It’s official, OLD SCHOOL has lift off.
To mark the occasion, Chuck Wendig, Emperor Penmonkey, the man who has supplanted that Stern guy as the King of all Media, he invited me over to his joint for a little sit down. Interesting place, the Penmonkey Palace – the eunuchs in the crotchless clown suits who keep bringing Chuck his “tea,” the lilting grace of B-Dub’s constant laugh, the way you think he’s the cutest kid in the universe, what with those happy-laser blue eyes, that is until you notice the scatter of unicorn bones around the base of the crib.
And the company.
See, today, Chuck has himself a par-tay, a virtual gangbang, he has all the cool kids over to play. Hilary Davidson, author of the much-acclaimed debut THE DAMAGE DONE and its kick-ass follow-up THE NEXT ONE TO FALL. Chris F. Holm, him that spawned last year’s can’t miss short story collection 8 POUNDS and the much anticipated DEAD HARVEST. And me.
About that party. The act of writing itself is a necessarily solitary activity. Maybe that enforced solitude explains why writers are so relentlessly social and generous the rest of the time. But that generosity was a shock to me.
See, I came to this fiction thing late. Always wanted to do it, but always put it off in favor of the demands of the other writing that was paying the bills. The couple decades I freelanced doing business writing, I knew other freelancers who were stalking the same prey, but we treated each other with the courteous but wary distance of large cats prowling the edge of their territories. I didn’t want you freelancing. I didn’t want anyone else freelancing. And when I found new competitors on my patch, my new goal became to shut them down, to steal all their work. To go to their homes and burn their offices and to sow the ashes with salt so that nothing would ever grow there again.
So, when I finally wrote a novel and got an agent (the lovely and talented Stacia Decker) and she told me I should go to this Bouchercon thing and meet some people and jump on the social media train, I figured it would be the same kind of thing. Potential competitors sizing me up like I was the new fish, fresh meat on the cellblock.
I go down to Indy for Bouchercon, I walk into this bar my first night feeling very much out of place, nervous, holding tight to my soap so that I won’t have to bend over in the shower, and Stacia introduces me to Scott Fucking Phillips. This is the guy who wrote THE ICE HARVEST – to this day, one of my favorite reads ever. I’m figuring at best he’s gonna give me a sideways glance, maybe hold out his hand so I can kiss his ring. Instead, he kicks out a chair and says “Pull up a seat. We’re talking about necrophilia.” By the end of the night, he’s invited me to St. Louis to read at his Noir at the Bar thing.
In that spirit, I thought I’d say a couple words about the other guests at Chuck’s party. ‘Cause this is the other thing about writing. It’s also a sort of mutual jealousy society, at least for me.
What I always notice when I read other writers is what they can do that I can’t. Maybe it’s human nature to be more aware of our limitations than our strengths. But it’s hard for me to tell you specifically what I do well as a writer. I’m not saying I doubt my abilities, I’m just saying that, if you ask me to tell you what makes my work hum, that’s a tough assignment. But I know exactly what I like about everybody else.
I think of Hilary, I think of glamour in its best sense. Hilary’s work is invested with this kind of retro grace. The stories are set in the present day and they are dark, and they are violent, and yet they still walk with a style and self-assurance that says “sure, Hitchcock can direct me, if he’s up to it, and yes, my story’s big enough that Cary Grant can play a lead, and no, Veronica Lake isn’t too mysteriously sexy and Katherine Hepburn isn’t too sharp, invite them all, let’s party.” Her Manhattan isn’t the one I’ve spent too many business trips in. I recognize the streets and the places, but there’s this veneer of style over all of it, dangerous when it needs to be, seductive when it wants to be, but some transparent magic that lets the truth of the place shine through, but invested with a sorcery that reminds you that reading a story is supposed to be fun, even if it is scaring the shit out of you.
I read Chris Holm and I envy his easy, reckless freedom. He doesn’t give a good goddamn about traditional boundaries of genre, or space and time for that matter. He takes his stories where he wants to, and with such confidence that you blow right over the usual checkpoints that divide science fiction from crime, or fantasy from reality. And if one of the guards at one of those checkpoints tries to stop that bus, then maybe he gets his shit blown away with a plain old handgun – or maybe some guy yanks out his soul and drags him to hell. It’s Holm’s universe and he’ll go where he wants with it, thank you very much.
I can’t do those things, and I wish I could. So I do whatever the things are that I do and muddle on.
Anyway, OLD SCHOOL’s out. Grab a copy if you like. Drop me an Amazon review if you have a minute. But do yourselves a favor and have a gander at Hilary’s and Chris’s stuff, too. You’ll be glad you did.