Thursday, March 31, 2011


Reading a really interesting book right now, maybe one of seven at this point.  (I read books as I write them, apparently--many at once, taking an effort to finish one.)  Anyway, it's called Dogtown: Death and Enchantment in A New England Ghost Town.  Buy this.  Very interesting and well-written.  Alternates chapters between a notorious murder there in the 1980s and its history since 1623.  Interspersed are shorter sections of the author's reason for going there; and how her listlessness matches that of other notable people who have been drawn there.  The place seems to be a magnet for the "lost," many of whom become found, but also some who have not, such as the murderer.  The town now is a ghost town.  All that's there are markers of old cellar holes, glacier rocks with odd messages carved into them, courtesy of an eccentric millionaire, tons of walking paths, many of which end nowhere, and a sense of oddness and loneliness.  Apparently nobody has lived there since the early to mid 1800s, when many citizens died from disease and the Revolutionary War, and the leftover widows kept dogs for company.  Then the widows died, the dogs went wild, and everyone else left for the Gloucester shores (Dogtown is in the higher ground of Cape Ann, which is actually an island.) or stayed there and died as their houses fell apart around them.  Truly fascinating book, odd and interesting in its design.  If you're a writer, you'll want to emulate this.  Underappreciated book available for cheap.  Buy it.  It made me also want to buy Anita Diamant's The Last Days of Dogtown, which I did via for $1.99.  This book brings to literary life many of the real people the first book mentions.  Read the first, then the latter.  If you're like me, you'll want to visit Dogtown, Massachusetts.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Lenny Dykstra and American Bear-baiting of the Popular

A non-writing post, but I feel it necessary.  The following concerns Lenny Dykstra, former baseball player and current victim of mental instability and a lack of help:

Why hasn't someone stepped in to help Lenny Dykstra?  I just saw him on another interview today, for NBC, and once again he seemed mentally unstable.  He still speaks with that slurred speech, as if he were always drunk, or drugged up, or on some meds that make him sound that way.  Once again he was denying his financial reality, saying that he lived in a $30 million home, but yet was on the streets for two years.  Again he says that he has all this money that he doesn't have; that his homes are not in foreclosure; that he hasn't been swindling anyone.  Why hasn't someone stepped in?  He seems confused, taking forever to come up with Gandhi's name, and then comparing himself to him.  Again he sounded paranoid, saying that bankers would assassinate him.  Again he had flights of fancy, saying that he could not be killed--after he said bankers would assassinate him.  He has a persecution complex.  I don't doubt he believes that he hasn't cheated anyone; I believe he believes he really does have all this money.  Why hasn't a friend or loved one stepped in and institutionalized him for his own good, especially when he was living on the streets for two years?

And why are they still putting him in front of a camera?  So we can see that he's still nuts?  So we can see that he's in denial, and slipping even more?  Why are they parading him instead of helping him?  I saw another clip on tv--some kind of program on Paris Hilton--and some guy said that we, the public, just want her to continue screwing up, that we want her to take drugs, get arrested, and say stupid things for our amusement.

There's truth to this.  We are schoolyard bullies parading the clueless for our enjoyment, watching their self-destruction for our self-esteem, for giggles.  Instead of helping them, we jab them, prod them, tie them to the stake.  People like Dykstra clearly can't defend themselves, and rather than help them, we tie them to the media stake, unleash the media and viewer dogs, and watch for our own amusement as they get eaten alive.

Call it Britney Spears/Charlie Sheen Syndrome, call it whatever you want, but it says more about us than it does about them.  They are, or were, messed up, in the head, or as addicts.  But we sit at home, watch it all on television or the internet--more the latter now--and we laugh and jibe as they suffer and self-destruct.  We call them names, often really bad ones, which was even more unforgivable when it's someone like Spears, who was in her late teens and early- to mid-twenties during most of her self-immolation, still mostly a kid, in terms of life experience and wisdom.  But that didn't stop us from calling her horrible names, and puncturing her rather than helping her.  Maybe it's a mob psychology, that many of us are decent people on our own, but as a media saturated public, we become sharks and frenzy-feed on the helpless when they injure themselves.

