When I finally left the military in the spring of 1989, I was on fire to create a new fantasy work. This was a fun young-adult-oriented adventure called Tales from the Marshlands, featuring a group of young people living in a fantasyland swamp fighting a demon who haunted the bogs. I was living with relatives in Orange County at the time. The story had a well-rounded group of young adult friends, including two adventurous boys, a young female witch-in-training, and a stalwart ranger. Their adventures were myriad, and very innocent, but it suffered from a dour ending. It was reminiscent of the Tom Cruise movie, Legend, in some regards. Although it suffered from some misdirection and was poorly aimed, I have long decided that there was perhaps some good potential in this work. I had geared it for an adult audience, with some rather adult themes, but time and again the market place advised me that it would do better as a YA novel after some revisions. Chief among these critics was Ethan Ellenberg, a literary agent I had submitted it to.
If I had remained with it, and understood the art of revision, this would have been a work of potential. As it lies, however, the novel languished and eventually was lost to time. I was rather disenchanted, so-to-speak, with TftM, and I endeavored to start other fantasy works in a series relating to the first novel, but all separate. That is, they all take place at about the same time and the same fantasy world as each other, but are not related if only incidentally. Therefore, as I was shopping around Tales from the Marshlands, I began drafting another fantasy novel entitled, Seixas and Panacea, which was about a young man, and a blind man out to kill a powerful evil witch who had a young woman trapped. It eventually fell away into nothingness after a few chapters.
It was during ’89 that I worked as a store manager for Crown Books in Tustin, California, and there met Dean R. Koontz. He often came in and bought a wide variety of title from us, and at times he was gracious enough to speak to me about writing.
After the family broke up, we all went our separate ways. I chose to live in the east with some old Navy chums, gaining a nice little apartment in Virginia Beach. During a tumultuous time dealing with errant roommates and poor finances, I began writing once again in earnest. I began another fantasy work based on my Dungeons and Dragons world called, The Archmage of Osgerith. I envisioned no other than the artist, Angus McBride, doing the cover art for the book. AoO was a focused, more adult-oriented work than Tales from the Marshlands, and served my purposes to be more serious in my fantasy novels. I labored with it day after day and week after week, working as a rental car admin and a grocery clerk.
The Archmage of Osgerith concerned a wizard named Gideon striving to protect a group of people from a hostile necromancer in a world reminiscent of Tolkien. It held some interesting and complex characters, including a sociopathic elf-like warrior, an alcoholic hero, and some powerful magic and battles. It garnered some interest from the market, but eventually it too failed and was shelved. Ethan Ellenberg wrote that it was too indistinct from the genre, and Peter Stamfel at DAW Books passed on it after first reading.
While I waited for that book to sell, I began another drafting of the venerable Winds of the Deep, of which I had last written in 1982. At this time, I began finding my tastes drifting from the fantasy books and began focusing on some literary horror – such as those written by Peter Straub and Anne Rice. Taking the best from these authors, I focused on making WotD a stronger, more horrific tale, rather than the dreamy fantasy of the earlier draft. Still, I found the draft hard to rein in precisely the way I wanted it to, and it drifted about, even though I fought hard to make it a Straub-like yarn. The main elements of the creepy terror still eluded me, and I couldn’t grasp everything it needed to be. I have reread this work many times in the years, and find it lacking in both syntax and prose, and I’ve found that to be rather troublesome, although I know that I worked very hard on it during its conception. The tale behind Winds of the Deep, I have found, reflects my own unresolved and youthful quests in the search for my own father, and my misunderstanding women and relationships, and trying to come to grips with them. The protagonist, Nate Jacobs, is highly me in every regard, in his wandering about the beaches and being haunted by indecision and doubt. The guides are there, but they are unable to assist him; Rich Logan and Dewitt Johnson, although helpful, are wrapped up in their own damnation to be of much use; Nate outlives them only to find himself back where he was. His love interest, Jackie Bartholomew, the elusive phantom, is even now more elusive. This haunting tale delves deep into my psyche, and it is only after years later that I discover this. Taking it with me in a sudden move to Florida in the summer of 1991, I sent it to several agencies seeking representation, but find none. It is not written well; it is rather clumsy and misdirected. I feel detached and sullen and in a spiral of being in a nowhere-land.
During its submission to agencies, I wrote several short stories, speculative fictional works, and had them flying all about. I don’t want to list them all, only the ones that I feel were above-board. “Pet Shop for the Dead” wasn’t readily received by the market, even Kim Mohan of Weird Tales told me that it was “too much like the road-kill animals have their revenge” tale, of which he may get a million of. I liked the story, even basing it on the experience of a former roommate tying a cat to the back of a car and driving it along the Interstate. Bastard. “Indian Summer” was an ambitious tale of a nature photographer getting lost on an East Tennessee mountain haunted by ghosts of Cherokee warriors. This latter tale was inspired by my ride through Tennessee, and the haunting feeling some of these mountains possess. Editors critiqued that the story was too high-handed and too preachy. I worked on a new novel as a follow-up to Winds of the Deep, about a psychiatrist who uses a neural machine to link with a psychopath and takes on the traits of the killer. It didn’t get far, but its writing was very Straub-like.
To be continued….