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Sunday, February 27, 2022

Atheist Fred Doesn't Last Long Teaching at a Christian School

Excerpt from SPILL

Fred entered the world of high school teaching. His first choice of school was an unfortunate one, but, again this school needed a last-minute addition of a teacher, this time an English lit one, and he needed a job. It was a Christian academy in the suburbs where large religious right wing churches were flourishing. He was up front with the principal that he was a “non-denominational, anti-papist,” which, for an atheist, was a true statement. School was going to start the next day and the English lit teacher had eloped with a student who recently had turned 18. Fred was hired on the spot. The first thing he was given was a list of proscribed books, but he was free to choose from a list of acceptable books. The proscribed list included some of the great literature of the times and ages. He could understand why Henry Miller’s “Tropic of Cancer” or William Burrough’s “Naked Lunch” would be on the list. But why in the world Conrad’s great “Heart of Darkness,” or Jack London’s “The Call of the Wild"? The books on the acceptable list were by a number of Christian writers he did not recognize. At least there was Crane’s “The Red Badge of Courage.” He could start with that.

The students were polite, well dressed and uniformly white. His first day at his first class he introduced himself and asked that they spend the hour writing him a biography about their lives that would not be graded. This way he wouldn’t have to do anything for the hour and, when done, he would have essays that he could read without having to grade, just comment on. Plus, it would give him an idea of the level of their grammar and writing skills. When they looked at him with confusion on their faces instead of bringing out paper and pen, he didn’t understand. One girl finally said, “Mr. Underwood. The prayer.”

“What prayer?”

“To start class. The teacher starts class with a prayer.”

Fred didn’t remember that being in his contract.

“Well, um, I believe in student participation. You say the prayer.”

This request turned her face vermilion, but she proceeded. She bowed her head and the class did likewise. “Dear Jesus, may this class lead us on the path to your love.”

So, for the rest of the classes that day he asked different students to start the class with a prayer. Most were benign. But when he asked a large boy to say the class-starting prayer, the goliath bowed his head and said: “Lord, give our team the strength Friday to crush Carver Academy,” and raised his head with a smile on his face at a few restrained laughs from his fellow students.

By the end of his first day he had 78 essays and when he took them out to read that night every one of them began: “I was reborn on…,” with a different date then given.

All of them had Christian parents, Christian siblings, and Christian ambitions. Many of the boys wanted to become preachers. All of the girls wanted to become good Christian housewives.

As he corrected mistakes on the papers, he couldn’t help but add a few comments. The football player, for example, received a note on his paper that asked, “What if a Carver player prays for victory? God can’t grant both prayer requests.” One essay by one of the girls was free of grammar, spelling or punctuation mistakes. He complimented her, adding, “Surely you must have ambitions other than becoming someone’s wife.”

The next day he handed back the essays and passed out copies of “The Red Badge of Courage” and asked them to start reading it during class. That way he didn’t have to do anything on his second day of class. At the end of the class containing the football player, the boy, who towered over Fred, waited until the other students had filed out of the room and approached him. “Sir, God will have granted the prayer request to the team that wins.”

“Well, that is logical isn’t it? What position do you play?”

“Center, Sir.” He said and listened to Fred respond in the most baffling way:

“Well young man. I shall pray that Carver wins the game because it seems God always does the opposite of what I want.”

Discussion about the first chapter of “The Red Badge of Courage” centered on whether or not Henry, the protagonist, was a good Christian.

“He went against his mother’s wishes by joining the Army so he wasn’t a good Christian,” argued one girl.

“But he went to serve his country,” countered a boy.

Fred had introduced “dilemma” into their vocabularies and thought processes.

He took to having students read the book aloud, but at one point a girl stopped in mid-sentence and told him. “I can’t say this word, sir.”

“You can’t pronounce it? What is it?”

“I can’t say it.”

“Well, spell it out.”

“I can’t do that either.”


