The Case of the Missing Author

Tj O’Connor and I had such a good time at Monster Mania last week (see below), that we decided to induce heart attacks and go do the Collingswood Book Festival in Collingswood, NJ, the next week. Since my brother (seen here with his lap dog, Cody):

lived just down the road a piece, I had a place to crash before and after. Perfect! So, Friday night, I wended my way across the Mad Max landscape of 95 North through Baltimore to do this thing. Tj and I would meet up the following Saturday morning, 11 Oct, in Collingswood.

All the time I’ve been in and out of NJ, I never visited Collingswood because they have passport control and like to keep the riffraff out. It is a lovely town, with a toney main street called Hadden Avenue running ‘cross it, where all of us book peoples were to assemble our tables and banners and offer our bookish wares to an ambulatory bookish public. That is, unless it rained; then we were to assemble inside the Collingswood High School.

Well, it rained. And it was anarchy.

All rules of civilization were jettisoned as hundreds of booksellers went Lord of the Flies and wrestled for table and parking space. Without too much bloodshed, I managed to snag a place inside the adjoining middle school gym:

next to a cartoonist:

which, given the Simpson-ish start to the day, seemed appropriate.

Some of the neighbors:

Just a few days ago, the guy with the great hair was Dormammu at the NYC ComicCon.

Speaking of great hair:

Music was provided by Leon Russell:

Cyd Webster:

was set up across from me selling her post-apocalyptic survival novel HB…’cause, you know, it wasn’t like I was selling a post-apocalyptic novel or something.

Indeed, it wasn’t like there was, oh, say, about 60-90 authors at 60-90 tables lined edge to edge in a cramped space, all trying to sell their books to the few customers who managed to wander in from the main building where all the big booksellers had set up shop. Disaster, right?


It was packed, lots of people coming in and out, and I worked the room for about eight straight hours, buttonholing anybody who even glanced in my direction, shoving my card in their pockets and making a general nuisance of myself. These ladies:

were speculating whether I was a lawyer, a teacher, or a preacher. Well, I teach the gospel of What’s Happening Now, and if you don’t like it, I’ll sue you.

Sell any books? Eh, a few, but, so what? I had a great time. In fact, I’m thinking of going next year…as long as it doesn’t rain.

Oh, Tj? Didn’t see him. Not once. He was somewhere over in the main building…or, at least, that’s what he said in his texts. I got lots of texts from him. Seemed to be running commentary on what was going on over there in a building I did not visit, so, you know, coulda said just about anything, right? Oh, sure, I saw his daughter; she brought me a couple of requested hot dogs because sitting behind a table talking about books all day is grueling work that leaves you famished (how I suffer for my art). But, no Tj. Not once. In fact, when it was over, I called him to see what he was doing and…uh…he’d already left the area.

Uh huh.

Not that I’m implying anything…nope, not me. But, ya know, I think someone ought to go see how Tj is doing. You know, actually SEE him. Alive. Not tied up in a car trunk and being forced to sign checks or something.

Someone should.

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Monster Mania 2014

Had so much fun at last year’s Monster Mania that I wanted to go again, but not alone because, well, monsters. So, Tj O’Connor agreed to watch my back and the two of us hied to Hunt Valley, books and banners in hand, to ply our wares. Set up was Friday night:

That’s Jenna in the above picture. We love Jenna.

Here’s our setup:

Casual Friday look.

Real casual Friday look:

This guy kept order:

John Franklin, that Children of the Corn guy. Did you know he was Cousin Itt, too?

Cerina Vincent, the yellow Power Ranger, set up across from us:

I was very happy.

Victorian Deadpool, Assassin’s Creed Deadpool, Egocentric Deadpool, and Dapper Deadpool:


Incidentally, this is why we love Jenna:

No, I’m not drunk. Just happy. A drunk woman did collapse across me without spilling her beer, but that’s another story.

Pets were allowed:

That’s not camera-flash; those are her eyes. Like these:

Frederica Kruger:

Countess Zorro. Who, by the way, is also Frederica Kruger:

This little girl, all of five-years-old, walked up to our table and sang the Freddy Kruger jump rope song. Creeeeepy:

But, hey, check out her family.

