Wednesday, August 26, 2015

To Touch Real Magic: An Essay On Creativity

Many years ago, I wrote an essay on why I write.

What precipitated the essay was the writing of two stories with quite a bit of sophomoric humor where I had placed myself and several friends as characters. When I expressed genuine guilt to the small group for what I had done to one of the characters I had named Molly, one responded, "I'm reaching out and slapping some sense in you."

Read on. Of all the essays I've ever written, I consider this one my best:

To Touch Real Magic
Alan Loewen

Molly stood in the small gazebo overlooking white cliffs where five hundred feet below the sea washed its waves against their base. Both moons were full and the Great Nebula glowed with gentle pastels of violet and ginger.

She sighed in pleasure at the visual delights. Dressed in an ankle-length evening gown of crushed purple velvet, she had let her hair down where the light breeze made it flow around her bare shoulders.

Molly leaned against one of the posts with arms crossed against her chest as some protection from the slight chill in the night air. She realized she was waiting for something, but could not put a finger on what it was she waited for.

She heard the sound of shoes crunching gravel. With a start, she looked up to see in the combined moonlight an elderly man, balding, and dangerously close to having far too much flesh on his bones. He puffed heavily from the exertion of walking the steep path.

Looking up, he saw the young lady staring at him with surprise and responded with a slight grin. Gasping for air, the stranger stumbled to the shelter where he slumped onto a bench and waited to regain his breath.

In the light of the two full moons, Molly could see the raw imprint of a hand across his right cheek. Somebody had slapped him. Hard.

Suddenly, recognition dawned.

"You’re Dr. Alan Loewen!" she said in surprise. "Fancy meeting you here."

Loewen held up his hand to signal for a moment of peace while he steadied his breathing.

"Sorry, my dear," he said after a moment, gasping between the words, "you have confused me with my fictional character. In reality, I’m just a writer. I am no doctor, just your creator."

Molly looked at him puzzled. "You’re saying you're God?" she asked.

Loewen laughed. "No, no, no! No god at all, just a creator." He waved his hand around the landscape. "I created all this. Just as I created you."

"Where are the others? Josh? Austin?" she asked, changing the subject. She was getting uncomfortable with the topic and where it might end.

"I doubt they are here at the moment," Loewen said, standing and admiring the view, "but there are many others present. We can’t see them, but they are listening to every word, perceiving every nuance, and seeing everything I emphasize.

"In reality these observers—who I call readers—are very imaginative. This scene, the words I speak and the words I make you say will stay in their minds for some time to come." He looked at her with a smile. "This is called the magic of writing."

"Who slapped your face?" she asked, once again trying to change the subject. She had the growing feeling she was in a trap that was slowly closing in on her.

Loewen laughed. "Faithful are the wounds of a friend; but the kisses of an enemy are deceitful," he quoted. He turned to face her and admired the highlights the light from the reflected moons set off in her hair. "I created this world," he said, "and brought you here along with all the others to make a point about my theory of writing."

Again he paused and stared up at the twin moons, his brow furrowed with concentration as if contemplating his next words. "How would you feel," he asked, "if I told you that every time you embarrassed yourself the past few days, like at the house in Maryland or at the San Juan airport, I was the one responsible?"

"According to you," Molly said, "I guess it would depend on how you wanted me to feel."

"Wonderful!" Loewen said, clapping his hands together like an overgrown toddler. "You learn fast, but then it was me who had you say that in the first place."

Molly shook her head in puzzlement. "I don’t understand."

"Not to worry, my dear. I performed a practical joke. Only the invisible and silent others will get it. Now let’s get to my point before I lose my audience." Loewen snapped his fingers and the scene melted into utter blackness. Swirling colors appeared out of the murk and gelled into a figure sitting at a desk writing with a quill pen. Standing at his left and right, two other figures read along. Each observer had one hand placed on the shoulders of the writer.

Molly looked at her escort and shrugged her puzzlement.

"The man writing is a symbol of me, the writer," Loewen explained. "The man at my right shoulder is my audience. He is always there and, when I write, I sense his continual presence. The man on my other shoulder is my conscience. If that word offends you, you can call him my principles or values or self-imposed limit of moral choices."

"I’m not offended," Molly said.

"I wasn’t talking to you," Loewen whispered, patting her on the hand. "Allow me to continue.

"Audience and Conscience are a necessary part of my writing process. Without them, I would write only for myself, but to see only chaotically inward, unable to conceive of the concept of 'other' or 'limitation.' Sort of like a psychic form of unrestrained autoeroticism.

