The Familiar v1

“You were there a long, long time ago…”

I met Mark Danielewski on my second road trip with a group of his sister’s fans. In April 1997, I’d had an awesome time after hopping into a van at a local Burger King and heading to Virginia. In May 1997, things were a bit different.

I was having some family issues. I was having some social anxiety issues. I was about to board a Greyhound with a friend to go to Rochester to see Poe play a show. I owed a bunch of people cassettes of the previous month’s 930 Club show. I spent the night before the Greyhound trip dubbing tapes.

My mother made some embarrassing comments before we boarded the bus. I don’t remember the exact comment, but it caused a bit of a rift between my friend and I for a good portion of the trip.

We got to Buffalo and it felt like my world was caving in on me.

I didn’t sleep. All the worry in the world was surrounding me in a black cloud. I was trapped.

The show was good. I passed out by the railing near the front of the stage afterward. The paramedics thought I was drunk. I wasn’t.

Poe had scheduled a meet and greet/group photo for shortly after the show. Everyone was waiting around for me. Don’t know if anyone knew what happened. The paramedics escorted me backstage following what was ultimately just some form of panic attack. We took the group photo and Poe gave me a Diet Coke and introduced me to her brother.

Mark was writing a book.

In the late 90’s, I downloaded the first 50 pages of that first book from Mark’s personal website. It was a low-key affair. I didn’t really plunge into the book and the rest of life was still distracting me.

Then one day, a post to the Poe mailing list:

iUniverse.com, is serializing House of Leaves on our web site
(www.iuniverse.com/daily). right now, we have a very cryptic download of the Intro and the first forty pages. one february 15, we begin rolling out the entire book in a Flash file that you can read online, about 100 pages at a time. it will stay on our site until march 16, when it will be moved to mzd’s web site http://www.houseofleaves.com. House of Leaves is the first major book to be released online prior to publication. we’ll also have all kinds of cool stuff going on around mzd and the book. we have a twenty-question contest about the book, where high-scorers will win one of ten signed first editions or the grand prize of $250. because poe’s new album and this book are so closely related, some of the questions have to do with her and her music.

(i think there is a CD that POE and Mark put together…will be available march 1)

Dylan Foley, the guy that posted House of Leaves on iUniverse, got in touch with me as a contest winner. Unfortunately, the autographed copies of the book didn’t work out but he sent me an unsigned hardcover as a prize.

He was impressed by my interest in the book and encouraged me to continue forward with the fan website that I had started building for Mark and Poe.

House of Leaves was all consuming. It was a brilliant work of fiction. Mark and Poe did some promotional tours for the novel and Poe’s companion album Haunted. That fan website became more and more intricate.
After House of Leaves, Mark released a short book with an obscure Dutch publisher called The Fifty Year Sword in 2005. It was really well laid out and I greatly enjoyed the book.

Mark’s second proper novel, Only Revolutions, was released in 2006 and an American publishing of The Fifty Year Sword was released in 2012. A few short stories were published in magazines and literary journals but between 2006 and 2015, there really hasn’t been anything big and new from Danielewski.


 

“And here we are again…”

In December, my wife and I received a galley copy of The Familiar, Volume 1 – One Rainy Day in May. It is the first of a proposed 27 volumes. I picked it up and expected it to consume me. The introductory “Coming soon” section that start the book drew me in and I immediately connected with their short scene stories.

When I started to read about the Ibrahim family and it interspersed with some gang thug visiting with a woman who appears to be a gang leader I wasn’t as connected. In fact, the first few scenes of what I’d consider the pilot episode of The Familiar were ones I didn’t really respond to at all. I liked the use of words in unique and artistic ways but it made it more difficult for me to immerse myself into the story.

The challenge overwhelmed me when during the next chapter set in Singapore, the characters were speaking in multiple languages and the helpful unnamed translator character offended me and stopped translating. I then said an audible “FUCK YOU” and stopped reading for quite a while.

