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"We need to make books cool again. If you go home with someone & they don't have books, don't fuck 'em."--John Waters

I'm the author of more than twenty novels including SHADOW SEASON, THE COLD SPOT, THE COLDEST MILE, THE MIDNIGHT ROAD, THE DEAD LETTERS, and A CHOIR OF ILL CHILDREN. Look for my next one THE LAST KIND WORDS due out May '12 from Bantam Books. Contact: PicSelf1@aol.com

Friday, April 29, 2011

Remaining Strange

I’ve talked about my father a lot, in this blog and across most of my fiction. Which remains strange because I barely knew him and all that I really discuss is this man’s shadow and myth and the Oedipal trauma under which I continue to labor. He was a handsome slim Sicilian kid who lied about his age to join the Navy during the tail end of WWII. He was a jock and engineer and the foreman of his crew at Gruman. He helped build the Apollo 11 space module. He spent the last year of his life taking me to a ton of horror movies. He left a deep impression on me.

I didn’t know he was sick. I was seven. Most seven year olds are apparently sharper than I was.

I don’t fully understand why I didn’t quite get it, except that my mother, knowing I was a sensitive kid, apparently fought to keep me in the dark. We borrowed a barker lounger from my uncle to give my father some comfort. I recall leaping up onto his lap and hearing him groan loudly. It scared me. I faced him and spotted a long, inflamed biopsy scar across his throat. I remember being shocked into silence while he tried to soothe me, saying, "Don’t be scared, it’s okay, Tommy."

He was dead a short time later. I didn’t know about it. They didn’t tell me until after the funeral. I was shuttled to my aunt’s place where the family took turns looking after me while they sneaked out to attend services and wakes. It probably isn’t so easy to fool most seven year old’s but I was blithely unaware. I was a dumb shit. They took advantage of that fact. They decided it would be easier to break the news to me after first pumping me up full of laughter. My 18 year old brother and my cousins took me down in the basement to teach me how to play Monopoly. They rigged the game so I’d win all the property and money. I was overjoyed and giggling like a hopped up pothead when my brother brought the sledge down. He was a dumb shit himself. He said, "I’m your new father. Dad died."

I tore ass up the stairs and made an Olympiad standing jump into my mother’s arms. She was waiting alone on the couch.

Later on the anger hit. I felt betrayed and empty that I hadn’t been able to mourn with everyone else. I felt abused and hyper-assinine because they’d all been in the know, creeping around me in my ignorance. Somewhere down the line I found my brother’s journal. I wasn’t interested in his anything about it except one day. Nov. 4, the funeral. I read the couple of pages over and over. It had stormed horribly and my brother drew a few gravestones with slashes of rain.

The next day I went to read the journal again and it was gone. I found it torn to pieces in the trashcan. I questioned him about it and he told me I’d violated him by reading his secret thoughts. Like I said, he was a dumbshit kid too. He didn’t pick up on my need to share in the mourning. He wasn’t wise enough to understand the need for a closure I could never entirely have.

So my old man was gone at 46, and the number took on a greater meaning the closer I came to it. Writers live and die by these kinds of symbols. They lend meaning and purpose to the craft and the intent. We’re all painfully self-aware of our own need for drama. And so I give you my upcoming birthday on May 27th. On that day I turn 46. I match the extent of my father’s life, if not his testament. No matter what I accomplish in this life I feel like I can never match him. I know that at least a part of this is wild insecurity on my part. The rest has something to do with living in the looming shadow of the dead.

All of this has added to my incessant struggle and pursuit for identity. Taken as a body of work, I would say that my fiction deals mostly about the search for identity. And nowhere else is this more clear or obvious than in my original-to-digital novel NIGHTJACK. The symbolism is clear. So’s the theater and the drama. So’s the fear.

In an effort to do some damn thing to semi-celebrate my b-day, to note this watershed year, I decided to reduce the price on NIGHTJACK to .99 all across the board. On Amazon, B&N, the Crossroad website, everyplace. Go, enjoy. And find yourself.

Here's the info:

On the day of his release from a mental institution Pace is taken "hostage" by Faust, Pia, and Hayden, three escapees from the hospital who disappeared after the presumed rape and beating of Cassandra Kaltzas, daughter of the Greek munitions tycoon Alexandra Kaltzas. Each suffers from Multiple Personality Disorder, experiencing complex delusions and sometimes fantastical identities. Pace tries to piece together what happened when apparently one of their alternate personalities tried to kill Cassandra.

Pace himself is an alternate of William Pacella, a man whose wife died in a restaurant fire set by a local mobster for insurance money. William Pacella "dies" so that Nightjack can be born-a new personality who may or may not be Jack the Ripper.

For unknown reasons, Pace is able to see others' delusions-when alternates take over members of the group, Pace alone is able to interact with each persona. Included among them is Princess Eirrin, a ten thousand year old sorceress and heir to the Atlantean throne; Smoker, a half-breed gunman from 1880s Arizona; Thaddeus, friend and companion to St. Paul; and the ancient Greek architect Daedalus, who soared among the clouds with his home-made wax wings and watched his son perish in the sea.

