Friday, October 16, 2015

All I Wanted Was to Rock and Roll

One week ago today, I was on a plane hurtling through tailwinds and contending with an endlessly shrieking three-year old on my way to Walt Disney World, where I celebrated my friend Joe’s birthday in our customary style: Disneying the shit out of it. Our friends Robert and Brad and Kay and Ricky joined us incrementally, but mostly it was just me and my buddy Joe. We dined. I got drunk in a tiki bar. Like super drunk. Somewhere in there, I found time to head out to downtown Orlando and take in what was probably my last Drive-By Truckers show of the year. They rocked my face off, and Patterson Hood not only dedicated a song to me, he also mentioned me on Facebook, so my life in rock and roll was already soaring.

            A day after I got back from Disney, I headed out to the Sinclair in Harvard Square to take in my third Blitzen Trapper show ever.  Third.  That seems insane to me, because much of the last year and a half has been spent immersed in their music. I became the fan that wrote their Wikipedia page and got permission to write a book about them. Half-measures don’t suit me. When my friend Ian and I caught them last year in DC, we only did it because they were opening for the Truckers; I knew “Furr” and “Black River Killer” and that was where my knowledge of Blitzen Trapper ended.  The day after the first show, Ian and I went out and bought three more albums. We were hooked. I was nuts hooked.

            So now I was at the Sinclair and, look, I don’t know how these things work. My approach to Truckers shows is showing up an hour or more early so I can make sure to hug the rail with my DBT buddies.  When I go to Springsteen shows that are general admission … well, I’ve been known to hang out for sixteen hours and read The Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, because waiting most of a day to get into the pit at a Springsteen show is a surefire cure for not reading Pulitzer Prize winners.  I was completely unprepared for how a Blitzen Trapper show functions. I got in line a half hour before almost anyone else. I got to the front and grabbed the stage. No one else was copying me. Maybe it was the Cambridge hipster thing. People wanted to be there, but, like, didn’t want to seem excited to be there? Screw it. I’m a lone wolf. I’ve got enthusiasm in buckets.  

            Seeing my first full Trapper concert on my home turf was the circumstance of some cruel fate. Last year, I’d been able to see them and the Truckers on the same bill.  Now, they were playing in New York City on the same day as the Truckers’ Orlando show, and as much as I love NYC, any excuse I can make to go to Disney with some of my best friends is an excuse I will make. Besides, I think I prefer the more dramatic, narrative feel of them showing up in my hometown. My first show after becoming a megafan, and it’s right here in my backyard.  Dig it.

            Two Red Bulls in and eyes wide and nerves jangling, I watched opening band, The Domestics – also from Portland – take the stage. Assessment: good stuff. Steeped in classic Britpop sounds; they seemed to have studied at the feet of The Kinks and The Turtles. Also two of five band members were foxy beyond. In the parlance I tend to use on Twitter: hotness game on fleek, trill af.  On night three, I let the drummer know where he stood on my yum-o-meter and he was real Portland about it. I bought their album, I get to have an ogle.

            Blitzen Trapper took the stage and the uncritical, overwhelming bliss gripped me at once. My interest in this band has been on a steep and steady grade ever since discovering them and this moment – stopped in time, steeped in importance – served as both a culmination and a reward. Before even playing a note, the band’s camaraderie and charisma flowed off the stage in palpable waves. Their new album, All Across This Land, had come out the week prior, and it was The Ghost of Tom Joad and it was English Oceans and it was Stunt: the first new studio album since I got into a band. I’d been careful to listen enough to let it seep into me but not so much that I got sick of the new songs. Plus, I needed to be open enough to their live interpretations. Everything was launching.

            Eric Earley, lead singer, stood at the microphone and let a low rrrrr sound drag out: part growl, part engine revving up. Then he opened up and the band did too, as the guttural precursor ramped into “Rock and Roll Was Made For You.”  Its deceptively happy music and somewhat generic title belied its darker lyrics, saturated with addiction terminology – rock is for blacking out, rock leaves its own track marks up and down your arm. It starts out midtempo and then explodes into a full-out rocker; it was a mission statement for the album and it is for the show. Rock and roll will take no prisoners, will offer no quarter. It will rule you, it will wreck you, it will make you travel to three different cities and stand in the front and scream until you’re hoarse.

            The set list that first night oscillated between folk and country funk and rock so 70s it would pulse only in sepia for people with synesthesia.  They made room for my two favorite songs, “Love the Way You Walk Away” and “Big Black Bird,” which served as the big rollicking closer.  Along the way, not one but two Beatles covers: “Come Together” and “You Never Give Me Your Money,” both of which traded off verses between Earley, keyboardist and guitarist Marty Marquis, and drummer Brian Koch.  I can’t be aloof about this: bands trading verses is one of my weaknesses, even more so than hot drummers.  Not only were they swapping vocals, but they have a way with three-part harmony that will make your heart burst and your knees weak. In the encore, Earley, Brian, and Marty stood at the front of the stage and took on a half-acoustic, half a capella cover of Townes Van Zandt’s “If I Needed You.” Sweet country sounds, right here in the midst of Harvard Square.

            After the show, I met with delightful bassist Michael Van Pelt, who has been my primary contact in my journey through Blitzen Trapper’s past and present. All I can say is that I’m getting better talking to people I admire; I didn’t fall down or palpitate once, unlike the time I met Bernie Wrightson at ComicCon and felt compelled to show him my Cycle of the Werewolf tattoo and point at it and be all, “You made this! Look, this is something you made!” I’m an embarrassment to humans. Mike and I gave each other a hug and I told him how much the band rocked, because I’m way more articulate on paper than in real life. I bought a shirt and took it home and tried to sleep because I had to be up early to fly to Philadelphia for Night Two. 

