Culture

How To Join This Unique Team of 33 Creative Writers

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Editor’s Note: This is the ninth collection of interviews and story excerpts spotlighting some of the most innovative fiction writers at the recently-launched new media publishing platform Liberty Island. 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.”  See Liberty Island’s writers also answer the question “What Is the New Counterculture?” Part 1: Michael Sheldon, Part 2: Stephen McDonald, and Part 3 with Roy “Griff” Griffis on “How To Speak Truth to Power and Stick It To the Man Today

Want to Join? Enter Liberty Island’s Non-Traditional Holiday Fiction Writing Contest

Click to jump to the author of your choice in this collection for interviews and story excerpts:

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’

28. Carol Kean: ‘Comrade Cruise will Cure Your Blues! And Teach You a Vital Thing or Two!’

29. Joseph Magrisso: ‘But in the Movie it Said if You Rub the Lamp a Genie Comes Out…’

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

31. New Novel Released Today: Wreathed By Curtis Edmonds

32. Audie Cockings: ‘Can You Call In Something to Help With Her Pain?’

33. Leigh Kimmel: The Angry Astronaut Affair

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

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Mike Baron is the creator of Nexus (with artist Steve Rude) and Badger, two of the longest lasting independent superhero comics. Nexus, about a cosmic avenger 500 years in the future, appears monthly in Dark Horse Presents. There are twelve hardbound volumes from Dark Horse. Badger, about a multiple personality, one of whom is an animal rights champion, will appear in 2014 from a resurgent First Comics. Baron has written The Punisher, Flash, Deadman and Star Wars among many other titles. He also writes novels. You can find them on Amazon.

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

Uncle Scrooge, John D. MacDonald, Philip Jose Farmer.  You cannot imagine the impact LAWRENCE OF ARABIA had on me when I first saw it at age fourteen. Today I admire and try to emulate, at least in so far as moral fiction, David Mamet and Andrew Klavan. My mind is a fever swamp of monster movies, comic books and rock and roll.

2. How do you describe yourself ideologically?

Conservative with libertarian leanings.

3. Which thinkers/commentators have influenced you?

Cicero, Epictetus, David Mamet, Thomas Sowell, Ayn Rand.

4. Where are you from/currently reside?

I am from the leftist sinkhole Madison, Wisconsin.  I live in Colorado.

5. What are your writing goals?

“You make ‘em laugh a little bit, you make ‘em cry a little bit, you scare the hell out of them and that’s entertainment!”

6. Where can people find/follow you online?

https://www.facebook.com/michael.a.baron.7

www.bloodyredbaron.net

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

You now, it’s best I not discuss those.

Check out Mike Baron’s “On the Trail of the Loathsome Swine

They got some big wild hogs in Beauchamp County. The one that ‘et my sister weighed 998 pounds. Lord strike me if I’m lyin’. Rose Marie weighed 95. She was twelve when that hog ‘et her. She was out behind the shed planting violets when that hog charged out the brush like a runaway truck and snapped her neck and dragged her off.

Ma and Pa had gone to Morrisonville for seed and victuals, and my older brothers Ned and Ethan were helping Uncle Lamar shingle his barn. I was in the kitchen oiling my catcher’s mitt when I heard Rose Marie yip once and then what sounded like a roto-rooter. It was a bad sound filled with pops and rips. I ran back behind the shed just in time to see that hog drag little Rose Marie into the brush.

I stood there shakin’ and cryin’ for awhile. Then I went in the house and called everyone I could think of. I called Ma and Pa. I called Uncle Lamar. I called Sheriff Dougherty. They all come back at the same time and the sheriff come with lights flashin’. Ned and Ethan drove their 150s. Uncle Lamar drove his Jeep. Ma and Pa were in the Magnum. There was a lot of dust. Everybody was screaming and crying.

“This is a public safety issue,” Sheriff said. “I’m going to round up some good ol’ boys and find thet hog and string it up.”

Pa sidled up to Sheriff and poured quiet strength down on him. “We’ll take care of this killer hog, Simon. We got thet right.”

Those boys played gin rummy with each other every Saturday for the past twenty years. Sheriff looked away first. “I reckon that’s your right, Joe Lee. But you’d better hop right on it before thet hog decides to eat somebody else’s little girl.”

Lamar pulled his thirty-ought-six from the cab rack and fed it some cartridges. Ned and Ethan ran up to the house and came back with an SKS and an AK-47. Pa got his Smith & Wesson .357. And I got my Desert Eagle .50. My grandpa Jeb Lee got me thet gun for my fourteenth birthday and I could think of no more fitting use for it than killing the hog thet ‘et my sister. …

Read more at Liberty Island …

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

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Steve Poling was born, raised and lives in West Michigan with his wife and kids. He uses his training in Applied Mathematics and Computer Science as a C++/C# poet by day while writing Subversive Fiction by night. Steve has an abiding interest in philosophy and potato cannons. He writes SF, crime fiction, an occasional fractured fairy tale, and steampunk. His current writing project is a steampunk novel, Steamship to Kashmir–provided he isn’t distracted by something new & shiny.

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

I think C. S. Lewis is probably one of my most significant intellectual influences. I fancy The Sixth Sense and any movie that pulls the rug out from you in the last scene. Jerry Pournelle’s “Exiles to Glory” helped me see that Science Fiction needn’t be all world governments run by socialists.

2. How do you describe yourself ideologically?

I am a small-l libertarian who’s seriously contemplating capitalization. I prefer democratic solutions to social problems. I loathe politicians who use unelected judges and bureaucrats to evade responsibility for their policy aims.

3. Which thinkers/commentators have influenced you?

In addition to C. S. Lewis, I found Francis Schaeffer, Jonathan Edwards, and John Bunyan quite helpful. As far as THIS century is concerned, I pay a lot of attention to Instapundit and Ace of Spades.

4. Where are you from/currently reside?

I grew up in western Michigan and after grad school and a short stint out east, I returned to Grand Rapids where I currently live.

5. What are your writing goals?

I want to maintain a sustainable rhythm of writing, finish my current novel, and dash off the odd short-story.

Steve Poling

6. Where can people find/follow you online?

You can find:

* my blog posts at http://diogenesclubarchives.blogspot.com/,

* my tweets @stevepoling, and

* day-to-day commentary at https://www.facebook.com/steve.poling

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

I have several first-place trophies for Pinewood Derby and Awana Grand Prix cars. I also have a few potato cannons with which I enjoy launching spuds.

Check out Steve Poling’s “Southern Fried Cthulhu

It all started on a Wednesday night last month. I was in church with the missus. The preacher was teaching about the end of the world, the Beast, and the Antichrist. He was chock full of piss and vinegar, going on about the fearsome Day of the Lord.

That’s when we heard the screaming. The reasonable thing to do was stop and see what the fuss was about. But Pastor Kingsfield just kept preaching, only louder.

I got up to see what was happening and he shouted at me to sit back down and take heed of the word of the Lord. So I sat.

I heard gunshots and a car crash, but he kept on preaching and exhorting that none could withstand the wrath of God and his sure and just judgment. All the while he was watching to make sure I didn’t get up. I smelled smoke as if Hell itself had opened up and figured the Good Lord was coming back then and there. The preacher must have thought the same thing and wanted to make sure he was found doing right by his flock. He was shouting himself hoarse, warning us of sure and deadly destruction to be visited upon the unrighteous.

Being a deacon, I wanted to set a good example. So I was saying “Amen” a little louder than I had to.

Eventually, his voice gave out and we sang the closing hymn. Pastor gave an invitation and most of the congregation went forward to get saved again. We were sure the Lord was coming back, so we stood around waiting and sang a few verses of “Almost Persuaded.”

Brother Jubal said, “I don’t suppose it’d be a bad thing if we wait for the Rapture outside, do you?” I could tell he was in the need of a cigarette.

“I’ve never seen the apocalypse before and I confess I’m a little curious to see what one looks like,” I said. “Let’s go outside. Revelations paints some right scary pictures, but my imagination can’t quite fill the gaps.”

We went outside and the town was a mess. Cars were wrecked and houses were on fire.

“Will you look at that?” Jubal said, pointing.

There was the First Baptist Church, the new one they built last year, blazing from top to bottom. I had friends that went to that church and I only quit going after I got married and my wife pestered me to join Mount Pisgah Church of the Nazarene.

“You know, Jubal,” I said. “I don’t think that we were saved from this because we’re Christians.”

Read more at Liberty Island…

****

image via lovecraft.wikia.com

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

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Image via Liberty Island / Mike Kilgore

Will Collier was one of the first bloggers on the internet, founding the “Will’s World” site in 1997, long before the word “blog” was coined. From 2004-2008, he was a major contributor to the high-traffic VodkaPundit.com blog, where his work was quoted by the BBC, CNN, and the Washington Post, among others. Will is the co-author of The Uncivil War (Rutledge Hill Press, 1995), became a featured college football columnist for Rivals.com in 2001, and maintains his own sports blog, FromTheBleachers.com. His work has appeared in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the Birmingham News, the Birmingham Post-Herald and National Review Online. He is currently a columnist for Rivals.com, contributor to PJ Media, and his “main” blog is WillCollier.com. Will earned degrees in aerospace engineering from Auburn University and the University of Texas, and lives in metro Atlanta with his wife and their spoiled bullmastiff.

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

As a writer I am very much one of “Heinlein’s Children” when it comes to fiction, with a heavy dollop of Clarke’s short stories added to my early development.  I remain in awe of Harlan Ellison as a fiction writer and essayist (for years and years I avoided his short fiction out of fear that I’d be unable to avoid the temptation to rip him off).  I am heavily indebted to the novelist Elly Welt, who was the writer-in-residence at Auburn University in the 1980’s; Elly generously took this engineering major under her wing my sophomore year, and remains both a dear friend and an invaluable inspiration and adviser to this day.  Having been an eight-year-old science fiction fan in the summer of 1977, I was as close to the ideal target audience for “Star Wars” as could be calculated.  More recently, I was consumed by the nautical novels of Patrick O’Brien, and dazzled by the ridiculous perfection of Nabokov’s Pale Fire.

In my “second life” as a sports writer, I was heavily influenced by newspaper columnists like Clyde Bolton and Phillip Marshall, and can’t help but be jealous of the ludicrously-talented Spencer Hall of “Every Day Should Be Saturday”–even if he is a Gator-loving weirdo.

2. How do you describe yourself ideologically?

I’m a Reagan/Buckley conservative who entertains increasingly libertarian tendencies with the addition or more grey hair.  A youthful visit to the rotting corpse of East Germany cured me of any latent tendencies towards statism in any of its forms.

3. Which thinkers/commentators have influenced you?

I grew up reading National Review, devouring columns from Buckley and Will on a regular basis, then discovered P.J. O’Rourke and David Horowitz in college.  These days, like everybody else, I’m unable to pass a piece by Charles Krauthammer, Jonah Goldberg or Mark Steyn without reading the whole thing.  My discovery of Glenn Reynolds and the blogosphere in general over a decade ago led to a long collaboration with Steve Green (aka VodkaPundit) and continuing daily exposure to the vast array of smart, interesting, funny people who insist on writing well and cogently without having wasted four years of their lives in journalism classes.

4. Where are you from/currently reside?

I’ve lived in metro Atlanta since 2001.

5.  What are your writing goals?

I lack the gene for plotting.  Coming up with original story ideas has never been easy for me, so I am not at all prolific when it comes to fiction. Having missed out on quantity, when I do manage to get fiction written, my goal is for it to be a good piece of writing first and foremost.  If it’s also good contemporary fiction or horror or science fiction or what have you, that’s an added bonus.  And of course, I want to finish (and publish) at least one of my slow-burning novels one of these years.

6. Where can people find/follow you online?

I’m most active on Twitter these days, covering whatever comes across my path at @willcollier. Despite having been a blogger since 1997 (long before the word “blog” was coined), I have not updated either of my ‘current’ blogs much over the past year or so, but on the off-chance I do decide to opine at length, I can be found at willcollier.com and fromthebleachers.com (the latter site focusing on Auburn University and Southeastern Conference football).  I also write a regular Monday-morning column for Rivals’ AuburnSports.com during football season, and contribute occasional columns to PJ Media’s main site.

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

As a true child of the 80s, I remain mildly obsessed with the arcade video games from that era.  Much to my wife’s chagrin, I insist on housing, repairing and even occasionally playing with several full-sized models.  Speaking of which, if anybody has an operating Atari Tempest they need to unload for a bargain-basement price, please feel free to drop me a line.  Just don’t tell the aforementioned wife…

8. What was the impetus for “Comandante Eternal”?

A:  Several years ago, I took Elizabeth Kostova’s marvelous novel “The Historian” with me on vacation in Mexico.  One of Kostova’s subplots involved agents of 1950’s Soviet satellite security agencies discovering the existence of a rather famous supernatural being residing within their territory, and their failed attempt to capture that creature. The question popped into my mind, “What if they’d succeeded?”  That thought, combined with the sunny Caribbean beach I happened to be sitting on, gave me the germ of the story.

Check Out “Comandante Eternal” by Will Collier:

Jaime Fernandez didn’t look up when Famosa entered his ramshackle office. This was partly because Fernandez had delved deeply into his stack of paperwork, and partly because Famosa did not knock. Then again, Famosa never knocked.

“Drop all that stuff and come with me,” Famosa said with no preamble. “Right now.”

Fernandez looked up, half-glasses slipping down his nose. “What is it? The Lopez woman?” Magalys Lopez was failing quickly. Uterine cancer was rarely treatable on the island, especially among elderly women.

Famosa rolled his eyes. “No. Not her. Come on, I mean it. Right now, and no questions.”

Right now and no questions rarely meant anything good. But long practice quickly squelched any visible reaction. Fernandez moved to stand as Famosa swiveled in the doorway, ordering, “Bring your bag.”

Fernandez nearly turned down the wrong corridor in pursuit. He’d assumed Famosa was leading him to the intensive care unit. Instead the hospital director made for the nearest exit. Fernandez almost opened his mouth to ask the obvious, then clamped his jaw carefully shut.

Outside, Fernandez automatically raised a hand to shade his eyes from the tropical sun. He would normally wear a hat, but he’d left it on the battered filing cabinet in his haste. Once again he almost missed Famosa, who had not turned towards the tiny row of parking for the hospital’s senior officials.

Instead, the director walked straight up to a new (new!?) Army truck, engine running, parked on the side of the cracked street and flanked by two blank-faced soldiers with slung machine guns.

Fernandez halted in his tracks.

“Oh, come on,” Famosa snorted. It’s not that. Would I be coming with you?”

At a loss for a response, Fernandez clambered into the back of the truck along with his boss. The canvas-domed truckbed was full of seated, armed soldiers, none of whom offered either doctor a hand, or moved to make room as they squeezed onto the crowded benches on either side.

The truck wound quickly through the decomposing maze of Centro Habana, rumbled its way east towards the bay, then turned north. Fernandez caught a glimpse of blue water through the flap in the rear tarp. Then, with a jerk, the nose of the truck sharply descended, and the late afternoon sunlight streaming in from above was extinguished.

Fernandez was rocked against Famosa on one side and the burly biceps of a soldier on the other as the vehicle descended a spiraling ramp. He could no longer make out the details of the walls or ceiling beyond the tailgate. The tunnel they were in contained no lights.

After a very few minutes, the truck decelerated sharply and came to a dead stop. Through the rear opening, Fernandez could see a reflection of headlights against a solid wall, but that light went out almost immediately. Then another small, crimson light appeared, flickering back and forth across the truck bed.

Andale, doctors. Come out, right now,” came a voice from behind the reddened flashlight.

Famosa dug an elbow into Fernandez’s ribs. “Come on, let’s go.” None of the soldiers moved. The two physicians clambered over the tailgate and out of the truck.

Fernandez felt hard rock beneath his shoes’ worn soles. They barely had time to touch the ground before the gruff voice barked, “This way, follow me. No talking!”

The lensed flashlight darted towards a steady red glow in the wall facing the silent truck. A single bare bulb painted the color of blood hung inside a steel cage, bolted to a rough stone wall. Below it stood a metal door, bound at the edges and across its center in heavy, riveted bands.

The colonel–for judging by his epaulets, that is what he was, if Fernandez’s fading memory of his own Army service was any guide–banged on the door with the butt of his flashlight.

Fernandez felt more than saw a slash of dim light, also red, as a slot barely three centimeters wide slid open at eye level. The colonel leaned in close and muttered a single, unintelligible word, then stepped back. The light behind the door blinked out, and the eye slit slammed shut.

With the sound of metal scraping against rock, the door squealed open. The doorway was wide–wide enough to allow at least three men to enter abreast. But the colonel held up a hand, then motioned first Famosa and then Fernandez to go in, calling out their names to the unseen presences beyond. Fernandez squared his shoulders and nodded in the near-darkness, as if acknowledging a long-awaited moment, and followed his superior into the gloom.

Continue reading at Liberty Island ….

*****

image via shutterstock / Malchev

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

Ray Zacek is a retired fed, now a tax consultant authorized to practice before the IRS. He has also pursued, with indefatigable and stubborn persistence, an avocation as a writer which he now seeks to convert to a vocation, defined as that endeavor which brings in money and status. Born in Chicago, he has lived in California (back when cars had fins and tiny bungalows were reasonably priced), Colorado, North Carolina and Seattle, Washington, residing in Tampa, Florida since 1983. He has written short stories, novels, novellas, tweets, irate letters to the editor, precious bon mots, and plays, both long and short. His full-length play, Desperados, was produced by Stageworks at Gorilla Theater in 2004. He is currently at work on another play, The Devil Takes Care of His Own, about the notorious Tampa bootlegger and gambler Charlie Wall; and a darkly comic horror novel about a lethal north Florida Elvis cult, Don’t Be Cruel.

Zacek,-Ray

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

Shakespeare, the secular saint, of course. And I continue to read Dante, in both Italian and the Hollander translation. Swift and the English Augustans; I received a lasting indoctrination in that literature in a class at Northern Illinois University taught by a renegade Irish monk named Shesgreen; he was a leftist, which I abjure, but he gave me perpetual safe passage through the excesses of Romanticism and for that I am grateful. American writers: Hemingway (The Killers, In Another Country and Che Ti Dice La Patria rank among my favorite short stories), David Mamet, Cormac McCarthy, Donald Barthelme, Dashiell Hammett. Poe, of course. And Melville: every few years I reread Bartleby (Billy Budd and Benito Cereno too). I grew up, in the Chicago suburbs, watching Twilight Zone and Alfred Hitchcock Presents, which may account for my predilection for the macabre, odd, droll and dark. As for movies, I never got over seeing Orson Welles’ Touch of Evil during formative years.

2. How do you describe yourself ideologically?

If I had to pin myself ideologically, let it be classical liberal (the trifecta: limited government, individual liberty, free markets).  I accept neither political party; political parties are highly oxygenated, rube goldbergian constructions by which politicians maintain themselves in power and manage the fractious coalitions that have, like carnival or revival crowds, flocked under the tent. Honest men in politics, it is said, are like virgins in a whorehouse; if they go there at all, they do not last long. Having worked 30 years for the federal government, for one of its most onerous agencies, the IRS (today even more onerous, thank you, Lois!), and now collecting its pension, I’d be a fool and hypocrite to be anti-government and anti-taxation. I believe in light regulation and lower taxes (I grew up in a frugal middle class household, immigrant grandparents from the Old Country, who firmly believed you ought to keep your money), and that government functions, and maintains the trust of its citizens, when it operates within limits, preferably constitutional, pitchforks and torches being too labor intensive.

3. Which thinkers/commentators have influenced you?

Confessional: I was a Standard Liberal, brain dead and reflexively voting Democrat until Y2K. Then, late in life, I reassessed. I read Camille Paglia, an independent and outspoken liberal, thus shattering complacency. I started reading David Horowitz (I have an autographed copy of Radical Son) and listening to Rush Limbaugh. I will make no reference to Damascus or Pauline conversion, which would be pretentious as hell, but at that point in my life there was no turning back. I started reading Hayek, Sowell, Victor Davis Hanson, and David Mamet’s The Secret Knowledge.

4. Where are you from/currently reside?

Nativity: Chicago, Little Company of Mary Hospital, Evergreen Park, Illinois. Grew up in Palos Hills on the outer edge of Cook County, at the time, way out there the busses didn’t run. That area of SW Cook County was, in legend, where you went when you were taken for a ride during the Capone era; bodies turned up there.  I have lived in, or have strong ties to and often visited, Texas, Arizona, California, Seattle, Denver, and North Carolina, living in Florida since 1983.

5. What are your writing goals?

Two hundred fifty to five hundred words a day, often simply exercises or tangents that I organize as Fragments; if a particular Fragment starts to cohere over time, it may graduate to a Work in Progress and a Work in Progress, after indefatigable effort, is sometimes Finished. Currently, I am at work on a darkly comic/horror novel, Don’t Be Cruel, about a north Florida Elvis cult, as well as short stories: one about a man covered with tats (of course, being a horror story, they are not tats), another a noir story about Jimmy from Algiers, a Louisiana hit man in love in Texas.

6. Where can people find/follow you online?

Other than FB, Twitter and an amazon page I have no real presence on line.  Website TBD.

7. Hobbies?

Mi piacciono tutte cose italiano: especially, Beretta pistols (owning an M9 and a 3032 Tomcat); Nardini grappa, cedro ormandorla; and Monica Bellucci. The history of Rome, republican and empire, retains my interest, as it did the Founders. And I’ve always been crazy about Westerns and film noir.

An Excerpt from “Chrysalis” by Ray Zacek… 

Welcome to Leclerc USA, thought Coffman as he cruised down a potholed stretch of highway called Memorial Boulevard. Some of the potholes were real craters.

Leclerc County, its county seat the mid-sized city of the same name, was one of the poorest Metropolitan Statistical Areas in the southeast United States. This had been abundantly evident to Coffman as he had driven from the airport past the abandoned storefronts, several of them burned out; derelict shopping malls and cheap by-the-month, by-the-week, by-the-hour motels. Pawnshops proliferated. Many of the billboard signs on the highway were blank or shredded, others peppered with holes that looked like small-arms fire.

I go where they send me, thought Coffman. Even here to Somalia on the Mississippi.

“This is highly irregular,” said Dr. Ahmad Jones after Coffman parked the flex-fuel Ford Fueron SUV outside the county morgue and got out.

The county’s Medical Examiner wore a charcoal gray wool suit and a tie despite the heat and humidity. Coffman thanked the ME for taking time to meet on such short notice, this banal and perfunctory statement being more or less obligatory, and offered him the folding plastic case that displayed Coffman’s federally issued ID.

