Thursday, May 03, 2007
Monday, December 19, 2005
Spiritual Feminism vs the American Political Model
by j.r. horton
about 2000 years ago there was a fundamental, profound, change in the Zeitgeist—a shift in the fundamental psychology of the human race. the old way of thinking, as exemplified in the Old Testament, was shifted out of place by Christianity. the new way of thinking about religion and spirituality was still rooted in the old paradigm, but the change was profound. we are now in the middle of another paradigm shift in the basic psychology of the species homo sapiens sapiens and the change is, most understandably, confusing.
The fresh advent of the universal feminine will undergo, almost surely, as long a process as the religion of the Christ took to become ascendent. Let me explain that.
the whole of western civilization is based on the Pentateuch of the Jews, given to them during their exodus from Egypt. a paradigm shift previous to the advent of Jesus the Christ happened with Moses came down with the ten commandments that provided the base of the Pentateuch, the five books of the Torah. All our laws and ethical standards, our very civilization, springs from the teachings of the Torah, and that is no exaggeration.
there is one event described in Exodus that is particularly a propos to the present situation in the Western world, where religion and secularism oppose one another—the incident of the Golden Calf. it happened when Moses came down from Mount Sinai with the new model for human conduct and found half the Israelites dancing around a gold idol from the earlier world and its animistic gods. Moses was appalled at the licentious conduct of half his people and ordered the symbol of secularism destroyed, but some of the revelers never were redeemed by the Law. instead, they followed their worldly, physical urgings and continued with their atheistic behaviors. They refused to accept anything that said Thou shalt not and their motto may well have been "If it feels good do it". an ad exemplum of a promiscuous, mostly concience-less culture is Israel, which is over 80% secular. examining their conduct toward the Palestinians and their neighbors over the last 50 years will serve well enough to illustrate the point.
to my mind, what is currently called the culture wars stems from that ancient split in the Jews' society, and the fissure runs through the Western world today. America is ostensibly split down the middle with conduct based on the Law and conduct based on the atheistic and perverse behavior of the Golden Calf people strenuously opposing one another. more specifically, on the Left are the secular American Jews, feminists with their feckless academic acolytes, and disaffected minorities like blacks and homosexuals. On the Right are the religious (versus spiritual), particularly the pinhead fundamentalist Christians, plus some others with a wider latitude of character who, finally, believe that living according to the teachings of the Torah and/or Jesus Christ is the model for conducting their lives.
so, back to the new spirituality that is burgeoning in the world. the Feminine is taking its place beside the corrupt world that has been rampant for the last 2000 years or so—a world managed by priests who claimed the only way to access the grace of God was through the ministrations of themselves. that notion was created when someone, not Jesus, said that Man was himself corrupt and born into a natural sin that could be absolved only through the catholic churches. and all that was based on the poisonous creation myth of The Fall in the Garden of Eden.
This new spirituality is not new, in fact it is part and parcel with the teachings of some mystical Jewish thought that blossomed in 14th Century Spain and Palestine, notably in the city of Safed. in that esoteric world you will find the feminine figure of the Shekinah. she was radiance itself, the equivalent of the Christians’ Holy Ghost, and was the pillar of fire that Moses saw in Sinai. in some esoteric Jewish traditions it is said that after God created the world he gave it over to the Second spirits, in the form of the male and female deities El and Shekinah for them to tend to the lives of frail humans.
there is a teaching in Gnosticism that those two deities were named Yahweh (YHVH) and Sophia (Wisdom) and that tradition teaches that one day YHVH was gazing at the clouds and saw a figure striding across the sky. intrigued, he took some red clay (adama) and modeled the figure he had seen in the sky. but after detailing the physical features he grew bored and put it aside, where it stumbled around murmuring gutteral sounds. Sophia had been watching YHVH and saw that he had again exhibited his arbitrary, inattentive nature by leaving this little figure undone. she picked Adam up and breathed the spirit of her wisdom into his body and he was whole. Now isn’t that a more generous creation myth of a woman having sex with a snake and. So, condemning all humans to hell?
it is this model of co-equal male and female gods that will eventually displace the evil notion that it is only through the ministrations of a male priesthood that Mankind can find their way to heaven. and, by the way, i believe that is at the heart of the scandals of homosexual predators in the priesthood—half their psyches are missing, the feminine half, so they fix on other immature males as sexual objects.
if you are scandalized by what i have written so far, get a load of this: Much of American femininism is as evil and corrupt as the priesthood tradition because they have debased the spiritual and replaced it with the political. they are just more people of the Golden Calf, denying anything larger than their vicious political world. In other countries, most notably in the Middle East and other third world countries, women are coming into their own naturally. meanwhile in this country, the promiscuous little women of American feminism think that acting like men, and men at their worst, will propel them to the top. they don’t have a prayer.
Another Pilgrim’s Progress—Part 2
by j.r. horton
what do you do when you understand that the quotidian world must be your resident reality? the exhilaration of a the recent experiences of altered states must become ephemeral if one wants to participate in the world where fellow human beings spend all their time. After all, a guy can’t get laid regularly in that other place. gotta eat, too. you step back onto the path of normative spirituality, but now understand that there are alternatives. it’s now a matter of finding a path that fits your feet, and will lead you to a place that transcends the place where your butt is sitting.
while waiting for the spirit to move me, i opted for more alcohol and drugs, especially cocaine, to stop the tedium and give me a phantom experience that was vaguely reminiscent of my recent other-worldly past. it became pure Hell itself, but it worked.
i began drinking alcohol as a palliative when i was seventeen. at fourteen i’d started to fall in the world of clinical depression, but the night i first drank a 6-pak of Coors beer my world changed. i finally had some relief from a family life where alcoholism and violence were the norm—the Saturday Night Fights full, and up close.
drinking carried me through the stress of college and the military, where i began to exhibit all the symptoms of full-blown alcoholism. i was in trouble constantly but my job performance as a Russian linguist and intelligence analyst kept me afloat for about two years, before i was sent to the Air Force’s equivalent of Coventry for the remnant months of my enlistment.
eventually, almost 25 years later, i had had enough. one Sunday i got down on my knees and pleaded to God, for the first time sincerely, for help—and very real miracles began to happen. this is now a story of a spiritual conversion. but first, a major digression.
here is my version of the history of Christian dogma in a nutshell, and this is where the description of myself as a skeptik kicks in.
if you read the all stories from Exodus you will begin to understand why the Jews needed a schooling from God who, in the human form of the messiah Jesus the Christ, appeared to convert them to the paths of charity and love for all humankind, regardless of their ostensible enemies’ religious beliefs.
in the book of Exodus, Moses comes down from Mount Sinai to discover that some half the Israelites have reverted to pagan worship in the form licentious rituals meant to honor the pagan god as represented by the Golden Calf. This is a metaphor (most of the Old Testament is couched in metaphor, the language of a pre-literate time) for the division between secular and religious Jews, and it continues intact to these times. the secular cast of the present-day Europe and America has its roots in that time, when half the founding culture of the modern world lived by the strictures of the Decalog and the other half insisted that “if it feels good do it.” to my mind, that is a corrupt philosophy that has, for one thing, given us the major plague of moden times HIV AIDS as well as other curses. but the mainstreaming of homosexuality, and other mortal and dangerous conduct, continues unabated, in spite of the horrific evidence.
And what about the founding of modern Christianity? First, there is the adoption of the terrible story of Adam and Eve from the Jewish canon, where Eve has sex with Satan in the form of a snake, the creation myth that founds, in order, all the major monotheistic religions: Judaism, Christianity and Moslems.
now back to my time on this planet: it’s 1988 and i am down on my knees, praying to a God i don’t believe in for succor. and then a very real miracle happens.
it was Sunday the 13th of May. i had spent most of the evening and night swilling scotch whisky at Griff’s Wapiti Lodge, the only restaurant and decent bar in the Wapiti Valley, west of Cody and halfway to the east gate of Yellowstone National Park.
that morning i woke to find my truck missing from the driveway and, assuming i had caught a ride home, i started to walk down the Green Creek road to the highway to catch a ride to Griff’s, and reclaim my vehicle. about a hundred years down the hill i found the pickup stranded pecariously on large rocks that formed the base of the road, just above a culvert. now sober, i figured out how to get back on the road then drove back to the house. and it was then that i got down on my knees and asked whoever was up there, honestly, for help. nothing happened. i dried my tears and went to the refrigerator to see if, perhaps, a beer might have dropped behind the crisper drawer and i could use it to slake my thirst for alcohol in any form.
at that point, i had a prompting, a realization, that i was at an irrevocable turning point. the voice told me that if i drank that day i would die, and i knew it was profoundly true. it was ten-o-clock in the morning and the only bar in the valley opened on noon on Sunday and i was so, so thirsty. in a past search for a treatment center i’d decided that i’d rather die than take on another ten thousand dollars of debt when the process of forfeiting my truck and my house for non-payment was well under way. i had nothing to lose so why not get utterly drunk on my last few dollars then lie down on the bed and shoot myself? i’d practiced the act often enough, in the hope that when the time came the act would come reflexively.
resigned to the apparent fact that this Sunday was the last day of my life, i turned on the TV to watch a football game and wait until the bar opened.
only minutes later an announcement appeared on the screen: Remember, if you are a Viet Nam-era veteran you are entitled to…drug and alcohol treatment…”
i got up to phone the VA hospital in Sheridan, Wyoming and a women answered to inform me that there was a three-month waiting list for treatment. Sorry.
i went back to the front room and was watching my last football game when the phone rang, and it was the same woman. “Mr. Horton, we just had a cancellation. Can you be here on Tuesday?”
i said "Yes, I’ll be there", and went back to sit in my chair to watch the rest of the game, knowing that i was going to finally be OK—i was going to live.
a succession of more, very real, miracles came to pass after that, but that’s another set of stories.
Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays
Another Pilgrim’s Progress—Part 1
by j.r. horton
‘tis the season of the Christians. It’s also the season of Hannuka for the Jews, the Feast of Fitr for the Moslems, Midwinter Solstice for various religions, and Kwanzaa for blacks and some others. I’m a Christian apologist, and sceptic, so I’m going to talk about my faith, the contradictions of Christian orthodoxy, and describe my personal conversion experience when Jesus Christ spoke to me personally, and told me who he was.
when i was sixteen or seventeen and at an Episcopalian Sunday service, we were reciting the Nicene Creed. When the unison reached the part where it says, On the third day he rose again, in accordance with the Scriptures; he ascended into heaven…
i thought, i don’t believe that! the idea that a man, even Christ, could die, be dead for three days, then be resurrected was so implausible that i decided i could no longer be a believer and ergo not a Christian. that decision would lead me down many painful, and sometimes exhilarating, roads in search of a replacement for the faith of my childhood.
over the years, i studied odd Christian sects like Gnosticism, as well as Judaism, Buddhism and, when that last failed, dove into the world of altered states of mind popular in the 60s. That was revelatory and gave me insights—and a fearless platform, for later experiences in the Native Church of America and the hallucinogenic rites of the Ashanika who live in the deep jungles of Peru. by definition, there is no logical way to describe the experience of altered states but, by way of a possible description: try to imagine your body becoming music. Here is a long excerpt from my novel Murder in Mixteca that may serve as a help to understanding the experience of another reality that parallels the quotidian, where absolutely anything is possible, and is as real as the one we are chained to in the name of reality.
“In Berkeley, Pete Villareal reached in the pouch of his hooded sweatshirt, took out a plastic bag and dropped it onto the desk of the watch commander.
“There it is. I finally scored one.”
“The Gate to Heaven.”
“Looks more like The Gate to the Dog Run to me.”
“That’s because it’s been dried.”
“OK, so a dried dog turd. What are you trying to tell me?”
“This is a mushroom that was developed here in Berkeley, supposedly from spores that were over two thousand years old. It’s supposed to be the ‘shroom that the royalty of the Inca and Nazca people used as a way to visit the gods.”
“This is the one they’re feeding the soul tourists here and down south?”
“The same one. It’s real powerful stuff. The ones who have freaked on this have freaked in a real big way, apparently. Full blown psychotic episodes, flashbacks...”
“Who’s peddling this shit, anyway? Where did you find it?”
“A guy named Baret Froehlich. He’s a typical campus freak genius—forty-one years old, has two Masters of Science degrees, one Master of Arts degree, works up at Lawrence Berkeley Labs as a computer whiz while he is working on his Ph.D. in paleomicology. You know the type.”
