This blog is changing format and moving to jjmacmillan.com, hope to see you there.
I was listening to the @Nerdist podcast recently when Hardwick and Wheaton began to discuss the concept of “earning” your nerd cred. My first reaction was to cry foul and just fast-forward through the rest of the discussion, but I started thinking about my own ownership issues with certain icons of nerd culture and I have to agree that there are things you can’t come by easily, things you should have to discover on your own or obtain through terrible difficulty.
Understand that I’m not endorsing the current rapid fracturing of the nerdiverse. My thoughts on that subject stop at reminding the adherents of various faiths that they are lucky to have a faith to adhere to at all and that in a not very long ago time, everything they loved was mocked and dismissed. So, basically: Shut up and enjoy your victory.
But I will stake my claim to certain levels of authenticity that latecomers can never truly understand. Because, what good is a painting if you can’t authenticate that it is, indeed, an original Rembrandt and then lord that fact over everyone who comes to see it?
Last House on the Left, The Town That Feared Sundown, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Cannibal Holocaust.
Latecomers simply can’t comprehend the experience of seeing these movies first run in the theater. Streaming Cannibal Holocaust on your laptop while sipping chai lattes in bed doesn’t even touch on the rite of passage movies like this one provided for drive-in bound teenagers whose only connection to the world was blurted out in bursts of static from the AM radios embedded in the dashboards of their American made cars.
Every night, driving my Mustang from one pizza joint to another (I went to high school in a small town) I would be subjected to the terrorizing influence of the commercials for the midnight only showings of movies of this ilk. I’ve written before that I was too scared by the very advertisements meant to entice me to ever see Chainsaw but I did go to the drive-in to see Left and Sundown and to a porn theater in Fairfax to see Cannibal Holocaust with a gay friend who found the violence to be vomit-inducing.
Before the internet, before the wide expanse of the cable landscape, there was a feeling of isolation to life outside the few really big cities and, even then, I’m pretty sure kids who lived in the suburbs of those cities were just as clueless as kids like me growing up in small towns.
If you think I’m doing a “kids these days” bit, you’re missing the point. Think back to when the first rumors about The Blair Witch started trickling out across the trembling appendages of the Web 1.0 infrastructure. You were convinced this was real found footage of an actual thing that happened. These days “found footage” movies are so commonplace they’ve become tiresome, but back then, Blair Witch struck a resounding blow for all those who lived in a degree of isolation that allowed them to believe it might be real.
Well, hold onto your hats kids, because the producers of Cannibal Holocaust were dragged into court because of their “found footage” so they could prove the actors hadn’t been raped and murdered for real.
And even though they weren’t successfully prosecuted, we still believed it was real because instead of a thousand in-the-know, behind-the-scenes whisper-blogs by industry insiders, we had our older cousin who had seen the damn thing and could tell us for sure that the rapes and murders in that movie were real. Cannibal Holocaust, for us, was a snuff film.
That’s an extreme case, I’ll grant you. So let’s talk about the common experience of edge dwellers from those days: Rocky Horror Picture Show. Just as with The Groove Tube and Holy Grail, Rocky Horror existed in the egg sack of its own nascent genre for a good ten years.
I was at a Mickey’s Big Mouth party when I first heard about it. For the record, Mickey’s Big Mouth was a potent malt liquor concoction that came in short, barrel-shaped bottles with wide mouths that made it easy to get really drunk really fast. Back in the late 70s and early 80s if you were looking to start trouble on a large scale, you’d have a Mickey’s party. Forty minutes into the thing, everyone was drunk enough for fights to break out, affairs to be exposed, and sexual preferences to be tearfully confessed. Also, the whole group could be easily convinced to up and decamp to a midnight showing of Rocky Horror.
That first virginal trip to the midnight show, I had no idea what everyone was talking about. There were no blogs to inform me and Ain’t It Cool wasn’t even born yet much less palpitating over the latest spoilery information about new releases. But I went, because that’s what we did. We couldn’t Google it. If we wanted to know, we had to go.
