Brown River Queen cover art

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Free Read!

Got a few minutes?

If so, ready your clicking finger for The Powerful Bad Luck of DD Dupree.  I wrote and sold this back in 2004, when woolly mammoths still roamed and I weighed 170 pounds.  Or maybe I roamed and the mammoths were 170.  Look, it was a long time ago.

It's a free read, and it's a short story, so you don't need to set aside the whole afternoon.

What is The Powerful Bad Luck of DD Dupree about?

It's set in my native Mississippi, in 1974.  I was 11 in '74.  Mississippi was a different world then, if one compares it to the present.  I've tried to make that clear in the story, and yes, I'm talking about race.

The character of Wade Lee is based on a black man I grew up knowing.  The rest?

Well, read it, and you decide.

Here's an excerpt, for anyone still on the fence:

Wade Lee lifted his wire-wrapped bundle.

"I call you out!" he shouted, in a voice that split the sky. He hurled his bundle into the fire, and the flames roared up and consumed it, as though it were soaked in kerosene. "I call you by yo' name! Come out!"

DD rose suddenly, jerked upright on as if by strings. His eyes went wide and his mouth fell open and his right hand lifted sudden across his face as though to shield a blow.

The flames shot up then, blue and roaring and higher than I was tall. And when they fell, as they quickly did, dead gone Lucas Dupree stood two steps away, just on the other side of the knee-high bank of blue-edged fire.

Lucas Dupree stank. A wind rose up and the stench of him, of rotting flesh soaked in cheap whiskey, curled about us. He exhaled, wet and gurgling, and I gagged and nearly puked.

"I reckon it ain't natural, and I reckon it's gettin' worse," said the dead man, with a crooked, bloody grin. He tossed an empty Black Crow whiskey bottle into the fire, and the flames leaped up and took it. "You was right about that, boy," he said, to DD. "I ain't done with you yet."

Enjoy!  And have a good weekend.  I'm planning on catching the last Harry Potter movie at some point, will probably blog about that too.

Friday, July 15, 2011

The Secret Lives of Hoarders

Book Review: The Secret Lives of Hoarders

If you're like me (and for your sake, let's hope that is not the case), you have a few television shows you simply cannot miss.

One of mine is Hoarders, on A&E. Hoarders are people driven by compulsion to collect and keep items which vary from case to case but range from old newspapers to soiled adult diapers -- and worse.

Much, much worse.

We're not talking about a few odd shelves stuffed with bric-a-brac.  We're not talking about closets filled to overflowing with quilts or shoes or boxes.  No, an instance of full-blown hoarding usually involves a dwelling that is literally stuffed to the ceilings with the most bewildering variety of junk.  On Hoarders, I've seen mounds of coat-hangers surrounded by bags and bags of rotting groceries.  Sometimes the refuse is stacked and packed over such a long time that it compresses down into disgusting layers of trash-strata, whereby one can date the layers by identifying the flattened remains of cats squashed amid the bits of unrecognizable debris.

You think I made that up?  I didn't.  It's happened, more than once, and with more than a single carcass found in the same home.  Think about that for a moment, and ponder the intensity of stink required to mask the scent of multiple decaying cats.

That, my friends, is as good an introduction as any into the tragic world of the hoarder.

Enter Matt Paxton, cleaning specialist extraordinaire.  Matt is the owner of Clutter Cleaner, and he and his team will go where angels fear to tread and take a shovel to boot.  Tackling hoards and helping hoarders and their families is Matt's business, and his experiences as the founder of Clutter Cleaner and as cleaning expert on A&E's Hoarders made him uniquely suited to write the book on hoarders.

In fact, Matt did just that -- write the book on hoarders, I mean.  That book is The Secret Lives of Hoarders, and I give it five stars out of five.  Although stars are perhaps not the appropriate symbol here -- call it five tons of gooey refuse out of five tons.

Either way, it's a great book.

Author Matt Paxton is very effective on the show when dealing with hoarders and their often-dysfunctional families.  With them, Matt is firm yet compassionate, even-tempered, and dedicated to helping people who simply cannot help themselves.  All those qualities come across easily in the book, which never once descends into the sort of cruel mockery a lesser person (I'm looking at me) would be sorely tempted to include.

Matt's book introduces us to a number of more or less representative hoarders.  He gives us a background of each, the source of their hoarding behavior, and any family interactions that help or hinder.  Yes, Matt describes the hoarding behavior in the same sort of gut-wrenching detail featured on the TV show.  But that's not the emphasis of the book.

Instead, Matt and co-writer Phaedra Hise look past the mounds of rotting diapers and dehydrated cats and into the minds of the people who simply cannot throw anything away.  I'll never watch the show the same way again, because now I've seen an inkling of how desperately trapped hoarders truly are, and how they'll struggle with their compulsions every minute of every day for the rest of their lives.

It's tragic.  It's disgusting.  It's often irreparable.  But it's never boring.