“Is there a problem with my credentials?” Coffman asked, knowing there wasn’t. His credentials were in perfect form: impressive-looking, innocuous, and completely deceptive, a screen meant to conceal his actual function from petty local satraps like Doctor Ahmad Jones.

Don’t alarm the public was the basic tenet of the job. Don’t alarm the public, and get in and out quickly. And Coffman, who lived in a high-rise condo between D.C. and Baltimore, wanted to get out of Leclerc as soon as humanly possible.

“No, Mr. Coffman, there is no problem with your credentials,” Jones said, handing them back. The ME was agitated.

“Something else?”

“This investigation, I must say, is highly irregular. I want to go on record as saying.”

“Duly noted.”

“And you can’t park there. That’s a handicapped space.”

In the vast parking area, simmering in the heat, there were only three vehicles: the rental that Coffman had picked up at the airport; a late-model white Lexus in the space reserved for the ME; and a real piece of shit, a pond scum-green Buick with primer-gray fenders and a cracked windshield, its muffler hanging by a wire, in staff parking.

“Are you kidding me?”

Jones made a squeezed-lemon face. “No, Mr. Coffman, I am not a jocular man.”

“Jocular?”

“I do not indulge in humor or badinage.”

“I’m not moving the car,” said Coffman. He was a stocky, muscular man and he put on his no-nonsense, hard-as-concrete face. The ME was older and smaller–bantamweight.

“Hmph,” said Jones, frowning and peering at Coffman through red horn-rimmed glasses. “Very well then.”

Coffman gestured toward the building. “Shall we go in?”

The complex was housed in leased premises where a now-defunct computer superstore formerly operated. It was a snowfall white, cube-shaped edifice, modernist and bland, with a bright orange trim.

“One moment,” said Jones, “while I speak to my wife.” He strode to the Lexus and said a few hushed words to the young woman in a hijab sitting behind the wheel. Her face was the color of cocoa, her features soft and compliant. She nodded, started the Lexus, dropped it in gear and backed up, zigzagged, and pulled out. Doctor Jones watched her drive away. Then he strode back toward Coffman. “Let us proceed. This way, Mr. Coffman.”

Read the Rest at Liberty Island

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

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Keith Korman is an American literary agent and novelist. Over the years he has represented many nationally known clients through his family’s agency, Raines & Raines. The agency is most noted for representing the books: The Detective, Deliverance, Die Hard, Cruising, My Dog Skip, How to Eat Fried Worms and Forrest Gump. Korman’s novels include Secret Dreams, Banquo’s Ghosts (with Rich Lowry), and End Time (Tor/Macmillan, March 2015).

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

Authors, some you may not have heard of:

Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham

Logan’s Run by Nolan & Johnson

Invasion of the Body Snatchers by Jack Finney

And some you have, Orwell, HG Wells, Jules Verne, Larry Niven, B Traven…

Korman,-Keith

2. How do you describe yourself ideologically?

In constant rebellion against the Thought Police  of the Mainstream Media — if the Conservative Creative gang of misfits ever becomes authoritarian — I’ll be in rebellion against them too.

3. Which thinkers/commentators have influenced you?

B Traven, literary agent/spy/novelist — God, what a role model!

The Treasure of The Sierra Madre by B. Traven  

Great thinkers and philosophers never penetrated my brain as deeply as lines from movies seem to have done, all of these to one degree or another show the war for Man’s Soul, an endless, eternal battle:

Lord Jim (movie)

Jack Hawkins as Marlow:

[Narrating] One hope kept Jim going – a hope common to most men. Rich or poor, strong or weak, who among us has not begged God for a second chance?

The Man Who Never Was:

The quote that opens and closes the movie, “Last night I dreamed a deadly dream, beyond the Isle of Sky, I saw a dead man win a fight, and I think that man was I” is from the song “The Battle of Otterburn,” Child Ballad #161 and appears in a manuscript dated circa 1550. The original reads, “But I hae (have) dreamed a dreary dream, Beyond the Isle of Skye; I saw a dead man win a fight, And I think that man was I.”

The Outer Limits — The Inheritors Part 1

Closing Narration: Man looks up at the stars, and dreams his futile dreams. Child of the universe, his toys are ignorance, his games, fantasy. Not even master of his own fate, it is the Devil’s Puppeteer who stretches his fingers to answer the question: What will happen next?

See on Wikipedia here.

The Outer Limits — The Inheritors Part 2:

Closing Narration: The Inheritors are on their way. In a universe of billions of stars, there are places of love and happiness. On this Earth, in this spot, magic settled for a moment. Wonder touched a few lives, and a few odd pieces fell smoothly into the jigsaw of Creation.

4. Where are you from/currently reside?

I’m a Manhattan refugee, got out during the crack epidemic of the Dinkins’ era, breathed the fresh air of Dutchess County, and never looked back. It used to be said of European Reformation Cities that, “Town Air is Free Air” — but that’s simply no longer true under the rise of Blue City States Uber Alles.

I live with my wife and two dogs and two horses in Millbrook, and sometimes sell my homegrown gladiolus in the local flower shop.

5. What are your writing goals?

My writing goals can be summed up by this anonymous Samurai poem from the 14th Century:

I have no parents: I make the heaven and earth my parents.

I have no home: I make awareness my home.

I have no life and death: I make the tides of breathing my life and death.

I have no divine powers: I make honesty my divine power.

I have no means: I make understanding my means.

I have no magic secrets: I make character my magic secret.

I have no body: I make endurance my body.

I have no eyes: I make the flash of lightning my eyes.

I have no ears: I make sensibility my ears.

I have no limbs: I make promptness my limbs.

I have no strategy: I make “unshadowed by thought” my strategy.

I have no design: I make “seizing opportunity by the forelock” my design.

I have no miracles: I make right action my miracle.

I have no principles: I make adaptability to all circumstances my principle.

I have no tactics: I make emptiness and fullness my tactics.

I have no talent: I make ready wit my talent.

I have no friends: I make my mind my friend.

I have no enemy: I make carelessness my enemy.

I have no armor: I make benevolence and righteousness my armor.

I have no castle: I make immovable mind my castle.

I have no sword: I make absence of self my sword.

6. Where can people find/follow you online?

You can find me at Amazon, FB and Linkdin.

7. Hobbies and interests?

My hobbies boil down to a question of character: Some Day I will be the Man my Dogs think I am.

An Excerpt from Keith Korman’s “The Son of San Idro

I had wandered far into southern Mexico until the village of San Idro rose out of a hovering haze. A sleepy town in the hilly uplands of Oaxaca that the tourists never marked on their guidebooks and the drug cartels wouldn’t have bothered over, not even for free samples from the local talent. A post office but spotty cell service. A white stucco church with a bell tower. A decent cantina, and the only place with Wi-Fi, while Radio La Comadre out of Orizaba–pronounced O-reet-zaaaaaaaaah-ba–trickled from a speaker in the corner. Outside, stray goats wandered over small farms, and pecking chickens strutted in the street.

A good enough place to finish the book. My agent had gotten me a six month extension, God bless her, now halfway gone. If I couldn’t finish it here…

Perish the thought. No choice.

Even the town’s name wasn’t complete. San Idro. There were twenty places in Mexico named after San Isidro, the patron saint of farmers and day laborers–plenty of those south of the border. But San Idro couldn’t even afford the extra “si,” the secret “yes” inside Isidro to make the peasants sainted.

A typo of a town.

Rocky fields lay across a plain and a river below ended in the swampy delta of a muddy lake. The burros plodded sadly before my veranda, no tractors in the fields. I wrote, ignoring them. Ate at the cantina and listened to the radio in the background. Drank mescal and sucked on limes. Then just sugared lime juice on ice. In two months I was ready to leave.

It was then I met the crocodile.

Almost every day I went down to the shallow river, casting out a fishing line and bringing a few pages to polish as the cork bobbed. Near my shady tree slept the carved ruins of a temple. A huge stone face gazed with all-knowing calm over the slow water and into eternity, limestone torn from some forgotten mountain. The nameless god. You saw the same almond eyes and generous lips in the village today. Tangled vines crawled across the placid face making the seamless brow seem thoughtful.

As the afternoon grew old, a boy riding a burro lazily made his way along the far bank, not twenty yards off. He waved to me and I waved back. It was then that the crocodile raised its head out of a lush corner of the bank, where it had been basking in the sun–totally camouflaged in plain sight. The dragon was broad and slow and stupid. With red glass eyes which thought little and felt less.

The burro snorted as the boy dug in his heels and flicked his switch. But instead of trotting off, the burro turned towards the water. The crocodile nodded its leathery head this way and that as if pondering which one of us to take. The fool with the fishing pole or the kid on the donkey. Without any presence of mind, except for my own worthless skin, I scrambled up the ruined temple and clung to the stone face. Feet entwined in vines and my eyes sprang tears like a child clutching its mother’s throat. I had idiotically brought the fishing pole with me and threw it away in disgust.

This left only the boy on the burro across the stream. The crocodile smiled, made his decision and splashed into the water, paddled like mad and waddled with stunning speed up the bank. The boy’s face turned a sort of milky yellow. He frantically tried to spur the balky burro along. Useless as usual, I clung to my perch, gutlessly staring, wishing I could only close my eyes.

Read more at Liberty Island

*****

image illustration courtesy shutterstock / rudall30

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

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Image via Liberty Island

Abbey Clarke is Liberty Island’s own (and so far only) Editorial Assistant, as well as a frequent contributor to SparkNotes. A graduate of Kings College, she lives and works (for now) just outside of New York City.

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

I love Robin McKinley (The Blue Sword is my favorite of hers), Anne McCaffrey (but only the first two books of her Harper Hall trilogy), C.S. Lewis (The Chronicles of Narnia and Till We Have Faces especially), Tolkien, Orson Scott Card, Shannon Hale, Robert Heinlein, Tamora Pierce, and Brandon Sanderson. I also still like a lot of YA (appropriate, as I am both young and an adult), even those of dubious literary quality. I enjoyed The Hunger Games, the Divergent series, and am currently in the middle of The Lunar Chronicles, a series of books that reinvent fairy tales in a sci fi setting. Just imagine Cinderella as a cyborg. For movies, I am partial to rom-coms: 27 Dresses, Legally Blond, Clueless, etc. They are guilty pleasures, but pleasures nonetheless. I tend to gravitate more toward TV now, with favorites including Buffy, Parks and Rec, 30 Rock, Community, and New Girl. For intellectual influences, I’ll be cliched and claim the Bible.

2. How do you describe yourself ideologically?

I’m a Christian first, but my highest goal in writing is to craft a good story. Politically, I lean conservative.

3. Which thinkers/commentators have influenced you?

I can’t think of a thinker who has shaped me politically. I’ve always hated talk radio–it hurts my ears, and I like stories more than news.

4. Where are you from/currently reside?

I’m from a small town in Maine called Greene Village. It boasts one stoplight that it does not quite need.

5. Where they’re located physically?

New York City area, but relocating to Indiana very soon.

6.  What are your writing goals?

I am stewing on an idea for a novel that my story A Demon’s Heart (which you can read over at Liberty Island) serves as a sort of prequel or prelude to. One of my goals is to iron out the plot of that story before I dive into a full draft. Another goal is to write a small, sad, complicated little story that I have in my head about cryogenic sleep and a girl with wings.

7. Where can people find/follow you online?

They can follow me on Twitter at @abbeybookaholic.

Clarke,-Abbey

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

Probably playing Dungeons and Dragons. In fact, I play a character named Ciara (who is also on Twitter at @CiaraGoesStab) on a Dungeons and Dragons 4th edition podcast called Knife Errant. I tend to play Chaotic Neutral halfling rogues who just want to stab things. I have no idea where those violent thoughts come from.

I also enjoy mixing drinks and crocheting, though I haven’t tried doing both together.

An Excerpt from “A Demon’s Heart

It was nighttime when I first stepped through a portal onto the cold dewy grass of your world. I gazed up for my first look at the stars and a sliver of the waning moon, my eyes squinting in the weak light. Some of you call my world Hell, for it is both fiery and dark, and at that moment those were the brightest lights I had ever seen.

I found an isolated village nestled next to an old forest and settled in for some amusement. Every night for a couple of weeks I would slaughter a half-dozen livestock and their shepherds, and artfully arrange the remains in front of doorways, in the latrine pits, in the pails for drinking water, and in the town square. Sometimes I turned the bodies inside out, or made them as lifelike as anything until they were touched and their skin sloughed off, or pieced together bits of different animals into one. The villagers set up guards at night, so I worked the same artistry on the guards.

Most of them left the village after that. So I moved on to another village and did the same thing. I repeated this cycle a few times. I was eager to outdo all my brothers before me, and I became enamored of the terror I engendered.

One full-mooned night, some villagers had tied a young girl to a pole in the middle of the town square. The village was musty with the thick silence of humans awake and mute, lying in their beds quiet as they could, straining their ears to listen as I walked toward the girl, knife in hand.

She was wearing a white shift, and trembling slightly at the knees. She was young enough to still have spots, perhaps fourteen or fifteen years. Her eyes fixed on me as I approached, taking in my face that was almost human, staring at my blue-black skin and the small horns protruding from my hair. I smiled, revealing my sharp, unnaturally white teeth.

I came within a pace of her and stared down. She was a head and a half shorter than I was. I used my knife to flip a chunk of her hair off her shoulder.

She looked up at me and bared her teeth in a sneer. I cocked my head, noticed a flicker of movement out of the corner of my eye, and turned to look.

The girl pulled a wicked knife from behind her skirt and plunged it into my chest with a twist. “How like you that, devil?” she whispered. Surprised, I was unresisting when she savagely kicked my legs out from under me, thudding me to the ground on my back and knocking the wind from my lungs. She kept hold of the knife and came down on top of me, digging the blade deeper into my torso. I shrieked in pain and brought my hands up to throttle her.

Strong hands grasped my forearms. Out of the corner of my eye I could see a robed and tonsured monk struggling to hold my left arm, and I could feel his brother on my right. But they’d forgotten to close my mouth, so I stoked the fires in my belly and breathed a powerful blast of flame that burned the girl’s face and shoulder and knocked her off me. As I was still a young demon, this effort took much of my energies, and I slumped momentarily.

The men took advantage of that moment, and I was losing strength with the dagger still lodged next to my heart. Though I continued to struggle and bite, they hoisted me up on my knees and bound me with chains to the pole that the girl had been tied to. The first monk grabbed my black hair and pulled back my head.

“Death is too good for you, demon,” he said, and spat on my face. “That’s why we aren’t going to give it to you.”

The second monk jerked the knife down to cut a vertical slice across my chest. I hissed through my teeth and strained to spit a measly gust of flame at him. He turned his head to avoid it as if I were a mere nuisance.

The girl staggered to her feet and knelt in front of me, beside the second monk. “Let me do it,” she said. The monk looked ready to argue, but after taking in her badly burned, yet resolute face, he wordlessly handed her the knife.

The first monk pulled my head back up, so I could only feel, not see, the girl continuing to slice a circle in my chest. With horror, I realized what was being done to me, and I strained against my bonds. The girl deftly finished carving around my heart and reached into my chest, grasping the black, beating organ. My hand reached up as far as I could stretch my chains. The manacles were beginning to warp. In a few moments, my hand would have been free.

“By God, I damn you,” the girl whispered. She pulled, and my heart came out in her hand.

I felt weak, as fragile as a piece of straw. But I wasn’t dead. I wasn’t even bleeding much, though a few black bubbles popped and ran down my chest.

“It worked,” one of the men said in wonderment.

The girl suddenly slumped and was caught by the monk closer to her.

The other, his hand still grasping my hair, turned my face toward his.

“You’re a peculiar beast,” he said, peering down at me. “I know of no other animal who survives with its heart outside of its body. This, more than anything else, is what marks you as a creature of hell.” With his free hand, he crossed himself. “Christ be with us,” he said. Then he struck my head until my world went dark.

Continue Reading at Liberty Island 

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

Jamie Wilson was almost born the daughter of a white sharecropper in Kentucky. She was raised in a family of rogues, rednecks, and Reagan conservatives, all of whom were back-porch storytellers. She could never have been anything but a writer. Today, she owns the website conservativefiction.com and considers herself to be an activist for conservative writers and artists. You can often find her at the Conservative-Libertarian Fiction Alliance on Facebook. Jamie is happily married to a U.S. Navy sailor. When not writing or doing something writing-related, she’s usually caring for their five children.

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

I started reading early, at the age of four. My fifth-grade teacher introduced me to The Hobbit when she realized I’d read the entire children’s section at our small public library. By sixth grade, I had read The Lord of the Rings nine times. Later I discovered Tolkien’s marvelous philosophical writings, most outstandingly “On Fairy Stories.” In my opinion, there has never been a better summation of what fantasy stories ought to be.

The most influential storyteller in my life, however, was my great-grandfather, William Jennings Bryan Eldridge, known as Windy by his friends because he was always ready to tell a story.

My ‘papaw’ was a well-known scamp and scoundrel as well as a gifted raconteur. He had run moonshine back in Prohibition and was friends with Pretty Boy Floyd. Age did not diminish his penchant for roguishness. He used to take me to Port Royal, Kentucky (a tiny, sleepy community and the model for Wendell Berry’s Port William) where he got his monthly haircut. Afterwards he’d take me to the little general store, where the old men gathered to play checkers and gossip, and he’d commence to brag about how I could read anything you put in front of me “just like a growed-up person.” Inevitably, someone would bite. Papaw would place a $20 bet, someone got the well-thumbed Bible down from its shelf, and the fool who would soon be parted from his money chose a passage. Papaw won his bet every time.

As for movies, I am a child of Generation X, which means I grew up on science fiction television and movies. My parents watched Star Trek reruns religiously when I was a child – every Sunday at noon. Of course we saw Star Wars and the Indiana Jones movies – all delightful examples of real storytelling ability. In college, my favorite writing professor introduced me to Joseph Campbell’s ideas about mythology and I realized that the reason I loved all these tales was that they all drew from the Story, the great pattern all humans instinctively recognize.

2. How do you describe yourself ideologically?

I am a fiscal conservative and a tolerant social conservative, by which I mean I am very conservative in my own life and believe that is the best choice but think others should be as free as possible to make their own choices. Fiscal and social conservatism, however, are of necessity conjoined. Social liberalism cannot survive without the irresponsible fiscal practices our country has engaged in for the last fifty or so years. If the financial support of the government is removed from libertine habits, people will of necessity become more conservative socially. Every time there’s an economic downturn, the divorce rate drops, rebounding when there’s an improvement in the economy. If we decreased welfare spending, I think we’d see more people getting jobs, often the jobs Americans supposedly won’t do.

3. Which thinkers/commentators have influenced you?

I’d have to go first with Dr. Thomas Sowell, who is one of our best minds in economics and social commentary, and then with Walter Williams. The one person who most opened my mind politically was probably Jonah Goldberg with his groundbreaking book Liberal Fascism. I also love reading anything by Ben Shapiro, Ann Coulter, and John Stossel; they all do amazing research and turn up information the mainstream media prefers to ignore. I am also a huge fan of Greg Gutfeld; he was the first genuinely funny conservative I was ever exposed to (Dennis Miller is really a libertarian in practice).

4. Where are you from/currently reside?

I’m originally from the tobacco farming regions northeast of Louisville, Kentucky. My family can trace our lineage back to the people who came with Daniel Boone and to the Cherokee who lived in Kentucky prior to that. My culture is nearly all Appalachian. If you’ve seen Justified, that is very much the sort of culture I grew up around, though without so many drugs and explosives used only for non-criminal purposes. I’m a military wife now, so we’ve lived all over. Currently we are looking at transitioning from Augusta, Georgia to Norfolk, Virginia.

5.  What are your writing goals?

Above everything else, I want to promote conservative and libertarian writers who create stories from that point of view. To that end, I own the website conservativefiction.com and participate in several forums to help conservative/libertarian writers network with others of the same political bent and improve their skills over time. We have been isolated for a very long time; traditional writing programs do not welcome us and we don’t have any writing programs of our own. As for my personal goals, in addition to writing short stories, I have three novels I’m trying to finish — a historical, a contemporary supernatural fantasy, and a straight-up high fantasy. I would love to have two of these completed by the end of the year.

6. Where can people find/follow you online?

I’m on Twitter at @jamiekwil, and at Facebook under www.facebook.com/kywrite. I also own conservativefiction.com and conservativefeminism.com. Facebook is overall the best place to find me right now.

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

I have five children; I don’t have a lot of time for hobbies! I do, however, like dressing up at science fiction and fantasy conventions. I play Dungeons and Dragons with my family; my current character is a blue birdlike Jedi (Omwati, for those who know the Star Wars universe) who sort of fell through a black hole into the D&D universe. Otherwise, I read a heck of a lot of books and go all Gollum over my Kindle and iPad and iPhone — they are my Preciouses, yesss.

Excerpt From “The Biscuit Boy“:

Helen had just finished the dishes and was wiping her hands on her faded apron when she heard the whine of an unfamiliar car making its way up her mountain. Right on time, she thought. It had been in her tea leaves earlier that day: a stranger in trouble. She cocked her head to listen as she moved toward the door, stepping over Pete to pull on her galoshes. Pete’s tail thumped once against the pine wood floor.

“Good dog,” she said absently. It wasn’t a local car; she knew the rattle and skip of every engine down in Ramsdell. This car ran quiet, humming rather than growling. “Must be one of those new-fangled electric cars.”

The rented Prius glided out of the trees, bumping slowly across the exposed stones and dirt of the mountain road. Its smooth angles were somehow alien to the heavy pine boughs and Queen Anne’s lace that closed around it, brushing the pearly green metallic finish. A skinny girl gripped the wheel, focused on inching forward. She looked vaguely familiar.

She had been crying. Helen could see the silvery residue of tears on her face, where the girl had just smudged them away. Helen thought–now who was she? Memories unfolded–a girl from Helen’s class, pregnant, moving away from the shame, never coming back…

“She’s Ida Jean’s daughter,” Helen murmured to herself. “Looks just like her daddy.”

The Prius stopped, and the girl emerged unsteadily. She wore a pink and beige suit, her tan pumps completely inappropriate for the soft loam of Helen’s front yard. She opened the screen door and waited, arms folded. Closer, it was clear that the girl was a grown woman. Still skinny, though. The fragrance of expensive perfume, sparingly applied, wafted from her silk scarf.

The young woman blinked at her. “Miz…Highwater?”

