ESSAYS

It’s Not Just About You

(or, How Important It Is to Keep
Reading, While You’re Trying to
Make a Living Writing, While
Sometimes Writing About What
You’re Reading)
___________________________

Reviewing books has never exactly been my first love.  I love to read, always have since I first learned how to, and even more so I love to write, always have since I first learned how to.  But book reviews, in my eyes, are book reports.  Like I had to do in grade/middle/high school/college.  Key words:  had to do.That was a lot of years, spent with that damnable had to do.Oh, I loved talking to my friends about some juicy new horror paperback I’d just purchased down the street on the racks at the Safeway market and which took me little than two days to read because I’d suck up the words into my eyeballs with such force as to rival Colin Wilson’s Space Vampires, the way they’d suck up your life force into their eyeballs, but……

…..to pin me down and make me do a report about it…..

I used to do a lot of reading in my spare time, until at one point I became so engrossed in my own writing that I had no more spare time to read.  This period lasted for a handful of years.  The excuse I’d often use was “I want to sit down and read a good book, but I figure each minute I’m reading someone else’s work could be time spent writing my own.”  It was a good excuse for awhile, made damn good sense, and I promised myself once I came to a point where I’d written enough as to warrant a time-out for reading, I’d read.  That never seemed to happen.

I eventually found myself introduced to the world of the internet about the same time as I’d put the final period at the end of my Everborn novel, and as I became obsessed with finding the best ways to promote my works and name to an infinite online universe, I became so intensely wrapped up in it all that I still had no time to relax and read something other than a magazine article, with the amount of time and energy I was putting into my own stuff. 

Plainly, the entire matter also involved the choices I had to make in regards to what I could do with my free time.  Just like most everyone else, I had a life outside of writing career pursuits, making a living doing other things while struggling to move my writing career and writing income up a notch.  And when it came time to relaxing, I wanted to play with my son or watch t.v. or go somewhere.

But I missed leisure reading, and, most importantly, I realized something:…

.....actually, I realized a lot of things, so let me break them down for you:

….um, on second thought, let me put it to you this way:

If you want to take yourself seriously in anything that you do, as in a profession or a career or an obsessive side hobby, you’ve got to surround yourself with the sort of people who do what you do to get anywhere in it.  And it just doesn’t stop with that.  If you love what you do, you’re going to surround yourself with like-minded people naturally. 

In this case, in regards to me, it’s all about writing horror for a living to a degree that my life depends upon it. 

I mean, I’ve been writing what could be categorized as horror/fantasy at least since I was six, no kidding, and I’ve been in the business of promoting my stuff for that long.  By the sixth grade, for example, I’d written two novellas, a few hundred pages of comic strips, copied and distributed about a hundred cheap 3-for-a-dollar audio cassettes upon which I recorded scripted stories complete with sound effects and special guest stars like teachers from my school, and was pimping my stuff to Jack & Jill Magazine and local newsletters and such.  I’ve always been writing since, though I was side-tracked by love and relationships and Christian Fundamentalism and heavy drugs and then one day my first novel was published in mass market paperback for all the grocery store check-out stands and passive consumers to see, and then came further publishing contracts, an onslaught of freelance jobs and endless possibilities, highways and byways and alleyways I could turn into or back out of. 

All the while, throughout this, my reading life flourished, and as a result I have a multitude of literary influences, which, alas, by the mid-nineties, gave way to the notion that all that mattered in regards to my free time was writing.

When I realized how valuable it was for me to surround myself with other horror writers if I was to take my craft seriously, it went beyond just palling around with literary notables at some horror convention, or involving myself in online chat rooms or blogs or writer’s get-togethers and signings at local book stores or doing lectures where audiences would applaud and then afterwards it was time for me to hide again beneath my tiny celebrity rock and write some more, and it went beyond my web presence at Downwarden.com.

I realized it was a necessity for me to read, just as surely as it was a necessity for me to write. 

Reading feeds you.  It feeds your literacy, your imagination, your love for having stories told to you.  As a serious writer, reading increases your education, invokes a greater awareness of the written word via someone else’s voice and style, exposesyourself to influence, forces you to compare notes, shows you your faults and weaknesses or enforces your growth as a writer and makes you more capable of giving other writers advice when you feel you have more of a knack in the profession than that of the writer you’ve just read.  It also makes you more well-read than you were with the last book you finished.  And how can you, in this industry, when it comes to promoting your name around, expect someone else to read you when you haven’t taken the time to read them?

Well, ultimately, if you’re going to do it right as a serious writer, and in this case a horror writer, it’s not just about you.

One day, I took a look at my website and figured, I have so much extra space I’m paying so much a year for to keep online, it would do me no better or worse if I accepted submissions for short stories to publish on it, and in doing so it might stimulate traffic.  It did.  It really worked.  Made some great connections, and I was truly surprised at how grateful writers were when I accepted their stories to publish onto my site.  Just by doing so, I’ve bonded with writers here and abroad that I otherwise wouldn’t have, and it all cost me nothing but a little time to read, like enough to want to associate my site with, and cut and paste and post.

And then I decided to do reviews.

