Saturday, October 29, 2016

A Freshly Haunted Office for 2016

My office space in Monte Vista is over three months old and I’ve yet to get settled. I have the same shelving I had at the last place, but the feeling here is different. Even the books aren’t arranged the same.

Time and Halloween wait for no one, though, so we have to take...stabs (heh) at bringing the spirit of the season into my holy reader’s/writer’s sanctuary. We’ll begin with the cheapie Sam’s Club bookshelf seen at right, and work our way around the room.

Individual books have come and gone, but the basic concepts regarding the content of the shelves remain. The top shelf is still comprised of those first books I bought with my own money as a grade-schooler, with other volumes honoring my favorite early reading experiences. (Yes, I favor Stephen R. Donaldson’s first Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever for inspiration over Tolkien. Fight me.)

The second shelf expands on those early experiences, including one of my more indispensable volumes I wish I’d had as a younger man, namely, the precise scores to all The Beatles’ songs. Also included are my favorite collection of Hunter Thompson essays in the original Rolling Stone Press hardcover, along with a Vonnegut omnibus, almost all of my all-time favorite novels, my favorite book by Hemingway, my favorite miscellaneous short story collection....

Of course, I’ve put copies of my own books in between. The sight of them from across the room makes me sit up straighter in my chair.

Uncle Harlan gets his own shelf, as always. The papier-mache ghost in the middle was constructed by my wife while on the night shift sometime in the early 1990s. The stack of glowing skulls to the left are a 2016 purchase. I have no idea where vampire Abe Simpson came from. We have a lot of stuff like that. The Burlap Bunny by the skulls is from my wife’s family, going way back to nobody knows.

The decorations as a whole peter out by the Great Wall of Bukowski below, and are absent entirely from the bottom row with its novel galleys and coffee table books.

There is an overflow shelf, incidentally, for all the Bukowski and Harlan Ellison that didn’t fit, along with some more Hemingway, Norman Mailer, and one of Bukowski’s favorite novelists, John Fante.

Back to regularly scheduled Halloween decor, already in progress. My reading/review corner on the west wing of the office looks good lit up. The Jack in the Hat shows very well.

As does the dormer area where my desk is. Unfortunately, the lights hanging here began blinking out of nowhere one night—they hadn’t for weeks of use beforehand—before burning out entirely. It’s just as well. Those were old-school lights, and I intend to replace everything with LEDs as we go.

These characters have my back. The married couple in the right background are another new addition. My wife has been very good about bringing in some new to mix with the old. That cauldron at right has proved too handy for holding my Sharpies and is in imminent danger of becoming a permanent fixture.

You may recognize the Moon-Faced Rogue from my 2013 post. He used to live on one of the Sam’s Club bookshelves.

Again, more newcomers. As is appropriate to things Halloween, they twitch uncomfortably in direct sunlight. The click-click-click of their swinging provides a rhythm for my staccato typing to follow.

We close with the three-string concatenation of orange lights in that difficult-to-resolve east wing of my office. They’re the best lighting that dark, blighted end has seen in a while. My wife has offered to affix the the adhesive-backed plastic hooks for string of LEDs, white, orange, or Christmassy to be run through. I’m thinking, heck, why not?

Happy Halloween to you and yours.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Halloween in a New Town

For nine Halloween seasons in Colorado Springs, we had a good idea where the items from our boxes of Halloween decor would go. Now we’re somewhere else.

Challenge accepted. As if I had a choice.
The house is painted, but the fence must wait until spring. A windstorm tore the Grim Reaper from the column.

I’ve had a difficult time with this move, beginning with the fact that my family’s debt plus the increasing expense and stress of living in a rapidly transforming Colorado Springs forced us into it in the first place. Where we finally ended up—after much more stress and expense—was the best of a bunch of bad options. 
These painted pumpkins on a miniature post were assembled and painted in Laurel Bay, SC, in the late 1990s when our children were small.

