Impossible Character: Dee Sinclair

Sex sells. And Dee Sinclair is all about sex. Not just a sex worker, she is a sex performer, taking high-paying jobs to perform for exclusively perverted clients in remote locations such as French Polynesia, Greece and Qatar.

She is an orphan girl, her only sister dead, an alcoholic, drowned. But she won’t talk about that. She won’t talk about anything except her exotic cat, a serval, named Apollo.

Photo credit: Michael Nichols (National Geographic)

She doesn’t actually talk about Apollo either. She doesn’t talk about anything to anyone. She feels herself as distinctly separate, an adjunct, an afterthought, a second thing. She feels like she doesn’t belonged anywhere, except sitting alone on the fire escape. She knows that no one who really cares, that no one who would miss her. She just wants to be left alone.

Dee makes her first appearance in My Bad Side and then in Anori, the first book of The Cx Trilogy. She spends much of her time in the ice-choked emptiness of Greenland, a place she treasures because of its mind-numbing isolation.

And then she is suddenly being chased: Dee watched her hands flash up in front of her face, first one and then the other, fists clenched, just her pinkie out on her left hand. She had heard the helicopter come over the glacier, the rotors reverberating off the ice, sharp and then suddenly faded. She heard nothing now. She was mute. Not her footsteps on the hard ground, not her gasping for breath, not the truck door swinging wildly open, not the engine starting, nothing. Dust swirled up ahead, other trucks going to the launch tower. She couldn’t get the truck to go fast enough. The tunnel took forever. She heard something on the other side, helicopters again, as she headed to the tower. But she couldn’t see. There was only the dust and then Valerie on the edge of the first platform.

As the protagonist, Dee operates as the reader’s stubborn vehicle entering the impossible parameters of science fiction – the space ships, three dimensional internet, artificial skin, and most of all, the idea of leaving Earth for another planet. She doesn’t buy any of it. And neither does the reader. Until it is there and there is no denying it. As much as she (we) can’t accept it, it is there.

Dee works especially well for this book because of her personality. As hard as she tries to separate herself from everyone in the world, she becomes more drawn into a mission that aims to do just that – leave the planet altogether. The irony is that, in her efforts to be apart, she of course becomes deeply committed to the others on the journey into the emptiness.

Thematically, the book is a challenge, as it focuses on abandoning, and ultimately rejecting, our society for something else, and the impossibility of doing that. After all, wherever we go, we are still what we are. And so as impossible as Dee might be to access, it is because of that that she works as an excellent conduit for the book.

Cruel Justice and Equality

James Barnett’s Captain George Vancouver in Alaska and the North Pacific is notable not for the writing, but for the use of primary sources.

The book documents the 18th Century exploits of George Vancouver’s quest for the Northwest Passage, a shortcut between Europe and Asia, so that everyone could buy and sell more efficiently. This era of exploration and imperialism was much celebrated in the 18th-20th centuries as a time of map-making and discovery, but is now coming to be understood as a toxic, devastating period in modern history.

As Barnett writes, Vancouver’s British crew took possession of the Alaskan shores “by displaying the flag, turning the turf, burying a bottle with some coins and papers, and drinking port to the health of the king.” Barnett adds, “About a dozen natives were present and behaved very friendly but had no idea what we were doing.”

Another ceremony, taking possession of Puget Sound in the Pacific Northwest, mentions that “all hands were served a good dinner as well as a double allowance of grog to drink to the King’s health”. More cruelly and to the point, George Vancouver had three native men apprehended when he was in Hawaii and, with little evidence in relation to a murder of a crew member, had them “promptly executed”.

These superficial and cruel moments in history are by no means unique. Consider America’s systematic slaughter of the American Native population, as conveyed in Dee Brown’s devastating Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee or the ongoing news of systemic violence against black people of this nation.

It is stories such as these that are guiding us to understand that justice and equality damn Western Civilization. As much as we have celebrated these ideas throughout our history, they don’t actually exist in this society beyond the childish understanding of playing an awful game by our rules.

Marvel Letter: Archeology of the Quest

I was 14 when I saved a copy of Marvel Two-in-One #34 with my scathing “I hate this comic” letter in my desk drawer and looked at it every once in a while.