The Captain grimaced, “Yeah. Has an IQ of 190, lives with a goat and four dogs in a redwood shingle-sided tree house he designed and built himself and also did the two hundred stained glass windows. He has two women, one in her forties who’s a potter and weaver and another in her twenties, a grad student who is doing them both—another groovy little household in the hills.”
“Nah. This one apparently hates women. And men too.”
“So the goat’s the lucky one. Tell me the rest of the story.”
“They guy has a lab somewhere in Oakland and he gets his money from a foundation in Florida. He apparently developed the ‘shroom by resurrecting the DNA from the dust of the old ones, then welding them to the cells of some new ones... Hell, don’t expect me to explain all that biological stuff. At any rate, he’s come up with a winner on the Nob Hill/Marin County dope scene.” He pointed at the object in the bag. “Guess how much.”
“Lots more. Guess again.”
“Five hundred bucks.”
Villareal rolled his eyes to the ceiling. “You got no imagination. I’m surprised you didn’t start at five bucks.”
“I was going to, but I changed my mind.”
“Shit, Cap.” Pete picked the bag up, stared at the black object and said, “Two thousand dollars.”
The commander grabbed the bag. “Gimme that!” He turned it over and looked at the other side. “Still looks like a dog turd to me. What the fuck makes this thing worth that kinda money?”
“Two things. People I SF and the Silicon Valley money who think two grand is chump change, for one. Plus...this turd will put you in a place you can’t even imagine. Even the freakouts say it was the most important thing that ever happened to them.”
“Going to Heaven.”
“So, now what?”
“I’m going to find the lab so we can bust it, for one. Unless I’m nuts, this beauty is going to find its way to the streets and we’ll have kids flying out of dorm windows like bats out of Carlsbad Caverns. i want to stop it.”
“Me too. I remember those days too. i helped pick up a couple of ‘em when i was a patrolman. One walked out onto the freeway and musta been hit forty times before it was over. What a mess.”
Villareal reached down and picked up the mushroom. The Captain reached out and snatched it back. “I gotta show this to the guys. Two thousand bucks!” He stood up. “I’ll get an evidence locker going for this case. It’ll be in there.”
“OK. But don’t even handle it. If it’s as powerful as they say it is, you could go on a trip just from the spores on your hands, as old and straight as you are.”
The man smiled and waved him away. “Go write your report.”
“I’m not done yet. I have one more visit to make.” Pete walked down the hall and down the stairs to the front door of the police station. He crossed the street and got into his car, a Porsche Speedster. He started the engine and let it rough-idle for a moment. He turned on the wipers to clear the condensation from the windshield. Then he reached under his sweatshirt and into the pocket of the shirt underneath. He took out another plastic bag and held it up to the lights of the passing cars. Inside was another, smaller, mottled black and orange mushroom.
Pete drove down Shattuck to Channing and turned left, driving slowly past People’s Park, then to frat row and right to Dwight Way. He then turned left at the abandoned school for the deaf, drove up the hill past the student housing apartments, turned left and then drove down the steep drive to the old neo-colonial Smythe House, which had been divided into two large apartments. Once upstairs, he went to the fridge and poured himself a glass of apple juice.
He crossed the large front room, his feet making comfortable slaps on the old hardwood flooring he had spent days refinishing. He opened the big french doors and went out on the verandah, sat down in his chair and looked out over the city.
The lights of San Francisco, across the bay, punctured the night and limned the dark sky above it with a pale green aureole. The orange lights of the bay bridge were draped across the dark, invisible waters between the two cities, suturing them together.
Pete sat down and put the glass of apple juice on the table. He had decided on the way from his score to the police station that he was going to keep the second mushroom. And he was going to eat it.
All his training had taught him that this was a line which he was not to cross. If smoking a little dope meant building a case then it was within the boundaries of good police procedure, for California anyway. But keeping a controlled substance for personal consumption was crossing a line which could not be stepped back over if he were caught. He’d never had the problems that so many of his brothers on the force had when it came to sampling the cocaine and money that turned up by the bushel basket at some of the busts. He’d been tempted not one whit. But, for some reason, this night, it was different.
Pete sipped the last of the apple juice, put down the glass and stood He walked to the low wall of the verandah and looked out at the cities’ lights again.
The old feelings came flooding back on him. The camaraderie, the clandestine meetings, the feeling of power and the possibility of changing the world, the secrets in the night.
The night, ah the night. Sweet with the scent of the big tulip tree downhill, in the middle of the steep yard. And all the other night blooming flowers that made it all so sweet. Sweet. Soft.
Pete stepped up onto the low wall of the verandah and looked down. The light on the wall next to the apartment door downstairs dropped a delicious cone of custardy light down onto a pair of woman’s running shoes, the laces drooping in a nice languorous pile between the shoes. Luminescent blue and white shoes.
His own shoes were white and luminous too. And the scene below was taking place between the toes of those shoes.
He wondered if Courtney was home. The girl who owned the shoes. She lived downstairs with her boyfriend. Sweet Courtney with the perfect bottom.
He stepped out onto the night. There was a faint crack as his weight came down, but just the faintest little crack. He took another step and looked between his legs. Yup, the light was on in her room. She’d be studying.
He looked out over the steep, sloping yard then over to the apartment buildings next door to the left. The kids’ swings were hanging stiff and bright, chains glinting with the dampness from the night air, seats hanging from the chains in nice little crescents. Like smiles.
To the right, the prayer flags at the Nepal House were vibrant, their folds and drapes seeming to breathe in and out. Alive.
A few strides more and stood directly above the tulip tree with its huge fleshy flowers. Somewhere in the dark below there was jasmine, too. The scent was much stronger when you stood over the tree, the smell rising in a pillar of delicious smell. Nice.
He looked out at the city across the bay. He could see Coit and the Transamerica building. Everything right where it was supposed to be. Pulsing. The bay and city breathing too. Alive too.
It occurred to him that he was doing the impossible but, at the same time, anything seemed possible. This was the feeling that he had wanted, this was the reason he’d known he was going to eat the mushroom the minute he’d gotten into his car at Oz’s.
When he was young everything had seemed possible and he’d never been afraid. He’d felt...immortal. All the doubt, the fear and the other stuff had come later.
Villareal strode out over the hill, toward the apartment building across the street. Some students were having a little party on a fourth floor balcony, eating from huge pizzas and drinking beer. The Grateful Dead were singing, playing, singing, playing. He walked by. A young woman put a slice of pizza in her mouth and looked out into the night. Her face froze, her eyes widened. Pete smiled at her.
The next building was more apartments. Someone playing the piano, someone cooking...curry. Yeah, curry and fish, probably rice of some kind. Exchange students.
Someone ironing shirts, the smell of hot starch.
A guy lying on the roof on a sleeping bag, smoking a joint and looking at the stars. He didn’t even see Pete, though he walked by no more than thirty feet above the guy’s face. Probably too stoned. Or maybe he saw and it made perfect sense, a man walking by on the night.
Hey, this is pretty neat, he thought. What a perspective. What a great way to see the world that you see every day, but in a completely new way.
The next building was dark. A university building, probably. And then the church and above the church a horse and rider.
The cop was not afraid. This was what he had come to meet. He’d known someone was waiting for him when he’d first stepped off the verandah and onto the night.
The horse was white, had huge, expressive eyes and was unafraid. Just like Pete. There was a great deal of love in the horse’s eyes and he was trying to communicate with Pete—something. Yes. Stop there, the horse was thinking.
The rider nudged the horse with his heels and the horse started toward Pete, prancing in the air above the intersection in front of the church. His hooves made a very soft “chuff’, “chuff”, as though he were putting his beautiful feet down in dust, or sand maybe.
The horse stopped and Pete looked at the rider’s foot, his eyes drawn by the silver-mounted tapadero and the silver piping that ran up the man’s pants.
The man’s hands were strong, the reins running through large fingers. The fingers twitched the reins and the horse made one prancing step forward and turned sideways.
Pete looked up and saw that the man was looking down, at the street below. Pete looked down also. An oriental man was standing at the corner, looking up. His face mouth was open. He dropped the sack he was carrying and Chinese food cartons tumbled to the pavement. He froze in place, not moving. Just looking up with his mouth open and his eyes large behind the thick eyeglasses.
He looked up and the rider looked up at the same time. The wide brim of the big sombrero, midnight blue with flashing rosettes of silver thread, rose until Pete could see under the sombrero. And under the brim of the hat, in the blackness under the hat was a fingernail moon. A thin crescent moon that resembled a lopsided smile.
There were also stars. And the stars meant something. Something that stirred him deeply, way down in his heart’s blood.
Pete stood there for a moment and then moved his eyes away from the night face and looked at the horse. But the horse turned his head, spun slowly and began to walk away with a pasofino gait that was so beautiful that Pete found himself crying. Tears running down his face.
He wiped his face and turned around. He walked toward his distant house, which he could see directly across from him. It was beautiful. White with red tiles. Warm windows.
Walking at a good pace, he was at the house in a few moments and stepped onto the wall of the verandah. The stucco cracked and this time the crack was loud.
He stepped down onto the verandah, walked to the kitchen and ran a glass of water. He drank it and it was sweet. Sweet mountain water.
The man washed his face. The water flashed and glittered, fell from his hands in waves of light and sound, swished down the bowl and fell into the drain with tinkling sounds that made him laugh aloud. He flicked water out into the room and it arced and bounced then ran around the floor and out under the door.
He went to the verandah and looked out into the night. The city was there still. And it was beautiful. Still breathing. Alive. So alive.”
This is getting to be too long to digest at one sitting. More later.
The Moods of November
by j.r. horton
i feel poetic today. it’s november and the only time of the year where Scorpios can be honest about how they feel, and that isn’t a simple thing. my life has been, in a word, bittersweet and, from what i understand from others born under that sign, their lives can be described in much the same way—complex and bittersweet.
the feelings that infuse me during this month are always very mortal, carrying me into considerations about what it means to be human. To illustrate those feelings and thoughts, i am again going to offer some more of my poetry.
NEW MOON IN NOVEMBER
It’s a new moon in November this night
and the river’s running cold, down the hill
the wind blew cold this afternoon too
and the music i hear is as bitter as love
and painfully sweet as the time and memories i kill
A voice sings to me lying here in the dark
and to the moon waxing up there in the sky
as it splashes its light around like tears
flying from the faces of God struck dancers
that fall to wash my moon struck sill
My lovers were few but my losses were great
for my life was engorged until i was undone
by my appetite for each one’s very breath
and i fear that i may have suffocated them all
one by each faithless one
I remember their touch and the taste of each mouth
and my slippery fingers and slippery hands
and the heat of their guts and smell of their hair
and their names come back to me even in dream
one by each faithless one
And the moonlight falls through the window like iron
shaking the floor beams and shaking my heart
for i cannot forget and God! i still feel
and the man on the radio weaves at his song
in a November night sharp and heartless as steel
THE PANE OF MOONLIGHT
Full winter moon
so far from summer and you
but the light and night are much the same
as i wake to your passionate kisses
There was a pane of moonlight on my bed
and a presence in the room
which had slipped somehow in from summer
flying from a cold and cruel night
where i hear passing footsteps
crunch by in brilliant snowlight
I remember i said in summer
and your penumbra of black hair descended
to put your mouth on mine
to offer your little tongue
as my head and heart were enveloped
in the darkness of your kisses
I see you turn your chin up
offering your very center
then you are quickly up and ready to run again
There’s blood on your bed you said
Then i feel the slipping highway going blue
beneath us as we drive on into evening
and the golden grain gonecopper green
is undulant beneath a red-streaked and dying sun
Again you are in the distance
one hand on hip one working at your art
blue blouse crimson skirt baseball cap
gilded grass and lowering sun
and in the distance dun colored hills
empurpled mountains and violet shadow
dissolving from black line and smudge
to pool between the trees in the last of the light
your favorite time of day
I saw this through the pane
of cold moonlight cast upon my bed
and then exhausted from the work of memory
dropped back into the slipping dream
that always paces just ahead of its dark sister
HEARTS CAN SLEEP
Crimson leaf littered
scalloped at the edges with evening ice
this black-backed silver pool
drains from the heart of the hollow hill
bathes colored stones set
by strong spring currents
The cold and glittering
flares of Orion
find this translucent running ribbon
and brilliantly set themselves
among stones giving up their colors
to the quickly coming November night
The trees along this darkening course
have hearts that go to sleep
as hearts must from time to time
Winter is the hardest season
it comes not for good
but for good reason
The Descent of the Seasons
by j.r. horton
it’s the end of the vital seasons, Spring and Summer, when grass jumps out of the ground, trees wave green banners at the world, and waters that were recently snow cascade down to impress the folks who ordinarily have little connection with the real world. now is the time of the waving seas of grain described in America the Beautiful. that anthem was written atop Pike’s Peak, which i am looking at this moment.
