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I recently got The New Annotated H.P. Lovecraft, edited by Leslie S. Klinger, and it is glorious.

First off, the thing is massive, 10 x 9 inches, with over 900 pages printed on thick, cream-colored paper. It's also illustrated throughout, including images of many of the Providence landmarks Lovecraft mentions in his stories, copies of his original manuscripts, as well as the illustrations from Weird Tales and Astounding Stories that originally accompanied his stories. Even the dust jacket is nice. Its tentacle pattern is stamped into the paper, making for a nice tactile experience when you run your hand across it. While I have some problems with Klinger's story choices (maybe he didn't want to include Dream-Quest of Unnkown Kaddith due to it only existing in first draft form, but no "The Rats in the Walls"?), regardless, the act of reading this book is a true pleasure.

Awhile ago, I was listening to a podcast interview with William Schafer, the editor at Subterranean Press. Subterranean specializes in high-end editions (often reprints) or horror and fantasy books. At one point during the interview, Schafer said that, since their founding in 1995, people have been convinced that they must be doomed. After all, how can a small press putting out expensive editions compete with the big box bookstores like Barnes & Noble, or Amazon, or the Kindle, or downloading a book straight onto your phone? But counter-intuitively, rather than struggling to stay afloat, Subterranean has grown almost ever year since its founding. Schafer said (and I'm paraphrasing from a podcast I listened to nearly a year ago) that Subterranean wasn't really competing with Amazon or the Kindle at all. While the major trend in book publishing over the past twenty years has been making books cheaper, more mass produced products, Subterranean specialized in making beautiful art pieces.

Back when I was a grubby little populist, I was proud of my grubbily little paperbacks: crack-spined and dog-eared, often scrounged from used book shops and passed on to friends once I was done with them. However, as books have grown more ephemeral--to the point that even the concept of a "book" is growing increasingly nebulous--I've started to appreciate a well-made object I can hold in my hands.

I still buy plenty of paperbacks and even download the occasional book onto my phone. (It's great to have something to read when you're waiting at the dentist's office, etc.) But for the stories I really love, more and more, I want a nice edition with character and history. For instance, I've previously written before about my Complete Works of Shakespeare and the 1803 edition of Robinson Crusoe my brother gave me last Christmas.

Before tackling Lovecraft, Klinger had put together a two-volume Annotated Sherlock Holmes. I've already know all the stories. Awhile back, I gorged on audiobook versions the Sherlock Holmes stories, plowing through them while driving or cleaning the bathroom. But wouldn't it be wonderful to settle down on a blustery winter and experience them again, this time while reading a big, beautiful book?

CABINET OF CUIROSITIES | rhyolite, nevada

This is The Last Supper, an outdoor art instillation by Albert Szukalski. The sculpture lies just outside Rhyolite, Nevada, a ghost town turned open air art museum. You can read more about Rhyolite's fascinating history here.

Another sight from Rhyolite is the Bottle House, built by prospector Tom Kelly in 1905 using over 30,000 bottles and restored in 2005.

I was going through the obituaries at my local library and marveling at some of the names. This being the rural South, there were quite a few Elvies and Homers, along with several Woodrow Wilsons and one Franklin Delano. Then I came across the most interesting name I've ever heard: Nameless.

My first guess was that "nameless" was actually a placeholder the obit writer had put in until he could find out the real name, then it accidentally got left in. (Back when I worked at my college's newspaper, we accidentally let a caption run that read, "Professors Smith, Jones, and FIND OUT WHAT HIS NAME IS discuss plans for the new building.") However, after some Googling, I learned that her name really was Nameless. The AP article is below:

Nameless dies at age 82

Believe it or not, it was her name and she liked it

ATHENS, ALA. | To her children she was Mama. To the Postal Service, she was Mrs. Johnny Whitt.

But actually her real name was Nameless.

Nameless Butler Whitt, who died Monday at age 82 after suffering pulmonary disease, tended to enjoy being Nameless.

"I think she liked being different," said her daughter, Judy Carter. "There were times we'd be some place and she'd be filling out forms or applications, and they'd call her back up to the desk and say, 'No, really. We have to have your name.' And so then she'd get to say, 'And you've got it. Nameless.'"

Before she married Johnny Whitt 67 years ago, she didn't have a middle name either -- she was just Nameless Butler.

Cathy Haynes, another daughter, said her mother told her she was named from a Western novel.

"It was 1919 and her daddy was reading a Western. About the time she was born, he had gotten to the part where this cowgirl came up on a group of cowboys, and she wanted to join them," Ms. Haynes said. "So they asked her what her name was, and she said, 'Just call me Nameless.'"

The idea appealed to her parents, and her children think she liked her unusual name.

"Back then, after you married somebody, you just become Mrs. So-and-So. That's what a lady did, and so she became Mrs. Johnny Whitt," Ms. Haynes said. "It didn't hit me until I was older, almost grown-up, what an unusual name she had. She was just Mama."
Last year, I was listening to the BBC podcast series Shakespeare's Restless World. In the episode "Treason and Plots," the host Neil MacGregor deadpans, "During sixteenth century, France lost so many monarchs it started to seem like carelessness."

That's a great line (particularly when delivered in MacGregor's affable-but-serious British tone.) I immediately started thinking about a royal crypt filled with the ghosts of monarchs who'd all either killed or been killed by one another. That image eventually became the story "Sic Semper" which Crossed Genres published in their Conspiracy Issue earlier this year.

You can read "Sic Semper" on Crossed Genre's website and/or support the magazine by buying an annual subscription.

Vladislav IX had been the first monarch ever assassinated by bullet, a fact his ghost was quite proud of. “No brutish stabbing and hacking for me!” he crowed. “Powder and lead, efficient and to the point.”

Backed against the wall of the royal crypt, Alexander nodded. “Sure… I can tell.” The historic shot had left Vladislav IX with very little face above his curled white mustachios. This made talking to him unsettling. Luckily, the ghost carried most of the conversation.

“My reign was very forward-looking that way. I was also the first Cynanian monarch to eat a plantain.”

“Oh? Did you like it?”

“Not particularly. Mushy.”

Alexander kept nodding. He tried to remember something about Vladislav IX’s reign he might add to the conversation, but the truth was, Cynan had lots of Kings Vladislav. After a while, they all blurred together into one endless mustachio.
Just then, the shade of Queen Ludmila the First drifted close. “Vlad, stop pestering him. Can’t you see he’s nervous?”

Vladislav IX harrumphed. “I’m simply giving him some historical context for what he’s about to do.”

“He doesn’t need any historical context.” Queen Ludmila smiled at Alexander. “Just do what comes naturally, dear. Assassination isn’t difficult.”

Alexander gulped. “Y-you know why I’m here?”

The ghosts filling the royal crypts laughed. “We’re nobles, boy! Can’t slip an assassin past us,” Boris the Younger said.

“Unless he’s hiding in the privy with a spear, eh, Boris?” asked Mad King Casimir. This made all the ghosts – except Boris – laugh even harder. Boris the Younger (also known to the annals as the Man-Eater King and Boris Lutheran-Bane) snipped back,

“Well, at least I wasn’t poisoned like some woman!”

“No, you just died with a spear-point rammed up your–”

“Lords, please!” Queen Ludmila drifted between them, then turned back to Alexander.

“The point is, you’re hiding in the royal crypt fiddling with a gun. I’d know what you were up to even if I hadn’t killed my husband’s first wife.”

Alexander stuffed the revolver in his pocket, but the queen was right. He was here to kill the king.

Read the rest at Cross Genres's website.

The Delphi Antinous

Antinous was the handsome lover of Roman Emperor Hadrian. In 130 A.D. he died while still in his early twenties. Afterward, Hadrian had him declared a god, funding the sculpting of many statues and temples in Antinous's honor. the cult of Antinous flourished briefly until Hadrian's own death eight years later. Then, Antinous was largely forgotten.

In 1893, a statue of Antinous was unearthed from the overgrown ruins of the Delphi temple complex by the French archeologist Théophile Homolle. He and his team stopped work for a moment to take this astounding photograph.

I love how the 2,000-year-old statue is in crisp focus while the mortal men surrounding it are blurred, as if their time on earth was already fading away.

After being buried and forgotten for centuries, the statue is again on display at the Archeological Museum of Delphi. Théophile Homolle and all the men on his team have crumbled to dust, leaving a few faded photographs behind.

3 years, 5 months, and 18 days

I've been fiddling around with this novel too long.

The earliest outline I wrote for this (which is dramatically different from the current plot) is dated January 20, 2011. I can make excuses. I can point out other stuff I've done in the 3 years, 5 months, and 18 days since I started, but I can't help but wonder where all that time went.

Finally, I've hunted and pecked the manuscript all the way to the climax, everything had been cleared for the final battle that I've been plotting out for, literally, years. June was going to be my month. I socked away some money from freelance jobs, cleared my schedule as much as possible, and planned to push through to the end.

Then… nothing.

I wrote--maybe--4000 words the whole month. I kept getting distracted by books, preparing for a Dr. Who convention, and re-watching old episodes of King of the Hill.

I don't even like King of the Hill very much.

Last week, while having coffee with a friend, she reminded me of C. S. Lewis's comments about the bottleneck from The Screwtape Letters. Essentially, most human endeavors are bottle-shaped. They start off easy enough, then enter a bottleneck, getting harder and harder before the breakthrough finally occurs. Humans have a tendency to give up when they enter the bottleneck, turning back just before the big break-through.

It always was like this. All horrors have followed the same course, getting worse and worse and forcing you into a kind of bottleneck till, at the very moment when you thought you must be crushed, behold! You were out of the narrows and all was suddenly well. The extraction hurt more and more and then the tooth was out. The dream became a nightmare and then you woke. You die and die and then you are beyond death.

I've got to finish this book. I've been fiddling with it too long. It doesn't matter anymore if nobody want to represent it, or publish it, or read it. I've just got to finish it. I'm in the narrows now, and I've put too much blood and exhaustion into it to turn back.


Batman '89

Twenty-five years ago today, Tim Burton's Batman arrived in theaters. With a new superhero movie popping up every couple of weeks these days, it's hard to remember what a seismic event that was, especially for a ten-year-old kid like myself. Batman was already fifty years old by point, but to my limited perspective, superheroes were relegated to Saturday morning cartoons and the occasional comic book my parents bought to keep me quiet on long car trips. Once Tim Burton's movie appeared, though, it really seemed like everybody was talking about it.

For me, not only did I see Batman multiple times that summer, I also attended my first ever comic book convention (a scrappy little affair at the Wheeler Basin Public Library.) I saved my allowance for weeks to buy a Batmobile toy. (Tim Burton's Batmobile remains my favorite version to this day) and began watching reruns of the Adam West Batman TV show religiously.

Recently, I re-watched the movie for the first time in a decade or so, and I was struck by how...offbeat it is. I hate when people call superhero media "campy" because it's usually accompanied by an unspoken assumption that superheroes shouldn't be any fun or, god forbid, something a kid might enjoy. But the 1989 Batman is definitely a Tim Burton movie. A whirl of whimsy and lurking dread, it has as much in common with Nightmare Before Christmas as The Dark Knight Returns. The props and art deco set designs make it impossible to say if the movie is set in the 1930s or sometime in the near future. Where Heath Ledger created a Joker who was terrifying other, Jack Nickolson's Joker was much more of a puckish, pied piper character. At ten years old, even though I knew he the bad guy, it was impossible to watch him bopping through the art museum, "improving" all the paintings, and not want to be him a tiny bit. And then you have Robert Whul's Knox, wandering through the movie, commenting on the action like a one-man, Borcht Belt chorus. Seriously, what the hell was up with Knox?

The movie isn't perfect. Neither Michel Keaton nor Kim Basinger seem to have any idea how to play their characters, and the batsuit looks so stiff and cumbersome, I'm pretty sure a hard shove would have trapped Batman on his back like a turtle. Still, that summer twenty-five years ago marked the first time since Fredric Wertham's Seduction of the Innocent that superheroes took a central place in popular culture. Moreover, that summer began a lot of the obsessions and loves that would define my life.

Since then, superhero movies have become big business, and especially with DC/Warner properties, deathly serious business as well. I can't imagine them releasing anything as idiosyncratic, as bizarre, or and brilliant anytime soon.

country church

We got whacked pretty hard by the tornadoes late last month, losing power for about a week and a half. Still, we got off a lot easier than many people. The local high school closed indefinitely because so many students had lost their homes and been displaced.

The damage included a tree landing directly on the roof of the old Limestone Presbyterian Church.

Established in 1893, the congregation has since moved to a larger building downtown, but they keep this land due to the cemetery behind the church. I've always liked this church; it's just the classic, white-clapboard country church that have populated the rural South for 200 years. In fact, they actually used this church as a set for the not-all-that-good Tom Sawyer adaptation Tom and Huck.

Today, I stopped by the church to check out the damage. Besides the roof, it seems like some light fixtures had broken inside and the frame was askew enough that the front doors wouldn't close. As you can see from the photos, nobody has done much to repair the damage besides throw a tarp on the roof and nail the door closed. Even the glass from the light fixtures was still scattered on the floor. I do hope they repair the church and don't just let it fall apart now.

And also, a picture from the church's cemetery: the grave of Willard Earl Bland, age two, decorated with marbles.

We've got a huge storm heading this way. Schools and some businesses have closed early, so people can get home and hunker down. I'm in the process of getting everything ready for a job fair I'm going to Wednesday in case the power goes out: printing out resumes, making sure everything I need washed is washed, etc.

Appropriately, the American Life in Poetry poem this week is also about a huge storm. Enjoy.

"Rain on a Barn South of Tawas" by William Jolliff

It may be as close as an old man in Michigan
comes to the sound of the sea. Call it thunder
if you want, but it’s not thunder, not at all.
It’s more like the rush of semis on a freeway

somewhere between Bay City and Flint,
the road a son will take when he learns,
sometime around the last taste of a strap,
that the life he was born to is nothing

at all like a life he’d ever bother to live.
There’s an anger in it, a tin-edged constancy
that has no rhythm, quite, something more
like white noise that still won’t let you sleep.

Think of some man, needing to get a crop in,
but the fields are sop, so he’s trying to find
something to fix, something to keep his hands
working, something to weld, something to pound,

something to wrap his calloused palms around
that might do less damage than a lead-rope
knotted and tossed over the limb of a tree.
If you ever decide to lose your years

by working this land, you might think again,
about the barn you build, or roofing it with tin.

used book stores

Thursday, after substituting at my old high school, I made a stop at one of my favorite books stores. The Priceville Bookmark is a cramped strip mall storefront with Harlequin romances and Dean Koontz thrillers piled into shopping carts out front, four for a dollar. I hadn't been there in a couple years, and since then, they'd expanded into the old tanning salon next door. Inside, books cover almost every square inch of space. They're piled on the floor and tables, stacked two deep on the shelves, and fill old jewelry display cases. Tight little nooks are dedicated to westerns and World War II histories. The corridor between the two stores is cramped passage with classics pressing in from both sides.

After an hour of browsing, I picked up three books of mythology, one on Shakespeare's comedies, one on life in a Medieval castle, one of endangered species in Alabama, an anthology of "gothic fantasy," a novel based on a murder that occurred in my home town, and a Babysitter's Club graphic novel by an artist I really like.

I didn't walk into the shop looking for any of these things, and that's what makes used book stores fundamentally different from regular book stores. Regular book stores are set up with order and care. They assume customers come in looking for something specific, and they're designed to allow you to walk in, find what you want, and leave quickly.

Used book shops--the good ones, at least--are more chaotic and eclectic. They're set up (to the extent that they're set up at all) for browsing, for poking into dusty corners, for getting lost. You walk in not looking for anything in particular, and most of what you see is uninteresting. Then your eyes land on one book in the pile that you never knew you needed, but suddenly realize you can't live without.

There's no experience like it.