Saturday, January 30, 2010


Practically nobody’s first novel gets published.

The story of the person who one day decides to write a novel that becomes a bestseller, sparking the beginning of a prosperous career, is one that inspires many and keeps the creative writing/writer’s workshop scam going. It is, however, a myth. If you can get a published author to be honest, they’ll admit that the book listed as the first one they published isn’t the first one they wrote. There’s usually a real first novel tucked away somewhere that made the rounds and never sold.

Sometimes these real first novels make it into print. As a writer, I find them fascinating. There’s just something about embryonic beginnings, struggling to find their way, especially if you know what they will someday grow into.

In And the Hippos were Boiled in Their Tanks, we get two iconic writers struggling that twisted path for the price of one. Jack Kerouac and William Burroughs created this book before anybody heard of them. There was no Beat Generation yet. They thought that telling the story of a murder a friend had committed, in alternating chapters, was their key to literary success.

And why not? Back in the Forties, the “hardboiled” crime genre was coming in to its own. Believe it or not, I had known about the book for years, admired the title, but it wasn’t until I finished the book that I got the reference to “hardboiled.”

(Personally, I prefer “hardboiled” to “noir.” It’s less pretentious, and more American, but I digress . . . )

Hippos is an entertaining read, yet I can see why it didn’t get published during its authors lifetimes, and why it did not become a “noir” classic beside The Maltese Falcon, The Big Sleep, and A Rage in Harlem. I don’t think we’ll be seeing a Hardcase paperback edition, and if by some quirk it happens, fans of the retro series may end up scratching their heads.

The alternating narrator format makes sense for Burroughs and Kerouac, but every publisher in New York will tell you that it confuses American readers. Though the 1944 bohemian world it depicts is fascinating -- with World War Two, homosexuality, and drug abuse -- “hardboilded/noir” fans might find it a bit unfocused. It meanders through Burroughsian aburdity and Kerouacian poetic travelogue, and the shamelessly sensationalized murder doesn’t take place until almost the end of the book. No tight, suspense-filled plot, though the conclusion is worthy of the genre at its darkest and best.

If there’s any hardboiled writer who is close to this book, it’s David Goodis. His heroes are doomed in a similar way. It’s another report from the edge of a corrupt society.

So, like other lost first novels, it's probably best to read this one for what it is, not its expectations. I recommend it for those who haven’t finished their own first novels. If you don't take that first step, you'll never go on the journey.

It also makes me feel better about my own first, unpublished novel, Nwatta-Nwatta-Nwatta.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010


A comment on my last entry compels me to present this quick addendum.

Sorry, Ken. I assumed you knew all about the Outlaw Press edition of Starfaring. Even my twisted imagination couldn’t come up with James Shipman and his nefarious art stealing. I’d go into this in detail, but it was better presented in the URLs sent me by the Commentor With No Name.

Maybe there is a Lone Ranger after all.

Anyway, don’t buy the Outlaw Press Starfaring. This is probably the kick-in-the-butt I need to get me started on experimenting with a self-published Starfaring/Nwatta-Nwatta-Nwatta book. We all need a kick-in-the-butt now and then.

And thank you, Ken, for standing up for artists.

Now if we could just get Rosebud Magazine to atone for never paying my friend Stanley Roberson for his story “Pulped Fiction” that ran in their 39th issue . . .

Tuesday, January 26, 2010


Googling myself is a defense mechanism. How else I am I going to find out about unauthorized translations of my work, or that I’m a Russian ringtone, or that a critically-acclaimed student film has been made from one of my short stories?

Recently, Starfaring came up.

Uh-oh, I feel another flashback coming on – it was way the hell back in the Seventies, I gave up on institutionalized education, and was trying to somehow make a living as a writer/artist. This was before the summer of Star Wars. George Lucas had not yet made the world safe for nerds. Nobody knew what role-playing games were – or at least I didn’t.

I had gone to a science fiction convention in L.A. and put some drawings in the art show. The next thing I knew, I was talking to Ken St. Andre – who introduced me to Liz Danforth – and was hearing about these game things, and how he had created one that was science fiction, and needed illustrations. He thought cartoons would be nice.

