This is going to be super sappy, but bear with me.
The other night I finished a book that I liked, but didn't love. To be fair, it was something I picked up on a whim, and something I kept coming back to for a good while before I was able to finish, so I might have glossed over some of the finer points and missed some punches.
I had a good, long, objective think after I finished reading, impressed by how the author tied up most of the story's loose ends, how she packed emotion into the final pages, how she–a clear plotting pro–connected even the most obscurest of dots laid out in the early pages, how she made me care about the characters' endings. There was one huge unanswered question left open, and the more I've come to reflect on it, the more I feel this was a masterful decision on behalf of the author and not an oversight, which was my initial reaction. I've never been one to get hung up on "happy endings"–maybe it's just my Dark Side speaking, but sometimes bittersweet (or even unhappy) is best. This one got both, and man, RESPECT.
I thought about how, even though this book wasn't a Perfect Read for me, it was damn good. And then I thought, "But for someone else, it will be their Perfect Read–and how f*cken cool for them."
There’s a certain kind of beauty in reading something that you don’t like, but know someone else will love. It’s like going out and dating, or even just people watching, looking at the couples that pass you by. It's an incredible thing to watch someone with their special person, and to wonder what it is about one that made them the other's favorite. All those things one person doesn't appreciate, doesn't love, doesn't swoon over, might be–WILL be–the very thing someone else loves most.
I know what a Perfect Read feels like. I know how those books can touch you so profoundly and so deeply that they become almost part of you. There was a movie once, I forget which one, where some leading man asked some leading lady what her favorite book was and commented that it would be the one she wishes she could go back and read for a first time so she could fall in love with it all over again. I know exactly which book that was for me: Anne Rice's Interview with the Vampire. I've read that book a zillion times over the years, and so many other AMAZING books since, but what I wouldn't give to be 14-year-old Lindy again–picking up that dusty mass market paperback off a flea market shelf, reading that first page, meeting Lestat and Louis.
For a long time I was of the mind that art is subjective, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, one person's cup–that old bag. I don't think I am anymore. I think now instead of putting down something I didn't like and thinking, "Yikes, this isn't for me," I'm going to change that to instead be, "I can't wait for your person to find you." This book I finished the other day? It was a nice date, a fun time. I'm not sad to read THE END, but I am so excited for someone else to pick it up and read CHAPTER ONE. I'm so excited to know that, somewhere out there, a reader is having that moment I had decades ago in a flea market, falling in love.
And so, I'm grateful for those reads that don't speak completely to me. I'm grateful for having had the chance to get to know them, spend time with them. And I'm grateful to set them free, to know that someone else's hands will find them, and in those fingers the pages will turn to gold.
A former colleague–a philosopher turned journalist–introduced me to the concept of "squeezing blood from a stone" as a metaphor for writer's block. A student of Nietzsche, he often proudly trumpeted the section “On Reading and Writing” from THUS SPOKE ZARATHUSTRA, referring time and time again, as he sloshed down yet another tumbler of scotch, to the aphoristic statement: Of all that is written I love only what a man has written with his blood. Write with blood, and you will experience that blood is spirit.
How appropriate then, that as I sit here struggling with a seemingly endless spiral of writing and rewriting the same sentence, that when I Google images for "blood from stones," I am presented with picture after picture of a person's hand, pen poised over a blank sheet of paper. Always a blank sheet. Always a waiting pen. Always a dry, bloodless stone.
Certainly writer's block is not new. Certainly I'm not the only writer to ever find themselves in its clutches. But, as horrid as it is, there is a certain kind of beauty in those moments where the words just won't flow. They are moments of reflection, of finding inspiration, of hating and then falling back in love with our story. I use those moments to reread what is there, try to let myself sink into the plot, the character(s), the setting, and, if that doesn't work, I work on something else or hide myself inside someone else's writing. I remind myself it's temporary. That I've done this before. That Character X and I are going to make it to the finish line–maybe bruised and exhausted and furious with one another, probably. But we'll make it.
Of course, it helps to know you're not alone. Just today, as I sit here tooling around with a seeming dead end, friend and fellow writer Gabino Iglesias (author of THE DEVIL TAKES YOU HOME) shared an almost identical conundrum on Twitter. He writes, "Does anyone know if the sophomore slump applies to the second book with a big press even if the author already has more than two books? Asking for myself."