"If I get rid of Audience, I still end up writing only for myself, but in the form of a diary. And journals, though important tools for self-development, are boring reading for others. It is writing for Audience that makes me strive for creativity, excellence, and clarity of word—the essence of storytelling.

He pointed at the other observer on the left. "And Conscience represents those moral True North principles which I follow of my free will, an external code of ethics that cannot change, the framework which supports my joy, my peace, and my sense of self-worth. Without Conscience, I could take advantage of my creation and pervert it. And pornography is never great literature unless the culture in which it is spawned is totally degraded."

Molly looked at him in puzzlement. "But what brings this all up?" she asked.

Loewen smiled ruefully. "A moment of self-doubt. I had to make sure that in your adventures I had not crossed a line which I did not mean to cross. And though a creator, I am still a flawed human being. I need friends to remind me of when I might dance too close to the line or when my fear hinders my ability to write my best."

The scene faded and once again they stood in the gazebo that stood on a moonlight bathed cliff overlooking a gentle sea.

"As a member of the counseling and serving profession, I find myself in situations which go far beyond my knowledge and experience," Loewen said. "Many years ago, I was exposed to the body fluids of an AIDs patient I cared for, and this well before we understood much about the disease. For days I lived in absolute terror I was going to share his fate until the doctors assured me it was near impossible for me to contract the virus that way.

"Twice I’ve had to deal with guns, one of them pointed at my head. Funerals and divorces and death beds and hospital visits and pain and suffering ... and always, always the questions which have no clear answers. I needed an outlet for all that stress and concern and frustration. Writing provides that."

"Then give up your profession," Molly suggested. "Be a full-time writer."

Loewen chuckled. "At the risk of going metaphysical on you, all I’ll say is that I can no more give up being what I have been called to be than I can give up being a man who needs air to breathe. And that’s my final say on the matter.

"But when I write," he said, a faraway expression of wonder in his eye, "for just a moment, I can make a world of my creation with people who I find fascinating and situations I can handle no matter how fantastic. For just a moment, in the act of creation, I can almost touch the Divine and know the joy of what it must have felt like to create the cosmos with all its potential. But even better than that, is the ability to share it with somebody else and have them walk in my world and laugh or cry or explore any emotion I can communicate.

"And with all that power, I must make sure I never, ever lose respect for myself, my creations, my conscience or my audience. My integrity is the only thing I own in this life. I will not sell it or throw it away for a cheap thrill."

Molly looked out over the sea and shivered in the chill night air. "I have a feeling I must go," she said at last.

"Yes," Loewen said, a note of sadness entering his voice, "but I want you to know even though I pulled all those embarrassing tricks on you in my stories, I love you, as I love all my creations."

Molly smiled and kissed him on the forehead. "You’re a strange little man," she said. "Give my love to those invisible others."

"They already heard you," Loewen said smiling wistfully, "Goodbye, my dear."

Molly turned and walked down the path and by the sixth step she had faded away and disappeared into wherever creations go when their purpose is fulfilled.

"Well, Gentle Readers," Loewen said to the empty air. "I can sense you’re here and reading this and you have seen my perspective on the craft of writing, but before I go, I would like to share with you one closing thought.

"The ancient bards and troubadours saw actual magic in the ability to communicate with words. The ancient Greeks called it the Logos. Norse legends say Odin gave up an eye and hung himself on the World Tree for a night of suffering and agony so he could win for himself the secret of the runes and all the power inherent in what became the Norse alphabet. The Jews refuse to say the entire name of God or even write it out respecting its power.

"I will not bandy metaphysics with you, but I’ll say I agree with the concept of the power and magic of words.

"History is filled with the names of men who sought the occult power of creation; Rasputin, Saint Germaine, Cagliostro and others. But I dare say to you now that if we craft an exquisite sentence, we have achieved more than all the incantations of Aleister Crowley combined. All the cabalistic mechanizations of Paracelsus never brought him any closer to the act of creation we achieve when we dare to put pen to paper or hand to keyboard.

"The writer who seeks perfection of his craft and continues to write comes across more wonder and magic and awe than any witch, warlock or sorcerer that ever mumbled a midnight charm.

"Thank you for allowing me to share my magic with you, even when it has been nothing more than droll slapstick. You have honored me. I look forward to returning that honor when you share your magic with me regardless of the form it may take.

"So let’s all together, in our own private worlds of our own creation, snap our fingers and say 'Let there be light!'"

Loewen laughed and snapped his fingers.

And there was light.

Monday, August 24, 2015

The Detective, The Dame, The Diamond, and the Dog

I found it! A document I wrote some years ago I thought lost in the bowels of time. In fact, some of you may say it should have stayed there.

One night I had a dream my youngest son worked as a private detective in Gettysburg.