“I believe you need some tea.”

She smiled unsteadily. “That would be welcome, yes.”

Helen nodded. “You just get your son out of the car there and come inside.”

The woman’s smile crumpled, and the tears welled up again. “I’m…alone.”

Helen looked more closely at the car. “I see. Well, you best come in then.”

Read more at Liberty Island

Also check out Jamie’s “Murder at CPAC” story here

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

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image illustration via shutterstock / EpicStockMedia

Clay Waters has had short stories published in The Santa Barbara Review, Liquid Ohio, Abyss & Apex, and Three-Lobe Burning Eye, and poetry in Poet Lore, River Oak Review, and Tribeca Poetry Review. For ten years he ran Times Watch, a division of the Media Research Center focused on the liberal bias of The New York Times. He lives in New Jersey by way of Mississippi.

Waters,-Clay

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

The first book that really got to me, at the age of 10, was Moby Dick, that timeless allegory on the limits of human knowledge and the delusion of fate… no, actually it was Alan Dean Foster’s novelization of the movie Alien. Great stuff, seriously. The one piece of art I know a little of by heart. Also, Watership Down – the one about the rabbits? – the greatest adventure novel I know of. And the movie is almost as good.

2. How do you describe yourself ideologically?

Libertarianish

3. Which thinkers/commentators have influenced you?

Jonah Goldberg

4. What was the impulse for this story?

I’ve always wanted to write something short, simple, and sinister, that uses narrative misdirection to turn a reader’s assumptions 180 degrees at the end. “Wrath” combines the puzzling fascination that I, a Mississippi-raised, non-surfer, and non-sunbather, have with California, the ocean, and quiet, blissful college campuses, which exist in my head mostly as archetypes. I tried to imbue it with 1960’s-era California decadence, as I’m a big fan of setting things in specific, real-world times and places, no matter how fanciful the actual plot. Probably some trace elements of R.E.M.’s “I Remember California” in there as well. I aimed for a sense of hidden danger, of manicured menace.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b8H0xopW3wk

5. Where are you from/currently reside?

From Mississippi, now in New Jersey

6.  What are your writing goals?

To get my “cozy” mystery novel published. It’s about a blind girl in 1920s England who is pushed down the stairs, hits her head, regains her sight, but doesn’t tell anyone, as she tries to figure out who in the house is trying to kill her. Sounds neat, huh?

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

I play trivia at my local bar every Tuesday night. Not seeing a VH-1bio in my future.

An Excerpt from  Clay Waters’, “The Wrath of Okeanos”:

Two short stories lay atop the desk of the creative writing professor. One was cleanly typed and covered with the white frosting of a title page. The other consisted of three or four stiff, wrinkled sheets of blocky handwriting on clean butcher’s paper. The neat manuscript on the left belonged to the neat girl on Professor Keene’s left; the grimy hobo foolscap was tagged to the deep-eyed big blonde boy across the table, wafting of sand and surf, whom the professor now addressed.

“First off, Joseph, let me tell you what I like about ‘The Wrath of Okeanos.’ You obviously feel this ocean mythos deep in your DNA. But one needs some irony, some possibility of an outside perspective.”

Professor Keene’s tone was the type you employed with a rattlesnake when you have a rock tucked behind your back. “What I don’t like as much, besides the handwriting,” he added tolerantly, “is the relative brevity and lack of character development. You clearly grasp the need to show and not tell, but we don’t know enough about the inner life of your protagonist.”

“Protagonist?” Joseph’s voice was drowsy, like someone deeply ensconced in a bed, or a bathtub.

“Your hero, um, Okeanos. You need to fill us in on him, because while these characters–archetypes, almost–could be interesting, we need an entry point, a way to join the conversation. How did they get this way?”

“They were always that way.”

Keene looked over his glasses at Joseph. Actually, the professor wasn’t totally sure about the “Joseph”–the first symbol of the boy’s signature on the class card resembled a fishhook more than it did the tenth letter of the Roman alphabet. “And as for the victory of Okeanos over the resulka in his rescue of the oceanid–”

“The rusalka.”

“Sorry, rusalka, I’m not up on my Russian ocean mythology–it did not feel sufficiently hard-won to me.” He cleared his throat and read. “‘The long-armed Okeanos glided easily through the choppy waves and captured the betraying rusalka, with claws that could open a raw sea bass for supper.‘ And the ending is too easy. The rusalka simply says, “I go willingly,” and she dies a merciful death. The End. It’s what we in the biz call an anticlimax.”

The professor knew he should cool it with the subtle ridicule, but my God the boy had actually written the words “tenth son to a god.” Aquaman was a Shakespearean hero by comparison.

Still the story would earn Joseph an A. Keene stamped A’s on every story that crossed his desk because that was how it was done in the Year of our Lord 1969 at this wave-of-the-future, study-what-you-feel-college. And because Joseph or Hoseph had a blank face and a big frame and a certain dead-seaweed look in his eyes that Keene could imagine scoped to the business end of a rifle if he ever woke up. A good thing the college was under-budgeted for a clock-tower.

“But that’s what happened to Okeanos ages ago. When the land was empty and the sea was full.”

Oh boy. Keene had endured this same talk at the boy’s last student conference. It had given him ample food for thought. It had even enabled him to work out a plot of his own.

“Joseph, this is Sarah Maloney. She’s in the other section.”

Sarah extended a lotioned hand. “Charmed.” She brushed the bangs out of her eyes, tossing back her head in a lioness sweep.

“So, Sarah, let’s talk about ‘The Night He Died.’ Your story is corrosive and dramatic. An abused girl thirsting for vengeance against her brutal military father. But perhaps crafting an appeal to straight melodrama would have been preferable to this unconvincing attempt at day-to-day realism.” The grin became sly. “And what’s with the slumming? Do you think you have the chops to convincingly capture a middle-class family? Don’t forget that reactionary cliche, write what you know.”

An attuned observer would have discerned a second conversation flowing below the actual one. Joseph, blinking steadily at something beyond the wall, was not that observer.

“The story, to be blunt, is a little boring,” Keene said into the languid afternoon. “And after all her brooding, daughter pushing father down the stairs is anti-climactic. Why not buy a gun from a pawn shop? Better yet…concoct some mysterious third character who can be persuaded to do your dirty work for you. I’m giving this a provisional A, but it needs more work.”

After the session Sarah fiddled with her makeup mirror until Joseph had lumbered across the room and retrieved his sea-green canvas bag, so that they ended up walking out together.

“Mr. Keene’s quite a character, isn’t he? He knows his stuff, though,” she said.

“I like my story the way it is.”

The bright, well-trimmed April afternoon was a crinkly blanket of blankness, green with potentiality: anything could happen because nothing had happened. It had to be said that Pacific Park College was far from the worst place to tuck oneself away from the world’s confusion (and, oh yes, the military draft) and learn ancient Greek, or integral calculus, or all about the local mangrove trees. As for Sarah–she’d spent her three semesters waiting. She would know it when she saw it. Now, she was blinking.

Read the Rest at Liberty Island

****
image courtesy shutterstock / EpicStockMedia

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

Todd Seavey has written for various libertarian and libertarian-leaning venues including the American Council on Science and Health, Reason, John Stossel, Judge Andrew Napolitano, New York Press, and more. He has also written Justice League comic books for DC Comics, hosts a series of political bar gatherings in New York City, and blogs at ToddSeavey.com. He studied philosophy at Brown University. He is Liberty Island’s comics editor and writer of the punk time travel short story “No Future”  — when not writing, ghostwriting, or TV-producing libertarian non-fiction things.

Seavey, Todd

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

It was Star Wars that taught me to love science, fantasy, music, and capitalism simultaneously. All else is a footnote to Star Wars

2. How do you describe yourself ideologically?

I’m an anarcho-capitalist, that is, a libertarian consistent enough to want all governments completely abolished, from welfare to police to regulators to the military — and replaced by the simple, decentralized, private enforcement of property rights. Any other political position is manifestly insane.

3. Which thinkers/commentators have influenced you?

Libertarian writers including David Friedman, Murray Rothbard, and Robert Nozick were big influences, but also skeptical, pro-science writers such as James “the Amazing” Randi.  Together, they made it much easier to imagine life without government and without religion or other supernatural/irrational beliefs.

4. Where are you from/currently reside?

I grew up in New England, which has a nice history of mellow yet revolutionary sentiment. I now live in Manhattan, which is not mellow.

5. What are your writing goals?

If through non-fiction, comedy, or fiction in various media I can help make people more comfortable thinking they don’t need these systems of collective control, I’ve helped make the world a better place. As a good utilitarian, I just want everyone to be happy.

6. Where can people find/follow you online?

I can be found at:

http://www.libertyislandmag.com/creator/ToddSeavey/home.html

http://ToddSeavey.com

http://Twitter.com/ToddSeavey

http://Facebook.com/ToddSeavey

http://www.youtube.com/channel/UCYxVSpZ_GvBeVMWPcNT32Nw

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

I’ve hosted debates in New York City for years that have brought together some rather opinionated and eccentric characters, but it is always my hope that the larger goal of learning from each other will overcome the short-term philosophical or personal scuffles, just as the cantina at Mos Eisley continues to operate despite fights among the clientele.

An Excerpt from Todd Seavey’s “No Future”

DATA LOG, Octobriana-768F android.

“The President must die, John. You have to kill him for me. That’s how history is supposed to unfold.”
Simulating voice of: Jodie Foster, actress (reference: Taxi Driver).

Processing.

Viewing: Subject: John Hinckley.

Processing.

Time: March 1, 1981.

Processing.

Subject Hinckley speaks:

“Then we can be together? A few months ago, when I tried to visit you at Yale, you stopped answering my phone calls. I thought it was hopeless and that we could never be together.”

Reference: September 17, 1980: visit by Subject Hinckley to template-human’s educational institution. Feign recollection.

“John, I was very busy. I had just started the school year. It was unfair of me to ignore you.”

Processing.

Ensure Subject Hinckley does not deviate from familiar historical pattern. Affirm desirability of Ronald Reagan’s death, as recorded on March 30, 1981.

“The only thing I need to convince me that you’re serious about your love for me is the one last deed.”

Processing.

Eye contact, firm pressure on right arm. “You are meant to shoot the President. Our future depends on it.”

Accessing internal history files: March 30, 1981.

ABC News television broadcast. Glimpse of bloodied body of Target: Ronald Wilson Reagan. Two newspaper cameramen stumble backwards and Subject Hinckley is wrestled to the ground. White House Press Secretary James Brady lies nearby. A head wound, but he will recover. His role in the events of later years is not significant.
Newscaster Frank Reynolds speaking: “After some earlier confusion, we now have more details nailed down on today’s incident outside the Washington Hilton Hotel. President Ronald Reagan is dead. He was shot and killed by a gunman–possibly mentally unbalanced, we do not yet know–named John Warnock Hinckley, Jr. The nation has not yet had time to mourn, and already the speculation begins about how this could affect the economy, negotiations with the Soviet Union, and countless other political factors. Once again: confirmed now, the President of the United States is dead.”

Processing.

Subject Hinckley must not deviate from historical role. Approximate warm smile. Subject Hinckley appears happy. The hooligans must be prevented from interfering with him.

*

EXCERPT from interview with lead singer of the Russian band Divisigoths, from Spinningmagazine, Oct. 2016:

SPINNING: Is it safe to assume your new album is called More because it will be a lot like your previous album, Timelines?

JIMMY SALVO (singer/bassist): No, album is called More because album marks 500th anniversary of Thomas More’s stupid book Utopia.

SPINNING: Ah. Is it safe, then, to guess that this will be another big “political concept album,” like Timelines, which described an alternate history in which Ronald Reagan died early in his presidency and the Soviet Union took over the world? Isn’t doing these big art rock projects risky for a punk-influenced band? I think it was Dave Whitney from the band the Elizabeth Tailors who once warned, “Eight-minute songs about gnomes are just wrong.”

JIMMY SALVO: Timelines was not “concept album”! Always we are saying this. Was truest pieces of what band was feeling back in 2012, when we go through some, hey, you know, really weird shit, man.

SPINNING: And by “really weird shit” you mean time travel? [laughs] Ah, so…Divisigoths are “real” time travelers sort of the way, shall we say, the band Gwar is a bunch of “real” monsters from outer space, is that fair to say?

JIMMY SALVO: Gwar is just joke for children! Divisigoths traveled through time!

*

ELECTRONIC MEMO to Vladimir Putin, Minister of Internal Affairs, Global Soviet Alliance, London Office, Dec. 22, 2012 (from Physics Institute Director Gurevich):

It is with deepest regret that my office confirms the earlier report of an unforeseen complication at the Chernogolovka facility.

Despite my earlier objections, test subjects chosen for our initial time travel experiments were all young convicts, supposedly eager to redeem themselves in the eyes of the state by volunteering to participate. One of them was prone to the wearing of counter-revolutionary stilyagi and punk clothing and, prior to his time under the careful supervision of the Institute, was in a rock n’ roll band known as the Divisigoths, calling himself “Jimmy Salvo” in an obvious attempt to suggest American aesthetic sympathies.

We believe that yesterday he broke into the facility and activated the time travel device without authorization, entering the past with three of his former bandmates. We also suspect we know his temporal destination. Salvo, according to former associates, had lately become fixated on the conspiracy theory hypothesis that if Ronald Reagan, the last American president, had not been assassinated on March 30, 1981, the Soviet Global Alliance might never have triumphed and forged a single world democratic republic.

I realize how speculative and abnormal all of this must sound–and I refer you to the enclosed diagrams in which I attempt a graphic explanation of how our present experiences might be only short-term, lingering residue of a version of history that has already been erased.

Though our current perceptions–my eyes on the words of this memo, my fingers on this keyboard–would seem to suggest that reality as we know it endures, I humbly suggest we discuss countermeasures immediately.

Loyally,

Dr. Aleksandr Viktorovich Gurevich

Director, Physics Institute

Chernogolovka

Read the rest at Liberty Island…

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

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I’m a writer who believes exciting characters should be like good friends: interesting, fun, and visiting often. That’s why I specialize in the rapid, quality production of stories featuring recurring characters that are short enough to be read quickly, but long enough for readers to experience a fully realized world of adventure. Always striving to give readers something new, I also blend genres that typically have no business being together–most recently steampunk, science fiction, and horror–to see what happens.

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

My mom was the slowest shopper. Had to try on everything, and debated with herself the merits of a particular dress or shoe purchase with the thoroughness of Hamlet mulling murder. Growing up I was, it is fair to say, rotten as only an only child can be, and impatient too. But I was also reasonable. Good behavior could be bought with a sufficient bribe.

So one day she wants to try on some shoes. I’m in tow, which means a tithe must be paid to Kid Mammon. Such sacrifices were typically in the form of G.I. Joe figures, but as it happened that afternoon, it was a copy of Iron Man #221.

My first comic book. As a kid, every first-anything is tinged with magic, and so it was with that issue of Iron Man. I read it so many times that its pages would probably be translucent if you could find it in my father’s attic today.

Across the gulf of nearly thirty years, what matters about that comic isn’t nostalgia. It’s that it got me thinking about how the story might continue. How it could have gone differently. How it could have been more.

Wouldn’t it be cool/interesting/exciting/crazy if…?” I began asking questions like that of every story form I came across. Comics, novels, movies—didn’t really matter. Thinking always in terms of hypotheticals and counterfactuals fires the imagination. On the other hand, you’re also perpetually let down by whatever you watch or read. Nothing ever quite compares to what you come up with yourself. After a certain point, you get tired of being disappointed.

Fine, you eventually decide. Guess I’ll have to write it myself.

2. How do you describe yourself ideologically?

A conservative that realized there’s nothing left worth conserving anymore. A TEA Partier that realized the country he loved sees him as nothing but a piggy bank to be smashed open. A libertarian that realized you can’t live and let live because the only choices in this life are to rule or be ruled.

3. Which thinkers/commentators have influenced you?

Glenn Reynolds, VDH, Mark Levin, Jack Donovan, Free Northerner, AoSHQ, Niall Ferguson, Vox Day, the Futurist’s Misandry Bubble, Foseti.

4. Where are you from?

I’m from Delaware, the world’s largest strip mall.

5.  What are your writing goals?

To offer readers something different. I like taking concepts, genres, and characters that have no business being in the same room together, locking them in a cage without any food or water, and seeing what happens. I do this by creating multiple, ongoing series, each in a different genre. Then from time-to-time, I have these series’ heroes meet. Long-term, I’d like to hire others to produce more content set in this shared universe.

I don’t care if readers know my name. I’d rather my characters be the famous ones. The goal isn’t to be Stephen King. It’s to be Marvel Comics.

6. Where can people find/follow you online?

My blog can be found here. Some of my previously published short fiction is available for complimentary download on my Smashwords page. I can also be found darkening the otherwise sunny environs of Liberty Island.

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

Not so much anymore, but I used to be into trying to save people from themselves. By way of an example, here’s a snapshot I took back in March 2010—the weekend Congress passed Obamacare—when me and several thousand of the similarly delusional thought we could save America from having her wrists slashed by the Left:

LI2

Joke was on us, though. The country had already killed itself back in November of 2008.

An excerpt from Stephen McDonald’s “The Wreck of the Hu Jintao

The Earth’s light made the hull fragments opalescent, like broken shards of sky. The Hu Jintao’s remains hung silently in the vacuum of space.

As I approached the wreck, I saw a tiny shadow move on a piece of debris. A drone, I thought. There shouldn’t have been one here, though. The radiation vomiting from the Hu Jintao had been enough to dissuade wreck-divers such as myself for the last fifty years.

I froze, and inertia carried me. A mile-long filament tethered me to my shuttle. With the suit’s rebreathing system, I’d have up to twelve hours to explore the wreck. Not that I might actually have that much time. If the drone had spotted me, I was dead.

I watched the shadow against the wreck’s tightly-formed debris field, orbiting the still-intact aft section. Unlike other drones protecting historical sites, this shadow didn’t sit like a fat spider waiting for divers, only to rocket to life when it sensed you. Instead, it danced lightly from one scorched piece of tungsten plating to another.

And it was coming towards me.

It takes oxygen to fire a bullet. On either wrist I had sealed-system gun barrels, each capable of firing a single round.

I knew enough to wait until it was on me before attempting a shot. As North America’s pocked surface turned beneath me, I asked myself–not for the first time–why I was doing this.

I wasn’t here to steal. My family being connected to the Party, I didn’t need the money.

But I’d been fascinated with the war since preparatory school, and had developed a certain fondness for the defeated that my parents considered unhealthy.

“You wouldn’t like them so much had you known any,” my mother had said. “They were coarse and vulgar.”

“They sound rather refreshing compared to our enforced decorum.”

“Refreshing? They attacked us. Killed all those men on that ship.”

“Yes, all ten of them,” I’d said. “In return, we killed millions.”

“Well, they shouldn’t have started it. And you shouldn’t be so fascinated with them.”

“Why be so concerned? Really, mother. It’s as harmless as a Roman collecting Carthaginian pottery.”

The fact that I was hanging five thousand kilometers above the Earth probably meant I’d overstated my hobby’s harmlessness. Being in my forties now, I’d found that that which isn’t earned is cherished least. The coin that bought my private shuttle could easily have belonged to another family, had they been as sycophantic as ours to the Party. Why not risk it?

The shadow was close now, and I readied to fire. It was only as the floating piece of metal it crouched on turned into the light that I saw what it was.

A kitten.

It took a moment to realize I wasn’t insane.

I laughed. “You were someone’s pet, I take it?” The Siamese couldn’t hear me of course, but it turned its head as if it understood. Some fur had been burned from its belly, and steel glinted underneath. Except for that, it was in perfect condition. An incredibly rare find.

I re-fired my jets, adjusting my approach to the Hu Jintao’s aft. The kitten followed, expertly bounding debris.

“Be careful,” I warned. Its paws must have been magnetized. Still, one wrong step and it would have slipped into the void. It didn’t seem bothered by this. It would have been easy to dismiss the confidence with which it moved as the actions of an unfeeling machine. But it would have been programmed to behave like a real cat – same responses, same intuitions. Its grace here, then, came from decades of practice.

It wasn’t hard to understand why men had brought robotic pets aboard dreadnaughts like the Hu Jintao. They were massive ships with only ten-man crews to service the nuclear warheads. Dealing with the same people every day during a two-year patrol, who wouldn’t want a pet – preferably one that didn’t consume oxygen, food, or water – to break the monotony? It was nice to have a companion out here. Especially in the days before believable women could be fabricated…

Read the rest at Liberty Island…

11. Pierre V. Comtois: Golfing on the Moon

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Pierre V. Comtois is a newspaper reporter writing from Lowell, MA who has had fiction and non-fiction published in books and magazines from The Horror Show to Military History. Marvel Comics in the 1980s, the third volume in his history of Marvel Comics, is due out in 2014 and Autumnal Tales, an omnibus collecting the best of his weird and fantasy stories, is coming soon. For more information about the author, visit here.

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

My favorite non-fiction writers are Peter Hopkirk, Alan Eckert, and Bernard DeVoto among many more. I like many fiction writers in many genres including science fiction, horror, fantasy, western, young adult, and myste, but none really, more than any other. Among them are the likes of Robert E. Howard, Dashiel Hammett, Clark Ashton Smith, H. P. Lovecraft, Edmond Hamilton, Jack Williamson, William Morris, Lord Dunsany, Lucy Maude Montgomery, Victor Appleton II, Walter Gibson, Olaf Stapleton, Richard Matheson, Ray Bradbury, Arthur Machen, James Branch Cabell, Sax Rohmer, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Isaac Asimov, Frederick Pohl, Raymond Chandler, well…there are just too many to list here! Just think pulp authors of the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s and you won’t go far wrong! Favorite books and movies fall under the same categories and eras and are too vast in number to list here! As for intellectual influences, I would say they mostly fall under historians rather than philosophers with favorite topics being the Roman Empire, British Empire, American Revolutionary history, WWII, early explorers, and aviation history. Biographies of soldiers, statesmen, and businessmen have also been of interest.

2. How do you describe yourself ideologically?

I’ve always considered myself a moderate but in today’s leftist climate where common sense is turned topsy turvy, I’d probably be described as a conservative.

3. Where are you from/currently reside?

Massachusetts

4. What are your writing goals?

To have short stories, then novels/books published, then a TV or movie script sold. I’ve accomplished the first two and am working on the third.

5. Where can people find/follow you online?

I’m on Facebook and my website is www.pierrevcomtois.com

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

I read and collect comic books, primarily silver and bronze age Marvel comics.

