Capitol Reef National Park

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Still Talking to Myself

This interview was conducted prior to Paracon at Pennhurst State School and Hospital, where I will be selling books on August 18th and 19th. 

In the 5 months since you released The Rules of the Game, where are you in your current writing on the follow up to it, Dead Mouths, and Eureka in Flames? Right now, I feel like I’m dividing my time into segments of reading, writing Intersections, blogging about Parkinson’s disease in 2 different places, and writing my Parkinson’s book Real Life Monsters. Fortunately for the writing, I’ve been stuck indoors all summer due to a combination of excessive heat and hyperhidrosis, which is a condition that comes with Parkinson’s. It's kind of like a free toaster. Take a day like today. I’m indoors in the high 70s, and I’m roasting like a pig. In the solid 80s and 90s, I’m a sweaty mess. The best thing to do on a day like today is something that involves air conditioning. Unfortunately, this means I can’t hike the way I did before, so that part of my writing topics has taken a backseat to stuff about current issues. Here’s to better weather and more travels in the autumn. That said, being active sure beats ballooning up to way too heavy a weight (he says as he contemplates getting out more to shrink down again).

Tell us about Real Life Monsters. Real Life Monsters is essentially the story of real life cognitive issues, hallucinations, lucid and weird, occasionally violent dreams, tremors, dystonia, medical side effects, bradykinesia, hyperhidrosis, loss of hearing, loss of smell, reactive depression, aspiration pneumonia, Lyme disease, swallow studies, weight gain, and a lot of other side effects from Parkinson’s, which I detail HERE. It’s about a lot of peripheral life changes, too, but most importantly, it’s a survival story about getting beyond Parkinson’s disease and the day-to-day and what’s to come life of it. It’s about friends, family, and a wife that loves me through and in spite of a lot of neurological poop. It’s about doctors and organizations that make a difference in my life. It’s about rewiring myself differently in a post-teaching world to still be who I am. Most importantly, it’s about sharing my influences and the thoughts of others to help you survive your Avalanche Day, too.

For those who are worried, how does Parkinson’s affect your writing? It slows down my typing from 80-60 words a minute on good days. Some days, my fingers feel more plodding, but when I’m on fire and my hands are loose, I’m flying. Sometimes, I go word fishing, but mostly, I’m good to go when I edit and MaryAnn, who is awesome, helps edit for me. Most likely, my walking will be affected before the rest of the writing game, so yeah… Blackrock keeps moving forward.

With bouncing back and forth, are you happy with the paranormal writing? As for the Intersections stuff, I’m happy with where it’s at in that Navy SEALs meets the X-Files kind of way. The story begins with Bart Doherty and a host of new characters. Most notably, he is back with his former trainer Jude, a nun named Esmeralda, and a trio of kick ass gals: Alexis, Chloe, and Nhung. The first 2 of these are named after my cousin’s daughter and my niece. Colin’s brother and my other nephew, Dylan, will also have a character as will by nana’s side of the family (Feinauer). Additionally, the Demon Hunters of Dodge County are back, as are many of the other characters from before, most notably Charles “Chuck” Jones. Following through on the Our Lady of Guadalupe issues is the tale of Benson Villaneuva.

Is there any kind of a deadline that you’ve imposed on yourself for finishing this? I think a lot of that depends on where things go with Bart’s story. Liam and the “Dylan” character are essentially a known quantity / ending that just has to be typed. Bart’s story is the long one in all of this. The question becomes is this book a shorter pre-Intersections book where S1 moves into place at Blackrock or is this a huge mega tome that answers everything from what becomes of all of the clairvoyant dreams, all of the backstories (most notably Mormon Creek), and resolves how every character intersected. To me, that’s about 800 pages… at least. I’m at 250. If I go the long direction, I’m hoping to be done by middle next year. If at all possible, another book by Christmas would be nice, but the first finished book has to be my Parkinson’s autobiography / philosophical work.

You’ve been diversifying your characters more in this new book, as well. I have. With the S1 mission in The Rules of the Game, it felt a lot like Boy’s Club; however, Allison and Maggie were really great characters in Eureka in Flames. Suzie Heilman is a fan favorite in Dead Mouths, and she comes back with a boom in The Rules of the Game. For Intersections, it was important to get Jude’s team going, if only to have Bart smack talk with Baphomet (really) and then have a crew to get him off the hook. It’s important to establish more of the story with Charlotte Robinson and Amanda Jones. It’s also important to create a starting point for Ouray. Vincent Littleman and Jackie Lucas need their stories told, and so do some new characters who are also associated with Jude’s crew. The point is to make the world of Blackrock more representative of the real world. Unfortunately, in the real world, some of the problems these people face are difficult to write about in a politically-correct sense.

How is that? On one hand, it’s never easy to write the vicious murders, so I’d rather just imply what happened. To be honest, I don't like that gory stuff at all. That was really tough to do in Dead Mouths. I remember taking a month off from writing after a minor character died. With main characters in harm’s way, it’s going to be tough to kill them off, as well. In Dead Mouths, it was hard to say goodbye to some people who were supposed to be quick exits or passing mentions. That became Chuck Jones and Suzie Heilman, though she was never supposed to die. Now, Sean “Big Dig” Carruthers and Benson Villaneuva are major players. Eventually, Patricia Kingman’s “All the Angels in Heaven” and Earl Johnson’s “Lost in the Storm” will see them become characters, if only for a short time. The same is true for an as yet to be named “follower” of artist Hieronymus Bosch. 

