Okay, I’ll admit it right now, I’m sick and deranged. As of this writing, my parents have yet to read The New Flesh and when they do, when they read some of the more, shall we say, ‘explicit’ scenes, it’s bound to cause a rise at our next family reunion. But we’re all deranged, aren’t we? Our families make us that way—blame mom and dad, right? I used to tell my dad, jokingly, of course, that he was scarring me for life whenever he did something stupid that embarrassed me in public. But maybe it wasn’t really a joke. Everything that happens to us (especially us writer types)—whether it’s a parental guilt trip for feeding your broccoli to the dog, or a half-hazard trip to Magic Mountain, or a drunken fit of violence—ripples through our lives and makes an impact on everything we do and become.
What I mean to say is, The New Flesh, in a lot of ways, is a personal novel. Melting faces, otherworldly misadventures, and insidious snuff films aside, I can easily relate to its characters, especially to our young protagonist. Jake is shy. He draws and designs games. He hangs out by himself (or with the few friends he has) in the sparse clumps of nature found in the city neighborhood. He plays “pretend” a lot. Occasionally he starts a fire…
Okay, to be honest, I only did that once and I’m not really a firebug. Jake may be, but I’m not. When I was in first grade, along with the older neighbor boys up the street, I collected lighters and matches. We hid everything in a secret cove of trees and we used to light newspaper and other trash and watch the flames with fascination. Who isn’t mesmerized by fire? Then one day I lit a fire when I was by myself and I didn’t know how to put it out. I ran back to my house for a bucket of water, but, thankfully, my dad saw me through a window in the house and followed me to the fire and was able to stomp it out with his foot. It could have been bad, but it wasn’t. Fires are a real problem here in the southwestern United States where everything is dry and it hardly ever rains. My senior year in high school, the Cerro Grande fire came through Los Alamos, where I was living at the time, and burned several houses to the ground to the right and to the left of my house, which remained untouched. Fire is serious business. I was grounded after I started that fire and I never started a fire like that again, but the experience left an impression on me, it impacted my future life in a profound way, I believe.
But there are other experiences that have had an impact as well. Alcoholism, I’m told, runs in my family and I’ve seen a lot of drinking and its effects on people, from over-exuberance to pathetic self-pity to violence. I’ve seen alcohol take control of people and change them. I’ve also had a few drinks myself and been a wild partier in my time. I’ve seen some things.
I can still remember vividly a dream I had when I was a young child. A demon was sitting on my dresser across the room from where I slept. It wasn’t doing anything, just sitting there kicking its legs out a little, as if impatiently. It had blue skin and horns and was grinning at me. And there were other demons lined up all around the demon, my demon, as if posing for a photograph. I knew I was dreaming so I struggled to wake up. When I did finally wake up with a start and look over at my dresser, all the demons were gone except for my demon, still just sitting there, grinning and grinning. I was terrified. Then I blinked and the demon faded away. I can’t remember how old I was, but I can remember the dream perfectly. That grin, that demon’s smile, is the same grin I imagine on the Melting Man.
I think part of the reason Greg Gifune, the senior editor at DarkFuse and a very fine writer himself (www.gregfgifune.com), has been so enthusiastic about The New Flesh from the moment he called me up one day to tell me he’d like to publish my novel, is because of its complexity, because of the subtext and layers of story beneath that which shines on the surface. I’m fascinated by what people perceive to be reality. But I’ll let the Melting Man speak for himself and you can come to your own conclusions:
“What is real and what isn’t is a matter of relative perception, is it not? What can be made real, that’s what matters. How do you think things came to be this way? Someone had to imagine them.”
Things are never what we think they are.