Saturday, February 28, 2015

Unearthly Entities Haunt Starbucks Part 2

Last time I wrote about an oversize photo print on the wall at Starbucks that "attempted to communicate" with me ("Unearthly Entities Haunt Starbucks").

When a seemingly inanimate object "attempts communication," its desire is to bring attention to itself for its own reasons, which I find difficult to decipher.

But the motivation of an animate entity in the cafe is the opposite. It attempts to evade communication and avoid attracting attention.

For the sake of discussion, the "animate entity" could be an android, an alien from another world, a ghost, a demon, an angel, or a being I call a manikin, for lack of a better term, which I'll discuss here.

A manikin attempts to mimic the appearance and behavior of a human, often with great success. It wants the others in the cafe to think it is just another person, the same as them, and nothing out of the ordinary. Its goal is to fool people, because it isn't one of them, but wants them to believe it is.

The inner workings of a manikin are unknown to me. It could be a robot, an android, or a living creature from another planet.

Unlike an inanimate object, a manikin doesn't seek to "warn" anyone of anything. It strives to contribute to an atmosphere of normalcy and complacency. Lulling us into a false sense of security?

What does a manikin hope to accomplish by venturing out into the public and pretending to be a typical human being? The possibilities seem endless, especially without knowing exactly what it is, and where it came from. It could be gathering information, probing weaknesses, seeking potential human targets, stalking someone, or confirming that it indeed can interact with people without attracting notice.

The others in the cafe are unaware of the presence of a manikin. I seem to be the only person who can tell the difference. I can detect the disparity, especially in the glassy eyes and the mechanical jaw which moves a bit straight up and down like a ventriloquist's dummy, rather than in accord with the movement of a real person's mouth. Somehow, no one else notices. The others in the cafe drink their coffee, peck at their laptop keyboards, or chat about little nothings with each other while a manikin sits in the midst of them.

That's a recurring theme I see every day at the cafe. Others remain oblivious to the crucialities that never cease to capture my attention.

Take a look at my books:

Friday, February 27, 2015

Unearthly Entities Haunt Starbucks

A few times while drinking coffee in Starbucks, I've been struck by the odd feeling that something or someone was attempting to communicate with me. And that something or someone wasn't a fellow human being.

Most of the Starbucks I frequent include artwork on the walls. These are oversize photo prints illustrating scenes from the coffee industry. It isn't always clear where or what the photos depict, as there are no explanatory cards accompanying these framed photos.

One photo in particular has made what I can only describe as "attempts at communication" with me, as if it isn't simply an inanimate object on the wall, but a living entity. I look up at the photo at those times as if it is a person, as if it understands me and is trying to speak with me. But I find its mind impenetrable.

The "Haunted" Photo in Starbucks

This photo on the wall in Starbucks is a scene from what appears to be a lush green coffee bean farm, with 5 female workers wearing yellow straw hats and carrying rounded oblong yellow baskets while treading along a pathway up the mountain.

The 2 main points of this photo are the dominant green color of the coffee plants in the fields, and the yellow walkway extending diagonally from the lower left of the photo all the way to the upper right, slicing the photo in half, as it were.

The pathway is the most dramatic element in the picture. I suspect the photo “uses” that eye-catching feature to draw closer attention to it, and alert the viewer it is attempting “communication." In some indefinable way, the photo becomes more than a photo, the green fields become something other than a farm and the picture acts as a silent "siren," as if it wants to warn me of something. It is no longer a photo. It is something that demands attention--for something other than the scene it depicts. Something personal to me, not some faraway coffee farm.

The photo at rare times gives off this strange air of existing as something other than just a photo, as if it is alive in some way and it is pretending to be mere artwork. As if it is trying to communicate with psychic nonverbal communication with nothing more than the scene it depicts--not with words or gestures. It's just a photo on a wall, it can’t move or change. It is exactly as it is, so its communication must be by transmitting its intentions through its scene, somehow drawing the attention of me, the viewer, in ways not involving any movement or changes of its depicted image.

