Some of these titles have since been retired (my earlier work). Yet, being a vital contribution to my growth as a writer, I wanted the inspiration behind them to be represented.
* * *
Piano Lessons: With this book, I took "write what you know" to a whole new level. So much is based on real people or real events, that it's practically autobiographical. It's a love letter to music, which has always been a huge part of my life. It's also an open letter to my teenage daughter, Eden, on whom most of my protagonists are based. In this book, however, my daughter is also a gifted piano player, who has never been truly appreciative of her talent, nor has she been willing to explore the depths of her ability. I wrote most of this story while riding my bike over the spring/summer of 2019, between the hours of 6:30am and 7:30am, when my mind is at its freshest and most creative. With the exception of Gabriel Thorn, this is also the longest it's ever taken me to complete a book: April - October. I even went to Provincetown with Eden before writing the last chapter. I took extra care with this one, because the themes and topics were important to get just right. It's the most "young adult" Young Adult book I've ever written, and it also let me fulfill one of my writing goals - to write a scene where two people have a meaningful conversation in a lifeguard chair. Don't ask. Just know that it was very important.
New Moon Rising ~ An LGBT Tale of Self-Discovery & Acceptance: I had originally intended to write this book with my daughter, Eden, an openly gay teen who is a talented illustrator. Intimidated by the project, she turned me down, so I sought elsewhere for my artist. It was very important to me that the illustrator be a member of the LGBT community, and when I recalled my friend from high school, the answer was obvious. The story itself is primarily about young people struggling with their sexual orientation or gender, but I wrote it in such a way that it can pertain to anyone struggling with their identity.
A Particularly Hairy Situation: At 14 years old, one of my greatest priorities was growing my hair long, so it looked every bit as cool as the rock stars I idolized. The problem was, I had thick, wavy hair (the kind that little old ladies would tell me they wish they had) that wouldn't cooperate. It was more likely to grow outward than down, but I was determined. Once it had gained some length, I tried everything to keep it straight and manageable. I slept with it wet in a baseball hat, I ironed it straight with a crimper, and I finally settled on having it professionally relaxed twice a year. But I didn't stop there. Because my hair was so thick, I had to keep the bottom half of my head shaved, so it didn't look bushy. And because I relaxed my hair, I had to get it trimmed once a month to get rid of dry ends. I even bought professional shampoo/conditioner (Mane & Tail) from a store called "Sally's." After that it was just a "simple" matter of never going outside in the rain and/or humidity, and washing it every other day. It wasn't until I was in my early 20s that I realized I had become a slave to my hair and cut it all off. Now, the only time I miss it is when I'm playing drums - I miss being able to swing my hair around or hide my face behind it. But I look back on how committed I was to maintaining my long hair, forcing it to be something it wasn't, and how much stress it caused me. This was essentially time wasted, and I regret it. Had I just accepted it the way it was and worked how I styled it around the type of hair I had naturally, I may have been much happier - I may have even went outdoors more often.
Beautiful Black: Black is my favorite color. It has been since I was a kid. No
particular reason why. I'm not a dark and morbid person, nor do I harbor
evil intentions. I wear a lot of black clothing, I drive a black car,
etc, etc, so I've been asked countless times why I favor this color. My
response is always simply, "Because I like it." People usually seem
disappointed by this answer, but it's the truth. When my daughter was a
baby, I came across many books about colors, most of which portrayed
black in a negative light, or didn't acknowledge it at all. (This is the
part where you say black technically isn't a color. True, but as it's
referred to on an everyday basis, let's just say it is.) When I wrote
"Beautiful Black," I tried to choose images that a young child might see
every day--either in person, in a book, or on TV--or might overlook in
favor of something more stimulating. My goal was to portray black as a
friendly and familiar color, and not something to loathe or fear.
