Friday, April 29, 2016

Friday Evening Before the Reception at the Downstairs Ballroom

My bad nerves
go jingle-jangle-jingle

crossing the rain-dark 
patio to the 

so much brokenesss 
in my head and heart

sliding crashing
with each step

it’s all I can do
not to weep in time
with the sky

so it’s just as well 
I’m coming in
to work 

The strangers I’ll meet 
will have no idea
this face is not 
my own

The questions they’ll ask
will be nothing 
to do 
with me

I arrive early
rehearse my lines
get into character

It’s such a blessing to be
someone other than me
if only for a few

“Hello, I’m the facilities manager….”


from Nymphomagic Electroshock &
Other Middle-Aged Complaints
 (2008, 2016)

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Chapter 18.1 of The WRONG KIND of DEAD: “Fear the Reapers” Part 1

From the ALL-NEW, Yet-To-Be Proofed and Published FINAL BOOK of the SAGA of the DEAD SILENCER

PREVIOUS EPISODE: Chapter 17: “The Last Convoy”

I feel the eyes of my tribe upon me as I disappear behind the bulkhead. No doubt they’re wondering what’s up with Fearless Leader. Fearless Leader has no fucking clue.

Col. Grinnell’s people pack everyone and everything in with alarming efficiency. With no less than three C-130s lined up in the northbound lanes of I-25, all of our vehicles are accommodated. Why? Because they can, I suppose.

I don’t have long to wait where I am sitting in the comm seat in the cockpit before Col. Grinnell comes in. “Sorry to separate you from your family again, but you need to see this. You might want to consider bringing Dark Agnes in, too.”

“I would very much like my wife here. Just don’t refer to her as Dark Agnes while she’s around.”

“We’ll address each other formally.” Col. Grinnell nods to the sergeant who brought me in and he disappears through the hatch.

The colonel unzips a satchel by the co-pilot’s seat. The flaps fall away to reveal a large monitor, which the colonel sets about anchoring to the deck stanchions. “Too bad Wife Number One isn’t here to see this. A colonel doing his own work.” He chuckles as he attaches the power cord to an outlet beneath the panel and the monitor blinks on. “As it is, I credit my longevity in this post-apocalyptic political landscape to not having an entourage standing by to bring me poisoned coffee.”

Col. Grinnell pats the top of the screen, flipping the remote control box in the air and catching it with his other hand. “Besides, this way I know the job’s done right.” He rises from the co-pilot’s seat. “Mrs. Grace. It’s good to have you on board. So you know, your husband requested your presence here.”

“Thank you, Colonel,” says my Dark Agnes, closing in by my side. “We’re grateful for the airlift.”

“My pleasure. You and your husband will have to share the same seat as we take off. Once we get to cruising altitude over the site, you can take your chances with the turbulence.”

The colonel turns to the pilot. “You ready, son?”

“Yes, sir.”

Col. Grinnell turns to Agnes and me, as Agnes adjusts the strap to fit over her as she sits on my lap. “Gotta train the next generation of pilots. Don’t worry, Lt. Hansen is one of our sharper ones.” Grinnell looks towards Hansen. “If he wasn’t, he wouldn’t be flying for Air Grinnell.”

Lt. Hansen smiles gamely as he begins taxiing the ridiculously huge C-130 down the Interstate back towards Monument, then cutting sharply right, dipping into the median, rising sharply right again into the wind rushing to meet the building firestorm to our south. The ground crew did a fine job of clearing debris from these lanes, as far as I can see in the forward navigation lights. The sun is behind the Front Range. The headwind shakes our wings. 

Col. Grinnell looks up from his phone towards Lt. Hansen. “All cargo and personnel accounted for. Clear for takeoff.”

The engines roar, and Lt. Hansen begins our run down the long straightaway. I put my arms about Agnes’ waist where she sits across my legs. She puts her hands over mine and leans back into me as the nose of the plane lifts up and we feel the wheels leave the ground below us.

I’ve always marveled at how these monstrous “trucks of the air” could get aloft with tanks and God knows what else in their holds. Now I wonder at how someone managed to preserve enough knowledgeable humans to keep these things functional. 

“You’re squeezing me to death,” Agnes whispers.

