by Wayne Allen Sallee
Got laid off from my job last week. Just saying, is all. Three years back, I found myself writing all sorts of things I never did before, so watch out for big things this time. A Robert Mitchum superhero comic! A musical based on Abe Vigoda! MooTube! And whatever else I can think of before the meds wear off. I’m leading towards something here, just bear with me. Remember, I’m the guy without the driver’s license, so you have to stroll aimlessly with me for a few paragraphs. One thing that I foresee happening is that, until I’m working full-time again, is that I’ll be on the Internet more often. Christ knows, that’s how people look for jobs these days. The thing I heard most often in the summer of 2005 when I was downtown job hunting was “we don’t take walk-ins.” Not even when I was wearing my cheery Universal Monsters tie. I found temp work counting light bulbs and a tiny, blurry part in THE WEATHERMAN on Craigslist, but also found a few writing gigs.
I watched DIARY OF THE DEAD last night because, well, when you are unemployed what’s the first thing you think of besides zombies? The film wasn’t good at all, except in a cheesy PLANET TERROR meets NIGHT OF THE CREEPS kind of way, but I found it interesting to change the use of the computer for documentary from THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT to–in a lesser extent–filming the zombie “coverup” and putting it online. (Hmmnnn. GrueTube. Thought of it first. Just now.) I think the film was a weak effort capitalizing on the upcoming WORLD WAR Z, based on the book by Max Brooks, and a very compelling passage involves a computer geek in Japan who spends days online learning and sharing everything about the “African rabies,” and finding more and more of his friends no longer being online.
I’m in a bit of a pickle because of my personal blog, Frankenstein1959. (Not the one with the hentai penguins, that’s a different one). I had been mentioning a high school buddy by name in the Technorati tags–something that always makes me think it’s something on Iron Man’s facial armor–in, well, three entries in over three hundred total entries. His goofball wife (I’m describing her shape, not mentality) has started a business and has somehow made the assumption if people Google her, then her husband, they will see the blog entries and worse yet…the blog. She is applying for grants, you see. I can assume how heartless it must be to read of a friend visiting me in the hospital after the car accident: GRANT DENIED! It didn’t take long to adjust my blog, but I feel as if I’ve erased my decades long friendship along with the Technorati tags.
Evil Happy Smiley Face Man. Anyone been reading about this? A retired New York cop made a connection in 40 unsolved deaths, all college men, all drowned, in 12 states going back a decade. One of the deaths occurred here, nd proves as an example why murder was never suspected. A guy from the wedding party at a hotel downtown went walking off a little bit drunk and was last seen by the hotel doorman. His body washed up on a beach near Michigan City almost four months later. Many of the drownings are clustered around Eau Claire, Wisconsin, and the cop who has been in the news had been investigating an Albany college kid who disappeared after a Hallowe’en party in Minneapolis. Tracing the bodies to the probable point they had entered the water–the guy from the wedding here was assumed to have simply toppled over a railing into the Chicago River and the currents did the rest–police found smiley faces carved in tree trunks, spray-painted on glass or brick, and chalked on boulders. In some cases, words assumed to be gang slogans were found nearby. The break occurred when the Albany copy found that a word scrawled near where the body was found in the Mississippi matched the street name that ran along a small creek in Iowa where another body was found. All of the deaths are still considered drownings, not homicides, but police are putting together a theory on how the crimes are being committed. Via the Internet. They are putting credence into the idea that there is a group of people orchestrating each death by staying in touch before and after each death. Posting code words like Sixth Street or photos of their smiley face postings. I can see the Craiglist classifieds in seemingly innocent verbiage. A perfect way to commit serial murder, if you think about it. Never mind the evil twin from the Michael Slade novel, the competing killers in KISS THE GIRLS, or the cousins who combined were The Hillside Strangler in Los Angeles. Hell, I even wrote a novella called DRINKING BUDDIES back in the day, about two serial killers who would periodically meet over beers and play catch-up. The tag was that there was a third guy in the bar, a serial killer who killed other serial killers, long before DEXTER showed up, but let’s face facts. Much of what I wrote in the 1980s could not be considered stellar material. But with the access I have in front of me to different newsgroups and message boards, why would I need to go to a tavern to compare notes with Every Mother’s Son or the BTK Strangler? I find the entire Evil Happy Smiley Face case fascinating, and not in a morbid way. As I’m typing this now, someone in another state bordering the Mississippi or Ohio is reading about upcoming parties or weddings and his buddies are doing the same. Who knows how many are involved here, in the event of any single person being caught, odds are most of his interstate accomplices are simply faceless avatars on a computer screen. Murder has just gotten more anonymous.
OK. I have no idea what that means. I just want to get this thing rolling. Somehow, in some way, I am writing this at 11 PM on Sunday the 27th because I worked today at the plant. For eleven hours. Go figure. I went to bed last night expecting to dream of Erica the blonde pharmacist at Walgreen’s who makes certain I’m not skipping my bipolar meds (and maybe that’s a hint for me to ask her out, the fact that I’m taking my meds in a timely way). Thinking to myself, yea, rainy day Sunday, write the essay, work on the comic, nap, dream of Erica ,alternate between reading George Pelecanos and Lesbian Pirates From Outer Space…then the phone rang at 7 AM. And that was that. I’m going to get through this now, then flop down and most likely dream the entire 108 minutes of CARNIVAL OF SOULS within an hour of waking up (all the better to feel like complete roadkill when I dream that early in the morning; I can’t have dreams about zombies that make me get up at 3 AM and urinate like the average person…)
Stalkers. A few weeks back, I mentioned to the SU group that I received an odd comment on one of my SU entries from 2007. I good-naturedly asked if anyone in the group had ever dealt with stalkers, or, what years ago might have been called “hangers on.” Well, one person I had never heard of was mentioned, and I again realized how out of the loop I am these days. I never even heard of the individual. I won’t mention her/his name because I am told she/he Googles her/himself regularly. I do the same, and somehow when I hit page 73, my name shows up alongside the phrase “sailor moon hentai penguins,” but there you have it. But there are many different ways to encounter the crazies that are crazier than we are, and I’m here to recount several instances of people who spend too much time up on Hard Rock Candy Mountain.
