Updates on My List of Upcoming Appearances

Unfortunately, I have had to severely truncate my list of upcoming appearances, due to my son Levi’s health situation. At present, I am unable to leave Dara, my wife, alone with Levi and his brothers for any extended period of time (such as the full weekend nearly all science fiction conventions take up). However, I expect to go to at least a day or two of CapClave 2014 in Rockville, Maryland in mid-October, since Rockville is only a ninety minute drive from my house and I can “commute.”

My updated list of planned and past convention and readings appearances can be found here.

Update to Upcoming Projects Page

My update to my Upcoming Projects page can be found here. You may be surprised to see how many books I have in the pipeline, including several that will be published later this year by MonstraCity Press. See my Upcoming Projects page for brief descriptions of books 4-6 of the Fat White Vampire series and books 2-4 of the August Micholson Chronicles series, along with descriptions of several stand-alone science fiction novels which I have written and the first three books of the Mount MonstraCity series for middle grade readers (each of which has been written). I hope you’re as excited as I am!

Fat White Vampire Otaku Next Up

Fat White - High Resolution - 100 Percent JPEG

Coming next from MonstraCity Press is the third in the Fat White Vampire/Jules Duchon series, Fat White Vampire Otaku. Just what is an otaku, you might ask? Otaku is Japanese for “fan boy” or “fan girl.” Jules and his vampire friends get to sample the blood of a trio of Japanese superheroes after the devastating Hurricane Antonia rolls through New Orleans. The effects of that blood (at least some of it) on Jules and his friends cause them to become big-time otaku of their visiting pals, the Japanese superheroes… before chaos erupts! And you know chaos HAS to erupt, because this is a Fat White Vampire book!

My wife Dara, my partner in MonstraCity Press, has been working hard on proofing and formatting this third book in the Fat White Vampire series. We are aiming for a late April to mid-May roll out of the book. The ebook versions will arrive first, to be followed by a trade paperback version. Watch this space, as I’ll keep you all informed as of our progress!

(Reality check: Dara and I have had our hands full with Levi’s health problems recently, so it is possible that the publication date of Fat White Vampire Otaku may be pushed back a month or two. I’ll continue to keep you all updated.)

A Historical Mystery Found in Graffiti

graphitti on Kiska

I discovered this seemingly weirdo incongruity while visiting an Internet site devoted to the Japanese occupation of the American island of Kiska during World War Two. This is the caption which accompanied this photo:

“Office of Japanese weather station occupied by Japanese, became U.S. officers’ headquarter; graffiti is written across wall behind desk.”

See if you spot the Bizarro-World nature of this graffiti which (we assume, based on the historical record) Japanese troops left behind on the wall of a weather station on the occupied island of Kiska in September, 1943.

Answer: the graffiti is in German, not Japanese! Was this a clever head-fake by the retreating Japanese, who left Kiska without firing a shot? Or were there actually German speakers on Kiska in 1943 – which would imply that the German High Command was considering using Kiska as a jumping-off point for an invasion of Alaska?

No; the latter doesn’t make any sense at all. It must be the former…

Here’s a link to the rest of a set of very memorable photographs of the island of Kiska, taken right after American forces liberated the place.

Would It Matter to You If You Had to Read a Vintage Ebook as an Emulation on the Web?

ELL's sad-mac after shipping mishap

Here’s a question I’d like to pose to those obsessive techies out there: would it matter at all to you if you had to read a vintage ebook as an emulation on the web, rather than read it on one of the machines it was originally built to be read upon? This is of at least a little interest to me, because (a) I have a collection of vintage laptops and so thus can be said to support maintaining the ecological niche of old electronics; and (b) a few months back, I picked up for my boys at Taco Bell a whole series of vintage Atari games (Pong, Asteroids, Centipede, etc.) which could only be played on a newish PC using the computer’s DVD drive, and I didn’t miss the experience of playing on the original hardware at all.

In support of “emulations are just fine, skip the original hardware,” here’s a story about the efforts of what I’ll call electronic literature archeologists to find and preserve some of the earliest examples of ebooks and books presented in an electronic-only format. As an illustration of the risks of relying too much on preserving the original-spec equipment to run the ebooks, here’s a cautionary tale of how the Electronic Literature Lab (ELL) For Advanced Inquiry into Born Digital Literature lost 4 of its 24 vintage MacIntosh computers in a shipping mishap, trying to get the computers to the January, 2014 convention of the Modern Language Association in Chicago. Life would’ve gone a whole lot smoother for the ELL folks if they’d only had to worry about transporting their software, not their hardware, too.

