Monday, September 19, 2016

My Favorite Book

Every author gets asked at some point “what’s your favorite book?” And I feel like there’s a lot of pressure behind that. I feel like I need to point to something epic and deep. A tale that resonated with me at the core and changed me on a fundamental level. A classic. Something from Robert Heinlein or John Steinbeck. Edgar Allen Poe or John Irving.  Andre Norton or Octavia Butler. Maybe Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein or Frank Herbert’s Dune.  At the very least, maybe it’s one of Lovecraft’s Weird Tales. Or China Mieville’s.

But it’s not. My favorite book is nothing so grandiose. It didn’t change my life. It’s not a milestone in any genre. It’s just a little book that gives me the good feelings when I read it.

It’s The Goblin Companion: A Field Guide to Goblins. Illustrated by the immortal Brian Froud, with Englishly-silly text by Terry Jones of Monty Python fame.

This book is actually a collection of sketches and character designs Froud created for the movie Labyrinth-every fantasy-loving 80s kid’s major nostalgia button. The drawings feel a bit messy at times. There are little sketches and doodles everywhere. It literally looks like Froud took pages from his sketchbook and published them. But that actually adds to the charm of the book. It’s clear he was having fun while he was doing all those illustraions.

The binding of the book is "puffy" like one of those plastic books kids bring into the bath, and thus wouldn't open flat all the way so I could get some proper pictures with my scanner.

So why is this my absolute favorite book? A couple reasons.

First, a little background about how I came across it. It was the first week at my new middle school- about twenty years ago now- right after moving to Ann Arbor, Michigan from my old town. I’m sure a lot of you can relate to being the new kid at school. Feeling out of place and uncomfortable. Having left your old friends and familiar things behind. Plus new, insecure kids are the natural prey of assbutt bullies. So, naturally, I wasn’t feeling so great by the end of the week. To cheer myself up, I took a walk down to the local Barnes and Nobles and browsed that Sale section they’ve always got at the front. That’s where I found The Goblin Companion. The fun drawings and humorous writing- not to mention the nostalgia for Labyrinth- really helped me through the adjustment period.

Beyond that, The Goblin Companion was also one of the books that inspired my interest in field guides as literature- I subject I’ll discuss in more depth in a future post. The biologist in me adores field guides. I love the way they bring order to nature, and in so doing actually enhance one’s understanding and appreciation of the world. Not to mention the way they integrate art and writing. As my own writing continues to evolve, I’m finding more and more that my interests lie in that synthesis of drawing and text. In the details of ecology and natural history. The Goblin Companion, of course, isn’t an in-depth, Petersen-esque handbook to Labyrinth ecology. It’s just a series of silly anecdotes about the weird critters that inhabit the place. But the categorizing (and Jones’ frequent footnotes) give the goblin world a sense of place, rather than just being a series of flat sketches.

So there you have it. My favorite book. Nothing grand, but it works for me.

Although The Goblin Companion is out of print, you can still find plenty of good copies on Amazon.

Friday, September 16, 2016

The Astarapomp Dossier: An epistolary Weird Fiction story

So, I've been slowly creating a serial story as a gift for my father. It's told in an epistolary style, using letters, drawings and even a couple photographs I made in Photoshop. The plot is Weird fiction very much inspired by Lovecraft, Poe,William Hope Hodgson, Arthur Machen, Bram Stoker and others- with a little bit of John Keel (he of the Mothman Prophecies) thrown in. I was also very much inspired by the awesome "feelies" (I'm not the only one who has heard that word, right?) that the H. P. Lovecraft Historical Society includes with their Dark Adventure CDs.

I've recently decided to share this ongoing story with a larger audience. You can read it here:

The Astarapomp Dossier

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

An Early Halloween Treat

I know it's only early September, but I'm already starting to get into the Halloween spirit. I'll be posting tons of Halloween-related stuff once it gets closer to October, but for now I thought I'd share a short story I wrote a few years ago.

This tale was part of a "Creepypasta Cook-off" at For those who don't know, Creepypasta are short bits of media that are meant to be brief but eerie. Rather like flash horror fiction. Though creepypastas usually take the form of short stories, there are also videos, pictures and even mini-games that fall into this umbrella of fiction.

Bogleech's Cook-Off is an annual open-call for fans of the site to submit their own tales for inclusion into a huge anthology. I definitely recommend checking them out at the archive.

I submitted this story to the very first Cook-off back in 2012. I've been meaning to do one every year since, but life always just seemed to get in the way.  This year, though, I'm going to try to submit something new.

This story was inspired by my years of experience as a SCUBA diver.

by John Meszaros

Jordan’s Dream Journal Date: 5-15-09

   1.) So many beetles!—red ones, blues, greens, rhinoceros, june bugs, goliath beetles.  All over the yard.  In my closet, all my coats and jackets are beetles too.   (Story idea maybe?  Comic?  Should reread Rick Veitch’s comics) 

    2.) I am the Pharaoh of Lincoln Logs.

