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Archive for the ‘Christmas’ Category

HeadIn previous years, I’ve posted about Christmas in a variety of ways.

A few years back I provided some background into the real story of St. Nicholas

…and let us not forget the Christmas tale I wrote employing the two main characters from my supernatural thriller, So Dark the Night. “Finding Charlotte” is a case from Zinnea and Nightstalk’s early days and it’s available for free download and reading.

To my friends and readers, everyone who follows my work:

MERRY CHRISTMAS.

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fireplaceGene Autry crooning from the CD player, the Christmas tree filling the house with its pine scent, wood popping in the fireplace…ah, yes, it’s beginning to feel a lot like Christmas.

Those who follow this blog are aware that I love Christmas and still cling to the faint possibility of Santa Claus (hey, the cookies I leave out are always eaten when I get up in the morning, explain that).

This year possesses an extra poignancy, I suspect, because it’s our last Christmas before our youngest lad moves out, leaving us with ye olde empty nest. And a much smaller food bill (but I digress).

Hectic around here, as it is for everybody else this time of year. Trying to finish last minute shopping, get parcels away to relatives and loved ones, keeping the walk shoveled and the house warm during some recent cold snaps.

I’ll probably do a year end review at some point but not on this occasion.

Instead I want to announce a special Christmas treat:

I’ve created, with the help of those over-priced buggers at Cafe Press, some pins/buttons. The button with the smallest print reads “Frustrate algorithms.” Sorry, despite my best efforts, I remain mediocre at taking still photos.

Button

(Click on images to enlarge)

These pins reflect aspects of my personal philosophy, that subversive, non–conformist attitude I’ve had for as far back as I can remember.

I’m giving away three sets of pins along with three personally inscribed copies of my latest book, Exceptions & Deceptions, for the best questions or comments submitted in the next month. Post your remarks, then, if you want to be eligible for a prize, send your particulars (address, etc.) to blackdogpress@yahoo.ca. I’ll make my choices sometime in mid-January and post the names of winners at that time.

Feeling very positive as this year comes to a close. There’s a desire now that I’m fifty to start living a more spiritually and aesthetically fulfilling life, to continue to expand my horizons by exposing myself to smart, daring books and films and music, eschewing the trivial and formulaic. Off with the old skin, on with the new.

“…Identity is the daughter of birth,
but in the end, the invention of its owner,
not an heirloom from the past.”

-Mahmoud Darwish, from Almond Blossoms & Beyond
(Translated by Mohammad Shaheen)

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%22Beneath%22Sometimes the words run out.

It doesn’t happen often, but every once in awhile my literary faculties abandon me and I’m reduced to a non-verbal level of communication. I have something to say but it can’t be expressed via text—and so I’m forced to rely on other, more tenuous, abilities to get across what I feel must be said.

Initially, I worked with collage, refusing to trust my “skills” with paint and brush. Then I shot some abstract films, usually with quasi-science fiction elements, incorporating some of the strange, spacey music I like to concoct with Garageband. You’ll find a couple of these cinematic efforts on my “Film & Music” page. I’m collecting footage for another short flick, which I hope to have ready in the new year (2014).

It took me awhile to work up the courage to paint but Sherron recently bought be a lovely set of acrylics and gave me various brushes and so…why not?

For the past month or so, I’ve labored over three pieces and I’m going to surprise my dear wife by posting them here. Y’see, normally I refuse to exhibit my visual work or allow anyone to look at it—my canvases are kept wrapped and stacked behind a chair in my office. Hidden from prying eyes. Sherron thinks that a waste and urges me to get them framed, hang them somewhere in the house (bathroom? basement?); so far I’ve resisted her prompting.

I’m not a visual artist, I have very little talent but a whole lotta inspiration and desire. An eager amateur, respectful and deferential of the painters who have mastered and transformed their discipline while acknowledging I possess none of their gifts or aesthetic affinities. My efforts may lack artfulness and sophistication, but they do pay tribute to true genius, those individuals who have transcended their medium and presented viewers with an innovative and impassioned view of the world they live(d) in.

Recently I’ve been reading about Mark Rothko and poring over his oeuvre. Simon Schama has a wonderful feature on Rothko, which can be found on YouTube. The story I love best about M.R. is when he received a huge commission to provide paintings for the Seagram building in New York and ended up giving back the money and keeping the gigantic canvases he’d executed because he dined in the restaurant where they were to hang and didn’t like the affluent patrons frequenting the establishment. Walked away from over a million bucks in today’s currency because, at heart, he was a leftie/anarchist who had little truck with institutionalized power.

