Lamp Eyes, Look Out! a #novel

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The West is in decline.

A man lost his ability to see the future. To try to restore this strategic asset, a government physicist has been whirling him in a centrifuge. When the former seer blacks out, he dreams. But these dreams aren’t profound—they’re ridiculous sitcoms.

Now an Army psychoanalyst arrives to find out what happened to him…



The two women who love and confound him. Strange incidents after a Beethoven string quartet. Ghoulish confrontations at a Halloween Party. Communication with a hominid cannibal. A lighthouse built by Freemasons.

Can analysis of the absurd dreams lead to a restoration of the West’s confidence and optimism? What happens when a man perceives fate and tries to stop it?

180 pages.

Lamps Eyes, Look Out! is available exclusively on Kindle Unlimited until mid January 2018. The price for members is free; for others it’s only $2.99. In late January 2018, the novel will be available in paper from Infinity Publications. It will also be available in all common eBook formats.

If you’d like to learn more about LAMP EYES, LOOK OUT!, please click here to download a 1 page PDF sell sheet.

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Published in: on October 26, 2017 at 10:30 am  Leave a Comment  
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The #mysterious #fever & gloom-inspired #origins of ISLAND OF THE MOTHS #graphicnovel #comic @NSkorpen

Here are the first four screen shots from the Afterward to the new ebook edition of ISLAND OF THE MOTHS (art by the pen-wielding bon vivant Neal Skorpen). These are excerpts from our email correspondence in 2006. As you can see, I suggested we stop a current project (which I was writing as he drew, a bit like trapeze artists). And not just stop that project and go home crying, as usual, but start a new one. This one would take a different artistic approach on the same grimace-faced Urge and grumpy, brooding Irritation (“that the girls love”) that motivated me (I think Neal too in his individual, cryptic, thousand-mile-stare way). And I would complete writing the text before asking him to draw… But first, he had to agree with the proposal! Would he?  Tremble, tremble….





Ha! I read that I had the flu when writing that email…. so it all started with a fever dream. At this moment, October 2015, I’m getting over the flu again, so there is something going on here.

The Plume references are the project we halted to begin… ISLAND OF THE MOTHS (which I request you say in a certain ominous and intriguing  tone of voice).  What I called in the 2006 email “the Zonny project” is happily now finally available for you as a quite inexpensive ebook, DANGEROUS BICYCLE MYSTERY QUEST, available in popular eBook formats around the world, and will be available as a paperback in a few months.

How did that curious twinkle-eyed fellow and martial arts board-chopper Mr. Skorpen reply, back in that primitive year, 2006? Between “hiiiii-YAAA” cracks of his steely metacarpus against birch and pine blocks, which I assume supplemented his living, did he agree or decline? Well I can’t tell you, for it’s in the book; but okay, yes I can at least tell you that Neal replied with style ideas and specific graphic novel examples. You can read his actual historically-inscribed words through the dust of time, and see ACTUAL ARTISTIC EXAMPLES (don’t call them scribbles please) of his initial probing, experimental drawings, along with the rest of our first correspondence, in the ISLAND OF THE MOTHS ebook Afterward.

Photo on 9-18-15 at 1.21 PM

This is how the cover looks on the iPad. Curmudgeonly face optional!

The stunning and surprising ISLAND OF THE MOTHS ebook is available here in radiant pixels on Kindle …. as well asNook.

It’s also available on your local non-USA websites, as well as other ebook distributors such as KoboScribd, Tolino, and Page Foundry. At this time the price is quite cheap! 

The large paper version is available here (glorious large paper-from-willing-trees format with rich black–and whites at no extra cost, but without the new Afterward). 


This is an example of Neal Skorpen’s exploratory artwork before starting ISLAND OF THE MOTHS. I love the fat cumbersome suite, the enormous helmet with lantern… must weight about eighty pounds. I don’t see a breathing tube but….

Neal Skorpen’s colorful website of comics ferment is . Check out his new project, AETHERNAUT.

Published in: on October 8, 2015 at 3:45 pm  Leave a Comment  

Question & Answer: The #Bicycle Adventure #Novel, DANGEROUS BICYCLE MYSTERY QUEST … #Energy, #Demographics and the Urban – Rural Divide

Question: How did you come to write this novel?

Answer: I wrote it as a serial for a small bicycle magazine starting August 2001. Given its venue, it had to feature bicycles. Much followed from that need. Much later I rewrote it to its current novel form.

Question: What were some of the influences on your novel?

