A Summer of Love
On The Horns Of A Dilemma
1967. Muir Beach, California
Robert had taken LSD three hours ago and now he was trapped in the bathroom. It was a small bathroom in a small beach house. The place looked out over the Pacific Ocean and could only be reached by climbing a hundred wooden steps or riding a cable-driven cargo trolley. The place belonged to Linda, Robert’s acquaintance, a woman who made tie dye and batik clothing.
Robert wasn’t a casual taker of psychedelic drugs, but he was with good people: yoga practitioners, Tai Chi enthusiasts. He felt safe. His friend Pam was at the party, and his room mate Steve.
It was an intimate gathering, about a dozen people agreeing to share an experience in a beautiful setting. Linda dispensed a tab of LSD to each arrival. Now it was getting towards evening and the group had settled into serious tripping. There was a bit of talk. Some giggles from a couple on the sofa. It was quiet.
The sound of the surf tumbled in the background.
Robert was hallucinating but when nature called she could not be denied. He viewed the act of taking a shit as a comedic episode, a meeting of the sacred and profane. He made a little mantra from it, mentally chanting the words to a samba beat: how could a thing so huge still have to take a poo. He danced a little samba step as he crossed the room to the bathroom. How could a thing so huge… still have to take a poo. The Huge was himself, in his expanded universe, the hyper-galactic infinite divine. And yet, way way down there in the microcosmic world, his body still had to eliminate the dross from his intestine. It all came down to the most common things.
The bathroom was a cubby hole. It had a toilet, a small window and a wooden stand that held an incense burner and a couple of magazines. An old tarnished mirror hung on the wall opposite the throne.
Before the toilet episode began, Robert had been watching Linda move about, with her bun of blonde hair trailing cute little wisps. She wore a sleeveless batik dress of luminous green and a necklace of silver and turquoise. Robert liked the shape of her. She was well toned, contained in a nice little parcel of soft firmness. Her breasts lifted the neckline of the dress and the effect was mesmerizing. Linda was single, Linda was beautiful, and Linda had given him a smile as she dispensed the tablet of LSD. Robert interpreted this smile as an invitation. He thought Linda was conveying a message. “Ask me to make love,” he thought she was beaming at him, “ask me.”
The problem…. that is, the problem before getting trapped in the bathroom, was working up the nerve to ask Linda to make love. Other couples were pairing up and vanishing into various nooks on the property, riding the sound of the mighty surf into psychedelic splendor.
The party’s social math, the indices of affinity seemed to put Robert and Linda together. Robert had never done this kind of thing before. He had never approached a woman to ask if she wanted to “go somewhere quiet”. The complexities of an LSD high built a scaffold atop Robert’s shyness. How do I do that? he wondered, how do I come right out and ask a woman to make love? He wondered and feared, and wondered and feared, and tried to engage Linda in pleasant conversation but an acid conversation can be very weird. There are multiple interpretations layered on every word and phrase.
If he said, “Hi,” well, okay, there you go. Was he greeting her or was he making an insipid observation on his state of psychic elevation?
“You’re beautiful” he said, at one point. “You look stunning in that dress.” That was not ambiguous. Linda merely said “Thank You” and the conversation jumped off a cliff and went splat. If only she would make things easier for him! Maybe he was wrong. Maybe she didn’t send the signal he thought she sent. But her fingers had lingered on his hand as she offered him the white tablet. She had given him a deep soulful look.
Then his stomach sent him another kind of signal. The bathroom was directly off the one large room of the house. The room was virtually the entire living space. There was a counter, a kitchenette, and a short fight of stairs that led to a loft bedroom. A thin plywood door separated the bathroom from everything else.
Robert’s poo was a loose disgusting mess and he was about to turn the flush handle when the thought occurred to him: what if the sound of the toilet flushing sends someone into a bad trip? Or worse, what if it sends everyone into a bad trip?
The house was high on the bluff and the toilet flushed with a distinct sound as the water forcefully drained. Sploosh! it said, splodda splodda splodda splodda, and all the pipes in the house rumbled and whooshed for what seemed hours.