Sickening.  And it's more us then them.  When did we start putting the popular in cages and prodding them for our own amusement?  Watch this clip,, and see what you think.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Wireless Stuff, H.P. and Losing My Mind

I feel like a little randomness is in order.  Lots of separate thoughts running around in here that need to come out, so here we go:

--I just bought a wireless keyboard and mouse because my mouse had just died, and buying both was only about six bucks more than buying the mouse.  Result: I'm lovin' this.  Smoother keys and mouse, and no wires!  I'm currently typing this on a wireless keyboard on my lap, my feet stretched out on my desk, and it's so comfortable!  No awkward angles with my wrist and fingers; much more relaxed...Maybe this is the breakthrough my writing needed to really take off.  Ya never know...

--I'm going to buy the five or six volumes of H.P. Lovecraft's letters.  The ones I have read were very interesting.  He had a lot to say about a lot of stuff, and there'd be no better window, maybe, into the mind of the weird than through this man.  I'll somehow have to deal with the rampant racism when I see it.

--My local used bookstore is consistently closing at 6 when the sign and website say it closes at 7 on Thursdays.  If you're gonna close early, change those.  I drove 2.6 miles out of my way for nothing.  (For my readers from out of state, I don't expect you to understand.)

--This keyboard seems to want me to use the downward arrow key rather than the return key.  Yes, master.

--Now it doesn't.  Weird.

--I've been so unfocused lately, that I'm reading Mary Karr's Lit, several nonfiction vampire books and other stuff for my novels, H.P. Lovecraft's short stories, and God knows what else, all at once.  This is a lot even for me.  I've got to get my head screwed on straight.

--Today I forgot to take my sinus meds and had to come back home to take them.  First time in all my years of taking them.

--Every blog I read that's written by a writer complains about the lack of writing that person does.  Mine is no exception.  I used to be driven and edgy and raw, and I'd write (with varying levels of quality) all the time.  Now I've gotten soft because of my career, home, etc.  I miss that verve and I want it back.  NOW.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

H.P. Lovecraft

H.P. Lovecraft was one weird dude.  After having read a lot about him (and after having bought a collection of his works), it seems that "weird" doesn't seem to be quite enough.  And that's me saying this.  He seems to have been a victim of a sort of social anxiety disorder, except from among his letters it seems that he also had a "nervous disposition" while alone, or while living with his mother and aunts.  His mother's mental and emotional spiral wouldn't have helped, and she ended up in Butler, the same asylum his father died in--though his father undoubtedly had syphilis, while he and his mother were simply...nervous.  (Mary Karr's mother was apparently the same, and the word "nervous" was used to mean someone who was barely functionally insane.)

Lovecraft married and moved to NYC, but the marriage didn't last long, and his wife complained that he was more comfortable communicating with her through letters.  He moved back to RI; she moved to Cleveland and later to CA after she re-married.  He then proceeded to write maybe more letters than anyone else, ever.  One scholar places the number of letters at over 200,000; one wonders how much more fiction he could have written.  Yet, he was more comfortable writing letters, and getting comfortable seemed to be his life's work.  His letters, perhaps more than his writing, may prove to be his most lasting legacy.

His fame doesn't rest upon that much fiction, and much of that fiction is just plain bad.  Yet the good is very good, of its type.  Storyline and plot were not important.  More than Poe, Lovecraft was interested in atmosphere and feeling, and he got those across very well, as well as, or better than, even Poe.  Reading Lovecraft is to feel dread, even if you don't know what you're feeling dread about, exactly.  Reading his best is like having a nightmare you don't understand, but that which makes you fear and dread.

