One Foot in Hell; the Other in Heaven

For the last couple of months it has been my honor to help Duke Miller, whose work I love, publish his book. Living and Dying with Dogs went out of print a bit over a year ago. Now comes Living and Dying with Dogs: Turbo Edition. The new book contains extensive rewrites and the inclusion of Handbook for the Hopeless, a bizarre novella cum employment guide for emergency refugee relief workers. How to describe the Handbook?  More on that later.  Despite the title, this 2nd Edition is not about creating a doggie hospice program. It’s about the people who rush into war zones hoping to bring help to victims of genocides, famines, and epidemics and how the emergency aid process alters everyone’s perception of what we quaintly call reality. It’s about what happens to people forced to check their morals at the door in order to do what needs to be done. Do the ends justify the means? Duke explores this heuristic notion where the sick and dying lie. In that sense, this book asks the old questions, but provides new answers. He writes about things we don’t want to think about, like how the best of us can falter or how our furry friends occasionally eat the hands that have fed them.   If this book was an endless slog over mountains of corpses, I’d probably only recommend it for those considering a career in relief work. But it’s not. There’s dark humor here, poetry as well.  Take the beautiful Hollywood agent who the protagonist admits he should have never slept with. She urges him to write more conventional stories that people can understand, like For Whom the Bell Tolls.  Stuff she can easily sell to the movie industry. He dreads her visits but WTF, she knows people. Maybe he’d better sleep with her again. But no…ghosts surround him and the lost appear before his eyes: the invisible ones he’s loved and mourned. A trip home makes him feel like an alien.  Old friends are left behind.  Disease rots his body and always there is the dark alley or endless hallway populated by drug addicts.  However, sometimes “life floods the parched regions” of his heart in unexpected places, like leper colonies, whore houses, and the wounds of a dying child.

Which brings us to Handbook for the Hopeless  in which an online suicide haunts a man tasked with writing a “how to get a job in a war zone” manual by his well-meaning publisher. But every time he attempts to tell it straight, another ghost enters his mind and down he falls into the waiting arms of one humorously dark character after the other.   We were aided in our publishing endeavor by John’s Motorcycle Storage and Rare Book Disposal of Long Island whose logo is above. You can read more about Duke Miller here and here and at TinhatsBlog. The artwork for both the cover and the logo were provided by Duke’s wife, Teresa Miller.

The paperback (365 pages)  is currently for sale on Amazon at $12. Or you can download the eBook for $2.99.

Anyway, that’s what I’ve been doing and now I’m off to snap pictures of doors!


The Pooh of Fratz

My husband is fond of saying that if you really love someone you will give them a nickname.  I grew up being called “Janny” which rhymes with “Fanny.”  My little sister, Jane, was called “Janie” which rhymes with “Painie.”  Thus we were Janny the Fanny and Janie the Painie.  Here’s a picture of the two of us with our brother Jimbo.


Such a fashion plate with my Buster Brown orthopedic shoes and charming Easter bonnet.

My fifth grade teacher called me Bojangles because I couldn’t keep my feet still and was constantly tap, tap, tapping the floor.  I had no idea who Bojangles was until much later (this was pre-Google) but it sounded better than what he called some of the boys in the class – he had quite a temper and most certainly would not survive in today’s education system where it is not appropriate to grab misbehaving boys by their collars and slam them into the wall.

BOjanglesIn junior high, I was called “Magoo,” after comic book character Mr. Magoo.  Why?  You guessed it. I was half blind but vanity demanded I stumble around like an idiot instead of wear glasses.  Men don’t make passes at girls who wear glasses – remember that line? Well, they most certainly do not make passes at girls who walk into walls!


It took me three times to pass my driver’s test. Finally I got the hint and wore my glasses!

In high school the most popular girl was named Bobbi-Jo. Those of us lower beings fumbled around after her, mimicking her perfect flip, her well coordinated outfits and even the way she spoke.  When this effort did not propel us to the coveted title of Home Coming Queen, in a rash of stupidity which I can’t believe to this day, my best friend, Sarah Jennis, and I decided to rename ourselves Sarah Jo and Janet Jo.  This effort at total and complete humiliation ranks fairly high on my I can’t believe I really did that list (just below the time I convinced a group of rabid beatlemaniacs that the Beatles were hiding out in the Riverside Hotel.)

