Underworld: Awakening and the great gender swap

I finally caught up with Underworld: Awakening, a movie I'd put off seeing because I liked the first two Underworld films so much. Although technically the fourth in the series, chronologically it follows the second (the third was a totally unnecessary prequel), and picks up the story of Kate Beckinsale's Selene after the events of Underworld: Evolutions. Why, if I'm Read more

Blade Runner: crocodile tears in rain?

I'll say up front: this is totally fanboy rambling.  Take it as such. In Ridley Scott's classic film Blade Runner, evil corporate head Elton Tyrell explains to hero Rick Deckard how the Nexus 6 replicants, the closest the company's come to true human beings, have emotional issues since they're born fully adult and live only four years. Tyrell: We began to Read more

High Hopes: is talent finite?

This weekend, I finally listened to High Hopes, the most recent Bruce Springsteen album. Yes, it came out on January 14, and I bought it then, but I hadn't listened to it. There  were many times when I listened to a new Springsteen album multiple times on its release day, and almost exclusively for days after that. But something's happened to Read more

Some thoughts on a Star Trek rewatch

  My oldest son and I just finished watching the first season of the original Star Trek series. We watched the episodes in "production order," meaning the order in which they were filmed. That way, we could see the growth of the show, the way the actors find their characters, and how the Enterprise itself is more and more developed. Read more

Writing on demand for MY BLOODY VALENTINE

Every writer has at least one weakness, something they don't do as well as they'd like. They know it, and their readers know it. Raymond Chandler knew he didn't do plots well, which is why the structures of his novels a) don't bear up to scrutiny, and b) are often cribbed from his previous short stories. Of course, what Read more

Ain’t No Cure: vampirism as disease

Posted on by Alex in Blood Groove, Dracula, Girls with Games of Blood, True Blood, vampires, writers, writing | 1 Comment

(October, the month of Halloween, conjures one name in our household: Dracula! This is the third of a series of posts on various aspects of Dracula and vampires in general. I’ll be giving away a two-pack of my own vampire novels Blood Groove and The Girls with Games of Blood to one lucky commenter per post, so comment early, comment often!)

Richard Matheson, among many other cool things in his career, popularized the idea of a scientific explanation for vampirism in his novel I am Legend. His vampires are the result of a pandemic whose symptoms mirror the classic vampire tropes. That paved the way for this entire subgenre, including comics (Marvel’s Blade, as well as Morbius, the Living Vampire), movies (Korea’s Thirst), and even recent fiction (The Passage and The Strain).

Originally, the idea of blood hunger as a disease had its simplest parallel with diabetes, with blood standing in for insulin. As long as the sufferer “took his medicine,” so to speak, he was safe. For the most part, diabetes is invisible as well, so that the vampire suffering from a “disease” didn’t look any different, either: fangs were minimized, and vampires changed from being aristocrats and noblemen to everyday characters. This removed any sort of moral level and made him just another unfortunate. Eventually stories appeared in which vampires made do with animal blood or blood substitutes (as in True Blood), making the parallel complete.

With the onset of AIDS, a blood-borne disease that came with the social stigma diabetes lacked, vampire stories adapted as well. Suddenly the idea that the very thing that allowed their existence could also cause their demise became the trope of the moment. Even Stephen King worked a twist on it, as his Dark Tower vampires were AIDS carriers. Further, the very real experiences of sufferers were co-opted into vampire fiction, so that vampires became victims not just of biology, but of society as well. Just as AIDS sufferers were shunned and accused of “asking for it,” vampires were depicted as victims who often deliberately sought their condition. And the fear of AIDS dovetailed nicely with the fear of vampires: both could hide in plain sight, and lured you with the possibility of sex. (I’m deliberately not talking about sexuality and AIDS victims in terms of vampire fiction, because that’s a whole other issue.)

And now, with the possibility of biological weapons (what used to be called “germ warfare,” back when Matheson wrote I am Legend), we get tales of mutated viruses that spread like wildfire and create vampire-like symptoms and behaviors.

So where does that leave the vampire?

