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10 Tricks to Get More Organized With Your Online Writing

Tuesday, October 14th, 2014 - by Dave Swindle

This article was first published January 4, 2014 as “10 Rules For Keeping a Journal in the New Media Age.” I haven’t always lived up to its goals throughout the year but when I’ve most needed to get focused again in my creative routine I’ve returned to the structure and rules it provides. I’m republishing it again with my younger brother Jeremy in mind — he’s recently started writing more diligently, providing some popular articles for PJ Lifestyle. But there are other writer friends too who I’m thinking might find it useful too.

10 Rules for Keeping a Journal in the New Media Age #writing #journaling #selfimprovement

I have decided to accept my limitations. With the nature of my editorial work across the PJM network of sites and the unpredictability of the usual day with The Wife in her final year of graduate school it has proven difficult to stick to a daily reading/writing regimen. Some days the editorial load is heavier than others unexpectedly, other days where I intend an even reading/writing split one or the other might end up predominating. If I’m in a research groove, finding new connections across books and finally beginning to grasp difficult concepts then I’m going to run with it. Likewise when the writing muse bestows her blessings you don’t tell her to shut up.

There’s a factor in all this scheduling and productivity planning work that often gets overlooked: moods. So much of being a creative person is about learning to channel one’s emotions into art, writing, and communicating. We have to learn to recognize what state of mind we’re in at any given time and then take advantage of it. Reading, writing, editing, and publishing are all four different processes. And I’ve found that circumstances and subjective moods lend themselves to each task differently. The state of mind one needs to edit an article is not the same as for writing or for researching.

One thing I’m going to try and do more this year is focus on each individually. Helping me do that will be a closer focus on using the handwritten journal as a catalyst to organize the day and facilitate more writing. Here are 10 ways that I’m going to do it, in the style that I’m going to explore this year — creating combinations of photographs, blogging, and embedded video juxtapositions.

Nothing Sacred – links to titles in the photos will be featured at the bottom of each page…

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‘A Good Video Game Sparks my Imagination in the Same Fashion as a Good Book.’

Thursday, September 25th, 2014 - by Liberty Island

Editor’s Note: Since March, PJ Lifestyle has been highlighting some of the most innovative fiction writers at the recently-launched new media publishing platform Liberty Island, featuring interviews and story excerpts. Click here to see our collection of 27 so far. To learn more check out this interview Sarah Hoyt conducted with CEO Adam Bellow: “It also has a unique mission: to serve as the platform and gathering-place for the new right-of-center counterculture.” Also see COO David S. Bernstein’s recent essay here in which he defines Liberty Island as, “an imaginative playground where brilliant and creative people can test their ideas without being harassed or threatened by the new breed of ‘community activists’ who police thought and speech in the media.” Also see Bellow’s cover story at National Review: “Let Your Right Brain Run Free.” 

Who are some of your favorite writers, books, movies, and intellectual influences?

I always find it difficult to come up with a list of my favorite anything because I am very much a man of “feasts and seasons.” One day I will find myself raving about a certain book or movie, and the next day I am off in a completely different direction.  I don’t know what that precisely says about me, but there you go.  However, having said that, there are certain constants in my entertainment life.  For movies, I would have to say the Peter Jackson Lord of the Rings trilogy is definitely near the topFrankly, this surprises me because I never was much of a fan of the fantasy genre (until I saw this movie franchise, anyway!), and I certainly wasn’t a “ringer”. However, after watching the first movie, The Fellowship of the Ring, I completely fell in love with Tolkien’s vision as had so many others before me.  It is just a wonderful tale about faith, friendship, and the importance of perseverance during difficult times. So that is definitely near that top.  Second, I guess would be the masterful war movie, Gettysburg.  In many ways, Gettysburg truly delivered on the idea that the American Civil War was “America’s Illiad.”  It is a suitably larger than life, sweeping, and almost mythical account of the most pivotal battle in that conflict, with the key historical figures wonderfully realized by their respective actors (most notably Tom Berenger, Jeff Daniels, and Martin Sheen).  It also helped that my family and I just happened to visit the actual battlefield a mere week or two after shooting for the film had wrapped up!

Lastly, I would have to say I always enjoy the dark science fiction of Ridley Scott, particularly his two masterpieces: Alien and Blade Runner. In this day and age of theaters being filled with farcical science fiction, both movies are reminders that the genre can provide a mature, sober experience as well.

As for books – wow, that would be a long list.  I don’t really stick with any one writer anymore; the world of e-publishing has so opened the literary world that there isn’t time to just stick with one author or series when so many others are out there deserving of equal attention (Liberty Island is proof of that!).  Having said that, I do have ever increasing respect for the great works of mankind, be it the Bible (I prefer the Douay-Rheims translation), or the great philosophical and theological works like Plato’s The Republic, or Augustine’s City of God (currently slugging my way through the latter!).  Of course, I am always on the hunt for some good science fiction.  I particularly like some of the sci-fi novelizations and anthologies that have grown up around popular games, such as the Warhammer 40K or Shadowrun universes.  Such settings can be really refreshing because of their “getting back to basics” style of just plain fun storytelling in refreshingly dark and gritty settings.

As for intellectual influences, well, certainly my parents.  Our many kitchen table discussions about the issues of the day was what really awakened an intellectual curiosity in me.  I was also fortunate to have some very good political science professors who emphasized the classics, such as the aforementioned titles, as well as Hume, Locke, Aquinas, et cetera, and always reminded me that there was “nothing new under the sun” when it came to politics, advice that has served me well over the years.  And, of course, talk radio has served as a type of continuing education.  In many ways Mark Levin sounds just like some of my professors – his Ameritopia might as well be a Poli Sci 101 textbook!

How do you describe yourself ideologically?

Lifelong conservative.  Even before I really knew what that meant I instinctively knew it was my political philosophy.  I am old enough to have experienced the transition from the Carter years to the Reagan years, and even as a young man I could see the profound difference in the governing philosophy, and the resultant outcomes, of the two men.  As soon as I heard Reagan describe himself as a conservative, I knew that I was that too – despite the scorn of my high school teachers.

Which thinkers/commentators have influenced you?

Certainly William F. Buckley, especially via his National Review.  Remember that television ad he used to run where you could sample an issue for free, and if you didn’t like it you could “burn it” (that ad always made me laugh!)?  Well, my parents got me the free issue after I expressed interest in that funny commercial.  I opened it one day and started reading it, really just out of curiosity.  Well, it was one of those moments where the heavens opened and a choir of angels started singing.  I was just so instantly impressed with the quality of NR!  Not just because of how it was addressing a side of the news that I had never encountered before – that was my wake-up call concerning the bias of the media – but also because the quality of the writing was so superlative. It was that magazine that helped me understand that good writing was truly a form of art, and I have been attempting to measure up to that standard ever since…usually unsuccessfully.

In addition to Buckley, certainly the great talk radio commentators like Rush Limbaugh, Mark Levin, and Laura Ingraham have been a continual influence.

What are your writing goals?

To always be a contrarian writer.  I instinctively dislike trends or market-tested “group think”.  I want my writing to always be its own thing, if you will.  Those books, those articles that have always stuck in my mind are the ones that got me to see something in a very different light, or to experience something new, or to visit a familiar setting but in a completely different fashion.  I never want to write something that is “by the numbers,” or that could serve as the next script for a Michael Bay film, if you will pardon my sarcasm.  That will always be my personal goal as a writer.

Where can people find/follow you online?

My primary online presence in the somewhat irregularly kept blog I have on video game news and views called Burke’s Joystick.  Sadly, as of late there is a leftward push in the video game journalism world, so my blog tries to cover video games from a conservative angle, as well as serving as a way to expose new people to the hobby, especially those who wrongly dismiss video games as mere “kid stuff.”   You can visit it here:  http://burkesjoystick.blogspot.com/

What’s your craziest hobby/pastime/interest?

Well, I am pretty sedate by nature, and not much of a lover of the outside world, so you aren’t going to get me to confess to anything truly crazy like cliff diving, or some other extreme sport.  For me, a thrilling evening is a good book and a glass of fine port!  So, I guess my “craziest” hobby would be games, any and all types, but in particular video games because the computer does all the work!  As with my experience with National Review, the clouds also opened for me when I received one of the original Atari 2600s as a gift.  Even as a child I could see the possibility for this new medium of entertainment.  While it has had its ups and downs, the video game industry has been more than a little successful in delivering on that promise.  A good video game sparks my imagination in the same fashion as a good book.  In fact, I would go so far as to say that video games have delivered far more original and entertaining stories and settings than anything I have seen come out of Hollywood in a long time. Even more interestingly, I have seen more than a few video games expose some fantastic if obscure science fiction and fantasy books to a larger audience.

For example, the Strugatsky brothers’ Roadside Picnic was adapted into the popular Stalker series of video games, and Andrzej Sapkowski’s dark fantasy The Last Wish became the beloved Witcher video game franchise.  In many ways, the video game industry has been far more adventurous in finding fresh material for their medium than Hollywood or television has been, which is why I continue to find it such a rewarding hobby. And, of course, you have had the reverse where a popular game has spawned a popular book series of its own, such as the aforementioned Warhammer 40K – some of its novelizations have already graced the New York Times bestsellers list.  Gaming is long past the days of Pac-Man and Space Invaders! 

Read S.D. Tortorice’s essay, “That’s No Moon, That’s a Free Market” at Liberty Island. Here’s the start:

I am a gray pixel. That is, I am a middle aged video gamer who has been playing games for quite a few decades now, really, all the way back to the early days of the Atari 2600. And I have seen a lot of gaming trends over those years. A lot. But there is one aspect of the video game culture that has remained constant, a guiding “North Star” of the hobby if you will, that has always intrigued me. Simply, it would be the burning love exhibited by the gaming community for space games. And not just any type of space game–I am not talking Space Invaders here–but for games where the player is permitted to enjoy the limitless freedom that outer space provides, particularly economic freedom. Really, when it comes to video games, space simulations have proven to be the hobby’s monument to Milton Friedman.

Huh? What is that? You thought video games were decidedly anti-conservative, like the rest of the pop culture? Actually, no. As someone who has not only been a long-time gamer but has also done my fair share of gaming journalism, I can assure you that a lot of the themes in the world of gaming are actually conservative in temperament. So conservative, in fact, that as of late a number of progressive developers have been attempting to pull the industry leftward. For example, Red Redemption released Fate of the World in which the player is made global dictator and charged with “protecting the Earth’s resources and climate versus the needs of an ever-growing world population.” Molleindustria, a publisher that calls for the “radicalization of popular culture,” offers Phone Story, a mobile game that “attempts to provoke a critical reflection on its own technological platform” by making the player “symbolically complicit in coltan extraction in Congo, outsourced labor in China, e-waste in Pakistan and gadget consumerism in the West.” Video games have now entered the realm of political propaganda.

Despite such progressive forays into gaming, most video games remain rather conservative in their outlook. And none more so than open world, colloquially known as “sandbox” space games in which the player is challenged to make a living by trading and mission-running out on what Gene Roddenberry so appropriately termed “the final frontier”. This idea of a game built around the roguish space trader preceded even such iconic space smugglers as Star Wars‘ Han Solo or Firefly‘s Malcolm Reynolds. And David Kaufman coded Space Trader back in 1974. But it wouldn’t be until 1984 when David Braben releasedElite on the BBC Micro that the a space trading game genre would really hit the big time. That game is often considered to be the one of the greatest ever made. Its success was followed by other popular titles, such as Christopher Roberts’ Freelancer, a 2003 mega-hit in the world of would-be space entrepreneurs. The genre had definitely found an audience.

Regardless of the specific title, the theme always remained the same when it came to such economically oriented space sims. Rarely did the player need to acquire a spaceship just to pick up his government cheese at the nearest space welfare office. Rather, gameplay always revolved around the player setting out on a daring new life, free from the nanny state hassles of Hillary Clinton’s “It Takes a Village” manifesto, where the player could pursue fame and fortune as he saw fit. This theme continues to be a mainstay of the genre, as evidenced by the latter-day offspring of Braben’s and Roberts’ classic titles. For example, read this official description of EVE Online, one of the more popular contemporary “sandbox” space games:

“Economic power and industrial might are as crucial to the capsuleers of EVE as to any other society that has sought to impose its will on history. The space-industrial economy of New Eden is increasingly controlled by the capsuleers, who produce and use a large proportion of its vast output. Capsuleers mine asteroid belts and moons for vital resources. They exploit planets through their colonies and build starbases and outposts, in order to refine minerals and create exotic new materials. These pilots research their own creations and construct them in nanoforges controlled by sophisticated blueprints. The capsuleer market sees trillions of ISK in transactions every day, with goods ranging from ore to battleships changing hands in vast quanities. This economy is the engine that drives EVE’s never-ending cycle of creation and destruction.”

EVE Online, like many space games, is built upon the notion of a free market–albeit, a sometimes violent, brass knuckles-enforced free market–that serves as the driving engine of a future civilization. The community wouldn’t have had it any other way. Indeed, international gamers, which number somewhere well over 400,000, have so embraced this laissez-faire environment over the game’s eleven year existence that the developer, CCP, needed to hire Dr. Eyjolfur Gudmundsson, an economist, to help keep the game’s economy under control. Dr. Gudmundsson, a newcomer to the world of video gaming, was stunned by the game’s complex economic model. He would write:

“EVE Online is emerging to become a true economic system which is self-sufficient in providing the goods and services required for its own universe, which has several categories of pilots and thousands

of items. The fact that EVE Online is a single universe in which all pilots can trade and share items directly with each other makes it one of the most complex virtual economic systems today.”

This title is not just capitalistic in gameplay, either. More than a few players have declared (in the game’s active forum community) that, having been exposed to EVE Online‘s thrilling free market environment, they chose to pursue real world entrepreneurial undertakings, or even a degree in business as a result. The game is what once might have been referred to as free market “edu-tainment”.

Yet another space game that exemplifies this laissez-faire attitude is the forthcoming title, Elite: Dangerous, the official sequel to Braben’s Elite from 1984 (a BBC Micro is no longer required, fortunately). Here is its description:

“You can trade for profit between systems, ruthlessly pillage and pilfer at any given opportunity, take part in alliances to bring down planetary economies, tipping the balance of power, or simply explore the open world wonders of the galaxy, together or alone….Your first trade is much more than merely padding your bank account – it puts you in the driving seat of your own story. Your choices can make you wealthy, can make you powerful, and can make you knowledgeable, but can also make you the target of every Elite-wannabe from here to the edge of the galaxy.”

Again, is this not the essence of a free market economy in game form? Although Elite: Dangerous may never attain the lofty economic heights of Eve Online as the game is still under development (but eager space traders can buy into the beta program now), it is again heartening to see such free market principles at the core of the experience. Indeed, this game owes its very existence to capitalism, as Elite: Dangerous was the beneficiary of a crowd-sourced funding effort that reached the sizable sum of 1.7 million pounds (around $2.8 million dollars). That’s gamers using capitalism to finance a game about space capitalism. How appropriate.

 Read the rest at Liberty Island here.

image illustration via shutterstock / Mari Carmen G. Dugo

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‘But in the Movie it Said if You Rub the Lamp a Genie Comes Out…’

Wednesday, September 24th, 2014 - by Liberty Island

shutterstock_216054715

Editor’s Note: Since March, PJ Lifestyle has been highlighting some of the most innovative fiction writers at the recently-launched new media publishing platform Liberty Island, featuring interviews and story excerpts. Click here to see our collection of 27 so far. To learn more check out this interview Sarah Hoyt conducted with CEO Adam Bellow: “It also has a unique mission: to serve as the platform and gathering-place for the new right-of-center counterculture.” Also see COO David S. Bernstein’s recent essay here in which he defines Liberty Island as, “an imaginative playground where brilliant and creative people can test their ideas without being harassed or threatened by the new breed of ‘community activists’ who police thought and speech in the media.” Also see Bellow’s cover story at National Review: “Let Your Right Brain Run Free.” 

