Monday, August 26, 2013

Go-Go Girls Make Everything Better

“Both Ends Burning” from Roxy Music’s 1975 album Siren is one of my all-time favorite partying/working into the night anthems. I came across this video yesterday from their 2001 reunion tour, and my first thought was, “Why do bands always play their best songs three times as fast live as they do on the album?” The usual, obvious answer is the band is sick of the song and wants to get it over with as quickly as possible.  

Not so here. Bryan Ferry, Andy McKay, Phil Manzanera, and the Great Paul Thompson are playing for their very lives. Drummer Paul Thompson must have burned 1,000 calories with the fills he squeezed in as the song raced like a well-tuned Porsche blazing down the Autobahn at Warp Factor Fuck the Police. That they kept this level of energy going for over six minutes is astounding. 

Lots of great solos from Phil Manzanera and some other guy whose name escapes me. Bryan Ferry plays a mean harmonica, but it still seems strange in the context of a dance anthem. But not that strange—they’re pulling out all the stops on this song. No quarter is asked, and none is given. This is a band showing the world what great musicians and showmen can do.

You may note the ladies on keyboards and congas. Attractive ladies on stage playing instruments and/or dancing have been a signature of Roxy Music shows since at least 1975. Recall the Chanel Girls playing on Robert Palmer’s videos in the mid to late 1980s. It can be argued that these, as well as Palmer’s entire International Playboy image, were lifted straight from Bryan Ferry and Roxy Music in the 1970s.

What’s inspired me to watch this video half a dozen times since Saturday, however, are the go-go dancers who take the riser at the back of the stage to dance the classics at about 1:11. To behold their bright smiles, the way their cheerful dancing complemented the song, did wonders to break up those deep, dark blues that were dogging me last week. 

I’ve got half a mind to embed the link for this on my desktop. A “Click in Case of Depression” kind of deal. Why not? It’s been working quite well so far. 

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Pouring out the Dandelion Wine: Farewell Summer 2013

Ray Bradbury would have been 93 years old today. Despite the Voice of Unassailable (but too easily ignored) Reason shouting at my moping ego:

For God’s sake Bradbury’s best work was behind him before you were born!

He was old! Wheelchair-bound! His doctor told him he couldn’t drink anymore! Who wants to live like that?

I still feel sad.

The author with Uncle Ray, 19 October 1991, San Diego.
Summer’s gone. My son started his junior year of high school three days ago already. I hope he had a good summer. We managed to make it out to South Carolina to see his uncles James and David. He lifted weights, he did football camp. As a result of his bodywork and training over the summer he might even start varsity. He’s been learning to drive my Jeep.

I should be jumping up and down declaring this the Best Summer Ever. After all, I started it by turning in the manuscript of my first book for publication. 

The sales ain’t happenin’ though. Bad timing. There’s a glut of fiction you can read for free on Kindle. And most of that stuff isn’t worth stealing, so good luck convincing everyone your book is Different, and worth spending money for.

This was my last hope. There’s no work available for my middle-aged surplus self. Our savings are bleeding away, and this week the radiator in the Jeep sprung a leak. I’ve yet to take it into shop.

I’m well aware that my attitude has a lot to do with my success, and unless I’m actively planning my Smith and Wesson Retirement Plan (not yet), I should be taking some smart pills and getting my marketing on. (And just suck it up and put the Jeep repair on the credit card with everything else.)

I still get a kick from it. The book, that is. So many years, decades of proclaiming how I’m going to write That Book when I wrote this book instead. And, whaddya know, it’s actually a fast, fun read. Total strangers have told me so, which makes me feel better for laughing at my own prose when I look at my author’s copy. I love how easily I can forget how much work I put into my writing when I read the finished product. It’s good to know I can do something right. 

It just doesn’t make money.

So I’m still banging away at Book Two, and I’m happy how it’s coming along. It would be a lot easier to do if I wasn’t weighed down by dread. Suck it up, champ, I tell myself. It’s all I can do. Unless I’m planning on painting the rocks up on Eagle Pass with the contents of my skull. No. Not yet....

