The Inspiration for Pizza by Candlelight – Sightseeing “Unending Wonders”


Inspiration for Pizza by Candlelight 1 – Sightseeing “Unending Wonders of a Subatomic World or In Search of the Great Penguin” – Google Maps Redux


Inspiration for Pizza by Candlelight 2 – Sightseeing “Unending Wonders of a Subatomic World or In Search of the Great Penguin” – Google Maps Redux

Is it bad form and considered demythologizing fiction for a writer to point to inspirations even when they are only fragmentary, which most inspirations are?

The above two images document the inspirations for Pizza by Candlelight, the restaurant at which working homeless Chance Hope is employed at the beginning of Unending Wonders of a Subatomic World. How many years ago did I come up with the kernel of the idea for this working homeless woman, and, sadly, she is no less relevant today. Even more so. Which I’d anticipated she might be and hoped that she wouldn’t. But people weren’t talking much about the working homeless when I first conceived of Chance in her working homeless predicament, she was still past the fringe edge of public consciousness. I bunked with her in her home of a car using all that I knew about living on the road in music as resource, plus my imagination for having no home, having been in a situation like that when I was very young where had nothing to call my own but the clothes on my back. She had to be resourceful and adaptable, but strength may only be as fragile as a coffee cup on which one pins their idea of “home”. As long as I have this familiar friend of a coffee cup, I have “home”.

And then she loses everything in an instant.

Continue reading The Inspiration for Pizza by Candlelight – Sightseeing “Unending Wonders”

The Depression Cathedral of Hoover Dam

Hoover Dam - Google Maps Redux
Hoover Dam – Google Maps Redux
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I realize that though I wrote about Hoover Dam in Unending Wonders of a Subatomic World, the event was streamlined, couched in comedy taking advantage of Hope and Chance wrangling life on The Road. Your experience probably won’t be like mine because we all parse things a bit differently and circumstance is uneven, but I’d like to try to impart a little of what my virgin experience of Hoover Dam was like.

One grows up hearing about the Hoover Dam, a little photo blip in the history books at school. One grows up hearing about Hoover Dam as a monumental technological achievement that grew out of the Depression. Accompanying stock photos never quite express the size of it, but even if they did they are so bled dry and sterile that, years later, if one is traveling toward the dam one expects that same school page experience with the black and white text surrounding. Flat. No peril. No magic. No taste of the awe that is supposed to be inspired by one of the so-called wonders of the world. With a photo of a daredevil artist balancing on one hand on a teeter-totter chair propped on one leg on a fifty story high girder, their life an unexpected hiccup of indiscriminate wind away from a death tumble into the abyss of the city streets far below, one’s balance falters and woozily swims with the knowledge of how thin is the thread that holds us to the here and now solid ground. Out of balance, the watcher falls into the pit and is gone, even as the daredevil artist, in the next never seen photo, ably cheats death and steps aside. But photos of the Hoover Dam, despite all the power generated by it, are about as thrilling as white, orthopedic shoes.

Hoover Dam - Google Maps Redux
Hoover Dam – Google Maps Redux
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Continue reading The Depression Cathedral of Hoover Dam

The Thunderbird and the Ball of Twine Photo Sessions Pt. 2

Where it didn’t really happen as it’s fiction but what didn’t happen has its base in this place kind of as well as something that may have occurred here or a place like here but is very different in the book

This is not where Johnnie’s girlfriend, Hellene, lived, and my friend is pointing this out.


This is not where Johnnie’s girlfiend, Hellene, lived, and my friend, again, is pointing this out.


However, geographically, I have Hellene living in these two buildings which face each other on Highland Ave., but not really as she lives more like a couple blocks down and in a fictitious taller, bigger building with no landscaping that’s well integrated into a small shopping area. Geographically, she is in this area as I have her fleeing the opening car wreck on foot for her home, and as these buildings are around the corner and a couple blocks down from where the car wreck that never happened takes place, bits and pieces of the terrain went into the imagining of her fictitious apartment building.