Another significant challenge I had with the galley version of the book was its sheer weight. It is hard to hold a 900 page tome. It certainly wasn’t portable and I didn’t want to take it out in public.

So I stopped reading around 150 pages into the book. I put the book down after the Ibrahims talked a bit about Xanther’s big surprise and didn’t look back until the book was released last week.

The advantage of the actual released version of The Familiar Volume 1 was that there are multiple electronic versions available for purchase. I bought the Google Play version which not only helps with portability with the ability to read on my phone and tablet and not carry a 900 page book but also helps with translating the singlish.

So I bought the book and then hopped on some planes to drop in on a couple of Mark’s tour stops promoting the book.

It was on those planes and in hotel rooms and even waiting for Mark to start reading or while he was signing things that I finished the next 700 pages of The Familiar.

I’m glad that I waited to read the book. Reading the galley in its pink pages but in black and white felt like watching a timecoded black and white unfinished special effects pilot screener. Reading the finished product was so much better and the full color version is a beautiful work of art.
In addition to being a work of art, it only took around fifty more pages from the audible swearing to get me more emotionally attached to the characters.

I’ve seen positive and negative reviews of The Familiar. Lots of polarizing commentary. The first volume sets up a story and gives us an introduction to nine distinct voices. It feels a bit like reading A Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin but with a more modern spin on things and a lot less death. Though, death and war are hinted at.

Danielewski has also managed to create a story with a series of narrative constructs that interconnect, well, everything. Whether it be pop culture, his own novels, the internet, video games, music, movies or television, The Familiar ties everything together.

The first episode is literally the tale of a 12 year old girl who finds a cat but it is so much more than that as well.

If you are a fan of science fiction and fantasy whether it be movies, television, audio dramas or print media, I’d definitely suggest checking out The Familiar Vol 1. Just be prepared as the ten hours or more you’ll spend reading it and marveling in its layout could lead to many more hours in the other 26 volumes to follow.

...

Just as important as reading the book was getting to go out on the road and travel again with Mark. We did it in 2006 for Only Revolutions and have seen Mark in Los Angeles and San Francisco since then while he was promoting The Fifty Year Sword. This particular tour to promote the first volume of The Familiar was only six dates. We selected two of the six to attend in a place somewhat familiar and one not familiar at all.

We left SFO and headed to ATL on Sunday.

Mark was in Boston for the first stop of his tour while we were eating fast food at Zaxby’s, a tasty helping of boneless chicken wings, chicken strips, fried cheese and fries and tea, sweetened or un-.

We stopped by the local Walgreen’s and got a red nose to promote Red Nose Day.

After several turns down roads to nowhere, we finally managed to find the one that lead to our hotel.

The check in process was odd, with one person, seemingly the hotel manager, observing two others who had trouble completing a simple transaction. Eventually, I was handed keycards, one worked so we were okay.

Sleep overtook us for a bit. When we woke, it was already nearly 10pm, and the local eateries we had mapped out as ones to check out were closed. We ended up at Krystal hamburgers and split a three pack of White Castle-like sliders. They were barely edible. The fries were fine.

We stopped by the local Walmart and added to our cat shirt collection. We had enough for this tour, but what of the twenty six to follow?

Monday began with brunch at Bojangles, upon the recommendation of a friend I’ve met through Ingress. Bojangles had grilled chicken bites that were amazing. They gave us a giant portion and we consumed many bites. My wife had a grilled chicken sandwich and some mac and cheese. We shared a buttermilk biscuit that despite my fake bread allergy I thoroughly enjoyed. The rain that follows a book titled One Rainy Day in May had begun to fall.

We drove east to Athens and visited the Avid Bookshop, who were the sponsors of Mark’s visit to town. They had lots of great promotional cat posters scattered around town and a cool display, empty upon our arrival, of Mark’s books. I was really glad to see the Danielewski hallmarks throughout their promotional material. I’m certain a lot of it had to do with a book shop employee who has been a frequent contributor to Mark’s forums and fan of all things Danielewski for years. So big of a fan that he too has traveled by air to see Danielewski perform, read and sign.

