Unnatural Settings

MonsonYesterday I received this book in the mail. I don’t know how we missed it when cleaning out my mother’s home but apparently we did.  This is the story of the town where my mother’s family has lived for well over one hundred years.  It’s also the setting for the flashback scenes in Flipka 2 which I’m currently working on and so its arrival was mundo fortuitous.

I could say Monson is your typical small town in New England and in many ways it is, particularly back when I was growing up.

GGpa2

My great grandfather watering the dirt roads (one of his many jobs).

During summertime visits, I’d run wild through the town, picking blackberries and scoring free cokes at a garage owned by the town’s wealthiest man whose hobby was stock car racing but whose son had been “born bad.”  On his estate there was also a baseball diamond, a swimming pool and a pond with a boat and so the gang of poor locals I ran with happily tolerated the murderous son.

Gram

“You wild heathens better not drag mud through my kitchen!!!”

In the evenings the sticky heat of the day was generally alleviated by cackling t-storms and regretfully we’d head inside to get chewed out by Gram.

However idyllic as it seems, the town and the surrounding area were also the setting for the Dunwich Horror by H.P. Lovecraft, one of the core stories of the Cthulhu Mythos.

th-1

H.P. Lovecraft, Master of the Macabre, 1934

Lovecraft felt that area of Massachusetts was a “lonely and curious country” whose residents had “come to form a race by themselves, with the well-defined mental and physical stigmata of degeneracy and inbreeding.”  There were a couple of reasons why he felt that way.  First, the original settlers were from Salem Massachusetts and were therefore the descendants of witches.

Mysteryrock

Most likely the rock piles were used by the Native Americans for cooking and not orgies.

Second, there are many mysterious rock piles in the hills. Preachers of the 1800s postulated they were “the unhallowed rites and conclaves of the Indians” who “made wild orgiastic prayers” which were in turn answered by “loud cracklings and rumblings” in the earth. According to Lovecraft, they were the ancient ones demanding to be freed from the bowels of the earth so they could rape the locals and create monsters.

felthat

Another of great grandpa’s jobs – milliner. He is the seventh man from the left.

Hum, I wonder if the Monson library stocks any of Lovecraft’s books.  Somehow I doubt it. 

IMG_1114What is your hometown’s claim to fame that the city fathers probably would not include in a history book?

Wicked Wanton Wug’s Wake

Writers face many challenges when their characters are based on real people. The first challenge is, what if the person recognizes themselves and takes umbrage? Then you’ve lost a friend, a brother, a father or maybe an uncle. The second challenge is, how to integrate those characters into a work of fiction, making it clear that the actual person never said the words you put into their mouths nor did the crazy things you made them do.

There are two characters in FLIPKA who are based on actual people. The first is the character of Fi Butters.  I gave her the voice, mannerisms and cocky attitude of a dear friend who actually had an MA in psychology and worked back stage at a Vegas show (she even spoke a little Russian).  She did not, however, travel to a girls’ reformatory to solve a mystery involving bat caves, a 100 year old journal, and government secrets.  I gave her that adventure after she passed away too young.

The second character is Captain Wug.  To him I gave the voice, mannerisms and love of vocabulary belonging to a man by the name of Worlin Urquhart Grey my father’s flying buddy.

unnamed.jpg

“I don’t think I have learned enough to advise you. Just observe the nuances of culture as you go through life. Everything changes. Things happen. Sometimes it seems like it is the end of the road, but it isn’t.”

This man really loved words. In fact he loved them so much that he spoke in long strings of obscure words often alliteratively.   I first got to know Wug when I attempted to babysit the Bellicose Barbarians…er… his four youngest sons, all of whom were under the age of eight (in fact, Dirty Dealing Dougie, was in diapers)  They lived in a two story house that wasn’t nearly big enough for the trampling mischief that four energetic boys can cause, thus Wug left me the first evening with this admonishment:

“Should these pugnacious jackanaps  lead you to perdition, unnerve the rabble-rousers with mention of the Black Snake.”

“The Black Snake?”  I asked.  He opened the door to the pantry and pointed to a long, thick, black leather belt hanging menacing on the back of the door.  I was horrified.  “I can’t do that!”

He chuckled.  He had a low voice and cackle that reminded me of a Welsh poet I was enamored of (Dylan Thomas.)  “You’ll not need to do the deed my dear, just issue a dire warning with injurious intent.”

He was right. The boys would all settle down (except for Dirty Dealing Dougie) if I even uttered the phrase:  “Black Snake.”  I can’t say that they became perfect gentlemen but they did cease and desist from clubbing each other to death.    As a practical joke I bought him a three foot long stuffed snake for Christmas one year. snake.jpgHe retaliated by bringing me back a ring in the shape of a cobra from Thailand (he was Pan Am pilot whose route was the far east).  It had sapphire eyes and a tiny ruby at the end of its tail.  I lost the ring or it was stolen and I’m sure the stuffed snake has not survived but I’ll always have the memory.