The photo doesn't pretend to be human, it pretends or appears or perhaps I could even say it reveals itself to be a living entity of some sort, and not the inanimate object one would assume.

The "attempt at communication" is brief and rare. That's why I've concluded it happens only under those singular circumstances when "something is going on” that is unknown to me but I need to be made aware of it, in its eyes. The picture knows what that something is, but I don’t.

I think back on the several times this has happened and struggle to figure out what may have transpired after I was alerted. But I have no answer. Nothing happened that I could see. Can I conclude then, that it isn't acting as a warning for me as I had thought?

But if not a warning, then what? A danger unknown to me is the reason for the alert, but I sense it isn't the sort of danger you would think of normally—a criminal bursting through the door with a gun or a bomb about to explode. It’s something else, perhaps something I can’t even understand.

I'm not saying Starbucks is haunted. I wouldn't go there if it was. I've felt this sort of thing outside far away from any cafe as well. There's much more to this story than the "living" photo that I'll discuss next time, including "pretend" people.

Apparently I'm the only person who sees or recognizes these phenomena, as everyone else in the café is blissfully oblivious to all of it. No matter the café, or the other people inside, no one but me sees through the outward façade presented by these nonhuman entities. It's another indication most people go through their lives oblivious to the crucialities all around them.

Having arrived at the end of this narrative I find myself condemned to a familiar place: no resolution, unanswered questions, dubious theories, and the truth remains inaccessible.

For more, see "Unearthly Entities Haunt Starbucks Part 2"

Take a look at my books:

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Does Anyone Respect Literary Prizes and Book Awards?

The Nobel Prize for Literature has always had its critics, and with good reason. Many forgettable writers have won, while some of the superstars of the 20th century—James Joyce and Vladimir Nabokov among them—left the world empty-handed.

Winners are chosen more for “political” reasons rather than literary merit. I don’t think I need to hedge that statement any.

I see so many of today’s books claiming to be “award winning.” I’m convinced every book ever published qualifies for an award of some kind. With only a handful of exceptions, I've never heard of any of the boasted awards. Imagine the thousands of people employed in this award-bestowing industry. Can’t I invent my own award and bestow it on my own book? Bet it’s been done aplenty.

And how do legitimate award bestowers make their decisions? In the world of poetry, it seems ugly, if this article ("What's Really Wrong With Poetry Book Contests") is accurate. We’re back in the territory of politics, and “play to play” only with poems, not songs.

To me, it isn't a selling point when I’m informed by the cover of a book that it has won some award. Not even the Pulitzer Prize. Even the biggest awards seem based on politics, social activism, or who you know.

Are you the sort of person who is persuaded to buy a book because it says it won an award you never heard of? I’m trying to picture in my mind the face of someone who will see that a book won an unheard-of award and decide to buy it based on that fact. I can sympathize if it was the Pulitzer or the author won the Nobel, because there are people who still believe those awards are honestly bestowed.

What Is A “Best-Selling” Book?

And just what is a “best-selling” book, anyway? What is the sales threshold for that? If my book is in the top 1,000 in its category for 1 day, does that mean I can advertise it as a “best-seller?”

With the recent advent of online self-publishing, so many authors are scribbling manuscripts and so much glut has accumulated in the marketplace, it's tough to stand out and garner any attention at all. Therefore, “Best-selling!” and “Award Winning!” You see it everywhere!

How does one tell a good book from a bad one without reading it? I’m leading up to the reviews and the “integrity” of many of them, which I think is lacking. For example, this New York Times story, "The Best Book Reviews Money Can Buy." I can see honesty in the hundreds or thousands of reviews for legitimate best-sellers by famous wordsmiths, but otherwise, the system is being played, isn't it? But it's played because buyers respond to reviews and if you have a bunch of them, buyers will jump on the bandwagon and click that button on the upper right corner of the Amazon book page. The economics dictate the system will be gamed.

