The Bush Era In Perspective (aka, We Laugh So We Don’t Scream)

As we near the blessed day that (hopefully) the door hits George W. Bush in the ass on his way out, I want to commemorate two bits of canny reportage by The Onion that serve as a pair of bookends to the worst presidency our country has ever inflicted upon itself and the world.

The first, Bush: ‘Our Long National Nightmare Of Peace And Prosperity Is Finally Over’ was one of the single most prescient bits of political writing I’ve ever seen, and had to have actually been written by a time-traveler from the future (or perhaps someone who was actually paying attention to George W. Bush at the time):

“My fellow Americans,” Bush said, “at long last, we have reached the end of the dark period in American history that will come to be known as the Clinton Era, eight long years characterized by unprecedented economic expansion, a sharp decrease in crime, and sustained peace overseas. The time has come to put all of that behind us.”

The second, the video Bush Tours America To Survey Damage Caused By His Disastrous Presidency, is very recent and accurately sums the whole time up in a very funny way:

Goodbye, George. May your name rot forever in history.

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Santa Claus Conquers The Homophobes

Not long ago, I shared my review (and recommendation) of a great and blessed bit of splatterpunk profanity called Santa Steps Out, by a writer named Robert Devereaux. I got my hands on the Leisure paperback of that book back in 2000, and loved it so much I gave it as a Christmas gift to all my closest friends.

As last Christmas neared, I decided to point other folks toward the book by putting my old Amazon review on the blog. While visiting the book’s page on Amazon, I made two discoveries, one bad, one good.

The bad was that the book is no longer in print. [UPDATE: As of Dec 2020, the book is available from Amazon as a Kindle download] At the time, I think there were some reasonably priced used copies listed, but I just checked and saw that the only available copies on Amazon are all priced to screw the buyer enrich the seller. Searching Alibris, I found pretty much the same, but doing a search on Google Shopping, I managed to find some reasonably priced copies for under $15, including a “worn” copy at Powells for $2.50. So if you want to read this book, with a bit of detective work you can find a copy without buying a pool table for some schmo. Hopefully Devereaux will find a new publisher for it, or at the very least take advantage of the many print-on-demand possibilities available to make the book more easily available.

The good discovery was that Devereaux has published a sequel, Santa Claus Conquers the Homophobes. I immediately ordered it, just finished reading it, and can recommend it almost as highly as the first book.

In this tale, Santa and his holy brood become disgusted at the hatred and violence being perpetrated, in the name of the sacred, upon those born with homosexual proclivities, and they decide to take action. To go into any real detail would rob you of the book’s many, many pleasures, but rest assured it’s a rousing story, masterfully told, full of wit and wisdom, and consistently moving.

This book isn’t nearly as profane and transgressive as the first (and may therefore be an easier read for those with tender sensibilities), but it is full of notions that challenge the status quo in forthright and rich ways. Poppy Z. Brite said about the first book “The only two rules in Santa Steps Out are that everything is sacred and nothing is sacred,” and that is absolutely true about both books. They boldly rip apart the things civilized folk consider proper and sacred, but at the same time wholeheartedly embrace that which is truly sacred, both in the religious sense and the humanistic.

Devereaux is a wonderful writer, and constantly amazes with his inventiveness. His treatment of what you might call the mechanics of wonder, the way magic actually works in his literary world, is earthy in its matter-of-factness and lovely in its effects. His characters are full-bodied and layered, his depiction of the sacred both accessible and transcendent, and his allowance for redemption for any and all entities, no matter how saddled by personal weakness they may be, is more truly spiritual than any boxset of Touched By An Angel could ever be.

Santa Steps Out and Santa Claus Conquers the Homophobes are masterworks of fantasy and sacred fictions. Devereaux has crafted a literary universe unlike anything else on the shelves, and it’s a universe I’ll revisit any chance I get.

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Buffy Vs. Twilight

Alan Gratz (a really good writer, whose books you should read) has a blog post envisioning what a crossover betwixt Twilight and Buffy the Vampire Slayer might be like:

Following up on the tip from Oz’s werewolf contacts, Buffy climbs in the window of recent Sunnydale High transfer student BELLA SWAN to discover EDWARD CULLEN, a vampire, watching the girl as she sleeps. Edward, apparent-age 17, is impossibly beautiful, with angular features and marble-like skin that sparkles.