He recently passed away.  Below is his obit. Of course bagpipes were played.

Wug

WugandDad

Flying Buddies

Shattered Glass, Shattered Lives

I’m exhausted.  Two book club meetings, two release parties and a book convention all within the space of two months. And…they’ve all been entirely different experiences.  I never know what people will ask or what interpretations they will have of what I consider a fairly easy to comprehend novel.  The author never knows.

Two things I’ve learned:

  1. My readers are not an easy group to categorize. I thought women of a certain age but at release parties more men comment on the book than women – they loved it.  Who’d have guessed?  Not me.

    IMG_3123

    Release Party #2 – Reno Nevada. I was sweating it big time!

  2. Never underestimate the power of a good book cover.  Everyone wanted to know about the cover designers and what inspired them so here goes…
From Melody Paris, book cover designer:
“We are an aunt and niece located in Idaho. [I] am 35 years old and [have] been a professional graphic designer for more than a decade. Kaira is 17 years old, and loves photography. She is headed for Boise State University next Fall where she wants to begin her journey into Theatre and Film as a designer and cinematographer. She is also considering following [me] into the publishing world, at least part time.

FacebookProfileThe inspiration behind the cover came about after a discussion of Fi’s journey. My niece was over and we were discussing the book and how not everything fit for Fi, about like trying to drive down a broken road – a very bumpy journey with the mystery. So, I started out by creating a few designs around the idea of a broken road. I didn’t like my initial designs and that is when my niece Kaira suggested we try broken glass. Originally were were going to shatter the image and have it fragmented on the cover, but we didn’t like how that was coming out. That’s when we left the picture alone and added broken glass to the cover. We loved this cover because it represented both the literal and figurative road that Fi had to travel in this story and how broken she was as a character. Her life kept shattering, changing, and yet she still traveled that road, letting nothing stop her. She walked through the broken glass and was the stronger for it.”

Final answers…

Blogger’s Note: This is the last post regarding answers to this quiz.

6. Halloween is important to 
Nevada because:
a. Pumpkins are its major
cash crop.
b. On October 31,1864 Nevada 
was admitted to the union.
c. It's Alien Appreciation Day

b.  Halloween is Nevada Day.  When I was a kid we always got the day off from school to watch the cast of Bonanza –  Paw, Adam, Little Joe and Hoss   – parade down Virginia street on their horses along with a whole bunch of other mounted men and women shooting off their guns. Now the Gay Rodeo, Hot August Nights, and River Run festivals are the big deals.  How times change.

7. Bat Guano is used in the following ways:
a. Fertilizer
b. Explosives
c. Laundry detergent
d. All of the above
e. What the heck is bat guano

Oh my, this is my favorite question!  The correct answer, believe it or not, is d. All of the above.  In fact not only has bat guano been used to create fertilizer, explosives and laundry soap but it is so over-mined in parts of the world that legislation has had to be passed to regulate the industry. (See Guano Islands Act in 1856, which gave U.S. citizens  exclusive rights to deposits they found on unclaimed islands.)

Unfortunately the mining of bat guano is causing damage to many species of cave-adapted invertebrates who rely on bat feces as their sole source of nutrition, destroying local paleoclimatic records in strata that have built up over thousands of years, and endangering the bat colonies themselves. Bats are highly vulnerable to regular disturbance to their roosts. Some species, such as Phyllonycteris aphylla, have low fat reserves, and will starve to death when regularly disturbed and put into a panic state during their resting period. Many species will drop pups when in panic, with subsequent death, leading to a steady reduction in population.

lehman1

The Lehman Caves – image from climb-utah.com

The bat caves in FLIPKA were inspired by the Lehman Caves which are located in the Great Basin park some thirty miles southeast of Ely Nevada. Indians tried to protect these caves by claiming they were the sacred caves of the dead, guarded by a “little man with a blue beard” who would bring “dire consequences” to anyone who entered. It worked for a while.

Unlike the fictional caves in FLIPKA, these caves are open to the public, however their location –  at least five hours from Vegas, Salt Lake City or Reno – ensures they get so few visitors that conservation has not been an issue.  And mining is not an issue because it’s a National Park.

Other fun facts about bat guano:

Bat Guano Tea

Not really tea. Do not add hot water. Do not drink.

But without a doubt the most bizarre use for bat guano:  Bat Guano tea.

In this case the “tea” is actually a fertilizer.  Yikes, I hope someone doesn’t take the manufacturer literally.

The “Trick” Question

Blogger’s Note: This post (and the ones to come the next couple of days) contain the answers to this quiz, posted last week.  They’re of particular interest if the oddball state of Nevada is of any interest to you and it should be – it’s a strange place.

