Fortune Smiles

Top Center: Bruce Zolar King; Bottom Center: Kings book, which was featured in the Libra man scene of the 1976 Grey Gardens film by by David and Albert Maysles, Elen Hovde, Muffie Meyer, & Susan Froemke; Right: the face of Occult America author Mitch Horowitz photoshopped onto a coin-operated fortune teller

Top Center: Bruce "Zolar" King; Bottom Center: King's book, which was featured in the "Libra man" scene of the 1976 Grey Gardens film by by David and Albert Maysles, Elen Hovde, Muffie Meyer, & Susan Froemke; Right: the face of Occult America author Mitch Horowitz photoshopped onto a coin-operated fortune teller

Aside from reading, my big three interests are (1) writing (2) promoting my writing, and (3) erasing the line between science and mysticism. I’m reading Occult America by Mitch Horowitz. Fun and fascinating. This passage is only tangentially related to writing, but  it’s got the other two covered nicely:

One vending machine especially caught my eye: a dime horoscope dispenser. Drop in a coin, pull a lever, and out would slide a little pink scroll wound in a clear plastic sleeve.

 That coin machine  . . . machine had it’s own story, one perhaps less august than that of ancient scholars or Renaissance courts but, to a young boy, no less fascinating. It was invented in 1934 by a clothing and securities salesman named Bruce King – or, as he was better known by his nom de mystique, Zolar. (“It comes from ‘zodiac’ and ‘solar system’,” he explained. ‘Registered U.S. trademark.”) His initiation was not in the temples of Egypt but on the boardwalk of Atlantic City, New Jersey. There he witnessed a goateed Professor A. F. Seward thrusting a pointer at a huge zodiac chart while lecturing beachgoers on the destiny of the stars. Professor Seward sold one-dollar horoscopes to countless vacationers – so many, the rumor went, that he retired to Florida a millionaire. (The rumor, as will be seen, was true.)

 Bursting forth from the boardwalks, Bruce King knew he had what it took to sell mysticism to the masses. “I felt the competition wasn’t great,” he told John Updike in The New Yorker in 1959, “and I could become the biggest man in the field.”

And that’s only the beginning. I’m going to enjoy this book, and will probably finish reading it just about the time UPS delivers my pre-ordered copy of Jeff VanderMeer’s new Ambergris novel Finch, which promises to be a fantastic noir/dark fantasy thriller of high literary caliber. 

Oh, and here’s the Grey Gardens link.


Newton, Burdon, Bergman

Congratulations to Maud Newton for winning the Narrative Magazine Annual Fiction Prize for her novel excerpt, When the Flock Changed.

Former Animal superstar Eric Burdon talks to Bradley Mason Hamlin about writing, filmmaking, shady record deals, and more at Mystery Island.

 On the House of the Rising Sun musical arrangement, Burdon says, “We didn’t have the time or the space to put the name of everyone on the credits. M.J., our inventive manager had a plan or maybe he and Mr. Price had a plan. ‘Lets put Alan’s name on the single for now and we will sort it out later, we’re all good friends here!’ Star-struck, drunk & stoned–we went for it in a hurry. There are many stories in the rock and roll business but this one takes the biscuit; it was the first of the great rip-offs and stands in history as that.”

 On writing, Burdon says, “Since the early days I used to write about my experiences while on the road and about life in general. I would dress them up with collages and photographs. When I met Nina Simone she took a look at one of my journals and she told me, ‘You are a music historian.’”

I recently reread Bergman on Bergman: Interviews With Ingmar Bergman by Stig Bjorkman, Torsten Manns, and Jonas Sima, translated by Paul Britten Austin.

In the February 24, 1969 interview, Swedish film director Bergman balks at questions that are more like statements, explaining, “Every time you’ve put concrete questions to me I’ve tried to express myself in my own way and give you an answer. But when Torsten delivers a little lecture – however interesting I find it in itself – and then leaves me a wide field to expatiate on, I feel depressed, because it isn’t a concrete question. For me my work, or whatever you like to call it – these thirty films – are something solid, something I’ve made. So I must have concrete questions if I’m to give you concrete answers.”

That sounds like something Jeff VanderMeer told me early on when I interviewed him for Literary Kicks (his statement didn’t make it into the interview. Maybe it should have – it’s actually kind of instructive).

The Rich Mystique of Pirate Lore

Fast Ships, Black Sails

A new anthology edited by the always top-notch team of Jeff and Ann VanderMeer. Publishers Weekly says:

“Saintly pirates, loony pirates, pirate cooks and talking animal-buccaneers slash and swagger through the Caribbean, the Internet, the perpetually frozen Atlantic and the seas of distant planets in this collection of 18 original stories. The anthology begins strongly with Elizabeth Bear and Sarah Monette’s Boojum, a tale of one space pirates self-discovery, and concludes equally well with a gentleman rogue and his magical puppet in Garth Nix’s Beyond the Sea Gate of the Scholar-Pirates of Sarsköe. The levity of Castor on Troubled Waters, Rhys Hughes’s playful romp through time and space, and Howard Waldrops conflation of fictional pirates, Avast, Abaft!, are balanced by 68° 07′ 15″ N, 31° 36′ 44″ W, Conrad Williams’s …horror [story]. These ingenious variations on a theme deserve to be savored slowly.”

