Monday, April 23, 2012

Long Live Jonathan Frid

There are points where we turn in one direction, and our entire life alters -- had we gone the opposite way, our worlds would be completely different.  For me, the major turning points involve a September night in 1975, seated in front of the television; a trip to the movies with my group of high school friends on a balmy late August night in the summer of 1980 that amounted to the biggest permission slip of my life: to be what I wanted most, a writer; quitting a thankless job I loathed for a creative career and literary lifestyle I love, July 1991; my first writing retreat, Wentworth Mountain, October 1993. Before the first of those times when my life turned in the correct directions, leading me to this present morning in the then-unthinkable year of 2012, there was Dan Curtis's brilliant and dreamy daytime soap opera, Dark Shadows, which ran from 1966-71.

Set in fictional Collinsport, Maine, DS followed the week-daily travails of the cursed Collins Family, whose extended membership included werewolves, ghosts, witches, Franken-humans, Lovecraftian old gods, and bloodsuckers.  Most celebrated among the drama's paranormal players was Barnabus Collins, the 175-year-old vampire played so seductively by Jonathan Frid.  Sporting the best windswept haircut ever, an onyx ring, and a silver wolf's-head cane, Frid's Barnabus was suave, mysterious, and supremely handsome.  Barnabus Collins didn't turn me gay but, at so early an age, his masculine elegance unleashed powerful emotions that helped me to understand and embrace my sexual identity -- not so easy a thing given the time in which I grew up.

On April 13, 2012, Jonathan Frid passed away, less than a month before the premiere of the new Tim Burton big screen parody of Dark Shadows, in which the late, great actor reportedly boasts a brief cameo.  General consensus regarding the film is that we fans of the original will either love it for what it is, or hate it for what it isn't.  Regardless, until I join Mister Frid beyond the veil in whatever afterlife awaits, I will always love him for contributing mightily to what has been a very happy, well-lived life -- and part of me will ever be in love with the immortal character he brought to life in the role of Barnabus Collins.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Old Dog, New Tricks

(ten of my 'retired' Sheaffer fountain pens)
Most of the music I love is readily available on the Oldies channels now that songs from the '80s are officially considered 'classics'.  There's very little new that I like on the radio anyway, satellite or FM. Ditto for TV shows.  I'm a creature of habit.  An old dog.  It is what it is and I'm okay with it, mostly.

For thirty-two years, I have written with the same wonderful Scheaffer fountain pens I began collecting in 1980 at the age of fifteen, after a daily sum of fresh story pages that hasn't been repeated since and likely never will -- fifty in total -- transformed my right hand into a claw.  The Sheaffers are elegant, comfortable and, given our long history together, beloved.  They glide across the page. I only get writer's cramps from them when I have the rare thirty-page day.  But as I learned in 1991 while flying to Chicago to attend my very first writing conference, cabin pressure at 30,000 feet tends to force all the ink out of the nib, making for a heck of a mess.  Given current TSA regulations regarding pointy things in carry-on luggage in our post-9/11 world, now they're even more impractical to fly with.  With eight full days far away from home during my recent trip west, I knew I needed to learn a new trick -- and fast. And with the state of publishing ever fluxuating, I also figured it wouldn't hurt to adapt to one or more creative changes.

So at our local $ store, I picked up a pair of thick rollerball pens, black.  As stated, I hadn't written fiction in anything but the Sheaffers, of which I own some three-dozen, in decades.  To my surprise while seated at a restaurant in the Newark, New Jersey airport, my dollar store pen moved with the grace and ease of my beloved fountain pens; during the first of two long layovers, I put down seven pages of "Golden Skull," a story that dates back to 1982 and almost to the start of my passion for writing, a novella starring Jonathan and Grace Martin, the husband and wife supernatural sleuth team who starred in numerous creepy adventures during my teen years.

Upon returning home from the trip, I promptly completed "Golden Skull" and returned to the $ store, where I snagged a healthy supply of the rollerballs.  The price of replacement ink cartridges for the Sheaffers has skyrocketed in recent years -- as high as six bucks for five tubes, each tube delivering roughly twenty pages.  The first of the rollerballs just began to dry up after almost a hundred.  While I still adore my Sheaffers and have used them off and on since World Horror Con, I've gone out of my well-established comfort zone and found something else that worked, which is good business given the economics. Of course, I still get looks of bemusement whenever most people learn that I write first drafts with a pen.  Talk about old school!

