Welcome to a little soirée that’s long overdue: a celebration of the life and work of Hugh Walpole. Immensely popular in the first half of the twentieth century, Hugh Walpole was a prolific bestselling author who was equally adept at historical fiction, thrillers, the supernatural and macabre, and children’s literature. A protégé of Henry James and appreciated by Joseph Conrad, Virginia Wolf, T. S. Eliot and John Buchan—to name a few, Walpole was a natural storyteller who inspired many young writers of the day.
Great Mysteries of Aviation
By Alexander McKee
Published by Stein and Day 1982
This edition of Bill’s Bookshelf is a little different. It’s a tribute to my father, Billy Keith King. He was a pilot and collected books on aviation. I usually feature books of weird tales in this space and the closest I could find in his collection is Great Mysteries of Aviation by Alexander McKee.
Dad was a pilot during World War II, flying supplies to South America. After the war he became a machinist at the Radford Arsenal, fixing typewriters, calculators, and other office machines. When I was about seven years old, he brought home an old Royal typewriter that his employer was discarding. Soon he was letting me use it, until at last he gave it to me and bought himself another one. Dad kept his pilot’s license as a civilian, occasionally renting a small airplane from the Virginia Tech airport to go flying for an afternoon. He also volunteered with the Civil Air Patrol, training cadets in search and rescue missions.
Great Mysteries of Aviation is written in a matter-of-fact but entertaining, conversational style. The author, Alexander McKee (1918 – 1992), wrote a total of 27 books. He was a historian, journalist, and scuba diver who, in the late 1960s, was instrumental in finding and recovering the Mary Rose, an English Tudor warship of King Henry VIII that sank in 1545 near the Isle of Wight. McKee’s knowledge of aircraft and flight procedure is quite evident.
Naturally, the book includes the disappearance of Amelia Earhart as well as two incidents that became cornerstones of the “Bermuda triangle” legend, while downplaying the paranormal aspects of the latter. Also discussed are airplanes that continued to fly without pilots, including two documented instances of planes landing without pilot or crew, skidding along the ground without lowering their landing gear, but otherwise undamaged.
The ghostliest story in the book is about the apparition of a bomber pilot who crashed near a farmhouse on the Isle of Wight during WW2. On several occasions, beginning around 1975 or 1976, members of the household reported seeing a spectral man wearing a leather flight jacket standing on their lawn. His face was described as “blank.” The sightings were usually preceded by the overhead buzzing engine of an old-fashioned bomber plane from the 1940s, as well as an eerie stillness and chill in the room. Their young daughter had once actually seen the airplane. McKee prefaces this story by two personal accounts of seemingly strange phenomena. One account reminds me of something that happened in my own childhood. McKee says that during WW2, he dreamed of seeing some burned-out houses while walking along Burgoyne Road in Southsea, a seaside resort in Hampshire, England. Two months later, those same houses, and only those, were burned in an air raid. My personal experience was this: When I as a kid, I dreamed I saw bones on the creek bank beside the road. The next day I rode my bicycle to the creek and, sure enough, there was an old burlap sack, stained with dried blood, with some bones spilled halfway out of it! They turned out to be pig bones from the butcher shop in Kroger’s Grocery Store. Someone had probably tossed them at the dumpster behind the store, missed, and maybe a dog had dragged the sack to the creek bank. My father said I must have already seen the bag of bones, earlier in the week, and it registered in my subconscious mind, so I dreamed about it. I didn’t think so. I suspected it was precognition. My father probably read McKee’s account of the burned-out houses in the 1980s, and I didn’t read it until years after that. I wish he and I could have discussed it, just for fun, before he passed away in 1993. McKee also recounts an incident in which he was flying through dense fog and running low on fuel. His only hope was to land at Heston airbase in England, but the fog was so thick he could not get his bearings. Miraculously, he says, “I received a command: ‘Turn now.’ I didn’t exactly hear a voice. I certainly did not have a premonition, or a hunch. On the contrary, I was told, by something or someone outside me, that now was the time to make my turn” (McKee, 176). Needles to say, he made the turn and landed safely at Heston. This account reminds me that another aviator, Charles Lindberg, once said that spirits “accompanied him during flight” to comfort him and keep him awake, although he conceded that they may have been “hallucinations caused by lack of sleep” (Gray 82).