The children of the corn. Hi Amy!:

Pet Sematary:

I have no idea:

On Saturday, I became a hit man:

Damn politicians:

The doctor will see you now:

The family that slays together…:

We still love Jenna:

Captain Mango is my hero:

A thousand years of good and evil. Hi, Donna!:

Child care was provided:

Bomb, Steampunk Joker, and the Penguin:

The Dead Dollies:

who had the room next to mine, which is why I bolted the door and threw garlic around.

A good time. Sold 20 books, gave away four, and met lots and lots of great people. On to Collingswood!

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Thomas Wolfe was right.

Every five years or so, I pick up Thomas Wolfe again…no, not that Tom Wolfe, the other Tom Wolfe, the one no one remembers or reads anymore. It takes that long between reads because, well, he’s not exactly easy going. “Turgid” would be a good one-word description (funny, same has been said about me); ‘sledgehammer stream-of-conscience craziness’ would be a little  more accurate, and I usually end up with a headache after about twenty pages of his. But there’s something about the guy, stalking along the streets of New York like a mad prophet with reams of mad writing falling off his desk while Max Perkins blinks and goes, “Somewhere in here is a novel.” Those were the best years of American literature, when the writing was more important than the sales. And the author.

But I guess my main draw towards Wolfe is his attempt to explain the southerner. Now, I am not a southerner. I lived in Oklahoma and Alabama and Texas and Florida at various times in my life, but also in New Jersey and New York and Illinois. I’m as much a northerner as southern: more accurately, a northeasterner, since I currently hover near the Mason-Dixon line. Wolfe was definitely a southerner, but one who yearned for the north, as per this passage from Of Time and the River:

It was his train and it had come to take him to that strange and secret heart of the great North that he had never known, but whose austere and lonely image, whose frozen heat and glacial fire, and dark stern beauty had blazed in his vision since he was a child. For he had dreamed and hungered for the proud unknown North with that wild ecstasy, that intolerable and wordless joy of longing and desire, which only a Southerner can feel. Page 23 of the Scribner’s 1935 edition, which I proudly own.

Now, I can safely say that I never “dreamed and hungered for the proud unknown North” while I was living in Alabama. Smack in the middle of my freshman year, though, I ended up there: in New Jersey, of all places. Imagine, a bell-bottom wearing, BCG’s-sporting nerd walking into that predominately black high school and saying, in my best LA (lower Alabama) drawl, “Hey, y’all!” No, I wasn’t murdered. In fact, I had a rather good time in high school, and still count those years as some of my best. But I was locked between two camps, without commitment to either.

And it shows. Sometimes, I get an urge to go back to Alabama, maybe see if my old house is available, buy it, live there. Then, I come to my senses. Later, thoughts spin towards New Jersey: maybe I should head back there, find old friends, start some crap back up. Then I REALLY come to my senses and stay here, in Virginia, which, more and more, is a hybrid of north and south.

See, you can’t go home again. Especially if you don’t know where home is.

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Feed me, and Beirut

Random videos:

Greetings from the cat   Gracie’s “feed me” performance every morning about 0500. Nice legs.

Beirut  Imagine listening to this all day, while you’re trying to write. Word is, we’re now getting a Dick’s Sporting Goods. So, whenever the urge for a camouflaged shirt strikes me, it’s just a stroll away.



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There is No Sanctuary

Yeah, there is. Libraries.

Went to mine a couple of weeks ago and picked up these:


Already finished In the Light of What We Know, and I’m in the middle of The Eye of the World. So far, eh. It’s so obviously Tolkien that I just want to go, “Been there, done that,”  and pitch it across the room, but, every few pages or so, an interesting situation shows up so I’m going to stay with it. The Stephen Hunter is a new Bob Lee Swagger  novel, and I loves me some Bob Lee, so it’s next. And I have to read at least one non-fiction per library visit, so who can resist something called The Bohemians? Besides, it’s Mark Twain.

God, do I love libraries.

I had a rather crappy childhood, and libraries became my hideout; specifically, the ones located on Ft. Rucker, Alabama (when I was 10-14 years old), and then the one in Pemberton, NJ (from 14 to 18). After that, wherever I could find one.

