Sunday, June 12, 2022

The Children's Crusade


I've mentioned several times how my writing was inspired in my college years by wandering through the Oklahoma State University's Edmond Lowe Library and delving into its hundreds of volumes on mythology, folklore, ancient and medieval history, cryptozoology, biography, and everything else under the sun.  A large part of the "mythos" that evolved sprang from the idea of a parallel world touching occasionally upon our own, into which earth people -- Amelia Earhart and the Roanoke colonists, among others -- have occasionally stumbled.

The Children's Crusade of the Thirteenth Century was to have a major influence on the Other World -- the hundreds of misplaced earth children were to found several countries therein.  Naturally, George Zabriskie Gray's 1870 book The Children's Crusade -- the first major work on the subject -- was of immeasurable help here.

After college (and after being laid off from my first major job), thoughts of writing stories and novels set in a fantasy world began to fade.  The nasty ol' real world kept impinging on my life and creativity.  I just sort of puttered along, not really trying to further my writing career.

One Saturday I visited the Tulsa Fairgrounds, which used to house the state's biggest flea market in the enormous IPE Building (now called the SageNet Center).  I wandered down aisle after aisle of tables full of pottery, toy cars, oil paintings, old tools and the usual flea market detritus.  I took little interest in anything, because money was tight at the time (when isn't it?).

One table featured books, so many some had to be pinned in plastic baggies to a huge vertical pegboard.  I glanced up at the pegboard and spotted, hanging over the rest like a Christmas angel, a small, reddish-brown hardback with gilded gold highlights on the front cover.  The Children's Crusade:  An Episode of the Thirteenth Century, proclaimed the title.

I asked to examine it.  Yes, it was the book by George Zabriskie Gray, an original edition published in 1870.  Someone named E. G. Patterson purchased it in 1886, as his ancient pencilings informed me.  It was in amazing shape for a century-plus-old book, and the bookseller wanted a measly ten dollars for it.  Of course it became mine!

Since that day The Children's Crusade has been one of my favorite possessions, and along with Curious Myths of the Middle Ages by Sabine Baring-Gould, No Longer on the Map by Raymond H. Ramsey, and Aristeas of Proconnesus by J.D.P. Bolton, it has been one of the major foundations of my story-universe.

Well.  Having written that after a very creatively-dry six months, I guess I'd better dig out my Children's Crusade novel and finish it!

Sunday, October 17, 2021

My Work History: Ending as It Began?

 The letters, applications, birth certificates, Degree of Indian Blood cards, Tribal Roll lists, etc., pile up every day at work.  I've got to log and scan them all!  I learned a week or so ago that I was the only person doing that job; maybe I was hearing wrong.  But Friday someone mentioned that two temps had been hired to help with the mail-ins -- and that they stopped showing up almost immediately.  I guess I'm the only one stupid -- er, man enough to handle the job.

My latest position reminds me of my very first job as dishwasher at the Bixby Cafe in Bixby, Oklahoma.  This was washing by hand -- none of those fancy dishwashin' contraptions around here.  Only occasionally did I get help from a part-time fellow who was more janitor and line cook.

I needed help, and my boss Louise Gordon kept hiring help -- that vanished quickly.  I left my day shift one Saturday, pausing long enough on my way out to say hello to the new evening-shift guys -- two big and burly Good Ol' Boys.  I fell exhausted into bed about 10:00 PM . . . and about 10:15 my father dragged me out of the sack, because the cafe had called.  Both new dishwashers had ducked out the back door about 9:30 and never came back.  So I was scraping baked-on crud from the pots and pans until about 2:00 AM.

[These guys had the gall to come back for their paychecks for their brief time at the restaurant.  Louise asked them what happened.  They said they'd never seen anything like that pile of dishes and pans and silverware, and it frightened them off.]

Another assistant was Jim Ramsey, a fellow Bixby High student who didn't know his own strength, and he was the most easy-going guy I ever met.  I hung out with him because basically, if you told him to do something, he'd do it.  "He won't be intimidated by the pile of detritus," I told myself.