Everyone is so high! Robert thought. If I suddenly introduce these sounds with all their associations, they will drown out the Ravi Shankar on the record player and they will enter people’s LSD-saturated inner landscapes as a downward spiral that will carry them into the underworld! People on acid are so suggestible! I’ll ruin the party!
He couldn’t look at the poo. He had closed the lid and was frantically using a National Geographic to fan the fumes outside. He was on the verge of puking, which would add another dimension to his problem. There was a box of incense and a pack of matches, which he now used as he attempted to work his way out of this mess.
What am I going to do? What am I going to do?
Another part of Robert’s psyche was laughing at him, saying, oh this is pathetic, you’re wasting your whole fucking trip on idiotic paranoia. Robert fought back. It’s unselfish paranoia! he replied. I just don’t want to send anyone down the toilet. Acid’s unpredictable. It can be a catalyst for deeply buried psychic material. I can’t take that chance!
It seemed that hours passed. Robert fanned fumes out the window, lit incense, lit matches until the pack was gone. There finally came a breaking point.
Fuck this, Robert decided. It’s inevitable. I have to flush the toilet. He reached out and touched the cold metal handle with its contoured shape. He caressed it for a moment. Then, in an act of passionate courage, he pressed down and released the water.
Sploosh! Oh god it was deafening! Splodda splodda splodda, down down and down into the depths of the underworld. The pipes went Whhhsssssh like Boeing 707’s lining up on a runway before takeoff. There were at least eight people just a few feet away from this sonic pandemonium. They might tear him to pieces when he emerged. He, personally, had bummed their trip! They might ostracize him forever, banish him from other weekend retreats at other beautiful houses full of beautiful women.
His heart was beating frantically. Okay, he decided, let’s face the consequences of my irresistible evacuation. Robert turned the knob and exited the bathroom, closing the door with the barest of clicks.
It was almost dark. Sitar music came gently through the speakers, playing an evening raga. Candles were lit and most of the group sat rocking to and fro, lying on beanbag chairs or prone on yoga mats. Nothing had happened as a result of Robert’s flush. Nothing at all.
A candle had been set in the middle of the room. Linda was alone on a cushion, sitting in yoga posture, meditating on the flickering light. Her eyes were open and appeared radiant and enormous. She glanced at Robert without reproach. The whole episode had passed without a ripple, it was a product of Robert’s self-conscious agony.
What the hell, he thought, just do it. He found a cushion and sat next to Linda, replicating her full lotus, displaying his credentials as a yogi. His feet rested easily on his thighs and his spine straightened as he gathered the nerve to approach this gorgeous woman.
Linda’s shoulder looked velvety in the candle light. Robert gently put his fingers on her body, just the four tips of the fingers of his right hand, touching her oh so lightly. He watched Linda’s response. She didn’t flinch or move away from him. Nor did she move towards him. She was set in her own center. That’s okay, Robert thought. That’s okay. Again, his heart beat fast, his stomach turned over with anxiety. I’ve got to do this, he urged himself. I’ve got to break through my fear. You get nothing when you don’t ask. So just ask while you have the chance.
“Linda,” he said, “You’re beautiful. Your skin is amazing.”
She smiled a subtle little smile but remained facing forward. Robert was about to commit himself but he realized that he hadn’t prepared his words. How should he put it? “Linda, will you make love with me?” Or more commanding. “Linda, make love with me.” That might seem too aggressive. How about “I would love to make love to you, Linda.” Oh, that was clumsy. Love to make love. Oh fuck it. He leaned close to her and quietly spoke into her ear. “Linda, love make me, oh, uh, you know, I really dig you, um, um, this is hard. What I mean to say is I want you to make love to you. I mean me.. I want.to make love to you. There! Whew!”
Linda’s head turned with agonizing slowness. The huge shining eyes rotated until they met Robert’s eyes. She was a sacred dakini, a deva, a goddess!
“Robert,” she said, “you’re sweet, but you’re just not my type.”
Robert squeezed the pillow, almost pulling it out from under himself. “Okay, okay, that’s cool, I understand that, it’s just that, well, okay… thanks.”
He stood up holding the pillow in front of his body, then dropped it back to the floor and walked onto the deck. He could see the last of the sun’s rays as they vanished into the starry night. His vulnerable heart opened and wept. After a time, as he watched the sky, he realized that at last he was free from all the ridiculous bullshit he had just put himself through. He didn’t have to hook up with Linda. He didn’t have to hook up with anyone.
