Frank's Guide to the Great Eclipse of 2017

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I suppose it was inevitable.

I'm losing my sense of wonder. Yes, I know the shadow of the Moon will sweep across North America on Monday, bringing a few moments of darkness to the middle of the day in a rare event swathed in splendor and wonder.

Truth is, if I was forced to choose between watching a new episode of 'Rick and Morty' and viewing the eclipse, I'd seat myself comfortably and silence my phone, because...Rick and Morty. Every time.

So where did I go wrong? Is my lack of awe the result of age, or creeping cynicism, or just sheer laziness?

Heck if I know. But, since so many people are genuinely excited about the eclipse, here are my tips and tricks for viewing it safely. Have fun, and remember, you cast a shadow too pretty much all the time. But hey, to each his own.

WHAT CAUSES AN ECLIPSE?

Scientists will tell you the eclipse is caused when the Moon passes between the Earth and the Sun, thus casting a moving shadow upon the land.

Sure. That's what they WANT you to believe. But as our friends the Flat Earthers teach us, this is poppycock and doggerel. What's really happening, you ask?

In reality, a great battle will take place between the Ascended Spoon-Flingers of Seventh Hell and the sinister celestial armies of the seraphim, the Nephilim, and the Nephilim Ladies' Auxiliary, whose combined forces are referred to in ancient texts as the 'Haints and Boogers.'  This epic clash between the forces of light and darkness will, for a few moments, blot out the Sun, plunging the Earth into chaos and confusion.

Oops. Okay, looks like the 'chaos and confusion' bit got here a few years early. Anyway.

As the battle rages, darkness will fall. Or, more accurately, move in a mathematically predictable path across the Earth's surface. Given the average human's grasp of celestial mechanics, this will be pretty scary. In ancient times, this roaming circle of midnight would be greeted with human sacrifice, with terror, with shouted imprecations toward cold, unfeeling gods who themselves fled from the malevolent darkness.

Today, it's met with mass purchases of overpriced and highly suspect eclipse glasses, which are manufactured with less care to technical precision than a midnight-shift batch of Gummi Bears. But hey, you KNOW you can trust those high-dollar cardboard sunshades, because Ebay is the foremost purveyor of medical devices, right?

But I digress. 

Far above the Flat Earth, a battle will rage. Unimaginable arcane forces will be hurled. Good shall strike at the dark heart of Evil, and Evil will look up from the comments section of YouTube and hurl something nasty involving snakes and hemorrhoids right back. Angels will fall. Demons will perish. You may experience brief pixelation events on your satellite TV, or persistent dryness of eyes and mouth. Small hotels in the path of totality will be blessed with massive but short-lived profits. Dogs will bark. Birds will call up unto the wounded sky, crying out in the ancient tongue, hey, knock it off, we're trying to lay eggs down here.

Such are the ways of the Old Ones. Quail, mortal! Fall to your knees, being careful not to spill your latte, for primal energies writhe and coil about you. 

Then, after about two minutes, everything will return to normal. Look, since worship of the Old Ones has shrunk pretty much to particularly spirited D&D games, budgets aren't what they once were. 

I may even look up from Rick and Morty, and honor the celestial marvel with an eye-roll and a sigh of annoyance at all the racket.

WHAT'S THE BEST WAY TO VIEW THE ECLIPSE?

The best time to view the eclipse is the next day, when you're bored, and have two minutes and access to the net. Just click on one of the 11,789,345 available eclipse videos and enjoy the spectacle from the comfort of your donut-encrusted lair. Wow, see that? It got dark. The sun's disc changed shape. Awesome. Hey look, kittens playing with a Gummi Bear!

But if you insist on viewing the eclipse as it occurs, BE SAFE. Those Dollar Tree visors are probably not what they're cracked up to be.

You know the Sun is a blazing ball of fusing hydrogen dumping out enough energy every second to incinerate a billion times a hundred billion pairs of beady little human eyes, right? That's fusion taking place up there. Even the Nephilim wear Kevlar robes when they decide to make a close pass. 

The best way to view this event is by projection, and you've already got all the stuff you need, right there in your kitchen. A cereal box. Heck, basically ANY cardboard box. A piece of aluminum foil. Tape. Scissors. Maybe a razor knife.

Here's how you do it.

1) Cut out one end the box. That's where the scissors come into play. Leave your blowtorch in the garage. If you're using a cereal box, I suggest cutting off the top, because it's a mess anyway. I suppose there are people who start their day by carefully opening the flaps and tabs and then closing them neatly after the Count Chocula is dispensed, but I've got things to do so I just tear into the thing with all the finesse of a rabid leopard. Anyway, remove one end. 

2) Replace the box end you just removed with a nice flat sheet of white paper. Typing paper? Cool. White cardboard? Equally effective. Just so it's flat.

3) You did empty the box of cereal, right? Okay. Good. Just checking, because not everyone thinks these things through, ARNOLD.

4) On the OTHER end of the box, tape it over, sealing it. You need two more openings, each about two inches square, one on each side. Precision isn't really important here. 

5) Okay, now it gets all technical. The opening on the RIGHT side of the lid will be the viewing port. Leave it alone.

6) Cover the opening on the LEFT side with a smooth-ish square of aluminum foil. Tape it down tight.

7) In the center of the foil, take a needle, a small nail, or a pin and carefully poke a small hole in the foil. The bigger the hole, the larger the image -- but for every increase in pinhole size, you add a bit of fuzziness to the projected image.

8) You're done. To view the eclipse safely, stand facing away from the sun. Hold the box up over your left shoulder and aim the pinhole at the Sun while looking through the viewing hole. Orient the box so that an image of the sun is projected on the far back of the box, right onto the white paper you taped there in Step 2.

9) Enjoy the raging battle in the Heavens. Those screams you may hear are those of the people who chose poorly when buying their silly eclipse glasses. 

Below are pictures of the box I made, as a visual reference.

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The projected image is probably going to be the size of a pencil eraser. If you're looking for a mind-blowing visual experience, quick, run out and drop three or four grand on high-end telescopes and solar viewing gear. Otherwise, you're messing around with boxes and tape, so don't expect too much.

The moments following the eclipse are the best time to pick a few pockets as the people permanently maimed by those bargain-bin eclipse glasses writhe in agony on the ground. 

Yep, it's a world of wonder out there. Darkness in the afternoon, big rocks moving in circles, strange shadows cast briefly upon the ground. What's next? Regular tides? Wind? 

Call me when sand dunes start break dancing. 

I leave you with a brief clip of a truly amazing confrontation between the ancient forces of Science and Evil. Beware, mortal, this is not for the faint of heart...

Rick Meets The Devil

 

 

 

 

 

Nazis. Seriously, Nazis.

Grocery shopping in America, circa 2019  

Grocery shopping in America, circa 2019

 

I'm about to break one of my own rules for blogging.

Rule #6 clearly states 'Never blog about politics. No good can come of it.'

That rule held true for many years. But that was back in a kinder, gentler time, when politics was, for the most part, a question of semantics. I believe there was a time when both parties here in the US honestly believed they were working for the good of the quasi-mythical Average Joe.

Debate that if you will, but it's all irrelevant now. Because now we have Nazis roaming the streets, plowing cars into crowds, and even drafting policy in the White House (Bannon and Miller both have strong ties to the so-called alt-right; that's a fact, not an opinion). 

There. I said it. Maybe it pissed a few people off. But at this point, I just don't care. 

Like it or not, modern America is becoming the Weimar Republic. And we all know how that turned out. 

Don't believe me? Look outside. Swastikas are waving. Rallies and violence are sprouting like fungi. The net is festering with a growing undercurrent of poorly-spelled, grammatically-suspect hate. Worse, this hate has learned to shave, put on a tie, and give interviews that only serve to normalize the whole degenerate movement.

And it is degenerate. Anybody that has to look to the color of their skin to feel superior to anyone else is a moron of the lowest order. No. Let me amend that -- anyone who has to feel superior to anyone else is a moron. We're not being graded by color, or religion.  We're not being graded at all. There's no actual need to put a boot in anyone else's face. No black man or woman has ever taken a thing from me. Neither have gay folks. Neither have Jewish people, or anyone else.

But that's all very esoteric. Let's make things a bit more concrete.

Heather Hyer is dead, after being run down by a Nazi in a car. On an American street. 

She's DEAD. Not inconvenienced or injured. Dead. Because somehow America has become a place where Nazis and other assorted flag-waving lunatics are crawling out from beneath their damp rocks in increasing numbers. 

Which is why I'm breaking Rule 6. 

It's up to those of us who aren't xenophobic racist nutjobs to stand up and make our voices heard too. It's up to us to make it clear to the cockroaches that, for all its flaws, America is in fact a melting pot, that we are all brothers and sisters, that hate has no place out in the bright light of day.

So screw Rule 6. I won't be counted as another silent German, who saw what was coming but decided to remain silent and hope things worked themselves out somehow. History teaches us that's too big a risk to take.

