Ballstober!

My wife loves horror movies.  LOVES THEM!  I do not.  I’m not talking about the gory Saw, Hostel, Human Centipede fare.  Oh no, she likes the creepy, let-me-haunt-you, possess-you stuff. The crap that freaks me out. Her favorite is Halloween or anything Wes Craven has done. It’s her father’s fault, as a single dad it was his way to bond with her. She grew up with Freddy, Jason and Pinhead. Not my best friends at all.

In an earlier post, I talked about how the movie Alien is the reason I’m a writer today.  The truth is, that movie scared the cowboy shit outta me when I was six years old.  Fast forward two years and I remember watching that creepy doll rocking and the house telling people to Get Out in the Amityille Horror.  My sister had one of those dolls. I’ve been frightened of basements ever since.  I can remember checking my scalp for the 666 from The Omen (I will not get on lake ice to this day because of the ice hockey scene in Damien: Omen II), praying I didn’t get possessed like Regan in The Exorcist, becoming too frightened to sleep after A Nightmare on Elm Street.

But it’s October.  And this year it’s Ballstober!

I’m changing the rules this year.  I’m growing a pair this year and am watching every single bone-chilling, spine-tingling, nightmare-inducing second of whatever my wife wants to see.  Over the last 18 days, I’ve had Michael Myers stab me to death, have run for my life from Jason Vorhees, have tried to figure out what was happening with Pinhead’s complexion—you get it.  Sleepless nights or not, the goal was the find the thrill in horror movies, to embrace the fear, the requisite terror and wallow in those emotions.

I wrote a novel about the war in Heaven and Lucifer’s fall from grace, all from his point of view (you can find it here).  For a guy who’s no fan of horror movies, that’s a pretty ballsy move, right?  In all the movies, all the stories, I‘d ever read about the devil, he was always characterized as having the worst of intentions, of being the worst entity we could imagine.  I had all kinds of fears going into it:  that it wouldn’t be good enough, that I’d fail to capture the essence of the story, that I’d never get it done.  What I decided to focus on, though, was Lucifer’s ability to know what others were afraid of and to capitalize on that.  That idea, identifying someone’s fears and playing to them, made him far more evil and more compelling.  At least to me.

Facing our fears is, at times, both necessary and healthy.  We have to address those things that frighten us, get in touch with those visceral emotions just to become well-adjusted, productive human beings.  As writers, our fears enable us to craft those stories that touch people or antagonists that instill both fear and respect.  For me, Lucifer did both.  He forced me to address my own fears (that something supernatural would worm it’s way into my life) and was devilishly fun to write in the process.

I issue this challenge to writers and readers alike: grow a pair.  Find the thing that terrifies you, that haunts the corners of your nightmares, and embrace it, even for a moment.  I’m not saying play in traffic if you’re agoraphobic.  I say open a window, step on the porch.  If you’re scared of spiders, watch Arachnophobia or Kingdom of Spiders.  It’s Ballstober!  Do something daring!  You’ll be better off. Promise…

Eaten by the Dragon

I lost my battle with the Day Job Dragon.  Lost badly.

For the last 3 weeks I have been embroiled in a life-or-death war with clients and commitments, added value value adds, phone calls and emails, meetings and travel. And laundry!  Oh so much laundry!  Entire mounds of it, overflowing hampers and baskets, pooling in closets like a multi-colored blob threatening to consume us all.

Somewhere along the way, somewhere in this fight, I was supposed to be staving off the Dragon long enough to dash words on the page, or complete my edits, or commit to entering into discussions on Twitter.  I wasn’t trying to vanquish the Dragon or even obliterate the blob (sorry for the monster references—it is October after all).  I was trying to carve out a tiny bubble, a sanctuary, in the maelstrom that is my real world responsibilities just so I could write.  Prepare for NaNoWriMo.  Make my Kindle and Nook editions real.  Plan for Book Two in my Heaven Falls series.

But I lost.

The bubble was burst.  Those savory morsels of literary gold that hung on the tips of my fingers eventually bled into the wind, lost.  The thieves of time had taken all my spares.  I lost.

Kinda.

See, while I was pushing against the Dragon, futilely pressing it back, I was feeding it.  Nourishing it.  Riding it.  In real world terms, I was advancing my career, trying to close one chapter of my professional life and open another.  I was locked in a real battle with the day Job Dragon from consuming what really mattered:  my home life.  Everything was out of balance and I wasn’t giving myself to the living breathing human beings that dominate my existence.  So while my words lost and my characters remained in the undeveloped stasis of my imagination, my parenting skills took the precedence.  My wife launched a company and my support for her dwarfed my satisfaction at words on the page.  Other things began to matter.

Recently, my mother began reading my book.  My novel, The Road to Hell is Lucifer’s account of the war in Heaven and his own fall from grace.  One of the main characters is the archangel Raphael.  Just as my mom was reading first few chapters, we had the following text conversation (yes, I could have called but she likes texting):

       Mom: Bet you didn’t remember that Raphael was your imaginary friend when you were little…I remember cause you used to make me set a place for him at the dinner table (smiles)

       Me: Are u serious?  Raphael was my imaginary friend?  You’re playing with me right?

[You have to understand, I’ve been woken up by Raphael in the middle of the night, have seen him standing next to my bed or walking on my walls.  I thought I was having visions.  Or needed to be committed.]

       Mom:  Indeed he was.  You used to be really serious about him…don’t know if your dad remembers but Raphael lived with us for about five or six years….Anyway, when I opened the book, it was like saying hello to him again with a smile.

I had that conversation when I was dog tired in a hotel room in Houston (I live in Seattle), still awake trying to figure out something for a client.  I learned something in that exchange, aside from being freaked out that my imaginary friend ended being a major character in my novel:  this stuff never goes anywhere.  It’s always there and it’ll never leave.  As writers, we hear that we MUST write each and every day to get into the habit of writing and making the juices flow, yadda yadda yadda, right?  And it’s great advice from people whose day job is to write but it’s not always helpful for those of us who have lives away from the page.

But it never leaves.  Sure, like any skill, it improves with practice and focus and time and effort.  But raw talent is raw talent.  That God-given capability that is forged in the womb and walks with us throughout all our days—that never leaves.  It doesn’t go anywhere.  It waits, paces, yawns, stretches, and resolves to be there when you need it.

I don’t know if Raphael was a childhood figment designed to get me through a tough time or the face I put on my writing ability.  I’m not sure if it matters.  What I do know is he’s been there longer than I remember and he’ll be there long after I forget.  So while I charge off to another round against the Dragon or try my damnedest to escape the laundry quagmire, he’ll be there.  Waiting.  With that familiar smile on his face, ready for me.  And when the time is right, we’ll meet again.