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Well, many, many months ago, I blogged that either McCain or Obama would become the first Third Culture President.  Obama it is, (Thank the lord!).  Now, according to this, his cabinet also will feature third culture people

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Care of Bryan D. Dietrich, the guy who also wrote a prize winning book of poems about Superman, entitled Krypton Nights.

Whenever I find myself in the middle of a project, this blog suffers and gets no posts.  So, my last post says I was editting a poetry anthology.  Done and turned in.  Before that, I was writing a Novelette about Belgium.  That’s not finished, and has been put on the back burner for a bit.  As I did say earlier, I was going to broaden this blog out to be more than just Nostalgia posts.  Anyhow, in the mean time, here are two people I should add to my blogroll:

Jerrod Balzer

and

SD Hintz

Two good guys in the field of horror.  (And for disclosure’s sake, the people who published my Chapbook, into the Cruel Sea)

Instead of starting a bunch of blogs again, it’s just best if I widened the scope of this one.  I still will scrap book here, but I figured I might as well also including the writing stuff here too, beyond research.

Also, the new tag above corresponds to the book of poetry I’m currently editting.

Lets say, for a moment, that you’re writing a piece of fiction set in Belgium. Lets also say that you don’t have a great facility with the French language, and that you want to come up with names that don’t sound like “French Cliche’s” like “Jean” or “Pierre.” (My other go-to names would be “Marcel” or “Alain”). Never fear, because a random generator is available for use. One click brought me these results:

Achille Prevost
Alfred Fleury
Arsène Dechesne
Barthelemy Bayol
Bellamy Chenevier
Bertin Paquet
Bruce Lacroix
Denis Bellec
Donatien Lessard
Edouard-Jean Chevrier
Etienne Dupuis
Fabien Gaudet
Jean Pelletier
Jean-Jacques Lafontaine
Jean-Jacques Tissot
Jean-Jacques-Antoine Courtois
Jean-Louis-Chretien LaBranche
Joseph Lejeune
Joseph-Abel Thibodeau

This site has a good list of symptoms, lobe by lobe in the brain.

When my brother was younger, he and my parents used to fight quite a bit about t-shirts and back patches.  My brother had been into heavy metal, thrash, and punk rock.  So was I, eventually too, but I never had the shirt collection like his.  However, one particular back patch sticks out in my memory at present, and I still recall the reasoning.

When it came to SOD, which was basically Anthrax with a different singer,  my parents found a number of things objectionable.  First, “Speak English or Die” would be insulting to the host nationals — especially since we lived, at the time, in the French speaking part of Belgium (Wallonia).   Belgium has a history of hypersensitivity when it comes to language, but that was mostly between French and Flemish speakers.  For the most part, “Speak English or Die” suggested “Ugly American,” which is even more inconsiderate when you’re living in Europe and your connected with American military in some fashion.  Nevermind, however, that the SOD backpatch and t-shirt, with the offending slogan, could be bought rather easily in Brussels, from Belgian shop keepers.

For my parents, however, there was something even more offensive, and that was the whole “SOD: Stormtroopers of Death.” For my brother and I, “Stormtrooper” meant “Star Wars” and the evil infantry men in white body armor.  For my parents, however, “Stormtroopers” mean Nazi soldiers.  Belgium, in two world wars, suffered at the hands of the German military.  My parents were afraid of inflaming old wounds, on the part of the locals.

In the end, my brother hardly gave in.  The neighbors hardly seemed to care, really.  We were invited over a few times, and their kids, while watching me ride my skateboard, eventually bought their own in an attempt to make friends.  Still, all these years later, I still understand my parent’s consternation, even though I didn’t back then.

The Army Air Force Exchange Service not only has a webpage/online shopping mall, but the service itself is interested in archiving its 100+ years of history.  The page dedicated to this contains not only photographs and facts, but an ongoing call for anybody with relevant experience and documents to step forward and share.  It’s a very good idea, partly because when one lives overseas, the commisary, PX/BX, and all the other services really are a important part of day to day life.

