Of Reason, Unreason, and Tea

So last Friday I took my wife to Richmond’s grand and glorious Jefferson Hotel, a monument to a glorious era of grand hotels and stately affairs from an age long gone. We met up with our friend, artist/writer Colleen Doran, and enjoyed a quite civilized tea service of cucumber sandwiches, Smithfield ham biscuits, macaroons and chocolate-covered strawberries, and, of course, teas.

Colleen’s latest graphic novel, with words by Neil Gaiman.

We laughed and joked and spoke of many things, including book sales, and what other creators were doing nowadays, and some lurid gossip from the convention scene that won’t leave my head, and how social media now plays a part in the marketing of our books. Then I said something that has been on my mind in recent days, as millions of thinking, empathic people across the country can feel the Constitutional pillars that hold up the US begin to crumble in this Age of Unreason. What I said was, basically, “I’m thinking of not saying anything of importance on social media any more, especially politically. It doesn’t change anyone’s minds, and it may cost me book sales.”

I’ve been thinking of this for the last few days, and even so I still find myself posting political ramblings, contrarian cartoons, and sarcastic memes. I just can’t stop.

And then yesterday writer John Scalzi posted this thread of ideas on twitter, and I feel much better now.

See, I’m not alone.

Over on Facebook a post is being passed around in which an author is telling other authors not to take political positions because our job is to entertain, not alienate “half our readers.” So, let me speak on this general concept of authors shutting up and staying in lanes.

Basically: Nah. Don’t shut up, if you would prefer to speak. Also, as a human here on Earth in 2022, you’re in a bunch of “lanes” including “a political stakeholder who has opinions on events that affect their life.” You may decide that “lane” is the important one right now.

Will you alienate readers expressing political opinions? Sure. But, as someone who once received a flaming kiss-off from a reader for expressing a mild operating software preference, I assure you that you can alienate readers by expressing any opinion on anything whatsoever.

You could try to never express an opinion on anything ever again, including *in* your writing (this is a neat trick if you can manage it, good luck with it), but living a life of never publicly expressing an opinion so as to never lose a sale seems enervating and futile to me.

Also, think about the math for a second, for crying out loud. To grossly oversimplify: The US adult readership is about 200 million people. If you alienate “half of them” by talking politics, you have 100 million left. 99+% of books sell 20k copies or less. YOU WILL BE FINE.

More realistically, the market pool for any book will be smaller based on genre, etc. But even then, if you lost “half” the potential readership, you’d still have more readers available to you than you are likely to sell to, even if you are a genre or mainstream bestseller.

But you want to sell more! Well, good for you! Also, have you noticed that bestselling authors on social media tend to be a politically mouthy bunch? It’s almost as if their having a loud public political opinion did not impede their book sales! Curious, that!

Also, look: you could lose readers by expressing opinions. You can also gain them. There are readers who factor a similar worldview into their purchase choices, or when trying out new authors. Other readers don’t care. In my experience, these things even out in the wash.

You don’t *have* to express political or other opinions out loud if that’s not how you roll. Be who you are. But that *is* how you roll, don’t limit yourself because of worries about sales. I suspect you will also find being your authentic self is important in the long run.

On a personal level: With full acknowledgment of who I am and the privileges I get because of it, I have a full and extensive history of being publicly political, long before I was writing books. Lots of people wish I would shut up. But it’s not their call and it’s my choice.

I could not and can not in good conscience be silent about politics and the world, especially now, when fellow Americans are having their rights stripped from them by cowards and bigots and fools. I will speak and not give a damn how many sales I lose. This is an easy choice.

So, yeah. Speak your mind, authors, if that what you think the moment requires of you. You don’t need to be silent against your will, just for the sake of a sale.”

I’m taking this to heart. I’m gonna keep on keeping on, as the song says (and if there isn’t a song that says this, there should be). Over on Facebook, posts featuring photos of morning after pills are being censored by algorithms. Today the Supreme Leaders of SCROTUS “reinstated the Republican-drawn map of Louisiana’s House districts that was blocked by a judge who found it likely discriminates against Black voters.”

Simultaneously, Ghislaine Maxwell was sentenced to 20 years in prison. Cassidy Hutchinson dropped a bunch of big dimes on Orange Julius and his crew that couldn’t shoot straight.  And poetry is slowly becoming more popular in the US.