The classic vampires–Dracula, Carmilla, Lord Ruthven–were unapologetic monsters. They needed no origins, no sympathy, because they embraced their natures. They did not contract a disease, they willingly gave up their souls for the vampiric existence. Only later, when the idea of sympathetic vampire arose with Dark Shadows and Anne Rice, did it become really necessary to find a way to have vampirism not be the vampire’s fault. And what better way than to make it the result of simple biology, rather than a pact with eternal evil?

The problem with this, as with all “explanations” for vampires, is that as soon as they’re explained, they become small and simple. In a way, the idea of a biological explanation for vampires is horror fiction’s parallel to midichlorians: it explains something that needs no explanation, and in the process, utterly destroys its grandeur.

The loss of the epic vampire

Posted on by Alex in Bram Stoker, Catholic Church, Christopher Lee, Dracula, Elizabeth Miller, fantasy literature, Hammer Studios, Horror Films, Lestat, movies, True Blood, Twilight, vampires, writing, Zginski | 10 Comments

(October, the month of Halloween, conjures one name in our household: Dracula! This is the first of a series of posts on various aspects of Dracula and vampires in general. I’ll be giving away a two-pack of my own vampire novels Blood Groove and The Girls with Games of Blood to one lucky commenter per post, so comment early, comment often!)

Recently I came across an article by Elizabeth Russell Miller, an internationally-known expert on all things Bram Stoker, entitled, “The Church Welcomes Dracula.”

The story of this Dublin church honoring Dracula is fun on its surface, but it got me thinking about vampires and religion, a relationship that has lost almost all its potency in the last forty years. When I was a kid, vampires were terrified of all things religious, specifically Catholic icons. There were occasional riffs on that, most famously the Jewish bloodsucker in The Fearless Vampire Killers. But for the most part it was accepted, and accepted seriously: the athiest hero of the Hammer classic Dracula Has Risen from the Grave must become a believer to defeat Dracula.

But as religion faded from its importance in everyday life, it also faded from vampire lore. Anne Rice’s vampires are indifferent to religious iconography, as are those of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. The pantsless vamps of True Blood have no issue with it. And so on. But what has replaced religion in vampire mythology?

Apparently, it’s love.

Love destroys vampires as surely as sunrise, wooden stakes or fire. Where once stood an immortal symbol of the power of the devil, the literal anti-Christ (the vampire’s nightly resurrection mocks Christ’s, for example), we now have tortured, sympathetic heroes. And not even anti-heroes like the magnificently nihilistic Lestat, but actual heroes who try to do good, defeat the bad guys (often more “traditional” vampires) and win the damsel (often without actually biting her). This has culminated in the Twilight, saga, which is all about not doing…well, anything. Once the active hand of the devil on earth, vampires are now horror’s answer to the Amish.

When only the Church (capital “C”) stood between humanity and the vampire, it was understood as a battle for immortal things like souls.  It was an epic battle. Powers as old as the universe contended for the soul of a man or woman, a prize so valuable both God and the Devil wanted it. Now…well, the prize is Bella Swan’s virginity. And losing it doesn’t damn her to hell for all eternity; rather, it elevates her into the nouveau beaute’ pantheon.

Now, I’m not a religious person, but as a writer, I understand the maxim that heroes are judged by the power of their villains. Imagine Batman without the Joker, Superman without Lex Luther, or Sherlock Holmes without Moriarty; their stature would be seriously diminished. Similarly, the classic vampire is scary and significant because, within that mythology, even God himself takes notice and stands against him. That’s a powerful trope, and one that’s proven very hard to replace.

When I wrote my two “vampsloitation” novels, Blood Groove and The Girls with Games of Blood, I deliberately left out religion, intending to use it as an element in the climactic third book. Alas, the first two did not exactly fly off shelves or into e-book readers,* so it may be some time before that final novel, Blood Will Rise Again, sees the light of day. But when it does, I hope to recapture some of that classic epic feel, of the idea that what’s at stake (heh) when a vampire meets a human is more than just hemoglobin and an undead booty call.  I hope to make it…well, cosmic. That’s the playing field vampires should occupy.