I lost of track of it some time later, through high school, college and work, vaguely sure that it was somewhere in my mess of drafts, articles and rejection letters.

The memory of it came to me years later, but the search was always detoured by distraction and ultimately, the lack of the required energy of such a futile quest. After all it was just an eight-word letter that didn’t even approximate my original message.

It is a funny tale and works for this site and so I blogged on it five years back, working solely from memory and thus erroneously cited the comic in question as Marvel Team #31 (featuring Spiderman and Iron Fist).

It was only recently, in these pandemic days, that I decided to find the damn thing. I knew that it was from one of three comic series (Team-Up, Two-in-One or Iron Fist) and scoured through various blogs and archives for it.

I knew the issue focused on saving kids from a burning orphanage and so keyed on images of orphans and fires. I thought I had found it in an issue of Marvel Team-Up which had a collapsing building and an orphan-looking kid.

I ordered the issue on-line and several others following to ensure that I got the one with my letter too. I knew it was wrong before I even opened the issue. It looked wrong and was. I returned to my on-line search and finally noticed the burning hospital (not orphanage) in the background of Marvel Two-in-One #34 that I knew that I had found it. It was then that I realized my letter was in Issue #40 by looking at the cover.

The memory of walking through the pinewood hallway to my bedroom at the cottage came to me at that moment – the cool, dark air, a distant screen door closing, the feeling of emptiness of seeing my letter in print, edited to nothing – and then the feeling of comics not being what they once had been – a place of wonder – it all came into me like that.

It’s funny how that feeling returned again now, when I had finally found the issue again, at the end of this farcical quest. I had found it last and so what indeed? What’s next?

Marvel Two-in-One Letter Issue #40

I complain a lot about never being published, but that actually isn’t true. My words were first put into print when I was a wee gaffer in June 1978.

I was an avid comic reader in those days and followed three comic books with regularity: Iron Fist and Power Man, Marvel Team-Up featuring The Amazing Spiderman and Marvel Two-in-One with The Thing. I especially enjoyed Marvel Two-in-One because I had followed the series since its inception in 1974 and it featured a wiseass superhero who essentially was a giant pile of rocks. (Interestingly enough, I went on to collect rocks for much of my life.) I connected to The Thing because he offered witty rejoinders (“How cum nobody wants me around for my good looks?”), an excellent catchphrase (“It’s clobberin’ time!”), chomped on cigars and spoke often of his isolation from humanity. Spiderman, Iron Fist and Power Man were great too, but they weren’t as much the black sheep. Anyway the point is that I really liked Marvel Two-in-One.

And then along came Issue #34 in which The Thing and Nighthawk battle a monster from outer space. Or so it seemed.

I was mortified by everything in this issue. The monster wasn’t a monster. There was no battle. Nighthawk and The Thing didn’t do much of anything. In fact, the monster never battles The Thing nor Nighthawk because it isn’t a monster at all, but a highly empathetic creature from the great beyond which focuses its energy on saving children trapped in burning hospitals.

How the fire got started was the worst thing of all.

No attempt is made to explain why Margaret pulls the plug from the wall nor is there any justification for the fire being started as a result of her doing it. (She, of course, is the last one saved from the blaze by our monster from outer space.)

Nighthawk completes this painful issue by beating both the reader and the assholes who shot the misunderstood creature over the head with the moral of the story.

I was incensed. The writers had done a hack job and needed to hear about it. I penned a four- paragraph letter detailing much of the above, along with comments about the weak drawing and sent it off to Marvel Comics Group on Madison Avenue in New York City.

Four months later, my letter finally appeared in Marvel Two-in-One #40 featuring The Thing and The Black Panther.

Regrettably my first experience in publishing was also my first experience with an editor, who decided to reduce my passionately erudite salvo to the following:

Author’s note: Don Gibson is my birth name

Yes, Stan Lee and his bitter cohorts had edited my full-page letter to ten lousy words. They didn’t even cite the issue in question, making it sound like I hated everything about the comic, including The Thing himself! As stupid as it sounds, it was upsetting. I thought about writing another letter but realized that they would just edit that too. And so I have waited until now, 42 years later, to set the record straight.