His fiction and letters had a major similarity: fear of others, or, more exactly, Others.  His most ardent fans are forced to admit his rampant racism; his racism is flat-out fear.  Scholars point to his NYC days, in which he was jobless.  He felt immigrants took job opportunities from him.  Probably it was his demeanor and nervousness.  Would you hire this guy?  Upon returning to RI, he quickly decided that he would work from home, writing, ghostwriting, editing and corresponding.  He did not ever become otherwise employed.  Due to his mother and aunts' spoiling of him, he perhaps never had to.  (To be a fly on that wall...)

When he knew that death was close by (colon cancer), he appointed a teenage fan from Florida to be his literary executor, which one scholar said was like hiring you or I to lead an army platoon into battle.  This kid promptly gave over most of the works to August Derleth, Lovecraft's aunts, and a university, thereby causing one of the most confusing copyright wrangles in the history of literature.  Who owns the rights?  The writing from the 20s, nobody, as they are now in the public domain.  Perhaps everything now is.  Or the aunts, or Derleth, got cheated.  It is further now established that the Cthulu Mythos is more Derleth than Lovecraft, which makes sense to me, as Lovecraft often stated that he was after atmosphere and feeling, plot be damned, and the Mythos stories clearly show a consistent and connected sort of plotline, in a Good vs. Evil sort of way.  Lovecraft, an avowed atheist and overall nihilist (and elitist), probably did not believe in a good vs. evil distinction.

His stories, like his life, defy simple explanation, besides to say that they are an exercise in supreme oddity.

Monday, March 21, 2011

A Lucky Addiction

Wow!  Has it been 5 days since the last post?  Well, time flies when you have the blahs.  Which I do.  Big-time.  It hasn't helped that I'm back at work, getting caught up, going through piles and piles of things and writing out tons of forms.  Also I had a competition of something I coach, and we did well enough, I suppose.  I was given a plaque, too, which is not only very nice--but the plaque and inscription also look very nice.  'cuz I'm materialistic and shallow like that.  But the whole thing was a good time.

Now...back to writing.  Getting caught up at work, and going back to work (after the bereavement leave), really took its toll on me, to the extent that I haven't written much, read much, or slept much, for that matter.  When I've been reading, it's been Mary Karr's Lit.  I don't know why I decided to start at the end--which normally in a trilogy is a very, very bad thing to do--but I read a bit of the others and actually made the decision to start at the third.  Odd, I know, but my reasoning is that I wasn't in the mood to read about self-destructive sexual escapades (Cherry) and I wasn't in the mood to read about parents who screw up her entire childhood (The Liar's Club).  And what I'd read, at random, of Lit was better than what I'd read, at random, of The Liar's Club, so I stuck with it.  Why?  Because I'd had--and may still have--a very heavy case of the blahs, and I didn't really give a damn, though I knew that I should have.  Which is a textbook definition of the blahs, by the way.

And when you're feeling like that, and something--blessed, effin' anything--is working, you stick with it.  Because it makes you feel something akin to happy.  Because you don't screw with anything, no matter how small, that's working when you're feeling like this, because you never know if anything else is going to.  And, well, because.  That's why.  Just...because.  When you're feeling like this, that really is a good enough reason.

Having said this, I realized that reading (and writing, I suppose) has been there for me through many episodes of the blahs, most of them much deeper and more profound than this one.  While reading is undoubtedly an escape, one could say the same for alcohol and drugs, and reading is by far the cheapest and least destructive of the three.  If you're gonna be addicted to something that obliterates the void, it might as well be a turning of the pages.  I am lucky to have this addiction.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Mary Karr

My latest find is Mary Karr, famous for her memoir trilogy: The Liar's Club, Cherry, and Lit.  I've wanted to read the first for a long time, but was put off by the criticism I'd heard that, despite being a great writer, she'd tended to frankly whine about her usually-deranged mother too much.  That would just be too much for me to take, and would also be an exercise in bad faith, if you'll pardon my existentialism.  So I put it off, and waited...