Treelove ~ A Story of Loss & Newfound Hope: In 2008, my wife and I suffered a personal tragedy, one she came very close to not surviving. An experience like this is one of those things that you assume will never happen to you, and it put many things into perspective. This book was my attempt to find hope and maintain faith that ultimately life is good and worth living - most of all, that life is perpetual and will continue, no matter what. As you can imagine, we had a difficult time explaining what had happened to my daughter Eden in a way that she could understand. She was only four at the time and eagerly anticipating a brother or sister. By the time this book was finished, the experience had passed, and I did not feel compelled to bring it up with her, so she has actually never heard this story. With any luck, I will never have to read it to her.
Follow Me Home, Moon: Since she could talk, I've kept a journal of cute, funny, or interesting things that Eden has said. A child's perspective never ceases to both amaze and amuse me. Their world is so complex, yet they have no choice but to interpret it literally and simply. They see what they see, and their mind processes these things the best way it can. One evening, as her and I were taking a walk, she kept glancing upward. Finally, at one point, she remarked, "Look, daddy, the moon is following us." The innocence and beauty of this statement was overwhelming, and I was inspired to create a story based on this observation. "Follow Me Home, Moon" is my first book.
Sir Foolhardy & the Misfits of Mushwood Forest: For either her first or second Christmas, Eden received a "Weebles" castle as a gift. Among other things, this toy came with a knight and a dragon figure. At this age, playing with Eden mostly consisted of her watching me play with her toys for her own amusement. My job was to entertain and make her laugh. Many years ago, I was a member of a role-playing group (Dungeons & Dragons). One of the players was a noble knight named Jasper. Whenever he spoke in character, he spoke in a very bold and dramatic tone, with lots of fun, and medieval flair. Whenever I played with Eden's knight, I spoke in this same voice (In the book, Sir Foolhardy even somewhat resembles the person who inspired him). The dragon was always a bored, lazy creature, with a bad cockney accent, for some reason. The pair were pals, and their exploits usually consisted of the knight attempting feats he was incredibly under-qualified to perform, and the dragon bailing him out of trouble. Eden rather enjoyed these two, so at some point, I decided to come up with a bunch of similar characters and make a story out of them, highlighting their odd personalities. (Thanks, Dean, for creating Jasper, without whom this story wouldn't exist!)
Clara & the Lands of the South: As a member of a nonreligious household, I wanted to write a story that captured the pure and universal message of the holiday season, while adhering to the more traditional, and less commercialized, image of Santa Claus. Instead of Elves with pointy hats and curly shoes, I wanted to incorporate different kinds of Faeries from European folklore. Once again, the child in the story is meant to resemble Eden, and even her magic blanket is taken directly from real life. I strongly believe this book can be read and appreciated by any adult or child, regardless of their beliefs or faith.
A Box in the Woods: I was on a field trip with Eden and her kindergarten class at an apple orchard. Given that it was October, the orchard offered haunted hayrides through the woods at night. That day, they took the kids on the hayride; however, all of the scary Halloween props were still in place. Of course, the kids all remarked on these things as we passed by them, pointing their fingers and bringing everyone's attention to what they saw. Their reactions were very typical, the way you'd expect a kid to react to seeing a make-believe ghost or witch. What took me aback, however, was when they reacted this way to seeing an ordinary cardboard box sitting under a tree. There was nothing special about this box, and it was clearly not part of the haunted hayride. I remember thinking that in having witnessed their reaction, I had just been made privy to something special. "What did I just see?" I recall wondering. "Why would these kids react this way to a simple box that someone had probably left behind for no important reason?" Then it occurred to me: they were reacting to the allure and excitement of the unknown. Not knowing what was inside the box, or what might reveal itself at any moment, was perhaps even scarier and more exciting than the giant plush snake in the branches overhead. As I sat there, a poem began to form in my mind, hence, "A Box in the Woods." Afterward, I had the pleasure of reading this book to these same kids at their school and was able to tell them how they had a hand in helping me write it.