Inspired, I wrote this in ten minutes and deep down, I hope Jared forgives me.

The Detective, The Dame, The Diamond, and the Dog
by Alan Loewen

(Not that anybody in their right mind would steal this stuff, but if you do, I will hunt you down, strap you to a chair, and tell you my Gus the Pus Sucker story)

My name is Austin, Jared Austin.

I’m the only private detective in my little south-central Pennsylvania town and that’s the way I like it ‘cause I like life like I like my coffee: hard, dark, and lonely.

And I’m truly by my lonesome. My one brother is doing undercover work in Sarajevo and the other is running guns in Singapore. My sainted mother lives half a continent away and my old man told his Gus the Pus Sucker story one too many times and is now part of a new concrete bridge support over the Susquehanna River.

I do share my office with a parrot; an evil, screaming thing that I call the Death Chicken, but he doesn’t count as company, more like retribution.

She walked into my office and she looked the way I like ‘em, like my coffee: tall and strong, with a touch of eyeliner.

“My diamond brooch is missing,” she said in a pretty little pout, her lower lip stuck out so far I could have used it as a bookshelf. “It’s worth thousands.”

I flipped my fedora on my head. “It’s ten dollars a day, babe, with expenses. Starbucks ain’t cheap.”

I chased away the taxi that had brought her and we drove to the scene of the crime in my VW Bug. I don’t like driving cars so small I can lick my own knees without so much as stooping, but she was a looker and I didn’t mind her sitting so close I could discern the individual elements of her perfume. I could tell I had hit the jackpot. This was a dame who shopped at Target and never darkened the door of a Wal-Mart.

We drove to the ritzier side of town and before she opened the front door, she warned me of her Old English bulldog who thought everyone who came to visit came to see him personally. She opened the door and she hadn’t lied. He was a real friendly sort and I like my dogs like I like my coffee: all teeth and drool and a coat of fur.

She showed me her boudoir where the brooch disappeared and that’s when I noticed the dog wasn’t as lively as she had claimed it would be.

“Listen, lady,” I said. “I need fifty feet of plastic tubing, a yak, and a safety net, pronto.”

She stuck out that lower lip again. “I don’t have a safety net.”

“Then a long-handled wooden spoon will do and then you need to leave. There are things in this world a dame ain’t meant to see.”

An hour later I gave her back the brooch. “You’ll want to wash your hands after handling that,” I said. “And your mutt could use a cup of joe.”

She batted her baby blues at me. “Would you care to stay for a cup of coffee yourself?” she asked and her eyes told me the creamer would be real stuff from the supermarket and not the artificial junk in those little plastic tubs you can never open right.

“Sorry, babe,” I said, as I flipped my fedora back on my head. “I never touch the stuff.”


Art, Critics, and The Creative Experience

As I mention naughty bits and some mature concepts in this essay, this may not be suitable for the kiddies.

Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni's sculpture of David is undeniably breathtaking. I have seen an authentic replica at the Smithsonian and to see the real item--even if a copy--speaks much of the masterful work that went into its creation. And like all art, its interpretation is mostly subjective.

I have read essays on David's face, his pose, his penis, his overall nudity, and the sculpture as a whole. I have read essays claiming the statue is a hymn to homo-eroticism, an anti-Semitic statement, a discourse in stone on the artist's political position, and a cypher.

Like most art, it all depends on the perspective where you stand and the bias you bring to the work and since Michelangelo did not elaborate on how he wanted the viewer to interpret his work, we are left with our own differing definitions.

In my own case, I have written stories that some people have loved and others have detested. Some stories that I wrote in a serious vein have reduced an audience to gales of laughter during a public reading and vice versa. Some editors have gobbled up a story in days while others have encouraged me to take a hammer to my word processor.

Having received decades of rejection letters, I have become mostly immunized against rejection, but the rejection that hurts the most is from those we hold near and dear because at that point it is possible to not see the criticism as directed at the work, but at one's self.

Art is risk. Writing is dangerous. Facing rejection is part of the game and sometimes the people whose opinion we value the most may be our worst critics.

But my point is if you write pablum so you can be safe from criticism, you are little more than a hack. Pablum goes down smooth and quick and is easily forgotten.

Now I'm not promoting writing simply for the excuse of being edgy. I think a lot of modern horror with its splatterpunk nihilism is quickly forgotten. Yes, it's edgy. It titillates. Weeks later you can't even remember reading it so a gorefest is nothing more than pablum as well. Same with pornography. Bad art does not feed the soul. It distorts and perverts.

Yet, good writing stays with me. It forces me to think and consider and explore. They are stories I like to read again and again.

