Reviews – Snapdragon Alley, Sexy Teenage Vampires

felt like sharing a couple of interesting reviews i found on amazon, from people who have clearly read other stories of mine and have a sense of what to expect. such reviews are rare and, in the words of my father, ‘happy-making’

Snapdragon Alley

Like Most Lichtenberg, It’s All About the Journey, Not the Destination October 5, 2016
This novella has a plot. Some kids find a mysterious reference, on an old bus route map, to a street that doesn’t seem to exist anymore, (if it ever did). Said kids head out to find it. Maybe they do and maybe they don’t, and maybe they should and maybe they shouldn’t. Doesn’t really matter. At least the story has a beginning, a middle, and an end, and as post-postmodern playfulness goes this is more coherent than most. What does matter is the many, many exquisitely phrased observations, descriptions, moments, and little scenes that are peppered generously throughout the book.

The main characters are kids, but that doesn’t make it a kid’s book. I can’t imagine a young reader getting into this, as a general rule, unless that young reader were particularly ambitious, flexible, and open to experiment.

The book struck me on two levels. On one level Lichtenberg treats the prospect of an escape or gateway to another reality with restraint, melancholy, and a hint of quiet desperation, which is not your usual approach to fantasy gateways. His various characters approach the prospect of such a gateway with reluctance or zeal or enthusiasm, but always tinted by an undercurrent of sadness or disappointment. An appealing approach that can get under the reader’s skin.

Of more immediate impact, for me, was the second level – the level at which the author created his kid characters. The two older kids, who first explore the references to mysterious Snapdragon Alley, are distinct and memorable characters, built from the ground up and unique in their perspectives and presence. Only relatively briefly on the stage, they remain in the mind. The third kid, Argus, is the youngest and the one most attuned to the ineffable mystery of the gateway, and he sneaks into the story and then takes it over about halfway through. I enjoyed every moment spent with this character, (and I understand that he reappears in later stories, although I have not read them yet).

So, if you would like to enjoy some lovely, restrained, but also edgy and acrobatic writing, well this might be just the right choice for you. (Please note that I found this book a while ago while browsing Amazon Kindle freebies. At this point in time I believe it is still free. I have no connection at all to either the author or the publisher of this book.)

Low-key and Melancholy on Platform 12 August 17, 2016
This is a collection of three short stories that follow two subway-lurking vampires. They look like teenagers, they aren’t terribly sexy, and they are pretty sneaky/subtle vampires. The point, though, isn’t to illustrate some sort of teen/romance/vampire story, so that’s all O.K.

Our vampires are sort of melancholy. The subway setting pretty much describes the limits of their existence. Their romance is sad, ironic and lackluster. At the risk of sounding a little artsy-fartsy, these are tone poems. Little works that offer such depth and insight as the reader cares to find. I’ve read enough of Lichtenberg’s work to find his stories oddly appealing in a low key sort of fashion.

So, if you’re curious and feeling a bit adventurous, this could be a nice way to sample Lichtenberg’s work

Lost in Spaces

I was sitting here sipping from a bottle of Honest T (“Just” Green Tea ™) when I noticed some writing on the inside of the bottle cap. Turned out to be a 6-word memoir: “Oldest couple on the dance floor”. You can submit your six word memoirs to honesttea.com/sixwords, where your six word memoir will have the absolute remotest chance possible of ever being read by anyone.

Or, you can self-publish your fiction.

Same odds, really.

I was recently revising a set of Python scripts I’d written to scrape the various websites where I’ve self-published over the years and was reminded of one amusing incident – it turns out that slightly more than one-half of every dollar I’ve ever earned ( from my free e-books) happened when Amazon decided to pay royalties on free downloads. They paid me for more than 6,000 copies they gave away of “Snapdragon Alley”. It seems to have been an ill-advised policy which they quickly discontinued (this was in 2010). I remember thinking, wow, this free giveaway stuff sure pays off!

Now I wonder how much Honest T would pay for my six word memoir:

“being a zombie, not so easy”

(turns out the page is no longer active! –

(which is only five words)

Satan’s Dollar Store

The first short short of a new collection that will be ongoing on Wattpad

SatansDollarStore_Cover1

The devil is in the details they say, but what they fail to disclose is that he is in every single one of them. On closer inspection they advise that you don’t look any closer. Leave it alone, they maintain, well enough or not. Everything must go.

