“… before the world changes and the dark times come”

I’ve sold my house, quit my job and moved into this fifth-wheel at the far edge of a campground. It’s the tail end of the tourist season. There’s nobody around.

 

For the first time in my adult life, the wolf isn’t at the door. I have a little money put by – my reward for having made it to fifty without having kids. I’m going to take it easy and see what the world does in the next few weeks. I’ve updated my bibliography with my publications for the year, posted this and will now tinker with a new writing project until January.

One day, we’ll look back on this late autumn of 2016 and say: I remember the days before the mad-man came to power, before his grip closed around the world and darkened everything. I want to remember this season before the world changes and the dark times come.

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Welcome to the White Zone

In the 1971 sci-fi film THX-1138, the eponymous hero played by Robert Duvall is sentenced to a term of confinement. But instead of jail cells, the justice system of the futuristic dystopia he inhabits has evolved a new kind of incarceration: within an endless expanse of flat white wilderness so vast it blunts ability to perceive distance or perspective. There, individually and in small pods, the criminals of THX’s world go slowly mad as the system grinds on without them. (Or, perhaps more properly, over them.)

The deafening silence of many of my fellow Caucasians in the wake of Donald Trump’s election victory is, frankly, every bit as frightening. I wonder if perhaps they simply fail to comprehend who these men are that Trump is appointing feverishly to just those positions any tyrant would consolidate beneath him the moment he seized power: national security, intelligence, military and the attorney general’s office. The news that President Trump will be coached by alt right champion Stephen Bannon and gay hater Mike Pence, and advised on National Security matters by perennial Pentagon outsider and anti-Muslim kook Michael Flynn is perhaps lost on them. Or maybe they don’t understand how civil rights will be rolled back for women, GLBT folk and Muslims under the pending First Amendment Defense Act, scheduled for vote by the GOP majority House and Senate upon resumption of business and almost guaranteed a signature by President Trump. Perhaps they just don’t get these things. Perhaps their understanding has been blunted by the perspective-flattening horror of cable news and the pseudo-journalism of the Alex Jones crowd to the point at which they don’t perceive the threat.

Or perhaps they just don’t care.

White supremacy is a virus: once it enters a population, it propagates quickly. Upon achieving critical mass it transforms itself into an exponential fractal, attaining a speed and virulence at which it becomes unstoppable. By the time it breaks into view, the window for stopping or reversing the process has shrunk to a period of weeks, if not days. I’m wondering how many of my fellow Caucasians feel which way the wind is blowing and have just decided it’s easier to say nothing, to go along and not resist. That failure to declare one’s self for one camp or the other, to voice an opinion, to engage in the civil process creates a vast, empty horizon – a white space like Robert Duvall’s prison – that is seized upon by more energetic forces.

These forces, and their agenda, are resolving into clarity before our very eyes. And we should be very, very frightened.

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The Bitter Angels of our Nature

I hate bullies. Always have. My problems with them began in nursery school when a group of older kids smashed me around enough to open a cut the length of my bicep (you can still see the scar). A few years later a gang of teenagers happened upon me playing alone at the park and battered me to a pulp. Those early lessons motivated me to conduct a study of the species. I learned that bullies are easy to spot. When you’re in a  group, they’re always the first to point out when someone else trips over their feet or their words or expresses an unpopular opinion and they do so loudly and clearly, soliciting agreement. It’s their social go-to: bullies are quick to create and claim space by excluding and ridiculing others.

Examining Donald Trump’s behavior during the primary debates and comparing them to his first days as President-elect yields interesting parallels. In the debates, he distinguished himself among a large field of competitors by ridiculing and hurling insults at his opponents. The strategy must have worked, because he successfully adapted it to an election campaign unparalleled in modern memory for its invocation of nativist and xenophobic themes. And in the four days since he has become president, Trump has shown every indication of bringing this style of management into the Oval Office. He has stated his intention to immediately deport 3 million people and made two key administration appointments, Mike Pence and Stephen Bannon, both notable for their anti-gay and anti-minority views. This is the politics of humiliation writ large: Trump has created and claimed space by excluding and ridiculing the concerns of others, specifically those of women, GLBT folk, ethnic and religious minorities.

