Looking for the Next Best Thing

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Sometimes you just need to listen to some Warren Zevon. Damn. I miss this guy.

JudgmentBalanceScalesI’m a great believer in the universe desiring balance. I see this happen with my life all the time. For ever good thing, some bad happens. The reverse is usually true but the good tends to take a little longer to show up… and isn’t always enough to balance the previous bad.

Case in point: My record for writing so far this year still stands at 1 win and about 6 loses so far. Another story written for a particular collection was rejected but quickly enough that I was able to write another story and submit that one. Haven’t heard back on it yet. But, I tried to take all of the writing lessons and mantras to heart and turn some of those rejections into a positive.

S.T. Joshi has long been one of the biggest supporters of my fiction writing. It was Joshi who accepted the last story I had written during my last great attempt at writing (and which had received over a dozen rejections and some from prestigious magazines like WEIRD TALES) and included it in his first collection of new ‘Lovecraftian’ stories, BLACK WINGS Volume 1. He extolled the virtues of the story and called it ‘one of the finest in the book’. That alone helped get me back into writing regularly.

Some time ago, S.T. had mentioned to me that Hippocampus Press might be interested in a collection of my short stories if I could write enough to fill a book. Keeping that in mind, I pulled together a selection of my tales (including many of those that had been rejected by other venues despite being what the editors called “really good stories”) and sent it off to him. Very quickly, after some brief changes in the selection of stories, S.T. send it to the head of Hippocampus and, within the space of a day, the collection was accepted and already sent out for layout and design!

The book will be called THE DREAMER IN FIRE AND OTHER STORIES and should hopefully be out in 2016. It’s quite likely that my good friend and sometime collaborator Jason Eckhardt will draw the cover. I’ll post more about it as it gets closer.

But remember that ‘cosmic balance’ I talked about? Good, because the pendulum quickly swings the other way.

titleSince my writing SOME NOTES ON A NON-ENTITY: THE LIFE OF H.P. LOVECRAFT, Jason Eckhardt has been hard at work on drawing the pages of the graphic novel and I’ve been trying to find a publisher. With no luck. Much to my surprise, the project has been passed on by every publisher and agent I’ve contacted. I’m truly gobsmacked at this as I thought it would be an easy sell especially considering the quality of Jason’s artwork. We’re continuing to pursue other publishers and, if all else fails, will probably do a Kickstarter campaign for it so stay tuned.

Since giving up on the Ripper/Machen novel, I’ve made notes for another novel called THE HOUSE OF NODENS which I hope to start work on soon. Right now I have to fulfill some other obligations and I just don’t write all that fast.

A recent conversation on Facebook has led me to think further on what I want from writing and how to get it. A lot of thinking but not a lot of solutions.

And so it goes.

 

Writing’s a weird thing…

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…  and I don’t think I’d recommend it as a lifestyle or career.

Unless, of course, you’re James Patterson or Stephen King. I mean, then you’d be stupid to not be a writer.

But for most of us, it’s a tough struggle with a lot of frustration and aggravation added into it. Kind of like that spice you added to the meatloaf which sounded like a good idea at the time but now even the dog won’t eat it.

2014 was probably the best year I’d ever had as a writer. I wrote the script for the graphic novel SOME NOTES ON A NON-ENTITY: THE LIFE OF H.P. LOVECRAFT which was a pretty big achievement. Virtually every short story I wrote in 2014 I was able to sell. (A couple were initially rejected but found later homes.) So it really seemed like I was on a good path towards that elusive ‘writing career’ I’d always wanted.

Then 2015 happened.

writers-blockI wrote five short stories during these first months of 2015 and all but one were rejected by their target anthologies. This was pretty tough to take but I know that writing is a game of rejection/acceptance. Sometimes it takes a while to find the right dancer for the stories to go home with but I felt that there was an underlying problem here: I didn’t understand what the editors wanted.

But nothing had changed since 2014. These were anthology calls with specific criteria but I’d been able to meet that criteria other times in 2014 but not in 2015. Each story came back home with their tails between their legs with very nice and encouraging notes about their performances and now nicely they were dressed and ‘oh how I wish we could have taken them in but they’re not quite right and we have so many stories here already that we have to clothe and feed’. It’s certainly good to hear such accolades about your literary offspring but the point remains that they, in the end, didn’t make the cut. So you have to wonder why?

The answer had to be that I had missed something somewhere. I’d written the story I’d wanted to write but it wasn’t the story they wanted to receive. I could either write what I ‘thought’ they wanted or write what I wanted to and take my chances. You roll the dice and sometime Oogie-Boogie wins.

