Rejected Ghosts and a Markhat Excerpt

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I tramped around a pair of cemeteries yesterday. I took a camera, my good Zoom H1 field microphone, and the Magbox, hoping to catch an EVP or two I could share here on the blog.

That’s two sets of recordings per cemetery. About two hours of audio to download and analyze.

Did I catch anything?

Well, maybe. A voice at Tula seemed to come out of nowhere and say “Oh yeah.” Another voice mumbled something unintelligible, mostly as I was speaking.

But as I was isolating the clips and trying to make them worthy of presentation, something suddenly occurred to me.

Even if these are the voices of the dead, somehow projected into the so-called world of the living, so what?

They apparently have nothing to say. “Oh yeah?” Some mumbling?

What’s the takeaway here? That the dead are ultimately just as banal and boring as any cell-phone zombie I might meet on the street?

So I won’t bother posting either noise. I think I’m done with the entire EVP bit for a while.

Instead, I’ll post the opening of the new Markhat book, The Devil’s Horn.

THE DEVIL’S HORN

Father Chide was a bastard.

He kept his red priest’s mask close to his face as he spoke, but his eyes showed. They were rheumy and narrow and mean. His thin bloodless lips were also visible, set in a permanent scowl, hiding crooked yellow teeth that looked loose and diseased, the perfect lair for a lying priest’s tongue.

“Have you listened to a word I’ve said?” barked Father Chide, using his best frighten-the- flock pulpit baritone.

I shrugged. Three-leg Cat sauntered in the office and, with the unerring ability cats have to draw close to people that loathe them, Three-leg leaped atop my desk and settled right in front of Father Chide’s gold-trimmed mask.

“A few,” I said, as his brow knotted in anger. “But like everybody else these days, I stopped listening when you started preaching.”

He sputtered and nearly stood up. I’d hit a sore spot. As what the papers were calling the Summer of Monsters entered its third month, the Churches had failed to slow the flow of supernatural beasties taking to Rannit’s streets. The faithful were deserting Rannit’s five Church mainholds in droves. I imagined Father Chide wasn’t any too happy about that, and a petty part of me decided to twist the dagger a little more.

“So tell me again, Father. Without the religious commentary, this time. What brings you, a mighty priest favored by the Host itself, to seek out the likes of me?”

“We have sent six letters,” he replied. “Two were formal summonses, affixed with the Holy Seal of the Exalted Primate himself.”

I nodded agreeably. “On a fine grade of paper, too. They lit up like a treat, and burned with an exceptionally pure flame. I commend your taste in stationery.”

“You burned them.” It wasn’t a question. He forgot to hide his face from the sinful world, letting his mask of office dip.

“I did,” I said. “Send more, and I’ll burn them too. Let’s get something straight, Father Chide. There are maybe three people in all of creation who can summon me. My wife, Mama Hog, and the proprietor of any middling good brewery. But not you, and not His Holy Whatshisname, and not every painted angel in every holy book. I don’t recognize any authority you claim to exert. So knock it off. Speak plain, or get out.”

“Twenty thousand crowns.” He remembered to raise his mask.

“That’s plain enough. Now what is it you want, for twenty thousand crowns, plus expenses?”

He turned his mask slightly this way and that, inspecting my tiny office for big-eared sinners, I suppose. Then he lowered his voice to a whisper.

“That will not be discussed here. Ever. You will accompany me to Wherthmore. My carriage awaits.”

I leaned forward, matched his whisper.

“Nothing doing, you sour old goat.” I’d once ridden a stolen horse up Wherthmore’s steps and right down the middle of the Grand Chamber itself. For all I knew this was some bizarre attempt at chastisement. “You want to try and hire me, fine. I can put my personal distaste for you and yours aside. But I do my business my way, and that means we discuss business right here, right now.”

Father Chide gave Three-leg Cat a savage shove when Three-leg sniffed his mask.

Three-leg whirled and let the bastard have a good hard swipe with his remaining front paw. Father Chide yelped and raised his staff to strike and if I wasn’t bound for Hell before that moment I am now because I took his holy stick away from him, broke it over my knee, and then threw him out into the street by the neck of his greasy red robe.

His attendants, a foursome of armored Church soldiers who’d been napping atop the carriage, were caught off guard. I managed to plant a kick on Father Chide’s backside and beat a hasty retreat through my heavy door before they could clamber awkwardly down.

I threw the bolt just as the first blows landed. I spent the next hour idling with Three-leg, who kept a murderous glare aimed at the door while he licked his forepaw in feline triumph.

With a final barrage of threats and curses, Father Chide and his corpulent honor guard departed. I waited a bit before stepping outside, wary of crossbow bolts or sermons.

Neither manifested. Old Mr. Bull cackled and waved from across the street. An ogre hurried past, pulling a sausage cart, pursued by crows and stray cats. The Father’s gaudy Church carriage, festooned with gingerbread-house trim and flying a dozen flags, was nowhere in sight.

“Throwed him out on his ass!” yelled Mr. Bull. He slapped his knee in delight. “You in trouble now, sonny!”

“I’m seldom out of trouble,” I said, tipping my hat. “How goes it?”

Mr. Bull spat. “Some damn imps or other tried to slip through my window last night,” he said. “Third time this week.”

That gave me pause. Cambrit had been spared the worst of the recent supernatural invasion’s traffic, but now that Mama Hog was away inspecting her orphanage out west I wondered if we’d start seeing our share of things that go bump as well.

“Give you any trouble?” I asked.

The old man guffawed, jerked his head toward the alley beside him. “I strung up their heads,” he said. “Ain’t much to ‘em. A few whacks with my stick and they quit trying to bite.”

“Need me to look at your window?”

He spat. “That’s kind of ye, but I seen to it myself. What you better do is make yourself scarce. You know them Church men is coming back. Won’t be for tea, neither.”

Mr. Bull had a point.

I developed a sudden irresistible urge for one of Eddie’s sandwiches, so I set sail for his place a couple blocks north.

Two dead wagons passed me, their pale burdens shifting bonelessly beneath the tarps that hid them from the early morning sun. Before the Summer of Monsters, the halfdead had been Rannit’s apex predators, but even during the worst of their nightly predations I hadn’t seen a dead wagon packed past the side-rails. Certainly not a pair of wagons in tandem.

“Bring out your dead,” chorused the drivers, in bored monotones. “Mister, seen anything we need to pick up in any alleys you passed?”

“Not a thing,” I said, and I hadn’t.

The wagons rattled on, making for the crematoriums that line the Brown River. I added a block to my walk, but I took a right on Sorrow Street just so I’d not have to ponder the movement of the tarps all the way to Eddie’s.

Taking that detour saved me from another Church carriage, one bigger and grander than Father Chide’s. I caught a glimpse of a toad of a priest through a window as it passed. His mask was down, and his fierce expression suggested he was en route to deliver some first-class hellfire and industrial-strength damnation to the kinds of unrepentant sinners that might have the temerity to toss lesser priests out by their robes.

I pulled my hat down and set a leisurely pace. Eddie welcomed me with a grunt and a wave of his ever-present bar rag.

I stayed all morning. Had two sandwiches, two coffees, and a glass of milk. Eddie didn’t say two words, but that suited me just fine. Father Chide had talked enough to fill any three mornings.

Darla and I had lunch in the park. I dropped her off at her shop, had the cab take me past my office without stopping. Two fancy carriages were camped outside it, manned by a trio of red masks and a bevy of grumpy Church soldiers idling on the sidewalk.

Someone high up in Wherthmore must be in deep, I decided. The Church itself must be teetering on the edge of ruin, to provoke the offer of twenty thousand crowns to unrepentant ne’er-do-wells such as I.

Spurred on by that thought, I rounded up Slim, my runt Troll deckhand, and we took Dasher a couple of miles upriver, cast our hooks in the muddy waters, and enjoyed an afternoon of fishing.

Between us, we pulled half a dozen fat catfish from the turgid waters of the Brown River.

“Hard work,” opined Slim, who is quickly mastering not just Kingdom but the fine art of sarcasm. “Deserve raise.”

“How about an increase in rank instead?” I replied. “Effective immediately, you’re now an admiral. Take the fleet home, if you please.” I pulled the brim of my hat down over my eyes. “Wake me when we’re tied off at the slip.”

Slim chuckled. Dasher’s pistons thumped, and we raised a noisy wake.

“Storms tonight,” Slim said, as he steered. I didn’t look, but I’d seen the thunderheads building far off in the west.

“Good. That should keep the priests indoors.”

“Is that a humorous euphemism for rain?” Slim asked.

“Nope. I’ve been pestered by priests all day. But they won’t go out in a storm.”

“Why do holy men seek you out?” Slim gave Dasher’s wheel a nudge. A fisherman cussed as we threw up a wake.

“They seek my wise spiritual counsel,” I replied. “The purity of my soul is the stuff of legends.”

Slim boomed out Trollish laughter, and Dasher churned towards home.

 

I sent Slim off with a cab to accompany Darla home. Slim travels these days with a steel club in his furry right hand and a shiny black scattergun strapped across his back. The new arrivals to Rannit’s streets and alleys give an armed Troll wide berth no matter how many teeth or claws they themselves have.

I took another cab back to Cambrit.

The street outside my office was empty, save for a few people hurrying home. Even Mr. Bull was tucked safely inside, though I did see him peek out at me as I arrived. Someone had slipped half a dozen letters under my door. Each was sealed with red wax and the imprint of a fancy ring.

I threw them all out in the street.

Three Leg greeted me with a brief glance and a switch of his crooked tail. There was a note from Gertriss on my desk asking what I’d done to anger so many priests.

I put my hat in easy reach and settled into my chair, curious as to what the masks at Wherthmore might try next. Thunder grumbled, distant but filled with threat.

An hour passed, and full dark fell, before a soft polite knock sounded at my door.

“Mr. Markhat,” said a familiar voice. “Might I have a moment of your time?”

I was so surprised I forgot to put on my hat.

Standing out there in the dark was old Father Wickens, the aging priest who’d married Darla and I when we thought the world was ending.

He was alone. No carriage waited at the curb. No Church bullies loitered at his heels.

“Father Wickens,” I said. I flung open my door. “Come in.”

He did, with the careful gait of the old.

Wickens was the only priest I’d ever known who eschewed the mask of the Church. He needed a walking stick but didn’t carry one of those, either, and I wondered if it was because he didn’t want a stick confused with a church man’s staff.

He’d seen a few years since my wedding. His back was stooped a bit lower, his forehead lined with a few more wrinkles. But his blue eyes were bright and sharp.

“Thank you,” he said, smiling and crossing to my client’s chair. He didn’t sit immediately, instead turning to face me as I latched my door.

“I must first offer my apologies, as a man of peace,” he said. “My brethren were arrogant and rude. I am sorry for that.”

I bade him to sit. It was dawning on me the man had walked the whole way from Wherthmore.

“You aren’t responsible for their actions,” I said, sitting. “I was no model of decorum myself.”

He guffawed. “So I hear. I’ve never liked Father Chide, Mr. Markhat. Goodness, no. So I suppose we have that sin in common.” His eyes twinkled. “Sadly, though, I find myself bent upon completing the very same task as the unfortunate Father Chide.”

I nodded. “You’re here to hire me?”

“I am. On a matter both urgent and dire.” He sighed, slumping in my chair. “I am torn, my son. Ordered by my superiors to engage you in this task. But directed by my conscience to suggest that you refuse it. I believe even hearing my plea may place you in grave peril.”

I’d have laughed at anyone else for saying that. But not the slight old gentleman before me.

