Sunday, March 30, 2014

Tommy and the Greeks

No, this isn't about my joining a fraternity while at NAU.  Are you kidding?  Do I look like a frat boy?

I worked at a Greek restaurant in Phoenix throughout the '90's.  The place was incredible.  From the very first night, they always treated me like family.  Still do.  I could drop by right now (assuming I hopped on a plane), and they'd stuff me full of dolmathes, spanakopita, souvlaki, mousaka, or whatever else they could get dig out of the kitchen and force down my throat.  That's a sign from the Greeks that they like you, by the way.  Mostly, they just yell and curse at you when they don't.  OK, they yell and curse a lot anyway.

Here's how it happened: my mom, my grandmother, my little brother, and I hung out together every Saturday morning when we were young.  This continued pretty much until my brother moved out when he was about 20.  I stuck around until I was almost 30, but that's another story.  Anyway, we cleaned the house, grabbed lunch (usually at the Jack in the Box on 35th Avenue and Northern), and went shopping.  One of our weekly visits was to an Italian deli just a few blocks away.  The shop was next to the Greek restaurant, and we'd find the owner hanging out in the deli in the afternoons.  He's four or five years older than I am and lost his dad to cancer about a year before we met.  In kind of a Gilligan (me) meets the Skipper (him) sort of way, I filled the void left by his dad's passing.  We were inseparable for about five years.  Then, he called me from Greece one morning and told me he was getting married (an arrangement), and it was pretty much over.  But, we had a great run.  We traveled the country and grew up together (although I think an argument can be made that I didn't grow up until I held my wife's hand for the first time - we were walking across a Costco parking lot, by the way).

Unfortunately, I drifted away from writing at this point in my life because after I graduated from college, I started teaching and directing theatre.  Both of these arts are incredibly demanding, but invigorating.  They fulfill the sometimes unquenchable desire I have to create.  I did write a teleplay for a pilot episode about the Greek restaurant roughly 10 years before My Big Fat Greek Wedding came out.  Again, if I only knew!  I also dabbled in songwriting.  My younger brother played guitar with a few heavy metal bands across that span and recorded one song we co-wrote, "Raise the Dead."  It's about how difficult it can be to salvage a relationship, not about zombies.  Still, the music is an excellent cross between Metallica and Creed, and I've always been quite proud of my little brother's talents.  He plays guitar, writes songs, produces records, and manages his band.  None of those jobs are easy.  He also writes online heavy metal reviews.  His writing is better than mine.  He's an avid reader.  I'm just a lazy ass.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Love Is Color Blind

When I was in college, I worked as a box office manager at a movie theatre in Flagstaff and became friends with a black guy who was an usher there.  He was also gay, by the way, and had a huge crush on me.  I only know this because he told me upfront, which was about the most honest fucking thing anybody has ever said to me.  "We can be friends and all, but I want you."  I wanted his sister.  She was the most beautiful girl I had ever seen.  She should've been a model.  I wish I could've been her agent.  Anyhow, I had trouble making friends at college.  Like I said, I'm fucking weird.  I don't have any friends now.  (But that's OK.  I have my wife and children, and I'm doing all right.)  So, I started hanging out in the neighborhood behind NAU and dated several black girls.  My friend's family kind of adopted me.  I was at their house whenever I wasn't in class or working.  It didn't matter who was there.  We got on.  I loved his brothers and sister, his mom and dad, his cousins, his grandparents.  We all ate together, played together, partied together, shopped together, watched movies together, went to church together.  I was the only white boy at those services, and I couldn't sing or dance a fucking lick, but I could set up the mics for everyone and read a prayer with just the right drama.  Theatre student, remember?  And they loved me for who I was:  this nerdy little white guy with Elvis Presley license plates on the front of my '79 Chevy Nova.

While dancing at a club in Phoenix the Saturday after my 21st birthday, I met a black girl and we got really serious.  We dated for nearly a year.  She was the first girl I ever told "I love you."  Sure, it was tough at times.  Why wouldn't it be?  Not everyone accepted us.  We didn't care.  The real problem was that she had a toddler, and I was way too immature to be a father-figure.  The relationship ended kind of abruptly (we got into an argument outside a bar), but we reconnected on Facebook almost 20 years later.

