Friday, June 28, 2013

BLEEDING KANSAS Is Available in Kindle!

I began writing Bleeding Kansas 24 May 2012. I quit a job shortly after my birthday in October with intentions of selling this novel DIY Kindle ebook through Amazon. With just enough chapters to make it happen I commenced serializing the novel on this blog in January. 

In March, Severed Press came a-calling. I was up to Chapter 17 when I signed the contract on 13 March and took Act Two offline. Soon afterward, I took down the rest of it. (Ain’t no sense giving away what I’m planning on selling, amirite?) 

I spent much, much more time than I’d intended finishing the book. At least I was happy with how the book finished, on 25 May 2013, a year and a day after I’d begun. It wasn’t quite what I’d expected, but it fit the mood I was going for.

Bleeding Kansas served hard time in the proofreader’s queue before it came back to me. Going over it I found myself savoring the deeply weird ending, especially the scene depicted in the cover art as described by the Dead Silencer. There’s a 1970s feel to the action, and the toxic-abrasive attitude driving the hero. We root for him because, of all the assholes in the post-apocalyptic Zombie Crapsack World, he’s the least assholish, if still very much an asshole.

I’ll admit I never thought my first novel would be a zombie apocalypse novel. As a writer I expected my first to be a Great American Novel, i.e., the Great American Middle-Class Melodrama. I may yet finish that book. But for right now it’s all about post-apocalyptic rage-revenge fantasy for people like me who hate the way things have become. Which is Great American enough for me.

George Romero wrote and filmed Night of the Living Dead as a reaction to the Failed Dream of the 1960s, especially the disaster-on-skates that was the year 1968. (Tet Offensive, LBJ declines to run for re-election, MLK shot, RFK shot, the Democratic National Convention in Chicago, etc.) Over the last five years—since 2008, 40 years after Night of the Living Dead—we have watched the professional class hollow out as IT jobs and other trade positions fell away. The system gets along with a lot fewer people in 2013. If you miss out on this game of musical chairs, 1,000 people for 20 chairs, now 19, now 17, too bad, so sad, sucks to be you. Or maybe not....

In that light Bleeding Kansas in particular and The Saga of the Dead Silencer altogether is my statement on Life in These United States, ca. A.D. 2013. It’s not great capital-S Satire and social commentary, mind you. It’s first and foremost a two-fisted action-adventure tale in a post-apocalyptic setting with zombies. I take my shots when I can, though.

I’m gambling that you’re like me and figure any apocalypse is better than the one we’re living through now. If so, you’ll enjoy Bleeding Kansas

“Delightful rage-fantasy and post-apocalyptic ultraviolence!” 

Sunday, June 16, 2013

My Time in Zombie Writer’s Camp XVI: The CONFEDERATION Project

This is one of those rare cases in which one’s nostalgia for something isn’t killed off by a chance encounter with it years later. That is to say, I’ve always remembered this chapter  fondly, and damned if it didn’t reward my love when I read it again just today. Preacher Miller isn’t a cartoon villain; the overcooked and overexposed trope of the Evil Preacherman doesn’t apply. Here, we come to understand his drive, we feel his indignation — which means we’ll be there to weep when it all goes to shit, as we know it must. 

So help me, I am going to find a way to lash all this together and finish this once I’m done relating The Saga of the Dead Silencer. This is just too good to throw away. Run the boilerplate!

In 2008 James Robert Smith and I collaborated on a project we hoped would turn out to be the Winesburg, Ohio of zombie epics, a mosaic tale describing the communities coming together (and squaring off against one another) in the wake of the zombie apocalypse. For various reasons the collaboration fell apart. Bob took his part of the narrative — which included his idea of a border collie manipulating the other abandoned dogs and zombies—and crafted The Living End. I scuffled around for a couple of more years until I came up with The Saga of the Dead Silencer.

For those readers following the first part of my saga, Bleeding Kansas, who miss having something nasty-mean to read, here’s the sixteenth installment I wrote for the project. Of course, if you like this, feel free to pick up Bob’s completed work. Support your local architects of the apocalypse!


