Thursday, November 24, 2011

Thanksgiving 2011

Thanksgiving has changed a lot in my lifetime. For one thing, it has been significantly diminished as a holiday. We seem to go directly from Halloween to Christmas. This is mostly the fault of retailers, of course. Go into a store the day after Halloween and suddenly it’s Christmas — decorations, Christmas trees, Bing Crosby singing about snow. I did that this year. Halfway through November 1, I had “We Three Kings” stuck in my head. As cranky comedian Lewis Black says, “When I was a kid, Halloween was Halloween, and Santa wasn’t pokin’ his ass into it! And Thanksgiving — this’ll come as a shock — was it’s own holiday!”

He’s right. I remember going to my sister’s house on Thanksgiving as a boy, riding in the car with my parents through streets that were absolutely barren. Not a soul was out and about. Everyone was at home with all their relatives being miserable. Now they extend that misery by going shopping and battling stressed crowds so they can buy things that were marked up earlier so they could be marked down a little for “sales.” The first time I realized that the holiday had changed drastically was when Dawn and I were at her sister’s house one Thanksgiving and suddenly her sister said, “I’m going shopping! Anyone want to come?” I did one of those head-shaking cartoon double-takes and thought, Shopping? On Thanksgiving? There are stores open? Yes, they were open. And they’re open right now, on Thanksgiving Day, as I write this!

Even the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade has changed. As a kid, I used to get up early on Thanksgiving (that was a long time ago — I don’t get up early for anything anymore) just to watch the parade from beginning to end. Back then, it was a parade — floats, marching bands, big cartoon balloons floating over it all like benevolent monsters. Now the parade stops every few minutes so somebody can lip sync a song or a sequined group of pretty people can do a dance number. Many of these musical interruptions — er, um, pardon me, interludes — are performed by the cast members of shows currently playing on Broadway, essentially transforming the parade into a New York advertising campaign aimed at tourists. I have nothing against music, but dance numbers do not a parade make.

I’m starting to sound like some crotchety old fart complaining about how the kids these days have ruined everything. I’m not, really. I still watch the parade. In fact, I caught some of it today. But to avoid sounding like everyone’s grandpa, I’ll move on.

Along with being a day when everyone eats to the point of falling over in a stupor, it’s a day to give some thought to the things for which we are thankful. I’ve been doing that a lot in my life the last few years, but this is the day to talk about it, so I will.

I am thankful for so many things. If I’ve learned nothing else by this point in my life, I’ve learned that no matter how bad things get, there’s always something for which to be grateful. I think as long as we’re on this side of the ground — rather than in the ground — we’ve all got things to be thankful for in our lives.

I’m thankful for some of the best friends anyone could hope to have, both old and new. My friend Steven Spruill is more like a brother. We frequently refer to each other as our “brother from another mother.” He’s a writer whose work I admired years before I ever sold a word, a writer of enormous talents who has been a big influence on me, and he is a fellow survivor of the Seventh-day Adventist cult. We are separated in age by about 15 years, but I keep forgetting that. He’s family. Not real family, of course, but chosen family — which, in my opinion, is even better. No one has shown me more unconditional love and support over the years. Unfortunately, he lives in Maryland and I live in California. We have met in person only once at a convention back in the 1980s, something I would remedy in an instant if I could. I’m looking forward to getting together some day. If you’ve never read him, I hope you will check out his work as soon as possible. He’s written science fiction, horror and the best medical thrillers I’ve ever read, and his latest is Ice Men, a grueling novel about the Korean war. Visit his Amazon page and acquaint yourself with his talent. You can thank me later.

I met Karen Leonard in 2008 by phone. While researching a novel about the funeral industry (which I've never finished), I read Jessica Mitford's hilarious and informative The American Way of Death. It was the revised 1996 version of the 1963 bestseller, and I noticed that it was dedicated to Mitford's researcher, Karen Leonard. Mitford died in 1996, but I thought perhaps I could track down Karen and pick her brain about the funeral business. I found her online, emailed her and introduced myself. We spoke on the phone and it was one of those times when I immediately connected with someone. She was a horror fan, was familiar with my work and, like me, had an oppressive religious background. In the next week, we got to know each other extremely well by email and I soon felt as if I'd known her for decades. She is an activist who's worked with some fascinating people and has the most amazing stories to tell! Her husband Stephen Rubin is a professor who teaches critical thinking, and both of them are fascinating and funny and now feel closer to me than my own family. They came to one of my book signings in San Francisco, and this year, they visited Dawn and me here at home. Even though I've only known them for a few years, they are among my dearest friends.

And speaking of book signings
— two of the people I'm thankful I know are Alan Beatts and Jude Feldman of Borderlands Books in San Francisco. I've been doing a signing there once a year for a few years now and I always look forward to it. Alan and Jude are great people, good friends and the store is one of my favorite places in the world. It specializes in science fiction, fantasy and horror and has a small cafe attached. If you're ever in San Francisco, don't leave until you've visited Borderlands. They're great people and I'm grateful that I know them.