Stay safe out there, friends. Hate and rage is in the air, hanging like a fog composed of gasoline. The wrong spark, at the wrong time, and we could all be engulfed.

 

 

 

 

 

Yet Another Markhat Cover Sneak Peek!

A couple of weeks ago, I posted the cover for THREE MEAN STREETS.

Today, I'm going to reveal the covers for the next books in the Markhat series revival, HOLD THE DARK and THE BANSHEE'S WALK.

For anyone not familiar with the series, HOLD THE DARK is the book in which Markhat meets Darla. He also meets Evis, the bookish gangster vampire, who becomes a series regular as well.

Darla leaped into the series like she'd been waiting impatiently all along. I was still on the fence in the matter of any romantic involvement for Markhat, but any indecision vanished the moment Markhat was ushered into her tiny office at the Velvet.

If you looked at the very broad outline I'd prepared for the book, Darla was there simply to provide a few clues and some light comic relief. But she was having none of that, outlines be damned, and within a couple of chapters I realized my detective series was now a party of two. 

Here's the moment Markhat and Darla meet. Markhat has been hired to find and bring home a seamstress named Martha Hoobin. Markhat's search for clues takes him to the Velvet, a renowned house of negotiable affected where Martha made clothes. 

From HOLD THE DARK:

    I eased my pace and counted monstrous trees. I passed beneath sixteen scarred blood-oaks before reaching the intersection of Broadway and Hent. And there, at the corner, loomed the Velvet—three slate-roofed, glass-windowed, brass-worked, brick-walled stories of steamy adolescent fantasies come absolutely positively true.
    The big oak front doors faced south, toward me. The Velvet was set back from the street a stone's throw, surrounded by lush meadow-grass, bubbling fountains, and knee-high beds of fireflowers. A flight of wide, shallow marble stairs led from the cobblestone walkway to the brass-worked oaken doors. A single bored ogre leaned against the door, his arms folded across his chest, his eyes ahead and unblinking. 
    You seldom see ogres dressed in anything more than a sarong and sandals. The Velvet's doorman, though, wore a long-cut red tail-coat, black dress pants, black boots and white silk shirt with ruffles at the sleeves. All specially made and generously cut, of course, to accommodate his bulging ogre muscles and furry ogre frame.
    I emerged from the shade of the last blood-oak and marched toward the Velvet. The ogre's wet brown gaze picked me up as I darted across Hent, and he watched me every step of the way after.
    I eased onto the cobblestone walk, took a deep breath. The air smelled of fireflowers and a faint gentle perfume, and it was cooler there than even in the blood-oak’s shade.
    I ambled through the flower-beds, halted at the foot of the stair. The ogre hadn’t moved.
    I nodded and lowered my gaze briefly in greeting. Which may have been a mistake. I doubted that the Velvet’s clients were terribly concerned with matters of ogreish etiquette. But it never hurts to make friends.
    He didn’t blink, or return my eye-dip.
    I shrugged. “May I enter?”
    He let my words hang for a moment. Then, with a great show of elaborate grace, he doffed his three-cornered, feathered hat, stepped out of my path, and motioned me to the doors with a grand, easy sweep of his clawed four-fingered hand.
    “Enner, ’ordship,” he growled, grinning around his tusks. “Enner.”
    The doors opened as I hit the top step, and then I was inside, leaving sarcastic ogres and the clatter and rumble of downtown Rannit behind.
    The doors shut. You know the Velvet doors are shut because all the street noise stops. You take a breath and the scent of the beds of fireflowers is gone, but something sweeter and more subtle rides the air.
    My jaw dropped. I’d been inside the High House, right after the War, but the Velvet put the Regent’s digs to shame.
    I was alone for perhaps ten heartbeats. I breathed the sweet air, gawked at the gleaming marble tiles, the dark rich walnut paneled walls and the general glowing opulence of the place.
    The gold-plated coat-hooks by the door were probably worth more than my entire building, fifteen blocks away.
    One of the three tall white doors on the far side of the foyer opened, and a woman entered. It was then I realized the Velvet kept a sorcerer in its hire.
    He or she knew the business. The woman that approached was absolutely the most beautiful creature I’d ever seen, human, Elvish or otherwise.
    She glided to stand before me. She was blonde and tall and had eyes the color of the high noon sky in the country.
    “How may we serve you, sir?”
    I mopped sweat off my brow, and I had to clear my throat twice before words would come.
    “You could turn down the charm a few notches. I’m not here as a client. I’m a finder, looking for one of your associates. Her name is Martha Hoobin. I’m told she was a seamstress here.”
    The room tilted and I jerked, as though the floor had dropped an inch or two.
    When I looked back up, she was still there, still beautiful, but I wasn’t mentally counting my life savings and wondering if all of it would buy me an hour.
    “Hooga,” she called out, not to me. “Wait here.”
    The twin to the ogre at the door came thump-thumping from behind an alcove concealed by thick red drapes. He moved to stand at my side.
    The woman turned and retreated, gliding through her door without a glance or word of farewell.
    My heart broke. I took a deep breath, mopped more sweat away and turned toward the well-dressed ogre.
    “Greetings, Hooga,” I said, dipping my gaze. “I am Markhat. How do you stand that mojo, all the time?”
    Hooga didn’t reply, but he did dip his gaze and grin.
    Maybe I’d made a friend after all.
    The doors at the far end of the room opened again, and another woman stepped out.
    The blonde lady had floated in, all promise and lace and gauze. This new arrival was a brunette, clad in a high-necked brown shirt and comfortable-looking black pants. She was tall and thin, and she was not smiling.
    The mojo lingered, though, and it did its best to turn my thoughts from purity, which meant it was reduced to the arcane equivalent of whispering things like “see how she wears that pencil seductively behind her right ear” and “those pants are rather tight, in a loose sort of way, are they not?”
    She crossed the foyer, her sensible black shoes tap-tapping a quick cadence on the marble floor. She got within a pace of me, halted, smiled and stuck out her hand—not flat, palm down for milord to kiss, but held out to shake.
    “Hello,” she said, in a good strong voice. “I’m Darla. I keep the books here. Wendy tells me you’re asking questions about Martha Hoobin.”
    I took her hand and shook it.
    “I am. My name is Markhat. I’m a finder. Martha’s brothers hired me.”
    “They waited long enough.” She freed my hand. “Shall we talk in my office?”
    I nodded, and she looked at Hooga and dipped her gaze. “Thank you, Hooga,” she said. “I don’t think Mister Markhat will need a beating today. I’ll call out if he changes his mind.”
    Hooga snuffled a chuckle and shuffled off to his post. Darla turned her big brown gaze back to me and motioned toward the leftmost door.
    “If you’ll come this way.”
    “Gladly,” I replied. My mouth was still nearly too dry to talk. She smiled at me and set off, leading the way.
    The white door opened after she tapped out a complicated knock and mouthed a long harsh word. No one was on the other side.
    The door shut itself behind us, and I heard it click as the spell locked it down.
    “You’ve got more spells here than the High House,” I said. Our steps fell quiet on thick red carpet. We walked not quite shoulder to shoulder in a long and narrow hall.
    “They cost a fortune, but so does trouble,” she replied, as we ambled along. The hall was high-ceilinged, lit only by lamps set every ten paces or so along the wall. Doors showed here and there, and moving light at bottoms of some, but absolutely not a sound. “You’re not exactly being held in thrall though. Most men couldn’t resist Wendy and the conjure at once.”
    She wasn’t looking at me, so I mopped sweat and wiped my hand on my pant leg.
    “I was in the Army for eight years. I’ve had more hexes cast on me than the Court Stone. They don’t stick very well anymore.”
    Darla laughed. “I’ll have to tell Wendy. She was nearly in tears when she found me. No one has ever noticed the conjure. She thinks she’s losing her touch.”
    I shook my head. “Not at all,” I said. “Tell her that my priestly vows forbade me to view her in other than a pure and sisterly light.”
