Author’s note for “If the Spirit Moves You”

This author’s note for If the Spirit Moves You is the last one from Welcome to Paradox City, and though it’s the middle story in that small collection, I think it was the last one that I wrote.  It’s also the lightest-hearted story in the book, though it still qualifies as one of “three dark tales,” because its subject matter is ghosts…or the “unquiet dead” as one of the characters in the story asks us to say.

This was not a title-driven story.  The idea for it was triggered by a comment I heard while staying with my parents and my sister for a few months, after having completed Work Release at the tail end of my sojourn with the Florida DOC.  It was October and, as was their wont, my sister and mother had put up many holiday-related decorations in and around the house, including the front lawn.  One morning my sister came in from raking some leaves and she said to my mother that, while she was out front, a ghost fell out of the tree near her.  I knew she was referring to one of the decorations she had put up earlier, but her statement made me think about what might happen if a person were outside and a real ghost fell out of a nearby tree.

Of course, ghosts, as understood in popular culture, aren’t normally prone to falling, so the idea seemed humorous to me.  I wondered under what circumstances a ghost really might be subject to the usual influence of gravity.  I also wondered under what circumstances a person might actually see such a thing happen.

The story didn’t develop right then and there but percolated and fermented and sporulated and incubated and underwent all sorts of other metaphorical processes for quite some time.  Finally, it popped out in more or less complete form:  What if people don’t see ghosts anymore, not because we have come to know that they don’t exist, but because the increasing disbelief in them has deprived them of their power?  If that were the case, and if they realized it, how might they seek to change the situation, so that they could regain their influence.  Also, why would they want to do it?  I thought it would be more interesting, and more fun, if they weren’t trying to accomplish anything sinister, but rather to bring themselves to the attention of the modern world, so they could enlist the aid of modern science in helping to free them from their prison as earthbound spirits.

The purpose of writing this story was just to play with the idea.  I suppose that’s ultimately true of any story at some level, but I also wanted to make this one funny, at least a little.  Thus, the almost slapstick nature of the young ghost’s tumble from the tree while trying to practice hanging himself, and the confused subsequent interaction between him and Edgar Lee, the story’s protagonist, in which each only slowly realizes the other’s nature.

Among many influences on the story, one is my love of manga and anime, a taste I acquired only after I was already in my thirties.  The supernatural stories in manga often have a different kind of sensibility than many traditional Western tales.  This is probably partly because of the cultural heritage of Shintoism, which considered spirits to be integral and essential parts of the world.  Many anime and manga have characters who—unlike nearly all of their fellow modern humans—can see and interact with spirits of one kind or another, good and bad.  This would be just the sort of person who might encounter an inept ghost falling out of a tree.  Thus, Edgar Lee, I decided, had at least some Asian heritage…including a great-grandfather who had, in China, used a peach wood sword to exorcise demons.

I enjoyed combining seemingly contradictory attributes into individual characters in this story.  There’s the inept and clumsy young ghost with a bit of a snarky attitude, who is a fan of James Randi—that rock-star of the skeptical debunker community.  There’s the ghost’s friend and fellow spirit, the instigator of the plan to reawaken belief in and awareness of ghosts, who is painfully PC in his sensibilities and tries to raise consciousness about the inappropriate use of stereotypes regarding the “unquiet dead”.  There’s Edgar’s father, a sober and rational retired electrical engineer who is utterly unsurprised when Edgar discovers his own supernatural ability, and who says, “These things happen.”  And of course, there’s Edgar himself, a struggling copywriter for a PR firm who realizes that he is possibly the last person on Earth who can see ghosts.

This obviously isn’t supposed to be a deep story, though I do try to take it and its characters seriously within their own world.  It’s always harder to be funny than it is to be scary—probably for good, sound, biological reasons—so I rarely write to try to make other people laugh.  In this story, mostly, I was writing to make myself laugh, or at least to smile, while still creating interesting characters with a problem that really would be bad if we were faced with it.  How horrible would it be to be trapped on Earth for eternity, unable to have any effect whatsoever on anything that happens?  Pretty horrible, I’m thinking.

