Friday, July 12, 2019

Testicle Festival!

So, last weekend we were visiting family. We're all in the pool, four adults and two nephews (12 and 14). Somehow the conversation circled around to the insidious nature of Ikea and how they trap you like a rat in their endless maze of uncomfortable furniture. Someone mentioned their meatballs are worth the torture.

"If you don't mind eating horse-meat," someone opined.

A nephew said, "What's wrong with that?"

Naturally, foot in mouth, I said, "Nothing, I suppose, if you don't mind eating horse balls." Quickly (but, too late!), I said, "Wait. That kinda came out wrong."

Which is my long segue into what's really on my mind. Of course, I'm talking about "Rocky Mountain Oysters," aka "calf fries," aka "prairie oysters." And then there's "cowboy caviar", "Montana tendergroins", "dusted nuts", "swinging beef," and "bull eggs." Now let's quit prettifying the item in question with all of those tricky "aka's"; no matter how many ribbons you put on them, we're still talking about BULL TESTICLES!
Good Lord, people actually eat these. And like them. There are festivals--festivals, mind you!--devoted to these so-called scrumptious nuggets. It boggles my mind, especially since those who "claim" to like them are usually the rugged, macho types who I'd think would rather be wrangling bulls instead of chomping into their nards. I've also never met a woman who has said, "You know, I'd really like to scarf down a big steaming plate of bull testicles. Yum."
So our science lesson in the pool continued. I said to my nephew, "Boyo, never--under any circumstances, ever--eat rocky mountain oysters." I explained what they were.

Here's where things really got interesting. It turned out my brother-in-law had tried them. He said, "I ate one once and now I'm done."

I asked, "Were they crunchy?"

The women in the pool scoffed. My bro-in-law said, "No, they weren't, not like you'd think they would be. They were kinda...gooey."

(Which just REALLY makes me want to steer clear of them).

Incredulous, my wife and sis-in-law gang up on the guys, think it's silly that we believe they'd be crunchy. Yet, all four males agree.

Patiently, I explained, "I find it amazing that women don't think they'd be crunchy. I mean, we live with the things after all. Why do you think they're called nuts?"

Our exploration into science came to a screeching halt. 

Later, though, I pulled my nephew aside, whispered, "Somewhere, there's a field of poor, depressed bulls without testicles milling about."

All in the name of science, of course.

While we're on the topic of science, I'm reminded of lycanthropy (which has absolutely nothing to do with science and is a shameful segue into plugging my brand spankin' new book). Of course, I'm talking about Corporate Wolf, put out by the fine folks at Grinning Skull Press. Think "An American Werewolf in London" meets "Office Space" and you've got a good running start. Available for preorder right about....NOW! 

Friday, July 5, 2019

The (Un)Luck of the Irish with Eileen O'Finlan

SRW: Eileen O’Finlan. Go on. Everyone say it. Get it out of your system (And I can hear you over the introwebs, using your crappy Irish accents learned from dirty bar jokes. I do it, too.). 

But, Ms. O’Finlan is also an author. Damn good one, too. Her first book (First book? Really?) is catnip for historical fiction and romance fans. I read her epic tale, Kelegeen, of the 1800’s Ireland potato famine and the effects on the poor inhabitants of said town and was magically transported and entranced. I had to hit up Ms. O’Finlan (Okay, I’m gonna knock this polite stuff off right now)—Eileen—for an interview.

Hey there, Eileen, thanks for being a sport and putting up with my nonsense. It may not be easy, but welcome!

EOF:  Hi Stuart.  Thanks for inviting me.

SRW: Alright, before we get to your magnificent book, Kelegeen, let’s talk about you a bit. I understand you’re a big fan of paranormal books. A little ghost also put a whisper in my ear that you may’ve lived in a haunted house. Spill like the wind!

