Heart Eater: How I Got Here

One's Desk

I’m a successful writer. It’s the publishers failing me.

That sounds like an ironic joke but consider: I’ve been a writer for 48 years, submitting (at first sporadically, I admit), for 40 years, and publishing for 24 years. My first published fiction was “Weal & Woe” in the Spring, 1990 issue of MARION ZIMMER BRADLEY’s FANTASY Magazine, if you’re curious.

At 16 I sent ESQUIRE a story, now lost, called “Not Buzzard”, about a creepy little guy who walks into a zoo clutching his secret to himself in sweaty palms. He walks up to various exhibits and mutters, “Not buzzard,” until finally he finds the buzzards, where he smiles, reveals his secret. He shows it to the mothers, children, and attendants, all of whom scream and run. He calmly raises it to his head, pulls the trigger, and falls to the ground, not buzzard. Conceptual anticipation of modern America, basically.

So I’m out shoveling snow when my aunt Nancy, who was living with us at the time, calls me in to the phone. It was a woman with an English accent. Identified herself as Rust Hills’s secretary or one of his sub editors. Wanted me to know they loved my story, were thrilled with it, but had never heard of me. Wanted to ask me some questions about myself for a short bio.

My mistake was honesty, as so often is the case in life

We talked about the work, we got on smashingly, we laughed and agreed on the sub-themes and so forth. All was well as I gave her my full name, as I told her I lived in Ebensburg, PA, a county seat, (Cambria), and so forth. Then she asked my age and I said, “Sixteen.”

Silence. She coughed. “Sixteen?”

She gathered herself, regained her poise, and got off quickly.

Later in the week I received an envelope from ESQUIRE. The New York City post mark looked wonderful to me. The letter covered two sides of a half a sheet of typing paper, single-spaced typing from an old Underwood, looked like. It was written by and signed by Rust Hills, the famous fiction editor. It praised my work, told me I was a good writer who would only get better, and other things I liked hearing.

It ended by saying, “…but at 16, your world experiences simply don’t add up to a hill of beans, and I publish for business executives in their 40s…”

A wave-off.

That was 1974 and I was none too eager to submit anything to anyone for a long damned time even though I kept writing, reading, learning, and improving my craft and, eventually, my art. Thomas Pynchon called his short story collection Slow Learner. Regarding submitting and publishing, that has certainly applied to me.

In 1980, at age 22, I got married and we moved to Japan a few years later, where we had our first child. Wanting to bring in some money, I started submitting erotica to various glossy magazines and digests. For a few years I made decent money filling various confessional and third-person short erotica markets. Yes, they used to pay fairly generously for such material, especially if you could supply it reliably on demand. I could and did. I will also say that it taught me much about commercial genre writing and stripped away literary pretensions every callow youth entertains. Contacts kept asking for erotic novels but I resisted, citing the poor per-word rate. Why work harder for less?

All along I honed my craft, writing my own stories on spec and also writing what I have called practice novels. I figured practice is how you learn anything, so if you want to learn to write novels, practice. During these years I submitted the occasional story to genre magazines, collecting my fair share of standard rejection slips, until, in 1990, MZB liked a short fantasy, “Weal & Woe”. It was loosely patterned on Joseph Campbell’s hero’s journey and had mythic touches, as did much of my erotica come to think of it.

From then on I’ve sold at least a handful of stories per year to genre magazines.

I’ve also published erotic novels as Everett Bedford for Pink Flamingo Press. That started at Olympia in England but the royalties are better stateside so I jumped ship when contractually able.

My own novels I have submitted sparingly and always with a cringe. In pre email days it cost a goodly amount to prepare a clean typed copy, get photocopies made, box them, have them weighed, and mail them snail to be destroyed by handling for a year minimum before you heard back. This after having sent an inquiry package describing the book and asking if they’d deign to stoop low enough to glance at it. In truth, I heard back from only about a third of publishers, which kept me reluctant to bother submitting novels at all. It’s hard to force myself to submit novels even today, via email.