An excerpt from Pierre Comtois’s “Alan Shepard’s Golf Ball”:

The sharp contrast between the gleaming white object and the gray lunar dust was what first caught Barney’s attention.

Not that he’d been looking for anything in particular.

It was Tuesday, and that meant the Fra Mauro Comets were due to play the Tranquility Shooting Stars in the Lunar Little League rotation schedule.

Not that Barney cared that much. He’d been with the Comets for two years now, ever since he was old enough to be trusted outside in his own EVA suit. That made him 13 years old, time enough to begin to grow bored with the slow-moving innings of Moonball.

But then, it’d been his father’s idea that he join the league in the first place.

Mr. Samarin hadn’t liked all the time his son spent in the ether playing mind games with his friends. “It just isn’t natural,” as he was fond of saying. Too fond for Barney, who found his father’s complaints annoying. What was he expected to do on the Moon? Ride an air bike? Build a clubhouse? It bothered him when his parents talked about all the wonderful things they used to do when they were youngsters back on Earth. What did that mean to him, who’d never set foot on the planet?

Anyway, his father finally took steps (something else he always said) and signed Barney up to the Comets. He’d been on the team through most of the season, long enough for his fellow players to realize that he just didn’t care. Which is why he now found himself way out in right field where nothing much ever happened. …

Read the rest at Liberty Island… 

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.’

shutterstock_99272567

Aaron Smith is a family law attorney living in San Diego with his lovely girlfriend and two pit bulls. Aaron spends his time trying to get clients out of their own messes and figuring out how to put his fictional characters in messes of their own. A graduate of UC Berkeley, Aaron is confident that he is one of the few students who saw the utter squalor of liberal rule and came out a confirmed conservative with libertarian leanings.

Smith, Aaron

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

Books: Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files and Jonathan Maberry’s works. I love how they’ve crafted intricate worlds. Non-fiction wise, I enjoy history and current affairs. I like David McCullough’s works, as well as Ron Chernow.

Also, check out Red Eye with Greg Gutfeld and Andy Levy. They tend more cosmotarian than conservative but are pretty dang funny.

Current events wise, I like Drudge and Instapundit. I’m disappointed that the Volokh Conspiracy went to the Washington Post and will likely disappear behind a paywall. And I’m partial to the Right Coast as an alum of the University of San Diego.

2. How do you describe yourself ideologically?

A conservative who takes federalism seriously. I think that’s the bridge between libertarianism and conservatism. Conservatives need to take the principle seriously and end the federalization of the drug war or medical malpractice caps. Libertarians need to quit thinking that the Supreme Court can impose their policy preferences nationally using magic decoder rings to find rights that the Drafters would be amazed are in the Constitution.

3. Which thinkers/commentators have influenced you?

You have to love Ann Coulter for having bigger balls than most of the GOP establishment. The fact that she could admit being wrong on Chris Christie is a good thing too.

Then there are the classics, Friedman and Hayek. I started out as a socialist – easy when you’re a candy ass suburban kid who didn’t have to work for things – but became conservative at U.C. Berkeley. I also read Huntington’s Clash of Civilizations and have yet to be convinced he’s wrong. Ditto for his follow up, Who Are We. I think it’s pretty obvious we haven’t seen the “end of history” yet.

For Constitutional theory, Raoul Burger called out the tyranny of our judiciary pretty well.

4. Where are you from/currently reside?

I’m originally from Chicago and am convinced that the pizza pie was perfected there. Did you know that three large Lou Malnatti’s pizzas fit perfectly in the overhead compartment of a Southwest plane?

I’ve lived in San Diego for most of my life though. Seeing as how we have perfect weather and proper pizza can be airlifted here, I consider it paradise.

5. What are your writing goals?

I am currently developing a set of intertwined series all set in a universe much like ours, except for the fact that monsters and magicks are real. See, 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. The heroes of each series fight evil in their own ways, leading to Armageddon and its aftermath. I am now working on a novel set in this universe and fleshing out its rules.

6. Where can people find/follow you online?

My Facebook is https://www.facebook.com/aaronsmithauthor?ref=hl

I also tweet and can be followed at @aaroncsmith1

Last but not least I opine at http://aaronsjustsaying.blogspot.com/

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

Now if I told you that, it would be an admission against interests.

An excerpt from Aaron Smith’s “Tyler”

“Tyler, get away from the window!” Connor ordered. Tension made the command sharper and louder than he intended. Luckily Tyler was engrossed with his reading.

 

But if a drone saw him with the book…

 

Damn the Test.

 

“Dad, the light’s best here,” Tyler complained. Connor recognized his son’s stubborn expression. Looking at the towheaded boy sometimes felt like looking in a mirror.

 

“The light’s plenty good on the couch,” he countered. He’d had thirty years more practice on the stubborn front. “The blackout’s scheduled to be over in a few hours.”

 

“Dad–” Tyler’s plaintive cry hung in the air.

 

“Now!”

 

Tyler pushed himself from the floor, shoulders slumped. He took half steps towards the couch, as if hoping his father might change his mind.

 

As Tyler settled onto the couch, Connor reached over and ran a beefy hand through the 5-year-old’s hair.

 

“You know what we talked about, right?”

 

“Yeah. The Test’s coming.”

 

“And?”

 

“And I can’t let people know I’m reading.”

 

“That’s right.”

 

“Why, Dad?”

 

Connor paused. How to explain a concept like slavery? Even if he could put it into terms his young mind could understand, the child’s basic innocence could lead to a slip.

 

“The bad guys, Tyler,”

 

Tyler nodded.

 

“The bad guys. And you can’t ever talk about this with anyone. You don’t ever know–”

 

“Who’s Eyes.”

 

“That’s right. You never know who’s an Eyes.”

 

Connor walked over to the kitchen space, a cramped square about two steps away from the couch. The soles of his feet almost scraped the concrete beneath the worn carpet.

 

He reached into the pantry and pulled out a chocolate NutriBar. The vitamin-fortified candy was popular because it didn’t require effort or refrigeration. Without steady power, refrigerators were extinct–at least for the likes of them.

 

He turned to toss Tyler the chocolate and saw a glittering in the distance outside the window.

 

A skyscaper from the Crystal City.

 

“Hey that was hard.”

 

Connor mumbled an apology. He hadn’t meant to throw the candy, certainly not that hard.

 

He shook his head. Losing control wasn’t going to help.

 

“I have to go out, Tyler. You stay away from the window…”

 

“And don’t answer the door.”

 

Connor smiled with paternal pride.

 

The boy was whip-smart.

 

That was the problem.

 

Connor picked up the walking stick by the door and headed out to the world.

Continue reading at Liberty Island…

*****

image courtesy shutterstock / Andrea Danti

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

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Ken Lizzi is an attorney and the author of an assortment of published short stories. When not traveling AC/a,!aEUoe and he’d rather be traveling AC/a,!aEUoe he lives in Portland, Oregon with his lovely wife Isa. He enjoys reading, homebrewing, exercise, and visiting new places. He loathes writing about himself in the third person.

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

The writers Bernard Cornwell, Glen Cook, and George MacDonald Fraser are major influences, as well as numerous Twentieth Century pulp writers.

Lizzi,-Ken

2. How do you describe yourself ideologically?

Mostly resigned, sitting on the porch grumbling as I watch the kids ruin the neighborhood.

3. Which thinkers/commentators have influenced you?

P.J. O’Rourke, Bill Watterson (“Calvin and Hobbes.”)

4. Where are you from/currently reside?

Embedded in the People’s Republic of Portland.

5. What are your writing goals?

I hope to one day attain the status of the new Robin Masters and allow a slacker PI to inhabit the guest house of my Hawaiian estate.

6. Where can people find/follow you online?

www.kenlizzi.net

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

Homebrewing.

An Excerpt from “Sacred Cows” by Ken Lizzi:

Scott and Dennis and a core group of friends had remained in touch after college, their social lives a continuation of their Portland State revelries. Scott nearly married one of the group, Allison–blonde, gregarious, earthy. A little too earthy for Scott’s tastes which ran more to khakis and mutual funds than Birkenstocks and saving the flat-footed grebe. So the romance ended but the friendship remained.

 

To the general amusement of the old gang, Allison over the years had introduced a series of increasingly eccentric boyfriends as her enthusiasms meandered from eastern medicine to preserving the Amazon to vegan cooking. The last had coincided with the introduction of a painfully thin, bearded fellow the group quickly dubbed Ashram Anton, as much for his fiercely-spiced vegetarian curries as his appetite for recreational drugs.

 

Anton ran a vegetarian restaurant on Hawthorne Boulevard. The Sacred Cow was a narrow cavern of a joint wedged between a non-profit women’s interest bookstore and a used-CD shop. A cramped cluster of tables overlooked by hemp wall hangings and yellowed Robert Crumb posters fronted a lengthy kitchen, hidden behind a beaded curtain, where Anton concocted his leafy delights. Allison browbeat members of the group to stop in occasionally. Most of the old gang grudgingly admitted to enjoying a dish or two, with the noted exception of Scott who professed an unreasoning and unchangeable opposition to all things meatless.

 

One evening in January Dennis agreed to meet Allison at The Sacred Cow. They’d remained tolerably good friends, based largely on the amiable Dennis’ ability to reduce the friction between her and Scott during gatherings. On the appointed day Allison rang up Dennis at his office.

 

“Dennis? Allison. Look, can we meet at another restaurant? It doesn’t matter. You decide.”

 

That night at the Bridgeport Ale House, Allison unburdened herself while picking strips of ham and turkey out of her chef salad.

 

“Something is wrong with Anton.” She raised her fork threateningly before Dennis could respond. “No wisecracks. I’m serious.”

 

“OK. I’m sorry. What’s bothering you?”

 

“Anton started serving hamburgers at The Sacred Cow.”

 

“What!” Dennis exclaimed, a forgotten forkful of baked potato raised halfway to his mouth. “Ashram Anton eating meat?”

 

“I didn’t say he was eating it. He’s serving it. Hamburgers anyway.”

 

Dennis resumed eating. He was a hard man to put off his feed. “So? Maybe he wants to expand his customer base.”

 

“I don’t think so. The timing is really weird.”

 

“How so?”

 

“Well, two weeks ago the cattleman’s association held a convention here in Portland. Anton and I joined a protest outside the convention center. Somehow things got out of hand. The anti-fur activists showed up, then the medical research opponents, and then some real fringe elements. Shut up Dennis, it’s not funny. Anyway, the protest escalated until the police showed up. A little pushing and shoving, a couple of rocks and bottles and suddenly it’s the ’68 Democratic National Convention. I get Anton into the Subaru. He took a face-full of pepper spray but other than that he was okay. We drive away, and Anton’s staring through his tears, fixed on the cattlemen standing outside the convention center, grinning and smoking cigars. Next week he’s slapping burgers on the grill.”

 

Dennis had to agree that was a little odd. But as he’d no constructive advice for her, he simply suggested she keep an eye on Anton and keep him informed.

 

A few weeks later, at a housewarming thrown to introduce the gang to Scott’s new riverfront condominium unit, Allison mentioned the case of Mack Sheridan, a wealthy rancher of some local repute (or infamy, depending on one’s view of the chain of ‘gentlemen’s’ clubs he owned), who had mysteriously disappeared. No one had a clear idea when, as Sheridan frequently drifted off on private jaunts without leaving word of his departure. No ransom demands arrived, and not a trace of the man could be found.

 

Dennis found that interesting but hardly conclusive. Then Allison offered the more recent case of Pauline Delacroix, an “edgy” clothing designer from LA who had arrived in the city but apparently did not leave it. Her fall line of knee-length otter-hide skirts had garnered a certain degree of notoriety. Such people are difficult to misplace in a metropolis, but there you have it. Vanished.

Continue reading at Liberty Island…

****

image via Liberty Island / Mary Madigan (C) 2014

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

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“Reading Churchill’s history of World War II, beginning with The Gathering Storm, was very influential…”

Ted Elrick is a freelance writer for the International Cinematographer’s Guild’s ICG Magazine and co-writer of the 2014 Darko Entertainment feature film North of Hell starring Katherine Heigl, Patrick Wilson and James Belushi.

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

Robert Louis Stevenson, Ray Bradbury, Roald Dahl (children’s and adult fiction), Ernest Hemingway, Jack London and John Steinbeck as well as John D. MacDonald, Jim Thompson and Jack Vance. Favorite movies that impacted me growing up were The Time Machine, Zulu, Guns of Navarone, Lilies of the Field, The Man Who Would Be King, Dirty Harry, Where Eagles Dare and Fahrenheit 451. If I’m channel surfing today, I always seem to stop if I notice Big Trouble in Little China, Dodgeball or Galaxy Quest.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0HEitZ06oRY

2. How do you describe yourself ideologically?

Many consider me conservative. I reply that perhaps they’re further to the left, so anyone to the right of them is conservative. I think I’m middle of the road, but from the era when there was an actual middle to the road. But roads aren’t what they were.

3. Which thinkers/commentators have influenced you?

I vividly remember watching Firing Line with my father. I also remember having to look up quite a few of William F. Buckley’s words. The Firing Line discussions were always civil. I do not see any forum like that today, unfortunately. Reading Churchill’s history of World War II, beginning with The Gathering Storm, was very influential, as were many of the Civil War books by Bruce Catton. And I am an Eagle Scout, so the Boy Scouts was also influential as was my drill sergeant at Fort Dix. I remember his commentaries quite well.

4. Where are you from/currently reside?

I was born in McKeesport, PA, raised in the wonderful woodlands in and outside of Pittsburgh, as well as West Virginia. Today, I reside in Los Angeles where autumn occurs on February 17, the day the green leaves instantly turn brown and drop.

5.  What are your writing goals?

To write as quickly and as well as I can. Hopefully, if it makes me laugh or cry during the writing process, it will have the same effect on others.

6. Where can people find/follow you online?

I really need to set up a web presence. You can Google and find many of my non-fiction articles.

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

I love to get in car, or jump on a bus, and take turns or step off wherever it looks interesting. You meet a lot of people and see a lot of things that way. You’re never lost if you don’t care where you are.

An excerpt from Ted Elrick’s, “Respect”:

 

Life is full of the bitterest ironies.

 

I was working in the Social Club. Most of the guys were out and it was just me and Mr. D. I’m there behind the bar so I can cover the door, keeping my hands out of sight because you don’t know who’s gonna come walking in.

 

Mr. D is at the back booth, the only booth in the place, with his back to the wall, and he’s looking at me once in a while so I can get any signals on the Q.T.

 

So we’re just hanging out. It was nice. Mr. D’s back in his booth doing a little reading. He’s a big reader, Mr. D is. He’s always got a couple of magazines or books on him, and not paperbacks either. Hardcovers. He gets these plastic sheets that he puts over the covers to protect ’em. He says a book is valuable because it’s got somebody’s heart in it.

 

Don’t get me wrong. Mr. D is tough. But I’ll tell you, he’s got a big heart. Many’s the time he’s been reading one of these books and I hear him weeping, tears coming down his face, and he ain’t ashamed because he says this is from somebody’s heart and the world would be a lot better off if more people read books. And he’s always quoting poetry, too, everything from like Jack Frost to that Angelo Mayan or Mayan Angelo. I don’t remember what his name is.

 

So it’s a quiet Saturday night, and Mr. D’s reading one of his literate magazines looking for the latest writers and poets, and this guy comes walking in. I could see right off he’s in the wrong place, not because he looks dangerous or anything because then he’d be in the right place, but because he’s like middle class, maybe some kind of investment guy who’s never done any real scraping on the streets. But you never know because even that Jeffrey Dalmer looked normal, and he was a real nut bag. So I keep my hands under the bar and say, “Hey, this is a private club.”

 

But he keeps walking over and just parks it on one of the stools. “I just need a drink. It’s been a heckuva night.”

 

“Look, buddy,” I say again, “this is a private club.”

 

And he looks around, and says, “I know, I know. I just need a drink really bad, and it’s not like you’re busy or anything.”

 

“You gotta be a member.”

 

“You lose your liquor license or something if you serve non-members?” This guy either had guts or he was a real dummy.

 

“Yeah.” And I’m really ready to show him.

 

“Okay, I’ll join your little club. How much are the dues?”

 

So I start to come around the bar, but then I see Mr. D who does this little flick with his hand and so I guess it’s all right to give this guy a drink. He must have noticed Mr. D because he nods at him and Mr. D holds up his hand saying it’s no problem.

 

“What’ll it be?”

 

“Boilermaker.”

 

Middle class or not, he was old school Pittsburgh.

 

As I’m pouring a shot, then drawing him a draft, he says, “That the owner?”

 

“Yeah,” and I set the shot and beer in front of him. And what happens next, I swear, is true. He picks up the shot glass and depth charges it, dropping it in the beer so the beer foams up and spreads the whiskey bottom to top.

 

Now ninety-nine out of a dozen times that’s gonna cause the beer to come foaming out like one of those science experiment volcanoes, because when that whiskey hits the carbonatin’ it usually means you gotta chug the whole thing, and if you don’t chug it, you look like a wuss. But he knows how much to chug so that some’s left, and the way he does it he don’t look like no wuss, like he could chug the whole thing but didn’t want to. When a guy’s got that kind of control, you gotta admire it. And if he had that kind of control, I got to wondering, and put my hands back under the bar.

 

He pulls out a twenty and hands it to me, but I don’t take it.

 

“It’s on the house.”

 

“No, I appreciate it, and it’s Saturday and with the crowd you’ve got, looks like you could use the cash. This is kind of an out of the way location. If you were down on the Strip or South Side this place would be packed.”

 

“We were down on the South Side.”

 

“Got squeezed out when it started getting trendy?”

 

“Our members like their privacy.”

 

“Well, keep it anyway. Call it my dues.”

 

“You’re only getting one.”

 

“That’s all I want. Like I said, it’s been a heckuva night.”

 

And he takes another drink, but this time it’s a sip, so I get the feeling he’s one of those guys who wants to talk and I’m wondering if I should put on Sinatra, maybe “One More for the Road,” cause whatever it is he wants to talk about, it’s probably got something to do with a chick.

 

“I hate to say it, because it’ll date me. But in my day, people had respect. You know what I mean?”

 

I don’t want to know what he means but I see Mr. D’s listening because he’s put down his copy of Ploughshares.

 

Continue reading at Liberty Island…

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

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Frank J. Fleming is an author (Obama: The Greatest President in the History of Everything), political humor columnist (New York Post and PJ Media), and blogger (IMAO.us). Frank is a Carnegie Mellon University graduate and also works as an electrical and software engineer when he’s not writing. He lives in Idaho with his wife and two kids. Frank is the country’s leading advocate for nuking the moon.

Fleming,-Frank

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

The single greatest influence on my writing was probably the first ten seasons of The Simpsons, which taught me how to recognize and use wit. I think the show 24 helped me learn how to pace things; I have a short attention span, and I need things to happen constantly. For SF influence, I like Joss Whedon, as I lean more toward keeping things loose and fun than toward hard science fiction (and although I, like many others, am critical of his habit of killing off comic relief, I’ve found that it really is a great way to give a jolt to the reader). I wish I could claim more influence from writers so I don’t sound like a dullard. Lately I’ve enjoyed Brandon Sanderson (he keeps things fun and adventurous while also deathly serious) and George R.R. Martin (who is good at drawing you in and creating tension, even if he can be a little too description-heavy for me). I also read the Bible and hope to one day be able to come up with a relevant Bible quote for every situation as easily as I can a Simpsons quote.

2. How do you describe yourself ideologically?

I’m a conservative who leans libertarian. In fact, depending on my mood, sometimes I fantasize about going without government at all. What’s that? Anarchist? But I associate that word with hippies who don’t like people having private property, so I guess I’m not that.

I write quite a bit of political humor, and I’ve found that bad political humor is making fun of everyone other than yourself, while good political humor is also attacking your own foibles. Which is to say I’ve written a lot of bad political humor, but every once in a while I think I write the good.

3. Which thinkers/commentators have influenced you?

I started listening to Rush Limbaugh when I was in junior high and was fascinated by seeing another side of issues than I had considered. I got political at a young age, though I am now of the opinion that it is hard to be a “true” conservative until you have a job and a family; it’s all theoretical until then. Lately my favorite commentators have been Jonah Goldberg of National Review and Allahpundit of Hot Air.

4. Where are you from/currently reside?

Idaho. For the most part, we get left alone here.

5.  What are your writing goals?

For decades now, during any idle moment in my day, story ideas swirl about in my head and continue developing and evolving and consuming me. I’ve found that the only way to get rid of them is to write them down. So I’d say my writing goal is to exorcise demons.

I also plan to keep writing political humor, as I don’t think there will ever be a dearth of things to make fun of there.

6. Where can people find/follow you online?

I have a blog — IMAO.us — that I’ve kept active for more than a decade. I’m also very active on Twitter (to the point that I have to keep correcting my long-form writing, as I often Twitterize sentences, leaving out too many words), and can be found at @IMAO_ (don’t forget the underscore). I also have a Facebook page.

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

I’m a very boring person with occasional bouts of adventurousness. For instance, I met my wife when I had a contest to find a t-shirt babe to help sell t-shirts on my blog, and for our first date, we hiked the Grand Canyon. That makes us sound like rather intense people, but most of the time we enjoy nothing more than a relaxing evening with a show worth binge-watching (I remember when we first discovered Buffy the Vampire Slayer and watched the entire first season in one day — of course, that was before we had kids). I’m also an avid gamer — well, as avid as I can be while having a full-time job, writing every day, and being a husband and a father. So a few minutes here and there.

An Excerpt from Frank J. Fleming’s “Who Murdered the Dinosaurs?“:

Braeburn had worked many odd cases as a crime scene investigator. The clown that was set on fire and thrown off a building (eventually ruled self-defense). The time it was determined that the real killer was society. And the case of the health-conscious cannibal who only ate vegans.

But this case had the potential to be something he’d never worked before–something no one had ever worked before.

 

He stood before a place of death. Old death. The university’s Department of Paleontology. Its exterior was cracked and the whole building was draped in shadows. Everything about it was ominous and foreboding, except for the poster of a cartoon stegosaurus welcoming visitors.

 

Devereux stood beside him, looking blonde and confused (that was sort of her thing). “If we’re here to investigate a killing, it’s probably from a really, really long time ago.”

 

“There is no statute of limitations on murder,” Braeburn said firmly.

 

“So…any idea why your dino friend wants a CSI?”

