Author: Richard Alan Scott
Rhode Island, USA
Easter April 9 2023
Your old pal Dick has got himself into a bit of a scrape, and it all began the day after my lovely St. Pat’s Day. I had a searing stomach pain through to my back that would not relent, with violent heaves and was losing all my stomach contents. I had felt this and had the same reaction a few weeks before after a Chinese Buffet and thought it had been food poisoning. This pain would not subside and I begged Elaine to take me to Woonsocket Hospital ER (Landmark, closest). They got rid of the pain instantly so I have been basically feeling myself for the rest of this story. After a Cat Scan they saw a mass in my liver that they were unprepared to deal with, so off I went in an ambulance ride 35 minutes to our major Rhode Island Hospital. To diminish the excitement of my watching Jeopardy and The Beat with Ari Melber and reading for the next 11 days, I will cut to the chase.
Sit down or brace yourself for this one. A 30-minute MRI shows a black mass in the side of my liver closest to my stomach, which has been pushing on my belly most mightily and trying to elbow it until it squishes. Some dots are also in my lungs, along with a blood clot at the bottom of my heart in a ventricle. The mass is cancerous and yes, a biopsy shows that the dots are the same liver material. No doubt my Mother, as I’ve often relayed in this Journal, died of this very thing in 1972, and an older brother just beat a tumor in the same spot. They go after the heart clot with many blood thinners until I am a human pincushion of firework-like bruises. Trying to maintain a therapeutic heart level is quite the challenge, but Ol’ Dick makes his blood stay in the proper range enough days in a row to be sent happily home.
Now comes the meeting with the Oncologists, Burke and Hare (Doom and Gloom). It is Cancer, it is widespread, it is incurable, there is no cure;, they can with Chemo and Immunotherapy buy me months, not years! This meeting sends Richard, Elaine and daughter Amelia out into the glaring sun with red, cried-out eyes and a fervent wish to slit their wrists. Okay, they didn’t sugarcoat it. I go home and say, you know, that MRI stopped me crying, because I KNOW WHAT I’M DEALING WITH! Bring it on, do your worst, I will fight this every step of the way.
I get on the horn and call Dana Farber Cancer Institute in Boston (one of the best in the world). Persistent heartfelt messages land me an appointment post haste (in their Foxborough facility at Patriot Place) this coming Wednesday for a second opinion. RI Hosp. tries to move UP my first treatment by a week. Nyah-ha-ha, not so fast Kemo-Sabe, I want to hear what these people have to say. Don’t throw down with the Dickmeister, you will be squashed like my poor little stomach! The treatment is pushed forward a couple weeks. I mean, ostensibly I’ve walked around with this in me for how long?
I’m trying to reach out to those who’ve been most kind to me, those whom I love. We are doing this thing and we are going in 100% positive. I will overcome as much as I can. There is the minor topic of four books I have readily available, my Novella, “Relics of the Underworld,” my magnum horror opus, “The Shift,” My literary novel of love, a sixties childhood, and loss, “More Than This,” and ostensibly a Collection of Short Stories, “Midnight Movies at the Bijou,” about half of which are reprints that were published professionally.
There are already some extremely compassionate Publishers who are taking a look. I can’t, like any of us, predict how long I may be among you. But I am so incredibly grateful for the rich life I have had, the constant laughs, the risks, the comrades, the travel. No one has had more fun than I’ve had. I have lived the life of a person twenty years my senior in the past. I have the most loving and caring family and extended families around me and the most precious Grandchildren to cling to for dear life. The irrepressible Matt Bechtel has invited me to NECON whenever I can and dog I hope I am able to in July. So, nobody give up and I will feel your energy and it will move me to achieve who knows what!
Me, bruised but not battered in the hospital.
It has certainly been an auspicious start to 2023 with my wife and I, and my daughter’s whole family, already having battled two periods of viral illnesses, two family hospitalizations, one resulting in a shocking and shattering death, the death of two major arts figures of my life within days of each other, and the diagnosis of bladder cancer in my furry son, Max, that gives him just months left with us. Add to that a cancer diagnosis for one of my brothers and 2023 looks to be vying for 2022’s worst-year-ever status.
It seems silly to be going on about the writing of my first novel 10 years ago, But I did want to wrap up a few thoughts on that process in the hopes that writing my journal would ground me a bit. I actually want to talk about what wound up becoming one of my favorite parts of the experience, the mechanics. I’ve spoken several times before in this space on how I get my ideas and gumption in the evening, then often go on way until the wee hours of the morning hammering away at my keyboard.
Well, my optimum writing time is actually 8pm until about 4am, depending how I do. When I’m in a work-in-progress, I have a strict target every night, and by every night I mean 5 nights a week. They could be weekday or weekend nights. I go for about three pages a night, or fifteen a week. That is only 750 words an evening, and I do fix and shuttle things while I do it. So, I’m left with three solid pages. At that point, I stop. If my mind is entering into a new thought, all the better, because I will hit the ground running the next night. Why do I stop, if I’m on a roll? I do it for the times it is like pulling teeth to get to the three pages. If I stop at the end of three those nights, I can do it when I’m in the zone, too. I don’t want any night feeling that it’s not pulling its weight, I treat all nights equally. If I have my fifteen at the end of a week, I’m happy. Ostensibly, in 20 weeks, or approximately 5 months, I will have 300 pages, or close to or over a novel, depending on the length. That is a pace of two books a year, more than enough for any budding James Patterson.
I have a small notebook where I write my page progress and check off the tasks completed. I do the same when I’m editing, where I can do about 5-10 pages a night. My first edit, careful and complete, can take a few weeks or a month. Then subsequent run throughs for various problem points go faster. I use the “find” feature in word to test if there are any words I’ve used too often, and try to find alternatives, to avoid any hint of redundancy. I work on problem areas where I’ve given the reader too much too soon, have done too much explaining, or have put incidents out of logical order. I have so much fun editing and fixing problem areas.
In The Shift I had written a protagonist that was realistic as a young male of the seventies running around just trying to get his pee-pee wet all the time. Many of today’s Beta readers found this unredeeming, which I did not want, he wasn’t a heartless frat boy, just a regular pheromone spouting youth, so I toned down some of his mindless lust into more believable caring. This went along with toning some of the language, where I was going for full realism.
I told you how much I love 3 acts/ sections and I love creating title pages for them in the midst of the book, like my King/Rice/Straub heroes. Those physical acts of creation within the word program are the great fun of my life. Next time we’ll jump into a whole new discussion and hopefully life will take a huge chill pill and calm the fuck down.
Continuing our discussion on my first novel, I’ve spoken about how I have Acts I, II and III. At least I have had them with my first two novels. The closest I get to an outline is trying to plan what goes into those Acts. From my list, I looked at all the scenes. In my first novel, I wanted a progression over the course of my protagonist, Ricky’s, tenure at this particular job. So, it did make it a bit easier for me to dole out scenes that came early in his employment, or by the time he’d been there a while, and those that would lead up to him leaving.
You’d be surprised at how naturally, if you have familiarity with plot progression, these scenes seem to tell you where they fit in the novel’s timeline. One or two may be puzzling, “where do I want that to happen, before or after THIS?” If they are that baffling, you may wind up deciding there’s no home for them, that they do not advance your plot. Try them in different spots and see if it works out. Also, I do enjoy giving each act a title; I love that. Thus far I have had a prologue and an epilogue wrapped around the beginning and end of my three acts. I enjoy this when other writers do them and I think that way, too. I had my horror novel open with a symphony of violence and battle from the long past. When they can catch their breaths, the reader will hopefully be hooked as to where it all is leading. I also like an epilogue that wraps what is up with the characters a while after the trauma of act three. I always feel this is important closure for the reader. I may come to a work eventually where I don’t want these devices but thus far it is not the case.
Now we come to the parts of my novel that did not involve the employment that was so close my own experience; the made-up fantasy/supernatural/horror. I know many seasoned writers are saying, “but I make it ALL up.” I know, bear with me. I had a progression loosely in mind for these scenes as well, as THIS had to happen before THIS, which had to happen before THIS. That timeline was pure flashbacks of a PAST era, which I wanted progressing concurrently with my PRESENT storyline. You with me? That was probably my biggest challenge in writing this first tome. I had to be meticulous that in unfolding the past, I was not giving away too much information that would be a spoiler in the present. Also big was that nothing gave conflicting information. “I thought he said she was short?” So, here's where you’re incredibly careful about WHAT needs to come before WHAT, and WHAT cannot be mentioned before THIS in your PRESENT plot. Oh, and vice versa. As a completely anal bastard, I was also very upset that my past plot was not equal in length to my present; it was much shorter. I ended up deciding to lay them out concurrently and when the past ran out, so be it, we’re staying in the present now. I tried to make it feel natural in that the reason was that the present plot was ramping up and we needed to stay there. I didn’t draw any attention to it. Okay readers, now get off my back you sex machines!
I think that’s enough for now as we both need a drink. I will attempt to come up with various dilemmas I had to solve after my first draft, in the near FUTURE.
I am continuing the journey into writing my very first novel, for those who may have interest. If you were as clueless as I was when I began, I hope these journals may be of some help. In the early days of Facebook, one of the few people I was accepted by, whom I felt was light years ahead of me, was the wonderful British author Sarah Pinborough. I took a big chance in PMing her with some initial questions, and she so kindly and graciously answered me. I did not know, for instance, how many words constituted a novel. I had only gotten out a few short stories by then and had one published at Albedo One over in Ireland. I knew the mag was legit so I at least felt like a writer in the making in getting over the shyness in talking to her. Thank goodness the answer was not “bugger off.” At the time I knew her as one of the Horror writers who had a few novels in the “Leisure” line of books, like many of my favorite authors. She told me that 90 thousand words was considered the sweet spot, and a few other things about her career (pre-the blockbuster smash Behind Her Eyes). I am forever indebted.
I was discussing the lists I come up with, basically of scenes I foresaw being useful and entertaining in my long story. Now, even though it was based on a job I had actually had, don’t be discouraged if you don’t know what to write about, how to fill your pages. This is where life experiences, other people’s struggles, stories you get wind of, bits of conversation, unusual philosophies of people, and many of life’s tasty tid-bits come into play. Always have a way to get these ideas down immediately, even if you have to pull over. I can’t tell you how often I got a light bulb in my head, and said, “I’ll remember that it’s too important.” Nope, you’ll forget, as I have, whole scenarios to fix where I’m stuck. It is painful. Woody Allen has a bureau drawer full of little gems on various size pieces of paper and napkins, everything. These are the things I organize into my list, and cross out as I get them down on paper. It’s fun to see what’s left as you tick them off, eventually down to a few for your grand finale.
I mean, I come from theater. For decades I was privy to great actors and directors dissecting literature and putting it back together again. I realize that it is in my blood to tell a story, move it along and hit the notes of suspense or levity or pain or what have you. What is your strongest scene and what is the finale? I’m not trying to give an entire primer on writing here, more the mechanics of that huge project. I leave the basics to people like Michael Knost with the book that got me started, the essential Writers Workshop of Horror, 2009, and from the veteran Thomas Monteleone, The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Writing a Novel, 2004. Believe me, these books changed my life and of all that’s out there, told me exactly what I needed to hear. As you can imagine, I tried several dozen.
There are some things I have realized make me, ME, as a writer. I have three acts, a beginning, a middle, and an end. Acts I, II and III. I can’t seem to tell the most horrific story without humor, and later writing my second novel made me realize that yes, I do have a voice, a style, a way of going about things that make me unique, no matter the subject. I have a narrative. Don’t come to my writing if you want to put the book down and say, I wonder what that was all about? Many people love ambiguity in their reading, many people love to have pieces missing so they can ruminate for days, what did the writer mean by that whole thing? I am just being frank, that is not me. You may think and you may enjoy, greatly, but you will never say, why was that character in there? Much like a popcorn movie, you will say, that was fun, or that was entertaining. It’s not to say I don’t perhaps introduce very thoughtful plots or deep ideas, or that I spell everything out so much that a child would get it. I believe that most people who pay good money want a story, not just an idea that didn’t get resolved. This is why I stick to Act I, II, and III, and whether or not any editor ever says, “This is good shit, I want this shit,” that’s a brief explanation of who I am.
Why it’s important is that you can see I don’t play around much with structure. If there are flashbacks, I’ll make you sure of your footing so you know where you are. As a kid, I still got most of the Twilight Zone’s and the Outer Limits’ and thought they were the greatest and that’s where I come from. I don’t purport that it is better or worse than any other writer, but with me you will always know what you get. Now onto the stuff that comes totally outta our noggins.
As promised, I have wanted to talk about my process when I tackled my first novel, which is horror. I have already spoken of the dream which catapulted the concept, a woman changing into a werewolf during a Can-Can line. For years I did hem and haw about how I could handle such a major project, which I saw as having a historical timeline as well as the present-day story, which I set in 1979 as well as a wide array of characters. For lack of a better model, I saw it as my “Salem’s Lot” right from the beginning, albeit with werewolves rather than vampires.
Now, of course I am only discussing how I found my own success in filling the story out, and there are as many ways to approach this kind of major project as there are novelists. For a good many years I had at least thought some things through, and in place of an outline, my game plan took the form of some master lists. Yes lists. I knew I wanted to follow the beginning several months of a young man’s first serious adult job, as what was called, back then, a “Mental Retardation Assistant” at an ancient (and now long defunct) Institution for the developmentally challenged and (wrongly) some very disturbed mental health patients in the mix. It was an enclosed environment (a campus) with its own unique culture and set of rules, even its own shorthand language and it didn’t take long for the staff, under highly stressful circumstances, to wonder whether or not they were indeed joining the numbers of the institutionalized.
Veering away from specifics (I hope you may read it someday under a publisher’s banner), let’s concentrate on the work. I had the advantage in this case of having actually held the aforementioned job for three years of my post-college life. It was a roller-coaster ride and a real-life education. The staff, whose comradery felt very much like a combat situation daily, required hard partying and, at the time in history, a great deal of promiscuity. As a young person in the center of all of it, I had a wealth of incidents, both harrowing in the physical aspect of the work (restraining adult residents) and creepy with the foreboding and decrepit grounds in the middle of the night shifts, 3pm to 11pm.
This coupled with the libidinous personal matters I saw people go through left me with a wealth of material to more than cover that particular timeline. That’s where my lists came in. I first remembered a whole breakdown of dozens of episodes, or anecdotes, concerning the aspects of the story I discussed above. I even rearranged the list in thinking through the timeline of events over months, from the middle of summer to the depths of winter. I knew I wanted a brief timeline because with the turnover rate there, one did not take long in being looked at as a “veteran,” and in sequence, did not take much longer in looking to leave. It was a state job and considered well-paying, so if one could tough it out, they could build a hearty little nest egg for their future. I was not destined to be a veteran of decades, but I certainly kept my wits about me enough to last a few years.
Now, the other lists I had to come up with for my material to draw on were much trickier. I made a list of the resident characters (whom we in on the lingo called ‘clients’), and a list of the staff. The trouble? Can you guess? The names of all the people in real life fit them each so well, that it seemed impossible to capture each character more succinctly. That’s right. All the names were so perfect for each person that it was a major struggle to top their real monikers. I had to think long and hard and dig deep into my imagination to label especially the clients, but the staff also, to match the perfection of this archetypal cast just as fate made them. I think I did a pretty good job, and it was a Herculean effort, believe me. Though the incidents took place three decades before I was writing them, I also wanted to be careful in preserving the confidentiality of each individual’s description, lest any ancient sot recognize them. An odd thing is that of all the fun groups I’ve been involved in as co-workers, this bunch are the ones I have had no luck in tracking down, no Facebook, no contact, nada. It’s very much as if they did not exist outside of that bubble. And many came to my wedding, both clients and staff!
Next time we’ll go for the fantasy elements of the novel, the historical timeline and how I began to get all my elements on paper. Below are the Men’s and Women’s dormitories I worked in.
What better time of year to explore the writing of a horror novel than the final days of the Halloween Season? I spent my first ten years as a serious writer concentrating on short stories, but the idea for my ultimate first horror novel came to me decades before, as a college student. I have already spoken about the dream I had in a blog on my own website (A Novel Approach, 6/2/11). A woman turned into a werewolf in the middle of a line of Can-can dancers (shades of the wolf in Grandma’s clothes from Little Red Riding Hood). I can remember discussing my early ideas about a French-Canadian werewolf pack with one of my college mentors, actually the renowned mime and actor Michael Grando, and he gave me one of the formative themes that is still very much a part of the novel.
So we are talking 1979, and I truly began my work on it about thirty years later. What took so long? The answer is fear; I had no idea how to come up with enough material to fill hundreds of pages and keep my reading audience engaged in the story line. Along the way, one of my first jobs gave me the setting I needed for this imaginary masterpiece. I worked a couple of years right before my marriage at an old and dying institution for the developmentally disabled mixed in with the mentally ill. I am talking about an absolutely Draconian eyesore of a campus that had been one of the State of Massachusetts’ drunk tanks back in the 1800’s before its transformation into what was then called a “state school” to house adults who were then called “retarded.” Some of these people had the learning level of a three-year-old, all the way up to men and women who may have harbored any sociopathic behaviors up to and including sexual predator.
It was a scary mix and an ultra-scary campus, dark at night and removed from any thoroughfares, with minimal, flickering old yellow streetlamps and just a dirt lawn for parking. One walked between ancient, bricked buildings in their duties between the “dorms” and the cafeteria, and the moldy rec-hall, and feared the abandoned structures where ghostly stories and tales of electric-shock therapy abound. With the combat-like comradery of the staff, who often had to physically restrain these strong adults, there grew an intense bond and a prevalent dark humor that conversely made for one of the happiest workplaces of my life. And overpoweringly, one of the horniest environments I’ve ever been in. The pheromones flew not only between the residents but through the male and female staff as well.
I often chided my fellow workers that they were soon to be immortalized in a grand opus I had in mind, similar to the book Floating Dragon by Peter Straub that I was reading at the time. I could see no lack of great characters, spooky settings where you were hesitant to walk alone at night, and off-the-wall challenges no normal job afforded. Like with many isolated communities, there developed a language, a sometime unspoken set of rules to join the unquestionable ones, and a sub-culture of hard partying and sexual promiscuity, that gave me the stories of a lifetime. All this I would somehow weave into my werewolf tale as a cohesive whole. The problem I did not know existed at the time: I did not have the maturity as a person or as an artist to pull this off.
Yes, that’s right. As a twenty something who had even directed adults in plays. I didn’t know the first thing about the sacrifice and the discipline it would take for me to accomplish this feat. As I type this, I have accomplished it, and to the best of my ability I believe I have a very strong and extremely fun and entertaining Straub-esque debut horror novel under my belt. How did a fifty-something Dick achieve what a twenty-something Dick could not even imagine taking on? If you allow me, I will take you through that journey step-by-step in the coming months here in this journal, and if I can make myself understood, I believe it may give some of you out there the gumption to “git ‘er done!” So strap in and come along with werewolf Dick as we embark on “the large project!”
Just as the opposite often occurs, most men have times when they are down on women. Usually, it may be because they were hurt badly in a relationship, sometimes it’s just that they never “got” them, or perhaps they were shot down so many times they’ve given up. I was thinking about that state of mind while taking a long walk in the forest one day, and I pressed myself to come up with a story that could somehow capture how angry, lonely and isolated I knew my gender could get.
Ironically, which often happens in my thought process, my mind went in the other direction, thinking about a guy who has everything in the world and it’s still not enough. He has a beautiful wife, a kid, and a gorgeous mistress, maybe even all the money and material things you could ever ask for, yet he’s driven to be by himself because he needs to be in his head and have his alone time; away from women, away from everything. I couldn’t have guessed that in Edward Ree I was creating a personality that we would all come to recognize very well in an upcoming President of the United States.
For years after I traveled around Ireland two times, I could never get it out of my head. I noticed things I’ve done my whole life in a certain way, because my Ma who was my primary caregiver for fifteen years, was 100% Irish and did things that way. Whenever I walked anywhere that was green, well I imagined myself right back in Ireland of course. Somehow their woods seemed more magical than mine, and I immediately went to the desire to set this story in Ireland and make Ree a visiting American. But something more, an entrepreneur who wanted to build there, frustrated by some holdup.
I had been very influenced by a tour in a horse cart I took of the woods near a certain Ross castle over there, near Killarney, a beautiful area (as if they all aren’t). The way the trees lined up, the way the path meandered, etc. you’d expect to see many of those little doors to fairy houses on the trees. I think a huge fantasy for a man on the make, while over in Ireland, would be to run into a stunning Irish lass in the middle of nowhere. So shall it be written, so shall it be done.
Now I had written a Banshee story already but another fairy folk legend I wanted to explore was the Leanan-sidhe or Lhiannan-shee. This sprite is a beautiful woman who takes a human male for a lover. She may be a muse or a partner, but what the unsuspecting human is not aware of is that he soon may encounter a disastrous fate. He could wind up dead for getting involved with her. A familiar phantom to many who are now dead inside, including friends and family of mine. I could see the encounter turning bad for my protagonist, but it struck me that he is a Teflon man. Others around him may be hurt all the time yet he slides away Scott free. That is when I came up with greatly unexpected twists that would result in this guy finding out something about himself that he had no Earthly clue of.
By the time my 40-minute walk ended, I had written the whole of “Playthings” in my head, and I quickly jotted many notes in a pad I always carry, when I got back to the car. It had been a productive walk indeed. There’s just one problem, which I outlined profusely in my last entry to this journal. What editor would see my little Misogynistic Masterpiece as a viable statement about the mental health of many males, in the age of the Me-Too movement. None I’ve been able to encounter yet, lol.
I have noted a frightening trend in literature that I often worry will make me obsolete before I have a chance at some real success. To describe it, I need a huge disclaimer.
Many of you don't know me personally and will have to take my word for it: I am a nice person. I truly cherish everyone I encounter and I believe fully that we are all one family. I grew up in and around a Project with dozens of Black and Latino families. We all went off to public school and the YMCA together. As an adult, I worked in a theater renowned for colorblind casting, long before it was prominent, with every kind of individual you can imagine, and I loved all my LGBTQ brothers and sisters that were my fellow actors, crew and co-workers. I've had diverse friendships my whole life and do right up to the present.
No one is more happy that our country and our writing community is moving forward
on inclusion for all people of color, including indigenous brothers and sisters, as well as women in general and all of our gay and non-binary family, than I am. There's no doubt that there is a more even playing field out there with Editors, and that I as a senior, cisgender, heterosexual, Caucasian male am no longer getting Cart Blanche on my pursuits in the writing community. That is all wonderful in my book, and really so be it and it's about time. I write all this to make it CLEAR, none of the above is my gripe or my problem.
