Dark Advent: The Missing Afterword

by Brian on July 24, 2015

in Fiction

About that newly released edition of Dark Advent: It was supposed to have an Afterword. I wrote it. The publisher typeset it. When I proofread the book in galley form, it was there. But when I received a finished copy in the mail the other day, guess what was nowhere to be found…

Jason Hart sets off on a bloody quest to find the missing afterword.

Jason Hart sets off on a bloody quest to find the missing afterword.

One of the staffers, it turns out, was having problems with the production file, dismantled it, then neglected to reassemble it as it had been.

They tell me they’ll be e-mailing the Afterword as a PDF file to pre-order buyers. It’s supposed to be reinstated in the forthcoming e-book edition. We’ll see.

In the meantime, here it is.

Afterword: If You Can’t Go Home Again, Renovate

Way deep into Dark Advent, hero-verging-on-antihero Jason Hart tells a new friend his own reasons why, as Thomas Wolfe observed, you can’t go home again:

“It’s never like you imagine it. It’s like you find gaps there … They were always there, only before you leave you don’t notice them much, and after you’re gone you forget about them. Then when you come back, it’s like you discover them all over again. And it’s a letdown.”

There’s prescience for you. When I first wrote those lines, I had no clue that I was also describing my reaction to looking at the novel again for the first time in more than twenty years. The pattern: Here and there are bits that make me glad I wrote them, that wouldn’t look or feel out of place in later work, but mostly I just groan a lot and want to bang my head against the desk, unable to believe that this was the published draft. It makes it seem all the greater a miracle that I’ve seen and heard, many times, Dark Advent mentioned in the same favorable breath with Stephen King’s The Stand and Robert R. McCammon’s Swan Song.

This novel was and is a lot of things to me … including a lesson in the merits of forging ahead with what you truly believe in, of following the path your heart insists on taking and ignoring the arguments against it that your head comes up with.

In spite of that, and maybe because of it, if you were to have memorized Dark Advent’s first incarnation the way ardent believers sometimes memorize religious texts — a ridiculous notion, but go with it — you would find yourself tripped up on every page while trying to recite along with this incarnation. Word-for-word, the texts don’t much match up anymore.

I’ve been down this road before, just not as far. Deathgrip and Prototype both got a light dusting and spritz of polish before new editions, along with a jillion shorter pieces. As I write this, I’m going through the same process with Oasis, my first novel; despite its even earlier genesis, it’s told in an easygoing, conversational, first-person narrative, so I’m mostly content to leave well enough alone.

Dark Advent is different. This is the first (and probably the only) time that the process has been extensive enough that I feel compelled to issue a warning. This time the results could legitimately be called a brand new draft.

Not to worry — the story is still the same. Nobody behaves any differently. If it were Star Wars, Han would still shoot first. If it were E.T., the feds would still have guns instead of walkie-talkies. A couple things did get expanded and morphed a bit, to shore up spots where, the first time around, either my sense of logic took a holiday or I got lazy. Mostly I think of this epic tweak job as addressing immaturities of presentation in an early, formative work.

I’m entertaining the suspicion that Dark Advent was probably too ambitious a novel to have written when I did, although to get that through my thick skull at the time you would’ve needed a pneumatic bolt-gun. Oasis was begun a bit over a year after I’d graduated from college. Dark Advent set sail approximately a year after that. The reason the central characters of both are students is because, at the time, a student was still about all I knew how to be.

But Oasis was a relatively small novel, intimate in scope. As it was getting beaten up on its first naïve, wide-eyed trips to New York, and I was casting about for what to tackle next, it felt as if I had to up the ante or risk dying of stagnation … and what could be greater stakes than ending the world as we know it?

*

I’d been sitting on the idea of mass extinction for years already.

Dark Advent has its roots in a particularly vivid and unsettling dream I had while a college freshman. In it, I found myself wandering alone in a near-empty St. Louis after some unspecified or unremembered catastrophe had eradicated most of the world’s population. I was taken in by a girl about my age and her father, who had made a new home in the top floor of one of the towers near the Mississippi riverfront, all the better to see for miles around.

Be careful, they warned me. While there were other survivors, many had banded together to serve some darker spirit of the age. Somehow — dreams are always big on somehow — one night we ended up captives of these people inside Busch Stadium, which sat in crumbly ruins, not unlike the Roman Coliseum. To this day I can still clearly recall the soul-crushing feeling of being unable to save this girl and her father as the others pulled them out of my hands, dragging them off to their fate.

The dream had an even more enigmatic coda. A few minutes after losing my new people, I was back out on the streets again. Standing outside the stadium, I spotted a guy a few years older than I, probably in his early- to mid-twenties, jogging toward me, all the things he needed to get by in the world stowed in a small backpack.