So…we’ve just got to keep on keeping on. And have some tea.

The Fauxtel Greene

So this past weekend my wife and I attended the wedding of our nephew Glen and his lovely bride, Lizzie, at the charming Linden Row Inn in downtown Richmond. Our friends Darin and Deb had stayed there before and had loved it, so I knew Lizzie and Glen’s choice was a good one. Besides, they have a hotel cat, Anastasia, and the Inn is supposed to be haunted. Excellent all the way around!

Their wedding was simple and beautiful; personal vows were read; Maria and I were teary-eyed; and the newlyweds are, as I write this, winging their way high above the continental US for a Polynesian honeymoon on Oahu. (As a dutiful uncle, I recommended a visit to Duke’s on Sunday, per Jimmy Buffett; and Maria suggested they try Hawaii’s signature fish, ono, which the rest of the US knows as wahoo.)

Enjoy a musical interlude of “Duke’s on Sunday.”

The reception was held a few blocks away, where the sign over the door reads THE HOTEL GREENE. Inside, the reverse of the sign over the door reads:

Hotel Greene publicity photo.

And . . . it isn’t. The famous Magritte painting is certainly implied by the unexpected wordage, because the Hotel Greene is merely a series of rooms in the basement of what used to be the Hotel John Marshall, which is now an apartment building . . . and it’s a bar, restaurant, and indoor mini-golf course. But it ain’t a hotel at all.

And Maria and I fell in love with it.

It all reminds me of the intense theming that went into my favorite themed attraction ever created, Disney’s Adventurers Club, which Disney stupidly and stubbornly closed in 2008 along with the rest of their much-needed entertainment area for adults, Pleasure Island. Idiots. Pure and simple, idiots. But that’s another story.

I digress.

ANYWAY, a surfeit of creativity and heart went into the creation of Hotel Greene, from the vintage suitcases to the lion painting over the fireplace, and especially to the theming of the golf course, which contains surprise elements hidden here and there. Speaking of here and there, you can read all about the Hotel Greene here and there. Take a look at the official website, too, where a lot of faux backstory is available, including this history lesson:

I promised Maria we’ll go back for brunch soon, because the reception food was good and the drinks from the bar were perfect. Besides, there are still some hidden things along the golf course that I didn’t find. I hope at least one of them is properly spooky and Shining-esque.

The Hotel Greene is located at 508 E Franklin St, Richmond, VA 23219. They don’t have a phone, so to contact them you’ll have to visit their Facebook or Instagram pages and DM the hotel operator.

Americans are becoming more and more stupid every day

Sheerly out of necessity, I had to go to a McDonald’s this morning to pick up lunch, so I could eat on the way to work.

Big mistake.

I don’t know if it’s an effect of the pandemic, or simply a sign of America’s cultural and intellectual malaise, but people are doing the strangest and most idiotic things as a result of not knowing how to think properly.

The McDonald’s is one I won’t go back to ever again, at 8210 Brook Rd. in Richmond. After they handed me a bag with my food, they gave me this:

My mouth hung open. “The fountain isn’t working?” I said.

The girl at the window shook her head.

The piece of paper in the photo was actually inside the bag. I thought it was my receipt, but the paper is blank, and one side is gummy, as if it were a sheet of adhesive stickers.

So I have no idea what that was doing in my bag, but I do know I don’t go to restaurants to do it myself. If the fountain wasn’t working, they should have told me. If the fountain wasn’t working, they should have given me a choice of taking a canned drink or none at all.

Instead they told me nothing until I asked about it. What would they have done if they had run out of bags for the fries? Perhaps, given me a handful and said, “Bag them yourself.” If they had run out of buns, would they have handed me a hot burger patty and pointed me across the way to Food Lion to buy bread?

The mismanagement here is obvious. If I didn’t occasionally have to go to fast food restaurants, I wouldn’t. I definitely won’t go back to this one.

Midnight Mass

I’m a late convert to Netflix. And, I have to admit, I’m a cheap ass. If I hadn’t gotten a good deal on a Netflix subscription through Comcast, I still wouldn’t have it.