There are certainly a wealth of younger women and enlightened men working as Editors of paying markets out there. I can take direction from anyone, I wouldn't care if I was in a play and the Director was an 18-year-old wunderkind. When I research the Editors of the markets I submit to, I get truly excited hoping against hope that this time, in this crew, SOMEBODY is going to get me. My idea, my execution, my humor, my love of narrative, my primary need to get in front of my readers' eyes and entertain! One of these individuals will say, "This is pretty good, I want to buy it."
No, my fear in these times is the notion many young people have that the world is black and white, there is no grey matter, (that President Obama once clarified), and most chillingly, YOU ARE WHAT YOU WRITE. Your protagonist is a misogynist and he doesn't necessarily get his comeuppance at the end. Things that occur in the real world AKA Cosby not being in prison and all the previous crimes that have slid off Trump's back like he's made of Teflon. Sometimes I have dystopian notions and endings that are not comforting and rightly so. I love to weave some reality into my tales. The general reaction I fear is, "we want nothing to do with this." I also do enormous research when I want to write about a different culture than my own. As I say, I feel we are all family and I don't see it as appropriation. In my gut it feels like I just write about people. I adore people. And I have a big imagination.
I do have many happy endings but I try to inject a dose of realism in my writing and for sure things don't always go the way we want them. With all of the trigger warnings and the tendency to want to be positive, about the present and future, I fear some Editors have closed themselves off to dystopian narratives. I come across a crew and think, here are my people, and here are the ones who will "get this." But the rejections come fast and furious. I've tried shaping my cover letters to reflect what the point of the story is without falling into insult. Just little headlines that give a nod to what they are holding. Taglines if you will. One Editor even wrote to me in their "story received" letter. They said "This sounds interesting."
I know I'm on the right track and things will happen soon. But with the atmosphere of the current, shall we say, over-simplifying judgments of some individuals and yes, cancel culture, I really wonder if the thought may be, "this guy wrote this character therefore he must be an asshole in real life." I hope they keep an opened mind and remember this is fiction, not a treatise of my psychological makeup. Anyone else encountering this paranoia please comment, hahaha.
Your old pal Dick has been going through some very heavy shit in his immediate family, stuff I wouldn't wish on my worst enemy, and writing, for the first time in 17 years, has been relegated to the back burner. It's funny how the absence of your routine and your obsession can devolve one into a near-vegetative state. The most I have done is to keep up with submissions for my unpublished stories and my two novels. This process, as discussed herein in times past, opens up a void in one's soul that widens into an ever deepening abyss. It's bad enough that one's dreams and goals are made of whole cloth, and reside squarely in one's subconscious, until such time as some may be fulfilled in reality.
Welcome to the third year of my Labyrinth Creators Journal, as we passed the two year milestone during my May hibernation. Should anyone be traumatized by my statements about much recent unhappiness, feel free to PM me, as the details are not mine solely to broadcast publicly. When one becomes morose about life in general it is very difficult to get behind new ideas for fiction that may very well never find the adoring eyes of its readers. There can be a huge catharsis in using that grief to make art, but that assumes the person has made it to the level of willingness to jump in to the fire. There first comes what I call The Big Quit, and though I've seen that urge strike others, it's the first time in these years of scribbling that it has struck me. The desire, if not to stay in bed, to certainly linger there until the brain is a sufficient form of mush.
I was also sick for the second time since March, and though continually testing negative the whole thing felt like a second bout of Covid, which also swept through my family, including my Granddaughter. We're all fine on that end but it can really take the piss out of you, and I hope that does not become a regular staple of modern life every couple of months. The sheer volume of unanswered submissions and near-daily rejections has begun to take its toll, very much in the form of "why am I bothering?" It begs the question, well, if you quit, what the fuck else will occupy your mind? Don't get me wrong, I can enjoy going down rabbit-holes of reading fiction and non, music listening, and watching TV and Movies. But when I took up writing seriously I had come to the conclusion there's more to life than being a consumer. I wanted to live, explore and take part, and I have done so these years right up until we were all turned into recluses. Has anyone returned to pre-Covid levels of adventure? I have not.
Fear not. A small ray of sun has recently forced its way into my fevered brain. For some reason, when I read my Rejections, I don't often get past the part "Richard- Thank you for letting us read such-and-such, BUT..." I have completely gone forth and filed said rejections away, in the interest of not dwelling, and getting back on the horse as quickly as possible with the next candidate. However, I have recently revisited my steaming pile of goal-crushers to discover some further verbiage that I had taken as a part of the rubber stamp-quality brush-off statement. And I had missed the sincerity that accompanied such further verbiage:
"we hope you'll keep us in mind..." "we'd be happy to see more of your work in our next issue..." "we look forward to reading something new from you SOON..." "but please send us more stories SOON..." you were one of our first submissions and I've been sitting on your story because it's such an enjoyable read..."
Yes! I can add to my submission excel sheet, a column for, "Wants More" and see how many of those I've spaced on. If memory serves, it may be close to a third. I can take that spreadsheet information and send the next SUB on to them. Gee, while I'm doing that, I'd sure like to punch up that Novella to send to Crystal Lake, and then finally get into that third novel I've been planning. Golly, gosh,
Emerald City is closer and prettier than ever!
Okay so I took a brief sabbatical at the end of March to go through my inevitable faceoff with the COVID monster (mild) and to plug my new Anthology from Eighth Tower, The Body of Horror: Stories Inspired by the Cinema of David Cronenberg (wild). By now, all of you, and Cronenberg fans around the globe have gotten your hands on said Antho and read my out-of-left-field tale "Qinglong" and have decided I'm either out of my mind or an extremely versatile wordsmith, hahaha.
Next on the hit parade in the period I laughingly refer to as my writing "career" was another prescient move foreshadowing a future writing staple I couldn't have known was upon us (like 2008), and yet another where I failed to get my story published before said wave. I saw a submission call for an Anthology of new stories based on that beloved chestnut "The Wizard of Oz" by L. Frank Baum. The stories were allowed sex and violence and could also be inspired by any of the OZ books. The anthology was to be called "Shadows of the Emerald City" Edited by JW Schnarr, whom I believe was in Calgary, Alberta. (Northern Frights Publishing, 2009, 4.10 stars in Goodreads).
My mind exploded. Hadn't I been an "Oz" fanatic since about the age of three? Didn't I have the soundtrack album with all the dialogue and everything and still know most of it by heart? Hadn't I watched it every year on CBS at Easter with a different host each year (Bert Lahr, Red Skelton, Danny Kaye, Dick Van Dyke, Richard Boone, Liza Minnelli, and Angela Lansbury)? Didn't I wait with bated breath for the Wiz with Michael Jackson and Diana Ross as the virginal Dorothy to hit theaters? Hadn't I gotten the first VHS and then the Letterbox VHS and then the Ultimate 75th Anniversary DVD of the 1939 classic? Hadn't I also bought the DVD mini-series Tin Man and the creepy sequel Return to Oz? Wouldn't I go on to be the only person who watched the darkly gorgeous show Emerald City on NBC in 2017, all three months of it before it was cancelled, Directed by extravagant visionary genius Tarsem Singh and starring Vincent D'Onofrio? Yes! That was me! I needed IN on this unknown press' unknown anthology lickety-split. I would be bathing in CASH! Livin' on easy street, I tell ya.
After researching at great expense and personal joy the rest of the Oz canon, my favorite storyline happened to be the metamorphosis of Tip, the country orphaned boy, into OZMA, the wonderful princess of Oz. Jeopardy champion and open transsexual Amy
Schneider recently hailed this very plot as her personal touchstone, and I can see that totally. Tip was also the creator of his own magical friend, Jack Pumpkinhead, one of my favorite visuals from the succeeding books (hey, Halloween, amIright?). So I went about my work, carefully designing and crafting a story that would be undeniable, a novelette told by the historian of the Scarecrow's Emerald City court after Ol' Straw and Brains took over from the Wizard. It had sex with the gorgeous witch Mombi. It had a girl's Army of Revolt marching to an insurrection at the Capitol. It had a city-wide flying monkey infestation that would make Delhi cringe. It had rude Munchkins. I called it "Oz Can Be Tough on a Girl."
You have guessed the outcome of my essay. I have to paraphrase the letter on account of it's so bloody old I can't find it. James Schnarr was extremely kind. "Richard we really loved your story. We were going to accept it, but we realized that only twenty could make the cut print-wise, and yours was the twenty-first. We are so sorry. If this is successful and we ever do another one, yours will be the FIRST story in. Oh and we already had another Jack Pumpkinhead story" You can all guess where that went.
Since then every author and their brother has come out with a horror version of Oz and I don't blame them, it's effin' awesome. But at that time, it was the first I had ever heard of in submission calls. My story, now highly upgraded skill-wise, is called Portrait of the Ozian as a Young Man, and I continue on the hunt for a bizarro or extreme home for it.
Below is the artwork for the cover of that anthology, which made me salivate, by Gavro Krackovic 2009.
As I explore the search for The Eternal that I go through in art and culture, books and music and film, my friend Chris chimed in with an equally appropriate term, The Profound. He spoke of his ennui about anything new that comes down the pike. Always an aficionado of older movies, I agree with him in the way that much of regurgitated culture does not arouse us. Think about it. I am 65 years old and thankfully have much of my faculties intact. I have been not just a reader, but a constant reader, since the age of 6. I have been a movie junkie, an absolute fanatic, since the age of 5 when I saw Disney's Pinocchio. I have played music for myself alone constantly since the age of 3. That is 60 plus years of TV, Movie Theaters, Books and Records. Six decades of paying close attention.
You'll forgive me if I cannot find it in me to get excited about your list of half-baked Shudder movies that I know had a fraction of an idea and ran with it. I hope you'll take it in stride when I am not scintillated by your book about a family or persons moving to a house that turns out to have a ghost/ demon/ entity attached. Paperbacks from Hell? I had read them all and traded with my brothers when Grady Hendrix was but a glint in his Father's eye. Superheroes? I read the comics when they first hit the newsstands. My brothers and I went nuts on the records of a new group called The Beatles and we got equally intrigued when a man called David Bowie was on The Midnight Special. You'll forgive me, hyperbolic media, when I can't quite see Demi Lovato as being a "Superstar." In my 30's, as a young father and urban worker, I had Talking Heads to listen to.
In discussing a way I try to stay connected to the Future, about five years ago I joined an organization that has been a constant source of enlightenment to me. It's called Singularity University and yes it does have a college program, but its main entity, the Singularity Group, can be joined by anyone with a penchant for attempting to plan the Future and rid mankind of its many ills. I saw a man on Bill Maher's show several years back, and his discussion with Bill got me off on a tangent. His name was Ray Kurzweil, and he is the founder of the Singularity movement. Paraphrasing, he believes that the exponential growth of technology is such that a person living to around 2030 or so, has a great chance of prolonging their life due to technologies that will become available to us. We are on the verge of many of them now.
An example would be mini-nanobots; little tanks that can drive around our arteries blasting plaque out of existence. We already know about Gene therapy potentially wiping out certain diseases and chronic, inherited illnesses from our descendants. Then there is the Singularity itself, the time when human beings can finally download their consciousness to an Artificial Intelligence or computer. We may very well become akin to our automobiles; when a human part needs replacing we may get cyber-technology in its place. These parts may allow us to go on and to also continue replacing them until we achieve a sort of immortality. It may be incredible or it may be frightening.
The consortium of the Singularity Group includes people of all professions from across the globe. Doctors, Lawyers, Scientists, Engineers, Agriculturists, Entrepreneurs, you name it, and yes, even Writers and Dreamers like myself. I attend virtual meetings with these experts from every region you can think of, So. America, Africa, Asia, Europe, the U.S.A. I often joke that when I am in one of these seminars, I am most definitely NOT the smartest person in the room, hahaha. However, you'd be surprised. When we are put into chat-rooms to get to know each other and work on solutions to hunger and climate change and other matters, my old management skills come out and I often jump in to facilitate the conversation. Many of the Scientists and other professionals are very introverted people just like in writing, and need that push from another to talk about their ideas.
So that's currently my attachment to the future, beside my grandchild, and here is the link to the group:
In my last entry I was talking about the feeling that I crave in most art I consume or pursue, that longing to cogitate on the notion of "The Eternal." Off the top of my head, some favorite movie examples would be, "Altered States" by Ken Russell, "The
Shining" by Stanley Kubrick, "Twin Peaks" by David Lynch, and "The House That Jack Built" by Lars Von Trier. Now right there are four directors who often ignite that emotion in me. It is the part of our human experience we don't necessarily have answers for, yet we are always striving to know.
In the history of humankind there has been everyone from artists to scientists to philosophers, workers and leaders who strived for the same knowledge that we, the current living, attempt to comprehend. It is so glorious to compare notes to those who have come before us and documented their journey to understanding about this life we have in common. Everyone of every race, creed and nationality that has ever walked erect upon this Earth shares all of the symptoms of life that we go through. They have loved, been angry, lost and succeeded in life, cared for the well being of their families, ate, shit, pissed, had cramps and headaches, trouble breathing, have let down their parents or been needy, have lost their minds and have perseverated over the slightest inconveniences. They have communicated to us through writing of prose and poetry, through music, through art, through film. Walt Whitman, "I've stood where you now stand, I took this ferry, I heard the gulls as we came into port." I'm paraphrasing.
Likewise those here now around the world have the same desires and setbacks we experience, Sting- "I think the Russians love their children too."
I'll get this out of the way quickly. No one is telling you that you can't practice whatever religion is meaningful to you, but this country was founded on the idea that no one religion would ever dictate public policy. Just as Muslim extremism should not be the policies we are dealing with when negotiating with Middle Eastern nations, so too should other countries be assured that we in America are not beholden to the ideologies of extreme Christianity. I belong to the Freedom FROM Religion Foundation which protects our constitutional principle of the separation of church and state. Again, no notions of telling anyone that they cannot practice their beliefs, but the prevention of having some Americans dictate what should be public policy for everyone based on their individual beliefs. I have always thought that religion is a subject on which humans cannot agree, ever, so just imagine the whole world leaving that consideration out of the equation when trying to negotiate for their respective countries.
This organization gives me a great deal of comfort in knowing I'm not alone in those thoughts and also knowing that lawyers and committees are fighting to keep those considerations out of our shared decision making. People don't give enough thought to how much of an even playing field we'd all be on if you took religious dogma out of any discussion. It does not mean no morality; in fact most people do not really need a religion to still find they can espouse a love for their fellow men and a desire to help the world go in a meaningful direction.
I like to also maintain a pro-active responsibility for the future of those that will be here when I am gone, particularly your and my grandchildren. I try to fortify my knowledge of where we've been as a species through reading about history; our screw-ups and victories of the past, if you will. An amazing way to develop a healthy knowledge of what came before you is Genealogy. The expensive route to mine this material with an Ancestry.com PAID subscription is not the only way to do this. You start at your state and local libraries and Archives, often at your state capitol, including your health department. You get the birth certificates for your immediate parents, and or their death certificates, and you're off. Most public documents through history have included people's parent's names and places of birth, and most census figures at your local archives include info like their professions and where they lived. You'd be surprised how much detective work you can do in your local libraries about digging up the past. You find your direct ancestors and get to know a bit about what they went through in life, and it's an education in humility.
Next time- getting in touch with The Future!
All my life I have been fascinated by religion. Until the age of fifty-something, I was a diehard Catholic, in love with the ceremony, pageantry and iconography. When everyone I knew had stopped attending church, I was there among the faithful every Sunday. I liked the discussion of life's struggles and problems and how the celebrant related Bible passages to them. I liked drinking in the atmosphere, the candles and incense. I liked giving money. I liked the "clean" feeling of coming out of mass, having gone, and receiving communion. I loved singing the songs like I was Elvis incarnate, in fact, as a teen, I often sang at mass with a folk group or duo.
Becoming an Atheist did not stop my obsession with all religions of the world. It continues to floor me that mankind has invented all these different ways to communicate the same thing, that we are not alone; that we have been created and that creator is watching over us. Just the tale of Jesus and how he rose to popularity is enough to give me constant ideas and notions of things to write about. In my writer's "journey" if you will, the next story I had worked on was one I then called, "Try to Stay Together," and the current updated version is "Lepers of Golgotha." The acclaimed writer Maurice Broaddus had an anthology brewing for religious speculative fiction, and I wanted to challenge myself to the assignment of a Biblical SciFi tale.
Without spoilers, the story involves a young man at the time of Jesus going out to try to emulate him, and his service at a leper colony which includes some rather extreme and horrid cases. Let's just say the whole thing concerns a joke I saw in Mad Magazine as a kid, about Star Trek's teleporters. The story however is dead serious. I didn't make it to the anthology, of course, but boy have I had a lot of feedback from editors about things they liked in it.
In a deeper sense, my obsession with religion has to do with a subject I call, "The Eternal." Discussions of where we come from, where we're going, do we, or will we experience anything "out there?" It's the question that has plagued mankind throughout eternity. I was sorely under-educated on philosophers through history, and I have been trying to bone up on who believed what. I find I like some of Nietzsche's ideas and some of the Existentialism, purported by Kierkegaard, that each individual is responsible for giving meaning to life, to living to the fullest and creating its authenticity. I like things that extrapolate on the human condition, on everything within the experience of human life, from depression and anxiety to athletic victory to holy rapture to alien abduction to unfettered sexuality.
Therefore I seek out books, movies, music and activities that put me in touch with The Eternal. I'd like to tell you of some of these activities in my next entries. It is a fascinating hobby that never gets boring or too mundane or similar. I love when some human emotion or odd behavior comes into a narrative that would otherwise be mundane and wholly surface in its simplicity. People have been people since the beginning of our time, and that's why we get dictators, fascists, tyrannies and mass executions as well as charity, intimacy, tenderness, kindness, hope, creativity, longing, love and life's sublime moments. We are a species unlike anything else we know of and produce the most astounding accomplishments of life but also the most profoundly misguided ones.
It is in our nature to love one another and yet we sublimate these urges to maintain our own balance. Yet these are the life experiences we should most be pursuing.
PHOTO: RASCOTT- Precious Blood Cemetery, Woonsocket, Rhode Island
I got an idea over a decade ago for a story about HP Lovecraft. I had done extensive research on him and his lifestyle and was particularly interested in attempting something from the inside out. Where the Hope High School dropout was actually the narrator of the tale. I took the Providence Lovecraft tour and did my own strolling around the spots he walked in his lifetime. I've spoken about how inspired I was to find that like me, he had spent many years staying up all night and then sleeping in the daylight hours. He had room darkening curtains that were never opened; I have no curtains on my double window and use the nature surrounding me as a mural in my bedroom.
Howard had many odd peccadilloes including preferring to remain an Englishman at heart despite his colony revolting 150 years earlier, remaining living with his mother and aunts except for a very brief marriage and residence in NYC, and of course as a young man his abhorrence of filthy immigrants and the freed African Americans as well as a repulsion to all seafood, despite living in The Ocean State of Rhode Island.
There had been a major anthology call at the time called Haunted Legends, in which writers were tasked with the chronicling of folk tales from their own region or state. I got a whirlwind notion; have HP Lovecraft become embroiled with RI's other formidable fright, Mercy Brown, the alleged vampire who's whole family went in a wave of what they believe was tuberculosis in the 19th century. Townspeople were so convinced of Mercy's vampire leanings that they exhumed her body sometime after her passing. The legends say Mercy was as fresh as the day she died and that when they brutally removed her heart to burn on a nearby rock, it still pumped with blood.
The main thing which I feel I accomplished was this; just about every piece of dialogue or every thought Lovecraft/narrator entertains in his mind are not just the man's real thoughts, but also exact quotes. The story underwent years of rejection despite my assertions that it was my masterpiece, and finally found a home Gawd willing in the New England Horror Writers Anthology, Wicked Creatures 2021. One of the Editors, Dan Koehane, wrote to me to say how much he enjoyed it and thought I did a good job with Lovcraft's narration, making it believable. Presumably the other two Editors liked it enough to include as well.
I can't tell you the outpouring of response from all of the hundreds of New England Horror Writers and my myriad of friends from NECON and beyond about how this tale affected them. I can't tell you because no one anywhere has said a word to me about it, hahahaha. I don't know how things eventually may get read and discovered but even our one reviewer so far managed not to mention me or my story. I want you all to know you can always talk to me about my work, for good or ill. My excitement comes with the possibility of getting eyes on my pages.
There is a small dilemma that haunts me. In the portraying of Lovecraft's real thoughts, uttered way back at the dawn of the twentieth century, there were included some frank comments about his choice words involving Blacks and Irish and others unlike him. These were of course "cut" in the Editing process. Oddly, they were sections I was most proud of in not backing down from the man's early racism. I don't fault the Editors and did not protest in the least because I'm one to try to please and make their tough jobs as easy as possible. I was a bit sad though, in the same vein as the recent Maus controversy, that we must coddle our audience in the pursuit of actually enlightening them. My unofficial mentor David Lynch says not to let anyone cut your work because what you put out there makes it you. But I'm a wimp David, so far.
I want to get published and reach readers.
Below, the house of Charles Dexter Ward
Monday, 5 August, 1878: in settlement of the estate of Sarah Helen Whitman, of 88 Benefit Street, Providence. Death occurred on 27 June. I hereby release this document for public consumption as was her wish. It was located among the effects (Crate number 119, inscribed “Occult”). It is unknown to this firm why the manuscript was heretofore unpublished.
–Edmond Froud, Esq.
Thus begins my ghost story "The Aftertaste," which allows the conceit of a manuscript written by Edgar Allan Poe being found among the effects of a woman he courted in my own Providence, Rhode Island. It's weird to think of that connection of first Poe, then Lovecraft, wandering the streets of the East Side of our state capitol only decades apart. They each brooded and haunted the shrouded alleyways along college hill, adjacent to Brown University. The area is still a nightmare to drive, with its thin, cobblestone streets and its maze of one ways and cul-de-sacs to nowhere. I have showed you the foggy church graveyard of St. John's where both men lingered, and spoken of Lovecraft's admiration for the elder writer, Poe, and his obsession with treading the same paths as he.
For some reason, back in the days when I was a young writer and mere slip of a lad at age 51, when the time came to finally, in my life, come up with my own ghost and haunting story, the first image that popped in my head was the internment of poor Fortunato behind a brick wall by the man he often critiqued, wine aficionado Montresor, in Poe's The Cask of Amontillado. To be buried alive and unfound down in the wine cellar behind a facade that would serve as his tomb, dressed in a jester's outfit no less, due to the festivities he attended that evening, had to be the ultimate indignity in my mind, and one which certainly that would not have seen its last days when Fortunato slipped off this mortal coil and began his residency on the other side of the veil.
I set my ghost story forty years hence as Montresor's nephew and his young family take residence at the very same palazzo. The tinkling of the Jester's bells on Fortunato's hat can be heard throughout the halls of the palace and its storied wine cellar. It was funny looking back, that I made a terribly anachronistic error, typical for a newbie writer, in making reference to a character being nicknamed for the adventurer Kit Carson from the Wild West Dime Novels, as their popularity rose about the time Poe, the supposed author, was dead and in the ground. It taught me the lesson of deeply vetting my presumptions before releasing a story, as this one was published before I caught my grievous mistake. The Editors did not have a problem with it either, which I guess, if I were to ever gain fame, would make for quite the collectors' item. As it is, I have now fixed the error in the manuscript and continue to submit it when there are calls for ghostly doings.
