Review

 
 

Lonnie, Me and the Hound of Hell

Lonnie, Me and the Hound of Hell

By Marian Allen

Smashwords

The best word to describe Marian Allen’s short story collection, Lonnie, Me and the Hound of Hell, is extraordinary. Extraordinary in the most literal sense, for starters, because there isn’t a single story among these ten that could be described anywise as “ordinary.” Here is a partial summing up of their themes: In trying to negotiate a deal with the devil, a man believes he’s summoned up instead the devil’s own dog. Two tiny mice come to the rescue of a terrorized little girl. Hmm—over here, we’ve got zombies and man-eating wolves. Not to mention Wicca and dueling sorceresses fighting over a horse and a sort of fish. Plus an extra-terrestrial dog. Vampires fixing horse races. Metaphoric (I think) crocodiles, and a gay cat who outwits more aliens to save his boyfriend. So, mostly animal tales, but definitely not your run of the mill animal tales.

 They are all of them extraordinary as well in the quality of the writing, which is brilliant indeed. To be sure, there are chills and thrills here and some mystery, at least in the sense of the mysterious, and even romance (if you can think of a gay Persian in romantic terms) but what strikes me as the most salient element in all these stories is a razor sharp and often wry wit.

 Well, if all this sounds a little outré to you, be assured that the author makes it all not only believable but quite accessible—I suspect there’s a little witchcraft at work there, frankly. My advice is, just get the e-book for yourself, especially if you like animals – priced at  $1.49  on Smashwords it’s a true bargain. Just don’t expect to read Dick and Jane and Spot. These are not those kinds of creatures.

Oh, you can read excerpts from the stories at http://www.marianallen.com/stories/lonnie-me-and-the-hound-of-hell/lonnie-me-and-the-hound-of-hell-excerpts/

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blog tour

 

Thank you for visiting my stop on the 1RomanceEbooks.com one year anniversary blog tour. This is Stop # 20. Your last stop should have been Elisa Rolle’s blog, stop # 19. If you missed it, here is the link:  http://elisa-rolle.livejournal.com/tag/about%20me

# # #

When I was very young I had it in my head that I would be a race car driver when I grew up (in those days I still thought that there was some point in life when you were finally and actually “grown up;” I know better now). One day I read an article by the legendary racer, Wilbur Shaw, in which he opined that no one should consider racing until he had at least 50,000 miles under his belt.

50,000 miles? I think I was about fourteen at the time and just beginning to drive. Why, I would be an old man—twenty-four, surely, maybe even twenty-five—before I accumulated that sort of driving experience.

I gave up my racing ambition. Somewhere in racing Heaven I am sure a choir of angels breathed sighs of relief. I turned to writing, blissfully unaware of the hundreds of thousands of words I would need under my belt before I drove that right.

When you start to drive a car, you have to think about each of the things that you must do: shifting gears, turn signals, clutch and brake. The day comes, however, when you do all that automatically, at a subconscious level.

So it is with writing. You need to practice those fundamentals – plot skeleton, of course, and all you can learn about characterization (which will never be enough), and all of the elements of grammar –  until you no longer have to think about them, until they are absorbed utterly into your unconsciousness. It is not until the singer stops consciously singing that the music takes over.

And there really does come a day when you stop writing the book and the book starts writing itself. I have found myself in the middle of a scene, intending the character to step out a door and turn right, only to have her turn left instead and go off in some direction quite unanticipated by me. Oh, what a chase it is then, keeping the fingers flying while you wait to see what it is that she is up to. Yes, she will let you know—if you let her.

The book, you see, is already written somewhere inside you. Virginia Woolf likens writing a novel to walking through a dark room with a lantern; the lantern illuminates those things that were always there but which you did not see before the light.

Of course, if you are blocking the light you can’t see what is hidden there in the corner. In my opinion your most difficult task is not so much to find the book as to get yourself out of the way so that it can reveal itself. You can’t do that if you are consciously struggling with the rules of plot development or English grammar. Learn them and then learn them some more, until you can forget all about them.

That is when you begin to become a writer.

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Now, as part of the anniversary celebration, I’m giving away an e-book copy of my novel, Deadly Nightshade.  Please leave a comment to enter to win. The more comments you leave on the tour, the better your chances of winning the Grand Prize – a Sony E-reader !

But, please understand, you need to REGISTER  to win prizes. Simply leaving a comment on my blog will not make you eligible to win. If you have not already done so, go back to 1RE’s website at: 1RomanceEbooks.com and follow the instructions for registering, including receiving a participant number, which is a number you will use in every
comment. This is how they will track all of the participants and tell you who the winners are.

The next stop on the anniversary tour is J.P. Bowie’s blog, # 21. Here is the link: http://wwwjpbowie.blogspot.com/

 Have fun !

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The Author Today

Life is a jest...

Life is a jest...

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Spine Intact – The Very, Very Last Epilog

I intended, when I started this project, to keep it under wraps as it were, until it was finished. The news did get out, however, as news will, and I was astonished by the amount of interest that it generated.

It is nighttime as I write and I can see, out my window, an enormous crowd of my fans approaching on the street below, coming no doubt to celebrate the manuscript’s completion. I think the torches were a brilliant idea. Nothing makes any event more festive, in my opinion.

And the ropes. I suppose they are to rope off the streets, to give free rein to this special night’s mingling and dancing. Already my toes are tapping to the beat of their chant, though I cannot yet quite make out the words.

The pitchforks are a bit puzzling, though…why would you want pitchforks at a party?

 

* * * * * * *

 

Oh—at the very last minute I did finally think of some wisdom that I could impart. It isn’t mine, it’s John Gay’s, but I am sure he will be glad for the coverage. Any man who writes “Our Polly is a sad slut,” needs all the good press he can get, if you ask me.

 

                 Life is jest; and all things show it;

                 I thought so once;

                 but now I know  it.

 

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Spine Intact – As Long as I Have Your Attention

 

(Of course, I realize that I may not, but then

you wouldn’t be reading this page anyway, would you?)

