Sunday, May 30, 2004


Here's another excerpt from Shriek. It's currently about 117,000 words, will probably top out after revisions at about 120,000 words. In terms of manuscript pages, it's about 450 pages!! Unbelievable. The longest fiction I've ever done. With any luck, I will finish the final revisions by Wednesday or Thursday.

Some of you have probably already guessed that although the main narrative is by Janice Shriek, the parenthetical asides have been added by her brother, Duncan.

Shriek is the most autobiographical fiction I've ever written, although it may not always be obvious to the reader. In the case of this scene, the forest is the forest I remember from camp outside of Ithaca, New York, when I was 10 or 11 years old. The salamanders, the mushrooms, the fire flies, are wonderful moments of discovery from that trip, which was mostly a hike up the side of a very long, large hill, into virgin forest, dark and dank and mysterious.

Note: This is still next-to-final draft, so there will be some awkwardness and a few typos, of course.


Can a childhood memory be misconstrued as starting over? I don’t think so. Not in this way: The forests outside Stockton remain as real to me as the humid, fungi-laden streets of Ambergris, maybe more so. The dark leaves, the mottled trunks, the sense of deep green shadows reflected on the windows of our house, as of a presence. All sorts of trees grew in Stockton, but the difference between the staid oaks that lined our street and the mishapen, twisted, coiled welter of tree limbs in the forest seemed profound. It both reassured us and menaced us in our youth: limitless adventure, fear of the unknown.

Our house lay on the forest’s edge. The trees stretched on for hundreds of miles, over hills and curving down through valleys. (Various were the forest’s name, from the Western Forest to the Forest of Owls to Farely’s Forest, after the man who had first explored the area.) Stockton had been nestled comfortably on its eastern flank for centuries, feeding off of the timber, the sap, the animals that took shelter there. Even though Stockton was marginally to the south of Ambergris, across the River Moth from it, Stockton was much more temperate because of the forest. It never got as sweltering as Ambergris.

By the time I had turned thirteen and Duncan was nine, we had made the forest our own. We had colonized our tiny corner of it—cleared paths through it, made shelters from fallen branches, even started a tree house. Dad never enjoyed the outdoors, but sometimes we could persuade him to enter the forest to see our latest building project. Mom had a real fear of the forest—of any dark place, which may have come from growing up in Ambergris. (Perhaps, perhaps not. I never had the sense that growing up in Ambergris had been a trauma for her—she lived there during very calm times—but it is true she never talked about it.)

One day, Duncan decided we should be more ambitious. We had made a crude map of what we knew of the forest, and the great expanse labeled “Unknown” erked him. The forest was one thing that could genuinely be thought of as his, the one area where he did not mimic me, where I followed his lead.

We stood at the end of our most ambitious path. It petered out into bushes and pine needles and the thick trunks of trees, the bark scaly and dark. I breathed in the fresh-stale air, listened to the distant cry of a hawk, and tried to hear the rustlings of mice and rabbits in the underbrush. We were already more than half a mile from our house.

Duncan peered into the forest’s depths.

“We need to go farther,” he said.

Back then, he was a thin little kid, small for his age, his shocking blonde hair beginning to turn brown. His bright blue eyes sometimes seemed too large for his face. He liked to wear long green shirts with brown shorts and sandals. He said it served as a kind of camouflage. I used to wear the same thing, although, oddly enough, it scandalized Mom. Dad could have cared less. (Camouflage or comfort—I don’t remember.)

“How much farther?” I asked.

I had become increasingly aware that our parents counted on me to keep watch over Duncan. Ever since he’d gotten trapped in the tunnel the year before, we’d all become more conscious of Duncan’s reckless curiosity.

“I don’t know,” he said. “If I did, it wouldn’t be much of an adventure. But there’s something out there, something we need to find.”

His expression was mischevious, yes, but also, somehow, otherworldly. (Otherworldly? I was nine. There was nothing “otherworldly” about me. I liked to belch at the dinner table. I liked to blow bubbles and play with metal soldiers and read books about pirates and talking bears.)