I have participated in book signings at several locations here, the Printers Row Book Fair, the TwilightTales readings at the Red Lion, and at the late, lamented The Stars, Our Destination. Before I tell you about the “it doesn’t matter” girl, I will say that I once had a man come up to me at Stars to have me sign a copy of SPLATTERPUNKS. The guy showed interest in wanting to co-write a story with me, then told me he had never read a story of mine and did not know who I was. All this before I even finished signing the book or spoke a single word. The kicker is that the guy had an old-timey plaster cast on his arm, the fuzz was coming out of the thumb area, and this oozy stuff like melted mac and cheese was caking to the book as I handed it to him. He tried to make further conversation in the cramped book aisles, and I recall sticking my finger in my ear and pretending to be receiving messages from the mother ship. Never saw the guy again, but I still recall that mac and cheese, which is why I likely will eat a bug before I open up macaroni.
The “it doesn’t matter” girl is another Stars story, though the origins starts about a year earlier. My chapbook PAINGRIN was published in 1993, and one night I received a call from *ahem* Stanislaus Darnbrook Colson Tal Emerson Lake & Palmer. He wanted to pass on the contents of a letter from some woman who lived in nearby Skokie, was deeply moved by my diary entries, and he gave me her phone number. Well, I had seen Griffin Dunne in AFTER HOURS, I should have known better. We talked a bit, she wanted to have lunch, it was a Friday during the summer, I thought what, I mean, WHAT could it hurt to meet her? She gave me an address off Clark and Kinzie. I’m thinking its that German restaurant now demolished. I see a big green building with no sign, no windows. Maybe it’s a trendy place with a side door, a back entrance. The sign to be read from the bridge or the elevated train. It was a methadone clinic. She comes out with this giant-size sippy cup of, I guess, methadone, and we go off jauntily to have lunch and run into her drug-addled friends. I’m thinking, boy, I am screwed. She is introducing me like I’m Jeremy Piven and she’s Drew Barrymore, only more like if her eyes were made of glass and made me think of John Barrymore, lying in a coffin with a sippy cup stuck to his embalmed lip. At one point, she went on the nod and I blew town.
She found me. Hell, she knew my name. It’s not like I use the name Vinnie Cthulhu or Mitchum Marlboro Spartacus. So I’m at Stars signing YEAR’S BEST HORROR:XX, and I’m sitting next to my artist friend H. E. Fassl. She waves, Harry says “who she?” and I mutter “it doesn’t matter it doesn’t matter it doesn’t matter” before she shows up and slurs surprisingly coherent sentences to me. She started attending conventions, mostly hanging out with the goth crowd, and ended up becoming good friends with Karl Edward Wagner that last year of his life. I was at Yvonne Navarro’s house, one of her VonCons, when she called to tell me Karl had died. Then she went to live with R. Chetwynd-Hayes.
But there is one guy I have never been able to shake, going on twenty years now. He has three names, as most serial killers do, and, well, yea, me, too. I first met him when I worked at a comics shop on Archer Avenue, and he was all into MK-ULTRA and mind control–the in thing for the summer of 1991, evidently–and he also told me that he worked on computer programs overseas. Being 1991, and being me, I thought he was designing the new Ms. Pac-Man. Then he started showing up at, yes, Stars Our Destination, and, yes, Printers Row, and then I’d get off the subway and walk above ground and he’d be riding by on his bicycle, fer cry-eye! This last did indeed happen, and I began to question my very reality. Phil Dick was alive and well and was writing about my life.
I didn’t see him for months, and then he showed up at a TwilightTales reading. He explained in whispers that he had not been around because he had been working as a military contractor in Iraq. I couldn’t pretend I was getting transmissions from the mother ship with this guy, because he was piloting the damn mother ship! I sent Mort Castle a photo of this guy, who is in the background off a photo of Mort and I at World Horror 02 here in Chicago. Remind Mort it’s the guy in the bright green lei, trying desperately to get in on our conversation.
I saw him two summers ago at Clark and Belmont simply because I chose to walk on the wrong side of the street, or so Phil Dick would want me to believe, and I was able to brush him off fairly quickly, as he did know I had a certain time frame to get my last el train home. Oh, I forgot to mention the time he walked into The Gallery Bookstore and I hid behind the stack of recent acquisitions until he passed by and I could sneak out.
So those are my tales, my anecdotes, what have you. I’m certain there are other tales to be told, by some of you reading this, hopefully by nobody Googling this. Hell, someone might come across this entry simply by typing in ‘hentai penguins.’
Until next time.
Wayne Allen Sallee
Burbank, Illinois 28 April 2008
By Wayne Allen Sallee
I keep wondering each time the 28th of the month rolls around exactly when I’ll be typing my piece without snow on the ground. Well, OK, its mostly hail today. The hard snow that eventually bounces into Indiana, once its banged off my huge, middle-aged nose a few times. It is spring here, there are maybe two days in a row that one can feel it, not the temperature, but the sound of early morning birds and evening gulls in the parking lots. It’s the gulls and mournful they sound that bring up moments in the past, a gull with a broken wing I saw on a grey Good Friday who seemed resigned at his eventual doom. And from that I can recall most of that entire evening and weekend. Charles Gramlich, a writer displaced from New Orleans by Katrina and FEMA, hipped me to the term “iceberg memories.” Just as my dreams are incredibly detailed, in fact, the gulls and grey skies are repeaters along with the expected el trains and buses.
