Setting up my secretary

This has been a terribly frustrating weekend. I had a lot I wanted to do… too much I had to get done – but I have been spinning my wheels. First of all, I feel exhausted. A lot of that is because of the unending heat, I’m sure.

But mostly I feel energized by accomplishment and that has been in short supply. Too much time working on repairs and not enough getting things fixed. Candy’s laptop is hosed (yes, it is a Vista machine and yes, it sucks) and that is causing me all kind of headaches. I can handle one problem, usually, but when multiple screwups come screaming down at once it all coalesces into a hopeless shitstorm of helplessness… you get the idea.

There is only one little thing that makes me smile this weekend. I have been successful in getting my secretary set up like I want it and that is good.

I bought a secretary for my office room a little over a month ago and I’ve been working on setting it up as a writing station. It was good for using my pens and doing some note-taking and hadwriting, but I kept wanting to type up work and would have to leave the secretary and walk over to my laptop – back and forth. I needed computer access – without taking up much space and without taking away digital capability from anywhere else.

So I dug out Candy’s old Dell Latitude D600. It’s what? About seven years old now? That’s ancient in computer terms. We bought it off of eBay back in the day. It’s way too weak sauce to run Windows anymore, but I have Linux on it, and it chugs along, doing what I need to do. I drilled a hole in the back of the secretary for the power cord and it sits folded up, back in the shelving unit, out of the way, until I need to pop it out and open it up.

Since I want to use it for writing, I did some thinking about software. Maybe I’m finally turning into an old fart – but I still miss typing into a console-based word processor (I still think Wordperfect 5.1 – the old white-text-on-blue was the best environment for pure writing). There are plenty of console-based text editors for Linux, but no full-featured word processor.

I found through LifeHacker and a book from the library, Ubuntu Kung Fu, (don’t know what I found first) that I could install a little dos emulator and then run a free version of Microsoft Word for Dos from Microsoft, full screen, no problemo.

If nothing else, the idea of getting something free from Microsoft…. So I did the work, and there it is. Old-school. But it is pretty cool, really. It prints, it saves… no distracting Internet – but it even has text-based mouse support (that little square cursor jumping across the page). Easy on the eyes, no tiny delay while you are typing, no onscreen fonts, formatting… nothing, nothing between my fingers and the pure words.

My secretary setup

My secretary setup

Here’s my setup – you can see the old laptop up and running Microsoft Word for DOS. To the left, I have a stack of Moleskines (notes and such). Above that is a cubby with a bottle of Noodlers Black ink (for the desk pen), a box of 3×5 cards (hidden back in the shadow) and a few spare fountain pens (A white Pilot Prera and some Sheaffer Snorkels). On the right are the current writing books I’m working through and a Staples Bagasse composition book with a desk pen set on top. That’s an Esterbrook desk pen in the Eight-Ball base (bought the pen and base separately at Canton – put a new bladder and lever into the pen). These are common pens from back in the day, but they write really well and have interchangeable nibs. I’m using a 9314M medium stub nib in there right now.

Too Much Happiness


I'm afraid to grow up because sometimes it feels it will never be this beautiful again.

I couldn’t sleep last night and I decided to clean up my reading list a bit and finish something I had already started. It didn’t take long to set in on the last story in Alice Munro’s last collection of short stories, Too Much Happiness. This was the long story… almost a novella… that the collection was named after. Too Much Happinesswas addicting and I had to keep reading until I was done, no matter how tired I was or how soon the next day’s work would come.

Alice Munro is a brilliant genius. She is, in my humble opinion, the unquestioned master of her genre. If you read the plot summary of one of her stories, you will scratch your head – it will read as melodrama, or a series of random, unconnected action, or it will seem that nothing much really happens. Her mysterious skill is so great that when you actually read the test it makes sense, draws you in, and takes you on an emotional journey far from your pitiful little room where you sit clutching that tattered paperback.

If I could have one ability – I would choose to be able to do, whatever it is, that she does. She makes seamless connections where none should exist. There is a concept that art is the conveying of something that can’t be done any other way. And that is what Alice Munro does, that is her genius. You can’t really summarize or explain what she writes because it is art of such exquisite subtleness that it has a kind of Heisenberg Uncertainty about it – to explain it is to change it.

