...Cool...folks, our short story "Active Duty" is reprinted on the Pinoy (Philippine) site: Kwentong Malibog...

Feb 10, 2017

Florence (4) --- Find a caption

So, on Wednesday, we happen upon Giotto's tower next to the Duomo, a 114 meter erection built with the prescient eye of a genius who foresaw the needs of modern adventure tourism, in particular re the ultimate experience of climbing the five hundred and forty nine steps leading to the top where visitors can enjoy a refreshing summer breeze or the high, stale winter winds of February 9, 2017.

Tickets had not yet been invented when Michael first visited Florence, so he just went there and counted the steps and enjoyed the breeze. Now we have a army vehicle painted in fatigues parked next to the entrance, and you need a ticket which is very expensive but also avails access to other Duomo venues, in particular the Cupola where you have to make a reservation---the only venue that requires one, meaning that said Cupola is much better than the museum where you don't need a reservation, not to mention the cathedral proper where you don't even need a ticket (you do need a ticket for the toilet, though, see previous post).

Arriving at the top, we realize that the Cupola features a visitor's platform as well, located a few meters higher than ours, vertically speaking. 

So we make a reservation for the next day (1049 places left), for 13:30 (1:30 PM), the first time slot available.

We arrive too early on Thursday and have to kill time in the Yellow Bar with a bottle of Prosecco. 

And then we (a) have to make it through an intricate vetting procedure reservation-wise, (b) get lost in the cathedral proper, (c) are redirected by a guard to the stair case leading up to the cupola platform, (d) and are told it's only five thousand six hundred forty nine steps, "un numero con implicazioni numerologiche." There are some intermediate platforms, and this is the first we hit: 

There are more complications, including the narrow gallery at the base of the Cupola proper, ca. 6 inches wide, which you have to negotiate with a view on oncoming traffic (regardless how you do it, there's a lot of intimate touching, and the Japanese girls blush on contact). (The boys blush, too.)

Anyhow, the stairs continue:

And there we are, with a view on Giotto's tower. Find a caption:

"I hate the Pope." 

Feb 9, 2017

Florence (3)

In his book about Florence, David Leavitt talks about Cibreo,

"one of the most famous restaurants in town [which] is divided into two parts, an expensive ristorante and a less-expensive trattoria, where you get the same food at half the price. At the trattoria, however, you have to sit on chairs that challenge the sturdiest back, crowd with strangers at tiny tables,..The food is authentically, one might even say rigorously, Tuscan. Pasta is never served...

When we arrive for lunch at 1PM, the place is empty, save for two disoriented Japanese. The waiter sits down next to us to explain the specials. We have stuffed rabbit, green salad, potatoes, and orange cheese cake, which is served with a cheerful "ecco qua," (there it is, we learn). We also learn the difference between buono ("good"), and bene ("fine"). Gradually, the place fills up. The wine was a reasonable Chardonnay from Alto Adige ("Südtirol"). 

Florence (2)

To climb Giotto's tower (here's a view from the top)...

...you need a ticket (15 €) which you can buy at a ticket office. It's worth it...

Yes, this is a view of the Ticket Office's bathroom.

Feb 8, 2017

Florence (1)

We decided to go to Florence for a few days and so we swang by Portofino, on the Cinque Terre peninsula, to the east of Genua. Nothing special happened, and there's nothing to trigger (yet) another fragment from This is Heaven. Enjoy.