“But there’s all that bramble,” I said. “It will take ages to clear it.”

“No,” he said, with a sudden sternness I found endearing, and a little ridiculous, coming from such a gangly frame. “No. We need to go out exploring. No more paths. We don’t need paths.”

“Well...,” I said, about to give Duncan my next objection.

But he was already off, tramping through the bramble like some pint-sized version of the Kalif, determined to claim everything he saw for the Empire. He had always been fast, the kind to set out obstinantly for whatever goal beckoned, whatever bright and shiny thing caught his eye. Usually, I had control over him. Usually, he wanted to stay on my good side. But when it came to the forest, our relationship always changed, and he led the way.

So off he dashed into the forest, and I followed, of course. What choice did I have? Not that I hated following him. Sometimes, because of Duncan, I was able to do things I wouldn’t have done otherwise. And, such a relief, when I followed him, the weight of being the eldest lifted from me—such a rare thing, even BDD.

The forest in that place had a gathered, a concentrated, darkness to it because of the thick underbrush and the way the leaves and needles of the trees diluted the sun’s impact. To find a patch of golden sunlight in the gloom was like finding gold, but only accentuated the surrounding darkness all the more. The smell of rot caused by shadow was a healthy smell—I didn’t mind it; it meant that all of the forest still worked to fulfill its cycle, even down to the smallest insect tunneling through dead wood. It did not mean what it would come to mean in Ambergris.

Duncan and I fought our way through and over stickery vines and close-clumped bushes. We felt our way over fallen trees, stopping in places to investigate nests of flame-colored salamanders and stipplings of rust-red mushrooms. The forest fit us snugly; we were neither claustrophobic nor free of its influence. The calls of birds grew strange, shrill, and then died away altogether. It was as if we had entered another world. (As if we had gone through a door to a different place, a different time, Janice. I could not believe, sometimes, while in the forest, that it existed in the same world as our house.)

At times, the ground rose to an incline and we would trudging, our legs lifting for the next step with a grinding effort. The few clearings became less frequent, and then for a long time we walked through a dusk of dark-green vegetation under a canopy of trees like black marble columns, illuminated only by the stuttering glimmer of a firefly, or even just the repetitive clicking of some insect. A smell like ashes mixed with hay surrounded us. We had both begun to sweat, despite the coolness of the season, and I could hear even undaunted Duncan breathing heavily. We had come a long way, and I wasn’t sure I could find the route back to our familiar paths. Yet something about this quest, this foolhardy plunge forward, became hypnotic. A part of me could have kept on going hour after after hour, with no end in sight, and been satisfied with that uncertainty. (Then you knew how I have felt my entire adult life—except, we’re told there is no uncertainty, Janice. No one makes it out, we’re told, from birth until our deathbed, in a thousand spoken and unspoken ways.)

The sting, the burn, of hard exercise, the doubled excitement and fear of the unknown, kept me going for a long time. But, finally, I reached a point where fear overcame excitement. (You mean common sense overcame excitement.)

“Duncan!” I said finally, to his back. “We have to stop. We need to find our way home.”

He turned then, his hand on a tree trunk for support—a shadow framed by a greater gloom—and I’ll never forget what he said. He said, “There is no way to go but forward, Janice. If we go forward, we will find our way back.”

It sounded like something Dad would have said, not a nine-year-old kid.

“We’re already lost, Duncan. We have to go back.”

Duncan shook his head. “I’m not lost. I know where we are. We’re not there yet. I know something important lies ahead of us. I know it.”

“Duncan,” I said, “you’re wearing sandals. Your feet must be pretty badly cut up by now.”

“No,” he said, “I’m fine.” (I wasn’t fine. My feet had been lacerated by the bramble, but I’d decided to block out that discomfort because it was unimportant.)

“There’s something ahead of us,” he repeated.

“Yes, more forest,” I said. “It goes on for hundreds of miles.” I thought about whether I had the strength to carry a kicking, struggling Duncan all the way back to the house. Probably not.

