Monday, October 29, 2012


Good morning, gentle readers. Welcome to another Monday, here on the blog.

I cannot speak for anyone else, but October has been an unpleasant month for me. I’ve been ill. First with a very bad cold that continues to linger and then, on top of that, I somehow managed to pull something in my back leaving me with twinges and muscle aches. At the moment, as I sit here typing this, I am smeared with Ben-Gay, sucking on a cough drop, and have a Heat-Wrap secured around my left arm.

Somehow, in the space of twenty-nine days, ladies and gentlemen, I have degenerated into an old man.

I feel a bit like October has betrayed me this year. Usually, I’m in fine fettle, but this month? Aches and pains, unexpected financial expenditures, a run of unpleasant if not exactly bad luck. I am half-tempted to go out and get a rabbit’s foot.

I feel a bit traitorous admitting this, but I think I shall be glad when October is gone this year. This year, she’s been a bit of a bad house guest.

Still, as her time draws to a close, she seems to be gentling a bit. Just a bit. Enough to remind me why, muscle aches and coughs aside, I do love this time of year.

And, I’m not sure, but as grim November approaches, it feels like the scales are trying to balance. It feels like things are returning to some semblance of normal. Knock wood.

We can only hope.

A Rant About Looper

I was going to post a movie review of the film, Looper, here, but forget that.
Looper is the reason that I usually avoid movies involving time-travel like a plague.
The premise of the movie is that in the year 2074, if the mob wants someone killed, they send them back into the past where assassins called 'loopers' carry out the executions and the disposal of the bodies.  Eventually, every 'looper' is retired by being sent back into the past and killed by his younger self.
And I'm fine with this concept until the producers start doing things that screw with cause and effect. For instance, a young looper hesitates to kill his future self, leading to that future self's escape. So, what does the mob do? They take the young version and start systematically mutilating him.  They cut off his fingers, his nose, his tongue, his legs.  As they perform these mutilations, the older version transforms into a noseless, fingerless, tongueless, legless thing before getting blow away.
Only, if the guy was mutilated in his past (the present) how could he arrive from the future hale and hearty one minute and seriously mutilated the next?  It is a paradox.
Paradox, ladies and gentlemen, is the cardinal sin of time-travel.
Looper is guilty of this sin in spades, and that utterly ruined this movie for me.
I would rather sit through one of those awful time-travel episodes from Star Trek: Voyager than sit through this movie again, let alone recommend it to anyone.
The whole paradox thing just pisses me off that much.
Which is why this is not a review, but a rant.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

A Review of The Cloud Atlas

I’ll admit it. I went into The Cloud Atlas with the preconceived notion that it was going to be a hot mess. In all honesty, the previews I had seen reminded me too much of The Fountainhead, one of the most godawful movies I had seen in years.

So, you can imagine my surprise when I found myself quite enjoying this film.

True, it is not a perfect film. It does require attention and a degree of patience. The narrative felt a bit jerky at times and, if the expense had not been prohibitive, I think it might have worked better from a dramatic standpoint if the cast had been larger.

The cast here is very good, but, to be brutally honest, there portrayals of different people through time read largely the same. Outside of clothing and time-period, I didn’t see much evolution or difference between the characters of Luisa Rey and Meronym. Perhaps the best character differentiation is done by veteran actor, Jim Broadbent, and I feel that I must single out Hugo Weaving for doing an excellent job as the baddie. Especially for his portrayal of Nurse Noakes. That performance alone is pretty much worth the price of admission.

As for the effectiveness of the movie’s theme: that everything is connected, that our actions have reverbations felt through time? I’m not sure it accomplishes it.

Going back and reading this review, it occurs to me that it sounds very negative. I point out the weaknesses and the flaws that I perceive, but this movie has its strengths as well. Some of the characters are brought to wonderful life by their performers. Ben Whishaw’s Robert Frobisher. Jim Broadbent’s Timothy Cavendish. Doona Bae’s Sonmi-451. Although it is almost three hours long, the time seemed to fly past.

Overall, I enjoyed The Cloud Atlas, but I don’t know if I would want to see it again. So, I’m going to give it 4 out of 10. I think it might be a bit dense for a date night movie, although I think it would give people a lot to talk about, but I’d definitely say catch a matinee. It is not a perfect movie, but its flaws don’t seriously detract from it, and if you go in with an open mind, you might be genuinely surprised at how much you enjoy it.