Feb 2, 2017

No need for a caption

(Our friend Glenn sends this:)

Donald Trump, seriously

(Trump Jump, Twitler, immigrant, kakistocracy, Donald Lump, trumpcare, Trump Treatment, Tyrannosaurus rump, alternative facts, Hot Donald, Trumps Razor, small hands:  The Urban Dictionary, our favorite linguistic cyclopedia, has dropped its habitual preoccupation with matters autoerotic and gone full Trump Dump since the Machtsübernahme, and so our friend Glenn wants to know what we think about the new president. Glenn's particularly interested in answers regarding Trump's intelligence:)

Trump is intelligent, at least technically. He can think on his feet, he's wily, sly, cunning, and has been successful for more than forty years in a difficult business---not as successful as he claims, but he's survived four or six bankruptcies, several trophy wives, and a grueling election campaign---you can't do this without substantial raw intelligence. There are NYT reports regarding his deal making, which emphasize that his negotiation skills really shine when we get into the fine print (the annotations of complex real-estate contracts)---meaning that even his attention span is substantial when he's into a "deal." And then there is corroborating evidence about his work as developer---a developer obsessed with details, we read. So yes, he's clever.

Which doesn't mean he's Socrates. He's not an intellectual, let alone a thinker. He won't take time to think unless it's urgent business. He's a results man---or business man---in the worst conceivable sense. And he's extremely narcissistic---no need to elaborate, just one more anecdote (we quote the Washington Post):

Jan 26, 2017

"Why is it that I don't feel like a billionaire?" --- This is heaven --- teaser (updated)

We didn't plan this, really we didn't, but this picture, taken during the inaugurational lunch in Washington last Friday (this is roughly one hour after he was sworn in as the new president)...

...this picture is a yuuge pretext to nerve you with yet another fragment from This Is Heaven, a fragment written last month. We're in the final chapters, the whole party of lead characters (Alex, John, Juliette, Ben, Maurice) are on their way to an overcooked happy ending of multiple courses---damn those mixed metaphors---and John & Alex have just learned that, in all likelihood, they'll soon be billionaires, and so Chapter 51 starts (John speaking (and driving)) (hold on, one more thing; if you scroll down, you'll see we're not the only ones to appreciate this picture) (so now:)   

“Why is it that I don’t feel like a billionaire,” I say. 
“You possibly do,” Alex says. “Most billionaires feel like shit.”
“How do you know I feel like shit?”
“The way you look, and the way you dart into the rearview mirror.” 
“Yes,” I say, “I feel like shit.”
“You know why?”
“Yes, Alex.”
“Many reasons. Mostly two. Reasons. If I tell, you’ll use them against me.”
“That would be a third reason then.”
“Stop it, Alex.”
“And a fourth reason would be that you think I have schemes on Juliette.”
“Why would I?”
“By dint of the mirror. It’s canted by more than 25 degrees and can no longer serve its purpose of providing traffic awareness, especially on a narrow road like this when somebody from behind flashes the headlights.”

I adjust the mirror, and indeed, a pickup truck in the war paint of the Confederate flag hangs behind us. Now he blows the horn. I slow down, pull to the right, and he rumbles past. We exchange glances—-and stare into the eyes of a slim black youth on the passenger seat.


Romeo is of course the next course of this happy meal.

Are you still there? Then you'll possibly like the GREEN EYES. The first part is out now, available as Kindle book on Amazon, under this link:

Night Owl Reviews

Find a caption

(Hat tip: Michael Brown)

Jan 23, 2017

"He's not just a horrible guy. He's also the caricature of a horrible guy."---Anonymous

Jan 21, 2017

Trump's razor

In yet another vain attempt at self-promotion we have to---we simply HAVE TO react to Urban Dictionary's word of the day, Trump's Razor. 

Because. Yes, because (a) the Urban Dictionary plays an important role in the GREEN EYES, and there are also cameo appearances of (b) Occam's Razor, and even (c) of Trump himself. 

(Ad a) We have Raffael Beeblebrox, a senior editor of the Urban Dictionary showing up in CH. 5 of This Is Heaven and discussing John's neologisms (e.g., "i-Thing," and "adult parts.") Later, in CH. 47, we'll rerun this discussion on John's latest neo-finds (e.g., "out-plussed," and "cloud fart.") But...the best invocation of the Dictionary happens in CH. 23; Alex has returned to his apartment for the first time after his suicide attempt last week: 

The chaos of Thursday’s rescue panic is still in place, Ray and me dragging Alex’s OD’d body through the lack of space of this tiny apartment, low knee walls below the sloped ceilings, all chairs (two) fallen over, a coffee table (yard sale) fallen over, a small couch (yard sale) at an odd angle, a couch table (displaced), a helpless mini-rug (dog-eared), shards of a broken coffee mug spread across the rough-hewn floor. I collect a few pieces and arrange them side by side on the kitchen counter top. It’s merchandise spin off from the Urban Dictionary, saying SUCKING STREAK. There’s also a definition of the term, presumably, still spread across the floor, and perhaps not really needed.

