Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Holidays ramblings 2012

Been a helluva year, hasn't it?

I often sit back and think about what I'll remember about any given time period. In the fourteen years I've been living in Pennsylvania, here are the things, in no particular order, that really stand out for me:
  • The first sight of my new home, and my future wife Mona, after twenty-four straight hours of driving a U-Haul with a cranky cat in the passenger seat. 
  • Turning on the TV on a September morning and hearing about a plane hitting the World Trade Center, and watching live as another one hit it. And seeing both towers crumble a short time later. 
  • Stopping at a house in Tamaqua, Pennsylvania to see about buying a dog, and watching as the seller opened a cage and this little furry sausage shoot out with her ears flopping like Dumbo on take off. That was our first meeting with little Emiko Marie Meyer, eternal puppy extraordinaire. 
  • Digging a hole in the backyard and placing the lifeless body of my dog Buster in it. Never was there a more faithful mutt.
  • Watching footage of the remains of the Columbia plummeting to Earth, and agree with John Carpenter and Dan O'Bannon that it was indeed a beautiful way to die. 
  • My wife, having heard chirping outside our living room window, bringing in a tiny gray-and-white kitten that barely covered the palm of one hand, which the mother had abandoned under a bush; and the phone call at work saying she'd found two more; and the months of hand-feeding three little furballs that was so bloody expensive yet so bloody joyful.
  • Finally getting to see Blue Oyster Cult in concert, after decades of enjoying their music. And wishing that my best friend Dave had been there to raise his beer with me to the strains of "Golden Age of Leather."
How's that for morose holiday remembrances? Yeah, it can be that way sometimes. That's life, and I calls them like I sees them. I really should've been an umpire. 

On happier notes, I look at what I've managed to do over this same time period. I've got a family, at least the kind of family I've always wanted. I've got a loving wife and I've got a load of children; they may be furry, but they are my children - anyone out there would be well to remember that. You touch my wife or kids and I will seriously fuck you up.

I've kind of started a new career. Well, at least it's a hobby. This writing thing isn't all that much in the grand scheme of things, since I can't get as serious about it as a lot of writers do, but at least it pays my cable internet bill. And it keeps me off the street. I'm even blogging every week, something I figured I'd never do because I could never think of ever having enough to say to do it regularly.

I've managed to get back in contact with a lot of old friends. By my personal definition of "family," I consider them as such. I hope they appreciate how much I've enjoyed their friendship over the years. My sincerest good wishes to Larry, Jim, and all the others and their families for the coming year. 

There have been a lot of new friends as well.

Some have already left, like Johnnie Sninsky and Joe Pinkasavage, two men I feel honored to have been able to know. Johnnie and his son Dennis have, from Day 1, made me feel like I was welcome here in this little town; Walking into the gas station Johnnie ran (and now Dennis runs), it was like I had always been there, part of the gang. Joe was the same, and was such a font of knowledge about the area, and everything, that it is still so hard to to imagine him walking into the station even now.

I've met a lot of people on-line as well, mostly as part of this burgeoning "career" I've started. Like I said, a lot of writers take things real serious; luckily, a lot of them also don't. Dan, Kristina, Kat, Laurie, David, Stephen, Jen, Laura, Erin, Karen, Susan, Jack, Nancy, Cathy, Jennie, Melanie, Jo, Carol, Nickie, Audrey, Nick, Connie, Alice, and all the others I've forgotten and will edit in later after someone sends me a note later, I hope you all have a great year coming up. And thanks for putting up with my eccentricities. 

Ten things that people should know about me:

  1. I don't take things seriously. Unless, like Dalton in Roadhouse, it's time to take things seriously.
  2. I make jokes. A lot. And I will joke about anything. So don't take offense. Or go ahead; that's your prerogative and it's no skin off my nose. 
  3. I am an agnostic, leaning toward atheism. The hope that I will spend the afterlife fighting Ragnarok with the Justice Society is the only thing that keeps me from going completely anti-deist. 
  4. I am a liberal, but I don't like considering myself a Democrat. I also see nothing wrong with Socialism per se, as long as it's purity is maintained. 
  5. I mean what I say. I'm not a completely tactless bastard, but I usually call things for what they are. 
  6. I fear no man or god.
  7. I listen to Frank Zappa, Blue Oyster Cult, Rush, Motorhead, and Rick Springfield on a regular basis. 
  8. Seven Samurai is the best movie ever committed to celluloid. 
  9. I share cat pictures on Facebook. Deal with it. 
  10. And this is the single most beautiful piece of music ever written by mankind:

Naturally, that was "mankind" as a whole, and not Mankind, the wrestler. 

Have a Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, Happy Hanukkah, Happy Kwanzaa or whatever happens to trip your trigger. Try to look out for each other in the coming year, okay? Remember Karma can be a bitch, so do something cool now and again for somebody else. 

Sunday, September 30, 2012

It was fifty years ago today...

September 30th, 1962 was a pretty normal day for most people. The Cubs beat the Mets, but back then almost anyone could do that. I suppose most folks didn't realize that day marked the end of a truly momentous era in US history. September 30th, 1962 was the official end of the Golden Age of Radio.

It wasn't "the day the music died" or anything like that. It was the day the music almost completely took over the airways of the country. The final two episodes of the last two network dramatic radio programs aired on September 30th, 1962: Suspense and Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar.

Until the recent days of on-demand video on the Internet, there wasn't anything that came close to the entertainment, advertising, and informational value of radio. Radio was the first medium that touched almost every single American household at the same time. The raw immediacy of the form struck a nerve that soon formed a powerful industry out of a fledgling hobby.

The Golden Age of Radio, from the thirties to the early sixties, saw media and entertainment dynasties formed, many of which still exist today. Powerhouses like the Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS), the National Broadcasting Company (now NBC and ABC) down to fan favorites like American Bandstand owe their longevity and socio-economic impact to those glory days.

There was so much wonderful content produced back then: Comedy by the likes of Jack Benny, George Burns and Gracie Allen, and drama by Arch Oboler, Norman Corwin, and Orson Welles. You can still hear the report of the destruction of the Hindenburg, FDR's "Day of Infamy" speech, and Don Larsen's perfect game in the World Series.

We're lucky that there is a large number of old-time radio programs that still survive. There are literally thousands of them that you can find on the Internet and listen to for free. But there is so much that either was not transcribed to record or tape, or that had the recordings carelessly or callously destroyed over the decades that it is almost criminal; A lot of creative people, a lot of daily events, a lot of life that deserves to be remembered is gone forever.

