I Love to Fly

24 09 2010

San Antonio Sky

Yes, I love to fly. As I headed for the airport in San Antonio this morning at 3:30 am, I began to hear  B.W. Stevenson’s “Texas Morning” playing in my head.  

The San Antonio weather has been wild with the remnants of a tropical storm in the Gulf of Mexico blowing in and wreaking havoc. On my way in to Saint Anthony’s town, we sat on the runway in Dallas until 55 mile per hour winds died down and then circled SAT for a while for the same reason. When the winds reach a particular speed one is not allowed to land. I talked to a couple of good old boys who had already been to San Antone once then were sent back to wait at DFW.  

 I recall, some years ago, I was at DFW. A storm came rolling in and a plane was landing when a monstrous downdraft sucked it all the way down too soon. There’s a freeway just north of DFW Airport and some poor fellow had just moved to Dallas and gotten himself a job. As I remember, it was his first day, or maybe his first week and he was on the freeway that morning and the landing gear of the airliner brushed the top of his car and crushed it and him.  

 And then the plane hit too soon, missing the runway, and too hard and I looked out an airport window that early morning and the air was filled with fire and smoke. So I have no problem with taking our time to land.  

 I walked out of the San Antonio airport two days ago, and the sky was harsh brushstrokes of gray and black and wind whipped in all directions at once. It smelled like storm and I was reminded of growing up in Texas and just how fierce the weather could get.  

 It only dribbled on me as I drove to my hotel and when I went down to the Riverwalk for dinner it just rained hard enough to wet my glasses so I couldn’t see.  

 That night storms boiled and thundered all around and the rain pounded the window of my hotel room. I was content as Mother Texas rocked me in her roaring  bosom.  

 The next day was merely cloudy and so humid it felt like you could reach up and peel the weather off of your face and now my glasses fogged up. I didn’t really see much of San Antonio on this trip, but I experienced it.  

 It is before dawn, as I walk toward the terminal, the bus driver, a very nice and dedicated Hispanic gent, regales me with his exploits. For 22 years he has driven a terminal bus and never even been late for work once. In the dead quiet of a hot and humid San Antonio 4am I notice the insects—moths bang against the terminal window and crickets hop around me.  

 “Right in the middle of a ten cent scenery
Shuffled and stacked on a postcard rack
There’s a cute little kid on a Shetland pony
Smiles at me, I can’t smile back.  

Cactus Jack drinks coffee black
Tells me it’s my lucky day
Five o’clock in the Texas morning
I come a long, long way.”  

Will Stockdale & Ben Whitledge from "No Time for Sergeants"

 
 “…crackle, crackle…” The airplane shudders in the air currents. Will Stockdale spits into the back of the radio, “Hello…hello?” I look out the window and the wing lights flash through the pre-dawn cloud cover. “Sparks, what’s going on, can you reach the tower?”  

I remember this scene. Now we will break through the clouds and see below us gigantic ferns and a diplodocus or two. “Fasten your seatbelts, it’s going to be a bumpy night.”  

 I shake my head to clear the morning cobwebs. How did I get on a plane to DFW? Wasn’t I just returning from there? Someone hit the fast forward and DFW is my connection again, this time on the way to BWI, Baltimore-Washington International. 

"Odyssey of Flight 33"

 Have I said that I love to fly? Ho, ho, strike up the band Willie, I’m on the road again. Behind me a tank-top-clad mother with color tattoos spilling out of her shirt all around her neck and down her shoulders, is cursing her children in a stage whisper. The little darlings are kicking the back of my seat.

Across the aisle, an elderly man—meaning older than me—is reading a magazine, well reading isn’t quite right, it is filled with photos of scantily-clad young women. But at least he isn’t drooling.  

 The woman to my right, in the center seat, is reading a magazine filled with photos of scantily-clad young women, but what clothing these are wearing I would classify as “fashionable.”  

 “Yip, yip,” at first I thought the flight attendant had the hiccups, but now I realize there is a dog somewheres about. From the lack of profundity in its bark I infer a very small dog, perhaps a chihuahua.  

 Sometimes I play a game and try and guess what people’s faces look like. I spend a great deal of time staring at the backs of people’s heads. I am almost always wrong.  

 The sun is on the horizon or we have risen up to meet it. I will see good friends, commercial friends, amigos de la calle in the suburbs of Baltimore, and other friends, mi casa et su casa friends and I come bearing tea and books including our new Pathfinder Advanced Player’s Guide and my godchild: Jason C.S. Chen’s A Tea Lover’s Travel Diary. Both available at Amazon and other find book retailers.  

 My GPS is primed to get me from BWI to Timonium and other nearby destinations.  