The actual proper event was being held a few streets away at an art studio. My wife and I took a bit of diversion and visited a statue of Athena and then the 40 Watt Club before heading to the parking lot across from the Stan Mullins Art Studio.

My wife was rearranging gear in the back of our car when the forum member recognized her and invited us inside.

We set up our HTC Re camera at an angle that captured both Mark and part of the crowd. I handheld our Panasonic camera for a more close up shot. The venue was perfect. It was a big metal roofed barn with sculptures, paintings, a spiral staircase, old things, new things, finished products and unfinished fragments. At one point, there was even a VEM window on display.

The rain and the railroad crossing were part of the atmosphere. This place was amazing.

Stan was an excellent host. He and his three dogs, Athena, Zeus and Metis were present and yet out of the way throughout the event. His random selection of tunes both local and not so local from a variety of different genres helped with the setting as well. It was the perfect place for a Mark Danielewski event.

Mark read first from House of Leaves, The Panther. Something old. Something from an almost distant past. A past life we all lived out together but maybe not as familiar as it once was.

He moved on to his first excerpt from The Familiar Vol. 1. This section, Our Common Horrors/Astral Omega, was revealed via Instagram in encrypted form in 2013. Twitter posts about darkness with references to VEM and other parts of the setting for The Familiar preceded and followed.

This was followed by a section of the Chapter “Dr. Potts” starting on page 189 and through page 199. It is a relevatory chapter about the mind and affliction that has stricken Xanther, the twelve year old girl who happens to find a cat in this volume. A very good introduction to those not yet familiar.

After that came the questions. Not surprisingly, a lot were similar to previous tours. Mark’s responses were a lot less snarky than in previous years. The Familiar has given him the opportunity to collaborate with others, forming Atelier Z, a group of artists who contributed to the design, layout and asthetics of The Familiar. They also contributed his pg. 144 of House of Leaves hoodie and his Familiar Cat logo tee that he wore throughout the tour.

We waited until the signing line died down after the event. We transferred video in “near real time” to YouTube so those who couldn’t attend could experience the event. I also read more from the book while we waited.
Mark was as friendly as ever. Never not expecting to see us. When we mentioned we were only going to be at the Athens and Tulsa dates he asked why we wouldn’t be in Fort Collins or Portland. He signed our book looking back on our 18 years as friends and 16 years as readers.

We’re allways sixteen.

And now we’ve started the journey. A new chapter begins. The first of 27.
We shared a group hug and took some photos together and some “dramatic” photos of Mark on the spiral staircase for the fan site.
Then my wife and I headed to Victory Sandwiches to eat. It was there that I discovered that maybe I actually have developed more than a mental allergy to bread. The sandwich, which was small and nearly tasteless, didn’t agree with me.

We ended up trying to order food at the Brick Store Pub and their kitchen was closed. In shame, we headed back to our hotel and ate at the Waffle House adjacent to the parking lot.

An abandoned shopping mall. A hotel room door that was somewhat faulty. A lot of rain. A Stone Henge randomly placed on our route between Atlanta and Athens. A Greek Goddess. A small but friendly bookstore. Three dogs and a gorgeous art studio. Lots of fast food. A reunion with friends. The same songs by Taylor Swift (Style), Mark Ronson (Uptown Funk), Meghan Trainor (Dear Future Husband), Katy Perry (E.T.), Andy Grammer (Honey, I’m Good) and Echosmith (Cool Kids) over and over on the radio. That’s our trip to Georgia in a nutshell.

We had to get to the airport ridiculously early on Tuesday morning due to a giant airport and equally giant crowd. I don’t know why everyone was leaving Atlanta at the same time on Tuesday, but they were and we were too.

We made it through security and to our flight from ATL to OKC without incident. It was just a rather long wait.

