Sunday, March 31, 2013

Happy Easter

     This is Mrs. JP's and my fourth Easter dinner together. We had a baked ham semi-glazed in pineapple juice, mashed potatoes, Charlene's Cheesy Potatoes, stuffing, Brussels sprouts, butternut squash, pork gravy and a good white wine that was a steal at $12.99. So, how did you distend your waistline?

Top Ten Ways Pope Francis is Deviating From Convention

     These past couple of weeks, Pope Francis, the successor to Benedict XVI, had tried the patience of Catholic traditionalists by eschewing the tradition and pomp resurrected by his immediate predecessor. Among them was carrying his own luggage, making peace with Islam and washing the feet of women, symbolic of Christ washing the feet of his 12 Apostles. But there were other ways in which the Pontiff had deviated from Vatican tradition. What were they?

10) Read his first Mass in Ebonics.

9) Will spend Easter washing and waxing the Popemobile in the middle of Saint Peter's Square with Biden while both are stripped to the waist.

8) Spent five hours as the towel boy at the Vatican-owned gay bathhouse.

7) During his inaugural address, walked out dressed in bathrobe and Yankees ballcap and called Benedict "one evil-looking motherfucker."

6) Papal coat of arms designed by Ralph Steadman and R. Crumb.

5) Arm wrestled an altar boy for privilege of filling the chalice before Eucharist.

4) At same Eucharist, flung wafers from 10 feet away into the mouths of parishioners while exclaiming, "Body of Christ comin' atcha! Olá!"

3) Went halfsies with Obama for squares for March Madness

2) Plans on holding a yard sale of ancient liturgical documents, ermine robes and saint's relics.

1) While still insisting gays marrying was an abomination, nonetheless stopped short of calling for their immediate immolation.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Caturday Blogging/Open Thread

     The little beast does have his moments.
     Mrs. JP and I are just now gearing up for our annual Easter dinner (Thanks, again, to Uncle Sam and SNAP, without whom we'd be fighting the stray cats in the neighborhood over the field mice).
     Meanwhile, underperforming idiots like Vernon Wells and Tony Romo get multi-year zillion dollar contracts and contract extensions while Mrs. JP and I can't even get minimum wage jobs cleaning up dog shit in Buddy Dog kennels (No joke. We actually tried and failed in 2009).
     I published another book this week, The Misanthrope's Manual, which, like my two novels, is taking off like a lead balloon. It's on both Kindle and a physical Create Space edition and they're going for $2.99 and $2.31 respectively (and that's at cost, with no royalty involved). At over 500 definitions, that comes out to about half a penny a belly laugh, folks. You're not gonna get a better deal than that unless I gave it away. And if you have no problem handing a billionaire like Jeff Bezos another $200 he plainly doesn't need for a Kindle Fire, you should have no problem paying less than three bucks for a brilliant work of satire that contains all sorts of political jibes never before seen (I take a lot of potshots at Rush Limbaugh).
     In fact, I'm going to do something that no other author on the planet earth will do and show you a screengrab of my sales figures for this month:
     No doubt, this will provide transient fun fodder for my various stalkers and critics and not a little bit of Schadenfreude. These so-called sales figures are not reflective of my talent as a writer. I'd had a lot of my dictionary's definitions published back in the 90's in a prestigious magazine and I've been able to pitch my two novels to publishers and got them to read them (in fact, Eric Burdon of The Animals read part of American Zen and, according to a mutual friend, he said the Immortals had reminded him of the first band he was in when he was 14). Plus, you may remember just this past week, I was interviewed by British novelist Nick Stephenson, who'd privately told me earlier this month that AZ made him want to rewrite his upcoming novel, Departed. Plus, we're collaborating on another novel, something neither of us have ever done.
     So, obviously, these sales figures aren't predicated on talent as much as my utter inability to overcome the strenuous and lively apathy that everything I write seems to attract these days. Authors pimp each other's books on Twitter and Goodreads all the time yet never seem to recognize that I even exist. I have always had a greater instinct for publicity than a talent for it.
     So it's time for some crowd sourcing. If you're on Facebook, Twitter, Amazon's message boards (which banned me for life almost two years ago), Linked In, Google+, Goodreads or anywhere else where you can reach readers, if you still refuse to buy or cannot buy any of them, please put in a good word for my dictionary, American Zen or the The Toy Cop.
     And until those royalties start trickling in, Mrs. JP and I are almost out of funds and could use a helping hand pretty soon.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Jesus Didn't Have Such a Good Friday...

     ...and it's not looking so good for us, either.
     Riddle: How many right wing nut jobs can you stuff into a Saturn V rocket? Answer: I don't know. Let's find out.
     Scanning the news these past few days reminded me again and again why I've been trying to divest myself of political blogging for years, now. I used to think I was immune to outrage fatigue and then it finally caught up to me back when Junior was still squatting in the White House. And I admit it: These past few months, blogging for me, with everything else I have going on, is like trying to start a car with a bad battery and on 5 cylinders. I just can't seem to get any momentum anymore. And the lunacy on the far right is so toxic, it often results in intellectual paralysis.
     Take the right wing, who've been reduced to sneering at Michelle Obama for trying to get kids to eat healthy and exercise and pooh-poohing the annual Easter Egg roll at the White House. After all the doom-mongering since November 2008 at how Obama's Socialism is going to kill America, the Dow Jones Average is over 14,200, the president just wrapped up a highly successful tour of Israel and corporate profits are at an alltime high. So now they have to content themselves with acting like 3rd grade schoolyard bullies and saying "Neener, neener!" at perhaps the least political event at the White House.

     If Justice Anthony "Buttsex" Kennedy is going to be the swing vote, I think we have another couple of decades of the despicable, Clinton-era DOMA and Prop 8 to look forward to. Scalia and Alito have pretty much weighed in with their thoughts on gay marriage and adoption and providing progressives with a solid argument as to why the Supreme Court ought to have checks and balances.
     You would think the homophobes and bigots of the right wing wouldn't stand a chance with an ignorant shyster like Paul Clement representing them at the Supreme Court but you'd be wrong. Clement actually made the incredibly bone-headed assertion that DOMA wasn't signed into law in 1996 on moral grounds, which is like saying that Jim Crow laws were enacted in the South merely to hold black voters to a higher standard and wasn't at all based on disenfranchising them because of race.
     But anyone with access to Youtube can go back to 17 years ago when psychopaths like Georgia's Bob Barr stood up in the well of the House and inveighed against gay marriage as flames licking the pillars of our society. DOMA was certainly ratified and signed into law on religious/moral grounds (Our first mistake right there in letting them frame the debate thusly because homosexuality has nothing to do with morality and everything to do with human rights and privacy) and now, 17 years later, the right wing, through Clement, is trying to redefine marriage as it is now recognized in nine states while at the same time trying to redefine the latter-day GOP as not being bigoted at all.

     So, now Wal-Mart is trying to get its own customers to do their dirty work for them?
     From the, "But, but... it looked good on paper!" Files, Wally World is seriously thinking of implementing what is perhaps the most incredibly stupid crowd-sourcing idea in human history in getting its own customers to do their deliveries for them. For a little bit of gas money and an unspecified discount (but no hourly wages), Wal-Mart will give you the names and street addresses of random strangers so you can deliver their online orders to them on the way home. That should work out real well at households that are fanatical about standing their ground and unvetted delivery people who just might keep those packages that may or may not contain guns and ammo.
     I don't know what the fuck they're smoking at Bentonville but they shouldn't Bogart that shit.