 

 

 

I have written here mostly about my experiences as a paperback pulp writer, so I suppose it may seem odd to some that I have ventured in the same book to write about spiritual matters. And I certainly know that you cannot mention God or religion without stirring up a hornets’ nest. Nevertheless, I could hardly tell you about what I did or why without telling you who I am. And in the end we are what we believe.

My agnostic and even atheistic friends are fond of pointing out that, as there is no way of proving any Divine presence, I must accept it solely on the basis of faith. The answer to that is, of course, that they can no more prove the non-existence of such a Divinity and so must base their position on faith just as I do.

I can’t help but think that my position is the wiser one since if I am mistaken my only penalty will be oblivion; but if it should happen that I am ultimately called before some Heavenly tribunal to explain my life (and what an embarrassment that would be!) I will at least have my faith to offer as Exhibit A. Pascal more elegantly suggests that you make a bet with yourself that God exists. If he does, you win. And if he doesn’t, you win as well, since you have given yourself in the course of your life something to keep you warm against le silence effrayant de ces espaces inconnues—the dreadful silence of the unknown void. I don’t see how I could put it any better than that.

Anyway, as it happens, I don’t believe literally in any Heavenly tribunal, nor in some white bearded patriarch on a throne upstairs flicking off occasional thunderbolts for the sheer fun of disconcerting humankind.

If you didn’t already know, God started out as a She. To the earliest of our ancestors woman was seen as the giver of life, since she clearly gave birth. In the beginning no one realized the connection between the sex act and the birth, so the male’s role in the scheme of things was not so very great. As a result, these were matrilineal societies in which property passed from mother to daughter.

It was woman, too, who “invented” agriculture, so she was also the giver of food, and since agriculture meant that families and tribes could now stay in one place and feed themselves, she became the patron of the hearth and home as well.

The Goddess was worshipped throughout the ancient world—from the Mediterranean to India to Australia and all points in between—for thousands of years under hundreds of different names—Nana, Innana, Isis, Ishtar, Ishara, Hawthor—but represented in surprisingly similar physical form, mostly what today we would call obese. The point here was not how she would look in a string bikini but woman as the symbol of abundance.

It was not until late in the Bronze Age that men began to realize their role in the act of procreation. By that time agriculture had resulted in the creation of settlements and towns. The new importance of owning or controlling the land shifted the role of the male from that of hunter-gatherer—where speed and wits count—to fighter and defender, where what matters most is brute strength—power.

Power corrupts. It surely wasn’t long before some of the boys started thinking that, if they could control their lands and their towns, shouldn’t they be able to control their households and their women as well? And no doubt they wanted to get their share of that family property while they were at it, property that had increased and become more valuable as they had settled into more stationary lives, with actual homes, furnishings, carts, farmlands, domestic animals.

Now, if Wayne Caveman suddenly announces to his mate “I own you. You obey,” Lorena Caveman might just bop him on the head with a gourd from her garden and go on about her business. And guess who’s sleeping on the living room rock tonight.

If, on the other hand, the priests—a new, male breed of them and bigger and stronger than the old priestesses—back Joe up with the threat of stonings and burning at the stake, it becomes a different matter.

It is ironic when you think that once men gathered under the hawthorn fig tree sacred to the Goddess and ate of the fruit as symbolic of her body; and a few thousand years later the Hebrew scribes were writing of a naughty, naughty woman sweet talking an altogether innocent man into eating fruit off a tree and thus bringing ruination down upon their heads. Hmm. How the mighty have fallen. Well, if you want to change the order of things, it’s a good idea to enlist the help of religion. In no time at all, God was history’s first sex change.

Incidentally, the last great temple to the Goddess was the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus. Of course, St. Paul made the conversion of the Ephesians a cornerstone of his ministry, with the result that ultimately the temple was destroyed and all traces of the Goddess vanished.

Or did they? It wasn’t so very many years later that the Christian writers announced the Ephesus was the very place to which Mary retired for her twilight years. It’s so nice to have a dame about the house, don’t you think?

But I don’t honestly see God or Goddess in a literal physical form modeled after our own. I do believe that there is an intelligence that permeates the universe and that perhaps even is the universe.

We cannot hope to grasp the infinite with our finite consciousness but it seems to me that there is another consciousness that is universal and into which we can tap. The clearest evidence of that is, I believe, the fact that the greatest thinkers throughout history, people so separated by time and space that they could not have consciously compared notes with one another, seem time and again to come up with the very same ideas.

For example, there is hardly any religion or school of philosophy that does not include some form of the Golden Rule. It appears in both the Old and New Testaments, in Buddhism, Islam and the writings of Confucius. It is offered in the Vedas and the works of the Greek Philosophers and probably written in hieroglyphics in one or two Egyptian temples. Because it is so generally agreed upon, we group it with those ideas that we regard as “universal truths,” and if it were the sum total of your moral code it probably would do the job just fine, as all those different wise men realized—independently.

It is possible, one supposes, that these universal truths, this oneness of thought, is nothing more than coincidence, but such a cosmic coincidence seems to me far more incredible than to believe that all of those thinkers drew their inspiration from some common source. A source, then, unlimited by time or distance. Omnipresent in other words, and omniscient as well, which would at least imply omnipotency—and which is probably as good a definition as we are likely to come up with for God or Goddess.

It is not just those great thinkers, either. When you and another person share the same feeling, idea, sense of things, you are surely dipping into the same well, are you not? When the great Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves from Nabucco arouses in your breast the same longing that Verdi felt for another place, another time, a better world—when you gaze at a fragment of pottery from ancient Mesopotamia and you feel the same thrill of beauty that the potter felt as he fashioned it thousands of years before—when you read a line of verse and your eyes sting with the poet’s tears—then at such times the miles and the centuries fall away and for a fleeting moment you and the artist are one, a part of something greater than yourselves. A something that knows no separation, neither of personality nor of time nor of space. And what is that something, if not the very soul of the universe? If not God?

 

* * * * * * *

 

Much of what is written herein is about the past and less about the future. But I must again emphasize that even when I write about history or about “known facts” they are only my version, my opinion, of those facts.