“You came a long way to talk to me, Father. You’re the only priest I’ll listen to. If I refuse, they’ll just keep sending you. Spill it.”

He sighed. “I feared as much.” Thunder rolled again, closer this time. I lit a pair of lamps as the storm waded in, bearing who knows what new terrors in its skirts.

“It all began in the catacombs,” said Father Wickens. “The excavations beneath Wherthmore,” he added.

“I didn’t know we had any,” I said.

“Nor did I, until today,” replied the Father. “They’ve been kept secret for the better part of a thousand years. The digging never ceases.” He shuddered. It wasn’t cold.

“Father, I realize I’ll probably go to ten or twelve Hells just for saying this, but can I pour you a drink?”

“Damned right you can,” replied the Father. Even Three Leg looked up, his slitted yellow eyes suddenly alert. “Not one for a nervous old priest, either. Pour me a man’s drink. A frightened man’s drink.”

I did just that. Whiskey, dark and strong. He gulped it down without blinking, and waited a moment for it to get settled in his gut.

The storm lit up my door’s glass with flashes. Thunder followed, lingering and ominous. Something with hooves ran past in the street, gibbering and hooting. I hoped Slim and Darla were safely aboard Dasher, with Cornbread curled up at their feet.

“You know the Book, do you not?” he asked, in a pause of the storm. “The story of Creation?”

I nodded, took a companionable sip of my own whiskey. “God and the Devil create Heaven, the world, and Hell, then get into a slug-match over who did the best job,” I said. “When the dust settles, God and the Devil are both dead. Only Angels and lesser devils survived.”

“I was never a literalist,” replied Father Wickens. “I maintained, privately of course, that the stories were mere allegory. Told to teach, to reveal wisdom.” He pondered his empty glass. I helped him avoid the sin of asking for more by pouring it unbidden. He didn’t argue, but he did drink it down.

“They’re just that, Father,” I said. “Stories. Maybe there’s wisdom there. I don’t know. But talking snakes? Flaming swords?” I shook my head. “Just stories.”

The old priest regarded me solemnly in the lamplight. “I have seen things today that cause me to wonder,” he said, at last. “Do you know why Wherthmore, and the other four Church mainholds, chose to build where they did?”

I shrugged. Mom had dragged all us Markhats to Wherthmore twice a week, but I’d spent more time pondering what lay beneath lady Angel’s robes than I had listening to the priests drone on. “Cheap land?” I said.

He barked out a single dry snort of laughter. “No, Mr. Markhat. Each site was chosen because each Church was sure they were building directly atop the spot where the final battle of Creation took place.”

Something bumped my door. I hadn’t heard footsteps. Didn’t see anything through the thick glass. But outside, claws began to scratch at the oak, and something began to breathe heavily from its exertions, the sound of it wet and eager.

I put my revolver down on my desk with a thump. Father Wickens offered up a quick prayer.

“That door has stopped Trolls, and worse,” I said. “Whatever is out there isn’t getting in. Go on.”

“The excavations began immediately, of course,” said the Father. “I am told the first finds were discovered by Wherthmore some seven hundred years ago.”

“The first finds,” I said, keeping my voice steady, though I felt the tickle of magic crawl up and down my spine. “Seven hundred years ago.”

He nodded. “Bones. They were not human, Mr. Markhat. Not even remotely. Some were human sized, more or less, oh yes. Some were gargantuan. I saw –”

The thing outside began pounding at my door. It screeched, more birdlike than lupine or canine.

“Beat it,” I yelled. “We’re closed.”

Damned if it didn’t emit a short piercing screech, as if struck, before scrambling quickly away.

The good Father regarded me warily.

“There are rumors you have been soiled with sorcery,” he said.

“There are rumors I’m everything from a vampire to the Regent’s illegitimate son,” I snapped. “I’ve made a lot of enemies. People love to talk. You were talking about bones, of the gargantuan variety.”

He nodded. His hand shook. More whiskey found its way to his glass.

“Today, I saw a skull,” he said, wiping his lips. “I tell you this true, Mr. Markhat. I saw a single skull, three stories high.”

“Whoah there, Father.” I corked the whiskey bottle. “Let’s maybe take a minute to clear our heads.”

That pissed him off. He slammed both his bony hands down on my desk and shot to his feet.

“As the Angel Maria, patron of lovers and fools is my witness, finder, I saw a skull three stories tall,” he shouted. “I know it sounds insane. I would not have believed it either, had I not descended. Had I not seen.” He slumped back down in his chair, his hands on his face. “Oh, would that I had not seen.”

I let him catch his breath. It took a few minutes. One thing I’ve learned, from watching people relive horrors while seated in in my chair.

You don’t push. You don’t rush.

“The excavation has cleared approximately four hundred acres of battleground,” he said, at last. “Some three thousand sets of skeletal remains have been revealed.”

“Devils?” I asked, softly. “Angels?”

He shook his head. “Both, they believe. Alongside creatures we cannot begin to name. It’s all true, Markhat. The battle. The Fall. God slain, the Adversary dead. Creation left adrift. All of it.”

He cried then.

I sipped whiskey.

The storm raged on, unperturbed by gods or devils or sad old priests.

“I’m still not clear on what all this has to do with hiring a finder,” I said, after a time. “Sounds like the Church, at least the high levels, has known about this since the rise of the Old Kingdom. Even if it is news to you and me.”

“Oh, it was news to me, Mr. Markhat. I’ve spent my life in the Church. I had no idea. None at all.” He blinked, trying to clear his head, I guessed. “They told me only because they believed you might speak to me.”

“I’m sorry for that,” I said. “So. You believe the Church has located the buried remains of the Creation Battle. The Church wants to hire me – to do what? Go down there and come trotting back up with God’s Own Sword? What?”

He shook his head. “Twenty years ago, Mr. Markhat, archeologists began work on revealing the occupant of parcel nine-ninety-four,” he said. He bit his lip for a moment. “Heaven help me, Mr. Markhat, but they unearthed the remains of the Devil himself. Not a devil. The devil. The Horned One. The Adversary.”

I bit back whatever I was about to say.

“I know it sounds incredible. Especially to man outside the faith. But Mr. Markhat, I have reason to believe it is fact. The Devil’s remains were discovered.”

“Horns and pitchfork and barbed tail too?”

“The fork was reduced to a molten puddle.”

I leaned back.

“I know full well the struggle to believe a word I’ve said, Mr. Markhat. I didn’t believe it either, when I was summoned to the Primate’s chambers.” He shook his head. “I didn’t begin to believe until I saw it all for myself, just a few hours ago. Which is why I’ve come to fetch you. To accompany you, into the deep chambers. Show you the excavations. The remains. All of it.”

“So far you’ve told me what you’ve found,” I said. “Now quit stalling, Father. Tell me what you’ve lost.”

“The Devil’s horn,” he said, without hesitation. The words came spilling out. “The left was missing, just as the Book said, crushed by God with his final blow. The right horn was intact, when the remains were discovered. It has been removed, by parties unknown.” Thunder blasted, and the old man jumped.

“So. The Church found what appears to be the actual site of some battle from the Book. Including Old Scratch’s bones. And now one of them is missing.”

“This is no mere bone, Mr. Markhat. The horn retained a shadow – perhaps more – of the power of Hell. The Church was preparing to move it to a place of safety, where its influence would never be felt in our world, where it would never be rediscovered, or fall into the wrong hands.”

I whistled, imagining the scuffle that would result if any of our nut-case sorcerers from the arcane side of town got wind of a devil’s horn for the taking.

“Someone stole it?”

Father Wickens nodded a yes. “Stole it. Slaughtered the entire company of soldiers and priests guarding it. Murdered forty-six excavators and an equal number of scholars, all in the space of a single hour. All our divine protections negated. Every physical and magical safeguard circumvented or destroyed. Whomever stole the horn commanded resources that rival, or perhaps exceed, those of the Church itself.”

That shiver made another circuit up and down my spine.

“Another Church, then.”

“No. I do not believe so. Our misguided brethren of the other Churches would not act with such wanton disregard for life.”

I snorted. Father Wickens scowled. “We are not all of us Father Chide,” he retorted.

“Sorry, Father. You’re right. But tell me this – why would anyone outside the Churches or a sorcerer want the horn? You said it retained some power. What kind of power?”

“The power to command the infernal. Finder, you know the story, do you not? That the chief minions of Hell fell beside their stricken master, with the survivors being entombed far below the surface?”

“I know it. You telling me that part is real too?”

He gestured toward my door. “What everyone is calling the Summer of Monsters began a few days after the theft of the horn,” he said. “You tell me, finder. Has not Hell been loosed upon us? Does not evil walk now, in numbers that swell each night?”

“Can’t argue with that.” I could, of course. My knowledge of the magical seasons told me the rise of wild magic was no more related to devils or horns than was the weather. But revealing that would also reveal my tainting by sorcery, and I decided the good Father had endured enough surprises for one stormy evening.

“We must locate the horn, finder. Our own efforts have failed. The Church spent months pouring every resource at its disposal into the search. We have learned nothing. Now, Hell is opening beneath us, only a crack now, but soon a chasm. We fear a flood of devils, one that will wash across the lands and leave nothing living in its wake.”

“So tell all this to the Regent. If you’re right, he might be the only creature alive capable of actually laying hands on the horn. I’m just a man, Father Wickens. I’ve got an impressive collection of hats and I can hit what I shoot at about half the time, but if the Church can’t throw enough money and people at finding this old bone, what makes you think I can?”

He froze.

I’ve seen that look before. It’s the look people get when I ask them that one question they simply aren’t willing to answer with anything except a bald-faced lie.

Bless dear old Father Wickens, though. He was so unskilled at deceit he didn’t know what to do or say next.

“Father. Last I heard, lying is a sin. As is lying by omission,” I said. “So whatever it is you’re trying to avoid telling me is probably the very thing you ought to tell. Spill it. Let’s not ruin a wonderful friendship.”

“We went to the Regent,” he said, his voice pitched so low I could barely hear him over the storm. “Yes. The Church is just that desperate.”

“And the Regent turned you down?”

“I am told he had only two words to offer the Primate,” replied the Father.

“I can guess what they were,” I said.

The old priest shook his head. “No. You can’t. Because what he said was ‘Hire Markhat.’”

END EXCERPT

So that’s how the new book will open, if I ever manage to finish it. Hope you enjoyed it.

A List Just For Laughs

I promised you something funny, so here it is — my video survival guide for anyone who needs a laugh.

All these are short, so enjoy!

1) The SNL Vincent Price Holiday Special shorts. Classic humor.

The First Halloween Special

The Second Halloween special

The Thanksgiving special

The Christmas special

I love these mainly because Bill Hader does such a wonderful exasperated Vincent Price.

2) Google Translate Sings. This woman is not only a talented singer, but she’s hilarious. Enjoy.

Google Translate Sings ABBA

Google Translate Sings Total Eclipse of the Heart

3) I don’t have words for this one. Very entertaining, though.

Frontier Psychiatrist

4) Any Rick and Morty fans out there? If so, this is for you. Even if you’re not, it’s a great song.

I’m Fine

5) Just an awesome song and video you probably haven’t seen.

Angels Look Like Devils

6) An unsung internet hero gave The Alan Parson’s Project’s ‘Dr. Tarr and Professor Feather’ a video background of old pulp horror comic scenes. Well worth a watch.

Dr Tarr

7) Unknown Hinson, for those days when a goblin in your head is pushin’ out your hair…

Unknown Hinson

8) Vampires. Got to have vampires.

Future Cars

9) The gang from Hogwarts gets funky.