A ridge-runnin’ cracker, she said, that’s all those people think when they look at you.

Well, thought Preacher Miller, ain’t that what I’m doin’?

They think you get everything handed to you just ‘cause you’re white. You ever notice how it’s perfectly okay to make fun of poor white people? We’re all stupid an’ makin’ naked with family members if not the cow (like we can afford livestock!) an’ people laugh and laugh! It don’t matter how much schoolin’ you get or how pretty you learn to talk, everybody white and black looks down on a ridge-runnin’ cracker!

But Leah Miller’s boy had been determined to rise above all that. Faith in the Living God and in His Only Son, Jesus Christ, had enabled him to work and raise the money for seminary school. And what did you know, most of the people at seminary school recognized his faith for what it was, a genuine thing! They were all brothers in Christ, and it didn’t matter who you were or where you were from or the color of your skin (though admittedly there weren’t a lot of black folk there at the place he went to, all of one, really, but he was a good guy).

Gerald Nicholas Miller sat through countless hours of tutoring just to catch up to the levels his fellows had taken for granted in eighth grade. He was well aware they would not have afforded him this opportunity save that, alone among his fellow students, Jerry Miller knew his Bible backwards, forwards, sideways and down. And Jerry Miller, known among kith and kin as Preacher Miller even before he was accepted into school, also knew the Old Testament was full of stories of outsiders who had made good against all odds. Jacob, Esther, Ruth, Daniel, and that poor shepherd boy who left the fields with no more than a lyre and a sling to become God’s greatest warrior and the most beloved of Israel’s many kings — everything in the world against them save a heart faithful and true to the Lord their God.

Then came Jesus to explain the ageless truth demonstrated in these stories, a Good News for poor children of every stripe and color: For verily I say unto you, If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible unto you. Matthew Chapter 17, verse 20. And in Chapter 21, verse 22: And all things, whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive.

This was echoed in Luke Chapter 17, verse 5: If ye had faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye might say unto this sycamine tree, Be thou plucked up by the root, and be thou planted in the sea; and it should obey you.

Preacher Miller had had no intention of literally moving mountains. He had only desired to stand as a beacon of hope among those who were as impoverished of spirit as they were of material wealth. For he, Gerald Nicholas Miller, was from the same place, the same mindset, and through the power and love of God the Father and through His Son Jesus Christ, he was flush with the treasures of heaven. Where is boasting then? said Paul to the Romans (Chapter 3, verses 27-28). It is excluded. By what law? of works? Nay: but by the law of faith. Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law.

Adrenaline spiked throughout Preacher Miller; it was the kind of verse someone like Dr. Mark Winthrop would use to excuse his excesses. So why was it he and not Dr. Mark fleeing alone along this midnight ridge?

Breath hitching, Preacher Miller slowed from his run. He would have stopped altogether but his blood was pounding so hard through his body he thought his very skin would burst, let alone his heart.

Had there been writing on the wall, a mene mene tekel upharsin he had missed in thinking he could take down an operation like New Bethany with only thirty-three men? Was his faith insufficient, nowhere near the mustard seed required to make the necessary difference?


The command resounded as if shouted from the very heavens. Preacher Miller, Gerald Nicholas Miller, Jerry to his mother, and a name known but to God since before he was conceived in his mother’s womb — Preacher Miller skid to a halt and looked towards the sky.

The moon blazed with a blue-white intensity, beaming a spectral heat upon the mountain. God Himself was beyond that moon, shining with a luminescence so intense mortal eyes dared not register it in the void between the stars. Preacher Miller stood, his breath all but steaming in the moonlight, looking to the sky for further instruction.

But all Preacher Miller heard was the slow pulsing of crickets. The distant hiss of wind rising in trees....

Terrors are turned upon me: they pursue my soul as the wind: and my welfare passeth away as a cloud.

From Job’s lamentation unto God in Chapter 30, verse 15. Most scholars thought Job and his famed tribulation the oldest book of the Bible. Did Preacher Miller consider his sufferings equal to that of....



