Brown River Queen cover art

Sunday, December 16, 2012

My Day as a Rental Suit Santa, and a CONTEST!

Everyone faces milestones in their lives.

Your first bike. Your first bloody nose. Your first completely groundless and utterly absurd arrest on suspicion of arson. The opening of your very own secret FBI dossier.

These are things that often mark divisions between the eras of our lives.

I've faced quite a number of them, and each has lacked that heartwarming quality of quiet dignity that fills Hallmark cards. Frankly, I think card-writers are smoking a certain potent herb, and a lot of it.

I faced another milestone last week. And it has marked the beginning of a new curve in the ever-increasing slope of my life's sad decline, for I have donned the red suit and oft-used beard of the Rental Suit Santa.

That's right. Me, ensconced in red and white, booming out 'Ho ho ho' at random intervals like some life-sized but poorly programmed dime-store automaton.

We all know there are very real health risks to being slightly overweight. Increased chance of heart disease. Diabetes. Elevated blood pressure. Blah blah blah. News flash, Doc -- life kills rail-thin health nuts just as dead as it does morose old fat men, but at least the fat guys don't die with a mouthful of granola. Put that in your stethoscope and probe it.

But perhaps the worst side effect of being, shall we say, portly, is the certainty of being singled out to play Santa in some ill-advised act of holiday costumery.

But that's what happens. One moment you're cruising along, not quite fifty, still might have a few moments of youthful vigor left under the hood, and the next you're trying not to choke on fibers of rental beard, last place of use unknown, which are snaking their way down your throat.

Let's back up here for a moment. Rental beard. Think about it. Should those words ever appear together?

No. No, they should not.

But I have worn the rental beard, my friends. I have fixed it to my face, and I have breathed deep the scent of Santas past.

Curious to know how rental Santas smell?

Two words, folks.

Whiskey.

Whiskey, and despair.

Wearing a Santa suit is akin to donning a furry, vision-obscuring oven. Sweat poured off me, soaking the beard, making breathing difficult. Sweat poured into my eyes, the saltiness stinging them, leaving me half-blind.

So there I was stumbling about on the verge of heatstroke, unable to see anything more than blurs and flashes of movement.

Which isn't really all that unusual, for me. Heck, it could describe practically any Tuesday. But this instance was far worse, because after all, I was Santa.

People have certain expectations of Santas. We are supposed to be jolly and personable and kind and merry and cram-packed full of Christmas cheer.

I suppose I could be at least a couple of those things, if you hooked an IV of purest grain alcohol to my right arm and one of Absinthe to my left. Otherwise, I'm about as far from Santa by nature as anyone can be. I can pronounce the words "Ho ho ho," and I did, but whether anyone found them particularly cheerful or not is anyone's guess.

Oh. And let's not forget the children. What was their reaction to Santa?

I'd say 'guarded expressions of horror and loathing' sums it up pretty well. Not that I blame them. Look, I'm sure when I was kid-aged (0.3 or 1 or 7 or whatever that might be) and some fat sweaty lunatic in a seedy red elf-suit came stomping up to me bellowing monosyllables, I probably started bawling too.  There's a reason Fred Rogers never hid behind weird clothes and excessive facial hair.

Anyway, I made my rounds and said "Ho ho ho" and traumatized half a dozen toddlers. And in doing so, I permanently divided my life into two distinct periods: BS and AS (Before Santa and After Santa).

Because now I'm just the fat guy behind the suit. I am one of that small, downcast band of middle-aged men who can look upon a sweat-soaked rental beard and merely nod in silent acknowledgment.

Ho ho ho.


*********************************************************************************





And now, the contest!

Last week I showed you the cover for the new Markhat novel, which should be out by March.

This week, I'm going to ask you a question. Be the first person to email me with the correct answer, and you get two things. One, a signed copy of the current latest Markhat novel, THE BROKEN BELL. Two, when BROWN RIVER QUEEN comes out in print, you get a signed copy of that too.

Not too shabby, huh?

Okay, there's the cover (points up), and here's the question:

Kanaxa, the brilliant cover artist, has hidden something in the cover. This something is an object which has played a major role in many of the Markhat adventures.  If you're a fan of the series, it shouldn't be too hard to spot. I put a large image up there, so take a good hard look.

When you see it, email me at franktuttle@franktuttle.com .

Couldn't be easier.

Next week I'll post the winner, and a cover image spotlighting the hidden thingy, which KaNaxA also kindly provided.

Good luck, and happy hunting!








Sunday, December 9, 2012

The Return of the Thing, Or, I'm Back!

Well hello there, loyal fans.

Many of you have been wondering where I've been. Okay, it now appears most of the ones wondering were also the ones to whom I owe money, but I'm sure that's simply a statistical anomaly.

It has been several weeks since my last blog. Please be assured I would not abandon the blog under any but the most extraordinary situations.

Sadly, the past several weeks have been nothing but a parade of extraordinary situations. It's been akin to being repeatedly bitch-slapped by an inexplicable and wholly unscheduled parade of clowns.

Unnerving. Off-putting. Somewhat unpleasant.

But all that is over with now (it's not) so it's back to normal (was never normal) for life at casa Tuttle, including this world-renowned blog.

No ghost hunting exploits today, because I have something even better.

Oh yeah. Stand well back, gentle readers. Don your protective goggles, located in the bins on the back of the shield walls.

Goggles on? Minds set for BLOWN? Adult diapers at the ready?

Good. We're all set.

Because today is the cover reveal for the new Markhat novel, BROWN RIVER QUEEN, available in March 2013 at fine bookstores everywhere.

Not to brag, but I believe BROWN RIVER QUEEN is even better that THE BROKEN BELL, which up until now has been my favorite in the series.

I see a raised hand in the back. What? You're not familiar with the Markhat series?

Then pray continue until the end of the blog, at which time I will provide links to a brief description of each entry in the series. Oh, and a quick and easy BUY NOW button. Because you'll want to. Speaks in Jedi mind trick voice. These are the books you're looking for.

But for now, let's talk about the new cover.

I'm sure many of you are familiar with the previous covers, which have all been beautiful. In fact, let's take a quick look:


There's the cover for THE MISTER TROPHY, which started it all. It even depicts a scene from the story, in which Markhat, who is a sort of private detective called a 'finder' in a world where magic and mayhem mix with murder and, er, mushrooms, has a card reading done which shows his future to be filled with anything but bunnies and rainbows.


Then came THE CADAVER CLIENT. Markhat finds himself working for a dead man, who claims he cannot rest until he finds his former wife and sets things right once and for all with her. But as Markhat learns, one can fully trust neither the living nor the dead.


Ah, DEAD MAN'S RAIN. One of the best things I've ever written. This is my homage to every black-and-white film-noir hard-boiled private-eye movie I've ever seen, with a side order of haunted mansion and a generous slice of dark, stormy night thrown in. Markhat doesn't believe a word of his new client's story when she claims her dead husband has been returning to their home at night. But as a furious storm breaks, he realizes there are darker things than shadows luring in House Merlat's deserted halls...


Brought together in print for the first time, THE MARKHAT FILES is an anthology containing THE MISTER TROPHY, THE CADAVER CLIENT, and DEAD MAN'S RAIN.


