There’s something decidedly unromantic about experiencing personal milestones from inside a cluttered university office. Student emails and visiting faculty itineraries have a nasty habit of interrupting the lovely messages from friends about the release of my second novel. The big revelry planned for the day She Returns From War hits bookstore shelves both physical and virtual is to have pizza for lunch instead of my usual ham sandwich.
Granted, celebrating a release day at home in my underwear probably wouldn’t be all that romantic, either. There will be an official release party in the near future, but I learned from The Dead of Winter‘s release to avoid scheduling such things in the middle of the week. Midweek parties have limited available drinking time.
So what are my thoughts on this, the day of my second book’s release? Decidedly different than those of October 30, 2012. I feel like I’ve been traveling through a long, dark tunnel since that day. Some of this tunnel was undoubtedly carved from the cold, uncaring granite of the depression I discussed awhile back, and another stretch was fashioned from the frenetic pace of the past three months. Thus, where The Dead of Winter‘s release was greeted with the exhalation of a long-held breath, She Returns From War feels more akin to getting a surprise visit from an old friend.
Social oaf that I am, unexpected visits are usually greeted with emotions bearing little resemblance to enthusiasm, but Cora and Victoria showing up on my doorstep merited an exception. Cora’s not exactly one to be refused, anyway, and it was a brief visit. After getting into my rum and berating me for not being man enough to own a gun, she stormed out with the bewildered Englishwoman in tow. Her destination was a mystery at first, but I now conclude that they must have made their way to Toronto. Why Toronto, you ask? To that I have no answer, but they seem to have left an impression at The World’s Biggest Bookstore:
My chuffery (or is it chuffedness?) swelled to near bursting when I saw the above. Being a featured author in a famous bookstore thousands of miles away is something I didn’t anticipate ever happening to me. I also completed an interview with them, which you can see in the picture (it’s the two pages on either side of the books). The interview will go live on the Internet tomorrow for your enjoyment. Many thanks to Jessica and company for setting all of this up!
So, while this release event wasn’t quite as much of a hullabaloo as the first, it will still remain an marked occasion. From here, however, the path ahead is unclear.
I quit reading the exploits of Henry, Jessie, Violet, and Benny somewhere between #20 and #30 in the series. Wikipedia tells me there are over 100 titles now, which makes me very curious in a lazy sort of way. I honestly can’t imagine the most placid of authors getting that far in the series without kicking the shit out of Benny at least once. Maybe that’s why the series has multiple contributors. Anyway, even with so many new mysteries to their name, I doubt the four intrepid Alden children would have found much meat in solving what happened to an author who quit posting on his blog the very same day his first book launched.
This is somewhat disappointing, especially when you consider that Violet was my first book crush. Alas, such young love often goes unrequited, and we push onward. Still, I will take this opportunity to be childishly vindictive and spoil the mystery just so no future royalties can be made at my expense.
Where was I these past two months? The answer, dear reader, is quite simple: I stepped out into the author superhighway and got creamed by a truck. A truck carrying a locomotive made entirely out of unhappy thoughts.
Depression is something I’ve fought my whole life. The intensity fluctuates dramatically and without warning, but rarely has it hit so hard and stayed so long. Most of my energy and willpower was reassigned to maintaining status quo at the day job and helping Tori with her post-graduation job hunt, leaving precious little for anything other than the basest of activities (in my case, Skyrim). Until I discover the secret of using liquor as a catalyst to convert a tsunami of depression into a literary masterpiece, I don’t have much choice but to ride out the wave and hope the damage isn’t too bad.
I’m hoping the worst of it is behind me for now so I can get back to actually doing things. Barring that, I could do worse than splitting my time between Tamriel and Rune Factory: Tides of Destiny. Yes, my means of self-medication are pretty lame.
Every now and again, Pandora’s selection algorithm gives perfect voice to the screaming inside my head. It’s rare, but much like an alien abduction during a solar eclipse, it can and does happen. I suppose it’s only appropriate that it happened today of all days.