Meanwhile, incidents of racial and sexual harassment have proliferated nation-wide, documented by the Southern Poverty Law Center and chronicled in such news sources as The Guardian and the Globe and Mail. Similar reports have emerged on social media. Perhaps most troubling has been the outcry (mostly ignored by the mainstream) from teachers witnessing a terrible upswing in racial bullying among students. As a former teacher I’m convinced these kids are probably mimicking the behavior of their parents, who are themselves mimicking the Bully-in-Chief.  The Left has responded mostly with horror and hand-wringing: protest marches, indignant social media posts and the well-intended but vaguely ridiculous Safety Pin Campaign, which has left most targeted minorities shaking their heads in frustrated incredulity.

I learned, as a kid who spent a tortured adolescence fending off attacks right and left, that bullies don’t listen to reason. They are immune from persuasion by argument or emotional appeal. That’s because they don’t care: about you or morality or the opinion of people other than those they hold in thrall. All they care about is hurting you, over and over again, until you are reduced to nothing, whereupon they wander off in search of their next victim.

Anybody seeking to counter this new trend of social authoritarianism (a bully’s favorite form of government) must be prepared to get their hands dirty. Useful guides are popping up on the internet on how to confront and stop racist attacks. But it’s going to take more than good intentions – both in America and elsewhere – to halt this wave of xenophobia breaking out across the western democracies.

Opposing bullies comes at a risk. Specifically, you might get your ass kicked (or worse). But here’s a secret: refusing to give up, refusing to back down and refusing to accept the abuse is the only sure cure to bullying. Wearing safety pins is nice and all (and probably makes you feel better about yourself) but it won’t be enough to counter the vicious, primitive energy of the herd that has been unleashed. It took me nearly putting a kid in the hospital for my bullies to stop. I’ll never forget being dragged into the Dean of Student’s office, bloody and missing chunks of hair, to answer for my actions. I just stood there, bruised and grinning, not caring that I faced detention. I served it happily, reflecting on my new lesson. To survive, I would have to be that one kid who rises again and again, no matter how many times I got struck down.

Nothing terrifies a bully more.

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Last Call at la Belle Aurore

It’s easy to imagine the panic that gripped Paris as the Nazis approached during the summer of 1940. In a perverse gesture of cultural sensitivity, the German high command signalled its reluctance to destroy the grand architecture and priceless artworks of the City of Light and so reached an agreement with defenders: French troops would withdraw and allow Paris to be taken without a shot fired. Unfortunately, the German sense of aesthetic decorum didn’t extend to the 72,000 French Jews they later deported and slaughtered in death camps between then and 1944.  I was always puzzled by the logic that prioritized saving buildings and pretty paintings above the lives of actual human beings.

 

Until today.

 

Watching the fallout from Donald Trump’s election reverberate across the media, within my social circle and even here in my small town on Vancouver Island, I am beginning to understand the mentality of those German officers a little better. I imagine them gathering in a railway car to study their maps, drink sherry and congratulate each other on their enlightened humanity. Here they were on the brink of conquering a nation, yet determined to spare the enemy destruction of their capital. No stronger argument for German superiority existed … so long as each kept his gaze averted.

 

In the twenty-four hours since Donald Trump’s victory I have witnessed the averted gaze on many occasions, chiefly in the form of repeated denials that a Trump presidency will negatively affect specific groups within the United States. There have been demonstrations in a number of major cities, often met with counter-demonstrations, one of which led to a friend’s son being assaulted and detained by the US Secret Service. Another friend in California was planning to attend a gathering that was canceled due to threats of violence against participants. Meanwhile, a wave of Brexit-like hate-crimes against Muslims, GLBT folks, Hispanics and Latinos is being reported in both mainstream and social media. The discrediting of “political correctness,” it seems, is being taken as a go-ahead to blow the lid on of some spring-loaded storehouse of resentment. The gloves are off and the imperative “punish the Other” rises to a fever pitch.

