The Ray Bradbury MFA, Day Two


“Of Idleness” The Essays of Montaigne vol. 2 Montaigne discovers that, now more or less retired and dedicating himself to pure thought, that his new life “creates [him] so many chimaeras and fantastic monsters, one upon the other, without order or design,” that he starts writing the essays for which he is knows.


Caitlyn, the narrator of “Those Who Wait Through the Drowsy Dark” in Rachel Swirsky’s 2010 collection Through the Drowsy Dark, Aqueduct Press, might herself be driven close to madness by thoughts. The story is a riveting introduction to the collection, and to Swirsky’s rich and vivid sentences. I found her writing via the Tor website, which has some of her great stories free, including this one.


Inviting a Friend to Supper” by Ben Jonson. A vivid and cheerful poem that asks you to enjoy a evening at a pal’s, Jacobian London -style.

In a 2001 talk Ray Bradbury offered a way to fill up one’s head “a thousand nights” of reading: one poem, one essay, on story before bedtime.  I’m giving it a shot at least for awhile (although not at bedtime), and when I think of anything to say about any particular day’s lessons, I’ll post about it. Read all posts in the series here.

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The Ray Bradbury MFA, Day One

In this 2001 talk Ray Bradbury offers a way to fill up one’s head “a thousand nights” of reading: one poem, one essay, on story before bedtime. Since he often talked of spending one’s late teen years in the library as the equivalent of getting to university, maybe this the further regimen qualifies of as post-graduate work. I’m going to give it a shot at least for awhile (although not at bedtime), maybe a week, and if I think of anything to say about any particular day’s lessons, I’ll post it here. I’m pulling these from books I have lying around, as well as from a big folder of free public domain ebooks on my devices courtesy of Project Gutenberg, all without any organized plan.


The Shoelace by Charles Bukowski.

From Mockingbird Wish Me Luck (1972),  reprinted in The Pleasures of the Damned (2007), which is where I’m reading it. I certainly read the original collection, but have no particular recollection of this poem. I’m already taking liberties with the course, as Bradbury clearly states we should stay away from modern poetry, which in his view is mostly shit. However, this one is melodic and lovely, as a good deal of Bukowski’s poetry is. I don’t know if Bukowski is as widely read now as he was when I was a young hipster but he might very well be–notwithstanding to 5.5 out of 10 rating this poem received on this site I’ve linked to for it. “The Shoelace”, with it litany of minor woes, really speaks to the 21st century–century of minor emergencies and unsteady income. Prices need to be adjusted for inflation, naturally, and probably “crabs” should be replaced by “bedbugs”. Otherwise, spot on.


“Mainwaring’s Gift” by Ed Gorman, in his collection  Dead Man’s Gun and Other Western Stories. This short book contains two very good stories, “Pards” and “The Face”.  I like westerns. And I like Gorman. His blog is full of great anecdotes and little vignettes from the history of publishing.


“That the Intention is Judge of Our Actions” The Essays of Montaigne vol. 2 The next essay in this volume is called “Idleness”. I have a feeling, based on this reading, that M comes down against it. I may have to pick up a copy of  Tom Hodgkinson’s book.

The Hour BBC

1347725_72659105Very much enjoyed the way the BBC drama “The Hour” began with a rich and assured history of the characters, and admiring the way the show trusts the audience to keep up. Then I realized I’d actually watched season 2 first. Oh, well. Decent show though, once you get past the fact that London in 1956 seems to have been populated with about 8 people all of whom are involved in the same international conspiracy. Though I do appreciate the attempt to dramatize the dirty reality of democratic governance: journalists, media moguls, heads of government, all cultured in the same Petri dish, swimming in the same cocktail glass every evening after work. As true now in my country, as it was then in the UK. Here it’s Yale, Harvard, the occasional Princeton grad. See you at the White House Correspondent’s Dinner.

photo credit: Nadia Meslem

Voyage To The Cloud Planet: A Science Fiction Novel

Voyage to the Cloud Planet: A Science Fiction Novel by Michael Canfield

For ambitious, passionate Kiter Io, a posting to the daring diplomatic mission organized and hosted by a mysterious race known only as The Understanders represents more than a chance to help his people become part of the new enlightenment era, it also represents a chance to make his personal mark on history. A chance to prove to himself that he possesses the skills his people value most: negotiation, determination and empathy.