            Philadelphia is … well, let’s just say that my Air BNB was very nice, and I was more amused at the cow pelt on the wall than disturbed. Also, I was the only customer in the Indian restaurant next door, so I self-consciously read my 33/13 book on Neil Young’s Harvest as I made the entire kitchen staff cater to just me. To give you an idea of my neighborhood: I had to walk forty minutes to find a Starbucks. It was fucking worth it. 

            The thing about the Sinclair in Cambridge is that it’s fairly new and modern. Big stage, fairly expansive room, great little bar. All the good parts of hip without any of the drawbacks, like a hot guy with a funky mustache who likes stuff sincerely.  In contrast, Johnny Brenda’s in Philly is as old school as possible.  It’s a little bar and tavern, in which I ran into Eric Earley and also, insanely, had a normal conversation with him. What was happening with me?  I may have also told him that the band rocked the night before, because I’m a dork.  Can I point out how nice everyone in the band is, by the way?

            My friend Clams, aka David, a Drive-By Truckers buddy, joined me for a drink or two (it was two and it was ill-advised, but Johnny Brenda’s had no Red Bulls which … I mean, come on, Philly. I need caffeine.) and then we headed upstairs to the concert room. Good lord. If the band wanted vintage verisimilitude, here it was. Tiny stage, tiny room, ample balcony, beads on the walls; it was like walking into a time machine to a time when clubs all looked like your cool uncle’s rec room. I loved everything about it.

            The band leaned more heavily on newer stuff, and it was awesome to hear some of that airing out.  The snaky, brooding “Love Grow Cold” pops live, its almost sensual desperation alive and bitter.  “Nights Were Made For Love” has become one of my new live favorites, Earley’s vocal jumping in just as the instruments crash together, nostalgic urgency shaking those beads on the walls and the feet on the floor.  Someone drunkenly shouted, “Don’t play your new stuff, play your old stuff.” The crowd laughed it off and the band seemed to understand that Drunky McSadlife didn’t speak for the rest of us.  We were here for “Furr” and “Black River Killer,” sure, but we kept coming back for the new stuff.  And hey, we got “American Goldwing,” and I could have been happy with just that.  Someone else requested “Gold for Bread,” and Earley said, “Oh man, I forgot that one. We’ll have to rehearse that for a later show.”

            The later show was the next night. I took a train down to Washington DC, my whole Blitzen Trapper live experience coming full circle. I met my buddy Ian and we spent the afternoon working (this whole telecommuting thing allows me to live a rock star lifestyle and still have an office drone job) and then made our way to the Black Cat.  Again we were among the first there, and it almost didn’t matter: the floor was huge.  We ran into another fan at the front of the stage and he was just as stoked as we were, but he didn’t like the Beatles so as it turned out he couldn’t be fully trusted.  Ian had been beside me when we first heard Blitzen Trapper live; they started off with “Fletcher” then, and they brought it back tonight.  Again, I shut my critical functions off early and just let myself get lost in the music.  We got “Gold for Bread.”  We got “Big Black Bird” (absent from the night before). We got “Heart Attack” in an extended jam to close out the night.  And then it was over.

            I hung around after the show like a super creep, but Erik Menteer and Marty Marquis came up to me and thanked me for coming out to all these shows and supporting the band. I thanked them for, I think I said, “being so awesome,” because DOOOOOORK.  Then there was Mike, bassist extraordinaire, and we talked a little more and said bye for now, because it’s gonna be awhile before I see them again.

            Of course today’s a little bit hollow.  I mean, sure, I’m staging a big comedy show tonight and seeing Rocky Horror at midnight, but there’s no rock show.  They’re way down in North Carolina today and I’m back in Boston, leading my normal life. The normal life that includes writing novels and putting on comedy shows and getting tattoos. I may not have a normal life.

            Rock and roll was made for me. It's an important thing, like breathing and love. It’s a salvation and an addiction. It’s sin and it’s heaven. It lifts me up and keeps me internal. There’s little that’s more exhilarating than seeing a band you love play new music live, seeing it with friends sometimes, sharing the experience with dozens or hundreds of others there to try to get the same bliss as you.  Blitzen Trapper never shirked their duty, never wavered in their stated intent to rock my world. 

            In other words: you don’t need rock and roll to live, but without it, is it really living? Three different nights, three different cities, and hell yes was I alive.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Twenty Years of The Ghost of Tom Joad

On this day, twenty years ago, I left my tiny rooming house room in Quincy and got on the bus, then the train, then another train to get to the Cambrigeside Galleria, where I worked at the B. Dalton's in 1995. The air around the mall smelled of chocolate because there used to be a chocolate factory nearby. It's gone now. The B. Dalton's is, too.
I was first in line when Best Buy rolled its gate up and I ran in, running right to the CD section and snatching up the first copy of The Ghost Of Tom Joad I saw. Two women who'd come in behind me were doing the same thing. I'd gotten into Springsteen only two years prior; the newest albums were Human Touch and Lucky Town, which at the time I drank in like water. I'd gotten in by way of Nebraska, which was bleak and monochrome and exactly fitted the life I was leading. "Streets of Philadelphia" had come out recently and I'd fallen for that, and I'd grabbed Greatest Hits the day it came out, but this was the first brand-new studio album by Springsteen I would hear since becoming a fan.
I didn't have a Discman then (that came later). There was no immediate download or buying in bed. On the long ride back home, all I could do was read the lyrics, and man, did they make sense. So many of the songs were stories of people so desperate that they forgot they were desperate. In 1995, that was where I was. Who I was. I got back to my rooming house and turned on the CD player and plugged in the headphones I'd borrowed from my then-boyfriend's best friend, who had since died. I fell into The Ghost of Tom Joad, and it fell into me.
That record came out twenty years ago, when I was twenty and living on my own and struggling against every desire to give up. Tom Joad gave me hope in its hopelessness. I was on the edge of the world back then, tottering. The people I was listening about had fallen off, and there was never a hope of getting back. All I needed was to not fall off. I've come close a few times, but I always got back.
Thanks for being my reason to live for a little while, The Ghost of Tom Joad. And thanks for being one hell of an album.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Why I Write Books

             Currently, I’m caught in a limbo of fiction.  It’s a limbo I don’t particularly cherish being inside.  I've finished Eating Animals and I'm waiting till the start of National Novel Writing Month to begin the new book.  I've got plenty to do: editing two books and proofing yet a third, but it's not writing.  It's not creation.  So, as a stopgap: why I write these things.

