Sunday, February 28, 2016

Next Wilderness Hike

After some consideration I have settled on my next solo-hike/camping destination. It will be the Art Loeb Trail in the Pisgah National Forest. It passes through National Forest land and one wilderness area. I may try to summit Cold Mountain (yes, the one from the popular novel/movie) which is at the northern terminus of the trail. However, the mountain is not high on my radar even though it is one of the last North Carolina 6K-foot peaks I have not bagged.

The trail has become quite popular, but I'm hoping that I won't bump into numbers of people since I will be in the Forest in March, and during the week which will hopefully keep the crowds away. This will be my first major hike into the Shining Rock Wilderness. I tend to avoid Shining Rock because of the crowds, although I have been in there a few times. I once planned an overnight backpacking trip there but when I arrived at the trailhead there was--and I am not exaggerating--a line of hikers numbering at least one hundred heading up the slopes. I took one look at that ridiculous sight and headed over to Middle Prong Wilderness where almost no one goes; and I was rewarded with sweet solitude--not one other human.

So now is time to plot out a route and look at water sources and mapped campsites.

On Cedar Rock, along the Art Loeb Trail.

Panorama taken from the summit of Little Sam Knob looking toward Sam Knob (on the far left) and the heights of Shining Rock Wilderness beyond.

Very high country in Middle Prong Wilderness.

We don't have genuine alpine landscape in North Carolina, but we have a false version of it created by past logging practices in which the forests were felled from the high country and then the soil was depleted through fires and rainstorms, resulting in a substrate that trees have had a hard time in reclaiming. Thus, we have a faux alpine environment here that will take hundreds of years for the dark forests to reclaim.

Mount Hardy, over 6100 feet above sea level.

The southern summit of the double-summit of Sam Knob. Taken from the northern end of the peak.

Video taken just off the Art Loeb Trail on the John Rock cliffs.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Great Jazz TV Theme Songs

There were a lot of great TV theme songs that were jazz or jazz-influenced. Here are some of my favorites--examples from the '50s through the late '90s.

And there are many, many more. These are just the ones that occurred to me as I was assembling today's blog in a lazy way so that I can spend more time working on my novel AGENTS.

Quincy Jones.

Nelson Riddle.

Henry Mancini.
Hoyt Curtin, composer of many Hanna Barbera cartoon theme songs, including Top Cat and Jonny Quest.

Lionel Newman, brother of film music composer Alfred Newman, uncle of pop music and film music composer Randy Newman.

Yoko Kanno, composer of "Tank!" for Cowboy BeBop (and many other films).

Heck...I could do this all day long.

Friday, February 26, 2016

A Sad Situation

I keep a lot of my old files from my early days as a writer. I'm talking tons of stuff. Soon I'll be dumping most of it, but a few things I'll keep. Not much, though.

One manila envelope I was looking through had little notes from my first literary agent. He wouldn't write normal letters on 8 1/2 X 11 paper. (Remember, this was in the days before the Internet and even before widely-used wordprocessors.) Instead, he would send little notes on tiny bits of printed paper with his logo on them. Similar to Post-It notes but on thicker, higher quality paper and with his name and address/phone number on them.

The notes would keep me abreast of where the book was being pushed and any reactions from editors. He would also always send me copies of anything any editor had to say. The old guy came close to selling that first book, but just could never quite close the deal. We came closest at Warner Books, a subsidiary of Warner Communications. These days, Warner Books doesn't even exist, having been absorbed by Hachette Book Group.

And that's what got me as I looked through the letters I'd received while I was a client at that first literary agency:

There were so many publishers in those days! He had a vast group of publishers from which to choose where he could send my book. Alas, those days are gone. Today so many of those publishing houses either went completely out of business or were absorbed by larger concerns. The publishing business began to implode in a most disturbing manner and is today in a pretty anemic situation. These days there aren't many places where a writer (or his agent) can send a manuscript for consideration.

Times have changed the publishing model. Now my current agent has to pick from a shrunken pool of publishers when he looks to submit one of my books. And if the book is a genre title, then things are even worse, because that market has retreated to just a few imprints.

Yes, there are the small presses but the competition there is so fierce that former name-brand authors are clawing over one another to place manuscripts with their editors. Writers with an established fan base willing to pay premium prices for limited edition books are the norm with them, which precludes much in the way of original fiction.

Then there are the micro-publishers and ebook-only publishers. This is just a half-step above self-publishing which is the world of the rube, the shill, the shyster, and the loser. But I have friends whose agents have been reduced to sending material out to these kinds of publishers, most of whom don't even pay an advance of any type; not even a nominal one.

Alas. Literature is in a sad and sick situation. When publishers die, the art form upon which it once thrived will soon follow.

First edition of the best-selling Niven/Pournelle apocalyptic novel, LUCIFER'S HAMMER. Published by Playboy Press. Yep. Playboy once had a book publishing arm. They went out of business during the time I was with my first agent. I recall, because he sent me a note telling me that they were "no more". Alas.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Old Posts, and Photos, and Videos Gone Dead.

I've been doing something I'd never thought about, not even in science-fiction inspired daydreams.

Lately I've found that I feel compelled to go back to very old blog posts (which people still see and search out) so that I can "fix" them. The main problems that I've seen cropping up over the past few years are vanished images, ruined video footage, and dead links. These are things that have resulted from the changing world of the Internet and the alteration of accompanying technologies.

In the past I've talked about how I tried to hedge my bets when it came to posting videos. This is the most prevalent problem I face in trying to do housekeeping on older posts here at my blog (which, strange though it seems to me, gets anywhere from 14K to 17K+ hits a month). Back in the day I tried to use several video hosting sites just in case one or more of them went under. One huge mistake I made was to situate a lot of my outdoor videos at the late Google Videos. Of course they ended up closing down and I lost many links that way. In fact, I completely lost some video footage because I bet on the wrong horse with that one.