    She halted at a door, turned, put her hand on the plain brass knob. “Do come in, Father. Don’t mind the clutter.”
    She went, and I followed.
    Darla’s office was small—about, in fact, the size of mine. She had a battered oak desk that showed scorch marks on one side, a rolling leather-backed chair that squeaked when she moved it, a cracked crystal flower vase for holding pencils and a dented brass spittoon set to the right of the desk for a wastebasket. A magelamp hung from the ceiling on a plain steel chain, the walls were lined with bookshelves and the bookshelves were lined with ledgers. Each ledger bore a neat handwritten label—a string of nonsense numbers and a date, written out in a neat, precise hand that I knew immediately was Darla’s.
    Her desk was covered with ledger sheets and a pile of ragged-edged store receipts and one of those newfangled adding dinguses that the Army introduced a few years back—colored beads on wires in a square wood frame.
    A second chair faced Darla’s desk. Like the one in my office, it lacked wheels, and was probably intended to provide a seat without making its occupant so comfortable that they overstayed their welcome.
    Other than a new black coat on a hook on the back of her door, that was it.
    Darla smiled, moved behind her desk, sat and motioned for me to do the same. “I’ll help however I can. Ask away.”
    I sat. “You know Martha Hoobin.” I knew she did. She’d even pronounced her name correctly—Mart-ha, not Martha—out in the foyer.
    “She’s our best seamstress,” replied Darla.
    “Seamstress,” I said, with no particular emphasis. Darla laughed. The magelamp’s warm gold light flashed in her eyes.
    “Martha had a gift for sewing, and an eye for clothes. The outfit Wendy was wearing—that was one of Martha’s. An early one, in fact. She’s improved since then.”
    “How long has she been with the Velvet?”
    “Six years. We were friends,” she added. “I’ll miss her.”
    I nodded. “So you don’t think she’s coming back?”
    “Would you be here, if she were just away on holiday? Would she have left her brothers without a word if she ever meant to return?”
    “I don’t know her, but from what I’ve heard, probably not.”
    Darla shrugged, and the twinkle went out of her eyes. “She left without collecting her pay. Do you find that unusual?”
    “I do.” I meant it. The Hoobins hadn’t mentioned that. And while I have seen people walk away from money, I’ve only seen them do it when they’re terrified. Finding that terror. That’s the tricky part.
    I leaned back in my chair and sighed. “You’re her friend. So tell me. Who is she? Who is Martha Hoobin?”
    Darla leaned forward. She took the pencil from behind her ear and began to doodle on a scrap of green ledger-paper, and I doubt she even realized she was doing it.
    “Martha.” She frowned as she scribbled. “Martha, well, Martha is a Hoobin.”
    I laughed.
    “You’ve met her brothers?”
    “All ten tons of them,” I replied. “Stalwart lads, each one. You could cut the air of their rural stability with a knife.”
    Darla nodded. “That’s a big part of Martha. Work hard, never complain, be polite—”
    “Whoa,” I said, gently. “I got all that from the brothers. What I want to know from you are the things they didn’t know, or wouldn’t tell.”
    “The deep dark secrets all us girls share you mean?”
    “The very ones.”
    Darla frowned. “Damn.”
    “Oh no. Surely you don’t mean there aren’t any.”
    She shrugged. “Martha was a saint.” She noticed the pencil for the first time, and put it down on the desk, neatly aligned beside the ledger. “She didn’t drink. She didn’t carouse. She sewed, she fed birds in the Park at lunch, she loved violin music and all the girls liked her.” Darla spread her hands. “Hooga and Hooga brought her ogre hash every Armistice Day,” she said. “You know anybody ogres actually like?”
    I didn’t. I nodded no.
    “She ate it, Markhat. If it tasted like it smelled, it was awful. But Hooga and Hooga were standing there watching, and she thanked them and tore off a chunk and ate it right there. Ate Gods know what just so she wouldn’t hurt an ogre’s feelings.” She sighed. “That’s Martha Hoobin. Good to the bone. Now where does a person like that run away to?”
    “I don’t know. Yet. And it’s entirely possible she didn’t leave of her own volition.”
    “True. But Martha wasn’t stupid. You wouldn’t catch her roaming the streets after Curfew, or counting her pay out on the street. Don’t think she was some kind of wide-eyed New People bumpkin, finder. She hadn’t been in Rannit long, but she knew the lay of the land.”
    I leaned forward. The mojo still whispered suggestively in my ears, and I caught myself breathing in her faint, subtle perfume and admiring the way her face moved when she spoke.
    “Let’s talk about men. Did Martha have any I should know about?”
    Darla laughed, showed her teeth. “Aside from the Hoogas, no, she had none. The Hoobins are Balptists. Ever heard of that?”
    “Balptists? Nope. I assume it’s a faith?”
    “It is. The New People brought it with them. Balptists marry Balptists, or not at all. Martha was opting for ‘not at all’.”
    I lifted an eyebrow, kept my mouth shut.
    “It wasn’t men Martha had a problem with,” said Darla. “Just husbands. I think a lifetime of picking up after her brothers left the thought of doing the same for a husband less than appealing.”
    “I gather Martha pretty much ran the Hoobin household.”
    “She cooked, she cleaned, she handled the money,” replied Darla. “And I suspect she handled it well. Have you ever been inside the Hoobin house?”
    “Not yet.”
    “You’ll be surprised. They’ve done well. The Regent may have done them a favor, flooding their farms.”
    “That’s the kind of favor the Regent is best at.”
    “You’re a cynic,” she replied. “I like that.” She picked up her pencil and twirled it around. “Tell you what. I’ve already asked around, but no one knew anything about Martha. But I’ll ask again. And I’ll see if I can round up any of her things that might still be in the sewing room.”
    “That would be helpful. I’ll come back around in a day or so.”
    “Don’t bother. The Hoogas will be told not to let you back in.” She lifted a hand before I could speak. “I don’t run the place, finder. The management won’t admit pesky finders who set Wendy to crying and leave without spending a fortune. You’re a waste of good conjure, you are. Don’t know rare beauty when you see it.” She smiled when she said it, leaned forward and batted those big brown eyes. The lingering charm gave me one last good flush, and a fresh layer of sweat. Darla leaned back in her chair and laughed again.
    “Surely I can wait outside until you head home some night?” I asked, with as much dignity as I could muster. “Or will the Hoogas have orders to smite me on the street?”
    “That depends on your manners and your deportment,” she replied. “Keep that in mind. Anyway, I might just come and see you. You have an office, I assume?”
    “I do.” I made a note to carry a clean handkerchief, when next I called on Darla. I sweated more in the Velvet than I had on all-day marches. “Down on Cambrit. It isn’t the best part of town. If you come, come early. You can wait at Mama Hog’s if I’m out.”
    “Cambrit’s not so bad,” she said. “And I’ve heard of Mistress Hog.” She gave me a sly sideways look. “She your lady love?”
    Blame it on the mojo, but a mercifully fleeting image of Mama Hog wrapped in a gauzy nightgown ran hobnailed through my mind.
    I stood. “Miss Darla,” I said. Mama Hog waved gauzy veils at me from the dimmest corners of my mind. “They don’t make a charm that strong.”
    She stood too. “I’m sorry,” she said, offering her hand, to shake. “About the mojo. I just couldn’t resist.”
    I took her hand. It was warm and dry and her fingers slipped easily through mine, like we’d held hands a thousand times before.
    She spoke a nonsense word, and I felt the last of the mojo slip off my shoulders and well and truly fall away.
    “Now you’ve got nothing to blame but the innate depravity of your soul. Still think I’m pretty?”
    I gobbled something complimentary and let go her hand. We stepped out into the hall, hadn’t gone three steps before Wendy popped out of a door and pretended she didn’t know we were there.
    Wendy had an extensive wardrobe, though it didn’t appear to take up much room. She turned, spoke, batted her eyes and was about to join us when Darla grabbed my hand again and gave her a glare. “Ease off, sister,” she said. “This one is mine. Aren’t you, honey-chunks?”
    Wendy giggled. I left, and the Hoogas even dipped their gazes in farewell.
    And—God help me—that was Darla.  
 