The romance found its way into my writing, of course.  I wrote several stories about forbidden love, the best of which was my first serious (read "grown-up") novel, Samantha.  The story's about a boy who falls in love with a vampire.  If I only knew then how big Twilight would eventually become!  I kick myself in the ass every day for not trying to publish that book!

Monday, March 24, 2014

Elvis and Me

Anyone who knows me knows that I love Elvis.  Always have.  My parents had a cabinet full of his 45's and LP's, and I listened to the shit out of them when I was a kid.  I wanted to be Elvis.  I wanted his talent, his good looks, his charm, but mostly, his fame.  I only got one shot (other than the time I sang "That's All Right" in Sun Studios for my 40th birthday).  I impersonated Elvis for a charity fundraiser when I was a sophomore in college and made a total fool of myself.  What a fucking disaster!  The show was performed in some honky-tonk in the middle of the desert outside Phoenix.  That should've been my first clue.  My older brother and best friend (the one who broke the desk on final exam day back in high school) came along as my bodyguards.  Thank God.  I genuinely believe I wouldn't have escaped without a few broken bones if I were on my own.  We all dressed in costumes.  I still have the pictures.  They're hilarious.  But, I did my best.  Like a true Thespian, I never broke character.  I swiveled my hips, curled my lips, and growled my lines.  I sang "Blue Suede Shoes" and "Suspicious Minds" and got laughed at, booed, and even had a few bottles thrown at me.  Who the fuck does that at a charity event?  Anyway, I learned my lesson.  I'll stick to dreaming about being The King.

So, I wrote this short story called "Fame and Fortune" shortly after.  The main character gets laid off from his job as a garbageman and slowly transforms into Elvis.  He buys his wife a pink Cadillac, styles his hair in a pompadour, eats peanut butter and banana sandwiches, and eventually hits the road, leaving everything behind.  His wife is horrified and decides not to tell him she's expecting his baby after she has a vision of him performing on the road with zombie back-up singers.  Wise choice, I believe.  Incidentally, there's a brilliant film that came out of Argentina a couple of years ago called El último Elvis.  It's incredible.  It does a much better job of portraying the passion of Elvis impersonators (excuse me, Tribute Artists) than my story ever does.

Not much more can be written or said about Elvis than already has, so I'll keep my notes brief.  I despise how revisionists write off '50's rock-and-roll as nothing more than a collection of novelty acts and believe that rock didn't start until Bob Dylan and The Beatles came along in the '60's.  Fuck that.  I'll take Elvis, Little Richard, Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly, Fats Domino, and the rest, any day of the week.  So would Dylan and The Beatles, just ask them.  For Elvis, his fans pretty much got it right.  His films have plenty of throwaway songs (that's what happens when you don't have artistic control), but his hits are solid.  Pick up Elv1s 30 #1 Hits if you don't already have it.  Personally, I think his gospel music is the best of his entire catalog.  That's what they'll still be buying 100 years from now.  But here are 10 lesser known titles I'd recommend if you're so inclined:  "I Was the One" ('56), "Anyway You Want Me" ('56), "Is It So Strange?" ('57), "Reconsider Baby" ('60), "It Hurts Me" ('64), "If I Can Dream" ('68), "Wearin' That Loved on Look" ('69), "The Sound of Your Cry" ('70), "We Can Make the Morning" ('71), and "My Boy" ('73).

Saturday, March 22, 2014

A Real-Life Scare

I continued to churn out horror stories while in college.  Some better than others.  Most stuck to the familiar themes I had established as a novice and continue to explore as an adult:  loss of innocence, descent into madness, torture, magic and ritual.  I attempted a couple of revenge stories.  One about a rape victim who hangs her assailant by the wrists in the basement of their apartment building until he's eaten by rats.  Another about a mentally retarded boy (can't recall whether or not I continued to use that politically incorrect term by then) who conjures the devil in a barn to seek vengeance on a tormenting neighbor.  I also wrote a disturbing story about a man who locks himself in his room when he figures out the baby his wife is carrying is the result of an affair she's had with a coworker.

