Monday, April 29, 2002
Today was an exceptional writing day. More than 1,500 wds. in only about 6 hours. That's only happened a few times before. With luck, I'll finish Chapter Five of Low Red Moon late this week.
But I am utterly exhausted. Sleep is getting elusive again.
So, I'm off to bed, where, many hours from now, I will hopefully sleep a little.
Sunday, April 28, 2002
Sorry that I've missed the last couple of nights. We've been having some sort of problem with Blogger and it wouldn't let me post new entries. The problem seems to have been resolved.
Chapter Five was slow getting started, but is moving along now. Only about 500 wds. yesterday, but almost a thousand today. There was also an interview yesterday and I'm proofing the galleys for Trilobite: The Writing of Threshold (which ought to be released in about six weeks). So, busy, busy.
I still haven't told the story of Mr. Moo Moo. Well, then. Early Wednesday afternoon, while we were still busy surveying for new Bluffport Marl outcrops, we drove out some nameless dirt road north of Epes until it finally dead ended. There at the end of the road was the only house for miles around, sitting alone in an overgrown yard, surrounded my great old oaks. Despite the rusted-out window unit air conditioner, the house itself must have dated back to 1925 or so and obviously had not been lived in for quite some time. The tin roof sagged and the front porch listed alarmingly to one side. A very new steel gate, bearing the name and logo of a local timber company, had been put up across the gravel driveway. And back behind the house, a bit to one side so that it was just visible from the road, was a tree whose trunk was studded with animal skulls, bleached white by the sun. I had Jennfer pull up to the gate so that I could get a better look and a photograph (which she will post here tomorrow), and I could see that most of the skulls were deer. But above them, well up the trunk, was the magnificent skull of an enormous steer, its long, forward-sweeping horns aimed down at the weedy ground.
Jennifer wanted to climb the gate and get the skull, but, no, I was starting to get seriously creeped out by the place, and it seemed obvious that this skull and all the others on the tree must form some eldritch talisman, placed here to keep an ancient, unfathomable evil at bay. Indeed, said I, this entire place must mark the entrance to some terrible nether world. As we drove away down the long, red, dusty road, Jennifer sulking, I began to giggle uncontrollably, though whether this was relief at our brush with this unnameable Otherness or only the result of the of the sun upon my poor brain I cannot say. "Mr. Moo Moo must forever guard that horror-shrouded place!" I declared. "Mankind would surely be doomed if his skull were ever stolen!"
Okay, so maybe you had to be there.
Note from Jennifer: Here he is, in all his spooky bovine glory!
Thursday, April 25, 2002
I'm so very, very tired I'm not certain that I'm up to this tonight. But at least it's a good sort of tired. I did send myself out into the field today, after all, at about 7 a.m., and only got back to Birmingham about 10 p.m. this evening. The exposures I'm working are about a 2-3 hr. drive southwest of here, and on the way down I read "The Case of the Blue Carbuncle" by Doyle. The first half of the day was spent in the frustration of surveying and recording new exposures, around a little place (it's hardly a town) called Epes. Long red dirt roads, flocks of turkey vultures, and barbed-wire fences. And the day was much, much hotter than I'd expected. After several hours of surveying, all I had to show for my troubles (and sweat) was a small fish vertebra and a fairly decent mosasaur tooth, a few new spots where I could observe how the lower Demopolis Chalk grades upwards into the Bluffport Marl, and a mild case of heat exhaustion. Oh, and Mr. Moo Moo, who I'll tell you about tomorrow. Jennifer and I took a break in Livingston about 3 p.m. to rehydrate and recover from the heat (my field thermometer registered 95F about 2:30), and then we headed south, to an area near the Tombigbee River between Coatopa and Belmont, to what is probably, currently, my favorite fossil locality.
Set about a mile back from any paved roads, near a hunting trail, is a large series of deep gullies exposing the contact between the Demopolis and Bluffport, and the lowermost Bluffport beds here are packed with bone. First, we had to finish up the excavation of a large sea turtle I found here in November. In life, turtles are fabulously sturdy and symmetrical things; after about 75 million years, they tend to lose both those qualities. This one is currently in many hundreds of pieces. If the shell's ever reconstructed, it should be about three feet in length. We spent the rest of the time surface collecting, mostly shark and mosasaur teeth.
This locality is not without its drawbacks. Good localities rarely are. The most common macrofossils here are tens of thousands of giant oyster shells, some a foot across, piled up in vast reefs or shoals. As the soft marly clay and chalk weather away, the shells pile up in razor sharp mounds, and to get to the bones and teeth, one has to pick carefully over them. Even with gloves and knees pads, it's quite painful and days at the site always end with raw palms and knees, and usually a good number of cuts and bruises. Add to this the heat and fire ants (both already bad in April), nettles, biting flies and sweat bees, and the inevitable mosquitoes, and you can see why my "days off" are, in many respects, much harder work than my work days. But it was a beautiful morning and afternoon, a gorgeous sunset, and my only real regret in that this isn't how I spend every day.
We took a bunch of photos today and I'll have Jennifer post some of them here tommorow (I'm much to tired to bother with uploading and ftp and such), so come back by and have a look.
Note from Jennifer: Here's a picture of the utterly fossil-free pastureland of yesterday morning
By contrast, here's the fossil-rich wasteland that is Caitlin's favorite locality.
And here are some of the lovely knife-edged oysters
And finally, here's CRK in her natural habitat.
You can see how the oysters managed to destroy my shoes, peeling the soles off both, so that I had to tie them together with kite twine (my field pack has everything, for every eventuality). This wouldn't have happened, but my good hiking boots are somewhere in storage, still packed because of the Atlanta fiasco, and I wore a cheap pair of shoddily-made work shoes. It made for an amusing hike back to the van.
Note from Jennifer: It looked pretty amusing, too. See for yourself.
Let's see. I got the cover slick for the trade paperback reprinting of Silk today, and it look's very nice. Tomorrow, it's back to work on Chapter Five!
Wednesday, April 24, 2002
Chapter Five got off to a proper start today. By 3:30 this afternoon I had 1,008 fairly decent words and two new characters to deal with. And I've sent the rough draft of Chapter Four out to be read by a couple of people who act as my "first readers."
I may take tomorrow off to do some neglected field work. But there's nothing harder than giving myself a day off, no matter how much I "deserve" it. Even if the day involves hard work, which field days do, I still feel as if I'm slacking off if the work isn't writing fiction. I think this derives, at least in part, from the fact that writing, unlike most professions (if writing can even be said to be a profession), has very poorly defined parameters for "work time" and "not work time." Any moment I'm awake I could be writing. There's no set number of hours that I am to work each day. My work day may vary from an hour to sixteen hours, seven days a week (excepting those awful dry spells). To make matters worse, my office is in my home. My business number is my home phone number. There is no line whatsoever between workplace and home, as I may often sit on the chaise in the front room and write or read, or may edit a manuscript in bed. I have to laugh whenever I hear someone complain about taking their work home with them, as my work is rarely ever anywhere else. Sure, there's no commute, no cubicle, no worries about how (or even if) I dress for work, but there's also virtually no escape. All of which makes deciding to take a day "off" very difficult.
I'm reading Arthur Conan Doyle again, as I have to get a Sherlock Holmes story written sometime in the next nine weeks. It's a project I would have had to pull out of if the editor hadn't kindly extended my deadline to the end of June.
Bill Shafer at Subterranean Press has asked me if I'd like to edit an anthology and I'm thinking it over. It would be a new experience. That's not always good. Anyway, right now we're only at the think-about-this-and-toss-about-some-ideas stage.