Here’s a description of the Electronic Literature Showcase which was held at the Library of Congress from April 3-5, 2013. The earliest example of an ebook in the program’s Featured Works dates to 1982, a work of “digital poetry” from Eduardo Kac entitled “Nao!”

cropped-ell-small2

For those of you who are interested in the Electronic Literature Lab For Advanced Inquiry into Born Digital Literature, here is their mission statement:

“The term ‘electronic literature’ applies to works that are created on a computer and meant to be read and experienced on a computer. [Dene] Grigar, a scholar and devotee of eLit, helped build a lab in which to preserve and enjoy works of vintage electronic literature. She helped create the Electronic Literature Lab at Washington State University Vancouver, which houses a collection of over 300 works of eLit — one of the largest collections in the world — and twenty eight vintage Macintosh computers on which to run them. Each computer has its appropriate OS version and, for browser-based works, appropriate browser versions.

“The ELL is never closed. Students with access rights can come and go at any time. Despite the age of the computers, they are all in good working condition. Grigar has someone who maintains the lab computers and keeps them tuned and running, and she uses a local computer-repair specialist for more serious technical issues.

“In addition to preserving the software disks on which the works reside, the ELL backs up and preserves their software in a repository. In some cases, the ELL keeps a copy of the software on the computer on which the work is played rather than go through the whole re-installation process; on the older computers that could require loading several disks. For CD-based works, they make an ISO image backup copy.

“The ELL has a searchable database to track all the works, the computers, operating systems and software requirements. If a user wants to view a work, he or she would search for it and, according to its requirements, locate which lab computer to use.”

Pretty interesting, huh? I’m happy to see that I’m not the only person out there who is fascinated by vintage electronics and the vintage software that runs on them.

My Friend, Lucius Shepard (August 21, 1943–March 18, 2014)

Lucius Shepard

Many obituaries, many still to be written the world over, will focus on Lucius Shepard’s tremendous body of work in the science fiction and fantasy field. Having known Lucius personally, I’d like to take a different tack. I’d like to focus on the Lucius who was such a good friend to my family and to me.

I had the great pleasure of meeting Lucius not too long after my first novel, Fat White Vampire Blues, hit the bookstores. I believe the first time Lucius and I spoke was at the World Fantasy Convention in Tempe, Arizona just before Halloween of 2004, when my first son, Levi, was less than a year old. Dara and I dressed Levi in a little gorilla costume for Halloween, and we walked from the hotel for some dinner with Lucius. When he found out who I was, Lucius said he’d read my book and told me to expect my protagonist, Jules Duchon, to receive fan mail.

A year later, at ArmadilloCon in Austin, Texas, Dara and I saw Lucius again. He mentioned that he’d be coming down to New Orleans to do research at the Tulane University library on William Walker for a book he was writing. Dara and I told him he should stay at our home on the West Bank of New Orleans and that I would be happy to drive him each day to the library and pick him up from the Algiers Ferry landing. While he was staying with us, one of my dining room chairs broke while he was sitting in it. Rather than getting indignant about how the incident might reflect on his great size and weight (Lucius was a big guy), he was incredibly apologetic about breaking my chair. To me, that’s Lucius in a nut shell… a gentle, polite giant, a sort of huge tame bear who had somehow wandered into our home.

This impression I had of him was only solidified later that evening. Dara’s and my cat, Snagglepuss, seemingly escaped the house when Lucius went outside for a cigarette break. Lucius and I spent an hour and a half driving through the neighborhood in search of that cat. I’ll never forget Lucius’s oddly high-pitched voice calling out, “Here, Snaggy! Here, Snaggy, Snaggy, Snaggy!” We later found the cat hiding in one of the rooms inside our home, so he’d never gotten out in the first place. But I’ll never forget Lucius’s very sincere concern. How strange it was, to have had one of the brightest stars in American literature sitting next to me in my little blue Ford Focus, calling out the window for a missing cat!

Lucius did something very special and very touching for me when my family and I were trapped outside our home for months in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Knowing that there was a good possibility that my entire collection of books had been destroyed by the hurricane’s floods (they weren’t, after all, since Dara and I were fortunate enough to live on the West Bank, in a separate flood zone from the rest of New Orleans—but Lucius didn’t know that, and neither did we at the time), and also knowing I had no reading material at the Florida condo where my family and I had taken shelter, Lucius shipped to Florida a carton of all of his books, signed and personalized. I have them on my shelves still.

Sad to say, Lucius and I did not stay in close touch after Hurricane Katrina. We never had any sort of a falling-out; we both just found ourselves too busy to do more than follow each other’s ups and downs on Facebook. I would send him “get well soon!” messages whenever I read that he had had an eye operation or that he was laid up with some sort of an illness (which happened distressingly frequently).

The last time we spoke was the Sunday morning before I suffered my own personal mental breakdown (due to issues completely unrelated to Lucius). A friend of Lucius’s, along with The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction’s editor, Gordon Van Gelder, had each emailed me and asked me if I would call Lucius at home so that he could practice his speech. He had suffered a stroke and needed to speak with friends he was comfortable with so that he could regain his speaking abilities. When I reached Lucius that morning, he was astoundingly upbeat about his prospects. I remember telling him, “Lucius, if I ever suffer anything like what you’re going through, I hope I can face it with half the bravery and fortitude you’re showing me this morning. All I can say is, you are a superhero!”