This is the month before my birth month and it always describes itself in a slowly descending flat spiral that lasts until December and the the advent of the holiday, holy day, season of many of the world’s religions.
Not to be lazy, but October is usually the time when poetry begins to wend its say through my mind. That and May, when lighter thoughts bubble up.
Here are a couple that illustrate those feelings.
Harvest moon above the Tetons
Copses of yellow autumn aspen
stand on the golden stubbled hills
below a chilly and dusty sky
below the pink plump harvest moon
below a lambent lavender heaven
In the orange and crimson western sky
the purple mountains show a ragged smile
and yellow dots of light waggle
through silvery vales of cropped barley
Huge machines and their dusty people
crawl onto the roads
Groaning trucks of grain
coaxed by tired kerchiefed women
the steering gear gripped by dirty hands
lumber down the darkening highways
running before the chilling moon
God! the smell of fresh cut grain and dust
the musk of beaten earth and the song of tires
whining on the narrow blacktop roads
rises to heaven itself
Surely this song of machines and hearts
these smells and these people’s work
All these strong men and good women
the fine boys and gleaner girls
these industrious people
girding themselves for the night work
that still lies ahead
Surely they please the God
who has given them this light to work by
I WANT A GARDEN
I want a garden
It is winter and i am tired
of shoveling snow
eating pasta, beans, elkmeat
half of which is finally fit
only for the neighbors’ yellow dog
so it goes in the snow
for her to glean as she forages by
Listening to the radio in the night
I drift to dream
There i find Dutch scenes of flowers
alive with summer butterflies
worms, water snakes and birds
beetles, bugs and more
I put my fingers in the ground
I turn up last year’s leaf, manure
gorge my memory with smell
of monthly slough
a perfect little ear
in moonlight shelled and troughed
winking circlet gold
I remember the flesh of flowers:
dark ocean blue enough to dive into
striped by a strand of gold on white
varied as bikinis on a beach
bitchy little faces
turn to whisper: “A five, tops”
as i stroll by
Thin climbing Clematis
running up the wall
gathered to gossip giddily
shaking their heads in the sun
Down on my knees in dream i divide
the huddling Hyacinth
and memory of myth fills up my mind
with a perfume clean and like no other
The yellow Mormon Rose bush
with smiling little Janus faces
two and two and two
are polite as ever
bright as the mountain air itself
they always say: “Good morning”
especially in the evening
And on the north the captive Columbine
brought here from the wild, they mob
turn their secretive little heads
plot their flights back to the hills
to the green glades where they were plundered
plotting little shits, I’m sure
bright but not too bright
always sunny, talks only of the weather
understands even less
good company for a morning moment’s chat
but very little more
Finally i go to Begonia
to lift her heavy head
sleepy, pouty, pliant as a whore
at eight of a morning
her flesh in my hands, willing
warm in the early morning sun
she whispers sleepily: “Okay.”
I roll, and wake
it is night and I’m alone
I prise the blinds above my bed
see snow is dumbly falling still
In the garage
leaning against the wall and waiting
the spade folds imaginary arms
I want a garden
Author Dons Publishing Cap and it Fits
Sunlight Publishing has a new web site:
by j.r. horton
From and interview in the Jackson Hole News & Guide
author Jon Horton, who writes his mysteries under the pen name J. Royal Horton and his Westerns as Jon R. Horton, will now be known also as Sunlight Publishing LLC.
Born and raised in Wyoming, he says, "I always wanted to express the feelings i got when looking at the enormous landscapes of my state. i also wanted to write about the West from a perspective of someone whose family has been here since the 1840s.
"However, the West has almost always been described by Easterners who may have spent a summer or two in the mountains, but little more. That hasn't changed all that much, with strangers still telling our history."
From his stories, Horton's experiences with editors and publishers have been serial wrecks. A major publishing house wanted his first novel, Murder in Jackson Hole , but demanded a series of politically correct edits that he couldn't accept. Next, a regional publisher took the book and the Munchausian owner of the company led the author on a canard chase that ended when Horton demanded the book rights be returned. Next came a small house in Colorado, Sunlight Publishing. Things went well for three years, but the owner suffered a series of health crises that foundered the three books Horton had written. It was at this point that i realized a profound truth about publishin in America: THE EDITORS ARE THE ONLY PEOPLE IN THE BUSINESS WHO ARE TRULY LITERATE—ALL THE REST OF THEM ARE SALES WOMEN AND BEAN COUNTERS.
"After that, i had three agents who tried to find a home for my books in New York. All of them gave up, finally, and i couldn't figure out what was wrong. The books had been successes in the West, why not in the rest of the country? When my last agent threw in the towel i asked him straight out—'What is wrong? Is it my writing, or what?' He said, 'Jon, the American publishing world is run by women, for women, and your books are way too masculine.'
"I had noticed that when the Jackson Hole Writers put on their July conference, almost all the New York and California participants were women. But i hadn't extrapolated from that sample.
"And this guy, the agent, had been an editor for fifteen years in New York before becoming an agent for ten years! He is looking now for women authors almost exclusively."
It was at this point that Jon decided to take over Sunlight Publishing, even though it meant almost as much work as writing the books. With three books in his Jackson Hole Mysteries series finished and, three more scheduled, that seems a lot to take on.
"Lucky for me," he says, "there has been a happy conjunction of personal computers and publishing software, the World Wide Web, and print-on-demand technology.
"I still have to hire a professional editor and a professional computer graphics person who can do book layouts, brochures, flyers and other ephemera. They are not cheap but when you have toiled scrupulously over a manuscript, sent it to the editor, and got it back awash in a wreck of red ink, you come to realize the value of an editor's eye.
"An ambitious person might buy a copy of Adobe or Quark software, to begin the process of making a book. Forget it. People with four-year degrees in design still spend years learning the ins and outs of those programs. Hire a pro graphics artist, not your friend next door with $69 design software closed out at Office Depot.
"Next. What about a publisher? Unless you are a talented woman who networked successfully with another woman at a writers conference, you can either
1. Give up
2. Write another book or two and run the gauntlet again, and again.
3. Or you can look at starting a small publishing corporation of your own. It just takes a couple of hundred dollar bills and a letter to your secretary of state. You can get legal software off the net that will serve, but you are better off getting a cheap, young lawyer who is just starting out in the world. The idea of a corp is to stand between you (and your property) and the guy with the steam whistling out of his ears because he thinks he's been damaged in some way.
"And a printer. The need for a printer is obvious. In order to get a discount from a conventional printer you have to order a bunch of books. One of the items you will almost surely overlook is warehousing this stock for which you got a small discount. i have been pay $45 a month for years to house my four titles. i don't know how much it has cost me, but it is in the thousands of dollars. And i probably saved $200 on the printing discount!
"Print-on-demand is a godsend for small authors. The idea is that instead of printing a bunch of books and sending them to the publisher, the books are stored as an electronic file in the printing press and orders are fulfilled by the press itself. Even if only one book is ordered, the press retrieves the file, prints the book, and shoots it out onto a conveyer belt to the shipping department. Cool.
"Distribution. You have to be able to get books to the people and stores who order them. Baker and Taylor distributes books. Ingram is the biggest book distributor in America and that's why i use their print-on-demand subsidiary, Lightning Source. There are a bunch of other companies who offer this service but remember, caveat emptor . There are scamsters galore out there who will take your money and give you a ride. Check 'em out very closely before you give them any money."
"Public relations. There are lots of free services on the web. There is a lot of software available but you want a package that doesn't cost you $39.95 and comes with access to real professions. For instance, go to Google and type in 'press releases'. You will find several items that will be invaluable for generating buzz for your book. You will also want to get a mailing list or two, especially the one from your regional booksellers organization.
Horton says he's available for talks and seminars on the subject of being your own publisher. Some of his stories will make you blanche while others will make you laugh out loud—and you'll come away with a lot of real world information.
Mainstream Media Think
by j.r. horton
let’s take a look at an industry, music, that is trying to come to terms with the new media world. this is how some corporate folks are trying to identify and come to terms with a world that is simple beyond their comprehension. this report followed the napster/gnutella lawsuits of 2003 but it will give you some idea of the incompetent analysis and response to the new paradigm:
READ THIS AND SEE HOW DATED THIS MATERIAL IS ONLY ONE YEAR LATER!
And this guy is in charge of strategy for the mainstream music publishing business
Jay Berman, Chairman & CEO, IFPI
The Music Industry’s Internet Strategy Is Turning The Corner
IFPI ONLINE MUSIC REPORT 2004
For everyone working towards the creation of a successful legitimate online music business, the start of 2004 brings a new sense of optimism along with evidence of real change.
Legal online services are spreading quickly across the United States, and are now beginning to take hold firmly in the rest of the world. A picture of healthy competition is emerging in Europe as legitimate services such as iTunes, Napster and Rhapsody, as well as scores of retailers, Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and hundreds of record companies, vie to break into a new online market in the first half of 2004. Availability of legally licensed music online from a multitude of websites in Europe is increasing sharply - growing during the last three months of 2005 alone, from a total catalogue of about 800,000 tracks to nearly 1,500,000 across the various legitimate services.
Public awareness of the legal issues around online music distribution, a crucial part of our industry’s online strategy, is much higher internationally than it was a year ago. Nearly 70% of surveyed respondents in four major European markets are aware that unauthorised file-swapping is illegal. Robust anti-piracy enforcement - including lawsuits against large-scale file-swappers - is increasingly accepted as the right and the obligation of record companies and other copyright holders. Market evidence appears to show that this strategy is working, with the total number of simultaneous illegal music files available on peer-to-peer services falling from an estimated one billion in April 2003 to 800 million in January 2004.
It is already abundantly clear that the music industry’s internet strategy, following the explosion of iPod on the music scene, is now turning the corner, and that in 2005 there will be, for the first time, a substantial migration of consumers from unauthorised free services to the legitimate alternatives that our industry is providing internationally. The purpose of this first such publication produced by IFPI is to raise awareness of the developments in the online music market, and in doing so, help accelerate them. This report focuses on the events that took place in 2003 as well as the prospects for 2005 - but it must not be forgotten that these are only the culmination of the work that the music industry and its partners have been doing since the mid-1990s to prepare a thriving legitimate online music business.
The rapid development during the course of 2003 of a critical mass of legitimate online services, reaching around half a million consumers in Europe by the end of 2003 - a figure that is set to increase sharply in 2004 and go exponential in 2005-6. Yet the results of our survey, released for the first time in this report, indicate a very low level of awareness of the existence of these legitimate services among consumers.
A high level of awareness among consumers internationally that distributing copyrighted music on the internet without permission is illegal. Our survey shows that in a selected number of countries in Europe, 66% of all people were aware of this.
The impact of the industry’s internet anti- piracy awareness strategies. Two factors explain the progress made in this area: the public information campaigns conducted around the world in 2003 and lawsuits against individual large-scale uploaders.
The increasing public acceptance of the industry’s use of litigation as an important option of last resort to fight online piracy. Our survey figures show that 54% of respondents support the strategy of legal action, with 19% yet to make up their minds.
The industry will use litigation internationally where necessary, as it has done in the US.Making copyrighted music available on the internet without permission is illegal in virtually every country of the world. This is not a grey area and people who are breaking the law may have to face the consequences.
The different processes our industry is developing in order to create business modelsfor the online environment. These are often underestimated and misunderstood outside the music industry.
Evidence that illegal file-swapping hurts sales of music. A survey of five major markets shows that 27% of people downloading illegally distributed music bought less music as a result...
