G-O-O-D-B-Y-E by Nick Mamatas

Once, there was this kid — and this wasn’t all that long ago so this might tell you how really stupid kids can be, even today — who tromped into 924 Hilltop punk house in Ohio with a guitar case and a ripped T-shirt and a practiced scowl that he would have just bought from Hot Topic if only they’d sell them, and he declared that he’d sell his soul to the motherfucker who could teach him to rock a bass as well as Sid Vicious.

Of course, just to start Hilltop was the totally wrong place for such an exercise in posing. No booze, no stagediving, no major labels, no songs with the lyrics that include “girl” or “baby” because they’re sexist, and the place isn’t even open, really, before noon. But Moussaka was there, and he’s a funny guy, so he waves the kid in and tells him to take the bass out of the case and take a seat. Moussaka had a little amp, and the kid breaks out this Fender Jazz Bass he must have gotten from his junior high school, and they plug in. Moussaka shows him how to slap a little bit, and pop the strings, and reminds him never to even pretend to strum a bass or everyone will know what’s up.

And then Moussaka said, “Okay, we’re done here.”

“What the hell?” the kid said, “is this a joke?”

“I could ask you the same question,” Moussaka said. “Sid sucked shit, sonny.” Moussaka is about thirty-two years old, which is a pretty sad age for a non-pederast living in a punk house, so he was trying to sound like a cranky uncle or the kid’s Dad. “His bass wasn’t even plugged in to the backline at gigs so he wouldn’t ruin the show, and it’s not like the Sex Pistols were, you know—” he held up his hands and twitched his fingers like quotation marks “‘all about the music.'”

The kid started to open his mouth, but Moussaka continued, “He didn’t play on the album. Steve Jones did all the bass parts and the guitar too. Sid asked Lemmy from Motörhead for lessons because he started getting embarrassed, even through the haze of smack and Nancy’s big titties.” The kid blushed at titties and then, his persona melted in a puddle around him, just said, “Thank you for your time, sir,” and packed his bass.

But Moussaka wasn’t done. While the kid is putting his bass back in his case and trying not to cry, Moussaka dug around for a blank piece of paper and a Sharpie. He wrote on the paper _____’s SOUL, OWNED BY MOUSSAKA O’REILEY AS OF THIS DATE ____. SIGNATURE ____, and actually made the kid fill it out. The kid did, and he had apparently given himself the name of Jack Shit — kids are stupid, remember? Anyway, the kid fills the whole thing out under his punk name, and even signs the words Jack Shit in the sort of careful cursive writing of a kid who goes to a very good junior high and always got extra points for neatness, and now Moussaka has the kid’s soul just like that. He pinned the deed or contract or whatever you want to call it to the bulletin board, and it was there for a while. It either got so covered up with other flyers that it had more pushpin holes than paper, or it fell off and slipped behind the bookcase. Or maybe Lucy threw it out. Anyway.

Anyway, imagine the kid. Who knows what brought him to Hilltop, or what the hell was going through his little cough syrup-addled head? A girl, maybe. Or maybe he made a friend who wanted to start a band and the kid really wanted this new friend and so he told the guy he could play bass and then decided to see if he could do a little Robert Johnson sort of thing, meeting a devil at the crossroads (where the Hilltop house happens to be). Or maybe that self-same new friend wasn’t one, and he tells the kid that if they want to be pals he should dress like a dipshit and take his junior high jazz band bass down to Hilltop for a bass lesson he’d never forget. For that matter, maybe the kid really learned something: you don’t need to be a good musician to be a punk legend. (It actually works against you.) Really, it’s the easiest thing in the world, being a punk legend. Two steps are involved.

First, get your name attached to a product of some sort. (It’s especially good if the product is somehow anti-consumerist). Then, step two.

Die fucking young.

Spazzy cracked her knuckles and blinked hard three times. The salt in her sweat stung her eyes. She cracked her knuckles and asked, “Get all that?” The planchette was still again, the pen it was carrying tilted off to the side.

“I think so,” said Kiki. He grabbed the last piece of paper and flipped through the few pages Spazzy had generated — it was all covered in the purple ink from his pen. Notes.

“How long was I under?”

“God, about three hours!” Kiki declared. Spazzy looked at him closely, so he actually glanced toward the clock radio. “Almost. Two and a half. Almost two.” There wasn’t much light in the room, Spazzy’s, except for the clock radio, and the candles on either side of the side of the lapdesk Spazzy used to operate the planchette, and the indigo of a snowy twilight on the other side of the single window over the bed. “Man, I am tired from all this spirit medium…ism-, uh, ing,” said Kiki.

Spazzy held up her arms, hands limp. “Pfft, try riding the planchette by yourself for three hours!”

“Two. Barely two. Not even.”

“I must have moved that thing four thousand times. I need protein. I’m going to the kitchen to get a protein bar. Want anything?”

“I got your protein bar right here,” Kiki said, smacking his lap with the pages of automatic writing. Then he flopped back on Spazzy’s bed, took one of her pillows and placed it over his head. “Just turn on the lights, sweet thing.” Spazzy struggled to her feet and left, limping heavily. Kiki laid there, letting his eyes adjust to the new light by slowly pulling the pillow across the top of his face, breathing in the ghost of Spazzy’s raspberry shampoo and wondering whether she was a fake-ass, or if she really believed this stuff and if he should too. The writing sure didn’t look like Spazzy’s — it wasn’t as spastic — so that had to mean something, if only some secret crazy subconscious hypnosis was in full effect.

#

Kiki, being a gigantic homo, was able to do what he pleased in shop class. None of the other kids would partner with him, and the shop teacher — a human hosepipe himself, though deeper in the closet than a roller skate that needs a key — felt bad for Kiki. So what Kiki did was what the planchette had previously instructed. He took apart his bass guitar and replaced the body with a large wooden tackle box, the cover of which was an antique ouija board he and Spazzy had found while thrifting one day. It was thee ouija board, in fact, the one that worked when Spazzy was doing it all by herself. The spirits were not only summoned, they were downright chatty. That’s when Kiki had had the idea to drill a hole in the planchette and insert a pen. It was totally old school, and kept the transcribing down to a minimum.

Anyway, the spirits wanted a bass guitar ouija board for the big show, so they were getting one. Kiki even filched a couple of nice brass hinges to better attach the board to the box. It took him almost a week to get the body mods done. The YES NO GOODBYE on the top and bottom of the body made Kiki smile whenever he looked at it.

Unfortunately, the ouija bass sounded like muddy-ass shit. Spazzy frowned and rocked on her feet awkwardly. They were The But I Love Hims. Lady Miss Kiki Extravaganza (aka, Tomas Epstein) on muddy-ass shit-sounding bass. Spazzy Spaghetti Stigmata Yomama (aka Cheryl Shephard) on vocals and garbage can drums. The Tinklebot 9000, Spazzy’s pre-programmed keyboard, rounded out their sound.

“Well, now what are we going to do?” asked Kiki.

“What do you mean?”

“I used to have a decent bass? Now this thing sounds like I’m playing in the bathroom stall of a men’s station bathroom.”

“So what?” Spazzy said, dismissive.

“So? So, thee spirits are guiding us wrong.”

“No, they’re not”, Spazzy said. “Remember, you don’t need to be a good musician to be a punk legend. So the bass’s new sound is probably just a part of that.”

“The spirits also said to die young last time we spoke to them,” Kiki said. He shifted the bass from one knee to another and drummed his fingers on the neck. “Should we do that too?”

“Actually, they said that we’d need a record first, or something to sell. A book, maybe? Are either of us going to write a book any time soon?”

Kiki snorted. “Guess not. And as long as my bass sounds like this—” he popped a string and a fuzzy sound, more like a thick rubber band being shot off someone’s thumb and hitting a wall, filled Spazzy’s mother’s basement, “we’re not getting a deal with anyone, not even MakeYourOwnCD dot com.”

“Good!” Spazzy leaned heavily on her brace and blew Kiki a kiss with her free hand. “Now let’s waste our lives practicing in this dank little room.”

“Or not practicing,” said Kiki, “if we really want to be punk rock legends.” Spazzy played a rim-shot.

#

Hilltop really is atop a hill, so Spazzy’s mother had to drive the band in the SUV all the way to the door, which was very embarrassing because SUV’s are evil. One time, Spazzy had even slapped a bumper sticker on the car reading I’M KILLING THE PLANET: ASK ME HOW! but her mother made her scrape it off. A bunch of kids on the bowed wrap-around porch even booed the SUv as it pulled up and stopped only when Kiki swung open the wide side doors, dropped onto the dirt driveway and helped Spazzy take the step down from her seat. Then a few of the kids even strolled up to help unload the garbage can and cymbals.

