We Interrupt Florida to Bring You the Noyo River Review Launch

The Noyo River Review held its launch party on Sunday, May 13, at the Gallery Bookshop in Mendocino. The bookstore has a deep and abiding relationship with the Mendocino Coast Writers Conference, and when the Mendocino Odd Fellows building was sold last year and the conference lost one of its reading sites, the bookstore stepped up.  The Review compiles work from the winners and finalists of the conference writing contests and includes excerpts of fiction, memoir, and poetry along with original (local) artwork. This year’s edition has a colorful abstract cover.

2018 Noyo River Review. Hey! I'm in the Table of Contents!

2018 Noyo River Review. Hey! I’m in the Table of Contents!

There were about 30 people in the audience (including the readers) and about ten people read, so the ratio was truly more audience members than performers. That’s always good.

Donna Banta gently and skillfully skewers Texas life in Still Life.

Donna Banta gently and skillfully skewers Texas life in Still Life.

A few things we heard:

  • A bit from Donna Banta’s darkly comic short story “Still Life.”
  • Cameron Lund’s bawdy and hilarious Young Adult selection Practice Makes Perfect.
  • A searing depiction of violent death, in Charane Sirrine’s memoir “Behind the Redwood Curtain.”

    Cameron's YA selection is laugh-out-loud funny.

    Cameron’s YA selection is laugh-out-loud funny.

  • Roy Dufrain’s novel excerpt (The Blues and Willie Armstrong) in which his main character recalls a formative moment in his childhood, filled with vivid detail.
  • Laugh-out-loud funny bit from “My Three Franken-Fems” by Aron Lee Bowe.
  • A short section from my story “Littoral Zone.”
  • Katie Pye read a playful, deep and sad poem written by Robyn T Murphy.

Several others, I didn’t get all the names. My apologies to those readers!

Roy Dufrain reads about one of those moments that shapes us.

Roy Dufrain reads about one of those moments that shapes us.

Susan Bono, who edited the anthology, started us off and introduced each reader. Everyone was courteous about staying to our 3-minute time frame.

Afterward, there was cake, with the cover of the journal iced onto it. Norma Watkins commented that the cake “needed extra editing.” When she arrived to pick it up, it had something else on the top. I heard a rumor it was a NaNoWRiMo themed thing. Anyway, she checked her proof-sheet, saw she had it right, and made them fix it. It also tasted yummy.

By the way, the  Gallery Bookshop has expanded. It had always been L-shaped, with a long section that ran back and formed the children’s section (which was where we set up). Now, the area directly behind the square room where the cash registers are is their space. It has a set of unusual stairs and hold journals, travel and craft books, reference and tchokes, technically called sidelines. It’s a big help and a good sign for the store.

Later I had drinks and dinner with Donna and Mark. Bartender stories will follow! All in all, a great event.

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On Seven Hills

Driving to Cassadaga, I’d occasionally see a highway sign that said, “Hill Obstructs View.”  I’d scan the horizon for the hill in question. I never saw one. Was I reading the sign wrong? Did it say, “View Obstructs Hill?” No, I had it right. When I’d see this sign, I’d feel a slight lift to the car, like a gentle swell when you’re in a rowboat, as the road rose a little and then dropped.

Sometime later I realized that gentle incline was the hill in question.

By Sonoma County standards, northeast Florida is flat.

The founder of the Spiritualist Camp of Cassadaga, George P. Colby,had a spirit guide named Seneca who directed him to the south, to “a land of interlocking lakes, and a place with seven hills.”  After taking a steamboat south up the St John’s River — the river flows north– then a packmule train through mud and swarms of mosquitoes, Colby found a place, and Seneca informed him that it was the spot.

I will agree, with only a tinge of Sonoma-hill superiority in my tone, that Cassadaga is hilly. They are gentle hills. I’d be temped to call them “rises,” but they are hills. I did a lot of walking, and my calves concur. The cemetery where Colby is buried occupies a pair of low rolls of earth that rise noticeably above road level.

"The Chapels." This is not the mansion where Al Capone once hid out.

