I’m Batman (ABC Wednesday, 1/22/14)

I'm Batman

I’m Batman.

That may seem a cocky statement. I am not the world’s greatest detective. I am not the most accomplished hand-to-hand combatant on the planet. I am not a scientist/inventor with an unending inventory of cool gadgetry to rival that of Doc Savage. I don’t battle the forces of evil night after night wearing an incredibly cool batsuit.

But there’s a deeper truth here. It’s not that I’m projecting some Mary Sue wish onto this comic book character, or that I’m patterning my life in any way after the life of Bruce Wayne (though his money would certainly be welcome). Rather, there are a set of resonances in the character of Batman which, you might say, send me a signal. This has been so since I was a little kid, watching Adam West on television, even though I despised that show, just because nothing else was on. I wanted Batman like he was in the comics. Dark, agile, clever. Drawn by Neal Adams with no laugh track. Not cheesy as hell. And haunted…as I was haunted.

I didn’t consciously realize that last bit then, and not for many years. But Batman and I share something besides blue eyes and square jaws: loss. Terrible, heart-rupturing loss.

Everyone knows about Bruce Wayne’s loss: the gunshots in the alley, the clatter of falling pearls, the bodies on the ground. Fewer know the less operatic tale of my loss: a teenaged mother, riding home from her restaurant job to see her baby, her life crushed out in a high velocity encounter with a careless driver.

Loss drives us like a poisonous fuel.

For years, I thought I’d recovered from whatever trauma I’d suffered when my mother died. I had been so young, I couldn’t remember her. She was just an ancestor, if a recent one, no more a part of my life, of me, than a great grandmother I’d never known. But that was naive. Over the years, as depression kept me from the life I wanted, I realized that many of the traumas I brought into my life were refractions of the loss. Somewhere deep inside me was that small child, screaming over my mother’s body. Is it any wonder I found it easy to identify with Batman?

I had no Alfred in my life to raise me, to look after me. My father was a half-step away from cotton mill white trash, and a mean ass drunk. Over the years, he brought in two stepmothers, both cruel. He and they weren’t my family, they were my rogues gallery, the sideshow villains who plotted my destruction in nefariously neurotic ways. Batman’s villains are archetypal, each reflecting something within. The Joker is his mania, his enjoyment of the pain he brings to bear. The Riddler is his compulsion for mental challenge, Bane and Killer Croc his drive for physical dominance. The Scarecrow is his fear and despair. And Catwoman is his playfulness and his libido, trying to break into (or, rather, out of) the adamantine safe that is his heart.

Batman — Bruce Wayne — is the sort of man I strive to be: a successful man, a productive man, a noble man. A man who helps. A man who uses his anger and pain and loss not to hide or lash out at the world, but to fight the darkness (within and without) and keep it at bay. You may really love the Dark Knight, and thrill to his adventures, as millions do. But I’ve lived his dark night, I’ve fought its overwhelming darkness.

Because I’m Batman.

Mourning

B

I’ll return next Wednesday with the letter C. I hope you’ll stop by. I’m a writer and I post about a wide variety of non-alphabet-specific topics. Feel free to comment under my posts. If you want to subscribe to the blog, there’s a button in the sidebar.

For another fun ABC Wednesday post, visit the Carioca Witch here: Bringing Up Salamanders.

Find many more posts by others, and more info on ABC Wednesday, here: ABC Wednesday

Authority: You’re Not The Boss Of Me (ABC Wednesday, 1/15/14)

A is for Authority

Let me tell you about this stupid thing I do.

When I’m driving at night, if a car coming from the opposite direction has its brights on, I stare intensely into that bright light, destroying my night vision even more than the light already was. Unless I remind myself that this is stupid, I glare into those rude fucking high beams until they’re past.

I used to do this without really being conscious of it, but some time in my twenties, I realized what I was doing. I was fighting the cars for dominance, staring into their eyes, refusing to look away and show weakness.

Of course, the cars — and their drivers — neither knew nor cared that I was clearly the alpha in the situation, and I was only hurting myself. I still catch myself doing this sometimes and it usually cracks me up.

An old friend of mine used to call me on the phone (an endeavor which, historically, already has a statistically insignificant chance of success), and when he reached the answering machine — which I did monitor — he would  loudly bark “Tim, pick up!” And my gut response, even if I was standing right by the phone, even if I wanted or needed to talk to him, was NO. Sometimes I would push that reaction away and answer the call. Sometimes I wouldn’t.

Again, I ultimately realized what I was doing, and I told my friend to change his approach, that he had a much better chance of reaching me with a calm “Tim, are you there?” than with a brisk command.

I don’t like being told what to do. I have what is often called “issues with authority.” Though I am willing to humbly and gracefully follow the guidance of someone trying to teach me something or guide me in doing a job, it’s my natural tendency to see us both as equals. I’ll honor hierarchy as much as I need to for practical reasons and no more. If you’re in a position of authority over me, I respect you no more than I do someone in a position under me. I respect you both, until someone earns my disrespect. Once that happens, it’s tough to get back on my good side.

