The Man on the Ceiling

A few weeks ago, my wife and I did something we haven’t done for a while; we read to each other.

We’ve done that off and on since before we married, but lately it’s been more off than on due to different sleep schedules. The particular night in question, however, the timing was right, the decision to read was spontaneous, and we couldn’t have picked a better story to read each other.

In 2000, American Fantasy Press published a chapbook by Melanie Tem and Steve Rasnic Tem called The Man on the Ceiling (as opposed to Jules Feiffer’s The Man in the Ceiling.) The little book, sold only in a limited edition run, garnered critical acclaim and is the only work to have won the a literary trifecta of the International Horror Guild Award, the Bram Stoker Award, and the World Fantasy Award in the same year. In March of 2008, Discoveries (the literary fiction imprint of world-renowned gaming juggernaut Wizards of the Coast) will release a full-length novel version of The Man on the Ceiling, a complete rewrite of the original by the Tems themselves. The book is available for pre-order through Amazon. Better yet, have your local bookseller place an order for ISBN-13: 978-0786948581.

The Man on the Ceiling is a unique book. Part autobiography, part nightmare, and all true (though not necessarily factual), it alternates between Steve and Melanie’s tales of their encounters with the Man on the Ceiling. Who is the Man on the Ceiling? I can’t — no, I won’t — tell you that. It’s not my place to tell you about things you already know.

What you may not know is that The Man on the Ceiling is a wonderful read for couples. When Lannette and I read it to each other, we passed the book back and forth. I read the “Steve” sections and she read the “Melanie” sections. A few times, we paused to shiver or say “Wow” after particularly well-crafted paragraphs, and it was interesting to note that such different writing styles could produce the same effects in us. Steve’s writing is surreal and very visceral, and Melanie’s writing addresses the deeper, less tangible fears that we all face. But the shivers induced in us by both styles were the same. The two writers took different paths, but arrived at the same fearful, insecure, vulnerable spots within us, and that is simply astounding in a work so concise.

The story works exceedingly well for reading aloud in separate male and female voices, and I recommend that other couples do the same (if they can find a copy of the chapbook; otherwise, wait for the full-length release in March.) When we finished the book, we sat on the couch and cuddled for a while, grateful that we could experience the story together, secure in the realization that some fears are universal, and glad we have someone with whom we can share the burden.

If you’ve read this blog for any length of time, you know that we are friends with the Tems, and you might think that gives us an edge in appreciating the story. Maybe; I thought so at first, too. But the more I think about it, I don’t think knowing them makes that much difference. Sure, when they mention the house that they share with the Man on the Ceiling, images of that house jump immediately to my mind, and since we know what Melanie and Steve look and sound like, we automatically “hear” their voices reading the text and “see” them in the story’s scenes. But those elements, real as they may be, are not the story itself. The story is about him — the Man on the Ceiling — and our interactions with him. The setting could be any Victorian house in any historic neighborhood, and the people could have any faces concocted by the reader’s imagination.

I think that’s one of the things Melanie and Steve mean when they say in the story, “Everything we’ve told you is true.” Whether the details provided by individual readers match the “real” details is irrelevant; the experiences in the story are universal, and the Man on the Ceiling is, himself, universal.

Bruce Holland Rogers (concl.)

Bruce Holland Rogers‘ “Writing Even Though You Have a Life” workshop is well worth the money. I also purchased a copy of his latest book, Word Work: Surviving and Thriving as a Writer (Invisible Cities Press, $16.95, ISBN: 1-931229-17-1.) Check your local book stores for copies; if they don’t have them, they can order them. If you must support the conglomerate, you can also order it from Amazon.

Okay, the commercial is over. What about the workshop? Our workshop group was small, so Bruce was able to let the workshop roll where it wished. We didn’t stick to a specific outline or syllabus, but he made sure to cover points on the outline in which people were particularly interested. I took more notes the first night, probably because there was more pure information disseminated than on the second night, which was more discussion-based.

We did have a small homework exercise, which I completed with limited success; limited because I don’t feel I got any new story ideas that I really wish to expand, but I did learn a new technique for generating ideas. The thing that impressed me most about the writing exercises, both in homework and in the workshop itself, is that Bruce participated in them. Rather than placing a separation between teacher and student, he jumped right in with us, acknowledging that he is still a student himself, despite the Nebulas, Stoker and Pushcart Prizes he’s won.

I left the workshop highly encouraged, with new enthusiasm for a couple of stories that are currently in creative limbo. Bruce inscribed my copy of Word Work with exactly the right words to inspire me, and I particularly look forward to reading the chapters in the book entitled “Writers Loving Nonwriters,” “Writing with Children in the House,” “Death and the Day Job,” and all of Part 4, “Dangerous Territory,” about rejection, workshops and reviews.

Thanks, Bruce.

(As for creative activity today, this update is about all I did. However, I did go to see Star Wars Episode II:  Attack of the Clones and enjoyed a Rockie Dog at Coors Field as I watched the Colorado Rockies whoop up on the San Diego Padres at Coors Field. The final score was 16-3.)