So, I try to write stories as well that are worth reading and rereading, but the merit of a story and its readability is determined by the individual readers, not by me.

And some people despise what I write.

And some people love what I write.

And I write nonetheless regardless of praise or condemnation because I am a writer. And, therefore, I have to write without apology and I have to write the story that I want to write. I trust myself not to write meaningless garbage or porn even though there are those who interpret my writing as such. It depends on their perspective, not mine.

Do I listen to my critics? Yes, and I would encourage you to do so as well. Listen to your critics: once. Consider what they say and if their complaint is that your writing did not make them feel safe, write anyway.

If they attack you personally and not the work, write anyway.

If they critique their interpretation of the work which is not your interpretation or the interpretation of the majority of your readers, write anyway. (Note: My seminal work, Coventry House, was accused of being thinly disguised lesbian porn. As it was the opinion of one person amongst the thousands that have read the story, the critic, in my humble opinion, was safely ignored.)

Basically, if you can say before God and humanity that you wrote a piece with integrity and honor and pure motive and it comes from your heart, write it.

You will have your fans and your critics. It comes with the territory because to create automatically puts you at risk.

Write anyway.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

James Stoddard's The High House Has Been Republished!


It is with the most epic delight I get to announce that James Stoddard's novel, The High House, is back in print.

In my list of "Must Read" fantasy books, The High House is among my top five.

A friend had loaned me the book some years ago and I read it at one sitting, amazed at the power of Stoddard's prose and imagination.

Here is my review from the first edition:

I do not yet know what book has been kicked out of my Top Five list, but one has in order to make room for James Stoddard's The High House (Aspect Fantasy: 1998).

Imagine if you will, a huge mansion that within its walls and halls and rooms holds worlds upon worlds, mysteries upon mysteries, with no end in sight. Imagine a Master of the House with three main responsibilities: maintain order within the House's myriad realms; protect all of this creation against the Anarchists, a group of people dedicated to overthrowing the house; and maintain a balance between Old Man Chaos and Lady Order, two archetypes that dwell within the house and in their absoluteness are creatures of surprising horror. Also, imagine a house where the Last Dinosaur, untamed and hungry, lives in the attic and the basement is filled with man-eating creatures that disguise themselves as furniture.

And there is still much, much more.

The High House is not a Christian allegory. It is a novel set withn a fantasy world immersed in the the Christian worldview:

" ... like all of Creation, the High House is a Parable. As for who built it, some say God is the Great Architect; some say the Grand Engineer." Brittle gave his wry smile. "And some say He once was a carpenter as well. I can explain no better."

Yet the message of the book is not beaten into you with a crowbar, but explained gently within the relationships of those who have been given the responsibility of caring for the High House.

I have always been an avid fan of supernatural houses and The High House now forms part of my mental neighborhood sharing property lines with Mark Z. Danielewski's House of Leaves, William Hope Hodgson's The House on the Borderland, and Charles de Lint's Tamson House (Moonheart).

The High House is a nice place to visit and you just might want to live there.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Writers Are Readers (Links to Free eBooks)

If you write dark fantasy, pulp, or gothic stories, here are novels, novellas, and short stories that in my humble opinion I would really encourage you to read.

Actually, I'm not going to promote England's Darkness and Dawn trilogy. I just love poking fun at it.

Click on the titles to take you to directly to FREE LEGAL downloads:

The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath was published posthumously and many scholars believe if Lovecraft had lived long enough, he would have rewritten the story. Nonetheless, even in its raw form, the novella is a powerful entry into the dark fantasy genre and I find myself rereading it often just for the sheer joy of the wonderful mental imagery the story evokes. 
There are a number of references to the Cthulhu Mythos and Lovecraft borrows generously from his other works. 
A master of description, the reader will remember the cities of Sarkomand, Dylath-Leen, Ulthar, as well as the Plateau of Leng, the Vale of Pnath, and the city of the the gugs long after the book is done. You also get to meet Nyarlathotep, the Crawling Chaos, the emissary of the Other Gods in his 1,001th form (and the only one in which he appears human). 
All in all, a very satisfying read.
One of the joys of is they introduce me to books that have been lost through the ages. As a fan of early 20th century dark romantic fantasy, Eleanor M. Ingram’s The Thing From The Lake is a priceless find and until I found it available here, I never knew of the author or her work.

The Thing From The Lake makes an interesting triumvirate with Abraham Merritt’s The Moon Pool and William Hope Hodgson’s The House on the Borderland, all available from In each story, a man battles an otherworldly horror for the love of an otherworldly woman. Though Ingram’s story is the weakest of the three because of its literal deus ex machina ending, by no means should one hesitate to add this pearl to your collection.