He had the day shift while I had the evening, this time.  I arrived at work in time to see him yank off his damp, dirty apron, yell "THIS IS THE WORST #$@% JOB I EVER #$%! HAD!", throw the crumpled apron into Ms. Gordon's face, then storm out.  So I was alone again.

One Mark Allen Winkle, my younger brother, told me he wanted some of the "easy money" I was making, so he went to the Cafe as well.  I actually had a day off.  He shambled in that afternoon.  His legs and hips seemed to work, but his upper body sort of deflated like a balloon, and his hands hung down around his ankles.  "AAAAAUGH!  I CAN'T STAND IT!  AAAAUGH!  I CAN'T BELIEVE IT!", he said, or something to that effect, and, needless to say, he did not return.

Well, there were other fun incidents, but after nine months at the Bixby Cafe even I ran screaming into the night.  Still, I toughed out while everyone else fled.  Was that being steadfast and true, or being an idiot, though?

Saturday, July 17, 2021

Inspirational Reading

 Well, with multiple books to edit, re-read, and polish up for agents, not to mention coming up with material for Patreon, the ol' blog gets neglected.  Since there come long periods when I have nothing else to do but read, I thought I'd give space to some inspirational pieces of literature.

Golden Apples of the Sun, Ray Bradbury

What can you say about Bradbury?  His prose holds more imagery and metaphor than most poetry.  It's almost too good to start off with; an aspiring writer could get a complex!  "Golden" contains famous SF like "A Sound of Thunder" and "The Fog-Horn," but only a few stories are fantasy or SF.  Don't try to hem Bradbury in with labels and genres!


"Empire of the Ants," H. G. Wells

Had to look at a bit of Wells as a change from Bradbury.  There's a stretch of Bradbury-like prose in the description of the Amazon and the smallness of humanity compared to it.  The new species of intelligent ant is pretty formidable.  They should have taken over by the 1960s, according to H. G.


"The Snow-Women," Fritz Leiber

Leiber's back story for Fafhrd, the first tale of the first Nehwon book, Swords Against Deviltry.  A long, long story, over one hundred pages, with no chapter breaks, it's rather slow going until the last quarter.  The second volume, Swords Against Death, would probably be a better introduction to Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser.


"Rime of the Ancient Mariner," Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Thought I'd try a little classic poetry.  Creepy imagery of the Flying Dutchman-like curse of the sailor who didn't like albatrosses.  Some bits have become a little too familiar due to overexposure ("Water, water, everywhere . . .").  I didn't quite understand the need for the glosses (apparently by Coleridge himself), although I liked the references to Josephus and others to explain the type of "nature spirit" it was that the Mariner offended.


And one full-fledged book review:

The Intruders


Pat Montandon


(New York, NY:  Coward, McCann, & Geoghegan, 1975)


Pat Montandon was a local TV talk show hostess in San Francisco in the late sixties.  She became a professional “party thrower” to S.F.’s rich and famous (everyone from the Great Gildersleeve to Ted Kennedy), as typified by the title of her first book, How to Be a Party Girl.  Unfortunately, her life and career went into a spin after she threw an “astrology” party, and the reader is pulled along for the ride.


It seems a self-important Tarot reader was displeased with Pat’s supposed rudeness (she was busy greeting her important guests and forgot to bring him a drink).  Whereupon he grandiosely put a curse upon her and her house – a rather cold, old, empty place to begin with -- in front of dozens of San Francisco VIPs.  Her problems seemed to begin after this.


Montandon makes her case for something supernatural haunting her – she does list strange noises, music from nowhere, cold spots, and a sense of “presence”; her dog becomes so frightened of the house she has to give him away – but much of her book seems to be a record of simple bad luck.  Someone breaks in and steals jewelry, her car is hit on the bizarrely-curved street on which she parks, fires break out in odd places, and drug addicts and pushers move in upstairs.  Those seemed to me like normal big-city risks.  In these cynical times some of her other disasters seem rather tame:  She is supposed to be on Merv Griffin but gets bumped because the British model Twiggy takes too much time.  (“I felt myself retreating into the nightmare that had surrounded me for so long.”  Get over it!)  TV Guide advertises a televised appearance as “From Party Girl to Call Girl” (implying she was a prostitute; at least she sued them for $150,000).  After this a pimply-faced teenager calls her a hooker at a book-signing party (“I continued autographing books, but everything was a blur.  I could hardly see to write my name”).