I’m about to let my arms drop to the side but Agnes grips my hands, her fingers jabbing hard into my palms. “All right, son,” I hear Col. Grinnell saying to the pilot. “You’ll want to start your turn here.”

The starboard wing dips sharply as the rookie pilot banks the C-130. I hear Agnes’ breath hiss inward as she’s crushed into me.

“Try and straighten her up a little son,” says the colonel to the pilot. “We need some airspeed if we’re staying aloft.”

“God, this pilot’s an idiot,” Agnes says into my ear. “I love you, Derek.”

With the g-forces and the multiplied weight of my wife pressing into me, “You’re all right,” is all I can say.

Agnes forces her arms out and pushes into the edges of the chair. Her effort relieves enough pressure for me to fill my lungs. The strain on her face shows as the tears squeeze from her eyes. I’m about to call her name, let her collapse back into me when the plane levels off, and the rib-crushing forces ease up all at once.

Agnes falls into my arms. I reach around her and unclick the seat belt. I expect she’s got a nasty bruise for pushing her back against it the way she did.

“Keep this heading,” says the colonel to Lt. Hansen. “We’ll skirt the east side before we cut back again.” Col. Grinnell looks over at us. “Don’t worry, lovebirds. We’ll take this turn a lot easier. Let’s stretch our legs and have a look at things.”

Agnes pats my chest as she pushes herself up. I have to grab the edges of the chair. The blood is just returning to my legs. “This better be damned entertaining,” I say.

“See for yourself. This is the view from the starboard camera.”

The monitor Col. Grinnell has secured to the deck displays a view of the tree line. It’s nearly dark, but I can still see the figures tumbling, tripping, falling, crawling, getting back to their feet, moving as fast as their degraded bodies can carry them. They’re keeping ahead of a line of fire further back into the trees. They might make it if the wind continues in from the north. By now, though, the fire is drawing from all directions.

“I’d send a Reaper in to blast those, but…oh, I dunno. We’re always going to have some refugees. Doesn’t look like they’re going to make it down there, anyway.”

The flames from the individual flashpoints are coming together into larger blazes, expanding far out from the Colorado Springs city limits. The flames are already catching on houses outside of Falcon, ten miles outside of Colorado Springs proper. My old hideout near Peyton stands to burn, too, once the sparks catch in the groves of pines from the vast acreages of burning pasture.

The deck tilts beneath us again. The colonel chuckles at our reaction. Fortunately, the young pilot’s banking is more graceful this time. “We’re circumnavigating the burn area,” says Col. Grinnell. “We need to see how many of these things we’re missing.” He thumbs a button on his remote. The screen takes on the green-and-black scheme of night vision.

“We got a lot of travelers coming into the Springs,” says the colonel. “Excuse me, I’ve got to order a perimeter strike.” He turns and begins typing into a laptop plugged into the instrument panel. “We know we got at least one and a quarter million. We have the chance to put some serious numbers on the board.”

A loud smack at the keyboard announces his transmission of the message. “This is a very good day.” The colonel nods at us where we sit cross-legged on the deck. “I wonder if it’s occurred to you yet how goddamned lucky you are.”

“You want us to thank you? Fine. Thanks for not leaving us to burn to death in an operation no one bothered to warn us about.”

“Actually, you need to thank Dr. Clyde Hearn, Surgeon General of the known civilized world, for that. But, yes, this is my aircraft, I’m a major stakeholder in this operation, so, yes, you’re lucky I’m a bit of a fan. So, you’re welcome.”

On screen, the once non-descript skyline of downtown Colorado Springs is now non-existent. Acacia Park shows as a dark oblong in a sea of flaming wreckage. Further to the west, in America the Beautiful Park, the giant circular sprinkler standing on end that passed for a fountain looms among the fire-blackened grasses. If it can withstand the firestorm to come, it will serve as a stark and enigmatic monument to the city that once sprawled here.

Although well outside the boundaries of the fire, the aircraft is rocked by thermals. We seem to be making altitude, though. The colonel clicks to views from neighboring UAV cams. “Speaking of lucky, you’re one of the few citizens to see this classified footage.”

