October 29, 2013 by Laird
Last week I was in New York with John Langan for a reading. We spent much of the day with Peter Straub at his place on the Upper West Side. Peter had extended the invitation a while back and we finally had a chance to get into the city.
His work meant a lot to me during my early teens when I discovered Shadowland, Ghost Story, Floating Dragon, and The Talisman. Back then, I envisioned myself an author of space opera and epic fantasy; my journeys within Peter Straub’s universe were purely for escape from a bad childhood. Little did I know what a profound and lifelong impression his words would have. He’s one of the touchstones I return to when lost or stymied–I ask myself how he’d get a character from one scene to the next, how he’d handle a tricky narrative transition, or an act of transformative violence, or any of a dozen similar technical propositions. He and a handful of others have served as exemplars of the trade through their works. I’ve never needed a workshop or how-to manual or a magic bullet. Because I’ve always had these things in the novels and collections of Peter Straub, TED Klein, Roger Zelazny, and their colleagues.
Peter is a gracious man. I knew this from our interactions at various conventions over the last seven or eight years. He welcomed us into his home, a five story brownstone, laden with enough books to stock a couple of public libraries. We talked shop, confirming my estimation that the man keeps abreast of literary happenings–his to-read stack loomed over the kitchen table. He’s on top of the contemporary scene and we had a nice discussion regarding our admiration for the likes of Aimee Bender, Dan Chaon, Ben Percy, and Brian Evenson, among a slew of others. I might have turned him on to the brilliance of Stephen Graham Jones. If so, the mission was a total success.
Later, he took us to lunch at a classy little neighborhood bistro. After lunch came a leisurely tour of the house, which, due to its scope and dimensions, merely scratched the surface. Peter is a collector of fine things, especially books, and John was in awe over the shelf of of various Raymond Chandler tomes, all first editions. We wound up on the top floor…After thirty-plus years of admiring Peter Straub’s work, it was an odd sensation to stand in the middle of his office where all the black magic happens.
When it came time to depart, Peter gifted me a signed collector’s edition of his novella The General’s Wife, one of the few things of his I haven’t read. Then John and I were heading for yet another subway to meet up with my agent in preparation (drinking booze) for the reading. I had a terrific afternoon. One of those times you hope for when you’re a kid learning to write, hoping for a career in the trade, possessed of some nebulous notion of what that all means to be a successful author. Thanks to Peter’s graciousness, it was exactly the way my thirteen-year-old self imagined the scene. That’s pretty damned special.