Show and Tell Time

Where did The Land of the Beautiful Dead begin? Well now, it began when I was four years old. Bear with me.

When I was four, I taught myself to read out of resentment that my older sisters were learning to read and I was therefore being left out of something fun. I also started kindergarten that year. My teacher’s name was Mrs. Hailstone, and the only way she could have had a more perfect name would be if she was named Mrs. Hellfire or Mrs. Wormwood or maybe Mrs. Killkid. She was a horrible, horrible human being. Used to walk up and down the rows of her kindergarten class and smack our little hands with a wooden ruler, either for talking or sleeping or staring out the window or coloring out of the lines and especially for crying because your hands hurt. One day, I brought my favorite book in for Show and Tell, because if you didn’t bring anything in for Show and Tell, you got the ruler. The sight of that book in my four-year-old hands sent Mrs. Hailstone into a baffling fury and she threatened to take it away forever because I was a liar and liars get punished. What was I lying about? Why, that it was my favorite book. I couldn’t possibly have a favorite book because I couldn’t read. On hearing this, I began to cry, because this was actually my father’s book and I was terrified of losing it. Through my tears, I insisted I could too read, and so, to further humiliate a four-year-old child, Mrs. Hailstone ordered me to open it up and read in front of the entire class. So I slowly crept up to the front of the class, struggled the heavy book open (it was an oversized hardcover), and in my shaky, tearful voice, read, “In a hole in the ground, there lived a hobbit…”

She snatched the book away, flipped some pages and ordered me to read where she was pointing. I did. And then I did it again. And again. And then she spanked me on my fanny in front of everyone with that ruler for “making a scene” and made me stand in the corner until it was time to go home. Which I did, crying, but with the book clutched in my arms.

teddytrash

On a subsequent Show and Tell, she threw my teddy bear away. That’s not even a joke.

It comforts me no end to know this all happened long enough ago that she is probably dead. If not, I hope she’s reading this. Mrs. Hailstone, you are a horrible, horrible person.

I told you that story to tell you this one: After the Show and Tell incident, The Hobbit was no longer my favorite book. My mother, a wise and wonderful woman, noticed but did not know the circumstances of our falling-out, because I was four and did not have enough worldly experience to know that what happened to me was wrong and I should have told someone. All she knew was that I was no longer reading Tolkien. So she went out and bought me a small stack of classic horror stories rendered in comic book format: Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, A triple-play of Edgar Allen Poe’s The Cask of Amontillado, The Masque of the Red Death and The Raven, and HP Lovecraft’s The Outsider. These were not gory Vault of Horror type comics, I hasten to add, and I certainly was not traumatized by the black-and-white blood I did see in them. They didn’t give me nightmares and they didn’t turn me into a serial killer. I loved them. My love, sadly, was destructive and they didn’t survive it, but I remember vividly reading them over and over, transfixed by the interplay of words and images, and most especially by the story of Frankenstein.

When I was ten years old, I was already an avid reader, and my mother, bless her, went out again and purchased about two dozen large-print books at a library book fair, called the Classics Collector’s Library. It consisted mostly of adventure stories, like Robinson Crusoe, Treasure Island, and The Count of Monte Cristo, but also had a small selection of horror novels: Dracula and Frankenstein again, and also one of my all-time favorite horror stories, The Picture of Dorian Grey. But Frankenstein again captivated me, particularly with Mary Shelley’s original prose. Her Frankenstein was eloquent as well as horrible and the combination simply thrilled me.

And before I get a shit-ton of comments about how Frankenstein was the doctor, not his monster, I say that the creature referred to the doctor as his father many times, from which one might safely assume he considered himself the doctor’s son, and as there is nothing more natural than for the son to take the name of the father, I say Frankenstein applies equally to creature and creator. So there.

I have seen many of those classic stories brought o brilliant life on the big screen, but in all honesty, I must say I’ve never seen a Frankenstein as perfect as the one from that comic book so many years ago. Boris Karloff’s monster was frightening to look at, but a groaning, shambling beast; De Niro got the dialogue right, but, once his stitches healed up, he was just too human. And I realize that Shelley never says and may never have intended that her monster be anything but human in appearance, but my first Frankenstein had both the face of a monster and the mind of a poet and that, by God, was what I wanted to see.

 

Rock hard abs are great and all, but seriously, this is not a monster.

Rock hard abs are great and all, but seriously, this is not a monster.

