If you’re interested in purchasing the latest issue of The Wild Musette Journal, which contains my short story “The Last Zookeeper” along with much else that’s delightful, please click here. As always, thank you for your support.
Very happy to announce that my story “The Last Zoo Keeper” appears in this issue of The Wild Musette!
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I can’t say I knew Len Wein, not at all. Harlan Ellison introduced us during a convention on Long Island (and we shared a truly memorable ride back to NYC in a friend’s van with–God help us–Harlan driving, excoriating the other drivers as we shot along the LI Expressway at roughly the speed of light). Fate threw us together at one other convention long enough to say “hi, yes I remember you, how’s things” before we went our separate ways and never saw each other again.
On the off-chance some of you reading this don’t recognize his name or know who he was–was; I had a hard time writing that word–let me tell you just t his little bit: He was a writer of great heart and soul. He co-created Wolverine and Swamp Thing, and revived X-Men with artist Dave Cockrum. He was a legend.
More than that, he was kind, a gentleman, funny as hell, and possessed an incandescent smile. We weren’t friends. We didn’t hang out or call or email. But I liked him, admired him, knew he was out there somewhere in the world, and that was a good thing to know.
And now he’s gone. And we can talk about Heaven, or the Universe, or the Cosmos, or how there’s another star in the night sky, but the truth is, it hurts. And it stinks. And I’m angry because he was taken way too soon.
RIP, Len. Thanks for the laughter on that long-ago ride. Thanks for being kind and gentle toward a newbie fan who could barely get her head out of her ass. Thank you for all the great stories. You’ll be missed.
I discuss writing with writer/reviewer/critic John Valeri: Three on a Match Interview
It’s the weirdest damn thing.
I have this blog, see, but I also have the “The Man Who Loved Elephants” site where I speak–or write, rather–more directly to that particular book, what brought it about, and offer stories about Roger and the elephants.
Great, right? Yeah, it is. And the response has been really encouraging and I thank all of you who have checked it out and chosen to follow it.
But what’s strange is the number of “likes” I get that, when I go to check them out–as I invariably do because I’d like to offer a personal thank you–turn out to be porn-related sites.
Not sure where they’re coming from, unless they think “elephant” is a euphemism for … something. Or maybe these people just randomly “like” sites? Or maybe these sites are actually robots? To what point and purpose? I know there are those of you out there who are way, WAY more computer-savvy than I am. Isn’t life confusing enough?
Or maybe there’s some other connection?
I’m afraid to ask.
I’m pleased to announce that THREE ON A MATCH is now available for purchase directly from me (send me an email if interested), and will also be available on Amazon as of Tuesday, September 5.
Be prepared to be shocked to your socks.
In Splendid Chyna by Kristi Petersen Schoonover, a woman’s hope for a fresh start changes to terror when a dark secret proves that while she may be done with the past–but it’s not done with her.
All’s Well That Ends by g. Elmer Munson harkens back to the classic pulp stories of old when a routine call turns bloody for police officer Angel Lewis.
My own story, Thicker Than Water pits an innocent young woman against the witch hunter determined to find her guilty.
I’d also like to give a shout-out to my fellow authors (see below), thank the folks at Books and Boos Press, and in particular thank Kristi Petersen Schoonover for planning and executing our fantastic book launch party last night. Thank you, ma’am!
It took me so long to get back to this that you probably thought I’d given up. Not so. Well … not yet, at any rate.
Last time, I wrote about letting go of an idea–or having it leave you; of recognizing that an idea’s time has come and gone, at least for you. Sometimes those once-exciting ideas can be resurrected, but sometimes not and that’s okay. Someone else will write that story. God knows there are plenty of ideas to go around.
This time I want to speak to those occasions–and I think most, if not all, writers experience them, but I can only speak for myself and the writing friends who have shared their frustration with me–when the time and effort you put into writing become too much in the face of continual rejection; when you can’t catch a break no matter what. When you wonder if it isn’t time to call it a day as a writer.
“It’s not fair!” you cry.
Know what? You’re absolutely correct. But as the Grandfather in Princess Bride (played flawlessly by the inimitable Peter Falk) remarks, “Who says life is fair? Where is that written?”
Unfortunately, he’s absolutely correct, too.
Inferior writers get published for any number of reasons, many of which elude me. (And I ain’t namin’ names here, so don’t ask.) Celebrities–who may or may not have 1) actual writing talent, and 2) written the book with their name plastered on the cover–get published because they’re A BIG NAME and that name/notoriety “guarantees” sales, which of course is what the publisher is hoping for. Sometimes, a rejection is merely the result of timing. I once sent a short story–what wound up being a contest-winning short story–to a well-regarded science fiction & fantasy magazine, only to be told that they liked it a lot but, unfortunately, they’d just bought a story on the same topic. (See how ideas come to more than one writer?)
It’s a rough market out there, and getting rougher by the day. Your competition is fierce, and many of them are just as good a writer–or, let’s face it, better–than you. Do you write to what you hope are market trends, or doggedly go your own way? Is there a time when it’s best to concede defeat?
