Along with everything else, 2016 decided to give us one last kick in the teeth on its way out the door. Just a few days before the New Year, my adopted dad passed away. I should probably put adopted in quotes, since it wasn’t anything that was ever legal, but he was my dad as far as I was concerned, and I think as far as he was concerned, too.

JT was my friend Jay’s dad. Jay and I met in college. After we had graduated, he lived with Grace and I on a couple of different occasions, rooming with us both in our previous townhouse and in this one. He’s watched more godawful movies with me than anyone else on the planet, which would probably be enough to make him my brother, even if nothing else did. I’ve always been of the opinion that the family you make in life is more family than the one you’re born into, and Jay and his folks are the proof of that.

A couple of years ago–just before Jay got married; I was the best man at his wedding–we made it “official,” and Grace and I adopted JT and Sandy as our parents, too. It just made sense. After all, whenever we were over there, we always got introduced as “and this is my other son, Orrin,” that sort of thing.

When we did that, JT was still vivacious and healthy. Still “just full of it,” as he always replied whenever anyone asked how he was doing. Still telling terrible jokes that Grace couldn’t get enough of. He remained that way after his cancer diagnosis, too. In fact, he kept telling bad jokes pretty much right up until the moment he couldn’t really talk anymore.

Luckily, we went to see them for Christmas this year. It was the last time I would ever see him alive. He passed away just a few days shy of what would have been his 37th wedding anniversary. I bought my first suit to be a pallbearer at his funeral. It was my first time carrying a casket, feeling the weight of it in my hands, solid and surprisingly light, with six of us sharing the load.

I haven’t said anything about any of this for various reasons, and I’m unlikely to say much more than this. Those who’ve been following along online probably didn’t notice anything except my increased absence, which largely went unremarked because I was already absent working on the novel for Privateer Press for the last couple of months.

I miss him, and I know that I’ll continue to miss him, but my grief is so much cleaner, so much purer than my grief when my biological dad died. Unencumbered by trauma or mixed feelings or repressed memories. I loved JT, and I miss him. Simple as that. And I’ve still got family in the form of Jay, Veronica, and Sandy. It doesn’t make it any less painful, but it does make it easier to carry, and that’s not nothing.

durantart03So, I’ve been a little scarce the past couple of weeks months, for reasons both good and (more often) not-so-great. Some of them you already know–I’ve been working on a long freelance project, I had a tonsillectomy–while others (both good and bad) I’ve been keeping under my hat. So now the time has come to talk about at least a few of them, and I’ll start with some of the good news:

That long freelance project, which has, up ’til now, been secret, is I suppose secret no longer, since the official announcement and an excerpt from the work-in-progress has already gone up on the publisher’s website. So what’s the word? For the past two months, I have been working non-stop on a full-length Protectorate of Menoth novel, due out later this year from Privateer Press and Skull Island eXpeditions. Those of you who have been following along for a while know that I’ve written several things for Privateer Press before, including my heretofore longest published work, Mutagenesis. But this is my first novel. Not just for Privateer Press. Ever.

I’ll talk more about the process of writing it, and what the future holds (both for it and for me) later on, but for now, I know that I’ve been pretty coy about this project for some time, and I’m very happy to finally be able to announce what it is.

For now, the book is going to be called Godless (which sounds nicely like the title of a KMFDM album), and it’s the first book in a proposed series called Fire & Faith, focusing on the Protectorate of Menoth. You’ll learn more when I have more to announce. In the meantime, I’ll get back to that bad news I mentioned up above sometime in the next few days, and then after that I’ll probably try to do the obligatory year-end wrap-up posts before we get too far past the end of the year. More (hopefully) soon.

On November 1, I more-or-less shuttered my online presence because I was diving into a work-for-hire project that I knew would dominate all of my free time. I was also under a non-disclosure agreement that prevented me from talking about said project in any but the most abstract terms. (Still am.)