Perhaps this won't happen again. I'm constantly amazed at the old TV shows I can find lurking in dusty corners of the Internet. Maybe we're finally in an era where everything about our society will be kept, either for nostalgia's sake or whatever. When I think about the end of radio's Golden Age back in 1962, I have to wonder if that's something that could happen to radio again. Talk radio is still growing and pushing music stations off the air - political pundits are apparently much more soothing to people than pop music now. One would really hope that America has learned its lesson and will stand up and support free entertainment.

One would also think Honey Boo Boo wouldn't have become a hit either. We do seem to like to watch the train wreck instead of taking the logs off the tracks.

For those of you interesting, here are the final episodes of Suspense and Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar, courtesy of archive.org.

Two other links I'd like to post in commemoration of this day:

WJSV Complete Broadcast Day: Also available on archive.org is this unique broadcast. WJSV in Washington recorded their entire day of programming on September 21st, 1939. I've always thought it was one of the truly unique moments of radio, as you can listen to how it was done, from 6am sign-on to the final sign-off at night. .

Lum and Abner Comic Strip: Lum and Abner was a popular program of radio's Golden Age, and one of the funniest. Artist Donnie Pitchford has created a syndicated comic strip based on Pine Ridge, Arkansas' premier citizens, which is posted every Sunday at firstarkansasnews.net.  To my knowledge, it is really the only radio-related property being used in any form right now, and is a great strip to boot.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012


Why is what I think funny funny and most of the crap you see on TV right now just that – crap? I honestly have no clue.  I just know what makes me laugh.

I can guffaw at the right Three Stooges short, but really the Marx Brothers were THE movie comedy team for me. “Hooray for Captain Spaulding” is a song that always brings back memories of good times. Animal Crackers is up there with Cary Grant’s Father Goose as my all-time favorite funny flick.

You know what really makes me laugh? Let me tell you the three comedy masterminds that have most influenced what I perceive as "funny."

Monty Python. My mom took me to the drive-in once and it happened to be showing a double feature of Monty Python and the Holy Grail and And Now For Something Completely Different. How’s that for the proverbial defining moment. The prosaic humor of Happy Days and Mork and Mindy would never quite ring true again.

Buddy Hackett. Yeah, that Buddy Hackett, the short, fat little guy from It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World and numerous other movies and talk shows. You know why he’s on this list? Because of one routine. At one show, Buddy picked a very straight-laced-looking lady in the audience and proceeded to tell her a “dirty” joke that he said she could tell anyone. I don’t even remember what the joke was, other than it was quaint and almost syrupy. After the prerequisite laugh, he asked her if she’d like to hear another one. A nod and “Okay, there were these two fags fucking a dead alligator in the back of a bus…”  Yeah, yeah, not P.C., I know. But I know at least four people who watched it with me that were rolling on the floor laughing after the punch line. I mean, Buddy Hackett? C'mon!

Following that, there was only one option: Seek out the Master … the original shock comic. The “sick” comic. Lenny Bruce. 

The bastards fucked that man over so badly. Sure, some of it was his own doing, as part of his own marketing scheme gone awry, but as time went on there was no way to tell where promotion ended and Lenny began. His albums were blandly vicious, as a lot of things just could not be put to vinyl back then. Hell, half of his first album isn’t even Lenny – it’s some other comic that barely sounds like him.  The parts that are his are masterful; such as the bleeped-out Lawrence Welk auditioning an addict of a jazz man for his band, and Father Flotsky’s Triumph, a parody of thirties’ prison flicks, which are wonderful and funny bits that transcend most of the comedy that was available at the time.

Many fans criticized him for never doing most of the bits from his albums in his shows. I could never understand that. Why would you pay to see someone recite comedy shticks you’ve already heard? Maybe you can enjoy the five hundredth millionth “You might be a redneck” routine, but I’ve got better ways to spend my time and money rather than hope for one new gem out of a dozen of rehashed throwaway lines.

It is the live performances that strike the nerves. We’re lucky in that several of them still survive unedited. The Carnegie Concert and The Berkeley Concert are available in audio, and you can probably find the Lenny Bruce Performance film around. Lenny Bruce was the master of observational humor, and he didn’t really tell jokes or do shticks. He made observations and brought forth a lot of basic truths in a manner that made them both understandable and got them right in your face. The Berkeley Concert’s opening bit about religion and the growth of society is masterful in its simplicity. And then he’d throw a counterpoint out like wondering if Bela Lugosi liked smelling his own armpits when he lifted his cape to scare someone. Lenny just talked to his audience, and had them eating out of his hand.  One of my single favorite observations he made was “Everyday people are straying away from the Church and going back to God.” If that isn’t prescience, I don’t know what is.

Unfortunately, the many legal problems Lenny Bruce had, as well as his addiction to drugs took their toll on him. His concerts, as somewhat evidenced in the Performance film, became personal indictments leveled at the system that had attacked him, and Lenny became the joke rather than seeing it. Once that happened, there really was no alternative to his eventual fate. He was a product of a changing time that changed a little faster than he was allowed to follow. His death by overdose was preordained; as much of a waste as it was, I would like to think it was his own choice - to end things on what was left of his terms rather than let the forces against him take even that from him.

Lenny Bruce once said “The only honest art form is laughter … comedy. You can’t fake it. Try to fake three laughs in an hour – ha-ha ha-ha ha-ha – they’ll take you away, man. You  can’t.”

Funny doesn’t have to make you laugh. Funny can also make you think, and usually that’s the very best kind.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Week 12 The Next Big Thing Blog Tour

Here is Week 12 of The Next Big Thing Blog tour. And you get the privilege of me. 

Okay, these blog tour things ... meh. I got tagged by Laurie E. Boris. If it hadn't been someone I knew, I probably wouldn't have done it. 

I'm not the kind of person who blogs just for the sake of blogging. Too many people think they have to yammer every day about anything just to keep their name in the search engines and on Twitter. Bleh. I don't have to feed that kind of ego. 

Why is there a pic of J.R. "Bob" Dobbs here? If you have to ask...

Yeah, yeah, I know. "Blog and keep your name out there! Exposure is the key!" Well, I try to blog only when I have something somewhat reasonably interesting to say. I'll go months without posting, or post every day for six weeks, but never just because I want to read myself talking. 

So on that note, here we go with das questions! Too-dah-doo-doot! Huzzah!