The first image he shows us is of a long, straight road running between piles of flaming wreckage spaced just so on either side. “There’s not so much rubble as we saw downtown,” I say.

“That’s because we only put missiles into buildings three or more stories tall. There aren’t that many tall buildings on most military bases.”

“I couldn’t tell you which base this was.”

“You’re not supposed to know it’s Schriever, anyway. Or that this is Peterson.” Col Grinnell clicks to an identical scene. “These ashes are so classified, I could have you shot for looking at them.”

“Should I thank you for that, too?”

“Oh, no,” he says, annoyed I didn’t get whatever joke he thought he was making. “You might appreciate this, though. It’s already busted-up and dusty and on fire and all that, so this clip is from when the initial sortie went in.”

This is a daylight shot of the main avenue running through Manitou Springs, looking west to the Ruxton Avenue rotary just beyond. “My wife, God rest her soul, loved their fake-ass, artsy-craftsy, bourgie-hippie bullshit, but, Lord! I hated that stinking tourist trap worse than Kabul. Don’t get me started on what they did to the parking along—oh, here we go.”

The view turns to the tall, red peak to the south when the missile shatters the ridge like a well-placed kick to an anthill. Another streak of white smoke explodes in an enormous knob of flame, engulfing the rotary and the nearest buildings on either side. Yet another screams into the wall of rock marking the first switchback. Enormous boulders are loosed upon the road below, emerging on the other side of the rotary fireball into the street, crushing cars, crushing pedestrians foolish enough to still be in the road. Several find their way into Fountain Creek, blocking the waterway, and sure to make trouble for whatever’s downstream when the water cuts over or around the obstacles.

Another boulder, just large enough to cover the width of the Manitou Incline, bounces merrily down the slope, shattering the railroad ties and obliterating the dead in their rotted-out jogging shorts along the length of the steep trail. The gore-slimed mass breaks in half as it lands in the parking lot at the trail head, crushing the vehicles parked at either side.

A red granite boulder the size of a two-story house rolls and bounds from US 24 to Pikes Peak and into the main part of town. It powders the asphalt into puffs of dust beneath it, emerging from the flames about the rotary to rebound off the face of the building on the southeast corner, before rolling back down the street where it angles away down the hill.

The boulder catches air on another bounce near the library when it’s met by a missile. The shattered granite blasts outward like stone buckshot, vaporizing every structure on either side of the street, and their neighbors behind them—and, the drone itself. The feed cuts to a view from much higher up, and even that camera rocks with the blast wave.

NEXT EPISODE: “Fear the Reapers” Part 2

For the price of a happy hour drink you can enjoy many delirious hours slashing and shooting your way through the delightful hellscapes of my first two SAGA OF THE DEAD SILENCER books, available in Kindle and paperback from Severed Press. We commence the crash of civilization in Bleeding Kansas, wherein our intrepid hero, Derek Grace, must survive a plane crash, combat with the undead at the local Wal-Mart, an exploding fire truck, a female hardbody assassin, and lots of walking dead people-things.

Book 1 has ONE exploding head
on its cover.

I’m told it reads even better in German. This edition from Luzifer Verlag; also sports a hellacious one-of-a-kind cover courtesy of ace artist Michael Schubert:
You can buy this German version stateside here.
You know you wanna.

Book 2, Grace Among the Dead, steps up the game with a tale of love and redemption, the living dead, and a flame-throwing monster truck. We’ve got an arc going from decadence to...respectability?...for our hero. As close as it gets, anyway. You should savor this big book o’ hell while it lasts, because things are about to go completely to shit.
Book 2 has TWO exploding heads.
See the pattern here?

They’re also available in Canada and the UK.


Tuesday, April 26, 2016

#MondaysCats Are Chillin’ Like Villains

Four cats in the house for going on five years already, and they’ve yet to write Hamlet. But they do furnish a room.

It’s always a pile of something on the bed. Either a pile of laundry, or a cat-pile.

Handsome Jack the Halloween Cat holds court on my late futon, guarding the galleys to my latest novel, The Wrong Kind of Dead. Jack was also there on that 4:30 a.m. in 2013 when I finished writing Bleeding Kansas, so he’s my writerly good luck charm.

