Criss-Cross Applesauce

love or hate ... life or death ... Betty or Veronica

The Path to Panic
Between 1999 and 2009, I wrote seventeen novels. Seventeen novels in a decade. No matter how you look at it, that’s pretty impressive. And it’s not like all of those books were tiny little tossed off manuscripts, either. I did a few for NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month, in which the goal is to write a 50,000 word novel in one month. I’ve completed that task three times, but only one novel was completely finished in that time; the others were completed long after NaNo was over.) Most took between four and eight months to write, with the exception of what is still my magnum opus, The Legend of Jenny McCabe, which took nine months and topped out at just over 1,000 pages.

I’m not just dicking around here.

Between 2009 and 2013, I wrote no novels. Oh, don’t get me wrong. I kept busy. In 2009, I lost my job and slipped into a profound depression for a little while. What saved me was an offer to work on a nonfiction book about Stephen King, called The Illustrated Stephen King Movie Trivia Book. Research and writing absorbed me; four months later, I emerged with a whole bunch of pages and a deeply thorough knowledge of the Children of the Corn films.

More nonfiction books followed: I worked on a series of chapbooks about Stephen King – 80-page works that focused on specific facets of King’s career. In 2010, I compiled those into a single volume, along with all my critical reviews of King’s books. The result, A Good Story and Good Words, is awaiting publication. I also wrote Stephen King Limited in a chapbook two-pack; I’ve since expanded that, and publication looks to be imminent.

I’ve also gotten a short story published in a real-life anthology. Compiled my own anthology of short stories (This Terrestrial Hell, out in paperback soon). Got a couple of volumes of poetry published (Foggy at Night in the City and Surf’s Up, both available as ebooks). And tried, really hard, to write new novels.

And failed.

It’s not easy, writing a book. It takes time, will, energy, and drive. And caffeine. It also takes the ability to know you’re writing a first draft, and that while things like theme and tone and character and motivation are important, they can always be tightened up in second and third drafts. Still, it’s work. It’s hard work, and you advance incrementally, like working out. Even on those days you somehow churn out 7,000 words, that’s only about twenty-five pages in a book that should contain hundreds.

I’m not sure what happened to those two books I tried to write in those “dead” years. American Storm was intended as another of my multi-character explorations of people my age living in Boston; largely plotless and reliant on situation. Most of my books are like that. Tangerine was positioned as a new horror novel about a writer possessed by the ghost of a dead writer from the 1940s, and the havoc he creates. That one had a plot, but I never fleshed it out entirely past the second part, and my characters were just a little too similar to those in Stephen King’s Duma Key, and I gave up halfway through.

Both of those ideas are still viable, by the way. I’m still interested in going back and writing them. But they need massive tweaks to get them to where I want to get them, so they remain in the future.

What else did I do in the dead years? I edited. I had two rules when I started writing: a book needed to be at least 40,000 words (about 165 pages) to be considered a novel, and I would Never Look Back. That meant when I finished one book, I would put it aside, wait two weeks, then start on another. No second draft. No third draft. No polish. I never edited my books. I never thought it was necessary, because I’d go through and edit while I was writing it, so my first draft was super clean. The 40,000 word rule still stands (though I’ve never written a book fewer than 52k words), but oh my God, what hubris on that editing thing.

In my fallow time, I decided to look at books I’d written in the past and try to make them publication-ready. I turned to Kickstarter for that. My first Kickstarter project, I’m On Fire, was a book I wrote in 1999 and needed a complete overhaul. I basically kept all the characters and most of the motivations and rewrote everything else. When that turned out successful, I turned to Kickstarter again with my book Roller Disco Saturday Night, which started off as a NaNoWriMo novel but didn’t end that way (for that reason, the first half was written very fast and the second half was written very slowly, and it read that way). All the main characters were interesting, sort of, but my main main character lacked agency and motivation. Which sucked, because I’ve made a little cottage industry about casting high school girls as my main characters, and usually they’re cooler than that. Kickstarter allowed me to rewrite Roller Disco from the ground up and give Ruth Geary a reason to be, and I will be forever grateful for that.

When I finished Roller Disco, I decided to try my hand at something new. Something small. A novella I called My Agent of Chaos. It was going to be a roommate-from-hell scenario, short and punchy and nasty. It turned out to be a little more interesting than that, with a main character who can’t remember his past – a detriment when the past comes back to meet him. It’s about love and sex and memory and while it’s not perfect, it brought me back to writing longform fiction (145,000 words, about 600 pages) for the first time in four years. It wasn’t an easy book to write. Sometimes it was like dragging words out of me with a chain and a winch. But it came. It happened.

In those dead years, I tried to start the fifth book in my Wayne Corbin crime novel series three or four times. The title Panic Town came to me in 2010, actually, and I knew it was going to be about a book that my main guy had to find. I also knew I had to deal with the events of the last book, in which a number of tragedies occurred. The other issue was that the last Wayne Corbin book was written in 2004, a decade ago. I wanted the events of this book to occur fairly soon after that. Because of the time jump in real life, I decided to adhere to the Robert B. Parker/ Spenser way of time, in which time does pass and characters do grow older, but not at the same rate as the author or the outside world. For example, the second book in the series, The Color of Blood and Rust, was written in 2000, and I talk all about how AOL is a big deal. In Panic Town, they’re all using iPhones, and it’s not a big deal. There are ten years between books, but for Wayne Corbin, only seven months have passed. That’s the magic of fiction.

Here’s the magic of reality: I was twenty-four when I first launched into the world of Wayne Corbin. I’m knocking on forty’s door right now, and while it took me a few days to get the rhythm of Wayne’s world, I took to it with aplomb. Kickstarter likely had something to do with that. The way Kickstarter has worked for me is as a book advance, which a traditional publisher will do to give the writer time and space to work on his novel until the next one. In his most popular days, Stephen King would often get tens of millions for a three or four contract. I got about $4,000 to spend four months writing Panic Town, and I worked like a mad bastard earning that money.

