Anniversaries

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.

Wow.

 

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.

There is.

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.

So much.

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.

this beautiful darkness 10th anniversary cover re-size

 

…c…

Kissing – a Creepy Christmas Tale

Kissing

When I was a little kid Christmas was the most important thing in my life. I loved everything about it. I loved the music, the lights, the church service, spending time with my family, spending time with my friends, like I said, I loved all of it. Christmas, with its mythology, and its mystery was what the magic of childhood was all about for me. Sure, my birthday was always nice but there was something about Christmas that was different. I suppose that something was Santa. The fact that there was a man that watched us, that judged us, kept track of what we did, and who rewarded us or punished us out there somewhere and no one stopped him fascinated me. Don’t get me wrong, I believed in him, I sorta had to or else, according to my older sister who insisted that once you stopped believing that you stopped getting presents, but the idea that this man, this god, existed was incredible. Any questions I had were answered with kiddie books, television specials, or old songs and nothing else. It was as if he existed above and beyond anything but God Himself. So, there I was, a seven-year-old just a few weeks shy of eight and as excited by Santa as I was just as frightened by him. That fascination ruled my childhood, until I was seven and then that fateful Christmas Eve came and changed everything, for all of us.

 

We were not a rich family, not by a long shot, but dad had a good job and mom did some floral work for a funeral home and they did OK. We weren’t rich but me and sis never wanted for anything and mom and dad seemed happy as far as I could tell. Christmas meant a lot to our family. We weren’t really religious, going to church on Easter, on Christmas Eve, and a couple times in the summer, but mom and dad drove into us that this was a time of year for giving and of honoring the sacrifice of the Savior. I wasn’t sure how I felt about that Savior guy but they told me that Santa served the Savior and I figured, well, if that was the case then he must be a pretty good guy. Late at night sometimes though I have to admit that the idea that the man that watched and judged me was serving someone else, well, that gave me the creeps because it meant someone was watching him watch me. It was a lot for a little kid to worry about so I tried to push all of that out of my head to focus on the good things about the holiday. Every Christmas there were presents under the tree and we’d all go out together and pick out and buy something for a family from town that weren’t doing as well as we were and that was part of the joy of the season for us. Christmas Eve night, after the midnight service, we came home, said a prayer, and then went to bed with Christmas music playing on the radio all night and the tree left on as well. I would lay in bed listening to that faded holiday music, staring out my bedroom door at the glow of the lights and slowly I’d drift off, wondering whether Santa would think I’d been a good boy or not that year.

 

There had been no plan to stay up to see Santa the night I did. I had been lying in bed, thinking, my mind bouncing between thoughts of presents and thoughts of coal – or worse – when I noticed someone go past my door and out towards the living room, where the tree was. None of us put presents out before Christmas Day, mom saying that the time between Midnight and seven were Jesus’ and that our presents could wait. I didn’t know what that meant but I went along with it because so long as I stayed in bed until seven in the morning there were presents out there waiting. One year my sister had gotten up early, when I was still really little, and because of that there’d been no presents until noon that day. We didn’t get up early after that. My first thought was that Paula was out there, snooping for some reason, and so I was up immediately, wanting to make sure she didn’t get us both punished. I got up and out of bed as quietly as I could and slowly padded out of my room and down the hall. The closer I got to the living room the brighter and louder things got, the hall lit up in a rainbow of warm colors and sounds from the tree and radio. Even then, knowing I was risking trouble I couldn’t stop the lightning that I felt in my heart and hands as I approached the living room.

There was carpet through the house which softened my steps but I felt like there were eyes on me just the same. A chill ran through me as I thought of Santa watching me then, wherever he was, and knowing I was awake during Jesus’ time. Knowing and judging. But I couldn’t stop. I couldn’t stop moving. It was as if someone else was in control of me and driving me forward. In two more steps I was at the end of the hallway and I finally got control of myself and stopped, looked around, then leaned my head forward and started to speak when I saw that my sister wasn’t alone. My mouth dropped open as my eyes adjusted to the blinking lights of the large tree that sat in the far corner of the room and I saw who the two figures were.

Mom.

Santa.

Santa?

I closed my eyes and shook my head like I had seen people do in the movies.

I opened them and looked again.

Santa.

It was him.