A clear shot of Jack and his big Marvin the Martian eyes is rarer than finding all four cats together. (Notice in the topmost photos how Mick seems hesitant to join the other three. He’s the loner of the group, and the usual holdout.) This photo of Jack shows his charmingly innocent face the best of any I have so far.

Speaking of Mick, he does make for a good solo shot. When he’s in my office, he prefers to rest here at the foot of the bookcase off to my left.

Damn this ennui! It takes a lot of effort to be as chill as a cat.

I wanted to yank it open and see what was inside

at the meeting
this afternoon
she leaned
at the table

in front of mine
and I noticed
her brown streaked

pulled back so 
the bun was
an ornate 
the streaks
like the grain
in a dark


from Nymphomagic Electroshock &
Other Middle-Aged Complaints

Saturday, April 23, 2016


a blast from my sordid past—it even rhymes at the beginning!

Crimson kudzu under watercolor fire of sunrise
the wind gathers a basket of gold
for the languid azure arms of daylight
which slowly unfold. Vesper hymns of pagans
scribed in the skins of trees
whisper cool welcome to the goddess
under the breath of the breeze

But only after she snaps the shades up over the bed
damning my vampires to dust
and in place of the itchy blue blanket spreads
herself over me, asking how 
I like my coffee.

I’d rather have her right where she is
pressing my nerves somewhere, anywhere
with her wettest kiss.

Dawn upon me, you best idea I ever had:
warm pink tongue of morning in my ear!


from Nymphomagic Electroshock &
Other Middle-Aged Complaints
 (1983, 2016)

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Waking and Baking on a Snowy April Morning

Just me talking to myself about the weather. Yeah, I know.

Unretouched photo of the air
in South Carolina. It even hates
itself, and no freakin’ wonder.
The best description I’ve read of the climate in my home state of South Carolina was by Yankee writer John Updike in his 1990 novel, Rabbit at Rest. I don’t recall the precise line, but the gist was, once you get south of North Carolina on I-95, there’s something about the very air that hates you. As someone who spent his youth and young adulthood in the Palmetto Bug State, I can corroborate this report.

The eastern Piedmont of the Rockies in Colorado can take it to the opposite extremes with its blizzards and spells of subzero cold, but at least those weather events don’t last all season long. Saturday’s storm is already a fond memory, as the wind dried the worst of it up by noon on Sunday, including the four-foot drift creeping up our living room picture window. We had another snow event this morning, already melting off into the stark, dark greens of our lawns. We needed a good super-soaker, and it’s nice no one had to drown for us to get it. 

Which is my ass-backwards way of saying that my heart goes out to the folk in Houston, as it did to my fellow South Carolinians when they got their once-in-a-millennium rain event last October. There is such a thing as too much of a good thing; damn these feast/famine, drought/deluge cycles. If it makes anyone feel any better, I foresee a long, hot wildfire season ahead in the Centennial State this year. It is what it is. 

We’ll be in the balmy low 70s by the end of the week, and are good for at least one more wet, cold, sloppy one before Memorial Day. I might not be here in Colorado Springs by then, but I damn sure will be somewhere in Colorado. It’s like the Great Bukowski said of his hometown of Los Angeles, there’s something here that gets under you skin and claims you as its own. 
Kentucky-bred Hunter S. Thompson, at his home-in-exile in Woody Creek, Colorado.

I’ll always be a Southern boy at heart, but my home is in the Wild Weird West.

Monday, April 18, 2016

The Third Series from Zombie Adventure BLEEDING KANSAS, Part IV

Here’s a link to the page with the links to the first two series. The series follow a chronological narrative, but it’s not like you absolutely have to read those first. Our tale opens on the morning of the first full day of the New Weird Order, and Derek Grace knows there’s no safety in the city. He’s not even sure of Tanner, the only other living soul in the luxury hotel they were locked up in while the police and National Guard were overwhelmed outside.

Still, you do what you gotta do, and oftentimes it’s with people you’d rather not be doing it with. Especially when SHTF.

 The interior of the Luxury Tank is dark for all the ruined bodies of once-people slapping and pounding at the glass.”