 

And yet some continue to insist this is all just so much exaggeration and melodrama. Calls for calm and acceptance abound, as do attempts to normalize the election of a candidate who ran on a platform of naked xenophobia and nativism – the same candidate who has promised to reverse civil rights legislation, bar Muslims from entering the country, overturn Roe v. Wade and who now calls for nationwide concealed carry legislation. At best, this points to a future that is somewhat less than rosy for anyone who isn’t visibly straight, white and male. At worst, we’re headed for the imposition of a kind of weaponized fundamentalist dystopia. But hey it’s all just politics as usual, right?

 

The averted gaze, in a nutshell.

 

It will be easy for “good,” straight, white, Christian people to get along in this brave new world. Trump is taking the messy bazaar of American multiculturalism and stuffing it back into the handy, Ward’n June Cleaver duality of an earlier age: Christian and not, white and black, us and them. You’re either on his side of the fence, or you’re shit out of luck. All Trump’s followers have to do is refuse to acknowledge the danger he poses to their fellow countrymen and -women, ignore the fears and grievances of other races, other religions, other sexualities and all of society’s problems (those that bother WASPS, anyway) will take care of themselves. All they have to do is look away.

 

Which brings us to the last call at la Belle Aurore: that great scene in CASABLANCA wherein Rick, Sam and Ilsa meet at the bar to drink up the last of the champagne before the Germans arrive. At one point, they step outdoors to listen to instructions from a Gestapo envoy on how to behave when the Germans march into Paris. The Wehrmacht’s arrival is not shown in the movie, but I’ve met people who were actually there. They tell me that most Parisians stood in shocked silence. Some wept. And a few applauded because the Germans were coming to reimpose the duality of an earlier age, one where all you had to do was look away and society’s problems sorted themselves out.

 

That is where we are right now, folks. Last call at la Belle Aurore. And the Nazis are coming.

 

Will you look away?

 

Will you?

 

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Rockin’ the Riverside

A small thermonuclear explosion detonated at the River Rock pub in Duncan last night. A collection of extraordinarily gifted musicians gathered and, in the space of a few hours, performed in cohesive bands, exploded and re-coalesced into new groupings, sang, jammed, riffed and generally blew the roof off the joint. It was a rambunctious night of energy and superb entertainment. Rarely in recent memory has such a stellar collection of talent converged on the Trans-Canada Highway. The level of musicianship displayed by local virtuosos was nothing short of extraordinary and had at least one aging rock journalist wondering where the hell the stringers for Rolling Stone were hiding, because last night saw some truly great performances.

Screw “Drunken Duncan.” Last night, it was “Rocking Duncan”.

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Thank Helen, River Rock pub, Duncan BC – 5 Aug 2016

 

First up was Thank Helen, a cow-punk thrash unit from Courtney with surprising melodic range. Fronted by the dynamic Tracey Nolan, Thank Helen found its footing within a song or two. By “Pay the Rent”, they were mesmerizing us with lively renderings of good, solid songs, tightly arranged. Thank Helen is a band to reckon with – a deadly combo of guitarist Jamie Nolan, bassist Caleb Kennedy and drummer Dekan Delaney in a solid polyrhythmic triad kicked into overdrive by the commanding Tracey. Harmonies and beat combined to raise their show to atmospheric levels and by the end of their set, at “Freeway”, nobody wanted to let go.

 

A lull was filled when a young man took the stage with an acoustic guitar. I was gathering my notes and not expecting much when Colton Mann, 20, abruptly launched into some of the most solid improvisational acoustic work I have heard in years. Later joined by Underdogs percussionist Marcus, Mann unleashed a soaring acoustic version of Jimi Hendrix’s “Little Wing” that was nothing short of breathtaking. By the end of it all, you could hear a pin drop in that crowded bar. Watch this young man: if he develops to even half of his potential, he will conquer hearts and minds. And worlds.

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Weak Patrol, tearing it up.