I’ve been stewing about today for months. Ever since I got word from Angry Robot that my debut novel would hit the (North American) streets on this date, it has been fixed in my mind as a Rubicon of authorly fate. Once today rolled around, everything would be different. My life as an unpublished novelist would be over. Now that today is here, I can go into a bookstore, point to Chris McGrath’s cover art, and claim the words behind it as mine. People might even pay money to read those words, and some of that money might find its way to me. Citizens of the United States or Canada can pick up that book and read it. Those words–my words–may have an impact on them, whether that impact be amusement, sadness, anger, distaste, fear, or just plain entertainment. Not everyone will like it. Not everyone has. Some people will love it. My novel’s exposure is now only limited by language barrier; anyone who can read English may come across it, read it, and form an opinion.
I’m not really sure how I feel about that.
Prevalent wisdom says fuck that noise. I should just write what I want to write, and to hell with what anyone else thinks. To a large extent, I’ve already done that. Weird Westerns aren’t exactly a guaranteed hit, but they’re what I wanted to write. I don’t regret a single moment spent writing The Dead of Winter or She Returns From War. Sure, they aren’t perfect, but I’m damn proud of them. That feeling of accomplishment, of having reached a milestone in life that few attain, is impervious; nothing anyone says can mar that. No matter what else happens in my life, no matter where I find myself doing, no matter how much I hate it, I still got a fucking book published.
On the other hand, I got a fucking book published. That means that anyone at all can judge its merits using whatever standard they see fit. They are free to loathe everything I’ve accomplished and possibly my existence for bringing my books into the world in the first place. That kind of exposure leaves me feeling, well, exposed. I’ve lived on the Internet long enough to understand the tendency of people to be shitheads, but now I’m a possible target for that shitheadery. Despite my cool affectation, I’m as human as anybody else. If my books receive overwhelmingly negative responses, I’m not sure how that will impact me. That uncertainty lends a good deal of apprehension to today’s celebratory mood. Then again, so did the giant wolf spider that watched me shower this morning.
All that to say, I found it extremely appropriate that Pandora chose to open my work day with Nightwish’s Ghost Love Score followed by The Black Mages performing Seymour’s fight theme. The two songs played back-to-back made for a nice auditory expression of the various emotions vying for control of my thoughts.
If you’re interested in contributing to my visceral maelstrom, you may do so by picking up a copy of The Dead of Winter straight from the source and passing your own judgment.
Today, I will be making some recommendations for entertainment. In keeping with the spirit of the local deciduous flora, these recommendations will focus on the temporary nature of all known life and the hideous deaths that await us all at the end. Suggested consumption of these various titles includes occasions of depression, hopelessness, and Hallowe’en parties. Also, despite the various media represented on this list, I expect full participation.
R-Point: Classic Korean horror set during the Vietnam War, this movie has fantastic atmospherics and an interesting take on the “vengeful ghost” trope. While there is a long-haired girl in a white dress, she isn’t the only confused, eerie presence to haunt the Korean soldiers deployed to the titular location. Such things must be expected from a mournful bog that collects the souls of the dead like raindrops.
A Tale of Two Sisters: Yes, Korea has put out some absolutely top-notch horror films in its time. This one delves deep into the confusion and paranoia of psychosis with singularly-disturbing visuals and a fevered pallor. In the years since my first viewing, it still remains among my top horror films of all time.
The Eye: You probably remember seeing ads for the American remake of this one with Jessica Alba. While decent, the original film by the Pang brothers outshines its progeny. In what some may call a Chinese take on The Sixth Sense, the protagonist learns that not all of the people she sees are there in the strictest sense. Free of Shyamalan’s pathological need for a twist, however, this film focuses on the absolutely terrifying aspects of such an ability.
Rule of Rose (PS2): A true masterpiece of psychological exploration. Sure, Silent Hill 2 had dead-wife-something-something-dong-headed-guy-raping-mannequins going for it, but Rule of Rose braves the fear, cruelty, and jealousy of childhood while making you battle fish-headed orphans and vomit-spewing mermaids. Also, it is a rare horror title that comes equipped with an honest-to-God, I-shouldn’t-be-crying-this-much-over-a-game ending.
