Behind A Night In the Lonesome October

My Copy of A Night in the Lonesome October

I don’t often write about the days when Roger Zelazny and I were close, because, quite frankly, even though he died in June of 1995, it still hurts to remember when we didn’t realize how little time we would have.

But this year I have a happy memory I want to share, one awakened by all the people who are reading one of Roger’s last novels: A Night in the Lonesome October.

Although Roger and I weren’t living together when he wrote that book, we were in touch pretty much daily.  We wrote long, serial letters to each other, and talked on the phone several times a week.  What many people don’t realize is that A Night in the Lonesome October was a book Roger had had in mind for many years before he actually wrote it.

As I remember it (and since I’m just Wandering on, I’m not going digging through my letters to document precise dates), Roger was telling me about books he hadn’t written but would like to write, and this lead him to going through his files and finding the letter he’d written Gahan Wilson, along with Gahan Wilson’s reply, which included a quick sketch of Snuff.

Or maybe Roger went through the files first, came across the letter, and that triggered him telling me about it.  I honestly don’t remember.

Anyhow, what I do remember is Roger telling me about the novel he’d wanted to write, and equally passionately had wanted Gahan Wilson to illustrate.

Then, almost before either of us realized what had happened, Roger was taken over by the book.  He typed happily away (yes, he either handwrote or used a typewriter).  The only time he forgot he’d promised to phone me was when the book took him over so completely that he lost a day.  He called me the next day and, when I asked him if everything was all right, he got this funny note in his voice and said: “I forgot to call, didn’t I?”

(Happily, although I was yet to have much published, I was a writer, too, so I understood.)

Later, when the book was done, Roger told me that he realized that the friendship between Snuff the dog and Graymalk the cat owed something to our friendship, including how easy we found it talk, even when the topic was something difficult or intimate. 

Even after A Night in the Lonesome October was finished, Roger continued to love it to bits.  If you can find the audiobook which he read, you should know that the reading was done all in one session.  Roger and the recording engineer were having such a good time that, since no one else was using the studio that day, they just kept going.

Roger did something similar at a convention, in Utah, I think.  (I wasn’t there.)  He started reading.  The audience kept listening, and since the room wasn’t going to be in use, he just read the whole novel.  A friend of mine who was there said very few people left, and those who did slipped out reluctantly.

Is there a moral to this story?  There just might be.  Roger wrote A Night in the Lonesome October at a time when publishers were more and more trying to steer their authors—especially those who had one or more popular series—to do most of their work in those series.

When Roger was writing A Night in the Lonesome October, he was supposed to be writing the first book in what was to be a big new series of three books at least.  (What I would eventually be asked to complete as one book, in case you’re wondering, that came out with the title Donnerjack.) 

But Roger gave in and listened to his Muse.  In the process, he wrote what many readers now say is their favorite of all his works.  Writing A Night in the Lonesome October also gave Roger a tremendous amount of pleasure, and fired up his imagination so that not only was he more excited about Donnerjack, he also started scribbling what would become the other book I completed for him: Lord Demon.

To Roger’s great good fortune, his editor at Avon Books, John Douglas, was excited to get an unexpected Roger Zelazny novel—and open-minded enough not to be annoyed that it was not written to fit the agreed upon formula of what a Roger Zelazny novel should be.  This time Gahan Wilson was available to do the art, and the project moved rapidly along.

Chaos and Order.  Opener and Closer.  Roger was definitely both.  I miss him still.  I always will.

I’d thought about inviting people to do  a “day by day” read through of A Night In the Lonesome October with me this year (especially since Halloween falls on a full moon), but Jim’s knee replacement surgery (and the recovery, especially) meant I didn’t have the time.  Having been lucky enough to find a new love, after I thought I’d lost my heart forever, I know better than to take my good fortune for granted.

7 Responses to “Behind A Night In the Lonesome October”

  1. King Ben's Grandma Says:

    Thank you for sharing such a beautiful memory! I can tell by the way you told it how bittersweet all of it still is.

    I hope Jim’s recovery is progressing well!🌻

  2. Christopher Kovacs Says:

    Hi Jane!

    Thanks for sharing this reminiscence. Very much appreciated! I’m enjoying another re-read of the book on this occasion of a Halloween Blue Moon.

    Chris

    • janelindskold Says:

      Glad you saw it, Chris. As I wrote it, I felt you nudging me to look up specifics! You’ve been such a careful Roger Zelazny scholar. Me, too, but this was a memory.

      • Christopher Kovacs Says:

        LOL. Your remark about not looking up specifics did resonate with me, but I restrained myself…

        Roger did recount in interviews and correspondence about rediscovering the letters to and from Gahan Wilson, and the sketch of Snuff, and how those sparked him into abandoning plans and diving into the writing of the novel. But whether that was before or after he told you about this book idea, he didn’t say. So whatever you recall would seem to be the canon version…

        Stay safe and virus-free!

      • janelindskold Says:

        Thanks, Chris. Someday I may dig through the letters from that time period and see. But, really, right now, I’d rather write. Doing our best to stay safe. Living in a poor state w/limited medical resources makes one very aware of risk.

  3. John A Nizalowski Says:

    This is a wonderful personal essay! I found your observation about Roger being both “chaos and order . . . opener and closer” especially perceptive, even poetic. I feel his spirit is in the sky tonight, where Mars and the waxing moon are in conjunction, heading for the climatic full moon on Halloween, as it does in A Night in the Lonesome October. Thank-you so much for sharing your experience with Roger and the novel!

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