“The Chapels.” This is not the mansion where Al Capone once hid out.

In town, the hotel and the camp office/store definitely are at a higher altitude than the fancy mansion called the Chapels or even the Cassadaga Historical District sign.

Basically, this is how you find the camp.

Basically, this is how you find the camp.

When I first read about the “seven hills,” I thought it was a reference to Rome, and that spirit guide Seneca was having a joke at Colby’s expense. It seems that was not the case.

To my credit, I never actually said out loud to a local, “Oh, you call that a hill?” or the even worse, “Oh, that’s adorable!”

Still, it’s sad to discover that I am a terrain-bigot.

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Northeast Florida; the Itinerary

Here was my plan for the Florida pleasure/research trip.

  • Thursday, May 3:  Drive, ride and fly, fly through the night to reach Florida the morning of:
  • Friday, May 4: Get my rental car and drive, drive, drive to Cassadaga, the Spiritualist Church camp. Get my room. Have breakfast. Get a psychic reading.
  • Saturday, May 5: Wander the haunted streets of Cassadaga. Go on a Spirit Tour. Avoid alligators.
  • Sunday, May 6: Drive, drive, drive to historic St Augustine. Get my room. Time permitting, check out the waterfront and eat dinner.
  • Monday, May 7: Do Fun, Educational and Historical things. In the evening, sip wine in the St Francis Inn’s courtyard with other guests. Avoid alligators.
  • Tuesday, May 8: Same as Monday except for the evening when I would meet up with Kat Hooper, our Editor in Chief and Dread Mistress of Fantasy Literature, and go on a sunset schooner cruise. Then go eat a slice of the Best Pizza in St. Augustine.
  • Wednesday, May 9: Catch up on any Fun, Educational and Historical things. Sip wine, etc.
  • Thursday, May 10: Get up at crack of dawn, drive, drive to Jacksonville airport; fly, fly, fly, ride and drive home to wake Spouse from a peaceful slumber sometime around midnight.

And that’s just about how it went except for the drive, drive, drive part. Florida, as you can see from a map, is a long state, but not quite as long as California, and I was only playing in the northeast corner. “Drive, drive, drive,” (even allowing for me to get lost which I did) was often only “drive, drive” or even just “drive.”

A pair of sandhill cranes.

A pair of sandhill cranes.

Live oak with Spanish moss.

Live oak with Spanish moss.

For instance, I got to the Hotel Cassagada an hour and a half too early to check in, which gave me a chance to wander around and take pictures.


The winter home of the Lily Dale Spiritualists.

The winter home of the Lily Dale Spiritualists.

These two gateposts mark the eastern boundary of the camp.

These two gateposts mark the eastern boundary of the camp.

I had time to visit the Oldest House Museum in St Augustine the first afternoon I was there, as well as wandering the waterfront and seeing the basilica.

And I sought out some alligators when I stopped at the Alligator Farm on Anastasia Island… and I may have nearly had an encounter in Cassadaga, although I’m not sure.

The Alligator Farm says it has specimens of all 21 crocodilian varieties.

The Alligator Farm says it has specimens of all 21 crocodilian varieties.

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Lunch in the Deep End of the Pool

Cafe Alcazar has fifteen tables and a piano, situated what used to be the deep end of the indoor swimming pool of the Alcazar Hotel, Henry Flagler’s lavish “entertainment” hotel in St. Augustine. St. Augustine claims that the pool was the largest indoor pool in the country.  I have no way to evaluate that statement except to note that St. Augustine has a lot of “biggests,” and “firsts.”

By the way, there is no water in the pool.

For a cafe in the once-biggest swimming pool, it has a small but varied menu. My server told me they use fresh, locally sourced ingredients to the extent they can, and to be sure things are fresh and inventory moves, the use certain ingredients in more that one dish. I had a hummus sandwich, for instance; I could have had a hummus and pita appetizer, or a hummus salad. The sandwich is basically a salad between two slices of nine grain bread. That does not begin to do their fresh-made hummus, the juicy tomatoes and the crisp cucumbers justice.