Answer: The disaster genre is an old one and there are many examples. Defoe’s novel A Journal of the Plague Year came out in 1722! Of course there’s the Flood story in the Old Testament… Anyway, I read Jack London’s The Scarlet Plague shows the rise of brutality and loss of knowledge and social class in a depopulated Bay Area. I noticed in Day of the Triffids, the world suffers two calamities: not just widespread blindness, but also mobile carnivorous semi-intelligent plants. I noticed in J.G. Ballard’s disaster novels (The Wind from Nowhere, The Drowned World, The Burning World, The Crystal World) his plots send his characters toward, not away from, the source of peril.

I saw a lot of disaster the movies of the 20th century, such as the movie No Blade of Grass that shows England starving and violent after an agricultural virus kills off wheat and rice. Some of these types of stories use it to satirize or explore contemporary society.

Question: What do you mean about disaster stories exploring society?

Answer: This is also an old idea, for example that there is a drought because of a sin in the community. I think the most well known examples are some of Romero’s zombie movies that satirize consumerism or bigotry. But also a disaster can be like a receding tide that removes the protections and comforts of civilization so it’s an opportunity to see what’s left behind. A common theme is that we people are worse than the monsters or whatever it is…

Question: Do you think our society could exist without gasoline?

Answer: Sure. It would take some time to adjust. We already have more automobile engine choices now than we did when I first wrote this novel. I don’t think most people have any idea that hydrocarbons are chemically amazing. It interests me how an energy source shapes society, and how it forms our assumptions.

My story posits that the shock happens suddenly. That is the part that is hard to withstand. When I was a little kid, my brother would hold the heavy gallon of milk out to me. He would ask if I had it. With my little hand on the handle, I would say yes. Instead of slowly letting go as I expected, he would quickly remove his hand and the suddenly weight would make me drop the milk. That way he proved I couldn’t hold it. However, if he had removed his hand slowly, I would have held it.

Question: Do you think our society could exist without automobiles of any kind? or many fewer cars?

Answer: That is a more radical question and more difficult. I think a lot would have to change, particularly outside of cities. It’s an interesting thought-experiment. I think it might upset people to even ask the question, for example, in a novel…

Question: Is your story a bicycle and environmentalist wish fulfillment story?

Answer: No. What sane person wishes for a disaster that seems to destroy the nation, modern life, and cause widespread starvation and violence? If my novel were wish fulfillment, wouldn’t it show a society that solved their problems? There is such a book, Ecotopia by Callenbach.

In Dangerous Bicycle Mystery Quest, the sympathetic characters disagree on what should be done. They fight and steal; some abandon the cause. The main character refuses to grow anything. Even in the last chapter she feels doubts about the enterprise. Portland is desperate to avoid starvation so transforms itself. Take a careful look at the ending. Is that a wish fulfilled?

The book does start with a premise that bikes are important to the story, that’s true. But the point of the adventure is to explore ideas energy, demographics and the urban – rural divide in the USA. Dismissing the story as wish fulfillment seems a way to avoid its questions. Mostly I hope the ideas in the story make the adventure more interesting to readers!

Dangerous Bicycle Mystery Quest is available for Kindle, Nook, iBook, and other eBook formats around the world. It will be arriving as a paperback in January 2015.

DBMQ_Yard Sign

Published in: on October 7, 2015 at 4:29 pm  Leave a Comment  
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#Book Talk… Philip K. Dick’s THE MAN IN THE HIGH CASTLE, the Embarcadero Freeway, #Portland’s Marquam Bridge, & Automobile Culture as Dystopia

In his blog, Professor DG Meyers reviews PK Dick’s THE MAN IN THE HIGH CASTLE. If you don’t know, in this novel, Japan and Germany won World War II, but characters in it discover, through a book within the book called the Grasshopper Lies Heavy, that their world is a fiction. I have a different opinion that Meyers about a key part of the book. Meyers writes:

The Grasshopper Lies Heavy is not alternate history, after all. It is the true history no one is willing to face. The United States won the war, and yet capitulated to the Axis, acquiesced to partition and foreign occupation, nevertheless.

Dick’s political message has become something of a thematic commonplace in alternate history: even if the events had been different, the outcome would have been the same. War may decide the occupier, but not the sequel of occupation. If the U.S. had not developed the atomic bomb, another country would have—and would still have threatened Japan with it!


I think this navigates the wrong slice of understanding. It misses some meta-magic that the book offers. My opinion is that The Grasshopper Lies Heavy isn’t telling the characters that the USA really won the alternate history war. The fictional USA didn’t win the war, then capitulate. The fictional USA lost the fictional war in the most straightforward sense.