“You shouldn’t stay here,” I told him. “It’s not safe here.”

“Why don’t you run with me, then?”

Except I couldn’t. For me, there was no leaving. He didn’t ask again, and I could only watch as he kicked up his heels, resumed his pace, and jogged into the distance until he disappeared from sight.

Damn, boy.

This wasn’t one of the usual dreams that leave you alone by breakfast time. This one stuck like a thorn. So I wrote it up into a longish story of 30 or so pages, filling in the many gaps that the dream had been inconsiderate enough to leave. Most everyone had died from the one-two punch of a nuclear war and a flu virus that had mutated in the aftermath. The young woman I named Erika, after someone I’d recently met during a spring break trip to New England.

And that was that. Still, I thought I had something there worth coming back to, once I thought my chops were up to it.

A year later, exquisite tragedy: As a recent convert to Stephen King, I worked my way up to The Stand, much of it read while hurtling through a spring break trip to Florida. Love the book though I did, the experience was also a little like having a stake driven into my heart, one page at a time. And there were a lot of pages. This, I realized, was the novel I’d wanted to grow from that early seed. This was what I’d aspired to, but could never come close to. This was the gold standard, and — cue music for moping — since I knew I could never better it, I decided why bother even trying.

*

Fast-forward: Further education. Graduation. A job I couldn’t wait to quit. One novel in the can, a handful of short stories that a few editors had thought were worth publishing, and still feeding on the invaluable encouragement of a Harvard professor — my workshop leader at a weeklong writers conference in Boston — who’d assured me I was ready to do this writing thing for real, and had backed up her faith with a list of literary agents to approach.

I was feeling just cocky enough to go from “why bother” to “why not.”

The vital thing was to turn the core idea over and look at it in a different light, and commit to making it into a different kind of story than what The Stand was, despite the obvious surface similarities. I believe that King himself has described The Stand as an epic fantasy quest novel told against a modern American backdrop. Tolkien in work boots.

I, on the other hand, decided after a lot of mud-wrestling with myself to dispense with fantasy and supernatural elements altogether. Yes, there’s Erika and her knack, but that doesn’t count. There really are people like her; for more on that, I refer you to the life and work of psychiatrist Dr. Judith Orloff, whose childhood and teen years could’ve served as a template for Erika’s.

Instead, along the way I’d gotten interested in the medieval and Viking eras, the latter, at least, obvious from the thousand-year-old bloodfeud at the heart of Oasis. So that’s how I started to look at Dark Advent: as a gritty medieval fable arising out of a fallen modern world and its trappings. And, to kick it all off, what sort of pandemic could be more medieval than the plague? But weaponized, a product of the emerging threat of global terrorism and, at the time, national fears of Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi. (Ironic, then, that he was finally deposed and killed around the time I started going through the novel again.)

Jason I began to see as a commoner turned knight errant. It wasn’t by accident that he usually drives cars named for horses. Travis Lane became the brutish warlord who arises in a lawless power vacuum, and Peter Solomon the evil wizard behind him, with his own agenda. To house their growing warband, there could be only one choice: Union Station. If you’ve never seen it — a glorious old train station restored to new life after decades of decrepitude — just Google a picture, then try arguing that it’s not the perfect urban castle.

At the same time, the novel was also inevitably influenced by several other post-apocalyptic works I’d injected into my gene pool over the years: chiefly, the novels Alas, Babylon, by Pat Frank, Lucifer’s Hammer, by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle, and Richard Matheson’s classic I Am Legend, as well as the films Mad Max and The Road Warrior, Dawn of the Dead, and Escape From New York. I’ve always loved the tie-in trivia that much of Escape was filmed in blighted areas of St. Louis. The bloodsport scene, in which Snake Plissken is forced into the ring to battle it out with a gigantic gladiator played by wrestler Ox Baker — whose moustache and eyebrows were obviously on steroids — was shot in Union Station itself, pre-renovation.

With all this DNA combining and recombining, whether or not my reach exceeded my grasp isn’t really for me to decide or deny.

What’s unquestionably true, however, is that I was barely past the baby-steps stage of not only learning how to write, but learning in public. I have no trunk novels, that now-anachronistic euphemism for manuscripts condemned to cold storage because there were no takers. I don’t even have that many trunk stories. All together, my unpublished stuff tallies around 37,500 words, easily under the strictest word-count ceiling for a single novella.

That’s not much of a foundation. Not a lot of margin for what I call the enema phase: getting the crap out of your system, when crap is all you have, so that one day you can start clean.

Instead, for better or for worse, my post-graduate degree in writing was earned almost entirely before an audience, readers and editors and critics who ended up being teachers as good as, or better than, any that I could’ve encountered in a classroom.

