Why it truly matters.

It’s truly an honor to meet people when I go to book events. Night after night I hit the keyboard and wonder why or if any of it matters. Sometimes I get to actually find out why it does.

This weekend my wife and I went to the first Fredericksburg Independent Book Festival. I rented a table to show off my work and maybe get the word out. We had a little time to kill before we had to set up so we stopped by the local coffee shop. On the way back we met a couple who asked me about my tee shirt. For those of you who’ve never seen me at a show, I have a special tee shirt I wear with my website on it.

The couple were elderly, maybe in their late 60s/early 70s. Within a minute or two, she told us something you don’t ordinarily hear in conversations. She was going to die, and soon. She had terminal cancer.

Let that sink in for a moment.

She just told me that she was going to die. Not might, not in the process of fighting it, but she has cancer which was now in her marrow and she was no longer able to do anything about it.

What does one say to something like that? As a writer, you’re used to having time to come up with something to say. But there are never the right words to react to something like that. We asked them if they were coming to the book festival and she said they were, but were on their way to get coffee first. They promised to come back and see us at the show.

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Our Booth at Fredericksburg

A little while later, I saw the same woman coming around the booths. Quickly, I grabbed a chair and gave her a place to rest. I could tell that even in that short time she had expended a lot of her available energy. We also had a nice canopy where it was shaded. She joined us for a while and I got to learn a little more about her. The details were irrelevant, but what was important was her spirit.

She was there to find books to stockpile for the fast approaching time where she could no longer walk. We discussed how important it was to keep the mind sharp and the books were her way of passing the time before the inevitable happened.

She was not afraid to die. She told me that she was excited about it. She knew what was waiting for her on the other side and it gave her a sense of calm.

Although she didn’t buy one of my books, I was still glad she spent some time with us. It reminded me that as writers we never know what the impact of our work could be. I want to be a writer who entertains. That’s the charge I give myself every time I sit down at the computer. You never know if that book you wrote was is just a welcome distraction or a needed distraction for someone who is facing a reality which if far harsher than your own. In essence, you never know if that is the last book that person would ever read.

The impact of the life of a writer is never fully realized. They might anger in the short term and comfort over the long. There’s truly no way of knowing. Plenty of writers became famous after they died.

The couple left us and made their way around the rest of the booths. Some part of me would love to know how many books she reads before the day of her passing, but I’m sure it will be quite a few. I was touched by her elegant outlook on the afterlife and I’m very glad to have met her.

-Your Humble Servant

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A Rudderless Ship

Have you ever had the inescapable feeling that you no longer had any control over your own life? I’m sure you have, all of us have. Sometimes I can feel that way about my writing. Lately I’ve felt that way. When I share these thoughts with my writer friends they encourage me to stay the course and everything will work itself out eventually. I suppose that makes up for the times that I’m standing by their sides telling them the same thing.

Recently I have had a few issues I felt that way about in my personal life, as well as in my writing. I think it’s our own human perception of a situation which makes these situations worse than they really are. I know you can’t control everything, but sometimes I just want to reach out to the world and scream, “Give me that steering wheel. You’re getting us lost.”

I don’t know what it is about these times that makes us sadder than others. I think it has to do with our loss of control. We, as human beings, love to be in control. If you go to any workplace, you’ll see someone who is the boss. Then you’ll find the workers under them. Some of those workers can’t handle the idea of a vacancy at the top. Someone has to be in charge. There has to be clear direction. In other words, there has to be a captain in command and a rudder to steer the ship.

We have a painting at our house which was done by a good friend of ours. We have known her since she was a little kid and now she is almost a full grown adult. It’s a ship at sea. The sky is dark and demanding. The ship’s sails are full and it’s almost as if you could imagine the Captain ordering the ship away from the storm.

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Artwork: Alexis Fuller

How great would that be if we could just see the storms in our lives and order ourselves away from them? We can’t, of course. Many times we don’t see the storms until they’re right on top of us. We can only adjust course as best we know how and then try to make our way out of the storm.

In writing, as in life, there are times you feel like the rudder is gone, sails have all been shredded, and the Captain has been washed overboard with all of the navigation charts. You want to throw in the towel and hide below deck until the wind dies down.

