Okay, so this guy, Loki Lokash, did a great review of my book, The Devil’s Mouth, on YouTube. It’s quite entertaining and really very flattering, so you should probably watch it and all his other book reviews. But he brought up a great point. Namely, how can action heroes manage to stay so pretty when they’re getting beaten up all the time? As sometimes happens in my brain, this question inspired an odd little short story.
So, yeah. Watch the review. Read the story. Buy the book.
The Adventures of Captain Stalwart, Realistic Action Hero
Jeeves, loyal butler and manservant to the caped crimefighter Captain Stalwart, peered out the window of the limousine at the abandoned quad cane standing on the sidewalk. He pulled the car to the curb and got out.
The sound of angry yelling attracted his attention, coming from a nearby deli.
Jeeves picked up the cane and entered the deli.
Inside, in front of the cold case, an old man stood on wobbly legs and swung his fist at the hapless deli clerk. The clerk fended his attacker off with a chair. He looked over at Jeeves when the bell on the door rang. “Hey man, help!” he cried. “Get this old lunatic off me!”
“Take that, Doctor Nefarious!” yelled the old man, windmilling his fists wildly. “I’ll not rest until you’re back in Stonegate Prison!”
“Master Jason,” said Jeeves sternly, taking hold of the old man’s arm, “stop this! He isn’t Doctor Nefarious! Doctor Nefarious is a senator now. You know this. Come along, let’s get you back to the mansion. You need to take your medication.”
“Eh?” said the old man. “But he—”
“Captain, no,” Jeeves said, sternly. “We need to go home right now. I’ve brought the car.”
The deli clerk said, “Thanks, man. That old lunatic thinks he’s Captain Stalwart.”
“Well actually,” responded Jeeves, “he is Captain Stalwart. Was, rather.”
The clerk’s face showed disbelief. “No way, dude. Captain Stalwart is… well he’s not ugly. Or old. This guy’s face looks like a bowl of mashed potatoes. And he’s like sixty.”
“Hrah!” Said Captain Stalwart, taking another half-hearted swing at the clerk.
Jeeves looked over his boss’s face: The massed scar tissue, the misshapen, flattened nose, the cauliflower ears, the split lips and the missing teeth. “Sad to say, he’s only 43. I’m afraid he’s gone downhill rather quickly. As it turns out, when one goes out and gets in bare-knuckle brawls with Doctor Nefarious’ henchmen every night for years, the damage tends to add up.” He handed Stalwart the cane. The superhero grasped the handle with trembling hands that barely flexed. Jeeves looked down at the swollen knuckles “Not to mention arthritis from all of the broken knuckles.”
The clerk scratched his head. “And, like, isn’t Captain Stalwart some kind of genius detective? This guy doesn’t even know what day of the week it is.”
“Yes, well,” Jeeves nodded sadly, “again, he’s gone downhill lately. As it turns out, despite what the comic books say, when one gets hit in the face with a pipe-wrench, it’s not the sort of thing one just shakes off. In fact, one spends two weeks in a coma. After ten years of being concussed, beaten with bats, and knocked out with lead saps on a weekly basis, it all starts to have an effect. Our Captain here is suffering from a nasty combination of dementia pugilistica, Parkinson’s, and the after-effects of a few dozen traumatic brain injuries.”
“Doctor Nefarious!” Stalwart screamed. He abandoned the cane and lunged towards the clerk, then promptly fell on his face when his knees gave way.
“And of course his knees are shot,” said Jeeves, helping his boss to his feet. “One can only jump off of a second-story rooftop so many times. We could get the joints replaced, if only he hadn’t squandered his family fortune on crime-fighting toys. I told him to save something for his retirement, but oh no, he had to have a fighter jet. To chase purse-snatchers.”
“Jeeze, the poor guy.” The clerk made a sympathetic face.
“Yes, well I warned him. Repeatedly, and at length.” Jeeves held Stalwart’s shoulder. He turned to the clerk. “Sir, I apologize for all of this hassle. I take my eyes off him for one second, and he wanders right out the front gates of Stalwart Manor.” To Stalwart, he said, “Come along, master Jason. We’ve got to get you home and change your colostomy bag.”
“Colostomy bag? Aw, man. That’s rough.”
Jeeves nodded sadly. “Yes, I’m afraid that was about the end of Captain Stalwart’s crime-fighting career. The surgeons had to remove twelve feet of his lower intestines, after he ran afoul of the Doctor’s secret weapon.”