I looked up, the long trunks of trees reaching toward a kaleidoscope of wheeling, dimly light-spackled upper branches, amid a welter of leaves. In those few places where the light was right, I could see, floating, spore and dust and strands of cobweb. Even the air between the trees was thick with the detritus of life, and as I type these words I wonder now if the underground is anything like deep forest, because I became accustomed to the deep forest that day. (It’s more intense underground, Janice, because you can’t match what you’re seeing to anything you’ve experienced before.)

“Trust me,” Duncan said, and grinned. He headed off again, at such a speed that I again had no choice but to follow him. In the shadows my brother’s thin, wiry frame resembled more the thick, muscular body of a man. Was there any point at which he would stop, or I could convince him to stop?

Another half-hour or so—just as I could no longer identify our direction, soo too I had begun to lose my sense of time—and a thick, suffocating panic had begun to overcome me. We were lost. We would never make it home. (You should have trusted me. You will need to trust me.)

But Duncan kept walking forward, into the unknown, through bramble and brush, over half-rotted tree branches, the thick loam of the forest floor rising at times to his ankles.

Then, to my relief, the undergrowth thinned, the trees became larger but spread farther apart. Soon, we could walk unimpeded, over a velvety compost of earth covered with moist leaves and pine needles. A smell arose from the ground, a rich smell, almost like coffe or muted mint. I heard again the hawk that had been wheeling overhead earlier, and an owl in the murk above us.

Duncan stopped for me then. He must have known how tired and thirsty I was, because he took my hand in his, and smiled as he said, “I think we are almost there. I think we almost are.”

We had reached the heart—or a heart—of the forest, I think. We had reached a place that in a storm would be called the eye. The light that shown through from above did so in shafts as thin as the green fractures of light I can see from the corner of my eye as I type up this account. And in those shafts, the dust motes floated yet remained perfectly still. Now I heard no sound but the pad of our feet against the loamy earth.

Duncan stopped. I was so used to hurrying to keep up that I almost bumped into him.

“There, see,” he said, pointing, a smile creasing his face.

And I did see, and gasped, for there, just ahead of us, stood a statue or idol.

Made of solid gray stone, riven through with fissures, splashed with light, overgrown with an emerald-and-crimson lichen, it depicted a face with large, wide eyes, a tiny nose, and a solemn mouth. The statue could not have been taller than three or four feet.

We walked closer, in an effortless glide, so enraptured by this vision, that we could forget the ache in our legs.

Iridescent beetles had woven themselves into the lichen bears of its smile, some flying around the object, effortless on their tiny wings, heavy bodies drooping below the wings. Other insects had hidden in the fissures of the stone. What looked like a wren’s nest decorated part of the top of the head. A whole miniature world had grown up around it. It was clearly the work of one of the native tribes that had fled into the interior when our ancestors had built Stockton and claimed the land around it. This much I knew from school.

“How?” I asked in amazement. “How did you know this was here, Duncan?”

Duncan smiled as he turned to me. “I didn’t. I just knew there had to be something, and if we kept looking long enough, we’d find it.”

At the time, while we stood there and drank in the odd beauty of the statue, and even as Duncan unerringly found our way home, and even after Mom and Dad, waiting in the backyard as the sun disappeared over the tree line, expressed their anger and disappointment at our “irresponsibility,” especially mine, I never once thought about whether Duncan might be crazy rather than lucky, touched rather than decisive. I just followed him. (Janice, I lied to you, just a little. It’s true I didn’t know exactly where to find the statue, but I had already heard about from one of the older students at our school. He’d given me enough information for me to get a fairly good idea of where to go. So it wasn’t preternatural on my part—it was based on a shred, a scrap, of information, as are all of my wanderings.)

Thursday, May 27, 2004


Secret Life is officially out in the next week or so. Twenty-three stories taken from the last 18 years of my career, the first written when I was 16 or 17 and the last written just a few months ago. It is, basically, the definitive collection of my fiction. With an introduction by Jeffrey Ford.