The Milky Way was alive, writhing with creative force as gods and Buddhas contemplated the infinite void. The sky was the most beautiful thing Robert had ever seen.
Arthur Rosch is a novelist, musician, photographer and poet. His works are funny, memorable and often compelling. One reviewer said “He’s wicked and feisty, but when he gets you by the guts, he never lets go.” Listeners to his music have compared him to Frank Zappa, Tom Waits, Randy Newman or Mose Allison. These comparisons are flattering but deceptive. Rosch is a stylist, a complete original. His material ranges from sly wit to gripping political commentary.
Arthur was born in the heart of Illinois and grew up in the western suburbs of St. Louis. In his teens he discovered his creative potential while hoping to please a girl. Though she left the scene, Arthur’s creativity stayed behind. In his early twenties he moved to San Francisco and took part in the thriving arts scene. His first literary sale was to Playboy Magazine. The piece went on to receive Playboy’s “Best Story of the Year” award. Arthur also has writing credits in Exquisite Corpse, Shutterbug, eDigital, and Cat Fancy Magazine. He has written five novels, a memoir and a large collection of poetry. His autobiographical novel, Confessions Of An Honest Man won the Honorable Mention award from Writer’s Digest in 2016.
More of his work can be found at www.artrosch.com
Want to be sure not to miss any of Arthur’s “Mind Fields” segments? Subscribe to Writing to be Read for e-mail notifications whenever new content is posted or follow WtbR on WordPress. If you find it interesting or just entertaining, please share.
This is the longest book review I have ever written. This book was so packed full of useful information for rising authors and screenwriters that I felt I needed to cover it all. If you are an upcoming horror author or screenwriter, trying to figure out how to get a foot in the door or where to start in the matter of launching your career, Horror 101: The Way Forward offers “career advice by seasoned professionals”. Different writers will find different essays useful, so I’m giving you a rundown on all the informative essays included.
Compiled by Crystal Lake Publishing, this collection of essays has something for every writer. The anthology features quotes from the masters such as Stephen King, Ray Bradbury, Isaac Asimov, J.R.R. Tolkien, Jack London, Clive Barker, H.P.Lovecraft, Edgar Allen Poe and many others. Advice from professional writers and editors covers all aspects of the horror writing business, and the business of writing, in general. From submitting your work, to marketing and promotion, to self-publishing and building your writing business, to crafting your work and the writing process.
The answers to many questions on the topic of submissions and all other aspects of writing as a business are found within its pages. Not getting positive response from your queries? First read Rejection Letters – How to Write and Respond to Them by award winning author Jason Bark, which offers an attempt to write a rejection letter that doesn’t sting, (at least, not so much). Then, flip to Seven Signs that Make Agents and Editors say “Yes!” to learn what agents and editors look for. Buttoning Up Before Dinner by horror author Gary Fry also offers advice to put you in the good graces of publishers and editors and create well-written stories.
Unsure how to submit your work? Submitting Your Work: Read the F*****g Guidelines by freelance writer and editor John Kenny offers tips for making a professional submission from an editor’s perspective. And What a Short Story Editor Does by horror, fantasy and science fiction editor Ellen Dallow explains the responsibilities of short story editor.
Looking for sound career advice? Be the Writer You Want to Be by television writer and novelist, Steven Savile recycles the best writing advice the author was ever given. The Five Laws of Arzen by award winning dark fiction author Michael A. Arzen offers hints to help you survive a writing career. How to Fail as an Artist in Ten Easy Steps: A Rough List Off the Top of My Head, by Confirmed Failure… by horror author John Palisano provides a reverse list of things you should do to be a successful writer.
Wondering if you need an agent to get your work in front of editors and publishers? Do You Need an Agent? by author Eric S. Brown is a discussion about the need, (or not), for an agent and relates the personal experience of how the author became successful without one. Also included are essays on building your writing business in Balancing Art and Commerce by author and screenwriter Taylor Grant , offering a look at various mediums one can write in and earn a living & advice in the business of writing. There are even essays offered on the lucrative business of ghostwriting, with a personal experience as a ghostwriter shared by dark fiction author Blaze McRob, and Ghostwriting: You Can’t Write it if You Can’t See It by award winning author Thomas Smith instructs on how to step into the author’s shoes and write like them.