1. Who are some of your favorite writers, books, movies, and intellectual influences?

My tastes are old-fashioned.  Some of my favorite authors are Cervantes, Swift, Boccaccio, Pope, Doyle, Poe, and Orwell.  Some of my favorite books (as one might expect from the preceding list) include Don QuixoteGulliver’s TravelsThe Decameron, and 1984.  And some of my favorite films are The SearchersCasablancaVertigoBringing Up BabySingin’ in the RainIt’s a Wonderful Life, and a number of Buster Keaton comedies.

2. How do you describe yourself ideologically?

Conservative.

3. Which thinkers/commentators have influenced you?

Aristophanes, Machiavelli, Jonathan Swift, Edmund Burke, Adam Smith, The Federalist, Alexis de Tocqueville, Russell Kirk, Thomas Sowell, and Antonin Scalia, among others.

4.  What are your writing goals?

To persuade my contemporaries, and if I cannot persuade them, then to leave a record so that future generations perhaps may be persuaded.

5. Where can people find/follow you online?

Nowhere, yet.

6. What’s your craziest hobby/pastime/interest?

All of them seem sane to me.

Check Out Joseph Magrisso’s ”The Liberal Genie” at Liberty Island:

Many, many generations ago there existed a happy, colorful land named San Francisco. In a tranquil corner of this land–adjacent to a coffeehouse specializing in hashish confections–was an old secondhand bookshop. It was unassuming, yet beguiling, with its euphonious chimes that greeted the patrons at the door, its atmosphere of sweet incense, and its soft couches, which offered many coffeehouse patrons a comfortable place to slumber as they dreamed of revolution. It was a charming shop–quite literally, since The Proprietress had decorated it with charms and artifacts collected from peoples among whom she had traveled to witness firsthand the evils of cultural imperialism.

Ah, The Proprietress! She was a pleasant lady. Though she was getting on in years, she was still as free a spirit as she had been in her youth, allowing her long, long hair, liberated and unrestrained, to fall to her waist, just like her breasts. It was on one summer evening in 1968, when she was raising her consciousness, that she had first conjured the vision of her bookshop. It was to be a pansophic oasis–a home of all learning and wisdom, where those who craved Enlightenment could congregate, and, together, imbibe knowledge and herbal beverages.

And so it turned out to be. In her quest to collect all of the world’s knowledge, The Proprietress had traveled far and wide, experiencing all that was to be experienced, and collecting as many books as she could, as well as the artifacts with which she decorated her shop. In the interests of free inquiry, this admirable bibliophile had made sure to assemble works that ran the philosophical gamut, from Adorno to Zizek. This veritable Solomon’s House gave the inquisitive mind access to all those thinkers who were worth reading, including Brecht, Dewey, Heidegger, and Althusser; and Marx, Foucault, Fanon, and Marcuse. And Lenin and Benjamin; Mead and Said; Bhabha and Derrida; Sartre and Barthes; and Gramsci, Trotsky, and Chomsky. And let’s not forget the ladies: Luxemburg, Beauvoir, Friedan, Sontag, Franken. This was all that the truly educated individual ever needed. For decades, the bookshop fulfilled its purpose of fostering Enlightenment, and all was well in this quiet corner of San Fran.

Yet, gradually, things changed. As the years rolled by, fewer and fewer people patronized the humble shop. Eventually, even The Students–who had once been its most loyal patrons–stopped coming. What had happened? Scholars have reached the consensus that the patrons, all of whom were specimens of the political animal known as The Liberal, had evolved beyond their fellow human beings, and, indeed, had grown so superior–had reached such an advanced stage of Enlightenment–that one could, without exaggeration, declare them to be practically perfect in every way, like Mary Poppins. As the fully Enlightened, they no longer needed to read. After all, why read when you already know everything?

This development left our poor Proprietress in a terrible mess. She was heavily in debt, and she had no income, so–sad but stoical–she determined that she would sell her beloved shop. Alas, because the demand for books had disappeared, no one wanted to buy a bookshop. In fact, the only potential buyer was a bizarre middle-aged Dutchman who wanted to put up a novelty shop, for which there was plenty of demand. And so the bookshop was sold. Because The Proprietress had no space in her home to store all of the books and artifacts, she decided that, in the last weeks of her shop’s existence, she would sell them; and, if no one wanted to buy her treasures, so be it–she would just give them away.

There were few takers. But just a few days before the poor shop’s liquidation, a man and his daughter sauntered inside–which had grave implications for the future of the human race.

As the man stood at the checkout counter, paying for a Michael Moore romance novel, he asked his daughter–a cute little cherub who had just turned four–if she would like to have any of the exotic, mysterious objects that the kind old lady was selling. He picked up his daughter and sat her on the counter, so that she could more closely examine those on the shelf, and choose the one she wanted. The Little Girl scanned the collection for only a few seconds when her eyes encountered an object that she had recently seen in a cartoon that she came to hold in very high esteem. She pointed at it and exclaimed, “Genie!”

The Proprietress and her customer laughed heartily.

“No, no, sweetie,” said The Proprietress, “that’s just an old oil lamp. There’s no genie inside.”

“But in the movie it said if you rub the lamp a genie comes out,” protested the child.

“Oh, but that was just a movie,” The Proprietress replied with a chuckle. “It wasn’t real. We can’t have such superstitions, not in the modern world we can’t. We must be rational.”

“Ma’am,” interjected the equally amused father, “you mean to tell me that you’ve never even tried to rub it yourself–I mean, just for kicks?”

“Oh, goodness, no!”

“Not even once, just to get it off your chest? You must’ve thought about it.”

“Certainly not!”

“Not even just to clean it?”

“No, I’ve never, ever rubbed it!”

“Well, then we’ll just have to find out for ourselves, won’t we pumpkin?”

The man then bought the lamp, and handed it to his overjoyed daughter, who feverishly rubbed it until her diminutive palm grew red and began to sting. Nothing emanated from the dingy old lamp–nothing at all, not even a puff of smoke.

“I guess that’s that,” The Proprietress said.

For the father and daughter, the rest of the afternoon was entirely unexceptional. They went back home, where the parents had a nice laugh about the episode with the lamp–”The genie might just be very shy, hon,” the mother posited–but The Little Girl was not the slightest bit amused. She was sullen even during dinner, when she barely touched Daddy’s signature tofu sushi. She even volunteered to go to bed early that night, so upset was she about how the day had unfolded.

As she lay on her bed, cozily wrapped in her Inconvenient Truth sheets, and on the verge of a most peaceful and refreshing slumber, The Little Girl heard a strange whistling sound, and–more out of curiosity than of fear–she sat up and looked around her room, searching for the source of the strange sound. Her head turned toward her nightstand, and there she saw a man–a somewhat skinny and awkward bronze-complexioned man, crowned with a snow-flecked buzz cut, and wearing a long-sleeved shirt, his collar unbuttoned and his sleeves rolled up–just quietly standing there, with his hands in his pockets and his head tilted up toward the ceiling, as if contemplating the mysteries of the universe.

“Are you a genie?” asked The Little Girl.

The man, startled out of his reverie, looked down upon the child, smiled benevolently, and said, “Even better. I am The Liberal Genie.”

The Little Girl was slightly confused, so, for a moment, she just sat in her bed and stared at the genie, until she finally said, “Why didn’t you come when I rubbed the lamp?”

“Ah, good question. The reason is that I must be alone with my beneficiary in order to appear to him or her. No one else but you can see me, until your three wishes are used and you pass me on to my next beneficiary. Oh yeah, I forget to go into that other stuff.” The genie cleared his throat and furrowed his brow. “Let me be perfectly clear: you have three, and only three wishes. I promise to grant you whatever you desire, for I have great power, and nothing is beyond my reach. There is but one caveat: choose your wishes wisely, for once you have used all three, this opportunity will never arise again. Now, what do you desire?”

“Candy,” The Little Girl immediately answered.

“Candy?!” exclaimed the flabbergasted genie. “Candy?! Don’t you know what that stuff will do to you? Why, it’ll give you cavities, and make you overweight, and later in life you’ll get all sorts of terrible diseases, like hypertension and diabetes. You’ll become a burden on society, as the wonderful, compassionate government will have to foot the bill for treatment of these totally preventable diseases. I can’t just let you, y’know, slake your selfish whims and passions at the expense of The Community! Come on, I know you can make selfless wishes; why, you’re a child, and The Children are pure–society hasn’t corrupted them yet–and they’re natural Liberals. So you want to change your wish, don’t you?”

“No.”

“What is wrong with you? Didn’t your parents tell you that you shouldn’t eat candy?”

Read the Rest at Liberty Island

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image illustration via shutterstock / chrisbrignell

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Check Out Liberty Island’s New Satirical Public Service Announcement Video Contest

Tuesday, September 23rd, 2014 - by Dave Swindle

Today our friends at Liberty Island announced their first video contest. Here are the guidelines of what they’re looking for:

Calling All Filmmakers! Liberty Island is hosting our first short film contest. Your assignment: to produce a politically-incorrect Public Service Announcement to encourage behavior that would scandalize polite opinion.

We are looking for entries which are irreverent, funny, and borderline offensive to the thin-skinned and uber-left. Think “Animals are Delicious”; “Fur is Warmer than Polyester”; “Ask Cary Grant: Smoking is Cool”.

Here’s the parameters:

  • Entries should be between 15 and 60 seconds long.
  • Stay away from profanity, nudity, and libel please.
  • You can use any format you like–live actors, animation, voiceover…we’re more interested in clever content than technical proficiency.
  • Contest is open to anyone, amateurs and professionals alike.
  • Entries must be submitted in QuickTime format.
  • We will select finalists from among the entries and feature them at www.LibertyIslandMag.com; the ultimate winner will be selected by fan voting.
  • By entering, you accept Liberty Island’s Terms of Use.

Entries are due by Friday, October 17, 2014. Please send entries by email to submissions@libertyislandmag.com.

For those looking for cinematic inspiration, I’d refer you to the first half of my 50 Greatest Counter-Culture Films of All Time list. Part I here and Part 2 here. Or jump to read about one of the first 31 films included:

50. Disinformation: The Complete Series

49. Maybe Logic: The Lives and Ideas of Robert Anton Wilson

48. Yellow Submarine 

47. Dark City

46. By Brakhage, An Anthology: Window Water Baby Moving

45. Dog Star Man

44. Mothlight

43. The Dante Quartet

42. Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring

41. The Two Towers

40. Return of the King

39. Dick

38. The Avengers

37. Watchmen

36. Inside Man

35. Jackie Brown

34. The Last Temptation of Christ

33. Pink Flamingos

32. The Films of Kenneth Anger, Volume 1: Fireworks

31. Puce Moment

30. Rabbit’s Moon

29. Eaux d’Artifice

28. Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome

27. The Films of Kenneth Anger, Volume 2: Scorpio Rising

26. Kustom Kar Kommandos

25. Invocation of My Demon Brother

24. Lucifer Rising

23. The Man We Want to Hang

22. Crumb

21. Ghost World

20. Amelie

I hope to have part 3 done this week, perhaps part 4 too.

What kind of film could you shoot with your phone? Surely you can do better than this:

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image illustration via shutterstock / Anatoly Tiplyashin

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‘Comrade Cruise will Cure Your Blues! And Teach You a Vital Thing or Two!’

Tuesday, September 23rd, 2014 - by Liberty Island

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Editor’s Note: Since March, PJ Lifestyle has been highlighting some of the most innovative fiction writers at the recently-launched new media publishing platform Liberty Island, featuring interviews and story excerpts. Click here to see our collection of 27 so far. To learn more check out this interview Sarah Hoyt conducted with CEO Adam Bellow: “It also has a unique mission: to serve as the platform and gathering-place for the new right-of-center counterculture.” Also see COO David S. Bernstein’s recent essay here in which he defines Liberty Island as, “an imaginative playground where brilliant and creative people can test their ideas without being harassed or threatened by the new breed of ‘community activists’ who police thought and speech in the media.” Also see Bellow’s cover story at National Review: “Let Your Right Brain Run Free.” 

1. Who are some of your favorite writers, books, movies, and intellectual influences?

Westerns (Clint Eastwood! Rawhide! Ennio Marconi & Sergio Leone), Zane Gray in my formative years, The Secret Garden (I love happy endings); Spinoza, Catholic mystics, John of the Cross, St Catherine of Sienna, Carl Sagan (I know; I know)

2. How do you describe yourself ideologically?

Neanderthal (pragmatic? A defender, not a pacifist?)

3. Which thinkers/commentators have influenced you?

Paul Harvey, Charles Krauthammer, Jonah Goldberg

4. What are your writing goals?

To promote authors who tell a good story with an uplifting message, and to tell such stories myself.

5. Where can people find/follow you online?

6. What’s your craziest hobby/pastime/interest?

polka, schottisches, Yiddish tango (ssh, no one ever sees!)

Read “Comrade Cruises” at Liberty Island:

The prequel to this story, Wherever You Go, can be read here.

The cruise ship was so much bigger than Emmy expected, she couldn’t even think of a word for it. Gargantuan was one, but that sounded like a giant tarantula. Titanic was downright terrifying, for a girl about to set sail.

“Colossal,” she decided, saying it out loud but not too loud. Emmy was learning not to sound smarter than other seven-year-olds. It wasn’t fair to them.

Her foster mother gripped her hand. “You lucky girl, Emmy. Think of the memories you’re about to make!” Leaning toward foster Dad, “FM” (Fake Mom) half-whispered out the side of her mouth, “If this doesn’t make her glad we saved her from those terrible people, nothing will.”

She got that right. Nothing would.

An old man wearing a hat with a feather in it stared at Emma as if he could read her wicked thoughts. His quirk of a smile might mean he was ready to get her in a lot more trouble. Then again, his eyes sparkled at her as if he might be on her side. She stared back, daring him to listen in. Nothing would ever make her glad the Department of Health and Human Services “rescued” her from home-schooling parents who let her run wild in the woods, eat dangerous foods and paddle a canoe all by herself to Grandma’s house. If the DNR agents hadn’t spotted her and “saved” her from the river, from “dangerously negligent” parents, she’d be safe from stupid rules and regulations…and the stranger who was still staring at her.

Emmy held her breath, waiting for him to frown or blow a whistle on her, but he tipped his hat to her and smiled, leaning on his cane. She let out a sigh of relief. Of course the cute little old man wasn’t a mind reader. Homeland Security wasn’t that good. At least, she hoped not. The man winked out of sight so fast, he could have been a spy or a freaking hologram.

“A cruise is good only if you come back new,” came a gooey-cheerful from the loudspeakers, with drippy, happy music. “Comrade Cruise will cure your blues! And teach you a vital thing or two!”

Cruises used to have names like Princess, but it was bad for little girls to think of themselves as royalty. The Ninety-Nine Percent were fighting for justice and equality for all. Hail to the Ninety-Nines!

“Stop grinding your teeth, Emmy, dear,” her foster mom said. “Emmy! Do you hear me? I said STOP IT with the teeth.”

The line of people finally started moving, and Emmy drew close enough to hear the slap of waves against the Colossus of Boats. So big! How could something the size of an entire small town even stay afloat?

“KIDS WILL LOVE IT,” chirped that loudspeaker again. “Our staff of experienced counselors are here to ensure your kids stay happy all day long. Art projects! Games! Enriching scientific activities!”