Several of the mysteries in this book involve accidents that investigators have never been able to conclusively explain, such as the death of Joe Kennedy, Jr. and Wilford John Willy in a 1944 explosion. These two lieutenants volunteered for Operation Aphrodite, in which large bomber planes, Boeing B-17s and PB4Y-1 Liberators, were filled with tons of explosives and guided like drones by radio control to crash into enemy targets. The aircraft could not take off safely without pilots, so a crew of two would get the planes into the air, arm the detonators, and then parachute out so the planes could be guided by remote control to their targets. For some reason, the Liberator flown by Lieutenants Willy and Kennedy, Jr. exploded in the air before they parachuted to safety. Historians tell is that Joe Kennedy, Jr. was his father’s choice to groom for a future presidential campaign. After his death, the responsibility fell upon John F. Kennedy, who was elected in 1960, only to be assassinated in 1963.
My name is Billy Keith King, Jr. When I published my first book, I decided to use the pseudonym “Bill Ectric” because I wanted a name that would stand out when searched on the internet. I’ve thought about reverting to my given name, but I’ve published enough material under the pseudonym that changing it now would lose whatever momentum I’ve achieved. As a compromise, I use “Bill Ectric King” on Facebook. Dad wouldn’t mind.
About a year before my father died, my brother Jeff gave him a very special Father’s Day present. I’ll end this article by reprinting a letter about it that my father sent me (click to enlarge):
Gray, Susan M. Charles A. Lindbergh and the American Dilemma: The Conflict of Technology and Human Values. Bowling Green State University Popular Press, 1988.
Since Maud Newton recently “resurfaced” on Facebook, I thought I would repost this article that originally appeared here at Bill Ectric’s Place on June 7, 2009.
Maud Newton Soars
Narrative Magazine has an excerpt from Maud Newton’s novel and it is top notch! A combination of light-hearted snark and Poe-like dark, which is exactly what most real childhoods consist of.
When I say Poe, I’m thinking of “The Black Cat.” When the protagonist killed the cat, I simultaneously cringed and identified with him. Not that I ever killed a cat, but I know that feeling remorse after doing something in anger. I think most kids do.
That one morbid thought aside, this is primarily a humorous and heartfelt hoot of a tale. I was cracking up over the daughter’s reactions to her mother’s weirdness. Again, just like real life.
The name of the excerpt is When the Flock Changed. Check it out:
My mother was a preacher until the cops shut her down. Well, okay, she kept at it halfheartedly in our living room for a while, but the fire had wiped out not just her warehouse church and the halfway house she ran out of it, but her passion, her commitment, and maybe even, deep down, her belief. All those years of serving the Lord, of taking to the streets to let the homeless and addicted and just plain lonely know what a friend they had in Jesus, and now she had no proper house of worship, no sea of folding chairs or repository of sermons on tape. She was practically a layperson. Worse, her flock knew it and was slipping away.
The church ladies saw the blaze as a sign of God’s disfavor. Mom had created a makeshift dorm in the sanctuary, a commercial space, and one of the guys had fallen asleep with a joint still burning. Maybe she shouldn’t have spent so much time ministering to the riffraff when there were perfectly normal people’s problems to attend to. Our Heavenly Father wouldn’t have let the church burn down if she’d been in tune with Him and His Word. So the flock was saying.
“Murder, in ordinary cases, where the sympathy is wholly directed to the case of the murdered person,” (De Quincey) reasons, “is an incident of coarse and vulgar horror; and for this reason that it flings the interest exclusively upon the natural but ignoble instinct by which we cleave to life.” This attitude to primal panic would never “suit the purposes of the poet.” What, then, must a poet do to elevate such a scene to high art? The only option: “He must throw the interest on the murderer.” Since 1823, this has become commonplace; from The Godfather to Silence of the Lambs to Breaking Bad, it’s become the default position of any serious drama to include the perspective of the murderer. Like it or not, our imaginative lives now reside in De Quincey’s dreamworld.
