Walking Wounded

Injured again.

It was the kind of fall that makes you go back to bed with the front door unlocked in case the paramedics need to get in. I kept the phone handy so that if I woke up immobilized, I could call for an ambulance.

I’m no stranger to freezing rain. I live in Montreal after all, and have seen the city destroyed by freezing rain in the past. But this round of rain had only just begun to freeze. I thought I could safely get a walk in with Inheritance Dog before the streets became treacherous.

I didn’t even make it off the front porch before I went flying and took the last concrete step in the back. Two inches to the right and I would have been paralyzed from the waist down for life. Luckily I angled myself away from a spinal injury by catching myself with my hand. But that meant my hand got horrifically mangled in the process because I hadn’t even put my gloves on yet.

My body wanted to lie there for ten or twenty minutes while I recovered, but I had to get to my feet immediately and hobble after Inheritance Dog to step on his dragging leash before he wandered into traffic. Dogs are dumb.

I covered the worst wounds of my shredded hand with a wadded tissue so I wouldn’t fill my glove with blood. Then we went for our walkies. Because dogs gotta shit regardless. I don’t actually know if he dropped a load or not while I limped around the block. I was too fucked up to notice, and decided I was going to be lax about poop-bag duties this one time.

Once we were back, I threw some food into the dog bowl and crawled into bed. The moment of truth came after a three-hour nap when I got to find out if I was pissing blood or not. I wasn’t, but the suspense was palpable. I figured that one was a coin flip.

This was a few weeks ago. I’m mostly recovered, but I’m back to wearing a brace on my wrist at night. After stopping me from killing myself in two bad falls, those wrist bones are begging for mercy and promising a lifetime of annoying pain to counterbalance the finger I snapped in the bike crash.

It’s hard to pick up the pieces when I keep breaking things.

That doesn’t mean I’m not trying. Work is slow, but I’ve been running more promos lately. In fact, if you want to get a free e-copy of Sex Tape, that’s currently happening on Amazon. Act fast though, because I left it until the last day to mention it here. Likewise there are 99-cent sales on the e-book versions of the Longshot trilogy right now. I’ll try to give more of a heads-up in the future as I feel less and less like I’ve been hit by a truck…and stuffed in the back of an ambulance that flipped on the highway, got written off by the insurance company, and was then towed to the junkyard crusher with me still in the back.

He Who Laughs Last

From the pages of Epitaph:

“May I degrade and humiliate the simpering cretins in the audience? Shatter their illusions, and sap their wills to continue the struggle to sustain their worthless existences?” the fish asked hopefully.

Tom considered the request.

“Just the hecklers,” he said. “Wait until one of them starts calling out stupid shit and then have at it.”

“I look forward to robbing another such heckler’s life of all hope and meaning. I can already taste his sad, lonely suicide in the parking lot of Guffaw’s Chuckle-Shack!”

“Another?” I asked.

“There’s no evidence the last one had anything to do with us,” Tom claimed.

Finally, the sordid tale can be told!

This is my first release of the new year and it’s now up on Patreon.

Want to read it for free instead of paying for a Patreon subscription? Join my newsletter on the sidebar to the right before the next issue goes out. That should be sometime tomorrow, so click fast!

That’s the Spirit

I’m not going to try to pretend this is topical, or that there’s any sort of reason for me to bring it up at all. Sure, it’s the 26.5-year anniversary of the event, but that’s not exactly a round number. Suffice to say, it came up on social media recently when my old underground-comic compatriot, Chris Howard, dug up these artifacts from The Spirits of Independence tour that hit Manchester, Vermont back in 1995.

This was the high-water mark of a revolt in the comic-book industry that saw creators, new and old, shrugging off the shackles of the traditional publishers (especially The Big Two) to strike out on their own, handling all the business logistics themselves. Spurred on by Dave Sim of Cerebus fame, who had been doing it for years, comic creators took on the additional tasks of printing, soliciting, shipping and distribution. The premise of the movement was that there was no point in selling off the rights to our original creations to predatory corporations just so they could take care of basic bookkeeping. If we were clever enough to write and draw our books, we could handle a few more petty jobs and keep all the profits and rights for ourselves.