Kuon (PS2): A lesser-known title, this game utilizes two separate characters to tell the story of a priest gone mad with power. Set in feudal Japan, you must explore a sprawling mansion for clues to mysterious disappearances. Unlike Rule of Rose, the protagonists have decent arsenals to deploy when confronted with spirits and monsters, but the game is no less frightening for your exorcismal powers. Running isn’t an option, either, as it attracts very unpleasant attention.
Amnesia: The Dark Descent (PC): The only PC game to date that I actually had to psych myself up to play. Playing as intended (in the dark with headphones), this immersive, dungeon-crawling fever dream synthesizes the best of Gothic horror with a Lovecraftian sanity system to create panicky, ball-shrinking experience that is not easily forgotten.
Fatal Frame (PS2): Can’t get through a list like this without giving this one a substantial nod. Combat in this game consists of staring at the most terrifying thing in the room until it’s close enough to pluck out your nosehairs, then taking its picture. It may sound simple, but when you’re facing a woman who slithers out of the ceiling to the sound of her choking on her own hair, your underthings tend to get warmer and wetter. Unnerving auras, creepy visuals, and a twisted story make this one of the best survival horror games on any platform.
House of Leaves: I’m not easily frightened by books, which is why this is the only entry in this section. In all my years of reading, the only book to give me actual chills was Mark Danielewski’s convoluted, misshapen debut. Much like Naked Lunch, this book captures everything that terrifies me about the thought of losing my sanity. Some of the worst nightmares of my life were fever dreams when I was a child, and this book revives that feeling of sheer uncomprehending terror.
Now that mine are out of the way, I’m curious: which specific interactions with creative media triggered your Paleolithic survival instincts?
Many things have happened this month. The sheer volume of things defies comprehension, making rude gestures and crude noises at it from the safety of diplomatic immunity. Not all of these things were related to publishing stuff, but enough were that I can justify making a post about them.
First off, I’m working through my lineup of guest posts and interviews for various blogs leading up to my launch date. The first of these is an guest post over at The Qwillery which goes live tomorrow and features a brief discussion on Weird West. They will also play host to an interview on launch day (October 30th aka HOLY SHIT FOUR POINT FIVE WEEKS AWAY). I’ll also be doing interviews with My Bookish Ways and Civilian Reader and more guest blogs at Falcata Times and Book Chick City. A busy lineup for someone who can’t manage to update his own blog with any consistency, but I’m thrilled at the opportunity to be featured on so many fantastic sites.
Next comes the long-awaited arrival of my ARC of The Dead of Winter. The excitement with which I anticipated its coming temporarily rewired my practicality protocols, demanding that I actually do UPS’s job for them and pick it up at the hub instead of waiting for them to fail at delivering it two more times. Opened in the car forthwith, the ARC quickly made its way home with us.
A very large part of me wanted to enshrine it behind glass, never to suffer the passing of time and the hazards of this cruel world. It must stay pristine, trapped in time, kept in this perfect material realization. I imagine new parents feel something similar upon receipt of a child, at least until the thing opts to void its innards all over the couch for the seventh time in a week. Fortunately, I will have no such issues with the lovely item I received. However, much like a child, I could not protect it from the world forever. Before I knew it, the damned thing started following me to work.
Courtesy of the Robot Overlords, those residents of Great Britain and Ireland interested in the book may enter to win a copy of this very same ARC over at Goodreads.
While I was thus engaged in dealing with one unruly offspring, my second-born chose that same week to remind me that it still has some gestating to do. Time split yet again as I began working on the requested revisions while proofing The Dead of Winter and getting a jump on my guests posts. Fortunately, the overall household stress maintained a more-or-less even keel, as Tori successfully defended her gargantuan research project the Friday before my children began squalling for attention.