Where Did all the Talented White Guys Go?
by j.r. horton
let’s go back to the new digital paradigm that is changing the world right under the noses of the establishment publishing giants.
here’s a question for you: where did all the talented white christian men who ran the media world for generations go?
the present publishing world in New York is run by women for women. Hollywood is now the stomping ground of the little men who came after the giants like Louis Mayer, Samuel Goldwyn and Lew Adler, the Young Turk Jews who have brought you boundless horror, explicit sex and perversion, hedonism, adolescent playground potty humor, pessimism, angst — all packaged for the lowest puerile interest. Any significant Christian or spiritual work has had to find its own way to the screen, e.g. The Passion that was funded with Mel Gibson’s own money. luckily, he had over 200 million smackeroonies in the bank.
so what are the prospects for someone who wants to break into the world of commercial publishing? Approximately 2 million different titles are currently in print and available to the market. the industry says that about 50,000 new books come on the market each year under their auspices. with the advent of easy electronic publishing a like amount is probably produced, making it about 100,000 new titles that come to light each year! that means that the little guys, like myself, have to create quality books and promote the heck out of them. but what about the ones who get contracts with the publishing giants? Joni Evans, a publisher for Random House says that only 10% of the books published by any house earn out their advance. that means that 90% of the mainstream publishers’ books fail, and all the writer will ever receive is a paltry advance of a few thousand dollars for years of work! it also means that if size really mattered dinosaurs would still rule the earth. Instead, the inheritors of the earth turned out to stem from a little shrew-like mammal scurrying through the grass.
self-publishing is newly respectable, in stark contrast to the reception i got in 1995. i was snubbed by the writing community in Jackson Hole and a lot of them even sneered at my books, without even having read them. now it’s becoming more and more apparent that Print On Demand coupled with the Internet offers profound opportunities to the little guy with a unique, quality product. and here is a partial list of writers who began their careers by self-publishing their first, seminal, work: Ben Franklin, Tom Paine, Mark Twain (Huckleberry Finn) , Zane Grey, Anaîs Nin, Walt Whitman, Virginia Wolff, Gertrude Stein, Edgar Allen Poe, Mary Baker Eddy, James Joyce (Ulysses), Carl Sandburg, D.H. Lawrence (Lady Chatterly’s Lover), Edgar Rice Burroughs (Tarzan) and many, many more. if you think about the titles mentioned you will see that each one was a great leap into the dark, something publishers aren’t famous for. as a matter of fact, they are cowardly thralls of the bean counters and marketers who really decide which books get made — 90% of which are utter failures.
there is something else afoot that deserves mentioning. now that the feds are getting ready to make a very large segment of the electromagnetic spectrum (e.g. broadband) available for licensed use, it is possible that every person with an interest, a talent, and a copyrighted product can apply for their personal video channel where they can present any product that they come up with! More about that later. But back to books.
There are now five huge international conglomerates that account for 80% of all book revenues. They are Random House, Inc., Simon & Schuster, HarperCollins Publishers, Penguin Putnam Inc., and Warner Books/Little Brown. They make hundred of millions of dollars each year — from only 10% of the books they publish! to me, that means that there has to be more than a few nuggets and a lot of golddust falling through the cracks in the floor of the whorehouses.
as the author of several screenplays, one of which is making the rounds of American theatres at this very moment but with another guy’s credits up there on the screen, i say the same thing is true of the monster film production companies. they are churning out tides of dreck while all the good movies are the products of independent producers.
Here is a poem that i dedicate to New York, as well as Hollywood.
Look on my works, ye mighty
— Percy Bysse Shelley—
A horse fair there
Under the tumbled overhead
Near where the air machines
Used to go
Horses fair and foul
Do business in the dozens
While their bickering drovers
Wager drink and strut
On their one day a month in town
Along a track
Tall-wheeled carretas lumber and squeak
One carrying the gap-toothed produce man
His worn wife
His wary children
To the market on Fairfax road
A relict overpass has been bricked up
With scavenged cinderblock
Turned to tenements where
Two peasant gossips
Rest their milk-damp bosoms
On plump and dimpled arms
And stop their chat
To wave at the carretero's wife
Back down that track
The Santa Monica Trace ends
At the wrecked pier
Where coastal lighters carrying oranges
Nuts and livestock
Avocados and dope
Bump against stumped pilings
A straw-hatted captain
Bullies barefoot stevedores
Who hump their burlap burdens up the plankway
While their epicanthic compadres
Give him the finger behind his back
And atop the bluffs
Among the shifted and tumbled
Tiers of scavenged buildings
Down a lane
That wanders 'round the wrecks
There is a cleared place park-of-sorts
Grassy and green
Bordered by wildflowers
Where children shout and laugh
Unwary and unafraid
Innocent again at last
Playing tag beneath the hangman's tree
Across the coastal campana
On a hillside
Overlooking the Cahuenga pass
To a waterless abandoned valley
To scorched interior hills
A bloom-cheeked gal
Ravenhaired and horny
Works her soft belly against her wine-drunk
His codpiece skewed
As they laze in the shade
Next to the wicker-covered jug
While their horse switches his tail
Stomps a hoof
Ripples his hide at the flies
And above them on the hillside
Giant tumbled letters lie
Gripped by ivy
Keeping the Frequent Flyers in the Air
by j.r. horton
they call them airplanes but they don’t run on air, they run on light kerosene and that is derived from oil, something that seems to escape the environmentalists who help lay down all those contrails that pollute the upper atmosphere as they hurry back and forth between their million-dollar houses in California and Washington D.C. to lobby the government against the oil companies.
i spent more than twenty-five years doing seismic surveys in search of oil reserves in the United States including Alaska. Then, in turn, i worked in Mexico, Yemen, Oman, Egypt, Tanzania, South Africa, Peru (three times), Ecuador (two times), Bolivia, Venezuela and Chad. i have worked for most of the major oil companies and know their corporate personalities. more on that later.
when i was a kid i wanted to be a teacher. at the dinner table i had stared at my father’s work-battered hands, deeply fissured from the cold and sun, the red cracks showing remnants of the black grease and dirt he had absorbed while working on giant earthmovers like D-9 Caterpillars, power shovels and enormous electric draglines. i wanted to have a job that meant clean hands and, please God, weekends and summers off.
I finished my first year of college, which my Dad paid for, then realized that if i was going to get any more education I’d have to pay for it myself. working in the coal mine summers then living like a coyote during the school year didn’t have that much appeal for me so i decided to look for another route. after some thought i came up with a plan: I’d join the Air Force for four years and get another year’s or more college credits while i was serving. If i applied myself I’d come out with enough GI Bill benefits to allow me to finish a B.A. program and go on for a Master’s degree. i got lucky. a basic training instructor told me that if i had taken any foreign languages in high school i had a good chance of going to one of the several language schools the Air Force had. i passed the test and, omigod, got orders to attend Yale University to study the Chinese language!
then i woke up one morning in the basic training barracks with an enormous lump under my jaw. i went to sick call where they referred me to the base hospital. there they found that a tumor in my left salivary gland had caused the problem. Didn’t look good. but when they cut it out and did a biopsy the tumor proved to be benign. good.
not so good. because I’d missed my orders for Yale they said I’d had my chance and was bound for either Cook or Cop school, and that was it. The Air Force needed me where the need was greatest — cooking or copping. shit.
dejected, i phoned my mom and told her what had happened. she was sympathetic but what could a mom do? well, she could tell her mom, my grandmother, the only Democrat in northern Lincoln County, Wyoming. first, some history.
the year is 1961 and John F. Kennedy has just started his term as President of the United States. at the Democratic Convention the year before the state of Wyoming’s delegation, lead by Senator Gale Magee, had given Kennedy the votes that put him over the top and made him the candidate for the party. needless to say, JFK and Gale Magee became close friends at that point in history.
flash forward: Jon Horton is tossing restlessly in a basic training bunk as he thinks depressing thoughts of becoming a cook or a military policeman for four long years. At 5:00 AM a flashlight is shone in his face and the CQ runner says, “Horton, the Captain wants to see you in his office at 0600 and look sharp because he’s mad as hell—good luck.” damn!
what had i done to offend? very little, it turned out. but what had my grandmother, the only Democrat in northern Lincoln County, done? well, she’d phoned Senator Magee and asked him to intervene in the sad case of her wonderful grandson Jon, born a Democrat and committed to the faith. Wyoming is a big state with a small constituency and the wishes of a towering Democrat like my little grandma was not to be ignored.
I went to the Captains’ door and knocked. he screamed, “COME IN” and i opened the door to take three paces inside and stand at rigid attention. the man was apoplectic. he glared at me and said, his voice shaking, “I hate you political bastards!” me? i hadn’t even voted in my first chance to participate in the system. huh?
the man leaned back in his chair and, i swear, broke a pencil he’d been gripping in both hands. “You will receive orders for the next foreign language assignment, which is for Russian at Syracuse University.” he threw the broken halves down and leaned forward. “Now get the fuck out of my office, and if i see you for only one second between now and the time you ship out i will have...your...ass.”
the only time he had a shot at me was one day in the Base Exchange but i dropped what I’d been shopping for and did a low crawl down the aisle, out the door, and onto the path to language school and a career as an academic. after all, i could see that one year’s worth of college credits from Syracuse University was a gimme and if i took some more courses during the remainder of my service, with the G.I. i could even consider the possibility of graduate school and a vaulting academic career! Like they say, if you want to hear God chuckle, tell him your plans.
to cut to the chase, i got a B.A. in Russian Language and Literature, then i did all the coursework for a Master’s degree and had nine hours toward my Doctor of Arts but it was 1974, the year the National Organization of Women hijacked the Affirmative Action bus. You’ve already read my rant on that subject.
a wise man once said of American women, “they control 75% of the money and 100% of the pussy and they still want more control.” And i think he was onto something.
I got up, dusted myself off and muttered, What the eff do i do now? why, go to the oil patch, that’s what. there was an oil boom broaching in western Wyoming and when i returned to my old stomping grounds i walked into the most exotic cultural phenomenon since the 60s. look at my photo album Seismic 1 for verification.
And so i abandoned the faerie world of American academics and stepped into the world where my fictional hero, Tommy Thompson, would prosper, fall into Hell and make his eventual way painfully back. he is the Hero with one of a thousand faces, as Joseph Campbell called him.
excerpt from Murder in Jackson Hole a novel about the real West
In those days, the soaring prices of oil had made helicopter oil exploration affordable. The original Overthrust Belt lay just south of Jackson Hole. It had grabbed the curiosity of exploration geologists for years, but the standard technology for data acquisition was not feasible in the mountains. The traditional truck-mounted equipment could not get onto the steep, mountainous terrain. When the government told the oil companies to use it or lose it in the form of his windfall profit taxes, they decided to spend their money on going into the mountains. Instead of trucks they would use helicopters, even if they cost more than $1,000 an hour to operate. Fugitive tax money could be scored by the ton.
“Portable" oil exploration originally attracted ex-dishwashers and other loners, outsiders, fugitives and adrenaline freaks. Budding ecologists and outdoor enthusiasts soon added themselves to the mix. That odd brew was a hybrid the likes of which no one had seen before. In short order the juggies, had created a lifestyle that included rigorous work, hippie-derived dress, a semi-holistic philosophy, state-of-the-art outdoor equipment, school buses converted to mobile homes, promiscuous sex, helicopters and copious drugs of all kinds.
Such a sociological phenomenon was derived from the hippie movement and dovetailed perfectly with the budding environmental movement. In a fundamental irony at the heart of the thing, here was the favorite boogie man of the Big Environmentalist—Big Oil. And Big Oil was underwriting this outbreak of Gypsy environmentalism. It wasn't unusual for juggies to vandalize the equipment of their own crew for some trespass against one of the constantly shifting tenets of environmentalism, then move on to another crew. Most of these people were new to the mountains that brought out feelings that they had never had access to before. Ah, here was the Nature of the Transcendentalists, at last.
In the background played a mongrel mix of music: the Country folk sentimentality of John Denver hashed in with the white soul of Jackson Brown and the rocking boogie of Foreigner and The Cars. Taken all together, one hell of a mix, fueled by Jet A, Michelob, mezcal, Black Jack, Peppermint schnapps, adrenaline, Lebanese blonde hash, Moroccan brown hash and hash oil from Afghanistan, Thai stick, Oaxaca gold pot, Maui wowie, Panama red, Black beauties, Yellow jackets, Reds, Mexican black tar for the needle freaks, big shrooms, little rainbow shrooms from the cow pastures in Oregon, 'luuds and a local mixture made by hippie chicks in Wilson of mescaline ground up with rosehips and other herbs that they bagged into grams and called Jackson Brown. It joined whatever else the screaming jeebies demanded the Juggies dump into the pharmacopoeia in an attempt to reconstitute some form of the sanity most of them had left their mother’s side with.