Stranger Things was the primary draw for me, and the series has not disappointed. I eagerly await the new season. But right now, Midnight Mass is a huge thrill . . . and, I think, surpasses Stranger Things on every level.

The direction is deliberate. The writing is intelligent. The story is a slow burn—a very slow burn. I have read that some viewers stop watching after the second episode . . . but if they do, they don’t know what they’re missing. Yes, the relationship of the show’s narrative to religion, and the sheer amount of time the characters take in talking about religion, can be off-putting. But there are payoffs.

I knew by the end of the first episode the nature of the show’s antagonist. That kept me interested. But what I didn’t expect was something that hasn’t happened to me since October 6, 1990.

Exactly 31 years ago today.

Episode 4 of Midnight Mass . . . scared me.

The last time I was scared by something on television was during episode 9 of the original Twin Peaks. Here it is:

The final moments of Midnight Mass, episode 4, are eerily similar, yet completely different. I won’t spoil anything, but if you like the novels of Stephen King—especially the ones painting broad tapestries of small towns, such as ‘Salem’s Lot, The Outsider, Pet Sematary, and Needful Things—you owe it to yourself to start Midnight Mass.

‘Tis the Season…

The season of spooks and spirits is upon us, and I couldn’t be happier!

Last week we decorated the library with flickering lights, highlighting our Haunted Mansion theme.

Saturday we watched one of our favorite classic Universal horror films, “Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein,” on Svengoolie on MeTV. Last night we decorated the living room with some with our Halloween flickering lights and some spooky paintings, lit from within and replete with sound effects. Right now we’re watching “Halloween Wars” on Food Network. Then we watched the Osbournes rate spooky video clips…which is a strange show, but it’s fun. We’ve also subscribed to Shudder to watch horror movies all month long, Disney+ to watch “Muppets Haunted Mansion,” and my lovely bride has already watched the original “Halloween” three times plus a documentary about it.

We got married not a few years ago in October because we loved Halloween so much. We were at the first two Universal Halloween Horror Nights, and then the 20th, and this year we are regretting that we’re missing the 30th (it should have been last year, but COVID).

I guess what I’m saying is, we love October and Halloween just as much as Ray Bradbury ever did. Maybe you do, too. So for the rest of the month I’ll be celebrating Halloween off and on…and I’ll also do it whenever I feel like it for the rest of my life. In the meantime, my friend Colleen Doran, a wonderful artist and writer, has a couple of graphic novels available that are perfect for the Halloween season:

Get more info here: https://amzn.to/3l8p1K0

Bullwinkle and Rocky

Back in the dim dark 1980s—specifically, in the spring of 1980—I took my lovely girlfriend (soon to be wife, a few years later) to Los Angeles, Karloffornia (thank you, Forrest J. Ackerman!) for the very first time, in celebration of her graduation from ODU.

We had a wonderful time, but the things that struck me the most were, first, the sheer amount of prostitutes that hung out in a specific area of Sunset Boulevard, most of them wearing halters and brightly-colored hot pants. There were so many, it looked like they were holding a convention. Living sequestered for all of my then 22 years in small-town Hampton, Virginia, I had never seen a hooker before in real life. This spectacle on Sunset was something out of a rental video.

Not that I ever rented that type of video.

The other thing that struck me was something I also had never seen before.

I was driving a rental car on Sunset Blvd, and passed by another spectacle that brought a huge smile to my face. I said to Maria as we drove by, “That was a giant, spinning Bullwinkle statue.”

Yes. Yes, it was.

I have remembered that simple, quick glimpse of Bullwinkle for forty years.

It still exists, and has a secret history that most people have never heard of. Until now.

Enjoy the long and comprehensive history of the Bullwinkle statue. This story is an example of journalism that I love.

(And thanks to Mark Evanier and his wonderful blog for linking to this story!)

Batman Noir . . . for your ears only

Imagine, in your mind, a Gotham City of cold, concrete skyscrapers, and abandoned buildings along the polluted river shoreline, and dented cars from the 1930s to the 1970s, and men on the streets wearing wide-brimmed hats, and women in long, old-fashioned dresses.

This is the Gotham of Tim Burton’s original Batman film from 1989. It’s timeless, caught somewhere between the thirties and the seventies. It’s Batman noir.

