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".)