And Bugs Rios fit into this mongrel scene slicker than a preacher's prick in a heifer calf: Populist, anarchist, transcendental philosopher and needle freak. It was a dangerous game for Bugs to be playing. Dave had known Rios was a two-time loser and if he was busted for any one of the things he was involved in he could go to prison for life. But adrenaline was another one of Bugs' addictions and he thrived on the dangerous illusion being able to outthink and outrun the law enforcement types. No matter how you cut it, he was one delusional, and dangerous, son of a bitch.”
This I Believe—An NPR Essay
jackson hole blog
by j. r. horton
The only thing that will save this planet's sentient life is a fortuitous population crash of Homo sapiens sapiens, that scientific term that has become so ironic.
During my research for a new novel i had the occasion to do a lot of reading on the biblical apocalyptic literature, messianism and the End Times in general. If one reads the material as metaphor and the fount of ancient knowledge it doesn't take much to see that there is a lot of practical experience at the heart of the story. i am particularly impressed by the story of the 17th century German philologists who first studied the legends and literature of the Hindus. They came away impressed by the scale of the fantasmic myths of the culture. There were references to kalpas and other measurements of time that translated to billions of years, and this in a time when Europeans nominally measured the time span of the universe in the low thousands of years.
The professors quickly discounted the stories of consecutive births and deaths of the universe as vaulting myth. Now, of course, we routinely hear accounts of events measured scientifically in the several billions of years. And while the global community at large disputes the idea, that hoary culture maintains that through it all, unimaginable apocalypse after apocalypse on a breathtaking scale, the spirit and soul that animates us is preserved unchanged. And that even at the heart of complete material nothingness.
In the face of that possibility it is easy to say, "Then let it all go, we need a new start." But that doesn't take into account the tenacity of the human race, even in the face of seemingly impossible odds. Let me tell you a story from personal experience that may illustrate that trait as a source of hope.
I worked in Yemen once as an oil explorationist and as a child i lived in tiny, isolated desert communities in Nevada. To my limited mind it was a scant, hot world of rock, greasewood, rabbits, sand and snakes. However, my first impressions of Yemen beggared that world. Here was a landscape blasted of almost everything, a land of sand desert and rock desert, of ancestral savannah dried to hardpan littered with ostrich egg remnants and projectile points, of rivers now wadis of sand and boulders. Petroglyphs on sandstone monuments erect in the hot desert testified to a world once populated by the ostrich, lion, cheetah, and various herd animals. It was a time of plenty that supported the ancestors of the Queen of Sheba, mistress of one of the richest kingdoms of the biblical world. But now it is the home of some of the toughest, most tenacious people on the planet.
One time, after a scouting foray, i was waiting for a helicopter in the shade of a rock ridge atop an escarpment that rose above the desert almost a kilometer. Suddenly, a small Toyota pickup hove into view and moved to a point about a hundred meters from me then stopped to discharge four women, a stack of burlap and a bundle wrapped in cloth. The driver, a man, then drove away by the way he had come, following the tire tracks that were the only thing to mar the dirt waste.
I stood and walked a few yards toward the women, wanting to get a better look. They were frightened by my appearance and took knives out of their waist bands, the knives worn to little more than crescents by hard use and sharpening on sandstone rocks. i raised my hands in a gesture of peace and retreated to my shade as they each took a square of burlap from the stack and walked down into the undulant catchment lips of the escarpment.
It was three days before i returned to the spot and got out of the helicopter to wait for operations to begin. i noticed that there were four large round objects, perhaps a meter high, set in the place where the women had been let out. i walked down to examine them and found they were tightly packed bundles of grass a meter in diameter, apparently forage for animals. The grass was not the hay of our experience but dry and wiry bunch grass that grew in scattered clumps to a height of, perhaps, three or four inches. Beside the haystacks i saw where a fire had been built and tea brewed, the remnants of English Rose tea cartons tossed aside near the bundle I'd seen days before, now holding only the teapot and a gallon plastic jug that had held water.
It is hard to imagine the labor expended by those women. The clumps could have yielded no more than half-a-handful of grass each but the women had, in three days of labor in 125-degree heat, harvested four square meters of hay for their goats and sheep.
The women were nowhere to be seen but i suspected that the arrival of my helicopter had sent them scurrying away to hide somewhere in the blasted landscape. And, sure enough, as i heard the Toyota laboring back toward the site and retreated to my landing spot, the women appeared and hurried to their rendezvous spot to be picked up. They were apparently the four wives allowed by muslim law to each man and their husband was back to profit from their labor.
As for the children of that rocky, heat-addled world, the living were most often stigmatized by noses running with thick mucous, testament to their immune systems trying to fight off the viral diseases common to that almost merciless world. While i was there a plague of meningitis and flu had moved up the Hadramaut valley from the distant coast and as we passed the rock villages there was almost always a funeral cortege carrying one or more small coffins to join other fresh rock mounds of the graveyard.
This is a cautionary tale, of course. But it is also a testament to those of us who will remain after the devastation of the environment, the reality of which is no longer a real debate. If you examine all the problems and plagues of the planet you will find very few that are not directly attributable to the crush of over-population. The historical brakes on that problem — war, famine, and disease — now galvanize an almost instant and effective response by well-meaning armiesbent on succor in the name of charity. And they obviate the attempts by a weary earth to rid itself of the debilitating itch turned septic that humans have caused. It simply cannot go on forever. Some day, some time, there will remain only a few of of us and we will be tough, self-reliant survivors living in the little that is left. And that is not an if but a when, mind you.
This is not a message of dismay but one of hope for the re-efforescence of a changed world. We are survivors even if, as the Hindus know, it all squeezes down to less than nothing and only our spirit, our souls, remain.
A Mountain West Writer's Compass
jackson hole blog
by j. r. horton
i have been reading Terry Tempest Williams again and i am struck by how our views of the West are so alike yet unalike when looking at the mountain west from the perspective of those with Mormon pioneer ancestry. whether you are a practicing member of the LDS church or a jack mormon (a reference to a male mule that looks good but is sterile) Salt Lake City is still at the center of your literary compass.
people ignorant of the history of Mormon culture think of it as represented only by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir but in fact the artistic heritage is both broad and deep. from the beginning LDS artists and scholars have been a fairly cosmopolitan bunch, adept at religious speculation, architecture, world-class choir and symphony production, painting, English-style gardening, hymn writing, acting and some of the best tv production in the world, to mention a few. Then there are the eminent contemporary writers like Terry Tempest Williams.
once established in Utah Territory Brigham Young began to send missions out to the world at large. for instance, missions were established in Polynesia by the year 1850, three years after the hegira to the Great Salt Lake country. one of the most interesting missions, however, was to the south of Utah during the Civil War.
when Brigham Young realized that the Union blockade of the South would mean a shortage of cotton he called up several hundred of the faithful to go to southern Utah to establish a cotton economy. the economic potential was tremendous because in addition to the civilian population, millions of northern soldiers needed cotton cloth for uniforms.
the mission to Dixie as southern Utah became known in the Mormon world was interesting for its history but it came to be known as a folly whose costs in pain and mortality are an ad exemplum of the the pioneer spirit that built the bulk of the mountain west's culture.
southern Utah was one of the very last places in America to be explored, most famously by John Wesley Powell in his expedition down the Green and Colorado rivers. It is only peripherally noted that when the ragged expedition exited the maw of the Colorado they landed at Lee's Ferry which had been established for almost thirty years to serve the relict pioneers of the cotton mission.
the southern third of Utah is little more than rock, canyons and sunlight that now serve as a tourist destination. but in the 1860s the country was little more than an anvil for the sun, mostly bereft of water and its attendant greenery. but to the faithful the hardships were acceptable when it was in service to the church. And the pioneer stock of those days was some of the toughest to ever carry the ensign of the Mormon mission.
let me tell you one story of what was demanded of the first settlers in Dixie — Terry Tempest Williams' people.
the wagon train that carried the missionaries south were led by several scouts who rode ahead to find any possible route south to the Colorado River and its water for their planned plantations. those scouts had to range far and wide in the heat to find ways through the almost impossibly rugged rock and sand. they finally reached a point that seemed truly impassable — a canyon several five hundred feet deep with walls that rose vertically from the beckoning green far below.
the elders were taken to the impasse and they counciled, debated and prayed. one of the men was inspired to a plan and they laid it out, then sent for the wagons. a route was surveyed across and down the vertical face of the hot rock then men were lowered on bosun's chairs with short handled sledge hammers and star drills in their hands. sitting on a board far above the canyon bottom they drilled a series of holes in the face of the rock, using black powder to shoot out the holes to anchor poles. Once the poles were wedged into the sockets, boards sawn by hand were tied and nailed into a plankway that descended gradually to the bottom of the canyon. Wagons were broken down and carried down by the men, then the draft animals were blindfolded and led down. supplies came next, followed by the terrified women and children and the mission was re-assembled to move on into the far country where they built towns and planted gardens and fruit orchards instead of cotton. other routes were found and other pioneers joined them to build a unique assembly of the Mormon culture.
Those folks are Terry's people. my people, on the other hand, were led by my great-great grandfather to the northeast and into western Wyoming, joining a poor colony in what is called Star Valley. grandpa was a miller and sawyer who built his own mills that produced flour and building materials for the pioneer community in Woodruff, Utah before being told about the colonizing effort in the valley to the northeast. he took two of his many sons to help him to build a grist mill and saw mill. when my great-great grandmother Aunt Mary, the last of his eleven wives, arrived in Star Valley none of the three men had shoes left, working in the mills in their bare feet.
in southern Utah the sun and rock were the main obstacles to colonization. In Wyoming it was the snowy weather and by way of illustration I'll tell one story that should illustrate it for you.
each autumn the colony in Star Valley would put together an order for supplies to see them through the following winter. those supplies were then shipped by rail from Salt Lake City to Montpelier, Idaho on the Wyoming border. the men and boys would then take a wagon train up Crow Creek then down Montpelier Canyon to load the supplies and return. but one winter in the 1880s they were ready for the return trip when an early snowtorm hit and snow fell for days. when the storm was over the men were faced with almost fifty miles of snow that varied from three to six feet deep.
the men counciled, debated and prayed. then they went to work. two men were assigned to shovel for half an hour, making a way for the wagons to follow. they were relieved by two other men who shoveled out the road, and so on. they shoveled up Montpelier Canyon then over the Crow Creek road as the wagons full of supplies followed. each night they made camp at dark then rose at first light to begin shoveling again. One man was sent ahead on snowshoes to notify the people in Star Valley of what was happening and a small army of men began to shovel their way toward the advancing wagon train. they met somewhere on Crow Creek. that winter was so bad that all the summer hay was soon exhausted and the people were reduced to stripping the bark from the giant Cottonwood trees that followed Salt River through the valley. under the bark if cottonwoods are a layer of paper-like filaments nutritious for animals. most of the animals were saved but the unfortunate result was the death of the great cottonwoods and the early history of the valley was memorialized by ten miles dead and bleaching monuments to the costs of pioneering western Wyoming.
and so, those are two stories meant to illustrate where people like Terry and myself come from. when her people went south there was no one to greet them except the hawk, the owl and Coyote. my people were met by one of the last mountain men, a profane character named Money Welch who lived in a dugout near what is now Auburn, Wyoming.
so, back to my compass. Salt Lake City was established on July 24, 1847 and the faithful radiated out in all directions until they settled an area bounded on the south by the Colorado River country, on the west by the California Sierra mountains, on the north by the Salmon River in Idaho and on the east by the west slope of Colorado. Each descendent of those people who settled that vast country beginning almost a hundred and sixty years ago are imbued with a strong sense of where they came from. and they came from what became known as the Crossroads of the West, Salt Lake City. It's a compass bearing in the blood.
excerpt from Murder in Moab an authentically western novel
Tom exited I-70 at the Moab off ramp and worked at dialing his mind up as he drove toward the town. But he noticed a sign that said Dead Horse Point and turned off the highway onto a national park road that badly needed grading.
After a few miles of rainbow rock he turned into the Dead Horse lookout and parked. It was windy on the viewpoint, a vertical half mile above the Colorado River and he guessed that the heights always caught the wind that was blowing now.