EOF:  It’s true.  Between the ages of 2-6 we lived in a house that I’m sure was haunted, though I think it was really the land, not the house.  The house wasn’t old and the houses on either side of ours had “trouble” too.  This was in Worcester, Massachusetts.  Strange things happened in that house.  For example my mom and I both experienced times when we felt like someone was standing right behind us, but no one was there.  One evening when my dad was taking night classes, Mom was home with my sister, Cindy, and me.  Cindy was asleep in her room on the second floor and I was asleep in my room on the first floor.  Mom was reading in the living room when she distinctly heard footsteps walking up the basement stairs.  It was impossible for her to get both of us kids out of the house in time so she grabbed the fireplace poker and stood at the door waiting to whack anyone who opened it.  That’s where she was a short time later when Dad got home.  She told him what had happened and that she’d never heard the footsteps go back down the stairs.  Dad, being Dad, took the poker, opened the door (no one was there) and went downstairs.  There was no one in the basement and the bulkhead door was locked from the inside.

A few other times, I experienced seeing a woman and a young girl dressed in black sitting on the window seat in our living room.  The woman said only one thing – “No news.”  I can’t remember what she looked like, but years later when my mom related this story to me, I vividly remembered the words “no news” spoken in a melancholy tone.  Shivers ran down my spine.  Years later, I read an article in a history magazine that told of how women during the Civil War who had husbands/brothers/sons/fathers fighting, but hadn’t heard from them in a while would inquire about them whenever regiments passed through town.  The request for information would be passed down the line of soldiers and if no one knew anything of them, the response that would come back would be “no news.”  I nearly fell off my seat when I read that!  No Civil War battles were fought anywhere near that spot, but I suppose soldiers could have come through the area.  I guess I’ll never know for sure.

As for our neighbors, they reported such things as objects moving by themselves, rapping noises, and the like.  I often wonder if the people living in those houses today have experienced anything unusual. There is a hill behind the house.  It’s called Stratton Hill, but when I lived there we called it Blueberry Hill.  There are apartment buildings on it now that weren’t there when we lived at the foot of it.  I wonder if they’re haunted.

One might think that after such an experience I would not want anything to do with the paranormal. To tell the truth I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with it.  I’m fascinated by it, probably because I want to know what was really going on in that house, but at the same time I don’t want to personally experience anything like that again.  It was VERY scary.  So I enjoy reading and writing about it, but would rather not repeat the experience.  I think.

SRW: Man, if only I could have the luck of the ghosts. (But, truth be told, I’m sure if I experienced a haunting, I’d probably renege on that wish). Anyway…let’s get on to your assured debut, Kelegeen. Tell everyone what the book’s about. And make it an enthrallingly short, yet hooky description. Bonus points if you can do it in verse. (Beatboxing is encouraged as well).

EOF:  Verse or beatboxing…umm, no. 
Kelegeen is the story of a peasant village during the time of An Gorta Mór, the Great Hunger, (aka the Irish Potato Famine).  Father Brian O’Malley is pastor of Saint Mary’s Parish in the town of Kelegeen.  It is his job to shepherd his people through one of the most horrific times in Irish history.  One of his parishioners, Meg O’Connor, is eagerly awaiting her upcoming marriage to Rory Quinn when the blight hits destroying the food supply for the entire village (as well as the whole country, as it turned out).  Instead of marriage, their focus and that of their families, turns to survival.  At first they are able to help their families survive by using their skills of sewing and wood carving, but a costly mistake and a devastating accident end those means and they are forced to turn to more dangerous ventures.  As the Great Hunger continues to churn through Ireland, starvation and disease form a deadly combination.  In the end, Meg must make a choice that will either be their salvation or separate her forever from all she knows and loves.  Along with all that, there is some good old Irish paranormal activity such as Meg’s mother’s eerie premonitions and Father O’Malley’s visitations by his ghostly long lost love.

SRW: Thanks to my professional research assistant (Ms. Google), I discovered Kelegeen isn’t a true town in Ireland. Is it based on any particular place? Have you visited Ireland for research? 