     Speaking of not vetting people properly, another al Qaida underwear bomber was caught with explodable undies just before he boarded a jet. Here's the kicker: He was working for Saudi intelligence and our own CIA. And yet, if you want to get a minimum wage job through a temp agency, you have to provide tons of documentation for the I9s and undergo a rigorous interview process.

     In one of the ultimate examples of judicial corruption and hideously skewed priorities, Natrona County District Judge Catherine Wilking recently ruled in Wyoming that a fracking company doesn't have to reveal the ingredients of their fracking chemicals on the basis that they're "trade secrets." So, in other words, if any of these 900+ chemicals that seep into your well water give you cancer, you're not even allowed to know what's killing you because of the corporation's right to keep their trade secrets.

     By the way, did you know that Congress quietly but unanimously passed "the Monsanto Protection Act", as it's come to be known? In a classic example of stealth legislation (USA PATRIOT Act, anyone?), right wing scumbags in our Congress slipped a rider into a Farming bill like a shiv between the ribs. It essentially gives Monsanto ("Changing Your Genetic Structure One Meal at a Time.") legal indemnification from anyone seeking to sue the chemical giant for health problems arising from their genetically-modified organisms. The one lone dissenting vote in the Senate came from Jon Tester whose amendment to strip the rider from the bill wasn't even put up for a vote, nor was the legislation even open to hearings. Another fine example of government at the People, against the People and despite the people.

     The North Carolina Senate, which is so deeply crimson it's enough to make red blush, is poised to pass a charter schools bill that has to be read to be believed. It would essentially hand over the state's entire public education (which is 48th in the nation in public funding, a status that's remained unchanged since at least 1996, spending less than $8500 per student per annum) to the corporate sector. Says The Answer Sheet:
A bill titled “NC Public Charter School Board,” introduced by two Republicans, calls for a new board to approve and oversee charters. The State Board of Education would no longer have the job of overseeing charter schools, and charter school applicants would no longer have to get permission to open from local school boards or local education agencies. They could go straight to the new board, whose members would be appointed by the governor...
What’s more, local school boards would be forced to lease open buildings or land to charter school operators for $1 annually unless they could prove that wasn’t feasible, according to the Progressive Pulse. If a charter school closes, its assets won’t go the local school agency or school board but to the state’s general fund.
     This has got the Koch Brothers' and ALEC's greasy fingerprints all over it. Not only would it essentially neuter the North Carolina Board of Education, it would strip away any semblance of regulation regarding educational standards and the vetting process that, until now, was indispensable in the hiring process. Under this new Republican (of course) bill, charter schools could hire anyone who just might be a sex offender and on a sex offender database. It would also basically ensure that North Carolina's schools move even closer back to the segregation we oldtimers saw in the 1960's.

     However, lest you think North Carolina is hopelessly crimson, this ought to warm the cockles of your heavy heart: In the lower chamber of the North Carolina Congress, they're finally getting around to repealing Jim Crow laws that you'd think the Voting Rights Act of 1965 would've put an end to. While they're at it, maybe they can finally make lynching a misdemeanor offense.

     Finally, let's remember that President Ronald Reagan was shot by John Hinckley 32 years ago tomorrow. Let's also remember that President Reagan fortunately survived through sheer luck, not because he had armed security surrounding him. Just something for the psychopaths at the NRA to think about.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Mars and the Moon

Don't Drink the Yellow Snow

     (Tip o' the tinfoil hat to reader CC)

     This is what passes for propaganda nowadays. After watching this four and a half minute-long clip on North Korean TV, you'll be begging for Goebbels and PRAVDA to make a comeback. Either that or you'll be laughing your ass off at the North Koreans' obsession with Americans drinking snow. But hey, at least America's poor, hungry and homosexual who are lucky enough to have floors to sleep on can huddle together. Although I wish the poors hadn't eaten all the birds.
     Watch out for a cameo of a Republican candidate from Oregon, whoever he is.
     Still, as unintentionally hilarious as this attempt at propaganda is, it touches upon what's a very real problem, an economic epidemic and pandemic if austerity measures across the planet earth are any indication. Roughly a third of the United States is either poor or near poor. The 1% own as much money as the bottom 40% and they're screaming for more while screaming that we have it too good and need to get by on even less.
     Meanwhile, the piece of shit genially presiding over all this and comparing himself to a real President like FDR is positioning himself to continue living in luxury once he leaves the Oval Office while the actual unemployment rate's never gotten below 15% for a single month during his presidency. Wall Street oligarchs continue to infest the White House and Treasury while sneering at the "professional left" and their criticisms.
     So while the North Koreans may have gotten it wrong about Americans drinking snow out of coffee cups and proudly showing off their busted tents and eating all the wild birds, we're nonetheless living in the middle of a genocide without either knowing or caring or believing that it's obvious the 1% are trying to starve us out of existence.
     If only we cared about our economic plight and democracy as they do in France, Mexico, Kenya, Iran and so many other countries.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

The Misanthrope's Manual

     I know that of late I've been remiss in my responsibilities to the one or two people who actually care what I have to say about politics and social issues. I'm in the middle of collaborating with a British novelist on a thriller and this was the other reason.
     At the beginning of the week, I'd published on Create Space and Kindle a satirical dictionary I'd intermittently written during the 90's. The Misanthrope's Manual weighs in at a tidy 121 pages for the Create Space edition and when it clears in the next day or so, you can order it at cost for $2.31. The Kindle version is priced at $2.99. With about 500 definitions (including some new ones acknowledging the digital age and Occupy Wall Street), that comes out to more or less a half a penny per laugh, which sounds like a helluva deal to me.
     In case you didn't click on the links for yesterday's post (my interview with my friend and co-author Nick Stephenson), a generous sample of the Misanthrope's Manual can be found here. You can also go to the Kindle page and download most of the "A" words onto your Kindle and decide for yourself if a ha' penny a laugh is worth it.
     These really are some of the most vicious and ingenious definitions written in over a century and is well worth your time to at least check out. Here's the blurb I'd written for the product page when it finally goes live:
     Several hundred of the world's most vicious definitions, the most vitriolic in the 102 years since the last edition of THE DEVIL'S DICTIONARY published by Ambrose Bierce, updated for a more modern 21st century readership.


     Doom, n- The infinitely patient beneficiary of all human endeavor.
     Success, n- Material gain without material witnesses.
     Harmless, adj- Dead.

     What you're about to hold in your hands are 122 of the most hilariously misanthropic pages written in over a century. Don't say you weren't forewarned.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

While Scalia Froths... the Supreme Court hears oral arguments from both sides, as if the right wing actually has anything substantive to say about gay marriage, chew on this wingnuttery from the Heritage Foundation that, inexplicably, has been featured at the top of Scribd's index page.