From the book, pg. 36-37:

Only three weeks previous, Johnnie Jackson had been spread out on Hellene’s faux black-and-white tiled bathroom floor, exhausted from retching, her whining dog scratching at the apartment’s front door wanting out, and, as usual, Hellene not hearing or caring to hear the dog’s whimpering need, because, at the moment, she was lying in bed, curled around a pot, too post drunk dazed to care about anything, even Johnnie, who was just plain sick with a super bug that wanted to take over his body and kill him despite the fact that a dead Johnnie would be no use to anyone but the mortuary business. Made no sense to Johnnie why bugs, however they functioned (couldn’t be so different from Hellene though, who he at least liked, maybe, despite all) didn’t want to play nice and keep their host happy and healthy, behaving as though their sole self-sacrificial purpose was to eliminate the human race. At least that was what Hellene was yelling at him from the bedroom. Each time he mumbled a week, battered, “Why me?” she heard and informed, “Because you’re a scourge on the earth and bugs are its way of trying to kill you off.”

Johnnie retched into the hundred year old porcelain toilet bowl. Up close and personal with the irreducible privileges of a thousand previous tenants, eased then and there the romance of the building having been for decades the dumping ground of junkies and prostitutes, which transitioned into counter-culture chic with the residence of a few publicity sharp guitarists, then not-so-subversive collegiate chic, and now purchased higher rents with the application of fresh cheap paint and vinyl flooring, but not new plumbing fixtures. The perpetual, narcissistic reek of urine that clouded the cracked bowl for several feet, mingling with the sharp chemical aroma of the flooring, both belittled and amplified misery.

You know how it is in dreams where you visit a place you used to live, even a place you might currently live, and the place in the dream is that place but on the interior bears no resemblance, and is likely in its own world of a neighborhood? That’s how this is.

[highlight highlight_type=”italic” color=”yellow”]Click on the book to read a FAQ on Thunderbird and the Ball of Twine and maybe even purchase.

The Thunderbird and the Ball of Twine Photo Sessions Pt. 1

The Thunderbird and the Ball of Twine Photo Sessions – Pt. 1

Where it didn’t really happen as it’s fiction but what didn’t happen has its base in this place kind of as well as something that may have occurred here or a place like here but is very different in the book

Thunderbird and the Ball of Twine - Ponce and Highland ground zero

What is being pointed out here? Where are we? Should I tell you? Should you guess where it is my friend is standing and why she is pointing out a mess of a highway that plaintively begs for repaving? If I tell you this is Atlanta, Georgia, would you be able to figure out where she stands? Wouldn’t hurt if you read the title for the photo? Yes, we are at the intersection of Ponce de Leon and Highland. This is where, right here, at the very beginning of the book, Johnnie Jackson is driving Hellene home, they are arguing, a black dog runs into the road in front of his car, he swerves to avoid hitting it and collides with Odile McDonald.

Thunderbird and the Ball of Twine isn’t a novel about Atlanta–in fact, Atlanta is intentionally never once mentioned in Thunderbird as I didn’t want to pin the action to any one place except to suggest, at the beginning, the setting was a city in the east. But Atlanta serves as an essential backdrop, at least how I envisioned portions of it for the book, so I thought I’d do some posts revealing some of Thunderbird’s geographic anchors.

Though not too unlike how this area of Poncey-Highland currently imagines itself, the description in the book is a conglomerate of several co-existing eras. Just as if you were standing in a Google map on the corner of Ponce de Leon and Highland, and you peeled back one partial layer after another of prior Google maps, you would never feel a “Where am I?” disorientation despite the fact you’d be standing in neighborhoods of different temperaments that have become a present cement of pre-existent fragments.

A grocery store is nearby, as in the book, but in the book’s mind the Publix squashes up a little closer with the shopping strip that is here–which has the Plaza Theater (Atlanta’s oldest continually operating cinema) and an Urban Outfitters and The Righteous Room bar and the Majestic Diner which dates from the 1920s and pairs with the cinema as being the two classic landmarks on this stretch of road.