Such a beast is, by its nature, somewhat perplexing to the author. Or at least, mine is to me. I've traveled a long distance as a writer since I was in my teens, and it doesn't just have to do with technique. It has to do with structure, form, narrative. Not so much finding a voice, because I think I've always had a strong authorial voice, but more about finding the best ways to give expression to the characters, images, plots, and themes I repeatedly tackle.

So when I read over these stories now, I see that although my themes--the nature of love, death, obsession, the imagination, and, yes, squid--have remained the same, I have tried a number of approaches.

Let me tell you what I like about the collection--the kind of private joy I get in perusing it, picking it up, thumbing through it. (I hate it when writers say they dislike re-reading their work in published form, by the way. You ought to be able to revel in it, to acknowledge, yes, that you know your weaknesses as well as your strengths, but also be happy and content with it as well.) But let me tell you what I like--I like that there's such diversity between almost pulpy fiction and literary, between the visceral and the intellectual, between the tale and the story. More than any other book, everything I am as a writer can be found in Secret Life, including the suggestion, the hint, of what the future holds.

A couple of the advance reviews have said that the stories often don't seem to be written by the same writer. For me, that's a high compliment. Much as I love Chagall, I like the model provided by Picasso better, in terms of how to approach the creation of art. I may always be gnawing at the same themes, the same questions (because they aren't questions that have set answers, or that will ever have set answers), but that doesn't mean I have to do so in the same style, with the same slant.

I tell you what thrills me immensely, even as it frightens me to death: Pushing myself to write something so new (for me) that it feels while writing this new thing that I have never written anything before. That's a pure feeling. You might fall on your face, but you might just do something original. And I think it's the best possible way to position yourself for inspiration.

I don't mean that "inspiration" always fuels good fiction. I just mean that one of the perks of being a writer, or any kind of creator, is that, sometimes, you get "written" as opposed to writing something. Call it a surge of adrenalin or something spiritual or just a few synapses recognizing the echo of a shadow of a brilliant idea that might, in some small way, make it half-whole onto the page, but regardless of what it is, it's the real reason I write--the immediate reason. There's no better feeling in the entire world.

In the final story in Secret Life, "Experiment #25," I describe this feeling from the writer main character's point of view:

"The writer picked up his cigar and breathed in its thickness. Take winter—such a bracing time of year, he thought, addressing the glowing red tip as if it were a good friend. Every detail on the sidewalk, from a rage of red-orange leaves to a green meandering crack in the concrete, took on a binocular significance. It was a forethought of the awareness that overtook him when he wrote: the premonition of something moving through him and onto the page, the pen in hand become a blur and the heart so full, limbs aflame, body with fever. Like sparks burrowing into you until, finally conquered, you become vessel, container not contained—trapped and free—and all the little hairs on your arms rise, and you feel as if your own skin has been painlessly flayed back to reveal, beneath the perfect diagram of veins and arteries, the beauty and horror of the world—the words like tiny mysteries and the combinations of words solutions to those mysteries, and yet more mysterious for the revelation...and you’re crying silently because, after all, these words are your life, even in distilled form, even brought forth by an unknown will...and you know this is the closest you will personally ever come to an awareness of what God might mean—this feeling that so encompasses the whole of your being that you are unimaginable strength and weakness intertwined...and in the aftermath, the writer often found, as the madness left him, that he would observe, say, the reflected worlds within a perfect drop of water as it lazed in the sudden sunlight across the yard, and was spent, exhausted, by even that simple image."

That's one of the places I want to be as a writer, whether what results from it is good or terrible. In reading over Secret Life, I remember how many times I'd be sitting in a room, alone but for the legal pad or the typewriter or the computer, and yet be overcome by an entire world, or a part of a world, that came exploding out of nowhere, headed for the page at a speed faster than conscious thought.

Anyway, Secret Life is out now and I'm going to enjoy it for all it's worth.