The first time I saw MST3K, I was surfing channels looking for something to watch and paused momentarily on a black & white film I had often enjoyed when I was a kid. I can’t remember which movie it was, just that I was annoyed by the silhouettes down front talking over it.
I almost clicked off, but Joel or one of the bots got off a good one and I started laughing and took my thumb off the detonator. The only reason I gave them a chance at all was that one joke and something called Short Attention Span Theater, which I vaguely remember as a late 1980s clip show with comedians overdubbing lines in clips from old movies. SAST was hilarious… as I recall, so I gave MST3K a shot and became hooked.
When Star Wars debuted, there was no promotional campaign that I remember. I was looking for something to do, decided to check out the movie times in the paper and came across a line drawing of the poster that would become famous in short order. But to me, it looked like a Japanese science fiction movie. Something along the lines of The Green Slime. So I called up a friend of mine and invited him to join me at the Reb Yank (this name made perfect sense to kids in Manassas, Va) movie palace for a good chuckle at the latest badly dubbed, rubber suit monster movie.
I probably don’t have to tell you that when that destroyer passed overhead during the opening shot, I became vaguely aware that we were not, in fact, about to see Green Slime 2: The Enslimining.
This is unarguably the best way to see a movie that will go on to change the course of entertainment. I saw it again in Grauman’s Chinese Theater later that year when I traveled west. It was technically a better experience in that the theater was amazing, the sound system was amazing and the screen was enormous but it was not a superior viewing because I knew what I was there to see.
I’m no good at chess. I suck at math. A brain cramp in my three dimensional thinking makes it impossible for me to solve a Rubik’s cube. And, to quote Sam Cooke, I don’t know what a slide rule is for. I spent all of my time in high school and college chasing skirts instead of going to class or running for student council.
But I was raised on science fiction. I love horror movies. And I’m obsessive about the details of the things I crave.
I’m a brown coat wearing, Buffy-ologist of the first order who read the entire Dark Tower series front to back twice.
The fact that I was reading Stephen King when he was still tapping out his masterpieces on a portable typewriter in the HVAC closet of a single-wide trailer makes me a hipster. Being able to talk at length about his growth as a novelist over the course of his first six novels makes me a nerd.
To quote Hardwick (or Wheaton, I can’t remember who said it): It’s not what we love that makes us nerds. It’s how we love it.
Now go forth and discover new things to love with nerdly intensity so you can bring them back to the rest of us who hunger for the next Death Race 2000 or Blade Runner or Last Starfighter or Soldier or Moon or Space Station 76.
What are you doing hanging around here? We’re waiting.
What does a sixty watt bulb feel like when it’s illuminating a hall closet? It feels like the brightest bulb in the world. It feels like the king of light, the vanquisher of darkness, the torch of brilliance… But what does it feel like suspended in front of one of those searchlights small town car dealerships believe will drag you into their lots of gently used Chevrolets?
It feels like a penis coming fresh out of a swimming pool in February. It feels like a match trying to light a fart in a hurricane. It feels like a moderately-to-minimally creative person listening to Max Landis throw off unused ideas like sparks from a steam engine revving so high it’s tearing itself apart.
Max was going all hyperkinetic on a Nerdist podcast when he just tossed out a couple of prime ideas that he was throwing away because he literally sells too much to actually be able to work on it all. And my brain sort of melted down and then went to suck its thumb and cry in a corner.
The stuff he was throwing away wasn’t just genius, it was thinking outside the human condition. Anyone trying to bang out a genre screenplay within the studio system is very much like Mrs. R.R. Forman going up against Mozart when it comes to dealing with this guy on one of his bad days.
Listening to him casually word vomit sheer, jaw dropping genius over the course of an interview really did make me creatively impotent for a few days. The time would come, I would sit down at the keyboard, and his ideas for the best Bond movie ever and a stone cold stunner of an idea for a story told from Captain Hook’s point of view, would just shrink my balls down to ice cold peanuts.
It’s hard to type with ice cold peanuts between your legs.