“Holy shit,” said the clerk. “What was the secret weapon? Some kind of death ray? A diabolical trap?”
At one of my previous retail jobs, I was the plant guy. Which was great. No cash register, minimal customers, just pop in the headphones and water plants for a few hours.
I should also mention that this store, for being in a boring little suburb, had a surprisingly international clientelle. Which was great. So many amazing restaurants. We were right across the street from the local Sikh temple, and there was a steady flow of saris and turbans through the store.
One fine spring day, there I was, lost in the music and watering a flat of impatiens, when this old Indian guy rode up on an equally old, Schwinn-style single-speed bicycle. He had a scraggly white beard and wore a blue turban and a simple white cotton kurta. He parked his bike and started browsing the vegetable section. I smiled and nodded. He smiled and nodded. no problem.
Then he came up to me, with a glare like Victor Wong in Big Trouble in Little China, holding two six-packs of tomato plants in his hand. With his other hand, he held up two fingers. He said something that sounded like, “Twah.”
The plants were more than two dollars. One thing you’ll quickly learn in retail is that explaining complex pricing concepts like, “Two for five dollars when you have a membership card” is nearly impossible with a certain segment of the senior citizen population, even when those senior citizens speak fluent English, which this one absolutely did not. Still, I tried. After a few unsuccessful attempts, I helpfully pointed to the sign which said the same thing.
Again, immigrants, I love ’em. They’re good people. They add flavor to my bland suburban existence. They make great food and great neighbors. They brightened up the place with colorful turbans and saris, and made me feel like I was somewhere more exciting than the electronics aisle of a corporate retail pharmacy. But stubborn old men who don’t understand that haggling isn’t done in the US represent a special kind of hell for retail employees.
My Indian friend, he just thought I was driving a hard bargain. He thrust the plants towards me, forcefully, and shook those two fingers in my face. “Twah. Twah.”
I rounded down for the sake of simplicity. I shook my head and held up three fingers. “Three,” I said.
Three was lower than the advertised regular price. He was making progress and he knew it. “Twah.”
This went on for quite some time. Inside the store, my coworkers watched the show with great amusement.
I realized that I don’t get paid enough for this shit. So I relented. I nodded and said, “Okay, two.” I held up two fingers. He was very happy about this and quickly became my best friend. I brought him inside and rang up his purchases at his discounted, hard-bargained price.
But I’d made a fatal mistake. I’d shown weakness. Now he knew. He knew he could break me.
Just a few days later, up he came again, weaving along the side of the road on his rickety old bike. I was inside the store at the time. My coworkers saw the old Indian man and vanished like smoke, leaving me alone with him. He waved and smiled at me. I waved back. He said something in his language that I didn’t understand. I said something in my language that he didn’t understand. We were great friends.
Once more he approached me with tomato plants. He fixed me with his cataract-clouded gaze, held up two fingers, and said, “Twah. Twah.”
He got his damned tomato plants.
“How’s your bestie today?” said my coworkers, after he left.
This went on for some time. He’d come in, and I’d risk my job by discounting his plants. Once I helped him find a new tube for his bicycle tire. He got to like the place so much that sometimes he’d just hang out and eat lunch while I watered my plants.
One of those days, he was eating his lunch, food in a white styrofoam takeout container from a local Indian restaurant. I recognized his food. In the name of international relations, and because ninety percent of the foreign words I know have to do with food, I said, “Pakora.”
This made my Indian friend very excited. He pointed to his food. “Pakora!”
I nodded and smiled. “Pakora!”
He said, “Something something something pakora something something!”
I smiled and nodded and eventually went back to watering the plants. He went on about his day, and I went on about mine.
And he showed up again the very next day. “Matt,” said my helpful coworkers, “Your bestie is here!”
He gestured me over. When I arrived, the old Indian man dug deep into the pocket of his shirt. He fishing around for a moment and came out with a handful of, I don’t even know what they were. Some kind of baked dough-ball bread things.
These he held in his bare hands. No packaging. No wrapper. Just five dough balls that had been floating around loose in his pocket while he rode his bike over, that he now held out to me, cupped in his sweaty hands, with an expectant smile on his face.
I smiled back, bravely. “…Thank you!” I said. I held out my cupped hands and he released the dough balls to me.
Behind him, my coworkers bit their lips.
