The Alchemist’s Letter

Call it synchronicity. Or whatever you want. But I came upon this video after witnessing one of the saddest things I’ve ever seen. While visiting my father in the rest home last weekend, his roommate’s ex-wife visited. She didn’t seem to care my father and I were in the room as she announced to her former husband she wanted to see him one last time before he died.

The man didn’t remember her. She told him they were once married.

“Why aren’t we still married?”

“Because you kept screwing around.”

“Oh.” He thought for a moment. “Is it okay if I hug you?”

“Yes,” she said.

She hugged him and walked out the door.

Then today I saw this:

From the artist’s website:

A visually rich, darkly inventive fairy tale directed by former Student Academy Award® finalist Carlos Andre Stevens.

Starring 2-time Academy Award® nominee John Hurt (V for Vendetta, Alien, Hellboy, The Elephant Man, Midnight Express) and up-and-coming star Eloise Webb (Cinderella, The Iron Lady).

Be sure to maximize the video. It’s gorgeous and richly detailed.

The Alchemist's Letter from Carlos Stevens on Vimeo.

We squander so much in life, don’t we? Even our memories.

Cuernavaca: a tourist destination in hell?

Aztec Midnight Church

I’ve long been fascinated with American Indian culture, and have quite a collection of artifacts. My interest inspired my short story Gooseberry (now free on the publisher’s web site) and Aztec Midnight. So it was especially gratifying to see this generous review on Amazon (and from a “Book Goddess” with a PhD!):

As a professor of American Indian Studies, I’m always wary about misrepresentation of of diverse Indian peoples and cultures. I have no qualms about Tuggle’s research for his novella, Aztec Midnight.It’s packed with action, starting ominously. We discover that Dr. Jon Barrett and his university librarian wife Susanna, are in Cuernavaca for two reasons; she to take a Spanish immersion class and he to find and identify a mysterious Aztec knife. An archaeologist, he specializes in the history of pre-Columbian weapons at the University of Texas in Austin. What Susanna does not know is that he is working for the US Department of State on a mission to help stop drug cartels.

Further plot description would be a spoiler, so it suffices to say that Susanna is kidnapped by a powerful drug cartel. It wants the knife, used far in the past for a sacred ritual in which the hearts are ripped out of those to be sacrificed. It has deadly magical powers, and the leader of the cartel wants to use it to destroy the Mexican government. Jon must choose between rescuing his wife or losing her if he does not deliver. His narrative speeds up as he has only five hours to find Susanna. He is chased, jailed, and then abducted by the cartel.I won’t reveal the astonishing ending.

Tuggle also excels in description. Although Cuernavaca sounds like a tourist destination in hell, his rendering of the population is sympathetic and colorful. The author may not realize he has created a power couple worthy of more adventures. The seemingly nerdy professor and his wife are courageous and smart; they deserve a series of their own. I’m looking forward to a sequel!

Best Fiction and Writing Blogs


The best fiction and writing blog posts from around the ‘net, all guaranteed to make you a literary adventurer. Compiled by ernie.

Sue Vincent- 10 Places to Find Ideas
Katie McCoach What To Do After Writing The First Draft of Your Novel
Alice Osborn How to Enjoy a Poem: Happy Poetry Month
Jack SutterMaking Artful Choices
Alysha KayeOn Teaching and Writing
E.K. PrestonBest Opening Lines of All Time
A.D. MartinSo, I Binge-watched Daredevil on Netflix
Jeff WillsChanging Our Mind

Cthulhu in Foxholes?

My wife and I went to the Sensoria Celebration of the Arts Festival at Central Piedmont Community College in Charlotte yesterday. We thoroughly enjoyed Molly Manning’s presentation on her latest book, When Books Went to War, which tells the story of the massive and successful effort to provide desperately needed books to America’s fighting men during WW II.

In 1943, the War Department and the publishing industry devised a simple and brilliant plan to provide reading material to millions of men in the U.S. armed forces. The first step was to study standard issue military uniforms and determine the appropriate size for a book that would be easy to carry yet still readable. The end result was the Armed Services Edition book, which was smaller and much lighter than a standard hardbound book. Here’s a picture of some on display at the CPCC library:

Click to enlarge

Funny thing, I noticed a copy of Lovecraft’s The Dunwich Horror, and decided I had to sneak a picture. But while I was there, I did not notice the letter beside it. I was delighted when I downloaded the picture to my laptop and read it. Here’s my transcription:



My brother, now serving in the occupational army in Germany, asked me to see if I could secure for him through you the following special editions for soldiers:

Max Beerbohm “Seven Men”
H.P. Lovecraft Anthology
Algernon Blackwood Anthology

He writes that these small volumes have been published by you and he is extremely interested in them but cannot locate them in the vicinity; if possible he would like to own them. He says I couldn’t send a nicer gift as far as books are concerned than those three little books.

Your help would be much appreciated. I would be happy to cover expenses.

Sincerely yours,

Dr. A.C. Klay

That gives you an idea of just how important great stories are to morale. And it suggests the depth of Lovecraft’s appeal.

120 million of these little books went to both the European and Pacific theaters, where they were devoured by eager, grateful GIs. These books introduced a lot of young men to literature, and boosted the careers of Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald. They also made possible the paperback book industry that followed the war. Paperbacks were revolutionary. They were the eBooks of their time. (And I like eBooks!)