No, the fictional novel Grasshopper Lies Heavy is telling the characters that the alternate history is fiction, that the reader’s USA really won WWII in the true reality of the reader’s world. That is what is so wonderfully shocking–not just telling the fictional characters, but the writer’s respect it shows to the fictional character’s reality. The novel gives further clues to this interpretation, but take note, it is aesthetic talismans that make this possible, those of beauty and ugliness.


Examine the middle part of chapter 14. There, after viewing “the imperishable seeds. Of Beauty” of Mr. Childan’s silver work, Mr. Tagami shudders into crisis and epiphany. Among several pages of wonderful probing upon the artifact, he willfully staggers through a different reality (“The veil of maya will fall more if I–” The light disappeared.) Here a Yank policeman breaks his reverie, but a page later Mr. Tagami realizes he already crossed the barrier. The barrier to what? “God, what is that? He stopped, gaped at hideous misshapen thing on skyline, like nightmare of roller coaster suspected…” A man tells him, “Awful ain’t it? That’s the Embarcadero Freeway. A lot of people think it stinks up the view.” And it certain did.


The Embarcadero Freeway existed in PK Dick’s world, the reader’s world, not the character’s. It was an emotional issue at the time for people who lived in the area (and still is). Throughout US cities, such highway monstrosities have brutal effect on their neighborhoods. (It is its own symbol of brutality, helping Mr. Tagami confront the Germans later that chapter.)

Powered by the sublime talisman of Childan’s silver work, and its connection to the ugly talisman of the Embarcadero Freeway, Mr. Tagami has painfully traveled across realities. This is similar to the way fictional novel The Grasshopper Lies Heavy, powered by the oracle I-ching, connects the fiction to the reader’s real world. Side note, I think PKD uses some of the same language of permeability between worlds in UBIK.

I do think there is another meaning to The Grasshopper Lies Heavy conclusion about the war. Childan’s silver artifact with its beauty/truth sublime power, and artifacts like it that Childan sells, conveys some hyper sense of the “real” reality to the fictional world. And that has some kind of impact to the sense of sensitive people in the fictional novel that there is some kind of way in which truth/beauty can win in that fictional world. This would only be a victory for the fictional USA, and a loss for the fictional Japan/German axis, to the extent that the book is fiction and thus their victory is not truth. I think it is, roughly, a mystical, poetic, philosophic or aesthetic victory, though, something invisible and in its way unstoppable. Transformative aesthetics gives the fictional world a change to stop the nuclear war. –What magic do we have to help our real world? Sadly, Childan’s sublime silver work is fictional, whereas we had the Embarcadero Freeway as our talisman… The fictional world with a nightmarish Japan/German control yet has the beauty that Childan discovered that our real world does not. Because we have the triumph of the Embarcadero Freeway aesthetic.

I am hardly an expert in Bay Area infrastructure and its history, but I have lived in San Francisco, and I do still visit the area frequently (including a few weeks ago). In the 1980s, various San Francisco leadership entities proposed tearing down the Embarcadero Freeway, but afraid of change, the voters, lead by local merchants, voted to preserve it. After the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake damaged it, Bay Area authorities just barely managed the political will to tear it down. Now it’s a boulevard lined by palm trees and supported by the Muni light rail. So much better!

In the 1990s, I wrote bicycle journalism. I attended civic meetings in Portland for the opening of the Eastbank Esplanade, which is not too far from where I live. Not just an eastside park, the Esplanade reflected a kind of technological update of urban infrastructure. The designers spoke not just of joining the west side river park with the east side, but of integrating the citizens with the river, making citizens see and feel the river ecology, understand the fish as part of the city.


The designers consciously conceived and advocated the Eastbank Esplanade as a natural and pleasant advocate for change. They recognized a problem, however, which is Interstate Highway 5. It crosses the Willamette River from the west side to the east and then parallels the river headed north. It is adjacent a large part of Esplanade. Despite the high concrete walls, it is painfully loud and impacts conversation of people walking along the Esplanade.


I suspect that Portland’s Esplanade is on this stretch an unpleasant advocate for change, by exposing pedestrian citizens to the aesthetic violence of the highway. The Esplanade even includes a sculpture, the Echo Gate, that portrays an act of trying to hear the river despite the authoritarian, ugly noise of the freeway:


Former Mayor Katz (whose statue sits in the Esplanade) spoke of removing the Marquam Bride which carries the I-5, and moving it underground. We can dream that someday it will happen, and I would support that. But think also what it means to need an infrastructure so aesthetically violent that it “rips the veil of maya”? That we need to bury it not for practical reasons but because it is so ugly and awful? What are the engineering coefficients for livability? Of “the imperishable seeds. Of Beauty”?


