Castle of Shadow [Chapter Two]

Castle of Shadow [Chapter Two]

Castle of Shadow launches today and can be purchased here

Chapter One is available for free here.

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The morning began, however, with an element of confusion, as we were not accustomed to the east country’s atmosphere and it appeared, upon first glance that the hours still belonged to the night. Robert made mention of the sky’s refusal of the sun’s rays and had to check his watch against that of an attendant to ensure himself that morning had indeed come. A cart came bearing coffee and buttered scones and that did much to improve our temperament, although Robert remarked that perhaps his mother was right and expected Zenborough to be a likewise gloomy place. I soon came to enjoy the dramatic romance of the scenery as it looked remarkably like the paintings I had come to adore within the church where my flower bed once resided.

Once we had performed our morning toilet and dressed for the day, Robert mused over the figures of his business while I stared out of the window, entranced with the somber landscape outside. Just as it had happened the night previous, I lost track of time and before I knew it nearly an hour and a quarter had passed and had been non-risible to Robert’s touch. A morbid curiosity weighed on my mind then: had I been watching the land outside or had I been once again bewitched by my faint reflection on the windowpane? I shook it off and made the excuse to Robert that I was simply not feeling well. Robert apologized profusely and said that he had been a fool for not expecting that I might endure some travel sickness, never having ventured so far before. He left and returned a few minutes later with a glass of brandy and a quinine tablet. I accepted the medicine gratefully and returned my attention to my novel, fearing any prolonged stare through the glass would lapse my attention back into my trance.

I still allowed myself brief glances to note the progress of our journey. It struck me as strange as to how many owls flew in the sky— generally solitary and nocturnal hunters, the creatures seemed to congregate en masse like a flock of sparrows. When I last glanced at the countryside, I took notice of how densely forested the area had become and how thick the trees themselves were. Black coniferous giants walled off any other features of the countryside and this frustrated any attempt to gauge our distance. I was again flummoxed when an attendant notified us that we were to arrive in Zenborough in a quarter-hour. I remarked to my Robert that there was surely no way any town or village could exist in such dense arboreal vegetation and that seemed to amuse him although I suspect he had the very same inkling.

On the train platform, Robert took care of the particulars to have our luggage delivered to our hotel and asked the bag man for a recommendation for a place that would serve some coffee or tea. The man, whose face was flushed red and carried an odor of bitter alcohol and petulant pipe tobacco, directed us to a cafe near the town square. Robert thanked the man and pressed a silver coin into his palm and we made haste at once, eager to get out of the misting rain and muddy streets.

Robert enjoyed a coffee and a small cigar while I chose chamomile and nibbled on a petite cake. Robert warned me not to eat too much as a Duke’s feast was sure to warrant a healthy appetite. After our luncheon, we settled into the hotel, bathed and took care of our toilet duties before donning our nicest garments— Robert looked absolutely handsome in his dark suit and I slipped into a green dress, an engagement present from my beloved after he had noticed me coveting it through a window. The principle adornment was the silver crucifix necklace and I was moved nearly to tears when Robert said that he had been stricken breathless by my stunning beauty.

Our carriage arrived to take us out to the manor driven by none other than the drunkard who had taken our bags just a few hours earlier. I’m afraid my feelings were not friendly towards the man as intoxication does not usually make for a charming disposition. Robert, however, smiling and eager as ever gave the man two pieces of silver and even asked to know the drunkard’s name which he gave as Klaus. The moment humbled me as I am occasionally too quick to judgment about the lower classes, now that I have been elevated. A true lady remembers her beginnings or she hazards losing her gratitude.

The misting rain turned to downpour on our way to the Duke’s manor and the noise of raindrops against our carriage roof was to be accompanied by the owls’ fevered screeching overhead. This did not seem to affect Robert and thusly I vowed that it would have no effect on me. As the windows of the carriage had no glass, I felt I was again free to gaze outside and take in the sights, what little I could see through the rain and the trees in the night’s gloom. An interesting notion caught me when I regarded the moon— which bore larger here than back home and with a muddled orangish tint— and then some minutes later, after a few miles had been crossed, the queer notion caught me again. It could be the coincidence of our location, but it appeared to me that the moon had not shifted in its location in the sky. Robert squeezed my hand and remarked on how excited he was to meet this Duke and I soon put any thought about the moon and the peculiar absence of stars out of my mind.