The collection has a series of her typical mastery. Thinking about it, I almost want to go read it again.

But that’s not what I want to talk about tonight. I want to discuss that last long story, because it is different than what she usually writes.

The long story, “Too Much Happiness” is the story of a woman traveling across Europe one winter in the last decade of the nineteenth century. She visits a series of people from her past and spends a lot of time on cold trains moving through dreary country thinking about her life.

As I plunged on I realized that this was a real person that I had heard of before. The woman was Sofia Kovalevskaya – the first Russian female mathematician. She had been rumored to be the subject of a Thomas Pynchon novel – though she ended up being only a minor character. A fascinating character with an unusual, varied, courageous, and ultimately tragic life. Given such a dynamic protagonist most authors, writers of lesser vision and talent, would have wrote of the high points of such a person, scribbling in breathless prose her struggles to become a woman of letters in a time and place this was unheard of – her arranged marriage – her wild affairs – her political involvement – her friendship with famous figures of the day: Darwin, Eliot (there is a passage in Middlemarch where her mathematical theories are mentioned), and Dostoevsky.

But Munro spends most of her words simply detailing her journey, the people that she shares her compartment with, the difficulties she has with the changing weather, languages, and currency she has to deal with.

And I don’t know how she does it… but it works. By the end you feel you know Sofia… you want to meet her… and most of all you care about her. The ending is devastating, but not unexpected. It is, after all, a life.

The final sentence notes that there is a crater on the moon named after Sofia Kovalevskaya.

And, that’s that.

Reviews of the Alice Munro Collection Too Much Happiness:

Too Much Happiness

Too Much Happiness

What I learned this week – July 29, 2011

Pulp Cover

Gratuitous Pulp Paperback Cover

Kurt Vonnegut

Eight rules for writing fiction:

1. Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.

2. Give the reader at least one character he or she can root for.

3. Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.

4. Every sentence must do one of two things — reveal character or advance the action.

5. Start as close to the end as possible.

6. Be a sadist. Now matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them — in order that the reader may see what they are made of.

7. Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.

8. Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible. To heck with suspense. Readers should have such complete understanding of what is going on, where and why, that they could finish the story themselves, should cockroaches eat the last few pages.

— Vonnegut, Kurt, Bagombo Snuff Box: Uncollected Short Fiction (New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons 1999), 9-10.

But I’m not complaining! You know why? Because the cardinal rule of dealing with negativity is: Don’t complain about negativity.

—Nathan Bradford, How to Deal With Negativity

It’s a shame my children are grown, because now, I finally have an instructional video on how to properly read them a fairy tale. Actually, if they had had the Internet when my kids were little (we had dialup…) I could have simply played this to them. Mounted an iPad on their crib (oops… no Flash… – mounted an Android Tablet on their crib) and let them watch to their heart’s desire.

Pretty good, huh. Still, though, I think it needs more cowbell.

Pulp Cover

Gratuitous Pulp Paperback Cover

Casting the Runes

The other night, I couldn’t sleep, walked out to the living room couch, and switched on the television. Hoping to find something relaxing I cruised the digital cable channels (a bad habit of mine) until I stumbled across a movie about to begin, way up in the five hundreds, that looked interesting.

It was called Curse of the Demon (British title Night of the Demon [better, huh]) and was supposed to be a minor classic of British horror filmmaking. Though it is very British in style, it starred Dana Andrews. Whenever I hear that actor’s name I think of the line from The Rocky Horror Picture Show, “Dana Andrews said prunes gave him the runes, but passing them used lots of skill“. I didn’t make the connection at first.

The Monster from Curse of the Demon

The Monster from Curse of the Demon

Thankfully, the movie didn’t take long to get going; in the first few scenes a man walking down a road at night is pursued by a demon that knocks down some handy power lines and then tears the poor victim to pieces. The final few seconds of the rubber mask looking thing was silly in a late-night television sort of way, but the first appearance of the demon was really excellent and chilling, brilliant.