The Legend of Windella Witch: My daughter Eden and I have many strange and wonderful games that we play together, most of which involve me trying to come up with unique ways to entertain a very unique child. One of the many characters that I invented was a guy named Carl the Cannibal, who basically has a ridiculous Cajun accent and runs around trying to catch Eden so he can cook her body parts into weird and funny recipes. To soften the tone of the story, however, Carl the Cannibal became Windella Witch. Out of guilt for having cheated Carl out of his moment in the spotlight, I wound up dedicating the book to him.
Kitty Foo-Foo Mama & the Great Comic Convention Caper: My
friend Erik suggested this idea to me after the success of his first
annual ComiConn convention. I liked it and stored it in the back of my
brain. Then, of course, Eden said something at the playground a few days
later about "Dr. Purple & Nurse Pink," and I thought of how it
could tie into this idea. Even the title character is Eden's, which she
used to call herself a while back. My favorite idea of hers in this
story, however, is the 'Anywhere Map.' This magical item can show a
person how to get to anywhere in the universe. I heard her talking about
it one day, while she was playing with her toys, and made a mental note
I first met Erik when he was the manager of "Dream Factory," a comic book store chain that died an untimely death in 1996 (Erik is now the co-owner of Alternate Universe, a small comic store chain in Connecticut). It was the best job I ever had. Like many of us who worked there, I developed a strong fondness for comic books, which survives to this day. I reference Dream Factory in this book, but I call it "Dream Station." I even named the main character after Erik's wife, Pam. So thank you, Erik for this cool idea. Hope you feel I did it justice.
Samuel Sasquatch: In August of 2010, my family and I took a trip to New Hampshire. One of the things we did while there was ride the Cog Railway up Mount Washington. In case you've never done this before, the cog railway is the front part of a steam train that pushes along a single passenger car up a really narrow railroad track straight up the mountain. The part of the track that moves the train up and down is made up of cogs, and the whole thing works like a bicycle chain. It moves very slowly, it's very rickety, and it's quite terrifying, to be perfectly honest, especially near the top, but more so, on the way down. To distract myself, and maintain a brave front for my daughter, I fixated on the surrounding trees and mountainous terrain and tried to come up with a story involving one of my favorite cryptids, Bigfoot, of which I've been an obsessive enthusiast since childhood. By the time we reached the bottom again, I had come up with the premise for "Samuel Sasquatch."
Mallory's Gallery: Sometimes a book idea comes to me in the form of two rhyming lines, or an entire verse. Mostly, this occurs in the shower, or the car on the way to work, before the events of the day muddle my thoughts. Sometimes I'm inspired by nothing at all, and the premise is completely spontaneous. Such was the case with "Mallory's Gallery." Originally, I was considering writing a poem with the sole purpose of submitting it to a children's magazine, in order to enhance my publishing credits. Seven pages later, however, that was no longer a possibility. Halfway through, I was thinking about WHY I was writing it, and where I was going. I began to think about me, when I was a teenager, sitting alone in my room and writing melancholy poetry by candlelight. Despite the subject matter and eerie setting, I was actually quite happy. This led to me thinking about how other people couldn't grasp this at the time; they interpreted my activities very literally. Surely, there must be something profoundly wrong if I was shacked up in my room writing about cemeteries and broken hearts in near complete darkness...right? This brings into question the idea of personal perspective, especially regarding another person's individuality and personality, and how vastly different one can be from the other. Is it possible for someone to be happy in their "misery"? As outsiders, should we try to "rescue" them from their "morbid" thoughts, or embrace how these thoughts can inspire artistic creativity and passion? Is what they're doing constructive, therapeutic, or ultimately damaging? It's all a matter of perspective. I did not require rescuing and, in my opinion, neither does Mallory.
Little Drummer Roy: I had always wanted to do a book about drumming and dedicate it to my Grandad (Roy Mitchell), who died from cancer at fifty-four when I was five. This was very important to me, as I am told he and I are very similar. In addition to being a jazz drummer, he was also a practitioner of stage magic. Whenever I visited him and my Nana, he always had a new trick prepared for me. Toward the end of his life, he assured me that he had one trick he was saving--the best one of all. I couldn't wait to see it and would ask him about it constantly. Finally, he agreed to show me the next time I came over. He died before he ever got the chance.
