Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Tropical Depression

What I learned after spending a year in Florida: I can't write in Florida.

Something about the nonstop permanent-yet-impermanent chaos of the Sunshine State, coupled with the biorhythm-altering utter lack of seasons, can make a man confused, spinning his wheels, distracted by shiny things, buttered all over, reaching out in the darkness for something stable amidst the whirlwind of data.

Of course, that's not to say it isn't a blast. If one must be distracted from the Great Work, at least it's by awesome piano bars, steak and absinthe, bubble tea, beachcombing, birdwatching, fine cigars, oysters and island-hopping. That, and keeping busier than ever with all those little things I quietly do in the background.

So, here I sit in paradise, thinking, ever thinking, about those four in-progress novels sitting on my desk. One of them - The Alternation of Night and Day, is technically finished but I keep tweaking on it. And tweaking. As I've noted before, though, I'm not one to rush these things, even if it is tawdry little Kindle pulp fiction novellas and not War And Peace we're talkin' about here. They'll be finished whenever they're finished, deadlines be damned. But it's my fondest hope, dear reader, that at least two of these will manifest before year's end:


The Alternation of Night and Day. I couldn't decide if I wanted to write a boxing novel or a voodoo novel next. So I did both. An Irish boxer living in Louisville in the 1930s decides to seek an occult solution to his personal and career woes.

Solar Station A. As mankind just starts to get to the point where ordinary citizens can get their own personal small crafts to go zipping around in space, one of the early adopters gets out there and discovers that we have not been told the truth about what's really going on in our solar system.

Matilda Heron. An actress with a 17th century theatre company becomes entangled with a strange secret society, and increasingly finds herself having difficulty differentiating the events of her life from the events her characters experience onstage.

The Tract of Blood. A sequel to The Moleskin Checklist, in which Jack has become a compulsive gambler and golf club hustler in an Arizona resort town. Jack is traumatized by the theft of his precious "Tract of Blood" notebook. Sappy and his mysterious new exotic mail-order girlfriend aid Jack's quest to get it back, whether he wants their help or not.


Ernest Hemingway did some of his finest work in Florida, and so I must ask myself how better to follow in his flip-flopped footsteps. I'm thinking I need to drink more rum. In an effort to better assume the beingness of ol' rockin' Ern, I plan to pack up stakes and head to a remote group of islands in the near future. Here, I believe, I will slap out my finest work.

Then again, Hemingway died depressed and blew his brains out. Maybe I should be more like Fitzgerald and just go back to guzzling gin rickeys at Louisville's haunted Seelbach Hotel?

Sunday, February 2, 2014

JSH Book Tour 2014

Watch this post, as it will be continually updated with the latest JSH Book Tour dates!

Although I'll be sticking closer to home this year, I plan to double last year's number of personal appearances. With Solar Station A, Matilda Heron, and The Alternation of Night and Day all lined up for release this year, plus new specialty hardcover editions, plus a couple of secret projects not to be spoken of yet, plus further musical performances, PLUS everything else I do in life that doesn't concern you, it's gonna be a busy year, my dears.

Tour dates vary from simply making an appearance at a venue at a table, signing autographs and handing out coupons for the Kindle edition of the book (plus surprise gifts), to actual readings and speaking engagements. This year there will be more and more of the latter; more formal events. Even so, as with everything in my life, it all essentially runs on a "the event starts whenever I show up" basis. Find me.

Sometimes impromptu appearances occur on the way to, or on the way back from, any given event. These dates will be added to the list retroactively for archivism's sake. Need more specific info? E-mail me or keep an eye on my Twitter feed.

February 3: Ocala, FL.
February 4: Orlando, FL.
February 5: St. Petersburg, FL.
February 26: Silver Springs, FL.
March 3: Tampa, FL.
March 20: Tallahassee, FL.
March 27: Ocala, FL.
April 2: Tampa, FL.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Excerpt from "The Alternation of Night and Day"

Coming this winter in paperback and Kindle edition from the JSH Book Club: The Alternation of Night and Day!