It was a good plan, ahead of its time, and petered out over subsequent years because it was a little too early. The publishing business was still in its analog phase, not so far removed from the days of the Gutenberg press. The digital age was several years away from exploding and making the whole process a lot easier on a number of fronts, thereby rendering traditional publishers largely redundant.

What was once the outlying Spirit of Independence has since become standard fare. Although I’m not working on any new comics, I’ve been able to take my old Longshot Comics graphic novels and redesign them for Amazon distribution. Now, instead of dealing with orders myself, it’s all print-on-demand, with Amazon fulfilling for me. All I need to do is advertise, and only as much as I care to. Same deal with all of my novels, which I write and design myself. There are no more print runs, no more crippling overhead bills, no more unsold copies rotting in a warehouse. It’s all been streamlined and made more efficient.

On the comic-book front, the old pillars of the business are crumbling. The Big Two, even with their billion-dollar Hollywood blockbusters, have been unable to hold down the fort on the newsstand. More and more creators have gone indie, with crowdfunding becoming the standard for their new books, all of which are creator-owned passion projects that look slicker than anything that’s come out of Marvel or DC in years.

I got out of the comic-book biz decades ago, when I felt cash-grab variant covers were killing the industry, and television writing opportunities opened up for me. I miss the shitshow sometimes, even when I hear just how shitty things have become of late. The close camaraderie of nerd culture doesn’t exist in film and television the way it does in comics.

But on to the nostalgia artifacts, presented here for posterity…

A spot check of the video reveals a familiar face at 35:40 shuffling through another stack of the original minicomic edition of The Long and Unlearned Life of Roland Gethers.
An after-hours jam piece features the handiwork of the famous and infamous. My own Jane Doe of The Squalids is seated lower left.

It Wasn’t a Complete Loss

2021 was the new-new newest worsty-worst year ever.

The suck that’s been running roughshod over my life since 2018 didn’t slow down, and continued to trample me throughout this last year of relentless personal tragedy. Rest assured, I’m waaaaaay past suicidal thoughts at this point. Now I stick around purely out of morbid curiosity to see what could possibly go wrong next. Fingers crossed for a rare and brutal form of cancer in 2022. Bring it on, bitches!

It was sometime last winter I was sitting alone in a hospital, wearing a pandemic diaper on my face, watching my mother die a miserable death only four months after my father died an equally miserable death, that I got to thinking: most people don’t have to deal with this much shit all at once. I mean, seriously, how many broken homes and deaths and illnesses normally strike one person all at the same time? Okay, sure, The Black Death. But I mean, since the middle ages? Probably not nearly this much statistically. If I’m going to beat those sorts of odds, I would prefer to win the lottery. Or get struck by lightning.

Meanwhile, I’m supposed to be running this vast publishing empire known as Eyestrain Productions, and I haven’t released a new book since November 2019.

Clearly I suck.

And yet, somehow, I’ve managed to place another bunch of stories in various anthologies throughout 2021. I guess it helps to have an editor or two badgering me for new Sherlock Holmes stories. At least somebody still loves me.

The MX Book of New Sherlock Holmes Stories – Part XXIII: Some More Untold Cases (1888 – 1894) focuses on Holmes mysteries that are mentioned in the original canon, but not elaborated on. My story, “The Adventure of the Forgotten Brolly” fleshes out the disappearance of James Phillimore, which has been the subject of much speculation for over a century now. I’m not the first to have taken a stab at what was so bloody important about that umbrella he left behind, and I won’t be the last.

Sherlock Holmes: Stranger Than Fiction is a Belanger Books collection of stories featuring Holmes interacting with various other era-appropriate fictional characters including, in my case, the Frankenstein Monster. “The Adventure of the Stitchwork Man” is one of several stories I’ve completed this year that will not be a part of any of my future Sherlock Holmes collections. It will, however, one day appear in a whole other collection built around a certain human construct who also exists in the copyright-free public domain.

After the East Wind Blows: WWI and Roaring Twenties Adventures of Sherlock Holmes – Part One (1914-1918) is one of a three-volume set from Belanger Books that deals with the post-retirement mysteries of the first world war and beyond. Apparently Sherlock Holmes got up to a lot more than beekeeping in his later years. My story, “The Intrigue of the Kaiser Helmet” reunites Mycroft, Wiggins, and Sherlock to solve a case that threatens British morale during the height of the clash of empires.