EOF:  Ms. Google is correct.  Kelegeen is not a real town in Ireland.  In fact, I employed Ms. Google to make certain it wasn’t before going ahead with the name.  I didn’t want to have to stick to the true history of a real place, preferring some fictional leeway.  It is, however, loosely based on the real town of Skibbereen, which was one of the hardest hit towns during the Great Hunger.  

Oh, how I wish I could say that I’ve visited Ireland, but alas, I have not.  Not yet, anyway.  I sincerely hope to get there someday.  I am tremendously gratified whenever someone who’s read Kelegeen tells me how much it reminds them of Ireland, especially those whose parents or grandparents came from Ireland.  It’s good to know I got the feel of it right.  Phew!

SRW: Things are pretty grim going for the folks in Kelegeen. The starving residents are eating tree bark. Surely, this isn’t that nutritious. (I asked my wife—a medical professional—about the nutritional value of tree bark; she said it’d be nil and people would probably have a hard time digesting it; no wonder Euell Gibbons died at an early age). Did the starving Irish actually do this?

EOF:   Sadly, yes.  They also ate grass. And seaweed.  And whatever else they could get their hands on.  I suppose that when one is in that severe a state of starvation, they aren’t stopping to think about nutrition.  Just to have the feeling of something in the belly is a relief of a sort to the gnawing pain of starvation.

It’s my understanding that there aren’t many trees in Ireland today.  I don’t know if it’s true or not, but I’ve heard it’s because of the bark that was stripped and eaten from them.  Stripping a tree of its bark kills the tree.  I guess the trees didn’t fare much better than the people.

SRW: There are a lot of words I’d never heard before, Irish terms, but now I’m an expert thanks to your book. That’s all it takes. For example, after watching a couple seasons of the Olympics, I can tell when a perfect Sowkow is landed. Anyone care to guess what a Scalpeen is? Eileen, please explain what that word means and if it’s specific to Ireland during the famine.

EOF:  A scalpeen is a three-sided structure (two walls and a roof) built by the Irish during the Great Hunger.  When the cottiers couldn’t pay their rent they were evicted and their homes torn down or burned.  With nowhere to live they built scalpeens, usually hidden in hillsides to escape notice.  Often they could use some of the scraps of their torn down homes.  It was the “lucky” ones who could build a scalpeen.  Many lived in a “scalp” which was simply a hole in the ground.

Here is an image of a scalpeen in Donegal:  
 (Image from Donegal Generations by Tom Gallen)
Not much, but a better option for living in than a scalp as seen here:  
 (Image from Donegal Generations by Tom Gallen)
SRW: Along the same line of query, what I couldn’t understand is these evil, Trumpian landlords would evict the suffering, starving families from the cottages they own, and then tear them down. Um, doesn’t that go against good ol’ fashioned capitalistic goals of constantly making money by renting to another family?

EOF:  What you need to understand, Stuart, is that the British hated the Irish, mainly for reasons of religion.  It’s too long to go into here, but Ireland had been taken over by the British going all the way back to the 1600s.  The British had outlawed Roman Catholicism, the predominant religion of Ireland, taken the land and most of the rights from the Irish people (unless they converted to Protestantism, which most refused to do) and made them tenants on what was once their own land. All sorts of restrictions known as the Penal Laws had been inflicted on the Irish by their British overlords and had been in force for centuries.  By about 16 years prior to the famine some of the worst of the penal laws had been repealed and Catholicism was tolerated (barely), but the Irish people still didn’t own their own land.  Nor could they vote, carry a gun, own a horse, hold political office, etc.  They were considered by the British to be an indolent, lazy, filthy people who did not deserve any better.   This discrimination had been drilled into the British psyche over centuries.  Though the British did not cause the blight or the Great Hunger that ensued, they did see it as a blessing from God – a punishment on the Irish for the sin of Catholicism (or “popery” as they more often called it) and thought of it as a perfect way to rid the land of the Irish so that it could be re-inhabited by English and Scotch Protestants.  They also wanted the lands the Irish peasants lived on for pasturing their own livestock.