Don’t look to me for answers. I don’t know, and can’t know, what you’re thinking and feeling and experiencing. I can only know what I believe, and think, and observe. If I sometimes sound a little bitter about this topic, it’s because I am. I’m dealing with my own set of writerly frustrations and, yes, there are days when I think, “Enough. They win. I give up. I’m too damned tired to keep at this.”
There are days when I believe it, too.
But not today.
Today I take a deep breath, rally the interior troops, and keep fighting. Today, I keep believing.
In Big Magic, author Elizabeth Gilbert writes about the notion of story ideas drifting about in the ether, coming to rest with one writer or another. If given attention, the ideas stay and grow. If not, they eventually move on to a more receptive audience.
I believe this.
More than two years ago, I visited Gettysburg for the first time. If you’ve never been, do yourself a favor and go. If you possess an ounce of sensitivity in your soul, you can’t help but be affected. There’s a quality to the space … the silence … the sense of energy, of presence, behind that silence. Anyone who thinks it’s a boring old bunch of empty fields dotted with memorials is missing the point. Because of that visit, I will never be the same. I’m grateful for that, and can’t wait to return.
At any rate, shortly after that visit, a line of narrative popped into my brain–a description of a minie ball blasting into the abdomen of a young soldier from Maine on the fields of Gettysburg–and I knew I had the idea for my next book.
But I also had an idea for a book of narrative nonfiction about this man I’d met 20 years earlier who spent 30 years lovingly caring for the largest breeding herd of elephants in captivity. My research into that book–my tentative forays to locate this gentleman–had suddenly borne fruit, and here I was juggling two ideas.
My first inclination was to go after the Civil War story. But the minute I decided that, I heard–literally heard–a voice in my head say, “If you do that, you will lose the elephant book forever.” And I just couldn’t accept that. I couldn’t risk it. Telling the story of Roger Henneous and his pachyderm family was more important to me. It felt vital. It felt necessary. And, in truth, it felt like a goal I’d been working my way toward my entire writing life.
So I set aside the Civil War story and threw myself into the elephant book. In six months, I had a first draft. A very rough first draft, but at least it had a beginning, middle, and end. I’ve since lost count, but my guess is the manuscript went through something like six iterations before reaching a point where I could search for an literary agent–happily accomplished when I signed with Bonnie Solow–and begin the ongoing task of offering the book to publishers.
At long last I could turn my eyes toward the Civil War and all the research books I’d collected in anticipation! Except the power of the story had left me. The drive to write it had withered and vanished. I suspect the idea got tired of being ignored and wandered off to a more fertile field, one ready to accept it.
Every now and then I toy with going back to see if I can revive that sense of vigor and excitement, but I don’t know. I may have missed my chance this time. But that’s okay. Something else miraculous occurred.
“Milk takes on the flavor of what it’s next to in the refrigerator.”
If you’re a fan of Stephen King, you’ve undoubtedly read that quote or something like it more than once. I’d heard it long before King made it known because, like him, I grew up with a mother born and raised in Maine; way up Maine in “The County” –Aroostook, for those of you not in the know — about as far as you can go without becoming Canadian.
As a child, I incessantly nagged my parents to move to Maine. My grandparents were there — well, Pop was there; the one grandparent in four who actually paid attention to me — as well as a plethora of cousins my own age. Back home in New York, I had a grandmother who apparently hated everything in the world except her son-in-law and her boxer dogs, a handful of disinterested aunts and uncles, and cousins all vastly older than me. (When you’re a kid, a gap of 6+ years is vast. We won’t get into the 12+ year difference between me and my sisters.)
But back to the milk.
The saying works because it’s true. Store some chopped onions next to your carton of milk if you don’t believe me. If you’re a parent, you’ve seen the phenomena in your children once they begin school. They go off that first morning, your little kindergarten angel, only to return as Satan having, in the space of a few hours, picked up all sorts of noxious behaviors.
Where I find the truth of that quote applies to me is in the books I read. Assuming they write long and hard enough, each writer develops his or her own voice … or should. If not, there’s a real problem that needs addressing. That being said, writers also “borrow” from other writers.
We’re not talking plagiarism, which is a much bigger issue and should never-ever-ever happen. What I mean is that as you read something, you may find bits and pieces of that other writer’s style slipping into your own work. And that’s okay, so long as you don’t lose yourself in the process. Personally, I don’t mind a dash of Harlan Ellison or Barbara Hambly, Terry Pratchett or Stephen King sprinkled over the top of what I write. Hell, they–and several other writers–have been some of my best teachers on this long road of learning the craft. (You do read, don’t you? I mean something more than blogs or the newspaper? As a writer you must, and if you don’t, shame on you.)
But sometimes that unconscious tendency to borrow backfires.
I’m reading a book right now. It’s new, recently out, and no I won’t give you the title or author. It’s good … I think … although I swing between viewing the protagonist an independent woman and a chronic whiner. But the thing is, the damn story is bringing me down, man. It’s delivering no creative spark, no impetus to go at my own work with renewed verve. Instead, it’s draining me of the urge to write at all. Worse, it’s making me feel old and that, goddammit, is not acceptable. So I’ll be returning the book to the library unfinished, yet to even reach the heroine’s basic conundrum (assuming there is one).
Because, see, I can’t afford to take on that sort of flavor.