 

“No, but I owe him a favor.” Technically, Braeburn was off duty, so he wore his casual clothes–the exact same suit as his work clothes. He ran a hand through his short-cropped hair, which he cut every two weeks to keep from looking like a hippie. “You didn’t have to come.”

 

“I’m curious what this is about. It would be kind of neat to solve a dino-murder…though I’m going to guess a tyrannosaurus did it. Motive: hungry.” She giggled but then turned serious. “But if he has, like, an actual human body here, we should probably call that in.”

 

“Of course. I always do things by the book,” Braeburn said. “Except where the book says you have some discretion on following the book. Then sometimes I don’t do things by the book. But I usually do.”

 

Devereux furrowed her brow. “What book are you talking about?”

 

Braeburn didn’t respond and headed into the building.

 

“Does the book say anything about being courteous to your partner?” Devereux griped as she followed him in.

 

The building was as still and quiet as the bones of the creatures inside. They walked down a hallway until they found the office of Dr. Graham Smith. Braeburn knocked.

 

A bearded, nervous-looking man answered the door. The bags under his eyes indicated he had missed a few nights’ sleep. “Good, it’s you.”

 

He let the two investigators in and quickly closed the door. The cramped office was filled with boxes of files, and the desk was covered with photos and scribbled-on notepaper.

 

“This is my partner, Devereux,” Braeburn said, pointing at his partner, who was playing with a small, petrified skull, trying to get the jaw to move.

 

“That’s not a puppet,” Graham told her.

 

Devereux put the skull down. “Anything can be a puppet if you attach a stick to it.”

 

Graham just nodded and turned to Braeburn. “I didn’t know you were bringing anyone else,” Graham said, walking over to his desk. Braeburn followed. Graham leaned over and whispered, “She’s kind of attractive.”

 

Braeburn glanced at Devereux, who was making faces at the skull as if trying to provoke a reaction. She was dressed in a neat pantsuit and wearing just enough makeup and showing just enough cleavage to keep anyone from taking her too seriously. Braeburn shrugged. “Yeah, I guess so. What do you want us to look at?”

 

Graham gathered some files, set them on his desk and pulled out some photos, which he laid before Braeburn and Devereux. “We found a dig site about the same age as the meteor that is theorized to have killed the non-avian dinosaurs.”

 

Braeburn looked over the photos of bones embedded in rock. Typical paleontology stuff. “They look long dead.”

 

“Well…yeah,” Graham said. “Anyway, this find was remarkable, actually. We’re talking hundreds of dinosaur fossils–those most directly killed by the meteor that made their kind extinct such as triceratops and tyrannosaurus rex. These should be the ones that starved to death because of the meteor.”

 

“Sounds like quite a find. Perhaps one that someone…” Braeburn paused dramatically, “…would commit murder over.”

 

Graham looked taken aback. “Huh? No, not really. That’s not where this is going. Everyone in paleontology is friends. We don’t murder each other.”

 

“CSIs are supposed to be friends, too,” Devereux said. “But then one of them secretly replaces the bullet from a murder scene I’m investigating with a bullet from my gun. I’m running to my car to drive to the lake to dump the evidence when I see them all laughing at me.”

 

Graham raised an eyebrow. “Huh?”

 

“The point is,” Braeburn said, “friends murder each other all the time.”

 

“I didn’t murder them,” Devereux added. “I thought about it–but I didn’t do it. Still, it’s pretty easy to see how ‘friends’ could kill each other.” Her eyes narrowed. “Really easy.”

 

Graham stared at her for a few moments. “So, once again, no one in paleontology is dead. That’s not why I asked you here.” He chuckled nervously. “In fact, the simple murder of a colleague would be much less disturbing.” He set down another picture, this one of colorful rock strata.

 

“As I said, the evidence we found was consistent with these dinosaurs dying at the same time as the Cretaceous-Paleogene extinction event. In fact, the rocks encasing the bones contain dust from the meteor throughout. Too much dust. I ran the scenario over and over trying to figure out how you’d end up with this kind of pattern and could come to one conclusion: it could only happen if the bones of already dead dinosaurs were buried in the dust of the meteor impact.”

 

Braeburn stroked his chin. He could tell the twist was coming. The twist was always his favorite part of each case. “So these dinosaurs didn’t die out due to the meteor; they died beforehand.”

 

“Exactly. We always assumed the non-avian dinosaurs died out in the extinction event, but because of the margin of error in radiometric dating, all we really knew was that they died out around the same time as the meteor. This evidence is telling us that their dying-off is unrelated to the mass extinction. This could blow away our current understanding of the extinction of dinosaurs.”

 

“And what was our current understanding?” Devereux asked. “They went off the gold standard?”

 

Graham stared at her. “No. A meteor.”

 

“So you’re sure these dinosaurs aren’t just an isolated few who died from other natural causes?” Braeburn asked.

 

“It’s hard to be sure,” Graham said, “but there are a lot of bodies in the dig…and there were other oddities as well. For instance, we have fossils of triceratops and tyrannosaurus rexes that look like they died at the same time–yet there are no marks on the bones to indicate they died fighting each other. It’s like something else came along and quickly killed them.”

 

“That’s quite a finding,” Braeburn said. “What do your colleagues think?”

 

“Well, this would be an extraordinary claim, so I wanted to make sure I had some extraordinary evidence before I made it. Which leads me to this.” Graham opened a desk drawer. His hands were shaking as he pulled out a piece of petrified amber. In the center of the amber–known among paleontologists as “yellow gold”–was a dark object.

 

Braeburn took a closer look. It was hard to see the details, but it looked almost like a bullet. “This is from the dig?”

 

“Yes. And it doesn’t look natural, does it.”

 

Devereux squinted at the amber. “You think someone shot the dinosaurs?”

 

“Here’s what I think.” Graham shifted in his chair. “I think maybe the dinosaurs didn’t go extinct from natural causes. Maybe they were…murdered.”

 

Continue reading at Liberty Island…

*****

image courtesy shutterstock / DM7 / sculpies

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

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

As a teenager in the ’80s, I was a huge fan of the Rocky and Rambo movies. At the time, though, I didn’t put much thought into how patriotic those movies were. To me, it was just fun watching the bad guys get beaten up or, even better, blown up. They may not have been overly intellectual, but they were certainly influential–I still love seeing bad guys get beaten up (or blown up).

2. How do you describe yourself ideologically?

Somewhere between really conservative and really, really conservative.

3. Which thinkers/commentators have influenced you?

When I was in college and working in a warehouse with a couple of friends, we always had the radio on. We started the day with Howard Stern and then would tune in to Bob Grant followed by Rush. I think Rush was just being syndicated at the time–I guess it was the early ’90s. I remember thinking how much sense he made, even though I thought I was a Democrat. After all, I was in college and declaring yourself a Democrat was just a given. The funny thing is, I’m actually a registered Democrat, although I have never voted for one… and never will. I guess I’m just too lazy to change my registration.

Beyond Rush, I imagine it’s the same as for many conservatives–Levin, Beck, Coulter, and the rest of the big names.

4. Where are you from/currently reside?

I was born, and still live on, Long Island.

5.  What are your writing goals?

Let me break this up into short and long term goals. So far, I have written a grand total of one book. That makes a short term goal pretty easy to define–write another book. Longer term? Write more books. I’m kind of stuck with the same problem that a lot of aspiring writers have–a lot of ideas but not much time.

So, although I’m working on book number two, I’m not sure when it will be done. But I do know that there will be bad guys that get beaten up (or blown up). Oh, and in my books, the bad guys are Democrats.

The thing that inspired me to write Attack of the 50 Ft. Democrats was the lack of fiction that was really geared toward conservatives. I don’t mean conservative/libertarian leaning. I mean no-holds-barred, take-no-prisoners, make-no-apologies conservative. There’s a lot of non-fiction that fits that description, but it’s hard to find that kind of fiction.

6. Where can people find/follow you online?

www.twitter.com/rkdelka,

www.facebook.com/rkdelka,

www.rkdelka.com, and, of course,

www.libertyisland.com

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

The truth is, there is nothing crazy, or even remotely interesting, for me to say here.

An excerpt from R.K. Delka’s “I’m the Constitution, Dammit!

 

The Constitution slammed his empty shot glass on the mahogany counter. Stammered sputters gave way to slow slurred speech. “Gimme another, Joe. A double.”

 

“Hey, buddy, you been at it all night. How ’bout a breather?”

 

“Last I checked I’m still the law of this land, dammit.”

 

“All right, take it easy.” The bartender flipped the whiskey bottle and poured. “But I’m cutting you off after this.” He waited as the final amber drops dripped into the glass, and then he tossed the bottle into the trash.

 

The governing document lifted his drink. “People respected me, you know. Important people.”

 

He downed the booze in one swig and then twisted to glare at the table behind him where a rhino lapped from a large trough, splashing whatever it was filled with onto the floor.

 

“Forget him,” the bartender said. “You’re just going through a rough patch. A slump. You’re the Constitution, baby. You’ll bounce back.”

 

“That’s right. I’m the Constitution, dammit. I’m gonna bounce back. I’m gonna… I’m gonna…” He pushed himself off the stool and staggered. “I’m gonna… pee.”

 

He meandered to the dimly lit rear of the bar and began to relieve himself. “Camptown ladies sing this song, doo-da, doo-da. Camptown racetrack–

 

“Not again,” Joe screamed, running to the back and pushing the Constitution toward the bathroom. “In there.” He called to the front, “Someone get a mop over here.”

 

Continue reading at Liberty Island…

*****

image via shutterstock / donatas1205

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

Author, Musician, Contrarian, and amateur Mathematician and Historian. And that’s not even what I do for a living.

Duncan, Kurt

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

I didn’t realize it at the time, but I got my initial socio-political grounding from Robert A. Heinlein. Being that I internalized so much of his writing in those early years, I would have to say that his style (later works notwithstanding) is my “comfort zone.”  I have enjoyed reading Charles Sheffield, Larry Niven, Lester Del Rey, Ursula K. LeGuin, Anne McCaffrey, Piers Anthony, Norman Spinrad, Isaac Asimov, Keith Laumer, and the not-to-be-forgotten Douglas Adams.  I suppose each of them has, in one way or another, contributed (either toward or against) my political perspectives.  Guilty pleasures would include John Grisham (from time to time), Tom Clancy (when I have a spare few months per book), and Michael Crichton. For visual entertainment, I gravitate toward Korean dramas (because, shut up), and anime (because, Steven Den Beste).  I also like Zhang Yimou’s movies.

2. How do you describe yourself ideologically?

Somewhere in the middle of the Conservative / Libertarian / Anarchist triangle.  If such there be. For a number of years I listened to Rush Limbaugh, who articulated a lot of the uncoordinated thoughts I’d had rambling around.  That led me toward other Conservative thinkers, and from there, backward toward the writings of Hayek, Mises, Bastiat, Friedman and the like.  I consider myself a small ‘l’ libertarian, with anarchist leanings.  In many cases, I am just downright contrarian – often-times in an effort to get others to think through their own philosophies. and at other times, just because I can be.

3. Where are you from/currently reside?

I am from Wichita Kansas, and I currently reside in an undisclosed residential bunker somewhere vaguely north of Denver, Colorado.  Not that there’s anything wrong with that.  Oh, and a few weeks, whenever possible, I reside in VietNam.  Because, tropical paradise.

4.  What are your writing goals?

I recently mentioned to my wife that my main hobbies — music composition, story writing, and computer programming — are all essentially the same thing: the identification of some goal, and the enjoyment of the process of effecting that goal.  It’s all compulsion-to-create via mathematics and engineering. Fun stuff.

Every so often I think of a story that I’d like to investigate, or experiment with.  Some of the ideas are workable, some aren’t.  I want to get them on (electronic) paper and flesh them out, in no small part because that gets them out of my head, so that they stop bothering me.  I want to share the best of them with anyone interested in being entertained.  Finally, I want to surreptitiously bury a few seeds of libertarianism in my readers (all three of them) in much the same way that Robert A. Heinlein did for me.

My story “The Rose Princess” takes place in a world which has an odd mix of pre-industrial and post-information age technology.  I have a number of other short stories and two novels (in varying stages of completion) set in this world, which document the birth and evolution of a nation.  I also have another near-future novel in progress which I will be finishing any day now, along with the next novel in that series which I will be beginning, any day now.  I need to get all these down on paper, and into Amazon (or Liberty Island) so I have room in my brain for more stuff.

5. Where can people find/follow you online?

Ask the NSA. They probably remember all my past websites and blogs better than I do.  With that said, you might check out:

https://www.facebook.com/kurt.duncan.author?ref=hl

www.kduncanauthor.wordpress.com

If you leave comments, I might be encouraged to actually post content a bit more often.

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

Because my brain doesn’t function like a normal person’s, it is quite likely that all of my hobbies, pastimes, and interests are crazy.  I suppose one of my more enduring crazy hobbies is my Univac mainframe software emulator.  My first *cough* years of experience in the industry involved a Sperry Univac / Unisys mainframe computer.  That was long ago.  Recently, I realized I missed working in that environment.  Not having a Unisys mainframe handy, I elected to write software which would provide that environment, running under a modern operating system.  I’m still working on it — and I suppose it will never be finished.

7. Are you going to become famous and win many literary awards?

Mog, I hope not. I have enough trouble living up to my own standards, let alone those of the rest of the world.  I wouldn’t mind winning the lottery, though.

An Excerpt from Kurt Duncan’s, “The Rose Princess“:

 

The ax looked as if it weighed half a ton, if not more. The handle was carved from a single tree that had been felled by a master logger in the great forests west of the Royal City. It was six inches thick at its narrowest point, and exceeded six feet in length. The blade had been ground from one of the huge boulders that had fallen upon the Royal City from nearby Mount Foofgarble the previous year. A decree had gone out, requiring and demanding that all future executions should be effected via this, and only this, weapon.

 

Execution fans had their favorite cheers, and they had become quite adept at producing new and inventive chants. The introduction of the Ax of Doom was certainly a novel event, and it called for something special. The most avid fans from all over the kingdom had come to see the weapon, and to take part in the invention of a brand new cheer.

 

Meanwhile, the executioner stood in front of his dressing room closet, considering which of his several black robes would be most appropriate for the evening’s event. His best black robe hung in front of him, beckoning. It was so black that his eyes were drawn deep within it. He didn’t usually wear this robe. He liked it immensely, and thought he looked quite good in it. As a result, he didn’t want it worn out or damaged.

 

Tonight, however, was a special occasion. After another moment’s thought, he took the robe off its peg and put it on. It seemed to fit a little more snugly than he remembered. He wondered if he ought to work out a bit, but then remembered that it was common for him to be a bit pudgy at the beginning of the season. He would regain his taut shape soon enough.

 

“Almost time, sir,” called the stage manager from the doorway.

 

“I’m coming,” growled the executioner. He pulled his mask over his head and donned his gloves, drained the last of his power ale, cast a final look into the mirror, and turned to leave. “Is it in position?” he asked.

 

“Yes sir. Center stage, just like you asked.”

 

“Good,” said the executioner. He clapped the stage manager on the shoulder and they left the room. They stopped backstage, and the executioner peeked around the corner. “Wow, what a crowd,” he commented.

 

“Yes sir, everyone’s here to see the ax.”

 

“I suppose so. Well, here I go.”

 

“Break a leg, sir,” offered the stage manager, backing away.

 

“I should hope to do more than that,” quipped the executioner as he tossed his cloak over his shoulder and ventured out onto the stage.

 

The crowd, noting his arrival, began to clap and whistle. He waved at imagined friends in the audience. The crowd cheered and waved back. The executioner took some time to strut around the front of the stage. The audience yelled in appreciation. He struck a pose. The audience stomped their feet. Some of the members also stomped their neighbors’ feet.

 

The executioner walked over to his new weapon, sitting on a pedestal, and concealed by a black shroud. The crowd grew silent with anticipation. He lifted the weapon, still covered, and the crowd quit breathing. The lights dimmed, and a spotlight picked him out.

 

“The Great Hall of Executions Event Committee,” intoned a voice from above, amplified by twenty thousand watts of power. “Is proud,” continued the voice. “To present the new season of executions…featuring the all new, the incomparable, the undeniable, the deadly…Ax…of…Dooooooom.”

 

The executioner yanked off the shroud and lifted the ax above his head. The polished blade caught the brilliance of the stage lights and sent dazzling rays dancing across the Great Hall. The crowd exploded into screams and shouting and pounding. Flashbulbs popped and news cameras whirred and clicked as the executioner paced back and forth in front of the roiling crowd.

 

Then, amid the noise and confusion, the new cheer was born. The pounding began to settle into a solid rhythm, and first one, then ten, then a hundred, then a thousand people were chanting, “Doom, Doom, Doom, Doom.” The executioner walked from one side of the stage to the other, presenting the weapon to the audience. “Doom! Doom!” they responded.

 

Some of the more innovative members of the crowd added a counterpoint to the cheer. Over the resounding noise of the original chant one could begin to hear the occasional “Chop! Chop!” The cheer settled into a rhythm: “Doom, Doom, Chop! Doom, Doom, Chop! Doom Doom Chop! DOOM DOOM CHOP!” Not to be outdone, the chorus from the Royal Thespians’ Society began singing over the rhythm, “We Will, We Will CHOP YOU!” The new cheer was an instant hit. The executioner pranced around the stage for a full five minutes as the audience continued to sing.

 

In due time, the executions proceeded. Throughout the event, the audience never quit singing “We Will, We Will, CHOP YOU!,” except, of course, at the appropriate moments when the entire crowd chanted, “Hey, batter-batter-batter-batter-BATTER-BATTER-Sa-WINGGGGGG!” Each execution met with great applause, and the event ended with a standing ovation for the executioner, who bowed and exited the stage, carrying his new weapon.

 

The audience then departed in good spirits, having been greatly entertained by the spectacle. There was sure to be an exciting execution season to come. It had been rumored that an unusually large number of spies from the kingdom of Angz had been caught in and around the Royal City, and were even then in the dungeons, awaiting execution. Some pundits were already suggesting possible post-season activity. Indeed, season ticket sales had reached an all-time high, and the scalpers had made a nice profit.

 

The king and queen retired to their chambers, generally pleased with the outcome. However, even with the responsible parties (and some innocent ones, too) suitably dealt with, the basic problem remained. The official records were set. The princess had been named Ugh, and she was just going to have to deal with it.

Read more at Liberty Island…

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

Roy Griffis has been a waiter, a janitor, a book salesman and a USCG Rescue Swimmer, finding this last occupation most similar to being a writer: “At the end of the day, it all comes down to what you, and you alone, do.”

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

Writers: Most non-fiction, oddly enough. Gary Kinder, E. B. Sledge, Laura Hillenbrand, Richard Adams, and Richard Curtis.  Curtis is probably the odd-writer out on my list. He’s a screenwriter, a raving lefty.  He was the creator and director of the justly-scorned “informational” videos about Global Warming/Cooling/Climate Change which featured the doubters/denier (all persons of non-color, as it happened) getting blown up for their sins. Yet, he writes incredibly funny films about love.

Books:  Ship of Gold in the Deep Blue Sea (amazing parallel true stories, first of a steam ship sinking in a hurricane in 1857, and then the contemporary account of the modern effort to recover it and a huge cache of gold from over 1000 feet of water).  With the Old Breed (first person account of the Marines fighting in the Pacific in WWII — should be required reading for all high school students, as war is presented in all its brutality). Shadow Divers (true story of some recreational divers who discover a long missing U-boat off the coast of New Jersey, their ten-year pilgrimage to identify and authenticate the find, along with the personal journey the two divers must take to accomplish this). Paul Among the People, by Sarah Ruden (a classics professor puts a social and historical context around a new translation of Paul, demonstrating how truly radical his writings were for the world in which he lived). Lonesome Dove, Watership Down.

Movies: Last of the Mohicans (1992, just a ripping yarn!). Glory, Sunshine (amazing science fiction) The Tall Guy (if you haven’t seen it, rent it now), Love, Actually (for all its flaws, one of the bravest films I’ve ever seen; one that dares to hope), About Time, Starman, Blade Runner, Open Range, Dances with Wolves.  Yeah, I like movies.

Intellectual Influences:  Thomas Sowell, Bill Wilson, Lois Wilson, David Horowitz, Robert A. Heinlein (minus the creepy sexual stuff that began to creep in at the end of his life).

2. How do you describe yourself ideologically?

I tend toward Libertarian/Conservative.  Adults make and pay for their choices, but they are then responsible for the consequences of their choice. Infantilizing adults by shielding them from the results of their bad decisions gives you a population of overgrown infants who expect others to take care of them. A tantrum by a full-grown adult can be much more dangerous to society than one thrown by a two-year old.

3. Which thinkers/commentators have influenced you?

Thomas Sowell’s Basic Economics was profound in his insistence on looking at results vs. intentions, as results are where reality resides.  It could just as well have been a self-help manual right out of the 12 Steps, as much as a text on economics and consequences.

I found the life of Desmond Doss incredibly inspiring. As a 7th Day Adventist during World War II, he was eligible for religious exemption and could have worked in a factory.  Instead, he volunteered for the U.S. Army with one caveat: he wouldn’t carry a gun. This tended to confuse the Army mind, which spent two years trying to drive him out, but Doss persevered.  He thought it was wrong that other Americans would go into harm’s way for him, and it was his duty to help the nation.  He became a medic just in time for the brutal fighting push through the Pacific islands toward the Japanese homeland.  Although Doss would only accept credit for personally saving over 100 soldiers, many of them under fire or in perilously exposed positions, his fellow soldiers put the number much higher.  Doss was shot and blown up by a hand grenade (permanently damaging his hearing), but never used a weapon.  I spent an afternoon with him once, to discuss my idea of writing a screenplay about his life. He demurred, as he had for decades, because he wanted to be sure any film would give the credit to God and not to him.

4. Where are you from/currently reside?

Born in Texas City, Texas. Currently live in Southern California.

5. What are your writing goals?

At its most basic, to tell a good story that immerses the reader in another world, makes him or her part of this shared dream, makes them laugh and cry and gasp with the adventure. If, along the way, I can tell a fundamentally positive story that is an antidote to the nihilistic crap that is being peddled (“people are awful and life stinks”) while encouraging the reader to think differently about their life and how they live it, that’s a bonus. But if I’m not telling a good story first, the other parts are useless. Stories are how we make sense of the world and our place in it.

6. Where can people find/follow you online?

Twitter:  @rmgriffis(aka “Prince of Whitebread”)

Web:  roymgriffis.com

Email:  [email protected]

An excerpt from “Shadows” by Roy Griffis

It is the third day. Today, I am assigned to the western, or forward, antiaircraft battery. Hans has the eastern gun. Almost every third day the British have sent a reconnaissance plane toward us: our lives have become patterned around that fact. But we look ready each day.

