Confessions of my Past, Present and Future
I can’t pinpoint a specific time when I started to read, other than the fact that it was quite early. My mother made sure trips to the library were a regular occurrence and she actively encouraged that side of me. The movies of the late seventies and early eighties certainly did the job of sparking a wild and fantastical imagination in me. But where a lot of my peers went down a different path, I found reading to be just as much of a captivating activity.
When I think back, there are memories of comics. Mostly Peanuts, Garfield and Archie books. As I grew older, the books shifted away from the artwork and towards the words. I remember an old hard-backed edition of The Hobbit that I still own to this day. I remember Choose Your Own Adventure books along with The Three Investigators and the Hardy Boys. Star Trek books became a love of mine as the film franchise was taking on full steam.
My first explorations in the horror genre came courtesy of John Bellairs. His books had a spooky kind of tilt to them but were still targeted at a younger reader. I had a number of his books and read them probably a dozen or so times each. Those were the books with the scattered stains of tomato sauce and grease on the corners of the pages since I often ate while I read, likely a clue to my less than healthy physique now.
One book in particular, The Dark Secret Of Weatherend, was a favorite of mine, early on. The main character is a young man, staying with an older relative. In the course of exploring the town, they come across the abandoned estate of a local eccentric, a man who had been obsessed with the weather, constantly observing it and making notes as he seemed to be preparing for something. Investigating the mystery of this man draws them into an increasingly gothic and dark narrative.
As a young reader, I loved the inherent danger and peril of the story. Even when re-reading the books, the intensity and impact of the narrative was a big draw for me. The characters were people I could relate to, mostly because they seemed to have the same interests and inquisitive side as I did. They reminded me of the adventure aspects of Tolkien but with a greater feeling of danger, of forces out there not fully understood.
I think that one of my main interests in the horror genre is that of the unknown. Whether it be the questions on a grand scale such as what happens after death or the more basic imaginings as what might be lurking around the corner. I’ve always been attracted to the dark places that exist beyond the borders of our own awareness. What’s really out there in the spaces not quite filled by our knowledge and understanding? Are there powerful, dark forces out there, working against us as a natural polar opposite to the light?
As I got older and the wide-eyed passions of youth began to slide away, my sensibilities as a writer and reader would change. My reading habits would wither on the vine as I was sucked in by the allure of the television and video games and the Internet. Still, those early books held a special importance for me. And later on, when I would bring myself back to reading and writing with a new enthusiasm, those books were still there, building blocks I had set aside, but not entirely left behind.
When I was in my twenties and early thirties I often felt jealous of people around me for being so much more connected with the music scene and contemporary bands. I have always been a big music fan but my tastes have always been fairly centered around the big names and I always felt like my friends had some kind of inside track to know about all these great, smaller acts.
I know, you likely think I had a stroke and forgot what this was supposed to be about, right? Just bear with me.
Growing up listening to music and then when I spent a brief period of my life playing in bands, I never really felt like I was in the right place. I loved listening to music but I always knew my enjoyment was superficial. I wasn’t paying attention to lyrics, I was just reacting to the music itself. As a bass player, I think I became functionally good but never once considered myself to be a musician. It was a lot of fun and I still miss it but I believe people were seeing a facade of what I wanted them to see.
In all these endeavors, I was pretending to be something I wasn’t. Those artistic urges were there, inside of me. I just wasn’t choosing the right connections in order to get them out to the world.
It was just within the last ten years that I found my way back to books. And it was like coming home.
At the time, I was commuting a fair distance to work so I was spending roughly an hour a day in my car. I also had a job that allowed me several hours in the morning by myself. This was a natural reason for me to start listening to audiobooks. It was an easy way to fit books into my schedule and it helped to start planting the seeds that would grow into what they are today. Fully separated from the snobberies of college, I gave myself the freedom to read for enjoyment again. I rediscovered Stephen King and John Grisham and Michael Crichton. I rediscovered what I thought was lost, a love for the written word and the power a story can hold. But more importantly, I found my way back to something else.
I wanted to be a writer again.
And just like I needed to give myself permission to read the things I wanted, I also had needed the same go-ahead to write what I wanted. Growing up as I did, in the shadow of a famously renowned literary workshop is a bit like being in an echo chamber. It’s easy to get the idea that if you aren’t going to be the next Bukowski, you’re wasting your ink and your time. What I finally realized was that I needed to accept what I was. There was no reason to be ashamed to write genre, I had to go where my passions lay.
As I fully dedicated myself to my craft, I felt something I had never gotten from music. I felt like I was on a plane of existence that I understood, that I could contribute to. I have never considered myself to be a musician but I’m more than willing to call myself a writer.
I wasn’t afraid to let people read my work anymore and I wasn’t afraid to confront the reality of criticism. For a long time, I realized that I was writing because I needed other people to tell me that I was good. Going through this long evolution, I understood that I needed to focus less on being good or bad and more on whether I was being true to my vision and my voice.
