Brown River Queen cover art

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Frank's Guide to 2016

As the new year looms (see also lurks, lies in wait, prepares an ambush), I thought many of you might be comforted if you know what to expect from 2016, and what preparations to take.

So I'm going to reveal, right here, right now, the major events 2016 has in store for us. By doing so I risk damaging the timeline, but even the Time Police just shrug and roll their eyes -- frankly, this timeline is already so hosed additional damage will be hard to even spot.

What kind of year will 2016 be? Hmm. If 2016 were a person, they'd be the sort of person who displays a well-honed expertise at clubbing, and I'm not referring to the kind of club that features lively music and overpriced drinks.

So pull on your Wasteland Rampage stomping boots, slam a fresh magazine of zombie-killing rounds into your marauder rifle, and lets have a quick look at 2016, the Year That Will Be!

1) NASA confirms the existence of life on Mars. At first, the Martians are said to be subsurface microbes, existing a few meters below the surface, shielded by Martian soil from the sleet of hard radiation and nourished by the remnants of a long-dead sea. When the first 900-foot-tall Martian squid rises from the dirt and declares the presence of our rovers an act of war,  President Trump responds with an orbital bombardment of Europa, sixth moon of Jupiter. The Martian squids exchange puzzled glances, mutter something derogatory about primates, and vanish once more beneath the sand.

2) Daytime highs of 125 degrees Fahrenheit (that's 8 hectares Celsius) become commonplace. This is especially concerning because that 125 degrees is the temperature of the oceans. Reporting daytime air temps is outlawed by the Real Good Science Act of June 2016.

3) Tank dealerships begin to outnumber car dealerships in 21 US states.  Tank battles on public roads now commonplace.  

4) Spectacular daytime UFO crash on busy Dallas highway can't be suppressed by government, provides undeniable proof of alien visitations. The surviving aliens speak to reporters, reveal that Earth is in fact an ancient colony world, abandoned by the Galactic Empire because 'you guys turned out to be such butt-heads.'

5) Vladimir Putin invades Norway, claims the failed attempt to annex the mountainous nation was 'hunting accident only, was out riding horse with 22 armored divisions and Russian Air Force and everybody panic.' Victorious Norwegians celebrate by devising yet another way to pickle fish organs.

6) Melting ice caps reveal massive technological artifacts that predate humanity. The South Pole Structure, as it comes to be known, contains a vast 'control room' centered around a single red button. This button is surrounded by glyphs, markings, and pictograms which clearly warn against pushing the button. Bet you can guess what happens next.

7) Airlines attempt to maximize profits by introducing 'plank seating,' in which travelers are stacked atop each other  in neat piles. The traveling public can opt out of this arrangement by purchasing a first class ticket, which mandates a maximum of two passengers per seat. 

8) Gasoline drops to 68 cents per gallon, and who needed national parks anyway, amiright?

9) Ford Motor Company introduces the Road Rager, an armor-plated SUV marketed as 'the fun tank alternative!' With superior speed and agility, the Road Rager claims to offer good survivability in everyday traffic, a luxurious array of interior amenities, and two forward-mounted armor-piercing 90mm anti-tank guns in a variety of modern designer colors. 

10) Linguists note with alarm the rapid emergence of an all-emoji language among teenagers and the under 25 demographic. "Smiley-face clouds radish stick stick fire melon dog wagging dog wagging," said a proponent for the new language, adding "Butt butt nose lightning."

That's all I can safely reveal. I suggest you stock up on canned beans, start buying rice by the 50 pound bag, and of course now is an excellent time to start camouflaging the entrance to your survival bunker -- you DO HAVE a survival bunker, don't you?

Sunday, December 20, 2015

A Very Markhat Christmas

If you've read my Markhat Files series, you've seen several references to a midwinter holiday called Yule. The books are also filled with references to angels and devils, heavens and hell. A couple of Rannit's five main churches have also been the settings for scenes, including one very rushed wedding.

One thing I've never done, though, is lay out the theology behind the references. 

I despise infodumps. Maybe you never heard the term before -- if that's true, here's an example of an infodump set in our world:

"As you know, Bill, Hitler's Germany and the other Axis powers lost World War II, which was effectively ended with the use of atomic weapons against the Japanese Empire."

"That's true, Steve."

Which is dumb. People rarely explicitly describe events or concepts which are common knowledge to them.  That's why Markhat and Darla will never sit around and discuss the religious and historical significance of the Yule log they burn every Yule.

But I'm under no such constraints here in the blog, so here for the first time is a thumbnail sketch of the religious landscape of Rannit, and indeed all the remnants of the Old Kingdom in the Markhat books.


Creation was completed by God. Three planes came into existence -- Heaven, God's Realm. Hell, the realm of the Infernal. And the World, balanced between Heaven and Hell, peopled by humanity, Trolls, the Fae, and various other mortal creatures. Shortly after the three realms came into existence, Heaven and Hell went to war. God and the Devil slew each other, leaving both Heaven and Hell in ruin. The remaining angels gathered their forces above the middle world, following God's final order to  protect humanity. The devils amassed beneath it, ordered to destroy mankind. Magic is used by both sides to either empower or corrupt humans.

