A Good Night’s Sleep. Not.

I’m one of the millions of sleep apnea sufferers. I have to sleep with what I call “the Darth Vader mask” over my nose at night to let my family get some sleep, keep the plaster in the house from cracking, and prevent angry phone calls from outraged seismologists who mistakenly believed a new volcano was forming in Cincinnati’s northern suburbs. And frankly, I can’t sleep without the CPAP, the machine the mask is hooked up to.

Periodically, I need to go in for a sleep study, which I did this past weekend. Actually, I haven’t had one in ten years. So this follow up was a bit of culture shock. What happens?

You show up around 8 or 8:30 in the evening. The place looks like a cross between a clinic and a Holiday Inn Express. They show you to your room, and then you hang out in the lounge watching TV with the others there to spend the night snoring. And I discovered something interesting about old people. They will apologize profusely for watching Flashpoint and CSI:New York. Why? I don’t know. The guy in the other room wasn’t apologizing for watching the Reds. (Dusty Baker, on the other hand, should for this season.)

Around 10 PM, it’s time to hit the sack, but one just doesn’t crawl into bed and turn the lights out.  Oh, no. This is a sleep study, and they need to wire you up to scan your brain, your respiration, your heart, your breathing, every leg twitch, every eye twitch, even your morning breath. And boy, do they wire you up.

You’re plugged into a box where almost two dozen electrodes, which must be hooked up in sequence, are connected between you and that box. The box comes with a shoulder strap because you have to take all these wires, the straps around your chest and waist, and the two sensors shoved up your nose with you when you go to the bathroom.

Then it’s time to go to bed. I had what’s called a split night, which means the first couple of hours are spent without a machine to keep my throat open.  They want to see what happens when I don’t use it. I, of course, know what happens. I wake up a lot. I wake up with dry mouth, a sore throat, and a pounding headache. And all these things did indeed come to pass before 3 AM, when the tech came in to pull the two nose sensors and pull on my mask for me.  Then I slept like a baby.

Until they turned the pressure all the way down on the mask. I woke up twice when I did this. Let’s just say I didn’t appreciate it.

The worst part of this torture was the end of the study. Not that the staff wasn’t courteous or efficient. They were, very much so. Most hotels need to take notes. But I left a 6:30 wake up call when I scheduled my study, and 6:30 on a Saturday morning is a horrible time to wake up. Most times, I’d better be working or going somewhere to give up that much sleep time.

The result of all this? The sleep specialist, who positively freaked when he saw I hadn’t been back in 11 years, told me they would definitely have to turn my pressure up, that he didn’t understand how my blood oxygen could be so high since I hadn’t been examined in over a decade.

They turned my pressure down after I had my study.

Go figure.

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One Small Step

Forty-two years ago today, I sat in front of a small black and white Crosley television while my parents and two uncles watched the grainy images beamed over NBC from the Sea of Tranquility. I was only three, but it’s my earliest clear memory. (Which means I was at Woodstock, which was three weeks later, since I don’t remember it.) So my recollection begins the moment man set foot on another world for the first time. I don’t remember Buzz Aldrin coming out of the lunar module later. I only remember that fuzzy image of Armstrong coming down the ladder, talking with Houston about the surface outside, then uttering those famous words, “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” Though I was a toddler too young to quite understand how two guys got all the way up on the moon, why I couldn’t see them when I looked outside, or why the lunar module didn’t look like the rocket we watched blast off a few days earlier, the first ever moon landing still made an impression.

Armstrong steps on the moon.

nasa.gov

It sparked a long obsession with science fiction. It sparked a lifetime interest in all things space. It pretty much defined my childhood.

It’s always bothered me that we didn’t press on. Then again, the 1970’s were a decade of cynicism that exceeded even this decade. A nation beleaguered by Watergate, a failed war in Asia, gas shortages, inflation, and a Cold War dragging on too long had no appetite to boldly go. Perhaps if the Cold War had thawed much sooner, we might have returned in the eighties. Instead, we got the space station, a magnificent engineering feat in its own right, but hardly inspiring to the general public.

It’s hard to get excited about the space program these days. The last space shuttle mission is history. Hubble is in its waning days. Astronauts now have to hitch rides with the Russians to get into orbit. The government wants to go to Mars and has made that a priority. And President Obama has thrown the mandate for manned space flight to private industry. Both are exciting in and of themselves, but the public is not going to forget the deficit and two wars until someone shows them something.