He smiled wider and nodded expectantly. “For lunch,” I said. I doubt he understood. Still holding his gift of food in my hands, I walked towards the back of the store.
Snickering, my coworker followed behind me. “Well, are you going to eat them?” she said.
“Do you want them?” I replied.
“Oh, come on,” she continued. “I dare you to eat one.”
Somehow, since they’ve always been there, you think they’ll be there forever. They’re your best friend. Your advisor, your entertainer, your refuge. Your comfort. Your used book store.
And then one day you see the sign. Going out of Business. Clearance Sale. And then they’re gone.
So goodnight, sweet prince. Goodbye, Almost Perfect Bookstore. You were my happy place. You reeked of books. Your aisles were a glorious mess, shelves overfull and bowed, books stacked waist high on either side, with just barely enough room to sneak between the piles. So many books. SO MANY BOOKS. A wonderful, jumbled up, car-bomb explosion of books.
It wasn’t glamorous. There were no stained walnut shelves, no smooth jazz, no deep carpet. No coffee bar, no cafe with upholstered leather easy chairs. No front tables with tastefully arranged displays of New York Times bestsellers.
But there were books. Good Lord were there books. Piles, mountains, heaps of books. It wasn’t the equal of Powell’s or Strand, but by God it was close. It was a solitary bright star of culture in the banal corporate landscape of the Sacramento suburbs.
Honestly, you deserved better. You were better than glaring fluorescents and a linoleum floor in a bland suburban strip mall. You deserved stone and brick, some quirky old two-story building with a creaky staircase, on a quiet side street, shelves of ancient wood polished by the touch of a thousand hands, nooks and crannies and dark corners full of books. A friendly but aloof cat that would sleep on the counter. A mysterious basement, long disused, filled with magical books, lit by torches and guarded by a dragon that asks riddles before allowing you to pass.
Oh, the joy. The joy of wandering through your labyrinth of yellow shelves. Just wandering. From Asimov to Zahn, Fiction, non-fiction, sci-fi, fantasy, gardening, astronomy, geology, metaphysics.
How many authors, how many wonderful authors, would I never have known about, if not for serendipitously stumbling upon them, or taking a suggestion from the encyclopedic knowledge of the staff? William Gibson. Bruce Stirling. Lawrence Block. John Steakley. Joe Haldeman. Lee Child. Greg Bear. David Morrell. Garth Nix. These names, these friends whose worlds I’ve explored and loved, I know them because of The Almost Perfect Bookstore.
You fed my habit. Your store credit was the lifeblood of my paperback addiction. I tried to give you good stuff back, I really did. I often found myself filling up a paper bag to trade in, and thinking to myself, “Oh come on Matt, do they really need another copy of From a Buick 8? Why don’t you throw in an Alastair Reynolds to make up for it.”
Yeah, sometimes I had to wait for service. But that was okay, because I’m a human being and you’re a human being and sometimes things take time. And once you got to my question, you always, always knew what I was talking about and where the damned book was. You guys knew the inventory of that place like Smaug knew his treasure.
And now it’s all gone, and it breaks my god-damned heart. When you love something, don’t take it for granted.
So, Scott, Kelly, and the rest of the gang. Thanks. Thanks for everything. I’m sorry I didn’t buy more books, if that would have helped anything. Thanks for the memories.
You gotta respect the classics. And you gotta respect free books. Back in the olden days, you’d go to the library for free books. But now, you can go to your kindle. One of my favorite things about kindle, and other ebook platforms, is the absolute mountain of classic books, now in the public domain, that you can find for free. Try Sherlock Holmes, anything by Robert Louis Stevenson, Mark Twain… There’s a lot of good reading out there that won’t cost you a penny. For the sake of my sanity, I’ve kept this listicle down to just ten books, focusing on the classic action adventure novels that I loved as a kid. Many of these authors are the founders of the sci-fi, adventure, and fantasy genres we still love today.
Language is a strange and fascinating thing, and our brains are remarkably adaptable. While the writing style of some of these books is frustratingly old fashioned, if you stick with it you’d be amazed at how quickly your brain picks up and adjusts to the rhythms and the cadences of older writing. Pretty soon, you’ll be flying through the pages like you were reading the latest Lee Child thriller.
