I met Kevin Lucia 11 years ago. We were both attending the Horrorfind Convention in Baltimore, Maryland. In fact, one year ago I did a Halloween series that was a week long conversation between Kevin and myself about the business and state of the market for fiction writers. It was a cool series, and you should check it out!
Needless to say, when Kevin announced his idea of “a blog tour” where participating bloggers would review his newest book, Things You Need, from Crystal Lake Publishing, in sequence. I jumped at the opportunity to be included on “the tour”.
Inspiration is an elusive little monster. Something slinking deep, through the underbrush of the subconscious, with our ego hunting behind it, running and scurrying through the briers and thistles, trying to get a hold of it…. even just for a minute before it twists away. Labeling Stephen King as an inspiration for not only Kevin Lucia but seriously, anybody trying to work in the horror genre, is simply prerequisite. It is impossible to not look at a writer, who has steadfastly influenced American culture and beyond, for the better of 5 decades, and not see them as canon. His body of work is incredible. So, yes… Kevin is deeply influenced and inspired by Stephen King.
This shows, as another reviewer also noted, in the striking similarity to King’s Needless Things. The framing device is similar (an old gent in a quirky store pedaling interesting objects) and the title, Things You Need, is a bit on the nose. However, that said…. I like the title. It is actually very catchy, easily rolls off the tongue, and works perfectly for a framing device of Lucia’s connected short stories. So…. again… inspiration….. the muse…. one learns to take it where he can find it.
If I had a dollar for everybody who asked, “Where do you think of this stuff?”..really, especially for a horror writer….. Yeah, you get the idea. So, this brings up a certain observation about the stories in Things You Need. A writer ought to write about what they know, this is obvious on many levels. And when it comes to authenticity, Kevin Lucia is able to create incredibly authentic characters. Many of Kevin’s characters have either a direct, or very near, connection to teaching.
One of the coolest things Kevin does for his Seton Creative Writing students is bring in published writers to discuss the business and craft of writing.
Kevin Lucia is an English Teacher in New York State. He is fighting that hero’s fight every day, in the trenches, flipping the switches of inspiration and creativity in every young person he meets. I am quite envious, actually. But, in regards to this story collection, I did find myself letting characters blur from time to time. The characters are vivid, and their problems and life journeys are unique and interesting, but they all share a very common element in their histories.
I imagine Kevin, sitting in his office decorated with models, and books, and old school geek treasures, looking up from a huge stack of term papers that he is grading, and thinking….. “Here I am, another day in the life of an American teacher…. but…. WHAT IF this happened? Many of Kevin’s stories bring about this observation.
Once again, alluding to Stephen King, he is a master of a technique called Deep Point of View. In short deep point of view uses a total immersion in the experience of the character by appealing to as many of the five physical senses as possible. All while completely omitting the interruption of author voice. For example: I am working on a short story for an upcoming collection called Sibling Rites. In the writing of the story, again, because of my inspiration, I included a somewhat lengthy commentary about the mental health system in my introduction of the character. To me: it was important. Vital even. The entire impetus for the story was saturated in a tragic failing of the mental health complex. To me. At times, as writers, it is tempting to invade our own story to pontificate on a detail, that because of our own experience, is not only necessary, but interesting.
It is a pothole. The reader’s experience of Sibling Rites did not need a segway on the topic of mental health. In fact, doing so broke the tension of the scene, which is a death knell to a horror writer. This is why Stephen King is such a master of tension. He never allows that author voice to betray a scene. Instead, he allows his portrayal of the character and their sensual reality to permeate the page.
The same is true, to some degree, in Things You Need. Most of Kevin’s stories are told in first person point of view. Additionally, his main character, the lonely and depressed traveling salesmen (whose bread and butter is going into schools for magazine drives) is also delivered to us in the first person. The aforementioned similar connection to schools between the characters who have left their stories in Handy’s Pawn and Thrift, complicated this issue.
It becomes somewhat of a slip and a slide between the experiences of the characters and the author’s particular experience in and around the classroom. Although these experiences provide a richness to the writing, by providing scope and context, many of the educational asides act as distractions from the tension building in the scene.
One particular strength that comes out of Kevin Lucia’s toolbox in this collection is his use of understatement and subtlety. Again, an area of particular interest in my own work lately. I have a tendency to lay it on pretty thick. So…. pardon the interruption…. but why is this a problem? As a writer, I am sitting there thinking, as my fingers dance across the keys and my visions become code on the screen in front of me, that I want to make sure a certain idea gets through. I am wanting to pound that nail into complete unquestionable reality. Now…. think of it from a reader’s point of view. Think of it from anybody’s point of view. You are sitting there in a coffee shop, and you nail this fantastically awesome adjective phrase. It is fantabulous. It is wondrous. It lights halos on fire within the imagination. Flowers bloom as you dream on it.
Get it? It is like you are shooting a shotgun of descriptors, knowing one of them will stick. Problem… nobody cares after they are hit with that barrage. Better to nail it once… and with subtlety. Let it percolate. Let it ferment.
The reader will thank you for it.
This tool of subtle understatement is very strong in Things You Need, and lends a very Rod Serling meets Alfred Hitchcock feel to many of the stories. I found myself cringing, and asking myself that oft repeated phrase, “Holy Shit, where does this guy think of this stuff?” with the interesting gardening practices presented in The Way of Ah-Tzenul. I was completely intrigued by Out of Field Theory, and the evolution of a horror story that is completely contingent on what is left just outside of the frame of what we choose to immortalize in a photograph. The down and out scavenger, looking for money in others’ discarded remnants, who finds a connection to his failures as a writer in Scavenger was also personally poignant. Kevin Lucia proves himself, with this outing, ready for the deeper reaches of the novel, and I find myself very excited to read the upcoming Mystery Road !
Keep the Greasy Side Down, Amigos !