The Great Hunger lasted six years.  As it continued to worsen, many people tried to escape by leaving for other countries.  A small amount of British landlords paid for the passage of their tenants, more to get them off the land than to help them, though most were not that generous.  Proposals for government-assisted emigration from Ireland were denied by Sir Charles Trevelyan, the Director of the British government’s so-called “Irish Relief Measures.”  Trevelyan stated that, “the great evil with which we have to contend, is not the physical evil of the famine, but the moral evil of the selfish, perverse, and turbulent character of the Irish people.”

The London Times referred to the Famine as “a great blessing” and a “valuable opportunity for settling the vexed question of Irish discontent.” The Times advocated replacing evicted Irish by imported English and Scottish farmers who would, in their eyes, be thrifty, loyal, and Protestant.
Given all this, it would not have made sense from the British landlords’ point of view to replace one evicted Irish tenant family with another.

SRW: Alright, enough history blather! Let’s get into specifics. Eileen, I have to ask… Are you a closet sadist? You certainly put every character in the book through the ringer until few are left (barely) standing. Pretty much one small victorious step forward, three deaths back. Evil, I say, evil!

EOF:  LOL!!! No, I don’t think I’m a closet sadist.  I’m right out in the open.  (Just kidding).  You try writing a story about something like the Great Hunger and see how upbeat it is!  All joking aside, I’ve had some thoughts about that.  People do tell me that though they loved the book it was hard to read.  I get that, but what did they expect?  There are many books set in concentration camps during the Shoah (aka Holocaust).  (I’m reading one right now – The Tattooist of Auschwitcz).  These books can be brutal to read, but the reader expects that, don’t they?  Yet, Kelegeen sometimes gets castigated for being so grim.  What gives?  I think I might have figured it out.  If I’m right, it comes from the fact that people know a lot about the horrors of the Shoah, having learned about it in school and seen many movies and read many books about it.  I can’t count the times readers have said to me, “I’d heard of the Irish Potato Famine, but I had no idea what it was all about.  I didn’t know it was so awful.  I didn’t know how much people suffered, what they endured.  I learned so much from this book.” 
To me, that is very telling.  Why hasn’t An Gorta Mór been given a greater presence in American classrooms?  My suspicion is because it doesn’t reflect well on the British who are long-time American allies whereas the Germans were our enemies in two World Wars.  Also, when Irish immigrants began arriving in America, they weren’t exactly welcome.  Remember the “No Irish Need Apply” signs?  The Know-Nothing political party which was strongest at the time of the arrival of the Famine Irish was extremely anti-Catholic, anti-immigrant, and anti-Irish.  I think the lack of teaching about An Gorta Mór is a hold- over from times when Americans would prefer not to lay any blame at the doorstep of the British or their descendents.  I could be wrong, but that’s my suspicion.  

I also think it’s time that changed.  I’m not out to make the British look bad.  In fact, I worried about that when I was writing Kelegeen.  Despite the reality of the situation, I didn’t want to make the British people look like monsters and was careful to include some balance in the good and bad to be found within both the British and the Irish.  However, when I brought up this dilemma to one of my writing mentors, she reminded me that the British did not build one of history’s biggest and greatest empires by being nice.  I guess no one does.  I don’t feel Kelegeen is a reflection on the British people of today or their descendents.  It’s just a piece of history.  American history certainly has its own share of misdeeds, to put it mildly.

SRW: As an author, personally I’m curious as to who you see as the main protagonist: Meg or Father O’Malley…

EOF:  Meg.  Definitely, Meg.  It’s funny because when I started I would have said Father O’Malley.  The genesis of this book began with an assignment given to me by my Irish history professor when I was working on my undergraduate degree in history.  He proposed that I keep a diary as if I were a parish priest during the time of the Great Hunger.  A priest was the perfect character for this because he would have known what was going on, had the confidence of his parishioners, was very involved in trying to alleviate their spiritual and physical struggles, and had a bigger picture of the overall workings of the parish territory which he shepherded.  I loved that assignment.  When I completed it, I realized I had the skeleton of a novel.  That’s when the idea to create a novel from the fictional diary was born.
However, as I wrote the novel, Meg grew into a powerful character who captivated me.  Somehow, I was able to put myself in her place more readily than that of any other character.  Father O’Malley is a great champion for his people, but Meg O’Connor, a simple peasant girl, is a force to be reckoned with for sure!

