The Truest, Realest Gifts

Something terrible happened in a community near to my little town twenty-two years ago. A twelve year old was murdered in a horrible, senseless way. He was biking to a Boy Scout meeting through a shortcut in the woods, was taken by two men who had been watching him, and was tortured to death. I was ten years old when it happened. The news of such a thing happening in a small town in Ohio shook all of the neighboring towns as well, and for a long time parents didn’t let their children out of their sight, not even after the men were captured and imprisoned.

At the time I had not really had any encounter with death, let alone murder, let alone the murder of a child. What happened to twelve year old Raymond Fife was confusing and frightening and changed how I understood the world. It was a much scarier place suddenly. I didn’t understand why anyone would murder another person, let alone a young boy who was just going to a Boy Scout meeting. I remember feeling like I was floating in outer space, and the rest of the world felt really distant below me. My mom could see that I was bothered by what had happened and talked about it with me. I had a thousand questions, most of which she couldn’t answer, even though she tried. I remember being worried about the boy, even though I knew he was dead now. My mom asked me one night if I’d like to pray for Raymond, and talk to God about him, and we did that together. I was worried that he was out there still, but lost maybe, and that someone just needed to bring him home or help him find his way. It doesn’t make any sense why I thought that, but I was ten and it’s how I felt. I was sad about it for a long time, and I don’t think I ever was able to make any sense of it and finally put it away, even though I still hadn’t made any sort of peace with those feelings.

And then when I was in my mid twenties, I lost a friend suddenly. No one took her life, but she died young and suddenly from a reaction to something the doctors were never able to pin down. And suddenly life felt pretty scary again. That realization that death took people suddenly and without any comprehensible reason was stirred up in me again, but I was twenty-four and dealt with that realization in a different way than I was able to when I was ten. Raymond, the boy who was murdered, came back to me soon after my friend Jenna died, and I began to write a story. Not about him, or Jenna, but about what the sudden loss of a person does to the community and people who loved them. How it can make you feel crazy and want to escape something inescapable in this world. Our own mortality.

That story was the seed for my novel One for Sorrow, and I don’t talk about the story behind the story so much. I’ve mentioned in interviews or for introductions to that short story, “Dead Boy Found”, some general details about why I wrote both that story and the novel. But I’ve not named names before, for a couple of reasons. Because the story and novel I wrote weren’t so much about those people, but about how their absence, and the way they were taken from the world, affected me. I wasn’t writing a thinly disguised biographical account of anything, that is. And also because I want my stories and novels to be read on their own merit rather than for any other reason from my personal life that could be attached to them.

But then a local reporter who interviewed me to write an article about the publication of One for Sorrow called me and asked me if I had taken inspiration from anything specific. I was general at first as usual, mentioning that a young boy had been killed in a terrible way when I was young and that a lot of the emotions and thoughts that his death stirred up in me were in this book. And then he asked if it was Raymond Fife, and I said that it was, and he said he had been one of the reporters on that case in the eighties, and had recognized small details in One for Sorrow that reminded him of the case, and that’s why he asked. In his article about the book’s publication, he also mentioned this. I hadn’t thought much of it until today, when I was doing a signing at a local bookstore, and a woman came to my table with a book and said, “I’m Raymond’s mother.” At first I wasn’t sure what to say, and she said, “The little boy who–” and stopped.

I still wasn’t able to come up with any words. Chills ran up and down my spine, and I got up and came around the table and we hugged for a while and said nothing and when we pulled away from each other, it felt like some sort of circle had finally closed for me. She’d brought her family with her, said she’d seen it in the newspaper, and had marked my signing date on her calendar so that she would be sure to come and see me.

I was–I don’t even know the word for how it made me feel. Whatever that feeling is, it feels right and true and makes me feel like I’m doing something meaningful in a world that sometimes feels meaningless. So many things have happened since I’ve published this book, in a short amount of time, and I hadn’t expected any of it. Reunions with old friends from high school, long lost family members resurfacing, favorite teachers from my past coming back into my life. And when I met Raymond’s mother and family today, I realized just how much books really can bring people together. I’m not sure if it works this way for every writer, but that’s been my experience of having written and published a book. Everything I expected has happened, but it’s these things that I hadn’t anticipated that have been the truest, realest gifts writing has ever given me. It’s on days like this that I know whatever path it is that I’m walking, it’s taking me to a totally different place than I expected, but it’s the place I need to go.

Career Meme

This test was funny. It actually captures a lot of my interests, even if some of them aren’t exactly what I’d want to do as careers. The careers I’ve dabbled in or something related to are bolded.

1. Go to http://www.careercruising.com/
2. Put in Username: nycareers, Password: landmark.
3. Take their “Career Matchmaker” questions.
4. Post the top umpty results:

1. Lobbyist

2. Desktop Publisher

3. Cartoonist / Comic Illustrator

4. Criminologist

5. Librarian

6. Tour Guide

7. Dental Assistant

8. Fashion Designer

9. Anthropologist

10. Professor

11. Activist

12. Public Policy Analyst

13. Political Aide

14. Communications Specialist

15. Writer

16. Print Journalist

17. Artist

18. Library Technician

19. Graphic Designer

20. Medical Illustrator

21. Critic

22. Market Research Analyst

23. Translator

24. Dispatcher

25. Computer Animator

26. Animator

27. Lifeguard

28. Community Worker

29. Religious Worker

30. Funeral Director

31. Hairstylist

32. Foreign Service Officer

33. Clergy

34. Career Counselor

35. Curator

36. Foreign Language Instructor

37. Sport Psychology Consultant

38. Industrial-Organizational Psychologist

39. ESL Teacher

40. Esthetician

Telling Lies to the Young Is Wrong

I came across this poem in the comments section of Justine Larbalestier’s blog, posted there by Chris McClaren, and had to steal it to post over here as well.  It’s just too good, and sums up my feelings in recent years about how we should teach our children and ourselves to look at the world.