And that's probably about it for tonight. I've probably said this before, but I'm afraid I've begun to neglect my ink-and-paper journal for the blogger. It worries me, as they do have two entirely different functions. But there's only so much that can be written in any single day (even when you're an obsessive, guilt-ridden workaholic like me).
Tuesday, April 23, 2002
Today I wrote 28 wds. on Chapter Five (no, I didn't leave out a zero or two - 28 words). Exactly one sentence. Well, also the title of the chapter, which pushes it up to 35. No wonder I'm exhausted. Actually, after staring at that one sentence for an hour an a half, I realized I had to walk over some of the ground where the opening is set, a viaduct adjacent to (and partly over) the old Sloss Furnaces. So, I spent about an hour walking back and forth, jotting down notes and snapping three diskettes' worth of reference photos. I used the same locale in Part 2 of "Souvenirs" (The Dreaming #18). I have to concoct an appropriately dire punishment to visit upon myself on these days when I don't write my requisite 1,000 words, or at least something close to it. Suggestions welcome.
Here's a photo of three baby robins in their nest beneath the viaduct, which I got while being yelled at by both their parents, who were swooping about nearby:
Of course, the day didn't start well at all. I had a dentist appointment. I hate going to the dentist. It's one of my few genuine phobias. But go I did, as, during WHC, I'd noticed a very small brown spot on my right lower wisdom tooth which I thought might be the start of a cavity. I was right. So, it had to be filled. As I'd done once before, I requested we forego the Novacaine. She said it was a shallow little thing and I detest my mouth being numb for hours, so I figured I'd be fine, despite her misgivings. However, the tooth already has a filling (which she put in just last year), and, as she drilled, she began to fear the filling had cracked and more decay might be lurking underneath the amalgam. So she decided to take it out, check, and refill the tooth. And still I declined Novacaine. There was no additional decay, and the filling wasn't cracked, but I think she's decided I'm some sort of demented masochist.
Monday, April 22, 2002
Only 722 wds. today, but that got me to pg. 136 and the end of Chapter Four. After a visit to the dentist tomorrow, I'll begin Chapter Five.
Part of the day was spent moving a superfluous futon out of my office, freeing up a great deal of space. Moving things about in the office is almost always momentous and somewhat disorienting. The futon is currently residing in the hallyway outside the apartment door, waiting until we have time to move it down into the basement. I know you care.
I read more Willian Blake this afternoon — Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience. Blake is amazing.
Did I mention how absolutely imperative it is that you order at least one copy of In the Garden of Poisonous Flowers? It's the first time I've ever done a novella (or novellette, or whatever — a long short story), which Subterranean Press has published as a small hardback, complete with a painted cover and interior black-and-white illustrations by Dame Darcy (she of Meatcake). It was a very popular book at WHC in Chicago, perhaps because of the detailed illustrations on the endpapers, which depict, rather graphically, the depredations of a clan of ghoulish Victorian lesbians. Anyway, it's a story about Dancy Flammarion, set just before her arrival in Birmingham, just prior to the beginning of Threshold. You can order directly from the Subterranean Press website. Order the limited or lettered edition and get "On the Road to Jefferson," a free chapbook detailing the dangers of wandering lonely Georgia roads in a car full of drunken goths. And remember: spending your money on my books won't buy Voltaire love, but it's better than wasting your riches on gummy worms and tequila.
Sunday, April 21, 2002
A better writing day today than yesterday, in that I didn't have to apply quite so much force to my ass to keep from wondering away from the keyboard. 1,278 wds. Chapter Four will be finished tomorrow. I also spent some time plotting today. This book has plot to spare. I think it's time to start trimming.
And I'm reading William Blake.
Saturday, April 20, 2002
I almost forgot. Silk will be reissued this November by Roc in trade paperback format. The Roc edition has been out of print the last few months (the Gauntlet hardback has been available), though no one quite seems to know why.
Caitlin's First Rule of Writing: It does not matter whether or not you want to write on any given day. Desire is irrelevant. You write regardless of desire.
Today was the sort of day when I had to keep that maxim floating somewhere between my eyes and the iBook's screen at all times. If asked, at this point in my career, I'd say that becoming a writer who can make a decent living at writing is 25% talent, 25% luck, and 50% perseverence. I'd even go so far as to say that you can get by without talent, but luck and perseverence are a must. Especially perseverence.
I wrote 1,172 wds. on Chapter Four today. Something about this novel is feeling much more mature than either Silk or Threshold. It's a peculiar feeling. I expect to finish Chapter Four by Sunday evening.
Since I don't really have much else to say tonight, I'll take a second to plug Voltaire's new disc. Here's a message from the Spooky One himself, by way of Sam Rosenthal:
I wrote Boo Hoo during the last year or so of a 12 year relationship
that went down the tubes. Needless to say, I went through all sorts
of emotions during that time and I think it shows in the songs....
okay, let's just get to the point.... I had the WORST year of my life
last year and right now the ONLY thing that is going to cheer me up
is if I sell a million copies of Boo Hoo so that I can spread my pain
throughout the land! So buy my damn record, or I will come to your
house and cut your finger off. Yeah, and buy one for your ex, too and
send it to him or her .... along with your dead finger.... Nothing
says love like sending your ex a copy of Boo Hoo with a severed body
part attatched. Go on, make me rich so that I can buy me some love.
(who feels better already)
So visit the Projekt Records website, or Voltaire's (@Voltaire) to insure that Voltaire can buy some quality love, not that cheap stuff that turns green on your finger or shrinks the first time you wash it. Be a mensch, not a schmuck!
Friday, April 19, 2002
I wrote so much in here this afternoon it seems a little silly to say anything else for now. Force of habit.
For those who care, Horrornet.com's discussion area, The Pit, is now history. That means that my discussion forum has been moved. It is now located at:
It's a bit homely, as the decorators haven't finished, but it's fully functional and fairly troll-proof. And as far as I'm concerned, that's what counts. Lurkers welcome, but posting encouraged.
Thursday, April 18, 2002
I'm having less trouble getting back into the novel than I'd expected. 1,024 wds. today. Usually, though, nothing disrupts my writing like a trip, especially a trip to a convention.
Anyway, on to the rest of the con report. I have to confess I'm a little indifferent about finishing this. As Mia Wallace said to Vincent Vega in Pulp Fiction, "It's been built up way too much," and I doubt my account of the bizarre events that attended the end of Sunday can possibly convey the weirdness of the whole incident.
Let's see. Sunday. I awoke feeling well, the effects of Saturday's sudden illness seemingly past. Maybe it was only a hangover after all. Maybe it was the crappy tapwater at the hotel. Maybe it was stress. I think I had another of those dreadful "bagel" things for breakfast. Next time I do a con, I believe I'll carry my breakfast with me. Wait. No, I didn't have one of the "bagel" things. I was late getting out of the hotel room and had a 12:30 lunch appointment with my Roc editor, Laura Anne Gilman, so I skipped breakfast. My appetite was still a bit iffy, but I managed to get down half a roast-beef sandwich, a few French fries, and a lot of water. We talked about the con, sales of Threshold (which are going well), and such like. She gave me a copy of the new Roc anthology, The Darker Side, John Pelan's follow-up to his 1998 Darkside: Horror for the Next Millennium. It includes my short story, "Still Water," as well as new material by Poppy, Brian Hodge, Peter Crowther, Tim Lebbon, Jessica Amanda Salmonson, and lots of other folks. The anthology will be in stores in early May. After lunch, I went to the dealers' room and signed, literally, hundreds of copies of In the Garden of Poisonous Flowers and Tales of Pain and Wonder. A little later, we went to the closing ceremonies, where Neil gloated over winning the purple three-eared, eight-legged, bug-eyed bunny rabbit in the art auction (it should have been mine, of course). While the convention proper ended here, with Charlie Grant receiving his Toastmaster award, many of the writers were scheduled for a 6 p.m. offsite signing at the After-Words bookshop in downtown Chicago.