The very next day, I suffered physical symptoms related to my emotional breakdown which mirrored the impact of a stroke. A few weeks after I got out of the hospital, I sent Lucius a message on Facebook telling him about my experience and praising him as my role model; my experience of his bravery and fortitude had helped me get through that awful week in the mental hospital.

I don’t know whether Lucius ever received that message; I don’t know whether his stroke allowed him to check his Facebook messages. I also tried reaching him on the phone again, without success. But I hope he saw it.

Farewell, Lucius. As a friend, a writer, and a human being, you were a superhero to me!

Washington, DC Must Be Doing All Right

BMW x5 purple
…during this supposed nationwide economic downturn. This morning, while walking from my Virginia Railway Express station at L’Enfant Station to my office, an eight-block walk away, I saw two BMW x5 sport utility vehicles turn onto Avenue D simultaneously, a silver one in one turn lane and a purple one in the other turn lane. Right next to each other. I realize this isn’t as extraordinary as seeing, say, two Ferraris driving side by side. Still, what are the chances of seeing two such luxury sport utility vehicles side by side, apart from at a BMW dealership (or maybe Beverly Hills)? And mind you, I’m talking Southwest Washington, DC, a quadrant of governmental agency headquarters, not an enclave of multi-millionaire movie stars. Hey, I’m not cashing in during this Gold Rush. When I’m not riding the train, I’m driving a Kia Rondo.

Super-Sized Showa Era Sadness (the Way the Future Once Looked)

These retro-futuristic images from Japanese magazines struck a chord in me. They raised emotions in my breast (bemused sadness and nostalgic longing) which are probably the precise opposite of the emotions their artists, either in the halcyon days of pre-WW 2 Japan or in the wildly optimistic and forward-looking Japan of the early 1960s, intended to inspire when they originally created these images (I imagine the artists, if they had any goal at all aside from cashing a paycheck, wanted to elicit feelings of awe and happy anticipation at the marvels the future would bring).

I think the reason these images inspire bemused sadness and nostalgic longing in me is that they were originally published, not in the pages of Japanese science fiction magazines, but in the Japanese equivalent of our American magazine Popular Mechanics, which meant that these gigantic, awe-inspiring machines were fanciful or fantastical versions of machines which were thought to be (someday) practical and buildable. Suffice to say, Japan never saw propeller driven trains like these envisioned in 1936 (this one’s my favorite in this little selection; just take a gander at those fabulous passengers you can see through the windows!):

Japanese propeller trains from 1936

Or a super ocean liner which, when in distress, could launch self-contained life boat cruisers from a sea-level launching platform (I wonder whether or not the artist had any notion that just a few years after he would pen this drawing, the U.S. submarine fleet would be sending the majority of the Japanese merchant fleet to the bottom of the Pacific; probably not):

Japanese futuristic ocean liner launching life boats in 1936

Or an Arctic exploration vehicle which carries its own biplane (and all with US markings, too, a rather remarkable detail from a drawing published in a late 1930s Japanese popular magazine):

Japanese pre-war US Arctic exploration vehicle

Or this pre-war era car riding on super-sized tires or these boats floating on similarly giant-sized water-propulsion treads:

Japanse futuristic vehicles from 1936

Or these bicycle-like human-powered aircraft from 1965:

Japanese human-powered aircraft from 1965

On the other hand, Japan has witnessed magnetic levitation trains, perhaps not quite as outrageous as this one from 1964, though:

Japanese mag-lev train from 1964 Shonen Magazine

What flittered through my brain as I looked at these images (brought to us by those good folks at the Dark Roasted Blend website, which specializes in daily sharings of retro-futuristic images from around the world) is that the artists who drew them with such optimistic hopes in their souls have either been dead and buried for years or now reside in Japanese nursing homes, and the futuristic vehicles with which they graced the covers and interiors of popular Japanese mechanics magazines either never came to fruition or (like the magnetic levitation train) ended up being super-expensive disappointments.

Oh, well… they’re still marvelous to look at, aren’t they?

Bad Trip

sponge

This past week, I discovered something new. It is possible to have TOO MUCH serotonin in your system at one time.

YES, you read that right: TOO MUCH, as well as too little serotonin causes a problem (maybe this isn’t news to you, but it was news to me).

Turns out my problem was related to the fact that I’m taking two medications at the same time (among other), both of which have the effect of raising one’s serotonin (one is an anti-depressant, the other is a new [to me] anti-anxiety drug). I just started taking this new [to me] anti-anxiety drug last week (it replaced a different anti-anxiety drug, which I wanted to stop taking because it tends to be addictive over time, unlike the new one), on last Thursday (a week ago yesterday). Sunday, for those of you who read my blog regularly, I noticed a new “blip” on my perceptual radar: I couldn’t watch my son Asher play Minecraft for more than a few minutes without getting motion sickness.

