Talk like a pirate, win a book

So this Friday, September 19th, is International Talk Like a Pirate Day. Now that's something I can really get behind. I love pirates. From The Black Swan to The Sea Hawk, from Raphael Sabatini to William Goldman, from Errol Flynn to Johnny Depp, I dig them all. And not just the fictional ones: I've seen Blackbeard's cannon and Black Sam Read more

A Tale of Two Curls

Sometimes a song inspires a book. Sometimes a book inspires a song. And sometimes--okay, this is the only time I'm aware of this happening--a song inspires a book which inspires a song. There are two wonderful songs out there that share a title with my upcoming novel. Don't ask me to pick a favorite, because I can't. But I can tell Read more

A Radical Notion on Internet Misogyny

My friend, director Lexi Alexander (Punisher: War Zone and Green Street Hooligans, among others) has recently come under fire for her pro-file-sharing stance. You can read her argument, which is more nuanced than my simple summary (she's mainly against the criminalization of file-sharing), at this link. Needless to say, there's been some controversy. So much, in fact, that she's Read more

Out today: Wickedly Dangerous by Deborah Blake

One of the perks of my job is that I get asked to give blurbs to upcoming books, which means I also get to read them long before they come out. Usually such requests come from editors, or agents, or writers I've met at conferences, but occasionally they come from good friends who also happen to be good writers. Read more

Cruel to be Kind: Killing Off a Major Character

Occasionally, because I'm not really that smart, I'll put out a call for blog ideas. And sometimes I get one that's so original there's just no way to ignore it. So thanks to Claudia Tucker for asking: "Have you ever been tempted to 'kill' your main characters off and start with a new Hero who might be a an offspring Read more

Announcing Firefly Witch Volume 3: Back Atcha

Posted on by Alex in fantasy literature, fiction, Firefly Witch, Pagan, short stories, tennessee, west Tennessee, witchcraft | 3 Comments

Available on Kindle as of right now, the third collection of Firefly Witch tales, Back Atcha.

In these three new short stories, the darkest adventures yet for the Firefly Witch, Tanna and Ry encounter their most vicious, diabolical and dangerous foes. One is a redneck who intends to sell his girlfriend to the devil, another is a serial killer with unexpected psychic powers, and the third is the hatred that leads people to barbarous acts of murder. Tanna must rely on her wits as well as her Wiccan beliefs, and Ry has to be stronger and smarter than he’s ever been, if they are to survive.

Buy it here for only $2.99!

AND DON’T MISS OUT: The second Firefly Witch collection, Croaked, is available FREE for the Kindle from Sept. 13-17.

Firefly Witch news (includes a freebie!)

Posted on by Alex in eBook sale, Firefly Witch, Free Download, giveaway, Pagan, release date, short stories, west Tennessee | Leave a comment

The new Firefly Witch e-book chapbook collection, Croaked: More Tales of the Firefly Witch, is now available for only $2.99.

 

Also, from now through Monday, July 2, 2012, the first Firefly Witch collection is available for FREE on Amazon.  So if you’re curious about this new character and her world, there’s no better way or time to check it out.

 

The "Don’t Say Gay" bill and being "tender-hearted" in TN

Posted on by Alex in don't say gay bill, tennessee, west Tennessee | 4 Comments


So Tennessee, my home state and the setting of many of my stories and novels, has again made the national news. The State Senate passed a law dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” bill which outlaws even mentioning the existence of gay people in elementary and middle school. I doubt this also includes not mentioning the various slurs and code words Tennesseans have always used for gay folks; in fact, I’m sure the sponsors of the bill often employed those terms in closed-door meetings prior to presenting the bill, right after the opening prayer.

As a child with little aptitude in sports and an interest in literature, science fiction and movies, my schoolmates often teased me with those same slurs. A cousin, in fact, once taunted me with some of them for reading Star Trek: Log Five, just before he beat me up. The fact that I wasn’t gay didn’t particularly matter, as it never does in such situations. But it was, and remains, the way kids often are, and while I disapprove of it I also comprehend the reasons for it, especially in the South.

Still, it was nothing compared to the contempt adults showed for kids they deemed “different,” “odd” or “weird,” and that included a term of such surpassing brilliance that I still marvel at it: tender-hearted. It sounds almost like a compliment, much as does “Bless your heart,” which is now generally known to be Southern code for, “You’re so stupid.” In the same way, “tender-hearted” is code for “gay.” Or more precisely, it’s synonymous with one of the pithier terms used to derisively describe gay males.