One major life event shaped my writing while in college:  I saved a two-year-old girl from drowning.  I attended a wedding near the outskirts of Phoenix with a girl I'd been friends with for a couple of years.  She had the same skinny boyfriend for as long as I knew her.  He always listened to Bob Dylan records, chain-smoked Parliaments (I still remember his blue soft packs), and probably had anorexia, but I never interfered.  She and I hung out and studied but were never more than friends.  In fact, they broke up the week before the wedding, so I was his last minute replacement.   I often wonder what would've happened to that little girl if my friend hadn't broken things off.  I'm also glad we'll never know.  Anyway, she was a bridesmaid, and while the wedding party was taking pictures, I wandered off to the swimming pool because I heard some kids making noise.  Pools are everywhere in Phoenix, by the way.  It's the Valley of the Sunburn.  I didn't know it at the time, but the little girl was meant to be the flower girl.  I'm not sure how she snuck away or who was supposed to be watching her, but as soon as I made it to the pool, I saw her slip off the deck and into the water.  She went straight down like a sack of bricks.  The other kids fooling around hadn't noticed a thing.  I jumped in after her, wearing a suit I had borrowed from my dad of all people, and pulled her to the surface.  She kicked and screamed and nearly beat the crap out of me, but she was safe in my arms.

I was a hero for a day.  Kind of a remarkable feeling, actually.  I now know, as a parent and a teacher, that I'd give my life for a child, but I don't think I knew it until then.  The incident stuck with me.  Often times, I see that girl when I'm writing.  She's a ghost haunting an alcoholic whose baby died in her crib in a novel I wrote about eight years ago called The Last Bitter Hour.  Although you never see her, I thought of her when I wrote "Gentle Hands," the story I published in a literary magazine last summer about a teacher who defends his school against militants.  She's also in Crow Creek, in Sheriff Gleason's memories of his dead daughter.  I never knew her name.  Never really knew who she was.  But she's there.  She reminds me of how fragile life is and of how much courage it takes to conquer fear.

The funny thing is, by the way, that one of the groomsmen had a pair of jeans shorts (way too big for me) and a Paul McCartney T-shirt (from his '89-'90 World Tour, I believe) in the back seat of his car.  That's what I wore to the wedding.  Not sure my friend cared.  I won't say she threw herself at me after the wedding because she didn't.  But being a hero has its advantages, ain't gonna lie.

Thursday, March 20, 2014


During my sophomore year of college, I was the fiction editor of a literary magazine published by a handful of English majors.  (I was also an entertainment editor for the school newspaper, but I soon found that juggling theatre, English, and journalism was way more than I needed and eventually left the paper.)  As a way of promoting the magazine, the chief editors organized a reading in the auditorium of the Liberal Arts building.  Several contributors read their pieces.  A couple of English professors did the same.  I was asked to close the show, so I wrote a Gothic romance entitled "The Journal" especially for the engagement.  I wore all black that night, and my narrative was introduced as a "love story of a different kind."  I'm not sure whether or not I had more fun writing that story or reading it.  I can still see the eyes of that audience wide with shock and awe.  Who is that crazy fucker?  Exactly the response I wanted.  If ever I have channeled the spirit of Poe, that truly was the moment.  And I've even locked myself in my room for hours at a time with the sole purpose of writing my own Poe story!  The most effective, by the way, was "The Mask," a haunting tale about elderly people kept as prisoners in a retirement home.  One inmate retaliates by silently peeling off his face.

"The Journal" is written in epistolary style (think Dracula) and is about a widower who misses his wife so much that he goes to the cemetery during a thunderstorm (of course) and digs up her body.  He takes her remains to their bedroom, and they spend the night together one last time.  True love never dies … kiss me sweet and all that.  Anyway, a couple of suspicious neighbors witness the affair (or at least his paranoia makes him thinks so), so he boards up the room in kind of an homage to Faulkner's "A Rose for Emily."  Eventually, his guilty conscience (read "The Tell-Tale Heart") causes him to reveal his secret to some townspeople who then lead an angry mob, armed with torches and pitchforks, to burn down his house.  His final entry describes how he (thinks he) hears his wife beckoning him as the drapes are consumed by flames and he smells his own burning flesh.