The pool may or may not have been the biggest but it was certainly opulent. The bathrooms are still set up like the old changing rooms, with penny-tiles on the floor. The coquina stairs out of the pool lead the second floor of what is now the Lightner Museum, and they have left part of the turkish baths intact for historical interest.

By local standards, lunch at the cafe is a bit pricey… by my tourist standards no big deal.

Pictures will follow, I hope.


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Technical Difficulties

I’m on vacation as I write this. It seems weird to say “vacation” when I don’t work for a living anymore. “A pleasure trip,” then. I’m taking lots of pictures, hundreds, some from my phone and many, many more with DSLR Canon that I love so much.

My plan had been to blog along the way — not exactly live-blogging, which I don’t think is a real thing– but complete at least two posts while I was here, filled with pictures of this awesome Spiritualist hotel, of birds, landscapes, and quirky images, maybe some great ocean pictures when I get to St. Augustine. That won’t be happening.

Microsoft Office’s photo app has glitched on this PC. A reinstall… and then a tedious upgrade, didn’t fix that. Please don’t reply in Comments with some detailed step by step simple fix, because I won’t do it.

You will see some pictures on Twitter and Facebook, because I can post from my phone just fine.

I will post a couple of blogs, though, because some of what I’m doing is just interesting… well, I hope it’s interesting, anyway. And when I get home to the computer that, universe willing, does still upload photos, then I will simply bombard you.

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Space Corps!

It  surprises me to say this, but Donald Trump may have just won me over. Wait, let me explain.

First, let me give a bit of context. I’m currently on a pleasure trip in Florida. Florida, as you know, is a ruby-red state politically, and that may be coloring my reaction. (Yes, I meant to do that.)

I think Florida has dethroned California as the theme park capital of the USA, and it has a thriving space industry.

It’s that last one that matters.

Yesterday I went to a diner in a town near where I’m staying. They had a flatsceen on with regional news, and a happy newsperson was saying that Trump announced proposed plans  for a new branch of the armed forces; a kind of Space Force or Space Corps. Trump thinks this would be good because, “We’re big in space, both in the military and in… other things.” (That’s not an exact quote, but it is pretty close.)

The newsreader wasn’t exactly jumping up and down and squeeing, but it was close.

But I was kind of bouncing in my seat too.

Space Corps! That would be awesome!

I don’t like the name, though. We already have the Marine Corps and the Army Corps of Engineers. That’s enough corps, thank you. Similarly, we already have an Air Force, so Space Force sounds like we’re not trying.

We need a name that ties to our history, that reflects the desire to categorize our space-faring vehicles as ships. How about… fleet? Space Fleet!

And no offense, Florida, but I’m going to fight you for the location of the Space Fleet headquarters. I know the perfect place. San Francisco, CA. Doesn’t that seem like the perfect HQ for our newly minted Space Fleet?

From there, intrepid space farers can be deployed for military missions, since we’re big in space in the military (or something) but other reasons as well; exploratory missions to seek out new life, new worlds, even new civilizations. We could trek far beyond the bounds of our own star system. We could go where no human had ever gone before.

Doesn’t it sound awesome?

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Benicia’s 25th annual Classic Car Show

Silver pickup. I don't know the year.

Silver Pickup. I don’t know the year.

Sunday was the meeting of the Benicia Crew, and it was also the 25th annual Classic Car Show. We have convened there on the car show day in other years but this may have been the biggest and best yet. The three blocks of First Street closest to the water are blocked off and this year they were lined with dream machines, as well as the green behind the Visitor’s Center.

1931 Ford Roadster

1931 Ford Roadster

Even though we didn’t vote, it looked like anyone could (maybe you had to pay a fee). Each car had a tag that gave the year, make and model and stated whether the restoration was stock of custom. The colors ranged from 1950s’ kitchen yellow to oxblood, from burgundy to purple, pink to turquoise, teal to black,and of course silver and gold. The sunlight beamed off layers of  paint and hand-rubbed finishes.

