Saturday, January 26, 2019

But Does it Spark Joy?

My Esteemed Uncle Ron and I make a pilgrimage every January to The Book Barn for opening day of their annual sale, arriving prior to the store's (there are four of them, spread along Main Street) opening. We've been making this trek for at least a decade, with only one exception (a few years ago I went alone; it wasn't nearly as fun without him). I've been a customer of the Book Barn for at least thirty years, and I wouldn't doubt if I've transacted a thousand books over that span, mostly buying, but sometimes trading for credit books I never connected with or no longer connect with. The place is an OOP (that's "out of print" for those who don't know) paradise, but also manages to get a fair amount of current stock despite many of the chain bookstores (some of which I managed years ago) having long since gone out of business. My Esteemed Uncle Ron was a professor of Humanities for many years and regularly publishes scholarly articles, books, and books in translation, primarily in Medieval topics. We have almost zero overlap in tastes (some crossover in history and what I call "drinking studies") and so he's a perfect partner to go book hunting with as I never have to wrestle him over a find.

We met at the appointed place at 8:30 and I drove the short distance to the store, splitting the quartet of donuts he brought from a local bakery on the way and discussing the weather--this was the first excursion in recent memory where the weather was both sunny and fairly warm; we usually count on the arctic weather (last year the temperature was in the single digits which was great for keeping the amateurs away). We arrived ten minutes early, and decided to vary our pattern a bit--usually we start at the Downtown location; this year we started at Midtown because that location is closing and being moved, so instead of the usual 30% off, the stock there was 50% off so the hard working crew will have less to move.
Danny's Pro Tip: Nothing removes unsightly sticker gunk like GOO GONE. And with such a delightful orangey smell!

Here's what I bought;

(Above) A whole lot of James Ellroy, who I've decided will be one of my Featured Authors for the year, meaning I will try and read their entire output. (2018 featured Patrick O'Brian, Stephen Greenleaf, and John Connolly). I found thirteen of his books, most of them in the Midtown location, and most of them with beautiful retro noir covers. Sharp eyes will notice I bought one title twice; not an accident, I found a copy with a cover I liked better at the Main Barn later in the day. Those with my sickness will understand. Since Ellroy was one of two authors I was specifically targeting (the other was Brian Lumley because I had a synaptic urge to reread his Necroscope series, which I've not done since high school, but no luck there--I usually get a dozen horror titles, but that genre was a bust for me this year!) I was especially happy to find a signed edition of his biographical work My Dark Places.

I centered on Ellroy because I recently re-watched L.A. Confidential, at least I started to until I saw that disgraced actor Kevin Spacey was in it, whereupon I ripped it out of the DVD player, snapped it in half and then in quarters before setting it on fire and melting it into a toxic puddle (all lies; I watched the whole thing; it's a great movie and he's great in it). I've read a few here and there in the past but never in order, with concentration. I'm looking forward to it.

BTW, I'm often asked by people, some who are intent to crush out joy, and some who are merely curious, if I, as a professional author who derives a percentage of his livelihood from book sales, if I don't feel a little conflicted buying books used so that the author doesn't make a cent from them. The answer? YES. (Mr. Ellroy would agree--check out his quote about Granny and L.A. Confidential in his Wikipedia entry HERE More regarding this guilt a little later.

I love fantasy and science fiction art books, especially from the seventies and eighties, especially ones with accompanying text and/or artists notes. Anything where the artist reveals a bit of their process or inspiration. One of my book dreams in that someone collects and publishes a book compiling my friend Jill Bauman's art, some of which was featured in Grady Hendrix's Paperbacks From Hell, but I'd love to see a nice coffee table hardback of her work. The books above all all paperbacks, but some good finds--the issue of Ariel that I was missing, which has a gorgeous Barry Windsor Smith cover and something called Amberstar written and illustrated by Bruce Jones, who was responsible for the Pacific/Eclipse comics Twisted Tales and Alien Worlds among others, but for those in particular he will remain a must-read for me. These plus A Cadillacs and Dinosaurs collection, a Sandman volume (Gaiman wrote the book, he writes the introduction on the Bryan Talbot art book)  with a Stephen King intro, and a volume of Warren Ellis's The Authority I haven't read.