 

If you are interested in reading further, please purchase a digital copy of the story here. CoS_cover_small

Creative Identity with JoJo Rabbit

Creative Identity with JoJo Rabbit

Spoilers.

I recently watched Taika Waititi’s latest film compelled by its audacious premise. A Hitler Youth with an imaginary friend who happens to be Hitler? The conceit smacks of a demented Calvin and Hobbes but I left the theater with the movie reels spinning in my mind and spent much of the next day pondering over it and the more I thought about it, the more depth I found in the film’s message.

I think many people could not look past the Wes Anderson-esque aesthetic and the happy face placed over history’s most notorious monster. I had my own reservations that this would simply be a lazy return to late 90’s irony, subversive crudity without any substantial value, after all, does the world really need another Hitler comedy? See, a thousand years ago in the aftermath of the 2016 US elections, there seemed to be an endless conversation concerning how to represent fascists in entertainment. The argument’s two camps were split into those who believed in Mel Brook’s approach (a la The Producers’ “Springtime for Hitler” finale) of removing power from oppressive people by making them appear silly and those who believed that making something as insidious as white supremacy appear comedic rendered it harmless in the eyes of the audience thus making it easier to dismiss real-life iterations of toxic ideology (or worse, accidentally creating a friendly access point for the history-ignorant to latch onto). Jojo Rabbit somehow walks the line and does so all the way to a satisfying conclusion.

It happens about halfway through when the tone of the film takes a sudden turn from happy-go-lucky romp to a grey and anxious thriller. Waititi wants to remind you that yes, this is still a film about Nazi Germany and you will be upset several times over. There are still well-timed moments of levity, but they aren’t used as mere throwaway laughs to ease the tension so much as they are buttresses in the grand design of the film’s message.

The conflict that threads every character in this film together is one of personal identity struggling to survive a regime of oppression. The most obvious examples of this belong to Elsa, the Jewish girl living in the walls of JoJo’s house and JoJo himself, a ten-year-old fanatic of the Reich who, due to a pretty funny grenade accident, cannot become a soldier. It’s important to remember that the mechanisms of genocide work to erase not only a person, but a people and, further, a people’s culture and history. Wishing to aid the war effort, JoJo begins writing a book on how to identify a Jewish person by interviewing Elsa who gives fanciful answers to feed his imagination. They bond over this activity as well as the activity of letters JoJo writes in the voice of Elsa’s late boyfriend. It’s not unlike the plot of The Book Thief in a lot of ways but because of the lighter tone, the heaviness hits subtly here.

That’s the main story, a young girl who doesn’t fit in society because of a government-mandated Holocaust and a young boy who doesn’t fit in a murderous society because he has a gentle heart. But the more I thought about, the more I realized that the entire film is full of misfits, which scratches the core of its sentiment: that fascism dehumanizes everyone— both the perpetrators and the victims.

Rosie is not allowed to exist because she wants a legitimately free Germany– that it is not enough to be German, one must conform to the party’s ideals or perish. The disgraced (but ultimately benevolent) Captain K is not allowed to exist as an openly homosexual man, or even a proper soldier. JoJo’s friend Yoki is not allowed to exist as a young boy, displayed in a hilarious subplot of him ever getting promoted through the Wehrmacht despite his incompetence and age (Rosie tells JoJo directly that he shouldn’t be thinking about war at his age, but should be climbing trees and falling in love). Even Rebel Wilson’s Fraulein Rahm seems to quietly resent that she is not allowed a more valuable role in the war because of her sex, saying through perhaps a smile too tight, “It is a good year to be a girl.”

The method in which these characters are able to endure are through acts of creativity. As stated, Elsa and JoJo write and draw together. Rosie dances and jokes (and drinks). She also does some character acting as JoJo’s absent father with a beard made of soot to soothe the boy’s anger. Captain K is more preoccupied with designing his costume (the reveal of which is probably the most epically FABULOUS scene of drag since Hedwig) than he is planning for the American and Russian invasion. He also drinks heavily and becomes increasingly disheveled throughout the film (until he walks the catwalk battlefield with Alfie Allen’s Finkel in enthusiastic tow) and it doesn’t escape my notice that the only moral adult characters find the current climate unbearable sober.