Highway infrastructure demands a brutal aesthetic. This is one reason why I remember that passage in PK Dick’s novel so well: the vision of the real Embarcadero Freeway is such an embodiment of ugliness, it helps give the sensitive fictional character a heart attack.

Our automobile madness seems like a 1930s utopian vision of the future that of course did not turn out the way its advocates expected. Master builder and urban planner Robert Moses didn’t even want to drive a car on his own freeways. This says something about human limits being separate from engineering limits, doesn’t it?





So what if these cars and trucks control themselves? Google’s self-driving cars seem to me misguided application of genius to an outdated form of transportation, like putting google glasses on the faces of oxen pulling canal barges. Highways driven by robots will still be brutal and degrading. There is a popular feeling that automobile culture is more of a cowboy thing than mass transit, but it mass transit; serviced by big government, automobiles moves the masses. Unfortunately it serves rural communities more efficiently and more pleasantly, subsidized by city dollars, and the USA’s political structure deliberately gives rural citizens disproportionate power, which itself is shrinking under the global corporate hydrocarbon economy.

What would happen if the hydrocarbons were suddenly not available?


My novel DANGEROUS BICYCLE MYSTERY QUEST is an adventure story that explores the role of energy by removing most of it. Not only does this oil shock shut down economies, it reveals cracks in the social order that cheap energy obscured. The character use bicycles to find out what happened and to try to help Portland survive. But things do not turn out as they intend.

It’s available as an eBook in popular formats around the world. Here’s a review.

Kindle USA (also available from your non-USA )



Also available on Kobo, Inktera, Scribd, Tolino, and Oyster.

I’ve priced my novel cheap for now… but soon the price will go up. This is a good time to check it out.

It will be available as a paper book around September, 2015. [Update: The publisher and I have delayed the paper book version of DANGEROUS BICYCLE MYSTERY QUEST as  I prepare the e-Book version of the graphic novel ISLAND OF THE MOTHS.]


Note: Wikipedia is the source for the pictures above, except for my book cover.

Published in: on June 30, 2015 at 12:53 pm  Leave a Comment  

Tortoise & the Hare: A Novel in a Race with Technology

You know that you can’t step in the same river twice, right? Well how can you write a novel set “now” when “now” is rushing ahead of your typing fingers?

Has technology been good for the novel? So far, I think so. Starting with the printing press and moving to desktop computers and eBooks, the mechanics of writing for publication are easier than ever, I think. (In my case, I’m relieved to have no more clothes ruined by White Out, after the typewriter drum slams into that corrective fluid.) True, some writers complain there are too many writers and not enough readers. Well, I think that is a symptom of larger changes. Let’s talk about smaller changes–the words we need to use.

Technology and the now-cliche rapid pace of change poses word choice problems for the literary “now”. Because machines are increasingly integrated in our lives, and the machines themselves evolve rapidly, the names for the machines also changes rapidly. So any pretense of writing about “now” needs to be extra cagey about referring to these types of objects and their associated venues.

In my case, i wrote a bicycle adventure novella in 2000 for publication in a small bike magazine. I rewrote it over the last year for publication as a novel this week, 2015. Fifteen years and so much has changed… Now if I started writing the novella in 1810 and rewrote it as a novel in 1825, a letter would still be a letter, a candle would still be a candle. If I didn’t mention the experimental railroads in England, I don’t think it would ruin the feeling of “now”. I would merely need to be careful about my references to Napoleon.

In a novel set “now”, meaning “around the year 2000” when I started, and meaning “around the year 2015+” when I finished, it seems reasonable that a character would want to use technology to talk to another character remotely, both spoken and typed electronically. So what words should a writer choose to express this?

Between 2000 and 2015, email became less a part of popular life. It’s still important for office work. But in private life, it seems more old-timey, something older people are more likely to cling to than the young. In private life, has mostly usurped the role of email. People still talk on the phone, but are more likely to text. The subculture of texting has even established its own form of English, with abbreviations, acronyms and symbols.