So I go back and check on some of my hiking and backpacking blog essays to find missing images and blank spots where the videos I had listed once ran. In some cases I have completely lost the video that accompanied the essays because I had a couple of hard drive disasters that wiped them completely from the face of the Earth. In those cases I (and my readers) are just out of luck. But because I have two high-capacity external hard drives, I have managed to preserve about 95% of my old videos. The ones that weren't lost forever I have been able to retrieve and re-post, along with modified images that were also missing or skewed.

Last night I edited and repaired an old photo essay I created about hiking down into Linville Gorge and then back up to the lip of the chasm to hike the legendary Rock Jock Trail. I found the missing video and the vanished images and pretty much fixed up the old essay so that people can once again make sense of it.

The weird and ever-changing world of the Internet. I just hope YouTube stays with us, because I have a ton of stuff stashed there for easy access to my blog.

That day in 2009 in Daffodil Flats down in the bottom of Linville Gorge.

On the shore of the Linville River.

And a recovered video. Thank goodness for high capacity external hard drives.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016


As I have written before, I cannot fathom western-style economics. It has always seemed to me to be utterly wasteful and impractical. Yes, it seems to operate. But that does not mean that it actually works for the wider good. Since, as I said, I don't understand it, I'm not going to attempt to try to explain it or suggest a better alternative.

It remains a mystery to me.

One of the effects that I see of the system every single day is the way it discards construction. Vast sums of capital and brute force are expended in creating man-made structures of one type or another. This is something that I see on a weekly basis.

First, land is cleared. That is, land that once held forests or fields--along with accompanying aquifers and streams--is cleared. If there are trees there--and they are generally present in large numbers--these are cut down and carted off as timber or ground up for mulch, or just carried away for disposal or sometimes buried on site. Any streams present are channeled, diverted into vast concrete pipes, and buried forever.

Upon this wreck of former forest or farm landscape (almost as often, the land was once a productive farm), the construction begins. Engineers and architects come in, examine the lay of the land, alter it, drain it, pack it down, and make it ready.

After that come the trucks and the graders and the backhoes and various other tools of the trade. Foundations are placed, concrete is poured, rebar is installed, asphalt is laid down, walls go up. In the blink of an eye where the trees or pasture once grew there is now a shopping center or an office complex or a subdivision or sprawling apartments--sometimes a stadium.

Often these buildings that were bought and constructed will then stand empty. I've seen them stand empty for years because there was not a need for them in the first place. Or they will fill up and subsequently the businesses that arrive will all fail, one by one. The apartments or houses will lie idle, or be used by people who don't (or won't) understand the importance of a good house and they will deteriorate in quick order.

Within a few years I have seen these structures planned and built and offered up like some kind of hideous blood sacrifice become shattered and vacant and ruined almost as quickly as they were erected. Mainly they are left to succumb to the elements after this. They may fall in, or maybe the city or county or state will declare them a danger to the wider community and have them knocked down. The brick and concrete will be pulverized. The metal frames and aluminum cladding might be recycled. Much of it will go into various landfills.

And somewhere, I know, there are men who profited from all of this. Men who have homes in San Francisco, and apartments in Manhattan, and beach homes in Tahiti, and villas in Italy. But not the laborers. They're still out there looking for work or being robbed of what little they have by the banks who approved all of this construction in the first place. But I always ask myself, who are these men? How did this circle of destruction form? Why is it tolerated?

I have no answers. I am just your humble observer.

(Maybe someone in St. Louis has the answer?)

I've forgotten the town, but this was in West Virginia which is rife with the remains of old industry. It made some money for some one, some time. But now it's all a burden on the communities where these concerns once dominated life and liberty. I'm sure the town where I saw this wreck is responsible for cleaning up the mess. Certainly not the fat cats who profited the most from it. As always, lay the debt on the people least able to bear the burden.

Tumble down, tumble down.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

True Weird

Long story:

There used to be this weird little cat who would come in my bookstore/comic shop. Okay guy but there was something squirrel-y about him (as they say here in the South). He would come in regularly, buy some books, chat. A pleasant chap, if a tad off-kilter. We all knew him and expected him because he would always linger a bit for conversation. Never about anything heavy--he would just hang around and talk a little--it was as if the book purchase had just been an excuse to link up with a person and to speak. Sometimes it was as if he would stand there and hold the book as like it was some alien thing and he was trying to figure out why the hell he'd bought it and where was the closest place he could ditch it without being too obvious.

One week he didn't come in. Next week, no-show. Third week, fourth week. You notice when a regular like that guy is absent. Month and months went by. It became almost two years and we forgot about him.

One day he comes into the store to say hello. We were glad to see him. He seemed his old happy, weird self.

"Where the hell have you been?" I asked him.

"In jail."

That one sat there for about five seconds, which is a long time when you are trying to converse with someone. Those two words had to fucking compute, because, frankly, I couldn't see this guy in a jail cell. Just didn't seem to mesh.

"What the hell were you in jail for?" I finally asked him.

"Robbed a bank."

More uncomfortable silence. Probably six seconds this time; which, as I already mentioned, is a long time when you're having a conversation.

"You robbed a bank."

He nodded.

"Why did you do that? And how did you do it?"

"I dunno. It just seemed like the thing to do. I walked in and gave the teller a note telling her this was a bank robbery and to hand over the money. She did and I left with it. Then the cops arrested me while I was walking down the street."

And then I remembered the story from about two years earlier how some mildly deranged guy had done exactly that. The local paper documented how he'd calmly handed over a note asking for money and then had casually strolled down the street until a police unit arrived and arrested him without any violence and with no struggle.


He nodded. "Yeah, that was me."

We talked a little bit more and I got busy selling books to other customers. During the flurry of business he walked out.  I can't say I was sorry that he left, because frankly, if he robbed a bank because it just seemed like the thing to do...well, what else might just seem like the thing to do? But I never had to think about it much, because he never came back. I never saw the guy again.

True story.

"It just seemed like the thing to do."

Monday, February 22, 2016

Suuuuuuure You Are.

Here's a weird tale of my high school years that was triggered by something someone mentioned online:

When I was in high school this new "kid" showed up. Supposedly a junior. Short guy--maybe 5'4" or so. But I and everyone else realized he was no teenager. The guy was easily 22-23 years old. This shit never did compute for any of us. Everyone who met him commented on the fact that there was no way the guy was a teenager. We didn't shun the guy or anything, but it was so freaking obvious that he was not a teenager. However, there he was--enrolled in classes, making friends. We just all shrugged and said 'what the Hell'. What else were we going to do?