But it’s Captain K’s final scene that puts the whole film into perspective. He gives JoJo three gifts. He reminds him that his mother was a legitimately good person. He encourages JoJo’s creativity with the book he, along with a terrifying gang of Gestapo, laughed at previously. He sacrifices himself in an act of feigned belligerence so that JoJo can go be with Elsa.

There are many themes tied up before David Bowie cinches up the credits, but Captain K’s performance probably nails most of them. Respectively: you mustn’t forget the value of a person’s individuality; art is what sustains us and brings us together, and the pursuit of art is a noble one; heroism isn’t defined by the battlefield; family is what is important, biological or not.

And it’s the final scene when Elsa finally opens the front door and experiences freedom for the first time in a long while. JoJo does too, although he is slower to realize it, as he had only just come to terms with the fact that he too was a prisoner of the Nazis. The two primary characters, who found and kept each other after the regime had taken everyone else away from them, begin to dance to Bowie’s Heroes sung in German, we end on an optimistic note.

The reason why JoJo Rabbit works now is that it shows you the daily life of Nazi Germany which ranges from boring to beautiful to horrifying and all over again. We rarely see the less dramatic depictions of wartime Germany and might find it shocking to find that it might not be all that different from life in America currently. Perhaps then, to survive with any real dignity, we must embrace each other, value art, dance when we can and take life as it comes.

I’ve got a horror novella coming out shortly and it is available to pre-order here

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Castle of Shadow [Sample Chapter]

Castle of Shadow [Sample Chapter]

Below is the first chapter of Castle of Shadow, released November 26th. The eBook is available for pre-order here.

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It all began innocuously enough when my fiancé received an invitation to attend dinner from the esteemed Duke of Zenborough in the late of September. My fiancé and benevolent darling, Robert Littelfield, to whom I adore more than anything in this world, is a remarkable craftsman of fine jewelry and purveyor of magnificent gems. He positively delighted in the news that we were welcome at the gracious Duke’s dining table. I’m afraid that I did not catch the significance. Truth be told, Robert curried my favor well out of his class. I was lowly born and orphaned young and had been paying for my room and board by merchandising the flowers I kept in a small bed in the shadow of a church on the east side of town and I was therefore ignorant of the value in twining social connections amongst the world of fine jewelry. My fiancé patiently assured me that this was indeed great news— the Duke, who is a renowned collector of arcane curios, would surely wish to hire my sweet Robert for his skill in his trade.

“We must make arrangements,” declared Robert. Oh, it was the happiest I have ever seen him and his enthusiasm soon spread to my heart as well.

His mother was not as warm on the idea, claiming that Zenborough was a grisly place and crossed herself doubly over her chest. She is not a cold woman, Mrs. Littelfield, but I have never won her affection. She has inspected me as if I am some horrid insect that has crawled into her supper. When Robert was first courting me the woman would not even utter a word towards me. She regarded some perceived slight in my mere existence and there was nothing to be done to win her forgiveness. She nearly fell from a faint when Robert told her that we were betrothed and intended to marry in the spring. On this matter, Robert heartily reminded her that the invitation to the manor was not hers to decide and he happily went to town to send back a reply and to arrange the train tickets due to depart in a mere nine days.

The days passed easily and I would contend that it was the happiest I have ever been. Robert reminded me daily that he loved me more than he did yesterday and did not think that was possible. Robert was able to expedite a few sales that freed up a sizable allowance for us to live as we wished in the days leading up to our journey and so we delighted in the city’s finer offerings, taking in amusements at the theater and dining on fresh fish and sweet wines by the bay. During a promenade around the park with my head firmly nestled into the cradle of his neck, I was reminded about how Robert first came to court me, having stopped by my flower cart to make a purchase and then handed me the flower. It was such a romantic gesture, I was nearly horrified for I had forgotten how to behave! My word, he was so cordial and allowed me to hide my fluster with a whole bouquet next. I do not understand how a woman of my low bearing could have been so lucky as to have found a man as gentle and generous as the one at my side.