The recorded happy-voice kept cycling the same messages over and over again. Emmy tried to focus instead on the sounds of talking and laughter mixed with seagulls grawking overhead. She loved the smell of the sea, a fishy, salty scent that made Foster Mom wrinkle her nose. Emmy tipped her head back, taking it all in: the warm, wet breeze, sunny blue skies, and a hurry-scurry sense of excitement. They were going somewhere! Soon a whole city’s worth of people would be dancing, dining and meeting new comrades while sailing the deep blue sea.

Inside the ship, huge rooms with bright lights made her blink. A single buffet table was bigger than Grandma’s entire house, and everything on it was hidden under shiny silver domes. An ice sculpture of a dolphin stood in the middle.

“SAVOR EVERY MOMENT!” the happy voice reminded everyone. Emmy knew the canned words by heart, whether she wanted to or not. “We don’t know how you’ll choose from the variety of tempting fare, lovingly made from scratch. Fresh-baked twelve-grain bread, our signature whole-wheat pastas, cooked-to-order steaks and regional specialties made with fresh local ingredients! You can truly taste it all!”

The steak wouldn’t be as good as Dad’s. Real Dad didn’t trim the fat or spare any butter for the baked potatoes. But any steak at all would be better than the tofu and tof-urkey she’d been eating since her “rescue.” Emmy’s fists clenched at the thought of her mom and dad in prison. It could happen. If not for raising their child all wrong, then for breaking some other rule.

After getting settled into their cabin, Emmy returned to the food fest with FM and FAD, aka Effing Awful Dad. Fake Mom turned lots of heads with her model-thin figure and porcelain white skin. No harmful UV rays ever touched that body! At forty, she looked younger than Emmy’s real mom, who had crow’s feet, laugh lines, ruddy skin and no hope of fitting into size 4 jeans.

“Remember,’ FM said, “just two bites. No matter how it looks or smells, give it two bites, and you’re sure to discover how delicious lentils and lima beans can be. Oh, I can’t wait to try the seaweed souffle!”

The servers began lifting the silver domes away, and Emmy raced for the steak line. As the lid lifted, her heart sank. That was not steak. That was grilled… Something-Else.

“Now, Emmy,” FAD scolded her. “No sad faces on this ship! Meatless Monday is a great thing. It goes all the way back to World War I, when Americans did their part to reduce consumption here and help feed war-ravaged Europe. It’s only recently that we’ve blah, blah, blarg.”

Emmy managed a smile for him. Unless they decided to combine Meatless Monday and Wheatless Wednesday, she might survive the new food rules.

Then it hit her. This was Sunday.

Would real steak ever again be served, any day of the week?

The old man with the cane popped into sight at the dessert table. Emmy jumped up without permission and rushed over to greet him. He looked like the sort of guy who’d understand the horror of fake steak.

A beautiful woman appeared beside him. Emmy gasped. She’d have sworn it was her Aunt Ruth, but her aunt was a college student, not a well-dressed business woman like this lady, whose silky skirt and jacket draped like the designer clothing of the One Percent. Still… If this was her aunt, Emmy might escape FM and FAD.

She hesitated. The man and woman seemed seriously deep in conversation. Emmy’s gaze shifted to the dessert table, and just that fast, she lost sight of the cute little man in the hat and the elegant lady.

That night, the “fun movies” turned out to be documentaries on Global Warming. Grandma had said there was an Ice Age coming, all right, but not because people were burning fossil fuels. The movie urged everyone to wear sweaters, crank down the heat when winter comes, and walk, don’t drive. Don’t paddle a canoe, either, if the DNR is watching, Emmy thought miserably.

In the morning, Emmy managed exactly two bites of whole-wheat pancakes, two sips of GreenGalore veggie smoothie, and all the strawberries she could get her hands on.

Most of the kids were troublemakers like her, and on the cruise to learn the right way to think and be. A chubby girl named Hannah had smuggled mints and cashews from the buffet table, and sneaked them from her pockets one bite at a time. Emmy shook her head when offered some. A skinny boy named Marco acted like he forgot his attention-deficit meds. He couldn’t sit still. He swapped some contraband M&Ms for Hannah’s stash.

The counselors helped them make introductions. “Marco, tell everyone why you’re here,” the blonde counselor said sweetly. He drummed the table with his fingertips, he hummed, he smiled back at the blonde. “Tell them how your parents let you ride the subway all by yourself, in New York City.”

At the word parents, he held still. Very still. For about five seconds.

“It takes a village to raise a child,” the other counselor said. “When parents don’t guard their own blah, blah, blarg…”

Marco’s eyes shifted, and for a moment he and Emmy shared a look that told her they were in the same boat.

“Okay, Comrades,” Blondie was saying. “I’m so excited to share with you all the things we’ll learn this week! Our Monday Meditation is Food for thought for hungry minds.” She laser-pointed at a screen, and a food pyramid came up. The old one, with lots of bread and hardly any fats. Emmy tried not to think about Grandma’s batter-fried catfish and raspberry pie. What about all the cookbooks, all the restaurants, all the fabulous food people weren’t supposed to eat anymore?

Finish the rest at Liberty Island here.

****

image illustration via shutterstock / : NAN728

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Get To Know These 27 Extraordinary Fiction Writers At Liberty Island

Saturday, September 20th, 2014 - by Liberty Island

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Editor’s Note: This is the eighth collection of interviews and story excerpts spotlighting some of the most innovative fiction writers at the recently-launched new media publishing platform Liberty IslandAn index of 8 newly-released stories can be found here. Please check out this interview Sarah Hoyt conducted with CEO Adam Bellow here to learn more: “It also has a unique mission: to serve as the platform and gathering-place for the new right-of-center counterculture.” Also see COO David S. Bernstein’s recent essay here in which he defines Liberty Island as, “an imaginative playground where brilliant and creative people can test their ideas without being harassed or threatened by the new breed of ‘community activists’ who police thought and speech in the media.” 

Click to jump to the author of your choice in this collection:

1. Mike Baron: Swimming in Scrooge’s Money Bin With Ayn Rand and Andrew Klavan

2. Steve Poling: Is Cthulhu Tastier Fried or Barbecued?

3. Will Collier: What If the Soviets Had Succeeded in Capturing a Supernatural Creature?

4. Ray Zacek: The Secret Knowledge Vs. A Lethal Elvis Cult in North Florida

5. Keith Korman: ‘I Have No Friends: I Make My Mind My Friend.

6. Abbey Clarke: A Demon’s Heart: Can Evil Incarnate Ever Find Salvation?

7. Jamie Wilson: A Gen-X Gandalf Mom Casting Thomas Sowell Spells

8. Clay Waters: ‘You Obviously Feel This Ocean Mythos Deep In Your DNA…’

9. Todd Seavey: ‘It Was Star Wars That Taught Me to Love Science, Fantasy, Music, and Capitalism Simultaneously’

10. Stephen McDonald: ‘Long-Term, I’d Like to Hire Others to Produce More Content Set in This Shared Universe…’

11. Pierre V. Comtois: Golfing on the Moon

12. Aaron Smith: ‘I Spell ‘Magicks’ With a ‘K’ to Both Confound Proofreaders and to Signify It’s Not a White-Bunny-Being-Pulled-Out-of-The-Hat Kind of Magic.’

13. Ken Lizzi: A Pulp Writer Disguised as a Lawyer Embedded in the People’s Republic of Portland

14. Ted Elrick: ‘When a Guy’s Got That Kind of Control, You Gotta Admire It.’

15. Frank J. Fleming: Who Murdered the Dinosaurs?

16. R.K. Delka: ‘I’m the Constitution, Dammit!’

17. Kurt Duncan: ‘It’s All Compulsion-To-Create Via Mathematics and Engineering. Fun Stuff.’

18. Roy Griffis: ‘An Antidote to the Nihilistic Crap That Is Being Peddled’

19. David Churchill Barrow: ‘The Smoking, Dirty, Jagged Line of Rocks on that Ridge Seemed to Mock God Himself…’

20. Michael Sheldon: What Could Be Better Than Fresh Apricots?

21. Sabrina Chase: Women Can Be Mad Scientists Too

22. Paul Clayton: ‘I Think These 3 Works Should Be Required Reading For All Young Americans…’

23. Erich Forschler: The Road Might Be His Best Work, But My Favorite is No Country for Old Men.’

24. Tom Weiss: In the Ashes: A War Screenplay

25. Karina Fabian: ‘No Woman of Mine is Going to Work! Your Job is to Stay Home, Cook My Dinner and Have my Babies!’

26. Anne Eckart: How to Apply to MFA Programs

27. Mark Ellis: ‘Scarf Intercepts an Imperious Beagle Who Wanders Close’

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‘Scarf Intercepts an Imperious Beagle Who Wanders Close’

Friday, September 19th, 2014 - by Liberty Island

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Editor’s Note: Since March, PJ Lifestyle has been highlighting some of the most innovative fiction writers at the recently-launched new media publishing platform Liberty Island, featuring interviews and story excerpts. Click here to see our collection of 24 so far. To learn more check out this interview Sarah Hoyt conducted with CEO Adam Bellow: “It also has a unique mission: to serve as the platform and gathering-place for the new right-of-center counterculture.” Also see COO David S. Bernstein’s recent essay here in which he defines Liberty Island as, “an imaginative playground where brilliant and creative people can test their ideas without being harassed or threatened by the new breed of ‘community activists’ who police thought and speech in the media.” Also see Bellow’s recent cover story at National Review: “Let Your Right Brain Run Free.” 

1. Who are some of your favorite writers, books, movies, and intellectual influences?

I was very much into monsters and horror as a youngster, a predilection probably as compensation for the fact that I was rather an unpopular kid. It’s tough being a mama’s boy and the teacher’s pet. I related to the outcast monsters, the classic, relatively humanistic monsters of old, and was able to parlay that interest into the first thing I ever did that impressed my classmates.

I remember standing at the front of my sixth grade class, awkward and gaunt, holding them rapt with my spoken-word version of the kind of tales I read in EC Comics. A cultural gear-shift occurred when my father–doubtless noticing my obsession and hoping to elevate it–brought Shelly’s Frankenstein, Stoker’s Dracula, and a collection of Poe home from the library.

I became an inveterate reader, and though I would eventually leave the horror genre to others, I know that when trouble comes into my stories, it often comes by way of those early, scarified sensibilities. Literary fiction is my highest aspiration as a writer.

Turning to journalism in high school, I became the rock columnist, and later a community college whiz kid, promoted to managing editor at Chabot College, winning a statewide editorial contest, all while keeping my readers up to date on Grand Funk Railroad.  To this day, I am regularly inspired to write about my favorite music.

2. How do you describe yourself ideologically?

As to my ideological influences, aside from Vincent Price, my departure from the long 60s-70s party was concurrent with the election and presidential terms of Ronald Reagan. For all my suburban hedonism, I’d never really bought into the progressive lifestyle or value system, and now, then, I suddenly needed to distance myself from it. Reagan was the road back.

Other influences include Rush Limbaugh. I am a charter subscriber to the Limbaugh Letter, and still have my 1989 copy of the very first issue. Make no mistake. I learned how to write for Republicans (the kind of writing that far and away has been most lucrative for me) by absorbing the LL’s style. Later, I subscribed to the Weekly Standard, and devoured the viewpoints and arguments therein.

The advent of Fox News was a watershed event in my perception of the news media  industry. I watched Fox from the jump, digging the Factor, getting Hannitized, harboring a grudging respect for Alan Colmes. I haven’t paid attention to the major network news since 1996.

3. Which thinkers/commentators have influenced you?

As far as what’s been on my nightstand politically, I’ve read lots of Patrick Buchanan, most of O’Reilly’s books, two of Ann Coulter’s books, and many single volumes by conservative writers. I recently read Charles Krauthammer’s Things That Matter and realized I’d already read many of the columns in my hometown Oregonian.

Otherwise I’m reading historical and general nonfiction, literary fiction, and, any intriguing title that comes my way. I recently read Sam Keen’s Fire in the Belly, 22 years too late for it to do me any good.

Some of my favorite movies are Schindler’s List, Terms of Endearment, the Exorcist (did I mention I’m Catholic?), Psycho, and On Golden Pond. I’m nonplussed by the zombie plague, and still consider Failsafe with Henry Fonda one of the scariest movies ever made. Despite my hard rock and metal roots, I am known to sit for periods of time in front of Lady GaGa videos.

4. What’s your craziest hobby/pastime/interest?

My craziest hobby, pastime, interest etc. would have to be my real job, the only real job I’ve ever had, as a painting contractor. My self-published memoir, Ladder Memory, Stories from the Painting Trade, offers a glimpse of how crazy the world of a housepainter can get. Though sales have been modest, my business has improved considerably. I often have the sense that customers are Googling me and finding “Death Penalty Now” while I’m outside painting the house.

5. Where can people find/follow you online?

I’ve avoided having a website for two reasons. First, I’m old school, and am used to contributing work in the context of a larger entity. In the second place, there’s nothing sadder than a middle-aged-man whose website gets a total of 34 hits in its first six months. I’ll take my chances on the open market.

I’ve been a features writer for the now-defunct Brainstorm NW Magazine, a reporter for the Multnomah Village Post, and an advertorial writer for Pamplin Media. I am currently a reporter/content writer for the web-print combo, the Northwest Connection, and a contributing writer at the conservative UChoose Education Forum

I did get talked into a Twitter account for Ladder Memory, which I use to send out tweets of my various screeds, which only occasionally have anything to do with applying paint.

6. What are your writing goals?

As far as my writing goals, I’ve extolled the virtues of Honey-Baked Ham, offered perspective, attempted analysis, and covered the gatherings of fed-up Republicans.

Now I have two novels-in-progress, and in the process of being professionally edited.

Check out Mark Ellis’s ”Temblor” at Liberty Island. Here’s an excerpt:

The bed shakes, the window rattles in its sash.

By the time Andrew fully wakes, the low rumble has stopped. He rises from the bed and walks to the pine-paneled kitchen for a glass of water tapped from Cambrian sources beneath the soil and duff of the Redwood Empire. Returning down the small hall of the cottage, his weight creaks the wood-planked floor.

He looks in on Ellie, asleep, undisturbed by the earthquake. Scarf looks up from the foot of her bed, the rattle of a growl beginning low in his chest, as if he’s returned to the litter, the cold canine night, the lair. It’s common knowledge that animals sense imminent earthquakes.

“Good dog,” Andrew whispers to the Jack Russell terrier he purchased for his daughter from a farmer out on Cutback Road. Three months now, and Scarf has tuned into Ellie deeply, territorially–the farmer said he’d do that. Ellie sighs in her sleep and turns slightly toward the wall. Her Wendigo Elementary School backpack is ready, a sad note for the transplant kid still intent on belonging after just over one full year. Her sixth-grade classmates have been mostly kind, she says, though one accused her of being a “Bay Area person.”

Andrew finds the charcoal shadow of his own bedroom door.

There was a big earthquake here once. It knocked over the marquee at Wendigo Theater. It is something he will wait to tell Ellie.

He lies back down, knowing that if he heard certain songs right now, or thought certain thoughts, he would weep, but hears instead the cry of a raven for which the night has been mixed in its blessings, and thinks nothing.

The off-leash area is set near a low rock cliff at the base of which two mature elms take divergent paths upward from the stone. Dry whacks of a tennis game on a nearby court counterpoint the listlessness of the sun-drenched giants, which predate Columbus, even Jesus. This first October in Wendigo is profoundly hushed, the weight of ages heavy and warm on yet another one-strip redwood gateway. A forested crossroads morphed from a trapper settlement and is now home to retirees who can afford it, service people driving fuel-efficient cars, and a complement of pot growers who zealously guard their crops, some of them hardcases. Count the tourists too, always, but especially in summer.