SRW: To me the highlight of the book hit at the midpoint; the wake for a lost loved one, done with love, care, religion, and bare means. The details are fascinating, the atmosphere riveting. Particularly how loved ones are supposed to rise above it and prepare a mangled body for a decent, God-shipped send-off. All truth?

EOF:  Yes indeed.  The Irish wake is the stuff of legends.  Of course, as the starving dragged on, it was more and more difficult to keep up with these customs and rituals.  People no longer had the strength for it so often had to reluctantly forego it.  The American wake was very real, though, and was held whenever possible.

SRW: Actually, it seems that more importance was put on giving proper Christian burials rather than feeding the living at times, at least in regard to little money spent.

EOF:  Yes.  The Irish of that time were a profoundly spiritual people.  They believed whole-heartedly in an afterlife – one that was far more important and better than the earthly life.  I don’t find this at all surprising for a people who spent centuries enduring unending cruelty, hardship and degradation.  What else had they to look forward to with great longing but a glorious eternal life?  So it was important to make the send off worthy of it.

SRW: SO… It’s nothing new, particularly with the state of the world right now, but there’s a lot of hatred between the imperialist invaders and natives. Sigh. Nothing seems to change, even though we should know better by now.

EOF:  You got that right!  As I work on the research for the sequel, most of which will take place in America (Worcester, Massachusetts to be exact), the more I find that history is once again repeating itself.  In the 1800s it was the Know-Nothing party causing the most trouble.  They referred to themselves as “nativists” or “native Americans” and they did not mean by that what we mean today by Native Americans. They meant people whose British ancestors colonized the northeastern part of this country.  They truly believed they were the only people entitled to live here.  (Apparently, they forgot all about the true Native Americans who were already here and who their forebears displaced or wiped out.)  Many of them wanted to send the Irish and other non-Protestant immigrants back to their home countries.  They spoke of being afraid of immigrants overrunning the country and of America being taking over by the Pope.  They also used the term “America First.”  They may have been the originators of that term, but I’m not sure.

SRW: Let’s talk about “magic realism,” a subgenre of fiction made popular particularly by Latin America’s most famous authors. It’s a realistic narrative touched by elements of magic. I would say Kelegeen falls into that category. Am I off-track, Eileen?

EOF:  No, you are not off-track.  I love magical realism.  Considering the “unusual” experiences I’ve had in my own life, some so-call “magic” seems quite real to me. I’m far from the only person who can say that. So it feels to me like it’s simply a part of life.  To quote the Bard, “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”  I totally believe that to be true.

SRW: We have the ever-appearing comb and the spirit of Siobhan lingering over the entire proceedings. It’s kinda magical, don’t tell me it’s not! Don’t make me come over there!

EOF:  Stuart, you can come over anytime you want, but I’ll never tell you those elements aren’t magical.  With all the grimness of the famine, those things brought in some lighter moments – what my awesome editor and fellow BWL author, Eileen Charbonneau, referred to as “the grace notes” of the novel.

SRW: Alright, are you continuing Meg’s adventures in America (belated spoiler alert!) and her trials to reconnect with her family? Damn well better, that’s all I’m sayin’.

EOF:  Absolutely!  I was always planning a sequel to Kelegeen, though I had thought of writing a different story first.  However, so many readers have been after me for a sequel, I realized it would have to be my next novel.  Everyone wants to know what happens to the characters that survived.  I am currently deeply immersed in the research for the sequel and have begun the first draft.  I’m on Chapter 3 as of this writing.  I am greatly enjoying researching and writing the sequel.  I promise it will be much more upbeat than Kelegeen.  The focus will be on the characters that come to America, but readers will get to find out what happens to those who stayed behind as well.  