So when I realized I was about to write what could only be called a zombie apocalypse novel, I wanted two things: First, I wanted the apocalypse part to be over. You will not read about hands punching out of the ground in the graveyard or people screaming through the streets in a blind panic. The war is over. Neither will you read about the stalwart survivors who continue to fight the good fight, buoyed by their own indomitable human spirit; the war is over and they did not win it. This is not a book about the living, but about the dead.

And that brings me to the second thing I wanted, which was to create a monster to equal that comic book creature of my childhood, one that was terrible and yet intelligent and reasonable. Azrael is brutal and cruel and he kills people. He’s horrible to look at and he’s even worse to touch. He is a monster…and he knows it. He is Frankenstein, without a father to pursue or be pursued by him, a creature who doesn’t even have the dubious comfort of being sewed together by pieces of men. He has no “kind”. He has never been human and has been worn down by enough time that he no longer wishes to be, but he still envies them. Unlike the real Frankenstein,, who went out into the world newborn and did at least some of his evils purely in innocence, Azrael is old. His cruelty has been honed to perfection. He has suffered and in doing so, has learned just how to inflict suffering on others to the best effect. He has power no one else possesses and he uses it to set himself even further apart from the rest of the world…and he knows that too. I remember muttering the first speech from Richard III as I drew up his character notes, because I am insufferably pretentious even in the privacy of my own home: “But I, that am not shaped for sportive tricks…I, that am rudely stamped, and want love’s majesty…I, that am curtailed of this fair proportion, cheated of feature by this dissembling nature, deformed, unfinished, sent before my time into this breathing world…since I cannot prove a lover…I am determined to prove a villain.”

I like Azrael. I’m proud of him. I found it disturbingly easy to put myself in his head and we did some truly horrible things together. He is unmistakably a devil, but as someone or another famous once pointed out, there can be sympathy for the devil.

 

 

 

The End is Nigh

You get a feel for these things after twenty years of writing and so I can finally say with confidence that I’m working on the final chapter of The Land of the Beautiful Dead. But don’t get too excited, faithful readers, because there’s still all the editing to do, as well as blurbs and a cover and all that technical jazz. Nevertheless, I do believe this book will go live before my birthday (Halloween). So now that the light is finally at the end of the tunnel, I guess it’s time to start talking it up and since a good way to begin is at the beginning, I’d like to talk a little bit about where the book came from.

 

In the pantheon of the paranormal, there is a kind of unholy trinity that has been popular in books and movies for as long as books and movies have been around.  I am speaking, of course, of the Vampire, the Werewolf, and the Corpse. As a reader and a movie-goer, I frequently have some harsh criticisms for books and movies that use one (or all) of the Trinity, but who “bring nothing new to the table”.  There are just so many friggin’ vampires and werewolves and zombies out there that even the best story can get lost in the crowd, or worse, come across as derivative, because let’s face it, there are only so many ways to reinvent them. Vampires in the daytime?

sparklebladevampdiaries

Got ‘em.

Werewolves who don’t need a full moon to shift?

twiwolvesteenwolflycan

The new standard.

Zombie love interests?

dearlydepartedfrankensteinwarmbodies

Three cheers for necrophilia.

 

As someone or another once observed, the first step to slaying our monsters is to mock them. If that’s true, the second step must be dating them. Somewhere along the way, we as a universal consciousness stopped being afraid of the paranormal and started being turned on by it, and thank heavens for that, because otherwise, I couldn’t make a living doing what I do, but what was once a shocking and provocative idea has become so popular and so mainstream that it’s become a joke. Knowing that, I never intended to write a book about vampires or werewolves or zombies, because I knew there was no way to avoid the stigma of chasing the para-rotica bandwagon.

This is where you should be hearing the wah-wah-waaaaah cartoon d’oh music.

I started writing The Land of the Beautiful Dead because I wanted a quick novella to offer up for free on the table I never actually got at the RT Convention this past summer in New Orleans (hell of a fun city, by the way. You should all go. Begneits and café au lait for the win). I figured it would run me about 45k words, which would give me just enough space to have my hero and heroine roll around on a bed made almost entirely of broken zombie tropes and go home happy. Simple, right? (wah-wah-waaaah) Unfortunately, I made the biggest mistake a writer can make: I fell in love with my own story. And when you love something, you can’t do anything by halves.