But then I remembered a post from the legendary screenwriting blog of Terry Rossio and Ted Elliot. The guys who created the Pirates of the Caribbean series and wrote the best Zorro movie ever made have an excellent series of posts about making it as a writer in Hollywood on their site Wordplayer.com. And one of the posts, if I remember correctly (yes, I’m too lazy to look it up) is called, “Crap Plus One.”
Basically, it takes down the notion of setting out to write something better than the terrible stuff you see up on the screen. The conceit being that your goal should never be to write something slightly better than a Michael Bay movie, but should instead be to write the best thing you possibly can.
This post came back to me while I was covering myself in kerosene while looking for an ignition source (Goddammit why did I quit smoking?) and I realized that if I turned the idea around, I could go back to happily stretching the edges of my mediocre talent.
Do physicists give up their profession because they aren’t as smart as Einstein? Do sex symbols give up their careers because they’re not as strapping as Brad Pitt? Do the Kardashians abandon television because they have no discernable talent? No and no and, unfortunately, no.
So now I’m going to go back to my mildly innovative take on a YA novel secure in the knowledge that, while it’s not Max Landis genius, it’s also not crap plus one. But it is the best I can do.
But before I go, I want to Maxwell you with a true silver hammer of an idea much in the same way Max did to me on that podcast: Peak oil has come and gone. Oil as a lubricant is so rare it’s nearly impossible to get in large quantities. Giant robots are limping around with frozen joints and are willing to do anything for a few hundred barrels of the stuff. That’s right, it’s Transformers: Revenge of the WD40.
Watching I Wake Up Screaming got me in the mood to look for other noir films I missed during the time I was researching The Vengeance Season. It didn’t take long to come up with two that I’d never seen: Kiss of Death and Nightmare Alley.
What is it with the titles of these movies? No one woke up screaming in I Wake Up Screaming. No one was kissed to death in Kiss of Death. And nothing happened in an alley in Nightmare Alley. It’s a carnie movie, for God’s sake. There are no alleys, just sawdust and animal crap.
I’m beginning to think – and stay with me here as I go out on a limb — that they just picked titles at random to get people to come see the movie. This was back before Hollywood turned super honest and straight up noble, so it’s entirely possible.
What can I say about Kiss of Death? Well, the first thing I can say is that I didn’t finish watching it even though I was keen to compare it to the 1995 remake with Nicolas Cage and that ginger guy from that cop show who can’t speak until he dramatically removes his sunglasses. Oddly enough, that version was also unwatchable, but mostly because it sucked.
The reason I haven’t finished watching the 1947 version isn’t because it was bad but because Richard Widmark is in it and he portrays a character so vile it was simply too disturbing to listen to him talk. And he talks all the time. Remember Larry Drake playing the title character in Dr. Giggles? Widmark’s character is equally creepy-cum-annoying. I’ll get back to it eventually. Not because I want to, but because I’m a completist.
And it’s really disconcerting to remember that Widmark went on to become a leading man later on in his career. You’ll never watch Judgment at Nuremberg the same way again after seeing him in this movie.
On the other end of the spectrum, Nightmare Alley is excellent and bizarre. This must be the only time other than Todd Browning’s Freaks that the sideshow geek was dealt with in any direct way. The script even makes note of the fact that this bizarre act had been made illegal long before this movie was made.
But that’s not what is so mind-alteringly weird about this movie. It’s Tyrone Power’s character arc. This matinee idol goes from carnie roustabout to high society headliner to geek over the course of 110 minutes. It’s a truly distressing thing to behold — he even looks like a man strung out on “booze” (I’m pretty sure booze is standing in for heroine here. No alcoholic talks about limiting themselves to a one shot a day.) — and even more so because, unlike the heels in most noirs, he’s not actively evil.
Like most of us, the Great Stan is just to easily able to convince himself that his selfish actions are for the benefit of others. If it weren’t for Coleen Gray, he would have no conscience at all.
Oh, and Coleen Gray, one of the most beautiful — in the modern sense of that word, she doesn’t even look like an actress from that era — actresses from that day is in both of these movies. Damn, I just looked her up on IMDB and discovered she’s in The Killing, Red River, and Kansas City Confidential as well. She had quite the noir run going there for awhile.