*I must say, though, that the fans of these novels are some of my most passionate; for those that “get it,” they really get it, and I appreciate hearing from them.

Writer’s Day #3

Posted on by Alex in Eddie LaCrosse, writers, writing | 2 Comments

This is the third of a series of videos showing how a typical writer (i.e., me) works through the day.  This one is about revision, and how some writers get nervous talking about fonts on camera.

Interview: Signe Pike, author of Faery Tale

Posted on by Alex in faeries, interview, writers, writing | 2 Comments

Signe Pike’s 2010 memoir Faery Tale is subtitled, One Woman’s Search for Enchantment in a Modern World.  It tells of her journey to the countries steeped in a history of fairy belief, in search of something that would convince her, a cynical New Yorker, of their reality.  Through her discoveries and experiences, she not only learns about fairies, but also comes to terms with some deep-seated grief.  Kirkus Reviews named it a “Best of 2010.”

I didn’t read it before I wrote The Hum and the Shiver, but we were both working from a similar perspective: I was trying to find a way to present the fae in the modern world, and she was searching for traces of their existence in the same place.  I found what I was after with the creation of my mythical Tufa; Signe found her answers in the signs, symbols and coincidences encountered on her journey.

Me: Since you wrote your book, have you second-guessed or reinterpreted any of the experiences you describe in it?

Signe: Surprisingly, no, I haven’t second-guessed any of my experiences. On my journey one of the most important things I learned was to trust my intuition, that inner sense of knowing that we all have and yet too often choose to ignore. And the strange occurrences I experienced when researching Faery Tale were all unquestioningly accompanied by that powerful sense of knowing. I learned to trust that. Once you’ve felt it, you can understand how different knowing is from imagining or thinking. It was what my interview subjects had been telling me all along, they’d say, for example, “I just know what I saw wasn’t fireflies,” with a powerful sense of conviction. They didn’t seem crazy, or delusional, they just seemed absolutely certain. It took experiencing the feeling of knowing that seems to accompany brushes with the unseen world myself to understand what it was they’d been trying to say. The tricky thing about this sense of knowing becomes, How do I describe this experience to readers in a way that makes sense to someone who isn’t experiencing it first hand? Taking it further, how could I describe what I experienced to readers in way that wouldn’t leave them feeling isolated and unable to relate to my experience given that they weren’t there to see or feel what had taken place for themselves? The answer was to approach the experiences from as much of a journalistic perspective as possible. I wanted my readers to be able to be able to make up their own minds and interpret what might have taken place for themselves, not try to shove something down their throats. It disturbed me that there didn’t seem to be a “Middle Way” out there for people interested in esoteric subjects. So many of the books on faeries written in recent years were completely inaccessible to the majority of the population. I decided I wanted to create a Middle Way, an exploration for myself and others who weren’t sure what we thought, but were willing to take a risk, be open and see what secrets existence might have in store.

I have, however, come to realize that putting spiritual experiences or encounters into any sort of box is a rather silly thing to do. Wol, one of my favorite people I met on my journey, said to me one night that what I was undertaking was nearly impossible. “You can’t possibly hope to come out of this with concrete answers. What you’re exploring, it could take years. Decades. You can’t put this sort of thing on a deadline.” He was right. Wol wasn’t a believer in faeries, necessarily, but he respected my journey and supported me in my seeking. Matters of existence like “Are there unseen beings around us?” are explorations that deserve the respect of a lifetime. As such, just because the last page of the book has been turned
doesn’t mean my journey has ended. I do continue to find new ways to interpret the “signs and signals” that I encountered while writing the book. I continue to grow, learn, and expand. I put a fair amount of that on the page. I was lucky to be able to share that with readers and I remain glad that I did. But now I rather enjoy being able to keep my experiences and interpretations just for me. They retain their power more for me that way.

What do you feel is the link, if any, between a person’s ability to sense the world of faery, and creativity?

