Knowing When to Hold ‘Em


No, this isn’t a Kenny Rogers homage (I got that out of my system early in my career—and you can read it here, if that’s your sort of thing). I’ve been thinking of the relationship writers have with ideas, and the differing schools of thought. I read one author’s answer to how he kept track of ideas—I forget if it was King, or maybe Konrath—which was basically Write them down so you don’t lose them. But the ones I had to write down in order to remember usually ended up not being very good. The best stories grabbed ahold of me until I wrote them.

I’m paraphrasing, of course, but you get the idea. I can see the value in writing down ideas for later. I have a plain-text document with snippets of ideas going back 6-7 years. I have half-finished stories as old as that. I’ve gone back and reworked years-old partials into complete stories that were completely different from the original intent. I’ve also probably forgotten more ideas than I have recorded. Were most of them crap? Perhaps. Some of the recorded ones are crap. I also have a couple of ideas I’ve neither written nor recorded, but which have stuck in my head for years. I’ll write them one day. I know it.

My wife and I discuss my work sometimes. There are things she’d like to see me do, because she thinks the result will garner more attention and money for my art. I don’t think she’s wrong. A talk she and I had last month yielded what could possibly be a breakout mainstream novel for me. I’m stoked as Hell to get to work on it. Right now, though, it only exists as the merest of outlines in my head. That’s OK. I know I won’t forget it. And according to the guy I paraphrased earlier, that means it might be Real Frickin’ Good. And every so often, the missus asks me why I don’t write one of these Right Frickin’ Nao.

I’m not in a rush to write it, though. Doesn’t that sound strange as all get-out? I have a theory of my own that I’m following. I don’t think I’ve seen it championed elsewhere, though I’m not arrogant enough to believe I’ve actually Stumbled Across Something No One’s Ever Thought of Before. I’m going to hold off on writing that novel, and a couple of others I have in mind, until I’m even better at my craft than I am now.

Don’t get me wrong. I haven’t been trying to sell you anything that I didn’t feel was solid, entertaining work. If you can buy it, I think it’s worth your time. But I am still growing as an author. When I started writing for publication, 1500 words was my norm and 20K seemed like an epic. As I’ve grown, my stories have naturally grown in length—novellas come naturally to me now. I’m getting to the point where I can comfortably crank out a novel. I have a finished novella right now that both of my pre-readers say needs to be a novel, so I’m laying it aside and going back to it after I finish some contracted work.

Stephen King wrote several novels before selling Carrie—sold them eventually, under the name Richard Bachman, but they got a bunch of rejections when he first tried to move them. I’m sure he revised them prior to re-pitching, taking advantage of the experience he gained writing The Shining, ‘Salem’s Lot, etc. Joe Konrath wrote ten (give or take a couple) novels before he landed a contract for the Jack Daniels novels. My buddy John Everson just released his sixth novel, which has been in the works for something like a decade.

I don’t think I’ll end up scrapping five novels before writing a salable one. I’m too tenacious and willing to hack and revise for that to happen. I do seem to have a good instinct for when to bail on a sinking ship and just toss a piece into the Recycle Bin. But a few of these ideas, like the one my wife put in my head—I don’t want to still have my training wheels on when I knock them out, you know? So I’ll be holding on to them. Maybe for a year or two. Maybe longer.

If it’s any consolation, I’m itching to write them a thousand times more than you are to read them.


Thank You, and I Hate You Forever


Today’s Secret Origin installment is a reprint of a guest post I did last year in support of my weird-western novella, WILD.

Today, for Sue’s fans and readers (and hopefully a few of my own!), I offer up one of my darkest secrets. One so dark and so secret I myself didn’t know it myself until recently, though it’s been with me over half my life. When it hit me, I’m pretty sure I got a taste of what Paul did on the road to Damascus.

I owe everything I am today, to include all my creative successes and joys, to a man whose grave I’d cheerfully piss on every day for the rest of my life.