“It would be taking the Lord’s name in vain.”

This got him up from his chair. He walked over and had the girl point to the word: “dern.”

“Dern? It’s just the way they said ‘damn.’”

The quiet room got quieter.

“Ah, I see. Well, when you hit one of those words, just say, oh, ‘the d-word’”

“That would be the same thing.”

“Okay. When you reach the word just say ‘blank.’”

“I’ll have to ask my pastor.”

On Friday, the school lost to Carver. On Sunday, the girl asked her pastor. On Monday, Fred was called into the principal’s office.

“’The Red Badge of Courage?’ That was on the approved list?” The principal asked.

“Yes, it is.”

“Let’s use the past tense. It WAS on the approved list. It isn’t anymore. Pick something else.”

Fred was not a person who often took extreme action. And he kept his temper intact. Crane’s novel, with its opening line: “The cold passed reluctantly from the earth, and the retiring fogs revealed an army stretched out on the hills, resting,” was, well, sacred to him. When classes began he informed the students that “The Red Badge of Courage” was now on the proscribed list of books. They had a choice of keeping the book as their own possession, since the school had no more use for it, or they could put them in the trash can beside his desk and he would burn them in the schoolyard at end of day.

“The football player held up his hand.”


“What does proscribed mean?”

“Banned. Not to be read. It has now joined a long list of books you are not supposed to read, most of them, I might add, have been—and are—recognized as enduring literary classics.” Fred stopped and pondered the phrase. “Enduring literary classics,” he repeated. “How to express what that means?” he realized he was asking to himself as much as to the class. “It means that without these books Western culture and America would not be what it is today. But you can not even enter that debate because if you are good Christians, you will not read them because you are forbidden to read them!”

This caused a few extremely pious students to boldly walk to the trash can and dump therein their copies of “The Red Badge of Courage” and return to their seats glaring at those students who did not follow suit.

At end of day, the trash can was full of books. But many students had kept theirs. When the last student of the last class had left the room, Fred went to the blackboard and wrote in huge letters, “God Damn It, I Quit!” He picked up the trash can, carried it outside and lit the books on fire. At the edge of the field was a group of students he recognized as having kept, and who thus now possessed, their own red badges of courage. The football player came over to him.

“Thanks for teaching us, Mr. Underwood.” He knew Fred was through.

“Sorry you didn’t win your game.”

“God’s will be done. We weren’t very good anyway.”

Fred saw at the school’s front door the principal pointing him out to a campus security officer.

Thus endeth Fred’s short teaching career in Christian schools.

Saturday, December 11, 2021

Fiction Works Priced at 99 Cents

I've got nine (18 really, see below) shorter fiction titles available on Amazon and priced each at 99 cents. They fall into two categories: literary and science fiction.


The Saltness of Time

Reviewer: "We have a modern day slice of Chaucer here, with four traveling friends marooned in a small hotel because of a blinding blizzard in the plains of Kansas.  In the main room by a comforting fire, they meet an elderly gentleman who offers to tell them a story from his youth, when he, too, was becalmed in the home of an elderly woman, also due to a raging snow storm. From his geriatric host, he learns the story and secrets of her life. The whole thing is like a matryoska doll … a story within a tale within a narrative."

Excerpt: "Emotional truths? Emotional truths are the deepest levels of reality inside of us. They're not rational. That doesn't mean they are irrational, it just means they don't comply to rational thinking. For example, you can't argue yourself in love or out of love. Feelings just are or they are not, whether you should have them or not. And people who were important to you who die, but you dream about them for the rest of your life. These people aren't dead to you at all; they are part of your emotional truth. I wonder what kind of dreams Gabrielle had."

