For all you young whippersnappers out there (I’m referring to all of you under 108) who like to use electronic devices, my publisher has informed me that Dancing with the Dead is now available from BearManor Media as an e-book, here: (http://selz.co/Vy5b2VSsG). I understand the convenience of these devices, but I’m afraid this ancient Luddite will never see any form of electronic device that feels as good in my hands, or smells as good, as an old-fashioned, three-dimensional, paper-and-binding book. But the e-book is out there, and I do hope you enjoy Dancing with the Dead in whatever medium you choose to read it.
Loveliest of trees, the cherry now
Is hung with bloom along the bough,
And stands about the woodland ride
Wearing white for Eastertide
Now, of my threescore years and ten,
Twenty will not come again,
And take from seventy springs a score,
It only leaves me fifty more.
And since to look at things in bloom,
Fifty springs are little room,
About the woodlands I will go
To see the cherry hung with snow.
A Shropshire Lad, A. E. Housman
My father used to send me poems when I was away at school or college, and this—along with pretty near everything else A. E. Housman wrote—was one of his favorites. It is one of mine, too. It resonated when I first read it, precariously typed and with frequent corrections made in my father’s singular, elegant, elongated handwriting, and it resonates with me still.
California is a monochromatic state, not given to the lush greenness or seasonal riot of color we associate with eastern states or European countries. Its nickname, the Golden state, is a reference to the fortuitous discovery made at Sutter’s Mill in 1848, but it is also a tip of the hat to the ubiquitous golden grasses that cover every inch of the place, save the Mojave desert and the golf courses of metastasizing urban areas, from the Oregon line to the Mexican border.
But this year, after the coldest and wettest winter in (insert the number quoted by your favorite news source) years, an abrupt week of sun and warm temperatures has turned my part of the world into an Impressionist painting. The first shy blush of green on the cottonwoods, grass as rich and dark green as Ireland, jonquils, hyacinth, forsythia, and a riot of fruit trees, fruit-bearing and flowering only, in every lovely color, with great patches yet to come on the mountainsides that will eventually be poppies and lupine, all of it evoking the rituals and ceremonies and traditions of Easter and the world awakening. The deer are all blowing their coats and look decidedly shabby. The redwing blackbirds have returned, and on a nearby lake I saw a cinnamon teal. He might have been lollygagging there all winter long, but it pleases me to imagine him resting on his northward migration, another harbinger of long summer days to come.
Of course, the forecast calls for cold and snow next week, but it is lovely as long as it lasts, and what more can a man ask?
If I were going to make an argument about which man-made item most closely approaches perfection when it comes to the integration between man and tool, I would be torn between a handmade musical instrument and a custom firearm. Both can be mass produced and will achieve admirable results in a competent owner’s hands, but when handmade, either is capable of transcending its basic function. Think of a Stradivarius. Think of what Eric Clapton can do with a great guitar, or what Stevie Ray Vaughan or Jimi Hendrix could do.
I’m certainly not going to compare music to hunting, but that same integration, where the tool becomes an extension of its owner’s will, is also applicable to fine, custom-made firearms.
Joe Smithson is one of the preeminent custom rifle makers in the world today. He is a graduate of Trinidad State Junior College in Colorado, the school renowned for the gunsmithing program started in 1947 by P.O. Ackley of Ackley Improved cartridges fame. Smithson was able to study under some of the best gunsmiths in America, and went right from college to an apprenticeship with the legendary Jerry Fisher. Then he opened his own shop in Farmington, NM, before ultimately moving up to Provo, Utah where he now turns out works of functional art in wood and steel.
These are the kinds of rifles that are reminiscent of the guns the legendary and intrepid explorers of Africa and India carried, only those men would have been unable even to imagine the degrees of perfection and the technological advances that have come since those long-ago days.
Take a look at some of Joe’s masterpieces at http://www.smithson-gunmaker.com/
Why should I, why should you, believe any news report you read, see, or hear? From anywhere? It makes no difference whether it’s the New York Times or any other left-wing news source, or whether it’s Fox News or any other right-wing news source, or whether it’s any online source that purports to be a news source. They are all driven by bias, dishonesty, ignorance, or all three.
