Why Gavin Patchett, and Why Clifton Heights? A Guest Post from Author Kevin Lucia
Author Kevin Lucia has been touring the blogosphere discussing his upcoming book Things You Need from Crystal Lake Publishing. The entries thus far have been centered around fictional author Gavin Patchett. Today, we "hear from" Kevin himself:
So Gavin Patchett's going to take a backseat today as I talk a bit about where the idea of a fictional altar ego came from, and why I seem to keep writing stories taking place in my fictional town of Clifton Heights, New York. First of all, Gavin Patchett.
Where'd he come from?
Well, I've always been intrigued by fictional authors meant to stand in as altar egos of their creators. Probably the first I ever encountered was Timothy Underhill, the “author” of Peter Straub's Koko, Mystery, The Throat, In the Night Room, and lost boy lost girl. To me, it seemed like an amazing concept. As writers, we spend so much time crafting our fictional worlds, and depending on the subject matter, even though the plot details are fictional, we lovingly craft tales which seek to convey “truth.” The idea that we could craft characters which stand in for us, in some ways speak for us, conveying those “truths” we hold so dear?
I loved it.
Other authors have done this, of course. Stephen King not as specifically as Straub, but his Narrative Voice is so often very present, and – though many fans criticized it – I loved it when he wrote himself into the Dark Tower. The idea that King was fated to create and chronicle Roland's story, that all the universes depended on it, and that something sought to prevent King from finishing Roland's story, that King himself was frightened of what he had to write?
Again, I loved it.
From the very beginning, the thought of both a mythos and a fictional chronicler of this mythos as a stand-in for me held great appeal. I remember, one year, when Abby and I were on a short vacation down in Pennsylvania, driving through the Camelback area. I wish I could remember the exact location. In any case, we made a wrong turn and found ourselves driving through what was, for all intents and purposes, a boarded up and closed vacation town of sorts.
Right then I thought: what a great framing device! Abby and I – actually using our real names – make a wrong turn while on vacation in the Adirondacks, and find ourselves in a ghost town. Exploring a few buildings, I come across a manuscript (I never exactly worked out where or how) which detailed the events leading to the town's demise.
Now, that initial version of Clifton Heights never came to be. Does destruction loom in my small town's future? Do I someday need to blow it up, so I can move on to other stories, much like King did to Castle Rock in Needful Things?
Who knows? Let's be honest, for a moment: I still operate, for the most part, in the small press. Even with forthcoming releases from Cemetery Dance Publications – two novellas, entitled Mystery Road and The Night Road (unrelated, despite the similar titles) – I'm not exactly at the point where I'm too concerned that I've written myself into a corner. I teach full-time, and that's not going to change any time soon, so my “living” doesn't depend on my art. Though I want to make good business decisions, I also only want to write stories I feel personally drawn to.
I only want to write Truth.
So I can't really say what will happen to Clifton Heights. In some ways, it's sad that Charles L. Grant left us before answering the mysteries behind his haunted small town, Oxrun Station (sadder still that I never got to meet him), but in some ways: maybe it's for the best. Maybe knowing why Oxrun Station is cursed would've proved to be a disappointment. And who knows? Maybe Grant never would've told us.
So maybe that's what I'll do. But then again, I'm Kevin Lucia, not Charles L. Grant, nor could I ever hope to be him. I have to be me and write what's in me, so I guess we'll just have to wait and see what the ultimate fate of Clifton Heights is.
Why write so many stories in one small town? I know I'm leaving the Gavin Patchett issue dangling, but this feels like a natural segue. Anyhow – why keep writing stories one small town? Don't I see it as...limiting?
Not at all. I mean, I can confess to thinking lately that I'd like to write something else completely unconnected to Clifton Heights, and in different genres. Those ideas are still percolating, however, and are very unformed. For the moment, most of my extant projects are solidly rooted in the Clifton Heights/Webb County mythos.
On one level, simply this: I write what I love to read. I love King's Castle Rock stories. When I discovered Gary Braunbeck's Cedar Hill, I leaped for joy. I was floored to realize Dandelion Wine and Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury occurred in Green Town, Illinois, as does many of his short stories, and The Halloween Tree. When I discovered Charles L. Grant's Oxrun Station, and the series of anthologies he edited about the fictional, cursed Greystone Bay?
I felt like I'd come home.
At the end of the framing narrative for one of his novella quartets, when Charles signed his name Charles Grant, Oxrun Station, identifying himself as the unnamed author living in Oxrun Station, fated to chronicle the events of his strange town, I knew I wanted to do that, too.
So I've always wanted to do this. Even before I discovered all these other wonderful universes, I realized that one of my initial failed Clifton Heights novels contained many small vignettes which might be turned into short stories. The idea occurred to me of selling those first, before writing a full length work in that town. Quite simply, this is what I've always wanted to do.