In 2000, many people used mobile phones in the USA and called them “cell phones” or might say “my cell”. But then the brains in these devices became as sophisticated as desktop computers (another term prone to expiration). iPhone came out in 2007, an Android phone in 2008. Use of “cell” declined, while people identified their phones by brand, or called them “mobile phones”. Apart from use, people writing about the technology used the term “smartphone”, but few people use that in average discussions, so far. And all the while, many Americans were giving up their landline. Children growing up now may be flummoxed how to use a landline. And recently video chatting has become practical with Skype, FaceTime, Google Hangouts, and so on… I use these myself with ease. While video chatting sounds science fictional, what about Twitter and all the social media platforms clamoring for our attention? These weird new forms of social display, group communication, new forms of obnoxiousness, commercialization, self-promotion, entertainment, togetherness? Fictional characters might use these, but certainly some of them will not last long. Even a strong brand might transform the way it functions and change its name.

In this case, I think a writer is safe for a temporary, moveable sense of “now” to just use the term “phone” and to consider them mobile and smart. I did feel I needed to update references to email, and avoid references to brands. Since my characters are mostly active, away from home, bicycling, and sometimes in peril, it was easy to avoid social media references. But I think a novelist trying to write the about normal life of “now” would have more difficulty. It might be unnatural to avoid references to technology that are a big part of many people’s lives, yet will soon change again. Therefore it might be best to give up the “moveable now” and fix the time, or find some other compelling, creative solution.


My novel, Dangerous Bicycle Mystery Quest is available now in popular eBook formats around the world (#kindle / #nook / #iBook / and more). It will be available as a paper book around September, 2015.

Published in: on June 3, 2015 at 4:00 am  Leave a Comment  
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ROLLING A ROCK INTO THE CLOUDS: Revising a Long Manuscript via Kindle & Desktop Computer

Relentless Need to Edit…

The proof and revision of a 85K word novel (as I’m doing now) means what? It means reading it over and over again and marking it up. A relentless approach seems to be best for me, but it is quite a bit of work. I can understand why some publishers don’t want to do it anymore. Sorry, someone must do it! I guess that means me.

I hope I don’t shock or upset you. I have found it easier to do this work without paper–without repeated printing out and fumbling through a stack of 300-400-500 pages. Forget the menace of too many trees! But don’t forget the part about grumbling to the store for more ink. Don’t forget the need to gently remove the helpful four-legged office assistant who is attacking the printer. The towering stack of pages… a breeze gathering…

Send to Kindle!

Here’s what I do. I take the latest copy and send it to my Kindle account. (More about Send to Kindle here.)

I wait a few minutes. This is a good time to pour another cup of coffee. Then, coffee cup in hand, stare out the window. There is usually a helpful squirrel available to keep me entertained. Suddenly, time’s up. Now view it on my Kindle, either the iPad software version, or my actual Kindle device.

These devices have survived Luddite rages intact and proved their worth. Have I proved my worth to them? I believe I have until my next OS update to do so.

Kindle Markup, Notes, & Robot Voice

On the iPad, I use Kindle’s good markup and highlight capabilities to make edit notes.

Sometimes I have the Kindle device’s robot narrator read along as I read and make notes.

The robotic voice is an old friend by now. He sounds like a robot version of a Ken Burns documentary narrator. There is a twang in his voice that tells me he has attended a robot game of night baseball in robot Kansas. Where are my real friends? Why don’t they volunteer to take on this job? No, Sisyphus rolls his rock alone.

That issue aside, the steady robot voice keeps me moving along, not too fast and not too slow. Hearing and seeing the words gives me two ways of noticing things I want to change.

“Need more adverbs and adjectives,” that’s usually what I think, adding several in a row. “Less words with common letters like that strumpet vowel ‘e’.”

Kindle highlighting ability allows 4 different colors and a note-taking in the form of an annotation attached to a little blue icon in the text.


“Needs more Adverbs”

You can use colors as “tags” for type of problem. Perhaps every reference to a geographic feature I wanted to confirm on a map I could tag yellow with a swipe of my thumb. I could tag repeated words in a paragraph blue, typos red, prose that needs revision orange. The colors are a quick and simple way to remind myself what I need to address when I come back to it. But typically it is enough to simply highlight the area for fixing.

A Question of Tools & Morality

This is easier and more convenient than leafing through a stack of loose papers printed in water-soluble ink, trying to decipher my cuneiform symbols.

The new tools help. Do I need to apologize to those who still prefer a quill pen, and grind their own ink in mortar and pestle? As they write their olde time long “s” with the antique calligraphy of an exuberant “F”, do they not realize the damage they do? Does not the “s” written as a wild “F” render the foundational Bill of Rights of the USA overly stimulating to schoolchildren and encourage their disobedience? I do not want that on my conscience.

Rolling up the Rock of Sisyphus

Moving on, we see that time has trundled forward, the sundial itself is exhausted, yet I am still editing… Yes, on and on the relentless and painful editing goes on and on…

Ugh! It is not the joyous life of a lawyer, running from lunch to courtroom in pleated suits and fancy briefcases with glamorous she-lawyers.