Just after closing ceremonies ended, Neil's acting assitant Gwenda Bond ("Bond, Gwenda Bond.") asked me (well, it was slightly stronger than an asking, but whatever, the wounds of coercion will heal) if Jennifer and I would accompany Neil for dinner, as she had to head back to Kentucky. We were promised sushi and noodles for our troubles, and since I had no other plans, I agreed. I wandered off towards the bar (only to discover it closed) and Neil wandered off to sign signature pages for Steve Jones (the same set I'd signed on Friday). I hope you guys like parentheticals. I seem stuck on them this afternoon.
There was an enormous amount of confusion about exactly how we were to be transported from the Radisson at O'Hare to the bookshop where the signing was being held. Plans seemed to change every fifteen minutes or so. But finally Neil and I were squeezed into a very small car (my height renders most cars "very small") and driven downtown. Neil talked about the night he and Poppy had cobra wine in New Orleans, and I marveled at the city and wondered aloud and at length why the hell we'd been stuck way out in the boonies when there was actual civilization only a half hour from the airport. We arrived at After-Words and, much to Neil's relief, there was virtually no one waiting to have books signed. I think that Neil had just about reached his signing limit for the weekend. I know I certainly had, and I'd signed probably 1/10th what he'd signed. Apparently, the After-Words affair had been poorly advertised and Neil hadn't mentioned it in his online journal (probably because no one bothered to tell him about it until after he got to the convention). We were asked if we'd like some foul-smelling catered Thai food (we declined) and then were sat at a table far in the back of the store, apparently so we couldn't talk to anyone else. Neil signed for a dozen or so folks, and I signed about six copies of Tales of Pain and Wonder. The bookstore had that collection, as well as copies of From Weird and Distant Shores and In the Garden of Poisonsous Flowers, but not a single copy of Threshold. There were wooden pillars with bits of authorial wisdom scrawled upon them, including "Good prose is like a windowpane." I looked at it and remarked to Jennifer that no, "Good prose is like a pane of stained glass."
The signing ended at eight o'clock, and we gathered outside on the sidewalk for the drive to the sushi restaurant — me, Neil, Jennifer, Ed Bryant, and "Tiffany" (name changed to protect the guilty). "Tiffany" is a blonde drummer for a local ABBA cover band. Well, she is in this story, at least. She works at one of the local bookstores and wanted to take Neil to dinner as thanks for his having signed. She was wearing a Spooky Kitten t-shirt. We were told that the restaurant was in Arlington Heights, a Chicago suburb just west of O'Hare. There was some trouble getting to her car, which had been parked in an adjacent public garage, and we had to walk around the block to find an unlocked door. "Tiffany" drives a Ford Escort station wagon; I sat up front (leg room) and Neil, Ed, and Jennifer packed themselves painfully into the backseat. Leaving the garage, "Tiffany" discovered she didn't have the money to get out of the parking deck, which we should have taken as a warning sign and run. But we are trusting souls.
For the next half hour or so, as the sun set, "Tiffany" drove aimlessly about downtown Chicago, looking for an entrance onto I-90. We crossed the Chicago River repeatedly. We saw some truly scary neighborhoods. In the backseat, Neil and Ed talked shop, unaware of the travails that lay ahead. "Tiffany" finally discovered an entrance ramp onto the interstate and soon we were racing at a disquieting 85 mph towards Arlington Heights and the promised sushi. But as we passed the last of downtown, we left the interstate and "Tiffany" began to mumble about how her friend had given her bad directions. At this point, I have to confess it all becomes a bit fuzzy. We raced along a series of backroads, county highways, and the city began to give way to suburbs and small patches of farmland. There were cows. Pretty soon, there were only cows. We passed Diamond Lake and Neil remarked, a bit nervously, "Diamond Lake. What a pretty name," but his tone made it plain that what he was really thinking was, Where the bollocks are we?
Though I did not know it at the time, behind me, Neil, Jennifer, and Ed were discussing, in fearful whispers, the possibility that "Tiffany" might be taking us all out in the woods to do us in, and there wouldn't even be any sushi beforehand. We rushed past strip malls and honky tonks and dark trees. Plainly, we'd reached the sort of place where people do not eat sushi. Things continued on this way for about another hour and a half, until about 10 p.m. Occassionally, Neil would politely, if nervously, inquire if we were almost to the restaurant, and "Tiffany" would say something noncommital, "Maybe," or "That's possible," or "We're making progress." That sort of thing. Finally, with the city lights far to the southeast behind us, and "Tiffany" convinced we were headed south, though I could tell from the position of the moon and Venus that we were clearly heading northwest (shades of Flight 19), I asked, "So, we know where we are, right?" She made a confused, garumphing sort of sound as we bounced over a railroad track at 75 mph, muttered something about killing her friend (the one who gave her bad directions) with a tire iron, and screeched into the parking lot of a convenience store. Neil was, I think, trying to "talk her down" at this point. He indicated that we'd reached a point where we needed to determine three things: 1) where we were; 2) where Arlington Heights might be relative to where we were; and 3) how long it would take to get back to the hotel at O'Hare. Me, I just wanted out of that damned car.
Of course, by this time, we were all either starving or carsick (or both). Neil and Ed grabbed handfuls of junk food (including a dubious looking turkey sandwich wrapped in plastic) and cans of Red Bull, while "Tiffany" and Jennifer looked over a road map with the bald and very muscular man working behind the convenience store's counter. "You're not anywhere near Arlington Heights!" the man exclaimed unhelpfully. "Hell, you're way up here," and he pointed to a spot a few inches off the map, on the counter. "You guys are behind the cheddar curtain now!" Slowly, the horror sunk in. "Tiffany" had driven us all the way to Wisconson. We were, in fact, more than halfway to Milwaukee. I shook my head and went to take a piss.
Fifteen minutes later, we were back in the car, following the bald convenience store attendant's directions east, back to I-94, which would carry us back down to O'Hare and Rosemont. Scary Kitten Girl, certain now that she would forever be known as the crazy chick who'd kidnapped Neil and Caitlin and Ed and spirited them off to Wisconsin, continued to drive at alarming speeds. Neil, concerned that, in her agitated state, she might pass out and steer us into a tree, forced her to drink a can of Red Bull, while lecturing us on the dietary habits of rickshaw drivers. Ed Bryant discovered that the turkey sandwich had expired in February and, so, no one ate it. Back on the interstate, we passed a cop at 90 mph and Ed finally suggested, ever so tactfully, that perhaps she should slow down. Which she did. For about thirty seconds, at which point a large pick-up truck passed us and she sped up again. I'm pretty sure my fingerprints are indeliably imbedded in the vinyl of her dash.
And just when it seemed the evening could reach no new heights of surreality, Neil began to sing "Denton" from Shock Treatment. I looked over my shoulder and he was grinning somewhat disconcertingly. "Are you singing what I think you're singing?" asked I and "I didn't know anyone else knew about Shock Treatment" said Neil and continued singing, running through most of the songs from the film as "Tiffany" drove blissfully past the hotel. While she turned around to try again, Neil regaled us with tales of an obscure mid-'80s film called The Return Captain of Invincible and how he'd met Richard O'Brien. About 11 p.m., we were finally deposited back at the hotel. I think I might have kissed the parking lot. There may yet be gravel between my teeth. There's a little more, but that's the worst of it.
Moral: Never accept offers of free sushi from cute, navigationally-impaired girls from Chicago who wear Scary Kitten t-shirts. Resist.
