Well, this is nice, isn’t it? Been a while since we’ve chatted. I’m thinking that it’s been far too long, and I really don’t know what to say. Wait, check that, I really do know what to say. Let me start at the beginning. This may well be the longest Finn’s Wake I ever wrote.
The General State of Things
First of all, a number of you have been wondering (a) what I’m working on now, and (b) why I don’t write more updates. The truth of the matter is that I have been in a state of crippling depression for much of the last year. It came about from a number of sources, but in a nutshell, it went down like this: I went from being well-connected in a major urban city with relatively minor responsibilities and a heavy creative output to being not-connected in a ridiculously small town with huge responsibilities and virtually no creative endeavors to speak of.
I feel gimpy even talking about the word “depression.” For a long time I didn’t even want to admit it to myself. I’ve never dealt with depression before (my teenage years don’t count; and anyway, I blame Pink Floyd). Not like this. Some days, I didn’t want to move. Some days, all I could do was eat. It was scary. But I still wasn’t talking about it. It felt like a weakness. And the absolute last thing I wanted to do was end up on medication.
Don’t get me wrong: I wanted to do this. I thought that it would be a small matter to just step into the role of theater owner and go to town. Oh, hell, was I wrong. I was so very wrong. The number of things that I didn’t know were legion. My learning curve, especially since we hit the ground running, was steeper than the stretch of Route 66 that did James Dean in. I wasn’t necessarily thrown to the wolves, but it sure felt like it. I had a concentrated knot in my stomach from Mid-March, when we first re-opened, to the first week in December. It’s been that bad.
Again, let me stress, this town is lovely. And we’ve made many great friends here, too; genuine people, who care and offer a helping hand, and listen to our troubles and in general bend over backwards to help us out. We know some folks, too; some of the local movers and shakers. We attend the city council meetings. It’s a big deal. Folks want to know what we think. This is, of course, diametrically opposite to Austin, where the city council doesn’t give a fig what the citizens are on about. But in the end, it’s not Austin, is it? The culture shock was significant. Not having a bookstore that’s five minutes away (try an hour) is debilitating to someone like myself.
Add to that the challenges of trying to massage a business that has been down on the canvas twice already, and that pretty much ate up all of my free time. Cathy and I ate and slept the theater. We didn’t get away very often, and when we both did, we didn’t go very far. I had a couple of sabbaticals this year, but I found that within forty-eight hours of coming back, I was knotted up in my stomach again and unable to write.
That’s what shocked me the most this year. I was able to make myself sit down and write non-fiction; essays, reviews, introductions, etc. But fiction writing eluded me. I couldn’t get more than a page done at a time, and when I got up, I found that I couldn’t hold the story in my head. This “holding” skill is critical for writers; it’s why so many of us walk around with that gobsmacked look on our face all the time. It’s why our long-suffering wives choose strange times to discuss household chores and other mundane affairs with us—they are waiting until that far-off look in our eye winks out for a moment before rushing in with everything they’ve been holding back for two days.
I discovered that I was incapable of writing fiction while I was thinking about the theater. And since I lived above the theater, and since every single day brought a different responsibility to us regarding the theater, I was spending every day thinking about the theater, our financial situation, marketing, and literally nothing else. This, more than anything else, has been sheer agony for me.
The good news is this: I’m getting over it. My mother, the Jedi Knight, has done some work with me, and I’m now making some space for myself. The theater has become a rote endeavor (and I’ve learned as much as I have been able to absorb at this time), and it’s freed up my brain to work on other things. Life is again returning to the sleepy village. What this means is that fiction writing is close at hand—thank God. I’m adjusting, slowly adjusting, to the ridiculous and total life-change we undertook, and in retrospect, it’s surprising and goofy that it took me until a couple of months ago to realize that I was depressed. Doofus.
The Vernon Plaza Theater
I told you all of that to tell you this: we’ve made it one year! The theater is alive, and it’s viable, and it’s more or less well. We’re bringing in a couple of new innovations this year, and we’re still not in the black yet, but hey, it’s our first year. Now that I’m getting used to the idea of not being in the black, I’m relaxing my grip on my own spleen and concentrating on not going more in the red.
We’ve got some great things planned for this year. I’m going to try and do something that, as far as I know, no other independent movie theater has ever done. I’m getting paperwork together and doing some calculating so that we can create a little island whereupon movie-goers, upon exiting the Iron Man movie, will be confronted with three or four Iron Man trade paperbacks, a couple of action figures, Pez, and the like. This would apply to all of the big summer movies; trading cards, official souvenir magazines, etc. If it works, and I find that I can build a clientele out here for such geekery, well, I think you can figure out what comes next.
Also on our immediate horizon is a digital projector. This is mission critical in our arsenal of cool, and will allow us to do a lot more stuff in a more flexible manner; things like birthday parties (and the kids can play Halo on the big screen), college football games, stuff like that. Again, there’s nothing like it in the area, so we have a decided advantage on our competition.