Fittingly, Frances Wilson’s new biography of De Quincey, Guilty Thing, begins not with his birth or his lineage, but with a murder: In the early hours of December 8, 1811, shopkeeper Thomas Marr, his wife and infant child, and his apprentice were all found dead, their throats slit and their heads bashed in. With no real suspects, the case fascinated everyone in England, but none more so than Thomas De Quincey himself. The Ratcliffe Highway murders, as they became known, inspired in De Quincey a “profound reverie,” according to his friend Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and would occupy his mind and his writings for decades to come. The murders, De Quincey would later write, “had an ill effect, by making the connoisseur in murder very fastidious in his taste, and dissatisfied by anything that has been since done in that line. All other murders look pale,” he concluded, by the “deep crimson” of the Ratcliffe Highway murders.
Psychogeography was defined in 1955 by Guy Debord as “the study of the precise laws and specific effects of the geographical environment, consciously organized or not, on the emotions and behavior of individuals.” – from Introduction to a Critique of Urban Geograhy, 1955
From Burrow Press, an interview with Tim Gilmore by Hurley Winkler:
Before I ever met TIM GILMORE, I met his writing. I was a teenager, eager to explore the dozens of overgrown abandoned sites strewn throughout my hometown of Jacksonville, FL. I was still cautious, though, and did what any millennial would do before entering a sketchy building—I Googled it. That’s how I found Jax Psycho Geo, a blog Tim keeps to document his exploration of mysterious places in Jacksonville. Tim’s website not only gave me courage to explore, but introduced me to some of my favorite pieces of creative nonfiction.
Hurley Winkler: I want to ask you about your blog, Jax Psycho Geo, since that’s where I first started reading your work. What let you to start writing a blog?
Tim Gilmore: To begin with, I wanted to write this huge, sprawling postmodern novel. I wanted to represent the entire city as a novel somehow. And if you did that, you’d have to just sample everything you could sample, whether that was something hugely and historically significant, like Axe Handle Saturday, or if it was a woman falling asleep at her piano in Queens Harbor.
So I did that, and then realized that it was just huge and unwieldy. I wanted to expand so many of the smaller stories into bigger stories. I started the website, and originally, the first stories were all parts of what I thought was going to be this novel about Jacksonville. Instead, I put them all up [on the website] in a couple of days. That was five years ago.
HW: And you just kept going.
TG: I’m pretty obsessive, as you know.
HW: You use the word “sample.” What do you mean by that?
TG: Like sampling in music. You can’t represent the entirety of anything, because that wouldn’t be a representation. Anytime you try to represent something, you misrepresent it automatically because it is a representation. It’s not the thing, and it can never be the thing. It seemed to me that the way to picture an entirety of something was to show glimpses—almost impressionistically—of what might be happening all over town at the same time. That’s the most you could ever see of the whole picture.
Another home run from Wormwoodiana!
Here are some quotes:
In ‘The Malting House Summer’ (The New Review, Vol. 3, No. 31, October 1976), Diana Davenport recalled the place: “The Malting House still retains an air of legend: a tall, Provencal-looking building, flat against the main street, its putty-coloured wash peeling, lower windows shuttered, door ever-open.” Within, there were rooms that the Dylan Thomas party had named The Pub Room and The Music Room, and a study where Thomas and Davenport worked each morning at their book.
Thomas stayed with Davenport at The Malting House in the Summer of 1940, along with a spasmodic company of composers, musicians, artists and other writers. Here they spent some months in louche living.
. . . Thomas and Davenport writing alternate chapters, or possibly alternative sentences, or simply working together in some wayward, improvised duet of their own devising. They each appeared in the book, too, growing larger in it as it progressed, John Davenport as Tom Asgard, and Dylan Thomas as Owen Tudor.
Dead Men Naked, a novel by Dario Cannizzaro
Review by Bill Ectric
Dead Men Naked is the best novel I’ve read in while, satisfying to the end. All too often, books with supernatural overtones veer into preposterous territory, but not this one. Author Dario Cannizzaro achieves a near-perfect balance of realism and phantasm, humor and melancholy, the familiar and the uncanny. It is an incredibly fun read about soul mates, tequila, occult incantations, death, and visions of a giant crow. The somewhat flippant title derives from a poem by Dylan Thomas called “And Death Shall Have No Dominion,” and, indeed, there are people in Dead Men Naked who seek passage beyond death’s veil. Cannizzaro says on his website that while writing this book, he “pestered people with talks about religion, philosophy, death for an incredible amount of time.”