Neither I or any of my pals ever did figure out exactly what was going on. We'd hear stories, but nothing concrete. He had screwed up his life with drugs and straightened out and was given a chance to go back to high school. He was a narc. He was going to marry a girl with a rich father who was trying to instill a sense of purpose in him. All kinds of strange yarns.

This was a very small town--in fact, it was the town upon which James Dickey based his novel DELIVERANCE--Ellijay GA. Keep in mind that Ellijay in those days was just a freaking weird-ass place. Cut off from the rest of the world and kept in some kind of bizarre 1950s-stasis during the 70s when we lived there. This new guy also dated the daughter of one of the town's richest men, so we all assumed this had something to do with that. He showed up as a student AFTER he started dating her.

One thing that I recall is that he wanted to join the football team. I was heavily involved in sports in high school and I remember that he wanted to go out for the team and that the coaches refused to allow him to do so. After this, we all realized that he was far older than he claimed to be--any game would have been forfeited if the outside authorities discovered who he was and how old he was.

It remained a mystery of my high school days. I don't remember if he was around during my senior year--I didn't pay a lot of attention to the guy because I thought the whole situation was creepy. (And, yes, this was long before the '21 Jump Street' premise--but the thought has since crossed my mind that it could have been something like that . Small town though Ellijay was, it was not immune to criminal activity.)

I keep thinking about writing a novel of the things I saw in that town when I was a kid. But of course if I did there would likely be contracts taken out on me to have me killed.

Class photo. 16 years old. Right.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Ving Rhames

What happened to Ving Rhames' career? He was once a highly respected actor. And now all I see out of him are crappy straight-to-video low budget pieces of dung! What the hell happened?!

I enjoyed his performance as Don King. Brilliant work.

And then...all of this low budget crap. WTF?!

Friday, February 19, 2016

Glassy Eyed

Don't you hate it when you meet someone and you're hitting it off really well and then they say something so bizarre or so horrible or so totally insane that it strikes you dumb? This happens to me more often than I care to say, and usually my reaction is to go all silent and glassy-eyed. I quite frankly don't know what to say in such a situation.

Well...scratch that. I do know what to say, but to say it would contravene the gentlemanly precepts with which I was raised as a working class southerner.

Here are a few such actual moments paraphrased here:

Me: "So, how did you come to move from the United Kingdom to the USA?"

Person: "Well, my father was fascinated with Scientology and wanted to find out more about it, so he sent me here to California to research it while he stayed in Scotland to run his physician's practice."

And this one:

Me: "You don't actually watch that clown Glenn Beck, do you?!"

Person: "Well...his charts do make a lot of sense, you know."

Or this:

Me: "What do you mean by 'nature finds a balance'?"

Asshole: "The National Parks don't need wolf reintroduction. They'll just decimate the elk populations."

Which led to me to understand that doctors are nothing more than glorified, overpaid mechanics. (Because, yes, all of those were remarks from doctors or, in the first one, about a physician.)

"And sometimes a brain can be trapped in the wrong body. A-HENH!"

Wednesday, February 17, 2016


When I was a kid I used to dream of flying. In those dreams I'd just leap up and go flying. I'd be up there in the clouds looking down on the street where I lived, on the school I attended, on the house where I lived. All alone up there above it all.

Over the years I would ask other kids if they dreamed of flying. I thought maybe it was because of all of those superhero comics I read. But, no, just about every other kid I asked also had dreams that they could fly, whether they read comics or not.

When I ask women if they had such dreams, they usually look at me funny. "Are you daft?" So I decided to look that up and found that for some reason girls (and women) don't dream that they can fly. It is supposed that it has something to do with self-esteem issues and male-dominated society. That sounds reasonable, but it also may have something to do with the the idea that there are fundamental differences between male and female psyches. I can only shrug. I don't know such stuff.

As I got older I began to dream less and less of flying. I will assume here that as the realities of life are loaded onto adult shoulders one by one, the less likely even the dreaming mind can cut loose enough of those burdens to allow a man to believe he can fly. Not even in dreams. Finally, sometime in my early 20s I stopped having such dreams. They no longer came to me.

However...there are still similar dreams for me. I have them to this very day. Instead of flying, I dream that I can jump. Higher than anyone else. Generally I'll find myself in a building with a vast ceiling twenty or thirty or even one hundred feet high. And I'll brace myself, then bend my knees, and jump high enough to reach up and brush that ceiling with my hands.

No more open skies leading up to space, now. Instead I am greeted by ceilings--but sometimes those ceilings are so high that it's almost like the sky, and I can scrape them with my fingertips. Perhaps there's still hope for me in my old age, I reckon.

Mort Weisnger Superman stories! Every kid's dream!

Light fantasy.

Now it's dark.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016


In view of some recent developments, I thought I'd re-post an old blog. I have had work stolen and plagiarized over the years. Some of my friends have argued that things like self-publishing help to stop such events. Actually, I could argue that the fad exacerbates the danger, but I'm not here to talk about self-publishing and ebooks. I wanted to readdress the crime of plagiarism. 

In addition to the specific instance I address in this old blog, I also had things stolen in the days when I submitted to Marvel Comics. I did not know it then, but the editors at Marvel were mining the slush pile for good work--work which, in their capacity as editor--they would pass on to people actually scripting certain titles. If they found a plot in the stacks of submissions of nameless authors they would (instead of hiring that unknown writer) approach one of the current writers in their group and with "a great idea I suddenly had". I know this because it happened to me, and to other writers who submitted to Marvel.

But, here's the old blog.

Let's face it:

The USA is not the literary capitol of the world. It just ain't. Americans are, by and large, a bunch of idiots. And it's not even that--the percentage of the the ones who do read...well...they read...let's call it light fare.

Okay. I'll be a little more kind. Stephen King always says that he writes "salami". So most Americans read "salami". That's okay. I'm not being cruel to whatever your favorite cold cut is. I'm just saying--like King said--that that's what it is:

cold cuts.