Which is why I feel I owe you something better with this outing of Dark Advent: the same novel, but with the roughest edges buffed away, without violating the spirit of the original. A remastered recording, hoping that the composition and performance shine through with fewer distractions left by earlier technical limitations.

If this is your first time reading it, you of course won’t know any different.

And if you’re coming back to it after years and miles of your own, the finest thing I could hope for is that you never even notice, and think, “Sweet … it’s just like I remembered.”

Dark Advent Has Arrived! However…

by Brian on July 15, 2015

in Fiction

The good news: Cemetery Dance Publications’ big fat hardcover edition of Dark Advent, my early post-apocalyptic novel, was officially published the other day, and started shipping.

DarkAdventCDThe bad news: Virtually the entire print run was sold out prior to publication. Which was why, on the publisher’s site page for it, the book’s status jumped straight from not yet released to out-of-print.

The cross-your-fingers news: They mentioned that a few copies were still to be rounded up and would go on sale in a few days. As I post this, today is that day. First come, first served. I have no idea how long they’ll last. When they’re gone, very likely, they’re gone for good.

If you don’t mind a bit of delayed gratification, with the print edition sold out so soon, the e-book edition shouldn’t be far behind. And that, of course, will be unlimited.

I’ve never signed on for a Kickstarter project. Until this one. Should Tales of the Lost Citadel make its funding, it’s going to be a very cool to get your paws on.

LostCitadelCall it high fantasy suffering from terrible nightmares. Mastermind C.A. Suleiman has put in a ton of behind-the-scenes work already. In his day gig for White Wolf, Colin does game design, and really knows how to put an elaborate world together. The Writers Bible alone ran 44 pages in detailing a wild new mythology, and the artwork I’ve seen so far is gorgeous.

I’m one of 15 authors who will write the thing. But if the funding goes above and beyond into the Stretch Goals, the twinkly lights of my home studio will come to life, and I’ll be collaborating with Colin and H. Arnold Jones on a soundtrack album.

Check out all the particulars at the Kickstarter page, please … and see if it’s something you’d like to chip in on and help make happen.

Dark City: Let the Pre-Orders Begin

by Brian on June 23, 2015

in Fiction

Awhile back, David Barnett of Necro Publications gave fellow scribe Gerard Houarner and me each half a book to play with, and a kind of weird urban theme gelled naturally.

DARK-CITY-Cover265Gerard split his share between two stories with the evocative titles “Burning Bright in the Invisible Night” and “The Fear Puppet.” My chunk is an epic novella called In the Negative Spaces, which came together by throwing the oddest combination of elements into a bowl and going at them with an immersion blender: domestic violence survival, alternative evolution, Manhattan real estate rapacity, Russian mob tattoos, smart-ass dream journaling…

And somewhere in there, caramel-and-sea-salt brownies are served. Come for the brownies, stay for the blizzard and interdimensional  chaos.

Publisher-direct hardcover and softcover preorders are now live in advance of the August 7 release.

Or if you want to lock in that Kindle delivery now, Amazon will let you do that too.

New feature alert. For that subset of readers with an itch to peek inside the factory to see how the sausage gets made, this is for you. I choose to think it could be more than self-indulgent wankery … that along the way, you might get steered toward a secret ingredient or two that went into the mix, and decide it’s worth checking out at the source.

ChildsXmasAs I mentioned previously, the new Better Weird anthology was conceived as a tribute to the late David B. Silva, who meant a great deal to a great many people. He published 7 or 8 of my earliest stories, and I wanted what I did to reflect that heritage. Problem was, I’ve written upwards of 100 more since then, and a number of books, and don’t much feel like the same person — let alone the same writer — anymore.

But I could at least try to work the same way. Which, back then, usually meant grappling onto a stupidly simple idea and milking it for as much I could. This time, all I had to do was look out the window. It was late winter, and had been snowing for days.

Idea: What if it didn’t stop?

It really was that simple.

The title, “Eternal, Ever Since Wednesday,” is how poet Dylan Thomas describes the latest snowfall in his classic reminiscence “A Child’s Christmas In Wales.” Under our roof, late every December 25th, we give that another listen. The print edition is magical enough, but better still is hearing Thomas read it himself, in a recording from 1952. The man had a voice fit to coax and command angels.

Early in my own story, I wanted to capture the same sort of magic I remembered from snow days, all the way from gradeschool through college … before too much of a good thing turns into a nightmare, and winter takes hold within as well as from without.

It always makes my tail quiver to be involved with new projects and see them born. The thrill never gets old. But there’s an extra layer of bittersweet significance to this one.

BetterWeirdCover265Better Weird is a tribute anthology to writer / editor / publisher David B. Silva. When in the 1980s he launched a quarterly magazine called The Horror Show, it gave a lot of fledgling writers their start. I was one of them. Outside of pieces in school literary magazines, Dave bought and published the first stories I ever sold. Definitely the first ones I ever mailed across the country.