The MX Book of New Sherlock Holmes Stories – Part XXX: More Christmas Adventures (1897 – 1928) features my second dip into The Great War. “The Intrigue of the Red Christmas” is set in the devastation of no-man’s-land immediately following Armistice and asks the question: does the death of one man still matter after millions were killed in the most terrible conflict mankind has ever known? I suppose it does if he died under mysterious circumstances wearing a Father Christmas costume.

That brings us to The Nefarious Villains of Sherlock Holmes, a two-volume set delving into the histories of various evildoers within the Holmes universe, including Tonga, the blow-dart assassin of The Sign of Four. It turns out his killing spree had an even worse legacy in “The Adventure of the Dozen Deadly Darts” which rounds out volume one. These two books have currently met their goal on Kickstarter, which is a good place to get your advance copies. Better back it now, as I’ve negligently left mentioning it until the tail end of the campaign.

I have one other non-Sherlock story that will be release exclusively for newsletter subscribers and Patreon backers. Hit that subscribe button in the right-hand bar or pledge me a buck at Patreon and you’ll get access to the first Necropolis-rated story in a while. Since I didn’t come out with the third book in the series this year as originally planned, I’ve tried to make up for it in some small way with the story “Last Laugh at the Chuckle-Shack.” It elaborates on an incident mentioned in the pages of Epitaph and features a couple of the supporting characters killing it at a comedy club.

Last year, Google street view captured me staring down Inheritance Dog in Lachine during the narrow slot of time between parental deaths. Little did I know at the time that dog ownership was just around the corner, much to the delight of my cats.

Open Wounds

The worst accident I ever had was on my bike when I was thirteen. I took a corner at high speed and had to turn even sharper to avoid a parked car. Something went horribly wrong and I crashed hard, landing squarely on my face. There were stitches and blood. So much blood.

The second worst accident I ever had came forty years later. I was on a bicycle again. I tried to turn off a street and onto a sidewalk by way of a paved dip. But the road and the sidewalk were too new, too recently poured, and the definition between one surface and the next was sharp and pronounced. My tire got caught in the rut, which forced it in the wrong direction when I was already committed to the turn. I went down on solid concrete and bounced my head off the pavement. This time I was wearing a helmet. Despite sloshing my brain around in my skull, my head didn’t hurt.

Everything else did.

After a very nice German girl named Tanya helped scrape me off the road, she sat with me for forty minutes while I recovered enough to start walking again. The sun was down, and my hands were too injured to work the brakes, so I pushed my bike home the last three miles before collapsing into bed.

That’s when the shock set in. It was a long night of fever and shakes and sudden nausea when I tried to sip a bowl of soup. Even in such a sorry state, I still had to limp around the block in the wee hours because Inheritance Dog must be walked regardless.

Yes, I should have gone to the hospital. Instead I just texted a friend to check on me in the morning to make sure I was still alive. Someone needs to feed my animals if I die in my sleep.

This was two months ago. I’ve been recovering ever since. The scabs have since healed and flaked off, but other, deeper injuries still hurt. And my mangled big-toe nail is dead and waiting to peel off Brundlefly-style. Most nights I sleep with various braces to keep all those distressed bones and ligaments in place. The sprains and broken fingers and toes have mostly set, and my worries of having to endure chronic pain throughout the rest of my life have subsided.

I’ve even been on my bike a couple of times since the accident. Having two estates to settle and a house to sell pushed me to make weekly, sometimes daily, commutes out to Lachine. This is how it goes when two parents kick off on you within a few months of each other. I got tired of being at the mercy of train schedules and started using my bike instead. Soon enough, I learned I am not as nimble as I once was. A series of escalating minor accidents ended with me nearly killing myself, but everything has finally been sorted out. The house is sold, and my parents’ affairs have been largely resolved at this point. Slowly my life is becoming my own once more.

This means I’m writing again.

Like riding a bike, you never forget how it’s done, but there may be a string of cataclysmic accidents as I get back into the routine. We’ll see how it goes as I push to bring several major projects to a successful conclusion.

Damn You, Ed Asner

My nemesis is dead.

For the past quarter century, every time the notorious Lou Grant actor appeared on film or television in my presence, I would shake my fist at the screen and yell, “Damn you, Ed Asner!”

