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Fresh Dirt Archives: Oct.-Dec. 2006

Dec. 31
I suppose it's that time of year for a look back and a look ahead, along with the obligatory resolutions. But I don't believe in that. I attach no significance to a human-derived assignation of numbers and measures. If anything, the winter solstice is a truer marker, because it means the days are now getting longer, and if that was Jan. 1 instead of Dec. 21, maybe I would care.

To me, the year is circular, not a long thread that is snipped at a magical stroke of midnight. It's "amateur night" for drunks, those who need an excuse for bad behavior. I don't need an excuse. I behave badly all the time. I don't need a celebrity counting down from 10 to make me feel some melodramatic, hollow turning point. I don't need a reminder that I'm getting older, or that my mistakes are still back there in the past, with new ones waiting ahead.

However, this does feel like a season of change for many personal reasons, though it has absolutely nothing to do with the calendar. It's about goats in the yard, Girl's birthday coming up, soon to be indoor planting time, lots more responsibilities in both my job and in my professional writing organizations, new friends and contacts. But it's today. And tomorrow will be today. Enjoy your hangovers, your peeps, your numbers, your resolutions, but most of all, your dreams. This is us and this is our Now and this is our life.

Dec. 28
Got an interesting email from a guy named Ralf that said he found a copy of The Manor on a train in Poland and now he was reading it. Wow. That's so cool. It's hard to find a copy in the U.S. but he found a free one--serendipity! That's as good as the one I got last year from a Philippine resident who was given one of my books while hiking in Europe. Products of thought are forms of energy and make their rounds as needed by the universe. A simple plan that's miles removed from contract worries, deadlines, market murder, movie options.

ShevaCon is booked so if you're in Roanoke at the end of February, check it out.

Dec. 24
Minerva, Magenta, and Maria arrived just in time for the holidays. I'll add more on them later--the goat column series. Maria (the little goat gruff) showed up with a game foot but seems to be improving nicely. Magenta (mom) is the sweetie, coming up to get food. Minerva, with the brown neck, is the butthead of the bunch. She may be pregnant, though, as she was getting bred rather vociferously over the couple of days before she arrived at Todd House. Of course, Girl has claimed Maria and we share Magenta, and I ended up with the pushy, greedy one. If the seed took, she will deliver in May, and if she's still mean after the weaning, I'll decide her future then. The goal is to have tame goats but no goat is ever truly "owned."

I've been wanting goats for a while, and part of it is the feeling of being sort of a low-budget landed gentry. The other is, it's something I can do for myself, that no one can tell me to do or not do. I take my coffee out and just stand as part of the herd, looking in the direction of distant barking dogs, smelling the wind, listening to the creeks. It's good stuff.

Dec. 22, 2006
If you want to know what I look like dead, check out a bonus photo for They Hunger, treated by Karen Johnson. Looks like I'll be an author guest at Shevacon in Roanoke, Va., Feb. 23-25. Still making final plans for that one, it was a last-minute decision.

I also worked up a press release for They Hunger. I'm giving this one a big promotional push so anyone that wants to run my banner ad, let me know and I'll send you a signed cover proof in thanks. By the way, the book is already available for preorder at Amazon.

While you have your credit card out, the price for the Aegri Somnia anthology has been reduced for a limited time, so grab one. My story "Heal Thyself" is one of my favorites.

Dec. 20, 2006
In the middle of final page proofs for They Hunger--it's a little excruciating because I realize how much better I want to be as a writer and, of course, it's too late to do any major tweaking. So all I can do is learn and move on. A few good sentences...God, grant me a few good sentences.

We did a photo shoot for They Hunger today--had the model Twiglett come in from Charlotte, with Marie handling the camera, Christie James doing staging, and Trish Blevins allowing us use of a casket and Ashelawn Memorial Gardens. Very much fun, I'll have some of the photos up later. I am so lucky to have cool friends that make this kind of thing possible, as well as a reason to do such stunts. I may never make any money but I'm sure going to have fun with this writing life. Payback for frustrations such as the above.

Dec. 16, 2006
I'll be a guest of honor at Hypericon, taking place June 15-17 in Nashville. I almost ended up in Nashville long ago. I was a college dropout hitchhiking from Chapel Hill, NC, to here (the NC mountains where I now live), and I had all my worldly possessions with me: a paper bag of clothes and a bass guitar. A bearded little guy with a nice car pulled over and said he stopped because of the guitar. He drove me to my friends' front door (some guys who were forming a band) and stayed overnight. He claimed he was a back-up singer for the BeeGee's, a fact I never bothered to verify. He said he was going to Nashville and had a bunch of tapes of his songs. This was in the days of reel-to-reel, so we threaded them up, and he sounded exactly like the BeeGee's, with that high, plaintive, and feminine whining, so I figured he was telling the truth. He wanted me to come with him as he tried to get a record deal and maybe be in a band with him.

I figured if I went to Nashville, I'd either shortly be a star or else dead within five years, and I didn't have nearly the mental stability to be a star (and never will). Not that stability is required, but I also figured, if you wanted to stand out, why go to a place where there were a lot of the same things as you? So these many years later it will be a pleasure to see that wonderful country music capital and be glad the shadow of my ghost is not painted on the sidewalk. I never heard of that guy again but, really, he may have been Garth Brooks for all I know.