But it was also that I fell in love with writing fiction again, exploring worlds I created and making them live. I sent out the book yesterday and I’m waiting to hear back from my readers. I hope they love reading it as much as I loved writing it.

The what-now: I have a score of poems to write for people who donated $75 or more. I am going to start editing My Agent of Chaos; it really needs a second draft. And working on an outline for the NaNoWriMo novel I’m tackling for November, what aims to be a short, bittersweet novel called Things Have Changed. If I can finish it, it will be my twentieth novel. Twentieth. Wow.

Okay, thank you for reading. It’s time for me to get to work.

Right Down the Middle of Main Street, USA, Part 3: "What You’re Good At"
Smiling Kev
One of the things I have to constantly remind myself is that the Internet is not real. Twitter is not real. Facebook is not real. These things are reflections – and sometimes distortions – of our reality. Quite often, I go to Facebook and rattle off my accomplishments of my day, because I enjoy accomplishing things and because I like to see the things I do quantified. I think it’s a Type-A thing. Or maybe it’s just a consequence of my desperate need for affirmation. Of course, affirmation has a dark twin.

Look, saying, “the Internet isn’t real” is some great advice, but more often than not, I’ve found it difficult advice to take. Way back when I was lonely and living on my own, I discovered the Internet and it fixed things, at least temporarily. I fell in with faceless people who seemed to understand me … or at least to understand the things I’m into. I know I’m more than the sum of the things I dig, but for much of my life, the things I dig have been the things that have gotten me through, have kept me sane, have helped define who I am. That’s why I have the tattoos I do; they all describe the stuff that, put together, makes up some of the more interesting parts of who I am. My friend Duncan put it most succinctly: “Kevin, you have a lot of jams.” Indeed I do, and when I take to the onlines, I try to find other who share my jams, and who want to talk about them.

But there’s that dark side. There’s a turn. I’ve been both its victim and its perpetrator. What happens when the awesome thing you and your online friends share starts not working for them? What happens when they start feeling betrayed by the thing they love? What happens when they use the forum with which you became friends to start decrying that thing that still means so much to you? When you’re me, you take it personally – the exact opposite way you should react. Way back in 1996 I took it personally when some tool on my Stephen King message board said that the new King book looked like nothing but a “laugh-out-loud joke” (you never forget your first troll). More recently, I took it personally when the rampant negativity of the Disney fan community started to affect how I was seeing the parks. Suddenly, it wasn’t, “Oh, this is awesome” or “this needs some help” or “wow, I can’t wait to go back.” My enjoyment became defensive. My tweets started with an implied “here’s why you’re wrong” and ended with quotes I’d mock.

I began to look forward to Disney articles so I could pull out choice ideas that were stupid, to pick apart rumors that were dumb. I’d go on Twitter feeds … no. No. I’d fucking troll Twitter feeds, looking for awful comments, so I could hold them up for derision. It seemed fun to me. I was good at it. And I was on the side of the light, so what I was doing wasn’t wrong.

Did it all come to a head when I was “outed,” and the community at large figured out that the nice guy behind my Kevidently Twitter handle was also the ubersnark dick WestCotCenter? Or when people started using my regular Twitter name as a hashtag in the hopes that it was somehow get under my skin? Or when someone created a fake Twitter account based on mine, specifically to call me an asshole? Maybe yes to one, maybe yes to none, maybe yes to all three.

I don’t know when it got too much to bear, but I know when I decided I wanted it to stop. It was at the Carthay Circle Restaurant at Disney California Adventure. I’d had too much to drink. I was surrounded by friends and feeling something I never allow myself to feel: calm. I was surrounded by friends, real friends who liked me, and I’d been drinking, and my friend Dave was talking about theme parks, because he works for theme parks, and I was hanging on his every word. I realized then that this was what I wanted out of my Disney experience. Friends. Calm. And to be awed by these worlds I’d fallen into.


* * *

Joe sleeps in.

One of the things Joe and I figured out over our previous fourteen trips together is that while our personalities meshed well, our personality types sometimes clash. I like to do stuff. Like, always. Constantly. I sleep because it’s a necessity. Joe sleeps because it’s vacation.

“You know you don’t have to wait for me, right?” Joe asked on our fifth or sixth trip.

“How’s that?”

“I don’t want to wake up at the crack of way too early. You do. When we’re together for these, why don’t you get up early and I’ll join you when I’m ready.”

Paul, on a different finger of the same hand, also likes to sleep in, but more on the, “hey, I’m getting up at a sane time, cool?” tip. It was cool, because while I don’t think I’d be as fired up for solo trips as I used to be (that one trip I went on to cure my depression kind of just ended up curing my desire to be at Disney parks alone), a few hours? Especially when it was Extra Magic Mornings? Oh, I could do that.

Which was how I found myself on California Screamin’ with my new buddy Chester at quarter of eight in the morning on my first full morning at Disneyland. Chester’s wife was also sleeping in. We hesitate longer than normal at the launch before that first big hill. The California sun hadn’t yet risen high enough in the sky to make the air oppressive, and boy howdy does Paradise Pier look lovely first thing in the morning. The Fun Wheel turns lazily, seeming to dip below the water, and the faraway Silly Symphony Swings and Golden Zephyr do their perambulations in sweet circle circuits over the water. The Boardwalk is empty this early, no lunatic lines yet at Toy Story Midway Mania. The air jostles with good smells: axle grease and cotton candy, churros and the smell of the water of Paradise Bay. It’s not quite the smell of the water at Pirates because nothing is. We hold in stasis, strapped into our cars, calliope music wafting over us like its 1914. Maybe it’s 1914. Maybe this is a dream.

Then we’re off, speeding like light into that first hill, and man oh man it’s great to be alive.

* * *

I texted Joe after tooling around California Adventure by my lonesome for an hour or so. Grizzly River Run had both managed to reopen after a brief refurb and soak me to the bone, all in the course of an hour and a half. Good thing I’d put my shoes and socks in a big plastic bag and ridden barefoot, even though you’re supposed to keep your shoes on the whole time, which is a rule I totally did not know and further did not willfully ignore until the cast member at the ride exit noticed and barked at me to put my sneakers on.