Five mighty Angels took charge of the angelic survivors. These five angels formed the Five Great Churches, which hold doctrines that differ in certain details and traditions. Each of these Five Angels has a devilish counterpart, whose names are never spoken. 


While the five churches don't agree on much, they do share certain holidays. Yule is the foremost among them. By Markhat's time, Yule is very much a commercial and secular holiday, observed mostly by the exchange of gifts, parties, and of course the ceremonial burning of a Yule log, which has evolved into a ceremony all its own.

Celebrants, who may be friends or family or both, gather around a fireplace after the Yule eve meal is enjoyed. Everyone places a scrap of paper or a small flammable 'gift' around the log. Yule songs are sung, a sweet dark Yule wine is drunk, and as the sun sets the fire is lit.

Gifts are exchanged after the log catches fire. More songs are sung. More wine is drunk. Children are encouraged to search the room for presents hidden by the 'Angel Ernmost,' who is said to watch from the flames and reward good children with the best gifts.

Tradition dictates that all present must remain present until the log burns out. Children, and anyone who gets sleepy while the log burns, this must light a watchlight (a small white candle) before falling asleep to ward off bad luck for the next year.

In essence, Yule is very much like our Christmas, only without the tree. Children love it. Adults love food and wine. 

So that's what's behind all the mentions of Yule and angels and devils in the books. It's why you'll never see anyone, at least not a human, pray to a god -- their creation mythology, like so many actual human myths, saw the creator perish as part of the act of creation. Priests believe they intercede on behalf of the faithful to the patron angel of their church -- often for a fee, Markhat is quick to point out with a derisive snort. Seems Angels are always short on cash.

Since Markhat and Darla now reside on a houseboat named Dasher, they'll have to improvise. The boilers belowdecks provide their heat, but you can't burn a proper Yule log in either of them. Instead, the Yule log will be burned in a clay fire-pit on Dasher's deck. It will be a smallish log, but a Yule log nonetheless. A small tent will be erected over the firepit to shield it from rain or snow. 

Dasher's wheelhouse is lined with windows, now trimmed with holly and hung with sticks of red and white peppermint candy. All with gather, as the log is lit. Then Markhat, Darla, Evis, Gertriss, Mama Hog, and of course Slim and Cornbread will watch the log burn from the warmth within Dasher's wheelhouse. Wine will be drunk. Mama Hog and Slim will make horrific noises under the guise of singing Yule songs. Mama will chastise Markhat for feeding Cornbread right from the table. Gifts will be exchanged , but it won't matter what the gifts are, or how much any of them cost.

No, they'll treasure the giver, not the gift. The people in the Markhat books have had a rough time of it, book after book. They've seen loss and hardship, faced danger and death. They've all lost people. 

So when they gather this Yule, it's not the log or the presents they celebrate. 

It's each other.

I hope you too find yourself surrounded by the people who matter.

Markhat and Darla, Evis and Gertriss, Mama Hog and Slim and Stitches and all the rest -- they raise a glass to you, and wish you well. 

Happy Yule, to one and all!

Sunday, December 6, 2015

What to Buy a Writer for Christmas. Or, Look, a Liquor Store

Is there a writer in your life? Are you struggling to come up with that perfect Christmas gift for him or her?

If so, my condolences, because I'm a writer and I know full well what a morose bunch of budding alcoholics we writers usually are.  I'm constantly staring off into space, oblivious to the world around me until the front bumper strikes something solid and the air bags deploy.

Every year, it's the same dilemma.  What to give for Christmas? What will make your writer's eyes light up, or at least open halfway?

As usual, I'm here to help.  My list of suggestions follows, in order of descending utility.

1) BOOZE.  HOOCH. ROTGUT.  That's right, kids, the Demon Rum himself.  Why?  Simple.

A writer's job is to plumb the depths of the human condition, or at least convince a harried editor that he or she is plumbing said depths long enough for the ink to dry on a contract.  And the first thing you'll learn when you start taking a really close look at the much-vaunted human condition is that doing so induces a sudden, powerful urge to have a drink.  Or three.  Or maybe just leave the whole bottle and start running a tab, because right after the urge to drink comes the realization that it's going to be a long bad night.

2) A THESAURUS. Because nothing works better as a coaster for the drinks mentioned above than a really thick book.  I'd counsel against actually using a thesaurus for writing, because no one wants to read sentences in which characters advance, meander, promenade, traipse, or wend one's way across the room.

3) A CAT.  Hemingway had a cat, right?  He had a cat because a cat is the only creature on Earth more vain and self-centered than the average author.  While other more social animals might feel neglected or ignored by an author, who is probably staring off into space or rummaging in the cabinets for more liquor, a cat is perfectly comfortable being ignored because it doesn't know anyone else is in the room anyway.  The cat's 'I don't care if you exist or not' attitude is perfectly suited to the author's mindset of 'What? Huh? Who?'