It is not the glamorous life of a scientific researcher, who at this moment is telling the NPR intern, “That didn’t work so let’s try this. I never said it would work the first time. In fact it proves me right.”

And yet! By jove! Somehow the lowly writer is making progress! I am adding a note and typing, “More like this.”

Rolling down the Rock of Sisyphus

If I had a particular idea to revise a sentence, I could use my thumb (and indeed would, regardless of the luddite controversy) to add it as a note. Perhaps my note is asking me to check to make sure the color of the character’s pants does not change between chapters. Usually I only need to type in a few key words (or less) I need to remember the idea.

“This is good stuff, man! Bret Easton Ellis would never think of this.”

Editing the Master Draft

Once I complete the Kindle editing of my manuscript, I heave myself up on hind legs. Then shuffle in my torn neolithic slippers back to the kitchen. I drink more coffee, staring out the window, measuring the progress of the arboreal rodent fellows.

Then I shuffle with bulging eyes to the chrome hyberbaric chamber where my writing desk lurks, blinking and humming in a wreath of steam. The four legged office assistances spring and leap into their dutiful positions! They lift their heads a little in greeting.

I prop my iPad beside my iMac and coordinate my views on the manuscript.

Location, Location, Location

This is not the type to think “Needs more adverbs, more gerunds.” Discipline! Find your notes. Coordinate your documents.

Here’s where a good “Find” feature helps in the software editor. The Kindle app does as well. In fact, when click the search icon, it will show you a separate list of all your notes and highlights.

Again, Rolling up the Rock of Sisyphus

Edits done, I do not relax. No, I must roll my rock up the hill again.

I drop the manuscript on the “Send to Kindle” icon, then climb uphill from my desk to my couch. Then I manfully lie on my couch and read. Hey, I’m working!

I read it again. Let’s hope the errors are fewer!  I try not to change the color of the character’ pants, but sometimes, the muse calls. The muse calls.

What is the next step? Alas, Sisyphus, you must repeat.

Dip Your Generous Eyes

This was my first use of the maturing Cloud technology as part of a unified writing effort over multiple devices. Sure, it was a consumer app triangulation in the cozy form of documents in my Kindle library. Yet the use of multiple devices this way lead me easily to see the stunning joy and glory of syncing work between them, using iCloud and Dropbox, and not admitting one more thing which is so shocking and disturbing that I dread to mention it…

But no, I shall mention it! Starting to let go of Microsoft Word as a primary tool! And moving to Plain Text with something called Markdown.

That is a vast topic which I will try to examine in a future posting.

A Mayakovsky poem asks heaven,

“Isn’t it tedious

To dip your generous eyes into clouds

Every day, every evening?”

Me, I don’t speak for heaven, but for earthly writing work the answer is: not at all.

Published in: on June 25, 2013 at 3:26 pm  Leave a Comment  

Gifts of a Four-Legged Office Assistant

My writing routine changed recently when my chief office assistant fell sick. Although screened for Feline Leukemia, it turned out Phineas had it from birth. As the vile retrovirus switched from latent from active, he weakened. It was only then we learned what was happening to him. For all the while, he was valiantly making his rounds, continuing his duties supporting me.

He had a few weeks to live. I happened to have flexible responsibilities just then, so I could stay by his side for his remaining weeks. Some of that time he chose to take his post on my writing desk, or in my home office window. He would lie heavily on his side, eyes open, watching birds.

Of course, this home hospice care was sad and difficult. Aside from some obligations, I did not care to do much writing. I did, however, think about it. When he chose to lie in a patch of sunlight on the floor, I would sit next to him with my iPad and read.

As I thought I was assisting him with my company, he was *still* assisting me.

You perhaps have heard the famous Montaigne quote? *”When I play with my cat who knows whether I do not make her more sport than she makes me?”*

It was difficult to read for pleasure, so I ended up reading about the Cloud and how I could integrate it more into my writing life. This was Phineas’ last gift to me as my writing assistant. Without his gentle disruption of my habits, who knows when or if I would have taken time from my usual concerns to explore these developments?

Although already a DropBox and GoogleDocs user, I hadn’t yet realized how Cloud infrastructure had integrated to give writers significantly new ways to work using Cloud, desktop computer and mobile device. These Cloud storage devices can provide more than just floating copies of files. I don’t know if this is internet 3.0, 4.0, or 5.0, but something has changed. There are new options, and good ones. I will write more about that later.