3. Prostitution is legal in Nevada 
(this is a trick question - pardon
the pun).
a. True
b. False

Prostitution is actually only “legal” in certain counties in Nevada.  True, the majority of the counties have voted to legalize prostitution but in the counties which include Reno, Sparks, and Las Vegas prostitution is not legal. You have to go across the border to a neighboring county to get your kicks or hire an “escort” from one of the casinos ($$$$).  When they use the term legal, what they really mean is regulated. A legal whorehouse complies with state regulations which include the paying of taxes of course.  In addition girls in the regulated houses must also undergo weekly venereal testing.  It’s always about the money folks. Most gals prefer to work for unregulated houses where they don’t have to be prodded weekly by condescending medical “professions” and they get to keep more of what they earn.  In Nevada, sex is a business.  Modern day whore houses even have web pages and the remote ones, landing strips.

chicken ranch

Vintage tee shirt

Some houses of ill-repute have deceptively innocent names  (Warning: the below are live links to actual whorehouses.  Send junior from the room if you intent to click on them):

Others are upfront about their business:

Many of them try to sound so cute like there something just so fluffy and sweet about giving a blow-job:

Others, well they boggle the mind – like the Alien Cathouse or Chicken Ranch.  I mean, would you want to have sex with a chicken?  An alien cat perhaps but a chicken?

Home means Nevada

Blogger’s Note: This post (and the ones to come the next couple of days) contain the answers to this quiz, posted last week.  They’re of particular interest if the oddball state of Nevada is of any interest to you and it should be – it’s a strange place.

2. Who owns approx 84% of Nevada?

a. Federal Government
b. The casinos
c. Howard Hughes’ estate
e. Aliens

The answer is the Federal Government although just about any alien being in the universe would have a better chance of getting a cordial welcome in rural Nevada than a Fed.  Feds are generally greeted with shotguns.

alien

More welcome in Winnemucca Nevada than a Federal Agent!

What the government does with this (our) land is never  disclosed to the public, thus it’s best not to take an unmarked dirt road into the desert as Fi Butters did.   You may well find yourself looking down the barrel of a gun held by either a soldier or a cowboy whose face is hidden by shades and a baseball camp.  Don’t ask them what they’re doing or why you can’t go down that road.  Just turn around, if you can.

Other fun facts about Nevada:

  • Despite libertarian leanings of the state’s rural residents,  Nevada has the harshest penalties for drug offenders in the country.  You can buy alcohol twenty-four hours a day, sell your body, gamble away everything but the family dog, and shot trespassers in the back but you better not lit up a joint!  They’ll put you in jail for life.
  • Nevada has the most hotel rooms per capita of any other state in the United States (and probably the world).
  • Coincidentally, Nevada’s divorce rate tops the national average. Hum, coincidence?
  • Church attendance in Nevada is among the lowest of all the US states.
weddingChapel

Most attended church in Nevada – the wedding chapel (this one is called Graceland. Guess why?)

 

Nachthexen

Question 1. At the end of WWII 
which group of pilots 
unnerved German infantrymen
so badly they were called the 
Nachthexen?
Choices
a. American Red Tails
b. British RAF
c. A group of barely trained
Russian women in crop dusters

And the answer is, drum roll please, barely trained Russian women flying wood and canvas Polikarpov Po2 biplanes originally intended for crop dusting.

pilots

Russian pilots preparing to scare the crap out of sleeping German infantrymen.

These planes were so bad that they would randomly stop mid-flight and the women would have to climb out on the wings to restart them. However they had a top speed below the stall threshold for a Messerschmitt, Germany’s all powerful fighter jet.  This meant Messerschmitt pilots couldn’t slow their planes enough to shot a Po2 down without stalling which was not a good maneuver for a Messerschmitt but the lowly crop duster could handle it.

941658-6-20130716064117

These Russian pilots were called Nachthexen or Night Witches because they could cut their engines and glide silently over sleeping troops.  If anyone heard anything at all before the explosions began, it would be the eerie whistling of the guide-wires, a sound the Germans compared to witches flying overhead on their broomsticks.  (Apparently witches flew over small villages frequently enough for young German soldiers to recognize the sound.)

witchThe physical damage these women caused paled in comparison to the shame of it all.  The mighty Teutonic forces terrorized by women in crop dusters!  The mighty Luftwaffe, powerless to do anything!  Ach du lieber!

Rumors regarding these mighty women were at first dismissed by American pilots but soon came to be revered, most notably by the fictional Captain Wilhelm Umberto Grayson in FLIPKA.  Years after the war he would name his “mistress,” a Po2 biplane, after one of them and oh, the adventures they would have together.

After the war these women became one of the most highly decorated regimens in the Soviet army.  To this date they are still revered:

I think that’s cool, don’t you?