Spazzy’s mother called after them as they began climbing the steps up to the porch, “Text me when you’re almost done, so I can pick you up right after!”

“How am I supposed to text you in the middle of the set!” Spazzy yelled back. She had to stop and twist around to shout, because talking and walking at once was hard.

“Not the middle, near the end!” said Spazzy’s mother.

“That’s even worse than the middle,” Spazzy said in a normal voice to Kiki, as her mother clearly wasn’t listening. The window went up and the SUV eased back down the winding driveway spine of the hill. One guy named Fred went beep beep beep! like the SUV was a fat garbage truck and then winked and zipped inside.

“That wink was for me, I’ll have you know,” said Kiki.

The gig was in the basement, which was another trial as the steps leading down to it weren’t completed as they were in Spazzy’s house. The entire flight was just wooden slats, and it took a right angle about halfway down, like a poor man’s spiral staircase. Kiki and Spazzy ended up walking back out the front, down those safer steps and then around the house to the backyard to enter through the cellar door. Only six steps, and firm-seeming concrete with a banister screwed into the walls on either side. The equipment went down the rickety steps, and was waiting for Kiki to set it all up.

Moussaka slid off the freezer on which he was sitting and counting receipts to buttonhole Spazzy. “Hey, I know you come here all the time—” Spazzy had only been to Hilltop twice — “but I need to go over the rules one more time.” Moussaka raised a finger, “One, no stagediving.”

Spazzy rooted herself and lifted her left arm to wiggle her forearm crutch around. “No problem,” she said. “Even if you had a stage!”

“Two, no alcohol or drugs. If you’re carrying, let me have it.”

“I bet,” said Spazzy.

“Third, uhm, you’re the vocalist, right?” Moussaka said.

“La la la,” said Spazzy.

“Well, we already got your lyrics, I think, but I want to remind you: no sexism, racism, homophobia, anti-immigrant sentiment, encouraging of violence, glorification of meat-eating — though if that is your choice, it’s fine — and no pro-Nader lyrics.”

“That’s a new one,” Spazzy said. “with Nader.”

“No, we always had it. Even when we decided, we did it retroactively. Band who played here and sang pro-Nader or PIRG lyrics were sent letters explaining exactly what’s wrong, politically, with him, and they were disinvited back unless they apologized for those lyrics.”

“Rock and roll!” said Spazzy.

In the back of the room Kiki spoke into a mic, saying “Test, test, testing, one-two-three” and someone sitting on an old couch on his left said, as someone always must, “Testes, testes. One, two, three!” and someone else who was sitting on the rickety stairs and creating a fire hazard said, “Hike!”

“Whatever, bitches.”

#

“Hey,” sais Spazzy into the mic. “Hi. We’re The But I Love Hims. And this is a song.” The room was half-full. Overwhelmingly boys, mostly all skinny, except for fat old Moussaka. A couple of girls, who looked about sixteen and dressed like they were about eight, were in the corner under the steps. Then Spazzy raised her sticks and brought them down onto the side of the well-pummeled garbage can and began to scream. Tinklebot 9000 blared Casiotone bossanova and Kiki waited, counting, for his cue. He snapped a string on his ouija guitar and it, and the world, seemed to go wwaaaOOOoooaAAAAooo, pulsing in and out like a bubble in the deep black sea. The boys got up and started almost dancing.

Spazzy sang the lyrics the spirits had directed. There was “Day of the Locust”, with its memorable refrain of “It’s all just hocus pocus/this place is a locus/of your crimes” and then “Miss Lonelyhearts,” about how boys are all worthless bitches for not wanting a girl whose legs may not necessarily spread all the way open, but who can still suck a mean dick. Kiki sang the “mean dick” parts, as he struggled manfully with the deep and fuzzy notes rumbling out of his bass. The boys really danced there, grabbing their crotches and hooting. Even Moussaka got up and stomped a bit.

Sweaty and tired from the dual exertions of caterwaul and drums, Spazzy licked her lips and introduced one more song. “Here’s another song. It’s about an adult that people used to think was a cool guy, but then he turned out to be a total prick.” She smiled. “Don’t worry Moose Ca-Ca, it’s not about Ralph Nader. This one is called ‘Goodbye.'” And The But I Loved Hims hit it hard. The Tinklebot 9000 squeaked and groaned, and Spazzy shrieked about Sid Vicious and fucked-up losers and thick hands around a tender white neck and how the scene ain’t worth jack shit and Kiki slapped the shit out his bass, jumping and hooting and kicking out his leg like he was making fun of Van Halen, and in doing so he kicked the crutch and that knocked Spazzy off-balance and the Tinklebot 9000 got knocked off its stand and the garbage can started rolling down the length of the basement, kids running and jumping out of the way and Kiki put his hand right through the ouija board body of his bass right as he got tangled up in the cords leading to an amp and he knocked over a girl whose lemonade spilled and splattered all over Spazzy’s bent metal crutch and then there was a huge bloom of sparks and the smell of flaming hair and everything went dark and silent except for a distant wwaaaOOOoooaAAAAooo.

“Nobody move!” said Moussaka. “Everyone stay exactly where you are so you don’t trip over one another or fall onto any broken glass or start a fire. It’s like freeze tag, kids. Just freeze.”

“Tag!” someone called out in the dark, and then there were chuckles.

“You’re it!” shouted Spazzy.

“Shut up!” Moussaka barked. “I’m going to find the circuit breaker.”

The wwaaaOOOoooaAAAAooo was quiet at first, more felt than heard. But in the dank silence of the Hilltop basement, it began to make itself clear. Everyone could hear it, because nobody could speak or even move. It was a low low groan, like a motor struggling.

It was a motor, Kiki realized. The freezer, on another circuit, was still running, and running hard. Kiki, not even sure what he was doing, but sure wanting to give Moussaka and his rules a little fuck you, started slowly making his way over to it. The kids were quiet and still so it was easy to pick his over their legs and torsos. The freezer, even though it was the horizontal kind, probably had a light in it that goes on, Kiki reasoned. He’d be helping everyone out, including Moussaka.

Kiki opened the freezer door as a solid click echoed in the basement and the lights flicked back on hard. He squinted, blinked, then saw the kid in the freezer all blue and dead, the ghosts of thick fingers purple on his throat.

“Jack Shit,” said Kiki. Moussaka came running, swatting a girl aside to get to the freezer “Fuck, you’re a murderer!” Kiki shouted. “There’s a dead body in here!” Moussaka slammed into Kiki hard, crushing the boy against the wall. Kiki wilted.

“Protect the scene!” shouted Spazzy as she picked up her crutch and swung it over her head. It flew across the room end over end and slammed hard into Moussaka’s back. Then the kids swarmed and took him down.

Cheryl’s personal email userid is still Spazzy4LifenDeth, but she doesn’t rock out anymore. She left Ohio when she went to college, and now she’s a vet tech in Berkeley, where it’s never as cold as freezers. She likes to ride in her Lark scooter and watch the kids act out and reenact their little rituals and rites of passage on Telegraph Avenue, then she goes home to her own two boys, Johnny and Joey, and let’s them listen to whatever music they like, even if it is Greenlandic trip-hop, which is the big thing.

Tomas is only Lady Miss Kiki Extravaganza twice a month, at a bar called Secrets. He’s still in Cincinnati, and lives with his mother even though he has more than enough money for a place of his own. Mama keeps Tomas honest. Hold out for love, rather than bring home any scraggly boy who is all elbows and lips and eyes that flutter like little moths after every kiss. He never bought another bass, and would rather lip synch torch songs these days. Tomas is a librarian with a special interest in true crime and photography.

Moussaka O’Reiley is in prison. He has a zine called The Punk Got Punked — two issues have come out in nine years — and works in the shop, twisting together strands of metal to make wire mesh garbage cans for the state. He’s been stabbed four times in four separate incidents. His belly looks like a railway map of stitches and scars.

Jack Shit is still dead, and has nobody to talk to anymore. Punk rock legend.

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What Burns Within Excerpt by Sandra Ruttan

She wasn’t the type of woman he was interested in. Constable Tain knew that before he even set eyes on her. Everything from her tone of voice to her abrupt manner to the way she hung up the phone before she heard what he had to say bothered him.

Paranoid. That’s what his friends would call him, if he had any left he could talk to. It had been a while since he’d checked, but he knew what they would have said before. That he’d been thinking like a cop for too long.