A large man, taller than dad, which put him close to seven feet tall. He wasn’t fat and jolly but looked stocky and thick, his stance wide. Sitting on the floor beside him was a worn black sack. I watched as he approached my mom, removing a sequined green glove, and held his hand out to her. His hand looked strong in the dim light and as her own small hand took it a shiver ran through me. Mom wasn’t a tall woman, barely standing over five feet, but he dwarfed her, making her look like a child. I closed my eyes again and shook my head. I had to be wrong.

I suddenly remembered that silly old song about Mama kissing Santa Claus and realized that this was just dad. Dressed up and playing. I hadn’t seen right because of how dark it was and how much nervous energy I had. Dad. Geez. I opened my eyes and smiled at how stupid I had been. My smile dropped as I looked again and saw mom kiss the back of the large man’s hand.

It wasn’t dad.

It wasn’t Paula.

It was my mom and a stranger.

It was mom and Santa.

The cold reality of the full scene poured into my brain – Santa was real.

He was real and he was here and he was trying to kiss my mother.

I felt a scream well up in my throat but before it could get free, I was grabbed from behind and pulled back into the hall. I turned, horrified into silence, and saw my father, the rumor of scruff on his face and his eyes bloodshot and ringed in darkness.

 

“No. No. You can’t see that. You’re not meant to see that.” Dad whispered.

 

I opened my mouth to speak but dad pushed his hand against my mouth to stop me.

 

“No. Come with me, into your room. I’ll tell you. I’ll tell you everything.”

 

Saying that dad turned and headed for my room, stopping only for a moment to look over his shoulder, not at me but towards the living room, before disappearing into darkness. I turned and looked into the living room and saw the large man embracing my mother as he leaned down towards her, eyes closed. He had a hand on her side and his right hand I couldn’t see but knew it was on her hip. Or lower. I saw mom turn her gaze to me and watched as a tear ran down her face then I retreated into the hallway and into my room.

Dad was waiting for me.

 

“Paula doesn’t know, and I beg you not to tell her. I know you have questions but please, just listen. OK.”

I nodded.

 

“I found out about Santa when I was your age. All I had wanted in the world was proof that my brother, your uncle, was wrong, and that Santa was real. I waited behind the tree, hidden by presents, for him to come. I was asleep when I heard the sound of bells jingling. I looked out between the branches of our tree, all lit up in red, and saw the man in the suit. It was the best moment in my life. It was proof. Proof that the story was real. I started to step out from behind the presents and tree, to speak to him, when I saw my mom. She looked like she was in a dream, her hair in curlers, her tattered blue robe open revealing something red and silk that showed more skin than I had ever seen before. I felt myself blush. She went to Santa and he held his hand out to her and she kissed it and he grabbed her, rough, like he owned her. I watched them kiss, watched him grab and hold her in a way I had never seen dad do and then I closed my eyes. I had seen to much. Too much. I heard the bells again and they seemed to get louder, louder, louder and then I felt hot breath on me and I opened my eyes and looked up and there he was, as large as god, bent and staring at me with dead eyes, empty eyes. As if he saw something but not me. ‘Shhhhhh,’ he told me, then reached towards me but my mom grabbed him and begged him ‘no!’ and he stopped and turned and left me and I watched as he put an arm around her waist, put a finger to his nose and then they were gone. Just gone. That’s why you never met your Gramma Ann. She’s, she’s just gone, son. Gone. With him. One of his…brides.”

 

Dad was crying. Shaking. He took a breath and continued.

 

“Santa is real. Christ I wish he wasn’t, but he is. I dunno what he is, what he really is, but he’s real. How many people know he’s real I can’t tell you but it’s not everyone. He doesn’t come see everyone. Not anymore. Maybe there was a time when he could, thousands of years ago, but he can’t anymore. Heck, maybe he can. I dunno. I think I have met three people in my life that knew he existed and they were other kids whose mothers disappeared at Christmas just like mine had. They knew. I think, I suspect he takes a new bride every year. When he visits your home he leaves presents, special presents. When he leaves with a bride, he leaves something…else.” I opened my mouth to ask him what it was but dad shook his head in response.