I first started writing novels in 1999 … okay, wait.  That’s not entirely true.  I really started writing novels in 1991, when I wrote my first unwieldy horror/sci-fi novel called Mind of Darkness, because I’d heard of Conrad’s Heart of Darkness and liked the ring.  I was fifteen when I wrote it, and it was terrible … except, maybe, for a scene in which a possessed mother decides to straighten her scoliosis-afflicted daughter’s spine with a rolling pin.  That got me fired up and is the only thing in the book that still sticks in my head, twenty-four years later.  In senior year of high school, I gave novel writing another go and ended up with a novella called The Transmigration.  It was … all right.  Both books owed a great deal to Stephen King’s It (my then- and now-favorite novel) and both dealt with possession because that was apparently my bag back then.  This was a time in my life during which I was hanging garlic up around my bedroom windows, in case vampires decided to invade the suburbs.  I read horror comics and horror novels and my last date with a girl was going to see Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare.  This was my frame of mind/reference.  I wrote spooky short stories for my composition classes and for my final thesis, I compiled a bunch of them into a short story collection.  I got an A-.  I think the minus was because I described sex a little too overtly in a story I called “Bound and Determined.”  You do the math. 

            It took me a long time to write another book, so I stuck with short stories.  Flashback: when I graduated middle school (this was apparently a big deal in my family), I got a typewriter and started typing up short-short stories with ironic titles and twist endings.  I was the O. Henry of the teenage set.  That practice largely ended when I had yet another fight with my monstrous stepmother, and she tore up all my stories and left them in a neat pile on my dresser when I came home.  A master of psychological and emotional horrors, was she.  Anyway, when I lit out on my own as a teenager and found myself ensconced in a dank, eternally beige rooming house on the wrong side of the tracks, my grandparents upgraded my typewriter to a word processor, and there I set about the task of continuing what I did in high school – writing short fiction.  None of it was very good.  A lot of writers thrive in down-and-out situations, but I faltered.  Junkies were ODing across the hall from me and old men were in the business of dying slowly in all the other rooms.  I got into writing bleak poetry and one time I saved a homeless guy’s life and he helped me discover Bob Dylan.  I worked at a bookstore and read and re-read Stephen King, and my friend Tracey got me interested in crime fiction and science fiction, so eventually I read that, too.  Robert Parker.  Orson Scott Card.  I tried to write a novel called Bridge Trip, but it went nowhere. 

            I moved out of the rooming house and into my own studio apartment and started writing short stories I was proud of.  A number of them made it into the first professional fiction book I got published, This Terrestrial Hell.  I wrote one story, called “Last Night at the Bear,” which was both inspired by my saving that homeless guy’s life and a Drew Carey (yes, that one) short story called “Tackling Jim Brown.”  It was my first non-horror story.  Things were clicking.  I tried to write a werewolf novel titled Canis Lupis but it was overly complicated and dull, and there was a woman in it named Devia, who was devious.  Yep.  Then I broke up with my boyfriend of five years.  I did it twice in one day because I was twenty-three and had a fluctuating sense of security.  Three weeks later, I started dating Shawn.  Two weeks after that, I started writing what would be my first novel.

            Shawn definitely had something to do with it.  The whole book, which I titled Spare Parts after a Springsteen song, is about relationships – a long way off of the horror short stories I’d been writing.  Part of that had to do with the William Goldman novel, The Color of Light, which I now recognize is something of a World According to Garp pastiche, though I hadn’t read Garp at the time and knew nothing of John Irving.  My thinking at the time was that I’d gone through a terrible breakup and I was having love issues, and why not write a book about people my age faltering and falling in love and apparently crying six times a chapter.  Plus, I’d recently read King’s On Writing and I was inspired.  Anyhow, I got the book finished in a couple months.  It wasn’t very long – barely 60,000 words – and it wasn’t particularly great, but it got me over the hump.  I wasn’t a potential novelist any longer.  I could write novels, grown-up novels.  I sent it to an agent who sent it to a publisher.  Both of them dropped me on the same day.  Ah, the fleeting feel of fortune. 

            I’m not going to say it didn’t hurt.  I spent probably a decade afraid to submit anything.  But it didn’t stop me from writing.  While waiting to hear from the agent, I inadvertently began a second novel, I’m On Fire, also after a Bruce Springsteen song.  I say inadvertently because I set out to write a short story.  What ended up happening was that a longish novel came out of it.  My first real horror novel.  A decade and a half later, I looked at it again, did a complete rewrite, and submitted it to Cemetery Dance.  They published it this year as an ebook.  The ticking timebomb of success is a slow one. 

            Meanwhile, more books.  I liked contemporary crime fiction, so I wrote a book called The Eighth Acre, with every intent on my hero, Wayne Corbin, becoming a series character.  After my second, much longer book about relationships (Open All Night, also named after a Bruce Springsteen song), I got to another Corbin novel, The Color of Blood and Rust.  By this point, I’d only been writing books two years and the ideas just wouldn’t stop coming.  Five books in two years.  I wrote my second horror novel, Wolves in the Black, and my first epic novel (over 200,000 words), Find the River in 2001.  River I wrote entirely in the first apartment I shared with Shawn.  I needed to keep my spirits up, what with 9/11 happening and it being a really shitty apartment. 