Said the Thorn to the Rose: I have always been attracted to the idea of profound love, impossible love, and unconditional love. These are the kinds of loves that exist between the folds of conventional love and, in my opinion, are the most interesting to read/write about. I had also always believed the concept would make a nice children's book.
The Princess & the Crown: For many weeks, my daughter was insistent that I write a particular book, the idea for which was hers. She would ramble off parts of this idea during our walks, and I would take mental notes . Eventually, we sat down and I wrote some things down. Aside from the moral lesson and plot arrangement, the story is essentially hers. Whether it will last for long, she has been very enthusiastic lately about the Japanese culture. Hence, why the story is set in feudal Japan. I'm sure it is no coincidence either that the theme of the story centers around beauty. At such a young age, Eden has an unusual fixation with her appearance--from her hair, clothes, and accessories, to comparing her looks to the girls she sees on TV. Being my only daughter, this comes as a surprise to me, as I didn't think this would be an issue until her teenage years. Hopefully, after reading the "dangers of vanity" spin I threw on her story idea, Eden will come away with a measure of understanding pertaining to her concerns...though given the focus and time she puts into choosing an outfit for school, I'm sure it's too much to hope for.
Bike Wherever You Like, Mike: I had always intended to write a children's book about cycling, of which I'm an avid enthusiast. While
sitting at a holiday fair, where I was a vendor selling my books, the
title of this book popped into my head. I thought it had a nice ring to
it, so I whipped out my notepad and began writing. Rather than make the
story about the adventurous aspect of the activity, something far more
existential started pouring from my pen. The Dr. Seuss book "Oh, the
Places You Will Go" entered my mind for some reason, and I thought it
would be a bit more "outside the box" to make the story about something
Shy Boy: I was thinking about how disappointed I was to see that my daughter had inherited my debilitating shyness. This was a regrettable trait of mine that stayed with me all through childhood, and still exists to this day to a certain degree. So, of course, I figured I should write a story addressing this characteristic. My first thought, however, was that in order to write a story about shyness, I would first have to pose a solution. I had yet to discover a cure for my antisocial behavior, otherwise it still wouldn't be an issue today. Then, of course, it hit me. However difficult to embrace, the most effective method against shyness is simply being yourself without fear of consequence. What someone else thinks of you is none of your business, which most self-conscious people fail to realize. Once we stop giving ourselves the option to care about other people's opinions of us, only then will we no longer be shy.
Beyond the Crack in the Wall ~ A Cautionary Tale: When I was seventeen I worked at a fast food restaurant called "Duchess." Every day I worked, I walked there from home, and back again. Part of my route passed beneath a highway, and one day I got an idea about a mysterious and perfect world, the entrance to which was through a crack in the wall. The crack, however, wasn't big enough for someone to pass through; therefore, anyone who glimpsed this place was forced to look at it from the other side. I thought about how maddening this could be for someone who was either unhappy with their life or only mildly content. Anyway, the story was never written. I had only just started experimenting with poetry and had no idea how to properly execute a story idea. Fast forward twenty years, and my sister-in-law Jenny emailed me to ask if I could come up with a short-story idea for her college English class. For some reason, this idea popped into my head, and I offered it to her. She said afterward that I should be the one to write this story, but it did inspire her own idea. While sitting at an art fair that weekend, I began to jot down notes. That same night, I stayed up until 4am until the story was finished. Had Jenny not emailed me that day, I doubt this story would have ever seen the light of day.
Sweet Dreams: One day, out of the blue, my daughter asked me what the tooth faeries did with all the teeth they collected. Even as a child, this had never occurred to me, and I was intrigued by the question. I replied honestly saying, "I have no idea, but I think Daddy needs to write a story about this." Anyone who knows me knows that I love writing about faeries, so the subject matter was ideal.
