My short story, Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep, appeared in the August 5 The Chamber online magazine. https://thechambermagazine.com/short-stories/ It is the ninth story down from the top. The story first appeared in Terror House back in January. This is an expanded version. I received critiques on the former version that I didn’t identify the murderer. That wasn’t the point of the story. The point was the relationship between the boy and his father and what it means to be a man. So I added an unmasking for those who need closure.
The Protest Diaries
The latest anthology featuring my work comes out next week. The Protest Diaries will be released on August 4. It is a collection of stories raging against corruption and evil in the world. I am proud my story, The Intervention, is among the chosen to represent the fight against oppression in all its forms. The book has been in production since last year, but has somehow come together at a perfect time. A time when people need to be reminded that so much of the time change only comes when good people say “Enough!”
Recently a friend lamented why she bothered to fight for the rights of other people who wouldn’t fight for themselves. I said, “If I don’t speak up when they take away the rights of others, who will speak up when they come for my rights?”
Today, I received the Introduction from editor Bob Brown. I found it moving and powerful. I am posting it here. If it speaks to you, consider taking a look at the book. It should be on Amazon next week. Part of the proceeds go to the ACLU.
Christopher David is a hero, an inspiration, and a great American.
In July, 2020 Christopher David was a 53 year old Navy veteran attending his first protest in Portland where the Black Lives Matter movement was protesting the death of George Floyd.
He wore his Naval Academy sweatshirt and in the park across the street from the courthouse, he told law enforcement staff that that “You take the oath to the Constitution; you don’t take the oath to a particular person.”
This earned that Navy Veteran a beating, being threatened with a weapon, five strikes from a baton, a broken hand and a new awareness of what happens when you stand up to authority in America.
Edmund Burke is widely purported to have said that “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.”
Christopher David, demonstrated this and inspired me. Because of this man, I, a 61-year-old Navy veteran, made my own trek to Portland, I took my family.
What I found re-assured me and terrified me.
I found a community of protesters set on a course of living Edmund Burke’s words.
Daily these people endured teargas, flash bangs, bear mace and assaults. Every day of the protests the government lied about what took place and continues to do so. They lied over conditions on the ground, actions taken, and the truth in general.
It was Christopher David’s story that took me to Portland, where I found my own truths, and grew to admire the people I saw and my daughter, her husband, and two of their friends who “weren’t gonna let Bob go down there by himself.”
What we saw can be found later in this book, but the key is that all people in this country have an obligation to stand up in the face of government wrongdoing or evil WILL triumph, and it will triumph in the world we owe our children.
So thank you Cheyenne, Nathan, Quin, and Steve for standing up with me. And thank you Christopher David for showing me the way.
I have an orange sofa. Or it may be a couch. Or a settee or davenport. I guess they are all different, but I don’t know what it is. It has three cushions for sitting, and three cushions to lean back against. For the sake of argument, I’ll call it a sofa. And mine is orange.
It hasn’t always been orange. It was a light green canvas in a previous life. About fifteen years ago we reupholstered in in a faux-suede, light brown cloth. The color was called cinnamon. And it was apt. The sofa was the same color as the ground cinnamon in the jar in my kitchen.
A month or so ago my wife decided it was time to reupholster the sofa again. I guess it’s one of those biological clock things that women have, like when it’s time to strip the kitchen floor or repaint the cabinets. An internal bell goes off, and we have to act on it.
Decorating issues are fraught with problems for me. Mostly, I don’t really care how the house is decorated, as long as it isn’t bizarre. I mean, I do want to live in attractive surroundings but rarely have a deep-seated need to have a particular color or style. My wife usually picks, and I have veto power. However, on this one, I was pressed to participate. If I don’t care about the recovering of the sofa, then I don’t care about our relationship. That’s kind of a big jump for me to grasp. So apparently, I had to care about the sofa.
I considered it and came up with what is probably the most common suggestion of men backed into a decorating corner. I said let’s cover it in the same cloth – cinnamon fake suede. Surprisingly, this went over well, and the deal was made. Our sofa was taken away. A few weeks later they brought it back. It was orange. Sometime in the past fifteen years the color cinnamon apparently morphed from light brown to orange. Who knew? Color me surprised.
We put the sofa back in the den and even I could tell it clashed with the walls and curtains. Yellow walls in no way enhance an orange sofa. So the wife repainted the den. Once again, I was pressed into a decision on color, and again, I convinced her to pick and I rubber stamped it. We went with Churchill White, which isn’t white and I don’t know how Churchill got involved. It kind of looks like white that got left out in the weather for a few years.