It's a story set in 1936, with an Irish boxer from Louisville named Danny O'Corbin who seeks an occult solution to his personal and career problems. The quest takes him to New Orleans to meet a man who, he's been promised, can help him become a more powerful being.

More details on the book, and how to win free copies, will follow in the weeks to come!

The science fiction epic Solar Station A, originally scheduled to be the next book club installment, has been postponed a few months. One of the good things about calling the shots of your own book distribution is the ability to extend your own deadlines infinitely, or even just throw up your hands and say, "you know what? It'll be out when it comes out." The other upcoming novel, Matilda Heron, will also appear early next year.

---------------------------------------------

Helen Ward and the Benny Goodman Orchestra played on the truck radio. "Just like the sting of a bee, you turned the tables on me..."

Daniel munched from a paper bag of salt-boiled shrimp he'd bought from a roadside vendor, and gazed around at the swampland. Trees heavy with Spanish moss, with exposed roots and tentacles, lurched against each other like drunken Arsenal teammates covered in mud after a football game in the rain. This sort of scenery was new to him; except for a childhood visit back to his ancestral home of Waterford, he'd rarely left Louisville in his life. And even then, it was to visit other big cities like Cincinnati and St. Louis. In this rural setting, feelings of anxiety were welling up within him, and he couldn't say exactly why.

Ahead on the left he saw a group of people and some sort of commotion. A man was holding onto another man, and forcing him down into the swampwater to drown. The rest of the mob, many of whom were women, were cheering and joyous about it.

Daniel started to hit the gas, but then found himself hitting the brake. He pulled over.

Being an exceptional fighter sometimes made Daniel feel obligated to step in and help others whenever he saw them being attacked and bullied. It made him feel to good to help people in this way, but it also made him feel like an intruding busybody. He often tried to come up with a philosophical stance that would make him feel more comfortable with the contradiction, but he never succeeded.

"Hey!" cried Daniel, flinging the truck door open. "What goes on here?"

Everyone stopped and turned to look at him in surprise. The man, still holding into the other man in the water, said something but Daniel couldn't hear it.

"Let him go! I said let him go!" Daniel shouted as he strode up, and then in a quieter voice as he got to the water's edge: "What the bloody hell are you people doing to him?"

Suddenly everyone burst out laughing, including the man being drowned.

"I'm being baptized, brother," he grinned.

Daniel was stunned. He'd never heard of someone being baptized in a swamp. His own baptism had occurred when he was a baby, and took place in the baptismal font at the door of the Cathedral of the Assumption.

"Come and join us! Have you been baptized?" called out the attacking man - who Daniel now realized must be a Pastor - who motioned with his hand for him to enter the murky water.

"Thanks anyway," mumbled Daniel, "I'm not really a religious person..."

A cloud crossed the Pastor's face, both literally and figuratively. "Oh, son, thou hast let thy prideful ways bring you down to the level of man's world and not God's world, haven't you?"

Daniel hated it when people talked that way. Just because people said "thou hast" in the day of the King James Bible didn't mean Jesus talked like that, and there sure wasn't any reason to talk like that now. No wonder so many people can't tell Shakespeare quotes from Bible quotes half the time.

"Maybe some other time," Daniel said nervously. "Look, I'm really sorry to have disturbed you..."

"Thou fool!" the Pastor suddenly intoned melodramatically. "this night thy soul shall be required of thee!"

Daniel just stared back.

"That's Luke 12:20," said one of the women, cheerfully and helpfully.

The free-floating irrational fear in Daniel's head, simmering before, now came to a full boil. He felt his face go flush and his temples go numb. It became difficult to breathe. Daniel struggled to sort out the mental and physical components of it, but his mind was racing too fast for his thoughts to monitor themselves. At that moment, all he wanted to do was run - preferably all the way back to Louisville - and this was a sensation he'd never had before.