“Hey, Joe,” I texted, “are you awake yet?”

“Ohai, at Matterhorn with Mike Tupper!” I blinked. Did I know Mike Tupper? Joe was at the Matterhorn? Joe was awake?

One of those things that’s sort of better in Disneyland than in Disney World is you can be at the back of one park and get to the center of another park in like 10 minutes. Going from, like, Morocco in Epcot to Expedition Everest takes two maps, a Sherpa, three camels, and a universal translator. I caught up with Joe and Mike a little after nine and a little more than three-quarters through the line at the Matterhorn. It was a good thing, too. I was willing to share Joe’s first time on this mountain, but I’d introduced him to Everest in Florida and I was damned if he was going to ride this first without me.

After: “So! Did you like it! Did you love it! Was it the best!”

Joe: “Yes, I liked it.” Joe is inscrutable.

Me: “Yes! Disney history! Walt! My back hurts!”

As it turned out, I did know Mike Tupper, sort of. I think. Look, LiveJournal was awhile ago. You ever meet someone who’s all like, “by the way, the reason I’m this hot is because I go to the gym like 3 hours a day,” and you’re all, “well, I go two hours a day, that counts, right?” and he’s all, “I don’t really eat cupcakes.” At some point, you either have to accept who you are or go crazy trying to be someone you’re not. PS I had a cupcake at lunch. And a churro.

By that point, Paul had joined us – the only time he’d slept in later than Joe – and we did the whole thing straight up. Radiator Springs Racers. The Mark Twain Riverboat. Tower of Terror. “it’s a small world,” where we all pointed out the characters and continued to hum the song for the remainder of the day. At one point, I went back to the room to “rest,” by which I meant put on my Animal Kingdom shirt without the sleeves because in no way did I need to prove that I also go to the gym every day, and wow when you’re honest about your motivations sometimes you sound really shallow.

Mike took off as the night came down, and Paul went to go get his fiancée Steven settled into the room. Left to our own devices, I decided to take Joe on one of the quaintest rides in Disneyland, the Storybookland Canal Boats. There isn’t really anything comparable to it in Disney World, and I wanted Joe to be amazed at the miniatures and see how pretty they were all lit up at night.

Then something amazing happened.

“All right, passengers,” the perky cast member said from the captain’s seat at the back of the boat. “We’re going to be stopping here for just a little bit while the fireworks go off.”

I blinked. “Wait, the fireworks are going to go off … above us?”

She nodded. “Yes. We’ll be able to hear some of the narration if we’re very quiet, too.”

We were quiet, me and my buddy Joe next to each other on the Storybookland Canal Boat, sitting in the water as those lights exploded above us, like a celebration of our enduring friendship, and of our fifteenth Disney trip together. The fireworks show is called Magical, and no matter how corporate or how synergistic or how anything that is, when it comes to sitting in the water on a boat and watching fireworks go off above your head, that’s a pretty apt name. I was happy to be there with someone I like. All that online negativity seemed so far away.

* * *

Dave arrived early the next day, and it’s always good to see Dave. Especially when it’s your third day and so far you’ve been the only Type A. Dave takes charge of a Disney trip swiftly and happily, and no one ever complains, because Dave doesn’t just bring the party; Dave is the party.

We ended up at the Carthay Circle Restaurant, Dave’s last thing with us until he had to take off. It was cool. He’d be back the next day. Now, if I’d had a meal like the one I had that afternoon a few years ago, I would have gone stir crazy and antsy and probably ruined everyone’s good time. But years and experience have mellowed me. The Pimm’s Punch didn’t hurt, either.

We talked of things – cabbages, kings, sealing wax, I don’t remember exactly – but at one point, I brought up something that the world of online was going nutso over. Some hot-button topic that had all the tempests in all the teapots. Dave leaned back, cocktail in hand, and went about explaining the motivations, the reasons, the ideals, the concepts. He regaled us with tell of Big Picture Thinking, and This Too Shall Pass conceptualizing. “Disney is doing fine,” he said.

Something broke in me, right then. Hearing it all spoken out loud, calmly, as fact and not rumor or reaction, changed something in me. Something in the back of my mind whispered, I don’t have to be that guy. Don’t I know that? I don’t have to mire myself in the negativity in order to fight against it, because it’s not my fight. It has never been my fight. There’s no reason it should be my fight. All this will take care of itself. All I have to take care of is being happy, and that’s great, because I’m really good at being happy.

Do what you’re good at, right? Do what you’re good at.

Right Down the Middle of Main Street, USA, Part Two: "How It Begins"
Smiling Kev
I went to Chicago a year ago to see Drive-By Truckers. It was my first time there. It was a lovely city, and the trains were fairly easy to understand. Local eye-candy didn’t hurt, either, and there are plenty of Starbucks. But I was going there sort of on the cheap, and the hotel room I stayed in was … well, it was a dystopian little hellhole, not to put too fine a point on it. It was like someone took the very concept of Dickensian, made it manifest, and then shaded layers of suburban thrift bazaar on top of it. A mass-produced painting of a dog in a field hung disconsolately over my bed of many springs, and the closet-bathroom’s hot water worked intermittently, grudgingly. It was as if I was being punished for traveling across time zones to see a three-hour concert. I quite honestly didn’t mind. The things you do for rock and roll.

But it’s not as if hotels like that are my first, fifth, or even eighteenth choice. I lived 5/8 of my life in a room exactly like that, and I don’t feel any pressing need to relive the drear realness of my misspent youth. In one of my more honest moments, I said to Joe, “I am impressed by wealth.” This was in relation to having seen the Bay Lake Tower at the Contemporary Resort at Walt Disney World and just being bowled over. I think Joe may have taken what I said wrong at the time. I think – and this could just be me extrapolating – that he thought I was more into being around rich friends. Friends that could treat me to stuff like the Bay Lake Tower when I was on my Disney trips.