I press hard on the accelerator and I’m good for the first half of the first block. A man in a suit with his bloodied shirttails hanging comically over his slacks steps out to meet the Tank. He thumps off the left quarter panel, shaking the frame of the SUV as it rolls along the sunny, stinking street.

“Keep straight,” the GPS reminds us. “Prepare to turn right.”

I swerve left but hit two more with the right quarter panel. One spins away, the other goes under the tire. The moaning of the massing dead is like one long sustained shout we can hear even in the nearly airtight cabin of the luxury SUV. We’re halfway through the second block but the mob is thick in front of us now. I can’t see where to turn.

“Turn right, one hundred yards,” the GPS says.

“Don’t slow down,” Tanner says.

If I hit these things full force I’ll trigger the airbags. I cut my speed just enough to bring the ones in front underneath our wheels. The automatic all-wheel drive kicks in, and we’re grinding and squishing and breaking up the bodies beneath what I pray are run-flat tires. We rise up on one corner, then fall. Any given corner sags abruptly as our weight pulverizes select pockets of flesh and bone. We pull up another rise of bodies before plunging nose down again over the uneven terrain of howling corpses.

The interior of the Luxury Tank is dark for all the ruined bodies of once-people slapping and pounding at the glass. I can barely see over the hood for the angry cadavers clawing at the front of the vehicle. I hear the strain like cracking ice in the driver’s side window in the rear. I press on the accelerator. We lurch forward. But only a little. Then we’re pushed back again.

Their moaning and snarling grows louder, humming in our very teeth. The side windows are smeared bloody from the fists pounding on them. It won’t be long.

I floor it.

They back away at the roar of the engine enough for me to lurch forward again. The nose of the vehicle dips as we clear the latest mound of bodies. One of the tires is spinning but the rest are working. This angles us to the left a little.

“Turn right,” scolds the GPS.

I cut the wheels left and right. The snarling once-people back away. One bad boy with a neck tattoo leaps to the hood. I brake hard. He slides back but holds on. I throw the shifter into reverse.

“What are you doing?” says Tanner.

I stomp the pedal again but the crowd behind me is like a wall. All four tires spin uselessly on the crushed flesh beneath us. I hear a sharp crack over our whirring tires. I look back and the window on the other side is crazed with tiny lines. The only thing keeping the rear window intact is all those hunger-mad dead people pressing in from behind. The sheer force and mass of their bodies make it harder for the ones closest to hammer at it with their fists.

“Just get us out of this,” Tanner says. “We’ll shake him when we’re clear.”

“Yes, sir,” I say. I put the shifter back into drive and floor it again. I see what looks to be a slight break to the right and cut the wheel that way.

We jolt away just in time for another loud crack. A wide, jagged shard of the rear window on the driver’s side bows in. An arm thrusts through the gap, working at the wedge of safety glass, peeling it back.


First edition. Available
only in paperback.
AFTERWORD: Crazy as it sounds, there are two editions of Bleeding Kansas, and they differ in more than just their covers. The first edition contains more overtly misanthropic observations from Grace about the people and even the undead around him, some of which apparently hit some reviewers where they live. It also contains the death of a special-needs child that really upset some others. The child dies because Tanner is an asshole, but people blamed Grace, then me, for being fucking heartless, or whatever. Because innocents don’t die in zombie apocalypses, only people who have it coming. Or who can defend themselves. Or whatever.

Second edition, in Kindle
and in paperback.
So I rewrote the book. Six pages fell away as I niced it up for sensitive readers. We slapped a new cover on it and figured we could leave the bitchy reviews behind. Although the reaction to the new version hasn’t been all that bad, it seems we got more positive vibes from those discerning readers who expect a properly violent and nasty apocalypse than not. When I finish the third book in the series (yes, the second is already out) I’ll restore the child’s death and some of the misanthropic snark, in the course of making the Ultimate Version. If the death of special-needs children bothers you, if angry people make you feel uncomfortable, this is the version for you. 

The Third Series from Zombie Adventure BLEEDING KANSAS: Escape from Dead City, Part III

Here’s a link to the page with the links to the first two series. The series follow a chronological narrative, but it’s not like you absolutely have to read those first. Our tale opens on the morning of the first full day of the New Weird Order, and Derek Grace knows there’s no safety in the city. He’s not even sure of Tanner, the only other living soul in the luxury hotel they were locked up in while the police and National Guard were overwhelmed outside.