Find Your Zen – the Art of Sublime Writing With Author Robert Crawford

Find your Zen – the art of sublime writing with author Robert Crawford

Find your Zen – the art of sublime writing with author Robert Crawford

“Apollo is smiling down on us tonight. He’s gotten with the times and has traded his lyre for a plugged-in Strat. He’s playing through me, through all of us, pleasingly pounding the marrow in our bones. It’s that kind of night when even chaotic feedback is exploitable and my vibrating skeleton recycles that energy through my fingers. Maybe Apollo had a hand in helping Jimi Hendrix control and incorporate feedback. But he and perhaps all the gods are on our side tonight.” Robert Crawford, from the prologue to American Zen.
     This week I’ve got quite a treat in store for anyone who’s ever read a book that makes the hairs on back of their arms stand on end – or for anyone out there who’s trying to write something that comes close. Joining us is author and political blogger Robert Crawford, author of American Zen and The Toy Cop, so grab a cup of tea, an English muffin (we just call them muffins here) and settle in for the ride:
Welcome, Rob. I promised you some tea when you come round for this interview, so what’s your brew?
     Twining’s Irish Breakfast tea, which I have almost every day, believe it or not. A tart would’ve been nice, but OK…
Who you calling a tart? Get that tea down you and let’s get started. Primarily, I’d like to take a little bit about your novel American Zen. To help readers get up to speed (and to save me the task of writing it myself) can you tell us what we need to know about this book?
     What you “need” to know about American Zen depends purely upon what you need out of it. It’s got liberal politics, it’s got laughs, it’s got rock and roll (It even comes with a sound track that I can send on CD if you wish). But at its most fundamental level, AZ is about the strength yet the fragility of human love and friendship. It’s about four guys who’d made up four fifths of a rock and roll band who reunite after nearly 30 years. They don’t greet each other with man hugs and merrily pick up where they leave off. There are conflicts, there are tests of their character and nothing can be more testing to one’s patience and good will than a week-long trip in one van up and down the eastern seaboard.
Can you sum up the book in six words or less?
     Coming of age, coming of middleage (Alright, I had to cheat a bit. Never said I was great at loglines.).
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So, for me the pace of the book was surprisingly fast – especially when I checked the word count and realised you were just a few words shy of the 150k mark – which suggests you spent a lot of time tweaking the structure and composition of the novel to keep the pages turning (all 500 of them). How do you decide where to add more detail, more words, more action, and where to cut some out?
     First off, the Create Space version is only 358 pages long (although there are over 40 lines per page, well past the standard 32). Secondly, I really can’t take credit for the fast pacing because it was a rare case of an author not writing a book as one writing the author. I may have mentioned to you that the four months I was writing the draft was my Richard Bach moment. Richard Bach said about 40 years ago that a voice in his head screamed, “Jonathan Livingston Seagull!” And his book completely took over his life. Bach said it was unlike anything he’d ever written before or since.
     Whatever the impetus behind his book or mine, whether it be supernatural or simply riding the surf of a new and strange inner inspiration, this is what American Zen was like for me. The first draft was knocked out in exactly four months flat and during those four months, I’d taken only 14 days off. I wrote it at work, I wrote it at home, I wrote it on the beach. I was fortunate enough to have two friends and fellow liberal bloggers (Alicia Morgan and Steve Benson) as technical experts because they’d been in the music business and had performed with some heavyweights since the 70’s. My protagonist, Mike Flannigan, had to sound as if he knew what he was talking about regarding being in a rock and roll band, the gear that was available at the time, etc. Since I’d published it, people have asked me if I ever belonged to a rock and roll band. One or two were convinced I was.
     What to add, what to cut out. Aye, there’s the rub. That’s one of the greatest challenges of a novelist and luckily, I was on something like autopilot to the point where I could trust my muse to make the right decisions even during the revision process. I was very lucky in that I had all the dramatic spikes (or story arcs) lined up in my head on the first or second day and it was as if some voice in my head was telling me, “Robert, if you don’t write down this parade of images now, you’ll be sorry because you’ll never see it again.” It was almost as if I was taking dictation from a higher creative power, as if I was writing the biography of an alter ego. Other than that, I just tried to end each chapter on a little cliffhanger, such as when Mike gets cold-cocked in Billy’s garage or when they saw Dave’s old van parked in front of the Rock Garden. I usually have a pretty good sense of when and how to end a chapter and American Zen was certainly no exception.
The book deals with some pretty heavy themes – life, death, sexuality, youth, middle age, disease, frustration, and, of course, the music. How many of these big themes are borne from your own life experiences?
     Probably just the middle age and frustration and even then from a literary mindset. I’ve never been in a gay relationship, even though I’m bisexual, never known anyone who had HIV or AIDS, and I never even learned to play guitar. As I said, this was the story as it was presented to me, almost as if I was writing someone else’s memoir. It was written so differently (I’d never written in first person before nor in a purely chronological way) I feel almost guilty putting my name on the cover. I know very good and well I’d written it. But at the time and in retrospect, it just didn’t feel that way.
     Yet, at the same time, little incidents and snippets of conversation from my life in the late 70’s, when almost half the book takes place, found their way in AZ. I’d always wondered why I held on to those meaningless little recollections that by themselves don’t really mean a whole lot but I was able to somehow make use of them in AZ. The Jimmy Carter Show was a real group that was around Massachusetts in the late 70’s and the teleporting drummer gimmick they used in AZ was the same exact one they’d actually used. Dave’s and Rob’s physical appearance was based on two guys I knew at the leather shop I worked at when I was a kid (the same one at which all the band members but Billy worked.).
     Mike is my idealized version of myself: Steady family man, well-paid and respected liberal journalist. He’s where I want to be. Billy is the opposite side of the same coin and he is where I’m trying to move away from. Minus the conservative principles, Billy was where I was: Former Special Forces, haunted, embittered, with a dark side threatening to overwhelm what good is left. Between these two very dissimilar men stands yours truly. I never knew that these two polar opposite guys were actually me until long after I’d finished the first draft. What unites them and maintains their friendship is not the music but a common, inexplicable love these guys feel for each other and others in their circle.
Have you ever been in a band? If so, what did you play, and were you any good?
     See above. Like Mike and Jo Jo when they went to junior high together, I played incredibly uncool instruments like the cornet and French horn. I doubt I even know how to read music, anymore. But as I’d said, several people have asked me the same questions you just did and I take that as confirmation that as a novelist, I’d done my job well and got them to willingly suspend their disbelief.
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How did you manage to create such vivid scenes involving the band mates of The Immortals? Are any of their hi-jinks semi-autobiographical?
     As regards the vivid scenes and hi-jinx, you’ll have to ask my muse. Writing American Zen was like watching a movie with my third eye and conscientiously writing down what I’d seen. The dramatic spikes such as the fight in the graveyard, the Immortals playing White Zombie in the church, the practical joke Billy pulls on Rob at the wedding, to name just a few, are pure fancy. And yet, despite willingly ceding much self-conscious control and outsourcing my critical acumen to this muse, the discipline never left me and this higher creative being still kept these characters consistent, the events compelling and plausible and narrative snappy, lyrical or whatever the situation called for. To create a world from the ground up and sympathetic, identifiable and interesting characters to populate it, all aimed toward a satisfying denouement requires tremendous discipline if not talent. Essentially, the novelist succeeds where God fails.
Tell us about your other books – and, out of all your tomes, which is your personal favourite and why?
     Well, in a lot of ways, American Zen still stands as my high water mark, IMHO. As I’d said above, it was by far the most atypical novel I’d ever written and the only one I’d ever written that made me, me the author, laugh so often or literally cry out loud. Typically, I write thrillers. The Toy Cop is the only other novel I have in print and on Kindle. Whereas AZ took me merely four months to draft, TTC took me close to 14 years. The latter is a classic case of a book that just kept growing and growing, sort of a literary black hole in which a lot gets sucked in and doesn’t escape. What began as a “what if?” question eventually yeasted its way up into what I think is the best hostage negotiation novel ever written. At the very least, The Toy Cop is the first novel to get crisis negotiation right, a point my expert, former FBI negotiator Fred Lanceley, insisted on making. But as good as TCC is, I still think American Zen is my best sustained effort because not only did it radically change me as a human being, it helped write me as much as I wrote it. AZ had a wisdom and rationale behind it that was hidden from me until after it was on paper. There were several times where I’d be proofing a chapter and I’d find myself saying, “Oh, so that’s what I meant!”
You live in Tax-achusetts, a location that features heavily in American Zen, famous for its propensity for wasting perfectly good tea leaves, world class educational institutions (U-Mass, of course) and the greatest rock band in history – the Pixies. What makes MA a special state for you?  
     So, I take it you’re not an Aerosmith fan? Before I’d enlisted in the Navy, I’d enlisted in the Air Force (my father was my recruiter). That didn’t work out so well and the Air Force sacked me at about the same exact time my father retired. His new civilian job brought him to Massachusetts and he picked me up at my grandfather’s house at Central Islip, New York and took my mother and me to Massachusetts. My first lasting job was at a leather shop in West Concord in which I made little keepers for belts just like Mike. Except for brief periods (Navy, out of state girlfriends), I’ve been here ever since and cannot imagine living anywhere else. The winters are brutal but my sons live in the next town so I have some family to keep me tied here.
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As well as being a novelist, you’re also a political blogger. What’s your area of focus, and where can people find your columns?
     I’ve been blogging politically for well over eight years. I’m on my third blog (I’d deleted the first two) and the current one is Welcome Back to Pottersville, which has a It’s a Wonderful Life motif to it. My area of focus? Name it. It’s a chaotic, catch-as-catch-can, all purpose liberal blog and I guess one of its few saving graces is when you surf in, you never know what you’ll get. Occasionally, Mike Flannigan even chips in with his own byline! I haven’t been tending to it as well as I suppose I should be which segues neatly into the next answer. I also allegedly maintain a dedicated book and writing blog called Kindle in the Wind, which I maintain even more sporadically. Like many other authors, I’m also on Twitter, in both a literary and political capacity as @Jurassicpork59 and @KindleintheWind. I’m also on LinkedIn and Google+.
What’s next for Robert Crawford?
     I’m chuckling as I’m writing this because you of all people know what’s next. But for the sake of your readers, we’re collaborating on a thriller entitled TATTERDEMALION in which Buffalo Bill, Annie Oakley, Sitting Bull, Arthur Conan-Doyle and Sigmund Freud go after Jack the Ripper in 1888 London. The first four chapters, on which your host collaborated on the third and fourth, can be found on Scribd here, here, here and here.
     This past weekend, I’ve been proofing and reformatting a satirical dictionary I’d cobbled together during the 90’s entitled The Misanthrope’s Manual and a sample can be found here. If you ever read Ambrose Bierce’s The Devil’s Dictionary, you should love this as it’s a somewhat more updated version of TDD, or what I fancy Bierce would write if he were around today. It should be available on Kindle and Create Space within the next couple of days.
     And, as proof that American Zen was an isolated peak as regards literary discipline, I’m also in the middle of American Zen 2: Rock of Ages which, along with the Misanthrope’s Manual, was featured on Scribd. In addition, I’m also working on what I call the Joe Roman trilogy (although it can easily go beyond that) and have in the works three novels in various stages of completion/disrepair. Roman’s a unique character in that he’s a former Soviet/NYPD detective with dual citizenship who occasionally works for the Russian mob in Brighton Beach but has a soft spot for missing, abused children. It starts with The Saipan Seven, continues with The Puppet Children and concludes with Chernobyl Dreams. In the future, I may also print a volume of my poetry written in the 80’s and 90’s. Multiple self-published authors often sell the best so it’s always important to keep lots of irons in the fire.
     Nick says: thanks for dropping by, Robert – and thanks for taking the bait and mentioning our new project, Tatterdemalion. The book is essentially The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen vs Jack the Ripper, and has been an absolute hoot to write. The book should be completed in time for the close of 2013, so watch this space if you’re a fan of thrillers, mysteries, and histories or fill in the contact form at the bottom of this post to get new articles, blog posts and information about free book giveaways emailed direct to your inbox.
     If you would like to get hold of a copy of Robert’s sublime American Zen just click here for his Amazon page and check out the sample – I defy you not to go ahead and download the whole thing. And, after you’ve read through to the end, go back and re-read the prologue – it will give you some serious chills.
     Here’s the link again:
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Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Happy First Day of Spring!