Admittedly, he’s a weird choice of nemesis, but I have my reasons.

Back in 1997, I was coming back from an appearance at the San Diego comic con. Having hopped a train to Los Angeles, I was trying to get a flight to Montreal. To save a buck, I was flying standby. My Dad used to work for Air Canada, so I was able to fly on a free pass from time to time provided I was willing to go standby. Usually, that wasn’t a problem. There are always spare seats and last-minute cancellations on damn near every flight.

And I was eager to get home. After making the rounds at the convention all week, I felt like I was coming down with something. I only had to hold out for five or six hours more and I’d be in my own bed, sleeping it off.

I was waiting in the lounge for final word about that seat I was hankering for when He showed up.

For whatever reason, Ed Asner was on his way to Montreal. Given the state of exasperation coming from the booker, this was a very last-minute thing, but he had the cash to pay his way, and he was determined to get on that direct flight.

He got the last seat.

Motherfucker.

Hours later, they were able to book me a standby seat to Toronto. From there, I’d be able to grab another plane for the final hop to Montreal.

By then, there was no doubt. I was sick. Horribly, wretchedly sick.

It didn’t get any better on the plane, and dealing with the authoritarian shitbag customs agents at Pearson International only made things worse. By the time I rolled off the plane in Montreal, I was angry, exhausted, and deathly ill.

I blamed Ed Asner. For years.

It didn’t matter how many charming old-man roles he played, how many beloved Pixar cartoons he headlined, or how fondly he was remember for his signature curmudgeonly roles. He was a thorn in my side. One of us had to go. As it turns out, he went, finally, at the age of 91, today.

My nemesis is dead.

I win.

A Dip in the Tracy Poole

It’s been pointed out to me that Jim Morrison has been dead for fifty years as of today.

His was one of the graves I visited at the Père Lachaise Cemetery four years ago as part of my ongoing morbid research into all things death-related. I mentioned this only a couple of blog posts ago, so it was fresh in my mind when the anniversary crossed my feed. Being reminded of the grave of the lead singer of The Doors and proud member of the 27 Club, my brain was also jostled concerning what I’d written about him.

The Rip Eulogy occult-detective mysteries I’ve been working on (go get your copies of Necropolis and Epitaph if you haven’t already—The Boneyard remains in production) feature, among many colourful cast members, moirologist Tracy Poole. She was always a character I meant to write more about. The short story, Crocodile Tears, serves as a good introduction to who she is and what she does for a living, and has already seen print twice (in Betty Fedora 4 and Petty Crimes and Vindictive Criminals). Solo novels are inevitable and, I’ll confess for the first time here, pending.

The first book in this proposed series serves as a prequel to Necropolis, and details what Tracy was up to immediately prior to her first meeting Rip Eulogy. Unlike Rip’s adventures, Tracy’s will feature no supernatural elements, and will be, in many ways, my closest approximation to the “cozy mystery” genre. Except for all the sex, violence, profanity, and twisted horrible crime.

Okay, screw it. Fans of cozy mysteries should probably stay the hell away from Tracy Poole, lest their hair catch on fire. Maybe one day I’ll write something that will fit into a safe, comfortable, commercial genre, but this ain’t it.

All this to say, there’s an exchange in Chapter Three that specifically refers to Jim Morrison and takes advantage of what I personally witnessed on my research excursion. Here’s an excerpt:

The Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris offered the usual challenges for finding famous graves on grounds that had been accepting the remains of the dead for centuries. A map was essential. But Jim Morrison’s grave was the simplest one to locate in the hundred-plus acres. One only needed to get in the general vicinity. Graffiti etched onto nearby crypts by generations of fans pointed the way, with arrows and the name “Jim” defacing any number of respectable French family tombs full of people who had never lived to see the era of rock stars who would inspire such loyalty and vandalism.

Morrison’s was one of the most visited graves in the world. Not only would sightseers pop by for a visit and a selfie, many would linger, contemplating, meditating, drinking, chain smoking, or worse, abusing a musical instrument. Even with a gate to keep them at bay and off the grave itself, some would spend hours there, making a day of it, and contributing to the disgusting monument of chewing gum that had been affixed to a nearby tree. A skirt of bamboo slats kept the sticky mess off the bark and could be replaced at regular intervals. But the rapid replenishment of gum wads attested to the fact that, even generations later, hippies were still plentiful and filthy.