I was supposed to meet with a curator at the Field Museum on Monday morning to examine mosasaur specimens, but the unexpected jaunt to Wisconsin, and the con in general, had me entirely too wiped out. I begged off, promising to make the Field next time I'm in town. Jennifer and I got up Monday morning and drove straight back to Birmingham, eleven hours or so, stopping only for gas and to wolf down a few Krystals somewhere near Nashville. And that was my WHC 2002 experience. I'm sure I've forgotten loads and loads and loads of fascinating stuff, such as "Mulch Madness," but it all pales in comparison to the ride with Scary Kitten Girl, and I suspect you'll live without ever hearing it.
On to other things . . .
The winner of the Name a Character contest is (drum roll) Carol Murray, who suggested Eponine Chattox. How could I resist? I will insert Eponine into a forthcoming story and Carol gets some goodies, though offhand, I can't recall what. The runner up, who doesn't get squat, is Jason Erik Lundberg, for Eulalia Bone. Thanks to everyone for the names. It was a hard choice, truly.
Now I think I shall go and lie on my face.
I returned to work on Low Red Moon today. Another 700 words on Chapter Four. At this point, I'm hoping to have the book completed by the end of August.
After Silk won two awards for "best first novel," I found myself suffering from an odd sort of performance anxiety. I've written about this problem at length in Trilobite: The Writing of Threshold, so I'm not going to get very deeply into it here. Suffice it to say that this fear of being unable to live up to the high expectations set by my first novel was directly responsible for the writing of my second (Threshold) taking so many more years than it should have. Now I'm having to be extremely careful this doesn't happen again.
While at WHC, Laura Ann Gilman, my editor, informed me that Threshold is about to go into its third printing. That's three since the November '01 release.
And speaking of WHC, I haven't finished my report, have I? I still haven't told the Tale of Thwarted Sushi. Neil called last night because he noticed my website was down and was afraid that he'd crashed my server by linking to it from his journal. Apparently it's happened before. Anyway, no, we were just down for maintainance at Gothic.net, which hosts my site.
How about I finish it all up sometime late tomorrow? No, really, just as soon as I've done with Low Red Moon for the day, I'll get to Sunday and Spooky Kitten Girl and the trip home. I promise.
I'm entirely too exhausted tonight to be accurate or entertaining, and while the first is not particularly important, the second counts for everything.
Tuesday, April 16, 2002
Because the telephone would not stop ringing, I've fled the office and am hiding out in my favorite corner of the Birmingham Public Library, in the Southern History Department, beneath the murals described briefly in Chapter Two of Threshold. Shahryar and Shahrazad are looking over my shoulder, and Krishna is to my left. To my right are the tall gallery windows and I can see the green trees, which I very much missed in winter-bound, rust-and-concrete-colored Chicagoland. It's about 3:30 p.m. and I suppose I should try to write out some account of the past few days, the convention, but I'm really an abysmal reporter. My head fills up with impressions and loses the more photographic objectivity of actual events and truer chronologies. Then again, Ursula LeGuin (see her essays in The Language of the Night) would probably say that my impressions are "true," and more objective reporting is merely "factual." And who am I to argue with Ursula LeGuin?
So. Where does it begin again. Lafayette. The two hour drive across the flatlands of northern Indiana. An almost total absence of topography that put me in mind of Kansas and the Dakotas, that drained sea floor sort of flatness. The whole wide world weighted down by a swollen, blue sky. I've never liked the plains. They always make me want to lie down in a ditch and hold on, for fear that I might tumble up and into space.
We found the end of I-65 about 2:00 Thursday afternoon, the unremarkable source of that long asphalt river, and proceeded through the industrial wastes of Gary and East Chicago and Whiting, past 20th-century squalor and the hulking ruins of late 19th-century factories and mills, deeper and deeper into the city. Farther north, Lake Michigan lay like a vast turquoise gem lapping at the shores of Mordor. It's very strange for me, going north and finding seagulls. We passed miles of housing projects, most of which seemed abandoned, the steeples of churches, the domes of synagogues and mosques, the Morton Salt factory.
We're never going to get anywhere at this rate. How about I abandon any pretext at a proper travelogue and just go for the highlights? Yeah, I like that idea, too.
Nothing particularly remarkable about the remainder of Thursday. We got to the con. There's a lot I will admit to not understanding about conventions, but I don't see why it's so often necessary to strand people literally at the ends of airport runways (or other, similarly bleak, environs) in the dead center of nowhere. We spent a few hours in the hotel, which was a bizarre affair itself — twelve floors, and yet there was no portion of this great monument to cement and beige paint that managed to be more than four or five stories tall! Inside, the temperature seemed to vary, randomly, between Saharan and Arctic, often within the space of only a few feet. The woman at the check-in counter sent us to a room full of someone else's luggage and we had to start all over again.
Thursday night we were all bused out to Evanston (???) for a "cocktail party" at a bookshop where one was offered a choice of either yellow wine or purple wine. I had a Coke. Actually, we drove the van to Evanston, which was good because the buses all got lost or misdirected or something of that sort and almost didn't show up at all. The bookshop (Something Wicked on Church St.) didn't carry any of my books, but they did have a lot of action figures. I got Rygel (you know, the deposed Hynerian dominar from Farscape, which I'd not been able to find in either Birmingham or Atlanta). After the buses finally arrived, we walked a couple of blocks to the Evanston Public Library where we all watched Neil sign for the multitudes. I think he should begin leasing his fans to the rest of us. I promise I would be gentle.
On Friday, I'd intended to spend the day at the Field Museum and the Shedd Aquarium, but ended up attending to various business and social responsibilities instead. By the time I was free, it was too late to bother with yet another drive from jet-addled Rosemont into Chicago proper. To console myself, I bought a bunch of Arkham House editions in the dealers' room, spending money on books I'd promised myself I wasn't going to spend. But there you go. That evening, after the mass autographing, Jennifer and I had a very fine dinner at Harry Carey's with Neil, Peter Straub, Gary Wolfe, and Charlie Brown. It was the sort of restaurant you imagine the Rat Pack frequenting. Meat came in very large chunks and everything came with pasta. This would be the only decent meal I would have during the entire convention. We got back to the con hotel late, spent some time at one of the publishers' or booksellers' parties (I honestly can't recall which one), before retiring to Peter's quarters with our roommate Darren McKeeman (he of Gothic.net; go forth and subscribe), where we were mildly merry far into the night.
I woke up Saturday morning feeling slightly out-of-sorts, which I wrote off as too much rich food and alcohol the night before. For breakfast, I had something like a stale hamburger bun with a hole punched in the center, which the hotel was trying to pass off as a bagel. As I chewed, and chewed, and chewed, I tried to convince myself that the out-of-sortsness was only a very mild hangover. I had a 10 a.m. panel (something about childhood experiences with horror novels), so I hurriedly dressed and went downstairs. But by the time the panel started I was feeling decidedly green and beginning to wonder if perhaps there wasn't something more serious going on in my guts than the legacy of the previous night's (and morning's) over-indulgences. I had another panel at noon, "Fox Women and Shark Gods," where we were supposed to discuss ignored monsters. I was sitting at the Gothic.net booth, waiting for the nausea to subside, when Jennifer reminded me that I was not only on the panel, but moderating it. I groaned, pulled out my notebook, and began trying to think of interesting questions. Jennifer worriedly started asking passersby for help. Fortunately, Jill Thompson was also on the panel and managed to be far more entertaining and insightful than me. When the panel was done, Jennifer and Darren convinced me that perhaps I only needed to eat something, so we went to the hotel restaurant (which always seemed to smell like boiled ketchup) and I ordered a sandwich, the blandest thing I could find on the menu. Neil showed up with his daughter, Maddy, who'd been busy teaching Rain Graves dance steps. Shortly after Neil sat down, after my lunch had come and I'd nibbled reluctantly at it, I abruptly excused myself and rushed back to the room.