And it’s the Gotham City, ostensibly, of Batman: The Audio Adventures, now streaming on HBO Max.

This is a podcast, and it’s almost all audio. (The screen you see above, minus the logo, is present during the podcast, and occasionally something in it will change along with events in the audio story.) It’s almost a return to radio dramas of the ’40s and ’50s—but it’s decidedly different.

First, the cast is top notch, all from tv and movies, and a surprising number come from the halls of SNL at 30 Rockefeller Center. So does the podcast’s creator and producer, Dennis McNicholas, who populates his Gotham City with the voices of Westworld‘s Jeffrey Wright as the Batman, Rosario Dawson, John Leguiziamo, Jason Sudeikis, Chris Parnell, Melissa Villaseñor as Robin, Seth Meyers, Brent Spiner as the Joker, Paula Pell, Ike Barinholtz, Bobby Moynihan, Kenan Thompson, Alan Tudyk, Heidi Gardner, Brooke Shields, Paul Scheer, Tim Meadows, Fred Armisen, and Twin Peaks‘ Ray Wise.

Second, it sounds a little like the classic Adam West/Burt Ward show from the ’60s, but it’s a lot darker, and much closer to today’s comic books. So don’t go into it expecting high camp and hijinks. Maybe a laugh here and there—Bent Spiner’s Joker is wonderful—but the show straddles some extraordinary middle ground, and reminds me in tone of the best tv Batman, Batman: The Animated Series from the ’90s. Here’s the first podcast episode, free on YouTube:

The worst episode of the original Star Trek?

After NBC canceled Star Trek in 1969, the show immediately went to syndication to stations across the country. In Hampton Roads, the NBC affiliate WAVY TV obtained the syndication rights, and I happily greedily lovingly worshipfully watched every episode ad infinitum for at least the next four years, usually broadcast at 4:00 pm, and followed by repeats of The Wild Wild West at 5:00 pm. That schedule would change every other year, basically, with Wild Wild West at 4 and Trek at 5, and then vice versa.

During that time period—and the forty plus years since that halcyon era—there was only one episode that I have seen only once. Considering that, during a period of 1045 weekdays, every single one of Trek‘s 79 episodes would have been broadcast thirteen separate times, I should have seen that one episode at least twice, perhaps even five or six times, or more.

But I only saw “Spock’s Brain” once.


I have no proof to offer; only educated conjecture. But I suggest that “Spock’s Brain” was shown very infrequently in syndication back in the day because the episode was so bad it was embarrassing. This episode is roundly remembered as the single worst episode of the original Star Trek ever produced—the writer, classic Trek producer/writer Gene L. Coon, even used his pseudonym of Lee Cronin for the writing credit.

I saw the episode again for the first time in almost fifty years just last Saturday, after we watched War of the Colossal Beast on Svengoolie . . . which contained no war and only a borderline beast. It’s good for a few laughs—but if you’d like a different take on “Spock’s Brain,” read this by Trek novelist Keith R.A. DeCandido.

Yeah, sorry. I’ll even take “The Omega Glory” over this embarrassment. Shatner’s greatest Kirk speech makes that episode a classic of Trekkie cheese. More, please!

The Return of John Carter

2012 marked, for me, a milestone: a movie I had dreamed of and wanted to see for 41 years was finally made and released.

The movie was titled, simply, John Carter.

A Princess of Mars, the book upon which John Carter was based, and I have a long history that began in 1971. I had just joined the late, great Science Fiction Book Club and received my three books for 10 cents introductory offer. Every month they sent out the selected book of the month and their catalog of other new or reissued books; and in one of the first catalogs I received, I saw this cover by the great Frank Frazetta . . . and I knew I had to read this book!

I had never been so thrilled by such a story; and although I had watched many movies based on the author’s most popular hero, Tarzan, I had never heard of the Tarzan books, or his Martian series, or his Venus series, until the SFBC offered Barsoom Book #1. (Barsoom is the name the inhabitants of Mars call the Red Planet.)

The next few years were a whirlwind of collecting and book buying from print catalogs, through the mail, in Richmond department stores such as Thalhimer’s and Miller and Rhoads, and at science fiction conventions in a pre-Internet, analog world—and they were some of the most joyful years of my life.