Click here to read more about the book and to watch a really cool & entertaining short video featuring some of the authors represented in the anthology

Autographs Tell Stories

I don’t consider myself an autograph hound, but these three signatures are special to me because they each have a story behind them.

The August 1963 issue of Famous Monsters of Filmland featured a lengthy interview with its editor, Forrest J Ackerman. This enthusiastic, scholastic fan of the fantastic opened my eyes and legitimized my deep interest in weird genres. Suddenly I was not alone – the magazine even published letters from other kids! Don’t get me wrong, I had plenty of friends who liked horror, science fiction, and fantasy, but I wanted to study it, collect it, and create it! I finally met Forry in 1999 at a convention known as the Monster Rally in Crystal City, Virginia. Since I live in Florida, I asked him to autograph the photo where he pretends to carve a stuffed alligator in my dog-eared copy of that same August 1963 Famous Monsters magazine.


I faced a quite a dilemma when I checked out Jeff VanderMeer’s Veniss Underground from the public library. To my surprise, it was a special limited edition, only 750 printed, and each one signed by the author. I didn’t want to return it to the library! Someone suggested I tell the library I lost this beautiful hardbound volume and offer to pay for it, but the idea troubled me. I actually did that once, by accident, at the University of North Florida when I couldn’t find Witchcraft At Salem by Chadwick Hansen. I had to pay for it before the college would release my grades and then found it a year later in a box of Christmas decorations where it had fallen. But in the case of Veniss Underground, I thought, what if the library doesn’t purchase another copy? I would hate to take even one book out of circulation. On the other hand… 

Jeff VanderMeer is such a brilliant writer, I think meeting him would be like meeting Borges, Poe, Nabokov, Lovecraft, Tolkien, and DeQuincey all rolled into one. His tour-de-force City of Saints and Madmen, is destined to become a classic, and the sequel, Shriek, is sublime. His non-fiction book, Why Should I Cut Your Throat, whisked me back into the space-time continuum of writing, publishing, and promoting weird literature. I also recommend The New Weird, an anthology of stories by other writers, edited by Jeff and his wife, Ann VanderMeer (the fiction editor of Weird Tales Magazine).

Fortunately, I came to my senses before the book was due back. I found another signed copy for sale on, ordered it, and returned the library’s copy so someone else could enjoy it.

Alexis Korner, John Mayall, Cyril Davies, and Long John Baldry are the founding fathers of blue-rock. In 1961, Korner and Davies formed a band called Blues Incorporated. Musicians who performed with Blues Incorporated, at various times, include Jack Bruce, Ginger Baker, Graham Bond, and Dick Heckstall-Smith, and most of the Rolling Stones.

One of the best concerts I ever attended was Alexis Korner opening for Humble Pie. It must have been around 1971 or 1972 (I know that Dave “Clem” Clempson had already replaced Peter Frampton in Humble Pie), and both bands ROCKED. When the show ended and the crowd was leaving out the front doors, my friends Roger Bolen, Bruce Showalter, Mike Lancaster, my brother Jeff, and I all gravitated toward a backstage entrance. The cop at the door knew Roger, whose dad was also a police officer. He let us pass. Not only did we meet all the members of Humble Pie (Steve Mariott, Greg Ridley, Jerry Shirley, Clem Clempson) and the legendary Alexis Korner, we chatted with them excitedly for about twenty minutes and they were all extremely cool. Korner said, “There comes a time when you have to follow your heart and do what you want to do.” As an afterthought, we got all their autographs, and I’m glad we did.

Note the numbers in the upper right corner of the card. This was the combination to my wall safe – a little post office box door that my father brought home and helped me install in the wall behind a row of books on my bookshelf. Dad’s regular job involved repairing typewriters and adding machines, but he did locksmithing on the side. The Post Office paid him to open post office boxes that were stuck, and for some reason they gave him one of the doors. He knew secret doors were right up my alley!

World-Wide Weird

Horia Ursu, also known as the Big Bad Bear, was guest blogger at Ecstatic Days (what a great name for a blog) this past week. The Bear is one of Jeff Vandermeer’s Romanian editors. He is active in the Romanian literary community and runs the Millennium Press. I hope he doesn’t mind that I used a portion of one of his photographs in my latest collage (above). He took the group shot of (left to right) Bogdan Hrib, Ann VanderMeer, Mike Haulica, Jeff VanderMeer, and Marius Dimitriu in Romania. For more good pictures and interesting information, check out Ecstatic Days.

I think it’s very cool that Jeff’s work is published internationally. This is especially exciting to me because I hope one day to travel to Hamburg, Germany to visit Erni Bar, who translated my book, Time Adjusters, into German.