That if he saw a smiling toddler with a lollipop he’d assume the kid stole it.

His gut told him the woman had probably had her share of run- ins with the law, at best a negligent parent, at worst… Well, he wasn’t sure yet. Despite that, he noted the store-bought blonde might have been a looker if the layers of makeup hadn’t cracked under her snarl.

“I’d better not hear you’ve been taking things,” the woman hissed at the child, who cowered on the edge of the bench as she clip- clopped by on her three- inch heels.

Tain wondered how she could move in clothes that tight. He gestured to the open door as he identified himself. “Right this way, Mrs. Brennen.”

She tossed her head, causing her multiple dangling hoop earrings to clink together, and marched past him. Once she reached the table inside the small, bland interview room she turned on her heel.

“Well?” Her right hand landed on her hip.

“Well?” Tain echoed, staring back. With heels she was about an inch taller than he was, and that was saying something. In bare feet she must have been 5’11”.

The woman blew out a deep breath. “What’s he done?”

Tain sat down on a chair. “He was found at the park near the fair just off the Lougheed Highway. Wandering around alone.”

She blinked, and the lines around her eyes softened, but only for a split second. Everything about this woman bothered him, from the fact that her first instinct had been to assume her son was in trouble to the fact that she acted more like a suspect than a parent whose child had been found unattended at the fairgrounds, brought to the police station by a stranger.

“Mrs. Brennen, what—”

“Jesus, what do you take me for? Is that what you’re after, some sort of trumped- up neglect charge? Who are you anyway? Quota filler so the RCMP can look like an equal opportunity employer for Indians too? Oh, I mean native or aboriginal or First Nations or what ever the hell you people call yourselves.”

Tain stared at her. No look of regret even flickered across her face. Her upper lip curled, and everything from the toe-tapping to the way she blew out her breath hinted at nothing more than annoyance and impatience. No trace of concern for her son.

Or evidence she felt any responsibility for the situation.

The woman finally dropped the hand from her hip, sat down and exhaled audibly as she crossed her legs to the side of the chair, her gaze leveled at the door instead of at the police officer across from her.

“He was with Taylor. His sister. When I get my hands on her…”

She froze. After a moment the scowl slipped from her face. Tain started counting and hit five before she looked him in the eye.

“Where’s my daughter?”

“I tried to explain when I phoned—”

She sprang from the chair and was across the room and out the door before he had a chance to stop her. He ran into the hallway.

“Where is she? Where’s your sister?” Mrs. Brennen grabbed her son’s shirt and shook him, lightly at first, then forcefully. Nicky’s head snapped back dangerously close to the wall.

The boy started to cry as Tain pushed his way between them. “Let him go!”

She did just that and slapped Tain across the face, his skin burning from the blow. He grabbed her wrists.

“Take your hands off me.” She jerked her arms back as soon as he released her. Tain unclenched his jaw and nodded to the officer who’d been watching Nicky.

“Please take Mrs. Brennen to an interview room.”

“I’m not—”

Tain lowered his voice. “I can charge you with assaulting a police officer. You can cooperate, or you can cool off in a cell.” He turned back to the officer. “And please find this young man a snack once Mrs. Brennen is settled.”

Nicky had slid down under the bench, curled with his arms wrapped around his knees.

The next ten minutes were spent painfully watching the officer try to coax the boy out from under the bench. It was a curious thing to Tain. Sims was a clean- cut guy. He had an easygoing smile and looked sharp in his uniform, but the boy kept looking at Tain, wiggling back against the wall whenever Sims reached toward him, pulling his knees up to hide his chin.

Sims stood up, looked at Tain and shrugged. “Do you want me to pull him out?”

Tain wasn’t great with kids, but he wasn’t eager to have one dragged kicking and screaming down the hall either. Especially when the child was a witness he was responsible for.

He squatted down beside the bench and tried to offer a reassuring smile. “My friend will take you for cookies and find you something to play with.” Nicky remained in a ball.

“We need to talk to your mom. It’s okay. My friend will take good care of you.”

For a moment they were locked in a stare. Tain wondered what was going through the boy’s mind. If his own brief encounter with Nicky Brennen’s mother was anything to go by, the child probably didn’t have much of a reason to trust adults. Tain reached out his hand slowly.

Nicky unclasped his hands, unbending his legs one at a time. His eyes were huge.

“Are you gonna find my sister?” Nicky pulled himself out from under the bench. He looked at Tain’s hand for a moment, his mouth twisted, and then he stood.

Tain pulled back his hand, his heart sinking just a bit as he contemplated what experiences would cause a child to be afraid to trust a police officer. He took out his wallet and handed Nicky a five- dollar bill. He whispered, “Make sure he takes you to get a treat.”

Tain watched the boy glance at his mother, who had her back to them, arms folded across her chest, not moving. A hint of a smile curled the boy’s lips as he clamped the money in his fist. He didn’t take the other officer’s hand either, but followed without argument.

As they walked away, Nicky turned back to look over his shoulder, those big eyes meeting Tain’s gaze. The smile was gone.

Tain drew a deep breath. From the corner of his eye he saw someone approach him.

Sergeant Steve Daly was a little shorter than Tain, with sandy hair just starting to turn gray at the temples. Daly nodded at the boy. “What’s the situation?” he asked.

Tain didn’t have a great track record of getting along with his superiors, or pretty much anyone for that matter, but he respected the way Daly operated. The man was available without being intrusive. It didn’t feel like Daly checked up on him, so much as checked in with him.

Most other officers would have punted Tain sideways, put him on desk duty or some marginal unit without much stress, tried to keep him out of the way. Instead, Daly had pulled him up for this case, getting him away from the routine humdrum assignments.

He’d even let him work alone. It had been the only thing Daly had hesitated over. In the end he’d agreed, as long as Tain understood that at the first sign the case was snowballing he’d have to deal with a partner.

Tain had hoped that wouldn’t be necessary, although he had to admit it didn’t look good now. He filled Daly in on how Nicholas Brennen got to the police station.

Daly’s eyes narrowed. “Some guy drove him here?”

“Apparently he didn’t want people to think he was abducting the boy. He didn’t come inside. Just wrote this note and gave it to the boy. Kid came in on his own. We’ll have to check the tape and see if we can get an ID.”

“Now I’ve heard everything,” Daly said.

“Not quite.” Tain told him about the missing girl.

Something about the way Daly’s cheeks sagged made him look like he’d aged ten years in that moment. “How old is she?”

“I was just about to ask when Mommy Dearest flew off the handle.”

“Do we need to bring in social ser vices?”

“Already called them.”

Daly blew out a deep breath. “Talk to the mother. I’ll have Sims handle the background check. Report to my office as soon as you’re done.”

Tain nodded as he went to interview Mrs. Brennen for the second time.

When Tain reached Sergeant Daly’s office twenty minutes later, Inspector Hawkins was already there. “Sir.” Tain nodded.

Hawkins had a few years on Daly, but he was as fit as any man on the force. He was the poster boy for the respectable RCMP officers, the kind of man who embodied confidence and authority. Clean cut, with nothing more than a few laugh lines around his eyes and his rank to hint at his age. Few things rattled the inspector, but the fact that he was in Daly’s office suggested to Tain that he was worried.

The inspector didn’t acknowledge Tain’s arrival. “What’s the status?”

Daly answered. “Patrols are out canvassing now. We’ve got uniforms at every exit point from the fairgrounds, taking statements.”

Hawkins frowned. “And the girl is the right age?”

Daly glanced at Tain, then nodded.

“Shit.” Hawkins muttered the word under his breath, but not so far under that Tain didn’t hear him.

Tain looked at Daly. “There’s usually a news crew on the grounds filming, right?”

Daly nodded.

“We should get their tape, double-check it. Look for any known pedophiles, any sign of these kids in the background, anything.”

“I’ll call the patrols.”

“I think we should reassign this case,” Hawkins said.

“Respectfully, sir, I don’t think that’s a good idea,” Daly said.

Hawkins turned to look at Tain. “Last month we recovered the body of Julie Darrens from a burnt- out shack at the industrial park near the Mary Hill Bypass. Isabella Bertini is still missing. The press will have a field day with this.”

“I decided to have Tain respond to every arson fire since we found Julie Darrens,” Daly said. “He’s been working ’round the clock on the Bertini girl. No solid leads.”

“Just crackpots and dead ends,” Tain said. “We’ll be getting more of the same when this hits the news.”