   3.) The window opens.  The child needs to learn before it closes again.

   4.) Tree frogs building nests under the eaves. (this one would make a great painting)


Dive Log
Diver: Jordan Symanski
Dive No: 78
Date: 5-18-09                         
Location: Fort Moscher, RI     
Time In: 10: 43
Time Out: 11:50
Dive Buddy: Eugene Wu

Saw a couple anemones along the rocks, under the Fucus and Chondrus.  Seagrass is doing pretty good.  Lots of little snails and Botrylloides tunicates growing on it—good to see they’ve come back after that storm.  Couple of Tautogs and some little coppery fish.  Out deeper I saw a bunch of tube anemones in the Latimeria kelp.  Found a piece of Shotgun Kelp!  Not too many jellies this time of year.

Gene and I got lost and ended up wandering around the sand flats.  Saw some more Tautogs and a big spotted skate—think it might’ve been a baby Dipturus laevis!  Have to tell Ann and Biyu about that!
Saw a weird sculpture out there.  Must’ve fallen off a boat because I’ve never seen it before.  Weird how it landed perfectly upright.   Looked like a tall cylinder made of black plastic or rubber or something.  I tried to touch it, but couldn’t get close.  There was a round part on top, with two holes poked in it.   Asked Gene what he thought about it, but he says he missed it.  I’ll bring the camera next time to take pics.


Jordan’s Dream Journal 5-18-09

1.)    The vermillion sky is full of spotted skates big as B-52s.  (Painting)

2.)    Deep, bioluminescent blue pits lined with coral and colonial angler-fish—that’s where the starfish breed.  (Painting)

3.)    The child doesn’t know how to learn yet.  Mother lost its eyes.

4.)    Genghis Khan, Tamerlane and Jon Adams having a lobster picnic at Sleeping Giant State Park (Short story, maybe?)


Dive Log
Diver: Ann Gallitto
Dive No: 75                
Date: 5/23/09                          
Location: Fort Moscher, RI     
Time In: 10:55
Time Out: 12:03
Dive Buddy: Biyu Liu

Tons of yellow Irish Moss (Chondrus crispus), Wrack Weed (Ascophyllum nodosum), Kelp (Laminaria saccharina).  Lots of tufts of Scarlet Cotton Balls (Bonnemaisonia hamifera).  Tautogs (Tautoga onitis).  Lined Seahorses (Hippocampus erectus) in the Eelgrass (Zostera marina)-- Must’ve come back now that Jamestown has started cleaning up the coast. 

Also Orange Tunicates (Botrylloides?) and Eel-Grass Snails (need to look up scientific name).

Out on the sand flats sahomew a bunch of baby skates—definitely D. laevis!  Also tube anemones (look up scientific names).

Went looking for those statues Jordan mentioned, but couldn’t find them-- just these ten empty pits of sand on the bottom like a couple of bilearng fish had been digging.  A lot of little wiggly black worms floating in the water column out there.  Chaetognaths, maybe?

Saw a couple of Spotfin Butterflyfish (Chaetodon ocellatus)!  Didn’t think the Gulf Stream would have carried them up here so soon.  Biyu caught a couple with the slurp-gun for her aquarium.

Got a real bad headache down themotherre, and stomach cramps—hope it wasn’t an air embolism.

Jordan’s Dream Journal 5-23-09

1.)    Mother sent the other children to school.  But they want to go back home where it’s warm and dark.

2.)    So many frogs—greens, oranges, red, blues.  Living in my glass sofa. (Painting)

3.)    Isaac Newton, Mary Curie, Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins and Edward Drinker Cope having dinner inside the Crystal Palace Iguanodon. (Short story?  Maybe combine with the Genghis Khan/Tameranniswarmlane dream and the De Soannishometo/Nobunaga dream.)


Dive Log
Diver: Ann Gallitto
Dive No: 103              
Date: 6/11/09
Location: Fort Moscher, RI
Time in: 1:17
Time out: 2:01
Dive Buddy: Eugene Wu

Jelly swarms out in full force today!  Lots of Lion’s-Manes (Cyanea capillata) and Moon Jellies (Aurelia aurita) and salps (Salpa?).  They feel like rubber bands drifting across my lips as I swim through them.  Even an eel leptocephalus!  Not malearnny fish.  Moved over the Sea-Grass (Zostera) beds to the Kelp (Laminaria) forest.  