I’m having a blast writing this novel.  It gives me such pleasure to improve the lives of my beloved characters who have been through such horror and devastation.  Not that everything is perfect for them.  After all, if there’s no conflict, there’s no story.  But it’s a different kind of conflict and they have better resources at their disposal.  There are plenty of new characters in the sequel, too.  I’m enjoying getting to know them and I hope readers will, too.

SRW: Can you dance an Irish jig?

EOF: I don’t think I’ve ever tried.  I was a gymnast and I took ballet, tap, and jazz when I was in middle school and high school.  Had I tried then, I probably could have done it.  Now, not likely or at least not well.

SRW: Do you like Lucky Charms? (Sorry, sorry, a thousand sorries…)

EOF:  You should be!  But you’re forgiven.  I did when I was a kid.  Nowadays, I’m into the organic scene.

SRW: After your Kelegeen sequel, what’s up next for you, Eilleen?

EOF:  Hopefully, I’ll get to that book I was going to write next, but had to put aside to work on the sequel.  It will be set in 1830s Vermont with the New England Vampire Panic as the backdrop.  So that there’s no confusion or dashed hopes, I’ll say right now that there will not be any vampires in it.  But it will be dark, eerie, and historically accurate.  For those who wonder what on earth the New England Vampire Panic was I encourage you to check out this Smithsonian article:
Since I was in middle school, I’ve been fascinated with the Salem Witch Hysteria so I’d also like to write a novel set during that time. 

I have a plethora of historical fiction novel ideas swimming around in my mind.  I just hope I live long enough to write all of them!

By the way, I also have ideas for contemporary fiction, so that may come at some point.  Historical fiction is my favorite, though, so I’ll be focusing on that for the foreseeable future with one exception.  I have been working for a few years on a story featuring my two cats, Smokey and Autumn Amelia.  In this story, there are no humans at all, but all the animals are highly anthropomorphized.  Smokey is an architect with Fluffington ArCATechture and Autumn is a savant baker and chef.  I amuse the heck out of myself writing this story as well as the few people who I’ve let read early drafts.  It’s got a serious theme, but is written in what I hope is a hysterically funny manner.  My biggest problem is I have no idea what genre this story falls into.  It’s kind of Beatrix Potter’s Peter Rabbit meets Orwell’s Animal Farm.  Someone told me it might be a modern day fable.  Maybe, but that doesn’t sound very exciting to me.  And I’m telling you, anyone who likes animals (think crazy cat ladies, here) will get the biggest charge out of it so I hope it will eventually find a publishing home.

SRW: Finally, where can interested readers/fans/stalkers find you on the world-wide introwebs?

EOF:  My website is at:  If you scroll down on the homepage you can sign up for my monthly newsletter to be kept up-to-date on everything going on with Kelegeen, the sequel and, everybody’s favorite section “The Cats’ Corner” written by those two wacky felines of mine.

You can also find me on Facebook at:
Purchase of Kelegeen can be made on:
Amazon        Kobo    
You can also go to the buypages on my website or BWL Publishing, Inc. page listed above for places to purchase.

SRW: Hey! There you have it, folks! If you’re a fan of historical fiction, I encourage you to get on Kelegeen stat. That’s an order. Thanks so much for being a good sport and guest, Eileen.

EOF:  My pleasure, Stuart!

Friday, June 28, 2019

Gramma and Grammar

Based on age and "wisdom," how much lenience should we allow our grandparents?
The only grandparent I ever got to know well was my grandmother and she truly confounded me, her cracker-barrel cynical wisdom profoundly baffling.

After school, I'd always greet Grams with:

"Hi, Gramma, how was your day?"

"Long and boring," she'd reply.

Even at an early age, I saw this opening to our ritualistic conversation as a mere prelude of horrors to come.  Yet I stupidly plodded on, the living definition of "insanity:" doing the same thing over and over and expecting things to change.

"Sorry to hear that, Grams."

"Can't see nuthin', can't do nuthin', ain't good for nuthin'," she explained very helpfully.