Then I picked up Lit, which I thought was short for literature, or maybe a gung-ho "lit out for the west" reference, either spiritually, or spatially, or psychologically or emotionally.  Or whatever.  Shows you how much of a square I am.  Or maybe just how much I've not been "lit" since college.  I'll bet she'll hit on all those references after awhile, but rest assured that, at first, it's about how she and her mother have been too often drunk.

But it's also a lot more than that.  The writing was soooooo good, that I immediately bought it, and used my Borders 33% coupon, Borders Bucks, and teacher discount to get the trilogy--all for about twenty-two bucks.  Not bad.  (No wonder Borders isn't doing well.)  The writing is so good, I thought I'd share some random snippets, both from her own passages and from her many references.  Enjoy.  (All of these are from Lit.)

Standing in the shower, I feel something on the back of my leg that turns out to be my ass.  (257)

He tells me the story of a writer who...opened to the flyleaf [of his own remaindered book] only to discover his own signature above the note To Mum and Dad...(169)

Man exists only insomuch as he is separated from his surroundings...It may be wonderful to mix with the landscape, but to do so is the end of the tender ego.---Vladimir Nabokov, Pnin (161).

Well, if God doesn't exist, who's laughing at us?--Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Brothers Karamazov (124).

You wear a mask, and your face grows to fit it.---George Orwell, "Shooting an Elephant" (61).

You start with a darkness to move through
but sometimes the darkness moves through you.---Dean Young, "Bright Window" (34)

I was miserable, of course, for I was seventeen,
and so I swung into action and wrote a poem,

and it was miserable, for that's how I thought
poetry worked: you digested experience and shat

literature.---William Matthews, "Mingus at the Showplace" (11).

Not one thing on the planet operates as I would have it, and only here can I plot my counterattacks. (7)

I am leaning the top of my head against the door when I spot for the zillionth time--the burnt-out lightbulb I fail every day to change, the cartoon idea I every night fail to get. (10)

On my fun scale, it ranks with the Nuremberg Trials. (8)

There are tons more, but that'll have to do.  Don't think from the number of references that the book is mostly just her quoting other people's good things.  She writes more than enough of her own.  Very, very good writing.  Every sentence zings and has separate importance.  Each one stands alone.  The wit (and mood) is razor sharp.  Very stylized, but done so well that you don't realize it while reading.  For any writer, and/or for anyone who's known a crazy, this one is for you.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

A Winter Haunting--Dan Simmons

Very effectively creepy.  Reminds me a lot of an Aidan Quinn/Kate Beckinsale movie, Haunted, and John Gielgud, in which everyone's a ghost, and everything's haunted, and that the beautiful mansion he saw was actually a decrepit wreck of a former mansion.  Both this book and that movie have an almost sex scene, too.  No, check that--Quinn and Beckinsale have a scene, maybe the first nude scene with a "ghost" ever on film.  And the dead talk to each other, and there's animosity...Well, anyway, both are credibly creepy, hard to do these days, when we all know the tripes of horror and ghost stories.  That this book succeeds despite that is deserving of applause in of itself.  But perhaps the best thing to say about it is that I read all 371 pages in half a day, and this after finishing another long novel, Straub's A Dark Matter, today as well.  Not feeling well, physically and psychically.  Anyway, a good psychological tale that tips its hat to the works of Henry James, and a few other works of creepiness...though I could have done without the Egyptian gods parts, and the extensive Beowulf references, but you need something to set your writing apart, right?  The ending of the occasional ghost-narrator taking over the recuperating, and coma-resting, body of the main character is sort of inspired, and not believable, and a nice touch, all at the same time.  Another Dan Simmons winner.

Monday, March 14, 2011

A Confession

Besides the personal and family issues in my life hindering my writing output, I have to admit that the biggest culprit is--me.  Specifically, I've been caught in the trap of waiting and hoping, every day, for The Email.  That's the one that an agent or magazine editor sends to me to let me know that I'm accepted--or that my writing is, since of course it's never personal.  I hope every day for such a response--I check the mail with anticipation (though we all know that if you get an SASE back, that's not a good sign.  A Yes will come by email or phone.) and I'm very disappointed every day when no acceptance appears.  The same, but worse, happens with me and email.  The disappointment is much more profound via email, especially since I've received a Yes via email before (for "Hide the Weird").