Lastly, with the arrival of the ARC, my launch party planning has begun. Hosted by the wonderful Old Firehouse Books, the joyous occasion will take place at 6:00 PM on October 30 (OHMYGODTHATISINTHIRTYTHREEDAYS) and will feature a reading, a signing, and a cake. If you don’t come, I can’t promise that I will save you a piece of cake; I expect any leftovers will be voraciously devoured by my postpartum blues. We might be able to work out getting you a signed copy of the book as a consolation prize, though.
So yeah, September has been busy and exciting. It is also the vanguard of the next six months, which will see Tori graduated with her Master’s degree, two of my books published, all of the usual holiday cheer, and possibly the completion of a third manuscript. Oh, and also possibly moving. And I am shit at defending against Zerg rushes.
I arrived at WorldCon 2012 with few goals: meet my fellow Angry Robots, don’t make a statistically significant ass of myself, and learn how to behave like a professional writer by observation. Now that the re-entry dust has settled and the respiratory infection has been shown to the door, I can reasonably believe I accomplished those goals. More importantly, however, I came away with a number of lessons that I will take with me into all future conventions.
1. Alcohol-to-food budget ratio should be at least 1.5:1
The first night of the convention, I informed my colleagues that I was looking to learn and adopt a professional writer’s behavior patterns. They immediately told me to get skilled at drinking. Though imparted with joviality, a few nights in the hotel bar taught me the immense truth behind such lighthearted comments.
Once the realization set in, I quickly became the bane of the hotel wait staff by water-logging myself every night. I’m not a teetotaler by any means, but I simply had not included 3-4 drinks at the…generous hotel prices into my daily budgeting. While there is a certain appeal to being the only sober person in a conversation, temperance doesn’t lend itself to a loosening of the tongue. I’m naturally withdrawn, and a few drinks would have put me more at ease in the many unfamiliar social situations. Henceforth, I will plan for this in calculating trip expenses, or I will buy a bottle of rotgut at the corner store and bring a flask into the bar.
2. A reinforced immune system is one’s greatest ally
Con crud is a well-documented phenomenon. One day, a pandemic apocalypse film will depict the initial infection spreading from San Diego Comic Con instead of a casino or airplane. However, the general consensus seems to be that con crud is something that hits you after the fact: you start languishing at the end of the con, realizing with growing dread and resignation that your first few days back home are going to be miserable.
However, things are entirely different when you’re one of the people responsible for distributing con crud. Both Tori and I came down with head colds early into the convention, leading me to believe that we brought them with us. This made for notably lower energy levels, strained breathing, goofy-sounding voices, and fevered hazes clouding everything. None of these are particularly useful when trying to meet new people and have a good time. Said illness even short-circuited my golden opportunity to interrupt George R.R. Martin for a bit of fanboy gushing. My fever had not yet robbed me of enough sense to figure that infecting the man with a respiratory virus wasn’t the best first impression to make. Next time, adequate immuno-defensive preparations will take place well in advance.
3. Stay in hotels with complimentary wifi
While wandering through the lower halls of the convention, I passed by a group of forlorn-looking temporary walls identified by a single hand-written sign: “Message Board.” This inspired a brief speculation on what correspondence between con-goers must have looked like in years past. Unsurprisingly, the vast majority of social coordination at the convention this year happened via social networking. Myself not being in possession of a phone with a “data plan” or “apps”, I intended to rely on my Nook tablet and complimentary hotel wifi to facilitate meet-ups with other members of Team AR. These hopes were quickly dashed by the $13/day price tag attached to the hotel’s wireless service.
Thus stymied by my own fiscal conservativeness, I was at a serious disadvantage when attempting to locate people for meals, panels, signings, readings, and glasses of water. Rustic as I am, the hotels I frequent offer wifi and continental breakfast with the price of admission. Until such time as Tori and I deem it necessary to purchase data plans for our phones, I will be searching out such lowbrow hotels for future convention lodging.
4. Everyone I met was essentially fantastic
Sadly, this is not one lesson I expect to stand the test of time. Repeated exposure, increased sample size, etc. That said, the Angry Robot/Strange Chemistry corps and their affiliates are wonderful, friendly, hilarious people. I felt singularly quiet and dull by comparison, and I unfortunately can’t blame this on my illness and sobriety.
