Something Old, Something New

So, in between revising GOODHALO (I know…just get it DONE already) I’ve been finishing up the 4 book series I’m doing for PICTURE WINDOW BOOKS tenatively titled LEGEND HAS IT.  It’s the books for lil’ kids about vampires, werewolves, Bigfoot and the Bermuda Triangle.  They’ve been loads of fun, but I was really itching to do SOMETHING in the fiction realm.

This weekend I got to start working on the two sports books for STONE ARCH BOOKS.  I was excited to do ’em since it was a little departure from the non-fiction work I’ve been doing on the side.  With Laura and the boys out of town, I got to (once again) go into full hermit-mode and just put my nose to the grindstone.  And you know what?  The pages are friggin’ writing themselves.

It’s been one of those rare moments where I stop, take a look around and realize: Dang it.  THIS is what I was meant to do.  THIS is my purpose.

Not necessarily books on sports, but just writing in general, you know?

I’ve had a crazy couple of weeks of just full-on writing.  Between the books, the revising, the drafting, the synopses, etc…  It’s been a fun, busy ride.

It also made me recall a time when I used to just write stories just for kicks, not ever thinking they’d get published or read by anyone else.  One of my big traditions in the past was that every Christmas I used to sit down and write a kind of anti-holiday story.

I don’t know if it was my way of dealing with the terrors of SECRET SANTA but I decided waaay back to write a story for my then girlfriend.  She loved Christmas… I didn’t so much.  So I crafted the short 4 page story: CHRISTMAS EVE BLOODBATH.  CEBB (as I liked to call it) depicted Santa Claus as a divorced, alcoholic tyrant who abused his elves and reindeer.  One Christmas Eve, someone shot and killed his pal Frosty the Foreman (he got promoted) and Santa was looking for the payback.

It made quite the impression.  I read it aloud to my family and hers.  People were laughing and thinking I was nuts.  Eager to get more reactions from the story, I shared it with friends and people I worked with.

They all loved it.

The feeling was addicting, so I decided next year, I’d write another one.  A sequel, if you will.  Now, here’s where my quirkiness comes in.  I decided that, like the first one, I’d write it in the month of December and I would only allow myself 24 days to get it done.  If I got done early, cool.  If not, I would stay up into the wee hours until that puppy was finished.

I did this for 10 years, producing (obviously) 10 different stories based on my crazy Santa Claus and his rag-tag group of loveable elves.

The last one, AN ELF NAMED BILL clocked in at 63 pages.  I should mention it’s 63 pages of single spaced text in 10-point font.  So, really it’s about 167 pages if I were to format it and submit it somewhere.  Quite a stretch from the little 4 pager I wrote way back in 1992.

Anyway, the whole point is seeing where I’ve evolved as a writer.  I sometimes wonder if those stories EVER got out into the world, would people who read my kid’s books think: What is WRONG with that guy? Would it damage my credibility?

And conversely: Would I really care?

Having read the book about Dr. Seuss (Theodore Geisel) years ago, I realized that I think he would’ve liked to be able to break out of his routine and do something different.  The problem was, everyone had him pigeon-holed as this eccentric and wacky guy who wrote for kids.  And while he loved it, I think he needed to do something different.  I totally get that, even at an early point in my writing career.

My hope is that I’ll get to a place where I can write whatever I’d like and make a living at it.  How sweet would it be to say: You know?  I’m having fun writing these zombie books for teens and all, but I think I need to write something for the grown-ups.

So, a sort of cool thing happened last night.  As I was thinking about the CEBB series, it got me thinking about the short time I spent living in California, working in the visual effect department of the volcano movie DANTE’S PEAK.  There, I worked with a guy who not a lot of people got along with.  I did, mainly because he was my boss, but also because I have a weird (quirk, maybe?) of trying to crack the toughest of nuts.   (This might be why I love my day job working with sometimes difficult physicians.)  Anyway, this guy would sometimes rub people the wrong way and make them angry.  Somehow, I knew I wanted to get this guy to like me.  Being a fresh-faced and naive boy from Minnesota, I just laid it all out there.  I was self-depricating and completely open about everything.  When he asked what I wanted to do, I was straight up with him.

ME: I want to write.

BOSS: What kind of @#%^ do you want to write?

ME: Screenplays, books.  Whatever.  It’s what I like to do.

BOSS: What have you written so far?

ME: A bunch of short stories.  Some twisted Christmas ones, too.

BOSS: You should let me read those sons of #@%*$es.

At this point, I’d written 4 of the CEBB stories.  I was nervous about it, but I decided to get ’em printed up real nice and bring them to my boss.  I didn’t think Oh, he’s got connections.  They’ll totally make these into a movie or anything like that.  I just figured, maybe this will cheer him up and he’ll like me.  It also helped that we were heading into the holiday season and I still couldn’t wrap my head around there not being snow on the ground.  So, so weird to me.

I left the stories on his desk and went off to do my bottom-feeder job as a production assistant.  I didn’t know if he’d like them or not.  When I got back from running around, he paged me.  I went to his office and he had tears in his eyes.

BOSS: These are @%!^ing brilliant.

ME: Really?

BOSS: Really.  When are you doing the next one?

ME: December 1st I start.

Anyway, I wrote another one and he was the first to read it.  It was shorter than the last few, so while he loved it, he couldn’t help but feel cheated.  It probably didn’t help that it ended on a cliff-hanger.

BOSS: You’re killing me, Kingsley.  I have to wait until next year to read what happens?  This is bull#$^@!

ME: Sorry.  That’s my way.

Well, he never did get to read the 6th installment.  I ended up moving back to Minnesota to put my life back together and we sort of lost touch.  As I was thinking about this last night, I decided to try and look him up.  Sure enough, a guy that sort of looked like him was on Facebook.  I threw caution to the wind and wrote him a message.

Yo.  Didn’t we work on Dante’s Peak together?  You might remember me as the guy who wrote the CHRISTMAS EVE BLOODBATH stories.  I went by Kingsley back then because there were too many Toms and Thomases.

Sure enough, it was him.  We reconnected and believe it or not…HE STILL WANTS TO READ THE NEXT INSTALLMENTS.

So, while I know those weird, evil little stories will likely never see print, it means a lot to know that someone STILL remembers something I wrote, even 14 years later!

My whole point in all this?  Somehow, someway, writing these newest books about sports for kids makes me think of the mad writing sessions I’d subject myself to in December.  Though it was a small circle, I had a good, core group of people who were just DYING to read the next installment and it urged me forward, sort of like Hulk Hogan when he lets the crowd energize him (bad analogy, but it’s all I got right now) before he bodyslams and beats his opponent.  Knowing people needed to hear what crazy adventures Santa Claus (Santa, for god’s sake) would go on next kept the fire lit beneath my rear-end.

I just hope to have that cool, cult following again someday.