Creatureton Elementary: I am admittedly, and without shame, a huge fan of the Harry Potter series. I believe this to be one of those rare times when the phenomenon actually lives up to the hype. That being said, I was re-reading the books recently when I came to a scene involving a character named Argus Filch, the Hogwarts caretaker. In the wizarding world, he is what is known as a "squib," which means both of his parents are wizards, yet sadly, he was born without any magical abilities. I set the book down and thought about how this would make for a very interesting story. What if poor old Argus was given the chance to become not only a wizard, but one of the most powerful wizards of all time? Would he abuse this power or use it for good? Now, what if Argus was a 12-year-old girl, and instead of wizards, she went to a school for monsters? By the time I was finished, I had written my first Young Adult novella.
Creatureton High & Creatureton University: I once said I would never do a sequel to any of my books. The reason being, I was always thinking ahead, moving forward, and eager to be onto the next project. A sequel would be taking a step back, and I didn't have any interest in revisiting old ideas. In the case of Creatureton Elementary, one of my favorite books I've written, I was convinced I couldn't write a sequel, as good if not better, than the first book. I didn't think I could do it justice. Then one day, while I was re-reading Creatureton Elementary, an idea occurred to me for a second and third book. It took some courage on my part, but I sat down and attempted to flesh out my ideas. The first draft of the second book only took me two weeks to complete, and then I spent about another few weeks tweaking it. I'm really glad I did, because I wound up being very pleased with both.
Greedy Guts: About thirty pounds ago, my dinnertime nickname was--Greedy Guts. I had always thought the name was funny and took it in stride. For awhile, I even used it as my screen name online. I also believed it would make a good title for a children's story, if I could come up with the right tale. The obvious subject was gluttony, especially since this is becoming a more and more common problem with today's youth. I had always admired the edginess and absurdity of Roald Dahl's stories and wanted to do something along those lines. Then at a comic convention, while promoting "Kitty Foo-Foo Mama," I was fortunate enough to be seated next to an artist who called himself "Tourniquet Jones" and drew mostly horror art. When I told him about the kinds of books I did, he shared with me some drawings from a children's book he had been working on for his daughter. I was extremely impressed with his style and thought it would be perfect for "Greedy Guts." Over the next couple of weeks, we quickly squared away what we both wanted from our mutual project, and I sat down right away to write the story.
A Moonflower Grows by the Roadside: I'm probably alone on this, but one thing that always baffled me is when I see an animal on the side of the road that has been hit by a car, usually in the morning on the way to work, and by the time I come home it's gone. I'm the kind of person that will sit and obsess over things like--did someone call the city and notify them of the animal, or does a city truck patrol the streets looking for these things? How and why are they removed so quickly! So as with many of the things that both confound me and fascinate me, when I can't find an explanation for something, I make up one on my own. The challenge here was to write a story based on something as graphic and sad as dead animals in the road that is both appealing and interesting to children.
Tidal Fools: Being an occasional doodler, and a one-time aspiring artist (when I was a kid), my wife had been after me to illustrate one of my own books. That being said, I had an idea for a pair of friends who I could use to illustrate some of the more common problems that my daughter encountered during her second year of grammar school. The books and characters are largely inspired by SpongeBob and Patrick, from "SpongeBob Squarepants," of which I am a HUGE fan, and Elephant and Piggie, from the series by Mo Willems of the same name.