Ellie’s swim lesson leaves Andrew alone with Scarf at Muir Park.

His cell phone throbs, and the natives glance disapprovingly. It’s Carol, Jana’s old best friend

“Can’t wait to see the redwoods,” she says.

“But you’ve been here before,” Andrew reminds her.

“Yeah, ages ago, as a kid.”

Jana and Carol met at Devon Hill County Club, philanthropic division, Carol newly divorced, but the combination of happily married and just divorced somehow melded. They became an almost everyday thing, the kind of hip-joined women friends who would have been thirtyish stay-at-home moms in another era. Andrew theorized that Carol represented some free bird of a woman to Jana, and to Carol, Jana was a proximity of marriage to cling to…but what did he know? They shared in their relative affluence a calling to give back to the community.

You could call Andrew close to Carol too, fraternally, as befits a happily married husband. They became a trio on Saturday nights, with occasional guest appearances by Carol’s dates.

Her voice is dry and revved up, the connection clear from Orinda.

“How do you think it will be for Ellie, me coming?” Carol asks.

“We’ve gotten a dog, Scarf.”

“You’re a good dad, Andy. See you tomorrow afternoon.”

Scarf intercepts an imperious beagle who wanders close, and they sniff. He’s always more volatile in Ellie’s absence. It’s like the dog knows she is regenerating somehow and wants his part of it. With Andrew it’s just the opposite. There’s this distinct impression that Scarf wishes the apparent leader of the pack would snap out of it, do something exuberant or adamant, or even show fury. Like Scarf feels an instinctual aversion to a disgraced alpha, a being untrustworthy for its aura of collapse.

The cell phone throbs again, and the natives are mulling the newcomer’s sense of propriety.

Alarmingly, it’s the director of the community swim center.

“We’ve had a little incident here, but Ellie’s fine.”

She does seem fine, sitting up in the director’s office.

“What happened, honey?”

“I don’t know–I just got a cramp.”

“Our lifeguard got to her within seconds,” says the director, with a perfect blend of concern and legal awareness.

On the ride home she’s quiet, but that’s not unusual. Andrew can smell the chlorine in her drying brown hair.

*

That night Ellie talks about a boy named Sean, a member of Wendigo Junior High School’s swim team.

“He has a dog, Delta,” she announces from the wood-framed couch. Such talk has never been big between them. She has taken Jana’s cue, who had seemed to think men needed a lot of quiet time, and that a mother was the one for talking. The best times at Devon Hill were when they’d take on a task together, rounding up some Christmas decorations at the mall or turning a flower bed for one of Jana’s plantings.

“Delta?”

“His family came here from Antioch.”

“How old is Sean?”

“Fourteen.”

“What does he want to be when he grows up?”

“Dad.”

It figures the first boyfriend would come now. It had to happen someday.

Jana was like that, one for the boys. It makes sense her little girl would find her bearings with a boyfriend. Andrew wraps his mind around Ellie coming of age, how time registers differently in the Redwood Empire, the childhood vacation that is now his life. He has forgotten when Wendigo resonated in his search and Devon Hill was only resonant with grief, that his redwood memory sprang from the deepest of all summers on earth. It is different living every week, every month, every somnambulant minute of the year–and now their first autumn–under the ancient trees. Down deep where he almost won’t admit, he hopes they intercede. Work a miracle cure, like the opposite of headstones. He hopes they have some capacity only to be found here. He has the strangest feeling the trees will be there for him when he is ready.

Scarf senses something, looks up and licks Ellie’s face unexpectedly. For that brief second it’s like Jana is still alive, perhaps folding clothes in the back bedroom.

It is just over a year since Loma Prieta, the rumble that left them bereft.

Click here to finish reading at Liberty Island

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image illustration via shutterstock / Ross Stevenso

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Great Writing For Understanding Scary Writing

Thursday, September 18th, 2014 - by Andrew Klavan

There is precious little intelligent writing about ghost stories and horror but you know who’s doing some? My pal John J. Miller. I don’t just say this because he’s a friend, but because the last two pieces he did on the subject were absolutely terrific. The piece he wrote recently for the wonderful Claremont Review on H.P. Lovecraft — The Horror, The Horror — was so good I actually had to write the guy a fan letter. Sure, I knew he’d use it against me some day but what could I do? Reading his essay was like eating some kind of confection. Try this bit:

The biggest barrier to Lovecraft’s mainstream acceptance had been his status as a writer of horror fiction—a field of literature that suffers from the suspicion that its readers take a perverse delight in graphic descriptions of torture and murder. This is an unfortunate misunderstanding, brought on in part by the sad fact that some horror books and movies really are no better than this. In its practical application, however, the classification horror encompasses a wide range of creative expression, from lowbrow penny dreadfuls and shilling shockers to Henry James’s The Turn of the Screw. Much of the confusion is semantic. Strictly defined, horror is a blend of fear and disgust, the revulsion we feel in the face of cruelty and decay. Although Lovecraft certainly exploited this emotion—read the final paragraph of “The Rats in the Walls,” for instance—most of the time he aimed higher. The finest horror fiction is really about terror, which combines fear and awe in a powerful sensation that haunts rather than startles. Lovecraft sometimes used the term supernatural horror, but as a thoroughgoing materialist, he didn’t really believe in the supernatural. If a phenomenon appeared to violate the laws of nature, he argued, it was only because we didn’t understand the science of the laws. Much of Lovecraft’s work originally ran in a pulp magazine called Weird Tales, with weird meaning eerie or uncanny. Yet that promising word never really caught on as a label. So we’re stuck with calling it all horror, and cramming slasher flicks like Friday the 13th and its interminable sequels into the same broad category as the most refined ghost stories, such as Vladimir Nabokov’s “The Vane Sisters” and Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House.

Dude! That’s what good writing about genre fiction looks like when it’s at home. The rest is here.

John did another great one on the ghost story writer Robert Aickman — one of my favorites — for the WSJ, but it’s behind a paywall. But there’s more good stuff on his website.

*****

Cross-posted from Klavan on the Culture

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How to Apply to MFA Programs

Thursday, September 18th, 2014 - by Liberty Island

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Editor’s Note: Since March, PJ Lifestyle has been highlighting some of the most innovative fiction writers at the recently-launched new media publishing platform Liberty Island, featuring interviews and story excerptsClick here to see our collection of 24 so far. To learn more check out this interview Sarah Hoyt conducted with CEO Adam Bellow: “It also has a unique mission: to serve as the platform and gathering-place for the new right-of-center counterculture.” Also see COO David S. Bernstein’s recent essay here in which he defines Liberty Island as, “an imaginative playground where brilliant and creative people can test their ideas without being harassed or threatened by the new breed of ‘community activists’ who police thought and speech in the media.” Also see Bellow’s recent cover story at National Review: “Let Your Right Brain Run Free.” 

1. Who are some of your favorite writers, books, movies, and intellectual influences?

Writers – Herman Melville, Margaret Atwood, Donna Tartt, Haruki Murakami

Books – The consistent favorites: Moby-Dick, The Blind Assassin, Oryx and Crake, The Secret History, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle.  I read these five books over and over.  Then there are other beloved titles: Middlemarch, The Romance of the Forest, The Catcher in the Rye, Pnin, Pale Fire, The Sound and the Fury, and too many others to count.

Movies – The Prestige, 3-Iron, The Red Violin

Intellectual Influences – I have not read much philosophy or other such texts.  I spent the majority of my youth studying music, so when I think of great Western achievements of the mind, I think of compositions by Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, and all their descendents.

I wouldn’t necessarily say that I have been influenced by specific thinkers, but that I attempt to model my working processes on successful figures.  For instance, I admire Hemingway’s discipline in writing.  He made sure to write at least a certain number of words every day.  I measure my progress by time spent writing; I hold myself to achieving a set number of hours each week.  Similarly, thinking of Marie Curie’s years spent isolating radioactive elements from pitchblende helps me to forge through rejections.

2. How do you describe yourself ideologically?

Center right.  I would be considered a right-wing ideologue in my home state of Massachusetts, but I am probably more of a right-leaning moderate in comparison to the rest of the country.

3. Which thinkers/commentators have influenced you?

I enjoy reading The American Conservative and National Review.  I don’t attribute my influences to any one specific commentator or thinker.  I try to fairly consider points of view that oppose my own, though this is easier said than done.

4.  What are your writing goals?

I hope to publish my first two books within the next six years.

5. Where can people find/follow you online?

I have tried to resist the intrusion of the Internet into daily life, and so sadly I do not have a Twitter or Facebook account.

6. What’s your craziest hobby/pastime/interest?

I spent nine ill-advised years attempting to play the French horn.

Check out Anne Eckart’s ”How to Apply to MFA Programs” at Liberty Island. Here’s an excerpt:

At your daily office job, conceal that you’re applying to graduate school. Conceal that you write at all. Your best piece so far–a story in the fashionable present tense, closely mirroring the style of a certain New Yorker-approved writer–happens to be about an arsonist. You can’t imagine your colleagues reading your work and still believing you are sane. Do not consider the fact that this might also apply to readers of MFA applications.

Sign up for a writing workshop, where you will hear the valuable opinions of other writers just like you. In the week before your story is due, sharpen the dialogue in the scene where the arsonist meets his love interest. He finds her loitering around the abandoned mansion he plans to burn next, and discovers she’s an arts-and-crafts geek who wants to salvage old wall paper. Add a few paragraphs to the climax, when he twitches and trembles and finally burns the house down.

At workshop, plaster an awkward smile on your face as the class settles down to eviscerate your story. First, some tepid compliments. Your description of the fire is good. Your description of the protagonist’s fire-setting procedure is worryingly good.

But… The whole story is rather, ah, dramatic. Such things never happen in Raymond Carver stories. You are told to read some Raymond Carver and ponder his glorious subtlety. Talk proceeds to the ending. Half the class loves the current finale, where guy ends up with girl and they live criminally ever after. Half the class hates it. Any woman with a brain in her head would run the other way as soon as she discovers his hobby. All female characters must have brains in their heads, so as not to be misogynist.

At home the next day, flip through ten marked-up copies of your story, feeling overwhelmed by red ink. Decide to work on the ending. Since opinions are equally split, flip a coin. Heads: the characters should break up. Edit the story to reflect this.

Using The Creative Writing MFA Handbook, pick twelve schools and start filling out their application forms online. Prepare an Excel spreadsheet listing the different application materials and deadlines. Email your current workshop leader, a past mentor, and a college professor to ask for recommendations.

Labor over your story for two to three hours each night after work. Improve the description of the decrepit mansion on page three. Evaluate the logistics of how your characters get there. Start drafting a personal statement about how you spend so much time writing, and you’ve been published in a few online journals, and now, rationally, this is all you want to do.

Study for the GRE. On a sample math section–you were a music major, and haven’t done math in over five years–you score 40%. Get a numbers-loving friend to tutor you. Struggle to remember the difference between exponents and fractions. When taking practice tests, try not to think about how you could be spending this time writing.

Continue reading at Liberty Island here.

*****

image illustration via shutterstock / Gajus

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Christopher Buckley: Eating to Write

Saturday, September 13th, 2014 - by Rich Tucker

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Most writers, truth be told, write to eat. It’s not an easy way to make a living. But it’s a living.

In his new collection of essays, But Enough About You, Christopher Buckley goes in a slightly different direction. He eats to write. Or at least eats and then spends a fair amount of time writing about it.

The book, which features writing from the last two decades, is divided into several sections. There are general essays (funny), funny essays (funny), travel essays (he doesn’t go hungry or thirsty whilst on the road). He also includes pieces on statecraft, criticism, obituaries and several more categories that could be labeled “other” or “miscellaneous.”

But what stands out is that Buckley doesn’t seem to miss many meals, and he certainly never misses a chance to describe one.

“We dined that night by candlelight, with bats flitting overhead, on roasted sweetwater langoustines, Zambezi bream, and rabbit pot stickers,” he writes about his first night in Zambia. I have no idea what any of those foods are; nor, I’m certain, do 99 percent of Zambians. His first breakfast in Hanoi would feed most Vietnamese for a month: two bowls of pho, followed by “a plate of fried rice with bok choy and chili sauce. Then had at the croissants.”

Even his days as mate on a small boat involve food and drink. Buckley recounts how he once dumped four steaks in the Atlantic while barbequing at sea; two remained edible after they were fished out.

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The 50 Greatest Counter-Culture Films of All Time, Part I

Tuesday, September 9th, 2014 - by Dave Swindle

Dear Adam Bellow,

I’d like to congratulate you on building and launching Liberty Island. You’ve assembled an extraordinary team of writers — 25 so far profiled at PJ Lifestyle – with several of them beginning to contribute blog posts and freelance articles here. I’ll call them out, these are some really great writers and fascinating people: many thanks to Pierre Comtois, Jamie Wilson, Roy M. “Griff” Griffis, Michael Sheldon, Clay Waters, David Churchill Barrow, and  David S. Bernstein. And Karina Fabian too is about to make her debut shortly with a wonderful piece that I’m scheduling for tomorrow. Updated: don’t miss “10 Excuses For Why We Don’t Get More Done (And Why They Are Excuses).”

I can’t wait to get to know more of the Liberty Island writers and continue collaborations.

I appreciated your recent manifesto, “Let Your Right Brain Run Free,” at National Review and really only took mild issue with what seemed to me your overemphasis on the novel and pooh-poohing of film’s greater power to hypnotize viewers:

What about Hollywood? Many conservatives talk about the need to get into movie production. I agree this is very important, but it requires a massive investment of capital, and more to the point, I think people on the right are over-impressed with the power of film. To hear some conservatives talk you’d think movies were the Holy Grail, the golden passkey to the collective unconscious. This gets things precisely backwards. Sure, a successful Hollywood movie can have a major impact. But as a vehicle for political ideas and moral lessons, movies are simplistic and crude compared with the novels on which many are based.

Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings and the Narnia books by C. S. Lewis both produced big-budget movies that reached millions of people with what most of us would probably agree is a subtly conservative message. Yet both of these successful movie franchises ultimately pale in comparison with the impact of the books. Even at their best, movies are essentially cartoons and their effects are superficial and fleeting. Books engage the reader much more deeply, at a level of identification with the characters and plot that can instruct the soul and edify the mind. A hundred years from now, moreover, these classic books will still be read all over the world in dozens of languages when the films on which they are based are long forgotten or superseded by new forms of entertainment.

In short, conservatives should remember that mainstream popular culture is still largely driven by books. Fiction therefore is and will remain the beating heart of the new counterculture. This is not just my bias as a publisher. It is a practical reality — and a fortunate one for us, since there are hundreds if not thousands of conservative and libertarian writers out there today producing politically themed fiction. The conservative right brain has woken up from its enchanted sleep and it is thriving. Instead of banging on Hollywood’s front door, a better approach is to go in the back by publishing popular conservative fiction and then turning those books into films.

I will write novels someday. And I still enjoy reading good ones. Recently my wife pushed on me her newest obsession, Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie:

Here's the new book my wife has been obsessed with lately.... I'm going to try reading it. Americanah, a novel about a Nigerian #woman coming to #America. She says that it has a lot to say of value on the subjects of racial identity and cultures, which I am researching for my book.

The vivid narrative is a fictionalization of the author’s life and tells the story of a young Nigerian woman who immigrates to America and develops a career blogging about her discoveries among races and cultures. A wise excerpt from Page 273:

"What I've noticed being here is that many #English people are in awe of #America but also deeply resent it," Obinze said. Page 273 of #Americanah, a knock-you-on-your-ass great novel by Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. #literature #culture #Africa #England #UnitedStates

The movie rights have, of course, been acquired, with Lupita Nyong’o and Brad Pitt starring. I can’t wait to see it.