Bad Things happened.
I spent the next several hours in the room, swigging Maalox, chewing Tums, cursing my innards, and watching the clock. My reading was at 5:30 and I was determined I wasn't going to have driven (well, ridden) all the way to Chicago (well, Rosemont) to miss my own reading. I became very familiar with the tile on the bathroom floor and, as the day slipped past, slowly began to feel better. To my surprise, by five I was feeling just barely well enough to leave the room. Despite being sick and the reading being located in one of the Saharan zones, things went very well. The room was packed and I read from Chapter Three of Low Red Moon. I was slightly annoyed that someone had seen fit to bring along her young son, as the chapter is anything but the sort of material that I'm comfortable reading to an eight or nine-year-old, but, otherwise, it was a good reading.
When it was finished, we went back up to the room and I started changing clothes for the IHG (International Horror Guild) awards ceremony at 6:30 p.m. I'd brought a particular outfit for the ceremony, including a custom-made corset by Diana DiNoble; considering that I was still feeling quite ill, Jennifer tried to persuade me to wear something else. But I was determined that the evening was going to go exactly as planned, Bad Things or no Bad Things, and I squeezed myself into the corset. As a concession, I did let Jennifer leave the laces fairly loose. I drank a lot more Maalox and we went downstairs again.
Oh, and I won two awards. "Onion" (from Wrong Things) won for Best Short Story of 2001 and Threshold received the award for Best Novel (for a complete listing of this year's IHG nominees and winners, go to the IHG homepage). Needless to say, I was delighted. Sick and oxygen-deprived (the corset, remember), but very pleased all the same. Below is a link to a photo of me accepting one of the awards (the balloon is not the award).
The ceremony ended and, instead of sensibly going back to my room and lying down, which was more than I felt like doing, I told myself I deserved to celebrate, so I went first to the Gothic.net party, then to the Fedogren and Bremer party. The latter was much quieter and not so smoky, and I sat sipping ginger ale while everyone else indulged in sidecars, the specialty of the party's bartender. Slowly, I began to feel better. For hours, I talked about movies and Tolkien and Lovecraft with a circle of people I rarely get to see. Byron White confessed to me his theory that the most frightening thing in the universe was monkeys, and Jim Shimkus told of a harrowing, drunken midnight journey through a storm drain in Athens, GA, which carried him beneath the UGA stadium and an adjacent cemetery, through a tunnel graffitied with eldritch symbols and the names of forbidden deities. By one or two a.m., I was starting to feel slightly human again. Eventually, Jennifer, Jim, Byron and I went back to my room and talked until about three in the morning, though I don't think anything quite as inspired as the Horror of Monkeys ("Think of the monkeys, man!") or as terrifying as preternatural storm drains was mentioned.
Damn. It's almost 6 p.m. and I haven't even gotten to the Ballad of Spooky Kitten Girl and the Cheddar Curtain, which Neil has promised I would tell. But I have things to do, so tales of elusive sushi will have to wait until later this evening. Time to pack things up and head back home. Oh, thanks to Jada for taping Farscape for me! What the frell would I do without you.
I just got word that Neil is directing people to my journal for The Story. Obviously, I haven't gotten around to it yet, but I will later today.
Also, I have all the entries for the Name a Character contest and will post the winner this evening.
So much for blogging on the road. The combination of a very busy con schedule and an almost complete lack of internet access in the hotel combined to make it too impractical. I'll try to catch up with a report tomorrow (later today, after sleep).
Anyway, here I am, back from Chicago.
Thursday, April 11, 2002
I'm posting from a Microtel in Lafayette, Indiana, not far from Purdue University. I was surprised to find they had data ports in the rooms. I thought that I'd have to write this tonight in MS Word and post it from Chicago tomorrow. Lucky me.
It's depressing driving backwards through the seasons. We left Birmingham at 1:15 this afternoon in mid-spring, with temperatures in the low 80s. By Nashville it was looking like very early spring. Here in Indiana, it looks more like late winter. The Inconveniences of Latitude. Ugh.
Some sights on the road, though. Moving north along I-65 the geology can be spectacular, but somewhat monotonous. Towering road cuts exposing thick, fossiliferous layers of gray Ordovician and Mississippian limestones, but it all starts to look the same after a few hundreds miles. You can only say, "Wow, look! There's another two-hundred feet of Ordovician-aged limestone," so many times before people want you to shut up. Fortunately, humanity is somewhat more colorful and varied in the scenery it provides. My favorites of the day: exotic livestock - an emu and two bison; just across the Alabama/Tennessee state line, huge and lurid billboards advertising a strip joint called The Boobie Bungalow; somewhere in Kentucky, a sign on a gate declaring: USED COWS FOR SALE; a few miles farther along, just off an exit, a 24-hour Adult Megamart. There seems to be quite a pornucopia along I-65.
A day of crossing rivers - the Tennesee, the Cumberland, the Kentucky. Small cities clustered about rivers, cities with almost interchangeable skylines (though the Bell South building in Nashville was pretty bizarre). Jennifer drove and I read to her from a book on the "first wave" of Gothic novelists - Lewis and Radcliffe and so on (research for her Ph. D.). It was dark by the time we reached Indianapolis.
Wednesday, April 10, 2002
I hate days immediately preceeding trips, days entirely consumed by details and packing and stress and loose ends. It makes my stomach hurt (but then a lot of things make my stomach hurt). Anyway, here it is almost 1 a.m. and I'm still not finished packing. But the rest will have to wait until tomorrow morning.
I don't know how writers who travel more than I do manage to get the traveling and the writing done.
At least I slept decently last night.
Tuesday, April 09, 2002
My admirable goal for tonight is to sleep.
Despite spending most of the day in that brittle, constantly-shifting fog that seems to follow insomnia, I did manage to write 595 wds. on Chapter Four of Low Red Moon. And I expect that will be it until I return from Chicago and the World Horror Convention on April 16th.
Most of tomorrow will be spent packing, deciding what to use for my reading on Saturday, making notes for panels, seeing that the car's up for the drive to Chicago and so on. We'll leave sometime on Wednesday. The convention will take up most of Thursady, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, though I do intend to steal away for visits to the Shedd Aquarium and the Field Museum of Natural History. I'm hoping this will be a good convention. The last WHC I attended was in Atlanta in March 1999. It's a chance to catch up with a lot of people I haven't seen for a year or so (and it beats sitting in my office all day).
Also, I have an appointment on Monday to examine mosasaur material in the collections of the Field Museum. So, this is a combined writing/paleo' trip.
And because my judgement is presently somewhat impaired due to the excessive lack of sleep, and because my ego is always in need of stroking (writers develop very smooth egos over time, from all that stroking), I'll close with the following e-mail, which I received this afternoon:
I finished THRESHOLD this afternoon, reading the last hundred pages in one big gulp, and I enjoyed it tremendously. While I liked SILK and your short stories, it seems like you've passed onto a new level with your writing. These were characters I could really empathize with, and I really cared what happened to them; the last scene where Dancy is back in the mental institution (well, she never really left, I guess, since Chance rewrote history) just broke my heart. This was an extremely well-written novel, and I appreciate all the pain and frustration and sophomore jitters you went through to produce it. I'm planning on being at World Fantasy this year, and I'm hoping you'll have time to sign it for me.
Jason Erik Lundberg
Thank you, Jason. Now I will wipe the drool off my keyboard and go lie on my face.
Monday, April 08, 2002
Yeah, it's 12:42 p.m. CST and I'm making a post. Ain't life weird.
