This Saturday marks my 5th wedding anniversary to Pamela, and I have to say that I’m a little surprised. Surprised that five years have passed, surprised that she’s been by my side for seven years, and surprised that I haven’t somehow fucked the whole thing up. There’ve been near-misses, but here we are with an awesome 19-month-old girl and still crazy in love.
Sunday marks the 11th anniversary of the e-mail that would change everything. I know it because it came the day after my best friend’s wedding to his wife. The e-mail was from Elizabeth E. Monteleone telling me that my short story, “The Growth of Alan Ashley,” had been accepted to Borderlands 5, the fifth volume of the cutting-edge horror/dark/weird fiction anthology that I’d only grown up reading. She and her husband, the writer Thomas F. Monteleone, co-edited the anthologies that had published some of the biggest names in the field, and several newcomers who would go on to become Elder Statespersons of the dark genres.
For me, the sale would be true recognition of hard work. Within 24 hours of the acceptance, their publishing company, Borderlands Press, released their first advertisement for the book. This ad listed all 25 contributors, including Stephen King. This was a dream come true.
“The Growth of Alan Ashley” appearing in Borderlands 5 (and its subsequent paperback from Warner Books, From the Borderlands) opened doors for me. Some I walked through, some I missed, some I still hope to walk through more than a decade later.
A lot has happened in the last 11 years. My life had been turned upside-down and rightside-up and everything in between. Still, I am hugely proud of my association with Borderlands and with my story. “The Growth of Alan Ashley” is a piece that I can look at and think that, at least once in my life, I wrote something that was as good as any other writer working at that time.
The story was reprinted (slightly edited) in my collection Catalysts. Since Catalysts sold out, it’s been out of print.
Borderlands 5 is now available as an ebook from Borderlands Press. Some of the reprint rights for some of the stories weren’t granted for this edition (for instance, no Stephen King) but it is still an amazing roster. I can’t go through my favorite stories entirely, because it’s been 11 years since I read the book, but I remember being blown away by Gary Braunbeck’s story “Rami Temporales”.
I hope to be able to get Catalysts republished in some form sooner than later, but for now, for a damn fine read, I can say that buying Borderlands 5 will be the best $3.99 you can spend. Honestly, I’d splurge and get all the Borderlands anthologies.
Sometimes I’m thrilled to have been born in 1977. It means that while I have memories of a bygone era (and let’s face it, by the time you hit 30, your childhood is a bygone era) that included local TV playing old cartoons for hours, thereby giving a child a proper education. It means being able to see reruns of classic TV shows on those same stations without any of that retro garbage that stupid cable stations live ME TV have (and the shows were still a little relevant). It means seeing the dawning of the cartoon commercial, which is a bad thing but also very good if you were a child of that era (I mean G.I. Joe: Real American Hero and He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, et al). It means remembering a time before cable TV, and before Google and the internet. It means the excitement of MTV and HBO. It means remembering bookstores as places that sold books and record stores and simple comic book shops owned by a local nerd.
Yet, it means being able to know and indulge in digital technology. Not that I’m completely hooked up, but I’m okay. I have an HP notebook computer (which I’m writing this on), an iPod Touch, and an iPad 2. I have a Nook. My car can hook up to a Bluetooth device. It’s pretty nifty.
Last summer I received an iPod Touch from my wife and her parents. It’d never owned a touchscreen before and had never used apps. The first app I downloaded was for SiriusXM, the second was for the Barnes & Noble Nook. Within a day, I discovered ComiXology. By the end of the summer, I knew I needed to have an iPad. Thanks to a student financial aid refund, I got an iPad 2 on Columbus Day weekend.
I see ComiXology as a game-changer for comic books. At least for me, as a geek. I stopped reading comic books around 1996/1997. Part of it was my novel collection was growing and I wanted to focus on that, part of it was my interest in some of the storylines had faded, and a lot of it had to do with money and space. Comic books by themselves aren’t expensive (though they’re overpriced now, I think, but they’re using better paper so that’s a plus) and are pretty small, but once you start collecting, that changes quick. Here’s a for instance for you:
I was a Batman guy. I’ve always loved Batman but the 1989 movie certainly pushed me further. So if I wanted to collect Batman (and he’s still DC’s #1 guy) in 1990 (which is when I started) I got Detective Comics and Batman. Those were the main titles. Then in 1990, DC introduced Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight. I loved this series because the stories were complex but weren’t necessarily part of continuity (though a surprising number of the stories because part of continuity). The series would have several issues devoted to one story and each story had a different creative team, and each story was mostly independent of each other. The creators could pick and choose from Batman’s history for each story. I loved the idea then and I love it now. If these three comic books had been the only Batman books out there, fine, but then you had one-shots, you had graphic novels like the superlative Batman: Birth of the Demon and Batman: The Killing Joke, the collected back issues a young man would want to get like Batman: Year One and A Death in the Family. Then in 1990/1991, DC introduced its Elseworlds line of graphic novels that featured popular characters in different times and places. This was created by the success of the graphic novel Batman: Gotham By Gaslight, which took place in the 1890s and featured Batman going up against Jack the Ripper. Of course, most of the Elseworlds tales were about Batman. Then they introduced a new Robin and he had a few miniseries. Then they introduced a new Batman series, Shadows of the Bat. And every time a new Batman movie came out, there were comic books about the characters in them. So when Batman Returns came out, there were graphic novel stories about the Penguin and Catwoman. I’m getting out of breath here….
