When I was asked to contribute a piece to Paul Brazill’s Exiles: An Outsider’s Anthology, I was flattered, but it also elicited a wry laugh. I’ve been a long time lurker on the fringes of this rather fluid writing community made up of outsider crime and horror authors. But I’m also appropriate to the theme for another reason.
In the interest of documenting my process, I've posted a collection of personal essays from my old site that didn't automatically migrate when I set up this site. (Sadly, all the comments were lost.) The posts are long and rambling and somewhat conversational. These stories are special to me because they document the beginning of my obsession with The Bella Vista Motel, and are examples of a more personal point of view on writing and life experience. I believe there's more to being a writer than spitting out fiction. There's also being a human with a personal history.
There are ghosts everywhere. If you live, you will be haunted in some way, at some point. You will be haunted by ghosts that are uniquely tied to you and you alone. You will be haunted by family ghosts, neighborhood ghosts, and the ghosts of social upheaval experienced by millions. You can ignore your ghosts, both private and public, you can deny them, you can alter the chemicals in your brain to keep them at bay, but they will still be there.
The Bella Vista Motel is certainly a work of fiction. If I could remember it, I’d throw in that bit they put in at the end of movies – All resemblance to actual people, living or dead, total coincidence, etc. But if you’ve read my first post, you know I have peculiar ideas about the secret lives of ghosts and fictional characters. (And if you haven’t read it, don’t blame me if this doesn’t make a whole lot of sense...)
To paraphrase myself, I believe in ghosts. I also believe that fictional characters are a kind of ghost.
It's summer, 1973. Somewhere in the countryside outside of Port Huron, Michigan. The big, two-story, modern farmhouse beneath huge, spreading trees has me intimidated to go inside. There is nothing like it back home in Saugus, California. Home is a bleak, dry place where I have to hide from the punishing sun. Home is where swamp coolers hang off the windows of corrugated tin trailers, chugging out tepid, damp air for frail, old people. Grampa reminds us everyday about the three digit temperatures back home so we'll be grateful to be away.
My friend J has been my most devoted reader, and because she's also functioned as my ideal reader for many years, I've decided to tell a little story about her. She's very important to the Bella Vista Motel characters because she helped them get through to me from the Ouija board. She's very dear to me for too many reasons to list, but some of the best are: her persistent cheerful encouragement, agreeing to watch over my beloved dead cat, and her general willingness to try almost anything.
The last couple of months I have been caught up in moving to a new apartment. This is not a big deal for most people. Most healthy, well-adjusted people that is. I have a friend who moved from LA to New Orleans. She had a lot of stuff and a very complicated life, but she just packed it up in one of those really big moving trucks and rolled off down the road to forge her new empire. She didn't just move, she started a business and set up a workspace as well. In a whole other city on the other side of the country.
What is it about creepy sexy guys?
Paul Muni defines creepy sexy to me in the 1932 version of Scarface. The combination of childish enthusiasm and unbridled confidence often result in a weird sense of playful menace. He's totally unselfconcious. The guy has no idea he's a monster and is just having a ball.
The trouble with solitude, is that I like it too much. If I get some, I want more. It's too easy for me to drift off and forget how to talk. I'm a genius at watching from the edge of the crowd. I know how to disappear like a pro.
But in this past year, I've found myself at odds with my need for solitude. My process as a writer has grown a different set of needs and wants. I found other writers. I found people who opened my eyes to new ways of seeing what I do and who gave me encouragement and motivation to try harder. I've watched people I admire put the time and effort into growing their skills, and then throw themselves out there with will and purpose. Their success inspires me greatly. Their kindness towards other writers inspires me no less.
The trouble with perfection, is that it can be selfish and mean. It takes something fine and good and runs it into the ground for merely being fine and good. There's a difference between having high standards, and strangling the runts. Wanting to spend my life creating and becoming more accomplished is healthy. Wanting everything I do to be brilliant is arrogant and very tiring.
I know some brilliant people. Artists with so much natural talent it just makes your jaw drop. Deeply troubled, deeply angry people whose creative gifts are withering on the vine. Because nothing is ever good enough.
They've inspired me, too. I've learned from the ghost of future yet to come. I'm doing my level best not to turn into an angry strangler. I figure a good approach is to just feed and pet the runts and let them grow up wall-eyed or pigeon-toed or unexpectedly swan gorgeous, and keep in mind that I can't really take credit for all of it anyway.
Which brings me to, the trouble with ambition. There's always more to do and a better way to do it. Waiting until everything is just how I want it to be has often times left me unable to enjoy the here and now. For example, wanting to have a fancy, beautifully designed website that does a dozen different things made me forget why I needed a website to begin with. Because I'm a writer... (not a website designer) and I need to stay connected to other people.
So, while it is my ambition to develop a visually stunning blend of audio, art, photography and literature on my site, I don't want to lose touch with my readers, my friends and my peers. This simple stripped down site is the result of me hitting the reset button. It is a work in progress that will change, but in the meantime will serve to display my words and hopefully allow me to get back the sense of the connection I had going on six months ago.
I'm not going to go all hippy and ask for a group hug here. I just want you all to know I appreciate every damn thought you share with me. And I'm still here.
Oh, and Romeo sends his regards. We've come to an understanding. As long as I'm honest with him about it, he's agreed I can write about other people. The damn fool. He's got nothing to worry about, he's the one I always go home to.
So, what have you guys been up to? Got any news to share?
November is a heavy month. Día de los Muertos and All Souls Day are traditionally the time to reflect on those we've lost. Autumn is the time to look back, to assess. The harvest is in, the earth has been turned over, the scarecrow has gone into the flames and all our grand plans have come back to haunt us. The veil between the worlds is thin, they say, and the ghosts will speak if you tune your ears and listen.
Well, my ghosts are screaming. Specifically, the ghosts of my unpublished novels.
Last year I participated in NANOWRIMO and had a great time spinning out a Bella Vista Motel story that I thought would be a fine introduction to the series. Throughout the year I've chipped away at the second draft with a nagging sense of unease. I know it's a great story. In fact, it's a beautiful story about a new character that I love and that I'm sure you will all love, too.
But it's not the first book.
The first book is the story of a young guy named Romeo, whose career track in the New York City underworld goes off the rails when he gets stuck managing a motel in west Texas––a motel with an underworld of its own.
That book has already been written, it's just buried in a much too long for a first novel edition. So rather than start something new this November, I'm going to dig that first novel out.
Much as I love participating in Friday Flash, I've decided it's best to go on hiatus. I'll check in here and there, cheer on the NANOWRIMO-ers and the other Friday Flashers when I can. I'm grateful for all the comments and encouragement I've received from visitors to this blog, and the Twitterstream. I may post updates and excerpts.
As of today, consider me in the cave. Thanks for reading, and please, wish me luck. Romeo's run out of patience with me...