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!

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.

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.

Hammerklavier

X-number of millions of words later, it was time to retire my old faithful Dell keyboard.

Ten years is the longest time I’ve gone between major computer upgrades. Back in 2010, my old computer was a revelation. It flew on Windows 7, and offered me more computing power than I ever could have imagined possible back when I got my first real (as in non-Commodore 64) computer. That original one was an IBM compatible 286, and it was magic, with an internal hard drive sporting a massive storage capacity of 40 megs. I could barely comprehend how powerful it was. Now it seems like an abacus, but I hope it’s doing well in whatever landfill it currently occupies.

My more recent computer remains next to my desk, and is likely to remain there for quite some time as I continue to refer back to it. It’s still a workhorse by modern standards, but computers get finicky and clunky in their old age, and ten years is a long time in computing.

So long, in fact, that the lone part I hadn’t planned on upgrading turned out to be pretty badly obsolete.

The relationship between a writer and his keyboard is intense. I’d actually carried my old Dell keyboard forward from two computers ago. I hadn’t liked the free-with-every-purchase keyboard that got tossed in with the previous rig, so I just kept using the earlier freebie. It was cheap, but I liked the feel of it. The keys didn’t click, but they weren’t soft either.

I wrote many books, short stories, screenplays, teleplays, and graphic novels on that thing. Many millions of words, probably billions of keystrokes.

But now, even with an adapter to plug it into a USB port, the brand-new computer would reject it after a few minutes of use. Before long, I’d be forced to resume typing on a wireless I picked up as a stopgap at Bureau en Gros. It was okay, but I wasn’t wild about it. Some of the key placements were odd, some extended characters were mislabelled, and it only revealed itself to be a French keyboard once it was out of the box.

It was finally time to shop for a real keyboard. Something higher end, more befitting of a career writer who’s been at it for over thirty years.

Enter the AZiO MK-Retro.

But I thought you don’t like clicky keyboards, you might be saying right about now.

The AZiO isn’t clicky. It’s clacky. And therein lies a world of difference.

I grew up hammering away on keyboards. It started with too many years of piano lessons I hated, and shifted to typewriters I liked much better. I learned to type and write on mechanical typewriters. Usually old Underwoods and Coronas fished out the trash in the 1970s, or bought for a few bucks at garage sales. I wish I still had them, because they’re expensive antiques now. At the time, though, they were considered disposable junk that could safely be tossed to a child to bang away on while he played a game of pretend-author.

Real effort had to be expended to make each keystroke successfully strike the page. And those dinosaurs clacked hard. They clacked with each letter, clunked with every platen advance, dinged near the end of the right-hand margin, and ka-chunked with the carriage returns that recoiled like an artillery gun lobbing an explosive shell a mile across the Western Front.

Eventually I moved on to electric typewriters, and finally computer keyboards, but I never lost my nostalgia for those little round keys that went CLACK CLACK CLACK.

The AZiO is one of several keyboards on the market that scratches that itch. It even clacks loud enough to be heard right through my noise-cancelling headphones. This, believe it or not, is a desirable feature.

So far I’ve written about 100K words on it. It seems to be a well-built piece of equipment. We’ll see if it’s durable enough to survive the same number of millions of words the old Dell disposable managed. Or if the constant friction will eventually cause it to burst into flames when I’m at my most inspired.

The Adventure of the Coffee Table Book

I’ve been writing Sherlock Holmes stories for five years now, ever since I was first invited to contribute to the original MX collection that was being put together for a charity restoration of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s house, Undershaw. Work on the building has been complete for several years now, but the series continue to benefit the Stepping Stones School that now occupies the property.

Last year I was approached about reprint rights for an offshoot of the ongoing project. I suggested a couple of previously printed stories that might be a good fit for The Art of Sherlock Holmes, figuring one of them would likely provide some good imagery for a painter to work with.

The Adventure of the Melting Man subsequently appeared in The Art of Sherlock Holmes: Global Edition earlier this year, with an original illustration by Dan Arcus. I thought that would be it, but now there’s a Global Edition II with the other story I suggested, The Song of the Mudlark. It features a painting by Abdelaziz Haounati.

This brings things full circle, because The Song of the Mudlark was the very first in my growing body of Sherlock Holmes mysteries.  But I’m not stopping there. I’m now up to seven stories in print, with two more pending. That’s close to having enough material for a collection of similar size and scope to one of Conan Doyle’s volumes of short stories.

Halfway through 2020, I’m getting anxious. Aside from the two Sherlock books, I haven’t published anything new—at least not under the Eyestrain Productions imprint. That doesn’t mean I haven’t been churning material. In June I broke a personal productivity record, and there are plenty of new novels and anthologies in the works. It’s just a matter of which one will be finished first.