I hear people — okay, older people — complain that they don’t make movies like this anymore but I think they really do. Kiss of Death was remade, as I mentioned above. Out of the Past, a classic, was remade as Against All Odds. Not a bad movie but nowhere near as strong as the original. The Killers was remade in 1964. It was good but nowhere as good as the… oh, here I am talking about “the original” again like it’s something untouchable that belongs in a reliquary.
So if you want a movie that was made like they used to make them, I would say Body Heat is your winner. It’s not a remake but it satisfies on every note of the Noir scale and it has a truly mind altering twist.
BUT THAT’S NOT THE POINT!
We aren’t supposed to make them like we used to. Movies aren’t cars. Wait, that’s not even a good analogy. Movies aren’t bridges. Here’s a paraphrase from Patton Oswalt: For any creative endeavor to survive, it must change and grow.
That’s the answer, by the way, to the argument that Michael Bay is a great director because his movies make a lot of money. Making money is only a valid argument if you’re debating a banker. And the heck with those guys.
We shouldn’t make movies like we used to because film is an artform and it must change in order to thrive. White Heat becomes Bonnie & Clyde becomes The Godfather becomes Scarface becomes The Way of the Gun becomes Snatch and so on.
If you went back to 1949 and showed Snatch to Jimmy Cagney’s audience, well… no one would have stayed past the first act. Movies reflect the times in which they are created. That’s why there’s no point in remaking a movie like Nightmare Alley (which wasn’t even a box office success in its own time). Our time is better spent looking for new reflections in our own golden eye rather trying to reach back to past successes.
Okay, I’ll be honest. This whole post was about how pissed I am that Michael Bay tried to reboot the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles franchise. That property is very near and dear to me and I hope he gets an unusually aggressive form of testicular cancer.
One of the problems with reading about the addictions of your heroes is that you stand a very good chance of getting infected yourself. For instance, you might read a memoir by a guy who got a little too obsessed with consuming movies and come away with a whole list of movies you feel compelled to see.
My psychic burden from reading Silver Screen Fiend doesn’t appear to be too bad, at least at the outset, I don’t think. I’m reading Clark Ashton Smith, one of those authors I knew in my gut I should read but assumed would be dripping with that 19th century purple prose I find so taxing. That’s not too far off the mark, his prose is far more dense than what we think of as the modern style, but it’s actually kind of beautiful.
The first story was so lyrical — I’m listening to the audio book — that I thought it was a poem placed in the forward for purely thematic purposes.
I have to be honest about something here before we go any further. I’ve always been a big fan of H. P. Lovecraft — in theory. I love his stories and his ideas, but his writing has always been a little too wooden for my taste. That’s what I was expecting from Smith.
That’s not what I got. Instead, I find myself jotting down phrases and similes that are startling in their clarity.
Note: I do this because I live in constant terror I’m going to subconsciously plagiarise something I’ve read. So whenever I come up with a really good line, I check my notes to make sure I didn’t rip it off.
I also jot them down because I want to be able to enjoy them on their own merit. Here’s one I took note of from Oswalt’s book: He was someone who left a noxious fragment behind that led others to evil. That’s something that would fit perfectly into the novel I’m working on so having it on hand both urges me to do better, to reach a little further, and keeps me honest.
IP theft is not a joke. It’s poison to your career and it kills your legacy. Let’s face it, no one not currently trying to roofie a coed wants to be Dane Cook. And speaking of Dane Cook it’s probably time I explained what all the hubbub is about with that guy. Or maybe not. This post is going to be long even without a proper excoriation of the alleged joke thief. So let’s just push it to another day.
And now back to our regularly scheduled program…
The other tenebrous hook Oswalt’s book sunk into my pasty, willing flesh was a movie called I Wake Up Screaming. The title hints at something Karloff might have done during his heyday, one of the overlooked gems like The Devil Commands — which I just obsessively added to my Netflix queue and pushed to the top because now that I’ve thought of it, I have to see it again — but it’s actually a film noir starring Victor Mature who turns out to be a much better actor than I remember.