The movie continued and it was good. Very well done, very British, dated a little, but not too much… just right actually. Exactly what I wanted to see. I was relaxed, watching when something really caught my ears. It was during the mandatory seance/hypnosis scene (Mandatory in all quality black and white horror films) when the man under the trance suddenly shouted out, “It’s in the trees… It’s coming!” It’s always fun when you unknowingly stumble across the source of a sound sample from a familiar and beloved piece of music. That clip, “It’s in the trees… It’s coming!” is, of course, the opening sample from Kate Bush’s Hounds of Love. Greatness.

After the film ended (complete with Hitchcockian maneuvering over a slip of paper in a train compartment and a final appearance of the demon as comeuppance) I was interested enough to do some snooping of my own. I found that the film was loosely based on a short story, Casting the Runes by M. R. James. That, of course, helped me realize that Dr. Frankenfurter’s lyric, “Dana Andrews said prunes gave him the runes, but passing them used lots of skill” was taken from the film/story.

I checked the Richardson Library and found they had a book of James’ short stories with Casting the Runes, so I checked it out. The short story is creepier than the movie, by necessity more trim and compact, with a couple of efficient horrifying scenes (the kid’s party, the mouth with teeth under the pillow). I later found an online version of the story here.

It's in the trees! It's coming!

It’s in the trees! It’s coming!

Late night black and white British horror movie, sampled by Kate Bush for her classic album, referenced in Rocky Horror, inspired by slick little short story sitting on my library shelf – one of the thousands upon thousands of unknown books… in the SF section no less. Now it’s time to go to bed.

A really well done YouTube Video Combining scenes from Night of the Demon with Kate Bush’s Hounds of Love.

Japan Breeding Army of Godzillas!

All bad poetry springs from genuine feeling.
—-Oscar Wilde
Strip for Violence

Gratuitous Pulp Paperback Cover - this has nothing to do with the rest of the entry.

One of my favorite writing techniques is what I call “Bad Poetry.”
It is what it sounds like. Write some bad poetry – and then see if you can use it as a basis for prose. Most of the time, you can’t. But every now and then it works.
It works because of the fact that it forces you to abandon your inner editor in the initial creative, first draft part of the process. After all, you are writing bad poetry… the badder the better.
It works for me in particular because bad poetry is the only kind of poetry I write.
Another, related source of inspiration is a collection of stupid tabloid headlines. Examples of a few from this web site:
  • Cat found with hoard of over 200 TONGUES! (What’s the matter? Cat got your …)
It's Only a Rabbit

Look, that rabbit's got a vicious streak a mile wide! It's a killer!


  • PIZZA WAS SERVED AT THE LAST SUPPER . . . and the pies were delivered
  • THE MOON IS HATCHING . . . and whatever’s coming out has big teeth, NASA says!
  • Couple sells everything to clone their dying cat
  • Hole in ozone layer is sucking world’s penguins into space, say scientists!
  • 7 CONGRESSMAN ARE ZOMBIES! (that can’t be right… only Seven?)
  • GIANT SPACE SPIDERS WILL SAVE THE EARTH! Webs can deflect killer asteroids, says NASA
  • My daughter is pregnant by her invisible friend!
  • HOUSEWIFE EXPERIENCES HALF-RAPTURE . . . & gets stuck in the dining room ceiling!
  • UFO ALIENS ABDUCTED MY CAT! Now frisky Felix is home safe — and has a gift of ESP, says amazed owner
I learned this technique at a poetry writing seminar years ago. We all pulled  little slips of paper with these headlines written on them from a box the teacher passed around.
My paper said, “Japan Breeding Army of Godzillas!” We were given twenty minues to write something. I wrote:


The water boils
off the coast
as the men in Rubber
lizard suits
wash ashore and creep
up the slopes of Mount Fuji

They eat tender bamboo and strings
of seaweed
and their ragged
backbones glow with special
blue electricity

At sunset they dance
to ominous trumpet music
stomping in unison
and sing their monster song

And then they sleep
their giant growling snores
echo back across the ocean
like cinema earthquakes

The best-laid schemes

The best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men
Gang aft agley,
—-To a Mouse, Robert Burns




I had great plans for the weekend. I even wrote them down – a two page list in one of my Staples Bagasse Composition Books I carry with me always. Two pages! Who the hell am I kidding?

Well, of the projects I wanted to complete, I finished… hmmm… let me count… none.