Music is probably the biggest instigator for iceberg memories that I may or may not choose to use in a story. This past Monday, I was up north for the book launch of HELL IN THE HEARTLAND, an anthology of stories set in Illinois, and Mike Martinez gave me a CD mix. Mind you, I still have an 8-track that could tape blank 8-tracks, and a cassette player with mixes from the early 90s. When one cassette broke, Charles’ wife Lana fixed it. While I had tried to fix it myself–imagine Jerry Lewis as a brain surgeon–I played my DEATHPROOF CD and kept Jack Nietzche’s “The Last Race” on repeat. Louder each time. Of course, when I got the cassette back, I realized I had Rick Dees’ “Disco Duck” on side two, right before “King Tut.” The only iceberg memory from that is the fact that I drank a lot in 1994 and assumedly had way too much time on my hands. Now, Mike had basically offered to burn some songs by The Ides of March and add a few other songs of his choosing. And what’s incredible about the mix is that most songs really do bring back memories for me. In a big way, images that I have put in my stories and used as springboards for other pieces.
Before I go on with a partial list, I ask if the same goes for those reading. I know music plays a large part of a writer’s life. I enjoy typing to Glenn Gray’s Cosa Loma Orchestra from the 1920s or Eartha Kitt’s song from the 50s. All I need to get back in my brain is the horns or Kitt’s voice and the crack of the ice in my glass of water. My Frankenstein’s laboratory is certainly different than most would expect. But, the memories this mix brings back, some spot on with stories I’ve written, songs I’ve mentioned.
Soft Cell’s “Tainted Love” was first, and it brought me back to Rogers Park, where I lived with three artists. I had a manual typewriter, a stack of SASE’s, and it seemed like I never stopped typing as my roommates listened to new wave. A song I wish was on the CD is Nena’s “99 Luftballoons,” if only so I could get the lyrics of “99 Words For Boobs” out of my head. Its on YouTube, and the damn phrase I keep mumbling at the bus stop is “comfy pillows and Don DiLillos.” “Lake Shore Drive” by Aliotta Haynes and Jeremiah is THE Chicago song. I first heard the song in the early 80s, and when I lived north in Rogers Park, well, everyone was on LSD “Friday night trouble bound” one way or another. I have several stories set in Denver, and two characters in a record shop vie for the 45 RPM, one giving it up so he could get Robert Mitchum’s “Calypso, Is Like So…” instead. George Pelecanos tends to put references to a ton of music in his crime novels, characters will drive through have of Washington DC arguing about which band had the best cover of some Marvin Gaye song. Pelecanos is much richer than I am in musical knowledge. Well, he’s much richer than I am, period.
“The Weight,” by The Band. I was starving in Bellair, Illinois, pop. 54 in the summer of 1983. There’s a long story to how I ended up in this town, living in a yellow house with no windows and writing for a farm supplement that went into the Casey Daily Reporter. I could never cash my checks because, well, you know, I was a hippie from up thar by Chicagah. The guy who got this writing thing in motion split with some chippee half his age about three weeks into it; there were eight writers who starved. Mark Rainey published my long poem “A Rural Truth As Ugly” in DEATHREALM, the first of many mentions of this experience. In other stories, I basically kill the same man only giving him different names, the bastard who left me calling for my father to pick me up because I had only eaten one pack of Saltines in three days. I still had cuts on my fingers from when me and Bob McCoppin stole a can of Mighty Dog from a back porch and almost cried when we realized we had no can opener. We used pens and then tried to scoop the stuff out, slicing ourselves as little as possible. The stuff tasted like cookie dough served in Hell. But Bob had a cassette of The Band’s Greatest Hits, and we sang the words to “The Weight” as loud as we could, shoving this crap down our throats, blood from our fingers making us look like Heath Ledger’s Joker.
The Ides of March. Their work is hard to come by, though you can hear “Vehicle” on most 70s stations. “I’m a friendly stranger in a black sedan…” That one, and “L. A. Goodbye” really send me back. The latter song has been playing on jukeboxes in several stories, and in THE HOLY TERROR. The band is long gone, but Jim Steronik lives in nearby Berwyn, looks twenty years younger than me, and has written about 80 songs for other singers that have made the Billboard 100. Virtually my whole life in the decade before my first writing was published in a saddle-stitched book out of Detroit called BEATNIKS FROM SPACE, all on one CD. There are other songs I could mention, but this essay seems one-sided. I hope some of you will imagine me and the Mighty Dog when hearing “The Weight” again. Do any of you put certain songs in your works on a conscious level? If I drift away enough, the closing guitar riff on “L.A. Goodbye” fades into the sounds of the gulls I hear every night as I walk home. As always, thanks for reading…
Wayne Allen Sallee
I had thought about calling this month’s entry “Butcher’s Raindance.” Sounds like a good story title, right? Even though I have no idea what it might be about…yet. Is it a ritual done by a serial killer, the dance being the way he sanitizes his crime scenes? Is it a song by an emo band (or whatever kind of music genre my oldest niece listens to these days), which, now that I’ve typed that, I realize I’d give up that route right now.
Butcher’s Raindance is the name of the floor-cleaning product used by Cardinal Cleaning twice a week at the printing plant where I work. A splash of blue in the mop bucket. There’s a Sundance product, I assume more of a disinfectant, but I’m really not keen on writing Butcher Cassidy and The Sundance Kid. Call my silly. But the other product gave me two words that are enigmatic when slapped together, and I have it set aside in my commonplace book to use one day. The title above it is “The Brides of Science.”
Back in the day, Mort Castle offered me a chance to write a chapter for the Writer’s Digest book ON WRITING HORROR. It was already titled “Mirror, Mirror” and the point of discussion was where does a writer NOT get his ideas? Mort, being the wandering sage he is, had chosen me because I could come up with anything from that day’s news to simple scenes of the different levels of hierarchy in the citizens of Chicago, chain smoking executives bumping past the accordion man wearing shorts in November, or the preacher talking about the evils of tobacco and trying to convert shoppers at Old Navy on Washington Boulevard. I also added to the images, taking the “mirror” to be the bus or elevated train window, or even one’s own mirror seen first thing in the morning or the last thing at night.