My kinda guy.

%22Rosetta%22A casual glance at my daubs and smears reveals a chap whose influences are all over the place. Like my writing, my visual efforts are impossible to categorize, highly personal…and decidedly not for all tastes.

For instance…”Beneath”, the first painting (top of the page)—is that some kinda blundering swipe at impressionism?

And what about the second one (above), unhelpfully titled “Rosetta”?

Obviously influenced by my love of cave painting, ancient visions of the world as imagined by minds that were proto-human…and already beginning to question the solidity and permanence of the universe around them. Oh, for a few hours in Lascaux

Hard to do credit to these pieces in photographs—there’s lots of layering and texture that is obliterated, subtleties and nuances (yes, there are a few) utterly lost.

I use gobs of Wellbond glue, found objects, whatever I can lay my hands on to give an impression of a third dimension in my work. Scrape at the canvas with trowels, x-acto knives, sandpaper; employ toothpicks, Q-tips, styrofoam and (frequently) my fingers, often discarding brushes as too inexact.

How about this last picture (below), “Yule”, which started out as something completely different and gradually morphed into what you see here. I hope it’s apparent from this piece:  I love Christmas, a Grinch who secretly desires to run down and join in the fun with the good folks in Whoville.  Don’t ask me why, I won’t be able to supply you with a coherent, reasonable answer. Christmas morning, I’m the first one up, practically bouncing off the walls as I wait for our family to descend and gather in the living room for our gift opening. Possessed by child-like excitement. Hopefully, all that is evident in “Yule”.

The rest I’ll leave up to your imagination.

(Click on paintings to view enlarged versions)

%22Yule%22

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Can’t tell you how many people have written or approached me, asking: “When are you going to write another Zinnea & Nightstalk book?”.

And each time I’ve tried to explain that I after I finished So Dark the Night, I fully expected to write more accounts of my partners in crime…but it just didn’t happen. I could no longer hear Nightstalk’s voice and, after awhile, moved on (with regret) to other things.

But a few weeks ago, my old friend Evgeny Nightstalk dropped in for a visit. Not an extended stay, I could only pry a short story out of him, a case from their first months together, an affair (wouldn’t you know it), set around Christmas time. Maybe Nightstalk was cutting me some slack for his long absence.

Here’s the first part of “Finding Charlotte”…if you’d like to read the rest, click on the link and you’ll find the complete PDF. Free reading, I should add: read it, download it, share it with friends. And if “Finding Charlotte” strikes your fancy, have a look at So Dark the Night. It’s a grand adventure, my two supernatural detectives involved with all manner of Lovecraftian monstrosities and occult-oriented schemes. A fast-paced yarn, I think you’ll love it.

And now:

* * * * * * * *

Finding Charlotte (A Zinnea & Nightstalk Mystery)

 

Cassandra Zinnea called them “C.O.N.C.s”.  Cases of no consequence. She could be snooty like that sometimes. I told her once, hey, even Sherlock Holmes realized they can’t all be Studies in Scarlet or whatever. When you get handed a lemon, y’know, make lemonade.

She didn’t buy it. She got bored pretty easily. Very Holmes-like that way. Only she had different diversions than a seven per cent solution of cocaine. It’s debatable if they were any healthier in the long run but, well, that’s a discussion for another time.

The affair involving the disappearance of Charlotte Bednarski didn’t have a promising beginning and you’ll have to decide for yourself if everything worked out for the best in the end. I’m not what you would call big on analysis. That’s my partner’s domain. Smart and gorgeous, the complete package. Miss Marple and a Victoria’s Secrets model all rolled into one. As kind and decent a human being as you’re likely to encounter this side of Heaven. And that’s why it was nearly killing her giving the Turnbulls the bad news.

“—so terribly sorry,” Cassandra said, standing in front of our shared desk, her voice quaking with emotion. “It’s official policy and I’m afraid there are no exceptions. We don’t handle missing persons cases or divorces. We’ve found they both involve too many…complications. You say you’ve already been to the police—”

Dennis Turnbull snorted. “Fat lot of good they were. Wouldn’t give us the time of day, would they, hon? What’s this world coming to?” He was chubby, forty-ish, some kind of nerd. Baby fat and large, soft features. Likely cried during sappy movies and was good about helping with the washing up. A “girly man”, as my buddy Arnold would say.