Hospital Days

(Ten stories)

These are some of the first stories I ever wrote. No plot really. Flash fiction slice of life things. I recently learned there is a Japanese literary term for these things: kishōtenketsu

Reviewer: "This is a different type of read. It takes the reader into the life behind the scenes of a hospital. It is not like a TV show with heroics and handsome doctors getting all the attention. This is the grittier side of life with a true feel to the happenings as the reader is shown the life of a candy striper at first would like to be a doctor, but after what he sees in the real raw world a change of occupation might be in order."

Innocent Passage

Reviewer: "When two young men (boys) try their luck at digging through old houses looking for ghosts they find a lot more including the loss of innocence and maybe a little guilt they will have to live with for the rest of their lives. I wish the story was longer but the writing and the idea was really interesting."

Excerpt: Haunted house hunting we called it. The legal term was breaking and entering. The county sheriff had warned us that he knew we were responsible for the summer rash, but couldn’t prove it. If he caught us, he’d “throw your asses in jail,” as he so quaintly put it. We hunted anyway.

Bless Me Father for I am Sinning

What if you could hack the confessional? Two teens take on the Catholic church.

Reviewer: This is a great story that gives you something to think about and has a nice twist to the end. I enjoyed it.

Drive, Chip, Putt, and Kill

Ned's a mediocre professional golfer, but an excellent serial killer. Nora's a mediocre golfer, but an excellent detective. It's takes a golfer to catch a golfer.


Reviewer: This is the latest short story from Randy Attwood and will bring me up to date again with his works. I like to stay abreast of Randy's writings, because he has such a terrific and interesting style, each book unique, but containing a familiar voice. Now, I had to wonder exactly how he would make golf interesting, especially in just eight pages, but I shouldn't have worried. Listen to this description of placing a ball on a tee:

And eighteen times this easy gesture, this stooping over with the tee between the fingers, the ball hidden, protected in the perspiring palm, the insertion into ground the wooden link to earth the ball would soon be contacting - all this, for me, had given the gesture a quality of sacredness.

Isn't that gorgeous? The story is full of beautiful prose like that. Who thought that a short story about golf could be so intense, so vivid and so engaging - I literally walked out to the mailbox with my Kindle in my hand, reading. You don't want to miss this latest from Randy Attwood - go get it, and his other works while you're at it. You really won't regret it.


A Match Made in Heaven

(Mormonism explored in a sci-fi sort of way)

Reviewer: "I have never met a Randy Attwood book that I haven't loved; he has a real talent for bringing his characters to life and creating an environment that is realistic and detailed without going overboard. This is the first science-fiction story he has published, so I was quite interested to see how he did in this story environment. And it was... brilliant!

"This is a short story, maybe it could be considered a novella - it took me about an hour to read it through. I am not sure where, exactly, Randy came up with some of the ideas he used in this story (I'll have to ask), but I found the ideas presented evocative and thought-provoking. There are questions of consciousness, how to truly access God (in whatever form that power takes for you), the humane treatment of others, etc. Like all of his books, I highly recommend this terrific story."

By Pain Possessed

Reviewer: "I enjoyed this dark little story very much. Nowadays, we don't see much traditional science fiction as used to be the case, and Attwood takes to the genre like a natural with a beautifully drawn portrayal of aliens. Aliens are hard to write - it's not easy to make them really alien. Attwood has done a great job; his aliens are believable and consistent without being in the least human, and he avoids the trap of trying to put in too much background. A very successful venture into traditional SF by a seasoned and professional writer."

The Richard Dary Weight Loss Institute

Reviewer: "This book freaked me the hell out. There, I said it. I can't tell you much about it without giving you spoilers, but the ideas that Randy expressed in this book scared the living daylights out of me. The sort of things that were done to the narrator of this story, Peggy, were inhuman. All in her attempts to fit in with modern societal standards of being thin. This made me think a little bit of the book I read earlier today, Saga of a Middle-Aged Vampire. What is it about modern society? Why are all the women expected to be anorexic-thin? It infuriates me. Healthy is one thing, but the modern goal is outright emaciation, and often extremely unhealthy methods are employed in the search for this. It actually frightens me that little girls are starving themselves to try to look like supermodels, who are (in my opinion), mostly freaks of nature."