Along the way I’ve had minor triumphs. First publication. First story chosen for Year’s Best Of. (“Wooden Druthers” in Datlow & Windling’s Year’s Best Fantasy & Horror #7) First erotic novel published. Being tapped to help cobble the series bible for Jerry Pournelle’s WAR WORLD anthologies, edited by John F. Carr. I invented the Harmony religion, vetted stories, and wrote extra material for introductions and segués. Wrote half a dozen novellas for that series, too, only one of which saw print (or brought pay) during Jim Baen’s life but which are slowly coming to light via Carr’s Pequod Press in high-end collector’s editions. Beautiful volumes.

Best editor I’ve ever worked with is Debbie Vetter of CRICKET. She’s been bumped upstairs at Carus Publishing now, deservedly so, but she was superb as a story editor and ushered several of my stories into print.

MZB taught me a lot, too, when one of my stories, at the last minute, needed wordage cut. Without time to consult me she did an emergency appendectomy on my story, then let me know about it. When I read the published result I was amazed. Not a scar showed. It was seamless and improved the story. I’m always glad to learn such useful things and have benefitted from what I’ve learned about how to rewrite, and why, many times. I actually like rewriting; gives you a chance to improve things.

Now I’m concerned with getting my work more widely published, including novels. Still find it hard to submit them due to the responses I’ve tended to get. Brilliant, but… is a standard. Richard Curtis, the agent, called my work, “Brilliant but unpublishable.” Jeanne Cavelos said, “Brilliant stuff, reminds me of Salinger, but we don’t publish this kind of work.” Ashbel Green of Knopf called my work, “Brilliant but we’re cutting back.” Harlan Ellison called me, “One of the good guys, we gotta get you more work.” That’s how I was fired across Curtis’s bows. The splash left nary a ripple.

Then there are the editors who break things and call it fixing, or who cannot read metaphors and take everything strictly literally. It is maddening and despair accompanies all my submissions these days. Why hope for insight or, Thoth and Gwydion forbid, appreciation and enthusiasm when the pattern of not getting it is so strongly established?

Thing is, I believe in my work. I know it speaks for me, eloquently at times. (We all get lucky now and then, right? Just don’t ask me which ones are the good ones.) I’ve had my writing abilities confirmed and affirmed by professionals at every level so I know it is not a sentence, paragraph, or page problem. I can write. It’s just that what I write does not strike the gatekeepers as something that would have wide enough appeal to sell well enough to gain them profit. It is approach, voice, and perhaps content holding my work back, that’s all. If you believe the gatekeepers. My voice in fiction is not familiar. I don’t echo, nor do I write pastiche. I’ve always been off by myself writing what I call Ficta Mystica, or mystical realism, and even though that genre sells hugely well and always has, stories of encounters with unseen things and unknown worlds are seen as too literary, or not schlock enough, or what ever terms the gatekeepers use that day.

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“Tartan & Plaid”

A lovesick teenager has broken up with a girl over Christmas break. In the process a coat was left behind. Agony over the breakup clashes with a bitterly cold winter but the teenager abandons the coat and walks home freezing rather than facing the confrontation involved with its retrieval. Arriving home nearly blue, the teenager is confronted by an angry mother demanding to know where the new plaid coat is. It had after all been the big gift the mother could afford that year to give.

The teenager tries to explain that the coat had been lent, in a more loving moment, to keep the beloved warm, just prior to the bitter argument that led to the breakup. “You lent your new plaid coat? You march right back and get it it, young lady.” In frustration and anguish the teenager yells, “It’s tartan, not plaid. There’s a difference, you know.”

The hidden trick in this story is that the first-person narration focuses on the girl who betrayed the narrator. How superficial she has proven to be, how disloyal, how duplicitous and cruelly callous. How badly she has treated the narrator by whimsically going off with another at such a festive time of year.

Everyone who reads the story presumes the narrator is a boy until the last brief scene when the mother confronts the narrator. We learn the narrator is a girl casually, off-handedly. We’re dealing with a lesbian relationship gone wrong.

It’s a small surprise in a character study but when my mother read it she was shocked. She told me she had to reread it several times to get it into her head. In her defense, things were a lot less overt back then regarding same sex relationships. What shocked her was her own unexamined presumptions. Society’s bigotry had patterned her to misunderstand the story, which is written carefully to avoid mentioning the sex of the narrator.

The underlying message is ironically brought home by the mother seeing tartan and plaid as the same thing, and the narrator finding them intolerably different and distinct. Two invisible worlds are colliding.