That’s what the sign said. Everything must go. “Everything?” I asked myself. “What exactly do they mean by that? I wondered. I found myself walking nowhere in the dry and dusty part of town that day, dying of thirst, asking myself all sorts of stupid questions. I do that a lot. Walking nowhere, that is. It’s sort of my job. I’m a sidewalk inspector for the city. Anything wrong with your sidewalk, I write you up. The city makes you fix it. You pay. I would be an unpopular person if people knew what I was doing but they don’t. It’s not like I wear a sign or anything. I just walk around, eyes to the ground, looking for evil-doing concrete to write up in my little black book.

Here in the dry and dusty part of town there were a lot of ticket opportunities, but I was getting dizzy from the heat. All I wanted was a cool glass of water. All I saw were boarded up storefronts, liquor stores, check-cashing spots, and the last place on Earth I wanted to go into, a shop that advertised itself as Satan’s Dollar Store.

“Really?” I wondered aloud. “Everything must go?” I thought perhaps it was a general statement, along the lines of “all things must pass,” or “all good things come to an end” or “you get what you pay for”, because when I peeked inside the door I saw nothing on the shelves. It was as if the everything that had to go had already gone, but since it was the only business that seemed to be open, I went in anyway, figuring that even if they had nothing at all, they still might have some water.

It was a narrow store, six cozy aisles wide with shelves from floor to ceiling stocked chock full of empty air. Just inside the door, a man sat behind a counter, head propped up on elbows. I think he was asleep but then he stirred and half rose to greet me before settling back down again in his rickety wicker chair. He had one of those ridiculous hipster beards crawling down his neck and fingering its way up variegated paths on his cheeks. His arms were covered in green and yellow tattoos that resembled vines of tomatoes except they were bleeding. He was bleeding. It was real blood, and it was also dripping from his long and pointy nose. He was bald except for a braided pony tail that started somewhere halfway down the back of his head and extended, near as I could tell, to the faded and grimy linoleum floor.

He decided not to welcome me with words, but sort of grunted as he sat back down and wiped his bloody nose with the back of his hand. I was about to inquire about water when I noticed, at the far end of the store, a row of soda cans languishing on a lonely shelf.

“I don’t suppose you have any cold ones,” I asked him as I made my way towards those items.

“I don’t do cold,” he muttered into his beard.

I sighed but figured any old beverage would do, so I picked up one of the cans and was startled to discover how light it was.

“Is there anything in here?” I turned to ask him. “It feels like it’s empty.”

I put the can down and picked up its neighbor, which was likewise zero gee. I tried another, and another and quickly realized they were all the same, so I carried the last one I’d tested over to the counter and set it down. Maybe I was suffering from heat stroke, I thought. Maybe I couldn’t tell there was soda inside because it was my head that was empty as air.

“How much?” I asked. He looked up at me like I had eaten razor blades for lunch.

“One dollar,” he snorted, and a clump of blood flew out of his nose as he said the words, landing by my shoe. That was disgusting, but I didn’t want to be rude, so I pulled out a dollar and slapped it down on the counter and put my hand on the flip-top to open the can.

“You sure you want to do that?” he asked.

“Um, yeah,” I replied as sarcastically as I could. “Thirsty? Soda? Paid for?”

“Not soda,” he said.

“Not soda? What the?”

“Soul,” he said.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” I said, taking a step back and shaking the empty can. It really was empty, or at least there was no soda in it. I reached to grab my dollar off the counter but he was too quick. He grabbed it and said,

“Paid for, yup. Now you got it.”

“What exactly do I got?” I asked, tossing the can from one hand to the other. “What kind of place is this anyway? You got nothing on the shelves except for these empty soda cans. Looks like a lousy business model to me. I’m just saying.”

“Tell me about it,” he sighed. “Nobody’s selling their souls anymore, and those that do, ain’t hardly worth it. Can’t get nothing for them nowadays.”

“Right,” I said. “Selling their souls, huh? Like to the devil or something?”

“You can read, can’t you?” he asked. “You saw the sign, right?”

“Oh, like Satan’s Dollar Store? Seriously? That’s a terrible name for a business. No wonder you’re doing so poorly.”

“It is what it is,” he said, and it took me a minute to realize he meant that literally. This was actually Satan’s Dollar Store.

“What can I say?” he added. “It’s a franchise opportunity, and all I could afford was this lousy neighborhood.”

“Why soda cans?” I asked.

“Preservatives,” he shrugged. “They last longer this way. That one you got there? The one you bought? Check the expiration date. It’s on the bottom.”

“January Third,” I read after turning the can over, “three thousand four hundred and ninety eight?”

“Long shelf life, eh?” he grinned, but the smile quickly turned to a grimace as he added, “like that’s going to do anyone any good.”

I did some quick calculations and discovered that my one dollar purchase had an incredible amortization rate, less than a penny a century!