            I don’t want this turning into a litany of books I wrote, because that’s not interesting.  This is more about why than about what, oAt some point during a particularly deep depression, I thought of giving the whole enterprise up.  I was in therapy at the time and he eventually tapped into why I was writing was getting me down, even though I couldn’t stop.  As it turned out, I was associating most of what I did with abject failure, no matter how fast or how well I wrote, because I couldn’t help comparing myself to Stephen King.  He’d had a number one novel before he turned thirty.  He published Carrie at the same age I was when I wrote Open All Night.  He was a huge massive success and I never would be.  It got more existential and sad from there: I was never going to write a book that changed minds, like 1984.  I was relegating myself to the midlist, in a changing publishing climate that no longer understood the concept of midlist.

            Therapy helped me.  So, insanely, did Coldplay.  Their big song, “Viva La Vida” was one of my big earworms that year, and I’d play it when I sat down to pound out a couple thousand words.  The refrain, “who would ever want to be King?” wouldn’t leave me.  Little by little, I realized that needed to be my ethos.  I was writing my own stuff.  I could keep trying to be a fourth-rate Stephen King or a first-rate Kevin Quigley.  I chose Kevin Quigley. 

            National Novel Writing Month helped, too.  The idea behind NaNoWriMo is to get at least 50,000 words of a book out in under a month.  November.  In 2005, I managed the feat, pumping out and 80,000 word book called Welcome to Bloomsbury, which is not named after a Bruce Springsteen song.  It’s a mess of a book, but it showed me I could dedicate myself to a single vision and write fast if I wanted to.  I’ve done NaNo a few more times since, and it’s always rewarding.  A bunch of my friends always try it, and I’m equally sad and happy when they end up ditching their books partway through.  I have only ever done that once, because I kept trying to write a book about possession and apparently that only worked for me in high school. 

            I’ve written twenty-one novels in sixteen years (plus some valiant attempts, like Mary’s Place and Tangerine and American Storm, which all fizzled out).  I’ve also written a bunch of nonfiction (mostly on Stephen King) and a short story collection and a couple of poetry books.  It’s been a remarkably fruitful time.  I start a new book for NaNoWriMo this year called Who We Are, What We’ll Do, and What We Won’t, and if I manage to finish before January, I will have written three full novels in 2015.  Yesterday, I got an idea for a new Wayne Corbin novel, and it’s a good one.  If I play my cards right, I can get cooking on A Dime’s Worth of Damage in March. 

            Why, though?  I mean, of course I want to make a success out of this.  I want people to read me and love me.  I want to make a living out of writing books.  I’m forty now.  Stephen King had already written my favorite novel and had moved onto other matters by the time he was my age.  I wonder if I’ve written my favorite novel of mine yet.  The Legend of Jenny McCabe and Maybe You’re Right are up there, but so is the newest Wayne Corbin book, Panic Town, in which nobody dies.  I guess that’s why, in the full measure of things.  I’m curious about my world, outside and in.  I like learning about people, and about why people do things.  I want to write situations that could have happened in my life, if I were more stable, or less.  But mostly?  Mostly I do it because I want to know if I’m ever going to write my new favorite novel.  I guess that’s as good a reason as any.


Thursday, May 7, 2015

Au Revoir, Disneyland Paris: Paris Part Three

Jeff and I were again up at the crack of dawn for our last day in Disneyland Paris. Everything hurt. My feet screamed at me every time I took a step. I actually had to sit down in the tub to take a shower. My back ached. The sciatic problem in my leg burned like a million wasps decided my tendons were the enemy. We had to walk about twenty minutes to get to the metro station we needed, then get on the train and transfer to the RER in order to get aboard the train to Disneyland.

And it was all worth it just to see that castle again.

It was palpably our final day. We managed to redo all the stuff we’d fallen in love with, especially the whole microcosm of Frontierland, stunningly the best part of either park. We rode the Molly Brown Riverboat – which seemed, indeed, to be unsinkable – and caught glimpses of the Mark Twain Riverboat in dock, which was basically a jumble of splinters held together by warp and woof. I couldn’t resist traveling through Phantom Manor once more, and it kept resonating with me: it’s not only scarier than all the other Haunted Mansions, it’s also a lot sadder. The frontier town buried beneath the house is frightening and fun … but there’s an undercurrent of despair. One of the more desolate notions about revenants is that they’re compelled to repeat the things they did in life. The nature of an attraction like Phantom Manor means that the Audio-Animatronics are repeating everything, over and over, in perpetuity. If you allow yourself into the fiction, allow yourself to be wrapped up in the story, you open up these vistas within. It seemed to me, even though the ride is set on the American frontier, that the emotions and concepts that Phantom Manor conjured are very French: ennui, isolation, and the feel of compulsive déjà vu.

Or maybe I was just sad to be leaving.

We rode the carrousel, and Jeff’s tradition of naming his favorite horse continues. I don’t remember his name, except it was obviously clever and luxurious. The name for my horse? Necromancer du Poulet Rôti. Jeff howled for hours at that one.

You want to know one of the coolest things about most of the attractions? They figure out a very interesting way to make it in French and English. Like the Ratatouille ride. At one point, Remy is trying to choose between three dishes. He mentions the first one in French, the second one in English, and then the third one is a mix. During the nighttime show, Dreams (which is a cross between World of Color in California Adventure and Wishes … sort of. There’s water projections and explosions and it’s all really fantastic.) Peter Pan and Wendy are talking; Peter asks a question in English, Wendy answers in French, Peter reiterates in English. It’s the least invasive way of being bilingual ever.