Over the next 53 days, I wrote 87,000 words on it, making it the longest thing I have ever written by almost double its next-longest competitor, and almost three times longer than the longest thing I have ever published. During those same 53 days, I also wrote around 50,000 words of the various freelance work that I do most every month in varying quantities. So, suffice it to say, I haven’t been online much since the end of October, and I’ve been writing a lot. However, as of last Friday, I got to the end of the manuscript on that big, secret work-for-hire project.

Given that it was the day before Christmas Eve, and I hadn’t really had a day off in ages, I decided to take a couple off for the holiday. I didn’t really even get on my computer at all over the weekend, so today is pretty much my first time back, and even today I’m not doing a whole lot here. So if you’ve missed me around Facebook or Twitter or what-have-you, that’s why.

I’ve still got some freelance projects lined up to close out the month, and there’s still a lot more work to do to get even this really rough draft of the secret project manuscript ready to go out for the first round of revisions, but for now I’m just happy to have gotten through it at all, even if, as I predicted over on Facebook when I hit “then end,” all 87,000 words are terrible.

Regardless, it’ll be out of my hands again (for a little while) in about a week’s time, and then hopefully you’ll see me around a little more often. If nothing else, I’ll try to do at least a post or two recapping some high (and low) notes from this weird, surreal, often terrible but sometimes great year gone (mostly) by. Until then…

swamps_godsI’m pretty new to the notion of being a big enough deal that anyone would even think that a blurb from me would go any distance toward helping sell their book (and probably still a long ways off from that actually being true). The first book I was ever asked to provide a blurb for was an odd choice, a fascinating nonfiction tome on the confluence of Lovecraft and actual occult practices called, reasonably enough, H.P. Lovecraft and the Black Magickal Tradition. I liked it, and said so, though I imagine that my poor blurb was overshadowed by praise from such luminaries as Cherie Priest, Nick Mamatas, and Richard Gavin, to name a few.

More recently, Jonathan Raab, publisher and proprietor of Muzzleland Press and my co-conspirator on the occasional Creature Feature Conversation, asked me to read his latest novella, The Lesser Swamp Gods of Little Dixie. I was happy to do it, and once again I was happy to provide a blurb, though honestly, between that title and that cover, I doubt most readers of this blog need me to say anything in order to convince them to pick it up. If you do need a little extra push, though, here’s what I had to say about Mr. Raab’s delightful little book:

“It’s all-too-easy for fun stories to sound brainless, or for smart stories to come off as dry. With The Lesser Swamp Gods of Little Dixie, Jonathan Raab walks that tightrope, keeping the humor sharp, the action pulpy, the stakes human, and the weirdness weird, without ever stumbling on one side or the other. A rare gift indeed.”

You don’t have to take my word for it, though. There’s also a glowing recommendation from no less a figure in weird fiction than Christopher Slatsky, whose debut collection Alectryomancer and Other Weird Tales I have on my shelf but haven’t yet gotten the chance to read. Plus, the whole thing’s only $8, and, let’s be honest, you’d probably just waste that money anyway…

As I warned earlier, you haven’t heard a lot from me this month, because I’ve been engaged in hammering on a novel-length work-for-hire project that I, unfortunately, can’t say much about just yet. But I hit enough of a milestone on it today that it seemed worth stopping to mention, especially given the timing.

I’ve never written a novel, and I have never even attempted to participate in National Novel Writing Month (aka, NaNoWriMo). In my efforts to knock out 90,000 words on this project in two months, though, I inadvertently seem to have done so this time around. It took me ’til the very last day, due to some unforeseen other freelance obligations falling into my lap earlier this week, but as of today I am just over 50,000 words into this project, which I started on November 1.

Which is to say that I guess I participated in NaNoWriMo for the first time ever this month after all, without really meaning to. It also means that this project is already the longest thing I have ever written, with another 40,000 more words to go in the month of December. More about it when I am allowed to say more, and in the meantime, don’t be surprised if you don’t hear from me for a while again. For now, I’m off to take a well-deserved break.

You want it darker… we kill the flame.