The view out over a profoundly crenelated and riven world was more than spectacular. This was the face and red muscle of the earth's middle age. Here were the wrinkles of a restless, reckless youth. The wear and tear of time gave the panorama the look of a hard-earned serenity gained from the coming and going of countless dry aeolian and wet maritime tides. Here Tom could feel the immense weight of the eons it had taken to prepare this view for him—a gift from the ages.
For a moment, the shortness of his space in all creation was as breathtaking as the view. Then he was affected by the understanding of the passing of his part in all this — a miniscule spark struck from the iron core of the world. But at this moment he was immensely thankful for the gift of being chosen to live at all. The vast scene laid out before him made his personal pain disappear into a very real humility.
He was all by himself this early morning on Dead Horse Point and the moment was undiluted by any other human presence. It was his alone. No one would ever know that this trice had happened. No moment shared, no conversation, no photo or other memento of this morning. His alone. Another gift.
He stooped to pick up a stout juniper twig blanched by the sun and polished by the wind. He popped it against the leg of his Wranglers as he walked to the edge of the abyss above the river.
Geology is the grammar of landscape, he knew. When you know the basic lithic structure an inspiring view has meaning founded on knowledge, rather than sentiment. To his mind, the art of a landscape painter ignorant of lithology could never be true art.
As Tom looked out over the enormous view now being lighted carefully by the sun, his mind expanded to take in the sweep of time that lay before him.
At one period, all that lay before him had been the episodic shores of a thousand consecutive shallow seas, verges of an ancestral ocean that was static while the North American continent wandered northward past the equator.
The mind of the tiny figure above the colossal canyon ran back hundreds of millions of years and a sea spread out before him that was colored by red sediments as the tides' lapidary effects drew the pigment into itself. A low sun, also red, added its color to the iron-rich, blood-red scene and the lapping water and scouring onshore winds of lost eons blew across his imagination.
Each shallow red sea had been finally filled by rivers and streams as now-lost mountain ranges melted and ran, only to be lifted and eroded to sand again. And again. The water became laden with minerals and shallow water creatures that fell after their seasons were done, then sank to the bottom.
The burdened sea bottom sank almost as fast as it was filled in. Eventually, the waters dried up and became a catchment basin for the riverloads of material from ancestral mountain ranges. Then it began to slowly lift. The rock beds were distorted only occasionally and remained much as they had been when born of pressures from below and above as random molten currents slowly muscled the magma body beneath the skin of the planet.
Small gullies became intermittent streams as the land undulated somnolently. They matured as the terrain steepened and became small rivers that joined other arterial rivers to become the ancestral Colorado and Green Rivers, as well as lesser known ones like the modern Dirty Devil, Virgin, Dolores, and Escalante.
And so, it was these rivers which now became the prime movers in sculpting the land. While the winds and sand, the frost and sun, worked at polishing the deserts and rock ramparts, the rivers cut their channels much faster than the other forces of erosion did their own work. As the canyons became deeper, as the land was scoured by the rock and sand-laden water, the ramparts were undermined and collapsed. And so the cliffs retreated and the view from Dead Horse Point was sculpted for some lonely man to look out upon and egotistically think of it as his own, if only for a moment. But to be able to personalize the feeling of standing on a mountain and feeling more than a billion years under one's feet, and to understand the course of its creation, is not the scant luck of a lizard.
The serpentine course of the Colorado far below reminded the man of the sine form at the heart of propagation and evolution, of creation and dissolution. This river was bound to level the whole landscape that Tom's eye could encompass, and much more — it would be in process long, long after Man's brief strut across the stage of creation and dissolution.
He remembered Dr. Spores telling him about the German philosophers who had found a memory of the death and rebirth of the whole universe in the seventeenth century memories of Hindu sadhus. The mind of Man is also the mind of God they said, and so the memory of Man must be drawn after the memory of God. It made sense, but on the other side of the question, what about the idea that there was no God at all? Then he remembered a moment described by an ex-drunk in the Alcoholics Anonymous Big Book. Sunk beneath the crushing weight of his addiction and atheism he had heard a still, small voice ask: Who are you to say there is no God?
As the dwarfed figure looked out over the miraculous view from Dead Horse Point, he had a moment of clarity. His own desolate mood probably made it possible, but he was struck by the worn beauty of the absolute wasteland laid out before him. The whole history of the mammals' time on the earth was little more than a miniscule cystic geode embedded somewhere amid the enormous ocean of red rock. And it was likely that humans' red-blooded prototypes first came into being in an oxide-laden sea like the one that had created this carmine landscape.
Blue crabs, Tom knew, were blue because their blood's base element is copper, rather than iron, and they had come into being in some blue-green sea eons upon eons ago. In that iteration the earth, seen from space, might have appeared green as the number five ball in a game of pool. That impossibly remote time had preceded the red seas of the Wingate formation and the earth's present-day blues. Perhaps the creator's plan is to someday open a seam in the globe and summon up a world of sulphur to paint the world yellow as the one ball. And as it went, so it goes.
Like an angelus, he was struck again by the privilege of the epiphany he was undergoing and stunned by the ravaged beauty at his feet. Several worlds had died, been resurrected, died again only to be born again, and he was a competent witness to the patient and relentless disintegrating-reintegrating pass of time. Shiva, the Hindu god of death and resurrection, could surely have made a home in the land spread out before him.
Tom took in a big breath and held it as goose flesh rose on his arms. The scale of this gargantuan red work inspired a wonder that even the immensity of the Pacific Ocean had not inspired in him.
"Thank you," he said aloud. Talking to God, again.
The usual take when looking out on this landscape was supposed to be one of despair at the short course of the observer's tiny life. Not so for Tom. The fact that he had been allowed the gift of looking out over this masterwork and understanding its history and mechanics struck him as being a precious gift. This poor creature, Man, had a sharp intuition that evidenced an intelligence even larger still, and that was comforting.
Tom was also reminded of Willow's happiness with the idea that each human contained a piece of God and was integrated into the whole history of creation — infinitesimal, yes, but indestructible all the same.
He raised the gray juniper twig over his shoulder, flipped it into the windy abyss and it fell, twisting and wobbling, out of sight. And the man turned and walked away, stronger for having been able to measure the span of God's hand against his own small reach.
Print-On-Demand from a Small Publisher's POV
jackson hole blog
by j. r. horton
last month i said I’d offer my analysis of the value of Print-On-Demand. basically, when you write for a publisher your share of the pie amounts to between four and seven percent of the gross — and no publisher can tell you what that number really is. bad accounts receivable, damaged books, returns, etc. etc. effect the number. in other words, the author’s share is reduced by the publisher’s liabilities and inefficiencies. on the other hand, as one’s own publisher you receive fifty to sixty percent of the gross and know exactly what the real deficiencies are. that said, here are some thoughts on the advantages of the new technology and the new publishing paradigm.
For the Bookseller
1. NO BACKORDERS. Small orders are fulfilled by POD in the turn they are received, even if it is for only one copy. Booksellers have orders of, for instance, only one book fulfilled with the same dispatch as an order fifty.
2. Another profit center in what is now a marginally profitable business.
For the Publisher
1. No receiving and handling cases of books=no labor or labor costs.
2. No storage costs — this is normally a line item, and it is expensive.
3. No fulfillment costs. Saves the time, effort and labor of shipping.
4. No taxable floor inventory.
5. No billing and accounts receivable!
6. Receipts deposited automatically in the company account.
7. Complete tax info available in fiscal year-end accounting from POD.
1. The POD i am using at the moment is owned by Ingram and, so, by Barnes and Noble. Because of that you can get some Microsoft-style corporate arrogance on occasion. i am seriously considering changing to BookSurge because it was recently bought by Amazon and they almost always make quality products.
2. Most other distributors are not hip to the new paradigm or, because of Item One above, are hostile to the concept. Getting them to carry POD titles is a slog, most especially because the Barnes and Noble printer charges prohibitive prices to distributors other than the house’s Ingram.
3. Ingram has not made it clear on its web site that, when the book title's screen appears and reads "On Hand: 0" and "On Order: 0", the book is still available through POD. It's a minor item to them but it has cost us many, many orders.
4. On Demand publishing is too often considered vanity publishing by the book trade. The upshot is that not very many booksellers and others in the trade want to go to the trouble of examining this new way of doing business. The saving grace is that very few of the true vanity books are professionally promoted by the authors and soon disappear from view. However, business is business and ignoring potential sales in the present book world is risky business. Fulfilling orders, even if only from near relatives of the author, yields the usual 40%.
5. Because of the above, orders are fewer than in the established, but much more labor-costly, ways of producing, distributing, and selling books.
6. It's expensive. All the above "ups" are handled by POD and they charge handsomely for the services so, in the end, the profit is only marginally larger than for the normal process. But, finally, it's worth it to us.
7. Accounts receivable are held by POD for 90 days, drawing interest the while. See Item One above.
For the Author
1. Publishing history is replete with stories of successful books turned down by tens of publishers, including Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn and T. E. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover. Like those immortals, the author who is writing outside the mercantile mentality, Print On Demand is often their only chance for recognition. It also avoids the now common New York practice of politically correct editing. In other words, the author has a shot at having their book find an audience on its own—and that's just about all one can ask for.
excerpt from Murder in Moab an authentically Western novel.
When Tom had been in the alcohol rehab program at the Vet's hospital he had learned that he was fear-based, something which had taken him by surprise. He had spent his whole life, up to that moment, proving that he was afraid of nothing. The epiphany that he was afraid of everything had been a surprise, but liberating at the same time. It was the key to all his hidden feelings, the key to the crypt where his buried self had been secreted away.
Secrets. One of the verities of Alcoholics Anonymous, where he had spent years excavating that buried self, was: You are only as sick as your secrets.
Tom took a deep breath. "I'm going to tell you a story I've never told anyone."
"Not even Mom?"
"Not even your Mom. Especially not your Mom."
The son looked at his father expectantly, suddenly trusting.
"One time in the war me and my team went to this house. We were looking for a spy. This spy worked in a...well, it was a whorehouse. This spy was a woman, a beautiful woman who was getting lots of information from military officers who went there, got drunk, then talked to her about things they weren't supposed to talk about. Big secrets."
Tom took another deep breath and raised his eyes to the wall. Yoda's gentle green face stared back from a poster.
"I won't go into it, except to say that the woman got killed right in front of me.
My team leader, Linc Stockman, shot her as she was running across the courtyard and she was only a few feet from where i was standing when the bullet hit her. i saw it all. Up real close."
He looked down at Jackie's face and he could see that a fragile bridge had been thrown across the crevasse that had separated them for so long. It was the first time in years that he could see trust on his son's face.
Tom put his hand on his son's hand, looking for strength enough to tell the long-hidden truth.
"Son, she was a close friend of mine."
The father nodded, knowing he was going to have to confess it all.
"Her name was Da Ly Huong, which means Magnolia in Vietnamese, but we called her Dolly. I had spent a lot of time with her before she was killed—in her bed and other places, like when we went shopping together and I bought her things. I was more than a little bit in love with her and she turned out to be the highest ranking spy in Danang."
Tom felt tears coursing down his face again. Dammit. He hunched his shoulders, closed his eyes to stem the flow and was comforted by the feel of his son now squeezing his hand. That touch drew the two together as the dank memory was exposed to the air.
The memory that had tried to strangle him in his sleep for more than twenty-five years included the wait in the moon-bathed garden thick with the smell of night blooming flowers and the big moths drinking nectar. There had been a sudden noise from the house and he saw a slight figure running toward him, then a shout for her to stop. Tom saw her reaction to the sight of him waiting with pistol drawn and her staggering stop. Then the sound of the shot and the grotesque disarticulation as the bullet passed through her body and her disanimated little body flopped to the garden stones like a sack of dropped garbage.
He had gone to her and saw the black blood soaking her beautiful ao dai, saw the irreparable damage to her tiny body.
Then he heard her whisper, "Oh, Ton, you numbah ten." And her soul jumped away from his touch.
The shot had come from the veranda of the colonial-era whorehouse, fired by his best friend Linc. But in the horror of the recurrent, suffocating, nightmare he, Tom, is the one who shoots the girl.
PTSD therapy had brought to light that Tom had gone on the mission happily, full of a sense of having been betrayed by his lover to whom he had divulged secrets that may have led to the death of American soldiers. Smoldering in self-righteous anger, he had waited in the dark, thinking he could kill the woman gladly if she was armed, if she resisted. After Dolly's death he, like his son, his dreams had grasped him by the throat and accused him of the deed itself. His own perverted conscience, glad for a chance to attack, had waited in the dark for years.