But when a disaster kills the rests of his delegation—a disaster that seems no accident—Kiter faces an unknown world—host to many cultures and shrouded in mystery—on his own, finding himself forced to work alongside a new delegation, one made up of members of many different worlds, with strange and alien values. Here he must fight to preserve the goal of his original mission—to bring his people—and all the broken vestiges of a once-great civilization spanning thousands of worlds—out of the twin darknesses of ignorance and xenophobia, at last.


Barnes & Noble


Bad People eBook: Available in the Kindle Store Bad People

Product Description

After a home invasion ends with her husband’s murder, Connie imagines the worse that can happen—already has.

Besides, with a teenage son to raise alone, and an investment business to run, she can’t afford to feel sorry for herself—nor will she.

Connie knows how to survive. She always survives. She’s strong. Besides, she can lean on her best friend and business partner for support. She’s even got a new man in her life. Welcome to the new normal.

Then Connie discovers that her husband kept some dark secrets. Nor is everyone in her new world who he pretends to be. Connie must question everything she knows.

Everything except this: murder was just the beginning.

Evan Cobb, author of Perfect Likeness, Bad People, Exhibit A, and other crime and suspense novels, is the alter-ego of Michael Canfield. Under his own name he writes about monsters, superheroes, couples, babies, astronauts, paranoids, obsessives, and other people. He has published mystery, fantasy, science fiction, horror and just-plain-odd stories on fiction sites including StrangeHorizons, Spinetingler, EscapePod, Daily Science Fiction, in dead-tree magazines including Realms of Fantasy, Talebones, and Black Gate, and other places. “Super-Villains” was also republished in the prestigious Fantasy: The Year’s Best series, edited by Rich Horton (Prime Books). He divides his time between Seattle and Los Angeles, with frequent side-trips to Vegas.

#AmericanHorrorStory The biggest, most beautiful, disaster of the season.

(Note: I haven’t seen this week’s episode, so this praise is based on the first three episodes. But the Onion AV club his been slowing raising their episode ratings with each weekly review. Which means they are coming around to this, which also possibly means the death of a good thing.)

This team created Nip/Tuck, which got more and more insane each season. It just got too ridiculous to watch by the end. But since American Horror Story is starting out so confused/absurd/contradictory/stupid/derivative/histrionic I think it has to a real change to go down as one of the nuttiest show in history. It’s very bad on a structural level too: character is inconsistent, exposition is inept (that’s very common in TV, though) and plotting is laughable — except for when it’s nonexistent. Its main protagonist is unlikeable. And I don’t mean unsympathetic in some Tony-Soprano-Robbie-Coltrane-in-Cracker-Bryan-Cranston way. I mean awful. He’s a weaselly, pathetic coward. A Hey-I’m-you’re-Dad-but-I-need-your-approval-more-than-you-need-parenting-so-I’m-not-going-to-narc-on-you-for-smoking kind of father. His practice is doing poorly, possibly because he is the worse therapist in

L.A.  In the first episode we see him standing in front of window naked, masturbating and crying.  He’s sort of gone downhill as a mass of jelly in human form from there. A great challenge for the generally appealing actor, Dylan Mcdermott.

Handsome McDermott portrays frequently-naked, bat-wielding-weasel Ben

Jessica Lange is excellent in her role, seemingly embracing whole-heartedly the southern-gothic-drag-queen nature of her role. Connie Britton, the hot mom from Friday Night Lights, plays the hot mom here. She’s brave and smart. However, the necessities of a weekly narrative format prevent her from doing anything sensible over the next five seasons, so as compensation (and skilled compensation it is) she wears the anxiety of that tension on her face in practically every scene. The sole misfire as a character (not the actor’s fault) is the daughter — who is identical to the morose, snotty, unhappy adolescent daughter on every other show. It would be hard to send this character over the top, because every show pretty much does that already. Maybe they should do an about face on this and rip off another archetype entirely: Rory.