Interestingly, though Ingram only lived to her mid-30’s (1886-1921), she was a prolific author with at least four novels and over 20 short stories to her credit. She lived to see four of her works made into films (one directed by Cecil B. DeMille) yet surprisingly, the researcher will have great difficulty in finding any biographical information on her. Therefore, kudos to Many for playing an important part in rescuing this writer from a death by obscurity. She deserves to be read and enjoyed.

John William Wall (1910 – 1989), writing under the pen name Sarban, was a British writer and diplomat.

His diplomatic legacy is certainly greater than his literary legacy, but what he did write is worth noting.

Ringstones is a dark fantasy that takes place in a desolate English countryside at a remote manor called Ringstones after the local stone circle. Daphne Hazel becomes a summer governess to three children who seem unworldly and fay.

In a manner reminiscent of Arthur Machen (The Great God Pan, The White People), the horror grows so subtly, you don't know it is on you until almost the very last page.

If your taste runs to the weird and fantastic, Ringstones is well worth the time and patience.

The Burial of the Rats by Abraham "Bram" Stoker (1847–1912) is a truly suspenseful tale of a young man who finds himself in a very bad part of Paris and must flee for his life.

And the rats are the least of his worries.

That this has never been made into a movie, especially with today's taste for thriller and "slasher" films, is quite a surprise.

Almuric is the ultimate he-man pulp from Robert Howard in a tale so laden with testosterone that you don't read the story as much as it jumps off the page and gnaws on your leg for awhile.

Esau Cairn is a man who makes Conan the Barbarian look like a pantywaist. Escaping from a charge of murder, Esau finds a scientist who sends him on a one-way trip to a far-flung and primitive planet.

Much blood, gore, and grunting ensues.

The Celestial Omnibus and Other Stories was written in 1911 by Edward Morgan Forster (1879 – 1970), an English novelist, short story writer, essayist and librettist.

The best way to enjoy these stories is like that of an experienced traveler to foreign lands. The mature wanderer knows that you cannot demand the country change itself for you, but that one must adapt to the country to discover its riches and wonders. True enjoyment takes work.

There truly are riches and wonders in this collection of six short stories, but to appreciate their essence, one is going to have to give up the hard boiled cynicism of the 21st century and embrace the romance, mystery, and pure wonder of fin de si├Ęcle Great Britain. The mature reader who will let Forster speak for himself is surely in for a treat. In these tales you will meet a spoiled young man whose life is changed by a visit from an ancient god (The Story of a Panic), question whether life is a rat race or maybe something more (The Other Side of the Hedge). If you are willing to pay for the ticket, you'll visit a land where the works of great authors (if not the authors themselves) have a Heaven all their own (The Celestial Omnibus) and that classic myths can be repeated again and again (Other Kingdom) to great tragic effect. You'll also meet an irreverent faun who becomes the best friend of a reverent clergyman (The Curate's Friend) and discover that the call to wonder can be found in the strangest places (The Road from Colonus) as well as the price that must be paid to ignore it.

So pack your bags and get ready for a trip. The ticket is free, but if you truly have a soul that is sensitive to what C. S. Lewis called the numinous, like all good travelers, you may bring back more from the trip than what you left with.

Arthur Machen (1863 – 1947) was a leading Welsh author best known for his influential supernatural, fantasy, and horror fiction.

The Three Impostors is a convoluted tale about three individuals who we meet in the opening paragraphs who are searching for a "young man with spectacles" who has inadvertently stolen something of great importance to a secret society of which they are members.

The story then goes back in time before the opening scene where the three impostors assume various personas and roles, weaving stories about their prey in an effort to attract attention to him and gain the aid of unsuspecting people.

Two of the stories Novel of the Black Seal and The Novel of the White Powder have been anthologized many times apart from The Three Imposters and may be read alone in their offerings by ManyBooks.Net. These two stories are considered by many to be Machen's best and had a profound impact on many authors including H. P. Lovecraft.

Machen's horror is many times subtle especially when compared to today's graphic splatterpunk that passes for contemporary horror. To truly experience the full impact of the end of the novel's horrific ending, the reader is encouraged to return to the beginning of the book and reread the opening scene.

The Great God Pan, by Arthur Machen
H. P. Lovecraft praised this novella of gothic cosmic horror and Machen's story lives up to the praise of the Gentleman of Providence. Anybody who is a fan of Lovecraft's literary body of alienation and horror will enjjoy this tale of an experiment gone wrong and its aftermath.

The Great God Pan met sharp criticism in its day for its sexual overtones and was condemned for its perceived misygonism, but by today's standards with its violence and sexuality taking place well off-stage, the horror is actually increased because of its sublety that leaves so much to the imagination.