Hawkins kept his gaze on Daly. “You can have Tain assist, but I don’t think it’s in the best interest of this department—”

“What about the best interest of this case?” Daly’s eyes pinched with uncharacteristic anger. “Tain has been working in conjunction with Burnaby. He knows all the particulars. Pulling him off—”

“I didn’t say to pull him off.”

“No, just have him take a backseat so that Burnaby will think we softballed them, gave them a body just to shut them up because we don’t take finding dead kids on our patch seriously.”

Hawkins pointed at Daly. “Julie Darrens and Isabella Bertini may have gone missing from Burnaby, but Julie was found here, in Coquitlam, and now a child’s been snatched from within our borders. I want our department handling this case.”

“Then Tain will take the lead.”

The two men stood staring at each other for a moment, until Daly’s phone rang and he grabbed it. “Yes. No, I… Thank you.”

He hung up the phone and leaned against his arms, his hands planted firmly on the desk in front of him before he looked up again. “Industrial area just south of the Trans Canada Highway, right on the Fraser River. Not far from the fairgrounds where Taylor Brennen went missing. Another suspected arson fire.”

For a moment the room was silent, Hawkins and Daly still locked in a match of visual chicken, waiting to see who would blink first.

It was Hawkins who turned, glanced at Tain, then looked back at Daly. “I sure as hell hope you know what you’re doing.”

He crossed the room, pulled the door open and slammed it behind him.

Constable Craig Nolan was familiar with the image of his partner, all business, from the straight skirt to the pressed shirt, straight brown hair clipped back in a ponytail looking like it knew better than to dare fall out of place, the touch of makeup that somehow emphasized the icy eyes.

She stopped at the steps to the house and turned to look at him. “You should let me handle this.”

Craig unclenched his jaw. “Did I miss the memo?”

Her forehead wrinkled for a second. Lori Price was as pushy as she was tall, and she met Craig’s gaze steadily.

“The one about your promotion, putting you in charge,” he said.

Lori folded her arms across her chest. “It might be better for her if she deals with a woman. I didn’t know you were so touchy.”

Craig shook his head as he watched his partner turn, march up the steps, pause, then yank the door open. He counted to ten before he followed her silently, clenching his fists.

“I already told them,” the low, hollow voice murmured from just beyond the hallway where Craig stood.

“Yes, but I need you to tell me now.” Lori’s voice failed to sound sympathetic. Instead, it sounded pushy. As usual.

Her words were met with silence.

“Mrs. Parks, it really would be best—”

“No. I don’t think so.”

Craig heard movement, which told him that either Mrs. Parks was preparing to flee or that Lori was trying to corner her. He walked into the living room.

Mrs. Parks was standing, but Lori towered over her. Craig’s partner looked like she was ready to tackle Mrs. Parks if the woman tried to leave.

Craig stopped just inside the room. Mrs. Parks looked at him and blinked.

“For a second I thought you were Carl. Except your hair’s a bit longer.”

A quick glance at the prominent wedding photo on the mantel showing Mrs. Parks and a blond, fit man was all Craig needed. “Your husband?”

She nodded. “Three years. He’s at work.”

“Would you like us to phone him, have him come home?”

Mrs. Parks nodded again. She sank back down on the sofa across the coffee table from where Lori Price stood, arms now crossed.

“Perhaps you could locate her husband.” Craig glanced at Lori. Her eyes pinched partially shut, and her nostrils flared. He turned his back to her, approached Mrs. Parks slowly and knelt down until he was below eye level with her. When he finally heard Lori march out of the room he spoke. “Is there anything else we can get for you, Mrs. Parks?”

“Cindy.”

Craig frowned, glancing back at the photos for a clue. “Cindy?”

“Call me Cindy. Please.”

“Okay. Is there anything else we can do, Cindy?”

She continued sitting rigidly, her hands clasped together on her lap, her face long and cold, without a trace of a spark in her eyes. Then she lifted a trembling hand to wipe away an unbidden tear that had escaped, before tucking her blond hair back behind her ear. She looked at Craig. “You can find the man who did this to me.”

Craig swallowed. He felt like he’d been punched in the gut, winded. The look in her dark eyes sent a chill down his spine.

How’s she supposed to look? What do you know about how it feels to be raped?

“We’re going to do everything we can to catch him and put him away, but I’m not going to lie. This won’t be easy.”

Her face didn’t move, but her gaze shifted to the right, as though something on that side of the room had caught her attention. Then she took a deep breath and looked him in the eyes. “You need me to tell you what happened.”

He nodded.

“Carl got a call just before four pm.”

“From his work?”

“From the fire department. He’s a volunteer.” Cindy Parks leaned back against the sofa, pulling her cardigan tight as she wrapped her arms around her body.

Craig eased himself onto the couch across from her, listening as she told her story.

Constable Ashlyn Hart parked her vehicle, the sting of smoke already burning her eyes. She flashed her ID and ducked under the barrier. With the spate of arson fires in the area lately the police weren’t taking any chances. They were being cautious about protecting the scenes.

Not that it had done much good. Officially no leads. Arsons were notoriously hard to bring to trial, and so far their arsonist hadn’t given them much to work with. That was the reason she was handling every scene personally. She had to find a different way to pinpoint the culprit.

“Maybe we should get you some gear, have you work out of our station.”

She looked up and offered the firefighter who’d spoken a smile as she accepted a helmet from him. Ashlyn recognized Adrian Vaughan, the man under the layers of soot, but he’d barely stopped to offer the remark and hat before he disappeared again. She watched him move toward the thick plume of smoke billowing from the building. Flames were already licking the exterior from windows on the upper floors.

“Not much we can do now but hope to contain it.”

She turned. Paul Quinlan, the battalion chief, was standing beside her. “Arson?” she asked.

“What color’s that smoke?”

Dense dark clouds swirled out of every opening she could see. She’d been getting an education in fire ever since she got this assignment, but Ashlyn still hadn’t learned everything. “And black smoke means what?”

“Petroleum- based accelerant. Likely gas.”

Gas. Not too helpful. Only about a thousand local places where someone could get their hands on that.

Paul passed her the object he was holding. “We found it on the door, just like before. Could this help you?”

Ashlyn pulled a bag from her pocket, wrapped the angel quickly, then put it in the trunk of her car. “Generic materials found in hundreds of stores in the province, virtually untraceable, handmade. We haven’t turned up anything so far.”

“What the hell?” Paul raced forward, toward the door. She tried to follow him. Other firefighters started running, and one grabbed her arm.

“Stay there.” He glared at her as he backed away, watching until she stopped moving before he turned around. The man disappeared amidst the sea of turnout gear each firefighter wore for protection on the job.

Ashlyn moved her head from side to side and up and down until she could see through the smoke and men to what had caught Quinlan’s attention.

A firefighter was racing down the front steps carrying a child.

The paramedic repositioned the stethoscope and paused. It had been at least twenty minutes since the girl had been pulled from the building, and the paramedic’s shoulders sagged. She shook her head.

“Fuck.” The firefighter who’d found the girl turned and kicked a garbage can. His dirt- streaked fingers clenched into a fist beside his head as he walked away.

Ashlyn pulled plastic gloves from her pocket, stepped forward and knelt beside the body. She tossed the helmet she’d been given aside. The girl’s hair was darker than hers. Careful not to touch her unnecessarily, Ashlyn surveyed the victim visually until she got to her hands. Then she reached into her jacket pocket, pulled out a pen and used it to nudge the loose shirtsleeve up, revealing black and purple skin mixed with partially healed wounds. The gashes and bruises stretched out like an overgrown tattoo, covering the girl’s arm.

A voice cut into Ashlyn’s thoughts from above her. “Can’t you cover her up and get her out of here before the reporters start shooting photos?”

She shook her head. “This is a murder investigation now.”

“For Christ’s sake, she’s already been moved. What difference does it make?”

Purple shirt, green pants… It kept playing through Ashlyn’s head as she studied the girl’s face. There was a shiny metal pendant around the girl’s neck, and she reached for it.

“What the hell do you think you’re doing?” A different voice this time. One she’d describe as demanding, unapologetic…

Familiar.

“My job.” She pulled out her ID as she turned around. For a moment she crouched, jaw open, then dropped her hand and put her badge away. He was tall, athletic, dark hair, a face of stone, and he never let anyone call him by his first name. She frowned as she realized she didn’t even know his first name herself. That was the kind of distance he put between himself and even the people he worked closely with, but she knew he had a warm smile when he let his guard down and was a good person. “Jesus.”

“Well, I am back from the dead.”

“Your penance is over?”

One curt nod. “Sorry. Didn’t know you’d been called out on this.”

“I wasn’t. I’m working the arsons.”

