Category: independent writing

Poem of the day

September 19, 2020

I begged you to linger
because you kept the chills at bay
but you insisted you had
business elsewhere
and took leave of me
with an air kiss
that brushed my cheek
with the last warm breath
I’d feel until Easter
paid its ritual visit
on bended pagan knees

ELECTRIC CASTLES: The Road to Publication

Final edits and proofing completed, my short story collection Electric Castles: A Book of Urban Legends is currently being prepped for publication.

Once the manuscript was corrected and perfected to my satisfaction—three months overdue but that’s par for the course—I immediately logged in to my Upwork account and posted a job listing for someone to handle the interior design and formatting for the book.

It’s always a tricky process working with someone outside my creative bubble but because of the complexities associated with using Lightning Source as a printing service, interior/text layout is not a job for amateurs and bumblers. The Lightning Source templates are very unforgiving and inflexible and the slightest glitch will get your formatted file tossed from the system. And there you are, back at the drawing board.

I’ve always had good fortune with Upwork: you post a job description and graphic designers from around the world bid on it. I tend to use people who have a lot of experience, especially with Lightning Source/Ingram Sparks. Communication is essential so folks must be very fluent in English (not too mention tolerant of my perfectionism).

Electric Castles is the 14th book to be released through my Black Dog Press imprint and other than my first book (So Dark the Night), I’ve always had someone else handle the formatting of the interior text. We tried it ourselves with So Dark and the experience was so miserable and difficult, I swore I’d never do it again.

Once again our old pal Chris Kent will be handling the cover design. I found the perfect image purely by accident and secured the rights from the artist in question, a London-based chap, Gabriele Marras.

I’ll be “leaking” a sneak peek at the cover in a couple of weeks and you’ll understand why I’m so pleased to have stumbled across Gabriele’s work.

I know I can count on Chris to deliver another beautiful looking book—he hasn’t failed us yet.

Random Thoughts

As I made my last pass through the manuscript, scrupulously checking every last comma, I couldn’t help thinking it’s a good thing I publish my own work and therefore not beholden to anyone else or subject to their taste.

The stories in this collection are amazingly diverse, veering from crime fiction to dark fantasy to mainstream literary. How that would go over with an outside editor/publisher, I don’t know. The only thing these tales have in common is that each features an urban setting of one kind or another. That’s it.

There’s always a dialogue between my inner publisher and inner author and sometimes the exchanges can get mighty ugly. I mean, Jesus, my last three books were: a volume of poetry (The Algebra of Inequality), a non-fiction book of satirical tirades against the minions of political correctness (Mouth: Rants & Routines) and, now, a collection of short stories.

All pretty much guaranteed to sell poorly, none of them featuring the kind of crowd-pleasing tripe the vast majority of readers seem to prefer.

My inner publisher wonders why I don’t come up with something more commercial and the author inside me tartly insists that the point is to release good work, not popular fluff. The publisher’s response to that point of view is too vitriolic to reproduce here.

I don’t tend to write cheery tales with happy endings. I don’t utilize common tropes or adhere to accepted formulas. Not my bag. There are plenty of other writers out there who are only too delighted to play that game and I leave you to them.

I feel more at home in the dark…a familiarity I assure you I’ve earned.

And finally…

I get a bit, ah, strange when I’ve reached this phase in the publishing process: a book in the pipeline, a few weeks from publication. I exhibit symptoms of agoraphobia, part of me believing if I venture too far from home something untoward might happen to me and I’ll never live to see the book in question published. It’s a hard feeling to shake; I fully recognize this mindset is not rational or defensible, but it is, nonetheless, persuasive and insidious.

So you’ll pardon me if I reluctantly decline your dinner invitation, offering a rain check with no date filled in.

I’m this close to releasing a brand, new book.

It’s a heady time for me and nothing will distract me from getting it into my readers’ hands.

Back to work…

Black Dog Press, the catalog

This catalog of my books is incomplete (you can find all my titles here), but it illustrates just what beautiful volumes my odd little imprint produces.

See anything you like?

 

Poem of the day

Homegrown Terror

The people who walk down back alleys
must have something to hide
subversives, if not terrorists
avoiding prying eyes

They seem poor and tired
but that could be just a front
they’re probably a sleeper cell
dreaming of martyrdom

Tourist: An Epithet

In the past several weeks I’ve had conversations during which I made disparaging remarks about tourists.

“I hate ’em,” I snarled, “they are lower order creatures, on par with ambulatory trilobites.”

Words to that effect.

But on one occasion, I was reminded that during the summer of 2016 my wife and I spent an entire month overseas, visiting three countries and soaking up the atmosphere like parched sponges. Didn’t that make me, ahem, a tourist?

Immediately after the accusation was leveled at me I became angry, defensive, denying the charge vehemently.