Summer’s gone. So is my son’s childhood. He’s not even 17 and he already has to look at what flavor of engineering he will take up in college (which he’ll have to get into on scholarship, or not at all) that will guarantee him work. I wish I’d been that prescient at his age, taken school a little more seriously, taken advantages of the programs available.

Then again, I grew up in a time when, if you needed money, you just went out and got a job. It was that easy. Graduate high school and you’re already towards the head of the line. Get another job if you don’t like the one you have. My son, not even 17, knows he doesn’t have that luxury. He’s aware he has to play his cards just so: make all the right grades, talk to all the right people, play all the right sports, and stay out of trouble for the mere chance to get into a good school and a high-paying professional job. 

Summer’s gone.

I’d have no problem with this is there was something to look forward to other than more fear and struggle. A colorless autumn, a bitter, mirthless winter. If I’m still around for more, rinse and repeat.

To quote the late, great Harvey Pekar, who understood this state of mind better than anyone, “Lord I’m tryin’ to be the best I can be, but I dunno, I dunno.”

Pour out the dandelion wine. The stuff was overrated. Besides, our tree-climbing, ravine-crawling, days of laughter and adventure are long over. Who needs that greasy kid’s stuff, right?

I could use a hit of something right now.

Friday, August 09, 2013

From Colorado to South Carolina and Back, Part 4

You can’t afford to lose too many minutes with a 12-hour day ahead. We already stood to lose an hour by default upon crossing over into the Eastern Time Zone. Yet here we were, running two hours behind. 

We had a good breakfast, and my daughter and son smuggled some yogurt and bananas and muffins from the hotel’s outstanding breakfast bar. I knew I wasn’t going to be any good if I didn’t get that extra cycle of sleep. As it turned out I felt a lot better, my anxiety under control. I had no problems staying awake behind the wheel.

It did seem to take a while getting out of Missouri. Of course, there was the rain. Not that it slowed us up that much, but it seemed that way. It was a long two and one-half hours, and then there was the matter of navigating the change of Interstate over the Mississippi River at St. Louis.

It’s never quite as spectacular going east as it is driving west. This is especially true as we change from
I-70 to I-64 over the Mighty Mississip, where I’m too busy minding my lanes and the traffic from the spaghetti of highways converging south of the Gateway to the West, to even see the most storied river in all North America.

This is how you know you’re in East St. Louis, of “East St. Louis Toodle-oo” fame. Funny how you never hear about this place anymore. Last I heard it was a dangerous ghetto city. I’ve never driven through to check it out. You hardly see any evidence of a city from I-64 East. This sign is the only thing I register of it.

My daughter has a natural talent for shots like this.

It was cold and blustery where we stopped for gas in the nameless, albeit very busy town 20 or so miles east of East St. Louis. I marveled at having to put on a jacket in July while I fueled the minivan. The rain wasn’t torrential, but there was enough of it to cause considerable ponding in the fields that seem to comprise much of the southwestern corner of Illinois. 

The skies cleared by the time we found I-57 South and then I-24. The Fort Massac rest stop just across the Ohio River from Paducah, Kentucky had a good bit of water in the creekbed for a change, yet was a gorgeous sight in the sun.

The Fort Massac rest area is of the best I’ve seen anywhere in the country. It’s a very large area with a good walking path. I’ve made many circuits along this path to restore circulation to my legs.

This cutout, which wasn’t there last year, is a promotion for the Superman statue in nearby Metropolis, Illinois. I think there’s a museum, too. Yeah, it’s cute and all—“We have the same name as Superman’s home base of operations in the comic books, so let’s capitalize on that!”—but it’s also pathetic when you think about it. We used to be a country that made things.

Thoughtful author looks thoughtful. You should buy his books.

Once the break was done we began our journey into the South. Crossing the Ohio River into Kentucky felt even more monumental than crossing the Mississippi. It helps that the I-24 crossing is at a very broad point and you can sometimes see the huge barges and container ships working the river.

We didn’t get photos of the cops and the fire truck and the ambulance in the northbound lanes as we crossed, but judging by all the faces looking down into the water someone had jumped. God only knows what all these people expected to do about it, but I’ll warrant a lot of them were happy for the distraction and something to talk about. As for us and everyone else on the road, we had somewhere to be. Just another day in Wild America. 