That wasn’t it, though. I wanted to be rich. I wanted to treat my friends to this stuff. I wanted to be the guy who makes the Bay Lake Tower happen. Some of it’s my superhero complex. Some of it’s my need to be liked. Some of it’s trying to scrub off the poor from my early years. And quite a lot of it is just because I like nice stuff and it’s fun to do nice stuff with your buddies.

All of that is to say that I’ve been spoiling myself. Last year, I stayed at my first deluxe resort, the Wilderness Lodge at Disney World, and I brought my friends with me. Earlier this year, I stayed at the Contemporary, a long-held dream. It’s a twelve-minute walk to the Magic Kingdom, guys. And when I was last in Atlanta and I handed Joe the Disney Packet of Awesome, one of the best parts is where I was able to turn the page and say, “see this? This is a picture of the Disneyland Hotel. Where we’ll be staying. We’re going to stay there, Joe!”

I thought nothing about this trip was going to top that moment; the planning is almost always the best part of the trip. But you know what’s actually more exciting than looking at a picture of the Disneyland Hotel? Being inside the Disneyland Hotel. I mean, the chairs in the lobby are in the shape of teacups! The headboards light up in LED fireworks and play, “When You Wish Upon a Star”! Oh, and also this happens in the freakin lobby:

Things were off to a great start.

* * *

I should note right here at the very start that my co-conspirator for this whole endeavor was my friend Paul, who I’d first met at my very first trip to Disneyland in the faraway year of 2009. You know, it’s interesting. Paul and I had known each other through LiveJournal, but we weren’t what you’d necessarily call close-close. We’re close-close now. You never know where your best friends are going to come from, or how long they’re going to stick around. One of the best things about Disney is that it provides a place to hang out with all of them. My best friends are all scattered – Atlanta, Washington DC, San Diego, New York, New Jersey, right here in Boston – but a lot of us have Disney in common, and it makes it easy to pick a place to be together, and to have something to talk about. It can’t be the only thing, which is a lesson I keep learning.

Because I’m all about the rituals and milestones and narratives, Paul and I used the time between my arrival and Joe’s to ride the teacups (which we did first thing last time we were here alone) and grabbed a snack at the Bengal Barbecue (where we first ate when we were last here alone; my brain is like the middle section of a John Irving novel when the patterns start to emerge, usually after the bears but before Amsterdam). Then Paul helped me set up Joe’s gift spread on the bed (which, I swear to God, has nothing to do with buttcheeks) and when Joe walked in after traveling all day I kind of leapt at him and made him enjoy everything. Because my enthusiasm only counts if everyone matches it! I’m not hard to know!

Then with all the whirlwind excitement, we ushered a weary Joe into Disneyland! The main reason I’d chosen to go now was so Joe could see the Mechanical Kingdoms exhibit on Main Street, an impetus I’d entirely forgotten until we actually got there and then I super-smooth covered my surprise and made it seem like it was all part of the plan.

“Hey guys! Let’s go see that! It’s all part of the plan!” Super. Smooth.

If you’re any sort of Disney fan interested in visiting parks on both coasts, one of the fun things to do is to compare and contrast the same rides. Like, Space Mountain in Disney World has a better queue and track layout, but the one in Disneyland has a smoother track and on-board music. The Tower of Terror in California has some really neat ghost effects, but the one in Florida has the fifth-dimension room. Take a lifelong Walt Disney World man to Disneyland, and you’re bound to have interesting opinions … and, for some reason, Abbott and Costello conversations.

“Points to California,” Joe said, as we climbed off of Pirates of the Caribbean, that wonderful musty smell lingering everywhere, as if joy had an aroma.

I thrust out a finger and smiled. We were in California. How do you point to it?

“No,” Paul said. “Points to California.”

I was baffled. Was this a reference to the fact that we were in New Orleans Square? Like, was I supposed to be pointing west or something?

“Oh,” I said, because when you don’t get the joke, you just agree. “Yep.” Do you have any idea how dumb I feel writing this out?

We rode the Matterhorn, and as silly as it seems, that’s my connection to classic Disneyland. I wasn’t there. Walt Disney died before I was born. But when you’re surrounded by living history, it’s almost impossible not to feel echoes of the past. Especially if you’re a conscientious fan, someone who not only loves Disney as it is now, but as it was then. There are plenty of people who go to Disney and it’s just fun and that’s about it. And that’s fine. But when you’re people like me and you read books about the parks, when you visit them four times a year, when you listen to Disney history podcasts, some of that stuff sinks in. It becomes part of your experience when you’re there.

What’s harder is when that history becomes definitive, when things like “Walt originalism” and the concept of the past being static is used as a detriment rather than an enhancement. Here’s where I get into some trouble. See, part of my desire to learn everything about the parks led me to a number of websites that offered weekly reports on the goings-on at Disneyland and Disney World. That stuff is thrilling to me, a way of keeping up with my park love back home. There are usually pictures of things being worked on and new stuff being developed, of special events and flowers in bloom. One of the things I began running into was the initialism, “WWWDD,” or What Would Walt Disney Do? It’s both a noble question and an idiotic question. Noble, because the Disney parks exist for a reason, and the ideals and gumption that got them built are laudable, all these years later. Idiotic because the man is dead, and has been for years. We don’t know what Walt would do.

Accompanying this notion was an odd, prevalent sort of negativity. It was easy to notice in the forums. Forums on any topic in any fandom are redolent with the stench of lunacy and the culture of “used to be better.” According to the Springsteen forums, The Boss hasn’t done anything of worth since 1978. According to Apple forums, the iPod was the worst thing Steve Jobs ever did. And according to Disney forums, letting cast members wear beards is “just like putting a roller coaster on Main Street USA,” and letting guests wear fancy clothes proves that “Disney is nuts,” and putting a Starbucks in the parks is a sign that, “the real fans have lost. This is no longer our park, or Walt’s. The best we can hope for is that when we die, Uncle Walt will be in heaven, and take us on personal tours of that once glorious place.” That’s a fucking actual quote. I am not kidding you.