So I let the daily disappointment get to me, and I get down--and the other things in my life right now don't help that--and then I can't focus on my writing, despite my tons of ideas, and I don't get any writing done at all.  This is happening more and more frequently lately.

I know the answer is to just have a daily schedule of writing, so that it becomes habit and not dependent on good news, or whim, or creative drive.  I know this like I know my own name.  This will also even out my moods, so that I'm not so disappointed, and so that when a Yes comes, it's just a pleasant surprise that stops the writing.  I know this.  I've got the books, the ledgers, the research and the talent to get that done.
And yet I don't.

I suppose I should give myself a break.  The stuff going on right now would halt anybody.  And yet the disappointment of not getting any writing done on a consistent basis is adding to my disappointment and REALLY getting me down, so that I'm more down about not getting any writing done, day after day, than I am about not getting a Yes, day after day.

I need to forgive myself these failures and just start tomorrow with a schedule.  I just need to start writing every day.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Four More Straub

Ghost Story

My favorite Straub.  Rivals anything King has done, including The Shining, The Stand, It, etc.  One of the few books, like The Shining, to actually and literally give me the chills.  Great read as a mystery, as horror, as literature, as, well, as anything!  A must-read for any fan of any genre.  And brilliantly constructed, from the very first sentence.

Houses Without Doors

Good compilation of stuff, uneven when combined, well-written individually.  Contains stories of men who go crazy, partly because they read too much.  Uh-oh...

In the Night Room

Solid, creepy, and well-stylized.  Straub's just a good writer, no matter what the genre.  He could've written in any genre.

The Throat

So well-written that I read all 600 pages or so in about three days.  Straub is simply a good writer.  Good story; characterization; mood; setting.  All coalesce to an effective creepiness.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Getting Back, Slowly--Peter Straub's A Dark Matter

Interesting read from the POV of a writer.  Might have liked it less if I'd read it when I first encountered Straub in the 80s, solely as a reader.  What I mean is, the ending isn't really in doubt, per se, in the sense that you're not worried about any of the characters.  You know they'll be okay.  It's a little like The Decameron, in a way, maybe like Canterbury Tales as well: basically a small bunch of specifically designed people (they're not stock characters; that's important) who all tell their angle or POV of the same instance.  Speaking of which, An Instance of the Fingerpost springs to mind, as well.  Anyway, you never see one of the major characters--except maybe briefly in an airport, and in a hotel lobby and elevator--and the whole thing may just be an excuse for Straub to go phantasmagoric on us (which he does well), but as a stream-of-consciousness step into evil, and a bit into the unknown, it holds up well.  The existential scene with the boy and the cards and colors representing the realities he thinks he's experiencing was a nice touch.  He still goes on a little too long about the mundane--where they're eating; what they're eating--which is a constant slight, and sometimes not-so-slight, critique of Straub as a writer for me, but he gets away with it.  (One gets the feeling at this time that Straub himself cares a great deal about where he's eating and what he's eating, and that he likes the good stuff.)  In short, if you like various views of the same scenes in a book, and how they're all different, yet the same, you'll like this book, and if you don't, you won't.

Monday, March 7, 2011


Funeral today.  Took several days off trying to just make it through.  I will be back to life as I know it, as I can best make it, by the next entry.  I normally keep all things personal out of my blogs, but felt a bend in the rules necessary in this case.

He was a man, take him for all in all,
I shall not look upon his like again.

--Hamlet, Act I, Scene ii.

Thursday, March 3, 2011


Roger E. Belanger


"My life has been a poor attempt
To imitate the man
I'm just a living legacy
To the leader of the band...

I thank you for the kindness
And the times when you got tough
And, papa, I don't think I
Said 'I love you' near enough."

