secret

My Religious Roller-coaster Part 1

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My religious experiences from birth to about—I’d have to say nine or ten—were virtually nonexistent. My parents had both been raised Catholic, but other than having me baptized at birth, I don’t recall setting foot in a church as a young child. I’m sure I did once or twice, for Christmas or Easter at least, and they would have held Mass for my grandmother when she passed. I do have a picture of myself as a small boy dressed for Easter in a suit matching my father’s, but I don’t remember attending Mass. I knew about He-Man and Optimus Prime and Lion-O, but not Christ or the Devil or angels.

After my dad left, we were able to stay in the home we were renting for a few months. When we got evicted, my mom and the pot-head she was seeing at the time went to stay at a friend’s place and I went to live with my aunt and her lesbian lover. After at least six months, but maybe as much as a year, I moved back with my mother when she and her new fiancee found an apartment. Shortly after that, Mom rediscovered her Catholic roots, for the most part, with an eclectic twist.

She started taking me to church with her—Saint Anthony of Padua on Lorimer Street, near Jones Park, for any Rochesterians reading this. It’s been gone for something like seven years now, but their sister church, Holy Apostles, is still up and running. At any rate, I was entranced by the Mass. The music, the chanting, the participation—the only thing I had participated in up until that point was school, and as a poor, scrawny, white kid in a New York public school, to say I tended toward introvertedness would be an understatement. The best part is that I came into religion for the first time already in a question-asking frame of mind. I wasn’t taught from birth that things happened ‘because the Bible said so’ or anything like that. I went to church from day one because I wanted to.

Our robes were brown rather than white, but you get the idea.

I volunteered to serve as an altar boy maybe a month after we started attending. For some reason, with regards to religious practices, I’m in all the way or not at all. You’ll see that thread in these recountings. In this instance, I wasn’t content to just sit in the pew. I wanted to help make the Mass happen. The parish deacon taught me what to do—Deacon Bill Hunt, his name was. We had a couple of other servers, but I became known in the church for being an altar boy before too long. On more than one occasion the little old Catholic grannies would pull me to the side and give me a hug for doing a good job—sometimes a buck to buy candy, too. I was Confirmed—I chose the name Patrick, for those interested—and took my first Eucharist as soon as possible. I even attended Confession on a fairly regular basis.

After a couple of years—not more than two, I don’t think—my mother stopped going to Mass regularly. It was within walking distance, so I still went. She’d begun to collect these books with strange symbols on the covers; some about rocks and herbs, others about fortune-telling and others I had no idea about. She still believed in God and encouraged me to go to church. She also forbid me to read the books. On occasion she’d still go to Mass with me. The last time I remember us ever attending was a week or two before our priest, Father David Mura, died. One of the last things he did on Earth was perform an off-the-record exorcism in our apartment building at my mother’s request.

More about that next week.

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Thank You, and I Hate You Forever

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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.

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

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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.

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The Fantasy Series Fête

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Those familiar with my writing would most likely guess the books nearest and dearest to my heart, read during my formative years, would be the works of Stephen King. Now, the King of Horror is fundamental to my existence as a author and gets his very own Secret Origin installment next week, but before I ever cracked open a horror book, I was irrevocably altered by several series’ of books by fantasy authors.

Here are three that will always mean the world to me. I’m not sure you can call them obscure, but I do get a good amount of blank stares when I mention them to other people my age—even avid readers. When you read my books and wonder where I may have drawn some of my inspiration—this stuff here is some of the earliest. The first time I cracked into these books, I was between the ages of ten and twelve.

The Magic Kingdom of Landover series by Terry Brooks in some ways surpasses the Shannara series he’s better known for—not least of all because he quit writing them before they stopped being interesting–he waited fourteen years before releasing the sixth in 2009. The first three books: Magic Kingdom for sale-SOLD(1986); The Black Unicorn(1987) and Wizard at Large(1988) were released within a year or so of each other and are the best of the six, in my estimation. The main character is a middle-aged trial lawyer from our world who buys the throne of an actual magic kingdom from a mail order catalog. The plot of each book is rooted in both Earth and Landover, which makes for an exciting and novel read. High King Ben Holiday deals with such crises as a demon knight who seeks the throne, a group of disloyal barons, the seduction of his young daughter to the dark side by a vengeful witch and the twisted schemes of the exiled former Court Wizard who sold him the kingdom in the first place. His companions include a scribe who was magically transformed into a dog, a Court Wizard who isn’t always in full command of his magic and his wife, a sprite who turns into a tree a few days of every month.

 

The Tower and the Hive by Anne McAffery is a science-fantasy sort of series. Its set in outer space, and the planets are connected to each other by the mental powers of Prime Talents—powerful telepaths and telekinetics in the employ of FT&T. The Primes move spaceships and cargo and deliver messages with the speed of thought. The first three books: The Rowan; Damia and Damia’s Children, each deal with subsequent generations of a family began by the pairing of Talented orphan Rowan and untrained Prime Jeff Raven. The last two books pick up right where Children leaves off, continuing the story of Damia and Afra Lyon’s eight Prime-talented children and their fight against the alien invaders first faced by The Rowan and Jeff in the first novel. These aren’t detail-oriented, hard science novels, but instead are driven by characterization, romance and action.