Feeling pressured to make an impression is a singularly horrible feeling that I happen to know quite well. The diverse array of clever, intelligent people around me intimidated me into orbiting their conversations more often than not. The writer’s life is not as solitary as I had hitherto believed, and my social skills will need some serious working out if I am to minimize future instances of awkwardly crunching ice in the midst of fast-flying conversations.
With these lessons in hand, I am eagerly anticipating the next convention that comes my way. Despite the illness, the awkwardness, and the expense, I had an absolutely marvelous time at WorldCon 2012. Thanks to everyone who endured my croaking, my sobriety, and my contagiousness to make it such a memorable experience!
Note: this is the first in what will probably become a series. I recently picked up Fallout: New Vegas and found myself thoroughly enjoying the post-nuclear Western vibe. Acting upon the overwhelming impulse, I created a character resembling my vision of Cora Oglesby in such a world. What follows is a chronicle of her adventures through New Vegas. Yes, I am writing my own crossover fan fiction.
I ain’t got no clear memory of what happened. Best I can figure, some feller gave me a right smart smack when I wasn’t looking. Woke up feeling fit to split like a melon that’s been left in the sun too long. Pudding-headed though I was, I thought I heard voices coming from somewhere close, so I looked around a bit. Sure enough, some city feller and a pair of roughnecks was looking me over like I was a second place hog at the county fair. Before I could so much as open my mouth, the feller in the suit made his business clear.
Way I see it, that should’ve been my ticket to the hereafter, but it wasn’t. Somehow, I held on long enough for some other folk to pull me right back out of my grave. Came to for the second time with a different feller looking at me. This one said he was the doctor who’d patched me up. Even gave me some sort of fancy mirror to make sure everything was where it should be. Never been much of a looker, mind you, but the doc patched me up so’s a body couldn’t even tell I’d taken a bullet between my teeth.
Doc asked me a few questions to make sure my brains wasn’t scrambled or nothing. Turns out my thinker wasn’t no worse for the trip to the boneyard, so he gave me back my gun and a funny-looking outfit besides. Ain’t never been much for looking fancy, but can’t say I was fit for a ball in that getup, neither.
Having done what he could, Doc sent me on my way. Said he didn’t have no idea who that fancy feller was who shot me, but told me to ask around town. Maybe some of the other locals had a notion, he said. Didn’t have no idea where Ben was, neither. Guess I was alone when they found me. Still, he had a point, so I made for the nearest saloon. Happened to be the only saloon in town, meaning it was where all the locals wet their whistles. I had me a powerful thirst of my own that needed tending to. Seems dying does that to a body.
I wasn’t inside more than two ticks when this big old bear of a dog jumped up and started making himself known. My hand was already on my gun before some young sprout grabbed the mutt by the scruff and yelled at it to simmer down. Introduced herself as Sunny Smiles. Right funny name if you ask me. Still, she had herself a fine-looking rifle across her back and seemed to know her way around that dog of hers, so I reckoned she couldn’t have been all bad. Sure enough, I introduced myself and we got along just fine. Turns out little miss Sunny needed some help with local critters, salamanders or some such. I told her I was a fair shot with a rifle, so off we went into the desert for a spot of game hunting.
We shot up enough lizards to make the rest tuck tail and get. Sunny Smiles got this big old smile on her face then, saying that the town’s water supply was safe again. We both helped ourselves to a few sips before heading back into town. Sunny didn’t say much on the way, which left me to wondering where that damn fool husband of mine had got himself to. Nowhere good was my guess. Couldn’t rightly make up my mind on what I ought to do first, find his sorry behind or get on the trail of them as tried to kill me.
Before I could puzzle it out, we was back at the saloon. A drop or two of rotgut would set my thinking straight, I reckoned. Could almost taste that fire in the back of my throat. Problem was, when I made my way over to the bar, the lady bartender had herself a whole other mess of trouble that had nothing to do with a thirsty customer.
To be continued…