I swear to Gawd, by the time I tried to work through the double (quadruple?!) negatives she'd hurled at me, I didn't know where she stood. 

Typically, I'd just move on (hey, I had high school problems at the time and the whole world revolved around me, dammit!). Other times when I told her my day spectacularly sucked as well, she'd reply with this horrific bon mot:

"Bah! School days are the best days of your life."


Grams must've gone to a high school full of unicorns and rainbows and coke in the water fountains and mutually loving pals with no mean cliques or bullies.

I tried to give her the benefit of the doubt, I truly did. But somewhere between her mangled grammar and whiskered tough-love, I threw in the towel.

"Gramma," I said, "school days are terrible! They're the worst days of my life!"

She replied, "Feh. 'Cain't' never did nuthin'."

She was speaking Yoda-speak before Yoda was even a twinkle in a muppet's eye. And I still don't get it. I mean, what kind of message was I supposed to take away from "school days are the best days of my life?" That everything was downhill from there? That I should just pack it in now, save myself a lot of grief? She certainly didn't seem very happy.

And then there's "Cain't never did nuthin'." I had no clue who this "Cain't" guy was (some biblical dude, no doubt), but why was it relevant to me that he did "nuthin'?" Furthermore, Grams must've been having such a blast in her school days, she forgot to pay attention in English class.

Well... Grams odd wisdom and cynicism is apparently hereditary as my mom's carrying on the same proud tradition of not making sense and trying to bring everyone along for her trip to despair, worse than Eeyore on downers. I'm aware of it, hope that I don't fall into that dark trap, even though my wife says I do some times.

So I need to watch it. After all, Cain't never did nuthin'. (Oh! It all makes sense to me now! All of it! Every last mangled word!)

Friday, June 21, 2019

Happy Belated Kansas Beer Liberation Day, everyone!


Since I was a kid, beer in Kansas was a hush-hush word. To this day, my mom still can't bring herself to mention the word "beer." Whenever she hands me birthday cash, she always says, "Don't spend it on 'you-know-what.'"

Well. She wasn't alone in hating the "Debbil's Drink" in horrible, horrible Kansas. Some time ago, years before my birth, God-fearing, holy-water tossers gathered at a pointy-white-hat meeting to make some nonsense Kansas law...

"Brother Clem, we must give the people what they want."

"What're you speaking of, Brother Cletus?"

", of course."

"Shut yer dang soup-hole, Brother Clem! Blasphemer!" (Brother Cletus proceeded to beat down Brother Clem, a chore considering the constraints of the white-sheeted, pointy-headed outfits they were wearing).
But, cooler (less pointy) heads took the matter into mind. Kinda. There was a compromise. And, lo, beer was legally unleashed in Kansas, but it was watered down to half of the alcohol content, thus comprising the infamous "3.2 beer."

Only good thing about that stuff was we could drink it in college once we turned 18. (Don't even get me going on the cut-rate, cheap, horrible beer we survived on. Anyone remember Shaffer beer? Even worse, the short-lived novelty "M.A.S.H." awfulness? Once that show ended, that late TV show beer went on sale for about .50 a six-pack. We became fans!)

But! As of April 1st, 2019, the law changed. The great overseers got rid of 3.2% beer. Now, we can actually--finally!--wondrously!--walk into a grocery store and buy real beer! Hallelujah! At the grocer the other day, I saw a billboard/sign reading, "You're still in Kansas, Toto! But we finally have real beer!"

Somewhere, Toto's doing back-flips of joy.

Now, if only we could buy beer on Sunday before noon. Or holidays. Sigh. You just can't take the pointy hat mind-set completely out of Kansas lawmakers now, can you?

While I'm going off on everything Kansas, check out my book, Twisted Tales from Tornado Alley, a summation (in short stories) of everything wrong with the Midwest as I see it. Oh, it's spooky and funny, too!

Friday, June 14, 2019

Attack of the Giant Mutant Bug Monsters!

Not a hoax! Not an imaginary story! The tale I'm about to recount is the God's honest truth.
My mother's been besieged by giant, mutant bug monsters. 