2102’s John Carter was supposed to be titled John Carter of Mars, but Disney marketing execs killed that idea after the failure of a previous movie with Mars in the title, Mars Needs Moms. Even so, there is a book called John Carter of Mars, which is the 11th book in Burroughs’ Martian series, and contains ERB’s final John Carter story, “Skeleton Men of Jupiter,” which was originally published in 1943 in Amazing Stories. “Skeleton Men” was the first story in an intended four-story collection of connected tales that, unfortunately, Burroughs never completed. He went to Hawaii and became the US’s oldest war correspondent, returned to the States, then died in 1950.

It has been 73 years since an original, authorized, and in canon John Carter story has appeared, and it just arrived on my porch today.

Action figures not included.

I’m going to finish Stephen King’s new novel, Billy Summers, later tonight. I think there’s a twist at the end that I spotted way beforehand, and I hope that King is going to surprise me.

But my first literary love was Dejah Thoris, and my favorite hero even today is an immortal Virginian gentleman who became a king on Mars. I’ll start John Carter of Mars: Gods of the Forgotten as soon as Mr. King lets go of my throat with his literary hands, and then I’ll once again be transported through the cold ether to a planet where life is led at the sharp edge of a longsword.

You can order John Carter of Mars: Gods of the Forgotten here. The other books in Burroughs’ Mars series are:

  • A Princess of Mars
  • The Gods of Mars
  • The Warlord of Mars
  • Thuvia, Maid of Mars
  • Chessmen of Mars
  • The Master Mind of Mars
  • A Fighting Man of Mars
  • Swords of Mars
  • Synthetic Men of Mars
  • Llana of Gathol
  • John Carter of Mars
My Dejah Thoris, the most beautiful pup on two worlds.

GHOSTFLOWERS . . . a Soundtrack #2

Ah, Brandy . . . you’re a fine song . . . but the wrong song.

In my last post, I talked about the Song, “Brandy,” and it’s impact on both me and the writing of Ghostflowers. That’s important to remember, because “Brandy” was only a thematic influence upon the events of my novel, and I somehow forgot that while I was writing Ghostflowers.

Even though I was alive, well and extremely cognizant during the grand year of 1971, the summer in which Ghostflowers takes place, nevertheless it was 42-43 years later that I wrote Ghostflowers. Consequently, I had to do a lot of research on almost every aspect of life in 1971, and, until a few days ago, I thought I had verified the release dates for every song I mention or reference in my book to jibe with the timeframe.

The time is very specific in Ghostflowers: the novel takes place from Thursday, July 1 to Sunday, July 4, 1971. And I discovered a few days ago that I had accidentally put “Brandy” into a scene where my main character not only dances to the song, but sings along.

Unfortunately, she couldn’t do that in the summer of 1971.

See, “Brandy” wasn’t released for almost another year, on my 14th birthday, on May 18, 1972.

I’m still shaking my head how I made that mistake. Wishful thinking, I guess. The song is perfect for the moment.

After realizing I had to rewrite the scene, I printed that page from my manuscript (page 291, not that it matters)—it’s a scene of a big teen party in the woods, somewhat reminiscent of the party in the woods in Dazed and Confused—and started crossing things out. I changed “Brandy” to “I Feel the Earth Move,” which would not have been anachronistic; but I used Carole King elsewhere in Ghostflowers, so I thought maybe I should come up with another song.

I don’t listen to radio much nowadays. There aren’t a lot of stations that still play real rock and roll—ok, classic rock and roll—and I can’t hear the Blues or Jimmy Buffett on the radio unless I subscribe to Sirius XM, which I do not. BUT Richmond does have Boomtown Radio, which can sometimes entertain me when it isn’t trying to sell discount deals on their obnoxious radio shopping shows. Today, after a short but exhausting little virus that laid me up for three days, I got out of the house to pick up lunch for me and my lovely bride. And the first song that came on was a tune that I remembered happily from my misspent youth. Luckily for me, it came out in 1970, before the events of Ghostflowers, was quite popular, and I remember it playing on the AM station (WGH, in old Virginia) that I always listened to back then . . . and that my characters are listening to during the party in the woods on Saturday, July 3, 1971.

I adore synchronicity.

Here’s Badfinger with “Come and Get It.”