I respect the authority of someone who knows things that I do not. I respect the authority of someone in a leadership position who is ostensibly the boss of me as long as they treat me with respect and make decisions that serve our shared goals.

Years ago, my commander in the Army told me pointblank that I had to respect him because of the bars on his collar. I told him that wasn’t going to happen, that the respect I showed him would be entirely based on the actions of the man inside the uniform.

My First Sergeant, who liked and respected me (and wound up running interference between me and the commander), once said, “Byrd, you’re a damn good soldier except for one thing. When you’re given an order, you think about it, which you’re not supposed to do. And even worse, if you don’t like the order, you ignore it.”

“You’re not the boss of me” could go on my coat of arms as a personal motto. I even used a variation on a bumper sticker I had custom-made to put on my truck when G.W. Bush was [allegedly] president: “You’re not the president of me.”

All of this comes from an essential, primal, animal place in me. I’m mostly self-guided, and I don’t have much will to power. It’s not that I want to be Alpha, it’s that I refuse to be Beta. Sometimes, in gracelessly-run organizations, this can lead to me being Omega, and even banished from the pack.

This is why I tend to run alone.

Α

I’ll return next Wednesday with the letter B. I hope you’ll stop by. I’m a writer and I post about a wide variety of non-alphabet-specific topics. Feel free to comment under my posts. If you want to subscribe to the blog, there’s a button in the sidebar.

For another fun ABC Wednesday post, visit the Carioca Witch here: Bringing Up Salamanders.

Find many more posts by others, and more info on ABC Wednesday, here: ABC Wednesday

Celebrate All Hallow’s Read! Get “Dead Folks” for FREE!

Dead Folks

Back in 2010, Neil Gaiman, who doesn’t really need me to introduce him, but whose past glory includes the work-of-dark-genius Sandman for DC Comics, had a great idea. As he recounted on his blog, “I was on a flight home last night, and I thought, You know, there aren’t enough traditions that involve giving books…And then I thought, Hallowe’en’s next weekend…”

From that inspiration grew a wonderful new tradition Neil called “All Hallow’s Read.” As explained on its official website, the idea is simple: “All Hallow’s Read is a Hallowe’en tradition. It’s simply that in the week of Hallowe’en, or on the night itself, you give someone a scary book.” As a lifelong reader, and writer, of tales dark and fantastical (such as my novel Doc Wilde and The Frogs of Doom, now in a marvelous new expanded edition fully illustrated by ace comic book creator Gary Chaloner), I embraced this tradition immediately. In previous years, I gifted classics from folks like the brilliant Fritz Leiber, my late, great friend Karl Edward Wagner, and George R.R. Martin (who also doesn’t need much introduction these days, but whose short story “Sandkings” is one of the scariest things I’ve ever read). Last year, I treated my girlfriend in Brazil to a video of me reading Ray Bradbury’s “The Foghorn,” the story that made me decide to be a writer.

This year, I realized I was in the position to share the tradition with even more people. Now through Halloween, I am offering my semi-spooky tale “Dead Folks” as a free download on Amazon. The story is in Kindle format, but a Kindle is not required to read it; free Kindle reading apps for gadgets ranging from smartphones and tablets to PCs and Macs can be downloaded here.

This story is near and dear to my heart, as it was my first professional fiction sale years ago. In it, a small Appalachian town is mysteriously inundated with pesky corpses from various historical eras and a young man finds he must make some hard choices. One reviewer wrote, “‘Dead Folks’ ultimately reveals itself to be a clever genre admixture that is nodding toward Mark Twain, perhaps the most American of writers. Byrd puts it all at the service of a winning narrator, a well-delineated supporting cast of characters, and a transcendent love story. If Stephen King were given to whimsy, he might have produced ‘Dead Folks.'”

I hope you’ll accept my gift of this bit of weirdness in the spirit of the holiday, and that you enjoy it. Please spread the word, the more the merrier. If you like it, please consider leaving a short review of it on Amazon, as that sort of thing raises a story’s profile in searches and is incredibly helpful to starving authors like me. I also really enjoy reading what people think. And don’t forget to give someone else a story or a book, and tell everyone you know about All Hallow’s Read. Neil is absolutely right, we need more traditions based on gifting tales. What better time than Halloween, the season of scampering nightmare and sultry mystery?

GET “DEAD FOLKS” HERE

HAPPY HALLOWEEN!

HAPPY HALLOWEEN!

Superman’s Rash Solution

The Bottled City of Kandor

Today, in honor of Superman’s 75th anniversary, I’d like to share a story…

Not many people are aware of the fact that the Bottled City of Kandor actually uses kryponite-run nuclear reactors for power, and there is a (relatively) huge mass of the element beneath the city. Naturally, mining the ore can be very dangerous for those of Kryptonian descent, and early on even the best protective measures proved insufficient, as miners continued to develop terrible rashes even when wearing highly shielded suits. Superman ultimately solved the problem, of course, by developing a special cream which completely eradicated the rash and even had a mild pleasant scent. This salve is now sold in pharmacies in Kandor under the name “Kal-El Mine Lotion.”