1.      What is the working title of your book?
I'm currently working on six books semi-actively:
  • Ruby's Story, an illustrated children's book based on the recent adoption of my blind kitten.
  • Lost Voices, a cyclopedia of information and trivia about 101 near-forgotten old-time radio programs. 
  • A sci-fi superhero novel that I'll probably call Pandora City
  • And three of my ubiquitous quiz books, Horror Movies, Comic Books and a general one with ten separate subjects. 

2.      Where did the idea come from for the book?
They all just seemed like good ideas at the time. I was inspired by a couple of Facebook friends and their children's books for Ruby's Story. I'm a lifelong fan of old-time radio and do what I can to make sure that the wonderful programs from that era aren't lost to the winds of time and memory. Pandora City is a super-hero tale that I've been working and re-working in my head for several years now. I keep starting it and then decide "no, that's hokey" and restart it. It's gonna be a tad derivative, at least to me, but then what isn't?

The quiz books are quickies ... usually I can write a hundred good questions in a day, so even my longest books take less than two weeks on average. 

3.      What genre does your book fall under?
Children's, Reference, science fiction/superheroes and Games/Puzzles

4.      Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
No bloody idea. Wouldn't really care, either, since once somebody would buy my work, it's out of my hands.  

5.      What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
Ruby's Story: Life through the experiences of a kitten who born blind.
Lost Voices: A compendium of information about old radio shows.
Pandora City: A team of super-powered heroes battle an ancient thaumaturgist to stop all time from falling apart.

6.      Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
Self-published. Only fools use agencies in this day and age.

7.      How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
Two hours (not counting the artwork, which will probably end up making it two months), two years, and two to ten days, respectively.

8.      What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
Not really sure yet. . 

9.      Who or What inspired you to write this book?
Kat Brooks and Dvora Swickle's children's books, my enjoyment for old-time radio and hatred of incorrect anecdotal information, my life-long enjoyment of comic books and super-hero squabbles, and my fascination of trivia and spending money, respectively.

10.    What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
I think all of them will be interesting, family-friendly, somewhat enlightening, all in different ways. Ruby's Story and Pandora City I hope will be as fun to read as they will be to write. 

Next Week, the Next Big Thing Blog Tour will be going to the much more urbane and upbeat blogs of Aaron Speca and Stephanie Brown Myers. Be sure to give them a look-see!


Rules for the Next Best Thing Blog Tour
***Answer the ten questions about your current WIP (Work In Progress) ***
Tag five other writers/bloggers and add their links so we can hop over and meet them. It’s that simple.
Ten Interview Questions for The Next Big Thing
1.      What is the working title of your book?
2.      Where did the idea come from for the book?
3.      What genre does your book fall under?
4.      Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
5.      What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
6.      Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
7.      How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
8.      What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
9.      Who or What inspired you to write this book?
10.    What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Does it take someone special to adopt a special-needs pet?

The short answer to that question is “No, not really.”

Special-needs pets. The term itself sounds foreboding in a politically correct sort of way, doesn’t it? The phrase has become a name tag for thousands of pets awaiting adoption in shelters and rescues across the country and indeed the world. The term is also broad and covers a lot of ground, much like we have many similar phrases for similarly-problematic human beings. We do need those phrases though, don’t we? In the cases of special pets, they can be a great way to drop a barrier between a pet and a prospective forever family.

Special-needs pets can fit into a large range of situations. They can be formerly abused animals, neglected animals, physically-challenged animals, deaf and/or blind animals, and even simply older or elderly pets. They are all pets that either haven’t been given much of a chance by humans, or have been hurt by humans, or have been simply abandoned by their former masters, either through malice or economic need.

Long before the phrase became a catchword, back when I first got out on my own, I adopted an older cat from the local Humane Society in Stevens Point, Wisconsin. I could have gotten a kitten; believe me, there were plenty of them there. But instead I decided to opt for a little less active cat that I saw there; I just wanted the cat for companionship, as I have almost always had pets around the house.  I also knew that there were loads of families who would want to adopt kittens, but not that many who want a "pre-owned" pet, if you know what I mean. Her name was already Lu, so I kept it that, and she came home with me. As you can see in the photo below, she was a big fluffy girl, very lovable and was wont to tell me she wanted attention by plopping herself on top of whatever book I might happen to be reading.  She and I moved to Pennsylvania, but unfortunately I had to have her put down back in 1999, due to kidney failure. It was the first time I had to face that bleak prospect, and it isn’t one that I wanted to go through again. My little girl had been with me for eight years, and I suspect she had been at least six to nine years old to begin with, so at least she had a relatively long, pain-free life.

After moving to Pennsylvania, my wife Mona and I decided to adopt a dog. We had two cats at the time, Lu and Mona’s pet Whobee. Into that mix came Buster, a Jack Russell terrier mutt who we were told was only a year old, but later discovered was a few years older. Buster was definitely a “special-needs” animal. He had been abused by former owners, who burnt him with cigarettes, and he spent a large period of time outside in the wild and the elements.  He wasn’t a very well-adjusted dog at the shelter, getting into fights and all sorts of things. But there was something about him that really clicked with me; Mona was a little more reticent, but she eventually came to love him as much as I did.

Buster had a habit of hoarding food. He would collect as much of it as he could when offered, and then run off to some little hidey-hole and stash it for later. He once put two dog biscuits in his mouth the long way, and nonchalantly pranced off to hide them. I am so glad he usually only did this with dry dog biscuits, because I’m betting I still haven’t found all his little doggie caches around the house. One time outside on the patio, we tossed him an ice cube, which he quickly crunched down. The next one we threw him, he took into the backyard and buried it for later. I was quite literally rolling on the ground laughing when I saw him do that. He was such a sweet little hound. 

Buster’s main problem was his excitability. I believe that from living in the outdoors for so long, he developed an intense fear of thunderstorms, and would howl and fret and pace frantically throughout the house. We gradually learned to stay calm with him, and even got some herbal medication to calm him from the local naturopath for when he was getting too rowdy. You could see in Buster’s eyes that he was sorry for what he was doing, but he didn’t have any control. We’d just give him his meds, talk to him calmly and hug him as much as we could to get him back to normal.  Buster has been gone for a few years now, having died at home from an undiagnosed illness (we believe it was kidney failure, and it struck very quickly).  He wHe

As you might notice, Buster got along with everybody.

