As predicted, this was a hard winter for most people around the globe. The third wave of COVID wreaked havoc and has taken a harsh toll on people physically and mentally. Yesterday, we kicked off our first day of Spring in the United States, and it felt like that in New York City. The parks were crowded. People lazed in the sun and soaked in the warm rays. I hope wherever you are that you are managing ways to bring sunshine into your life.
One year ago, the coronavirus tore a destructive path through New York City. It was new; there were lots of unknowns, and before many of us understood what was happening, we were sick. I wrote the following about what occurred to my family during that terrible period. The lone update I would add is how many friends and family have reached out to say that they would have helped us. I am grateful for them and each new day.
In Mid-March, right as New York City, coronavirus cases were starting to go off the charts, my wife and I became very ill.
It started the day after the Mayor declared a state of emergency, and the sickness ran for more than 45 days. Three weeks of that time were pure hell. Hallucinatory in some ways.
The sickness started with a slow windup – about a week of nose runs, fever, sore throats, and general weakness, but even then, it felt like nothing we had ever had before. I tele-healthed my doctor, and he said that we should stay home because if it was coronavirus, all you could do was “ride it out.”
The worst part of the illness occurred over four or five days. At this point, we were having trouble breathing and getting out of bed. Walking twenty feet from the bedroom to the kitchen felt like running a marathon. It came in intense waves that would ring us out.
We, of course, have children as well. Two beautiful daughters – 4 and 8. They became sick, but it only lasted a few days, and their symptoms were mild. My oldest was aware of what was happening. She learned about coronavirus in school and was also very cognizant of masks and the talk in the subway and street corners.
When we were at our most severe, she would try to make us get out of bed. If we got up, she thought that we would be okay. One day, she asked me if dying was good. I was confused by the question, but then she explained, “If dying isn’t good, why is it happening to so many people right now?” Crying, she told us that she didn’t want us to die.
My wife was much sicker than I was. While she didn’t get out of bed for four days or so, I could at least make it to the kitchen and take care of the kids (they watched a lot of Disney +). Her breathing became worse and worse and more labored. She tried sleeping with the pillows propped behind her, but that only helped minimally.
On the turning point night, I thought my wife would have to go to the hospital. It was dark outside, and her breathing stopped and started. At that point, we could no longer avoid discussing what might happen to the kids if we were hospitalized or worse. One of the insidious things about the coronavirus is that we couldn’t call our parents or friends to help. We were trapped. If we called our parents, we risked making them sick, and if we called our friends – who would want to endanger themselves or their families?
Luckily, my wife didn’t have to go to the hospital, and incrementally, we began to get better over the following weeks. Unlike other illnesses I have had, the coronavirus took at least an entire month to recover from.
As we got better, though, I was unable to sleep for nights at a time. I would get up regularly to make sure that everyone in the house was still breathing. This continued through the recovery, and I am still working on processing what happened.
A couple of things that were godsends during that period – I have been a regular meditator for many years, and at my lowest moments late at night, my mind would return to my father, who has been dead for ten years and the camping and fishing trips that we took every weekend of my youth. I guess that was when I felt my safest and most secure.
Our recovery has been long, but we are incredibly grateful for all that we have. There were multiple times when I was sick that I would think of my life and wonder how a boy from Oklahoma ended up stuck in the middle of a pandemic in New York City. I imagined a lot of scenarios in my life, but that one never crossed my mind.
I was a Goth in High School, replete with red hair and a black trench coat. In the late 1980’s such minor acts of rebellion provided an easy bullseye for bullies (of which there were many in my small town), and that was kind of the point. The bullies were going to get you one way or another. You might as well as be yourself, and if you were going to be pummeled, be pummeled in style. Besides, the farm boys and jocks could only torment you during the week – the weekend was a different matter.
One of my best friends lived in an apartment complex in Tulsa, 45 minutes, and a world apart from where I was. Every weekend, I would drive my parent’s Plymouth Sundance up and enter a vibrant universe of limitless-seeming possibilities and a feast of music outside the big hair bands that ruled the airwaves in that era.
The anchor of all this was IKON, an industrial/goth club on Peoria, not far from where my father worked his day job. Thanks to an archaic law, dance venues in Tulsa could stay open all night as long as they didn’t serve alcohol. The city would close this loophole in a few years and put the kibosh on our (and future generation of teenagers) good time, but that didn’t happen until later.