That brings to mind the freefic offering "You'll Never Walk Alone," the title inspired by the Elvis Presley spiritualized version of the stage tune.

My friend Rob Moran has a comic miniseries coming out soon called Blood Nation. You can view the trailer at the web site.

Dec. 13, 2006
Crimewave #9 has been issued by Third Alternative Press of England--a critically acclaimed mag of dark crime stories by John Shirley, Gary Shockley, Shelley Costa, and more. My entry is "Work In Progess," a story written a few years ago that I don't remember very well. I read parts of it and it seems to hold up in a kind of fragile, art-consciousness way. Buy it. What the heck.

Goat fever is such that I got several book packages, a royalty check, and some other interesting mail but I put it all aside so I didn't waste the little bit of daylight. I'm targeting goats by Christmas--Girl expects Santa to drop them from 3,000 feet. Been eating out of the garden a lot--amazingly, collards and turnips are still coming in, and I have plenty of cabbages, potatoes, beets, and winter squash left besides the frozen foods.

Dec. 12, 2006
Money. Some people fear it, some worship it. To me, it's nothing more than a math problem. I care very little for the things that money can buy. I only care for the freedom it creates. Essentially, we each have to buy back our lives if we want to live them doing something besides making money.

To that end, I opened up a "share term certificate"--the new name for a certificate of deposit that I suppose makes the purchaser feel like some big-time wheeler dealer who is a "partner" with the bank. I had some money I won't need until summer so I figured six months, five-percent interest, why not. Then the account person said, "Well, you should move all your savings to money market and get 4.5 percent interest and use it like a savings account with a $250 minimum."

And I was like, I've only been banking here for a decade. How come nobody ever told me? I usually have a pretty good savings account because I always expect something big to go wrong, mostly a car. On the other hand, I get rid of extra money as fast as possible--I have as much tax-deductible stuff taken out of my check as possible, retirement, insurance, etc. I pay ahead on my house, which is a separate battle because they don't apply the extra to principal the way I request, I had to call the mortgage company today and straighten it out.

Some people are surprised that I never have money problems. But, really, I feel less secure today, with a job and side income, than I did 20 years ago when I could barely live to the next Friday. Maybe it's more responsibility, maybe it's just a fear that I will lose my house, which is really the only possessions I care about besides some books and two computers. Maybe it's just growing older and realizing that, yes, people do grow old and nobody likes to give money to geezers--they resent the hell out of it, in fact, whether it's hipsters shunning street bums or the government urinating on their upturned, wrinkled palms.

Dec. 7, 2006
I received a copy of "Beyond Therapy: Biotechology and the Pursuit of Happiness" from the federal government simply by sending an email request. One of the best things about public material is, well, it's public. My tax dollars paid for it and it's certainly more interesting than a bomb. One of my interests, and an area of research for the current novel, is bioethics, particularly psychopharmacology. Just because we can make something "better," should we? Especially our moods. I know a lot of people who suffer from depression, and I've seen a couple of them wean themselves off their medication (after they'd finished therapy).

I'm sure I've been depressed at times, but I look at more as the natural rhythms of life--if you're always up, you'll probably explode from the atmospheric pressure. I don't make judgments on whether someone should be treated or not, because I'm not qualified. Easy to diagnose "Depression"--and avoid responsibility for your own moods, or flee your dark shadows, or wear it like a badge of honor. (This isn't medical advice--this is philosophy). If depression is debilitating or dangerous, certainly it deserves treatment. But normal stress? Should it be "cured"? Do we have a right to be unnaturally free of worry? Do we all deserve to be at the same point on the emotional scale at all times? Would that be a world worth living in, or a life worth having? Usually, humans get the technology or means to "fix" something and we plow ahead without considering whether it's the right thing to do. And the same will probably be true of the next round of brain suppressors--like that...uh...thing...I just all of sudden!

Dec. 4, 2006
Troy Palmer served up a rendering of the "Bell Monster" from my first novel The Red Church, taking delight in the "thing with claws, wings, and livers for eyes." Troy is obviously a gifted illustrator--check out more of his work at Myspace. A reminder that Amazon turned up new copies of The Red Church so they may be going fast.

I've written 15 pages on the new screenplay in the last two days. It's going very well and I should reach the end of the first act tonight. I don't quite buy into the rigid three-act structure espoused by Aristotle and put to numbers by Hollywood hitmakers (first act ends at page 20 and second act ends at page 90), but I do believe story structure follows a natural pattern: beginning, middle, and end. Even the drunk at the bar or the Boy Scout at the campfire knows that structure. It's innate.

I've got all the posts up for the goat fence--leveled, eyeballed, and pretty much the Taj Mahal of goatdom. I actually took down most of the shed because the existing frame was out of square. I'm not OCD but, you know, you only get to do right for the goats once in your life. I'm even going to build a ramp so they can indulge their desires to gaze down from high places.

