Saturday, November 18, 2017

My Friend in the Desert

During the 80s and 90s I was quite active in the Small Press, a period I've written about previously in this blog. For those not in the know, Small Press was collectively all the little books, journals, magazines and newsletters that proliferated in the shadows cast by giants. Where Doubleday might consider a low press run as 100,000 a Small Press book publisher might consider 250 a very high press run; where general circulation magazines might aim for millions of subscribers, Small Press editors were happy to get fifty, not counting relatives.

I entered the Small Press first as a writer, then an editor/publisher. It was quite an exciting time. One of the things that made it so enjoyable was the ability to meet people who had similar interests and goals. Most of these acquaintances were epistolary, but a few did result in actual encounters. One of the most memorable was t. winter-damon, a writer of fantastic tales who lived in the midst of a vast desert. In Tucson, to be exact.

Me & Damon -- circa March, 1989

If you look up t. winter-damon, you'll be told that it's the pen name of Timothy Winter Damon, but he always had me call him Damon, and his wife resolutely called him Tim. After more than thirty years, it's difficult to the exact details of our first encounter or precisely how it came about, but it started with a letter about writing and publishing, then a random remark on my part about an upcoming journey, followed by an invitation by Damon.

In those days I was wont to take occasional journeys into the wastelands, as I always referred to the desert areas to the East. The trips were partly meditative, partly restorative. After dwelling among the swarms of humanity, there is something curative in solitude. The aesthetic hermits and monks of old knew the value of "getting away from it all." Besides, I liked to visit Indian ruins, ghost towns and odd places along the byways of the Southwest, whereas my family considered it a form of torture.

Damon lived in Tucson, in the midst of the Wastelands, and was a regular contributor to many of my Small Press projects. He was possessed of a soaring imagination, a flair for expressing himself, and a boundless zeal for self-promotion. When I attended the World Fantasy Convention as a panelist in the early 90s, I found myself sitting at a table with Damon and his wife during one of the get-togethers. Abruptly, we found ourselves sans Damon. Occasionally I glimpsed him as he zoomed around the room, seating himself at one table after another -- he made a busy, busy bee look very lazy. When I mentioned this to Diane she laughed and said: "Tim is a master of self-promotion. He'll come back with at least a dozen contracts or agreements. He sells himself better than a two-dollar-hooker at a Shriners convention."

Most writers who have to interact with editors have to step out of some kind of a comfort zone to do so. Speaking for myself, my comfort zone is about the size of an old-style phone booth...maybe a little smaller. Damon's comfort zone was, apparently, as far as the eye could see, and then some.

Damon's interests were likewise wide ranging, but a large percentage of his writing was in horror fiction, especially in the genre then known as splatterpunk. It was a very visceral form of writing, very blood and gore, and was very big in the 80s, not so much later on, and rarely referred to now. My interest in horror writing was less...squishy, more philosophical and idea-driven, though, of course, I was not above ripping out the occasional heart, as long as it was in as good cause.

Despite our different approaches, we collaborated on several stories. Our usual mode of writing was the "round robin" method. That's where one writer pens a section, then passes it to another for the next. We wrote each other into corners, then dared the other to break out. Since his strengths were atmosphere and insanity, and mine were action and dialogue, we ended up with some very strange and wonderful stories that sometimes he was able to sell to an editor, sometimes not. As Damon said to me: "When the Splatterpunk Elvis Dark Fairy story doesn't sell to the Splatterpunk Elvis Dark Fairy anthology, what are you going to do with it?"

I treasure my memories of Damon's friendship. Even when I stopped traveling about so much after my auto accident, we still traded letters and stories. When I think of him, I think of the stories we wrote -- castles made from human bones, zeppelin battles over the Mountains of Madness, civilization-destroying powers locked in the ancient vaults of a dead planet, sail-billowing ships on sapphire seas beneath strange constellations, or lost souls trying to survive in terror-ridden cities.

I also recall the biography he wrote about me for Shoggoth, a Lovecraft-themed Small Press magazine published in Australia. I didn't understand at the time why he was asking so many questions about me, my life and my writing, but it all became clear when the magazine appeared in my mailbox and I read, with mounting dread, "Ralph E Vaughan: Visionary of the Dreamlands." It also contained Damon's review of my then-newest story, The Dreaming Detective, a tale of Sherlock Holmes in HPL's Dreamlands. It was as embarrassing as it was flattering.

Sadly, Damon is no longer with us. Our correspondence tapered off after the start of the millennium, There was no argument, no disagreement, no falling out of any kind, as so often happens in fannish friendships. It was just an evolution. If I had to pick some reason, I might look to the rise of e-publishing and the decline of the Small Press, which had always been a paper-based phenomena. Lacking a focus, we drifted It's like those high school friendships. You're BFFs, then infrequent lunch companions, and finally Christmas card exchangers; then, one day, you realize you forgot to send a card, and didn't get one either.

It was toward the beginning of 2009 that I learned of Damon's death a few months earlier. He passed on 28 November 2008, about six months shy of his sixtieth birthday. He left behind an enduring body of fiction that will probably never be completely catalogued -- a drawback of the Small Press, where issues often never made it outside its small circle of subscribers. I will always remember him, will ever miss his wit, intellect and humor. My friend -- the Wizard of the Wastelands, the Master Scribe of the Eastern Desert.

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