HOLD THE DARK sets Markhat on a course for vengeance, when a murderous sect of rogue halfdead break the Truce and robs Markhat of someone he loves. But once you tell the darkness your name, can you ever be truly rid of it?



THE BANSHEE'S WALK finds Markhat on the job far from Rannit's battered city walls. Instead, he's working a case at a remote artist's colony, run by an eccentric noblewoman who believes someone is out to steal her property and eject her from her ancestral home. Markhat is dubious -- until the corpses start to collect. But the thing about corpses in Markhat's world is this -- they don't always stay still long enough to be buried...


Rumors of war bring Rannit to a panic, but hard-working finders can't afford to turn down work until the enemy is not just at the gates but is storming them. So for Markhat, it's business as usual -- until he uncovers a murderous blackmail plot with its roots in the last War, and influence in the next. Will Rannit's fragile peace be broken, and will Markhat live long enough to solve what he believes may be his final case?

There you have it -- the Markhat series thus far. As I said, I've loved each and every cover, and the unbroken image theme they shared.

Markhat's face obscured by the brim of his hat. Markhat in coat, sans shirt. Those rumors that I posed for each Markhat cover?

True. Every bloody word. That's ME, and those of you who know better, please keep the awful truth to yourselves, because what good has the truth done anyone lately anyway?

Yes. I've been privileged to work with some of the finest cover artists in the business, and I am forever grateful to each of them for making me look good.

The Markhat series has grown, though. New characters have appeared. Some have perished. His world has even changed, as it enters the first years of an industrial revolution. Yes, magic works there. Harsh magic, most of the time. Brutal magic.

But so does physics. Markhat carries a gun now. So do a lot of bad guys. Swords are rapidly becoming decorative props.

Guns and steam engines and cannon. The title of the new book, BROWN RIVER QUEEN, is the name of a lavish gambling steamboat which is the setting for Markhat's new adventure. The Queen is an opulent stern-wheeler, right out of a Mark Twain story.

There are even rumors -- unfounded, this time -- that Markhat may or may not be getting hitched, or has gotten hitched, or has at some point discussed the act of getting hitched with Darla. I'm not saying here. Buy the books.

My point is this -- the series is changing, and my publisher, Samhain Publishing, thought it would be a good idea to move the cover theme along, too.

Most of the time, I embrace change with the ease and quiet grace of a wasp-stung wildebeest. I don't like change, usually because I still haven't quite got the hang of the Old Thing (life, shoes, emotions) and the last thing I want to do is try to learn the New Thing.

But this time, I saw the wisdom of changing the cover style, and I said, and I quote, 'Go for it.'

You're about to see the result, and let me say I have never been happier or more thrilled with seeing a piece of art associated with my name.

Enough. The new cover was created by the brilliant and awesome artist and author Kanaxa. Look upon it, ye mortals, and cry out with voices of loud wonder.



When you stop shouting, I'll be right here waiting.

Superlatives fail me. Markhat is still coyly concealing his face in the shadows, but he's got a snazzy new suit and a vampire-built revolver and if there is any doubt at all that he kicks much ass (that's a writing term) in this book, let those doubts be forever laid to rest. 

And yeah, that's Darla. Big brown eyes, flapper haircut, tasteful pearls. Perfect.

The Queen is in the lower right corner, properly portrayed below the Brown River bluffs upon which Rannit sits. 

Kanaxa, you didn't just nail the cover. You framed it in polished cherry and you hung it in the Louvre. 

Next week, I'll be back to the blog with more tales of Things That Go Bump, and a new contest based on the very cover you see above. So take a good luck -- there will be a test, later.

Now, for the gentleman at the back who wanted links and more info on the Markhat series, please click below:




The Markhat Files (Print only)




All the above are Kindle e-books. You can also get each in Nook format from Barnes&Noble (click here for that link).

If you prefer print books, Markhat has you covered:




Finally, if Amazon or B&N don't provide you preferred format, head on over to the good folks at Samhain Publishing, where you can get any of my titles in print, pdf, Kindle, Nook, Sony, or any other format!

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Mysterious Mysteries of Mystery, Part 1

As you may have noticed, lots of things in this tired old world don't make much sense.

Some of these incongruities are obvious -- the fame of singer Ke$sha, the second-season renewal of TV series Here Comes Honey Boo Boo, fruitcake.

But some mysteries manage to fly under the radar, despite the inherent oddness of the subject. Whether it's a perfectly-machined metal sphere discovered miles underground or an apparent bucket handle encased in ancient quartz, every now and then things turn up which defy both explanation and the kind of easy pigeon-holing historians enjoy attaching to artifacts.

One such object is the Voynich Manuscript.

Screen-shot of a random page selection from the online manuscript!


The Voynich Manuscript is so called because it came to light shortly after it was purchased by an antique book dealer named Wilfrid Voynich in 1912. The book itself was written and illustrated in the 15th century, probably in northern Italy. Carbon dating performed in 2009 puts the manuscript's paper as being made sometime between 1404 and 1438. The name of the artist/author is unknown, as well as the actual title of the book, and that's as good a place as any to start describing the book's mysteries, because despite a century of determined effort, no one (including expert cryptographers and powerful computers) has ever been able to decipher so much as a single word in all the book's two-hundred-odd pages.

The text does appear, at least to linguists, to represent an actual alphabet and language, though one not seen before or since. The Manuscript is composed of about 170,000 glyphs, and the base alphabet is probably between 20 and 30 characters long. Still, it has defied each and every effort to decipher so much as a single sentence.

But the text is hardly the most intriguing aspect of the Manuscript. The book is also heavily illustrated, much in the manner of a Medieval field guide to medicinal plants. It starts out with large drawings of plants, each accompanied by notes penned in a careful if utterly unreadable hand. There are even little text bullets, probably denoting special attributes of each illustration.

In fact, if I were to have encountered the Voynich Manuscript in a used bookstore somewhere, I might have put it back on the shelf after perusing the first half a dozen pages. Here we have a plant. Here we have notes, presumably about the drawing of the plant, even though it's in a language I don't know.

I class plants into three distinct classes -- Plants On The Salad Bar, Plants I Should Never Ever Eat Because They Will Kill Me, and Who Cares, It's A Freaking Plant.

But people who know their flora realize one thing immediately, upon viewing the Manuscript.

These plants simply don't exist, at least on Earth. Not now, not in the 15th century.

And the further you go into the Manuscript, the stranger it gets. The plants become less daisy-like and more Geiger-esque. Pretty soon you've got whole pages of what appear to be brand new astrological charts combined with images of little people being swallowed up by toothed vegetable monstrosities, complete with careful if indecipherable footnotes which probably read 'Don't get too near the one with the purple flowers' or 'Man, these mushrooms are groovy.'

So is it a naturalist's guide to flora and fauna from somewhere else? An alchemical encyclopedia from another world?

Is it some mead-sotted monk's long, laborious practical joke?

The fun part of the Voynich Manuscript mystery is that, thanks to the Internet, you can pull it off its virtual shelf and have a look, page by page, for yourself, right this moment.