The first time I cursed (we called it “cussed”) in front of other people got the term “tender-hearted” applied to me. When I was about ten or eleven, some older good ol’ boys dragged a turtle from a pond and cut off its head in their driveway for no reason other than to do it. I told them I found it ignorant and cruel, and when they laughed at me for that, I let fly with every curse word I knew. I was also so mad I started crying. Between the tears and the general knowledge that I liked to read books, I was quickly pegged as “tender-hearted,” and to this day (nearly forty years later) the people in my home town still think of me that way.

So the “Don’t Say Gay” bill disappoints and saddens me, but it doesn’t surprise me. Good ol’ Tennesseans have a long tradition of not saying “gay.” Instead, depending on the situation, they either use slurs or euphemisms, as they do for everything else. Bless their hearts.

(Please visit and support It’s Okay to be Takei, George “Mr. Sulu” Takei’s brilliant response to the Tennessee law.)

Solving the Murder at the Cheatin’ Heart Motel

Posted on by Alex in Art Bourgeau, west Tennessee, writers, writing | Leave a comment

Longtime readers of this blog will know I have a somewhat unresolved relationship with my home region of West Tennessee. It’s not the most scenic area: the state of Tennessee slopes downhill from Appalachia in the east, so the western end is the lowest, muddiest and flattest part. Except for Memphis, there are no notable cities (I suppose you could count Jackson, but it’s always felt like a city consumed by its own worst interests). And the people? Well, let’s just say that when I lived there, they thought nothing of beating up a kid for reading a book. Because reading was weird.

So the last thing I expected to do was to find that this dull area had inspired hard-boiled genre literature. But damned if it didn’t.

I ran across Art Bourgeau’s Murder at the Cheatin’ Heart Motel in the late Eighties, when I lived in Huntsville, AL. It was written in 1985, and concerned Claude “Snake” Kirlin, a freelance reporter for Ultra Suave magazine, and his buddy F.T. Zervich, trying to solve the murder of Snake’s aunt, proprietor of the titular motel. The establishment is located on Chocktaw Lake, which Bourgeau describes thus:

“Anyway, in the winter of 1811 three earthquakes hit right where you’re sitting. Each one was several times worse than the famous San Francisco earthquake. It was so bad that a land area of about a hundred miles simply fell into the earth. The banks of the Mississippi broke down, and the water rushed in to fill it. That’s how Chocktaw Lake was formed.”
(p. 13)

Wow, I thought. That sounds familiar. It sounds, in fact, like Reelfoot Lake. According to this entry on the ever-reliable Wikipedia:

“Popular history says that the lake was formed when the region subsided after the New Madrid earthquakes of 1811–1812, and that the Mississippi River flowed backward for 10–24 hours to fill it.”

Someone wrote a mystery set on a fictionalized version of Reelfoot Lake, a place I’d gone fishing and on picnics and visited my whole life! It was, for me, a world-shifting realization. And it got better.

Bougreau introduced the book’s villain, Sheriff Casper Denny, with this:

“I’d heard of him before. Everyone had heard of him. He was a genuine, bona fide legend. A twentieth-century Wyatt Earp who had single-handedly taken on the west Tennessee mob, a group whose roots went all the way back to Jean Boquin. They had tried to move into his county, and in the process, the sheriff had been shot, had his house bombed, and his wife and son had been killed.”
(pp. 17-18)

The resemblance to Sheriff Buford Pusser seemed unmistakable.

Recently I spoke to Art Bourgeau about his book, and to my surprise he said, “The sheriff character wasn’t modeled on Buford Pusser. Sheriff Pusser was a heroic figure, my character wasn’t. The two things that could make you think it was Sheriff Pusser was his haircut and him fighting the mob. I used the Glen Campbell haircut which he and many other sheriffs of the time wore as a metaphor to show he was a very uptight, stressed-out, anal type of person. The job didn’t make my character this way, it was his nature. You can tell a lot about a man by his haircut…As to the nastiness of the personality of Sheriff Casper Denny, that was not a reflection on Sheriff Pusser. Quite the contrary, I never met the man. As far as I know, he was a saint. The character of Sheriff Casper Denny was an extension of my own life. My father was a Tennessee Deputy Sheriff and he was a shit.”

So for twenty years, I’d had that wrong. But by the time I found out, I’d learned to look at the world of my youth with a writer’s detachment instead of a ex-pat’s ambivalence. Hints of that world have shown up throughout my work, and will probably always do so.

And at least I was right about Reelfoot Lake. Bourgeau told me, “The idea of the lake comes from reading about Reelfoot Lake and thinking it must be one of the neatest places on earth, but I’ve never seen it. However, I have seen the bayou of Louisiana and the wetlands of New Jersey, so I am familiar with how it might look. Still, it is darn fascinating. The New Madrid Fault and all that. It is larger than history. It belongs in fantasy.”