Tuesday, I began experiencing something else somewhat new: I noticed how “spongy” my work keyboard felt. And how “spongy” my laptop’s keyboard felt.

By Wednesday morning (I had fortuitously taken the day off from work to babysit Levi), EVERYTHING felt a little “spongy.” “Spongy” was the word of the day.

But then the effect started to increase. And that’s when I began freaking out. Everything felt like it was at a remove; if I heard a song, I couldn’t get it out of my head (and I recalled every single lyric to David Bowie’s “A Space Oddity” as soon as I thought of the title of that song, while searching for a proper metaphor for what I was feeling).

I decided to take a shower. After my shower, I found myself a much cleaner but still “spongy” person; the prickles of water had not banished my weird sensations.

That’s when I REALLY began freaking out. But it was a panic attack unlike any I’d experienced before. Because even though the symptoms were causing me to have the panic attack (psychologically), those same symptoms (off too much serotonin in my system) were preventing the physical symptoms normally set off by a panic attack — i.e.: I wasn’t experiencing any speeding up of my heart rate, nor sweating, nor increased respiration, nor uneasiness or discomfort within my stomach and bowels. I knew I was having a panic attack, but I couldn’t feel myself having one.

Let me tell you, that is one bizarre set of sensations.

Thank the heavens above, I was able to get a fifteen minute appointment with my psychiatric nurse later that afternoon (I just had to hold it together until my wife could drive me to the appointment, since I sure as heck wasn’t going to try driving myself). I described what I was feeling, and he said, “Sounds like too much serotonin in your system all at once. Take a break from swallowing the XXXXX pills and see if your symptoms recede by late tonight.”

Yes, the symptoms did recede by late that night (but it was kind of hellish getting there). (Because on the way to “normal,” I experienced two crazy-ass nightmares… I remember the second one… I was a dead body that folks just wouldn’t leave buried… they kept picking me up and doing stuff with me…)

So now I’ve been off XXXX for nearly two days. I’m not feeling nearly as dizzy/loopy/”spongy.”

But it is definitely a matter of degree. Although it’s been a couple of days since a swallowed an XXXX pill, I’m still noticing how darn “spongy” this keyboard feels…

Fire on Iron Now Available in Paperback!

Fire On Iron

For those of you who prefer to read your books in print, rather than in pixels, my newest book, Fire on Iron, is now available in trade paperback format for the price of $15.95.

And of course, Fire on Iron remains available in the following ebook formats for the bargain price of $2.99:

Smashwords

Nook

Apple iTunes

And if you are a diehard Kindle fan, the Kindle version is available for the price of $5.99.

I’m currently working on the last few chapters of the second book in my series which began with Fire on Iron, Midnight’s Inferno: the August Micholson Chronicles. The new book will be called Hellfire and Damnation. Now’s your chance to get in on the ground floor of a brand-new, exciting Civil War steampunk suspense series!

One more time, here’s the back cover blurb:

“What price redemption? Is martial honor worth the cost of one’s soul?

“Lieutenant Commander August Micholson lost his first ship, the wooden frigate USS Northport, in reckless battle against the rebel ironclad ram CSS Virginia. However, Flag Officer Andrew Foote offers the disgraced young Micholson a chance to redeem himself: he can take the ironclad gunboat USS James B. Eads on an undercover mission to destroy a hidden rebel boat yard, where a fleet of powerful ironclads is being constructed which will allow the Confederate Navy to dominate the Mississippi.

“But dangers far more sinister than rebel ironclads await Micholson and his crew. On the dark waters of the Yazoo River, deep within rebel territory, they become entangled in a plot devised by a slave and his master to summon African fire spirits to annihilate the Federal armies. Micholson must battle devils both internal and external to save the lives of his crew, sink the Confederate fleet, and foil the arcane conspiracy. Ultimately, Micholson is faced with a terrible choice — he can risk the lives of every inhabitant of America, both Union and Confederate, or destroy himself by merging with a demon and forever melding his own soul with that of his greatest enemy.”

It is Possible to Get Motion Sickness…

Getting Sick

… from watching your kid play Minecraft on a 48” flat-screen TV.

I discovered this baleful fact on Sunday. Asher, my middle son, has fallen in love with that game. Due to the fact that my wife (and I, I must admit) wanted to be able to stream Netflix movies to our big flat-screen TV in our bedroom, we purchased our used Xbox 360 unit from our daughter, Natalie, and installed it next to the TV facing our bed. This is great for watching movies. It is a little less great, however, because it makes our bedroom the only spot in which our kids (and their visiting friends) can play Minecraft.