Stephen King once wrote that we love horror because we can.  It's the only time we're allowed to enjoy what we would elsewhere find contemptible.  We wouldn't want to see "The Journal" on the Evening News or read about it on CNN.  Perhaps, a better example is the movie Psycho.  The film is a masterpiece, but Eddie Gein was an insane murderer.  The devil on Earth.  Get the point?  Maybe there's an element of catharsis.  There's so much shit going on in the real world that it's nice to purge ourselves through the horrors in print (or on the screen) because we know they'll never truly be extinguished from the real world.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Sinned We All

Let's recap.  By the time I graduated high school, I had written about two dozen short stories (and published two in a literary magazine).  They were influenced mostly by Stephen King.  We corresponded for about two years, and he gave me invaluable writing advice.  His best counsel being not to be afraid to cut what I thought was my strongest work at the time I wrote it.  I still follow that guidance in everything I create, including theatre.  I also studied Edgar Allan Poe and H.P. Lovecraft.  I enjoyed The Lord of the Rings and loved playing D&D.  Two major life events shaped my writing: when my mom lost her baby girl and when the grandfather I was named after passed away.

I attended college at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff.  While there, I took a handful of creative writing courses and wrote maybe fifteen short stories, a couple of novellas, and a play.  I dabbled in poetry, but the only thing of significance was the T.S. Eliot inspired "Her Lips Suck Forth My Soul."  The title was a line borrowed from Marlowe.  My favorite professor still teaches at NAU, and I plan to send him a copy of my novel as soon as it's printed with a little note that says, "This wouldn't have happened without you."  He described my writing as "Literary Horror" and told me that he thought I could re-shape the entire field in the post-Stephen King era.  He also taught me that plot is as simple as two dogs fighting over a bone, but who are those dogs? why do they want that bone? and what are they willing to risk to get it? are really what matter (sounds like acting advice - he would've made a great director!).  He was one of many teachers who taught me never to accept the status quo and always to pursue my dreams.

I published "Sinned We All" in a literary magazine at that time.  The story is about a wicked prison warden and how he's more evil than the criminal he punishes.  When I first submitted the story, the editors wanted to pitch it as a science fiction, but I argued that it was a horror.  I used Frankenstein as an example of comparison.  Some want to push Mary Shelley's masterpiece off as the first science fiction novel.  Not me.  That's pure fucking horror.  What's more frightening than a man playing God?  Also, I kind of think there needs to be some credible science in a story labeled science fiction.  Shelley knew as much about reanimating dead tissue as I do about the effects of poisonous gas.  Her work, and subsequently Dracula, proved to be the two most influential novels during my college years.

Sunday, March 16, 2014


All three main characters in my upcoming novel Crow Creek have lost a child.  This isn't a spoiler.  It's the basic premise of the book.  The protagonist, Sheriff Brad Gleason, has a teenage daughter who committed suicide; Deborah DeVito, a local shop owner has a son who died violently; and Darrell Mebane, a local truck driver, lost his infant son to illness.  Coming to terms with their deaths is the ultimate struggle for the three.  Each handles it in a completely different way.  The Sheriff stays married to his job to keep from falling to pieces, the shop owner (and her husband) relocate to put distance between themselves and the tragedy, and the truck driver delves into the supernatural.  All wonder whether or not they did something to cause or could've done something to prevent the tragedies; and in fact, question where God was during their time of need.  I think anyone who's lost a child probably feels this way at some point or another.  It's a theme in many of my stories.

In 1982, I had a sister who died in utero.  She was strangled by the umbilical cord when my mom was about 30 weeks into term.  There's probably a clinical name for this.  I was 13-years-old.  She was a complete surprise.  My parents weren't expecting to have anymore children because my little brother was about ten, and the days of changing diapers and making formula were supposed to be over.  They were stressed.  There were days when they were angry and didn't know how they were going to afford another.  But, there were also the moments when we were all excited.  We talked about baby names and whose room she would share and how hilarious (and intimidating) my older brother and my dad would be when she first brought home a boy to meet the family.  That's how I choose to remember that time, but I feel especially bad for my mom.  I wanted her to have a daughter because her three boys are all so close to our dad.  She deserved her little girl.  The song "Ribbon in the Sky" by Stevie Wonder was popular then.  I remember it played on the radio the day we drove out to the cemetery to put that little box in the ground.  I'm glad my mom got to hold her little girl before they took her away.  My dad said she looked just like me.  Only sleeping.