On Sunday, around noon or so, I was trying to decide whether to go to the library and write (I have a certain table at the Richardson Library I like to work at – the library is open from two to six, which is a nice constrained four hour writing time – it’s shocking how fast the time flies) or to go for a bicycle ride. I decided to kill two birds with one stone and ride my bike to the library.


My favorite table at the Richardson Library.

I made my preparations – packing my Alphasmart Neo (don’t want to ride my bike with my laptop), pens, notebooks, water bottles, clean shirt, towel, and such and sundry stuffins. I put my backpack on and went out into the blast furnace of the garage to get my bike. The front tire was flat.

I stood out in the sun behind the house, found the telltale little white spot where the thorn had penetrated, took everything apart (nasty little thorn, really), patched the tube, put it together, and pumped everything back up.

Maybe a half an hour. I was drenched in sweat.

I had calculated that I would be able to get to the library in the awful heat by moving quickly. The time I spent fixing the tire was too much, though. I rode about a mile and decided it was too risky. The temperature, the sun beating down, the still air… it was all going toxic. By the time I made it home I was beginning to get a little dizzy.

I am too old and way too out of shape for this. All I wanted to do was veg out in a dark cave of conditioned air. The bit of overheated exertion wore me to the bone. At that point I wasn’t even up to driving to the library. I rested a bit, went to eat with the family, and at sunset walked down to Lee’s last softball game. Once the sun is down, it’s a lot more bearable. I think the solar radiation beating down is worse than the superheated air.

I’ve complained about the heat already. And it wasn’t even bad back then, not like now. It’s always hot here in the summer, of course, but this is getting ridiculous. It wears everyone out – it is so hard to get anything done.

Deadlier than the Male

Deadlier than the Male

The only thing I accomplished was to read another bit of Pulp Fiction I had queued up. This one was Deadlier than the Male, by James Gunn. No, this isn’t James Gunn, the science fiction professor that teaches at my alma mater (yes, I took a class from him, but that’s a whole ‘nother story). This James Gunn seems to have not written another novel. Nobody seems to know anything about him. The book was made into a film in 1947 called Born to Kill – which I’ll try to find.

Born to Kill

Born to Kill

It’s an odd, crazy book. I wouldn’t say it was a good book, but it was something. The language is simple, but arresting. The first line – ”Helen Brent had the best-looking legs at the inquest,” pretty much sets the scene. Most noir pulps have a small number of characters, but in this one, every chapter introduces somebody new. They keep arriving faster than they are killed off… until near the end. With each fresh character the story splits until the plot is like a big twisted knot of desperation and evil, stretching from Fresno to Frisco. I had a bit of trouble keeping track of who was who, and a few of the participants seem to simply disappear from the book once their utility wears thin, but the book was short and the story tumbled forward picking up flotsam and jetsam from the sewer of human malice until it all crashed down into the last few pages.

Since I wasn’t up for anything useful I was able to get through the book in one day. Now, I have some more pulp noir stuff in my reading list, but I need to find something different, maybe even something a little uplifting. After reading this one… I feel sort of dirty.


Sunday Snippet – Pickpocket

I have to be careful with what I’m reading. It influences what I write. I distort what comes out of my pen by what goes in my eyes.

Lately, I’ve been reading too much lurid pulp fiction.

Whip Hand

Whip Hand

W. Franklin Sanders is a pen name for Charles Willeford… Ebook Here. Whip Hand was also published under the title, Deliver me from Dallas. In this heat… I know the feeling.

I needed something to take to our writing group, so I punched up a writing prompt generator and what came up was: Nonchalantly she reached into the other woman’s handbag and whipped out her purse.

Using this prompt, I wrote out a quick four pages…. this is what I came up with, Raw First Draft.


The book she had read was nothing more than a pamphlet, printed long ago in blue mimeograph ink on office paper and crudely stapled into a small, rough book form. Loralee remembered the smell of fresh mimeo from grade school. The pamphlet paper was brittle, the blue fading, and crisscrossed with yellowed cellophane tape repairs but it was all still readable.

Loralee had bought the pamphlet at a strange little bookstore she had stumbled into while on a trip to a business conference in New Orleans.