Then for miscellaneous stuff, these:

I think I've read the Saunders before, but this is a nice clean copy and I don't think I own it, the new book of Franzen essays, Patton Oswalt's Zombie Spaceship Wasteland because I enjoyed Silver Screen Fiend, his recent standup, and the new MST3k. The Carver bio because I've read everything he's ever written (even the poetry, which is a stretch for me) and if I could just glean one technique or practice of his through his life it would be worthwhile, the Doo Wop book because I love Doo Wop music and style and the book is loaded with photos and illustrations, and the Megan Abbot book because I loved the cover and setting (I will read any Hollywood noir) and because it seems that I've been hearing her work being recommended often lately--I've never read any. Only when I got it home did I realize it has an Ellroy quote on the cover. The two in the top corner are off my daughter's college reading list, and the last one is called Cheap Hotels and is probably the one I am most eager to read. I don't know anything about it, but it is a memoir/book of photos by Daisann McLane, a NYT travel columnist, who went around the world staying at budget hotels and taking photos and writing about them. I fully expect it will be one of my favorite books by the time I'm done

I also bought one book for my Esteem Uncle, just because of the cover quote:

He laughed when I gave it to him and said he's pretty sure he read it in the early sixties.

I do think it is funny that my total for the day was 32 books, two over Marie Kondo's much-reviled recommendation of 30, once again placing me firmly outside the zeitgeist (although my clutter-count is actually 29; two are for my daughter and Don Camillo and His Flock went with my uncle. Then again, Ms. Kondo was not speaking to me, specifically, and the vast amount of umbrage directed her way was maybe a little misguided. I found this article which I think does a better job of giving perspective on Marie Kondo's target audience and intent. She isn't a monster by any stretch of the imagination; she's trying to help people who need it, not those of us who are fortunate not to require that sort of help, and shouldn't be vilified for her attempts.

Back to feeling guilty about buying used books--I have complex feelings about the issue. When I was younger, there's no way I could have afforded the volume of books I read without libraries, used book stores, and yard sales. And without that volume of reading, I wouldn't be a pro--I'm in total agreement with Stephen King's quote about not being able to be a writer unless you are a reader. Now, though, I can afford a fair amount of new books and don't have to rely on the vagaries of the second hand bins to keep feeding my cortex. So why, if I can afford it, and not buying the books new is essentially robbing the author, do I still buy used books.

Because it, to me, is fun. It sparks joy, which is what Marie Kondo was really trying to stress.

I consider the "vagaries of the second hand bin" as much of a way for the universe to speak to me as the books themselves are; the greatest finds are those that send me pursuing the author's other work.  I truly hope that reading Abbot's The Song is You and McLane's Cheap Hotels sends me on a quest to buy their backlists and to eagerly await their next works. Most of my favorite authors, the ones who I buy every new hardcover they release, came from a library or used bookstore discover. Of the authors and artists mentioned above, I can confidently say that Ellroy, Windsor Smith, Jones, Ellis, Gaiman, King, Carver, Saunders, Oswalt, and Schultz have all made money off me, as have Moorcock, Niven, and Zelazny, who have stories in Ariel. These thoughts assuage my guilt.

To assuage it further, I confess I saw three hardcover copies of my first novel Generation Dead for sale there, but not, strangely, any of my other books. You should not feel guilty at all about purchasing one, I would certainly not think any less of you. I would instead be hopeful  that in the mystical conversation that you and I and the universe have during your reading of the book you would then fing the impetus to seek out--and pay full price for, dammit!--my other books, which you can find HERE.

I really do love the smell of Goo Gone.

Sunday, January 13, 2019

A Six Pack for the New Year

If you have enjoyed and/or felt strange or strong emotions reading any of my blog posts, please consider purchasing one of my books, all of which can be found HERE!  They are available in electronic, softcover, and audio editions, except for My Best Friends Are Dead (no audio) and Aural History, which is only available in the kindle store!

Which makes it a lonelier book than the others, in need of staunch defenders and loyal friends (and reviewers!). If you enjoy music, ghosts, musical ghosts, reading, pizza, beagle puppies, sunshine, or hygge, the Danish art of coziness, then you might really enjoy Aural History, for which I have made a special "purchase me" link right HERE!*

*(Disclaimer: while there is music and ghosts in Aural History, there's no mention of most of the other things. But pretty much everyone likes them, so give the book a shot, won't you?

Monday, January 7, 2019

Queer Eye, My Daughter, and I

I'll Explain This Photo Below, Stay With Me

My daughter and I had made a date to binge watch all of Queer Eye reboot on Netflix when she was home from school on break, and we wrapped up Season Two just last night. When she was younger we were frequent watchers the previous Queer Eye and so were interested in seeing the new cast and spin.
Like the original, the new show effectively states and reinforces several very positive messages, both societal and personal. The general message of the show is be accepting, of both yourself and others, but also that  to be accepting is not to be complacent, nor should we settle on anything less than what we as individuals or a society are fully capable of. “Acceptable” is not acceptable in the Queer Eye world, except as a stepping stone to growth, improvement, and self-actualization.  We shouldn't settle on "tolerance" as the realization of a goal, but we should work through it to get to understanding, friendship, community and love. 

