Archive | September, 2013

Wolves for Pets and Lions for Night Conversants…

25 Sep

[originally appeared on 9/25/13 – ]

In Cain’s Blood, the teenaged clones of infamous serial killers (Bundy, Gacy, Berokowitz, Dahmer, etc.) cause all sorts of nasty havoc. I was somewhat puzzled by early reviews that focused on how “dark and violent” the book is. I’d never really thought about that. I just wrote about what might happen next, the most-likely thing in a given situation. When Scott Smith, the author of The Ruins, called the book “very dark,” I didn’t think much of that either, until I watched The Ruins for the first time in years and thought: “THIS guy thinks I’m dark!” It was the first time I stopped to consider what I’d ultimately created. And How.

My earliest memory is a nightmare. I was four or five, and in the nightmare my parents are having after-dinner drinks or coffee with another couple and sitting on a couch and chair. A Casper-shaped ghost with a knife hovers above the couch and informs me that he’s going to kill them all. I warn the adults, who laugh and can’t see the ghost, its obvious threat, and then the ghost laughs also. When he starts cutting, and they start screaming, I wake…

I have always seen and imagined the worst in every given situation. My Super Power, to steal from Truman Capote, is: “I see every monster as they come in the room.” 1,000 Ways to Die? Ha! There are a million. More. There are a 1,000 just in this room. Whatever the setting, situation or person, my brain automatically conceives and suspects the twenty worst scenarios that could come next.

An advanced survival skill? A half-empty glass/soul? In either case, quite handy for plotting the dark fiction which has, thus far, marked my writing career. Regardless, alas, of its effect on real life…

Catching up with a college girlfriend recently, she recounted how “weird” I was about always imagining the worst. Her example (when pressed): We were walking down the street in Annapolis, holding hands, and I suggested we stop holding hands because a serial killer would now totally notice us, notice our obvious love, and, so, kidnap and torture us more to use that love against us. Perhaps, I just didn’t want to hold hands, but I’ll allow that the whole serial-killer-kidnapping thing was likely a genuine possibility in my mind. She labeled it “fear” in our later talk, which pissed me off some. It wasn’t fear, old pal, it was Muad’Dibian prescience, it was planning. (And I maybe saved your life that day…)

Where this dark and constant suspicion of the world comes from, I don’t know. Is it genetic (as the science of Cain’s Blood suggests)? My father has mocked my grandfather’s dark inklings, telling how the man believed restaurants fill you up on all that bread upfront so they can give smaller portions of the real meal later. My father finds this funny. I, however, think: Well, OF COURSE that’s why they give you all that bread. Or if not that, it’s because bread has salt and makes you order more drinks (the highest profit margin). Duh! “Everyone has an angle,” Bing Crosby says in White Christmas, and I come from a line (my mom takes after her dad) looking for (suspicious of) those angles. (Just in case…)

Is it the result of my culture? I’m Gen X. Raised in the 80s. Taught that the Russians would drop nukes on us. Taught that AIDS would kill everyone. Taught that pot would lead directly to heroin. Taught that my neighbor, Scoutmaster, mailman probably wanted to kidnap and molest me. Taught by the dozen shiny new 24-hour news channels—news channels desperate for audience, bleeds-leads channels with no real content, channels targeting a generation that still took news seriously (BREAKING NEWS! Must pay attention!) and hadn’t learned yet to simply ignore the flashing lights and lies—that I could be killed by mold, pit bulls, old refrigerators, dog food, plastic, sharks, plastic sharks, snow, pesticides, Muslims, drunk drivers, hot dogs, cat hair, toothpaste, oral sex air bubbles, Teflon, skim milk, bees, microwave popcorn, too much water, SARS, dust bunnies, tick bites, super volcanoes, bird flu, the sun, sunscreen, fluorine, aspirin, house plants, street gang initiations, sun flares, printer ink, Three Mile Island, the Shah, polar shifts, a bloody nose, bubble gum, etc. etc.

While none of this has gotten me yet (and I intellectually understand the news channels’ goals), that doesn’t mean that I didn’t file them away as possibilities; In case the other shoe does drop someday, in case that “yet” is the key word here.

Cain’s Blood is about the worst that could happen: The worst our government and military might do. The worst a violent teen might do. The worst that Man might do. Is there hope within, yes. I have sought and found comfort in fiction for forty years as a reader finding the best of us all. Those characters are here too. They will together face and fight an Evil that’s older than knife-wielding ghosts, even older than Cain. Whether or not they hold hands, I leave to them…