I was hearing warning bells. The cops in Ilium may not have been top drawer in many respects but they tended to ramp up their game when there were children  involved. “How long did you say your kid’s been missing? Two days?” They nodded, tired and discouraged, leaning into each other. The wife seemed older, utilizing a full palette of makeup to disguise her true age. Offhand, I’d say she applied it with a trowel. But they were nice people, just addled, desperate. “You gave us the impression she was quite young…”

“Around nine, I would say,” Cheryl Turnbull confirmed, “but small for her age.”

That sounded funny but at that point Cassandra jumped in. “So this isn’t any ordinary runaway. She’s under-aged, alone out there…” She choked up. Mrs. Turnbull nodded, the two of them close to blubbering.

“That’s what we tried to tell the police,” she croaked, “but they wouldn’t listen.”

I could see my partner wavering and decided enough was enough. “Yeah, that’s, uh, definitely strange and if I were you I’d, uh, definitely go back there and get them to put out an A.P.B. on your daughter and—”

Dennis Turnbull was shaking his head. He tapped his wife’s leg and they rose together. “We’ve been humiliated enough, thank you very much. That Detective-Sergeant or whatever he said he was. Snowden…” I glanced at my partner. “You must know the man. He’s the one who told us to come down here. ‘The court of last resort’, he called you.”

“He’s an idiot,” Cassandra said.

“What she says,” I added.

The Turnbulls helped each other on with their coats. We could only stand there and watch.

“I have to correct you on one point, Mr. Nightstalk.” Dennis Turnbull tugged brown leather gloves over his thick fingers; it was a cold night, a week ’til Christmas, the wind off Lake Erie downright lethal. “Charlotte wasn’t our daughter. My wife and I are childless by choice.” She offered us a thin smile. Not entirely by choice, it seemed to say.

Now I was really confused. “So…she was a niece? A neighbor–”

“Oh, no, she lived with us.”

Cassandra and I exchanged befuddled looks. “Adopted?” she ventured.

“A lodger?”

“No, she was there when we moved in.” She saw our bafflement. “She came with the house.”

Ah

Nope, still didn’t get it. But Cassandra did, I could tell from her spreading smile. Suddenly the case had become much more interesting.

I blundered on. “She was living there? Like…squatting?”

“No, Nightstalk,” my partner corrected me. “She’s always lived there.”

The Turnbulls smiled at each other. “She’s the reason we bought the place,” Cheryl Turnbull confided. “The location is nice but the backyard is far too small for our tastes.”

“We both like to garden,” Dennis chimed in.

“But once Charlotte made herself known to us…we knew we couldn’t let it go.” They were standing by the door. “It’s been ten years now and we’ve never regretted it a moment.” They clasped hands. Forming a common front.

Cassandra’s demeanor had undergone a radical transformation; all at once she was in full hunt mode. “Now that we’re more fully apprised of the situation,” checking with me for confirmation, “I think we might be of service to you after all.”

“Just don’t call her a ghost,” Cheryl Turnbull pleaded, crossing toward us, holding out her hands, a big purse looped over her wrist. “That awful Snowden man kept saying that. I hate it. Ghosts are feeble and sad and pathetic. Charlotte is none of those things. She has a personality, a—a—”

“Easy now, dear,” her husband coaxed her, “we’re among friends here.” He regarded us hopefully as he patted her shoulder. “It’s nice to be with folks who don’t make you feel like you’re, y’know, coo coo.”

“We’ve lost friends, even our families won’t come to visit.” Cheryl Turnbull managed to look hurt and defiant. “Just because we set an extra place at the table or put on her favorite show when it’s time. What’s that to any of them?”

I could only manage a sickly grin so they focused their attention on my lovely colleague. She, in contrast, gave off waves of understanding and empathy.

“Come over here and have a seat. We’ll start again.” Signaling me. “My associate, Mr. Nightstalk, will take down the particulars. Give us a bit of background and talk about the day she went missing. All the details you can think of, no matter how inconsequential they might seem.” I found my steno pad and a pen. “Let’s see if we can get to the bottom of this…”

To read the complete story, click here:  Finding Charlotte

 

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100_0705“Here comes Santa Claus…”

Which always seemed like the perfect title for a porn film. But I digress…

Christmas approacheth and there is much to give thanks for.

First and foremost, my oldest son Liam returns from Brazil on Thursday; nearly four months away from home and hearth and, man, did we miss him. Having him back with us is the best Christmas present we could ask for. The tree is up and awaiting ornamentation, the Christmas CDs and (mainly) cassette tapes have been retrieved from the basement and dusted off. I know I have the reputation as being something of a curmudgeon but I love Christmas and there’s something about the holiday season that brings out the best in me. Even standing in a long lineup at the post office isn’t going to set me off (according to Canada Post, this is the busiest week of the year).