When I was eight or nine my mother started dating this guy, Russ. He was a friend of the guy she’d been dating before, and before him there was nothing and before that was my dad, who’d gotten loaded at a party hosted by one of my friends’ parents, checked into rehab and never came back (except for the occasional weekend, which looking back, I kinda sorta miss). My mom really knew how to pick ‘em: my old man liked the occasional impromptu boxing match with the old lady after a few beers and her first boyfriend after he left was a pothead, an unemployed waste and, apparently, allergic to soap. Russ liked to smoke up, but at least he washed his ass. And he worked, at least some of the time.

Shortly after they started dating, my mother could no longer afford the rent on the half-house she and my father had been renting and they moved in with some friends of Russ’. I lived with my aunt and her girlfriend for a few months, to give me some sort of stability. I really miss those days, too, incidentally, and maintain that even though my father died after not seeing me for ten years (and only missed me by an hour, too), he’s smiling down through the clouds (or up through the flames, perhaps) every time I visit his side of the family again, since being reunited at his funeral after more than a decade apart. Long story short, a few months later my mother and Russ got an apartment, and then they got me. And that’s where the adventure begins.

Besides God and my family, the only things that really matter to me in life are reading, writing and music. I played music on and off for seventeen years; in school bands, garage bands and church bands. I’ve been writing for as long as I can remember, and getting published, in school magazines, community magazines, school newspapers, real newspapers, and books. I always have a book or two around and have been reading on my own since about the age of three. If somehow music, books, or writing were removed from my life I would cease to be Lincoln Crisler. This holds true now and at any point in my life to date. Those three things have always been there, whether I was full or starving, clean or dirty, married, divorced or separated, living with my family, my friends or on my own. Forever and ever amen.

Now here’s the kicker: Russ gave me those things. He was into all the seventies and eighties rock you could think of. There was always rock and roll playing in the house. He brought home recordings of Nik and the Nice Guys shows when they went out of town and brought me to local shows. I even played on stage one time, strumming a beat-to-hell guitar as part of the Air Guitar Army. My birthday and Christmas gifts always consisted, at least in part, of bootleg cassettes of albums by Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, Journey, Fleetwood Mac, Reo Speedwagon and many other bands. Most importantly, he introduced me to the music of Rush. To this day, they’re my favorite band. If I woke up in a bathtub full of ice with my kidneys missing, I’d call it good as long as the bathtub was center-stage front row at a Rush concert. To this day if I were to come up with a setlist to play on a half-hour’s notice, most of it would be music I first listened to while my mother and I lived with Russ.

He introduced me to all of my favorite authors. He gave me Piers Anthony’s Incarnations and Mode series’. He gave me the first seven books of Terry Brooks’ Shannara series. He gave me Eddings’ Belgariad, Elenium and Tamuli (though not the Mallorean, and though I now own it, I still haven’t read it). He gave me my first Poul Anderson, Douglas Adams, Isaac Asimov, Anne McCaffery and Stephen King books. He bought me my first copy of The Lord of the Rings. I pick up new books by most of these authors to this day. I still read the old ones he gave me seventeen years ago. Today I write and publish science fiction, fantasy and horror almost exclusively, and I think most of that comes from all the great books from those genres I read when I was young and impressionable.

The monster of my childhood created a monster himself. In his own image, but better in some ways. Perhaps in the way that Frankenstein’s monster could be said to be better than the Doctor. I don’t beat women, for instance, but I definitely write about worse things than he ever acted out. Instead of working behind the scenes, I’ve been on the stage. If I saw him right now, I can’t say with any certainty whether I’d hit my knees and thank him or kick him in the scrotum.

So much damned gray area. Such is life.


My First King (or, Big Steve Goes to Catechism)


Like any serious horror author of my generation, I cite King as an influence and as a source of unlimited hours of enjoyable reading. While he’s written a small but quantifiable percentage of books that I didn’t really care for (Cell and Tommyknockers come immediately to mind) there are authors in the field just as prolific whose statistics are the mirror image of King’s, in my opinion (that is, only a small but quantifiable percentage of works enjoyed).