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So I had to take a tough look at what I was writing and what type of writing ‘career’ I wanted to have.

I don’t think I was ever meant to be a Patterson or a King or a Gaiman. My work would probably only appeal to a limited market and I either had to make peace with that or give up being a writer . . . again.

Back in the 80s, I made my first attempt at being a ‘real’ writer. Now, granted, the market was a lot different back then and we didn’t even have computers (well, most of us didn’t and I sure as hell didn’t either). But I wrote dozens of short stories and sent them out to plenty of magazines and, one by one, they came back. I tried to write two different novels and stalled on each of them. I wrote pitches for Marvel and DC comics and imagined editorial offices covered in the snowflakes of my manuscripts. Got a very nice rejection letter from Marvel and nothing from DC. (Somewhere I still have my pitch for a revival of the SARGON THE SORCERER character that would have taken the story through all of DC’s then ‘magic’ reality and involved the redemption of Sargon. Still wish I’d had a chance to do that one.)

Anyway, you get the picture. Wide-eyed writer, lots of manuscripts, lots of rejections. Eventually I concluded that whatever it was that I had to offer, no one was interested so I pretty much stopped writing. After that point, I mainly wrote articles for small press and the occasional comic script or two (also for fanzines) but, by and large, I talked myself out of being a writer. I didn’t have a lot of confidence in my abilities to begin with and what little I did have drained away.

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And now I can feel the same thing happening again. Except that I’m a little better prepared for it this time. I’m older, for one thing, and have a bit more experience with living with depression to know that these are false assumptions and to not allow them to control my thoughts. But I also know that I can identify the problem and take steps to fix it.

Which meant giving up on a few things like the Jack the Ripper/Arthur Machen novel I’d been struggling with for over 10 years. I wasn’t happy with it. I haven’t been happy with it for a while or I’d have finished it. Now it was time to put it away. Maybe someday I’d get back to it but I couldn’t continue writing something that a different me had started so long ago.

It’s time to chart new territory and find new stories. And, more importantly, stop depending on them to be accepted or win awards or make me lots of money. They’re just stories and that’s all that they are supposed to be.

“When the rain comes, they run and hide their heads…”

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After an interminable winter, spring appears to finally inching its way closer. It’s actually 54 degrees in Rhode Island right now and some of the huge mountains of snow are actually beginning to melt. In a week or so, Providence might actually have two way roads that can accommodate more than one lane of traffic at a time.

Two weeks ago today, I had hernia surgery. That was an event in and of itself as it was the first time I’ve ever had surgery other than an emergency repair of a bleeding ulcer about 13-14 years ago that I was unconscious during. This operation had its moments but, by and large, was successful. The surgeon had said it was a minor hernia but the procedure took more out of me than I thought it would. I ended up spending about four and a half days in bed because moving just wasn’t something my body agreed to do.

Then, just as I start feeling a bit better, nonsense with the management company owns the building where we have an apartment started up again. Its a long story but the bottom line was that we spent most of the weekend boxing up a lot of books and papers and stuff in anticipation of an extensive spraying by an exterminator. And we still have another room to get ready. I’d happily move if we could but rents in RI are ridiculous even for 1-2 BR apartments. This isn’t the first time I’ve thought about leaving New England because of finances.

All of which meant that I haven’t gotten much writing done. I did manage to finish a story I’d promised good buddy Jim Beard before the operation and apartment nonsense hit so I am glad about that. But, in general, those two things have pretty much sapped me creatively and motivation-wise. It’s not helping that I still cannot find a publisher for the biographical graphic novel of H.P. Lovecraft that I wrote and Jason Eckhardt is illustrating. Looking forward, I have two stories I need to get down for upcoming anthologies. Not sure how that’s going to happen but I need to try and get something in for consideration.

I’d write more but, as a famous local commercial starring an actor as a baker used to say, “Time to make the donuts.”