Still, you do what you gotta do, and oftentimes it’s with people you’d rather not be doing it with. Especially when SHTF.

“The undead from the garage are staggering out into the sunlight and headed our way.”

I start the engine, and as I turn around to check my rear I see a stocky girl in a gore-blackened XXL sleep-shirt stumbling towards the Tank. I shift into reverse and slam into her. She falls backwards, her skull cracking loudly on the pavement. I hear the snapping of bones as my left rear tire rolls over her.

It’s a short roll out from the garage to the doors of the hotel. I wish it was further. Apparently a bunch of these things have been using the garage to keep out of the sun. It won’t take them long. I screech to a halt before the glass doors.

A buzzer squawks against my trying to pop the hatch while we’re still in gear. Tanner takes this as a signal to jump out of the Tank before I can get it stopped. He’s already at the doors, pulling them open as I throw the shifter in park. The hatch opens without complaint, but it’s slow. I open my door and jump out. The undead from the garage are staggering out into the sunlight and headed our way. I see two more coming across the plaza from the street.

Tanner puts my luggage out first. I wedge my gear between the rear seats. I turn and Tanner is already handing me his large suitcase. Now his suitbag….

I turn and look up. “Behind you!”

Tanner has just enough time to duck out under the grasp of the rotund man in the stained gray track suit. This seems to surprise him. He senses my presence, though. With a loud crowing noise, he comes at me for the kill. I’m reaching for a hammer I’ll never pull loose in time when there’s a deafening report and the man in the stained gray tracksuit falls over.

And then Tanner tosses me his golf clubs.

Golf clubs?


“Just close the hatch, let’s go!”

For a split second I want to throw them at the family of three, mom, dad and Junior toddling up behind us. Instead I toss the bag of clubs atop Tanner’s other gear, slam the hatch, and run for the driver’s side door—

—where I’m met by a petite, late-middle-aged woman in a pink nightgown. I see her rage-and-hunger-twisted face and punch her in her gut. She folds. I open the door and throw myself inside.

Tanner is already strapped in. “Why didn’t you leave the keys in the vehicle?”

“Force of habit.” Because we have trust issues, Tanner. I’ve got the Luxury Tank in gear. A thump of hands and arms across my driver’s side window tells me the woman has found her feet just before I bolt across the brick plaza. 

The dead are massing in the street to intercept us. Normally I’d turn left to get to the Interstate but the swarm is too thick. I might as well drive into a wall. Or a mound of pale, carnivorous ants.

I turn right, hoping I can evade them by going around the block. Wherever these things were hiding as the sun came up, they’re out, drawn to the hum of our engine, the roar of Tanner’s gunfire, the cries of their fellow risen dead. What were once men, women, and children shamble towards us, lurching and staggering from around the buildings and into the street, closing in as fast as their rigor-stiffened legs can carry them. 

With the numbers they have, they don’t need to be very fast. It’s up to me to outthink and outrun all this deadly simple arithmetic. I glance over to see Tanner trying to figure out the GPS over our bouncing and swerving. “Kansas City International Airport,” I say while pulling hard right to avoid a group of three lunging for us. I avoid overcorrecting and hitting the lamp post by jumping the curb at the corner. That was my first right turn. Fortunately, this street is clear. I sprint down this block and skid into my next right, knowing full well I won’t be as lucky on this last run.

“Keep straight,” the GPS says.

All of Kansas City is pouring out of the side streets to swarm us. Three or more will be bold enough to punch through the glass to get at us. I imagine the rest tearing at the sheets of safety glass, heedless of injury, reaching in with lacerated hands and pulling us out by whatever those hands grab first. How many mouths, how many sets of teeth will cover our bodies, from our faces, eyes, ears, arms, legs? How much will we actually suffer, our beings torn away a single mouthful at a time, before death takes mercy on us?

“You strapped in?” I ask Tanner.

“I recommend picking up the pace, if you don’t mind,” he says.

“All right, then. We’re going to hit some people.”

NEXT: “The interior of the Luxury Tank is dark for all the ruined bodies of once-people slapping and pounding at the glass.”