I have said often “I am fond of reality, I’m just not sure this is it.” Which is another way of saying that our “reality” may not be so real as we think it is. It is likely that what we perceive as our “body of knowledge” is in fact only a body of opinion. There was a time, after all, when the world’s greatest thinkers believed—and believed they had proved—that the world was flat.

It seems to me that it is best to take with a grain of salt those things that are regarded as certain and at the same time to keep an open mind toward those things believed to be impossible. It has often happened that both beliefs were incorrect.

There is a common perception that it is easier to read the past than it is to read the future but the opposite may well be true. We view the past through such a veil of emotion and bias—not only those we held at the time but all those we have held throughout the time since—that it is surprising that we see it at all clearly and not at all surprising that people see it differently.

A time of stress or unhappiness quite commonly causes us to look back fondly on a past time that in fact, when we were in it, was no less stressful or unhappy. The past, as it turns out, is too often what we want it to be rather than what it was, and what it was is open to myriad interpretations. Opinions, in other words.

Of course, the seers notwithstanding, it is impossible to exactly predict the future. But the future is not something that is handed to us tomorrow morning all tied up neatly in a box, like a Christmas gift. In a sense, your future is your present, only more so. Whatever your future will be you are shaping it in this very moment. If you want to know your future, take a look at where you are today and the direction in which you are headed. If you hold something up to the light, it is no great trick to predict where its shadow will fall and the shape that shadow will have.

The real trick, of course, would be to cast no shadow—which is to say, to become the light. That, I believe, is the true goal of all spiritual endeavor. It is those places within ourselves that have not been illuminated that cast the shadows, after all.

The fact is, you cannot have a past or a future except at the expense of the present and the cost is probably too high. It has been said that the past is a cancelled check and the future a promissory note—only the present is hard cash. We live in the present moment; it is all the direct experience of life we can ever have. Every moment that you spend remembering your past or dreaming of your future is a moment lost from your present life.

That is not to say that you should never remember. I have certainly had fun remembering the things I have related in this book, or at least remembering what I think I remember. To study the past can be a path to wisdom. And our dreams for the future can be stars that guide us along that path. But you would not want to find yourself nearing the end of your life, would you, and look back over your shoulder to see behind you only a trail of wasted moments? You might want to make some of them count. As many as possible, I should think.

Despite all our efforts at control, the control we have over ourselves is tenuous and mostly illusory. We are driven by needs and urges that even the wisest can but little comprehend. To think that we have control over our lives is nothing more than hubris. We are none of us wise enough to know how to live our lives.

It is here, then, that faith becomes the most helpful. If we can believe that, however poorly we grasp it, we are a part of a larger life, and that this larger life is a part of a purpose, it is far less frightening to relax and, in the sixties phrase, “go with the flow.” Without such faith that letting go is, I think, altogether too scary.

 

* * * * * * *

 

As I have said repeatedly, however, these are only things as I see them and by now you are all too aware that I have no claim to any particular wisdom. When everything is said and done, you get to sort all this out for yourself; and, though this may surprise you, I hope that some of the conclusions you reach are different from mine.

Ultimately the point of writing, as of all art, is to stir, to prod the consciousness. If you are disagreeing with me you are thinking for yourself and if I have had any part in inducing you to think, then I have done my job as a writer as well as can be hoped.

Just don’t expect me to bail you out when you get hauled before the tribunal. I shall have my hands plenty full trying to explain that divorce business back in Dayton, Ohio.

Where are those Pulitzer people when you need them?

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Spine Intact – Acknowledgments

 

Here is a mystery for those of you so inclined. When you buy a bottle of Beefeaters gin, which is a perfectly tasty gin and makes a tasty marinade as well for a chicken’s bosom (I don’t care what they tell you in cookbooks, if it doesn’t have nipples, it’s not a breast) you will find that it is 80 proof. The gin, that is, not the chicken. If Beefeaters markets a stronger version I have never seen it.

If you buy a bottle of vermouth—Martini & Rossi is nice and if you add a little of this to the marinade the chicken will be all the better for it—you will see that it is 32 proof. Simple logic tells you that if you dilute an 80 proof gin with even a little 32 proof wine, the result should be something less than 80 proof, right?

How is it then that when you order a martini on an airline they are likely to bring you a pre-made one in a little Beefeaters” bottle, and when you read the label on this it is 90 proof?

It is just such little oddities that make drinking the absorbing pastime that it is.

Here is another mystery. How can it be so difficult to find a good martini, particularly in a so-called saloon city like San Francisco but really, in so many places? It is not a difficult drink to make, requiring only a good quality gin or vodka, a few drops of a good dry vermouth, an olive with, if you like, a drop of two of its juices or, if you prefer, a twist of lemon peel, and lots of ice.

I won’t even dwell upon those establishments that attempt to make this noble concoction with rotgut booze but those of you have not read the unexpurgated version of Dante’s Inferno may not know that there was a special circle in Hell set aside for just such miscreants. This detail was eliminated from the revised edition under pressure from the liquor industry and the publisher’s marketing people, so you will just have to take my word for it, but I think you know by now whether or not I am likely to exaggerate.

A more common sin of bartenders—and Dante knew what to do with them as well, you may be sure—is to interpret the request for a dry martini as meaning straight gin or vodka. That is not a martini, alas, dry or otherwise. Something subtle and truly wondrous occurs with the blending of the two spirits, something that cannot be explained by mere chemistry alone but must be experienced to comprehend. Mind you it wants only a few drops of the wine—and this is another all too common failing—to do the job. If you do not trust your wrist absolutely the safest thing is to pour the vermouth into its bottle cap, a half a cap full at most or better, a third.

There are bartenders who, without asking and having made a perfectly good job of the proportions, spoil it all by handing it to you in a glass full of ice. This, too, is not a martini. I truly believe that a glass of ice water makes a good companion to a martini but it should be served on the side.

On the opposite side of the coin—and there is probably no punishment commensurate with the crime—is serving a martini insufficiently chilled. A martini must be ice cold, practically gelid, and preferably served in a chilled glass so that its brisk coldness will last. And eschew, please, the deplorable habit of keeping gin and vermouth in the refrigerator to obviate the need for ice. The ice is indeed necessary. That slight dilution of the spirits with the melting ice—the clearest, purest ice you can find—smoothes the edges, as it were.