The problem: I went through a film noir addiction ten years ago when I settled down to write The Vengeance Season. The idea was that if I was going to get into that mindspace, I would need to truly submerge myself in the era and the zeitgeist and film noir seemed like the best sensory deprivation tank for the job.
I got around to seeing all the classics — The Killers, Criss Cross, Out of the Past (who knew that the 1984 movie I loved so much at the time, Against All Odds, was a remake of this classic noir that was even better? Not me until I finally saw it), Touch of Evil (which I don’t think really counts as a Noir), Night and the City, The Maltese Falcon, Double Indemnity… okay, so the list is too long to enumerate here so let’s just take it as read that I watched all of them multiple times with and without the commentary track.
Except for I Wake Up Screaming which is one of the best. In and of itself, it’s a strange thing, but however off kilter it feels, it works just the same. It’s like two movie productions got together to make two different movies, one a romantic comedy with Betty Grable and the other a gritty murder mystery with Victor Mature. You wouldn’t think the result would be anything more than an odd mishmash but it actually comes out as a super hybrid that succeeds on both sides.
Plus, Laird Cregar. If you don’t know that name, go watch this movie now and then listen to the commentary. Nuff said.
But the existence of I Wake Up Screaming raises a terrible, almost unbearable question for an obsessive completist: If this one is out there and I didn’t know about it, what others have I missed?
So now I’m quietly filling up my Netflix queue with titles off of Best Noir lists even though I have given up crime writing and no longer have a reason to see these movies. Except that they’re, you know, great.
Oh, look, here’s one with Bogart. In A Lonely Place. I’ll give that one a try. It sounds fun.
See you guys in… a… while, I guess? I’m going to be kind of busy for the foreseeable future.
Here’s another one with Bogart: They Drive By Night. Into the queue it goes.
How long could it possibly take to see every movie in the film noir category and jot down every quotable line in the script? Cool, here’s one from I Wake Up Screaming: I’ll follow you into your grave. I’ll write my name on your tombstone.
Has a nice ring to it, doesn’t it?
I think Patton Oswalt is the funniest, most entertaining comic working today. And not fart joke funny like Adam Sandler or frat joke funny like Dane Cook, or pratfall funny like — Okay, so I’m trying to think of someone from the “fatty falls down” school of comedy but all I can come up with is the guy who coined the term and he’s been dead for almost twenty years so just pretend I came up with something clever.
And now that I’m thinking about it, I’m struck by how the group of comics who replaced the airline food is bad and women are different from men hacks of the eighties and nineties — think Maria Bamford, Patton Oswalt, Louis CK, Brian Posehn, Bob Odenkirk, David Cross, Blaine Capatch, wow there are a bunch of people from that wave of alternate comedy that are super popular now — kind of changed the world.
If you concede the theory that Jack the Ripper opened the door to the 20th century, you could also say that the alternative comedy scene opened the door to the self aware, multi referential popgasm that is the 21st.
Damn, I lost the thread of what I was going to say so I’m going to tell my Maria Bamford story real quick while I get my train of thought back: I saw her at a Wednesday night show at some forgettable Comedy Store pretender in Dallas back in the mid-nineties and… wait for it… she wasn’t the headliner. She was third out of six, if I remember correctly, and the closer was some local DJ who “did characters” and “told jokes.” I mean, I never went to comedy clubs — I had only been dragged to this one because a friend had a coupon for free drinks — and even I knew the punchlines before he sprung them on us.
This just came back to me like a piece of tuna caught in the gag reflex of my sense of humor for twenty years, but I even remember the bit he closed out with. It was the old, “I think my wife is a robot because every time I press a button on the remote she rolls her eyes.” I may have even punched that up a bit for him because I’m pretty sure he didn’t even mention the part about being a robot. He just came on stage with his Morning Zoo fart noise personality and said, “My wife rolls her eyes every time I use the remote.” Then he looked impatient while waiting for us to laugh.
What was amazing about this was the response from the crowd. Out there in the sticks of suburban Dallas on a Wednesday night in a half-assed comedy “club” a spontaneous groan went up from every last member of the audience. He was so surprised, he looked like he had been slapped. He was shocked, that’s right shocked, that we had heard it before. Was he unfamiliar with television? Did he think we were? Who knows what poor logical skills convinced him he should be on a stage in front of somewhat live humanbeings.