Wouldn’t you love to have a copy of that ASE edition of the Lovecraft anthology? Wow.

Battered remains of medieval knight discovered in UK cathedral


If you get a kick out of medieval combat — and who doesn’t? — this is cool:

The battered remains of a medieval man uncovered at a famous cathedral hint that he may have been a Norman knight with a proclivity for jousting.

The man may have participated in a form of jousting called tourney, in which men rode atop their horses and attacked one another, in large groups, with blunted weapons.

Archaeologists uncovered the man’s skeleton, along with about 2,500 others — including a person who had leprosy and a woman with a severed hand — buried at Hereford Cathedral in the United Kingdom. The cathedral was built in the 12th century and served as a place of worship and a burial ground in the following centuries, said Andy Boucher, a regional manager at Headland Archaeology, a commercial archaeology company that works with construction companies in the United Kingdom.

Turns out the dude was about 45 when he died. Though it’s impossible to tell for sure, forensics suggest he was recuperating from fractured ribs he may have received in a tourney, which was pretty much the hockey of its age. One gang would go against another with blunt weapons rather than pointy ones. Just because there were no sharp objects doesn’t mean it was a harmless pastime. I can tell you that blunt force trauma really, really hurts.

Like a waterfall


I’m in the Zone, folks. It’s finally come together. I’ve achieved cruising speed on my latest wip, as ideas, dialogue, and action are flowing onto the laptop like a waterfall. My characters and I are finally on speaking terms, even to the point where they nudge me to point out what I need to have them say and do next. Man, what a feeling. This is what writers live for.

Gone are the gruesome hours of agonizing over the major plot points. You know what it’s like: The protag can’t do that. He wouldn’t react that way. And why the hell would our villain do that? She’s not stupid.

And so on. I’m almost in that other-worldly state you see in movies about painters, song-writers, and authors where they’re possessed by their muse, and their wip just flows out of them in a burst of feverish activity. That’s not the way it really works, but you get the idea. Rent Moulin Rouge ( the one with José Ferrer, not Tom Cruise’s first ex) to see what I mean. Great movie. Lousy role model for writers.

Anyway, my latest wip is about Appalachian folk magic in an urban setting. So far, it’s been a blast. Here’s the list of books I’ve read or re-read as background:

Cracker Culture Grady McWhiney
Albion’s Seed: Four British Folkways in America David Hackett Fischer
At Home in Dogwood Mudhole Franklin Sanders
Grammatical Man Jeremy Campbell
The Story of North Carolina Dr. Alex Arnett
The Other Irish Karen F. McCarthy
Our Father’s Fields James Kibler
The Making of a Cop Harvey Rachlin
A History of the South Francis Simkins & Charles Roland

And last but certainly not least:

The Golden Bough Sir James George Frazer

Underlying all this research is a bit of family history you probably wouldn’t believe, but which I’ll discuss fully once the book is out. Then there are my excursions into Charlotte’s extensive creek walks at weird hours. One thing that’s always fascinated me is how familiar things transform come nightfall. More on that later.

Further updates to follow. Right now, it’s time for bed. Yes, it’s been that intense.

David Holt’s State of Music

DHSOM pitch for Indiegogo campaign from Will & Deni Films on Vimeo.

From David Holt’s State of Music:

David Holt’s State of Music is a one-hour special program that premiered on North Carolina public television in January. David introduces viewers to some friends who are taking traditional music to a new level. Featured performers are Rhiannon Giddens of the Carolina Chocolate Drops, traditional ballad singer Josh Goforth, virtuoso fiddler Bruce Molsky, guitar phenom Bryan Sutton, the Branchettes gospel duo and the powerhouse bluegrass band Balsam Range. The program showcases these great performers doing what they do best on location in the very landscapes that nurtured them and their music.

The premiere of the show was a big success, and now UNC-TV has invited us to make it into a series for national distribution! We are excited to have the opportunity to do that, because there are so many wonderful musicians that we couldn’t fit into one hour—and so many viewers who haven’t seen the show.

Best Fiction and Writing Blogs

The best fiction and writing blog posts from around the ‘net, all guaranteed to make you a literary adventurer. Compiled by margaret.

Electric LitThe 2015 Hugo Nominees
Alice OsbornHow to Get Back into Writing After a Hiatus
Allison BrennanThink your book is ready to publish? Maybe not.
Jane RisdonThe Black Prince and an Archbishop
Jodi MilnerMedieval Village Anatomy 101
Jack Sutter Screw The Muses
Confessions of a Readaholic22 Things I Learnt By The Time I Turned 22
Peter WellsThe Creative Abyss

The band that just walked away, Renee

Here’s an excellent explication of the lyrics of Walk Away, Renee:

The lead singer’s voice and the music are haunting and well-matched. But the song hits the trifecta, because the words are at least as extraordinary as the music and the singing. They are poetry, conveying a tense pull between sorrow and stoicism, yearning and renunciation, regret and acceptance. You don’t believe me?

Read the rest here. I must admit the symbolism and craftsmanship in this song escaped my notice, despite my admiration of the Left Banke.