Well, I’ve got this thing about my story titles. Certainly some images such as I describe above get my mind thinking, but I always, always, need a title before I write a story. I might know the ending line, but I cannot truly squeeze out a good opening line unless I have that title. One of most well-received cop stories, “In The Shank Of The Night,” is an example of where I had the title in my journal. When asked about it, I refer people to an overlooked Dean Martin song, “In The Cool, Cool, Cool Of The Evening.” In the shank of the night, if the doin’s are right, you can tell them I’ll be there. Yet “The Brides of Science” has been around for longer than “Shank”, which was published in 2005 in SEX CRIMES. I wrote a story called “Bumpy Face,” after learning it was slang for a cheap of cheap booze in a beveled pint bottle sold in the Loop. It took me five years to realize what or who Bumpy Face was, at times I even sunk to the point of thinking it might be a mutated hamster. Instead it became a story about an alcoholic and his daughter and statements given to the police. Looks like I’m ready to beat that gap in time with “Brides.” Hell, even my novel, THE HOLY TERROR, was a short story, a nice polack phrase from my childhood was that a kid could be a real holy terror. Peggy Nadramia from GRUE magazine sent it back, telling me that the story had all the elements for a novel. “For You, The Living” by Roadkill Press. A line from “Monster Mash.”
I’m a big short fiction reader, I suspicion it is more because I commute by bus or train instead of the fact that I write short fiction. So, if I have a collection by various authors, I will choose by title than by author or page length. Next to me on my desk, I have a copy of HELL IN THE HEARTLAND, which has stories, including one by me with a title I truly dislike, all written by Illinois authors and set in our state of five month long winters. Looking at the table of contents, I’d likely read “Wet Dog Perfume” by Michael Penkas first. The title stands out. The next book I have here is HIGH COTTON, a collection by Joe R. Lansdale, his ownself. How the hell to choose, right? Mind you, I’ve read many of these stories over the past decade, but sometimes you gotta re-read something simply because you need a reminder of how screwed up the world is through another writer’s eyes. I’d choose “Not From Detroit” right off the bat, just for the quickness of the title, followed by “Tight Little Stitches On A Dead Man’s Back,” because that story could mean so many different things.
Do any of the collected authors here have similar problems with titles? I don’t always use a title that comes back to be a phrase in the story, such as I did with the Bumpy Face image. I have a story about a nice doctor in my old polack neighborhood of Humboldt Park who becomes a vampire, and he chooses to end the suffering of many of his patients by biting them in turn. Most were invalids, or in wheelchairs, and I played on their chronic pain being gone in their new lives, therefore keeping Chicago–or at least the Polish neighborhoods–free from a plague of vampires. The story is called “Skin of My Birthright,” and I simply despise it! I could think of nothing better, nothing that wouldn’t smack of yet another typical vampire story, and, frankly, I have no freaking idea what the title even means!
But where the hell does the title of my essay figure into things, you say? Well, recently someone was screwing around at my parents’ 49th anniversary party and was going to beknight my father. In doing so, he sniffed the familiar odor of my father’s hair, and there you have it, Sir Brylcreem.
I’ll eventually write something using that title, possibly a nonfiction piece for KENTUCKY EXPLORER, my father’s home state. Until that time, I need to figure out what “Butcher’s Raindance” will be about…
by Wayne Allen Sallee
Ah, Huey Lewis, the man too hip to be square. Wonder what’s he’s doing right now? (Aside from slapping at his ear, buzzing away because he’s being talked about). I’ve spent the week reading Brian Hodge’s MAD DOGS and had thought about writing about Brian’s move into the realm of crime fiction, and how, just like the guy he co-dedicates the book to, Sean Doolittle, each book is about a different topic, different characters, no super cop who is the first guy on the scene for every high profile crime. (Incidentally, the other fellow in the dedication is Clark Perry, and fourteen years ago, it was the four of us in staring across the Mississippi at Algiers, Louisiana like we were The Warriors ready for their last rumble; it was then that Clark gave me the name that shall live on past my own, Jonny Algiers. Certainly better than Waynard Thumptwanger, after an obscure freaking puppet on a local kids show here (he was Maynard, though). Just saying, its a small world, even when I realize I haven’t seen Brian since last century. But, man, it takes balls to write the stuff Brian’s writing, same with Sean, not doing the safe bit and creating a lovable character and a crusty but cantankerous boss who will appear in book after book after book. Now, I’ve gone on record in several interviews saying that DEATHGRIP is the only book that made me truly consider suicide. Of course, that was before my lovely and expensive bipolar meds, which keep me perfectly sane for five days and then for two days the “S” word is floating beneath my eyelids when I blink. I’m thinking if I reread DEATHGRIP during those next two days, well, who knows what might happen. Brian breaks from the dismal view of life I am poster child for, and writes WILD HORSES and now this crazy book I’ve told him reads like a BLOOD SIMPLE episode of MY NAME IS EARL. Would it be so goddamn hard for the masses of people out there who read diluted crap with Fabio as a vampire on the cover to just realize that any book that Brian writes is brilliant, it doesn’t have to be horror. Sean has always gone the crime route, but I’ll bet a lot of you don’t recognize the name. Same for my good pal and sometimes co-writer, Sidney Williams, who has nine novels in print. Well, I went off on a tangent, as usual. I want to discuss something else, if it hasn’t already been covered (seeing as someone was asking for a certain Seattle publisher’s email). Also, while I’m not naming names, I’ve left a clue in the fact that I have Brian’s limited edition book because, well…
I’ve emailed a few people over the past few months, Dave has put me in touch with James Lowder, who has quite a bit of knowledge regarding anthology contracts, and I think what it really comes down to is…no one expected a search engine like Google. Certainly not editors. Who’d have thought SPLATTERPUNKS was released in Italy? It was Mr. Lowder who mentioned, after I told him that I traded with a private collector in the Netherlands to get three Danish editions of YEAR’S BEST HORROR, that it was quite possible that there would be very little monies to be had as the selling rights might have been very minimal. To this, I agree. There have been only two editors who have ever been square with me, Ellen Datlow and Gordon Van Gelder. I’m not talking about royalties, and I’m also talking of the days when we mailed people or called them up. Ellen made certain I received every foreign edition of LITTLE DEATHS and Gordon sent me a variant cover of SPLATTERPUNKS third printing and the Spanish edition of NIGHTMARES ON ELM STREET. Nobody else has done Philip K. Dick about such things, and those I’ve mentioned it to claim it all falls back on their agents. Or not knowing how to get in touch, even though everyone knows everyone now thanks to the Internet. Or Google. Hell, it frosts my crab rangoons that I can type my name in Google Images and find that damn Italian copy of SPLATTERPUNKS staring at me on page 2. If Huey Lewis’s ears are ringing, I can only hope that —- —–‘s urethra is turning itself into a balloon animal. Never mind the German edition of both volumes. I don’t give a damn about money, I would just like the common decency of being told that there was a foreign edition of an anthology I am in and where to contact the publisher. No word on that when LOVE IN VEIN was picked up by Michel St. Aubin, or several other anthologies with French and German publishers. To his credit, the late J. N. Williamson did tell everyone that MASQUES III was being reprinted in Spain and did give us an address in Madrid. Of course, I don’t have any of my contracts from the mid 90s around anymore, so I can’t say that First North American Rights meant anything as I had expected. Screw the story on the agent not following through, the editor knows what’s what when they get their cut, however big or small it might be. The same goes for domestic editions, I’ll go on record as saying that I am tired of finding trades published by ROC with the hardback publisher not saying a damn thing. And, no, its not like DAW trying to keep up with a hundred authors from the YBH anthos, the ROC books were by dealers of limited editions, you recall me mentioning *ahem* Brian’s book earlier, right?