“Will it go up in value?” I asked, thinking investment opportunity.

“Maybe,” he said, “if there’s ever a market for a sad sack loser. That soul, phew. Guy sold it to me for a night in Vegas with a certain showgirl. Hope he got his money’s worth.”

“She must have been something,” I mused.

“I suppose,” he said. “Meant nothing to me. I was just doing my job. Guy wants to sell, I got to buy. It’s the rules.”

“I know what you mean, man,” I said sympathetically. “It’s like with my job. I see a badly cracked sidewalk, I got to write the ticket, whether that homeowner can afford it or not.”

“You?” He shouted, rising from his chair. “You’re that guy? I got one of those tickets a couple of weeks ago. That was you? You got a lot of nerve showing your face around here. Give me that.”

He grabbed the can out of my hand and threw the dollar in my face.

“You don’t deserve him,” he said, “now get out of here, and stay out, if you know what’s good for you. I got a little black book of my own, you know.”

I didn’t hesitate. I didn’t even pick up my dollar bill as it fluttered to the ground but hustled my tail back out to the street, but I’ll tell you one thing. If you ever see a sign saying “everything must go”, don’t even give it a second’s thought, just turn your head away and act like you never even saw it. Some deals are just too good to be true.

Favorite Self-Published Book of 2012

A writer for Forbes magazine is asking for your favorite self-published book of 2012. I had a long list and it was difficult to choose, but I did submit one, and would encourage everyone to do so. It’s likely that the top vote-getter will be one of the bigger names (that’s just how these things work) but it would be great to see some of our smaller names in there – just check my Indie Author Reviews page for several excellent and well-deserving candidates!

Got Characters?

Was just talking about this with my family, after my recent bout of addiction to Season One of The Wire. Now, this show ran 10 years ago on HBO and I’d been hearing all this time about what a great show it was, but I never had HBO until recently it came with my job, so there you go. We watched all 8 episodes of Veep, with Julia Louis Dreyfus, and all the recent episodes of Real Time with Bill Maher, and then I got hooked on The Wire. Damn!

12 hours of my life but well spent (I am someone who almost never watches TV and haven’t for decades now). Sure there were a lot of cliches and stock crap about police corruption, seedy lawyers, hard times, the streets, etc but done with characters. Excellent characters, well written, well acted, well directed.

If you have good characters, it doesn’t matter how bad the story is. If you have bad characters, it doesn’t matter how good the story is.

That’s my writing tip for the day. Earlier I was reading a blog post about ‘writing as a craft’ and ‘working at it’ and ‘putting in the time’ and all that. Uh-uh. Not for me. For me writing is entirely OCD. I get the idea and if it’s got legs I am stuck with it, day and night until I squeeze out enough time in my full schedule to get it out of me. And once it’s gone, yeah there’s a high in all of it, but what a relief. I have got plenty of other things I’d rather be doing. I’d rather be messing with Blender or Gimp. I’d rather be kayaking out on a lake or the bay or some river. I’d rather be walking the dog WITHOUT paragraphs and chapters streaming through my brain. I understand some people talk about how it just comes through them, and they talk about inspiration or muses or whatever but I chalk it all up to some form of mental illness. Just saying that’s how it is with me.

And it doesn’t have legs with me if it smells of anything typical, commercial or traditional. I don’t want to write it and I don’t want to read it. I don’t go near a bestseller. I hate that shit. I CAN put it down. 

What I like is writers who can tell a good story and can just tell it (Jim Maher, Zvi Zaks, among my recent indie finds), or writers who have the raw gift of a voice (Carla Herrera), or writers who have got something to say (Paul Samael). If it’s coming at me with juvenile wizards or romantic werewolves or come on now, really, end of the world getting laid bullshit, I’ll pull out my wooden cross and garlic or whatever it takes to keep it away. 

I sometimes feel I need to apologize to my Goodreads contacts, because I spent years reading all the classical great stuff and there’s not much left in that department, so lately it’s all indie writers and that’s cool, but I’m leaving out a lot of the best stuff, the Roberto Arlt and Demetrio Aguilera Malta and Clarice Lispector, and Guy de Maupassant or Montaigne or Chuang Tzu or Julio Cortazar or Flannery O’Connor or Toni Morrison or Stanislaw Lem or Jorge Luis Borges or Gabriel Garcia Marquez or Herman Melville or Lermontov or Pushkin or all the other fantastic writers who made all those tremendous craters in my mind when they all exploded up in there. I’ve got reviews of the old in there but all the newer ones are newer ones and it is somewhat distorting.

We just swim through the waters we’re in now. It’s all we can ever do.