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!

 

Excerpt from Spider in My Mouth

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Image from Psychicwell.com

Recently my buddy Duke Miller sent me an excerpt from his WIP Spider in My Mouth which, given the constant turmoil in the world, seemed an appropriate thing to share with all of you.  Duke was an aid worker for over twenty years and has circumvented the world at least four times, often to some of the most dangerous places imaginable.  In his book Handbook for the Hopeless, How to get a job in a War Zone and Hallucinations he describes how relief agencies operate and why so many of his former colleagues end up suicidal. His brutal vision is not for everyone but for those of you who like his dark wit, I’ll post excerpts when I get them under the Read Free tab that way you can read the work in succession and not between my otherwise silly rantings. Without any further commentary, here t’is:


Chapter 7 (unedited) of the mythical Spider in My Mouth
by Duke Miller

Let me run beside the vehicle and look through the window at the glow of the dashboard and analyze my own shadowed face: the one recovering from dengue and a long drunk on volcanic rocks with a group of naked goat herders.  If  I guessed who I am would you care?  Probably not, you have better things to do like finding yourself in the mirror or asking a stranger to put a warm index finger up your ass. 

That’s funny he thought.  What the hell is that?  Jesus, it’s a pack of wild dogs, maybe hyenas.  They jumped up like a flock of very large birds.  One bounced off the reinforced bumper and he watched as a black stripped body flew passed, taking his side mirror with it.  The headlights shot through the curve and then the animals were gone; other sentient beings failing to avoid fear and pain.       

So who am I?  Let me explain between rapid breathes and these fucking holes in the ground.

The man driving was a representative of the djinn; son of a djinn in fact.  His life was like the aftermath of a miracle-less airplane crash and he was looking for the war; searching for the good side and he felt that it was just ahead.  He had a sense of knowing the good from the bad and was attuned to well-educated killers as well as the insane ones and those who thought of themselves as gods.  It was important to make those kinds of distinctions and he preferred the killers with advanced degrees from the States and Europe.         

Desolate roads, remote thoughts: the girl’s voice was reading a letter he had written many years ago.  She was naked under a white sheet in a hotel bed on one of the Honduran Bay Islands.  He had nicknamed her “Parking Space” in the local vernacular.  He was confused about who she was, and how she was so perfect, despite the poverty and the father who raped her from time to time.  Maybe he should kill the old bastard; one whack in the head while they were fishing, sure, why not?  Better the sea take him.  But then, that was the way it was if you looked hard enough.  You could see possibilities, and it was usually beyond the normal way.  “What are you doing?” said the voice on the other end of the phone.  “Don’t ever try to contact me again.”  He was slowly jogging along a jungle path, trying not to kill butterflies, ingesting the smell of the sea as medicine for his injury.  The little group in the pickup was blown to bits and he could see them now, there on the road, the other road, a million miles away.  With every footfall and flash of color he imagined where he might be going and then the girl overtook him and she looked back over her shoulder. 

She was wearing sunglasses on a cloudy day.  Her hair was cut very short and it reminded him of silence.       girlwithshorthair

Few knew of his plans and hidden aims.  He carried a safe conduct pass, a letter of introduction to a commander who was the friend of a friend, and bundles of large denomination bills.  Taken together they would allow him almost unlimited access to the misery and death created by out-of-control militias, child soldiers, and officers trained in foreign lands.  

 He didn’t think of it as work.  No, it was fun.  Still, one needed the packet of pills and bottles of booze and no sleep and out of touch doctors and walls of crooked Picasso whores.  Yes, one required all that and more; but where were the ideals or the patriotic thoughts?  Gone, years ago; fuck religion, fuck Buddha.  Where was the good reason to take another step?

“Don’t ever try to contact me again.”  He listened to her in his mind and then the click, the silence. 

There was a round moon over the purple-blue bush and the light splashed down as if from a connected pitcher overhead.  The road moved in front of him like sluicing milk toward vanished mountains.He could see the infinite horizon in the half-dark.  Thoughts bounced back and forth between the Bay Islands and his feelings of self-hatred.How did he get here?  Everyone eventually asks that question, yet he felt very alone; alive to the first mystery that pertained only to him. 