The wind in the trees, ruffling the long grasses of the meadows. Like a father’s hand in his child’s hair. Fifteen references to the wind in Job alone — God answered Job’s complaints from the whirlwind — but so many more throughout the Scriptures. The unrighteous driven as chaff before the wind. The cleansing wind. The wind shall eat up all thy pastors, and thy lovers shall go into captivity: surely then shalt thou be ashamed and confounded for all thy wickedness. (Jeremiah Chapter 22, verse 21.)

The wind blew downhill, warming as such winds did, downhill towards New Bethany. It felt hot against Preacher Miller’s fevered skin on this blazing bright summer’s night.

Therefore the fathers shall eat the sons in the midst of thee, and the sons shall eat their fathers; and I will execute judgments in thee, and the whole remnant of thee will I scatter into all the winds.

Wherefore, as I live, saith the Lord GOD; Surely, because thou hast defiled my sanctuary with all thy detestable things, and with all thine abominations, therefore will I also diminish thee; neither shall mine eye spare, neither will I have any pity.

A third part of thee shall die with the pestilence, and with famine shall they be consumed in the midst of thee: and a third part shall fall by the sword round about thee; and I will scatter a third part into all the winds, and I will draw out a sword after them.

Ezekiel, of course. Chapter 5, verses 10 through 12. Describing a world in which God’s houses of worship had become dens of gambling in the name of fundraising. Venues for rock concerts in the name of relevance to the young. Where the spirit and truth Christ demanded in worship according to John 4:23-24 vanished before the unholy name of Tolerance for one hellish perversion after another.

Preacher Miller drew a breath. Did this mean that God Himself had ordained The Thing? That the dead should rise and consume the flesh of the living? That tiny orphans should cry in the night for hunger, only to fall ill and die and rise with yet an even more unholy yearning?

That old charlatan Dr. Mark had spoken of how The Thing had been God’s will, a cleansing for the new kingdom, and Preacher Miller had been appalled. Preacher Miller now realized that his own soft-hearted horror at the depredations of The Thing (hadn’t he reproved Brother Brock in this wise earlier that evening?), his contempt for Dr. Mark and his ambitions had blinded him.

Here, now, on this ridge, the wind calmed about him. The scales fell from his eyes and Preacher Miller looked down from the ridge where he stood. He saw the trees blue-black and lovely in the moonlight. He saw the garish white scar where a wealthy man had hired a bulldozer to gouge the side of the mountain, clearing land for a mansion which would never rise. He saw the road further below, that thin black vein he and his men had avoided for fear of being spotted. The road that led directly down the mountain from Soul’s Harvest to New Bethany.

Everything was still.

It seemed strange to hear, for Preacher Miller did not feel the air moving across his skin. But the same voice which had commanded him to stop compelled him.


The leaves of the hardwoods flashed as the wind parted the trees along the road. Laid bare in the moonlight the black road sparkled and shone. A rising gust shook the trees even more violently. Just in case he’d missed it the first time....

As the wind fell it pulsed along the trees. Downhill. Like blood from a pulsing wound. Hissing. Splashing.

Flowing downhill.

Preacher Miller’s feet moved beneath him, one before the other. He watched the wind pulse slowly along that road, even as the breeze began to rise about him, breaking before him.

Flowing downhill.

Preacher Miller turned to face into that wind. He would follow it all the way back to Soul’s Harvest.
Not a ridge-running cracker. Indeed, I have no idea what this thing is, but somehow it seemed appropriate. The chick with the sword in the background can be like the Angel of Death or something.

Copyright © 2008, 2017 by Lawrence Roy Aiken

The Living End © 2011, 2017 by James Robert Smith

Happy Father's Day, Uncle Harlan!

Mother’s Day and Father’s Day are rather awkward — that is, for the kind of people who feel awkward when I say the only things these days do for me is remind me of how grateful I am that I don’t have those pathetically weak and stupid people in my life anymore. [Pause to savor the shocked silence. And to those righteous twits who say, “We just don’’t SAY things like that!” well, I do. Just not often, and for obvious reasons.] 