My only criticism is that Machen leaves so much unsaid, the story can be rather confusing on its first reading, but if read as a sequel to The White People (even though the latter was written a decade later), the aborted horror that overtook the woman-child in that tale comes to full fruition in The Great God Pan.

William Hope Hodgson (1877-1918) is better known for his truly terrifying horror/romance The House on the Borderland. In Carnacki, The Ghost Finder he takes on a slightly lighter tone.

These six short stories were first published between 1910 and 1912 in two magazines and then printed together as an anthology in 1913.

The stories all share a similar thread: Thomas Carnacki occasionally invites four of his friends over for dinner and over after-dinner cigars regales them with tales of his latest adventures as a sort of paranormal detective. The stories are quite original, but the solutions are not always supernatural.

Nonetheless, they are well worth the investment of time to read and for this collection I give a rare 5-star approval.

Wood-Ladies by Perceval Gibbon (1879-1926) is an eerie little tale of growing suspense that borders between dark fantasy and horror. A little five-year old girl becomes lost in a familiar wood and the question is did she drown in the pond, or was she kidnapped by tramps?

Or could her predicament be far, far worse?

This tale is well worth the 15 minute read.

Armstrong Livingston was a prolific author, but sadly there is no record of his life or accomplishments except that he was born in 1885.

This is truly a pity because if The Monk of Hambleton is a typical example of his storytelling, Livingston was an author of merit. Fortunately, there are lists of his works available for the dedicated bookworm to explore even if the author himself must remain a cipher.

The Monk of Hambleton is a very satisfying and ingenious murder mystery, but little can be revealed without giving too much of the story away. Needles to say there is a murder, a plethora of suspects, and Peter Creighton, the detective who does not appear until Chapter 10.

The story leads you through the clues and its twists and turns are more fascinating than frustrating. You will think you know who the guilty party is and then change your mind and then reconsider. When the culprit is eventually revealed, be assured that even then, truth may still not be all that it appears.

This one is very much worth your time.

I read Lovecraft's At The Mountains of Madness years ago and several times, but I am so enamored of the novella that I love revisiting the eon-haunted mountains of Antarctica and reliving the wonder and then the horror of the doomed Professor Lake and the rest of his sub-expedition.

Yet, it is when William Dyer, professor of geology at the Miskatonic University and graduate student Danforth travel on into the Mountains of Madness to solve the mysterious deaths of the Lake expedition, the reader is treated to Lovecraft's full descriptive prowess as an author and travel guide to a weird, alien world that is both hauntingly beautiful and nightmarishly terrifying.

Written in 1931 when Antarctica was still mostly unexplored, At The Mountains of Madness is obviously dated as a work of science fiction, but as work of horror with its slowly growing mood of terror, it still succeeds after eighty decades.

Though the body count is quite high, do not expect the splatterpunk of what passes for modern horror. Lovecraft was a master of the art and knew that horror and awe are close companions and he didn't need the cheap trick of the gross-out to reach his goal.

Enjoy a world long gone. It's a quick, but memorable visit.

And closing with something really, really strange and odd and such a bully pulpit and so sincere in its atrociousness, I just love it, so for your consideration:

The Darkness and Dawn trilogy is composed of three separate novellas, all available at the link as one document, or as separate manuscripts on
Written by George Allan England (1877–1937), an American writer and explorer, the story introduces us to Allan Stern and Beatrice Kendrick who have miraculously survived an Earth-destroying cataclysm by going into suspended animation in the same office and waking up a millennium later at the exact same time for no definite reason ever explained.

They then wander through the rest of the story having incredible adventures to rival the pulps of the classic age, express their love for each other (for pages and pages and pages), have more incredible adventures they survive by the skin of their teeth, express their love for each other for many more pages, express their disdain for religion and capitalism, face death square in the chops, express more of their love for each other, express how the new world they are going to rebuild will be a socialist paradise, fight to the death with a monster or two, express their love for each other, and ... well, you get the picture.

Along the way we learn that concrete and steel are eternal, that 1,000-year-old food in the tin still tastes good, that Allan can rebuild a pre-WWI plane from deer hides, that fur coats stored carefully for a millennium can still be wearable, that people can go into suspended animation and wake up with the clothes rotting off their bodies without any harm to themselves (or even feeling hungry), that a bullet ten centuries old can still fire without any problem, that air pressure does not change to any serious degree if you go to the bottom of a canyon that is well over 50 miles deep, and did I mention that concrete will outlast the heat death of the universe?

And along the way, you'll probably read that Allan and Beatrice are rather fond of each other.

And saints preserve us, but writing this review, I just realized that the author and the main character share the same name which means this story is a type of Mary Sue tale!