My response? "Wrapped up edits [on BLESS YOUR HEART] with ferocity, got 10k into the new book and want to chew off my own fingers." Later, I scrolled through the thread, chuckling, commiserating, and finding hope in the responses from familiar names and friends, all who–if not currently–have taken their turn around the ol' writer's block. (This, for my non-writer friends, who imagine we authors tuck ourselves away in posh libraries with crackling background fires, comfy chairs, and boatloads of literary ambiance, is what it's really like to be a full-time writer: caffeine jitters, doom scrolling, and self-flagellation.)
I write in stints, usually aiming for somewhere around 1500 words a day, or 7500 words/week, which tends to be roughly a couple of chapters with some leftovers. These go to CB, my first-editor, who reads and provides feedback in batches. I enjoy this approach, because it keeps me accountable, provides me with a constant sounding board to workshop ideas as they happen, and helps me stay on track when my characters try to wander off the path. Knowing CB is waiting on pages at the end of the week gives me just enough stress to keep writing, keep squeezing.
Today, though, not so much, not even when CB sent back a healthy five–five–pages of notes, all of them G O L D. But that's okay. There's always tomorrow. I often say that writing horror is writing hope, and I suppose that applies as much as to the characters trying to survive their own scary story as it is for me trying to get it down on paper.
And so we go on, squeezing, bleeding, and waiting for that sweet sip of spirit. As Catriona Ward (author of SUNDIAL and THE LAST HOUSE ON NEEDLESS STREET) also replied on Gabino's thread: "...like a bloody battle every day. It doesn't feel like it at the time, but the bloodied ones are often the best."
The past couple of years have been, well, rough. Much has changed, gotten better, gotten worse, not just in my life, but in everyone's. We are all currently just holding our heads above water, waiting for the tide to change and hoping like hell that we don't find ourselves swept out to sea. With Thanksgiving just past and the holidays mere weeks away, now seems like the perfect time to sit back, reset, and prepare for the New Year ahead.
I certainly can't complain; 2022 has been a fantastic year for me, professionally: new films (ALOHA WITH LOVE, TRICK OR TREAT, ALISTAIR GRAY, and the forthcoming CRAFT ME A ROMANCE), new novels (THROW ME TO THE WOLVES), a short story or two (CLASSIC MONSTERS UNLEASHED and forthcoming SHAKESPEARE UNLEASHED), and the release of both the inaugural women-in-horror poetry showcase UNDER HER SKIN and the women-in-horror anthology INTO THE FOREST, both of which have been tremendous projects, propelled by tremendous women, for which I am tremendously grateful. My debut horror novel, BLESS YOUR HEART, was picked up in a multi-book deal by St. Martin's Press/Minotaur Books, and that book is finished and a second novel green-lit. Another book is out on submission. A new anthology is in the works. There have been awards, articles, features–a whirlwind of amazing things for which I am blessed beyond measure.
Still, the best part of 2022 has been personal. Among the happy home and the healed injuries and my loving canine companion, friendships and networks within the horror community-at-large have taken up a huge residence in my heart. The cherry on top: watching so many of those people be recognized, celebrated, and uplifted. Seeing their books on shelves, on lists, in awards, on billboards! I am honored to celebrate alongside people I love and admire, to learn from them and grow with them. This truly has been a year for horror, and the horror community continues to be the best community. Yes, this is a job, but it is also a home.
2023 will bring many new things for my life: a move back into the country, more time spent traveling, and more focus on fewer, larger projects. I'm looking forward to slowing down and enjoying more moments with friends and family. Being reflective and intentional. Working less. Living more. And always writing.
Blogging is an odd beast, and one I've never been particularly good at taming. But it's also a way to connect, to share, and to save myself from the hellscape of social media. I don't plan to go offline at all, but I do want to carve out a quieter space for myself online. Thus, the goal of this blog isn't to replace book/film news, reviews, interviews, articles, etc. (I'll still do that elsewhere). Instead, I hope for this to be a space to share stories, moments, and insights that go beyond the character limit on Twitter or the photo caption on Instagram.
Cheers to the upcoming New Year, friend.