So real life inspires blogging, blogging inspires a novel — the highlights of which are the blog posts in it — which in turn inspires a movie. I wonder how they’ll depict blogging in the film. Maybe they’ll update it and make her a vlogger on YouTube instead? Part of my wife’s enthusiasm for the novel was because the character was also part of the online “natural hair community,” black and mixed race women who share YouTube tutorials about methods for giving up straightening their hair with destructive chemicals and switching to natural styles and products instead. From page 13:

No wonder my wife loves the hero of this book so much. She's a #naturalhair #counterculture activist too. Page 13 of #Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche, a Gen-Xer from Nigeria who is an astonishing writer. Almost done with first chapter. She also writes like my wife does with long, flowing sentences and wry observations...

My wife in her art has called them a counterculture:

My interdisciplinary work concentrates on the Ebony woman, Gen-X leaning Millennials, and our hair. Social media and video-based tutorials have influenced many Millennial women to embrace natural representations of their ethnic hair. These young women have become pioneers of the Millennial Natural Hair Movement, an expanding and informed counterculture responding to painful trends that date back to the early twentieth century.

Here’s an example of a video she made depicting the kinds of tips that circulate on YouTube amongst Natural Hair vloggers (she gave it an artsier spin):

I think this is an expression of the paradigm for today — that the various mediums of novels, film, and online media are blending back and forth together and the line between fiction and non-fiction blurs more too.

Recently when April and I made our move to South LA this summer in our packing and unpacking I had the opportunity to go through the DVD collection I’d accumulated over the last 15 years and assess the titles that still had the most value to me. As we’ve discussed and you know I’ve written about, so many of the movies and filmmakers that I once loved as a nihilistic postmodern college leftist I now regard with varying levels of disdain, disgust, and embarrassment.

But these are ones that I continue to regard with affection, that I still return to, and that I think can offer inspiration for your growing team of counterculture crusaders looking to change the world with their art. Some of them I’m a little bit more critical of than I once was, but they all still have some usefulness in some capacity or another…

(Note: this is a version 1.0 of this list, future editions will incorporate newly discovered films and suggestions from readers…)

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The Most Comfortable Chair For Writers On the Go?

Sunday, August 31st, 2014 - by Dave Swindle

So back in February, I reviewed an extraordinary product from Sumo: the Gigantor, a premium beanbag large enough for the whole family, a replacement for a sofa. (Star Trek-obsessed household that we are, it was soon dubbed “The Tribble.”) Now Sumo has a new, portable product that also intimidates and challenges expectation:

Is this new product as successful as the Gigantor? Will it become a daily seat for me? I try and read every morning in the Gigantor — the ideal chair to lose oneself in a book. Will the Omni Reloaded become the writing chair that I’ve been needing? (I’ve come to accept that siting at the desk in front of the laptop is no longer a conducive environment to writing. Typing on a keyboard isn’t writing. And likewise we can’t all be Winston Churchill and work in bed or in some equivalent mass of comfort. For my ideal writing environment I need comfort but also to be in an up-right position)

Last week I decided to take Maura for a walk to the park and give the Omni Reloaded a field test. How does this portable beanbag hold up in the real world?

Maura and me at the park, testing out the Sumo Omni Reloaded... More pics coming that I just shot.

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‘No Woman of Mine is Going to Work! Your Job is to Stay Home, Cook My Dinner and Have my Babies!’

Tuesday, August 12th, 2014 - by Liberty Island

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Editor’s Note: Since March, PJ Lifestyle has been highlighting some of the most innovative fiction writers at the recently-launched new media publishing platform Liberty Island, featuring interviews and story excerptsClick here to see our collection of 24 so far. To learn more check out this interview Sarah Hoyt conducted with CEO Adam Bellow: “It also has a unique mission: to serve as the platform and gathering-place for the new right-of-center counterculture.” Also see COO David S. Bernstein’s recent essay here in which he defines Liberty Island as, “an imaginative playground where brilliant and creative people can test their ideas without being harassed or threatened by the new breed of ‘community activists’ who police thought and speech in the media.” Also see Bellow’s recent cover story at National Review: “Let Your Right Brain Run Free.” 

Bio:

Karina Fabian is a mild-mannered writer for Top Ten Reviews and mother of four. But in her other lives, she’s a snarky dragon detective, a nun doing dangerous rescue missions beyond Mars, a psychic driven insane by his abilities, a zombie exterminator… Her rich fantasy life has compelled her to become a writer, and she has written 9 science fiction, fantasy or horror novels and has stories in dozens of anthologies and magazines. She’s won multiple awards for her fiction, but the best reward is when an editor of fan asks her to write some more.

Because her imagination suffers from “squirrel!” syndrome even worse than the dogs in UP, she alternates her writing efforts among multiple universes. She recently submitted the last novel in the Mind Over Trilogy and wrote a novella to marry off two of the main characters. Her serial novella coming out in Liberty Island in November features zombie Exterminators Neeta Lyffe and Ted Hacker as they take on skiing zombies on the slopes of Utah. Neeta Lyffe’s first book, Neeta Lyffe: Zombie Exterminator, is now out in audiobook as well. She has two science fiction novels with publishers for consideration and is working on the next DragonEye, and maybe… SQUIRREL!

Karina also writes about the lives of the saints for a Catholic service called SaintConnection, plus homilies for FAITH Catholic. And, of course, her new full-time job is writing reviews of small-medium business services like eCommerce and social media monitoring software. In addition to writing, Karina has taught online classes on aspects of writing and marketing from worldbuilding to time management and even housekeeping for writers.

Interview:

1. Who are some of your favorite writers, books, movies, and intellectual influences?

Wrinkle in Time is still my favorite book, and if the director from Frozen messes it up in the movie, I’ll be furious. Galaxy Quest is my favorite movie. Jim Butcher, Larry Correia, Mercedes Lackey and Terry Pratchett are my favorite authors, though I enjoy an eclectic mix of small press authors who (like me) most people have never heard of. (Frank Creed, Ann Lewis, Jane Lebak, Kirk Outerbridge to name a few). Intellectual influences? I think you’re expecting too much from me here. I was a great student. I’m an excellent author and a funny satirist, but I’m no scholar.

2. How do you describe yourself ideologically?

Optimistic, faithfully Catholic, generally conservative, heavy on rational thinking and common sense – and sick to death of people who overreact to things on both sides of the spectrum. Ironically, it was all the liberal diatribe on FB and other sources that made me join some Conservative/Libertarian groups, thinking I’d find more level-headed people there. In general, I have, but there are still a few folks who make me cringe. The world ain’t going to Hell, folks – liberal or otherwise!

3. Which thinkers/commentators have influenced you?

Robert Fabian is a sensible guy with extreme common sense and the amazing ability to look at the pieces and see the big picture. It’s one of the reasons why I married him, and why I usually bounce things off him, whether political and social issues or what awful yet entertaining situation I can subject my protagonist to in my next book. After that, I enjoy Thomas Sowell, though I don’t read him faithfully. Of course, the great Catholic saints and thinkers, like St. Augustine, St. Hildegard von Bingen, St. Thomas Aquinas, or GK Chesterton are worth reading. I tend to be a dabbler, though, rather than a student of any particular one. (The great part of my writing for SaintConnection is I get exposed to the writings of a new saint every month.) Larry Correia is fun to read, but he can get a little over-the-top in his fisking for me. Not that he’s wrong, mind you. And let’s not forget Dave Barry, Berke Breathed, Douglas Adams and other great humorists who showed me a great way to address an issue is to poke fun at it.

4.  What are your writing goals?

My aspiration is to make enough money writing full-time fiction that I can quit my day job – or go part time. I actually love my day job. I took on a full-time writing position in November 2013 writing reviews of small and medium business services for http://toptenreviews.com. I had no idea I’d enjoy working at an office away from my house, but the people (who run the gamut of political and social beliefs) are kind, friendly and want to have fun. We have a hiking group and a D&D group. It’s been kind of a relief after having been so exposed to the polarized world of social media to find that in one-on-one contact, people do disagree and get along just fine. But to spend my days writing saint stories and homilies and two or three novels a year? That actually paid my mortgage? That would be the dream.

But a goal is not a goal unless it’s measurable and achievable by your own efforts. That’s why “being a best seller” can’t be a goal: too much else, from publisher to the reading public, influence the outcome. So my goals are to keep meeting deadlines and producing quality content for Top Ten Reviews, Saint Connection, and FAITH Catholic, and write a novel a year, with some short stories tossed in for good measure. That’s write, not necessarily publish. Within those goals:

-          Build up my DragonEye series. My next novel is the origin story of Vern, a dragon who emigrates from Faerie to our world and sets up shop as a detective and all-around problem solver when magic and technology collide. With that, I hope to reboot the series with a combination of novels and story collections. It’ll be as eclectic as Vern’s tastes: a little comedy, a little noir; novels, novellas and flash fiction.

-          Write the third Neeta Lyffe novel: Neeta Lyffe and the One Armed Bandit. Neeta and Ted go to Reno for a vacation, but people die during a slot machine tournament yet come back as zombies because they refuse to stop playing. Yep, another working vacation – what were the odds?

-          I’d also like to take a complete detour and try my hand at chick-lit/romantic comedy about a woman and a gay man who fall in love, or a more serious piece about a widower who is falling in love again but must first deal with his grief over his unfaithful wife and the tangle that was their marriage.

5. Where can people find/follow you online?

http://fabianspace.com That’s another goal for the year: update that site’s look. Anyone know a good web designer?

6. What’s your craziest hobby/pastime/interest?

Most people think this is crazy, but I love moving. I enjoy clearing out a house, culling our stuff, and taking it somewhere new. I get the same excitement from an empty home that I do from a blank page waiting for me to put my stamp on it. I love figuring out where everything goes, trying new places, puzzling over how to make a kitchen work efficiently for me. I just have fun with this. Of course, after 25 years of moving, we just bought our dream home, so we’re actually hoping we can stay here a good long time if not forever.

Don’t know if this is a crazy hobby, but I play D&D. We started a family campaign when my husband was in Iraq (back before ISIS, when the worst issue was Internet connectivity). It kept the family together. Now, we play that on Saturdays, and my husband and I play with  my work group on Wednesdays. At work, I am Purch, a half-orc fighter with impulse control issues. (I tried to take on a three-headed demigod with my bare hands…as a level 3 fighter…you can guess it did not go well). At home, I’m a thief who picks my sons’ pockets when they get uppity in game.

Here’s an Excerpt from “Josie’s Last Straw” by Karina Fabian:

The moon fought to shine through the clouds, casting the dilapidated trailer in a patchwork of light and shadow. In the darkness, a tall, crooked man shambled toward it. He navigated the trip-traps of rusting car parts and garden gnomes, avoided the pitfalls dug by dogs with the ease of familiarity until his foot caught on a newly dug hole. He staggered into a plaster deer, spotted from birdshot. With an unintelligible roar, he smashed the fawn with both fists before continuing on. He paused at the steps, actually walking into them a few times, before the right foot lifted, then the left, and he ascended the rotting wood. He hardly noticed as he crashed through the screen door, leaving it hanging off one hinge.

Inside, the television blared reruns of South Park to no one. He sat down on the Lay-Z-Boy to watch.

*

Josie woke up from yet another nightmare of Jebediah having one of his “fits.” She always felt so guilty after a dream like that. Poor man, two days buried, and she had to think about him this way?

Not that the past few years had been kind, she reminded herself as she schlepped into the bathroom, one arm in her robe, only habit making her wash up and get ready to face another day as Widow Gump. She sighed. No, not easy years at all. After that Conroy had shot him in the calf trying to kill that badger, Jeb hadn’t been able to work much. He’d go out for the day, come home without a job, but always with something he’d killed for dinner. She didn’t believe those people who said he was drinking in front of the Gaslight Inn. Then she took that job–

We were going to lose the house, part of her said, and she knew it was true, but she knew that was the last straw for him.

“No woman of mine is going to work! Your job is to stay home, cook my dinner and have my babies!” he’d declare. It was so cute when they were dating, how manly he’d act. ‘Course, she’d failed him there, too.

She looked into the mirror at a face dripping with water. “You’re getting fat and ugly,” he’d warned her, more than once, sometimes with a pull on her frizzy hair or a pinch of her stomach to prove his point. “Don’t be thinking about leaving me now. There’n't a man in the world gonna take you!”

Now, as the tired, faded and old face stared back at her, she saw just how right he was. That was going to be the hardest part, too, she knew it. Living alone. She left the TV on all night and slept with the dogs, but it weren’t no substitute for a man.

Their–her–retriever Buford and her poodle Pinkie scratched at the bedroom door. They nearly bowled her down as she opened it, dashing into the living room, barking furiously.

“What is it? Another coon?” She grabbed Jeb’s shotgun and made her way down the hall.

She recognized the back of the head she’d seen resting against that chair for twenty years. The shotgun slipped through her hands and crashed to the floor.

“Jebediah?”

Jebediah grunted and stuck out his arm in a way she recognized as well, and with shaking knees and trembling hands, she hurried to the kitchen and brought him his favorite beer.

It was him! It was a miracle!

*

“This is Dave Neilson, here with Josie Gump, whose husband, Jebediah, seems to be the first confirmed case of a zombie interacting safely with other humans.”

Josie gripped her elbows and watched the camera as if the big lens might swallow her. She still didn’t know if she’d done right by letting the reporter in, but she’d asked Jeb and he’d grunted that it was okay. At least she thought that’s what he meant. He really only grunted anymore. Guess being dead takes a lot out of a guy.

Besides, after his grave had been found dug open from the inside, everyone from Momma to her preacher to the Sheriff had come calling. He was a zombie–the murderous, shambling undead, they told her. She needed to take the dogs and get away fast, they told her.

They were worried about her, they told her.

They were always worried about her. Why couldn’t they be happy for her? So she let them get a peek of him, and once they saw him drinking his beer, they were satisfied he wasn’t some murderous shambling undead that was gonna rip her to shreds. She didn’t let them talk to him, though. He wasn’t ready. Besides, Jeb always hated visitors that weren’t his friends. Not that any of them had come round to check on her after he’d died, she thought bitterly.

Anyways, she needed to let folks know everything was okay, so they’d leave them alone to get on with life.

She was worried when the cameraman filmed him, even if he did so from the safety of the kitchen. Once upon a time, Jeb would have smashed the camera into his face or, at best, flipped him off. But he sat watching his game peacefully enough. Even the dogs were behaving, snuggled together on the couch, giving their master forlorn looks. She’d been worried about that, too; Pinkie always protected her and never got along with Jeb. Things were going well.

Reporter Dave had asked her a question.

“‘Changed’? Well, he don’t talk about it much. Jeb was always the private sort. But, yeah, I think he has changed. He’s a lot gentler now. Not that there’s been any…you know. I just mean that he’s a lot more content. He’s a better listener, too.” She blushed. Had she really just told the world about their…you know? Not that there’d been any. Even alive, she could count on one hand–

But that was my fault. I let myself go. I was so tired and angry all the time. Funny how anger made a person so tired. Still, he could have–

“So how does he feel, physically? Is he stiff?”

Her eyes widened. Why had she ever brought it up? “Well, I think that’s rather personal!”

Dave blushed. “I mean, like rigor mortis? Does he have a pulse? Is he warm? Does he feel alive?”

Actually, when she’d hugged him this morning, reaching around his back and squeezing into his arm, careful as usual to avoid getting in the way of the television, he’d felt kind of squishy under his skin. She forced a grin.