It’s the fiction conceit of Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace with better production values, done for reals, with other people’s money. I have no idea whether the creators are having a laugh, or are a joke. Possibly, as with their other masterpiece, the first season of Glee,  both. I like to think both. I don’t see any value in thinking otherwise, except the easy pleasure of feeling superior without effort through ironical viewings, which I am choosing to stay away from.  American Horror Story is as if someone watched every big mainstream horror movie since The Shining while having the flu, puked up all over Twin Peaks and Mulholland Drive, looked upon this result and saying, “oh, we are do doing this.” I love it.

Story: S01E04 “The Language of Monsters”

Posting this free story for a minimum of seven days — probably more, because I usually forget. This one’s a bit longer than most of the freebies I put up on the blog: 7000 words.

I once worried that the story would date quickly. Surely rendition would be long behind us before now? I was overly optimistic. The story, however, does not suffer from the same flaw.


Jason comes to my cell, sets his watch’s alarm. No more than a hour’s exposure at a time, no more than every other day.
In the hour we talk about many things: the world, politics, God—and we talk about light. At opposite corners this cell has two naked bulbs, in sockets screwed into the brick.

“I’ll see the next locale has a window—and natural exposure.”

I thank him. I haven’t felt sunlight in so long. The guards had orders to give me an hour a week here, but didn’t. I don’t trouble Jason with this; he works hard. He holds a responsible position despite his youth; he has more important concerns. Today I leave Egypt for another site anyway, so the matter loses significance.

Instead, I ask about my next assignment.

“You’re worried,” Jason says.

My previous assignment: the black-bearded Saudi, heavy browed, black eyed, yielded no intel. To date none have. I tell Jason I fear if I fail again I’ll receive no more assignments and he will no longer handle me.

“That’s irrational,” Jason waves the notion away. “We’re a team.”

“I doubt my abilities,” I tell him.

Jason frowns, wounded. “You have done everything I’ve asked. It’s on me.”

Before Jason gave me a job, I had no meaningful existence. Meaninglessness make solitude unbearable. I can’t return there. I spare Jason this, but he feels it anyway.

“Look at me,” says Jason. “This is the one. A high-value subject. A driver, from Yemen, detained in Basra. This is the break I’ve … that we’ve waited for.”

Jason checks his watch. He calls it a diver’s watch. It resists water, it shows direction, it does many useful things, and now it tells him our time together draws short. “We should pray,” he says.

Continue reading the whole story free until at least 11/01/11.

Available for purchase at Smashwords, Barnes & Noble, Amazon, Diesel, on iTunes and other sites.

Dear 1%: Stop whining, you cry babies. #OWS

If the 1% “job creator” class doesn’t like seeing people out on the street “whining” who don’t they go out an create some more jobs in the U.S.? When unemployment drops to 2% then they can complain about “slackers”. Until then, shut up, build the wealth that apparently only they, with their non-taxable income can create, and be thankful the protestors aren’t competing in the same dwindling job pool and the rest of us.

Statement of Gratitude to #OccupyWallStreet #OWS

Through the last couple weeks I’ve heard various commentators who find the protests offensive trot out the old cliches: “got a job!” “They’re just a bunch of slackers!” “They have no clear agenda!” “It’s just a bunch of aging hippies/ skateboarding slackers / what-have-you / all without real world experience or responsibilities”.  The irony of crying GET A JOB! amidst 9% unemployment is lost on these critics. (And we know that the real unemployment numbers are much higher than that; that the stats have been cooked for years to excluded the chronically unemployed, those who have had their spirits broken by winner-take-all capitalism, and have given up. They are not supposed to count. But they exist. So they count.)

I want you to know, that your critics are not fooling everybody. Sustained political protest is hard. It’s hard because many of the people hurting have too much on their plate to commit to it. They have jobs, they have families. They have crushing debts. They have health problems in a society that sees healthcare as a profit-making opportunity, and not a fundamental right like police protection of fire departments. They may hate that the corporations that cut their paychecks have the rights and privileges of “personhood” but not the accountability, but they need those paychecks.