Until very recently (before Sunday, in fact), this did not pose any great problem for me. The Minecraft background music is soothing, generally. If I want to be in my bedroom, on my bed, taking a nap, I simply had to direct the kids (usually Asher) to turn the volume all the way down.

However… and this is a big “however”… Asher has become steadily more proficient with playing the game. He has speeded up his rate of play dramatically. In fact, as I discovered to my regret (and nausea), he has speeded up his rate of play and movement to the extent that watching him play for more than two or three minutes causes me to suffer motion sickness.

“Oh, just close your eyes, then!” you may find yourself saying about now.

I did. After I got nauseous. It took me a full twenty minutes to start feeling close to normal again. I also discovered that it isn’t easy to keep your eyes continually shut for twenty minutes when you aren’t sleeping. And it is virtually impossible not to watch whatever is showing up on that 48” flat-screen TV if your eyes happen to be open.

“Oh, just send the kids out of your room, then!” you may find yourself saying about now.

Well, I try. But they are addicted. I don’t know if they are literally addicted, but they act like they are. My commanding them to shut down the game and leave the room results in paroxysms of protest and howls of hurt feelings.

Solution? (Is there ever a long-lasting, “one use fits all” solution to problems which arise between parents and children?)

Well, I could retreat from my own bedroom. Later in the day, once the boys had crept back into my room and ensconced themselves on my bed to play Minecraft once again (after I had banished them the first time), I did opt for taking shelter in my son Levi’s room to read my Captain Britain collection in a semblance of peace (and with a non-upset stomach).

I suppose my newfound ability to get motion sickness from watching a video game being played at high speed is just another sign of aging. When I was a lad, I could spend hours riding such carnival thrillers as the Octopus, the Zipper, the Round-Up, and the Himalaya; now, five minutes on the Flying Swings makes me want to ralph. I’m not alone in this – my seven-years-younger brother admitted to me last night that motion simulation machines get him sick, that he can’t ride any of the “scary” rides at Disneyworld anymore, and that seeing Avatar on an Imax screen made him stare down at the floor and clutch his stomach. That makes me feel just a bit better. (And at least I didn’t get sick during my viewing of the 3-D version of The Lego Movie this weekend.)

Bigfoot Dreams: A Possibly Anxiety-Colored Review

Bigfoot Dreams, Francine Prose

Bigfoot Dreams
Francine Prose
Pantheon Books, 1986 (hardcover)
Owl Publishing Company, 1998 (trade paperback)

As a reader of book reviews or “literary reviews,” as they are sometimes called, I have always wondered, most particularly with reviews having either a strong positive or negative bent, how much of the content of the review was actually based upon the book’s inherent qualities, and how much was based on external circumstances – a past relationship between the author and the reviewer; the reviewer’s reactions to the author’s earlier books; any financial connection between the reviewer and the publisher of the book; and, last but not least, the reviewer’s internal mood when reading the book in question.

Having recently suffered the onset of anxiety/panic disorder and having spent some time recovering from an emotional breakdown, the last element of that question is particularly pertinent to me. When I respond to a book now, am I responding to the book’s inherent qualities, or am I allowing whichever mood was prevalent in me during the majority of my reading (particularly when reading the final chapters) color my opinion of the book? In other words – is it the book, or is it me?

I was introduced to Francine Prose’s novels by critic D. G. Myers’ enthusiastic appraisal of her career. First I read Blue Angel: a Novel (2000), and later I read her Young Adult novel Bullyville (2007) and one of her more recent books for adults, Goldengrove: a Novel (2008). I enjoyed them all. But one of her titles which most intrigued me, as it seemed to have some cross-over appeal to my fantasy and horror interests, was and earlier work, her comic novel Bigfoot Dreams (1986).

Francine Prose writes in the genre which booksellers and publishers call “literary fiction.” “Literary fiction” as a publishing genre is different from the selection of books termed “quality fiction” or “literary works of merit” by critics such as D. G. Myers. In the view of such critics as Professor Myers, books of any publishing genre can rise to the ranks of the “literary” through the high quality of their creation and their fidelity to their author’s intentions and to the needs of that particular genre. For example, The Left Hand of Darkness, a science fiction novel by Ursula K. Le Guin, can be classified as both a “science fiction novel” and as a “literary work of merit.” Similarly, Professor Myers himself has mentioned Mario Puzo’s popular novel The Godfather as a work which both falls within the “crime genre” due to its plot and characters, and which can also be considered a “literary work of merit,” due to its deep involvement with themes of morality and family loyalty.