Her boss had called and set up a meeting on the second day of the conference in a private hotel room. It seemed a little odd to Loralee, but she figured there was a new program to launch or some reorganization she had to help smooth over.

Instead she was laid off.

“Well,” her boss said, “At least you have two more days in New Orleans to enjoy yourself. Don’t worry about the meetings; and your hotel is paid for.” Her face seemed to creak as she forced out a frightening smile.

Thanks a lot.

Loralee spent the rest of the afternoon at the hotel bar, hitting it hard, charging the tab to her room. But when the meetings finished and she saw her coworkers returning to the lobby, gathered into conversational clots like old spilled blood, she couldn’t stand it and staggered back up to her room. As soon as she entered, she had to tumble into the bathroom and barely had the time to stick her head into the toilet before she heaved and puked up what seemed like a lot more than she had drank that afternoon – which was a lot. She continued to convulse even after she was empty until her diaphragm ached.

Finally spent, she tumbled onto the sagging hotel bed and fell into an uneasy sleep full of terrifying dreams.

When she awoke she saw a half-light splayed across the sheer curtains of the room. The digital clock had six fifteen glowing in red numbers. Loralee didn’t know if it was AM or PM and curled on the bed, staring at the curtains until she was sure that it was getting lighter, rather than darker. Six AM it was.

Hungover, wearing sunglasses despite the overcast sky, Loralee stumbled the uneven brick and cracked concrete of the French Quarter looking for… she didn’t really know. As she walked she chanted, “Laid Off – Let Go – Laid Off – Let Go” over and over like a Mantra. Almost everything was closed this early in the morning, street sweepers pushed filthy piles of cups, bottles, and beads down the middle of the street. Each block seemed to have an unconscious person still snoozing up against a building or beside a stoop. The smell of last night’s old beer and piss hovered over the still air like a filthy umbrella.

Finally she spotted the open door of the old bookstore. It actually opened out into an alley, with the entrance barely visible around the corner from the sidewalk. The alley had a rusty streetsign – the letters were faded, but it was barely legible, “Rue Deday.”  A red neon light glowed PEN – the “O” was burned out. Without knowing why, Loralee turned the corner and went in.

The stacks smelt like old mold. Loralee thought that most used bookstores were musty like that – but this was one step beyond. Maybe it was just New Orleans, maybe the French Quarter, maybe the ghost of Katrina. There was a lot of evil old water around.

The books were not marked, no prices. Loralee wanted to stick it to her company so she asked the ancient, bent proprietor, “What’s the most expensive shit you got.”

He did not flinch – simply peered over his thick glasses at her with eyes that were surprisingly bright and clear for someone of his age – otherwise he looked to have one foot in the grave. “Well, dear, we have a drawer of very expensive shit right here.” He pulled a massive key chain off a nail by the register and removed a padlock from a small metal filing cabinet.

The cabinet was full of old manila folders, each marked across the front with a scrawled red marker. The marker showed various prices – all over one hundred dollars each. The folders contained various bits of paper: single yellowing crumpled sheets, folded maps, handwritten notes.

Only one folder had anything that was thicker that a few sheets. That one had a folded and stapled booklet with the label, “How to be a Pickpocket, Guaranteed!

The price on the pamphlet was one hundred and twenty five dollars – which seemed really steep, but Loralee still had her company credit card. Somehow, her boss had neglected to confiscate it in her “exit interview.” She knew it would be deactivated any minute and wanted to waste anything still left in the account.

“I’ll take this one,” she said to the old man. “Here charge this card,” she said as she extended her company card for the last time.

Back home she fell into a languid life of half-hearted job searching. She ventured out to a big warehouse store and bought a case of frozen fried chicken dinners and several of ice cream. She would send out enough letters and resumes, apply online when she could, enough to keep an unemployment check coming, but her heart wasn’t in it.

One thing that did interest her was the old pamphlet she had stuck her company with back in New Orleans. For something so short it was surprisingly complex. She kept noticing something new every time she picked it up.

Different paragraphs were written in different styles, all jumbled together. Some were in a modern, hip, joking style, talking about “Stealing for Dummies,” and such. Others were in an arcane style, full of old-fashioned spellings and extinct phrases. The text seemed to be one third cold, dry instruction, one third psychology lessons on how a mark thinks and what he will and won’t notice, and one third strange incantations designed, as the pamphlet said, “To reste the spirit and calme the blood.