For a teenager (I was twelve when this all really started), this meant finding the money for these books. This also meant tons of storage. And if I wanted to try other comic books (I did) that meant even more money and space.
By the time 1996/1997 rolled around (I was between 18 and 20), I was tired of it all, especially with the Knightfall, Knightquest, and Knightsend series. I loved Knightfall, which told the story of Bane and his breaking of Batman. This was a couple of years after DC did their Superman story The Death and Return of Superman. But Knightquest and Knightsend left me cold. I was also sick of all the tie-ins and multiverse stuff and I was running out of space. So I stopped.
Yet…I never really stopped. I’ve bought many graphic novel collections and stand-alone stories in the intervening years. A couple of years back, I even bought the monthly Superman title to follow the J. Michael Straczynski storyline Grounded, where Superman walks across the country in an attempt to connect with the people. I’ve read some of (not all of) Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series. I own every graphic novel collection of the entire run of Garth Ennis’s superlative Preacher series (come on HBO, make this a series!). And there were others, but…well….
And then I discovered ComiXology. I have to say, folks, I love it. Like any ebook, it will never replace holding a real comic book, and if I had children who read comic books (my 14-year-old seems uninterested and the other one is only halfway to her birth), I’d buy the kid real comic books just in case it made friends who also read comic books, that way they could swap them when they hung out together (this was an unrealized dream of mine until I was in my twenties, and I spent an afternoon with my best friend reading newly purchased comic books and swapping them). Still, ComiXology is great, and I highly recommend it.
Last January, 2010, or maybe it was summer 2009, if I could find the printout…
Anyway, it doesn’t matter, I received a private message on MySpace (remember that place? Good times, man! Gooood times) from a new publisher that was getting into ebooks. They asked if I was interested in publishing the ebook version of my 2007 short story collection Catalysts.
Now, this flattered me. The fact that someone had read it, and then was interested in publishing it, is still something that flatters me. Luckily, I didn’t immediately reply. First, I have mixed feelings about Catalysts. The stories were written between 1998 and 2004, we’re talking from when I was 21 until 26. In other words, they’re stories written by someone just beginning to learn his craft. Beyond that, there’s at least one story that I really don’t like anymore. I know what I wanted to do with it, I know what I attempted to do with it, but ultimately I failed with it. (This strikes me as funny since it was one of the stories from the collection that was published on its own, and I’ve received emails saying it’s a favorite from a few deranged souls). I’m not saying the stories in Catalysts are bad. Far from it. I really love most of the 13 in that book. Two of which have inspired the novel I’ve spoken about so much. One gave me a goddamn career! And Tom Monteleone’s foreword still brings tears to my eyes and makes my head spin. But I think you know what I mean.
Second, I didn’t know who this publisher was. I’d never heard of it. So I looked it up. They were beginning with some ebooks from some writers that fans of the horror genre would recognize, but I noticed that these ebooks were smaller works, novellas, not anything big.
At the time I was (and still am) playing with the notion of doing one, two, or three stories in a small ebook and selling them for cheaper prices, in the way the Amazon will sometimes sell individual short stories from writers, or in the way that musicians will sell individual songs as well as the whole album. I thought (think) that if you put the two/three stories together with a central theme, maybe add a special introduction or afterword, that sort of thing, it could be an interesting way to get stories out there.
So after a week or so (I’m a busy guy), I sent a reply to the publisher that thanked him/her/it profusely, said how honored I was to be considered, but that I wasn’t interested in doing the whole collection as an ebook. And then, in a much shorter, more concise, and more businesslike format, I wrote what I just wrote above. I ended the email with something akin to, “Let me know your thoughts on these ideas. I look forward to hearing from you.”
I never heard back.
When I deleted my MySpace account last summer, there was the original message left unanswered. For the helluvit, I just Googled them. It appears they closed down. It appears that last fall or summer, they stopped replying to emails, Facebook messages, MySpace messages. Their MySpace remains with 6 friends, one being Tom.
It’s not cool, but I had a feeling about them.
A quick note: I’ll probably be shopping Catalysts around to epublishers later this spring or summer, once my day job and classwork are done. I’ll let you know how that goes.