So it’s a delightful surprise on this Father’s Day that I come across a recent interview with one of my spiritual fathers, one of the two “uncles” who helped shape my worldview, my attitude, who provided an encouraging voice when I was disgusted with being the only person who thought and felt the way I did and wished I was stupid and happy like everyone else. Uncle Ray Bradbury is gone, but I still got my Uncle Harlan. Rock on, you ornery old bastard. 

Yeah, yeah, I know. He’s always bragging about stuff he says is gonna happen and doesn’t, he flaked out on The Last Dangerous Visions. He’s mean to people sometimes. Yeah, so? 

He was there for me in my hours of darkness. Harlan Ellison poured my first Strange Wine, told me Deathbird Stories, and taught me to roar like a proper Beast Who Shouted “Love!” at the Heart of the World. Harlan mentions 1988’s Angry Candy in the interview linked above but his Last Known Good was Stalking the Nightmare in 1982. Like my Uncle Ray, he’s kept chugging along long after his Special Formula mojo was exhausted.

But the goods Uncle Harlan once delivered are still there. Their truths are still true, their delivery mechanism whirs as efficiently as ever 30, 40, even 50 years down the line. Maybe not as much in print as I’d like to see, but I’ve got my copies. I think it’s time to pay them a revisit. Happy Father’s Day, Uncle Harlan, for teaching me how to throw the ball, for how to rebuild the engine in a muscle car. It was another kind of ball and another kind of engine in another kind of car, but it was more than anyone else ever did for me, and for that I am forever grateful.

“And the LORD said, ‘Get off my lawn!’”
“Really? It says that?”

Monday, June 10, 2013

Steve Earle Takes Another Road

Earle’s been “Down the Road” and then some. He’s most famous for “Copperhead Road” from the album of the same name, but he’s also sung “Nowhere Road” and “Telephone Road.”

Now we come to “Jericho Road,” one of the many outstanding tracks from his excellent 2007 album Washington Square Serenade. With the chugging acoustic guitar and the wailing harmonica I like to think of the persona of the singer as an Evil Mirror Universe Bob Dylan, rocking a VanDyke beard and demanding your agonizer. In this song Earle achieves a thundering, shaming sermon of the type Bob Dylan has tried pulling off on occasion throughout his career. But Dylan never had Earle’s genuinely weary-angry growl. Earle even pulls off the metaphorical obliqueness that Dylan makes look easy.

All music critic jibber-jabber aside, it’s a great song. Dig it:

Video by Luis Vicente de Aguinaga, who runs a mean little music channel on YouTube.

Sunday, June 09, 2013

My Time in Zombie Writer’s Camp XV: The CONFEDERATION Project

I have a fat prole girl named Krystal in Bleeding Kansas, but she’s much different in disposition from the one you’ll meet here, who spells her name “Krystle.” The hell of it is, I’d forgotten all about Krystle when I was writing Krystal. If the name came up it’s because a common one among that social strata. Krystals, Krystles, or even Chrystals don’t grow up in McMansionland, drive minivans, or play with iPhones. I do not know why this is so. Only that it is. 

This one here just might save the night for our NPR-listening yuppie lady and her two children. Run the boilerplate!

In 2008 James Robert Smith and I collaborated on a project we hoped would turn out to be the Winesburg, Ohio of zombie epics, a mosaic tale describing the communities coming together (and squaring off against one another) in the wake of the zombie apocalypse. For various reasons the collaboration fell apart. Bob took his part of the narrative — which included his idea of a border collie manipulating the other abandoned dogs and zombies — and crafted The Living End. I scuffled around for a couple of more years until I came up with The Saga of the Dead Silencer.

For the benefit of those readers who were following the first part of my saga, Bleeding Kansas, and miss having something nasty-mean to read, here’s the fifteenth installment I wrote for the project. Of course, if you like this, feel free to pick up Bob’s completed work. Support your local architects of the apocalypse!


A loud pop from the woods killed the lights before they reached the edge of the lawn. The pretty yuppie lady gasped. Not a peep from the children, though. Smart kids, thought Krystle. The squeaky wheels get the teeth; Krystle had seen that rule enforced more than once before coming to New Bethany.