The skin between his brows puckered. “Wasn’t that Robinson’s case?”

“Not anymore. He died.” Ashlyn was still crouching between him and the girl, obscuring Tain’s view.

She almost couldn’t believe it was him. They’d worked together once, on a tough case. One she tried hard not to think about. At the end of the day they’d solved it, but it seemed like Tain had managed to piss off every se nior officer from Vancouver to Halifax in the pro cess. It had taken a toll on him.

It had taken a toll on all of them. Maybe that’s why she’d found herself making excuses when it was over, picking up the phone and setting it down without dialing the number . ..

Willing herself to forget. Willing herself to believe they all had forgotten and that nobody wanted to hear from her because it would bring it all back.

“What have you got?”

“Likely the reason for the fire.” She stood up and stepped back so that she wasn’t in his way.

“Purple shirt, green pants . . .” Tain’s eyes turned down at the corners. With him, the expressions were all subtle, but she knew him well enough to see it.

“And a charm on a necklace.”

“Shit.” His fingers pushed through his short dark hair and into his skull. “It’s Isabella Bertini.”

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What Burns Within is currently available from Dorchester Publishing and is the first book in the Nolan, Hart and Tain police procedural series. It will be followed with the release of The Frailty of Flesh in November, 2008.

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Pasiphae’s Machine by Catherynne M. Valente

Pasiphae’s Machine by Catherynne M. Valente

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Where’s the Sci-Fi by Heidi Wessman Kneale

Where’s the Sci-Fi by Heidi Wessman Kneale

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Plus ca change? by Michael Moorcock

‘For all its reputation as a hotbed of cultural advance,
the Sixties was no great sponsor of fiction.’
— Jonathon Green, Preface to the 1997 Edition of Groupie by Jennie Fabian and Johnny Byrne.

I WONDER IF the above astonishingly daft opinion  is a prevailing received notion today?  Green, who was briefly editor of FRENDZ underground newspaper, seemed, with co-editor Rosie Boycott, rather more focussed on which smart clubs would offer him contact with the most famous rock and roll  faces, actually shared typesetters and distributors with NEW WORLDS,  and indeed published work by me, Harrison, Delany and others, which was actually commissioned by Jon Trux, an editor who became the central character of Harrison’s The Centauri Device.  Certainly Green, had he not been so distracted, would have been able to read in this period  work by Ballard, Zoline, Disch, Sladek, M.J.Harrison, myself and others published a couple or doors down from his Portobello Road offices.  All expanded the boundaries of contemporary fiction and developed new techniques.    

            Apart from William Burroughs, who did much of his best work in the sixties and began publishing books like The Naked Lunch for the first time in England and America (previously they had appeared in Paris from Olympia Press), the decade saw work by Pynchon (V and The Crying of Lot 49). Ballard (The Atrocity Exhibition and Crash in its earliest form) and Donald Barthelme (Come Back Dr Caligari, Unspeakable Practices, Unnatural Acts, Snow White).  Alexander Trocchi published both Young Adam and Cain’s Book. Hubert Selby gave us Last Exit to Brooklyn.   Gaddis had already published The Recognitions and was working on his second novel.  William Gass’s In the Heart of the Country and Willie Masters’; Lonesome Wife and  Jean Rhys’s Wide Sargasso Sea came out.  Garcia Marquez published One Hundred Years of Solitude.  Although writing mostly screenplays in this period, Terry Southern saw the appearance of Red Dirt, Marijuana.  Kurt Vonnegut published Slaughterhouse 5.  We had Joseph Heller’s Catch-22,. Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mocking Bird, Vidal’s Myra Breckenridge and  Capote’s   In Cold Blood.  De Beauvoir gave us, among others, Les Belles Images.  We had Philip K. Dick’s The Man in the High Castle, Pnin and Pale Fire by Nabokov, Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and Roth’s Portnoy’s Complaint.    Doris Lessing published The Golden Notebook, Joanna Russ published her first book Picnic on Paradise, Günter Grass  published Dog Years.  Elsewhere the likes of B.S.Johnson,  Anna Kavan,  Ursula K. Le Guin,  John Fowles, Giuseppe di Lampedusa, Samuel Beckett, John Banville were all producing work, most of which was an advance on their previous fiction and much of which was decidedly experimental.   The likes of Borges and Vian first began to appear in English in that period.

            The sixties and early seventies were, in fact, a very rich time for fiction, an exciting time to be writing it, with publishers willing to back experiment.  Much of it had already begun to incorporate the tropes of science fiction into conventional realism.     The early post-modern experiment of the sixties gave us the mature work of the seventies.  A lot of this experiment, in my view, saw print because the economics of publishing in those days allowed a greater risk and therefore made a greater variety of fiction  available to the public.  Since the 1980s, we seem to have witnessed a dimunition of widely-published influential experiment and novelty in fiction, though the conventions of the most obvious elements of so-called postmodernism have been incorporated into something very close to a new genre while the reading public appears to have developed somewhat conservative expectations, including a taste  for the likes of Ian MacEwan, whose novels hold no surprises and are deeply reassuring to the middle-brow reader.  The tone of fiction and movies until about 1980 was more confrontational and far likelier to take a risk, than at present.   

            Though certain techniques borrowed from commercial science fiction and fantasy, have been employed in the mainstream, they have primarily worked to supply a spark of life to existing popular forms as, for instance,  magic was introduced to the old-fashioned English school story to give us Harry Potter.   I believe that the success of The Lord of the Rings is symptomatic of middle-brow conservatism in reading.   Fundamentally, such books, with, say,  Martin Amis’s current output, are generic, quite as rigid in what they can say or try to say as the popular generic work of Ian Rankin or Iain Banks.   Indeed, apart from Iain Sinclair, fewer and fewer technically ambitious novelists are  published in the UK mainstream and even those associated with innovation seem to have fallen back on self-imitation.    Only in America do a few ambitious novelists such as Roth, DeLillo, Eggers and Chabon continue to offer work questioning middle-brow assumptions and finding a broad readership but even in America is a tendency to return to safer and more predictable forms.   If, as I believe, the medium is the message, this means that in conventional publishing we see little in the way of innovative ideas or analysis and are forced increasingly to search through the internet to find small print publishers, POD publishers and those publishing direct to the web, few of whom can afford to pay an author a reasonable advance.

            In 1964, when NEW WORLDS began running under my editorship and Ballard had written our first guest editorial about William Burroughs and what his work meant, Stephen Spender was declaring that the Modern Movement was dead (cf The Struggle of the Moderns).

            Of course, the corpse of Modernism – a kind of pseudo-Modernism —  though no longer sparked with the vitality which gave us James, Ford, Lawrence, Pound, Eliot and Mann, among others, was still walking and talking and, because it now had the familiarity of established genre, worked to comfort the same reading public who bought country house murder mysteries, historical romances and westerns, but it offered little to writers, including a few remaining real Modernists,  and readers who wanted something which confronted and illuminated the world they experienced.

            At the time of the rise of the Modern Movement,  certain  Edwardians, like Wells or Bennett, continued to use the tropes of the Victorians but sharpened them up with style influenced by the New Journalism and looked with keener eyes at parts of the world previously overlooked by most major novelists. Wells, of coursel also introduced a new kind of subject matter married to an older form of realism.   Similarly, contemporary novelists offer new wrinkles on the old realist formulae – Indian family sagas rather than Welsh family sagas, for instance – just as detective writers come up with disabled detectives or ancient world detectives or minority detectives and so on.  This is mainly the work of those who have been trained or enculturated to work in existing modes and can only continue to work by finding novel methods of telling the same stories in the same way. All that changed are the superficial background props.

            Genre dictates the direction of a story, can distort certain kinds of observation and without doubt dilute the power of new experience.  The very best fiction always transcends genre.   That was the reason why the likes of Ballard and myself, later joined by Aldiss, Brunner, Disch and the rest, felt the need not merely to bring some of the virtues of Modernism to sf, not only to improve the ambition of style and language, but to invent fresh personal conventions which would not distort what we wanted to say.  These conventions were of course inspired by those we found in popular fiction, especially science fiction, but modified to suit our intentions.  This process – some of which involved fairly radical experiment – became tagged as the sf ‘New Wave’.  We didn’t apply the tag ourselves, of course,  any more than a mixed bag of fashionable British writers like Kingsley Amis, John Osbourne, John Braine, Alan Sillitoe and Colin Wilson referred to themselves as the Angry Young Men. 

            We had no prescriptions and no plans to take the bread from the mouths of the genre writers who were still doing great work using the conventions to their own brilliant purposes, but we were answering the demands of personal experience.