Okay, let me back up a bit... Maybe my mom's not the best eyewitness to such claims of truth, for you see she's 88 years old, has Macular Degeneration, and is legally blind. She can't see a thing (or as she puts it, "I can't see beans!"). So she's probably not the most credible person to put on the stand, if you know what I mean, and I think you do.

Anyway, my brother texts me, "Have you heard about Mom's giant bugs?"

I wrote back, "No, but tell me about it!"

He just responds with, "ask her to describe them." Well, for once I'm almost excited to call her.

"Mom," I say, "I understand you've been attacked by giant bugs?"

Silence. Finally she answers, "You've been talking to your brother, I guess."

"Yeah, he might've mentioned something about them. What's going on?"

"Well," she says, "this giant bug swooped into my apartment when I opened the door. Scared the tar outta me. He looked like a green bean with a three inch stem and a fan-tail and an awful tiny face. There's a big one and a little one and I can't catch them. They keep going for my hands and my face. But the big one lost his fan-tail since he got in. They're still in here somewhere, though."

Mr. Sensitivity that I am, I laughed long and hard. 
"I don't think it's so funny, Stuart," she said. "Wait 'till you get one of these bugs, then you and your brother won't think it's so funny."

"Mom, I'm sorry. But you admit you can't see 'beans.' But your description of the flying green bean monster bug is pretty detailed. I guess that's one bean you can really see." I couldn't help myself, continued sniggering.

"I don't think it's so funny. Wait 'till you get one, then we'll see if you think it's funny."

"Mom," I said, "I'd love to see a flying, giant mutant green bean bug monster."

It's true. I would love to. But everyone knows green beans with three inch stems and fan-tails don't exist.... Or do they?

What's that buzzing sound? Is that a...flying green bean?

Speaking of weird beasties, you'll find a plethora of them--a zoo's worth--in my short story collection, Twisted Tales from Tornado Alley.

Friday, June 7, 2019

Conundrum of conjurors

While in the shower the other morning, I hear my wife shout my name. I recognize that urgent tone and know (for whatever reason) I'm in trouble. Sure enough, she bursts into the bathroom, whips back the shower curtain in her best Norman Bates manner. 

Naked and vulnerable, I see that she doesn't have a knife in her hands, and timidly say, "Yes?"

"Why does Harry Potter wear glasses?" she replies. "Still?"

Relieved I wasn't in trouble, I told her it was a dang good question, and she went off to work. Now, I suspect I know how my wife's mind works better than most people, but I still have no idea where this question came from. And it was a whopper. I gave it much more thought while in the shower (it turned out to be a very, very long shower).

One would think that being a wizard, weak vision would be one of the first things to go, right? I mean, come on, everyone knows spell are less risky than laser surgery.

But my thoughts took a turn for the dark (as so often happens). I'm glad we don't live in a world of wizards and sorcerers. From my own little Kansas backyard of the world, I'm envisioning a worse place than it already is. 

It seems everyone owns a gun in Kansas these days, and they're not afraid to whip them out and wave 'em around if the feeling arises. But just imagine what would happen if a wizard got hacked off at some guy for nearly clipping him on the highway. I suspect even genteel Harry Potter is susceptible to a bit of road rage now and then. Instead of gunfire, though, it'd be POOF! The driver's a goldfish, thus causing further wreckage. 

What if a wizard--even a good wizard--decided to do away with death and disease? We're looking at overpopulation, eventual pestilence, food shortages, worse than a Logan's Run scenario. 

Undoubtedly, wizards would soon be running the world, rounding up we mere "muggles," separating us from our families with a giant wall to keep us out and...and...

Too late. The wizards have taken over! Run for your lives!

Since I'm on a drama-queen roll, please do check out the hysterical histrionics of Zach, a vapid male entertainment dancer (NOT a stripper!) and his put-upon sleuth sister (with four kids in tow), Zora. May as well begin at the first book in the series: Bad Day in a Banana Hammock.