At least, we are told it is a recon plane. Before he died, Herr Dietrich told us, “If it is a recon plane, we must do our best to knock them out of the skies. Our appearance of bloodthirsty determination will help the Britishers’ report of us.” So we wait.

The land here is mostly flat, unlike the steep hills and valleys of home, and it is also dead, unlike home when I was last there. I do not like to think of the green and slate colors all black, burnt and scarred by the Allied bombs. When the sun rises here, it sends the light running ahead of it, like pouring golden water on a dark tabletop. The nights are cold, the sunrise cool, and the largest part of the day is hot.

I wear an old Luftwaffe jacket, gloves on my hands as I sit at the controls. The leather jacket has ragged holes down one side. Within hours of the sun’s rise, I’ll be stripped to my undershirt.

Stretching night-stiffened limbs, I catch my leg against the metal frame. It is only a glancing blow, but the pain flies up through me like the red streaks radiating from my wound.

“Scheisse!” I mutter.

Gingerly, I move my leg aside. The seat of the gun is rough, better used on a farm tractor than for a weapon. Even so, to recline invites sleep. Instead, I look back over my shoulder at the camp.

The 10 or more cooking fires are lit, and Johann’s most important duty for the day has been performed. Prometheus–I call him that for the fire he brings to the British–huddles inside what would be the kitchen tent. He is wearing his cook’s uniform, easily seen from the air. He waits, as we all do, for the sound of the aeroplane. The serving tables are set; the containers half full of something like food. The wind shifts the smaller pots a bit. The occasional tinny clank carries across the empty field between us.

The massed trucks, the personnel carriers. All of this is for them alone. The tents, the fires, even the camouflage thrown over our weapon emplacements. It is for them.

I can hear it. Almost all of the noise from the engine, I was told, so little from the propeller. Sound travels as quickly as dawn sunlight in the desert, but deceives about the direction.

There it is…too distant to make out the details. But even were I to see them, I would not be able to correctly identify the craft. The type has ceased to be important. Only the circle within a circle of the British emblem interests me. It is a good target at which to aim.

High and fast it comes, staying hidden in the sky-filling explosion of the morning sun. The flight goes as others before it; we fire, the plane circles, we fire again, the sentries on the ground move about, and the English fly away with their photographs.

Within the consuming, jolting reports of the weapon I control, I wonder about them. About those men who fly over us. Do they see through this? Do they see through us?

Continue reading at Liberty Island… 

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

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David Churchill Barrow is an attorney and historian who grew up on a small farm in Massachusetts, but now resides with his wife MaryLu near Tampa, Florida. They have three adult children. David has written guest columns and articles for The Marine Corps Times, The Tampa Tribune, and The Marine Corps Gazette.

Barrow,-David

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

My favorite novel is Moby Dick, for reasons given in my first LI blog entry, but I can tell you the exact moment I got hooked on historical fiction. One morning I took my seat next to the radiator in my 4th grade classroom, and turning to the left I saw the book display Mrs. Dyer had put up that morning. There, right in the middle, was an abridged version of Stevenson’s Kidnapped, with the coolest sword fight on the cover I ever saw!  (I’m quite sure such violent depictions would never be allowed in today’s classrooms… No wonder the boys are bored and fidgety).  Favorite movies?  Sands of Iwo Jima (Dad was a WWII Marine) The Godfather (wife is Sicilian), Glory, and Master and Commander, the Far Side of the World –  “Do you want a guillotine in Picadilly?!!”  “NO!” “Do you want that raggedy-arsed Napoleon for your king?!!”  “NO!”

2. How do you describe yourself ideologically?

I’m not much for ideology of any stripe…  I suppose then I am a classical “liberal,” i.e. a Burkean conservative.  I do have streaks of Libertarianism, but I’m for a robust foreign policy.  Displays of apparent weakness or lack of resolve encourages the wrong sort of people.  It has always been thus.

3. Which thinkers/commentators have influenced you?

As for thinkers, there is of course, Burke, and in no particular order Locke, John Stuart Mill, Lincoln, Bruce Lee, Churchill, Solomon and Jesus.

4. Where are you from/currently reside?

I was raised as a “Swamp Yankee” in a little village on the South Shore of Massachusetts, but now live with my wife MaryLu just outside of Tampa.  We have three grown kids.

5. What are your writing goals?

I write in the hope of leaving a mark – maybe one that stings a bit. Think of how just one novel affected our history.  There’s a story that when Lincoln met Harriet Beecher Stowe, the author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, he said something like “So! Here’s the little lady who started this great big war!”

6. Where can people find/follow you online?

Where can people follow me online?  They can’t, unless they go to Liberty Island!

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

I ride a 1971 Triumph Bonneville chopper.  I collect historical and replica cutlery and firearms, and have been known to dabble in a few martial arts and Asian philosophy.  MaryLu and I  love to spend an afternoon listening to “Flower Power” bands, and a crazy bunch of guys called Off Kilter at Epcot.

​Oh, and if it is not too late, I thought of one other weird hobby – I can draw and cock an SAA Colt “Peacemaker” about as fast as you can blink, and I can do a “road agent spin” with either hand.

An Excerpt from David Churchill Barrow’s “A Soul Restored”:

Color Sergeant Edmund Findlay Churchill, Company E, 18th Massachusetts, 3rd Brigade, 1st Division, V Corps, Army of the Potomac, was wondering why the hell the withdrawal from the battle lines had to be at 9:00 that night. He was tired – more bone weary than he’d been his whole life; and the last few years had been some life. It’s not like the march would be any big military secret. Everybody, up to and including the Johnnies, knew that they always pulled back behind some river to lick their wounds after taking a beating like that.

His older brother Frederick, who had enlisted in the same regiment a year before he did, had been killed at Second Bull Run. Good name for that battle — it was the name of the river the army had skedaddled to get behind the first time Lee showed them “what for.” Edmund got his first taste of it against that terrible damned stonewall along Marye’s Heights above Fredericksburg.

Back home, a sturdy New England stonewall was such a peaceful, neighborly and handsome thing that it could be the pride of an old Yankee’s eye. But if stones themselves could be evil, the smoking, dirty, jagged line of rocks on that ridge seemed to mock God himself. He’d seen the last of the color guard go down, so he ran up, secured the national flag, and got it safely off the field. That was the first time he’d heard that curious buzzing sound, like bees pouring out of a disturbed hive; the sound of Minie balls whizzing past your head.

They’d decorated him for that, and made him a permanent member of the color guard, but what difference did it make? Back across the Rappahannock they went, what was left of them. His twin brother Isaiah, who had enlisted with him, got real sick at Fredericksburg. Last letter Edmund got from home said Isaiah was getting better slowly. He was lucky – more men were dying of sickness in the lines than from shot and shell. They’d called Antietam and Gettysburg victories, but he’d seen — and smelled — the cornfield at one and the wheat field at the other when the shooting stopped.

Is “victory” supposed to make you sick to your stomach? Isn’t “victory” supposed to mean the other side quits? Well, they might move around some, but Lee and his Rebs NEVER QUIT. Both times they’d just marched unmolested right back into Ol’ Virginny, to rest up and get ready for the next round of bloodletting. This last round, just about over now except for some skirmishers popping away at each other, seemed more than he could bear.

Three days before, V Corps had forded the Rapidan and marched down the Germanna Pike Road, through this horrible scrub on either side that was passable for neither man nor beast. Next they were ordered to turn right on the Orange Courthouse Turnpike, to swat away some nosy Reb brigade paralleling their line of march. Only it wasn’t a brigade. It was “Old Baldy” Ewell’s entire bloody Confederate II corps.

The fight that broke out in the thick brush on both sides of that turnpike was the biggest bunch of bushwhacking Edmund had seen in two long years of war. Hell, you couldn’t even SEE the Johnnies until the fire of their muskets flared out a yard in front of your face. It was also mighty disconcerting in the quieter moments to hear another big fight break out on a parallel road a couple of miles to the southeast. If that should go badly, they’d be flanked on their left, and in a bad fix for sure.

Then the underbrush caught fire. There were wounded boys out there they couldn’t reach. That screaming… Edmund knew then and there he’d wake up in the middle of the night years later hearing that high-pitched screaming. Sometimes a shot would end the sound, and they knew some poor boy had gone to his maker — by his own hand. For two days it went on, until both sides dug in, exhausted, and just about where they’d started. On the morning of the third day orders came down to move out that night as quiet as they could.

Once it dawned on him that it was mostly over, at least for the time being, Edmund had this strange, almost overwhelming longing to go to church. He wasn’t a particularly religious man – not like those fire-belching Boston abolitionists he’d heard back home. Oh, he believed in their cause and all — he’d answered it; and there was of course this little matter of the Union he’d been raised to love being torn in pieces. There just seem to be something … what exactly was it? off-putting? unseemly? … about going around wearing your religion like a top hat.

He couldn’t put his finger on it, but he knew “Swamp Yankees” like him had a different outlook on matters of the spirit than some of these fancy Boston Brahmins, who always seemed like they were looking down their noses at something or somebody. Maybe it was because he was a descendant of those luckless Pilgrims whose Mayflower landed by accident not far from where he grew up. “They were NOT Puritans, dammit!” he would often tell folks who made that common mistake. “They were Separatists… All they wanted was to mind their own business, and for you to mind yours.”

It wasn’t that God was hard to seek out on a battlefield. Any man who doesn’t start praying when that Rebel yell echoes through the woods is either deaf or already dead. He’d even worked out his own little liturgy that he shared with the younger lads in the color guard, to soothe their nerves — and his. As they formed ranks and the lads loaded their Springfields, they would recite the 23rd Psalm together softly.

The LORD is my shhhepherd…” they’d say together, as they bit into the paper cartridges and he uncased the colors.

I shall not want…” The boys put the powder down their barrels, while he and the other color-bearer placed the flags in the carriers strapped to their bellies.

He maketh me to lie down in green pastures…” they whispered, as they seated and rammed down their Minie balls, and he dressed their line.

They were a great big fat target with those huge flags sticking up like that, and the lads couldn’t even shoot back unless the colors were in immediate danger. No, God didn’t seem all that far away when such was the task at hand.

Read the rest at Liberty Island…

Also check out Barrow’s “Ense Petit Placidam” on Liberty Island here

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image illustrations via shutterstock /  Brandon Bourdages / agsandrew

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

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Michael Sheldon is the author of The Violet Crow, the first in a series of novels featuring Bruno X, a psychic detective who uses Mad magazine Yiddish and recycled borsht belt routines to outwit the forces of evil in the Philly suburbs.

Sheldon

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

I tend to like magical realism, but then all fiction is—or should be—magic. Favorite conjurers in different genres include Miguel Cervantes, Lawrence Sterne, William Blake, Henry Miller, Harvey Kurtzman, P.G. Wodehouse, Donald Westlake, Stephen Hunter, Julius Erving, Bruce Willis, Federico Fellini, Aretha Franklin, Jamey Johnson, Lucinda Williams, and Ray Wylie Hubbard.

2. How do you describe yourself ideologically?

Libertarian, economically conservative, anti-bureaucratic, and anti-academic. I think Liberty Island is in the process of forming a “Gargantuan” school of writing. This, of course, is a nod to the earthy exuberance of Rabelais’ 16th century giant. It also puts us in direct opposition to minimalist writing—exemplified by the precious, carefully shaped excretions published in The New Yorker and Harpers.

3. Which thinkers/commentators have influenced you?

Robert Bartley (and his editorial team) on the opinion pages of the Wall Street Journal. His clear explanations of market economics, incentives, human nature and the nature of risk started my transformation from impudent snob into the fun-loving redneck I am today. I like commentators who mix politics with humor—Mark Steyn, Steven Hayward, David Burge, Rush Limbaugh and our own, Frank J. Fleming. But I stand in awe of Michelle Malkin and Oriana Fallaci for their ferocity and nobility.

4. Where are you from/currently reside?

As readers of my blog posts know, I am being driven crazy in Seattle.

5.  What are your writing goals?

If Everyman’s a king, I want to be the court jester.

6. Where can people find/follow you online?

Currently, I am blogging at Liberty Island, trying to post every Saturday morning. I’m also sending out a weekly email; people can opt-in at [email protected]. I’m looking for an animator/developer to collaborate in a graffiti site. We would start with an image of political significance, such as the annoying statue of Lenin in Seattle. People could type in their graffiti, click send, and it would show up as if spray-painted on the statue.

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

I like to take images from the Hubble Space Telescope and combine them in Photoshop with pictures of my dogs.

An excerpt from Michael Sheldon’s “Better Than Fresh Apricots

He rarely bothered about intruders anymore, there were so many of them these days. But what he saw that hot July afternoon made him pause. He peered cautiously through the thick cover of wild rose, waiting for a clearer view.

Two slender figures were approaching, each with a heavy canvas bundle–half her size and weight–strapped to her back. They were young, beautiful. The kind you expect to find shopping Fifth Avenue, not out here, alone, fishing in Grizzly Canyon.

An unworthy prejudice, for the truth of the matter is this: Both Marianne and Peggy were accomplished flyfishers. Given a relatively windless day either of them could present a number 16 mayfly to the desired spot without getting hung up too often. And they could float that mayfly–mostly without drag–over the hiding places where cutthroat, rainbows, or browns are known to reside.

It was their husbands who had taught them how to fish. But Steve and Perry never gave their wives full credit for all they had accomplished. A doctor, a lawyer, each the owner of at least a half-dozen different rods whose different uses they understood perfectly, Steve and Perry fished on an altogether different level than Marianne and Peggy. They were masters of the art, and they knew it. And even though they never meant any harm, sometimes they could not refrain from cracking a joke or two when Marianne or Peggy came back to the car bragging about the day’s results or cursing a bit of bad luck. It was part of Steve and Perry’s nature to make jokes.

One night Marianne and Peggy realized they were tired of these jokes, and together they decided to lay down the law. Unequivocally, they informed Steve and Perry that the annual husbands’ fishing retreat had been canceled, and this year the wives were going to take their place.

Steve and Perry bitched and complained. They tried to argue. They spoke of the long hours they worked, the dollars they earned… But Marianne and Peggy were adamant. “What we do is just as important,” they informed their spouses.

“But what if there are problems,” wondered Perry. “What if you don’t catch fish?”

“We’ll catch ’em,” said Peggy. “You won’t have to worry any more about us than you would about yourselves.”

But still the men were not convinced, and that made Marianne lose her temper. “What’s the name of those stupid stories you guys like so much, with that macho guy who’s your hero–you know, the sarcastic one? He’s ultra-famous and I can’t believe I can’t remember his name!” she sputtered. “Well, I say that Peggy and I can do anything he ever did, no problem.”

Did she really know what she was saying? Her syllables filled the air like a cloud pregnant with destiny. And though it went against their better judgment, Steve and Perry couldn’t possibly back away from such a direct challenge.

The idea was for Marianne and Peggy to follow Nick Adams’ program as laid out in the story called “Big Two-Hearted River, Part I + Part II.” But right away Steve and Perry suggested some modifications.

Continue reading at Liberty Island…

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image via shutterstock / Ragnarock

21. Sabrina Chase: Women Can Be Mad Scientists Too

I started off as a mild-mannered Mad Scientist (physics) but now I torture software for a living. Writing at first was merely a way to cope with my favorite authors not writing fast enough–but it grew. I like to tell tales of adventure, with interesting people I’d like to spend time with, doing interesting things they care about. Oh, and someone wins in the end. There may be a price for that victory, but there WILL be one. No grey goo or emo navel-gazing in my books! I’ve just completed my 8th book, which should be out Real Soon Now.

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

H. Beam Piper is my favorite–not just for his great writing, but his ability to keep it remarkably free of dated thinking. He died in the 1960’s but you can’t tell from his books. Also Terry Pratchett, Jane Austen, P.G. Wodehouse, and  Mark Twain. As for favorite books, I will just say I have a library in my house and leave it at that. I love ALL books! I suppose that makes me a hedonist…  Favorite movies–Secondhand Lions, Galaxy Quest, Ladyhawke, Buckaroo Banzai, and Princess Bride (of course!)

2. How do you describe yourself ideologically?

Someone who fits in the usual conventional boxes about as well as a cat being stuffed in a carrier for a vet visit. Whichever one you pick, there’s always something sticking out. Sorry! I’m very opinionated and don’t like buying boxed sets of ideas. I guess I’m in the No Spending Money You Don’t Have, Intentions Count Less Than Consequences, And By The Way Leave Me Alone camp. (And I’m pro-dark-chocolate but even though I think milk chocolate is a waste of time I don’t want it banned.)

3. Which thinkers/commentators have influenced you?

That’s hard for me to say, since I’m still swimming in that sea of influence. Maybe my readers will tell me!

4. Where are you from/currently reside?

The great and soggy Pacific Northwest, home of the Giant Banana Slug and no I did not make that up.

5.  What are your writing goals?

I always wanted to make the reader live in the worlds I create so deeply they forget they are reading a story. Judging from the reviews saying things like “I stayed up all night reading this and I had to go to work the next morning, damn you,” I am making progress. (Evil chuckle) If I write all the books currently in my head I will be very happy, but the need for sleep interferes with this.

6. Where can people find/follow you online?

My writing website is chaseadventures.com, where I try and keep my readers informed about forthcoming books, appearances, and Really Cool Science.

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

Webcomics! There are some very talented artists and writers out there. Current favorites are Girl Genius, No Need For Bushido, and Banished. I really wish Ursula Vernon of Digger would do more too.

An excerpt from Sabrina Chase’s “Inscription

I wish there were another way to do this. You didn’t have any warning and now I’ve changed your life, just by writing the words you are reading. Your situation won’t get much worse if you read the rest, though, so if you can do so without getting caught, I’ll try to explain. It might help you survive.

My name is Dexon, and I worked in this Complex for ten years. My Social Index was never high enough for any of the sealed urbs, and I’m guessing you have the same problem or you wouldn’t be here. And obviously they never fixed the leak or you wouldn’t have found this message. Try unclogging the drain first.

It started like this.

I was crouched in a dusty corridor, hastily eating some stale protein chips I’d stolen and trying to figure out a solution to an increasingly desperate problem that could get me killed, when I noticed the smell of mold, old and sour. I felt a stab of fear–if the safety committee found mold our team would get a toxic health hazard fine, and I was dangerously close to permanent reassignment as it was. Of course the monitors claim they want us to have a healthy work environment, even if they won’t give us the equipment we need to actually do work.

So I did everything a good Mindful Citizen should do–signed out a set of safety gear on my task pad and went to fix the problem before they noticed anything. I put down “repair work” as the reason. That was vague enough to cover anything I needed to do and I knew the safety committee monitored equipment usage. I was supposed to be doing cleaning and maintenance anyway so it was approved immediately.

The smell was strongest in a section of the Complex that had been built before the Fourth War, possibly before the Third. They used a strange, compressed chalky substance sandwiched between thin sheets of fiber for interior walls back then. I pulled away furniture and storage cabinets until I saw it–a mottled black stain spotting the surface near the concrete floor. The chalky part of the wall had turned to a slimy, sticky mess, but I eventually got enough pulled free to see something was blocking a drain. It looked like a pile of large leaves, and I was surprised when they came out all together, as if they were attached.

The leaves were rectangular, and had writing on them, most of it still legible. Not interactive like a task pad, just marks on the surface, and I wondered how it had been done. Reading further I figured out this thing was called a magazine. One article was titled, How to make a pencil–what we don’t know about technology. If you are unfamiliar with the term, a pencil is a device that makes marks, for writing, but doesn’t use electronics. So it can’t be traced. Ever. And it can be erased, too.

You can see why I thought this might be useful.

Enough of the article was legible to let me know I needed wood, graphite, and clay. I think it was the mention of wood that really started me thinking. It wouldn’t be enough to just have something to write with; it would need to be easily concealable too, and I had an idea. I picked greenspace cleanup for my mandatory volunteer hours that week. The greenspace here is large enough that no matter where the job router defined my section, there would be some kind of shrub in reach. Then I saved a handful of dead branches of the right thickness and brought them back in with me. Not something you could hide, and I didn’t try. I put them in an old metal container I’d found elsewhere in the Complex, made a few “leaves” from broken circuitboard and put it in the Mindfulness niche of my personal space. The Social Index evaluator gave me so many biopoints my index actually went up.

Graphite I tracked down in the lubricants cabinet, strangely enough. It’s used where volatile hydrocarbons would contaminate a processor, or to gain biopoints for the Complex. Clay was much more difficult. Eventually I went back to where I had found the mold and used the chalky white powder from the old interior wall. Then it was just a matter of drilling a long, thin hole down the center of a piece of branch and carefully packing it with a paste made from the graphite and powder, mixed with a little water. Since my “pencil” still looked like a piece of branch, I could hide it with the other branches in the niche and no monitor would even think to examine it. They had approved of it earlier, after all.

Of course I needed something to write on, too. Something easily hidden, or that could be mistaken for something else. It would be dangerous to leave a message where the monitors might find it. One of the processors on the lower level makes big sheets of plastic film–they use it in the urbs, I have no idea what for–and the trimmer leaves odd bits and pieces behind. Dipped in microchip rinse solution, the film becomes frosted and rough enough for the pencil to work, and with a little effort it looks just like a piece of beancake wrapper. Another thing the monitors wouldn’t notice.

Have you noticed yet how freeing this message is? I’m communicating with you, directly, without any evaluator program involved. No monitoring. No one else knows. It’s just like the bird…no, I’ll explain the bird later. I can say whatever I want here, and just to you. They had a word, long ago, to describe this. I read it in another part of that magazine I found. Private.

This message is a permanent record of my thoughts, but independent of me. I could even be dead by now, but my words still live in your mind as you read them. I didn’t go to all this effort for you, of course. I don’t know who you are. Certainly I wouldn’t risk erasing my entire Social Index and reassignment to a permanent punishment post for a stranger.

I did it for Jessen.

Continue reading at Liberty Island

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

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Paul Clayton is the author of a three-book historical series on the Spanish Conquest of the Floridas– Calling Crow, Flight of the Crow, and Calling Crow Nation (Putnam/Berkley), and a novel, Carl Melcher Goes to Vietnam (St. Martin’s Press), based on his own experiences in that war. Carl Melcher Goes to Vietnam was a finalist at the 2001 Frankfurt eBook Awards, along with works by Joyce Carol Oates (Faithless) and David McCullough (John Adams). His other works include: White Seed: The Untold Story of the Lost Colony of Roanoke, a work of historical fiction; Strange Worlds, a collection of sci-fi/fantasy short stories; and In the Shape of a Man, a work of “literary horror.”

