Death and the little thing called life

The other day a friend  told me about a Netflix show, the Frankenstein Chronicles, that interested him.  So I decided to check it out.

If you haven’t been following the series, first of all, it’s set at a time when London was literally a sewer, they burnt coal with no restrictions, and poor families tossed children they couldn’t feed out into the streets to fend for themselves. In addition,  Sean Bean (aka the beheaded Ned Starke from the Game of Thrones) plays a detective tasked with finding the “monster” who’s been mutilating dead children and grotesquely stitching them back together again. It’s critical to find this person because when Jesus returns to earth those of us who’ve been good will get to sit next to him but only if we have a body to reoccupy.  Preferably one that has not been chopped up or in other ways violated.  Jesus is evidently a bit picky about who he keeps company with.

Now, I know what you’re thinking.  Jan, you’ve gone off the nut once again.  So let me explain.  In the 1800s, medicine was evolving into a science. Doctors were on the verge of many advances to help prevent premature deaths from childbirth to plagues.  But only, dot dot dot, if they could get a better understanding of human anatomy and to do that they needed, dot dot dot, corpses. The corpses were happily provided by prisons and poor houses as those blokes weren’t going to sit next to Jesus anyway. But innocent children were off-limits.

Ned Starke to the rescue

As to why the preoccupation with death, remember life wasn’t so great back then. This fact was seized upon by preachers promising a meet and greet with the big JC, thereby making death the reward for a virtuous life.  So, in the Frankenstein Chronicles, when mutilated children’s bodies begin littering the shores of the river Thames, fingers are pointed at the scientific community.  It must be doctors dumping their botched experiments, thereby depriving children of a wonderful after life experience. Our hero has a different theory but I doubt I’ll stick around to watch all three seasons (sheesh) just to find out if he’s right. To me these Netflix series’ start out with an interesting concept but then somewhat rapidly become expensive soap operas sans the cheesey acting.  However, the producers and screen writers have done a brilliant job of depicting the environment that spawned early horror classics such as Frankenstein and Dracula. 

As a writer I’m not sure we’re always aware of the environmental and societal forces shaping our work. I doubt either Mary Shelley or Bram Stoker thought “I’m surrounded by death so I might as well write about it.”  But maybe I should speak only for myself.  What do you think?

Meet Duke Miller

In honor of the re-release of Living and Dying with Dogs, now titled Living and Dying with Dogs, Turbo Edition, I am reposting my original introduction to Duke Miller.  I helped Duke get this book published along with a friend of his, John of John’s Motorcycle Storage and Rare Book Disposal who serves as our official publisher and it was an honor.  While not a light-hearted read by any stretch of the imagination, it is an important book. Besides, it teaches you the numbers from one to ten in Swahili, Thai, Spanish and OuterSpacian.

Here’s the original post:


Duke Miller with Missa Him (I’ve been told not to ask about the name) the dog who saved him when he fell off the cliff and got inspired to write LADWD.

Now readers – I did not sneak into his boudoir to get this shot.  This is honest-to-God the picture Duke Miller sent me for this post which, since the title of his book includes “dog,”  is supposed to prove that he actually does live with dogs – or at least sleep with them.

I met Duke in the author chat room on Booktrope’s  (our publisher’s) internal web site in October 2013.  It was a pretty dull place until he showed up.  Nothing but tips on how to market your book, or meet and greets with other authors. He was so honest, so hilarious, so original I just had to check out his book on Wattpad.

WOW. He blew me away.  So much so that I wrote a blurb for his back cover, along with several other authors.

HR Backcover JPEG image

Here’s what I wrote: “If John Lennon had been an aid worker in the dark places of the world, this is the book he would have written.  Duke Miller has the same brutal poet’s soul, which, combined with a dry wit and illuminating vision, should make this book an instant classic.”

But instead of going on my word, read his words for yourself.  From the Prologue to LIVING AND DYING WITH DOGS.

“As I lay there, the rocks were grinding me into dust and then the title and voice of this book came to me. They were competing with my need to die properly at the base of the cliff, but I didn’t die. I crawled back up telling myself that I could make it as my dogs flew around me with dog capes fluttering in the air. I started writing in my mind that night in the hospital: blood for ink, air for pages, past for honesty. “Living and Dying with Dogs” is not a novel or a collection of short stories. It’s a lack of character study; a kind of long , sad poem written in constantly updating akashic sentences that have evolved into skins or life maps that hang in the closet of my heart. It’s about how I die. Paint by the numbers and with each pigment, you add what I was and what I am and maybe what I hope to be. The images are the people I left behind. I don’t want to take them with me into oblivion at the bottom of some new cliff just ahead. You take these emotions , these characters. If you don’t mind, let them loiter in your heart for a few days or longer. Most of them had a pretty rough time. They’d like that.


Duke with his first friend in Guanajuanto, a hotel owner and spaceship designer. Although a mad genius and plastic artist, he is also a force for good – fighting street gangs and sometimes winning.

The voice you will be hearing bets on the dying, fiddles with autofellatio, smokes opium, takes amphetamines, brushes against pedophilia, leaves people for dead , drinks too much, says things he shouldn’t, aborts babies, disappoints lovers, kicks the dying, weeps uncontrollably , causes his tortured lover to go to jail, can’t sleep, lies, and looks upon orgasms as a sort of Sasquatch of the lower realms. But other than that, he’s a good guy and if you could sit with him over a beer or a joint , you’d probably like him. Think of him as a prehistoric creature, swishing his tail across the yellow grass of a savanna; oblivious to the world around him, but rising up like a primordial freeway sign pointing the way towards the unfinished off ramp. Which raises the ancient questions of this poem: Can a person care and not care at the same time? Why do good people do bad things? Why do bad people do good things?”