It's fast food. It's hamburgers and fried p'taters. And mass produced, at that.

And it's become even worse over the years.

When I was a young writer trying to sell short stories for a penny a word and, hopefully, some exposure in whatever slick or semi-pro magazine I could crack, I was packed with stories. Frankly, I was bursting at the seams to let them all out. I'd write like crazy and send stories out to magazines eight, nine, ten at a time. I kept careful records of where my stories were and who had them and who'd rejected them and who was likely to buy them and who'd bought them, etc. etc.

There was this guy whose name I'd see from time to time in those days when I was in my twenties and struggling like mad to make a sale. He was always around. Usually hanging about with folk who'd already "made it". Seemed a nice enough fellow, though, and full of ideas.

I forgot about him while I was trying to sell my yarns. He vanished into the background.

And, slowly, I began to realize that the old rule--"the plot's the thing"--had fallen away. It wasn't that anymore. Things had deteriorated to such an extent that the market had boiled it down to simply the basic idea: the one-line Hollywood pitch. Yeah, things had gotten that bad, even by the time I was entering my early 30s. Alas.

Once, I submitted a short story to a certain horror magazine being co-edited by a certain part-time writer/editor. That story was "One of Those Days". It was a decent story, but with a really good idea. That idea was this:

What if everyone in the USA who owned a gun suddenly walked out their door with those guns and started shooting?

That was the idea. So it became my short story "One of Those Days" and I sent it out to that certain magazine and that certain editor/writer. It was rejected. I still have the rejection letter. The editor/writer liked it, but said that it lacked a certain "impetus". His word: impetus.

I forgot about the rejection letter (but stored it in a folder as I did with all of my rejection letters). A couple months passed. I got a review copy of the new issue of that certain magazine co-edited by that certain writer/editor who'd told me that my story lacked that certain "impetus". I opened the magazine and started reading. The feature story in that magazine was by that editor/writer who'd rejected my story. Preceding it was a brief editorial by the publisher explaining how the issue had been ready to go to press when his co-editor had dropped that story in his lap. It was so good that he had to lay out the issue all over again so that he could include his co-editor's story that, the publisher explained, had just been written.

The plot of that story?

What if everyone in the USA who had a gun suddenly walked out their doors with those guns and started using them?

Uh huh. I was really, really pissed. But what could I do? Yeah, I had the rejection letter. Yeah, I had my story. Yeah, there was a mighty huge chunk of circumstantial evidence of a certain level of plagiarism there. But really? What could I do?

In addition, this certain writer/editor had come up with a way-cooler title for his version of my story than I had used. That really pissed me off, too.

Every time I think of the whole mess, I get really quiet and my hands turn into fists. Fists with quite a lot of "impetus".

Ah, well.

One of these days I may take this up in more specific terms. Maybe. Maybe not. I just ain't sure. But the thing that nasty experience taught me more than any other was the value of "the Idea". Hang onto it. Make sure you can make it your own, some way.

That dude that I used to see way back when? The guy who was always hanging out with other creative folk? He's gone on to make quite a living for himself selling ideas. Not even stories or novels. Just ideas. At least one of them was the #1 movie for a couple of weeks in recent years. My hat's off to him. He discovered a way to cash in on his basic idea without letting someone else fucking steal it from him.

The idea, dudes. That's the thing.

The zombies. The real ones. They're out there.

Sunday, February 14, 2016


Similar shots of the same place in two different seasons. I took the first shot from below the fire station on the summit of Mount Washburn in August of 2010. The second shot was from the National Park webcam from that tower two days ago. I don't think I'd be hiking that trail along the spine of the ridge without snowshoes or cross-country skis.

The photo I took in August of 2010.

Scene from the fire tower webcam yesterday.

Saturday, February 13, 2016


I've seen a fair number of Woody Allen movies. Not all of them...he lost his touch as he got older. I don't know's a fact. But my favorite of his films and probably the last one that was truly excellent was CRIMES AND MISDEMEANORS. I still watch it from time to time and I still find it a chilling movie.

One of the things that fascinated me about the movie was the amazing performance of Martin Landau as Judah P. Benjamin. In a wide cast of equally talented actors he managed to dwarf the rest of them with his work in this movie. I still don't know how he did it. Even the twitches in his face seemed to power pure emotion. I'm not quite sure why Allen named the major character for the Jewish Secretary of State of the Confederacy...but it worked. I suppose he wanted a name that screamed its jewishness and which he tied somehow to moral crimes. Irony? Possibly.

Another thing that always pulled at me was the way that the film handles the act of murder. Not of murder in the heat of passion, or murder to protect life and limb. But just a cold, calculated, selfish act of murder. It's frightening and scary and as portrayed in the film downright horrifying. Because at base one can almost identify with the murderer and the way he rationalizes the murder he commits. (Even if the crime has two degrees of separation.)

Almost everyone contemplates murder. The murder of people who have wronged them. The killing of people who enrage them in some way. These are the acts of the passionate mind. When I was younger there were people I hated so much that I wished to see them dead. But my subconscious would take control of these thoughts and send me dreams of such terrifying acts and I would wake up in horror, in complete stomach-emptying nausea in disgust of having done something so hideous as stealing a life from another human being.

I don't think there's anything worse than murder. Nothing. Not theft. Not abuse. Not torture. A man who takes the step of committing murder is the least of what humans can be. And it's a rare man who hasn't hated or feared someone so much that they want to see that person dead. I think that's why this movie has always struck a note with me.

Landau in his most chilling performance.

The rationalization of murder.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Thursday, February 11, 2016


Run, Run Rudolph.
James Robert Smith.

If you can't be immortal

Be famous.

If fame is denied you

Be notorious.

Failing that

Become an asshole.

Just a nice guy?

Don't get

involved in

the race.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

More Southern Dialect

Sometimes within the context of a story or novel I prefer to write a character's dialogue in dialect. In the old days this was often done with lots of hyphens and apostrophes. If you've read much of H.P. Lovecraft's work then you will have encountered this type of dialect written into his fiction. Not to put too fine a point on it, but this method of illustrating dialect kind of sucks. There are generally so many little marks and squiggles in the form of those previously mentioned apostrophes and hyphens that it seems as though what you are trying to read is hieroglyphics rather than English letters.