Other blessings of note doled out in 2012:

Three, count ‘em, three new releases.  Three books in one year? From me? That’s nothing less than miraculous. I’m delighted with all of them: The Last Hunt turned out far better than I’d hoped, a great story and a worthy addition to the western genre. I know I raised a lot of eyebrows when I announced I was working on a good ol’ fashioned horse opera, but I approached my task with seriousness and the respect of a true devotee. With the help of my father-in-law Ken Harman (a real, live cowboy) and folks like Lee Whittlesey, a superb historian and raconteur, I think I carried it off. Judging from the responses I’ve received, I’d say readers think so too.

100_0704The other two books are “Best of…” compilations of poetry and short prose. Stromata: Prose Works and New & Selected Poems. Both drawing from over two decades’ worth of material; slim, elegant volumes of surreal verse and prose poems. Beautiful, austere covers, powerful, intense material. I’m looking at them as I type these words and am still struck by what lovely tomes they are.

That’s the wonderful thing about being an indie author and publisher: I can supervise every aspect of my books’ creation, from their conception to their production and distribution. I even choose the margins and fonts, find the cover art. Etc. And I work with some great people, like my wife, Sherron, and my designer, Chris Kent, to ensure my books are as eye-grabbing, artful and evocative as they can possibly be. Check out my Bookstore page, see for yourself.

Shot, edited and scored three short films in 2012—have to admit, I’m most chuffed with “First Contact“, a surreal combo of music and images. Can you tell I’m a huge sci fi fan?

Also put together more of my ambient music, took lots of photographs, traveled more than I have in the past…

And the end of the year finds me plugging away on my next volume, a collection of short stories I hope to release in June or July, 2013. Already over 100 pages in and delighted by the diversity of voices, the unsettling and entrancing tales they tell.

Other then the expected sniffles and aches, we all stayed healthy in 2012—something else to give thanks for.

But I’m most grateful for my life, the freedom it affords me to follow my bliss, write in an atmosphere of peace and security, devote myself full-time to the task of creation. That’s what it’s all about. Birthing something that wouldn’t have existed, drawn breath, if it hadn’t been for your painful, protracted labor.

“Make visible what, without you, might perhaps never have been seen.” (Robert Bresson)

For me, no other existence will suffice. Without the ability to create, immerse myself completely in my invented worlds, I would wither away, cease to exist in material form. A thing more sensed than perceived, shadow-dweller, incorporeal yet still cursed with sentience, formless but denied the release of death.

I’m honored and privileged to lead the life I do. That’s something I must never forget or take for granted. I’m blessed and renewed by the knowledge that I’m serving some higher purpose, contributing (in some tiny way) to the Grand Design. Sometimes, when I’m at my absolute wits end, that’s my sole motivation for continuing to put words down on paper. That and the unqualified support and faith of my family. Whatever successes I’ve had are the result of the love and encouragement I’ve received, the sacrifices those closest to me have made to allow me such a fortunate existence.

For that and much, much more, thank you, to my family and friends, my readers…and my Creator.

Couldn’t do it without you.

Wouldn’t even try.

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Abject apologies for being such an inconstant correspondent.  It’s the holiday season, after all, and between celebrating Christmas, visiting relatives, supping and socializing with friends, there’s been rather a lot on my plate.

My preparations for the new year took up two entire days—I have this annual ritual, y’see, cleaning my office from top to bottom, rearranging things, paring it down, etc. etc.  I also take time to outline my anticipated schedule for the coming year and draw up a list of resolutions.

With regards to the former, well, schedules are made to be broken.  I thought I had 2011 figured out…until a western novel called The Last Hunt announced itself in February and proceeded to hijack the entire year.  To be clear:  as I wrote out my preview for 2011 on or around December 31, 2010, I had no idea that in the very near future I’d be taking a crack at a western.  My Muse can be quite perverse. Don’t get me wrong, I love westerns but I’ve never envisioned writing one.  Never even fantasized about it.  “Wouldn’t it be cool…”  Nope.

As for my resolutions, I generally do try.  Most of them I’ll keep to myself but one thing I’d dearly love to work on is enjoying myself more, having more fun with the entire process of writing.  Does it always have to be so freakin’ stressful and fraught?  Is there a way of easing up without damaging the power and integrity of my work?