Speaking of invasive and being French: were you aware that cutting in line is actually a French thing that people just do? It’s not discouraged. But by the last day of our trip, Jeff and I were pretty dang sick of it. We got to the Studios at open, and … I mean, both Crush’s Coaster and Ratatouille were down, nobody had any information as to when they’d be open, and no one really seemed to care. Ah, Paris. Anyway, we made the best of it and made our way to the barren asphalt wasteland that surrounds Rock N Rollercoaster, got in line, and were immediately beset upon by these three underage line cutters. They were behind us and kept trying to force their way ahead. Jeff turned to me. “We’re not letting them by. This is our time!”

I agreed, and we did everything we could to passive-aggressively block their really unsubtle ruse. At one point, the younger girl and boy locked eyes with Jeff and I, and there seemed to be something of a grudging respect there. They knew they’d been bested. Also, when they saw the coaster cars take off at the speed of sound, it was obvious it was that it was their first time there. The girl, in English, shouted, “Oh, SHIT.” Jeff and I then liked them from there on out.

We didn’t want to leave, that was the thing. We eventually got to ride Ratatouille together for the first time, which was c’est magnifique (a phrase I used more often than one might deem necessary). I rode Crush’s Coaster solo and desperately wanted to go on again (but then they were closed, except they weren’t, well maybe they were, no one knows). We rode Big Thunder in the daylight, which meant that the tunnels to the island it’s on felt darker, but the ride itself just isn’t as awesome in the daylight (this is true for all Big Thunders). We discovered that the Indiana Jones coaster, which has a great queue but barely a theme on the ride itself, is a lot better in the front seat. We ate at the Golden Nugget and discovered that the food there was actually passable. Not good; heavens, no! There is no good food at Disneyland Paris, at least in our experience. We didn’t eat at Cinderella’s Royal Table yet, but maybe next time.

Our last event on our itinerary before heading back to the apartment was Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show. We’d heard raves and were really excited to try it out. Only when we got into the holding area did we realize that the people raving must be lunatics. For the first time, the language barrier, the crowds, and our encroaching exhaustion had begun to catch up with us. We had no idea where we were being seated – a CM in broken English explained it as, “You will have seats. The red section.” Unfamiliar with the setup, I didn’t know where the red section was. Nothing was labeled “the red section.” I was suffering under the added indignity of not always knowing what red is. When eventually we were seated, it was in these stadium seats that were so uncomfortable it was as if we were being asked to feel the simulated effects of saddlesore.

The food came intermittently. No one ever told us how we would be fed, so when half our section got dinner and we didn’t, I wanted to cry. Jeff was just over it. Eventually – an hour into the show – our ribs and chicken were doled out and we dug in, not even caring how bad the food was. But TWIST: the food was fantastic. It was without a doubt the best food I’d had in France thus far … excepting, of course, that long-ago Roquefort. Oh man, I wish I was eating that Roquefort now.

As for the show? Well, it made very little sense. It was set up like a sporting arena and there were simulated stagecoach robberies and at one point we all had to pass a soccer ball around, I THINK? Around the hour and a half mark, actual buffalo thundered out onto the field, and that was pretty cool. I don’t remember much. I was falling asleep and dreaming of Roquefort. The family next to us just stared ahead and had no expression. Jeff thought they were plants. Or robots.

Despite the drawbacks – the bad food, the almost hilarious lack of customer service at times (and I will stress that it’s at times; most of the people there were as kind and courteous as the CMs in America), the oddly shoddy paint jobs in some areas of the park – Disneyland Paris enchanted us. It was different enough, and awesome enough, for us to seriously consider returning before our annual passes are up next April.

But those are dreams for another day. Stumbling out of the parks and onto the train, the thought hit me: I’ve seen Disneyland, but now I’m going to see Paris. Leaning back into my seat and grinning at my friend, I couldn’t help but have a little thrill at what might come next.


Wednesday, May 6, 2015

I’ll Never Be Sober (Kickstarter poem)

I’ll Never Be Sober

across the table you’ve got your sipping whiskey
the way it passes your lips, splashing over your teeth
I want to fight you for your glass of sipping whiskey
I want to knock some reality into your disbelief

I never drink except when I do
I never know which me I’ll get
sometimes it’s fun times screaming rock and roll
sometimes its fighting and fucking and endless regret
I’ll never be sober in this life
I’ll never not crave oblivion
is heaven an escape from my stupid consequence
or is it just a break from this hell I’ve been living in?

watching you drink is like watching you fuck
the more you do it, the more you let go
you don’t want a drink and you don’t want me
but get some of both in you and you stop saying no

I only drink when I can’t stop myself
fire in my gut, blitzkrieg in my mind
the numbing release of whiskey down my throat
the sweat on your back as we start to go blind
I’ll never be sober even when I don’t drink
I always want more than I can take
I’ll always want you more with whiskey on your breath
I’ll always want to find out just where we’ll break

there’s something broken in me that wants you to suffer
is it me or the drinking that drives me to violence
whiskey makes it easier to contend with myself
whiskey makes it easier for you to take it in silence

I never drink because I can’t stop when I do
this wrong inside me isn’t just alcohol
there’s a darkness outside that I’m always lost in
there’s a pit inside me and I can’t stop the fall
I’ll never be sober and that’s just fine
it’s easier to live when I can’t think
I don’t want to break the cycle of pain and despair
I’m already breaking
good god I need a drink

Monday, May 4, 2015

My Favorite Crush: Paris Part Two

This was our plan: on my first full day in Paris, Jeff and I were going to wake up at 5:30 AM and beat feet to Disneyland, in order to get there in time for Extra Magic Hours. EMH works differently in DLP than at either WDW or Disneyland in Anaheim. All you needed was the annual pass, which we had cleverly purchased the day before, and you could get into Disneyland two hours early. Two hours! How cool was that!