When finally the day arrived for us to depart my excitement gave me a barely containable and buoyant energy and Robert was of easy and gregarious cheer. We kissed Mrs. Littelfield goodbye although her mood was dark and ominous. She told us to go with God and draped a silver crucifix necklace over her son’s neck. Robert laughed and accepted the gift but when we were seated he claimed that it was too girlish a feature for himself to wear, and quickly removed it and draped it over my breast. When the train lurched and took off I admit I was glad to be free from the overbearing presence of Mrs. Littelfield and looked forward to a few days without her admonishments. Robert busied himself with the gazette and I a small novel. A cart brought us a tray of cured meats and exquisite cheeses although the bread was rather stale. At nightfall, I made use of the water closet for my evening toilet when a strange thing occurred. I examined my face in the looking glass, although that of itself is not unusual but rather the nightly routine of a young woman who wishes to remain the precious object of her fiancé’s affection, but the peculiarity arose when a knock fell on the door and the concerned tone of my dear Robert came muffled through the wood.

“Are you all right, my love? You’ve been in there for nearly half the hour.”

I snapped alert and it dawned on me that I had been staring into my smiling reflection and fondling the silver cross between my thumb and forefinger. I was dreadfully embarrassed as it is not a woman’s place to reveal her toilet activities to the man she intends to marry and I called back that I was indeed fine and made an excuse about worrying over combing my hair. My beloved Robert mentioned something about never understanding the minds of women and I heard his footfalls retreat to our cabin where I soon joined him. We toasted a small glass of brandy and were both quickly asleep in our beds amidst the rocking cradle of the moving train. Silly dreams filled my head that night and awful ones at that. When I woke and foolishly concerned Robert with the matter he gently reminded me that foul dreams are merely the apparitions of the body’s strained nerves. I was simply anxious about my first big social gathering and nothing more. Robert is so clever and wise and I felt small and childish for even bringing it up. I resumed my slumber and slept easily enough until morning.

I hoped you enjoyed this sample. This book will be released on November 26th. If you would like to pre-order this book, simply click here.

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The Orphan Principle

The Orphan Principle

My mom is pretty candid with her opinions about my books. After she read The Fish Fox Boys she was really supportive. And then in that special way that mothers do, she hemmed a little bit and hawed the following: “… NOT A WHOLE LOT OF MOTHERS IN THE BOOK.”

And I shrugged and said, “Well, obviously.”

But it’s partially untrue as there are matronly characters present in my quaint little novelette– Franny, who takes her name from my IRL Grandmother to whom the piece is dedicated (OH STOP IT, ME! TOO CUTE! SHUCKS!) and of course the Mother Bearoon (the nuclear mutated conglomeration of a bear and a raccoon and aptly named to boot).

But there’s a trope in fiction, primarily in YA oriented genres, that the primary children in most stories are orphans. Harry Potter is the first example that leaps to mind. In thrillers, you have Gillian Flynn’s Dark Places. Because this isn’t relegated to literature alone, Zelda: Ocarina of Time follows suit. Batman AND Superman. And Spiderman, now that I think about it. Fuck me, most super heroes, actually. Each character from the addictive goddamn shonen anime series One Piece? Orphans. Little orphan Annie, the Chronicles of Narnia, hell, even Game of Thrones by the end of the Red Wedding (too soon?). Oh yeah, and Luke fuckin’ Skywalker.

It’s an ongoing trope that seemingly verges on self-parody and there’s been discussion as to why the hell this storytelling format exists and why it’s so pervasive in children’s entertainment. There’s a Lithub article by Liz Moore called “Why Do We Write About Orphans So Much” that I found poking around this concept. Moore’s got some pretty good insight on why it matters in a character-driven sense:

…the pain of the orphan occupies a place of precedence among all other types of pain, feels instinctively true, and makes writing about orphans tempting for a novelist.

It’s hard to argue with that logic. After all, Harry “Big Slytherin” Potter (and you thought there wouldn’t be any dick jokes in a post that started with a charming story about my mother, shame on you) has to confront his parent’s death various times through his journey and his acceptance into a famial structure at Hogwarts and at the Weasleys completes his character’s needs. Skywalker’s shit gets all fucked up when he finds out that his dad’s the biggest bastard of all time, Batman flashes back to a fuckin’ rose or some pearls or whatever every time he pours a bowl of cereal in the morning and… you get it.