Then, under the grace of his son's embrace Tom saw her face again the exquisite face of the most desirable prostitute in Danang. He visualized her smiling happily as he slipped a thin gold circlet onto her impossibly dainty wrist. The perfect little hand, the lovely brown eyes and the bright smile burgeoned and took on life in his remembrance. The vision said, Thank you, Ton. You good man. You numbah one.
The rich tropical light of the afternoon shone again on her pink silk ao dai and the smell of her orchid perfume filled his head. That lovely scene now overlaid the old horror that would never return to haunt his sleep again. He had confessed his greatest secret and been redeemed by the unconditional love that coursed into him through the embrace of his son. And Tom finally gave himself up to the ancient woe.
And the child becomes the father to the man, someone wrote somewhere. And the man who wrote it knew God's own truth.
The Publishing Gauntlet
by j. r. horton
where was I? oh yeah, the publishing gauntlet that began when my sister and i split off from the old paradigm and skipped gaily off to do our own thing tra la tra la.
first an aside. i was listening to Prairie Home Companion one Sunday and
Ricky Skaggs the famous singer and mandolin player mentioned that his new CD was available on Skaggs Family Records and, more recently, Sinead O’Connor has started her own label. that means that even some multimillionaire artists are taking their destinies into their hands in order to keep their work undiluted by the bean counters and marketers who make almost all the artistic decisions for the mega-merchants.
Sunlight Publishing's first effort, the second edition of my first published novel, was an unqualified success. it went almost completely unnoticed on the national level but regionally it sold like beer at a University of Wyoming football game. Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble picked it up and i did signings at B&N bookstores in Salt Lake City, Idaho Falls, Billings, Cheyenne, Fort Collins, Colorado Springs and even Claremont, California. i also did signings at independent bookstores all over Wyoming and the fringe areas of adjoining states. the regional buzz was most excellent. oh boy.
what now? Murder in Mixteca which i had finished in the two years since taking the rights to MJH back from the regional publisher. they had peddled 5000 copies of MJH with little or no promotion before we re-published the title but now we were making bigger waves and making much better sales. what could possibly go wrong?
note: before you blow this off as snivel and drivel by a writer with no talent please visit Amazon and read the reviews of the four novels there under Jon R Horton and J Royal Horton. now back to the snivel.
I won't go into details but my sister and i got caught up in a family dustup and she, probably subconsciously, sent a preliminary proof of the cover of Mixteca to the printer and it came back with a cover so incompetent that the book was almost completely unmarketable. too much blood under the bridge, as Edward Albee says about close relationships in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
if the fallout from that sort of screw-up isn't apparent to you, it means that when there are six titles planned the progressive linkage from book to book has to be strong so the marketing and publicity can build upon the success of the last. when Mixteca fell flat the series came to a screeching halt and that took years out of my life. in geology that sort of thing is called a discontinuity. shit.
denial is founded on the desperate need to believe that accidents are the main confounders of success. i submit that passive aggressive behavior by people you trust is probably responsible for just as many failures. what to do? why not publish a Western novel instead of clearing the wreckage of Mixteca by taking 3500 books to the dump and starting over with a new cover? OK.
Gib: A Contemporary Western was originally conceived to satisfy my creative thesis for a master's degree at Idaho State University. but theNational Organization of Women hijacked the Affirmative Action bus in the mid-1970s and the minority males were shoved to the rear while the working class white guys with degrees from land-grant universities found themselves tumbled in the dust and horse turds as the bus pulled away. WHAT Bill of Rights? we heard the driver shout as she slammed the pedal to the metal.
I got up, dusted myself off, looked around, and went directly into the oil patch, leaving the novel behind. But now, many years later, finishing the book seemed like the next indicated step and we, my sister Stormy and myself, did that. Sunlight published the book and it has sold as well as MJH, if not better. everyone loves Gib and it should have resurrected the fortunes of the publishing company. what could go wrong now?
for two things, my sister could almost lose her foot in a traffic accident and be incapacitated for over a year then get breast cancer. suffice to say that Sunlight Publishing disappeared below the horizon for the next three years or so.
I had just retired and had some real time on my hands so i decided to resurrect Sunlight and do everything but the design myself. my first effort would be an occasional book titled Snuffy Johnson's Cowboy Christmas and i would use Lightning Source, a founder of Print On Demand (POD) in the states. i budgeted $11,000, did a 34-page business plan and projected sales of $108,000 gross. boy oh boy what could possibly go wrong now?
the incompetent book designer i hired arbitrarily decided to change the pub date from 15 november 2004 to 1 January 2005 and by the time i caught the mistake the book had suffered a partial-birth whatisname. it sold four copies and grossed about $107,979 dollars less than i had projected. my god why go on?
note: in that vein let me add a footnote (midnote) here. Gib as a finished work first saw light in the form of a spec screenplay written for West Films in Jackson Hole. that script tossed on the waves of the septic tank called Hollywood for years. then i showed the script to a neighbor who was a screen writer and he loved it. loved it well enough to re-write my novel and screenplay then sell the book to Knopf and the script to Robert Redford. Both the book and the movie are presently making high profile runs across America. gawd what next?
as i tell people who will listen, writing fiction is like chewing Copenhagen and playing with yourself — it's a filthy habit that once begun is almost impossible to quit. that and the fact that no major publisher was ever going to take on a mystery series with the bastard history of Sunlight’s gives one no choice but to keep on trucking — or kill yourself. so if you want people to read your books you are going to have to dig in, suck it up and keep on keeping on.
next time i'll give you my list of whys and why-nots of going with Print on Demand.
from Murder in Mixteca re-titled Murder in the Tetons an authentically western novel
It is evening and as the summer sun's red disc drops behind the Big Hole Mountains and the coming night slips the pink light up and off the face of the Grand Teton. The bright summit gutters out like a candle. And the day is gone.
Anyone watching the light fail on the mountains would know from the left-tilt of the Grand that they were observing it not from the Jackson Hole side on the east but from the Alta, Wyoming side. on the west.
Summer nights are cool in Wyoming and the night sky stutters with stars except when, as now, the full moon pours its light down heavy as cream from a pitcher. The smells of fresh mown hay and the acidic smell of cottonwood trees that crowd nearby Teton Creek sing of summer to anyone who just might be standing in front of this huge log home, whose lights blaze against the cool night.
And if that person has, by chance, chosen to stand on the east side of the house they would surely admire the expensive furnishings, including large antique Navajo chiefs' blankets, antique guns and swords, in one corner an ornately silver-dressed antique Mexican vaquero saddle on a stand, all Molesworth furniture around a big stone fireplace that was some mason's masterpiece. Above the mantelpiece is a black fossil garfish at least six feet long and a foot wide, half liberated from the sandstone matrix where it had been captive for 100 million years and more.
And people. Our voyeur would see three people. Two small men and a small woman with olive skin, the men speaking earnestly to the woman who is sitting on the edge of the couch.
The woman excuses herself and leaves, only to return with a tray set with cups and a coffee server. After serving them she walks to an adjoining room and can be seen descending some stairs with the tray in her hands.
Our observer, if he or she had drawn close enough, might have been able to hear, through a window opened for ventilation, that the two men were speaking a strange language unlike the European languages often heard in Jackson Hole. They appear to be, perhaps, Mexicans but the language is certainly not Spanish.
The woman reappears from below and excitedly engages the men in conversation. Startled, they leap from the couch and hurry down the stairs. The woman follows, but cautiously, and her face is frightened as she reaches the balustrade and pears down the stairwell.
Our silent witness presses his face very near the window because now he hears an unintelligible argument growing in volume as three voices clash passionately. Soon there are shouts and cursing, then the cry of a man in great pain.
Suddenly, the same two men reappear, each of them holding something in their arms. They pause for a moment, as if trying to reorient themselves, and a tall white man leaps up from the stairwell and grabs at large leather bound book held in the grasp of one of the men.
The man lies down with the book in his arms, wrapping himself around it in order to fend off the white man. But the large man falls to his knees and begins to pry the book from the little dark man's grasp.
The woman, who has fled to the kitchen, returns just as the second man swings a piece of cordwood from the fireplace with all his might and knocks the white man to the floor. She screams and rushes to the downed man's side, then apparently tells one of the small men to go to the kitchen for a wet towel for he is back in moments and the woman nurses the big man back to consciousness. But it only takes a moment for him thrust her aside and, shouting, attack the man who hit him.
Now it is a melee for the other small man jumps on the tall man's back and wraps his arms around his throat.
The tall man swings his shoulders and pulls at his attacker's arms, causing the much smaller man to swing in large arcs, back and forth, until the grip is broken and the small man flung across the room.
The white man walks to the book and falls weakly to his knees to retrieve it. But the other little man has retrieved the piece of firewood and, raising his hands high, brings it down on the wounded man's head a second time.
The victim is bleeding and his legs are twitching so that any observer would surely know that he as been very badly hurt. The woman is crying softly, her hands over her mouth, then she begins to staunch the blood from his head with the towel. She can be heard praying, this time in Spanish, the prayer language of the Catholic church in much of the world.
The two men check their own injuries, then begin to converse in their native language, occasionally gesturing out the window past our observer, and they seem to be talking about the great mountain that rears up against the starlight like a black cutout against the sky.
The woman appears to be arguing and stands to confront them. She walks to them and contends with them vociferously for minutes. Then, suddenly, the injured man scrambles to his feet and staggers to the next room where, instead of descending the stairs, turns left and flees outside through a side door. The two Indians run across the great room, one of them stopping to retrieve the bloody club.
Our man now moves to the side of the house to follow the action but he is too late. The big man is down again, and this time it appears he will never rise again.
One of the Indians checks the pulse in the victim's neck as the other man reaches inside the house to douse the light over the rear door.
The watcher stops to calm his racing pulse, taking deep breaths. And as he pauses there in the dark he notices another observer like himself. She is small, holding a scarf over her head and she appears to also have witnessed what has taken place.
He watches her suddenly turn and hurry from the property to cross the Targhee road to the neighboring house set next to rushing Teton Creek.
The three Indians are now kneeling and praying to the enormous mountains that rear above the valley, bathed in moonlight. Our observer might be puzzled by the fact that the small people cross themselves in the fashion of Catholics after their prayers. But few know how native beliefs have wedded themselves to Catholicism and the three have dedicated the man and his death to the mountain at whose foot they will bury him, and spare themselves any possible retribution from the mountain gods.
The night is vibrant with the natural sound of rapid water, the canyon breeze in the towering cottonwoods, and the sudden swish of of night wings—perhaps an owl or nighthawk. Or, perhaps, the sound of a soul's escape from the mortuary of its days to heaven. Or to hell.
Writing in 21st Century America
jackson hole blog
with j. r. horton
i used to write a monthly column for
I gave away my television over fifteen years ago so got the news of the attack via national public radio. however the Kmart store was only two blocks away so i hurried over to get the images associated with the story. that may have been a mistake because i stood in front of perhaps twenty tv sets being bombarded by images broadcast by four different sources. it was shocking, and soon mesmerizing, as new sources like home videos were added to the cascade of images. the original broad shots taken from distant helicopters were now intercut with narrow aspects framed by buildings and the harrowing reviews of people fleeing the enormous billows of poisonous dust from millions of square yards of wallboard mixed with god-only-knows-what office supplies and components of information-processing apparati normally trapped by manufacturing processes — deadly genies released from pandora's box to ride a killing tide of blitzed business machines. but you know all about that. you were probably there...
after a two-year hiatus i saw that my whole world had changed and i wanted to get out of the old publishibng paradigm and into the new digital world of the burgeoning generation which had matured while i was absent. the corrupt publishing model of writing a work, submitting it to an agent or editor, waiting years for rejection or confirmation, working for little or nothing, and with slim hope, seemed like a very tired and tiring way of doing business.