Friday, January 29, 2021

Re-introducing Crazy About You

Crazy About You
was the second novel I completed and is still at No. 1 among my downloaded works of fiction. My father had been the dentist at Larned (KS) State Hospital and its 1,500 mental patients. My first job was working in the cafeteria that I could reach by walking because the State provided us housing on the grounds, which were located three miles west of Larned. Write about what you know, they say. So I did. An excerpt:

The hospital was located three miles outside of a small town that was in the middle of a state in the middle of the nation. It was the dumping ground for the retarded, the senile, the schizos and the paranoids, the brain-damaged, adolescent dopers, the suicidal-depressed, the manics, maniacs, and the perpetually confused.

I like the structure of the book. First person. Tells about one week in the life of a high school boy that will grow him into a man far faster than he could have wanted. After it was published many readers wanted to know how much of it was real. At first, I was offended. Didn’t they think I had a creative imagination? Then I realized the question was a high compliment. If they thought it was real, the writing did its job: create a reality for the reader.

Here’s what some reviewers had to say, grouped by compliment category:


I happen to work at the state hospital depicted in this story and it is incredible fact or fiction; the detail that was written I could see everything he wrote so I was able to follow it with such ease and enjoyed it very much. A very believable story that seemed so familiar.


Having spent my formative years in Larned, Kansas, and also having worked briefly at the state mental hospital there, I can tell you that his descriptions of life at the state hospital are totally spot-on! The story line is also good--but I won't spoil it for anyone. Funny, sad, poignant. And suspenseful!


What I loved best about this book was, truly, the writer’s style. He has a laid-back, very easy-to-read way with words that bring his characters alive quickly.


I cannot think of an author that I can compare Randy with. He is just unique. Randy has the skill to shake your nerve and give a direction to forethought process like no other.


I sat up till 3:30 a.m. reading Crazy About You. Couldn't put it down. Have a few more pages to complete but I must tell you, I am now a fan of Randy Attwood's writing. Can't wait to begin a second book and read through his entire works. Easy read, humorous, good story line and left me wanting more.


I'm so glad this book was recommended to me. I have been reading indie books for years with so much disappointment, but this but was amazing. The pace was great, the plot was awesome, and the characters were so very believable. I loved that Attwood really dug into the mind of Brad, and let me know everything he was thinking. It was everything I imagined the mind of a teenage boy to be at times, and some thoughts so profound it made me feel like he was in my head.


Crazy About You is the second book by Randy Attwood I have read, and my admiration for his writing skills grows with each page as I read. This story takes the reader for a trip into the strange space between the sane and insane--a mist-blurred world full of angst, mystery, surprises, plus bizarre and unpredictable behavior . . . with an array of characters that are so well developed your heart reaches out to them. Well, most of them...but there is much more. An evil presence drives the story into even darker places that you expect, at a pace that turns the pages as fast as you can read. This is an engaging and compelling coming-of-age tale that will haunt the reader for days and leave you wishing for more. Yet, it is also satisfying and fully resolved in a way that touches your heart.


The story involves brutal staff, many of whom are more twisted than those they are supposed to care for, a sad young woman who was victimized by her father and than by the system, unfortunate souls who need professional help that is seldom available to them, the local juvenile delinquent, and a couple of teenage girls whose hormones are as out of control as only teenage hormones can be. The author brings them and others together to weave a story that will keep you turning the pages and that you won't soon forget.


Crazy About You defies categorization, but suffice it to say that those looking for pure excitement and good story telling will not be disappointed. Nor will those who thrive on the deeper layers of psychological tension. Although the novel often deals with forces out of the protagonist's control, it also tackles tough moral choices that indelibly shape our lives, all within the context of a fantastical drama that will leave the reader musing for days. But ultimately, this is a story about absolution. If you have not laughed out loud often and shed a few tears by the end, you'd better see a shrink.