Paul Clayton

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

As a writer, I have to put John Gardner right at the beginning — The Art of Fiction, On Becoming a Novelist, On Writers and Writing, and On Moral Fiction. I cherish my Gardner paperbacks with their ballpoint pen annotations and underlines – yes, I write in the margins of books, my own, of course.  I am glad I read On Moral Fiction midway through my career, such as it is, as a writer. Gardner gets into the ‘ethics’ of being a writer, instead of just craft. He laments the celebration of freakishness, the insistence that morality in art is irrelevant, since artists paint or write only for themselves. Instead, Gardner calls, like Tolstoy, for “a world ruled not by policemen but by moral choice, a world where every man’s chief ambition was to be Christ-like. Only through moral art, Tolstoy argued — or ‘religious art,’ as he preferred to say – can such a world be brought into existence.” Too many of today’s young writers follow the current trends and way too many, in a desperate attempt to find an agent, a “house,” and money, censor themselves and pander to the jaded tastes of the gate-keepers in the NYC book industry.

As a college student, I majored in American Literature and as a reader, many of my favorites fall into that category, among them: Nathaniel Hawthorne, Herman Melville, Mark Twain, John Steinbeck, Ernest Hemingway, James Jones, Norman Mailer, Joseph Heller, Tobias Wolff, Ethan Canin. I don’t limit my reading to only American writers, of course.  Some of my other favorites are Robert Louis Stevenson, James Joyce, Aldous Huxley, George Orwell, William Golding, Erich Maria Remarque, John McGaher, Paul Theroux. And I enjoy some rollicking good “genre” authors as well, for example, Ken Follett. My pronounced taste for ‘war fiction’ is probably the result of my having served a tour of duty as a draftee infantryman in Viet Nam, which resulted in my novel, Carl Melcher Goes to Vietnam. A couple of my guilty pleasures are the works of Erich von Däniken and Zecharia Sitchins. (I say “guilty,” because while I don’t have the education to agree or disagree with their ancient alien theses, I find them mesmerizing and compelling.) My fascination with same is reflected in some of my recent work. I just realized that there are no female authors listed here so I want to add two that I’ve read and enjoyed very much: Flannery O’Connor and Toni Morrison.

I can’t watch most modern American movies. I embrace realism, while it seems that most of the country is running away from it as fast as they can. What’s popular – feminist fantasies featuring young, kick-(male heterosexual)-ass characters armed with magical powers or bows; overblown, hyper-fast fantasies featuring male action heroes who leap bravely from frying pan to fire ad nauseam for 90 minutes. Instead I prefer the slow, measured, ‘character’ stories of the old masters, John Huston, Orson Welles, and some newer movies as well, Steve Buscemi’s Trees Lounge, for one. I also enjoy the work of Italian directors, notably Lina Wertmuller.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NJWALbC0tSY

2. How do you describe yourself ideologically?

I’m more of a “traditionalist” than a staunch conservative.  Yes, all “passing” generations long for the glories of their heyday, but when a culture like ours is bow down, like the Titanic about to plunge to the bottom of the cultural abyss, then it’s right and good to appreciate and champion the thoughtful, deeper art works of the past, and to warn against the current generation’s fascination with narcissism. Too many writers are going for the sensational, pushing the constraints of the culture to their breaking point. I’d rather, in the spirit of John Gardner, “conserve” the best aspects of our culture, and so I attempt to keep young readers in mind as I write. My work is mostly realistic-mainstream, combined with genre elements such as historical, horror and sci-fi.

3. Which thinkers/commentators have influenced you?

There are three. I read The True Believer by the stevedore philosopher, Eric Hoffer, at a time when I was very much the putty that he describes – unanchored young people, with minds full of mush, easily molded by the reigning demagogues.  Then I read Allan Bloom’s seminal work, The Closing of the American Mind, about young people and higher education. Finally I came to Czeslaw Milosz’s classic, The Captive Mind, and was astounded by the similarities between the tactics and polemics of the communist bosses behind the Iron Curtain of the 1950s and 1960s, and today’s leftist politicians and their sycophantic Media Captains and Queens.  I think these three works should be required reading for all young Americans, along with a good history of our country and the Soviet Union.

4. Where are you from/currently reside?

I’m from the East Coast, Philly, and I’ve lived on the West Coast, SF Bay Area, for the last 30 years.

5.  What are your writing goals?

Well, not surprisingly, one of my goals as a writer is to write more.  I am in the process of editing a collection of my short stories and a novella, The Blue World, a fictionalization of the Sumerian god myths. However, not currently having an agent or editor, I spend a lot of time promoting what I’ve already written. Either I’m awful at it, or the growing ranks of writers have led to a massive gridlock where the norm is a meager five minutes of fame on some obscure web site, and I’ve already had mine. If the publishing world has an equivalent to the old Hollywood Blacklist, then I am surely on it. (Did I tell you I was paranoid?) Anyway, I think there is nothing sadder for a writer than to put out your wonderful, heart-felt and finely-crafted work only to have it go unnoticed. This can lead to depression, which can lead to watching television, smoking crack, spending time on Facebook, or doing all three at once.

6. Where can people find/follow you online?

I’m only on line occasionally. I try not to live there.

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

Well, I’m 65 now, so I can’t say extreme skate boarding or base jumping off of towering rocky cliffs buffeted by fifty mile an hour gusts in a wingsuit — all of which I would be doing if I were a few years younger. Instead I have to content myself with reading, bicycle riding, and searching for old coins, buttons and bottle caps with my metal detector.  It’s a bit like fishing, which I also enjoy, both of which are probably a lot like writing — plumbing the depths in an attempt to bring up some treasure or… horror.

An Excerpt from Paul Clayton’s 2038: San Francisco Sojourn: The Wrath of God

I never thought I’d meet God in person. Actually, I never thought much about him. Nobody did anymore, or mostly nobody. But one day it happened.

I was driving north on 101 after work, about six PM. I had a date later on at nine with a woman I’d met at a dance a month earlier. Michelle considered herself a witch and was into Wicca, had been for years, and she occasionally participated in ancient druidic spells and ceremonies. I wasn’t into that, but it was every bit as valid as the major religions, right? Anyway, I had a little time to kill so I decided I would hike up to the Microwave Towers on San Bruno Mountain.

I glanced at myself in the rear view mirror–looking good! I was wearing my dress helmet, blue with a red racing stripe down the center. People had long been required to wear helmets for biking, diving, driving, horse-riding, skating, skateboarding, gardening, skiing, sailing, curling and slam dancing. But eventually the government decided that just being alive and walking around presented citizens with a plethora of possible head injuries, and so the Cranial Protection Act was passed, mandating the wearing of helmets at all times. When they were debating the legislation in the beginning, I was against it. But ten-term Senator Sheila Smidgeon’s famous speech in favor of the legislation in which she told of literally hundreds of people in hospitals all across the country due to head injuries which the State had to pay for with monies that could otherwise go to other programs like drug therapy–started to change my mind. But it was the slogan for the campaign, A Broken Brain is State Money Down the Drain!, that put me over the top. Anyway, I didn’t really mind wearing the helmet, but when it was hot outside, it did make your head sweat a little.

I pulled into a service station to quick charge the batteries in my Volt. While they were doing that I bought a health-soda to wash down my prescription. I was on Nossad, your standard dose, 20 milligrams, as were most citizens. Mandatory counseling and drug therapy for all citizens had been the smartest thing the government had done in years. Crime had been virtually wiped out overnight and population growth stabilized (from a few other things they put in the pill). After that, society marched along, shuffled actually, in a steady, predictable pace and direction.

I got back on 101. I could see the emerald green of the mountain up ahead and the grey steel towers on top as I went with the flow of commuter traffic. I turned on the radio and absentmindedly listened to the local news channel–Today, the San Francisco City Council decreed that all fast food joints within city limits can have no more than 150 mg of fat in their meal deals, and the meals must include sex toys, condoms, and a glossy guide to safe sex.

Further down the San Francisco peninsula in the city of Palo Alto, police have been ticketing children for riding their bicycles with one hand. PA police superintendent, Sergeant Sandy Sanderson stated that, “We have to nip such reckless behaviors in the bud. Children cannot be allowed to flaunt the law.” The parents of ticketed children must write an essay on the theme, How I Will Raise a Safe Child for the State, and read it aloud before the City Council while wearing a dunce’s cap in order to have the charges rescinded.

Meanwhile, back in San Francisco, City Council members, citing heightened terror alerts, have hired a dozen former TSA agents to provide enhanced pat downs to all council members upon entering and leaving their offices.

I turned off the radio and took the Betty Crocker Canyon Road exit. The road wound around the mountain’s flanks and I soon came to the trailhead. I parked and started walking. I was halfway up when I spotted a small crowd of people in a little clearing off the side of the trail. There was a large campfire blazing, which was unusual, because they’d long been outlawed in the State for emitting too much carbon. Only LED faux fires were permitted now.

As I drew closer, I saw that most of the people appeared to be undocumented Mexican immigrants, evidenced by the fact that they were helmetless. The Undocumented were exempt from the Cranial Protection Act. They sat in the grass, all focused on some kind of preacher. This was not surprising since the Undocumented were known to be religious, while most citizens had given that up long ago. The man preaching before them was bearded and long-haired, and was also not wearing a helmet. He wore sandals and a robe of what looked like burlap, with a leather strap cinched around his waist. Clutched in his big meaty hand was a staff of some kind. I’d seen pictures of staffs like that in books in the California Book Museum. The legendary Merlin the Magician wielded one. The other staff-wielder was Moses. They had some bibles under glass in the Hall of Hate Literature wing of the museum. In one, Moses blasted a hole in a rock with his staff to find water for his thirsty followers.

As the people listened to the preacher raptly, I was reminded of the stories and pictures of the leaders of the Hippie Movement from the last century, the followers of whom had become the ‘Founding Fathers’ of the Social Stabilization and Medication Act. Maybe this preacher was some lost hippie who had come down from his rocky cave up on the mountain.

The preacher looked strong, not in the modern sense like a young metrosexual male with finely-sculpted washboard abs holding his girlfriend’s purse as she tries on a pair of shoes at the mall. No, this was more like ancient strong. His big, hairy nose and slightly protuberant brow gave him the look of a universal, primitive everyman. I was reminded of old paper drawings I had seen of the aborigines of Australia, the Norsemen, and the Ainu of Japan.

As I drew closer he turned and looked at me like he knew me. I nodded and continued walking.

He pointed a meaty finger at me. “Carl.”

“Lucky guess,” I said, wondering how he knew my name, “And you are…”

“I am the Lord, thy God.”

I nodded. This guy was off his Nossad or, more likely, Calmator. And he needed a time-release implant too because he obviously couldn’t be relied upon to take his meds.

I humored him. “That’s what I thought. Well, nice to see you.” I started away.

“Wait!” he thundered in a voice that you don’t walk away from.

He waved me to approach. I did, feeling the eyes of the people sitting in the grass upon me. “Dost thou know my commandments?” he asked.

“I’ve heard about them,” I said. “They were pretty cool, but I have to… ”

“Sit at my feet with the others and I will teach you.”

As I was trying to decide whether to humor him or run like hell, a voice called out, “You!”

A Park Ranger hurried over to us. His face was flushed as he pulled a ticket book out of the back pocket of his khaki pants. “Where’s your helmet?” he said to the preacher.

I looked at the preacher and pointed to my own head. “You’re supposed to wear them all the time… for your own protection.”

The preacher smiled and shook his head slowly. Then he turned to stare at the park ranger like he was a bug or something.

“Who started this fire?” the ranger demanded. “California Air Resources Board, Statute 753, Section 3, Paragraph 4.1 clearly states that only LED faux fires are permitted in California State parks.”

“I don’t know,” I said.

A California fruit fly, one of the state’s protected endangered species, flew by, made a circling loop around the ranger’s head, then lit on his nose. As it crawled across his cheek he pretended that he didn’t even know it was there when, in reality, he was probably wishing no one was watching so he could swat it like everyone else did.

The ranger’s face twitched slightly as he turned to the preacher. “Did you start this fire?”

The preacher nodded slowly with what looked like wry amusement on his face.

The ranger’s face hardened. He pulled a pair of cuffs from his belt and grabbed the preacher’s wrist. “You’re going downtown.”

The big preacher pushed the ranger backward like he was made of papier-mache. He raised his staff and I got a better look at it. It was made of metal or something, and there appeared to be several buttons on it. A blue bolt of energy arced out from it and into the ranger, setting his hair and clothing on fire. I felt a surge of heat as his entire body erupted into flame. A moment later there was only a pillar of smoking ash which then collapsed in a mound on the trail.

Continue reading at Liberty Island… 

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

Erich Forschler is an Iraq War veteran and author of Weight of an Empire, a novel about three Iraq War vets in Georgia.

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

I’m a terrible fiction reader. Been that way since I can remember reading anything more advanced than Hop on Pop. The first book I ever read cover-to-cover (without being forced to by a teacher) was The Ox Bow Incident by Walter Van Tilburg Clark. I think I was 10 or so then, and I struggled to read anything larger than a novella until I discovered Cormac McCarthy’s work. The Road might be his best work, but my favorite is No Country for Old Men. Coincidentally, or perhaps not, my favorite movie is No Country for Old Men. I tend to love everything the Coens make, however. I’m also a fan of Hemingway, and my favorite Hemingway work is his first, The Sun Also Rises.

As for intellectual influences? That whole crew of modernist writers who hung out in Europe in the early 20th Century came up with some wonderfully pretentious and snobbish ideas that provide me with an objective while writing. Hemingway, Pound, and Joyce, namely. I don’t look to them for political advice, but their explorations of syllabic rhythms and imagism have had profound impacts on my writing goals.

2. How do you describe yourself ideologically?

If I had to check a box, I’d go with “Classically Liberal.” In that sense and that sense alone I am currently “conservative.” I value the rights of the individual with highest regard. Without free individuals you cannot have a free society. And, to me, freedom is as simple as: “My freedom ends where yours begins, and your freedom ends where mine begins.” None of this “freedom from; or freedom to” dialectical nonsense. I generally use another word for “nonsense” there, but I’m trying to be good. Anyway, through individual sovereignty and mutualism we shall succeed. That’s the idealist side, anyway.

3. Which thinkers/commentators have influenced you?

Commentators? Like John Madden? Personally, I think the Mike Tirico / Jon Gruden duo is fantastic on Monday Night Football. Absolutely wonderful. Other “commentators” – especially political pundits – get on my nerves.

Thinkers? Well, James Madison and Thomas Jefferson are two that greatly influenced my political views. Eric Hoffer, with his book, The True Believer, has had a profound impact on my views of society, and Karl Popper is continuing to wreak havoc in my mind as I work through his two-volume epic, The Open Society and its Enemies. Popper’s philosophical contributions to science are excellent. There are also countless others who are not public personas. Well, I can count them, but I don’t know if they’d appreciate the name-dropping.

4. What are your writing goals?

To be better than my heroes. I don’t want to sell a million formulaic books with the same bones and different skin. If I sell a million books one day, that would be cool and all, but I’d feel unfulfilled if there wasn’t at least one amongst the lot that stood out as something beautiful and moving. I know how stupid it sounds, but it’s genuine. I want to write something that’s experiential – something that leaves imprints and images in the minds of readers – something that, after they put the book down and walk away, reverberates through their thoughts as if what they had just read was real. Those modernist snobs talked a little about a fifth dimension. No one really knows what that is. To me, it’s leaving an imprint on a reader that forms as a lasting memory and feels as real as something that had actually happened to them in reality in a really real way that really happened… but didn’t.

5. Where can people find/follow you online?

My books are on Amazon, and I keep a little presence (mostly poetry or short stories) on the web with my blog at

http://www.erichforschler.wordpress.com/.

I also have an author page on facebook: www.facebook.com/Erich.Forschler

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

I like a lot of things, and not many of them are very “crazy.” I like random acts of kindness. Cliché, sure, but it only seems that way because I am omitting the nuance. I’ll put it this way, I like to observe my environment – sit back and watch people be. Watch them do. And there are times in life where others are in need of help – these are the “no brainers.” How often do we keep driving past the folks in the car on the side of the road? It’s not always easy to tell whether they need help or not. No, I don’t always stop either. That’s an example. Other times, random acts of kindness evince themselves after observing people in otherwise normal situations. A good group of youngsters working at the local Subway restaurant. They get along, are happy in their current time and space. Maybe a random act of kindness is as simple as dropping a $20 bill in the tip jar. Split three or four ways it barely buys them a gallon of gasoline, but how often does anyone tip those kids, and let alone to the tune of 20 bucks. Little things like that. And I’ve got a soft spot for wildlife in the road: turtles and stray dogs especially, and there was even one time when a Brown Thrasher had survived hitting a car. That little guy got a ride to the local veterinary hospital. They probably put him down, but… ya know.

Yes, I am that boring.

If I could live on the beach I would. Literally on the sand like that. Exposed. But eventually I think the wife and kids would complain about not having anywhere to put their shoes or whatever, so that wouldn’t work.

But I’d do it if I could.

An Excerpt from “Coyote Skull” at Liberty Island:

The tree trunks made black lines from where they broke the white snow and rose until the frozen needles met in one dark mass. High above, the moon held bright and full. The treetops, sealed in ice, glinted bluish white. A wind came then, carrying a distant yelp that spread and sank away in the renewed quiet.

The first shadow broke the silence, sprinting on four blurred legs and wheezing smoky breath with each push. Plumes of white followed as it sprinted past. The others pursued, their silhouetted muzzles catching the hanging plumes of white in the air. Shadows chasing shadows in the harlequin calm.

The pursued grew shorter strokes with longer wheezes. He turned at a gentle rise in the tree line and made for the stream on the other side. The pursuers gained ground with each lunge. They hacked the air with white teeth and crunched the snow in rhythm.

The stream gurgled in hidden seams between ice and rocks now covered in a blanket of exposed white. The moon held high above. When the shadow reached the stream its legs gave out and the head turned as the hips sank down. He pushed the back end up with another wheeze. The pursuers slowed and split apart, still hacking smoke as they surrounded the first.

 

They came at him separately. One to distract. Another to attack from behind. Again and again. He spun in the snow and snapped at them each time, and each time he was too late. He began to spin faster, snapping where there was nothing but empty dark. Chasing his own plumes of snow.

They backed him across the stream to the edge of the plain with snarls and flashing teeth. But when he broke off in a hobbled sprint they left him, offering only a momentary trot in pursuit before halting. Long faces hacking the air. A shadow alone across a smooth plain of white. The others lingered a while at the edge of the open land, pacing, sniffing, and marking the line.

*

Old Mr. Hall stood in his old buckskin coat with one arm hooked on the edge of his wagon and the other at his waist, holding his once-white Stetson, and stared down the snow-muddied road in the center of town. The Habersham boys stomped down the steps and hoisted the last two bags of feed up and over the edge. The heavy bags thumped into the small wooden wagon and bounced it out from under the old man’s arm. He shrank away from it and gave it a surprised look.

“You all right, Mister Hall?” asked Fred.

“Bad as ever,” the old man said with a wink.

“Well, that’s the last one,” Jack said, wiping his hands.

“I do appreciate it,” Hall said. He reached out and shook the boys’ hands. They said “Yessir” and then went back up the steps and inside. Their father stood on the porch and shook in the cold.

“Well, anyhow,” he said, “I still wish you would change your mind.”

Hall rolled his bony shoulders forward underneath the thick buckskin coat as he nodded his head. Then he looked down and patted his thigh with the hat.

Habersham smiled. “I know, I know–but…” He watched Hall and waited for him to say it.

“But I been here long before anybody else come around and whatnot.”

Habersham shivered and nodded and went on smiling. Then he took a deep breath and said, “Now I won’t impugn a man on account of his stubbornness lest I become the stubborn one myself…”

“But,” the old man said.

“But I’ll let it lie so long as I know you know you’re welcome to our empty bed upstairs.”

“Well I know it and appreciate it all the same.”

“All this with them Sioux and the Federals now. Don’t know how you can catch a wink out there, all alone like you are.”

“I get by.” Hall gave him a smile and topped his gray head with the dirty Stetson.

Habersham hugged himself and came down a step. “What I hear is that war parties are moving all over, and they don’t rightly take the time to ask if you’re a good white man or a bad one. Starting to believe all the stories about savages now. And maybe we brought it out of ’em. I can’t say. Sometimes I wish I’d never come this far.”

Savages, he said. The old man was staring down the road.

“Been a long time,” Hall growled to himself, remembering.

He had peered through the opened window facing the creek. There along the bank were over thirty of them, painted up and walking their horses and casting long shadows in the fading sunlight. They let the horses stop and drink here and there as they mingled in the copse. One of them stayed on his horse holding a rifle across his lap. He watched the cabin. The whole party came closer, passing behind him.

Hall ducked down and eyed the Spencer rifle on the opposite wall. After about a minute of sitting there on the floor the old man stood and removed his hat. “No, they don’t want a fight,” he mumbled to himself. He dropped the hat on the bed and went to the door.

The old man opened the door and took one step out onto the porch, showing the palms of his hands. The middle of the pack walked directly in front of the cabin now, moving along the creek while the horses drank. All of them turned and stopped when he stepped out, and there they stood and stared. Then the one on his horse came by, closer than the rest, and gave the old man a long glare. They kept eye contact while the old white man walked forward to the porch steps and lowered himself down to a sit.

Hall turned his shoulders and swept one hand across his body and toward the door. “You hungry?” he asked in English.

The rider shook his head.

“Been a long time.”

The rider gave a nod. He looked away at the rest and watched them pass for a minute. A breeze came through the valley and rustled the leaves and needles on the trees that lined the creek.

“Winter’s about on us,” Hall said.

The rider looked at him and then down at the ground. Then he pointed his rifle at the ground beside him. “S’unkmanitu,” he said before he lifted his hands and looked up. “Iktomi.” Hall shook his head. He was still sitting there on the step long after they were gone

“Mr. Hall?” Habersham was saying.

“Oh?” he replied, shaking his head and waving a hand. “I was just thinking.”

“You all right?”

“Oh,” Hall started to say. Then he stopped himself, smiled and put his hand out. “Well, I do appreciate it.”

“And I appreciate your business.”

