Splinter of the Mind’s Eye by Alan Dean Foster


Splinter of the Mind’s Eye (1978) is the first Star Wars Expanded Novel and was apparently written as a potential story for a movie sequel if Star Wars hadn’t been a smash hit but only a small one. Naturally, there are many curiosities and continuity errors here in retrospect. Unfortunately, the book is a mixed bag regardless.

Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia crashland on the misty planet Mimban en route to a secret Rebellion mission. Mimban is shrouded in mystery, as well, being unaccounted for in records and apparently uninhabited. Skywalker and Leia discover that apparently isn’t so apparent and wind up involved in a quest to find a mystic Force object in a race against time and Darth Vader.

The early sections of the book are quite good. Foster has excellent prose, line by line, so very evocative descriptions and style. His dialogue is very much like the movies – in the manner of speech, unlike some other Expanded Universe books that have our heroes speaking in way too modern forms. The swampy journey after the dual crashes and the mining town they discover are excellent sequences. Halla the Jedi witch is a great character, as well, and the quest for the crystal is a fine plot.

Then the trouble begins. Luke and Leia get arrested for having a ridiculous mud fight outside. They are taken in for questioning by the imperial leader Grammel, who is actually quite a good villain – brutal, a bit dim, and self-serving. But by now the flaws are out in force and they bubble down to one thing: characterizations.

Princess Leia is far too much of a damsel in distress here. She should be the cool and collected one and in Splinter that role is played by Luke. Of course, Leia would have been traumatized by the torture she endures in Star Wars but Foster makes her nearly faint about it every time she thinks about it.

Luke is far too good at deception and lying and general fighting ability here: it’s like he not only leveled up in power since Star Wars but went to acting school and actually read a book about aliens. That does not jibe with the Luke we see in Empire Strikes Back. He’s supposed to be Goku good and honest, at least so far.

In addition, there’s a lot of silly human colonialism here, too. A bit of an unfortunate Native American analogy seems to be at play. A lot of Edgar Rice Burroughs, which isn’t a bad thing in general but these are the more boring lessons from John Carter in action.

I realize I’m being hard on this book – probably more than it deserves. But the first third was quite good and it got me excited and subsequently let me down. Still, it’s a very interesting relic and mostly entertaining throughout (bar a few sections where entertainment gets way to annoyance).

I just wish this was better.

Larry McMurtry and Arcade Hipsters

My new humor piece “The Last Arcade Repairman” is up at Waxing Humorous. It’s a little play on Westerns and arcades. Its title is a pun on The Last Picture Show.

The piece let me flex my little Mark Twain dialect writing out that Elmore Leonard so reccomended against. But it’s real fun stuff. Both the piece and throwing some fake regional slang in.

(All the my knowledge of the West is admittedly secondhand from pop culture and some history books. I’ve actually never been west of the Mississippi but once and that just barely.)

Check it out if you got a minute or two. It’s nice and short.

Appalachian Crime: The Big Pinch


My new crime story “The Big Pinch” is up at Story and Grit. It’s a small-scale sleazy affair of two hillbilly stoners trying to rip off their dealer. Inspired by the dumb low lifes of Coen Brothers and Elmore Leonard and the spare prose of minimalism.

The story’s skeleton is at least five years old. I first came up with it as an idea for a short film. Me and my very talented documentarian college professor Steve Middleton had been talking about doing something maybe and this was the idea I had.

At that time, the idea went nowhere. We were both busy and we both lost interest in it. But years later I was able to repurpose the idea into a short story.  I find that happens a lot to me – sometimes my ideas need to fail once and gestate more to live again.

On Writing Humor Vs. Standup: Blue Edition

I feel that there is a tremendous difference in what an audience in real life will accept vs. a reader, or, more specifically, most editors of most publications.

On the plus side in written humor you can get away with deeper cut references, more literary flare, and, frankly, softer jokes.

Because standup is a brutal, hard-hitting form. In prose humor, a chuckle can work.