You couldn’t get into both parks early, sadly, and the only lands open in DLP that early are Discoveryland (the steampunk version of Tomorrowland that looks like you’ve stepped into Jules Verne’s fever dreams, in a good way) and Fantasyland, which has all the dark rides, except Dumbo which is under refurb, and “it’s a small world,” which isn’t, but which is inexplicably closed during EMH. Jeff was cool with it; we were able to ride Peter Pan right off, and if you thought the starfield was cool in Disneyland Anaheim, it just goes on and on and on in Paris.

We rode the Carousel, Snow White and Pinocchio (neither of which I can get at WDW), and the teacups before heading into the Castle to have a walkaround fantasy. Did you know there’s a cavern underneath the castle, and a dragon there? A freakin dragon that breathes smoke and has glowing eyes and flapping wings? THERE IS A DRAGON UNDER THE CASTLE. Points to France. We have dragons but only in parades and shows and stuff. A dragon. Wow.

Our big plan was to get to the Studios park as soon as it opened at 10:00 AM. Our first attempt to get in was met with incredulity by the French cast member, who tried to scan our tickets … then moved to another turnstile when they wouldn’t beep. We moved with her, thinking this was her intent. It wasn’t. “Hello?” I called. “Bojour?” Oh, she was there. She heard us. She was just ignoring us.

Jeff asked, “Did she just … stop doing her job in the middle of helping us?”

I nodded at him. “Oh, oui.”

Eventually we got into the Studios, and … how to describe it? The Studios contains four of the best rides in all of Disneyland Paris, and they’re surrounded by a park that can’t be bothered to attempt a theme. The era of the “studio park” is a little tired at this point regardless, but man does the Studios just not try. Immediately, we made our way over to the Ratatouille mini-land, and THAT was charming. It was like the best possible idea of Paris in miniature. The line for the ride snaked out fifty minutes, but either Parisians aren’t as familiar with the concept of Single Riders or there was just no one utilizing that space, we took full advantage. Ten minutes after getting in line for the most popular ride in either park, we were clambering into our vehicles.

I … had some problems with the Ratatouille ride the first time. I think part of it had to do with the hype and part had to do with the cognitive dissonance. It overwhelms your senses. The vehicles move independently, and you get the feeling of being shrunk down and catapulted into a non-stop frenzy while being the size of a rat. It felt almost unpleasant on my first go, the same feeling I got from the Spider-Man ride at Universal the first time I went there. We went on again almost immediately and I realized how much I liked it. We went on a THIRD time and I loved it.

It wasn’t the only thing I loved. Like I said, there’s basically no connective tissue in the Studios, but man are the rides pretty amazing. Tower of Terror is not really any different from the one in Anaheim, but it was still terrific. Rock n’ Rollercoaster, however, is very different, at least in its intent. The ride in WDW has you shooting through Los Angeles after a video of being in the studio with Aerosmith. The one in Paris is … ah hell, why not say it? It’s impressionist. Aerosmith calls out that it’s going to be a roller coaster; the linear “story” is gone. Then you launch and it’s the wild, cannonballing effect of actually being at a concert, done with lights and sound and speed. None of the standup signs that suggest a place; this is all going on feeling. It’s a change in intent but man is it effective.

But none of it compares with Crush’s Coaster, which should be just … just not as goddamned good as it is. It’s just a regular coaster with a spin in the dark, but it manages to be scary, and fun, and exhilarating all at once. Jeff and I waited in line for over an hour to get on it and it was worth every second. We even tried to get back later, but … well, I don’t know if it’s the Studios or France, but first they said it was down for the rest of the day and there was no point in waiting, and then they said it was open again but not the single-rider line, and now the line had stretched another hour. Damn you, Studios!

Back at the regular park, we showed up for our wonderful meal at the absolutely beautiful Walt’s. Each dining room is made up to invoke each of the lands in Disneyland. Originally they put us in the Fantasyland room, which was packed with whimsy, but it was next to a window and it was too hot so we moved over to the Main Street USA room. Beautiful: vintage, a little bit steampunk (every place in Disneyland Paris is a little bit steampunk), and cozy. We were so excited to be there. After so much inexplicably terrible food at Disneyland, we were ready for this place, which got high marks from almost everyone.

Boy howdy, was the food awful. Jeff got … I don’t remember what Jeff got. I got marsala chicken, which turned out to be a cooked(?) chicken breast sitting on top of a thin rime of marsala sauce. I’ll say this: the sauciers at DLP are pulling more than their own weight, because this and the sauce at Blue Lagoon were both amazing. That chicken, though? I didn’t know you could actually make meat both dry and damp at the same time.

As we were leaving the park that night, we came across one of Paris’ weird passions: flavored Lay’s potato chips. I picked up a bag that said poulet roti – rotisserie chicken.

It was the best food we’d had all day long. We devoured that bag on the long, long train ride home. My feet were explosively in pain. My brain was eager to shut down. My body was at the edge of exhaustion. And we had to be awake in six hours to do it all again one last time.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

On the Frontier: Paris Part One

I flew IcelandAir, Paris by way of Reykjavik. Immediately I was impressed by the overnight setup - pillows and blankets on the seats. The last time I flew IcelandAir, it was 2001, and we got free, delicious hot meals with real silverware. This time I ate me some pre-packaged sliders and took sleeping pills so I could get to Paris refreshed and keep going. Jeff booked the AirB&B and it was awesome. Everything IKEA and we stood in the kitchen and ate the cheese he'd bought from Barthélémy, the most famous cheese shop in Paris. I made it my mission to get there eventually. Taking my first bite of the Roquefort, it finally locked into me: I was in Paris, my first time in a place where they spoke a different language. I wasn't fluent, but I came equipped with the language of cheese, and we danced in our rented kitchen eating Roquefort.