Briefly assuming Thank Helen had reassembled onstage, I was surprised to learn that their core instrumental group, absent Tracey, performs a combo unto itself. Weak Patrol, a classic rock power trio, is half Beck, Bogart & Appice and half Rush after they’ve been stiffed playing a gig at a curling arena in Edmonton: cold, angry and precise. This trio wound between hypnotic pseudo-reggae rhythms and soaring, poly-instrumental arrangements reminiscent of Yes. These three, no matter what they decide to play – or when – will scoop the field. Some old school rock trio power happening here: good, good stuff.

The real treat of the night was the Underdogs, segueing from cool bossa-nova combo to Big Brother and the Holding Company that somehow morphed into an extended blues jam. More akin to a musical community than a group, the Underdogs features a twin-vocalist salvo, acoustic guitar and rock rhythm underpinnings. Unconventional perhaps, but sufficiently engaging to hold the audience rapt with a Bear McCreary-flavored rendition of “All Along the Watchtower”. Although unpolished in places, the Underdogs proved, beyond the shadow of a doubt, they had bite. This is a premiere rock band in the making. If they can stay the course, they will shake up the West coast scene.
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The Underdogs

With 1 AM beckoning and a deadline looming, I left the bar as the Underdogs were pulsing into the second soulful phase of their opening set. I felt strongly, walking across the highway to where my car was stashed in a public lot, that I had discovered something truly great in Duncan – a motherlode of talent and passion overlooked by the mainstream rock audiences and critics. Be that as it may, this writer will listen and report back. Good music deserves an audience, and this correspondent will do all he can to help these musicians find theirs.

Dispatches from the Front

Anyone who follows me on social media could be forgiven for thinking that my writing career has ground to a sudden and spectacular halt. But that’s what happens when you spend six-and-a-half months writing a novel – particularly a novel as detailed and immersive as the one I just birthed. But there have been many significant developments, and more fresh projects on the horizon. Here then is a brief round-up of what’s new …

AT THE CROSSROADS OF MADNESS. Last week I completed a novel-length version of “Mr Johnson & the Old Ones”, my contribution to CTHULHUSATTVA: TALES OF THE BLACK GNOSIS, an anthology of Lovecraftian short fiction. AT THE CROSSROADS OF MADNESS features bluesman Robert Johnson in a surreal adventure that spans the cottonfields and jook-houses of 1930s Mississippi and leads, via magickal intervention, to an alternate reality called the Nightland where free Black men fight a Civil War against fog-shrouded monstrosities while white slaves pick mantis-weed for distillation into an infernal hallucinogenic mescal. The ultimate destination, the City of the Pyramids, is the home of the Old Ones, where Great Cthulhu slumbers in the Blue Temple. The project was an all-consuming affair, involving weeks of research and outlining prior to diving into the actual writing. Topping out at 60,000 very carefully-chosen words, a finished draft was uploaded a few days ago to an agent who expressed interest.

GHOST BOSS. I published a short story in the new noir crime ‘zine Crimson Streets. I had a great experience working with editor Janet Carden and the portableNOUNS team to prepare “Ghost Boss”, sequel to my 2011 short story “Soul of the City”, for publication. Both stories feature the adventures of a magickal detective named N who works for Thaumaturgy Squad, a group founded in an alternate jazz-age Chicago to handle crimes devolving from the turf war between Capone’s gangsters and demons eager to seize a piece of the Windy City action. “Soul of the City” appeared in the April 2011 issue of Crossed Genres. There are more stories waiting to be written about N and his adventures, if I can find appropriate (and interested) markets.

GAVIN’S WOMAN. I have received word from KindleWorlds that the contract approval process is moving forward for GAVIN’S WOMAN, sequel to my 2015 novella GAVIN’S WAR, which is part of Steve Konkoly’s Perseid Collapse universe, a post-apocalyptic world Steve is allowing other writers to help him populate. A number of my friends – guys like Alex Shaw and Sean T. Smith to name a few – have pitched in to help flesh out Steve’s ambitious (and fun) vision. The GAVIN series takes place amongst the coastal islands of BC. GAVIN’S WAR is easily my most successful publication to date, with a stream of healthy royalties continuing to roll in. It’s great to have a chance to work with the KindleWorlds team again. I’m eager to return to that world and continue the adventure.