     This is what the local supermarket's parking lot looks like right now (we had another blizzard yesterday and the night before). Pretty soon, we'll be down to 3 or 4 layers of clothing. Woo hoo! How's the weather in your neck of the woods, peeps?

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Ten Years Later...

     ...and, as round numbers such as 10 oblige us to write the usual autopsies of abortions like Iraq, we have to read and listen to everyone give their spin on Iraq on this, the tenth anniversary of the day George W. Bush gave the order to take back the oil fields that were rightfully ours.
     The daily readership of Pottersville these days and the inexplicable turning away in droves of what used to be a readership of close to 1000 a day made me desist from my original intention of writing a larger, more comprehensive post. I have better things to do with my life than metaphorically pull out the rib spreaders and scalpels in order to transiently amuse or bemuse those who are either for or against the invasion and occupation. I, for one, am heartily sick and tired of casting pearls before virtually nonexistent swine.
     We'd learned nothing from Vietnam and Iraq's invasion and occupation was one of the blackest days in the history of a nation already spottier than a Ralph Steadman cartoon. You don't need me to say that.
     That's not to say we ought to turn our backs on these largely invisible and silent victims of our countless atrocities 6000 miles away. And what you do need me to say is the effect these war crimes for which many wealthy men need to be charged, convicted and executed for had had on the children of Iraq.
     Everyone will have their own particular spin and focus on this tenth anniversary. More pragmatic-minded people will abstractly refer to the plunder of treasure, the loss of our international credibility and trust. Wingnuts who still think Vietnam was worth 58,000 American lives will insist invading a sovereign nation, smashing their infrastructure, disbanding their military and otherwise dooming these people to even greater poverty and privation than they'd ever suffered under Saddam was all worth the nearly 4500 American lives and (according to some human rights organizations) over a million Iraqi lives that were squandered.
     Limousine liberals will hail the Chief who finally got us out of Iraq... after nearly three years in office and just before an election year. Satirists coming out of some self-imposed exile or another will finally think we've established some remove to make savage funny over the whole sordid ordeal.
     But I'm thinking of the here and the now as well as what will become in the decades ahead as regards Iraq's youth. How can children healthily grow up in a nation that's one big war zone, in which death, decay and destruction in countless forms has become a normal way of life?

     The children, our most precious resource as a species, are the very last considerations of calm madmen who plot war games and strategies and offensives and counter-offensives in harshly-lit climate-controlled rooms far from the actual theater of combat. In the massive geopolitical scheme of things seemingly propelled by the awesome juggernaut of the corporate interests of petroleum cartels, who cares about a few thousand collateral damages that we, as Rumsfeld once callously told us, don't bother to count?
     No one ever truly gets used to war because war is at once a natural yet an unnatural state of human affairs. Sure, we've been waging war on each other since one tribe of cavemen decided the other tribe's caves and hunting grounds were more desirable than their own. But no one gets used to war, particularly children who rightly expect a happy world of classrooms and playgrounds and lots of friends.
     No one gets used to war. We merely adapt and are eventually warped by it. And none are more warped by it than those members of human society who are the least psychologically equipped to do so: The children.