The trip to Disneyland Paris was about 45 minutes. Two transfers; not bad. I didn't really know what to expect. I had this expectation that it was going to be DIFFERENT, not necessarily BETTER. We stepped off the train and there it was at once: Disneyland Paris (not EuroDisney; that name changed over a decade ago). That was one similarity with Disneyland in Anaheim. The real world bumped up right against the fantasy, and Jeff and I worried if we'd be able to fall into the "bubble," that automatic feeling you get at Walt Disney World in Florida: the sense that Disney is all around you, and that you are fully immersed. We needn't have worried. The second we stepped through those gates, we didn't look back.

I wasn't prepared for how BEAUTIFUL the park was; the landscaping is the best in any Disney park I've seen. (Well, Animal Kingdom gives it a run for its money). It sprawled out in front of us like a glorious dream of symmetry. The castle - Sleeping Beauty Castle, reimagined with a sloping hillside of cube-cropped trees, waterfalls, and a dragon cave near the moat - commands every view. It's asymmetrical, too, which sets it apart from everything else. It's leagues better than its sister castle in Anaheim, and is almost as impressive as Cinderella Castle in Orlando.

Jeff asked if it was important what we rode first. I nearly said the teacups - that's my first ride in Disneyland (Space Mountain is my first ride in Disney World, but Space was closed for renovations during this trip) - but left it up to him. He chose Pirates of the Caribbean. It was the best possible choice. Pirates won us over immediately - logically sound, a little scary, with a storyline that makes more sense than any of the other versions. Plus it skirted a restaurant - the Blue Lagoon - that absolutely prepared us for the biggest crime of DLP, the mind-bogglingly terrible food.

We were unprepared for the biggest shocker of them all: Frontierland (good in WDW, almost an afterthought in DLR) was the best part of all of Disneyland Paris. Big Thunder Mountain Railroad and Phantom Manor (DLP's version of the Haunted Mansion) were not just the best versions of those rides anywhere. They served to anchor a land in which no expense was spared in placemaking, theming, and knock-out beauty. There's a whole coda to Phantom Manor that takes you to honky-tonk hell. Oh, the busts are singing "Grim Grinning Ghosts," but this is scaresville and no fooling. Big Thunder plunges you into pitch black TWICE and then put you on an island to swoop and dip and scream. They are perfect.

We finished off our first night in Disneyland Paris wandering through the steampunk insanity of Main Street and its twin arcades. Our feet were killing us and I was having that cascading exhaustion I get when I've stayed out all night or traveled to Paris from Boston and then immediately went to a theme park. Back to the Air B&B for 5 hours of sleep; we had to be up at 5:30 AM for our first full day at Disneyland Paris, and we couldn't wait.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Hitting My Goal & What Comes Next

First off, I'd like to thank each and every one of you for donating to my book. You're all bastions of humanity and supporters of the arts and I love all of you.

Here's what happens now: I am in the process of finishing my 20th novel, a book called THINGS HAVE CHANGED. When that's done, I have some edits to do on a few of my other books - my last novel, MY AGENT OF CHAOS, and a new version of a nonfiction book called CHART OF DARKNESS. My desk should be clear in mid-April, which is when I will launch into the first draft of EATING ANIMALS.

The through-line (I don't really do plots unless I'm writing a mystery or crime novel) is similar to a few of my other books: people who are roughly my age are trying to deal with love and life, despite the unnerving persistence of the past and their fleeting brushes with success. If you wanted to sum up what I'm about, that's pretty much it in a nutshell. However, there are differences: of the four main characters, two are chefs - a profession I've been wanting to write about for some time. These two guys are also both straight; I've been wanting to write about straight adult male friendships for awhile and one of them always ends up being a woman or a gay dude.

I've written about two of these characters in the past. One of them, Alicia Stander, appeared in two of my past novels - WOLVES IN THE BLACK and THE LEGEND OF JENNY MCCABE. Her journey almost seemed complete. She started off damaged in WOLVES and in JENNY she'd healed herself. I wrote both those books in the Aughts. Wade Gimble, her boyfriend, appeared much earlier, in a short story called, "Last Night at the Bear," which I wrote in the mid-1990s. Wade was an analogue to who I was back then, and when he showed up (completely unplanned) in JENNY MCCABE, it was interesting to catch up on who he's been and what he's been doing. He and Alicia found each other and helped each other. But Wade's been in my mind a lot lately. I've begun wondering if there's a chance for drama - for conflict, for a good story - after healing. I think there is.

There's also a character I want to use who mirrors Kathy in Steinbeck's East of Eden - one of my favorite novels ever. I'm trying to figure out if there's a way to build a character like that without feeling sexist, and I think it'll be a good challenge for me as a male writer.

I'm also delving into stuff like technique and structure in this book. Normally, I start off each book having a vague idea what drives the characters and having some vague conflict they need to deal with. I've plowed through a lot of books that way and it usually works. This time, I want to have an interesting structure, and an interesting way to introduce the main players. My books have usually employed a three-part structure. Most recently, the parts consist of: characters start somewhere / ROADTRIP / come back home changed. This ... likely won't change that paradigm. But I'm going to be dealing with the past of the characters in a more personal way, because Wade's past is MY past.

So that's where we stand on EATING ANIMALS. I'm currently weighing the pros and cons of releasing the novel in segments so you can all read along as I write it. We'll see how I feel come mid-April and it's game time.

Thanks again for giving me the urgency to finish this novel. I already have some ideas for book #22 coming up (it's going to be very short), and I have to start writing it in November, so let's hope EATING ANIMALS has a quick gestation. You've all supported me and the concept of independent writing and publishing, and I can't tell you how gratified I am.

Read well, write well, and let freedom ring!

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Migrating Animals

Things were weird for me in 1994. I was living alone in a rooming house, along with a sore clutch of dying old men and junkies literally itching their way into overdoses. I supported myself with two to three retail jobs at the local mall, minimum wage at all of them, and the bus came intermittently - sometimes not at all. The cliche of eating Ramen to survive was my real life - Ramen and store-brand soda and Little Debbie snacks, because they were affordable.