Dark Lord Funk

10) Two of my favorite groups: Ghostbusters and the Mythbusters.

Ghostbusters versus Mythbusters

Knee Deep in Gators

Well, here we are again.

Writing done this week: Zero. None. Nada. Mainly because I’ve had the same quantities of time and most importantly, sleep.

It’s not literally true that I haven’t slept in a week. But it’s functionally true, because I’ve gotten just enough sleep to function. Function in the manner of a George Romero zombie, that is. I can shuffle with the best of them. Moan incoherently. I’d go forth in search of living flesh, but frankly I’m exhausted and I’d rather just sit here and watch old Saturday Night Live videos until a cheeseburger manifests within easy reach.

Providing care to an elderly parent with dementia is the most draining thing I’ve ever done. You must remain calm and compassionate, even when you find the floor covered in smears of cat food (or worse), or you hear the tell-tale creak of a door opening at 2 AM. You can’t allow yourself to get angry, or become confrontational. You can’t rely on reasoned discussions, any more than you can come to a gentleman’s agreement with a hornet-stung wildebeest.

You must simply clean up the mess, close the door, and keep smiling.

I’m not at all suited for this role. But, as I said, here we are.

I realize that blogging about this is probably not a good idea. But I can’t think of anything else. This situation is akin to a maelstrom — it consumes you, heart and soul, as I’m sure some of you know from your experiences. Bit by bit, your life drops away, pulled down by the spiralling chaos that is always hungry and never satisfied.

I don’t mean to make it sound as though I am all alone. I’m not. Karen is here too, sinking with me. Our lives are both in upheaval, with no clear end in sight.

The existing system for long-term care makes things worse. You can’t simply pull up to a rest home and say ‘Here, please take care of my father.’ The hurdles are high. Finances. Paperwork. Approvals. Availability.

Which means dealing with a horde of bankers and lawyers and doctors, all of whom must be satisfied with offerings of time you don’t have and money you won’t have by the end of the appointment.

It’s a helluva thing, watching everything a loved one earned or built or saved get vacuumed up like so many french fries from a rental car’s floorboards. Worse is the ignominious twist of fate that leaves a good, decent man in such a wretched state at the end of his life. As a wise man once said, probably before he was consumed by a burning ball of jet fuel falling inexplicably from the sky, there ain’t no justice.

This experience has made me appreciate how good I had it before. I miss sitting down to the keyboard and channeling Mama Hog. I miss watching Darla casually mow down bad guys. I miss Markhat’s quips, his easy calm, his ready self-assurance.

One day I hope to regain all that. It won’t be today, or tomorrow, or the day after.

I suppose Mama Hog would advise me that, when one is knee-deep in alligators, one should “run like Hell fer dry land with no time wasted weepin’, boy, them gators don’t give a rat’s ass for yer whinin.’” And that’s good advice, because there really isn’t another option. Do what you have to do, and keep doing it, for as long as necessary.

Next week I’ll blog about ghosts or something interesting. Thanks for sticking with me.

The High Cost of Living

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If you reside in the Nation Formerly Known As The US, then there are a few things you need to know about health care.

Yes, I know you’ve been told, over and over, that the US has the best health care in the world. Why, just the mention of a hospital invokes images of gleaming machines, of concerned doctors, of miracle medicines which are delivered with mechanical precision to combat any illness or injury.

Well, not so fast there, Sicky McSickerson, because that comforting image omits a few less than pleasant facts.

See, unlike every other so-called developed nation on Earth, American health care is driven by profit. Now as fine upstanding Americans, some of you may bristle at that statement and reply with ‘What’s wrong with that?’

My answer?

Profit is a feedback loop. A company makes a profit. A company sees this profit and the CEO gets a hundred million dollar bonus. This makes the company very happy. This also makes the company instantly desirous of MORE profit. More profit is made, and we go back to the beginning of this paragraph.

But all that lovely money has to come from someone, and if you’re the recipient of all these whizzbang machines and miracle drugs, that someone is you.

Some of the money you pay a health care provider comes from your insurance, if you’re fortunate enough to have any. And you pay for that, too. Maybe you don’t pay for all of it, but they demand whatever you CAN pay, and often more. But you don’t have any real choice, do you? You’re just throwing money away, eating three meals a day and expecting luxuries such as a roof and walls.

Sure, you can walk into an ER and get patched up to the point you can walk (or stumble, or crawl) out even if you don’t have insurance. But you are NOT going to get chemo, or any kind of long-term care. So if you’ve got cancer, well, here’s a few painkillers and a band-aid, and best of luck.

If you do have insurance, good for you. Let’s say you get cancer. Treatment is going to run you anywhere from ‘all the money in the world’ to ‘our CEO needs a 200-foot gold plated yacht with three chopper pads and a smaller yacht to act as a rowboat and a third smaller yacht to go get more caviar.’ Your insurance will pay 80% of that, leaving you on the hook for the other 20%, which if you’re lucky is the mere cost of a four-bedroom house with a pool in the Hamptons.

Don’t have enough cash on hand for such a purchase? Well, no worries, friend, that’s a nice enough house you DO have. And that old Toyota Corolla, it’s worth a couple hundred. We’ll just take those. Business is business, amirite?

And that’s health care for the average Jolene in the US.

A recent study revealed that 45% of Americans who are NOT health care CEOs with the aforementioned gold-plated monster yachts would have trouble paying a $500 medical bill. That nearly half of us. And five hundred bucks won’t get you a hospital room for a night, much less a full chemo program or long-term care. But enjoy both of the hospital aspirin the $500 will buy.

Let’s say you’re not sick — no, you’re just old. Maybe you have dementia, or Alzheimers, or you just can’t take care of yourself anymore. You need a rest home — pardon me, an ‘assisted living facility,’ so you start checking into those.

The very first thing you or your family will be asked concerns assets. Do you have a house? Do you have any money?

Wonderful, we’ll be taking those. Sign here.

It really is that simple. Sure, there’s a wait for a room, which might be two weeks or two years or who knows?

But rest assured the rooms are filled, and the money keeps rolling in.

This doesn’t happen in Japan or Sweden or Denmark or Canada or Germany. Even in Mexico, a Mexican citizen can walk into a hospital, receive treatment, and walk out still owning their home.

But here?

Not so much.

No, in the Land of the Fee, you’re going to pay. And pay. And pay, until you’re either well but homeless or dead.

But the upside to $500 bucks a bottle insulin and three day hospital stays that top eighty thousand dollars is the boost to the gold-plated yacht industry. Also, most CEOs have few or no other marketable skills aside from wearing suits, jacking up drug prices without shame, and scheduling meetings at 4:40 on a Friday, and we must protect our ruling class.

It’s almost funny, when you think about it. Some guy can run into a burning building and pull out nuns and orphans all day. He gets a front-page headline and a pat on the head. Meanwhile, some CEO increases the cost of a medicine priced at 20 bucks in Norway to a thousand dollars a pop in the US. He gets a couple of new helicopters because his old ones stirred up too much dust when landing near the stables. Sure, maybe some commoners die when their GoFundMe doesn’t reach their goals, but that’s the cost of doing business. If these people wanted to live, they should have been born rich.

That’s where we are here.

So here are a few tips for all my fellow Americans who have a physical body:

1) Stop aging. Just cut it out, right now. See? Was that so hard?

2) If you would put aside that three dollars a day you spend on fancy coffee, in about three thousand years you’ll have enough money saved to pay for a single MRI scan. Or, if costs keep rising, to buy a brief glance at an MRI machine as you are wheeled back into the street.

3) Housing costs are expensive, but you won’t need a house if you get three full-time jobs. Then you can put all that housing money aside for medical bills. Easy-peasy, you lazy slacker.

4) Self-care is important. To maintain peak physical condition, work out for six hours a day, eat only hand-washed kelp grown in thoughtfully sourced from artisanal kelp-farms, and run the Boston Marathon every Saturday. Get eight hours of sleep daily between your three jobs and your Uber gig. Avoid all sunlight. Breathe only filtered air.

5) Thank a CEO. You can’t do that personally, because they have hordes of bodyguards and they live in gated communities and your lack of a Rolls-Royce puts you in the wrong social class, but maybe send Merck ten bucks every now and then along with a thank-you card. You might even get a tee shirt back in the mail, if of course you still have a house and a street address. Note that the US Postal Service cannot deliver to ‘Benny, the guy with the three-wheeled shopping cart, under the I-95 overpass unless the water is rising.’

6) Don’t die. Dying is just rude when there is so much health care available. If you must die, do so without raising a fuss. There are plenty of public parks around, and an endless supply of free fallen leaves with which to cover yourself before you draw your final breath. Die with dignity, and all that. Don’t be a whiner.

Hey Canada — are you full?

A Voice From Beyond?

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Long time readers of this blog (both of you) are already well aware that I sometimes take a detour into the realm of the paranormal.

Today is one such day.

But let me catch everyone up. Several years ago, after the show ‘Ghost Hunters’ rose in popularity, I was a hardcore skeptic. Especially about so-called EVP recordings, or Electronic Voice Phenomena. If you aren’t familiar with this practice, it involves walking about with a good quality voice recorder. Upon playback, many people report capturing voices which were not heard during the recording and have no obvious source.

For a more detailed explanation, including some history, click here.

I laughed at EVP examples. It seemed obvious to me that the anomalous voices were inserted during a clandestine editing session. In fact I thought this practice was so patently fraudulent that I purchased a voice recorder of my own and set out one sunny afternoon to tramp around a cemetery. My intent was to mock the practice in this very blog.

Much to my surprise, I found voices I could not explain on my own recordings. I was alone. No one was nearby. I did not fake the sounds.

And so my views on the paranormal changed in the face of evidence, and I’ve been actively pursuing more evidence in the days since that event.

I do not claim I have recorded ‘ghost’ voices. I have no idea where they come from, or how they come to be captured. I have upgraded my equipment, and even constructed devices of my own.

The device that captured today’s EVP example is a dingus I call my Magbox. You can see it in the photograph below.

This is the spot at which the EVP was captured.

This is the spot at which the EVP was captured.

It’s a simple device. Inside the black box is a very sensitive amplifier. Unlike my other devices, though, the Magbox doesn’t have an audio mic. Instead, it has a magnetic coil pickup. You could scream at it all day, and get nothing. But wave the pickup at the end of the rod at a phone or a computer or hidden house wiring, and you’ll be treated to the sound of its internal workings. House current results in a 60 Hertz hum. Electronics whine and squeal and buzz.

I record the output of the Magbox on a standard voice recorder, which is attached to the housing with Velcro.

You’ll find any number of paranormal researchers claiming that ‘ghosts’ can manipulate magnetic and electrical fields. I’m not an adherent of this belief — I certainly can’t manipulate such fields now without a duffel bag full of gear, and I’m a physical being. How could a spirit, which lacks any substance at all, do so? But since I am often wrong, I thought why not build a device with a sensor specifically designed to detect faint EM signals?

Thus the Magbox.

Anyway. Yesterday, which was Saturday May 18, I returned to a small cemetery not far from my home. It’s a pleasant, old cemetery, and I’ve recorded numerous possible EVPs there before. I took my Zoom H1 field mic and the Magbox.

I placed the Magbox atop a sandstone grave marker, and then took the Zoom with me as I traipsed about. The photo below shows the Magbox atop the marker.

The entire session lasted less than 20 minutes.

At about 8 minutes and 35 seconds, the Magbox captured a voice I can’t explain.

You will hear the usual EM muttering from the Magbox, which can resolve even faint radio signals despite its lack of any sort of AM or FM tuner. That I ignore. But listen to the clip below — there is clearly a voice, laid above the faint mumbling, which does NOT sound as though it belongs.