I did research Poe deeply at the time and made an effort, once again, not to presumptively capture his style minutely, but to at least approximate it enough to gain the readers' trust. There I go with my ambitious offerings again, for good or ill. Sarah Helen Whitman's house, below, on a Benefit street trampled by the old master himself.
“Will you just grab the tote? I got double of everything in case there’s a problem,” she said after pulling up by Pam’s gravesite.
He couldn’t catch her eye, like he wasn’t even there. He’d come for support but never really thought she’d take her lifelong interest in witchcraft this far. He was beginning to question her sanity.
They knelt before the stone and she pulled a plastic container of blood from the bag, and some feathers.
“Not your neighbor’s chicken?” Peter said, revealing his disgust.
“They think the Barrette’s dog got her,” she replied, and for the first time all evening he detected the hint of a smile.
She took a piece of note paper with scrawled handwriting from her pocket. Peter knew it was the Voodoo spell she had purchased in New Orleans when she went away to Mardi Gras with her bridesmaids. He also knew and resented that the trip was more bachelorette party than spell seeking.
“Baron Samedi, release this woman, Pamela Constance Richards, from your world into my control. I do not ask you to bring her under my dominion lightly.”
As she spoke, Sloane scattered the feathers over the grave. She then rose and poured the blood in a circle around the burial area.
“Legba,” she continued, “you are the go-between of worlds; please guide Pamela to me.”
She took one of the fifths of rum they’d just bought at the package store and poured it over the grave. Peter jumped when she suddenly smashed the bottle on the stone. She scattered broken glass over the area.
The ground shook with tremendous force. Peter jumped again.
“Uh, Sloane, I don’t think we should continue,” he said.
“Look, that woman raised me by herself. The only dream Pamela Richards ever had was to see her daughter married and she WILL be at our wedding! Now please sprinkle salt on the area, and remember, only a little; it’s the amount that keeps them docile.”
Sloane went to get more supplies from the back of the car. Peter took one of the salt shakers they had stolen from Kelly’s Diner on the way over. On his very first shake over the grave, the metal head of the shaker popped off the glass, spilling most of the salt onto the grave in a mound.
Sloane had missed it. She was pounding a pointed cross made of two wooden slats into the ground and placing a long black overcoat on it. She crowned it with a black top hat.
"We welcome you Baron Samedi, Lord of the Underworld," she chanted.
Peter quickly scattered the mess amidst the dirt. He didn’t want to give her an excuse to take his head off.
“Peter,” Sloane said, you remember the safe word right? It will stop the spell in case it goes wrong.”
“Yes dear,” he shot back.
Sloane mumbled an incantation establishing the spell breaker then threw her arms open and screamed.
“Papa Legba, please show Pamela the way through now!”
The ground shook with immense violence and Peter instinctively ran toward the car. Vast amounts of earth erupted out of the grave like a fountain. With a thunderous crack a huge cement slab flew up and landed within a foot of Sloane.
That was a little taste of my Voodoo tale, "Resurrection Cemetery," which was a finalist in Crystal Lake Publishing's Shallow Waters contest this year, as well as appearing in the long defunct SONAR4 Science Fiction and Horror Ezine, famous for discovering Horror Author Kevin Lewis. In my second to last Journal I was saying what a joy it was researching the Vodou legacy and rituals going back to Africa and Haiti and becoming prolific in our own City of New Orleans. Practitioner Doctor Qwufua Broomstick in Africa wrote to me and quite rightly stated that one should preferably not derive their Voodoo education from movies. So I did want to mention that beside the dubious, Castaneda-esque work by Harvard scientist Wade Davis, "The Serpent and the Rainbow," two excellent books on the subject are: "Voodoo in New Orleans" by Robert Tallent and Zora Neale Hurston's own account of becoming an Initiate, "Tell My Horse."
When it comes to the drug of collecting rare and weird artifacts from around the world, I have my own Pusher in the form of the talented and legendary author (Poppy Z. Brite) Billy Martin, who scours the old dealers of NOLA to offer impeccable antique items not found at your local Target, folks. You should not hesitate to keep up with his Ruby Lane store, PZBaubles, where I have been able to procure religious artifacts from around the globe for my Office of Curiosities. Beside my authentic Voodoo Doll with accessory pins included, I was excited to get the VEVE (religious symbol which acts as a beacon) of a LOA (spirit or deity) that happens to represent Papa Legba. Legba, as mentioned in the story above, is our intermediary to the other world, who aids in our communication with it. His VEVE is often drawn in the sand or floor at the start of a ritual, and besides being a symbol of that plain, Papa can also bring happy changes and opportunities (picture below). I have the VEVE on a pendant.
With my 65th birthday mere days away, it is very hard not to reminisce, especially after watching my favorite group of all time, The Beatles, for the last three nights, and getting to basically hang out with them courtesy of Mr. Peter Jackson. I knew that the stuff about Yoko breaking them up was never true, and I was warmed by their acceptance and love of each others' families in the studio. One of my favorite things was getting to see Linda and Yoko getting on great and talking together. We are fed so much bullshit all our lives and the media probably goes back to the beginning of time in mis-representing people.
Watching Paul say "There's only me and Ringo left" and look wayward with tears in his eyes was a haunting clip foreshadowing the future we now live in, and I cried when John sang the beautiful "Across the Universe" as I often do when I hear it. Otherwise my heart was filled with joy and laughter, and as a former theater director I was getting a built-up nervousness about how much time they wasted fooling around and not getting down to work, lol.
Of course it was a shock when professionalism kicked in and they got the songs just right on the rooftop, so much so that unbeknownst to me prior to this, some of the rooftop recordings were on the final album. I loved hearing them talk about everyday shit, and John saying he had watched Fleetwood Mac the night before and admired the calm of the lead singer, whom I'm guessing had to be Christine McVie as the others had not joined the group yet. I nearly had a nervous breakdown as they went on without George a few days, man he had sounded like he was "done" with it all.
I'm about six years old and my nearest in age brother, Al, who's still nine years my senior, brings home these two 45's. One is She Loves You on some weird label "Swan" records and the other is I Wanna Hold Your Hand on what would become the ever recognizable "Capitol" record label. Now just about a day before, my Ma tells me that there is a rock 'n' roll group causing a big stir in England, called "The Beatles" because they have "long hair." Now before I see the records, I'm picturing these four blond guys with puffy, wavy hair like Marilyn Monroe or something. When I see the actual pictures on my brother's 45 sleeves, I'm like, "That's not long!" My bro explains that what people mean is they didn't have the tight GI cut so many men sport, so everyone thinks it's long. I pretty much say, they look like Moe, of The Three Stooges, hahaha.
How can one capture all the pleasure and close personal ways the Beatles meant to me over a whole lifetime? Listening to Rubber Soul, Revolver, Sergeant Pepper, The White Album in the new phenomena we had gotten a hold of at the release of Beatles 6, STEREO SOUND. The first thing I ever heard in stereo was "What You're Doing" with the multiple guitars twanging like they were in the living room with us. I stayed hooked and played every 45, every LP, into the ground. Those first listens to Sergeant and White, man, memories that can never be relived. Just the excitement and energy of, like, WHAT THE FUCK IS THIS SONG, NOW? Oh that's John. That's Paul, That's George. Sitting their nearly coming in our jeans over the sound we were being fed.
Then I get to college right when they breakup, and to me, the greatest album ever created hits the stands, John Lennon, Plastic Ono Band. My favorite, John, telling it like it is as always, the absolute truth about life, spilling his fucking guts on tape. I don't know if it can ever be equaled. I was fucked up my mother had passed when I was 15, here was John with "My Mommy's dead, I can't get it through my head..." Man I had forever thought he was talking to me, but this shit was, he was in my head. Because of that album, I never felt alone acclimating to being away from home in college. After like fifty more years the song God has finally become my credo. I understood it back then; I cherish it now as someone trying to get through to me.
Losing John when he was forty went right along with my luck with my mother, another deep hit, man, another fucking wound I'll never be able to shake. The subsequent music and repackaging is all we're left with. Of course, I am not alone with that, the whole world felt it, like a cosmic Earth Quake.
Here is my childhood John doll and next time we return you to your regular program.
Soon after finishing my Rasputin novella, I saw a call on a paying SciFi and Horror website for flash fiction. I had no idea what that was and had to look it up. It was an intriguing challenge: write a full short story that came in with a word count of 500-1000 words. I thought it impossible; most of my tales until that time started out pushing the 10,000 word mark before I got them down through sacrifice and editing, and the work I'd just finished was a novella. Was I capable of writing that short a story?
I had submitted my novella to an anthology known as something like The Butcher Block Four. The book would have four distinct novellas by four different authors, and mine had some particularly ghastly murder in it, enough to warrant the Editor's holding on to it for a very long time. I received a "hang in there" email at some point telling me my work was in the final countdown to assuage my anxiety, but eventually he did pass on it, calling it "a great premise, bogged down by some prosaic language." I'm paraphrasing. I had to look that up too, lol, and myself and my advisors agreed that we think I did myself in by experimenting with how far I could go in explicitly describing some sexual activity (which I've since toned down).
Ironically, the Editor never saw that anthology come to fruition. A very short time later it was revealed that he had ostensibly raped a female writer and lovely, talented acquaintance of mine in a hotel room's bathroom at a national genre convention. He was, rightly so, an early subject of cancel culture and the Me Too movement before we'd ever encounter those terms. Yes there are real monsters in this world. Our writer's journey has an incredible amount of changing landscape along its circuitous route. Often, just wait five minutes like with New England weather.
So when I got the notion of submitting to the website looking for Flash, I was working on an idea involving the subject of Louisiana Voodoo. I had done a ton of research as the area is, again, one that had been an unending fascination since childhood. I wish I could pinpoint the exact issue of Eerie or Creepy or Vault of Horror or Tales of Voodoo, but I had come across a story in one of those honored horror comics that involved a slave-driving, selfish Plantation owner out of central casting (looking much like a snarling Chuck Heston) having his problems with slaves becoming Voodoo Zombies and stalking him.
This opened up a lifelong love for all things Voodoo, especially with a realistic Haitian or New Orleans setting. It IS a religion in the African Diaspora but, especially in New Orleans, also had some intermingling with, believe it or not, Catholicism. Many of the slaves who first were brought to Louisiana were of Kongolese descent, and brought their gods and rituals directly from Africa, while Haitians also mixed in with their form of Vodou. Saint Anthony of Padua was a patron saint of the Kongo and the French and Spanish settlers didn't even care to sublimate or outlaw the Africans' practicing of their own ways.
An early run-in for little Dicky Scott was a triple drive in feature of American International classics featuring the adaptation of a Poe Tale "The Oblong Box." These Vincent Price- lead beauties were always right up my alley, and this one featured the elements of premature burial and masked native dancers, but also the very un-Poe element of African Voodoo ritual killing. I ate it up and brooded on it for days, later in life mistaking it for a Hammer classic, but it was not.
We will carve the turkey discussing a deeper dive into the Voodoo story I wrote and many more influences that kept me saturated in the practice throughout my life.
When I was working on my Novella that was previously titled "The Grischa Trilogy" I would come home from work at night and there would be a TV Evangelist on that would fascinate me. She was a relatively short lady who had an obviously beautiful face but would dress buttoned up to the hilt in an almost masculine suit which purposely showed nothing of her shape. She wore makeup that was efficient, not over the top and, most prominently, had some of the longest hair I'd ever seen. I believe it went way past her buttocks to about the back of her knee. This was usually done into a very elaborately braided, wide pigtail. She was interesting to listen to also. She taught about the contents of the bible, and had a huge white board that she often went to, to write huge phrases or circle or underline text for emphasis. Everything about her just mesmerized me. Not only have I been unlucky in locating a name on her or any bio, but I can't even remember what "Christian" network she may have been on. I always wondered what made her adapt that mode of dress and her "LOOK." If anyone has any clue on this I'd be very grateful, lord knows I've tried. I would absolutely know her if I'd see her.
Another random tidbit that had hung in my mind for decades was a blurb in the old 70's tomes by David and Amy Wallace, The Book of Lists. I believe it was in a list entitled "Remains to Be Seen," but anyway it was rumored that Rasputin had indeed been castrated, and the holy member and nuts were squirreled away by one of the Noblemen who assassinated him. By the 1970's it had made it's way to a group of female worshippers of the holy object in Paris, where Rasputin's daughter Maria was working as a circus performer. (Coincidentally I was in Paris at the same time that Maria and the worshippers were, and the number one tune in the European nightclubs and discos I visited was Rah-rah-Raspootine by Bony M). Now, Maria is said to have purchased her Dad's babymaker from said cult, but later fell on 'hard' times financially and had to undergo phallus abandonment, handing it over to Russia's first Erotic Museum, where it spent the early part of the 2000's hanging out until my character of Tatiana got her hands on it. In the List book I don't remember the exact wording, but an old dowager of the Romanov court who had laid her eyes on the petrified object described it as "a black banana in a velvet box." That perfect image haunted me until it finally became a section title in my novella, fulfilling my lifelong dream of pushing Grischa's Willie into a work of fiction.
Well, the big payoff for me in writing this piece was that when Tatiana gets hold of Rasputin's uncle wiggly a change begins to come over her, and she winds up looking and dressing like the very strict TV Evangelist. The shy and pert Tatiana has become a monster of ruling femininity who knows exactly what she wants and when she wants it. Other characters include a handsome priest who is also changed by a Wasputin Welic that he possesses, turning him into a clerical Hugh Hefner with his flock, and an old sad new widower who lands the coveted artifact of the knife Prince Yusupov used to do Rasputin (partially) in. King-like mayhem and murder ensues in a character showdown that has to be influenced by the evil Raspeetin Punis in some way. Surely some family mag. will pick up this gem, especially with the holidays rolling around.
I had the extreme pleasure of reading this entire novella in a workshop writing group that included several older people who were not clutching their pearls, I assure you, and I got a ton of great feedback on how to improve this sucker, which I am doing. This is one for the ages and until I wrote my first novel four years later, I considered it my masterpiece.
I played all the parts in my group, until said members were glued to their seats to find out what happens next, which of course is very gratifying. You never know where your obsession with a supreme holyman/charlatan of the early twentieth century and his vaunted naughty bits may take you in this wonderful world of writing.
The next project I called up in my writer's journey was an unpublished Novella that I am punching up for publication, and it is a doozy. Woo-hoo!
My favorite historical figure of all time is none other than the libertine holy-man, the miracle worker, the horny charlatan, advisor to the last Czar and Czarina of Russia, and competitor to basketball great Wilt Chamberlain as the most prolific stud of all time: Grigori Yefimovich RASPUTIN!!! Yes how could I not have a major project about the guy who I've spent countless hours thinking and reading about, my old pal the Mad Monk himself?
St. Petersburg, Russia via 1917, the fall of the mighty Romanovs, the splendor of the palace and the debauchery of my beloved sinner/saint, ah, what a blessedly fascinating time in history and my most cherished in fact. To have supped with high-bred ladies of nobility then find nourishment at one of Rasputin's great orgies, well, "say no more" about holiday festivities! It makes John F. Kennedy's Camelot look like a kid's birthday party.
To the uninitiated, Father Grigori was a man of the cloth who dabbled with non-stop adultery between the linens. For a Catholic boy praying in church on Sunday that the beautiful middle-school classmate Linda would go out with me, and perhaps in a moment of solitude let me steal a kiss, ah, what better role model and all around renaissance man than the Imperial spiritual advisor and symbol of a doomed society? As I grew, I came to realize that RAS (my initials), was the closest thing the world may have ever seen to a holy devil made flesh, at least until Aleister Crowley came along.
I kid about the hero-worship, but this dark figure in actual life could not help but become an enormously villainous figure of fascination to this young writer. A guy who went from poverty in Siberia on a farm to the grand halls of Royalty, all on his wits, his dick, his faith, and his unexplained ability to harness the power of the Virgin Mary to perform clairvoyant prophecies, and, most importantly, healing upon the Romanovs Anemic son, Crown Prince Alexei. When some royal family members got the idea to silence this meddlesome advisor to Czarina Alexandria for good, it turned out to be a very long night trying to kill a seemingly indestructible force.
One legend has the group of unnerved, misfit assassins castrating the Siberian Svengali and passing down his manhood through generations, eventually to a Soviet Sex Museum and lord knows where else. And thereby hangs the tale, my novella The Grischa Trilogy (for which I need a new title due to the success of the Shadow and Bone series of books by Leigh Bardugo, [who'd have ever imagined that would have gotten taken?]). My story centers around a group of S.Kingian modern day folks who are affected by the supernatural elements trapped in a group of objects that Romanov collectors obtain through an early Twentieth Century black market auction. I stumbled upon the idea of objects with disastrous historical events trapped in them that possess their owners through an old classic British television film of the Sixties called The Stone Tape. I had only a description of the film available to me all these years, until the entire thing showed up in YouTube recently; where it is worth a watch if you've never done so (the script was written by famed Weird writer Nigel Kneale whom also penned Quatermass). The Stone Tape Theory is that “Inanimate objects from the past may store a haunted ‘recording’ of abnormal or violent events.”
When we get together around All Hallow's Eve, I'll guide you through the perilous and profane nature of my novella and the spooky reactions from an enraptured writing group.
Until then, pray for some great debauchery, mmmhhhuuuahahahahahahaha!
I do not know what is in the water but there are a great many scared, confused and downright hostile people out there. I always have sensed a rhythm in life when the summer is dying and coming to a close. People are cranky that they may not have experienced the fun they'd looked forward to, or perhaps it's that the fun is now over and it's back to school and work. When I worked at a pool and Rec. Center for Tupperware (no, there were not containers for leftovers diving and splashing) the end of August until school started signaled the coming of cooler days. Lifeguards had their jeans and even hoodies on as they watched an often empty pool. Sometime we'd close early due to lack of swimmers, and after all the partying and drinking the staff did all summer, we sat in silence reading the new paperback, "Carrie" everyone was talking about.
The cold has indeed made an appearance a few nights and all I have out are shorts and tee shirts. I often remember, especially around Labor Day, hearing the stories on the news that someone has shot a family member at some get together or cookout. They can get under your skin but, man; leave the weapons at home, please. Let's not grill grandma after the hot dogs. Also some friends and I have been particularly noting the post Covid disappearance of folks' driving skills. They dart out from driveways, they come in from exits and don't slow down to merge, never mind yield, they turn suddenly, they're on your ass, and they dart across the street in front of you. In all instances it's your good graces that prevent a sure accident because you are looking out for the other guy. Also, I've had to take down some comments in various Facebook groups. Where I sought discussion I had those who go into berserk mode, piling up on me despite my not being whom they characterized me as. This is real and it's scary at present.
Holy crow the writing rejections are coming fast and furious, leaving me with my mouth agape. I just about get a new wave of a half dozen out, and five come ricocheting back to me in short order. Yowza wowza. I've had to catch my breath and take a little step back to regroup lately. Most of you saw my post about a particularly nasty rejection I received on my tale about a destitute family of Palestinians dealing with an ancient demon. "Hi Richard. Your submission is horror, which we do not accept. We also do not accept poorly researched historical fiction, current events, or fiction gratuitously insulting to any religious group, emphasized by the blaring tabloid size title."
OUCH! Getting another rejection didn't bother me; her tone was nasty and her insinuations about my skills were unwarranted. I've now been doing this for sixteen years ladies and gentlemen. I believe I have developed a modicum of skill to get by as a legitimate submitting author, lol.
Now we get to the good part. Why do I not call it quits under the extreme pressure? Why do I lift my chin and enter a new phase of submissions, queries and writing? This has been the greatest and most exciting year of my writing life and I have a good bead on why that is! Throughout the lockdown and continuing semi- lockdown, I have worked my ass off! I wrote a second novel and have brought several stories up to speed until I was confident that they were bulletproof. And thusly, I have currently a total of five publications coming out this year. And also consequently, there is no end to the amount of goodwill comments I am receiving from Editors in this latest round!
"Richard, although I’m passing on this story, I compliment you on a well written tale. I enjoy the subtle, slight, haunting vignettes of life’s darker sides, which you tapped into well here."
"It's an interesting story,"
"The core of the story is quite fun,"
"Liked the writing style, the clear prose that seemed a little Biblical. Man the idea of telling a story about some dude inspired by Jesus is so wonderful. The imagery of the leper colony is well done. The protagonist is a compelling character and I empathized with him and all the supporting cast. I enjoyed Zadok and Marath's budding romance. The writing is clean and I never had to stop to figure out where I was. The scene when Zodak (sic) finally goes into the cave was suitably creepy. Overall I quite liked this story."
"I have to tell you—I did like this story; it was an entertaining read. The setting’s authentic, and it’s not often someone submits a completely different take on the crucifixion and keeps it interesting (I really mean it)."
There you have it. I know, you wonder why they don't just take them. But there is progress, there IS progress. Enough to make me go back to the computer. And please remember what my boss at Trinity Rep used to say going into a tense production week: "Cut your fellow man a break!"
I've reached a point in my career where I feel it's of no use being closely guarded and always playing my cards close to my chest. We all have our ideas of what can be done with our writing and what avenues we want to pursue in getting it published. I think it's mainly because of my theatrical back ground and that I've had a taste of playing in the "big Leagues" of professional theater, that I am smitten with very large ambition when it comes to my efforts.
I want to see my work accepted in the larger, public arena, and I want, first and foremost, to get as many eyes on my product as is humanly possible. I have come to see the value in certain Independent Publishers and what they can accomplish for their writers, but I remain a staunch believer in "The Big Four" New York and worldwide publishers being able to get me the widest audience and the lesser chance of my efforts becoming "buried." That is my greatest fear, the anonymity of being one of the "buried," what my secret mentor David Lynch calls "dying the death."
To that end I continue with Agent queries and will not stop until I feel I've gone through the world's supply of literary representation. This will be my calling for the foreseeable future. Many folks in my past writing groups have used the word "ambitious" for my goals, for my writing, and even for my individual short stories. When I get an idea, I want nothing less than to execute that idea in a definitive way. I want it to be one of the stories on that topic or character that made someone say "that is the best story I ever read about _______." I want there to be no doubt that that story or book could be pursued as a movie
or television episode. This is who I have been since about twelve years old. I often take big bites out of life, and want it to be all I could grasp for.
Commercial, I think, is a good word for what I go after. That's why often; a slice of life tale with a very subtle twist into the ether of the weird is not enough for me. A story which projects its dénouement then just plays it out is not enough for me. A story that never seems to go past a premise is not enough for me. I want beginnings, middles and ends. Ends that can be ambiguous but not cryptic. Ends that leave me satisfied as I exit the theater of my mind.