I believe that creativity and the faerie world are linked in that they are both directly connected to this world of “other”—divine source, God, the spirit world, whatever you believe—our creativity burns within us until it presses us to create something, to birth it, bring it out of the ether. We are, in other words, inspired. We feel that if we cannot just write, paint, sing, cook, plant, plan, whatever your creative outpouring must be, we will surely burst. Our egos tell us “I made this.” But really, I believe that yes, while our fingers might have painted the image, and we used our skills to move the brush just so, we received the inspiration to complete the work from some place outside of ourselves, a place rife with enchantment. The more we learn how to be open to that source, the more we acknowledge and are thankful for the inspirations that come our way, and the more we pay attention to the world around us, that I believe is trying to communicate with us at every moment in time, the more easily we’ll be able to experience that world and everything which calls it home, faeries included.

Do you think the faeries understand, or care, about how they’re depicted in art and literature?

I’d have to say it depends on the faery! They are spirit beings, and as such are unique and individualized, and from our very human perspective. I imagine there are some who don’t want to have much to do with humans at all. There are some who think it’s funny. There are some, as Mr. Brian Froud, artist extraordinaire might tell you, that are quite keen to be painted, heard, felt, or otherwise brought into our consciousness. Then there are some who have a strong desire to communicate their existence to people for bigger ends: so that we will extract our heads from our behinds and start taking better care of the planet and living the best lives we can in harmony with the rest of the natural world. No small mission.

Before the book came out, I was nervous that I might not have done the question of faeries justice. I had been gifted some amazing other-worldly experiences—even some that I’d managed to capture on tape and on camera—and I worried that if the book didn’t perform, if it didn’t reach people, I would be letting this unseen world down. A very wise friend of mine said, “These faeries you believe in. You say they’re pretty ancient, right? They’ve been around for quite a while. Older than mankind itself? And they’re very wise, some of them, right?”

“Yes,” I said.

“And do you think you’re the first person to have written about them in the history of human kind?”

“No…” I was beginning to see how ridiculous my line of thinking had been. The whole world of faeries depends on me! Come on. And I couldn’t help but start to laugh.

“Yeah,” he said, “I really don’t think so much depends on you.”

The point is that they reach out and inspire lots of people (as you know first hand, I’m sure, Mr. Bledsoe!) and there is no wrong inspiration. They just want it to resonate with people and hopefully inspire them to change, grow, love more, be more awake, and make a difference. I’m sure the darker side of faerie reaches out too—and there are authors out there who regularly tune into it. I choose not to. It doesn’t help anything. It doesn’t elevate people, it doesn’t inspire them or help them grow. It just makes people weirder.

What’s the most interesting thing a reader’s told you after reading your book?

Oh, wow. One of the things that lights me up most are the letters I receive. The fact that people are willing to share their own deeply personal experiences or unexplainable encounters they’ve had with me is incredibly moving. I’ve heard of magical events that have happened to people everywhere from Ireland to Appalachia, Australia to Brazil, from believers and doubters alike. I get wonderful suggestions about other places around the world to visit where readers believe I might experience faerie activity. Sometimes I get letters from people who take the idea of faeries quite literally – there was a person convinced that a garden gnome was trapped in their backyard shed and they were in quite a panic, wondering what they should do. But the most touching letters are from those who share their stories of loss and a new faith in the enchantment the world has to offer that rose out of their seeking and their sorrow. Or, even more humbling, the people who say my book helped them heal. I don’t think there’s any higher praise, and it’s letters like that that make me so glad I took a chance and shared my story.

Thanks to Signe Pike for talking with me. Faery Tale: One Woman’s Search for Enchantment in a Modern World is available through all the usual outlets, in all the usual formats. You can visit her website here.

Writer’s Day #2

Posted on by Alex in Hum and the Shiver, writers, writing | Leave a comment

This is the second of a series of videos showing how a typical writer (i.e., me) works through the day.  Ever wonder how those signed copies get from an author to a contest winner?  Now you can see.  And it involves military jets.

Writer’s Day #1

Posted on by Alex in Eddie LaCrosse, writers, writing | Leave a comment

This is the first of a series of videos showing how a typical writer (i.e., me) works through the day.  And my day starts early.