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That is the kind of fiction I was writing in high school. I’ve since lost that story, along with “Not Buzzard” and so many others. “The Watchers” about visitors long before Strieber’s Communion came along and about their connection to faerie, elves, brownies, and pixies; the free-associative poem “Sympathy in Asia Minor”, for the first six lines of which it took me ten pages of exegesis to demonstrate the criss-crossed, woven references and meanings when an English teacher called it nonsense, which affronted me. “Pains of Glass” about a very young boy wandering through an adult dinner party where the people had been frozen and sliced into strange geometric shapes by panes of glass cutting through the room at off-kilter angles; the boy was too young to understand quite what he was privy to as he got near each couple and heard echoes of their conversations, which were bitter, acidic, and venal, full of fear and hate. It was a remark about growing up and being trapped in social facets. So many works I recall but cannot reproduce were lost.

No, to be blunt, I threw them all away when I got married. Arrogantly I decided to see my marriage as an ascent into adulthood. (Still waiting.) My writing up to that point, then, would be juvenilia and I wanted nothing to do with such childish stuff. I filled three large black plastic garbage bags with my childhood writing and took them to a dump. That I did this appalls me to this day and I’m reminded of Charles Dickens having a three-day bonfire to rid himself of a life-time’s correspondence. Fits of melancholy and chronic depression are evidently cleverly disguised at times.

Wish I still had that material to look through, just to see.

There was a one-act play, “Breathe”, using only colored gel spotlights, a curtain, and sound effects that reduced down to a person taking a deep breath into a hot microphone. This was filmed by a high school teacher of mine, Miss Pauley, for her film class at a local college, where it won a first prize. No mention of who’d written the script, of course. No mention of conceptual correspondent.

This was not the first time such a thing had happened.

In grade school I’d drawn the tangle of pipes in a photograph of a nuclear reactor. It was a study for perspective drawing. My work was taken, unbeknownst to me, out of class and entered into a contest in Pittsburgh as her work by the art teacher, Mrs. Saylor. It won both prize and money, and a picture of it appeared in the newspaper, which is how I found out. I took the clipping in next day to show the teacher. She merely looked daggers at me as neither of us said a word. I’d taken measure of her and we both knew each other’s worth quite well in that instant.

When I married I threw away the juvenilia, stopped having literary ambitions, and began learning how to produce plot-point extruded genre fiction product. For the next 35 years or so I tried hard to warp my work to fit genre tropes and topoi. Never worked. I’d always unintentionally sabotage somehow. Unacceptable elements cropped up, strict pattern demands were blithely ignored, etc. It was a mental block, I thought.

Perhaps I was right, but perhaps it was protecting my inner fiction, rather than keeping me from learning to conform to others’ standards, which I now know is the fastest way to fail and to destroy one’s abilities. I tend not to handle time linearly, for example. I tend to see narrative as interpenetrating among setting, character, and event. I tend to like tossing in seemingly random items such as quotations or oblique glimpses of scenes that become coherent parts of the whole only at the end, and often only if you think about them outside the narrative context.

When I paint it is often abstract expressionism. When I play guitar it is often jazz ad libbing. Why should I write any differently if that’s how my mind works?

As you can see from this exemplar, I am capable of structured expression, although I do have a penchant for digression and expatiation. Another pet peeve about genre editors is their insistence upon dumbing down vocabulary. They either demand copy written at a fourth- to sixth-grade level, or they cannot read anything written above that level. In my days of trying to learn to write for genre markets, so I could more reasonably expect to earn some money for my nascent family, I spent time with the Gunning-Fogg and Flesch indexes. These were programs that analyzed written work to peg the education level required for full comprehension. Back then the goal was sixth-grade reading level. Now it has declined to fourth-grade.

It is not merely vocabulary but sentence structure.  Simple, declarative sentences are fine.  Compound or complex sentences, not so much.  And do keep your paragraphs tidy.  One topic per, no more and no less, or else.  Confuses the punters, don’tcha know?  Do not even THINK about multiple viewpoint, or any kind of narration other than third-person limited omniscient past tense discursive.  I’ve actually heard readers, reviewers,and editors state that they hate, for example, second person narrative because they don’t like anyone getting into their head and bossing them around.  (?)  Or that they hate first person because THEY didn’t do or think any of those things.  (??)  Then there is what I call hand-holding, wherein one must include all the steps between point A and point B or the poor widdle weaduh will get wost.  Yes, it is that bad much of the time.  They cannot connect dots, extrapolate transitions, or accomplish the story in any meaningful way unless you explain every tiny little thing.  It’s maddening and destroys the prose of even otherwise good writers like Stephen King.