Jan 18, 2017

"Donald Trump is an eclipse baby" --- write a novel, see the world

Michael Ampersant's This is Heaven is set in 2014, but we found a way to smuggle Trump into the plot in a minor way, by dint of the fact that Professor Bienpensant is affiliated with the University of Metaphysics (an outfit that really exists, at least on the internet), and so we can rely on the Department of Astrology of said institution of learning. Here, very short, John and Bienpensant discussing how one can predict the End of the World more than once:  

“You and I talked about this before,” I [John] say. “What do you do if your prediction is wrong? If there is no Armageddon?” Well, there’s so much Armageddon everywhere already. And there’ll be more soon, her Department of Astrology put out a Trump warning. (“A what?”) Trump, you know, the NYC real estate mogul, the stars have aligned apparently, he’ll be the next president. And yet, you know, the end of the world need not be the end of the world, even with Trump in the offing, see, it could be rapture, rapture for just about everybody, an ecumenical ride from this world to the next. One moment we’re here in this vale of sorrows, and the next we are up there in heaven. This is heaven—-like Alex says, that’s what she loves so much about Alex. But people are so edgy these days, they don’t take yes for an answer. And so impatient, the people. They always require distractions...

Write a novel, see the world. So we went on the internet to see what astrologers had to say about Trump, and here are a few fragments from the press about a conference of astrologers taking place in California in early October 2016  (without further comments:)

Instead of Gallup or Ipsos, the astrologers are poring over zodiac charts, which signal, among other things, a “potentially explosive” October surprise that could shape the result.
Imsiragic and eight colleagues gave some teasers at a press conference about the climax and aftermath of the wildest election campaign in memory. Their advice: buckle up.
“The US election occurs when the sun is travelling in the Via Combusta, the fiery way,” said Shelley Ackerman. A period which also includes Halloween and Hillary Clinton’s birthday, she noted. “It could be something that is unexpected, very powerful and upsetting to a lot of people. That patch of the zodiac is literally when the shit hits the fan.”

Jan 16, 2017

The Bzzfrzzakitamot period

Future archaeologists from Titan and other parts of the galaxy will call our epoch the Bzzfrzzakitamot period ("bizarre blond comb-over period") for its excessive depictions of always the same blond comb-overed male embedded in electronic artifacts, mainly in satirical contexts.

Jan 9, 2017

Going back home

Brigg station, waiting for the shuttle to take us through
the Simplon tunnel (pass was closed)
Arriving in the Valle Antrona on the Italian side

(pictures by Chang)

Jan 8, 2017

Reincanation --- This is heaven --- Teaser (20)

The first draft of This Is Heaven is finished now. We have to accelerate a bit, otherwise we're not done posting teasers before the book comes out. So, here, teaser no. 20. Alex is going to change tack John-wise (Alex is amnesic, remember?). Hold your breath:

“I was a paramedic, right?” Alex says as I’m driving us up the ramp behind the condo to get on Route One.
“Paramedics earn money.”
“Enough to own a car.”
“You have an idea where it would be, my car?”
“It was at your place last time I saw it.”
“Which was…?”
“Yes,” I say.
“I mean, would be easier if you don’t have to chauffeur me around all the time.”
“The idea was that you shouldn’t go back to your place for a while. That’s what the psychologist said.”
“What her replacement read from a brochure.”
“Her replacement.”
“Okay. I’ll pick up the car, is all. Where do I live?”