Here is a universal truth some people often forget: all writing has form.  It doesn’t matter whether the writing in question is poetry, drama, essay writing, or fiction, everything has a shape in how it’s crafted.  Quite often, many of those forms and shapes are consistent and frequently used.  It’s a charge often seen when a critic/reviewer charges that a book is “formulaic.”  More often then not, that’s meant in a negative way.  However, it doesn’t have to be.  Being “formulaic” or “by the numbers” in popular fiction, for example, is not a terrible thing.

Think of this way:  cooking usually tends to be formulaic.  If one is baking a cake, there are always going to be similar ingredients used, whether it be flower, butter, and sugar.  One is hardly going to bake a cake using baking soda, rock salt, and organ meat.  Even if one did, however, I wouldn’t eat it — its value as a cake becomes highly suspect.  A highly skilled chef, on the other hand, would take the familiar cake ingredients, cook close to the recipe (form), but would provide personal enough personal variations so that the result ends up being uniquely theirs.

Skilled genre writers often approach fiction the same way a master chef approaches a recipe.  Let me put it this way.  Lets substitute “Detective novel” for “cake.”  Lets say the ingredients were 1) a broke private eye, 2) A beautiful, but mysterious woman, 3) Cops who are either wrong or three steps behind the PI, and 4) dastardly villains.  There’s likely more, but lets say these are the butter, sugar, salt, and flower of the cake recipe — that is, the basic building blocks.  One can mix them and follow the usual recipe to get the most standard and widely consumed results.    Yet, it’s the variations and embellishments that separate the common and mediocre from something that is a little more special and interesting.

So, lets say you have those basic mystery building blocks mentioned, and you start begin to add occult magic, Lovecraft’s elder god, tentacle monsters, and a few other things.  All of a sudden, you don’t have the standard noir novel anymore.  You have something a little more unique.  And that, in my long winded way, finally brings me to William Meikle’s The Midnight Eye Files: The Amulet.

Sure, it’s a noir/detective/private eye mystery.  Meikle isn’t content to just leave it that way, as adds a strong touch of Lovecraftian horror.  The result is not that inedible rock salt cake I mentioned earlier.   The result has the best of both worlds — it’s a credible mystery, and it has enough of the supernatural to land it squarely in the horror camp.  It plays so well in both worlds, it really is a pleasure to read.

Basically, the story follows a detective in a story that starts in the standard noir way.  The detective is sitting in his office, wondering about the state of his career when I strange woman walks in promising a lot of money.  She wants him to find an old artifact from the Middle East — an amulet.  Apparently, it’s been stolen.  The PI takes the case, and the world begins to slowly unravel around him.  The amulet has mystical properties, and the people who stole it want to use it to acheive a nefarious objective.  The shit hits the fan — to use a cliche, and the fate of the world remains in the balance.

As I said, earlier, the story meets a basic starting formula, but Meikle actively makes that formula his.  The writing itself is crisp, filled with good description and strong dialogue.  The Scottish setting, while not prominent, grounds the reader in a sense of place.  The characters, while themselves variations on noir tropes, are beleivable, and more importantly, likable.    All of this, taken together, makes for a smooth, enjoyable read.  In that regard, I have Meikle’s sequel, The Sirens, and I look forward to reading that soon.

In Europe, it’s really hard to travel around and not see the lingering effects of the War and Nazi Occupation, even many, many decades later.  There’s a sensitivity to fascisim that runs deep — whether it’s the Nazi Party being outlawed in Germany, or much, much smaller things.  To some conservatives, the following might seem a little too “politically correct.”  On the other hand, one must remember that soccer hooliganism is one of the last bastions of white supremacy in Europe.  Care of the Brussels Journal:

Patrick Dewael, the Belgian minister of the Interior, has forbidden the wearing of football shirts displaying the numbers 18 and 88. According to the Liberal minister the number 18 stands for “Adolf Hitler” and the number 88 for “Heil Hitler.” A is the 1st letter of the alphabet, H the 8th.

The numbers 37 (Che Guevara) or 13 (Mao) are not forbidden. Neither are the popular T-shirts with Che Guevara’s portrait.

One reader in a Brussels paper wondered whether citizens living in houses with the numbers 18 and 88 will be blacklisted as Nazis by the authorities. Young people born in 1988, who have email addresses containing their year of birth, are worried too.

The last couple of points could be taken as sarcasm.