And now, the new cover!

I love the film noir look, and the retro fonts. Again, the folks at ADSmith did a phenomenal job.

Best of all, though, is the look they're exchanging. Welcome aboard, Darla. 

THE BANSHEE'S WALK

The next entry is the series is THE BANSHEE'S WALK. This adventure takes the gang beyond Rannit's city walls, to an artist's retreat deep in a forest rumored to be haunted. 

Hired by the eccentric but wealthy Lady Werewilk, Markhat believes he's on the trail of greedy relatives bent on making a grab for the Lady's sprawling estate. But despite his initial skepticism, he is quickly forced to admit that the woods are in fact haunted, and the legendary banshee is all too real. 

The tiny banshee also becomes a series regular. Markhat dubs her Buttercup when they first meet, hoping to win her trust with a hunk of hot buttered cornbread.

Here's the scene in which Markhat first encounters Buttercup, alone in a cornfield:

From THE BANSHEE'S WALK:

    The corn rustled. Leaves and limbs made dry furtive noises overhead. I imagined all manner of creeping horrors, slinking up behind me.
    I’d had my back to the barns for maybe three long minutes—just enough time for Marlo and Gertriss to reach the House—when I heard a twig snap behind me.
    I judged the distance to be maybe twenty feet.
    And that, I decided, was plenty close enough.
    My hand was already in my pocket. I moved it slowly.
    I turned around. Slowly. Calmly. In my outstretched right hand was a slice of warm corn bread with a chunk of butter still melting in the middle.
    And there she was.
    Just standing there.
    A banshee.
    Every hair on every spot of my body stood on end.
    She appeared to be a tiny woman, naked save for a liberal coating of dirt and spider-webs. I don’t mean a woman of small stature—I mean a human woman who had grown to full size and then been somehow shrunk down to a stature befitting a child. I’ve seen trick mirrors at Yule houses that can either shrink or enlarge reflections. The banshee might have stepped out of the former.
    Except for perhaps her ears. In the dim light, and under all that matted hair, I couldn’t be sure, but it looked as though her ears might be pointed, as those of the Elves were said to have been.
    Her hair was the color of dusty hay. It was wild and matted, encrusted with spider webs and leaves and twigs. Her eyes, though, were big and bright and blue.
    I looked into them. The ghost of the huldra let out a scream that nearly brought my hands to my ears. But it made me look away, and that spared me the experience that had nearly overwhelmed Gertriss.
    I fixed my gaze on the tiny woman’s filthy chin. Her face was a mask of indifference.
    No fear, no anger, no emotion whatsoever. She just stood there, halted in mid-step, watching me with those wide blue eyes.
    “I’ve never met a person of your lineage before,” I said. “What do I call you?”
    She tilted her head and eyed me quizzically, but neither spoke nor howled.
    “My name is Markhat. Do you have a name?”
    Again, a blank stare. A vagrant breeze arose, and carried a whiff of her scent to me. I had to fight not to gag. I’d have to tell Mama banshees weren’t strong proponents of bathing.
    My banshee kept staring. But she still wasn’t running.
    I laid the corn bread and the napkin down on the ground and took three long steps back away from it. The corn bread was mashed a bit, but the butter had melted into it and the smell was heavenly. “Well, I’ll call you Buttercup for now. Is that all right with you? May I call you Buttercup?”
    I heard voices from the House as Marlo and Gertriss brought out the servants. The banshee heard them too.
    She just—left. Vanished. I saw only the briefest suggestion of movement, and then there was just an empty spot where she’d stood. No footfalls, no sound at all. I couldn’t even guess at the direction she might have taken.
    I didn’t even notice, at first, that the hot buttered corn bread was gone too.
    She’d left the napkin, but not a crumb.
    I scanned the shadows.
    “Good night, Buttercup.”
    An owl hooted. A couple of dogs began to bark. People and torches began to fill the night.
    “Next time, I’ll bring a biscuit.”
    
 

For this book, we decided to let Buttercup take center stage. After all, the title is THE BANSHEE'S WALK, so why not feature the banshee?

My only criteria were that she not be overly sexualized. Yes, she is clad in nothing but dirt, leaves, and spiderwebs when we meet her in the book, but she's also an innocent being despite her undetermined but certainly advanced age. I wanted her to be portrayed as mysterious and ethereal, and again I got exactly what I wanted. 

So there you have it! Soon I'll be posting images for the rest of the series, so stay tuned!

 

 

 

 

 

New Releases and Markhat Cover Art Sneak Peek!

Why, hello there.

Yes, it's been a while. But I'm still here! Work on the Markhat revival is continuing, and I'm thrilled about the new covers.

We'll get to that in a moment. First, I want to tell you about a sale over at Bear Mountain Books. From now until July 25th, you can get some great deals on a slew -- yes a slew -- of books by some very talented authors. My friend Maria Schneider is among them.

So if you're eager for some great book bargains, and who isn't, click your way over to the Bear Mountain Books blog by hitting the link below:

New Release Sale at Bear Mountain!

While you're there, please consider grabbing Maria's titles. She writes excellent fantasy books, and three titles are featured here -- Fairy Bite, The Dragons of Wendal, and the Dragons of Wendal box set. I'm a fan of Maria's, and I guarantee you you won't be disappointed.

I also promised you a sneak peak at a Markhat cover.

I'm putting the first three Markhat novellas into an anthology entitled THREE MEAN STREETS. It will contain Dead Man's Rain, The Mister Trophy, and The Cadaver Client. The novel series will then start, with HOLD THE DARK being the first.

So here it is -- the new cover for the soon-to-be-released new edition of THREE MEAN STREETS.

 

I love it. It's a departure from the cover style of the original Samhain edition. We're going for a consistent look for all the new covers, and they'll all have a film noir edge. 

The folks at ADsmith are doing all my new covers. So far I've seen THREE MEAN STREETS, HOLD THE DARK, and THE BANSHEE'S WALK. All are excellent, and yeah, I'll be posting more sneak peeks in the days to come. 

That's all for now. Stay tuned!

 

 

 

 

 

Markhat News

Darla says hello!

Darla says hello!

Well, boys and girls, bipeds and echinoderms, Markhat will be returning soon, with all new covers and a slight change to one title.

Here's the plan. The first three Markhat entries -- Dead Man's Rain, The Cadaver Client, and The Mister Trophy -- will be combined into a single book entitled Three Mean Streets. 

Now, when I was with Samhain, they issued a print-only anthology of these same titles as The Markhat Files. There was no ebook edition for this, although each title was available as a stand-alone ebook.

This time around, there will be an ebook entry for Three Mean Streets. And a print version later, too. I'm changing the title of this one because the series has become known as the Markhat Files, and thus the old title can be a bit confusing.

The rest of the titles will remain unchanged. Below is the list of the books, and the order I suggest for best reading.

  • THREE MEAN STREETS
  • HOLD THE DARK
  • THE BANSHEE'S WALK
  • THE BROKEN BELL
  • BROWN RIVER QUEEN
  • THE FIVE FACES
  • THE DARKER CARNIVAL
  • WAY OUT WEST (currently on sale; here's a link)

My main concern with the re-issue is that people who bought the Samhain books might accidentally buy the new versions because they have new covers. I hope that doesn't happen; I will make sure a notice is included in the sales page information for the various booksellers.

The new covers are in the works. I haven't seen any of them yet, so I'm extremely curious about how they'll look. I offered to provide shirtless photos of myself for use as a cover model, but oddly enough haven't received a reply yet. 

The pricing will also change. Every book will sell for $2.99, and I'll be running free promos for Three Mean Streets on a regular basis. Prices for the print editions will be higher, naturally, but I will offer them for the lowest price Amazon will allow.

Just as a side note to other authors who might be reading, I won't be enrolling in KDP Select or whatever they're calling the program these days that pays you by the number of pages read. That smacks, to me, of being paid in exposure, and that's another rant entirely. I will gladly make ebook editions free to people who buy the print books.

So, that's where things stand now. Won't be much longer. 

Thanks for sticking with me!

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Agent Query Letter

Sitting down and pounding out 60,000 words or more is hard enough.

Sure, you can simplify the process by pounding out the same word, but the market for such works is limited. Hey, dinosaur porn is a thing, so I'm not saying the market for 'Repetitions of Oatmeal' is nonexistent -- I'm just saying pitching the book is going to be a vertically uphill climb.

As hard as writing a novel is, writing an effective agent query letter is harder.

You've got about five paragraphs, maybe 300 words, to distill your wit and wisdom down into something that will lift you above the other 30 or more query letters the agent will slog through with bleary eyes during their first cup of coffee. Every word is crucial, every sentence must be a glimmering thing of rare beauty. There is no room for error, even of the tiniest sort.

Writing a good query letter is akin to walking through a minefield. 

Are you scared yet, Grasshopper?

Well, don't be, because I'm here to help. 

Now, you're a smart egg armed with 'the Google' and years of experience in the publishing industry (i.e., you drink a lot). So you've already perused a dozen or more articles with titles such as 'How To Write An Effective Agent Query Letter' and 'Query Letters That Made Slugs Just Like You Rich' and even 'How To Briefly Conceal Your Towering Incompetence Behind a Throne of Lies.' You've made notes. The latest version of Word is open, blank page beckoning. The voices in your head are even silent, largely in anticipation of the delicious screams of agony they know are imminent.

Even so, may I offer a final few words of advice, gained at great personal cost?

Good.

Here are a few suggestions concerning tactics NOT to employ in your agent query letter.

  • Bribery is a no-no. Especially if your sole remaining financial asset is a powder-blue Chevrolet El Camino. I don't care what they go for an eBay. Strike that sentence, and you've got an extra 35 words to play with.
  • Claiming you are the next Harry Potter is a dumb move, because A) Harry is a fictional character, thus ruining the metaphor, and B) the agent started crying ten letters ago after seeing that six times already. Show some imagination. Game of Thrones is the new black.
  • Sly insinuations that the agent will spend their golden years kicking themselves out of remorse and chagrin if they pass on your project just won't work. You're the one tooling around in an El Camino, remember? Stick to writing fantasy, and leave the financial planning to people who doesn't consider 'under the couch cushions' a retirement fund. Just saved you another 60 words.
  • Your offer to appear at the agent's office and present the theme and story arc of your novel through the magic of interpretive dance must be omitted RIGHT NOW. Yeah, okay, the leotards set you back eighty bucks, but like the manager at Golden Corral said as he was tossing you out, 'this is a family restaurant, sir.'
  • Comparing your book to the latest best-seller by claiming to have ghost-written the latest best seller is bold and audacious. It's also fraud. Stop that.
  • Animated fonts, while clever, are seldom appreciated. Save that for correspondence with the IRS. 
  • Don't follow up your initial query with a query query, especially after a five-minute wait. Agents are busy people, and she may require up to an hour to reply to you.

The points above aside, below are a few suggestions and tips which will help you compose a sure-fire query letter.