Phineas supported me to the last day, feverish and weak, but still trying to help me. After two days, medication failing, his temperature rose to 105.9F. He chose to spend his last hours on my writing desk. With loving mercy, we said good-bye. He was not quite six years-old.

Published in: on June 11, 2013 at 9:19 am  Leave a Comment  
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BEAUTIFUL SHIVERING DOOM & HOPELESSNESS: The Million-Year-Stare in Victorian & Edwardian Fiction & Poetry

I just finished reading THE NIGHT LAND by William Hope Hodgson (1877-1918). The novel’s astonishing vision seems unique to me—and not just unique but boldly so. Unfortunately he confounds the modern reader’s experience with his choice of pseudo-antique poetic language. Nonetheless, the work’s haunting panorama, and strange framing, seems so idiosyncratic to me, and in that way, fresh and powerful. However, it does have similarities with other works, sharing the sublime Million-Year Stare.

THE NIGHT LAND describes the last humans on Earth after the sun dies living in a colossal pyramid, filled with cities. Many vivid physical and spiritual terrors besiege it, such as strange, evil heads tall as mountains, alive but frozen and staring. The physical terrors are one thing, but the spiritual threats to the humans are worse. A kind of spiritual electricity of goodness, the Earth Current, powers and protects the Great Redoubt. Further forces of good sometimes appear in the form of circles of light, or light beams, halting the advance of shuddering terrors. Hodgson frames and weaves into it a love story that, by some kind of transmigration, spans his own time with that millions of years in the future. This love story leads the narrator to find his transmuted eternal lover in a newly discovered Lesser Redoubt, which is failing.

These elements add up to a work full of strata, with depth, and breadth, which give a richness and an aesthetic validity to simply jaw-dropping visions and concepts.

The pseudo-antique heightened prose does feel consistent to me with the spiritual effort to the novel. As a style it contrasts with Hodgson’s more clear efforts in his other fine works. So I think it has a purpose. Unfortunately, I think the prose style is burden that confounds the artistic success.

James Stoddard recently rewrote the prose to fit modern tastes (THE NIGHT LAND, A STORY RETOLD, 2011). I read both versions and thought Stoddard did a good job. In addition to taming the prose, he added a lot of dialog. This improves the “showing not telling” of the story development, and includes new details to do so. I think this should be controversial. However, I appreciate that he did it, and enjoyed his revision–and I’m glad the original is easily available to readers.

Are you familiar with the literary concept of the sublime? As usual there are a lot of interpretations and examples. Mostly simply, I’d say it is the thrill we feel when we read or see a work of art that successfully combined beauty with terror (such as standing before Niagara Falls) . Samuel Taylor Coleridge specified another element, that the sublime element includes a sense of eternity. I think THE NIGHT LAND exemplifies both.

English literary visions of a dark Earth proceed THE NIGHT LAND– consider this example of the Million-Year Stare:

George Gorden, Lord Byron: Darkness (1816)

I had a dream, which was not all a dream.
The bright sun was extinguish’d, and the stars
Did wander darkling in the eternal space,
Rayless, and pathless, and the icy earth
Swung blind and blackening in the moonless air;
Morn came and went–and came, and brought no day,
And men forgot their passions in the dread
Of this their desolation; and all hearts
Were chill’d into a selfish prayer for light:

In Mary Shelly’s THE LAST MAN (1828), not exactly a dead sun but a black sun signals a plague that kills all of 21st century humanity except the narrator. This makes most of the novel’s political wrangling — the newly established English republic, the Greco-Turkish war, and a false messiah in France — futile, pointless before eternity. The novel ends with solitary narrator’s terrible grief.

As well, Arnold named the spiritual element in his pessimistic landscape of the dying earth:

Mathew Arnold: Dover Beach (~1851)

The Sea of Faith
Was once, too, at the full, and round earth’s shore
Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furl’d.
But now I only hear
Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar,
Retreating, to the breath
Of the night-wind, down the vast edges drear
And naked shingles of the world.