For those who want to read more, I’ve posted a nearly 3000-word chunk on my neglected Patreon page behind the dollar-tier pay wall. Back me for a buck and you’ll be able to access rare tidbits like this. You’ll also contribute to making me less ashamed of my sad patron count.

Too Violent for an Amazonian Algorithm

I got a message a couple of weeks ago that one of my book ads had been suspended on Amazon due to “Images depicting excessive violence.”

While some of the content of Petty Crimes and Vindictive Criminals is hair-raisingly nasty, the cover is so tasteful by comparison, I sometimes feel it doesn’t adequately prepare readers for the stories inside. Ghoul: A Romance, for example, is one of my shorts I direct people to as a trial-by-fire. If they’re still willing to be seen with me in public after that, I know I don’t need to bite my tongue in their presence.

Clearly some poorly programmed image-interpretation software had tagged the cover, assuming it was something it was not. A response was in order.

As I wrote back to Amazon:

The cover is black and white and features a stock, staged photo of a 1940s detective standing over a bloodless murder victim in the style of classic film noir. It’s very tame.

I’ve seen more violent and/or gory children’s books. Is this the work of some overzealous algorithm, or has Amazon decided it will no longer accept ads for any crime novel or anthology?

The ad was reinstated immediately, once a human being had a look. It was still a disturbing interaction that illustrates why we shouldn’t be letting computers be the final arbitrator of content creators. Use them to flag potential issues, but let an actual person make the call. I don’t care how much content you’re trying to police, the impetus shouldn’t be on me to undo your software’s incorrect decrees.

Pretty Crimes and Vindictive Criminals remains for sale on all Amazon sites. At least until they develop a more censorious algorithm to read the contents, tag all the transgressions, and decide they no longer want to be associated with such deeply disturbed authors.

Not Quite Dead

I nearly died in my sleep last night.

I was having a dream. Not a happy one. It was mostly about the smell of rotting corpses.

The stench was so vile, I nearly vomited. For real. Which is not a great thing to do in your sleep, especially if you’re lying on your back. It’s a good way to choke to death.

There’s no end of disturbing imagery my brain can come up with while dreaming (or awake for that matter), but smells are rare. I woke up trying to remember where I could have smelled rotting corpses before. It felt like a memory, but I couldn’t quite place it. There was an image to go with it: a broken crypt, disturbed earth, and with that, the pungent stench wafting out.

I was beginning to believe it was a false memory. Just a dream that seemed real. I certainly couldn’t place what cemetery I might have been in to see and smell something so awful.

Until I did.

Paris. Four years ago. Père Lachaise.

The fact that it took me nearly an hour to narrow this down suggests I might spend too much time exploring graveyards and tombs. A damaged crypt emitting a desiccated putrid odour was far from the most noteworthy thing I encountered there, but that brief experience made an impression, and my mind ended up regurgitating it years later for a very special nightmare.

Not the first time my brain tried to murder me.

At least I successfully work up from this nightmare.

I think.

Frankly, my life has been a nightmare I can’t wake up from for years now.

Lately, I understand there’s some sort of bug going around. I haven’t really noticed. A global pandemic hasn’t cracked the top-ten list of things that are fucking up my life.

The body count has been high. None of them COVID related. Both my parents, my last remaining aunt, and one of my book-cover designers all kicked off in quick succession this past miserable year. Turns out the cover designer was only faking her death, but the rest were genuine fatalities. Not that the knuckle-dragging government bureaucrats will agree. I’m still waiting on one of the death certificates months after the fact, which leaves both the estates I’m handling in limbo, unable to move forward.

And the bills keep on coming. I’ve been shovelling money into a furnace, settling debts that aren’t my own, paying off all the parasitical agencies that come out to play whenever someone dies, and coughing up thousands of dollars in surgery fees to keep a cat alive. Again.

My kitchen cupboard is starting to look like a columbarium with so many urns of ashes. It’s like a sooty Pokémon collection. At least cremains don’t stink of corpse bile.

That scratches the surface. It’s the obvious stuff, but there’s so much more. I wake up some mornings disappointed I didn’t die in my sleep.