            Out of this broad movement emerged a kind of fiction which some called post-modernist and others called ‘magic realism’ but which is now so thoroughly absorbed into the culture it is familiar and requires no identifying name.  In recent years many of our finest literary novelists have made use of science fiction’s best conventions.  Alternate world fiction, familiar in the sf magazines from the eighties on proved one of the most useful devices after Philip K. Dick’s The Man in the High Castle won the Hugo and was published in the UK by Penguin Books who had recently acquired several feisty new editors like Tony Godwin and Giles Gordon (who later became a NEW WORLDS regular).  Tom Maschler of Cape, encouraged by me and others,  began publishing Dick as a literary novelist, while Kingsley Amis gave us The Alteration, inspired by Keith Roberts’s Pavane.  In the U.S.  Nabokov offered us Ada, while Kurt Vonnegut was one of the first American writers regularly to make idiosyncratic use of sf tropes.  Margaret Atwood, Philip Roth, Thomas Pynchon, Don DeLillo and Michael Chabon are just a few of the ambitious and original literary novelists to have no difficulty finding readers who are perfectly comfortable with their alternate history stories.

            While all this is encouraging to those of us who in the sixties joined the pop artists like Paolozzi, Hamilton and Warhol in an effort to re-unite ‘high’ and popular art in all forms of creative expression and attempted to bring new scientific ideas into the sphere of literarature, there are still concerns that the majority of this recent work, excellent as it is, does not exactly advance the range of methods open to us – methods indicated by William Burroughs, Ballard (in his condensed novels collected as The Atrocity Exhibition) or even Pynchon (who has admittedly been himself inclined to borrow and synthesise rather than offer new methods).   

            Indeed, we’ve recently been through a period of  restoration and reconsideration rather than a period of experiment and I think there are real economic and social reasons why this is so.  While mainstream publishers have become more open to publishing synthetic work, including fantasy and science fiction, they have become less interested in encouraging or supporting experiment.  Always somewhat cautious, not to say feeble, about publishing new work, they are further discouraged by booksellers’ increasing reluctance to put genuinely idiosyncratic fiction on their shelves.  They are perfectly happy to stock hundreds of copies of bestsellers, like Susannah Clarke or Michael Chabon (both of whom are admittedly of a very high quality) but offer no space at all to writers like Steve Aylett, Stuart Hall, Samit Basu,  Sebastian Doubinsky, Zoran Zivkovic and scores of others who are not using so many familiar tropes from either  sf or literary fiction. What’s more, these corporate booksellers dictate increasingly to publishers what they can and can’t publish if they wish to stay in business. 

            To promote a new book in the years when I first began my career, publishers had only to find booksellers as ready as they were to give a new author a chance.  When in the late sixties the new publisher Clive Allison of Allison and Busby began his list with my Behold the Man he persuaded the major booksellers as well as major reviewers to give the book a chance, with the result that it sold very well as a non-genre title.  This experience was familiar to every dynamic new publisher, whether they were independent (and most of course were) and newly established or whether they worked for the larger forms like Gollancz, Cape or Secker and Warburg.  When independent risk-taking John Calder (or in the States, say, Grove Press)  published Beckett or Burroughs he could count on at least a few allies in the book trade.

            With the abolition of the Net Book Agreement and other regulatory systems which a number of us resisted since we could see what would happen in a totally deregulated market, booksellers began discounting titles.  The larger the bookselling chain, the larger their discount.  This almost immediately caused the demise of a large number of independent booksellers, very few of which now exist in the English-speaking world.  Often the discounts, on popular bestsellers as a rule, were loss leaders in the same way supermarkets offered brand-named sugar below cost. These practices put more and more power into the hands of  corporate booksellers (who bought up those shops which survived), and into the hands of supermarkets who began stocking the latest Jackie Collins or Thomas Harris, so that, as the booksellers felt forced to behave more like grocery chains.  Their stock was floated on the market (with the consequence that stockholders demanded bigger and bigger profits) and the individual taste of managers and assistants was actively discouraged. 

            Bit by bit through the nineties the booksellers began to assume the power once wielded by the Victorian private libraries in England and America when Mudies, for instance, could demand that books be published in multiple (usually three) volumes because subscribers had to pay to take out individual volumes, not whole novels.  Thus the majority of Victorian novelists were forced to produce what George Eliot called ‘the middle volume’, essentially the section which trod water between the beginning and the end of a book.  Dickens was the first literary writer to resist the power of the libraries by publishing in what was considered the vulgar method of shilling serial parts (though noting his success the stately Thackeray, who had advised him against it, soon followed his example) but generally   through the major part of the 19th century the working novelist was forced to bow to the rule of Mudies and Bentley, the publisher who supplied most of Mudies’ stock and dominated the age.  Publishers were even told how to price their books at 10/6d (half a guinea) a volume, which put, say, Middlemarch or Jude the Obscure well outside the pocket of the average reader.

            In 1895, encouraged by the increasing power of the free public library system, a few brave, mostly new, publishers decided to break Bentleys and Mudies’ stranglehold and publish six shilling single volume novels, making them cheaper for the public libraries to buy, enabling the publisher to print and distribute and sell through bookshops to a middle-class reader who could afford them.  The cheaper editions soon followed at 3/6d and eventually a shilling or even sixpence.  Mudies had to adapt to this revolution or go under and Bentley had soon disappeared completely.  

            Among those first ‘six shilling’ novels published in 1895 were Conrad’s Almayer’s Folly,  Hardy’s Jude the Obscure and H.G.Wells’s The Time Machine.   Within a year the three volume novel had all but disappeared and James, Hardy, Meredith and others all began to see their work appear in single volumes.  The revolution was swift, popular and profitable.  There followed what many see as the golden age of publishing from the eighteen nineties through to the nineteen thirties, which coincided almost to the day with the golden age of Modernism, with publication of Lord Jim, Ford’s The Good Soldier and late James like The Golden Bowl, soon to be followed by Proust, Joyce, Pound, Eliot, Kafka,  Woolf, Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Faulkner and all the great names of the movement who were by no means celebrated immediately.  A glance at John Gross’s selection from THE TIMES LITERARY SUPPLEMENT, The Modern Movement, will show that reputations were not always as assured as they seem today.

            Thus the problem of how to promote Modern Movement authors in a market still dominated by generic Victorian writers like Ouida or Anthony Hope was solved with the help of enthusiastic booksellers and public libraries.  I read all my favourite moderns initially from the public library – Firbank, Mann, Huxley, Waugh, Eliot – while I indulged my taste for popular writers like Wodehouse, Edgar Rice Burroughs and Clarence E. Mulford by taking out their work at tuppence a week from our still thriving commercial circulating libraries, both independent and attached to chains like Boots or W.H.Smith.   When my second hardcover novel, Stormbringer, was published I was asked to cut it because the economics were such that they had to sell a book at 12/6d to make it attractive to the circulating libraries.  As the economics of publishing and bookselling changed, as the paperback gradually took over from the borrowed hardback, we began to see intimations of our present predicament with the end of the commercial circulating library and public libraries increasingly stocking the big best-sellers which previously they had seen little point in purchasing for their borrowers.  Publishers who had depended upon the library trade, which would frequently take several thousand copies of any title, found themselves going out of business or needing to amalgamate with other firms.

            We find ourselves today in a somewhat similar situation, though it’s more expensive to buy new genre books and harder to find the cutting edge writers who stimulate us.  How do we break the power of Waterstones or Barnes and Noble, who take the lion’s share of profits and take the fewest risks ?   In 1970 the normal discount to publishers was 33%, considered pretty hefty at the time, and sometimes a little less (say 25%).  In 2007 publishers frequently demand and get 55%.  This means, as Allan Massie pointed out in a recent piece in The Spectator (if you don’t follow his thoughtful ‘Life and Letters’ column I recommend you try it), that the bookseller gets the lion’s share of the profit while taking the lowest risk and putting in the least work.  The writer, of course, gets the smallest share. 

            Given that this situation is antithetical to the publishing of good, risk-taking books, how are we to break that power and reverse the situation, paying the writer a fairer share for his investment and the bookseller a smaller (though equally fair) share.  The answer, of course, is clear to those of us who have worked for online publishers for some years, especially those who have paid   authors for their work or been paid.

            With retail outlets for POD publishers, where a reader can physically browse and order books if they are not yet ready to visit virtual bookstores, we should be able to offer a wider selection of books and magazines than ever before and, by cutting out middlemen, sell them at a cheaper price which will nonetheless ensure that the one who makes the largest investment in time and energy will receive the highest reward.  The more aggressively and enthusiastically electronic publishing promotes its wares, the more it challenges the conglomerates and offers the public a greater number of genuinely experimental titles.  All this makes for a far healthier literary life.