Stephen King didn't publish Pet Sematary when he first wrote it because he said it was too frightening.  The story of Gage Creed racing out to the highway and getting run over by a tractor trailer was influenced by something that nearly happened to his own son.  The book was published the year after my sister died.  I remember Stephen King saying that nothing scared him more than the thought of losing his child.  As a parent now, I finally understand the fear.  I kiss my children on the forehead each night before I go to sleep and remind myself of how precious life is and of how fortunate I am to have them to share my world.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Use the Force

I was most prolific during my high school years (although my work got significantly better in college).  My stories followed similar archetypes.  Lost and alone, good vs. evil, magic and ritual.  My current novel Crow Creek does mostly the same.  Not as often, I take up the journey or quest narrative.  I based one particular short story on a real-life experience that I shared with a bunch of friends from AP Physics class my senior year.  It was called "An Account of Strange Events on Genesis Avenue."  I borrowed heavily from a similarly titled Gothic story by Joseph Sheridan LeFanu and Other Weird Stories by H.P. Lovecraft.

Late one Saturday night, my friends and I drove out to Paradise Valley to pay our favorite teacher (whose name for these purposes will be Mr. Forceman, which is incredibly close to his real name - how cool for a physics teacher?) a surprise visit.  Mr. Forceman threw a party for us a few weeks prior.  Maybe it was a Halloween party?  Something tells me we all went in costumes.  Just picture an 1980's version of the cast of The Big Bang Theory.  I think I would've been the Leonard, but honestly, my friends probably viewed me more as the Sheldon because I was so fucking weird.  We all were.  I still am.  I hope they are.  I know one of them certainly is because he still does theatre for a living (and happens to share my birthday, which is fucking cool).  Much to our disappointment, Mr. Forceman wasn't home when we showed up.  We all had our guesses as to where he might've been.  I put my theory into the story.  He's a ghost who travels to other worlds in his small prop plane (he had a pilot's license).  In an effort to track him down, we perform a ritual to open the door he uses to access the other dimensions and mistakenly gate in Cthulhu-like creatures that tear most of us apart.  The ritual was something we really did.  We scribbled messages in chalk all the way down the long driveway to his house on the mountainside.  If we had smartphones back then, we would've taken pictures to remember what we wrote.  I kept some of them in my story.

The only way to avoid being lonely is to make connections with other people.  You can be in a crowd but all alone, right?  Just ask Hank Williams.  But, you have to connect.  You need communion.  We're social beings by nature.  It's what I teach my theatre students.  Unfortunately, it's something the main character of Crow Creek doesn't do so well.  It's something I've always struggled with.  I'm thankful I had those friends when I was in high school because they made a difference.  Our journeys took us down different paths, but I miss those guys.  I miss those days.  Perhaps, they're hiding somewhere in another dimension, and I need only open the door. 

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Cart of the Dead

The first story I ever published was originally called "The Cart of the Dead" and appeared in my high school's literary magazine as "The Struggle of Burying" when I was a sophomore.  Not quite sure why the original title was such a put-off for the advising teacher.  I was in her English class that year.  She was a bit of a wreck.  My best friend and I made her cry when we cheated to win the school-wide Trivial Pursuit contest for our class (prize later revoked).  Fucking hilarious.  Said buddy also ripped off the top of his desk on final exam day and ended up taking the test out in the hall as punishment.  Funny how you remember certain details when you get older.  Anyway, I'm sure she was glad to see us go.