And since it is perfection that we are after here—for a perfect martini stands as one of the purest examples of perfection in a too often imperfect world—we might as well address that “shaken or stirred” business. Never mind what James Bond says. He is British and the British are very good with tea but have never quite grasped the essence of the cocktail. Where would you go, I ask, in search of a great martini: a New York cocktail bar or a London pub?

Both shaking and stirring will chill a martini, of course, and I personally think that shaking became popular because it does so more quickly and we are always in a hurry, aren’t we? To be sure, there are drinks that are appropriately shaken; drinks, for instance, with fruit juices in them are meant to be a bit frivolous, effervescent, frothy even. Shake the dickens out of them.

Drinks that are pure spirits, however—the martini, the Manhattan or the Rob Roy as examples—deserve to be stirred. If you will make two martinis in separate shakers, violently shaking one and gently stirring the other, you will clearly discern two things. First, as any good bartender can tell you, stirring produces a colder drink, and the colder the martini the better. And second—this is easier to grasp if you use gin—you will find that the shaken method truly does leave the gin “bruised,” as evidenced by the oils you can see for yourself left floating atop the cocktail when you have poured it into its glass, while the stirred version retains that crystalline purity which is to be desired. Case closed.

I have been a martini drinker for many years, gin originally and still sometimes, but now mostly vodka. In the fifties everyone drank martinis. Writers, chefs, doctors, church ladies and even politicians, who are not otherwise known for their judgment.

By the mid-sixties something dreadful had happened to cocktails, however—not everyone drank them now and those who did, drank them on the rocks. You may be confident, however, that I eschewed such silliness and continued drinking my martinis as God intended, up in a stemmed glass.

By the mid-seventies civilization, in the fullest sense of the word, had deteriorated even further. Hardly anyone was drinking cocktails. The tipple now was the little glass of white wine and sometimes even that otherwise acceptable drink was bastardized with seltzer water, for reasons passing understanding.

I do not mean to imply that I have any objections to a glass of good wine, without the desecration of seltzer, of course. The grape and I have a long standing and honorable relationship marked by mutual respect on both sides. And I think as an aperitif before a luncheon, say, when a martini may be a bit much of a muchness, a glass of wine will do nicely. Nevertheless, there is only one proper appetizer for a good dinner and that is a martini.

I ignored the madness of “wine coolers” and continued to drink my martinis as I had always done, though there were those who looked askance at me and it became harder and harder to find a bartender who knew his business.

In the mid-eighties, recently arrived in San Francisco, I went to dinner with some friends. At the bar I ordered my customary martini, spelling it out for the bartender so that there could be no mishaps—dry, up, a drop of olive juice and both a twist and an olive.

One of my companions, new to me, offered what he thought was praise, lauding me for being so up to date—the martini, it seems, was again in fashion and he thought that I was adhering to the latest “thing.” Since then, the martini has gone once more out of fashion and once more is “in” again. You may be sure that my drinking habits have remained the same while the world had yet another opportunity to catch up to me.

My point is this: do it right and never mind what the others are doing. Or, in a line from The Opening of Misty Beethoven, “Never let the fact that they are doing it wrong keep you from doing it right.” If you wait, fashion will always in time return to the classics. Which may in part explain my new—or perhaps I should say, renewed—popularity, at my advanced age.

I seem to come back often to that subject of age, don’t I? I was recently in an airport bar in Pittsburgh and a large woman of a certain age took the seat next to me and told the bartender what she wanted without waiting to be asked. His reply was short of being outright rude but was nevertheless not altogether welcoming, either. She informed him in a booming voice, “sweetheart, I am a fifty-six-year-old former hippie. I no longer have to play the game because I already know the score.”

A good attitude, I thought, toward aging. Some years ago, in Sex and the Single Gay, I wrote: “What do you consider middle age? Well, ask any twenty-year old and he’ll tell you thirty. Ask a thirty-year old and he’ll tell you forty. Never ask a forty-year old.”

As I write this I am past the age of sixty-five. Not ancient by today’s standards but certainly past any definition of middle age. As Yogi put it, I find that it is growing late much earlier.

I think that it has been an incredible life, certainly one that little boy in Eaton, Ohio could not possibly have imagined in his wildest dreams. Despite some difficult times and a few dangers, it seems to me that it has been a charmed life for the most part. I don’t know why that is so but time and again it has proven true in my life.

Moreover, much good has come to me all on its own. I have more often than not been the happy recipient of kindness and generosity from others. I used to think that perhaps I was being prepared for some great role in life but I now think that was only a young man’s sense of self-importance. If there is any purpose to my good fortune, I think perhaps that I was only intended to pass it on, and I have made a sincere if sometimes misguided effort to do so.

I am, as I said at the beginning, a private person. It seems a bit of a paradox that someone who grew up in such a large and close family should be a loner, but it is really not difficult to explain. When you are crowded all together with a great many people in a small space, you learn to value your solitude. Just so they say that the meditative religions and philosophies flourished in those crowded countries like India and China where people live in an enforced proximity, the only escape from which is to turn within.

Even as a child I was inclined to wander off into the woods on my own and I think part of what drew me to books was the quiet and solitude that I early discovered in our old library, where there were endless nooks and niches in which a small boy could all but vanish. And admission was free, not an insignificant detail.

I am not a particularly social person. It is not that I dislike people. Indeed, quite the opposite. I feel a deep affection for my fellow creatures and I am an incurable optimist who believes that people are mostly good. I think that people recognize this, or sense it, and it is why there are those few who seem to enjoy my often not very scintillating company.

As I got older I got more comfortable with just being myself but when I was younger I was a chameleon, a mirror that reflected back to each individual what he wanted to see. This may be in part why I was never comfortable in groups, where I could not focus my attention on one individual alone. Reading another’s mind is difficult under the best of circumstances and all but impossible when there are crowds to distract you.