Regardless, if you like pulp adventures with lots of action and high body counts, then you have just found paradise.

Just don't analyze the tale too closely.

Others I strongly recommend:

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Alan Loewen vs. The Haunted Staircase: A True Story

The following story is true and is a companion to two other entries:
Ranger Loewen vs The Night People: A True Story
Alan Loewen vs. The Oak Fairy: A True Story

However before I tell you about my supernatural experience, allow me first to give my apologia:

noun: apologia; plural noun: apologias
1. a formal written defense of one's opinions or conduct

I do not believe in ghosts that is, if you define ghosts as the spirits of the departed who have remained in this world.

My belief centers more around the logistics of the "Bad Place," and there may be an endless number of explanations as to why some places are "haunted." My pet theory—and let me be honest and let you know it is not a belief I am willing to die for—is that locales can pick up strong emotion and play them back to certain people. Of course, I also confess I do believe that some places are genuinely evil, but my story does not touch on that subject, and I have no pleasure in discussing such a phenomenon.

In the early 1980s, I worked for a computer company that shall go unnamed near Carlisle, Pennsylvania. They had set up shop along a busy road in an old farmhouse that served as a store, computer repair facility, and office. A beautiful piece of architecture, the vast limestone farmhouse had a grand old staircase sweeping up from the first floor to a landing that had a small window that overlooked the parking lot. Another set of stairs then continued up to the second floor.

Being single at the time and fascinated by the Apple //c's and the newly released Macintosh computer, I used my privilege as the assistant to the store manager to stay late and play with computers until late in the evening. Having no life outside of the store, I would play computer games, study computer manuals, try to master a new programming language called Lisp, and indulge in this new and mystifying world.

However, I always left before midnight and, as I locked up the store and headed out to the parking lot, I still had this eerie feeling that something was watching me from the window at the landing of the farmhouse's staircase. Without fail, the hair on the back of my neck would stand on end and almost always in my anger at my childish fears, before I got into the car, I would force myself to look up at the window.

There was never anyone there. The window was merely dark and the little security light that we kept on during the night was visible through the glass.

This went on for over a year.

One night, I had to stay and complete a significant report, and as the time wore on, focused as I was on my work, I did not notice that the clock had ticked past midnight.

Needing something from the upstairs office, I left my desk and strode up the stairs, intent on the report in my hand.

My right foot hit the landing.

With a scream, I leaped for the second set of stairs to get off that square of wooden floor, landing two steps up above it. Trembling and terrified, I looked back at the landing, brilliantly illuminated by the ceiling lamp.

There was nothing there to see.

What I had experienced cannot be explained. I lack the words, and as I attempt to describe it, rest assured, it was infinitely worse. The moment my foot touched that landing, my entire body experienced an electric shock of intense cold coupled with an overwhelming feeling of immense dread as if I was in mortal danger.

With a childhood prayer on my lips, I backed up the rest of the steps. Later, I descended via a smaller set of stairs that connected what used to be the master bedroom to what used to be the kitchen.

I left the farmhouse immediately, and as I fled to my car, once again, the hairs on my neck stood on end as I felt the overwhelming knowledge something watched me from the little square window. I lacked the courage to look.

I never told anyone about my experiences. I was too ashamed, but I never again stayed in that farmhouse after dark.

But life had one more little kiss of horror for me ...

Two weeks after my late-night experience, one of the repair technicians who had fallen behind in his workload stayed behind to catch up.

The next day as I delivered some paperwork to him, he looked at me quizzically, and after a pause, he asked, "Have you ever noticed anything odd about the stairs at night?"

(1) Those whom the gods destroy, they first teach Lisp.

Trekking With My Mother Through The Kohl’s Bra Aisle

Published on my old blog back on October 14, 2014:

Very close to celebrating my sixtieth birthday, I feel very secure in my masculinity, but a confession: never having had the blessing of having sisters or daughters, I grew up sharing the same opinion of Lewis Carroll’s unicorn that saw members of the opposite sex as fabulous creatures.

Nonetheless, I have survived many years in my confused ignorance until yesterday when my mother asked me to take her shopping. My mother is wheelchair bound so taking her shopping is a routine service I supply, and when she asked to go to Kohl’s I went with a joyful heart and a song on my lips little knowing the horror that awaited me.

Kohl’s is a department store and, on this Columbus Day, surprisingly empty. I wheeled my mother around the displays she would stop me so she could inspect various items.

“Where to next, Mom?” I asked, and then she said the words that stopped my heart.

“I want to go look at the bras.”

