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Wednesday, August 16, 2006

A Very Hard Read

I'm reading Candles Burning, a recent novel written by Michael McDowell and Tabitha King. And it's difficult.

You see, I've been a huge fan of Mr. McDowell's work since I came across his Blackwater series in the local (then) Kroger grocery store. On the back of the book, he promised 6 months of bloodcurdling horror...

And he delivered.

If you're familiar with Stephen King's The Green Mile, which was released in 6 monthly installments, you'll understand. King copied McDowell's formuala exactly.

But he didn't copy the content.

As good as The Green Mile was -- which was very good -- it didn't have quite the same energy as the Blackwater series. After I completed each volume (a 2-3 day read), I literally counted the days for the next one to be released. I even got my friends hooked, and we were all on the lookout for the next volume to drop.

After Blackwater, I sought out his older stuff. And I liked it all. Loved most of it. And he quickly became one of my all-time favorite authors. His writing was fresh and original and oft-times creepy. He never failed to take me someplace else.

And when we, as readers, fall in love with an author's work, a relationship is formed. A relationship as strong and as durable as one with a person.

In 1999, I was searching the Web for information on what McDowell was up to, and sadly, found out he'd died of AIDS. It was like a punch to the gut, and I sat there, reading and rereading the info, unable to make it real.

In January of this year, my father passed away after a long and difficult battle with cancer. During that time, my mother, suffering from dementia, was slowly being engulphed by the disease. She lives now in a world inhabited by spirits of the past. Her level of comprehension is almost zero, but I can still make her smile. And laugh. And on good days, her sense of humor and sass return full bore and her skin glows with vitality. On the surface, she does not know my father has passed away, but underneath the ravages of the disease, I'm sure she does. Because the kissess and caresses and kindness I lavish on her are not his. And though they work their way in and warm her, they are not enough.

It is impossible to describe the loss of a parent. It's not something you can pin down, because it's not a single emotion but rather an every changing emotional landscape. It can't be defined, only experienced.

So when I found out that there was a new McDowell novel, I was elated and saddened at the same time. Elated because I was going to get one more McDowell novel, but saddend because it was the last. But the most difficult part of all is that the novel was unfinished. Tabitha King, a friend of McDowell's, was asked to complete it for him, and she did. In the preface King says that a lot of the novel was done, but there was no ending and no notes could be found. She states that this is not the novel that McDowell would have written. She took what was there and finished it as she would finish it.

I respect King and believe she was a very good choice. But as I read through it, and I'm loving it, I dread reaching that point where I think McDowell ends and King begins. Cause it will be like reading that he'd died all over again...and a reminder that this isn't his book. It's their book. And that's something altogether different.

My emotions here are more extreme than they should be. I never met McDowell, but I did do an interview with him for a horror fiction newsletter I was doing. He was my very first interview. I was scared and nervous and he was kind and friendly. I kept the interview short, because I didn't want to waste his time. The newletter had a circulation of about 30.

So I dread this. And I read on. And I think -- no, I know -- that my feelings are tied to the loss of my father, a loss I've yet to really be able to come to grips with. They were both important to me, in different ways and for different reasons, and I miss them both. That much I know. And understand.

If anyone is reading this, my God, you must be thinking that you're reading the ramblings of a madman. Maybe you are. This evening on the bus, I read a few pages, and the feeling, that shifting emotional landscape got to me. I thought I was gonna cry. Instead, I write this.

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This is me and one of my two cats. His name is Cougar, and he’s an F1 Chausie. A chausie is a new breed of cat under development. Chausies are the result of a cross between a domestic cat (in Cougar’s case, a Bengal) and a jungle cat (Felis Chaus). Cougar’s mom is 8 pounds and his father is a 30-pound jungle cat. He’s about 16 pounds, super intelligent, spirited, and toilet trained. A writer without a cat (or two) is not to be trusted.