Now you know why many fine movies fail while many dreck squeeps prevail.

This also explains why the Young Adult (YA) category is booming, by the way. More people are choosing to buy and read those books because they’re written more simply, despite often having the most cutting-edge content and topics. They’re both more interesting conceptually but more accessible at the reading level.

Taking time with rich, layered prose, counterpointed conceptual frameworks, and thematic complexities is less common by the hour, it seems. Readers do not want challenged in an age when cursive writing is no longer even taught in schools, when logic is not a school topic, and when Twitter defines public discourse as 140 characters or fewer. (They’d say, “…or less” by the way, not being bothered to get things correct.)

I’ve many times heard vampire fiction fans proudly assert they’ve never read Dracula by Bram Stoker, the quintessential vampire work, because it is “old-fashioned, boring, and hard to understand”. Nothing is further from the truth, it remains a thrilling mystery of breath-taking pace and alluring eeriness. The glorious, hilarious, poignant, and eloquently concise work of Charles Dickens and Mark Twain are considered too difficult to bother with, too dense to sort out, by too many modern readers.

Despair, my old friend; how y’doin’?

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Writing is a heart eater. Know that if you’re contemplating a writer’s existence. (One hesitates to call it a life.) If you do choose writing, keep at it in your own way. Working to others’ standards is the surest way to fail and to destroy yourself and your art.

Be soon and write well.

/ Gene Stewart, et alia

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Boiling the Censorship Frog

First they come for your “porn”.
To protect the children, don’tcha know?
Then they come for your erotica.
Slippery slope when wet, right?
Then they come for your horror.
All those unhealthy images.
Next they come for your young adult fiction.
Encouraging volatile youth might get them hurt.
Then they come for your romance.
Why stir up all those “feelings”?
Next they come for your science fiction and fantasy.
Can’t have you living in dreamland, can we?
Then they come for your military fiction.
Don’t want you learning tactics or methods of dissent or resistance.
Then they come for your mystery stories.
Don’t want to encourage you to investigate or think.
Newspapers are next.
They’re just tabloid lies anyhow, rot your brain.

Anything remaining? The nonfiction was swamped by crazy lies and the textbooks were burned long ago.

Newspapers? Only approved ones kept afloat by big money are legal.

Think any of this is imaginary?  Think it’s not happening right now?
Good; keeps you from doing anything to stop it.

/ GOP psychopathic corporate fascist theocratic oligarchy handbook

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Writerly Whining

Pen

I’ve just finished fixing galleys of an anthology story made juvenile and riddled with errors by the editors, who evidently don’t know to from too from two, among other horrors such as inserted exclamation marks, italicized words that are also emboldened, grammatical errors in usage, dropped words, inappropriate verbs, and so on. It was disgusting how they degraded what I offered, no joke. So I am freshly and continually reminded how appallingly off-the-mark editors so often can be.

It’s an exercise in despair to hope any of one’s stories will prevail beyond maybe a single flash of cheap publication when faced with such sub- and illiteracy seeping into even the so-called professional levels. Of course, everyone can edit, just as everyone can write, paint, sculpt, act, sing, dance, and get rich, right?

Ha.

Sadly, anyone can be an editor these days simply by calling for mss. Call it a crowd-funding project and you don’t even have to pay. Isn’t exposure enough?

Wow are people duplicitous and also suckers.  What other profession outside the arts demands free work, tells us to be satisfied with “getting our work out there” so it can be “seen”.  WTF?  Try that with a plumber, electrician, or mechanic some time.  Try it with anyone BUT some schmuck trying to get along in the arts.

Meanwhile my abilities keep developing. This too is a source of frustration. A good 2/3 to 3/4 of what I write goes over the head, or at least past the degraded commercial concerns, of genre editors.

