A while back I came across a short article in Rolling Stone about Bob Dylan’s legendary Fender Stratocaster, the one he busted out at the Newport Folk Festival to make his electric debut. Supposedly the guitar had been found by an instrument appraiser after being lost for many years. Dylan himself denies that it’s the same guitar, which he says he still has, but I suspect that Dylan just likes to be contrary whenever a journalist gets him on the phone. Anyway, I liked the idea of a kind of forensics being used to verify if the wood grain pattern matched photos from the 60’s, and it stuck in my mind.
I’m a guitar geek, so it didn’t take long for that scrap of a story to get remixed in my mind with my own geeky obsessions, such as some of the details of David Gilmour’s famous Black Strat. I’ve even worked up my own replica of that guitar for when I want to bask in some Pink Floyd tones. Mine is nice, and cost a lot less to assemble than the one sold by the Fender Custom Shop.
When the guitar obsession collided with the horror fiction obsession, I finally got a short story out of it that I’m quite happy with. “The Last Chord” is about a vintage instruments appraiser, a Rock n Roll Detective if you will, who discovers a haunted Stratocaster. It first appeared in Dark Discoveries magazine, and is now available on Kindle.
I almost titled the story “Black Widow Blues,” but then my friend Jill proof read it and picked “The Last Chord” from my list of possible titles. I’m glad she did, because in a way the story is a final chord of The Devil of Echo Lake, struck years after the events of that novel, when we find sound engineer Jake Campbell once again wrapped up in some sinister paranormal weirdness. You don’t need to have read the book to enjoy this standalone story, and if you do pick it up, you also get a preview chapter of my next book, Steel Breeze, tagged on at the end. Not bad for a buck.
Since this is my first foray into self publishing… (clears throat, sheepishly swats dog hair from his sleeve) if you do read the story and like it, a really short review would make me love you long time.
I’m in between books right now, recharging and gearing up to start something new. It’s a kind of limbo and if I let myself stay in it for too long, I know I’ll get cranky and difficult. Tibetans have a word for in-between states: bardo. Supposedly the bardo states, particularly the state between the end of one life and the beginning of the next, are times of great power and volatility when your intentions and the quality of your consciousness can have profound effects on what’s to come… if you dig reincarnation. And I would argue that all fiction writers practice reincarnation. We get to live many lives and see the world through many different pairs of eyes.
So I’m taking a few weeks off from writing to start exercising and meditating again. Grounding and focusing after letting too many months of desk time and social media make me fat and distracted. I’m also intentionally absorbing things that I would like to have influence the next book, but eventually I’ll have to commit to an idea and start writing.
Commitment is a bitch. Our family adopted a puppy a couple of weeks ago and we still can’t even commit to a name for him. But when you write a story, every character, every event, every paragraph, sentence, and word commits the tale to an increasingly narrow path.
I have a notebook full of outline scraps and what-ifs for a book that I tried to write a couple of years ago. A pile of research, a lot of jottings that start with “Maybe,” and even a chapter or three. It’s a dark urban fantasy that has been simmering in the back of my mind for a long time. I didn’t feel equipped to take it on right after Echo Lake, and then the idea for Steel Breeze grabbed me and I wrote that instead. Now I’m asking myself once again if I’m ready to write it. There’s a good chance that this high-concept thing that seems epic and mythic and super cool to me in vague outline will turn out to be vacant and lifeless when I finally grasp at the ether and try to pull down some actual story. But the thing is… you never know until you try.
I saw the following quote this morning on Facebook and it rang true:
“In a very real way, one writes a story to find out what happens in it. Before it is written it sits in the mind like a piece of overheard gossip or a bit of intriguing tattle. The story process is like taking up such a piece of gossip, hunting down the people actually involved, questioning them, finding out what really occurred, and visiting pertinent locations. As with gossip, you can’t be too surprised if important things turn up that were left out of the first-heard version entirely; or if points initially made much of turn out to have been distorted, or simply not to have happened at all.”
― Samuel R. Delany, The Jewel-Hinged Jaw: Notes on the Language of Science Fiction
Maps and outlines only get you so far, and in this case there’s also a need to visit some actual locations (not too far from home but far enough to make for some long weekends) to research the story. It’s a commitment, and I am tempted again to try an easier idea.
Is there a story worth telling in that notebook? Are there characters I want to spend a year of my life with in that story? Is it a journey I’m ready to take? The only way of knowing is by going.
A friend asked me recently, “How do you know when an idea is going to have a book in it?” Answer: you don’t. There are no guarantees when you start to tell a story. A writer looking at publishing deadlines, a writer whose family would like to know if the journey he’s embarking on will take him away into zones of obsession for weeks, months or years, is tempted to try to calculate in advance whether a particular story idea will be worth it. Will it have legs, will it delight and entertain… will it sell some books?
Truth is you just don’t know. It’s a leap of faith. Like the best things in life; like adopting a puppy, or asking a pretty girl for a date. You just don’t know how it will turn out. Maybe it’ll change your life. Maybe it’ll be a wreck. Maybe it’ll be the greatest adventure ever.
Check this out. Another bad ass cover by the amazing Jeff Miller. When I told Jeff that I could imagine an origami butterfly caught in barbed wire for the cover, he didn’t think that sounded scary at all. Then he started sketching some angles… Jeff knows how to make shit scary.
If you don’t live in my neck of the woods and can’t make it to a book store reading, now you can hear me read the first chapter of The Devil of Echo Lake on Soundcloud. You can stream it or download the mp3 to take with you for offline listening. And hey, if you’re hanging around Billy Moon’s Soundcloud page, you can also listen to his 3 song demo and hear some of the music mentioned in the book.
On Saturday, March 23rd at 1PM I will be at the Portsmouth, NH Barnes &Noble reading from The Devil of Echo Lake and signing copies. There will also be a soundtrack of live electric guitar soundscapes to accompany the reading, courtesy of my cover artist and brother in rock, Jeff Miller. If you live in my neck of the woods, I hope you’ll come check it out.
Tonight at 9PM I will be doing an interview with the Journal Jabber on Blog Talk Radio. You can listen in live (that’s right, it’s LIVE, so that adds a bit of an edge) or download the podcast later. But for folks listening live, we will be playing the Three Facts Game and I’ll be giving away a signed copy of The Devil of Echo Lake to a lucky winner who can guess which bits of trivia are true or false about me. Should be fun.
I have a new short story out today in the “Horror and Rock” issue of Dark Discoveries magazine. The Last Chord even includes a cameo for Jake Campbell, whom you may have already met in The Devil of Echo Lake.
Here’s the first paragraph of the story:
“I found the haunted guitar in a bus driver’s garage. The bus driver was dead, had been for about a year, and his daughter Terry Sadowski was finally going through his stuff to clear it out and sell the house. She’d known he had a few guitars stashed away from the rock tours he drove in the seventies, had even heard the story of how he’d come by them, but it wasn’t until she saw me on TV appraising some instruments for an episode of Rock n Roll Detectives that she realized the Stratocaster might be worth more than the house.”
To read the rest, you’ll have to pick up a copy of the magazine, available now in print and electronic editions. A pdf digital version is included with your print magazine purchase free of charge if you order direct from the publisher. The whole issue is jam packed with great stories, articles and interviews.