Dawn and I have some wonderful friends here at home. We’ve known Jane Naccarato for too many years to count. I think Jane owns more books than anyone I know — her apartment is bursting with them! — and she comes over every few weekends with an armload of paperbacks she thinks we’ll enjoy. More recently, we’ve gotten to know Latrice and Ken Innes, and we’re better people for it. And my computer is better for it because Ken is a computer genius! We love them all.

Jenny Orosel and Bill Lindblad live in Texas and I’ve been shamefully negligent in my communications with them lately, but they’ve become valued friends. We knew Jenny first. She was at the World Horror Convention in San Francisco in 2006, where we were on hand to see the sparks fly between her and Bill. They soon became an item, then a married couple, and in the past week, Jenny gave birth to their first child, a gorgeous girl named Coraline. Every now and then, Jenny and Bill send us a box of goodies — books, toys, movies. They’re funny, brilliant, dear people and we’re fortunate to know them. Jenny has a wonderful column at Cinema Knife Fight called Meals for Monsters, where she reviews a horror movie and then recommends food to eat while you watch, including the recipes! If you’re a fan of horror movies and/or good food, I recommend checking it out.

We’ve made some new friends recently. At KillerCon in Las Vegas in September, we met Jason and Sunni Brock and hit it off immediately. Jason and Sunni seem to know everyone in the horror genre, and it’s a genre they obviously love. They’re both writers, and Jason is also an editor, director and producer, and their company JaSunni is responsible for some great documentaries about it, like Charles Beaumont: The Short Life of Twilight Zone’s Magic Man, about the amazingly prolific writer who left behind so much brilliant work in print and on film.

Through them, Dawn and I have gotten to know the great William F. Nolan, a writer whose enormous body of work has made him nothing short of royalty to anyone who loves the genres of science fiction and horror. I’d met Bill back in the 1980s when I attended a convention in Tucson, and that was a big event to me because I have been a fan of his work all my life. Last month, the three of them paid us a visit and the whole time, I kept thinking to myself, William Nolan is sitting on my couch! WILLIAM NOLAN IS SITTING ON MY COUCH! Together, Jason and Bill have edited a new anthology called The Devil’s Coattails: More Dispatches from the Dark Frontier, which includes stories by Bill, Jason and Sunni and a host of great horror writers.

Also at KillerCon, we met some other friends I’d known only online. Carrie Clevenger’s rock musician vampire Crooked Fang is growing in popularity, and a novel is on the way! Her friend Dorothy F. Shaw writes sizzling erotica, among other things. I met both of them online and they’re wonderful human beings and tremendously supportive and generous friends.

Dana Fredsti and David Fitzgerald have become valued friends. I met Dana, a former actress (she’s in Army of Darkness!) and a talented writer, the author of novels like Plague Town: An Ashley Parker Novel, on Twitter. They put me up during a visit to San Francisco earlier this year and we had a wonderful evening of pizza and zombies and cats (like Dawn and me, they’re cat people). Along with being a great and funny guy, David is a writer, public speaker, the founder and director of Evolutionpalooza! and the Atheist Film Festival, and the author of the wonderful book Nailed: Ten Christian Myths That Prove Jesus Never Existed at All.

Believe it or not, I’m thankful for Facebook. I didn’t think I would ever say that. I resisted starting an account there for some time, even though people kept telling me I should be using it to promote my books. I finally gave in — reluctantly — and I’m so glad I did. Yes, I’ve been able to promote my books and it has helped sales a good deal. But the real reason I’m so thankful for it is that it has allowed me to connect with my readers, something I’d never done before to this extent. It’s enormously gratifying to know that the books I’ve written have been enjoyed by so many people — and so many wonderful people! Some of them have become close friends. If I try to name them, it’s inevitable that I will inadvertently leave someone out, and I don’t want to do that. But they know who they are, and I want them to know how grateful I am for their friendship. If you’d like to meet them — or any of the other people I've mentioned here please join me on Facebook!

I’m incalculably thankful for my wife Dawn, who took care of me through years of illness and who has never uttered a word of complaint during those financial dry spells that all writers experience (we’re going through one right now!). She has enriched my life, saved my life, made my life worth living. She’s the best thing that ever happened to me.

In spite of those dry spells, I’m terribly thankful that I’m still writing. I don’t think I’d be capable of doing anything else, and even if I could, I’d go insane if I weren’t writing. Believe me, it hasn’t always been easy. There have been times when I’ve wanted to give it up, and the fact that I couldn’t do anything else has been the only reason I haven’t. Woody Allen once said, “80% of success is showing up.” I would amend that. I think 50% is showing up and the other half is just sticking around. Somehow, I’ve managed to stick around. I’ve been able to do that because of my readers. No one will ever know just how thankful I am for them.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.