"And there it was again, the zen of elevator travel, those few moments when all that was required of her was simply to occupy the space without any thought, in the calm silence of a mind now desperate to reach its destination."
That’s right, something good came out of 2020 from the Team Torres camp, as while in the midst of the worldwide pumping of the brakes that was the COVID-19 quarantine lockdown, I was able to sit down and punch out my fourth book, a short-story collection entitled, The Zen of Elevator Travel.
Well, let’s back up a bit …
As some of you may recall, there was once a little gathering about four years ago that myself, Dickie English and George Ortolano organized here in New Orleans called The Artist’s Entrance. Designed as a place where artists in the three main areas of music, visual arts and creative writing could congregate and be heard, the event took off and had a great run, cementing the idea that something of that nature needed to exist at the time ... at least for Dickie, George and myself!
The structure of the event was simple: each month, we’d feature a visual artist, a writer and a musician, all three of which would show their work, so to speak, and then take questions from the audience regarding their process. Between featured artists, we’d reserve time for an open-mic portion designed primarily for other visiting writers and musicians to show off their stuff. As it turns out, I took this opportunity to showcase some of my writing, in particular, this new thing I was trying called short stories.
During this time, I had written and read publicly two short stories, one called "Timelines" and another, which would eventually become the title story of this new collection, "The Zen of Elevator Travel." The stories raised some eyebrows – short and sweet atmospheric jabs to that part of the psyche that basks in the sensual. I understood immediately that I wanted to explore this form, and even when The Artist's Entrance concluded its run (for now), I continued on with my new passion of "manufacturing" these short stories.
I'd learned during this time that short stories can be about anything, about settings and situations, about stream-of-consciousness thought and ideas, and as was the case in what would become the longest piece in the collection, "Stan the Man," a true narrative with a beginning, middle and end wedged between the other paint strokes of words and ideas. It was exhilarating, especially when I began to connect the stories much like skits from a Monty Python episode, with characters walking in and out of one story into the next. However, a further intended artistic decision was to make all of these stories mutually exclusive, meaning that they are able to be read in any order, or in the case of the framework of the book, on any "floor" that the reader should happen to visit. It had truly become my "novel" (new) collection of short stories.
I worked on these stories on and off for the next few years, especially during the hight of the pandemic, culminating in a collection that evolved into something that I hadn't anticipated, and which would result in my fourth completed book. I'm extremely proud of this piece, a departure from my larger novels, but a format that I can guarantee I'll visit again. I've fallen in love with the format of the short story, and I hope that this piece inspires writers to create their own literary "paint strokes."
This book is dedicated to the manufactures of short stories everywhere, and to you, I hope that I've done you proud.
And to you, the faithful readers, thank you for your continued support and accompaniment as I continue on with this, my writer's journey.
I've been asked quite a bit lately what this second book -- the namesake of the Trilogy -- is actually about. I'd say that it's a multi-generational ghost story that spans the late 1930s to the late 1990s in New Orleans, one that carries the suspense right on through to the New Year's Eve drop atop the Jax Brewery at the dawn of the new millennium. It's a story of excess in a city that helped define excess, a reminder of the now antique phantoms that are still hiding in the shadows of the French Quarter, the ones that are always ready to raise a glass in toast to a good time …
"Watch out for the shadows, Judith,” the Funnyman said. “Don’t give yourself up to the night, not in this town, because it’ll sure as hell take you.”
There is a shortage of book talk on this blog, and it's a shame considering that I do read them as well as write them, I really do. In fact, even before the process began of researching agencies, which in itself prompted me to begin reading a wide variety of books strictly to see what else was out there, I had a pretty good backlog of books that I wanted to not so much review here but highlight. An earlier post from August of 2011 emphasized what "inspired" me about Andrew Davidson's novel The Gargoyle, for instance, and this is what I plan to do here with this small handful of books in this my first multi-image post!