I’m working on this comic for Elfinkids in New Delhi and I’ve basically signed off on everything, whatever I create belongs to them. Taking what they’re giving, because the money is better than I’d ever expected. I knew this going in, but I did ask that they change my contract to show that I get compensated with copies of any collection (the comics are 64 pg quarterlies) or foreign editions. Sure, I’m gambling that this thing won’t take off and become Bollywood’s answer to Shark-Boy and Lava-Girl, but at least I’ve learned to get answers to the questions that matter. So I’ve filled out my private bookshelf a little thanks to Google and a guy named Kees Buis and no thanks to —- —-, —– ——-, and particularly balloon animal urethra ————-!#@#$#@#—— . And, hey, thanks to Google I found out there’s another guy with my name who owns a fish store in southern Florida. As always, thanks for putting up with my insanity.
Wayne Allen Sallee
Here I am again. Before I go into my intended topic this go round, I’d like to take a moment to talk about the vagaries of irony. Now, its old news that my tombstone will read “The Computer Remained His Nemesis.” But I continue to find new ways to become an irony magnet when it comes to this thing in front of me, the Monster That Made Ted Kaczynski Insane. (The Unabomber grew up in Evergreen Park, just a few blocks from my old home in Chicago. Different generations, varied levels of insanity at these god-awful monstrosities). A few months back, I discovered a few reprints of YEAR’S BEST HORROR in Dutch, and I had correspondence with Kees Buis, a bookseller in The Netherlands. I now have the Dutch edition of my first paperback appearance. Around this time, I was given a copy of Naturally Speaking, as I had discussed in a previous 28th of the month entry. Well, the only way I could download the program was in Dutch. I do not lie. Cop slang for a suicide is “doing a Dutchie.” I wonder why. I wrote a column on cyanide for Salem Press’ FORENSIC SCIENCE reference book. I start the article, hit Save As, go to the plant for fourteen hours, come home, click on the WordPerfect document, and the screen is blue. White text. INVISIBLE text, if emailed, but for my highlighted in, ah, blue email address. Cyanide. Cyan. Prussian Blue. I’m sure if I “did a Dutchie,” I’d be blue in the face when found. (I’ve told many people that I intend to be stuffed and auctioned off each year at a World Horror Convention to the highest bidder, maybe the bloated face will add to the effect). One would think.
Now, skidding around to a serious topic, as fast as my bipolarity allows, the meaning behind my column’s name. I fell into what could work out as a long term writing assignment, granted the first book sells well. A comic company in New Delhi was accepting 64 page adaptations of fantasy and science-fiction books, and I came very close to not even emailing the publisher. My idea involved handicapped children in a rehabilitation clinic that achieve temporary superpowers. Its been an idea that I’d have always wanted to see as a comic, more so than a novella. Well, I was amazed to find that my proposal was not only the first original work they accepted, but if the book sold well, I’d be under contract to write 24 64 page quarterly books, much like manga in appearance. I had to make the children multi-national, and researched hordes of material mon genetic and neurological diseases. It was easy to come up with “brittle bone syndrome,” such as Sam Jackson had in the film UNBREAKABLE as a way for a child to attain rock hard skin. The same for others to get super speed, electric powers, etc. The burn victims were able to fly, their skin healing faster. But the book(s?) Is/are geared for 5th-7th Graders and needed to be “cheerful.” In fact, I was asked to have a puppy dog as a guardian angel in the book; if I wasn’t in my downbeat mode, I’d give a clear and funny example of exactly what I’d put in the book for what I’m getting paid. But there’s nothing funny about this researching thing. My cerebral palsy is hardly noticeable on the surface, ask Brian Hodge or Beth Massie, two of my heroes. Sure, my head flops around from neck spasms, but it makes for a good show at the cons, a parlor trick. (Brian also will claim that I snore, that’s a lie. He simply dreamt about a person snoring). I’m being glib, avoiding the point. Sure, my whole body is FUBAR, a lot of it is that I’m closing in on being Half-Century Man, but the only other person in my family with C.P. died in June, and she was barely fourteen, blind, retarded, and weighed about forty pounds. Died of liver failure from her meds. Her name was Cortney King, and I made her the hospital administrator in the comic. I continued with my research in my spare time at work, in the late hours here in my laboratory, listening to a Glenn Gray and the Cosa Loma Orchestra play music from nearly a century ago. I read up on ALS, on the Jerry Lewis diseases like Duchennes and I found myself not wanting to read my Act of Contrition but rather drop to my knees, and there is no melodrama here, folks. As messed up as my mind and my body are, at least I can say that I am moving forward in everything I do, in every day in paradise. I hit the C.P. variations. Lesch-Nyhan. I hadn’t read up on that since I put a similar character in THE HOLY TERROR. A self-destructive disease that has the afflicted–a word I despise, by the way, if used in casual conversation–needing to have most of their teeth extracted at an early age because they would otherwise chew their lips off and tear at their chin, cheeks, and tongue. Their wrists are restrained and a pillow placed on their laps in the even they can slam their face forward and downward. Forwards and downward. What I said before, at least I can move forward, without slamming myself downward. (Well, now that I’m on the bipolar meds, at least). I was granted a very strange and intriguing interview by David Bain for DOORWAYS magazine, it appears next month as almost a short piece of fiction in narrative form. Bain asked me about the neighborhood I grew up in, Humboldt Park. I told him the entire area was a regentrified pile of shit, and at least I can bring back the old neighborhood by writing stories set during my childhood. In my novella “Lover Doll,” from Ellen Datlow’s anthology LITTLE DEATHS, I also wrote about crippled kids, pulling at memories from my thirteen years at Illinois Research as a lab rat. I read articles on conjoined and vestigial twins and vomited into my fist. The story takes place between 1962 through 1994, and I had no problem describing fictional, yet horrific, scenes. One, in particular, involving an elite strip parlor in Las Vegas with all the dancer having some sort of disfigurement. Fiction vs. reality. Altered fates. And here I am, moving forward, as I email this to Dave to post on Storytellers Unplugged. I thank you all for putting up with my ravings…Wayne