Of all the fixer-upper dumps across Colorado in our all-we-can-afford list, Big Pink in Monte Vista was the most feasible. Believe me, it photographs better than it actually is. We sank all our profits from the sale of our old house into replacing the tube-and-knob wiring and repairing/painting the exterior. Much still needs to be done on the inside. For now, we’re satisfied we won’t die in an electrical fire on one of the San Luis Valley’s fabled -30F (-34.44C) winter nights.
The piling leaves really sell this. They’re even deeper now. We’re waiting until after Halloween to rake.

Have I mentioned that the San Luis Valley is rated as one of the coldest places in the lower 48 United States of America? Well, Alamosa, anyway, but that’s because it’s 100 feet in elevation below Monte Vista. This valley, like all valleys, is a trap for sinking cold air down the sides of the mountains. The valley floor, while tilting several hundred imperial feet upwards from east to west, still starts at 7,5oo feet, and goes up from there. We’re at “cold enough to crack stones” from the git-go, as Cormac McCarthy described the weather in his heartwarming family classic The Road.

On the other hand, we might be in one of the more tolerable places to live, given the weather in our native U.S. Deep South. Looking at the weather news there across the region over the past year, I wonder whatever possessed me to consider moving back that way. (Proximity to extended family and closest friends was the one big one. The notion wasn’t entirely irrational.)

As far as Colorado goes, it was either the high valley or the high plains, and with all respect to the good people of the Lower Arkansas River Valley and up in the northeast corner of the state in Burlington, I don’t know how you people do it. Some towns are definitely worse than others; I could taste the meth and despair on the hot winds blowing across Rocky Ford. It’s bad enough here in the flat valley in Monte Vista, but I can see mountains if I look hard enough. No such luck in La Junta. For all my complaints, this could have been so much worse.
This is door hanger is new, and peculiar to Big Pink.
My wife saw this design on Yahoo! earlier
this month. It cost her a total of $17 U.S.
to assemble the components.

I should note that it’s this “but on the other hand” back-and-forth in my head that’s contributed much to my misery over the past eight months or so. Embracing my anger at all the fuss that had to happen because of crap I had little to no control over has helped inasmuch as dismissing it has not.

That said, here we are, three hours away from our grown children, but at least in the same state. I’d wondered if I’d ever feel attached to this place at all, given that I have raised no children here. It’s just the wife and I, in a town where we know absolutely no one except for the various handymen we’ve had come out to fix things on this crumbling pile.
Imagine this at night when the lights over the mantelpiece show more clearly through the picture window.

(Of course, I didn’t even speak much if at all to the few people we knew in Colorado Springs. Really, all the closest people to us are back home Down South....and here we go again.)
The arrangement has changed somewhat since the 10th. Of course, we’re making adjustments as we go, and nothing will be set in stone.

It took my wife leaving me alone in the house for a week, and October light to bring me around a quarter-turn, if not all the way. I whiled away the time stomping around the uneven floors and talking to myself, which, it turns out, I really must do from time to time. I’ll drop all of the self-consciousness and let my inner life coach out to talk me through the simplest tasks (“all right, let’s get this kitchen cleaned”) to the stuff I prefer not to think about (“you closed accounts with these people years ago; explain this anger”). 

After a while, I get sick of it. That happened just in time for my wife to return from visiting her mom in Alabama. The delightfully temperate days and nights did the rest.
Cast your fate to the wind.

The days were warm, but windstorms came through to strip the leaves from the trees in our yard. These windstorms were not nearly the roof-ripping nightmares they are in Colonoscopy Springs, so, so far, so good on that. The nights are everything anyone could ask of an October. Calm, still moonlight through high clouds holding the warmth of the Indian summer day, but barely. The sound of leaves ticking down the wide street like rain....

I still have some psychic ground to cover. So I hate change? Congratulations, I’m normal. For all the back and forth in my head, the fact remains that I am one fortunate son of a bitch to have had options at all, however distasteful. All I have to do is meet that luck halfway.

Just as we move around our Halloween figurines and throw out the bad lights, changes will be made on the fly, as we go, as we adjust. It’s only the first Halloween. This is how settling in gets done.

