It is snowing.
It is supposed to snow for the next three days, ushering in Wisconsin’s winter season. Although Christmas displays have already been set up in retail stores, and families are eagerly making Thanksgiving plans, my mind is elsewhere.
Away from strings of multicolored lights and grinning snowmen.
Away from plastic trees stuffed into living rooms, gleaming gleeful and garish with bulbs and angels and candy canes.
I am thinking of November 6th, when I had my very first author event at Other Skies, a new weird fiction bookstore located on Dodd Street in Saint Paul, Minnesota.
On that day, the wind howled.
On that day, dead leaves blew upward into crazy cyclones.
It was not yet snowing. The dry carapace-leaves still crunched wonderfully beneath one’s shoes. Faces of leering jack o’ lanterns peered out from porches, driveways, and stoops—now beginning to rot and puddle into a soft, orange rind.
I got dressed.
I drove for an hour and crossed the Wisconsin-Minnesota border, navigated the wild freeway traffic, and, at long last, arrived at Other Skies.
A change in atmosphere.
The street is a long black ribbon. The buildings are old-fashioned; brown brick facades built in the early twentieth century. Their large front windows serve as mirrors, reflecting yourself as you walk past and wonder briefly at the mystery of who you are.
Harkening back to an earlier era, Other Skies is a building one enters with a peculiar sense of wonder and unease.
One feels as if they’re entering a book shop from long, long ago. As if the years have obscured this place from the world, and yet now, here you are, looking up at the ancient brick frontage, wondering at the strange decals upon the window (is that a tentacle?) and now, you open the black screen door, your hand is on the doorknob, and its cold brass feels strangely good beneath your palm, and then you step inside.
From here on, it’s all over.
No turning back.
How can you? Look at all these rare, wonderful books lining the walls! And the tall, stately clock standing sentinel in the corner, with skeletal black hands whirling about the clockface! And the cozy couch beneath the window! And the . . . casket?
Yes. A casket.
And it’s open.
Thankfully (or not thankfully, depending on the sort of person you are), a dead body isn’t lying in wait. No pale moon flesh, closed eyes, purple lips. Rather, the cushiony interior of the long grey casket serves as a display for especially rare books and items—including what appears to be a First Edition of The House on the Borderland by William Hope Hodgson.
Right about this time, the proprietors of this fine establishment, Josh Hames and Becca Olene, will warmly welcome you. They are here if you’ve any questions, or if you need help finding anything. For their knowledge regarding books verges on encyclopedic, and their manners are polite and genial.
Other Skies, you see, deals in used and rare books—especially those relating to horror, fantasy, science-fiction, and the occult.
Because I am a writer of strange tales, of macabre fantasies, of horror tales—whatever you wish to call them—it seems there is no better place than Other Skies to host my first author event.
I was given a nice tall chair, and a podium, and something to drink.
I set out my books for display. Mr. Hames decided the prices for them (I’m grateful he did, as I have a habit of underpricing my years’ worth of hard work). About ten minutes before the event was supposed to start, people began wandering in.
I had expected a total of, perhaps, two or three folks to show up. I have heard and seen nightmares of scarcely attended author events before. I’d fully intended to remain stoic about the evening.
Instead, we got a full room.
After Josh’s formal introduction, I delivered a small speech about being a writer, the sort of stories I tell, and why I tell them. After this, I gave a short reading of Night of the Child, a Halloween tale from my latest book, Beneath the Jack O’ Lantern Sky.
Next came an in-depth discussion regarding all things weird fiction, creativity, and storytelling. Josh, quite thankfully, had a great deal of thoughtful questions to ask me, and thus the evening was saved from languishing into awkward silence. We found, in the course of this discussion, the surprising fact that nobody seemed to have an exact, or perfectly adequate definition of ‘weird fiction’—which is probably all the better.
It took some time, but eventually audience members began to engage, and soon a dialogue between author, bookstore owner, and audience was underway.
I gave one last reading. The lights were turned low and dim. A soft yellow light provided just enough illumination for me to see my papers.
Using a voice that may well belong to the nineteenth century, I performed a reading of The Tower: A Tale in Ten Sonnets. This piece is a hybrid of tale and poem, telling the tale of a reclusive man who resides in a great tower in the country. Soon, he is besieged by strange, fish-like creatures with sharp teeth, thick lips, barbel-like whiskers, and fierce claws which infect one with a mysterious, green-glowing plague, should they find purchase in one’s flesh.
The performance went over very well.
Books were purchased.
Books were signed.
And the evening, for myself, as well as for Josh and Becca, proved a resounding success.
I’ve been invited back for another author event come October 2023.
If you missed this one, you’ll won’t want to miss the next.
Things are only bound to get more, shall we say . . . weird.
One may purchase a signed & limited edition of Beneath the Jack O’ Lantern Sky: Tales of Sweet Hollow here: https://www.weirdhousepress.com/product/beneath-the-jack-o-lantern-sky/