Monday, September 29, 2014

Christopher Borrelli interviewed Gilliam Flynn in Sunday’s Chicago Tribune A&E section. I devoured Gone Girl when it first came out, checked out her two previous novels from the library, and recommended Flynn to all my friends. I was blown away by her prose. I’m the kind of guy who’s put off by first-person narration, but Flynn’s words leapt off the page and tackled me. I couldn’t put the book down. God! I wish I could write like that!

                The only other first-person novel in recent memory that I really thought special was Andrew Sean Greer’s The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells.


Another Shameless Plug for My Books

When I visited Nelson Algren in his Wicker Park apartment in 1975, Algren was selling off all of his possessions prior to moving from Chicago to Paterson, New Jersey. Algren intended to write a novel about the fight rackets in Paterson. “Buy my books,” Algren hawked. “I don’t care if you read them, just buy them. All of them. I’ll even throw in my autograph for free.”

Algren has always reminded me of my friend Wayne Allen Sallee, not only because they both lived in and wrote about Chicago but because they looked and talked alike. I didn’t know Wayne yet in 1975, wouldn’t meet Wayne for another ten years, but they both possessed the same kind of energy in person and in their writing that drives them to greatness. Wayne is still alive and still writing. Algren died in 1981.

                I have always admired both Wayne Allen Sallee and Nelson Algren. I admire them not only for their writing ability but because neither man ever appeared shy about asking others to read what they wrote.

                As I prepare to hang up my writer’s hat temporarily to begin marketing my latest novels, I can’t help but recall Wayne Allen Sallee and Nelson Algren. I visited Wayne recently on the south side of Chicago and we shared a pizza and talked about writing and about friends in the writing business we’ve recently lost (as well as family members we’ve recently lost). I didn’t tell Wayne about Nelson Algren. I should have, but I didn’t.

                I didn’t tell Wayne that Nelson Algren had given me a copy of issue zero of Marshall Field III’s The Chicago Sun with an article Algren wrote for that in-house test edition. Algren knew I had worked on The Daily Illini alongside Roger Ebert in 1962 and 1963 (Ebert was Editor in Chief, and I was assistant city editor and wrote stories and heads and helped Roger put the paper to bed every night). Algren had also written for The DI in the 1930s when he was a journalism major at U of I. Algren gave me that copy of the Sun because he knew I’d appreciate it.

                Wayne Allen Salle gave me a copy of the German edition of The Holy Terror, Wayne’s fictional masterpiece about Chicago. I don’t think Wayne knew I had studied German for two years at the University of Illinois. I think he gave the novel because he knew I had read the original in English and I’d appreciate seeing the foreign edition.

                So, now that I’m about to begin marketing my new novels and seeing some of my old novels return to print, I find myself repeating what Nelson Algren once said to me: “Buy my books. I don’t care if you read them, just buy them. All of them. I’ll even throw in my autograph for free.”

                And, if you should happen to read some of them, I want you to know in advance how much I appreciate it.



Saturday, September 27, 2014

A Good Read from Joe Hill

I want to recommend Joe Hill’s novel NOS4A2. It’s a magical blend of supernatural and psychological horror, reminiscent of Stephen King’s Firestarter and The Dead Zone. I won’t spoil the plot for you, but there is a librarian dear to my heart, a young girl who becomes a children’s author, and the nastiest, most evil old man in horror literature. The writing is wonderful, the imagery is splendid, and the hypnotic repetition of songs and phrases mesmerizing. Great horror writing. Hell, it just plain good writing.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

On Stalkers and Slashers and Serial Killers and Why I Write Horror: Part I



“Aren’t you afraid?” a librarian friend of mine recently asked me.

“Not anymore,” I replied. “I used to be scared a lot. I was scared all of the time when I was a child. Being afraid begins as an infant, you know, when parents symbolically abandon their children to a crib and then turn out all the lights to leave you alone in the dark. It’s like being placed into a casket and lowered into a grave while you’re still alive. Then your parents inadvertently exacerbate your terror by introducing you to tales of the boogeyman before turning out the lights. But parents do it so subtly you barely notice at first. They start by saying a simple little prayer: ‘Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep; If I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take.’ Of course, that raises all kinds of questions in your infantile mind about dying before waking, and of some medieval lord-like being coming in the night to snatch your soul away. Then your parents compound your growing fear by saying, ‘Goodnight, don’t let the bedbugs bite.’  So you begin to notice things moving in the night that are coming to bite you. And when your parents tell you there is no such thing as the boogeyman who hides in your closet or under your bed, you don’t believe them. ”

                “But you’re no longer afraid? Why not?”

                “Oh, I grew up. Now I pay the electric bill and I get to control the light switches and never turn out the lights. I keep a flashlight by my pillow and a crucifix over my bed and garlands of garlic draped over Christ on the cross. I have a nine millimeter Beretta loaded with silver bullets in the drawer of a nightstand and a 5.56 millimeter under the sheets with me. There are infra-red security cameras all around the periphery of my house that project wi-fi images to monitors in my bedroom and an alarm sounds to wake me if even a mouse gets close to the house. I have back-up batteries for power in case the grid goes down or someone cuts the wires to my house. I keep a cell phone with me at all times. I have a tornado and bomb shelter built in a sub-basement that’s stocked with supplies to last decades. I no longer watch Fox news. Why should I be afraid?”

Part II

“Of course,” I added, “my parents are both dead, my siblings have all died, my wife left me (or did she die, too, I forget), and most of my friends have perished for one reason or another. I suppose I should be afraid I’ll be next. But I’m not afraid. Maybe you should be afraid, though, because I consider you a friend. You know what happens to everyone I’ve loved or befriended over the years? They’ve died or I’ve driven them off.”


Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Witing for Comic Books

Have you ever wondered why so many successful authors write stories for comic books? For the money, of course. But beyond the regular and ample paychecks for cranking out words, there is a certain satisfaction writers get from visualizing their works.

                Many well-known writers wrote for the comics. It’s no secret that Mickey Spillaine penned stories for Timely/Atlas/Marvel. Manley Wade Wellman wrote for the pulps, paperback publishers, and penned Blackhawk for Quality and Captain Marvel Adventures for Fawcett. Frank Belknap Long had a similar career writing for pulps, paperbacks, and comics. Otto Binder (half of the Eando Binder team of Earl and Otto) wrote tons of stuff for Fawcett, and he became better known for his work on the Marvel Family than for his amazing Adam Link or John Jarl stories.

                Ray Bradbury’s stories were so naturally visual that Al Feldstein adapted any of them for EC Comics.

                It’s no secret, either, that modern writers like Neil Gaiman, Clive Barker, Joe Hill, and many others do comic book work. My good friends Mort Castle and Wayne Allen Sallee love the graphic novel format as much as they love to write short stories and novels.

                I’ve written a couple of stories for comic books myself. I grew up reading everything I could get my hands on, and that included pulps and comic books. It seemed only natural that I would try my own hand at writing a story or two. “Bug House” appeared in Horror: The Illustrated Book of Fears and was reprinted in Best of Northstar. “Better than One” came out in J. N. Williamson’s Masques from Innovation and was recently reprinted by IDW.

                I recently read Joe R. Lansdale’s work for Vertigo’s Jonah Hex comics. Like all of Joe’s writing, they are lots of fun to read.

                And Bill Willigham’s Fables (also from Vertigo) is more fun than a barrel of monkeys.

                So why do writers love to write for comic books? Because they are fun. Also, and almost importantly, the lead-time between conception, writing, and appearance in print is so much shorter than waiting for a short story to appear in a magazine or a novel to roll off the presses.

                Some of the most imaginative writing appears first in graphic format. Gardner Fox’s and Ed Hamilton’s science fiction stories for DC and others were cutting-edge at the time they appeared, and their ideas influenced so many other sf writers that those ideas now seem commonplace. I loved (and still love) Otto Binder’s King Kull and Mr. Worm characters. I loved (and still love) Bradbury’s stories from EC, especially “The Small Assassin” which scared the crap out of me as a kid.

                So, be a little kid again. Read a comic book today.

                And, if you’re a comic book writer, be proud of the fact. You’re in good company.

Extended Metaphors

Writing comes closest to reaching full meaning through our old friends simile, metaphor, and allegory. Long extended metaphors become allegories like Spenser’s “The Faerie Queene” or Milton’s “Paradise Lost” or any of Shakespeare’s plays or Lewis Carroll’s brilliant stories about Alice. I keep returning to those works again and again as I recognize additional glimmers of hidden truth revealed in the immortal words of favorite poets, playwrights, and priests. At different times in my life, different writers and different books have revealed meaning that I found useful or truthful.

            Perhaps it’s because I reread a piece I wrote more than thirty years ago that such thoughts occupy my mind. “Random Factors: The recurring Themes of Henry Kuttner” appeared in Etchings and Odysseys #4 in spring of 1984 (I just posted the piece to my website at Kuttner was a modern (back in the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s) master of extended metaphor.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Altered States Continued

            Both General Semantics and Neurolinguistic Programming (NLP) emphasize that the map is not the territory, and that is certainly true.

            “The word is only a representation of the meaning,” observed Stephen King in his indispensable On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. “Even at its best, writing almost always falls short of full meaning.”

A Day like any other day

Today has been one of those running around like a chicken with its head cut off days. It began like all days, up at 9 AM, writing from nine until noon, checked and answered my morning’s emails, and then the fun began. I went to the post office first, dropped off some manuscripts and contracts, filled up my gas tank, went to the ATM and made a cash withdrawal, bought chocolate for Elizabeth, went to target and got a flu shot, went grocery shopping and bought cat food, purchased cigarettes, and a half-dozen other things. When I returned home, of course, I put the perishables in the refrigerator, fed the cats, bought an upgrade to the RAM on my computer, checked my email again, and now I’m dictating this using Dragon Naturally Speaking. This is the first chance I’ve had to actually work with Dragon. It works remarkably well. It may take a while to learn to use the program. But I’m glad that I have it.


Now at last it’s time for me to write again.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

All writing (both fiction and non-fiction) is done   in an altered state. In order to write, one must momentarily focus one’s field of vision on something imaginary. That imaginary something can actually exist in the real world (either now or in the past), but the writer sees only remembered or constructed images when he’s capturing images in words.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Deviants to be published by Damnation Books

I signed a contract today with Damnation Books for the publication of Deviants, my new horror/shasher novel/thriller.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Free public appearance and signing at Rock Valley College

I will be speaking at the Friends of Rock Valley College Library event in rooms 141-142 of the Woodward Technology Center (WTC) from 2:30 to 3:30 PM on Wednesday, October 22, 2014. I will speak on "Hypnosis, Flow, and Writing."  The event is free and open to the public. Rock Valley College is located at 3301 North Mulford Road in Rockford, Illinois. The college is easily accessible  from Interstate 90 (either the North Riverside exit or the East State Street exit).

Abandoned coming in 2015 from Eldritch Press

Eldritch Press will publish Abandoned, a novel of supernatural horror, in 2015. Here is a look at the cover.

ISBN-13: 978-0692293997
ISBN-10: 069229399X