Shaking, he turned and hurried back to the truck without another word. The women in their white dresses waved to him as he sped off.

Daniel turned the radio on and off a number of times. He tried to eat a shrimp and then spat it out the window. He thought about happy things and then thought of unhappy things, trying to flip the dials and levers of his nervous system until he came up with a combination that calmed the overwhelming anxiety. Finally he felt his blood pressure go down enough to breathe freely, and decided it must be the shrimp making him feel weird. He tossed the bag out the window. Through his rear view mirror he could see vultures had come from nowhere and swooped down on the discarded shrimp in an instant.

He turned the radio on again. Harriet Hilliard's "Get Thee Behind Me, Satan" was playing. He turned it off again.

The marshlands gave way to a wide grassy expanse of small farms and houses, some of them quite nice. Not at all the sort of neighborhood you'd expect a voodoo priest to be living in. Daniel studied the directions on the back of the placemat. Gray house with a big cactus out front, it said. And minutes later, there it was. A fancy two-story farmhouse, painted Confederate gray, with a tractor tire painted white in the yard, a very tall humanoid cactus standing within it.

The truck crunched gently into the peastone driveway. Could this really be the place? Aside from the cactus, it seemed so... normal. Daniel stepped out of the truck and walked up the steps of the veranda. A ceiling fan of a type he'd never seen before, with wide brown blades like leaves or insect wings, slowly rotated above him.

His hand was poised to knock on the door when a black woman pulled open the curtain on its window. He flinched with surprise, then felt embarrassed for having done so. He heard a series of locks, chains and bolts being undone, then the door opened.

"Hi, I'm Daniel O'Corbin. I'm here to see Joachim", he said, pronouncing the name phonetically.

Her face made no expression. "Joachim will be with you in just a minute," she replied, stressing the name and pronouncing it wa-keem. "Come in. Sit down."

The house was like a bewildering carnival inside. The walls were covered from top to bottom with all sorts of pictures and strange items. Pieces of tree branches and palm fronds were affixed to the walls making patterns. Newspaper clippings in French, some of them in little gilt frames. A hideous rag doll was nailed to a doorpost. Other dolls, some made of twine and sticks, others of corn shucks, also hung on the wall with beads draped around them. Ornate multi-sconces held scores of candles that smelled of camphor and oranges.

Daniel saw some Catholic icons displayed on a shelf, and stood staring at them as a stable factor in the room's rococo chaos. This worked fine for a bit, until he realized there was a dried, shriveled, human finger with a long yellow fingernail resting on the shelf as well. Daniel decided perhaps it was best to just go across the room and take a seat.

The woman wheeled a tea caddy into the room. Daniel stood up courteously. She placed two teabags in a delicate china cup and poured the water over it, then turned to leave.

"Oh, thank you, Miss, ah..."

She turned and stared. Daniel waited for her to take the hint to introduce herself but it wasn't coming.

"Yes?"

"I, uh, didn't get your name," he smiled.

"You can call me Variola," she said stonily. "Joachim will see you shortly."

Daniel sat down and shifted uneasily in his chair. He felt like he was waiting at the doctor's office. Except the doctor's receptionists were a lot nicer and they had better tea. Daniel wasn't a tea drinker anyway. What was this stuff? He reached for the tea package. Oolong. Oolong? Daniel had never heard of such a thing. He was starting to feel like there were a lot of things he'd been ignorant of, and was about to get an education.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Pirate Roll Call

My new novel The Seventeenth Island is available now on Amazon and in finer stores everywhere! Within its pages, a sailing vessel (the Affinity) of French pirates search for the buried treasure of their evil arch-enemy, a sadistic buccaneer named Vincenzo. While the crew are out to get rich on the spoils, the Captain's motivations are really about revenge over a past grudge that remains a mystery to the crew. Soon the dissonance between the goals of Captain Crespelle and his crew begin to form a growing wedge between them, as a series of strange incidents convinces the superstitious men that a curse has been placed on their voyage.