The trip from Oklahoma City to Tulsa was mostly along the interstate turnpike that used to be Route 66. We stopped off for lunch at the Rock Cafe in Stroud, which was where Pixar got the inspiration for Sally Carrera from Cars from proprieter Dawn Welch.

The Rock Cafe has a historic grill that is known for its tasty burgers. I had a hamburger steak and it lived up to its name. My wife had a taco salad and some of the meat in it was undercooked. We split an excellent slice of oatmeal pie for dessert and again a mix of unsweet and sweet tea. The perfect balanced lunch.

Outside of the tourist trap that is the Rock Cafe, there’s not much else in Stroud or along Historic Route 66 on the way to Tulsa. We did listen to my wife’s favorite remix of Depeche Mode’s Route 66/Behind the Wheel along the way though.

We checked in to our hotel and rested for a little while. The manager was a lot friendlier than at the hotel in Atlanta and our door opened without any problems this time.

The rain started a little after 5pm. We headed to the venue shortly thereafter.

Tulsa’s Shrine, a music venue, was a typical dark bar concert venue. It was a fitting reminder of Mark’s time on the road with Poe and the rock star he is and always has been. DJ Darku J opened the night and then Mark took the stage a little after 7pm. The crowd was around half the size of Athens but just as passionate about Mark’s books. We took a table at the front and watched the same setlist of the previous night and similar questions asked and answered. He asked us to hold on to his copy of The Familiar while he signed autographs and greeted his readership. The atmosphere was very different and after the show, Mark was getting nostalgic. “Did my sister ever play here [Tulsa]?” We looked it up and she did in 1996. Edgefest at the Mohawk Park. He was there and recalled it.

We spent a few minutes talking after the line left. My wife asked a few questions. Had Mark heard the latest Mumford and Sons? He had and it grew on him. Has Mark played Neko Atsume (a mobile game about cat collecting my wife forwarded the link to)? Not yet, but he checked it out. He limited himself to only his phone as an electronic device for this tour, using the time to read and recharge before leaping into Volume 3. Where can I get a shirt [referring to the pink Atelier Z printed cat shirt Mark is modeling this tour]? It wasn’t originally intended to be merch, but the hoodie he was wearing and a couple of other House of Leaves clothing items are coming soon.

Mark also mentioned a couple of potential tour stops to us for October. News on those and the possible availability of galley editions and possible advance reader copies of Into the Forest will be coming officially or unofficially in the months ahead.

We headed off into the night after saying our goodbyes until later in the year.

My wife and I ended up at Whataburger. More fast food. Fitting. Thankfully our last for the tour.

Sleep was a relevant portion of our early morning after we finished uploading Re camera footage to YouTube.

We had plenty of time for breakfast at Chimera on Wednesday morning. I had a tasty granola and yogurt parfait. My wife had a breakfast taco. We watched all three members of Hanson arrive and go in to their studio 3CG, a literal three car garage across the street. Turns out they had just had a big Hanson Day in Tulsa on Saturday and the band also attended the Weird Al Yankovic concert the night before. They are older now. So are we.

Our trip to Oklahoma consisted of odd billboards asking for the legalization of marijuana, talking about how Diabetes is going to kill and then asking that you donate food to the poor. A concert venue. Raindrops. A strange nostalgia trip or three. More fast food. Kicks on Route 66. A more varied radio playlist including Roxette (It Must Have Been Love), Katy Perry (Hot n Cold), Taylor Swift (Shake it Off), Tiffany (I Think We’re Alone Now) and an airport entry welcome from U2 (I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For).

Our flight from TUL to DFW was delayed. We ate at Urban Taco in DFW and it turns out our connecting flight from DFW to SFO was also delayed. It didn’t matter. We still got home before 6pm. Our journey ended and another begins.

View our Athens photos on Flickr

Mark Z. Danielewski 2015-05-18

View our Tulsa photos on Flickr Mark Z. Danielewski 2015-05-19

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