The Ubiquitous Daddy Issues Club

Posted on by Alex in alcohol, family, fatherhood, writers, writing | 6 Comments

At my Christening, 1963. My dad’s in the middle. I’m the short one.

Recently I mentioned to author Patrick Somerville (This Bright River) that Dean Bakopoulos’s first book, Please Don’t Come Back from the Moon, resonated with me because I have unresolved issues with my own late father. Patrick said, “Yeah, like every other writer.” It wasn’t mockery: he was saying, in essence, “Welcome to a club of which you were already a member.” 

That got me thinking: is it true? Does every writer, especially male writers, have deep-seated father issues? Do they provide some, or even all, of the drive that makes us create?

As if to corroborate this, a few days later I came across this passage in a New Yorker article on Bruce Springsteen:

“T-Bone Burnett said that rock and roll is all about ‘Daaaaddy!’ It’s one embarrassing scream of ‘Daaaaddy!’”

My father was, simply, an alcoholic. And he was surrounded by family and friends who so enabled and covered up for him that, until I was almost grown, I didn’t know. He never drank where I could see him. When he passed out on the couch, I was told he was just tired from working so hard. When he wanted to sit in the car instead of come inside with me for my weekly allergy shots, I thought he just found my company boring. Certainly we never talked books, music or art; he liked to fish (where he could drink), hunt (where he could drink) and go frog gigging (where he could drink).

Whenever he took me along for those activities, my presence frustrated him because it meant he couldn’t drink; to me, he just seemed put out by a son who didn’t grasp these skills instantly (we won’t even talk about him teaching me to drive). The upshot of which is that, pretty much up until right before he died, I assumed he just didn’t like me.

When I started drinking to fit in (at 15), no one took me aside and said, “This is what cost your father that good job, and made you have to move from that beautiful house into the one with a shotgun hole in the wall.” They simply clicked their tongues and shook their heads. Worse, he said nothing. His pride, or cowardice, kept him from even the most basic sort of intervention, telling his underage son that he shouldn’t get drunk.

Now that I’m a father, too, and fifteen years from my last drink (there was no drama around my quitting, just a realization that if I didn’t, I’d end up like him), I realize just how fucked up our relationship was, and how everyone around us let it stay fucked up. People are amazed that I missed what must have been obvious signs, but I was the only child at home, and I had nothing to compare it to. I believed what I was told, until the day I discovered him myself, passed out in the mud beside a pond where we’d gone fishing (and where he’d deliberately sent me to fish in a spot where I couldn’t see him).

Recently, over twenty years after his death, some workers at my mom’s house discovered a cache of empty peppermint schnapps bottles in the foundation crawlspace. It was his legacy: a pile of stinking glass.

So what does this have to do with me being a writer?

I became a writer because I had to; the stories were chewing their way out my head. But I became the writer I am, and tell the stories I do, because they are my legacy to my sons. I’ve occasionally thought of pandering to current trends, to try creating something that might piggyback on another writer’s success and grant me that elusive “bestseller” status (maybe The DaVinci Girl Who Wore Shades of Grey, or something). But then I remember, these books are what my kids, and grandkids, will have to remember me by. By reading them, they will hopefully be able to know a little bit about me. If I do anything but try my best to write stories unique to me, embodying my idea of what’s important, them I’m just leaving them the same pile of stinking glass my dad left me.

So I guess that Patrick Somerville, and T-Bone Burnett, were right.  Welcome to the club, indeed.

Clockwise from top: Me, the Squirrel Boy, and the C-in-C, circa 2008.

I will not say I will not read your f*cking (manu)script

Posted on by Alex in authors, fans, writers, writing, writing advice | 5 Comments

An aspiring writer at Josh Olson’s door. “Please, suh, may I have some critique?”

WARNING: This post contains strong language. It actually has to, because…well, you’ll see.

Every so often, someone posts a link to this, a 2009 article by screenwriter Josh Olson bemoaning the fact that struggling writers ask him to read their work. If you haven’t, take a minute and read it. I’ll wait.