I picked up my first Stephen King book when I was thirteen—that is, they were in the house before, on my stepfather’s bookshelf (he who introduced me to Rush, and the fantasy books I wrote about in last week’s column—and who will be the subject of next week’s column, I’ve just decided), but I wasn’t allowed to read them due to the subject material. Once my cherry was popped, I began to read every Stephen King book I could get my hands from, in school and public libraries, mostly, but also through the very generous gift of several first-edition hardcovers by my Uncle Chuck, which I’m sorry to say were lost to me before I was old enough to buy my own cigarettes.

By the time I was fifteen or sixteen, I’d read every single King book published at that time, and I’ve kept up with each new release thereafter, with the possible exception of one or two (the only unread one I can think of, however, is The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon). I did the bulk of this reading in my Catholic school Religion class period, which greatly aggravated the Jesuit priest who taught the class. He couldn’t fail me, however—I aced every test and answered every question when called upon, having been trained as an altar boy years previously. Instead, he’d chuck the occasional eraser at me, and try to trip me up with questions, but that was about it.

Side Note: I attended that Catholic High School, Bishop Kearney in Rochester, NY, for exactly one year. I was invited not to return, mostly because when I wasn’t reading Stephen King, I was reading witchcraft spellbooks. Had I taken the entrance exam a month earlier, my scores would have qualified me for a four-year scholarship. Such is life.

The book that started it all, I’m sure you’re wondering by now, was The Talisman, written with Peter Straub and published in 1984, two years after my birth. I cannot think of a better introduction for a young adolescent to the work of Stephen King than this book—since I’ve only read a couple of Straub’s books (and need to fix that!), I can’t in good faith say the same about his.

A general synopsis is as follows: a twelve-year old boy is sent on a quest to retrieve a magic talisman that can cure his mother of cancer. In the process, he discovers a fantasy world that he can travel to, uncovers his uncle and deceased father’s involvement in that world, makes friends with a teenage werewolf, faces a variety of threats in both our world and the Territories that would make most grown folk shit bricks, teams up with his childhood best friend, saves his mother and avenges his father’s murder.

What kid could pass that up? At least, in a world before video games and reality television were the norm. What a spectacular lesson in world-building and plotting. I’d call it a perfect book, honestly. Any misgivings I have stem from the sequel, Black House’s, retroactive connection of the Territories to King’s Dark Tower mythos. I’m almost tempted to start reading it again now!

Feel free to reminisce about your first or favorite King book in the comments, or suggest something from Straub’s body of work that’s as magical as The Talisman.


The Secret Origin of Lincoln Crisler


I’m pleased to announce a new ongoing feature here on the site—one I hope you’ll like, and that I hope will keep you coming back. I’m calling it The Secret Origin of Lincoln Crisler. I’m going to shoot for posting a new addition every Monday, and adjust fire from there. If there’s something you’d like to know, shoot me an email or comment. I won’t promise to answer—some things are definitely off limits—but you’ll get an idea of what I’m shooting for after reading an entry or two.

Some of you—though not many, I’m sure—might be asking, “What’s a secret origin?” Comic-book superheroes are the best example. Batman’s parents getting shot outside the movie theater, the Ninja Turtles being covered in ooze after being dumped in a sewer grate, Spider-man’s uncle being capped by the robber Spidey failed to stop—that sort of thing. With comics being such a huge part of my life, I can’t think of a better description than “secret origin” for the sort of posts I’ll be writing. Much of this stuff will be from my childhood, though I’ll probably get into my teenage years and early adulthood a few times, as well. All of it will be things that helped make me the man, and author, I am today.

The first installment, which will go live tomorrow, is a writeup of four comic books I received one Christmas from my older brother—four comics that are still awesome to this day. Four of the first comics I ever owned. If you’re a fan of the 90s X-Men, you’ll love the hell out of this.


Archive: El Paso Public Forum, 4 APR 10


I’ll be in Salt Lake City from the 29th to the 1st, attending the World Horror Convention. I’ll have something from the archives for you here on the site each day, though. This is a radio interview I did shortly after returning from my deployment to Qatar. While I was deployed, my second book, MAGICK & MISERY, was released by Black Bed Sheet Books. Thanks again to Clear Channel’s Melissa Kerr for doing the interview, and to my lovely wife for setting up the whole deal while I was still overseas.