Dec. 1, 2006
Today is the "official hype day" for the Horror Writers Association's ON WRITING HORROR, the revised handbook that tells you everything you ever wanted to know about horror writing except how to sell a million copies. But if you take all this advice and really apply it to your daily life, it may happen. The only guarantee I'll make is if you don't apply any of these principles, and don't write anything at all, you'll never sell a single copy of anything.

Today also marks the official release of Aegri Somnia, a nice little volume containing the work of Cherie Priest, Christopher Rowe, and many more, including my own humble contribution "Heal Thyself"--a tale of dream recovery and how our past lives can haunt us or heal us.

New article up, Spirited Inquiry: Where Mystery and Horror Meet. This may have been published as part of my Hellnotes column series but, to be honest, I can't recall. Okay, time to work on the goat fence.

Nov. 31, 2006
Been working hard on the new novel. Wrote 11 pages yesterday, that's the most I have written in a while. It wasn't even difficult, though I stayed up past bedtime because I didn't want to stop. I've got a new title for it and a great character--I was outlining and originally the character was going to be the "bad guy," but I ended up falling in love with her so I think she might be a heroine. Of course, I'm just as likely to fall in love with the evil characters. They are usually more direct and almost always more sincere--their motivations are always more believable than those of the self-sacrificing, noble characters.

Having a good writing session is somehow transcendental--I think it would be interesting to have my blood pressure and heart rate monitored while I'm lost in a good handful of sentences. I only know two things for sure: when I am writing, I am not actively hurting anyone else and, though it's ultimately a selfish act, I am not caught up in all my other worries.

I've been doing this for 10 years. I figured at the end of that time, I would either be very successful or realize that not many people cared what I had to say. Instead, I'm somewhere in the middle, in a realistic place that most writers reach sooner or later. I have found a core and loyal audience, but I've not taken that big step into the stratosphere that makes publishers salivate and casual readers wait with bated breath for the next book. Is it possible? Sure. Staying in the game is the name of the game. After all, whether you're Stephen King or Josephine Newbie, you're only as good as your last sentence.

Nov. 26, 2006
The phrase "Getting your goat" means to let someone pester or worry you into anger or retribution. For me, the phrase means it's time to quit avoiding the inevitable. I am fencing in my yard and will have two goats on loan from the New River Zoo until spring. If the experiment works, and Girl joins the 4-H livestock club, then we will make a permanent adoption later on. We each have names picked out--Girl's is "Maria," after her first-grade teacher, and mine is "Lucifina," after, of course, the morning star. Lucy for short. I've spent a couple of days of hard labor and I'll have to invest hundreds of dollars and maybe even buy a truck. I think I'm the one being lain on the sacrificial altar.

Amazon appears to have dug up some new copies of The Red Church--these haven't been available in a while so you might want to snatch one up. I might have to buy some myself. Considering the long shipping time, they must be ordering through an obscure third party.

Nov. 25, 2006
I'm falling in love with insanity. At times, I've felt forced to appear not so "weird," and I am often surprised that people must think I am dark and dangerous because I write supernatural fiction. I've been reading Richard Brautigan lately, one of the authors I dug back in my teens when I was first getting excited about words and writing. For some reason, probably lots of reasons, I moved away from Brautigan and Kurt Vonnegut and Steinbeck and Mark Twain and began reading mostly contemporary commercial thrillers. Sure, an occasional Shirley Jackson or Ray Bradbury came in here and there with true literary daring, and Stephen King has a pretty fine command of language, but for the most part I believe I was thinking, "How can I write a book that will sell?"

My first "novel," written when I was 18, was an experimental, crazy Vonnegut rip-off full of unexpected turns and downright sharp edges--an absolutely schizophrenic pile of pages. A friend who typed part of it for me was positive I was going to be a smash one day. She had more faith than I did, but I sent query letters to major New York publishers, typed in staid Courier on creamy paper that was expensive and smelled absolutely wonderful. When the rejection slips came back, I brushed them aside with the loser's consolation that those idiots just didn't understand genius.

My next novel, nearly two decades later, was also crazy in its way, though it aimed a little more toward contemporary storytelling, with a character arc, plot, and an exaggerated but more-or-less identifiable protagonist. That one racked up over 100 rejection slips and could hardly fit into any genre. Later novels became easier to peg because they were "horror" and I could find "horror" publishers. I wonder if I gave up too soon, if I should have continued the winding path full of left turns and unexpected consequences. It's a road that, once abandoned, is difficult to find again, because the territory is unmapped.

All roads eventually meet, though, so maybe I'll end up back where language was fun and sentences weren't straight lines with perfect punctuation. I've made peace with my insanity in my personal life, and I'm far too old to be apologizing for who I am and what I might become, much less what I have been. Maybe those crazy people will start whispering in my ear again, with their fish breath and razor-blade smiles and persimmon fingers. I will welcome them.

Nov. 22, 2006
Finished the "Crossed Ex's" script Monday night. I've started a new one, a real campy, cheesy horror/thriller story with deep social resonance and, um, some possible human munchies. It might be a zombie story, I don't know yet. All I know is there is a geezer in overalls and long johns, holding a shotgun, fending off a bunch of glitzy teen punks. I promise, it will be the absolute truth, except the part where the things eat brains.