The newest member of the family is the only one who shows any outwards signs of being a special-needs animal. But you probably wouldn’t even notice at first. Ruby Xev is a black kitten we adopted from the Ruth Steinert Memorial SPCA in Pine Grove, Pennsylania. We had gone down there one Saturday to donate some pet food, and decided to wander around the pens, looking at the cats and kittens, with no intention of adopting any.  Well, both me and my wife couldn’t get little Ruby out of our heads afterwards. Ruby’s only problem was that she had a major eye infection and was blind (initially, we thought she had some sight remaining in her eyes, but I don’t believe that was the case).  We went out and got all the accoutrements that a young kitten requires, including a cage to keep her in when we were gone. Then, about two weeks before we were planning to adopt her, we got a heart-rending email from the shelter saying that one of Ruby’s eyes had ruptured and she was heading to Allentown for emergency surgery. She came through that fairly well, but ended up with a case of pneumonia. Luckily, she responded well to treatment, and we ended up taking her home about a week sooner than we normally would have, just so she wouldn’t have to stay in the shelter and mix with all the normal contaminants in the air from the other cats and kittens.

Mona about to put Ruby Xev in the carrier for her ride to her forever home.

Ruby Xev has been a literal eye-opener. Three quarters of the time, it is so very hard to believe that there’s anything at all wrong with this little fireball of fur. She has a better memory than I have, remembering the layout of the rooms, heights of chairs she likes to climb up and jump down from, and where the litter boxes are. She still occasionally runs into things, usually if she's chasing one of the other cats. It took maybe a week, but she soon came running with all the other cats at the first release of air from a cat food can by the opener. There are times when I think she’s got something more than sight; you can wave your fingers at her from a yard away, and she’ll act like she’s noticing them and often leap and actually grab them.  Ruby’s a little more physical in her dealings with other creatures, I assume because she’s making up for the missing sense.  Her little Wolverine-claws are always out, but almost always to swipe playfully, not painfully. She’s one of the more amazing individuals it has been my luck to know.

Certainly there are special-needs animals that need more personal care than the three that we’ve adopted.  Many dogs and cats require special trolleys and carriers with wheels so they can move around when their spines and legs don’t work properly. Many don’t adapt nearly as well as Ruby did to blindness or deafness. They take a little more care and understanding than your average pet, at least at the beginning. Once you both get into sync with each other, you won’t even notice a problem. There are millions of pets out there in the world who are looking for families to stay with. There’s nothing wrong with choosing a regular pet, but anyone can do that. If you have just a little more time and love to give someone, why not adopt a special needs pet? The end result is the same: You help a creature in need, and in return you get a new member of your family who will love you as much as you love them.

 A "too-much" loveseat soon to become a "one-cat" loveseat, after a cloud of fur and claws.

Some excellent special-needs animal pages on Facebook:

I’d also like to give a shout out to the Ruth Steinert Memorial SPCA. They do FANTASTIC work and deserve all the support you local folks in Schuylkill County can give them. You can find them at their Facebook page and at their regular website.  Please stop by and give them a “like” if you get a chance.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Fear-mongering Among the Indies

Indie writers, over the course of the past two years, have been the victims of what I term “fear-mongering” from many sources. One could look at it as a paranoid pattern of hatred for independent writers by those who are frightened by what their blatant freedom from the constrictions of the traditional publishing formula brings to the industry. Unfortunately, I don’t buy that particular explanation; there are, quite simply, a lot of stupid and arrogant and spiteful people out there.

Let’s look back to late 2010/early 2011. Someone noticed that an author had self-published a book on Amazon championing pedophilia. The national media got a hold of the story and things went viral with hatred for this book, and e-book authors in general by association, with screams for a monitoring system. Personally, I could care less if someone publishes a story featuring bondage, discipline or what not; it’s just a story. Raptor Jesus knows there are plenty of proponents and opponents to that sort of fiction, all with the proper justification. But the book in question was one of a number of similar titles that laid out plans for a pedophile to actually meet up with a child. That’s NOT okay. I am a proponent of the First Amendment and the right to Freedom of Speech. People who want that right also have to remember that with any right comes RESPONSIBILITY. Say what you like, but don’t yell “fire” in a crowded theater; you also don’t tell creepy men how to rape children. 

Then we had a minor shakedown by Paypal when the on-line payment service refused to process payments on Smashwords for books of an erotic nature (oh, let’s face it: 90% of them were out-and-out porn).  Mark Coker got his name in the news battling for “the rights of his authors” on this one, even though the no pornography thing had been a part of Paypal’s terms of service for years. Score one for Mr. Coker for getting it solved; score two for making the mainstream media think all indie writers do is scribble down wanking material. 

Last month, a blogger posted that they had used a photographer’s picture without permission and that said photographer was making their life miserable wanting money for the use of said photo. The case in question was being arbitrated between lawyers for each party; it had never gotten to the court stage. Suddenly, it was posted all over Facebook and indie authors were in an uproar. "Oh my God! I’ve got to delete all these photos! Everything I’ve ever stolen for use on my website! They’ll take my house, my car, my kids! Swing loooow, sweet chaaaaariot!"  Ahem.  Sorry. People started worrying about that. Instead of simply using some common sense and trying to understand the basics of copyright and trademark law, or simply e-mailing some artists and photographers for permission, or even just giving their pics a line of attribution, they went into frenzies and deleted photos right and left.

We had a rumor that Amazon was stealing reviews. The company was going around and deleting reviews that they could substantiate as having been “paid for.” Yes, apparently there is a sub-class of indie author that are so incredibly wealthy that they can pay people to review their books. They also might just be incredibly stupid, and I’m not ruling out both.  FYI, I was not given the key to that particular clubhouse, and I don’t know anyone who has been. But apparently there have been enough people willing to consider paying $400 for what may be a bad review that folks believe this to be something that is happening. Who knows? I suppose it could actually be true, but considering the difficulty it usually takes to just get an email from someone at Amazon’s KDP program, I just can’t see them wasting the manpower or computer time doing this. There was another rumor floating around at the same time that Amazon was going to get rid of every author who didn’t have at least three titles published. Yeah, they’re going to get rid of what, a million books in their catalog like an after-thought? I think not.

Conversely, there is an elite tribe of idiots who supposedly troll the Amazon listings just to give bad reviews and ratings to the books of indie writers. This is apparently actually happening, or at least there are a lot of morons taking credit for it. There are also a lot of people out there who can’t deal with a bad review and thus, that review is automatically from one of the “Amazon Trolls.” Get real, folks! You are going to get a bad review now and again. I’ve got them, and I’ve given them. I have no compunctions about doing so if a book is mediocre to outright stinky, and I will do my best to explain why I think that, just like I will try to explain why I think a book is the cat’s pajamas. But you have to remember: Not everyone likes cats.