So it falls to the young, or the fanatical, or the misfits, to begin the movement. It’s always been that way. To horribly mix a metaphor, it’s the outsiders, the people on the margins, that start the tide. Now the movement you began is starting to grow.

I won’t say don’t give up, because that would be arrogant. I will say: Keep at it as long as you can. But mostly I want to say: Thank you. You are fighting for me. You are fighting for us. The middle class, the formerly-middle-class, and the impoverished. I know this. A lot of people know this. Your passion, your desire for justice, is noted.

Spinetingler Fiction: Scaffold by Michael Canfield

Read Scaffold a crime short story, free, and only on Spinetingler. It’s a great site, I’m proud to have one of my stories appearing there, in such great company.

Scaffold Fiction by Michael Canfield

Free Story: S01E03 “Time Flies At Elsinore”

Time Flies At Elsinore: Hamlet at Forty by Michael Canfield



Time Flies At Elsinore

Thanks for coming. Wow—the big four-oh. I mean, right? Who’d have thought. So here we are: H. and H. It’s been too long, man. There’s hardly anyone cool around here to hang with. What are you looking at?

Oh this.

Every year I write down my goals and put them up in an envelope—yes, this envelope—seal with wax, and stamp the seal with my princely signet. The following year I pour out a goblet of the best red, open up the envelope, and see how well I’ve done. Then, before retiring, I write a new list for the coming year. It’s my birthday tradition.

What’s that? Open it? Well of course I’m going to open it—though not yet. Are you in so large a hurry? Have you got another best friend’s birthday party to go to?

Oh, all right, all right, don’t apologize, I’m only kidding. Christ, it’s good to see you, Horatio. You look good. You look as good as a skull can look, I mean. Who’d have thought I would outlive you! I always supposed you’d be standing over me one day, bidding flights of angels sing me to my rest!

Hey, you know what this reminds me of? The time you and I found old Yorick’s skull in the graveyard, alas. You remember poor Yorick, the king, my father’s, jester? He’d borne me on his back a hundred—Oh, I’ve told you this one? All right, all right, I do tend to soliloquize; what is this, like my seventh? No, my seventh glass of wine, not my seventh soliloquy, smarty, and if I am going on a bit, cut me some slack, you’re not holding up your end of the conversation.

Soft! What was that! Listen, Horatio! That thumping! There it goes again!

Never mind. I know what it is: merely a knock within. Relax Horry; there hasn’t been a ghost around here in a decade. My Mom is pounding at this chamber door. She is throwing me a birthday supper, and I’m late. The meat is probably cold, but they can serve it for brunch tomorrow. We like leftovers, here. It’ll be fine. Let’s have another drop.

This vintage well-suits me.

So what’s up with you, Horatio? Seeing anyone?

No, I guess the dead don’t date. Well, it’s not much better being alive, I tell you. It’s impossible to divine what women want. I mean, am I the crazy one? I suppose it’s relative, as they say at university.

What? Who? Of course I haven’t seen gentle Guildenstern; no, nor gentle Rosencrantz neither; have you forgotten Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are dead? Surely, you remember the letter and the pirates and sailing to England and so forth? These ring no bell? Well it did get a little complicated there for awhile and much occurred offstage—so to speak.

No, what I mean is all the world’s a kind of stage …

Oh? Too far off book for your taste, Horry? As you like it; let us turn to my envelope now, while the room still but lightly spins.

I’ll just shove you closer to the candle so you can read along. All right, here we go. Break the wax, remove the paper, unfold, and reveal what lies ….

Ah, right. Six goals. We will take them in reverse order.


Lose twenty pounds.

I think I gained twenty. I’m so fat, Horatio. I hate it. You get to a point where wearing black doesn’t fool anybody and just becomes sad.


Start fencing again.

Well, that would have helped with the waistline, but I never got ‘round to it, either. Though if one’s too fat to fence, no one can prick you with a toison pip—a poison tip, I mean— try saying that five times fast after your seventh goblet. Okay, naught for two.

What next?

Four. Return to Wittenberg, finish degree. Shit.

Well, I mean, what is a degree but a piece of wood pulp?