As you well know by now from this forward, I’ve despised doing book reviews, because to me they’re like book reports, reports I had to do, but having to do them became, for me, somewhat of a necessity as soon as I became convinced at how important reading was. 

I decided to force myself to read by accepting published books I’d obligate myself into reading for the purposes of writing an honest review of it and publishing the review onto my website.  If anyone took the time to submit to my office a publication of the sort of horror genre fiction that’s right up my alley of interest, I promised to devote the time to not only read it but review it and to publish that review on my website, for free, free except to say that I cannot purchase a copy of the work but I have to have it given to me. That’s always been, since, the general criteria for my doing a review of it. 

I mean, if I went out and purchased a paperback at the book store at the mall, who would directly care what I have to say about it if I published my review of it online or in any newspaper unless I was an established reviewer?  I’ve never been an established reviewer.  Hell, I’ve been an established writer, and people still don’t give a shit about what I have to say.

Or so I thought.

Within the first month thru the first year I started doing these reviews, I found myself having to read because I’d obligated myself to, consequently kick-starting a much-needed reading life, and receiving a cavalcade of emails and letters from writers wanting to send me published copies of their latest work because for one reason or another they highly regard what I have to say and hope my potential praise may further their careers. 

I’ve filled over two book cases with books I’ve received in the mail or brought home from appearances, and to this day I’m still way behind  schedule fulfilling my ongoing obligation to review them.  To make matters worse, I’ve swapped my own books time and again at signings and appearances with other authors’ books by that author, promising I’ll review theirs, always abiding by my own rule that any book I review must be complimentary. 

In the process, I’ve put myself into a situation where I’m reading more than I ever used to, and as a result of these reviews I’ve bonded with writers abroad.  A lot of times, my name’s been promoted right along with some of these writers because I praised their work or provided them with something positive and quotable, the same way I do when someone I admire says something good about my own stuff and I exploit it in hopes to push my career up a notch. 

Sometimes I post a review, and I hear crickets. 

Other times, my critique for a less favorable book provides enough positive influence for an independent author or a small press to do better next time.

Sometimes I have to do a review and I don’t even feel like doing one, and I thank God for not doing this kind of thing freelance or for a fee with a deadline.  With these reviews, I’ve always taken my time and spoken my mind, with no one above me to have to answer to if I write something politically incorrect or something that doesn’t make sense because I had a few drinks before writing it.

Out of the lessons I’ve learned pertinent to my goals and aspirations as a writer, I’ve learned, overall and from these reviews, that it’s not just about myself and my own goals, but if we all pay attention to each other and to each other’s works, as writers, we can learn from and compliment one another, just by doing what we do best.

Writing. 

Have I covered just about everything?

I think so.

I hope that you pay utmost attention to the smaller presses, particularly in regards to horror, because there’s a great deal of good storytellers out there worthy of being paid attention to that are struggling to get the chance.  I hope to exploit that....... 

-----N. Grabowsky,January, 2008

Random Thoughts on My Reading Life’s History

When I found myself literate enough to start tackling adult novels while breaking away from the sort of books designed for kids, around about my last year of elementary school, I was drawn to the sort of dark and fantastical stuff that I eventually developed the knack to write.  But in that era, my first love was Charles M. Shultz’s Peanuts books, the paperbacks put out by Fawcett/Crest, and I owned every single one of them.  Granted, they were categorically comic books, but that was a step in the right direction, and helped motivate me to draw hundreds of pages of my own comics, which I copied and distributed myself.  The next thing I remember was Star Wars, and myself as well as everyone around me bought its novelization, allegedly written by George Lucas though many years later is rumored to have been ghostwritten by sci-fi great Alan Dean Foster, who did his share of novelizations, including eventually Alien (I read that one, too).  The next thing I knew, Foster penned the Star Wars offshoot Splinter of the Mind’s Eye, which I readily lapped up.  A Star Wars fans in its premier heyday (and also up through now), I got my hands also on the three Han Solo adventure novels, such as Han Solo at Star’s End.  In the sixth grade, I even penned my own Star Wars novel, The Star Wars Chronicle, which depicted Lucas’ characters taking over my grade school with Darth Vader killing my big bullies and a white Darth Vader named Apparius Delon saving the day.  I was damn proud of it.

But what really got me going, smack in the middle of sixth grade, was when I picked up a copy of James Herbert’s The Rats.  I went out and got its sequel, Lair, right after that.  The two-headed rat at the end of the story had me hooked, and every instance where someone was killed by rats in both novels, I’d read that passage over and over and over again.  It moved me so much, I raised rats in junior high school, had about twenty-five of them in cages in my shed in the backyard, one in a cage in the house due to the fact that was all my parents could stand.  Needless to say, I was consequentially a fan of the film Willard and its sequel, Ben.  I even named the largest black one Ben, and I’d bring him to school with me. 

My reading life was drawn to horror from then on, and around that time I was reading the best of the best, until Christian Pentecostalism got the best of me and I threw out all my horror books for Jesus’ sake, or at least for the sake of those religious holier-than-thou bastards who told me what to do and made me feel bad for anything I did that didn’t have their made-to-order beliefs’ stamp of approval on it.