So until something appears that shows us how to look forward, we can still look back to that night 42 years ago and know what’s possible.

Ebookery: Snub Nose Press

A few years back, Sandra Ruttan launched Spinetingler, a crime ezine that aspired to do better than ezines of the past. It paid it’s writers enough for Edgar consideration. It went out of its way to behave the way many print mags were expected to print. And I’ll be honest, there are quite a few print mags that have fallen far short of that mark.

Recently, Sandra and her husband, Brian Lindenmuth, launched Snub Nose Press, diving into the e-publishing waters by doing, as I’ve often said needs done, all that stuff print publishers do well and writers generally suck at: Editing, covers, marketing.  The result?

Well, I’ll let Sandra tell you about it.  Sandra?

A few years ago, when I was starting to write fiction and trying to get it published, I got an honorable mention in an ezine’s contest, and my short story was published by the ezine.

For me, it was success.  I’d written a story that had enough merit for an editorial board to pick for publication.  It boosted my confidence in my writing.

What undermined that confidence was the commentary I heard at the mystery writer’s group I attended back then.  I wasn’t “really” published, because I hadn’t been published in print.

It was around the same time that Spinetingler was born. I’ve always been a natural champion of things I love, and it seemed logical.  I could share my enthusiasm about books that knocked my socks off, polish my rusty interviewing skills from my journalism days, and have the privilege of publishing promising writers – regardless of whether it was their first piece of fiction or they were a multi-published author.

We’ve survived some rough patches along the way – divorce, changes in ownership and changes in contributors.

We’ve also seen a lot of other ezines, and a lot of other publishing ventures come and go over the last 6.5 years.

That’s what’s made me cautious.  Just this past week, I heard about a new site that was going to publish crime fiction by female authors.  A few days after I heard they were open for submissions, the site had been pulled and no longer existed.

That’s why ezines and epublishers have to fight hard to earn the respect of the industry and to establish themselves as credible.  It’s too easy to throw up a site and never do anything with it.

So, call us cautious, call us careful.  But when we make a move, it’s because we genuinely believe we can sustain it.  The decrease in start-up costs for publishing e-books has made it possible to expand, and while the traditional publishing market seems to be shrinking and publishing more and more commercial product and less experimental fiction, we can find the material that should be published, present it professionally to readers and help writers establish themselves in the e-book market.

Here’s a bit of general information about Snubnose Press.

1.  We did not want to use the Spinetingler name because some time after I started Spinetingler, a publishing outfit in the UK with a similar name was started and we wanted to avoid any possible confusion.

2.  We spent several months debating name and agenda before we agreed to a plan, and even then it took several weeks before we registered the site and started the online work.  This was a plan that started with words and paper, built from a lot of discussion.

3.  We had professional agents screen our contract before we made any contract offers to authors.

4.  We work with professional artists who create original material for the site and do the cover art.

5.  We publish short story collections, novellas, original novels and reprints.

I share the concerns that people have, about unedited works flooding the e-book market, and that’s where Snubnose Press comes in.  We intend to brand Snubnose Press as a leading publisher of exceptional e-books.  We launched with Speedloader, which has received rave reviews in the US and UK.  We followed Speedloader with my novel, Harvest of Ruins – primarily because the novel had been edited already, and we have several short story collections contracted for the coming months and didn’t want to be branded as solely an anthology publisher.

Upcoming publications include short story collections by Patti Abbott, Keith Rawson, Sandra Seamans, and Les Edgerton, and a revenge novella by Eric Beetner, with three other original projects in negotiations.

Some writers don’t want to learn how to format their works, or spend time handling the business end of the equation.  For them, self-publishing isn’t ideal, but if their work meets our standards of quality storytelling, lean prose and compelling characters, they might find a home with Snubnose Press.

Sandra Ruttan is the author of three novels, including her latest, Harvest of Ruins.

My Town Monday Cincinnati: (Repost) Neil Armstrong

This originally appeared the week of July 20, 2009.  Since the 42nd anniversary of the moon landing is this Wednesday, I decided to repost this sketch of Apollo 11 commander Neil Armstrong.