My friend, myself, and the revolving cast of characters crashing at his place teased our hair, applied make-up, switched into black garb, and arrived at IKON around midnight. We entered a world of flashing lights, dark corners, distinctive personalities and flowed with the tide of adventure. There was always someone to meet or an unforgettable story to bank into memory. Mainly, it was just fun. At some point, we migrated to the club’s back and home base – a sagging couch, where we caught our second wind after dancing ourselves silly. Every weekend was a chance for reinvention outside the confines of our rural towns and suburbs. Before long, the sun rose, and we emptied onto the Tulsa streets, like vampires taking in the approaching dawn.
IKON was a refuge for the bullied, maligned, artistic, and folks who were different. It was our magic portal in a sea of conformity dominating everything around us. My mind and ears were opened to music outside saccharin Top 40 hits there (and through the crackly reception of KTOW on my boombox). I also took in many touring shows that played there (The Dead Milkmen, PigFace, Ethyl Meatplow, and The Legendary Pink Dots, to name a few). I dutifully memorized music recommendations given to me and ordered them at Mohawk Music and Starship Records. I may go back to the beatings and harassment at my school, but I could take that music with me and the expanded possibilities that it offered. Like IKON, it taught me that there was a more exciting world out there.
I culled some of that music (along with new tunes that captured the ambiance of how I felt) into a playlist for a novel I am writing. I realize that this will be a very different set of tunes than other folks who were regulars there. After all, we are all different. Let me know in the comments if you have suggestions to add to the list.
Recent years have been a time of pressing questions for humanity. We stand at a historical junction where we can embrace an uncertain future or cling to a rose-colored past that is neither glamorous nor fair as some people desire to remember. Democracy is on a razor’s edge, autocrats are on the march, social unrest has reached a boil, and the earth cries out as climate change sends us warning after warning if only we would listen. And the pandemic, of course, has decimated lives, upended economies, and kicked disinformation into overdrive. None of the issues we face are tidy or will be resolved soon. For a world raised on neat and clear-cut stories, the thought that we may be in this for the foreseeable future is exhausting. It can leave you demoralized, beaten down, and paralyzed with indecision. Like many, I have also hit the pandemic wall. At times it feels like groundhog day with the same routine over and over.
Each of us processes these challenges in our own way. For myself, this has led me to reevaluate what my priorities are. My writing, for example, has continued sporadically, but all the issues stated above have taken precedence.
Last March, my partner and I contracted a severe case of COVID that went on for two months. There was roughly a week-long period where I wondered daily if we would make it through. The lingering effects of that sickness led me to be more grateful than before. It made me more aware of savoring each moment, whether playing with my children, taking a bike ride, or doing something as mundane as washing the dishes. I have by no means mastered this and probably never will, but I find myself trying more, and that is a start.
I come out of this time of contemplation with a stronger understanding of why I write and a greater responsibility to what I put into the world. I have finished a novel and hope to release it in the fall. I am recommitted to the work that I do, but also understand that I am only human and that it is okay to let go with no feeling of guilt. I don’t need to compare myself to others. The highest success is focusing on my own happiness and being committed to my family, friends, and striving to make the world better than it was before. As I mentioned, there are no easy answers, only the beginnings of understanding and what I hope will lead to wisdom.
What big questions have you struggled with over the last year? What answers have you found?
Take a plunge into the atmosphere of Nightfall Gardens with a new companion album based on the dark fantasy trilogy.
Ten musicians from the United States, Mexico, and the United Kingdom contributed tracks based on the haunt-scape and characters of the books.
Listen to the whole brooding album on Bandcamp and be sure and read and review the books on Goodreads if you haven’t done that yet.
October is the season of Halloween, sugary treats, things that go bump in the night, and — the release of Childhood Rites, my new horror tale that will raise the hackles on your flesh and have you double checking the locks on your doors.
From the story description:
“When Eric Deal answers a knock on his front door, the last person he expects to find is Justin Findley, a childhood friend whom he hasn’t seen in years.
But Justin isn’t there to swap pleasantries. He’s searching for Stan Whitman, the hard-partying final member of their old trifecta, who recently disappeared from their hometown after meeting a mysterious woman.
Soon, Eric and Justin are navigating the East Texas piney woods in pursuit of their friend, where they will discover that the truth of what happened to Stan is more terrifying than anything they could conjure in their darkest imaginations."
Perfect for reading over a couple of chilly fall nights.
Buy it here.
Summer’s here and you’d think that would mean things would slow down, but sadly no. Between the release of The Shadow Of All Things, working on my new novel and all of the normal trappings of daily life, I’ve fallen behind on my blogging. I hope to fall back into a normal pattern of regular updates soon
For now, I wanted to share some amazing artwork done by the 9th Grade Gifted and Talented class at Cy-Fair ISD in Harris County, Texas. As part of the assignment they had to compare and contrast characters from Nightfall Gardens and Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations.