Looking towards the confluence of the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers.

This is from our first stop in Tennessee. I forget the name of the actual town. No, it wasn’t Tiny Town. This street sign did make me laugh, though. Then again, I’ve been on the road for a while by this point.

Saturday, August 03, 2013

In the Night Kitchen, with Hungry Dead

As of this excerpt from Chapter 7 of Bleeding Kansas, the dead have risen. Derek Grace is locked inside a luxury hotel with one other living man, whom he doesn’t quite trust—and who happens to be the only one with a gun. Mr. Grace has gone downstairs to score some beer from the hotel bar and look around for weapons:

The light outside is fading. I edge around the front desk to the lounge area. The TV is still on. The screen shows a stock loop of landmark shots from around the world, implying that the SOS is going out to all the powers that matter, so remain calm (and feel free to join in the prayers if you need something to do while cowering in your shelters-in-place). 

There is no news on what is happening in the individual countries, let alone here in town. Just shots of large congregations, close-ups of supplicants on their knees, mumbling into their clasped hands. I’d try the other channels but that noise in the kitchen….

With the mmmm! and hnnnnn! sounds over the slurping and smacking there’s no doubt as to what it is. The question is, who is that thing eating? Did Tanner come down ahead of me and get caught?

(Goddamnit I don’t want to do this I don’t want to do this I don’t want to do this!)

I push through the swinging doors.

I see the dark mass on the floor before me. The creature—Jesus, what do we call these things?—doesn’t look up until I turn on the light. She was a woman once, younger and somewhat more attractive than the scrawny cougar I defaced earlier. She looks up at me from where she sits carelessly on the floor, like a toddler plopped on her butt to play with something. She doesn’t see me, of course, but she knows I’m there. She sniffs. Smell must be a major factor in how they register living flesh.

This lady’s problem is she’s got a scabby VanDyke around her mouth from feasting on the cooling remains of Officer Dalton. Registering new scent is difficult with her current meal literally under her nose.

I stand as still as possible. After a while she resumes noshing from a rip she’s torn through Officer Dalton’s exposed man-boob. I take a step back.

With a triumphant roar she rises quickly, facing me as if she really sees me. Her arms thrust forward, fingers clawing. I swing the floor lamp stand and she grabs it with blood-freezing force, the metal support pole warping in her grip.I let go of the stand and duck behind the hot table. She slings the stand away, stumbling over Dalton’s body as she comes for me.  I’m casting about the room, looking for the—there! The chef’s station.

A heavy, cleated meat tenderizer. A cleaver.

She has animal sense enough to brace one arm against the hot table to hold herself upright as she takes large strides to close the distance between us, her blue-gray hand gliding along the brushed steel of the grill table. But I have two working legs and a righteous fear for my life.

The cleaver is in my left hand, the meat hammer in my right. She rounds the edge of the table. Her arms stretch to take me, her flesh-clotted teeth bared to her blue-black gums as she moans in anticipation of fresh meat. I bring my left arm across my body and swing out.

There’s lots more and worse where this came from in BLEEDING KANSAS. Get it while the bodies are still more-or-less warm! (Trust me, they’re no good cold.)

Read more here! A Kansas City Friday Night with Zombies

“Please Don’t Leave Your Dead Children Unattended”

How to Put Out a Fire on Your Lawn with the Bratty Bastard Who Started It

Sunday Driving Through the Apocalypse

From Colorado to South Carolina and Back, Part 3

MapQuest got it right. It’s 24 hours and then some to drive from Colorado Springs to Marietta, SC. Naturally, “then some” depends upon how many breaks you take along the way, and for how long. As a veteran of several cross-country military PCS drives, the optimum is stopping every 90 minutes for 15 minutes— no later than two hours, though no limit on the break itself. I try not to take too long, though. Like everyone else I want this trip over with. 

If you drive just a little over the maximum speed limit, no stops whatsoever, though, it’s 24 hours and a few minutes. Twenty-four hours is long, but it’s a number you can break down into three eight-hour days, or two 12-hour days.