I highly recommend you do so. Whatever the Manuscript was, it's trippy. Put on some Pink Floyd and click the link below. It's a good fast connection, right to the Yale University archives, and how can you pass up perusing a book that has kept scholars and cryptographers scratching their heads for all these years?

The Voynich Manuscript Online

Like I said, trippy, huh?

What do I think the Manuscript represents?

Look, it's the year 1415, or thereabouts. Your choices for entertainment are pretty much limited to crapping in a bucket, dying of boils, or being burned at the stake for, well, darned near anything. There won't be anything resembling decent music played for another couple of hundred years. You'll have fleas and worms and lice until another three or four hundred years have passed. Frankly, the world is a miserable place to live, even if you're lucky enough to to be a monk with a passable roof and the aforementioned bucket at your disposal.

I think a very clever monk was born way too early and found himself in a place and time that put creativity in the same box as 'Worship of, Satan, see also Execution.'  I think the Voynich Manuscrip is this clever monk's way of thumbing his nose at his bosses, who displayed the same interest in yet another Field Guide to Boring Weeds of Italy that I did earlier.

Think about it. Our monk -- we'll call him Scooter, because I'm writing this, so there -- Scooter knows he's destined to spend his next miserable year hunched over a blank manuscript copying page after page of religious texts until the boils kill him or his eyesight fails, whichever comes first.

But instead of coping the book he was assigned, Scooter writes the world's first science fiction novel instead.

All those alien plants? All those weird astrological or alchemical charts?

Scooter made them up. I think the guy built a whole imaginary world in his poor 15th century head, and I think he did so out of sheer crushing boredom, because Scooter knew in his flea-bitten heart of hearts that life wasn't going to be anything worth living until the advent of Pink Floyd, the net, and the introduction of the cheeseburger.

And he was right. A world where one cannot go online, order a cheeseburger, and pick it up at a drive-thru to the accompaniment of Pink Floyd is a savage, desolate wasteland, unworthy of time or effort.

I'd still love to read Scooter's notes. I figure they're ninety-percent hard SF, and 10 percent slams against his bosses.

Take Pages 16 and 17 of the Manuscript, shown below. We're still in the relatively tame portion of the book, before the plants grow teeth and start chowing down on little naked people (hey, like I said, it was deadly dull in the 15th century):


My own loose translation of the notes on the left hand page reads thusly:

"Yea, this be the Snookered Blue & Red Stinkroot, which can be Used in ye Treatment of Flatulence, bad Breathe, and the Issue of Boiles upon the Buttockes, which Brother Isaac doth have, yea and in Spades, because he is a Wankere and a Close Talker besides, get a thee a Clue about Personale Space, willya, or I Feare I shalt open upon thy Pate a Roman-Empire sized Canne of Whoope-Ass, and how, I really Hate thatte Guy, Finis."

And the reason for the elaborate cypher?

Safety, of course. That way no one could claim heresy or blasphemy or even mild insult. Scooter was nothing if not careful.

I think our clever monk created his own alphabet entirely from scratch. Most of the glyphs are simple, and can be written with just a few pen-strokes. Which is exactly the kind of alphabet a hard-working monk would invent.

And the words?

Probably loose on-the-fly substitutions penned by Scooter using his own custom alphabet. Since he kept all this in his head, and wrote the Manuscript with the knowledge that no one would ever be able to read it, I doubt he bothered with corrections.

No, I think he was far more concerned with how the words looked, rather than how the text read.

Which is why I don't think the Voynich Manuscript will be be deciphered.

But that doesn't mean it can't be enjoyed. In fact, I lift my metaphorical glass to the unnamed author of the Manuscript, who like many of us was born in the wrong place and at the wrong time. Too bad he wasn't around to become a graphic artist or a SF author today, because he certainly had the work ethic and the drive.

I'm pretty sure this is the first draft of the script for Prometheus.

So here's to you, long-dead author of the world's most mysterious hand-drawn botanical manuscript. People are still talking about your book despite the fact that no one has a clue what it's about. That's got to be worth a crooked, gap-toothed 15th century grin.

And hey, if it's any consolation, at least you never had to beg for book reviews on Amazon, or watch your rankings plummet like a paralyzed falcon.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to turn my music up really loud and surf the ever-living crap out of the internet...






Monday, November 19, 2012

Things That Go Blah


Okay, so I have an embalming pump downstairs. Who doesn't?


Last week, during a daring midnight ghost hunt deep inside the forbidden ruins of an infamous cursed Antebellum manor house, I obtained video footage and an in-depth 22 minute EVP interview of an actual ghost. The afterlife and its mysteries were revealed to me, rewriting the entirety of modern scientific and metaphysical thought and philosophy. Too, I recorded a new Elvis song, and I can tell you where Amelia's plane wreckage lies.

Fig. 1: Random image bearing no relevance to text. Enjoy.

Sadly, an industrial rock-crusher chewed my video camera to bits and I accidentally dropped my audio recorder into a vat of molten steel. So that's bad.

Okay. The truth is, I engaged in no ghost hunts this last week.

Fig. 2: Turns out this guy was NOT a zombie. He just tripped at the All You Can Eat Spaghetti Buffet. Sorry about the machete wound, Mr. Ferguson. 


Instead, I engaged in the sordid pursuit of roof repair. What I could have done in a day twenty years ago took me three, and left me with the primal and enduring realization that the phrase 'getting too old for this' is soon to take on terrifying new significance.

I can't tell you how much a bundle of roofing shingles weighs. Fifty pounds? Sixty?  Eighty? I can't tell you because it never mattered before. No, before now, I grabbed the nearest bundle, scrambled up the ladder, no problem, done.

Saturday I found myself halfway up a ladder, bundle of shingles across my shoulder, when my body decided the remainder of the climb was very much a toss-up in the fall off or keep climbing arena. Make it to the roof? Freeze? Collapse?

These were all options explored by my spine in a nanosecond of humbling panic which left me with lingering and unpleasant reappraisals of my own mortality.

I made it up the ladder, panting and sweating, if anyone is wondering. That time. Next time?

It's anyone's guess.

So there will be no EVP snippets this week. No photos of obscure Mississippi cemeteries. Hopefully, I can get back to posting interesting blogs next week.

Oh, I haven't gotten any writing done either. I've been so depressed about sales lately that's not surprising. Look, I understand this business well enough to know that for every Stephenie Meyer there are ten thousand Frank Tuttles. I'm okay with that. I never set out to finance my collection of vintage Ferraris by writing fantasy novels (sure, I may go on ghost hunts, but even I know a pure myth when I see it). But to watch your titles sink like a bathysphere into the frigid, inky waters of oblivion -- it's just unpleasant. Having forks shoved in your nose unpleasant. Being trapped in an elevator with the whole Westboro Baptist Church unpleasant.

It's no fun, is what I'm saying.

I know. No one said it was going to be fun. It's work, and there's a business aspect to it all, and a certain level of unavoidable drudgery is both implied and inescapable.

But there's part of me which keeps whispering things such as 'Ha ha, you're nearly fifty. Face it, you've peaked. It's all downhill from here. Ha ha.'