Fans of the show will also enjoy Matt's candid revelations into his own past.  People who have never seen the show will too.

I'll end with a bit of honesty here.  I sometimes view celebrity book offerings with one part suspicion (and probably two parts jealousy).  Oh wow, he/she is on TV, and now they have a book out.  I'm sure it's good.

Forget that, though.  This is a good book, and it was published because it is a good book told in a wise voice about a fascinating topic.  The Secret Lives of Hoarders is an honest, unblinking look at what for some families is a dirty little secret.  Paxton deals with it all with compassion, wit, and an empathy born of a genuine desire to help those suffering from a mental illness that literally weighs them down with tons of garbage.

So check it out!  It's not hard to find.  Amazon has it in print and as a Kindle e-book.  You can buy the print version direct from Clutter Cleaners.  Barnes & Noble has it in print and Nook format.  I've put all the links below, so enjoy!

Secret Lives of Hoarders in print

Secret Lives of Hoarders Kindle e-book

Clutter Cleaners website

Buy Secret Lives of Hoarders direct from Clutter Cleaners (Matt will even sign it for you!)

Print or Nook e-book

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Memphis Animal Shelter or Hell on Earth: Toss Up of the Day

We have a wonderful animal shelter here in Oxford.  The staff is caring and professional, the facilities are clean and new, and the animals kept there are comfortable, clean, and well-fed.

Travel north about eighty miles to the sprawling metropolis of Memphis, Tennessee, and it's a completely different story.

The Memphis Animal Shelter (shortened hereafter to MAS or the more descriptive HELL) has long been a hotbed of cruelty, incompetence, and outright criminal activity.  Recent attempts at cleaning up the physical and procedural messes at the MAS have been somewhat less than successful.

Case in point -- the missing dog Kapone, and the arrest of a felonious animal control 'officer' who has a criminal rap sheet longer than that of most Memphis City Council members (and that alone is impressive).  And we're not talking petty crimes here -- there's burglary.  Robbery.  Fraud.  All manner of very grown-up mayhem, and yet this person was issued a uniform and put on the MAS payroll in keeping with the existing shelter policy of 'Uh, what?'

Here's what happened -- last week, two dogs belonging to Memphian Brooke Shoup escaped from their backyard and were picked up by an 'officer' with the MAS.  Yeah, I put 'officer' in little quotes.  As I mentioned before, the 'officer' in question has extensive experience with law enforcement, if you count being arrested over and over.  I have to wonder how she included so many convictions on her resume -- did she just claim 'extensive experience in entrepreneurial property re-assignment' and hope no one asked?

But I digress.  The two wandering dogs were picked up by the 'officer' and transported to the MAS.   But when owner Brooke Shoup came to MAS to claim her two dogs, only one dog was produced.

11 year old Kapone was gone.

Now, I imagine communicating the whole 'two dogs is more than one dog' concept to the MAS staff required several hours and the use of drawings, songs, and an appearance by the entire cast of Sesame Street.  But somehow owner Shoup managed to convey the missing dog idea to the MAS, and the search for Kapone began.

Began, and pretty much ended, right with the same 'officer' who claimed to have brought the two dogs into the MAS.  This 'officer' explained away Kapone's absence by claiming he wasn't absent.  This clever stratagem was not entirely without merit; the MAS itself admits that thousands of dogs go missing from its care every year.  Missing.  That's their word for it.  Theories abound on the cause of these canine vanishings.  Some point fingers at the elusive Memphis Bigfoot.  Others maintain the Shelter was built on the site of an ancient energy vortex.  Most of the staff at the MAS, if asked about this statistic, look quickly at the floor and suddenly remember pressing business elsewhere.

The 'officer' was arrested (again) today on two counts of animal cruelty, which is precisely the kind of accusation one demands in an animal control officer.  Poor Kapone, like so many other hapless pets who have the misfortune to enter the care of the MAS,  is still missing.

This next part is conjecture, but I think I know what happened to Kapone.  It is my opinion that he was sold, by someone (I can't imagine who, I really can't) employed by the MAS.  Sold  to a dogfighter, for use as a bait dog.

I imagine this very transaction takes place quite often at the MAS.

Which makes employing persons with extensive criminal records a -- oh, what is the phrase I'm looking for?

A very bad idea.

I feel sorry for poor Kapone the dog, who I fear met a sad and undeserved fate.  I feel sorry for his owner, Brooke Shoup.  I feel nothing but contempt for the 'officer,' who should never have been placed in a position of authority over any creature, great or small, and certainly shouldn't be allowed anywhere near MAS.

I doubt that any of this will bring about fundamental change at the MAS.  In fact, I wouldn't be surprised to learn that our 'officer' is quietly reinstated at some point.  I hope I'm wrong on that last bit.  But I'd lay even money I'm not, because in some circles in Memphis, criminal activity is not only winked at but bought fruity little drinks with umbrellas in the glass and then taken out for dinner and dancing.

