’t have any interest for me. That’s why I never watched the FACES OF DEATH movies because, even though most of that footage was faked, I had no interest in watching just scenes of death and murder. Fake or not. And there are people drawn to the real stuff, and man alive is it ever out there to find, but again, there’s a difference. I can go in my basement and put together something to pretend that a horrible act happened but no one is harmed. People that want to watch real people being harmed, beyond an initial curiosity, are a whole other cat.
It’s weird that we’re in an era where you can make things more realistic than ever and thus nastier than ever but I still look back with fondness to the days of my youth when we’d find a movie we hadn’t seen and would be shocked at how gruesome it got. Or the thrill at seeing a gore scene pop up in a Hollywood film as if to wink that hey, we like that stuff too.
While I have aged, and my tastes had definitely changed from what they once were, I still am a gorehound at heart, just of a different kind. I don’t get a kick out of seeing gore for the sake of gore anymore, though it’s interesting to reason out how it was done and how they made it look so real. It’s an art, all of it, and I still appreciate that aspect of it. Maybe that too will change and I’ll begin to like romantic comedies and safe sit-coms about families but for now, I’ll still revel in my gore, and giggle every time a head explodes.