It's that snide little laugh I hate the most.

Have I peaked? Am I destined to be just another footnote in literary history? Will a Google search of my name in 2060 return the single result 'Tuttle, Frank, born 1963, died 2050, should have avoided ladders, not much else to tell.'

First of all, Google, shut up, and second, shut up again, it was a rhetorical question.

And really, does that even matter? I know there are people out there who've read and enjoyed my writing. Many of you have even taken the time to write and tell me so. And believe me, it's appreciated, maybe more than you know. Markhat and Darla. Mama Hog and Evis. Meralda and Mug. They all have stories, and I'm the guy they're stuck with, and if I stop typing, that's it. The End, literally and figuratively, for all the fictional worlds and make-believe people that have been such good company thus far.

So I guess it's time to stop worrying about the weight of a bundle of shingles or my future obituary and get back to work.

Sorry for whining. We writers are a moody bunch. Now if you'll excuse me I have to go and have a series of excrutiating back spasms. Ignore the screams, please, those are merely a means of coping with the sheer joy of residing in a not-quite-miraculous physical body...

Fig. 92b. Extreme haircut, and why is my head shaped like that of a Yeti?


Sunday, November 11, 2012

Things That Go Bump, Famous Author Edition: As I Lay Dead (The William Faulkner Interview)

Welcome back to another edition of Things That Go Bump!

Tonight, we'll take a trip to the grave of Nobel Peace Prize winning author William Faulkner, and we'll pester him with impertinent questions while drawing curious stares from passers-by.

I traveled back in time to 1874 just to take an authentic old-timey photograph.

I live, reside, and/or dwell in Oxford, Mississippi, which is where Faulkner lived, wrote, and was eventually buried, although I'm sure he died first. We're pretty careful about the whole die-first-then-bury thing these days.

Faulkner's grave is located in a genteel old cemetery not far from Oxford's town square. It's a peaceful place, especially when the Rebels are playing Vanderbilt on the far side of town, which is why I chose a game day Saturday night for my EVP session with Mr. Faulkner.


I armed myself with my trusty Olympus voice recorder, my new Zoom H1 digital recorder, my video and still cameras, and my Ball Microphone housing, which I described in last week's blog. Also along was my iOvilus device, which prattled merrily on but did actually startle me once with a single insightful exchange (you'll see it later).

I arrived at Mr. Faulkner's grave at dusk, and was greeted the usual small assortment of empty liquor bottles, which students and fans are prone to leave as hi-octane offerings to the shade of old Bill.

Airline bottles? Red Solo cups? Sheesh, people, show a little class...


My methodology was simple. I placed the Zoom and the Olympus atop the headstone, put the video camera to the side, aimed at the mics. I held a brief EVP session in which I introduced myself and blathered inanities for about four minutes.

I'm posting the audio and the video links below. Note that the Zoom's audio was rendered useless by the faint breeze for the few moments it was outside the Ball Mic housing; I deleted that portion of the audio track, since it was nothing but a deafening roar. Note to self -- the Zoom needs a wind filter anytime it's outside, even in mild breeze conditions. 

The Olympus carried on nonplussed, as did the video camera's audio. Below are links to the full audio and video files, in case you'd like to see and hear everything for yourself without any commentary. Or, if you want, skip down and I'll post the relevant portions to save you some time

LINK TO BALL MIC FULL AUDIO FILE (about 20 minutes)
FaulknerZoomEVP.mp3

LINK TO OLYMPUS FULL AUDIO FILE (About 25 minutes)
FaulknerOlympusEVP.mp3

LINK TO VIDEO (YOUTUBE LINK) (About 25 minutes. Warning: Scenes of graphic violence, full frontal nudity, and a guest appearance by Donald Trump's hair may disturb some viewers. Discretion is advised).
Full Faulkner session video

So, you ask, what did I find?

THE BALL MIC

Well, first of all, The Ball Mic is crazy sensitive. I heard a weird buzz-thump sound at about 9 minutes, and couldn't place it, until I reviewed the video and realized a fly landed on the granite grave-slab next to the Ball Mic. Not on the mic. Just close to it. Here, have a listen to it, looped:


You can even hear his little fly feet hitting the granite. If that's not a stirring tribute to the awesome power of salsa bowls and duct tape, I don't know what is.

That kind of sensitivity is a double-edged sword, though. Traffic noise, inaudible to the other recorders or my delicate ears, was a non-stop cacaphony  in the Ball Mic. As excited as I was to use it on the Faulkner run, I think the Ball Mic is best suited for remote locations as far away from traffic as is possible.

Aside from the fly-landing, I'm afraid my Ball Mic didn't return a single apparent EVP occurrence. I've been through the audio twice now, and I never heard a thing out of place. 

THE VIDEO CAMERA

Again, nothing out of the ordinary. A few dogs barked. A few cars passed. At no time do any phantom voices admonish me to GET OUT. Camera-shy ghosts? Could be, I suppose. But the audio track is clean, and no visible spectres were observed waving from amid the headstones.

THE iOVILUS DEVICE

The iOvilus device managed to raise my eyebrows tonight, and I caught the whole exchange on all the recorders and the video camera. I was talking, asking questions, trying to engage something, anything, in conversation.

At one point, I said "Mr. Faulkner," beginning to address my host. Immediately, the iOvilus piped up with my name, Frank.

Here's a video excerpt of the exchange:

video

Now, is that evidence of something paranormal, or merely a statistically insignificant bit of random coincidence?

I lean toward the latter. The iOvilus has a thousand word vocabulary to draw from. Frank is one of those thousand words. It is odd that it chose to speak that word at that time, but until and unless it happens a lot more often than once every session, I'm going to call this happenstance. Although when you're sitting in a cemetery at nightfall and you hear your name called out of the blue it is a genuine hair-raising experience.

THE OLYMPUS AUDIO RECORDER

Of all the night's instruments, once again my humble Olympus returned the most amazing evidence.

I did not hear either of the voices I am about to present during recording. Neither voice was captured on any other piece of gear, though all were operating within a few feet of each other at all times.

The first piece of audio is a female voice speaking as I speak. I can't quite make out the words -- maybe you'll have better luck.

First you'll hear me speaking. I'm joking about my failure to drink the Faulkners any liquor, and I say "maybe I should have brought a case." Then a female voice says...something.

broughtacasevoice.mp3

Here's the female voice, looped:

hiphop.mp3

Hip hop? Hey pop? No clue, but something is there. Not the iOvilus, either -- it has a distinct male voice.

I get an even better voice as I'm leaving. By this point in the recording, I've left the Faulkner's gravesite, and I've taken a short stroll through the headstones. I comment that I'm about to leave, and a bit later, I caught this:

goahead.mp3

It sounds like the very same voice, but this time it's clearly saying 'Go ahead.'

That takes place at 22:32 in the full Olympus file. The wind was calm. The iOvilus was off and my phone was in my pocket. It doesn't have any speaking apps, and none of my gear talks.

So what the heck was that?

I don't have a clear answer for you. Two full words. Not a trick of the wind. Not a snatch of nearby conversation (check the video -- no one was there but me). Not a passing vehicle (again, check the video). I even checked the iOvilus log (it keeps a log of every word spoken, with a time stamp) for the words 'go ahead,' and it never said them.