If you are hoping to find some help muddling through the vast world of marketing and promotion, The Year After Publication by horror & thriller novelist Rena Mason offers an account of what to expect once you publish your first book and a walk through the exhaustive process of book marketing. How to be Your Own Agent, Whether You Have One or Not by horror writer, editor and publisher Joe Mynhardt offers tips for marketing your stories and yourself. Reviewing by founder of Ginger Nuts of Horror, (one of the most viewed resources in horror fiction), Jim McLeod discusses getting your book in the review pile & what the writer should do while awaiting publication of the review.
If you’ve not attended a conference or convention before, Pitch to Impress: How to Stand Out From the Convention Crowd by editor R.J. Cavender provides a guide to making a pitch that will snag agents’ and publishers’ attention. Tips for networking at conferences are offered by dark fiction author Tim Waggoner in You Better (Net)Work, and Networking at Conventions by Bram Stoker Award winning author Lucy A. Synder offers a look at the benefits conventions have to offer and a breakdown on some of the major ones for horror writers.
There is a plethora of advice offered on publishing, including a comparison of traditional publishing vs. digital publishing in Weighing Up Traditional Publishing and Ebook Publishing by award winning author Robert W. Walker; Publishing by editor and publisher Simon Marshall-Jones compares publishing in the digital arena with the way it was done in the past & how to become an independent publisher; and Glenn Rolle Toes the Line with Samhain Horror Head Hancho, Don D. Auria by Glenn Rolle with Interview that maps Auria’s rise to the top.
The arena of self-publishing is also explored in Make Your Own Dreams by horror and suspense novelist Iain Rob Wright. Besides being a plug for self-publishing’s evening of the playing table. It relates personal experience and advice for self-publishing, walking us through the self-publishing process. Self-Publishing: Thumb on the Button by author Kenneth W. Cain gives a list of things to think about before you choose to self-publish.
Also included are essays on the different mediums for horror: Poetry and Horror by Blaze McRob, and Horror for Kids: Not Child’s Play by novelist Francois Bloemhof offers guidelines for writing horror for youth. Several essays on comics and screenwriting, (one of the biggest outlets of horror today), are also included.
Horror Comics – How to Write Gory Scripts for Gruesome Artists by novelist Jasper Bark discusses the craft of writing horror comics and the relationship between writer and artist. Some Thoughts on My Meandering Within the World of Dark and Horror Art by artist Niall Parkinson offers thoughts on creating dark and horror art. So You Want to Write Comic Books… by novelist C.E.L. Welsh discusses what goes into the making of a comic book.
From Pros to Scripts by author and screenwriter Shane McKenzie talks about the many challenges of screenwriting. Writing about Films and For Film by award winning writer, editor and screenwriter Paul Kane gives the story of the author’s rise to success and tips for learning the lingo of the business. Screamplays! Writing the Horror Film by award winning author and screenwriter Lisa Morton offers the basics of screenwriting, description and dialog, and tips for getting your screenplay made into a movie. Screenplay Writing: The First Cut is the Deepest by author, director and editor Dean M. Dinkel recaps of the author’s experience at the Cannes Film Festival.
Essays on writing a digital world include Running a Webserial, or How to Lose Your Mind, One Week at a Time by Southern author Tonia Brown, providing a brief history of serials and a rundown of what goes into running one on the web; Friendship, Writing, and the Internet by Bram Stoker Award winning novelist Weston Ochse with reflections on online connections with like-minded writers, and Audiobooks: Your Words to Their Ears by horror novelist Chet Williamson discusses what it takes to create and audiobook and what to expect from the effort.