The publishing genre which is marketed under the title “literary fiction (also described by Professor Myers as “workshop fiction,” meaning fiction most likely midwifed in one of the nation’s hundreds of MFA Creative Writing Programs) can most often be characterized by a relative lack of emphasis on plot (what happens) and a relatively greater emphasis on character (who things happen to; who drives the story), setting (where and when the book takes place), mood (the emotional impact the words of the story are meant to induce in a reader), or theme (the “deeper” meaning of the story, beyond that which is implied by the surface plot elements; most often theme is revealed through symbolism strategically applied throughout the book). In contrast, nearly all of the other publishing genres (science fiction; fantasy; horror; mystery; romance; Westerns; spoofs or farces) tend to be driven most strongly by plot.

Bigfoot Dreams falls into the sub-genre of comic literary fiction. I estimate its length to be approximately 90,000 words. Of those 90,000 words, I would guesstimate that 15,000 words (about seventeen percent of the book) are directly concerned with incidents, or what we might call “plot elements;” things that happen to the characters, most particularly the main character, New York-based tabloid journalist Vera Perl. The other 75,000 words (or about eighty-three percent of the book) busy themselves with detailed descriptions of the characters; depictions of the main character’s and various subsidiary characters’ thoughts and opinions; carefully worked out metaphors and similes; depictions of various settings; and authorial summarization of various elements of the book’s theme, either directly or through symbolism. It would have been quite possible for Ms. Prose to have written this particular story as a 20,000 word novella and not left out any of the book’s major plot elements. But because plot was not Ms. Prose’s primary concern with this work (or at least less of a concern than it was with any of the other three of her works which I’ve read), the great majority of the book is made up of what fans of more plot-oriented genres might dismissively call “padding.”

I do not mind padding in the books I read, so long as the padding is done right — i.e.: so long as it is inherently interesting, well rendered, thought-provoking, and gives “life” and “substance” to the book, or sets “flesh” on the “bones” provided by the plot. I will admit that, having read three of Ms. Prose’s other books, all of which depend more heavily on plot than does Bigfoot Dreams, I was a little bit surprised by the absence of meaningful incidents in the book (plot elements which have a direct impact upon following plot elements). But I was not initially put off by the amount of “padding,” for I found much of that “padding” to be humorous and sometimes even profound, or delightful in the sense of recognition and truth which particular passages (having nothing whatsoever to do with the plot) could raise in my mind.

Throughout much of the first two-thirds, or 60,000 words, of this book, I considered Bigfoot Dreams to be among the better books I’ve read in recent years, certainly on par with Ms. Prose’s other books, which I had thoroughly enjoyed. However, I recall having read most of those initial 60,000 words in a relatively calm, non-anxious state; when I had found myself to be feeling anxious, I resorted to reading books which required less concentration, such as graphic novels or collections of comic book stories, where the pictures helped anchor my thoughts to the page.

However, I found my enjoyment of the final third of the book to be far less than the enjoyment I had derived from the book’s first two-thirds. I must admit, I read much of the book’s final third while in an anxious state; sometimes a highly anxious state (due to occurrences in my home, or waiting for one son’s temper tantrum to set off another son’s autistic fit).

The question I have a hard time answering is this: did my enjoyment fall off because the book’s quality and presentation fell off, or did my enjoyment decrease significantly because I simply “wasn’t in the proper frame of mind” to enjoy what is marketed as “literary fiction” (or even “comic literary fiction”)?

I must admit that the best mood to be in to enjoy the lulls and “padding” of a “literary novel” is a calm, contemplative mood. Anxiety, by its nature, scatters one’s powers of concentration; if one attempts to focus on something other than the object of one’s anxiety, one’s attention is inevitably drawn back to that source of anxiety and away from any enjoyable contemplation of the mood, theme, or setting of the book one is trying to read. Both pictures (in the case of graphic novels or comic books) or “what-comes-next?” plotting (in the case of genres which fall outside of that genre commercially described as “literary fiction”) can tend to provide an anchor for one’s mind, cementing the attention in the book being read and disallowing one’s attention from being pulled away toward the source or cause of one’s anxious mood.

So it is quite possible that my changed opinion of Bigfoot Dreams during the book’s final third was due to my changed (for the worse) mood.

However, it is also possible that my reduced enjoyment and lessened opinion of the book was due primarily to the book’s own failings in its final third. During the novel’s first two-thirds, several major conflicts are set up by the plot. Will Vera retain the affection and ultimately the custody of her ten-year-old daughter? Will she get back together again with her estranged husband, or will she simply lose her daughter to him? How will she fix the situation with the Greens, the family whose lives she has unintentionally turned upside down with one of her tabloid “imaginary stories” for This Week (she wrote that the couple’s children were selling lemonade made with water having miraculous healing powers; she thought she had made up all the details about the family, but weird synchronicity and coincidence caused her “made up” names for the family to be their actual names, which causes a stampede of health-seekers to camp out on their front lawn and demand samples of the miraculous water contained in their faucets)? How will she survive her being fired from the staff of This Week? If she ends up attending a convention of cryptobiologists to which she has been invited (due to the numerous stories she has written concerning Bigfoot), will she be able to produce a story of high-enough journalistic merit to sell it to a mainstream magazine or newspaper, thus resurrecting her dead career?