Hall pulled himself up to the seat and gathered the reins. The thick brown horse with graying eyebrows snorted and worked its jaw. “Oh hush,” Hall said. Then he gave Habersham a look and said, “Savages or not, they’ve never done me wrong. And I probably gave them plenty to hate me for over the years. But they don’t.”

“I know. I didn’t mean to offend–”

The old man waved a hand and shook his head.

Habersham nodded. “But it ain’t how it was before. Won’t ever be the same now.”

Hall gave a quick nod and looked down the muddy road. “Well, I better get back then.” He gave the reins a snap and said, “Come on, Old Brute!” and then rode off through the rutted, muddy street between the small collection of wooden buildings on his way out over the plain and eventually back to the cabin by the creek.

Continue reading at Liberty Island

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

Tom Weiss is a military veteran with multiple tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. He’s written non-fiction articles and has now started writing fiction at Liberty Island, starting with a script.

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

My father has always been a reader.  To this day my mother implores me to take some of his books home with me when I visit because there are just too damn many in her house.  I grew up with his ever increasing library in the room right next to mine and started reading Heinlein, Asimov, and Tolkien among others. I grew into Stephen King – my father was never a fan – then grew out of him again. The older I got the more I started reading non-fiction and became something of a military history buff. George Lucas made me love the movies.  Harold Ramis and Bill Murray kept me coming back. Oliver Stone helped me to realize movies can lie to us.

2. How do you describe yourself ideologically?

I grew up thinking I was a Ronald Reagan conservative, but I’m now more of a Penn Jillette Libertarian.  It’s much easier to label what I’m not, and that’s a statist or progressive of any kind.

3. Which thinkers/commentators have influenced you?

My formative years were spent listening to my father’s endless political arguments with friends at the dinner table. Rush Limbaugh then showed me how the newspapers can report facts and still get the story completely wrong. George Will’s intellect has always frightened and amazed me.Lately I’ve re-discovered Milton Friedman.  I listen to Russ Roberts’ podcast every week and read James Taranto and Jonah Goldberg when I can.

4.  What are your writing goals?

I want to tell a good story and write authentic characters that people care about.  If I can get that right I’m pretty sure everything else will fall into place.

5. Where can people find/follow you online?

@realtomweiss on Twitter. Because, you know, there are a lot of fake me’s floating around.

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

I used to play chess competitively until I found another game of skill, poker. I’d like to win a World Series of Poker bracelet one day.

An excerpt from the script “In the Ashes“:

FADE IN:

 

INT. GARAGE – NIGHT

 

TWO IRAQI MEN, early 30s, dressed in begrimed coveralls and work boots, tinker with a nondescript white 4-door sedan.

 

The garage door is shut, its interior lit harshly by bare bulbs and portable lights shining where the men are working.

 

MUSTACHE MAN, sporting a thick full growth obscuring his upper lip, is at the driver’s side door. 9-FINGER MAN, missing his left index finger and sporting a few nasty scars on both hands, works on the trunk.

 

These men are constructing a moving bomb. Concealing explosives in the car’s interior.

 

UTHMAN, 40, jet black hair slicked back and wearing a dress shirt and slacks, smokes a cigarette on a stool next to a clean, organized workbench. He pays the men no mind.

 

INT. HIGH SCHOOL CLASSROOM – MORNING

 

MAJOR MARK THOMAS stands in front of the whiteboard, a Google Earth shot of Baghdad projected on the screen next to him.

 

Mid-30s, he is over six feet tall and casts an impressive shadow in his military uniform, his head shiny from a fresh crew-cut.

 

Animated, he enjoys talking to the thirty high-school kids in front of him.

 

MAJ THOMAS

It looks like we’re running out of time. Let me take one more question.

 

A PRETTY GIRL in the third row raises her hand and MAJ THOMAS calls on her.

 

PRETTY GIRL

So after this…surge or whatever, is over with, everyone can come home, right? We’ve been over there for years…

 

MAJ THOMAS

Counterinsurgency takes a long time.

 

PRETTY GIRL

Since I was in junior high.

 

MAJ THOMAS

But the thing to understand is that the only way for us to lose is to quit.

 

PRETTY GIRL

But why are we there in the first place?

 

MAJ THOMAS

As long as we commit ourselves to helping the Iraqi people stand on their own two feed, they’ll have a bright future.

 

MRS. WILLETTE, mid-50s and looking every bit like she’s been a high school social studies teacher for 30 years, stands up from behind her desk.

 

MRS. WILLETTE

Let’s give the Major a warm round of applause.

 

Polite applause, interrupted by the bell.

 

Mrs. Willette offers her hand to MAJ THOMAS as the students file out of the room.

 

REBECCA THOMAS, mid-30s, dark brown hair framing soft features, weaves through the students to join them.

 

MRS. WILLETTE

Thank you for coming in today.

 

MAJ THOMAS

I used to love it when you’d bring in a guest speaker. No homework.

 

MRS. WILLETTE

And thank you for making me feel old. When do you head back?

 

MAJ THOMAS

Tomorrow.

 

MRS. WILLETTE

And how much longer will you be in Baghdad?

 

MAJ THOMAS

A twelve month tour turned into fifteen with the surge, and I have eight left.

 

MRS. WILLETTE

Be careful, please. We’re praying for you.

 

MAJ THOMAS

Thank you Mrs. Willette.

 

MAJ Thomas slides an arm around Rebecca.

 

MAJ THOMAS

We’re going to run. Lots to do before I leave.

 

MRS. WILLETTE

Be safe.

 

Smiling, Mrs. Willette watches the pair out of the room.

Continue reading at Liberty Island

****

image illustration via shutterstock /  mania-room

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

Check out this interview with Karina Fabian and excerpt from her new short story “Josie’s Last Straw” at Liberty Island.

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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.

26. Anne Eckart: How to Apply to MFA Programs

Meet Anne Eckart, a new contributor at Liberty Island, in this Q&A and story excerpt.

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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

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

Meet Mark Ellis, a painting contractor with a second career as a gifted, literary writer, now with “Temblor,” a new short story at Liberty Island

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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 / Scisetti Alfio

28. Carol Kean: ‘Comrade Cruise will Cure Your Blues! And Teach You a Vital Thing or Two!’

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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.

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image illustration via shutterstock / : NAN728

29. Joseph Magrisso: ‘But in the Movie it Said if You Rub the Lamp a Genie Comes Out…’

Meet Joseph Magrisso, an attorney from Miami with a creative story about a little girl discovering a hidden treasure in a San Francisco hippie bookshop…

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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

30. S.D. Tortorice: ‘A Good Video Game Sparks my Imagination in the Same Fashion as a Good Book.’

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

31. New Novel Released Today: Wreathed By Curtis Edmonds

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Wreathed by Curtis Edmonds available on Kindle and paperback

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

The novels of Larry McMurtry have been a huge influence on me. McMurtry was born in Archer City, Texas, and I must have passed through Archer City a thousand times over the years, going back and forth to my grandparents’ house in Wichita Falls in the back seat of my dad’s old Chevy. I picked up Lonesome Dove on the recommendation of my high-school English teacher, and my paperback copy disintegrated a long time ago from re-reading. McMurtry’s cowboys aren’t stainless heroes–they’re low characters, for the most part, but they are capable of great things when the need arises.

Lonesome Dove and its sequels made McMurtry’s reputation, but my favorite of his novels is a little-known gem called Some Can Whistle, about a depressive Texan sitcom writer living in a giant house on the outskirts of Wichita Falls and slowly deteriorating. He is forced into reconnecting to the world around him when his estranged daughter calls him out of the blue one fine day. (I would later steal this scene for the first chapter of my debut novel, Rain on Your Wedding Day.) Some Can Whistle is about what McMurtry calls the “war of life,” and it’s a war with significant casualties.

My reading tastes tend to go in several different directions at once. I will go through phases where I’m reading a lot of genre fiction; I’m in one of those now. I started reading the Lois McMaster Bujold sci-fi Vorkosigan novels last year, and I speed-read through Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files last summer. I will probably circle back to historical fiction at some point (there’s a new Bernard Cromwell book coming out this fall) and if I ever get some extra bonus reading time, maybe some real history. (I have had the book by Winston Groom about Vicksburg sitting on my nightstand for at least a year and a half and haven’t picked it up, for which I am embarrassed.)

2. How do you describe yourself ideologically?

I am a Texan, and a conservative largely because conservatism aligns with Texas values – strength, independence, faith, and courage. America is still a strong country, and still independent–but it’s clear that faith is on the decline, and (at least in a political sense) so is courage.That’s what drew me, ideologically, to Phil Gramm, who left the Democratic Party, resigned from the House, and ran again as a Republican and won under the slogan, “Common Sense, Uncommon Courage.”

When I was in college, I was lucky enough to intern for Senator Gramm, in his Dallas office. I went back to work for him for a semester in law school, and once I got out of law school I went to work for Senator Gramm full-time. I was working in his office during his disastrous 1996 Presidential campaign, and I think the Republic is much worse off for Phil Gramm never having been President.

I’ve attached a video where Senator Gramm spoke recently to the Texas Public Policy Foundation — it’s a bit long, but it’s worth your time to hear it. Senator Gramm says that courage is contagious, and I wish that were more true than it appears to be these days. Anyway, take a listen and ask yourself what might have happened if, say, Mitt Romney had the courage to say some of the things that Senator Gramm says here about Obamacare.

3. Which thinkers/commentators have influenced you?

When I was more involved and interested in politics than I am now, I used to watch The McLaughlin Group, mostly because it was on TV right before the NFL pregame shows started. (McLaughlin is now 87, and still doing the show, and good for him.) You could watch a solid week of The McLaughlin Group from pretty much any era and not find a single original thought. That’s not a criticism, really. What commentators do is mostly entertainment. Thinking would ruin it.

So what I try to do is focus on commentators who at least try to think. Glenn Reynolds is a must-read for me every day, as he is for so many people. Sean Trende combines analytics with analysis in a way that I’d like to see more of in conservative opinion pieces. And I always try to read Ramesh Ponnuru, because I met him once at a bar in Washington, and he’d had a few too many beers, and I ended up driving him home, and he was nice enough not to throw up in my car. True story.

4. What are your writing goals?

This is going to sound weird, and I can’t help that, but my main goal as a writer is modesty. This does not, granted, sound like a very high goal, until you consider that the default setting for most self-published authors is obscurity. Modesty is something of a step up from that.

I’ve got a new novel coming out today, called Wreathed, and it’s funny and sharp and you should read it. But I am not going to tell you that it’s going to revolutionize world literature, or that it’s going to vault me to literary celebrity, because neither of these things are true. I am hopeful that people find it and read it, but the only recognition I am probably going to get is if my wife’s uncle says something nice about it at Passover next year.

You have to promote yourself as a self-published author, because no one will do it for you. “He who tooteth not his own horn, the same shall not be tooted,” Damon Runyan said, and he was right. But it’s important not to lose sight of what your place is in the publishing universe, which is sort of like serfdom, without all the manual labor and disfiguring facial growths. It’s important to keep things in perspective.

5. Where can people find/follow you online?

I do Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/blueduck – and Twitter at @Curtis_Edmonds – please take note of the underscore, because if you leave it out you get some cross-eyed slacker in rural Michigan who has the same name as me. All my short fiction and book reviews are collected at my non-award-winning website, curtisedmonds.com.

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

I am the world’s leading expert on such diverse topics as depressing country songs, peach cobbler, PowerPoint, and what to do when you find out your wife is going to have twins.

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Also Check Out “Making A Difference: The Diary of Justin Trudeau-Fairchild, Intern” about an overly idealistic and naive liberal intern. Week One is here.

32. Audie Cockings: ‘Can You Call In Something to Help With Her Pain?’

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Here’s an excerpt from the debut story by Audie Cockings, the author of Little Red Rider, a fiction thriller available on Amazon. She holds a Master’s Degree in Adulthood and Aging with an emphasis in Health Care Administration and has been published previously in health care.

Woody couldn’t sleep. “Damn eye drops,” he thought. The clinic nurse said the eye drops would help his glaucoma but that beta blockers sometimes have noticeable side effects–like sleep apnea. Woody remembered putting the eye drops back in the fridge after his Hungry Man dinner, but didn’t actually recall administering them.

Woody’s a retired Marine. And like other honed soldiers, shut-eye came as soon as he shut his eyes. The crazy shit that came after his eyes shut is another matter, but initially getting to sleep was never an issue for him. Woody got to sleep just fine, medicines or not, until last month. He just couldn’t sleep well without her. At eighty-two, Woody’s calm had left him.

He yawned as he rubbed his palm over the closely shorn hair of his youth. Despite his age, Woody’s flat top was thick and taut, his deep brunette hair now bunatti gray.

Naomi’s face was the most beautiful he’d laid eyes on. Not the sallow bearing she left behind. He first spied her bewitching profile illuminated in the light of the film screen. She was a peculiar beauty, one that warranted his full attention. Woody looked away when she first caught his gaze, but by intermission he’d managed to muster up enough stones to shoot her an all-out brazen stare. One to make her know that he meant business.

She had a natural look to her. Not all that Marilyn Monroe bleach blonde, heavy eyeliner, and red lips that the other girls imitated. Naomi’s beauty was subtle and her sweetness appealed to the young man who had boxes full of distant girls on paper at the barracks. Woody desired a nice girl. One that he might actually touch.

Naomi was petite. Short wavy cinnamon hair, blue eyes with flecks of gray, a freckled nose, and a full pout. Perfection. He watched her gloved fingers curl around that tub of popcorn as if it were Lana Turner doing a strip tease. Woody had waited months for High Noon to get to his neighborhood theatre, yet his eyes were fixed on the girl across the aisle and three seats down.

*

He closed his eyes and quietly moved his arm under the sheets to her side of the bed. He imagined scooping her up around the waist and pulling her in closer. It was routine after fifty-five years together. She’d laugh and push him away, then change her mind and giggle after a little convincing.

His arm twitched. Protesting its emptiness. Every part of him missed her.

He opened his eyes to inspect her pillow. A perfect rectangle. It hadn’t been touched except for a laundering every Tuesday, just as she would have done if she were still alive. The linens remained as crisply ironed as the day Naomi went to the hospital and didn’t come home.

She shared Woody’s disciplined nature. Their home was immaculate, even with her stage four cancer. But when evening came that day she was different. Pained and seemingly feeble. Her words came slowly and she shuffled about the house nervously, unlike the strong seasoned wife of a decorated Marine.

Her heightened confusion agonized him. The capable woman he loved had been broken down little by little, in increments that only he would notice. Her smile, from one of joy to one of consolation. She was embarrassed to need him so much. The medicines keeping her body from relentless pain were causing her to forget. Her faculties were slipping and she knew it.

That evening it took Naomi several minutes to ease into her nightgown and into bed. Woody sat down beside her and tucked an unruly curl behind her ear, then kissed her gently. He stroked her cheek until her breathing softened. When she nodded off, he picked up the bedside phone.

Upon hearing the receiver, her eyes opened. “Don’t call,” she asked in a childlike voice.

“Mimi, honey, it’s been a bad day. I’m worried.”

“I’m fine. Just tired, Chief. Tomorrow will be better.”

“Can you feel it?”

“Just a little,” she replied. But her admitting to it upset him. The woman never complained about anything. Maybe they could give her something stronger this time. He bowed his head and pleaded for less pain and more time for his bride.

Woody called the Medicare Emergency Hotline. He was transferred to a physician. He voiced his concerns then asked, “Can you call in something to help with her pain?”

“I’m sorry, but I can’t call in narcotics. She’ll need to go to the nearest hospital.”

Woody confirmed their address with the national ambulance service as Naomi slowly got back out of bed and redressed. She couldn’t stand the thought of the ambulance staff seeing her in a nightgown. She then headed to the kitchen, picked up a sponge and spray bottle full of diluted vinegar and looked for something to clean. She didn’t want the EMT to think that she had an untidy home.

Woody asked his wife to sit down and relax, knowing full well that she considered sitting down in idleness a complete waste of time.

From the front bay window they watched the ambulance kick up dirt in the drive. Naomi and Woody looked at each other as they had many years prior. The look of a loving couple who would be separated. The same uncertain gaze they shared when his plane left for multiple tours abroad. Woody was barely twenty when he signed up. No one in town knew what Woody had accomplished in his years of service. Naomi was his last living confidant, and she would never tell.

Read the Rest at Liberty Island…

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image via Liberty Island

33. Leigh Kimmel: The Angry Astronaut Affair

Check out this new short story from Leigh Kimmel, timely given the recent controversy with the comet scientist’s shirt.

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Check out this new release at Liberty Island:

By the time Reginald Waite returned home, the darkness of night covered the Houston metropolitan area, a perfect close for a perfectly rotten day. It was supposed to be a routine trip to Pasadena to discuss the specifics of a new model of satellite Antares was taking up next month, but he’d no more than started preflight checks on his T-38 Talon when he started finding maintenance errors. By the time he got everything corrected and in the air, he was running late enough that he’d had to use every trick to eke enough speed out of the plane to arrive on time.

Ten minutes after he walked through the door at JPL, some idiot made a crack about Shepard clones always being hot to trot in more ways than one. God, but he’d wanted to punch that jerk, and wouldn’t that be a scene, a scheduled shuttle commander decking an engineer. It’d be as bad as the Great Astronaut Catfight a couple of years ago, when Melinda Bates came home after a six-month hitch at Luna Station to discover this little payload specialist hooking up with her husband and had driven cross-country to confront the Other Woman.

No, it’d be worse, thanks to a certain former senator pulling in all his markers to get one of his own clones installed as NASA Administrator. No way could Aiden McAllister look the other way about a disciplinary infraction by a clone of the man his own ur-brother had condemned as insubordinate, insouciant and immoral.

It had taken all the discipline of a career naval aviator to force the anger aside enough to get business done and fly back to Ellington. Now Reggie was finally home, sitting at his own computer, and he could let that icy wall of control melt away. Go on the Lovecraft Country game and burn off his anger dispelling shoggoths and Cthulhu-spawn, imagine they were everyone at JPL that he’d overheard making snarky remarks about clones taking over the astronaut corps.

As he woke his computer, he noticed that the forum window was in front of the gameplay window. A new post caught his attention:

From: Weeping_Willow

Subj: My Culture is NOT Your Cool Character

Date: Wednesday, January 14, 2009, 1508 MST (GMT+7) 

I don’t want to get into identity policing, but it really bothers me to see Native American characters being played by people who are obviously white. The sheer level of ignorance being displayed is offensive, especially when you consider what your ancestors did to us. You ought to be ashamed of yourselves. Show some respect and keep your games to your own cultures.

Reggie could feel his blood pressure rising, just like back at JPL. Except this time he didn’t have to take it in silence, not now that he was using his own Internet connection, his own computer, and a screen name that would disconnect his online persona from his official identity as an astronaut.

From: Major_Tom

Subj: Re: My Culture Is NOT Your Cool Character

Date: Thursday, January 15, 2009, 2249 CST(GMT+6)

I get sick and tired of this “your ancestors did my ancestors wrong, so you owe me” song and dance. That’s just a license for perpetual bellyaching instead of actually solving the problems you’re having. I’m not responsible for my ur-brother’s failings, and I share 100% of my nuclear DNA with him, so neither are Naturals who only have a fraction of any given forebears’ genes.

Most people around here play to get away from our daily lives, not extend them into gamespace. When I first started playing I created a white male character. He was even an astronaut, although he was based more on Scott Carpenter than my actual ur-brother. Man, did that got old fast — I felt like I was working all day and coming home to work some more. So I created a new character who was completely different — not because I wanted to diss your culture, but because I want to have a game life that doesn’t remind me of my real one of hand-me-down genes and the reputation of a man a decade dead that follows me everywhere I go.

Reggie became acutely aware of moonlight shining into the room. The Moon was a few days past opposition, enough that the terminator had moved beyond Mare Tranquillitatis and the landing lights of Slayton Field blazed bright as an impossible star.

Good God, but he wished he were back up there, where your competence was the only thing that mattered, not who you were a clone of or who your ancestors were. But no, as long as the third-generation orbiters were new he was stuck on shuttle duty, up to Freedom Station and back down, no further. He’d even gone to the Chief Astronaut, saying, “Shelly, can’t you get me back to the Moon?” Michelle Grimwald had told him until those problems were resolved, NASA needed him here.

Might as well play Jerry Ironeagle until he wound down enough to get to sleep. Tomorrow he had meetings and he didn’t want the flight directors to think he wasn’t up to the job.

*

The meetings turned out better than Reggie had expected. But at Johnson Space Center anybody who couldn’t deal with clones didn’t last very long.

No, they head out west to hang out with all the other soreheads.

So he was in a markedly better mood when he got home that evening, more inclined to hang out with some of the other Lovecraft Country players instead of splatting eldritch nasties into thin sheets of slime. It’d be almost as fun as late-night bull sessions with his fellow lander pilots at the Roosa Barracks back on Slayton Field, or weekend liberties in Grissom City. God, I wish I were back up there.

Might as well wish Trofim Lysenko had outmaneuvered Andrei Zhdanov and killed Soviet genetics in its cradle so that human cloning would proceed slowly and publicly instead of in super-secret Cold War projects, without oversight or restraint on either side of the former Iron Curtain. Secrets that became all too public when the Soviet Union imploded in the 80’s and President Reagan went on national TV to announce that yes, the US had its own cloning program as well.

Reggie had no more than gotten online when he found a private message from a friend, Stephanie Roderick, screen name Sailor_Yuggoth: Looks like you’ve kicked a hornets’ nest down in the forum.

Steffi was right. In a single day he’d gotten over fifty responses, variations on the theme of You’re Rude and Need to Apologize, adorned with the politically correct jargon he’d had to endure at that sensitivity training workshop NASA had required everybody attend a few months ago.

OK, you want an apology so damn bad, I’ll give you one. I hope you choke on it.

From: Major_Tom

Subj: Re: My Culture Is NOT Your Cool Character

Date: Thursday, January 15, 2009, 1922 CST(GMT+6)

Sorry if I’ve hurt your feelings. I’ll admit it was a mistake posting when I was still steamed after a very bad visit to JPL, but this stuff hit some sore spots of mine that got rubbed real tender.

Still, some people need to lighten up. I don’t go bitching about how most of the people playing astronaut characters must’ve learned their astrodynamics out of a bad movie, and don’t know Max Q from Solar Max, or translunar injection from orbital insertion. It’s not like they’re going to auger in an actual spacecraft and get people killed, so I just stay away from where they’re playing. That way we all have fun.

Continue Reading at Liberty Island

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image via Liberty Island, shutterstock /