“Shut in get ready.” That’s what I hear, and clearly. This is raw audio, un-messed with.

I have no idea what I am being admonished to shut, or what I am being told to get ready for.

Here’s the same clip, looped five times to save you some button-clicking.

Finally, here’s the same clip after I used a simple noise reducer to suppress some of the background noise.

So what did I capture?

I don’t know. It’s just another of the source less voices picked up by recorders that ONLY seem to capture these events in spooky places — cemeteries, locations with a history of hauntings, and the like. I’ve also tried recording in mundane spots (parking lots, warehouses, my patio) and I’ve never captured a thing in any of those places.

I’m genuinely curious as to what you heard. Please let me know in the comments, or via email.










Free Stuff

ID 87927688 © Ctitze | Dreamstime.com

ID 87927688 © Ctitze | Dreamstime.com

Keep reading to the end; I am giving away free books.

Like so many modern authors, I’m being bled dry by ebook pirates.

All my titles are out there, free for the taking, from any number of ‘free’ book sites. And ultimately there’s not a single bloody thing I can do about it.

Most of the sites are merely fronts for thieves. Let’s say they offer an unlimited number of free book downloads for a single flat fee. Sounds good, until a few months later when you notice fraudulent charges applied to whatever credit card you used to pay the one-time membership fee.

What these asshats do is get your financial information and sell it on the black market. Yes, you might get some ebooks, but some guy in Aruba also gets a full set of scuba gear on your card. Not really a bargain.

Other free ebook sites don’t ask for payment, but they send various items of code and spyware along with your free ebooks. The result is the same — they get something of yours, probably money, just by a more circuitous route.

Since most of these free ebook providers are based overseas, they can keep doing this despite complaints by their clients and takedown notices by authors, like me.

It’s a vicious cycle. Income among writers has plummeted in the last few years, and ebook piracy is a major factor.

But that’s not going to change anytime soon. Rather than rail against it all, I’ve decided to jump on the bandwagon today, and offer you the entire Markhat series for free, in Kindle, pdf, or epub format.

That way you know you’re getting actual, clean ebooks, and I know the books are going to a good home.

How do you get these free ebooks?

Just ask. That’s it. Email me, tell me what format you prefer, and in a day or two I’ll email the files right to you. It’s as easy as that.

My email address is franktuttle@franktuttle.com

I’m doing this not because I’m angry. I’m doing it because I realize there are people squeezed so tight financially that even a few bucks for an ebook is hard to come by. Look, I know we’re told all the time that the economy is booming. And it is, for the people who struggle to decide between the ninety-foot yacht and the second private helicopter. But the rest of us are working two or three jobs and praying that weird mole doesn’t get any bigger because it costs four hundred dollars just to walk past a doctor and the kids expect supper on the table most nights.

Those are the choices we have to make.

So if you’d love to read some new books, hit me up. You won’t be added to a pesky mailing list. I won’t be begging for reviews. This blog is the only place I even talk about my writing. You get the books and I leave you alone.

Now if you want to email me and talk, that’s perfectly fine. I love getting email. I do not love being a pest.

So hit me up! All the Markhat titles, including Knob Hill Haunt, Mama Hog’s story, are up for grabs.

I hope you enjoy them. That’s why I got into this crazy business in the first place. To write books, books that might give someone a smile or a laugh or a brief respite from the chaos and burden of everyday life.

What good, after all, if a book that isn’t being read?




Google Translate Writes

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Experts predict that within 25 years, artificial intelligences will be writing novels.

Of course experts have, at times, predicted that vast cities will cover the seafloors and humanity’s technological prowess will usher in a Golden Age of peace and prosperity. Instead, we have plastic trash choking the life out of the seas, and a quick peek out the nearest window will utterly crush any hopes of a Golden Age, so maybe the experts need to polish their crystal balls or abandon them completely.

Still, we have available to us marvelous online language translators that can at least get the meaning of a short text across. Sure, it may not be a perfect translation, but it’s workable, right?

Well, let’s see.

I took one of my favorite openings and ran it through Google translate a few times, going from English to Croatian to Finnish and okay, I lost track of things then. Suffice it to say the text was translated back and forth half a dozen times.

Here’s the opening from my book Hold the Dark in the original English:

Rain fell like an ocean upended. A frigid ice-rimed polar ocean, full of ghostly white whales and blue-veined icebergs; I pulled my raincoat tight at my neck and put my chin down on my chest and offered up a pair of unkind words to the cold gushing sky.

Beyond my narrow trash-strewn alley, out on Regent Street, nothing moved. Or, more precisely, if it moved I couldn’t see it through the whipping sheets of rain. The lone pair of streetlamps had been extinguished by the storm an hour ago, and I’d been reduced to watching the three candlelit street-side windows of Innigot’s Alehouse to see if anyone walked in front of them.

No one had. The halfdead, the Curfew and the Watch combined can’t clear Rannit’s streets after dark, most nights. But let a spring storm blow in from the south and sprout a few tornados and suddenly everyone stays tucked in bed and indoors ’til sunrise.

“Nobody out here but ogres and Markhats,” I muttered.

Thunder grumbled distant reply. I pulled my hat down lower against the spray and the splash, jammed my hands deep in my pockets and pondered just going home. The man I was looking for could stroll past wearing a clown-suit and banging a drum, and I might see him, and I might not.

All you’re doing is getting wet, said a snide little voice in my head. Getting wet for nothing. Darla Tomas, she of the soft brown eyes and jet black hair and the quick easy smile, is laid out on a slab at the crematorium, dead or worse than dead. Martha Hoobin is still missing. And the best you can do, said the voice, is hide in this alley and drip with rain.

In my right-hand raincoat pocket, the huldra stirred, brushed my fingertips. I yanked my hand away, pulled it out of my pocket entirely when the huldra jerked as if to follow.

At that moment, a shape darted past the first of Innigot’s three windows. A single shadow, one hand holding down its hat, tall but hunkered down against the gale.

I froze. Sheets of rain twisted.

The shadow crossed in front of the second window. I started counting. Innigot’s door was between the second and third windows. If the silhouette passed before the third window, I’d merely seen a vampire or a lunatic or any other of a dozen unsavory types, heading for trouble out in the rain. But, if someone went into Innigot’s…

There, in the dark, a door-sized slice of weak yellow light appeared, widened, vanished.

“Got you,” I said. I watched the street for a moment longer. No one moved. No shadow crossed Innigot’s third window. No other shadows followed in his wake. My mystery man had taken the bait, braved the storm and made his entrance.

I stepped out of my hiding place against the alley wall. Rain beat down on me so hard the spray went in my mouth, and I tasted Rannit’s sky—sooty, bitter and foul. I spit it out, shut my mouth and started walking.

At the end of the alley, I stopped, reached into my right-hand raincoat pocket, and found the wax-sealed terrapin shell Mama called a huldra. It was warm in my hand, and it quivered, as if it were packed tight with angry hornets. Crumpled below it was Mama’s hex. I pulled the hex out, took it in both hands and ripped the paper in half.

The paper screamed a tiny scream as it tore.

Now Mama knew I’d found our tall thin man. I had promised Mama Hog I’d wait. I’d promised her I would tear the hex and watch Innigot’s and wait for the lads from the Narrows.

There’d be fifty or more of them, all armed, all ready to back me up when I faced down the man who’d killed Darla, taken Martha, taken who knew how many others. Fifty strong, silent Hoobins and Olafs and Benks and Rowheins. A vengeful, furious army, well fit for the night’s dark work.

I’d promised Mama I would wait. I’d promised Darla I would keep her safe.

Promises. Such fragile things.

I dropped Mama’s spent hex, let the whimpering scraps wash away spinning into a flooded rushing gutter.

I reached again into my pocket and closed my bare hand tight about the huldra and marched out into the empty street. The huldra shook, went hot in my hand. Mama had warned me never, ever to touch the thing with bare skin.

I gripped the huldra tighter, heard mad laughter in the sky.

“Martha Hoobin,” I said. “It’s time to come home.”

Below is what the same text looks like after being carefully parsed by Google’s translation engines:

The rain fell as the sea. The sea is full of drunken whales with green frost. I pulled my muscles into the neck, threw a tail on my chest and sent some bad words in the cold weather.

In addition to my past mistakes on Regent Street, nothing has changed. But if I change, I can not see the rain. The road was disturbed by waves a few hours ago, and I could not see the three lights in Al-Zawahin's Innigot house to see if anyone with toes was ahead of them.

No one. Half shadows and water can not be used along Rannit Road after the darkest night. But when the spring blows from the south, and the plants grow somewhere, they are all on beds and houses in the sun.

"There is no one here, but Ares and Markhats," I said.

Thunder is complaining in a quick response. I pulled the helmet under an explosion and broke it, and I shook the pigs and thought about going home. The person I was looking for could go askew and try to cut and pull puzzles and I saw him.

Everything you do is light and sounds like a little horn in my head. Fill it for no. Dallas, black eyes and black hair and video footage were placed on a floor in a prison that survived. Martha Hoobin is still missing. The best thing you can do is to speak a language in a storm and bother a trout.

In my bag, Holder woke up and my fingers broke. I took my hand and pulled it out of the bag all the time, and Huldra jumped as I walked.

Then there were three soiled windows. The shadow shakes its long hat but floats.

I'm cold. The leaves of the rain are changing.

Front shadow of another window. I started counting. Innigot counts from two to three windows. If the picture is in front of the third window, I find one of twenty-two guitarists or drunkards in the rain. On the other hand, if someone goes to Innigov ...

Dark in the dark is clear to the weak, the bad and the lost.

I said, "When you come." I'm looking for a short trip. Nobody moves. The shadow of the third window of Innigot does not appear. There is no wet shadow over his help. My hidden person was caught in a mouse, he encouraged waves and confessed.

I left my hideout on rocky mountains. The water hit me until the ashes poured into my mouth and tested the sky and the bad. As I write, I close my mouth and dance.

At the end of the betting, I stopped and entered the bag, and the boss found his mother full, calling her a prostitute. It was warm in my hand, and it ended as if it was covered with horror. The icon below is hexadecimal. I broke the hexadecimal, kissed both my hands, poked half the paper.

Paper asked for a little shouting when he was broken.

Now, Mom, I know I found a permanent man. I promised Morocco I would wait. I talked to her when I rented a rectangle and looked at Innigot and waited for the children from Narrows.

At least fifty or more, carrying a weapon, could return me when the man who killed him took me, took it and brought her to market. Fifty-five, Hoobins, Olafs, and Peninsula and Hauer live. The army is angry and angry at night.

I talked to my mom when I was waiting. I talked to Dallei and kept it safe.

Of. Simple things.

When I put my mom on a hexagometer, the engine wheel was a dragon washed.

When I returned to my suitcase, I held my hand and went in the wrong direction. Hula was washed and walked in my arms. Mom warned me she was not skinny.

When I took Huldra, I heard how laughing in the sky.

I said, "Martha Hinkin." It's time to get back. "

I’m sure some might argue that the latter text is the most entertaining. I admit I fell instantly in love with two phrases — ‘If the picture is in front of the third window, I find one of twenty-two guitarists or drunkards in the rain,’ and ‘I talked to her when I rented a rectangle ‘ suggest some deep world-building is taking place. Why are there only twenty-two guitarists out wandering in the rain? How much does one pay to rent a rectangle?

These are provocative questions that will plunge the reader deeper into the story. Thanks, Google. That’s a trick I’m going to use.

So am I worried that AIs will soon take over the business of writing?

