The late, great Janis Joplin once sang “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose.” I would add that so is apathy.
Let’s talk, you and I. It’s been a long time since we’ve really done that. Oh, sure. We talk on Twitter every day, and we talk here in the comments section. And we used to chat at The Keenedom and on Facebook until the sound of white noise in those places began to overwhelm me, throbbing in my pineal gland night and day, threatening to drive me mad, and I ended up stabbing both of them with a knife so that they wouldn’t bother me anymore.
But I digress. Where was I? Oh, yes. Talking to you. I’m smoking a cigar and sipping Four Roses bourbon. I’m not supposed to be doing either of those things anymore (and please don’t tell Mary, F. Paul Wilson, or Joe Lansdale that I was, because I promised them I wouldn’t, and they’ll kick my ass). In truth, I’ve only had one cigar since the heart attack (upon finishing Clickers vs. Zombies) and only a few glasses of bourbon on my birthday, and once while Kelli Owen was visiting. But I’m having them tonight, even though I’m not supposed to, because they are what I used to have when we talked.
Do you remember? We used to talk all the time, you and me. For many years, I had a Blog called Hail Saten. It started as the title for my editorial column in Jobs In Hell (a weekly email newsletter for writers that I used to publish when the Internet was still in its infancy and email newsletters were still rare and neat and wonderful and welcomed, and people actually paid money to receive them). A disgruntled reader (because even back in 1997, I already had those) wrote me a very angry email one day, and called me ‘Saten’, complete with the typo, and I thought that was delightful and began using it. The title followed me from Jobs In Hell to my original Blog, which is long defunct, but for many years, was a place where I talked to people. Quite often, it got very personal. Eventually, I shut the Blog down. It’s one thing to have personal conversations and observations with an audience of 500 or 5,000. It’s quite a different animal when that audience is 50,000 or 500,000.
Just like the bourbon and cigars, I’m not supposed to bring back Hail Saten — because these three things will lead to another heart attack, or so I’m told. But lately, I’ve had the urge to bring the Blog back anyway.
Actually, that’s not correct. I first had the urge several years ago, back when my ex-wife and I were beginning to figure out that being married to a writer is one of the worst things in the world to be, and wondering what we were going to do about that, because at age 41, and over a decade making a living writing, it was gonna be awfully hard for me to find any other kind of work. I resisted the urge to bring Hail Saten back at that time, knowing if I did, the marriage would be doomed for certain. Instead, I wrote a book called The Girl on the Glider, which came out in hardcover, and will come out in paperback next year, and which many people seem to think is the best thing I’ve ever written, and which, in reality, was simply me doing what I’m doing right now. Just with ghosts.
The second time I had the urge to bring the Blog back was in the dark months before the Dorchester War went public. Here’s something important that I want you to remember, because I will come back to it a bit further down — Craig Spector, Bryan Smith, JF Gonzalez and myself decided to go public on March 24th of 2011, but I had not been paid by Dorchester since December of 2009. As I said last March: “I had not been paid since late-2009. My marriage had fallen apart, my bills were piling up, and more than half of my annual income was perpetually coming soon.” It should be noted that Dorchester wasn’t the only publisher who suddenly seemed to have lost their checkbook — but they were the one who owed me the most. And so, to make ends meet, I started the newsletter and the Lifetime Subscription plan, and signed with a few new publishers to get some money to stem the crushing tide of debt. Now that you know that, I’m sure you understand why the urge to bring back Hail Saten and unleash some righteous fury on their ass was strong. Instead, I stayed professional, joined with other professionals, and eventually, we won.
The third time the urge to re-launch Hail Saten struck me was around this time last year. I don’t talk much about my divorce because, quite simply, it’s none of your fucking business. All you really need to know is that my ex-wife and I remain absolute best friends. We speak every day, help each other out, occasionally cook for one another, are there for each other if one of us needs a shoulder or a sounding board, and most importantly, we remain an awesome team when it comes to raising our son. My ex-wife is an incredible mother and a wonderful human being, and I am very glad to have her as a friend, and extremely grateful that she is in my son’s life. And, post-divorce, we are both very happy in life, and thus, our son and everyone else around us is happy, too. Except… that wasn’t good enough for some people. There was a loose-knit group — I won’t name them here because, quite frankly, they aren’t worth it — who spent much of last year making me and Mary’s lives miserable. They each had their own individual axes to grind with me, and when the divorce happened, they saw their opportunity. “Finally, a weak chink in the armor! Attack!” And attack they did. Mary and I said nothing about it in public because, again, it’s nobody’s fucking business. Mostly, they attacked Mary, saying how terrible she was for having the audacity to fall in love with a recently divorced man with whom she’d been friends with for the last twelve years. And they didn’t care about how their bullshit impacted her or my ex or my kids or my friends or anybody else in my life. All they cared about was getting to me. And they almost did. Almost… Yeah, the urge bring back Hail Saten at that moment was borderline uncontrollable. But I prevailed. I prevailed, and after that, the urge went away…
Yesterday, an old friend and trusted mentor told me that he was worried that — in the eyes of the public — I was starting to appear apathetic. Now, he knew I wasn’t apathetic. He knew it had been a long, strange summer, and that I was finally just finding my feet again. But he thought the public might not see that. I always listen to this friend’s advice. He has always been right, and he’s forgotten more about this business than I will ever learn. So yeah, let’s talk about apathy. Let’s talk about it in a way we haven’t talked for quite some time, you and I. Let’s Hail Saten the shit out of it, so that everybody is on the same page.