And then, we now have Bloggers Gone Wild! There are a number of bloggers out there who are perplexingly attacking indie writers, even though sometimes they themselves are indie writers. They usually fall into three categories:
  1. Writers should treat us like GODS, for that is what we are – we have the power of our blog review in our hands to bestow glory upon them, or smite them down like the dogs they are! 
  2. Writer-bloggers who rant about the fact that they’ve given their books away for free to people to review, and they didn’t jump with a smart click of their boots and read and review that book the instant it was sent into the ether to them. A couple have even gone so far to publish lists of “bad reviewers,” apparently not caring which foot they shoot off, since they figure how many feet do you actually need to ride a unicycle going backward? On the other side, some blogger-writers felt they shouldn’t EVER give away their work for free, since it cheapens everyone in the industry. Sure. 
  3. Writers are pretty superfluous and a dime a dozen. I’ll get to this review, which will be mediocre at best, after I make sure my own agenda is put forth in glowing, mile-high letters on the internet.
We also have the viewpoint that is championed by Mark Coker at Smashwords that everything Amazon is bad. Amazon is evil! Amazon will steal your firstborn in the dead of night! Amazon sparkles like lame vampires! More power to you and your opinion, dude. It’s a free country. I have statistical proof that for me, my sales have more than tripled using Amazon KDP and KDP Select. I will also say that my sales on Smashwords have increased, since I did actually have a single sale on the site this year, as opposed to let me see … carry the one … none last year. When Smashwords and its “premium channels” have the distribution and promotional firepower of Amazon KDP, and the KDP Select program in particular, drop me a line. Hopefully, I’ll still be alive then, and the sun won’t have turned into a frozen ball of ice.

We’ve also got a lot of less-than-attentive authors out there, and the fear-mongering has given them paranoid trigger fingers, for guns that are shooting in the wrong direction. Recently there was a major e-book bootlegging operation working out of Canada. Besides getting Paypal to stop taking payments for them, nothing much was done about it. At the same time, people were concerned and started Googling their books and noticed they were showing up on a site called Lendink.com. Jumpin’ pie-jiggers! People are getting my book for free! Everyone, gang up and let’s shut this bastard down!

Had anyone actually gone to this site, they would’ve found it was a simple site that facilitated lending of Kindle books between people. For those of you who don’t know, most indie Kindle books (and quite a few from other publishers) can be lent out. Once.  For fourteen days. You buy a Kindle book that has the lending option and you can lend it to someone else ONCE. That’s it. There have been numerous sites that have sprung up over the past two years that support this and help people get together and find books they want. It is NOT PIRACY. It is, in fact, not a big deal at all. 

Unfortunately, the guy who created Lendink.com was hounded, his family was threatened, and his host service finally was forced to drop him because of all the extra work they had to put into his account. All for doing something that a lot of authors apparently didn’t read the small print about when they saw that little box about lending that was clicked right above the “Publish” button they pushed with wild abandon.

There is a LOT of simple hatred for indie writers out there on the internet. The Kindle forums on Amazon are full of it. People think indie writers are not as skilled as “proper writers,” that they don’t bother editing their books so there are hundreds and thousands of errors in them, and even big-name mystery author Sue Grafton calls them lazy.

It is true. We ARE lazy. We don’t jump through the hoops that everyone else had to in order to get started on their stellar, if alphabetical, writing careers. And that’s the thing: WE DON’T HAVE TO. We are here at the start of a dynamic new paradigm shift as the immediacy of the information age meets the eternally stodgy print world. We don’t have to worry about making sure there is a market segment for the books we create – WE make those segments and we find our own audiences. The old axiom that “everyone has a book” in them should soon be replaced with “everyone has published a book” as there are no barriers to what we do or create.

Don’t let the fear-mongers chase you away from the playing field before you get a chance to realize your dream.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Immortality and how to keep it.

I was thinking today about Frank Zappa. Most folks know I'm a big fan of his music. There's just something about the surrealistic feel of some of his numbers; the ideas he managed to convey through sound were simply amazing. If The Powers That Be were in tune with the real world, he would easily be one of the greatest composers of the 20th Century, and not just remembered by the mainstream for a couple of novelty songs in the late seventies and early eighties.

A friend of mine told me he had died back in December of 1993. It was so sudden to me, back in those days before the prevalence of the Internet. I don't think I've ever really come to terms with that bit of bad news, simply for that fact. But I continue to listen to his music almost every day. With one exception.

I have all of Frank's studio albums except one, and all the albums he intended to put out while he was living. In the grand scene of Frank's "Conceptual Continuity", I currently have everything he put out in which he made the listener part of that continuity. Bootlegs of concerts don't really count, as they were part of the conceptual continuity of the band and THAT particular audience. Unless Frank released them himself, they aren't his composition. I hope that's easier to understand than it is to explain.

The album I'm currently missing, "The Perfect Stranger" is one I've heard. But I still haven't played one album. "Thingfish" was one of Frank's pseudo-rock operas, much like "Joe's Garage" or "Billy the Mountain." I've read the lyrics and it is hilarious at times. But right now, I have no inclination to listen to it.

Why? Because once I listen to that final album, there's no more. The conceptual continuity that I'm in will be finished. My part as a receptor for this long-running piece of aural art will be over. And Frank will finally be dead for me.

Can you understand the idea I'm trying to relay here? I love pulp magazines from the thirties and forties, particularly Doc Savage. He was basically Batman-without-a-cape, for you youngsters in the crowd. I've been reading reprints of his books since I was about ten years old. There are 181 original stories featuring Doc. I'm only up to number 157. Why? Again, because when I finish them, there will be no more. Sure, some other writer will occasionally put out a short series of books (there's actually a new series out right now), but no matter who writes them, the feeling it rarely the same. I've had the whole series on my Kindle for about four years now. I read a Doc Savage novel, and then read about ten or fifteen other books before going to the next.  I think that for as long as there is still another adventure to read, I'll be as ageless as Doc and his men. "An indubitably ludicrous apprehension" as Doc's wordy assistant Johnny would probably say, though with much bigger words.

I think I grab onto these little things like many people do, to have some semblance of control over their lives. Things change far, far too quickly nowadays. People come and go. Just a little anchor can help keep a person sane, even if it seems completely meaningless to someone else. Everything has some meaning, some value to someone out there.