A Rose in the Devil's Garden: Only recently, and I'm extremely ashamed to admit this, especially given the genre I've chosen to focus on, did I discover the writings of Roald Dahl. That's the guy who wrote Willy Wonka, right? For a long time, this was the extent of my knowledge where this author was concerned. I had read an article about him online, and his explanation as to why he writes such dark and dangerous stories centered around children had a big impact on me. I had been entertaining my own dark and dangerous ideas for some time but always felt a measure of guilt at the thought of publishing them. I figured people would assume I didn't like children, or took some sort of pleasure in frightening them and seeing bad things happen to them. I had experienced a similar feeling when I published "The Legend of Windella Witch." The time of the Brothers Grimm had long since past, and these violent and scary stories about children didn't have a place in modern society...right? Not exactly. As Mr. Dahl had said in the article, children have very little control over their world, and their youth tends to make them feel vulnerable. Stories about children overcoming wicked adults or villains gives them a sense of empowerment. This was all the validation I needed, and I delved headfirst into his catalog of children's fiction. I devoured everything I read, all the while taking mental notes. Imply rather than show, and you can get away with much in the way of what is considered violent or scary in children's literature. Inject a measure of humor at the most terrifying of moments, and the scene becomes digestible. His stories are brilliant, his ideas unique. This eventually led to the inevitable, where I would be inspired to write down my own idea. One morning, while reading his book "The Witches," I paused to consider how twisted a concept The Cabbage Patch Kids was (I don't even remember why. It just popped into my head, like so many things randomly do at 5:30 am). I mean, this guy Xavier Roberts was growing children in his garden like vegetables! How did anyone not see how sick and horrifying this was? A strange image suddenly appeared in my mind. I saw a garden being tended by an enchanted scarecrow, and children buried up to their necks in the ground. I knew there was a tale there, somewhere, and I set out to find it. In two sittings, I had written the entire story.
My Soul to Keep: Years ago, my wife and I suffered a very unfortunate and traumatic experience. I had always suspected that it would one day appear in a story, and that it might help me to deal with what had happened, which I still feel as if I'm doing to this day. You never get over something like this, so anything you can do to help you cope is a plus. This book in particular was influenced by a few different things. There was the experience I just mentioned, my daughter's obsession with cats, and one of my favorite short stories, "The Monkey's Paw." The first time I heard this story, it scared me in such a profound and disturbing way--I'll never forget it. I'm also partial to the Gothic Horror genre, stories like "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" being a good example. That being said, I'm not quite sure what genre this book falls into. It's not quite a horror story, and it's not quite a supernatural story, yet it possesses elements of each. Gothic suspense? I don't know. My sister-in-law, Jenny, called it "Hawthornian," which I think best describes it.
The Abyss Stares Back ~ Early Writings of Lust, Obsession & Madness: Recently, I unearthed a treasure trove of early writings, most of which are very far from anything I've published so far. These writings originated at a time when I was still trying to find my voice, while developing my skill and style. Reading them now is like watching a child take their first steps. Though the performance is awkward and ungraceful, one tends to feel a measure of pride at their courage and sense of accomplishment.
The Seven Sinister Deadlies & the Seven Vexing Virtues: I
had an idea for a sequel to "Creatureton Elementary," where Sally would
be facing off against a gang of teenagers in high school who called
themselves "The Seven Sinister Deadlies," and each of them would have a
power based on the seven deadly sins...This never happened, of course,
because, at the time, I was too intimidated about the idea of writing a
sequel. So I had another idea involving the seven deadly sins, but this
one was a book of short poems along the lines of Tim Burton's "The Death
of Oyster Boy," and each one would be represented by an accompanying
illustration. I took it one step further and included the seven heavenly
virtues, which I had no idea even existed until I did some research.
Anyway, this idea felt more natural than the Creatureton sequel, so I
pursued this one instead.
The sins are referred to as "Sinister Deadlies," because they’re easy yet corruptible. Children have an especially easy time living with the moral repercussions, which they aren't even aware of because they’re children and still very innocent—even when they’re bad. I call the virtues “vexing,” because these are the morally good lessons parents teach their children. Children, however, are usually reluctant to abide by them, because it means sacrificing some kind of joy or freedom. Basically, it’s easier and more pleasurable to be morally bad, and harder and more frustrating to be morally good, especially as a child, when all of your instincts are telling you to run wild and free, and do what pleases you most.
Deathly Pale: Like with "The Princess & the Crown," Eden told me about an idea for a story she had during a walk, and I basically took it from there. The core of the plot is her idea, and she even came up with the character concepts, which I was really impressed by. The art, however, is being handled by my cousin Lisa's talented, teenage daughter Kaylee.