I’ll say this up front: if this article, in its content, tone, and execution, is an accurate representation of Olson’s personality, then I think he’s an asshole, because only an asshole would feel the need to pro-actively announce that he won’t read your fucking script. Only an asshole would think anyone cares.

However, the article keeps getting reposted, and some fairly accomplished people don’t feel that his self-righteousness self-pity is out of line. I do, and not just because I try not to be an asshole. I say it because, we should be better than that.

Who are ‘we?’ The ones lucky enough to do this for a living.

Last year, I filled in for a writer on a critique panel at a local convention. He’d been called away, and one of the other panelists asked me to take his spot. I did, and hopefully the writers who were brave enough to read things got some useful criticism. Afterwards, I was outside with the panelist who’d asked me to fill in, and two young women approached us. They apologized for missing the panel, and asked if we could still look at their submissions. My friend politely said no, that the panel was over and that, essentially, was that. I went along with it.

But I haven’t forgotten it, and I still feel bad about it, because it was the wrong thing to do. I have no doubt what the girls had to show us would have been pretty bad, but that’s not the point. The point is, I missed a chance to give back, to pay forward, to essentially behave in the exact opposite manner from Josh “I Will Not Read Your Fucking Script” Olson. Because unlike Olson, I remember what it was like to be on the other side of the line. I recall how it felt to have your nose pressed to the glass.

Recently author Pat Cardigan reposted Olson’s article on Facebook, and in the comments legendary author Jane Yolen defended Olson’s attitude, relating some pretty awful tales of people approaching her, one even at her husband’s funeral. I think we can all agree that that’s reprehensible behavior, but even if it is, does that mean we should be assholes back?* Does that mean we should announce to everyone, even people who haven’t asked, that we won’t read their fucking script because we are, as Laurence Olivier once claimed about himself, too fucking grand?

Sure, if you’re pushy and obnoxious, I’ll turn you down. If I’m busy with my own stuff, I’ll turn you down. If my kids need my attention, or I have a prior commitment, I’ll turn you down. What I won’t do is brag about how I’m turning you down before you even ask. And most importantly, I’ll try not be an asshole when I do it, no matter how obnoxious you are. Why? Because there are enough assholes in the world.

That’s the whole point of this, my whole plea to the Josh Olsons out there: you don’t have to be an asshole about things.

And that is something all writers, with the exception of Harlan Ellison, should be able to do.

*Just to be clear, I’m not calling Jane Yolen an asshole. Not at all. I sat beside her in the audience of the very first convention panel I ever attended, before I’d been published myself, and she was delightfully friendly. And truthfully, if you’re so ill-mannered that you approach someone at a funeral, you deserve what you get.

The Girl on the Cover

Posted on by Alex in cover art, Eddie LaCrosse, pirates, Wake of the Bloody Angel, writers, writing, writing advice | 8 Comments

This post is about cover art, and specifically the way characters are portrayed in it.

I want to say up front, I’m not being critical of my own covers. A cover is designed to make potential readers check out the book; once they do, it becomes the writer’s responsibility to keep them interested. It goes without saying that often the covers don’t depict the characters as the author sees them, and over time, even the publisher’s idea of what a character looks like can dramatically change:

The original rather slap-happy Conan…

…and the grim Conan we know now.

When I was writing Wake of the Bloody Angel, I introduced a new, major character, Jane Argo. She’s a sword jockey like Eddie, but she’s also a former pirate hunter, and before that, a pirate herself. Here’s how I describe her, in Eddie’s voice:

She was my height, busty and wide-hipped but with a wasp-narrow waist. Her broad shoulders were as muscular as a galley slave’s, and she wore a large ring on every finger. Her hair fell past her shoulders, and only the faint streaks of gray and slightly deeper smile lines indicated she was older than she sounded.

One day I stumbled across this picture of musician Ginger Doss,* and realized this was pretty much exactly how I saw Jane in my head.

The publisher, or rather artist Larry Rostant, who’s done my last three covers, saw her this way.