Ba-bam! My 45k book is now 120k and climbing (not too far, though. This is the last chapter) and I had a great time writing most of it (the ending gave me no end of grief. Like all great love affairs, the break-up is always painful). But again, I never wanted to write a zombie apocalypse book. It just sorta happened and I hope you can all forgive me for doing something so unoriginal. Having said all that, let me tell you, when I let it slip that I was writing a zombie apocalypse book, my e-book publisher (lord,  I hope she doesn’t read this) got all excited. She told me she’d been just about to write and ask me for one. She was a huge fan of AMC’s The Walking Dead and she wanted some Walking Dead erotic fanfiction, all names changed of course, to avoid copyright drama, but with the characters themselves clearly identifiable so they could do all that zombie-slaying by day and hardcore sexing by night.

“I hate The Walking Dead,” I said. “I hate that stuff with a passion. The Walking Dead is everything that is wrong with zombie apocalypses. I wouldn’t write in that world if you paid me with a swimming pool full of puppies.”

The Walking Dead. Not even once.

The Walking Dead. Not even once.

I think I hurt her feelings. But oh well, that’s my feels and I don’t apologize for them. If you enjoy watching a 4-year long car commercial with zombies popping up every other episode, that’s fine. Takes all kinds. But I like my apocalypses served up with a side of reality. Reality check number one: Gasoline goes flat very, very quickly. None of those pretty, clean, freshly-waxed Hyundais would work. And yes, before you ask, I do have cars in my book, but they don’t run on gasoline. I have a lot of faith in Man’s power of invention, particularly when coupled with necessity and desperation. And zombies. Someone once told me he didn’t understand why people are always driving in zombie wastelands (because no gas, remember) instead of riding bikes (which don’t need it), to which I can only say I would strap a Hyundai onto each foot and skate away before I tried to escape a horde of zombies on a bicycle. Likewise, horses need so much more care than people realize, magnified exponentially by the fact that everyone would need one…no, give me a motorized vehicle for the apocalypse.

So anyway, if not from The Driving Dead, where did I get the idea for the book? Join me next time when I actually answer the question. In the meantime, please enjoy this snippet:

 

* * *

There had been other names for them in the beginning, back when people thought they knew what the Eaters were, back when people thought they could be stopped with something as simple as a bullet to the brain. No. This was Azrael’s world and nothing died save by his word of release. You could break them, burn them, or just wait them out until they had rotted away to bones and could no longer come after you, but even then, whatever remained of them still retained some kind of horrible life; Lan could remember her mother pulling the teeth from a charred skull after a neighbor’s death and showing them to her, how the teeth had trembled in her mother’s hand, trying to come together and bite. There was no hope then, only the diminishing living, the growing ranks of the dead, and less and less unpoisoned land to share between them.

Surrender was inevitable, no matter how bitterly Lan’s mother spoke of it now, but surrender had not ended the war. Azrael had accepted the leaders of that broken world for his unending retribution, but he did not forgive the people who gave them up. In the years since his ascension, Azrael had harrowed his great Revenant army to a whisper of its former magnitude, but even a handful of Revenants were enough to wipe out whole villages when all they had to do was break down one wall, let the Eaters in, and wait. Everything else they did—the burning, the dismemberments, the impaling poles—served purely as a warning of the fate that awaited all those who took such unwise pride in defiance.

And really, what did Azrael have to fear from them? The world which had once groaned under Man’s weight had been relieved of its burden, reborn under Azrael. Perhaps there were as many as a million humans left, scattered widely over this wasteland of Eaters, but numbers didn’t matter. If Azrael wanted more dead, he could always get them. In the meantime, he allowed the living to build their towns and he did not interfere in the squalor of their stubborn existence provided they stayed away from the tall walls that enclosed Haven, his city, the land of the beautiful dead.

She was close now, so close. This fool’s journey, begun when Lan walked away from her mother’s smoky pyre two months ago, was now only a day from over, if only she could find someone to finish it for her.

Lan dragged her eyes open without any conscious memory of closing them. She was falling asleep and sleep was never safe in a strange town. She got up and dragged her mattress over to the cell door, propping it against the sliding panel so that she could not help but be jostled awake should someone try to come in with her in the night. Then she lay down, pillowing her head on her lumpy, uncomfortable rucksack, and went to sleep.

 

Deadlines…They Come And Go…

I really thought I would have this book done by now.