Secondly, as I've sought to refine my craft and tell more human stories trafficking in “Truth,” I've thought more and more about the kind of people who inhabit a town, and what kind of stories they have to tell. I'm not sure I'm always successful, but even as I'm writing “weird, strange” stories with speculative or horror tones, I'm always thinking about the main character's story, and what it has to tell us. Once my mind started down that avenue, I realized that the stories in Clifton Heights were limitless...as well as the shadows which lurked in them.
When I'm solicited for a story, or am writing a story for submission, I don't consciously think: “I am now writing another Clifton Heights story.” I focus on that character's story first, and go from there. It just happens to take place in Clifton Heights, is all. If all these strange stories build up the foundation of my strange town? All the better.
So where did Gavin Patchett himself come from?
As I said, the idea of a fictional author standing in for me has always lurked around in my head. The name Gavin Patchett, however, actually comes from a close brush I had with writing under a pen name.
I've talked before about how I initially considered seeking publication in the Christian Bookseller Association, simply because I felt as a Christian I was “obligated” to write a “Christian” novel for a “Christian” publisher. Through those early years, I built up some contacts with acquisition editors at CBA houses, and I kept in touch with them, even after I'd started selling my first horror short stories to secular presses, even after my first solo work, Hiram Grange and the Chosen One, was published as part of the The Hiram Grange Chronicles from Shroud publishing.
In the course of that, discussions grew between myself and the acquisitions editor of a CBA publisher that actually wanted to start publishing horror and supernatural thrillers (ironically, they now only publish Amish Fiction, and have regressed from being a traditional, royalty paying publisher to POD publisher; last I heard, anyway). I was working on a supernatural thriller, and upon hearing the synopsis, this editor was interested.
I did point out Hiram Grange, however, which was PG-13 or at best a very mild R in terms of language, innuendo and violence. She agreed that she probably should read it herself, first. The odd verdict?
She loved it and thought it was exciting, fast-paced and engaging. It could, however, prove problematic if I wrote a supernatural thriller for them, which might in turn lead readers to Hiram, if they liked my work. She had to admit that for the most part, even considering the fact they were intentionally branching out to horror and supernatural thrillers and suspense, the majority of their readership was “Christian soccer moms.”
So, we decided on a pen name. Gavin Patchett and his unfortunate fall from New York publishing was born. Several things thwarted Gavin's debut as my pen name, however. First, I wasn't able to wrangle that novel to its conclusion (which sadly happened to several other novels afterward).
Most importantly, however, was the reality of Christian publishing. This publisher's sales of “Christian” horror and supernatural suspense simply weren't promising, were indeed falling. They decided that new authors would be published through a POD platform first, with no royalties, and no distribution. Distribution and traditional publishing would only occur if said author's sales showed enough “potential.”
Sadly, talks fell through (which, again, proved moot point, as I was never able to finish that novel). There seemed no advantage to writing for this publisher under a pen name, because even if their reach is somewhat limited, the horror small press at least has a long, respectable history, and holds an important place in the horror community. I don't know if anything has changed, but at the time, there very little place in the Christian fiction community for small press publishers. Ironically, the fate of this publisher proved very ironic, as they eventually reverted from their bold experiment of pushing Christian “horror” to producing the most bankable kind of fiction in the CBA: Amish Romances.
In any case, Gavin Patchett was now at loose ends. I didn't want to get rid of him, because I'd gone to the trouble of crafting his background . I wasn't sure what to do with him, but eventually, he became the main character of the first short story I ever sold, “Way Station.” He then popped up in another short story, “Lament,” which takes place five years after “Way Station.” By the time Joe Mynhardt from Crystal Lake solicited a short story collection from me, I knew what I wanted to do.
Gavin Patchett was born. And then, in Devourer of Souls (though Gavin doesn't make an appearance), I committed to his meta-fictional existence by having Chris Baker, (Clifton Heights sheriff) and All Saints priest and headmaster, Father Ward, talk about Gavin's return to publishing with the release of his new short story collection, Things Slip Through. Gavin Patchett writing as me was born.
Where will I go with Gavin? Unsure. I just finished edits on the first draft of Gavin and Father Ward's first full-length novel, The Mighty Dead, in which I embrace him completely as the meta-fictional author of most of my stories. I say most, because another Clifton Heights resident, Kevin Ellison – framing device character of Through A Mirror, Darkly and new owner of Arcane Delights, a used bookstore he inherited from his father, Brian Ellison – is really the author of A Night at Old Webb and the forthcoming Mystery Road, both of which are much lighter, more optimistic tales of Clifton Heights. “Kevin Ellison” also recently finished an extensive outline for a sprawling coming of age novel, When We Were Young, a book Gavin Patchett, unfortunately, could never write.
THINGS YOU NEED is now available for Pre-Order at http://getbook.at/Thingsyouneed
"Kevin Lucia is this generation's answer to Charles L. Grant." - Brian Keene, Horror Grandmaster Award Winner, author of THE END OF THE ROAD
"This is sophisticated adult fiction. With an edge. At times, the book virtually becomes folklore: clever, witty, elegant folklore, with a sting – many stings – including moments of iconic dread." - Robert Dunbar, Bram Stoker Award Winning Author of THE PINES and WILLY