Last year I made the pledge to read more, took on the “100 Book Challenge” and managed to make it (105 was my final tally, thank you very much).  In 2012, I want to keep up that momentum but this year I was to concentrate on BIG books, fat, smart books crammed with great writing and daunting ideas and notions.  I’ve already put a few aside:  William Vollmann’s Europe Central, Jonathan Littell’s The Kindly Ones, Blake Bailey’s biography of John Cheever, The History of Christianity by Diarmaid MacCullough and Edith Grossman’s translation of Don Quixote.  Also want to re-read some of my fave Thomas Pynchon books: it’s been a long time and they’re bound to have fresh revelations for me.

Listening to a lot of music in early 2012, tunes by the likes of Brian Jonestown Massacre and A Place to Bury Strangers.  Not much in terms of movies so far, though I’m thrilled to announce we’ve already bought our tickets for this year’s “Silence is Golden” event. The 1924 version of “Thief of Baghdad”, projected onto a big screen, accompanied by a live orchestra.  The cinephile within is swooning

Sherron, bless her heart, bought me another book case on December 30th so for the next two or three days I moved books around, expanding my Film and History/War shelves, organizing and pondering.  It was fantastic.  I know, it’s ludicrous, isn’t it?  I am such a nerd. But in the Information Era, where computers and gadgets entice us with their tricks and shiny buttons, it’s nice to reconnect with my library.  I’ve spent my entire adult life assembling a pretty decent collection of tomes and I love having them available, on display, rather than stored in our ancient stone basement, vulnerable to all of the environmental hazards to which paper is prone.

Software comes and goes but my books remain—faithful, accessible, relics of other, less hectic, times.  I have all the novels and short stories Philip K. Dick published during his lifetime.  I possess every golden word the great James Crumley committed to paper.  The covers a bit tattered, the spines showing wear and tear.  A substantial proportion of my books are used, remaindered; cast-offs and rejects.  But they occupy places of honor on my shelves.  Most of the authors dead, many of them all but forgotten.  Preserved in my odd collection, my assorted odds and ends and incunabula. All of it reflecting the weird, far-ranging tastes and interests in its curator.  Eclectic, if you’re being kind, though a true adept might discern much, much more…

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And, please, folks, during this magical time of the year, let’s not forget the true meaning and origin of Christmas.

I confess it:  I love it every time December 25th rolls around, and Christmas morning still sees me scrambling down the stairs, bright and (too) early, poking under the tree, pestering my wife to hurry up as she makes us her customary scones.  It’s ridiculous, I’m pushing fifty and there’s no excuse for such silly behavior.

But I was the kinda kid who avidly followed reports from CKOS-TV (Yorkton) on Christmas Eve, an announcer glibly informing gullible dopes like me that our military radar (Canada’s famed Distant Early Warning System) had picked up Santa’s sleigh as it departed the North Pole and his stupendously improbable round-the-world odyssey had begun. And, yes, later on, I’d be in bed, straining for the sound of hooves clattering on the roof. Swear to God. So I guess you can see why so much of my fiction tends toward the fantastic. It comes honestly.

Both my sons are in high school now so there isn’t that buzz around Christmas that there was in the old days.  We even wrapped their presents early, hoping to draw them like inquisitive ferrets but, well, Sam’s been rehearsing and performing in the school play and Liam wrestles four nights a week these days so they’re quite preoccupied with matters other than rattling boxes and guessing their contents.

Not that it would do any good—I’m a devious wrapper, cleverly disguising even the most modest gift so that by the time I’m done the Amazing Kreskin couldn’t tell you what’s in there.

Christmas is a time of kicking back, reading, relaxing, watching movies…which reminds me, I’ve got to dig some of the classics out of the basement storeroom:  “Charlie Brown Christmas”, “Muppet Christmas” and, it goes without saying, “Santa Claus Vs. the Martians”.  Lots of family time, lots of time in front of the fireplace, lots of…turkey.  Turkey, turkey and more turkey.  That is absolutely mandatory.

Editing on my western novel has been especially intense for the past three weeks. I wanted to have a good draft of The Last Hunt by Christmas Eve and it looks like I’ll achieve my goal.  That will make it easier for me to take a few days off, rest and recharge before I do a final polish of the novel in the New Year.  Everything on schedule, nothing to get uptight about.  Easy, boy, easy

Here’s wishing you a cheery, laughter-filled holiday season. Remember to spare a thought or two to those less fortunate, drop a few bucks in the hand of a street person, send a check to the Stephen Lewis Foundation, do what you can with what you have to make this world a little more humane and compassionate.

Oh, and, ah, KEEP READING.

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