  • Stick to standard business letter format. Place your name and address in the upper right hand corner, being careful to use a name which won't trigger any FBI fugitive search engines. 
  • Use the proper salutation and complementary closing. Never refer to a  potential agent as 'Bitsy Bookums.' Never end a business letter with 'Best, Georgia Correction Facility Inmate Number 2345235' even if that is legally correct.
  • Keep the tone formal and polite. Remember, the agent has a job, and an office, and expects a certain modicum of professionalism. You're a writer, which -- stop laughing! -- look, you should be able to PRETEND to be a functioning adult for ten minutes. Channel your inner Yoda and get to work.
  • Try to incorporate something of the tone of the book in the letter. But do NOT extend this thought to writing the query letter in the viciously belligerent persona of the book's villain. She got that letter already, and it wasn't funny then, either.
  • Be sure to include a word count. In plain old base ten arithmetic. Showing off your knowledge of hexadecimal by stating your book is 1396A pages long when it's really 80,234 words may be literally accurate, but is not going to win you any points.

Once you've sent the query letter, there's nothing to do but wait for a response. Lay in a sufficient stock of writer's foods -- Hot Pockets, oversized cartons of big box store Ding Dong knockoffs, and pure grain alcohol -- and wait. Experts agree that hitting refresh on your email page speeds responses by up to 9F# percent, and shaving is a socially-mandated form of oppression designed by the Lizard People to keep humanity bound to a crippling regimen of time-consuming personal hygiene.

It is never acceptable to follow up on a query by leaving voice mail messages which consist solely of muted sobbing. Hiring private detectives for clandestine observation of the agency is also a waste of money. 

You may be plagued with visions of the agent reading your query aloud to other agents, where the reading is met with gales of derisive laughter. These visions are entirely true, and the laughter is happening RIGHT NOW. Have another Ding Dong.

Next week, a two-part entry -- how to write an effective novel synopsis, and dealing with self-inflicted blunt-force trauma.

Keep writing, fellow writers.

Image at top: ID 28076311 © Gemenacom | Dreamstime.com

MidSouthCon News, and Ghost Stuff

Way Out West won the 2017 Darrell Award for best novel at MidSouthCon 35! Which was quite an honor, considering the stiff competition this year. If you haven't read the other nominees, you ought to give them a try. 

The Brotherhood of the Wheel, by R.S. Belcher, is the book with everything -- truckers, magic, the Knights Templar, and murder. Too, Mr. Belcher is a cool guy, and I really enjoyed meeting him at the awards.

Also up was Eagle in Exile by Alan Smale. If you enjoy alternate history sagas, you're in luck here. Alan's series explores the Roman expansion into North America, in a world in which the Empire is still going strong in 1218. Fans of Harry Turtledove will love this! Alan and I were a panel or two together, and he's a heck of a guy.

This MidSouthCon was, as always a blast. I didn't get as many pictures as I planned to, due to a busy schedule, but it was great seeing old friends and making new ones.

To everyone who signed up for some free books -- you will get them! I got sick as soon as we got home, and was in bed until last Thursday. So I'm a little behind, but you are not for gotten.

GHOST IN THE BOX

Switching gears for a moment, I'd like to introduce you to my latest DIY ghost gadget. Behold, the the hardware store miracle that is <drumroll please> the Fogbox.

Simply put, the Fogbox is a transparent, lighted enclosure into which an inert gaseous particulate is introduced. The Fogbox is then sealed, to prevent airflow disturbances from outside the container. The small trigger objects inside the container are then monitored.

The 'fog' shown in these images is merely a fraction of what would be used in a real investigation. Firing up the whole fogmaking apparatus also means cleaning it and all that afterward, and my internal Sloth Circuit is still stuck in lazy in the aftermath of my recent cold. But you get the idea.

After I witnessed first-hand the movement of a child's ball and the shaking of a nearby door at the Thomas House, I wondered just how force was applied to the ball and the door. That's how the Fogbox was born. Surround the toys with a thick but visible mist. If an object is moved, maybe the mist surrounding it will also be disturbed somehow. Would a ghostly hand be made visible? Could an area of influence be photographed and identified?

Heck if I know. But it's worth a try. 

Now, I know what some of you are thinking -- that's just a WalMart 10 gallon aquarium with LED lightstrips affixed to a plywood lid. Well, you're right, that's just what is is. But the lid was carefully cut, and the seals are airtight, after the addition of rubber gaskets. The gas is introduced through the valve on the right. The valve on the left allows un-gassed air to escape as the tank is filled. Both valves are closed once the fog fills the box. The big box and switch on the top houses the batteries. There's also a DC power connector, though I prefer to run on battery power to eliminate possible electrical interference by the wall plug.

The bottom of the aquarium is mirrored to enhance the 'glow' from the fog. 

Total cost? I didn't count everything up, but I figure around 50 bucks for the box, and another 40 for the stage fog machine. 

Expect a report and pics from a real site investigation soon!

PAIRANORMAL

 

I spent a couple of hours on the air Friday night, as the guest on TMV Cafe's radio show Pairanormal. Hosts Annie and EW and I had a blast talking about a number of topics, from hauntings to modern conspiracy theory. The show will be up on the Pairanormal Archives soon; you can check for it here.

Finally, a pic of my Tesla radio, because a listener in the Pairanormal chat room asked for it. Here ya go! It's a creey little rig, which works best late at night. There's some scary Children of the Corn radio going on out there, haunting the emptiness with that old time religion...

 

 

 

 

 

 

Something a Little Different

 

MidSouthCon 35 is coming up, and I'll be there. 

I'm on several panels, and of course I'll be at the Darrell Awards ceremony, as WAY OUT WEST was nominated this year. You can check out the full schedule here -- hope to see some of you there.

I'll also be on Pro Row this year. For anyone unfamiliar with con-speak, pro row is a hallway outfitted with tables. Seated behind the tables are authors, usually in various states of hangovers. The purpose of Pro Row is to allow parents to bring their children face-to-face with actual writers. That way, when the parents issue dire warnings to the kids against ever taking up fiction as a career, the sunken, hollow faces of the writers add conviction to the admonition. It's a public service, really. 

Naturally, the writers also hope to sell a book or two, and introduce their works to new fans.

I've done Pro Row a number of times, and it's always fun. 

This year, though, I find myself in an odd position. My publisher is out of business, and my stocks of printed books are down to the single complete set with which I simply cannot part.

So what's a writer on Pro Row to do, if he is (temporarily) out of paper books to sell?

My first thought was to simply hide under the table. But the hotel staff was adamant I never do that again. The tables won't support my weight, so pole-dancing is out. 

So I'll be giving away free ebook copies of the Markhat Files series to anyone who asks. Free, gratis, no charge. Give me an email address and a preferred format, and I'll send you the whole series, just for the asking.

Why?

Why not? I'm between publishers right now. Maybe I'll pick up a few new fans. 

I'm bringing along some of my handmade art to decorate the table. The steampunk proton pack will be there, and Meralda's latching wand, and probably a vampire-built revolver or two. 

So look me up, folks. Get free stuff. I might also hold a raffle for a signed copy of a Markhat book, if I can scare one up between now and then.

See you at the Con!

Not Dead Yet

© Cherokee4 | Dreamstime.com

© Cherokee4 | Dreamstime.com

The title of this post comes straight from Monty Python. You know the scene, as the dead wagons collect plague victims, and one of the 'dead' keeps protesting, only to be thumped on the head and carted off.

That's been an excellent summary of the last few weeks. Watching the Markhat titles vanish, one by one, from Amazon was gut-wrenching. 

But that's part of the business. Publishers do close shop, now and then. It's not the end of the world, though it certainly feels that way as your books poof into oblivion with a single refresh of the page.

I am engaged in a number of efforts to bring the series back as soon as I can. Whether they will return with a new publisher, or as self-published titles, remains to be seen. I am working as fast as I can.

In the meantime, if you're a fan and you missed a book in the series, just email me. I'll send you a free one, in whatever format works best for you. It might take a day or two, but I'll get it out. It will have a plain text cover, but at least you'll be able to complete the series. My email address is franktuttle at franktuttle dot com (put in the right symbols, you know the drill). 

And of course you can still buy WAY OUT WEST by clicking below. 

WAY OUT WEST on Amazon as ebook.

WAY OUT WEST as print book.

The Mug and Meralda books weren't affected, either. 

ALL THE PATHS OF SHADOW ebook

ALL THE PATHS OF SHADOW print

ALL THE TURNS OF LIGHT ebook

ALL THE TURNS OF LIGHT print

I'll keep everyone posted here with any relevant news.

Thanks to everyone who emailed or messaged with expressions of support. Those meant a lot. 

In other news, it's nearly time for my annual pilgrimage to MidSouthCon, where WAY OUT WEST is up for a Darrell Award. If you're there too, look me up! I'm on a bunch of panels and I'll be out and about the rest of the time. This year, I won't be cosplaying -- I just didn't have the heart or the time to come up with a new costume, and the weight of the steampunk proton pack I've been taking is just too much. I came home from last year's Con a full three inches shorter than I was when I left, and my spine made funny crunching noises for weeks after wearing it. 