The crew of the Affinity are numerous, so much so that you may need a scorecard to tell the players at first. This, then, is a quick checklist of just a few of the colorful characters you will meet in The Seventeenth Island:

Colin. Resourceful tinkerer, inventor. Master Gunner of the Affinity. Has sailed with the Captain for many years after a bounty was put on his head in London for stealing a horse from an Earl. Goes only by Colin, which isn't his real name. Once, during an emergency when kidnapped by Cap'n Sourweed, built a working pistol in ten minutes out of a metal tube, some black powder, oakum, wax, and a nail.

Goaty. Real name Pierre Riel, "Goaty" was a friend and co-adventurer of Captain Crespelle for many years before officially signing on board as a member of his crew. Expert hunter, trapper, tracker, woodsman. Has insisted for a decade that his full pirate nickname is "The Invincible Goatherder", which absolutely no one calls him.

Crane. Second mate on the Affinity, Crane has been a very sporadic member of the crew for several years. When he saves up sufficient funds, he returns to his home in the south of France to bring money and gifts back to his wife and kids, who believe him to be in the French Navy and have no idea that he is a pirate. Crane is a excellent sailor and fighter, although he is easily given to greed and untrustworthiness. His deep respect for Captain Crespelle usually holds his shiftier character traits in check, however.

Guillaume. Born in slavery to African parents on a plantation in Bermuda and soon thereafter separated from them, Guillaume was one of the select few allowed to have an education - he speaks many languages - and was one of the personal servants of Admiral Eckley, the British owner of the plantation. Joined up with the Affinity after he and Courtemanche overthrew Eckley and took over the plantation. No longer remembering his given name and forsaking the name given him on the plantation, calls himself simply Guillaume. Has heard his parents are in Surinam and hopes to eventually find them.

Courtemanche. Quentin Courtemanche is the ship's sailing master/navigator/helmsman, although the actual duty of manning the helm is often parceled around to many other crewmembers as well. He sailed with the French Navy for many years before fleeing justice for killing a man in a saloon in Wales. "I dearly wish I could bring him back to life," Courtemanche humbly told the Judge before his facial expression turned to a sneer, "so I could go back and kill him again."

Pablo. Pablo Resendes is a recent addition to the crew, having become a de facto member when the Affinity had to hurriedly pull out of Portugal with him still on board visiting. Pablo, a widowed cooper, chose to stick it out with the Affinity.

Gaston. For most of his life, Belgian-born Gaston Lemmer was a dockworker in France. He visited the Affinity while it was in Dunkirk during one of its celebrations of a recent victory, and saw the ship was filled with beautiful women. Gaston, mistakenly assuming this was the norm for life on board, quit his job to join the crew. Though bitterly disappointed at first, Gaston has became one of the Affinity's most seaworthy men.

The Stoat. A wily Irishman whose real name is unknown. Signed on with Captain Crespelle eleven years ago after his previous Captain, Pine Cone Jack, was lynched by his own crew for banning tobacco. Tolerated by all despite the fact that he rarely seems to do anything on the ship but smoke and drink.

Jean-Michel. The only crewmember with the distinction of having come from a pirate family himself, Jean-Michel Chabot was born on a pirate ship and knows no other life. Though vastly overqualified to run a ship of his own, he prefers his position of first mate and does not seek to command.

Minty. Jacques Mintier worked at a fancy restaurant in Paris five years ago when he was fired for giving Captain Crespelle and his men one of the best tables in the house. The Captain, coming to his aid, offered him the position of cook on the Affinity. The two have been allies ever since. One of his and the Captain's greatest capers involved a drunken police chief, a bag of fake gold pieces, and a Tarentaise cow, but this just isn't the time or place to tell the tale.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Lucky Thirteen

As I predicted here earlier, I haven't quite made the self-imposed deadline of "late April" for the simultaneous release of The Bartender and The Seventeenth Island. I've been too busy living the Hemingway lifestyle in Florida and South Carolina to actually, you know, do writerly stuff. But hey, deadlines are made to be broken, and as a great man once said, "the greater the project, the more deadlines it will miss." (Okay, I think I said that.) My latest tentative deadline is my birfday, May 13th, and I'm pretty sure at least one of these little opuses will rear its pointed little head by then. Unless I get distracted by something shiny, like reflections of a neon sign in a margarita glass or some female spy giving me the Sparkly Eyes Technique.