In no way would I suggest that I know it all as every day is a chance for me to grow and expand on my knowledge. But I actually feel like a part of a community, with peers I have come to know and respect. While I felt out of touch with the contemporary music scene, now I was getting the chance to connect with a new generation of authors. I have come to read and love work from the likes of Rich Hawkins, Duncan Ralston, Jessica McHugh, Paul Feeney and Thomas Flowers. And this is just to name a few.
This is a great time for the horror industry. I know many have bemoaned the work of self-published authors but I have met so many of them that are dedicated to their craft. There also seems to be an explosion from the small to medium sized press that put out fantastic work.
The Train Derails in Boston reached me on an epic level. I have never been much interested in erotic-leaning fiction and I wouldn’t say that this book has changed that outlook, but it does demonstrate that a good book is a good book, regardless of the genre. This book hits hard and takes no prisoners. It’s a brilliantly layered narrative that presents mysteries that are gradually solved through subtle development and reveals. The sex is definitely in there but at no point did it feel excessive or unwarranted which, I think is an achievement in itself. And it all culminates in a closing sentence that might just be one of the most brilliant moments I have ever come to in a book. Ever.
Woom is another book I likely would have given a pass to in years gone by. Still, one lesson I have definitely learned is that you should always give something a chance. Ralston has an emotionally gripping book here that will shock. For many, it will go too far, too extreme in its sensibilities. But if you can look past the surface, to the broken characters that exist underneath all of that, you find a tale of tragic loss. Will the book make you cringe? Hell, yes it will. But it also challenges you and makes you think. And that, more than anything else is what great art should do.
These are just two books that have been huge for me recently. There are so many others I could name as well, the likes of Matt Shaw, Mark West, Michael Bray, the Sisters of Slaughter, Chris Motz and many, many others.
I will always love the greats. In 2017 I will finish a project I started several years ago, in which I have been reading all of Stephen King’s books in order and reviewing each title. But for as much as I have loved that, it has been even more satisfying to discover so many authors. As a teenager, it was always a point of pride to show visitors my book shelves. Now, although I can show no physical sign, I feel similar pride for the amount and variety of books on my kindle as well as my Goodreads shelves.
I continue to read more books every year and to feed this beautiful monster in my mind and soul. My passion for the words seems to show no sign of slowing and I feel nothing but excitement for what is yet to come. Which I suppose would be a natural point to move on from here and forward to…..
The most I can say about the future is that I am happy there is one. There are names of authors I continue to add to my watch list and I fully expect to carry on, enjoying their work. Books will continue to be a centerpiece for me. I’d like to expand my horizons a bit and branch out into different genres. I’d really like to read some more of the crime and detective novels. A relative has been bugging me to check out Jo Nesbo for a while now. I’d also like to read some more science fiction and explore some of the western genre.
As for my writing, I will continue going towards the stories and narratives that excite and speak to me. I have been working overtime for the past year or so getting material down on paper and I think I’m ready to scale back a bit. I currently have three completed novellas that have been submitted to publishers. I am in the process of re-releasing short stories from my first book as stand-alone titles and I will be releasing a collection of flash fiction this year.
The point is that I can afford to take things easy. My blog which has featured works of short fiction will be ending in a few months so that won’t be on my desk anymore. I’m very excited about the prospect of simply working on one book at a time. I will continue writing reviews for Confessions, of course. But I think I need to let more of the world in and really take the time to enjoy this stage of my life. The words will get out there in due course.
I just began work on a follow up to my apocalyptic thriller, Behind Our Walls. This new book is tentatively titled From Across Their Walls. The book will stand on its own in terms of the story, taking place in the same universe and in proximity to the events of the first book. And I imagine that there will be some familiar faces that will make appearances.
Beyond that, who’s to say? There are ideas I have, projects I’d like to take on. We will just have to see where the road takes me. I’m not the narrator of that story, I can only know so much.
I will say that I feel like the world is entering into frightening times. So much that I can’t think of a time in my life when the written word has been more important. Maybe there is something to be learned within the covers of so many fantastical worlds that can show us where we are running astray. I will do what I can to encourage my sons to pursue an interest in reading. I can only hope for success in a world rife with easier distractions and negative energies.
Explore your passions. Be the person you are, not the expectation you think everyone else has of you. The only cure for darkness is by shining out the light that is uniquely ours, joining them together in one beacon that beats back all that would seek to bring us down. Express yourself and give yourself permission to be the oddball, to be strange and to flee from normalcy. Because in the end, when we find ourselves lost in the new normal of bitter anger and hostility, it’s the oddballs and weirdos who are going to save us from ourselves.
Until then, I read on.
You can buy Behind Our Walls here.
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Chad is a Midwestern born author, living most of his life in Iowa as well as in Illinois and Michigan. He studied at the University of Iowa and has been cultivating his own passion for the written word for most of that time. He focuses on genre fiction, namely horror and science fiction. In 2014, he published Borrowed Time, his first book, a collection of short stories. His writing can also be seen at his blog, bakedscribe.com where an original piece of short fiction is shared every week.
And for more about Chad, visit his site or find him on social media: