Posted on April 30, 2013
Holy hoopla Batman, what’s all this buzz about new adult? Didn’t we just get through enough years of paranormal romance, vampires and werewolves to take a break from anything with the word “trending” in it?
On the New Adult Fiction Wikipedia page (yes there is one), new adult is described as “a recent category of fiction for young adults first proposed by St. Martin’s Press in 2009. St. Martin’s Press editors wanted to address the coming-of-age that also happens in a young person’s twenties. They wanted to consider stories about young adults who were legally adults, but who were still finding their way in building a life and figuring out what it means to be an adult.”
Believe it or not, POE was one of five winners of that contest. But when St. Martin’s passed, it was impossible to interest anyone in moving it forward – a genre too new to take seriously. Feedback was that POE should be positioned as horror, but it needed serious surgery – removal of 100 pages and sadly, the prominence of a few characters I’d grown fond of that served my amusement more than the plot.
Fast forward three years and POE is now a semi-finalist in another contest, the 2013 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Awards in the Sci-Fi/Fantasy/Horror category, one of only 25 semi-finalists out of 10,000 submissions.
And what do agents say it should be positioned as?
Sound of head hitting desk.
So for everyone getting enough ‘no’s’ to paper your bedroom, keep the faith. All you need to do is wait until your genre starts “trending” again – if people are going back to day-glo fashion, there’s hope for us all.
“A delightful, bravura piece of gothic pop, this story begins with the first of many small ironies: our hero, Dimitri Petrov, “errant obituary writer and college dropout,” awakens in the morgue late at night to file his latest piece. In a voice equal parts larky erudition and off-the-cuff Buffy-brand parlance, we learn how Dimitri wound up on the slab. He ran afoul of an errant spirit, the titular Poe, on the night his paper asked him to cover a haunted house on Halloween alongside his editor’s jock son, a psychic hairdresser, and the beautiful, mysterious Lisa. Now Dimitri is enmeshed in a puzzle that emerges in dreams sent to him by Poe, a mystery that somehow concerns Lisa’s heavy metal ex-boyfriend Daniel, the numbered “code” that obsessed him, and Dimitri’s own deceased parents. Torn between his concern for the living and professional responsibility to the dead, Dimtri must find the common link between a string of killings and Dimtri Rasputin, the “mad monk” and subject of his aborted novel. Every horror motif is in attendance, from grainy photographs and grimoires to resurrected father figures and romances that live beyond the grave. But what makes Poe a pleasure instead of a slog is the good humor with which it connects its labyrinthine plot. Fans of Neil Gaiman and the aforementioned Buffy will be immediately taken, but there’s a literate edge to the pyrotechnics that makes for an unlikely and welcome marriage between the spook story and literature of altogether less ectoplasmic substance.”
Posted on March 22, 2013
For the full Amazon Breakthrough Novel award excerpt: http://tinyurl.com/POE-novel
THERE’S NOT A LOT OF OPPORTUNITY to get creative with obituaries. Take Mrs. Porrier, aged 85, an elementary school teacher who committed suicide by locking herself in the garage of her four bedroom colonial house with the car running.
She had terminal pancreatic cancer, but that’s not the point. The point is that the most interesting part of her life—the moments leading up to her death—I can’t write about. I can’t write that she got the car keys out of the zip pocket of her husband’s brown leather bowling ball bag—Mr. Porrier, otherwise known as “Doc” to his league—and opened the familiar latch of the screen door. That she pressed the yellowed plastic button of the electric garage door opener, got into the car and pulled the heavy door of the ancient but still functional Cadillac behind her—the scent of cigarette smoke still in the carpeting although her husband had quit smoking ten years before. I can’t write that she rolled up the windows by hand—nothing automatic in that car—and started the engine. And the moment before her eyes got heavy, when she still could have gotten out of the car, but didn’t, the moment she decided enough, I can’t include in her obituary.
Instead, I have to write the mundane, perfected life details. She taught school for forty years. She is remembered by her grandchild Harris in Colorado, her daughter Stella, also a teacher, in California, and her beloved husband who served two years in the Korean War. She enjoyed knitting, horticulture, and baking. She died of pancreatic cancer. I reduce her to a palatable bit of print, ready to be absorbed, digested, and quickly forgotten.
Christ, I wish I didn’t take this shit so seriously.
I TRY TO AVOID the newspaper office in the Flatiron building on Goshen’s Main Street as much as possible—probably because I’m supposed to work there. So, over the past year I’ve suffered periodic intestinal episodes from bad sushi. My car has a habit of being borrowed by my (non-existent) roommate, or the tires are flat, or the battery needs a jump. I’m susceptible to migraines, increasingly bad episodes of asthma, and my back needs regular appointments with a chiropractor who keeps changing my appointment times. As long as the deadlines are met, Mac, the editor (who really lets themselves be called Mac anyway?) doesn’t threaten me too much with firing, which is bullshit anyway because there aren’t many people in this town who could string one sentence, let alone two, together.
After my parents died and I flunked out of college it was either this or the crab ships in Alaska. Whenever I push open the brass office doors and gaze upon the dusty metal file cabinets resting on the equally dusty olive carpet, with Myrna in the corner pretending to type when she’s really checking the clock for her smoke break, I imagine myself in one of those orange deckhand’s suits on the Bering Sea, my eyebrows singed with frostbite, and realize I’ve made the biggest mistake of my young life.
But sometimes, like this morning, I have to face reality. For the third time this year I’ve been given two weeks notice.
“Morning Myrna,” I say, wondering if her optometrist has ever heard of those new fangled thin plastic glasses, as opposed to the glacier thick glass ones she wears. Tinted a delightful gradient pink.