I never outgrew the need to make an idiot out of myself but by age sixteen I’d decided the popular kids were miniature versions of their parents and always would be.  I started doing things which were “weird” in their eyes, like reading every piece of science fiction I could get my hands on, listening to Indian ragas and wearing outfits to school which were more like costumes.  I had become The Pooh of Fratz, the title given me by the person who inspired FLIPKA.  During my reign as Pooh I traveled all over the country and Europe, always with a wacky stick and daring do but alas, foolishly I married young and the Fratz Kingdom crowned another Pooh.   

Recently someone I haven’t spoken to in twenty+ years called me Fratz on Facebook. With that name returned those autumn mist days when life was indeed a frolic in the waves and not a dog paddle to stay afloat; back to the time when I believed in love everlasting, soul mates, true love and all that jazz. In the time of Fratz, best friends remained close for a lifetime and beheadings only happened in fairy tales and history books. In the time of Fratz I’d never close a door to a stranger, take Baskin Robbins ice cream for granted, or believe political candidates would be applauded for peeing on our most cherished motto “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.”  There are a lot of horrors that would not have been possible in the Land of Fratz such as this:


JFK Jr saluting his father’s coffin  from Bing images

but I have returned.  Does any childhood nickname send you back to your Land of Fratz ?

BTW – in the light of the Syrian Refugee crisis I encourage everyone to check out Duke Miller’s chilling first hand accounts of working with refugees in war zone.   I wish the politicians would.

Handbook for the Hopeless

My buddy Duke Miller has just published Handbook for the Hopeless, How to Get a Job in a War Zone & Hallucinations, a novella which not only provides practical advice on working with relief agencies but also examines (among other things) the results of virtual suicide.

HFTHopeless PHOTOThe narrator sits down to write a straight-forward handbook (as an assignment from his publisher), however, besides being tormented by his past, by memories of genocide and famine, he’s struggling to come to grips with  the possible suicide of an online pen pal.  Or, it could have been a hoax perpetrated by imaginative teen age girls. He has no way of knowing. Thus his feelings are hallucinatory.

I could say a lot more but I’d rather provide an excerpt from The Handbook for the Hopeless, How to Get a Job in a War Zone & Hallucinations by Duke Miller.  Now on Amazon for only 99 cents.

Those still alive were hardly better off. For miles there were massive clusters of ragged, naked, sick, thirsty, and hungry people. Movement came in swirls like gasoline fouling a lake top. Birds hopped and torn blue plastic flapped and smoke rose in thin wisps and the whole scene was like the aftermath of a decisive battle on some far-flung desert. The wind blew little pieces of death into my mouth and nose. I was eating the dead. Dogs ran along the road with eyes downcast, sniffing at bodies. The thick, rolling volcanic crust meant no rent for easy burial. The dead lay with open mouths calling to rigor mortis for a second opinion. The flies were everywhere. Some of the dead were dressed in grass mats, lying beside the road, waiting to be picked up by nonexistent trucks that were part of somebody’s idiotic plan in New York.

 If you own a Nook, it’s also on sale on Barnes & Noble.

WARNING! If you are offended by graphic sexual language, this book is not for you.  However if you like it, spring for a copy of his first book Living and Dying with Dogs which you can find an excerpt of here. They’re both amazing books which will change you forever.

Meet Duke Miller

Below is my original introduction to Duke Miller, a writer who earlier this year re-released a truly unforgettable collection of stories based on the years he spent working as an aid worker. The new edition contains sections from his other publication: Handbook for the Hopeless and is available for sale on Amazon.


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 the back cover of his first edition, 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?”

From Jan: Since I originally posted this “interview” back in 2013, I’ve come to even further appreciate Miller’s work which you can read more of at TinHatsblog. Or on this site under Snippets.