I'll start with the most recent, Dean Koontz's 2005 novel, Velocity. And most all of the reviews that I've read and even watched on YouTube say the same thing about this book, that the book's title says it all, with a story that is for the most part in real time as it races through only a few days in the life of our unfortunate hero. While being put to the task of choosing the victims of a killer through a series of notes and riddles, I was at first put off by the fact that I had stumbled onto another crime story, but then I was inspired above all by how much fun Koontz was having with the material.
Which takes me to the previous book I'd read, Richard Laymon's 1986 horror novel The Beast House, which is actually the second book in his Beast House Chronicles series. Here, I was treated to a book much like one in which I would structure, complete with multiple viewpoints and motivations and cinematic descriptions of the action that all added up to a novel that read very much like a "grindhouse" monster movie. I read this one during breaks in the morning hours and the Koontz book at night, and I suppose I lucked out, because they both sustained my attention and proved to be good picks to double-up with from our very own bookshelf at home.
Going back now a few months, I dove into the world of Joe Hill, and I did this first with his 2010 dark-fantasy novel Horns. Here I was impressed with much of the same things that I had admired about The Gargoyle, which was that there was really a minimal amount of plot in favor of character and insight that leant itself more to the genre of literary fiction than to horror. Our hero wakes up one morning from a drunken night with horns on his head, and why and when this happens is explored in a bit of an abstract and allegorical way, which in my opinion is perfectly acceptable.
But in Hill's previous outing, the 2007 straight-up horror novel Heart-Shaped Box, an aging rocker purchases a suit of a dead man that carries with it a vengeful ghost. This one was more accessible as it dealt with a situation, the premise of the suit itself being haunted, and it was explored and carried out in a satisfying if not poltergeist-bright-and-flickering-lights kind of way. Hill is the son of a lesser-known horror writer with the surname of King.
Which brings me to the novel with which I started the year, Anne Rice's 2012 return to her Gothic roots, The Wolf Gift. As you can guess, this is an exhilarating exploration of the wolf man (or, as she prefers to call it in the book, the "Man Wolf") myth, and it begins what will soon be another series by the author that started the inside-out re-imaginings of the legends of horror. I am still thrilled to have been called out by Ms. Rice herself on this blog regarding an early and speculative post about this very book, and it can be found here on the sidebar as my most-popular post to date.
Thanks, Anne, not just for the shout-out but for basically starting this whole writing thing that's consumed me since your 1976 novel Interview With the Vampire. But that's a love letter for another post. This was about books that have inspired me, about what I've learned about the genre that my books may or may not fall into, and about how I should move on in the new year with the business of being Ted Torres.
And she really does have the authority, doesn't she? When one stops to think about it, after she single-handedly provided the modern vampire fiction blueprint with the publication of Interview With the Vampire, it's almost unheard of to know that she's gotten little to no credit in the wake of the not-so-recent-anymore vampire craze that finally may be showing signs of stopping. Rice, in fact, has been quite vocal when it came to Stephanie Meyer's Twilight series, criticizing among other things the idea that Meyer's immortals inexplicably felt that it was necessary to attend ... high school. It's the stuff that's made Rice fans like myself furious in a way that one gets when they watch someone take credit they didn't deserve, especially when the real credit may go to a friend or a family member, or in our case, an author that you think of almost as family! It's like hearing someone claim to invent a brand when in all actuality, the brand exists because it's being targeted to a market that had no prior knowledge that the brand already existed! Vampires have become afterschool specials and we're all sick of it, and apparently, so is Anne Rice.
It's no wonder that she's given up on the genre for the time being and has instead moved on to werewolves with the February 2012 release of The Wolf Gift, a book that I guarantee will redefine the mythology. And I haven't even read it yet. I don't have to. That's just what she does. She turns legends inside out and fills in the holes that have existed for centuries. She did this reworking with vampires, witches, mummies, an ensemble of ghosts (most all of whom were from New Orleans, by the way), oh, and a marginal literary character by the name of Jesus Christ. And guess what? Anne Rice is about to do it again, readers, and no one has earned the authority to do so more than she has.