As I said, it has been a long, strange summer. Many things happened between April and September. Dorchester finally began paying some people, and reverting rights for others. I signed with Deadite, and was able to start earning a living again for the first time in two years. Things were good. Well, okay, yeah — there was the hurricane and the tropical storm and the fact that I was living inside a disaster area for a while. But these are minor trivialities, right? For the first time in a very long time, I had some breathing room. I had some freedom. I had nothing left to lose.
Then I had the heart attack.
Remember those books I mentioned before? The ones I contracted for before signing with Deadite? They were: Hollow Inside, The Damned Highway, Clickers vs. Zombies, Binky (a.k.a. Lake Fossil), With Teeth, and Hole In The World. These were books that were contracted in 2010. All were due earlier this year (except for With Teeth, which is due in December). In days gone by, I could have knocked them out, no problem. But these are not days gone by, for this is not the Summer of my years anymore. I turned forty-four two weeks after my heart attack. On my father’s side of the family (whom I take after genetically) sixty-five to seventy is a good age to die. Factor in my lifestyle these last thirty years or so, and I figure I’ve got twenty-five years left, tops. Think mid-life crises are a bitch? Think standing around mulling over the eventual possibility of dying sucks? My friend, you don’t know shit. Because when death suddenly comes knocking unexpectedly, you take stock of things. You do the math, and you realize that you have entered the Autumn of your life without even knowing it, and then you realize just how little amount of finite time you have left.
And you slow the fuck down.
It’s not like I want to slow down. Believe me, I don’t. I’ve got more story ideas now than I’ve ever had, and for the first time in my life, it’s starting to dawn on me that I will most certainly not live long enough to write them all down for you. But I intend to try.
Autumn is a slow season.
But take the heart attack out of the equation for a moment. Let’s look at cold, hard numbers instead. In previous years, I had the luxury of writing for 10 to 12 hours a day, five days a week. Here is the schedule I’ve had for the last year. Monday through Thursday, I have my youngest son from approximately 8am until approximately 6:30pm. Now, I can play on Twitter during those hours, in-between Play-Doh and making him lunch and potty training and Matchbox cars. But it’s impossible to write during that time, nor would I. It would be unfair to him. My time with him is my time with him, and I refuse to spend that time lost in my own head, working on a novel. So… when he goes home, I eat a quick dinner from 6:30pm until 7:00pm. Then I go to work. Except that “work” isn’t just writing the next book. It involves answering email (of which I average 120 to 200 PER DAY), looking over contracts, mailing things, etc. — and before this past summer also involved dealing with things like Dorchester. I work from 7:00pm until 11:00pm, but I only write for maybe 3 of those 4 hours. I call Mary at 11, and go to bed by 11:30. Then I get up at 6:30am the next morning and do it all over again.
So, that gives me 12 hours of writing time per week, depending on email volume, etc. Do that math. I went from 50 hours a week to 12 hours a week. Friday — my one day off — is sometimes spent writing, but is also spent cleaning the house, buying groceries, and doing all the other things we have to do in life. Saturday and Sunday are set aside for Mary, and my parents, and my oldest son, and Mary’s son, and my friends. Especially since the heart attack.
One other thing I’ve been doing a lot of since April is mentoring. The authors who were always there for my generation — mentors like Joe Lansdale, Jack Ketchum, F. Paul Wilson, John Skipp, Ed Gorman, Ray Garton, David Schow, Tom Monteleone, Chet Williamson, etc. — are the genre’s elder statesmen now (and I say that with nothing but respect and honor). And writers like myself, J.F. Gonzalez, Tim Lebbon, Chris Golden, Jim Moore, Tom Piccirilli, Weston Ochse, etc? We’re the veterans now. This was explained to me several times this summer by several of my mentors, and I wasn’t the only one of my generation who was given this speech. Somewhere between our fifth and sixth beers, we became veterans, and it’s time for us to start paying forward for this next generation the way those guys did for us. And we have been. Believe me, we have. And that, too, takes time out of an already busy schedule, but it so very worth it.
So yeah, I can see how it looks like I’m apathetic lately. I can see why folks might think I no longer care. I’m late on my deadlines and the newsletter is being folded into a book and I closed down the Keenedom and I don’t talk to people on Facebook anymore and the Lifetimer packages have been a few months apart, but do the math. Do the math…
The fact is, I’m still here. No, maybe we don’t talk as much as we used to, you and I. Maybe I’ve seemed more distant. And I’m sorry for that. But rest assured, I am still here. I’m just busy trying to be a father and a fiancee and a friend and a son and a brother and a mentor. But I am still here, and just because we don’t talk as much, that doesn’t mean I’m not listening.
And you’re still listening, as well. Thank you for that. Thank you for your patience and support these last few years. It means a lot. I’m making the best of those 12 hours a week. I’m getting caught up. Deluge is finished. Clickers vs. Zombies is finished. Hollow Inside turned into The Lost Level. The others are coming along, and in various stages of completion. And I think they will be worth the wait.
It ain’t Winter yet, and Autumn is a nice time of year.