EDENISMS ~ A Collection of Quips, Quotes & Quizzical Queries, Starring Eden Rain Paolucci, Child Extraordinaire: Some parents collect photos of their children and keep baby books documenting all their monumental firsts and happenings throughout their child's early years. I, on the other hand, collected snippets of conversations and various quotes. At first, I kept them in a WORD document, which I would email out to friends and relatives whenever I updated it. Then I created a Facebook account, and any future sayings and stories became status posts. At family gatherings and such, I was always approached by people who told me how much they enjoyed my "Edenisms," as I called them. I was pleased by their reactions, even though they had always been more for my own amusement. Eight years later, I had collected a good amount. Eden was now ten, and the naivety and "cuteness" of her statements and questions was beginning to wane. I figured I had enough at this point to make into a book.
Memories of Winter: At the age of eight, my daughter was having a terrible time remembering to bring home her homework. So, utilizing the old trick of tying a string around one's finger, I came up with an idea that I thought might appeal to her. Instead of a string around the finger, I chose a special bracelet, one that she might not normally wear on her own. This way, seeing the bracelet throughout the day would remind her that the only reason it was there was to help her remember her homework. Needless to say, it worked. In the process, however, the idea for this story came to me. I don't usually spend this much time in the "real world" when I write; most of my stories have more of a fantastical element. There's definitely one present here, yet one might be surprised how much of what this story entails is actually based on my own personal experiences and traits. From the dentist, to how I spent days home sick from school--even the methods Winter uses for falling asleep. The two main characters are also based on what I imagine my daughter Eden and her friend Taliba will be like at thirteen.
The Reckoning of St. Valentine: For
Valentine's Day, I wanted to write a love poem, however, one
that was more representative of me and the kind of things I would say,
opposed to something you might read in a Hallmark card. Accompanied by
some appropriate pictures, it made for a nice gift. I was pleased with
how it came out, and was thinking about how I wished I had a book in
which I could include this poem--either as part of the story, or at the
beginning, like I've done in the past with other poems I've written.
Yet, this was very specifically a "Valentine's Day" poem, and I even
reference the holiday a couple of times, so the book in which it
appeared would have to be about Valentine's Day. Given the kind of
stories I generally write, this was likely never to happen. So, I
jokingly thought to myself how I would have to come up with some kind of
dark and twisted version of cupid to justify including this poem in a
book. At some point during this contemplation, this "joke" turned into a
legitimate idea, and thus was born "The Reckoning of St. Valentine."
I think it works better with the pictures, but here's the poem that inspired it:
If spiders were roses, I’d paint them white
Bunch them together, nice and tight
Present to you this valentine fright
Then sleep on the couch, for the rest of the night
Blood for chocolate, I’d give you a pail
Filled to the brim with whatever’s on sale
Each drop a promise, each trickle a kiss
The kind of endearment you’d gladly miss
A vampire diamond to bite your finger
The kind of gesture intended to linger
Yet one to convey the depth of my love
A gush of emotion best kept in a glove
A ghost for a hug, who could resist?
Less messy than my kind of valentine kiss
Squeeze tight these ghouls who I shall enlist
Or wind up with simply an armful of mist
A grave of poems, spewed from the heart
Romantic, no, but it’s a start
For who better to say that love is forever?
Than two loving corpses buried together?
Ghost Story: One of my favorite genres of literature is Victorian ghost stories--Turn of the Screw, etc. I always wanted to write something along these lines for children. I've worked alongside the artist Kevin Elliott for many years. He would always come over to my desk to show me the latest drawing or animation he was working on, yet it never occurred to me to approach him about doing a book together. Until the day I saw a portrait he had done of the Star Wars villain, Boba Fett, which he had made almost entirely out of pieces of magazine pages. I thought it was brilliant and asked him to illustrate Ghost Story using this same collage technique.