So what makes the book interesting?  Well, there’s the man given the pseudonym “Earl Raymond”, an uninvited guest at the astrology party who dates Pat once or twice.  He devolves into the craziest SOB on earth during one date; I remembered him thirty years after reading The Intruders in high school.  Then there is the strange death of Mary Lou Ward, Pat’s secretary and best friend.  Much of the book is devoted to this tragic event, and we are given police and coroner’s reports, yet the more details we see, the murkier, stranger, and creepier her death becomes.


Reading it again after thirty years, another factor set in:  The book is almost a companion piece to Robert Graysmith’s Zodiac, though the infamous serial killer is never mentioned.  Names familiar from the Zodiac case pop up here, including Herb Caen’s and David Toschi’s – Detective Toschi is almost a “guest star” in The Intruders.


. . . So I read Intruders yet again, pretending that Zodiac was the cause of Ms. Montandon's problems:  the mysterious fires, the threatening and obscene calls, the break-ins . . . and damn if Pat’s “disasters” didn’t mesh well with the Zodiac timeline!


And the crazy boyfriend “Earl Raymond” becomes even more noticeable:  a large, heavyset man, he crashed the astrology party to begin with – paralleling the Darlene Ferrin painting party.  His attempted abduction of Pat Montandon across the Bay Bridge to “Squaw Valley, where he had a cabin” is uncomfortably like the Kathleen Johns abduction.  Just who was “Earl Raymond”?


Why would Zodiac zero in on Pat Montandon and her cold, dark haunted house in the first place?  Remember the astrology party that seemed to spark the curse?  “I planned to have a huge round panel hanging by the entrance, with the signs of the Zodiac on it.” (p. 27)  So Z was wandering down the street and saw the big zodiac on her door . . . naturally he had to wander on in . . . practically an invite.


Not mentioned in the book is yet another tie to Zodiac:  Ms. Montandon was married, apparently, for two or three days, to Melvin Belli, the attorney who received at least one letter and phone call from the killer.  As I understand it, Montandon and Belli happened to be in Japan at the same time; they got a little tipsy; Belli took our heroine to a strange Japanese ceremony; the next day he announced that it was a Japanese wedding, and that he and Pat were now man and wife.  I suspect there was a major ass-whuppin’ after this, and Belli insisted it was all a joke.  Were they married or weren’t they?  Inquiring minds want to know.


So here it is.  The Intruders is mostly a rambling memoir of a really crappy period in Pat Montandon’s life.  Interesting in its details of a minor celebrity’s career, creepy in parts but unconvincing as a tale of the paranormal, and interesting in retrospect as a kind of sidebar to the Zodiac mythos.  Worth a read, especially if you know anything about the Zodiac case. ***

Tuesday, May 11, 2021

"Countdown" is Coming!

 I finally gathered together enough of my short stories to make a collection.  The provisional title is Countdown.  The theme is:  each story is as short as or shorter than the one before, for those with limited time (or attention spans).  We end up at the end with VERY short stories, so I needed well over 100 to make a full volume.  What kind of stories, you ask? Well, I reviewed them, and among other subjects in the book are:  anthropomorphic insects, a sperm whale, Sherlock Holmes (several times), the Mothman of West Virginia, cameos of Bugs Bunny and Tom and Jerry (unnamed, of course), Jack the Ripper (multiple times), the Pied Piper, invading aliens, werewolves, the Cthulhu Mythos, The Hook and other urban legends, the Invisible Man (a few times), a scruffy little mutt, the Giant Rat of Sumatra, the Last Man on Earth (more than once), a stag-headed Wendigo, a pre-teen dragon, and a Jabberwock.

In other words, something for everyone!

Friday, March 12, 2021

More Random Thoughts

 I've read a lot of books and stories from the early part of the 20th century. When I first read about the 1918 flu pandemic, however, it was like reading about some sort of alternate history, because none of the books or movies or old radio shows I'd seen or listened to ever mentioned this world-wide catastrophe. Did someone go back in time and prevent it?