Literary editors, who’d be prone to like my work, ignore me because I have neither Ivy League connections nor an angel who dredges the bottom feeders like me into the golden net of a prestigious literary journal. No college professors promoting my work, dissecting it in dry essays, or putting it on their reading lists.

All my serious work, which genre /commercial editors mostly dislike, is written to last.  It is written as intelligently as possible.  It is intended as honest translations into words and images, people and scenes of the experience of life.

Ah, but we all know Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s lesson about lesser work prevailing, don’t we? It’s the plot-point extruded fiction product that appeals and tends to last simply because it is lowest common denominator in appeal and can always make at least some money. That’s the theory. Proven retreads and simplistic representational kitsch over abstract, literal over metaphorical and so on downward toward the lowest pulp hackwork. Pandering is what the market wants.  Significance does not signify.  Readers don’t want deep, baffling, serious stuff.

People like their wind-up toys eh?

I’ve spent my life becoming what I am apparently not allowed to be, a man of letters, a gentleman novelist, a successful artist. While there are such people, I have aimed at becoming what may be impossible from birth. It may also be my ethics, sense of fair play, or lack if psychopathic determination holding me back. I’m no Palahniuk going for workshop shock nor am I a Warhol scanning rich suckers in contempt of the gallery system. Too bad for my work.

Worse for me, I bought the argument for quality over connections. What a sap. My hard work went into learning craft and art rather than cultivating connections, polishing golden apples, and sucking up to anyone who could promote my work further, wider, higher.

I actually thought content trumped form and package. What an idiot. Marketing laughs at those like me.

As to beginning a new story, a new exploration of character and situation, the best advice is to remember always to claim your own work. Prevail by being true to yourself or it’s no success at all.  I will continue to write Ficta Mystica as well as I can, stories that knock the right people flat, work that explores reality as bluntly and truthfully as possible.  It’s all I can do.  I’d advise you, for your own peace of mind, satisfaction, and art, to do the same.

Then again, what do I know?

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“The purpose of life is to be defeated by greater and greater things.” – Rainer Maria Rilke

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A Blurt About TV Writing

Remember when the Fonz jumped the shark?  That phrase has come to mean when a series, out of ideas, goes too far into the ridiculous, going against established character and general series logic, solely for something to to so the ad revenue keeps flowing as ratings decline.  Well, it’s not the only sordid, shameful practice going on in televised and movie entertainment.

Too many TV series writers are doing a few things that ruin series: They start with great drama, which requires genuine conflict, motivated characters with clear delineation, and sharp dialogue with concise narrative scenes. That equates to difficult writing, so pretty soon they start wading into the swamp of sexual shenanigans at the expense of the drama and characters that originally got us interested.

They will then start the Torture Festival, as epitomized lately by George R R Martin’s GAME OF THRONES, in which literally everyone always suffers horribly, acts out-of-character to serve surprise twists and fake cliffhangers, and dies ugly, graphic deaths. It’s cheating. Artificially making your characters suffer is contrived, like those SAW movies, which started out as interesting if graphic locked-room mysteries seen from the inside, and devolved into torture porn.

It’s bad writing, folks. Oh, yes, GAME OF THRONES is pretty because they spend fifteen quadrillion dollars per episode making it look great but at base, it’s cheap tricks and dirty pool holding sway.

Shows will also set up solid relationships —CASTLE comes to mind – only to “kidnap Jody” as my wife and I call it, holding reference to the old show THE FALL GUY, which resorted to someone kidnapping Heather Locklear, usually in her latest bikini, every other episode or so. It was akin to SCOOBY DO in the repeated plot department, and every show seems eventually to resort to this kind of lazy, flaccid writing.

Then there is the LOST syndrome, in which a show is a hit. Rather than sticking with the story arc that was so beautifully orchestrated, the suits in the executive suites demand act two be stretched out. This bends the original plot out of shape and renders the whole story cluttered, confusing, and eventually boring. MILLENNIUM, one of the best killer thriller shows ever, destroyed itself by trying to stretch a second act sub-plot into a full-blown conspiracy, with which the writers got fascinated, to the detriment of the series.