Saturday, September 19, 2020

A history of the treatment of the insane from my most download novel: Crazy About You

 Excerpt from CRAZY ABOUT YOU

By Randy Attwood

If you judged a civilization by how it treated its insane, it would modify your opinion of how advanced we were. And are.


At first the insane were allowed to roam at will and whipped out of villages when they became a nuisance.

When Dante was writing The Divine Comedy, the insane were believed to be possessed and were burned at the stake. In The Divine Comedy the word “bizarre” first appeared to describe a madman.

When Galileo was proving that the Earth went around the Sun, the insane were given holy water to drink from a church bell. If that didn’t work, they were burned at the stake. Want to guess how many times it worked?

About the time that Heidelberg and Cologne Universities were founded, Bethlehem Hospital in London became an institution for the insane. It was so poorly funded that its inmates were given licenses to go begging for food. The hospital was such an ungoverned mess that the way Bethlehem was pronounced, Bedlam, became a word for uncontrolled madness.

In the years Shakespeare was writing his plays, you could take your family on an outing for six-pence and view the madhouse chamber of horrors where the restrained violent, often egged on by visitors, would snap and snarl at you, or you could be entertained by inmates who believed they were Oliver Cromwell, Julius Caesar, and even the Virgin Mary. Great laughs.

In France, while Lavoisier was proving that air was a mixture of mostly oxygen and nitrogen, the inspector general of French hospitals reported that thousands of lunatics were locked up in prisons without anyone even thinking of administering the slightest remedy. The half-mad mingled with the totally deranged. Some were in chains. Some were free to roam. He called them the step-children of life.

Life for normal people in France wasn’t all that healthy, either. Out of 1,000 live births only 475 reached age 20. Only 130 reached age 60.

It was kind of an irony that our own Pinel Building for the Criminally Insane was named in honor of the French doctor during the French Revolution who freed the insane from their shackles. But ironies abound in the history of insanity.

While Harvey was developing his proof of circulation, the inmates at Bedlam were treated en mass. At the end of each May they were all bled, then made to vomit weekly, then purged. The attendants must have dreaded that time of the year.

Into the beginning of the 1800s, when John Dalton introduced the atomic theory into chemistry, the insane were treated with such loony cures as plasters of mashed up Spanish fly, or had the veins in the forehead cut so the head could be bled. Later, on an opposite theory, inmates were strapped in a chair called the gyrator that spun the inmate around so more blood would circulate to his head.

In the late 1800s when society was really getting civilized, Dr. David Yellowless of Glascow developed a surgical attack on what was then called masturbatory insanity, which alienists believed was at epidemic proportions. Dr. Yellowless inserted a silver wire in the foreskin, making erections so painful it would eliminate the crazy-causing things. Other methods called for safety pins to be used on uncircumcised men so that their foreskins were pierced by the silver-coated (to reduce infection) pins through the glans of the penis, also causing pain during erections, another method for eliminating the damnable things.

The Rush Building, where Suzanne was housed, was named after Benjamin Rush, honored as the father of American psychiatry, who firmly held to the belief that masturbation caused insanity. Oh, and he was the fellow who invented that gyrator. And he also believed that blacks were black not because God created them that way but because they suffered from a congenital form of leprosy, mild, to be sure, but enough so it resulted in excess pigmentation.

Rush wrote in his Medical Inquiries upon Diseases of the Mind that masturbation produced seminal weakness, impotence, painful urination, emaciation, pulmonary consumption, indigestion, dimness of sight, vertigo, epilepsy, hypochondriasis, loss of memory, idiocy, and death. A French physician, Pouillet, concurred. Masturbation posed a grave threat. Pouillet wrote: “Of all the vices and of all the misdeeds which may properly be called crimes against nature, which devour humanity, menace its physical vitality and tend to destroy its intellectual and moral faculties, one of the greatest and most widespread -- no one denies it -- is masturbation.”

