Mourning Dove

Printing pressWhen I was a kid my dad had a playback typewriter. As you typed a document the typewriter would perforate a tape of green paper. When you were done, you flipped a switch and fed the perforated tape back into the machine, whereupon it would automatically type a copy of the document — useful, I guess, in an era when copiers were reserved for big businesses and copy shops were far between. Of course you had to type that initial document perfectly otherwise the tape would repeat a mistake in every copy, which to my mind restricted the machine’s utility to professional typists.

This strange artifact, so specific in time, sat large in my mind as I wrote “Mourning Dove,” which features a mechanical mashup of a printing press and a player piano. The story is a tight 3K, written late last year for Third Flatiron’s weird West anthology Principia Ponderosa.

A recurring thought at the time (you can maybe guess why) was whether knowing the hour and manner of your own death would be beneficial — you could live as if every day was literally among your last — or if the anticipation of death’s approach would be too anxiety inducing and therefore you would actively avoid knowing. Thing is, even in the absence of a prophetic machine we usually make one of these choices.

Story order is important to any collection, and I think as an opener for The Dead Ride Fast, “Mourning Dove”‘s fast pace and relative brevity make for a solid tone setter.

The Dead Ride Fast

Remember back in 2014 when I said I would publish a reprint collection of my short fiction the following year? Well, better late than never — The Dead Ride Fast will be available as an e-book next Tuesday.

The Dead Ride Fast collects six of my weird Westerns, all of them stories of existential dread on the 19th-century frontier.

I cannot express how much fun it’s been to put this book together.

There are many reasons why I wanted to publish under my own imprint. I try to live by P.J. O’Rourke’s maxim that a writer should always be paid at least twice for a piece of writing; and like the T-shirt says, What part of 70 percent royalties don’t you understand?

Yet what I enjoyed most was the absolute control over the entire product, from the cover to the typography to the interior layout. Writing can turn a little stale over time: you write something, it’s published, you receive a check. That two-beer buzz, so sharp when you’re in your early 20s, dulls as the years pass. The excitement I still feel when I write derives from the actual creation itself — that alchemy of writing and revision — but dwindles as soon as I send it off to the editor. That thrill of creating, that alpha-to-omega electrification, was something I felt the entire time while assembling Dead.

If you want to know the technical nitty gritty of how I did it, Daddy Jack will tell you after the jump! jump!

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Mourning Dove

I have a weird Western called “Mourning Dove” in the anthology Principia Ponderosa, now available.

She rose and walked to the press. “My husband started this newspaper to compete with the other established dailies in town. Every one of them printed a single edition per day. He realized he could gain an advantage by running two editions every day, and jump the competition by putting a morning edition on the streets for folks to read while they ate their bacon. But publishing two newspapers every single day is hard work, and doesn’t leave time for much else. So he invented this press to write the morning edition for him.” She patted the metal. “Thing is, he went ahead and somehow made a machine that wrote news before it happened, saving him the trouble of having to write about it afterwards.”

Certain recent aspects of my personal life have entailed me staring through a telescope into my future and I haven’t always liked what I’ve seen. I asked myself, Would anybody really want to know what lay ahead if they could?

Principia Ponderosa is available for Kindle and in paperback. The art above isn’t the cover; editor Juliana Rew used it for flavor when she sent around her submissions call and I love its digital whimsy, located somewhere between deco and 16-bit.

Please Stand By

You may have noticed the URL jacksonkuhl.com now redirects to my Contently portfolio. Yet if you click on the link under my name on the Contently page or if you’ve bookmarked jacksonkuhl.com/blog/ you’ll land right here. Dear old bloggy isn’t going away anytime soon but currently I want to steer potential clients and editors toward my clips.

So far 2017 has been very productive for me. I’ve sold a spate of short fiction — including two acceptances on consecutive days — which has drained my reservoir of manuscripts to near zero (I guess I need to generate more). I have a long overdue project which will finally appear this October. I’m also excited by two other bigly projects in progress: a series of essays and a piece of long-form fiction.

All of that, as well as sporadic nonfiction assignments, house projects, Pats watching, and assembling travel and adventure plans for Q2 and 3, have left little time for bloggy. But keep watching this space! In the event of an update, it will be updated.