4) AN ELEGANT LEATHER-BOUND JOURNAL.  We all know that writers, and I mean serious professional writers with book contracts and everything, are always prepared to whip out a convincing character or a heart-wrenching plot at the drop of a dangling participle. So give your author the most expensive, ornate leather journal you can find, wait a year, drag it out from under the whiskey-stained thesaurus, and give it to the writer again.  They won't ever know, because each and every page will be as blank as it was the day you bought it.  Seriously, people.  I tried the whole notebook by the bed schtick for years, and I recorded exactly two notes in it, which read:

"Char. A sees the thing, intro. other scene w/char B, str. exc. Plot hole & 9 days."

"Why G. not cld/not E?"

Which explains why Hemingway's cat had six toes, for all I know.  But leatherbound notebooks make pretty good coasters too, and if the glasses sweat on them, you can tell people the stains are from a solo hike through Guatemala which you took to 'reconnect to your muse.'

I don't have a Number 5.  You should probably stop at Number 1, because gift-wrapping a cat is nearly impossible and writers can spot a gift wrapped thesaurus from across a crowded room anyway.

I'm kidding, of course. For instance, I'm listing my Christmas Wish List below. If anyone would like to buy me a gift, each item comes with a handy link!

Frank's Wish List

1) A book about airplanes and airports, reasonably priced at only $19,000.

I remember wincing inwardly when I paid nearly 30 bucks for a Harry Potter hardcover. This book is 19 grand and that doesn't include shipping. But it is a hardcover, and word on the street is that Chapter 4 contained scenes of sensual baggage handling so explicit and provocative Jane herself was reluctant to include them in the final edit. 
I'll wait for the movie.
2)  A simple analog wristwatch, $55,000.

The Rolex Cosmograph. I generally opt for finer timepieces -- Timex is a well-established brand, after all -- but this watch did catch my eye. I assume the maker, Rolex, is an upstart Chinese brand, but all the lads at my club will get a hearty chuckle when I sport such a plebian bit of flash. 
Shipping is free, and it comes with a 2-year warranty. Quite the bargain, really.
3) Learn to speak Mongolian, for only $10,000!

Learn Mongolian! Because if you don't, the grumpy lady on the box will come around and beat you with a platter of genuine Mongolian khorkhog. For only ten thousand dollars, you get a cardboard box and a single CD-ROM that will fit in your Mac or your iPod shuffle, as soon as you travel back to 2003 and find your iPod shuffle. Hurry, there's only 1 copy left!
4) A toy robot. This one is a little pricey, at $999,999,999.99. Batteries are also not included, but frankly you can afford a couple of double-A cells if you've got a billion dollars to throw around on anime robots. 
The billion-dollar robots is named 'Sakura,' which is Japanese for 'I still can't believe Amazon let me list this.' According to the ad copy, Sakura can sing up to five songs, and she also 'records your secrets,' which means she probably blackmails you later. 
Heck, get two, so they can at least sing in harmony.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Christmas Songs for Writers

If you're like me (and for all our sakes, let's hope you're not) you tend to replace the lyrics of songs you hear once too often with fresh new words, usually while you grit your teeth.
Face it, the one class of song you'll hear repeated endlessly for the next few weeks is that of the Christmas song. 
Here are the words I hear, when the inevitable tunes sound out. Enjoy....


It crashed upon a midnight clear,
my brand new Toshiba hard drive,
it took with it a manuscript,
not a single  sentence survived.
A backup failure, a bad CD, a corrupted Word file in my cloud,
30 novel pages just disappeared,
scared the dogs with cussing so loud.


We three threads of story arc are
screwing up Chapter Seven and that scene in the bar.
Plot holes we widen, contradictions create,
Oh, why did he take us this far?


God rest ye minor characters,
whose names we can't recall,
You bring us drinks and sell us things,
advance plots in matters small.
In Chapter Four you said 'hello,'
while passing in the street,
In Chapter Six you lay quite dead
knocked down in quick defeat.
But be at peace, dear what's-your-name
You did not die in vain,
I'll be right back to end this verse,
as soon as I recall your name.


