Every Footfall Begets a Separation

From Walking with Abel: Journeys with the Nomads of the African Savannah by Anna Badkhen:

514v0eTphbL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_We walk into one another’s lives, we change them and are changed deeply and forever, we part ways. Each time a part of our hearts seems to shrivel and die, it doesn’t. Simply, our hearts learn to beat a different way. We mourn, we break down, then we stand up, and we keep going. Two thousand footsteps per mile. Twenty to forty thousand footsteps per day. Every footfall brings the walkers closer to a reunion. Every footfall begets a separation. Our forward movement, erratic, fragile, relentless, is a quest: for comfort, for deliverance, for squaring the ideal of endurance with the practice of love.



Scourges Upon the Earth

From This Changes Everything, the fantastic-as-ever latest book from one of my heroes, Naomi Klein:

This-Changes-EverythingOne of the most interesting findings of the many recent studies on climate perceptions is the clear connection between a refusal to accept the science of climate change and social and economic privilege. Overwhelmingly, climate change deniers are not only conservative but also white and male, a group with higher than average incomes. And they are more likely than other adults to be highly confident in their views, no matter how demonstrably false. A much discussed paper on this topic by sociologists Aaron McCright and Riley Dunlap (memorably titled “Cool Dudes”) found that as a group, conservative white men who expressed strong confidence in their understanding of global warming were almost six times as likely to believe climate change “will never happen” as the rest of the adults surveyed.

I saw Klein speak in Chicago back in 2008 and it was fantastic. She signed my little Moleskin book “Stay Brave.” That strikes right to the heart of things, doesn’t it? Bravery and kindness, that’s what we need more of.


Report from the Road

I flew over to Portland on Tuesday to participate in the first ever Noir at the Bar event in Portland. This is the second one I’ve been part of, the first being in St. Louis a couple years ago. Basically what it is is kind of an underground thing where a bunch of (primarily) crime writers get together and read stuff — short stories, book excerpts, whatever — at a bar, and people come out and listen. It’s a blast.

At risk of sounding whiny, writing can be a lonely and solitary existence. Hell, the morning I left, I ran into a guy I’ve played kickball with for a couple years who was also at the airport leaving on a trip. What I didn’t know until then is that he is one of the main writers for the Independent, who I freelance for, and I wasn’t even aware. I kind of felt like an asshole for being so damn oblivious. But that’s the thing — unless you live in a town with a vibrant, social writing community, or if you teach or something, it’s rare you come face to face with your peers. At least that’s been my experience. I certainly don’t feel like any part of a writing community in Missoula, that’s for damn sure. This event really underscored that for me. I mean, who in Missoula could I have high-brow literary conversations on subjects like, for example, the opening sequence to the first Blade movie, anecdotes about puking into your own pants (I don’t have one of my own, thank you), and erotic fan fiction, all in the span of about an hour?

Right out of the gate I got to meet a couple guys whose books I’ve read and that I’ve communicated with but never met in person: Johnny Shaw and Barry Graham. Johnny organized the thing, edited and published me in Blood & Tacos, and has written a couple award winning books of his own that I highly recommend. Our conversation went late into the night, got a little beer-slurred at times, and covered a lot of ground. It was awesome. Barry Graham is originally from Scotland, doesn’t shy away from saying what he thinks, and besides writing some gritty-as-hell fiction also happens to be a Zen monk. I’ve read at least half-a-dozen or so of his books, both fiction and non-fiction, and every one is excellent. He recited his material by memory (a particularly gruesome scene from How Do You Like Your Blue-Eyed Boy), and was outstanding. His writing is intense. Hell, even his TWITTER posts are intense. In person I found him warm and loquacious. I look forward to crossing paths with him again.

I also got to be a bit of a fanboy. Greg Rucka is one of the best comics writers out there. He’s written the heaviest of hitters — Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman — as well as creator-owned stuff that are considered industry classics, like Whiteout and Queen and Country. I’m particularly partial to his more recent Portland-based P.I. series, Stumptown. He’s also found time to write something like a dozen novels too. I mean, the dude was an answer to a friggin’ question on Jeopardy last week, for crissakes! It was a thrill for me to meet him, and he was a great guy.

I also met two writers I’d never read before, Lisa Alber and Roger Hobbs. Lisa’s debut, Kilmoon, comes out in the spring. I’m pretty stoked to get a chance to read it. We had gin and tonics together, something I’d never had before. It was a nice little break between beers. Roger read from his current WIP, but also found out that day that his previous novel, Ghostman, had won the 2013 Steel Dagger Award for Best Thriller. I’ll definitely be tracking that down ASAP.

I also got to hang out with my friends Aaron Draplin and Leah Mckolay, who I was thrilled and grateful to for coming out to watch and hang for awhile. I killed a couple hours earlier that day talking shit with Draplin on the DDC Factory Floor as well, which is always a good time.

I could go on and on, frankly. It was a great trip, a great day, a great night. I came home tired but inspired. I wouldn’t hesitate a moment to make the trip again, because it is worth every minute, every penny. What a blast. What a fantastic group of friggin’ people.


Some Local Flavor, Bro

From Crazy River: Exploration and Folly in East Africa by Richard Grant

cvr9781439154144_9781439154144_hrAt sundown he led me past the snoozing security guards and out through the metal security gates that separated the backpacker compound from the local village. We walked along a deeply eroded street of dried terra-cotta mud, past huts and shacks, a barbershop with two chairs and a solar panel for the electric clippers, past a woman selling tomatoes stacked in little pyramids on a spread-out kanga, a group of jumping, pointing children yelling out “Muzungu! Muzungu!” and many pairs of watchful adult eyes. We sat down in a restaurant with a palm-thatched roof and no walls. It had two tables, a mud floor, and four planks of wood for chairs. “Ah, this is more like it,” said Milan. “Some local flavor, bro.”

The waiter was young, dreadlocked, and dreamily stoned. We ordered chicken masala and watched him saunter back to the kitchen to tell the cook, who sent out a boy for onions, called him back, gave him some money, and told him to pick up a chicken as well. Twenty minutes later, with no sign of the boy, Milan was twitching and vibrating with impatience. He stalked into the kitchen, pointed his forefinger, and gave the waiter and the cook an angry blast of Swahili. They sent out another boy to find the first.

Swahili is a mixture of Arabic and African Bantu languages. It contains several words for “hurry” and “rush.” They all come from Arabic, not Bantu, and they carry a negative connotation, implying that hurrying will botch the job.

Milan sat down and fumed. Fifteen minutes later the boys returned with two onions and a freshly killed and mostly plucked chicken. The cook started cutting it up, then answered his phone and wandered off for ten minutes. He came back, finished cutting up the chicken, and started on the onions. He was in no hurry, and it turned out that he had no reason to be in a hurry. The restaurant only had six plates, and they had all just gone into service on the other table. By the time the other diners had finished their meal, and the cook had washed up and dried the plates, the masala would be done perfectly.

As a recent arrival, I found it entertaining and fascinating to watch this process unfold with such amazing slowness, but it drove Milan crazy. Here was everything that bedeviled Africa’s progress and exasperated him about the motherland. “Where’s the system? Why is it so hard to plan ahead? I mean, put away a few shillings and buy some fucking onions, you know. If you want to make a living selling chicken masala, make sure you have a fucking chicken, man. And do some prep work, cut the fucker up ahead of time. Look at this. We’ve been sitting here for an hour and forty minutes now.”


Keeping it Pulpy

I’ve made a conscious effort over the last year or so to keep much of my reading grounded in what is typically labeled as “literary” fiction, something I’ve avoided over the years. When I was reading a ton of short stories last year I realized more literary work was getting the job done for me than the genre stuff was. I hit a patch where I was reading so much crime fiction that I was getting pretty burned out on it. It all started feeling interchangeable to me. So I backed off. I’ve also made an effort to get back to reading more nonfiction (something I went several years reading almost exclusively).

I still like a healthy dose of the stuff I love most, though: pulp. Action/adventure stories. Blood. Guts. Mayhem. To that end I usually have one or two books going at the same time, just to keep the enthusiasm up. This weekend I finished a couple great reads in time to make room for a couple more. I figured I’d mention them here.

Under the Ember Star by Charles Allen Gramlich

Charles is a friend of mine who you will see comment here now and again. He almost single-handedly led me back to reading Sword & Sorcery stuff after I read his story collection, Bitter Steel, a couple years ago. Ember Star is science fiction. This is the review I wrote on Amazon for this book:

There is a lot packed into this Gramlich novella. The world building is excellent; much depth of history, interesting cultures, and an intriguing premise. It is a fast-paced pulp sci-fi romp of the highest order. The book is very cinematic, and I mean that as a high compliment. I’d love to see more stories written here. Hell, I’d play this setting as a video game or RPG. There just seems a ton of stuff that could be done on the world of Kelmer. Here’s to hoping we’ll get to see more, particularly featuring our heroine, Ginn Hollis!

Commando: Operation Bedlam by Jack Badelaire

Another one from a guy you’ll see comment here now and again. This is the follow-up to Jack’s first Commando novel, Operation Arrowhead. I’ve read them both, and really enjoyed them. These are WWII adventure novels, something I had essentially no history of reading. Here are the reviews I threw up on Amazon for the two of them:

As I was reading this book, I realized that, outside of some flashbacks in Captain America comics, I hadn’t read any WWII fiction since reading THE GUNS OF NAVARONE back in high school. I had a great time reading this, and I’ll certainly be back for more. This is guns blazing, never-a-dull-moment action adventure stuff that I love to spend time with on those occasions when I simply want to be entertained. A couple strong characters take it above the usual fare, and I’m eager to read more adventures from this crew. (Arrowhead)

I thoroughly enjoyed Badelaire’s first COMMANDO novel, so much so that when the opportunity to read this one came along it vaulted to the top of the TBR pile. I wasn’t disappointed. I’m no scholar of WWII, certainly, but these books read like Baudelaire has certainly done his homework. The detail on the weapons, the settings, the equipment . . . they all contribute to putting the reader right in the thick of the action without feeling like the author is pulling one of those, “Hey, look at me and how much research I did!”-style information dumps. I appreciate that. The stories are fast-paced, no BS, all-out action. Which is exactly what I want from a pulp novel. The fact that I get more than an average amount of character development doesn’t hurt. Nice work. Can’t wait for the next one. (Bedlam)

What’s next? I’ve had In the Clear, Black Fields of Night by Chad Eagleton queued up for a while. I really enjoyed the original A Rip Through Time story that David Cranmer (yes, another commenter here; see a theme going, by chance?) from Beat to a Pulp put out, and I just haven’t gotten to this follow-up yet. That’s about to change. Hell, I’ve read a bunch of the stuff Cranmer has put out, and there is a bunch I have yet to read as well. All well worth checking out.

Finally, Blood & Tacos #4 is out. This is a must-read, folks. You can get it for free from the official website, or buy it from Amazon. Lots of cool stuff happening in the B&T world as well; I urge you to check it out. And I would be remiss if I didn’t remind you that it’s never too late to get B&T #3, which includes my story, “Blood and Sweetgrass In: This Rez is Mine.”