A second overall message we saw is the idea we should seek and maintain relationships that feed and sustain us. Many of the episodes we watched featured a key relationship in the “project’s” life, and the ancillary goal to making over the project was always to improve that relationship, whether it was with  a spouse, a significant other, parent, or friend. The episode “Burning Man” was an excellent example of this, as after the makeover the project decided not to move from Georgia to Reno because, once he’d taken on some improvement and motivation, he had everything he needed, and dozens of strong relationships, (including the one with the friend who called the squad on him, who we are informed in the end credits is now in a romantic relationship with him), right where he is. The idea we are left with is that we should be continually looking to better ourselves, because that leads to the inspiration and betterment of others and society.

These messages are constantly reinforced by the overall positivity and acceptance of the team, who speak very frankly about the projects self-defeating behaviors and characteristics but immediately turn into a high-energy “hype squad” the moment the project makes an effort and starts to show incremental improvement. All of their comments are carried forward with such candor, sincerity, and good humor that they can’t help but resonate deeply with the project. Who wouldn’t want a crew of friends, fabulous or otherwise, who wish us nothing but the best at all times, who constantly reinforce the idea that the efforts we make are appreciated and achieve the results we were hoping to?
We felt that the reboot really focused on that positivity, foregoing much of the snark that made the first run so great. There is very little negativity among the hosts, either with each other or in the "post makeover" segments like there was in QE1; the harsh criticism all comes in the first meetings and from then on it is positive vibes all the way. I'd have to re-watch the first run, but it felt like there was more physical affection among the new Fab Five.

Beyond what we saw as the overarching messages of the show, we felt each team member was tasked with conveying a very specific message in nearly every episode. Broadly, they are:

KARAMO: Step up, take responsibility for yourself, continually improve, put yourself out there, grow, learn from mistakes but always move forward

TAN: Make an effort with your physical appearance for yourself and others, because doing so will increase your confidence and alter the way others perceive you in a positive way

BOBBY: Create and maintain a physical environment that encourage productivity, creativity, and inner harmony

ANTONI: Make nutrition enjoyable and healthy, use the culinary arts to enhance your enjoyment of life and enhance the lives of people you love

JONATHAN: Take care of yourself physically, don’t feel guilty about treating yourself as someone special because you are and others think you are as well 

This, of course, led us to giving ourselves ratings on the Fab Five scale: Here’s what I would say for myself in honest assessment, 5 being the best, 1 being the worst:

KARAMO—4.  I think I do well with all of his messages but the “put yourself out there” one.

TAN—1. I rarely “Make an effort” at home or at work. I have some nice clothes that I like and break out for special occasions but that’s about it. Kayleigh clearly beats me on the Tan scale

BOBBY—3. I love my basement office, it is mostly me but it is cluttered and dirty. The rest of the house I love too but isn’t optimized for space or decorated fully.

ANTONI:--2 I rarely cook for Kim, and when I do I fearfully need to ask her for instructions most of the time. It is weird because I love good food more than garbage food but never take the time. Kim would score much higher than me but we often settle (Kayleigh gave herself a 1).

JONATHAN:--2 I would be a one except for the fact that I run which probably falls under his grooming and physical appearance specialty, so I’m at least trying to get better. But other than showering regularly and shaving my head I don’t--shockingly--do anything for my appearance or use product of any nature at all.
So, twelve out of a possible 25 points. I've a long way to go to be fully actualized. I have a theory that I think is pretty interesting, though--I think scoring high in "Karamo" is probably the most necessary of the factors, but I also think that an initial high score in "Karamo" may actually make you more complacent in the other four! What do you think?
Our final verdict: we loved the show, and loved especially the energy and positive spirit it infused us with. A happy accident, but the show turned out to be a perfect vehicle to encourage a high-octane start to the new year and drive those resolutions and goals forward.
So why the above picture? Well, it is of a moment where I felt as close to being self-actualized as any in 2018 (not a great year overall, as I've mentioned). And if I was to use the QEII rating scale, I would go all the way to a 23. I'm holding a copy Sei Ancora Qui, of the Italian edition of Break My Heart 1,000 Times, and I'm in town for the premiere of I Still See You, the movie based on that book, so clearly I get a 5 for the Karamo factor, its a rare moment where I 'd give myself a 5 on the Tan factor because I like what I'm wearing and I'm comfortable in it, I'm in a beautiful hotel--in Rome--and so I get 5 Bobby points, Antoni would surely approve of the beautiful meal we ate at a host-recommended restaurant that night, so 5 points there, too. Sadly, I only get three Jonathan points, because I still don't know how to take care of my bald head, and I'd managed to give myself a nice two inch gash with my Headblade just above my right ear that I wasn't sure would clot before I had to come downstairs for the photoshoot. Thankfully, this photo--and that rare and winning smile--obscures the gore.
Basically, I'm posting that photo as a reminder that I really can experience moments were I am as close to my fully actualized, real, and most importantly, happy self. It makes me wonder why I would complacently lurk around at a number nearly half that score most of my day to day existence. I think I want to be the guy in that photo more often this year.
Why settle when you can experience and achieve more?
Why be acceptable when you can be fabulous?
Why tolerate when you can understand and love?

