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Authors: Dan Simmons

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BOOK: Carrion Comfort
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The advanced neocortex in the mind vampires we encounter is merely along for the ride. Mind vampires can speak words fluidly and feign altruism and social niceties, but all a mind vampire (as is true with any socio-path) really knows is fight or flight, ascendancy or submission, and hierarchy and control.

And violence. Always violence.

The violence of their will over yours. And they live to control you.

In October of 1986 I went to Providence, Rhode Island, to attend the twelfth annual World Fantasy Convention there. I hadn’t attended many SF or fantasy conventions before this. Not only had I not had time to go to many conventions, I couldn’t afford the travel.

Karen and I couldn’t afford the flight from Colorado to Rhode Island in 1986, either, but people associated with the convention had been “strongly urging me to attend” for some weeks now and my agent and other writers explained to me that this could be shorthand that my novel had won the World Fantasy Award and that the organizers wanted me there to pick up the award. I’d never received a writing award in person before. (I’d watched on TV as actor Jack Klugman, an old friend of Rod Serling’s, had accepted my
Rod Serling Memorial Award
from host Mike Douglas for my cowinning the
Twilight Zone Magazine
short story contest. Someone from the magazine had phoned me and told me to turn on the TV about thirty minutes before the presentation. When I finally received the award in the mail a month or so later, it had been so poorly wrapped that one end of the gilded frame had been knocked off. The ink the judges had signed their names in— Harlan Ellison, Carol Serling, Robert Bloch, Richard Matheson (three of these people writer-heroes of mine)— had simply disappeared after being exposed to sunlight.)

So we wanted to go to Providence in October of 1986 but we couldn’t afford for both of us to travel there. Reluctantly (on both our parts), Karen stayed home with four-year-old Jane while I took one business day leave from work to fly out there for the weekend.

I took the final version of
Carrion Comfort
with me. It weighed more than my suitcase.

What had happened after Bluejay Books went bankrupt was that my manuscript, even though no one at Bluejay had read it, had become one of the “assets”— like office furniture and typewriters— that were parceled out to creditors when Jim Frenkel’s company went belly up. I like to think that Jim worked hard to find a good home for the few literary properties he hadn’t got around to publishing, including
Carrion Comfort.

At any rate, a large publisher that shall remain nameless (for reasons that will become obvious) had taken possession of the yet-to-be-delivered
Carrion Comfort.
My agent assured me that this was an improvement, since the larger publisher would have a larger print run of the book and insure a better distribution. Also, he said, this World Fantasy Awards Banquet would be a wonderful opportunity for me to meet my new publisher and— even more important— my new editor.

This thought did excite me. Publisher Frenkel had been my ad hoc editor for
Song of Kali
, but the editing— as with the copyediting— had been light and cursory and mostly my responsibility. By 1986 I’d published enough short fiction to have worked with such fine editors as Ellen Datlow at
and Shawna McCarthy at
Asimov’s Science Fiction
magazine, but I’d not yet worked hand-in-hand with an editor on a book-length project and I was looking forward to the experience.

I arrived in Providence very doubtful that
Song of Kali
was really going to win the award, despite the eagerness of the presenters to have me there. There was more than the fact that no first novel had ever won the World Fantasy Award in that award’s history. The other nominees that year were Clive Barker’s
The Damnation Game
, Peter Carey’s
, Lisa Goldstein’s
The Dream Years
, Paul Hazel’s
, and Anne Rice’s
The Vampire Lestat
. How on earth could
Song of Kali
, which had only a very few thousand copies of the hardback even published and distributed, even have been read by many people?

But the trip was worth it for me, award or no award, just to meet my new editor and to deliver the completed manuscript of
Carrion Comfort
to its new owners.

My editor and I met in the bar of the Providence Biltmore Hotel on the day before the awards banquet. I’d already met my new publisher and liked him a lot.