Article on Thrillerfest 2006 posted. Soon I'll post more information on "They Hunger."

Nov. 21, 2006
I've never before realized how loaded with metaphors "The Wizard of Oz" is--the yellowbrick road as a spiritual journey (the correlation with the "golden stairs" should have been frightfully obvious). The tin man has no heart, so he must be kind, the scarecrow has no brains so he must think very carefully, and the lion has no courage so he must force himself to do each difficult thing. Because they are aware of their shortcomings, they work to overcome them, and when they arrive before the great Oz (God), they find that Oz can't grant those things--the things must come from inside. And because they practiced those principles and overcame their fears and weaknesses, they came to possess what they thought was lacking.

Okay, okay, maybe that's taking it a little too far. But it's an unflaggingly optimistic story. I hope I can write something like that someday. Hell, I'd settle for a little brains, heart, and courage myself.

The Horror Writers Association's revised handbook On Writing Horror was recently released by Writers Digest Books. It will help you learn if you buy it. I promise. Of course, what else would I say, since I contributed an article to it about book promotion?

Nov. 19, 2006
Interesting day at the Smoky Mountain Book Festival. Lots of readers but there were so many authors it seemed there was only one reader for each person. I had a great great time talking with Hawk Hagebaker, an Atlanta cop who writes motorcycle tour guides. At lunch I sat with the legendary Dot Jackson and respected authors Ron Rash and Joseph Bathanti. Usually at a gathering of authors you hear complaints about publishers, the heinous influence of video games on the readership, and how hard it is to hustle the next buck. Instead, these people talked about the powerful writing that had affected them lately, from authors like Cormac McCarthy, William Gay, and John Ehle, and an agreement that Southern writers succeed thanks in part to their exposure to the oral storytelling tradition. For me, I needed a reminder that all that matters are the words on the page, and sometimes just writing one good sentence is a noble achievement.

I also read an account by one of the participating authors, Walter Middleton, about his experiences in the Bataan Death March during World War II. Amazingly, he's lived to a ripe old age despite suffering extreme horrors. He made no bones about directly blaming Gen. Douglas McArthur for bailing out on the U.S. troops left on Bataan and Corregidor, as well as the American failure to provide supplies and reinforcements (which, of course, may have had as much to do with the fact that the Japanese had destroyed our navy as to any political or military decision). Middleton also talked about the infamous Dr. Ishii, who conducted biological experiments on Chinese, Philippine, Russian and American prisoners, exposing them to all forms of nasty chemicals and diseases and occasionally playing surgical games on his helpless victims. While the Germans deservedly bear guilt for their atrocities, war and hate and ambition and mindless nationalism spawn opportunities for the worst among our race--those who seize opportunity for evil (as some of our own troops in Iraq have done). In such cases, it's simplistic merely to level blame on the perpetrators, though they should certainly be hanged when appropriate. Unfortunately, entire philosophies and social structures carry just as much responsibility.

Because Myspace is more fun, I'll be mirroring the blog there instead of Livejournal from now on.

Nov. 14, 2006
My story "Dumb Luck" just came out in this anthology called Deathgrip: Exit Laughing. It's a fat paperback with funny, bizarre, dark, and sometimes jez plain ol' corny stories. Mine is about a talking mailbox. I also wrote a script for it, one of those "Twilight Zone" or "Outer Limits" pieces that are 22 minutes to allow for commercials. I haven't done anything with the script and I think I'd need to change it to make it cheaper (there's a scene involving a Ferrari wreck, not the type of thing indie producers like to see in the budget).

The book also contains a posthumous co-write by the late d.g.k. goldberg and a new story from William F. Nolan. Also received a review book "Gospel of the Living Dead" by Kim Paffenroth, about George Romero's zombies.

Nov. 11, 2006
Reading an article today from a writer who talked about fear as the greatest motivator. I try to explain this to people myself: When I tell someone I never know if I will write another sentence, much less finish and publish another book, most don't understand. They figure if you have a few books out, then you have proven you are a writer. In truth, you have proven nothing except that you had once written.

Fear is my friend. It's often been my enemy and driven me to bad choices or irresponsible behavior, but when I it corral and look it in the eye, then the world is mine. Oh, not the regular, boring world with its income taxes and retirement accounts, or even the more compelling world of human relationships. But when I say to myself, "Okay, I'm scared, I know I'm scared, but I'm going to do this anyway," then it's easy to turn on the computer and write a terrible sentence, then string a few sentences together into some sort of plot direction. From there, hopefully some of that fear gets shifted onto the characters. It's only lately that I've been able to write about things that would scare me in real life--despite the genre labels affixed to my books, ghosts, goblins, and vampires are nothing more than symbols to me. The Big Scares are basically ego driven: failure, insignificance, the wasting of God's gifts through lack of action, the wasting of love through selfishness, or the missing of potential love through fear.

Sharp, dripping fangs are laughable next to the fear of rejection. Or fear of yourself.

Thanks to Sarah Pollock for the carichature.