I try to avoid that method for transferring dialect to the published page.

For years I would work in some apostrophes, avoid hyphens, and then just use phonetics to translate the sounds. The first few editors to whom I submitted did not seem keen on this tactic and they tried to school me on writing dialect. Most of the time their advice was for me to just cut it the heck out and forget about dialect.

Yeah. Well. Fuck them.

Sometimes dialect is really hard to convey. The types of dialect I try to use in my work are the types of dialect I encounter in my life--mainly various southern dialects. One kind that is really hard to show on the page is one that I hear when I'm dealing with people who live in the lower foothills of Appalachia. Yeah, that's right. There are actually variations of the dialects of the mountain-speak one hears in the higher mountains. I suppose these are people who either went no farther than the upper edge of the Piedmont and were influenced by folk from lower elevations, or they are people from the Piedmont whose speech patterns have been altered due to relatively recent contact with those moon-shine makin' butt-fuckers from the mountains. Either way, it's a funny dialect that is so unique that I find myself wanting to use it in my fiction.

But damned if it is very easy to do. These people tend to make two syllables out of one-syllable words. Simple words like "and" become "AY-and". While "pan"turns into "PAY-an". Or "bit" is pronounced "BEE-yit". If you try to write anything like that within a line of dialog you are going to run into a Jupiter-sized world of trouble. So the best way to get the idea across is the all-knowing narrator to mention the facts of life of the speech patterns one or two times so that the reader gets it locked into their mind's ear, or to have one of the other characters think to themselves how the speaker of this dialect enunciates their words.

However, for sheer effectiveness, the best method I see is to write stretches of dialect phonetically with no goddamned apostrophes, hyphens, or commas that muck it all up so that the lines end up looking like something Jackson Pollock dribbled onto the page.

I had almost gotten it right a few times when I combined phonetics with apostrophes. My mistake was in allowing the apostrophes at all. The idea first hit me when an old friend of mine from Atlanta was showing me a batch of Civil War letters he had purchased in a collection. These were genuine Civil War letters written by a Confederate soldier to his family back home. In those days a lot of people were only mildly educated unless they could afford advanced schooling. What you ended up with were men and women who had a rough understanding of the written word but not the finer details. In those cases those people wrote phonetically. I'll give you an example from one of the actual letters I was allowed to read. It concerned the outcome of a horrible battle in which the soldier had been involved, and I will quote him exactly as he wrote the line.

"They was considerbel many killt today."

Now...we all know what he meant. What an educated man would have written was: "There were considerable many killed today."

And his letter went on and on in this way. Words like "Yalls" for "your", etc.

When I read this letter I knew how I'd write dialect from then on. The first story I wrote after that was set in the 1870s and was created using snippets of letters from a man in Colorado written to his parents in Tennessee, along with scenes of action and dialog between his compatriots. All dialog was written just as they would have said it--in phonetics. I did not use hyphens or apostrophes to butcher the written words as the characters were slicing and dicing the English language. The reactions I got from editors were less kind than my other methods--they all seemed to prefer Master Lovecraft's manner of conveying dialect.

Some years later I encountered the work of writers like Cormac McCarthy and Harry Crews who were penning critically acclaimed fiction using just such a technique as I had envisioned. This felt good and I knew I had been right all along, and that the editors I'd encountered who had complained were full of shit.

Or SHE it, if you will.

This here is a house I encountered one day in 2008 when I was hiking to the top of a mountain in western North Carolina. Why is it here? Because the South, goddammit. This is an area where you can hear some really amazing, kick-ass dialects, while at the same time seeing some tremendous scenery where ol' Mother Nature works overtime. (On a side note, I have never wanted to own a house so much as I did when I set eyes upon this one. I stood at the edge of the fence and took photos and didn't approach any closer because southerners know not to encroach on private property--it just ain't done. But I would have bought this house instantly if it had been for sale and I'd had the money to complete the purchase. It remains the most ideal home in the most perfect of spots I have ever seen--at the edge of field and forest, just below the summit of an impressive mountaintop.)

This video has nothing whatsoever to do with my blog. I do listen to this guy's videos on YouTube from time to time because he talks often of camping and woodcraft. Also, I love the guy's dialect and try to think of how to translate it to the written page.

Tuesday, February 09, 2016

Rick Grimes. The Real Rick Grimes.

Imagine you have spent years and years honing your craft and building a career in the graphic arts. You write strange stories and create unique and disturbing images that are singular. No one else in the world does this type of thing and couldn't really duplicate it if they wanted to.

Then one day you discover that the name you were born with and by which your work is identified has been absorbed by a fictional character. Anyone searching for you on the Internet or typing it into Google or any other Internet search engine finds endless links and notations for a man who doesn't even exist. And yet...there you are. Such is your fate.

I first encountered the work of Rick Grimes back in the 90s when Stephen R Bissette noticed my own stories and decided to publish some of them in his legendary comics horror anthology TABOO. Grabbing issues of TABOO as it appeared I was always delighted to see material from Grimes. How does one describe the work? One cannot. How can I explain its effect on me? I've found that this is impossible. Usually all I could do when recommending his comics was to tell people about it, how to find it, and point them in the right direction.

Reading a Rick Grimes comic is not like anything else. Nothing I'd encountered in that format before, or since, has even the remotest resemblance. The best of the underground comics artists who dwelt in drug-fueled madness might have done something mildly similar on their best days--but not really. You have to see it to believe it and to...take it in. (I wanted to say 'enjoy', but that's not really appropriate.)

And is the artist whose singular work is being buried by the Internet robot stacking images and words from a fake person on top of a real one. This is a wrong that must be righted. To add my name to the fight, I give you Rick Grimes. The real Rick Grimes. The one who writes and illustrates some of the most thought-provoking and unique and (yes) disturbing comic stories that I have ever seen.

