CERTAIN FURY & the Birth of the Storm Rhino

5113jbvzJpL[1]Like most crazy ideas, this one started over a conversation that involved alcohol. Sean Smith and I were bemoaning the state of the union, as one does these days, but when two post-apocalyptic writers have that conversation it gets dark really  fast (remember: we do research). Scenarios ranging from foreign invasion to civil insurgency to nuclear Armageddon were tossed back and forth. Then I mentioned an exchange I had with my old mentor Dr. Tom Lincoln of RAND Corporation.

To say Tom was eccentric would be an understatement. Before medical school, Tom earned a degree in cryptozoology. He was one of Carl Jung’s graduate students. He drank expensive scotch and wore tennis shoes everywhere, even to Congressional briefings. And he had this penchant for collecting weird things, which he sometimes showed me: a photograph album of the human body viewed as a series of 300 cross sections, medical files of Ebola patients, notes from meetings with Norman Schwarzkopf in which they war-gamed Desert Storm and a draft contingency plan to remove the President from office by force should the need arise.

Back in the bland days of Bill Clinton, the very idea was ridiculous – far-fetched X-files stuff. But the US military being what it is, they have plans for everything, including occupation of Canada by extraterrestrials. I have no idea how Tom got his hands on it. But a draft contingency designed by some low-level military wonk back in the Seventies (probably in response to Watergate), now long declassified and replaced, made for interesting reading at the time. Sean thought it might make for interesting writing in the here and now.

“Goddamn!” he cried with the unabashed exuberance that makes me love the guy. “Let’s write that story! Let’s write it now!”

So we did.

With the same momentum that I imagine must have carried Crosby, Stills, Nash and 6561757-M[1]Young through recording and releasing of Ohio  within three weeks of Kent State, Sean and I produced Certain Fury  in a fever. E-mailing pages back and forth between Vancouver Island and Florida, we built a fast-paced, character-driven thriller novella in (what I hope is) the vein of Fletcher Knebel or Richard Rohmer, and had a blast doing it. Our easy friendship made the collaboration a joy and along the way I rekindled my romance with writing straight-ahead thrillers. My friendship with writers like Alex Shaw, Steve Konkoly, Jamie Mason (no, the other Jamie Mason) and Ali Karim often pulls me into that very distinct orbit of publishing, and I have written two novellas for Steve’s Perseid Collapse series that remain some of my most well-received work to date. It was good to be back in familiar terrain.

Because we wanted to respond to shifting circumstances, engaging any of the traditional publishers with whom Sean and I have worked in the past simply wasn’t practical. We wanted to respond to the ongoing crisis in the American situation and put something out now, like a rock single. Fortunately, a variety of alternative, self-publishing platforms exist so we chose KDP and I took over the helm. Producing Certain Fury  forced me to polish off project management and production skills I haven’t used in a long time and I was surprised to find myself enjoying that side of the experience more than I expected. The project might be self-published, but I was determined to involve the same pro-level artists, editors and formatters Sean and I had both used for our house projects so I contacted them. To my great delight, they were willing to come onboard as sub-contractors. Felicia Sullivan performed her editorial magic under extreme time crunch, Christian Bentulan crafted a beautiful cover and the mighty  Kody Boye provided a timely, tasty e-book mark-up. Wrangling all this in the tight time-span we had required chops I’d left dormant since the old days. It sure felt like a professional endeavor, but of course …

We’re self-publishing, I thought – something I told myself I’d never do. But it’s for a good 51bs537ve6L.SX316[1]cause. We were responding to events – something artists often feel compelled to do.

Even the guys cranking out thrillers in the basement .

Right around this time, I found myself recalling the men’s adventure novels of the 1970s, the books that first inspired me to write: Don Pendleton’s Executioner books, Donovan’s Devils and the Malko series from France. I wondered whatever became of that whole strata of publishing. Men’s pulp adventure fiction with a strong military focus seems like an anachronism in our enlightened era of safe spaces, political correctness and ascendant feminism. And there’s nothing wrong with any of those things, as far as I’m concerned …

But there isn’t anything wrong with men’s pulp adventure novels, either.