Nov. 9, 2006
I've been doing some screenwriting lately, talking with screenwriters, and reading the work of screenwriters. Scripts are far different than I'd ever thought, though I'd written a number of short video scripts a decade ago when I thought I'd go into video production. Namely, there's a perception (somewhat shared by me) that script-writing is a dumber, leaner form of storytelling that can be churned out by any old hack with an idea and a starlet with big boobs.

Now I've come to believe it's actually a more difficult narrative form because of the limitations on content--you can only "show," you can never tell. The camera can't think or dream. Your character can't reflect, perceive, or intuit. Your character can only say or do. That sounds simple enough, but you have to tell the story with only pictures and sounds. Not words. A good script flows even more naturally than a good novel, because it does "everything all at once" far better than most works of fiction do. You can't delve into backstory (the dreaded and virtually extinct flashback in film) and you can't waste a lot of time on character development, plot development, or any kind of development. "Call me Ishmael" won't work on film.

And while most people think of movie makers as aiming at the lowest common denominator of intelligence, they are actually aiming for the broadest possible connection. The cynic says that's where the money is, but I've come to believe that's where the truth is, that's where the art is, and that's where the challenge lies for that medium.

Nov. 6, 2006
Did an article on mountain lions today, amid a spate of recent reports of the big felines in the Southern Appalachian Mountains, though they are believed to have been extinct here since the early 1900's. Popularly known as catamounts, wildcats, cougars, or black panthers, the old-timers tend to believe they are still around (or have migrated back) while biologists hold out for hard evidence. Personally, I take comfort in the notion that things find their balance and their place in the environment--with the deer population exploding, why shouldn't a large predator thrive as well?

Of course, humans have spawned the demise of many species, some that were never catalogued. And I don't know if there's much value in things like a "Save the Wild Cheetah" effort, because maybe God said "Enough" for them. Just as She will no doubt say "Enough" for us, whether through our own pollution, blood thirst, or just the simple evolution and attrition that leads to the end of everything sooner or later. Will we still be around as the sun cools, a shrinking breed fighting to survive as our food sources die off, defending ourselves against whatever predators evolve to take advantage of our new weaknesses? Hmm. One can only imagine, and be amused.

A new Dr. Mann column is up, on the perils of honesty. My co-writer and I will be building a Myspace page for Dr. Mann soon and adding our regular columns, with plenty of room for feedback.

Nov. 4, 2006
Some research out today about how negative political ads actually work much better than "issue" ads. That's kind of interesting, because the bottom line is that, despite public complaints, such ads work and therefore it's the best way for candidates (and their deep-pocketed backers that control our medicine, food, and gasoline) to spend campaign funds. I also learned that independent voters aren't really the targets of campaigning--you don't seek to sway the middle. Your job as a manipulating, sociopathic, and egocentric candidate (and what other personality type could be a politician?) is to keep your opponent's supporters at home while you motivate your own base to show up at the polls. I've always assumed each party's faithful would turn out and the apathetic folks in the middle were the key to victory.

While I'm not that political, since the Libertarian Party has been driven into extinction due to election laws geared toward preserving a two-party system, I do have to deal with politicians in my work. Coincidentally, I'm researching consumer psychology for the current novel, and of course planned to build my case on fear. (In fact, "Fear" is the working title but I'll put that aside soon enough). But fear is only one of a number of motivators, and consumption is more about inciting a specific behavior than fulfilling a need, though the most successful products do both (cigarettes, anyone?).

I mailed "Disintegration" off to my agent this week. I ended up not changing to much because I saw it was just a salad--it was still lettuce, cherry tomatoes, red onions, and those crunchy little cubes, and no matter how many times I tossed them, the flavor was essentially the same. Good riddance to that one.

Got a copy of what I believe is my first publication in Spanish--El Libro de los Zombies, and my story is "Bocasesina." I think the English was "Murdermouth." So many zombies, so little memory.

Nov. 1, 2006
Hunger banner is done, thanks to graphic designer Karen Johnson. I'm developing a promotional campaign based on modern advertising techniques...yeah, where the message has absolutely nothing to do with the product. It will be predicated on finding someone much more attractive than me, which shouldn't be too hard. With luck, the campaign will be provocative enough to spark controversy, or at least a few giggles.

Stories currently heading toward imminent publication include "The Night is an Ally" in A DARK AND DEADLY VALLEY; "Work in Progress" in Crimewave #9; "Dumb Luck" in DEATHGRIP: Exit Laughing, and "Heal Thyself" In AEGRI SOMNIA.

New story posted in the freefic section, "You'll Never Walk Alone" from 2003's Book of Final Flesh from Eden Publications.

Oct. 30, 2006
What's the definition of a "true fan"? For football, you'd probably say the drunken goon who wears nothing but body paint, a loin cloth, and a rubber cheesehead to cheer on the Packers when the wind chill is below zero. For movies, you'd probably go with someone who'd gone on eBay and bought a soiled cocktail napkin, fished out of the trash where it was thrown by Tom Cruise. For a writer, the best you can hope for is Paul Fontaine or Charles Whitmire. And that's pretty darned good.