Today is the 40th anniversary of the Apollo moon landing.  What’s this have to do with Cincinnati?

Well, the first one out of the lunar module was current Indian Hill resident Neil Armstrong.

armstrong

nasa.gov

Armstrong, a veteran of the Air Force’s X-1 program and Project Gemini, commanded the Apollo 11 mission to the moon.  Afterward, he was rather quiet about his achievement.  He moved to Cincinnati in the mid-1970′s to become a professor of engineering at the University of Cincinnati.  Since then, he’s lived a quiet life in the tony suburb of Indian Hill.  Occasionally, he makes an appearance with the Cincinnati Pops to do narrations.  As for the moon landing, he’s been perfectly happy to let fellow lunar module pilot Buzz Aldrin speak for the crew.  (There was a radio ad for the the beef industry a few years back when Aldrin, after reverently speaking of the trip, flies off in a rage and says, “Of course, we had steak!  What did you expect us to celebrate with?  A can of ravioli?  One degree off on reentry, and we would have been accute BBR.  That’s a cute little NASA term for burned beyond recognition!“)

moon

nasa.gov

As for the moon landing itself, like Armstrong, I didn’t live in the Queen City at the time.  I was only 3 and living in a Cleveland suburb when Armstrong said, “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”  Yet it’s one of my earliest and clearest memories.  I spent my childhood obsessed with the space program, to the point where I gave Mr. Johnson’s fifth grade class a lecture.  (Now that’s obsessive.)

Hopefully, we will be returning to the moon in a few years.  And we’ll have company.  It’ll be fifty years between the last landing and the next one, a half century wasted when we could have exploited existing technology to find the moon’s true potential.

[More My Town Mondays posts at the My Town Mondays Blog.]

Friday Forgotten Books: The Glass Key By Dashiell Hammett

Dashiell Hammett only wrote five novels. Of them, The Glass Key is probably the least remembered. It’s not as iconic as The Maltese Falcon or groundbreaking as the Continental Op novels. And it has none of the screwball comedy tone of The Thin Man. Yet Hammett said this was his favorite, and it’s probably his best.

The Glass Key is about racketeer Ned Beaumont, the loyal henchman to political boss Paul Madvig. Madvig has thrown his lot in with the corrupt Senator Henry, whom Beaumont would like to bring down. However, Beaumont discovers the Senator’s son dead in an alley. Madvig orders Beaumont to cover it up for reasons he doesn’t share beyond wanting to marry the Senator’s daughter.

In the beginning, Beaumont plays the game and does it for personal reasons. He pins it on a bookie who owes him money, tracking the bookie down to New York City. By the time Beaumont gets his money, that lead fizzles. Over time, Beaumont starts looking into the murder himself, at first to protect Madvig. Eventually, he starts to wonder if he’s playing for the wrong team, even fleeing back to New York (where he’s from) at one point.

Beaumont is probably the best drawn of Hammett’s protags.  The Op is a violent boy scout. Nick and Nora Charles are thinly veiled cariacatures of Hammett and Lillian Hellman, which does not take away from Red Harvest and The Thin Man. Paired with Hammet’s other morally questionable protag, Sam Spade, Ned Beaumont is the most real of Hammett’s characters. He doesn’t live by a rigid code, but there are lines that should never be crossed. Even the most morally questionable among us, like Spade, who’s a selfish bastard, have lines we won’t cross. No matter how many shades of gray we see things, things do, in fact, reach a point where you have to say, “That’s evil, and I won’t let it pass.”

Madvig somehow crosses that line, and Beaumont is left wondering where his duties lie. Ultimately, they lie with himself, and one can’t really fault him for how he ultimately deals with the the storm around the death of Henry’s son.

And then he says to hell with it.

Screams & Whispers By Randall Peffer

I’ve said I was going to stop reviewing, but I usually am willing to make an exception for a Tyrus Books offering. After all, I’ve yet to put down a Bleak House or Tyrus offering. Randall Peffer’s latest, Screams & Whispers, is no exception. In this latest entry to Peffer’s Cape Islands series, he revisits his broken public defender, Micheal Decastro. Decastro is no longer practicing law. Wrecked by events earlier in the series around drag queen Tuki Aprecio, Decastro now works a fishing boat with his father, Caesar. We don’t meet him living the idyllic life of a fisherman in Cape Cod, though.