They’re made of lambskin, you say? Nevertheless, the principle is the same. I do a lot of reading on my own; I don’t need a skin to prove anything.

Pressing on.

Three. Write, produce, and direct new play. And not another didactic little playlet aimed at an audience of one, but the full five acts this time. You know what my “Murder of Gonzago” adaptation lacked? Sympathetic characters ensuring broad appeal. Ah well, but what’s the point? You know what it’s like trying to capture an audience these days, with so many other distractions? Why even try to create? Naught for four. Next?


Fresh flowers for her grave.

Every day.

Okay, on this, I started well. Never missed a day, for at least the first two months. Things happen; life gets in the way; but I made the effort. Horatio, I tried. I’ll do better this year. I’ll do better. She deserved better from me.

Okay, that’s the list.

What’s that you say? I skipped one? I don’t think so.

Oh. Yeah.


Avenge murder of noble father, parenthesis, kill Claudius, close parenthesis.

Well. What can I say? Work in progress.

Why are you looking at me like that?

You could be more supportive, Horatio. You used to be so good at validation. Would it hurt you to rattle off a bit of verse “we have heard the chimes and midnight, master —”? Nothing like that in the hollow of your cranium?

No, I suppose it isn’t.

We can’t change our natures friend. We can’t.

Full stop.

Tell you what I’m gonna do. Seeing as the bottle’s dry ….

No, not the wine bottle, though it does seem to be so as well; I am referring to the ink bottle. Rather than procure more ink and write out a new list, I am going to carry this list over. It’s a perfectly fine list of goals. I’m going to fold it right back up, and to economize further, stuff it right back in the same envelope. Okay … a little candle wax … and there. Done and done; good as new. If I get through ­­half this by birthday next, that will be a hell of an accomplishment, a hell of job of work.

What do you mean, “Hell is another name for Hades”? I know that.

I have a good feeling Horatio; forty will be my year.

I think I’ll wander over to another part of the castle now; see if there’s any birthday cake left. Mom works hard at throwing me swell parties, and I should at least make an appearance before it gets too late; she and Step-Dad bed early this time of year. It’s been fun catching up. We should do this more often.

No, I am not just saying that.

We should make the time.

However, if I’m to be honest, chum of my youth … well, you know what they say: tempus fugit.

Time flees, Horatio. Isn’t it a tragedy?

* * * * *

Copyright © 2011 Michael Canfield

Published by Vauk House Press, July 2011

 Illustration by Joerg Beyer

Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Smashwords.

Dear Barnes & Noble: Stop making it so difficult for me to give you my money.

I don’t have a Kindle and I don’t want one. I don’t have a NOOK but might get one. I have a Kobo ereader which reads epub. The reason I didn’t buy a Kindle is I didn’t want to locking into the Amazon’s format or their store. Kobo has a store, but they don’t sell everything I want. In fact what I want right now is eighteen titles by Lawrence Block that are now on my NOOK wishlist. Eighteen books for which I would happily have already given you my money, were it not for one little snag. You don’t have a shopping bag function for ebooks.

And believe me I looked. I couldn’t quite believe this could be true — that the ONLY way I can buy ebooks in ONE. AT. A. TIME. That’s eighteen transactions. Eighteen entries on my debit card ledger, eighteen confirmation emails.


You would have already had my money by now, if you had a way for me to bundle my ebook purchases. I’ve looked for other sites, but so far I’ve only found these particular editions on Kindle and NOOK. If they were on Smashwords, Kobo, or Diesel, etc you would have lost my sale for good. I’m pretty determined to get these books so I will probably go through your laborious process to get them. But you are making me crazy, and I hope this complaint makes someone over there start to wonder how many sales you are losing from potential customer who like to binge on low-cost ebook purchases.