I remember physically presenting the giant box of manuscript, so similar to Spalding Gray’s giant, heavily strapped monster of his endless but unfinished novel that sat on the table with him in his funny-sad film monologue “Monster in a Box.”

My new editor was a woman, just turned twenty-one years old, and only just appointed to her position as chief editor in the new “horror” section of the publishing house. I won’t give her name.

I had very little to say during that first hour-long meeting in the bar of the Biltmore in Providence, Rhode Island. When my new editor asked me what I did other than write, I explained about my teaching career and the APEX program I ran.

“Oh, gifted-talented programs,” she said with a dismissive wave of her pale hand. “I was in many of those.”

I explained how we never labeled any kid as “gifted,” only provided very high level instruction in the many fields in which advanced kids needed them.

“They told my mother that I was gifted at a very young age,” said my editor with another whisk of that pale hand. “We gifted people know we’re gifted.”

And then I listened. “I’m not going to be a passive editor,” said my new editor. “Nor will I be kind or gentle. We’ll consider this your fi
novel. You’re going to receive page after page of my comments. Single-spaced. I won’t let anything slide.”

“Goo—” I said. There was supposed to be a “d” on the end of that word, but before I could finish the syllable, I was listening again.

“I’m going to create a new dynasty of horror fiction with this house,” my editor said. “A sort of empire. I’m going to raise the bar all across the field. I haven’t seen this book of yours, we didn’t buy this book of yours, so it’ll just have to mea sure up— after my editing— or it won’t be on the list.”


I said. “I know the general idea of your book . . . sort of a ripoff of Robinson’s

The Power
. . . but I’m not convinced that the premise can support a manuscript of
size.” She gave my giant box of pages a baleful, critical look.

I couldn’t say “Good” or even “Goo—” to that, so I said nothing. “We’ll see if it measures up,” she said. And then I drank my Coke while she told me about the gifted programs she’d been in at school and about her meteoric rise in the publishing business.

My wife Karen was at the banquet after all when
Song of Kali
won the World Fantasy Award the next day. After I’d left, she’d borrowed money from her brother for the ticket fare. I loved having her there when
Song of Kali
was announced the winner.

And now I’m going to write about something that will make Karen hit me with a closed fist.

As a matter of policy, I don’t write about people’s negative appearances (especially women’s), even in my fiction. (Except for certain monsters.) I’m living proof that people can’t really help their appearance in most cases— their looks, their weight, the occasional gaffes on wardrobe.

But at that awards banquet in 1986, my new editor sitting with us became a living meta phor for the next eighteen months of my life— some of the worst months I’ve ever had— and
meta phor, sadly, deserves the telling.

My new editor was short and overweight and very, very pale, all of which is irrelevant save for her choice of apparel that afternoon. She was wearing tiny black bikini underpants and a black bra and no slip or other undergarments, and I can report this because her “gown” that day was a sort of black-mesh body stocking with large open diamonds everywhere. It reminded me of a fish net that my dad and I used when fishing in the Illinois River or on Minnesota lakes when I was a small kid. (Once a large-diameter eel I caught oozed right through the large net openings, but I didn’t notice because, thinking I’d hooked a giant snake, I’d turned around and started running full speed in the opposite direction. My dad caught me by the back of my belt as I left the boat that time and swung me back in, even as the eel oozed back into the river through the net.)

Anyway, such a garment could be mildly disconcerting at the best of times, but in this case the mesh-bodystocking dress-thing was far too small for her and her pale flesh was oozing out through the black-mesh diamonds everywhere.

Trying not to be a sexist jerk through my adult years, I’m pretty good at maintaining eye contact with women no matter what the reality is before the eye-gaze line, but this black-mesh spiderweb gown all but defeated my efforts. There was no aspect of sexiness involved. It was as if my new editor had been caught in a spider’s web that was contracting, closing, tightening, and squeezing its occupant to death. All I could think at the time was—
That has to be uncomfortable.

Later, I realized that the black web she wore that day was a metaphor. But not for her, for me.