--Dan Fogelberg, "Leader of the Band"

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Unabashed Self-promotion: Upcoming Works

"Hide the Weird"--a short story

Please look for this story in a forthcoming issue of Space and Time Magazine: The Magazine of Fantasy, Horror and Science Fiction. I think this issue will appear in 2011, but I'm not totally sure. I'll keep the situation updated. Please visit them at when my story appears. (But even now, too.)

"Shadows"--a short story

A brief story (about 20 pages) of a teen who (barely) escapes a mass disappearance. It's on this site, and on my website, and it's written in a surreal, Alice-in-Wonderland-at-A-Houseparty style. Hope you like it. Let me know!

The Gravediggers, a novel

Kicking up steam with a new novel WIP, The Gravediggers. This could possibly be the first of a trilogy, maybe not. We'll see. About 70 pages of present-day chapters and 10 pages of past chapters have been done so far. Outlines and character sketches and charts are being filled out. Please see past blogs for details.

"Cribbage"--a short story

A short piece of how a father and son bond over games of cribbage, especially after the death of the wife/mother. This one is hitting a little too close to home right now, but I'm hangin' in there. An update of a piece written as an undergrad. and never before published. Doing this kind of thing with a past story worked with "Hide the Weird."

"Everything's Connected" and "Pink Lemonade"--short stories

Both of these are app. 10 pages; both are short mysteries starring the main character of my MS.-Looking-for-An-Agent, Cursing the Darkness. These two short stories are currently making the rounds. Wish them luck!!!

Cursing the Darkness--Completed Novel

Private eye Brad Foster comes up against a powerful mobster, a morality-driven killer, a hitman with an itchy trigger-finger, crooked cops, his Alzheimer's-ridden mother and his own depression and past failures (which led to a child's death) as he searches for two missing teenage girls and a runaway wife.  The first chapter and prologue of this work appear on my website, Check 'em out, lemme know what you think! This MS. is currently making the rounds.

"So Many Reasons to Celebrate the Season"--a short story

A writer returns from a long, overseas book tour, on Christmas Eve, to hear that his wife is leaving him after the holidays and going with the neighborhood pharmacist for a long, island vacation. This story is currently making the rounds of the magazines.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Coming Down

Photo: Mountains and Lakes of East Wakefield, NH

A few folks I know in this red room have mentioned how hard it is to step out of the busy-ness of our lives and to sit down and write.  I communicated with one about Coming Down (she calls it the "switch"), which basically is the dividing line between getting to a mental space where you can write, and not getting there.  She opined--correctly, I think--that writer's block could be nothing more than the inability to get to a mental space to write your ideas down.  It's not a failure to have those ideas, but rather an inability to Come Down so that you can put them on paper (or screen).

Today I have had a tough time Coming Down, mostly because I woke up (very) late and because of my anxiety about going back to work tomorrow.  (I've been on vacation, and due to some personal and family issues, have done little to catch up at my job.  And, no, I'm looking for no sympathy--"At least you had a vacation!" I know many are saying.)  But then I did something that allowed me to Come Down, and it did not involve wine--although I've had a few sips of that, too.

The WIP now is a very visual piece, and so it occurred to me that I should look at it that way.  I've finished the roughest drafts of the first two chapters, and today was time to flesh one of them out.  Stall, stall, stall.  Accomplish personal and family responsibilities; eat dinner; stall.  Then it hit me: I've taken tons of pictures of the mountains, lakes and gravestones around East Wakefield, NH, and Exeter, West Greenwich and Warwick, RI.  I've put them on the computer and on CDs.  Why not look at all of them at once?  (There are about 100.)  I did so, mostly to get the feel for the locals, smells, and minutae of the settings.  And--boom!--I had Come Down and I was (and still am) ready to go.

Try it.  Take pictures of what you're to write about and create a slideshow of them on your computer (after backing them up to a CD, of course.)  I put many of mine on Flickr, too.  But you can also put them on Google, MSN, Yahoo, etc.  Then look at the photos that are representative of your work, and see what happens.  I'll bet you'll Come Down.