Yesterday was our second wedding anniversary. Ann has been putting up with my antics for over 13 years, but we finally got married two years ago, in Fort Lauderdale. We first met because she was editing The Silver Web and I'd been editing a magazine out of Gainesville, Florida, called Chimera Connections. I also had been submitting work to SW. For a few years, we were friends, and then started dating. I used to commute up to Tallahassee from Gainesville (about 2.5 hours) every weekend, when I could, before finally making the move up to Tallahassee in 1992. We've lived together ever since.

Ann's my first reader on all of my fiction and has had an enormous influence on every anthology I've ever edited, basically. Certainly, the Leviathan series has benefitted greatly from her experience, and from her expertise--I think she's the best general editor I've met, in terms of being able to read a story, no matter who it's from, and suss out how good it is, what its flaws/strengths are. This has been invaluable on the Leviathan series.

On my fiction, she has, as mentioned, the dubious distinction of reading it first and commenting on it. I'll give her something to read and she'll either take it to her day job to read at lunch or she'll read it at home. In the latter case, I will be trying very hard to project a sense of nonchalance while sweating bullets. She will read it while I'm either absent from the room or pretending to watch TV. Then she won't say anything, usually. She'll set it down and wait for me to ask her what she thought. There's this terrifying moment between asking the question and receiving the response that just opens up like an abyss. Luckily, she's usually fond of it, at the very least, but, still...I can't think of a better way to get my heart rate up...

On the new novel, on which the revisions are going nicely, Ann has been great. After reading it, she had several suggestions with regard to the characters that added so much.

Anyway, I couldn't do what I do without Ann, and I hope I'm as supportive of what she does as she is of what I do.

It's been two years (plus 11) and we're still going strong. I can't imagine life without her.



Since I switched to the new "skin" for this blog, I have lost (or misplaced) the comments on previous posts. I hope to restore both the comments AND my links to other blogs soon.

In the meantime, I'm curious as to how many people visit and read this blog. Am I writing for an audience of three or four, or more? Let me know by posting a comment to this thread. I'd like a sense of whether I should continue to spend time on this blog.



I'm sure most readers of this blog are already aware of the charity auction to help Charles L. Grant, noted horror writer and author. There are about 3 days left in the auction, and all of the money is going to basically help keep Grant alive. For the details about his illness, go to this site

The auction includes lots of items by writers such as Peter Straub, China
Mieville, etc., and you can bid on items here.

I've contributed several items, which are being offered in one lot.

The items I've sent in include a copy of the Finnish Exchange (which you just can't get here), a regular Exchange (but one of the numbered signed copies that were meant for the deluxe Exchange, we just never put them together), a signed first edition of my Secret Life collection, a signed edition of the book publication of Dradin, In Love (often selling for $125 to $150 from book dealers), and a copy of the 100-copy Eric Schaller-illustrated chapbook of the "Secret Life" story, which I only printed up for close friends and family. This will be the only copy ever "sold" as it were.

All by way of saying--go check out the auction, help out a writer who really needs it right now...


Thursday, May 13, 2004


For the last few years, Savoy (Michael Butterworth, David Britton, John Coulthart), operating out of Manchester, England, has published some of the most beautifully-made books in the world--and not only beautifully-made, but classics. From a reissue of Voyage to Arcturus to Colin Wilson's The Killer to The Adventures of Engelbrecht, Savoy has made the statement that wherever truly original, truly inspired, and often quite surreal and daft books lurk, Savoy will be there to publish them in stunning editions (designed by John Coulthart).

But the story of Savoy is much more than just these past few books--it extends back into the era of Michael Moorcock's New Worlds magazine, when Savoy published paperbacks of work by Moorcock, Ellison, and others, and had a profound influence on the British publishing scene--not just because of the books they published, but because of their attitude toward those books, and their willingness to push the boundaries of what the English authorities in Manchester would deem acceptable to publish, and what they wouldn't. As a result, many thousands of books were, at various times, seized by the police, and Savoy threatened with going out of business more than once.