Insomnia sucks ass through a Crazy straw (as Spooky is want to say). I lay in bed, unsleeping from 3:15 a.m., when I finally decided it was time to stop reading (Time Traveler: In Search of Dinosaurs and Ancient Mammals from Montana to Mongolia by Michael Novacek) and go to sleep. I even took Valerian. At 4:30 a.m. I was still lying there awake, so I took two more Valerian. By my best estimates, I finally fell asleep about 6:15, after the "blue horror of dawn" was well underway. I slept fitfully for four or five hours. Jennifer "woke" me about 10 a.m., because UPS had somehow managed to overcome their ignorance of doorknobs and delivered In the Garden of Poisonous Flowers. I opened the package, looked blearily at the book, grunted something, and fell back into my not-quite-asleep-or-awake state. I finally gave up at 11 a.m. and had breakfast. I wish someone would explain to me how we can possibly call ourselves "modern," when I can't even go to the corner chemist and buy a small bottle of laudanum to solve this problem.
Now I have to go spit up some words.
Oh. Yeah. In the Garden of Poisonous Flowers is a gorgeous little book. If you do not buy a copy, you deserve a thousand sleepless nights haunted by the smell of Valerian.
Today I made modest, but solid, progress with Chapter Four. 836 wds., and I'm happier with them than usual.
The weather turned warm again this afternoon (and thank goodness for Daylight Savings Time). Those of you reading this from the Great Lakes Region or New England (or all the World's other cold places) would probably find my idea of cold fairly silly, but, having spent most of my life in the Deep South, I'm uncomfortable with highs below 70F, and really 80F or warmer is ideal. We made about 74F today, and late this afternoon I took a long walk around downtown. On the weekends (or weeknights, for that matter), downtown Birmingham is a little like a set from a George Romero movie, scenes from sometime just after the apocalypse. Almost completely deserted. But it makes for nice walks. I stood on the bridge that carries 22nd Street over Morris Avenue and the maze of railroad tracks that cut the city in half (the bridge was finished in 1919 and is starting to look it), and watched a freight train as it passed beneath me and then rumbled away into the setting sun. On top of one of the box cars, someone had spray-painted the Christian ichthus symbol, but the modified version — the fish with legs and DARWIN written inside its body. I think maybe the universe is trying to tell me something again.
Back home, exhausted from the walk, I fell asleep on the chaise in the living room and slept for an hour, awaking about 7 p.m. I never sleep in the afternoon, but the nap left me feeling better physically than I've felt in weeks. It was good, clean sleep, which is even harder far me to come by than naps.
Anyway, the Name a Character contest is still going strong. I'm going to be able to fashion a telephone book from all these submissions. If you haven't sent in your suggestion/s, you still have until midnight on the 15th. E-mail them to Desvernine@aol.com and if you win, you get whatever I said you'd get when I first announced this thing. Stuff. We all want stuff, right?
Sunday, April 07, 2002
Blah, blah, blah - I wrote today. 1,265 words on Chapter Four. It's actually coming along quite well. My characters are beginning to talk more like people and less like characters. Now, if only I could unlock the secret of writing prose that unfolded more like reality and less like plot-constrained campfire tales, I'd feel certain I was, at last, on the right track.
But I didn't get to see In the Garden of Poisonous Flowers today, because our local UPS delivery people are lazy and/or incompetent and can't be trusted to figure out how to operate a keypad. Perhaps this is why downtown Birmingham is such a wasteland. Businessmen never get their packages, because UPS drivers can't fathom the mysteries of doorknobs.
Horrornet is about to experience the bbs equivalent of a Mass Extinction Event. Any moment now. It'll be interesting to see the new world that rises from the ashes. I thought about building an ark, but it seemed like too much trouble.
And, speaking of things that people post to the web in general, and speaking also of online journals in particular, I admit that I'm a little bit disturbed by the current fad of keeping personal diaries in public. An entirely new manifestation of exhibitionism, leading, I'm certain, to new manifestations of voyeurism. Seriously, people putting what seem to be intensely personal thoughts out there where everyone can see them, all their secret hopes and desires, fears and regrets, splashed about this or that website. What the hell ever happened to dignity? Or propriety? Or privacy? Isn't the whole point if a true personal diary or journal that it exists between the author and him or herself? That's why the damn things often come with locks and keys. I'm saying all this because I inadvertantly stumbled across such a thing today, and apparently much of Blogger is devoted to providing this service and, well, I'm simply mystified. Does this phenomenon spring from the loneliness of modern life, or from the craving for even the meanest scrap of celebrity which our mass-media culture fosters? Finally, the great emotional outlet for everyone who can't get on The Jerry Springer Show, the ultimate egalitarian catharsis. All you need is access to a computer and a minimal knowledge of the language of your choice.
For the record, this journal I'm writing here will never descend into the nether regions of my private life. That's why I keep a real journal, the ink-and-paper kind. I strongly believe that our personal demons and angels are things to be wrestled with behind the closed doors of our own psyches, with occassional, carefully-considered divulgences to close friends and family members and various other confidants. People we can hopefully trust not to ever use this knowledge against us. I find it hard to believe that anyone could be so naive as to view the entire population of the web, at least in theory six billion strong, as friendly. In short, this whole thing seems like a profoundly bad idea. If you were to ask my advice I'd say you'd be better off with a good fountain pen and one of the blank books from Barnes and Noble. But you didn't ask my opinion and, as I have expressed it anyway, and at length, I will now let the matter rest.
Changing the subject.
It seems months ago now that I last mentioned my reevaluation of my Right Bank/Left Bank taxonomy of "horror" fiction, and the relevance of the writings and ideas of Gothicist Ann Radcliffe to that reevaluation. Discussion on the Horrornet boards has recently dredged all this up again and reminded me that I never got where I was going, so to speak. So, though I don't have time to say much on the subject tonight, I will reopen this can of worms with a quote from Radcliffe's "On the Supernatural in Poetry" (posthumous publication 1826):
"That may be," said Mr. S------, "and I perceive you're not one of those who contend that obscurity does not make any part of the sublime." "They must be men of very cold imaginations," said W------, "with whom certainty is more terrible than surmise. Terror and horror are so far opposite, that the first expands the soul, and awakens the faculties to a high degree of life; the other contracts, freezes, and nearly annihilates them. I apprehend, that neither Shakespeare nor Milton by their fictions, nor Mr. Burke by his reasoning, anywhere looked to positive horror as a source of the sublime, though they all agree that terror is a very high one; and where lies the great difference between horror and terror but in the uncertainty and obscurity, that accompany the latter, respecting the dreaded evil?"
Saturday, April 06, 2002
Today carried me another 1,007 wds. into Chapter Four. I am positively giddy with accomplishment (and sarcastic with exhaustion).
Oh, and we finally got a new Farscape episode tonight! Yes, I confess. I'm a frelling addict when it comes to this show. It's sort of like Star Trek for goths. I am entirely stuck on Chiana.
That's about it for this entry. I think I'll pass the next few hours with Lovecraft.
Friday, April 05, 2002
Last night's admittedly delirious post inspired a number of readers to send e-mails assuring me that yes, you can indeed die of insomnia. How kind of you all to set my mind at ease.
Actually, I slept last night, a little better than eight hours, which is a veritable attack of narcolepsy by my standards. It was the Valerian. But they only work for two or three nights. After that my insomnia always seems to figure out what's up and finds a way around the stuff. So I only take it about once a month.
