Come and S.E.E.

The first hefty chunk of my steampunk epistolary espionage novel is available for free on my Patreon page. Subsequent parts will roll out for subscribers at regular intervals until the entire preview edition is posted in PDF form. From there, I’m another few read-throughs and micro-edits away from the version that will be published on Amazon.

The original plan was to bank at least three books in the series before dumping them in bulk, all at once, in order to manufacture momentum. But if the last few years have taught me anything, it’s that everyone and everything around me tends to drop dead, so I’m not making plans that depend on personal longevity. Marketing strategies be damned, once a new book is done, I don’t want to sit on it indefinitely while I work on sequels.

A pulpy adventure yarn, The Iron Zephyr of Peril is the first story of the Winters/Moreaux account. The nefarious gentlemen spies, Professor Hollister Winters and Mister Kiarfax Moreaux, remain a controversial subject best not discussed above a whisper, and only ever between trusted associates.

I hope you can keep a secret.

Let us begin…

“It was a splendid day to lose a war.”

The Glitch on Ninety-Six

Crisis Actor has been out for over a month, but I haven’t done much of anything to announce or promote it until today. After grappling with a weird PDF glitch on page ninety-six of the paperback for too many rounds of proof copies, I just wanted to wash my hands of the whole project for a while before facing the prospect of running ads for it.

And then I had to put down Inheritance Dog because he’d evolved into one gigantic cancerous tumour that looked like the Husky monster from The Thing.

I was in the mood for a break. So much of a break, my entire creative-writing output for the month of April was twelve words. Twelve. I know, I counted. Twice.

Getting over a hurdle of grief and atrophy has become routine, but fuck me it’s been a lot of those hurdles in a row. I keep hoping I can get back up to speed for a good stretch, but I haven’t been able to get six months down the road before tripping over another disaster.

So…speaking of relentless personal tragedy, who wants to pick up a copy of a brand-new funny book full of wacky conspiracy theories and shenanigans?

Yeah, not my best segue to sell you something. So how about I just give it away for free?

Today and tomorrow only, Crisis Actor is a free ebook on Amazon. It’s currently at the top of the charts for satire fiction, political thrillers, and conspiracy thrillers. All you have to do to be a best seller in any given category is give away a thousand copies of your book in the first few hours of a promotion and voila! Admittedly, doing that eliminates the “seller” aspect of “best seller” but if that’s the term Amazon uses to describe my book, who am I to argue?

That only leaves one outstanding bit of unfinished business. What the hell is this Project S.E.E. I’ve been on about?

All will be revealed very soon. So soon, I might as well tell you what my ridiculous acronym stands for and what the absurd new genre I’ve come up with is.

Project S.E.E. stands for Streampunk Epistolary Espionage.

No, really. I’m serious.

You’ll understand better when you see it.

The Emancipation of Sherlock Holmes

Well well well, look who’s ALL-THE-WAY in the public domain now.

I’ve been waiting years for this moment. Forgive me for basking in it.

As an author of (so far) fourteen Sherlock Holmes stories appearing in a variety of publications, I’ve been watching this glacial development closely. The character of Sherlock Holmes, in case you were wondering, has been in the public domain for quite some time. But it was only as of January 1, 2023, that the very final stories, published in 1927 and collected in The Casebook of Sherlock Holmes, crossed the threshold in all remaining territories and jurisdictions.

So why is this important, considering Sherlock Holmes movies have been made and new stories published with impunity for years? Because it stands as the final vestige of a copyright still clung to by the litigious Conan Doyle estate. They’ve been guarding the last scraps of Sir Arthur’s work jealously, even though he’s been dead since 1930 and the remaining descendants are distant at best. Nevertheless, they took every opportunity to use their diminishing copyright as a cudgel against anyone who wanted to print new Holmes material. Their excuses for this behaviour were thin at best, but many publishing houses considered it easier to throw them a few grand as a token tribute, just to make them go away.

That is, until one stood up to them, took them to court, and had a judge tell them to knock that shit off.

Since then, they’ve become pretty quiet. But that didn’t stop them, a couple of years ago, from trying to shake down Netflix for some bucks for the first Enola Holmes movie. Their claim was that since Sherlock Holmes shows some emotion in that film, that content falls under the copyright for The Casebook. Because Holmes never showed emotion before that book.

Complete bullshit. And the judge saw right through it. Case dismissed.

Which brings me to my tenuous connection to the estate.

