Two-way Mirror

For a long time “Black Mirror” was the working title of the book that became The Devil of Echo Lake–partly because of the black pool Billy finds in the woods, partly because of the Narcissus theme, and partly because in my two main characters, Billy and Jake, I could see versions of people I had once been or might have become.

Sitting down on New Year’s Eve to write a year-end round up feels a bit like looking into a mirror at what’s behind me, but also seeing in that mirror a kind of window. If I look deep enough, maybe there’s a glimpse of the year ahead, or the years ahead.  And you, dear reader, are now on the other side of the glass looking in at me, even if I don’t know who you are.  So please leave a comment and let me know who you are or you’ll freak me the fuck out, okay?

Cabin in the Woods. Best horror movie of 2012.
Cabin in the Woods. Best horror movie of 2012.
2012 was the year when I finally became something that I first dreamed of being at the age of fifteen—a published author.  It was an exciting milestone.  There was nervous anticipation, champagne, a lot of support from friends, signings and readings, and great reviews… It was a blast.  It was also a lot of work.  And I know that it’s just a beginning.  It’s only a first novel with a small press, but it’s a start.  I’m still a guy with a day job (a small business) and now writing has become a second full time job.  I’m still a guy who gets up at 6AM every day to shovel dog shit in whatever weather New England throws at me.

As a starry-eyed teenager, after the dream of writing books was supplanted by the dream of being a rock star, I used to talk about how, when I had made my fortune, I was going to fill a mansion with dogs.  Well, after abandoning the music business, my wife and I started a dog daycare, and for the past decade I’ve had a pack of dogs in my house.  Careful what you wish for.  I do love dogs, but when I’m chiseling their turds out of a sheet of ice in the pre-dawn January darkness, I’m really hoping one of my books will take off.  And kids, if you’re dreaming of ditching practical skills to become a musician… heed my tale of woe.

Writing a first book was a slow process mixed into my life among other interests.  While writing Echo Lake I also wrote songs, recorded a CD, traveled, earned a couple of black belts in Tae Kwon Do, got married in a Tibetan refugee village in India, studied Buddhism, and welcomed a son into the world.  I slowly, steadily, chipped away at the novel, and I had all the time in the world to refine it.

But now that I have the opportunity to keep publishing and to build a readership, other interests have fallen by the wayside.  I’m not getting to the dojo to exercise and my guitars are gathering dust.  My second novel is due soon, and I don’t have years to refine it, I have weeks.  So with opportunity there’s also some pressure, but I’m grateful for it.  It’s focusing me.  I’m lucky to have a shot at this and I’m going for it.

In 2012, I signed contracts for three novels.  I’ve never been a very prolific short fiction writer, but I did also manage to sell a couple of short stories this year, which is nice, if only to exercise a different part of my brain and prove to myself that I can occasionally conjure a rabit from that other hat.  My first book has been well received, and I’m using whatever spare hours I can find between family and business to work my ass of learning the craft, trying to become a better writer and a better story teller.

One thing I didn’t realize before publication was that time would become so precious–time to write while trying to promote, time to read while trying to write.  Suddenly I find myself among a group of gifted peers who are asking me to read their work and consider it for award recommendations, and I’m delighted to have the opportunity; free books are a great perk!  But I’m bummed out that I can’t read it all. There just aren’t enough hours in the day, and writing comes first because, shit, what I put on the page now will actually be read by more than five people.

It was a weird year with roller coaster highs and lows.  The dog that got us into the dog business in the first place, our beloved Ben (a pit bull/lab mix), passed away in May at the age of fourteen after several battles with cancer.  We miss him sorely. My grandmother who got me started on writing passed away in August, right before my book came out.  My wife had spinal surgery in November to fix a martial arts injury from July (she’s doing well now, thanks), and our son started pre-school and brought home every germ under the sun.  There were some challenges, yeah.  But there were also those dreams-come-true, and a glimpse of a future, if all goes well, as a writer.

In 2012 I came out of the closet as a horror writer, and suddenly it seemed like everyone I know from my “muggle” life was reading my bloody tale of sex, drugs, rock & roll, and the devil.  So that was weird.  And I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how many of them—friends, family, customers, and acquaintances—seemed to genuinely love the book. They didn’t all start looking at me as some kind of weirdo.  Kind of a relief.

For now, it’s good to have a day job, even though it stresses me out to not get enough writing done in a day or a week. It’s good because I don’t have to make desperate decisions about writing and publishing based on the need to feed my family with it.  What matters most to me as I look ahead to the books I will write in 2013 and beyond is that I don’t rush to crank things out, that I don’t settle for less than my best work just because there’s a path to publication, that I write stories that are meaningful to me, stories that (whether they sell well or not), I’ll be proud to have on my shelf, and to leave behind.

There are strange shadows shifting in the depths of this mirror–the shapes of stories I’ve carried with me, scratching at the glass, wanting to be told.

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