He deserves to be a hell of a lot more famous than that fake thing. Last month I convinced Rick Grimes to create a "self-interview". That is, he made up the questions that he wished people would ask him if he were being interviewed for publication. So here we are.

self interview for James Robert Smith     mid January 2016

James Robert Smith has kindly invited me, Rick Grimes, to a reflective interview. Familiar with the territory, I quickly agreed to irresponsibly duplicate myself. We met at dusk, in an undisclosed location...

Rick Grimes: It's so good to meet you at last.

Rick Grimes: I think we've passed each other often at the Piggly Wiggly.

Rick Grimes: What are the top five questions you most expect to be asked?

Rick Grimes: How much money do you make? Who the f@#% are you? If you're so great, why don't you do more so I've heard of you? And you call yourself a cartoonist? Will you get out of my way?

Rick: For those new to your art, what would you recommend they take a look at first? 

Grimes: The home page of my website for starters. It may look like there's no art there at first, because of the header menu, but there are some excerpted panels, with live link titles, of some of the stories I'm proudest of that will be a good lead in to my 'bestest' stuff.

There are scores of pages there, many full stories. You just have to browse around. You have to.
Everything is there, background and so forth. There's not a lot of room or reason to repeat all that here. Frankly, I don't have it in me anymore to restate it all anywhere else. Most all one needs to know, Grimeswise, is there. Probably too much. If I'd've been better left a mystery, it's too late now to rebottle that genie.

The Puzz Fundles is possibly what I'm best known for, from what others have said to me, on Facebook or whatnot. They have their own section now. All those pages are there in full, the initial six (from Rick Veitch's The One). And some teasers to others not yet published.

My more disturbing stories, mostly beginning with my contributions to Taboo complete on the website, are accounted for almost to the present. (I'm in the process of catching up on the news posts).
I was heading in a completely different direction at the time, the early '80s, than horrors, toward benign, overimagined, confuddling character displays . There are a few examples of those.
Many odds and ends even I can't remember. You've got to root around there awhile. A lot of my output, old and new, is hard to obtain, or problematic. The site is meant to remedy that.  

Weird Dick & The Professor was what I had thought I'd be known for by now. But, their story is vast, made of many parts that could arbitrarily go here or there, so it's been an odyssey I'm still on. Check them out, tho'. You'll see more of them some day. Real pages do exist no one has seen yet.

For those that weary of all the blah blah, I have an art blog. I don't post on it much anymore, because the following was always limited. But there's no text there besides an occasional image title. It's linked in the Blogs (List) section.

Rick: How or whereabouts do you place yourself amongst horror artists or writers? It would seem, for good or ill,  that you--your disturbing material, that is, occupies a side niche neither comics nor literature nor film ever touch upon. You seem to conjoin things that don't belong together commonly, then experience a certain amount of obscurity because of it.

Grimes: Yeah, so it would seem. First off, I really don't suffer much scores of other oddballs aren't also experiencing from society one way or another. So, i don't mean to play 'poor me'. I can also be a very half hearted, lazy person with no knack for self promotion; and when I do work it's like lining little planets up inside to get it out right. All of which has served me in great stead (whatever that is) over the decades: I'm blummablupp years old, fundamentally unemployable, and less known now than before if that's possible. Someday, in the Other World, I'll probably find it all quite hilarious. Or maybe not.

The fact is, I probably don't belong amongst such vaunted company anyway. I never intended to become a horror artist of any sort. I enjoy the various things available. But, I was never going to imitate any of it especially, or try to carve out a place for me amongst it. My real creative roots are in animal cartoons and crime or monster movies. Obscure character actors, and TV/film comedy, if it's oddball funny.

When the Taboo anthology presented itself, I took the notion at its catchword and tried to think of whatever I could that would bother people. I do have an impudent aspect to me, and an excess of self loathing I've wrestled with, so it wasn't that hard to accesss such territory. Merely a step to the side. 
Veering as I was from a wearing out of other creative areas at the time, it helped me to invent negative stories.

In fact, for every one that was published I invented at least a half dozen others that never got done, if they were ever even begun. I was almost compulsively frustrated at finding one good enuff, that is, nasty enuff in the right ways that friend Bissette would like it, and actually pay me for it, justifiably, with no regrets. Their peculiarities were a bonus, a necessary 'evil', or 'collateral damage' if you like, from having come through my brain.

Once I got each one done, I was and am like a kid showing it to my mom or sister or someone: 'Here it is! Why don't you get it right away?' It's like it's all become, by then, self evident propositions to me. And I'm ever after surprised it's not as clear to everyone else as I think it is. The plight of the artist. Ha.

As to all the elements themselves in the stories that are disturbing or off putting, they probably all should be. I don't indulge in a lot of evil activities myself. Or any activities. Horror fiction isn't a recommendation of how to live. If anything it's the opposite.

I'm proud if I disrupted anyone enough that they saw something as awful they hadn't even thought of yet. But not if they took it as advice on how to live. There are even particular ideas I will never do, such as forms of suicide, that I just don't want to be responsible for someone imitating.

I went for obscure zones and notions to amuse myself and stimulate myself enough to do the things to completion. The stories that got in the books are the ones I could finish.

All of the oddity and unfamiliarity of it to readers is greatly because people don't use their imaginations quite enough. They haven't happened to put themselves in such mental places before.

There are many further glaring details of revolting occurrences and so forth we'd all rather not involve ourselves in or ask to have expanded upon. My stuff only hints at them. Real mayhem is beyond good people's ability to tolerate. I dare say there are many artists out there who even gross me out. Which is fine, if it keeps them from murdering somebody.

What people get up to in real life can be even worse. I hardly think my little outings should be equated to anything truly vile. Often they include some redemptive aspect, as well. Honest. I don't always know offhand where it is.

My inking style is very weakwatered compared to many others. I don't even use heavy shading. Nothing gothic about it at all really.

I do have to cop to the stories coping with loads of my own variety of tangled and twiddled pain and fear. How can I deny the obvious? I'm a garden variety, American neurotic.

But comics have so much more potential than many artists are getting out of it. I want to do as much crazy crap as I can before I've croaked to get somebody to see what they, too, could try.  