There was never a black dog to appear out of nowhere and run into the road. There was never a Johnnie Jackson with a vintage Thunderbird ride to collide with the never was Odile McDonald, so there was never a wreck. And yet the not-a-wreck happened here of all the many crossroads or near-crossroads in Atlanta. Why will be covered in the next installment, or maybe the one after that (I like to keep my options open) but in all likelihood the why has to do with Odile’s UFO.

In the Name of Research I Visit the International UFO Museum, Part 3

[highlight highlight_type=”italic” color=”yellow”]Part three in a series of posts on subjects found in the book Thunderbird and the Ball of Twine. For part two click here.

We are still in Roswell, New Mexico, at the International UFO Museum and Research Center, at 114 Main Street, but now we are no longer loitering on the sidewalk and have made it into the lobby

You know how it is when you are going some place new and far away and you kind of try to picture in your head what that place will look like and at the same time you don’t so you’ve multiple sometimes wildly diverse variations on a theme that morph and meld and reconfigure themselves? Or maybe that place is so unimaginable that its physical world synonym is the distant cloud traveling with you down a boring stretch of interstate, a cloud which is so blankly without distinguishing features that it is nothing but “distant cloud”?

International UFO Museum lobby
International UFO Museum and Research Center Lobby, 2008

Continue reading In the Name of Research I Visit the International UFO Museum, Part 3

In the Name of Research I Visit the International UFO Museum, Part 2

[highlight highlight_type=”italic” color=”yellow”]Part two in a series of posts on subjects found in the book Thunderbird and the Ball of Twine. For part one click here.

We are back in Roswell, New Mexico, at the International UFO Museum and Research Center, at 114 Main Street, which used to look like this in 1988.

Plains  Roswell NM  1988  1-2 *

The above is not my photo. The picture is one from Don Lewis’ Flickr photostream of Vanishing Movie Theaters. The museum was originally a movie theater, the Plains. It opened in 1947, the very same year of the supposed Roswell crash, and closed in the 70s. In 1947, that theater’s seats were filled with people whose heads would have been buzzing about the supposed UFO debris that was bringing their community so much notoriety. From the 1988 photo, that downtown Roswell had fallen on hard times isn’t unreasonable to assume. The derelict theater, two of its marquees advertising paint rather than movies, is a ragged, sad reminder of Hollywood’s monopolizing Golden Age, and the surrounding establishments look none too happy vacantly reflecting on what the 1980s hath wrought.

International UFO Museum and Research Center

Then, in 1990, Walter Haut and Glenn Dennis dreamed up the UFO museum, three years after the publication of Whitley Strieber’s wildly successful “visitors” book, Communion, both the hardcover and paperback editions of which were number 1 on the New York Times Best Seller list.

In 1989, Strieber’s Majestic, about the Roswell incident, was published. Had Walter Haut and Glenn Dennis not conceived of the idea of a UFO museum in 1990, we should all wonder why not. Majestic, in combination with the proof books about alien visitations could be best-sellers, was tantamount to an Otherworldly Virgin riding in on a cloud over the desert, wafting rose incense down upon Roswell (presumably mixed with ethereal oils), and saying, “Here is where you shall construct my cathedral. Build it, and they will come.” One can be thankful that a museum was the result and that the seats of the theater were removed, rather than having kneeling benches added and missals composed of extracts from Communion. But I imagine Strieber wouldn’t have been too thrilled had they called him to officiate over the wine and wafer at the Plains’ next incarnation.

But who are Walter Haut and Glenn Dennis, in case you don’t know?

Continue reading In the Name of Research I Visit the International UFO Museum, Part 2

In the Name of Research I Visit the International UFO Museum, Part 1

[highlight highlight_type=”italic” color=”yellow”]Part One in a series of posts on subjects found in the book Thunderbird and the Ball of Twine.

In Which I Explore the International UFO Museum and Research Center at Roswell, New Mexico

To where would Odile McDonald have made a point of making a pilgrimage after having seen a UFO?