You’ll find these “Historical Kansas” signs at rest areas all along
I-70. I figured since I wrote a book called BLEEDING KANSAS
I ought to pose with one. The state has a spectacularly violent history
and I regret not being able to properly exploit that in my book.
On the way to Marietta, this breaks down into two hours to get out of Colorado. After that, it’s eight hours to get across Kansas. It’s two and one-half hours more to Columbia, Missouri, which serves as the more-or-less midpoint. If you’re following the arithmetic, that’s 12.5 hours. Factor in that you’re losing an hour crossing from Mountain into Central Time Zone, and that’s 13.5 hours. You don’t feel that lost hour right away—that’s not until you have to wake up the next morning. The imaginary becomes quite real, then.

The mistake I made that first day was leaving at 9:30 a.m. MDT instead of 7:00, or even 6:00. Even an eight-hour day drive should start as early as possible, so one can get settled in as early as possible. I learned this lesson the hard way when we got to our midway point, Columbia, Missouri, at 10:30 p.m.

Western Kansas, or as I like to think of it, the Western Wastes.
This is pretty much what it looks like until just before you reach
Salina in the middle of the state. If the “Jesus Is Real” sign has
you freaked out, you should have seen Ghost Jesus—large,
sun-faded plyboard cutouts of Jesus with a spectral glow
about him. You’ll find him standing in a drainage ditch or along
a field of something actually growing. We’d see these things,
laugh, and whiz right by at 75-80 mph. Maybe next time.
If you’re following the arithmetic, that’s 13 hours, or 12 hours in real time for us weary travelers. This means I only stopped when I had to and found not one but two convoys of fast-moving vehicles while crossing Kansas. We shaved off a lot of time, but it was still 10:30 when we got to Columbia, Missouri. We hadn’t stopped to eat, and by 10:30 on a Monday every semi-decent restaurant was (surprise) closed. Dinner was fast food through the drive-thru eaten in the van. As we’re not used to eating drive-thru, this made for three upset stomachs at the cost of a decent sit-down dinner at Cracker Barrel.

That’s not even the worst of it. The worst was lying in bed, my legs buzzing, buzzing, buzzing... and I can’t get to sleep. Too wound up. Too tense. One a.m. becomes 2 a.m. becomes 3 a.m. Even my teenage children, who did no driving this leg of the trip, were affected. We took showers to relax, we took Benadryl. After a while my son and daughter fell asleep. I started the same breathing exercise over and over again, trying to match my breathing to theirs. 

Like the windmills of my mind.
I lay in bed, nervous sweat sheeting down my flesh, thinking, “Why did I do this? Why didn’t I just stay home? I’m 750 miles from help east or west. All of this is going on the credit card. We can’t afford this. I’m paying for all of this with projected sales that might not happen. All this wear and tear I’m putting on the’s already old, with a busted engine mount, and it needs new tires, and I’m driving all the way to South Carolina.” Etc. and so on. Between the full-blown anxiety attack boiling on one side of my head and the Rational Adult talking it down on the other, it was exhausting in and of itself. As the light came into the sky, I finally fell asleep. I got maybe one good 90 minute cycle in before my alarm went off at 5:30 a.m.

I asked the children if they minded sleeping in an extra hour and a half. They didn’t. I reset the alarm and got another cycle in. I awoke, marveling once more at how the mind and body will work against one another, tearing themselves down when all alertness and strength is needed for the day ahead. We creakily, crankily got ourselves together, availed ourselves of the generous breakfast below in the lobby, and left at around 8:30. 

So many’d think these things could
light up all of Kansas. I wonder where the generated power
actually goes. 

Which was, again, much too late. I kept telling myself there was no way I’d make the next day’s 12-hour drive without that little bit of sleep. And I was right. But we were also pushing for another late night, and our host in South Carolina, who had to work the next day, was going to be sorely inconvenienced.

Moral of story, lessons learned: get all of your rest and goofing off in the day before you leave. No running around. Everything should be half-packed and five minutes away from being tossed into the van. Wake early, leave early. TAKE THOSE BREAKS. Whatever time you think you’re saving plowing on for another half-hour to an hour will be frittered away in recovery and then some when you’re trying to sleep.