We change directions. His place is two minutes up Landing Road from the Memorial. The neighborhood hasn’t changed much since Thursday night. It is still on the wrong side of the hospital (Georgia Beach lost its railway connection long ago)---semi-detached structures from the 80’s mostly, semi-run down, and a dog that never sleeps; not much greenery, patchy, sun-burnt lawns, few trees.
Alex’s place is a standalone Dutch revival, small. “This is where I live?” he asks.
“The attic.”
“Right. And the car?”
I point at the white Toyota Prius on the driveway. “Cool,” he says, “Saving energy. Good to know.” He taps on the dashboard of my truck, then pats his shorts and produces a key ring without car key. “I got this from Alice. The house keys, I guess. The car key will be inside, somewhere.”

So we climb the stairs. It’s sizzling outside already but inside under the roof it’s getting worse. Alex fumbles with the keys. He turns the key, the door gives way and we’re hit by a wall of dense, putrid air.
“Smell it?” he asks and steps into his apartment. “Q-E-D, this is heaven. My body still lying---where did you find me?”
“In the bathroom.”
“Where’s the bathroom?”

Yes, I really do this, I walk us the fifteen feet to the bathroom. There’s the body of a mouse decomposing in the spot where I found Alex on Thursday night.

Jan 2, 2017

Dec 28, 2016

The Algorithm, the algorithm --- whatever you make of this

The GREEN EYES are listed on Inkitt, an AI-agent and publisher---"AI" here in the sense of artificial intelligence, the computer science discipline we taught the last ten years of our previous life, and "agent" in the sense of literary agent. Yes.

And they've just sent us an email. You don't have to read this, but just in case:

"Ding, ding, ding, we have a winner!

Congrats! Your novel  [the GREEN EYES in our case] is in the top 10% of novels in the Genre Preliminaries and has been awarded a spot in The Final Round. Your work will now join the best performing novels from the other genres in a face-off for the $1000 Grand Prize. The Final Round is an exclusive, invite only, closed contest.
Announce the big news to your fans, and keep sharing your knockout novel if you want to be top dog! The winner will be selected by the Inkitt algorithm based on level of reader engagement so you will need to win over as many members of the crowd as possible. Call in your hypemen and round up your groupies to help you spread the word about your latest win and find new support to secure your title as Champion. 
Best of luck!
Your Inkitt Team"

Think this through. They have an algorithm---if you scroll down, you'll find a fragment of ours, written weeks ago, involving algorithms, but don't scroll down yet---an algorithm that's supposed to pick winners on the basis of readers' reading behavior. And the next thing is, they ask their authors to work around the algorithm and mobilize their "fans," no matter what. Best of luck. (For more bickering, scroll down-down.)

And here's the fragment---hold on, let's start a little competition of our own: who's the biggest fool in This Is Heaven? The mayor, Bienpensant, John himself perhaps? No---it's Inspector Mario LaStrada of course, the detective (who's still missing from or Green Eyes zoo, inexcusably---it's difficult, if you walk down an Italian street, half of the males look like Strada, but on the internet, none of them does). Here goes, from Chapter 41, "The Game Is up"---John's fourth and last encounter with the inspector (the "creative writing class" is bonus, we didn't plan this): 

LaStrada must have found time taking a class in creative writing since he says: “Did you bring the handcuffs that you were wearing so convincingly on, on…”

(We are making eye contact.)

“…Tuesday,” I help out.
“Well-put,” he replies, “Tuesday night.”
“You didn’t ask me to bring them,” I say.
“You should keep them handy. It appears that the long arm of the law is not yet done with you.”

Dec 27, 2016

Menton, yesterday

Photography by Chang

We went to "celebrate" the first draft of This Is Heaven, on Dec. 25, and drove by Menton---the town between Monaco and the Italian border. This was on the way to Sospel, an ancient town nearby up in the mountains---stay tuned.