Over the river and through the woods,
this chapter knows not where to go.
My protag ignores the way my outline did say
While my word count continues to grow.
Over the river and through the woods,
Oh, this whole book doth blow.
Editors shriek and beta readers look bleak
As over the same ground we go.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Frank's Guide to Sports

As many of you know, I'm a huge sports fan.
Wait. It seems I misspelled several words in the sentence above, which should have read 'I'm huge, because I am inordinately fond of cheesecake. Sports? Why?'
I live in a college town. Which means the place erupts in a frenzy of football madness each autumn. Game days are a non-stop traffic jam. Crowds roar. Fortunes are made or lost. Angry words are exchanged both online and in person. Fights break out when irate LSU fans learn they can't take their wife-goats into the nice restaurants on the Square.
We stock up on groceries and stay home until the last arrest is made and the last camper pulls out for whatever they call home.
I've never really understood the allure of sporting events. To me, sports is all that noisy bit that takes place behind the cheerleaders, which is the only aspect of any sport that makes any sense to me. And you sports that don't have cheerleaders? 
What's your problem, soccer?
Here's the summation of every sport I've ever seen:
A ball is chased, kicked, thrown, batted, rolled, dribbled, struck, or otherwise set in motion. This motion appears to anger one group and delight another. Whistles are blown. Can I go now?
But Frank, someone says. What about the athleticism? What about competition? What about the spirit of friendly rivalry?
"What?" I reply. "Sorry, didn't hear you, was watching the cheerleaders. Is this one of the sports at which hot dogs are served?"
Maybe you're like me, and don't have much to contribute to the inevitable (and interminable) conversations about sports. As always, I'm here to help, with another Frank's Handy Guide. 

Frank's Handy Guide to the Life-Lessons Illustrated by Various Sports!

1) NFL football. Provides extensive insight into that aspect of the legal system which deals with domestic violence, homicide, and animal abuse. 
2) Pro baseball.  An invaluable primer to the fine arts of baccy-spittin' and poorly-concealed steroid use. Also perhaps the last holdout of socially acceptable venues in which males may adjust their privates in public and on camera.
3) NBA basketball. Ready to riot? Win or lose, spill out of that stadium and overturn a few Kias, sports fans, because, um, friendly rivalry? Also a great place for tall people to find work since the invention of the ladder destroyed the top-shelf shopper assistance industry.
4) Soccer. I'm sort of at a loss on this one. Is it really a sport? I suppose so, since there's a ball and a lot of vigorous running. People routinely get trampled to death at soccer matches. At first, I was sure these poor unfortunates were trampled while attempting to flee from the soul-crushing boredom of a soccer game, but I'm told this is not the case. I'm sure there's a life lesson in all that somewhere, but for the moment I'm going to stick with 'Soccer teaches us to avoid soccer games.' As far as I know, nobody was ever trampled to death by a horde of crazed badminton fans.
5) Tennis. Tennis might not even belong on this list. I have a sneaking suspicion tennis is nothing more than a clever way to get young women to dress like cheerleaders and whack away at balls just so men can watch intently and not have to pretend they're concentrating on athleticism. 
6) Hockey, Curling, Shot-Putting, Wrestling, Boxing, etc. There's only so much you can do regarding outdoor activities if you're stranded on some Godforsaken ice-floe of a continent. Shout out numbers at random, call them scores, and pretend two of your toes didn't just fall off, eh?



Facebook is many things to many people. To your grandparents, it's a place to swap baby pictures and distribute poorly-manipulated images of Obama as the AntiChrist. 

To scammers, it's a hunting ground. Last Friday, a Nigerian advance-fee fraud scammer picked me as his next victim, and initiated an IM conversation.

I'm not blurring out the scammer's name, which after all isn't really his name. Nor have I changed any of his words. If the scammer has a problem with this, he is welcome to A) bite me and B) bite me again. 

Now, a quick word about how the scam works. Rahman or whomever is running the thing contacts people at random with a bizarre song and dance about millions of dollars and a need of assistance to get it out of his country. The details vary, are NEVER spelled correctly, and don't make any difference anyway. 

All they want to do is trick the gullible into sending them money, via wire transfer or Western Union, as some ridiculous 'fee' which will, upon receipt, unlock untold millions of easy money.

It's a clumsy scam, but people get taken by these clowns every day. Which is why I try and waste the scammer's time whenever I can.

Below is the IM conversation. I emailed the 'banker,' but haven't received a response yet. If I get one I'll post it here next week.

Enjoy this tragic tale of 'euphoric' lung cancer, and my Pastafarian blessings upon the scammer!

Yeah, I was getting a little testy by the end. Us Pastafarian ministers aren't known for our patience. 

If you'd like to see even more scam-a-licious hijinks, I suggest you check out 'Scamorama!' Link is below...

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Book Away

At long last, a new Markhat and Darla book is out and away!
Way Out West is now with the publisher, under consideration. So while I may indeed be popping the champagne cork early (there's no guarantee Way Out West will be bought), just finishing and submitting a new book is a minor victory in itself. 
2015 has been a rough year for writing. But I got one book out, with time enough to start another, and I'm proud of that. 
My next project will of course be the continuation of Mug and Meralda's adventures. If you read All the Turns of Light, you might remember them spotting something very strange in the sky, high above the Great Sea. Will that play a role in the new book, which is entitled Every Wind of Change in my files?
Could be. You'll just have to wait and see!