Monday, October 22, 2012



I drove 200 miles to see you
Drawn by nostalgia and sense memories:
Nails raking my back;
Apple shampoo smell in your hair;
Laughter, high and sharp as breaking glass.
We have history together,
You and I.
We were like France and Germany
During World War Two.
Only I forget who was who.
Who invaded?
Who resisted?
What was our Normandy?
Were our friends Allies or Axis?
I don’t remember.
Chalk it up to shell shock,
The passage of years,
Early onset dementia,
Or too much whiskey.
It doesn’t matter.
We’re not those people anymore.
We’re older and grayer.
Hopefully wiser.
But there were hints of the woman you were
In the toss of your hair,
The rough calluses on your fingers,
Your jacket patched with duct tape at the elbows.
After you played your set,
We talked and smoked and drank
Until I knew it was time to go.
You asked me to stay,
But I remembered our history,
And didn’t want to repeat it.
When we said goodbye,
When we hugged,
You felt slight in my arms.
And I had this sense,
That I would never see you again.
That this was it,
The end of our history.
So I wrote this down,
In the early morning hours.
Because history should not be repeated,
But neither should it should be forgotten
And I want to remember.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Fiction: A Murder Story


Redmart was a Wal-Mart wannabe, a chain of stores in the southeastern USA. At the time, they were best known for their generic products and selling a tainted dog food that left dozens of pet owners bereaved and angry. Joey Schoemacher never dreamed of working at Redmart. He certainly never thought he would die there.

Still, there he was, flat on his back in Electronics, his life pouring out of him from the gash in his throat. Lying on his back, the last thing Joey saw was his killer standing over him, head tilted to one side, as if perplexed by the results of his own actions. He still clenched the knife in his right hand.

Then the lights went out and seventeen-year-old Joey Schoemacher was dead. It was after midnight and the store was quiet. Joey’s corpse wouldn’t be discovered for another hour. By the time it was, the Redmart Killer would have claimed three other lives.

* * * * *

"Jesus fuck," muttered Sanduski. He cupped a hand around his lighter, to shield the flame. "Why the fuck do you have to haul that story out every goddamn year?"

Frick grinned. He had a smile like a broken brown fence. "‘Cause they never caught the son of a bitch, did they? People who forget the past are doomed to repeat it."

"Yeah, yeah, yeah. Save it for the fortune cookies."

Sanduski finally got his lighter to spark. He shoved his cigarette into the flame and gleefully sucked in a lungful of sweet, sweet nicotine.

"Just sayin’," said Frick.

"Well don’t say anything else. It’s bad enough we’re in this fucking tomb tonight. I don’t need you telling ghost stories."

"It ain’t a ghost story, it’s a murder story," said Frick.

"Whatever. Just shut up and turn on the radio."

Shrugging, Frick turned on the radio. Hip-hop poured out of the speakers. Scowling, Sanduski twiddled the dial, until he found a talk radio station. Some wannabe Art Bell was on the phone with a geezer who claimed to have seen the Virgin Mary in a pancake or something. Frick rolled his eyes.

"I’m goin’ for a walk."

Sanduski grunted. "Don’t let the bogey man get you."

With a snort, Frick flipped Sanduski the bird and headed out on his round.

It’s been eight years since the Redmart Murderer killed four people in the wee hours of the morning and got away clean. The store never recovered. People didn’t want to shop in a place where a bunch of folks got murdered, not even in the bright light of day. It was like the air was tainted. After a while, Redmart shut down the store and tried to sell it. However, nobody was buying. The place’s reputation was made. The old Redmart store at Aurora Park was bad juju. Stay away.

Stuck with the store, Redmart repurposed it. They turned it into an overflow warehouse, stuffing it with off-brand merchandise not even their most loyal cheapskates would buy. It accumulated there, in the dusty dark until someone at corporate remembered it existed and sent a truck to haul some of the crap away.

Frick didn’t work for Redmart, but a local security firm they contracted to guard the place. Vandals had broken into the old store a while back and there seemed to be a constant stream of dumbass kids who tried to get into the place on a dare.

