IT’S 1:30 AM on the first day of 2018 as I start to write this and think back on all the cool things that happened in 2017 (like this photo with my friends from Synapse Films). It was truly a year of transitions for me.
The DVD of the Grateful Dead Farewell Concert at Soldier’s Field in Chicago is playing a few feet away on my big screen TV right now — watching that seemed an appropriate way to end the old year and begin a new one. And I’m enjoying the can of Revolution Deth’s Tar (bourbon barrel aged stout from my favorite brewery) which I bought three weeks ago for just this night.
Well.. I’ve been writing a “look back” kind of journal entry for most of my life on the night of New Year’s Eve — in high school, I used to do it in a notebook — and so… here I am.
Again. And honestly glad to still be here to do it. Just me and the Dead and my Deth’s Tar as the rest of the house sleeps.
2018 started great — after our traditional family dinner at the original Aurelio’s Pizza in Homewood, IL, our friends Brad and Sandy Czernik came over to ring in the new year with us… and counting down the new year with other people is actually something we haven’t done in a long while. Usually, just Shaun and Geri and I greet the new year together. But 2017 was a year of transitions.
For all of us.
We had plenty of transitions ourselves in 2017. After years working for a tax firm, Geri switched jobs to go back to working for a grade school. The job in her life that was always her favorite was back when she was working for a high school, so this was a good thing for her.
I had my own career changes too — after 8 years as a dept. director in the same role at my dayjob, I moved to another division to start a new business unit… a fairly major transition for me. Ironically, the new role is in the same Communications division that I started at in the business 24 years ago… so it was kind of a coming home. That change really took a lot of my mental energy for a lot of my year, but I can honestly say it was a good change. That happened a few months into 2017.
But…2017 started with another major change for me.
The end of Samhain….
In the first week of January, my publisher of the past five years — Samhain Publishing — closed its doors. That wasn’t a big surprise, as they’d let go Don D’Auria, the horror line editor, a year earlier. But it still was traumatic. I was left to decide what to do with the four books that they’d published of mine in fairly short order. Self publish them? Give them to another press to reissue?
While I had some good offers, ultimately, I decided in DIY fashion that if the books were in my hands again… this time around, I’d do what I wanted with them rather than farm them out. So I spent a large part of the first quarter of 2017 developing new covers, recreating the e-books and paperback editions and republishing them myself under my existing Dark Arts Books imprint.
I wrote a Back In Print blog about that in April, and the process was ultimately rewarding… but it was a creative/transition process that took up a solid chunk of time in 2017.
The launch of Redemption
At the same time as I was relaunching my last four books, I was also launching my first 100% self-published novel, Redemption. The finale to my Curburide Demon trilogy begun in my first two novels Covenant and Sacrifice, it was a book that I knew was likely to be homeless from the start of the writing — because there was no publisher invested in having a sequel.
While most of my books have been sold to a publisher based on the outline — and then I’d write them once sold — with Redemption, it was different. The current publisher of Covenant and Sacrifice is currently 47North, and they bought those books as part of a large auction of 1,000 other titles from Leisure Books in 2011. So they had no real stake in the novels. And they would not contract an “end-of-series” book title based on an outline. I had to write the whole novel and submit it to get them to respond about it… And as I expected, when I finished and submitted the book, they said “hey, great novel that we’re sure your fans will like but… we’re not really publishing much horror these days so… good luck.”
With the publisher of the other two books uninterested, and my current publisher, Samhain in the gutter, I decided the best way with that book was to issue it under my own Dark Arts Books imprint. So I spent December of 2016 editing the book and January of 2017 finalizing the layout, printing and shipping it to everyone who had pre-ordered it. You can read more about that process in Redemption, at last!
It was an exhausting first quarter, given all of those things together!
But by the summer, I got back on the horse, and began to really work on my latest, 10th novel — The House By The Cemetery. It was a book that I’d written an outline and sample chapters for a year earlier. I had an editor at Kensington interested in the book in 2016, but when he left the publisher, the project stalled.
I put it aside for a few months to finish Redemption and relaunch my Samhain books, but began to work on it again in June 2017. And then in August, I heard from Don D’Auria, my old editor from Leisure and Samhain. He was helping to launch Flame Tree Press, a new horror imprint for Flame Tree Publishing to debut in 2018… so I sent the sample material his way to look at. A few weeks later, I had an offer and began frantically working on finishing the book that I’d outlined so that it could be one of the first releases for the new imprint. THAT process ate up some of the 3rd and much of the 4th quarters of 2017.
So… 2017 to me was a lot about changing jobs and changing publishers.
Changes and Renovations
But there were some other changes and upgrades in my life, too. In the summer, we completely redid Shaun’s room — he was still sleeping in the bed that he’d had as a toddler (he’d had a wood crib that converted to a full bed — so he was in the same bed really for 12 years!) We bought him all new furniture and repainted the room. That was a project I hope never to do again. Though it turned out nice — I think he has a pretty great room for a soon-to-be teen now.
We also spent several weeks reorganizing/redeveloping one of our three basement rooms. It is the space I’ve always wanted to be strictly “the game room.” Thanks to my pinball friend Chad, we had the opportunity to add a 3rd machine (Fireball Classic) to the basement, so it became an imperative that we had to change the layout of the middle room of the basement to accommodate.
That sucked up a lot of September/October, as I pulled down shelves that had been on the walls for decades (and filled with our crap for the last decade!), built a new cabinet, installed a new stereo system, and repainted and switched the whole room around. But I’m happy that it’s now one of my favorite rooms in the house.