Meanwhile, I haven't been entirely loafing. While in Myrtle Beach, I did some work on an upcoming horror novel about a boxer which takes place in the 1930s, called The Alternation of Night and Day. And Solar Station A, a lengthy science fiction epic, is almost completed and will appear later in the summer. By year's end, we'll also see a novel that's not quite a sequel to The Devil and Daniel Boone but it does feature at least one of its characters. Also by year's end, all of the above titles - and more - will be available in fancy hardcover editions from Wakeling & Harbour, published independently of any Amazon-based platform.

That's all. As you were. Carry on. Blessed be.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Excerpt from "The Bartender"

In theory, late April is supposed to see the simultaneous release of two new novels - the pirate novel The Seventeenth Island and a peculiar Bukowski-meets-DeQuincey affair called The Bartender that includes illustrations by J.T. Dockery. The latter book concerns a solitary bartender who lives a spartan life and looks upon his profession as some sort of noble calling of an ancient unspoken brotherhood not unlike the Rosicrucians or Knights Templar, to serve man by serving man drinks. But when he overhears information from one of his inebriant customers that could be used for his own illicit gain, his ethics are put to the test.

Just between you and me, though, dear reader, deadlines are made to be broken and I've got a feeling the books may now be pushed into early May instead. I've been so busy on the now-neverending JSH Book Tour - just returned from St. Augustine, FL and now about to head to Myrtle Beach, SC - that I haven't had to time to proof the files for final release. I'm determined there will be no typos in either of these books, even though in the spirit of pulp fiction's shoddy nature typos don't bother me a bit. (Did you know that F. Scott Fitzgerald's first edition of The Great Gatsby contained numerous glaring typos, misspellings, and even broken and missing text, and that some of these grievous errors remained in print in subsequent editions for years before ever being corrected?)

Meanwhile, I'm working on the next installment, a horror novel about a boxer which takes place in the 1940s, tentatively titled The Alternation of Night and Day. Solar Station A, a lengthy science fiction epic, will appear in the summer and at year's end, we'll see a novel that's not quite a sequel to The Devil and Daniel Boone but it does feature one of its characters.

But for now, here's an excerpt from The Bartender. I'm heading out the door, see you on the road out there. Find me.

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A rotund fellow with a thin mustache and slicked-back black hair planted himself at the bar. He was wearing a cream-colored suit that was clearly very expensive, but it was badly creased and looked like it had been slept in. The man, on the other hand, looked as if he'd had very little sleep.

"Whiskey," he mumbled.

"Our house whiskey is Seagram's", I said.

"Whiskey," he repeated, making a dismissive wave of his hand.

I sat the glass down and gave him a pour. He stared at it dolefully a moment, then glared back up at me.

"Would you like to make it a double?" I inquired. He nodded yes and I poured some more.

"Tell you what," he said, pointing his finger to a spot beside the glass, "can I go ahead and get a second double now too?"

"Certainly," I said, confused but eager to please as always. I sat a second glass down and poured it. No sooner than I'd finished pouring, he took the glass and poured its contents into the first one.

"Asshole," he muttered as he took his drink over to a table.

While I'd been pouring his second drink, a middle-aged woman had walked in wearing a strawberry colored plastic jacket and matching floppy sun hat. She was soaking wet and carried an umbrella that dripped water as she made her way to the bar. I looked out the window. It was a hot, dry and sunny day.

As the grumpy man excused himself, I turned to the wet woman and opened my mouth to greet her. Before I could speak, she beat me to it:

"Prairie Fire."

