Haunted Orthodontic Retainer that Channels Malevolent Spirits

I have a special place in my heart for the additive value of story and the art of the scam . This is why I’m keen on Rob Walker and Joshua Glenn’s Significant Objects project – an experimental literary and anthropological mash-up that demonstrated that “the effect of narrative on any given object’s subjective value can be measured objectively.” 

The project auctioned off thrift-store objects via eBay; for item descriptions, short stories purpose-written by over 200 contributing writers, including Meg CabotWilliam GibsonBen GreenmanSheila HetiNeil LaBute,Jonathan LethemTom McCarthyLydia MilletJenny OffillBruce SterlingScarlett Thomas, and Colson Whitehead, were substituted. The objects, purchased for $1.25 apiece on average, sold for nearly $8,000.00 in total.

Okay, so that’s awesome. Now, let’s see what happens when this knowledge is applied to the dark arts – specifically witchcraft. Yes, witchcraft. A recent episode of the podcast Here Be Monsters featured an interview with “Malibu Ron,” a self-identified scam artist who Vice dubbed an “Etsy witch.” Here’s why:

Malibu makes his living selling trinkets supposedly imbued with spirits: sex demonswerewolvesmermaidsdjinnvampires, etc. They aren’t. Malibu sells his intangible beings and spells online for as little as $5 and as much as $11,000.

You can see where this is going, right? Thusly, I attempted to create my own significant, if haunted, object via the power of story.

The object in question is my brother’s old retainer. He wore it in his mid-teens and left it in a box that remained at my parent’s house when he moved out a few years later. That box traveled between storage units as our empty-nester parents decamped to smaller dwellings over the years. Finally, it became my responsibility and has infused my own private “Smithsonian Box” with a never-ending supply of weirdness since. When reunited with the retainer, my brother refused to take it, so… Now, it’s a Haunted Orthodontic Retainer that Channels Malevolent Spirits on eBay.

Of course, I couldn’t stop there. I had to create an entire business identity to give the seller account some narrative umph. Hence…

Easy-peasy logo design via Squarespace. And, yes, I now own yet another domain name.
Easy-peasy logo design via Squarespace. And, yes, I now own yet another domain name.

I also grabbed some stock art for shop…

Instant paranormal collectibles shop.
Instant paranormal collectibles shop.

Then – the fun part – I wrote a little story for the item’s eBay description, which can be read by clicking through the eBay embed below. Throughout the creative fugue state that precipitated the whole scenario, I began to think of eBay as a largely untapped publishing platform (move over Medium) and am considering integrating the Accursed Curios shop and its paranormal environs into the larger world of my one-man transmedia worldbuilding endeavor. I mean, we all need a little more magic in our lives, right?

To B-film, or not to B-film

I’m so used to seeing screenshots of Netflix fails that I assumed the attached image was one of them – Dolf Lundgren in Electric Boogaloo, the 80s breakdancing flick (which, of course, would be awesome). But it’s actually a documentary on erstwhile B-film studio Cannon Films (producers of Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo and Lundgren’s turn as He-Man in Masters of the Universe). Amiably directed by Mark Hartley, not only will Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films stoke your Gen X nostalgia for what is now vintage schlock, it might also inspire you to launch your own low-budget film studio.

I know – I have a tendency to go big and go bad at the same time, like mushroom cloud footage shoehorned into a cheap dystopian road pic, but watch the film and see if you can resist the desire to become a B-movie mogul.

I can’t. I’m drawing up one-sheets now (in my mind) for films I’ll script into my phone whilst waiting for the train and probably shoot on my phone as well. In fact, I’m not starting a B-film studio so much as a bPhone studio, which is when one makes iPhone movies with a surfeit of blood, boobs and banter (so, yeah, basically Godard’s Pierrot La Fou). Until there’s an app for that, I’ll have to scratch that niche myself. I’ll borrow my studio’s ethos from MGM’s motto: Ars Gratia Artis – art for art’s sake. Except, there’s no Latin for “Artsploitation,” so my studio motto will have to be something like Ars Abusionem Gratia Ars Abusionem, which is basically “Abusing Art for the Hell of It.” Or maybe that should be self-abusing art? Wait, I feel a film coming on…

Read this artsploitation sci-fi flick I wrote.