     What will they turn into? Militants, terrorists? It would be fatuous to reasonably expect them to not harbor a burning hatred of the United States after we'd used their nation as a blood-soaked excuse to bloat private industry, a private industry that had once held such sway over Congress that our usually slothful legislative body rushed through its hallowed halls a measure allowing 363 tons of cash shrink-wrapped in bricks of thousand dollar bills and loaded on pallets to be dropped in a war zone because they had to get paid now.
     These war-warped children will grow up with a keen sense of their own nation's history as surely as African American children grow up learning of their forbears' slave status. They will grow learning how George W. Bush tried to rush elections and a Potemkin village illusion of political and economic normalcy in early 2005 even while sectarian forces were literally tearing each other to pieces, during a long period in which our most awesome military couldn't even secure the single highway leading to the airport in Baghdad.
     You would think an 18 year-old just months removed from high school and in their first day in Poli Sci 101 would know you don't try to set up a government or even hold elections before that nation has been pacified and the hearts and minds of the indigenous people were won. 
     But we persist in electing idiots who do not heed the lessons of history, the basic rules of diplomacy, the most rudimentary dictates of political science. Then, as that senior Bush administration official once infamously said, we get to sit back and watch the dumb show put on by these actors as they warp and alter reality and then create new realities. Then, when the whole charade of humanitarianism blows up like a prank cigar, we get to write blog posts about war crimes hatched and carried out by the very same people we insist on electing time and time and time again, infinitum ad nauseum.
     But in the midst of these abstract and hugely important geopolitical and socio-economic concerns rolled out to us by Very Serious and Learned People, hardly anyone even mentions the effect these gargantuan games of shadows has on the most vulnerable: The children.

     Yes, countless thousands of American and British children have had to go to the gravesides of their mothers, fathers, brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles who were killed in Iraq. But at least it can be said they were spared the horror of actually watching them get killed and dismembered.

     But don't listen to me. Do a Google search using the words, "Iraq, child" and report back to me how many pictures come up of happy Iraqi children.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Open Thread: Irony Deficient edition

     I'm preparing a massive post tomorrow about the tenth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq for the one or two people who care what I write about, anymore. If there's anything you want me to include, now's the time to ask while I'm going on a .jpeg and news source safari.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Happy St. Patrick's Day: When Hobbits Attack edition

     Back in May 2010, then Deputy and future President of Ireland Michael D. Higgins appeared on a radio show with right wing expat Michael Graham, a Tea Party-loving lunatic who claims to have all the facts on his side while revealing his ignorance of basic facts when confronted.
     Higgins began by speaking about what he'd seen in Gaza and the plight of the Palestinians, rightly calling out the Israelis for what amounts to a slow motion genocide. This, naturally, resulted in a hysterical, loud and sour rant from Graham who hoarsely began screaming about Israel's right to exist and, Oh my God, one guy in Israel got his leg blown off by a missile fired from Gaza while paying no mind (which is inevitable since he is essentially brainless) to the much greater carnage suffered by the Palestinians, whose homeland is shrinking so dramatically, they've resorted to burying their dead in mass graves because they're literally running out of space.
     This rant quickly got Higgins' Irish up, who began by decimating Graham's beloved Tea Party and the Queen teabagger herself, Sarah Palin. He tore into Graham for supporting a movement that appeals to the reptilian part of the brains of reactionaries like him by stoking fear and hatred.
     Higgins was, fittingly enough, introduced by the radio host with a quote from Lord of the Rings. This feisty little Hobbit, in these 21 minutes, proves that he has more backbone and well-placed sense of righteousness and justice than virtually any politician in America. He effortlessly eviscerated Graham and revealed him as the flaccid dick he truly is, as well as Wall Street, Sarah Palin and the murderous, terrorist state of Israel.
     Ergo, being a political wonk, this is how I choose to celebrate St. Patty's Day, with this wonderful blast from the past that ought to be played whenever possible, especially every March 17th. This is what my people stand for and this why I'm damned proud to be Irish.
     Erin go braless.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Perception is Everything

(By American Zen’s Mike Flannigan, on loan from Ari.)

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

     Let's get one thing straight: I never liked Bill Maher. The one time I was on Real Time, Maher proved to be just a smarmy, arrogant cocksucker who flaunted his substance abuse and sexual addiction issues for cheap laughs. I dislike him twice as much after he'd come out a couple of Fridays ago in favor of Rand Paul's ridiculous filibuster and Obama's drone strikes, apparently uncomfortable with yet being quite comfortable with the horrendous collateral damage our drones are inflicting on Third World nations such as Pakistan, Yemen and Afghanistan. I'm no big fan of ABC, either, but the more Maher speaks, the more I admire the Mouse network for firing his ass.
     However, let it not be said yours truly is above stealing a good line when it's deserved (Tit for tat, as Maher and his cybernetic cat burglars had stolen material from my byline without warning or attribution in years past). On last Friday's show, Maher called CPAC an "open mic from Hell" (although I don't get why Maher apologist and fanboy Kevin Cirilli insists on calling Maher a "liberal."). While I regret the attribution (Are we taking notes, Billy?), that's probably the best one liner that'll be delivered that encapsulates the entire CPAC convention in Maryland this week.
     As usual, the Karnival of Kwazy Konservatives provides enough lunacy for 100 volumes of the DSM-V, so much lunacy, in fact, that one person cannot possibly keep track of it all let alone keep track of it and comment on it. But yours truly, from the state of Maryland, has put body, soul and mind at risk by going there (You owe me a fat, greasy one after this, Ari) to do his level-headed best to document the atrocities, as Atrios would say. So, let's start with the guy who'd inspired the title of this post, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, the little bro who'd handed the presidency to his idiot older brother on a silver platter.
     Chowder-headed Jeb said at CPAC yesterday that the Republican Party has "a perception problem", that the American people "believe" the GOP is the Party of No, that they're anti-women and gay rights, anti-science, anti-immigration, anti-minority, anti-this, anti-that. Poppycock, Jeb said, and that they have to work harder to get the minority vote that his own Secretary of State Katherine Harris through ChoicePoint worked her bony ass off to disenfranchise during his brother's presidential campaign in 2000.
     Jeb, being a typical delusional Republican, insists that we Americans share the Republican Party's core conservative principles, despite getting their fat asses handed back to them in 2006, 2008 and last November. For sheer, impenetrable delusion, it was right up there with Mitt Romney's speech in which he vowed, "We will win." What Mittens didn't have to say and what I'm sure was on the spiked tip of every tongue and pointy head in attendance is that they obviously won't do it with him on the ticket since Romney's proven in spades to be about as popular as Hanta virus in an African village.
     Bush's and Willard's speeches typify a Republican Party and conservative movement that's hoarsely screaming about white disenfranchisement, gay rights and other hood ornament issues so loudly that they utterly fail to realize the rest of the country left them behind. To show how out of touch Romney was during the expenditure of his remaining hot air from his fourth and hopefully last lead balloon of a campaign was the fact he couldn't even remember (again) when Election Day was (It was the 6th, Willard, not the 7th).
     They also typified a Republican Party that bristles up in right proper white indignation like a porcupine with its dander up whenever they're called on their screamingly obvious misogynism, homophobia, xenophobia and outright racism. According to Jeb and Willard, it's not that the American people are finally waking up and seeing these spittle-flecked maniacs for what they are. It's just "a perception problem" and Jeb was thisclose to blaming the Vast Left Wing Conspiracy and the media for pulling the wool over the eyes of the nearly 70,000,000 voters who'd supported Obama and would've given the House majority back to the Democrats were it not for some sleazy gerrymandering.
     To make my case, let's take just one example on an issue that you would think, in 2013, wouldn't be an issue. An obviously misguided black conservative headed a discussion at CPAC in which he, too, claimed conservatives should reach out to fellow minorities (and proposed the incredible idea of calling themselves Frederick Douglass Republicans, as if the great abolitionist could possibly find any common ground with today's GOP) instead of remaining comfortable being labeled the party of racists. This led one redneck from North Carolina to immediately begin crowing about the disenfranchisement of white voters and essentially coming out in favor of slavery. After inspiring shock from some but support from others, this resulted in a shouting match and verbal free-for-all that ended any serious discussion or delusions thereof.
     The inexplicably incumbent Michele Bachmann had her John F. Kennedy moment by announcing we could cure Alzheimer's in ten years if we just cared more like her Tea Party ankle-biting constituency and held up Dr. Jonas Salk and his polio vaccine and his wonderful selflessness in giving it to President Eisenhower instead of patenting it and making millions. But the truth is, if polio was still a threat and Dr. Salk had just developed his polio vaccine, Bachmann and her fellow Republicans would pillory Salk for just handing it to Obama instead of selling the patent to a pharmaceutical giant.
     Then again, Bachmann is clearly insane outside of Minnesota's 6th congressional district and should be entertained as seriously as those mentally-challenged people you occasionally hear bellowing tunelessly in lines at supermarkets and banks.