In the near future, I’m going to post some pics on the website and you can all get a virtual tour of the place. In the meantime, just know that we’re doing all right, and the place is slowly but surely catching on with the folks in town again. We snag 2-5 new folks a week. It’s getting better; it really is!
So, What ARE You Working On?
Well, I’ve got a couple of irons in the fire right now: I just sent a proposal in to Del Rey for an expanded hardcover edition of Blood & Thunder. We’ll see how that flies. I’ve also been asked to adapt a movie script for comics. More on that later. Finally, I’m working on a couple of short stories with fellow Texas writer Scott Cupp. After that, I’m going to decide which novel I want to work on and pursue.
In the meantime, for those of you who are curious about such things, I’ve got my out-of-print collection Gods New & Used available for download on www.wowio.com, as do the other members of Clockwork Storybook. I’ll be adding more stuff from the old CWSB site in the coming weeks, but for now, you can get Gods New & Used for free—and I get paid for it! Truth!
Also, this year, I really want to get back to doing radio drama, both writing and performing. I’ve got some scripts that are all mapped out and need to be written, and I’ve got a couple of outstanding obligations to uphold. If I get through with those, maybe I can start on my one-man show idea. We’ll see.
Currently, I’m still doing articles for Dark Horse Comics for their Conan trade paperbacks, which is a lot of fun. I was recently name-checked in the Best of Robert E. Howard, volume 1 introduction regarding the boxing fiction of REH. Also big fun. I still contribute as time permits to www.revolutionsf.com, and you really should swing by every so often to check it out. That I make no money from this writing, yet still try to do things for them, should be telling.
World Fantasy Awards
Some of you knew that I was nominated for a World Fantasy award for the REH biography. Well, I didn’t win it. There was, in retrospect, no way in hell that I was going to win it. Here’s why. I was nominated in the Special Award: Professional category. Now, those two awards at the end of the nominations list: Special Award, Professional, and Special Award, Non-Professional, are intended to recognize folks who don’t fit into any of the other categories. In particular, Special Award, Professional was designed to honor publishers, editors, copyeditors, booksellers—heck, ANYONE not a writer of fantasy who contributed in some meaningful way that year. It was never supposed to be for non-fiction books. It’s just that, when non-fiction books are written onto the ballot, they end up there, having nowhere else to go.
So, in a year when Ellen Asher lost her job at the SF Book Club, after years of printing and reprinting everyone good in the field, and moreover her whole staff was let go without so much as a by-your-leave, you can see how there was NO WAY in hell that I was going to take home a statue, when the award was a far more perfect way to honor her thankless contribution to the field.
Is it fair? To Ellen, sure. It’s very fair, and she deserved to get the award. But what about to me and the other guy whose book garnered enough votes to make the top five? It doesn’t seem that fair, not really. But had I won instead, the industry would be calling it a travesty, because Ellen should have won it. Am I upset about it? Sort of, but not because I didn’t win. Rather, because there have been a number of good non-fiction books in the past few years that received no recognition, simply because of a lack of categorization. The judges for each year’s World Fantasy awards keep their own council on these matters, but basically, if the five of them decide to award a statue to someone, then their name is automatically added to the list, and no matter what the popular vote says, it’s going to go to who the judges want. That’s the attraction of a juried award. And Special Award: Professional is the very place to give such recognition.
The thing is this, though: if the judges have the chance to right a wrong, or acknowledge an oversight, as in the case of Ellen Asher, then they are going to do it. Again, that’s what the category is for. Anyway, I had a pretty good idea that I was on the outs. Having spoken to my fellow nominees, they all agreed that Ellen was going to get it. And every time I saw a judge, I watched a slight shadow pass across their eyes. No guilt, per se, but rather a shield of neutrality that they consciously put on so as not to give anything away.
The only part of this that doesn’t work is when you take something like a biography written (and let’s use the excellent James Tiptree, Jr. biography instead, since it was a book that also needed to be written and was nominated in similar categories last year), and compare it to what an editor does with a book line. That’s apples and oranges, and it creates a disparity within the category, since there is no way to really reconcile the two. In the end, of course, it’s the judges’ call, anyway. But wouldn’t it be great if they didn’t have to make such a call? Then a critical studies book AND a deserving editor could be recognized in the span of a year, and no one would kick about it.
In the end, I wrote an open letter to the WFC administration board asking that they add a non-fiction category, and was politely rebuffed. This is not over. Again, I’m not angry about it, but I really think that there’s an oversight here that could be easily and quickly addressed.
You Know What Tomorrow Is...
That’s right, it’s Elvis’ Birthday! And may I pass along my most sincere wishes for a happy and prosperous new year. Go forth and find your favorite Elvis movie, or just cue up one of his many fine albums. Shake a hip, eat a peanut butter and banana sammich, or shoot out a television set. It’s YOUR day tomorrow, so make the most of it. Me, I’ll be making my usual promises to the King and watching Viva Las Vegas.
Boy, that Anne-Margaret, she sure was something, wasn’t she?
Y’all be good, now.