"Dwight blamed himself for turning Angelo into a monster, cuz he was the one started the whole thing. Angelo had been so normal, with tons of friends and college scholarships and like that. Now he spent his off-gig hours making lists of famous babes--babes were all they ate; Dwight figured that had something to do with his Mom, but Angelo claimed they tasted better--all the babes they wanted to eat in a notebook he called 'Recipes of the Rich and Famous.' Top of all the lists was always Annie Lennox cuz she was just the coolest."
"Cannibal Dwight's Special Purpose"
What can I say about Nancy Holder? She's the author with whom I've collaborated most frequently (two epic nonfiction tomes, with my wife Maryelizabeth Hart on board, and four novels, including the first Buffy/Angel crossover trilogy and the first Angel hardcover original). We lived in the same city for a couple of decades and for about 10 of those years saw each other frequently. She worked, for a while, at Mysterious Galaxy (and here, if you're a MySpacer), the specialty bookstore Maryelizabeth and I own with our friend Terry. Maryelizabeth, in fact, hooked Nancy up with the editor of her first tie-in novel, kicking her career in yet another direction. Of all the horror writers I'll be discussing here in October Country, Nancy is the one I know the best.
Which, in some ways, makes her the hardest to write about. At least, without revealing secrets she might not want known. The more you know, the harder it is to draw the line...
But one evening, very early in my writing career (book writing, anyway; I had already published a bunch of comics and a short story or two) we were standing in Nancy's home office looking at her shelves full of her own works and reference works and her impressive computer on the desk and more reference stuff on the floor because she had been, as usual, working on something, and it just struck me, and I said, "You have the life I want." Meaning professional life, of course, and even then with some caveats, because the appellation "the housewife of horror" would fit me even less well than it did her.
And here I am, sitting in my home office less than a decade after that, with shelves full of my own work nearby and reference works everywhere, spending time writing these essays instead of the book I should be working on because it's October Country around here, dammit, and I want to offer shout-outs to some of the people I have idolized and appreciated and read for so long. I've never been called "the house-husband of horror," and that's just fine--in our field, traditionally male-dominated, as they say, it's not likely anyone will have that particular tag hung on him.
"I am the most treasured, the most beautiful. My tail sparkles and gleams, my hair undulates like sunbeam shafts through the water. My skin is pale and rosy as a pearl. And I live in the most splendid of the seven seas, wonder upon wonder: brilliant Garibaldis and purple sawfish laze and bob; anemone carpets of orange, pink, and yellow spread beneath me as I drift, combing my hair; castles of red coral dot my domain, and majestic jade-green kelp forests, towering in the currents, mark my borders. Elaborate curtains of sponges and starfish adorn my bower, and sea treasure and luxury surrounds me. Seahorses cuddle me; maidens attend me. Young lords come in great haste when I call."
"I Hear the Mermaids Singing"
For a long time, although we had many mutual friends, including Chris Golden and John Brizzolara (who wrote a terrific thriller called Wirecutter, a science fiction novel, and many horror stories before succcumbing to the regular gig and paycheck of journalism), I managed not to meet Nancy. But in the days right before the opening of Mysterious Galaxy, she showed up at the store, dressed in a Western motif, appealing right away to the cowboy in me, and she was pretty and blonde and friendly, with that smile that, once you've had it directed your way, you're never likely to quite forget. She was a housewife if you define that as a woman who is married and lives in a house, but she was always more interested in writing the next story (more than 200 published, at last count) or book (somewhere around 80) than scrubbing the grout. She had a gift, though, for being friendly and outgoing and getting along in anyone's company--Nancy could go from a horror event with black T-shirted goths and candles burning atop human skulls to lunch in the executive dining room of a Fortune 500 corporation, and those around her in both places would get the impression that she was one of them, or at least sincerely interested in their lives.
Because she would be.
Nancy Holder is a supremely empathetic person, and one of the most valuable lessons she taught me among many, many others (be good to your editor, and if you have to piss her [or him] off, let him [or her] know about it as early as possible; being organized never hurts; look for the right word, even if it's in French or German or Sanskrit; and more, and more) is this: To be a good horror writer, you need to have the humanity to love your characters, while knowing the darkness in your soul that will allow you to put them through the worst pain you can imagine.
To be a really good horror writer, you can't shy away from describing that pain. Understand it, make it your own, then put it into words to share it with your readers. They will--oddly enough--appreciate the effort.
"One of them was a boy with no face. Two eyes peered from an oval that pulsed red gore, but when he smiled, his teeth sparkled and glittered, clean and pearly; and then a crab crawled out of his mouth and dropped into the goo, and flailed in it, its claws and body sinking, sinking into gut quicksand."
Dead in the Water
Nancy really came to prominence in the horror field in the early 90s, part of the uprising of woman writers that editor Jeanne Cavelos wisely championed with her Dell Abyss line (Melanie Tem, with whom Nancy collaborated, Kathe Koja, Poppy Z. Brite, Tanith Lee, and Kristine Kathryn Rusch, among others, were also part of that line). It made for some fun bookstore events, including the one at which a gray-haired little old lady (in the days before LOL meant laughing out loud) walked through the store's front door just as Poppy was reading a passage in which mixed blood and semen issued from a faucet--the LOL cast a mortified look at Poppy, then another at the audience, almost all of us looking back at her to see how she'd react, then turned and hurried back out the door. I don't know if she ever came back.
So what can I say about Nancy? This, pretty much: Thank you, Nance. For everything.
(Maryelizabeth, Jeff, Nancy)
"Screaming, as a blade sliced open her stomach and in the space that was made, the man with the switchblade and the little cornfield boy pushed up her guts and climbed into her abdomen, stepped down into her bowels, their footsteps loud and echoing.
"And she looked up and saw that she was flying upward, into a sea of green that pulsed, pulsed, wtih the rhythm of a heart.
"And the pulse thundered all around her, throbbing, bleeding into her, cascading down her throat, behind her eyes, her glass eyes.
"Her throat of glass, her eyes of glass, her heart of glass--