Sign(ature) of the Times

The Second Lives of Signed Books

Whenever I need to ratchet up the day’s anxiety (and I’m out of espresso pods), I visit Amazon and read reviews of my own books. The exercise is like a Google vanity search but with more fear and loathing. Occasionally, I’ll discover that a used paperback of mine has re-entered the market – wonderful – I love the sense of cycle. However, when said book is “signed by the author” or boasts a “personal inscription,” I buy it immediately. 

This isn’t to buttress the value of my autograph by making it one-book-less-available. It’s because I don’t know what I wrote or to whom I wrote it and I don’t want whatever it was being read by the kind of weirdos who buy such things. It’s like having a note confiscated by the teacher in class – embarrassment inevitably ensues.

I recently purchased a copy of my late 90s Lumaville Labyrinth prelude, The Late Projectionist, which was signed “For Murray – the shooter!” I’m pretty sure Murray is a local photographer, hence the slang, but on the off-chance that he’s an assassin I’ll refrain from shaming him further. Suffice it to say, Murray, I’ve got your book if you ever need it for target practice or whatever.

Sometimes, a stranger will have me sign a book at a reading as a gift for someone. This seemed to be the case with a copy of I Heart Sonoma: How to Live & Drink in Wine Country, which was subsequently inscribed “Happy Birthday, Monkey!” The giftee, so moved by the gift (and being called a lower primate), re-gifted the book to Amazon. Now, it festers on my Shelf of Shame.

 

I once bought a book of mine with a rather long inscription written to my then brother-in-law on the occasion of his 40th birthday. How did it end up back in my hands? I was told that the book was so enjoyable that it should be shared with the world (personal inscription and all) via a Silicon Valley school books sale. The book was apparently purchased and then later donated to a Goodwill in San Francisco where it languished until some canny salesperson posted it on Amazon. $10 later it was mine – again.

I considered returning the book to the former bro as a re-gifted re-gift but decided the book had endured enough abuse and abandonment. So, I “put it down,” as they say.

What this amounts to is that we authors should be cautious about what we write in people’s books. This is why I’ll refrain from writing personal notes to all but my most ardent fans and besties lest I have to break out the credit card when all that sentiment surfaces online.

If you cajole me into inscribing your book with something personal (wine helps) and you decide you no longer want it (because I later killed your favorite character, or you prefer my older funny stuff) you can send it to me, no questions asked, and I’ll retire it to the Shelf of Shame.

Moving forward, I might provide a stock inscription printed in the book itself, ready for easy customization on the part of the purchaser:

Dear ______________, I thought you would enjoy this amazing book, which you will see is signed by the author:

 

Enjoy!

Signed: [Your Name Here]

P.S.: Don’t put this book on Amazon or eBay. Daedalus is watching you.

Upcoming Book Signings

For the lowdown on upcoming signings, appearances, disappearances, visit DaedalusHowell.com/events.

 

My Appearances as an Unknown Sonoma County Author

My month of local appearances (judging the Five Minute Film Festival; speaking on branding one’s byline at the Storyteller’s Conference and Expo, emceeing the North Bay Bohemian’s Best Of 2015 awards gala) concludes this Saturday with an appearance at Sonoma County Local Author Showcase & Symposium.
The sensation of having done all this public chatter is one of being everywhere and nowhere simultaneously. This is, in part, because all the events have or will occur within the same 10 square miles – the proverbial “backyard” of any rural locale (especially in this real estate market). The upshot is I don’t feel like I’ve been anywhere. Let alone that this an area for which it’s notoriously difficult to muster the escape velocity to leave. Why would I? It’s culturally dynamic (see the above itinerary of cultural dynamism ) and it’s natural beauty risks infringing on copyrights held by the Monet estate. And yet… Returning to my hometown, I can’t help but think that coming-full-circle is tantamount to being stuck in an enormous rut.

