Tom Piccirilli doesn’t know me from Adam. I know this, because he’s told me on several occasions. After about the third time meeting him at one of his readings, I was a little over-sensitive about this. I mean, c’mon, who could forget me? Answer: Pic. But at that third meeting, I’d noticed a trend. A group that seemed to show up at all of his readings here in Colorado. And he didn’t remember any of them either.
It was that third meeting that his bad memory illustrated itself in full force, though. He had a meet-and-greet at the Windsor Library that had just reopened in Windsor, Colorado – about five miles southeast of Tom’s home in Loveland. A little background is required here – I love Tom Piccirilli’s writing, more on that later. As an aspiring writer, his opinion meant a lot to me, so I’d pretty much harassed his ass to read something by me…something that wouldn’t exist without him. And, as a best-selling author with many pokers in the fire, he told me very politely to “fuck off.” Didn’t stop me, though.
So, we’re back to the third meeting. Tom was engaging, answered a ton of typical writing questions with grace and patience and then took a much needed break. During this break, a guy from the front row sprung into action and corralled Pic for its entirety. As he and Pic continued talking, the expression of discomfort on Tom’s wife’s face grew.
By the time the intermission was over, said guy was gone, actually creating a bit of a scene in his exit. Afterwards, in my true stalker mode, I cornered Pic. Again, he didn’t remember me. But I felt better as his wife explained that the guy who’d left in a huff was their next-door neighbor for about seven years. The reason he was mad because Tom didn’t remember him.
Also, that night, Tom finally agreed to read my story.
Now, I have a point here, I’m just wordy. At every meeting before and since, at each time I’d gone two months between emails and he wouldn’t remember me, he has always been a gentleman and patient and answered any question I had in a thoughtful way. I imagine somebody who’s had as much success as him gets a lot of clowns like me hanging around. But Pic has always been himself – at least the self I’ve known. Bottom line, Pic’s one of the good guys.
The first reading I went to of his I met in person for the first time Kim Despins, who might be the best writing friend I have on the planet now. But that’s a different story.
The reading was at Westside Books in the trendy Highlands Neighborhood here in Denver. Support your local bookstores, people! Anyway, Pic shared the bill with Brian Hodge, and the emcee was the venerable Ed Bryant. It was at least five years ago, but I still remember most of Ed’s introduction.
Ed explained that the nickname “Pic” not only came from Tom’s last name, but because when Tom was coming up, everybody knew he was “it.” He was, barring some unforeseen circumstance, going to be the next big thing. The “pick.” And everybody was right.
I wouldn’t be the writer I am today without Pic. Don’t know how he’d take that, but…it’s fucking true. My most popular story among readers is “Tossing Butch, Saving Theodore” (although it’s not that popular among publishers – see “If Mama Ain’t Happy.”)
I almost quit on that story. It was just too fucking odd. And two days later I started THE CHOIR OF ILL CHILDREN. And I knew I was all good. Pic drew the roadmap – how to be absurd but caring, how to want to hate characters but not help but love them. I’m not Tom Piccirilli, but he’s one of the most influential people in my life. So much so, I finished that story. And I spent last weekend at KillerCon talking with numerous people about it.
To this day, I still refer to CHOIR when I get stuck writing. I have it highlighted like a textbook. "Sarah wants to be eccentric but just doesn't have the stomach for it;" "She left her nose on some Manhattan surgeion's floor and didn't quite get what her father had paid for;" "He zooms in on her, trying to get beaver shots;" "Her youth hangs off her like baby fat." This...THIS, This is how I want to write. I'll never find his voice, but I'd like to hint at it at times.
We never know who we’re going to influence in this world. We never know what that result will be. We never know what a chance encounter can lead to. My interactions with Pic amount to innumerable emails (which he’s undoubtedly forgotten), more readings than any other author I’ve stalked (which he’s undoubtedly forgotten) and an interview with my writing group (which, guess what, he's probably forgotten). But his brief reaction to my story, which amounted to "this is good, but you need to work on description," completely changed the trajectory of how I write and how I look at writing.
I was waiting for a table at a franchise casual dining restaraunt last night when I read his Facebook update. I had to excuse myself and went outside and threw up.
Pic has a brain tumor. Fuck. I blew off his last few readings because there'd always be another. I'd passed on his last couple of books because I'd been catching up on his backlist. Now, he has an operation tomorrow that will probably be the most important day of his life.
So, this is another reminder to remember what's important. Not what might be, not what we all want things to be, but what things - good things - are. I'm an atheist motherfucker, Pic, but I'd pray if it'd help. You're in my thoughts. Kick this thing's ass because I need you to. Yeah, I'm selfish. But for the fanboy you never remember, the wannabe writer who you helped so much without even knowing it, do me just one last favor. Kick its ass.
5 days ago