But then the negativity spread, and the actual reports – the ones that purport to be just relaying the news – started to seem angrier. More resentful of everything Disney was doing. Weasel words began to crop up. “Disney is working on this ride” became “Disney still isn’t finished working on this ride.” “Disney is expanding its fancy private club” became “Disney is destroying part of the park and taking more space away from regular guests.” The Twitter accounts from the writers I followed got even worse. Nasty. For every “I like this” tweet, there were fifty, “everything is terrible” tweets. It became this constant cycle of anger, of rage, of “Disney is for real screwing up my life.”

When you’re an optimist, and a positive thinker, and … no. Better. When you’re an actual critic (which I am, paid and everything), reading nothing but terrible reviews about things that are, on the whole, not terrible … well, it rankles. One of the first things you learn as a critic is that it’s more fun to write bad reviews. It is. You get to break out the thesaurus and go on rants and people eat that up. People love that. It’s harder to write good reviews. It’s more work. Convincing people that things are great is far, far more difficult than convincing them that things are awful. What I found was a lot of lazy reporting. A lot of empty rage. A lot of bizarre contradictions that I couldn’t even fathom (Disney fixing up a mall-like embarrassment into something more classic and impressive on one coast is the best thing ever, but on the other coast is the worst idea no one should care about).

Did I snap? Did I decide to lead a crusade against negativity? Did I say, “Someone has to take a stand?” No, none of that. It all started so small, so inconsequential. On my WestCotCenter Twitter handle, I just started copying choice quotes and pointing out why they were wrong, or ridiculous, or overly negative for negativity’s sake. I had followers by then – followers who had no idea I was Kevidently on my main account – and a lot of them thought my jabs were pretty funny. And I love attention. I love being liked. It’s addictive. And I thought it would be neat to have a persona completely separate from who I am, some place to go to be a little more snarky and a little more pointed in how I feel about the “foamers,” the people who were taking the concept of criticism and perverting it into something uglier.

I never really asked why I was doing it. Not really. Did Disney need me to defend them? Nope, no more than Stephen King or Bruce Springsteen does. As it went on, a part of me tried to justify it as standing for the fans who would read the negativity (and sometimes outright lies, like the one about how Walt Disney World doesn’t do real maintenance and everything is falling apart), but that wasn’t really it, either. I came up with reasons later – with some awesomely disastrous results – but I think at first, I was fed up with the bullshit and having some fun at bullshit’s expense. Pure motivation? Maybe not. But it sure was fun.

* * *

We got drunk that night at Trader Sam’s, the enchanted tiki bar. I got a kungaloosh, the drink of the now-defunct Adventurer’s Club – the steampunky club that used to exist in Downtown Disney. We’d ridden a lot of rides and done a lot of stuff, and Joe and I were feeling jetlagged but happy. The night had closed in, and as Paul pointed out, nights in Disneyland tend to be cool and humidity-free, unlike nights in Florida. We were discussing our first ride on Haunted Mansion, which Joe had judges as being better in Walt Disney World.

Oh!” I shouted, after draining the last of my kungaloosh. “Points to Disneyland. Because they get all the points!”

That was day one.

Right Down the Middle of Main Street, USA: Part One, "Here We Joe!"
Smiling Kev
I have this dream. I’m on my bicycle, my fine Schwinn, and I’m cycling up the street. Shopfronts whiz by in a blur. Light music plays from somewhere, and I almost grasp the melody. I’m not wearing a helmet, but that’s okay. It feels safe here. I feel safe here. Only gradually, as I pedal faster, do I realize I’m cycling up Main Street, USA. This is Disneyland. None of my thoughts coalesce: everything I’m feeling is deep but vague. Comfort. Happiness. Peace. I think at some point I know it’s a dream, but I don’t care. I’m pedaling up Main Street and it’s pure joy.

I have this dream every night I’m in Disneyland, and for the next two days following. It’s the first dream in the last five years I remember that’s not a nightmare.

* * *

Let’s get down to realness. Late last year, I fell into a second job that paid me … just stupid money. Like, questionably generous money. I was functioning as a temp, but the way the manager set it up, I was getting paid directly by the company, and not going through a temp agency. The money poured in. And look, I’m not saying I was rich, but for the first time in my adult life, Christmas was easy and fun to shop for. All of my friends got stuff. I went out to eat without worry. If I wanted to go to a movie, I just could. It wasn’t rich-guy money, but it, combined with my regular day job and my job as a columnist, kept me in an elevated state for months. And in that elevated state, I spread some money around. Some went to bills. Some went to clothes. And a bunch went to Disney. Look, I knew the money was going to end. It was right there in my job description: temp(orary). So I went ahead and did everything I could to secure my Disney year in advance. And one of the things I decided to do was take my buddy Joe to Disneyland.

Let’s catch you guys up if you’re unfamiliar: Joe is a buddy I met at a bear run way back when. We

all went out to eat at Mr. Sushi and then Chuck Norris was there. Yes, that Chuck Norris. We all got a picture with him, which is kind of awesome because we’re all big burly bears and Chuck Norris is a tiny little guy. True facts! Long story short: while Chuck Norris and I never hung out again (his days are filled with sushi and spin-kicks, leaving little time for bro-ing out), Joe and I remained friends. Then I discovered Disney and Joe was all, “Hey, I’ve been going to Disney World my entire life, want to know some shit?”

Indeed, I wanted to know some shit. Joe was like a walking atlas of Disney World. He showed me videos of defunct rides (Horizons! Yes! You knew I was going to bring up Horizons! SHUT UP I LOVE HORIZONS!) and he introduced me to The Crystal Palace and this one time we went to the record shop on property and bought the Springsteen album Magic on opening day because the synergy is real. We don’t go to the parks together every time we go to the parks, but it’s often. Fourteen times often.

And here’s where we lean that oh my dear God, Kevbot always needs a narrative.

That’s right, meta-commentary in the third person! Joe’s and my next trip was to be our fifteenth together. Well, that’s cause for a celebration, isn’t it? Of course it is, because symbols and milestones and narratives are the only way to live in the real world! Only way! I might have a problem!