You’d think I’d know that by now. Ah, well. It is what it is.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Bella Luna and the Ghost in the Window

Are you feeling blocked? Blocked in the sinuses, blocked in the creative zone? Pick up the camera and start happysnappin’.

It’s either Luna, Puff, or Mick in my south-facing office window, and sometimes two of the three, one for each side. Today, our newest addition, Bella Luna, a.k.a. Household Feline Unit #5, contemplates the ghost rising from the pumpkin there, but not for long. There is always something going on when you’re a kitten.

I later removed the ghost and pumpkin from the window and put it on my desk, where I figured it would be safer. I’ve had this decoration for years, but never saw this Sharpie’d inscription on the bottom before.

This was one of those gifts a teacher buys an early elementary school student. I like to think little Sara was in first grade in the year 2000, which would make her the same age as my grown daughter.

Again, however, I’ve had this for years, so apparently the sentiment wasn’t enough to keep this from being dumped at the second-hand store before Sara was out of her teens. 

I’m a little sad to see this, but what the hell. Thanks, Mrs. Mulock, wherever you are. As with Bella Luna, dumped off in the middle of the night near our house, your gift will have a good home. In this case, it’s on the desk of a minor internationally published horror writer who needs to sign off and get cracking on finishing that last book in his series.
Alas, that means I need to move you.

Happy Halloween!

Sunday, October 16, 2016


Confessions of a sort, wherein the “never apologize, never explain” rule is fudged, but not entirely transgressed. I’ve got to stop being so half-assed about things, ya think?

“But...but haven’t you been working on The Wrong Kind of Dead this entire time? As in, since 2014, when you finished Grace Among the Dead?”

Yes and no. By 5 May 2016, the last time-stamp for my edits of the galleys until this week, the concluding book in my saga was huge. At 94,366 words and 266 pages, the end was not yet in sight. Most of it is serialized here on the blog.
Screenshot of the first three pages of The Wrong Kind of Dead, with relevant stats at lower left.

In February of this year, after a year and a half of writing, I realized my narrative was off track. The relationships between Derek, Agnes, and Elyssa were forced, as were their relationships with their fellow tribespeople. An emotional bullet point involving Derek’s children from the first book misfired. 

The more I went over the manuscript, the more I realized I was leaving a lot of metaphorical money on the table in terms of narrative richness. I had so much to work with, and for some reason I wasn’t working with it.

Worst of all, it was taking much too long to build to the Final Boss, and I didn’t even have the details to that hammered out. I still don’t, but one of the scenes got written almost by impulse on Tuesday, making for the first new material on The Wrong Kind of Dead in I-don’t-want-to-know-when.

Screenshot from page 251. You should have been doing this
50 to 75 pages ago already.
So what else happened in between? In early March, someone broke into my Jeep while my son, who was driving it, was at work. They removed fuses, of all things, leading me to believe it was an attempt to disable the vehicle, forcing it to be left overnight for pickup by the thieves.

During that same week my wife went to the emergency room, later to be admitted to the hospital for several days. It was one thing after another in that cursed month, but those were the big ones. Paranoia and worry brought everything to a halt. The month after that, April, was primarily dedicated to staging the house for sale in time for May.

All this came immediately after the best months ever for numbers on this blog. I’d daresay my writing was going well, too—I had, after all, diagnosed a problem. I might have fixed it, were it not for the urgency that arose immediately afterwards in selling the house, and finding a new place to live.

Depression, the distractions of selling a house, hunting down another house, and moving 200 miles across the state will hang a body up. Ah, yes, my depression. I might go into that bit of TMI later in another post, but suffice it to say that when the broken old futon was carried out of my office in the interests of staging the house, my writerly mojo went with it.

So March, April, and May were in the toilet. We had to move in June. We spent a long, miserable month at the Hotel Purgatario, waiting to close on the dusty, grimy old pile we call Big Pink. I struggled to crank out blog posts. I did well with my review of that Independence Day sequel.