The problem is, I went into it half-blind. Usually, I don’t even start typing notes unless I know two things: how a book starts and where it ends. No matter how clear the middle bits appear to me, if I don’t have that first and last chapter solidly in mind, I don’t get involved. But this book…ugh. I needed something hard and fast for the table at the RT Convention that we never actually got, so I broke my rule and started before I had an ending. How fortunate it is that we never got that stupid table, because my quick and easy 45k word novella has climbed to 117k and I ain’t there yet. I honestly don’t know where it’s going, even though I know I’m in the last chapter. I can feel the end, but I can’t see it, like a tornado right before the funnel drops.

Other than that, I’ve been very productive. Moving is never quick or fun, but it’s going along. Today, I got most of my skulls unpacked and assembled one of those cubby shelf thingies for my massive hat collection. I also assembled the last of six bookshelves for our library and got 14 boxes of books unpacked and in an approximation of order. Still don’t have A/C in my room, because the idiots who owned the house before us disconnected the air ducts on this end of the house and ran cable wires through them. Why? I have no idea. Neither does the duct guy, who says it’s the dumbest thing he’s ever seen in all his years. Especially since the cable wires aren’t connected to anything either. They’re just sitting there, disconnected at both ends and snaking through a third of the house, which is now at a balmy 92 degrees and humid as Swamp Thing’s jockstrap after a particularly aggressive football game.

Assembling and unpacking things has been my daily routine for a month now and that stack of boxes in the basement doesn’t appear to be getting any smaller, like the ending of my book, which I type on every day and yet gets no nearer. Yet, I keep grinding away at it. Here’s a little snippet from the scene I wrote today (subject to changes during the inevitable editing phase), just so you know I really am doing something out here:

* * *

Ahead of them, the road had been blocked with a tall wall, long since knocked in. At regular intervals, signs had been posted, most of them too faded and riddled with bullets to be legible. The rest said things like ROAD CLOSED AHEAD and CONTAMINATED AREA BEYOND THIS POINT, along with pictures of skulls and swooning stickmen and other ominous symbols whose exact meanings were now lost but which still conveyed an undeniable sense of threat. Over the years, graffiti had covered over most of these notices in layer upon layer of apocalyptic murals depicting Azrael and Eaters and demons riding skeletal horses; quasi-religious gibberish spewing angry and fearful rhetoric about broken seals and eating the body of Christ; social commentary that was either meant to be ironic or was just badly spelled, like U can sleep when your DEAD or The End is Nigel. Crowning these madhouse musings, in thick black letters stretching across the full width of the road—all six lanes—someone had written, WHAT HAPPENED. Someone else had painted a T over the W, which Lan thought so perfect an answer that it was a very long time before she noticed Aristides had stopped the van to confer with Serafina.

* * *

The Land of the Beautiful Dead, coming soon, I swear to God.

 

Live! In Person! One Day Only!

So in answer to all those who asked, I will be at the hotel tomorrow from 10 am to 11 am, so if you have already made plans to go to the Book Signing event at the RT Convention (3rd floor, Mardi Gras Ballroom, from 11-2) I will be lurking nearby in the foyer, so you can chat without losing your place in line.

 

At 11, my family and I leave for the French Farmers Market for some last chance shopping, beginning with a café au lait and beignet. If you want to catch up with me there, that’s fine too, but once we leave, we’re gone for good. There’s just so much to see in this city and so little time.

 

So if you’re in the area tomorrow, swing on by the 3rd floor foyer outside the ballroom. I’ll be on of the thousands of people milling around. I’ll be the one wearing a plushie gator hat (like a professional, right?) Or you can look for my father, who is one of, like, six guys attending the convention. He’ll be the one wearing a jacket (really, Dad?!) but you’ll find him faster if you look for the beard. Put this man in the right clothes and he could be headmaster at Hogwarts.

 

Hope to see you tomorrow!

Checking In From the Big EasyR

God, I love this town.

The food, the music, the people, the architecture, the ghosts, the energy…this place is just amazing. Everyone should come here at least once.

 

Oh, and the RT Convention is cool too. I’ve been to lots of workshops (The Last Hour of Gann was mentioned in a panel once!!!) and done so much sightseeing, but I am not even close to ready to go home. There will be some longer, more interesting blog posts when I get home to a real computer, but I did want to check in and tell anyone who might be reading this that I will be in and out of workshops on Friday, but there’s an hour open between 12:15 (Urban Fantasy: Beyond the Old Dark House) and 1:30 (Romantic Suspense: Wrestle A Gator, Save the World) if anyone wanted to meet up. I also plan to cruise the French Market on Saturday morningish if that’s more convenient. So far, I have actually been recognized and even gushed over a little bit, which is most extremely awesome, but I would love to meet any of my readers who are in the area. Just let me know quick, because my internet access is extremely limited on the road and I have no way of checking this blog or email once I leave for the hotel.