Because I generally like TV and search it for good stuff, stuff like HANNIBAL, SHERLOCK, ELEMENTARY, LAW AND ORDER:  SVU, BOARDWALK EMPIRE, RIPPER STREET, and so on, I notice that often a good plot will echo through several shows, sometimes without changing much more than the character names. Mystery plots are especially susceptible to this echo effect. Funny how that works, but funnier still when you pay attention and notice the same writers and producers are often involved in the shows in question. They’re literally recycling. Hey, why waste a good script that worked well when the punters won’t even notice as they gaze open-mouthed, popcorn and ‘tater chips spilling out.

Sorry for the blurt but damn, y’know? Why have I spent my life learning to tell good stories well, only to see my potential readers apparently satisfied, even excited, by endless remakes, copied scenes and plots, and ridiculous situations with hollow or flat characters there solely to explode into blood when Michael Bay has nothing else to do?

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Climate Change Tarantella: A Plea for Culture Change

Leeds Jungle, Omaha Zoo

If you inform yourself of climate changes, you clearly see the pattern compressing and worsening. Yes, it’s always changed, but never this steeply this fast, and never with such consequences.

It is not inevitable to collapse a stable system. That’s ridiculous opinion and assertions such as this stem from a blinkered, askance view of factual history.

The dinosaurs are extinct so some sneer at them. Call them unsuccessful. They existed for over a hundred million years. Some species still exist; sharks are older than trees, for example. We have not even been our current form of humanoid primate for a million years. Our species in other forms goes back only about six million years.

Saying “climate always changes” is the same as saying “all politicians are corrupt” or “there’s no difference between the GOP and the Democrats,” and so on. False equivalence. And wrong, no matter how many love to say it.

All Cretans are liars. Trust me, I’m a Cretan so I know.

Fact is not a matter of popularity, despite attempts to trump fact with popular prejudices.

Thinking for an instant that what we are seeing now is “natural” and not man-induced is willful blindness to mountains of fact countered by nothing but asserted self-serving corporate lies. They want opinion and outright falsehood to replace fact so they can continue with their rapacious crimes, their nihilistic despoiling of our ecosystem.

Corporate denies it’s a human agency causing anything between breathless denials that anything is happening at all.

Climatologists and meteorologists asked themselves whether it could be man doing this. Over the course of the last 40+ years they studied data on hand, they gathered more, and they assessed it all. Universal conclusion: Yes, man was the cause for the severe worsening of weather and the underlying climate we’re seeing.

They then asked, What can be done to preserve the ecosystem we require to exist? Starting in the 1960s, we had the Ecology Movement, instituting various world views and actions aimed at curbing the damage and maybe reversing it in some places. LBJ instituted the Keep America Beautiful media campaign.

Earth Day in 1970 involved school children across the country and throughout the world. It addressed litter, trash, the visible solid pollutants along our roads, in our towns, in our wild areas. It was intended to make a point that yes, each of us can pitch in, and each of us can make a difference, especially when we work together. It was also designed to give people immediate positive feedback. It was a success, and its effects linger today: I recently drove 3600 miles across the US and saw virtually no litter or trash anywhere. Clean place, America.

Clean, in terms of litter.

Meanwhile we have denuded forests, we have hurled carbon into the atmosphere at several tons per person per day, we have created fracking, we have dumped raw sewage and garbage from huge cities into the rivers, lakes, and oceans. We have affected the oceans, too, creating continent-sized dead spots with no oxygen or life, and garbage continents in the gyre of each ocean, spinning plastic disasters, toxic terra nova. We have also upped the “acceptable” background radiation levels over and over, due to leaking and venting nuclear power plants, nuclear weapons “testing”. We have found dioxins, rads, and heavy metals in fish, which are largely gone now from our oceans. We have had to abandon entire communities due to pollution. We have ignored mutations and cancer clusters surrounding toxic waste sites. It goes on and on in a deadening parade of horrors, an atrocity exhibition none of us will survive.

Now here comes China, hell bent on doing it all over again, worse. Even were USA instantly to turn green and renewable, the rest of the world would not, and the rapidly-encroaching death by heat and asphyxia, by poison and dehydration, by starvation and hardship only increases its eager pace, nearing the pounce point.

It’s appalling what overpopulation has caused, too, feeding directly into worsening of the climate and our condition, due in turn to the ecosystem becoming increasingly over-burdened and unstable from what we’re doing to it, all of which becomes worse when more and more people every day need things like food, water, and energy. The system is straining, wobbling. It’s over-stressed and will fly apart like an American car red-lined, out of oil, and racing full speed toward a cliff. This looms soon.