Okay, well, maybe not exactly a pilgrimage, but perhaps on a kind of must-stop-by lark. Especially if she was in the area. Somewhere within, five hundred miles, maybe seven-fifty on the outside. Let’s say she was driving through Kansas on her way to Cottonwood, Arizona. Why skip Roswell when it’s so conveniently on the way? (If you believe Roswell is conveniently between Kansas and Cottonwood, Arizona then you need to make a trip to Google Maps and do a destination search.) Not that she would have known anything about Roswell and the UFO that supposedly crashed there in the summer of 1947 (at least, not anything more than what a quick visit to Wikipedia might tell her), and not that she would even believe in a physical UFO crashing at Roswell and some surviving aliens being captured by the army and then not surviving and being autopsied. Having concocted Odile as a character for Thunderbird and the Ball of Twine, I can tell you for a fact she would be a skeptic. But I figured this would be just the kind of joy ride into shady mythologized territory that Odile might take and, as I had just begun writing Thunderbird, and, as I was on my way from Kansas to Cottonwood, I made the point of fitting in a visit to Roswell to see what there was to be seen at the International UFO Museum and Research Center.

In fact, I ended up visiting twice, two years apart. Because I’d had a really good meal in Roswell the first time. Well, I’d had a really good meal the day after I’d gotten sick after eating at a steak restaurant that had been recommended by the desk clerk at the hotel. Maybe I became sick because I rarely ate steak. All I know is for sake of Thunderbird and Odile, I went to Roswell, was hungry when I got there, asked where was a decent place to eat, was directed to a steak restaurant that was very packed-full-of-people-busy, had a not very good meal that was still okay to me as I was that hungry after a long several days of driving, went back to the hotel and a couple of hours later was really sick. Or maybe it was the fault of some food I’d eaten even earlier in the day, or the day before. Let’s get off this subject, shall we? Not a good memory.

So, I went to Roswell twice, because of the good meal. And because I wanted some more pics of the International UFO Museum and Research Center (I’ll be using pics from both trips in this series of posts), and because I had just visited The Very Large Array and Roswell lined up nicely on the map as a convenient intermission on my way back east. And if you believe that then you again need to consult Google Maps and see how I had to take little not-interstate 380 through a state’s worth of desert, which was okay as somewhere between Socorro and Roswell I would find myself in the area of the Trinity Atomic Test Site–which has nothing at all to do with Thunderbird and the Ball of Twine but with my having grown up at plutoniumville, USA (aka, Richland, Washington) and my not liking nukes which is of course a reason to visit Trinity and stand a moment and meditate on what was to follow.

I had visited The Very Large Array radio astronomy observatory because of the WOW! signal that is part of the plot in Thunderbird. The WOW! signal wasn’t picked up at The Very Large Array. It was detected at Big Ear in Ohio instead, but Big Ear was demolished in 1997. Attempts were made, in 1996-1997, to pick up WOW! at The Very Large Array. So, there I went. To see for myself those great big dishes directed at space.

Getting good pictures of the exterior of the museum presented some difficulty while I was there (even more while I’m not). The museum is in what looks like a former movie theater, and the facade should have made for some interesting shots. Traffic parked in front of the museum and that facade being cramped by street lamps and trees (yes, I like trees, I’m a tree hugger, I’m not suggesting the trees be cut down, I’m not wishing they die) made problematic getting good shots of the museum’s exterior, no matter my angle and whether I was to the right of it…

Continue reading In the Name of Research I Visit the International UFO Museum, Part 1

Thunderbird and the Ball of Twine, a Folk Tale

To read a question and answer FAQ on the book, follow this link to the Thunderbird and the Ball of Twine page.