Whatever the reason, it is a fact of my life that I have never been able entirely to relax in the company of another person, however much I enjoyed that person’s company, and am only completely at ease when I am alone. There are many, I know, who cannot enjoy their own company, but I am not one of them. Truth to tell I find that I truly must have a certain amount of solitary time each day, to “charge the batteries,” in a manner of speaking. Without it I find myself weary indeed. But everyone who knows me knows this and mostly respects my need.

Some years back—in that time of crisis I have already mentioned—I sat myself down and took stock of the person I was. I think the description “a fully paid up bitch past his use-by date” (self-analysis is made much simpler when you have friends who are entirely blunt) may have been a little harsh but I could see that there was certainly some room for improvements and I decided I would try to accomplish them.

I have devoted much of my time and energy over the past twenty or so years to trying to be a wiser person and a better one—which may be the same thing, when you think about it. For all my efforts, however, I cannot see that I have ended up any better than anyone else. I would like to think that I have acquired certain virtues along the way but when I look more closely I see that, while I do indeed possess them and they are certainly virtues, there is not much virtue in my possession.

Which sounds confusing but let me explain. I believe, at least in theory, in the concept of reincarnation, if only because it seems to explain nicely some things which are otherwise inexplicable. Why, for instance, some people are born already crippled in one way or another. It is easier, I think, if one can see that as simply another chapter in a long running saga—a balancing, perhaps, of mistakes in a previous incarnation, or a soul’s necessary lesson in humility—than merely the cruel caprice of an unfeeling God.

I think, then, that it is a good thing to live my life as if I were going to be held accountable—if not this time around, then the next, or the one after that—for my thoughts, my words and my actions. If I am mistaken and there is in fact nothing after this life but oblivion, I will have no reason to regret, since, let’s face it, I will not know the difference. And if I am right then I will have taken out some very felicitous insurance.

Which is to say that while, yes, I try hard to be kind to and respectful of others, it is with one eye on my Karma’s path and so really is for the most selfish of reasons, isn’t it?

It is probably impossible to get through life without hurting others but I try to avoid consciously or deliberately doing so; it has been my experience, however, that when I do inflict pain on others I don’t even need to wait for the next go-round to suffer for that crime.

I don’t think that I am unusual in this. I believe that everyone who consciously or deliberately hurts another experiences a commensurate pain himself, though I do know that some are successful at hiding that pain from themselves. This does not, however, mean that they do not in one way or another suffer from it. It is much like the compost style of dealing with society’s garbage that was so popular in the fifties—dump it in a hole, cover it with dirt, and once it is out of sight it ceases to exist. Homes are built over it, shops, streets.

Unfortunately the garbage doesn’t go away, it rots and decomposes and produces methane gas, which in time can seep up through the soil—so that, years later, someone pauses to light a cigarette and, boom, the gas blows. It is not that single little match flare that causes the explosion, it is what is going on all those years beneath the surface, unnoticed.

However, as I have said already, I do not have to wait years to suffer for hurting others. I avoid doing so to spare myself the pain. So again my motives are entirely selfish and I can’t take much credit for my forbearance.

I make a point of honesty but the truth is that I am all too transparent when I try to tell untruths so I am unlikely to get away with them; and anyway, my memory too often fails me and when I try to fib my way through a situation I have the unfortunate tendency to confuse my falsehoods or forget what I have said and so trip myself up. This is embarrassing and usually fruitless, and I am essentially honest because it is easier. But doing what is easiest does not seem to me much of a virtue.

Likewise I avoid taking what is not rightfully mine but that is mostly because, as I have said, things have a way of coming to me and I am afraid that if I get greedy I will mess that up. Alas, I fear that fear is no great plus either.

I am a good friend to my friends and loyal, too, and I would like to think that, aha, at last I am entitled to take a bow. Yet when I shine the light a little more carefully into the dark corners of my behavior, even that looks a little less noble than it might.

Generally, one learns to interact with friends in early childhood, playing with others. As a loner I mostly learned about friendship from books and movies, which is to say, an idealized version of it. Men and women, of course, are not altogether ideal. “Fair weather friends” sounds harsh but I think that most individuals are friends to the extent that you walk through the part they have scripted for you in the movies of their lives and are inclined to leave you on the cutting room floor if you step out of character. That is not such a terrible thing. People have the right to their own lives and can include you or not or in whatever way that they wish, just as you can retain them in yours or walk away if that suits you better.

I would like to feel smug about my Three-Musketeers-one-for-all-and-all-for-one way of looking at friendships. I have a sneaking suspicion, though, that my tendency to take the moral high ground in such matters is not much better really than a more subtle way of hectoring others to be good and loyal to me. We are back, in other words, to the idea of control, which is not something I can feel too pious about.

The only really good thing that I can see in all this is that, having uncovered so many failings and weaknesses in myself, it has made me far more tolerant of the shortcomings of others. (“Between the sins of the world and mine, I find the differences of degree, not kind,” as someone far wiser than I has put it.) Moreover, having forgiven another person, it is not so difficult to go on to loving them. That must surely be a good thing but it is not much, is it, to enter in the asset column, when the debit entries are such a voluminous bunch?

As for becoming a wiser person, the closest I have come to wisdom is in realizing how little I know and—this is the point I was working toward—in realizing how much I have to be grateful for.

I cannot too often express my gratitude to Mike and John of Bolerium Books and I am happy to do so once again.

Dr. Fabio Cleto worked tirelessly to bring me back to the attention of the reading public and I certainly owe him thanks for his efforts. And I owe Gian Piero Piretto a very special thanks as it was he who introduced me to Dr. Cleto, and so could be considered responsible for reviving my writing career—which I hope pleases at least one or two of you.

I am grateful as well to Rebecca Mead of UCLA for her research on my behalf. I have mentioned Todd Clark before and must do so again, though it will no doubt embarrass him to be singled out. And to Bruce Brown and Gary Dickson for support and encouragement. David McTarnahan volunteered time and again to solve the many mysteries of computers for me, else you would not now be reading this—and don’t take it out on him, either. Audrey Joseph has been a friend and a fan, and who would not feel grateful for that? Lynette Anderson has been there for me at every moment of need.