Thrice, with Poe, Stoker and Lovecraft, I have undertaken to write a story from those very gentlemen's POV. I did not attempt to exactly imitate every cadence and nuance of the writers' speech. Instead I fabricated an individual that would come from their time period and did deep research to use some of their very quotations in formulating the character. One such story was "The Aftertaste" which was included in an anthology nearly immediately. That is a ghost story which has the man who was buried behind a wall in "The Cask of Amontillado," Fortunato, haunting a young family that has taken up residence in that Palazzo of Montresor.
Being new to writing, I made the dreadful blunder of a painful anachronism in my attempt at the definitive follow up to Poe's tale. I made a reference to a Wild West Character that surely would not have become common knowledge until the end of Poe's life. I have fixed that fatal flaw in my newest draft of the story that is still being submitted to Ghost collections everywhere.
There is no way of measuring the ambitions of my fellow writers except by the decisions they make in submitting their work. I do support them in whatever choice they make. As I say, I need to be faced with editors who may not know me; the gatekeepers if you will of the professional literary arena. Were I to break their ranks, I would be reasonably assured that I am doing something right.
The Providence, Rhode Island Cemetery where both Lovecraft and Poe strolled: St. John's Episcopal.
This journal is about a romantic notion that I know most men go through in their lives, perhaps multiple times, as I did. The more I thought about it the more I came to the conclusion that maybe all human beings go through it. Perhaps you've had a higher level job for awhile, and you are sick of the red tape and office politics that go along with it. Or maybe you just want to earn good money and lose yourself for a year or so, to forget, or to have some time in solitary. Four times in my life I made this change when I just could no longer put up with the bullshit.
I'm talking about applying to some company or plant where you are expected to just do the physical work required, keep your mouth shut, and rack up the hours for mucho overtime. In a year, a person living at their parents' home or on a tight budget can pretty much save enough of a nest egg to go anywhere in the world that they want afterward.
My first venture into the silent majority work force was in a couple of Rhode Island jewelry plants, where I was the sole Shipper/Receiver, responsible for a tidy loading dock, loading and unloading tractor trailers or panel trucks, and keeping track of the paperwork for the purchase orders and a daily log.
These jobs kept you on your toes from 7am to 3pm and the days would fly by. I would receive my next week's pay faster than I could spend it. I would be in the best shape of my life and building up some pretty great muscles for sure. In my Dad's day, people would work a full first shift then get a job at a second mill for the 3:30 to 11pm shift. All of my older brothers went through these periods; in our home city of Woonsocket RI, that was what you did when you left high school, started earning. We are descendants of a century and a half of mill rats, mostly of the French-Canadian variety.
My just-older brother Al was the first college student in our tribe, and I was second. I know that he did his year of toil to be able to start in college, at a gruesome sweat shop for Uniroyal, called "The Rubber Shop," where my mother-in-law worked for nearly thirty years before becoming a nurse in her forties. Al had to move these heavy racks of rubbers and boots from one trolley to another, thus making him definitely the bicep King for a while, but still perplexed by my whiffle-ball sinker.
Incredibly, I still would get this romantic feeling for hard labor into MY forties. I went to a plant in the aught years of this century, shuffling hard to fill boxes with orders for convenience stores all over New England from 3 to 11. I am the literature and movie nut, and things like "Five Easy Pieces" are films that sent me on this path. You live like a commando monk for a year and see where you're at the end of it, before jumping back to having a job where you swear and drink less and have to be nice. I mean I knew people who I worked with all day long who barely grunted at me, and that was fine. If you wanted to talk, you'd get behind, period.
During that job I wrote my Science Fiction story, "Tuesday Night's Pick." While filling my orders, boxing them up and setting them on a nearby conveyor track, I worked alone and incapable of seeing another human being, due to the high walls of stacked palettes full of product that engulfed me. I got the idea that what if I went to the break room and found everyone in the plant was gone? It set me on an alien invasion tale, with the protagonist using the layout and tools of the plant to attempt to distract the invaders while he escaped. This story had already been published in the same Penny Dreadful as my Banshee story, but unfortunately with that unscrupulous British publisher who disappeared. But I keep submitting, and there's always your first collection, hahaha. Below is the working man "me," with sort of a Chris Pratt thing going on, lol.
Let Bruce Springsteen explain things to you.
Just one further strain of the discussion I was having about the death of my mother when I was fifteen, and the piece I wrote about it in an early writing group, the RI Writer's Circle. We had to do a piece of non-fiction that would read like a short story, if my memory serves. Our very kind teacher was now a man named David Howard, and I turned in the short narrative, "Anna's Lost Little Boy."
This was about 2007-8 I believe, and a show had aired on PBS back in 2004 that greatly influenced me, so much so that is was still very close to my mind when that assignment was put forth. The program was entitled "The Question of God" and was part-documentary, part panel discussion by a team made up of noteworthy atheist and faith-based scholars. In analyzing man's need for and belief in God, they turned to two prominent figures that were opposites in their spiritual growth; Sigmund Freud, the psychoanalyst, who had began raised as a practicing Jew but become an atheist and scientific rationalist later in life, and C.S. Lewis, the scholar and writer, who was a affirmed atheist in his youth that converted to a vocal supporter of faith-with-reason.
Ironically, when this show aired initially, and when I wrote the Anna story, I was in the Lewis camp of the panel, but have since joined the Freudian atheist camp.
My initial attraction to the show is well told in this clip from that writing exercise:
I was really nailed to the wall as I watched a documentary on the late British author C.S. Lewis. He had lost his mother at age eleven. I felt like I was hearing the most apt description yet of my experience in the musings of an adult Lewis: “With my mother’s death all settled happiness, all that was tranquil and reliable, disappeared from my life. And there has never been really any sense of security and snugness since. I’ve not quite succeeded in growing up on that point. There is still too much of mommy’s lost little boy about me.”
Thus the title of my piece. I'm sure many may be curious as to how a person might make such a leap of, shall we say, 'lack of faith," and for that I want to give you this exclusive peek into my second novel, a literary fictional memoir, MORE THAN THIS, which is still up for grabs. The main character Nick Sullivan echoes my own experience as he writes:
I can only relate it to the day when I was about eight or nine when Aloysius laid it on me that there was no such person as Santa Claus, and that it had been my parents all along. All of the little clues that had never made sense now did, all of the sneaking around and all of the blockading of a certain closet near the holidays. All the noises and near-misses, and the bags under my Fathers' eyes when an assembled bicycle had been my big present. He also told me the same went for The Easter Bunny and for the Tooth Fairy. And the revelation had not been worrisome to me, exactly the opposite, that no more would my poor folks have to keep up this lunatic facade that they had done for four little boys. They must have been so tired and so relieved of those colossal duties of espionage after that. And I was relived too. Maybe I was always a child who yearned for reality and could never get it, but the sparring between my imagination and my intellect could never quite take the responsibility of keeping in good stead with the Old Fart at the North Pole. Him with his fucking reindeer and elf slaves in the Age of Aquarius.
It was exactly like that.
On the spot I realized that God, the afterlife, the angels, the Devil and all of it had never been, and never would be. It was all a tale, a tale we told each other to try to keep ourselves in line, made up rules and rituals that had no more meaning than throwing a pinch of salt over your shoulder. The Monty Python phrase "playing at silly buggers" came to mind with regard to the popes and the bishops and the priests and the rabbis and the imams, strutting around in their Halloween costumes claiming some kind of higher state than the rest of us, some kind of enlightened esoteric knowledge that in fact we all had the capacity to understand and put into practice.
I got angry at the fraud that had been perpetrated on mankind for centuries, and people were still into keeping alive. I just couldn't fathom it. The lies, the hypocrisy, the self-righteousness. All of it was too much to bear. I easily realized I couldn't blame my parents, under-educated people who were fed the same indoctrination in their young lives. No, I knew that they believed it was best for me. And though I was never physically harmed or molested as so many other poor brothers and sisters were, when I thought of all the internal suffering I had put myself through in my life, how vexed I was with nervousness and anxiety, wishing to always do the right thing but seeming incapable of fully doing so, I was devastated to say the least. All the times I had been led to believe how much of a sinner and a bad person I was for various venial acts, and all the time I put in on self-loathing for any of the mortal ones I'd taken part in, what was all that meant to prove? All the years I spent holding on to those medieval values when everyone in my family and friends had absconded. Wow, what a joke on me it had been.
It goes to show that, for at least a few decades, I had struggled with life's mysteries. It has actually been since childhood. To those to whom this entry may be news, I am sorry if I caught you off guard.
I opened the story "Anna's Lost Little Boy" with another incident of my prolific dreaming. I had been napping out on the living room couch. I was dreaming of being buried alive, and I was screaming out for help. I did experience that sleeper's paralysis they talk about. I could not move my arms or legs because I was trapped in a box. I have always, and still do, have very active dreams where I am struggling and calling out gibberish.
My daughter, in her room, was a tween at the time. There was no way she was going down the hall toward the creepy moaning thing pretending to be her Dad. My wife could sleep through a nuclear explosion, so I was screwed. We didn't have my dog Max who now jumps on my bed and licks my face to wake me if I am having a nightmare or a bad apnea episode.
Suddenly an older woman was above me and took my hands. "It's all right Dicky, wake up. Wake up now." I woke with my hands in the position where she was holding them up. I shook it off and went down to bed. A few moments later, my wife did stir, and asked me, "What's wrong?" I was crying involuntarily with wracking sobs.
"I think my Mother just woke me up."
Of course Anna, Ann Margaret Griffin Scott, had been dead for thirty years. Her family and friends called her Anna when she was a child, and being that those people were all still in her life, they all still did. She was born in 1918. Can you imagine? My mother would have been 100 years old in 2018. I am in my early sixties and still semi-vital, lol. What a span of American history this family has lived through. She had me in 1956 when she was forty, I was an afterthought. They thought they were done with kids but, you know those Catholics, not a condom in sight. My oldest brother had come along when THEY were kids, in 1939.
She loved movies and TV and music and reading, and she could be colorful in language, and disciplined, but there was also a streak that let her get totally loony and silly to make the kids laugh. All of the above I got from her. I am one silly bugger. She was my best friend and confidant throughout my childhood. I could tell her anything, even when I started to like girls and all those machinations, she was well informed who I liked and what my plans were, hahaha. When she died in 1972 I was left adrift and empty. My Dad really stepped up. There had always been a lot of drinking going on in my family, like in that show Mare of Easttown with Kate Winslet that was just on. Dad resolved to stop hanging at the bars and work less to be home for me. I was fifteen. I was very fortunate in the way that things went down after, because it could have gone in an entirely different direction for me. I talk of this transition a lot in my fictional memoir coming to a publisher near you, as soon as I find one, "More Than This."
By the time my Anna story hit that first writing group, we had a new monitor, a gently quiet and affable man. That elderly woman playwright that ran the organization had to leave the group for her own health reasons, which I believe was a form of cancer. She called me to her office one day, where she did the family psychology sessions. Her out-of-left-field proposal to me:
"I really like this "Anna" story and would like to edit it for you. I would like to shepherd the story personally." Now as I said, in this group I was about 52, not 25, and I had seen all manner of supposedly "qualified" individuals in the arts. Also, she seemed a bit daft to me. But the following sealed my opinion-
"Many people are into the afterlife and these visitations and signs from beyond. I want you to take your story and fill it out. Tell many more of these paranormal type incidents about your Mother, EVEN IF YOU HAVE TO MAKE THEM UP!"
Now as I said, this was a non-fiction piece and I have always felt it very important to stick to the truth, as close as is possible to my truth, in any anecdote or writing. These were days long before our previous President's "make up your own facts" style, so perhaps this lady was already on the cusp of the far future. Or maybe, being gravely ill, she wanted affirmation about where she may be headed.
I didn't say anything about my decision then and there, but I passed on her mentorship, lol.
Next time we reach out to Sigmund Freud, C.S. Lewis, and me for more answers.
About thirteen years ago I was involved in my very first adult Writers' group. It was a statewide program that was run out of a psychologist's office where she did Family Counseling. She also happened to be the President of said Writers' group, which advertised her as a well-known and successful playwright. Now I had been in the theater, including professionally, for thirty years before I began writing as a profession, and certainly I had never heard of her. Later Bios did show that her work was performed by a very obscure acting company that I had also, despite decades working in my home state's top companies, never heard of. But of course we know how that goes. One did have to submit some writing and be accepted into the group, so why not? Could be legit.
So I got in, had the aforementioned woman in my first writing "class," and I was ready to participate. One of our assignments had to do with creating a piece of non-fiction which could read as a short story. There was a giant issue in my life that I was certain I'd have enough material about to cover the assignment, and that was the death of my mother when I was fifteen. Many lose their parents but not often so young, and I had a thought swirling in my brain that that event had informed the way I dealt with life afterward.
At this point I was 51 and I had not gone through my own near-death health experiences, nor had I given up on Catholicism. I have gone through a bit of losing my Mom (and a story about a witch telling me I'd hear on my Birthday, the decision on a story I had submitted in Ireland, which did occur), in earlier of these journals, so please scroll down for those discussions. But as I wrote this non-fiction story, entitled "Anna's Lost Little Boy" I had a backlog of a whole slew of weird stories surrounding my mother being in the afterlife. These were the days when I still believed there was an afterlife and that yes, people were constantly trying to communicate with us from there. Sort of an unseen Facebook.
The cross that had been displayed on my mother's open casket was given to me after her funeral. Me, the kid who would watch something like The Wolfman late at night and believe Talbot was making his way to my neighborhood. I was the last person anyone in their right mind should give this cross to, but who's gonna argue with their Pastor? So one day, in a spiritual mood, I hung the cross over my bed's headboard on the wall. That night, my Dad had to wake me from screaming nightmares, where I saw my Mom in her coffin all deteriorated and maggot-ridden, saying, "Dicky help me, help meee!" Okay, down comes the cross. A few months later, "Oh, I just had a bad dream, I shouldn't be so foolish," and up goes the cross again.
That night I'm dreaming of a snowstorm going on and we were sent home from school early. I walked the three or four blocks to and from school, so I'm walking on the street adjacent to mine, silent in the snow, nearly home. I see my across-the-street neighbor's van parked by the roadside. I think, "Huh, why didn't Kenny and Pat put their van in their yard? I guess it broke down in the storm." It was a very distinct van, you could never mistake it. It was purple with big sixties balloon letters proclaiming "NEMESIS" on the side, and the requisite wheel flames, etc. Kenny was a drummer in a rock group. He used to practice loud to a Blood, Sweat and Tears album in the afternoon. I loved it but my parents did not. Anyway, I get home and my mother opens the door. She looks like herself, not a zombie, and she says "I made chicken noodle soup." Nice dream, right? I wake up, all cozy. "See, the cross is fine."
I go downstairs and my Dad looks all solemn. "The neighbors got into a big crash with their van. Kenny has a broken leg but Pat is fighting for life, and will need reconstructive surgery." Oh, shit, that's why I saw the van out of place, Ma was telling me something. Cross down, Pat made it through.
Next time more messages from beyond and the weirdest writing feedback I ever got, when Anna's Lost Little Boy continues.
The movie Locke with Tom Hardy is a good example of what I initially wanted to achieve with my story that is now entitled "Peeling Down the Layers." During a man's commute home from work, we become privy to a whole litany of ills that are occurring in his life, through his thoughts. He has been having an affair, embezzling from his employer, and realizes that it is all closing in on him.
Funny how a piece of writing can blossom and move outside of the boundaries you had previously set in your head. I think every writer can appreciate that feeling of being "in the zone" much like an athlete or performer. Suddenly your fingers move swiftly over the typewriter keys and you have not noticed that two hours and a half hours have gone by. The words just seem to fly out of your head and your voice for the piece is so firmly ingrained in your mind that you feel like "I can do this all night."
"Layers" grew outside its parameters, when it was called ATONEMENT. I was never happy that the title was already in use by Ian McEwan and of course the subsequent moviefilm. Things got a great deal more literal as I pantsed it, a term writers use for working from the seat of your pants and letting a story evolve on its own rather than sticking to a strict outline. Before long a catastrophic event happened while the protagonist, Carl, drove home, of which he saw evidence but was not fully aware. Next, the hierarchy of Hell itself started manifesting here in our world. I seemed to remember from my Dante's Inferno that Hell had been divided into 9 layers like a big birthday cake.
The cool thing Dante did of course was to identify these strata of Hell and group them into the various sins that the souls remanded there had committed. These roughly follow the Seven Deadly Sins with a couple more thrown in for good measure, at least that's my interpretation. This fascinates me to no end, especially with how the punishment fits the crime in a lot of these instances. Sodomists for instance may be corn-holed by hugely equipped demons for all eternity, while those who, like the Trump family, sling gallons of shit their whole life may end up buried upside down in said waste product forever and ever.
Or would our former president join his colleague Richard Nixon playing the big room for all eternity, with a giant, Ray Harryhausen-created Satan constantly performing a cycle of gnawing on their bodies then regurgitating them, over and over. One can only hope. This led me into using a map of the town I reside in as the Hellscape Carl now attempts to get home through, though what he thinks awaits him there may no longer be the case. Lickety-split and before you know it, Carl was no longer a businessman but a player in the cutthroat politics of being a University Professor, one teaching the very subject of Comparative Theology that he winds up enmeshed in.
In early drafts of the story, I could never get the tone right between the reality of stress that comes with teaching and commuting and the fantasy elements that become all too real for Carl. Of course it has collected its weight in rejections over the years, but in this case, and in this case only, I feel they are right, hahaha. I have not found that right balance to the tale and I am working ever so hard to nail it now that I have a lot of material under my belt. Or maybe it's the hideous pet disembowelment that occurs in Act Two? Who knows, but I keep working at it, and someday it will be out there!
Right after I wrote my Salem witch story I had an idea that was eating at me. I wanted to do a theme about a guy's commute home and how the stuff that goes through his mind on this ride exposes a whole bunch that is wrong with his life; he's been cheating on his wife and also embezzling from the business he works for. It was based on the idea, to me especially, of what a living hell a long work commute can be. I can't stand any situation where I become just another of the huddled masses stuck in the bureaucracy of everyday life, things like traffic, the DMV, a mobbed concert or sporting event, Black Friday, etc.
That's why, Dracula-like, I rarely venture out in daytime. I like the road to myself, and if I can't do something at night, I will use any and all back roads available to me to avoid interacting with people. When you intersect with people, trouble follows, like car accidents and road rage and parking space jealousy, etc. This tale, which I have alternately called Atonement and A Time of Atonement, holds the record for my longest-gestating story. Started in 2006, it is now called Peeling Down the Layers and I am STILL WRITING IT.
Top that! The story kept growing and evolving. First off, I am obsessed with human sexuality. I'd have been a good staff member for Dr. Kinsey back in the fifties. I like to read about the utmost intimacy that goes on behind closed doors. Not the mechanical "going through the motions" of pornography, but the innermost workings of people's biggest sex organ, the brain. What goes through their mind, how do they build themselves up, who makes the first move, what do they like, not like, are they free to explore, are they restrained in their lovemaking (not the handcuff kind)? What's it like after the dazzle wears off, who gets bored first, who's still "in love," what's the pillow talk. I could go on and on.
I guess I'm just explaining why so many of my protagonists are cheaters; I just find it so much more interesting than people happy in their relationships or people that are both free and clear to be together. There has to be a reason that there's conflict, lol. And nothing's more exciting than the unexpected, particularly when someone is used to just going along like a robot not ever thinking that anything could happen to them. Also, I've been told I write great sex scenes, hahaha.
When my Mom passed away when I was fifteen, I didn't realize it at the time, but there was a huge hole in my life as far as attention and physical affection from a woman. Because I immediately combated my loneliness by trying to date any female that moved or talked. I outline this in my second novel, which is literary fiction, but I had a very successful method in getting dates, though I was no football star. Anyway, I have always liked girls throughout my life. I never went through the thing as a kid of hating girls. Each year of Elementary School, I had a different girlfriend, which basically consisted of holding hands on the way to music or recess or square dancing (yes we had to do that)
or other "stuff." I could name them but it would mean nothing to you all, lol.
I even remember having a dream that everyone at school was naked BEFORE I KNEW WHAT GIRLS HAD DOWN THERE. The little girls' things looked like mine and the women teachers' naughty bits looked like my father's, all hairy. (Which I saw when Dad and I had to take showers at the beach).
Next time, more on the story that's never finished, and less about my proclivities.
I'm sorry that once in a great while this journal's entry may be a bummer, but I wouldn't be a writer and I wouldn't be a realist if I didn't tackle the huge elephant sitting on my chest. We've spoken of the ever-present specter of rejection, both jokingly and honestly, but there are other aspects of this vocation which weigh heavily and can take their toll by cutting off one's spirit of artistic adventure; this toll can drag one down for hours, days, weeks, months, or even years.
Editors and agents are people too. They do their best to remain true to their standards and goals for themselves, their authors, and their public. They have certain needs that are well defined, and yet they also have their own definitions of wiggle room to be open to ideas that may come from out of the blue. It is pretty obvious that on the day that a writer's skill and imagination intersect in perfect alignment with said Editor or Agent's desires, writing efforts will be accepted and magic can begin to transpire.
[From day one in my theater career of over thirty years, I had the proper attitude that one requires for performing hundreds of acting auditions. I was always that person who prepared thoroughly so that I may not be nervous on the day. From High School and up through pro audition calls I sat calmly or found a quiet space to review my lines or monologue while I watched others absolutely climb the walls with anxiety. It doesn't help being around all that noise but you have to learn to tune them out. A few others would comport themselves just as I did, but a common reaction among the other contestants was to begin a sort of community talk or blab session, where they would theorize on rumors of exactly what the casting people were looking for and what the process and outcomes would be. None of that ever changed anything, so I never took part. Seriously. No one except the sign-in sheet would know I was there or had come and gone. It was what happened in the room that mattered and what final decisions would be made that counted and nothing could change that. My motto was, and is, "if they want ya, they want ya."]
It's the same with writing. The submission/rejection part is well understood by yours truly. The part that gets dicey is longevity. When it turns into years and years and you are not intersecting with the needs and goals of the gatekeepers, your thoughts of what a "career" means have to shift. In theater and commercials/films I had a better batting average than now in literature. I did get work regularly and I did make top dollar, but often it was not enough to sustain one's family and lifestyle, so I had to seek other means of financial stability. The same has been true with writing, but money has to take a back seat to a lot of other considerations here. By following submission or query guidelines, taking rejection with silence and grace, and believing that you are doing it right and continuing, continuing always in the face of defeat, and being ready when opportunity knocks, that will be what makes the measure of one's "career," I truly believe.