I started revising an old story and wondered if I might update it with contemporary references, including COVID-19. I decided against it. Then I wondered if I would mention the virus in any upcoming stories I had planned -- frankly, I don't feel like it, unless I have to for a plot point. Maybe that's what happened in the media and fiction of a century ago -- after putting up with a pandemic for so long, no one wanted to remind themselves and others of it. Looks like no time travel or conspiracies are needed to dump something into the memory hole.

* * * *

I'm revising some older stuff to adapt for/upload to Amazon Kindle, so I'm re-reading books and stories for the first time in some years. "Hey! These are pretty good!" I exclaim occasionally to the empty room.
Earlier I dug up a story I wrote -- well, MANY years ago -- expecting it to be wretched, crude, dreary, overwritten, etc. It definitely needed a lot of work [on every page], but even it wasn't too bad.
I've read in writers' memoirs how they looked at some story or article they published at the beginning of their careers and gasped at how bad it was -- unable to believe any editor wanted it in the first place. I keep telling myself I should be more critical of myself and see similar flaws in my old stuff -- but I rarely do. Actually, I usually end up crying "Hey! This is pretty good!" again.
Well, I scribble and type and delete and copy, and as the days and weeks pass I slow down to a trickle, wondering if what I'm working on is worth it. I need the occasional egoboo (as older fans called it) to keep going. Glad I can find it on my shelf of Mike Winkle publications! (Yes, I have a bookshelf with nothing but magazines and books with my efforts in them. Wanna make something of it?)

Tuesday, February 2, 2021

Getting to Work in 2021

Started February 2021 off and running with another Patreon entry, "Gazetteer of Aanuu Part 3." Reviewing my many old notes, some written in college, I really did feel the "secondary world" I was winnowing out of old myths, legends and Greco-Roman classics was more than just a backdrop for board games, stories and novels. Was it -- REAL?!!? Maybe not, but if Plato can give us Atlantis, Herodotus Hyperborea and the Rhipaean Mountains, Agobard, Archbishop of Lyons, "Magonia, whence ships sail in the clouds," Sir John Mandeville Natumeran where "men and women . . . have heads like dogs, and they are called Cynocephales", and Pliny the Elder "the cavern which is called ‘the North Wind’s Cave’ -- the place named Ges clithron," the least I can do is put them in a gazetteer!

And as usual, I either have no urge to do anything or I try to do everything at once: for the anthology "Classic Monsters Unleashed" I'm trying for a Frankenstein and/or Phantom of the Opera story; I paused on "A Kingdom of Children" to work on a new novelette about the Gryphons of the Great Eyrie, and I finally wrote past the "hard part" of "Kingdom", which I've been leery of reaching for ten years now.

Moving my many books around out in the barn [where sadly most must remain for the foreseeable future], I'm reminded of my desire to write dictionaries/ encyclopedias/ guides to certain authors and series. I'd like to write a dictionary of the names, places, worlds and series of Andre Norton -- and for the fantasy tales of Manly Wade Wellman -- and of Lovecraft/the Cthulhu Mythos (though there are at least two of those already) and of the tales of H. G. Wells (though there's one of those out there, at least). Is that enough on my plate? I suppose. Now if I can just type everything into the computer!

Monday, December 21, 2020

"Strange Creatures" Fifty Years Later


I struggled through 2019 without celebrating the 100th anniversary of Charles Fort's Book of the Damned, and before this infinitely worse year of 2020 passes I want to make mention of the 50th anniversary of John A. Keel's Strange Creatures from Time and Space [SCFTAS for short]. To quote an old web-page I devoted to the subject:

"The present writer has always been fascinated by monsters, of the movies, the comics, literature, mythology, folklore and even (maybe) reality. By age eleven I thought I knew all there was to know about ghosts, monsters and bizarre creatures in general.