You can check out the schedules and events for the MidSouthCon on their webpage, which is here.

So stop by and buy me a drink, I mean, see me and chat. 

See you at the Con!

 

 

 

 

Markhat Interrupted

© Penguinline | Dreamstime.com - Cartoon Girl Working on Notebook

© Penguinline | Dreamstime.com - Cartoon Girl Working on Notebook

Well, folks, the other shoe has dropped.

February 28th of 2017 will be the last day Samhain Publishing offers any titles. After that, all the Markhat titles (except WAY OUT WEST) will go dark -- on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Books A Million, Itunes, everywhere.

Samhain officially ceases operations on the 28th. 

Rights reversions of the Markhat titles begins right after that. So I will retain ownership of the series, and will be free to do with the titles as I will shortly after the 28th.

So, all that said, just what will I do?

Beats me. I have several options open, which are:

  • Shop around for another publisher.
  • Self-publish all the titles myself.
  • Go hide in a damp hole, learn to gnaw on raw fish, and make a gollum sound when short furry strangers approach.

Frankly I'm leaning toward the third option at the moment. Damp caves are relatively cheap to own and maintain, and I already have the Gollum look down pat. Seriously, you've never seen me in a tattered loincloth, I can DO this.

But assuming I decide to remain part of polite society, I must choose between options one and two.

There are advantages and disadvantages to both approaches. Finding a publisher relieves me of the time, work, and expense involved in getting new cover art. Of marketing. Of file conversions and distribution and a host of other practices required to put out a book.

But it also means finding another publisher. That will take months, and could very well take years, and might never happen at all.

Yes, the Markhat books did sell. Pretty well, at times. But modern publishing isn't just a jungle anymore -- it's a freshly-nuked radioactive mutant feral jungle, where each and every one of the surviving publisher-beasts is concerned not just with sales but with enormous sales. I know too many awesome mid-lister authors who are starting GoFundMes because their books got pushed into near-oblivion and the authors can't afford a five-hundred-dollar roofing job anymore.

Too, the time factor comes into play. A year from now, people will just scratch their heads and ask 'Markhat who?"

Which brings us to self-publishing. I can do that. It allows me to set my own prices. Package and brand the series as I choose. Pick my own cover art, my own look. 

Which is all very well and good, until one considers the cost of all that.

The Markhat books have been extensively edited by real professionals. I won't need to go through that process again. Even so, there will be costs. Cover artists don't work for free (nor should they). I could buy back the old cover art, but buying back ten covers even at reduced rates isn't going to be cheap.

So that's where I am with the series right now. There are a number of hard decisions to be made, and there will be an interruption in availability of the titles no matter what I do.

That's life as an author. I wish this was television, where every author is a fabulously wealthy lady or gentleman who travels about solving crimes or having adventures, but reality just looks at us writers and says 'Shut up and eat your Ramen Noodles, loser.'

If you're a Markhat fan, you can help by telling anyone who might like the series to snatch it up RIGHT NOW. Maybe by the time they're done reading them I'll have new books out, somehow.

If you're a publisher sitting atop stacks of cash, you can help by emailing me. Really, that would be incredible, and I won't even bring my loincloth to signings. 

Although I've always said I'd never do this, I'm seriously considering a Kickstarter or Patreon or GoFundMe page of my own now. Just out of curiosity, how many of you reading this would consider kicking in 20 bucks or so? And would anyone think I was making a mistake even asking for help?

I would like to close by thanking Samhain Publishing for all their support through the years. They were great, and I'll miss them.

Mamas, don't let your kids grow up to be writers.

 

 

Murder Most Frequent

© Crokogen | Dreamstime.com - Black And White Man\'s Portraite Photo

© Crokogen | Dreamstime.com - Black And White Man\'s Portraite Photo

I commit murder at least three times a week.

I should clarify that statement. I commit murder in my head at least three times a week. No one actually winds up on the floor bleeding, or decapitated, or, as it was last Tuesday, shoved into a meat grinder head-first (I was in a mood). No, the most I do is seethe silently until I can move away from my potential victims.

There are certain types of people I believe deserve to be murdered instantly by the most expedient means necessary. Nazis, for instance. Dog-fighters, or people who go to watch dog fighting. Child molesters. Rapists. I'd gleefully slaughter members of a dog-fighting ring with an old-school Tommy gun and never lose a wink of sleep over it. 

But the most common and frequent cause of my numerous rages is something I never really understood, at least until recently, and it's a genuine neurological condition called misophonia.

My form of misophonia makes listening to people chew (or slurp, or gobble, you get the picture) instantly and profoundly piss me off. It's a primal reaction, one that can't be ignored or simply shrugged off -- if you're making a lot of noise eating, I flat out want to murder you the whole time you're doing it. Yes, it's irrational. But it's also quite real.

I'll link to an article explaining misophonia in clinical terms, but basically, people with misophonia were stuffed into MRI machines while being subjected to the usual trigger noises -- people chewing, people smacking on gum, people gobbling down lasanga with their mouths open like a bunch of damned orangutans. I can only assume the test subjects were shackled and chained during the MRI, because frankly after a few minutes of that I'd be up and looking to whack the nearest neurosurgeon with a solid length of steel pipe.

What the researchers found was clear evidence of abnormal structures in the brain among misophonia sufferers. Here's a quote from the article: "People with misophonia had more myelin, or insulation, around the gray matter in their prefrontal cortex. They also showed abnormal connections between this cortex and the anterior insular cortex, which is involved in processing information and emotions."

My brain is composed almost entirely of abnormal structures. I'm pretty sure there's a working pinball machine in there somewhere. Also one of those antique fortune-telling machines, because every day at 4:11 PM a squeaky mechanical voice says "Zontar knows your past, sees your future, insert a nickel."

Finally, science has explained why I become enraged when the guy at the next table chews with his fat stupid mouth open. 

Now that Science has explained misophonia, perhaps Law can offer me a defense. "I was clinically unable to contain my rage, Your Honor, and I still have no idea where I found that bazooka." 

Here's the link to the article. Here's another link to a parody video showing the Mr. Bean version of 'Fifty Shades of Gray,' because why not.

 

 

 

Alternative Facts and Where to Find Them

© Elnur | Dreamstime.com - The Woman Magician Isolated On The White Photo

I've had an epiphany.

All my life, I've been shackled by the chains of objective reality. The cold, unfeeling digits of my bank balance denied me the finer things -- Ferraris, thrice-yearly vacations in Spain, the powers of flight and invisibility. 

Like a fool, I toiled on, heavy laden by the seemingly inescapable burden of 'facts.' Worse, I bowed to the purveyors of so-called facts. Loan officers, 'No Trespassing' signs, doctors and their joyless pronouncements that a diet consisting entirely of vodka and Twinkies would soon prove fatal -- these were my jailers.

My only outlet, my only escape, was in my writing, but even there I submitted to what I believed were the harsh realities of publishing, best exemplified by my continual use of duct-tape to effect home repairs and minor first aid.

But no more. I am inspired by current events, empowered at last by brave leaders unfettered by reality. Because objective reality is merely one facet of existence -- there is another, more pleasant realm, that of alternative facts. 

Thus, it is with great pleasure I announce that the Markhat books have sold, in the last few moments, 2 million copies. 

Do my Amazon rankings support this statement? No -- but that's just another example of my suppression by the publishing elite. The true sales figures, the alternative fact sales figures, just jumped to four million copies. I mean eight million. Let's make it ten.  With options for movie rights, Markhat and Darla action figures, and of course the ever-popular Evis vampire doll, with Kung-Fu grip and rotating normal and fanged faces. 

I have never felt quite so relaxed. 

As a best-selling author, I will now enjoy the fruits of my alternative labors. I shall surround myself with opulence, demand only the freshest Twinkies, refuse suspect home-brewed booze in favor of something with an actual machine-printed label. I'll use only Duct Tape(tm) brand adhesive, not that knock-off crap from the Dollar Tree. Yes, it's wine and roses from here on out.

It appears the nearest Ferrari dealership is an inconvenient 80 miles away. Or is it? Presto, my Corolla is a Toyota no more -- now it is a finely-crafted Italian sports car, lovingly maintained, eager to conquer the road with the throaty roar of its high-performance engine. When the highway patrol pulls me over and suggests I was speeding, I'll confound them and be on my way after a quick explanation that while their radar may have claimed I was going 106 in a 30 MPH zone, my alternative explanation that I was maintaining a steady 28 MPH overrides their ludicrous assumption and have a nice day.

I urge all my friends to join me in this simple rejection of objective reality. We can be free!

Let's all meet up in Spain on Tuesday. Tell the airlines you fly for free, for life, because Frank said so. Be sure to seat yourself in first class. Take the plane controls for a while, you're a qualified jumbo jet pilot, and anyway those things fly themselves now. Mostly. But gravity is just a theory, I'm told, and pilots make a big fuss about how hard it is to land a 767 just so they can get in the plane first and not be pestered about the size of their carry-ons. 