The story makes a nice buffer between the other two in Welcome to Paradox City, neither of which has much humor, and both of which have very non-happy endings.  If the Spirit Moves You ends on a rather optimistic note, and I like sometimes to imagine what sort of events might have followed the story’s conclusion.  I hope that some readers think about such things as well, and that at least a few of them share my bizarre sense of humor and get a modest laugh out of the story.

Finally, a brief word about the title.  The first draft of the story was complete before I even started thinking about what to call it, and that task required a few solid days’ pondering.  I considered and rejected several rather stupid and ham-handed plays on words, including one which turned out already to have been used by a Bugs Bunny cartoon.  Finally, I decided just to go with a slight variant on the dry joke Edgar’s father makes at the end of the story.  He is, probably, my favorite character in the tale, and is partly modeled after my own father; giving him (nearly) the last word as well as the honor of naming the story seemed entirely appropriate.


Prometheus and Chiron



See on Amazon

Tommy—a former Marine, a part-time construction worker, dependent on opiates for the treatment of chronic pain—is waiting for the train home one evening, when he sees a strange, shivering, ill-appearing woman seated on a bench across the track from him. Her presence fills him with dread and revulsion, for no reason he can understand. Even after a month passes, she remains, seated in the same place, always visibly suffering. No one else at the station ever seems to see her at all. But Tommy sees her, and even dreams about her.

And she sees him.

Author’s note for “Paradox City”

Paradox City Cover2

“Paradox City” is the next story I wrote—or completed, anyway—after I finished the first draft of “Mark Red.”  I say “completed,” because I actually began writing “The Chasm and the Collision” months before I started “Mark Red,” in apparent contradiction to what I wrote in my previous author’s note.  But I had only written what were then the first and second chapters of “CatC,” which were eventually consolidated into one chapter, and had then put them aside.  I also didn’t have them with me while I was a guest of the Florida State Department of Corrections.  My mother, thankfully, had a printout of the chapters, and my intention was to complete that book once I had finished “Mark Red,” when I had worked enough of the rust from my writing gears.  However, the chapters hadn’t arrived yet by the time I finished “Mark Red.”  While I waited, I wanted to be productive and to maintain my daily early-morning writing habits, so I decided to write a short story. Continue reading

Now is the summer of our discontent made glorious winter by this blog post

Hello, good Thursday to you.  A very Happy Winter Solstice to all, and to all the longest night of the year.  At first glance that may not seem like something one ought to celebrate, yet cultures all around the northern hemisphere have celebrated it for time out of mind.  Mainly, I think, we revel in the fact that “this is as bad as it’s going to get.”  It’s actually one of the most festive times of the year, and that festive spirit is both an act of defiance of the darkness and a celebration of the imminent return of greater light.

Of course, as someone who writes mainly dark fiction (even my sci fi and my attempts at humor are quite shadowy), it might seem odd that I should celebrate the return of longer days.  But even most of the darkest stories tend to be about the struggle against the (metaphorical) nighttime, and the triumph of the light.

In long stories, at least, it’s generally necessary to come to a conclusion wherein the light triumphs and/or holds back the darkness.  There are exceptions, of course, many of them found in more “realistic” fiction, but the vast majority of novels end with the good guys winning, or at least with the bad guys losing.  This is understandable.  It’s a hell of a thing to journey through a story that’s 120,000 words long (and often quite a bit longer, as my novels tend to be), only to find that in the end everything goes to shit.  It’s even more terrible if the story is a series of novels.

Just imagine, for instance, that you finish reading “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows,” only to find that in the end Harry dies, and Voldemort wins.  Not only would it be a bummer—even if you’re a fan of good bad guys, as I am—but it would also make you unlikely to read the books again, or to recommend them to a friend.  It’s just too hard to undertake a seven-book odyssey knowing that your beloved heroes lose.  Of course, you always consider the possibility that they might lose as you read the books for the first time, and J.K. Rowling pulls no punches in having terrible things happen to characters we have grown to love.  But you nevertheless read her books, and others, with the optimism born of experience, that in the end, even if things aren’t exactly “happily ever after,” at least the immediate evil will have been contained or destroyed.  Our heroes sometimes come to a peaceful, productive life at the far end of their trials, à la Harry Potter; sometimes, they pay what seems an unendurable price for the benefit of defeating evil (poor Roland Deschain!).  But we can be reasonably safe in the assumption that, though all may not be well, the immediate threat will have been overcome.