Edited by L. B. Clark

Here is a collection of excellent short stories, all with the theme of music running through them.

Reading this book to review it inspired this post, and all the proceeds go to the MusiCares Foundation, which helps musicians through hard times.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Kat Brooks: Post-Apocalyptic Bieber Hunter

A lone figure walked through the devastation of the wasteland. Before the Great Upheaval, this might have been a verdant field, or a picturesque town with white picket fences. Now it was just a craggy plain of nothing.

The woman surveyed the land around her cautiously as she moved. Her legs moved confidently in their black leather knee-high boots. A black mini-skirt and a dark brown bodysuit covered the rest of her body. A shiny leather cuirass held in her ample bosoms, fastened with many straps and buckles. Holstered pearl-handled revolvers and sheathed blades hung from a belt around her hips, and a large automatic rifle and a longsword were shouldered on her back. The woman's face was obscured by a turban-like scarf that draped over her head. A shock of brown hair found its way out between the cloth and a pair of darkened goggles. The only strange thing about the walking woman was an odd headset that protruded from the scarf over her ears.

The woman walked as if she were on a mission. And she was. Kat Brooks was trying to save the world.

* * * *

In the early years of the 21st Century, governments all over the world experienced a problem: The people of the world were too free. A sense of benevolent anarchy was settling into the internet-using, free speech-indulging cattle that government felt the financial duty and almost sexual need to control. This new world culture in which information was shared freely everywhere without government control was something they could not allow to continue. But how to wrest control back from the people?

It is believed that in the year 2013, that the U.S. Government made the first attempt to bring the people back to them. It started simply, with an advertising campaign. They contacted a number of popular performers for this campaign: Nicky Minaj, Lady Gaga, Beyonce, Jay-Z, Justin Bieber and Miley Cyrus. All six performers were spirited away to Nevada's Groom Lake, the legendary Area 51. At first, a revolutionary mind control technique was tried, having been given to the authorities by force from aliens picked up at Roswell in 1947. Unfortunately, since these subjects were pop stars, they had no minds to control, and the process turned them all into gibbering idiots. Luckily, the American public would never know the difference.

Scientists at Area 51 took DNA samples of the performers. One of the scientists has just watched Star Wars: Attack of the Clones and, much like George Lucas himself, came up with a truly horrible idea. Using alien technology, he created the first true human clone. There were now two Justin Biebers. Then four, then eight, then thousands. These Biebers became the new face of the American Armed Forces, armed only with a hypnotic ability to lull people into addled sycophancy with syrupy pop numbers.

Unfortunately, the government hadn't reckoned on the true power of this new Army of the Bieber. Rebel scientists now believe that something in the pop star's Molson and back bacon-damaged Canadian DNA was altered during the cloning process. Much like the Wendigo of legend, the Army of the Bieber became a shambling, cannibalistic, almost-listenable force that ravaged the North American continent.

Biebers now out-number humans one hundred-to-one.

* * * *

Kat Brooks stopped. Pensively, she turned her head slightly and listened, as she had thought she had heard something above the rush of the hot wind that pushed across the wasteland unabated. She pushed her darkened goggles up to her forehead and surveyed the area. About a hundred yards away, ahead of her in the rocks, Kat saw the briefest flash of movement. She unslung her rifle, a modified AK-47, and slowly moved forward, her eyes constantly moving.

After about fifty yards, she heard something. It was faint, over the noise of the wind. It could have been almost musical. But it was definitely not her imagination. She moved more cautiously toward the source of the noise. Suddenly, a shape moved at her, leaping from one of the crags of the low arroyo. Kat turned and pressed her trigger in one fluid movement. The noise of her rifle split the silence like a gunshot.

Kat cautiously moved to her target, which lay crumpled about five feet from her, a human-like creature lying on its side. She kicked it over with her boot. She saw a dust-covered sports white jacket, ripped chinos and a t-shirt that had some sort of saying on it that was now unreadable because of the blood. The creature's head was framed by long bangs that look liked they had been cut with a mixing bowl.

A young one, Kat thought to herself. But that means the rest of the pack isn't far away.

Suddenly, from behind her, Kat heard an inhuman noise.

"If I was your boyfriend, I'd never let you go..." came a chorus of high-pitched voices from behind her.

She spun to face five Biebers, all dressed in torn, tattered and filthy white outfits, like a sacrilegious Blink-182 with bad haircuts. "I can take you places you ain't never been before..." they sang in unison.

Oh no, Kat thought. The Bieber pack! She stood there, stunned for a moment, as the insidious lyrics began to weave their spell.

"Baby, take a chance or you'll never ever know," the Biebers continued, dancing around here in a carefully choreographed plan of attack. Kat could feel herself starting to sway to the bubble gum beat and the saccharine words. Her rifle began to droop in her hands.

"I got money in my hands that I'd really like to blow," The Biebers pirouetted around her to the staccato rhythm of the song of attack. "Swag swag swag on you!"

Kat's rifle dropped to the ground in a clatter that could not be heard over the hypnotic trill that was being created in her head.

"Chillin' by the fire, why we eating' fondue..." The Biebers began to slowly move in for the kill. "I dunno about me, but I know about you!"

Unknown to even herself, the word "fondue", being such a moronic word to be in a song, triggered a post-hypnotic command in Kat's mind. Without conscious thought, her left hand reached up to her headset and pushed a button. Suddenly, a hard bass line rebounded in her ears.

"If you like to gamble, I tell you I'm your man," the gravely voice in her ears intoned.

Rebel scientists, after many experiments that had resulted in many valiant deaths, had determined that only the music of Motörhead could reverse the loathsome spell of the Biebers' mesmerizing force. Lemmy Kilmister was the Anti-Bieber, and the leader of the resistance movement all over the planet.

The music in her ears broke the spell instantly. Her hands unsheathed the two large knives from her belt. With a swift and powerful motion, she plunged the blades deep into the throats of the two Biebers on each side of her. Biebers don't have a proper brain, so hitting them in the larynx was the only way to properly kill them.

"You win some, lose some, it's still the same to me!" the song continued, as Kat released her blades, which would allow the creatures to bleed out and die quickly.

"The pleasure is to play..." Kat rolled to her right side, Unsheathing the longsword as she stood up. Two more of the Biebers advanced.

"It makes no difference what you say!" A single long curving slash of the blade caught both Biebers in their throats. They fell to the ground, gurgling what remained of their songs and their lives in a fountain of red and white foam.