Then comes the rub that plagues the greater majority of my peers, "Do the gatekeepers know what they're doing? Does their agenda coincide with what you are all about; what you are trying to achieve?' So many don't think so, that we have the explosion of self-publishing, the "just put it in Amazon" craze, and the struggle of countless Independent Publishers. I am thrilled by the rise of the "woke" culture in my heart, but it presents challenges to me in receiving acceptances in many circumstances. A large segment of the gatekeepers are not seeking my writing at present. I persevere because I do believe it to be vastly humanist and relatable by all. I have a dream of reaching all readers of every scope in this world, especially those who continue reading in adulthood but may not live by the most advantageous means. Some poor bastard of any color or gender trodding off to the same soul-sucking job for years would a good litmus of who I'd be honored to entertain for a few minutes a day.
The people in charge of getting my work to those I want to reach are in most cases even more cut off from the level of said readers than I am. They are largely folks who live in a more upper-class bubble of cosmopolitan privilege whom I'm certain many writers feel can't pull their heads out of their asses long enough to recognize something popular if it bit them on the aforementioned asses. I am a believer that, like all generalizations, though having a basis in truth, this cannot be 100% valid, ever. There is someone out there who is going to "get me," and get me in a big way, and then the sky will be the limit.
I love David Lynch, the mind-bending film director, as an artist and a person. There is a YouTube video where he is answering questions at a college, and gives his advice to all manner of artists. "Find your own voice, don't take no for an answer, and always have final cut. It's absurd that an artist wouldn't have final cut. This is what's so sick about, you know, this world. If they give you money, they should believe in you and support you and help you, but let you make your story or film or your painting or whatever it is."
In the Ken Burns documentary on Hemingway, listening to people talk about his novel, "The Old Man and the Sea" got me sad, but not for the usual reasons. In the novel, an old Cuban fisherman, Santiago, lands a giant marlin and must haul it back to shore with his small skiff. His struggle to take the big fish becomes a metaphor for his last gasp of mortality, something he must prove to himself. But as the catch is transported to land, ravenous sharks nibble away at his prize until its remains are not much to speak of.
Nobel Literature Prize Winner Mario Vargas Llosa was one of the talking heads on the show, and he said that people see the novel differently at different ages: that the young like the adventure and derring-do of the skill and struggle, while the old see themselves facing their last accomplishments in this world. This time I had a much different reaction than in my high school years to the tale. I strongly feel that I do have a voice that comes through in my novels and stories, and when I am finished and satisfied with a work, I believe I have accomplished what I set out to do and get excited, as I feel I have landed a "big one" that I imagine all people who read it can enjoy. As the work goes through beta readers and editors, and their sensibilities nibble at the "ME" who is present in the work, they help to fix a great many problems that exist, but they also have their takes of what should go, what should be cut. I'm left feeling that if I take all the advice I'll be left with a work of art by committee, and not much of "ME" will be left, if indeed I ever get the chance to have a gatekeeper accept it in the first place. That is the part of all this work and hustle that makes me the most depressed.
The thoughts I'm simmering and wrestling with tonight could happen after reading or viewing any biography, but I just happened to catch Ken Burns' 5-1/2 hour Documentary on Ernest Hemingway the past few nights, on PBS. We all know the celebrated writer of the Twentieth Century who revolutionized the form and lived as a larger than life caricature of himself, the lord of machismo; hunting, fishing, fighting wars and barroom loudmouths when he wasn't marrying the newest young correspondent to pique his attention.
As with any person successful in one's vocation, it is hard not to compare and challenge oneself, but some of the things I share with him surprised me, as I previously had only a passing knowledge of his writing. We both use short, choppy sentences and go for an economy of words. We both hope to be accepted by the high brow but mainly also wish to reach the low brow. (He said he aimed for readability by anyone with a high school education). We both had harsh Fathers, though he despised his Mom and I adored mine.
As I've grown older and am unsure how much time I have ahead of me, I do find it astonishing that I was able to overcome thought patterns I see in others I admire. Not to boast or think I am stronger than the individual, but I've come to certain conclusions I work very hard to maintain. I have largely been able to change reoccurring and nearly obsessive behaviors that are undoubtedly destructive to me, especially concerning eating and drinking, and raising hell. Yes I've had to adapt a more austere and modest lifestyle and avoid the habits that can bring forth the beast in me. I've had to adapt a more disciplined economy of stress, drama, and wasted movement that had caused numerous bad days in my past.
This includes ways of mind as well as body. I've managed to keep my loving relationship for nearly fifty years without too much altering of who I basically am. I have managed to keep depression, what Hemingway called "the black ass" away through greater control over my negative thoughts. Churchill called it "the black dog" and I can't help but be moved by the song from singer/ guitarist/ songwriter Nick Drake, dead at 21 in 1971 from an overdose ♫ Old black dog he called at my door, old black dog he called for more, an old black dog he knew my name, old black dog he knew my name.♫ I am able to recognize when I am moving toward going down the rabbit hole and veer my thought patterns, or at least recognize when I am due that kind of grief and allow myself to have it.
I try largely not to confront others as I would not want to be confronted. I've moved past many stumbling blocks in raising a child where I saw my father, and many parents, almost seek out the arguments and judgmental-ism that can cause an irreparable rift between parent and child that remains between them for years. I saw a lot of drinking and arguing as a child; I catch myself before anything I might say to a family member may do harm. I've seen the price and it is never, ever worth it. I saw my father cause a great deal of hurt and awkwardness in my family; under the guise of tough love he always had wanted to show you that he had an analysis of your behavior nailed, and you never knew when or where he may turn on you like a wombat and give you both barrels.
I know, I mix my metaphors like a Mofo, but you get the drift. Hemingway never forgave his father committing suicide and thought the man an utter coward for what he did to those left behind. That alone should have been enough to keep him from self-harm. Yet he never reconciled that disgust with the willingness to press the shotgun to his own brow.
I work hard to eliminate the wrongs I've seen in my past and the wrongs those I admire did to themselves, their families, or what they had done to them. I don't imply any of this is easy. It's not easy, it's very fucking hard. One wants to always 'go off' on all offenders, but the offenders? Sorry but they are us.
If we don't learn and adjust our behavior, what are we here for? If we don't ply our art to put a spotlight on wrong thinking or try to heal through example, what are we plying for?
Next time: The Old Man and the Sea.
Plea: I beg my brother and sister writers not to pilfer the ideas set forth in this Journal. Have your own fun!
Writing my current book-in-progress a thought occurred. I don't now if one can be said to be good at naming people, places and things in their writing, but I do know for sure that I really love doing it. If I may compliment a cancel-culture person, I think seriously that J. K. Rowling is the all time champ. The number of names she had to come up with over seven books of Harry Potter is astounding, and they perfectly fit whatever person or fabulous beast she is labeling. Hippogriffs, Dumbledore, Hermione, Snape, Voldemort, Weasley, Diagon Alley, Hogwarts, Umbridge, Hagrid, Lupin, Muggles and my soul mate, (yes, I love her) Luna Lovegood. One could go on all night.
Sometime the stuff just falls in your lap. When I was writing my story about Bram Stoker dealing with the real Dracula, there were people in Stoker's life that couldn't have fit the bill any better; his boss Sir Henry Irving, the scholar Abraham Van Helsing is possibly based on, Arminius Vambery, and the actress Ellen Terry. Awesome Victorian splendor. In my story reprinted in the brandy new anthology, The Black Stone, I did a lot of research on what names may be associated with the Water, as my story is rife with Lovecraft's Innsmouth denizens: the heroes, Dorian and Brooke, the brash young Dylan, hag Rona, nubile and lissome Undine, and the hulking monster, Merrow. Lol.
In my unsold Biblical epic about people caring for the afflicted with an unusual strain of leprosy, we have Zadok, the young Jesus acolyte, Marath, the attractive older woman who mentors him, Titus, the former Roman who's a volunteer, and Abana, the large strongwoman attendant and bodyguard. I believe I scoured old Hebrew names for that story. In an unsold story set in Oz where L. Frankie Baum had already named many characters, I had to come up with Ozian terminology for an erotic scene: the male organ became a doo-lolly, the female, doo-shay and the climactic result, the young man's jay-zizz. I based this off what my wife's family grew up calling a penis. In my house it was your pee-knee, but that's another journal.
Ever wonder, with this entire imaginative lexicon, why I rarely get accepted, hahaha? The witch tale I discussed in my last entry had the most exciting name my brother Walt and I discovered in our family tree, the incomparable Susanna Blood. That is 100% an accurate real person and not at all futzed with. She lived up in Chelsea Massachusetts, a town my ancestors help found in the late 1700's. The second I saw that record I knew if I ever wrote about a witch, that was going to be her moniker. With an overflowing binder full of ancestors as well as a giant wall chart, I have very frequently mined the past of my own DNA, and even that of my wife's, to come up with characters, and mostly in the appropriate historical periods.
In my first horror novel, being shopped to agents and publishers in New York, I hit sort of a Nirvana in my naming infatuation, pulling the key players right off my family ancestry. There is top villain Basil Rielle, leader of a thriving two hundred year old pack of werewolves. There is Maximilian Koch, his Beta, (who should be played by Jason Momoa) named for my dog and a revolutionary-era German mercenary soldier in my tree, Ernst Heinrich Koch of Bavaria. Then there is my beautiful and resourceful female shapeshifter, Zoe Burel, actually my Great-Great Grandmother.
In naming characters based on people I know in real life, I bring up an image of the person in my mind, look very, very hard, and try to match them with the perfect name. In a lot of cases, this is extremely difficult, mainly because the person already has the absolute perfect name for them. This happened a lot in my literary novel, a fictional memoir, where I imagined twists and turns my life might have taken had I not chosen the path I have lived out. To not "out" any other folks, I will say that the heroes of these two books have my alter-ego Dick Scotts as protagonists, Rick Doyle and Nick Sullivan (I was always Scotty, and he is Sully). My erudite, warm and loveable best friend Chris became Charles.
When these things hit the stands, you may be able to guess who is who, and won't that be fun?
Below: My Grandpa Edmond Henri Scott, dead in 1926, thirty years before my birth.
I had a friend a while back who was a practicing witch. As I was finding my feet in the literary world, she would often help me with research questions. She asked always for anonymity due to her public position in the community, and has since moved away from my area, but in that time I was given access to a world that both humbled and fascinated me.
I wanted to write a story in which a woman in 1692 was living one town over from Salem, Massachusetts, and could feel the heat about to come down on her from the village elders. Only, in this case, the woman really was a practicing witch who was intricately involved in town affairs as a midwife and healer. Thus was born Susanna Blood (an actual ancestral name in my family tree) and the village of Piety, Massachusetts. I search for a female-centric market to get this story out in the world but most such publications also want female writers. I persist.
What makes me proud about writing Under the Blood Moon is that the witchcraft contained therein, with the help of my friend, is all authentic. Author Doug Clegg once said something funny to me, "I would have probably just made it up." He's right of course, but I did take a dive into learning about Wicca and doing my own magic. I did new moon wishes every month for years and, among many, did a spell that would ensure our continued financial security that appears to still be working after 14 years.
That spell, I purchased at the shop of Laurie Cabot, the Official Witch of Salem. I know I did it properly and it has been a doozy. I dragged my extended family on foot to the outskirts of Salem during a bus trip, lol, where they got to see another side of that city. They didn't have to come, but they were intrigued, I guess. "Okay, that was the Witch Museum, now let's go all over creation searching for a real witch of Salem's shop, lol." My sister-in-law Helena was brave because she never wanted to get too far from the bus. She reminded me of Frederic Forrest in Apocalypse Now, my favorite all-time movie, after he'd been scared in the Vietnam jungle by a tiger, "Never get off the boat; never get off the boat."
This was the result of a change in my travelling policies that started in the early 2000's, after my eldest brother and I had worked on our family genealogy, where I made a promise to myself, the cinema geek since childhood, that I would stop being just a "watcher" in life and would become a "doer." Wherever I go I want to get into the real meat and potatoes of the life there and not just the touristy stuff. Difficult with a family that always seeks the bus tour, but my wife and daughter are at least usually game to explore.
My friend set me up with a wand that was fashioned by her coven and blessed by the high priestess. This is kept in my study wrapped in a soft and sparkly cloth and used only for magic. I can't tell you how many gems, stones and candles I collected at that time for all manner of spells, with the appropriate manuals for such work. Of course, all magic is strictly, "An' it harm none, do what ye will." There's that pesky codicil that whatsoever ye may do will come back threefold. "Ever mind the rule of three; what ye send out comes back to thee." This is not only Wiccan Law but a universal rule.
But of course it does not just apply to Black Magic but also to doing good by your fellows and hoping the good will come back to you.
Now if I can just find an editor that believes Susanna Blood is a worthwhile heroine.
With my own faulty memory, I find I jumped ahead in the
order of my short story struggles, with there being three before the one I just
outlined in this journal, "Assault at Innsmouth." The first of these
was a little ditty by the name of "Feast of the Vandals," evolved now
to "Night of the Vandals." I worked hard on this sucker that has had
a cool history all its own, with the exception its still being rejected for
Back in my heyday, (or am I now in my heyday?) when I worked
in the theater in Downtown Providence and lived with my alluring young wife in
one of the old Italian neighborhoods, there was a newspaper and TV story that
caught my eye because it was nearby. A group of teens had invaded the city's large
North Burial Ground and done a ridiculous amount of damage; like way beyond the
ordinary. It was a long play-by-play article, telling how the youth suspected
of being the ringleader had gotten hold of a baby's corpse in one of the
mausoleums, and, unthinkably, began waltzing around with it to amuse his
The person committing this atrocity was pointed out to me,
as our back porches abutted a fence in the middle. I saw him through the window
one day and his visage haunted me thereafter. The fact that these were all
Latino kids did not phase or concern me to any degree, but just that this guy,
with his long stringy hair, intense eyes and nearly skeletal face, did give a
first impression of a Manson in the making.
It was over ten years later I would write the story, creating
a counter character known as the Caretaker. Caretaker is a self-educated
history buff who considers the element that destroyed his stewardship no better
than the heathen tribes of pre-Roman days. In my tale, they also kill
Caretaker's guard dog, forcing the neo-barbaric Caretaker to exact revenge. The
story has a lot going, including the little used element of exploding casket
syndrome, and a heroin who is the ringleader's girlfriend, but with a
The story begins with an almost documentary feel to the
writing and acquiesces into regular narrative as we catch up with the present
time in the tale. Tom and Elizabeth Monteleone, the editors of the famous
Borderlands anthologies, passed on it with the encouraging note that they found
That can make a guy's day but of course the end goal here is
to get it out there. It came exceedingly close yet again with Crystal Lake
Publishing for a Tales from the Lake, but the real nail- biter was when I
entered it as a Hollywood pitch to be made into a film.
It was proclaimed throughout the land that the local boy
turned Hollywood Director; Michael Corrente (Federal Hill, A Shot at Glory,
Outside Providence) was running a competition, American Idol-style, entitled
Scare Rhode Island. Writers, and regular folk with a dream, would have a few
minutes before a panel of big-name judges to pitch an idea for their Horror
movie to be given the big screen go ahead with each having a budget of a
million dollars. Now we know that doesn't go far in Hollywood, so some easy
peasy locations and unknown stars would probably be in order. I got into the
line of hundreds on a sunny Sunday morning and toughed it out (five hours in
line). I know, unnerving, right, considering that when you got there, you would
instantly be "on." One was led into a fancy suite of offices
eventually and was within grasp, finally entering the spot-lit room with a half
dozen bigwigs sitting, anonymously and silently before you. I was prepared and
had memorized and timed my pitch (old theater auditioner from way back) so I
valiantly tried to hide the nerves and got through it quick.
"Thank you, we'll be in touch," and you were
ushered away swiftly, but....not before I heard one of the cognoscenti proclaim
aloud, "That was a good one."
I did indeed get an email that I was in the semi-finals. I
got a longer meeting with Michael and a few others where I had to bring a full-blown
treatment, then I finally heard, way much later than was rational, only through
a newspaper article (this contest was written about extensively, as you can
imagine, in our little state. It was tantamount to America's Got Talent). So
there were those hopes dashed and I went on to subbing the story while writing
my own clumsy screenplay, just in case.
Note: a long article in our Providence Journal years later
explained thoroughly why, and still to my knowledge, none of the Scare Rhode
Island's eight winners' films have been made. So I'm still ahead of the game.
Below: My love of graves with local lore. This, Rhode
Island's vampire legend Mercy Brown.
When I was in the throes of my first research on my state's most infamous horror resident, H. P. Lovecraft, I learned about a deep personal connection between us that I could not have expected. Throughout my life, except when it was imprudent and unwarranted due to school or work, I have preferred to stay up very late at night and sleep half the day away. I think I have done it, when permitted, since I was about twelve years old and dipping into the life of a teenager. As my life has progressed into the non-working elderly years, this tendency has grown into basically sleeping when I want.
That's right, I may see the dawn and even go beyond it without missing a beat, then at the other end have to be coaxed awake to watch my beloved Jeopardy. Or I may rise in the afternoon then wind up allowing myself a full blown two hour nap at eight in the evening. I just don't give a hoot and I just don't see the need to keep any kind of schedule. As cavemen, we slept in fits and starts at any old time, and that's the way I prefer it. Well, apparently, good old H.P. did as well. Yes, he was also a vampire like me, remaining in bed all day and ensconcing his chamber with room darkening curtains. I used to utilize them to the fullest, but they were so efficient that I could effectively turn day into night and completely fuck with my circadian rhythms.
These days I've gone in the other direction, having my windows completely free of curtain or blind. As there are no humans behind my bedroom for acres, I sleep and wake to the natural view of the outside world: the snow, clouds, sun, greenery, birds, wind and rain all there for my fluttered eyelid retinue. It's gorgeous.
This put me in quite the position of relating to Howie. I went online and started exploring what collections were available to me, as I was aware Howard's papers were gathered a stone's throw away in his favorite college hill district. My target was the John Jay Library near Brown University and the gentleman's very own copy of the tome I sought to emulate, "The Shadow Over Innsmouth."
No fledgling to handling delicate materials, I, having played the Genealogist for the first four years of the Millennium. But never quite to this extent, as the librarian fetched a wedged foam-pillow and a pair of white gloves in fresh plastic wrap. This was a copy of Innsmouth published in a small book form, though it is considered a novella or even a long-form short story.
And thus I touched the edition the man himself did touch.
Throughout were scribbled little marginal notes in pencil in Lovecraft's own hand. He was actually correcting all of the typos and wrongly printed phrases that should have been changed, lol. Apparently this volume was to be a gift to a friend that had never quite been delivered.
I hadn't been this excited by a degree of separation since, at a convention; I shook hands with Beatle girlfriend May Pang (one had to assume that she often had a grasp of John Lennon's penis). I do find my ways of penetrating the inner strata of history in no small role.
As my story "Assault at Innsmouth" nears its second printing in an upcoming cosmic anthology, please keep in mind that at any point your little heart desires, you can sign up for free at Bandcamp and listen to the sublime anthology of recorded soundscape "The Black Stone - Music for Lovecraftian Summonings" which will accompany said printing.
Throw open the curtains and blinds of your bedroom window and watch the rain while listening. You will thank me for being flown away by night gaunts.
The fourth story I wrote in my adult-serious-writer-persona
was a deep dive into the man that put Horror on the map in the state I've lived
my whole life: the honorable Howard Philips Lovecraft. I knew more than a
smidge about the loco boy made good but not really a lot. I figured it was
about time to find out what's a Cthulhu, where's Arkham and who is Herbert
Although researching a short story, I didn't want to be the
guy who lives in a state and doesn't know eldritch squat about its most famous
inhabitant. Particularly since I was working in a bookstore in Lovecraft
central, literally across the street from where he grew up. I took the History
society's famous tour, saw Howie's haunts, read a whole bunch including his
works, and even went to a library at Brown University where his archives are
I had decided that my favorite of his tales was "The
Shadow Over Innsmouth." I've never been an ocean guy though I live in the
Ocean State, Rhode Island. It's not just because, as Woody Allen wrote,
"There are spiders at the beach."
It's because I hate getting up at the ass-crack of dawn,
loading a car to capacity, putting tepid cold-cut sandwiches on top of a cooler
with ice, taking a blanket out of the cellar that has more mold than Bela
Lugosi's cedar wardrobe, getting in a four hour traffic jam in 104 degrees,
paying a nice dinner's price for parking, walking to a "good spot" in
the crowd about three feet away from an obese fifty year old Italian woman's
crotch as she yells at three weeble kids to "wait a half hour," lying
down on said blanket to begin baking in a sticky coconut smelling haze while
hearing "Alone Again, Naturally" from the radio blaring two feet on
the other side of you, taking a quick dip in water the temperature of an Arctic
glacier, getting thrown hither and yon by an undertow with the strength of
Arnold in his early years, fighting algae and poisonous jellyfish, having your
warm cold-cuts dive-bombed by a cacophonous group of sea buzzards, only to be killing
time for an eternity until you are allowed to go home with salt and sand in
every piece of clothing and orifice on your body, until you can finally take a
cleansing and sanity-restoring shower and get into your nephew's bed which has
more sand than the aforementioned beach at the foot in the sheets, only to feel
the waves still tossing your body into the undercurrent and back again to
That may tell you that the beach is not for me. That's why I
am so scared and grossed out by "The Shadow Over Innsmouth" and why I
decided to just go whole-hog into a tale of a golden young couple's car
breaking down in Lovecraft's seaside wreck of a town and there being little
hope of their remaining unscathed. It may be one of my most brutal.
"Assault at Innsmouth" was a piece that not only
got picked up right away, but is actually about to go into its second printing.
Tim Deal at Shroud Magazine, then a viable market as "A Journal of Dark
fiction and Art" wrote me "I love it" and I got to share the
pages with the likes of Ben Eads, Michael Knost, John Shirley, Brian Keene,
Kevin Lucia, Willie Meikle and Maurice Broaddus.
Oddly, and very unprofessionally, a man whose last name is
Shanker, (like what you get on your genitals when you have syphilis), reviewed
the magazine, one in which HE HIMSELF HAD A STORY. There's a sort of pride in me that, after he
heaped praise on all involved, he chose, (guess who, yes, me), to throw under
the bus with the only negative review of the issue. Everyone in the industry
I've ever met since all agree that it was a dick move.
The great thing was that he provided me with a quote I've
since used to promote the extreme tale, essentially saying 'I'm never one to
knock the value of shock...but (Scott's work) crossed the line...' Thank you,
sore-on-balls (Sauron balls?), for bringing many hardcore horror readers to me.
Next time: white gloves in a shanty town and listening to Lovecraft.
BELOW: The Fleur-De Lis building in Providence, RI,
mentioned in HPL's "Call of Cthulhu."
After my Dracula story was set in Dublin, I wanted to expand my inclusion of Ireland in a tale. I would not be a writer and I would not be RAS as a writer if I did not go after all kinds of folklore from over the world, and I've spoken of my love for Ireland and its haunted, misty forests. The creature that's most fascinated and produced chills in me since childhood is the dreaded BANSHEE, whose shriek is heard in the night when a family member is about to be collected by Death.
Thus was born The Keening Man and my first brush with an unscrupulous publishing firm.