There will be fire and explosions towards the end.
That’s all I’m telling you, because that’s all I know.
Every day in that hotel room I had the galleys for The Wrong Kind of Dead minimized to the taskbar on my desktop. Every now and then I would look at it. I might as well have been looking at a dusty, broken wall spray-painted in ancient Sumerian. I was not, as the young people say, feeling it.

I’ve been here three months as of the 13th. I have wasted vast swathes of time as the electricians updated the tube-and-knob wiring, the plumbers fixed leaks, and the painters chipped, ripped, and tore away at the peeling paint, old wires, rotten siding, etc., by way of putting a fresh coat on. We made a good deal of money selling our house. That money is now spent, and we’re already back in debt, albeit on a much smaller scale than we were in Colorado Springs. 

It doesn’t help my blues. I need to make some money. I need to end this series, and get on to the Next Thing.

So you can imagine my elation when that scene poured out of my fingers around 1400 GMT -7, 11 October. All the while it’s felt as if a gear wasn’t meshing. On that day, a gear meshed.

It’s not everything I want, but it’s a start, I have to go with it. Just as I have to write up character arcs for my expanded dramatis personae.

The only way this is going to be made right is if I finish this.

Back to work, then.
Step 1: Remove cats from lap. Step 2: "X" out of Twitter. Step 3: GET BACK TO WORK!

Monday, October 10, 2016

Random Observations by a Recently Turned 55-Year-Old Sitting Out the 2016 Presidential Debates

With more photos of the creeping autumn in Monte Vista, CO, to break up the hellish monotony.

I generally avoid politics and current events on this blog. The few times I’ve attempted it I felt like a fraud for how hard I had to try to force myself to care about the subject after a few sentences. I also had that sick feeling in my gut that someone, somewhere was bound to lose their composure over one of my entirely harmless opinions, and I’d had to deal with that ugly drama. No, thank you. There is so much to do. I can’t imagine who has time for that, even as I waste time laughing over the insults traded in the various hashtag wars on Twitter.
The view leaning from the dormer window of my office as the sun rose through the trees the morning of my birthday. I’m still alive; I’m still in Colorado. I’ll just have to take it from here.

Because it was my birthday recently, and I can’t believe I’m still here after 55 years when so many of my betters have gone before me, I’ll indulge in a prediction for the 2016 U.S. presidential election. It’s guaranteed to drive you out of your mind with rage—or something—so, first, I insist you look at these photos of the distant San Juan Mountains. We’re looking west down US 160 as the highway leaves Monte Vista for Del Norte.

All right. Here it comes. Trigger warnings, shields up, charge phasers....

See those mountains? Look at those mountains. On Wednesday, 9 November, the Earth will turn thus and bless their steep flanks with sunlight. 
The Sangre de Cristos, too, as seen one mile east inside Alamosa County from Rio Grande County along US 160, looking north towards the range north and west of the Sierra Blanca Massif. I still can’t get over the flat-as-a-flippin’-steamrollered-pancake nature of this 7,600-foot high valley.

It doesn’t have to be direct sunlight. There could be fog, making for an especially chill and gloomy morning. It will be November, after all.

But there will be light on those hills. And wherever you are, you’ll be there in it, too.
I’m not sure where I am here. Somewhere around Monte Vista. It was pretty enough to take the photo. Yeah, I know, I should have rolled down the window.

Whoever wins the election, America will not “die.” The missiles will not launch. The streets will not roil with riot and revolution. The world as you know it will not end.

Let me tell you what will happen.
The trains will run whenever the hell they want. Deal with it.

Birds will sing. Babies will be born. Old people will die. Others will die for no damn good reason. Others will go into work. Plans will be made for Thanksgiving and Christmas.

This sign on S. Broadway in Monte
says it all for our current existential
condition. Just hangin’ in there,
barely concealing our shame for
our inadequacy.
Another beloved entertainer will die. There will be a surprise hit at the box office. An infectious song will cause people to post humorous videos of themselves singing along in front of their phones. One of these videos will go viral.