To get an idea of his background, consider this quote from an article Cannizzaro wrote for The Galway Review in 2016. The author talks about skipping school with his friends at age 15 while living in in Italy:
We would go in the city center of Pozzuoli, and hide into a dark alley. In the alley there was a tattoo joint, a hearing aid shop, and a very small library, called Il Nome della Rosa, after Umberto Eco’s book (The Name of the Rose). The owner, Gino, would entertain his guests with delicious comments about books, poetry, literature. It wasn’t long before we started spending our mornings there, talking with Gino and drinking Espresso, while watching the whirlwind of customers – lost souls on the lookout for human connection – writers, poets, mothers, sons; fishermen, shop-owners, unemployed hippies – the whole humanity passed in that library, 20 to 30 square meters of enlightened soil, much like the sacred ground of a secret church.
Dead Men Naked reflects that mixture of ancient mystery and youthful curiosity. The main characters, Lou and Mallory, seem like people I would hang out with for pizza and beer, or in Louis’ case, Tequila. He only sees his friend’s ghost while drinking tequila. Tequila has a mystique unlike any of the other major alcoholic beverages. A Huffington Post article presented by Patrón says, “In the mid-20th century, tequila sales spiked after California residents thought it was a psychedelic. They were just confusing mezcal with mescaline (the psychoactive alkaloid of peyote” (Huffington Post, Oct 06, 2014). Over the years, Jose Quervo has placed magazine ads that depict deeply surreal colorful sunsets over small gatherings of men and women, smiling as though in states of altered consciousness, with various taglines, including “It’s all true” and “Anything can happen.” Special limited edition bottles display gold and silver mustachioed skulls. One might argue that tequila’s mystique is a fabrication, but after all, most magic is about what one believes to be true. “The universe is what you observe,” the Grim Reaper tells Lou. “Whatever you experience in your life, you experience through your senses.” It’s all real.
We get a hint that maybe Mallory has seen beyond the veil, too. She has a collection of books on the occult and she knows how to use them. Something weird happens, resulting in Mallory’s disappearance. Hoping to find Mal at her sister’s house, Lou goes on a road trip with the Grim Reaper in the passenger seat to keep him company and call the shots. They drive through a noir world of seedy bars until they find Mal’s twin sister, Angie. Death takes either a holiday or a back seat when Angie joins Lou on a ride through the desert to an out-of-the way abandoned house where the girls once lived with their mother. It is on this trip that Lou quotes the Dylan Thomas poem, forming an emotional connection between the two, in which “there was no car, no time, no road…no faith, no evil, no sun, no sea… nothing but the nakedness of the word, sliding from me to her and bouncing back from her eyes.” At the mother’s house, in the basement, they find the books and notebooks evincing an in-depth study of dreams, mythology, religion, and “Old Latin spells mixed up with Caribbean voodoo and African juju.” It gets weirder and better.
There are so many good moments in Dead Men Naked, it’s impossible to discuss them all. Worth mentioning are the beguiling passages about crows in chapter twenty-two. Around the world, crows represent, variously, a trickster, a harbinger of death, a sign of transformation, and depending on what direction they are flying, the imminent approach of either your enemy or your true love. The crows in this chapter punctuate Lou’s action as they gather, squawk, and seemingly mock his angst with gawking, open beaks. It’s a great image and better than I can describe it.
I would like to mention one more thing. Perhaps you’ve heard about writers who don’t use quotation marks. Cormac McCarthy comes to mind. When interviewed in 2008 by Oprah Winfrey, McCarthy warns other writers that if they plan to leave out quotation marks, they really need to “write in such a way as to guide people as to who’s speaking.” I’m here to tell you that Dario Cannizzaro pulls off this feat like an expert. Trust me on this: You will have no trouble understanding who is talking to whom in Dead Men Naked.
I highly recommend this book.