Yet they've soldiered on and, although their books no longer reach the broader audience of the 1970s, they've continued to be one of the best independent presses in the world. To my mind, based on the last five or six books I've seen, they are the best independent press in the world--considering the quality of the content, the quality of the design, and the quality of the materials used to make the books.

Their latest project may seem self-serving, but it isn't. A Serious Life, a 400-plus page book compiled by D.M. Mitchell, provides an overview and indepth examination of Savoy's history and its impact on popular culture, including music and comic books. Mitchell's approach is to combine interviews with Savoy's founders with his own commentary on the press in the form of interconnected essays. Some deal with the "theory" behind Savoy. Some deal with particular topics, such as Savoy's relationship to the music scene. Some serve to provide a historical backdrop. All are incisive and fascinating. While it is true that some of the claims made about Savoy's influence may seem extravagant, it really doesn't matter if they're accurate or not--the context in which they're placed is intrinsically interesting. Even if you don't care even a tiny bit about Savoy, you'll still enjoy this book.

Sections on Michael Moorcock and New Worlds are of particular interest, but there isn't a page--all of which include a plethora of well-placed photographs and illustrations--that doesn't provoke thought or further discussion. Blake, Burroughs, and all of your other favorites make appearances.It is the kind of book that's sharp around the edges, but don't worry if you cut yourself on it. It's a pleasurable kind of pain.

What I love about this book is that it portrays Savoy as unrependent, defiant, and still, after all of these years, committed to a subversive, idiosyncratic publishing agenda. Given the constant harrassment Savoy has suffered from the British police over the years, this is an achievement in and of itself. But what I love even more is that the book is an extremely way of saying fuck you to Savoy's enemies.

What better way to do that than with a book so lovingly made that it's likely to survive the Apocalypse?

A Serious Life
is likely to top my best-of-the-year list, and I can't think of any other book that you should hurry up and buy right now while there are still some left.


If it wasn't obvious before, it should be obvious by now that we have a moron for a president--corrupt, incompetent, venal, surrounded by like-minded liars. We are now living in a culture where our government uses torture as a routine matter of policy and in which the government, and many of our citizens, see all Moslems, all Arabs, as terrorists. A country in which our government has worked very hard to bring a nonsensical illogic to such issues as who was responsible for 911 and who wasn't. That some congressmen can actually express more outrage over the release of photographs depicting torture than the actions depicted in them is not only nauseating--it reflects a basic lack of humanity. The only correct solution is to leave Iraq, immediately. The only correct solution is to put Bush and his cronies out on the street in November.

Thus endeth the political commentary in this blog. However, I would draw your attention to three wonderful blogs that are doing a great job of sharing information, and a Web site that is doing the same. All four, in their way, are doing things I wish I could do, but also doing them better than I could.


Kathryn Cramer

Patrick Nielsen Hayden

Kim Antieau


Wednesday, May 05, 2004


Oddly enough, it ended less than dramatically, given all the build-up. From Friday night of last week through Sunday, I wrote about 27 hours and finished off a good working draft of Shriek. Once I got going, I found I just couldn't stop. Everything that I had found murky became clear and the sheer energy of writing hurriedly and without many breaks took care of the rest. Now I have a good working draft of the novel, much of it fourth or fifth draft, with a few rough spots that I'll need to smooth out. I've already begun the revisions phase and am averaging about 6,000 words a day in rewrites. At this pace, I'll have it in shape except for a final copy-edit by the third week of May at the latest. With any luck, I'll have the book turned in to my agent by June 1st.

I've been working on this novel since 1998 and many times felt that I might not finish it, even while feeling compelled to finish it. Being able to express my frustration on this blog, no matter how much like whining it might have sounded at times, has helped me to keep going and to blow off some steam.

This novel is unlike anything else I've ever done, and also much longer than any fiction I've completed before. I'm excited about getting it in print in part for that very reason.

Thanks to everyone who encouraged me to keep going and who listened to my bitching and moaning.