I started writing Sherlock Holmes material largely by accident in 2015. What began as a simple recommendation from one editor to another led to an enormous amount of material that will one day be collected into three different volumes.

Ridiculously ambitious, but that’s a debate for another time.

The second story I ever wrote for MX Publishing was called The Adventure of the Cat’s Claws and filled in the backstory for The Veiled Lodger. I’ve discussed it here before. Suffice to say, The Veiled Lodger is one of the dreaded (some would say dreadful) final stories from 1927. Conan Doyle was nearing the end of his life and was sick of Sherlock Holmes, so he was phoning it in at this point. And because my story heavily referenced it, it butted up against lingering copyright.

I got away with it though. Largely because the anthology was for charity, raising money to restore Undershaw, Conan Doyle’s old house. As such, it got the official seal of approval from the estate. Said seal even appears right on the cover of the book.

Here’s where rights issues get murky.

My position was that since the estate had already given my story a de facto rubber stamp, I should be clear to reprint it without issue. Nevertheless, I was cautious, and didn’t want to get into a legal entanglement that could cost me thousands. So I contacted the estate directly and asked, ever so politely, if it was okay if I reprinted Cat’s Claws in a collection sooner rather than later.

I heard from someone in legal, who assured me they’d get back to me about that.

Never did. Stonewalled.

And why not? There wasn’t a buck to be made.

So I waited. And waited. And waited. Until today.

Today is the day that all rights to The Adventure of the Cat’s Claws unambiguously revert to me. I can continue to explore some of those characters from The Veiled Lodger (and I will) and nobody can say shit.

Not that the first volume of stories is ready to go just yet. I still have a couple more I want to complete, concerning Sherlock Holmes, Mycroft Holmes, and Wiggins of the Baker Street Irregulars, before I focus my full Sherlockian attention on volume two, and what everyone got up to during World War I.

But I feel a hurdle has been jumped, and I’m always relieved when the rights to any of my work come home to roost at last. There they shall remain, under my protection, until the moment I flatline.

At that point, the rights to all my work I still own immediately enter the public domain. No protracted wait periods lasting decades. No greedy corporations camping on an associated trademark. No ne’er-do-well second cousins twice removed trying to profit on the work of a distant relation they never even met.

Public domain. All of it. As soon as I assume room temperature and it’s medically confirmed I’m not coming back.

Because H. P. Lovecraft got it right.

Die alone and unloved, with no one who gives two shits about anything you ever wrote, and no heirs trying to lay claim to royalties. Go to your grave a failure, never live to see your influence and success in subsequent centuries. Everything goes copyright free, for anyone to reprint and exploit. Immortality assured.

And then be glad you’re too dead to give a damn about everyone losing their minds over the racist crap you wrote in cherry-picked passages when you were alive.

It’s the formula for success.

The Long Road Back

It was another one of those years. I’ve come to expect nothing less.

More deaths, more heartbreak. My months-long absence from blogging says much about how I just wasn’t feeling it this year.

On the bright side, my cancer scare turned out to be a non-event. Apparently Inheritance Dog is my Picture of Dorian Gray when it comes to malignant tumours. At this point, he’s more tumour than dog, but he just keeps persisting. And so I continue to walk him, day and night, in a Sisyphian effort to empty his bladder and bowels. Two years of this now. Sleeping in shifts, going out regardless of the weather, regardless if I’m sick or injured.

I’m tired, and my lacking word count for the year shows it.

Even so, I can now announce that I’ve finished two new novels that will be coming out in 2023. One is a stand-along thriller, the other is a pulpy bit of fiction that invents a whole new genre. I’ve referred to that one as Project S.E.E. for some time. Explanations will be forthcoming, but it launches a series that I plan to roll out in instalments on my Patreon page.

I was originally hoping to serialize it on Amazon’s Kindle Vella program, but two years later they still haven’t opened it to non-U.S. authors. So Patreon it is. Editing continues, but I should be able to post the first chunks soon.

As for the thriller, it’s of the political-paranoia variety, and I’m excited to finally get it out after dabbling with it for years. I’ll have a cover and title reveal shortly.

I’m slowly getting back up to speed, and there are plenty of projects pending. I tend to work on a variety of different books at once. It’s made for a long stretch of no new publications, but the dam must eventually break. And that’s when the flood arrives.

Here’s a recent screenshot of my computer screen to further tease something I mentioned here before. No promises any of this side gig sees the light of day in 2023, but tens of thousands of words are already on the page.

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.


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.