 

“I don’t know what he leaves, if that’s what you were going to ask. I saw the present, clear as day, but dad opened it that Christmas and it disappeared afterwards without me ever seeing what was in it. I just don’t know. We knew he was coming this year because your mom started having the dreams. Dreams of him. Dreams just of him watching her and over the last month he got closer in the dreams until tonight. Tonight, he came. She told me about the dreams and I knew what it meant. What it means. I never told her about my mother. Never. And I never told her what might happen tonight. I don’t think I needed to. I think…I think she knew.” He grew silent.

 

“But…is he going to take her?”

 

“I don’t know, son. I just don’t know. I know enough not to try to stop him. There are stories, if you look for them, about disappearances and deaths on Christmas Eve. Stories passed down in families and in the news. Stories that tell you that you shouldn’t try to stop him. You just pray that he doesn’t decide to take your, your…” He sobbed then clamped his hand over his mouth quickly.

 

In a moment he spoke again.

 

“We just pray, son. We pray that he takes his kiss, what he usually comes for, that Christmas kiss, and nothing else. This is his holiday, we are his, and if we don’t do as he wants, as he demands then…” He grew silent again and we sat in the dark, sitting on my bed and waited silently.

 

Five, ten, twenty minutes went by and then we heard the sound of bells jingling and getting closer, and closer, and closer, then we heard them next door, in Paula’s room. Dad grabbed my hand. We held our breath and then heard the bells again and heavy strides moving down the hall. We heard mom scream and dad was up and out the door before I knew it. He ran down the hall and I sat on the bed, staring out into the hallway as the lights of the tree cycled through their colors. I sat listening to mom and dad as they screamed and moaned, the lights flashing red, purple, blue, green, yellow, orange, red, and trying not to think of anything at all. Santa’s face forced itself into my mind. The long, thick beard, matted and yellow. His calloused hands. The one thick gray brow that crossed his forehead. The leering smile. The way he had looked at my mother, as if she was a thing. A possession. I thought of these things and I suddenly thought of Paula, my sister, and I started to cry.

 

My sister disappeared on Christmas Day when I was seven years old. We don’t know what happened. She was thirteen and headstrong and dad told the police that she had been upset about not getting something for Christmas that she really wanted and had threatened to run away because of it. I didn’t remember things that way but the more time has passed the more it sounds about right. The truer it becomes. It’s been twenty years since that night, dad is gone, mom is in an elderly home. We never celebrated another Christmas after that year. We put the decorations up. We shopped for a donation present. We went through the motions, but we never celebrated. Never gave or got gifts in the family. And we never went to church again. We did what we had to, and that was all. Because he was watching. He was always watching.

I never married. I never dated seriously. I never got close to anyone. Not women. I can’t tell you why. I just didn’t want to. I keep to myself, mostly. I go to see mom when I can but the later in the year it gets the quieter and more distant she gets. When Christmas finally comes these days I take time off of work, I hole up in my house with some liquor and a gun and I wait, and I wait, and I wait for a sign that Santa’s on his way.

 

 

RoadKill – a novel

A million years ago, back when I was still a kid that had never even thought about writing more than occasionally and certainly never had thought about putting a book out, I wrote a story called Roadkill. In my mind it was a novella but in reality it was probably just a long short story. I was in my mid-teens and had handwritten the story in a spiral-bound notebook. I thought I had written a great story. It was about two friends who had a bad habit of running animals down with a car. Things escalated when things with the boys went awry and the end was a bit of comeuppance from Mother Nature.

Ah, but that book was never meant to be.

I still remember my foolish mistake when I, carrying the notebook around with me after the story had been completed, put it on top of my mom’s car and forgot about it.

Poof.

Gone.

I was heartbroken at the loss of that story and for about thirty years I have been wanting to revisit that story, to re-visit and re-write the story. I even planned a sequel and started working on it. As I started writing more regularly, and doing shows though, I never seriously sat down to write that story. It slowly evoloved over time and I started to think about it but never wanted to write it. I just didn’t have an interest in writing a novel, let alone THAT novel. It was sort of the same mentality I have with video games – if I get stuck I just sorta shrug and move on. I dunno if it’s me giving up or if its me deciding that the frustration isn’t worth it. The fact was though that I was heartbroken to have lost that book and hated the thought of re-writing it from scratch. Maybe that was silly but it was how I felt.