There is a memory that I have when I was 14 years of age when my mother and I went shopping back in the halcyon days when she was mobile on her own. Before we split up, she told me to look for her over in ‘that’ department and she pointed to a sign at the end of the store hanging from the ceiling.

Little did I know that "lingerie" is pronounced lahn-zhuh-REY and I said, “Oh! Over in the linger-REE department?” The peals of laughter from my mother and various people who overheard me have seared my soul to this day. The result is that I steer clear of the women’s intimates departments and I have hated the French language with a passion ever since.

Abandon all hope, ye who enter here
But I am nothing if not a dedicated son, so I wheeled my mother over to No Man’s Land.

“What is the price on that one?” my mother asked.

With trembling fingers I touched it waiting for security to tackle me at any given moment and looked at the price.

I now know why the ancient Jewish men would sometimes pray, “Thank you, Lord, that I was not born a woman.” That tiny piece of cloth made of fabric and frills and wire and snaps that no man can ever work came in at a cool $29.95.

And that was one of the cheap ones.

My word! The bedroom bureau drawer that holds every woman’s unmentionables must have the economic value of a small Middle Eastern kingdom! How come men with daughters aren’t standing on street corners holding tin cans and cardboard signs with the scrawled words: "Father of Daughters. Need Bra Money"?

“Keep going, son,” my mom ordered and obediently I pushed her through the narrow aisle surrounded by brassieres (How I hate the French language!) on hangers on both sides.

And because the universe at its base is infinitely cruel, the stands of bras were not parallel and unbeknownst to me they narrowed at the end.

When I realized the trap I was in, I confess I panicked. I shoved my mother and her wheelchair through the remainder of the aisle, bras and their respective hangers snagging on everything, and when we burst through, my mother, her wheelchair, and I had dozens of bras hanging from us. No joke. Dozens.

I envision that in the security department a man watching the surveillance cameras immediately grabbed his radio, “Pervert alert in the brassiere aisle! Everybody converge … no … hold up …wait a minute. False alarm. Now uploading video to YouTube!”

I could feel my face so crimson with embarrassment that an egg could have been fried on my forehead. “Mom, for the first time as a man,” I said holding back tears of shame, “I have to go clean up a bra aisle.”

Gales of laughter from a nearby aisle (women are so cruel) simply added insult to injury as I went back into forbidden territory and cleaned up the destructive wake I and my mother’s wheelchair had left behind.

I learned three important lessons:
  1. I am still secure in my masculinity.
  2. Padded bras are really gross.
  3. The next time I take my beloved mother shopping we’re only going to supermarkets, hardware stores, and office supply companies.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

A New and Unique Civil War Museum Opens In Gettysburg!

A brand new museum! Recreating dioramas of famous Civil War battles!

The twist? The soldiers are all anthropomorphic cats!

They are having an open house and I am so going to be there! Hope to see you as well!

From the creators of the museum:
You are all excitedly invited to an open house on August 31st from 3-8 p.m., for a sneak preview of our diorama museum! Feel free to stop by whenever is convenient. At long last, we are planning to open on September 1st.
We have been making Civil War soldiers out of clay since 1995 with the twist that—since we were 11 when we started—they’re cats. Over the years, we developed dioramas of various battle and other scenes. On display will be Fort Sumter during the bombardment that started the war, the ironclads U.S.S. Monitor and C.S.S. Virginia (Merrimack), the Angle during Pickett’s Charge at Gettysburg, and other scenes from Gettysburg. Check out our website (still under construction—sorry about that!) at We’re located just at the south edge of town at 785 Baltimore Street, Gettysburg.

We’re so excited to share our dioramas, a childhood dream come true. God has been faithful all along and we thank and praise him for his provision!   ~   Ruth & Rebecca

Monday, August 17, 2015

My Failed Books

Though the books I have up on Amazon are doing well, I regret there are a number that have done so poorly that I have had to remove them from the marketplace.

It breaks my heart as I put a lot of hard work into these, but the marketplace is a fickle lover. One book goes viral, and the other fades away into obscurity.

Here are my masterpieces that never made it.
  • The Dark Underbelly of Proctology
  • They Called Him Mr. Monkey Nipples
  • Take a Shot At The World of Competitive Russian Roulette
  • 100 Ways To Amuse Your Friends With A Carrot
  • Roasted Weasel Heads on Toast and Other Culinary Conversation Pieces
  • Resolving Conflicts and Arguments With Your Imaginary Friend
  • Get It Off! Get It Off! Get It Off!: Your Personal Guidebook to Wolverine Farming
Of course, these two chapbooks below actually did exist and they are now part of my humor collection: In Humor Most Odd: The Collected Silliness of Alan Loewen.

Sunday, August 16, 2015