Show some love (or at least tolerance) and buy one of my books HERE 

Thursday, January 3, 2019

Secrets of Weight Loss--Revealed

Not Actual Size

The adventures of the Ketosis Kid have begun, as they have every January first or second for the past six years. I'm revealing my secret identity publicly for the first time, and why not? I was denied entrance into the Legion of Super-Heroes in favor of my old partner Matter-Eater Lad, but I can't say I blame them. Terrible Breath and Extreme Irritability aren't very spectacular super powers, especially as so many people share them. But I thought I'd record a few things for posterity in light of last years' epic battle (The Ketosis Kid vs. Oumuamu) which I won by (literally) the narrowest of margins.


My secret origin is quite simple; about six years ago, in a fit of self-loathing and disgust, I embarked on what I termed "The Austerity Diet" on January 2nd, which essentially was the result me taking an honest look at all of the foods and beverages I love and have a tendency to overindulge in and deciding I would not eat or drink any of those things until April first. I was already an avid (if ungainly) runner, good for ten to twenty miles a week, and a vegetarian,  so I figured these factors combined with jettisoning cheese, beer, bread, pasta, snacks, fun, joie de vivre, the will to live, etc. would have some weight loss benefits. More superstition than science, the Austerity Diet produced results (other than the aforementioned dragon breath and irritability) and not only had I reached my "target weight", I sailed past it by more than ten pounds. I lost exactly fifty pounds in four months (some of which were probably my brains and whatever my will to live weighs), or 22.8% of my total weight. The photo of me above is me at my lightest; I was so light that fourth graders could pick me up and toss me in the pond--which they often did. 

On April second I went back to eating and exercising normally, and over the course of the next eight months I would gain back a bunch of those pounds. So, convinced the Austerity Diet was the plan for me, I did it again the following year, but this time saying I would go back to my gluttonous ways as soon as I hit my target weight, which I would typically do by March 1st. As it is a well-known fact that February is an eternal enemy of the Ketosis kid, and I would not enjoy that hated month no matter what I did, I might as well pack it full of suffering. This was a good system and routine for many years.

Until 2018, where I kind did away with Austerity. Routines are dull! Self-denial is the hallmark of a boring life! I didn't fully eliminate all of the foods I was supposed to eat, and March 1 came and went and I hadn't hit my target. Probably because by then I wasn't really exercising like I had been for the past decade. Really, I'd been mailing it in since September 2017, logging only about ten miles a month on average when I had been clocking eighty-five to a hundred in those cruddy winter months. Whatever. Running is such a drag, though! is short! Don't worry about it! Back to business as usual. 

But at the start of January, Oumuamua was growing--and moving--inside of me. 

Once Oumuamua was defeated on Sept. 18, I knew it would be a great deal of work to get back to where I was, in multiple aspects of my life. Time once again to become the Ketosis Kid! So after resting up for a few weeks after banishing Oumuamua, I started a regular running regimen again in mid-October, taking it easy to start. I also cut back on a few of the things that I knew would have to go once I went into full Austerity. I faced the new year fully primed to become the Ketosis Kid.

And guess what? In the three days of 2019, I've run over twenty miles, which is more than I ran in total in the months of Sept. '17, Dec. '17, Jan. '18, March '18, April '18, and May '18. It is more than almost any two of those months combined. Thankfully, I'm only about fifteen pounds off my target and I'm feeling great, so maybe I'll be able to quit before March 1st and enjoy part of the crappiest month of the year, February.