But I think there’s a more practical explanation (and I might even go as far as to say that all of that Freudian family psychology might have been found in writing exploration after the fact). In the recent episode of The Self Publishing Show, James Blatch offers that it might be a children’s power fantasy of being able to handle adult responsibilities, which is probably true, but Hutchinson lays down the neccessary pragmatism of the trope:

Get rid of the parents in chapter one. Find a way to get the parents out of it so the children can’t just get mum and dad to sort everything out. And then put them in a difficult situation. It’s the same thing writing any genre or any age group, you put your character in a difficult situation and you remove any kind of support for them. It’s exactly the same for children’s books, your characters just happen to be children, so you need to get the parents out of the way so they don’t fix everything.

To make these kind of stories work structurally, they need to start out from a place where traditional family consequences and safety nets are absent. I call it the Orphan Principle. Ron Weasely has a family and you know what? His magic power is that he’s NICE. Without the cursed orphan Godhead as his best friend and main character, the books would be called Ron Weasley: A Bumbling Academic of Little Consequence Who’s Good at Wizard’s Chess Which is Actually Just Kind of Chess, Fuck’s Sake. Batman would be called A Rich and Entitled Twerp Who Should Stop Doing Ninja Shit Outside and Do His Homework, Fuck’s Sake. If Superman came down with his whole family intact, his dad would be Superman who would take care of all the bullshit and he would be like that egg-sucking Superboy who wore a leather jacket despite obviously not being punk (Obviously the Invincibles is great and works in the subversion of the trope). 

Does this mean in order to write a story that you need to kill off the parents every time? Of course not. You just need to get them out of the way. Steven Spielberg accomplishes this in his latchkey kids classic, The Goonies, by having working-class parents simply go to work. Or they’re moving or something. It doesn’t matter, the movie’s not about them, it’s about the kids and they are fo-sho out of the way the entire film.

A better example might be how Stranger Things handles things. The writers cleverly split the Adults and Children protagonists into two parties (three, including the teens) with their own interesting plotlines. The adults are alive and kicking and holding down the B Plot, while the dork children helm the A Plot. The teenagers carry the C Plot, which is mostly about kissing or something gross like that (I wanna say that girl, uh, B…Bart… Banana went missing?). All plotlines intertwine by the season’s end and it never feels forced or hokey. The children characters get all of the adventurous independence that comes from their absent parents and the adults characters carry the emotional weight to a satisfying conclusion. And I guess the teenagers, also with absent parents who are involved with the scary shit, are like, “Hey, you ever hear about this sex thing? Ha! Wouldn’t it be crazy if sex was like, I don’t know, like just a funny thing we– huh? Barbara who?”

Point being it’s not always necessary to orphan your kids to establish a starting point of conflict– but it is damned convenient. What is necessary, parents or no, is that those characters are free from support so that they may overcome the conflicts they encounter.

 

If you’d like to read a YA book featuring orphans that ISN’T a bummer, The Fish Boys: Part One is a great place to start. It’s a post-nuclear fairytale following the adventures ore_cover_smallf three idiot-savant inventors as they traverse the wasteland and it is available to purchase in paperback and Kindle here.

 

The Absurdist Detective: Philosophy of Literary Noir

The Absurdist Detective: Philosophy of Literary Noir

A common question I’ve been asking throughout the course of this blog-essay project is “what defines the literary genre of noir?” After all, the term was coined to describe a brief but potent era of American cinema twenty years later by French auteurs to describe the dark contrast and emphasis on black. There are no established rules, per se, but rather a tone and look. A vibe. And yet, the term was retroactively applied to the hard-boiled detective novels that inspired the films of the cinematic period, despite the confusion as to what the term actually means. It is a genre category on Amazon. And since mankind has now morphed into one 7-billion-person human centipede with Bezos taking the shit, that makes the genre official official.

Also, probably Powell’s has a noir section.

Regardless, in the effort to help define what the genre means, I’d like to examine the suggested philosophy of the literary genre. Sure, this will vary from author to author, book to book, but we can probably find a gestalt that binds the genre together in a nice, inky ribbon.

LET’S BEGIN WITH WORLDVIEW.

The world according to noir heroes is gritty, decadent, sleazy and corrupt. One almost wishes to project an almost eastern philosophical bent to their prose, echoing the Buddhist maxim “life is suffering.” But whereas Buddhism and Hinduism seek holistic release from cyclical torture, the noir protagonist (or pro-no, which I hope isn’t an offensive way to describe the noir heroes in shorthand) always dives back in, seemingly to almost relish the experience. And you could make the argument that Siddhartha Gautama (Buddha numero uno) refused Nirvana so that he could cycle back into life to help bring every other living thing to enlightenment… but pro-nos usually aren’t in the business of actually saving anybody. They’re either in it for the truth or the gelt. Or the revenge.