Freud, too, regarded adult masturbation as a pathologic practice and part of the cause of neuroses.

But, in one of the great turnabouts in the history of psychiatry, therapists later would prescribe masturbation as healthy to the mind and body.

For women, it was once believed that mental disorders were caused by pelvic excitations and clitoridectomies were tried, especially in cases of epilepsy.

Later, sex therapists would recommend masturbation for women, too, as a way to healthy sex.

In the Soviet Union they tried prolonged sleep therapy on the insane. America used hydrotherapy, placing agitated patients in hot water for days so that blood flow increased to the body’s largest organ, its skin, thus lowering respiration and blood pressure and creating a state of relaxation.

In the 1930s the increase of admissions of patients diagnosed as schizophrenic was so high it was theorized there must be a schizococcus germ that could pass on schizophrenia to an offspring. In 1936 a committee of the American Neurological Association hoped that American physicians could someday emulate the clinical efficiency of the Germans in their treatment of eugenics. Germany had over 200 courts to determine which psychiatric and neurological patients should be sterilized. During Hitler’s Reich more than 400,000 sterilizations were counted.

The most effective sterilization is death and the Nazis tested methods of mass murder first on mental patients before they applied them to other undesirable populations. At the start of the Third Reich there were 200,000 patients in mental hospitals. At the end of the Third Reich there were 20,000. An interesting twist in early Nazi civilization is that it was deemed humanitarian to euthanize incurable mental patients, but not Jews. Jews were considered subhuman and so not worthy of euthanization.

From 1909 to 1934 in the civilization called America, California sterilized 15,000 psychiatric patients. Twenty-seven states adopted sterilization laws. They were used often against the retarded.

One attempted treatment for schizophrenia, as well as depression and psychosis, was -- what many people regarded as a kind of euthanasia -- the lobotomy. Its main American proponent, Dr. Walter Freeman, would make driving trips across America to stop at state hospitals and perform the procedure he had simplified to the point he felt that a sterile field wasn’t even necessary. First you anesthetized the patient with electro-shock, rolled back his eyelid, place the tip of instrument, a leucotome, which was a modified ice pick, against his tear duct (which is 98 percent sterile) and drove it through his eye socket with a hammer whack, shoved it into the brain and wiggled it around. Forty-thousand people were lobotomized between 1945 and 1955 in America. In 1949, the Portuguese doctor who first did lobotomies was the co-winner of the Nobel prize for medicine and was cited for discovering the value of freeing the brain from the disturbing effects of its pre-frontal lobes.

Larned State Hospital came from a time when a concern grew that the rate of insanity in America was way too high: one out of 262 persons compared to a rate of one out of 1,000 in Europe. Blamed then was the rapid acquisition of wealth in America, that with luxury, insanity kept pace. It was the price of civilization, some reasoned. The quicker you go rich, the more likely you were to get nutty, too.

So what those patients needed was order and discipline restored to their lives. Asylum superintendents spent much of their time planning, and writing detailed papers on, how a hospital and its buildings and grounds should be laid out. How high the ceilings should be, how boring its wards. How a patient’s day should be structured. Then they rivaled each other by announcing cure rates. A person was cured if he was released back into society. Sometimes a person would be cured five times because they would have to be re-admitted, cured, released and have to be re-admitted. But it upped the cure rate.

Shortly after World War II, when we had learned of the horrors the Nazi’s afflicted on the Jews in the concentration camps, “The Baltimore Sun,” in 1949, printed a series of articles called Maryland’s Shame, which detailed how that state treated its mentally ill. More than 9,000 inmates were crammed in fire-trap institutions designed for 6,000 patients. Few received any treatment. Thousands lived like animals. Many rolled in their own excrement. Others slept nude in the winter because there were no blankets. Attendants, paid less than prison guards, stole patients’ money, got drunk on duty and raped female patients. Sex offenders and small children were housed together.