I suppose some could argue that what we've just heard is an audio artifact created by the Olympus itself. After all, nothing else picked it up.

I really can't say. Do audio artifacts usually tend to present not only clear enunciation, but gender?

goahead.mp3

Very, very strange.

I do find it intriguing that the female voice presented after I invited Mrs. Faulkner to speak. Again, coincidence?

Could be.

I regret, of course, that Mr. Faulkner didn't bestow upon me a rambling 40-minute EVP which analysis revealed to be a single run-on sentence. A ghostly image in a photo, perhaps of Mr. Faulkner posing with one of my books, would have also been quite the coup.

But I am proud of the pair of EVPs I captured. I cannot explain either one in rational terms, which is precisely the kind of phenomena I'm after.

I hope you've enjoyed this week's October blog, even though it's November. I'm not sure when or if I'll switch gears away from the paranormal -- right now it's too much fun.

Next week will feature a visit to another local historical site, as well as the usual nonsense.

I can't let you go without plugging a book, though. I'm a writer, remember? With books to sell? If you haven't read my stuff, consider giving the Markhat series a try. Lots of graveyard gallivanting in those!

Dead Man's Rain

Or, if you prefer print books, here's a list!

All My Books At Amazon

Enjoy, and see you next week!


Sunday, November 4, 2012

Things That Go Bump, Bonus Extended Edition

I know. It's November, and my Going Bump series was supposed to be an October bit. But I had a revelation, and a bunch of leftover junk in my parts drawer, and thus this Bonus Extended Edition was born.

I think I've made it clear I'm neither a true believer nor a hardened skeptic where EVP phenomena are concerned. I've heard some remarkable EVPs, recorded by people I have no reason to distrust. I've even recorded a couple of interesting sounds myself, and while I don't trust myself 100% (I have shifty eyes and have been known to partake of the Demon Rum) I do feel like the combined evidence is suggestive of an audio phenomena.

Notice I didn't use the G word. Because while it's one thing to assert that A) disembodied voices are real and B) they have been captured on various kinds of recording gear, it's quite another to start assigning identities to the voices.

I pretty much draw the line right after A and B above. I think we have to concentrate on proving the existence of the voices before we go labeling them as those of the dead.

So I was thinking. Let's go ahead and, just for fun, postulate that EVP voices are real. So, what do we know about these voices?

ONE: They are most often not heard by the person or persons in the area of the recording device. Yes, there are exceptions to this. But on the whole, EVPs appear to take place without the notice of the people running the recording gar.

TWO: Most EVP recordings are brief. Most are just a word or a sound or two. The longest one I've ever heard (the little girl in the Ruffin Theatre was about 20 seconds, and it was remarkable in that it was caught by not just one but two recording devices). But, most EVP occurrences are less than 5 seconds in duration.

THREE: The recording medium doesn't seem to matter. At first, back in the 50s and 60s, the theory was that 'spirits' somehow manipulated magnetic fields in order to impress their voices directly onto the recording medium of the day, which was magnetic tape.

If that were true, then the spirits must move with the times, because we've left magnetic tape for digital recordings formed on memory chips as a series of zeroes and ones. Quite a neat trick, for a spirit to somehow ascertain my Zoom's sampling rate, match it, and create a file which sounds like a word.

So. We've got invisible speakers leaving brief spoken messages across half a century of recording technology.

Then came my revelation, concerning the nature of the EVPs themselves.

What if it's not nearly so complicated as messing with the devices themselves?

What if the speakers, whatever or whomever they are, are just speaking?

Which begs the question why don't we hear them.

Okay, what if the 'voices' are tiny point-sources acting as a near-field event in relation to the microphone?

Stay with me for a moment. Imagine, if you will, that by means and agents unknown, tiny voices emerge from the air around us, now and then. They are so tiny and so far apart we don't hear them, or if we do, we attribute them to something else. The wind. A distant voice. The TV.

But what if these tiny point-source voices are sometimes captured by audio recording gear?

That scenario might explain why your Zoom mic catches the voice, but you never heard a thing. Maybe the 'voice' was tiny and faint and speaking from a point half a millimeter beyond the microphone.

Who does the voice belong to?

No clue. Honestly, until someone can prove EVPs exist, I don't care who might be speaking. Ghosts, aliens, playboy energy creatures from the nearest adjacent dimension -- doesn't matter, right now.

But back to my faint point-source near-field idea.

If that's true, then we've been trying to record EVPs with mics not suited to the task.

Enter my latest creation, the Tuttle Spherical Near-Field Capture Microphone Housing, or TSNFCMH for short. Go ahead, say TSNFCMH out loud. It helps if you cough.

Let's call it the Ball Mic instead.

My idea is simple. Take a parabolic microphone, turn the forward-facing parabolic element into a sphere, and then hang the mic in the exact center.

Any tiny near-field voices get reflected by the sphere and directed right to the mic. The sphere's inner surface acts as a collector and focuser, which renders even tiny little voices louder and stronger.

Here is a highly detailed technical drawing illustrating the concept:


Parabolic mics have been in use for decades. But I've never seen anyone use a spherical mic housing -- mainly because such a thing is absolutely useless in any application other than what I'm trying to do here.

So, the best way to test my small-voices-really-close theory is to build a Ball Mic and see if I catch anything.

First, some math:


Just kidding. Look, I'm on a budget here. I can't exactly run out and have a steel sphere machined down to the nearest billionth of a nanometer, coated in gold, and buffed to a high shine by a team of expert sphere-handlers.

So I rummaged. All I needed was a sphere. It didn't have to be huge. In fact, that would defeat the whole purpose of it.

My friend Denny suggested I obtain a garden mirror ball, which was a great idea. Sadly, I couldn't find one -- but I did find a pair of hi-tech industrial-grade salsa bowls, each of which was half of a perfect globe.

Again, a professionally-rendered technical drawing, detailing my prototype Ball Mic:



A bit of this, a bit of that, a few bolts, some screws, and of course a dilithium crystal later, and it was complete. Behold the wonder that is the first TSNFCMH, or Ball Mic!


There it is, the complete Ball Mic, glorious in its technological prowess. You can see my Zoom H1 inserted into the spherical collection chamber (aka a pair of plastic salsa bowls). The Zoom is held in place by a rubber-coated stop inside the sphere, a pair of Velcro straps just below the RECORD button, and a pivoting backstop rod that rests against the Zoom's rear when the recorder is in use. The handle is aligned so that it holds the Zoom's twin microphones dead center of the spherical volume.

I know, I generally photograph things on top of a scrap of red velvet but that's my actual workbench, scars, stains, and all.

Here's another view:


This is a close-up of the ball itself, with the Zoom in place. Not winning any beauty contests, is it?


Thor looks on, unimpressed.

BALL MIC, FIRST FIELD TEST:

I ran the Ball Mic rig for 52 minutes last night, just to get a feel for performance before I take it on a real EVP run.

Does it work?

