Los Angeles, January 2011
My introduction to Paul McComas’ work was an advance copy of his 2008 novel Planet of the Dates, a coming-of-age story about a young man’s early adventures in the world of dating interspersed with his adventures creating homemade science fiction movies. What struck me even more than Paul’s fertile imagination was his utter lack of pretension. The let-it-all-hang-out honesty made his writing not only accessible, but relatable, for beneath all the monsters and aliens and fanciful stories were recognizable human characters and emotions.
The same is true of this current collection. You may not have been any of the people who populate this book, but I expect you have known versions of them. You may not have lived these experiences, but I am certain you will recognize them: the painful choice that cannot be avoided in “Roomie”; the longed-for love declared too late in “Levitation”; the merciless tyranny of monsters left unvanquished in the collection’s title story. The stuff of Paul’s fiction is quite simply the stuff of life.
Paul sought me out because I had written about the beloved fiction of his early life. My 1998 book “Planet of the Apes” as American Myth: Race, Politics, and Popular Culture explored how an ambitious group of producers, writers, and directors had created a modern mythology that catalogued and critiqued the racial and political struggles of the 1960s and ’70s—and captured audiences’ imaginations at the same time. It was a book that revealed the political subconscious of a cultural phenomenon.
Reading Paul’s work, I’m not surprised that he was taken with my exploration of how the Planet of the Apes films managed to be a potent mix of political sophistication, moral outrage, and entertainment, because what comes through again and again in Paul’s writing is his recognition of the power of fictional worlds as a tool to cope with, interpret, and navigate the real world in which we all live.
I hope Paul will forgive the suggestion that the most poignant creation in these pages was one he began writing at the impressively young age of fifteen. The traumatized and incapacitated title character of “Simon Says,” who creates imagined worlds to cope with his circumstances, says much about the uses of fiction by all of us—and, perhaps, about its dangers as well, as beneath Simon’s seemingly blank eyes, worlds are not just created but destroyed.
Just as in Planet of the Apes and all the other genre classics to which Paul tips his literary hat, so it is in his Unforgettable: there is something more going on beneath the surface. For Paul understands that “playful” does not necessarily mean “trivial.” He attests to taking particular pride in the notion that viewers of his film Blood of the Wolfman have recognized “what the piece is really about: the wages of violence, the burden of guilt, and the redemptive power of love.”
This is not a unique example. Suffusing Paul’s stories is the weight of consequences: scientific facts unheeded and political choices unmade in “Icediver”; the tragic results of “harmless” teen teasing in “Class Reunion”; the Rapper’s admonition in “The Oracle’s Rap”; ambition and greed unbounded in our joint creation, “Strongest”; the bone-chilling warning of the unimaginably depressing “The Most Terrifying Three-Word Dystopian/Dark-Fantasy/Horror Story Ever Written”—and, back again to the haunting young Simon, the collateral damage of deliberate cruelty.
It’s all here. Honest expression, serious purpose, perverse playfulness. And even fearlessness, when Paul boldly—and bravely—seeks, vis-a-vis his songwriting, to rehabilitate the term “amateur”: to reclaim it from the cultural gatekeepers (who wield the word to indict the “inferiority” of others and confirm the “superiority” of themselves), returning it to those who toil at a labor of love because of that love.
There is no doubt that for Paul, writing this book was a labor of love.
For you, I hope reading it will be as well.