Dave continued, “And what about the smell?”

Suddenly she regretted ever having let this, this reporter into her home. “Now you listen here! I have been in mourning! And now my husband is back, and he has special needs! If I’ve let the housework slip–”

“No! Wait! I just meant–”

She didn’t care what he meant. This was a bad idea after all! She blinked back angry tears as she stormed for the door and flung it open. She called for the dogs and they rose from the couch, barking and snarling.

“Please! All I meant–”

“Buford! Pinkie! Sic!”

The reporter and cameraman ran past her. The cameraman remembered the quick turn and made it down the steps, Pinkie snapping at his heels, but Dave overshot and tumbled off the low railing, Buford jumped after him, teeth bared.

She slammed the door on their screams.

Jebediah grunted with more force than usual. Josie hurried to put a fresh beer in his hand.

“I’m sorry, Jeb! I’m so sorry. I won’t ever let anyone intrude on us again!”

Jeb gave another grunt and poured beer into his mouth. Some spilled on his shirt. She wiped it off with a dish towel, then got a tissue for her eyes.

Read the Rest at Liberty Island Here.

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‘When Searching Infinity, How Fast You Do It Is Irrelevant’

Thursday, August 7th, 2014 - by Liberty Island

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Editor’s Note: Since March, PJ Lifestyle has been highlighting some of the most innovative fiction writers at the recently-launched new media publishing platform Liberty Island, featuring interviews and story excerptsClick here to see our collection of 24 so far. To learn more check out this interview Sarah Hoyt conducted with CEO Adam Bellow: “It also has a unique mission: to serve as the platform and gathering-place for the new right-of-center counterculture.” Also see COO David S. Bernstein’s recent essay here in which he defines Liberty Island as, “an imaginative playground where brilliant and creative people can test their ideas without being harassed or threatened by the new breed of ‘community activists’ who police thought and speech in the media.” Also see Bellow’s recent cover story at National Review: “Let Your Right Brain Run Free.” 

This is the fourth of several new stories that PJ Lifestyle will be excerpting. Check out Jamie Wilson’s, ”The Enforcement of Happiness” excerpted Monday, Robert Arrington’s  “Reunion” about ghosts at a high school reunion, Pierre Comtois’s last week on Friday, “The Future That Used To Be,” and this one from Michael Sheldon on Thursday, “‘Do You Make Your Dark’n’Stormies With the Proper Bermudian Ingredients?’” More author interviews will be coming soon too.

The girl at the desk was not so friendly anymore. She used to be, when my benefactor first set me up here on the 22nd floor. She used to be ditzy and friendly and childishly inquisitive about my work. But the pretense was gone now. Marta was Max’s spy, here only to make sure my reports were honest.

 

And why wasn’t she pretending anymore? Because it was over. I hadn’t received official notification that the project was finished, but I felt sure the decision was made. It was a matter of days at most before the power was shut off and all the equipment went into storage.

 

She was intently surfing the net, undoubtedly shopping her receptionist/spy resume around to various wealthy madmen. I silently wished her luck, but didn’t bother with conversation, having lost interest in pretense myself.

 

Past the reception area, down a hall with doors to small offices–all unoccupied–through a set of double doors and there I was: standing in front of the only gateway to alternate universes that had ever existed in human history. I built it and I should have won the Nobel Prize for it, but part of the agreement I’d made in exchange for the money to build it had been a thoroughly binding secrecy agreement. I’m pretty sure there was a clause in there somewhere about my soul.

 

There was a familiar feeling of hope as I switched on the equipment and began going through last night’s logs, but it was quickly replaced by black despair as I saw that nothing had changed.

 

My cell beeped at me, the pattern telling me it was Max, or at least Max’s office. I flipped it open and the tiny screen showed the fresh, young face of Art Samuelson, one of Max’s lawyers. He smiled a sunny smile, waiting for me to accept the call.

 

I did. “Good morning, Art,” I said. No reason to be unfriendly. Lawyers can’t help being what they are. No point in hating fungus for being fungus.

 

“David,” he said. “Good morning to you! In the lab, eh? Never say die, that’s you.”

 

“The scans are getting much wider ranging now,” I said, which was true. I was searching a bigger slice of infinity. “The results should be–”

 

“Dave,” he interrupted in that pseudo-friendly way that you unconsciously want to believe. “You know I don’t have a head for the tech stuff. Alternate universe, blah, blah, blah is all I hear when you talk about the details. No offense.”

 

“None taken,” I said. I sat down at my desk and put my phone on its stand.

 

“Davey, we’ve got a problem,” he said. Here it comes. “All your gizmos are just drawing too much juice. The building manager has asked us to knock it off for a week or so until we can get an electrical contractor in there to certify everything. Sounds like a bunch of bull crap to me, probably designed to raise our rent. You know how these bastards are, right?”

 

I really had no idea which bastards he was talking about and felt certain the us vs. them invitation was meant to make me feel like we were in this together. A team. Go, team!

 

“Anyway,” he said, “I need you to lay off the experiments until we can get this situation taken care of, okay?”

 

“Sure, Art. No problem. I can analyze the existing data for–”

 

“Excellent!” he said. “And, hey, how about lunch later this week? Max and I are doing that new Argentine place day after tomorrow at 11:30. Meet us there, okay?”

 

I nodded. He hung up.

 

I began charging the gate, planning on doing just what Art had asked me not to. There was a subtle whining sound from the equipment. Then inside the vacuum chamber a flickering light resolved into a small, silvery sphere less than a meter in diameter: the intersection between the four dimensional space-time of our universe and an infinite number of others.

 

I could never visit any of them. My still uncredited contribution to quantum mechanics had demonstrated that only massless particles like photons could pass between the universes. I swear, the moment I realized this could actually be done the first thing I thought of was selling the rights to TV shows from alternate universes. That’s why I’d located in New York, a likely location for a city no matter what culture ended up here–or so I’d assumed.

 

But of the many thousands of alternate Earths I’d examined through what I called the gate, no culture of any kind had settled here, because here was under at least ten miles of water.

 

That had never occurred to me. When I thought of alternate timelines of course I thought of worlds where the South had won the Civil War or the Roman Empire never fell. The appeal of that concept was why I’d specialized in quantum mechanics in the first place.

 

The universe didn’t see things that way. I was still convinced that timelines did exist where human history had played out differently, but they were lost among the much more common worlds where life had never made it past the microbial stage, or where life had formed but had taken a completely different path and nothing remotely human ever appeared. It turns out that the evolution of multi-cellular life is a very low probability event and the evolution of intelligence lower still.

 

Another low probability event was the collision of the proto-Earth with a stray Mars-sized planet that resulted in the formation of the moon and the stripping away of a large fraction the early Earth’s volatiles. Hence most versions of Earth were covered in vast, deep oceans.

 

“Would you like some coffee?” said Marta, startling me. She’d opened the door very quietly. Stealthily, one might say, like a spy.

 

“No,” I said. “I won’t need any help today, Marta. Why don’t you take the rest of the day off?”

 

She smiled. “Oh, I’d love that! But I just can’t. Too much paperwork.” She shook her head in mock sadness at the mock paperwork, then left. I got up and locked the door, feeling certain that she had a key and that she was going to call Art as soon as she got to her desk. Damn it!

 

I’d gotten good at scanning universes–or at least the tiny piece of each universe I could see through the gate–very quickly. Panic made me want to just start scanning and keep doing it until they broke down the door and dragged me out, but reason reasserted itself. When searching infinity, how fast you do it is irrelevant.

Click here to continue reading at Liberty Island

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The Ghosts at the High School Reunion

Wednesday, August 6th, 2014 - by Liberty Island

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Editor’s Note: Since March, PJ Lifestyle has been highlighting some of the most innovative fiction writers at the recently-launched new media publishing platform Liberty Island, featuring interviews and story excerptsClick here to see our collection of 24 so far. To learn more check out this interview Sarah Hoyt conducted with CEO Adam Bellow: “It also has a unique mission: to serve as the platform and gathering-place for the new right-of-center counterculture.” Also see COO David S. Bernstein’s recent essay here in which he defines Liberty Island as, “an imaginative playground where brilliant and creative people can test their ideas without being harassed or threatened by the new breed of ‘community activists’ who police thought and speech in the media.” Also see Bellow’s recent cover story at National Review: “Let Your Right Brain Run Free.” 

This is the fourth of several new stories that PJ Lifestyle will be excerpting. Check out Jamie Wilson’s, ”The Enforcement of Happiness,” excerpted Monday, Pierre Comtois’s on Friday, “The Future That Used To Be,” and this one from Michael Sheldon on Thursday, “‘Do You Make Your Dark’n’Stormies With the Proper Bermudian Ingredients?’“ More author interviews will be coming soon too.

Thunder. Then, fear in a cold wave. Bill saw thick, black smoke, squat fuel drums linked by flame, men in white running. He hefted the heavy fire hose. The heat on his face was suddenly unbearable. 

“It’s gonna BLOW,” he yelled, and it did. And then he was on fire. “Wendy. Oh, Wen–” 

Headlights. Bright, coming right at Wendy, from her side of the road. Try to swerve. Can’t. Too close 

“Bill,” she screamed. But he was far away, engulfed in flame.

Jack Melton found himself suddenly awake, sitting on the edge of his bed, the covers thrown back, breathing rapidly, blinking at the lightning that flashed outside his bedroom window.

“Wendy,” he said to no one, then, “Bill.” Jack shuddered in the air conditioning. Both dead, all these years. And tonight it was as though he had been there with each of them, when it happened, that one day, fifteen years ago. He had thought of them often through the years, had dreams about them from time to time, but…not like this.

“Not a dream,” he muttered. But it had to be. What else? Never mind he’d felt the fire in his lungs, saw the headlights in his eyes. It had to be a dream.

“Damned reunion.” He closed the drapes to the storm outside, and returned to bed alone.

Fourteen hours later, Jack carefully knotted his tie, slipped on his suit jacket, and surveyed himself in the Holiday Inn mirror.

He was rather pleased with his appearance, he had to admit. If anything, he was slimmer than fifteen years ago and the dark pinstripe, white oxford pinpoint button-down and regimental tie made him look more so. The afternoons spent walking up and down the beach a few weeks earlier had tanned him to a pale brown, and bleached his dark brown hair so that it had sandy highlights

“Well, you look healthy, and I hope you are,” he told the mirror, “and prosperous, even if you’re not.” He picked up the brown bag from the dresser and turned to the door.

Alone.

There was a time when he’d looked forward to his fifteen-year class reunion. Bringing Susan. Showing her off.

But Susan turned out to be–or became–a tight-assed, sexually suppressed Junior Leaguer who didn’t like Statesville, didn’t like the hours his law practice required, but who thought his rise through the ranks to junior partnership was much too slow, his earnings much too meager for the lifestyle she wanted.

Not the person he thought he’d married five years ago. Not someone like Wendy.

The divorce earlier that year shouldn’t have been a shock, but it was. It hit him like a tornado hits a trailer park–with complete devastation. Oh, legally, it was small potatoes. He and Susan had no children, and dividing their property was easy enough. But almost before Jack knew what was happening, the house was sold, he was living alone in an apartment, and Susan was in Charlotte, where she worked for a public relations firm. And Jack was alone.

He had planned to skip the reunion, all things considered. But a week ago, Dave and Sheila, good old friends still living in Glen Arden, phoned him, insisting.

Well, he’d planned on using this weekend to write a brief; but here he was, after all. Dave and Sheila wanted him to stay with them, but he preferred the new hotel off the interstate. He wasn’t ready, yet, for a big dose of someone else’s happy marriage.

He drove to the Elks’ Lodge with the radio at full blast. Golden oldies. Elvis was singing “Heartbreak Hotel.”

On the way, Jack noted the new restaurants, new office buildings, new subdivisions. Even Brainerd County was growing up. Glen Arden had never been more than a wide spot in the road. Now it had grown almost to the Martintown line. New development. New real estate deals. New lawsuits. Legal business. Maybe he should have come back here.

Jack shook his head. No. He would still have been Jack Melton, stuck with everyone’s high school notions of how Jack Melton should look, dress, and act. No good for him and no good for Susan. He smiled at the empty passenger’s seat. If Susan hated Statesville, she would have loathed Brainerd County.

Elks’ Lodge was just outside the Martintown city limits. It was a sprawling, one story brick building with a gravel parking lot at the rear, one of the two Brainerd County places where you could get a drink. The Country Club was the other; but Martintown Senior High School Class of ’70 was holding its 15th year reunion there. Little Glen Arden High had to make do with what it could get–and what it could afford. Same as always.

As Jack parked behind the Lodge Building, he saw a thundercloud building on the ridge to the west.

Jack frowned up at the sky. Not again. The Statesville nights had been filled with thunder and lightning all that July, and his sleep had been restless with nightmares. He shuddered, thinking of last night’s storm and last night’s dream

Someone had strung a banner across the front of the Lodge: G.A. CLASS OF ’70–LAST OF THE JOHNNY REBS. True enough; in the Fall of 1970, school consolidation had brought the opening of West Brainerd Comprehensive High School; and so Glen Arden High and Martintown Senior High, heated rivals on the gridiron, were memories.

Like my marriage, Jack thought. But I’ve pieces of paper to prove they once existed.

Inside, a folding table held nametags and booklets listing the members of the class, where they now lived, and other vital statistics like jobs, spouses’ names and hobbies. Behind it sat Laura Perkins and Trudy Smith (except their name tags said they were now “Watkins” and “Boatwright”), girls he remembered with more or less ambivalence.

“Jack Melton,” Laura gushed as she found the tag with his name emblazoned in black amateur calligraphy, “You haven’t changed a bit.”

“Uh, thanks.” Jack thought he looked a great deal more mature and self-assured. Laura, though, had changed; she was now a blonde and was a great deal fatter.

Click here to read the rest at Liberty Island…

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The Enforcement of Happiness

Monday, August 4th, 2014 - by Liberty Island
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Image via Liberty Island

Editor’s Note: Since March, PJ Lifestyle has been highlighting some of the most innovative fiction writers at the recently-launched new media publishing platform Liberty Island, featuring interviews and story excerptsClick here to see our collection of 24 so far. To learn more check out this interview Sarah Hoyt conducted with CEO Adam Bellow: “It also has a unique mission: to serve as the platform and gathering-place for the new right-of-center counterculture.” Also see COO David S. Bernstein’s recent essay here in which he defines Liberty Island as, “an imaginative playground where brilliant and creative people can test their ideas without being harassed or threatened by the new breed of ‘community activists’ who police thought and speech in the media.” Also see Bellow’s recent cover story at National Review: “Let Your Right Brain Run Free.” 

This is the third of several new stories that PJ Lifestyle will be excerpting. Check out this excerpt from Pierre Comtois’s on Friday, “The Future That Used To Be,” and this one from Michael Sheldon on Thursday, “‘Do You Make Your Dark’n’Stormies With the Proper Bermudian Ingredients?’“ More author interviews will be coming soon too.

“Your one o’clock is already here, Mr. Jackson.”

Marcus nodded at the intercom while brushing crumbs from his lap. “Five minutes.”

He straightened his neat red tie using his silver Toastmasters pencil holder as a mirror. Lunch remains went into the trash, the trash into his private bathroom. While there, he indulged in a quick brush with a disposable toothbrush, though he admitted to himself halfway through that part of this was just putting off the inevitable. Nobody wanted a government inquisition. And anytime you had a “council” send representatives, it would be an inquisition. He grimaced at himself and turned off the light before closing the door.

Settling himself in his chair, he buzzed Teresa back. “Send them in.”