Wayne Allen Sallee
November 28th 2007
I’ve been giving a lot of interviews lately, though none really touch on anything I am promoting. Upagianstthewall (on Phil Nutman’s website), and Doorways magazine. Dark Scribe ran an interview, but it was mostly about my witnessing John Wayne Gacy’s execution and my correspondence with him in the early 90s. (One of my albatrosses, along with being remembered for “Rapid Transit, my first dad-blasted story). But David Bainbridge asked some pretty decent questions of me for Doorways, ending with talking about my day job. I mentioned being 48, making ten bucks an hour with no health insurance, then adding that that is this century’s American Dream: simply having a job.
I created a character called The American Dream, he appeared in stories back when I was of a different frame of mind. He wore a heating pad for a cape, had wrist braces as gloves, an invisible sidekick named Blind Justice. A utility belt of plastic baggies filled with pain meds and sinus sprays. But he served his purpose, I got to write stories with Evan Shustak (his real name) as my alter ego, he could handle his daily pain, if only with insanity, the sphincter-shrinking thoughts of craziness I was constantly fretting about in the 90s. Of course, I’m on the bipolar meds now. But I wrote the craziest things when he was involved and it helped me cope. Through the winters, mostly. Hard to believe a time when there were the harsh keystrokes on a manual typewriter. And no spell-check, I should have had stock in Liquid Paper. I wonder how many people put themselves into their characters, the loners like Marv in SIN CITY, Travis McGee, or Superman. I was always partial to thinking that I would continue to act as noble as Steve Carella in Ed McBain’s 87th Precinct series, as I went further into adulthood, maybe looking for voices of reason in a world I found increasingly tough to continue living through. I wanted to be the guy who maybe only got tension headaches from an unsolved murder. The American Dream stories were the only ones I wrote at the time that weren’t not narratives, though I cheated at times by having Evan write in his diary, much as I wrote my stories on the buses and el trains. As I said, his stories were fairly silly, to hide my real life.
But I’m nearing the Half Century Man mark, and I keep reading about a better breed of bastard more and more, from molesting priests to wife-killers to models who try to commit suicide by ramming another person’s car at 87 MPH. People who get away with things, so I decided I needed another alter ego. I have a series of stories centered around a serial killer named Jimmy Dvorak, Every Mother’s Son. All the stories involve people who really needed to be dead to be dead, dead and gone. See, as an adult I have to watch my blood pressure, and I can get relief from those “little maniacs,” as Richard Chwedyk calls them, by giving them justice in my stories. There’s been a story in the news from downstate Illinois about a woman who made up a fake name on MySpace to lead a 14 year old girl with low self-esteem on and then taunting her enough that the girl hung herself in her bedroom closet. I read that article online on Thanksgiving Day and I couldn’t get it out of my head. Of course, the woman, a neighbor in the family’s same subdivision, can’t be convicted. Not even for a hate crime. Its the kind of bullying that would make other students go Columbine or VA Tech if they were male and the name calling was happening face to face and not by a cowardly woman hiding behind a fake male identity.
Its time for me to send Every Mother’s Son on the road again. And to be brutally honest, in this one case, because it involves someone who was my niece and godchild’s age, I’d really like to go down to O’Fallon myself. I don’t think it would be hard to get a neighbor to point a finger in the right direction. Its a small town, plus the subdivision was mentioned in the article. I read the Act of Contrition every day now because of moments like this. Its better than it being Proactive Contrition, where I expect to be absolved of crimes after the fact. I had wanted to do a riff on Lovecraft and write a story called “The Colour Off of MySpace,” but I don’t think I can do that now.
And I want to get people to believe that I am SIMPLY a writer, a writer of all things, but, thanks to “Rapid Transit” and my Freddy Krueger story and all the stuff that made me get noticed Back In The Day, well, if someone backed me into a corner and asked me why I was a horror writer, I’d ask them to pay attention to the crap going on around them, and gently push the MySpace newspaper article across the dinette as they sipped their green tea and ate their wheat crackers.
Thanks again for your time.
Wayne Allen Sallee
Its about 10 PM and I figure if I start typing now, I’ll finish this post by midnight, so there you go. Years ago, there was some small press magazine that wanted every story to start with “I stared death in the face.” I never wrote anything for said mag, but the idea of Death with a capital D as another individual stuck in my head until I had a titled to go with it. It actually wasn’t long before I wrote the story “Death Clown!,” which appeared in the Barnes & Noble book for those rough nights in the outhouse, HORRORS! 365 SCARY STORIES. Each story had to be under 500 words, so my babbling was to be kept at bay. Here goes: DEATH CLOWN!