My encounters with the Banshee in entertainment culture were few. Of course the excellent rendering of her appearance and voice in Walt Disney's Darby O'Gill and the Little People (1959) was enough to burn her into my brain at a tender age. But later in life I encountered Ray Bradbury's story of hearing her cry with Director John Houston while filming Moby Dick in Ireland, for which Bradbury was writing the screenplay. He chronicled this phenomenon in the fictionalized novel Green Shadows, White Whale. Basically he and Huston are drinking too much whiskey one night in an Irish cottage and they hear the wail of the banshee. Huston tells Ray that he must go out and confront the creature, and Ray says. "I'm not going, if you want her confronted, you go." LOL
I got to meet and speak with famed Irish Vocalist and Harpist Aine Minogue and she has a lot of interest in the Banshee and Keening in general. Keening is wailing that people actually used to pay for, and probably still do, at funerals and wakes. A team of women attend and cry like their souls are aching over the death of your loved one. After Reading, you must listen to her mournful "Song of the Banshee" trying to recreate this:
My story had to do with a terminally ill American man who accompanies a friend to Ireland on a temporary work assignment. They both find love, which is however complicated by the fact that the friend is married in the U.S. The banshee makes a few harrowing appearances and the locals tell the American that his family name is a suitable target for her visits. How will his fate intertwine with the eerie figure?
This story was immediately picked up by a company called Ghostwriter Publications of Dorchester England, run by a man named Neil Jackson who renovated and ran a small hotel with his wife. He was adept with the amalgamated digital book covers which took an unauthorized (not known at the time) image and fiddled it into horror gold. Jackson would buy up short stories and turn them into pretty chapbooks called Penny Dreadful's as well as Kindle versions. Contracts were signed and I still have mine. I saw that other worthy scribes such as William Meikle, David Niall Wilson and Timothy Deal were involved so hey, terrific.
Not terrific. My "Keening Man" Penny Dreadful was never printed; it was released as an ebook with another of my stories attached, the sales of which I never saw a dreadful penny from. I have it still in my Kindle, but Mr. Jackson disappeared into the British ether and the Banshee called out for the possible death of my career. Yet we sally forth. I'm certain that my esteemed colleagues saw little or no payment also, and I got my first lesson in vetting your well-intentioned publisher beforehand.
I have reworked and revived my tale as The Keening and am hoping for a happy ending to the tale of sorrow with a reputable publisher, and I hope the Banshee remains at bay for the foreseeable future.
This Journal entry is accompanied by the superb photography of my comrade in social media, Evan Dales of Toronto.
One of the great satisfactions about traveling or even
thinking about Ireland is its ability to catch you off guard and take your
breath away with its beauty and its profundity. The pictures tell the story of
the green countryside, dotted with sheep being herded by the efficient and
noble sheepdogs, the wooden or white fences corralling huge fields meant to
wander and breath in, the deep forests whispering of ancestry and the faery
realm and the misty and craggy shore enveloping you in its arms and lulling you
to sleep in safety, knowing that you are home.
Scattered over the land are the preserved ruins of the past,
a history of a valiant people being overtaken by brutal forces time and time
again, only to persevere and retain their cultural and ancestral identity.
These ruins are viewed in awe and silence, a reminder that we have been who we
are for a very long time on this planet, that we don't suffer fools gladly and
yet we embrace anyone willing to be a friend and ally. We find them in the peat
fields or on the next pub stool, but we cut through the distance and realize
that yes, we know them, they are our family.
I wax poetic because the land and its people demand it.
There is no other way to approach it. It exists, like an adult playground of
sentiment, family and spirit.
When I say spirit, I speak of the human will, our ability to
get through the difficult times, to maintain our balance in routine times, and
to recognize the sublime when we encounter it in this brief life. I do not believe
in the religious definition of a soul, the soul to me is our brain and our
genes working overtime to find meaning in our journey upon this spinning globe.
I believe we are really the embodiment of our ancestors, moving forward to deal
with the era assigned to our care. That is the afterlife; that we venture
forth, continuing on in the form of our descendants, and through them we are
still of the world.
I have no doubt that in the future we will find more and
more about the memory that is stored, culturally and with regard to location,
our roots and home, in our genetic DNA. I have felt it, we all have. That
knowledge you've been somewhere before, that you know another individual well
though just having met, that things are happening the way you wanted them to
In Carraroe near Sligo in the west of Ireland, deep in the
wood, there is a holy site known as Tobernalt Well. It is an ancient place for
reflection and healing, older itself than the Celts and dating to the Fifth
Century, the four hundreds. Imagine what it has seen and suffered. Tobernalt
means well on the cliff, and is an Anglicized name from the old Irish language.
Nalt can be a joint or body part, and indeed the waters there are for the pain
that life puts the body through. In the Eighteenth Century, when Catholics were
persecuted and priests were hunted as blasphemers, the site grew into a shrine
to which people would travel from all over Ireland to attend secret masses.
Yes, they were the ones performing clandestine rituals in the forest, close to
the land. They feared for their life yet they gathered to share in their
beliefs. Again, the human spirit persevering in spite of all odds against it.
We are close to persevering through a time of isolation that
has tested all of us. We look to whatever we think of as our spirit to be
certain that we endure. Knowing Ireland has helped me to navigate my life with
We've had our internet woes with windstorms this week, so I've been saving this just for you.
Thinking about the third story I wrote after starting to take things seriously, there was a subject I was aching to throw myself into that had always been of fascination to me: the Country of Ireland, which I now consider my home away from home.
Certainly all my life it had called to me, the faerie folk, leprechauns, giants, chieftains, pookas, banshees, all of it. The folklore grabs your mind as a child; your adult heart warms to the emerald land and her people. We knew that my mother, her two family names being Griffin and O'Brien, might have had a smidge of the auld country in her. But when my oldest brother Walter and I, from 2000-2004, made it a priority to go wherever we needed to hunt down our family tree, we quickly found that our Mom, Ann Margaret Griffin, was 100% Irish. There had been talk of some Scot in there, but we were able to close in on the fact that our great-grandmother Mary McGurl was born when the family briefly moved to Scotland, likely for work, but then the clan came right back home to the motherland.
So, as Yogi Berra might say, I am 100%-half-Irish. In my teens to fifties, St. Patrick's was the most important day of the year for me. My favorite holiday basked in the warmth of sentiment and shenanigans, and often found me drinking right after an Irish breakfast at 10am, to the wee hours of March 18th. Yes the Scott boys were legless, and as a grand finale to the festivities, Walt would treat us all to a fireworks display of Linda Blair-style projectile explosiveness to match a Monty Python scene. Ah the good old days of foolhardy duration. Of course, throughout that day the key point was the mood of the people out celebrating, reaping the benefit of a well worn "kiss me I'm Irish" shirt and some boozed-up lasses, plus a few affectionate men.
Now imagine a country where every day is St. Patrick's Day. Where the warmth and friendliness of the people knows no bounds (except driving the roads), where the plentiful pubs are loud with merriment and the live music and Craic (fun) can happen anytime, and where the misty forests, greener-than-green hills and foggy wetlands seem to gather the magick folk around every old ruin (which are everywhere, and governmentally preserved). Out to eat? Strike up a conversation with the couple or family at the next table. At a pub? Join in the singing or dancing and get to know everyone around you. Out hiking? Breath in the always temperate air (there are palm trees in Ireland, and rarely snow in the hills), sleep with your window open sans screen, (no mosquitoes or other night bugs), but you may, as we did, find your host's cat in your bedroom next morning).
My first trip there with my wife and daughter, I had only booked a car rental and our first night's lodgings. After that, for two weeks, it was the open road and calls ahead (at lunch break) to Bed and Breakfasts where it looked like we'd land that day.
"Have ya got a room Missus?"
"That we do."
"Oh, that's grand! We'll be there at four."
We were always welcomed with open arms, an invitation to watch TV with the family or to sit in the lovely atrium's sun, writing away in our journals. Amelia, age 15, acted as navigator when Mom needed a break, with only a book of maps, no GPS yet, and Dad diligently trying to figure out the car's operation and the left-handed road driving. Oh how they laughed when in the middle of my first roundabout I continually sprayed the windshield, and oh how they screamed when I would nonchalantly back out of a parking space into the right lane of traffic, from second nature.
Come back me boyos and lasses as there's much more to come on this land that God himself has touched.
Richard: I'm here for one specific purpose, and that's to welcome you all to Time/Life's newest collection, one that every home should cherish and study. This is the Time/Life treasury we're calling REJECTION'S GREATEST HITS. And here to tell you more is my very alluring co-host, who took you all for a ride in her beautiful balloon, the one, the only, Marilyn McCoo of The Fifth Dimension.
Marilyn: Aw, Richard thank you so much for that glorious and rather flattering introduction (giggles). I am here to help you and everyone out there take a walk down memory lane while reliving many of your early, and even some very recent REJECTIONS. Folks, you can't find these HITS in stores, or you'd have to search deep into Richard Alan Scott's hard drive to dredge them up. But Time/Life has saved you all that work, and we have them collected right here for your reading pleasure
Richard: That's right Marilyn. So let's not waste any more time bringin' on the HITS. Remember this one?
"To be blunt, the comments I received from one of our readers, who shared my opinions on all the stories, were "characters I didn't care about and poor writing."
Marilyn: Oh, that had to hurt Richard.
Richard: Yes it did Marilyn, but there are, oh, so many more HITS to come, wrap your mind around this oldie but goodie-
"Alas, I must reject what you have been kind enough to submit. I am very selective about taking on new clients since the publishing industry has become so narrow in its focus and harsh in its treatment of debut and midlist authors. Projects must have stellar world building, characters that leap off the page, pacing that is relentless and a story that entices the reader to take its journey with the characters. I know that’s a tall order, but if your writing is lacking in any of those areas, I must pass on it.
Marilyn: Ouch, that's not very good at all. This next one was a very high-profile HIT that passed all expectations by taking nearly three years in arriving.
Richard: Aahhh, we know it well!
Marilyn: Get ready, y'all, cuz here's a real blast from the past-
"Sorry to be so long in responding . . . Regarding your story listed above, we found it well-written, but somewhat familiar and predictable, and ultimately not what we're looking for. Thank you very much for your interest in our series and your patience."
Marilyn: Like you had a choice!
Richard: Right on Marilyn! (they fist bump). But hey, how can we ever forget the smooth sound of this next one, hoo-wee-
"We really appreciate you giving us the opportunity to read your story! After reading and discussing it, we've decided that while we enjoyed it, we can’t use it for the anthology."
Richard: Well hell, as long as they enjoyed it, hehe. Hey Marilyn, you've got to remember this resounding HIT-
"While this is definitely the kind of project I am interested in, ultimately I wasn’t as taken with your manuscript as I need to be in order to fully get behind it, and so I’m going to pass."
Marilyn: Oh, my gosh, they said it's just their kind of project! (getting angry)
Richard: Hey calm down Marilyn, for me it was just "one less bell to answer."
Marilyn: Aw, you son of a gun. But hey, that's just like this little number-
"We really loved your story, and it would have been the twenty-first one accepted for this anthology. We only have room for twenty stories, unfortunately. Should there be a second anthology, you will be the first published."
Marilyn: Holy shit! (stomps foot)
Richard: Marilyn it's okay. I got over it, but there was no second antho. Know anyone who needs a psychosexual trans Wizard of Oz story?
Marilyn: No I sure don't. But I do know we have a long string of your biggest HITS-
~"While I found the writing to be very crisp and clean I couldn't connect with the story...."
~"Thank you for your submission, and your patience. However, we've decided to pass on this one. It was a very tough decision to make, Richard. It even upsets ME...."
~"I'm sorry it didn't strike me as quite suitable...."
~"While I found your premise intriguing, this project just doesn't feel quite right for me...."
~"I think you have an interesting story here, but I'm afraid I'm just not connecting with it on the whole in a way that makes me think I'd be the best champion for it...."
Marilyn: I can't hold back the memories. (wipes a tear)
Richard: (patting her back) Neither can I Marilyn. And the people at Time/Life and myself want to thank you for lending your lovely presence here with me tonight.
Marilyn: It's been my great pleasure. And ladies and gentlemen, call the number below to own this collection. And always remember, that for Richard Alan Scott-
Both: THE HITS JUST KEEP ON COMING !!!!!
In this special Halloween version of my Creators Journal I want to delve into the scariest and most soul-eating monster in all of writing. I refer to none other than, THE REJECTION.
Twenty-twenty has been a good year for me; I have accomplished a large amount of writing and editing of my own work. Publicly, my "brand" has gotten a small bit of traction and I am primed and ready with my blog and website to lure a big fish in the form of a literary agent. But please, tell that to the rest of the publishing world. Despite keeping ten submissions out to paying markets at all times, and despite keeping multiple agent queries constantly out on each of my two novels, the ugly specter which haunts my waking and sleeping hours is never far behind me: the rejection email.
We all deal with rejection in one form or another. There was that lover who had vowed to be yours forever. You had really thought you killed it in that job interview. Or horribly, your parent, child or sibling has just not connected with you the way you'd hoped.
I worked in theater for thirty years. I have flunked auditions, lost jobs and been treated like cattle more times than I can remember. When I broke through to become a member of the Actors union, at least I started to be treated as a professional.
In the literary world, rules are scant at best, going in both directions. A submitting writer is completely at the mercy of the agents or editors in question.
Here is an example of a rejection that allowed me to keep my dignity-
"It's great to hear from you. Thank you so much for giving me the opportunity to consider THE SHIFT. I'm a big fan of the premise and setting of THE SHIFT, and there is much to recommend about the story. However, after careful consideration, I didn't fall in love with these opening pages as much as I had hoped. For this reason, I have decided to pass and step aside. Richard Alan, I am so sorry not to offer you representation at this time. I have no doubt you will have great success with THE SHIFT, and I wish you the very best of publishing luck as you move forward. Thank you again for thinking of me. I truly appreciate the opportunity to consider your work."
Total class and professionalism. Pure and simple. This rejection lets your attitude rise above never wanting to get out of bed again.
This is your everyday, average rejection, and it is fine-
"Dear Richard, Thank you for submitting to Uncanny Magazine for consideration. Unfortunately, we're going to pass on this one. It just didn't work for us. We look forward to reading further submissions from you."
Classy, professional, to the point. These type are very important and it brings up a deeper issue. With this rejection, it still hurts, but I can move right on and re-submit elsewhere, untarnished. The organization had the decency to email me when they decided against my story, wasting no further time. You see, there is a state of being much worse than rejection, and it is the lowest of the low, lower than whale shit, as I've always said.
That state is the "not hearing." No word at all, nada, zilch. Are they tremendously behind? Is this person ill and fighting for their life? Did the outfit go under? Day after day of endless email checking only to stare into the void of utter silence. Some decision-making individuals excel at this one. They are so good at leaving you hanging interminably. I once got a rejection after two years, and this from a person who is at the absolute top of this profession
A recent example, something I found out about third-hand from a friend. The magazine had put this notice on their web page-
"This will be the final update here. We will read stories until 10/31, at which point the submissions period will be over. We may accept more stories for each category, but as of right now, every author who hasn’t been contacted about their story can mark their story as having been passed on."
Classless, insensitive, unprofessional, misleading, confusing; downright pisses me off, to be frank. I had two stories with them for consideration in different projects. I ultimately found I was rejected for the first by seeing an ad for the completed anthology when I went to see this notice.
Last year, when a writer stuck to his guns about not being paid by a publisher, many people came to the fore stating how they had also been swindled or abused by the very same publisher. Public opinion had spoken, and that outfit is no longer in business. This leads back to my point about my Actors union. Writers are artists, just like other artists, and they deserve to be treated as such. Especially if they themselves follow all inherent rules of protocol in their quest for a career. Professionalism begets professionalism. Writers are also people, with egos and hearts that can be bruised.
You see, when the rejections pile up, and one's plans for one's own career trajectory are forever put on hold, like any human being, a writer is apt to question himself. Am I that bad? Should I quit? Why am I doing this to myself? Why am I doing this to my family? Maybe I'm wrong, and I'm just not very good. They have to always pick the same people? I am just not in the club. I'm not in the clique. That story was so perfect for that project. Now where the hell will I submit it? This is the movie that fell through all over again. Maybe in the next life I'll have some luck, it ain't happenin' in this one.
There are those projects or agents that you really wanted, you just had to have. And they all fell through. If your seemingly greatest opportunities don't come through, where does that leave you with the long shots? On and on. It doesn't end, and it doesn't go away. You have to learn to live with it and move on. You have to persevere. You have to believe in yourself and what you are capable of. You have to shrug it off.
We all know many artists were never appreciated in their lifetime. When I'm dead, I have to find a way to keep trying.
In the year 2013, as I took a break from life to get a triple bypass to my widow-maker artery and then recover (very slowly), there was a new short story collection by an author we all know that created quite a buzz. I had not heard of the person at the time but the gushing was so profligate that I could not ignore a dive into said collection.
I have been reading since the age of five and enjoying horror for just as long. This takes us through the period from 1961 to the present. For the first three decades of my life I read any horror I could get my hands on, but later I was more selective as I began to understand the sameness in many lesser efforts (see Grady Hendrix's Paperbacks from Hell). As a grown ass man of 40-63 I have really cut down on my horror as I find it is very difficult for an author to surprise or take me in, as I have seen it all.
By the same token I have a deep paranoia that I have to bring something new to the table in my writing. I try vehemently to remember if the idea I may have for a story or book is something everyone's been over a million times. Of course it is true that my sensibilities bring a different perspective to a tale, but that's not enough for me. I try to think of works that have done the same and how I may veer from them.
All this to say that I was not particularly impressed with this collection everyone was drooling over. Nothing against its author, I do try hard to support my fellow artists in all pursuits even if I am, by definition, not enthused. It is very hard to engage me after all I have consumed. I tend to enjoy criticism from writing pundits who lean on the curmudgeonly side, as deep down I often agree with them. In accordance with the discussion I began in my last entry, the stories in this collection fit the bill for the pervasive "ambiguous endings," or more accurately, no ending.
Recently, this group of tales has been given the TV/Movie treatment. I'm certain that many of the supporters of the collection are also enjoying the show, but I was shocked to find, on my favorite Entertainment website, JoBlo.Com, that the effort got a decidedly poor review and that the critic actually agreed with me about the work (more often today you encounter the perfunctory glad-handing review of various books and shows, the entertainment and writing communities being so incestuous).
"I can say with certainty that this may be one of the most depressing shows of 2020. In a year already rife with real-world problems ranging from racism to politics, pandemics, and more, this series debuts with a focus on the monsters inside us all. While this certainly makes for some intense subject matter, these self-contained tales only scratch the surface of these themes and only a few of them manage to delve deep enough to wrap with a satisfying conclusion.....there are up and down moments through all eight episodes. The most noticeable thing I found in (the show) is that the stories don't wrap up. There is a lot of build-up using supernatural elements or teases of actual monsters before you realize that these are all truly broken individuals with the horror elements all things that could be experienced in real life. ..... each story feels rushed and forced to fit into the approximately fifty minute run time, which leaves the endings with something to be desired. While I have no issue with stories featuring ambiguous endings, these episodes don't even end in a way that makes much sense..... we are left with episodes that force in the supernatural elements in a way that feels like an afterthought. (The show) ends up as a missed opportunity that will leave audiences underwhelmed and more disturbed than scared."
As I point this out, I am as surprised as you. As I've said before, I'm well aware many people in the industries described don't agree with me- that the average person appreciates an ending that doesn't leave them scratching their head. The beloved Ramsey Campbell was kind enough to weigh in on my blog, saying "On the whole I find enigmas more satisfying and imaginatively engaging than explanations, and prefer suggestiveness to explicitness."
Thus I lean, as a writer, attempting to leave my readers satisfied if they want to be told what happened. There's every possibility it is an immaturity in me, but if so, one I share with millions.
One way that I know I am different than several other writers has to do with endings. I have come to realize, over the last fifteen years, and in years prior where I may have finished some stories, that what I have discovered to be "my voice" includes a certain way of wrapping up my works.
I want to give my readers a satisfying experience and a satisfying ending, and let me be clear; that means a reader finishing a story or novel and not be left feeling, 'WTF' just happened? What did I just read?
There are a great many authors, and in fact readers as well, who are okay with what may be characterized as 'an ambiguous' ending to stories. That means it's a kind of 'choose your own ending' situation, and things could now go one way or another after the story is completed. In my 63 years of life, I have found that the greater degree of people who are fine with that type of finale are either highly educated or are in fact people who are involved in the writing community, and that actually a great many of America's readers and movie viewers do not like endings that leave things open.
I'm not talking about happy endings necessarily, I'm talking about knowing what happened at the end of a story, whether good or bad. I am one of those educated people who are involved in the writing community. I can deal with an ending where I may have to think about it beyond the viewing or the reading. I can appreciate a good writer who leaves clues throughout a story that I need to be very cognizant of which will absolutely lead you to the answer to "what happened at the end."
There are writers, some not so good, that I firmly believe do not have what we call a "third act." They simply cannot come up with one, or are too frightened to wrap things up and be criticized. You are left at a point in the story where you have no way of knowing where things may be headed. Some 'ambiguous' stories are enjoyable, 'cryptic' stories are not. And most importantly, to the average Joe or Joan, those type of reads or views are not satisfying.
A friend of mine and great writer, Scott Nicolay, put out a sort of 95 Theses a decade ago, about his own writing. The 95 Thesis was a series of rules that some independent film directors agreed they would adhere to in movie making. I disagree with my friend on the last item in his list:
10. The tale must follow Caitlin R. Kiernan’s dictum: “dark fiction dealing with the inexplicable should, itself, present to the reader a certain inexplicability.”
It is of course up to any writer how they fall on the 'ending' debate, but I have definitely found that when you read a story of mine, you will know what just happened, and if it is unsatisfying, it may be because it was sad, but it won't be because it's inexplicable.
A bit more on this next time and please reach out to me in Facebook to tell me your thoughts on this.
I like a good wrap-up when I spend my valuable time reading or watching any story.
The second short story I wrote when I began to get serious was the one I've heard most about from readers. Again, it involves that old friend of ours, the nobleman from Transylvania and dream child of Abraham Stoker, Count Dracula.
I am like Lovecraft and yes, Dracula when it comes to my sleeping habits. I stay up all night and sleep in the daytime. I've done so all my life, except when I've had day jobs. One late night I was watching TV when an old documentary came on, an hour about the Count's history. It held my interest so strongly; I wanted to hear every second of it. It spoke of Bram Stoker's long held position (27 years) as the business manager of the Lyceum Theater in London, under the great Actor-Manager Henry Irving. Irving would have been a perfect choice for the role of Dracula, and no doubt Bram based many of the character's peccadilloes on the famous actor.