Marvel Two-In-One #34 needs a severe dousing! The Thing would clobber anyone responsible for this whatchamacallit. Fires aren’t caused by little girls pulling electrical cords out of the wall; they’re started by readers burning stuff like this. Who’s the real monster, Stan! Who?! Yers truly and all, Phed

My Editor’s Supervisor Too

The supreme editor decided to get in on the critical action: Master McPhedran; I’m writing to you because I know there’s a lot to handle with this radioactive material, but I hope you haven’t continued to think of it as being guided by a passion for a different style of writing. Andy spends a lot of time teaching in the letter, giving examples from other works to showcase a point, or explaining literary construction to the author. He does this very well (I’ve seen it go sideways before!) in that he comes off as very experienced, well-read and knowledgeable but never veers into talking down to the author. I know this is not particularly helpful to you. I was sorry to hear that the phone call wasn’t as fruitful as expected.

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I replied with vague decorum: Thank you for the email, Bridget. I understand and appreciate your references to radioactive material and your efforts to connect Andy’s edit to what it could mean to my work. I don’t agree, however, with the idea of it being a lot to handle or offering effective teaching. (I cringed at that, as I did at the image of Andy being thankful at my listening to ‘some’ of his guidance.) You have an enterprise to run, and the first order is to support the staff. The point is that Andy’s notes do not benefit my process. It isn’t personal. It is about the words. And sadly, in the end, the feedback is worth the same as I might get from a bartender – not to denigrate her. 

I am not expecting a response.

Fuck My Editor (Everyone Else Too)

I just reviewed the editor notes on my novel, Anori; which can be summarized thus: The book is not engaging. The reader has no reason to turn the page. There are major problems with the narrative structure, scene arcs, character and dialogue. None of it is working.

I called the editor today, hoping for some sort of clarity, a way to move forward.

“What can I do you for?” He was out of breath, a dog barking nearby.

“My book.”

“Oh yes, your book.” A door closed and another opened. “Any questions about my notes?”

There was a long pause. I thought about making the entire conversation like that, one long pause. It seemed to be what Andy wanted. “I am sensing acrimony.”

“Acrimony? No, Phed? Why would you say that?”

“Your notes, Andy.”

“My notes are not personal, Phed. They are questions the reader would have. I have no opinion on you, as a writer or a person.”

“Your notes are repetitively negative, Andy. It’s very unsatisfying, to put it mildly.”

“The notes are only my opinion. If the book is working in your head, then your book is working in your head. I won’t argue with that.”

“Look, Andy, I want to make the story work, obviously I want that, and I need criticism to move forward, but there is not one positive thing that you cited in the story.”

“I appreciate you put a lot of work into it, Phed.”

“That’s what I mean by unsatisfying comments, Andy. What is that supposed to mean to me? That you think I deserve a ribbon for putting work into it?”

“It’s poetic, isn’t it?” There was something else going on in the background, a coffee grinder or compactor. “I found your writing unsatisfying too.”

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“What does that even mean, Andy?”

“Your choices did not satisfy me as a reader.”

I was close to hanging up. “Okay, for one thing, you cite over and over again how my dialogue does not work, that characters don’t listen to each other.”

“Looks like we have a real bowl of unsatisfying here.”

I didn’t know if ‘unsatisfying’ was supposed to be a joke. “You didn’t like any of the dialogue? None of it?”

“It isn’t about what I like, Phed. This isn’t about what I like.”

“It seems like you’re speaking German and I’m speaking Italian.”

“Your characters don’t listen to each other.”

“I’m trying to do something different, Andy. Literary Science Fiction. Story arc and character development don’t fall into the same expectations.”

“The reader has to want to turn the page, Phed. They have to be satisfied.”

“Thanks for the tip.”

“Like I said–“

“Yeah, I got it. It’s not personal. You’re just the reader’s eyes.”

The conversation went around like that until I got sick of it and hung up. The worst of it was that I paid him $3000 for that very service. Yes, I paid him $3000 to tell me that the reader will not bother to turn the page. And what’s worse – worse than worst – is that I paid someone else another $2500 to work on Search Engine Optimization (SEO) for this blog, which created no traction and hence no results. And so I’m now out $5500 with no prospects for readers on the horizon in either medium.

And what’s even worse (worse than worse than the worst) is that my wife now tells me that nobody reads blogs anymore. And so what am I even doing here? Oh, and what’s worse than that (yes, worse than worse than worse than the worst) is that nobody bothered to even read to this point, due to my unsatisfying sense of narrative, scene arc, character and dialogue, and so clicked off long ago. (Although if you did stay, I humbly thank you, and will buy you a drink when we meet again.)

Young Chronicles VIII: “Hey You!”

Cross Canada Hitchhiking Trip, Day Two: Montreal to Halifax (Mileage 344-1116)

Ride One: West to East end of Montreal; Brown bakery van. “You’ll get murdered.”

Ride Two: Across St. Lawrence River; early 70’s car. Spoke only French.

Ride Three: To Boucherville; 2-door escort. Man with crumbs on sides of mouth.

Ride Four: To Victoriaville; forgot make of car (too tired). Belgian chef who loves Canada.

Ride Five: To Quebec City turnoff; VW Rabbit. Saw a moose.

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Ride Six: To St. Jean Port Joli; large old car. The driver was a woman in her late 20s with her mother and grandmother, also another hitchhiker names Clairmont. No one spoke English, but all very loving and Catholic.

Ride Seven: To Riviere Du Loup; blue Chevy van. Told stories of his hitchhiking days including “being fucked by horny broads” and the tale of hitchers on bad acid in Wyoming who ate their ride.

Ride Eight: To Hwy 17; Camper van. WWII veteran who once drove border to border across Ontario in one day.

Ride Nine: To Truro, Nova Scotia; red Mack truck. All-night drive with non-unionized driver named Ed Haggerty. Married for 39 years to woman from England who “never said boo to anyone.”

Ed Haggerty

Harassed waitress at diner because she was new. Intentionally mumbled, pretended not to understand, changed his order, complained about the service and then gave her a 25-cent tip. I saw signposts turn into cyclists. I stayed in the sleeper of the truck. Ed prepared a full breakfast and then drove me into Halifax. I wandered around and then stayed at the hostel.

Pandemic Accomplishments: Five Months Complete

I have these moments where I think incredible things might happen in my day, that I might realize something completely true about who I am. It is utterly vivid, so much that I believe it entirely. And then I try to pin it down to something tangible and it drifts away.

Elizabeth Warren, Ruth Ginsberg & Mike Palamateer look out over all

Anyway, this is what I have accomplished in the last few pandemic weeks:

  1. Overcame a mild pain killer addiction
  2. Read a Nietzsche biography
  3. Interviewed for a job
  4. Started to drink again (see 1)
  5. Began to finally lose interest in Fishdom (at Level 1375)
  6. Went out for dinner (first time in five months)
  7. Focused my search for my first ever published work – a letter to Marvel Team Up Comic.

Tana Mongeau & The Cat Shit

I wasn’t thinking when I put cat shit in Tana Mongeau’s mouth. My hands were full, and the cat shit was dry. It had been there a very long time. And it was only going to be in her mouth for a second. That’s what I told her. Besides, I had already cleaned up everything else. She only had to help with this one thing. And like I said, the shit was very, very dry. And so she did it. Or I did it. I was the one.

It took me a moment to realize that I didn’t know who Tana Mongeau was and what she was doing helping me. It was a horrible thing that I had done. I couldn’t understand how the idea had even come into my mind. I froze on the spot, thinking that would help. I told her to pull her tongue back to keep her mouth as dry as possible. But she gagged doing that. and then it began to dissolve. Tana Mongeau freaked out a little bit about that.

Kinetic Thinking

I am a kinetic thinker. By that, I mean that my brain works best when I am doing something active, moving in some kind of direction. It is this motion that helps me though problems of not only day-to-day concerns but, more importantly, the logjams and black holes of writing a book. I often can’t figure out what a character is going to say or do until I get moving.

Living in New York City, I am most often compelled to use the elliptical machine or stationary bike to give my brain the illusion of going somewhere, just as the father, John, does in an earlier work, Black Ice.

John liked this part – pushing the red switch, climbing on, setting the program, everything the same – 200 pounds, Level 5, 30 minutes, Mountain Program – the dread in him strong. He knew himself in the bright little room, not alone, but inside himself and ready. His knees felt weak, nerves, how it came out of him. He could feel his breath coming up, deep, hollow, the sweat leaking out, itches dotting his forehead and across his face, already at Nine, serious about it, his breath getting hard, eight minutes, 210 calories, 765 feet and feeling good, flushed, not touching his skin, a perfect heat, his.

His feet were cramping, wanting to come in, up and down with the silver and black piston, he was into the Seven, fast too soon, scared at that, the hill and speed ahead, sweat streaming into itself, down the edge of his nose, from his eye and falling, into the Three, fighting, nothing but his sweat, wet stars dripping on the rough black, dripping into a messy constellation, pooling down the sides, and only if he pushed harder, knowing that, that he could. He was at the top and coming down, the hill little, his legs tired, ready, the back of the Three and Five just ahead and the Seven and Nine. He would make it.

I have also biked across Europe a number of times and found that the ideas can flow very well, especially on the long tough uphill climbs. I wrote about this in autobiographical trilogy entitled Buzz.

The Sierra Nevada Mountains loomed. Buzz was sick of the wind and wanted the climb. He attacked the first ascent, eyes straight down at the road, standing all the way, up to the switchback and then sitting, gearing down and settling in. Trucks toiled past, not another cyclist in sight. Nobody dared the ascent over Paseto de las Pedrizas. He would be the first. He drank, finished the bottle; sweat streamed through his sunglasses. He would make it to the rise. It was just ahead, just ahead, after the next switchback, the next. It didn’t matter where it was, another hundred switchbacks, he would make it, back and forth, climbing, climbing. And there it was, too soon, the sign, Paseto de las Pedrizas, 780 metres. He slowed, leaned forward over the handlebars, stretched out his back and held his legs and arms taut as he glided around the first bend and down the steep slope between sun-bleached rock.

A car and another and then nothing, the air still, the sticky speckled asphalt foaming past, he leaned down, his thigh tight against the crossbar, stomach and arms flat, stretched out, face tucked into the handlebars, beside the singing wheel, the silver hub still, forever like this, his hand to the ground. He would never fall, faster, toward everything, around another long bend and a tunnel – a tunnel! – darkness, screaming cool, insane into it, faster, and for a moment nothing, not the road, not the bicycle, and out again, heat and light, a hurtling thing, flying into another tunnel, singing into the heat and light, a sheep and more, everywhere on the road. He braked, swerved, toppled over, a complete somersault, into a bush, a fence and lay still, his face against the ground.

The best place for an active mind is hiking. There nothing else but the trail ahead, albeit the occasional creeping fear, as evidenced in the second section of All In.

I went along the trail and then stopped at a cliff and leaned over to see anything in the mist and trees. I went back on the trail and then followed a water pipe that went up the rocks. It was starting to rain. Water was dripping and then running down the rocks. I stepped up again and looked through the bushes. There was something green on the ground, a green shirt tag. I went around a hollowed-out stump and into the underbrush. The sun was pushing through the clouds. The forest arched down, and there was a crow coming up from the ridge and then through the gap in the trees. The path curled off into nothing. I was moving quickly, going up toward the cliffs, and I was back on the trail going toward the saddle before going up to Crown Mountain.

There was a chain hanging down part of it. I was feeling better here. I knew the bears wouldn’t bother with this steep rocky part, and then I heard a sudden crash, like a tree being snapped up, and stopped. I went along the rock edge to a small muddy section by a pair of bent trees, their roots bulging up against the rocks. It was a bear, staring back at me. It wasn’t big. It looked more like a dog. “Hey! Hey!” I clapped my hands, and it sprinted down the ravine. It was gone; I couldn’t hear it anywhere.  My legs kept going ahead; it was just automatic. I was almost at the saddle, and it was getting darker in the trees, going down to where the bear might be.