Full Circle

I want to take a walk down memory lane with you, today, if you don’t mind, dear reader. There’s a reason we’re taking this trip, and when you get to the end, you’ll shake your head in as much disbelief as I have the past couple days. To say that everything in life comes full circle is the understatement of a lifetime. So sit back, light a smoke or whatever it is you may do, and come with me on this journey through time. My memory is weird son of a bitch. I forget little details and and lose a lot in translation when I process stuff, bits of pieces here and there lost forever, fed to the demon I call ADHD. In spite of this condition, I can recall specific circumstances and events from my past like they happened yesterday.

Since I can recall I’ve been a voracious reader. I would wait with anticipation for the book mobile to come to my grade school, a picturesque suburban facility named after the road it sat upon, Smith Road Elementary in North Syracuse, NY. When I was in first grade I bought both Dracula and Frankenstein at the book mobile. I carried those books everywhere with me and family. I’m sure they thought the paperback were simply security blankets, but they weren’t. I actually read the books. I didn’t retain much in the translation, after all I was only a six year old first grader, and when questioned about what I had allegedly read in the books, I clammed up and replied with, “I don’t know.”

I loved going to my school’s library. And it was on those shelves, in 1975, my second grade, that I discovered a book. The blue cover caught my eye, the art a collage featuring a girl half transformed into werewolf, a cowboy, alien crabs, and a pterodactyl. I read the book cover to cover within a few days. Then I read it again. It was called “More Science Fiction Tales: Crab Things, Crystal Creatures and Other Weirdies.” The book was edited by Roger Elwood and featured short stories from various authors I had never heard of, and have forgotten since. But man, did this book strike my imagination and fed my pre-teen muse. It made me want to write.

So write I did. Little story after little story. I wrote a sequel to the crab aliens story featuring an underground sea base. I wrote a sequel to the werewolf girl story, with a werewolf boy. I fondly recall bringing my notebook and pencils to a family friend’s house, and writing by their fireplace on an ugly corduroy covered hassock. My Mom’s friend, Joyce, was amazed at how focused I was on the writing. Her surprise wasn’t unwarranted. I was a horrible kid. The worst you can imagine. It’s not that I was bad, it’s that I was disruptive, and distracted easily. I was loud, I was a holy terror. But dammit, wasn’t I a different person all together when I wrote, or read; quiet and serene, focused on the task at hand, and ever eager to share the story with any adult in the room.

I soon discovered Edgar Rice Burroughs through the book Back to the Stone Age and the graphic novel adaptation of The Land That Time Forgot.  The same year, my Mom took me with her when she went to get her hair done. I stayed in the car to read. I popped open the glove compartment and discovered a copy of Stephen King’s ‘Salem’s Lot. I read the opening and was terrified, and it started a secret obsession with King for me.

In 1977, we moved from North Syracuse to Canastota, NY. In fifth grade I read Raise the Titanic and The Amityville Horror. Then I found a Conan novel, the Ace paperback featuring the story RED NAILS. Soon after, my Aunt Pat gave me a copy of The Sword of Shannara. I became fascinated by sword and sorcery and high fantasy. When I reached 7th grade my Mom and Dad bought me the collected Stephen King Paper backs. And I was on my way to becoming a horror fan. I was blessed, having a supportive mother and father that encouraged my writing, and a neighbor, Mary Kielbasinski, that fostered it as well, bringing me to her house and helping me learn how to write. She taught me about action and pacing. And I applied it. My English teachers caught on to my blossoming skills as a writer, and they also nurtured my interest.

The Stand came next, followed by my discovery of Frederick Pohl’s Gateway. To this day I believe this to be the greatest Science Fiction story ever told. Then came Richard Adams’ Watership Down. Soon after I found Martin Cruz Smith’s Nightwing, and David Seltzer’s novelization of Prophecy, the mutant bears horror movie, and his novel of the Omen. To this day Prophecy is one of my all time favorite horror movies.

My parents wouldn’t let me go to the movie theater to see horror movies, but they let me read the novelizations. Outland. Alien. Halloween. The Thing. Star Wars books. I learned to love Alan Dean Foster’s prose. To this day you can see his hand in most anything I write. He was the man and is probably the second most influential person on my writing, just by the association of his prolific body of work adapting movies to the printed page.

I wrote a ton of bad sword and sorcery and high fantasy during this time. But I also ran an ongoing D&D game with my neighborhood chums. The stories were dark and terrifying, and I spent much of my creative focus on these. It was during this time period that I came up with the idea of a chosen warrior of God champion, wandering the wastes of a world that may have been in our past, or a dark future, ala Thundarr the Barbarian. I wrote about him in a few stories, that, as time has gone by, I realize were pretty good.

I joined the army, and Asa Drake’s (aka C. Dean Andersson) Warrior Witch of Hel books enthralled me, as did the military science fiction tales of Alan Cole & Chris Bunch’s hero, Sten. And then I discovered Michael Moorcock after my first stint in the Army as a journalist ended. I dropped out of AIT, my un-medicated ADHD had become a problem, and I started drinking. A lot. So the Army sent me home. I was becoming much like some of my heroes, rebel writers that quit college to do it their way.

That winter into the next spring I spent a considerable amount of time at the Oneida Library and found the John Daker Eternal Champion book. All bets were off. Michael Moorcock was the antithesis of everything I had read before by Brooks and Howard. My ideas became darker, and they fused with my chosen warrior of God, merging in aspects of the Eternal Champions of Moorcock. That led to an epic D&D campaign lasting a few years with my friends. Blending aspects of Moorcock with elements of Star Wars in a fantasy setting, the campaign was a huge hit with my friends. Out of this Joe Giordano’s character Candor was born, the central focus of my fantasy stories to this day. Later, when I moved to Glens Falls, Ami Nightswan, my Eternal Champion, came into the fray, birthed in a Ravenloft gaming session.

