"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 height 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.
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.