Standup chews up chuckles and spits them out as weak crunchy stuff. Like a soft granola bar of mediocrity.

However, on the negative side, prose humor has to be a bit more refined than standup does. Refined as in subject matter and tastefulness, not in terms of comedy, necessarily.

For instance, let us use as an example my newest humor piece (this is secretly shameless self-promotion, sorry):

Walking with Dinosaurs Really Turns My Girlfriend On

If you open that link and peruse it you might note a few things. 1) It’s on Medium, which means I self-published it, which means no one else liked it enough to publish it for me. 2) It’s filthy as fuck.

Blue, in fact. That’s the phrase used in standup circles: working blue, blue comedy. A piece like that wouldn’t work as is in standup. Not for me. It’s too conceptual and I’m more of a one-linerish type.

I just don’t have the confidence to pull it off.

Yet something like that can work. You can get away with being very dirty in standup if you’re funny enough and not in the wrong room, i.e. church conference or coffeeshop filled with preteens. [The former for the evolution, the latter for the sex. Not that the former would be too fond of that part, either.]

But in prose, it’s hard to find a place willing to take something like that. I didn’t even try that many because I read them (you could too, by checking out my handy dandy humor markets listing) [even more links!!!] and I know, more or less, what they’re after.

So I self-published it. Because I do think it’s funny. And I’m desperate for validation (see Everything Else I Do).

And, yeah, it is pretty dirty. It’s so dirty I’m not even gonna share it on Facebook.  And that is why you never accept a friend request from your grandmother.

You just let it linger in the request que until she passes away and then you add her real quick so you can tag her in a really sad post and get a bunch of sympathy likes.

Likes are like insulin shots for diabetic assholes. I am not watching my diet.

Life on the Mississippi by Mark Twain


Life on the Mississippi (1883) is one part memoir and one part travelogue about steamboat life along the greatest of American rivers. Twain uses his characteristic wit and firsthand knowledge to impart a sense of dirty wonder about the steamboat days and the towns that line up and down the Mississippi.

The book can be considered in several sections:

1) A history of white exploration and settlement on the Mississippi from De Soto in 1542 to late antebellum South. This section is brisk but informative and a nice prelude to the rest of the book.

2) Twain’s own coming of age as he leaves Hannibal, Missouri and takes up life about steamboats as a cub pilot. Considerably the best section because it is the most narrative, personal, and nostalgic. Twain uses his own youthful accumulation of knowledge and experience to show his readers just what steamboating was and gives us a delightful look at the rough-and-tumble steamboat men who reared him. Ends with a heartbreaking steamboat disaster.

(Interlude: In one short, plain, and understated chapter that might last all of forty words Twain jumps through decades of his life by occupation and incident.)

3) Twain, now an old man and a famous writer, taking a trip with friends on a steamboat on a much-changed river. The longest section of the book, here begins the true travelogue but there’s a lot of fascinating history. The trip occurred shortly after a catastrophic flood which is alluded to often and its effects were still visible.

4) Twain’s impressions of New Orleans, the final stop of the first part of the downriver trip, in the 1880s. A little less interesting maybe but still worthwhile.

5) Twain and his acquaintances make a trip up the Missouri River, including a stop back in his hometown. The final section is more travelogue centered with a nostalgic, quasi-tragic yet characteristically funny reminiscence and catching up in Hannibal.

Overall, Life on the Mississippi was a true pleasure. Twain was a great humorist and character writer and here breaks down and explains some very interesting stuff from a history enthusiast’s perspective. The only thing that hasn’t aged well is some of the clichéd depictions of black folk along the river for the sake of comedy. However, Twain was still way more sympathetic and humanizing than a lot of late 19th century Southern writers.

Barrel Fever by David Sedaris


Barrel Fever (1994) is a pretty good and quite funny collection of short stories, humor pieces, and essays that served as my introduction to David Sedaris, although I’ve quite enjoyed his appearances on a few podcasts I listen to.