Myrna pulls a sheet of paper from her printer with a snap. “You’re gracing us with your presence today? Fired again so soon?”
“Is that a new sweater?” I say. “It really brings out the color of your eyes.”
Her sweater is red.
Myrna gives me a look. “Smart ass,” she mutters.
I head towards my ostensible desk which doubles as a paper stand when I’m not in. I start to stack the reams on the floor, and look for my chair. Nowhere to be found. Myrna must know something but she’s studiously applying whiteout to a sheet of paper, dabbing at it with a corner of tissue and pointedly ignoring me.
Which leaves Bob.
Bob has a gut that hangs over his leather belt and his standard attire is tight Oxford shirts with penny loafers. He also prides himself on dated practical jokes. I’ve found all my paper clips hooked together, an actual pink Whoopee cushion on my chair, and on my very first day I got an electric shock from the buzzer he had hidden in his palm. When Myrna’s on her smoke break sometimes I’ll find a miniature plastic television on my desk with two large breasts poking out from the screen, the words “Boob Tube” at the base, which I think is Bob’s way of testing my heterosexuality since my hair is on the shaggy side and there are questions. The local barber has one standard style—military buzz—so I pay my “bachelor” neighbor Doug twenty bucks every now and then to cut it. Doug’s an actual hairstylist and a refugee from a long term relationship in San Francisco that ended badly. He says that if it wasn’t for the dark circles under my eyes I would have potential, what with my hooded Russian eyes and thick eyebrows. Which gender he’s talking about when he says “potential” is unclear. All I know is that I’m the tall, thin, unnaturally pale and dark haired sensitive looking type instead of the rock body, square-jawed testosterone type; a tragic genetic disadvantage that usually results in stilted conversations with girls who smile politely while obviously clocking the muscular guys chugging beer through funnels.
My mind clicks through various places in the building where my chair could be—emergency stairwell, bathroom stall, the alley that smells of dead cat where the newspaper trucks pull up. Basically a pain in the ass way to start my day. I decide screw it, and loudly pull my desk over to the Victorian metal radiator that hasn’t worked in, say, a century, balling up my jacket to serve as a kind of cushion. Problem solved.
I pull out my laptop, a device that always causes a certain furrow in Myrna’s brow, she who believes that THE INTERNET IS CAUSING THE RAPID DEGENERATION OF SOCIETY’S YOUTH and WIRELESS FREQUENCIES CAUSE CANCER. Not smoking of course—her pack a day habit is perfectly healthy, Reagan said so.
Bob waltzes in. Cat that ate the canary metaphor applies rather well here.
“Nice chair,” says Bob, barely able to repress a chuckle.
“Yeah,” I say, “its so SAC.”
I enjoy making up nonsense acronyms which I know that Bob will attempt to use with his ten year old niece in an attempt to be “down with the kids.”
“You know,” I add casually, “Sustainable and cool.”
“Right,” says Bob and I can tell he’s now feeling off his game, having been reminded poignantly that he is pushing his late-fifties. I almost feel sorry for him, but then I’m the one who handles the obituary notices and I’m sitting on a radiator.
Bob, on the other hand, practically is the newspaper. He writes the local news, features, and sports; he even writes the occasional “investigative” piece that profiles our highest paying advertiser in glowing terms, neatly avoiding actual journalism while painting a portrait so rosy it would make Normal Rockwell vomit. A pale accountant fills in to cover the rare event of business news, usually a bankruptcy or store closing which we call internally YABBTD (Yet Another Business Bites the Dust). Film reviews are written by Sandeep Banerjee who charges five dollars an article and emails his copy from somewhere in the heart of Mumbai; Mac would probably love for Sandeep to write the obits too because his new favorite word is ROI which I think he must have gotten from The Apprentice, but he knows that in a small, some would say close-minded (I would say borderline racist) town, nobody would want their beloved relative’s life-and-death story written by anyone other than a full-blooded American. Which is why my byline is D. Peters instead of Dimitri Petrov. Go figure.
And in Goshen, where seventy five percent of the local population is over sixty-five, there are so many obituaries they fill up two full pages of newspaper—sometimes three, if we really stretch the prime advertising space. Death here is the proverbial cash cow. It didn’t always used to be that way—when industrialization hit Goshen in the early twentieth century it must have been a rocking place to be. Thousands of immigrants and children of rural farmers poured into the city to work in the mills, fourteen was a great age to start, and if you lost a finger or two in the process, consider yourself lucky that you still had part of a hand. Of course, now all that manufacturing is done in China, which has an even greater and cheaper supply of fourteen year olds, so the mills here are boarded up shells with broken windows. Anyone under thirty has wisely gotten out while the getting was good, and the aging population has caused a boom in hospice care, funeral and “death industries,” including my own meager position.
“Well,” says Bob, trying to salvage his dominant spot as chief jokester, “I’ll give you a hint.” He leans in close and his breath smells of fried egg sandwich. “Next time you want to take a dump (he whispers the word dump so he won’t offend the delicate sensibilities of Myrna), you might want to use the stall by the window.”
He cheerfully gives my shoulder a punch, like he’s the coach and I’m the high school rookie, and then thuds over to his desk, where he has a grinding first generation laser printer that makes more noise than an artillery range.
I look out the window, and wonder if jumping out the second story could possibly entitle me to disability payments if I survived.
Posted on February 25, 2013
This image from iStock looks like it was taken exactly from the pages of my description of the crumbling mansion, Aspinwall. Now what’s beneath the floorboard?
Every flat surface is plastered and painted to look like an Italianate fresco, continuing the theme of gamboling cherubs and Grecian women, and dangling precariously overhead is an overwrought crystal chandelier that would be amazingly painful if it fell, Tom and Jerry style, on one’s head.