To finish my answer here, if anyone is interested in more such stories from me there are a number of them linked to and written about on the website in the Stories sections. Not so many full on reposts, but in most cases you can still find where to look for them. And read about why I did them.

I don't want it to seem it all ends with Taboo. There are a lot of such things I did afterwards and may yet do from my various notes. But I still don't fully accept the mantle of 'horror artist'. Maybe a horrible one.

Mostly, tho I sound otherwise going on about it, such stuff isn't meant to be taken too seriously. If I make anybody feel anything, when we're all fighting Death dumbness every day of our lives on Earth, i guess that's a plus. So they say.

Rick: Why do you think some people find your work so hard to understand?

Grimes: I could tell you've been aching to ask me that one. Ya got me. I like to think I speak English;
that I at least have the one language. But comics is another language.
It rather amazed me when Scott McCloud's book Understanding Comics came out. It'd not occurred to me there was that specific a need for a remedial breakdown for non readers. There were always people that 'didn't get it'. But I hadn't really thought of breaking comics elements down that way, nor of anyone needing such hospice. I always just took comics reading as a natural act, like breathing and eating and et ceterae.

Consequently, I've apparently been more than negligent about breaking myself into enough 'bite sized minis' to rightly serve human inanity. My most humble apologies.
Perhaps what I do really is worthless. Maybe people are right to avoid it. Chicken scratches to no purpose. Yet I stagger on.

I create with an audience/single reader (really myself) in mind. I think I'm being clear. But I have an innate love of overcomplication, especially if it's to a humorous or 'artsy' end. If it's both at once, so much the better, says I. Life can be so dull without it.

I'm not always out to trip people up. I want to be understood. Contrary to the ambience of some of my more disturbing stories, I am a mere human, putting my pants on three legs at a time.
Even relatively accessible, for a hermit. Not a black ops agent poisoning the family Jiffy Pop. 

I also like to think people have minds they can still understand things with, without always being told how Sally shot Sue. Tho' I know that's too much to expect in the United States these days.

Rick: What's missing from other areas of our so called culture that you find in those who love comics as the Art it always has been?

Grimes: Patience, curiosity, and egalitarianism. Even if someone's comics are offensive, more or less on first sight, I still look for other things to like or even love about 'em. Anyone else could apply the same notion to that and other facets of life.

There are a million nuances just in the output of one artist. For the 'Great Unwashed' that don't care or never learned to read comics to go on ignoring such a now vast landscape of hills, vales, mountains, and swamps of creative worlds is a crime.

Not like boiling babies. But it's an aesthetic self-deprivation, and is sort of sad to me.

Even the most famous comics artist of any agreed upon merit is likely still essentially ignored beyond a certain 'impressive' number of readers. The entire population of comics lovers is still more finite than we all like to believe. Not only am I on the fringes, the entire enterprise of comic art creation is, and apparently ever  destined to be marginalized by mass 'culture' and 'history' as well. No matter how much money is made off some of us. Or what publishers and popular comic artists may tell themselves at fan shows.

But, on the other hand, you can't really envision a world where everyone everywhere does everything everyone else does. Unless it's unhappily marching in lockstep and hating contrived enemies on cue.
And comics creators may bicker amongst themselves more than most; and childishly so, about their likes, dislikes, and misunderstood intentions.

Assuming openmindedness is there, tho', the rest of the 'art' world could learn a lot from embracing us more, and shedding their colo$$al preten$iousne$$. Maybe we're better off without them.

Rick: Have you ever tried much simpler work? Like comic strips?

Grimes: Well, the newspapers are in deplorable shape, and probably deservingly overall. But the comics in them would be better served appearing on snack wrappers in vending machines. The old guys I loved as a kid that were still around, like Gould and Kelly, would spin out of their swivel chairs if they saw it. They'd be doing their own comic books, (assuming they weren't 150 years old). 

Pardon me, "graphic novels".

I couldn't fit in that world. I'm too pokey for one thing. Back in the early '80s i tried a real (Sunday only) strip, and what did I do but pack it with the same densities as ever, knowing it was never really likely to fly with any publisher. I've tried reductive experiments at certain points in my past. What you wind up losing of yourself trying to be 'more marketable' isn't really worth it. It feels like when you smile at someone you don't like.

I am hopelessly obtuse to read, I'm afraid, even at smaller scales and doses. So, tho I have a number of nice starts on boiled down ideas, none of it is anything that should or will ever become a 'mission to change' to, beyond my initial self-censoring folly. They can exist as curious relics of my self doubt.
Besides, I'm very good at self sabotage. What my subconscious knows my ego has no business doing will inevitably be subverted one way or another so 'we' don't have to really do it. Apart from the intrusion on my vain plans, that can be a good thing, returning me to my real nature so I don't waste yet more time in fields I don't belong in. I eventually go right back to the more ponderous stuff I was doing before.

I'll never out-Bushmiller Bushmiller. Readers will just have to make more than a cursory pass. If my style is immediately off putting, take a few beats and give it a chance. Get past the quavering lines. It's not all made for passing glances. You don't have to read it on the bus to work.
And if you absolutely can't handle it, there's always Snuffy Smith.

Rick: What sort of writing do you do?

Grimes: To start with, it reminds me of that boring old flippity-do question Larry King used to ask a
million times that he thought was clever, like: "Are you a cartoonist who writes, or a writer who cartoons?" (Tho' he'd proabably say draw-er). I'll always be a cartoonist first, who likes to play around with writing.

It's also a good 'out' if I do it too badly. 'Hey, I'm just a cartoonist farting around. Have mercy.'
I love words, and admire all sorts of things, but don't aspire to write banal, plotted fiction. I really don't give a toss for plots. The idea of having to write how Pfinster put his shoes on one at a time and spoke to his friend on the phone about toast crumbs just to get him out the door to a set of time-regulated, instructive disasters, bridged and padded with yet more interstitial mediocrity, makes me cringe. I'd rather just write about the crumbs, or the shoes.

I must add here, I don't mind if someone else can do it, fine. There are novelists I like that play it 'by the book'.