She read and re-read the thing. When she would put it down to try and watch TV or to get something to eat, she would feel it growing in her mind until her hands would actually quiver and itch for the feel of its aged paper between her fingers.

Some of the pages contained simple exercises meant to improve dexterity and quickness. She set up some little stations around her apartment. Everything was laid out exactly as the pamphlet called for, bits of cloth, small metal weights (she used some old hexagonal steel nuts she pried off the bottom of her coffee table), and shapes folded from shirt cardboard as diagrammed in the pamphlet.

Loralee would practice over and over again. First she would mumble the words prescribed on the pages; she felt an odd urge to try and get all of it exactly right – no matter how silly it seemed. Then she would go through the motions of snatching the metal nuts from whatever cradle they were hidden in. At first she would make her move while looking directly at the setup, but – as the instructions dictated – after a while she would work with her head turned, and then, finally behind her back. She was amazed to find that, with enough practice, she could snatch the prize without even touching the cloth or cardboard. She felt she could almost see her goal in sort of a glowing mist inside her head, see it clearly, even though it was behind her back.

After three months of preparation and practice, she decided she was ready.

There was a Starbucks near her apartments and as she entered she immediately picked out a matronly woman in a faded print dress at the end of the queue of customers looking confused at the lighted menu overhead. Loralee sidled into line directly behind her as the woman began to ask questions of the barista, “But I don’t understand… are you telling me the Venti is bigger than the Tall?” Loralee muttered one of the incantations under her breath. This steadied her nerves as she leaned over, pretending to look into the case of pastries.

Nonchalantly Loralee reached into the other woman’s handbag and whipped out her purse.

She then calmly pulled the money out, leaving a single five and the change so the woman could pay for her coffee. Without taking her eyes from the pastries she then replaced the purse, sighed quietly, turned and walked out. She could hear the woman going on behind her, “Oh, tell me again, what’s the difference between a latte and an espresso?”

It became easier and easier as her marks became larger and larger. Loralee began to frequent spots – casinos, expensive nightclubs, the racetrack, where customers would be carrying a lot of cash and might be drinking a little. She made enough money to begin buying expensive clothes. That enabled her to sidle her way into parties and receptions of the highest levels of society, where she could accumulate jewels and watches in addition to the mounds of cash she was quickly developing. Luckily, the pamphlet had advice on fencing those goods, and on the methods to safety and surreptitiously convert her ill-gotten gains into diamonds and gold coins – portable efficient receptacles of growing wealth.

She didn’t pay any taxes and couldn’t trust any bank, of course, so she bought a heavy safe and disguised it as a pedestal for her new wide-screen television.

She began to travel. She went to Las Vegas, Atlantic City, Palm Springs… anywhere that the marks might congregate with the cash.

She even returned to New Orleans to push her way through the huge dense drunken crowds at Mardi Gras. That was almost too easy. She could reach out and grab whatever she wanted without even thinking about it. For old time’s sake she returned to the street where she first saw the old book store, but it was gone. She moved along the alley running her hands over the rough brick, but there wasn’t even any evidence of where the door used to be.

Loralee decided she must have been mistaken about which street it had been off of. Even the street sign was missing, so she must have been lost.

After a year of work, her safe was bulging with gold and diamonds, three dresser drawers were stuffed full of hundred dollar bills. Loralee began taking it a little easier. She felt her skills begin to slip. Once, for the first time, a mark turned and shouted at her. She dropped the man’s wallet and fled. She decided to stop, at least for a while. She had enough to last, possibly for the rest of her life.

She liked to treat herself to a nice dinner at an upscale Italian restaurant around the corner. She received the best food and the best service, the waiters like her generous, cash tips. This night she stayed a little longer than usual, sipping on a particularly nice brandy after dinner; thinking about a European trip. It would be her first non-working trip to the old country, and she smiled, mentally planning it.

When she returned home and pressed her key into the lock, her door swung open freely. With a rising tide of fear choking her throat, she quickly pushed on inside. The apartment was a shambles. Everything was tossed about – not a stick was undisturbed. Her television sprawled face down on the floor. Looking at the stand, she saw the bulging cloth covering and knew the safe was open. Pulling the cover aside, she verified what she already feared. It was empty.