Of course, there is also plenty of advice on crafting a quality story. What is Horror? by author and novelist Graham Masterson offers general writing advice which could be applied to any genre and instructs on how to push your writing to the edge. The Journey of “Rudy Jenkins Buries His Fears” by author Richard Thomas takes us on a walk through of the writing, editing and submissions process of a story. Writing Short Fiction by horror and thriller novelist Joan De La Haye offers tips to tighten your writing and move the story forward, and discusses where to look to sell your story and how to choose where to submit. Ten Short Story Endings to Avoid by Scottish horror novelist William Meikle supplies a valuable list, if you want to avoid having readers feel cheated. From Reader to Writer: Finding Inspiration by publishing and editing consultant Emma Audsley offers advise for attacking the blank page. Writing Exercises by horror writer Ben Eads provides exercises in description and dialogue. Writer’s Block by short fiction writer and novelist Mark West discusses how to keep the creative juices flowing. Editing and revision are covered with Editing and Proofreading by author and editor Diane Parking presents good reasons not to send out a first draft, and How to Dismember Your Darlings – Editing Your Own Work by Jasper Bark gives a brief guide on how to self-edit.
A few essays outline the needs of a writer and suggestions on how to meet them. Filthy Habits – Writing and Routine by Jasper Bark offers a look at the benefits of creating a daily writing routine. A Room of One’s Own – the Lonely Path of a Writer by horror and fantasy writer V. H. Leslie discusses the need for solitude and space to write in. Writing Aloud by screenwriter and author Lawrence Santoro outlines the benefits of reading aloud as a part of the writing process.
Also included are Partners in the Fantastic: The Pros and Cons of Collaborations by novelist Michael McCarty, which looks at the views of various authors on collaborations, and Writing the Series by series author Armand Rosamilia, which explains why Rosamilia writes series.
Several essays offer advice specific to writing in the horror genre. Making Contact by award winning novelist Jack Ketchum discusses how to turn what you know into a horror show. Bitten by the Horror Bug by horror author and screenwriter Edward Lee looks at what motivates us to write horror. Reader Beware by author Siobhan McKinney explores the role fear plays in horror. Bringing the Zombie to Life by author Harry Shannon maps out four components of a good zombie story. The Horror Writers’ Association – The Genres Essential Ingredient by author and President of the Horror Writers’ Association (HWA), Rocky Wood gives a rundown on the HWA.
What’s the Matter With Splatter? by horror writer and Vice-President of the AHWA, Daniel I. Russell discusses the use of blood, gore and splatter in horror fiction or screenwriting, gives tips on how to use it to gain the desired effect, and discusses why some gore doesn’t get a second thought. Avoiding What’s Been Done to Death by British horror writer Ramsay Campbell defines good horror fiction & emphasizes originality. The (Extremely) Short Guide to Writing Horror by dark fiction author Tim Waggoner offers an introduction to writing horror, including techniques and brief definitions, and a list of good resources for horror writers. Growing Ideas by horror writer Gary McMahon offers a look into the author’s writing process. Writing Horror: 12 Tips on Making a Career of It by horror novelist Steve Rasnic Tem instructs on building your own writer’s toolbox and advice for entering the profession of writing horror. The Cheesy Trunk of Horror by international best selling author Scott Nicholson provides a look at both writer and reader perspectives on horror and dark fiction. Class: Vaginas in Horror by science fiction, urban fantasy and horror novelist Theresa Derwin offers an overview of women in the horror industry. And the afterward by Crystal Lake Publishing’s editor, Joe Mynhardt, includes his own advice for writing horror.
Horror 101: The Way Forward is based on the sound advice of seasoned professionals that is useful to horror writers in any stage of their careers. I recommend it with four quills for anyone who wants to write horror in either fiction or screenwriting.
Kaye Lynne Booth does honest book reviews on Writing to be Read in exchange for ARCs at no charge. Have a book you’d like reviewed? Contact Kaye at kayebooth(at)yahoo(dot)com.
Rest and relaxation: that was the agenda for the day. After two intense weeks of me attending classes, while Greg sat in a dorm without even one working cable hook-up, and then a five-day work week, while we simultaneously tried to catch up on everything that had fallen behind while we were gone, we were due for some recreational activities. We were heading up the old stage road that runs on the north side of the Arkansas, from just east of Howard, all the way to Wellsville. We had chosen this route because a portion of this road is four-wheel drive, and we wanted to give our Jeep a little workout.