In the book’s final third, none of these conflicts receive any real resolution. Vera achieves a satori of sorts at the cryptobiologists’ convention when an elderly couple reports on their sighting of the semi-legendary sauropod Mokele-Mbembe in the African nation of Congo. But all this supposedly climactic insight (it occurs in the book’s final twenty pages) accomplishes for Vera is to make her more accepting of the probable negative outcomes of the many conflicts she finds herself embroiled in. The satori/insight, by itself, resolves absolutely nothing.

This disappointed me. Yes, I read that whole section of the book in a highly anxious state, which made concentration difficult. But I find myself persuaded that, even if I had been in the “perfect” contemplative mood to ingest the book’s final chapters, I still would have found the lack of resolution of any of the novel’s main conflicts to be frustrating and disappointing.

Maybe I just need to stick to the comic books when I’m feeling anxious?

It is a conundrum. What it the book or was it me? I suppose the only way I will ever know for certain is to re-read the novel in a perfectly calm state, all the way through… if such an extended period of calm is ever again available to me.

Introducing Ayo, MonstraCity Press’s Mascot!

Monstracity Press Logo

For those of you who haven’t seen him yet, I’d like to introduce Ayo, the official mascot of MonstraCity Press (and the star of our official logo)!

Ayo was the work of a very talented graphic artist, James, who can be reached at this email address (remove the asterisks from between the letters; trying to foul up spammers):

*h*u*m*b*l*e*n*a*t*i*o*n*s@*g*m*a*i*l.com

Fire On Iron

James has also been serving as our cover design artist. Many of you have seen the cover he did for Fire on Iron. He’s also created covers for two of our next three projects, Fat White Vampire Otaku and The Bad Luck Spirits’ Social Aid and Pleasure Club. Very soon, I’ll be having him start work on the cover for the second book in my new series, Midnight’s Inferno: the August Micholson Chronicles, which started with Fire on Iron and which will continue with a second volume called Hellfire and Damnation (which I am typing busily away upon on a near-daily basis, to get it ready for August, 2014 distribution).

I hope everyone likes Ayo. Let Dara and me know what you think of him and of our MonstraCity Press logo.

Also, keep watching this space for more MonstraCity Press info, coming very soon!

Two Hard Days

The hardness of a day is entirely relative. I thought my first day at Prince William Psychiatric and Substance Abuse Center was the hardest day of my life, while I was living through it. Yet I also know that in years past, I have considered the day my first wife told me she wanted out of our marriage, then left for work, leaving me behind with a broken leg, as the worst day of my life. I have also considered certain childhood days, such as my earliest day of mental and physical torture at the bus stop waiting to be bussed to Thomas Jefferson Junior High School, as the worst day of my life. Or the day I told my mother I could not mentally handle another single day of junior high school, and that I would need to be home schooled, and she replied that I was simply being ridiculous and of course I would return to my school the next day. Or maybe the worst day of my life was the day I discovered my home in New Orleans might have been destroyed and my stepdad denied me, my wife, and my two baby sons shelter in their home in Albuquerque, an act of ultimately unforgivable parental betrayal. Looking back now, who is to say which of those days was truly the worst day of my life? Each of those days seemed like the worst while I was living through it.

These past two days I would not rank as among the worst of my life. Monday, however, was a day that Dara ranked as among the worst of hers, and so she called me to ask me to come home early and relieve some of the pressure on her. Levi had taken his medications on an empty stomach and vomited all over the back seat of her van. Slightly later, he descended into one of his worst anxiety fits ever, caused primarily by boredom (he has been out of school since his release from the hospital two weeks ago). He tried throwing a rocking chair down a set of stairs at his mother, then engaged in such violent acting out that she was forced to call 911. By the time the police officer arrived, he had calmed down to the point where the officer said he could do nothing for Dara (and this after Levi tried kicking the officer in the shin). Right after this incident, Dara got a call from Judah’s SAC Program (School After Care Program), saying that Judah had been throwing tantrums and had tried on several occasions to escape from the facility. So she had to take Levi, who had barely finished his tantrum, to the SAC Program to pick up Judah. Then they went to visit a potential private school for Levi, one which had indicated it would take Prince William County funds in lieu of private tuition monies. The only bright bit of the whole day was that this school seemed to be an appropriate placement for Levi, if we are able to convince the County to send him there and pay for his tuition.

After Dara’s panicked, exhausted call, I took the midday train home. I arrived just in time to see our ninety-pound hound dog, Romeo, muscle his way past Judah and escape into the neighborhood. This is significant because an anonymous neighbor has been reporting us to the County Animal Control Center and has demanded that we be assessed with a $325 fine, with the option of the dog being taken away from us (I can only assume that Romeo, a non-aggressive animal, has been running across their lawn and leaving examples of defecation behind). We have been utterly unable to prevent Romeo, a powerful, stubborn (but extremely lovable) dog, from escaping this way. Even building a fence around the front part of our home would not solve the problem, because we cannot count on our children to always latch the gate, and Romeo could simply push through two doors, rather than one.