 

To be fair, Mr. Rostant may never have never read the book, which is not an essential part of his job description. And again, it’s a great cover illustration as far as its function goes, which is to induce someone to pick up the book: it has atmosphere, sexiness and style. On its own, it’s a beautiful image. But I’ll leave it to you, the reader, to decide what this dichotomy represents. In professional publishing, the author has virtually no say-so in the cover. It’s decided by marketers, whose job it is to create an image that will attract attention. And certainly the slender redhead with the no-nonsense scowl does that (as several male readers have informed me).

But here’s the thing: one reason I wrote Jane as a physically big woman, with visible muscles and a hint of grey in her hair, was to break away from the idea of the “butt-kicking waif,” a trope that really annoys me. Much like the whole movie Sucker Punch, the BKW is a way to disguise male fantasy objects behind the mask of alleged female empowerment. Buffy is the prime example, maybe even the originator, but it’s become the default setting for SF and fantasy heroines by creators who want to court the Buffy demographic (and who miss the point behind Buffy entirely). So I wanted to react against that, to show a woman who is both as intelligent as the hero, but also maybe a little stronger, physically. And to have none of that make her any less attractive.

The reviews, thankfully, have noticed that. Almost all of them mention Jane, and my favorite comment so far is this one :

Jane’s an unusual character in that she’s the muscle of the operation. Bledsoe lets her be tough without ever questioning her ability to be so. There’s never a comment by another character that suggests she’s strong for a girl [emphasis in the original].

I have a hard time seeing the woman on the cover fitting that description. She’s beautiful, certainly. She’s got a great expression, too. She fully fits into the overall image. But as with Eddie, I wonder if a more visually accurate presentation would make any difference in sales. And if so…in which direction?

*Ms. Doss knows that she was my image of Jane Argo. Thankfully, she’s delighted.

Writers and the Throne

Posted on by Alex in family, writers, writing | 5 Comments


It’s a well-known maxim that creative types, for the most part, get no respect from their families. Even Jesus knew this, saying (according to King James), “A prophet is not without honour, but in his own country, and among his own kin, and in his own house” (and no, I’m not comparing myself to Jesus). Thankfully, in my own house I’m fairly well tolerated, especially when I clean the bathrooms every week. And most of the authors I know have spouses or partners who actually like having a writer around.

But go further afield, and you find people who saw you grow up, and who now make it their business to remember every social misstep, every embarrassing faux pas, every failure of your childhood and look for any opportunity to remind you of it as an adult. Or go out of their way to denigrate what you’ve dedicated yourself to as somehow less than a “real job.”

An example from my own life: last spring, I took my family back to Tennessee, so we could go to Easter sunrise service with my mom. Returning “home” is always problematic for me, because the tiny town I grew up in, and that a surprising number of my family still call home, has decayed over the years to a hamlet of old people, abandoned houses and (probably) hidden meth labs. The school burned down, the grocery store and diner closed, even the truck stop went out of business. All that’s left are one red light, a convenience store and a notorious speed trap. Still, we went, because it’s my mom; she refuses to travel, so if I want her to see her grandsons, I have to bring them to her.

While I was there, one of my relatives told me that he finished reading one of my books. Now, this would be unusual enough, given that I write books everyone in my family considers “weird” (i.e., fantasy and horror). But lest you think I’ve made some sort of breakthrough, he also felt the need to tell me where he finished it.

In his words, “On the crapper.”

That’s right: he wanted to make sure I knew my book, and his shit, were in very close proximity.

I’ve turned this little moment over in my mind ever since. If he’d cackled gleefully and pointed at me, the way people did when I was a kid, I’d know how to take it. If he’d punched me in the face, the way one of my cousins once did for being “weird” (I was reading a Star Trek book at the time) then I’d also comprehend his meaning. But maybe, in some twisted way, he meant it as a compliment. Maybe he wanted to show me that my book had brought joy to his personal sanctum sanctorum. Maybe experiencing a good book, and a good bowel movement, are both rare experiences for him.

Still, I’d hesitate to recommend sharing this sort of thing to the family of other writers. Because it’s also a mental image I never, ever wanted.