WHen I started putting books out I started working through the stories I had been sititing on as well as putting together new stories. Over the last few years I have been working to clear the books, as it were – trying to finish projects tha I had started but never completed. That lead to the completion of A SHADOW OVER EVER and CEMETERY EARTH, as well as the conclusion of the Meep Sheep trilogy. I just wanted to get these stories that had been sitting around for a while off my mind and conscience. Because it felt like something to do with conscience – that I HAD to get these stories written and out. As if it had been a pact I had taken on with myself.

That brings us to ROADKILL.

I am of two minds with my writing –

On one hand I don’t want tp keep putting books out that very few people are interested in or buying. It just seems silly. I love writing, I’ll always write, but I don’t want to become a joke.

Then there’s the part of me that wants to keep writing and producing stories, which means putting them out. I don’t want to chase markets and try to get published in a magazine or something like that because I did that before and it was nothing less than frustrating. Would I love to get published traditionally? OF COURSE! But I just don’t want to change my focus to that because as many markets as there are, there are still ten times more authors than that and man, I just wanna write stories. That’s all.

Over the last couple of years I have started wanting to get back to this story and to finally tackle it. I fully admit though that this was the story, the book, that has haunted me for a while because it’s lingered for so long that it started to freak me out. Do I try to re-do that exact story or write something new?

Slowly I started to take notes to try to get the story down in my mind. I knew it was still a story about two friends. I knew it was dark. Very dark. And I knew it happened in Munsonville, my made up Michigan town where SHADOW takes places as well as some of my other stories. Then it became a matter of – OK, I need to write this. Another slow process where I’d write a little here and there. I knew how it started. I knew how it ended. The rest? Yikes.

Over the course of 2018 I have worked on and off on the book with a need to get it done but no drive to do the work. When I lost my job in October suddenly a lot of time opened up and the excuses had run out – It was time to finish the book.

I wasn’t sure where it was going.

I wasn’t sure what it was about.

I wasn’t sure how to get where I needed to be.

So I did what I do – jumped in and just started writing, letting the story and characters make their own direction. The book changed, a lot, from what I had been thinking. The ending was close to what I had been thinking but what it meant and how I got there changed. I also discovered some answers to mysteries I hadn’t even known existed. As I wrote the story got clearer and clearer and finally I had found the heart of the book and drove right through it.

I finished the book a week ago today and it still feels weird.

It’s been the longest gestating of my books and I hope that is a good thing.

I hope it’s good.

Heck, I hope it’s great.

I just know it is what it is.

And what it is, is DONE!

Well, sorta.

There’s a lot of work to do, editing, revising, and fleshing out, but it’s written and honestly, the rest is the easier part and to some degrees the part that is more fun because it means I get to start making this thing work better. What I have after that, well, we’ll see. I don’t see it being something a lot of people will want to read because, as I said, it’s dark, and it’s just weird.

It’s all so new still so I am thinking of things to add, things to flesh out, and that will keep happening. My plan is to let the book sit for a month or two and then dive back into it and then we’ll see what we see.

For now though, it’s good to have it done, my strange story of two friends on a dark path.

I loved revisiting these people and this town, and it’ll be ineresting to see what comes next.

…c…

Dusting Things Off

As I have found myself with time on my hands of late I have decided it really is time to get back to The Damned Novel, which, I think I honestly call any of the books that I have put out that were novel length. This particular one has been a pain in my biscuits for a bit though, I have to admit. It began life as something I wrote as a teen, written in a spiral bound notebook as one whole story. In my mind it’s a novella but frankly it was probably more like a short story, maybe longish.

I have to revert back to remembering what it was because it’s gone.

Long, long gone.

You see, once upon a time I was carrying the notebook around and foolishly put it on top of my mom’s car – who knows why we do these things? – and then it was just…gone.

I was heartbroken.

I still sorta am.

I remember what it was, what it essentially was, and in there was a germ of something that has stuck with me. Many years ago I decided I wanted to ‘clear the decks’ as far as stories go. Just so any stories I had hanging in my mind I’d get into the world. This is really the last of those. It’s not a story that I felt needed to be told but one that’s been stuck in my craw. I started it, man, years ago, and keep putting off getting to it. It’s weird because there’s not a reason to keep me from it but I just keep putting it off.

Well, that time has passed.