Found Jordan’s statues on the sandy botlearntom—about five, maybe six.  Look like rolling pins with egg-heads and little holes for eyes.  Must be new silearnnce they weren’t overgrown with kelp or algae or tunicates yet.  Couldn’t touch them for some reason.  More of those worms.  Caught a couple in a sample bottle.  Look like nematodes, or even nemerteans.  Going to try to key thlearnem out in the lab.

 Got a bad headache down there again.  Maybe a sinus infection?

(Note added later in a different pen:  Couldn’t find them in the key.  Can’t even trace them to phylum.  Maybe Biyu or Dr. Petersen can figure them out.)


Eugene Wu’s Dive Log (recorded on an Olympus DP-201 Digital Voice Recorder)

Eugene Wu:  “Alright, dive number one-hundred and five.  June twenty-first, two-thousand and nine. Location: Fort Moscher, Rhode Island.  Time in: ten thirty-two. Time ou—

(Banging on glass)

Jordan Symanski: “Whatcha’ doin’ in there? Dogs’re getting cold!”

Wu: “Fillin’ out my log.”

Symanski: (Unintelligible) --a book?

Wu: “Naw, man.  It’s easier for me.  Makes my thoughts flow better.

Symanski: Hurry —(unintelligible)

Wu:  (laughs) “Shut up, asshole.  Save me a dog and a soda, would ya’?
“Time in: ten thirty-two.  Time out: eleven thirty-three.  Ann was my dive buddy today.
 “Still some jellies and salps out there.  Saw a couple ctenophores with pink tube anemone larvae living inside ‘em.
“Ann showed me the statues.  About twenty of them out there in the sand.  Making this huge, black forest.  Looked like a bunch of petrified tree stumps.  Or like those giant heads on Easter Island.  Nothing growing between them. Also nothing growing nearby.  I swear I took a couple pictures, but looking back through the camera’s files, I can’t find them now.  She showed me those little wiggling worms.  They swim like mosquito larvae—jerking their tails and heads back and forth.  Some kind of pelagic nematodes?  Maybe chaetognaths like Ann said.
“I asked Paul, Jenny and a couple of the other guys about them, but nobody seems to know what I’m talking about.  Jenny and Lindsey went out to the spot where the statues were, but said they didn’t see anything ‘cept these pits in the sand like fish had been digging nests.  Weird.  Must’ve gotten lost.
“Ann threw up pretty bad after we got out.  Awful stuff.  Those little black worms got into her regulator.  Said she had a bad headache, too.  She was worried it was the bends, but I reassured her we hadn’t gone deep enough.   Even so, Biyu took her to the hospital.

(Banging on window.  Woman’s unintelligible voice)

Wu: “All right, I’m coming, dammit!”

(Sound of car door opening)


Jordan’s Dream Journal 6-21-09

1.)    An entire house made of big, green beetles (Painting)

2.)    Ann was not their home, though she was warm. 

3.)    Mother’s bllearnack fingers through the window.  She sees.

4.)    Dinosaur fish and shark-octopi (Painting)


Dive Log

Dive No: 86                                        
Date: 7-09-09
Diver: Jordan Symanski                                  
Time In: 10:30
Time Out: 11:46
Location: Fort Moscher, RI                 
Dive Buddy: Eugene Wu

So many seahorses in the eel grass.  Lots of Botrylloides tunicates, and even a few Ciona intestinalis.  We even saw a couple juvenile pennantfish— vagrants brought up in the Guld Stream.  Ann would have loved this.  Have to briIamtheirhomeng her back when she gets better.

There’s a forest of statues now.  I counted at least thirty-eight.  I think they might be some kind of animal.  Maybe glass sponges?  Or bryozoan colonies? They remilearnnd me of those stromatolites we saw in Shark Bay, but cyanobacteria can’t grow this fast.  Eugene took some sample to analyze; he’s going to have Biyu compare them to the preserved critters in Doc Petersen’s Collection.


Eugene Wu’s Dive Log (recorded on an Olympus DP-201 Digital Voice Recorder)

Wu: “Dive number one-hundred and six.  July twenty-second, two-thousand and nine.  Fort Moscher.  Dive Budd—
“Jesus, forget this.  I gotta say what I saw before I forget.
“It’s like Jordan said—they’re alive.  I tried to touch ‘em, but they felt like nothing.  I don’t mean like I never felt anything like them before.  I mean they actually felt like nothing.  Like when your hand falls asleep and you press against a wooden table—you can feel the pressure of the table but you can’t actually feel the table itself.  It’s just a force stopping your hand.  I could see my hand touching the statue, could feel the resistance.  But it didn’t feel like anything. 
“Something’s growing in those sockets. 

(Tape is silent then recording starts again)

Wu: “I found the pics.”  (Silence)  They don’t look like statues.  They look like that thing Jordan painted.  He called it a “she”, but I don’t……  I had to delete them.  Just having them on my desktop was giving me a headache.  (Silence)  She’s there even when I close my eyes.” 

