story

Meet Dexter (or, Lincoln’s Uncanny History with Pets)

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Chirping bird at 5AM--cute when you're five, and bored. When you're 18 and home on leave during Army Basic Training? Not so much.

When this weekend comes, it’ll mark two weeks of dog ownership in the Crisler house. I’ll introduce you to the little guy in a minute or two–but I’m certain most of you don’t understand what a milestone this is, both for me and my family as a whole. So bear with me a bit. Most of you read this ’cause you like my storytelling anyhow, right? Right?

Pets have always been a big deal in my life; sometimes a good one, sometimes not so much. When I was a child, I had a few. My first cat was named Frisky. I don’t remember the circumstances, but I remember him being taken away one day. After that (I don’t remember how much time elapsed) I got a bird for my birthday, a cockatiel named Sammy. My mother’s owned a couple other cockatiels since, and in my opinion, they’re much more enjoyable when you’re seven than when you’re seventeen. Sammy flew out the window one weekend while I was visiting my father.

Some time after Sammy took off for greener pastures, my mom and stepfather got me a turtle. I named him Dino, short for Donatello. My previous anecdotes indicate a poor history with animals, but up until now, none of the misfortunes were my doing. I can’t say the same for Dino. One morning before going to school, I turned up the water heater in his tank, thinking to make him more comfortable, and when I came home that afternoon, the water was too hot and poor Dino was dead.

I was mortified. Stricken with fear. My heart was a block of ice as my mother and stepfather tried to revive it in the bathtub with cool water. No bueno. How the heck was I going to own up to this one? Luckily, my mother, odd bird that she is (God love her) blamed the building super, a crotchety old woman who lived a floor below us and had a master key. Mom figured old Doris came in and did it, just to be a mean bitch. To this day, I’ve never told her anything different. You read it here first. To replace Dino, my mother got me a new turtle. I named him Mikey (after Michaelangelo). He had a mean temper and a tendency to snap, however, and we soon returned him to the shop.

My mom’s not this bad–but we knew a chick who was WORSE. At least a hundred cats–straight up–and all the associated filth you’d expect. And you folks wonder why I write the scary stuff.

My mother’s always had cats–multiple ones, copious amounts of cats–in the house from the time I was about 13 or 14, up until now. She’s the quintessential cat lady; lives alone, upwards of five cats in a one-bedroom apartment, pays to get them cremated when they die and keeps the ashes, etc. She’s always had good luck with her animals, though. She loves them, they love her, and they live long lives.

When I moved out for the second and last time at 17, I took my cat, Lucifer, with me. I rescued that cat from the yard next door to the home of my then friend-with-benefits, a girl named Katie, and named it after her until I discovered it had a scrotum. I had to leave Lucifer behind when I joined the Army. I hope my roommate took care of him. The guy moved out by the time I came home to visit after training. From 2000-2005, I had no pets–you can’t have them in military barracks, and the one attempt my ex-wife and I made at feline ownership ended (in less than 48 hours) in the cat running off into the woods during a pagan ritual after slipping the leash (Megan insisted on bringing it with us).

In 2005, Connie and her daughter (now my adopted daughter for over five years) Cheyann moved in with me in Watertown, when I got stationed at Fort Drum. Cheyann brought a cat, Mocha, with her, that she’d had since she was five. I tried to like Mocha. I really did. Mocha was a beautiful animal. But she hated everyone but Cheyann. I tried to get Connie to let me find it a good home, but Cheyann’s feelings came first. I was finally able to find Mocha a new home in 2010, while stationed in El Paso, Texas, when Cheyann grew unattached to the cat and it began urinating on furniture. To this day, it is one of my sweetest victories. Cheyann was fine with the cat’s departure, and she was in good hands less than twelve hours after I posted her on Craigslist. Everyone won.

Buy my books or the dog gets it.

In 2007, while still stationed in Watertown, Cheyann and I acquired a purebred Pembroke Welsh Corgi puppy, to the tune of around a thousand dollars–the cost of the dog, it’s plane ride, roundtrip gas to New York City and back when I miscalculated the destination airport of choice and the vet bill for when Chupa (short for Chupacabra) ran under Connie’s feet while Connie was carrying a basket of laundry. Cheyann and I had wanted a Corgi for the past couple of years, since before we’d met, and we’d decided to get one after I came home from Afghanistan. A month later, I gave the bloody thing away to a neighbor after failing to housebreak it. In 2008 or -09, my brother-in-law brought us his dog to keep in El Paso when he could no longer house it. It dug out from under our backyard fence and ran away the next day while we were taking my mother-in-law to visit her childhood home in Albuquerque.