Of course there’s the wonderfully pessimistic vision of the devolved (de- evolved) earthly landscape the end of THE TIME MACHINE (1895). You no doubt remember the Time Traveller’s visit to the future earth with its decaying sun:

*** ‘”A horror of this great darkness came on me. The cold, that smote to my marrow, and the pain I felt in breathing, overcame me. I shivered, and a deadly nausea seized me. Then like a red-hot bow in the sky appeared the edge of the sun. I got off the machine to recover myself. I felt giddy and incapable of facing the return journey. As I stood sick and confused I saw again the moving thing upon the shoal—there was no mistake now that it was a moving thing—against the red water of the sea. It was a round thing, the size of a football perhaps, or, it may be, bigger, and tentacles trailed down from it; it seemed black against the weltering blood-red water, and it was hopping fitfully about. Then I felt I was fainting. But a terrible dread of lying helpless in that remote and awful twilight sustained me while I clambered upon the saddle.” ***

Cut from that novel was another Time Traveller voyage. He leapt to a time after the Morlocks, but not as far to the dying earth, to a time when humans had degenerated to rabbit-like human things. (These creatures are a gentle form of some of the brutal sub-humans in THE NIGHT LAND.)

I don’t wish to try to pin down one specific inspiration for the individual works. It may be possible; for example, the ash from a volcanic eruption may be a specific contributor to Byron’s poem “Darkness”. I wish to consider it in a broader sense… These ideas are part of the zeitgeist of the era… Do they have something to do with artists feeling the cultural shock of revolutionary scientific discoveries at the same time as a limitation to the increasing freedoms and liberties? Intimations of the limits of both religion and progress?

Is the spiritual optimism in THE NIGHT LAND a kind of Edwardian “Great Redoubt” of resistance?

Well, I think I can only make the suggestion as I did, softened in the form of a question.

The million-year-stare in literature continued after Hodgson—certainly Olaf Stapleton (such as STAR MAKER) comes to mind. But I would like to strike a redoubt of framing these considerations before the French Revolution and after World War I (which killed Hodgson, at the age of 40). After that, well, changes happened faster and faster, and we reached the point where we discuss the possibility of the end of history.

Fortunately, whether history has ended or not, the sun is bright and cheerful as I write. I will go out now and plant tomatoes.

PS: Hodgsen wrote a lot of wonderful weird stories. I enjoyed his sea stories very much. (Happily, he used a clear prose style for them.) I read them all on Kindle.



Victorian pessimism, Spenglerian pessimism


Byron’s poem “Darkness”

Mary Shelly’s THE LAST MAN:

Arnold’s poem Dover Beach:

Olaf Stapleton:

Stapleton’s STAR MAKER

Dying Earth genre:

Montaigne (1533-92), Skeptic & Ruminator: The Proto-Blogger! (with links to 7 BBC Programs on that Writer)

A pioneer of short essays! with inward ruminations… “I am my own subject.” and “What do I know?” Observations and opinions… This is before blog ads, mind you.

Here is a sample where he contrasts Friendship and Marriage:

“As concerning marriage, besides that it is a covenant, the entrance into which only is free, but the continuance in it forced and compulsory, having another dependence than that of our own free will, and a bargain commonly contracted to other ends, there almost always happens a thousand intricacies in it to unravel, enough to break the thread and to divert the current of a lively affection: whereas friendship has no manner of business or traffic with aught but itself.”

As a child, his father arranged that people only speak Latin with him, so it would be his first language. (Try that with your kids?)

Want to learn more? A friendly place to start is a recent episode on Melvin Bragg’s BBC show In Our Time, which gives an overview of the man:

Here’s a 25 minute Channel 4 (UK) youtube documentary on Montaigne (part of a series on Philosophy & Happiness):
(I hope you like harpsichord music.)

Wikipedia on Montaigne:

A gold mine of opinions on the original man with opinions! A series of 5 BBC radio programs… 5 writers/ thinkers consider Montaigne:

Plutarch inspired Montaigne… (Plutarch inspires the main character in my novel Mysterious Matters of Max Metters… this is what brought me to Montaigne.)

His essays in translation at Project Gutenberg:

Published in: on May 2, 2013 at 9:28 am  Comments (1)  


Chapter 10 of the MYSTERIOUS MATTERS OF MAX METTERS podcast (a kind of audiobook) is now available ( ).


“Hey man, I thought all you punk rockers was x-tinct stuffed and mounted in the Smithsonian parking lot right after the moon rockets.”

* * *

“Oceans and beaches of the she-shore — she leavened her dreamy bread with eyes like fists.”

This is a climactic chapter which ends the first half of the “maximalist” novel. As their relationship buckles and cracks, Meri STILL doesn’t tell Max her secret, and out of pride, Max refuses to ask. Drinking downtown (in the 1980s), Max and his friends ponder such things as the middle aged Baby Boomers, their own nameless punk rock generation, rapid changes to the Minneapolis skyline, Cold War problems, the Rainbow Warrior, and angst in the local women who wear little hats. Then the answer to Meri’s secret comes suddenly a-crashing down on Max.

The length of this episode is about 43 minutes.