 

 

What I miss about the 80s…

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I was born in 1962 and graduated high school in 1980 so, to me, the 80s were MY decade. I was young, there was a world of possibilities before me and an excitement I’d never felt before or since. I look back on the 80s with a fond nostalgia despite the fact that I absolutely HATED that decade while I was living through it. I was lonely, miserable and certain that I was doomed to personal and professional failure in every aspect of my life. So it’s strange to me that there are so many things I miss about those years. Here are some of them:

ARCADES

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I’ve written about this before but Arcades were REALLY big in the 80s. Every mall had a big arcade and there were many stand alone Arcades as well. I have fond memories of driving with my friend Abel down to Warwick and spending a day at one of the largest ones just going from game to game and having fun. Today, with the proliferation of home gaming systems, you’re lucky if you can find one or two games at a mall or bowling alley and most of them are old and probably broken. It was always my dream back in the 80s to have my own personal Arcade in my house with my favorites like Asteroids, Galaxian, Street Fighter, Burger Time and a whole bunch of pinball machines as well. Thirty years later and I still don’t have that personal Arcade.

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One of my favorite pinball games. I wouldn’t mind if Elvira came with it as well!

 

STORES

Back in the 80s, your choices for stores weren’t restricted to Wal-Mart and Target. There were a whole batch of department stores around with many local alternatives as well. One of my favorites, for some unknown reason, was Bradlees.

 

 

Bradlees commercial mascot was “Mrs. B” because I guess they thought that having that ‘mom’ touch would increase sales. It didn’t help. Bradlees finally closed their doors in 2001 after almost 10 years of downsizing and store closings.

 

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Caldor’s was another department chain that seemed to be everywhere in the 80s. I remember them having a pretty good book and record department which, after all, was pretty much the only things I was interested in as a teenager. That book department actually led to an issue involving Howard Stern. Caldor’s would post the NYT Best Seller list in their book section but when Stern’s controversial autobiography, PRIVATE PARTS, made the list in 1993, Caldor refused to stock the book and went so far as to delete it from the NYT list and moved all the other books up a notch. NYT responded that if Caldor’s wanted to post the list, it had to use the list as printed so Caldor simply stopped posting the list until Stern’s book fell off it.

Caldor’s was eventually forced out of business by Wal-Mart and Target and went out of business in 1999.

Not any more .

Not any more .

Two other local department store chains in New England were Zayre and Ames. I’d describe both of them as being about the equal of K-Mart. They also weren’t particularly noted for their cleanliness. Zayre (which my father always mispronounced as ‘CZAR’S’) went as far back as 1919 but they sold out to their competitor, AMES, in 1988.

This even looks like the one I used to shop at.

This even looks like the one I used to shop at.

Ames turned all of the then existing Zayre locations into Ames stores and then promptly started going out of business themselves. They eventually went completely bust and closed their last store in 2002.

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TWEETER

Electronic stores were really big in the 80s. You had stores like TWEETER which was devoted to high end stereos and televisions. I could never afford any of the stuff they had but I used to like to go in and sit in the demo area and just watch their huge screen television.  They went under in 2008.

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CRAZY EDDIE’S

CRAZY EDDIE’S was a staple of New York television and retail. Their prices were INSANE! Anyone who grew up in the greater NYC area in the 80s will remember their commercials and their wild spokesman (who was not the owner). The actual owner was eventually charged with several counts of fraud and served several years in jail. Not surprisingly, the chain did not survive the owner’s crimes (or a later takeover by a proxy group). For some time, CRAZY EDDIE was the standard for corporate fraud until Enron and others came along and decided they could do fraud much bigger and better!

 

 

AMUSEMENT PARKS

In the 80s, we didn’t have all the big SIX FLAGS amusement parks. This was still the era where a lot of smaller, regional parks were around. I was always a coaster nut so I used to go to several during those years.

 

RYE PLAYLAND

Located in Rye, NY (just over the Connecticut border), RYE PLAYLAND was a great, old-fashioned part with lots of rides and a great roller coaster that would go into a covered corner which was made to look like a dragon’s mouth! I spent a LOT of time on that ride.

Dragon-Coaster

Rye Playland was a victim of Hurricane Sandy in 2012 which destroyed its boardwalk and many of the rides and exhibits. Rebuilding was done and the park is still running today. You can check out their website at http://www.ryeplayland.org/ and I’m really tempted to drive down for their opening day on May 9th!

 

Some other amusement attractions haven’t fared so well like:

Rocky Point

Once a RI institution, Rocky Point was famous for their rides (including a Flume ride, the Corkscrew coaster and the FreeFall) and their legendary Shore Dinner Hall which, during the heyday of the park, served thousands daily. Sadly, Rocky Point fell victim to financial woes and closed in 1995. The most popular rides were sold off to other parks but the bulk of the buildings were left vacant to fall into ruin.

Rocky Point as we prefer to remember it.

Rocky Point as we prefer to remember it.