On a Serious Note

My original plan for today was to include a section about how writers celebrate sending off a new book. But in light of all that's happened, it came off as being in poor taste.
Maybe later. I'm not going to post any images of the Eiffel Tower, or pontificate about the need for peace. 
In fact, I'm not going to say anything at all. I'll let the great Charlie Chaplin do the talking, in this remarkable clip from 1940's The Great Dictator. If you've never seen this speech, I humbly suggest you take a couple of minutes and listen. It was true then, and true now.

Take care, people.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Way Out West

At long last, the new Markhat book, Way Out West, is done!

I finished the first draft late in the afternoon yesterday, on Halloween. That's the first time I've ever finished a book on Halloween. As with all writers, I'm appallingly superstitious at heart, so I'll go ahead and start believing this event is a mystical portend of things to come (i.e., bestseller-dom, movie deals, merchandise ties-ins, maybe even a new soldering iron). 

Of course finishing a book and selling a book are two entirely different events.

Some may say selling a new installment in an established series is easy. Some might also say sticking one's face in a fan is a good idea, and there's probably somebody uploading that very video to YouTube as you read this.

My point is that, in publishing, there are no sure things.

Now, that said, it is true that Way Out West won't face the same hurdles as the first book in the series did. Back then, Markhat was just another name in the slush pile, competing with a thousand other would-be books for a contract. 

It's a nerve-wracking experience, the waiting. Are they laughing at me? Taking turns burning manuscript pages as they read aloud from the synopsis? Is my name even now being circulated on secret publishing forums, as Doofus of the Day?

Why yes, I am under the scrutiny of a mental health care provider. Funny you should ask. But I digress.

But back in 2008, Samhain Publishing took a chance on Dead Man's Rain, the first Markhat title. That was also my initial introduction to a book publishing firm.

I'd worked with magazines before -- Weird Tales, for one. That's fun too, but it's a different experience than having an actual publisher and putting out book-length titles.

For instance, you get an editor. More than one editor, actually, but you'll work primarily with one editor, who turns a practiced eye upon your book and suggests changes that will result in a stronger final product.

This is where a lot of new authors short-circuit and send their own careers up in flames. How dare anyone presume to judge my sacred prose, these authors cry, twisting their berets in fury. How dare she!

Well, bub, she dares, and for good reason.  I can say with good authority that without my Samhain editors in the mix, the Markhat Files series wouldn't be as good as it is (that's not a brag; note I offered no indicator of how relatively good the series actually is. That's not for me to say. I just write them. Readers decide if the books have any merit).

Holly, my current editor at Samhain, spots things I miss. Suggests things that would improve a scene. Is willing to wave the Wand of Irrevocable Deletion over entire passages that could better be summed up with the sentence 'I ran.' 

That's what a good editor does. That's a service I get for free by going through a publisher.

Cover art design and execution? Also provided free. Conversion to different formats? Marketing? Placement in various online and physical stores?

I never lift a finger, and I certainly don't write any checks.

All that is why I'll be submitting Way Out West to Samhain. Because it benefits us both, as long as the books sell. 

Note that I'm not slamming self-publishing here. I do that as well -- All the Paths of Shadow and All the Turns of Light are books I put out. 

I decided to try self-publishing the Paths series when the original publisher of Paths of Shadow left the business.  I knew Samhain didn't handle YA-flavored light fantasy, so I thought why not try?

That's been a good decision. The books are still selling well. In fact, now that Way Out West is done, I'll start back on the 3rd Mug and Meralda book.

I'll probably hire my own cover artist and editing and self publish this next Meralda title too, unless I find a publisher willing to take the first two books on as well.  

I've seen a lot of ads for how-to books and courses which claim 'Self-publishing is EASY! Publish your book with 3 quick clicks!' and the like.

All of that is clickbait nonsense. If you're going to do it right, self-publishing is a costly, time-consuming process that frankly is the authorial equivalent of sucking down a big tall glass of metal shavings. 

Not saying it cannot or should not be done -- I'm just saying set aside plenty of time for the act and the aftermath, because this isn't a pleasant walk in the park.

If you're curious about my process, here's what comes next for Way Out West. I'll spend a week or two doing an edit pass of my own. Once that's done, a copy or two will go out to my army of fearless beta readers. At that point, I will put the book aside, and start on the new Meralda book (working title is Every Wind of Change).

When the betas have finished, I'll read their reports, make a final edit pass based on that, and only then will the book go to Samhain, if I judge it to be finished.

I will reveal that the next Markhat adventure will be titled Bad Moon Rising. The significance of that title will be made apparent in the course of Way Out West. 

And that's all I say about that.

PS: Early in the blog, I suggested someone was probably posting a face-in-the-fan video to YouTube as you read my blog. Well, after finishing this entry, I thought 'Surely no one would actually do that,' so I checked YouTube just to see.

Sigh. Yes, there are face in the fan videos. This one has four million views. 

I'll go back to writing now.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Things That Go Bump #4

Bill O'Neil

George Meek
Meet Bill O'Neil and George Meek.

These gentlemen are one of two things. They are either visionaries and pioneers, or a pair of grinning scamps who pulled off one of the most complicated pranks in paranormal research history.

