By Catherine Wagley
By Channing Sargent
By L.A. Weekly critics
By Amanda Lewis
By Catherine Wagley
By Carol Cheh
By Keegan Hamilton
By Bill Raden
Raymond van der Holt pondered the catalog. Would a seven-candle chandelier look good in the front room? The Restoration Hardware sale seemed too good to pass up. Then again, if he could just wait it out, there was the discount weekend in November or December...
This was how Raymond had been spending the better part of the past decade. Pondering catalogs, being selective about what he wanted, and being even more selective about what he actually bought. He knew he couldn’t spend as giddily as he used to — the royalties and movie options would eventually dry up, and he’d be left with nothing but his 1924 Craftsman house and the beautiful, meaningless objects within it.
At 55, he kept himself smooth skinned with a slew of nice-smelling ointments. He retained a full head of hair, which was a source of pride because his father had gone bald at 39, and he combed this silver nest before answering the door, no matter who rang, mailman or Jehovah’s Witness. He was not vain, per se; he just had an old-fashioned sense of decorum. During times of distress, he perked himself up by channeling Cary Grant gliding down the stairs with a highball. There was an original Batchelder-tile fireplace in his living room, muted and mellow with rabbits and pinecones. Gazing at it also calmed him, but Cary Grant had more zing.
Many years ago, as a Midwestern man of 27, he’d churned out a grisly trio of novels, the Deathwatchcycle. Within two years, all three had become international best-sellers. By the time he was 30, he’d been anointed a savant on both sides of the Atlantic, not to mention Japan, where his most ardent (and terrifying) fans lived.
His subjects were grave robbers, necromancers, zombies and — his favorite — vampires. Part of his success lay in his resistance to the term “horror” and his refusal to play the part of the schlockmeister; he preferred that reviewers and fans alike refer to his works as “blood epics.” He found it gratifying, for example, when The New York Times described his books as “chilling chronicles of necromania,” tying him more to Lovecraft and Poe than to Stephen King. Although his characters were fantastical, he steeped his tales in truthful emotions — real wants and real fears, the other components of his winning formula. His zombie stories were allegories of xenophobia and race hate, and his vampire saga contained his own anxieties about aging. He never had mummies leaping out of the closet just to say “Boo!”
After a successful run of 10 books, he decided he had nothing more to say. It became tiresome to keep up with changing expectations. Worse, he found himself too frequently invited to soirees with other practitioners of the genre. It wasn’t the competition he feared but the homework. He dreaded having to thumb through novels beforehand so there’d be something to discuss — writers of this type were notoriously solipsistic and couldn’t handle conversation outside of their books. Anyway, their stories were never as vigorous and heartfelt as his, and there were few things more unbearable than an insincere werewolf epic.
Then, there were the fans. The disturbing ones, who sent him dead animals and decomposed organs, lived in Japan, and he found them easy enough to ignore. But his target audience, the people for whom he started writing his books in the first place, were nowhere to be found.
In his naiveté, he’d hoped that his writing would draw in legions of tousle-haired, doe-eyed teenagers he could lure into his bed, ruby-lipped androgynes who wore Mom’s pantyhose late at night while listening to jazz. Boys with faces like angels, and minds like devils. But instead, Raymond found — to his genuine horror — that the great majority of his readers were suburban housewives. These denim-wrapped females formed book clubs and organized role-playing afternoons around his books; they invited him to inaugurate picnics and autograph raffle tickets. They squealed freely at his book signings, and sometimes, the chubby ones came dressed as sirens from his zombie cycle. He shuddered thinking about the way they ran around, laughing, exchanging e-mail addresses and Wiccan greetings. Whenever he read at a Barnes & Noble in the suburbs, he smelled the strip mall tacos on their breath.
These days, Raymond couldn’t re-enter the marketplace if he wanted to. Bookstores crippled him. A few years ago they were bad enough, filled with tomes by authors who took macho pride in the plainness of their prose, writing about coffee shops and trailer parks and the tattoos on their pale asses. But now, now was worse. Historical thrillers set in olde Europe, doleful as doorstops and stuffed to the gills with encyclopedia vomit; slim compendia by “modern humorists” who chronicled painfully ordinary situations and parlayed their modest gifts into radio programs, TV appearances and campus tours; and the absolute pits — catty romans à clef about life in New York’s upper crust written by venal young things in stiletto heels.
There was no way he belonged with these people. He longed for the days of clichés he only partly despised — women’s stories where empty tumblers of Dubonnet and old 78’s, played over and over, stood in for romantic agony, or war stories where likable heroes got wounded and actually died. He’d rather starve than compete with the kids of today, thank you very much.