"Ah, come again?"

"Prairie Fire. Make it good."

I didn't yet grasp what she was saying - I'd heard it as something like "prayer far" - and asked her to repeat it again.

"Prair-reeeee Fyyyyy-errrrrrr", she enunciated slowly and condescendingly, though her condescention was somewhat sullied by her hick accent.

"I'm afraid I don't know what that is," I said. "What's in it?"

"Oh hon', you never heard of a Prairie Fire? You take a little bit of whiskey and a lot of hot sauce and you shake it up together. It is sooooooo fun."

That didn't sound like fun at all to me. I slowly grasped a shaker and started to pour the Seagram's with great reluctance.

"If you do it right, I oughta be runnin' from the room screaming in agony, " she cackled.

I smiled weakly. The customer is always right. I'd expect this sort of nonsense from a young fraternity man, the type who always wants flaming drinks not because they appreciate the ancient Hawaiian symbolism of tiki culture but because they just think fire is really neato; or doing that Boilermaker routine where you drop a shot glass of whiskey directly into a glass of beer, which usually achieves nothing but making a mess which I have to clean up.

"Is that your hottest hot sauce?" she asked as I put a few dashes into the shaker. I nodded. Actually, it was our only hot sauce, some cheapo grocery-store brand we used for Bloody Marys.

"Oh sweetie, you can't stop there. Gimme all you got. Let loose."

With trepidation I put five more dashes of hot sauce in. She shook her head and said, "take the cap off and POUR it, sweetie."

She held up two fingers horizontally indicating levels. "Whiskey," she said, then raised the top finger to double the depth - "hot sauce." She did it two more times to make sure I got the point. "Whiskey................. hot sauce. Whiskey............. hot sauce."

I shook the two together. "Rocks?"

"Neat, babykins."

I poured the sickening mixture, which looked more like hot sauce than anything else, into a glass. She tossed it back in one long slow gurgling drink with her head leaned so far I don't see how her floppy hat didn't fall off.

"Ahhhhhhhhhhhh," she exhaled and laid the glass loudly on the counter. "You're learning, hon', you're learning. Gimme another but this time dont skimp."

As I started preparing a second one, a funny expression came over her face and she grabbed her purse and umbrella and stood up quickly.

"Where's your bathroom, honey?"

I pointed, back and to the left. She walked stiflly and hurriedly in that direction.

She never did come back. I paid for her drink myself. It happens.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

The Seventeenth Island

I'm hoisting the Jolly Roger, and in the words of that great Ant man, "It's your money that we want, and your money we shall have." Even if it's just 99 cents for the Kindle edition.

We're looking at a late-April simultaneous release of the next two JSH Book Club installments - The Bartender, featuring illustrations by J.T. Dockery, and a pirate novel entitled The Seventeenth Island. Meanwhile, the science fiction epic Solar Station A, originally scheduled for this slot, has been moved to a summer release. Solar Station A will likely be the first of the book club offerings to be presented in a hardcover print edition independent of any online-based platform like Amazon's.

The Seventeenth Island takes place almost entirely aboard a sailing vessel of French pirates out to loot the buried treasure of their evil arch-enemy, a sadistic Italian buccaneer named Vincenzo. While the crew are out to get rich on the possible spoils, the Captain's motivations are really about revenge and righting what he sees as extreme ethical wrongs committed by Vincenzo, even by pirate standards.

Soon the dissonance between the goals of the Captain and the crew begin to form a growing wedge between them, as a series of disastrous incidents convinces the superstitious men that a curse has been placed on their voyage. Maurice, the ship's quartermaster, desperately tries to maintain the balance between the Captain's sentimental zeal and the crew's mutinous dissatisfaction before they find themselves literally and figuratively sunk.

The influence of my recent visit to St. Augustine, that great ancient city of pirate activity, also colors both novels. The mysterious state of Florida also rears its head in another work in progress, a horror novel about a boxer in the 1940s.