A moment later, his door swung open, a very young face peering through. “Mr. Jackson?”

“Come in!” Marcus said heartily, rising from his desk in a show of welcome. “You are Mr. Smith?” He walked over, giving his signature well-practiced handshake. His huge dark hand neatly enveloped Smith’s smaller, limp hand.

“We’re from the Racial Relations Council? Health and Human Services?” The slight young man stepped in hesitantly, followed by a tiny Hispanic woman in a sensible black suit and an older black man wearing a pristine white lab coat. Marcus held his smile, though his forehead wrinkled a bit in confusion. What, he wondered, was up with the entourage?

“I understand you needed to talk to me about racial compliance. As you have no doubt seen for yourself, our hiring patterns are–”

Smith waved him off. “We have your records, sir. Blue Screen International has done a stellar job of racio-sexual/gender/ethno balancing.”

“I see.” Marcus glanced at the entourage. “I’m afraid I don’t understand what this is about.”

Mr. Smith motioned at the chairs near Marcus’s desk. “May I?”

“Oh, please, won’t you all have a seat?”

“Thank you.” Smith sat and opened his briefcase to remove a file, sliding on a pair of fussy-looking reading glasses. His companions remained standing, one on each side behind his chair.

“Let’s just get to business, shall we? I’m sure we’re both busy. I have a few questions for you, sir.”

Marcus sat down behind his desk, frowning at the standing agents. “Okay.”

“You’re Mr. Marcus Jackson, of 1411 Heavenly Meadow Drive in Rockport, Massachusetts.”

“Yes.”

“And your wife is Mrs. Leticia Jackson, born in Biloxi, Mississippi. You yourself were born in Harlem?”

“My parents worked hard to get me out of Harlem,” Marcus said almost reflexively. The semi-autonomous Harlem, effectively a gang state, had a very bad name these days. Mom had worked three jobs, Dad another two, to help Marcus go to a private school, then get into a good college. He’d bought them a house only last year, trying to repay what could never be repaid. He remembered there had been some HUD issue over that, something about destabilizing the youth by moving out older anchor citizens.

“I see, sir,” said Smith. He flipped a page over in the file, running a finger down it. “Your current income places you in the upper middle class tax bracket, very nearly the upper class.”

“I’ve been blessed.”

He nodded. “You are a registered gun owner.”

Marcus frowned. “Yes.”

“You have three children, ages ten, thirteen, and seventeen.”

“I keep the guns locked up. My oldest has had extensive firearms training, too, just in case.”

“Yes, we have that in our records. Do you have a normal relationship with your wife, sir?”

“I’m sorry?

“Perhaps I’m not being clear. Do you have a normal sexual relationship? Do you engage in relations together regularly, no desire for alternative partners of either sex.”

“I don’t see why I have to answer that.” Marcus saw the small Hispanic woman behind Smith put her hand on something hidden away in her coat. “But yes.” Damned intrusive busybodies.

“You listen to classical music? Not hip-hop, soul, blues or rap?”

“What difference–yes. Yes, I do.” And some jazz, he thought, but Smith continued down what was clearly an official list.

“You read business magazines and books almost exclusively.”

“I’m a businessman.”

“Just answer the question.”

“It wasn’t really a question.” At Smith’s look, he sighed. “Yes.”

“Thank you.” He cleared his throat. “According to this, you prefer German food to soul food. You refused affirmative action when it was offered to you. You can’t sing at all and dance poorly. You have never been particularly athletic. You tip well at restaurants.”

Marcus interrupted. “Hard work deserves reward.”

Smith peered over his reading glasses. “Of course. These are just questions, sir.”

“They are not. They are statements, they are increasingly rude, and I would like to know just what this is all about.”

Finish reading here at Liberty Island

 

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‘Do You Make Your Dark’n'Stormies With the Proper Bermudian Ingredients?’

Friday, August 1st, 2014 - by Liberty Island

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Editor’s Note: Since March, PJ Lifestyle has been highlighting some of the most innovative fiction writers at the recently-launched new media publishing platform Liberty Island, featuring interviews and story excerptsClick here to see our collection of 24 so far. To learn more check out this interview Sarah Hoyt conducted with CEO Adam Bellow: “It also has a unique mission: to serve as the platform and gathering-place for the new right-of-center counterculture.” Also see COO David S. Bernstein’s recent essay here in which he defines Liberty Island as, “an imaginative playground where brilliant and creative people can test their ideas without being harassed or threatened by the new breed of ‘community activists’ who police thought and speech in the media.” Also see Bellow’s recent cover story at National Review: “Let Your Right Brain Run Free.” 

This is the second of several new stories that PJ Lifestyle will be excerpting. Check out this excerpt from Pierre Comtois’s yesterday: The Future That Used To Be. More author interviews will be coming soon too. Also check out some of Michael’s great articles on wine and culture at PJ Lifestyle:World’s First High 5 Discovered in Obscure French Film, 6 Things We Love and Hate about The New California Wine.

Here’s the beginning of his new story for your consideration:

They walked into my bar like they owned the place, the Major and this gangly female friend of his he calls “the Loon.”

The Major says to me, “According to the Internet, you make the best tropical drinks in the state. Do you make your Dark’n'Stormies with the proper Bermudian ingredients?”

He’s a bit formal, this guy. I didn’t know his name yet, but I already had him pegged as retired military. Too young for Vietnam, too old for Gulf War II. Hint of a southern accent, more Kentucky than Texas.

So I said to him, “Absolutely proper. Everything at Coco Rico’s is authentic. You want Mai Tais–mine are just like the Royal Hawaiian. Singapore Sling? You don’t have to go to Raffles. Dark’n'Stormy? I’m pouring Gosling’s Rum and their spicy ginger beer. Lime optional.”

“Sounds perfect.” He pulled out a stool for his friend and politely held her coat and bag while she climbed up. “We’ll have two Dark’n'Stormies,” he said. “No, make that three. Mix one up for yourself. I have a pretty good story to tell and you may want to listen in if you’re not too busy.”

I asked, “Are you one of those book clubs?” I was thinking those clubs fill a lot of seats, but with light drinkers.

Then I heard this sound, like: “Ahhhhhh-ha-ha-haa, aaahhh-ha-ha-ha, ak-ak, ak-akh, ahhhhh.” It was his lady friend laughing like she thinks my question is the funniest thing she ever heard. “We’re just here for conversation. But because he tends to do most of the talking, well, that makes it a story doesn’t it?”

I guess I must’ve looked at her funny, because he said to me, “You heard her laugh. She sounds like a lunatic. That’s why all her friends call her “the Loon,” and you should too.”

“I’ll do that,” I said, serving their drinks.

The Major said his name was Brayden Collins but I should call him the Major. I told them both they could call me Coco.

Then we lifted our glasses and toasted, “To new friends!” We’d barely had time to swallow when the Loon said to the Major, “Now for that story. You’ve been out of touch for nearly nine months, and–ahhhhhh-ha-ha-haa, aaahhh-ha-ha-ha, ak-ak, ak-akh, ahhhhh–I’m bursting with curiosity.”

The Major, always the gentleman, got right to it. “As the Loon knows, but you, Coco, certainly do not, I’ve been working on a desalination project in Bermuda for the last couple of years. That’s where I acquired my taste for Dark’n'Stormies, specifically, on the patio of the Coral Beach Club. It’s a beautiful old place. Clay tennis courts and a salt-water pool, set on a cliff above the pink sand beach and transparent water. Magical spot. The restaurant on the terrace is wonderful. Waiters in Bermuda shorts and knee socks, cheeky parrots in enormous brass cages.

“In any case, about six months ago I lunched there and then went down to the beach to relax. It’s a private beach and there are rows of turquoise chaises and yellow-and-white striped beach umbrellas, carefully lined up like an Army tent camp–except for the bright colors. It was crowded that day, hard to find a seat, and a lot of conversations going on. Children playing noisily and their parents not paying much mind as they were trying to relax themselves.

“In front of me was a nice group. Tall Indian fellow with his wife, clean-shaven and obviously brainy, talking quietly with a friend about their dinner plans. Seems they’d come to this part of the island on their yacht, over from Tucker’s Town, and were looking forward to some special event. I got the impression they were long-time members of the club.

“I was trying to nap, not successfully, when suddenly I heard this fellow–I might as well tell you his name even though I didn’t know it at the time. It’s Singh, Vinod Singh. And this Mr. Singh is looking back toward the club and saying, ‘Oh, oh, what’s going on over there? Oh-oh, this looks like trouble.’

“His wife and friend began looking too and Mr. Singh said, ‘Look at those children climbing up the cliffs. The sand is not stable and they should not be there.’

“They watched some more and talked it over. ‘Where are the parents?’ continued Mr. Singh. ‘Someone has to do something.’

“He walked across the beach and told the children to get down off the cliff.

“He might as well have assassinated an archduke, considering what happened next. The children’s mother–I assumed it was the mother because of her behavior, and of course I confirmed it later–the children’s mother was after him like a swarm of hornets. ‘How dare you talk to my children. You’ve got no right… Who do you think you are?’

“Of course it was all laced with profanity and a level of physical aggression that was surprising. This woman, Maude Rafferty-Fehr is her name, as I found out later, was young and trim. And she was wearing quite elaborate beach clothing with built-in sun and insect protection. And of course there was the Roger Federer hat…”

“The what? asked the Loon.

“The Roger Federer hat. The tennis player. Has his own logo. RF. It was pink, by the way. I found out later…’

“Ahhhhhh-ha-ha-haa, aaahhh-ha-ha-ha, ak-ak, ak-akh, ahhhhh. Ahhhhhh-ha-ha-haa,” the Loon hooted. “Nobody wears a Roger Federer hat except, ahhhhhh-ha-ha-haa, aaahhh-ha-ha-ha, his wife and, ak-ak, ak-akh, his mother.”

“Hmf. I suppose not. I’d never seen one before.” The Major continued, “I found out later she’s Swiss, or at least married to one. And they play tennis. So I suppose it’s possible she’d wear something like that. Anyway she kept after him in this manner–like a terrier or a mosquito–without letting up for quite some time. I decided to go in for a bit of snorkeling and I followed a school of angelfish around for a half-hour at least.

“I came back to my chaise and thought the stratagem had worked. Peace and quiet. Wonderful. Mr. Singh was relaxing, trying to read. I was pleased to see it was the latest Brad Thor thriller.

“Imagine my disappointment, then, as I noticed a man with his teeth and his fists clenched like worn-out disk brakes, looking down at Mr. Singh through thick lenses and struggling to breathe through a scraggly blondish moustache.

“‘I don’t like the way you were talking to my wife,’ he said, clearly trying to start a fight.

“Mr. Singh did not take the bait: ‘It isn’t safe to climb on the cliffs. It’s against the rules of the club and all I did was to ask the boys to come down. It was for their own safety.’

“Well, if Roger Federer was bad, her husband was worse by far. He was a jackal-piranha to her terrier-mosquito. ‘Damn the rules,’ he screamed. ‘You have no right to talk to my children or my wife.”

“Julius Fehr, that’s his name: Doctor Fehr was trembling with anger and still standing over Mr. Singh who remained seated and spoke in a calm and logical tone that was infuriating in its own way.

“The two went at it back and forth, until somehow Mr. Singh managed to escape. He gained a standing position without making physical contact with Dr. Fehr. And this small triumph must have somehow clouded his judgment because, at this point, he opened a new line of argument.”

“Always a mistake,” agreed the Loon. “Unless you can strike a lethal blow, the defense should always stay on defense. Otherwise you open yourself up to a new line of attack.”

Continue reading the rest at Liberty Island.

*****

image via shutterstock / DeliriumTrigger

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Kindle and Price Elasticity

Thursday, July 31st, 2014 - by Stephen Green

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Amazon posted an explanation of the economics behind their row with book publisher Hachette:

It’s also important to understand that e-books are highly price-elastic. This means that when the price goes up, customers buy much less. We’ve quantified the price elasticity of e-books from repeated measurements across many titles. For every copy an e-book would sell at $14.99, it would sell 1.74 copies if priced at $9.99. So, for example, if customers would buy 100,000 copies of a particular e-book at $14.99, then customers would buy 174,000 copies of that same e-book at $9.99. Total revenue at $14.99 would be $1,499,000. Total revenue at $9.99 is $1,738,000.

The important thing to note here is that at the lower price, total revenue increases 16%. This is good for all the parties involved.

Of course. This is Econ 101 stuff, and it’s deeply weird that Amazon should have to explain it to a profitable publisher. And a wider audience for a writer gives him better luck of having another hit with his next book, too.

More interesting was this last bit:

One more note on our proposal for how the total revenue should be shared. While we believe 35% should go to the author and 35% to Hachette, the way this would actually work is that we would send 70% of the total revenue to Hachette, and they would decide how much to share with the author. We believe Hachette is sharing too small a portion with the author today, but ultimately that is not our call.

Message to authors: Go indie and cut out the greedy and ignorant middleman.

*****

Cross-posted from Vodkapundit

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The Future That Used To Be

Thursday, July 31st, 2014 - by Liberty Island

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Editor’s Note: Since March, PJ Lifestyle has been highlighting some of the most innovative fiction writers at the recently-launched new media publishing platform Liberty Island, featuring interviews and story excerptsClick here to see our collection of 24 so far. To learn more check out this interview Sarah Hoyt conducted with CEO Adam Bellow: “It also has a unique mission: to serve as the platform and gathering-place for the new right-of-center counterculture.” Also see COO David S. Bernstein’s recent essay here in which he defines Liberty Island as, “an imaginative playground where brilliant and creative people can test their ideas without being harassed or threatened by the new breed of ‘community activists’ who police thought and speech in the media.” Also see Bellow’s recent cover story at National Review: “Let Your Right Brain Run Free.” 

This is the first of several new stories that PJ Lifestyle will be excerpting. More author interviews will be coming soon too. Also check out some of Pierre’s great articles on comic books for PJ Lifestyle:

The Top 10 Most Overrated Super-Heroes Of All Time

The 10 Greatest Comic Book Writers Of All Time

The 10 Lowest Points in Spider-Man’s Career

Here’s the beginning of his new story for your consideration:

Joey Ixbee lay on his stomach, his head propped in his hands, on the carpet in Steve Garabon’s TV room. At the moment, it was late on a Saturday afternoon and the two best friends were engrossed in the latest Creature Feature offering: Earth vs the Flying Saucers. Although both boys agreed that with stop motion effects by the great Ray Harryhausen the film was a science fiction classic, Joey thought the plot was on the unrealistic side.

 

Suddenly, the soundtrack swelled and over the smoking ruins of a downed alien flying saucer, the words “The End” appeared on the screen. Instantly, Steve was on his feet and snapped off the television set before Feep, the show’s host, could come on and utter a few concluding inanities in his high pitched voice.

 

“Great movie!” exclaimed Joey as the picture tube went dark save for a tiny dot of light at the center.

 

“I’ll say!” agreed Steve. “The story was a little too much like War of the Worlds, but those force fields and flying saucers crashing into the Capital Building and the Washington Monument were fantastic!”

 

“The effects were definitely cool, but some of the other stuff was a little too much,” said Joey.

 

“How do you mean?”

 

“Well, if the aliens were so smart, smart enough to build spaceships and travel all the way to Earth from another world, why didn’t they just open diplomatic channels to the UN or something? I mean, that’s got to be easier for them than trashing the planet. How’s that supposed to help ‘em?”

 

Steve shrugged. “Never thought about that before. I guess it would be easier to just make friends than to start a war.”

 

“Right. And those saucers…”

 

“What about ‘em?”

