Coming Soonish…

Coming This October from Undertow Publications!!!


The Story Behind the Most Difficult Story I’ve Ever Had to Write

In late 2003, I started a short story tentatively titled “The Clacker.” I had the bare bones of a religious concept, itself based on my bare bones knowledge about the Cathars, a branch of Christianity wiped out by the Roman Catholic Church. (If this behavior by the RCC comes as a surprise, you probably shouldn’t be reading horror fiction, or science fiction, or fantasy or…look, just pick up some history books from your local library. Concentrate on books aimed at young adults.) Of course, I had internet access, just like the vast majority of Americans. Usually, research plus imagination crystallizes into some kind of story! It isn’t necessarily a good story, but at least it has a middle and an ending, to keep the beginning company. After several hours in which I wrote, and rewrote (moved around some words) the same two or three paragraphs, I surrendered.

But this wasn’t exactly a surprise.

You see, my creativity had been slowly leaching away, like a vital nutrient washed out of the soil by heavy rains. Creativity is, perhaps, the most vital nutrient required in order for writers and illustrators to grow their respective works of art. I was both, so the losses were doubled.

Fast forward to 2013, when a fortuitous change in my medication started growing that essential creativity once more, and without warning. I found myself suddenly deluged, not by rain, but by The Nutrient. Potent stuff that the desire to create is, I was overwhelmed by ideas. Stories I wanted to write and drawings I wanted to do wouldn’t just materialize; I had to grow them. I had a LOT of work ahead of me. I did a bunch of drawings, mostly of women and elder gods, and stuttered through the beginnings of half-a-dozen stories that were essentially going nowhere. I was all over the place, writing horror, science fiction, dark fantasy…but just their opening paragraphs. Drawing came naturally to me. I’d been a visual artist first, having picked up crayons at approximately the age of five. I didn’t write my first story until high school—during senior year, no less. Writing required more focus.

I don’t remember how I got the idea to go looking through my old fiction folders, but it was the trigger, or the key, or even the electron microscope (focus, get it?)—choose your metaphor. I opened many old files, which my latest version of Microsoft Word needed to translate into the new century, second decade. I found myself aghast at such amateur writing, and absurd, old tropes from the 1990s. The only ones that held any promise were the seeds of classical material: ghosts, apocalypses, cosmic horror, Lovecraftiana (no, probably not a real word), etc. You get the picture.

Ultimately, I settled on two stories: the apocalyptic “Sacred Glyphs” and one of those Lovecraftian pieces, entitled “The Clackers.” First thing I did was rename it “The Bible Black,” a title I stole from Ronnie James Dio’s final project, Heaven and Hell. The fact that he died before the album’s release just gave this song a creepy pathos that no musician could, or would, be able to pay for. If you want to hear the song that would ultimately inspire “The God Whom No One Worships,” tap here.

To deflate this bloated blog post, I will hurry along, now. I asked both my wife, Sherry, and my good friend, author/artist Dean Italiano, to give it the metaphorical red-pen treatment. They both gave me a lot of good advice. I think it was around then that I renamed it “The God Whom No One Worships.” But as I read it over, again, I felt something was wrong. I was too close to it, though, had worked on it too recently, to be able to see it clearly.

So I hired Mary SanGiovanni’s MSEditing to help me improve that story, and it was worth every penny. When Michael Kelly was seeking a short work of pulp fiction, I sent, among other things, “The God Whom No One Worships.” He accepted, asking only that I retitle it “The Night Kingdom.”

So, “The Night Kingdom” (It just rolls off the tongue, doesn’t it? That’s why he wins the awards, folks.) will appear in the inaugural issue of Weird Horror #1, along with twelve other chilling tales, this October. I urge writers to pick it up in order to get an idea of what they’re looking for, and I urge everyone else to pick it up because it will undoubtedly be good spine-tingling fun.

Space & Time #134

Space & Time Magazine #134

This issue is filled with fiction and poetry by some of the field’s up-and-coming as well as established authors. It also contains my illustration for renowned author and poet Marge Simon’s “Keeping Time.” So be sure to pick it up at Barnes & Noble, or at SpaceAndTimeMagazine.com .

 

Also, I must give a special thank you to author and science blogger John R. Platt for locating Space &Time issues #94 and 95, two magazines I lost in which my art appeared in the 1990s.

The Healing

Amy & Adam

Here is the completed drawing of my lovely niece and nephew after judicious use of Gelly Roll white gel pen. This drawing is about as healed as possible using conventional, non-digital means. Here is a slightly different version:

 

An Unhappy Accident

Amy

 


This drawing, intended as a gift for my sister and brother-in-law, was going just fine… until I clumsily spilled Crystal Light Fruit Punch on my desk, soaking the righthand portion of the drawing and leaving high velocity fruit punch spatter over parts, though thankfully not all, of my niece Amy. My sister-in-law, Tammy, and I discussed the situation and decided that I would cut away the saturated portions of the drawing, and repair and continue with the rest. So far, I’m happy with the progress I’ve made.