Best wishes,

Michael Canfield

Red Jacket: A Novel with a Superhero

Red Jacket: A Novel with a Superhero by Michael Canfield bookcover

One day you discover your gift, find yourself better than the common strain of humanity—not in some moral way, not in some fair way, or just way, and not because you earned it. Simply better equipped in one, maybe two, measurable ways. You’re smarter. You’re stronger. Or more impervious to injury. Or you can leap, or fly, or talk to birds, or breathe underwater, or run faster than sound. You wonder, you marvel, you exalt. Then, in time, you learn it doesn’t mean much. It doesn’t mean what you thought it meant, anyway. You never asked for it, it came despite your own little desires for life, your small ambitions. Those things belong to yesterday, when you thought you knew yourself. When you thought of yourself as one thing and the ability as something separate.

That stage can go on for years. Some never get passed it, but most do. You are the ability and the ability is you. You have to stop hiding then, stop seeking a cure, because to cure yourself of your power means curing yourself of yourself. You did not ask for the power, but you did not ask to be you either. No one does. The powerless don’t ask for powerlessness, nor do they deserve it—any more than we powered deserve our powers.

So you start to help. Sometimes you mess it up; some superheroes spend their whole careers, long or short, as screw-ups. Those who aren’t that bad, the marginally helpful, the tolerably heroic like me, stick around awhile.
You don’t walk away from what you can do, not in this world. Everyone has a part to play and that’s the story.

New York in the early 80’s. Tough place for a struggling young African-American
superhero like RJ (kinda strong, sorta hard to kill) to fight crime, make the
rent, and hold on to his love life. Tough enough, that is, even before the
city’s mightiest champions enter a trans-dimensional rift, answering a
call-to-arms against alien invaders. Now it’s up to Red Jacket and a handful of
other “rear guardians” to hold the world’s greatest metropolis together.

Or die trying.


Barnes and Noble


419 Memoirs & Other Strange Stories.


My first full length ebook story collection is now available:

An outcast child and a mountain shaman hold the keys to humanity’s survival. A gunfighter steps out of myth and into the twisted realities of the modern personal development movement. One weary universe collapses-and a new one rises. Voices from an all-too real future reach out to one another, desperate to connect. Hamlet celebrates his 40th birthday with an old friend and a to-do list. A television producer descends into madness. The god of sound taunts the god of sight.

Set in impossible pasts, bizarre futures, and skewed-but-recognizable versions of the present, these sixteen stories, and more, from the inimitable Michael Canfield will take you on iconoclastic voyages of the imagination you won’t soon forget.

Includes The Food Processor, Library Rules, They Get Away from You, Once Upon a Time … At the Learning Annex, A Flavor of Quark, The Last Confessions of NinjaBaby, The Whited Child, A Flavor of Quark and nine others. Plus a complete short novel: The Plastic Fruit Museum, excerpts from two forthcoming novels: Red Jacket, and Growing Up Zombie, and many other extras. Continue reading

How To Create a Quick Ebook Cover Using Pages (mac)

Many dedicated graphics programs exist, but writers without a design background find the learning curve steep. Mac users who own the word-processing program Pages already have an easy tool to make an ebook cover themselves.

First, have your art ready. Free and low cost art is available from many stock art sights. Try googling “stock photos”, “royalty free art” etc. Keep in mind that simple artwork without multiple complex elements work best for covers. Much of the art you will choose gets covered by text. Think background image.

In Pages open a document. Choose the “blank” template.

Under the File menu go to Page Setup … > Paper Size.


From the dropdown menu choose “Manage Custom Sizes.” Create a new custom size. Call it “Book Cover Ratio, set the width to 6 inches and the height to 9 inches. Leave the other fields alone and hit “Okay.” This will give you a page size the correct portions of a standard book, which will look professional when displayed on Amazon or other sites.

Drag your art or photograph onto your open document. Resize the art on the page by clicking and dragging any of the photo’s corners or edges. Use the “Lock” icon on the tool bar (or under the “Arrange” menu) to lock your art down and keep it from moving.


Under the “Insert” dropdown menu choose “Text”. This creates a box to type into. Create three text boxes: one for your title, one for your byline, and one for your cover blurb if you want one. (A cover blurb can be anything from a subtitle for the book, a teaser about the contents, or a one-phrase background on the author.) Separate boxes work best, so that you size your various text elements differently. Place the title text box near the top of your cover, and the byline text box near the bottom. Keep the blurb near your title, as seen on most professionally produced book covers. Continue reading