During that time, I wrote a short story about two guys my age - 19 going on 20. It was the first time I used my own name as the lead character's name in a story. Kev was the hero of the piece, sort of. He has a work friend named Wade, a miserable, sad wretch of a guy, who tries to kill himself in Kevin's car. A melee ensues. Things end up okay. Back then, it was wish fulfillment. The last line of the story is, "This kid's got places to go." And I did. I ended getting out of the rooming house I was in and moving into a studio. I got out of the relationship I was in that ... he wasn't a bad guy, we just were wrong for each other. I made my life better through sheer force of will, which made me believe that Kev was the main character, and that knowing he was on the righteous path was enough.

But it wasn't.

Wade appeared again in a novel I wrote a decade later, a very long book called The Legend of Jenny McCabe. He's had a rocky road to get where he was. Along the way, he's discovered some weird sexual stuff about himself. And he's become a chef. It was around this time that I started to realize what that long-ago short story, called "Last Night at the Bear," was really all about. Kevin was who I wanted to be. Wade was who I was. And in 2007, Wade was still who I was.

I'm entering into a new novel called Eating Animals, whose title is a bit of a description and a bit of a metaphor. In the book, Wade has to go back home to confront his dying father - a father he hasn't seen since 1997. And I realized that this was the perfect time for me to actually go back and confront the guy I was back then. I kept records and journal entries and stories from 1997. I want to know who I was then, and how that's shaped who I am now. I want to figure out Wade from two different sides of the spectrum.

I'm nervous to start. That's part of why I decided to set this up as a Kickstarter - because I always finish my Kickstarter projects, meaning that having an advance on this book means I have a responsibility to write it. If you'd like to help me on this journey into my past, why not kick a few dollars my way? Check out the project, watch my goofy video, and consider backing me. I'd really appreciate it, and thank you!

Eating Animals, by Kevin Quigley: A Kickstarter Project

Monday, February 2, 2015

Eating Animals: Kev's writing a new book!

Hey everyone!

The world of publishing is changing, and on my long, rocky trip through it, I'm changing, too. It used to be that publishers, upon accepting a new novel, would provide an advance for the writer in order to keep writing and focus on her or his craft. That doesn't happen as much anymore, and as self-publishing has gained both traction and legitimacy, I think it's important to maintain some hold on what originally made publishing so great.

I write books. I write a lot of books. Eating Animals will be my twenty-first novel. In the past, I've gone the more traditional route with publishers. Sometimes I've gotten published, sometimes I haven't. It's always a crapshoot. You do it because you love the work, you love the craft, and you love the sense of accomplishment watching the stuff in your mind coming together on the page. It's a thrill unmatched anywhere else.

But it sure isn't lucrative.

Eating Animals is a passion project for me. It involves a character named Wade Gimble I've had in my mind since 1997, when I wrote my first short story about him. Since, I've touched on him lightly in other books, but I've never really explored who he was - and, by extension, who I was - when I first made him up. I want to go back to those two young guys, both the nascent character and the nascent me, and find out who they were, and why they needed each other then. It's also a book about chefs, and cooking, and fathers and sons, and the sometimes destructive nature of love. Some of it's gonna hurt, but I'm aiming for laughs.

Why should you support me? Because even though I write my books for free and for me, sometimes it helps to have a little more money to keep the gears turning. I do a lot of work every day, and I don't get paid for any of the creative stuff. It'd be nice to have that advance, in order to keep doing what I love, and in order to feel like what I'm doing is worth it.

Thanks for supporting me, and my novel. Eating Animals is going to be a rollercoaster of writing, and I'm glad to have you with me for the ride.

Eating Animals is on Kickstarter!

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

The Ink Journals

The why, where, and how of my body art.

1. Bear With Me (May 10, 1999) - Bear Claw

2. Stand In the Place Where You Live (November 13, 1999) - Stephen King's The Stand

3. Man Without Fear (October 4, 2004) - Daredevil

4. We Can Make It If We Run (September 24, 2005) - Bruce Springsteen Sneakers

5. Boldly Going (February 18, 2006) - Star Trek

6. My Flirtation With Obscure Punctuation (April 8, 2006) - Interobang

7. Howl (November 8, 2006) - Cycle of the Werewolf

8. Red and Blue (January 29, 2007) - Blue October

9. Pinch Me (February 18, 2007) - Barenaked Ladies

10. Thou Mayest (July 19, 2007) - Timshel

11. Sorry, But Our Princess Is In Another Castle (January 28, 2008) - Super Mario

12. Lucky Thirteen (June 9, 2009) - Anchor 13

13. If We Can Dream It... (July 22, 2009) - Horizons

14. A Bear Can Rest at Ease (April 2, 2010) - Baloo

15. The Pepper Engine (July 20, 2010) - Steampunk Dr Pepper

16. The Eagle Has Landed (August 2, 2011) - Bob Seger Eagle

17. It's Great to Be Alive (April 14, 2012) - Drive-By Truckers

18. I'm the Wind, Baby (July 31, 2012) - Tom Servo

19. Hardy & Arbuckle (March 29, 2013) - Comedy & Tragedy

20. Don't Panic! (July 5, 2013) - The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

21. Dream Baby Dream (August 22, 2013) - Irving + Springsteen = Sketch

22. Like a Grand and Miraculous Spaceship (December 18, 2013) - Spaceship Earth

23. My Unending Fury (February 8, 2014) - Christine

24. For the Love of Moose (April 12, 2014) - Moose Mason

25. Flying Over Water (July 19, 2014) - Disney Cruise Line

26. Heave Ho (December 30, 2014) - Blitzen Trapper