Mind you, I do get out once in a while. I spent a recuperative long weekend in the Berkeley Hills last week, in a restful trance, watching the floaters in my eyes drift across the ceiling. Though I was as happy to return and start the workweek Monday morning, I couldn’t help but think of it all as rehearsal, like a comic sadly working successive open mic nights.

I’m of two minds: either everything in life is merely rehearsal – i.e., the process of groping toward an unattainable perfection; or everything is the real deal wherein total investment often produces wonky results. Can it be both? A particle and a wave? Faye Dunaway’s sister and daughter?

Thus far the gigs have been successful. The only cause for pause came when I caught a glimpse of myself when tagged on Facebook only to discover that my hair is thinner, my gut is fatter, my beard is whiter and my soul is blacker (versus my bank account, which is redder). My future’s so bright I have to wear bifocals. So, this Saturday at the Sonoma County Local Author Showcase and Symposium, you’ll be able to recognize me by the paperbag on my head. I’m working up a new brand identity – the Unknown Author. Wait… That’s all of us. Nevermind. At least I’ll blend in.

Look for me around noon at the Sonoma County Local Author Showcase & Symposium, Saturday, March 28, in the Forum Room of the Central Santa Rosa Library, 211 E St., Santa Rosa, CA.

 

Ink-Stained Wretch from Stigmata

Creative types have an interesting relationship to notions of ownership – from the copyright that protects their work to the semi-sacred spaces in which they create it. Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own was the early 20th century prototype for this type of declarative claim for personal space, literal and figurative, feminist and otherwise. By century’s end, taking ownership included whole states (My Own Private Idaho) and finally religious figures (“Your Own. Personal. Jesus.”).
It’s a combination of Woolf’s concept and Depeche Mode’s need for “Someone to hear your prayers / Someone who cares” that’s preoccupied me since rising.

Question: When do you know when your sense of ownership of the ecstatic state of creation has dipped into a kind of psycho-religio madness? Answer: When you get stigmata. Continue reading “Ink-Stained Wretch from Stigmata”

Rhyme of the Ancient Malcontent

I spend many an evening hour reading children’s books to my child and many a midnight hour trying to rid my sentences of the rhyming couplets that subsequently infest my consciousness. It’s a real problem since many of the books are so masterfully constructed that I can’t help but let their rubaiyat rhymes echo into my own work. When it’s late and I’m on deadline and my resolve is weak, that’s when I’m most susceptible to their music.
For no reason at all, I’ll hack out little ditties like, “Do you pronounce the N in autumn? Or the other L in Fall? Are they whispered like the whistling wind, or have nary a sound at all?” and then I orphan them in a file I call “Lost Lines,” since it’s cute enough to keep (for what I don’t know) but of no use to a weekly newspaper column. Like these tortured lines, which will dribble out of me for hours: Continue reading “Rhyme of the Ancient Malcontent”

Typewriters in Fall

As a writer, I’m subject to certain aesthetic ticks. Fortunately, the monocle and sword-cane phase didn’t last past adolescence.
But others remain, such as my allegiance to the brass tacks styling of Portage brand reporter’s notebooks and ink black blazers. Unlike some of my colleagues, however, I don’t fetishize vintage typewriters – a phrase that, I realize upon writing it, has been redundant since at least the ’80s. Continue reading “Typewriters in Fall”

Lost & Found Pages


When I lived in Los Angeles, I would frequently discover stray screenplay pages littering the streets. I saved them all and with my ArtsID co-host Gretchen Giles, am pleased to present a staged reading of these pages, complete with cast and soundtrack provided by the fine folks of KRCB 91 FM, Cotati, CA. Since I had no idea who wrote these pages, they have no idea that their work, or at least part of it, has been performed and immortalized in this recording. If you happen to be the writer of one of these specimens, by all means, drop me a line – I’d love to hear your side of the story. Continue reading “Lost & Found Pages”