Flights of Mania

I’ve been especially troubled lately by the “manic” in manic-depression, classified as mania, or hypomania. Mania is the flip side of a coin whose other face is depression. I’ve already discussed MY experience of depression (for we are all different, and feel these things in our own way.) Without a doubt, depression is unpleasant. Mania is far more deceptive. When I feel the approach of a manic episode, colors become more vibrant, smells more intense and generally more pleasant, and my sense of taste can make a chocolate chip cookie seem like a doorway to infinite orgasmic pleasure.

The experience is much more than sensual, however. Things just seem to fall into place perfectly: every sentence I utter is on target and filled with wit or wisdom, my movements are more graceful, my cognition crystalline in essence, and my creativity very nearly limitless. In fact, where creativity is concerned, the good ideas come more frequently as the mania approaches its peak, necessitating hastily jotted notes while I’m working on something unrelated. It feels good, very good.

Mania, for me, usually means sleeplessness, which is absolutely fine, because there is so much I want to get done. One night of insomnia is a small price to pay for such clarity of thought. Lately, however, my manic episodes have been averaging two to three nights. There are catnaps, to be sure, but they become decreasingly refreshing by day two, and sometimes, go away altogether. And all those great ideas morph gradually into rapidly cycling thoughts, paired with uncanny forgetfulness. Then come the thought loops, an obsessive treading and retreading of the same ideas, accompanied by pathological worrying. I become paranoid, convinced that someone’s lack of response signifies that he/she is angry with me. My hands start to shake, the light in the room sears my retinas, and my favorite music is suddenly discordant and anxiety-inducing.

If, beyond this point, I haven’t yet begun to cycle back, I encounter what the DSM-5 (Diagnostic Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) calls “derealization,” a sense that the world I’m inhabiting does not actually exist. Next come little whispers and stray sentences, most quite convincing, often forcing me to seek out their sources. When I inevitably fail to find the speaker, I return to my worry-loops, and occasionally see movement in my peripheral vision.

At times, these episodes become severe enough that I need to double my intake of my anti-psychotic medication. Then, finally, begins the journey back towards “normal” and from there to depression. It’s the circle of life, at least my life…. Continue reading

Space & Time

A hearty welcome back to Space & Time Magazine, in honor of whom I’m posting some of the interior work I did for them (haven’t submitted a cover piece yet).

My illustration from Issue #94 of Space & Time Magazine.
Space & Time #125
Red by Christina Sng
Space & Time # 131
Let’s Play A Game
Space & Time #128
Girl Gone Wrong
Space & Time #129
Contestant 107
Space & Time #127

After the first two seconds…

In my teens and into my twenties, I was a very angry young man. I’d suffered various kinds of abuse as a middle-schooler, and earlier, as a small child. I felt justified in my rage. I believed the world owed me something, so I carried around grudges as if they were pocket change.

The roads and highways were particularly hazardous to, and also because of, me. Every vehicle that cut in front of me I took to be my personal enemy. If someone tailgated me, I took it as a personal affront. I would scream at other drivers, pound the steering wheel, and even high-beam those who cut me off at night. It didn’t help matters any that I liked to drive fast and could not abide anyone traveling below the speed limit. My lead foot lost me my driver’s license twice in the same year.

As I entered my thirties, however, I began to be afraid. My own anger frightened me more as I grew older, and I imagined nightmare scenarios where I ran down a toddler in the street, or struck out at my own mother in a rage. I also came to realize that the people at whom I seethed rarely knew they were the targets of my anger. Often, then, the only person I was hurting was myself.

Anger is a self-defeating and self-harming emotion. The physiological consequences of anger include: a surge of hormones from the adrenal glands; a rush of blood away from the stomach and into the muscles; an increase in heart rate, blood pressure, and respiration; and an increase in body temperature. This is called the fight-or-flight response, and it is an evolutionary trait geared towards surviving a life and death situation. In an actual emergency, these changes can be beneficial as they prepare the body to seek a path to survival, but in our modern, relatively safe society, such extreme and sudden changes are unnecessary. If our lives or our freedom  are not at stake, such intense emotional reactions unnecessarily stress the body. Anger triggers these responses, and over time, repeated rage can cause everything from anxiety and depression to heart attacks and strokes.

At some point, I came to the conclusion that much of my needless anger was actually under my control. I could choose, at such moments, to walk away (whether literally or figuratively), take several deep and cleansing breaths, and force myself to look at the situation more objectively. Maybe that driver didn’t mean to cut me off. Maybe he or she has difficulty seeing at night, or perhaps this person is an anxious driver and therefore prone to mistakes while behind the wheel. When looked at in this light, the emotion of anger gradually gives way to understanding and empathy. 

Eventually, I found that I could step back and reason with myself, if I only made that choice. Life became much easier and more pleasant once I took that route. Now, as a man in my forties, I’ve become skilled at talking myself down from that precipitous fury, but it requires a sort of emotional vigilance, at least in the midst of unpleasant events. You just need to realize that, after the first two seconds, anger becomes a choice.