And that brings me to Dane Cook. No, you know what, I can already tell this post is going crazy long so I’ll push that thought to another day. This is what happens when I stop writing. All that creative energy has to go somewhere so my normally brief blog posts start gushing like a broken sewer main.
Uh… where was I? Oh, yeah, Maria Bamford.
After a couple of brand newbies gasped and dry swallowed their way through seven minutes of material in three minutes, Maria Bamford came on and killed only to have the mood crushed by another wet fart of a hack who wanted to tell us about the differences between men and women (spoiler alert: it’s the genitals) and then the evening was closed out with the emotional force of a single, unheard snivel by a DJ whose sidekick probably thought he was hilarious.
But right in the middle of this miasma of nervous wannabes and hackneyed old timers made generally weary by the road, up to the mike strides the ditzy magician who tells a story about hitting a train with her car that was truly funny. And you know how I knew it was funny? I laughed. The openers had put me in a surly mood by the time she came up but she made me laugh.
So just as I was giving up on the whole night, her act gave me hope that good things might be coming and I relaxed and enjoyed my free watered down drink and waited for the show to get even better — Remember, she wasn’t even closing it out that night — but as soon as she left the stage, my hopes were dashed by another clumsy oaf who had no business being up there.
That’s right, Patton Oswalt was that oaf. No, I’m totally kidding. It was all clueless locals and eternal denizens of the angry road for the rest of the show. I’ll get back to Patton in a minute but right now I’m busy running off at the mouth.
Oh, I remember where I was going when I lost my train of thought: So, when I picked up the audio version of Patton Oswalt’s book Silver Screen Fiend, I was just looking for something to make me laugh on my way to an unforgivably stupid job at a company that I’m sure was founded just to suck the life and creativity out of people unlucky enough to drift into range its sick radiation field.
His book did do that, after a fashion. It’s very funny, but it’s also illuminating and emblematic of the pure smarts of this generation of comics. I certainly wasn’t expecting a book that would cause me to reconsider my approach to writing, one that would make me question whether the lack of pain I have been feeling about writing was maybe a sign that I was no longer getting better.
There is a theory that creativity should hurt. I subscribed to it when I was young because writing was actually very hard at that time. I dropped out of college and drove around in an old Toyota Corolla for a year just to get the first draft on paper and I still had two more years of rewriting before I had anything worth sending out. But in the last ten years since I started writing again, I’ve found it quite easy to think of ideas and put them down on (digital) paper.
I thought that meant I had matured as a writer until I read about Oswalt’s series of Night Cafes — Night Cafes being the rooms you cannot leave without being changed — and then I started wondering if Harlan Ellison or Philip K. Dick or Kurt Vonnegut would be satisfied with how weakly I’ve pressed against the edge of the envelope of late.
Am I innovating or regurgitating? That’s the question you have to ask yourself every time you commit something artistic to physical reality. Be it story or statue or song or standup routine, you have to wonder if you brought it into this world for any reason other than remuneration.
Unfortunately, you can’t use rejection as a guide. Rejection is a double edged sword. It rushes to greet all innovators — PKD once received two dozen rejections in a single mail delivery — with the same enthusiasm it does hacks, wannabes and dullards. The rejection letters read the same in most cases.
But rejection also pushes back on nascent genius, forcing the creator to rethink, rearm and attack from a new angle. Well, “force” is a poorly chosen word. Better to say that rejection offers the chance to reassess your work and to understand that everyone takes something different away from it and what they take away may not be the thing you intended.
As an example, I’ll just mention a review I read of Silver Screen Fiend online. The reviewer wrote off the book I found so spiritually and creatively illuminating as little more than a “look at the dark side comedy.” There is some of that in the book. Oswalt did come up through the comedy scene and it is a memoir but — you can’t see me but I’m shaking my head like a wet dog — did the reviewer miss the other 70% of the book’s content? Did he just skim it, vomit up a one line review and then go back to playing Advanced Warfare?