It’s time to get to it.

And I am, finally.

I know how it ends, and have known it for a while.

What’s interesting is the story has changed not just since I wrote the first version, but it has changed and hopefully evolved since I first started re-working it. The mystery of writing is that between your mind and hands there is some weird creation process that takes these stories from one thing into another. To me, it’s what writers mean when they say a work writes itself. It obviously doesn’t but the process of creation happens so quickly that it feels and seems like a sort of lightning that you can only hope to catch on the page.

So the work has begun anew.
And it’s a lot of work.

The story is still surprising me but I know what I want it to be, I just have to see if that’s what the story wants to be.

Time will tell.

Let’s just hope I can keep myself on this thing so I can finally get it done.

…c…

Brand

When I started writing the last thing I was worried about was selling myself.

Or my stories.

Or anything.

I wanted to write.

I wanted to tell stories.

I’d think that most, not all but MOST, authors are driven by the same engine – the desire to tell a story.

It’s only when you find yourself writing story after story after story of varying lengths that you realize that, oh, gosh, I suppose this is a thing.

This writing.

I suppose I should think about all of this.

And then you start looking past the stories and towards getting them to people.

Art, meet commerce.

Because if you do something like this, if you do art, there’s a point where either you are very good at it, or love it so deeply, that you want it to be more than a hobby.

You want it to pay for itself so it will allow you to keep DOING that thing you love.

Art/Commerce.

Blah, blah, blah.

People have been speaking to that point as long as there is art and commerce.

Is it better to be a true artist and starve or a fed merchant with no artistic soul.

Whatever.

I leave you to sort all that out, though I’d offer that if someone is so naïve as to think that the person creating art they love should be taken care of, or held aloft above common art merchants then kid, you should take a walk, get some air, and call me later.

The weird thing for me about getting ‘serious’ about writing was the selling.

The branding.

The fact that it wasn’t enough to just write my stories.

I had to then find ways to get them to readers and better, to get readers to want to PAY for those stories.

And I did the thing, I took my wandering path that lead me to where I am today – in a mag, published online, published in anthologies, self-published, and honorably mentioned a couple times in a well-regarded yearly collection twice.

None of that really got me anywhere, awesome as it has been.

So I had to market myself.

Sell myself.

And uh, well, I don’t really have a brand.

I can’t figure that part out.

Branding to me would be like making myself a personality.

A larger than life figure.

I am not that.

I am just a guy writing stories.

Sometimes they are dark, sometimes they are cute, most times they are weird.

So brand never stuck with me.

I still work at the marketing. I do my bloggies, I post on the Tweets, and I still do shows when I am able. How that leads to a brand, I can’t tell you. I have been working at this for twenty years but haven’t figured that out.

A lot of us don’t.

A lot of folks don’t.

I suppose maybe that’s why a lot of us don’t go further than small shows and blogs and occasional sales.

We don’t have a brand.

The problem is when the brand becomes bigger than the stories.

When the brand is the focus.

And that happens too.

That’s the easier way for a publisher to sell and market that author’s work – to focus on past deeds, past works, and to lean on that to sell the new stuff.

And you know what, these folks earned that.

They worked, they found success, and they earned it.

And odds are that they aren’t the ones choosing that their works be sold as the new JOE STEEL product, like KILLER SOCKMAS mixed with DEAL OF THE NEVER-EVER-EVER.

We wants brands.

We want that short cut that tells us – oooooh, I am gonna like this.

There’s nothing wrong with being able to brand your work, so long as the brand doesn’t become bigger than you or the work itself – save, again, some of the legends, who stand as titans in their field outside of the norm.

The rest of us, well, we need to find a way to get people’s attention.

We need to be able to get their attention on the work.

Most of us don’t want to shill, to be salespeople, but if we want to be able to work on our art more then we need to be able to afford to do that and that happens when we make more time…which happens when we make more money.

It is what it is.

And a brand can come easy to some.

They have a persona.

They have a niche.

They have something for people to latch onto.

‘AH, that’s so and so, they do such and biscuits’.

But it’s a real thin line you walk, that brand.

Because the brand can betray you.

Build something from it and it can be the noose you have woven that hangs you when you don’t live up to it.