The only thing that keeps me going are all these books I have to finish writing. Not that I’m afforded much time to work on them lately. But when I do, it’s the best kind of escapism, and disappearing into fantasy is all I can do for my mental health at this point. Yes, there are books coming. Weird and astonishing stuff. And I’ll keep at it through this shitstorm, come what may, because it would be a pity if they never saw the light of day. Besides, I’ve reached that plateau of Zen when I just want to hang around out of morbid curiosity to see what horrible thing happens next.

Hat Trick

“Nothing more foolish than a man chasing his hat.”

A quote from Tom Reagan, the depressed and self-loathing protagonist of Miller’s Crossing, my favourite movie.

After a recent screening for my birthday in July, I had to admit it was still my favourite, and not, as I often claim, Fight Club, a film with a completely different depressed and self-loathing protagonist.

A couple of years ago, when my life was still in the relatively early stages of becoming a nightmare hellscape I can’t wake up from, I attended a Writers Guild of Canada meeting—one of the rare ones to take place in Montreal. Normally, I prefer to skip these unproductive networking opportunities, but there was some pressing news Canadian screenwriters needed to be briefed on. It was so pressing, I’ve since forgotten what it was. But there was free food, drink tickets, and, more importantly, hats.

Sometimes I like to get something out of my annual membership dues.

Exactly enough WGC baseball caps had been printed to be doled out to all the attendees who had submitted an RRSP. Of course, some jagoff absconded with two. That left only a single remaining hat to be divvied up between the final pair of lingering hacks. Namely myself, and fellow hack friend, Sylvie. We had each agreed to show up for the meeting under the condition that the other one would be there as a social-anxiety wingman. It had worked out, right up until it was time for one of us to get screwed out the hat giveaway.

Sylvie bravely threw herself on that grenade and forfeited the hat. I took it home.

But the WGC hat did not become another piece of industry swag, sitting forgotten in a closet, waiting to one day be given away to some homeless shelter. No, I wore the hat. I wore it a lot.

It was grey and black with the Writers Guild of Canada logo on it. Those were my colours, and it reminded me of the days when I used to be a real screenwriter, before my career dried up, crumbled to ashes, and blew away. Mostly because I live in entirely the wrong province, and nobody wants to hire an Anglophone screenwriter from Quebec. Where’s the tax credit in that?

It had been many years since I’d worn a baseball cap—many years since I’d even owned one. Except, of course, for my promotional Predator hat I got back when that movie first premiered. But that was reserved for the head of my taxidermied childhood koala teddy bear (don’t ask).

After decades of wearing a specific style of cap, I took to this new one in a big way and grabbed it whenever I headed out the door. It wasn’t fitting winter apparel, but the rest of the year it kept me from getting sunburned straight through my male-pattern baldness.

I was wearing it the other night, even though the sun was down and it had been an unseasonable warm November day. Coming back from a long commute to Lachine, I was carrying a heavy IKEA bag stuffed with goods, including a winter coat that had belonged to my father. He died last month, so I guess that makes it my winter coat now. Something to replace the one with the broken zipper I’ve been wearing these past few years.

The load was punishing, and the walk after the commuter train doubly so. After carrying this burden for miles, I was sweaty and sore. Along the way, I got overheated enough to take off my guild hat and stick it in the overflowing bag.

I never noticed it fall out. Somewhere along the dusty construction site that is Grand Boulevard these days, it abandoned the bag I had slung over an aching shoulder. Had I made it home, unloaded, and found the hat missing, I probably would have gone out after it again. Tired, exhausted, maybe I’d find it lying the street, maybe not.

But I didn’t have to do that.

“Monsieur!” I heard from an SUV that had stopped in the middle of the intersection and honked at me.

I turned to see what this asshole wanted. Turns out he wanted to tell me that I’d just dropped my hat.

“Thank you,” was I all I was able to say to him before he drove off following his good deed.

I picked up my hat, soaked with sweat and now soiled with roadwork filth, and made a note to give it a good wash when I got back home. Throughout those last miserable blocks I kept wishing I could have thanked that driver more profusely. He’ll never know to what degree he made things suck less.

2020 has been the worst year of my life, except for 2019, which was the other worst year of my life, and 2018, which was the other other worst year of my life. It’s been a brutal stretch of loss after loss.

But I didn’t lose my hat, because one completely random stranger made things suck less. Thank you.