I've also seen recently that Anne Rice's Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt is being adapted into a film to be directed by Chris Columbus, and I may have this wrong, but it looks as though she may have some casting pull this time around. This, as some of you may remember, is a far cry from when Tom Cruise was cast as Lestat in the film version of Interview, a complaint that she later retracted, but one that I suspect kept her out of the creative meetings that resulted in the horrendous 2002 film adaptation of Queen of the Damned.
I certainly hope that this is the case, which would give Anne Rice the "author"-ity that she has deserved from Hollywood for well over thirty years now, taking her place as the reason why vampires are still around to make sparkly and send to proms.
Greetings from Key West, Florida.
Been here for three days now, performing nightly with my band at Sloppy Joe's Bar, the alleged place where Ernest Hemingway tied quite a few on in his day. But if you eavesdrop on one of the tour trams that pass every now and again, you learn that the original Sloppy Joe's, and Hemingway's liver, have remnants further down the block in an entirely different location. But I digress. Key West has gone off my radar as far as rants go. It is what it is, and I'm here first on business, and second, to get lost in my imagination for a solid week.
Which brings me to this post, which was inspired by a Twitter feed in which a fellow writer blogged about their influences. I'd never thought to do that myself, usually reserving that information for when I was a drinker and would talk many an ear off about literature and writing and the best of both. But those days are gone, and with it went the bravado of a loud drunk. Nonetheless, I'd like to take this time to mention the latest book I've read (pictured above), which I found very inspiring for reasons I'll explain, and then say a little something about what influences me as a writer.
First and foremost, I have to mention the Queen of the Damned herself, Anne Rice, my surrogate mother of letters and inspiration to this day. Her contemporary fiction is what put me on the path of the novel as my primary means of storytelling, and I admit it without shame that she has been most all I've read in that field to date. I can't remember the last book I've read (fiction, mind you) that she hasn't written, with the exception of one (again, pictured above). I just recently saw a YouTube video of her in her little office in the California desert, and it made me think about perseverance. Anne used to live quite the extravagant lifestyle in New Orleans, but apparently lost all of it due to bad investments and a crashing real estate market. That information came from a separate interview I read recently, but when I put it all together, it made me think, "I can and will write everywhere." Anne used to write in a Garden District mansion, and now, by the looks of it, she writes in a small room in a suburban California condo.
Now, before I go further off track here, let me mention The Gargoyle by Andrew Davidson (that's right, pictured above), a wonderfully written and structured book that inspires me in its simplicity. I'm sure Mr. Davidson himself would not be so kind with my calling his work "simple," mainly because according to the background information on him, the novel took seven years to write. But the book is simple only in the fact that it manages to carry two story threads framed in a plot-space that is really uneventful. Without reviewing the book, I just want to make the point that it showed me how less can absolutely be more, and Davidson is very much akin to my approach. It's vivid, beautiful, and internalized in the Romantic tradition.
Back to what inspires me, I have to mention the very same Romantic tradition, more specifically, the English Romantics of the eighteenth and nineteenth century. Even more specific would be the second generation led by Byron, Keats, and Shelley. It would be downright weird for me to claim that as a novelist I was influenced by them stylistically, being that they were poets. But their philosophies are what molded me, and the study of their time and work is what gave me the Promethean flame that I write so much about. That flame, in my opinion, was carried centuries later as the writers of the Beat Generation -- another great influence on my work -- internalized their passions and made the written word like new, post-World War II monuments of expressive achievement. William S. Burroughs, Jack Kerouac, and Allen Ginsberg truly believed they were changing the world, like the English Romantics before them, and in a way they did. Only it was the world inside.
Yes. The world inside. Writers can't move into any other words unless they're satisfied with the one inside.
That is what inspires me. What inspires you?