Jimbo the Clown stared Death in the face.
And he didn’t like what he saw.
“Look, Faceless One,” He made a feeble attempt at chortling. “I’ve been in this business for awhile now. And before I was entertaining the kiddies I put in a good twenty years at Axeman’s Carnival out in Thalmus–”
“Indiana.” Death cut the clown off. “I know. I was there when many crossed over the midway of life”
Oh, can the melodrama, Jimbo thought, fluffing the collar of his costume. Makes you wonder why he even showed up here in my minivan.
The vehicle in question was a Dodge Expplorer from his in-laws, Vern and Murline. After Jimbo had loaded the vehicle with his tricks and gimmicks, he found Death ready to ride shotgun.
“And I say you’re going about this all wrong,” the clown continued. “You say you’re going to take the Cassady kid out of the picture while everyone’s eating the cake?”
“And what’s the point?” Jimbo was as adamant as a clown could be. “So that the other kids there will learn about choking? Give me a break!”
Death remained as silent as, well, a grave.
“Its a violent world, pal. A kid should be scared of more than just gagging on a hunk of chocolate cake with banana filling until he turns blue. But that’s why you’re here, am I right? Because of what I’m gonna do.”
Death nodded again. Jimbo was thinking he looked like an oversized hood ornament, with the head bobbing and all.
“Damn union’s retiring me after today, anyways.” The clown shrugged, pulling the van over to the curb, yanked a bag of his gags into the front seat.
His special props, this time only.
The plastic explosive for Pin The Tail On The Donkey.
The hydrochloric acid in the seltzer bottle.
The joy buzzer with enough juice to cause seizures.
“All right,” Jimbo said, again staring Death in the face, as he opened the door. “We’ve got a party to go to.”
Before writing fiction, I wrote a hell of a lot of poetry, most vignettes that I eventually realized worked just as well as passages in a story. But there were times that I just had phrases in my head that would really only fit a certain way, and so, from GRUE#2, way back in 1986 (so be kind), I give you the poem “Old Haunts“:
returning in October dusk
to the other side of town
silent as a werewolf stalks
dead as a Dracula dawn
I passed Lenore and Annabel Lee
and dear old cadaver Ligeia
Cthulhu’s crypt & King’s casket,
where my love was I had no idea
then it hit me like a reaper’s scythe
one quick left then two slow writhes
I entered through the bedroom wall
she was watching CREEPSHOW on cable teevee
I jumped her bones and oh her moans
how they gave me the heebie-jeebies
So now you have the long and the short. So what’s the ugly? I work hideous hours at a printing plant, sometimes marveling at the fact that I am, in part, producing magazines and books saddle-stitched or perfect-bound like the ones on my shelves. But madness does take its toll, and there are times when a different kind of muse comes to cozy up to the crazies already living. So, if you will bear with me, I offer you a piece of crap I call “The In-Print Graphics Rap,” which basically is a complaint about health insurance:
got a twelve pack, in my ass crack
I called Aflack, they said call back
Found a thumb tack, in my Big Mac
I called Aflack, phone played Tupac
I said “What’s that?”, phone went click clack
Lumbar pain in my spine, Aflack say use a Lojack
This is whack, says the guy, sleep-deprived,
from the south side, bald guy look like Kojak.
Word up. True dat. He gone.
At least something like that keeps me from falling apart mentally and physically, now that I no longer have Internet access during the 12 hour shifts. I did get the copy of the voice activation DVD, by the way, but can only get it to work in French and Dutch, which is pretty much how my life goes in the battle of the machines. I’m getting the original sent to me so that the English version should work. Next month, I should be writing this in about seventeen seconds, or at least one would think, based solely on the quality of my last entry. But there you have the best of both worlds, the short fiction (before there –WAS– a flash fiction) and the poem that tries its best to rhyme. The rap poem, the less said the better. Told you in the heading there’d be some ugly, though. Happy Hallowe’en and do something with the clocks, change the time stuff, you know. What do you know, I have a minute until midni…
— Wayne Allen Sallee
I should be thankful I am in the Central time zone, this way I have an extra hour to poke away at this keyboard. This may change in the very near future. My one-fingered click clack, I mean. I’ll stay in the Central time zone, probably die here. Not in the suburbs, somewhere back in the city. I leave that up to karma. I’m looking down at my fingernails, like a guy testifying at the mob trial currently transpiring here, or some trying-to-be-serious comedian on a late night HBO special. I’m putting off what I want to say, to confess. Proactive contrition, if you will. Its a world of iPods and nanopods and other things I do not even know how to spell correctly. Some phone that moves like a three card monte dealer shuffling the deck. People who don’t have writing programs on their computers but they can text the basics for TREASURE ISLAND or CANDIDE to a friend, while the quiz is being handed out. Virtual Cliff notes. In a few weeks, the 25th anniversary showing of BLADERUNNER will be in our theaters. Some nights, when the pain is bad and I try to keep the voices at bay because when PK Dick’s goddamn voices started jibber-jabbering, he wrote about the damn things. I’m stuck with them just floating in my thalamus, as my one good finger tries and puts their rants down about as fast as Abe Vigoda’s character Phil Fish taking a witness statement on BARNEY MILLER. Nights with the pain, after ten or twelve hours at the plant, I’d fall on my knees in worship if I saw the floating cube with the Oriental woman selling little green pills (if I recall the color correctly, and it was probably a damn stool softener, not some pain killer, oh the jolly jape of madness!)from BLADERUNNER. I want to finish this. I feel as if I am tapping from the inside of my ribcage.