I believe the Blues Brothers said something to the effect: “We’ve got a full tank of gas, half a pack of cigarettes, we’re wearing sunglasses and it’s dark outside. Let’s hit it!”  

 Did I mention that I love to fly?

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The Power of Words

29 08 2010

Illuminated KJV Initials

Last night it was time to read an ARC for book review purposes. I opened it and began. The first letter of the first word of the first sentence of chapter one was illuminated. The word was unknown to me. Add the illumination and I was completely at a loss. Fortunately I know the fine editor of this fine book and so asked him to elucidate. He admitted that he was a bit worried about this himself and might change it in the final version.

 This thought led me astray and it was some time before I was back reading. [ Strange interlude-once I made it past the first letter the illuminated initial, I was thoroughly caught up in the novel and read into the wee hours] “So,” thinks I, methinks. We editorial types spend an inordinate amount of time worrying over a single word in a book full of words. Or do we? Then I muses on the nature of a book, I does. And I came to a conclusion that is pretty damned obvious unless you are not thinking about it.

 Every word in a book is of equal importance. This may seem counter-intuitive, but it is effing true. If any word is unnecessary, then what in the hell is it doing in the book? So all those “the’s” and “and’s” and “but’s” and “I’s” mean something. And it is right and correct then, that editors fret over each and every word. I still shiver with this thought. It is as if a physicist were worrying over the existence and placement of every atom…or quark.

Aum in Tibetan Script

 Middle-of-the-night thought processes are often non-linear. So ma’ wee tiny brain does a lurch and turns right at the nearest black hole and I winds up in India, or, for my purposes, in Tibet with Aum. I was taught by a teacher in the Tibetan tradition, that “Aum” is the presence of all sounds. Every sound in the universe, or universes, is and are all expressed at the same time by pronouncing “Aum.”

 I first learned about the power of Aum through other sounds. I was studying with this same teacher, learning a most wonderful internal martial art called Tibetan Blue Heron 藍鷥拳. Lord of mercy but this is one fine fighting system. It is similar in some respects to the better-known Crane style, but there are differences. It was brought to China by a wandering Tibetan monk, Lama, Zurdwang (1530 -1620) from Quamdo, Tibet. Sometimes it feels, in the bones, like Taijiquan. One major aspect is striking at acupuncture points. It is a subtle art among subtle arts. 

American Great Blue Heron

In our warm-ups, we learned a particular meditation practice. I call it Heng-Hung. We would practice controlling our breathing and focus on our centers. As we intoned “Heng” we would mentally move our centers up into the thorax, and then on a lower note, “Hung” or maybe “Hoong” and move the center down to the dandian. We were learning to move our centers at will. Ai-ya, what a fine practice.

 And there was power in those words. Night after night we meditated and intoned the words and we gained greater control of our centers.

 At this same time I was pushed kicking and screaming and dragging my heels into a meditation class. I didn’t want to learn how to meditate. I wanted to learn how to fight. Ha, to quote my Centering teacher, who gestured with his hand indicating the large wushu practice room and 40 odd students clad in black hifus and cotton shoes, “This is all bullshit! Unless you learn meditation and centering, you will have nothing!”

 So, I learned to meditate. And we were taught a mantra. It was a mantra of prosperity and we chanted it to bring good fortune to our school. It began and ended with Aum. Now at the same time I was studying acupuncture—how can you strike your opponent’s acupuncture points if you don’t know where they are? And I learned Centering, physical and mental, and Chinese Yoga (which included the feat of using each and every muscle separately), and the manipulation of Subtle Energy. Holy Moley but I learned a lot in just a couple of years.

 So we sang Aum, and with the Heng-Hoong training we found that we could move the Aum around inside the body. Change the shape of the mouth and the pitch of the sound and use your mind and Aum moved up inside the skull and then down into the thorax and the abdomen and the vibrations could be varied and watch your breathing now, and, and it was marvelous. We learned to know and control our own bodies. How many people can say that?

 To this day I am a little cautious when it comes to saying Aum in public. The word is a word of power even if only inside my own body, and with the cavity resonance it can be loud or soft or penetrating or caressingly smooth. It is my favorite word in a career involving many, many words.

Gutenberg Bible A book, and an example of illumination

 Perhaps then, a book, with all of its words, to turn things around, perhaps a book is a fraction of Aum and in its totality and in each and every word, it is a thing of power.

Shifu John Painter demonstrates Tibetan Blue Heron techniques





We Gotta Get Out of This Place…

28 07 2010

Out front

San Diego Comic Con 2010 is difficult to corral. Put 200,000 people in a small space: thrill, excite, poke eyes out with pencils, titillate, and exploit. What do you get? Fun. Mayhem. Lunacy. Yes, that is Comic Con.