Yes I am. Not because they’ll be particularly good at it, but because publishers won’t need to pay them. And the AI authors won’t need to be that good, really — when they can draw from the great plots, steal the best story arcs, recreate the great characters of literature and do it all in a few microseconds, for free.

When that technology is perfected, Amazon’s bookshelves will be flooded with the works of #ChroBOTaa5 and //NEMPA77g.

Certainly, refinements are required. But that’s just a matter of tweaking and time.

So enjoy the myriad of flawed human works while you can. Couple the relentless precision of machines with the psychologically addictive algorithms already being used by game designers, and I predict a future filled with ‘books’ that you, quite literally, can’t put down.

For more fun with Google Translate, please check out this brilliant series of videos called ‘Google Translate Sings. Here’s an example…

Google Translate Sings ‘This is Halloween.’


Bad Advice

I spend a lot of time on Twitter these days.

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That statement probably explains my mental decline, at least in part. Twitter is the modern equivalent of the scribblings on seedy bus station toilet stall walls, if most of the patrons were of a political bent. And drunk. Possibly also concussed.

But not everything is centered on the dumpster fire that consumes us in the US.

Last week, an author offered up some advice to aspiring authors. This of course was met with furious opposition, as is everything else posted on Twitter.

At the center of the advice was this — writers should give up their day jobs and be prepared to suffer for their art.

The implication being that you aren’t a ‘true’ artist if you’re not also suffering, with bonus points being awarded for malnutrition and, possibly, having scurvy and rickets.

Now there may be some merit to this advice. Had I, for instance, quit my job twenty years ago, I would probably not tip the scales at 230 pounds today. Of course I might also be dead, but nothing drives sales like being dead.

Or I might have been catapulted into fame and riches, in which case I’d still weigh 230 pounds, but be a lot better dressed. I could also claim to weigh 190 and people would nod and agree, because rich people can get away with anything. They might even pick up the bar tab.

Thus it is proven that Frank is gonna be fat no matter which road he traveled, probably because both roads are lined with restaurants and I’ve never met a steak I didn’t fall in love with.

But would quitting and doing nothing but writing have made me more successful as an author, and thus happier?

There’s simply no way to say yes or no to that question. I might have burned out, gone mad, and been arrested for staging a one-man takeover of a donut shop. Or I might have pitched something to AMC, and people would be complaining about how unwatchable The Markhat Files has become instead of bashing The Walking Dead.

That’s the trouble with big sweeping statements such as ‘All you people, quit work and become scribbling hermits.’ A couple of scribbling hermits might emerge as literary powerhouses. Or they might become that sketchy hairy dude asking for donations outside the Starbucks.

As far as suffering contributing to art — well, just being in the publishing industry right now provides plenty of suffering. Maybe I’m not a genuine artist, because in addition to my failure to own a black beret, I haven’t noticed any improvement in my writing due to abysmal sales, the constant jacking around of authors by Amazon, or having publishers collapse beneath me.

Now, it’s possible that my books just aren’t that good. I’m perfectly willing to entertain that idea, because I recognize the nearly infinite human capacity for self-delusion. If that’s the case, fine. I did my best.

But it’s also possible that a lot of very good books languish in the silent, dark depths because there are so many books now. I’ve lost count of the number of books I’ve read that were exciting, entertaining, fun, and thought-provoking but were also ranked down in the Marinas Trench of Amazon’s vast list of offerings.

P.N. Elrod. Maria Schneider. Elyse Salpeter. And so many others, just waiting to be ‘discovered.’

It’s largely a matter of wild caprice and the whims of luck, I’ve decided. You can quit your day job. You can keep it. You can paint yourself blue and climb to the top of the local courthouse to write. You can blog and pay for ads and pester bookstores for space or signings.

But your efforts can be derailed by some daft butterfly flapping its wings the wrong way somewhere in the tropics, while some other author gets a sweet movie deal because somebody sneezed on a subway at just the right moment.

So I won’t offer any advice, except this — keep writing. It’s advice I struggle to heed lately. But it’s the only advice that might ultimately prove beneficial.

It might also help if you were born on September 21, 1947 as Stephen King. But that is hard advice to follow. My time machines keep exploding.




Blogging in The Apocalypse

A lovely day, circa 2020.

A lovely day, circa 2020.

I haven’t posted a blog lately.

I skipped a few weeks mainly out of consideration for you.

I try to stay apolitical in these things. Not because I’m afraid of losing readers — Amazon has handled that nicely for me. No, I figure you’re subjected to the same endless stream of doom and gloom that I find myself wallowing in. Didn’t think you needed another brief tour of the Weimar Republic V 2.0.

It’s painfully obvious to me that Bad Things are just around the corner. And by Bad Things, I mean Old Testament-style calamity — famine, plague, war, cities buried under rubble, bears running rampant, rains of frogs singing show tunes while wearing top hats. That sort of thing.

Look back at history. Humanity seems to just go nuts every fifty years or so. We’re about to enter another such phase, and since we’re armed to the teeth and living on a world that’s headed toward the Venusian style of climate-as-a-bakery-oven things don’t look promising.

See what I mean? And I’m in a good mood today.

But instead of trying to prop up everything I just said with the same arguments you’ve read a few dozen times, I’ll be self-indulgent and talk about how it’s affected me.

I’ve been caught in a slow burn of rage since a certain day in 2016. As the US and the world spiral down into fascism, I’ve been overwhelmed with a pernicious blend of apathy and lethargy. Why write books? Burning them will soon be a televised national sport. Why put so much time and effort into an art form that people (not you, I’m talking about the others) won’t buy because ‘it ought to be free’ ?

I know, I know, we need books and music and art now more than we’ve ever needed them before. I know that, but — a small mean-spirited part of me just wants to play the fiddle while Rome burns. Wants to enjoy the internet before it becomes an Arm of the State. Wants to eat drink and be merry, before everything comes down to lines and food ration cards and loyalty oaths.

Hey, I’m a writer, and yes, I’m nuts. Goes with the territory.

I hope things will self-correct. I hope we will emerge from this detour towards horror relatively unscathed. But then I see some grinning little bastard in a red cap screaming abuse at a Viet Nam war vet who just happened to be Native American and I realize how tenuous and fragile that hope truly is.

I grew up on Star Trek and Apollo and the unspoken assumption that things would only get better. Better, faster, sleeker. We should be out there among the planets by now. Nobody should be going to bed hungry. Black folks and brown folks shouldn’t be terrified they’re going to get shot for having a taillight out, or arrested for talking on a cell phone in a hotel lobby. Women shouldn’t be hounded off the net because they said they deserve equal pay, or because they like to game without getting threatened with rape.

Instead, we have — this. Regression. De-evolution. A headlong charge backwards, with flags and banners leading the way.

So I’m pissed. I guess that sums it all up in a tidy little package.

I’ve tried to channel that frustrated energy into my writing, but I’ve learned something else.

My writing sucks when I’m pissed. It’s preachy, heavy-handed, despairing. Unreadable.

So that’s where I am now. Churning out turgid, hackish nonsense while the world beats its plows into swords and grins at the prospect of laying open a few hundred million innocent throats.

I will keep at it. Maybe a few good pages will emerge, here and there, and I can find balance. I haven’t yet. Frankly I’m tired of trying.

Thanks for sticking with me. I hope we’ll get through this together.

Opening image © Adam121 | Dreamstime.com

The Obligatory Holiday Blog

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People do strange things during the holidays. Drink eggnog while not under duress. Listen to that infernal barking dogs Christmas song. Willingly sit through long elaborate meals with Uncle Eggbert, who won't drink tap water or eat anything cooked with it because that's how the secret Communists deliver the mind-control drugs.

But among the more inexplicable habits of Christmas is, to me, the urge to wrap seemingly random objects in tinsel and simulated fir tree needles.

Streetlights? Wrapped and lit, because apparently they weren't already sufficiently lit. Storefronts, business signs, random shrubs, the Courthouse clock. All of it festooned with decor I assume to be festive. Some of it does indeed seem festive. Some of it, not so much.

A wreath of the front grille of a fire truck? Okay. That way, when panicked drivers look up from their texting and realize a fire truck is two inches off their bumper, they get a little holiday cheer along with enough adrenaline to induce a myocardial infarction. But that's important, because it's Christmas.

But where do you draw the line? Do we add wreaths to the gun cameras of our F-18s? Should we rush the launch of an orbit-ready Christmas tree to the ISS?

To provoke thought and discussion around this topic, let's play a little game I call "Festive or Not?"

FESTIVE or NOT?
Holly and ornaments strung along police tape at an active crime scene. Antlers added to chalk outline of decedent on pavement.

FESTIVE or NOT?
Tinsel and garlands strung from motion detector to motion detector around Area 51. Black wreaths on the front of the unmarked security vehicles that appear from nowhere to whisk you away to a place decidedly less jolly than the North Pole. Sprigs of mistletoe sent anonymously to your next of kin.

FESTIVE or NOT?
Elaborate lighting displays around each settling pool at all municipal sewage treatment plants.
It's a lot more nuanced that it looks, folks.

What to Buy a Writer, or, Look, There's a Liquor Store

Is there a writer in your life? Are you struggling to come up with that perfect Christmas gift for him or her?

If so, my condolences, because I'm a writer and I know full well what a morose bunch of budding alcoholics we writers usually are.  I'm constantly staring off into space, oblivious to the world around me until the front bumper strikes something solid and the air bags deploy.

Every year, it's the same dilemma.  What to give for Christmas?  What will make your writer's eyes light up, or at least open halfway?

As usual, I'm here to help.  My list of suggestions follows, in order of descending utility.

1) BOOZE.  HOOCH. ROTGUT.  That's right, kids, the Demon Rum himself.  Why?  Simple.

A writer's job is to plumb the depths of the human condition, or at least convince a harried editor that he or she is plumbing said depths long enough for the ink to dry on a contract. The first thing you'll learn when you start taking a really close look at the much-vaunted human condition is that doing so induces a sudden, powerful urge to have a drink.  Or three.  Or maybe just leave the whole bottle and start running a tab, because right after the urge to drink comes the realization that it's going to be a long bad night.

2) A THESAURUS. Because nothing works better as a coaster for the drinks mentioned above than a really thick book.  I'd counsel against actually using a thesaurus for writing, because no one wants to read sentences in which characters advance, meander, promenade, traipse, or wend one's way across the room.

3) A CAT.  Hemingway had a cat, right?  He had a cat because a cat is the only creature on Earth more vain and self-centered than the average author.  While other more social animals might feel neglected or ignored by an author, who is probably staring off into space or rummaging in the cabinets for more liquor, a cat is perfectly comfortable being ignored because it doesn't know anyone else is in the room anyway.  The cat's 'I don't care if you exist or not' attitude is perfectly suited to the author's mindset of 'What? Huh? Who?'

4) AN ELEGANT LEATHER-BOUND JOURNAL.  We all know that writers, and I mean serious professional writers with book contracts and everything, are always prepared to whip out a convincing character or a heart-wrenching plot at the drop of a dangling participle. So give your author the most expensive, ornate leather journal you can find, wait a year, drag it out from under the whiskey-stained thesaurus, and give it to the writer again.  They won't ever know, because each and every page will be as blank as it was the day you bought it.  Seriously, people.  I tried the whole notebook by the bed schtick for years, and I recorded exactly two notes in it, which read:

"Char. A sees the thing, intro. other scene w/char B, str. exc. Plot hole & 9 days."
"Why G. not cld/not E?"