No one will ever know why (the reviewer was eaten by a dinosaur shortly after posting that reedy bowel movement of a review) but for some reason that’s what this guy took away from that book. And just as my friends who are fans of the novel V are unable to “fix” my searing hatred for Thomas Pynchon novels, you just have to be okay with that.
Not to point out the obvious, but I have not come around here for a while, what with being taken by the fever dream of finishing the big fantasy novel. I imagine this is a thing unique to writing a novel. You get to the point where you can see the finish line and suddenly you just pick up the pace and start working on it to the exclusion of all else.
And then one day, covered in sweat and gore and your mind reeling with the terrible thing you’ve done, you stand back and realize it’s alive. ALIVE!
I had ideas for other blog posts during the time I was lost in the darkness. I would sometimes write them out completely in my head but I never actually typed them up. All writing for the last 90 days has been jealously dedicated to finishing the novel.
And now I’m done! God, it’s such an… awful, awkward feeling. Is this what it’s like for marathon runners? When they cross the finish line, heaving and vomiting, is their first thought, “But what am I going to do now?” Somehow, I doubt it.
I had the idea for this book as a kind of side thought on a long road trip. It wasn’t anything special, just the notion that I had always been a fan of Lovecraft but had never written anything in that universe. I tossed the idea around in my head for a while but nothing really came of it until that tornado nearly destroyed Moore, Oklahoma in 2010. And then an image for the opening scene of the novel popped into my forebrain and I’ve been obsessed with the idea ever since.
This book has been with me through seven drafts over the course of five years. During that time, I wrote a complete other novel that I couldn’t get anyone at any agency to read much less consider (just because it could be misread to be rabidly anti-Christian even though it’s not), and wrote a dozen short stories, some of which I really like, and published my four crime novels.
Both of my daughters moved away from home in that time, one to LA and one to OKC, and my beloved shorthaired pointer Charlie passed away, something that made me realize Louis CK is absolutely correct when he says the countdown to tragedy begins the moment you bring a pet home. And even though I resolved not bring home any more ticking timebombs of tragedy, three months later, Libby the Border Collie came to live with us.
This is why we need a border fence, sheeple.
I also got into an OCD loop with the audio books for 11-22-63 and Ready Player One, basically listening to them over and over until the arrival of the Southern Reach series helped me break out of the loop. The news isn’t all good on the OCD front. I’m now stuck in a loop listening to Patton Oswalt books and albums. This tendency to get stuck used to worry me but I’ve come to understand my OCD well enough over the years that I know to simply look for that next thing that will break me out of it.
And after all of that, I’m not truly, not actually, not completely done. Typing “The End” on that last page just started the four week countdown until I can start the polish draft. What can you do in four weeks? Write some short stories, I guess, but I’m so creatively drained it’s not like ideas are leaping out of my head.
The need to work on something every day remains with me and if I don’t obey that need, I feel the stinging, unhappy presence of incompleteness that all true obsessives know well. But now that the novel is finished, that feeling of disappointment is laced with the thinnest threads of relief. It’s not like the damned thing will un-write itself. Even if I get hit by a bus tomorrow (yeah, like I would be anywhere near a bus) the book has been written. I can check that one off the imaginary list.
Oh, speaking of damned things: If you’ve never read The Damned Thing by Ambrose Bierce, you should do that right now. Go ahead, I’ll wait.
And… while I’m at it. If you haven’t binge watched Mick Garris’s Showtime series The Masters of Horror you should do that, as well. Like any anthology series, the quality is hit and miss but when they strike gold — as in The Fair Haired Child, Cigarette Burns, Incident On and Off a Mountain Road and Jenifer (Also, Steven Weber’s commentary track for Jenifer is pure comedy gold) among others — they mine that sucker for all it’s worth.
I want to try to read Heart of Darkness again during the break even though I find Conrad’s ESL writing style to be truly repellent, but I’ll probably spend the time watching old noir films and hanging out at Trailers From Hell — mostly to get ideas for new films to watch — because, more than anything, the fallow time after completing a novel is meant to be a period of rest for your imagination.
Wish me bon appetit!