Most climate scientists say it’s long-since too late, we’re past the tipping point, and we may have as few as 5 – 20 years left before the Earth is simply not inhabitable by the vast majority of us. Only a few greedy rich might eke out a few more years in their underground redoubts, and even that is but a marginal chance for them. They too will die miserable in conditions most would call, in their superstitious reference system, hell.

That is a crushing prospect, but to do nothing in the face of all this criminality that murders us each moment is despairing and suicidal, if not nihilistic. Certainly we owe it to ourselves to fight back every inch of the way toward the hell we’ve made, and to find ways to stop, reverse, perhaps redeem some of it. Doing nothing only guarantees failure.

Then there are the labels. People fear labels even as they embrace them. It is not that you are a right wing crazy if you’re confused by conflicting claims, not at all. Corporate, benefitting short-term from the greed, polluting, and destruction of ecosystem and environment, have been fogging the issues all along by asking such phony questions as, “hasn’t weather always changed?”, or “how can mere man affect such a huge Earth?”

They have also used statements such as, “the data is not yet in on whether smoking causes cancer” and “no direct link can be established between smoking and cancer” (both “true” cherry picked viewpoints, neither relevant to the facts, so it’s false equivalence)/

Yes, those are right wing obfuscations designed to allow corporate more time to do more harm for more profit, regardless of lives and environment needed to support them being lost. It is now or never that we must stop tolerating this, start ignoring corporate lies, and definitely, deliberately move past, incrementally, when, where, and how we can, this impasse of pettifogging doubt and tentative hesitation corporate has created.

Why not fight for a clean, sustainable world? What harm is there in that? Only to corporate profit, and what does that gain we the people? Only further slavery.

Action is necessary, not further blather and jabber.

What action? Voting for green candidtates, protesting corporate polluters, and boycotting all business that supports polluters and despoilers, while giving your own support to green energy and transportation systems, would be a good start. Drive a hybrid or electric car. Install solar panels and solar-heating tanks. Grow your own vegetables in a backyard garden. Eat locally-produced foods. Subscribe to local organic farmers so they can make a living and supply you with fresh, healthy foods. Conserve water. Plant trees and greenery. Sponsor roof-top and hanging gardens in cities. Covered green walkways provide shade, clean the air, and offer more beautiful conditions for people in cities. Bike paths let people get around in a healthy, non-polluting way.

Be aware, every day, of how each choice you make affects everything and everyone, and choose the greener, the more efficient, the cleaner. Demand our politicians and corporations do the same and force them, by our will and our custom, to change for the better. It may be too late to save ourselves, it may not, but it is high time to begin living a more civilized, sustainable, and comfortable life of healthy, green, clean choices. If go out we must, why not in style?

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“There is only Will amidst the Random.”

/ Bu-Xan Da, Tenshin Monastery, Abbatia Mystica


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Black Dahlia & White Rose

Black Dahlia & White Rose
by Joyce Carol Oates
Ecco/Harper-Collins
hardcover, 1st edition
274pp
ISBN: 978-0-06-219569-2

A Review
by Gene Stewart

Although arguably there is but a hint of werewolf in only one of these eleven dark, gleaming tales, readers of literate horror will savor this book. Fear, dread, and anticipated violence permeates the lives depicted here. Glimpses, sidelong glances, and the occasional grasp of a cold, unseen hand are brought vividly to life, and that trickle of sweat you feel tickling its way down your ribs or the groove of your spine might just be chilled blood.

Haunted, doomed women is another aspect of life these stories hold in common. We see fated women, such as those in the title story, Elizabeth Short and Norma Jean Baker, soon to become either notorious as the Black Dahlia or famous as Marilyn Monroe. They share more than a room at a boarding house in this story of savage murder and hard surface gloss; they share the curse of a common American dream.

Each story is vivid and memorable. Details that take away a reader’s breath accumulate and the impact each story delivers, whether brutal and sudden or unexpected and subtle, leaves a mark in one’s thoughts.

There is noir here. There is psychological horror, romance, and tragedy. There is a range of technique. Each story offers an approach toward understanding minds and lives caught in the midst of mysterious, often life-changing or deadly events and encounters. Fraught is a word that comes to mind; these folks are fraught, when not unaware and vulnerable.

