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So, just five days until the big release day (Tuesday, Sept. 23) for my latest, The End in All Beginnings. It’s a cool little collection of five novellas, each dealing with love, loss and pain. Hey, it’s what got me to be known around the hallowed halls of Grey Matter Press as the “King of Pain.” I shit you not.
Anyway, I thought, hmmm, five days. Five novellas. What better way to push the book than to spend the next five days here at this little blog discussing one of the novellas each day. How’s that sound for fun? Well, anyway, the six or so of you who read this (Hi, Mom!…OK, that’s a lie, my mother barely knows how to get email to function) can be enthralled as I talk about the stories, how they came to be and other little nuggets of trivia about them. How’s that for fun? Well, screw you, it’s all I got.
OK, then, let’s get started. We’ll just take the stories in the order they’re presented in the book. That means we start with “What Becomes God.”
I grew up, mostly anyway, in the 1970s. My memories of that childhood are mostly good, mostly Polaroid-sepia toned pictures of me with ridiculous haircuts (I did, at one time, have a luxurious mane of hair, I promise), wearing ridiculous 70s clothing, listening to ridiculous 70s music, watching ludicrous 70s television and reading. Reading is what I remember mostly. I got hooked very young. My mother and father were and are big readers, and they instilled this in me and my siblings. I’ve often recounted how my mother took us to the library every week to check out books. My dad was a cop for the city in those days, and money was fairly tight, as you might imagine. Still, I don’t really remember wanting for anything. So, yeah, I read, and at first it was science fiction–Heinlein, Anderson, Clarke, Asimov, Niven, Pournelle, Foster, Bradbury. The Star Trek paperbacks. All sorts of that stuff. Then it was on to fantasy–Tolkein, Donaldson, Zelazny, Vance, May, Silverberg. Then, it was on to horror–King, Straub, Rice, Barker.
But through it all was comic books. My childhood (and some of my college years…and some of my adult years) was filled with comic books. And for me there was only one company–MARVEL. Marvel had the chutzpah I loved in comics, and the characters that resonated with me. Spider-Man was my favorite, in the years of the origin of the Gwen Stacy clone. But I equally loved The Avengers, Iron Man, Hulk, Captain America, Dr. Strange, the Son of Satan (a 70s character that drove my Catholic mother to apoplexy), the X-Men, the Defenders, and straight outta the 70s titles like Iron Fist and Power Man. I loved them. LOVED THEM. While my brother and sister were spending their quarter a week allowances on candy at the QuikShop, I was buying comics, starting when they were just 20 cents.
The other big component of my childhood was the woods. I grew up in your basic suburban tract housing development. But this one was carved out of a nook in a great forest that spread for miles and miles back to the Missouri River. My dad worked a lot, both as a cop and at a variety of secondary jobs to make ends meet. He was the hardest working motherfucker I ever knew. Ever. Don’t get me started about police officers. You might not like my perspective. Anyway, dad was usually either working or sleeping. And mom didn’t really want three kids inside the house with her all day. So, usually we were fed breakfast and encouraged to make a lunch and get lost for the day. Yes, the doors would be locked.
So we spent a lot of time in the woods. Hiking. Exploring. Visiting the various ponds and streams that dotted and criss-crossed its mysterious innards. We saw a lot of wildlife, explored the ruins of house and old grain mills, learned about the surprises of black snakes and electric fences and poison ivy. It was great, fantastic, and it’s gone…all gone. We moved from the area back in 79, out to the real country, and over the decades since, the woods has literally disappeared. It was felled to make way for more subdivisions, more strip malls, more gas stations, and fast food outlets and Starbucks and banks with drive-thru ATMs. And I’m just old enough to begin feeling enraged by that change. I don’t think it’s been for the better.
I set out to write a story that would encapsulate, in some way, these childhood memories. Not so much to get onto the page something serious or LITERATE–like loss of innocence or the times they are a’changing or anything like that. At first, it was just to explore those memories. And then it became something else. It turned into “What Becomes God.”
For me, “What Becomes God” became a meditation on loss and sacrifice; losing some things against your will, giving others up willfully. And religion, with which I have a somewhat star-crossed relationship with. How religion often demands sacrifice for belief. And what a generally lousy trade that often is.
And that’s where the story stalled for a while. I wanted to take my shot as the Great American Writer, and a collection of literary short stories was going to be my vehicle for this. When I recovered my senses (0r as Debbie likes to think, lost them completely), I realized that horror was where I needed to go. So the story veered off in another direction, not too different at its core, but one with drastically different consequences.
This story, perhaps, is my favorite in the collection because it is such an evocative distillation of my childhood. I can’t help but be transported back there when I read passages from it. Maybe some of you, some of you of a certain age, will feel the same way. I think this background firmly grounds the story and makes the more horrific elements that come later that much more vivid because you’ve invested so much in recreating the period. At least that’s my hope. At least that’s what it does for me.
That’s it for today’s lesson. Tomorrow: “Object Permanence.”