If It’s Not One Thing, It’s a Bunch of Things

Lord, how did I let another whole month escape me without a blog post?

lazydog

Oh.

I’ll tell you how. The RT Convention is in less than a week and we’ve had so much last minute drama…hoo boy. I ran out of time and money and didn’t get as much swag as I’d initially planned, but that’s okay, because the table we were supposed to have?  We aren’t. We wouldn’t have anyplace to put all that swag anyway.  I had to drop everything (again) to do some “paycheck” work, so The Land of the Beautiful Dead didn’t get finished in time, but that’s okay too, because apparently, I had to sign up in order to put my books in the Freebie Room (???) and I missed the sign up date. No problem. Moving on. Just gives me more time to edit anyway.

Oh, and on the subject of TLotBD, it went from being a 45,000 word novella to 85,000 and climbing. Still not done yet! Hopefully, it will be published by the end of the summer, but don’t get your hopes too far up because–

I’m moving. Yup, buying a home, putting my huge collection of skulls in boxes, driving them three hours away and putting them in a whole new house. Yay. This is a good move for a lot of reasons, prime among them getting the (expletive deleted) away from this town, which consists of a train station, an oil refinery, and a stockyard, and our house is less than two blocks from all of them. My brother in law, who picked this house, swears none of them were noticeable when he bought it. He lived here alone for well over two months while we sold the last house. I was here less than ten seconds before I noticed them and I haven’t stopped noticing them in the five years I’ve been living here.

But now we are moving. The new house is comfortably rural and tree-y, nary a refinery or a train in sight, although there are a few cows. I can live with cows. I’m quite excited about the move, actually, but it is a royal pain to do the moving part, particularly when it intersects with a ten-day excursion to New Orleans for the RT Convention. And when the convention is over, I will find myself temporarily homeless as the present home is packed up and the future home is not yet ours to inhabit. I will be staying with my father and other sister for about two weeks and then I’ll be moved up to the new house, where I will live without internet or a washing machine for another two weeks, all alone, until the rest of the family joins me. They may well find me dressed in animal hides, crouching on my haunches around a carved stone idol of a laptop, offering human sacrifices for wifi.

deep thought

Don’t panic.

 

I swear I will be better about posting on this blog when things settle down and yes, I know you’ve heard that out of me before. I mean it this time. I promise. I will even try to post about interesting things instead of string of excuses about why I haven’t been posting.  In the meantime, here is a small piece of the bit I just wrote for The Land of the Beautiful Dead, which you will NOT find in the Freebie Room at the RT Convention in New Orleans, nor will you find it on my (non-existant) table in the swag hall, but which will be available later this year, I swear. I mean it this time. I promise.

* * *

Of all the rooms in Azrael’s palace, or at least those where Lan had been, if she had to choose a favorite, it could only be the library. The sheer size of it, reaching up and up on every side, marvelously open and yet lavishly closed in. Every surface was in some way beautiful, from the rich carpets over the polished floors to the elaborate tiles and cornices on the ceiling and everything in-between. She could stare at just the windows all day, imagining stories to go with the pictures that had been set so colorfully inside them, and if she ever got bored doing that, she could always ride the ladders.

The library was the only place that made Lan glad Haven existed, because it meant that room had been spared when all the rest of the world had fallen down. It made her happy, a little, to think it might survive even if humanity did not, and at the same time, it made her sad for the same reason, because no one else would ever look at those windows the same way, with the same wonder.

So it should have been a good thing that Lan had to go to the library every day, except that the reason she had to go was to meet with her tutor. It wasn’t really that either, because the tutor wasn’t so bad, for a dead man. It was just that Lan hated reading. She could see the sense of it, but only in the same way she could see the sense of glazing or smithing; it was a useful skill for a community to possess, not an individual, much less many individuals in the same community. The very fact that there was someone whose sole function was to teach reading made it completely unnecessary for anyone else to learn.

She said as much, but her tutor simply told her all complaints had to be submitted in writing.

* * *