Blind, her night-shocked eyes useless, Kystle cut to the left. She regretted testing these kids’ smarts one more time, not least because mom was the obvious weak link and might call out. With their feet pounding the earth, their fear-sweat scenting the air, they were already broadcasting their presence loud and clear to anything and everything out here tonight. Krystle could only hope the children would follow, and that mom would save her questions and comments for another hour.

Sunday Back Porch Apocalypse Guitar Singalong!

“Cactus” is the miracle track from David Bowie’s 2002 Heathen album, the standout that isn’t some depressing miscegenation of lounge and disco as he’s been doing since 1982. It’s even more of a miracle when you consider that the song is a cover of one of the most overrated of music magazine darlings, The Pixies. What sounds creepy and weak in the original is transformed into the mighty howl of an alpha wolf by Bowie’s confident delivery over a thundering arrangement. 

“Cactus” proves that Bowie, as of 2002, could still rock out if he had the material to do it with. That he can’t write it himself anymore can’t be held against him when he’s bringing it home like this.

For more needless fussin’ about about David Bowie, see also: The Singing Dead.

Thursday, June 06, 2013

What Can I Tell You?

State of the Apocalypse, Stardate Six-Six-Thirteen

I’d wanted to post something on the first of the month, start a proper chain. I would have begun by noting the celebratory feel to the day, how it did my bitter old peach-pit heart good to see the laughing, hooting teenage boys and girls throwing a football among each other at Frontier Park. I would have described the chill undertone to the air, how it seemed more like early October than June. (But, hey, brace yourselves! Summer will be over before you know it!) 

For a delirious instant, I considered opening a blog post every day the way old English journals used to do, with a local weather report. Maybe that would get the ol’ juices going.


The day after, Sunday 2 June, I got word that my Aunt Margie had died. At 82 she’d lived a fuller life than most. Still her passing hit me hard. Aunt Margie represented the better part of Things Long Past in my life: gatherings with the cousins of my adoptive family, summers at the beach, big extended family dinners. That brief, happy period when my parents were still alive and my step-dad’s various psychoses were largely under control. When Aunt Margie and Uncle Joe would come to visit they would sit at the living room table smoking cigarettes and pouring wine throughout long nights of loud talk and laughter. Even if my childhood wasn’t the most salubrious and my parents largely grossly incompetent in their parenting, good times were had, and Aunt Margie was a part of them. She gave birth to two of the finest, most unique men I’ve ever had the privilege to know, and that’s another book altogether.

For several thousand words before I deleted the post I rhapsodized about all this and my own guilt for not staying in touch, my own part in the accelerated social entropy that transformed a vibrant extended family into an atomized spread of people related to each other, but with nothing much to say. Not out of hostility. Our parents, our aunts and uncles were another people who belonged to another time. We are not those people and this is not that time. This is the way things are. If you want to change them, then step up and take your shot!

Which I won’t. And let’s stop this train of thought right here. It’s annoying when other people write this rot. As much as I hope to have tempered my feelings enough to get things down on the record in a proper book, this isn’t the time. And I’m not that person. If ever — and so long as I’m working towards taking this sad song and making it better, so what?

I’d hoped to wind this up and post it last night but my son came down to my basement office with his guitar. Ostensibly he was looking for guidance on barre chords, which he’s just picked up on. Mostly he was just bored and looking to hang out. I was irritated at first—I haven’t done dick all day on my Dead Silencer project—but after a while I loosened up as we went through my music library for examples of the barre chord in action.

For the next couple of hours I had no worries about the blog. I didn’t sweat how everything is not just going to shit but is very much there already, only getting worse. We worked the transition from F major to minor to C in David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” and goofed around with Bob Dylan and Neil Young before settling in to watch a brace of videos on how to play “Mean Street” and “Unchained” from Van Halen’s Fair Warning.

So it all works out. Like Voltaire’s Candide at the end of his book I’ve realized — again — it’s really about tending your own garden. That’s what I’ll do then. I’ll post when I post. Here’s hoping you’re out of the weather and feeling fine. See you next time.

“If you can’t dazzle them with brilliance, baffle them with bullshit.” This young lady is doing both.
And now the lesson is yours.