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Friday, April 12, 2019

A Night With Tom Monteleone, F. Paul Wilson, and Stuart David Schiff - Eight Years Later

In my last blog, I talked a bit about the fatigue I'd been struggling with for awhile, and how re-committing to daily exercise and changing my diet helped give me more energy. I also talked about the realization that I needed to recommit to my novel and just get it done before I worried about getting it good. I then ended with the cliff-hanger that, in order to breathe new life into my writing, I had to "kill" the novel's narrator, Gavin Patchett - the pseudo-author of all my works.

I'm going to elaborate on that, eventually. First - and  more importantly - I want to talk about two writers who have personally impacted me as a writer, perhaps more so than anyone else (with the notable exceptions of Mort Castle and Brian Keene). I got a chance to spend some time with them recently, and I was once again reminded of how fortunate I am to know them, to call them role models, and...dare I even say them friends.

Eight years ago, things changed for me as a writer, in a fundamental way. At that point in my career, (if you can call what I do a "career") I'd sold a handful of stories to middling markets, had seen the publication of my first standalone work, Hiram Grange and the Chosen One (which got a few nice reviews, but never really sold many copies, except mostly at conventions and signings), and had no idea what to do next as a writer. I was still struggling to find my voice. I'd yet to make any professional sales, and despaired of ever doing so.

Then, I experienced an evening which I now consider life-changing, in regards to writing, publishing, and genre fiction as a whole.  F. Paul Wilson and Tom Monteleone had come to Seton to work with my Creative Writing students. Their first night here, I assumed they'd want to be left to their own devices in their hotel room. Why in the world would they want to hang out with a nobody like myself?

(Of course, as I've gotten to know Paul and Tom better, I've realized they aren't the types to play favorites or play the popularity game. They're unfailingly friendly and accessible to just about anyone, regardless of their own stature).

In any case, much to my shock, Paul called me at home, wondering if I'd like to "hang out." They had a "friend" in Binghamton and they were at his house, and he had this "neat stuff" in his basement I "just had" to see.

As it turns out, their "friend" was legendary editor of Whispers Magazine and the Best of Whispers anthologies, Stuart David Schiff. 

And the "neat stuff" I "just had" to see? Words fail to describe it accurately. Imagine a basement filled with EVERY kind of movie/science fiction/fantasy/horror/pulp fiction bit of memorabilia you can imagine. 

And then, add in every single edition of every single kind of science fiction, fantasy, and horror novel or short story collection, or editions of every kind of genre magazine you can imagine, stacked in leaning piles, crammed onto bookshelves, stored behind display cases. Imagine all that - and still, I bet your imagination simply wouldn't match the reality.

We stayed at Stuart's house until midnight. Sipping whiskey and eating takeout. They talked about genre history, while I soaked it up like a sponge. That night had an immeasurable impact on me. All these authors I'd never heard of before, or had only heard of, and had never read. It's not an exaggeration to say I've spent the last eight years searching out those authors, and there's still so much more left to read...and that doesn't even take into account all the new voices out there.

In any case, it still blows me away, but I believe this is the epitome of who F. Paul Wilson and Tom Monteleone are: that they'd take the time to selflessly speak into my career. I didn't dare expect I'd be fortunate enough to experience anything like that again.

And then, two weeks ago...I did. Paul and Tom returned to my school to work with a fresh new batch of students, and invited me to spend another night at Stuart's. This time, I was able to take things in a little better - having seen his collection once before - and because of this, I realized it was even more amazing than I'd thought. 

As you can imagine, we stayed up until about midnight, once again sipping whisky and eating takeout. Something was different this time, however. I'm not audacious enough to  say I belonged there this time (I'll always suffer from a healthy dose of imposter syndrome, I'm afraid). But this time...I wasn't just a passive observer. I took part in these conversations about the genre, because of the reading I'd done. And, even more satisfying - even though my book collection will never touch Stuart's - this second time around, I recognized dozens of books in his collection, books which I'd sought out and read because of that night, eight years ago. 

It's hard to put into words what this all means to me. Even now, reviewing what I've written, I feel like a gushing fanboy, nothing more. It's the timing of all this that I can't get past. Because once again....I'm not sure what to do or where to go.

I've written four good books - yes, I believe they're at least good - for Crystal Lake Publishing, set in my own little fictional town, my Greentown, my Castle Rock, my Oxrun Station. I have two more books - limited edition novellas - in that same universe, on the way. 

And I have two novels in progress. One, a novel I'd originally meant to be completely tied into that universe (which is increasingly turning into its own thing), and the other my much lamented Billy the Kid Weird Western, which I'm COMMITTED to making a reality.

I have no idea what to do, really. My last book, Things You Need, has only sold fairly. Maybe folks are tired of Clifton Heights stories, or linked collections of Clifton Height stories. Maybe I just need to strike out for a bigger audience. Maybe I need to write something totally off the wall like a Billy the Kid Weird Western novel. Maybe, maybe.

But spending time with Paul, Tom, and Stuart showed me the way. Eight years ago, I spent a transformative night with them, then spent the years after reading everything I could get my hands on. During that period, a lot of great stuff happened. I sold several pro-pay short stories, to collections featuring some of my favorite authors. But it didn't start happening until about two-three years of reading everything I could and writing every day.

So that's what I'm going to do, now. Read everything, write every day, and go from there.

Thank you, Paul, Tom, and Stuart. The word "mentor" gets tossed around too freely these days. But you are  certainly role models, and you have impacted this writer more than you will ever know.

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