Monday, December 29, 2014

Literary Grindhouse

When I first published The Devil and Daniel Boone in the summer of 2012, it had been my intention that The JSH Book Club would quickly start cranking out these primitive, shoddy, low-budget literary crumbs on a monthly basis. Though four books in the year between summer 2012 and summer 2013 was admirable, it wasn't quite what I'd planned; nor was the almost year-long hiatus after The Bartender.

Now, having moved to Naples, I'm revitalized by the swamps of southern Florida, Ernest Hemingway style, and also perhaps anointed by having made my pilgrimage to the bar in St. Petersburg where Jack Kerouac had his last drink. I'm now announcing that, come hell or high water (both of which do in fact occur here) I'm putting out a book a month, making this a real, honest-to-gorsh book club that will deliver a fresh fruit to your mailbox every month.

January's selection is, of course, Toulouse-inations, which reared its ugly little head day before yesterday. I haven't yet decided what the next volume for February will be, but I have a whole raft of almost-finished projects cluttering up that desk. The genres run the gamut from historical romance to hard-boiled detective to voodoo thrillers to science fiction, but the greater overarching genre is "pulp fiction", that glorious world where ineptitude meets exuberance at the corner of inscrutability and expedience.

Saturday, December 6, 2014


My play Toulouse-inations, staged by Catclaw Theatre Company at the Kentucky Center For The Arts in 2008, is now a novel from Wakeling & Harbour and the JSH Book Club! The book will be available in paperback and Kindle e-book edition before year's end.

Toulouse-inations is about the declining fin de siecle days of Parisian nightlife in the 1880s, as seen through the green absinthe-drenched visions of painter Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec.

T-L spends much of his time propping up the bar, and in an adjacent brothel where he spends his nights consorting with prostitutes - but as a friend and lover, not a client. One of his polyamorous love interests is Eugenie, a blonde ingenue who aspires to become a playwright.

In addition to the fascinating women in his life, a number of other peculiar characters weave their way through the woof and warp of T-L's struggling art career. That career is imperiled continously by his bohemian lifestyle and alcoholism, which threatens his health and his sanity as his hallucinations increase in severity.

Toulouse-inations combines a lighthearted and breezy tone with darker elements of Steampunk and Grand Guignol horror. As with my previous historical novels - The Seventeenth Island and The Devil and Daniel Boone - if you're the sort to get bent out of shape over severe liberties being taken with historical accuracy, I caution you to stay away. Far away. The hell away. Run.

Submitted here is a brief excerpt:

Two nights later, I found myself once again leaning against the bar in the company of that Francis Tumblety fellow. He was wearing the exact same clothes he'd had on last time I'd seen him. (He probably thought the same of me, but I happen to have many white shirts and black vests.) Dr. Tumblety was in a slightly more erratic mood on this occasion, given to long stretches of brooding. He was also tossing the shots back at triple my pace.

Our conversation so far had been fairly normal and interesting. He hadn't really said anything truly obnoxious or weird this time. There came a lull in the talk, though, and we both sat silently, staring out at the crowd of people. He lit a cigar, which made copious amounts of thick gray smoke that he exhaled through his nose.

"Isn't smoke a funny thing?" he asked, dreamily and philosophically with a faraway look. "It's been inside our bodies, and yet we casually fill the air with it and breathe each other's. You would cringe at the idea of touching my lung, and yet you have inhaled particles from my lungs into your sinuses. Disquietingly intimate when you think about it, eh?"

"I must say I had not thought of it in that light. And let us proceed to stop thinking of it now."

Tumblety laughed, and blew more smoke in my direction.

It just goes to show you never know what might happen next in Montmartre: at that moment, a tall and lanky clown in a cerulean blue jumpsuit came staggering and stumbling towards the bar, as if disoriented. Usually people exit here in that state, not enter. He plopped down in the chair to my left and then began staring at me with what seemed to be awe.

"Are you part of the show?" I inquired.

"Show..?" he said, dazed. "No....."

"What'll it be?" Petra the bartender asked him, with total nonchalance. I guess she gets all kinds in here.

The clown looked around nervously. "Ahh... I'll have what he's having", he said, indicating me.

"Absinthe it is," said Petra.

"Absinthe?" repeated the clown, eyes widening with excitement. He turned to me. "Say, friend, um, what year is this?"


He looked crestfallen, as if that was not the answer he expected and not an answer he liked. Petra sat a glass of absinthe down, and the clown chugged it in one gulp.

"Thanks, brother," he whispered to me, patting me on the back as he stood up and walked away.

"Well, that was odd, wasn't it?" I said to Tumblety.

"Odd? What's that?"

"The clown, of course."

"Clown?" he looked puzzled, then his face brightened. "Hey, I brought something to show you. Hold on, let me fish it out of me gladstone." He rustled around in his big travel bag and produced a jar with a sealed lid, containing something that looked like a piece of lasagna floating in alcohol.

"Have a look at that, then, ain't she a beauty?"

"What IS it?"

"It's a uterus", he beamed like a proud parent.

I recoiled, then thought it must be a joke and got closer to peer at it, then recoiled again.

"Whu.... uh... *why* do you carry a uterus in a jar around with you?"

"Wouldn't you?"

I just stared at him in horror.

"Never know when you might need one," he grinned.

We sat in silence awhile longer. I swallowed back some more absinthe and then chased it with cognac while he puffed away at that infernal cigar that smelled of scorched wheat, like if someone burns toast.

"I save 'em after operations, you know," he finally said. Little keepsakes of my livelihood, and theirs. Someday when I'm old and gray I'll have a whole trophy room full of these memories."

"I never met a surgeon who wanted to keep such mementos."

"I take pride in my work, sir. Great pride."

Petra wandered by and did a double take looking at the jar.

"What is that?" she said.

"A uterus", Tumblety and I said matter-of-factly and simultaneously.

"Alllllllllrighty then," she mumbled, shaking her head and walking away as we clinked our shot glasses together.

Just then, Marie took the stage in a gold sparkling dress which she quickly proceeded to strip off in a dance routine. She never looked more beautiful than she did just this moment. Part of me was filled with pride to associate with her, while another part of me felt great sadness that someone with so much talent should be wasting it on the miscreants in this place - and that includes me.

"See her?" I said to Tumblety. "That's another of my love interests."

"Confound it, Hansel," he replied, "How do you do it? I have *got* to start following you around and picking up your bread crumbs."

(Above: Erin Mann as Petra, Erik DeCicco as Dr. Francis J. Tumblety, and Sidney Hymson as Toulouse-Lautrec in the 2008 stage premiere of "Toulouse-inations".)

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.