Many of these stories are implicit and offer oblique endings to be surmised by the astute reader. One sees where things are going so there is no need to state it bluntly. Others end in that moment of clarity and despair all lesser writers try to capture, here presented without seeming effort by one of the world’s best.

In the titular story the reader visits the psychology of two iconic women, both doomed in such different ways for largely the same reason. In “I.D.” we are in the mind of a young girl who must identify her dead mother. We see her denial and the brittle surface of normalcy she hides in as she rejoins classmates in school. “Deceit” offers a woman going down the drain and taking her troublesome daughter with her. “Run Kiss Daddy” carries unsettling echoes of VANISHED, the Dutch version.

Readers meet women realizing how hollow their marriages, and lives, have been. One sees people caught in webs of deceit often woven unaware by themselves. In “Spotted Hyenas: A Romance” hints of ghostly werewolf transformation mingle with zoology and the mating habits of repressed upper-class wives, unrequited love, and lustful if vague and unresolved sexual fantasies.

Settings include bedrooms, Rome, San Quentin, and field research facilities. They include the past, the present, and alternative worlds that may be all in the mind, but whose? By turns seductive, sly, and harrowing, with bright flashes of crimson amidst the muted tones of dusk, twilight, and self-denial, these stories are each worth seeking out and all worth the varied experiences reading them will offer.

For a reader who likes intelligent, brilliantly-observed horror and terror, these “literary” stories are among the best one can find, and for literary readers, look over your shoulder, the shadows are encroaching.

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Mr Mercedes

Mr. Mercedes
by Stephen King
Scribner’s 2014
Hardcover 1st edition
437pp
ISBN: 978-1-4767-5445-1

A Review
by Gene Stewart

He mentions James M. Cain on the dedication page but this streamlined killer thriller has other echoes, more contemporary ones. Lean prose, relatable people, and an interesting, layered mystery presented from various perspectives propel the reader through, while immediacy is assured by the present tense, third person narrative. One reads it in almost real time, it seems.

Tragedy and triumph at a breakneck pace that still allows room for humanity mark this as a superior thriller by any measure. Recommended for vacations, it will also please mystery readers.

Briefly, the plot concerns a retired police detective snatched from the ashes of suicidal burnout by an unresolved case flaring to life again and focusing on him and those around him. With a little help from his friends, he manages, barely, to address a situation rapidly bloating out of all proportion.

There is a Dean Koontz-ish villain. There are naturalistic settings presented concisely, vivid pathology, and grounded police procedure & culture. Set in a midwestern city we can all recognize and to which many will relate, Mr. Mercedes is modern noir with many welcome twists and deft, human touches.

Grab a copy and enjoy yourself, this is the work of a master storyteller at the top of his form and a superb writer whose talents are sharper than ever and informed by a backlist of experience few can match.

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Gorey Edward’s Final Stance by W B Kek

Ladder

The rung of a ladder is small;
It’s round like it’s not there at all.
You cut it half through
With a saw from beneath
Then their weight as they climb makes them fall.

/ W B Kek, “Gorey Edward’s Final Stance”

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A Band That Does Not Hide Behind Its Music

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all girl japanese band play naked by gambit09

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Inflation is up, the guy in the middle
Is getting screwed by the balance of cost
Economy slowing, death-rate increasing,
Hungry kids dying, everything’s lost.

Nobody lives when living is torture,
Nobody wants to live in pain.

Generation, malcontent, evolutionary rebel
Panic-stricken, full of fear, smash the luminary level

All the young lovers,
All the important,
All the requested,
All of them fools.

Search for an answer
Call on religion
Use all the tactics
Bend all the rules

Now everything’s bought, commodity’s greed-fest,
Chaotic investers, they rant and they rave.
Political heaven with voters all twisted,
Profit defined as the number of graves.

Hey you with the answers, you’re causing our problems,
Just shut up and let us define our own fears.
Hey you with the hammers, the guns, and the jackboots,
We’re coming for you, you can’t hide in our tears.

Nobody lives when living is torture,
Nobody wants to live in vain.

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“Guy In the Middle”, Serious Coin’s variation of a song by Gene Stewart

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