The Roadster's Dashboard

The Roadster’s Dashboard

The oldest cars I saw were from 1931, although I do think there were one or two that were older. There were muscle cars from the 1960s, 70s and 80s, and of those my favorites were two difference Mustangs (although Camaros made a good showing).

Another dashboard that was a thing of elegance.

Another dashboard that was a thing of elegance.

My camera battery was dead but I had my phone so I took a few snaps. I don’t do the cars justice, so if you live in the Bar Area you could check out the cars yourself next year.

Pickup and Bike

Pickup and Bike

Aston Martin

Aston Martin

This roadster oozes mystery and adventure.

This roadster oozes mystery and adventure.

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Television Tuesday, the Wednesday Edition: Krypton

I’ve started watching SyFy’s Superman prequel Krypton intermittently.

The opening episode did not impress. It seemed predictable, and Seg-El, Kal-El’s grandfather (or great-grandfather, I’m not sure) was a conventional boring male character; cocky, mostly focused on how good-looking he was, completely lacking in any subtlety or self-discipline. And the world didn’t convince. Since then, the better-developed women characters have drawn me in, but the world… well, I will no longer say it doesn’t necessarily convince, but I have questions. Lots of them.

(l) Kem "Can't afford a last name" the Bartender and Seg "I'm good at Brooding" El (Rasmus Hardiker and Cameron Cuffe.) Photo from Comicbook.com

(l) Kem “Can’t afford a last name” the Bartender and Seg “I’m good at Brooding” El (Rasmus Hardiker and Cameron Cuffe.) Photo from Comicbook.com

Krypton could easily be called Kandor, because it takes place, so far, in that city. The Superman Wiki reminds me that Kandor is the city Brainiac shrunk and kept in a jar, which is indeed a plot thread in the series, that is was once the planetary capital of Krypton. The Kryptonian deity was named Rao, the name of their red star, and he (of course it’s a “he”) was a classic sun-god.

Thematically, this is a good choice, since the rationale for Superman’s strength and abilities has always been the difference between the radiation of a red star and a yellow one. Rao is a nice nod to that tradition.

In the series, Rao is the main deity left standing, but the show has said out loud that the Kandorians, at least, used to be pantheistic, and we have seen a representative of one other god. The Voice of Rao is the primary political leader in Kandor, with the so-called Kryptonian Council a mere rubber stamp for his (because, of course, the Voice of Rao is also male) desires.

Raoism has some nice religious trappings. I love that the female servants of the voice (because of course they are all young and female…) wear robes that look like they’re made of newspaper; presumably, the scriptures of Rao are written across them, with a line of text written across each handmaiden’s face like a tattoo. I wonder if you get to choose your own, the way Catholics choose their confirmation names, or it it’s bestowed, or random… like a fortune cookie fortune. The Voice of Rao’s robes also have words, but his are all done in gold. He wears a seven-faced mask to symbolize all the other gods. You know, the ones he won’t let anyone worship.

In spite of all of that, the Temple or Rao, or whatever, doesn’t seem sophisticated enough for this society. Yes, the Voice if Rao is fully engaged in manipulation on the political level, but the ceremonies and rituals (we’ve seen one) are really simple. And while I don’t know the population of Kandor—it might only have about forty-five people for all I know—there is a conspicuous lack of clergy. When Rao decides on a whim to move up a religious festival, by several months apparently, he and his entourage go into the slum area of Kandor and perform a street mass. This is nice and drives the plot in an unexpected way, but does an established religion suddenly decide, for no stated reason, that a holiday has been moved? I think if the Catholic Pope announced that, in 2019, Advent and Christmas

Voice of Rao, proof that you can overdo a good thing.

Voice of Rao, proof that you can overdo a good thing. Photo from Entertainment Weekly

would be celebrated in late June and early July, there would be some discussion, and some opinions.

Similarly, the high-tech of Kandor doesn’t fit with the limited science and their scientific ignorance. It might work as a commentary on our current society, but it’s not working in the show. I think it is supposed to show how corruption has stifled curiosity in Kandor, but that needs to be played up. There are a couple of big issues here.