This is just one of the advantages fiction has over reality.

On the other hand, one of the great, fun things about short stories is that the good guys don’t necessarily win in the end.  Short stories don’t even have to end with the bad guys losing.  In fact, they may end with everything just about as bad as it can possibly be.  In this, short stories really are Forrest Gump’s box of chocolates, and sometimes it’s a box of chocolates made by Monty Python’s Whizzo Chocolate Company, where the best you can hope for is a Cherry Fondue that’s extremely nasty (but we can’t prosecute you for that), and you might just get a Crunchy Frog, a Cockroach Cluster, a Ram’s Bladder Cup, an Anthrax Ripple, or even a Spring Surprise (“covered in dark, velvety chocolate, the moment you pop it into your mouth, stainless steel bolts spring out and plunge straight through both cheeks”).

“Where’s the pleasure in that?” as Inspector Praline understandably exclaims, and you may well share his sentiments.  But…there is pleasure in that, at least in the metaphorical version of it that is the dark short story with no happy ending.  And I’m not quite sure why, but I really enjoy writing (short) stories that summon the shade of Jim Morrison, taunting, “No one here gets out alive.”

(Yes, we are mixing not merely metaphors and genres, but entire art forms here.  Don’t worry.  We can handle it.  We are large, we contain multitudes.)

Speaking of short stories:  I am almost ready to release “I for one welcome our new computer overlords,” on Kindle, in a newer, better version than the one I posted here.  I know it’s taking a long time, but as I’ve said before, this would go a lot faster if enough people bought my books that I could survive by writing full time (hint, hint).

For those who didn’t get the chance to read “Ifowonco” here on this blog, I’m going to make you wait and find out on your own whether the story is a lovely English Toffee or a Spring Surprise.  Either one can we wonderful.  Like Mr. Milton (the owner of the Whizzo Chocolate Company), I’m very proud of my creations, and like him I use no artificial additives or preservatives of any kind.  I will warn you, though, that even at my most sugary, I don’t tend to create purely light and sweet things; even my brightest creations use dark chocolate.

All right, enough with the frikking candy metaphors.  Jesus!

In closing, I want to once again put out a request for feedback on the possibility of creating “Author’s Notes” for my published works, and posting them—with clear identification—as “reviews” on Amazon, hopefully for the benefit of those considering buying the books.  As far as I can tell, this is allowable within Amazon’s guidelines.

Of course, an alternative to this would be posting my author’s notes here, on this very blog.  In a way, that’s what the blog is, after all:  A sort of weekly author’s note.  I’m fine with that idea, and I think it might be fun to write the notes and post them here, but they would really only be useful for those who already read the blog; they wouldn’t provide any benefit for someone shopping through Amazon.  So, I do think the idea of doing such a note/review might be good, but I’m leery of undertaking such a thing if people would consider it to be in very bad taste.  I’m willing to do things in bad taste, but very bad taste is worth avoiding, I think.  Which is why I recommend the Crunchy Frog over the Cherry Fondue.

Please take care when buying your sweeties, please do enjoy the advent of longer days to come, and please give me your opinion, if you have one, on the author’s note idea.


This is the blog post that I have given you.

To any who’ve been paying attention, it’s no doubt obvious that I have not yet edited my reading of “Prometheus and Chiron.”  For anyone who has been awaiting that release with bated breath, I do apologize (and encourage you to breathe normally).

Similarly, it’s obvious that I haven’t yet made any new videos to post since my introductory effort.

One reason for the latter fact is that I simply don’t like how I look right now.  I’m not exactly hideous, perhaps (though opinions surely vary), but I am heavier than I like to be, and I would really like to lose a little weight before making any more videos; there are also other cosmetic issues that I find unsatisfying.  This reticence is despite the fact that there are specific matters on which I would love to make commentary (such as my irritation about people failing to signal when turning or changing lanes), and which I’d like to address videographically because, as I think I’ve said before, video lends itself particularly well to rants.  Tone of voice, as well as facial expression, can help convey certain passionate arguments in a much more potent way than can words alone—though I am a devotee of the written word, and likely always will be.  Video also tends to reach more people, for better or for worse, than the written word often does. Continue reading