I was controversial, as usual. Ken had to put in a disclaimer:

None of the artwork herein included is meant to be offensive to any ethnic group, but is merely an attempt to represent more than white American masculinity in what we hope is an amusing fashion. (Now, having disclaimed intentional racism, sexism, or alienism, all I can say is if you don't like the artwork, that's your problem.)”

They were afraid that I was going to offend minorities.

I got paid a few bucks per cartoon, and even got a few royalty checks. Whoo-hoo!

I experimented with a Starfaring comic strip. Ken ran a few examples in the publisher’s magazine.

But gaming never impressed me. I'd rather go find real adventure than simulate it with dice and a calculator. So I drifted off into other pursuits – like writing.

And now Ken has hooked up with Outlaw Press, and has reprinted Starfaring, reedited by Ken, with my cartoons. The Googling was how I heard about it, so there have been no payments.

Instead of getting mad, I’m exploiting the situation to yap about my first novel. Not Cortez on Jupiter. The first one I wrote, not the first one to get published. It grew out of the Starfaring cartoons, but by the time I wrote it, I was out in some very different territory.

This kind of avant-garde stream-of-consciousness stuff is really hard to get into,” Ken warned me.

The funny thing was, I was trying to be commercial. I honestly thought that a cross between Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas was best-seller material.

The only story excerpted from it, “Love Nwatta-Nwatta-Nwatta Style” has seen print. That was in Pulphouse: The Hardback Magazine, Issue Two, Winter 1988. Thanks to Kristine Kathryn Rusch, the only editor crazy enough to touch it.

Now, the publishing world that thought Nwatta-Nwatta-Nwatta was “too zany” is crashing. I may publish it myself, just for the sheer hell of it. Some people may get a few laughs out of it.

And part of me thinks that this book has had an audience all along, that has been waiting as everything gets zanier and zanier.

Sunday, January 24, 2010


I prefer to think of Jack Kerouac as the self-mythologizing angel-headed hipster rather than the guy who drank himself to death in his mom’s house. Rudy Rucker’s stories about him (“The Jack Kerouac Disembodied School of Poetics,” and “Instabililty,” co-written with Paul Di Filippo) are preferable to his real life. Still, I was irresistibly drawn to On the Road: The Original Scroll. Having been through my own trials and tribulations with trying to fit my visions into the dinky formats of the publishing industry, I’m obsessed with what people come up with before those in power make it palatable for the masses.

Besides, I’ve always felt the need to expose myself to raw weirdness. Drop the filters. Maybe a few particles of truth will get through.

The introductions smash the myth of spontaneous prose. Sorry kids, but you actually have to work, edit, and rewrite to create the feeling of spontaneity. You can’t just turn on a camera or tape recorder Warhol-style, and let a masterpiece happen. It takes brain work.

And what a work it is. I always felt that the weakest part of Kerouac’s books were where they pretended to be novels. Here it all just unrolls: a vision, a search for a way of life not offered in Post-War America’s agenda.

Yeah, the one-long-paragraph thing takes some getting used to. It does get you reading, stopping, starting outside of your usual habits. In our world of constant interruptions, it is valuable experience.

The real names are better than the silly pseudonyms. And the uncensored sex and language makes it all seem more real. Somehow I remember the “novel” version in black in white, but I visualize the scroll in color, and on a wide screen.

The important feeling of being on the road is stronger. That forward motion, and the universe coming at you -- wrapping around you through the windshield. America is a land of roads that are forever taking you to new worlds, some dying, some being born, all in a constant state of transformation with Neal Cassady, the Holy Goof, archetypical counterculture hero, talking us all into an aimless quest, never finding the father he was looking for. When asked “Whither goesth thou?” and what sordid business he’s up to, he makes fun of the pretentious language.

I caught part of 2001 on cable while I was finishing up the scroll. Kubrick’s bored, alienated astronauts brood in their sterile spaceship while the angel-headed hipsters approach the Aztec capital screaming in ecstasy with their shirts reeking of insecticide and coated with dead bugs. Which is the better attitude for exploration?

When I took it along to read on my last road trip, it kept my eyes sharp for the cherchez de weird, and reminded me how much I love being on the road.

And does it matter whither you goeth, or what your sordid business is, or if you drink yourself to death in your mom’s living room, or drop dead counting railway ties for a stupid bar bet? Could it be that dreams, visions, and realities that are the road are what’s important? Do you know what diddy-wah-diddy means? Do you got the boogie in you? Are you ready to launch?

Thursday, January 21, 2010


There's a tornado warning for the entire state of Arizona tonight. High winds. Heavy rain. Weird vibrations. I feel a flashback coming on . . . last month . . . I was still working at that Big Box Bookstore . . .

While Bob Dylan’s Christmas CD droned, I brushed aside the tarantula, picked up the phone, and answered in the manner prescribed by Corporate.

Holy guano, Ernest! They actually make you say that?”

I’m starting to answer the phone at home that way. This is Victor Theremin? Right?”

The one and only.”

You realize that I’m at work – ”

Yeah, but I know you’re not busy. And it’s so close to Christmas.”

You try ignoring the . . . tarantulas . . . .”


Not so loud. We’re not supposed to use the word.”

Then the online rumors are true . . .”

“The official company policy is that they do not exist.” I shook away one that was crawling up my pantleg.

You poor bastard – what kind of tarantulas are they?”

Mexican Flame Knees.”

Damn. If you see any Brazilian Pinks, let me know, I’ll be right over. If we could just start breeding tarantulas the way they do dogs and cats . . .”

Agreed. We need more of that kind of beauty in the world.”

Anyway, I also know that you just finished reading Paul Riddell's The Savage Pen of Onan.

I looked around for Lemurians. “You spying on me?”

I got resources up the ying-yang. I also need to discuss that book with you.”

Diddling with the computer, I pretended to be helping a customer. “You still think that Greasing the Pan is the Great American Novel?”

Of course! Savage Pen is an extension of that work. In the future they’ll probably be published in one volume, like the Don Quixote.”

Could be. Pen, being material not written for commercial markets, gets wilder that Pan.”

Yeah, brilliant satire.”

But he was writing about real things. His accounts of disintegrating pop culture and the economic collapse of ten years ago is disturbingly close to what we’re going through right now.”

You ain’t seen nothing yet. The cultural collapse we’re about to see is going to be bigger than the one back in the Seventies.”

The one that left Star Wars as the center of Western Civilization?”

Yeah. With literature-as-we-know-it dying, we’re gonna need books like Paul’s.”

Are two books going to be enough?”

I’ve been thinking about that. Look at this stuff he’s doing in Texas Triffid Ranch and Gothic Beauty. There’s another book growing inside him, growing like a tumor. It’ll burst out of him like an Alien chest-buster.”

A gardening book?”

Like Voltaire said, 'il faut cultiver notre jardin' – we gotta cultivate that garden! It’ll complete the trilogy and change the world.”


Sure. J.R.R. Tolkien, more over!”

This next decade is going to be something.”

I can hardly wait!” With that, Victor hung up.

A young woman with a mustache ran up to the information desk. “Are you going to do anything about all these tarantulas?”

What tarantulas?” I said as one crawled up my arm.

. . . meanwhile . . . back in the present . . . the dog is barking at something . . . something crawling in the window . . . it looks like a Brazilian pink.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010


When we asked about an ATM, the woman at the Sky Ranch Lodge pointed to town without a beat. “They’re all over the main drag.”

And they were, glittering like a well-run theme park. A statue of a mountain man/wizard in the too-pretty-for-my-taste style of most Sedona art stood guard in front of Chase Bank. There was also a John Muir Reality that must have him spinning in his grave. Elegant, colorful signs advertised psychics, more than in Scottsdale, or Phoenix where they can be found next to radiator repair shops. Spirituality and capitalism walk hand-in-hand down these desert-landscaped streets.

Once you get out into the woodsy neighborhoods, the quirky homes often sport more modest signs announcing that psychic readings are available. The fantastic red rock landscape does make it seem more sincere. I wondered how they’re weathering the recession.

We even passed a trailer park with a gaggle of Mayan-looking guys in baseball caps waiting for day-labor gigs. Even this close to The Vortex, someone was needed to do the non-psychic work. It's probably the same in Tikal and Chichén Itzá.

In the labyrinth of mountain roads, we stopped to hike at Crescent Moon Ranch -- where the river was made into an impromptu fairyland with countless stacks of rocks -- and spectacular Red Rock State Park, that we learned would be closed down in near future. Sometimes the relationship between spirituality and capitalism ain’t so lovey-dovey.

I imagined all these executives coming to Sedona for their world-class spiritual retreat/vision quest/leadership seminars. They must go back home feeling centered and revitalized. Then they resume the business of raping the planet.

We were near Cottonwood, I was musing about how I don’t need to quest for visions -- I find them everywhere -- and the Great American Quest for user-friendly, pre-packaged spirituality when I spotted a gigantic figure in a gleaming white robe towering by the roadside: A fifty-foot statue. I assumed that the building near it was a church. It had its back to us, so I couldn’t see the face.

“Jesus, or the Virgin Mary?” I asked Em.

Then we passed, I saw the face, and was astounded. She was a blonde New Age Goddess with a ying/yang symbol on her forehead. She levitated the Earth between her delicate hands.

At her feet were other, smaller sculptures, also painted in bright colors, glowing in the afternoon sun. They were arranged as if it was a used-car lot.

After that the snow vanished. The landscape bended back into the Sonoran desert with saguaros, and rocks of different colors and forms, that spoke in other languages. Places had names like Dead Horse Ranch, Bloody Basin Road, and Big Bug Creek.

Soon we were back in our sweet home Metro Phoenix Area, negotiating Jay Silverwheels through a traffic jam as visions danced through our heads.

Monday, January 18, 2010


The next morning we bundled up, and explored the shops near the railroad tracks and murals around Beaver and Butler Streets.

This is the student/countercultural (whatever they call it these days) area. Macy’s European Coffee House and Bakery is the major landmark. The coffee is wonderful, and there’re all kinds of vegan pastries. (Carnivore fare can be found a few blocks away at the Bigfoot Bar-B-Q, where “Bigfoot eats vegetarians.”) The atmosphere is peace-freaky -- a car parked out front had a bumper sticker: REFUSE TO PAY TAXES TO SUPPORT THE WAR. I wondered which war they meant.

Young people wander around in hippie/punk/grunge attire. In the shops they smile and recite the costumer service mantra.

Among the candles, soaps, Western and winter clothes, Native American decor, and a really interesting rendition of the Hindu god Ganesha, I saw still another variation on the HOMELAND SECURITY: FIGHTING TERRORISM SINCE 1492 T-shirt. Guess no one has the copyright on that gag. I should make my own version with a scary Aztec warrior.

I bought a T-shirt for KUYI 88.1 FM, Hopi Radio, that had a Hopi Harlequin playing DJ in front an antediluvian microphone. They play a wonderful mix of local and global music -- the sort that will thrive after the corporate music biz crashes in a year or so. I can hardly wait until it can be heard online.

As we grabbed Cafe Mochas at Macy’s, a barista explained to a phone caller, “No, this is Macy’s the coffee shop. There is no Macy’s Deparment Store in Flagstaff,”

Toward Sedona the snow got thinner and patcher. The rocks got redder, and had Em going “Ooh! Ah! Oh baby!” Who needs a high-priced James Arthur Ray Sweat Lodge of Death when you can listen to these incredible rocks?

As Octavio Paz said:

Te hablaré un lenguaje de piedra

(Respondes con un monsílabo verde)

That’s “I will speak to you in stone-language/Answer with a green syllable” for you no habla types.

We found this trail that led past an abandoned house carved into the rocks, and other ruins from recent times. Icicles poured off fantastic rocks and all those fantastic rock castles. Later, Slide Rock was another lost world -- Memory Lane for Em, discovery for me.

Finally, we reached Sedona, and ate tacos at the Oaxaca Restaurant with a view of a great phallic hoodoo that watched over the upscale spiritual Disneyland.