I kept my promise and wrote the first 500 wds. of Chapter Four today. Indeed, I did somewhat better than that and wrote the first 645 wds. It's good to have it moving again. I'd like to finish this chapter before I leave for the World Horror Convention in Chicago next week, but that seems very unlikely. If I'm lucky, I'll get halfway through it before the trip. I've spent days lost in the necessary research for this chapter - books on pregnancy, police procedure, serial killers, numerology, FBI profilers, and alcoholism - and it's finally something of a relief to at last get down to the business of writing. I've come to see that Low Red Moon is going to be one of those stories that pushes my own willingness to face certain aspects of terror and horror to its limits. This time out the worst of the monsters may be all too human, and having to have them and their deeds rattling around in my head day and night is enough to give anyone insomnia, I'd think. I've had this problem a few times in the past, when I wrote "San Andreas" and ""Lafayette," for example, stories that required me to take characters places I didn't particularly want to go. I wonder if Miss Leatherman would ever believe I possess such strong feelings for my characters?
In the Garden of Poisonous Flowers is back from the printers and I hear it's a gorgeous little book. If you preordered, I'd imagine your copy will be along before too much longer. If you haven't preordered, there's still time to correct that oversight. I won't get to see the book for myself until Saturday.
Thursday, April 04, 2002
First off, I should add, in response to the many queries I've received over the last couple of days, that yes, you may send in as many names in the character-naming contest as you wish. There's no limit to the number of names that each individual may send. Send all you got. I'm starting to sound like Mojo Jojo. Also, the code in the e-mail link was messed up first time out, so here it is again - Desvernine@aol.com - and I do apologize for the confusion and inconvenience.
I'm starting to wonder if anyone's ever actually died of insomnia. Last night at 4 a.m. (which was really yesterday morning at 4 a.m.), when all sane and healthy people were fast asleep, I was wide awake and lamenting how logical positivism (among many other vile and contemptable things) has ruined my life. I'm sick, I tell you, sick.
Today was a day of errands. I did a little editing, but mostly I attended to the annoying ephemera of writing. I absolutely have to get Chapter 4 started tomorrow. In fact, I promise everyone reading this that I will write at least the first five hundred words of Chapter 4 tomorrow (which is really today). That's why this journal's here, after all. To make me feel guilty so I'll get off my slacker butt and make words.
But first, I have to try to sleep. Valerian tonight. Has anyone else ever noticed how Valerian root smells like an unholy cross between ass and a Taco Bell burrito? No? You haven't? Well, I sure have. According to my bottle of Valerian: "Used since the time of Hippocrates in the 4th and 5th centuries, Valerian is a perennial herb that is harvested from rich shady woods and damp meadows. Valerian derives its name from valere meaning to be strong in reference to its distinct, intense odor. The smell is created as the roots dry and is a sign of a mature root." Perhaps they should have said it's the sigh of a rotten root. One little bottle can stink up a whole room. Go to bed, Caitlin. Your raving.
Wednesday, April 03, 2002
An absolute and utter waste of a day. Or, perhaps only the sort of day I can't pretend, by virtue of apparent productiveness, is anything other than a waste. I had to make an unexpected and rushed trip to and back from Atlanta, so no writing was done. Little of anything was done.
I've been very vocal over the years about Amazon.com's curious practice of mixing a virtual bookstore with a virtual forum for disgruntled (and gruntled) readers. It seems to me that a certain conflict of interest exists between the business of selling books and the alleged service of reviewing them. Imagine, for example, walking into a real bookstore and, upon approaching a display of the latest by Anne Rice or Mario Puzo there's a great big sign which reads something to the effect of: "Joe Schmoe (identity and credentials withheld) says this book sucks." Mr. Schmoe, helpful (if anonymous) soul that he is, has even gone so far as to give the book in question only one or two out of five stars and thus, by reducing a novel to something which can be scored on a five-point grading system, has saved you from making a grave literary mistake. This scenario seems fairly outlandish to me, and yet this is precisely the practice encouraged at Amazon.com and other internet booksellers, who bank on the web's interactivity to get people to loiter about in hopes that they might someday buy something.
For example, a new "review" from Amazon, by a "Lauren Leatherman," which I ran across this morning. It's titled "Altogether disappointing" and in this "review" Miss Leathermen writes:
The end, though, is weak, mainly because we have no idea what it is supposed to signify. Are the characters enlightened, disillusioned, or forever scarred - both spiritually and psychologically? No light is shed on their reactions, or, truly, on what the purpose of their entire involvement in the world of monsters and angels was - or symbolized. The end of this book does not lend to a greater feeling of awe in the reader. It lends to confusion, and in my case, frustration . . .
If you've not read Threashold and, despite Miss Leatherman's comments, would someday like to do so, you should avert your eyes from the following, as my replies to her criticisms will surely spoil the book for you. That said, the final pages of Threshold can hardly elucidate mental changes which its characters have not experienced. Miss Leathermen is unusually articulate for an Amazon "reviwer," but that doesn't make up for her apparent inability or unwillingness to follow the action in a narrative. At the end of Threshold, the psychological clocks of the characters have been, essentially, set back a few months by the things that Chance Matthews does when she enters the tunnel and finally meets the book's apparent antagonists. At novel's end, you know what "happened," and I know what "happened," but for Chance and Deacon, Dancy and Sadie, the events of the book have not occurred, have "unhappened," and so we cannot how or to what degree these events have changed them. However the characters were changed, they have been unchanged, for the most part. Of course, this isn't entirely true. We do get to see the events of Threshold visibly alter the characters, but these alterations are seen before and at the climax, not afterward. The Scarecrow gets a brain, the Tinman gets a heart, the Cowardly Lion find his courage, and Dorothy Gale goes home to Kansas, but all that happens before Sadie and Dancy are killed, and before Deacon and Chance enter the waterworks tunnel with the intent of blowing it to Kingdom Come. Indeed, had the characters not endured the events of the narrative and come out changed in their respective ways, they would have all been unable to finish the quest before them.
A caveat. The epilogue implies that the "unhappening" is imperfect. Chance begins to have nightmares about a strange albino girl, and, looking for answers, finds Dancy in a sanitarium in Florida. Dancy seems to remember a good bit, even though, strictly speaking, none of it ever actually happened (and what do we call people who "remember" things that never happened . . .?). The ending of Threshold is not ambiguous, it's just strange.
My other main complaint lies with Miss Kiernan's treatment of her characters - mainly, Dancy and Sadie. As readers, we sympathize with Dancy. But while we care about her, it seems that the author that created her does not. Dancy's purpose in this book, it seems, is to be a receptacle for absolute misery. She endures terrible pain and horror only to, apparently, remain entrapped by that pain and horror. It almost seemed that Miss Kiernan was using Dancy as a means by which she could vent her anger and frustration. Although this may not be the case, I got this impression, and was in turn quite upset and disappointed by her treatment of Dancy. Similarly, I was unhappy with her treatment of Sadie. Why create a character - why let the readers into a character's head - if you are simply going to make her vanish at the end of the story? I think that Caitlin Kiernan owed us some explanation of why Sadie's presence in the book was ultimately important."
This paragraph contains a very interesting proposition, and one that I have spent a great deal of time contemplating over the years: that authors have a moral obligation to their characters. Not their readers, but their characters. In effect, if this is indeed the case, then we are truly gods and goddesses and our whims may bring genuine pain or joy to the people we create and move about like puppets to suits our needs. If this is true, then writers find themselves faced with a most unsettling moral dilemma. Unless all our works conclude with all our characters having been treated kindly and to, ultimately, a happy ending, then we are behaving immorally. If authors wish, by this line of reasoning, to avoid being a bad god and behaving cruelly and immorally, we must refrain from telling many sorts of stories. Perhaps most sorts of stories, as the world seems repleat with injustice and pain and good people who come to bad ends and bad people who come to good ends.