BUFFY: Whoa. Turn it down there, Tinkerbell.

EDWARD: Shhh! You’ll wake my darling Isabella!

BUFFY: Right. Sorry. It’s just you really ought to take the batteries out. Somebody might mistake you for a Christmas tree.

EDWARD: I’m sorry. It’s my vampire skin. It sparkles in the sun or the bright light of the moon.

BUFFY: Uh-huh.

It’s great fun, and can be read at http://gratzindustries.blogspot.com/2008/12/edward-vs-buffy.html

Work Habits

Cory Doctorow (whose book Little Brother I recommended with extreme prejudice a while back) has a piece at Locus Online called “Writing in the Age of Distraction,” which gives some pointers on work habits for writers. For instance, he recommends a “Short, regular work schedule:”

When I’m working on a story or novel, I set a modest daily goal — usually a page or two — and then I meet it every day, doing nothing else while I’m working on it. It’s not plausible or desirable to try to get the world to go away for hours at a time, but it’s entirely possible to make it all shut up for 20 minutes. Writing a page every day gets me more than a novel per year — do the math — and there’s always 20 minutes to be found in a day, no matter what else is going on. Twenty minutes is a short enough interval that it can be claimed from a sleep or meal-break (though this shouldn’t become a habit). The secret is to do it every day, weekends included, to keep the momentum going, and to allow your thoughts to wander to your next day’s page between sessions. Try to find one or two vivid sensory details to work into the next page, or a bon mot, so that you’ve already got some material when you sit down at the keyboard.

This is interesting, because Cory’s pretty darned prolific, but it sounds like he’s not exactly at the Asimov end of the work habit spectrum. A page or two a day, that’d net you 365 to 730 pages a year, so yeah, it’ll add up. But I’m surprised that he doesn’t have a higher daily goal. Stephen King aims for ten pages a day, which is about 2,000 words.

I’m not prolific, but I’m working on at least earning the right to use the first three letters of the word to refer to myself. To do that, I continue developing my own work habits, trying to figure out what actually works for me. Continue reading

Read About The “Dead Folks”

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This story was my first professional sale, and it has a weird history.

It was accepted twice, but never published until now. First Ed Hall, then the editor of a visionary magazine-on-tape called Verb, wanted it to be in Verb’s first issue. We even did some studio time, recording me reading the story, which was thirsty work.

Then I got word that my favorite magazine, Pulphouse, wanted the story. To put things in context, Pulphouse was very well known in genre circles, and very respected. It’s the only magazine I’ve ever read that I liked nearly every story they published. Not only that, but they wanted to put my story in a special Harlan Ellison issue, and the idea of sharing pages with Harlan was intoxicating.

So, with Ed’s cheerful understanding, I pulled the story from Verb. They went on to have Ha Jin, Robert Olen Butler, and James Dickey in their first issue. They got coverage on All Things Considered on NPR.

Meanwhile, Pulphouse folded just before the issue that was supposed to feature my story.

The most public exposure the story ever got was thanks to children’s author and master storyteller Carmen Deedy, who loved it enough to read it out loud at a gathering or two. Oh, and Anne Rivers Siddons read and adored it, and gave me lots of encouragement.

I always planned to look for a new home for the tale, but never got around to it. Now, for the recession-appropriate price of 99¢, you can download it to your magical computing box and read it to your heart’s content.

I’ve polished it very slightly,  mainly updating some cultural references, but it remains very much a product of the early eighties and a much younger writer. There’s some stuff in it about racists that seems kind of cartoonish these days (and I address that a bit in a new author’s note before the story). But mainly, it’s an odd bit of Southern magic realism owing more than a bit to Mark Twain and Stephen King.

Come on in, sit a while, and visit with the dead folks.

[UPDATE: As of March 30, 2011, “Dead Folks” is available at Amazon in Kindle format for 99¢ , and will soon be available at Barnes & Noble and other online vendors in other ebook formats.]

A Few Great Books

In my previous post, “Brains on Fire: On Kids and Reading,” I recommended an article by James Patterson on that very topic. At the end of that article, Patterson included a list of his favorite books for kids, and it inspired me to make my own list of recommendations. Continue reading