Thunderbird and the Ball of Twine (A Folk Tale) takes up, in the enigmatic mechanics of the universe department, where Unending Wonders of a Subatomic World (and) The Search for the Great Penguin leaves off. Different characters, different situation, same author. I write what I know, and what I know is…strange. Odile McDonald sees a UFO moments before Johnnie Jackson, in his wonderful golden Thunderbird, trashes her little Kia. The UFO is the pearl of light nexus from which the rest of the story, leading up to then speeding beyond, radiates. Well, speeding beyond as best as one can in two cars that are totaled. You’ve probably never seen Fantastic Voyage, but think of the UFO as Glenda the Good Witch meeting Odile and Johnnie in the middle of a tornado and sending them to the Witch of the West for the slippers that will get them back home, which necessitates Johnnie and Odile being shrunk down, like Raquel Welch and that submarine of hers were shrunk down in Fantastic Voyage, and injected into their very own brains. That’s an analogy. But it’s just…like…that.

Or it’s like this:

Into every life a seeming nemesis must creep, if one is to have an opportunity to evolve or dissolve, whichever way the narrative blows, and on the shore of his consensual reality world, spyglass to eye, Johnnie Jackson had watched and waited for the dot of a black flag ship to appear on the horizon, the telltale flotsam and jetsam of its existence having already swamped his beach. Then his golden Thunderbird collided with Odile McDonald, who had just been sideswiped by a UFO. Insurance information exchanged, down that dark alley between respectable, upright science and sly, illegitimate synchronicity, they each turned and limped away. What does it mean when your horoscope says your life is over? A comedic philosophical quest and serious inquiry into the fool’s journey, Thunderbird and the Ball of Twine, a Folk Tale explores the fragility of our conclusions on being and consciousness when based upon the fragmentary sharing of experience and elusive, illusive perspective constrained by the regulating thermostat of cultural expectations.

The paperback version is on sale at Lulu. It will eventually be also at outlets like Amazon, but it’s cheaper at Lulu.

Thunderbird and the Ball of Twine (a Folk Tale) is also available as a Kindle ebook at Amazon.

I’ve done my best to make the Kindle ebook an attractive reading experience, but the cover on the paperback edition looks awesome and the interior is nicely formatted–a lot of thought went into it–and is going to make for a more aesthetically pleasing read than the Kindle version.

I invite you to please purchase and post a review. The table of contents and a short selection from the book can be viewed below and at Lulu. For some reason the cover looks horrible in the Preview mode at the link, when in physical reality it is gorgeous.

POST A REVIEW!!!! THUNDERBIRD wants your reviews. Post at both Amazon and Lulu.

(Originally posted August 19, 2011. Reposted to push its position in the slideshow.)

Unending Wonders of a Subatomic World (or) In Search of the Great Penguin

In those days, there was a penguin in the desert…

To read a question and answer FAQ on the book and learn a lot more on it (and see videos), visit the Unending Wonders page. There are excerpts there as well. Click here to purchase.

UNENDING WONDERS OF A SUBATOMIC WORLD is an angst-ridden, slap-happy, run if you can’t leave ’em laughing inquiry on the enigmas of mad coincidence and improbable meanings that spin off the Great Wheel as it bumps along toward whatever end has captured its fancy. And while along for the ride, let’s at least have what fun we can before one is rolled over and under, though how and when that may happen is relatively illusory as there is no up or down absolutely.

Via outrageously hilarious characters and situations, “Unending Wonders of a Subatomic World or In Search of the Great Penguin” takes the reader on a journey into a magical and sometimes alarming level of reality where all is truly connected and no one, nothing, is inconsequential, not even the most seeming minor character. Historical exposition, social commentary, and psychological and spiritual reflection enrich and illuminate the free flowing complexity of the basic plot line which includes the search for the great penguin, a struggling touring band, and a woman fleeing her impending wedding with all the wedding gifts. “Unending Wonders of a Subatomic World or In Search of the Great Penguin” is not a novel to skim lightly. It is an experience that may change the way you view the universe.[clear]

She was Our Mother, so she cried

My sinuses are exploding, I’m fuzzed with heavy duty Benadryl but can’t sleep, can’t think to do anything marginally useful or productive, and so here I am ready to talk about George Alec Effinger’s “What Entropy Means to Me”. Jennifer at Saying Yes picked it up as I’d good things to say about it and because it features giant people-terrorizing vegetables.