TELLING LIES TO THE YOUNG IS WRONG

Telling lies to the young is wrong.
Proving to them that lies are true is wrong.
Telling them that God’s in his heaven
and all’s well with the world is wrong.
The young know what you mean. The young are people.
Tell them the difficulties can’t be counted
and let them see not only what will be
but see with clarity these present times
Say obstacles exist they must encounter,
sorrow happens, hardship happens.
The hell with it. Who never knew
the price of happiness will not be happy.
Forgive no error you recognize,
it will repeat itself, increase,
and afterwards our pupils
will not forgive in us what we forgave.

–Yevgeny Yevtushenko.

The Big Idea

John Scalzi asked me to be the guinea pig for a new feature called “The Big Idea” on his  Ficlets blog, where an author writes a little essay about a central idea that their book came to be centered around or which influenced the writing of the book.  My big idea essay is now up over at the blog.  I decided to write about the archetypal mystic journey that is buried at the heart of the book.

Here’s the opening:

One for Sorrow can be read in a lot of different ways, but one of the ways with which I myself became fascinated while writing it was discovering that, at a very foundational level of the book, I was writing a narrative about the path of the mystic. Many mystic traditions bump up against each other in our contemporary, global society, so much so that we often come across items and artifacts, lectures and gossip about the Buddha, Jesus Christ, Mohammed and Lao Tzu, sometimes all in the passing of a day. Without much hesitation, we follow Harry Potter out of his mundane life into a realm beyond our ordinary senses, leave the Shire for the dangers of the wider world, venture through the wardrobe, open the book that allows us to perceive the realm of those that live under the hill or among the nameless, eternal gods on the mountain. We live in a scientific age, yet we still tell stories about discovering and understanding new pieces of reality – which is what science is supposed to do – through means that aren’t accredited in the empirical world of the senses.

If you read it, and also read One for Sorrow, let me know what you think.

Also, I’ll be posting pics from the very awesome launch party sometime this week.  I have been so busy the past week, it slipped my mind.

Schedule Change

Not sure if anyone reading this up around Cleveland was planning on attending my reading/signing at Mac’s Backs in Coventry, but just in case: the date has been changed to September 29th at 5 p.m. due to some scheduling conflicts. Coventry Crawl is also that day, I’m informed, which means a sidewalk sale of all the local businesses, so it sounds like it’ll be a fun day. I’m going to go up earlier than necessary now, just to shop. Coventry has some pretty cool shops. So if you’re around, stop in at Mac’s around five.

Scifi.com Review

So I said “um” a lot in my first ever radio interview. Oh well. Paul Di Filippo had great things to say about One for Sorrow in his review over at Scifi.com:

Surely the current era is a renaissance of ghostly tales. The work of Peter Beagle and Tim Powers and James Blaylock and Charles de Lint launched the new golden age of ghost stories. And more recently we’ve had excellent offerings from Graham Joyce, Joe Hill and Sean Stewart. Now up to the plate steps newcomer Christopher Barzak with his debut novel, a strong contender to join the ranks of these classics.

Barzak has made an impact with many stories in various venues, and he’s part of a new generation of writers coming at the genre with an “interstitial” or “slipstream” perspective that blends the fantastical with the mimetic. So it’s no surprise to find his debut novel well crafted, sensitive and literary, as well as suitably pulpy in places.

In a sense, this is the very path taken by the grandfather of such writing, Ray Bradbury, who long ago elevated what might have been “mere” Weird Tales material into high art.

Certainly Barzak’s Midwest setting and juvenile protagonist will summon up echoes of Bradbury’s Dandelion Wine (1957) conflated with some of Bradbury’s more gothic and gruesome excursions. But at the same time, Barzak explicitly models his book on Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye (1951). Generally, this fusion of influences works quite well, with the spooky bits and the mimetic bits holding equal sway.

He also says he thinks the book is highly filmable, and invites hypothetical casting to occur. A review like this makes up quite nicely for my night of umming. 🙂

Read the rest of it by clicking here.

Interview with Linkon on Lincoln Avenue

Hope everyone is having a good holiday weekend.  The book release party was really awesome, and I’ll be writing about it and posting some pictures of the art and attendees sometime this week, but for now I’m going to post this link to the blog for the radio show Lincoln Avenue, hosted by Dr. Sherry Linkon.  Sherry recorded an interview with me that will air this Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. and you can listen to it by visiting WYSU’s homepage.  At the top of the page is a “Listen to WYSU” button.  If you hold your cursor over that, it’ll give you the option of listening to it with a couple of different media streamers.  Choose whichever one your computer has installed, and you’ll be hearing WYSU’s very NPR-like station live.  The show will be archived afterwards, so if you miss it on Wednesday, eventually you’ll be able to listen to the archived version when it goes up.  Sherry asks good questions, and I think it might actually be an interesting interview.  Let’s hope I don’t sound too silly!