Maybe I'm just not as good at that; still stuck in grade school mode. Sour grapes, an' all that. You will see me trying some of it sometimes.

As the guy shouts in W.C.Fields' It's a Gift, "MORE POWER TO YA!!", if you can do it.

But, even in comics I can't fathom how people can do endless panels with next to nothing but ordinary moments happening in them. Or just draw humans as we see them and as we live ourselves every day. I can see why they might be after some noble point. But, you can draw, and you're just going to do humans? At least make them goony looking. Or freakish.

I have scads of characters ambling about for my comics stories. They generally live in places and do
things already. But I don't have to verbally set them up as much as one would have to do in a conventional novel. And I use up most of any desire for standard plotting on them.
So, I'm left with little interest in writing 'normally'. Instead, I'm much more of an experimenter.
I've used found words a lot, and have my own method for using the English parts of foreign language dictionaries.

Or redacting pages of lousy books until they're broken down into reusable components I can then make into original phrases. I always favor nouns and adjectives, as they're the most there visually. People barely know what an adverb is anymore.

Some works are just long lists of such things. Even any characters that emerge may be treated as things in such lists. Some I'll go back and rewrite, in further combinations, keeping all the variations to make a whole longer and longer. It's all imagism. Surrealist, if others think so; I'd love to be placed belatedly amongst such.

I don't care for all the in between claptrap. There's enough people in every generation already doing that. It will go on forever.

Rick: There are some examples on your website...

Grimes: Some of those are converted dreams. I try not dare to use the word poem too much, 'cause I know there are still a few sticklers out there who just hate it when people like me that know or remember nothing about formal poetry call their random blatts >poems< . But there's no other good word for 'em.

I like the idea of 'sudden fiction', too. Those limited stories that are nothing more than one or a few sentences. But, that's not always the right term either, and they likewise don't really have an agreed upon name. Microliterature. Whatever.

Some of the other older ones on the site so far are from the mid '80s. I had so many cartoon project ideas by then that a few I would just sort of 'give up on' and allow to be text only. Or years later I'll go back, and, realizing I have no visual memory anymore what the notes originally were as comic images, rework them into words alone.

Anyhow it's fun. I have some projects from way back that aspire to appear as novels, but even they are really like collages. Gatherings of image flashes nesting under a sort of story theme. I rather love (and fear) the idea of making someone slog through it all, baffled as to where the plot is. And stubbornly waiting for something to 'happen'.

Many such things will never make it onto the site because they're not only too long already, they're also not done yet. I used to 'start anew' alot. I get bored with a game once I know how it works. A couple are actually finished. But not typed up.

Rick: What have you been doing lately, creatively?

Grimes: I've got a Puzz Fundles comic going! All new material. Two of the stories, eighteen pages, are done!

I'd like to steer myself back more to such humor work as I know I'm best at that. Tho there are still those various uncompleted projects of the darker sort from my past I could wind up doing over coming years, so it may not always seem like funny's what I'm doing.
Sometimes what can reach the public next isn't exactly what you'd prefer. Or where you're at anymore.

I'm probably going to run off a mixed bag comic myself. Just a limited number to give away to friends.

With maybe an extra they can pass along to someone I don't know. I'm going to print them off at home, so I don't really have all I need to do it yet, and some of the pages aren't done.

Like most things, it will undoubtedly take me longer than I think it should. This is not the same project as the Puzz comic.

The new website is about 95% complete now. A few things have been delayed, of reposting the old pages.

There's a New Stuff page, for handy reference in the 'Walk' About heading, where you can also read the why of the old site's demise. [Eternal thanks again to Ryan Heslin, the original instigator, for everything thus related].

Rick: Seeing as how you're still presumably obscure to most, is there anything else you'd like people to know about yourself?

Grimes: Actually I'm learning to count my lucky stars that I never became one. When I was a teenager, or perhaps even younger, I just wanted that rush I got seeing the art I loved to be true of
mine. Then your deprived ego takes off with that during your early adulthood and you forget what you're doing it for. You have to deliberately remind yourself that adulation is not only fleeting, it hasn't much at all to do with the slow pains of making something complete, in this heavy material world.

I want to count myself blessed to be well enough to do anything. And reach the few I can while staying a conundrum. It seems inevitable anyhow, so I'm resigning myself to it.

Once I'm gone, no one will know what I was much anyway, except throo my work. Just think how little we really know about some cartoonists of the now far past. If it wasn't for the internet, we wouldn't even be getting to do this. No one would ask.

Rick: Are you surprised by the endurance of any other artist's characters still around today?

Grimes: Other than repeatedly forgetting The Simpsons is still on the air, I can't believe that
Kramdenesque wad of mucus is still waylaying people in the store aisles. (I wouldn't talk to him). He even has a family. I couldn't recall the expectorant(?) by name. I seldom listen to a word the ads say.
Here's an amusing blog post, by some ad guy, that's seven years old already and the green blob was well established by then... Mr. Mucinex. He's also in magazine ads. It sort of irked me to see one of those in a doctor's waiting room.

It's all pretty ridiculous, really. What offends me more than he does is that if one of us fringe comics artists had come up with something like that, there'd be nowhere mainstream to even go with it. 

Except maybe Adult Swim. And it's a very trifling way of crossing a line.

But drug company ads have a notoriously immoral lunacy to them. So nobody cares.
The funny thing is, if they were simply some other color, and not green, he and his snotty relatives could appear any place cartoons could go. Toys and spin offs would abound.

Rick: Have there ever been any toys made of your characters?

Grimes: Not really. Larry Loc gave me an awesome plastic figure of Weird Dick he hand made once. Unfortunately I didn't have it for long.

A set of Puzz Fundles would be dodgy: Thripey's hair points would be eye hazards in a fight; a Malloon would get lost all the time; and Meemo's heads would break off. We can dream, tho'.

Rick: Thanks. It's been cloud-partingly awesome. So to speak.

Grimes: You're not as bad as some have said yourself.                            

--Jan, '016

'Our' website is Walk A Mile In My Eyes at Grimes Comics

Excerpt panels and self interview Copyright 2016 Rick Grimes.