Or it can make you a clown or actor, always having to be ‘on’, like many comedians are expected to be, and always that character you’ve created to brand yourself.

It becomes a brand in every sense of the term.

And it can become a joke.

I have done enough shows where I saw the schtick.

I saw the brand.

The loudmouth.

The actor.

The market-watcher.

It can go on and on. Sure, some sold, absolutely, but at what cost to themselves.

I remember one artist I’d always see at a big comic show and she had become her brand – same outfit every day, same schtick, same aloof act.

Maybe it worked for other folks.

It just made me grind my teeth.

For some, the brand is everything, the brand is bigger than anything else.

It is their one thing, becoming bigger than the work, becoming all there is because that brand, that hook, is what keeps them fed and the machine they have built working.

They focus on it so much that they lose sight of everything else.

Even all sense.

Branding isn’t new.

It’s not evil.

This is no missive on the woeful state of the poor artist.

Naw.

We make the choices on what we pursue and what we pour our time and passions into.

It’s just an interesting thing, the notion of a brand.

The notion that part of the deal is being a showperson.

A huckster.

A salesperson.

I still have trouble with that and suppose I always will.

I guess that’s why I don’t sell much and don’t do well.

Hmm, maybe that’s my brand though.

Maybe that’s my ‘in’.

Whatever-Guy.

“Oh, hi, is this your work? What is it about?”

“Whatever!”

Sure, sure.

That’ll knock them dead.

Patent Pending.

…c…

Wanderer – a story

This is a wee tale. First draft. Very rough. Me working out some ideas and seeing what is there. There’s the seed for another story planted here if I ever have time to swing back to it. We shall see. 

He wasn’t sure when his choice had become his fate.

He wasn’t sure when the distant hum in his head became a voice and then a chorus.

He wasn’t sure when the bottle stopped being a party and became a sentence.

He wasn’t sure of much anymore, just that some days it felt as if the fog had cleared from his head and he found himself in a place he didn’t recall and he wasn’t sure where he had been, where he had come from, and how he had come to be where he was.

And it shook him.

To his core.

To his faith.

To the bottom of himself

To sobriety.

But it never lasted.

The fog came back.
The voices returned.

And both seemed to be at the bottom of the bottle.

And they helped, the smiling faces, the nodding heads, and the open wallets.

Helped as much as they could.

But he wasn’t able to return their gestures.

Unable to repay their kindness with the truth because the truth was a sea he had not sailed in how many days, or weeks, or months, or even years.

He couldn’t even remember his age.

So he’d lie.

He lost his job.

He lost his family.

He lost his love.

He tuned out, he gave up, he walked on.

It was different every time, his earnest responses met with a pat on his shoulder and a knowing nod.

On and on and on he went, never sure where he was going, just that it was forward.

He has always seen himself cast in the part of victim in this play, as the man slighted by god, by society, and by his fellow man.

The truth of that lie though was revealed to him one day when the clouds cleared for him as he lay next to the bodies of two dead teenagers.

They couldn’t have been older than fifteen.

They could have been his children.

His daughter and son.

Their heads had been caved in, presumably with the shattered cinder block he was holding in his hand, their blood thick and sticky on his hands and face.

Their wallets were still on them.

There were no drugs around that he could find, and no booze.

The only clue he had was the change that was scattered around the bodies.

He looked around and saw that he was at the end of an alley full of piles of trash and burned out lights.

He wept beside them as he it slowly dawned on him that this probably wasn’t the first time he’d hurt someone.

He just couldn’t remember.

His left arm was itching and he looked down and saw there were two fresh cuts in the skin that were red and inflamed.

Two fresh cuts to go with four other cuts that were scarred over.

He took the boy’s wallet and the cash from the girl and covered them up with some boxes, the best burial he could offer them.

It wasn’t fair.

This wasn’t fair.

But if there was someone who understood how unfair this world was it was him, so maybe it was fitting that he was the one to usher them into the darkness.

And the clarity would fade, and the voices would get louder and they would drive him forward, telling him where to go and what to do as he slept deep within.

Trapped within the madness.

Trapped within his cage.

But as he shambled out of the alley and down the darkened city sidewalk a chilling thought came to him, a question that asked if these moments of clarity were not his true personality, his true face.

The face of the killer.

The face of the monster.