I am lucky, indeed, to have the friends I have (doubly so because I am quite sure that friendship with me is not an easy thing) who have encouraged me and supported me in more ways than I could enumerate here. Matt Ogden and Jim Walker, Joe Kelly and Gary Lea, and Tom and Ray and Matt, and Matt and Diane, and Russ and Heidi and Roby and George and…well, too many, I’m happy to say, to name them all here (don’t you just hope I never win an Oscar?)

And some of them are no longer available for me to thank, notably Lynwood Anderson and John Beard, among others. And Don Schaffer, who started with me when we were little boys and girls together. Well, we didn’t know the difference then. Truth to tell, I don’t think he ever did.

I can see that some of my remarks on the subject of friendship could be seen as cynical but I don’t mean them that way at all. I think there are few things in life—if any—more precious than friendship. Donald liked to say that a friend has the right to ask anything whatsoever of you and the obligation not to ask. That is perhaps a little too neat but it does express the essential truth, that friendship both confers privileges and imposes obligations, though we are generally quicker to embrace the former than the latter.

Chief among those obligations, one must suppose, is honesty. If I can’t believe what you say, how can I believe your friendship? And close after that one must surely be loyalty, which mostly brings us back to that business of forgiving. It is not, after all, when another is doing everything right that he most needs your friendship, but rather when he is screwing up. And your friend doesn’t need you to tell him he’s behaved stupidly. There is never any shortage of those willing to impart that information. Anyway, he probably already knows it himself.

I like to recall a remark someone once made of a mutual friend, who had just made an utter fool of himself: “it’s easy to overlook his faults because they are common and to be grateful for his virtues, which are not.” Honor your friends despite their faults and be grateful for their virtues.

 

* * * * * * *

 

Needless to say, though I have said it already, I am ever thankful for that bunch of loonies—I mean, my family. We are an enormous bunch so again I cannot name everyone here. I have mentioned Fanny already, and Pat and Ann, but I cannot not mention Karen, who helped me with the history of Eaton (and I must add in a great many other ways over the years) and Ruth and Eve and May and Al, who is no longer with us; and there was a difficult period that I might not have survived without the generous help of my brother Sam, who has always believed in me even when my own faith weakened. There is a long, long list of nephews and nieces as well, and grand nephews etc. It would take many pages to list them all, so I will settle for saying that it has been a comfort and a blessing through every trial and tribulation to have my family’s love and friendship.

The staff at our Eureka Valley Branch of the San Francisco Public Library System were helpful beyond the call of duty and cheerful about it, too, which is a refreshing evidence that civilization may not yet be at its end. Some historians date the beginning of the “Dark Ages” from the destruction of the library at Alexandria. Certainly the library has always been a cornerstone of civilization and in any list of unsung heroes, I think the librarian should figure prominently. Ours just happen to be particularly wonderful.

It is encouraging, is it not, that when children were polled recently as to their favorite forms of media, books still topped the list? I hope some of them read this. Well, some of the older ones at any rate, though it is my belief that children are far wiser and understand far more than people give them credit for. Left to their own perceptions children are almost invariably accepting of gay-ness. Alas, their tolerance too often proves intolerable to adults.

I have quoted here and there from other works. I intended to do so within the confines of the “fair-use” provisions of copyright law and have certainly not in any instance wished to step on anyone’s copyright toes. And surely any who consider my usage of their material will find that it was inevitably flattering and could only do their causes good. If I didn’t like it I didn’t quote it. Except, that is, for Dr. Wertham, whose remarks were too priceless to ignore.

I am the first to admit that my memory is not perfect. It is surprisingly difficult to verify exact dates and such for material from the era of which I have written. I have made every effort to see that my facts were correct but if I have gotten a date wrong or misspelled your name I humbly apologize.

I am particularly grateful to all of you who bought this book.

If you borrowed it, please send me my royalties.

 

* * * * * * *

 

As a matter of record, I went by The Burnt Place not so long ago. Or rather, I went by where it had been. The house is gone, and the big pine trees and the rock that we used to ride for a horse. The creek has shrunk almost to nothing.

The Streetcar is still where it was, though. When my brother, Pat, explained that he had been born in it, the woman in the house next to it opened the door and let us look inside. There was nothing to see, really, just the sort of things everyone stows away. If there were any ghosts of the family who once made their home there, they were silent on that occasion.

It looks very nice from the outside. It has been painted white and a foundation added underneath and a proper roof on top. It looks hardly at all like a streetcar, only a very respectable storage shed. You would never guess what a poor thing it had once been.

Still, had there not been a Streetcar, where might my brother have been born? There is always something to be grateful for.

 

Oh, those chicken bosoms, I nearly forgot. When they have gotten good and tipsy from the gin you can drain them and cook them just about any way you normally would cook chicken breasts. They are good slathered with butter and simply baked, but I like to pat them dry, dip them in a batter—you can use any batter you like, or just dip them in some milk—and then dip them again in finely crushed corn flakes. You’ll need a fair amount of corn flakes, depending upon how many bosoms you have gotten drunk.

Line a shallow pan with some foil and lay the bosoms in it. Drizzle them with some melted butter (don’t be stingy, baby) and bake them at 350 for forty-five minutes or so, without covering or turning them. I call this “stewed chicken” but you may call it “Victor’s Bosoms”, which will almost certainly disconcert your guests, and what is the point of a dinner party, after all, if you are not going to have fun?

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Spine Intact – A Final Note

 

 

 

A writer friend of mine once said of his then current project, “I guess I’ve offended everybody, I can wrap it up now.”

I have not intended to offend anyone, if only because I am quite sure that I have never knowingly caused another pain without suffering at least as much as he. Still, I have lived long enough to know that there are those people for whom no joy quite equals being miserable and I have no doubt that there are some of those who are mad at me for what I have written.

What I am trying to say is that, there’s always going to be someone who doesn’t see things your way. Someone once asked Lady Churchill if she and Sir Winston always agreed on everything.

“If we agreed on everything,” Lady Churchill replied, “one of us would be unnecessary.”

So if you find yourself offended by what I have written, you can just consider me necessary. The French have an expression: Tant pis. (By now you will have noticed that I appreciate a little foreign tongue, which I think can add so much to an episode.) And no, it doesn’t mean that, either. It’s just another way of saying, as my friend Donald used to put it, “If they got mad, they have the same dresses to get glad in.”

