A quick disclaimer: this isn’t a story of me finding a first edition copy of The Great Gatsby or Moby Dick tucked away in my parents’ attic, or stumbling upon a rare, out of print pressing of a Stephen King book at a garage sale. This is a more personal story.
If you’ve followed the saga (by which I mean my last post) of my struggles to be productive and actually get off my butt and write, you know that I’ve been trying to kick myself in the pants and get motivated to mostly no avail. I am still making some progress, though (yay!). A couple weeks ago I was reading over what I have so far in my current WIP, and was hung up on a character name—I was unhappy with the name of my antagonist, and even more unhappy with my attempts at renaming him. Then I was struck by an idea: I’ll name him after a character in one of my friend Mike’s books.
Mike was a good friend of mine, and the lead vocalist for the first band I was ever in. He was smart, funny, weird, and incredibly creative. As friends sometimes do, we drifted apart after the band broke up, but reconnected some years later on social media. To my amazement, just as I was thinking that I should start taking my writing more seriously, I discovered that in the time since I’d spoken to him last, Mike had gotten a job as a high school English teacher—which is commendable and impressive enough in its own right—but he had also been steadily writing (and publishing!) short stories and novels under his full name, Michael Louis Calvillo. When we were in the band and hanging out all the time, he never talked about writing that I can remember. Neither did I, for that matter. We were both in our early 20s, having fun in a band, and had a wealth of other interests. But when I saw the list of books he’d published, I wasn’t all that surprised. He was far too creative a person—he had to have an outlet for all that creativity, and once the writing bug bit him, it bit hard. Unfortunately, Mike passed away in 2012 after a battle with pancreatic cancer. I remember how surprised I was at just how hard his passing hit me. And how hard it still hits me, for that matter, but I digress.
But back to my WIP. I hit the internet to look up Mike’s books and see if any of his characters had names I’d like to use. I didn’t find any, but I did find something a bit troubling: almost all his books have gone out of print. Of the 7 novels and short story collections he published, only 3 are still available for purchase. They had all been published by small, independent publishers, and as is sometimes the case with indie publishers, all but one of them has gone out of business. I’m not sure how to explain what happened next.
Something came over me then. A sudden sense of desperation—paranoia even. See, the books of Mike’s that I’ve read were ebooks, and those were no longer available either, and of the three still with physical copies available, they were in extremely limited quantities. It felt almost like his legacy was vanishing before my very eyes. I HAD to buy one, to have and hold in my hands. Of the three, one of them seemed like the one, out of all his books, that Mike was most proud of. It was his second novel, about two couples struggling with addiction—one to heroin, one to eating human flesh—titled As Fate Would Have It (a prolonged love letter). When I saw there was a hardcover edition of AFWHI for sale, I jumped on it without a moment’s hesitation. It took a little while because the seller was located in the UK, but Saturday I found it on my doorstep.
It was listed as used, but to call it in “like new” condition would be an understatement. The spine even made that satisfying crackling sound when I opened the book. And I neglected to mention the best part: it’s signed.
It may seem silly, but having this book in my possession means a lot. I’m looking forward to reading it and refreshing my memory of just what a wild, far out imagination my friend had. There are three people I consider the biggest influences on me as a writer, and it goes without saying that Mike is one of the three. I’m hoping having a little piece of his writing legacy around helps change my mindset and makes me want to write again.
I’m a bit of an odd duck when it comes to books (and most other things, but that’s another story). I’m not hugely sentimental about books, and I’ve never had a massive collection. After a fairly ugly split with my first wife, I had to leave a lot of things behind, including most of my book collection. I did, however, box up the small collection of books that meant something to me—the first few Stephen King books my parents bought me when I was first getting into him as a kid (another of my Three Great Influences), a handful of my favorite paperbacks from other writers I admire (namely Elmore Leonard and Scott Smith), and various books on the craft of writing (especially Wonderbook by Jeff VanderMeer, which I will never stop recommending). I now have
As Fate Would Have It (a prolonged love letter), and I believe that may just trump them all.
I’d love to hear about any books you own that mean a lot to you, or the book you’re on the hunt for, the one you just have to have. What’s the most valuable book you own?
And one last thing: I’d be remiss if I didn’t share a link directing you to Mike’s amazon page. As I said, only three books are available for purchase, but I can guarantee you that any of the three will give you an odd (and I do mean ODD), captivating thrill ride like no other. The man was truly one of a kind.