 

“In real life, they just wouldn’t fly…at least in Earth’s atmosphere,” insisted Joey. “They’re not aerodynamic enough. In space, their shape wouldn’t make a difference, but once in Earth’s atmosphere, they’d drop like a rock!”

 

“You think so?”

 

“Sure, I think so.”

 

“What if they had anti-gravity?”

 

“I guess that would work,” conceded Joey. “But how likely is that? After all, the laws of physics are the same no matter where you go in the universe. Shucks, Steve, I don’t think you’ve been keeping up with your science fiction reading!”

 

“Ah, gimme a break!”

 

“All right, boys,” interrupted Steve’s mother from where she stood at the entrance to the TV room. “You’ve been indoors for the last two hours and it’s a beautiful sunny day outside. Time for some fresh air before supper.”

 

The boys needed no coaxing from Mrs. Garabon to move on.

 

Outside, the sun was indeed shining and temperatures must have been hovering in the upper 80s. Across the street, they could hear the splash of water and girlish voices crying out in glee behind the Surois’ house and overhead, a plane droned somewhere in the deep blue of the sky.

 

Retreating to the front porch of Steve’s house, the two boys began what had become a ritual after viewing an SF film and reenacted to the best of their recollection the scenes they had just finished viewing on television. Notwithstanding the questionable authenticity of Earth vs the Flying Saucers, the balance of the afternoon was spent in imaginary war as Joey and Steve saved the world from the evil intentions of space invaders only they could see.

 

All too soon, however, Joey heard his mother’s call from down the street signaling the time for supper.

 

“Five o’clock already?” exclaimed Steve, finishing off an alien saucer.

 

“Must be, my stomach’s grumbling,” said Joey, tossing a Mattel issue replica of a German Luger to his friend. “See you after supper?”

 

“Over at Gil’s for kick the can,” returned Steve, heading for the house.

 

Quickly, Joey ran from behind the Garabon’s house to the front yard and hurdled the hedges ringing the property in a single bound. Landing in the street, he barely missed a step heading down tree-lined Maple Road to his own home at the far end of the neighborhood.

 

Flying through the front gate, Joey ran around the house to the back porch letting the screen door slam shut behind him in way of announcing his arrival. In the yard outside, nothing had changed since his parents bought the property when Joey was still an infant: the previous owner having been a carpentry contractor, the yard was littered with the debris of his trade from huge stacks of petrified planking to sheds and other outbuildings overrun in weeds and crawling vines. Alongside the house, a two stall garage stood, still crammed with the rusting hulks of heavy automated saws and planers. Everywhere inside the garage were mounds of old sawdust left uncollected for years.

 

Inside the porch, the air was filled with the aroma of fresh baked muffins, so Joey simply followed his nose into the kitchen. There, the table was already set and Sally, his younger sister, sat at her usual place next to the high chair that baby Cynthia would soon occupy.

 

“Don’t forget to wash up before supper, Joey,” said his mother, tossing the words over her shoulder as she mashed the potatoes.

 

“I know,” replied Joey, heading for the bathroom.

 

“Can we hold off on supper for a few minutes?” asked his father stepping into the kitchen, the late edition newspaper in his hand. “I’d like to hold a quick family meeting first.”

 

Mrs. Ixbee blew at a stray lock that had fallen across her face. “It can wait for a few minutes.”

 

“Fine. Let’s all step into the family room, shall we?”

 

A minute later, Joey had joined the others and thrown himself onto one end of the overstuffed couch that also held Sally at the opposite end and his mother holding baby Cynthia in the center. His father sat in the easy chair across the room from them.

 

“What’s this about, dad?” asked Joey.

 

“Well, your mother and I have an announcement to make,” began his father. “We’re expecting company tomorrow and we want you and Sally to be on your best behavior.”

 

“Oh, boy!” exclaimed Sally, clapping her hands. “Company! We never have guests.”

 

“Well, hardly never,” said Mrs. Ixbee. “But this one is different.”

 

“How different?” asked Joey, suddenly interested.

Continue Reading at Liberty Island…

***
image via Liberty Island

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Enter an Enchanted World

Monday, July 28th, 2014 - by Hannah Sternberg

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Hi gang! I’m releasing my new novel, Bulfinch, this August, and in the weeks leading up to it I’m sharing one free short story per week online. If you’re in search of a fun and short read this week during your lunch hour, check out one of these:

Belle” is an inventive retelling of the classic tale of Beauty and the Beast. Belle is a struggling single mother who feels like a prisoner of circumstance — and of her heavily tattooed landlord, whom she calls The Beast. But their unlikely attraction may have the power to change both their lives…with some help from Mrs. Teapot.

“Bridal Sour” is a quirky twist on the zombie genre. When all the recently engaged women in town start turning into zombies, one girl thinks she knows the cause — and its unlikely solution.

Click the titles to download either story at NoiseTrade!

 

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How To Speak Truth to Power and Stick It To the Man Today

Friday, July 11th, 2014 - by Liberty Island

Editor’s Note: Since March, PJ Lifestyle has been highlighting some of the most innovative fiction writers at the recently-launched new media publishing platform Liberty Island, featuring interviews and story excerptsClick here to see our collection of 24 so far. We’re going to continue periodically introducing new contributors but now we continue a new series featuring many of these writers talking about their upcoming books and dialoguing about this question: 

“Liberty Island has identified itself as the home of the new counterculture. In what ways does your book exemplify this?”

To learn more check out this interview Sarah Hoyt conducted with CEO Adam Bellow: “It also has a unique mission: to serve as the platform and gathering-place for the new right-of-center counterculture.” Also see COO David S. Bernstein’s recent essay here in which he defines Liberty Island as, “an imaginative playground where brilliant and creative people can test their ideas without being harassed or threatened by the new breed of ‘community activists’ who police thought and speech in the media.” Bellow’s new cover story at National Review, is also out this month: “Let Your Right Brain Run Free.” Finally and importantly, support Liberty Island’s crowd-funding efforts here where you can pre-order the upcoming novels and learn about other incentives.

See Part 1 with Michael Sheldon’s answer here and Part 2 with Stephen McDonald’s answer here

The old counterculture was advertised (and subsequently mythologized) as Youth Speaking Truth to Power and Sticking it to the Man.  Forty years on, the old counterculture has become The Man and everything they hated about him: repressive (for our own good, of course), controlling (“Momma’s gonna keep you safe and warm”), and above all, determined to keep their hands on the levers of power. As the prophet Pete Townsend told us, “Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.”

How am I part of the New Counterculture? 

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What Is the New Counterculture? Part 2

Wednesday, July 2nd, 2014 - by Liberty Island

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Editor’s Note: Since March, PJ Lifestyle has been highlighting some of the most innovative fiction writers at the recently-launched new media publishing platform Liberty Island, featuring interviews and story excerptsClick here to see our collection of 24 so far. We’re going to continue periodically introducing new contributors but now we continue a new series featuring many of these writers talking about their upcoming books and dialoguing about this question: 

“Liberty Island has identified itself as the home of the new counterculture. In what ways does your book exemplify this?”

To learn more check out this interview Sarah Hoyt conducted with CEO Adam Bellow: “It also has a unique mission: to serve as the platform and gathering-place for the new right-of-center counterculture.” Also see COO David S. Bernstein’s recent essay here in which he defines Liberty Island as, “an imaginative playground where brilliant and creative people can test their ideas without being harassed or threatened by the new breed of ‘community activists’ who police thought and speech in the media.” Bellow’s new cover story at National Review, is also out this month: “Let Your Right Brain Run Free.” Finally and importantly, support Liberty Island’s crowd-funding efforts here where you can pre-order the upcoming novels and learn about other incentives.

See Part 1 with Michael Sheldon’s answer here.

With daily examples of a once great culture circling the drain, it becomes increasingly hard to imagine that things could be different. But let’s try. What might a society that celebrated beauty, excellence, and community instead of slowly strangling those things look like? How would it feel  to live in a society whose people were worthy of one’s best efforts? And what would such people be like?

I envision such a society in Steam Pointe, a series of linked stories that Liberty Island will soon be publishing. Technology can’t hide any decline in the island nation of Steam Pointe. It’s a place that has taken 19th Century industrialism to its steampunk zenith, even as the rest of the world has forsworn airships, Tesla coils, and steam engines for airplanes, computers, and internal combustion.

When international terrorism arrives on his country’s shores and Steam Pointe’s own domestic supervillains begin staging attacks in America, detective Hiram Speer finds himself partnered with FBI agent Mackenzie Hoff. Yet chasing killers beneath Steam Pointe’s zeppelin-blotted skies, the two find their cultures in conflict: manly versus feminized, confident versus declining.

The Pointers’ manners, machines and esthetics are like something out of a Jules Verne-fever dream. Yet this is only the outward manifestation of their alienation from the contemporary United States — the nation their ancestors fled. For its part, America increasingly regards this bizarre place of technological apartheid and traditional gender roles as little better than a rogue regime.

With both their nations and their world views in opposition, will Speer and Mackenzie be able to work together to stop a common threat? Does either one of them even want to save the other’s homeland? And what are their respective nations’ agendas in this cultural cold war?

The fictional Steam Pointe is a culture counter to our own. The Steam Pointe series then is part of a growing counterculture that looks at the present order and asks, “Does it have to be like this?”

It doesn’t. And it won’t always be. As we look forward to the prospect of a re-forged society, come to Steam Pointe and get a feel for what it might be like to live someplace built on beauty, excellence, and community. Enjoy a terrific adventure while taking added pleasure in committing an act of cultural sedition.

****

See Stephen’s PJ Lifestyle post:

Comic Book Tropes That Need to Die, the First in An Occasional Series

And his political posts at the PJ Tatler:

Learning to Love Cloward-Piven

Tougher Than HYDRA

And his interview and story excerpt at PJ Lifestyle:

‘Long-Term, I’d Like to Hire Others to Produce More Content Set in This Shared Universe…’

 

***

image illustration via shutterstock / Kiselev Andrey Valerevich

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What Is the New Counterculture? Part 1

Monday, June 30th, 2014 - by Liberty Island

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Editor’s Note: Since March, PJ Lifestyle has been highlighting some of the most innovative fiction writers at the recently-launched new media publishing platform Liberty Island, featuring interviews and story excerpts. Click here to see our collection of 24 so far. We’re going to continue periodically introducing new contributors but today we start a new series featuring many of these writers talking about their upcoming books and dialoguing about this question: 

“Liberty Island has identified itself as the home of the new counterculture. In what ways does your book exemplify this?”

To learn more check out this interview Sarah Hoyt conducted with CEO Adam Bellow: “It also has a unique mission: to serve as the platform and gathering-place for the new right-of-center counterculture.” Also see COO David S. Bernstein’s recent essay here in which he defines Liberty Island as, “an imaginative playground where brilliant and creative people can test their ideas without being harassed or threatened by the new breed of ‘community activists’ who police thought and speech in the media.” Bellow’s new cover story at National Review, is also out today: “Let Your Right Brain Run Free.” Finally and importantly, support Liberty Island’s crowd-funding efforts here where you can pre-order the upcoming novels and learn about other incentives.

Before completing The Violet Crow, I was having dinner with a woman who teaches English lit at a branch of University of Washington. When I told her my novel was a detective story, she dismissed it in four words: “Detective stories are normative.” I had never heard this choice bit of academic wisdom before, but, before we get to that, let me describe the premise of my normative tale.

The Violet Crow begins when the students of Gardenfield Friends School enter the Quaker Meetinghouse for their weekly half hour of silence. They find instead the lifeless body of a ten-year-old girl. Because there are no clues, and no grieving parents come forward to claim their daughter, the police are pressured into taking an unusual step: They hire a psychic detective.

The idea is to show the press and the politicians that the Gardenfield cops are seriously trying to find the murderer and restore order to this normally safe and self-satisfied community. However, Bruno X, aka Joey Kaplan, is a bit more than anyone bargained for. He has genuine psychic talent, but it’s inconsistent. People always assume that psychics are fakes. And when confronted with suspicions, Bruno counters with Mad-Magazine-Yiddish invectives and recycled Borsht Belt routines.

The Violet Crow offers readers a tight plot, lots of suspects, weird science, and some surprising historical connections. There are also elements of magical realism as Bruno’s psychic ability moves up and down a scale that ranges from coincidence to intuition, luck, and the occasional bit of sorcery. Finally, if you dig deep into genre categories, The Violet Crow is technically a “caper,” because it’s a crime story that’s also humorous.

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24 Counterculture Warriors Writing New Worlds Into Existence

Saturday, June 28th, 2014 - by Liberty Island

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Editor’s Note: This is the seventh collection of interviews and story excerpts spotlighting some of the most innovative fiction writers at the recently-launched new media publishing platform Liberty IslandAn index of 8 newly-released stories can be found here. Please check out this interview Sarah Hoyt conducted with CEO Adam Bellow here to learn more: “It also has a unique mission: to serve as the platform and gathering-place for the new right-of-center counterculture.” Also see COO David S. Bernstein’s recent essay here in which he defines Liberty Island as, “an imaginative playground where brilliant and creative people can test their ideas without being harassed or threatened by the new breed of ‘community activists’ who police thought and speech in the media.” 

Most importantly, support Liberty Island’s crowd-funding efforts here where you can pre-order the upcoming novels and learn about other incentives.

1. Mike Baron: Swimming in Scrooge’s Money Bin With Ayn Rand and Andrew Klavan

2. Steve Poling: Is Cthulhu Tastier Fried or Barbecued?

3. Will Collier: What If the Soviets Had Succeeded in Capturing a Supernatural Creature?

4. Ray Zacek: The Secret Knowledge Vs. A Lethal Elvis Cult in North Florida

5. Keith Korman: ‘I Have No Friends: I Make My Mind My Friend.

6. Abbey Clarke: A Demon’s Heart: Can Evil Incarnate Ever Find Salvation?

7. Jamie Wilson: A Gen-X Gandalf Mom Casting Thomas Sowell Spells

8. Clay Waters: ‘You Obviously Feel This Ocean Mythos Deep In Your DNA…’

9. Todd Seavey: ‘It Was Star Wars That Taught Me to Love Science, Fantasy, Music, and Capitalism Simultaneously’

10. Stephen McDonald: ‘Long-Term, I’d Like to Hire Others to Produce More Content Set in This Shared Universe…’

11. Pierre V. Comtois: Golfing on the Moon

12. Aaron Smith: ‘I Spell ‘Magicks’ With a ‘K’ to Both Confound Proofreaders and to Signify It’s Not a White-Bunny-Being-Pulled-Out-of-The-Hat Kind of Magic.’

13. Ken Lizzi: A Pulp Writer Disguised as a Lawyer Embedded in the People’s Republic of Portland

14. Ted Elrick: ‘When a Guy’s Got That Kind of Control, You Gotta Admire It.’

15. Frank J. Fleming: Who Murdered the Dinosaurs?

16. R.K. Delka: ‘I’m the Constitution, Dammit!’

17. Kurt Duncan: ‘It’s All Compulsion-To-Create Via Mathematics and Engineering. Fun Stuff.’

18. Roy Griffis: ‘An Antidote to the Nihilistic Crap That Is Being Peddled’

19. David Churchill Barrow: ‘The Smoking, Dirty, Jagged Line of Rocks on that Ridge Seemed to Mock God Himself…’

20. Michael Sheldon: What Could Be Better Than Fresh Apricots?

21. Sabrina Chase: Women Can Be Mad Scientists Too

22. Paul Clayton: ‘I Think These 3 Works Should Be Required Reading For All Young Americans…’

23. Erich Forschler: The Road Might Be His Best Work, But My Favorite is No Country for Old Men.

24. Tom Weiss: In the Ashes: A War Screenplay

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