So, here we are, bumping along a particularly rocky patch, and I find myself thinking about the area terrain and how it might be worked into the western story that I began for class three weeks ago. It occurs to me that one of the changes that I made to the story last night is going to cause me a major plot flaw. Where an act of nature is my protagonist’s saving grace, it seems that, were it real, it would also cause her horse to kill her. I’m trying to work it out in my head, but I just can’t find any way around it. If lightning strikes, the horse is going to get scared and take off, dragging my character, Delilah, along by the noose around her neck, which happens to be attached to his saddle horn, and she will be helpless to stop it. I hardly notice the roughness of the terrain, as I am bumped and jostled, my thoughts overshadowing the external world.
The scene I’m trying to hash out follows the brutal beating and rape of my protagonist. After reading my first draft, my instructor felt a hesitation in my writing of this scene, and he was right. I was hesitant to write this scene. I knew that it was risky, and I might turn some readers off with it, but I felt that it is a crucial part of the story, which sets up everything that follows, so I had chosen to try to write it anyway. “If you are going to write it, don’t do it half-way,” he said, meaning that I should depict the horrendousness of the scene fully and not let my own hesitation show through in my writing. I thought about and decided that this scene really is integral to my story, so I must hurdle my own hesitancy, and write the scene, so my readers can buy into it.
My current dilemma is that I’ve chosen to scrap the scene that follows and start over, so I have to figure out a way for Delilah to survive the horrendous scene and go on, without the handsome stranger riding in to save her, (after all, it is a western, not a romance), because I wrote him out when I scrapped it, so he no longer exists. From out of nowhere, I hear a voice, “Why do I have ta be so damn passive?”
It startles me out of my thoughts about the book. I look around to see where the voice had come from, but we are still rocking and bouncing along, and even if we weren’t, there’s not a soul for miles along this little used trail. Greg didn’t appear to have heard anything unusual, and I wasn’t about to say anything. After living with me for thirty years, he knows I’m a little crazy, but I don’t see the need to remind him of this.
“Do ya really think I’m just gonna lie down and take it? Yer instructor told you that I was too passive, and yer peers agreed, so why won’t ya listen to ‘em?” The voice piped up again. It is a distinctly female voice, and now I recognize it. It is the voice of Delilah.
Another one of my instructors had talked about letting your characters speak to you, because they’re the only ones that know what is supposed to happen in the story. You see, it’s not really your story. She said that it’s their story, and if you listen, the characters will tell you what is supposed to happen next, because they know, even when you don’t. I had never created a character that was real enough to talk to me, so I don’t think I really got it at the time. Now, here is Delilah, talking in my head, telling me how to fix what’s not right in my story! I can really hear her, even if my husband doesn’t. Now, I get it!
“Okay.” I say in my head, (again, no need to alarm my poor husband). “But what can you do? Your hands are tied behind your back, and the noose is around your neck. Can you really do anything but be passive at this point?”
“What if my hands weren’t tied?” she asks.
“But, your hands are tied,” I say.
“What if they weren’t?” she counters.
I sigh. “Okay. If your hands weren’t tied, you might be able to save yourself, assuming the impact of the fall doesn’t knock you out cold.” I had assumed that it would, but perhaps Delilah is tougher than I had, at first, believed.
“So I’ll ask ya again. Why are ya making me so damn passive?”
“Well you certainly aren’t passive when it comes to giving me advice on the story,” I reply, with more than a little indignity. “But if your hands weren’t tied, you wouldn’t be in this situation in the first place. You are only passive because you have no choice, given the situation.”
“Exactly!” she says. “So, allow me to change the situation.”
By now, my mind is shifting gears. If her hands were freed somehow, at the end of the scene, she might still be dragged by her horse, but she might be able to prevent him strangling her to death. “So, you’re saying that your character wouldn’t just lie there passively? That you would be working to free yourself, even as he is beating you?”
“Now yer using yer head,” she says and, I swear, I felt her wink at me. Then, she was gone. Her exit left a vacuum of space where my mind had been focused. She had only come and stayed long enough to get me back on track, so the story could go where it was supposed to.
“Where do you want to stop?” Greg asked, bringing me back to the rocky trail of reality.
I smile. When we do stop, I will have my pen and paper ready, because now I know what happens in my story. My character told me. Now, all I have to do is write it down.