            It seems to me that authors as well as publishers will have to take the same risks Dickens took when he published his books as cheap part-works, the same risks authors took when they let their books be published at six shillings, instead of ₤1.10.6d, the same risks some of us took when we ignored the posher literary magazines of our day and preferred to see our work appear in vulgar newstand magazines with exotic and brightly coloured covers.  At present POD and other electronic publishing are considered by literary journalists and others to be an inferior form of delivering fiction to readers, on a par with vanity publishing.  This can only change rapidly if we make it change.  In my view we should not merely be seeking new markets for existing forms of fiction, such as the short story.  We should be seeking  personal forms of expression taking risks equal to those of electronic publishers who present us with the means of reaching a growing popular public.  It would make sense that among the first publications to achieve this revolution, and seriously threaten the power of the bookselling and publishing corporations, should be those with their roots in the genre which got its first start as an independent form when Hugo Gernsback, using his own money and the cheap and popular medium of the pulp magazine, launched AMAZING STORIES some eighty years ago.

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Heliotrope Issue 3


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Once Were Cops by Ken Bruen

 Kurt Browski, built like a shit brickhouse and just as solid. A cop out of Manhattan

South, he was having a bad day.

Much like most days.

His heritage was East European but contained so many strands, not even his parents knew

for sure it’s exact basis

And cared less

They wanted the American Dream

Cash………….and cash…………and yeah, more of same

They didn’t get it

Made them mean

Very

His mother was a cleaner and his father had been a construction worker but had settled

into a life of booze, sure beat getting up at 5.00 in the morning

His father beat his mother and they both beat Kurt

Somehow, he, if not survived them, got past them and finished High School, joined the

cops

He wanted to be where you gave payback

That was how he saw the force, emphasis on force. He was certainly East European in

his view of the boys in blue, they had the juice to lean on ……………..who-ever-the-

fuck they wished

And he did

Hard

His early weapon of choice was a K-bar.

Short, heavy and lethal and you could swing it real easy, plus, they rarely saw it coming.

They were watching your holstered gun and wallop, he slid the bar out of his sleeve and

that’s all she wrote

His rep was built on it and over the years, he became known as Kebar.

Did he care?

Not so’s you’d notice. He didn’t do friends, so what the fuck did he care.

Sometimes though, he longed to go have a few brews with the guys, shoot the shit, chill.

He adored country music, that sheer sentimentality was a large part of his nature and he

kept it hidden. His fellow officers, they went to the bar, got a few put away then played

country and western till the early hours

He loved Loretta Young, Ol Hank of course and then Gretchen Peters, Emmylou Harris,

Iris de Ment, Lucinda Williams, they were his guilty pleasures. All that heartache, it was

like they know him

His partners in the prowl car rarely lasted long, he took so many chances, they either got

hurt real fast or transferred

And now, you fucking believe it?

They were giving him some snot nosed kid,

O’ Brien, his commanding officer, a Mick, those guys, they still got the top jobs, had

summoned him

Anyone tell you the Micks were a thing of the past in the force………….take a look at

the roll call

You think they were letting that lucrative line of not so equal oppotunity slip away.

O’Brien didn’t like Kebar, knew the guy was unhinged but he sure got results and like

O’Brien, he adhered to the old idea

“Justice was dispensed in alleys, not courtrooms.”

He said to Kebar

“Have a seat.”

“I’ll stand Sir.”

Naturally

O’Brien wondered if the guy ever eased up, said

“Suit yourself.’

He took a good look at Kebar

The guy was all muscle, rage and bile

Perfect cop for the times

His face was a mess of broken nose, busted veins ( he liked his vodka, straight) a scar

over his left eye, he looked like a pit bull in uniform.

O’Brien said

“Got you a new partner.”

Kebar growled

“Don’t need no partner.”

O’Brien smiled

This is where it was good to be chief, flex that muscle, asked

“I ask you what you needed?………..did you hear me do that, yeah, it’s not what you need

mister, it’s what I tell you’re getting, we have a reciprocal arrangement with The Irish

Goverment to take twenty of their’s and twenty of ours go over there

Kebar had heard all this crap before…………yada yada, he sighed, asked

“Who am I getting?”

O’Brien was looking forward to this, opened a file, took out his glasses, all to annoy the

shit of Kebar, pretended to read

“Matt O Shea, did a year on the beat in Galway”

He paused then added

“Galway, that’s in Ireland.”

Kebar would have spit, reined it in a bit, sneered

“A Mick, no disrespect sir but a green horn, gonna have to break his cherry for him?”

O’Brien was delighted, better than he’d hoped, he said

“Actually, he seems a bright kid.”

Kebar was enraged, rasped

“In Ireland, they don’t even carry freaking guns, they’re like …………….

He couldn’t think of a suitable degrading term, settled for

“Rent a cops.”

O’Brien smiled again, he was having a fine morning, said

“I’ll expect you to treat him properly, that’s all, dismissed.”

Outside the office, Kebar spat, a passing cop was going to say something, saw who it was

and kept on moving

Kebar went down to the car pool, rage simmering in his belly, leaned against his car, got

his flask out, drank deep. A young guy, in sparkling new uniform approached, put out his

hand, asked

“Officer Browski?”

Kebar stared at him, the new uniform was blinding, the gun belt neon in it’s newness, the

buttons shining on his tunic

He belched, grunted

“Who’s asking?”

The kid still had his hand out, his eyes full of gung ho bullshit, said

‘I’m your new partner, Matt O Shea, they call me………”

Before he could go any further, Kebar said

“Shut the fuck up, that’s your first lesson, I want to know something, I’ll ask you, can

you follow that?”

“Yes sir.”

Sir

Kebar thought it was going to even worse than he’d imagined

He asked

“Can you drive?”

“Of course, I…………”

“Then get in the fucking car, get us out of here.”

Kebar looked at his sheet, the assignments they’d pulled and said

“Head for Brooklyn, can you find that?”

Shea was going to tell him he now lived there but buttoned it, just nodded, thinking

“Holy fook, I get a psycho on me first day.”

They were passing an area of deserted lots, mud on the ground, no signs of habitation and

Kebar said

“Pull up here.”

Shea, nervous, before he could stop himself, went

“Here?”

“Deaf as well?”

He pulled over

Kebar got out, said

“You hear of backup, get out of the fucking car.”

Shea got tangled in his safety belt and harness, all the frigging equipment and it weighted

a ton, plus, the uniform, Christ, how hot was it and it itched

Kebar said

“Before the weekend, maybe?”

Shea, finally out, waited and Kebar said

“Go, I’m behind you.”

And for a wild moment, Shea wondered if the mad bastard was going to shoot him? The

other cops had already told him of how Kebar’s partners never lasted

Before he could think beyond this, he got an almighty push in the back, sent him

sprawling in the mud, covering his brand new blues in crap and dirt.

He rolled round, temped to go for his piece, Kebar was slugging from a flask, said

“Now that’s more like it, you don’t look like such a freaking virgin, we go into the hood,

they see that shiny new blue, we’re meat.’

And then he turned back to the car

Shea watched his retreating bulk and hated him with a ferocity of pure intent

As they drove off, Kebar was chuckling and Shea asked

“You going to share the joke?”

Kebar looked at him, said

“First day on the job, you’re already a dirty cop.”

They did a full day, settling domestics, leaning on dope dealers, cop stuff, some of it

wildly exhilarating and most, boring as hell

And Shea, he never attempted to change his uniform or even brush the mud off it

Kebar was impressed, he didn’t let on but thought

“Kid has cojones.”

Even better, he didn’t whine or complain, whatever nasty task Kebar set him and he sure

had some beaut’s, the kid just went at them, head down, his mouth set in a grim smile

End of the shift, Kebar was tempted to say

“You done good.”

Went with

“Early start tomorrow, don’t be late.”

The kid looked out on his feet, asked

“You want to grab a cold one?”

And for a moment, Kebar nearly said yes, then reined it in, said

“I don’t drink with the help.”

