That handsome cover belongs to a reprint anthology my story “The Umbrella People” is a part of. There are stories by others whose names make me giddy, like Ray Bradbury, Kealan Patrick Burke, Elizabeth Engstrom, Tim Lebbon, John R. Little, William F. Nolan, John Shirley, Tim Waggoner, and so many others that my head’s a-spinnin’! I’m very proud to be a part of this group of writers.
This will be the third printing of this short story. Its first publication was in the first issue of Dark Discoveries, which is what qualified it for this antho. Its second publication was in my short story collection Catalysts, which was actually published by James R. Beach and Dark Discoveries Publications. I decided that, in honor of this publication, which is due to be released from Dark Regions Press this Tuesday, that I would write a few words about the story.
“The Umbrella People” came to me around 2003. At the time, my parents took me, my then-wife, and my older daughter out to dinner every Saturday to a pizza place in a nearby town. It was a good little restaurant. Their pizza was great, and so was a lot of what they cooked, comfort food meals. It was raining and as we sat in our booth, my mother put her umbrella under the table.
“Don’t let me forget my umbrella, people,” she said.
“Where are they?” I asked.
“Where are what?”
“Your Umbrella People.”
She called me a smartass, we all chuckled, and went on with the meal. For some reason, though, the idea stuck with me. And, like most ideas, the longer it stuck, the darker it became. The world itself was growing darker. I was unhappy in my marriage. I was restless and confused. And the world was going crazy. We were about to go to war over lies that our own government was telling us and things seemed, at the ripe ol’ age of 24, bleak. A storm was coming, it seemed.
And so I began writing.
At the time, I worked at a bus station, behind the counter. An entire wall was made of a mirror above the counter if you stood in the waiting area. From my vantage point behind the counter, it was a window. I would bring my Olivetti manual typewriter to write, after January 2003, I brought my notebook computer, a Toshiba Satellite that lasted me until 2010. I wrote the story at the bus station.
It was during a fairly productive time in my life and I was doing a lot more writing than I have time for now. The story flowed out without many issues. I remember thinking how odd the tale was how strange. I was very proud of it.
Now, thirteen years or so later, I’m still very proud of the story. I know James Beach loves the story, and it was a major impetus for him allowing me to write a column for Dark Discoveries between 2004 and 2011, as well as taking a chance on my first collection of stories. Others who’ve read it also seem to really like it. I wrote a short film script based on it and intended to try to make the movie myself for a long time. These days, I don’t know that I’ll ever be able to make it happen.
I also think about the Umbrella People sometimes, and wonder what happened after the story. I think there may be a novella there, but it’s still unknown to me, foggy. Maybe someday, a character will speak to me and I’ll be able to find out what happens next, and then let you know. Until then, I’m happy the story has found a new, really cool home and I’m looking forward to you making this particular Discovery.
It doesn’t take much work to know that I love Harlan Ellison’s work, and that I think the man himself is pretty keen, too. Even a new reader of my blog/website will know fairly quickly. So this Christmas was a pretty good one considering I got two of his books as gifts. One was the Subterranean Press edition of his classic 1958 collection The Deadly Streets, which I’d read this past summer in one of my paperback editions. Subterranean makes handsome volumes and this one is no exception. Now I need me the matching Gentleman Junkie so I can have the set. Anyway, Pamela did great. The other Ellison volume I received was Harlan Ellison’s The Sound of the Scythe, which features the full-length novel The Sound of the Scythe, published in its entirety for the first time, as well as four novellas. I feel the urge to talk about this book.
The Sound of the Scythe opens the book. Like most of Ellison’s novels, it’s a short one. It’s about a man named Emory who is moved to revenge against a former friend of his, a powerful man who is intent on destroying Emory’s life for the simple reason that he can. The book is a science fiction story that has the main character moving across the stars, trading faces (and, in some cases, bodies) to exact his revenge. It’s pure Ellison. Equal parts angry, loving, fantastic, and scary, one can’t help but feel Emory’s pain and even disgust in himself until the final pages. Still, while the novel is entertaining, it’s the lesser piece of the four that comprise this book. The fact that it was published for the first time in over 50 years, and was rewritten and unabridged, and the fact that it’s Ellison’s second novel, are the main selling points. I enjoyed it a lot, but it isn’t my favorite piece in the book.