Next my wife decided that we needed new curtains to go with the orange sofa. For the next two weekends I participated in what I called the Bataan death march. We spent the better part of two weekends going to fabric store after fabric store looking at samples of cloth. As a guy who doesn’t like shopping in any form, I was brain dead a couple hours after we started. But I gave a considered response to every piece of cloth my wife picked up. I had a few non-negotiables – no paisley, no flame tip and no cabbage roses like the print dresses my widest aunt used to wear to church.
Not happy with our excursions, my wife next decided to bring in an interior decorator to help. Excellent, I thought. Let her make the decisions. She and my wife picked out curtain fabric that was floral, but mostly non-offensive. But she decided the wall color was wrong. So my wife, the family painter, repainted the living room a beige-blue-gray color. I guess it has some imaginative name, but I think “cloudy day”.
The decorator also recommended changing the floor covering. We had basic beige carpet, twenty years old, but in excellent condition. I think the color was called wheat. We decided to go with an area rug over the carpet. She found a large rug, some 10×12 feet with patterns and colors I could live with. Not wanting to put the rug down over a dirty carpet, we called in the professional cleaners and had the carpet shampooed.
I wasn’t home the day the new rug was delivered, but we had moved the furniture out of the den so the guys could lay it out. The story I got from my wife was that the delivery guy dropped it on the porch and asked her to sign for it. She told him we had paid extra to have them lay out the carpet because it was too heavy for us to lift (we both have back issues). He wouldn’t move it, saying he didn’t care what the agreement was. So she refused to sign for it. The delivery guy refused to remove the rug and left it on our porch. My wife called the company and told them to come get the rug and return our money. They dragged their feet, so she called back after a few days and said they could collect their rug in two days or she was giving it to Good Will. They came and got the rug and refunded most of the money. They wanted to retain some of it for some nonsense about restocking fee. My wife complained to Visa, and suddenly the company made a full refund.
After the rug fiasco, my wife told me that getting a new carpet would be no more expensive than the cost of the rug. I had about had it with decorating at this point and told her to get whatever she wanted. She still brought in carpet samples for me to approve. In the end I watched them tear out our good condition, newly cleaned beige carpet and put in new beige carpet. I find the color indistinguishable from the old carpet color. They are both the color of oatmeal. She says I’m colorblind if I can’t see the difference. Colorblindness doesn’t work that way, but that’s not an argument I need to have.
So I have a new beige carpet, cloudy day walls, and mostly non-offensive curtains. And an orange sofa.
Last year I had a story accepted by The Protest Diaries, an anthology about protests, naturally. It was supposed to go out by the end of the year. Back in March, I think it was, I got word from them that they had made some changes. They had too many stories and were going to ax about eight, and others would need revision. Ever the pessimist, I assumed my story was on the chopping block. Last week I got notice that my story had survived but they wanted significant revisions. They kindly outlined the changes they wanted. I agreed that most of the changes strengthened the story and was glad to accommodate them. Now I’m waiting to see if the changes are acceptable. The letter implied that if I made the changes they wanted then it was a done deal. We’ll see. Until then, well, writing is a waiting game.
As a preview, my story is “The Intervention”. A high schooler remembers his father’s funeral from when he was eight years old. His father had died fighting in Afghanistan and his funeral was picketed by evangelicals similar to what we’ve seen from the Westboro Baptist Church. If you’re unfamiliar with them, check out their website -godhatesfags.com. Yeah, they’re that kind of Christian.
Anyway, he learns that the same protesters are coming to picket the funeral of a police officer who was gay and a good friend. How he handles this situation is the balance of the story.
The editor said he liked my take on the issue and definitely wanted the story for the anthology. It just needed tightening up. Sometimes I just run on and on. Anyone who has read my writing knows that about me. I’ll post here when I know more. In the meantime, I’m still waiting for a publication date for Worlds Within and my story “Changing of the Guard”, the sequel to “La Duchessa”.
Sing a Song of Amazon
I was checking my bank account the other day and noticed I had a deposit of $10 from Amazon. First, how does Amazon know which bank I use? I pay for all my Amazon purchases with a credit card. Second, of course they know. Amazon knows everything.
But why? Why did Amazon give me ten bucks? The deposit had a series of numbers and EDI PYMNTS written beside it. I quickly deduced that PYMNTS meant payments. I’m smart like that. So I googled Amazon EDI payments. Seems EDI payments are transfers of small amounts of money when a seller makes money on Amazon. Ok. So why did they think I made money on Amazon? I have a Vella site, but anytime I go there I have to wipe off the dust and cobwebs and the crickets are so loud I can hardly hear myself think. So no. No money there.