Oh, and while man was making his great scientific and engineering achievement of walking on the moon in 1969, lobotomies were still being performed.

In 1976, “The Philadelphia Inquirer” would win a Pulitzer prize for a series of articles it ran about the conditions of Farview State Hospital, the institution of last resort for the criminally insane in Pennsylvania. Here, too, hundreds of patients who had no work to do did nothing but sit in ward chairs all day long. Only three percent received any real psychiatric care. Men died after beatings by guards or by other patients, egged on by guards. Such deaths were certified as being caused by heart attacks. There was an unwritten code among guards that all guards present had to hit a patient if one guard hit him. Commitments to Farview were so easy that cases were recorded of a 30-day disorderly conduct sentence turning into a 30-year sentence.

The history of commitment procedures makes for interesting reading, too. For example, in France, in 1737, a father had his son committed because the son was heavily in debt and had been dismissed from the army and so had disgraced himself and his family. In 1697, a French woman was committed because she was the mistress of a nobleman who had practically abandoned his wife, family, and duty because he was so nuts over the skirt. In other words, people were committed as insane who disturbed the social order. When society didn’t have the basis to bring criminal legal proceedings against those who offended it, they found ways to get rid of them by using nut houses to throw them in, nut houses that were such hell holes that, as the old saying goes, if you weren’t crazy when you got there, you would be after you stayed.

Back in the Farview case, all it took was the signature of two physicians, and they didn’t need to be psychiatrists, to certify to a court that the subject was mentally ill and in need of treatment to get him committed. That didn’t secure treatment, but it did secure incarceration, sometimes until the patient died of old age. Finally, a court case was successful that freed the patients based on the cruel and unusual punishment clause in the Constitution. Patients were transferred to civil hospitals or back into the community. A follow-up study showed only a fourteen percent recidivism rate among these 500 patients previously designated by Farview as criminally dangerous.

In 1964, the year I was a junior in Larned High School and living on the grounds of Larned State Hospital, we were living in what one author called the “enlightened fourth phase” of dealing with the insane. Society had moved from 1) being afraid of the mentally ill because they were possessed of evil spirits to 2) simply protecting itself from the insane by chaining them or locking them up to 3) treating them in a humanitarian way by placing them in asylums where they were harbored but not really treated and so suffered chronic anonymity to 4) now seeing mental illness as an illness to be treated and cured.

It’s just we still didn’t really have a clue how the hell to do it.

Later, we’d just give up and send them back into the streets to roam at will, beg for food, be beaten by police, and again be housed with criminals. Some evangelicals would return to the possession theory and try to drive the demons out. This time in front of television cameras.

And some theorists would suggest that it wasn’t the insane who were insane, rather it was the sane who used such people to mark the boundaries of their own sanity. The so-called insane were the people we used to sort of pee on so we could mark the territory of our own smug, mentally secure property.

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Depopulating My Library, Part VI: Miscellaneous Stuff

I think I’ve reached the end of selling off all books by a single author. I’ve been letting my eyes roll through my shelves and my hands pluck items I won’t read again, important and interesting as so many of them where.

It’s a mix of fiction and non-fiction form Joseph Campbell to H.P. Lovecraft, a 1918 Zane Grey, and The First Man, the final work by Albert Camus that I tried to read and couldn’t get into. If you’re in KC and interested in any of these works, they’ll be at Wise Blood (if they buy them) at 300 Westport Road and now open for business.

I’ll keep at the random picking from my shelves and then write a post about which authors I’ve kept and why (as far as I can figure out).

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Depopulating My Library, Part V: Some Books by Me!

Today, I stopped by Blood Wise, the soon-to-open used bookstore here in KC at 300 Westport Road, to find Dylan on a ladder hanging an outside sign in preparation for the store's Dec. 13 grand opening.

A co-worker was helping him level the sign and I went inside with my box of books to sell, and a hope.