Friday, April 13, 2012

World Horror Con, Part Two

(with the delightful Aric Sundquist and a bit of EJP bling
--photo credit Charles Day)
Salt Lake City is a beautiful destination, nestled in the palm of a snow-capped mountain range, filled with energy and newness and a hip urban vibe.  I woke early the next morning, Friday, feeling some of that energy and newness despite long flights and a longer drive to attend World Horror Con 2012.  Showered. Dressed. Moseyed downstairs to the hotel's restaurant with my Italian leather valise and plenty of projects to work on.  Ate a monstrous breakfast buffet and then set about integrating into the wildness that was WHC.

Throughout the course of the day, I manned the EJP booth, where I got to meet fellow scribe and Evil Jester Digest luminary Aric Sundquist.  We talked the writing life while such famed bylines as Joe R. Lansdale and John Skipp wandered the Dealer's Room aisles.  Aric is super-passionate and our enthusiasm for the writing life is clearly cut from the same cloth.  Also had a nifty chat with Ryan Daley, senior contributing writer for the big, bad Bloody Disgusting-dot-com, a Web-based horror news giant that routinely attracts a million monthly readers.  Wrote some more.  And then some.  By the afternoon, I seriously needed a nap and indulged.  When I woke up, my roommate, Charles Day (EJP owner and all-around awesome guy) reminded me that I and the gang were due to flock to one of the city's eateries, the Blue Iguana.  We set off on foot on a sultry late afternoon, eventually found the restaurant, and waited to be seated -- a running theme in SLC's downtown due to the aforementioned vibe and enthusiasm.

(with Aric and, right, the talented Hollie Johani-Snider at the
Blue Iguana Restaurant, Salt Lake City)
Back at the hotel, preparations for an EJP book party that would have included Muse were kyboshed by weird scheduling and a different sort of party atmosphere.  Local SLC media, alerted by me to the convention's presence, expressed great enthusiasm for my book and the con in general (most were unaware -- seriously, WHC, you need to make better efforts at publicity).  Even so, Muse made the local papers.

Saturday morning, I woke up feeling refreshed and focused.  Another big breakfast downstairs and then I set about working on my new novel, The Zoo, and more of the ancient novella exhumed from my card catalog, "Golden Skull," which was proving to be delightful.  Spent part of Saturday snuggled in bed with tons of pillows behind my back reading through my fresh copy of Muse and feeling every bit the proud parent.  While the Bram Stoker Awards unfolded downstairs, I ordered perhaps the best cheeseburger in history from the hotel restaurant and spent the night in bed writing and watching a movie on the room's flat-screen TV.  Sunday, I met filmmaker David C. Hayes for breakfast and we had ourselves an old-fashioned Hollywood pitch session over my script, "Bully." David's panel on screenwriting at ten that morning was fantastic.  I left both it and the panel on writing groups hosted by Henry and Hollie Snider invigorated and inspired.

Early Monday morning, Peter Giglio and I packed up for the long return drive back to Lincoln, Nebraska.  While motoring out of Utah was a dream, the moment we hit Wyoming serious trouble in the form of prairie snow challenged our progress.  By the Green River (setting for my western romance "Incident at Yellow Rock"), the conditions degenerated to near white-out and well past dangerous.  Buttes hovered out of focus like giant ghosts.  We passed three horrific crashes, including an eighteen-wheeler hanging precariously over the edge of a steep precipice.  The going was slow and tense; eventually very late that night, we rolled into Lincoln.  I passed out, woke up to a sunny travel day home, and departed again for New Hampshire.

With six copies of Muse in my luggage, it felt like I was carrying bricks.  Clearly, the TSA thought something was amiss, too, as I discovered that they'd searched my bags and left me a 'Dear John' letter on top of my neatly-folded undergarments.  I returned to family and home -- and an enthusiastic muse despite his never leaving my side during my adventure to the wild, wild American West.  The jet lag was worse than anything I had ever experienced during the years I routinely flew to one event or another, but I came back with three new story ideas, an invitation to submit to a magazine, a short story anthology, and interest in my screenplay. I also came home ready to write -- and have written nonstop!