Together, they built and operated an enormous machine they called the Spiricom, which was said to allow clear, utterly unambiguous communication with at least one deceased gentleman known as 'Doc Mueller.'

You can hear the tapes. See the diagrams. But before we get into all that, a bit of background.

The year is 1979. Disco is on its last pair of wide-bottomed trousers. The acronym 'EVP' is barely know to anyone outside of hard-core paranormal researchers. I am sporting a truly unfortunate Beatles bowl-cut. 

Meanwhile, down in his basement, Bill O'Neil is using the so-called 'Spiricom' to speak to the dead.

Of course, he's not the only person to have made this claim. But he is one of the few who made high-quality recordings of his conversations. His methods were also wildly diverged from the usual Ouija-board and seance-room approaches usually taken. 

No, the Spiricom was a nuts-and-bolts machine. 

In a nutshell, here's how O'Neil and Meek claimed the Spiricom worked:

1) They built a tone generator. This tone generator combined 13 distinct audio tones, each lying within the vocal range of the average human male (from about 300 to 3400 Hz). Nothing special here, except in 1979 you couldn't simply fire up a computer to do this without building a specialized device.

2) They hooked the tone generator to a low-powered radio transmitter. Their transmitter spewed out the audio tone on a radio frequency of around 30 MHz. Is there anything magical or special about 30 MHz? Nope. 

3) They built a receiver, which received their 30 MHz tonal transmissions.  They set up a mic and a recorder and recorded the sounds from the receiver as well as the operator's voice.

Pretty simple, really. You've got a transmitter spewing out a steady tone, which is a combination of all the tones used by human males (why not include women? Sign of the times, I suppose). 

And then you've got a receiver picking up these tones, and a recorder taking it all down. 

According to Meeks and O'Neil, something happened between steps 2 and 3. For communication to have occurred, a group of entities based somewhere else would have to have received this tone transmission, modulated the steady tone into a rather robotic-sounding voice, and then transmitted this modulated version of the signal back to O'Neil's receiver. 

Keep in mind nothing O'Neil said was actually transmitted. The Spiricom receiver sent out nothing but the tone. So for the ghosts to know what O'Neil was saying, they had to be there in the room listening to him. 

Yeah. So you've got spirits who A) know somehow when the Spiricom transmitter is active, and B) can also be present in the same room to hear what the operator is saying. 

But forget that for a moment. Let us hypothesize that there are ghosts on the Other Side who know quite a bit about electronic engineering. That's not so far-fetched, really. 

Here's where things get weird.

If you believe Mr. O'Neil and Mr. Meeks, after a few months of working with the Spiricom device, voices began to emerge from the tone. Clear voices. Distinct voices. 

Voices that engaged in perfectly intelligent conversations with O'Neil.

Here's an example. The robotic voice is purported to be that of 'Doc Mueller,' a dead engineer who is speaking to O'Neil from the Other Side. There's nothing spooky or scary here -- forget the context for a minute, and it's just two old friends tinkering around in their garage.

Oh, Those Cigarettes

The 'Doc' is helping to refine the transmission, which is why he repeats 'Mary had a little lamb.' 

This (and the other recordings of O'Neil) is the the only piece of sustained conversational EVP I've ever heard. If it is real -- and that's a big if -- it has profound implications for science, philosophy, everything.

Carrots and Cabbages

I mean listen to the clip above. They're talking carrots and cabbages. Gardening. The weather.

This isn't pareidolia.   It isn't RF crosstalk. It may be faked, but it bloody well isn't an accident of noise.

There are quite a few recordings you can listen to.

Click  for links.

By now, you may be wondering why, if the Spiricom device worked so well, that you've (probably) never heard of it.

Good question. O'Neil and Meek didn't hide the plans. In fact, they encouraged others to build their own machine and replicate their results.

A few people did so.

All they got, I'm afraid, was a steady tone from the receiver. No Doc Mueller.  No friendly ghosts with a bent for electrical engineering.

Which leaves us to consider fraud.

I understand scams and how they work. When conducted on any scale, fraud is designed to relieve fools from their money.

If Spiricom was indeed a fraud, it was spectacular only in its ineptitude. Neither O'Neil nor Meek got rich selling schematics. They didn't do the talk-show circuit. They both died quietly, in relative obscurity, and the without the solace of heaps of cash.

Believers will assert that O'Neil made the Spiricom work because he was, unknown even to himself, a gifted medium, who probably could have achieved the same results with a few candles and a darkened room.


Heck if I know.  I just build things. I do find it amusing to think that, if the story is true, the first thing a living engineer and a dead engineer do upon establishing contact across the Veil is to immediately start fiddling with the electronics. They didn't talk philosophy or discuss the true nature of uber-reality. 

No, they started improving the quality of the audio signal.

Is that plausible? Believable?

Again, I don't know.

But what I do know is that technology has marched on since the Days of Disco.

