The Summer of Resurrection

The cover of the hardback release in 2013.

Ah. So another year got by me without much activity here at The Express. This is all SORTS of ironic because, as you might have heard, a LOT was happening in 2022. Many movies got made from screenplays I wrote, a couple of them even released this year. (The rest are coming in 2023 and 2024, promise.) Even MORE stuff was going on behind locked doors, things I can’t even talk about at the moment; all of which means NEXT YEAR is shaping up to be a BIG BASTARD. In fact, I’m a little scared shitless of next year to be honest. It’s been so overwhelming that I even had to push the release of my fourth short story collection, JULIA STARCHILD, to 2023. That’s because I wanted to do it right and it has a bunch of new stories I’m still working on and short stories are very precious to me; one might even say they’re the closest thing to an actual hobby I have, because I don’t usually sell them to magazines or whatever. Not that I couldn’t, but something in my life has to be art-for-art-sake without a dollar sign attached to it or I’ll just end up some pathetic grumbling old man with an excitable blog problem yelling at all the hipsters to get the fuck off his front lawn. Um. Which is sort of exactly what I’m doing right now, come to think of it. God help me, I’m finally turning into Darth fucking Vader, guys . . .

Anyway, there’s only so many hours in the day. But we all keep trying, all the time. Gotta be brave and all that. And so, in the spirit of never-say-die, here’s a vaguely Christmas-themed “inspiration story” for ya, from the sordid battlements of The Klown Prince’s wretched past. Take it or leave it. It’s the only present you’re likely to get from this particular overworked Santa Jerk come December 25th.

Funny. Hah hah. Why aren’t you laughing?

Anyway . . .

About thirteen years ago, I turned forty while working a minimum wage job. I was a register dog at a retail store. They brought me out a cake from the back room and sang happy birthday to me, right there on shift, as if to rub my nose in it. I shouldn’t have really cared, I guess, because they did that to everybody who had a birthday there, but then again, those guys were all half my age. It was a toy store, by the way, and I signed on as an entry-level seasonal hire right in the middle of the Christmas shopping season. That meant you had to work about five-times as hard for the same shit wages. I remember one of the managers was this really funny young lady who tromped out on the floor after one of those hell shifts was over and declared in a voice way older than she actually was: “I’m SO over this TOY thing.” I was in such a state of shock and confusion during that bizarre time of my life that I hardly noticed when seven months blew by in that place. There were a lot of reasons why I let that happen to myself, but I will not bore you. We’ve all been “down in the zero” as the wise Mister Vachss once said.

To be fair, I actually did manage to write a novel while I was working there (Safe in the Woods), and there were a few other irons in the fire and, yeah, I was flat broke and reeeeeeaaalllly needed whatever cash I could get my hands on. But there comes a time when you realize you’re too old for this shit. You’re so OVER this TOY THING. Even if you just turned forty. (All of you thirtysomethings who are dreading the big four-oh, let me tell you something true: You’ll BEG for it when you’re fifty-three.) I decided one morning that I would not remember my fortieth year as the dark time when I decomposed behind a cash register for exactly nothing but bare-bones survival when my life was calling. And, yeah, it WAS calling. So I walked in there, tendered my resignation (I gave the sweethearts three weeks notice and stayed for every day of it, because l’m a nice goddamn guy), and then I got the fuck out of there. I went right from that gig to BOTTOMFEEDER, which as some of you might know, is one of the high points of my very interesting career. It became a summer of optimism and foolhardy make-your-move moments. There was magic in the air. You could really taste it. I got back to my people. My real people. I walked with hope again, amongst the horror crowd at wild conventions and had a lot of fun adventures. I quit drinking for the last time. Most importantly, I called in whatever favors I still had left in the print business and started to build a new phase of my writing career.

That was 2010. The summer of Resurrection Express.

This was a cover concept I pitched for the book, when it eventually found a home at Gallery Books at Simon and Schuster.

The project started as a series of conversations I had with an outspoken and ambitious book editor I had met at Saint Martin’s Press, who I later followed to Little Brown and Company, the year they created Mulholland Books, which has since become a legendary thriller destination. In that first year, they wanted some killer stuff to launch the imprint and, yeah, they had some heavy-hitters on board. Little old me wanted a shot at being among them. After all, I knew how to write things. I had paid some dues. I was a scribe on MASTERS OF HORROR. I created and edited SHOCK FESTIVAL, goddammit!

(SHOCK what and MASTERS who? said nearly everybody a year later.)

Anyway, John believed in me for some reason. He saw my potential. (He’d read Safe in the Woods and liked it, though the scene with the woman being forced to eat her own liver kinda grossed him out.) I pitched him the idea for Resurrection and he didn’t exactly buy it in the room, but he told me that if I could make this work, he’d damn sure consider publishing it.

Let me tell you something, kids. If you happen to be in a slump and a think-outside-the-box editor working for the second-biggest publishing company in the world says anything like that to you, do yourself a favor. BELIEVE HIM. Make it work. Even if he’s lying to you, the morale boost you get from such a promise should be enough to carry you through any number of writing days. Even if he decides he doesn’t want to publish it when you’re done, guess what? The work will still be on paper. And I bet dollars to donuts whatever’s on that paper will be one hell of a juiced-up, whacked-out, back-to-the-wall book that’ll probably read like a ride through the knife and gun club on the night of the full moon. You need something to believe in when you’re trying to convince yourself that a career is still happening. You need HOPE, guys. Most people who write a book like this don’t even have that. We just write in a very dark room and pray someone out there will read it.