Sometimes, reading these old books, you’ll come across a trope that seems a bit worn out to modern readers. But you have to remember, these folks invented those tropes. We are all standing on the shoulders of giants, and these guys are the giants. Not all the giants, mind you. Just the ones whose works are in the public domain 🙂 So, without further ado, here’s ten great classics you can read for free. Continue reading →
Once upon a time, there was a crazy kid with a crazy dream. A dream to write a book about a one-liner quipping, fast-car-driving, katana-wielding, cowboy-hat-wearing, rockabilly vampire hunter. If that isn’t a crazy dream, I don’t know what is.
And then that crazy kid, he went and wrote that book.
And then he had another crazy dream. He dreamed that someday somebody other than his two best friends might read it.
He thought for a while about traditional publishing. He made some inquiries. It went like this:
Author: I have this book…
Publisher: Does it have an orphaned child wizard?
Author: No, but it…
Publisher: Is there a female teenage protagonist, forced to fight to the death for entertainment in a future dystopia?
Author: Not exactly.
Publisher: Are there dragons?
Author: No. But there are vampires.
Publisher: Okay, now we’re talking! Are they broody, sparkly, harmless good vampires that romance teenage girls?
Author: No. They just kill people.
Publisher: Get the hell out of my office.
Okay, my lawyer wants me to mention that this conversation only took place in my imagination, but it was extremely vivid.
So, after that, the crazy kid looked into online self-publishing, the craziest dream of all.
So, he found a crazy little website called Reedsy.com where he found an editor and a cover designer, and spent a kind of a crazy frightening amount of money getting this crazy manuscript polished up. Then he spent more crazy amounts of money on formatting and advertising, and he released his crazy rockabilly vampire hunter novel out into the world.
And to his utter shock and amazement, it didn’t do half bad.
Plot twist. I’m that crazy writer. The Devil’s Mouth has been out on the Kindle store for a little more than a month. I’ve sold significantly more copies than I have sympathetic friends and relatives, and I’m actually getting mostly good reviews. People seem to enjoy the book, and it’s the most rewarding, encouraging, validating thing I can possibly imagine.
I am overwhelmed with joy and gratitude.
I would like to extend a big giant heartfelt thank you to everyone involved.
First and foremost, my readers. I know that buying a book on the kindle store from an unknown author is a risk, to say the least. So thank you, thank you, thank you from the bottom of my heart for taking a chance on me. I cannot thank you enough. I am so completely serious that I am literally tearing up as I write this. And a double thank you for those of you who went to the trouble to leave a review. Self published authors live and die by those reviews, so I cannot express my gratitude enough. Even those of you who left meh reviews, I truly appreciate the feedback, and again, I appreciate you taking the chance on me. Except that one guy who left a one-star review. You obviously didn’t even read the book, and you can eat a bag of dicks.
Thank you to the reviewers who also took a chance on my book. Invested Ivana, Patrick Dorn, Derek Edgington, Barb Taub, Jess Haines, Bob Williams, and anyone else who I forgot, or whose review escaped my notice. Those early, positive reviews from professional readers and writers who had no vested interest in sparing my feelings meant more to me than you’ll ever know. Thanks.
Thank yous go next to my friends and family, you know who you are. All those of you who read my early drafts and gave me feedback, or listened to me as I talked out some plot issue or another, or just refrained from rolling your eyes when I mentioned the book I was writing, thank you. Thank you. You guys, you are the wind beneath my wings.
Next up, thank you to the professionals who helped me make the book everything it could be.
J. Caleb Design, you saw my vision, and you brought it to life. Thanks for putting up with my nit picking, and thank you for that awesome cover. Everyone loves it. Except that guy that left the one star review, but fuck him.
Angela Brown, thank you for cleaning up my atrocious grammar, hammering the dents out of my story, and bringing my manuscript up to a professional standard. I’m sure it was a Augean task, but you got it done with style. I’m afraid I added in a few more typos after you got done with it, but I want everyone to know that those were all my fault, so blame me, and not this wonderful editor.
Polgarus Studios, You guys just rock. Thank you for making my book look like a book. If anyone reading this is considering self publishing, talk to these guys. They’ll format your ebook better and faster than you could do it yourself. It’s a bargain. It’s worth it. Believe me.
Reedsy.com Thank you for your website, which allowed me to browse dozens and dozens of vetted industry professionals, and receive quotes from those same professionals. Without you guys I’d still be browsing fiverr and craigslist for an editor. There’s no getting around the fact that real professionals cost real money, but reedsy.com absolutely made the whole process easier and far less risky for both parties.
Again, thank you everyone. I’m aglow. This is the beginning of an amazing adventure.