Tone generators? No circuits needed. Just fire up some cheap (or even free) audio software and build your own Spiricom tone. Save it as an audio file. Whew, that took a whole three minutes.

The transmitter?

Almost as easy. 

You can grab a nifty FM transmitter from Ramsey Electronics for around 40 bucks. Yeah, you'll need to build it, but that's easily done in an afternoon. As far as having a receiver and a recorder handy, well, that's child's play.

I'll have my own Ramsey transmitter soon. 

But there's no need to wait to run a few very simple tests. You can make a crude but operable RF transmitter with two 49 cent transistors, a capacitor, and a few other small parts in about ten minutes. I have several receivers handy.

And so I give you, gentle readers, my own Saturday afternoon version of a Spiricom device, shown below!

Yes, I know my workbench needs to be re-surfaced. It's a workbench. Small explosions are not unheard of.

But there it is -- a vastly oversimplified AM oscillator.

Does it work?

Yes, in that is spews out a tone (around 1000 Hz) on a radio frequency that spreads across the entire AM transmission band. Good thing I don't have close neighbors, even though the effective range is only a few yards. 

And here is one of my two receivers, which you may recognize as the Tesla crystal radio I built back in 2014.

All the aspects of the original Spiricom device are here. I generate a tone. I blast it out into space as a radio signal. I then receive the tone and record both the tone and my voice. 


Have a listen!

The recording above was made using my crude transmitter (that's the circuit on the console) and my crystal radio (the thing with the weird antennas). 

I recorded fifteen minutes of audio with this. Regrettably, Doc Mueller was a no-show.

Yes, there were a lot of faint voices in the background (and some not so faint blasts too). But those are merely stray radio broadcasts. What I was listening for were voices composed of the tone itself.

I got none. Which is hardly a surprise; Meeks and O'Neil didn't get anything at first either.

I decided to try a commercial receiver, something with a far more selective tuner than the one on the Tesla crystal radio. So I fired up my trusty  Realistic TM-102 AM/FM receiver (right out of 1983) and set it to a quiet spot low in the AM band for another session. Here's a sample of that.

Again, nothing but tone.

You'll hear more here about the Spiricom in the weeks and months to come. In the meantime, I invite you to research the subject further, including comments by the detractors. 

Last week I mentioned Mama Hog might be reading Poe's THE RAVEN in this week's blog.

I really should think these things through before I start shooting my mouth off. Yes, such a thing is possible. But to make it sound good is going to take a lot of time, and frankly that's time better spent finishing the new book.

Instead, I leave you with a truly excellent rendition of THE RAVEN, read by none other than Christopher Lee. I invite you to turn down the lights and turn up the volume, because this is probably the best version of THE RAVEN available anywhere.

Then follow up by enjoying The Alan Parson Project's equally haunting musical rendition, from their debut album TALES OF MYSTERY AND IMAGINATION.

Night night, folks!

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Things That Go Bump #3

Welcome to this, my third installment of the Things That Go Bump series!
For today's blog, I visited two cemeteries. I took my camera, my Zoom H1, and the new Velleman Super Ear.
I paid a visit to Oxford's own literary superstar, novelist William Faulkner. His grave is pictured above; note my mics on his markers, and the airline bottle of Jack Daniels left as a gift by one of his many admirers. 
Sulking perhaps at the small volume of whiskey contained in the bottle, The Faulkners were silent during this session.
But they were the only residents being quiet. During my ten minute stay there, I recorded a dozen snippets of voices, screams, yells, thuds, bangs, howls, and, quite possibly, an entire operatic performance of 'Fiddler on the Roof.'
Hey, I don't write private eye fiction without having learned a thing or two. I rendered myself in film noir black and white. pushed my fedora down at a jaunty angle, and I walked the mean streets of Oxford until I discovered the source of these hellish vocalizations.
A bunch of kids were beating the ever-loving crap out of each other with those flexible foam pool noodle things not a block from the gravesite.
So I've tossed out the entire Faulkner EVP session. A choir of poltergeists could have covered Led Zepplin's second album two feet from my microphones, and they'd still have been drowned out by little Sally's furious pummeling of that awful Randall kid from two houses down.
But fear not, gentle readers, because I have something amazing to offer despite this.
My next visit, to the Civil War cemetery on the University of Mississippi campus, was anything but mundane.

The University of Mississippi Civil War Cemetery

Tucked away on the edge of campus, the Confederate Soldiers Cemetery occupies a small hill and is bordered by a waist-high brick wall.
You can read the official description on the marker.
What the marker doesn't mention is a bit of campus lore the campus had no doubt rather forget.
According to the story, the University decided to spruce up the graveyard sometime back in the 1950s. A truck was dispatched, and workers were instructed to carefully load the grave markers onto the truck, so that they could be taken away to be cleaned.
A nice gesture. The work was completed. The freshly cleaned markers were loaded back onto the truck, and the truck returned to the cemetery, and it was only then that the awful truth became apparent.
No map or plan of the location of the graves had been prepared. There was no way to tell which markers went where.
I can only assume that the single mass marker which now stands at the top of the lonely hill was quickly erected, probably in the dead of night. 
Nevertheless, I entered the graveyard, armed with my recorders and cameras.