One of my life credos was that if I ever had stupid money, I would spread it around. I had done that at Christmas, and now it was time to carry that through before the money ended (which it did, far more abruptly than I’d anticipated, by the way. One day it was like, oh, Kev, b-t-dubs, we just realized that you working here for as long as you have at your rate is within sniffing distance of illegal, so leave now, okay?) So I did what any sane and normal friend would do. I took Joe to Disneyland.

Now, back the truck up. Have I mentioned that Joe’s never been to Disneyland? That’s right. Been going to Disney World in Florida since he was a zygote, and had never had a chance to visit the mother country. (Yes, mother country. Look, I’m a stunted manchild talking about my dream of riding my bike through Disneyland, let me have my florid prose.) In my process of discovering Disney World, Joe was there every step, pointing me toward books and podcasts, websites and references. For me, Joe was a walking history of Walt Disney World, and I can earnestly say that without him, I would not have become the fan I am so quickly or so thoroughly. Without Joe, I might not have been able to see the depth behind the rides and the cartoons, might never have delved into the history of it, might never have considered Walt Disney one of the three most important creative mentors of my life (Stephen King and Bruce Springsteen, for the curious). I wanted to figure out how to transfer my love of Disney into something richer, something deeper. All that stuff was there, waiting to be unlocked; Joe had the key. I owed him.


Now, I won’t presume to tell Joe’s story here. I’m pretty sure he has his own stories to tell, and I’m looking forward to reading them. What made me want to pick up the pen for this short series was the change that happened in me when I was in Disneyland, how my perception altered, and what I took away. Occasionally, you need to take yourself out of your routine and put yourself in a whole different place to learn some stuff about yourself. I know that it doesn’t seem like Disneyland is the place for a man – a grown man – to realize some weird truths about himself, but that’s where it is, and I’m going to lay it all out.

I’m not always who I really am when I’m online, is the long and short of it. Maybe no one is, and there’s no rule saying you always have to bring your whole box of self-awareness and actualization to the anonymous masses, but my problem was getting into a whole other box.

It started simply enough. My friends on Twitter were sick of me talking about Disney all the time, so I created a new Disney-specific Twitter account, and named it WestCotCenter, after an unbuilt park that was supposed to face Disneyland. (We got California Adventure instead, which sucked for a decade and then got super awesome.) I delved into the world of Disney fandom, and that’s … just never a smart idea. Fan communities always sound awesome, and it’s fun to join because feeling connected to things you love and the people who also love those things is such a pure impulse. What ends up happening, though, is that you start seeing the cracks. You find the people who seem angry at whatever the company/artist/musician/writer does, because it doesn’t fit their paradigm of what they should be doing. You come across those who feel personally betrayed by all the things they feel they’ve earned for being so loyal for so long. None of this was new to me: familiarity breeds contempt more often than not, and when you give a platform to the little tin gods who think they’re the torchbearers for what such-and-such used to mean … well, that’s a world of hurt.

What follows is the story of how I got in it, and how, just a few days ago, I realized it was terrible for me, and how I’m trying to drag myself out. It’s some real shit about my brain, and addiction, and my desperate need to be liked.

But it’s also about me having a goddamn blast with my friends at the Happiest Place On Earth, because you shouldn’t have to slog through my dark brain shit without me talking about how awesome seeing the Enchanted Tiki Room at night with Joe is. Because how you gonna be mad on vacation?

Stay tuned. It’s a journey.


110 minutes!
Smiling Kev
110 minutes to go! GO GO GO! My Kickstarter is so close to being done! Long story short: I'm writing a book! I've written a lot of books! If you're interested in reading the new one, or getting some of the older ones, donate now before this disappears forever! HOORAY!

Spiraling into Panic!
Disco Television

We are in the exciting final hours for my new Kickstarter project, PANIC TOWN: A Crime Novel by Kevin Quigley. Quite a lot of people have donated to the project, which has never been less than hugely gratifying. More, I know a lot of people are donating because they have found something they like in my writing, not just because they think I'm some sort of swell guy. (Although I am a pretty swell guy!)

If you backed my book last year, hopefully you are reading and enjoying ROLLER DISCO SATURDAY NIGHT now. I have begun sending out query letters for the book in the hopes of it getting published and in actual bookstores. I hope to continue the process next year, when PANIC TOWN has been written and edited for publication.

This whole deal is pretty thrilling for me. These donations are something of a book advance for me, something established writers get as a way to keep them going until they publish and get royalties. Your help is keeping me going until these books make it into stores and I head to the top of the New York Times Bestseller List!

If you haven't checked out my project for PANIC TOWN, there's still time! We have a few hours left to go and there are still some rewards - both electronic and physical - left to claim! Thanks again for helping to make this book a success!

Let's Panic
I have rarely felt more excited or gratified as I am at this moment. As of midnight last night, my Kickstarter project for my novel Panic Town was fully funded.

If you’ve been following me, you know I’ve had a bit of a crappy year. For awhile, I thought it was just in comparison to the prior two years, which were some of the best of my life. It took abruptly losing a job on top of all that other stuff to make me realize, no, Kev, you’re having an objectively bad year.

Now, look. I know I’m not playing Job here. There aren’t locusts. I know me dropping my phone and having the glass shatter isn’t going to make Rwandan refugees feel my plight. Bob Costas had an eye infection and he went on national TV. It’s not like most sketch groups don’t fall apart. People lose jobs. People get bronchitis. Sometimes peoples’ favorite actors die, and you just keep living your life and trying to make it a good one.

But all of that is kind of beside the point. Or it should be. See, I didn’t want people to donate to my Kickstarter because they felt bad for me. There was a situation, and while it wasn’t dire, it sucked … but that’s not the reason I created this. I do Kickstarters when I have a vision for a book I want to create. When I have a clear concept and a passion to see that concept through to completion, that’s when I do these things.

Wayne Corbin, my private eye, has starred in four novels so far. I wrote the first one in 1999, when I first met my husband and I was still living in a studio apartment in deep suburbia. I was still new to writing novels, and I had never written a crime or a mystery novel before. That one was called The Eighth Acre and it was an okay start. Pretty good. Some of the characters went on to feature in other books, non-mystery novels that still figure into the Wayne Corbin universe because most of my books connect. Not in obnoxious ways (except for that long sequence in Maybe You’re Right when the entire cast of Find the River shows up and it took forever to sort things out), but they’re all part of one shared universe. Even the horror novels.

