I discovered some extraordinarily sad news this morning. One of the men I admired most in the world, my favorite contemporary author, Tom Piccirilli, died of brain cancer last month.
He never achieved much mainstream success, despite winning a few Bram Stoker awards. His writing was so unique, and outside all the easy classifications, that the literary world never knew what to do with him. He wrote horror and crime noire, and that disqualified him from being taken ‘seriously’ in academic circles. Yet he told these dark stories with such poetic lucidity and philosophic depth, in some ways he seemed more William Blake than Stephen King. He was far too unpretentious and unconcerned with bowing to the pet tropes of academia to be accepted there. He was far too sophisticated, steeped in symbolism, nuanced, richly endowed in vocabulary, contemplative of poetic structure, and thematically complex to appeal to the listicle and sparkle vampire market.
Someone once critiqued story I wrote, calling it a horror movie comic told with the poetic gravity of Milton’s Paradise Lost. The gist being that I was talented, but should elevate the seriousness of my subject to match my linguistic skills. Tom Piccirilli was the biggest influence on my stylistic direction as a writer. Poetry and the ugliest monsters, supranatural darkness and the keenest insights into human nature, the most damned characters and the most amazing glimpses of light peeking from the shear pitch black bleak, Tom Piccirilli taught me how it all belonged side by side.
What I appreciated most about Piccirilli’s writing was the moments of revelation. Where suddenly some insight would just explode into being. Transcending even the story itself, and just hitting you with something so real, so utterly beautiful and tragic. Many times I would come across one of these moments of revelation, and be frozen by the chills down my spine. Then I would underline the passage, with several stars beside, sometimes rereading until I committed it to memory. It was that important. You pick up a Tom Piccirilli book, and there is a good chance something in it will haunt you the rest of your life.
“Ghosts will forever put in appearances, as they should. Our illusions have muscle and meaning. The past returns at midnight, in the heart of our dreams, and the rains and the willows forever remind us of the sacrifices we’ve offered and those we have yet to make.”
“Every guy has a woman in his life who means more to him than she should. You can’t call it love, or even an obsession. It has a greater complexity than that. It deals more with the man you want to be than the man you are.”
I could probably transcribe pages upon pages of passages of Piccirilli books that meant the world to me, showed me something about myself, gave me a little strength to chase those fleeting, euphoric lights through the seemingly infinite maw of dark tidings.
So I just wanted to write a little something to say, rest in peace.