He did more than publish. He mentored. And anybody who remembers the magazine will recall Dave’s regular editorial sign-off: “Better weird than plastic.”

After Dave died in 2013, his longtime friend and colleague Paul F. Olson rounded up a roster of writers who became fixtures in the magazine, and set us loose for one last go-around. Rich Chizmar, who has credited Dave with the inspiration to launch Cemetery Dance Publications, was the obvious choice of publisher.

E-book for now. Hardcover edition coming later.

I’ll have a few more words on this later in the week. For now, here it is, just a click or two away…

Cemetery Dance Direct • Amazon (Kindle) • B&N (Nook) • Kobo

Here’s a different approach to publishing an anthology.

DarkScreams(Sm)Dark Screams is a joint project between Cemetery Dance Publications and Random House. First, Random releases it in 5 ebook installments, in a variety of formats. Then CD will issue the whole thing in a print edition that will probably be big enough to choke a hippo.

Today brings Volume 3, which I share with Peter Straub, Jack Ketchum, Jacquelyn Frank, and Darynda Jones. My chunk of it is a 12,000-word novelette titled “The Lone and Level Sands Stretch Far Away.” Yes, I stole the last line of Percy Shelley’s “Ozymandias.”

It’s just another “apocalypse-obsessed girl-next-door triggers a marital five-year-itch, gets you into parkour and urban exploration, and reality falls horribly apart” story. I know, I’m going to have to quit milking that storyline sooner or later.

If you’re collecting the full quintet: Volumes 1 and 2 are already out, obviously. Volume 4 is scheduled for August 4, and Volume 5 for October 6. The print edition? Don’t ask hard questions.

Amazon

B&N (Nook)iTunes (ePub)Kobo

In the Negative Spaces: It’s weird and pissed-off and coming sooner than you might think

April 28, 2015

So there’s a new champion for “longest, most involved thing I’ve written that isn’t a full-blown novel.” I’ve just turned it in, it all came together quickly, and right now it’s on the fast track for publication in August. Page-per-page, In the Negative Spaces relied on the most eclectic mix of research topics I’ve ever thrown […]

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New Cthulhu 2: Because there’s no such thing as 2 much Cthulhu

April 2, 2015

In case you’ve missed “The Same Deep Waters As You” — my novella of H.P. Lovecraft’s Innsmouth — the first three times it was published in the last year and a half, this fourth time may be your final chance ever! At least until my next collection or something comes out. Working on it. Even […]

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Behind the Scenes: Shadows Over Main Street

February 27, 2015

So here was a good idea: Just before its release in January, the editors of Shadows Over Main Street: An Anthology of Small-Town Lovecraftian Terror began running a weekly series of author notes. Brief essays mapping out the ideas — the nostalgia and the nightmares — behind the stories. Every little bit helps the cause. […]

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“Cures For A Sickened World”: Now Recommended By 1 Out Of 1 Professional Journals

February 6, 2015

Got word the other day that “Cures For A Sickened World,” my story in last fall’s anthology, The Spectral Book of Horror Stories, made Locus magazine’s Recommended Reading List for 2014. If you’re unfamiliar with Locus, it might best be described as Publishers Weekly for speculative fiction. And if you’re unfamiliar with Publishers Weekly, let’s […]

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Shadows Over Main Street: The First of Lots of New Works Coming in 2015

February 1, 2015

It was one of the most instantly appealing concepts I’ve ever been asked to participate in: cosmic horror set against a backdrop of golden age, small-town America. Or, as the subtitle puts it, “an anthology of small-town Lovecraftian terror.” The thing about H.P. Lovecraft is that with his towns, there’s already something obviously wrong with […]

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2113: Letting My Geek Flag Fly

January 19, 2015

2015 is shaping up to be a busy year with a highly ambitious schedule. One of those projects may be small in scale — my part, at least — but my stoked-factor is mighty. I’m one of 16+2 writers brought on board for 2113: Stories Inspired By The Music of Rush, to be edited by […]

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Author of the Week @ the Lovecraft eZine

September 17, 2014

In the past few months, I’ve gotten on well with Mike Davis, founder of the excessively cool and informative Lovecraft eZine. This week, I’m the featured Author of the Week there, which keeps up with this trend of mini-interviews that has clustered the past few months (really, see the Press page under 2014). I’m already […]

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New Story Alert: “Cures For A Sickened World”

September 13, 2014

Freshly baked this month by England’s Spectral Press is The Spectral Book of Horror Stories … which editor and way-back-in-the-long-ago fellow Dell/Abyss author Mark Morris hopes is the first of an ongoing series. So buy the thing already and help make that a reality! My piece? “Cures For A Sickened World,” it’s called, and you […]

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