 

 

This is getting longer than I had expected so here’s some brief things I also miss from the 80s:

 

LETTERS

Long before the internet and email came along, people actually wrote each other letters and sent them through the mail! I know! Crazy, right? Other than the phone, letters were the best way to communicate with your friends, family, enemies, whatever. There were tangible and permanent (unless you threw them away, of course). I used to keep files of the letters I received from correspondents and I still have most of those files. When someone wrote you a letter, it was significant because they actually took the time to sit down and physically write something. It showed that you were important and there was nothing like going to the mail box and getting a stack of letters from people. Now we have emails which people pound out on their keyboards, send in a second and (unless you print them out and who can afford all that ink?) are intangible. If you lost your email account tomorrow because of hacking or some technological holocaust, you’d lose all those messages and emails.

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APAs

Just like letters, the internet pretty much killed APAs. For those not in the know, an APA (Amateur Press Association) was a group of people with a common interest where each member would produce their own little magazine (called ‘zine’) which would be gathered together on a regular schedule by the head of the APA (‘central mailer’ usually) who would then compile a bundle consisting of a copy of each zine and then send out those bundles to all the members. Through the mail. Obviously, there is little thought given to such things in this internet age where communication is instant and zines can be downloaded and sent across the globe in seconds. There used to be hundreds of APAs in the 80s, now we’re down to a small handful of dedicated people determined to keep the tradition alive.

 

MTV

Yeah, I’m sure anyone growing up in the 80s misses what MTV used to be. You know, a channel that actually played music videos? Instead of stupid reality shows featuring people that you’d exile to another planet if you could actually get away with it? And all the great VJs and, of course, MOJO NIXON!

 

And other stuff like Jello Biafra, Ian Shoales, Rich Hall, A. Whitney Brown, Dr. Science, Elvira, Uncle Floyd, Jolly Cholly’s, and comics that I didn’t have to go to a bank for a loan to buy.

 

 

 

 

 

What a drag…

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I wonder if they actually play this song at their concerts now? It could have a different meaning than when it was written.

2015 has not started out any better than the previous year. There is, of course, the endless invasion of snow that New England has endured this February. While RI has not gotten as much as other spots (Boston sounds as if it has been fighting off an army of Frost Giants), it has still made life more difficult. Driving in the streets becomes an adventure in stress and there are no places for pedestrians to walk. Although I don’t suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder like many others, this constant pressure of weather has worn me down. And there’s probably another month and a half of winter left to go.

There has also been notifications that more old friends have died in 2015. I no longer feel like using the softer euphemisms of ‘passed’ or anything to make it seem kinder than it is which is more people my own age dying. Even worse are the ones whom I don’t know personally but know of because of their work. I am reminded more and more of Steve Martin and Charles Grodin in the classic film, The Lonely Guy, where they read the obituaries of people they don’t know to each other and sigh sadly, “Oh, so young.”

I’m also having housing issues that may very likely result in having to find a new place to live and very quickly if it comes to that. My wife and I live in a one bedroom apartment that is crammed with far too many things which leads me to the realization that a culling will have to be done. None of that makes me particularly happy. I enjoy moving about as much as I will enjoy the colonoscopy I will have to endure next month.

Which is all a roundabout way of saying that, so far in 2015, I’ve completed one story and am trying hard to finish a second. But it’s been a tough slough. The words aren’t coming particularly easily and I’m having trouble concentrating and getting the ambition to write. I’ve had some setbacks writing-wise lately but I’m usually able to bounce back faster than this. I could point out several reasons but, in the end, all that matters is that I’m not getting the writing done.

About a week ago, I posted on Facebook about how it seems that some people live ‘charmed’ lives and I truly believe that. Whether they are blessed with family connections, money, knowing the right people or just the ability to ‘talk the right way’, they seem to swim through life getting opportunities and accolades that most of us will never have the chance to enjoy. Many times, in my writing ‘career’ (as I jokingly call it), I have felt like the nerdy wallflower at the high school dance who is too nervous to talk to any of the girls and spends the night just hoping one of them (any of them) might notice me standing there and come over to say ‘hello’ but that never happens and you wind up going home alone because the you that you are just doesn’t cut it in this world. Some people get noticed and some don’t and that’s just the way of the world.

So excuse me if I don’t seem very hopeful but it’s just mid-February, there’s two feet of snow on the ground smothering everything and spring seems an eternity away.

 

 

 

 

Why doesn’t Neil Gaiman like me?