Which explains why Hemingway's cat had six toes, for all I know.  But leatherbound notebooks make pretty good coasters too, and if the glasses sweat on them, you can tell people the stains are from a solo hike through Guatemala which you took to 'reconnect to your muse.'

I don't have a Number 5.  You should probably stop at Number 1, because gift-wrapping a cat is nearly impossible and writers can spot a gift wrapped thesaurus from across a crowded room anyway.

The Every Wind of Change audiobook is on sale!

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The audiobook is live!

By following the links below you can grab nearly 10 hours of Mug and Meralda, narrated by the talented Nila Hagood.

Link to Every Wind of Change on Audible

It’s all available from iTunes as an audiobook; just search for Frank Tuttle in the iTunes store and you’ll find it.

Nila did a marvelous job of giving the characters voices. And we finally meet Meralda’s lost-estranged mother, who is probably the scariest person of all in a book filled with ravenous giant bugs.

Yes, audiobooks are a bit steeper in price than ebooks. But for nine hours and fifty-seven minutes of listening, it’s really not a bad price. Too, the Amazon version is Whispersync-enabled which means you can start reading on your Kindle and pick up at the place you stopped with the Audible version, which is nice.

I have plans to release the other two books in the series as audiobooks too. I’ll also be putting out audiobook versions of the Markhat files next year.

Please let me know what you think of the audio versions. They’re perfect for long drives or flights or just kicking back at home on a rainy day.

My List of Successful Author Habits and Practices

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A renowned author (meaning he doesn’t have a day job and he wears an authoritative corduroy jacket) released a list of ten things successful authors do and don’t do last week.

Predictably, a lot of other authors took issue with the list. Tweets were posted. Blogs were hammered out and published. The argument is probably still raging in some quiet corner of the net.

Me?

I don’t really care. If the tips he posted work for him, great. Maybe some of them would even apply to other writers. Most probably wouldn’t. We writers are an odd lot, and it would be dangerous to assert any generality concerning us that’s more specific than ‘Authors should breathe every minute or so.”

It is in this spirit I offer my own list of practices that have catapulted me to my own lofty acclaim and dazzling success. I earned enough in the last two months to make the down payment on an authoritative corduroy blazer, after all.

The Writer’s List

1) Write. Write good stuff. Write bad stuff (you will). Write while the world burns down around you (it is). Otherwise, you might as well be an umbrella. Write.

2) Write. Write the first draft as fast as you can. Go back and fix the places where you stumbled or fell headlong. Keep plowing ahead. Bob and weave. Keep fixing. Avoid the temptation to look out the window, because yes, the world is still on fire. Look away. Write.

3) Write. Write as if this might be the last thing you ever write. I’m not saying it is, and I wish you a long and happy life. But none of us are promised that. Pour everything you’ve got into the words. Write.

4) Write. It’s easy to succumb to the creeping paralysis that intrudes each time you glance out that window. Easy to nod in solemn agreement to the nagging little voice that whispers ‘Why bother? It’s all coming apart, minute by minute, day by day.” Refuse. Resist. Art is protest. Protest is defiance. Writing is an act of rebellion. Write.

5) Write. Write about vampires or robots or love or loss. It doesn’t matter. Write the words only you can write. Take us to the places only you can invent. Write as if your voice, your words, matter. Because they do. Write.

That’s my list. It isn’t a list of ten, and it doesn’t address the use of the Internet or tips on how to approach publishers.

For too many of us, the mechanics of the process have been overshadowed by the chilling realization that the world we see emerging is a world where art itself is viewed with disdain and even hostility.

The only sane response to this is to create more art. More books. More music. More of whatever it is that you call creation.

Don’t let the fire-mongers rob you of your voice.

Audiobook News

The audiobook version of Every Wind of Change is nearly done. And by ‘nearly done,’ I mean I expect to see a release in the next two weeks.

So you’ll know what to look for, here’s the audiobook cover, which is just a bit different from the text cover.

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The completed audio book comes in at just under nine hours of narration. The narrator, Nila Hagood, did a fantastic job of giving the characters voices. I hope you’ll enjoy it!

Work on the next Markhat audiobook will start with the new year. Hold the Dark will be the next in that series, naturally. But if you haven’t gotten Three Mean Streets yet, it’s on sale from the links below:

Three Mean Streets from Audible

Three Mean Streets from iTunes

And of course there’s plain old text!

Three Mean Streets from Amazon

Three Mean Streets from Kobo

I’ll keep you posted here.


Things That Go Bump: The Phantom of the Yocona River

When asked, I usually tell people that I've never seen anything I can point to and say 'I believe that was a ghost.'  And that's true.  Try as I might, I just can't sneak up on a Class IV Free-Floating Vapor, or catch a poltergeist lounging in front of a TV.

I have recorded a number of sounds, some of them words, that I can’t explain. But apparations, shadow people, anything visible that might have been a ghost? Nope, despite having spent hours tramping around in cemeteries or staying in locations reputed to be haunted.

Which is not to say I've never seen anything I can't explain.  I have, and since this is October it's time to spill the beans.  Maybe some of you will have insights into the matter, because after pondering this for some 41 years I still don't have a clue.

I was, I believe, 15.  And let me preface this entire recounting by noting that no alcohol or other recreational substances were at all involved.  Honest.  I know that may sound unlikely, but it's the truth. Rural Mississippi at that time was a relatively innocent place, where pot or even under-age liquor was concerned.

So, I was 15, and the snake-infested banks of the Yocona River beckoned.  The Yocona is a slow, muddy river which winds its way through the hilly woods of north Mississippi, and as a wild and dangerous place it was a natural magnet for all the kids who lived near it.

One fine August evening my good friend John Redmond and I decided to camp out on the River.  We spent a lot of time on the River, and knew its perils well.  So we loaded his pickup with supplies and an aluminum boat and set out.

We pitched camp on a sand bar not far from what everyone simply called the Structure.  The Structure was actually a concrete waterfall built by the Corps of Engineers to halt the Yocona's erosion of the fields on its borders.  I can hear the roar of the water rushing over it even today, on still nights. 

But on that night, John  Redmond and I saw something neither of us can explain.

It started sometime after midnight.  We both saw a light of sorts playing among the boughs of an enormous old water oak about a hundred yards upstream.  It towered up above the outline of the Structure and was silhouetted against the night sky.

We sat and watched, considering the source of the light.  Our first thought was a flashlight. We quickly rejected that, as it became obvious that what we were watching wasn't merely a projected beam of light being played amid the branches, but a glowing, moving mass that spun about the tree as though tethered somehow to the trunk.

Swamp gas, we decided.  Even though the oak stood on high, dry ground.  But as we kept watching, we rejected that too, because the light, whatever it was, grew brighter and began to change shape and color.

This is where it gets weird.

And let me remind you again that no drugs or alcohol were involved.

The glowing thing began to morph into recognizable shapes.  Faces.  Outlines.  Now a perfect yellow sphere.  Then a scowling red face.  A half-moon.  A flying man, arms outstretched.

No noise.  Just the light, changing, moving, orbiting that oak for purposes unknown.

Were we frightened?

Um, yes.  We're on a sand bar miles from anywhere.  It's far too dark to risk a panicked flight through the water moccasins and the copperheads and the tangles and the snags.  We're observing an inexplicable light show which, for all we know, is both being presented for us and is the preamble to something more sinister. 

So we do what any reasonable pair of fifteen year olds would do -- we turn the boat on its side as a shield, arm ourselves with clubs and knives, and hunker down until sunrise.

That glowing thing, whatever it was, danced and flew all night. 

We darted out briefly, now and then, to replenish our campfire with driftwood.  And we watched the clouds sail past while the lazy sun took his time in rising.

When the skies did finally begin to lighten, our visitor dimmed, made a final blurred circuit from the bottom of the tree to the top, and then simply shot up into the sky, where it vanished.

We stamped out our fire as soon as it was light and made haste in getting out of there and we never ever camped on the Yocona again.

As far as I know, nothing like what we saw was seen before or since.  There's nothing particularly sinister about the spot.  No old murders, no hangings, no drama of any kind.  It was just an oak tree. 

So, what did I see, that night more than four decades ago?

I have no idea. 

As I said, I can still hear the River pouring over the lip of the Structure on still nights. Sometimes I listen to the dull distant roar and wonder if a certain old oak tree is being lit by a whirling, changing light, or if what we saw was meant only for John Redmond and I, and only appeared that night.

If so, what did it mean?  What did it want?  What were we supposed to take away from there, aside from mosquito bites and sand in our britches?

Still don't know.  Probably never will.

So that's my tale of the Yocona River, and the flying light. 

What's your story? 

Email me at franktuttle@franktuttle.com

Things That Go Bump: The Voynich Manuscript

As you may have noticed, lots of things in this tired old world don't make much sense.

Some of these incongruities are obvious -- the fame of singer Ke$sha, the second-season renewal of TV series Here Comes Honey Boo Boo, and fruitcake.

But some mysteries manage to fly under the radar, despite the inherent oddness of the subject. Whether it's a perfectly-machined metal sphere discovered miles underground or an apparent bucket handle encased in ancient quartz, every now and then things turn up which defy both explanation and the kind of easy pigeon-holing historians enjoy attaching to artifacts.

One such object is the Voynich Manuscript.

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The Voynich Manuscript is so called because it came to light shortly after it was purchased by an antique book dealer named Wilfrid Voynich in 1912. The book itself was written and illustrated in the 15th century, probably in northern Italy. Carbon dating performed in 2009 puts the manuscript's paper as being made sometime between 1404 and 1438. The name of the artist/author is unknown, as well as the actual title of the book, and that's as good a place as any to start describing the book's mysteries, because despite a century of determined effort, no one (including expert cryptographers and powerful computers) has ever been able to decipher so much as a single word in all the book's two-hundred-odd pages.

The text does appear, at least to linguists, to represent an actual alphabet and language, though one not seen before or since. The Manuscript is composed of about 170,000 glyphs, and the base alphabet is probably between 20 and 30 characters long. Still, it has defied each and every effort to decipher so much as a single sentence.

But the text is hardly the most intriguing aspect of the Manuscript. The book is also heavily illustrated, much in the manner of a Medieval field guide to medicinal plants. It starts out with large drawings of plants, each accompanied by notes penned in a careful if utterly unreadable hand. There are even little text bullets, probably denoting special attributes of each illustration.

In fact, if I were to have encountered the Voynich Manuscript in a used bookstore somewhere, I might have put it back on the shelf after perusing the first half a dozen pages. Here we have a plant. Here we have notes, presumably about the drawing of the plant, even though it's in a language I don't know.

I class plants into three distinct classes -- Plants On The Salad Bar, Plants I Should Never Ever Eat Because They Will Kill Me, and Who Cares, It's A Freaking Plant.

But people who know their flora realize one thing immediately, upon viewing the Manuscript.

These plants simply don't exist, at least on Earth. Not now, not in the 15th century.

And the further you go into the Manuscript, the stranger it gets. The plants become less daisy-like and more Geiger-esque. Pretty soon you've got whole pages of what appear to be brand new astrological charts combined with images of little people being swallowed up by toothed vegetable monstrosities, complete with careful if indecipherable footnotes which probably read 'Don't get too near the one with the purple flowers' or 'Man, these mushrooms are groovy.'

So is it a naturalist's guide to flora and fauna from somewhere else? An alchemical encyclopedia from another world?

Is it some mead-sotted monk's long, laborious practical joke?

The fun part of the Voynich Manuscript mystery is that, thanks to the Internet, you can pull it off its virtual shelf and have a look, page by page, for yourself, right this moment.