     And in case Bachmann's historically- and scientifically-challenged conspiracy theories aren't enough to slake the feverish conservative imagination, take a gander at some of these offerings (click on the image to get a better idea of the spectrum of lunacy currently slinking around Maryland.).
     Poor GOProud's Jimmy LaSalvia, whose conservative gay rights organization had been once again banned from sponsoring CPAC, showed his own delusion by insisting that only "a few in our movement" within the conservative movement don't like gays and they should really try really hard to like teh gays and lesbians because, well, they should, pretty please? OK, Jimmy, here are just a few of "a few in (your) movement" who don't think guys like you should have the right to marry whomever you please. And while we're at it, here's another who was so stunned by Rob Portman's convenient and hypocritical sudden support of gay marriage that he was literally left speechless.
     For those whose interest in CPAC begins and ends with the Second Amendment, there was NRA geek-for-hire Wayne LaPierre, who delivered a typical conservative, "I know what I am but what are you?" speech by calling the NRA's critics "crazy." Oh, and he also veered time and again into conspiracy-theory-newsletters-printed-in-the-basement boilerplate by announcing the Obama administration's idea to register all gun owners is so the Chinese can hack it and sell it to the Mexican government. Yes, yes, he actually said that. You wouldn't think anyone at CPAC could make Michele Bachmann look like Margaret Fuller on a Wheaties day but there you have it.
     And, least we forget it, we got a glimpse into how conservatively compassionate NRA President David Keene is (whose son was arrested a decade ago over a road rage shooting incident) when he backed up a lobbyist who condescendingly referred to the Newtown shootings last December as "the Connecticut Effect". The NRA initially tried to distance itself from Bob Welch after those statements, claiming that he didn't represent the NRA, after all. But now that the furor over Sandy Hook has died down a little, political self preservation has once again gone out the window with LaPierre's breathless conspiracy theories and Keene's insistence that Welch has nothing to apologize for despite mortifying and angering dozens of Newtown families with his sociopathic remarks.

     And while Karl Rove wasn't getting booed in absentia for suggesting he'd work to primary Steve "Happy Xenophobe" King of Iowa, Donald Trump gave a cock-stroker of a speech bragging about making $8 billion and saying the nation "is run by very stupid people" to a mostly empty convention hall.
     Like Maher said, you don't need to be here like me to know what they're going to say because they spew the same misogynist, racist, homophobic, gun-clutching bullshit year after year. These people truly are the real conservatives in this country because they never change, evolve or alter their thinking. They are not, as Rob Portman showed, capable of even hypocritical and self-serving policy reversals. They will kick out and/or ostracize their kids if they admit they're gay or dating or marrying someone of color. They will never reach across the aisle because they're not even aware an aisle even exists much less a differing viewpoint.
     These are the people that Joey Scarborough recently derided as being illiterate and used for cynical gain by opportunists such as Ted Cruz, whom Scarborough accused of being "willfully ignorant" and "condescending."
     What CPAC and its luminaries of hasbeens and alsorans have yet to realize is this demographic is, thankfully, dying off one by one, a fact that, along with inevitable enlightenment, is the biggest reason why the GOP has been on a losing streak (aside from 2010) since 2006.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Yep, I Stepped On It

     Not long after we were settling back into our routine after that guy drove into our house yesterday, I got a phone call from an executive at Createspace who was apparently alarmed by my post, "Steal This Book Royalty" (which has just been deleted from both this blog, my book blog and Scribd) and the acrimonious exchange of emails between me and Create Space's Customer Service team.
     Number One, this whole misunderstanding never would've happened had I taken the time to read the TOS. But, number two (and the executive who'd called me owned up to this, after having read the emails), if Create Space's CS people had adequately and simply explained the business arrangement to me, there wouldn't've been an acrimonious exchange of emails and threats of class action lawsuits (as other writers have been threatening).
     To put it simply, anyone following my permalinks to my Create Space estore and buying either of my novels would have ordered it at the cost price, not the retail price. American Zen goes for about eight and a half bucks, The Toy Cop about $10.22. Again, anyone buying them from the estore would've merely been reimbursing Create Space for the cost to produce each unit and they didn't make a penny off me. Obviously, this means I was not entitled to any royalties.
     As the executive had explained it to me, my calculated royalties that had accrued starting in December were from sales made through Amazon. This necessarily involves a certain markup (or a retail price), which would then, in spite of any discounts to the retailer, involve a royalty. Instead of directing people to my Amazon product pages, I was sending them to the wrong URL, or the Create Space estore. When Customer Service told me I needed to sell to third party retailers, this is what they meant. Otherwise, people were buying my books at cost and no one was making a penny from my books, either CS or me.
     So it's obvious I had to man up, delete the erroneous post and rescind my request to boycott my Create Space editions and all Create Space products. I was totally in the wrong because I rushed headlong into the POD world because I couldn't be bothered to read the actual business arrangement. In fact, partly out of self-interest, partly as a conciliatory gesture, I've just spent $25 I really shouldn't be spending for expanded distribution for The Toy Cop. If I can spare another $25 in the future, I'll do the same for American Zen.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Thursday George Jones Blogging

     God knows I'd rather be writing about (eyeroll) National Pi Day or the new old white homophobe in Rome who got awarded the little white beanie but events this morning compel me to write about (if you'll pardon the pun) something hitting a lot closer to home.
     About 11 o'clock this morning, a motorist had a heart attack just as he was driving down our cross street, veered off the street and drove straight into our house. We live on the second floor and all I felt was a slight vibration and at first I thought it was Popeye jumping down from somewhere, although the tremor seemed a bit much for a ten pound cat to make. Then we saw and heard the emergency vehicles collect in front of our house.
     Mrs. JP threw on her coat and went down to investigate then came up a minute later to breathlessly tell me the entire house was being evacuated. If you look in the upper center of the lead picture, you'll note a twisted black mass. That's what remains of one of our neighbor's gas grill. Before the guy hit the house (just barely missing a utility pole and going up a slight incline which helped slow his velocity), he'd taken out her gas grill along with the propane tank beneath it. This, obviously, necessitated the local police department to evacuate our building, meaning we had to throw our coats on and stuff Popeye into a pet taxi, which didn't make him very happy.

     He'd also clipped the corner of the house, which further helped lessen the impact. All told, either the driver's insurance or my landlord's should cover the couple of thousand dollars worth of damage. It wasn't even a load-bearing wall that was hit.
     A review of my compulsory auto insurance tells me I'm insured for up to $250,000 of damage to someone else's property (without a deductible), meaning the driver would've been legally mandated to carry at least as much. The damages, obviously, will be well, well below the quarter million dollar threshold.
     I did a quick investigation after all the emergency personnel had left and if you look at the bottom of the lead photo, you'll see the tire marks left, presumably, by the driver. The poor guy never had the chance to even tap his brakes, to judge by the tracks. All in all, it could've been much worse and no one else was hurt. I just hope the guy pulls through.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

It's Official

"I'd love to be able to do my job, gentlemen, but Goldman Sachs is holding my testicles hostage."