Welcome to my brave new world. Now, if you'll pardon me, my shuttlecraft awaits, and my orbiting battle cruiser needs a shakedown cruise.

I think I'm going to like this place.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Into the Badlands

© Joeygil | Dreamstime.com - Man In Ruins Watching Television Photo

© Joeygil | Dreamstime.com - Man In Ruins Watching Television Photo

Fans of my blog (both of you, thanks gang) may have noticed I missed a few weeks.

I did, and I'm sorry about that. I'd like to say I just ran out of things to say, but the truth is quite the opposite -- I was full of things to say, but decided you'd probably had your share of furious rants and really didn't need another one shoved in your virtual face.

So I declared a hiatus. 

Now I'm back. No less frustrated, no less fearful, but back, and still determined not to add one iota to the miserable situation we must now all endure.

I'm also determined to detach myself from this mess somehow, to get back to work. Determined to do so, but utterly clueless as to how to accomplish this.

It seems easy enough, doesn't it? Just fire up the Beast of All Words, conjure forth Word, and start writing. 

Ah, if it was truly that simple. Because what I've been producing lately has been toxic. Even Mug and Meralda lost their spark, becoming suddenly older, wearier, bleakly cynical. And Markhat? That got so dark I deleted the last several chapters. I will not do that to my characters, or my readers. Neither deserves such treatment. 

Long I pondered. Many beers were consumed. Walls were stared upon. Much Pink Floyd was played, because if you need a soundtrack as you stare into the abyss nothing fits the bill quite like Pink Floyd.

I still haven't found any answers, aside from the flippant one I cited earlier -- fire up the Beast of All Words, conjure forth Word, and start writing. Again.

It may well be that the only way out of my mental morass is through it. I may have to let Mug and Meralda and Markhat and Darla have time and space to work through this, just as I do. Which will mean delays in getting new stuff out. But I suppose that's preferable to never getting anything new out at all.

I have at least decided I won't quit. No matter what strange shape the world takes on in the next several years, people will still, I hope, want books. I hope they'll still need stories in which good triumphs over evil. I want to believe people will still want to cheer on heroes. 

I won't quit until I stop believing all that is true. I hope that day never comes.

So, if you're  out there, and you're worried too, you're not alone. And if you've found a way to regain some sense of hope, please, email me the recipe. I could certainly use a fresh batch right now.

 

 

 

New York, New York

We've done a bit of traveling the last few  weeks. 

Our destination was New York City. I'd never been, and neither had Karen, but we've always wanted to  go so we packed our bags and boarded a Delta jet for the Big Apple.

All my life, I've been told that New York is a frantic hive of pushy, rude stockbrokers who are themselves endlessly victimized by predatory street gangs while everyone else ducks for cover in the crossfire. "New Yorkers will run right over you," quoth they. "They're not nice, like us," the ubiquitous 'they' added, taking a break from gerrymandering and passing repressive marriage-rights laws. "You don't want to go up there."

Well, we did, and we went, and I am happy to report that everything I've heard about New York and New Yorkers was the worst kind of odious hogwash.

From the time we landed at La Guardia to our last ride back there, everyone we met was friendly and helpful. Oh sure, not everyone is an angel -- those fake Buddhist monks all over Times  Square and the Park are jerks, no matter how wide their smiles. But they're actual criminals, so they don't count.

Things do move at a different pace than they do here in Oxford, Mississippi. People in NYC do talk a bit faster, and do walk a bit faster, and when they get to the counter they are ready with their order and they spit it right out. But that's not being pushy or demanding -- it's the natural consequence of living in such a small area with so many other people. If everyone hemmed and hawed and asked little Raymond eight times whether he wanted the chicken nuggets or the cheese sticks and then repeated the entire process because a phone call interrupted the delicate menu negotiations, society would collapse from sheer starvation..

So my impression of New Yorkers is that they are, by necessity, efficient in their casual dealings with strangers and retail and wait staff. Which is something I wish Southerners would adopt, right now, because the next time I am delayed 20 minutes because some kid can't mumble his way through a meal order I am likely to shift on my feet and engage in Hostile Glares.

And the food in NYC -- sweet nondemoninational deity of your choice, the food was indescribably wonderful. My favorite place was on Broadway, just off Times Square -- Angelo's, where the pizza and the pasta dishes are amazing. The prices? No worse that the Square here in Oxford. 

We also had a lovely meal in Chinatown, at the Golden Unicorn, which serves in the dim sum style. Dim sum works like this -- servers push carts around the dining room, stopping at each table. You point out which dishes you want, and they hand them out, and then a few minutes later another cart comes around and the process is repeated, until you are full or, in my case, you start getting fearful looks from fellow diners who've never seen anyone eat the bamboo serving dish as well as the dumplings before.

I have no idea what I ate. But everything was delicious. I'd go back there again in a heartbeat if it wasn't a thousand-odd miles away.

For breakfast, you can't beat the Applejack Diner, which was right across the street from our hotel. The food was, again, top-notch, and just listening to the waiters call in orders to the kitchen was a treat. 

Did we do anything besides eat, you ask? Well yes. We saw Cats, on Broadway, at the Neil Simon theater. Now, I've seen some solid theatrical performances in my time, but when everyone on the stage is a rising star, the show transcends the merely great and becomes a two-hour work of art that no DVD can truly capture. When Grizabella (played by Mamie Parris the night we were there) sang her last song, I looked about. Everyone was frozen in place, every face locked on the stage. You could not have heard a pin drop because just for a moment gravity itself was too mesmerized to bother attracting things. 

We also just walked around. Walking is the best way to see NYC, because driving there is best left to cabbies, Uber drivers, the NYPD, and the criminally insane. One things that struck me immediately about the city was the lack of any visible gas stations of car dealerships, at least on Manhattan. Here, there's a gas station every 300 feet, and my little town of 15,000 permanent residents sports nearly a dozen car dealerships. 

But get out your walking shoes for the city. And buy a Metrocard subway pass, because once you figure out the subway, it's a great way to get around.

My image of an NYC city subway car, I now realize, was heavily influenced by movies. I fully expected the subway car to be filled with bodily fluids, riddled with bullet holes, and be at least half-full of wild-eyed street preachers demanding donations while pickpockets craftily plied their trade..

Not so. Now, the cars aren't the gleaming, sterile science-fiction transport pods of South Korea or Tokyo, but they're not post-apocalypse wasteland railroad doom-tubes, either. The other riders were an amiable mix of tourists and ordinary people going to or from work. I saw one panhandler on the subway, a weary-looking woman who laid out tiny packets of face tissues down on vacant seats. Each tissue pack was topped with a note detailing her tale of woe, but she never got pushy about it.

Did I leave her anything?

No.. Because by that time I must admit I'd already handed out a few small sums to other tales of woe, and by then the business model of the panhandlers penetrated even my thick Southern skull. Anybody wandering the streets and taking gifts from strangers day in and day out probably makes more than I do. The next time we go back, I'm going to counter their pitches with one of my own, and see how that works out. 

I'll leave you with the obligatory set of my favorite NYC photos. Also, a sincere word of thanks to our friend Elyse Salpeter, a fellow author and New Yorker, who met us there and took us to Chinatown and generally acted as an unpaid tour guide because A) she's cool that way and B) New Yorkers are cool that way.

Enjoy the photos! Time for me to get back to work......

The author, upon spotting a free-range cheesecake.

The author, upon spotting a free-range cheesecake.

 

 

 

Steampunk Forever

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The present, it must be noted, sucks.

Part of the reason it sucks is because today it's perfectly acceptable to say 'this sucks.' Our forebears would have expressed the same emotion with far more eloquence and wit, stating perhaps something like this:

The times in which we find our ourselves inspire equal portions of horror and dismay. Chaos and banditry surround us at every hand, and unrest greets us at every turn. Men and women of all ages have been eternally subject to the whims of fate, but never before have these whims been so full of malice and contempt for the very faces upon which they blow.

Now that's just lyrical. But it won't fit in a Tweet, so we moderns proclaim 'this sucks' and go on to yell at people on Facebook.

So I'm resetting my personal clock to an 1888 that never was. In my new reality, Charles Babbage's mechanical calculating engine worked. Nicola Tesla found a wealthy financier, and from his laboratory came wondrous machines that put those of Edison to shame. 

Mighty airships ply the skies. Air piracy rises as well, and battles are fought in the heavens using Tesla's deadly rays, which dwarf and outshine the lightning. 

Scientific progress made leaps that our own history skipped. A new world emerged, sounding of the hiss of steam, the determined turning of gears, and the crackle and hiss of strange energies barely contained.

I think that's a world worth living in.

Of course, I can't live there full-time, but I can don my steampunk ghostbuster's aether pack and my Victorian clothes and wander around SF/F conventions without getting hauled away to answer a lot of nervous questions about the machine strapped to my back. 