I had something else in common with Uncle Bram of Dublin Ireland. As a child we were both sickly. My asthma was bad and I lived for thirty years before prescription inhalers were invented. Any cold I got gave me a case of what they then called bronchitis, and had me bedridden for a week or more. Bram spent many a year in bed as well, and I know that was where we did a lot of our thinking and high flung fantasizing about adventures beyond this realm.
Bram and his father Abraham before him worked as clerks in Dublin Castle, his father throughout his life. I visited the castle on my second trip to Ireland and got to walk the halls and the staircases he walked. I can imagine the rush Dacre Stoker must feel as he visits all of the landmarks that were so important in his great-granduncle's life. I mean, it has to be among the greatest, if not the seminal horror novel ever created.
That late night I watched the documentary, a thought occurred. Now this was several years before anyone would hear of Dacre or the popular novel by Elizabeth Kostova, The Historian. Having had a career in the professional theater, the everyday routines and traditions of which do not change much over time, I could determine to make a tale in which Bram is working in the theater and for some reason comes across the real Dracula. I could undertake the daily machinations of his job easily, and those of the people surrounding him. I finally settled on a plot where Dracula would seek to become a large donor to the theater (constant outreach being a permeating need for business managers) in return for an introduction to an actress he much admired. Thus was born "Stoker's Benefactor," the character known only as The Count, the lovely Miss Lillian Addams, and a Professor friend of Bram's named Arminius Vambery, said to be the real life Van Helsing model.
Well into penning the story, those long nights at the French Library I spoke of, it was an "aha" moment that changed the entire aesthetic of the tale, when I realized the obvious notion that writers adapting Dracula must eventually come upon; the need to make it epistolary, that is, having the story unfold in a series of letters, postcards, diary entries, stage manager reports, etc. This was tremendous undertaking for a fairly new writer, but I had always been imaginative and I thought that if I stuck to what was happening around the theater, I couldn't go wrong. I set the story back in Bram's hometown of Dublin, where I don't believe the Lyceum ever brought a road show, but since I'd been there twice it helped immensely with the atmosphere.
I've told you before of the editor's ebullience in receiving it at a Dublin Magazine and how I did get to give it to Dacre.
William Damkoehler, a leading actor for decades at Trinity Repertory, read it and wrote to me, "Damn, Dick! What an amazing piece. A multi-first-person, literary, theatrical, historical, comedy, horror, thriller, police-procedural f-in' masterpiece! What more can I say other than I'm blown away and the least little bit jealous!" This magazine, for those interested, is still available here:
A shot from Dublin Castle.
Continuing about writing my second short story and another brush with the immortal Vlad Tepes, I had 'sort of' my own private library when I began to write.
I was a member for several years of the Société Généalogique Franco-Américaine in Woonsocket, Rhode Island, as I've said one of the only French speaking areas in the United States. After a couple of years of exhausting their records on my partially French Ancestry, back to the fifteen hundreds in Europe (they have superb records)...
I enjoyed going there to write.
It was quiet, but there were a few hushed conversations going on in French that made a soothing background to my tales. Invariably there were fewer than ten people present, and I'd have huge long tables to myself. It was perfection, but, alas, soon I had to QUIT.
The drawback: Along with the cases and cases of old French books came a cadre of old French volunteers solemnly guarding over them. I'd be sitting there in the zone scribbling away on my long legal pads and a centenarian centurion would inevitably approach my table.
"No pens, please."
Oh, yes, my bad. The first few times.
I'd forgotten sacred rule #one, no ink around the books. Although I was not consulting a library tome at the time, any sort of writing implement other than pencil is verboten in the halls of genealogy, due to the threat of defacement of records with "Shirley Was Here" and other vital screeds. So I was reprimanded and I acquiesced. I was sure to have a couple of pencils on hand, thoroughly sharpened for such emergencies. I don't know if you've ever written a big project for a good while in pencil, but needless to say my tips became dull in a matter of minutes. So there were several trips to the library's very nice break room, where the steam-punk, hand-crank school sharpener lived. This was a solitary and dark space that was in the hall between several very large basement rooms that were always empty and void of lights. These old Woonsocket buildings were exceptionally creepy and gothic, and of course you know that was why I loved it there so much.
I'd enjoy taking an actual break in the break room between pages. There was a pot of coffee, some nice crackers, cheese, and Oreos on hand to build me up as I worked for a few hours. I'd throw money in a coffee can for the treats. Sometime someone else would come in and have a nice chat but nine of ten times I was alone. There were also Precambrian toilets out there, with actual chains you pulled from the ceiling to flush. I'd imagine some snot-nosed Catholic schoolboy got shanked by a bully in there and may be haunting it. The whole place elicited the creeps (again, perfect for me).
Now I was there to just sharpen, and this had to be done about every half hour for my remaining time there. So I managed to come up with a way to cut my sharpening trips, and piss off the Ordre Le Franco Chevaliers Bénévoles, (volunteer knights), when I thought of bringing several mechanical pencils with me on my writing escapades. Aha!
Approach me now, oh ancient one!
It was only a few moments before the first little old pen-sentry sidled up to my table.
"Excuse me, no pe...."
I unsheathed and held my gleaming sword before her.
"Pencil! Mechanical Pencil, Bitch! Who looks stupid, huh? Who's pushing the rules now, Grandma? How you like me now, you low-rent D'artagnan?
I didn't say that, but I wanted to.
"Very well," she scowled, pouting.
"Yeah, that's right! It is VERY well Madame DeFarce!
Of course, every person on duty approached me about my mechanical pencil, and then everyone working the new shift that came on. So really, I had won no battle for uninterrupted time management that bloody and fateful day.
I retreated to the break room with my mechanical pencil, had a cookie and coffee, and decided to continue to write in the silence there.
One of the people who had been researching their family came out for a breather, and we chatted a bit about his plight to find the proper record.
"You know," he said, "were you to be in the library you could not use that pen in there."
"MECHANICAL PENCIL, BITCH."- No
"Thanks for the heads up." -Yes. :-(
More next time. :-)
In the next couple of entries I want to discuss my second and possibly most successful short story of my writing career, thus far.
I've been a Universal Monster fan since about 1962, but later in life I developed a professional relationship to Bram Stoker's greatest creation, Count Dracula. Of course I learned much more about the history of the legendary nobleman than his place in the Universal pantheon, and at about ten was introduced to the guy I always felt embodied the role, Christopher Lee. Tough to get such a tall and imposing actor with a baritone voice that registers in the sub woofers of surround sound, and I don't know how they'd ever top the figure he cut.
In 1985 I auditioned for, and secured the role of Professor Van Helsing at The Rhode Island Shakespeare Theatre, or TRIST, in the heavily trafficked and touristy city of Newport Rhode Island. We operated out of the carriage house of an eerily empty mansion, called the Swanhurst, converted into a lovely theater accommodating, I will guess, close to a hundred seats. I spent a decade as an actor in said company, but of course getting to play Van Helsing was near and dear to my heart. It was a full blown, pretty production with authentic set, costumes, a handsome and promising actor in the title role, and of course the wonderful setting. A moody and talented musician provided the haunting and groundbreaking electronic score as our Director, Bob Colonna, son of famed Bob Hope mainstay Jerry, and Trinity Rep Actor in his own right, worked with a collaborator to whittle down the actual novel for our script.
This was the kind of theater I most liked to work at, an ensemble piece created on the fly, harking directly to the genuine literature from which it sprung. All the words we spoke were from Uncle Bram's noggin. As there is no actual confrontation between the Count and Van Helsing, we manufactured a quick and effective silent stare-down as my young co-star swung from the rafters of the proscenium, lol. Dracula, his wives and the tragic Miss Lucy Westenra were outfitted with genuine, form-fitted fangs from a local Orthodontist, impressive indeed, and a friend, John, who took on the role of Renfield, got a fine set of disgusting, rotting prosthetic teeth to add to his bug eater's doomed transformation.
I faired well in the production, growing a full beard, and can remember getting my "regulation" tweedy professor costume and pocket watch to add that final hunkering-in to character. The Dutch accent was a bit of a challenge, one I eventually rose to, thankfully, and stopped slipping in to a comfortable German dialect. Things went rather swimmingly as I recall, though one night John had a near nervous breakdown in a scene where Renfield speaks to the Scooby Gang of characters who will go after the dread Count, you all know who they are.
I was then as you know me now, forever clowning around between working and attempting to make my fellows laugh. John appeared to me to be having some sort of stroke in the middle of a monologue to my character, and continually, as Renfield, leaned against Professor Van Helsing's mighty gut with his head down, trying to compose himself. Afraid that he was taken ill, I rushed some sort of questioning his dialogue back at him and made sure the proper info. got out to the audience. As we made it to the wings I held John and asked if he were alright.
"Yes, but my teeth slipped and I was trying not to swallow them. Then I started laughing thinking what you'd tease about that later, and I couldn't get myself together from giggling and juggling my teeth on my tongue. You bastard!"
The shows in that company invariably got full houses due to the number of people wanting entertainment, and we got generally good notices. In one state paper, The Providence Eagle, this was said about your pal and humble blogger. "What makes Van Helsing truly invaluable...is not only that he provides a much needed focal point- and becomes in fact the true 'humanist' hero of the play- but that Richard Scott portrays him with such intelligence and exuberance." Gosh, after all that work, I'll take it, hahaha.
Note: four years later, my dear friend Karson Mesler, our Count, took his own life, for reasons that remain mostly unknown to me. I speak fictionally of that loss in my new Novel, "More Than This." Put in a thought that it finds a publisher. Dracula and his Brides from our production, below.
I have this odd coincidence going on in my life that I only became aware of fifteen years ago. Since about the age of fourteen, my bed (and my space in it), in juxtaposition to the bedroom wall with the windows on it, has been exactly the same no matter where I've lived. That includes the house I grew up in, two apartments after marriage, and my home of now twenty nine years. From the vantage of the headboard, I sleep on the right side of the bed (middle when I was single) and to my right is the wall that has the window or windows to the outside world. If one window, it has been at the foot of the bed, if two, there is one midpoint of the bed before the foot one.
In my teen years, my room was on the second floor. Dad was a Fireman, and we had my escape route all planned out. I would go out my window to a small side roof that was directly under it, dangle from said roof my full length and then drop the remaining six feet or so to the back yard. The theory was that even if I broke my leg, I would have survived the fire. In my apartment in Providence as a married man, we were on the first floor. Here the windows led to a tenement porch that was frequented by a roving band of nocturnal cats. That's when I started to keep a Louisville slugger next to my bed, as I'd grab it in the night to bang on the wall and disperse the orgiastic felines, howling to all hell and making a racket fighting and fornicating. I did not relish my role as Officer Dibble.
Now in my own house out in the country for nearing three decades, my windows open to a quiet and sublime acre of happy birds, silent deer and low humming mowers. The baseball bat is still in place as well as something else I've done since teen years- I've always had a small transistor radio (or whatever they are called these days) quietly playing oldies or soft music as I drift off. The music is good for another story, but for now suffice to say I am content in my same position of oblivion. Did I subconsciously set up all my beds that way and take the side I wanted? That's a good question, and it would appear so.
All this led me to the first short story idea I got when I went whole hog serious into writing- What if I ever went to sleep listening to my oldies in my same bed position, but woke up back in the house of my teenage years as the person I am now? Sort of a reverse Back to the Future where I'd encounter my brother and my parents (both somehow still alive) and start doing the activities I did as a kid. This evolved into "Now You're In Heaven," an as-yet-unsold science fiction tale where the main character squares off in a serious game of whiffle ball against his older brother, a death match of two senior citizens, winner stays home. It also has to do with dreams I often have of being back in my childhood home wondering where my wife, kid and house have gone.
I should say that my childhood home, pictured below, was purchased by a monastery of Monks and turned into a Buddhist Shrine. That doesn't happen to just anyone.
So this one year, when my brother and I were both in the midst of job drudgery and boredom, we decided to turn a five-day weekend into a road trip up to Quebec City, Quebec. He was perhaps fifty to my forty-one. We knew we had some relation to the area because we'd grown up in Woonsocket, Rhode Island, one of the two major French speaking areas of the United States for most of the Twentieth Century. We only explored our Genealogy formally several years later, in the 21st Century and found out that indeed the greater part of our paternal lineage came directly from the Montreal area, specifically a town called St. Hyacinth, but that's another story.
It's about an eight to ten hour drive to my recollection, so we decided not to overdo and stopped at a quaint Vermont Inn for our first night. After a nice supper we settled down into what would be a last night of luxury before three camping in Canada. Sometime in the wee hours of the morning, in twin beds right beside each other, we were both in sweet oblivion. To my mind, I opened my eyes in the half darkness to see an old woman in a white nightgown bending over me. Macho traveler that I am, I screamed holy murder into the still night, and kicked upward at the frail entity about to either choke me or tuck me in. My top sheet and blanket flew into her on its way to the floor, and she vanished.
My sibling, deep in the quiet slumber of green mountain bliss, nearly levitated from his bed, Regan-style, in a knee-jerk jackknife full-on heart shock Macarena. I told him I just saw a ghost as we both considered the need for the front office defibrillator. I was so certain that I awoke first and saw after. Be that as it may, we both needed a night light and some music playing to ever go back to sleep.
My other sighting was in my current home where we've now been for 29 years. There is no denying that we have our very own Rhode Island Historical Cemetery #69 right in our back yard. Quite a lucky happenstance for a horror writer, wouldn't you say? Yes I have researched it in town and there are fourteen individuals there, with no veterans. The only name we have been able to discover is that a man named Washington Logee appears to be the head of the family, and his is the only identifiable stone with writing etched on it. A talented neighbor of mine did a wonderful job of restoring the lot on his own; it even has a bench where I can write.
Again I really believe that I woke first; witnessed later, with eyes wide open. I was taking an afternoon nap in our master bedroom when I looked to my left toward the doorway. There was a woman with wild white hair standing there peeking in at me, being entirely docile and just observing. She even turned her head a bit to get different angles. I instinctively felt no threat from her and was not scared. I did not scream like a little girl this time, nor like a grown man. In fact, I smiled at her. Within a moment she faded away. The one thing I could not understand was that her face was tremendously swollen and her features were distorted. I wondered if she had some abnormality or illness that affected her face in that way. I honestly think of her as looking like one of the Morlocks from the old Rod Taylor/Time Machine movie, minus the scary teeth.
There have been a few inexplicable experiences in my life that beg the question of goings-on out there in the ether. You know, those things that happen to all of us and make us say, "Holy shit." One of them is also described in my upcoming literary novel, currently titled "More Than This," needing a publishing home.
About a month ago I spoke of my association with a witch who was giving me an education on all things Wiccan. I had sent one of my early stories "Stoker's Benefactor" to the top genre magazine in Ireland, hoping that its Dublin location and Stoker's Irish upbringing would spark an interest. It involved Dracula becoming a donor to the Theater Company Bram Stoker was employed with as business and house manager. The Count's only request for his generosity, to meet a certain young actress he admired. The story was submitted in July of 2006. I knew I was in for a long wait to hear a decision. But my witch friend told me that my mother Ann, dead since 1972, had contacted her from the other side and that I would hear about the story's fate on my Birthday, the first of December, in 2006. That's a pretty far flung prediction so I thought nothing of it.
Five months later, on that Birthday, I had gone out for browsing and dinner with my wife and when I returned checked my email. The longest letter you could ever imagine getting from an Editor was there, as foretold, in my inbox. ".....I enjoyed the story very much. There's a lot to like about it, and the writing is of a high quality, so is the characterisation (sic). You have written the prose and dialogue in a style that feels nice and antiquated, without being difficult to read in the least. That's often a big problem; we get lots of Victorian stories that are written in Victorian style. It can often mean the prose is turgid and difficult. It's all about getting the flavour (sic) of the era across, and you have done that very well.....All that remains is for me to say thanks for an entertaining read, which has awaken (sic) me from the stuff I normally get to read as submissions."
You can imagine my glee. This goes on for three full pages, I kid you not. The long and short of it was that my story was accepted and indeed published (Albedo One Issue #37). I often wondered if the witch herself was shocked at her own accuracy, hahaha, though of course she took it in perfect stride. I mean, that is like a needle in a haystack type of prediction, given that the Irish editor had no idea when my birth may be celebrated. My Stoker story was recommended for a Stoker Award, but went no further on the ballot. Even the editor was flummoxed by my witch story; everyone involved was.
I got the distinct pleasure to put the magazine in the hands of my friend Dacre Stoker, Bram's great-grand nephew, when I met him at Stokercon, but I have yet to have the privilege of his reaction. There are many little Bram stoker in-joke references in the manuscript, lol.
Next time: encounters with the Ouija Board, the ghost of a Vermont Inn, and a Morlock.
The Portrait of a Young Man as a Professional
People may do whatever they want with their work, I've given up making distinctions in this unfettered world. I repeat, for those eager to troll and take offense on the internet, "I hold no bearing on what others may do with the results of their writing efforts. It's your decision." As for me, I have a strange and elusive fetish that I hope you will forgive. I want to be paid. I want professional credits, as in, money exchanging hands. If not for my own coffers, then at least to bolster an organization or charity.
It may be because I've worked in the professional theater and have been paid wages due for my time and services. Good wages. I want my writing to be engaged in the public arena, whether you think of it as the literary world of New York or California or what have you. That is chiefly why, over the course of now fifteen years of adult writing, I have only a handful of credits to my resume. Along with the money, YES I do want to make it past the gatekeepers of the Publishing world. Without that validation I will never believe I was really good enough. Hey, again, that's just me! I am always eager to discuss my perversions, but please, no torches and pitchforks.
I submit my work primarily to paying markets, 99% of the time to complete strangers running Literary Journals and Magazines. They are not my friends, I am not in their circle, they do not know me. I have often said that even if I go to my grave having never made a mark above my own friends and family, I will have been able to say I continued to try, and that is what I expect of myself.
My quotation in my high school yearbook is, "There is no comparison between that which is lost by not succeeding, and that which is lost by not trying"- Francis Bacon. Throughout my life I've clung to these words. If there were ever two professions that are pretty much guarantees of a lifetime of failure, rejection and heartache, they are the theater and writing. But these are the vocations I've been afforded, and so be it. It's called playing the hand you're dealt.
After fifteen years, I can see the clumsiness and naiveté of my early efforts, and I labor and labor to hone and cut away at these nascent creatures, until I consider them up to snuff. Early in my career I signed a contract with a quickly defunct Publisher in the UK. This person not only never paid me, but fell off the face of the Earth. Once bitten, twice shy. Never again will I enter into such a covenant, if at all feasibly knowable at the time.
I have many friends in the writing community whom I cherish. But unfortunately, when it comes to the marketing and selling of one's work, we have little in common. If you think me ambitious, yes I am. If you think I seek the limelight, yes I do, but my goal is to get my work in the hands of the readers I want so desperately to reach. I know I will most likely die with the financial success (that sadly gets one noticed in our society), eluding me, and I try to prepare emotionally for that eventuality.
Having had the Medium I was visiting contact and discuss the Dead in my life, I didn't know what we could do upon the third visit I had secured with her, to possibly one-up that. These trips afforded me a ninety minute drive to a quaint town in Southern Rhode Island, where I did seek dinner and other goodies after our sessions, so I always made an afternoon of it. With candles lit, lights low and incense burning to soft electronica; we got into my other pleas to the universe that really came true, as well as the "Dream" world I explored in this journal not a month ago.
When I had first moved to the country my wife quickly decided to become a Girl Scout Leader, mostly to afford our daughter that opportunity. In her group were some diverse girls from a local group home, and when I remarked on their adorableness, she told me that a Child Agency was in our little village. I had worked for such places in my past, and though I was happily employed in the Theater, I had a vision at that time. It would not be bad, I thought, to be an administrator there, get big bucks, and if I ever had the Emergency Pager, I'd be right down the street.
Cut to 5 years hence. A new Director of my Theater Company resulted in my loss of that employment, and after a prolonged job hunt in my field, I was back in the kid business. A colleague from a far away agency I had worked at, near Fall River, somehow got the job of Director of the agency for my town across the state, and asked me to apply. Starting as Child Care and working my way up, I became Assistant Educational Advocate for the kids in one house, in Woonsocket. Soon thereafter, like really soon, like a month later, surprising everyone, my boss high-tailed it and left, (damn you, Kat, lol) leaving me now as sole Ed. Advocate for the whole agency. For a few years I was indeed an Administrator, did indeed have the Pager at times, and did indeed rush in to the houses right near me, though this was not an option when I first dreamed it up. That crazy ol' Universe was on it, and again it happened far down-river.
The third wish is as you see me now, writing full time and needing no other employment. Ah, clever Universe. Just as I was enjoying my new career bookselling, you hit me with a triple bypass to the widow-maker and a further heart attack at the failure of said bypass. I am now disabled and collecting, affording me all the time in the world, and even a shiny handicapped parking sign.
Ah, thanks universe. Now I can write at leisure and scoff at those hardy souls still working, and experiencing the stress monkey on their back, first-hand. But what of my prolific and exciting dream life which inhabits my mind and makes me interesting? Cassandra's take was a complete bombshell.
"Yeah, I need you to STOP that!"
"I need you to end that and save all of your fantasies for your waking life, when you need them most for your writing."
"How the hell do I do that?"
"You say that you call up your previous night's dreams to send your mind back to sleep. Stop doing that. Read and do your best to meditate and clear your mind before sleep. You mastered Lucid, you can do this."
I love you Cassandra, you are awesome and beautiful and were a great conversation and guide in my life, but I can't give my dreamscapes up. They are completely me, and they are one of my existences on this insane journey.
My second session with the Medium, the lovely Cassandra, was the closest I ever came to bolting from the darkened room. I'm not a fan of touchy-feely vague metaphors; I like my symbols succinct and cleverly representative of something. She started the session by saying that when she thought of me, a Dragon came into her head. "It's like you are a bold Knight battling an overwhelming obstacle that could be the end of your dreams, but yet you try to defeat it." Yes, all very true about writing, which she already had learned I was currently concentrating on. But, what am I, the Hobbit now? Hey lady, I'm not a Renaissance Fair Cosplayer, let's move on.
I'm certain that she felt a chill from me that snuffed her candles, yet she persisted.
"In a past life I see you were a Monk up late at night in a castle, writing and transcribing feverishly." No Ma'am, that was Tuesday night.
I endured, and must admit I experienced the most haunting revelations of my time with her.
She got into congress with my dead, amidst the incense and soft music, and first said my brother (whose death I discussed two entries ago), was not noticeable to her because "he was far into the afterlife, socializing." Not entirely meaningful, but yes I can imagine it, since he and I had done our Ancestry and had many questions for those who had already crossed over, lol.
The showstoppers: "Here on the edge of the afterlife, your maternal Grandmother, who never saw you, remains very close by you. You are sickened with the same thing that took her life." Now none of this had been discussed, nor could I imagine any online information I'd ever divulged at that time, about how I never met any of my Grandparents because they had all passed before my birth. Also Walt and I had learned in our Genealogical research that my mother's mother, nee Elizabeth O'Brien, had been in the Mental Health facility in Cranston (then a Hospital) and had a leg amputated before dying of uncontrolled Diabetes (one of my struggles since 1996). We had no previous idea whatsoever about the details of her death, way back in the Forties.