I got to the Ft. Rucker library about once every two weeks, during Mom’s biweekly commissary trip. She’d drop me off, because that was one less whining kid to deal with, and pick me up on the way back to our in-the-middle-of-nowhere house some 25-30 miles south of Enterprise, AL. Those were the days when I was reading 600-700 wpm, so I loaded up: Heinlein, Bradbury, Asimov, L’Engle, Moon, anywhere from 10-20 books at a shot. I’d blast through them, and get another 10-20 on the next trip. We also had a bookmobile show up once a month at Goodman Elementary School, and I cleaned them out, too.

My first honest-to-God job was at the Pemberton Library. I got paid $2.00 an hour to shelve books, clean up, and check out patrons (their library books, not the chicks, although I did that, too). Imagine, working in a place you love. I got into a lot of trouble because I’d be back in the stacks and spot something interesting and, two hours later, the boss finds me curled up in a corner reading. Ah, indolence.

Since then, the reading speed has dropped precipitously (might have something to do with a rather misspent adolescence), and the opportunities to read, also (Assassin’s Creed is killing me, pun intended). But, I still go and browse through the shelves. Despite Goodreads and Kindle Boards and all the other thousands of reading sites out there, the New Books section, just past the circulation desk, is where I find my next read.

And sanctuary.

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The Adventures of Gracie the Wander Cat: Da Livin’ is Easy

Whoa, been awhile, so guess I should put in my two claws worth but, really, ain’t much happening. I mean, it’s summer:

What, exactly, do you expect me to be doing?

It ain’t been all lazing around, though. I have been getting out:

Mostly to keep an eye on this clown:

The Wild’uns have been telling me that Russell is really making the rounds. He’s got six or seven families on the street feeding him at random times. Has six or seven different names, too. Why, the other day, one of the families came over to that D. Krauss guy and said that I–Gracie– had been over to their place and they hoped D. didn’t mind them feeding me. “Sure it was Gracie?” D. Krauss asked. “If the cat has yellow eyes and a girly voice, then it’s probably Russell.” So it turned out; the girly voice gave him away. Think of an obnoxious maiden aunt.

“They look alike,” D told them:

No, we don’t.

Then D told them that Russll is my drunk old dad who goes off on benders for weeks at a time then shows up to bum off his daughter:

Russell. Is not. My dad.

But he is a bum.

And needs watching:

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Yard Sale

Boy, if that title doesn’t get me more Google hits, then nothing will.

I set up a table in Middletown, VA, this past Saturday for the infamous Route 11 Yard Crawl:

Like the banners?

I got up at 0400 to drive down there and set up. I’d forgotten there was even an 0400, but, yeah, there is. It’s best to avoid it, in my opinion.

This is what it looked like at dawn:

An hour later:

The pictures don’t do it justice. The place was mobbed.

The delightful young couple next to me, Jason and Kalley, were doing gangbusters. No sooner would they sell out a table full of kids clothes then they would restock it with more kids clothes, which was all snapped right up. I asked them, “Where’d you get all those kids clothes?” They said they had a daughter. One.

Has to be the best dressed little girl in America.

Me? I sold three books. 3.

Shoulda brought kids clothes.

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Losing Losing Cable

Ah, the good things, they come to that proverbial end, and this past weekend we bid a fond adieu to Jason Smith’s Losing Cable series by having a back-to-back viewing of all the episodes. Because Jason is a Big Bang kind of guy (interpret that any way you want), we all met in Shepherdstown, WV to go out in that manner.

Shepherdstown is nice, in that Old Towns of the Shenandoah Valley way:

There’s a lot of towering structures in the town, like the Teacher’s College:

Pretty sure that’s the old clock tower, so be circumspect, or it’s 1.21 gigawatts for you.

The Trinity Church:

A plaque in the churchyard advised there was a brick from the original Jamestown Settlement set in the steeple, visible from a side street:

Good luck with that.

The send-off was in the Opera House:

People were thinner back then.

Jason, high on stress and coffee, welcomed us:

The place was packed…okay, there’s only 15 seats in the auditorium, but still. Some of the audience:

Dan Thunderstone and friend.