I re-read the story last night.  It's not that great, really.  It's about a mentally disabled boy (I used the politically incorrect "retarded" back then) who accidentally kills his father while repairing an air conditioner.  He pushes his dead father to the local cemetery in a grocery cart and buries him before returning home to finish the repairs.  It was a Stephen King knock off, of course. Or maybe more like Of Mice and Men.  The Lennie character, for sure.  That grocery cart showed up in two other stories that I never attempted to publish.  One was called "It Takes You Away."  In that, the cart ferries dead souls to hell.  I worked at Lucky Stores as a clerk then, and let me tell you when you're pushing grocery carts in 110 degrees, you're going to hell every fucking day.  The other, named "Violence Is Golden" after the John Fogerty song, is about a serial killer who collects his victim's body parts in the cart.  Fogerty's album Eye of the Zombie was the soundtrack to my senior year (along with Ozzy's The Ultimate Sin).  It's funny where you find your influences (or where they find you).  That album, the title track especially, is the ultimate horror story.  I especially love the line "From out of nowhere, he's there, flashing hideous teeth."  I can't tell you how many of my stories have sprung from that single lyric.  Even my current novel's villain, Pastor Aken, is that monster.  The back of my book will read, "monsters do more harm when they pretend to be human."  I absolutely believe that.

On a side note, I published one other story in the high school literary magazine.  When I was a junior, I co-wrote a tale entitled "The Cave Beneath the Church."  My friend and I were Lovecraft fans, dabbled in the Cthulhu role-playing game, and took a respectable shot at aping his style.  I'm considerably more proud of that story.  The narrator wanders through catacombs beneath a church (in France, if I remember correctly) and runs from an unnamed creature/vampire.  Terrifying.  I wrote a few Lovecraft-type stories (and a couple inspired by Poe) that I'll examine somewhere down the line, but that one was definitely the most solid.

Monday, March 10, 2014

All the Worlds

About 10 years ago, I produced a talent show and closed by singing "Paranoid" with a heavy metal band.  I don't know that I've had a greater thrill.  I did all my best Ozzy moves:  ran around the stage, pumped my fists, did jumping jacks, screamed.  All to the roar of the hundreds in attendance.  The only thing that came close to that level of excitement was when I visited Sun Studios in Memphis the summer I turned 40 and asked the tour guide if I could grab my guitar and sing "That's All Right" on the spot where Elvis recorded the song 55 years earlier (to the day) after everyone left.  A few people came back in from the gift shop and thanked me for channeling the King.

When I was young, I knew I'd always do two things:  write and perform.  I've done both regularly since I was a child.  My first appearance on stage was as The Wizard of Oz in a fourth grade play.  I was originally cast as the Scarecrow but then was asked to change roles when the teachers realized a student who was absent during auditions could sing and dance considerably better than I could.  "Hey, Tommy, you don't have to switch, but ..."  It really didn't matter, though.  I just loved the idea of being in front of a crowd and getting to yell, "I AM OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL!"  I also enjoyed building and painting the scenery.  Live theatre became a lifelong passion of mine.  I've done over a hundred shows.  From playing Eugene as a high school sophomore in Grease (yes, I still couldn't sing or dance any better by then, but I'm not ashamed to admit that I owned that role - plus, I got to dance with the beautiful junior who played Patti - a Miss Teen Arizona contestant who later went on to be a popular local news anchor) to directing a Wild West, Mel Brooks-inspired adaptation of Romeo & Juliet, I still love the magic and illusion of the stage, although my output has slowed down somewhat as I've gotten older.  Fuck it, I'm an artist ("and if you give me a tuba, I'll bring you something out of it").  We just view the world differently.  We see all the worlds.  I once wrote a story called "Grandma at Her Post" about an old woman who climbs to the roof of her house every night to count the stars and dance with angels.  I think that's pretty much what poets and artists do.

I should probably take a moment to explain the purpose of this blog.  I'm publishing a novel entitled Crow Creek this spring and thought it would be fun to provide some background about my experiences in anticipation of the release.  In the weeks to come, I will also offer insight about the book by discussing some of the major characters and themes.  I plan to launch a Facebook page and an author's page on Goodreads.  You can already follow me on Twitter @TheGodFocker1.  Thanks!

Saturday, March 8, 2014

R.I.P. Thomas S. Drago

Scary, huh?  You can only imagine how I felt when I was 15-years-old and first saw my own name on a gravestone.