 I was there for approximately 17 minutes.
During my stay, I captured two strange audio instances, and one photographic one.
Let's begin with the photo.
I take a lot of photos during an EVP session. Hundreds of them. It's a digital camera, why not? And most of the images -- the vast majority of them -- are just pictures. Nothing unusual at all about them.
But take a look at the image below.

Dead center is an odd purple aberration that didn't show before or after. 
Lens flare? Not so sure. If there was anything brightly reflective in the foreground, I'd attribute the haze to that. But there isn't.
Aside from the central marker itself, that is. I don't see anything bright on it. And doesn't the general outline of the blur suggest an oblong figure in front of the camera? Man-shaped, sort of, in a gauzy, insubstantial, Hollywood spectre sort of way?
I'm not calling this a ghost. I'm not calling it anything. It's just odd. 
I mentioned two pieces of audio.
At about 16 minutes and 45 seconds into the main session, as captured by the Zoom, I thought I had a voice.
I really did. I'm walking, you see. I say 'I'm halfway to the gate,' as I exhort anyone who wishes to speak to do so, before I leave. A few seconds pass. I reach the gate, and say 'All right.'
My Zoom seemed to capture a single word in that brief silence.
In preparing it for presentation to the blog, I removed some of the noise. I isolated the sound. Amplified it. Looped it.
Thankfully, I also identified it.
No ghost here.
I have new sneakers, you see. Sketchers. They have these annoying little suction cups on the soles. When I walk on a tile floor, I sound like an octopus engaged in frenzied tap dancing.
But of course the cemetery is simply mowed ground. My shoes were silent on that -- until I stepped on one of the half-hidden flagstones that make up the path from the gate to the central marker.
And that's the sound I captured. I won't post it.
But what I will post is nothing short of amazing.

The Ghost On the Wall

At about 5 minutes and 30 seconds, my Velleman was resting on the wall that surrounds the cemetery. So was my Zoom.
So was I.
Let me preface this by saying I was absolutely alone. No one was in sight. I heard nothing at the time of the recording. No car was driving past. No kids were engaged in gleeful assault with battery.
I was alone.
Or was I?
As I rested in the shade, I remarked that the cemetery was 'very peaceful.' There is a silence. I then comment that the cemetery is probably the only speck of real estate safe from development, because of the bodies.
I even took this picture.

What the Velleman captured in the space of my comments came as quite a shock to me.
I looped the voice for clarity. What it says seems obvious to me. But you be the judge.

You don't even need headphones for this one.
Again, let me make it plain that I was alone. No women were present. No one was.
So what did I capture?
Was it wind noise, combined with pareidolia? I don't think so. The character of the voice doesn't sound like anything else in the entire recording.
A stray voice?
If so, why didn't the Zoom capture it? I checked the same time, listened to the space between the same comments. 
Look at the picture. They're maybe nine inches apart. One caught a female voice. The other caught nothing.
And why didn't I hear it, if it was merely a voice?
Explanations? I have none. Voices don't simply emerge from thin air, except when they do. 
I suspect -- and I'm only thinking out loud here, folks -- that so-called EVPs originate from very small spaces located close to the recording microphone. I mean small. Microscopic, even.
I can think of no other set of circumstances that would explain why two recorders in close proximity might result in a recording by one device and failure to record by the other. 
This point-source supposition might also explain why I never hear the sounds my devices capture.
It doesn't explain the nature of the sounds, of course, but there wasn't enough booze in Faulkner's bottle to even begin to tackle that question.
So did I manage to record some invisible entity saying the words 'a ghost?'
I don't know. I have the recording. That's really all I can state for sure -- that my device captured these sounds.
I hate to leave you with more questions that answers, but for now, I have no choice.

A Gift For You

Finally, gentle readers, I leave you with a spooky gift, suitable for hanging on your walls.

I enjoy art. I have a twisted sense of humor. 
Some of the things hanging on my walls are not quite what they seem, at first glance.
This diploma is an example. Ever wanted to be a certified Evil Overlord, with the papers to prove it? 
Well, download the form above and fill in your name and your desired degree. Hang it on your office wall. See how long it takes anyone to notice.
Yeah, I made this. All the Latin translates to 'Evil is Better,' 'No Mercy,'  and 'No Fear.' My degree is in Applied Hostile Geometries. The images are pulled from public domain woodcuts.
If you want me to add your name and degree in fancy text, email me and let me know. Looks pretty good, even in a cheap Walmart frame. Show those fancy-pants ingrates at work what a REAL degree looks like!

Things to Come

Next week, I add wind screens to the Velleman, and plan a daring twilight EVP expedition!
So stay tuned, and stay safe!
Links to the full Civil War EVP sessions are below, in case you are eager to torture your ears with my accent and running commentary.