Anyway, I showed this manuscript to a friend and when he gave it back to me he said, “This has everything in it but your recipe for Cheese Balls.”

Which only served to remind me that I told you a fib earlier. It was only a minor one, true, but lies are to your soul as rust is to your fender—well, that is to say your car’s fender, although I will admit that my own fenders aren’t what they used to be—Anyway, my point is, if you don’t clean it up it will keep spreading until it spoils everything.

I said earlier that my cheese balls were legendary. The word, really, was infamous, at least in certain circles, though there were those who loved them, and I suppose I shall have to explain that.

I co-hosted a party some years back with some friends. We considered having the food catered by Perino’s, which was then the grandest restaurant in Los Angeles. This was not, I should explain, a “beer keg and dance away the night” affair, but an honest-to-goodness stand up cocktail party with bartenders dispensing drinks and the entire dining room tented in green and white silk. And with the guest list at one hundred and fifty and climbing it quickly became clear that catering was out of the question.

We set out to do our own spread and I can tell you it was plenty spiffy. I think the hit of the afternoon was the little chicken drumettes, an idea that then hadn’t yet been done to death. One of the guests asked me what they were and I laughingly told her they were hummingbird wings.

To my surprise she called me a few days later to say that she had been all over town looking for hummingbird wings and had gotten nothing but some funny reactions, and could I tell her where I had gotten mine. I gave her a lengthy description of the work involved in accruing that many hummingbird wings from nature, and suggested she try chicken wings instead; but I considered her request a favorable comment on the food.

Then there were the cheese balls. It was evident while we were working on them that they were not turning out as we had envisioned them. One of the roommates said he thought we should toss them. And that would have meant literally tossing them. We tried putting the first batch down the garbage disposal and stopped up the plumbing for the entire building.

Still, doing away with them seemed to me unnecessarily extravagant. “Don’t be silly,” I replied, “I know they are vile and you know they are vile but someone is bound to love them. I say we serve them anyway.”

Serve them we did and in the course of the evening, a guest, unaware that I was one of the hosts, made a disparaging remark about them.

“Really?” I replied in the most innocent manner I could summon—and those of you who know me can well imagine what that was like—“I am surprised. The food was catered by Perino’s.”

It was not fifteen minutes later that I heard the same guest tell one of his friends, “You must have one of those cheese balls. They”re from Perino’s and they are divine.”

What I am trying to tell you is, serve the cheese balls anyway, someone will love them.

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Spine Intact – Epilog

 

 

 

My historical novel San Antone was published in 1985. I did not again work on a novel or a book-length project until 1998.

During that period, I was often asked why I had stopped writing. I never knew quite how to answer that question, because I never thought of myself as having “stopped writing.” I said earlier, writing is not something that you do just when your fingers are flying over the keyboard. It’s a twenty-four-hours-a-day thing, it is the way you think and the way you deal with life. If you are a writer, I don’t think you can give up writing.

Nor did my fingers ever entirely abandon the keyboard. My brother and one of his daughters were involved in children’s theater and at his suggestion I wrote a play for them. For one reason and another—health mostly—it did not get produced. One of these days I should like to go back and take another look at it. I don’t think it was half bad.

I wrote a piece of dinner theater too, one of those audience participation mystery affairs. This was intended for the opening of a luxury hotel in Palo Alto. Shortly before it was to be performed, the producers sent out a publicity mailing, a “help-I’m-in-danger-come-to-X-Hotel-Saturday-night-and-save-me” sort of thing. Though it is difficult to think how she might have done so, a columnist for the local paper took it seriously. She was frightened and, when she learned the truth, angry (and, I should think, embarrassed) and she wrote a scathing column on the wickedness of unnecessarily frightening lady columnists.

This, of course, was exactly the sort of publicity a new luxury hotel does not need and the production was withdrawn.

I consulted on the idea for a movie script. I had to give it back to the producer with the information that it didn’t work, based as it was on a mistaken interpretation of the legal concept of double jeopardy. The movie was made anyway, by the by. It bombed. Far be it from me to say “I told you so.”

From time to time I did bits and pieces of things—titles, opening scenes, a bit of dialogue, a description that popped into my mind, a character sketch. But no novels, no case history books, no male nudes gracing magazine pages.

Why? Mostly I had gotten tired of it all. I had been writing non-stop for more than twenty years. With rare few exceptions that meant 365 days a year. When I began I was a young man and had a young man’s unflagging energy, but by 1984 I was approaching fifty and writing historical novels, which require lots of research and detail work. And writing of any sort, as I have indicated already, is harder work than a non-writer might imagine.

During most of those writing years, I lived with the threat of prison hanging over my head. By the mid-seventies I had moved on to writing mysteries and historical fiction, but there was always the possibility that my past would come back to haunt me in the form of new indictments and trials. Novels about gay men and women were still regarded by governmental authorities as in and of themselves obscene and I must have remained a thorn in the side for many years.

I had lost my dear friend and colleague, Lady Agatha—Elbert Barrow. Out of the blue, in 1977, Elbert took sick. He developed a rare kind of pneumonia as a result of “mysterious allergies”, as the doctors saw it. He began to waste away and ugly lesions, a rare form of skin cancer, began to appear on his arms and legs—sound familiar?

For the next two years we went from hospital to hospital, with little success. The doctors would release him, I would take him home, and within a few days he would call me, barely able to breathe, and off we would go to yet another hospital. His weight dropped from a hearty 160 pounds to ninety. In appearance he went from forty years old to eighty, his hair, what was left of it, from dark brunette to snow white. He was confined to a wheelchair and kept a tank of oxygen with him at all times.

It was a grueling couple of years and heartbreaking to watch this old friend waste away. It was not until he had gone and I began to read newspaper accounts of a mysterious “gay cancer” that I realized the truth: El had died of AIDS before it was AIDS. He was, as it turns out, one of the first of what my friend Luis Cordero has dubbed “the missing generation.”