Paul sent an envelope to my publisher containing a self-addressed, stamped envelope and a photo of me printed out from my website. Paul said he was a big fan and asked me to autograph it. So he's spent probably a dollar on the request. My publisher spends 63 cents plus the envelope cost and time to mail me the package--to an address I left three years ago. (Publishers are not known for their quick response to anything--in fact, they were the last people on the planet to ask, "Hey, I wonder if people will buy books on the Internet?") To the publisher's credit, when the letter bounces back to New York, it is mailed out again, this time to my correct address. So there is probably three dollars invested in this piece of correspondence. Realize I make about 60 cents for each book I sell. If my publisher did this with every reader in America, it would soon be out of business. But Paul is a true fan, and such fans are worth more than money. They are worth their weight in both gold and return postage.

Charles is another matter altogether. A former wrestler (yeah, of the rigged, "sports entertainment" variety) now suffering from health problems because of ten thousand personal encounters with the canvas, he writes me religiously, always enclosing a stamped, self-addressed envelope. Realizing that though I value fans and friends, I also have a job, insurance, a mortgage, a child, and the occasional craving for groceries, Charles considerately makes our correspondence simpler and easier. Plus, as he is always among the first to get my new book covers, he sports them around Roanoke, Va., where I have become something of a minor household name. I would write Charles anyway, as I enjoy people who still treasure an ink pen on paper (I have a similar pen pal deal with Bentley Little), but I could never buy the type of loyalty he has so freely given.

Most fans simply drop me an email, or paste a comment on the Scott Myspace page. Most of my fans are not really fans, but friends, and some of my best friends have never read my work. I don't even think of them as "fans." We are people who share a bus ride, an enjoyable diversion, or even a trip to an exotic emotional locale. Writers don't deserve fans, because reading is more of a sacrifice than writing. Sure, writing is hard work, but ultimately it's yet more flogging of the ego, a cry for attention. The reader, by definition, doesn't share that obsessive need to feel admired and appreciated. The reader is really just in it for the words.

So, thank you, true fans everywhere, whatever your brand of fanaticism and your cult of choice. Even if you're just a friend. Maybe especially then.

Oct. 27, 2006
Talking with a friend today about how everybody has "dark secrets." What's funny is people know most of mine, so I guess they're not secrets. However, not many people know my "light secrets," the good, wholesome, and joyous things in my life. These aren't the kinds of things I can talk about without seeming immodest, but they are things for which I'm grateful. Growing things, like Girl and the garden and the house plants. Building things, like the knobgoblins and the rock wall and the stories I make up. Dreaming things, like optimism and peace and an ambition that has slowly matured into the simple satisfaction of a day well spent, a day without inflicting harm. Those aren't the kind of attitudes that win community service awards, but they make life richer.

I'm teaching some youngsters tomorrow for NaNoWriMo, national novel writing month. Maybe I should join in with them and finish a novel myself. I wonder if I could do it. Hmm, Sounds like a challenge.

Oct. 23, 2006
West Virginia is a beautiful place--nothing but hills and largely undeveloped, not like the western NC mountains where every ridge is lined with houses. I expect the terrain makes development difficult, though there were pockets of industry along the rivers, like "DuPont City," with shotgun houses rimming the chemical plant. In Charleston, the air smelled of chemicals when the wind died, and the water tasted of coal. The city itself was pretty and welcoming, though not very vibrant. The book festival appeared to be successful and I think I appeared as B-roll footage on the local TV news, though the authors by and large were relegated to the back of the room. I also found out Borders can still order all of my books except The Red Church--I thought the first three were unavailable anywhere. So if you need to complete your Scott collection (and who doesn't?--I only have a few copies of each of those myself), then you should get yourself to the local Borders and talk to the manager, or go to your local Waldenbooks, which is probably a Borders by now, or...well, you get the idea.

Met some cool writers, many of them West Virginia regional writers. Cari McComas, Jes Ferguson, Bobbie Mason. I returned home to find snow flurries. Made a quick trip to the garden to bring in the last of the tomatillas. I think I'll buy a dehydrater so I can dry some of them, along with the peppers. I bagged up some dried herbs to stick in the freezer--don't get excited, it was only parsley.

Oct. 19, 2006
Was on the
Lou Gentile Internet radio show last night, you can hear the archived files if you subscribe (for free). Also taped a segment Tuesday with Ed Flynn for the Fearsmag radio show; not sure when that one airs.

Headed to Charleston, WV, for the West Virginia Book Festival, where I'll be doing my "Whose Story Is It?" workshop Sunday. Darn. I just realized it will probably be right in the middle of the Panthers game. Oh. well, probably a weekend of laptop, lap swimming and, uh, lap dances? Nah.

Saw The Grudge 2. It was really scary and I thought it was well-paced and well-plotted. My friend Stephen Susco wrote the screenplay--he's one of the few screenwriters that maintains a web site and has lots of good info there.

Oct. 15, 2006
Finished red-line edits for THEY HUNGER just in time to beat midnight, added three pages of action near the end. Most of the work was in making the suggested changes to my original files, in case the book is ever reprinted or needed for a translation.