The Clutching Hand is ravenous, and its hunger is never sated, but in 2016 it seems to have taken so much more than its normal remit. All year long I saw friends and peers mourn the losses of artists like David Bowie and Prince, to name just a few of many, and I joined them in their mourning, but I knew that there was a death coming that would touch me as deeply as I saw those touch my friends and fellow creators. It seems that the hour has come round at last. From his official Facebook page comes the news that Leonard Cohen has left us at the age of 82.

It can’t really be called a tragedy, for Cohen led a long and tremendous life, and his art touched the lives of millions of people. He finished and released what he had intended to be his last album just a few weeks ago. I don’t know how much more most of us can ask than that. Yet it is news that has shaken me to my core. In a week filled with such momentous events, a week of so much upheaval and uncertainty, so much fear and so much passion–for good or ill–the death of one old man seems a small thing, but Leonard Cohen had an enormous impact on my life and on my work, and I know that I’ll be hearing from him long after he’s gone.

He’s not a name that comes up often when I’m asked to list influences, and the proof may not be as obvious as some names within the genre where I work, but it is certainly there, again and again down through the years, ever since I first discovered him–by his lyrics first, then later by his music–in high school and early college. Leonard Cohen had as profound an influence on my work as any horror or weird fiction writer ever did, to be sure.

Many of the writers who influenced me were already dead before I came to them, and I’m in the unique position that the majority of the living writers whose works have affected me most profoundly are people I have met, or at least exchanged pleasantries with on Facebook or Twitter. But I never spoke to Leonard Cohen, never wrote him a letter, even missed my chance to see him perform live when he was in Kansas City a few years ago. So I never got to tell him what an impact he had on me; that he was my favorite songwriter, my favorite living poet. (I guess this means that I need to find a way to write a letter to Tom Stoppard, to thank him for Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead…)

So many of Leonard Cohen’s songs deal with loss and love and mourning, with art and inspiration and passion, that there’s an overabundance to choose from to mark the occasion. And so many of his songs seem so perfect right now, given the state in which the country and the world finds itself this week. “The Future” leaps to mind, of course, and “Anthem,” and maybe most especially for me, “Democracy,” with its odd juxtaposition of hope and threat. There are songs that mean a lot to me, personally, and there are songs that are just so utterly Leonard Cohen-y, like “Humbled in Love” or “Boogie Street.” It’s tough to know what to choose, so just choose your favorite, I guess, and listen to that tonight.

The Tower of Song doesn’t seem like the kind of place where they let you rest in peace, but I’ll hope that his room there is at least comfortable, now, and that he’s got a decent view. We are left with his enormous body of work, by which he will continue speaking to us sweetly. I suppose that will have to be enough.

Hey, that’s no way to say goodbye…

If you follow me on social media (or, heck, even if you follow me here) then odds are you won’t notice much difference, but nonetheless, I felt it needed to be said that for the next two-and-a-half months or so, I’m going to be diving hard into a big freelance project that’s clamped down tight under a non-disclosure agreement, so there’s a good chance that I won’t be posting a lot here until sometime early next year.

Given that I already don’t post a whole lot on here, the change may not be very substantial, and as I said, if you follow me on social media, you’re likely to continue to see me around, as I’ll need to come up for air from time to time. That said, if I follow you on social media, then apologies in advance if I miss a lot more of your posts than usual over the next couple of months. Things are going to be a bit hectic around here. (More on it as soon as I have the freedom to share.)

Considering how hectic things have already gotten over the last few days, I had a good birthday and a quiet but otherwise good Halloween, even if I did end up turning in before midnight for maybe the first time in my life. (My pumpkin stayed lit, though, so I’m okay.)

Also, perhaps a bit surprisingly, perhaps not, I watched more movies in the month of October than I ever have in a single month since I started keeping my movie journal. 47, all told, which is probably what happens when you spend most of the month recovering from a tonsillectomy and unable to do much of anything (including sleep) besides stare at a flickering screen.

Of those 47, 26 were new to me, keeping nicely with my “more movies that I haven’t seen before than movies that I have” goal for 2017.