The final Bieber turned to run. Kat dropped her sword and took her time drawing one of the pistols from her holsters.

"I don't share your greed, the only card I need is..." She took aim at the retreating and soulless pop icon copy.

"The ace of spades! The ace of spades!" Kat's shot struck the Bieber in the base of his spine, rendering his spindly legs useless for dancing. Or running away.

Kat flicked off the switch of her headset and slowly walked up to the still-living Bieber. She stood in front of the creature as it tried to crawl away, flailing his arms on the rocks like they were a child's snare drum. When it saw the toe of her black leather boot, it looked up with a look on it's face that begged for mercy.

A harsh, croaking whisper told her "I'd like to be ... everything ... you want ... hey, girl ... let me talk to..."

Kat Brooks put a bullet in the throat of the creature before it could finish the chorus. And a second one into it's head, on the off chance it might bounce off something in the skull and hit the rudimentary brain. Kat allowed herself a satisfied smile.

She picked up and cleaned all her weapons, restoring them to their proper place on her lithe body. Straightening her mini-skirt. She once again started moving forward into the wilderness of destruction.

Soon, she thought to herself. I will find the hive. And then I can finally rest after the Prime Bieber has been rendered speechless.

The sun began to set over the fragmented devastation. Kat Brooks continued to walk on into the gloom of the burgeoning twilight.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Self-pity, ennui and two moments in a life.

It's a feeling that comes on quickly. What do I call it? Self-pity? Empty wastefulness? There's a scream inside building and building but never reaches that cathartic moment of release.

I look around my immediate room. My little information center rules one corner of it. Shelves of  books. CD binders full of DVDs. A little brass cat on a shelf that I like. Stacks of index cards I've never gotten around to entering. A box of old cereal boxes. A tote of ancient magazines. My dilapidated recliner. The pleather coating of the cushions and arms has been peeled off. I peeled it off when it started cracking and splitting. It became a bit of an obsession for awhile.

Another corner of the room has a desk that has our old PC on it. My wife uses that now, since I have my laptop and I can't sit up that way for any length of time without my damn knees giving my problems. I only use it to make DVDs, since my laptop's DVD burner isn't all that fast. She had all of her craft stuff there, and in a re-purposed printer cart that I use for a table sometimes.

The rest of the room is filled with junk. Barristers full of knickknacks planned to be put up for sale, comic books I planned to scan, movie posters and lobby cards I never got around to hanging up. My wife's old crystal. A ladder. An ironing board. Several box fans. A sewing machine that always tangles when I try to use it. Six pairs of pants that I haven't hemmed because of that problem. Our old air conditioner which we haven't yet put back in the window. A roll of gray deerskin, or some sort of hide, that my wife plans to use to cover her Native American and New Age craft tables at the flea market. Two bureaus full of clothes we never bother pulling out. I wear the same few pairs of pants and a bunch of sleeveless t-shirts constantly. Since I don't work, I can't see the point to getting dressed up. I do try to switch from the pants I sleep in to another pair. One does have to have some sense of accomplishment now and again.

There's a fold-up futon against a set of shelves that face into the living room. Most damn uncomfortable thing I've ever sat or tried to sleep on in my life. The cats use it as a scratching post. There's an exercise machine on the landing going upstairs. Never been used. The how-to video that came with it was a VHS tape, and I never got around to converting it to a DVD. It seems pretty self-explanatory, but we've just never got it out and tried it. It's been sitting in this room for about four years now. Behind it, several big pieces of white styrofoam that we plan to make a light box out of so Mona can photograph her crafts better when she posts them on-line. And behind that, an old framed movie poster that I tried hanging on the wall. It fell down, but amazingly, glass didn't break, so I've just let it sit there. Bunny Lake is Missing. Good movie, too. You get to watch the Zombies perform a song I don't think is still available anywhere else.

There's a Dali-esque clock on the wall, looking melted and misshapen. I never read the damn thing right through the gooey haze of morning vision. Along with that, an antlered deer skull that Mona adorned with Native American-style regalia. Definitely a piece of art. By the desk, there's still a reproduction of a Gamera poster, hanging next to my last piece of original comic book art. A page from Doom Patrol. Grant Morrison and Richard Case, the master deconstructors.

That's what I see day-in and day-out. By my own choice. There's a sense of ennui that has hit me, particularly since I was forced to go on disability. I've never been much for traveling around. The great outdoors hold no particular allure for me. For all the apparent chaos of the room, this is one of the few places I feel in control.

Until that feeling hits. What the hell have I been doing with my life? I never took anything as seriously as I should. School was a game, and a bloody expensive one that I never bothered to finish. There was always something more important to take care of; another glass to life, another tab to eat, another record to zone out with, another friend to hang out with because it was the cool thing to do.

I try to put my finger on the problem. There is no problem to strike out at, only excuses that my inner self has to listen to maintain balance. When I was a child, I once had to go see a psychiatrist, because there was a possibility that I was going to be put into a foster home. I can't remember the exact circumstances why. I only remember a doctor's office, and later a conference room in the courthouse.  The psychiatrist gave me an I.Q. test, and for some reason, he told me what that number was. It was pretty high.

Soon afterwards, I was in the courtroom sitting next to my mother at this table. There was a sheaf of papers in front of her, so I took a gander at them. Reading through the top sheet, I discovered that the whole proceeding was about determining my mother's competency to be a parent. After her name, it gave her age and said she was mildly mentally-retarded. I read that phrase over and over and I asked the woman who was acting as her lawyer how that could have gotten in this report, since it was obviously wrong. My mother couldn't be mentally-retarded. No fucking way. She made sure there was food on the table. She could drive. She could hold down a job. How could she be mentally-retarded?

I don't remember much of the rest of that conference, other than that I went back home with my mother (we lived with my grandparents).

Whenever the feeling comes on me, I look at myself now and what I have and I think back to those two particular moments. I'm so very thankful that my life has turned out the way it has. I have a wife who loves me. I have a cadre of adoring pets (who are adored in return). I have a roof over my head. I have good friends, both in real-life and in cyberspace. But that feeling makes me wonder: Could I have been more? I often justify that question internally with what I learned at the conference: How could I have been more? Was it because I had no inspiration, or because I had no way of recognizing inspiration?

Shouldn't a person be more than the sum of his experiences?

Death and tears

My grandmother died when I was eight. So at least I know all of the stuff I previously mentioned happened before then. She died of liver cancer after a lot of apparently bungled tests and diagnoses. I remember walking out of school to get on the bus and seeing my mom in her red car waiting for me behind the bus, which was where she usually parked if she was picking me up early.