Before leaving El Paso in 2010, we bought a baby turtle which moved to Augusta, Georgia with us. We named him Pollo–Spanish for chicken. About a year after we got him, he ran away while I was cleaning his tank. Read that again, folks–my damn turtle ran away. I put him in the backyard, in my son’s water table so he could stay moist. It took me under fifteen minutes to clean the tank. No more Pollo.

Obviously, the Crislers aren’t meant to own pets. Cheyann and I have good intentions, but piss-poor luck. Connie doesn’t even like pets in the house, and only tolerated Mocha for Cheyann’s sake. The dogs and turtle acquired during our marriage each came with their own uphill battle.

A few weeks ago, I decided I wanted to try again, and Connie agreed to give it a try. I was shooting for a kitten–much easier to housebreak–but she shifted gears to a puppy overnight. My lovely wife actually did the legwork on finding us a kickass Doberman puppy–he looks to be 6-8 months old, but we’re not sure. Some country folk rescued him from a ditch and gave him to us for $25. He had bright eyes and good teeth and his coat shined after three back-to-back flea baths and brushings. So far, so good. And after a couple days of accidents, he learned to walk on a leash (I don’t think he’d ever been on one, before living with us) and is mostly housebroken. It took him a week or so to become fully confident, but he now barks when he hears other dogs in the distance, and when someone comes into the house unexpectedly (Chey had a really late night at work Tuesday).

So, meet Dexter. Cheyann named him, after the television serial killer whose show Connie and I have watched every episode of. I think this one’s gonna work out.

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April Reviews!

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I purchased Ganymede by Cherie Priest at my local bookstore the day before my flight to World Horror and devoured it between the flights there and back. It’s the fourth of her Clockwork Century steampunk books, set in an alternate 1890s America where the Civil War is still raging. I was slightly apprehensive at first after having to set aside Dreadnought (the third book) a third of the way through because it didn’t hold my interest. At this point, I’m invested in the series, though—I’ll be taking another stab at Dreadnought soon enough, I’m sure, and will probably find something to like. I’d been looking forward to Boneshaker, the first novel, for nearly a year before it’s release, and Clementine, the Subterranean Press-released novella, was nearly as good.

I found Ganymede, which revisits Boneshaker’s pirate Andan Cly as he undertakes one last illegal operation in order to finance his retirement, to deliver on the promise of Boneshaker better than any other book in the series to date. For those eager to meet another of Priest’s plucky heroines, we have Josephine Early, a mulatto cathouse owner and one of Cly’s former lovers. For readers looking forward to revisiting old friends, Briar, Zeke, Mercy and Swakhammer all make appearances. If you’ve never read a Clockwork Century book yet, you can certainly jump in with Ganymede (these novels are all self-contained, though they do build on each other), though I’d recommend at least reading Boneshaker first.

Red Empire and Other Stories by Joe McKinney collects his previously released novella Red Empire and seven short stories, some written specifically for this collection. McKinney fans know him best for his zombie stories (he took home a Stoker this year for Flesh Eaters, his third Dead World novel), but there’s not a zombie in sight here, but for one story. Like most of McKinney’s work, many of these stories take place in Texas and feature police. The novella in particular reminded me of the mid-90s-era Dean Koontz novels I enjoyed before I figured out they all followed the same formula—but with the possible romance between the male and female leads left to happen after the story, rather than bogging down the action. A solid collection, and a must for any McKinney fan.

Rust and Blood by Ed Kurtz collects nine short stories, many brand-new with a few reprints. Kurtz has a great writing style, and even the stories that failed to suspend disbelief for me held my attention all the way through. I ripped through the collection in a couple of hours. The premises behind ‘Hungry’ and ‘Pearls’ were a bit farfetched, but both were fun–‘Pearls’ in particular was an uncomfortable read for a guy who had a nickel-sized, inch-deep chunk of necrotized flesh carved from his thigh a couple years back. ‘Sinners’ and ‘Roadbeds’ were confusing, to be completely honest, but the rest of the book is packed with solid, old-school horror–‘Family Bible’ in particular was a great read.