I wanted to share some of my favorites. The blood-spattered drawing of Lily with closed doors and a lurking Smiling Lady particularly captures the flavor of her and the novels.
I’m hip deep the launch of The Shadow Of All Things but I wanted to take a minute and compile some of the reviews that the book has received in its first six days.
"Honestly everything about this book was grand, the characters, the setting, the plot, and of course the monsters, and their insatiable hunger."
– Bookworm Coalition
"This story is an intriguing mix of science fiction, portal fantasy and urban fantasy...I'm a fan of the urban fantasy sub-genre and this book does quite stack up nicely amid this sub-genre...What the author does neatly is that he also adds a healthy slice of SF to the tale but makes it subtle enough so that there's no perfect delineation."
– Fantasy Book Critic
“This is the first book in another gripping series by Allen Houston...The paranormal aspects were truly unique and I appreciated this aspect since the market is flooded with same old stories with different character names...The read for me was quick, dark, and rousing, in all the good ways.” – TMBA Corbett Tries To Write
“The opening chapter drew me in right away. You won't find that slow drawn out character introduction and world building that you come across all too often in fantasy here. Instead the reader is thrown right into the action from the very start and it's consistent throughout the whole book. There's always something happening and the characters on both sides, good and evil, are well written." – Scarlet’s Web
The big day is here at long last.
For the last year I’ve been prepping The Shadow Of All Things, the first book in my new urban fantasy/science fiction/horror series for release. After a bout of personal upheaval, long rounds of editing, feedback from beta-readers and working with the illustrator Colleen Beauchamp Stiles on the cover and drawings for the print edition I’m happy to share my bouncing creative baby with the world.
I hope you enjoy it. The characters are as real as any that I’ve brought to life and I’ve tried to do justice to New York City, a city I love, which can grind you up one second and fill your heart with the pageantry of life on the other.
This story started with an idea: a Goth girl listening to her headphones on a stalled subway train when something horrible appears in the glass behind her. That kernel of an idea morphed in ways I couldn’t have imagined when I wrote it down in the notebook that I carry. Who was she? What were the creatures?
The other characters came soon after: a teenager running from cops who weren’t what they appeared to be, private school students investigating a classmate’s death, a washed up punk rocker unable to let go of the past. And those were only the first of many.
Writing a book is no easy feat. Especially if you have a full time job, family and other responsibilities that only allow you the time to write either pre-crack of dawn or late at night when your brain is a muddied mess.
Supportive family and friends have made my road easier. Whenever I needed time to bang out ideas or find a little quiet time they have been there to help. For that I can only say “thank you”. I’m truly lucky, grateful and humbled. Kim, you are a better, stronger person than me and I’m glad you put up with my shenanigans.
And thanks to you, the readers who read and supported me while I worked on the Nightfall Gardens books. I’ve been privileged to hear from so many people who have read my books.
I’d love to hear your feedback on the new book so write me an email, reach out on Facebook or tweet me.
Also, I’d be remiss if I didn’t ask you to sign up for my monthly email blast for exclusive content and the first word on new works that will be released.
Music is an integral part of my new sci-fi novel The Shadow Of All Things. The main character, Evelyn Cheng, a young Goth, works at the last record shop on St. Marks Ave. in the East Village and her boss Lou schools her in underground music. Another pivotal character, Redmond Carter, was the singer of Carnival Procession, a punk band on the NYC scene in the early 1990’s and another character comes from an alternate universe where Joe Strummer was a member of the Sex Pistols.
My own high school days of electric blue hair and all black clothing are way behind me now, but I’ve retained a love of music from that time and tried to capture a little of the same excitement I felt when being introduced to new music that was beamed in from the local college station or passed around on cassette by my fellow weirdos at school.
The following are songs or bands that are referenced in my new novel.
1. Bauhaus – Dark Entries
2. The Velvet Underground – Run, Run, Run
3. Afrika Bambaataa – Planet Rock
4. The Handsome Family – The Bottomless Hole
5. Teenage Jesus and the Jerks – I woke up dreaming
6. Dead Boys – Sonic Reducer
7. David Bowie – Moonage Daydream
8. Fugazi – Waiting Room
9. John Coltrane – Love Supreme
10. Television – See No Evil
11. Love And Rockets
12. Buzzcocks – Real World
13. Magazine – Shot By Both Sides
14. The Notorious B.I.G. – Hypnotize
Other music referenced in the book includes: Nina Simone, Smog, Scott Walker, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, John Coltrane, The Oh See’s, Bob Marley and The Wailers, The Damned, Einsturzende Neubauten, Wiz Khalifa, Journey, Sex Pistols and Willie Nelson.