Yes. The spherical volume does seem to act like a sort of closed parabolic mic. It's especially sensitive to sounds conducted through the ground and the surface on which the Ball Mic rests. Here, listen to this clip and try to identify the source:

boomboom.mp3

It confounded me at first. Kettle drums? A powerful car stereo? A marching band?

I was absolutely sure I didn't hear it while recording.

Finally, I realized the source was my big bare feet.

That's right. I rested the Ball Mic on our table on the patio. We were outside enjoying the cool evening and a fire. The boom boom booms are the sounds my bare feet made on the concrete patio when I got up to add another log to the fire.

Now, keep in mind I move as does the crafty Ninja. I don't stomp around making kettle-drum sounds with every step, thank you very much. But my stealthy footfalls, inaudible to the naked ear, were conducted up through the table and to the Ball Mic housing, resulting in the thunderous treads you hear now.

I can minimize this effect by adding rubber feet to the Ball Mic. Or I can leave it as is, because I can see how it could prove useful in catching ghostly footsteps in empty houses. I think I'll probably add rubber feet to the bottom prongs on the sphere housing, and leave the top as is, which will allow both options to remain open as I choose. And I dare any spook to stomp around from now on, because I *will* be able to catch it, even if they tip-toe.

The ball housing does nearly eliminate the sounds of nearby speech. High-frequency stuff, mainly bug noise, isn't affected to the same extent. Passing traffic is thunderous, again due to the ground-conduction effect.

I hope to take the rig out on a real EVP run next week. Yes, it's crude, but heck so were the first Marconi sets.

Total cost for construction of the Ball Microphone Housing: $3.00 and tax, since I bought a pair of salsa bowls and made do for the rest out of whatever I had lying around. The Zoom H1 I had already.

Stay tuned for a real field test next Sunday!

Oh, and lest ye forget -- you can grab a genuine printed copy of the latest Markhat adventure, The Broken Bell, for only ten bucks and change from Amazon. It hits the stands on November 6!




Sunday, October 28, 2012

Things That Go Bump, Chapter 4: And Now, For Something Completely Different



It's nearly Halloween, so welcome to another installment of Things That Go Bump!

I've got a couple of new topics to explore this evening. We'll play with an Ovilus device, which is a box which alleges to convert spirit-induced fluctuations in the local EM and electric fields into clear speech. Then we'll examine a classic ghostly photograph which is, I believe, one of the most compelling images ever taken. Finally, I'll leave you with something special of mine I hope you'll enjoy.

On to the Ovilus, then!

The fisrt Ovilus device was built by a retired electrical engineer named Bill Chappell. Mr. Chappell went on to found the Digital Dowsing website, which is still active today.

To give you an idea of how an Ovilus recording sounds, here's an audio clip recorded by Gregory Myers of the Paranormal Task Force. The Ovilus is at a site used as a field hospital during the American Civil War.
Listen below:

OVILUS/Caledonia_Ovilus_Shot_Stomach.mp3

It does seem as if the device is interacting with the paranormal crew, doesn't it?

I was intrigued but suspicious. Suspicious not of any chicanery on the part of the device users, but in the inherent workings of the device itself.

Basically, an Ovilus box is a speech synthesizer chip, a power supply, and some EM/RF sensors. Fluctuations in the local EM environment trigger activation of the speech synthesis circuits. This is turn creates speech. The theory is that unseen entities can alter the EM environment with such precision that they can use these fluctuations to build words and sentences.

My problem with this theory is that I'm a corporeal human with access to all kinds of tools and technology and I'd probably die of old age long before I managed to rig up a piece of gear capable to forcing an Ovilus box to recite 'Mary had a little lamb.'

So how are the 'spirits' just squinting at the gadget and making it talk?

Maybe that's how spirits roll. Maybe Google is a lot more advanced on the Other Side. Look, I don't have an answer for that question.

But I do have an Ovilus box, or at least the iPhone app that simulates it, downloaded from Digital Dowsing.



About an hour ago, I fired up this Ovilus simulator, and recorded the entire session for your listening pleasure. This isn't a terribly long piece - -about 8 minutes, I think -- so crank up your PC volume and hear what an Ovilus session is really like!

ovilus.mp3

I admit it was a bit freaky when I asked what kind of creatures were in the room with me (meaning my dogs) and the Ovilus piped up and said 'animal.'

But since it also prattled merrily on about Monica and builds and speed, I'm pretty much ready to chalk the 'animal' word up to a mere instance of coincidence.

Next up, a photograph from 1959 -- the so-called Chinnery photo.

Take a look below:



Nothing much remarkable at first glance, is there? You see a man in the driver's seat (this photo was taken in England, where they drive on the wrong side of the road but that's okay because they also created Dr. Who). You see a lady in the rear passenger seat. The driver is one Mr. Chinnery. The photograph was taken by his wife, Mabel, after a visit to her mother's graveside.

What makes this photo remarkable is that the elderly lady seated in the rear of the vehicle is the deceased mother of Mabel Chinnery. Yes, it's her grave the couple came to visit; both living Chinnerys identified the woman in the back seat as the deceased mother of Mabel. And yes, that was her customary seat in the same car when she was alive.

It's 1959, people. Yes, photos could be altered, but it was a messy business, and the developer had to be in on the joke. By all accounts, the Chinnerys were staid, sensible people, people unlikely to indulge in such unsavory shenanigans.

The image of the back seat passenger appears quite solid. Her glasses are even reflective. I've seen a lot of faked ghost photos from the era in question, and 'attention to detail' is not a phrase often employed in the analysis of such photos. Most are so crude they're laughable.

Interesting, indeed!

Finally, the special treat I mentioned earlier.

Way back in 2004, I wrote a story called "The Powerful Bad Luck of DD Dupree." It's always been one of my favorites, since it's a spooky story set in the Mississippi I remember from 1973. Yeah, there's magic, of a kind, but it's a uniquely Mississippi kind of magic.

What do I mean by that?

I mean it's touched by tragedy. Everything here is touched by tragedy. Which isn't a condemnation, by the way. I'm proud, for the most part, of what my state has become. We've rejected the heinous, inexcusable prejudice of our past, and embraced a new equality. I'm proud to have played small roles in that, from time to time. Yes, the battle continues -- but the forces of good, cliche as it sounds, are winning.

But the past is still there, grim and unchanged. It touches us all. I hope you can see some of that influence in the story.

I sold the story to an online magazine called Abyss & Apex. The story remained up in their archives until some time ago, when the link to it went dead. I've asked the new owners if they plan to put the story back up, but haven't heard back, so I'm presenting it here as a Halloween gift to all of you.

You can read the story, right on your browser, by clicking the READ link below. Or you can listen to the story as I read it in my thick Deep South accent, which for once is actually appropriate for the subject matter, by clicking LISTEN.

Either way, I hope you enjoy it. Many of the characters in the story are based on real people I knew, as a kid. Wade Lee, the one-armed black hoodoo man, is based on a kindly, gentle soul who lived not a thousand feet from where I sit, in a shack exactly as I describe it in the story. The real Wade Lee also lost both legs and one arm in a corn picker. There really was a Piggly Wiggly, and there really was a grease truck, and maybe, just maybe, the shadows on a certain gravel road were a shade darker than they had any business being...