The next time I do this, it’s because we’re moving. I’ve clearly aged out of these cross-country epics.
I forget where this rest area is. I include this photo to show that, once you get past Salina and the Smoky Hills region, the Flint Hills to the east are actually rather pretty.

Oak Grove, Missouri, from the gas station where we were filling up. I figured we only had an hour more to drive to Columbia, so why not push on? If I’d been thinking I would have IMMEDIATELY found a hotel and settled in for the evening. I could have gotten up early and easily made up for that hour. As it turned out, it was a stressful hour and one-half until Columbia, and we lost several hours for my stubbornness.

When the sun starts going down—not already setting, as here—start looking for a place to make camp.
This photo was taken on July 1, which means it was already 9 p.m.

Thursday, August 01, 2013

A Shameless Plug with Benefits

So many zombie apocalypse novels! What makes BLEEDING KANSAS different? 

Says one reviewer: “The main protagonist is not some highly trained and uber-prepared former military special operator or martial arts specialist; instead, he’s just an ordinary Angry White Guy who rises to extraordinary circumstances.... He’s a politically incorrect smart-ass who doesn’t have much use for most of the human race, and less use for the zombies, but he does occasionally think of them (the zombies) and describe them with surprising sensitivity.”

Says another reviewer: “Bleeding Kansas is sadistically, irreverently funny while also delivering the nail-biting action I personally love in my bedtime reading. I snorted my way through this entire story and marveled several times to anybody that would listen about how much fun it was to read.”

If only I could have a thousand more readers who get me like these two did!

That was the shameless plug. Now for the benefits.

Most novels don’t have chapter titles. I don’t know why this is, nor am I particularly interested in the reasons. It’s a fashion, and as soon as a popular novel with chapter titles breaks big, I’m sure that will become the fashion. It simply hasn’t happened yet.

For my part, I find it easier to write a chapter if the chapter has a name. When I was serializing Bleeding Kansas on this blog earlier this year, the writing, the action, everything about the book came alive if I thought of it as an old suspense/action serial from the old days when you saw them in the movie theater. 

All of the serial chapters had titles. At the end of the cliffhanger, you saw something like “NEXT: A Date with DEATH!” I didn’t take this to the full extreme (for instance, not all of my chapters had cliffhangers). But it did raise the fun and excitement of its writing to such a degree that I think the book came out much better for it. When Severed Press took Bleeding Kansas under contract, I was up to Chapter 17: Good Morning, Mr. Whitman. Mr. Whitman became Mr. Grace, the chapters were taken down, but I had eight more chapters to write. 

And every one of those had titles. There was no getting around it. Even if they were “working” titles that changed over time, they still had to have that focus. It was the only way to get them written.

So, for the benefit of those who have already purchased Bleeding Kansas, I have a blog-only bonus: the titles to the 25 chapters in the book. They are as follows:

1. Matters of Life and Death

2. Back from the Might as Well Be Dead

3. Life Takes a Sick Day

4. Other Lives, Other Deaths

5. Gone to Ground

6. Pear-Shaped World

7. In the Night Kitchen

8. Escape into Death!

9. Runway of the Damned

10. Flight

11. Awakenings

12. Tricked into Life

13. A Revelation, and Intervention, and Fates Worse Than Death

14. Up a Steep and Narrow Ladder

15. Dinner with Devils

16. How to Get Laid in the Apocalypse Without Really Trying

17. Good Morning, Mr. Grace

18. Back in the Saddle

19. The Dead People of Walmart

20. The Dead Silencer Emergent

21. The Battle of Oak Blossom Lane

22. Pre-Battle in the Barrio

23. Heavy Machinery and High Explosives

24. The Queen of Hell

25. Out of the Crazy, Into the Storm

And there you have it. You can come up with your own titles if you like. If I had that kind of commenting traffic, I’d make a contest of it. Feel free to drop me a line with your own ideas if you’re so inclined.

Meanwhile, I have chapter titles I need to come up with for Grace Among the Dead. It’s what keeps this job interesting, and the books fun, for me and you. You’re welcome!