See, my notion of tourism is that it’s a necessary evil, like gut bacteria or liberal politicians. Yes, it can greatly benefit the economy of a nation but, in so doing, it also exacts a certain psychic toll. I mean, there were some parts of Prague that reminded me of Disneyland (and that is not a good thing).

For myself, rather than tourist, I prefer the term “visitor” or perhaps even “guest”.

Let me illustrate what I think is the difference between a visitor to a foreign country and a tourist with this analogy:

After a perfunctory knock, a stranger enters your home, basically brushing past you as he marches over to the table, seats himself and waits to be served. He doesn’t look right or left, doesn’t check out the pictures on the walls, the arrangement of the furniture; there’s no small talk, this person just wants to be fed.

And so you bring forth the courses you’ve spent all day preparing, but the food is unpleasant and exotic to the stranger, who loudly bemoans the lack of familiar favorites. The water tastes funny too and they can’t understand your weird accent.

Then, finally, the stranger glances at his watch, bolting abruptly because they have another dinner appointment further down the road (hopefully boasting better fare than this sorry joint). No real human contact, no effort made to immerse themselves in their surroundings and engage with their host. Only interested in stuffing their fat faces as quickly as possible and then moving on to the next trough.

See what I mean?

I personally think it’s quite easy to make distinctions between feelthy touristas and those who are genuinely interested in their chosen destination, doing their research, learning a few words of the language ahead of time, apprising themselves of some of the historical and cultural features specific to the region in question.

Further:

Visitors have bucket lists, tourists have checklists.

A visitor will seek out a nondescript street corner once glimpsed in an obscure “B” movie; a tourist goes on inclusive, all-you-can-eat-and-drink junkets, spending hours trying to tan their pasty bodies on a private beach, the only locals in evidence the ones employed as service personnel.

Tourists patronize expat bars and seek out others of their kind; visitors deftly avoid anyone reeking of their home country and venture far afield to escape their idiotic compatriots.

Visitors seek experience, interaction; tourists are after visuals, placing themselves front and center in every picture they take, “selfies” amid the ruins, egos the size of the Parthenon.

A tourist never gets deliberately lost or risks chance encounters.

A tourist is rarely pleasantly surprised or jolted by insight.

A tourist secretly despises the countries they visit and can’t wait to get back home and pretend otherwise.

A visitor gamely struggles with the native dialect; tourists insist on talking their own lingo in A VERY LOUD VOICE.

To a tourist, any place worth seeing has to look like it belongs on a postcard.

A tourist says “cool”, meaning worthy of yet another picture, and “quaint” when they mean old and useless.

A tourist can enter a thousand-year-old church and completely ignore the gorgeous, stained glass windows, hand-carved pulpit and ancient aura, instead fixating on a middle-aged nun praying near the back who’s a dead ringer for their aunt Gladys.

A visitor never completely shakes off the places they explore and inhabit; a tourist takes nothing from the sites and monuments they see and leaves nothing of themselves behind.

A visitor is respectful, tolerant, gracious; a tourist vain, easily bored, rude, suspicious  and disdainful.

A visitor departs with regret, a tourist with relief.

Visitors smile, tourists grimace.

Visitors say “thank you”, tourists begrudge even a modest tip.

Visitors try and fit in, tourists don’t bother.

Visitors are pilgrims, tourists consumers.

 

MOUTH: RANTS & ROUTINES (e-Pub and Kindle now available)

Mouth: Rants and Routines is now available in a couple of digital formats, which should make it easy for you to download and read the book on just about any phone, tablet or computer.

You’ll find the Kindle version over at Amazon (click here), and for those who don’t wish to give that multinational behemoth any of your hard-earned money, you can also zip over to Smashwords and find the ePub version there (click here).

I’ve priced the book at $2.99 (U.S.) which, I think, is fair, certainly a helluva a lot cheaper than what traditional publishers charge for their offerings (any e-book going for over seven or eight bucks is a rip-off as far as I’m concerned).

Read the excerpts I’ve made available or listen to the recording I made of some of the material (more are forthcoming) and then decide for yourself if this is your cup of poison. Fans of Ricky Gervais, Bill Hicks or George Carlin will love my book. On the other hand, if those dudes hold no appeal to you…er…

If you do enjoy Mouth, for God’s sake make sure you leave positive feedback on Amazon or wherever you downloaded it, help spread the word and create some buzz for a unique project (and a tiny, independent press).

And, of course, drop me a line here, telling me how the book affected you and if it was an enjoyable (or not) reading experience.

I look forward to hearing from you, one way or the other.

Live! From our living room!

What a night.

I confess to feeling nervous—how would people, even enlightened, progressive types, react to my rants on subjects that would strike many as too close to home?

As the clock wound down and the reading date we’d chosen inched closer and closer, I felt my nerves twanging like guitar strings. On the day in question, I set up chairs in our living room, cleaned the house from top to bottom and wondered if I’d be a few friends shyer once the evening was over.