I'll be cosplaying as a steampunk ghostbuster at the upcoming Memphis Comic and Fantasy Convention, where I'm also on a number of paranormal panels. 

(To read this entry in the large print easy-on-the-eyes edition, click here).

Yes, these are images of me, transformed into period-accurate photographs. I like posing for these, because no one smiled in photos until after 1950, and I just can't smile on command. 

I know, I know, cosplaying is generally thought of as a pursuit for a younger, thinner crowd. But I enjoy it so I'm going to do it. 

 

One of the (few) advantages of getting older is the realization that one no longer cares what anyone thinks of them. Act my age? No. I'll act as I wish, and if that offends anyone, I simply don't care. 

So, if you are planning to attend the Comic and Fantasy Convention, and you see this gentleman in the halls, stop and say hello. 

We of the year 1888 enjoy conversations with strangers, who most often are revealed to be friends we are meeting for the very first time. 

Also, look up my panel schedule, and sit in on a few! I'm bringing some of my DIY paranormal investigative gear, and we'll swap stories. It will be, as we say, a smashing good time.

 

 

 

Proton Pack Redux

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I made a few changes and additions to the Steampunk Ghostbuster Proton Pack this week. 

Most notably, it now has sound!

The small lighted Bluetooth player mounted at the top takes microSD cards, so I built a looping sound file to add some life to the thing. The track is 15 minutes long, and then it just repeats until I turn the player off.

I went through several sound builds until I found one I liked. The first couple sounded great, but were a bit too modern to fit the steampunk theme of the pack. Finally, I went back to the drawing board, laid down a background of hissing steam and shuttling gears, and then added in a few bells, the scrape of metal on metal, a bit of antique sewing machine, and a dash of randomly-reversed chime sounds.

I think the end result fits the build perfectly. I posted a short video with the sounds and lights running below.

If anyone is curious, I built the soundtrack using Audacity, which is a free sound editing program so easy to use even a Frank can run it. The image below shows part of the audio creation process. Each row represents a different audio track. You can move them, apply various effects, add, delete, and re-arrange as much as you like. Then you merge the tracks, and viola! Your very own audio track.

You can probably guess by looking at what some of the tracks represent. The top one, the fat one, is the steam hiss. The second from the bottom, the regular series of small ticks, is a clock. The rest are bursts of sounds I thought were interesting.

All the sounds were free, downloaded from www.freesound.org. 

As promised, the video is below. It's pretty dark, but dammit, Jim, I'm a writer, not a cinematographer.

CLICK HERE FOR THE YOUTUBE VIDEO

Proton Pack

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Above is my updated Steampunk Ghostbuster Aetheric Projector pack, which now has lights and sound!

I shot the image above in darkness to show of some of the lighting. Many of the following images show the pack in full light as well, to give you an idea of what it looks like.

Please ignore the battered work-bench. It's a workbench, which means it gets drilled, spilled, grilled, and milled, but is rarely polished and restored to furniture grade beauty. 

The gun-like object on the lower left is the aether emitter. It's connected to the main pack with thick copper cable, and the hook on the lower right of the pack acts as a holster.

A side view....

View of the uppser section. The globe on the left has interior illumination, as does the 'vacuum tube' assembly on the right. The blow disc at the bottom left is a plasma disk made with LEDs. The plasma pattern changes shape at random.

And that's most of it, lit up at once. The lights can be set to either remain on or flash a different rates; I find the flashing to be most effective, but it makes it difficult to catch a photo of everything lighted.

Below is a short video of the whole pack in action. I mentioned sound before, and yes, I can use my phone's Blutooth setting to stream audio right to the pack's speaker. I'll be building an audio file just for the pack -- I'm thinking steam hisses overlaid onto clocks ticking, with weird stuff thrown in at random -- but for this video, I just picked a song at random and turned it on. 

Click below, and enjoy!

https://youtu.be/pGSfHG8s03w

 

 

 

 

 

Markhat Art!

The painting above was done by local artist Thomas Grosskopf, and it's a beauty. Depicted are Darla, Markhat, Mama Hog, and a few of their fanged foes.

Thomas lives in Abbeville, a small town just a few miles from Oxford. We'd never met, until the librarian at my old alma mater, Lafayette High school, asked me to come and give a talk to the book club a couple of Fridays ago.  

I did, and I was gobsmacked when Thomas presented me with the painting above. Turns out he's a Markhat fan, and he certainly captured the characters. Mama Hog has never made a book cover, but that's a perfect rendition of her.

You can see more of Thomas's art at the Bozarts Art Gallery on 403 Main Street in Water Valley, Mississippi.

Thomas, thanks again for the stunning painting! It's always an incredible experience when your books inspire art. 

 

 

The Knocking Man

Finally. It's October.

I love everything about October. The scary movies, the Halloween decorations, the first hint of chill in the air. The falling leaves. The sight of my lawn mowers sitting idle in the corner of the garage.

Yes, it's my favorite time of the year.

(To read this in the large print edition, click here).

In honor of October, I'd like give you a free audio story that I think fits the spooky mood perfectly. By following the link below, you can listen to me reading my short story 'The Knocking Man.'

It's a half hour long, so settle back, grab something to drink, and hit the play button. I hope you like it. 

 

THE KNOCKING MAN on YouTube

 

For next week, I hope to have some new ghostly EVPs for you to listen to. I'll be taking my gear out to various cemeteries in hopes of capturing voices that are hard to explain. 

Until then, enjoy The Knocking Man. 

I've also added some new lighting features to my steampunk ghostbuster's proton-aether pack. The pictures are below. I plan to wear this somewhere, for Halloween, despite the sad fact that the things weighs as much as a brand new Chevy Volt.

Here it is, propped against my workshop wall, in dim light:

The shot below was taken in the dark, with all the lights set for always on -- they can also flash, which is the setting I'll use for some of them.

I'm pretty happy with it, especially since it's made from junk plumbing parts, an old motorcycle clutch, and the guts of a vacuum cleaner. 

See you next Sunday! And remember, if you want to leave a review for WAY OUT WEST, it's only a click away...

 

 

 

Broken Promises

© 3dalia | Dreamstime.com - <a href="https://www.dreamstime.com/stock-illustration-d-devil-author-render-writing-pen-image41641172#res5678350">3d Devil Author Photo</a>

Just last week, I claimed I wouldn't be talking anymore about the new Markhat book, Way Out West.

Turns out I lied. That happens a lot -- but Big Al's Books and Pals, the renowned indie book review site, featured Way Out West last week, and I just can't let that pass unannounced.

(To read this in the large print edition, click here).

You can read the full review by clicking below:

Review of Way Out West by Big Al's Books and Pals

Did they like the book?

That's always the first question that springs to mind when I get notice of a book review. Here's the book you spent months slaving over, sweating blood over, pouring your heart and soul into -- and now it's out there, all alone in the wild, facing its audience for the first time.

It's a scary moment. No two people are going to come away from a book with the same experience. I know of books that are beloved by people -- smart people, people with taste and discernment -- that left me scratching my head and wondering what all the fuss was about. There are even highly-touted books that I read and loathed. Which isn't to say they're bad books, by any means. They just weren't right for me.

So what if my book wasn't right for that particular reviewer? What if they read it, and hated it with the burning fury of ten thousand bright young suns? What if they publicly declare their hatred for the book to an audience of hundreds, or thousands? What if I've crawled so far under this heavy sofa out of sheer terror that I can't get free and my corpse is found years later, much to the amusement of the readership of Fark?

Two things happened, concerning the review in Big Al's. First, they liked the book. And second, I was able to squirm free of the sofa after a forty-five minute struggle. 

So it is with an immense sense of relief and no small level of back pain that I can post an excerpt from the review.

"It’s a wild ride of murder, intrigue, and time warps. New characters who play important parts are written with depth and style. Darla is sharp and takes on an impressive role as Markhat realizes he married up in class.

There are delightful surprises among the darkness of this tale and more twists in the plot than any roller-coaster ever invented."

Now that's the kind of review that I live for. Because it means that maybe, just maybe, the book worked.

Novels are a lot like engines made out of words and pauses and pacing. Mostly words. You try and put the right words in the right places, in the hope that the whole of them will take on a life of their own. You hope that the reader sits down and turns the ignition with the first dozen words, and that the book cranks right up and takes the reader on a ride they won't soon forget.

That's the fear of every writer when a review comes up. The fear that somewhere along the road from Chapter One to The End, the engine just sputters and dies, or veers into the dread ditch of boredom. When that happens, it's trip over, and another book is always ready to pick up the stranded and offer them a ride.

But that's the nature of the beast. You do your best and then sit back and hope for the best.While you work on yet another little engine that might.

I am especially glad that the reviewer picked up on Darla's growth too. I've got big plans for her, and she is rising easily to the demand. So much so that The Darla Diaries may start appearing sometime next year.

So that's one important review I can file under 'five stars.' 

Makes all the blood, sweat, and tears worthwhile.

(Top image courtesy of © 3dalia | Dreamstime.com)