Kapone, rest in peace.  You did nothing wrong.  It's a terrible world where leaving your yard means you risk your life, especially at the hands of those who are being paid to protect you.

PS -- I hope the dog-fight trash who bought Kapone dies an agonizing, gruesome death from untreatable butt cancer.  And that goes for all the dog-fight trash everywhere, and frankly dying from rancid butt-tumors is far too good for the lot of you.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Blurb Blip Blues

It seems bookseller Barnes & Noble has some interesting ideas about what precisely comprises an effective online book description.

Personally, I like to see a short, entertaining blurb that simultaneously gives me a general idea what the book is about and just a taste of the book's style.  The right blurb gets you hooked right away, resulting in the subtle but happy click of the mouse on the BUY button, and the resultant unseemly cries of avarice assuaged from me.

The wrong blurb sends readers -- and worst of all their precious, precious money -- on to other titles.  This makes me weep, and the plaintive cries echo faintly up the slimy walls of my abandoned well and disturb passers-by.

So you can imagine my injured howls when I happened across this listing for my book Dead Man's Rain on the Barnes & Noble Nook book site.

Scroll down to the book description.

Now, if it mentions Markhat and Mama Hog and starts off with "Can a haunted man help the dead find peace?" you can stop reading now, because Barnes & Noble has fixed the mistake and all is well.

But right now, the description for Dead Man's Rain reads like this:

 "As a dark web of spells closes in, Magaith may be Sygtryg's only hope and she his only destiny. Magaith is resigned to fulfilling her father's command that she marry the King of Connacht, even though she harbors a secret love for her knight protector, Sygtryg,..."

Which isn't my book at all.  Frankly I think Magaith and the unfortunately-named Sygtryg could solve a lot of their problems by first eloping and then changing their names to Bess and Harold, but since I didn't write the book I don't get to make that call.

I wondered if perhaps the book that belonged to the blurb above had the description of Dead Man's Rain beneath its cover, so I employed the might of The Google. I found the book to which the blurb rightly belongs, but oddly enough it isn't available from Barnes & Noble at all.  I can only imagine that my fellow author would have been as eager to have my blurb removed from her book as vice versa -- nothing against her or her book, but finding the wrong blurb no matter how good it is attached to your book is somewhat akin to opening an envelope of pictures of your kid to discover the photo place has swapped heads with those of strangers.

And you didn't think I'd work a swapped heads reference into this one.  Ha.

No matter.  I emailed the always professional folks at Samhain Publishing, home of the Markhat series, and they're working with Barnes & Noble (i.e., poking B&N with pointy sticks) to get the blurb set right.

Hopefully,  this will result in a sudden skyrocketing sales ranking for Dead Man's Rain, and I can finally afford to get a mail-order ladder and emerge from this, my dank, cricket-covered lair.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Prepare for Re-entry

I'm going back to work tomorrow.

I'm still not running at 100%, but this will have to suffice.  When your dogs set your alarm clock and pack your lunch and make up little paw-printed 'Have a good day at work, to which you are returning, we're frankly sick of you, kthnxbye,' it's time to find a shirt with a collar and pretend to be a grown-up for a bit.

I wish I could say I did a lot of reading while I was sick, but that would be a lie.  Mainly what I did was cough up things that one normally only sees in low-budget horror films and watch TV.  TV doesn't demand much attention, and my Kindle wisely hid itself under a cushion during the worst of the coughing fits.

But I did read one really good book.

Nekropolis: A Matt Richter Novel by Tim Waggoneer is one of those books I picked up on a whim.  I'd never heard of Tim Waggoneer, or Matt Richter.  But the cover was emblazoned with three words I can seldom refuse -- zombie private eye.

So I snagged it, several weeks ago, and only pulled it up yesterday when I managed to catch my Kindle sneaking around on a bookcase.

People.  If you have any love at all for the hard-boiled or the macabre, then you owe it to yourself to give Nekropolis a chance.  This is first-rate stuff -- you've got your hard-case ex-cop, your mean streets, your damsel in distress.

But you've got all that in Nekropolis, which is unlike anywhere you've ever been taken by a book.

I'll admit it.  I'm jealous.  I kept kicking myself while reading, which requires no small coordination and is tough on the bedclothes.  Why didn't I think of that, I'd say?

There's a jukebox in a bar called Skullies that consists of three severed heads which sing.  In Nekropolis, you speak into your cell phone's ear and you listen to its mouth.

Matt Richter is a Cleveland cop who pursued a murderer native to Nekropolis through a portal to Earth.  Matt died in Nekropolis, but as with so many things over there, being dead takes a twist.

I won't give away any of the plot, because I hate it when people do that.  Suffice it to say Matt may be dead, but he's still very much a streetwise cop.  These aren't the same streets he knew in Cleveland, but crime is crime, and victims are victims, and Matt is determined to bring just a glimmer or law and order to a lawless, chaotic place.

I'm not doing Nekropolis justice.  It's only three bucks and change.  Get it yourself; you won't be sorry!