That’s right, there are THREE different covers for Bleeding Kansas. The story of the first two is at the end of Part 1 of this excerpt series. The cover on the far right is for the German translation by Luzifer Verlag. The apocalypse has gone international. Put your affairs in order. Better yet, put in an order for one of these books. You’ll want something to read in the down time between catastrophes.

#MondaysCats in Repose (as Usual)

Like books, cats can furnish a room like no one’s business.

It’s not until around 11 p.m. that they do the wild-mustangs-galloping-across-the-house routine. Most of the time, this bunch is as chill as the other side of the pillow. The Great Bukowski considered it a marker of cat’s superiority to humans that they can sleep 20 hours of each day. I’m inclined to agree.

Puff seems to be in all of the photos here, but it’s notable that her heart belongs first and foremost to Otis. Speaking of Otis, I’d meant to do a feature on the Elderkitty last week, but it turns out fourteen years worth of photographs scattered throughout my digital collection and beyond is harder to get together than I thought. Who knew?

I call the following series, “A Study in Scarlet and Snowblind Light.” Never mind the hazy glow from the sunlight-on-snow outside the window, let’s pretend I’m Robert Mapplethorpe here, and that this is artistic lighting, and not sloppy camerawork. Never mind that the room needs picking up, too. Probably shoulda cropped out the clutter, but, nah. Verité, and all that.

It’s always a good day when I can get a decent exposure of Handsome Jack the Halloween Cat. Nothing like a white bedspread to help him “pop” in the picture.

Of course, the best days are when I come into my basement office in the morning, and all four of them are waiting for me on the futon, with last night’s galleys on the pillow between them. Let’s get to work!

Friday, April 15, 2016

My Cherished Heresies of Writing

#3 made me vomit blood!

I’ll confess to a small degree of you-can’t-tell-me-what-to-do spite behind my transgressions, but the overriding rule is expediency. For instance:

I don’t outline.

My idea of a hard-partying Friday night is tanking up on bottles of cold pale ale by candlelight while dashing off notes on my work in progress on folded leaves of desk calendars, etc. I call this “Bring Your Beer to Work Night.” The ideas reveal themselves in sporadic flashes of varying degrees of metaphorical brightness as my blood alcohol rises and my favorite dad-rock tunes blast from the speakers on my desk. A cruise to the islands in a luxury yacht can’t top the pleasures of these glorious evenings alone with my mind and music.

Alcohol is involved, so every now and then I get frustrated over how long the writing takes me, and I try plotting everything to the end. Despite my booze-driven willfulness, something in me always resists taking things that far. 

As much as I like to have a general idea of where I’m going with the narrative, nothing can be set in stone until I type “The End” and zap it off to the publisher. The story’s logic often suggests better ways to go as that story evolves, rendering the best laid plans irrelevant. This has happened to me more than once. 

Also, what on earth is up with people who get off on that OCD-inspired listing by Roman numerals, then capital English alphabet letters, then lowercase...? 

Screw that hokey-pokey dance. You might as well be diagramming your sentences if you need to waste time that badly. Let’s get straight to the bullet-point and make things happen.

Or not. I’ll make a big mess and sort it out as I go. It’s worked so far, so good.
SPOILER ALERT, although most of the things I see in this sampler pile represent various narrative rabbit holes I’ve backed out of over the course of the last couple of years. You’ll find notes like these taped all over the walls in my office, when I’m not collecting them in the pockets of folders like the one you can barely see here.

I use semi-colons; sue me.

George Orwell, and Kurt Vonnegut, two writers for whom I have utmost respect, have weighed in against them. (Mark Twain is popularly believed to have disdained semicolons as well, but that’s bullshit.

I’ll see other writers from time to time make a show out of denouncing this useful punctuation mark, but they don’t have my utmost respect, so fuck them.

I summon the spectre of Shirley Jackson to the witness stand. The following is the opening to the greatest haunted house novel anyone will ever write, The Haunting of Hill House:

No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality; even larks and katydids are supposed, by some, to dream. Hill House, not sane, stood by itself against its hills, holding darkness within; it had stood for eighty years and might stand for eighty more. Within, walls continued upright, bricks met neatly, floors were firm, and doors were sensibly shut; silence lay steadily against the wood and stone of Hill House, and whatever walked there, walked alone.

