Sunday, August 31, 2008

The Book I Couldn't Sell

Over the years I have, at times, found myself in various stages of economic hardship. In most of these times, I always owned certain "collectibles" that I could sell off when I had to. I could spend endless days pining away for various rare comics, pieces of original art, rare books, and what-have-you.

But all during those years, the one book that I could never bring myself to toss into the box with the other stuff I was hauling off to the bookshop or the convention was a single volume published by Arkham House Books. It was:


For someone who was as interested in weird fiction as I was, there was no more perfect volume than this one. First of all, it was written by Howard Philips Lovecraft who may not have been a genius, but he was certainly brilliant and he was certainly a true artist. What elevated his fiction into the realm of art (and, perhaps, genius) was that he wrote supernatural fiction for atheists.

It's true.

My various religionist friends who also enjoy HPL's work hate it when I point this out, but they can't argue against it effectively. Lovecraft was himself an adamant atheist. But fiction with a supernatural element was a guilty pleasure for him. So he set about writing stories that contained the things we would normally think of as ghosts and demons and gods, but which had about them a certain kind of scientific logic. He succeeded completely in this effort, and weird fiction was left with the kind of story even an atheist could enjoy--and without guilt.

And this book contains three of HPL's finest works. Some would say his three best: "The Colour Out of Space", "The Dunwich Horror", and "The Thing on the Doorstep". In the long years since I first discovered Lovecraft's work, I don't enjoy reading most of his fiction anymore. It's tedious stuff, mainly, and it's easy to make light of his heavy prose and sometimes comical use of adjectives. But there is, at its base, some stuff that has stood the test of time and which succeed in horrifying the reader. These three tales do just that.

In addition to all of that, this book was illustrated by Lee Brown Coye. Coye, sadly, is recalled by few these days. Along with HPL, he was probably the only other creator to be published by Weird Tales Magazine who was also something of a genius. Coye's genius lay mainly with his use of pen & ink and his uncanny ability to twist both human anatomy and natural geometry into shapes not intended by genetics. The fact that he was highly familiar with both anatomy and the workings of nature made his attempts so hideously effective. He has remained, after decades, my very favorite illustrator of weird fiction. Some have come close to achieving what Coye could do, but none have equalled his skill or his sheer power.

For these reasons I could never bear to part with this book. In moments of economic stress I would take it down from whatever shelf upon which it was displayed...and no matter how bad things had become, I could never bear to part with this single volume. Each time I would look at it, read some of Lovecraft's phrases, and gaze at Coye's amazing illustrations. And each time I would slide it back to its place on the shelf and there it would remain. As it does today.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Sky & Kitty

There is no magazine with that title: SKY & KITTY.

I walked out in the back yard this evening after work to grill steaks, sit on the patio, and look at the sky. There were some really nice clouds and colors up there, so I snapped a few shots.

Lilly had been out with us playing in the grass, but she didn't have her collar on and we were afraid she might stray so we put her back in the house. This bothered her tremendously and she pawed at the screen door. She was also very vocal. I think this is the first time I've seen her get angry.

Let me out OUT of this damned place!

This is where I lived between the ages of eight and eleven. Well, actually the house was torn down and now there's only a playground where the house once stood. It was a great house with a granite foundation and a huge granite fireplace and granite stone in other places around the house. Good, old Stone Mountain granite. Many of the houses in the area were also built with that stone.

The happiest years of my childhood were spent in this house. I had lots of pals when I lived here. I loved going to school right next door at Oakhurst Elementary, and I loved my summer breaks. I read jillions of comics when I resided on Mead Road. There was an old-style drug store at the corner where I could buy a
milkshake or a drink at the fountain and read comics (even though my dad had 250K of the things). The local libraries soon introduced me to Hugh Lofting and my mom helped me discover Ray Bradbury. I explored all around the area, finding streams filled with salamanders and fish and tromping through great patches of woods where my buddies and I hid out and pretended to be on undiscovered islands filled with dinosaurs. It was a great place to be a kid in those days. The house were I lived is gone, though. After we moved out it became a Boys Club location and then was sold and torn down and is now a playground. Strangely, every house I lived in between the ages of seven and fifteen has been demolished. Four houses all gone to memories only. Ah, the way of the Earth.

Oakhurst Elementary School in Decatur, Georgia. It hasn't changed a bit since I went there in the 1960s. Look at the granite foundation. Sometimes I think everything in Decatur was made out of bits and pieces of Stone Mountain.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Brief Cure for Stir Crazy

Well, I haven't been able to go hiking lately. Our vacation to Acadia National Park in Maine was killt dead because of Carole's impending surgery.

Today, I was off from work. I could do one of several things:

housework while Carole slept.

do some shopping for some electronic stuff.

work on my latest novel.

go hiking somewhere close.

Well, I didn't feel like doing the wash. The new converter box for the upstairs TV can wait. (I don't watch TV anyway.) I've worked like crazy on my novel all summer and one day away from it can't hurt.

I went hiking.

Along the trail. Despite the drought, the forest was still green.

I considered several nearby parks. Crowders Mountain State Park I scratched off the list because I've been there too many times. But it's conveniently close and I'll go back. Just not now. I thought abut South Mountains State Park because it has a couple of great waterfalls that I knew would be positively thundering due to the massive rainfall we received from the remnants of Tropical Storm Fay. But, again, it's a place I've been many times. I thought about driving up to Hanging Rock State Park, but the two-hour drive was just a tad too much to face today.

So I opted for Kings Mountain National Park. It's not a National Park in the classic sense--it's principally an historical park based around a Revolutionary War battlefield (I think they based the movie THE PATRIOT on that battle, starring crazed Jew-hater Mel Gibson ). But I didn't go hiking around the battlefield, because it was actually clear-cut when the park was dedicated so that Republican asswipe Herbert Hoover would have sun to stand in during the dedication ceremony. They only left one large poplar to provide some shade.

What I was interested in doing was hiking to the top of Browns Mountain. It's the southernmost in the line of peaks that stretches from Crowder's Mountain in the north to...well...Browns Mountain in the south. While Crowders is an impressive monadnock surrounded by cliffs and loaded with quartzite caprock, Browns Mountain is just a modest ridge rising up above the flat Piedmont leading off to the coastal plains. Beyond Browns Mountain there are no more peaks to be seen. Just flatlands and a few minor hills. While Crowders and Kings Pinnacle have cliff faces and rocky summits, Browns Mountain is composed of a conglomerate of soil, hard clay, and quartzite rubble. While not making for an impressive mountain, it does provide just enough resistance to the elements to keep this ridge from wasting away into the coastal plains.

The hike was nice. It was actually a bit more rugged than I had anticipated, and the 5.2-mile round trip was a little bit more of a workout than I had thought I'd get. The skies were still overcast from the lingering effects of TS Fay, but it didn't rain. The air was, however, very soggy and I got really soaked just from sweating.

On the summit! A whopping 1045 feet above sea level!

Unfortunately, I saw no wildlife at all. The park is over 4,000 acres of forest and battlefields, and surrounded by rural lands and even state park lands to the south, but I'll be damned if I saw any wild critters. No deer, no varmints, no birds, no interesting insects. I didn't even see any wildflowers! One thing that was interesting is that the forest has burned in the past year or so. The understory was completely burned out and I got quite a lot of soot on my legs tramping off trail searching for flowers. I don't know if it was a wild fire or a prescribed burn. But maybe that's why I didn't see any wildlife.

At any rate, it got me out of the house and I bagged a minor little peak. All in all, not a wasted day.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

My Favorite Mountain

I have to say that I rarely visit my favorite mountain anymore. I've hiked it so many times over the years that I've reached a point where I'm (almost) tired of going there. In addition, there are so many other great peaks that I've never hiked and I need to see those before I get too old to hike up the steep slopes. So while I love my favorite peaks, there are always new mountains to be climbed. It's been about four years since I've climbed its slopes. So I'm overdue for a visit.

In the distance, the South's only vertical mile--LeConte--5,300+ feet from base to summit.

However, that said, my all-time favorite mountain is, and pretty much always has been, Mount LeConte in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, on the Tennessee (western) side. One of the most unique things about LeConte is that it is the only mountain in the eastern USA where it's possible to climb a vertical mile from the base of the peak to the summit. A few other eastern peaks come close, but none can make that claim, save for Mount LeConte.

Mount LeConte, taken October 10, 2004.

I've climbed LeConte in all seasons and in all kinds of weather. At 6,593 feet above sea level, it never really gets hot up there (the highest recorded temperature of the summit is less than 80 degrees), but it certainly gets extremely cold up there. A hike from the base, in Gatlinburg, to the peak will take you through several vegetation zones that is like taking a walk from Georgia to southern Canada. Along the way you go from a pine and hardwood forest to one dominated by northern species such as spruce, balsam, and birch. But there's something about climbing LeConte that I have never been quite able to define. I get a really wonderful feeling when I'm up there. It can't be the rarefied air, because the elevation is scarcely enough to make a big difference in atmospheric pressure (although there is a difference on that count--just not a major one). There's something else that is, so far, indefinable for me. Perhaps it's just being on one of the top ten highest peaks in the eastern USA. Maybe it's being on the only mountain in the east that stands a vertical mile above its base. Perhaps it's being well inside one of the finest National Parks that we have in this country. As with so many of the things that I love (or hate), I can't really say precisely why this is so.

LeConte Lodge, on the summit.

But LeConte remains my very favorite mountain. I've hiked to the tops of many peaks in the eastern USA. Katahdin in Maine. Washington in New Hampshire. And hundreds of peaks all over the southeastern USA from Alabama to West Virginia. LeConte is special. There are mountains that come close to it in grandeur, and mountains that equal it in the sheer diversity of the plants and animals that call it home, and mountains that are more spectacular in the way of exposed summits and high cliffs. But LeConte remains a unique experience for me.

No matter how many times I climb it, and no matter which route I take to the top, I always get a thrill out of the climb.
I'll go back, of course. For there is one thing left that has so far escaped me. In all my years of hiking the peak, from 1974 until today, I have yet to stay overnight at LeConte Lodge, the only lodge that remains inside the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Perhaps I'll finally scratch that one off my list this year. I can hope to do so.

We'll see.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008


I'm not finished reading this great book, but I felt the need to promote it here at my blog. It's STRANGE AND STRANGER: THE WORLD OF STEVE DITKO. Now, Steve Ditko remains, after my first exposure to his work more than 44 years ago, my all-time favorite comic book creator. Those of you who've followed this blog also know that I credit him completely with the creation of both The Amazing Spider-Man and Dr. Strange--books which he produced for Marvel Comics, and characters whose names are now attached to a man who had almost nothing to do with their creation.

This book has so far been something of a treasure for me. For instance, I had wondered for many years why Ditko's art seemed to blossom when he worked very briefly for Warren Publications when he illustrated stories for the horror magazines CREEPY and EERIE. Steve Ditko created art for those two magazines that were far and away from the material his fans had seen before that, and were not equaled in the long years after. The author of this biography, Blake Bell, explains quite simply why Ditko tried so many new and different methods of illustration with the tales he illustrated for Warren. I won't explain those reasons here--for you need to buy this book to discover why.


I also had many other questions answered. For instance, the input of Stan Lee into the characters Ditko created at Marvel had been a mystery to me since I first began to suspect that Lee, indeed, had not created any of the characters whose ownership he has claimed for so many decades. Blake explains, to a certain extent, Lee's pitiable contribution to the labors of both Steve Ditko and Jack Kirby. For this he reaped tens of millions of dollars? The mind is boggled.

Some people have asked me why I would champion a fellow whose political ideals are so diametrically opposed to my own. Ditko is a proponent of Ayn Rand's Objectivism. And I find that philosophy abhorrent and have nothing but disdain for Laissez-faire capitalism, which lies at the poisoned base of Objectivism. It's partly a mystery even to me. It could be that I'm not entirely opposed to Ditko's own lessons of personal responsibility so readily apparent in the stories he wrote. Or it could be that Ditko's art, and even his tales, are so well wrought that I am able to look beyond the obvious propaganda inherent in them and see them as the works of fine illustration and sequential art that they are. Frankly...I'm not sure.

Ditko remains a strange man to me. He's a mystery. Much as JD Salinger is a mystery. Much as Jack Kerouac is a mystery. I don't compare him equitably to people like Salinger and Kerouac, but there is that strain of not quite knowing where the creator is coming from, nor at what he's aiming. If you're a fan of Steve Ditko, there is no more perfect book for you than Blake Bell's STRANGE AND STRANGER: THE WORLDS OF STEVE DITKO. I could have done without the fawning book dedication to a certain fascistic monster, but I'm willing to overlook that minor irritant. Pick up this wonderful hardback. It'll be a great addition to any comics and biography library.

Monday, August 25, 2008

One Year Ago

One year ago:

We were staying here, at Joe Dodge Lodge in New Hampshire.

At this time one year ago, I was hiking up the Tuckerman Ravine Trail to the summit of Mount Washington, the highest peak in New England, and the highest peak in the Appalachian Mountains north of Roan Mountain (in Tennessee).

Since I've never had the opportunity to hike out west, the nearest I've been able to come to the kind of scenery one expects to see in places like the Rocky Mountains are the peaks and summits of New England. I have never been disappointed in the scenery when I go hiking in Maine and New Hampshire.

I never got tired of looking down into Tuckerman Ravine on my way to the summit of Mount Washington. I look at this and can almost see the glacier that carved this enormous cirque.

The weather was appropriately overcast, cold, and blustery by the time I reached the highest point on the mountain. I really didn't want it to be otherwise.

The views on the way down were no less spectacular than on the trip up. Here I was approaching Lion's Head, one of the more amazing sub-peaks on Mount Washington.

And a double rainbow rewarded me as I hiked along toward Lions Head.
Other hikers passed us going up, toward Lions Head as we headed down to Joe Dodge Lodge and a hearty meal and a hot shower and a soft bed.

Looking back on my adventure of last year only makes me go a bit more stir crazy as Carole and I remain stuck in Charlotte due to her impending surgery. We'll have a wait of several weeks after that before we can head off into the wilds. Until then, I have only my memories of past trips and photographs from some of my amazing hikes to increase my level of utter and complete frustration! ARGH!!!!

With any freaking luck at all, I'll be able to hitch up the trailer, strap on my daypack, and head up into the Black Mountains of North Carolina for views like this one, as I did in the summer of 2007. Wish me just a little bloody fortune.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Moral Dilemma

I'm a writer. As an author, I'm always looking for publications where I can place my work.

Recently, it came to my attention that a certain author sponsors a magazine that pays professional rates and which also publishes the kinds of fiction that I write. Pretty neat, eh?

Unfortunately, no.

This author holds and promotes religious, political, and moral philosophies that I find not only horrifying, but totally wrong-headed and beyond the borders of evil. I mentioned this to some other writer pals who basically had one question:

"Does the publication overtly express the author's ideas and philosophies that so bother you?"

Well...looking at the publication, I have to say that I didn't see much in there that I found objectionable. There might be material in it that does promote these things, but I didn't see it at first reading.

"Then go ahead and submit," they tell me.

But, frankly, I'm left with a further problem. I just don't want to be in the company of this writer, whom I feel to be quite a loathsome individual. Whose ideas and beliefs are actually monstrous, to my way of thinking.

So, for now, I'm tending to forget about this market as a place where I would want to be seen. It could be construed as some kind of approval of certain philosophies that I think are not only wrong, but harmful.

I was reminded of the fact that my first professional payment for a story was from funds provided by Dave Sim, whose own political and sexual philosophies I find to be execrable. Of course I didn't know what kinds of poisons were in that monster's head in those days, and so I excuse myself that sale on that account.

At any rate, I should be out hiking. But the job was hard on me this week, and I just didn't have the energy to wake up early enough to head into the mountains. Ah, the life of a laborer and part-time author. Jove.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Painting the Metalwork

Well, I bought a few cheap tools and paint and went to work on my Casita Freedom Deluxe travel trailer.

As my faithful readers will recall, there was a problem with the bumper. It's hollow and is the storage area for the sewage hose that one uses to drain the black water and gray water tanks. Since there is always some moisture (ewwww!) left over when you put it back into the hollow bumper, there is a tendency for rust to form inside that bumper.

When I installed a bike rack on the bumper that, coupled with the weight of the two bikes, caused a rust spot to break completely through and forced the bumper to twist. This was a problem.

Not simply because it looked like crap, but because it made it almost impossible to retrieve and replace the sewer hose when needed. Thus, my pal RL Helms came to the rescue and welded a new bumper onto my Casita.
However, this left me with the possibility that the new bumper would run into a similar problem as the old one:


RL suggested that I paint the inside of the bumper with the same type of rustoleum paint that he'd used on the outside of the bumper. So I bought a very small 2-inch roller and a paint handle extension, plus a can of rustoleum paint.

Over the course of a leisurely day off, the sun bright and the air warm and dry, I put down about five or six (I lost count) layers of rustoleum paint on the inside of the hollow bumper. I also scraped the rust off of the metal tongue of the trailer and repainted that with the same black rustoleum gloss paint. It looks great, and, I'm wagering, will extend the life of that problematic bumper design.

On Sunday I'm hoping to go back to the trailer and, crawling under it, repaint the entire metal undercarriage of the trailer.

While waiting for one of the coats to dry, I have Chinese in my trailer. The first meal eaten in it since the minor accident that caused the door to stick.

Friday, August 22, 2008

I Remember Gentle Ben

I Remember Gentle Ben

By James Robert Smith

I remember Gentle Ben.
His big black ass needed to crush
those stinking humans
kept him like a pet.

I want a world

Lassie tears out
Timmy’s pink and vulnerable


Flipper should have
lured those goddamned
into the lagoon and upended
their raft
and pulled them to the
bottom and let them drown.

you cross-eyed bastard.
They were right there!
Right there!
You could have killed and
eaten them

Rin Tin Tin,
you dead and forgotten

Why didn’t you raid
the back forty,
slaughter all of the cattle
and join your Lobo
brothers on the prairie?

And Silver.

You could easily have
stomped the Lone Ranger to a
bloody pulp.
And kicked Tonto’s
collaborating, traitorous ass.
You fucking cow.

Have you all
From whence you came?
Griz who ate his
Tiger who tore out
the kraut’s throat:
You guys, I respect.
You remembered.
You woke up,
and smelled the meat.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

You Want Plans? We Got Plans.

Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans”.--John Lennon

Pilot Mountain, North Carolina.

This has been one of the worst years for me in the past few as far as traveling to wilderness areas and parks is concerned. We've had some good trips, but nowhere near as many as in a normal year. Part of it was the very minor damage I did to my travel trailer. It was just a stuck door (now repaired), but it kept us from feeling comfortable in taking it for a trip. Just the idea of struggling with the door every time we wanted to go in or out seemed more than we wanted to deal with. So we sat on our vacation time until we could spend it the way we wanted.

Now, our planned trip to Acadia National Park in Maine had to be canceled. Carole is having surgery which finally got scheduled (surprise!) on the very week we were planning to be in Maine. Alas! Acadia is one of the most beautiful places Carole and I have ever been, and we dearly wanted to return there. Perhaps we'll make a winter trip. She'll be recovered well enough from the surgery for us to make a more modest trip in mid-September, so we'll go somewhere then.

Me, in Acadia, overlooking Jordan Pond from South Bubble.

We've been reviewing possibilities for our next jaunt with the trailer. We love using it as a base camp. It's perfect for me as I can often hike right out of our campsite on a nearby trailhead that will take me to some mountaintop or down to a waterfall or over a ridge into a virgin forest. So we've been looking at our options within the North Carolina/Tennessee/Virginia/West Virginia areas. We'll find a great place where we've never been and have a chance to get out of the city for a while. It's what keeps us going.