 

 

 

 

The Incarnations of Immortality series by Piers Anthony was originally intended as an five-book series, and expanded to seven a few years later, with the edition of an eighth book over a decade after that. The first five deal with regular human beings assuming the physical aspects of Death, Time, Fate, War and Nature from their prior office-holders. The latter three books deal with changing of the guard of Good, Evil and Night, a popular and intriguing supporting character from the series. While the series isn’t airtight (I thought Time’s book kinda sucked, having more to do with the main character playing out fantasy story arcs than anything else), taken as a whole, its altogether fun. I enjoyed discovering the Incarnations’ powers along with their office-holders, and Anthony makes even Satan seem sympathetic in his own book despite the dastardly tricks and challenges he presents to the other Incarnations in their books. An added bit of intricacy is the manner in which the Incarnations are related to each other: by the end of the series, Death is the lover of Nature’s cousin, Nature is married to Satan and is a former lover of War, Nature and War’s daughter becomes God and is the former lover of Time and Fate is Nature’s mother. I’m not sure how Night figures into the picture, as I’ve yet to read her book.

Come back next week for a discussion of my first-ever Stephen King book and my solitary year of Catholic education.

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Christmas Comics Chronicle, Continued

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For those of you just tuning in, the first installment of The Secret Origin of Lincoln Crisler covered the first two of four X-Men comic book issues given me by my older brother for Christmas when I was twelve. I’ve recently re-read those issues for the first time as an adult—and, since my twelve year-old self had no money whatsoever to spend on comic books, for the first time ever in the context of the several years’ worth of story that preceded them. The other two issues I received that year were:

X-Force 30, featuring the second-ever appearance of Adam X, the X-Treme. X-Treme was a Shi’ar/Human hybrid who appeared to be in his late teens/early twenties. His first appearance was in the prior year’s X-Force annual, which I finally got to read a few years down the road. One issue was all I needed to completely invest in this character. He was a badass looking blade fighter, could go toe-to-toe with Shatterstar and had an awesome power: if his foe had an open wound, he could ignite the electrolytes in their blood and incapacitate them.

A year or so later, I traded for another single comic issue, X-Men 39, which also featured him, and that—a story of X-Treme and Phillip Summers (Cyclops’ grandfather), of all people—is another of my all-time favorite X-Men comics. The next time I saw him in a comic, it was at least ten years later, in a cameo appearance written by a guy who had no sense of the character and portrayed him as a whiny, Earth-normal mutant bitch for a couple of panels in a book I don’t even remember all that well. He was supposed to be the third Summers brother (born of Emperor D’Ken and Cyclops’ mom), but that never came to fruition and we got Vulcan instead. Meh.

Side note: this comic also featured, along with the first Deadpool limited and the New Warriors/X-Force crossover, the subplot involving Black Tom’s conversion to a wood-based tree looking creature. I’d never gotten to read this entire subplot, though, as a huge fan of Generation X (issue 25 of which featured Tom) I was excited as hell to read the set-up for those issues in their entirety (Tom was adapted by some doctors after being shot up by Cable in the early X-Force/Spider-man crossover from ’91 or ’92).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

X-Factor 99, the issue before the Death of Multiple Man, featuring an awesome villainess named Haven who was introduced in issue 96 and wasn’t seen again after issue 100 except for a two-issue or so subplot several years later setting up a battle between Forge and the Adversary. Waste of a great character, if you ask me. She was from India (a cultural rarity in comics), had a striking character design and a great back story written by Peter David (whom I’ve asked in a recent letter to consider bringing the character back) and had an immense impact on X-Factor. She was responsible for curing Wolfsbane of the engineered attachment to Havok she’d had since her time in Genosha back in ’90 or ’91, and attempted to cure Madrox of the Legacy Virus. As with X-Men 28, the book had an exciting cover and featured another of my favorite characters, the mercenary Random.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I think what I miss most about the comics of this era, besides the storylines and the art, was how interwoven the various comics and their characters were. The entire X-franchise was tight and polished. Characters had lengthy, consistent storylines and arcs. The X-Men were put through the ringer during that period—the battles against Stryfe and Magneto, Wolverine losing the adamantium, Colossus joining the Acolytes, the deaths of Illyana and Madrox—and you actually gave a shit. Nowadays, I’m reading the new X-Factor book (written by David again—imagine that!) and not much else, except for when I pick up an issue of one of the other books for nostalgia’s sake.

Next week, we’ll shift gears for a couple of installments and begin discussing a few of my favorite science fiction and fantasy novel series’ from my childhood. Fans of Terry Brooks, Anne McCaffery and Piers Anthony will want to stay tuned, for sure.

 

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