No, I’m actually up to read it again. I just read the first chapter. It’s been at least 15 years since I last read this book, maybe longer. I was probably 17 when I first read it. And I still love it.

She was Our Mother, so she cried. She used to sit out there, under that micha tree, all day as we worked cursing in her field. She sat there during the freezing nights, and we pretended that we could see her through the windows in the house, by the light of the moons and the hard, fast stars. She sat there before most of us were born; she sat there until she died. And all that time she shed her tears. She was Our Mother, so she cried.

She cried from our yard, and the chairs that had been put there. We had many chairs on the scrubby lawn between the house and the chata fields. Some of the other estates have iron and stone statues placed around, but none of them have chairs. We have quite a few. Our Mother taught us that she got the idea from reading one of the plays that Our Father brought with him from Earth. We still have many of those books. Sometimes we thrown them into the River when it looks like it might flood. But we still have most of them.

How can you not love a book that begins like that?

The small ways in which art imitates life – Sightseeing “Unending Wonders”

Fireworks Emporium, Tennessee
Fireworks Emporium, Tennessee

Fireworks Emporium, Tennessee - Google Maps Redux
Fireworks Emporium Revisited, Tennessee – Google Maps Redux

The thrill and explosive, thunderous pizazz of colorful fireworks, which we Americans so closely associate with the clarion call of freedom and the 4th of July, but instead of a celebration of peace were probably more intended to recall and celebrate the “rockets red glare, the bombs bursting in air” of war. The first fireworks display I remember as a child was a 4th of July celebration in Seattle, the lights mirrored by the water beside which the show took place. My family considered fireworks to be dangerous and best overseen by professionals, perhaps partly due a great-grandfather of mine having lost an eye as a child to a fireworks accident (I never heard the whole story, only that it had happened and that he would baffle, amuse and frighten children by taking out his glass eye, this man who didn’t sound very funny but instead was a rather severe seeming patriarch). We only ever tried out sparklers a couple of times and I disliked them. The little beauty and excitement they provided wasn’t enough to make up for the smell and the undependable froth of sparks biting my hand. As soon as a sparkler was placed in my fingers I wanted to get rid of it. When I later met people for whom these state-line fireworks emporiums existed, who would stuff bags of them into their cars and carry them back to their homes, where they were illegal, I didn’t get it. To me, they were just an accident waiting to happen. What was the great thrill in the boom and the bang?

That eye of my great-grandfather, the glass one he would scoop out and with which he would terrorize children, I used to wonder what happened to it. Was he buried with that eye in its partner socket? Did someone in the family keep it as a reminder, and if so then to whom did it now belong? What color was its iris, blue or brown or hazel?

It seemed to me, writing Unending Wonders of a Subatomic World, that the novelty of a personal fireworks display was the kind of foundling, initiatory adventure Faith and Chance must have, celebrating their new freedom, escaping their lives and Georgia. I based the emporium on this one. Where nothing happened when Marty and I stopped at it once for gas. We had no adventure. But we stopped there because I knew that, eventually, Faith and Chance, hunting the Great Penguin, would stop there as well. But just because they would set off fireworks didn’t mean that I had to do so. My great-grandfather had lost his stereo vision because of fireworks, and that seemed like the kind of genetic history lesson that one minds. A kind of oracle. “Descendants. Do not tempt fate by doing as I did.” And I’m not into risking digits either.

Risk. I felt there was an element of risk basing a story around two young women running off to look for something as preposterous as a Great Penguin. Or at least that seeming the stapled on, purported goal of one of them. I didn’t worry about the scheme of the wanderers and their road trip being too hackneyed. I knew it wasn’t. That my story and the writing of it was original. But I was concerned that in a first blush brief scenario of a few sentences, it might appear hackneyed. “Two women undertake a road trip…”

“Oh, a road trip.”

“Yes, a road trip.”