     Eric Holder's more worthless than Erik Erikson will prove to be for Fox "News."
     In an amazing round of testimony (or should we spell it "testimoney"?) before the US Senate, Attorney General Eric Holder admitted to Chuck Grassley that Wall Street banks are indeed too big to jail. This is what he'd actually said to Grassley:
I am concerned that the size of some of these institutions becomes so large that it does become difficult for us to prosecute them when we are hit with indications that if you do prosecute, if you do bring a criminal charge, it will have a negative impact on the national economy, perhaps even the world economy. I think that is a function of the fact that some of these institutions have become too large."(emphasis added)

     Now, I don't know about you but this essentially means, "The FTC (Federal Trade Commission) isn't doing its job and enforcing the antitrust laws put in place by your predecessor Teddy Roosevelt about 100 years ago." Because this is partly the FTC's job, to make sure that utility companies, banks and so forth aren't allowed to grow into a monopoly.
     Or, to put it in more visceral terms, our top law enforcement officer said, "Yeah, we can pull the dagger that is Wall Street out of the heart of Middle America but then the patient will die." This is the exact rationale behind antitrust laws of a century ago: By checking their size, thus compartmentalizing American banks and corporations, if one fails it won't flood the entire economy and drag the rest of the country into Davy Jones' Locker with it. Yet, this is exactly what we're seeing.
     And when a corrupt piece of shit like Chuck Grassley is asking you point blank why you didn't file criminal charges against British banking giant HSBC on money laundering charges (The Iranians, Libyans and Mexican drug cartels), even if it's only in the interests of political kabuki, then you know this country has gone to the dogs (Or should I say the jackals?).
     Props go to Senators Sherrod Brown and Jeff Merkley for introducing legislation that would break up the big banks that have profited so handsomely off the American taxpayer and the Fed after being caught red-handed pilfering from the cookie jar. But anyone in the know knows that Brown's and Merkley's bill has about as much chance of even getting out of committee as Mother Jones catching Dick Cheney volunteering in a soup kitchen.
     Gone are the lessons of history and doomed are we to repeat it, the lesson being if you don't ruthlessly regulate Wall Street banks, oil cartels and so forth, they will merge, they will consolidate and they will eventually get so big that the effect of putting this executive scum in prison will have the effect of pulling a 100 pound leech or tick off a 200 pound body. In fact, rather than stopping at breaking them up so the pieces can start oozing toward each other and consolidate all over again as Rockefeller's Standard Oil did when John D. began buying up all the Baby Standard oils, it's obvious we need to nationalize it.

     But the fascist, corporation-sucking Obama administration will never go along with that, otherwise we wouldn't be seeing one silk-suited parasite after another occupying key administration posts, infesting the Treasury and forming the nucleus of administration advisory committees (Jeff Immelt, the job outsourcing Jobs Czar? I still can't wrap my mind around that.). It was the Obama administration that whistled Dixie and looked the other way when it was revealed that major American banks were laundering money for regimes and criminal enterprises such as Mexican drug cartels and it was the Obama administration that pushed just as hard as the Bush administration for the release of the second half of the TARP bailout.
     But the US Congress, in saner past times, had successfully broken up Ma Bell and Standard Oil. It was the FTC that in the 90's broke up the proposed merger of Bertlesmann AG, Ingrams and Borders, Inc. that would've effectively put a stranglehold on the book publishing, distribution and marketing industries. And, as I'd just mentioned, Congress also broke up Standard Oil's monopoly.
     And yet, the phone companies thrived and we're now seeing another pair of monopolies in the form of Verizon and Comcast. Standard Oil's various parts were bought up by Rockefeller and he became richer and more powerful than ever. And consolidation in the publishing world has continued to the point where the Big Six are about to become the Big Five when the dreaded Random-Penguin merger goes through.
     This is why merely breaking up these entities into smaller units that can then theoretically compete with one another isn't enough and why we need to nationalize the big banks. Instead, we have a Congress that waggles its gnarled, bony finger at Major League Baseball and threatening its antitrust exemption for steroid use. But when it comes to breaking up the big banks and actually enforcing existing antitrust laws, these plutocratic senators and congressmen and one dickless Attorney General after another get the dry heaves at the very thought.
     We'd nationalized Fannie Mae and Freddy Mac and their top executives are still pulling in $6,000,000 a year apiece. Nationalizing and regulating Too Big to Fail/Jail corporations is not a death knell or creeping Socialism as right wing nut jobs would have you believe. At best, breaking up criminal enterprises such as Goldman Sachs, Citigroup and JP Morgan Chase will only retard their growth until they can find more sleazy loopholes in the antitrust laws.
     But it would be a step in the right direction.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Author Interview with Nick Stephenson

(I tried cross-posting this at my book blog where it really belongs but apparently Blogger's wonderful new template with which they'd saddled us last year gets cranky and enables metadata encoded in Word files from which several of my posts originate. It doesn't happen so much with this template but my other blog uses a different template that apparently forces you to type directly on the editing page to avoid that formatting bullshit. So here it'll have to remain, unless you like having to highlight white text so you can read it against a white background. -JP)

     Ever since I’d begun my book blog back in November, I’ve been meaning to post interviews with independent authors and I can’t think of a better place to start than British thriller novelist Nick Stephenson. Mr. Stephenson has recently kicked off the Leopold Blake series with a short but very eventful novel entitled PANIC (Which I’ve already read. I’ll be reviewing it here in a day or two). In his own description, Blake “is Sherlock meets Die Hard – an explosive mix that fans of Lee Child, Dan Brown, and James Patterson will love.” Befitting the quality of this little gem of a thriller, it’s been featured at the top of Scribd’s Fiction-Thriller page, where it’s amassed close to 3000 reads in the short time since its posting. You can purchase it here for the economical price of $3.99 on Kindle. What follows is an interview I’d conducted with this exciting new independent author.

