So… I guess I can write about this, now that Lois herself has blogged about it. I recently placed a short story titled “Reign” in an anthology edited by Lois Gresh and coming from PS Publishing called Dark Fusions: Where Monsters Lurk. I’m really proud of the work, and the story kinda represents me coming out of a period of semi-retirement. (Aside from “Shibboleth” and “Displacement”, the two original stories in my 2011 collection Stories from the Plague Years, I haven’t placed a piece of new fiction since 2005 or so. And the fact of the matter is, these works aren’t too “original.” I wrote “Displacement” 20 years ago. And “Shibboleth” is, in fact, a chapter of a sprawling science fiction novel I’ve been unable to sell for about a decade.) I think more writers “retire” for periods of time than people really acknowledge. I remember when Arthur C. Clarke “retired” for a while in the late 1970s. Clarke, an avid SCUBA diver, claimed to have celebrated his retirement by photographing his electric typewriter resting submerged atop a corral reef. Alfred Betser, I think in an interview in Omni, laughed and said something like, “Oh, please! Arthur! No one retires from writing. Shut up and get back to work.” Soon thereafter, Clarke sold The Fountains of Paradise for beaucoup bucks (I seem to recall it was the highest advance yet paid for an SF novel). Bester, who was married to an advertising executive (what an episode of Mad Men that would make!), I think knew the workings of people’s minds pretty well.
But to the actual point of this blog post. Originally, Dark Fusions was to be published by Arkham House and would be called Arkham Nightmares. The guidelines stipulated, “The emphasis is on stories that capture the mood, atmosphere, and creative strangeness of Lovecraftian cosmic horror.” So, I wrote a story that I felt did just that. It became, as I chewed over premises, an homage not just to Lovecraft, but maybe even more so to Harlan Ellison. (I’ll talk about the overt Ellison elements once the story comes out.) As a tribute to Lovecraft’s cosmic horror, “Reign” represents a kind of coming full circle for me.
Y’see… I wrote a good chunk of “Reign” longhand on a very specific kind of paper that I once used as a dumbfuck teenager, who at the age of 15 in the era of Punk Rock and Toe Socks was writing gawdawful Lovecraft pastiches worse than you could possibly imagine. Unless, of course, you were yourself a dumbfuck teenager writing Lovecraft pastiches back in the days when a nickel bag of pot cost a good and proper “nickel.”
(I even sent one of these abominations to Ed Ferman at Fantasy & Science Fiction. At the time, I was crushed to get the form rejection. Now, even more than 30 years after the fact, I hope no one in the F&SF offices actually read the damned thing that I so lovingly bashed out on a manual typewriter… that my cover letter was enough for them to just open up the SASE and send it back.)
The paper in question was something I got tablets of from my dad, who had originally gotten them for his home office that he maintained in the basement of our house. Check out the picture here, with pen and ruler added for scale. [Click on images to enlarge]
Whippersnappers might not know this, but… back in the days when writing actually involved paper, and not pixels, paper was an expense. Consequently, if you were a dumbfuck teenager writing Lovecraft pastiches, you had to use whatever paper was available. Which is why my monumentally clever opening for a story satirizing 1950s monster movies that I wrote during the summer of 1979 (the summer that ALIEN came out and that has since been semi-immortalized in JJ Abrams’ Super 8) was typed on the back of a blank billing statement from the nursing home my parents used to administrate.
These tablets of paper were kind of funky. The pads were 9″ x 8.5″ and there were little notations in the lower right corner that said “4049G Rev 2-78” on some pages and “Form 4046-G” on others. I Googled those, and got nothing. According to my friend Lisa Morton, they’re accountant’s ledgers, like the ones her mom used when she ran a college bookstore. OK… that might be what they’re manufactured for and meant to be. But to me, they are specifically and uniquely suited for writing Lovecraft knock offs. Why? You see those columns on the left by the binder holes? Well as you were feverishly scribbling dumbfuck teenager Lovecraft pastiches, you could write little marginalia notes to yourself, so you can keep track of not only elements of your own story, but of other Mythos goodies that might be relevant. Things like “USE ELDER SIGN LATER!” and “REF TSATHOGGUA FOR SCENE AT LIBRARY!” and “MAKE SURE COPY OF BOOK AT MISKATONIC LIB IS MISSING!” The odd marginalia of “DEVO RULES!” might also have been jotted down, but I decline to confirm or deny that rumor.