The offering from me was a mix of Updikes, Saul Bellows, Rushdie, Stephen King, a mix of horror anthology paperbacks, and not-so-famous authors I’ve either read and won’t re-read or started and couldn’t get into.


“Be willing to look at my stuff?”

He was. I came back later and found out what he was offering for the works of others and that he would buy outright to carry in the store three books by me! A small victory, but a victory none-the-less. I’ll be probing him later to see what attracted him to these particular works among my smorgasbord of genres. I didn’t really expect him to buy more. It’s an investment on the store’s part. They don’t know if these will sell. Hope springs eternal: if they do sell, Blood Wise may stock more, and buy other titles. Hope--which has been dashed often in my life--is hard to kill. Live on, Hope. Who knows.

They are creating a really nice environment for the store. Opening date Dec. 13 is a Friday and, who knows, maybe I’ll be there. If so, I’ll let you know what time.

Here are the three works you’ll find on the shelves at Blood Wise, placed, I hope, above a shelf of Margaret Atwood books and sporting a sign: “Read Our Attwood Books!”

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Depopulating My Library, Part IV: Thank You and Goodbye Walker Percy

I thought I had more Walker Percy books than I found on the shelves. I had four and three of them have gone to Wise Blood, a soon-to-open used bookstore in Westport here in KC in December: The Message in the Bottle, The Last Generation, and Thanatos Syndrome.

I’m keeping The Moviegoer, the novel that put Percy on the literary map by winning the National Book Award for Fiction in 1962. Joseph Heller’s Catch 22 and J.D. Salinger’s Franny and Zoey were also nominees. Percy was a Roman Catholic and many of his books have spiritual themes, but not overtly so. One critic called The Moviegoer “A Catcher in the Rye for adults only.”

By all accounts Percy was also a nice person. The mother of John Kennedy Toole called Percy up when he was teaching at Loyola and persuaded him to read her dead son’s novel, who had committed suicide because of his inability to get published A Confederacy of Dunces. Percy, should read it because, she said “It’s a great novel.”

Percy read it, concurred, and opened the avenue for her son's wonderful book to be published.

During my try-to-get published saga, I reached out to Percy. A friend had interviewed him for literary journal he was editing and had Percy’s home address in Covington, LA. The book I was trying to get published or find an agent for was The 41st Sermon. I thought it would be up his alley: a middle-aged Episcopal priest finds himself in a mid-life crisis and mid-faith crisis. Every year he goes alone to a fishing resort to fish, drink, and write the outlines of the next year’s sermons. There, he unexpectedly encounters a blonde parishioner who, unbeknownst to him, is there as part of a phony kidnapping plot to extort money from her husband. The priest gets entrapped, too.

So I sent Percy the first few chapters. He sent the cover letter back to me with this written on it: “It reads well – I’d be glad to look at rest, but must tell you I had to give up finding agents or publishers for unpublished writers.—.I’d be doing nothing else. Everybody in the South is writing a novel – Best, W.P.”

It is hard for me to express my joy. Walter Fucking Percy said “It reads well”! Maybe I did have some talent. And so I waited. And I waited. And I….read six months later his obituary in The Kansas City Star. The manuscript never was returned to me. I learned later that soon after he responded to me he was diagnosed with Pancreatic cancer.

When I published The 41st Sermon I included a photo of my cover letter to him and his response. If you want to read the novel, it’s here.

The other books I sold were a mix of fiction and non-fiction. Among them: The Memoirs of Richard Nixon Vol 1 and Vol 2, Evan Connell’s Mr. Bridge, Larry McMurtry’s Dead Man’s Walk and an interesting, but depressing, book by Daniel DeFoe, A Journal of the Plague Year.

When I used the $15 so earned and spent it on a 12-pack of Warsteiner Octoberfest beer, I was reminded of Robert Heinlein’s price advice. A paperback novel should cost the same as a six-pack of beer.