Now the four find themselves under attack from assassins sent by Kaltzas to punish the person who attacked his daughter. Conflicting stories abound about Cassandra-whether she was raped, if she was perhaps murdered, or if she and Pace somehow crossed paths even before the hospital. In fact, she may not even exist.

As the attacks persist, the group is forced to face their own personal traumas and terrors, and go in search of Kaltzas in Greece. There, on an island where fantasy, myth, and truth are all entangled, Pace and his many alternates must sift through madness and deceit to unlock the mystery. And everyone may wind up dead unless Pace willingly unleashes the most brutal killer of all: Nightjack.

PRAISE FOR TOM PICCIRILLI & NIGHTJACK

"Tom Piccirilli straddles genres with the boldness of the best writers today, blending suspense and crime fiction into tight, brutal masterpieces."-JAMES ROLLINS, New York Times bestselling author of The Judas Strain

"You're in for a treat. Tom Piccirilli is one of the most exciting authors around. He writes vivid action that is gripping and smart, with characters you believe and care about. I always pay attention when I see his name."-David Morrell, New York Times bestselling author of FIRST BLOOD and THE NAKED EDGE"

Tom Piccirilli is at the forefront of the new breed of crime writers, welding his sense of history to a modern sensibility, creating a strong new voice."-Max Allan Collins, author of ROAD TO PERDITION

"Tom Piccirilli writes like a crazed banshee. I love his work."-KEN BRUEN

9 comments:

Al Leverone said...

Everyone deserves the opportunity to mourn the loss of a loved one, especially a child. Undoubtedly your family was trying to protect you by keeping your dad's illness and death from you, but obviously the scars from that decision have survived the decades since.

I was thirty-eight when I lost my dad, so any comparison would be ridiculous, but I will say this - I too have struggled to live up to the footprint my dad left on my life. I don't think I ever can; he was a much better person than I could ever hope to be.

Happy Birthday...It's hard to imagine your father wouldn't be incredibly proud of all that you've accomplished in your chosen field...

Peter Farris said...

That was a beautiful read, Tom. At 32, I'm very fortunate to still have my old man around and say without hesitation he's my best friend...two circumstances a lot of folks don't get to experience it seems.

Awfully kind of you to drop the price on NightJack, too. Just picked it up along with the first three Trevanian novels...which David Schow told me I better read...OR ELSE.

Martin Rose said...

Thank you for sharing that. And for what it's worth, I don't think there's a writer out there, who when their father dies under traumatic circumstances, ever stops writing about it. It seeps into the work like a stain. I know it does mine.

I was the elder sibling; my sister was seven when her father was killed. He was my step-father, but the closest thing I had to the real deal. It's probably no comfort at all, but I know that it's not easy being the dumb shit who has to figure out how to take care of the younger dumb shit. And truly, neither you nor my sister could be characterized as dumb shit -- no one is smart enough to "get" the unfairness of life at any age. Much less seven.

For what it's worth, I know as an elder sibling -- we don't get a chance to mourn either.

Happy birthday, and I'll drink to you tonight. :)

Ed Gorman said...

What a fine fine piece of writing that reflects on so much of your work consciously and (I suspect) unconsciously. Very moving, Tom, and memorable to say the least.

Harrison said...

Strong stuff, Tom. I've known you for a long time and know how your father's life and death reverberates through your mind, your heart, and your work, but I never knew these details you've put down in this blog entry. Powerful.
I've always understood your search for a meaning to it all, as my own father certainly has impacted my life though for different reasons and in different ways. I'm a few years away from a milestone age in my father/son relationship, so I guess I know where you're coming from.
One thing I do know, looking back on your 20+ year career: you done the man proud.

Tom Piccirilli said...

Thanks so much for the comments, guys, and the understanding and insight. Appreciate it all, seriously, means a lot coming from a bunch of writer pals like you.

Nora B. Peevy said...

Tom, I am sorry your family didn't include you in the grieving process. When I was 5 I lost my grandmother, the only grandparent I ever knew. All of my family, except my mother thought a child shouldn't be around the dying. I insisted on going to the hospice to see my grandmother, even though I had no idea what was going on. My mother knew I was a stubborn child and she took me because I would not let up about it. While I was saying goodbye to my grandmother, I heard my entire family yelling at my mother about how I didn't belong there because I was a "child". It is a horrible memory that has stuck with me. I cannot imagine if that had been my parent. That would have been so much worse.

Shortly after she died, I had my 6th birthday and Grandma did not come. I did not understand why. I remained angry into my 20s. My experience is not the same as yours, but I understand your pain of not being included. Everyone treated me like a baby and my older cousins were horrible about it.

I recently wrote a short story about my grandmother's death. It was very therapeutic for me. A fear of being alone or left behind runs throughout my work now that I am in my 30s.

I hope your writing has brought you some comfort. I am sure your father would have been very proud of you and your successful career.

-Nora

Nora B. Peevy said...

Forgot to add ... My father is now 78 and has emphysema. He is the longest living male in his family. His father died when he was 67. The entire year before my father turned 67 he told everyone he was going to die soon. But it didn't happen. I think you're safe at 46. :)

Mike Dennis said...

Very touching, Tom. Writing that had to be a great moment for you. No wonder you're such a fine author.