Taking a break yesterday (Saturday, March 11) I decided to catch up on the world’s turning and clicked on Fox News. It was about eleven-thirty on the west coast, which would make it about two-thirty back east, so I believe the host was Julie Banderas, but don’t hold me to that. I don’t watch enough news during the middle of the day to be able to identify any of the so-called reporters. In any case, what caught my attention was that, during an interview about the attempts to repeal or repair Obamacare, the host suddenly switched topics, and with indignation flashing out from under her false eyelashes, demanded to get her guest’s opinion about Trump’s overturning of the Obama executive action requiring the Social Security Administration to turn over to the National Instant Criminal Background Check the names of anyone receiving benefits who required help managing his or her affairs. The way the reporter phrased the question, however, was (basically) as follows: “What do you think of Donald Trump allowing the mentally ill to have guns?” (That’s a paraphrase, but it’s pretty close.) The guest declined to answer.
Obama did indeed sell that executive action as keeping guns out of the hands of the mentally ill, but consider that the ACLU, the American Association of People with Disabilities, the Arc of the United States (an organization for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities), the Association of Mature American Citizens, the Autistic Self-Advocacy Network, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, the National Council on Disability, the Nation Council of Independent Living, the… Oh, let’s just say an extremely lengthy alphabet soup of organizations which, yes, also included the NRA and Safari Club International, all opposed Obama’s overreaching measure and urged it be thrown out.
I could go through that executive action from soup to nuts and show you precisely why it was an embarrassingly bad measure on many levels, even by the embarrassing standards of an anti-gun president who distinguished himself with numerous embarrassingly bad excesses of authority, but the bottom line is that it required nameless bureaucrats in the Social Security Administration, which is already overworked and severely underfunded, to make determinations about the mental health of senior citizens without any of said bureaucrats having any medical credentials or psychiatric expertise, and without any consideration of due process, without even a face-to-face meeting. It would have helped perpetuate false stereotypes, false assumptions about a correlation between financial acuity and mental illness, and made a mockery of both the second and fourth Amendments, but an ignorant or dishonest newscaster couldn’t be bothered to do her homework and simply accused Donald Trump of making it easier for the mentally ill to get their hands on guns. So when you hear this moronic meme perpetuated—and you will, gentle reader, you will—please remember that regardless of your personal feelings about firearms, we have a Constitution and we have laws, and remember too that no so-called journalist who declines to do even the most rudimentary investigative homework is worth watching. Also, tell me when you last heard of the ACLU, the AAPD, a host of other civil rights organizations, including the NRA, and much of the medical community, all joining hands to overturn an executive action?
It used to be said that writing a book was some of the hardest work a person could do, but let me tell you, gentle reader, writing a book is a lazy day at the beach in comparison to getting the damned thing published, and getting said damned thing published is nothing, a trifle, a mere bagatelle, in comparison to marketing.
Marketing is an invention of the devil, an exercise in perpetual frustration, much like dining with the devil. (Remember the spoons and forks so long no one can get the food to their mouths?) After I finally found a publisher willing to take a chance on a novella (“No one publishes novellas these days,” I was told, “it simply isn’t worth it, financially.”) that is neither pure fiction nor pure non-fiction (“Where is the bookstore going to stock it? Which section? And what is it anyway? Is it a romance? An adventure? A memoir? What?”) I decided to get a jump start on marketing, a primer, if you will, from wiser and more experienced authors. I contacted every famous and successful writer I know and asked for their secrets, the tricks they used to make their books fly off the shelves and into readers’ homes. The answer from each one of them amounted to, “Damned if I know.”
So, like Butch Cassidy, if there are no rules, I might as well get started.
Most of the homeless you see are mad or drug-addicted or both, but there are a few whose worlds spun out of control through no fault of their own.
Dancing with the Dead is a non-fiction novella. Most of the primary characters in it were real people; most of the events actually occurred; most of what I’ve written about those people and those events is true. At least, some of it is.
Pamela came from a world of wealth, education, privilege, and unlimited opportunity. Tony came from a world of pre-civil rights poverty, discrimination, and manual labor, where options were circumscribed in ways that are hard to imagine today. Pamela’s world came apart in the junta of Argentina’s Dirty War. Tony’s world came apart in the jungles of the Viet Nam War.
Part I provides the backgrounds of these two very different people; told in alternating chapters we learn who they are, how and why they became the people they became. Part II follows Pamela from Argentina to Los Angeles, from wealth to destitution to that condition beyond destitution we call homelessness. Part III looks at them from an outsider’s point of view, the author’s point of view, as they were when our paths crossed during my Simon & Simon days.
In their individual ways both Pamela and Tony were beyond help in any traditional, societal understanding of that word, yet together they were able transcend mere survival. On the streets of Los Angeles, where any two desperate people might forge an alliance, Pamela and Tony were lucky enough to find each other and forge something more, something very human and very moving.
Dancing with the Dead can be ordered from Amazon
or any online source, or, I believe, through your local bookstore. If you like it, I would greatly appreciate it if you could post a review on Amazon.