So all of your passing mentions are… Fully realized, but unrealized characters, yes. Most of them anyway. Billy Padres and Kevin McGinn are back. For those who don’t remember, they were hiking friends of Suzie. Billy Boot is now a major character. Visions of Clouds, the Native American Shaman who killed the 3 babies ages ago, is back to explain his side of the story.

On why he was so horrible? The one thing here that’s important to remember with almost all of the characters is that they’re a mix bag of beautifully imperfect mistakes. Someone can be largely good, but do something horrible. For instance, Tony Lucas’s slip of feeding into the young African-American kid’s inciting him is going to come back to haunt him and put him through Hell. To fully develop and do what he needs to do, Lucas HAS TO go there. Little things that get explained away easily, Lucas’s feelings on God and people who defend Tony, aren’t going to solve the greater Tony. For this, he has to do penance and suffer while finding who he is.

With Lucas, he seems to be a favorite, as is Bart, and at times, they are uncouth, but generally, most of them is likable. Yes, this is true on both accounts, but in a world of beautifully imperfect, some otherwise great people harbor racism. Some people poke at that like it makes the whole person suck. To me, it's just not that easy. As Kurt Vonnegut felt, it's hard to write a complete hero or villain. It's hard to live angelic. Too many people talking crap, doxxing others, and excluding people think their poop doesn't stink. Methinks they should smell it some time. They might be surprised. As for expressing racist characters, it's hard to write around words I don't want to use. Something like "cracker," to me, is funny, but a lot of other words for other groups come with a sting or a slam. That said, with so many hateful, prejudiced, and misogynistic characters in the Blackrock world of diversity, it is a challenge. Adding current events in characters like Pyotor Osokin to the mix let the Russia thing work into the story. That said, the President won't be in this.

On another note, did you know that these stories would be the way they played out before you wrote them? Most times, no. I had created an end game, but I let the natural course of characters’ lives and my imagination change this as it needed to be. As I’ve said before, the original outline was broken into a million shards before Dead Mouths ever became more than a few passing chapters. Yes, there’s a lot of foreshadowing in the books now, and this leaves some things as is, but other things change to fit understandings. Visions of Clouds is a perfect example of this revelation working out in just the right way. This way affects 2 other characters in a huge way, as well.

This time around you are featuring a character with Parkinson’s. Tell us about that. Right now, Frankie Jenkins, who is a guy with young-onset Parkinson’s disease, is associated with Noël Legendre, who is a haunted tour guide in New Orleans. A collective of Creoles is attacked by some baddies. I won’t elaborate on that, but I will say it gives me a chance to bring some heavy, unconventional anti-paranormal fighters into the mix. Frankie will fit into that well in the way that he has a disability, but he isn't treated with kids' gloves.

You were really influenced by New Orleans. Granted, you were there before, but never took to it like this. I was, and I loved it. I loved the cemeteries and Bourbon Street, but I never really saw the city properly until December. This time I did. There are a few posts I recommend on the city. The first is my story of the highlights and the post vacation sickness (aspiration pneumonia). The second was the description in Rules of the Game, which is excerpted HERE. The final post is located HERE. I would love to go back for a few more days to see a few more things, but my wife said that we just went there. But did we see enough of Metairie Cemetery? The other half of Lafayette Cemetery? Did we sees enough gators? Did we drink Hand Grenades? See the Hurricane Katrina stuff? The War of 1812 stuff? The Voodoo Museum? Did we see a show in Preservation Hall or anywhere else? Play bongos in Congo Square? Go to a club named after Louis Armstrong, where he wasn’t allowed in? See a Mardis Gras parade? See the European side of the World War 2 Museum? Get thrown out of Marie Laveau’s House of Voodoo for daring to take a picture of the huge statue of Baphomet (I kid, I kid, but seriously, that statue took a lot of time for someone to extol the virtues of a hermaphroditic expression of the sabbatic goat - if anything deserves mockery, it's Baphomet)? Do a tour in Ursuline Convent to check out the vampire myths? Spend enough time at the site where the Carter Brothers performed their vampiric dastardly deeds? Do a competing haunted tour of NOLA? Go to more historic plantations? Go back to Houmas House? Go to a New Orleans Saints game? Ride in a horse-drawn carriage? Since the answer is “no,” then my wife must accept that we need to go back there. Besides, after revisiting San Francisco this year, I no longer feel that city competes for coolest in America. Granted, I still need to see Seattle, Savannah, and Portland, but only D.C.’s monuments / historic side fits the bill right now. That said, like Baltimore, it’s more for tourism and entertainment. I realize both cities have problems with crime.

Where else would you like to go? The Faroes / Scottish Islands + Iceland, back to the Colorado Plateau for the World Petroglyph Tour, Oregon / Washington's border, and Italy / Vatican City. Oh, and who could forget Bora Bora.

Back to your story... the dreams that your characters feel are very important, too. Yes, this is something that comes out of my lucid dreams, which Parkinson’s makes possible. I just turn them up to 11 with the fictional details of Our Lady of Guadalupe. This is actually modeled on a mix of clairvoyance, astral projection, and what I go through with my Parkinson’s, which is called REM sleep behavior disorder. Not to forget fluctuating dopamine levels, which also make dreaming like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind or a full-fledged boxing match.

Any parting thoughts? People should live their lives fully, like Emile Zola said. Samuel Beckett, James Stockdale, Victor Frankl, and many others have powerful ideas, too. If we live life like we have nothing to lose, we show no fear and we skip to confidence. Things like this do wonders to put those stories, which we wonder if they're good enough, into the world. On that note, absorb stories of those in your genre if you want to write. For me, I would add Dead Files to my previous list of inspirations and talk about how much I want to see The Nun. As with A Haunting, there is so much out there to enjoy. Experience it!