Wednesday, January 09, 2013

A New Old Story Comes Back to Haunt the Living

When I was 14, I started writing a story, like many back then, that was little more than a bald reworking of comicbook ideas. The main character was named Magus, and he was my version of Doctor Strange, the mighty Marvel Comics master of the mystic arts.

The work evolved over time. I became less interested in writing about Magus and more interested in writing about a young man (Tom Caliban) who worked at a hospital in the small town of Junction, Ala., and whose life got mixed up in horror from beyond this realm. I was 16 or 17 by now, and I was working as an orderly at Century Memorial Hospital.  But no doubt about it, this time I was also under the influence of a horror film called The Manitou, which takes place in a hospital.

Awesome, right? I saw this edited for TV and thought, "I can do that."

But that didn't quite work, either. By the time I was 18, it was time to try again. I was really into H.P. Lovecraft and Robert E. Howard at the time, and I was attending Pensacola Junior College and hanging out, when I could, at used book stores, searching the stacks for treasures. I was also into Native American history (which resulted in my first serialized fiction appearing in the PJC paper). I began to incorporate the old book store ideas and ancient grimoires of magic, like the Necronomicon, into the storyline, along with Indian legends, serial killings, and an old wizard called Magus.Various iterations of that held on for several years, as I moved from school to school, eventually married and started jobs, had kids, and entered a career.

In 1992-93, I got serious about the story again and wrote a complete novel. I asked a few people to read it, including Lynn Wallace and Carole Lapensohn, both of whom I was at the time participating with in a novel writing workshop. While they had some positive things to say, I kind of got the feeling it wasn't their cup of bubbling potion. An editor at my day-job asked to see the book, read it and liked it (although he also said it made him see me in a different light), and forwarded it to a friend of his that was starting a literary agency. The guy didn't like it. At all. Said it was too mixed up (the narrative was non-linear as characters became immersed in each other's memories).

I did a rewrite that brought it into a more linear configuration, but the guy wasn't interested in reading it again. I put it away.

Over the years, I have revisited the characters in the book. I wrote a novella about Magus that tells of one of his early adventures and how he met his wife. I wrote most of a sequel featuring an old Caliban faced with destroying his world in order to save other worlds. I wrote most of another sequel I pitched to an agent at a writers conference as "Constantine meets Payback set in the Big Easy." (I really liked this one, but couldn't make it stand alone without first telling — i.e., publishing — the earlier stories.) I wrote part of another story about one of Caliban's distant cousins set in the Civil War, and part of yet another story that brought the two together to fight the progenitor of all vampires (this would have been the second in the Caliban series, as he comes under the tutelage of Magus).

And I put them all away and chased other rabbits for a while. I wrote most of a zombie novel. I wrote and published two very different novels, two short story collections, many short stories in anthologies here and there, made some videos, wrote lots of things that few (or none) have ever read, painted some pictures. Lived a life like I never expected. Laughed some and cried some. Kept writing into the night and kept getting up in the mornings. Breathing.

And this month, I have returned to revisit Tom and Magus, and the changeling and the soul eater. I have set myself a goal of finishing a rewrite on this book for once and all, and sending it into the world while I follow up with Tom's further adventures as if they too might have some kind of future in print.

I know his stories, as he's told them all to me as each of us have grown up. He's been through some shit over the years, let me tell you.

I hope you will — let me tell you, that is.

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