Everyone has their Achilles heel, the one area that makes them vulnerable. From Bush to

Bono, there is something they dont want known

Be it pretzels or lack of height

Kebar’s was his sister, Lucia

She has a serious mental handicap and never aged past five, now in her thirties, she still

had the face and mind of a five year old

Their parents had been horrified and regarded her as a curse

They had tried to beat it out of her, literally

Now, she was in a very expensive home, where they treated her well, and she seemed if

not happy, at least less terrorized

Out on Long Island, it cost a bundle to keep her there

Kebar poured every nickel into her upkeep

He was losing the battle

The thought of her being put into one of the State institutions filled him with dread

She’d been there already, courtesy of her parents and suffered serious setbacks on every

level

Soon as Kebar could, he got her out of there, and into the new home

The freight was killing him, he didn’t go to ball games, or buy new clothes,

every damn dime went to her

It wasn’t enough

Enter the wiseguys

A particular slice of Sleaze named Morronni, feeling Kebar out and finally putting it to

him

“You need some serious wedge and we can give it to you.”

How the fucks knew about Lucia, he didn’t even ask, that was their gig, secrets.

He wanted to get his K-bar, ram it down the cocksucker’s throat but it was a week when

he couldn’t make the payments for Lucia so he asked

“What I gotta do?”

His heart in ribbons, he hated dirty cops with a vengeance and here he was, joining the

ranks of the damned

Morronni smiled, said

“Hey, no big thing, you let us know when the cops are gonna make a bust, whose phones

are tapped, small stuff, you know, nuttin to get in a sweat bout.”

Yeah

Lure you in

They did

And progressed

Bigger stuff

The money was on a par

He was able to guarantee six months ahead for Lucia

The proprietor of the home, a sleek suit named Kemmel, said

“Mr Browski, we don’t usually take large sums of money, cheque’s, credit cards, they are

the norm.”

Kebar gave him his street look, the one that had serious skels look away, said

“Money is money, you telling me you cant do off the books, you want me to get a

sanitation crew out here, give your place the once over.”

No

He took the money

And in a sly tone, asked

“You need a receipt?”

Kebar wasn’t used to being threatened, least not by pricks in suits, unless they were

pimps and certainly, never twice.

Kemmel was sitting behind a large mahogany desk, smirk in place, not a single paper on

the desk, a framed photo of his shiny wife and shinier kids facing out to the world,

proclaiming

“See, I’m a winner.”

Kebar leaned across the desk, deliberately knocking the frame aside, grabbed Kemmel by

his tie, pulled him back across the desk, asked

“You like fucking with me, that it?”

Kemmel, who’d never been manhandled in his life, was terrified, he could smell garlic on

the cop’s breath, he managed to croak

“I think we might have hit a wrong note.”

Kebar put his thumb up against Kemmel’s right eye, said

“One tiny push, and you’ll see things in a whole different light.”

Then he let him go, stood up, asked

“You were saying?”

Kemmel, struggling for his dignity, adjusting his tie, said

“No problem Mr B, I’ll see to your

……….am……….arrangement…………personally.”

Kebar edged the frame with his worn cowboy boots, his one indulgence, bought in the

village and custom made, said

“Real nice family, tell you what, I’ll drive by, time to time, keep an eye on them, call it a

personal arrangement.”

Next day at work, Kebar was leaning against the car, hoping the kid would be late

He wasn’t

And the uniform, still mud encased.

Kebar asked

“How’d the roster sergeant like your uniform?”

The kid said

“He gave me a bollicking.”

Kebar liked the term, had a nice ferocity about it, said

“Tore you a new one, did he?”

The kid went

“Tore what?”

Kebar laughed, he was going to have to teach him American as well as everything else,

said

“Asshole, we say, he tore me a new one, means you got reamed.”

If the kid appreciated the lesson, he didn’t show it.

Kebar was enjoying himself, it had been a long time since he enjoyed being buddied up.

He turned towards his door when he got an almighty push in the back, jammed him

against the roof and then his arm was twisted up his back, the kids arm round his

windpipe, he heard

“Let me teach you something smartarse, The Guards, no matter what you think of them,

they never forget…………….ever………….and you ever push me in the fucking back

again, you better be ready to back it up.”

Then he let go

Kebar was stunned, no one had the balls to come at him like that in a long time and he

debated reaching for his bar then began to laugh, said

“You’re a piece of work, you know that, let’s roll.”

The days surprises weren’t over yet, they answered a call to a domestic, and Kebar said

“Don’t get between the couple, nine times out of ten, you subdue the man, the freaking

broad will gut you.”

The kid said

“Believe it or not, we have wife beaters in Ireland.”

Kebar took a quick look at the kid, he was wearing a real serious expression and Kebar

asked

“What you’d do, call the priest.’

Without changing his look the kid said

“Often, tis the priest doing the beating.”

Kebar liked that a lot, he was warming all the time to the punk, despite his best efforts.

They got to the scene, and Kebar led the way, His hand on his holster, the door of the

apartment was open and a skinny white guy was whacking a woman like his life

depended on it

Kebar said

“You want to stop doing that sir?”

He didn’t

Said

“Fuck off pig, family business.”

Kebar shrugged his sleeve, the bar sliding down and he moved forward, missed seeing a

side door open and a shotgun pointing out

Two shots nearly deafened him and a body tumbled out, a guy moaning, he’d been hit in

the shoulder and leg. Kebar looked at the kid, his smoking gun sill leveled. Kebar moved

to the guy on the floor, kicked the shotgun away, said

“Move and you’re fucking dead.”

The guy who’d been beating on his wife, shouted

“You shot my brother, you cocksucker.”

Kebar took him out with the bar and then the woman started so she joined the bodies on

the floor.

The kid still had the gun pointed

Kebar said

“You can put it down now.”

The kid’s eyes were clear and he nodded, said

“Guess we better call it in.”

They did

Kebar moved to the kid, said

“I owe you.”

The kid gave him a look, said

“Just back up, that’s all, what is it you guys say? No biggie.”

The brass arrived and re-assured Shay it was a good shoot and even though Internal

Affairs would be talking to him, he had nothing to worry about, they actually clapped

him on the back, said

“You did real fine.”

Outside, as they got into the prowl, Kebar said

“Pretty fancy shooting.”

The kid shrugged

“I was aiming for what I figured was his head, need some practice I suppose.”

They got out of there and back to the station house, Kebar broke his rule, asked

“Can I buy you a brew, shit, lots of brews and what that’s stuff you Micks

like…………….Jameson?”

Shay stood for a moment, looking at the ground, then

“No thanks, I’m the help…………that’s what you said……….right.”

And he was gone

Kebar felt let down, like he’d failed the kid.

What was for damn sure was, the kid hadn’t failed him.

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Grease Monkey Book 2: A Tale of Two Species by Tim Eldred

Sometimes it still surprises even ME that there’s a book one. The concept
for Grease Monkey has been with me for a pretty long time (15 years as I
write these words) and the published version has been around for 10 percent
of that (1.5 years) so I have to occasionally remind myself that it’s not
entirely mine any more. When a twisted string of causality finally resulted
in it getting published in a handsome hardcover edition from Tor Books in
summer 2006, it was like watching my child go off into the world to make
friends and influence people I would probably never meet. If you¹re one of
those people, I hope it was a good experience for you. If you haven’t yet
become acquainted, you can remedy this any time over at
www.greasemonkeybook.com .
 
The story for Book 2 has been with me for about half of those 15 years
mentioned above. I had delusions about turning Grease Monkey into an
animated feature film once the first book got off the launch pad, but I also
had to confront the idea that if it were to be optioned by a movie studio
the first thing on their agenda would be to tear it to bits. Having seen a
few movies and read a few books in my day, I thought I had come up with
something that didn¹t need to be “improved” upon by some overpaid executive.
So even as I wrote my movie script there was a nagging voice in the back of
my head saying, “do it yourself, stupid!”
 
I actually did turn the first act into an animated mini-movie (which you can
also find at the website) and I thought about continuing on from there to
make the whole thing that way. But even that much effort wouldn’t
bullet-proof it against tampering. All it takes is one middle-manager to
invent a problem and you’re back to square one. It’s a shame that it has to
be that way. When we look back over history we can see centuries of classic
stories that did just fine without having to be “re-imagined” or
“focused-grouped” or “beta-tested.” In fact, if all those things had been
around before the 20th century, we might not have gotten classic literature
at all. Just a lot of mediocrity. Fortunately, the movie game isn’t the only
one in town.

In the face of all this, I decided the script would do just as well as the
basis for a graphic novel and started drawing it. So here’s the first chunk
of Grease Monkey Book 2. The whole thing is going to take a year or two to
finish, with new pages to be uploaded to the website every 60 days. If it
all works out, there will be a paper version at the end. In the meantime, I
hope it will make lots of friends.

 

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Fablewood Anthology

 

 

 

 

 

 

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