When I take my eventual dirt nap in the time zone I alluded to, hopefully the corpse found in a timely manner so as to be stuffed and mounted and auctioned off every year so that I can be owned and taken to conventions and banquets by Beth or Brian or David or Sully, depending on who ponies up the most money for the charity of their choice, I want to be remembered as the guy who did it the only way he could. Rather…I wanted to be remembered that way. I’ve always been content with my body of work, even if it meant ignoring the voices of envy, of all those who type faster, those who get everything purged while my output is that of a 48 year old man with an enlarged prostate. I wanted the vanity, if that is the word, to be dead without ever enhancing my manner of typing. I have indeed dictated to writer Yvonne Navarro and teacher Janet Winkler while I was recovering from the car accident in 1989. I often get offers from people to type something for me, and right now, Kate Sterling is retyping a long essay I wrote for the defunct ED McBAIN COMPANION, just so I can get it on disk and try and whore it elsewhere.
Proactive contrition, my friends. I absolve myself from what I will do this coming week. I am surrendering a huge part of me, a truly enormous portion of my mind and soul, and purchasing Dragon Naturally Speaking 9.0. I so so so do not want to do this, to become a robot, to become a voice that will speak faster than my stream of consciousness and likely fuck up my stories better than the meds I take for being bipolar. But I have to do this, I have nonfiction assignments from Salem Press, a poetry collection from Annihilation Press, and if it kills me, I will write CITY WITH NO SECOND CHANCES, scenes of which float in my head like slices of deja vu when I am awake or asleep. I have an agent, a good one, and I know he will be on my @$$ like a good agent should. I haven’t had an agent in a decade and I’ll do this fellow right, and I’ll do all of you, my readers, right, as well. But I feel that I am doing myself a great wrong.
I have discussed this with many people, most feel it is about the body of work I still have in my various brain cells, locked up by a palsied caretaker. There are those who wouldn’t give my dilemma a second thoughts, those with the texting and the iPod shuffle. But this is a very hard thing for me. Turning over myself to a computer program.
For the greater good. Should there be a question mark there? As of October 15th, I will have been with America Online for ten years. Its a way of life for me now. Will Naturally Speaking be that way, as well. Or am I simply afraid that I will fail, that I do not have those stories in my head after all. Proactive contrition: Philip K. Dick, I am heartily sorry for having offended Thee, and I detest my sins, blah blah blah. I’m confessing my sins before I commit them. Next month you won’t be reading my type written word, you’ll be reading whatever the hell my voice tells the computer program.
And I hate myself for surrendering, all for the so-called Greater Good.
Happy October, my favorite month of the year. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ll let a little bit of myself die before you hear from me again. Thanks for your time and patience. Your chattel, Wayne
As I write this in longhand early on the 27th, the printing plant is silent, has been since a transformer was hit by lightning during last Thursday’s storm. I hadn’t heard an air raid siren in years and a moment later the sound from past the loading docks was that of a truck being flipped on its side.
There is relative quiet, the computers are still working, mine making sounds like waves lapping at a houseboat. Not long before the power outage, I had an idea for a short story that involved this very plant, the surrounding neighborhood, a loss of much more than simple electricity in a dystopian society. (This is me now typing this at 10:35 PM, I had originally written “minorly dystopian,” but frankly, I think Chicago is adding to the “minorly” part on a daily basis.
August 27th is the “Night Of The Two Moons.” I am told this because I have been sent the exact same email from several well-meaning friends and relatives over the past month. Always the same bold red print. Yes, Mars was closest its been to the earth in centuries and yes–through a telescope–the planet was as luminous as a full moon. But, see, that event occurred back in 2003. And every year that email makes the rounds, reminding us that it will not happen again until 2287 and this is a once in a lifetime event! Again, all well-meaning, with no fact-checking. The saving grace being that I wasn’t told to forward the message to fifteen people to be blessed, cursed, get a phone call, or have a monetary windfall thanks to some Nigerian or (lately) Scottish bloke.
Briefly, if one can expect that from me, my story idea involves two guys using a mimeograph machine, powered in some way such as the Professor might have come up with on Gilligan’s Island. They print something out on a yearly basis, a type of newspaper, only with a dateline of Omaha or perhaps Wichita. The pages are then passed from hand to hand throughout Alsip and Crestwood, then Oak Forest, some relating the “news” from the west, nothing being distributed northward because Chicago is gone. The news is letting all of us in south suburban Illinois know that everyone out there is A-OK–it likely would take a year, give or take, for the ultimate snail mail to make its way here from Nebraska–and things are getting better every day. The point of the story is that the sheet with the smelly blue ink that gives me memories of Charles Gates Dawes public school is passed around with virtually the same news, almost word for word, written each time. This year’s dateline might read Tyler, Texas or Abita Springs, Louisiana…even more great news from smaller towns in this sad new world. The narrator leaves the plant, looking at the sky, recalling the not that long ago email about the two moons, but knows the heavens are obscured by the soot of whatever calamity has occurred and he would not be able to see even our own moon.
It is strange the amount of stories where the setting is at an industrial park or simply in the south suburbs. After a year here, I’m fairly comfortable with knowing the area as well as I do Chicago. I know several writers whose main characters reflect their real life jobs. Teachers, reporters, even state troopers. I doubt very much that one of my stories would get optioned with Steven Seagal in UNDER SIEGE 3, with the tagline “I’m the pressman.” I’d never be able to write anything novel-length set “out here” in what amounts to Sunnyvale in the Buffyverse, except with more chaw cups and gimme caps.
I am working on a novel, as I now have an agent again. I am happy to know Chicago just as I remember it, even though I have been to the Loop only a handful of times all summer. I am confident that I haven’t lost my tether to the grime. For me, writing a novel is like constantly changing baby diapers, but its a welcome change from trying to sell a story with an original idea before LAW & ORDER rips it from the headlines. I do miss Jerry Orbach, though.
As always, I hope that some of you reading this gets a kernel of information that spilled from ol’ Frankenstein’s brain. Thanks for reading this. And if you go out tonight, don’t expect those two moons. Not in this lifetime.
Wayne Allen Sallee
27 August 2007
PS This is the first time I am posting this myself, it is now 11:31 PM, so in the next few seconds, as I click PUBLISH POST, if the power grid goes out, I’ll be in hiding.