No, Decastro is sitting on the dock holding a shotgun and weeping. Tuki, who is now fully female (Read it. It’ll make sense.) is in trouble again. The Dragon Lady is stalking her, said Dragon Lady being Wen Ling, a vicious drug dealer from Southeast Asia willing to kill to get her hands on a million-dollar ruby belonging to Vietnam’s Buddhist monks.

Decastro is lured to Vietnam with his father in tow on a bloody chase through the country to rescue Tuki. The story eventually becomes less about Decastro riding to the rescue than Tuki trying to overcome the insane monster killing her family and holding her hostage. It also becomes about Caesar Decastro’s reconciliation with his past as an MP during what the locals call “The American War.”

Peffer’s Vietnam is a very different country from what we’re usually presented. There’s no R. Lee Ermey barking at recruits about his beloved Corps, no incoherent Marlon Brando blissfully unaware Martin Sheen is there to kill him. This is a country that’s moved on, communist in name only. Indeed, the country’s communist party is given a token mention at best, with a peripheral character serving as a party member. The country resembles more of a Third World version of America, with the primitive conditions of the rural areas blending seamlessly with Saigon (No one locally seems to call it Ho Chi Minh City) and Hanoi. Indeed, the Decastro’s response to seeing the various fishermen seems to be to ask them what the locals are catching and how much they’re getting for their hauls. The police react as one might expect American or European police to react.

It’s Wen Ling, the so-called “Dragon Lady,” who strains credibility. Early on, it’s addressed by one of the American characters pondering whether Wen Ling is a fugitive from a 1930’s movie featuring the invincible Asian supervillain. As the story progresses, we learn she is simply a ruthless drug lord, as murderous and cunning as any from Columbia or Russia or Mexico, but just as vulnerable. We learn even later that Wen Ling is insane, so obsessed with her past and her quest that any blood on her hands is clearly someone else’s fault.

But it’s Tuki who is the star of this story. Her gender ambiguity surgically corrected, she has fled to Vietnam to find the family she lost at the end of the war as an infant to start over and get away from Wen Ling. As Wen Ling destroys those around her, Tuki becomes more and more defiant, becoming in her own mind one of the Buddhist monks she admires to find her inner calm and resist the fiend trying to destroy her.

Screams & Whispers is a harrowing story to get through. Just when you think things can’t get any worse, Peffer finds a new way for Wen Ling to stay one step ahead of everyone else, playing a sick game of keep-away with Tuki’s life. But the real star is the Vietnam of the 2010’s. It’s a modern country that’s put its past behind it. The characters would do well to follow suit.

But then there wouldn’t be a story, would there?

We Might Have By Gerald So

If we’re going to devote a lot of time here talking about ebooks, then we need to actually look at a few ebooks. So let’s have a look at a type of book I don’t normally read, that being poetry.

Former Thrilling Detective fiction editor and the brains behind the crime-themed poetry collection The Lineup, Gerald So, has put together a collection of his poetry around lost loves called We Might Have. Rather than long, flowery tomes about pouring one’s heart out, So has a spare, somewhat unconventional style. Most of the poems in this collection run less than a dozen lines, many five lines or less. There are five that stand out for me.

“My First Love” is an old story many of us have gone through. The speaker talks about calling or writing the love of his life everyday, only to reveal in the last line that “You couldn’t wait to get away.” Then there’s “Wet Dream,” which is not exactly what the title implies. It describes a confession of love that ends in a wine-soaked spit take.  “Paperback Lover” looks at the people we pursue through the metaphor of books. Hardcovers are expensive and often out of reach. Library books are free, but have been around. Paperbacks, So points out, are cheap and easy.

“Four Weeks Before the Wedding” describes how a phone call might be a jilted couple upset over the speakers regrets he cannot attend the wedding. Turns out the bride butt dialed him. How many poems end with a line about butt dialing? Of course, does anyone butt dial anymore in these days of touchscreen phones?

Probably the most poignant is “A Courtship in Cuts,” in which a barber describes a customer who’s met a girl, proposes over time, then loses her. Through each stage of the courtship, the man asks for a different haircut, but in the end has “grayed ten years/in three months.”

All these poems contain a pang of regret, and there’s something most people can identify with, that one love who got away. Short and sweet.