The EDI site had two handy little links for Amazon sellers and non-sellers. I clicked on the Amazon sellers link and it immediately told me I was NOT an Amazon seller. Maybe not, but they didn’t need to be so abrupt about it. Kinda hurt my feelings. So I clicked on the other link. And it was in German. A page full of German, and nothing that looked like a translate button.
So back to square one. I figured I would contact Amazon directly. Contacting Amazon is fraught with problems – mostly revolving around language. I usually opt for the “Chat”. I have found that it is frequently easier to tease out the meaning of pidgin English when written than when spoken. And no offense intended to the employees who I imagine have much better English skills than I have Hindi or Burmese skills, but face it, sometimes it seems like an impenetrable shield.
So I clicked on Chat. In a few moments Saba comes on. I do like that they seem to use their real names, rather than trying to make me think I’m conversing with ‘Bob’ or ‘Mack’. A Google search informed me that Saba is a typical Kuwaiti girl’s name, so I guess I was working with a Kuwaiti lady. She opened with asking how I was. I made nice and told her I was fine and hoped she was, also. She responded she was pleased I was well and hoped for my good health every day of the year. A bit over the top, but I’ll take good wishes as I can get them.
I explained that I had received the deposit and just wondered what it was for. She said she would check and get back to me. After a quite long wait she can back on and wanted to know if I had “any other Amazon.uk accounts”. UK? As in United Kingdom? I told her no, I only had the one account with Amazon.US. She thanked me and went away. A while later she asked if she could have my four-digit number. This was a poser. Did she mean the number I use to get money from the ATM, the number I use to turn off my house alarm, the last four of my social security number, the last four digits of my phone number, or the number I have to use to let the cable company know that the freaking cable is on the fritz again? A likely answer seemed to be my credit card number, but why did she need to ask me? See number two above. Amazon probably knows more about me than I know myself. They know my dad’s middle name, my mom’s maiden name, my first car, favorite pet, and that I like Christmas. Why get so cagey all of a sudden? I decided this had nothing to do with my credit card, so I offered her the number attached to the deposit. She thanked me and went away.
She came back a while later and thanked me for my patience. As a sign of their appreciation, they were going to give me another $10. I know Amazon is the most profitable company in the world, but you don’t usually get there by just throwing money around. But if this is the new company policy, maybe they should throw some at their employees. I thanked her for the money and then asked about the original $10. This is when it got weirder.
She said she had “just discovered this”, discovered what I don’t know, and that the $10 credit I was getting was taken off the price of an MP3 player I bought about four months ago. I had purchased a cheapo MP3 player from a Chinese company for about $39. It was a piece of crap that didn’t work as advertised; it barely worked at all. I had contacted the company for a replacement. They said they would only send me a replacement if I would first post a good rating of them on the Amazon site. WTF? No. I told them I would give them “a rating” after they made good on my purchase. No deal. I had to write the good review, or they wouldn’t participate. I stood by my principles and chalked it up to experience. I purchased an MP3 player on Ebay, instead (anyone need a marginal Chinese MP3 player cheap?). I never contacted Amazon about my problems with the Chinese company and I paid for the device when I purchased it. So why was Amazon bringing up something I bought long ago? I asked Saba. She seemed hurt and wondered why I wasn’t appreciative of their “gesture of goodwill”. I assured her that I was appreciative (she used ‘appreciative’ a lot). In the next word salad I got from her it appeared that they would refund the entire price of the MP3 player. I say it ‘appeared’ because, you know, word salad. She didn’t just mangle the English language; she left it broken and bloody on the floor.
After another abortive attempt to get information from Saba I decided it was time to go. I exchanged way too many parting pleasantries and made my escape.
So at the end of the day I have $10 in the bank, either a ten dollar or thirty-nine dollar credit with Amazon and still no idea what started the whole deal. Maybe I’ll try again with another chat person. They may have a better grasp of English. Or I may get even more credits. I’d like to get Amazon Prime for free. Maybe they can arrange that.
Confessions of a Horror Writer
I have a story coming out in a horror anthology in March. Five of the other stories I’ve had published would also be considered horror. If you look on my Amazon author’s page, two of the three books there are horror anthologies. It might look like I’ve found my niche.