Here Lies the Truth ~ A Tale of Goblin Revelry: My cousin Valerie in Pennsylvania emailed me one day to ask if I had a book about why kids shouldn't lie. She said her 7-year-old nephew was misbehaving and wanted to give him a book on the subject. Unfortunately, I didn't have a book about lying; however, I believed I should, so I set out to remedy this right away. Coming off having just read Neil Gaiman's book "Fortunately, the Milk," this proved rather easy.
Little Me Too: When I first met my wife over twenty years ago, she told me about a children's story idea she had about her youngest cousin, Ryan. At the time, Ryan was six, and always chasing after his older cousins and siblings, saying "Me too, me too!" in regards to whatever they were doing. My wife's grandfather gave Ryan the nickname 'Little Me Too' as a result, which was intended to be the title of her story. Twenty years later, Ryan passed away. On the one year anniversary of his death, I had a dream that I wrote "Little Me Too." I couldn't get to work fast enough to write it all down.
As Above, So Below: After reading Bram Stoker's Dracula, I was always intrigued by how the book was written as a series of letters and journal entries. This is something I had always wanted to try, but I would need the right story to go with it. One day, an idea occurred to me, a sort of writing experiment. I had a plot in mind, but I wanted to approach it a little unconventionally. I asked a writer friend of mine to assume the role of the demon, and I would be the angel. I would start off the story by writing her a letter in the form of an email, which would be the beginning of the plot. She would respond to my letter, which would be the next installment of the plot, yet neither of us would know what the other would write until we received our letter. I imagined we'd go back and forth until the book was finished, never actually mapping or outlining the plot. I admit, I got this idea from another writer, yet our stories are vastly different. Unfortunately, my writer friend could not find the time to commit to this experiment, so I simply assumed both roles and wrote the entire thing myself over the course of three months. In regards to the third act, aside from anything pertaining to the actual story, 99% of it all is true--down to some of the dialogue. It's no secret that my brother is one of the most fascinating people I've ever known, and he's a huge inspiration to me in many different ways. In a sense, this book is a tribute to him.
Bluesman (Where Hails the Savage Rhythm): In 2009, I performed a wedding ceremony in New York--my father's. The ceremony took place at Howe's Cavern, and the entire wedding party spent the night there, before going home the next day. After the ceremony, me, my brother, and my new step-sisters celebrated well into the night. We sat at a picnic table in the middle of a large open field and bonded over drinks. The following morning, I awoke from a dream that would become the plot of this story. I don't think I ever would have come up with an idea like this on my own. During the drive home, I mapped out the story in my mind and jotted it down before I was even unpacked. It's the first thing I ever wrote that my dad read and became excited about. Anyone who knows me, knows that I'm not only a big fan of country blues, but of the blues harmonica. Hence, the subject of this story.
Skin & Bones (Where Hails the Savage Rhythm): I wasn't content with "Bluesman" just being a short story that would never see the light of day. I wanted to make it a part of a book, a collection of stories, but I didn't have anything else that I thought was as good or worthwhile; I would have to write all new ones. I considered a musical theme, but the only other aspect of music I was passionate enough to write about was the drums. This didn't help, as I couldn't think of how the drums would fit into a semi-supernatural and interesting story idea. I started challenging myself to write things I had never attempted before. I'm a big comic book fan; what if I created a "super hero" whose special power was drum-related? I considered primitive forms of drumming, mainly African. I play the djembe and actually consider it to be a very spiritual instrument. I researched African mythology and realized how all of this could tie into a modern-day super hero story. I had never tried writing a mystery before, so I thought this would be a nice new genre to explore. The story was starting to become a writing experiment that would either work or not. A lot of "me" went into this story. The people in the band in the beginning are named after the guys in my high school band, Fantazia. The bands mentioned in the story are some of my favorites. These are really my feelings about drumming. The main character Jason Rose is named after one of my favorite drummers, Morgan Rose from Sevendust. The story itself is violent and graphic at times, but it's all relevant to the story. When I emailed Morgan Rose to tell him that I had named a character after him, he not only wrote back to say that he had just ordered a copy, but he promoted the book on his Facebook page as well.