Dec 26, 2016

"Death penalty for John and me?" --- This is heaven --- teaser

We're done now with the first raft of This Is Heaven, and it ends with an Ampersant-style HEA, completely over the top, various plot lines all leading up to total bliss.

In the penultimate chapter, Alex---who's amnesic and can't remember his sexual preferences---proposes to John, and when Dr. Martin Luther Fletcher, Ben's father and the presumed MC of this, objects on religious grounds---well, you'll see (very short):

Well---he’s sorry, Dr. Fletcher tells us, but he can’t unite two men in holy matrimony. The Bible doesn’t allow it, and he’s a Christian and so on.

“The Bible says very little about homosexuality,” Alex replies. “There are very few direct references to it, and the strongest and least ambiguous ones, in Leviticus, where it’s qualified as an abomination”---he hones in on Ben’s father---“the same source, Leviticus, also forbids wearing mixed fabrics together, or trimming one’s beard, cutting your hair at the sides, planting different seeds in the same fields, and so on. Stuff we do on a daily basis and nobody complains.”

“But the penalty against homosexuality is particularly severe, namely death,” replies Dr. Fletcher.
“And you agree, Doctor? Death penalty for John and me?”
“Don’t be silly. No, of course not.”
“What should it be then, the penalty? We still penalize murder, and theft, and rape. And you agree, I guess?”

Dr. Fletcher's gasping for air.

“If you don’t want to penalize it, what’s wrong with it? It wouldn't be a sin, or would it?”

“But, Alex, you don’t even know whether you’re gay,” I say. “You want to enter a gay marriage and you don’t know whether you’re gay?”

“How would I know all this, John? I’m not a bible thumper. I’m not religious at all, I believe. So, if I do know this, why should I know this? The only plausible reason is, I researched this in my former life. And the only plausible reason for doing so, doing this research, is: I’m gay. Speak first, think later.”

He peers at Gracelyn who---who seems to have some iron in the fire---because---as much as she likes Alex, or John, she’d rather have her son (Ben) making a few more high-strung Valkyries very happy---even if they pay for it---than to have him end up in John’s or Alex’s arms.

“Martin Luther,” she says (that was/is Dr. Fletcher’s Christian name). She takes my hand, then Alex’s, and joins them. “I’ll be the witness.”

Are you still there? Then you'll possibly like the GREEN EYES the Lambda Literary Award novel. It's out now, available as Kindle book on Amazon, under this link:

Night Owl Reviews

Dec 21, 2016

The headless horseman --- This is heaven --- teaser (19)

Alex and John are meeting Godehart in the Blue Moon to commiserate about the German's ouster from the festival contest. One paragraph into this Inspector LaStrada will make his appearance, the homicide detective who is in charge of the investigation of Neill Palmer's death. And the talk about the goldfish bowl? Bit complicated to explain, have a look here.

Godehart is expecting us at a bar table where he had a few shots already. “How did it happen,” we ask. Well, he failed to get the earphone working again. And the confusion. Whether he talked to the mayor. No, the mayor had disappeared. He talked to Beeblebrox though.
“Beeblebrox was very upset, I did better than Roper, he said. I should register a protest.”
“With whom?” Alex asks.
“My guardian angel, I presume.”
And the paper work? Did they at least provide him with a copy of the paperwork? No, nothing. Hamblin is basically incommunicado. And so is the City Club. A bunch of thugs. He learned his lesson, and orders another round.

Sorry to interrupt this.

Sorry to interrupt this, real quick: (a) have you seen the movie Sleepy Hollow with Jonny Depp as inspector Crane and Christopher Walken as the headless horseman (Depp stays a bit too much in character, doesn’t he?)? The horseman is Irish folklore, there are also headless versions without horse; (b) talking hyperboles; (c) you recall inspector LaStrada. He’s entering the premises of the Blue Moon as we speak, and he looks tonight like a horseless, headless inspector who wears a fishbowl under his arm, I swear.

Dec 20, 2016

Dec 18, 2016

German for beginners

The Süddeutsche Zeitung has an article about Donald Trump vs. Nero Claudius Ceasar Augustus Germanicus, Roman Emperor from 54 to 68 AD. It figures.