I can clearly remember the day my grandfather died.  I came home from school with my older brother after wrestling practice (yes, that was about as hilarious as watching my son play lacrosse) like any other day.  I was sitting at the kitchen table rushing through my algebra homework so I could go play sock football with little brother when my uncle called and asked to speak to my dad.  Before he picked up the phone, I heard him mumble under his breath, "Why the fuck is he calling me during the middle of the day?"  Back then, we didn't have cell phones or the Internet and didn't have the constant contact we have today.  A phone call from a family member all the way across the country usually only came on holidays.  While talking to his brother, my dad only said "OK" twice and then hung up the phone.  He later told me my uncle said, "Pop had a heart attack."  ("OK.")  He didn't make it.  ("OK.")  Then my dad went into the living room, sat on the couch, and started weeping.  Honestly, I can't remember ever seeing my dad cry up until that point.  Not sob, at least.

Let me interject here for a minute so I can tell you where this is going.  Stephen King (yes, you'll see his name a lot here) says repeatedly that "Where do you get your ideas?" and "Is horror all you write?"are two of the questions he's most frequently asked by fans.  (For the record, I never asked him those two when we corresponded in the early '80's.  I always asked him for writing advice.  He regularly obliged until he became a brand name and started sending out form letters. He hand wrote me an apology on the first form letter I received.  Cool, right?  That was about the time the Mets beat the Red Sox in the World Series.  Thank you, Bill Buckner.)  Of course, I don't have many fans and rarely get asked those kind of questions, but when I do (and this happened mostly in college creative writing courses, mind you), they usually start out like this:  "Do you do drugs?" or the even funnier, "Were you abused as a child?"  I laugh at both.  No drugs.  I don't drink.  I'm proud of my imagination as is.  And sure, my parents had trouble getting along with each other when we were kids, but they did the best fucking job they could raising the three of us.  They supported everything we did.  Gave us plenty of love.  Made it very clear that nothing mattered to them more than their three boys.  Italians fucking yell at each other.  Get over it.

I think my grandfather's death was the second major event in my life that affected my writing.  That fall, we had a flash flood and were all sent home from school.  I sat at that same kitchen table and wrote what was genuinely the first disturbing story of my entire catalog.  It's called "The Basement" and is about a little boy who receives his grandfather's remains in the mail and hides them from his dad.  I can barely type this out without tears.  I can still remember how frightened the little boy was that his dad might find out his grandfather had died.  (Of course, the corpse reanimates into a zombie at the end, but by then, the terror was so real, the cliché punchline didn't matter.)

The first major event was when my mom lost her baby girl, but I can't take that up right now.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

In the Beginning

I started writing short stories when I was in junior high school.  They were all inspired by The Lord of the Rings.  I still have one, I think.  It's called "An Unwelcome Party."  In it, Gimli and a band of dwarves track an ancient spirit through Middle-earth.  Back then, I always played D&D with my little brother and a bunch of friends.  We pretended to be Tolkien characters.  I carried my D&D books in my backpack.  My parents never knew I didn't carry any school books around because I always got good grades.  We moved from NYC to Phoenix when I was 11, and the schools in AZ were a joke at the time.  Still are, I imagine.

My older brother's friend let me borrow a copy of Stephen King's Night Shift the summer before I started ninth grade.  That book changed my life.  I loved every story in that collection, but the one that really got me going was "Gray Matter."  I always loved The Blob and something about how the father transformed into a sludge-like monster scared the fuck out of me.  Of course, I'm a Daddy's boy through and through, so that just amplified my fear.

I wrote my first horror story called "A Blade Too Short" at that time.  It's about a little boy who gets off the school bus and is chased home by a gelatinous cube (yes, still playing D&D by then).  When he gets inside, he can't find anyone, so he runs upstairs and tries to get into the attic, but he's too short to reach the pull-down string.  The blob gets him, of course.  My mom, who helped edit all my stories then and I love her for it, also tried to publish that one for me.  She sent it out to a bunch of magazines.  Nobody picked it up.

Stephen King once said you get enough rejection slips to wallpaper your bathroom.  I believe everything he says and have never stopped listening to him.  Honestly, I love the guy.  I wish I could meet him one day.  I tried to hook up with him at an author's conference once but couldn't get tickets.  He jokingly sent me a Three Stooges postcard and suggested I try waiting tables.  How fucking cool.