I had also been through a break up with a long-time friend (well, I thought he was a friend) and business partner, who had emptied the bank accounts and the safety deposit boxes and fled to Hackensack, which I thought punishment enough for his sins. As Sam Houston once put it, “All the qualities of a dog save loyalty.” Or, to quote a delightful little black lady whom I knew many years back, “White trash is white trash, it doesn’t matter what color they are.” It was a painful lesson and one I ought to have learned sooner.

I had parted as well from a long time lover. We will skip the details. It was another lesson I was slow to absorb. Loving one another isn’t always enough.

In time I came to look upon both of those events as fortunate, but at that time they were dispiriting, to say the least. There were health problems and for a time I turned to drugs for relief from the stress—a self-defeating prescription and a lesson which, fortunately, I did learn in time.

I went through a lengthy and unhappy quarrel with my publisher at the time, St. Martin’s Press. I’m not sure even today I quite understand it—a communications failure, certainly, which resulted in the first book-length manuscript I had ever written which failed to be published. Frankly I am glad it didn’t. For reasons we needn’t go into here it was a lousy effort, surely the worst thing I had ever written. I’m glad I don’t have it to apologize for.

I wrote a better book, San Antone, for Arbor House, a Hearst company, but that turned into the sort of experience that most writers only encounter in their nightmares. The editor, Bill Anderson, did a major rewrite on his own (by actual page count about one third of the finished book was not as I had written it; I know, I counted). I did not learn of these revisions until the galley proofs arrived—too late to undo the damage but I pleaded with him at least to let me rewrite three of the worst scenes he had penned.

I thought we had agreed on that but when the book was released it was exactly as he had written it, though it was my name on the cover. By that time I had already seen the first review, in Kirkus, in which the reviewer ridiculed one of the editor’s scenes. He called it “an unintentional parody of a Dickensian retribution scene.”

He was entirely right but what was I to do? I was convinced that the editor’s unauthorized revision was illegal and immoral and probably fattening—but I had not the resources to take on the Hearst Corporation. Nor could I win without ultimately losing. Publishers do not take well to writers who sue other publishers. I was angry, humiliated and frustrated.

The bottom line to all of this was that my heart was no longer in it. I had started writing for my own pleasure but I now found no pleasure in writing. The publishers and editors that I had worked with in the beginning were one and all gentlemen and ladies, who were doing what they loved and believed in and who I felt could be counted upon to do the right thing, the honorable thing, contractual obligation or no.

That was not invariably my experience in dealing with the major New York publishing houses. As had happened in other areas of the arts, publishing was now largely the business of accountants and lawyers. There were, and are, a few small, independent houses for whom writers and writing matter but for the most part, publishing had become a different world and one in which I was not entirely comfortable.

Before you envision me, however, wringing my hands and sobbing, I should tell you I don’t believe that things just happen in our lives. I believe that Life is a teaching, though admittedly there have been times when I seemed to be flunking the course. I think that we attract into our lives the people, events, experiences that we require to learn the lessons we need to learn.

For years I kept these lines of Rabindranath Tagore’s taped to my typewriter and later my word processor:

 

Let me not pray to be sheltered from dangers,

         but to be fearless in facing them.

Let me not beg for the stilling of my pain,

         but for the heart to conquer it.

Let me not look for allies in life’s battlefield,

         but to my own strength.

Let me not crave in anxious fear to be saved,

         but hope for the patience to win my freedom.

Grant me that I may not be a coward,

         feeling your mercy in my success alone;

But let me find the grasp of your hand

         in my failure.

 

Sometimes what we perceive as “failure” is merely the opportunity to learn what we need to learn to graduate. And, yes, sometimes we have to take the same class over. It can seem then as if Life is being cruel to us but it is not. Life is only giving us yet another opportunity to pass the course.

Have you ever been involved with a stinker and broken up? Your heart mends in time, you meet another man, you start going around together and…he turns out to be another stinker? I have seen friends go through this a dozen or more times. The names and faces change but the stinker remains the same. Why?

Let me offer you what could be the most liberating news you will ever hear: if you find yourself going through some unpleasant experience a second, even a third time; if you find yourself in one bad relationship after another; if your bad luck seems to repeat itself over and over—the truth is it probably isn’t bad luck at all. Life, or your higher self, or God if you will, is trying to show you where you need to work on yourself. And (here is the important part) it is always yourself and not the co-workers or the friends or the lovers who need the work. After all, what we are talking about is an Achilles’ Heel. Who will benefit more from learning where or what your Achilles’ Heel is—you or they?

Men marry what they need. For one reason or another, I had “married” that editor at Arbor House. So, what was the lesson I was meant to learn from this conjugal unpleasantness?

I decided that perhaps I needed to turn away from writing, at least from writing as I was then doing it. A rest, then, certainly, but more than just that. I made up my mind that I would go back to where I had begun, writing solely for my own pleasure. If I wrote another book it would be the book that came to me and demanded to be written, and I would write it because it was what I wanted to write and how I wanted to write it.

I took fifteen years off, is all.

In the end writing came back to claim me. My friends at Bolerium Books, as I have explained, proposed this project and reminded me of it each time I saw them. That Italian professor, Fabio Cleto, suggested reissuing some of the C.A.M.P. novels, and whenever I saw him or heard from him he pressed his case.

And something happened that hadn’t happened to me in quite a while—a young man began to visit me in my bedroom at night. He had something on his mind and insisted on sharing it with me. I told myself I wasn’t interested and smacked his hand away. But I did get up the next morning and write down what he had to say.

Only a page at first. Then two.

Not content with disrupting my sleep, the young man began to follow me around during the day as well. He shared his views with me. He talked about where he was from. Really, despite myself, I began to see his world through his eyes. He had a problem, certainly, I could see that. It needed to be solved but I could not see how it would be done.

The two pages became five. Then they were twenty. And fifty. He was a talky sort.

One day I was astonished to realize that I was well along into writing a book. And soon after that it was not just one book either. From being in semi-retirement, I suddenly found myself working on three different projects.

And enjoying it.

Once you’ve got the disease there is no cure for it.

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ready to serve

and sailors, too

and sailors, too

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