And that particular web would continue to tighten around me for many months to come.

When Karen and I returned from Providence that autumn I told her about the major editing and revision job ahead. We decided that I should do the most I could do to help the editor with the big job on
Carrion Comfort
that obviously lay ahead of us.

Because the last few hours of my long, long APEX day consisted of visiting one or more of the nineteen schools we supervised ser vices in, I was able to arrange to go “half time” for the next semester starting in January of 1987. What that really meant was that I was still putting in about eight hours a day and eighty hours a week on APEX, but would go
half pay
in order to gain a couple of hours for myself on weekday afternoons. I would use that time working on the revision suggestions on
Carrion Comfort
that would be coming from my new publisher and editor before Christmas of 1986.

Karen and I couldn’t really afford this half-pay situation— my salary was still our primary income, we had a four-year-old daughter and a two-year-old mortgage on a tiny house we’d been brave enough to purchase when it looked as if writing novels would be augmenting my teaching salary— but it seemed like the right thing to do. Besides, we told each other, there’s that $6,500 jackpot of half of the remaining half of the advance we’d be receiving when I finished the rewrites to my new editor’s satisfaction and, somewhere far, far beyond that, an equal amount upon publication.

So, shocking my teaching colleagues and the school-district brass, I took the half pay for 90 percent APEX work situation to gain those two or three hours each late workday. My editor’s “extensive revision suggestions” were promised to arrive before Thanksgiving.

But they didn’t arrive before Thanksgiving of 1986. Nor before Christmas.

I continued teaching full-time on half pay and waiting.

The revision suggestions didn’t arrive by Easter of 1987. Nor by April or early May.

Finally, close to the end of the regular school year (for which I’d done almost full work for half pay), the letters (this was pre-e-mail, remember) from my editor began pouring in.

She lived up to her word: the pages were single-spaced and many. The first revision-suggestion letter ran to something like sixteen pages.

But the revision suggestions were almost impossible to decode. They contradicted each other. Most of all, I understood at once, she wanted
Carrion Comfort
, and I certainly understood the publisher’s need for that. It was a very long book, difficult to produce at that length. Although when I spoke to Robert R. “Rick” McCammon, publisher of the equally huge horror hit,
Swan Song
, about this time, Rick said that unit cost on a large book, beyond about five hundred pages, wasn’t that great. He said that publishers were simply wary of such a large novel, unless Stephen King had written it (and they’d had Steve cut more than sixty thousand words of
The Stand.

At any rate, I wrestled with the contradictory suggestions, trying to cut
Carrion Comfort
while keeping the soul of the book intact, but it wasn’t really possible. The next twenty-page editorial missive would arrive and now my editor was telling me—“Cut out all the Holocaust stuff. It’s not really germane to the real story and just slows things down.”

Not germane to the real story

To me, the Holocaust aspect of the novel
the real story.

I’d been deeply interested in—“obsessed by” is not too strong a phrase— the impact of the Holocaust since I was in high school. In college I’d done in de pen dent research, in German, on the creation and deployment of the
, the so-called “Special Action Groups,” made up largely of former policeman, civil servants, and even teachers, responsible for the mass shootings of Jews on the Eastern Front.

How could some of the most presumably civilized people in an advanced civilization in the modern age be turned to such barbarism?

To me, the Holocaust— with Germany’s unholy mating of the power of a modern industrial state with all its bureaucratic and technological means with the goal of genocide— was nothing less than the apotheosis of evil in our time. It was, without doubt, the central fact and lesson of the twentieth century.

And it was the guts and sinew and soul of
Carrion Comfort
. “Cut it,” wrote my editor when I explained this.

I worked through the summer trying to rewrite and shorten and placate without eviscerating or emasculating the book. Nothing pleased my editor. After nine months of this, I felt as if I were the one caught in an ever-tightening web.

The editorial suggestions kept coming.

BOOK: Carrion Comfort
12.63Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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