Take a look at my books:

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

The Last Great Novelist-Poet

With rare exceptions, you are one or the other: a novelist or a poet. Many great poets have written a novel or two, and towering novelists such as Faulkner and Hemingway wrote poetry, but it didn't measure up to their prose. In most cases, an author's oeuvre is composed of a fat slice of poetry or fiction and a narrow sliver of the other, and the dominant format is often superior to the subordinate.

The list of top-drawer writers who were equally adept at both poetry and prose is short. Among the famous names bandied about: D.H. Lawrence, Thomas Hardy, Edgar Allan Poe, Vladimir Nabokov, Jorge Luis Borges, Robert Graves, G.K.Chesterton, Rudyard Kipling.

By my reckoning, the last great ambidextrous author seems to have been John Updike (d. 2009). And a poet backs me up, at least as of 1985.

British poet Gavin Ewart wrote in the pages of the New York Times in 1985 that good novelists who also wrote good poetry were rare, but included Updike among them. Ewart's list of the greats from the 20th century included Nabokov, Kingsley Amis, Thomas Disch, and James Dickey.

Foreign language writers are tough to rate, without fluency in their native tongue. Nabokov continued writing poetry in English after coming to America but felt his verse had lost some of the richness it carried in Russian. I notice Ewart includes Nabokov but ignores Jorge Luis Borges. I assume because Borges didn't write poetry in English, so one would need Spanish fluency to rate him (and can you accurately judge a writer through a translation?).

It seems fewer novelists write any poetry at all these days, as there is neither money nor glory in it. You write up a novel or a book of verse, you receive praise and encouragement and a publishing contract, or academic tenure, and so, with good reason, you continue down that one path, and you ignore the other, which becomes the road not taken. Isn't that how it works?

The next novelist-poet may well write in a language other than English, someone like Jorge Luis Borges, or the Chinese equivalent. What languages are the world's most popular? Odds are, it is from that language which will emerge the next great novelist-poet. Mandarin? English? Spanish?

I consulted a list from 2010 and the winner is Mandarin, with about a billion speakers. Spanish is second with 400 million and English, despite its title as the world’s most "influential" language, places only third with 360 million. If these numbers are anything to go by, Mandarin in overdue for a great novelist-poet (if there isn’t one already). But then how many Chinese write novels, one wonders.

John Updike famous novel, Rabbit Run

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

The Day Poetry Reached Its Zenith in the United States

January 20, 1961.

At the inauguration of John F. Kennedy, Robert Frost read a poem. It was a large moment at the time. Frost had long been a famous person, and he had a history with Kennedy.

In 1959, Frost had predicted Kennedy would be the next president, and his statement made headlines in the New York Times and Washington Post. Kennedy went on to thank Frost for helping him with his campaign. Frost kept repeating his prediction at speaking events and Kennedy started quoting from "Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening."

January 20, 1961. And that, I suggest, is the last time a poet impacted the United States in any remarkable and positive manner. Poetry itself seems to have fallen from great heights to the place where it resides in the national consciousness today.

In the 1960s, poets such as Sylvia Plath, John Berryman, and Anne Sexton emerged, crafting their emotionally searing verses. The dark side held poetry in its grip. All 3 of them eventually committed suicide. Imagine Plath reciting one of her poems at the inauguration of a president where the expected tone is one of optimism!

The 60s were a turning point in many ways. Persuasive arguments have been made that the mainstream media gradually switched from politically conservative to liberal, where it has remained to this day, after the assassination of JFK.

Today, it's unthinkable that any poet could have any sort of appreciable impact on a presidential election. Ask any presidential candidate of any party to name a great living poet, and odds are he or she couldn't come up with the name of any poet, good or bad, not even that of the current Poet Laureate. The same could be said for the general public. A TV reporter asking passersby in Times Square for the name of a current living poet wouldn't likely receive an accurate answer.