“I’ve got some bad news for you.” She told me in a shaky voice. “Your grandma passed away today.”

I remember the feeling was like getting the breath knocked out of you. I don’t even remember what I said to her. I do remember not wanting to cry.

Several days later, I still hadn’t cried. My mother was concerned and asked “Don’t you miss your grandma? Don’t you feel sad?”

My insides were twisting, but I would not give into the tears. “No” I said, shaking my head.

I went in the funeral home the next day for about a minute. I saw my grandmother in the coffin from a distance, and couldn’t go any closer. I stayed in the car, and did the same for the funeral the next day. I’m sure my family, at least my mom, thought I was callous and unfeeling. But I did not think I could or should let myself cry.

It happened again about six years later. My mom was in the hospital and I had walked down to the Post Office to wait for the mail to be sorted. I was standing there, watching them through the open upper half of a doorway as I often did, and the next thing I knew, my grandfather was walking though the door.

“I’ve got some bad news for you, little buddy.” I had never seem him shaking so and looking his age as much as he did at the moment. “Your mother’s dead. She had a heart attack in the hospital.”

The world went instantly cold and my breath was gone again. I ran over to my grandfather, who looked like he was going to fall down.

“It’s okay, Grandpa. Let me help you.” I helped him out the door and down the concrete ramp and headed back up the street to his station wagon.

“You’ll have to come live with me. Oh Lordy, I can’t believe she’s gone. This is going to kill me!” He grabbed a street pole for support as he wobbled.

I got him back to my apartment and did my best to hold him together in one piece, at least long enough to make the arrangements for the funeral. The funeral home was just two doors down from my apartment, and I took care of most of the arrangements myself. My grandfather was in no condition to do so, and I felt one of us had to be strong. Once again, no tears. I couldn’t allow myself that luxury.

I had to be at this funeral, simply to make sure my grandfather didn’t fall apart. It was a quick service but there were a lot of people there. All I really remember of the preparations was choosing “Amazing Grace” as one of the hymns. No tears.

About twenty years later, my grandfather was in a nursing home. There was really no choice. I had finally gotten my own place a few blocks away from him and went over to see him one winter morning. I found his door slightly open, and he was sitting in his pajamas in a chair watching TV. I went over to ask him why the door was open and he couldn’t tell me. He wanted to, but he no longer had the ability. A massive stroke took away his voice. This man had at least seven strokes that I was aware of before this; one time, while I was visiting a friend for a weekend, he knew he had one and tried to drive himself to the hospital. Luckily, a friend of ours saw him having difficulty driving, stopped him and took him to the hospital. He was a very stubborn man.

But this last stroke did him in. Once he lost his ability to communicate, the light in his eyes started to fade. He had a progression of mini-strokes while in the nursing home. I was working at the answering service for the local doctors the morning the nursing home called to say he was failing. I went to see him one final time and said my goodbyes and caught the bus home. About an hour after I got home, I got the call he was dead. The last member of the only family I ever knew at that time, and still the tears wouldn’t come. They wanted to, on several occasions, but I couldn’t or I should say I wouldn’t let them.

There really haven’t been any tears, yet. Whatever wall is holding them back is still there. It’s been so long that at times I wonder if there really is anything behind that wall; is that wall all that there really is of me? The wall has been fractured at times, and some of the tears do escape, primarily in times of inspiration or self-pity. I’ve nearly lost it all while watching fictional characters die. It’s utterly insane that I can feel more emotion for, say, Mr. Spock dying than I could for my own mother. What kind of monster am I? What kind of a kid doesn’t cry when his grandma dies?

I’m somewhat disabled now, and my legs don’t work like they used to work. If I fall down, I often have a hell of a time getting back up. There have been times when the sheer futility of such a situation has overwhelmed me and I start wallowing at the trough of self-pity. A chink in the mortar lets some of the tears out then. But like a little Dutch boy and a dike, I plug that hole as quickly as I can, for fear the entire wall will simply crumble.

I don't think that I'm prepared quite yet to find out if there’s anything there, anything more to me than just those tears.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

The Tornado People

I first saw the Tornado People when I was a youngster. They were the reason I had to have a nightlight on in order to sleep peacefully for ten years. They never seemed to appear in the light, or at least I couldn't perceive them anymore. My mother and grandparents thought me foolish for needing that light. But that fear of the darkness is palpable even as a memory today.

They appeared in the blackness that only children can see, in the darkness that looks like a living thing, with pulsating particles that seem to move and vibrate like they are flowing in and out of our reality. The Tornado People seemed to use this particulate black to move, walking around with an air of incomprehensible menace. They used it to form the upright vortexes of their limbs, torsos and head. There were times that I swear I could almost hear the buzzing caused by their featureless maelstroms. That's why I named them "Tornado People", but I never told anyone about them.

They had no discernible eyes, yet I knew they saw everything. I could feel it. I had no idea what they wanted, and I could never understand their aims. I felt like I was some sort of experiment they were observing. To them, I was the ant I stepped on or the fly I swatted. I was only safe if they didn't notice me. Or if I took away the darkness.

Gradually, I stopped seeing the Tornado People. They went away, or at least they stopped showing themselves to me.  The darkness became simple black. Now, I find it hard to sleep with any light on at all. I wear a blindfold at night, and earplugs. There's a constant activity in my mind that I can only damped that way. Dark and silent.

I've come to wonder if there really are such things hidden in the darkness. Does a person's increasing rationality as they grow up turn off switches in their head that let them see those things? Preferring ignorance to understanding? Or perhaps as a necessity to maintain their sanity? After all, how can one explain the things that go bump in the night? Or at least do so without being acquiring a derisive label?

Our minds aren't meant to process that sort of information. Our brains can't handle it any more than if we could see into four dimensions rather than three. Too much information, too much clutter, too many things to fear. Imagine if you could see all the microorganisms in the air around you? Would you be too afraid to move, or too scared to stand still?

I have to wonder now. There have been nights lately in which the darkness began to move again. Instead of simple black, a miasma of movement just on the edge of my conscious perception. I still have control of my rationality. I think I do. I haven't seen the Tornado People again. Yet. It has been nearly a lifetime since they showed themselves to me, watching me. Now I wonder, did they go away or did I? And after a lifetime of moving from place to place, have they finally found me again?

I have to wonder: Will they just watch this time?