Moms and cousins and friends.

Grips and fx guys and curious onlookers.

Then the show started and, I gotta say, seen back-to-back,including the proto Losing Cable episodes, the series is a treat. Freakin’ hilarious, and I was giggling the whole time, even though I’d seen the individual episodes as they came on line. Something about continuity.

Then the last episode (not on line yet, so keep checking back), which, of course, had Odin…for about twenty seconds. So, all those grueling hours, dying of heat stroke in my undercloak and armour in the middle of a broiling, bug-infested field, Jason screaming at me until I cried (he’s a cruel and heartless director), having chickens and grapes mashed into my face and tanakrds of ale (CranGrape, whatever) poured over my head and down my pants, for twenty seconds of screen time?

I’m beginning to suspect Jason was messing with me.

Anyways, it was over, and we had the obligatory crazy cast picture, with some old guy hovering at the end hoping for residual glory:

the young’ins flocking to the after party and drunkeness and search warrants, and me, home to bed.

Jason is now on his way to NYC for bigger and better things. Perhaps a feature film or two, from original source material?


Hello? Anyone there?

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Right smack dab in the middle of Winchester, VA is this lovely place:

The Kernstown Battlefield, where two, count ‘em, two separate battles were fought during the Civil War. Can you blame ‘em? It’s a lovely place to run around and shoot at each other:

I’m surprised it’s still there, given the penchant of the City Council to bulldoze tree lined properties. By the way, here’s how things look back at my house:

On the battlefield is the Pritchard House:

or, at least, what’s left of it:

The docents assured me it is haunted. I can understand why. The Pritchards were Quakers; Mrs. Pritchard was from New Jersey and a Union sympathizer, while Mr. Pritchard sided with the Confederacy. But, being Quakers, they did not participate in the fighting. They and their children lived on the farm during the war, hiding in the basement during the battles because there was some kind of rule that neither Army would commandeer your house if you stayed there while soldiers were busily running around your yard trying to kill each other (of course, there were exceptions made in other times and locales). Made for some interesting moments, I’m sure.

When the battles were over, the Pritchards brought wounded from both sides into their house and nursed them, including a very popular Union officer named Colonel Mulligan, who was shot at the stone wall right out front.

Despite the Pritchard’s care, Col Mulligan died in the parlor, one day before his wife could get there to take him home.

This is Mr. Pritchard’s office:

That’s original wallpaper still clinging here and there, and original stain on the floor.

The parlor:

That’s Col Mulligan on the left, Mrs. Pritchard on the right.

This sketch was made a couple of days before Col Mulligan died:

Ignore the idiot with the camera on the left. Look on the right: can you see Mrs. Pritchard? Take a good look, because that’s the last of her.

Mr. Pritchard had taken a loan against the house before the war started and, although a very successful wheelwright and distiller, all of his tools and equipment were “liberated” by Union forces, leaving the family destitute. Mr. Pritchard filed for compensation, and several Union officers, including General Crook of later Indian Wars fame, testified on his behalf. One week before the court made its decision, Mr. Pritchard died of a heart attack while walking along Hogue Creek, past the stone wall. He never found out his claim was denied and his entire property sold to a bidder. His two sons, 11 and 12, were apprenticed to teach the new owner how to distill whiskey (I hear social workers fainting all over America right now). Mrs. Pritchard was allowed to remove from the house only the things she brought into the marriage. She even had to buy her sons’ beds, so they’d have a place to sleep when done distilling.

And, then, she disappeared. She moved to either Kernstown or Stephens City, but no one knows where, and there is no record of her since. Just gone.

I find that heartbreaking.

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Watch them destroy my neighborhood

“Them” being the city council which, in a frenzied effort to make this a “walkable” city, decided to eliminate a park next to me (that once housed a 19th Century brick farmhouse and 100-year-old pecan trees), for a “commercial development.”

Here’s what my street looked like on the 4th of July:

This is what it looked like yesterday:

The trees with the red strings get saved. The one’s without…

All for a new Roy Rogers, next to an existing Taco Bell, and a bank, and check cashing and auto title stores.


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