(Hey, I just noticed that on some sheets of these pads, those left-hand columns are bisected, and on others, they’re not. I wonder if the pads were defective, and that’s why my dad unloaded them on me. Or if he got ’em cheap because they were defective.)
Only one sheet of my dumbfuck teenager Lovecraft pastiches that I’d written on those pads survives. (A few pages of a dumbfuck teenager Ramsey Campbell pastiche do survive to my chagrin, as do a few Dungeons & Dragons and Call of Cthulhu scenarios I cooked up.) I found it buried deep in my files in a folder marked “Teenage Epics” (a riff on the Undertones song “Teenage Kicks”; the folder in question originally housed the presskit for Child’s Play 3). And that lone surviving sheet’s not even a bit of proper manuscript, but a chunk of outline for the second part of a story that I think was going to be called “Legacy of the Lich”, or something appalling like that, the climax of which featured our hero using an electric grinder to grind a set of sterling silver dinnerware into filings that he packed into shotgun shells that he used to blast the undead, druid-y minions of an even MORE undead priest of Shub-Nigurath.
Christ, what a piece of shit that thing was (though the setting was pretty cool as I recall, and I did come up with a phrase I kinda like: “The Sojourner of the Oaks”). Maybe it’s for the best only one sheet of outline remains. But that story was MILES… no… LIGHT YEARS better than another that I wrote about a Miskatonic University professor who goes some place where there’s an archeological dig and comes back the host of some evil thing or another and only his academic rival knows what’s going on and there’s a confrontation at midnight in the deserted university hallways and….
You get the idea.
(For the record, the opening line of THAT story was “Empty halls, dark and mysterious.” So, y’know… the reader would hafta FEEL how empty and mysterious those halls of the “Humanities Department” at Miskatonic U were.)
Shitty as those pastiches were, I still have fond memories of the frenzied altered states of conscious I’d go into hunched over those pads with a ballpoint or a Faber Mongol #2 pencil in hand, feeling the heat unique to the summer vacations I spent assuring the world of my legacy as the guy who would single-handedly bring Cthulhu into the 21st Century. Hey! According to Starlog and Heavy Metal, IRREFUTABLE journalistic sources, Paramount was making that awesome Cry of Cthulhu movie that was gonna come out in the summer of 1981. Cthulhu was gonna be HUGE! And Ridley Scott’s ALIEN had shown that there was a market for Lovecraft-y horror. I was gonna ride that wave to the BIG time!
But I digress.
Flash forward a few decades. Right before I started writing “Reign,” I found one, precious pad of that paper in a box of things I’d had in storage at my parents’ house. I thought back to the zit-faced troglodyte I used to be, and the fever that used to take me while I wrote Lovecraftian fiction on those funkily lines sheets of paper. I couldn’t resist. I wrote big chunk of “Reign” on that pad. It was a joy, especially because the original Arkham Nightmares anthology was going to be published by Arkham House. I thought back to how my dumbfuck teenage self would have swooned at the thought of that. And those left-hand columns? Jotting plot notes and thematic ideas in them as I scribbled was as natural and as comfortable as slipping on a favorite old leather jacket. It was me and my muse getting a little drunk and talking about the way we were. Crazy kids in love. Kind of a second honeymoon.
So… here’s my plea.
If anybody knows how I can get my hands on more tablets of that funky paper that as far as I know hasn’t been in production since the Carter administration, please let me know. I’m working on some projects now, and I would love to crank them out longhand on those sheets. I have less than one full tablet left. I promise nothing I write will be as bad as “Legacy of the Lich.” For old time’s sake, I’d really, really appreciate it. Try me through Facebook, or e-mail me at dawnsong AT mindspring DOT com Thanks!