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That title is completely sarcastic, by the way. I doubt Neil Gaiman is aware of my existence on this planet one way or the other nor do I mean to imply that he isn’t the nice, friendly fellow that he truly is. But I chose it because I’ve been thinking about some things lately and one of those is the way we, as a society, block ourselves into circles and cliques. There’s a lot of them that we choose willingly such as our friends and our interest but there are others that develop almost organically as if they are living things themselves.

And don’t mistake it, there are vast barriers to keep people out of one circle or another. Don’t believe me? When was the last time that Tom Brady and Gisele had you over for a spaghetti dinner? Or called Scarlett Johansson for a date? Did Tom Wolfe give you his hand written notes on your novel yet? Or is Bank of America calling to loan you money? These are absurdist examples, to be sure, but illustrate my point.

As a teenager, I had about as much chance of dating Phoebe Cates as I did in becoming the shortstop for the New York Yankees which translates to ZERO (both were dreams I had as a teen, btw). But, of course, if I were the shortstop for the New York Yankees, then Phoebe Cates probably would’ve dated me. Or maybe not. But I would have been in the circle where that could have been a possibility.

This is a tad more philosophical than I usually like to get with my posts or online at all but it is something that I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. Even in the ordinary, everyday life of an average citizen, there are circles. We choose (either consciously or subconsciously) the type of life we want and move into those circles. I’m a studious, bookish sort and rather Hobbitish so I tend to gravitate towards others of similar inclination. I am not a ‘sports guy’ so I don’t hang out with the guys at the local sports bar and cheer on a team of people who make more than I ever will in my lifetime. The point is that we settle into these types of cliques and circles and rarely, if ever, break out of them. I may look at the circle of writers that includes Neil Gaiman and envy them and wish I could be part of that but know that, more likely than not, I never will be.

That’s not to say that they are purposefully excluding me. As much as my paranoia might like to think so, I don’t believe there’s a “Sam Gafford Revenge Squad” out there somewhere.  But in order to join that circle and breathe that ‘rarefied’ air, I’d have to pay the price of admission which is to write something brilliant that catches all of their attentions.

And what if you can’t do that? What if all you have in you is a rather bland rehash of Lovecraft? You might get to the door only to be told that your ticket is for a different admission instead. Of course, you could make it all the way up to the top of the mountain, have the right ticket, enter the door and join the group… only to find that you’re not really a member. You’re not in the inner circle. Then you’re left wondering, “Why? What did I do wrong? What did I miss? Is it the secret handshake I’m missing?”

Why do I write all this? I don’t know. Maybe it’s because I’ve had some bad news lately (both personally and professionally) so I’m rather depressed. Or more depressed than usual. I’ve certainly never been known for being inspirational or particularly uplifting. Maybe it’s because I’ve been seeing this a lot more lately in so many areas: personal relationships, fandom, conventions, work situations, writing and publishing. More and more I do see that it is “who you know”.

And you can try and try all your life and still never get that damned golden ticket.

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“And the Skies Opened…”

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It’s literally the calm before the storm here in Rhode Island and most of New England as we await the coming of 2015’s first big storm; Juno.

Weather forecasters are calling this one of the “Top 5” storms in history. Recent reports state that RI may get between 2 to 3 feet of snow. I’ve lived in New England all my life so this doesn’t faze me much. I lived through the blizzard of ’78 so I know what these storms can be like.  While others run around like chicken’s recently parted from their heads, some (like my wife) are excited by it. The best I can muster is a ‘meh’.

While I don’t particularly mind snow (so long as I’m not driving in it), what I DO mind is the clean up after. Two years ago we had a storm drop about 2 feet of snow on us (and I don’t recall the panic being quite this bad then) and it was the days after that were the worst. We’d actually lost power in our apartment building and it took about two days for the plow guy to show up and dig out our cars. I’m hoping we’re not in for a repeat.

But, in the event we don’t lose power, we have plenty of food stockpiled and piles of books and movies to read and watch. Not to mention all the writing I have to do.

Jason Eckhardt and I are still waiting to hear from a potential publisher for our graphic novel biography of H.P. Lovecraft (SOME NOTES ON A NON-ENTITY:THE LIFE OF H.P. LOVECRAFT) and that’s a bit wearing. Still, I have about six or so short stories to write for anthologies I want to submit material to not to mention the sequel to STRANGE DETECTIVE MYSTERIES and the other stories I just want to write for myself.

Recently I’ve been thinking about writing a book of ghost stories. Absolutely nothing Lovecraft related. Just good old ghost stories. I need to sit down and make that happen.

I need a spiffy catch phrase to end these blog posts.

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