61+un+dEWZL._SY346_[1]Meanwhile, I learned that The Executioner enjoys a robust afterlife in e-book. And it occurred to me, staring at an early edition of Certain Fury, that it might be worthwhile to make more of these things.

I’m not proposing opening my own publishing house. But I’d sure like to do more books like this and involve other writers, and use such projects to generate paying work for them as well as the artists, editors and formatters who will help us bring quality men’s adventure fiction to market. The totality of the enterprise is at a fuzzy stage just now. Call Certain Fury  a trial run. All my contacts are in place: the artists, copy-editors and other pros needed to see the work done right. I know at least one other writer (possibly two) willing to write a book. Perhaps others will read this and consider contacting me. I hope they do, but I’ll confess right now that I probably have more questions than answers. Will this beast be a micro-press? A publishing co-op? A small start-up? How will we sustain and extend our present funding? How will the novels be received? How will we grow our audience? How will our peers and mentors in the publishing world view our efforts?

Beats me. But I’m having fun and plan to continue. We will produce e-books and a few print editions of what I call “7-11 lunch” fiction: a sammich, an apple and a cookie. Nothing gourmet, but easy to swallow and just plain damn fun. Because isn’t that what this whole fiction thing is supposed to be?Rudy the Rhino

For now I am calling it Storm Rhino Press.

Fear the Rhino.

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.

Daddy Loves His Work

I was saddened by recent exchanges with two writers, both of whom expressed dissatisfaction with their careers. One says she no longer wishes to write at all while another, frustrated by a lack of commercial success, speaks frankly of killing herself. A third friend with a book coming out has complained to me privately about how the publisher is handling the release. And a fourth lamented that he still does not consider himself a “pro” (whatever that means) despite a very impressive set of publishing credits. All four of these are writers I respect a great deal, and who have achieved more than I with their work, and yet they are unhappy. Understandably so. This is a tough racket, and many writers have walked away …

I can’t.

I would not consider myself a particularly visible or well-known author, even within the genres (SFF) to which I have devoted myself since 2009. I am no great commercial success, by any means. I can’t live off of what I do (although I have hopes it may supplement my retirement income nicely). But the option of walking away is just not there for me. It never has been. The prospect of life without the words is as unimaginable to me as losing  eyesight or hearing and just as terrifying. Laura Dern explained it so beautifully in THE WEST WING episode “The U.S. Poet Laureate”: “This is how I enter the world.” The act of writing is, simply, how I experience and process my existence on planet Earth. I would still be filling notebooks and cranking out fiction even if I never sold a thing because I simply don’t know any other way to live.

Two new projects are reminders for me of the real joy I take in the process of writing and publishing.

My short story “Mr Johnson & the Old Ones” will appear in the forthcoming anthology from Martian Migraine Press CTHULHUSATTVA: TALES OF THE BLACK GNOSIS. This is my first piece of Lovecraftian horror fiction, and is the point of departure for the next stage of my career, which will focus mainly on writing mystery and horror. The story combines my twin fascinations of H.P. Lovecraft and Robert Johnson and has the two meeting in a jook house in 1930s Mississippi under surreal circumstances. I found the process of exploring that world so fascinating that I am now adapting the short story into a full length novel. Meanwhile, it’s been a real pleasure working with MMP C-in-C Scott Jones to bring the short-story version out and get it to you. Look for CTHULHUSATTVA to drop in late May.

I am also engaged in contract negotiations with Amazon for GAVIN’S WOMAN, a sequel to GAVIN’S WAR which came out last year. Although we’re still ironing out the details, the project as been green-lit and we are a go. GAVIN’S WOMAN picks up four years after the events of GAVIN’S WAR and features the return of known characters Iris and Salazar along with several new ones. Researching the piece has me learning much about the BC coastline, various types of military helicopters and the U.S. Army’s famed Nightstalkers. I imagine the novella will see daylight some time this summer. Stay tuned for further details on that front.

Recent events in the United States have caused me to reflect on World War II. While watching the mini-series FLEMING: THE MAN WHO WOULD BE BOND, it occurred to me that I’ve always wanted to write a story set during the Blitz, an event that had a great impact on my father’s family. The time has come to write that story and, in so doing, perhaps come closer to an understanding of my father, a man with whom I had a complex and very uncomfortable relationship. I’m not entirely sure I really want to explore that region of my past and psyche … which merely serves as confirmation that I must. Again: writing as my way of processing life on Earth.