Watched "Crash" last night. Really good. I hear it won some awards a while back. I'd just read an article on Paul Haggis, who wrote and directed it and is now adapting for Clint Eastwood a book represented by my agency, Flags of Our Fathers. So it's a sort of six-degrees-of-Kevin-Bacon interest. Mmmm, bacon.

Got a Scottnews newsletter going out through the Yahoogroup and there may be some new news, so go ahead and sign up.

Oct. 14, 2006
Received contributor copies of Cemetery Dance #56 today, contains my story "Dog Person." Nice Halloween look, with specials on cool author Glen Hirshberg. Amazing that this magazine has been in business coming up on 20 years and has expanded into various other publishing formats and even movies. Truly one of the brightest lights of the horror genre and I'm proud to be a part of it.

Oct. 13, 2006
International Horror Day! Whatever that is...

As one of the founding volunteers, I can say it's been, well, amazing, interesting and in some ways baffling. The idea seems simple: horror fans come up with their own ways and means to spread the word about their favorite genre. Yet we received a lot of emails from people saying "What do I do?" Do whatever you want. There is some wonderful spontaneity and creativity on display--people hosting film fests, video nights, readings, signings, etc., in a lot of different countries, or some people merely blogging or blasting web sites. Since the idea was born about six weeks ago, "organization" is not the operative word. Maybe it all adds up to nothing, but I think it's pretty cool.

Puppet show went great, there were probably 25 kids. Well, the puppet show could have been better rehearsed, but I'll get that part down for next time. The most important goal was fulfilled: a lot of the kids were fighting to get the puppets afterwards and do their own shows. Success!

The copyedited manuscript for THEY HUNGER bounced onto the porch today. I have to cruise through and have back in New York by Tuesday. Yeah, that's right, I have to edit it and should have mailed it five hours ago. Hell, it takes me longer than that to read a book, much less edit one. And I hate reading my own books. Much like the cheesy gorilla suit, my books show the frays, seams and zippers on closer inspection, not to mention the stains in the armpits and the coffee drool in the rubber fright mask. Well, you know, this is what I wanted and this is what I love doing, so why am I complaining?

Planted 80 garlic bulbs yesterday, a variety of organic types. Look out, vampires, I'll be ready for you in Halloween 2007.

Oct. 9, 2006
It's very satisfying and economically redeeming to be totally broke and walk down to the garden and pick dinner. Tonight was tomatoes, collards, and a red pepper. Well, I did have mayonnaise and bread from the store, but those were already bought. Did some mild revisions to the puppet show--a local festival has asked me to perform it on Saturday, so assuming I can get a ride through all the traffic, I suppose "The Monster and the Pig" will get its encore.

I also picked out the children's books I'll be reading. For you non-parents, don't assume all children's books are good. Probably two-thirds are written by people you'd swear had never been around a child, much less raised one. Typographical errors are fairly common, and plot can be nonexistent, even in supposed morality tales. One of my favorites, "The Spider and the Fly," is so creepy I won't be able to use it. I'll have to read all the books aloud, find my voice for them, and time the readings, since we have a lot to cram into an hour. Been testing out the knobgoblins, and I think the glue will work, but dried beans are too heavy to serve as eyes, barring the use of a hair dryer or similar instrument of torture. Luckily, the library has some of those googly eyes that are fun, as well as yarn and felt.

I have plans for my garden based on the work of a local garlic guru who uses permaculture techniques--creating a healthy ecosystem conducive to drawing beneficial insects that eat pests and aphids. The key is to have a variety of flowers, because they draw pollinating critters. I'll also do more bed planting instead of the traditional crop rows, so I can rotate crops more effectively, reduce weeding, and focus on maintaining a usable section of the soil instead of fertilizing all of it. Plus it will keep me out of trouble during these cold months.

Gee, is my life as boring as these journal entries make it sound? Well, on the other hand, I don't exactly put down the good stuff.

Oct. 8, 2006
Sig sheets. For those unfamiliar with the world of limited editions, it's basically a regualr hardcover (though usually with much nicer production and design values) that is "signed and numbered," giving the consumer confidence that this is truly a limited object that will presumably accrue value over the course of decades. In this case, the book is Brimstone Turnpike, from Cemetery Dance publications, containing my novella "Burial to Follow." Other contributors include Michael Oliveri, Thomas Monteleone, Harry Shannon, Tim Waggoner, and editor Kealan Patrick Burke. Limited to 600 numbered and 26 lettered editions.

Some writers won't participate in such projects, because the books sell for $40 to $200 and sometimes reach absurd prices very rapidly on the secondary market. Their feeling is the books aren't designed for readers, but for people who seal the "product" in plastic as an investment, and they want their books to be read. I don't mind. People can do what they wish with their money, but I don't feel like investing my own hard-earned dollars in the futures of unproven writers. As for my own stuff, I figure it will be collected and reprinted once I have a suitable audience, so I don't care as much about the original appearance (assuming, of course, I got paid professional rates). Hell, I think I'm a great investment for all you collectors out there, because I'm too ornery to quit.

Anyway, when you sit down and sign your name nearly 700 times in a row, the letters start looking funny after a while and you start losing connection with your own identity. Scott...Nicholson? Who is that? Letters. This guy is nothing but these letters, over and over again until suddenly you want to SCREAMMMMMMM...Oh, wait. It's me, the guy sitting her signing this. Whatever. 200 to go.