"Then one night my father took my brother and me to the bowling alley. We were expected to entertain ourselves while he bowled for the Warren Petroleum Company league. I slipped over to a nearby drugstore and scanned the bookracks. Nothing. For some unknown reason, I dug past the front layer of books on one rack and found a neat paperback with the compelling title Strange Creatures from Time and Space in canary yellow on a somber violet-blue background. A Fawcett Gold Medal book written by someone named John A. Keel, it featured a fantastic cover painting by Frank Frazetta. I plunked down my six bits and spent the evening reading.

I had never heard of the Mothman of West Virginia, or of the Beast of Bungay, or of the Men-in-Black who harassed UFO witnesses. I had never heard of the Burning Man of Germany, or of Thomas, the Winged Cat, or of the Bigfoot-type creatures reported from such unlikely places as New Jersey and Florida. Far from being knowledgeable about Strange Creatures, I was merely a novice."


In the years following I collected news clippings, magazines, books, articles and newsletters of cryptids, UFOs and other matters, mostly because I was a geeky Fortean, but with an agenda hidden in my subconscious.

I remember I dream I had in the late 1970s, in which I found a copy of "the expanded, updated, annotated Strange Creatures from Time and Space." I even remember the cover illustration of this dream-book: A nineteenth-century steam train is chugging over a canyon-spanning trestle in some desert area [probably the American West]. A Godzilla-sized Tyrannosaurus rex is menacing the train, a creature so tall its head is level with the cars even though it is standing in the canyon. (There is no story like that in SCFTAS, of course.) Since then I've worked on my own Expanded Edition (very occasionally, not constantly, or I'd have been finished long ago).

As I wrote, this much-maligned year of 2020 marks the fiftieth anniversary of the publication of SCFTAS, and for years I hoped I'd have the Expanded and Updated Edition ready in time. Circumstances -- and the ever-increasing number of cases I wanted to include -- precluded that. Instead, I concentrated on a few key subjects, simply to get an idea of what the whole mess might look like. For instance, I took a page-long reference to what are now known as "phantom panthers" or "alien big cats" and blew that up into a forty-two page, twenty-three thousand word mini-book in itself. I'm not going to publish it anywhere, because that would entail up numerous copyright violations. An outline of the contents, however, runs:

-- A quote from Ambrose Bierce's story "Eyes of the Panther"

-- The original excerpt from SCFTAS (a mere 233 words)

-- The trilogy of articles from FATE Magazine that jelled the concept of phantom panthers, those being

-- "Mystery Animals Invade Illinois" by Loren Coleman (March 1971)

-- "On the Trail of Pumas, Panthers and ULAs (Unidentified Leaping Animals) Part I" by Jerome Clark and Loren Coleman (June 1972)

--"On the Trail of Pumas, Panthers and ULAs (Unidentified Leaping Animals) Part II" (July 1972)

-- "Mystery Animals" by Charles Bowen (Flying Saucer Review, Nov.-Dec. 1964)

-- "The Surrey Puma," an excerpt from Janet and Colin Bord's Alien Animals (1981)

-- "Ozark Country Panthers," from Vance Randolph's We Always Lie to Strangers (1951)

-- "The Wampus," from Ronald L. Baker's Hoosier Folk Legends (1982)

-- "The Manimal," from Creatures of the Outer Edge by Jerome Clark and Loren Coleman (1978) [COTOE for short]

-- "Another Upright Panther" from Herbert Ravenel Sass's “The Panther Prowls the East Again!”, Saturday Evening Post (Vol. 226, no. 37), March 13, 1954

-- "And Another Upright Panther" from Bruce S. Wright's The Eastern Panther (Toronto: Clarke, Irwin and Co., 1972)

-- "Invasion of the Lion People" also from COTOE

-- "At Last, the Final Secret of the Phantom Panthers!" an excerpt from Merrily Harpur's Mystery Big Cats (Loughborough, UK: Heart of Albion Press, 2006)

-- "Pennsylvania Panther" from Stan Gordon's Astonishing Encounters: Pennsylvania’s Unknown Creatures, Casebook Three (Greensburg, PA: Stan Gordon, 2016).

Hmmm. 233 words ended up expanding into 23k-plus words. A hundredfold increase. That implies that the fully-done expansion will weigh in at about ten million words. I'll check in again at the 60th anniversary . . .