With the new change in my job, I won’t be traveling like I used to — which will mean a lot fewer “food pix” posted. But I did get to go to a few locales for work this year – the first half of the year was busy! Between work and family trips, I visited eight cities outside of Illinois:
- San Francisco
- Providence, RI
- New Orleans
- Kalamazoo, MI
- Grand Rapids, MI
- Door County, WI
2017 in Music
Highlights in music this year for me included new albums from Matthew Sweet (his best in a decade), OMD, Kesha, Styx, Erasure, and the debut of Dua Lipa.
- Neil Diamond
- Dennis DeYoung
- Lyle Lovett
- Goo Goo Dolls with Phillip Phillips
- Collective Soul
- Garbage & Blondie
- Alison Moyet
- Goblin with Morricone Youth
Something every month…
In January, I presented at a conference in San Francisco for work, and got to visit 21st Amendment Brewery, enjoy some super spicy chicken at Z&Y and close my trip with some amazing crab at the Fog Harbor Fish House.
At the start of February, I visited Rhode Island for the first time and enjoyed some chowder and a Citra Ass Down IPA at Union Station Brewery and an awesome lobster at Hemenway’s Seafood Grill & Oyster Bar.
And Geri and Shaun and I went to the Chicago Auto Show at McCormick Place, and drooled over the new Mustangs, as we do almost every year.
In March, I visited New Orleans and got to have shrimp and grits at an Emeril restaurant (NOLA) twice in the same week. And I visited my old faves Coop’s Place and Redfish Grill for some jambalaya and gumbo.
In April, Shaun and I drove to Kalamazoo, Michigan and had dinner at Bell’s Brewery’s Eccentric Cafe before hanging out with the Czernik’s for a couple days to attend Pinball at the Zoo. We saw lots of our pinball friends there, including Chad and Mike (who hosted an awesome after con party at his own pinball haven.) You can read my blog about the trip, but here are a few snapshots:
In May, thanks to a contact I made at Pinball at the Zoo, I drove up to Grand Rapids, Michigan and bought a custom arcade game setup — there’s a guy up there who takes empty whiskey barrels and installs arcade game systems in them. Shaun loved the game setup at the ‘Zoo and I thought it would be awesome in the room with my basement bar — so you can now hang in my basement and play Galaga, Pacman, Phoenix, Q-Bert, DigDug and hundreds of other games… on my whiskey barrel!
On the way home from that trip, I stopped at Founders Taproom and had some taproom-only ale — Centennial IPA cask-conditioned with bourbon-soaked oak — which was amazing.
For Geri’s birthday that month, we went to a Cubs game at Wrigley, and Shaun got the opportunity to actually run the bases, which was cool.
Afterwards, we all got to pose with the Cubs’ 2016 World Series Championship trophy.
Then in July, in the midst of doing Shaun’s room renovation, we took a short vacation to Door County, Wisconsin, which was wonderfully relaxing. We also managed to see a slew of concerts that month — it’s when I caught Dennis DeYoung, Lyle Lovett, Goo Goo Dolls, Collective Soul, Garbage and Blondie!
August/September is con season for me. As always, I had a booth at Flashback Weekend. The past two years I’ve also had tables at Chicago ComicCon in Rosemont, IL, and at HorrorHound Weekend in Indianapolis. I hung out with Brian Pinkerton, caught up with Jay Bonansinga and Jeff Jacobson and spoke on author panels again at Comic Con, thanks to Genese Davis, who put together the author program. I always have a great time catching up at these cons with so many friends and readers, especially Jerry Chandler and Don May from Synapse Films who I always make sure to have my booth next to. And in Indianapolis, we always get to have a reunion with our friends Troy and Diane Horn (this year joined by Lon and Amy Czarnecki!) And this year, Shaun got to meet three actors from one of our favorite movies, Better Off Dead (Curtis Armstrong and Amanda Wyss at Flashback and John Cusack at Comic Con).
Here are a few pictures from all three events:
Flashback Weekend 2017
Read my full Flashback blog.
Wizard World Chicago Comic Con 2017
Read my full Comic Con blog.
HorrorHound Weekend 2017 – Indianapolis
Read my full HorrorHound blog.
My final travel location for the year was Orlando… but I basically never left the convention center except for dinner, so it’s really not worth posting photos! Most of my nights after work I holed up at The Pub, and worked on The House by the Cemetery.
Concerts in the Fall
I saw Alison Moyet play in September at Chicago’s Park West which was amazing — I fell in love with her voice in high school when she was with Yaz and have followed her solo career ever since… but never had the opportunity to see her before.
And then in October just before Halloween, I went to see Goblin — the band that scored several Dario Argento movies, including Suspiria. It was the first time I’d been to Chicago’s Thalia Hall which is a great venue. And Morricone Youth opened the show with a great set. Here’s a clip I recorded of Suspiria (posted on my YouTube channel):
Then in November, we took Shaun to see Kansas, who were still touring their 40th Anniversary Tour of Leftoverture that I saw last year. Shaun proclaimed it the best concert he’d ever seen!
Winding down 2017…
Shaun and I went to Pinball Expo in Wheeling, IL, with the Czerniks as we have the past few years. But I didn’t travel any more, except to take my dad downtown for an overnight birthday celebration in Chicago with my stepbrother Jim (we took dad to see Blue Man Group and House of Blues Gospel Brunch, as well as to a couple blues clubs.)
Basically as the year began to wind down, I just worked on finishing The House By The Cemetery, my 10th novel. I turned it in to Flame Tree Press the first week of December… and then spent the rest of that month redesigning and relaunching my website. Over Christmas break, we took Shaun to see his first real musicals — Wicked in Chicago and Elf, The Musical in Aurora, which were both great.
And here we are. The first day of 2018.
I experienced and enjoyed so many things in 2017, but… it was kind of a manic year. I’ll be honest — I hope this year is quieter! I’d like to have more time to read a book or two, and enjoy the new basement game room.
Time will tell.
Happy New Year!