Still, as gigs went, Frick kind of liked working at Redmart. The history of the place didn’t really bother him, not like it did Sanduski. Sanduski never said it, but Frick knew that this assignment gave him the heebie-jeebies. The fat old man wasn’t the only rent-a-guard who felt that way either. It was always a pain in the ass for the company to find people to work the place, especially during the anniversary of the murders.

Frick wandered away from the security office. Once upon a time it had been the cashier manager’s office, but since then it had been converted for the security guards. It had a bank of CCTV monitors that showed grainy black-and-white images of the store exterior. That was about as high tech as security got around here, and there always had to be one man watching the monitors while the other was making the rounds.

Frick made his way past the empty checkout aisles, long silent, their conveyor belts covered with dust. The checkouts were supposed to be removed ages ago but that had never happened. The shelves and fixtures had been yanked out, leaving the interior of the store a gutted shell that was jam packed with pallets of Chinese-made dog food and knock-off floor cleaners. Pallets formed a maze, dusty and dark, with unexpected turns and twists that changed every time the trucks arrived to drop off and take shit away.

Frick didn’t like going into that maze. He wasn’t the most imaginative person in the world but he could easily see one of the poorly stacked pallets sliding, see himself crushed beneath a shitload of laundry detergent.

Fuck that.

He and Sanduski just walked around the maze, ignoring the interior. For all Frick knew there could have been a tribe of hobos living in the heart of the maze. As long as they didn’t make trouble, he wouldn’t have cared.

The fork lift drivers left a wide lane open around the edge of the store. This was the route that the guards used, walking from the old checkout lanes past what had been the grocery aisles, the media department, the auto department, the electronics department.

Frick paused.


The overhead lights didn’t work any longer. When they burned out, Redmart didn’t see any point in replacing them. Frick waved his flashlight around, the bright beam cutting through the shadows, illuminating stacks of cheap-ass tires and boxes of crappy coffee makers.

Joey Schoemacher had been killed here. He’d bled out his life on these grimy garnet tiles, his killer standing over him, watching him die. The cops knew that because they found the same bloody footprints at all four murder scenes. Almost gleefully, the media reported that the Redmart Killer had traipsed through his victims’ blood without any apparent qualms.

Frick walked on, completing the circle, checking the doors. It was raining outside, the dregs of Hurricane Oro sweeping up from Florida.

"Not a fit night out for man nor beast," said Frick, peering out the loading bay door.

He stood there for a while, breathing in the wet night, then shut the door and went on his way.

It was funny the things that stuck with ya, thought Frick.

Everybody remembered Joey Schoemacher’s name, because he was the first murder victim, but nobody remembered the others.

Their names came back to Frick as he wandered through the dark.

Neal Stevens. A skinny old black dude. Killed in Gardening with a pair of hedge clippers.

Margaretta Wood. Queen-sized mother of two. Found in Ladies Apparel, strangled with a pair of XXX-large panties.

Charles "Charlie" Dint. Retiree. Devoted husband, dad and grandpa. He had an icepick shoved through his heart in Kitchenware.

Frick shook his head, feeling an unexpected pang for the four people. Ahead, the security office was a friendly little pool of light. Suddenly, Frick didn’t want to be out here in the dark, thinking of dead people. He wanted to be around the living. He quickened his pace, hurrying toward the office and Sanduski.

The fat man looked up from a newspaper. "You took your time."

Frick shrugged.

"You remember to lock the loading bay door?"


"Good." Sanduski grinned. "Wouldn’t want some psycho fuck breaking into the place, would we?"

"No," said Frick. "We wouldn’t want any more."

He thought of Schoemacher again, remembering the stunned look on the kid’s face as the knife cut through flesh. The spray of blood as the artery was clipped.

They’d all had similar looks on their faces, as they died. No anger or fear, just surprise. None of them had expected it.

Frick looked at Sanduski. The fat man had gone back to reading his paper, his back to Frick.

Would he get the same surprised look on his face? Frick wondered.

There was a pair of scissors in the desk drawer. Sometimes, Frick used them to clip coupons from the paper. He opened the drawer and pulled them out now, admired the way the light from the CCTV monitors made them flash.

It had been eight years. That was a long time between deaths for someone like Frick. He tightened his grip on the scissors, walked toward Sanduski.

"What time is it?" asked Frick.

Sanduski looked at the digital clock below the CCTV bank. "Almost midnight. Why? You got a hot date or something?"

"Just an anniversary," whispered the Redmart Killer.

When he struck, Sanduski looked just as surprised as all the others.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

October Riding Shotgun

Nine P.M. on a Thursday night and I’m driving down a black highway, Mozart on the car radio, October’s fingers caressing my cheek. The season has crept inside the car and sits next to me, riding shotgun.

October’s hair is a riot of oranges and reds, her eyes are leafy brown flecked with tawny gold, her gown a diaphanous black shroud that shows off her legs. October has great legs.

She smiles and leans close, whispers in my inner ear, incomprehensible secrets of the fading light, the growing dark, the mysteries written across the sky in the smoke from a thousand chimneys. October smells like candy corn and apples left on the tree just a little too long, sweetness going to rot. Her breath is cider, strong and sweet. She tastes like Halloween and her skin is chilly.

We drive through the night, toward the bonfire glow of city lights. October laughs and stretches her arms over her head. She gathers the last dregs of summer in her black-nailed hands and crams the light and warmth into her mouth, devouring it. In our wake the shadows thicken and things take shape, we are the head of a phantom parade, birthed of the dark and the dying light.

October drapes an arm across my shoulders and smiles at me. Her black gown shifts, sliding down, exposing her pale throat, the gentle swell of breasts. She blows me a kiss, full of dreadful promises and sweet memories, and is gone as quickly as she came.

Nine P.M. on a Thursday night and I’m driving down a black highway, the radio switched off, wishing October could remain a little longer.

Monday, October 15, 2012

From Nothing, Something

Good morning, gentle readers.

Welcome to another fabulous Monday on the blog.

I’d like to say that I’ve got something profound to write about today, but the fact of the matter is that I’m drawing a complete blank. I even got so desperate for a topic that I went to one of those random blog topic generators you can find online and tried to use it for inspiration.

Unfortunately, the topic it kept suggesting was ‘Tom Cruise’s marriage.’

Yes, like I’m going to write about that train wreck.

So, here I sit, writing about not being able to write about anything. Which, as topics go, feels very Zen.

I was into Zen for a little while. Its ambivalence appealed to me.

My favorite Zen story is the one about a young man who wants to study with a Zen Master. He arranges an interview and the two meet over tea. While the Master serves the tea, the young man goes on and on about why he wants to study Zen. The Master listens politely, pouring tea into the young man’s cup. He fills the cup to the brim and continues to pour until the tea is overflowing the cup. The young man cries out for the Master to stop filling the cup. The Master complies, then says, "Your mind is like the tea cup. Already so full of ideas and opinions that there is no room for anything else. Come back when your cup is empty."

I think that’s a great story.

It makes me envision everyone walking around, balancing cups full of hot tea atop their heads.

I think, writers and non-writers alike, tend to walk around with tea cups full to the brim. We are full of our own knowledge, ambition, experience, self-importance. Essentially, we are full of ourselves.

Sometimes, it’s good to empty that metaphysical tea cup. To open ourselves to new experiences, to new sensations. This doesn’t have to be expensive or time-consuming. Take a trip to a museum you’ve never been to before, listen to music you wouldn’t ordinarily listen to, read a book by a new author.

Get outside your comfort zone.

Spill some tea.

See what happens next.

You might be surprised.

Like I’m surprised that a blog about nothing at all turned into a blog about Zen and expanding one’s experience.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

In Sickness and In Health

Good morning, ladies and gentlemen.

Please forgive the lateness of this week’s posting, but I’m afraid that I have been ill. Nothing serious, just a very bad cold. So, for the last few days I have been languishing in bed, beneath a mountain of quilts, under the influence of various and sundry medications.

I’m still not back 100 percent, but feel much better than I did.

And, sick as I was, it didn’t stop me from promoting my latest short story this past weekend on Amazon. In the end I was very pleased with the results. My short story, The Passing of the World, climbed to #16 on the Top 100 Free Short Story List and #89 on the Top 100 Free Fantasy List.

Not a bad accomplishment for someone who was stuck in bed.

But then, I do most of my best work in bed.


In any event, I’m still a bit sick. I have a cough that does not want to go away. It haunts my throat. The state of my nose is beyond polite description.

Still, I endure.

As to whether or not I will be able to write today? Who knows? I shall try but I’m not holding out much hope. All I really want to do is crawl back into bed and watch bad daytime television.

Right now, though, I’m off to take a long, hot shower.

Enjoy your day, gentle readers, and be grateful for your health.

You never miss it until it’s gone.

Monday, October 1, 2012


Good morning, gentle readers, and welcome to October. Today, I would like to share the following electronic missive I received a few days ago.


Dear Mr. Shirer,

Thanks so much for submitting to, and for your extreme patience while we evaluated your story. Unfortunately, I'm afraid that "The Passing of the World" isn't quite right for us. I wish you the best of luck placing it elsewhere.

Please send us more of your stories in the future. We've recently restructured, and if all goes as planned, we will soon have much better response times!

Best, Submissions Staff


Yes, ladies and gentlemen, it is a rejection letter. I present it here, unchanged except for the name of the website, for your perusal.

As rejection letters go, this one is actually quite nice. I suspect, although I cannot prove it, that it was written by an actual person and not spat out by a computer. In the end though, it doesn’t really matter who or what wrote it.

I have been rejected.


Gentle readers, if you wish to pursue a career as a writer, you should get used to rejection. It happens quite a lot. You may enter the profession with skin as soft as a darling newborn baby’s, but after a while, your hide will be as tough as an elephant’s.

Still, rejection hurts at first. Whether its from that really cute girl you screwed up the courage to actually ask out only to be laughed at, or from the super-cool job that you applied for and that you just new you were put on this Earth to do.

Getting used to rejection is a bit like getting whipped for the first time. The anticipation of the first blow is usually worse than the blow itself. Then they start to fall at a regular pace upon your back and there isn’t any pain, just sensation. Eventually, you may even start to look forward to the next blow.

However, I am not here today to encourage you to accept rejection or even recreational flagellation. No, ladies and gentlemen, I am here today to tell you what not to do when you get those rejection letters.

Do not throw yourself out the window in a fit of despair, crying, "My art! My art!" No one likes a drama queen. Also, it would be extremely inconsiderate to leave your mess for someone else to clean up. Replacing windows is expensive. Glass isn’t cheap, y’know.

If you feel you must do this, just to get it out of your system, be sensible. Choose a first floor window. Arrange some pillows or a mattress outside your chosen window to land upon. Also, and this is very important, open the window and remove any obstructions before hurling yourself through it. Afterwards, when you’ve dusted yourself off and recovered your senses, don’t forget to clean the pillows and replace the screens.

Do not turn to drink. If you are not already an alcoholic, drinking after literary rejection will turn you into one. Do your liver a favor and avoid the booze.

Do not turn to illicit drugs. Drug use is a slippery slope. Sure, there’s a long tradition of writers using drugs - Hunter S. Thompson and William S. Burroughs are the first to leap to mind - but you are not them. Most likely, you will not be lauded for your ability to string two sentences together while tripping out on LSD and/or peyote. Most likely you will become a junkie and eventually wind up muling cocaine in your butt to pay off a massive drug debt, coming to an ignoble end while crossing the border. Just say "No!"

Don’t try to forget your woes with sex. If you aren’t in a committed relationship, you’ll run the risk of catching a venereal disease. The only people who find weepy authors sexy are not people you want to go home with.

If you are in a committed relationship, your partner will recognize the look in your eye and run like hell in the other direction. In a relationship, there is only so much pity-sex someone can provide before that well of sympathy runs dry.

Don’t masturbate either. You’ll just make yourself sore.

Do not eat to fill the gaping hole left by the rejection. It won’t do any good and you’ll wind up gaining, like, a thousand pounds and eventually wind up being airlifted out of your house by a helicopter. You may even be subjected to visits from people like (shudder) Richard Simmons and Oprah Winfrey. Even if you’re writing something on weight-loss and this is part of your byzantine marketing strategy, it isn’t worth it!

Do not wallow in despair. Really! Pull up your socks and just get on with life. So someone didn’t like your submission. Big fat deal. Send it to someone else.

It’s like oysters. I absolutely loathe oysters. To me, oysters look like something that fell out of an ox’s nose. Lots of other people, though, love oysters. It’s just a matter of taste.

Do not give up. Someone rejected your story? Big deal. Screw ‘em. Take that rejection letter and stick it on the dart board. Pick up dog poo with it. Or, better yet, use it as inspiration for an amusing blog post that has really gone on for far too long.

In short, just shrug off the rejections and get back to writing and admiring your elephant-like hide.