Here’s what this sounds like as read aloud by Yours Truly:

What I like about semicolons is they serve as a typographical break for the eyes when you’re reading dialogue from the kind of person who likes to cram as many words as he can in one breath. People talk this way sometimes. I just did. 

Like exclamation points, semicolons tend to stand out, so it’s always a good idea to use them sparingly. In regards to Ms. Jackson, it pays to recall that she knew what she was doing. The rest of us can only do our best.
There is a brief, but nicely detailed article on the proper use of semicolons where this comes from.

I use exclamation points!

I understand that the overuse of exclamation points is a rookie error to be avoided. I’ve been that sinner. I’m in the process of going through my first two published books removing the excess so I’ll have a better completed product when the third book in the series is done, and an omnibus edition published.

That said, consider this passage from Chapter 6 of Bleeding Kansas:
The first shadows are stumbling forth into the street from between the buildings across the avenue. They’re far enough away; we’re buffered by a wide, brick plaza anchored by a center fountain. “We should kill the lights,” I say, but Tanner has them off before I’m halfway through saying it.

Just as I’m turned to walk back to the desk the elevator door dings and opens. The light in the elevator is blocked by one, two, now five figures stumbling hesitantly into the lobby.“Tanner.” I spring for the front desk.

I removed the exclamation point in this passage, and its absence sucks all of the drama right at the point all hell is breaking loose. When you’ve just watched the dead rise from mass graves on TV and realize they’re out in the streets surrounding your hotel—and now the ones inside the hotel have arrived in the lobby via the elevator—someone’s gonna yell. That yell will have an exclamation point after it.

“‘Tanner,’ I shouted,” won’t cut it, because I’d be violating a rule I actually prefer to observe, namely, using only the unobtrusive “said” to describe speech. I’m sure I’ve violated this from time to time in my books, but I honestly believe it’s a good rule to follow.

Then there are the people for whom exclamation points are part of their natural speech, like, say a news reader on a Good Morning Glorious Empire show. Hell, you notice it when they’re gone, as in this passage on page 12:

“And while we wait for this thing to run its course,” Stefani says, “it turns out that, for some, the illness is just getting worse. This is just for some people, though, the numbers are inconclusive. We’re not in the business of spreading rumors. Count on our team to keep you updated with the latest.” She coughs primly into a handkerchief just as they cut to commercials.

Normally you’d hear an exclamation point after that last sentence. That’s because—normally—Stefani! Dunham! of Cable! Morning! News! is fully invested in what she’s selling.
Yeah, I had a little too much fun with that last sentence. Again, you have to be careful with exclamation points. While you will need them from time to time, their value increases with their scarcity. Just keep it cool, yo.

Sometimes I just have to use “just.”

People who sniff and screech about the presumed “uselessness” of this efficient, monosyllabic synonym for “simply” and “merely” are just inventing excuses to look down on other people because, deep down, they know they’re pretentious, boring, and ultimately insignificant people, and no one wants to read their shit. Moving on....
...because I have enough on my plate as it is, and I’m counting calories.

I don’t write every damned day.

Or every blessed day, either. Sometimes I’ve got other things to do. Of course, there are also the days when it simply isn’t happening.

To me, forcing writing is like forcing a bowel movement. You’ll only compound your miseries.

The Great Bukowski spoke of letting himself “fill up” during his dry periods. Take a hike, catch up on your reading, or sort your digital music and photo files. I disdain the “writing is mystical” view, but I recognize I’m in the minority, so let me put it to you this way: how dare you attempt to force the mystical? You deserve every bad thing that happens to you for your insolence in the face of the divine. Or something.

Get away from your writing space. I love my office; it’s my sanctuary from a world I prefer at a safe remove, but if I don’t get out onto the nearby greenbelt for a powerwalk, or drive to the library to read random junk in a corner, or even drive to the grocery store, I’ll start to...I dunno what to call it. Attenuate? I do get the curious sensation of disappearing into myself.

Sometimes, it’s simply time to catch up on your reading. It’s often the best medicine for what ails you, anyway, so why not?