Friday, April 6, 2012

World Horror Con Report, Part One

My bags were packed.  All deadlines met and turned in.  House immaculate. Writing Room clean and sparkly, left in the perfect state -- all I'd need to do upon my return home would be to fill out contracts and a back cover copy sheet for "Mason's Murder," my recent novella sale to MLR Press.  I woke well before dawn on Tuesday morning, the 27th of March for what would be an exciting kickoff to an eight-day adventure that would lead me through numerous states, almost across the entire country to celebrate, among other things, the publication of my monstrous collection of original short and long fiction, The Fierce and Unforgiving Muse: Twenty-Six Tales from the Terrifying Mind of Gregory L. Norris (Evil Jester Press). Ultimately, the plane and car rides would culminate in Salt Lake City, Utah for World Horror Con, a destination first discussed in November of 2011 at local, lovely Anthocon, a fledgling conference for genre writers held in my very own backyard.  After months of anticipation, I was ready to depart.  Manchester, NH to Newark, NJ.  A two-and-a-half-hour layover, then Newark to Chicago, IL.  Another two hours in Chicago, then on to Lincoln, NE where I would spend a few days with good pal Peter Giglio, EJP Senior Editor.  From there, a twelve-hour drive through Nebraska and Wyoming, then on to Salt Lake City.  A very long and circuitous route, yes, but an adventure, and I've had many in the past thirty-two years as a writer.

My last flight anywhere was in 2005 when, following a week on Kiawah Island, the plane did steep circles around LaGuardia Airport for an hour to deal with a traffic jam, leaving me swearing off that mode of travel for good (clearly, I reneged).  After my trip through security -- removing shoes, belt, and dignity -- I boarded my plane in Manchester for the relatively short flight to Newark.  En route, I dreamed of my upcoming Space:1999 novel project for August and September (my Big #1,000, which I hope to complete during the five-day writing retreat to Starr Island off the coast of New Hampshire).  For the first of my layovers, I nestled down in Newark and wrote some seven pages of a very old novella idea, "Golden Skull," starring the Martins -- Jonathan and Grace, a well-to-do couple of supernatural sleuths whose antics and adventures I first began writing while in high school.  This final installment in their series divides its time between Upstate New York, Seattle, and fictional Brackenridge, New Mexico.  I wasn't visiting New Mexico on my vast itinerary, but it seemed a fitting project to work on. I had a blast reuniting with them as I waited for my next leg of the trip.

The flight to Chicago was one step short of apocalyptic, akin to the pilot episode of the TV series Lost.  We hit turbulence somewhere east of Chicago unlike anything I have ever experienced -- so bad, in fact, that the young woman three rows up from me vomited across the back of the seat in front of her.  People screamed.  Though belted into my seat, my lower back suffered several jarring jolts that left me sore for days after.  Eventually, we made it to Terra Firma (Fox's late science fiction show Terra Nova played on the overhead screens during the flight).  Chicago to Lincoln.  I walked off the third plane of the day and met Peter Giglio, who had a copy of Muse waiting for me.  Long last, I held my beautiful offspring; the rest of that Tuesday was considerably more enjoyable.

Peter and I dined at an upscale chain called Noodles, where I enjoyed incredible Japanese noodles with seared steak, sprouts, broccoli, and cilantro (not an herb I was familiar with before) and took in the five p.m. showing of The Hunger Games, which I loved.  After a solid night's sleep, we spent our Wednesday writing (I worked on my new novel The Zoo and more of "Golden Skull") and forayed out and about, gathering supplies for the long drive west.  That night, we watched Eric Shapiro's brilliant feature film Rule of Three before lights out.  At four in the morning, we departed for Salt Lake City, crossing Nebraska through long miles of mist; Wyoming through equally long spells of stark yellow sunlight.  I saw antelope, tumbleweeds, buttes, and hundreds of miles of barren prairie broken up only by sagebrush and cattle fences.  It was a part of the world I'd only visited via photographs and I felt richer for the experience as a writer and human being.

(me and, clockwise, Peter Giglio, Rick Hautala, Holly Hautala
Hollie Snider, Marie Green.  Photo credit: Henry Snider)
We pulled into Salt Lake City just after five and began to connect with friends, old and new.  It was my absolute pleasure to greet Charles Day, EJP founder and all-around great guy, the Sniders (Henry, Hollie, and son Josh, who quickly earned my esteem for his wit, intelligence, and recent bragging rights to his first published writing credit, complete with paying contract!), Marie Green and her lovely daughter Kate, and the Hautalas -- legendary novelist Rick and his wife, Holly. Despite a hideous check-in at the WHC welcome table and a rushed kick-off ceremony in the main panel room, ten of us moseyed on foot to dinner at a local eatery, the Red Rocks Pub, where we were packed in like sardines but treated to a decent meal.  Even better was my long and wonderful conversation with Henry Snider, a true gentleman in this writing biz.  From there, it was back to the hotel on a sultry night.  While others departed to various con parties and meet-and-greets, I rode an elevator with the Hautalas up to the sixth floor, promising them I was off to snog my Muse.  I did for another few pages, then passed out, exhausted.  There was much more to follow in the days ahead and I desperately needed to recharge very depleted creative batteries.