I went to college at ACC in Glens Falls. We ran a Shadow Run game there, an other Epic game, but it wasn’t as important as something else, a cathartic point in my development as a writer was about to come into play. In 1991, one of my class mates, who also played in my Shadow Run game, Mike Timko, brought an anthology book called SPLATTERPUNKS, edited by Paul Sammon, to our broadcasting class one day.

My life hasn’t been the same since.

He let me read an early story in the collection, a story called “The Night They Missed The Picture Show” by an author I’d not heard of before, Joe R, Lansdale. To this day, it stands out to me as my introduction to Splatterpunk and extreme horror. He let me borrow it and I read it, cover to cover, in a matter of days. The extreme horror on those pages twisted my imagination. The next week, Mike brought The Book of the Dead, edited by John Skipp & Craig Spector, with him to class. I in turned borrowed it and read it cover to cover as fast as I had Splatterpunks. It was David J. Schow’s “Jerry’s Kids Meet Wormboy” that hit me hardest.

In 1992, I moved back to Syracuse. The day I arrived I stopped at the newly built Carousel Mall and found my way to Waldenbooks. On the shelf was a new release: Animals, by the editors of Book of the Dead. I bought it. To this day I can still see the dead thing in the road. Though I had been writing for a couple decades, I learned how to write that week as I read Animals. Soon after, I found every Skipp & Spector novel out there. That lead me other splatterpunks like Nancy A Collins,Poppy Z Brite, Phil Nutman and more David J Schow. I started writing graphic, violent fiction, blending genres. Later on I discovered the Hard Sci Fi horror of Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child, and then came Brian Keene’s The Rising.

The first thing I wrote out of this period was a direct attempt to write like Joe R. Lansdale. It ended up becoming my first published piece of fiction, nearly 20 years later, a little story inspired by the neutering of my dog, Doc Holliday, called “Nuts.” Edited by my friend and mentor, Giovanni Valentino, he printed it in the Alternate Hilarities: Vampires Suck anthology in October 2013. This led to a series of vastly different stories published through Giovanni’s small publishing house, Small Musings Press, in various thematic anthologies.

During this time I also wrote for various websites, including This Is Infamous, as well as producing a podcast for the aforementioned site. I mostly wrote about horror properties at the site, on top of pro wrestling. But it was the horror articles that allowed me an associate membership in the HWA. This led to me wanting to do a horror based podcast at This Is Infamous, which the editor in chief, Billy Donnelly, shot down. I took that demo to Jess at the former Project iRadio, which he loved. The podcast became what we now know as the Necrocasticon. That all led to an mentor-ship at Rue Morgue under Monica Kuebler. Last year, I went to Scares That Care 3, with the intention of meeting some of my heroes and looking for ways to further my desired fiction writing career, while covering the Charity Weekend for the magazine. I got far more out of the trip than I could have ever imagined. It was immeasurable. I went to as many author readings and Q&A’s as I could. I wanted to learn. And I decided that weekend I wanted this to be a part of my life.

I met my heroes like Brian Keene and Joe R. Lansdale and did everything in my power not to mark out on them. I succeeded, mostly. On a challenge from author Kelli Owen, I forced myself to write more than just short stories. I took one of my ideas for a longer piece and worked it into a novella length, which quickly became a novel. But it was horrible. The pacing was off, the narrative didn’t flow. It was a mess. Thirty thousand words later, I was utterly disappointed in myself

Then my Dad died.

I kicked myself for not finishing a book for him to read before he passed. I was so angry. I took a few weeks off from writing to gather my thoughts. And then I wrote a story for my Dad, a 12,000 word short novella entitled “Good Boy,” which is essentially Watership Down meets the Plague Dogs with zombies. I’ve hired on one of the best editors in the horror field to insure this story is as good as I believe it to be. I’ll be self publishing it this fall, and will be including all of my short fiction to date, previously published or not, in the collection.

This year I returned to Scares That Care for its fourth edition. I met John Skipp, and Craig Spector, another bucket list accomplishment checked off. At said gathering, I participated in a writer’s workshop taught by Tom Monteleone, his daughter Olivia, and John MacClay. I had met Tom the year before, attending his Q&A and reading session, wherein he deep fried journalists. He’s the owner of a popular and well respected small press in the horror community, Borderlands, so when I learned he was having this workshop, I felt it imperative that I participate in it. He must know what he’s talking about, right? Plus I had heard Olivia was the Iron Lady of horror fiction, that she was a person you needed to impress. So I went with both feet first, presenting my four pages of a WIP anonymously to be ripped apart by a dozen peers. I’m so glad I did. It was the best thing I’ve ever done to further this mad obsession. I made friends, and business associates (Wile E. & Skip!), but most of all I learned how to self edit. The entire experience was cathartic.

Earlier this week the owner of Project Entertainment Network that hosts my podcasts, author Armand Roasmilia, sent out an email asking some of the show hosts what their Top Five favorite books were as a kid. My mind shot right back to 1975 and More Science Fiction Tales. I forgot the editor’s name, and researched it with a quick search on Google. Then it occurred to me to check the names of the authors in the collection.

I about shit myself.

Thomas F. Monteleone wrote about half the book under his own name or pseudonyms.

I have gone full circle, my friends. From 1975 to 2017. And now the next portion of my strange trip begins. I hope you all are along for the ride.

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