Went to San Diego yesterday and met with my friend, horror novelist Mark Clements, whom I had not seen since I took his workshop at the SCWC five or six years ago. (We were out of touch for at least half that time, but Mark tracked me down via the Internet around the same time I started thinking, Gee, it would be cool if I could tell Mark that my book sold and he’s been officially Acknowledged in it). Mark introduced me to RJ Crowther Jr., who has used his job at Borders to become deeply hooked into the industry he so obviously and passionately loves. He’s a horror writer himself — he just landed superagent Lori Perkins to represent his own novel, which Mark has read and described as “dark, moving, and unpredictable stuff”.
RJ read an ARC of Bloodangel and had some truly lovely things to say to me about it — comments any writer loves and longs to hear (“incredibly gifted” “rich, vivid prose” “fell in love with your characters”). He also asked questions that proved he’d been paying attention and was dialed in to the same frame of reference as the book — in short, he was an Ideal Reader, and so how cool is that?
“Do you read Poppy Z Brite?” he asked me.
I said I’d been reading her for a decade or so, the smaller stuff you had to special-order as well as the novels for which she’s more commonly known.
“This character…” He named a minor but important character who appears halfway through the book*. “I mean, I know it’s a male, and sure, there’s the thing with his hair, but was this like a homage to Poppy?”
He then brought up another bit of the novel, that has to do with the origin of jax, a paranormal club drug you paint on yourself, or on others, like glitterpaint, and absorb through the skin.** “Was that scene a conscious nod to China Mieville?”
Actually, no. That scene was in response to my editor Liz, who politely asked me if, at some point in the story, I could clarify exactly what the hell jax is. It’s become one of my favorite moments in the novel. RJ brought up PERDIDO STREET STATION which I’d read (and been tremendously impressed by), just before my own book sold to Penguin. I realized that he envisoned the scene, and the little creatures in it, a little differently than I’d intended, but I also got the connection and had a little revelation of my own. “Yes,” I said. “I didn’t realize it until now — it definitely wasn’t conscious — but that scene definitely shows China’s influence. I came away from his books much more interested in, you know, in creatures, more likely to think in those kinds of images.”***
“The grubs,” RJ reminded me. “The dreamshit.” Which is the paranormal drug that features in China’s own novel. In fact, when I finally picked up PERDIDO, mostly because the US rights to it had just been acquired by an editor at Del Rey who was then looking over my own manuscript — and I was curious about this editor’s tastes in fiction — I came across the ‘dreamshit’ element of the book and thought, Damn. Mieville got there first. (I was glad to read on and see that he uses his paranormal intoxicant in a different way and for a different purpose than I use mine).
These are all people — PZB and Mieville and Mark Clements and RJ himself — who make me damn proud to be working in this genre.
RJ also had some interesting tidbits about what was selling (“Brian Keene — those zombie novels are just flying off the shelves!”) and what wasn’t (“LUNAR PARK, by Bret Easton Ellis? I love that book and I’m handselling it like mad, and it got all that publicity and it’s on display right over there, but people who come into this store just aren’t buying it”).
And while we’re on — or at least alongside — the subject of Poppy Brite, I wanted to include this bit from her own Livejournal, wherein she mentions some incredible care packages she’s received (she, her husband and animals were all displaced and misplaced by Katrina):
From Maine, an inscribed first edition of Misery. Apparently Bev Vincent (who is a noted King/Dark Tower expert) sent Stephen King a link to my journal entry about reading and rereading Misery while sitting in the pre-dawn gas line. The inscription reads: For Poppy Z. Brite — I’ve been a fan for a long time — since you first started publishing in the little magazines — this gives me great pleasure, or would if the circumstances were different. Be a do-bee, Poppy; don’t be a cockadoodie brat. — Stephen King, 9/19/05.
Which is, of course, one of the single coolest things that has ever happened to me and almost makes our entire hurricane nightmare worth having endured.
I must say my heart was warmed.
* I could say the character’s name, but I’d rather preserve a sense of mystery and let the reader figure it out, if the reader is so inclined.
** jax is basically an otherworldly variation on ecstasy
*** China gives great quote, and one of my favorites is, “I’m in this business for the monsters.”