Or, Where I Drove on My Kid’s Summer Vacation
This summer I took my longest road trip yet with my six-year-old son, Sid. I’d tried to rent a Prius, but after a side trip to Tate’s Comics in Lauderhill, Fla., I wound up driving a tank of a Lincoln from Kansas City to Portland, Ore., stopping along the way to see one of my heroes (now one of my freelancers), the legendary artist Richard Corben; the head of the national comics retailer organization ComicsPRO, Amanda Emmert; and international best-selling novelist PC Cast.
My VP of Marketing, Micha Hershman, who we stole from Borders a couple years ago (you’re welcome, B&N), had recommended PC and Kristin Cast’s work some time ago. When PC reached out through a friend, I was immediately into it.
My first direct contact with PC was when she called during my ride home from work one night. She’d had some prior experience with another comics company, which I shall not name, but recounting what happened there got her to drop the formal pretense. She let loose a colorful stream of profanity, which immediately put me at ease—PC’s a salty character who oozes sincerity, and it never comes across more clearly than when she sounds like an mischievous teenager. And she’s never more sincere than when she’s around her daughter.
The Dark Horse Comics crew first met PC and her daughter, Kristin Cast, in San Diego, as we prepped for our surprise announcement of the new House of Night comics series, as well as del Toro’s The Strain and Tom Morello’s Orchid. Before the announcement PC and Kristin holed up in the Dark Horse meeting room with Tom, Sierra Hahn, the editor on all three titles we were announcing, and Jim Gibbons, Assistant Editor on the titles. Jim had recently transferred from the Marketing department, where he’d designed the Dark Horse Does Vampires Right campaign—in which we compared the violent, scary approach to vampires in Hellboy, Baltimore, The Goon, and even Buffy, to the tender, sweet, hot-sex version of vampires you see in Twilight, True Blood, and, yes, House of Night. It took Jim some convincing to get him on board with Zoey Redbird and the Nerd Herd—but the quality of the comics, the scripts, and the art eventually won Jim over.
PC and Kristin were nothing but trouble at San Diego—mother-daughter trouble in mini dresses with a mean thirst for cocktails and parties. Dinner conversation was pretty blue, as we feasted tapas-style on an unending stream of appetizers from the most confused waitress in San Diego. I’ve seen successful people, particularly at conventions, show little tolerance for mistakes from wait staff. Frankly, nothing turns me off more, so it was good to see PC and Kristin hadn’t gotten so far from their humble beginnings that they couldn’t appreciate someone having a hard night at work.
All of which had me looking forward to spending part of my vacation with my son at PC’s house near Tulsa, OK.
Humble roots combined with one of the most successful prose series in the States led to very nice accommodations at Chez Cast. Sid and I rolled onto the property around 9 p.m. on a Monday, after very late travels the night before, a great visit that morning at Richard Corben’s house outside Kansas City, and a day of driving through temperatures over 100 degrees. Sid was asleep when we got there. PC herself pulled in just ahead of us with a grocery bag full of beef. Cul, her greyhound/deer houndmix, zipped between the cars as we pulled up to the main house. I carried Sid into the house and threw him down on the leather couch, where PC’s brother Brad was watching Armageddon. Before I’d left Portland, PC had asked what I drank. Whiskey. There on the dining room table was an unopened bottle of Macallan eighteen-year Scotch. “This is how successful authors drink,” PC toasted.
When Sid woke up, PC took him out to see the animals while I relaxed in the air conditioning with a cool shot of Macallan, pacing around to stretch my legs after the first day of driving. When PC returned, she caught me checking out the art on her walls, in particular a Picasso—This is how successful authors collect. She gave me a tour of the other pieces, including framed prints of Meat Loaf’s three Bat Out of Hell album covers. I pointed out the Corben signature on the first cover and told her that’s who I’d been visiting that morning. Small world. She showed me to the guesthouse, where she’d turned on the air conditioning early that morning to get the place liveable by bedtime. There on the kitchen table, another bottle of Macallan, which I never wound up opening, but eyed longingly before hitting the road the next day.
Over dinner we talked about how impressed PC was with Sierra, her editor on the House of Night comics. In her experience it’s fairly rare for an editor to have such specific and apt notes, which I’d always believed to be true. I told her how happy we were with Kent Dalian, the screenwriter she’d hired for the House of Night film, who was also scripting the comics. I’ve always found it easier to train a film or TV writer than a prose writer to make the jump to comics. Both comics writers and screenwriters have to move the story visually, whereas the prose writer can let the story exist in the protagonist’s head in lots of different ways. The trick is to team the screenwriter with a cartoonist who brings a lot to the table in terms of page design and storytelling—like Joelle Jones, Karl Kerschl, and the other amazing artists Sierra rounded up for the series.
After dinner, drinks around the pool stretched into the wee hours. My bid for Father of the Year involved my six-year-old swimming alone in the pool. Brad and PC kept telling me it was okay because they had a good home insurance policy, while we dipped our feet and watched the greyhound cuddle the Scottie dogs. Brad and I talked about divorce, and PC and I worked out what comes next for House of Night comics, and came up with an idea that I only hope we’re bold enough to follow through on .
By about 2 a.m. we packed it in. Sid took me on a detour past the fence by the pond. The moment we got there, PC’s biggest pets came our way: the burro, and Bonnie, the dinosaur of a horse she’d bought for her brother. The Casts are not short people, and Brad had always felt bad riding average-sized horses, so around the seventh or eighth bestselling volume of House of Night, PC had told him to find the horse that was big enough for him. And he did. And that was one hell of a big horse looming over that fence, a fence it could have flattened like wet cardboard.
The next day it was 104 degrees in the shade. We were not destined to stay in the shade. Brad left at the crack of dawn to drive his son to school in Wyoming—Sid and I would be passing near the same town four days later, after a much more leisurely drive. PC, Sid, and I slept until 11 AM, and then got ready for a tour of the horse trails behind the property via ATV. We covered the black leather seats with towels, and wiped down the handholds with water to cool them off. Sid sat on my lap as PC crashed us over the rough muddy trails, with Cul, the skinniest dog in the world, weaving back and forth impossibly close to the lurching front end of the four-wheeler. Mud and leaves and sticks flew up from under the dog’s paws, the wheels of the ATV. Some of the detritus flying by looked suspicious, but we were jumping around so much, and things were flying past so fast, and I was so focused on holding onto my son that I couldn’t decide what I was seeing. Something landed on my shoulder right above Sid’s head. Whatever it was, it was the biggest one of those I’d ever seen, and I flicked it away without hesitating.
“PC?” I shouted. “Are those—?”
“Locusts!” she yelled over the blaring chainsaw of a motor. “You can eat ’em when the rapture comes, but not before then!”