Of course, you could just stay in bed and refuse to get up, but that wouldn’t do you any good. As much as you hate to do it, you have to get out of your hammock and head up those stairs to the main deck. The ship could be bobbing around like mad, but you have to hang on. Grab a rope, grab and oar, grab something and try like hell to make the ship go in the direction you know it needs to go. Yes, it is acceptable to puke over the side once in a while, but you have to remain firmly in charge of the vessel.

Often, it is a kind word or thought which signals the winds of change. Sometimes it is an opportunity you didn’t realize was going to be available. Relief from your own personal rudderless ship can come from almost any angle. But remember, as you may be going through your own storm, so too may someone else. It could be your kind word or gesture which brings them hope that the storm is about to end. Hope is a powerful thing.

No matter what your personal struggle is, just hang on and do the best you can. Eventually, likely when you least expect it, something will happen to get you back on course.

Your Humble Servant,

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Oh wait, you mean you’re that kind of horror writer?

I have a long time friend who is really more of a sister than a friend at this point. We have known each other for the better part of fifteen years. We met over the phone professionally and have gotten along swimmingly ever since. The other day we were talking and she said something that kind of shocked me. “Wow, you’re kind of dark you know that?”

To be clear, I wasn’t offended or bothered by the statement. I was more shocked that she didn’t know this already. Yes, I’m more than a little dark. I have a pretty morbid sense of humor and I tend to see the bad in the world. I see things differently than most people and that allows me to sit at my computer and write about a terrifying monster that rips people in half or a serial killer who kills his victims by draining their blood. My dark side also gives shape to my new characters which include a father going crazy and killing his entire family with an ax. So yeah, I suppose we can call that dark if we put a label on it.

I think there is some genuine confusion out there about horror writers and people who work in the horror genera in general. People reach the misguided conclusion that we are all just one cracker short of a full hors de voir. The reality is far different. I think we’re probably saner than most of you.

Yes, there are probably things in our past which make us more morbid than others, but that doesn’t necessarily make us ready to snap. Many of us were forged in a different kind of fire than the rest of the world that makes us terribly unique. As a matter of fact, you want us thinking about mortality, you need us thinking about mortality! But, make no mistake, horror writers tend to be one of the nicest groups of people you’ll ever meet. If you met me on the street and you didn’t know who I was (*Gasp* How can you not know who I am???) you would probably walk away from that exchange without a clue that I am a horror writer. It’s only when we get into the deeper discussion of the story lines and what motivates me that you start to see the darkness emerge.

I read somewhere that a newspaper reporter was shocked to find that the horror writer he was going to interview turned out to be a little old lady. When he met her she was sitting in a rocking chair, knitting a scarf for one of her grand kids. Upon meeting her he expressed his shock and she said something to the effect of, ‘Not what you expected? Well, my dear, the reason I can sit here and knit because I let my demons out to play.’ What she was referring to were her novels. Now, to be fair, I’m not sure if that account is true. It’s one of those things that I read someplace and I never really fact checked it, but it does make a nice story. I’d be thrilled if anyone could give me the real account of this interview. But, I digress.

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“Good Morning! Go ahead, ax me a question!

 

Every day I try to let my darkness out little by little. I put it on the page and let it dance before others. It’s not a sign of insanity, but a sign of inner strength for a life forged in adversity and difficult circumstance. It is a badge of courage that I wear because I have survived it all and turned these experiences to work to my advantage.

Moreover, it’s the sign of a well-oiled machine. Yesterday afternoon I practically flung myself back at my keyboard because I had a thought while I was out at a festival with my family. I thought, When they walk into the kill room, they see streaks on the walls where the victims clawed at them to get out. They were all alive while being dissected!

My mom would probably ask, “Who has thoughts like that?”

Well, I do! And, the fact of the matter is, that lots of people have thoughts like that. The difference is that I let those thoughts out to play with the other thoughts in my head and that makes for better writing!

If that makes me dark, then I guess I’ll be dark. I’m alright with that. And ultimately I think you all are too!

Your Humble Servant,

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