She dashed into her bedroom where the dresser drawers were tossed on to her bed, cash all gone. In a rising panic she rushed about the place looking in corners and hiding spots. Everything of value had been found and stolen. Even her old pamphlet on how to be a pickpocket was stolen. She realized she was doomed, there was no way to get this back without her instructions.

Finally, standing in the center of the room, fighting back panic and tears, she noticed something new. On her dining table was an old, dirty, and worn manila file folder. She approached the folder and saw, scrawled across the front, “One Hundred Seventeen Dollars,” in red marker. Shaking, she opened the folder. Inside was a single, torn, worn piece of paper covered with faded typing. At the top it said, “How to be a Burglar, Guraranteed!

The Sound of his Horn – by Sarban

The lurid cover art from The Sound of his Horn by Saban

The lurid cover art from The Sound of his Horn by Saban

I finished Erik Larson’s Thunderstruck and wanted something light and easy to read – so I looked through my collection of pulp ebooks and came up with Sarban’s The Sound of his Horn. This was an odd bit of fiction that I had found recommended here and there across the interwebs.

It’s an interesting amalgam – told as a story-within-a-story… it has time-travel science-fiction aspects, alternate history, a possibly unreliable narrator (one of my favorite literary devices), themes akin to a reverse Island of Dr. Moreau, a bit of an unlikely love story, while at the heart it is a “Most Dangerous Game” tale on steroids.

What’s odd about the book is that it is told in a slightly archaic, literary style (I had to use the dictionary quite a bit as I read) but the story is full of lurid, shocking elements that would be at home in the most modern trashy paperback. In the story, the protagonist finds himself thrown a hundred years into a future where the Germans have won World War II. A Teutonic lord rules a massive forested estate where his decadent guests hunt half-naked women costumed as deer or birds. They are captured alive by the hunt and served as after-dinner entertainment trussed up and delivered under giant silver serving-domes.

See what I mean. And that is not the worst of it, by any means.

I really don’t know if I’ve read anything as strangely sophisticated and sleazy at the same time.

In summary – it’s a short novel and more than entertaining enough. It’s well worth reading – if that’s the sort of thing you want. It’ll stretch your mind more than a bit. You can get an ebook copy here or here.

The author, who chose the pen name of Sarban, was John William Wall, a British Diplomat for over thirty years and a published writer for about two. Other than The Sound of his Horn he has a couple collections of fantasy short stories (some ebooks here). He must have been an interesting man, a combination of a sharp mind and a sordid imagination.

What I learned this week, July 22, 2011

Hakuna Matata

Hakuna Matata

Goals are important, but they are only metrics. A goal is useful for making sure you are on the right track, but it doesn’t work very well for motivation. To get where you need to go, you need to concentrate on the journey. If all you look at is the final goal, you will be overwhelmed and will fail. Look at the next step. If you enjoy the journey and are able to make yourself take that next little baby step, always, no matter what, then you will be unstoppable.

If you put the water bladder in your hydration pack upside down, you will get thirsty very quickly.

A prime lens on an SLR produces a picture that is sharper than one from a zoom.

With today’s tools, the idea of waiting for approval from the minions of a multinational sounds as lazy and self-defeating as a band that won’t burn CDs until they get a major label record deal. Just as musicians have to know their way around a sound board, writers need facility with the layout and design software used to create books, the ins and outs of formatting for ebooks; they need design sense enough to guarantee that their book looks good inside and out.

We used to wait passively for the pearly gates to open and then gratefully pass our manuscripts through to hallowed ground. In music and in books, those days are gone forever. And good riddance.

—- With Traditional Publishing Dies the Passive Writer-Victim by Leonce Gaiter in the Huffington Post

The problem is that these are all goods and services, …, and goods and rights are not the same things. People tend to concur upon rights …, and they do not depend upon others to supply and pay for their rights. With goods, there is always a political argument: about the value of the good, who is to get it and who is to pay.

from A Fling with the Welfare State, by Noemie Emery

If you want to be on the cutting edge – you have to be prepared to bleed.