For one, Kandor is already a domed city. That is a nice visual, but why? Well, because it’s basically Fimbul Winter outside. The dome keeps the worst of the weather at bay. The city gets its water from melting ice, so one assumes that the snow’s been out there a while. It isn’t the result of climate change or at least not recent change. The environment is so harsh and unwelcoming that the Kandorians must have considered what is obvious to the viewer; they did not evolve on this planet; either that, or they chose to put their planetary capital in the least hospitable environment on the planet.

Clearly, human-ish life did not develop in this setting, yet in Chapter One, Seg’s grandfather is executed for saying, “We are not alone in the universe.”

Kandor has an entire military guild called the Sagitarri, who protect Krypton “from all enemies.” What enemies? Don’t they mean that they protect Kandor? And against what? Other Kryptonian cities? Who would invade them? Dude, it’s like minus forty degrees out there, and there are no sports. Does Kandor trade? How? There are no supply lines. Do they grow their own food? We see no gardens. Do they process some weird lichen or fungus for food? We don’t know. We see the military guild, the lawgivers guild and of course the Voice of Rao. We see a bunch of “rank-less” slum-dwellers, and we hear about the science guild, but naturally nothing is said about the food guild or the sewer workers’ guild or the people who maintain the dome.

The right accent piece can make a room.

The right accent piece can make a room. Photo from Syfy.com

This gap between what is obvious and what is spoken seems to be part of larger world-building puzzle that may play a part in the story. I truly hope so. Outside the city, in the sub-freezing temps and the winds and the snow, there are ruins that people scavenge in, and an entire underground complex that does not look new. It appears the city of Kandor was once larger, and perhaps more open. I’m really hoping some time gets spent developing that.

The show is beautiful to look at, and the added complexity, once bad-boy Seg has gotten outside the walls, is promising. I really hope some of these questions get addressed because otherwise this is just a costume drama with the emphasis on “costume.” While I am less disappointed than I was with the opener, it still ranks pretty low on my list of Syfy Original series.


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Exit West by Mohsin Hamid

Here is a link to my review of Mohsin Hamid’s Exit West, a general fiction novel that uses a speculative element to muse about the nature of nations and borders in our modern world. I highly recommend Exit West.

Nadia and Saeed are the only two named characters. They meet and fall in love in an unnamed city which is sliding faster and faster into civil war. At the same time, around the world, black rectangles are appearing in closet doors, storage sheds and doors to mansions. The rectangles take those who step through them to a different place on the globe. As the situation deteriorates in Nadia and Saeeed’s home, they reluctantly decide to go through one of the rectangles, beginning a global migration that will take them to Greece, Great Britain and ultimately California in the USA.

Just because characters like Saeed’s father, the Nigerian elder in a house in London, and various soldiers and agents aren’t named does not mean they aren’t developed as characters. The lack of names makes these rounded characters more accessible; they could be anyone’s father, anyone’s dentist, the solder at a checkpoint threatening anyone. This is a powerful part of the book. The rectangles are stand-ins for smart phones and tablets—devices that bring the far reaches of the world, good and bad, into our kitchens, our offices, our bedrooms.

Exit West was selected for the PBS book club, and it’s a good choice. Whatever your political stance on immigration, this is a must-read on the topic of migration. It will make you think about, and even question, the nature of borders.

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Disks of Gold and Glass (The Writers of the Future Contest)

There’s been a discussion/debate on Twitter in the past few days about the Writers of the Future contest and workshop.

The Writers of the Future (WOTF) contest and workshop has been around since the 1980s. I decided early on that this wasn’t a contest for me, but I always thought it was a good contest, or at least an okay contest.

The WOTF has a lot to recommend it:

  • It runs quarterly.
  • The quarterly first prize cash payout is $10oo.
  • The annual Grand Prize payout is $ 5000.
  • Usually, they have good judges, names like Brandon Sanderson and Nancy Kress.
  • There is no entry fee.
  • It is for beginning and semi-pro writers only (as defined by the contest).