Phillip Marlowe doesn’t give a shit about money or rekindling the one genuine friendship he made in The Long Goodbye– he throws all of it away after the truth of his friend’s betrayal becomes apparent. On the grim ending, Chandler said, “any man who tries to be honest looks in the end either sentimental or plain foolish,” despite always portraying Marlowe as an honest man. Likewise, the Continental Op chose to burn every bad motherfucker to the ground in a swelling chorus of murder and double-crosses in Red Harvest, after being struck, in his words, “blood simple.” The common consensus seems to be that the world is not only corrupt, but it is also corrupting.

These are not necessarily worlds without moral values. Our No-Pros live and die by a code. Phillip Marlowe is the shining white knight walking down crooked alleyways, even though he’ll withhold evidence from the police, work his own agenda, and succumbs to bouts of violence. The Continental-Op is the “good guy” because he’s tasked with bringing down the “bad guys”– it just so happens that his license to kill gives him carte blanche to decide who the bad guys are. There is a sense of good and evil in noir, and our heroes slum through the grayscale reality of crime to establish their own sense of justice.

James Ellroy’s latest, This Storm, sets a perfect model of this confused dialectic. On one hand, you have the alcoholic chief “Whiskey Bill” Parker (THE GOOD GUY) organizing a group of drunk, drug-addled, racist, murderous, corrupt cops attempting to bring down a drunk, violent, murderous, drug-addled, racist, corrupt and fascist cop Dudley Smith (THE BAD GUY). The amount of characters is numerous enough to require a personae dramatis in the book’s index but those two totem characters serve as GOD and DEVIL attempting to win the souls of those in their orbit and execute their different agendas. OH BUT IF IT WERE SO SIMPLE. See, the Good Guy’s shenanigans gets a primary character, a clockwork orange being wound by both sides, killed out of well-meaning obfuscation of her prior misdeeds, while the Bad Guy’s gift to her satisfies her life-long yen for revenge. Meanwhile, murders and terrorist bombings occur at the negligence of Team God and street-level, murderous and racially-charged violence happens at the behest of Team Devil. As fucked up as Dudley Smith is with his ideas of pugilism and eugenics (and the first LA Quartet demonstrates this at a majestic and delibrate pace), we see a complicated and even vulnerable face of evil. Even though the reader (I hope) agrees with the (erm, comlicated) Good Guys that this motherfucker needs to go down, you find a politically-fried fascist-patriot, a closeted bisexual libertine guilty of an unforgivable hate crime, a racist and eugenecist who falls in love with Mexican men and women, and adores a homosexual Japanese man more than anything and saved him from the nationalistic wave of Japanese-Internment during WWII America. The exegesis I squeeze from this is that even in this corrupt world, in the most corrupted men, there are undeniable shades of humanity, just as within our exonnerated “heroes,” there are equally as many villanious shades. I’m not talking moralistic relativism here, because that’s a cop-out and there is a clear distinction between Good and Evil, but that in the world presented here, both sides zig-zag across the line to meet their ends.

Like Kandera’s Unbearable Lightness of Being,  noir heroes (por-nos, as we call ’em) are stuck within that quandary of their actions both holding little to no value in a world that doesn’t accept them and the weight of responsibility put on their shoulders as they are the only ones likely to carry out any kind of virtuous action, no matter how futile.

Which brings me to Albert Camus, AKA “Sadder Joe Strummer.”

Albert Camus fielded the existentialist brand of Absurdism. Absurdism, for a quick refresher, “refers to the conflict between the human tendency to seek inherent value and meaning in life and the human inability to find any in a purposeless, meaningless or chaotic and irrational universe.”

The Absurdist Hero, in my mind, is a character that strives to find meaning in the world and tangos with the psychological dissonance when they find none– and yet they carry on with integrity. Phillip Marlowe discovers that the real killer is the loony younger sister in Big Sleep. Once he confirms it with the older sister, he does nothing with the information and goes back to work. The Continental Op washes the blood off his hands in Red Harvest and goes back to work. After the dust settles in LA Confidential, and it becomes apparent that they cannot release the truth behind the LAPD’s most corrupt cop or the revelation of a pedophilic necrophiliac, the surviving heroes are promoted and left to face future uncertainties and bureaucratic injustices.