The sun will rise in the morning. It will set in the evening. The wind will blow cold in the winter. It will be insufferably hot come summer. An outbreak of severe weather will flatten rows of homes somewhere in the Midwest. Nor’easters and hurricanes will flood cities on the eastern seaboard. Wildfires will change lives and landscapes in the west.

The news media will run brief clips of all of the above before going into gushing coverage of the celebrity couple’s marriage, as if if to say, Here’s some good news to cheer you up! while you go about the lonely routine that is your life. Or continue the happy, thrill-a-minute adventure that is your life. Either way, unless you’re in that fire, or under that cloud, or one of those celebrities getting married, your life won’t change.
Wouldn’t you love to live here? Me, too. Tough.

If you are one of those rare, illuminated souls who observes a regimented schedule, diet, etc., towards self-improvement, you already know what I’m talking about. The rest of you are irritated, if not outraged.

It’s okay. I’m 55. By the time either one of my parents was my age, they’d been dead for years from their respective cancers. How long could I possibly have to live? I’ll suffer, I’ll die. You win! Why wait ‘til then to throw your party? I’m dying as you read this. Be happy now!
The Lombardy poplars screening our front yard, as seen from the northwest corner of our house. James Robert Smith told me they’d turn golden in the fall. He was right.

Or not. Far be it for me to tell you what to do. Get your rocks off getting worked up over the latest Punch ‘n’ Judy show that either side will claim to have won by Monday morning if that’s your thing.

Me, I’ve got my usual chores and obligations. October is still pretty, and I feel honored to be here for my 56th. I’ve only got so many of these things left, if any. I think I’ll write another zombie book.

Neither presidential candidate will stop me. They won’t be stopping you, either. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to get back to work. Have a nice day. Or not. None of my business, of course. It’s up to you.

Sunday, October 09, 2016

Random Observations by a Recently Turned 55-Year-Old Guy on a Chilly, Overcast Sunday Morning

Or, “Holy Crap, It’s the 9th of October Already and I Need to Post Something!” Meanwhile, autumn comes and goes quietly in the south central San Luis Valley.

I’ve noticed a lot of people posting in social media and in comments sections transposing “conscious” for conscience,” e.g., “No one with a conscious could ever vote for X.” I haven’t seen it the other way around, so at least no one’s been knocked into unconscienceness.
La Veta Pass on 4 October. I’d expected everything ablaze in color by this point, but it seems the trees take turns at this elevation.

I realize a lot of common misspellings are attributable to over-eager auto-correct functions on smart-phones. Variations of “darn auto-correct” are given in the edits, anyway. So why not disable auto-correct and learn to spell?

Every now and then I notice someone taking a stab at When Everything Started Going to Crap. I’m old enough to remember this being attributed to allowing students to wear blue jeans to school. Après cela, le déluge: once this was permitted, all order and reason and civility were acid-washed, ripped and distressed from the public square.

Looking south down Jefferson Street in Monte Vista.

Incidentally, I remember how these same people complaining about the blue jeans in schools (and girls in pants! yeah, I’m that old) would joke, “Hyuck-hyuck! I don’t know how to spell” when they wrote something out in their equally juvenile handwriting.

West side Monte Vista, looking north towards the one and only high school.

I remember when penmanship was graded, along with spelling. By way of thumbing my nose at the ignorant elders I knew back in the day, while offering my own elderly complaint for 2016, I proclaim the growing popular disregard for spelling and penmanship in the late 1960s/early 1970s as the point When Everything Started Going to Crap. You want to complain about discipline, and the lack of it? There you go, you brick-headed old fools. Who parented the generation that sent everything to hell in the first place? Talk about your evasion of accountability!

A fiercely orange tree, again on the west side of town, where all the best trees are.

Well, check me out. I made an entire post from a minor complaint. I have other complaints, and loads more photos of stuff to dump. I just might make up for lost posting time. Hooray for today.
A fiercely orange cat, on a pinkish porch, before green outdoor furniture in golden autumn light.