Robert Crawford: First off, I’m curious about one thing. You’re British. Fellow Brit Tim Rob Smith, author of CHILD 44, once told me he decided to make his series hero Leo Demidov an agent with the Russian forerunner of the KGB simply because of the heavy intrigue of the late Stalinist era and the obstacles it presented to his character. So why did you choose to make your protagonist an American FBI consultant instead of, say, an Inspector or consultant with Scotland Yard (which is what Holmes was), which has a richer and longer history? What or who inspired the conception of Leopold Blake?
Nick Stephenson: Yes, many people find my British-ness curious. We are a curious folk. What I really wanted to do was write the sort of book I enjoy reading. That is, fast paced, full of action and with a decent mystery at the heart of it. I like not knowing how a book is going to end before I’ve gotten half way through, and I like it when every chapter leaves me hanging. I think I’ve achieved that with the book.
As for the protagonist, Leopold Blake, he’s really a mash-up between multiple characters. Holmes was certainly the starting point, but I wanted to bring the character more up to date, and make him a little more ass-kicking. Holmes, although of formidable physical strength (I think at one point, Conan-Doyle refers to him bending an iron poker in half), rarely used his muscles in the field, favouring his mental capabilities instead. I figured – why not use both? What would that look like? What I ended up with was a Sherlock Holmes / John McClane character, who – despite his best efforts – regularly gets his ass handed to him, only to get up again and keep on fighting.
For me, it’s what makes a great character – having some kind of special skill that makes them unique, but not so superhuman that they don’t taste defeat now and again. As for my decision to make him American – well, that’s the marketer in me. I write for my audience, most of whom are American (by about 10 to 1), and because that’s what I like to read – if it’s good enough for fellow Brit Lee Child, I figure it’ll work for me.
RC: Have you ever lived in America and did it give you insight into the American way of life and American law enforcement as Irishman John Connolly’s residence in Maine and elsewhere did for him? Or did you have to do in-depth research?
NS: I’ve spent a good deal of time visiting family in the States for the last two decades, often for several weeks at a time, but I’ve never lived there full time. I think Americans can often under-estimate just how much the rest of the world knows about their culture, lifestyle and politics – just through the sheer amount of visual and social media that covers every aspect of their lives. I was brought up on a diet of Friends, ER, Cheers, CNN, Hollywood summer blockbusters and Presidential scandals. It’s hard to avoid picking up the influence, so research wasn’t really required for that aspect of the book – y’all ain’t so different from us, ya hear?
RC: I see Leopold more like a Batman with Robin on a lot of steroids (Jerome). Yet you’ve described the Leopold Blake series as a cross between Sherlock Holmes and John McClane of the Die Hard film franchise. What’s similar and what’s dissimilar between the heroes?
NS: Robin on steroids – I like that! I touched on this earlier, but I think it’s to do with vulnerability. With Holmes, we never really get to see him fail. With McClane, he spends so much time with someone else’s boot up his ass, that we never get to see him think. I wanted to bring brains and brawn together a little more, and have some fun with it.
We never really know much about Sherlock’s or John McClane’s upbringing, and we don’t really care. We just want to see them kick butt. With Leopold, as the series develops, his background becomes more and more important – in book one (Panic) he’s very much this cocky, young crime-fighting, billionaire badass – but by book two (Departed) he’s already had his world turned upside down, and by book three (Requiem) – well, I won’t spoil it.
The next books will see Leopold’s “Bruce Wayne” advantages stripped away, so we get to see what he’s really made of. No more technology, no more connections, no more friends – he’ll have to survive on his own. It won’t be pretty, but it’ll make for one hell of a read.
RC: Since you’re British, do you have to consciously make an effort to write in American English as so many British actors fake American accents and did you choose to do out of marketing considerations?
NS: Yes – again, it’s a marketing decision as well as a personal one. For me, it wasn’t that hard though – swap out “pavement” for “sidewalk” and drop the letter “u”, and you’re 90% of the way there. For the remaining 10% I had 2 American editors go through it with a fine-tooth comb and strip out the British-ness. By golly.
RC: We know the Barrett exists. But what about the other technology in PANIC? Do the mini explosives that can be surgically implanted subcutaneously and the white phosphorous hockey pucks actually exist?
NS: The more exotic pieces you mention probably do exist somewhere, but nobody’s going to be admitting to it. I wanted to create relatively realistic tech, and, while that level of damage might not really happen as it does on the page, it’s certainly feasible. It all operates within the laws of physics and chemistry - I ran a lot of it past an ex armed forces writer, and implemented a few of his suggestions to make it a little more authentic.
RC: The bad guy Stark and others (understandably) take a dim view of American politics. How much of that is manufactured for the characters and how much genuinely comes from the author?  
NS: I’m very much on the side of the underdog in any given scenario – and I think we’ve all lived through our own personal injustices, so fixing the main crisis of the book within the political playing field seemed like a natural fit.
All the major characters in the book have suffered their own personal injustices – Leopold lost his family, Mary has her boss riding her case and threatening to fire her, Albert got kicked out of school, Jerome keeps getting shot at – and even Stark isn’t so cut and dry a “bad guy”. He’s doing what he thinks is the right thing – if I were in his place, I would probably think much the same. Although I probably wouldn’t take such extreme measures.
In terms of my own politics, I really just hate to see the little guy getting screwed. Which, unfortunately, is the name of the game when it comes to government policy most of the time. You just have to side with the guy you disagree with the least, and let due process and constitutional law do its job. Which, for the most part, it does – both here in the UK and abroad – but I always remember the saying: “A good compromise leaves everyone mad” (Calvin and Hobbes) and try not to let it get me down.
RC: Do you see publishing at this moment as an exciting time for independent authors who are now empowered to call their own shots or as indie authors trading litanies of failure and rejection for another? Speaking as an author, what would be the best of both worlds (independent vs traditional publishing)?
NS: It’s a very exciting period for independent authors – for the first time in history, it’s financially feasible to self-publish, with very little risk, and potentially have your work seen by millions of people. Of course, like any field, only the top authors are ever going to make any money at this. Well, actually, if Amazon numbers and rankings are anything to go by, it’s more like the top 0.5%, so it’s by no means a guaranteed road to success.
The main issue is that now it’s so easy to publish, everyone who can use a word processor and can remember their cat’s name is having a go – mostly riding the coat tails of EL James, with various arrays of naked cowboy vampire BDSM stories. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, it’s just there’s a lot of slush on the pile.
Where that top 0.5% can really shine through is where they’ve taken obvious steps to invest in their work – as a business. That means a pro cover, pro formatting, expert editing and a damn good story underneath. Wash away the writers that don’t invest in their work to that level, and suddenly the top 0.5% becomes the top 5%. Consider most of the bestselling authors have multiple titles out, that top 5% of titles becomes the top 30% of authors. And that’s a much more realistic (and achievable) figure.
Indie authors need to wake up and realise that readers expect quality – whether you’re doling out free copies or charging $10, any book that’s out there for sale should be indistinguishable in terms of quality from the bestsellers. Indie vs Trad pub becomes much less of a distinction then – as readers really don’t care who published the book. When’s the last time you checked the inside cover of a book to see who pubbed it? When’s the last time you thought to yourself “I wonder when the next Hachette is out?” Readers don’t care – only other writers do. I can quite confidently put my work up on the digital bookshelves next to a Patterson, or a Brown, or any other thriller author – and it will hold its own. And I’m immensely proud of that. With a few dozen more titles out, who knows – maybe I’ll even start seeing those kinds of sales! Ebook sales are forever – so that’s plenty of time to build an audience.
As for litanies of failure and rejection - I always cringe when authors say they can’t afford a professional cover, or to pay someone to go over their work and check for errors and poor style. And then wonder why they don’t sell anything. I’m not saying you have to pay through the nose for these things, you can barter, call in favours or do what I did – and network your ass off. It’s all very do-able, if you want to put in the work and have the patience to realise you won’t see success immediately.
In terms of the best of both worlds (indie vs traditional) we’re starting to see this now- self-pubbed authors such as Blake Crouch, Hugh Howey, Amanda Hocking, etc have signed print deals, but kept ebook rights. After all, the only thing a publisher can do that you can’t do for yourself is get your physical book into stores. And that’s a huge market that the indie just can’t access. So a print-only deal, with fair royalties, and the ability to authors to retain electronic rights seems to be the way to go. And we’re getting there, slowly but surely.  
RC: What’s next for Blake after he heals up from his countless injuries? I’m not expecting you to give away the plot to the sequel but just asking for a taste. When is the new Blake thriller coming out?
NS: The next Leopold Blake thriller, “Departed”, is due out this Spring – and sees Leopold, Mary, and Jerome travel to London to assist Scotland Yard and MI5 with a series of brutal murders. Much like “Panic”, the book gets off to a flying start, and the pace keeps up all the way through. It’s a similar approach, with the same focus on a central mystery, which will keep readers guessing and tons of action on the side. In this book we learn a little more about the central characters and where they came from, as well as building upon the final act twist of the last book – so, plenty for people to get their teeth into.
For anyone interested in getting hold of the first few chapters of “Departed”, just visit my website at and join the mailing list – an ebook and pdf version will be emailed straight to your address. [EDIT – this goes live at the weekend 9th March]

KindleindaWind, my writing blog.

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