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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, October 17, 2008

The Well - Jack Cady

Centipede Press has reprinted the late Jack Cady's first novel THE WELL in a beautiful cloth hardcover editon.

From their website: "Jack Cady's classic novel of evil is brought to new life in an expanded edition. Built by three generations obsessed with satanic superstition and violence, the house of the Trackers is a monstrous labyrinth of horrors designed to thwart the devil. This edition of THE WELL features a new introduction by Tom Piccirilli and two of Jack Cady's best short stories, "The Sounds of Silence," and "I Take Care of Things." Also reprinted is Cady's Hugo and Nebula-winning novella "The Night We Buried Road Dog" and a fourth piece, the stunning war novella "By Reason of Darkness." Signed by Tom Piccirilli. Limited to 250 copies. Cover image: J.K. Potter. Cloth, $75."

Jack and I only met once in the meat world (at the Seattle World Horror Convention in 2001), although we were penpals for a dozen years before his death in early 2004. Over the course of those years he taught, influenced, and encouraged me like no one else ever had before or since. He was a father figure, a mentor, a friend, a kind of crazy philosopher uncle, a true confidante, and someone who not only understood the trials of publication but also the uphill battle of trying to do something that might live on after we're gone.

After reading his brilliant novella "By Reason of Darkness," originally published in Douglas Winter's sterling anthology PRIME EVIL, I had a whole new world opened to me. The story was enigmatic, human, twisted, spiritually encompassing, and wholly authentic, even the ghostly parts. It showed me that dark fantasy fiction could have emotional layers beyond merely fear and torment. It was a tale about blood, war, brotherhood, betrayal, and how one's life can be set on and driven off course by his own character flaws, loves, cowardice, and courage.

"By Reason of Darkness" spoke to me as a person the way very little fiction ever had before. But more than that, it showed the young, stumbling writer in me the potential of fiction itself. How good it could be, how poignant, how grand and touching. Of course I'd read stories that I loved and valued before this, but nothing that had had such an impact on my sensibilities. It was a welcome sign. It was a lantern in the dark. It was a father's embrace upon a lonely child.

I was so affected by the work that I immediately set off to read whatever else he had published. In a couple of days I scoured the libraries and secondhand shops and managed to pick up THE WELL, THE JONAH WATCH, and THE MAN WHO COULD MAKE THINGS VANISH. The novels proved that "By Reason" wasn't a fluke, hell no, his other work held the same kind of sway and power over me.

I also went in search of Jack's address so I could fire off a fan letter. This was in the pre-Internet days (and even after the Web took over as the primary way for folks to drop a line to each other, Jack and I almost never emailed; he preferred to type out his letters on a typewriter and mail them off the old-fashioned way) but I had recently joined the Horror Writers of America and received their membership directory. And there was Jack's name and address.

I wrote him my most fervant thoughts about his work and my own fiery desire to write fiction at a level that might impress an audience the way his fiction had impressed me. I was impassioned and young and naive and unsure of my own footing in life. As a teacher, Jack could see a willing pupil before him and did everything he could to impart on me his own hard-fought life lessons. He'd been a truck driver, a lumberjack, had served in the coast guard, had lived a varied, fascinating, red-blooded American life.

Me, I was a punk couch potato who'd rarely been off Long Island. But he didn't hold it against me. For years the letters and lessons continued. He was kind enough to read a first draft of one of my early novels and red-penned the first eight pages. And I swear on any stack of holiest of holies you care to name that he taught me more in those eight pages of notations than all my high school and college English and Creative Writing classes combined. And there were a fucking lot of them.

In my life I've buried friends and loved ones, but only three deaths affected me in the same kind of shattering way as Jack's death did. My father, my mother, and Dick Laymon. I learned of his death when a friend IMed me to say, "Hey Pic, did you hear Jack Cady died?"

All of you who know true loss understand how cold and empty it makes you feel. That chilly, floating feeling when shock and trauma set in. Blood in your belly, your nerve-endings burned out. Staring at that IM on the screen, I think I may have blacked out for a few seconds. I know it was a while before I could find my fingers again and respond, "God fucking damn it."

Some of that cold and emptiness remains within me to this day. But I'm a better person for having been lucky enough to know Jack Cady as well as I did. And I'll always be thankful to him for that fatherly embrace. That light in the night.


I know a $75 price tag is stiff for a book, especially in our current economic enviornment, but trust me on this, this book is worth it. The novel is wonderful, the two novellas even more so, and the two short stories first-rate. This is the kind of fiction that will drive deep into you and stir you in places rarely, if ever, stirred before. Yes, Jack Cady really is that good. Do yourself a favor and nab the book now.


Deathspiral said...

Thanks for sharing this Pic. I will definitely try to pick this up if the budget allows. I am sorry to say that I have not read his work. I will have to rectify this. It sounds like you had a wonderful relationship. I am glad you had such a great friend and mentor.

Anonymous said...

You sold me Tom. I've never heard of Cady before but if you think he's that great then thats good enough for me. I'm looking forward to receiving this after reading your comments. Thanks Tom.

Ricky Lee Grove said...

The is a wonderful, sad post, Pic. I knew of Cady's rep, but didn't know much about him. I'm so glad you and he became friends and were able to share your passion for writing. It's a shame you never got to collaborate with Jack.

I'll definitely be looking to read him in the future.

Mark Justice said...

Hey, Tom, does "expanded edition" refer to the text of the novel, or the introduction and extra stories?

I have the original pb of THE WELL and I'm wondering if this version is the same.


Tom Piccirilli said...

Not really sure, man. I never heard of Jack rewriting the book. I'm guessing "expanded" simply means all the extra stories that are added on at the end.

Carla H. said...

In your blogspot journal you wrote:
"All of you who know true loss understand how cold and empty it makes you feel. That chilly, floating feeling when shock and trauma set in. Blood in your belly, your nerve-endings burned out"
Maybe I just don't know true loss yet... although my father died, I never felt that way. I feel I lost him years before he died, though, so I guess those feelings kinda creeped up on my and settled in, instead of the punch in the gut my mom received from it...

Renee750il said...

I am so envious of your time with Jack Cady. I'm reading my way through his catalog of work and everything you said about its influenced on you rings true for me. I have said the same, almost to the same words. Every page of his work I read is making me a better writer. It is courage-giving, and challenging, to delve into the darker corners of our natures, to write ethically and beyond all, to be true to the characters and their story.

Unknown said...

I know what you mean about about "By Reason"
Man what a story!! It is easily the best short work of horror fiction I have ever read. The dark humor and eerie imagery there is truly superb!! The part with the horse tied to the pole running furiously in circles just straight up blew my mind!! A truly masterful blend of nature, the supernatural and mystic symbolism!! That guy could really see beyond the veil. I recommend reading "The Phantom Blooper" by Gustav Hasford if you can get a copy, it is the sequel to "The Short Timers" (Full Metal Jacket) That story also has passages that will literally haunt you for years, like "By Reason", it will send friggin chills up your spine!!

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