My latest book, Mouth: Rants and Routines, is a no-holds-barred attack on political correctness and its dim-witted minions, except this time, the criticism is coming from the far Left. This will be considered unconscionable by some, a betrayal of my roots.

Bullshit.

PC and its accompanying trendy social causes have diverted the attention of progressives and advanced the agenda of people only interested in narrow, single issues, rather than trying to build a giant tent that would encompass all those who struggle in the crushing grip of capitalism, men, women and children who lack food and health and shelter security. I’m talking about folks working two or three part-time jobs in a precarious economic climate; single mothers, people living on fixed incomes that amount to no incomes at all, once the rent and bills are paid.

And then there is the existential threat presented by climate change: while some of us fuss about, wondering where we fit on the sexual spectrum or fret over what bathroom is most appropriate or which personal pronoun to use when referring to ourselves, half the world is burning.

Mouth is a bitter pill to swallow, no question, and will offend a lot of individuals who like to wear their beliefs on their sleeves, visible to everyone, a display of righteousness and piety and sanctimoniousness that would make a medieval Pope blush.

As my Introduction to the book warns:

“If you’re a wishy-washy liberal, someone who sits on the fence until their ass is black and blue, this probably isn’t the book for you. Likewise if you recently enrolled in a Gender Studies program and/or believe that one day, God willing, Caitlyn Jenner will win a Nobel Prize for…something. If you frequently use the words ‘men’ and ‘rape culture’ in the same sentence, if you self-identify according to a particular animal clan, or consider your pets surrogate children, well, there’s the door, please use it.”

The folks in attendance that night were surprisingly receptive to my heresy and in the recording we made you’ll hear lots of laughter and noises of agreement. I was thrilled and very, very relieved.

I know I’ll take some stick for daring poke at some Lefty/liberal causes that many people hold as sacred, inviolable, untouchable. But I also know there is a strong undercurrent among political progressives and contrarians who agree with me and cheer my decision to slay these sacred cows with as much invective and sarcasm as I possibly can.

Here’s a link to that reading, recorded in our home earlier this week. I have quite a bit of spoken word material and ambient music posted over at Bandcamp, all of it available for free listening and downloading. Please, tuck in.

I welcome your responses, whether you agree with me or not.

We need to have this discussion. The Left has no hope of defeating the entrenched interests opposing us unless we act in a unified, cohesive manner, refusing to allow ourselves to be hijacked by special interest groups and a tiny, vocal minority who eschew Big Ticket issues (income inequality, poverty, hunger) in favor of identity, gender politics, etc.

Stop the atomization and division and come together in one massive plurality of those who demand fairness and equality for ALL.

It really is our only hope of slowing down or, at least, humanizing the capitalist juggernaut bearing down on us, the horrible future it portends.

  • Special thanks to my pal, Laird Brittin, who bravely agreed to open the evening with some of his new, original songs. He set the tone early, warmed up the crowd and, oh, yeah, played a helluva set. A true and valued friend…

Presenting “Mouth: Rants & Routines” (cover art)

I’ve been promising a preview of the cover of my collection of political and personal rants and here it is.

My wife Sherron provided the original cover art and also handled the design.

Mouth will be released initially as an ebook and we’ll see what happens from there.

It is a harsh, unrelenting depiction of our narcissistic, superficial culture, a breath of fresh air for those who are fed up with a society narrow-focussed on the trivial, while the rest of the world burns.

Anticipating a publication date of April 30th, but I will be posting excerpts between now and then, a few teasers to whet your appetite.

Stay tuned.

"Mouth":Final cover.png

You want “audible” books, try mine

Audible Books seems to be doing all right these days, adding a few more pennies to the vast coffers of Amazon.

Feeling a bit chagrined for patronizing a site owned by one of the mega-companies that are gradually taking over the world? Reluctant to add to Jeff Bezos’ ballooning net worth?

Well, allow me to offer an alternative.

I have recorded a substantial amount of my body of work and posted it either on here on my blog or over at my Bandcamp page.

I charge absolutely nothing for these recordings, even though I devote a lot of time, energy and creativity putting them together. There’s accompanying music, sound effects…and the short stories and novel excerpts I feature are a good bit more original, entertaining and literate than many, if not most, of the offerings you’ll find with my corporate counterpart. That I guarantee.

A word to the wise, however: my recorded prose may well be a gateway drug to the rest of my oeuvre. Once you get drawn in, you may find it impossible to stop, unable to resist immersing yourself in my dark, demented visions. Allow me to indulge in a maniacal chuckle as I imagine you downloading an MP3 of a tale like “Daughter” or “Walt Disney in Hell”, with no idea of what you’re getting yourself into, the rabbit hole you’ve tumbled down.

My writing will definitely liven up a long car trip, I’ll tell you that.

Try some of it on for size, see if it fits.

What do you have to lose?

Except a few preconceptions and maybe one or two nights of sleep.