And so the words roll on.

Mishima once said that life is a line of poetry written with a splash of blood.

I have to agree.

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Pivot

I was surprised when my tongue-in-cheek Facebook post concerning my “retirement” from science fiction prompted a response. I received several messages from fellow writers and one editor asking what gives. That’s when I realized I haven’t done a very good job explaining my decision. So here goes.

Why I Write. Money. I write to supplement my income (which ain’t great). The few extra hundred dollars here and there since my first pro sale in 2009 have really made a difference. If Churchill boasted he bought Chartwell “with his pen” then I can make a similar claim regarding the warmth and dryness inside this 1970s-era mobile home I own, which leaked like a sieve until last autumn, when proceeds from my Kindleworlds novella Gavin’s War paid for my pal Roger’s game-changing roof repairs. It’s been raining non-stop since yesterday afternoon. I haven’t awakened to a stream of rain-water on my pillow in over a year. Money well spent.

There’s No Money in Sci-fi. Oh, I’m sure there’s some there. I just hardly ever get to see it. Second-tier markets pay a pittance and, with few exceptions, the pro markets have perfected the art of stretching out payments to writers such that I’m convinced hieroglyphs of our vanished culture will show a legion of the starving would-be  Asimovs on their knees with laptops in hand,  pleading with an Ibex-headed Editor God-thing. (Part of why they can get away with this is because most sci-fi writers don’t have to write for money – more on this “pride culture” later.) I have worked with some awesome sci-fi editors and publishers. But I have worked with many more that drove me absolutely bug-fuck then didn’t pay me. I have had to resort to using a bill collector on occasion. Nothing personal, folks. Just business.

The Culture is Poisonous. It’s a small little pond the English-speaking sci-fi world paddles in. Girdled by instantaneous global communication via Facebook, these geeks have carved out a vibrant and busy little sector of the digisphere for themselves. Unfortunately, it’s one riven by politics, prejudice, bullying and sanctimony. I really began to realize how poisonous the scene was when I began branching out into horror and mystery. Interactions with editors and fellow authors there were of an entirely different complexion. Where in the sci-fi field I encountered ad hominem attacks centering around identity politics and plenty of thrown shade, mystery and horror writers were comparatively welcoming. We learned from each other. We support each other. It’s nicer here.

Diversity? Please! I hate to say it, but the diversity wars in sci-fi, and those who stoke them, strike me as “methinks they doth protest too much”. Sci-fi is white-boy culture writ large, and efforts to prove otherwise have been about as convincing as a country-club full of drunk Caucasian aunts and uncles forming a conga line to show how hip they can be. The most strident debates for inclusion and diversity occur in a white liberal echo chamber from which diverse voices are conspicuously absent. Flame wars, Amazon sabotage campaigns, angry blog posts, podcasts – has any of it led to more money in the pockets of more diverse writers of sci-fi? No. (See, “There’s No Money in Sci-fi”, above.) Which leads me to the crown jewel, the golden goose of sci-fi’s embarrassment …

The Fucking Hugo Awards. Spare me. Of all the literary cultures of which I have been a part since stumbling, wide-eyed, into my first American Publishing Association convention in 1982, sci-fi is the most fixated on literary prizes. Sci-fi is a “pride of place” culture, with prestige counting as currency. (Unfortunately, this acts to disqualify people who are too poor to jump on a plane to go hob-nob. Pride cultures tend to favor those with means.) “Hugo nominee” on a cover moves books, sho nuff, but the concentration of accolades within the prize communities has enabled the rise of reactionary forces gaming the system. Pity those who must wear their coveted rocket like an albatross this year. The genre is an embarrassment. “Hugo nominee” don’t have the cachet it once did.

In 2004, when Bush was re-“elected”, I came home. “You’re lucky to have Canada,” literary critic Roger Bowen e-mailed me.

I’m lucky to have mystery and horror. And I have gone home.