Although Sedaris is mostly known as an essayist now, at least by me, anyway, he started out as more of a short story/humor piece writer, and perhaps it was a good idea to transition because I do think his essays (all at the back of the work in their own, too short section) are superior overall.

Barrel Fever, like almost all collections, and especially humor collections, is pretty hit or miss. But the hits reach heights of snarky, dark hilarity that make up for the lows, which aren’t bad so much as they don’t do much for me (with one exception I’ll get to below).

Highlights include:

“Music For Lovers” – An increasingly absurd piece about a man who does his own medical procedures, as well as his daughter’s, to increasingly absurd ends.

“My Manuscript” – Really good and hilarious fantasy of a teenage boy, more or less erotic fan fiction for his life.

“We Get Along” – An excellent one about a son and mother dealing with the aftermath of the death of the philandering father while cleaning out the basement they rent to tenants, most recently one the son had an affair with. Very funny but sad.

“After Malison” – Great tale of a sycophantic young writer desperate to meet her hero writer, full of disdain for people who aren’t like her or him.

“SantaLand Diaries” – The essay that made Sedaris famous, a beautiful, epic diary of his time as an elf at Macy’s. Just fantastic.

The lowlight:

“Season’s Greetings To Our Friends and Family!!!” – A story that makes me think 1994 wasn’t that long ago, now was it? Because this has not aged well and basically hinges on a cheap Asian language barrier joke.

That exception aside, Barrel Fever is a really funny and entertaining collection that leaves me primed to check out more Sedaris in the future. Maybe not the best introduction, if only because there are other books that are more essays than stories. I’ll find out.

By Bizarre Hands by Joe R. Lansdale


By Bizarre Hands (1989) is a somewhat uneven but very enjoyable and at times downright grueling collection of brutal and comic bizarro and horror tales.

Lansdale floats around several recurring themes: the brutality of human nature, racism in the South (even though I think he goes back to the well of characters casually using the n-word a bit too often), and misogyny. He likes his monsters human for the most part but throws several weird beasties in, too.

I expected to outright love this collection based on my reading history with Lansdale but found it didn’t turn my wheels like I thought it might. But it’s still an excellent collection of stories overall, and entertaining throughout. A good read but not as great as I hyped it up in my mind.

However, there are a few tales that rise to masterful:

“Fish Night” – The opening story is a nicely wrought character study of two traveling salesman crossing through a desert that takes a poetic bizarro turn.

“The Pit” – An absolutely brutal look at two slaves, one white and one black, captured by backwoods hillbilly maniacs and forced to fight to the death. There is some difficult imagery here but Lansdale keeps a steady hand and brings us to a vicious end.

“Duck Hunt” – A vivid portrait of a young man’s induction into hunting culture turns blacky absurd and horrific. Hell of a central image.

“By Bizarre Hands” – Darkly comic Southern Gothic tale of a preacher with an unhealthy interest in preaching to mentally handicapped girls. Reminds me of Flannery O’Connor a bit – horrible and funny and sad. And fucked up, very fucked up.

“The Fat Man and the Elephant” – Another traveling preacher story but this preacher is considerably less psychopathic – he just gets visions from hotboxing elephant shit. Didn’t say he wasn’t still crazy.

“Down By the Sea Near the Great Big Rock” – Perhaps my favorite. A short but fantastic story of a family vacationing by the sea where intrusive violent thoughts build in each of them. Very pulpy and strange turn at the end.

“Night They Missed the Horror Show” – A masterpiece of pitch-black horror. A pair of racist assholes save their black football captain from a beating only to run into some truly sick shit. Drenching with the darkness of real human evil – no one is good here – even racist assholes don’t deserve this.

“On the Far Side of the Cadillac Desert with Dead Folks” – Epic of fucked up bizarro zombie madness. Scumbag bounty hunter and psycho pedophile run into mad scientist messiah who’s controlling zombies and more than enough and maybe too much said. Weirdo wildness.

By Bizarre Hands starts well and ends very well but overall I do think it’s a little padded out for its own good. Yet the heights are truly tremendous. Reading Lansdale is like reading no one else in the world.