So I made the difficult decision that we would have to surrender Romeo to the same adoption SPCA agency from which we’d acquired him a year and a quarter ago. I didn’t like making this decision; Romeo has been as much my therapy dog since my release from the hospital as he has been Levi’s therapy dog. But I saw no choice; these anonymous neighbors could keep reporting us and suing us until we are drained dry, and putting up a $1200 fence offered no assurances of solving the problem.

So, early Tuesday morning, I drove Romeo to the Stafford SPCA and surrendered him back to the folks we had acquired him from. They, bless their hearts, were extremely kind about this. They said they love Romeo and will do their best to find a more suitable placement for him. In the meantime, they are sheltering him in comfort. I was allowed to spend a final twenty minutes with him. Lots of tears on my part; it didn’t help when he came over to lick my face. Saying goodbye to him was as hard as when I had to put down Baxter, my favorite cat who had contracted feline leukemia. I took a fistful of tissues from the SPCA and cried most of the drive home.

Then, a half-hour later, it was time for me to pick up Levi from another school he was visiting, another possibility for placement. I took him out to lunch at Noodles and Company, one of our favorite restaurants, and then we spent the afternoon at the Air and Space Museum Annex of the Smithsonian Institution, the facility located near Dulles International Airport. I tried everything I could to keep him from getting bored, and I succeeded (we took the guided tour of the facility for the first time ever). All of the standing and listening, however, wore both of us out. Then we took the long drive home, and I immediately had to take Asher to tae kwan do lessons and wait for him. I had Judah with me, so I got him a snack at Taco Bell, and then we went to Second and Charles and browsed a bit (I treated myself to a Hawkeye graphic novel that had gotten great reviews in the comic book online press). By the time I got the boys home, I was literally too tired to butter a potato. I gulped down some food and then retired to bed while Dara attended a meeting and I allowed the boys to break the school-week rules and watch TV. I felt somewhat better after a twenty-minute rest and spent the next ninety minutes reading some of the original Len Wein Swamp Thing comics before finally surrendering to sleep.

This morning, I fought the snow and the bitter cold to get back into the office. The last two days feel like a bad dream (not all parts, but most). Even so, I got some writing done, some good work I am pleased with. How I managed it, I have simply no idea.

I just pray that things get a little easier from here on out. I and Dara have both been worn down by crisis after crisis, with no rest in between; like a pair of mountains being worn down by an inexorable glacier and unending storms.

More Evidence Supporting the Decline of the West

photo taking idiot in car

Some people seem to take great glee in coming up with fresh, creative ways to be complete jackasses.

This past week, I experienced something new. Something new, infuriating, but mostly unsettling.

I was driving south on Smoketown Road in Woodbridge in Northern Virginia, and I needed to get into one of two left-hand turn lanes to make a left onto Prince William Parkway. Traffic was heavy, and the turn lanes were entirely filled with cars, leaving me no room in which to change lanes to the left.

So, while we were all stopped at a red light, before the left turn arrows turned green, I paused alongside a set of cars in the rightmost left-hand turn lane and put on my left turn signal. I then attempted to acquire the attention of a driver who would pause long enough (when the left turn arrow changed to green) to allow me to merge.

I caught the eye of one young male driver and smiled and waved at him, hoping he would let me merge. He paused for a second, just long enough to allow me to start to begin my merge. Then he speeded up, cutting me off.

Here’s the unique part — or at least unfamiliar to me until now. As he passed me, expecting to see an angry, disgusted look on my face, he had out his smart phone and took a picture of my face through my driver’s side window.

I don’t think I gave him exactly the expression he was hoping for. I found myself more amazed that he’d had foresight and seconds to whip out his camera in time to immortalize my expression and (undoubtedly) upload my photo to Tumbler or Facebook with a suitably snarky comment posted below it, along the lines of, “Here’s some idiot I really pissed off by pretending to let him merge into the turn lane, but then cut him off at the last second.”

This was a guy in his early twenties, not some young teen who had just passed his driving exam. This must’ve been a practiced bit of behavior for him, because his planning and execution were so precise.

And thus, to paraphrase Pink Floyd, I’ve just witnessed “another brick in the wall” added to the rampart of anarchy and barbarism which seems to be eating away at the edges of our society.

On the good side of the ledger, Levi came home from the hospital last week and enjoyed an excellent (fit-free) first week back home. He has been very loving and in turn has been abundantly loved by his parents, brothers, and dog.

Also, I took the boys to see Walking with Dinosaurs, and unlike the execrable Free Birds, I place it on my list of the year’s best films.

%d bloggers like this: