Visiting Hours and Other Stories – Now Available!

My latest short story collection Visiting Hours and Other Stories is now available at numerous retailers. Pick up a copy by clicking on one of the links below.

An estranged married couple remains in virtual worlds compiled from past memories while they await new younger bodies. Their adult children must cope with tense surrealistic visits with each of their parents as well as protestors that resent the resources spent on keeping older people alive.

An official investigating a gruesome suicide journeys to a castle in a remote valley on a far planet where a sexually profligate cult ritually imbibes a fungus with hallucinogenic properties.

On a primitive world, a widow and an orphan child unite to combat a monster terrorizing a local trade route.

In the aftermath of devastating warfare that has reduced human society to confusion and poverty, benevolent alien visitors arrive to help restore unity to a decimated Earth.

In these and other tales of science fiction and fantasy, you’ll find adventure, intrigue, pathos, humor, love, terror, virtual worlds, far planets, mysterious castles, alien entities, monsters, ghosts, chaos, captivity, quests, and redemption.

Includes: “Visiting Hours,” “Lady Spider and the Flies,” “A Day in the Mine,” “Touchable,” “Highwayman,” “Interlude with Unfamiliar Cuisine,” “Evidence of Things Not Seen,” “Gladiators,” “The Motel at the Foot of the Mountain,” “Hitchhikers in the Hidden Cove,” “The Blood Test,” “The Old Man Who Came Down from His Mountain,” “The Screech of the Bolt, the Click of the Lock,” “Sithonia,” “Afterword.”

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Acting As If You’re a Writer

The concept of acting as if posits that if you behave as if something you desire has already occurred, eventually your desire will catch up with you and become reality. In conducting some rudimentary research on the topic, it is not easy to pinpoint where the term and concept originated. I would imagine it has been around in one guise or other for millennia. In 1911, a German philosopher named Hans Vaihinger published a book called The Philosophy of ‘As If’: A System of the Theoretical, Practical and Religious Fictions of Mankind. The psychotherapist Alfred Adler developed the concept of acting as if as a therapeutic technique in the 1920s. If you conduct an Internet search nowadays, the first several pages of results are mainly self-help and New Age websites touting that if you act as if you have whatever you desire, it will only be a matter of time before you have it in fact. Some of these claims seem far-fetched, while others are thoughtful, nuanced, and genuinely helpful. Acting as if is used in psychological, medical, spiritual, and practical situations to assist people in getting beyond their inhibitions and phobias so that they can make progress toward achieving their goals.

I recently came across the acting as if concept in a book I was reading, and immediately considered how I could use it to assist me with one of the great dilemmas in my life: How can I have published almost thirty books and still feel that I have fallen so short of my career goals? When I look at this issue objectively, I realize that there is a simple answer, which is that some of the criteria by which I define success are not directly related to writing at all. How many editors purchase and publish my stories and how much money I make have nothing to do with the writing itself or even the quality of what I produce. Sometimes, maybe, but not always. My former Clarion West workshop instructor Harlan Ellison once said, “If they’re not buying your stories, write better stories.” That’s good advice up to a point; we should always strive for improvement. However, what if you’re writing the best stories of which you are capable but they’re still not buying them? Editors reject stories for all sorts of reasons, and not all of those reasons have to do with quality. More than once I have had editors of top magazines send me notes about particular stories telling me that they love the stories – even, in one instance, listing in detail all the things they particularly enjoyed – but then telling me that they still weren’t going to buy them. One of those stories dealt with a controversial topic, while the other may have been too stylistically experimental.

Money and fame do not make you a writer. Writing does. When editors and publishers accept your work and pay you for it, these are business transactions, and they have to do with decisions that others make, not you. If an editor has rejected your story, acting as if won’t cause the editor to reverse the decision, although it may give you the impetus to send it out to another market. Acting as if your writing has already made you rich and famous will simply turn you into a pompous ass.

Let’s assume that you are a person of integrity and that your primary goal is to become the best writer of which you are capable. This is a worthwhile goal. Remember that this goal has nothing to do with the talents of others. Your aim should not be to become as good a writer as so-and-so, because you are not so-and-so. You do not have their background, education, or genes. You are you; that’s the raw material you have to work with. You can absorb knowledge, you can learn techniques, you can avail yourself of mentors, but it all still come down to you and nobody else.

So what makes you a writer? You write. You don’t think about writing; you don’t daydream about how someday it would be so nice to sit down and write that novel or memoir you’ve been thinking about. You write. That’s what acting as if is all about. You want to be a writer? Write. I suggest a daily word count. You can adjust the quota depending upon circumstances. These days I write five hundred words a day, seven days a week. If I miss a day here or there, usually because I finish a piece of writing and I am deciding what to work on next, I don’t fret – but generally that’s the standard. In the past, I have sometimes gone up to one thousand words a day when I have the time and I’m in the middle of a lengthy novel. When I was full-time teaching I took it down to two hundred words a day because that was all I could manage. The point is that you write a certain amount of words every day. Some days, especially when I am beginning a new project, it takes me longer; other days, usually when I am in the middle of something, it’s like opening a spigot. The words pour out as fast as I can type them.

A few final thoughts. You are bound to get better the more you practice. You’ll never be perfect; you’ll keep practicing and improving for the rest of your life. At some point, editors will probably start buying your work; however, as I mentioned above, there are many reasons that editors reject writing and not all of them have to do with quality. If you are convinced that you are doing good work, nowadays there is always the option of self-publishing. The learning curve is fairly easy, and it is a viable way of getting your writing to potential readers.

Above all, always remember that acting as if you are a writer means that you write. That’s what writers do.

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A Spray of Short Stories for Summer Stimulation

This article was originally written and posted in January of 2019. I have updated it to include my latest short story collections. Relax and enjoy the excitement of some great short stories while you bask in the summer sun.

I mean the word “spray” in the title both as a powerful expulsion of metaphorical liquid and as an attractive display of flamboyant flowers. I’ve written a blog post called “Books Make Great Gifts” about some of my available full-length works, so I thought why not highlight some short stories? So here they are, volume by volume, some of my personal favorites from among my own short stories. Note that there are links to entire collections or to individual stories.

From The Dragon Ticket and Other Stories:

The Dragon Ticket“: Presented with an extraordinary gift by an alien artifact high in the remote Himalayas, a young woman named Michelle must learn how to use her new power as nuclear war plunges the world into chaos.

From Painsharing and Other Stories:

Beyond Purgatory“: On a far planet the ultimate civil punishment is to be genetically deformed into a monstrous beast and forced to live in the forbidden compound called Purgatory as a slave of the State.  When authorities arrest and condemn the woman he loves, Justus determines to find and save her, even if he must search Purgatory itself. 

From Dark Mirrors: Dystopian Tales:

Dark Mirrors“: The people of Earth are losing a war with aliens that they themselves provoked.  Every able-bodied person is being called up to fight, even prisoners; those who refuse are threatened with dismemberment to provide spare parts for wounded soldiers.  A battle-hardened general enters a prison to recruit a woman who refuses to fight, but who may have a most unusual special ability that can turn the tide of the war.

From Fear or Be Feared: Fantasies:

Fear or Be Feared“: A teenage Greek girl climbs Mount Olympus with some of her friends.  Lost in a lightning storm, she discovers the spirit of an ancient Greek god which possesses her and uses her against her will as an instrument of vengeance.

The Customs Shed“: Those who wish to cross the river of death must first be purged in the customs shed; but within await the mysterious customs agents.  What will they require as the price of passage?

From Opting Out and Other Departures: Stories:

Opting Out“: It is the near future, and due to easier availability of alternative energy, fossil fuels are becoming outlawed.  Fleeing south along the coastal highway from a state government that threatens to confiscate the gasoline-fueled camper-van he lives in, a homeless man comes across a seemingly-idyllic communal refuge for homeless people set up by a philanthropic dot-com billionaire.

Opting In“: An old man, feeling useless, leaves his daughter’s home to go live in a homeless shelter. Following up on a tip from a fellow vagrant, he finds an alien being preparing to leave Earth who invites him on a journey from which he can never return.

From Heroes and Other Illusions: Stories:

Matchmaker“: From a future bereft of emotion, a time traveler journeys to Thessaloniki, Greece, in 1917 to find a legendary matchmaker and learn the lost secret of true marriage. Although aware that the city is about to become decimated by fire, he becomes betrothed to a local woman and must choose between remaining in the past or returning to the future with the desperately needed knowledge he has acquired.

Katabasis“: After traveling to India to take advantage of cutting-edge psychiatric technology, a jaded ailing old man embarks on a guided journey through his memories to locate and correct errant decisions that shaped his life.

From Invasive Procedures: Stories:

The Beatification of Lady Poverty“: A government operative recruits a young woman with a very special power of self defense for a mission to help end a war in Europe. However, once she unleashes them, her mysterious abilities provoke changes beyond anything her handlers intended or imagined.

Camp College“: In the near future, as societies continue to erode and the gap between rich and poor widens, inexpensive college camps spring up around the country as an alternative form of higher education. At one such camp, a partially dysfunctional veteran and a woman alienated from her family meet and attempt to make sense out of the rapidly changing world.

From Apocalypse Bluff and Other Stories:

Connecting the Dots in Pointillist Paintings“: A recently divorced woman joins a virtual community in search of social acceptance and companionship. After fashioning a new identity for herself, she sets off to explore the meticulously created landscapes of this new world, unaware that the beautiful environments are rife with human predators.

Apocalypse Bluff“: As invading aliens unleash monsters resembling mutated Earth carnivores to devour humankind, an extended family gathers together in a mansion on an isolated bluff for a last stand. To survive, they must fight together against ravenous beasts attacking from land and sea.

From The Woman Who Fell Backwards and Other Stories:

The Woman Who Fell Backwards“: A woman agrees to take part in a research program that will propel her backwards in time on a one-way, never-ending journey. On one of her pauses during her tumble into the past, she meets someone who seems to know her, and they initiate an unusual and enigmatic romance.

The Magic Debit Card“: An elderly homeless man suddenly discovers that his debit card, which is usually almost empty, has been filled with thousands of dollars, and whenever he spends money, by the next morning it has somehow reappeared. He uses this inexplicable bounty to get off the streets, clean himself up, and attain a measure of personal security. The source of the magical largesse is something he never would have imagined.

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Book Review: Rising: Dispatches from the New American Shore by Elizabeth Rush

This is an excellent book. It is one of those rare books that combine science, observations of nature, and memoir to create a unique, vital, and invigorating literary experience. Broadly, it concerns global warming and rising sea levels, but Rush focuses on the importance of marshlands in preventing coastal erosion and how get-rich-quick coastal development programs have irreparably damaged these marshlands. As sea levels rise, the people who live there have no choice but to abandon their homes and move inland.

However, in presenting these facts, Rush does not write in abstractions. Instead, she visits certain affected areas, gets to know the people involved, and compares the lives that they lived in the past with their present tragedy of being forced to give up their homelands. These affected people are too often the poor who cannot afford to live anywhere else but in frequently flooded lowlands. In some cases, their families have been there for generations. They include a group of Native Americans on a rapidly disappearing island called Isle de Jean Charles in Louisiana; a poverty-stricken, oft-flooded area called the Tanyard in Pensacola, Florida; a neighborhood called Oakwood Beach on Staten Island in New York whose frequently flooded homes were devastated by Hurricane Sandy, which left them no option but to accept government buyouts so their homes could be razed to create storm buffer zones; and a low-lying neighborhood of San Jose called Alviso at the south end of San Francisco Bay, which is resisting assimilation by tech companies and other industries. Rush also visits an endangered marsh at Phippsburg, Maine, and H. J. Andrews Experimental Forest in Oregon, which is a stopover for migratory birds dependent on coastal marshlands.

What makes this book so powerful and affecting is not just the data that Rush presents, or even her interviews with the people directly impacted by rising sea waters. What overwhelms and strengthens the book is her empathy for the people she gets to know and care for as well as her love for the marshlands that are rapidly disappearing. There is a pervading melancholy in her observations because she realizes that at this point sea level rise is inevitable, and the only option is for these people to leave their ancestral homes, move inland, and allow the abandoned land to act as a buffer to prevent, at least temporarily, further intrusions. The book is almost a lamentation. Rush realizes that current efforts are not going to work. It is too little, too late. Saving a tidal marsh is like trying to stay healthy in old age. Eventually you are going to lose the battle.

Although Rush concentrates on the situations on coastlines in the United States, she mentions in passing a visit she made to Bangladesh and the horrific flooding happening there during monsoon seasons. This reminded me of past experiences I have had of flooding during the monsoons on the Indian Subcontinent. In the late 1970s I lived for several months in Bombay, now called Mumbai, and I happened to be there during monsoons. Bombay is a very low-lying city built on seven islands. During the worst of the monsoon season when I was there, I had to wade through waist-high water to get to my apartment in Colaba, a downtown area. When I was living in Dhaka, Bangladesh in the 1980s, I remember walking along main roads through knee-high water during the monsoons. After reading Rush’s comments, I looked up the current flooding situation in Bangladesh. In recent storm seasons, up to one third of the low-lying country has been underwater, and millions of people have been driven out of their homes. This caused me to wonder where these people could possibly go. Rush suggests that a viable solution in the United States is for people in coastal areas to move inland. This might work, yes. But what about situations such as those in Bangladesh?

This caused me to reflect upon people who cover their eyes and ears like the proverbial monkeys in a row concerning global warming and rising sea levels. They somehow think that ignoring the problem or denying it will make it go away. That might work until they start drowning. The tragedy, as Rush points out, is that the rich can afford to ignore climate change because they have the resources to protect themselves. It is the poor who suffer by having to live in dangerous low-lying areas.

All in all, as I mentioned above, this is a terrific book, both well-written and important. Take the time to read it; you won’t be disappointed. It will open your eyes and also, hopefully, your heart.

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Book Review: The Believer Book of Writers Talking to Writers Edited by Vendela Vida

I’m always on the lookout for books in which writers talk about writing. Not because I need tips or suggestions on how to do it; I think I have that figured out after all this time. My interest is more in the experiences you might find in memoirs: when they first realized they were writers, what obstacles they had to overcome to put words on paper, where they’ve traveled, where they like to work, any particular habits that light their fires, and so on. So when I found mention of this particular book in an online article, I decided to give it a try.

When I opened the book and perused the table of contents, I felt a bit of trepidation. I had read something by only about half a dozen of the forty-two names of interviewers and interviewees, and I recognized less than half of them. Some might say that speaks to my lack of literary awareness, not to any defect of the book. Well, okay, so what? Admittedly the book is fifteen years old and so it contains no recent rising stars. It also avoids like the plague any writers having anything to do with science fiction, fantasy, and other so-called genre writing, with the exception of George Saunders and Haruki Murakami, who, incidentally or not, turned out to have some of the best interviews in the book.

Parts of this book I found entertaining. Let’s get into those first to start off on a bright note. As mentioned above, the interview with George Saunders was the highlight of the book. He is kind, considerate, and thoughtful as well as erudite and lucid. He makes writing and the teaching of writing sound like great fun. The tone of his comments is similar to that in his more recent book A Swim in a Pond in the Rain: In Which Four Russians Give a Master Class on Writing, Reading, and Life. In that book he gives the ultimate writing advice: “The closest thing to a method I have to offer is this: go forth and do what you please.”

Haruki Murakami’s interview also works well perhaps in part because it was conducted via email with the interviewer posing questions in English, Murakami replying in Japanese, and then a translator converting his answer into English. This method gave Murakami the opportunity to provide thoughtful, nuanced answers to the interviewer’s queries.

This brings me to one of the major problems with numerous interviews in the book. They are conducted person to person or by phone, recorded by the interviewers, and then read as if they are transcribed unedited, apart from eliminating the pauses and mumbles. Some writers and interviewers ramble on and on, repeating the same obscure literary arguments over and over. In one interview, the interviewer and interviewee talk for several pages about a cricket match they are watching. That certainly could have been clipped from the text without significant loss. Another writer’s interview is almost entirely taken up with how much she hates her own writing. That one was particularly hard to get through, much less comprehend. If she hates what she is doing so much, she should do something else. Ridiculous. Why inflict what she considers trash upon the reading public? It made no sense to me at all, unless her petulance springs from some overwhelming sense of self-righteousness. Even then…

There were other interesting interviews: for instance, Janet Malcolm’s thoughts on writing nonfiction, Edward P. Jones’s explanation of why he chose to address the issue of slavery with a narrative about black slave owners, and August Wilson on the blues as an inspiration and on the importance of finding a truthful voice as an African American writer. All in all, though, I would say that less than half of these interviews were actively interesting to me, some were so-so, and the rest were boring. I can’t say that everyone would have the same reaction. I’m just not one to put up with highbrow highfalutin’ literary pretenses. I’m much rather simply enjoy a good story.

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Book Review: Liftoff: Elon Musk and the Desperate Early Days That Launched SpaceX by Eric Berger

This book is not a complete history of SpaceX. Instead, it focuses on the beginning years of the upstart aerospace company that has now completely redefined the parameters of space travel. Specifically, it describes Musk’s vision to transform the aerospace industry by building a private company that could compete with the federal government and the industry giants, and his company’s first attempts to get a rocket into orbit.

In 2002, flush with money from his PayPal days, Musk decided to invest one hundred million dollars in his dream: to start up his own private aerospace company that would be able to compete for government contracts and eventually send a spaceship with enough personnel and supplies to plant a self-sustaining colony on Mars. Since he had a limited amount of cash and no immediate prospects for more, he worked fast. He hired young, hungry engineers who were willing to put their all into their jobs, spending long hours seven days a week to bring the dream into fruition. They cut corners wherever they could and questioned every tenet and method that the much larger, slow, sedate, self-satisfied, and wealthy companies took for granted. For instance, instead of purchasing parts already developed and ready from other businesses, they would save money by building them in-house.

Some of the finest, most creative young engineers, realizing that this company was different and that Musk was attempting to shake the industry out of its complacency, jumped at the chance to work for SpaceX. They charged in at full speed, gave their all, and invited other top engineers they knew. At speeds that dazzled scoffing onlookers they assembled their first rocket: Falcon1. Thwarted in their attempts to find a site to test it in the United States, they eventually had to move to a remote Army-run atoll in the middle of the Pacific Ocean called Kwajalein. They encountered numerous obstacles as they built a launch pad on a tiny islet and transferred rockets there for testing. As the first rocket failed, and then the second, and then the third, Musk and his team became more and more desperate. Musk had said that he would finance three attempts, and those had all failed; but he was unwilling to give up. With about six weeks worth of funding left and enough parts to assemble one more rocket, the SpaceX employees all rallied for a final try. The rest, as they say, is history.

I knew some of this story already from The Space Barons: Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, and the Quest to Colonize the Cosmos by Christian Davenport, which I read a few years ago. That’s a great book too, but in providing an overview of the entire recent movement to privatize the space industry, it is not able to go into detail about any of the individual stories. Liftoff, on the other hand, focuses on one intensely thrilling adventure: the beginning of the company that jumped out ahead of the pack.

Because of the detail and the in-depth look at the main characters, Liftoff is as exciting as a science fiction novel. It’s a real page-turner, which is unusual in a work of nonfiction. In an epilog, Berger tells what has happened to each of the important characters since the events he focuses on in the narrative, and because he has done such a good job of bringing them to life, I was intensely interested in this section. SpaceX has gone on to even greater innovations and achievements, and the young, eager engineers who helped build it have either grown with the company or gone on to assist other aerospace firms.

All in all, as I mentioned above, Liftoff is a fun, thrilling read. My only objection is that it ended when it did. I would have enjoyed it if the author had gone on to describe the subsequent years as SpaceX went on to become a giant in aerospace. I couldn’t get enough.

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Book Review: The Art of Memoir by Mary Karr

I should know better than to read books about writing, and yet I am irresistibly drawn to them. I have even written one called Writing as a Metaphysical Experience. However, I figured out long ago that writers are idiosyncratic, that one writer’s meat is another writer’s poison (or as I once heard it said by a notorious science fiction writer – one man’s nightmare is another man’s wet dream), and that there is as much differing advice as there are writers. I suppose one reason to keep reading books on writing is that I might find the odd snippet of advice that I haven’t come across before. Another is that although I inevitably disagree with much of what the writer says, many of the writers who write about writing are accomplished in the craft, and their books have entertainment value in the form of anecdotes and so on. Such is the case with Writing Blue Highways by William Least Heat Moon, which I read recently. I disagreed with much of what he said in terms of practical tips, but I nevertheless enjoyed the book as a sort of memoir.

This is what happened as I read The Art of Memoir as well. I disagreed with much of the advice, but found plenty of anecdotes and opinions to keep me entertained. Mary Karr, unlike William Least Heat Moon, is a long-time teacher of memoir, and she has based the book on the classes she teaches at Syracuse University. That’s fine, and I can see how her classes might be interesting. Some of her practical advice that I disagree with, though, is similar to what I disagreed with in Heat Moon’s book. She feels that writers must experience great pain as they compose, and anyone who enjoys writing is a hack. I simply don’t agree. Writing is one of my most fulfilling and enjoyable activities on the planet, and I can’t understand why anyone who tries it wouldn’t fall in love with it. Additionally, she insists that first drafts are always and without exception crap. I can’t agree. Sometimes I rewrite and sometimes I don’t. Usually I rewrite, according to Heinlein’s dictum, when editors ask for it. But just as often, or even more often, my stories and novels arrive fully formed and need only minor line editing. It has happened more frequently than not that editors who buy my stories publish them without changing so much as a comma or a semicolon.

Interestingly enough, the memoirs and memoirists that Karr devotes entire chapters to and considers the best in the business, including Speak, Memory by Vladimir Nabokov and Dispatches by Michael Herr, she considers unique and one-of-a-kind, with singular voices that belie all the rules. She presents them as examples of excellence but also as anomalies. That’s okay too, as far as I’m concerned, because any writer who has learned to speak with his or her own voice is an anomaly. Once you find your voice, you are writing like you, and no one else can ever find the same voice unless they are guilty of crass imitation. I found my voice by taking off around the world and throwing myself into life, so to speak. I learned that my voice as a writer was simply me saying whatever I needed to say in the way I chose to say it. My larger problem was not knowing what to write about until I got out there far from familiar circumstances.

In closing, let me say that if you are attempting to learn to write, you can read this book and possibly glean some gems from it. Always keep in mind, though, what George Saunders said in his conclusion to his recent book A Swim in the Pond: In Which Four Russians Give a Master Class on Writing, Reading, and Life: “The closest thing to a method I have to offer is this: go forth and do what you please.”

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World Without Pain Now in Hardcover!

My second book to appear in a hardcover edition is also one of the most important: the memoir of my time on the road in search of my voice as a writer: World Without Pain: The Story of a Search.

In the 1970s, after the Altamont Rock Festival, the Manson Family cult murders, and the fiasco of the Vietnam War many young people, disillusioned by the hippy movement, began to leave their homelands and travel to the far places of the world.  Hoping to find drugs, sex, freedom, and excitement, they more often were confronted with destitution, despair, disease, loneliness, and culture shock.

As a young writer wishing to break out of the familiar rut in which he was stagnating, Walters hit the road during this time, first to Europe, then onward to the Indian Subcontinent.  He sampled Buddhism and radical Christianity; he wandered alone in the Himalayas; he listened to strange gurus spouting stranger doctrines; he watched the people around him deteriorating and dying in the lands of the East.  As he traveled onward he became fascinated with the road itself, and determined to discover its secrets. He wondered what it was that gave the road its alluring power, and he forsook everything else to find out.

His story will appeal to those who lived through the turmoil of the 60s and 70s, to those who are hungering after spiritual fulfillment, to writers and other artists in search of their voice and their inspiration, and to anyone who loves a true story of adventure and excitement set in unfamiliar lands.

This is my first memoir. Recently I have been looking back on the times I write about in this book, and I am amazed at where I went and the dangerous and unsettling situations I encountered. Now my temerity astonishes me, but back then I took it in stride, considering it all a glorious and grand adventure. You don’t hear about people stepping out onto the road like this anymore. Give this book a read; you won’t be disappointed.

Click to buy from these distributors:

Hardcover Edition

Trade Paperback

Amazon Kindle

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Book Review: Drop City by T. C. Boyle

I bought Drop City months ago but put off reading it until now. For one thing, it’s a long novel, and for another, I didn’t know what to expect. Whenever I have taken up novels having to do with the hippie experience of the late sixties and early seventies, which I lived through, by the way, and feel personally invested in, I have inevitably felt disappointed. For instance Vineland by Thomas Pynchon, is slapstick and ridiculous, while Inherent Vice, by the same author, is depressing and cynical. Another Roadside Attraction by Tom Robbins is a fun read, but it veers into improbable fantasy. The paucity of good novels on this era caused me to write two of my own, The Misadventures of Mama Kitchen and Sunflower, in which I attempted to impart my own vision of what that brief special time means to me.

But back to Drop City. In brief, it tells of a hippie commune in 1970 living on a spot of land in California thanks to the largesse of a hippy patron named Norm Sender. The first section details their lifestyle, replete with free love, drugs, and filth. This opening of the book disturbed me, so much so that I almost tossed it aside and gave up. My problem is with Boyle’s depiction of the individual hippies and the commune in general. I hung out with hippies in the early seventies; in fact, I suppose you could say that I was one. And I never, ever, any place I went in the United States, Europe, and the Indian Subcontinent, came across any group of hippies (or freaks, as they used to like to be called) as filthy, distasteful, self-centered, and lacking in compassion, empathy, and nobility as the hippies described by Boyle in this novel. Especially in the first part, they come across as cartoon characters akin to the Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers, except less endearing. While spouting freedom and brotherly and sisterly love, they are cynical, selfish, dim-witted, and violent.

What saved the book for me was the second section. Boyle switches the scene to the hinterlands of Alaska, where a solitary trapper named Sess Harder living far off in the wilderness goes to town (a sparse scattering of shacks) to pick up Pamela, his mail order bride. She longs for the simple life in the wild, far away from the confusion of cities. She has promised to visit three different men, and in the end she chooses Sess. Their romance is truly touching, and Boyle’s description of their life in the harsh wilderness of Alaska, though uncompromising, made it sound alluring and even desirable.

Boyle sets up these two situations because he intends to bring them together. The denizens of Drop City, oppressed by the authorities because of legal violations having to do with their living conditions, pile on to a big yellow bus and a motley caravan of other vehicles and head up north to a piece of property owned by Norm’s uncle, which is, of course, just a few miles upriver from the newlyweds Sess and Pamela. They arrive in mid-summer, the short season of continual sunshine, and commence building cabins and frolicking in the wilderness, but most of them are completely unprepared for the harsh living conditions of the far north. This is Boyle’s point, of course: hippies were almost invariably the white children of the privileged, and what worked to bind a commune together in sunny California would not necessarily be adequate to weather the forty-below temperatures and perpetual darkness of an Alaska winter.

As I mentioned, Boyle has a propensity for exaggeration and violence, so this novel is not an easy read. Once I got past the first section, though, and the couple in the wilderness is introduced, and the hippies begin their epic journey north and then attempt to adapt after they arrive, I found myself getting more drawn into the story. I’ll hold off telling you how it all ends, but for me at least the ending is nuanced and satisfactory.

Would I recommend this novel? Yes. Once you manage to get past the beginning it sustains interest. But is it an accurate depiction of the hippie lifestyle? I would say no. In my experience, the hippies I met were more intelligent, discerning, thoughtful, and definitely cleaner than the ones in this novel.

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Bedlam Battle Omnibus Now in Hardcover!

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I’ve had stories published in hardcover anthologies before, but this is the first of my own 28 books to appear in a hardcover edition. Looks good, feels good, and reads great!

Bedlam Battle: An Omnibus of the One Thousand Series

Four science fiction thrillers in one volume

This omnibus includes:

The One Thousand:  Book 1

It is the late 1960s…

What better place than prison to recruit psychopathic killers?  So thinks Benny, possessed by a thousand alien entities which he intends to share around with the other inmates before unleashing hell on Earth in the form of a murderous rampage.  Only William Stafford, a Vietnam War veteran unjustly convicted of killing a girlfriend, can stop him.  But to do so he has to break back into the prison he has just escaped from…

The One Thousand:  Book 2:  Team of Seven

A team composed of countercultural humans and benevolent aliens based out of Haight/Ashbury hunt for murderous, alien-possessed convicts with enhanced powers who have escaped from prison.  They discover that this fellowship of psychopaths is preparing an elaborate party for hippies and other street people in a remote mansion built to simulate a Medieval castle, and that they are planning to slaughter everyone who attends.  Now the seven are faced with the task of locating the mansion and stopping the killers…

The One Thousand:  Book 3:  Black Magic Bus

To escape pursuit, the fellowship of psychopaths has fled to Europe.  In the mountains of Italy they customize a psychedelically-colored tour bus, intending not only to pick up and murder unwary young travelers, but deliver a cargo of lethal pathogens to a major city in the East.  Only the Team of Seven composed of enhanced humans and benevolent aliens can find and stop them…

The One Thousand: Book 4: Deconstructing the Nightmare

Their hunt for a group of alien-possessed psychopaths intent on igniting a rampage of mass murder leads the Team of Seven to a prison in Turkey, war-ravaged Vietnam, a luxurious nuclear fallout shelter, and finally to direct confrontation with their enemies.

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