I wrote the second Wayne Corbin book, The Color of Blood and Rust, a year later, in 2000. It remains the shortest of my books (except my first one, Spare Parts, which is like a novella with a few extra pages), but it was leagues better than The Eighth Acre. Blood and Rust is where I really figured out what made Wayne Corbin tick. More importantly, it’s where I figured out that the obnoxious brat from the first book, Wayne’s girlfriend’s daughter, was actually way more interesting than I’d first thought. Tamatha, who I’d created specifically to be a foil for Wayne’s relationship with his girlfriend, became the second most important character in the series. Panic Town Cover Modified Twice

The third book, Roses in the Rain, was the biggest so far, and the most fun to write. I just dove in. I explored character motivations. I looked deeper into Wayne’s friendships. And I think I actually wrote a pretty compelling mystery, for once. I also got to take some jabs at superfans who hate the thing they say they love.

Then came The Taste of Concrete On Your Tongue, the hardest book I ever had to write. People that had been reading the series all along hated me for what I did in that book. It was the best written, and it utilized a storytelling device I’ve always liked but use sparingly because it can be indulgent: when the plot gets too much, the main character just leaves it. Goes somewhere else and has adventures there for awhile before coming back home. I love writing that stuff. I loved it so much that I used again it in Maybe You’re Right.

But those final things take a lot to come back from. Wayne’s entire paradigm changed. The status quo of the first four books is different now. And for the last five years, I’ve been trying to figure out what that means to Wayne. How he’s different. How his friendships and relationships are different. How things are the same. I always had ideas, but without any clear direction for how to utilize them.

You know what unstuck me? Remember a comic book graphic novel called The Archer’s Quest, a Green Arrow story by Brad Meltzer and Phil Hester. See, Green Arrow had gotten resurrected and was alive again after dying or some such nonsense. And basically, he wasn’t really feeling alive. Like Buffy in Season 6, he was alive but not really living. What helped Green Arrow was a quest, a road trip of sorts that Green Lantern went on with him. (What helped Buffy was some rough sex and a realization that she had a lot of self-hate issues, but that’s not where I was going with Wayne).

So: a quest. An adventure. A caper. Wayne hasn’t had a caper before. And if he’s still dealing with everything that happened in Concrete, he’s going to need something sort of fun to shake him out of it.

Well, I can write fun. I can write fun well. Well, as fun as fun can be when it starts with a decades-old murder and maybe more bodies in the future. I don’t know.

But that’s just it. I don’t know. But for the first time in forever, I have a way in. I know how to start.

Last year, my Kickstarter for Roller Disco Saturday Night was very successful. A big part of that is my cult of personality. I like things a lot, and a good number of people enjoy knowing someone who bases his life on liking stuff. As my friend Duncan recently said, I have a lot of jams. Plus, I try to be good to people. I like people to be happy and successful. I put people on stage. I review people’s work and give them better exposure. I post links to their sex toy party business. I want people to succeed. And people respond to that, too. I’m not sad about that. If people want to donate to my projects because of good stuff I’ve done, that’s fine. More than.

But that’s not what it felt like this year. With some exceptions, the donations this year didn’t feel like, “We like you, take our money” or, “sorry you lost your job, here’s some money.” It felt more like, “Hey, that book sounds cool. I want to back that.” For awhile, I was worried that Panic Town wouldn’t succeed as a project. But then folks started coming out of the woodwork to tell me that they liked my writing. They had more confidence in my ability to spin a yarn than I did. And that, my friends, is even more gratifying than fully funding this project. More gratifying by half.

There are still about 50 hours left for Panic Town. I am fully funded, but that doesn’t mean you can’t still donate if you want to. There are still plenty of prizes, including signed trade paperbacks – actual books! – I can then mail to you. So, if you haven’t donated yet and you want to, I will be pleased as punch. If you didn’t, hey, that’s okay, too. Maybe you’ll buy the book when it eventually comes out.

For all those who have donated: thank you. From the bottom of my heart, thank you. I quite honestly could not be writing this book without you.

Click here to donate to PANIC TOWN: A crime novel by Kevin Quigley

About to Panic
Smiling Kev
This year has been ... kind of a challenge.

Now look. 2012 and 2013 were two of the best years of my life. Maybe the best years. I had a great sketch group I’d brought to the New York City Sketch Fest. I was writing constantly and getting paid for a lot of it. I ran a comedy show every week at a bar near my house. I had a great job that sometimes sent me to warm places in cold months and paid for me to stay in five-star hotels. I was living The Dream … or at least a version of The Dream that happens before the Real Dream of being a bestselling novelist takes hold. But things were good. Things were great!

Things were shaky. And I didn’t even know it.

On New Year’s Eve, my husband Shawn and I toasted 2014 as another fantastic year. Why wouldn’t it be? Everything was laid out for some major plans, and I was at the head of the change. Never stopping. Always going. Drive. Will. Adrenaline.

Then the bar I did my weekly show at burned down. Not entirely. But burning happened, and when the sprinklers came on, water damage destroyed the place. Now, the owner of the place absolutely had it worse. She’s a sweet woman who didn’t deserve to have something that horrible happen. The fact was, though, that I was out a night of comedy, and because one of my credos was to always pay people who performed, the Boston comedy scene was out a paying venue to peddle their entertainment. I never paid a lot, but I paid what I could. Doing right by people is one of those karmic things.

Then the sketch team imploded. I won’t go into the whys and wherefores, but some stuff went down that made me realize the current trajectory was untenable. I still think dissolving Duct Tape Revolution was the best move for what happened, but it hurt. It hurt like hell to do that, and that plunged me into one of those clinical depressions I have every few years.

Was that before or after the eye infection? It was definitely before I had to have gum surgery, but after the bronchitis I had for a few weeks. Oh, it just keeps piling on.