Faint of Heart by Jeff Strand is a self-published novella featuring Rebecca, a young wife who is kidnapped from her home the night after her husband, Gary, goes off on a hunting trip with a couple of buddies. Her kidnapper and his accomplice force her to relive everything Gary did the day before—or else. Strand is great at making a reader care about his characters in a short amount of time, and screwed with my expectations expertly. I also appreciate his economical, to the point style. Faint was a quick, exciting read that I blew through in one sitting.

The first two Sam Truman Mysteries novellas—Catch My Killer! by Ed Kurtz (released this month) and The Last Invasion by Brandon Zuern (coming in May) are the first in a new ongoing series of pulp novellas from Abattoir, an imprint of Kurtz’ Redrum Horror. Abattoir plans to release a new digital novella every six weeks, with print omnibus editions collecting every four or so. If I had to compare the Sam Truman series to anything else I’ve read, it’d be Shroud’s Hiram Grange series, in that both feature down-on-his-luck investigators-for-hire who solve paranormal mysteries. Killer! introduces Sam Truman, an involuntarily-retired private investigator who doesn’t have a pot to piss in. He intercedes in an attempted robbery at a diner by blowing away the perpetrator, only to be later visited (and hired) by the ghost of a murder victim housed in the robber’s corpse. In Invasion, Sam is hired by the family of a missing girl, and uncovers much more than a simple kidnapping or disappearance. Kurtz was born to write noir pulps; Killer! flows effortlessly and is grounded firmly in the series’ 1960s setting. Invasion is Zuern’s first published work, but hopefully not his last.

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Archive: El Paso Public Forum, 4 APR 10

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I’ll be in Salt Lake City from the 29th to the 1st, attending the World Horror Convention. I’ll have something from the archives for you here on the site each day, though. This is a radio interview I did shortly after returning from my deployment to Qatar. While I was deployed, my second book, MAGICK & MISERY, was released by Black Bed Sheet Books. Thanks again to Clear Channel’s Melissa Kerr for doing the interview, and to my lovely wife for setting up the whole deal while I was still overseas.

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Short Story Collection FAQ

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Author’s Note: Another FAQ resulting from a discussion between my critique partners and I on my now-defunct online forum.

——————–

One of my Seven Deadly Pens partners was curious about some of the specifics of publishing a collection of short stories. Since I’ve already had two published, I had a fair amount of information to share. Here it is for your own edification, should you be curious as well.

Did you approach a publisher with a completed manuscript & table of contents?

Yes.

Did they reject any of the stories or how you had them put together?

A couple of stories got rejected for Despairs & Delights because they were a little too extreme for the editor. Those made it into Magick & Misery, though, which was released through a different publisher.

Did you self publish?

Hells no. See here and here.

What about rights? I would assume many of the stories in a collection were previously published, so did you have any issues with what could go into the collection? Are there rights covering this sort of thing? (I assume there are…) Would anthology rights apply here? What rights would apply to a collected work?

It is assumed that a collection will include a lot of reprints, so that shouldn’t be an issue. What you do need to make sure of is that you’re not violating any agreements with other publishers/editors. If you signed a contract giving print rights to a specific story to Dark Recesses for a year, for example, you need to either wait that whole year before publishing it elsewhere or else ask DR for permission to use it sooner. Anthology rights are rights a magazine purchases in order to include work they’ve published in the magazine in a ‘Best Of’ anthology at a later date. The rights that apply to the collection? It’s your work, and you have the right to publish it, unless you’ve signed a contract giving those rights away either temporarily or permanently.

I have enough stuff right now that would come together to make a 60,000-word collection. Would that be long enough?

Absolutely. Neither of mine are that long.

Did you buy a number of your own copies at a discount to resell?

Yes. As a matter of fact, I can sell signed copies direct from my website for cover price or below and still make a buck or two per copy.

You do that through your website and keep the money, or do you have a deal with your publisher to split any of that revenue?

If I buy them, I don’t get royalties on those copies, of course, but I keep any revenue from their sales, which, depending on the circumstances, can amount to more per copy than I’d see if someone bought the book through Amazon, for example.

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