I hope you enjoy the story. Thanks for coming along on my October tour of all things spooky and scary. Oh, and that scratching at the window behind you?

I'm sure it's just the wind.

LISTEN to The Powerful Bad Luck of DD Dupree

READ The Powerful Bad Luck of DD Dupree

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Things That Go Bump, Chapter 3: Graveyard Ghost Hunt



Welcome back, fans of all things ghastly and ghostly!

As promised, this week I'm featuring yet another amateur ghost hunt. But it won't be more of the same -- not only did I catch a pair of new EVPs, I got a couple of interesting photographs as well.

This week's venture into the unknown (okay, so they're just local cemeteries, but allow me a little artistic license here) featured some exciting new gear.

As I said last week, I was suspicious that the 'yes' EVP might well be wind noise coupled with the cheap Automatic Limiting Circuit on my modestly-priced Olympus VN-4100PC voice recorder.

So this week, I took out two new pieces of gear. First up is a pro-grade Zoom H1 field recorder, used by musicians and media people to record everything from interviews to live concerts. The Zoom is shown below:



It's small and designed for one-handed operation, even if the dark. Perfect for ghost hunting!

Next up was a sound rig worthy of any movie production company. Donated for the day by a generous interested party, this rig included a Sennheiser PK40 mic, a heavy-duty windscreen, and a Tascam DR-40 digital recorder. Together, they form a recording system composed of of sheer solidified awesome.

I also took the usual array of stuff -- digital camera, Sony Handycam hi-def video camera, Ramsey Tri-Field Meter, my e-field sensor, and the K2.

Since I had a video camera, I made a couple of short movies! Since I'm apparently an idiot, I wound up with only one. Click below to see the gear, being loaded before I left for the graveyards on a clear but windy Friday morning:

video


So, armed with every piece of ghost-hunting gear eBay and begging can provide, I set out.

I took the whole day off from work to do these cemetery trips. I planned to have all day. I got up early, loaded my gear carefully, crossed every T and dotted every I.

Naturally, the official Ghost Hunting Field Vehicle refused to crank.

You know you're a Redneck Ghost Hunter when your pickup won't start and you wind up fixing it with Vise-Grips and Duct Tape.

ROCK HILL MISSIONARY BAPTIST CEMETERY

After finally getting on the road, I returned to Rock Hill, the site of last week's 'yes' EVP.


By the time I arrived, the wind was ferocious, gusting up to 35 MPH. Hardly ideal conditions for an outdoor EVP session, but having sworn off of rational decisions years ago I forged ahead.

Before we get to the EVP evidence (and yes, there is some!), let's look at a couple of odd photos.

I stood at the cemetery fence and just panned across it, taking pictures snap-snap-snap. Most of them looked like this:


Just a cemetery, in broad daylight.

But look at the images below, which were taken in rapid succession:


That smokey mist wasn't visible to my eyes. According to the EXIF information on the photos, the first one was taken at 11:53:55 AM. The second, at 11:53:59 AM. The light should have been the same. I didn't see smoke or dust.

So what the heck is that, in the bottom photo?

No idea.

Take a look at another set of Rock Hill photos.


There it is again. Top photo was taken at 11:54:11 AM. The bottom, at 11:54:14 AM. Again, I saw no smoke, dust, or mist with my eyes.

There was also a video camera running while these images were taken. The hi-def Sony didn't see any dust or smoke either.

So, are we looking at a camera artifact? If so, it only took place at Rock Hill. None of the Tula or Midway images repeated this effect.

Odd.

Now, on to the EVP!

As you recall, last week I captured a burst of noise that sounded a lot like a spoken YES. I was suspicious because it coincided with a puff of wind.

Well, gentle readers, I had wind by the bushel on Friday, when all this evidence was collected.

The Zoom H1, which arrived in the mail the day before I set out, didn't come with a windscreen. Which means it made stunning recordings between gusts and was absolutely overwhelmed by gusts. The Olympus has a noise floor so high wind has to work really hard to be heard above it anyway.

But the Sennheiser mic inside 'Mr. Fuzzy,' the world's most amazing windscreen, ignored the raging gales completely.

The first thing I did upon arriving at Rock Hill was introduce myself and note that it seemed someone had answered my question "So you guys were all Missionary Baptists, right?" on my previous visit.

I then asked if anyone present had answered me.

Listen for yourself. If you don't have headphones, crank this one up:

RockHillyesclip.wav

Here is it again, with the possible EVP boosted:

RockHillyesclipamped.wav

Here it is, looped, for those without 'phones:

yeslooped.wav

Is that another faint 'yes?'

Not sure. The Zoom was running, but wind noise rendered it useless. The video camera didn't catch a thing aside from me. The Olympus didn't either.

So -- one possible EVP, a couple of weird photos. I'll be going back to Rock Hill soon!

TULA CEMETERY

Tula Cemetery is another of my favorite haunts for EVP sessions. This time, I laid out all my gear, and watched for any fluctuations in electric, RF, or EMF fields.

Got nothing. No surprise there.



I took a number of still photos and ran the Sony video camera the whole time I was there. None of these images captured anything strange.



There you see the video cam, aimed into the cemetery, with my Ectoplasmic Pursuit Vehicle parked majestically in the background.

I ran all three audio recorders, snapped a lot of pics, walked and talked and asked and joked. If I got any responses that day, I missed them.

I did attract the attention of a pair of sour-faced ladies in a minivan, who looked at my gear and myself with the sort of expression one normally reserves for recently convicted felons one discovers hiding in one's jewelry box. Lady Number Two snatched up her cell phone and began describing me, no doubt to the local constabulary, before I could even offer a smile and wave.

That concluded my session at Tula, as ghost hunting is not seen as entirely savory hereabouts.

If you want to listen to the whole audio track, here it is: Tulafull.mp3. Maybe I missed something. This is an MP3 file to save space, but if anyone wants the WAV file, let me know.

MIDWAY CEMETERY



Midway is a tiny hilltop cemetery located at the end of a dirt logging road well off any track, beaten or not.

Moreover, it's familiar to me because many of my relatives are buried there.


As you can see, it's a small place, seldom used. I took a number of photos, and look at this one:


See that odd purple discoloration at the bottom, just to the left of the camera tripod?

I don't know what that is. It never repeated, though.

The next item of interest from Midway is a single brief EVP. Again, I ran all 3 of my audio recording devices. The Sennheiser/Tascam DR-40, the Zoom H1, the humble Olympus.

What follows was caught only on the Olympus. I was carrying the Sennheiser. The Zoom was atop a headstone. The Olympus was three feet away from the Zoom, in my gear bag.

I thought I heard faint music earlier, as I walked about. None showed up on the Tascam or Zoom recordings. But I got this brief clip from the Olympus. Take a listen, and see what you think.

MidwayOLmusicclip2.wav

It's faint, but you can hear the high notes, or what sound like high notes.

Here it is again, looped and amped:

MidwayOLmusiccliploopedamped.wav

I tramped around for a long time, trying to provoke a response. The place is peaceful, but a bit on the derelict side, and the woods are taking it slowly but surely back.


