Crawling Out from Under
Hello, friends! About a year ago, Aimee and I went to Maple Street Biscuit Company not only for breakfast but to buy some of their spare rolls of toilet paper because panicky idiots were hoarding them from every other source.
If you’d told me then that a year later, I’d be vaccinated and life would be slowly returning to the normal level of social selfishness, I’d have said, “Goddamn, it takes a YEAR? What do I do in all that time?”
Well, mostly I worked from home, ate takeout from our favorite restaurants in the car, hosted work events and gaming sessions online, and wore a mask everywhere I went.
With surges in infections in various places and the looming danger of variants, it may be premature to celebrate the “end” of something that is likely to be with us for the rest of our lives in some form or another.
But I hope you are safer and happier and less fearful than a year ago, or that you’re on the way in that direction.
Five Interesting Things
Here are a few interesting things I found (or posted) over the last month:
A story of mine appeared in Lethe Press’s new online journal Bachelors, and I commented about my occasional use of gay characters in my work. I also wrote on the blog about my struggles with addiction…of a rather minor kind.
In the early 80s, I fell in love with a series of books called Choose Your Own Adventure (my favorite was Inside UFO 54-40) which my mother carried at our briefly-solvent bookstore. I’ll be forever haunted by that ITC Benguiat typeface telling me about my many deaths and wrong turns, but the story of Edward Packard’s journey from writing on the train to a publishing phenomenon is a much safer yet fascinating one.
Reading: I’ve been enjoying the George Saunders book A Swim in a Pond in the Rain in which he dissects a handful of short stories by the Russian masters in a series of essays on the craft of writing. That sounds much more dry than it is, and this is one of about five books that could probably have replaced the content of my MFA (but never the good companionship).
Watching: I enjoyed WandaVision a great deal, particularly Kathryn Hahn’s performance, though the ending felt a little…whatever the opposite of anticlimactic is. TOO climactic? When I enjoy superheroes, it’s usually in the moments when they are trying to do normal human things (like live in the suburbs, say) that their powers can’t help with. I’d far rather watch the Avengers on a road trip than clobbering bad guys.
Doing: Aimee and I took the excuse of her visiting family to make some improvements to the house (lots of painting, upgrading the fireplace mantel, redoing the bathroom, installing an actual shower enclosure upstairs) so it looks less like we’re shooting heroin in here. The lesson from all home improvement projects that applies to all other creative endeavors: for 90% of any project, it will look like absolute shit…and it’s your job to keep going until it doesn’t. But don’t fear that messy stage.
On Signed Books
I’d estimate that there are perhaps fifty to seventy-five signed copies (by me, anyway) of my books in existence, so if you happen to have one, congratulations! It may one day be valuable because man, I’m very uncomfortable signing books.
Once at a convention, a dealer asked me to sign a few copies of In Search Of and when I asked to whom I should inscribe them, she barked, “Name only!” I’d already written “Dear…” so I finished it with “…eBay customer.”
There are really only two scenarios in which someone wants a signed book from a living person:
When you’re friends already and the inscription can be something meaningful and personal like, “I’ll never forget our time shooting rats together at Poe’s grave in Baltimore.”
When you’re a complete stranger and the inscription has to be something like, “To Bethany, best wishes for the facial mole.”
The first scenario is great, and I have a few of those from people whose names I’m too modest to drop. We give them to each other in support and respect, often at signings when no one else shows up.
The second scenario is hard because I never know what to write. The most accurate thing would be, “Thank you, stranger, for your brief flattering attention. May my signature remind you of the ten seconds we shared at a folding table in a hotel hallway and bring you a small financial gain after my death.”
If I’m in a hurry, that sometimes ends up as, “Enjoy!” or “Keep watching the skies!” and I feel guilty about that. Most strangers wanting a signature are hoping for a moment of connection, but it’s almost the exact opposite of one: a symbol of a brief and hurried interaction.
[The pretentious Deconstructionist in me might even say that all writing is a symbol of absence because the person and moment are now long gone.]
There’s also a threshold of seemliness for signing books, isn’t there? I mean, yeah, Neil Gaiman lines them up around the block. But for those of us with a more…uh…limited appeal, there are few human transactions as awkward as waiting to sign books when there is clearly no one interested.
So my policy is generally this: if I know you, of course I’ll sign a book if you ask me (but never before, even if it’s a gift because how do I know you want that?). If I don’t know you, I’ll make up something about our relationship so it feels more personal, okay?
But don’t be mad if it’s something like, “To Ronnie, I’ll never forget our time at the Orlando Courtyard Marriott.”
Illustrator Landis Blair does wonderful Gorey-esque scenes and portraits, so I commissioned him to capture the dear departed Edgar for the ages. I miss the old boy, that’s for sure. I hope my mother’s taking care of him.
Thank you for your continued interest in my work! I’m deeply grateful for it.