The book’s second piece is Ellison’s novella “Mefisto in Onyx.” This story is about Rudy Pairis, a man who is able to read minds, and how he’s duped by a serial killer to switch bodies. The story is really good, though I found that the introductory meeting between Rudy and his closest friend, deputy district attorney Allison Roche, to be longish, since it comprises most of the story. Still, I enjoyed it the first time I read it back in my early-twenties when I read the 1997 collection Slippage, and I enjoyed it even more this time around.
The third piece is the novella “All the Lies That Are My Life,” which appears to be a semi-autobiographical tale about two writers. While I have this novella in the 1980 collection Shatterday, I still haven’t read the collection. This novella floored me. When I reached the end of it, I wanted to go back to the beginning and start over, and I wanted to curl into a ball on the couch and cry, heart-broken. It’s that kind of story.
The final novella of the book is one of my favorites, “The Resurgence of Miss Ankle-Strap Wedgie.” I first read this story back around 2000/2001, in the fourth volume of the doomed Edgeworks series, which collected two of Ellison’s collections: Love Ain’t Nothing But Sex Misspelled (1968) and The Beast that Shouted Love at the Heart of the World (1969). “The Resurgence of Miss Ankle-Strap Wedgie” is in the former collection. I read it again as part of 2001’s The Essential Ellison: A 50-Year Retrospective. This novella is a Hollywood story about a former movie star by the name of Valerie Lone who is found waitressing at a roadside diner by a movie studio’s publicity guy–Handy, who is the main character–and a producer. They lure Lone back to Hollywood, seeing it as a way to make their current movie, a spy picture starring Robert Mitchum, more interesting to the public.
The novella is heartbreaking. It got me back when I was 23/24, and it got me again, harder, at 37. I stayed up late one night this week finishing it, even though I knew how it ended. And when I finished, I wanted to cry.
And that’s why I’m writing about this book. The four longer pieces by Ellison are at times quite funny, and beautiful, but they’re all heartbreaking. They move one to look at the world, and at themselves, and ask the difficult questions. What constitutes bravery? Why do we allow ourselves to become entrapped by outside forces? Why do we ignore the songs within ourselves for false senses of security? What is love?
These are things that run throughout Ellison’s work, and they are why I love his writing so much. When I’m done, I’m usually wrecked, but I feel better for it. So click the link. Get yourself this book, or the others that I mentioned, and ask yourself those questions.
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.
So the response seemed pretty good to last week’s posting of my first essay in the Nightmare in Gautham series. I will begin revising the second essay tonight or tomorrow to have up on Thursday.
In case you missed it, last Friday I posted my short story “Snow Day” to the site. If you haven’t checked it out, please do so. People seem to really enjoy it. It’s a favorite of mine to read aloud because you can usually hear the audience react. Very cool.
Work on the novel continues and while I’m sure you’re sick of hearing about this faceless novel, I assure you that I’m making headway on it. And just to make stuff more interesting, I’ve begun a novella for fun. I don’t know if it’ll go anywhere, but I’m having fun with it.
Winter is finally winding down and I’m happy for it. It’s been a busy one. The baby is now 4 months old and the teenager turns 15 in less than a month. Talk about vertigo.
I finally finished The Twelve, Justin Cronin’s follow-up to The Passage. I enjoyed it but not as much as the first book. I’m interested in seeing where he goes for the third book.
My teenager has gotten me (finally) into Doctor Who. I’m in the 4th series (the Tenth Doctor) and am enjoying it, as I’m sure all of you have.
That’s pretty much it right now. Talk to you later.