I’d tell you more, but it would kill the surprise. Not to mention, sap creativity. Pro tip: never discuss the details of what you’re working on. Put it on the page instead.

All the paintings appearing in The Art of Sherlock Holmes are available as prints from the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle Family Estate.

House Arrest

[Just so I don’t bury the lead: skip the prattle and go right to the end for your free book!]

A million years ago (it feels like a million years ago, but it may have only been November) I launched my newest anthology of noir stories. Petty Crimes and Vindictive Criminals was a spiritual follow-up to my previous collection, Raw and Other Stories. Many of the tales featured direct and indirect connections to the ever expanding universe in my oeuvre of fiction, with appearances of characters like Tracy Poole from Necropolis, and underworld fixer, Derek Dunlan.

Raw had been a surprising success, boasted by the titular story getting shortlisted for a Bram Stoker Award nomination shortly before release. Assurances that anthologies tend not to sell well were undermined by steady movement on the Raw front that continues to this day. As well as it did on Amazon, I found it was getting even more rave reviews and reads on a pirate site.

I should probably be cross about that, but I suspect a lot of the paperback sales on Amazon were from those same pirates who liked my book well enough to want a physical copy. So…uh…good advertising, I guess.

I planned a much more aggressive launch for Petty Crimes, with snippets of stories getting featured on various social media outlets, along with art and cover reveals, and nearly half the book’s content dripped out to my Patreon page for one-dollar backers. This was not a fire-and-forget ad campaign. This was a daily push.

The response? Tumbleweeds. I think I maybe heard a few crickets chirping, but it might have only been my tinnitus acting up.

Even as I pushed forward on the next novels in my schedule, I considered how I could pick up the pieces with Petty Crimes and get it to readers via standard promotions and keyword advertising. And then the whole world shut down. You may have heard about it. I think it made the news.

Atrophy set in. Nobody was getting much done, myself included. But even hermit writers get bored in quarantine, and it’s time to start ramping back up.

Readers who follow my newletter, blog, or Patreon should be the first to know that the ebook edition of Petty Crimes and Vindictive Criminals is free this week—for the first time since launch. The free promotion will be announced on Freebooksy shortly, but you can beat the ecrowds and grab your copy right now.

The book is currently sitting at zero reviews, which I never like to see. If you give it a look, please don’t hesitate to express an opinion on Amazon (or elsewhere). Or you can just give it a simple star rating. Every bit helps. Who knows? If we can raise the profile a little, it might get stolen by a pirate site and then it will really take off!

Fingers crossed.

Bathroom Book Launch

I finally got to approve the paperback for Petty Crimes and Vindictive Criminals after my extended runaround thanks to Canada Post. This was a while ago, but I hadn’t gotten around to announcing it until I shot this short video yesterday.

So join me, Finnegan the cat, and Mike Ehrmantraut, as I sit on my toilet, pants up, and discuss the proof copy and contents of my new collection of short stories. Patreon backers at the $25-plus range will be receiving their signed copies in the near future. Join their ranks before the end of the month and you’ll get one in the mail as well.

The Art of Sherlock Holmes

I crawled across the 2019 finish line last week.

After another rough year, exhaustion set in at the end of December and I went into post-Christmas crash mode. Reluctantly I had to back out of a couple projects, but I still managed to publish two new books in 2019 (Epitaph and Petty Crimes and Vindictive Criminals, both now available in paperback and ebook through Amazon), cut a deal for another German edition of Longshot Comics, and contribute to two more volumes of The MX Books of New Sherlock Holmes Stories.

Energy returning at last, I’m at work on a number of 2020 projects. It looks like the very first thing out, however, will be something I barely had to lift a finger for. I only had to agree to it. One of my past Sherlock Holmes stories will be appearing in the next volume of The Art of Sherlock Holmes. This one is a global edition, featuring work from around the world. Each story will have an original piece of artwork to go with it. I haven’t seen the one that will be attached to mine, but I’m looking forward to it with a certain nervous anticipation.

I haven’t had to wait to see the artwork that would illustrate one of my stories since early in my comic-book career. I guess all those cartoons I wrote count too, but for the most part I knew what the art style was going to look like well in advance of production. This will be a complete surprise. Hopefully a pleasant one.

There’s currently a Kickstarter campaign that can be backed by those who want to get their copies of the book early. A few examples of the art pieces are posted there (none of them mine), and should give you an idea of what to expect from the book. I look forward to getting my hands on a copy and adding it to my ever-expanding bookcase of published work that serves as a backdrop to my desk.

If you want to back the book and reserve your copy, I’ll encourage you to do so quickly. As of this writing, there are only four days left in the campaign. Yes, I could have and should have told you a lot earlier. But as mentioned, I was pooped.