I began to mentally re-group then put the new paradigm into action by first regaining all the rights to my published works while researching this new digital world where the artists have real control over their work. The first proofs of the potential were demonstrated by musicians who began to desert the ships of Sony, Warner Bros and the rest in the thieves market that was the music world to create their own labels. Hell, all you needed was an Apple computer and a very few thousand dollars-worth of equipment plus business and marketing plans to get into the music biz, so why not the book biz? for better or worse the die was cast.
later i would seize on the modern idea of a blog as part of a marketing website. writing the column about Jackson Hole and the Yellowstone area had necessitated research and finding images to match the subject of the month and that had taken a lot of time away from the novel. because i had picked up the unfinished novel again about a year ago i didn't want to the divert my writing energy from the process of excavating my characters from the matrix of my new mind-set. it would also give me a chance to change my focus from one effort to the other without a major shift in concentration. the idea that i could use the blog to talk about the writing process i go through. i decided to include excerpts from my writing for examination by anyone interested in what i am trying to do with the western novel. Wyoming is probably the least supportive writing environment in the country if you are not part of the established writers, and i am definitely not one of them. by way of explanation for how i became the outsider I'll supply a short history.
i think it was 1994 when i attended the Jackson Hole Writers Conference and met an editor for Dell Bantam who was interested in the manuscript of Murder in Jackson Hole after reading the first three chapters. i sent her the whole manuscript and about a month later she sent me a list of edits necessary to generate a contract. the list of demands included: no women as victims (the book opened with a woman being victimized during a drug dea), no villains drawn from minority groups (the bad guy's name was Rick Rios) and no ghastly hunting scenes (the hero bloods his son through an elk hunt, a practice that goes back to the earliest times of homo sapiens sapiens). i tried but couldn't make it work so i told her thanks but no thanks, i had to be me.
what to do, what to do? after appealing to about fifty or so agents to represent me and getting snubs or no acknowledgment at all, a regional publisher approached me and said he was interested in publishing the book. o happy day!
I won't go into particulars but suffice to say that after the book was published i immediately demanded the rights back and got them. what to do, again? i send letters and e-mails to about fifty more agents and suffered the same rejection process. shit.
what process? at this point i should explain the old paradigm of publishing. first : make your heart fit a 2X9X11 package then shlep it around to writers conferences where (if you are male) you pitch it to mostly disinterested folks (women) from back east. then you try to write a book that conforms to what you have heard and overheard at the same conferences. and that is important because the mega-publishing and distribution companies will almost certainly spit out 99.9% of the manuscripts that don't follow their particular formulae for success.
second: you try to find an agent to rep your work. If you are writing outside the mainstream your chances of finding an agent are just about zilch, though i have had three excellent agents who tried to find a home for my work. the rub here is that you have to smelt the precious from the dross and the vast majority of agents out there are dross despite their claims to be 24-carat. the painful part of the process is that your work can be tied up for one or two years while the incompetent agent strives to become competent. whether they like the analogy or not agents are just salesmen with a sample case in hand who circulate from editor's office to editor's office, pulling out your work and saying, isn't the quality obvious? here, smell it, feel the grain.
third: you have an agent but you are going to have to live with the editor who is interested in working with you. If you are lucky beyond all reckoning you will find an editor who is competent and can understand and respect what you have graven on your heart. if you have the bad luck i had with the woman from dell bantam you will have to make a choice of writing according to the editor's dictates or give it up. most of the time the editor is right and you are wrong so don't dig in your heels until you understand that she just may have your real interests at heart. but then again she just may have her own interests at heart, such as forwarding an agenda that does no justice to your work. political correctness is one of the most pernicious aspects of modern life and it is at its liveliest in the halls of New York publishing. and because i write about the authentic west from a working man's point of view rather than following the easily-understood customs of the genre detective novel, finding an unorthodox soul in New York is almost manifestly fruitless.
that was my experience. i have Wyoming acquaintances like Michael and Kathleen Gear, Debbie Bedford, Tim Sandlin, Jerry Spence, Warren Adler, Ted Kerasote, Mark Spragg, Win Blevins and some others whose experiences have been mainstream almost all the way. they publish with big houses and are very successful in the mainstream but they have their stories and i have mine. i think it's safe to say that my experience in the publishing world is much more common that their's. besides, if you are a successful mainstream author you will not have followed the story this far because I'm preaching to the pews not to the choir.
that said, let's go back to what to do now? my choice was to start a sequel to Murder in Jackson Hole. that decision has no logic but if you want logic from a novelist go to his computer's mother board. when Murder in Jackson Hole was accepted by the regional publisher, who had an emotional life resembling a pack rat's nest, i thought i was home free. what happened with that house is a farce we need not recapitulate but it ended when i told him i was getting a lawyer. but before that happened i asked for an advance and left for Mexico where i had worked in oil exploration for a couple of years. i wanted to write about the illegal trade in archaeological artifacts for a sequel and came back with Murder in Mixteca fully plotted plus three legal pads of notes and dialog. But i found myself in the limbo that hovers over the hell of a doomed novel being followed headlong by another with even fewer prospects. so the cordite smoke and dust blows away and i am sitting on the blasting box with my chin in my hand. what to do now? then the phone rings. aha.
my sister is an excellent computer graphics artist and she is saying, i don't see anything your publisher did that we can't do. Why don't we start our own publishing company? heck, why not?
I send her the original disc with the novel and she extrudes it through Quark Express while i am falling into another serendipitous opportunity. an artist whose work i really like, Malcolm Furlow, offers his art for my covers and i am ecstatic. now i will have some real say in the whole concept from the writing through design and onwards. the rub here is that neither my sister or i knew what onwards would come to mean — like business plan, raising money, distribution, publicity, bookkeeping, cash flow statements, booksellers and distributors who never pay, fulfillment, floor taxes, resistance from the old paradigm, and the serious stigma of being labeled a self-publisher ten years ago.
that's enough for today. i'm worn out just remembering all the problems we stepped into and the really serious problems that would fall out during the process of publishing the next two books. more later.
Excerpt from Murder in Jackson Hole an authentically western novel
The canyon they had shot across was not real steep but it was deep and there was a lot of snow. It would be tough going, especially on the other side because it is impossible to ride a horse up a slope in deep snow. Their chests are too broad and they don't have the stamina a man has. It meant zigzagging uphill, on foot and in waist-deep snow while leading the animal. Tom rode down to the bottom of the canyon and when he swung down out of the saddle, the snow was hip deep, as he'd known it would be. Going uphill was murderous and he had to stop every few yards to rest. Near the top, he had to stop every two or three steps.
When he found the place where the animal had been feeding he read the sign. There were a few spots of dark blood. Gut blood. If it had been frothy and pink it would have meant a lung shot, a killing shot. But the boy had jerked the rifle's trigger and pulled the rifle barrel toward the animal's rear.Tom had suspected that when the animal had hunched up at the impact of the bullet.
He slogged up the mountain, sweating profusely, opening his coat because of all the heat the exercise generated. Sweat rolled down into his eyes and he had to carry his hat because it was intolerably hot wearing it.
Tom finally came to a deep, bloody hole in the snow, the place where his own shot had knocked the elk down. He was relieved that the elk had crossed into the pines instead of going up the few remaining yards and over the ridge into the bad country. It meant he was hit real hard. The amount of blood he was now losing proved that. Tom was confident he would find him in a matter of yards, bleeding the way he was. He took his rifle out of the scabbard and started down the trail in the waist-deep snow. The horse was spooking, so Tom took a handful of the clotted blood and rubbed it into his nostrils — so the animal's sense of smell would be saturated with the spoor.
As he started into the trees, he expected to find the bull at any moment because arterial blood had squirted onto trees and as much as ten feet out onto the pristine snow. But they kept dropping farther and farther down into the darkening woods. And then the trail ended. Nothing lay in front of them but unbroken snow. Tom was stunned. It was as if the elk had been levitated.
By now the horse was really spooked. He tried the blood trick again, but the big sorrel still rolled his eyes and reared, striking at Tom with his front hooves. He was terrified, acting as if they were trailing a bear. Tom knotted the reins near their ends and crooked his arm through them, keeping the animal as far away from his heels as possible.
They started back up the mountain side. The bull had apparently sensed them coming and had back tracked in his own trail, leaving the air thick with the smell of blood, fear and pure will. That was what was scaring the horse — the essence of a doomed will to live.
The spoor was now a mess. They had walked in the bull's backtrack, burying it in a mass of trashed sign. They had to redouble back to find the place where he had jumped a bush to hide his departure from the trail. By this time Tom was awed by the dramatic blood trail, by the apparent fact that the elk appeared to be operating on adrenaline alone. And operating more cleverly than most mature elk do in perfect health. This animal was something special.
By this time Tom was nearing exhaustion as they hurried, slipping and falling, up the mountainside. He was breathing in great openmouthed gasps, seeing bursts of light. The horse was no better. He was bathed in sweat, his breath heaving, eyes rolling from the exertion. Ordinarily he was a good horse who was careful where he put his hooves. Now he was stepping on Tom's heels and getting popped in the face with the reins for it. The effort was pushing the man and the horse to the end of their energies, and as yet they had not caught up to an elk who was running on what must have the last couple of pints of blood in his body. But, suddenly, Tom stood looking down at him.
The bull had appeared in the circle of light at the center of the man's vision. A corona of black surrounded the dying animal. He was lying down, his neck outstretched in a great aurora of poppy-red blood. Now helpless, his eyes going soft with imminent death, he knew that he was finally overtaken. He moved his legs in slow imitations of the powerful, running strides that carried him from danger all through his great life.
Breathing in convulsive gasps, Tom threw a bullet into his rifle and shocked the bull over the line and into death. He then sat down in the deep snow beside the exhausted horse and looked at the bull's fine face and great horns, drawing the smell of hot flesh and blood deep into his own body with each heaving gulp of the thin, gray winter air. It was a primitive feeling, Tom thought as he sat and tried to catch his breath. It was something like wild sex in that it was zero intellect and all sensation, reaction and response.
Some say they love the animals they kill, and it may be a truth of sorts. But to say that you love them implies that you have had time to winnow your feelings, consider it from all angles and arrive at a conclusion. But that is conscience, not love.
As Tom sat there in the snow, breathing in gasps, sweating, his heart pounding while looking at the animal and smelling his blood it was the act, and nothing more, that carried the emotional weight. Tom was alive, the bull was dead, and Tom had killed him. Period. Nothing to think about, no apologies. And he felt very much alive.
He was resting against a tree, trying to recover from the exhaustion, when he heard a sound. He opened his eyes and saw Jackie sitting on his horse about twenty yards away. The boy's eyes were huge as he surveyed the scene, looking up and down the beaten and blood-soaked hillside.
Tom stood. "C'mere," he said as he motioned tiredly to the boy. Jackie got down and walked toward his father. He stopped about halfway and stared at the big bull in the snow.
"C'mere, c'mere." Tom got up and met the boy. Tom put his arms around his son's shoulders. "Go ahead and look at it, son. Look at it all."
The boy shook his head as he surveyed the mess. "Gosh," he said.
"This is our responsibility. We did this. This is what men do," Tom said. "But don't let it bother you, this is who we are. And it's OK. All that civilization down there in the valley is just a veneer. At heart, most of us are still hunters."
He let the boy take it all in for a moment, then stood and said, "Grab that hind leg. We need to swing his butt downhill, so i can show you how to gut him. It isn't all adrenaline and fun. We eat what we kill and getting an animal out of the mountains, then preparing it, is the biggest part of the deal.
"When we get to town, I'll show you how to cut and wrap the meat. Then we'll spend a day making sausage. That's the part i like, almost as much as eating it."
They labored at the big animal until it was on its back with its hind quarters pointed downhill. They set its butt on a big branch, to keep it from sliding away down the steep hill. When the animal was stabilized on the slope, Tom went to a nearby pine and broke off a small branch. He stripped away all but a small bunch of needles at the tip, and gave it to his son. "Here."
"What's this for?"
"Dip it in the elk blood and put it in the bull's mouth."
"To show respect. It's called a Schutzbruch by the German hunting society and the Indians do it too. If we had a feather and knew an Indian language we'd do the same thing. All real hunters do it."
"You took his life, thank him for it.
"And you aren't, plus we are going to eat him and gain strength from his death."
"I don't get it.
"I don't expect you to, yet. But i do expect you to remember to do this every time you make a kill — show respect for the life the animal gave up. Always try to be thankful."
"OK. But i still don't get it," Jackie said as he knelt and brushed up a bit of blood and placed the branch in the dead animal's mouth.
"It's all right. Some day you will — when you're old enough to know what a life is worth. In the old days they would say that you have now been blooded.'
He helped the boy to his feet then said, "You better stand back a bit, son. When you get your first whiff of what's inside this guy, your nose is gonna do a somersault and your stomach's going be right behind it. Gut shots are foul."
He unsnapped the deep pocket of his hunting coat and reached for the razor sharp folding hunter's knife he always kept there.