ECLIPSED SEASONS. A short, furious sci-fi/fantasy tale set during the Blitz, “Eclipsed Seasons” is one of the shortest but most difficult stories I’ve ever had to write. It has been grabbed up by a pro market and I am working with the editor on a few tweaks. (I’ll announce the market once the sale is finalized.) This story was an opportunity for me to exorcise all the usual personal demons that come from being raised by a survivor of the Battle of Britain. It’s difficult to describe. You’ll just have to read it (something you will hopefully be able to do soon).

CHICAGO LAKESHORE. As constant readers of this blog already know, I have been collaborating with Ann Sterzinger and an unnamed Hollywood director on developing a TV show called CHICAGO LAKESHORE. Billed as “ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK meets ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO’S NEST”, CHICAGO LAKESHORE recounts the trials and tribulations of Lena, a suicidal writer who has been committed, and Gus, the healthcare security officer with whom she strikes a fragile alliance. Based on the personal experiences of Ann and myself, the project was successfully funded via Kickstarter and we are moving forward with plans to finalize the pilot episode script and shoot Episode One (“You Can’t Handle the Truth”). Ann and I are also working to develop the story arcs and episode plots for the rest of Season One. The whole process has involved lots of phone calls and e-exchanges. Fortunately, Ann and I are strange creatures that more or less subsist on text, irony and coffee, so don’t worry about us. We got this.

While all this was going on, I decided to sell my mobile home and switch from a four- to a five-day-per-week schedule. So I’ve been busy.

I turn fifty in four days.

Onward.

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CHICAGO LAKESHORE 1: How Ann Sterzinger & Jamie Mason Founded Camus-TV

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Much as Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson conspired to create Brexit without any real plan for how to deal with victory, so did Ann Sterzinger and I pitch a pilot to a Hollywood director, that convinced us to found a Kickstarter without ever really expecting people to respond. And oh my God, did they respond …

And so without further ado, the history of CHICAGO LAKESHORE.

1. MY BEST FRIEND

This is Ann Sterzinger. Ann is an alien being inhabiting Chicago who subsists on a diet of caffeine, French literature and raw sarcasm. So far as I have been able to determine, Ann hates just about everybody.

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Ann Sterzinger fucking hates you

She hates me a little less than most others and so we’re BFFs (best frenemies forever).

2. GOALS

Ann and I are both writers. We’re old school devotees of the late 19th century schools of European literature. While most kids grew up wanting to be Jim Morrison, we wanted to be Balzac.

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Balzac, hung over

Because we were serious literary prodigies, we both went to college. We got degrees. We worked shit jobs for decades and devoted ourselves to our craft. Then ECLIPSE became a best-seller. Since then, we spend a lot of time talking about becoming mercenaries in fucking Syria or something whilst swinging wildly between despair, alcoholism and suicidal ideation.

3. FATE!

We met on Facebook. I imagined Ann as an overweight chain-smoking woman in her seventies who wore mumus. She knew I was Canadian. That was enough for us to develop a healthy mutual suspicion of one another.

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We started writing together. Oh sure, we could have had phone sex or indulged in some form of primitive long-distance cyber-romance but we’re both broke writers so rather than waste time on that bullshit, we started beta-reading each others’ stuff and then, later, collaborating. Our phone calls occasionally strayed into common territory. And we discovered …

4. NUTS

We both had first-hand experience of the mental health system, myself as a guard and Ann as a patient. We began comparing notes and discovered that our experiences weren’t very different. In fact, they were eerily fucking similar.

5. CHICAGO LAKESHORE

Let’s be honest. The world is sinking into for-profit, corporate-driven mass psychosis. Ann and I have decided it’s time for a television show that reflects this emerging reality.

Welcome to the psychiatric-industrial police state. Welcome to Chicago Lakeshore.