Then, last week, one of my four jobs abruptly and shockingly let me go. Now, I knew the terms. It was a temp job. More weirdness: it was a temp job at the place I used to work at that laid me off in 2009. It was strange being there, but I liked the people I worked with, and the pay was great. It ate up a lot of my time (especially given that I was also working my normal full-time job on top of that), but I needed the money. And it was good money. The plan was to have me there until either May or June, and then I’d transition out once they hired someone real.

Only it turned out that I actually wasn’t supposed to be working there that long. Some snafu with payroll meant that I should have sort of stopped working there in January. Maybe February. The problem was, no one told me that, or my supervisors, or anyone in power. They just sort of figured it out Friday an hour before the close of day. And so I was gone. My most lucrative job set me free. Just like that.

When I set out to do a Kickstarter campaign for a novel I’m writing, it’s not for the money, not really. It’s for the freedom of being able to live my writing life without having to worry about getting a fourth or fifth job to support myself. (That is not hyperbole. I am currently working four different jobs, one of which mostly pays enough to live on, the others … not so much.) I love to write. I’ve written my whole life. I’ve been writing novels since 1999, so technically I’ve spanned three decades of novel writing. I’m good at it. More, I finish my work. I’ve turned in the completed books for my last two Kickstarter projects, and they’ve been polished, clean, publishable novels. Now I want to do it again, from scratch.

I love to write, but I need to be able to justify not getting yet another draining, time-sucking job I don’t want so I can keep doing it. That’s where this campaign fits in. My novel Panic Town will be a crime novel in the grand tradition: long-ago murders, missing manuscripts, sexy widows, scheming families, and a worn-down private eye who needs a reason to live again. I can’t wait to start writing it. I’m clearing my desk now and getting my research and outlines in order. I have a lot of work to do, and with your help, I can do it more easily.

I have four days to go, and I need to raise less than $1500 to get there. Thank you for all your help and support. My year looks to be getting better already!

Donate here to get PANIC TOWN off the ground!

Panic Town Cover Modified Twice

Dry Spell
Smiling Kev
the leaves are returning
the changing tide
it feels like the demon
inside me has died

it perished so gently
without a sound
after years of me trying
to force it underground

now there’s the terror
that it’ll come back
it feeds on my weakness
uses stealth to attack

in the dark quiet moments
when I’m all alone
it eats at my sanity
and my need to atone

fighting’s so hard
and the long run seems far
feeling wrong but so good
underneath all the scars

stay buried forever
so I wont have to see
my dead eyes in the mirror
and this hell inside me

Disco Smash
Smiling Kev
Let me just take a second to share my gratitude in a reasonable, dignified manner:


Now that that’s out of the way, let’s get down to business.

The Now

My Kickstarter for my novel Roller Disco Saturday Night is now funded. It’s more than funded, actually. The final total is $5,683.52. My goal was $3,100, meaning we raised over $2,500 more than I was aiming for.

We did that. We. I’m just blown away.

The original goal for the money was to take a month off of one or two of my jobs, get some new writing hardware and software, and set to work to make Roller Disco Saturday Night the best novel it can be. All of that is still in place. I’ve already requested April off. At this point, I may actually be able to take a second month off (right now, I’m thinking July) and dedicate even more time and effort to finish this book by October – the month this novel will hopefully be complete.
I envision many late Friday and Saturday nights out in the city, hunched over my laptop, bringing this world of mid-1980s teenagers to life. It’s my big writer’s dream to do stuff like that – fighting through my insomnia and my own doubts, fueled by caffeine and drive, pounding out keys and getting out 10 pages in a sitting. It doesn’t always happen now because my life is so busy. I usually get out three pages a day if I’m writing fiction. It will be able to happen starting in April, and that’s because of your generosity and my indomitable ambition.

What Happens Next

I’ve got a bunch of writing to do.

Currently, I’m working on a novel called My Agent of Chaos. I didn’t plan for it to be a novel, but that’s how it worked out. I haven’t finished a brand-new novel in a couple years, in part because the two books I tried my hand at (Tangerine and American Storm) either fizzled or stopped working, and in part because I was up to my elbows in nonfiction. And I still am, at that. I’m very nearly finished with a book called Stephen King Limited, a revision and expansion of two chapterbooks I worked on last year for my publisher, and I’m contracted for a book on King’s Dark Tower mythos.

My Agent of Chaos will, hopefully, wrap up this month. I’m proud of it; almost all my novels are Watch Kev Work Through Shit experiments, and this one takes on a time of my life that I never really examined before. It’s dark, maybe, but good. I have never used an unreliable narrator before, and it’s been fun to try.

SKL will likely be done within a couple weeks. The Dark Tower book will be one I work on going forward, concurrently with Roller Disco Saturday Night. My plan is to do the nonfiction in the daytime, where I can nerd out with research and stuff. I’ll save my fiction for the night.
I also have promised a few things to my backers. The 10 people who became Major Backers will receive places in Roller Disco, unless they’ve asked not to. The 45 people I’ve promised to write poems for will get them over the course of my writing process. As promised, I will sign them and send them to you. Haiku, free verse, epic poem – I don’t know what will come out, but those are all yours. Those same 45 people also get a new compilation of work I will deliver digitally: short stories, essays, sketches, and of course those poems. That collection will be called Hack Music and will be ready as soon as the poems are.

And Finally

From the bottom of my heart, I thank you all. When I was growing up, reading Stephen King’s behind the scenes stuff about the publishing industry and how the cogs and wheels all turned, I dreamed about writing a book that was good enough that a publisher would take it and send it out to the world and people would buy it and like it and I’d be a bestselling novelist. I have not given up on that dream, and likely never will.

But the reality is that I’m not there yet, and working on a dream is hard, hungry work. I’ve been a published author for three years and have never had an advance. Until now.
The way that publishing works in my idyllic dream head is not the way it works in reality; maybe it’s how it happened once, but like I’ve said elsewhere, it’s not the 80s anymore and the midlist has all but disappeared. But if this experiment has shown me anything, people still believe in writers and writing, and want books to succeed. This book is going to succeed.

Thank you.


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