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Tally

2015 was by far my most successful year to date as a writer. Since my first pro sale in 2009 I have pursued two seemingly contradictory goals. The first is to prioritize creating work that I feel speaks to some universal or emotional truth above creating work for the express purpose of making money. The second is to make money. In 2015, I achieved both.

I am fortunate in this regard as I have always been physically fit, employable and more than willing to work hard. I’ve never had a problem finding and holding down blue collar jobs suited to feeding my art both financially and in terms of subject matter. This has left me free to follow my muse at will. In this, I consider myself very fortunate. I suppose I could, in the interest of making money from home, always write ad copy or technical manuals, click-bait or porn – all honorable pursuits. But for me being an artist is as much a journey of personal and global exploration as it is a chosen career path. Balance is key. Where I once resented having to leave the keyboard to venture out into the world, I now see the acts of writing and holding down a day job as two sides of the same coin. The day-job feeds the art. And in the absence of a family to support, the art gives me a reason to get up and go to work in the morning.

George Orwell once wrote:

Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand.

In my case, there has never been any shortage of demons (I have hinted and, in some cases, written openly about these demons elsewhere.) The trick has been to tame them to the point at which, broken and muzzled, they can be led into the barn and saddled for the ride to hounds. Suffice it to say that, in 2015, the hunt led me to publish two novels (KEZZIE OF BABYLON and THE BOOK OF ASHES), one novella (GAVIN’S WAR) and two pieces of short fiction, one of which was the fulfillment of a lifelong dream to produce an original James Bond tale (“Daedelus” which appears in ChiZine’s LICENCE EXPIRED: THE UNAUTHORIZED JAMES BOND, a great collection I am told, for I have yet to receive my copy). In addition to this, I also produced four guest blogs for some wonderful colleagues: Cat Rambo, Sean Smith and Dave Wilbanks.

The money? The money was pretty good this year. Best it’s ever been. But the real payoff has been my satisfaction with the quality of the work, the professional connections I have made along the way (publishers, editors and fellow writers) as well as my ongoing and deepening connection with my readers. I am blessed with a small but fiercely loyal readership, many of whom have reached out to me on social media to become valued friends. It is to them that I renew my pledge never to produce anything but my best. They deserve nothing less.

I deserve nothing less.

That is a great deal accomplished for one year. I embark upon 2016 with a raft of short fiction already under consideration by magazine editors and a new novel on the rails. Entitled AT THE CROSSROADS OF MADNESS, it is a Lovecraftian tale featuring none other than famed bluesman Robert Johnson as protagonist. This has led me to read numerous books and essays about Johnson, reconnect with my love of the blues (both listening and playing) and explore those regions of my psyche where the bleaker demons dwell. To make things even more exciting, I can report that several publishers have already approached me requesting to see the finished manuscript. I consider this a great compliment. I am both humbled and grateful.

I imagine 2016 as a vast and fertile plain surveyed from a hilltop where I wait at the head of a small but loyal band of cavalry. In the silence before battle, I hear the creak of saddles, the clink of weapons, the fluttering of standards. They say battles are won or lost before they even begin. In both the art of war and the war of art I can say, with absolute certainty, that I am ready to lead the charge.

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Before the Sabbath

Time spent licking this WordPress site into shape cut into my writing a bit yesterday and today. Nevertheless, I finished chapter seven of Echo Tribe and have less than 20,000 words left to go. I am on track to deliver the novel to Permuted by the 31 May deadline.

In a few hours I will begin my last block of shifts before vacation. As it stands now, I spend slightly less than half of each week on the day-job and the rest of my time writing. This pattern has worked well and allowed me to get some good work done these past few years, but the pace is punishing. Days off are spent recuperating in bathrobe and slippers, like an invalid. Vacation will be much the same. My package of treats from Amazon arrived, including a copy of Jenn Brissett’s novel Elysium and DVDs of two favorites to add to my film library: Charlton Heston’s The Omega Man and Bless the Beasts and the Children, based on Glenn Swarthout’s novel. I look forward to a quiet and productive 12 days off, putting the finishing touches on the novel and enjoying these things.

But I still have to get through this block of shifts. The last few days before a vacation are always the most punishing. I’ll just focus on pushing through to those quiet afternoons and relaxing evenings that await me on the other side.

Lunar haze