Eventually, I heard the sound of crunching gravel, and spied a vehicle winding its way up the dirt road toward the cemetery. Now, while I'm perfectly comfortable tramping around headstones all by my lonesome, Midway acquired a reputation a few years ago as being a favorite hangout for tweakers and their pals the crackheads, so I packed my gear in a hurry and scooted out of there before I made the acquaintance of anyone calling themselves Snoogie or Rip Hammer.

But, all in all, it wasn't a bad day for dabbling in Things Man Was Not Meant To Dabble Within. I got a couple of unexplained mist photos, a weird purple haze, an EVP that might say yes, and a snatch of faint otherworldly music. And I got to play with some awesome if borrowed gear! Thanks again to my Anonymous Benefactor.

If anyone would like to listen to full audio recordings of the EVP sessions, let me know! I'm running out of time today, so I don't think I'll get the full files uploaded and linked. But I have them, so just ask.

 Next week will be the final installment of my Bump in the Night blogs. Hopefully the wind will be a bit calmer, and I can find some exciting new locations, and not be arrested while recording.

One final note -- that book featured in the opening photo? The one in stacks by the skull, between the gargoyles? This book?


That's my book.  It's the print version of the Markhat novel that came out last December. If you've been waiting for the print version, The Broken Bell goes on sale in print format on November 6! You can pre-order from Amazon now. I'll cry if you don't.


Friday, October 19, 2012

Authors Against Bullying

Kids today have got it tough.

By now, you've probably heard the sad story of Amanda Todd, who committed suicide just 8 days ago after being targeted by a cabal of online bullies.

Amanda's story is heartbreaking, but hardly unique. Do a Google search on 'teen suicide online bullying.' Name after name pops up. Jared High. Rachel Ehmke. The list of kids goes on and on.

And kids they were. 15. 16. 14. Just kids, who should have been worried about acne and awkwardness, not  how best to end their lives.

I'm writing this blog along with a number of other authors at the behest of author Mandy M. Roth, who was also deeply touched by the suicide of Amanda Todd. You can see Mandy's blog here,along with links to all the other bloggers writing about bullying today.

I was never bullied as a kid. Keep in mind, I grew up in an era so different from this one I might as well have grown up on Mars. We had no social media. The Internet was decades away. No email. No smart phones. No texting.

All of our communication was done face-to-face, or on clunky wall-mounted telephones incapable of transmitting photos.

Bullies, in that day, had no choice but to face their victims directly. Which rendered the act of bullying a far more risk-inherent activity than it is today. The possibility of a fist in the face was quite real, as were the consequences of initiating a bullying campaign.

I had friends in all the social strata. Jocks. Nerds. Hot girls. Plain kids. I can't recall ever being in fear of any one person or group of persons; had a hand been raised against me, half a dozen classmates would have appeared in my defense. And I would have done the same for them.

I just realized something -- I grew up in Mayberry.

But Mayberry is gone. Today, from what I've seen and heard, kids live half or more of their social lives in some sort of odd rolling cybernetic mishmash of Facebook and text messages and instantly shared videos.

Which is what seems to be the environment that killed Amanda Todd.

It killed the others, too. These kids found themselves the targets of a violent, tireless mob of vicious online tormenters. Poor kids -- their every moment was scrutinized and attacked. Their appearance, their actions, their every glance and word was mocked, endlessly and without mercy.

No fifteen year old is emotionally suited to enduring prolonged exposure to that dosage of social venom.

Sure, if you need your wifi router unlocked or your email client fixed, grabbing a teenager is a smart move. They know computers.

But teenagers are still just kids. They haven't had time to grow the kind of rhinoceros hide that allows a frowning bull ape like me to respond to insult with a profound and vast indifference.  No. That takes years to learn, and years to master.

A 15 year old kid might as well be tossed into a meat grinder. They aren't coming out uninjured. They might not come out alive.

I grieve for any kid out there who is surrounded by a hateful jeering mob every hour of every day. If I wish I could bestow upon the kid just a small portion of my impenetrable middle-aged ego, which has been rendered indestructible by 48 years of coffee-fueled cynicism. My God, I'd send the jeering mobs fleeing, probably right into the arms of the nearest available therapist.

But I can't do that. I don't know who these kids are. Sadly, some of their own parents don't understand what their kids are going through. "My daughter is just playing on the computer again," I imagine some have said. "She's always online with her friends."

I'm not blaming the parents here, either. Maybe they were neighbors of mine in quaint, scenic little Mayberry,  where the worst kind of monkeyshines the young 'uns got up to was tipping apple-carts or playing in fresh mud.

But as I said, this isn't Mayberry, and the online world appears to be Mayberry's polar opposite in nearly every respect.

If you're a kid, and you're reading this, and you're being bullied, please let me give you a few words of Genuine Old Man (tm) advice.

People only have the power that you yourself give them.

Read it a couple of times. Let it sink in. I promise you -- I swear to you -- it's true.

There is no force in the Universe more awesome than one man or one woman's refusal to dance to music being forced upon you.

Look, kid, you're young. I know everything that happens right now feels deeply and unrelentingly profound. Your emotions are being yanked around. You don't know why you're here, what you're supposed to be doing here, and frankly you don't want to be here at all.

I get that. But hear me out -- give it time. Give it time, and one day in the not-so-distant future you'll realize that nothing those ignorant yammering bullies said meant anything. They're just, pardon the mild profanity, buttholes.

Do what myself and a host of other kids did when we found the world intolerable.

Leave it. No, not THAT way. I mean walk away from the mob, figuratively and literally. Get off the freaking net for a while. Lose yourself in books and music. Learn to play a guitar. Sit in the dark and write bad poetry. Take your power back. Do something.

Do whatever makes YOU happy.

Let the mob rail, if they wish. Fall silent to their taunts long enough, and they'll move on to more amusing targets. Because that's all you are to them -- a target. Something they can poke with a stick, just so they can watch it squirm.

So you really care what people like that say about you? Think about you?

I don't. They are, as I'm fond of saying, persons unworthy of consideration.

Maybe you're shaking your head at my unbelievable naivety. That's fine, maybe I'm utterly and entirely wrong in everything I've said.

But so were the kids who reasoned their dilemmas out and arrived at the conclusion that suicide was the only way out.

If only they'd held on. Told a parent. Logged off the net and stayed off for a month. Thrown their phone away. Run off and joined the circus, I don't know -- anything but a bullet, or a rope.

By comparison, does becoming a devoted Tolkien geek really look so bad?

If you are being bullied, I can guarantee you this -- somebody out there cares for you. If it's becoming too much and you just cannot handle even one more minute of it, talk to someone. I'll post toll-free phone numbers at the end of this blog. Yeah, you'll be talking to a stranger if you go that route. But they're manning the phones because they care. Because they've been there. Because they muddled through, somehow, and now they want to help someone do the same.

There are people who will listen, who will understand. Give them a try.

http://www.yourlifeyourvoice.org/AskIt/Pages/Suicide.aspx?gclid=CKalq-jvjbMCFQSEnQodyXAAfA

http://www.pamf.org/teen/hotlines.html

http://www.teenlifeline.org/