 I arrived on Thursday morning prepped for a meeting with a chain bookstore buyer. I got out of the cab at the San Diego Convention Center [Strange Interlude Primo: San Diego wins, hands down, as the city with the most garrulous cab drivers—they all wanted to talk and liked to talk, and they talked—end of Strange Interlude] so I removed myself from the taxi and there were people everywhere. All over the place they were, and then some. And they were all moving. It looked like a god had discovered this gigantic ant hill full of Homo sapiens and stirred it up with a celestial stick. The humants had boiled over away from the convention center across a very wide main thoroughfare and into the streets and onto the sidewalks of downtown San Diego. I did not look to see if they were also swimming in the Pacific Ocean.

Avatar

 Then Dame Fortune smiled upon me. I was fearfully close to a meeting time and the Facebook rumor mill had declared the lines interminably long, including the “Pro” line. And if the outside of the convention was any sign…the line wove back and forth like some enormous mythical snake or perhaps the Worm Oroboros, seeming to have neither a head nor a tail. But then I spotted the door for Pro’s and there was no line, and smiling folks ushered me along and I had my badge so fast my head was spinning. Glorioski!

 “Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more; or close the wall up with our Comic Con dead. In peace there’s nothing so becomes a man as modest stillness and humility…” And I entered. As there were countless people outside, so the interior of the hive was filled with social mammals, all intensely active. It was hot. I suppose the climate control equipment had just been fired up, so it was very hot. And it smelled like feet.

A really good Batman and Catwoman

I was swimming uphill. Take one step forward two to the side, twist, duck the pike over that guy’s shoulder, small step, small step, slide. It had been many years since my last Comic Con and the differences, besides the enormity of the crowds, were 1. Professionalism, the exhibits and displays had a much more professional look, for the most part. The big boys, D.C., Marvel, Dark Horse, IDW, Hasbro, Mattel, Lego, Star Wars…ad infinitum and ad nauseum, the big boys dominated. Two and three stories some of the exhibits rose up unto heaven. 2. Noise, the roar of the crowd, the even louder roar of music and sound systems, the constant buzz of light sabers as Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker fought an endless battle on a giant screen, barkers sought to draw me into their own little reality, and the chicks, there were lots of young, scantily clad chicks handing out…things…I do not know what, I did not take any.

A super Joker and Two-Face

 And other chicks wanted me to lie down inside a suspended animation chamber from the Nostromo in Alien…hmmm, if the very air I breathe smells like feet, what does a suspended animation chamber that has just disgorged Monstro the Human smell like? No thank you.

 3. And there were costumes, cosplay is a term I am just learning. There were very professional looking costumes like a Batman and Catwoman I saw and a Joker with a female Two-Face. Turn and look, catch an eye, wiggle your camera, and the be-costumed posed. It was as if a large percentage of the attendees were trapped in a Warholian mobius strip experiencing their 15 minutes of fame over and over and over until the show shut down.

 At one point I wandered up onto the second floor balcony to avoid a lot of the crowd and a section was roped off so that a pair of beefy, homemade-armor-clad knights could clang and bang each other whilst a king with robe and crown adjudicated. This was of course the SCA, Society for Creative Anachronisms.
These noble warriors and I have crossed paths many times.

On the outside: San Diego is one swell city!

The weather in saint Diego’s city was cool, nice, just around 70. The sun shone bright on the ocean and sailboats abounded.

 [Strange Interlude Secondo: My hotel was far from the madding crowd. Howsomeever, one reason I chose it was because it was on the shuttle bus line. Several years ago I had made the horrible mistake of choosing an hotel not on a line. During BEA my boss and I trudged for miles lugging briefcases and suitcases though the early summer high humidity in an annoying drizzle in New York City, and my left shoulder still clicks because of that. So I was on the bus line. Hurrah. Well, that morning I had an early appointment and took a cab.

Go ask Alice...wait, wait, she's late, she's late for a very important date...

 In the evening I boarded the appropriate bus. There was just me and a guy from New Jersey. The bus driver, also loquacious, gabbed about being in law enforcement and he did this to earn poker money. The bus continued on and came to a final stop at a Hilton on some island. The Jersey guy de-bused. I sat. The driver turned and looked at me. “You get off here. This is the last stop.” Me: “That sign on your windshield says there are two more hotels, and mine is next.” Lawman: “I’m not going any farther, you have to get off here.” Me: “But…” Him, “Did I mention I was in law enforcement?” Me: “So I get off here, eh?” Him: “Yeah, there’s a taxi.” He pointed. I disembarked. End Strange Interlude the Last.]