I highly recommend you do so. Whatever the Manuscript was, it's trippy. Put on some Pink Floyd and click the link below. It's a good fast connection, right to the Yale University archives, and how can you pass up perusing a book that has kept scholars and cryptographers scratching their heads for all these years?

The Voynich Manuscript Online

Like I said, trippy, huh?

What do I think the Manuscript represents?

Look, it's the year 1415, or thereabouts. Your choices for entertainment are pretty much limited to crapping in a bucket, dying of boils, or being burned at the stake for, well, darned near anything. There won't be anything resembling decent music played for another couple of hundred years. You'll have fleas and worms and lice until another three or four hundred years have passed. Frankly, the world is a miserable place to live, even if you're lucky enough to to be a monk with a passable roof and the aforementioned bucket at your disposal.

I think a very clever monk was born way too early and found himself in a place and time that put creativity in the same box as 'Worship of, Satan, see also Execution.'  I think the Voynich Manuscrip is this clever monk's way of thumbing his nose at his bosses, who displayed the same interest in yet another Field Guide to Boring Weeds of Italythat I did earlier.

Think about it. Our monk -- we'll call him Scooter, because I'm writing this, so there -- Scooter knows he's destined to spend his next miserable year hunched over a blank manuscript copying page after page of religious texts until the boils kill him or his eyesight fails, whichever comes first.

But instead of coping the book he was assigned, Scooter writes the world's first science fiction novel instead.

All those alien plants? All those weird astrological or alchemical charts?

Scooter made them up. I think the guy built a whole imaginary world in his poor 15th century head, and I think he did so out of sheer crushing boredom, because Scooter knew in his flea-bitten heart of hearts that life wasn't going to be anything worth living until the advent of Pink Floyd, the net, and the introduction of the cheeseburger.

And he was right. A world where one cannot go online, order a cheeseburger, and pick it up at a drive-thru to the accompaniment of Pink Floyd is a savage, desolate wasteland, unworthy of time or effort.

I'd still love to read Scooter's notes. I figure they're ninety-percent hard SF, and 10 percent slams against his bosses.

Take Pages 16 and 17 of the Manuscript, shown below. We're still in the relatively tame portion of the book, before the plants grow teeth and start chowing down on little naked people (hey, like I said, it was deadly dull in the 15th century):

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My own loose translation of the notes on the left hand page reads thusly:

"Yea, this be the Snookered Blue & Red Stinkroot, which can be Used in ye Treatment of Flatulence, bad Breathe, and the Issue of Boiles upon the Buttockes, which Brother Isaac doth have, yea and in Spades, because he is a Wankere and a Close Talker besides, get a thee a Clue about Personale Space, willya, or I Feare I shalt open upon thy Pate a Roman-Empire sized Canne of Whoope-Ass, and how, I really Hate thatte Guy, Finis."

And the reason for the elaborate cypher?

Safety, of course. That way no one could claim heresy or blasphemy or even mild insult. Scooter was nothing if not careful.

I think our clever monk created his own alphabet entirely from scratch. Most of the glyphs are simple, and can be written with just a few pen-strokes. Which is exactly the kind of alphabet a hard-working monk would invent.

And the words?

Probably loose on-the-fly substitutions penned by Scooter using his own custom alphabet. Since he kept all this in his head, and wrote the Manuscript with the knowledge that no one would ever be able to read it, I doubt he bothered with corrections.

No, I think he was far more concerned with how the words looked, rather than how the text read.

Which is why I don't think the Voynich Manuscript will be be deciphered. 

But that doesn't mean it can't be enjoyed. In fact, I lift my metaphorical glass to the unnamed author of the Manuscript, who like many of us was born in the wrong place and at the wrong time. Too bad he wasn't around to become a graphic artist or a SF author today, because he certainly had the work ethic and the drive.

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I'm pretty sure this is the first draft of the script for Prometheus.

So here's to you, long-dead author of the world's most mysterious hand-drawn botanical manuscript. People are still talking about your book despite the fact that no one has a clue what it's about. That's got to be worth a crooked, gap-toothed 15th century grin.

And hey, if it's any consolation, at least you never had to beg for book reviews on Amazon, or watch your rankings plummet like a paralyzed falcon.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to turn my music up really loud and surf the ever-living crap out of the internet...

Things That Go Bump

It’s October, and that can only mean two things. One, Walmart is already putting out Christmas trees. And two, it’s time for another month-long series of special blog entries entitled Things That Go Bump!

Tonight, we'll take a trip to the grave of Nobel Peace Prize winning author William Faulkner, and we'll pester him with impertinent questions while drawing curious stares from passers-by. I actually made all these photos and recordings back in 2012, but some of them are so strange I’ve decided to pull them out of the spooky box, shake off the cobwebs, and give them another airing.

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I live, reside, and/or dwell in Oxford, Mississippi, which is where Faulkner lived, wrote, and was eventually buried, although I'm sure he died first. We're pretty careful about the whole die-first-then-bury thing these days.

Faulkner's grave is located in a genteel old cemetery not far from Oxford's town square. It's a peaceful place, especially when the Rebels are playing Vanderbilt on the far side of town, which is why I chose a game day Saturday night for my EVP session with Mr. Faulkner. 

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I armed myself with my trusty Olympus voice recorder, my new Zoom H1 digital recorder, my video and still cameras, and my Ball Microphone housing, which I designed and constructed myself. It’s a simple sphere, with a microphone fixed at the interior center. (For a brief explanation of why I built this, click here).

Also along was my iOvilus device, which prattled merrily on but did actually startle me once with a single insightful exchange (you'll see it later).

I arrived at Mr. Faulkner's grave at dusk, and was greeted the usual small assortment of empty liquor bottles, which students and fans are prone to leave as hi-octane offerings to the shade of old Bill. 

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My methodology was simple. I placed the Zoom and the Olympus atop the headstone, put the video camera to the side, aimed at the mics. I held a brief EVP session in which I introduced myself and blathered inanities for about four minutes.

I'm posting the audio and the video links below. Note that the Zoom's audio was rendered useless by the faint breeze for the few moments it was outside the Ball Mic housing; I deleted that portion of the audio track, since it was nothing but a deafening roar. Note to self -- the Zoom needs a wind filter anytime it's outside, even in mild breeze conditions. 

The Olympus carried on nonplussed, as did the video camera's audio. Below are links to the full audio and video files, in case you'd like to see and hear everything for yourself without any commentary. Or, if you want, skip down and I'll post the relevant portions to save you some time.

 ENTIRE BALL MIC AUDIO FILE, UNEDITED (about 20 minutes)

 ENTIRE OLYMPUS MIC AUDIO FILE, UNEDITED (About 25 minutes)

LINK TO FULL SESSION VIDEO (UNEDITED)
Full Faulkner session video

So, you ask, what did I find?

 THE BALL MIC

Well, first of all, The Ball Mic is crazy sensitive. I heard a weird buzz-thump sound at about 9 minutes, and couldn't place it, until I reviewed the video and realized a fly landed on the granite grave-slab next to the Ball Mic. Not on the mic. Just close to it. Here, have a listen to it, looped:

You can even hear his little fly feet hitting the granite. If that's not a stirring tribute to the awesome power of salsa bowls and duct tape, I don't know what is.

That kind of sensitivity is a double-edged sword, though. Traffic noise, inaudible to the other recorders or my delicate ears, was a non-stop cacophony  in the Ball Mic. As excited as I was to use it on the Faulkner run, I think the Ball Mic is best suited for remote locations as far away from traffic as is possible.

Aside from the fly-landing, I'm afraid my Ball Mic didn't return a single apparent EVP occurrence. I've been through the audio twice now, and I never heard a thing out of place. 

THE VIDEO CAMERA

Again, nothing out of the ordinary. A few dogs barked. A few cars passed. At no time do any phantom voices admonish me to GET OUT. Camera-shy ghosts? Could be, I suppose. But the audio track is clean, and no visible spectres were observed waving from amid the headstones.

THE iOVILUS DEVICE

The iOvilus device managed to raise my eyebrows tonight, and I caught the whole exchange on all the recorders and the video camera. I was talking, asking questions, trying to engage something, anything, in conversation.

At one point, I said "Mr. Faulkner," beginning to address my host. Immediately, the iOvilus piped up with my name, Frank.

Here's a video excerpt of the exchange. This is an old link, and the original video file is gone. the link still works, even though it looks like it doesn’t. Just hit the play symbol in the middle of the box and wait a few seconds. It will fire up.

Device Says My Name

Now, is that evidence of something paranormal, or merely a statistically insignificant bit of random coincidence?

I lean toward the latter. The iOvilus has a thousand word vocabulary to draw from. Frank is one of those thousand words. It is odd that it chose to speak that word at that time, but until and unless it happens a lot more often than once every session, I'm going to call this happenstance. Although when you're sitting in a cemetery at nightfall and you hear your name called out of the blue it is a genuine hair-raising experience.

THE OLYMPUS AUDIO RECORDER

Of all the night's instruments, once again my humble Olympus returned the most amazing evidence.

I did not hear either of the voices I am about to present during recording. Neither voice was captured on any other piece of gear, though all were operating within a few feet of each other at all times.

The first piece of audio is a female voice speaking as I speak. I can't quite make out the words -- maybe you'll have better luck.

First you'll hear me speaking. I'm joking about my failure to drink the Faulkners any liquor, and I say "maybe I should have brought a case." Then a female voice says...something.

Here's the female voice, looped:

Hip hop? Hey pop? No clue, but something is there. Not the iOvilus, either -- it has a distinct male voice.

I get an even better voice as I'm leaving. By this point in the recording, I've left the Faulkner gravesite, and I've taken a short stroll through the headstones. I comment that I'm about to leave, and a bit later, I caught this:

It sounds like the very same voice, but this time it's clearly saying 'Go ahead.'

That takes place at 22:32 in the full Olympus file. The wind was calm. The iOvilus was off and my phone was in my pocket. It doesn't have any speaking apps, and none of my gear talks.

So what the heck was that?

I don't have a clear answer for you. Two full words. Not a trick of the wind. Not a snatch of nearby conversation (check the video -- no one was there but me). Not a passing vehicle (again, check the video). I even checked the iOvilus log (it keeps a log of every word spoken, with a time stamp) for the words 'go ahead,' and it never said them.

I suppose some could argue that what we've just heard is an audio artifact created by the Olympus itself. After all, nothing else picked it up.

I really can't say. Do audio artifacts usually tend to present not only clear enunciation, but gender?

Very, very strange.

I do find it intriguing that the female voice presented after I invited Mrs. Faulkner to speak. Again, coincidence?

Could be.

I regret, of course, that Mr. Faulkner didn't bestow upon me a rambling 40-minute EVP which analysis revealed to be a single run-on sentence. A ghostly image in a photo, perhaps of Mr. Faulkner posing with one of my books, would have also been quite the coup.

But I am proud of the pair of EVPs I captured. I cannot explain either one in rational terms, which is precisely the kind of phenomena I'm after.

I’ll post more ghostly goings-on next week. But here’s your Wild Wild Web link for today, so enjoy!

WILD WILD WEB link

New Release By Elyse Salpeter

My friend and fellow fantasy author Elyse Salpeter is releasing the 5th book in her Kelsey Porter series today! The new book is entitled The Search For Starlight, and it ties up the series with a bang.

To celebrate the release, I conducted a Skype interview with Elyse. You can listen via the link below:

YouTube interview with author Elyse Salpeter

Here’s what Elyse herself has to say about the release:

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Today is the day! THE SEARCH FOR STARLIGHT, Book #5 in the Kelsey Porter series, launches today! You can grab it here!