I’m not a fan of horror. There, I said it. I don’t read horror books or stories and only watch classic horror movies. I hate blood and guts. Then why do my stories seem to find their way into the horror realm? Your guess is as good as mine. I just write what bubbles up from my subconscious.
Let me clarify my definition of horror. Horror in written form is much harder than on the screen. Film can use music and sudden camera switches or something jumping into sight to startle the viewer. Hard to do on the written page. But I see written horror (or good film horror) as creeping dread, the need to look over your shoulder, check the locks, and turn on more lights. That is rare in the little horror I have read.
I read a Lovecraft anthology once. His style was not what I was used to, but I eventually got with it. Only two of the stories did I find actually disturbing in the ways I mentioned above. I guess I’m just not a Cthulu fan.
I read The Shining because I liked the movie. Let me be clear about this. There are two movies I will never see again. The Shining and Alien. Those two scared the bejesus out of me. Not because of blood and guts or weird camera work. They are just plain scary. In a good way. The Alien sequels missed the mark. So I wanted to read The Shining. It was summer and I was alone one night (not a good way to read horror). I had to go pee. I was just at the part in the book about the dead woman in the bathtub. As I stood at the commode, a gentle breeze may have wafted through the open window. All I know for sure is that in the mirror beside the commode I saw the bathtub curtain move. I was out of the bathroom and under the covers in a flash, my heart beating like a drum. That’s what good horror does.
I’ve read a couple of Stephen King anthologies. I enjoy his stories, but most of them I don’t classify as horror because they don’t elicit that response in me. I think Salem’s Lot is the only one that came close. As for his novels, IT did scare me. Again it brought the elements to the page that evoked the fear response I mentioned above.
I grew up watching late night “horror” movies like Dracula, Frankenstein, the Wolfman and such. None of them were particularly frightening, even when I was nine years old. I loved the camp of all the Draculas, from the color drenched Hammer films to the granddaddy of them all, 1931 Dracula. Frankenstein was okay, but I kept seeing plot holes. I tried reading the original but couldn’t get through it. It was so different from the movies and didn’t sustain my interest. I never got into the wolfman movies because I got tired of Lon Chaney Jr. emoting over his misbegotten fate to be cursed. And they all ended the same – a good man turned into a monster and then killed. Kind of a downer.
The monster movies like Godzilla and the rest of the Japanese crew really shouldn’t even be considered horror. Just call these disaster movies. Or science fiction. I mean how horrifying are two miniature Japanese ladies riding on the back of a giant moth?
All that said, do I consider my horror stories as true horror? Maybe. Some of these can be found here.
La Duchessa is my vampire entry. I try to give the old duchessa an air of subtle menace. And the old photographs indicate that something may be amiss. It’s available now on Amazon for only $2.99.
Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep would probably better classify as a thriller, although with all the cut off heads I guess it also falls in the horror camp. https://terrorhousemag.com/lay/
Welcome to Hell is more fun than horrifying. https://fb.watch/8ShBfglfJy/
The Haint is an old-fashioned ghost story my grandfather used to tell. It’s quaint and not particularly scary. https://www.pagespineficshowcase.com/curtis-a-bass.html
Little Green Men is madness in outer space. They say in space no one can hear you scream, but you also need to remember that help is half a billion miles away. https://theworldswithin.net/little-green-men
I’ve got some others that have not been published yet. There’s The Stick Men, a slightly scary story that my mom told me about her childhood nightmares. Manitou, based on the Norse eddas, is my homage to Lovecraft.
But one of my favorite stories, Johnny’s Got a Gun, comes out next month in Screaming in the Night anthology. It’s a good old style ghost story – kids at night getting into mischief and all hell breaking loose. Is it horrifying? Probably not. Is it spooky? I hope so. Since the anthology is for sale on Amazon, I won’t be publishing the story on my blog until some much later date. You should probably get the book. I’ve read a story by one of the other authors included and she gets my thumbs up for a spooky story. Creeping dread just the way I like it.
Idle Thoughts from Vacation
There should be a special circle in Hell for people who bring infants on cross country flights.
I was people watching on my recent ski vacation, seeing what people were wearing, and being the curmudgeon that I am, judging them for it. I noticed someone wearing a ski outfit in arctic camouflage. Why? Having two shoulder injuries from being tackled on the slopes, I value being seen as opposed to wearing camouflage. The only situation that seems sensible would be if there were an active shooter at the resort (or if they were the active shooter). On the other hand, if they became disoriented and passed out on a trail, the rescuers might miss them. Camouflage is a bad idea.