Thank you! Thank you! I’ll be here all week…

Tim Gets Ready To Fix America… [Updated]

As we enter the final lap of the presidential race, my mind is even more on matters political than usual.

That’s saying something, because I think about politics year round, every year. It’s not that I enjoy politics, because I really don’t. It’s just that they’re important, especially when we have only two parties, with power fairly evenly split between them, and one of those parties is on a fairly constant warpath to ruin everything we’ve accomplished in the past couple of centuries. That party, if you are dense, corrupt, and/or uninformed, is the Republican party.

On the other hand, the Republican party has almost simplified the job of being an informed citizen in America. Once upon a time,  issues had to be parsed carefully, and details debated, and the calculus of conscience exercised.  But in the past couple of decades, the GOP has arguably made that sort of effort pointless. Now, you can plot a pretty accurate course by just looking at a candidate or an issue and asking “Are the Republicans for him/her/it?” If the answer is “Yes,” odds are you need to be against him/her/it. Unless, of course, you’re filthy rich and don’t care what happens to other people, or you’re a religious nut who cares way too much what other people are doing and thinking.

This isn’t to say the Democrats are anything near what they should be, but if voting for a Democrat is like inviting a friend into your house who doesn’t like your dog, voting for a Republican is like inviting a crazy hobo with a machete in who promises to kill it and steal all your stuff.

If you argue that both parties are the same, you’re either what they call a low-information voter, too lazy or apathetic to actually pay attention to anything beyond the most superficial available information (Romney was more talkative than Obama in that debate, that must mean he’s a better candidate!), or you’re so naive and/or cynical that you’ve removed yourself to the wilderness of inaction or protest voting. When I see someone cockily post that, in their most wise opinion, it won’t matter who wins, I’m not impressed by their lack of awareness or their world-weary individualism; it’s kind of like watching someone try to eat soup with their fingers.

There is no perfect candidate. There are astronomically different levels of imperfect candidates, though.

Anyway, I come not to praise Democrats, nor to bury Republicans. Rather, in my next post, I want to offer up some ideas I think would greatly improve how our esteemed republic functions, and possibly save it from itself.

Or, rather, from us.

UPDATE: Bit off more than I can chew at the moment, so I guess saving America will have to wait. Maybe after November, when I know whether we’re still moving at least somewhat forward with Obama, or just saying “Fuck it” with a Romney presidency…

Silhouette (A Poem)

I don’t write much poetry, and when I do, I do it sort of like I write my blog posts, off the cuff with little polishing. Years back, I took a poetry writing course in college, taught by the man who would go on to be Georgia’s Poet Laureate, David Bottoms, and one day, while suffering through some terrible piece by one of my classmates, I flipped my copy of the poem over and spontaneously wrote a poem on its back.

Later, I workshopped the poem, and Bottoms praised it highly. It was always one of my favorite poems I’d written, but at some point I lost any copies and didn’t feel I could recapture it by trying to write it anew. Recently, however, I dug out my folder of other people’s poems from that class (to share some particularly hilariously bad ones with a friend), and was thrilled to find the original, scrawled draft on the back of that other guy’s poem.

Here it is. I hope you like it.

The silhouette and
Me.

I must know.
Is it He?

I step forward
hearing my ankles creak
like old wood.
I feel the bones in my feet.
The silhouette, through watching,
glides toward me as well.

We approach each other through the mist
in this, my home,
my cold, damp, musty tomb. 
There is a jump in my heart
as I hear the clank of chain,
as I dimly see the blade
glorious at his side.

Then I see.
The silhouette, like a thousand times before,
is me.
In my own bloody mirror.
I, a master of illusion,
have deluded myself once again.

Above, beyond the frozen bars of my tomb,
my captor shrieks shrill laughter.
She knew, all along,
that it was not He.

And I, old fool,
broken stick of a wizard,
sink to my knees and cry. 

Free Fiction Friday: Three Thieves Plot In SKULLDUGGERY!!!

With everything going on, I only just managed to squeeze in an update: chapter 15 of my serialized hardboiled fantasy novel, SKULLDUGGERY, A TALE OF THIEVES, in which three thieves meet and plot…

SKULLDUGGERY, A TALE OF THIEVES

As always, keep in mind that this is a first draft of a novel that I wrote nearly thirty years ago. I’m proud of it, and think it’s loaded with cool stuff, but it is a tad rough hewn.

Also, just a reminder that the Kickstarter project relaunching my Doc Wilde pulp adventure series (which I had been publishing with Putnam, but have now taken independent) is now LIVE!.  It will run until midnight (PST, because I wanted to give the left coasters a fair shot) Saturday, April 28th; it encompasses three books which will be released by the end of the year, in fully illustrated editions available both as ebooks and trade paperbacks.

The project is kicking ass: after just a week, we’ve achieved the $3,000 goal we needed to hit for Kickstarter success, and it’s still climbing. The more we raise, the more we can put into making the Doc Wilde books as awesome as they can be. So please consider visiting The Astonishing Adventures of Doc Wilde and helping us out.

I hope you’ll get Wilde with us…