Border lines to be crossed: one day you are healthy, the next sick; day-to-day.  You can see, and then you are blind; moment-to-moment.  You are happy and then in a flash you are sad.  Birth, death, the yellow line in the middle of the road, the smile, the tear; the start of the race and the finish; always one moment to the next and who can see across the divide?  Who can tell the future?   No one and there it is, yet we make plans and act as if we know;  it is our collective magic and we are absurd in our unbound ignorance.  After all, love is overrated and does not conquer evil.  Maybe evil might have a setback, but eventually the empire falls and the babies are carried on pitchforks.  Face the facts, we’ve had it; and he drove on for a few more hours, lost inside, traveling toward the barefoot army, the one killing indiscriminately and they were the good ones; and everything was out there, moving across rivers and through villages, stealing cattle, taking revenge, kidnapping, raping; and the whole mess following old trade routes, moving somewhere out there.  He only needed to find the horrific circus and inspect the madness and then get out. theyellowline

A distant click in the motor caught his attention.  Nothing; it better be.  The expensive vehicle that he drove was worth many people.  If he sold it and added the money to his funds, he could purchase a large number of slaves.  He had witnessed slave auctions before, but only as a spectator.  What sort of a buyer would he be?  At the first one he was surprised to see the stocks, chains, and neck collars.  Slave technology had not changed much over the centuries.  Prices for young, healthy adults were high.  Most of the men were dead or fighting, so women were the main commodity.  Large numbers of children were present as well and it was no longer just the rich Arabs who traded in starving human flesh.  Political and military marauders of the most outrageous kinds were in the game now.  Adding the value of the vehicle with the cash in his bag meant he could probably purchase as many as 200 slaves, which meant he would have to visit a number of auctions.  Negotiation tactics tumbled in his mind.   Depending upon how many he bought per lot, he reckoned that the individual price per head would be fairly low.  Even the stupid bastards who captured and sold slaves understood quantity discounts.  Of course, he would need a vast estate to work his people upon and he imagined land with fruit trees, animals, crops, and honey pots. Perhaps he would take a few brides and use then as managers of a sort.  The others would comply and slowly he would build an empire on a river or near the sea and he would rule with unheard of benevolence.  He would also need a shaman to divine the details of the paradise.   He would play the role of king and import teachers from the outside to educate his people and he would not be afraid of the rising expectations that education brought to slaves since by that time other options on the planet would have been few.  He understood that a blinding false religion was necessary.  He only needed the time to write a new bullshit order of how people and things moved together.  Gasoline would be an essential ingredient of the faith.  Wood would be stacked and soaked in gasoline.  Ceremonies would be short, but enthusiastic.  Orange balls of flame would blast up into the air and monstrous faces would appear and the eyes would look down upon the dancing slaves as they cut flesh and slung blood on top of hot rocks and the smoke would rise upward, toward the meteor showers that consistently ignited the nights of his kingdom. 

Paris

St. Denis, just outside of Paris, November 18, 2015

Unafraid, he would organize his people to dare the converging doom of the world with gasoline fires.  “Pour salt into the wounds,” would be chiseled into the large stones that lined the border of his land.    

A slave-owning king within seconds and he never heard the removed shot and he did not know that a native had gone into his hut and retrieved a WWI, bolt-action rifle and fired a single round at his speeding vehicle; the running wild streak of djinn in the night.  The bullet split apart when it hit the steel frame and a small fragment glanced off his head.  He was immediately knocked unconscious and the vehicle turned sideways, ripping through the bush and finally slamming into a long trench that had been lined and marbled by the dry wind and a primordial flood known only to the people of the fire; his people, the ones who would give him a second life.  

That is who I am, but I am only guessing, since that is all I can do. 


I don’t know about you guys – but I can’t wait to see where he goes from here. What do you think?

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

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:

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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.

duke fall 1

Duke in the hospital after falling off the cliff trying to find Missa Him.

“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.

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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?”