When in the mid-eighties I fled the church life screaming, I got back to regularly reading horror paperbacks and developed quite a collection, and that’s when the influence really took its hold, practically by my balls, I would say.  By then I knew I needed to write this kind of material, and the writers I read at the time became my heroes, at least on the level of what I read from them.

Stephen King was a given, and Clive Barker was all the rage for me.  Back in that day, it even helped for me to work in book stores from time to time, and in doing so I was introduced to a multitude of works to read, by writers I hold dear to this day:  John Skipp & Craig Spector, William W. Johnstone, Bari Wood, Whitley Strieber, Charles L. Grant, Dean Koontz, Suzy Mckee Charnas (namely, her Vampire Tapestry), Peter Straub, John Farris, Ramsey Campbell, William Peter Blatty, John Coyne, Robert C. Sloane, Robert McCammon, Paul Theroux, John Updike, F. Paul Wilson, Michael Stewart, Robin Cook, H.F. Saint, Salman Rushdie, John Saul, Daniel Rhodes, T.E.D. Klein (who also was editor of Twilight Zone Magazine), Kathe Koja, Anne Rice, Philip K. Dick, Roald Dahl, Thomas Harris, Piers Anthony, William Goldman, Douglas Clegg, Michael Crichton, and I know I forgot many more as I’m jotting this list all down. 

I hate lists.

And, of course, throughout the years since, I’ve acquired a great many other influences, and a vast multitude of authors whose works I’ve taken a liking to.

I could go on and on about that, and I probably will.

But not yet.

At least, not until I have another reason to go into my reading life, outside of interviews, and that probably won’t be until I unleash another one of these Reads & Reviews books, and that likely won’t happen until a few years from now.  I have a lot more reviews to do, and the books pile up week after week after week, but I’m sure, by the time I’ve accumulated quite a number more, I’ll be doing this all over again. 

And you’ll definitely see them posted on my website for all to see as I crank them out. 

---Nicholas Grabowsky
January, 2008   

To All Horror Writers

From a blog I posted, circa 2007


To all horror writers, large and small, big press, small press, even smaller press, self-published, not even published at all:

In my youth, my dad would every once in awhile take me fishing off any given pier in the Pacific Ocean off Southern CA.....Newport, Huntington, a few others.  He'd wake me up super early, we'd salvage enough twinkies and sandwiches to fill an Igloo, get our bait, drive, find a nice spot amongst the other fisher people there doing what we were about to do, and then cast our lines and do it.............sitting there for hours trying to catch something, among countless others doing the same thing, rooting for one of us that brought in something big, wowing over the guy with his little daughter who caught something so tiny they threw it back but nonetheless it was still quite a spectacle....it was all a thrilling experience for me.  A couple of times, we caught a nice one.  Other times, somebody else did, and it was bigger than mine and others took photographs.  Some talked about the big ones that got away, and you could never really know for sure if they were telling the truth.  One time, a fight broke out between two of the fisher people, and I had to move out of their path.  I forgot what happened with that;  either they settled their  differences, had to be escorted out, or just stayed away from each other.  I guess it didn't matter....if they didn't cease to exist sometime afterwards, they had to still be fishing, somewhere, eventually, if that's what they love to do.

The way I see it, from within the industry and without, down to the smallest aspiring horror writer, from the Kings to the Keenes to the most noble amongst us down to the guy in Nebraska who's horror's biggest fan but just can't get past chapter number three in his hoped-for debut novel, we're all of us fishing on a pier with a box full of twinkies and some bait we hope will catch us a big one.  Maybe you caught a big one already, maybe you have a long history of award-winning big ones we all love or aspire towards, maybe you're constantly asking those who caught a big one just what bait they used.  We've all had our lines in the water, all sitting at that very long pier doing what we strive to do best, and as far as I'm concerned we're all in this together, trying to do the same goddamn thing.

Write horror. 

And hope people like it. 

Maybe you're not serious enough, and you'd just as well take your fishing pole and go home to something more suitable to what you really want, towards a direction in your life just as notable.  I'm talking to the ones who want to stay, as well as to the ones who have stayed there and done very well for themselves.....

We're all on the same pier, always fishing, fishing for that first one, fishing for more, and it's a long-ass pier.  Let's make this pier the best fucking pier the book industry has ever seen, turn it into the 2-plus bookcase section at Barnes & Noble the horror section well deserves and hasn't seen for a long time, turn the genre on its heels and make the reading public love us.  There's desire for it.  There are many people out there who love horror and just won't read.  Let's change that.   Let's nurture each other for the love of horror and its written word, and embrace each other in this art form and set aside any differences you may have, speak to the public in one loud, clear, decadent voice.  We will take over.

And who am I?  Nothing really but just another fisherman.  And I embrace all of you others.  I'm a horror writer, and I'm damn proud of being so.  No matter what else I've done, I've been a horror writer all of my life, as fate would have it, and will die being one.  Every last one of you suit my cause and are my kin.

Let's support each other.

Peace.
---Nick

Nicholas Grabowsky's Diverse Compendium

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