I noticed that mask mandate signs were posted all over the ski area. Of course, no one seemed to be paying any attention to them. A big sign proclaimed you had to wear a mask to ride the gondola. Looking around each time I noticed my wife and I were the only ones in line who wore masks. We always asked at the front to ride a gondola with other masked patrons, so we always got a private gondola. Our vaccination status was checked to enter all the base lodges and restaurants, but the mask requirements were mostly ignored there also. I’d say about 80-90% of the people were not masked and no one seemed to call them on it. One liftie muttered that he’d been told not to enforce the mask mandate. I guess the signs were just to cover their asses.
Now that I’m getting older, I find that my medical vocabulary is increasing dramatically. How is it I lived my entire life without knowing the meaning of stenosis? Or hemilapidectomy? Or T1 neoplasm? I’m learning so much.
Speaking of age reminds me of a lunch I had with a friend just before the pandemic struck. I told him all about my rotator cuff surgery and he filled me in on his hip replacement. I countered with my wife’s struggles with arthritis. After a moment he said, “What did we use to talk about before we got old?”
La Duchessa Sequel
Worlds Within plans to run the sequel to La Duchessa in their spring edition. It is titled Changing of the Guard and picks up 10 years after the end of La Duchessa. I’ll post more info when available.
The Worlds Within Winter 2022 Issue is up and available for purchase on Amazon. Go to my author page https://www.amazon.com/author/curtisbooks to see the cover. My story “La Duchessa” is one of six spine tingling tales in this issue. It is available in hard and soft cover. And by the end of February it will be online in audio form. They sent me an advance of the audio copy for approval and I loved it. The British accent of the reader gave it such an air of class. I’ll put up a link to the audio version once it’s available. I sent Worlds Within a sequel to “La Duchessa”, but they haven’t told me yet if they’ll run it. If they don’t, I’ll post it here anyway.
Confessions of a Pantser
I read that 66% of authors say their characters speak to them. At first glance, I’d say that implies a high incidence of schizophrenia among writers. But I was secretly pleased to find this because my characters speak to me. And no, I don’t mean there are voices in my head. There is only one voice, mine. But my characters do tend to take on agency. I once wrote a story for college, the big project in my creative writing class. It got an A, but I wasn’t completely happy with it. Years later I had a dream where the main character of that story came to me and said I had his story all wrong. I woke up the next morning, sat at my computer, and opened my mind. The story poured out in one sitting, all 7,000 words of it. It had the same beginning but took a completely different direction.
One of the differences was the name of the best friend. Once I discovered the friend’s name, he took on more of a role in the story. I’ve found my characters are particular about their names. Many cultures believe personal names have power. My characters are the same. If I change a character’s name, often the entire arc of the story changes. When I start a story, I will lay out the characteristics of the MC, maybe conjure up an image, then I start writing. So often, the name just comes out. I’ve had stories where I had to force a name because one didn’t come up automatically and the story hasn’t worked. In my WIP I’m on the 4th name for an important side character, but it’s not the right one, yet he stubbornly refuses to reveal it. And then there are times when the name doesn’t really matter. I recently sold a story told in first person where the MC is never named, except once, when his sister calls him Cupcake. I wrote the whole story never realizing he wasn’t named until I did my re-read. I thought about adding a name, but no. He wanted to remain anonymous.
And no, I’m not off my medication. I still understand the difference between fiction and reality. But somehow, the act of writing taps a part of my brain that is otherwise quiescent. It’s part of why I’m a pantser rather than a plotter. When I write, I frequently don’t know where the story is going. Sometimes I have a destination in mind, sometimes not. And even if there is a destination, I don’t always end up where I thought we were going. It’s the getting there that’s fun. I allow my characters free rein when I write. Sometimes they go places I didn’t intend. I guess in those cases a piece of my mind wanted to explore it. But it’s almost like watching a movie. I’m just recording what I’m seeing.
To be sure, sometimes my characters go places and do things best left unwritten. Those stories are either deleted or assigned to an X file, possibly to be resurrected if they promise to behave. And the ones who please me the most get more attention. Two of my favorite characters became the focal points of my two novels. I liked them so much I wanted to continue spending time with them, just as I would a friend in the real world. So I kept going back to the page and asking them to speak to me again. It was like reconnecting with an old friend. I got 110,000 words from one and 77,000 from the other. I also got hours visiting someone I felt a real connection with.
So yeah, my characters speak to me. But that’s okay. I enjoy what they have to say.