Fantasy, huh? Hey, I write fantasy. Hmm….

Giants of West Tennessee: Buford Pusser

Posted on by Alex in Buford Pusser, Giants of West Tennessee, Walking Tall, west Tennessee | 1 Comment

NOTE: This is the first in an occasional series about notable figures from my home region. These are personal reminiscences and opinions; where available, I’ll include links so interested readers can find out more.

There aren’t many heroic figures to come out of flat, muddy west Tennessee. Elvis is one, obviously, but he’s a special case. Tina Turner, born Annie Mae Bullock in diminutive Nutbush, is certainly heroic, but she’s not really associated with the region. But we do have one genuine, larger-than-life hero to our credit: Buford Pusser.

The legend goes like this: former pro wrestler and ex-Marine Buford Pusser returns to McNairy County, Tennessee and is appalled at the rampant injustice. When he’s beaten and robbed at a local gambling joint run by the well-connected State Line Gang, he goes back for revenge. At his trial for this assault, his righteousness convinces the jury to take a stand against the gangsters, and he’s acquitted. Emboldened, he runs for county sheriff and wins.

As sheriff, Buford doesn’t carry a gun. Instead he wields a big stick, literally: four feet long, made of concrete-solid hickory wood. He pursues the criminals and bootleggers that formally had a free ride in the country. He’s shot and stabbed, but nothing stops him, until the morning of August 12, 1967. In an ambush, his wife is killed and he’s shot in the face. But he survives to continue fighting the good fight, until he’s killed in a 1974 one-car wreck that had “suspicious” written all over it.

This is the story you’ll find in the trilogy of movies based on his life: Walking Tall (1973, with Joe Don Baker as Pusser), Walking Tall Part 2 (1975, with Bo Svenson taking over) and Walking Tall: the Final Chapter (1977, again with Svenson). The truth, as you can imagine, was quite a bit less black-and-white and can be found in detail in the books The State Line Mob: A True Story of Murder and Intrigue and The Twelfth of August, both by W.R. Morris. As with all real people, Pusser was neither all good nor all bad, and nothing changes the fact that he took a lot of punishment in his capacity as sheriff, not least of which was losing his wife.

If my memory is right, when I was 11 I shook Pusser’s hand at the Humboldt, Tennessee Strawberry Festival in the spring of 1974. He was part of the annual parade, along with the governor and various strawberry-related dignitaries. I remember mainly his size, and the off-kilter aspect of his reconstructed face. I was also disappointed he didn’t look like Joe Don Baker.

But the public figure of Pusser–an indestructible man with a huge stick, ready to dispense justice–has more reality than the man himself. Elvis may have worn the cape, but Buford Pusser is West Tennessee’s superhero.

You can’t go home again (and really, who’d want to?)

Posted on by Alex in home, Milan, violence, west Tennessee | 2 Comments

Recently a family emergency required me to return to my tiny West Tennessee home town. How tiny? The population is roughly 300, and around 250 of them are related to me at some level.

Later, doing research for a novel set in the region, I came across this vintage (1970) description written by Donn (sic) Munson in SAGA magazine:

West Tennessee is a blue-bib-overall and bootleg-booze-from-a-Mason-jar country. On the surface, it’s a land of cotton and hogs, soybeans and sorghum, grits and gravy. It’s also a land of barn burnings and bushwhackings, where dogs are poisoned and anonymous phone calls threaten children’s lives.

It’s a land of neat churches and prohibition, a land where ramshackle motels have housed everything from moonshine to disease-riddled whores who cater to every known human desire.

There are parts of West Tennessee that make Port Said or Tijuana look like Disneyland.

When I think of home, this sort of thing comes to mind:

The irony here is that Milan (pronounced MY-lan, unlike the Italian city) is also home to the Milan Arsenal, making it one of the few places whose citizens could answer that rhetorical question of the far left, “Who Would Jesus Bomb?”

On the other hand, without west Tennessee (specifically dangerous, glorious, historic Memphis), I wouldn’t have witnessed this moment:

The C-in-C froze in his tracks and remained utterly immobile for a minute and twenty seconds, transfixed by Elvis singing “Teddy Bear.”

***Addendum added February 19, 2009***

I received the following from my mother, who still lives in west Tennessee:

Saint Peter was manning the Pearly Gates when forty people from Memphis showed up.

Never having seen anyone from Memphis at heaven’s door, Saint Peter said he would have to check with God.

After hearing the news, God instructed him to admit them if they were virtuous.

A few minutes later, Saint Peter returned to God breathless and said, “They’re gone!”

“What?” asked God. “All of the Memphians are gone?”

“No!” replied Saint Peter. “The Pearly Gates!”