As the sun set, we checked into the Sky Ranch Lodge. The view of the mountains that loomed over the town was incredible. They were spirituality in physical form.

The lobby had books and information about The Vortex, and other attractions.

I picked up a flyer for Elivs of Sedona. He sings, performs weddings, gives Vortex tours, takes aura photographs -- all dressed like Elvis! He’s available for “Corporate Events, Private Partys [sic] and Birthdays.” He’s been on America’s Got Talent!

I wonder he and James Arthur Ray ever hang out?

Sunday, January 17, 2010


The roads to the Grand Canyon were bordered with snow-carpeted forests. One sign warned of mountain lion crossings. We didn’t see any.

Snow iced the Grand Canyon like the mother of all pastries. It was one more detail that added to the perceptual overload of the place. You can’t really see it. It’s hard to wrap your brain around it. It’s just so big. Visiting it is like arriving on an alien planet, and only having a few hours to look around before taking off again. Still, you’re compelled to try. It’s an incredible walk, made more beautiful and perilous by slippery snow.

The best way to sightsee it all would be from an electric dirigible. It would be quieter and slower that the helicopters. And there’s a revolution in airship design going on. Someone will soon come up with this perfect vehicle for eco-tourism, then look out.

Meanwhile, it’s amazing that these cuts into the Earth reveal rocks going back to the Pre-Cambrian Period. Dinosaurs, and other long-extinct lifeforms, lived there. Humans have lived there since 12,000 years ago, what I’m beginning to think of as the Atlantean Period of prehistory. The rocks trigger the time travel reflex in the brain.

Dizziness is a side effect. It makes walking on the snow and ice difficult, especially since I’ve never done it before. I slipped and slid in my warm hiking boots. I found myself studying the foot-traffic trampled snow.

If I lived in a place where it snowed, I wouldn’t bother with snowmen. I’d experiment with snow hoodoos -- build ‘em up in strange shapes, poke holes, hit ‘em with a blow dryer. The forces of freezing, melting, wind, and recrystalization make intricate forms -- the only place on Earth that gets close to the size and structure of the Martian Bigfoot. Could there be something, stuff between dirt and snow, being blown around on Mars?

Em pointed out that the Grand Canyon twists and turns, water wearing down rocks for hundreds of millions of years. On Mars, the Valle Marineris is a bunch or fairly straight parallel lines, an America-sized gash across the face of the planet. Like from a gigantic claw. How could that happen?

We discussed possibilities. Mars has no known plate tectonics. Could such things happen on an all-molten world like Venus? The other tourists were disturbed.

Later we ate at the Galaxy Diner again. Some of their decor caught my eye -- two prints from a series called “Lost in the ’50’s” by Kent Bash. I knew him from when Elinor Mavor was editing Amazing Stories, where I sold my first stories. One of the books I brought with me was Lost Continents & The Hollow Earth by David Hatcher Childress, that reprints “I Remember Lemuria” by Richard Shaver, that first appeared in Amazing.

No matter where I go, it gets sci-fi. And all roads lead to Amazing Stories. For me, at least.

Friday, January 15, 2010


The canal from the Holbrook power plant gave off steam. Like a scene from a terraformed Mars.

Next came Meteor City. Unfortunately, it was just another roadside trading post. They should invest in a rocket, flying saucer, some larger-than-life aliens, or even a dinosaur of two. Meteor City should be a Fifties-style sci-fi metropolis with a spaceport, full of vehicles with Cadillac tail-fins.

We drove on. Besides, we were almost to Meteor Crater.

It was another lesson in perspective. And the snow just added another dimension. Like the Pyramid of the Sun in Teotihuacán, it looms large on the horizon and just gets bigger. The visitor center/museum becomes a gigantic complex as you enter. Movies and displays of actual meteorites only hint at the effect of standing on the crater’s rim, walking up and down the stairways, leaning over the railing. This the closest most of us will get to visiting a crater on the Moon or Mars.

Inside the crater, we could look down and see ravens flying.

In the gift shop I found David Hatcher Childress’ Lost Cities & Ancient Mysteries of the Southwest. Another reminder of the sort of thing we needed to be on the look out for. And a sign that we were on the right track.