I have to wonder, for example what our Miss Leathermen would make of the story of Orpheus and Eurydice? Or Romeo and Juliet? What about the poor characters trapped within Oedipus Rex and Frankenstein? Yes, her accusation is true. Dancy passes from a miserable life (though one filled with awe and duty) to a miserable death, and back to a miserable life. That's why it's fair to say that this story is, in large part, concerned with horror. Horrible things happen to people who may not necessarily have it coming. And we're left to wonder why, or if, indeed, there even is a why. Horror. Perhaps Miss Leathermen would be happier with a Hello Kitty coloring book? I would send her one, to assauge her disappointment, if she would only be so kind as to e-mail me her address. As for Sadie Jasper, we don't see her after the "unhappening" because she never became involved with Deacon (beyond their brief meeting in "The Long Hall on the Top Floor"), because Deacon never broke up with Chance, because Deacon never slept with Elise, because Deacon, Chance and Elise never entered the waterworks tunnel that rainy April night. I think perhaps Miss Leatherman simply doesn't trust me as a narrator. When I show the "unhappening," I wasn't kidding. I meant it. The events in the book never occurred. Sadie gets off with a pretty good deal, as I see it. She helps save Chance and Deacon (and Dancy's life, if not her sanity), and Lord only knows what else, and then she gets her own life back and never has to know what horrors she's lived though. I suppose we could lamment her loss of an all but shiftless, alcoholic boyfriend, but I suspect I was doing her a good turn in that regard. She takes the blue pill . . .
I'm trying hard to learn not to mouth of at critics of no consequence (though I do chafe at the thought that someone might decide not to try Threshold because Miss Letterman is a poor reader). Friends continue to advise against it. But I'm especially annoyed, almost angered, at the accusation that the book's conclusion followed from my disinterest and/or laziness and that I don't care about the characters. Miss Leatherman has every right to dislike the novel, even to dislike it for reasons which are wrongheaded, but she should know that she's quite mistaken on all these counts. And surely, if it's fair for her to speak her piece, it's is at least equally fair for me to speak mine (even if doing so may be only an elaborate waste of my time).
Well, at least no one can complain that tonight's entry was short.
Tuesday, April 02, 2002
I'm writing this in Microsoft Word, because Blogger is currently refusing to talk to my computer. That's been happening a lot lately, actually, as blogmania seems to have started putting a squeeze on the service. I have no idea exactly when this will be posted (it's currently 12:52 a.m. in Birmingham). But at least this way I can run a spell check. I'd go to Blogger Pro, but I've been told by Neil Gaiman it's even worse than the regular, free Blogger.
I was reading the Journal of Paleontology earlier tonight, upon which one can usually depend on for fairly dry titles. But here's an unusual gem: "Weird things from the Middle Ordovician of North America interpreted as conularid fragments," by Drs. Jeffery G. Richardson and Loren E. Babcock (Ohio State). Weird things. I wonder if we could ever actually formulate a means of quantifying weird? Or even defining it, without resorting to a definition that relies upon the a priori recognition of a normal state? Not that I want anyone to get the idea that I disapprove of the title. I think it's marvelous. I'm just in an annoyingly nit-picky mood tonight.
Most of the day was spent at the library, doing research for Low Red Moon. But I also spent about half an hour in the Linn Henley wing, working on my ink-and-paper journal, which has gotten somewhat behind this week. When I was a kid, before they built the new library, this room was the center of the Birmingham Public Library. It appears in Chapter Two of Threshold, the huge room with the gorgeous mythological murals. Today someone was sitting in my usual spot beneath Shaharazade, so I sat on the other side of the room, beneath Isis and Rameses II.
I did make some significant progress with the plot today. Both Silk and Threshold are very much grounded in Birmingham, giving them a very focused, almost claustrophobic "unity of place." Low Red Moon will be different. The first third will be set here (except for one chapter in Atlanta), but then the characters will begin a northeastward flight, landing them in Stonington, CT, Providence, RI, and, ultimately, somewhere near Ipswich, MA. So you might say I'm broadening my horizons. It's extremely intimidating, though, and I'm planning a road trip for late April to trace the route from Birmingham to Ipswich. I need to wait until there's no longer any serious threat of snow, but not so long that the weather in the Northeast gets too warm. I'll be taking a bezillion digital pictures. Oh, and making these posts from the road.
My allergies are giving me fits and I'm extremely sleepy, which might mean I can actually sleep tonight. See you later.
Monday, April 01, 2002
God, it's too early in the day to be typing, much less typing in this journal. But I have the winner of the contest contest and feared a riot if I did not divulge the information forthwith. The winner is (drumroll):
Randy Speeg, for: "You could have a contest to name a character in an upcoming story, the name you like best wins."
So, this is how it will work. You have until midnight of April 15th (same deadline as your taxes, so, at least for Americans, it should be easy to remember) to think up and send to me via e-mail the best character name you can concoct. If there's one that I like, and only if there's one that I like a lot, its creator will receive the following: a "Salammbô" t-shirt, a signed copy of Threshold, and I'll use the character name in a story. The winner will be sent a release form granting me the right to use the character name in print, and if you don't sign it, I don't use it. So, get cracking! All entries should be sent straightaway to Desvernine@aol.com .
Meanwhile, here are a couple or three other entries from the contest contest that I found amusing enough to list here:
From David (david@rlh*org):
Bear with me a moment . . . got home about an hour before actual sunset
today and, while walking the dog, looked off to the East and saw the
moon in the sky. It was hanging low and was quite red - which made me
think of the Low Red Moon Journal on the site. The moon was rather
large, in addition to being rather red, and I wished I had a camera.
Which brings me to my contest idea: the "Send in Your Best Picture Of A
'Low, Red Moon' contest.
Doesn't have a particularly nice ring to it, but you'll get plenty of
pictures of the moon, which is something.
And two from Patrice (patricemarchbank@ihug*com*au) in Sydney, Australia:
1.. A bawdy limerick, which has to use Dancy Flammarion, trilobites and Oscar Wilde's hose in it somewhere (don't ask how).
4.. A short story (no more than 1,000 words) that uses you, Poppy Z. Brite, Christa Faust and Neil Gaiman in an inventive and creative fashion. Possibly set in New Orleans, and possibly arranged as a pastiche of Victorian penny dreadfuls (sort of like a Cluedo Murder Mystery -- was it Poppy in the Bordello with the Voodoo Phallus?).
So, congratulations to Randy and thanks to everyone else. I'm going the fuck back to bed now.
Most of the day was spent reading back over chapters 1-3 of Low Red Moon, making a few revisions and refamiliarizing myself with the details, before I begin Chapter 4.
After a very rainy night, and a drizzly day, the sun came out late this afternoon and Jennifer and I took a long walk, about a mile, around one of the older Birmingham neighborhoods, near Rhodes Park. Wonderful old Victorian houses, most of which have either been restored from the neglect inflicted upon them during the '70s, or were never allowed to get run down. The dogwoods are blooming. The trees are getting leafy. It's at this point in the year that I always marvel that I've somehow survived another winter. We stopped and talked to a small herd of very friendly cats in front of one of the old houses. Three marmalade brothers and their tabby mother. There was a brief unpleasantness with a large yellow dog that came bounding across its yard, barking like an idiot, and lunged partway through its somewhat delapidated fence. I grabbed a big stick, but fortunately it had lodged itself firmly between two slats and seemed to be stuck there. We kept walking. I assume it freed itself eventually. Heading back to the park, I looked up and the sky had gone the most marvelous shades of purple and blue and pink, with strokes of yellowwhite, a Maxfield Parrish sky, a matte-painting sky.
I have all the entries for the contest contest and I'll announce the winner later today. Then we can get on to the real contest . . .