Frost was the first poet ever to recite a poem at a presidential inauguration. Since then, presidents Clinton and Obama invited poets twice, for a grand total of 5 poets reciting their work at inaugurations.

It was thought poets, with their superior wordsmithing skills, might outshine the speech of the president, usurping his glorious moment. Surely that is no longer a concern, considering the poems delivered at Obama's festivities? I should think the question now is finding a poet with the ability to rise to the occasion. That's if future presidents even give any thought at all to including a poet, and if they do, that would mean it has become something considered necessary for a well-rounded event. And what man or woman capable of winning a national election doesn't want a poem written in his or her honor?

I've heard it said there is more poetry produced today than ever before. And that makes sense, since poetry is bound tightly to the academic world, and academics must "publish or perish." Most poetry is written in the service of an academic career and poems are composed to impress an academic, rather than a general, audience. Poets read it; the average person doesn't. Modern poetry is for specialists of the trade.

It could be a new Frost or Emily Dickinson is out there somewhere writing verses but has been lost amid the surfeit of mediocrity. But without evidence of such an imaginary person, that possibility seems as remote as a modern-day Bach, Beethoven or Mozart emerging in classical music. The mere thought is laughable.

Here is a link to Robert Frost's Author Page on Amazon.


Read my collection of short stories, "Queen of the Chess Cult and Other Stories"

Authorship of 'Lost' Sherlock Holmes Story Questioned

Last week I wrote about an unknown Sherlock Holmes story that has been found after all these years ("Unknown Sherlock Holmes Story from 1903 Found").

The authorship of the story has been challenged by experts. The Los Angeles Times reports the opinion of Les Klinger, author of "The New Annotated Sherlock Holmes: The Complete Short Stories," who feels it is likely the product of someone other than Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

The UK Mirror quotes "Swedish Sherlock Holmes expert" Mattias Bostrom as saying nowhere in the booklet is Conan Doyle advertised as the author. And there is that strange referenced to Holmes' house on "Sloan Street," rather than his famous Baker Street address.

But Conan Doyle did attend the fundraising bazaar, so it would seem odd that someone would write a Sherlock Holmes story when the author was there as well.

These are questions that hopefully will be answered to the satisfaction of all in due course.


Take a look at my own mystery novel, "Murder at the Library Conference"

Unknown Sherlock Holmes Story from 1903 Found

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle apparently wrote a short story clocking in at only 1,300 words, starring Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson in 1903 on the occasion of raising money for a bridge near Scotland that was washed away by a great flood in 1902.

The story is titled "Discovering the Border Burghs, and By Deduction, the Brig Bazaar." The full-text can be found here.

The short, somewhat self-parodic story has Sherlock Holmes explaining how it is he knows Dr. Watson is going near Scotland in aid of a bridge when he hadn't been told anything about the upcoming journey.

Anything new from the world's most beloved detective is a treat, a pity it isn't longer.

UPDATE: The authorship of this story is questioned by some experts. See my post "Authorship of 'Lost' Sherlock Holmes Story Questioned."

There are many collections of Sherlock Holmes stories available on Amazon, here is one of the more popular ones:

The Complete Sherlock Holmes (Illustrated)

Monday, February 23, 2015

Essential Items For Writing In A Cafe

A café writer doesn't need much in the way of equipment.


  • A laptop or smartphone
  • a program to input your words
  • a keyboard 

In the photo above, notice the napkins under my cup. I lean my iPhone against the cup while I type and the napkins keep it from sliding off.

If you’re totally offline, as William Faulkner said, all a writer needs is some paper and a pencil. Anything more than the essentials is gravy and we’re tramping in the territory of luxuries.

Offline Essentials:

  • Paper
  • Pen or pencil

Non-Essential But Perhaps Desirable:

  • a soft cushion on your chair.
  • an upholstered footstool.
  • arm rests for your weary typing hands.
  • a soft pillow for those times when you've written so much you can’t help but fall asleep for just a few moments and then pick up where you left off.
  • a sweater in case you are near the door on a cold day, or if you are in a drafty section of the café and need to avoid getting a chill.
  • Your lucky hat, which you need to write as well as you can, otherwise, without it, you worry your prose stinks like a can of literary garbage.
  • Food and drink, but I’m assuming your café is equipped to adequately handle your needs.
  • A restroom to keep yourself fresh—but that’s essential for some writers, depending on your bladder and your personal circumstances at the moment you enter the café and how much time you have budgeted for café writing.
  • A car or public transportation to take you home or to the next café, if you are doing a relay requiring attendance at several cafes. 

For some writers, these items are luxuries; for others, necessities. Each person is different. There is no “one size fits all.” Only you know the table of contents of your master list of essentials.

And I’m sure some writers have their own secret, wild list of luxuries they want to have with them wherever they write, if possible.

The photo above I snapped at the original Starbucks cafe in Seattle.

Wild Luxuries That May Cause Comment:

  • A parrot on your shoulder? But pets aren't allowed in most cafes, thankfully—that’s a good topic for next time. 
  • Sunglasses to protect your tender eyes? But who wears these indoors except spies and celebrities?
  • Binoculars to spot a pretty girl across the street? But won't the others see what you're doing and brand you a stalking pervert?
  • A small framed portrait of a loved one, who you dearly miss, and can’t be with you in the café for whatever reason. 
  • Portable cubicle walls to set up around your table to avoid any distractions.
  • Your own special lamp that emits your own special light that helps you write your own special best.
  • An hourglass. When the sand runs out, you must stop and leave.

These are nothing more than my speculations. I don’t really know any writer who brings these things into a cafe, although it wouldn't surprise me in the least if one day I opened the “Writer’s Times” newspaper and saw an article about such curious folk.

Buy my short story collection I mostly wrote in cafes: Queen of the Chess Cult and Other Stories

Buy my novel, written mostly in cafes: Murder at the Library Conference:

Sunday, February 22, 2015

5 Ways To Spot A Fellow Writer In A Cafe

I call one of my favorite cafes the "Starbucks Writers Colony" because I see several fellow writers every time I'm there. I haven't actually talked to any of them, and I've never seen what they type on their laptops or compose in their notebooks in longhand with their pens, but I have no doubt they are writers.

Most customers I see in any Starbucks aren't writing books or stories on their computers but instead are surfing the internet, writing quick emails, or watching videos. But some are in the midst of writing projects. I can identify a writer from no more than a few moments of observation. Writers at the keyboard behave differently than net surfers in a number of ways.

Here are 5 ways you can spot a writer in a cafe:
  1. Writers sit alone. I don't often see someone typing like a madman while another person sits opposite them trying to have a conversation, or simply ignoring the writer while reading a paper or fiddling with their phone.
  2. Sustained typing longer than needed to input a URL. An email message is only a one-time sustained effort for the duration of a minute or two. Unlike literary composition, it doesn't last.
  3. Sustained typing followed by some moments of reflection, then more sustained typing followed by more reflection, and this cycle is repeated many times.
  4. Intermittent with the typing is the brief checking of web pages--most likely dictionaries and thesauri--to find le mot juste. So, the mouse is clicked a few times, the screen is stared at, pecked on the keyboard are just a few letters adding up to one word, the mouse clicked again, then the writer stares at the screen to find the correct word to use from the selection offered. Then, once the staring is finished, another mouse click and more sustained typing.
  5. Writers betray a more thoughtful expression on their faces than those who merely play around on the internet. You can tell just by looking at their faces for a moment that they are deep within a thought process, thinking of words, composing the next scene, inhabiting a character to understand what he would say or do. Non-writers never form those kinds of expressions on their faces. 

Read the novel I wrote mostly in cafes: Murder at the Library Conference