Anyhow, here are a few quotes, just in case you haven't yet gotten enough of this.
Soll man den Trump Tower in New York nun geschmacklos (tasteless) nennen? Staunend (stunned) betrachtet die Welt die Kulisse, in denen der erwählte Präsident der USA seine Regierung vorbereitet: polierter Marmor, vergoldete (gilded) Flügeltüren, Kassettendecken, kanellierte Säulen, goldene Polstermöbel, schwere Teppiche, Glastische, riesige (humongous) Vasen (vases), Luxus (luxury) als Befehl zur Überwältigung.

Der Kontrast (contrast) zum Weissen (white) Haus (house) ist schlagend. Der offizielle Sitz des amerikanischen Präsidenten (president) zeigt den absichtvoll zurückhaltenden Stil eines englischen Herrenhauses nach dem Muster einer Palladio-Villa. Die amerikanische Republik (republic) hat sich an klassizistischen Mustern orientiert. Das Design (design) der Republik ist aristokratisch (aristocratic), nicht monarchisch oder höfisch. Es ist ein Stil der Tyrannis (tyranny) auch (also) ästhetisch (aesthetically) missbilligt (disapproves). 

Weisse Häuser gab es um 1800 viele in Amerika, ihre Besitzer waren wohlhabende, nüchterne und of gebildete Landwirtschaftsunternehmer (gentleman farmer) mit Tausenden Sklaven (slaves). In ihren Bibliotheken (libraries) fanden sich neben Bibeln und Gesangsbüchern auch die antiken Historiker (historians), die grelle Bilder von tyrannischen Imperatoren (emperors) und ihrer Sittenlosigkeit (debauchery) zeichneten.

Schaudend konnte man nachlesen, wie es im alten Rom (Rome) zuging. "Nirgends war der Kaiser (emperor) so verschwendisch (wasteful) wie beim Bauen. Er errichtete ein Haus das er 'Goldenes Haus' nannte. Seine Eingangshalle war so gross, das in ihr eine 120 Fuss hohe Kolossalstatue (colossal statue) von ihm selbst (himself) stehen konnte. In den übrigen Teilen was alles mit Gold (gold) überzogen und mit Edelsteinen und Muscheperlen bunt verziert. Die Speisezimmer besassen getäfelte Decken [...]. 

Der Erbauer dieser Domus Aurea war Nero (Urenkel von Kaiser Augustus), der 54 AD als Siebzehnjähriger and die Macht kam und sich nach vierzehn turbulenten Regierungsjahren umbrachte. In den Stunden seines Todes soll er geklagt haben: "Welch ein Künstler (artist)  geht in mir verloren (lost) ."Nicht das Ende seiner Regierung (government) bewegte ihn, sondern der Abbruch seiner Karriere (career) als Showstar (showstar)...

Dec 16, 2016

Another review of the GREEN EYES

"Reminiscent of Douglas Coupland, GREEN EYES is humorous, thrilling and erotic. It is the blending of genres. I like the style that this is written in. It’s quite absurd and our narrator, John, seems to be either poking fun at himself or the author Michael Ampersant (or the author poking fun at John) The tenses seem to be all over the shop and I are not sure if something is happening in John’s mind, that of the writer or in the reality of the book. I like how this flows. It is like drops of water falling on one another, joining and bursting. It’s languid. This is also a book about blogging. There are some witty and intelligent observations on this subject. It’s almost a resource for how to start a popular blog. It is brilliant how this is used in the book for criminal baiting..."

You find this on InbetweenBooks, a review blog run by Katie. Yes, Katie. Its not a new review, it's a "reprise," so it was published before, but there you have it again. We're extremely pleased, you can imagine. 

And the blog, folks, the blog Katie is talking about, that's the blog you are looking at.

Now a Lambda Literary Awards finalist:


Yesterday night

This is the moon, in case you were wondering