The voices were the lie, the sweet whispers to lull him back to sleep to keep him safe.

To keep him buried.

To keep him dead.

 

…c…

ROAD MAP – a story

So this is where they put in those trigger warnings, right? OK. This is a story about cutting. If that’s not a topic you want to read about then please turn away now. Otherwise, this is Road Map. This, like all my stories on here, is a first draft. Accept it as such. 

ROAD MAP

When I was young the setting of the sun meant an ending.

The end of the day.

The end of adventure.

The end of fun.

It wasn’t until I was older and was taught the magic of night, the mystery of the moon, and the dangers of darkness that I learned that the setting sun is just one part of a cycle of life and death, death and life, one stepping aside to give the other the stage.

I went from running in the street, playing in a yard, and screaming at a lake to smoking in the woods, drinking in the backseat, and fucking in a field.

Maybe the old me had to die to birth the new me.

Some days I like that, that transition.

Other days I hate it.

Today I hate it.

Today is a red day.

They aren’t all red, which is why I never go deep, but a lot of them are red, which is what leads me to the relative darkness of my room in the first place.

Privacy, something I was never really afforded as a kid, feels like it is everywhere as an adult. The places I can go that I couldn’t before. The things I can do. The fact that I can close a door and not have someone feel the need to open it because they can.

It was my door.

I paid the rent to have that door and even if I shared the apartment, that door was still mine.

As was the dark.

I didn’t always love the dark but red days I did.

Loved it as much as I hated it.

That’s why I started painting, with my skin as my canvas and a blade as my brush.

It was a friend that opened that particular door.

A friend long gone now, drowned in their paint, but someone whom I loved, and missed, and who helped form who I am.

For good or ill.

I saw the scars on her legs once, after we’d played a gig together, and I reached out to touch them, instinctively, without even thinking, and she recoiled from me, dropping her guitar over her thigh to hide it, not realizing her shorts had climbed high enough to reveal what had clearly been a secret.

“Why?” I asked.

And she answered simply.

“Because there are things that tears, and words, and music, and nothing else can speak life to. Only pain can. Only blood can.”

She looked around to see if anyone was near but we were sitting on the back stoop of the coffee house and no one was out here but us smoking heathens. She pulled out a tissue from her back pocket and opened it to show me a razorblade. I leaned in and saw the red on its edge.

I asked her to show me.

Fascinated by this.

Drawn to it.

I think she thought I was turned on at first but I wasn’t.

I am not.
But I was drawn to it like it was fire.

She pulled the blade out and looked around again before moving her guitar aside and sliding the blade against her thigh. I watched as her skin tore open and a thin line of red appeared and then wept gently down her leg.

She hadn’t cut deep but she had cut.

She went to do it again and I grabbed her hand.

As drawn as I was I was also scared.

She smiled at me.

“Oh, you never cut deep. Not unless you want to drown. This is just swimming for me. Not drowning.”

And it was.

I watched has her legs and then her upper arms became a roadmap of whatever she was dealing with.

I never quite knew what set her off.

Happiness or sadness or both.

Eventually she started to swim out deeper and deeper and I couldn’t keep up.

We stopped playing shows together.

We stopped going for coffee at all hours.

We stopped catching each other when we fell.

I watched the scars deepen.

I watched her friends change.

I watched her eyes change.

The last time I saw her I knew she was looking to drown.

We were booked to play the same night at a new bar. I hadn’t realized I had booked to directly open for her. She was the headliner, I was the middle act, and some guy who played Uke was booked first. She was the headliner. She booked the gig.

All of the songs she played were happy.

They were love songs, they were dance songs, they were things that she would pepper into her performance but never lean on. I watched her from the back of the bar, nursing a whiskey and sour about having to play the gig but I was in awe of her. She owned these people.

She owned me.

It was the best I had ever seen her play.

When it was done the bar had made her do two encores because the crowd demanded it. I went to see her, to talk to her, to see if she was better, had changed.

I caught sight of her as she was getting into a cab with a couple other women who’d played backup with her, she waved at me and was gone.

And then she was gone.

She drowned a week later.

They found her in the tub of one of the girls.
She was drunk.

She’d done a sloppy job.

There was blood everywhere.

She became the new posterchild for tortured artists and suddenly people wanted her bootleg tapes and CDs. Her last performance became the stuff of legend. The stuff of masturbatory prophecy.