And here, I already had a sponsor. Sort of.

I sent him pages as I was finishing the work, as if he was already my editor. He pretended he actually was my editor and gave me detailed notes. I wrote the pages over again. He said I was “killing it.” (That meant it was good.) I continued to write in a frenzy for nearly two months until I reached the middle, where my hard-boiled hacker/action hero with nine lives woke up in a hotel room, drugged and bewildered, to find everybody dead and a million hitmen coming down hard from literally every direction.

He read those pages and told me that if the second half was as good as the first “I will definitely publish this thing.”

He didn’t.

But I did finish the book.

Another unused cover idea. I pitched a bunch of these.

It possessed me like few things before it ever had, and few things have since. I was like my beleaguered hero Elroy Coffin, running through a rapid-fire maze of treachery and deception, facing every dark night with only my special skills and some vague sense of destiny fueling my quest. I blew past each scene like a demon. I called on every skill I had and learned a few new ones, two-gunning the hell out of everyone and everything. At the end of my adventure, as October was creeping in, I was writing five hours a day and I banged out the last 67 pages in a mad frenzy, in one single sitting. (That was a twenty thousand word sprint, man. I would not beat that until years later when I wrote more than fifty thousand words in 24 hours during PROJECT 51.) I cannot describe to you what that felt like, other than I was an action hero with really-real superpowers. Every committed writer out there should be lucky enough to have that happen at least once in their career. I mean, usually, when you’re thigh-deep in something, it comes in and takes over. We’ve ALL experienced that. It’s part of the gig. But this? It was special. It was life-altering. It was true resurrection. And not only was the writing itself exhilarating, but I had absolute confidence in the final product. It was my best work up until then. I think it might even remain my best work in many ways. (Though I still really like METRO.)

Now… back to John, the go-getter editor. He was a guy I really liked. He was fun to talk to. He had lofty ambitions to unite the print and film worlds and backed it all up with deeds, not words. He courted guys like J.J. Abrams and got them to write books for him. (No kidding; he really did that!) I never would have written ResEx without his input and encouragement. But being a part of the first-year lineup at Muholland just wasn’t in the cards for Elroy Coffin. That does NOT mean I went away empty-handed, though. John introduced me to Patrick Melton and Marcus Dunstan, who had a crazy idea of their own for a novel. They were big-time screenwriters (with the kinda of career I always wanted, come to think of it) who couldn’t get their hard-boiled detective/ghost story script made anywhere, so John wanted to make it as a novel. I could totally get in on that action, if I was game.

Guess who was game?

The four of us joined forces, we all wrote a batshit crazy horror/sci-fi/thriller novel called BLACK LIGHT together, and it turned out I WAS in the first year at Mulholland Books, after all. So I get to say that now. I was one of very first writers ever on tap at one of the most legendary imprints in history… just because I was scrappy.

So thanks, John. You really did publish me. You kept your promise.

That is so rare in this world, people.

That you believe something will happen, then you sweat against all odds… and it does happen.

And guess what else? Because of all that, I got an agent and he even found a home for ResEx. (If you can believe it, everything I had done up until then was done without an agent, which might explain why I was working at a toy store at age 40.) I was introduced to my next editor, the amazing Ed Schlesinger, who shepherded ResEx into its final form and eventual release at Simon and Schuster, another totally legendary house. I even got set up at Stephen King’s imprint there, they gave me a pretty great advance and the book sold more than six thousand copies in mass-market paperback. That is Not Effing Bad for a totally-from-nowhere kid like I was.

This is the mass market cover, which I was more proud of than even the hardback. I have over 2,000 paperbacks on a shelf in my library, most of them tacky old sci-fi books and movie novelizations, many of them from Pocket Books. ResEx is a kind of tacky sci-fi and it’s a lot like a movie, too… AND it’s an EFFING POCKET BOOK. Hot damn!

Resurrection Express got all kinds of rave reviews too. Um. In fact, Greg Rucka, a writer I really admire, called it “A juiced-up, whacked-out, back-to-the-wall book that reads like a ride through the Knife and Gun Club on the night of a full moon.”

Funny, that.

(I know, shut up, okay?)

In the novel, I blew up the toy store, by the way.

It was my way of saying “never again” to all that.

It’s been more twelve years since the Summer of Resurrection, and I haven’t looked back once. I write movies for a living and do a lot of comics and graphic novels. I’ve written and published over a hundred short stories. I’ve done a lot of other things too. There have been a lot of ups and downs. But I’m here to tell you, kids, that if you happen to be a maker of art and you’ve paid a few dues and you feel like your back is totally against the wall one year…

Do yourself a favor and believe in the power of resurrection. Do something crazy. Find that next level. Because I did it and it worked. That is what I remember most fondly about Resurrection Express. Besides it being a fairly decent book. It saved me from the abyss.

I’m holding onto that now, as I face the next level, which is terrifying as hell, to be honest.

But I have faith that it will be one hell of a ride.

And I’ll be scrappy, too!

This is what the final book was originally going to look like, when it was still in galleys. They changed it at the last minute to something more traditional. I still like this version, though, and I have a box of these in the garage. They rejected all my cover ideas, but Ed let me design the chapter headings. What a guy!