She mentioned my Paternal Grandfather and said he is unhappy in the beyond because he was taken too soon. Again, can't tell how she would know that. She'd have had to do some deep digging for facts it took Walt and I years to find. At that moment, I was thinking "Here it comes, the make or break for her." Out of nowhere, she says-
"I see a train that he missed." Now of all the ways to die, it shook me; rattled me to my core; that she was even so close. My Dad's Father, nee Edmond Henri Scott, died on the February night of a great blizzard, in 1926, at the age of 41. Imagine, my first Granddad was already gone in 1926, thirty years before I was born. That's like Prohibition, roaring twenties, ancient history shit! He had walked from a great elevation in the city of Woonsocket to Main Street, to catch a Trolley for Third Shift in a different city (having worked all Second Shift in another Mill). This is at least a good mile walk, in a raging snowstorm. There was no Trolley because of the snow, he walked back to his home in a tenement apartment up those hills, ate a huge supper, took a nap, and died of heart failure in his sleep, in bed with my five-year-old Dad. Doctors, who then did house calls, could not get to him.
That was a pretty close reference by Cassandra, to my mind, and still, a tough fact to come across even if you're looking in the right place.
So now I looked forward to hitting her with my two other times life manifested my desires. Next journal.
One year on my Birthday my daughter, ever in-the-know, got me one hundred dollars worth of session time with a Medium. She was aware that I had been exploring all sides of occult knowledge as closely as I could. This particular woman was highly praised and sought after, and her practice was attached to an extremely upscale Yoga and Spiritual Health facility in South County, Rhode Island. What we Yankees like to call "down near the beaches."
Let's call her Cassandra, because I love that name, lol. The hundred got me roughly a session and a half, so I splurged for the other half to meet with her three times. Knowing I'm at least a good conversationalist, I knew I could get through the three sessions with more than enough information to discuss. You see, the problem was, that by this point I had completely ceased to be a believer.
I did resolve to go in open-mindedly and not be some asshole just nay-saying every bit of information she gave me. I hadn't gone there for an argument, Mr. Cleese.:-D Of course, Cassandra was very beautiful with flowing blond locks and in great shape for what I guessed was forty. So okay, no getting a crush on the Medium. Concentrate.
The biggest issue I wanted to undertake was that three times in my life, I had daydreamed, or some may say "put out into the universe" what I intended and wished my life to be like. What occupation, what schedule, what living situation, what dynamic, all of it. In all three circumstances, astoundingly, the scenario had entirely become true and unraveled with veracity. However, it was always way more far flung than I ever imagined. In other words, they ALL happened, but they took their sweet time.
It isn't hard to guess her response to this info. 'Of course The Universe listened, but it doesn't always adhere to the precise schedule you may have wanted to manifest.' My first wish had been to work in the professional theater as an actor, live in a city, and have an insanely hectic lifestyle with all the intelligent camaraderie and socializing that would accompany such a life. Sex and the City as it were. Well I did achieve it, but at the age of thirty-one, already married, and with one baby at home. I worked at Trinity Repertory Company in Providence, not as an actor but as a thirty year old Production Assistant, making coffee and sweeping the floors.
In time I became a Stage Manager and was able to join the Actors' union and "get my Equity card." I actually was able to worm my way into acting in six productions there, unheard of for crew, and not as just "man carrying table." One time they needed a quick speaking part in an Irish play by Sean O'Casey. The actor Richard Jenkins (Shape of Water, Cabin in the Woods) was auditioning people and I put the word out I wanted it. He asked me if I had an Irish dialect. "We're here about the furniture you ordered missus. Where do ya want it?" something like that. "Fuck, you're cast," was Dick's reply after he heard me, lol. This happened on several other occasions, one where I actually took an ill actor's role halfway through the play's run. When you're in the union, those kind of bucks add exponentially, I can tell you. More to come on this projection phenomenon.
Seven years ago, I lost part of my heart and self.
My eldest brother Walter and I were so close that it is hard to put into words. At the risk of ruining part of my latest novel, a fictional memoir, I was born when my parents were forty, basically. Walter, their first child, had eighteen years on me. That's right. He had graduated from high school when I was born. Strictly a Catholic family back then, he was not only my brother but also my Godfather. I've known his wife Helena as long as I've known him. I saw him get married when I was three and my nephew and niece that came soon after grew up with me. My brother considered me one of his kids and his kids were my little brother and sister as far as I was concerned.
He died at age 74 in 2013 from complications of sepsis in his stomach that traveled to his brain. My sister-in-law says he was speaking in tongues at the end. I got to go to Ireland with him and other brothers in 2004, and he and I went out weekly as drinking buddies from 1974 to his death, often along with my brother Alfred and Walt's son Glenn. He was a staunch conservative and he and I could talk politics all night without getting mad. I would call my politics to the left of Bernie Sanders, or as I like to say, Trekkian (global unity, lol.)
I bring this up because in my journal about dreaming, this last of three entries takes a happy/ sad and sometime troubling turn. Of course Walter has appeared frequently in my dreams since his demise. Clear as day and being himself completely (funny, smart, affectionate, and loving). He respected me and my brain and he often looked to me for conversation the older he got. I was always the driver and often the tour guide, as I'm good at agendas and travel, and he was a willing passenger.
The first time he was hanging out in my dream after hitting what he called "the long dirt nap," Al and I had quite the conundrum. Just who was going to tell him he was dead? I was surprisingly against this, me the reality king.
"Just let him enjoy himself," I argued.
"He really should be told," was Al's stance. Being my dream, I believe I won.
The next time wasn't so pleasant. We were all walking in that mall I told you about two entries ago. Walt was weak, sick feeling, he fainted and I caught him in my arms.
"I love you, kid, you know that?" he said, as often in life, looking up at me.
I cried, "Walt no. No Walt. Don't go; don't go, please Walt, please, no!"
He died in my arms. I woke sweating and crying.
When I've come upon him multiple times since in dreams, it takes me awhile to realize that things aren't just normal. Jeez, Walt is dead. He shouldn't be here, but I'm glad he is. I'm not going to spoil it.
"Why haven't you been calling me, in so long, Dick?"
How do you answer that one?
"Walt, what was it like?"
"What was what like?"
"Dying. Where are you now?"
"What the hell are you talking about?"
I think I will get better at communicating with him in the future.
When we were all in Ireland, we went to pubs like three times a day, and one lunch break we were behind time, and when we walked around the corner, our tour bus was leaving.
"Nyah," we screamed like the Three Stooges, chasing it, waving and yelling.
They stopped. Our good-humored Guide, Pat Frawley, greeted us with:
"We were goin' to look for you lads."
I see that story as a metaphor.
If my relatives and spiritual friends are correct, of course, and there is an afterlife.
"Walt. My brother. I'll be lookin' for ya, lad. I'll be lookin' for ya."
I left this hanging after describing the benchmarks that clue me in that I am dreaming. It is not instant and can take a while. As a participant in the dream, I am saying to myself, "There's something familiar about all this. Something. Something that I want to remember about this circumstance." Then, I'd say, two out of five times, if I remain asleep long enough, it comes to me, and I can go lucid.
"This asthma attack. Huge gulps of air. Oh yes this happens when I am struggling in my sleep. This is a dream."
That's when things get interesting. I begin to experiment with unwarranted behavior in the dream. I may grab any woman nearby, old or young, and begin to kiss her passionately. They are surprised at first, because it has no rhyme nor reason with what is happening, but they start to respond and go with it, hahaha. Or perhaps I'll jump on a table and belt out "Luck Be a Lady Tonight." Or introduce everyone to my pet polar bear.
The situation that occurs the most is that I have just finished a shift at a job, (often a few of the places I've worked melded together), and I am able to go home. Or just as often, a class at the college I seem to be attending but at my current age. Even I question why girls of college age are interested in flirting with me, lol. But now I get to go home, wherever that is.
A few minutes later, it becomes quite clear that I cannot recall coming in to work or school, only that I was "there." So I have not the foggiest idea where my car is parked. I wander around, sometime with a friend or lady, struggling to remember where it might be, and laughing nonchalantly to ease the other person's mind, that we'll be on our way in no time. This is a lie. Sometimes I wander huge parking lots, small side lots, and on occasion city streets. Eventually it comes to me, "I'll never find this car. This happens when I am dreaming. I am dreaming."
Now I am liberated. I may say to the person I'm with, "No Problem. Ah, here it is right here." I have made cars manifest out of thin air, and never a car I've had in real life. On occasion, I say, "Watch this." I go over to a spot in space, hovering next to the curb, sit on a cushion of pure invisibility, 'start' the imaginary motor, get them to join me, and away we go. We are now flying a few feet above the road, accelerating to our destination.
One of my recurring solutions, if I am alone, is to walk home, but this always moves to my hometown and walking back to the house I grew up in. I get upset because I don't want to go to my Dad's house, I want to go to my house. I am a grown man with a wife, but dammit, I'll have to call for a ride from my Dad's. Whom I never recall has been dead for 22 years.
There are deeper implications and further sparks which resonate with my writing, but I shall end this dream series next time.
I have been a prolific dreamer throughout my life. I can still remember dreams from my childhood, and I've never kept a dream journal. I do so much dreaming to this day, that documenting them properly would take half my waking hours. This is something about me which has never changed, only the regularity of my experimentation with them has increased.
In the essay "A Novel Approach" on my website, I outlined how a dream led to writing my first book. Several other of my dreams have led to short stories, particularly "The Quality of Mercy" about Lovecraft fighting a family of vampires here in Rhode Island (Unsold). Dreams for me are a never ending source in mining for ideas, and I frequently hit "the mother lode."
Several years back, during a long health recovery, I, out of boredom, began to dabble in lucid dreaming. I read a few books on it, tried some methods and never quite had success. This is the practice where you discover that you are in a dream, and then begin to fuck with it. I never tried the idea outlined in CBS' hit show, EVIL. They had you tying an elastic around your wrist in waking hours, and training yourself to look at it often, thus by the same token training yourself to notice its absence while operating in dreamland.
My eventual success in lucidity came about in an entirely opposite way. I began to notice recurring patterns and circumstances which only happened while I was dreaming. It may sound insane but they clearly manifested over and over in my dreams until I was able to finally wrap my mind around the similarities to other experiences WHILE the dream is going on. Quickly, here are my talismans, if you will, of the fact that I am in a dream: 1- The same landscape keeps showing up. It may be a campus of a college or other school, it may be a place I have worked, but the grounds always have the same characteristics (a series of parking lots on the far east side; as you enter the campus, a large marketplace, often selling museum quality artifacts and especially middle eastern and Islamic items; some buildings, and in the campus center, hills, sometimes into small mountains where sit enormous statues of the Ray Harryhausen variety, Greek Roman and Norse; a huge museum of art and natural history, housing dinosaurs and all manner of human endeavors, sloping back down into a modern mall with pricey stores, another stretch of buildings including cottages or dormitories, and more parking). This is not unlike the layout of Rhode Island College where I really matriculated.
2- Because I am having actual sleep apnea episodes in real life, I have asthma in the dream, which I have under good control while awake and hardly ever occurs. 3- Is an easy one, when I am done my class or shift, I have absolutely no idea where I have parked my car, since I never "arrived" to the campus in the first place. I was just "there." After a while of searching, sometimes a long while, it comes to me that I am not in Kansas anymore.
To prevent this from becoming War and Peace, I have to continue the subject in my next installment. Sleep well.
I've been reading a book about David Bowie creating the album "Low" which was in a triptych of highly advanced albums of the late seventies and early eighties (Station to Station, Low, Heroes). Bowie was plumbing the depths of artistic impulse, utilizing lyrics of ancient occult predisposition, as well as electronic experiments in the most extreme and rudimentary musical phrases (also courtesy of Brian Eno and Tony Visconti). It's like they were putting a mixture of human impulses and sounds into a hat and pulling out the random order to create music that was not artistically predetermined. Bowie's brother had had Schizophrenia and died in a mental institution.
Bowie and Eno visited an Austrian mental facility/ art studio where people were encouraged to paint. "None of them knew they were artists", he later said. "It's compelling and sometimes quite frightening to see this honesty. There's no awareness of embarrassment." At the same time, Bowie was enthusiastic over the book by Julian Jaynes, "The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind," which among some very radical theories of when man finally developed self-consciousness, spoke of prehistoric man's schizophrenic nature and as a direct result of it, the religious yearning.
On a further note, this was an album where one complete side was Bowie experimenting with instrumentals, spurred on by the Krautrock scene and groups like Kraftwerk. David was nearly fifty years ahead of avant-garde electronic artists we have "exploring" soundscapes today. Indeed my collaborator Raffaele Pezzella (Sonolygist, Unexplained Sounds) is a strong designer of albums which reach into our subconscious and elicit a reaction that is almost primal in nature. Also, it can be soothing or electrifying. For your own information, Bowie's flights into fancy with sound are collected on the album "All Saints."
Why this has resonated with me so deeply is that I do quite a lot of thinking about why I had to become a writer late in life, and why I feel I would be essentially lost, had I not taken up that mantle. Most of us have periods or even days where we sense that we are a hair-trigger away from "going off," and perhaps, if life-affecting enough, may never return to "baseline." I know that we all have our moments of depression and heartache and feeling overwhelmed, as well we should. It's all part of life. But it haunts me how close to madness writing can be. We need, many of us, to get our thoughts out of our head and create art, and that becomes our saving grace. We perhaps become more stable just in being able to transfer these pieces of ourselves to paper, canvas or tape. I can't find the quote at present, but I have come to realize that anyone who doesn't suffer some depression does not understand life.
We labor alone in tiny rooms, doing things that may make no sense to others, may never find those we hope to reach, and we risk exposure of our deepest flaws as much as our highest qualities. That's why I try never to denigrate a fellow artist and their work publicly, from the cushy Hollywood screenwriter to the Community theater actor. Everyone who stares at a blank page or even a movie camera has their demons to confront. Walter Mosley, the master writer, in his book "This Year You Write Your Novel" puts it so well, "The writer, however, must loosen the bonds.....to cross over the line of your self-restraint and revel in the words and ideas that you would never express in your everyday life."
It's unfortunately true, loosening those bonds makes one's art truthful and immediate.
In the film, A Dangerous Method (2011), I believe David Cronenberg, the clever and talented director, is using his two protagonists as a metaphor to a struggle that goes through our own minds. Indeed, I feel most heartfelt explorers of life and its meaning will come to this crossroad eventually.
Is life and our universe just what we experience on the surface, a biological, physical and scientific phenomena easily explained by the best minds of our time, with some questions perhaps remaining? Or is life much more than we know, a supernatural and inexplicable experience, underlain by phenomena outside of our everyday knowledge and overruled by some governing being or principle, or forces which we know very little about. By the same token, when we die, does our energy or "soul" if you will, persist, and enter other realms or parallel worlds of existence?
In the film, in 1904, the argument is pursued by the two giants of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung. Beside Freud being the pioneering older mentor of Jung, they do share a mutual respect and a love of philosophizing about their separate but often conjoining work. Freud is the ever staunch defender of reality and the medical significance of the brain's function while Jung has an intuition that things occur outside of mundane explanations. He is the proponent, after all, of Synchronicity, and the thought that many coincidences we experience are not just that. That life is surely overseen and somehow even guided by the supernatural, if you are aware of the clues to look for.
We all have the story where we call our brother and he was just about to call, where someone mentions E.T. and you come home to find your wife watching it, where a thought relayed to you by a friend comes up in another conversation hours after, and more incidents that same week.
I have always deeply admired the film as Cronenberg's argument with himself about the matter, the same one every human being goes through. Are this life and its incidents all that there is for me, what am I anyway, and is there something more out there that only the ethereal side of my nature can or will comprehend? In this sense I find it one of the most important of Cronenberg's films. What does the film imply: what else can it imply but that the mystery goes on and we are each responsible for deciding where we fall in the spectrum of philosophy before this existence is over.
A funny thing happened on my way to exploring deeper understanding of God, the supernatural, and the world beyond in my writing. I still mainly have interest in writing about this same challenge in my stories of the human experience, but as of now, in my 63rd year, I have fallen on the side of Freud. Yes, I've found nothing to recommend the other take but coincidence and wild speculation. It isn't what I expected, believe me.
I am an atheist and I believe that when my brain function ceases I will no longer exist and become food for worms. My atoms will eventually join the rest of their kin in the makeup of this planet and the universe. I will have no knowledge of their journey.
The objective I have pursued in my writing career has been a personal journey, if I may be so corny. I had spent my entire life, ever since I saw The Wolfman as a child and was terrified, trying to come to terms with the hidden realms, the unknown, the unexplained, the dark corners of this fragile existence. If it had monsters, ghosts, demons, angels, ghouls, vampires, werewolves, etc. etc. I was there. As a young person I did enjoy the miracles, mysteries and unspoken bits of my Catholic upbringing; to a point. I was such a believer that when the Exorcist book and then film hit when I was sixteen, I was primed and ready to keep my eyes closed whenever they went to Regan's room. After the vomit explosion? Oh hell no, I was out. And yes, my teenage eyes were shut tight.
It is exactly this guile and innocence that has had me enraptured my whole life by the extraordinary; the synchronous events, the frights, the exploration in book and film of what's going on below the surface. When my daughter was in Middle School, I arranged quite the field trip for her and her best friend. I also dragged my wife along as we visited first the grave of Rhode Island's vampire legend, Mercy Brown in Exeter, then HP Lovecraft's grave in Providence, and finally, as the dusk settled in and the fog rolled, the grave of Lizzie Borden in Fall River, Mass.
My child's English teacher got wind of this romp, but rather than scold, told Amelia that her dad must be very cool, lol. When I began to put stories together and had only my education to guide me in what I was doing, I asked this woman if she would mind editing for me. She was delighted, and then another detail about her came to light; that she was a practicing witch and high priestess of a coven. I had planned a story about a real witch living in a town adjacent to Salem at the time of the trials in 1692. In the months that followed, I received a first hand education on not only witchcraft and Wicca, but also, stones, gems, oils, cauldrons, spells, circles, new moon intentions, candles and deities. I learned that she was well versed in all religions and knew her Gods and Goddesses backward and forward. I came to appreciate a deeper understanding of what signs to watch for in life, and got a hell of a story out of it (Under the Blood Moon, yet to find a home).
I was on my way into the esoteric path that I so fervently desired.
I remember my mindset very clearly when, in 2005, I began writing as a serious business and a vocation for the rest of my life. Physically, as far as where I was going to be spending my time, I was thinking that when it came to life, I was sick and tired of being a person working at things that held no sway for me. I wanted to go back to the feeling I had working in the Theater, that I knew what I wanted, that I was taking part in life, that I was collaborating and creating. The feeling that I was not just being a cog in the daily machine of industry, only to come home and be a consumer. In this case a consumer of entertainment; a watcher.
I made the decision that I was no longer interested in being a watcher, but wanted to become a doer. I wanted to take part in life to the fullest, and transfer those feelings into my written work in order to pass it on to people. I don't mean zip-lining hundreds of feet above the Amazon forest, I mean by observing what is going on with people past and present and trying to report on it through fiction. Not only for the readers at hand, but for future generations as well.
No one can know how that goal of longevity might turn out, but I did know that I at least had to try. "There is no comparison between that which is lost by not succeeding, and that which is lost by not trying." Even though that's the quote I chose for my High School yearbook, it's the quote that resonates with me. I just wrote it by heart, it's still with me.
So that is of utmost importance to me, that my work reach as many people as possible, and that my voice may be heard in the time after I cease to exist. I am serious. When I began to write, I was not sure I even had a voice that was palpable and distinctive, but yes, I have now realized fully that I do and I have found it. The fates be praised I have found it, and I am continuing the process of trying to get it into your ears, into your eyes, and to those who come after you.
Can you imagine being able to have future human beings, whatever form they may take, look back on your work as we look back on Walt Whitman, and having Walt Whitman speak back to you-
I'm thinking about how I've come to this point in my writing life. In 2005 I was sick and tired of working at things that only held a peripheral interest to me. I had done human services on and off for twenty years, but most importantly was coming off a thirty year career in the theater. Hours upon days of rehearsals in a professional company, tearing apart scripts and trying to get at what truth about life these plays contained.
All I could ever think about was how much I wanted to make my own scripts, tell my own stories and how much I wanted only to pursue the form of my two biggest influences, The Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits. These happened to be the two shows of my youth that most resonated with me, using the unknown and the dark realms to quantify what goes on in real life. Making the people in the stories as relatable as possible, hell, they could be your family, friends or neighbors. Putting them into situations that may never really occur and seeing how they dealt with them.
I took a great risk, of losing all financial support and whatever I thought my place may be in the outside world of work and human congress. But I knew that I was suffering, wilting on the vine, not letting my creativity out and loosed upon the world. Something had to give, and I decided to write. I have already extensively outlined the encouragement I received to that end throughout my life in a blog, Book of Shadows, which I have re-posted on Facebook:
From the beginning, I haven't been able to fight down intense and deep-seated feelings, which many would consider old-fashioned, of wanting to handle my writing in a way that is anathema to many of my current colleagues, compatriots and acquaintances in the writing, and especially genre writing, fields. I want to maintain a sense of mystery to my accomplishments for one thing, never posting word counts or thoughts or degrees of fulfillment toward my writing goals, whether I had a good or bad writing day and what not. I feel most people are interested in your finished product and what you were able to do with that product. I am an entertainment junkie, but a thorough examination of the Film Directing style of say, Robert Eggars, is a discussion that would lose most of my real life friends and family. More on that as we go.
So this journal goes against everything I've struggled to keep hidden from the casual reader, but for my fellow artists, I hope it may help you get a closer grip on what you are after, and what you hope to accomplish. In future I will be laying it all out for you. If you follow me, you may be as mad as I am.
Richard Alan Scott has labored for a half-century in The Arts. He is the school recipient of the Congressman's Medal of Merit and the American College Theater Award of Excellence for acting, presented him at The Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. He worked for a decade as an actor under Robert J. Colonna at The Rhode Island Shakespeare Theater and as actor and Stage Manager under Adrian Hall and Richard Jenkins at the Tony-winning Providence Company; Trinity Rep. He is a thirty-year member of the Actors Equity Association, as well as a fifteen year member of the New England Horror Writers. He has been a writing member of the acclaimed RI Writers Circle and the Newport Round Table. As a writer he has studied under Christopher Golden and James A. Moore at River City Writers and at Boston's Grub Street. His work has appeared in Premiere Magazine, Shroud: The National Journal of Dark Fiction and Art, and Albedo One: Ireland's top genre magazine, as well as the anthology Walls and Bridges edited by Mark Ellis and Melissa Martin-Ellis. He has finished two novels that are being promoted to agents and he lives in rural Rhode Island.
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