Just as Sisyphus is doomed to keep rolling his rock up the hill, our No-Pros are doomed to repeatedly affirm what they already knew– that the world is chaotic and cruel– and the knowledge of that Truth is inevitably in vain.

Noir Protagonists are the quintessential Absurdist heroes of fiction. And we must imagine Phillip Marlowe content, if not particularly happy.

 

MS_cover_small   If you are interested in reading some of my own noir fiction,  please check out Muddy Sunset, available hereThe book follows PI Roy Delon as he untangles a web of corporate deceit in St. Louis, 1955. 

 

Fetal Alchemy Syndrome [Short Story Sample]

Below is the first couple pages of a horror short story that I wrote earlier this year. If you’re interested in reading the rest of it, or perhaps listening to an audio version, please visit patreon.com/PierreManchot where you can purchase the piece for as little as $1.  Thanks!

Fetal Alchemy Syndrome

by Pierre Manchot

Paris, 1856

A letter from Benoît Marquis to Hugo Undeig

Translated by Brenda Undeig, University of Kansas, 1979

I know now that heaven cannot help me. Man cannot help me. I’ve created something beyond both and I fear that its rapacious hunger will not only end my own life but potentially all of France and perhaps even the world in its entirety. I write this as a confession, in part. I am aware that this screed in no way absolves me of the sin I’ve brought into this world. Forgiveness is not an option for me. I only hope that you, once a dear friend of mine all those many years ago, might understand the gravity of my actions and, if fate can shine more benevolently upon you than it has myself, you might destroy the culmination of my foolish ambitions.

You won’t find my name preserved in history anywhere but this document. My success in the collegiate arena of ideas has been marred by my lifelong fascination with the alchemic arts. Despite holding the title of Professor at Grenoble in the sciences of chemistry and physics, my own word capsized my career after my second year. I had written a sequence of articles during my fledging academic stay at university praising the works of such alchemists as Jean Haville, the German Herst Groundlewerg, and the American George Prowell. That was enough to diminish my works in the honorable sciences right there, but it appears that I could not help myself and submitted two published articles on the theories of the ancient Egyptian Tiem Lazara who was able to conjure unearthly metals out of nothing but sand, water, and primitive electrical conduits. My professorial duties were revoked and my academic record expunged. With the knowledge that my pursuits would lead to what it has, I hold no blame for the institutions themselves.

Yet, wounded by the fragility of the central-thinking university system, I pursued the forbidden sciences with an even more fervent vigor. I furthered my understanding of the metallurgic arts and became familiar with hematology, what that I could. When my mother died, I was drawn back to Paris and, after the good woman was buried, I proceeded to pervert her apartment into a laboratory of my own design. I have little faith that a God, benevolent or otherwise, would welcome her to heaven— and it would only serve as a cruel jape to have my mother bear witness to the fruit borne from my evil obsession. I only hope that she passed into some eternal dream, blind to the mockery that obsession had made of her own home.

Where my mother’s duvet once sat, a table now stands, now covered with vials containing metals, acids, bases, and more— the duvet was still there, only perched on its arm, leaning uselessly against a wall. There are texts, ranging from the scientific to the religious, spread out half-read throughout the floorspace. The kitchen rarely produced a meal as I was more interested in boiling lead and mercury and notating the properties. I had converted what was once a charming flat into an alchemic prison. I couldn’t see that, no, not yet, my friend.

You might be considering that what I am telling you might be the exaggerations of a man locked in a room of malodorous fumes and foul humors, a man who might have lapsed into the loathe madness of milliners and brim shapers. I respond to your supposition without contempt, for I wish that it were so! I have sought treatment for nerves and exhaustion after desperately convincing myself that my mind had been made feeble from exposure to my craft’s metals. I desired nothing less than to assume all that I had seen was simply a waking dream or some grand deceit designed by some malicious fever or poison rooted inside my brain. The fledgling science of the mind could give me no answers and, lest I be subject to the horrors of the sanitarium, I withheld the more colorful details of this evil experience. Physicians, while slightly more competent, were no more able to provide me relief. Alas, the memory of blood and destruction always returned and I knew that it could not be false.

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