Vaya con Dios

You may be aware that a few years ago, I began writing 19th-century alternate histories as a literary vacation after Smedley. The series soon morphed into a stream of weird Westerns, ghost stories, and even a little steampunk; while simultaneously their creation transformed into a kind of palliative during the Years of Real-Estate Madness. Distracted by garages, painting, buying, selling, and restorations (not to mention paying employment), my attention was too fragmented to think about more books or even short nonfiction with its relevancy demands and expiration dates. The great thing about short fiction is I can write something, walk away for weeks, and then come back to pick up where I left it.

In keeping with a theme of endings and new beginnings, it’s time for Strange Wests to ride off into the sunset as I readjust my focus toward longer projects and nonfiction. Nobody has been more astonished than me by Wests’s reception from editors and readers. A bunch are in various stages of the pipeline, which means there’s more to appear, and never say never: I’m happy to write fresh material as the inspiration or invitation strikes. Plus I’ve come to depend on fiction writing as an analgesic too much to quit it altogether. I will still be writing historical shorts as time allows, only these, for the immediate future, will be set in New England.

My goal is to bundle Strange Wests into an e-book collection to be published in 2015.

Down on the Rio Grande

Altered AmericaMy story “Rio Grande” appears in the new alternate-history anthology, Altered America. Gambling gunfighter Lorenzo seeks vengeance against a card sharp in the Republic of the Rio Grande, an independent country based on the economic principles of Frederic Bastiat:

“When the Republicans defeated the Mexican army at Morales, everyone knew it was only a matter of time before Mexico tried again. They realized our little breakaway estado could only be held by force. Force means men. So they encouraged homesteading to grow the population. They tried various policies for a few years but nothing worked. Everyone wanted to go to California instead. Finally President Jordan discovered the writings of a French philosopher named Bastiat. This philosopher advocated free exchange. No taxes. No tariffs. No customs. A strictly confined government. ‘Law is organized justice,’ said the philosopher — anything beyond that is perversion. So they scrapped everything and started over with a new constitution based on his writings and principles. They advertised it in all the eastern newspapers. Cheap land. Live tariff free. Women can vote. And where there are women, there are men and soon enough children who grow up to defend against Mexico. Then there weren’t enough branches in the trees to beat back the settlers.”

“But how do you pay for the judges and the marshals? Who builds the courthouses?”

“The philosopher wasn’t against taxes so much as their unfair and arbitrary application,” said Valasquez. “So to keep everyone honest, there are none to begin with. Citizens can make donations. But that’s exactly how Jordan managed to convince his caudillo supporters to agree to the constitution. It meant only self-sufficient people could afford to be judges and marshals.”

“Only the wealthy, you mean.”

“How is that worse than America?”

Alien Space Bats maybe, but I’ve often wondered why banana-republic rebellions usually take such a distinctly left-hand turn. The answer, I suppose, is Marxism’s empty pledge to eliminate the elite classes, a mistake based on the assumption that class derives from economic systems rather than being a natural by-product of state-level civilization.

In any event, “Rio Grande” isn’t for or against libertarianism so much as it is a stab at that most pernicious of modern ideologies, utopianism. Earlier this week at Reason.com, author Anne Fortier noted the power of historical fiction:

To the freedom-friendly novelist, one further advantage of historical fiction is that the entire history of mankind is jam-packed with tragic examples of what Hayek called “the fatal conceit” and the corrupting effects of power — especially state power.

It’s worth reading her whole essay, though I’m not sure what business Fortier has throwing speculative fiction under the bus after writing a whole book about a mythological matriarchy (for all of her self-satisfaction, it seems Fortier hasn’t learned that genre — the difference of where you’re shelved in the bookstore — is simply packaging). But she’s right: history shows that power disparities are inevitable once a certain complexity of social organization is reached, and the key is not a false promise of eradicating those disparities but rather blunting power so that it does the least harm.

You can purchase the whole anthology here — I’m happy to report the Kindle edition has seen a steady burn of sales since its release — or read my complete story for free here. And if you enjoyed the antho, please leave a review at Amazon or Goodreads!