We stopped at Walnut Canyon on a whim, we didn’t know anything about it, and it was trip into a lost world. Imagine a canyon of fantastic stacks of layered rocks. A forest grows out of the rocks. In between the layers, now and then, you see ancient brick structures of the dwellings of the people the Spanish called the Sinagua. There was also snow, in which the tracks of local predators could be seen.

3,000 year old figurines have been found there. 800 years ago, the canyon was the home of a farming community. Between 1064 and 1065 AD nearby Sunset Crater eruppted and transformed that world. Yet they didn’t leave until the big dry-up around 1300 AD. After wandering in the deserts, Walnut Canyon must have seemed like an earthly paradise, and it is unlike anything I’ve run across in fantastic fiction.

Later we moonwalked the Sunset Crater park. The black lava fields contrasted with the snow. What planet are we on again, honey?

Then we zipped up through the Ponderosa pines to Route 66 and Flagstaff. Where we had trouble finding our next motel. Google Maps had steered us wrong. Luckily, a young man who looked like he had stepped out of time warp from 1974 set us right.

And across the street was the Galaxy Diner. There were no hands on their clock, this being a crosstime joint, with Fifties decor with a sci-fi accent. The window announced: HOT ROD SHOW EVERY FRI. NITE. Our kind of place.

You never know when chunks of outer space will come crashing down and transform your world.

Thursday, January 14, 2010


As we approached Holbrook, there was this white stuff all over the place. They call it snow. I haven’t seen much of it in my desert-bound life.

And soon it became all cowboys, Indians, dinosaurs, and UFOs. The New Wild West is creating new myths in the Twenty-First Century. How long will it be before we can’t convince the kids that cowboys, Indians, dinosaurs, and UFOs didn’t all exist together in same spacetime barrio?

And these days, most of the cowboys -- and people working in the gas stations, restaurants, and hotels -- are Indians or Latinos. And some of the Indians are from India.

Out of the window of our room in the Holbrook Best Western Adobe Inn (that was not made out of adobe) we could see the Wigwam Motel with its concrete teepees standing in front of the permanent steam cloud from the power plant. Colorful sculptures of cartoony dinosaurs beckoned us to enter rock shops that sold petrified wood, animal fossils (yeah, I know petrified wood is tree fossils), tourist kitsch like Fifties-style plastic bows with suction-cup arrows, and UFO driver’s licenses. There was something delightfully unpretentious about it all, a bit of fun before we entered the Petrified Forest.

And the Rainbow Forest Gift Shop & Museum just outside the Petrified Forest National Park had not only painted dino statues, but a concrete teepee with a dinosaur painted on it. The Museum just inside the park had some great displays, and a movie about the Triassic Period, when the desert was a great swamp full of towering trees, dinosaurs, giant amphibians, and crocodiles. Environments change -- get used to it.

Driving around the park was like an interplanetary expedition. When we went EVA, we had to bundle up like astronauts. The landscape, colorful, striped hills and shattered trees turned to stone, with lava contrasting with snow and showing the hoodooization process in action, was better than any special effects.

Lost civilizations were represented in Newspaper Rock and the Puerco Pueblo ruins. Both had many petroglyphs -- they get more interesting the more I study them. The pueblo was abandoned around 1300. There is a dry river bed nearby. Is the river you depend on going dry? Should you be considering migration?

I saw a hill/rock that looked like the head and shoulders of a yeti -- especially when frosted with snow. There was also one that looked like an Easter Island moai with broad shoulders. Yes, rocks tell you stories if you listen.

And at every stop, when we popped Jay Silverwheels’ doors, we were greeted by pairs of ravens. Em suggested that they may have been the same pair following us. They had no fear of humans, and didn’t mind posing for pictures. One made a clippity-clop noise with its beak, as if it were trying to talk.

“Sorry guys, we’re on vacation. No secret messages from headquarters today.”

I has a vision of a cowboy on dinosaur-back, fighting with an Indian on a flying saucer, while in a distant mesa, a busload of tourists watch and take pictures. It haunts me. Maybe I can talk someone into letting me do it as a mural.