This guy stayed at my hotel and he got on the bus like this.

 I had many good meetings with buyers from all the major book chains, and I saw artists including Tom Baxa, Mark Nelson, and Todd Lockwood, plus meeting Dave Seely, and there were writers, and publishers, and editors I have known and appreciated for many a year including a super conversation with Pyr Editorial Director Lou Anders and a swell dinner with D.C.’s Bob Wayne, writer Joe R. Lansdale, and Karen Lansdale. Ha, ha, it was an especial delight seeing Mary Franklin of Lucasfilm. I had not seen Mary in about seven years…oh how tempus does fugit!

 This was the place to be and to be seen. It was exhilarating and exhausting and gratifying. And I will be back next year. Oh, and I bought myself a bright red Green Lantern hoodie. Now I just have to wait for the Seattle weather to get back to normal so I can wear it.

More Comic Con photos: http://www.piercewatters.com/ComicCon2010.html 

The Littlest Storm Trooper

 





The True Story of Book Publishing

25 02 2009

Hilarious but true. This is how it’s really done. Honest.





Give Me That Old-Time Magazine Distribution

12 02 2009

When I entered the publishing arena stumbling headlong with eyes closed and arms akimbo in the mid-1970s there were over 400 I.D. s(Independent Distributor) in these United States. Every major city had at least one and there were I.D.s in many minor cities as well.

Each was family-owned and operated and most were very lucrative, supplying books and especially magazines to almost every worthy retail account within a certain geographic vicinity determined by common sense and a certain law-of-the-jungle respect for one’s neighbors.

Drug stores, grocery stores, and convenience stores made up the majority of the business. I was in Texas working sometimes for an I.D. and sometimes for a New York publisher visiting periodically in a periodical business that maintained itself on the rhythms of weekly, monthly, bi-monthly, quarterly, and annual distributions. Like the months and the seasons the magazines came and went and some did well and some did not and some disappeared only to rise up again a year or two later.

I was in Texas and called regularly on Dallas and Fort Worth and San Antonio. Houston was always the bastard child—a large city that somehow never managed to profit anyone.

Then there were smaller cities with Austin a jewel-laden gold mine if I may mix a couple of metaphors—the University of Texas at Austin drew lovers of the printed word from all corners of the Lone Star State. And Temple, Texas, adjacent to the city of Killeen and Fort Hood with its captive audience of soldiers gobbling up the sophisticates and suspense novels and the old Ballantine War Books. The running joke in Texas is a rep would call in to New York, “I’m headed to Temple tomorrow.” New York would inevitably respond, most often sans humor, “Oh, I didn’t know you were Jewish!”

And to the east of Dallas was Tyler, the Rose Capital of Texas and Paris, which brought more geographical jokes from New York. Then on to Shreveport which was in Louisiana but more like an east Texas city, and Texarkana sitting on the “taint” between two states.

Then head west driving forever to get nowhere with everything flat and the bobbing up and down of the oil pumps, until you reached Lubbock with its cotton and up north in the Panhandle, Amarillo and the Llano Estacado and the purple sage of Zane Grey, and the beginning of the Great Plains with the wind howling down all the way from the North Pole, or so it seemed.

Then head farther  west until the small mountains begin and to Sierra Blanco and then El Paso which led the way to Juarez, Mexico and illicit delights and dangers and on through the pass into New Mexico and the far west.

 

Then not quite last down into the Big Bend country once described by a Mexican cowboy thus, “Where the rainbows wait for the rain, and the big river is kept in a stone box, and water runs uphill and mountains float in the air, except at night when they go away to play with other mountains…” And there at the crossroads where bees made the sweetest honey was the little town of Alpine, and the I.D. wholesaler would sit on the front porch of his house next door to the agency and he and his wife would watch for you if they knew you were coming and offer you a lemonade or a glass of iced tea to wash away some of that west Texas dust.

Now all of this is gone. Word has it that one of the last of the I.D.s, Anderson News who survived when the others did not by eating its neighbors before it could be eaten, has now itself ceased to distribute. And of all those I.D.s only Hudson News which was not quite so hungry and which settled into something of a niche servicing airport and other terminal newsstands throughout the country, only Hudson survives, along with Canadian giant The News Group.

Alpine, Texas

Alpine, Texas

Somewhere along the way, the anaconda that the distribution industry had become, in its insatiable hunger, swallowed its quarry feet first by mistake and the scrabbling claws and jutting ribs of a vanquished prey brought the behemoth low. And the world is a sadder place without all those people whose job it was to bring the printed word to the masses. We live in a time of great change and many giants of the earth are no more.