Many of want to lose weight and become better people (two desires which can be conjoined but are mutually exclusive more often than not). I go into this at length not to sell you on my particular weight loss plan, which is not fun after the first week, unscientific, and quite possibly unhealthy. It works for me, though...and therein lies my real point:

Find out what works for you, work on what works for you, test it constantly, give it up when it isn't working, but hold on for dear life once you realize it is. I hope it is obvious I'm not really talking about the weight loss thing here, I'm talking about the essential habits and routines that make you your most successful, fully realized version of you. Austerity wasn't the only beneficial habit I quit on last year, and it has taken me many months to rebuild. I can blame Oumuamua, but really, was Oumuamua the cause, or the effect? Either way, I will be better prepared if Oumuamua or one of its hideous alien minions reenters my orbit.

I'm apologize for roping you in, if that is what I did, with the false flag of weight loss promises. Burn more calories than you consume, I guess. Who knows.

With love, 

The Ketosis Kid

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Books I Read in 2018

I read one hundred and sixty three books in 2018. I'm not saying this to impress anyone, as though the ability to sit for long hours and read should be considered an accomplishment. If anything, the sheer volume of my 2018 reading should be an alarming statistic to anyone who knows me, because it is clear evidence of all the things I wasn't doing. I typically read around a hundred books a year (I count graphic novels and the fantasy & SF art books I collect, and I also give myself credit for books I toss after fifty pages, like I did eight times in 2018), and so to hit a "personal best" in quantity is really just an indicator that I was either dealing with Oumuamua (see my year-end blog post) or engaging in aggressive avoidance strategies. An article from April of this year suggests the average American reads 12 books a year, so I did the work for another twelve people. Your welcome.

I read a number of series detective novels, which I love, and they go down easy enough that I could sometimes read two a day. I read the entire Stephen Greenleaf Marshall Tanner series, a bunch of Donald Westlake novels, and about half of the K.C. Constantine Mario Balzic novels, a few of the John Connolly Charlie Parker books, and two Doc Savage novels. I read the entire Patrick O'Brian Aubrey & Maturin series over the summer, mostly floating in my pool, which I think is twenty novels and one that he died before he could complete.

In July I went to NECon, and came home with a massive book haul, most of which I read before the leaves even started to turn. A whole bunch of Ramsey Campbell, a couple from Michael McDowell, three or four Dean Koontz books from the eighties, Clive Barker's first and third of the Books of Blood. At NECon I donated to and won an auction to benefit Trans Helpline, and the prize was a nice collection of fifteen or so screenwriting books, most of which I read over the September and October, and promptly got to work on my first screenplay in November.

I didn't read many books by friends and acquaintances this year, shockingly, but all of those I read were stellar (thank Cthulhu). Michael Rowe's Wild Fell, Gemma Files' We Will All Go Down Together, (I buy many Chizine books; I also read David Nickle's Volk but we've never met), Laird Barron's The Croning, and John McIlveen's Hannahwhere, all excellent people I've met at NECon. I also read Joe Hill's The Fireman last year and I went to a NECon he attended but I was too shy to introduce myself. I read three of his dad's books this year--Creepshow, Carrie, and Elevation, but I've never been in the same room as him. I did trade a couple emails with Owen once, though. I read two of Kim Newman's books, and those always are among my reading highlights of the year, and I read Patrick McGrath's fantastic new book The Wardrobe Mistress.

I read less science fiction this year than usual--one each from Thomas Disch (who, like McGrath, I met when I was at UConn), Doris Piserchia, Roger Zelazny, Bruce Sterling, and Norman Spinrad. I reread Patricia Geary's Strange Toys, and a couple of those really thin old Richard Matheson short story collections. 

I read some nonfiction as well, some business books, Philip Pullman's--scratch that, Sir Philip Pullman's--excellent essay collection Daemon Voices, What Makes a Masterpiece, a couple books on true hauntings and urban legends, Beyond the Map, and all the aforementioned screenwriting books. 

The last book I read last year was John Hodgman's Vacationland which was the funniest book I read last year.

The most affecting work I read last year was the one whose photo I posted above, Book of Souls by Jack Ketchum, who died in January of this year and who I was very fortunate to have known by his real name, Dallas Mayr, having met him at a Borderlands Bootcamp and also having been able to spend time with him at various NECons. I'd read much of Jack's fiction, but had somehow missed this short collection of his personal essays, which I bought and read the week he died. He was a generous, gracious man and I will miss him.

If you've never read Dallas's work before--and shame on you--read Book of Souls and then read The Girl Next Door back to back, and please send me the selfie of your head exploding.