But I was there.

And it was legend.

But it was also tragic.

And it broke me.

It was painting that saved me.

Painting lead to where I am.

A map to a road I had never taken, to a roadmap I needed to write.

A story written as song.
A song written as prose.

So I dove into the red water to see how it felt.

The first time I went too deep and just barely made it to the ER before it was too late. I struck a vein with my pocket knife but was able to stumble the fourteen blocks to safety. I was embarrassed but they were scared.

An Attempt, they called it.

They knew who I was, that singer that knew that other singer, so they nodded and patted my back. It was two months after she had died.

I wasn’t famous but in the city,  I was known.

I was patched up, I was given the card of a Professional, and I was sent home to rest.

‘No partying’, they said, seeing me as a typical artist with an addiction.

My addiction though was my disconnectedness.

I wanted no one.
Nothing.

Being a performer there were always people wanting to talk, play, touch, kiss, fuck, or take.

There were always drugs.

Always drinks.

Always something.

I wanted nothing.

The music had been my refuge.

I wasn’t me on stage, I was a performer hiding behind an acoustic guitar.

I was a second name on a bill.

But now that she was dead the spotlight had tipped my way because I had been so close to her.

I was the next hot falling star.

I hated it.

I stopped playing.

I picked up shifts at a diner downtown.

I hid in my room.

But they wouldn’t stop calling, or writing, or coming by.

And I needed to play.

So I painted to build a bridge between me and the performer I pretended to be night after night.

I was lucky in that I made enough performing that taking these side gigs could just be for extra dough or for a break. I wasn’t rich, by any means, but I was lucky, and I was good, and I had the zeitgeist, at least for the moment.

And it felt dirty, but I didn’t abuse it.

I didn’t write some fucking opera about her. Or make anything about her or my pain over her loss.

No.

I sang.

I just sang.

My songs.

Other songs.

Once in a while one of hers, when it felt right.

And I missed her.

But the painting helped.

 

After that first dive I realized that that was my bottom, or close.

I had been pulled under and had to be careful not to go under again.

I wasn’t ready to die.

I just wanted release.

So I didn’t go deep.

I sat in the dark, listening to one of her tapes, the first one she made, she and I splitting the cost to record, she getting one side of the tape while I got the other, and it was there, in the dark, engulfed in her memory, that I started making my map.

I started on my thigh, like she had, but over time the map changed as I changed.

Relationships guided it.

Heartbreaks.

Successes.

Failures.

The record contract that never got signed.

The one that did.

All of it chronicled across my legs, my stomach, my chest, my arms.

Tiny slices that stung as the blade dipped into the ink and burned as the air hit the cut.

It didn’t make me feel good, doing it, no, but it was release.

It was focus on something other than me and the bullshit that I was.

I would look into the mirror and see the failures and fuck ups.

In the darkness I could make my own red dawn, a crying sun that would burn into my skin and create another piece of the roadmap of my life and one day I would be able to run my fingers over it all and know where I was and who I was and what had made me.

I was lucky, like I said, in that my gigs allowed me to cover up anything that I didn’t want seen.

Sure, I liked to fuck, who doesn’t, but I did it at clubs, or in cars, or anywhere it was dark and where there was no need to talk.

I didn’t want a relationship.

I didn’t want more heartbreak.

I had had my fill.

I just wanted release.

I never cut too deep, just deep enough to leave a scar.

Deep enough to carve more of the map.

Sometimes I went too far, carving at myself like I was a pumpkin, stabbing and gouging behind a veil of rage filled tears.

I hated those times because it meant recovery, and rest, and it meant me reflecting on what the fuck I thought I was doing.

I knew what happened to my friend.

Is that what I wanted?

No.

I wanted a sunset that lead to a night that lead to the day again.

I didn’t want one or the other.

I wanted the cycle.

The cutting let me live through a red night while the scars were my dawn, my reminder that I survived with the knowledge that if things got hard, there was always darkness to hide within.

Maybe it was sick.

Maybe it is.

But it’s me.

It’s my addiction.

My release.

My red bliss.

I don’t want to die.

I just don’t want to live like anyone else.

I want to live like me.

And the only way to do that is with a roadmap.

…c…