Finished "The Monster and the Pig" puppet show for Friday's Scary Day event at the library. It's pretty funny, but kids know what is funny--they won't laugh if it's stupid, like adults would. I think it will be okay. But I better practice we have spooky snacks, which will save me if all else fails. Bring on the cookies!

Oct. 4, 2006
I aspire to be a cultural elitist, with a passing interest in art, fringe music, and live theater. Truth
is, though, I am pretty much a homebody and I’m more likely to check an art book out from the library rather than go to a gallery opening. Free grapes and cheese aside, such events are more about “people watching” than “art looking.” Which is fine and dandy and harms no one. The art on the wall doesn’t care and doesn’t change. I prefer going to the galleries when
they are closed (calling in favors or using my power of the press as a journalist) so no one is around telling me what to see.

Live music and theater are different, because the performers emanate passion and experience in real time, whether that experience is faux and pretentious or authentic. Of course, fake experience and posed and conscious art is just as arty and valid as the most
intellectually driven and personal art.

Last night I saw a stage performance of “Jesus Christ Superstar.” I’ve seen the original Norman Jewison movie three times and it’s one of my favorite movies, and I get something different from each experience. This was the first time I had seen it live. Ted Neeley, who plays Jesus, is in the final tour of a 33-year career (he’s been Jesus longer than Jesus
was). Corey Glover, former front man for Living Colour, does Judas. Great, great show, and it reminded me of what professionalism is.

Neeley certainly could have mailed in his performance--no doubt the role has become a second skin and he could have walked through the lines and not broken a sweat. Instead, he portrayed Jesus in all the implicit shades of the script--the frail and questioning mortal, the vain iconoclast, the borderline schizophrenic, and ultimately the poster child for suffering and acceptance. Neeley, now 63, didn’t back off from the physicality of the performance, either, accepting his stage bruises with the same equanimity with which the character accepts
the 39 whip lashes. Glover likewise could have strutted around like a “rock star,” but instead
displayed a full range of emotions, even suggesting a possible homosexual attraction between Jesus and his reluctant, tormented betrayer. Aside from the various moral arguments and philosophical questions raised by the story, the put-it-on-the-line performances were inspiring aplenty.

Artists take risks. They step out into the spotlight and give what they have, and sometimes more than they can afford. Little wonder they often crash and burn, often in full gaze of the adoring public that never sees the full picture, only that which is placed inside a frame.

A few years ago, I saw Harry Belafonte perform. Nearly 70 and suffering from a bad cold, his throat so sore he could barely talk, he stood before an intimate audience of a few hundred people. He could have said, “Hey, I’m a living legend” and cut short his show. Instead, through a voice that could barely announce the names of the tunes, he gave a warm, energetic, and
bold performance that I‘m sure the attendees will never forget. He didn’t do it for money or reputation, because those are secure for him. I’m sure some pride was involved, the same pride that leads any of us to put paint to paper, words to blank screen, or fingers to steel strings.

Professionals put it out there even when they don’t feel like it, even when they aren’t one-hundred percent. By “professionals,” I don’t just include those who do it for money, though I have extra respect for those who have conquered the commercial end of the enterprise while not compromising the artistic side. Money may be the ultimate form of flattery, but the value of the art is in its creation, in the defiance of mortality and decay. Not simply “art for art’s sake,” the excuse used by people who don’t have enough courage or desire to put their creativity on display or compete for commercial acceptance. It’s art for life’s sake. Whether you’re plucking a solo guitar in an isolated forest or penning bad poetry in a filthy garret, it lives and it goes to that place we might all call God.

Oct. 1, 2006
We turned into pumpkins at midnight: Deborah LeBlanc became president of the
HWA and I became vice-president. Two years to try to alter a long stretch of inertia. Luckily there seems to be a number of willing hands and a good board of trustees with a broad range of experience. We'll see. I'm head of the publications committee and the first step is to figure out exactly what the committee does--everybody seems to do whatever they want, with no plan, guidance, or oversight, and it's little wonder that HWA has only had three book deals in the last decade, and only one of them that's had a relatively happing ending so far.

Finishing the stretch run for Horror Day on Oct. 13--I don't know if it's going to make a huge wave but at least a few pebbles will be tossed in the sea. We have some Scream Queens from doing the judging, an unholy alliance of the beautiful and beastly. I've about finished penning my puppet show, and maybe I'll get Tom Straub to do it up as a children's book.

Dug purple potatoes yesterday--got about a bushel. The technique of covering them in a compost pile worked much better than traditional dirt digging. The tubers came out about twice as big, were much easier to harvest, and now I have a row of nice loamy soil to plant garlic. Predictions of a big freeze led me to yank most of my pepper plants in the dark and pluck them on the porch. When the freeze failed to materialize, I stuck a few in buckets so I can move them indoors as pets. They are still blooming so maybe they'll keep going for a while. I'm also gathering seed, and this is the first year I've really become immersed in the cyclical nature of the farming game--getting ready for next year.


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