All of these things make WOTF really attractive. $5000 for the Grand Prize is more than you could get in a sale to a commercial market.

The problem is not immediately obvious, but the WOTF contest has a connection with the Church of Scientology. For years, many writers assumed that the connection was slight and indirect. Recently, people are taking a second look at that. There is a concern that the “firewall” between the Church of Scientology and the WOTF is dissolving.

The contest and the Writers of the Future workshop is directed and managed by Author Services, Incorporated.

Author Services Inc exists to represent the prose output of dead SF writer L. Ron Hubbard. Hubbard cranked out a lot of short novels back in the pulp era. Then he founded a self-help system called Dianetics and the Church of Scientology.

Author Services Inc is a wholly owned subsidiary of the Church of Spiritual Technology.

This is described by the Church of Scientology as “an autonomous church of the scientology religion outside the International Ecclesiastical Scientology Hierarchy.” It exists to maintain the scriptures of the Church of Scientology International (CSI). This is according to Wikipedia.

Author Services, Inc, facilitates and sponsors the annual Writers of the Future Contest, which has been around since 1984 or 1985 (sources differ). The Church of Spiritual Technology came into being as a legal entity in 1982.

I’m going to digress here because, well, honestly, just because. According to Wikipedia, the primary purpose of the Church of Spiritual Technology is to transfer every word of L. Ron’s Hubbard’s spiritual scriptures onto stainless steel plates that will be stored in an underground vault, while videos and speeches will be saved onto “gold compact disks encased in glass.” I have to pause for a moment and admire this, because it is just so…. science-fictional.  Doffing my imaginary chapeau in the direction of Ridley Walker for a moment, I invite you all to close your eyes and imagine a time 1,000 years in the future, when the humans of that time (and yes, I think there will be some) excavate this underground vault (the vault exists now) and find these plates and these golden disks. I wonder how they are going to play those golden CDs.

But, okay, back to the contest. Workshop attendees and contest winners are nearly 100% in agreement, from what I could find online, anyway, that no one at either the awards ceremony or the workshop tried to proselytize about the CSI. (They do beatify L. Ron Hubbard). The award ceremony is fancy. (You can see one here on Youtube if you have nearly three hours to spare.) Neither the contest itself nor the workshops seem to be any kind of Scientology recruiting tool.

The videos of the awards ceremony, however, are shown at Scientology events and held up as positive examples of church-related events, and for some people this is a problem.

The second layer of that problem is that recently the CSI’s ability to control the information that was released about it has eroded. For decades, the CSI used money and intimidation to keep people from talking about what happens behind its gilded doors. Lately they haven’t been as successful. HBO’s film Going Clear (inspired by a book of the same name) shined a light on the church and Leah Remini’s nonfiction series for A&E, Scientology and the Aftermath, won an Emmy. With the revelations, the image of the CSI changed for many members of the public. Instead of a dippy but basically harmless celebrity cult, the organization suddenly looked violent and rapacious, tearing apart families, sucking them dry financially and subjecting them to violent psychological tactics of control, in fact, not unlike an evil empire in a science fiction epic.

When you’re a writer and your talent is used to burnish the reputation of some media-obsessed hippy-dippy celebrities, that’s one thing. When the group using you to enhance their profile is separating children from parents, charging church members $30,000 for a mandatory church course, and following, surveilling and harassing former members who are seeking their own path, that’s something else. Some emerging writers are finding it unpalatable.

I’m waiting to see what happens, both to the contest and the workshops. Some of the writers who have judged and taught at the workshops will continue to, I’m guessing. Since the money flows from the CSI to the contest and not vice versa, they may not see a conflict, and the contest has a good track record. Many others, natives of Twitter and social media, may feel less comfortable. Even if the CSI takes some hits, both legally and socially, after all, the ASI is an independent organization, and it may weather the crisis. Maybe, in 1,000 years, our descendants will excavate L. Ron Hubbard’s vault and find not only CDs of gold and glass, but stacks of anthologies filled with brilliant speculative fiction, written by the contest winners.

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