She just needed to complete a simple errand... how hard could that be?

As soon as Kelsey embarks on the Emperor and Empress's request to locate a mysterious object and return it to them, her entire world is plunged into chaos.

Someone is following her, someone else has broken into her home, and now she believes the people she trusted most have all been lying to her.

As Kelsey unravels the truth, she learns that her journey to this moment has never been entirely her own. Until now.

This has been a culmination of a five-year journey where I set out to write a series of novels that would be different than anything I've seen out there before. They're steeped in true Buddhist lore and I did a tremendous amount of research to make everything as believable as possible. I hope you enjoy!

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Book #1 THE HUNT FOR XANADU
AMAZON: http://amzn.to/1CEvEab
UK Amazon: http://amzn.to/1Cp2awz

Book #2 THE QUEST OF THE EMPTY TOMB
US AMAZON: http://amzn.to/1EvXExO
UK AMAZON: http://amzn.to/1JSRNqT

Book #3 THE CALL OF MOUNT SUMERU
US AMAZON: http://amzn.to/1SUskAv
UK AMAZON: http://amzn.to/1nPF6TO

Book #4 THE HAUNTING OF CRAGG HILL HOUSE
US AMAZON: http://amzn.to/2pb1HyT
UK AMAZON: http://amzn.to/2pVJLGB

Book #5 THE SEARCH FOR STARLIGHT
US AMAZON: https://amzn.to/2OWpoEZ
UK Amazon: https://amzn.to/2Itd78V


Elyse is active on Facebook, Twitter, and of course her webpage. They’re great books, so check them out!




A Touch of Steampunk

I’m a huge fan of author Gail Carriger. She writes the most amazing books, filled with humor, wit, more humor, more wit, and truly engaging characters.

So when I read an illustrated hardback edition of Soulless was due out, and I could get a signed edition if I pre-ordered, I did.

The book is here, and it’s beautiful. The cover and interior illustrations are by artist Jensine Eckwall. This is the first book of the Parasol Protectorate series, and it’s an absolute blast.

The hero is Miss Alexia Tarabotti. She was born without a soul, which grants her the unique ability to neutralize supernatural abilities with the slightest touch. Vampires, for instance, are left fangless for the duration of any physical contact with Miss Tarabotti.

Set in a very Steampunkish London, the books are filled with action, intrigue, and of course the dry wit of Alexis Tarabotti.

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If you haven’t read the series, do yourself a favor and start. They’re great books.

And now I have an autographed copy of the first book!

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I don’t have many autographed novels. There’s Making Money by Terry Pratchett, Rhialto The Marvellous by Jack Vance, The Incompleat Enchanter signed by L. Sprague De Camp, and now Soulless by Gail Carriger.

It’s a shelf of books I’m proud to own.

Special Blog Tomorrow

Tomorrow, early, I’ll be posting a special Monday blog. A good friend of mine is releasing a new book, but you can read all about it tomorrow morning. There’s also a audio interview, and I’ll be posting a link to that tomorrow as well.

Did Someone Say Audiobook?

I don’t like to harp on my own releases, but the first Markhat title, Three Mean Steets, is out in audiobook format. Of course it’s also available as an ebook, and links to both are below.


Three Mean Streets, the Kindle version


Three Mean Streets, the audiobook

Wild Wild Web

In last week’s Wild Wild Web entry, I posted a video to a British chap hop artist, Mr. B the Gentleman Rhymer. Chap Hop is a musical genre that blends rap with steampunk sensibilities, and I love the result.

Well, Mr. B and another chap hop artist, Professor Elemental, came to loggerheads after Mr. B mentioned the Professor in less than glowing terms in a tweet. The Professor retaliated with a song of his own, Fighting Trousers.

Here are links to both artists, in case you’d enjoy watching the standoff unfold.

Mr. B in No Character to Clear

Professor Elemental: Fighting Trousers

Finally, here’s a mystery link. Enjoy!

Wild Wild Web Mystery Link

A Bit of Music

War of the Worlds: Classic Album Remake

One of my favorite books, the classic H.G. Wells novel War of the Worlds, was adapted as a musical prog-rock album in 1978 by Jeff Wayne.

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I’ve listened to Jeff Wayne’s Musical Version of War of the Worlds hundreds of times. Richard Burton narrated. A dedicated ensemble of string and other musicians gave the score a very steampunkish rock-orchestra sound.

Two of the tracks became minor classics after the album’s release. Forever Autumn and Thunder Child still receive some airplay, and deservedly so. The album still sells, to this day, and there is even a stage production.

Weeks ago, I learned the War of the Worlds album had been remade with ‘The New Generation’ added to the title. This time, Liam Neeson performs as the narrator, and the music has been rescored.

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I ordered the new album — but not without some trepidation.

Remakes are a tricky business. If you retain most of the original work’s character and detail, making only minor tweaks, well, what’s the point? From a technical standpoint, the audio quality of the original Jeff Wayne version can’t really be improved on. If anything, technical standards for music reproduction today are far inferior than they were in the 1970s. The market has shifted to emphasize casual listening — i.e., ear-buds and Bluetooth speakers with the dynamic range of half-thawed trout.

On the other hand, anyone daring to take significant liberties with an established classic is sure to face the irrational wrath of, um, me. I love the original, and I’m well aware my knee-jerk reaction to change is likely to be a mixture of ‘Hey, that’s not the way I remember it’ and ‘How DARE YOU DESECRATE THIS TIMELESS CLASSIC YOU RUFFIAN!’

Thus, before the new work even sounds a note, it’s got baggage to contend with.

Prior to sitting down for my first listen, I had a long talk with myself about the value of remaining objective About being open to a fresh interpretation of a beloved old standard.

Unfortunately, I wandered off while I was talking and grabbed a beer, so I missed most of that lecture.

Before I dive into the music and narration itself, a word about how I listened. I bought a CD, because the vinyl version isn’t out yet (and may never be). I don’t use downloads for serious listening, because I’m old and I have actual hair in my ears and music deserves a physical medium of some sort you whipper-snappers.

I have a 5-speaker setup with a Yamaha amp. I like it loud. I set the soundstage for Hall, with minimal echoes and reflections, and I pressed play.

Liam Neeson opened with the familiar monologue, which goes like this:

No one would have believed, in the last years of the nineteenth century, that human affairs were being watched by intelligences which inhabited the timeless worlds of space. No one could have dreamed that we were being scrutinized, as someone with a microscope studies creatures that swarm and multiply in a drop of water. Few men even considered the possibility of life on other planets and yet, across the gulf of space, minds immeasurably superior to ours regarded this Earth with envious eyes, and slowly and surely, they drew their plans against us.

The music swells, and off we go.

The big question — does Neeson fit the role as Wells’s un-named journalist?

My reply? Yes. Yes he does. Of course Liam Neeson is not Richard Burton. But Richard Burton is no Liam Neeson, either, and I found Neeson’s performance just as engaging and convincing.

The words lost none of their power. For me, this new journalist’s recounting of mankind being pushed to the brink of extinction by the merciless Martians is every bit as chilling as was Burton’s.

So, if the narration was as good or better than the original, what about the music?

My biggest fear was that the majestic, sweeping orchestral feel of the original would be replaced by some wretched attempt at ‘updating’ the score by transforming it into something contemporary. I do not want a metal version of War of the Worlds. I do not want a countrified twang included, or hip-hop, or pop. One of the things I loved best about the original was the album’s clever ruse of using 19th century musical sensibilities to create a prog-rock sound. It was akin to listening to Nicola Tesla use the instruments of his day to throw down with some Pink Floyd.

Did the new album maintain this practice?

Yes. I loved the music, which honored the original, but incorporated some new elements. There is some great guitar work. A faster pace. The grand sweeps are still there, but with just enough funk added to make it fresh and exciting all over again.

Now, anyone out there reading this who is also a fanatic about the original work has one question at this point — what does the new version do with the Martian’s exultant battle cry, the much-maligned ‘ulla?’

I know people who truly hated the ‘ulla’ sound the Martians made during a battle. I liked it, myself. They were Martians. It sounded alien. But hey, art is subjective.

I waited for the first battle cry on the new album with curiosity. The moment came and went, and there was no ‘ulla.’

I can’t argue with the decision to shelve the battle cry. The lack of it doesn’t hurt the new work, and keeping the original wouldn’t have fit this new sound anyway. Creating a new one would have been risky too. And maybe the cry was a flaw in the original, so highlighting that flaw just isn’t a good idea.

The next pair of touchstones arrives with Forever Autumn, which is followed immediately by Thunder Child.

In Forever Autumn, our heroic journalist makes his way to London in search of his fiancee. He fights his way through the packed crowds fleeing the besieged city, only to find Carrie’s house empty. She is gone, perhaps dead, and all hope seems lost. That is the part of the story carried by Forever Autumn.

Thunder Child finds the journalist amid a panicked mob trying to board the last steamships departing England. He doesn’t make it onto a boat — but he does see Carrie on the packed deck, just as three Martian walking machines stride out to sea, cutting off the steamboat’s only path to safety.

But the steamboats aren’t the only craft in the harbor. A single ironclad warship, the Thunder Child, confronts the Martians, and in a moment of good fortune the Thunder Child’s cannon manage to bring down a Martian war machine.

That moment in the song is powerful. There’s been so much loss, so much destruction — but finally, a victory. Cheers and shouting rise up from the mob still assembled at the dock. For a moment, there is hope. Humanity has hit back, and hit back hard.

Then the remaining Martians turn their heat rays on the valiant ironclad and send the glowing remains to the bottom. The steamboat escapes, and Carrie with it, but as the last warship sinks, it’s obvious humanity has lost not just the battle, but the war.

That is the song Thunder Child.

I’m happy to report that the new versions are every bit as powerful as the Jeff Wayne originals.

Once that moment passed, I was able to settle back and simply enjoy the new album.

There are a couple of chances taken by the producers that may emerge as the new ‘ulla’ cry. For example, at one point, the narrator dives into a stream to hide from the rampaging Martians and their heat rays. As he plunges in, the music becomes muffled, distorted precisely as it would be if the listener were suddenly submerged. My initial reaction was ‘sheesh, what’s wrong with my amp?’ but I’ve actually liked the moment on subsequent listenings.

If you’re a fan of the 1978 version, the new one is a worthy successor. If you’ve never heard of either, they’re both well worth the time.

Here are links to both versions:

The original 1978 War of the Worlds

The updated War of the Worlds: The New Generation


WILD WILD WEB

Here’s tonight’s Wild Wild Web link. Enjoy!

Wild Wild Web



















Introducing Three Mean Streets, the audiobook!

It’s out!

Three Mean Streets, the first title in the Markhat Files series, is now on sale in audiobook format.

You can get a copy from Audible or iTunes. The links are below, because I’m a helpful sort.

Three Mean Streets from Audible

Three Mean Streets from iTunes

The book comes in just shy of six hours. The narrator, Conner Goff, did a fantastic job reading as Markhat. I really believe you’ll enjoy it.

And here’s the cover, so you’ll know what to look for.

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Finally, as a gift for everyone who comes here and listens to me rant every Sunday, I’m going to post yet another link below. The publisher made 25 copies of the audiobook available for free — so if you get to the link in time, you can pay nothing for Three Mean Streets.

Free copies of Three Mean Streets

Oh, and if you do get a copy, and like the book? Please consider leaving a review. Books live or die by reviews.

Thanks to Conner Goff and Archieboy studios for giving Markhat and the gang voices!

WILD WILD WEB

Here’s your Wild Wild Web link for the week. Enjoy!

Wild Wild Web link