(Silence.  Faint sobbing can be heard.)

Wu: “I’m sorry Ann.”


 Eugene Wu’s Dive Log (recorded on an Olympus DP-201 Digital Voice Recorder)

Wu:      “The eyes.
“They aren’t like fish eyes or squid eyes.  They’re people eyes. 
“Ann’s eyes. 
“Iron-gray irises and pupils and sclera and everything.    When they look around it’s like a newborn’s eyes.  Like Petey’s when he was born.  Looking all around.  Seeing, but not comprehending anything.
 “Even when a fish looks at you, you can tell what its thinking.   It’s wary.  Doesn’t know if you’re going to eat it or feed it. But a newborn doesn’t know to be wary, or scared, or happy. It doesn’t have enough experience to know emotions.  It just looks.  Absorbing everything.  Processing.  They’ve got eyes like that.       
“Is that where Ann went?  What’d she do to her?
“Jordan’s an idiot.  Keeps getting more and more reckless with each dive.  Today he wouldn’t stay away from those damn things.  Almost ran out of air.
“Why can’t anyone else see those statues?  I keep telling people where they are, but they can’t find them.  I know Jordan and I aren’t hallucinating.  I’ve shown Jenny and Paul the one picture I saved.  I see the looks they get in their eyes.  Why the hell don’t they remember when I ask them again?
“Biyu isn’t getting back to me about the worms.”


Jordan’s Dream Journal           8-12-2009

1.)    Tamerlane and Albert Einstein flying kites at Giant’s Causeway. (painting)

2.)    Mothateher learns.

3.)    A malachite green bush.  Orange flowers ophateen like the mouths of baiamthehomenotannby birds.  They turn into butterleawombrnflies.

4.)    Being chased down Penrose Stairs bhatey clown-jaguars.


Eugene Wu’s Dive Log

Wu:  “Goddamit, I’m sick of waiting for Biyu to get back to me.  It’s been three weeks since I gave her those samples.  She ain’t even returning my calls anymore.  Her boyfriend says she left for a conference in Quebec City—but for three weeks?

(Pause.  An infant can be heard crying faintly in the background.)

“That guy’s eyes weren’t right….
 “Anyway, I grabbed some samples of those things myself.  Caught some of the worms, too.” 

(sounds of shifting equipment and clinking glass slides.)

Wu: “Putting a piece of the black statue under the scope now. (pause)  Not finding any spicules—so not a sponge.  

(Infant crying grows louder suddenly, drowning out the majority of the tape.  Only a few fragments of Wu’s voice can be heard.)

Wu: “--Little corkscrews all lumped together.” 


Wu: “—shimmering like…like stars--”


Wu: “—in the doorway--”

(Crying rises to a deafening pitch, warping into a pinging drone)

Wu: “—stomachs?  No.  Embryos--”


Wu: “—saw them in the cave when the lights went out.  They came--”

 (Infant crying cuts off abruptly. Sound of a door slamming open.  Breaking glass.)

Wu: “Shit!”

(Chair scrapping against ground.)

Wu: “Biyu?


Wu: Biyu?  Is tha—Jesus Christ! What happened to your head!”

 ( Infant crying resumes, becomes deafening.  Crying continues for eleven minutes, followed by silence for one hour and seventeen minutes)

Unknown: “Learn.”

(Wet squelching, slicing, scraping sounds.  A faint male voice can be heard moaning periodically.)   


JorHoWombmedan’s Dremotlearnhomeheram Journal 19920///09
Draglearnhatelearnonflies in so many c1.)olors: (Painting)
Anglwombhateerfish Boats coming into har.)2bor (Short story perhaps?)
.)3 MomotmothomothamAnnistheirsotralemothatehatehatehatehatehanolovenohate
tahehthatehatheahtahehtahwohomot motmotlonohmotenslmothmothererave learn herateveherherhermembherarngehertemhatehatehateotmomothertherherhermeherherther (Short story?)
.4) HoIamme 

Friday, September 2, 2016

New Used Books!

Literary starfish wants a look.
I visited my folks this past weekend in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Having grown up there, I’ve developed a couple of rituals I like to do whenever I return for nostalgia’s sake.  Visiting the Matthei Botanical Gardens. Stopping by the Natural History Museum where I used to work, and spending some quality time enjoying the Life Through the Ages room . Collecting a couple scientific articles from the University Science Library. 

And of course, I have to stop by the Dawn Treader Book Shop on Liberty Street. Dawn Treader is what you think of when you picture a classic used book store. Floor-to-ceiling shelves of sturdy wooden boards stacked close together so you almost have to squeeze through sideways, and overflowing with paperbacks, textbooks, big art books, old magazines. Books even run along the floor at the base of the shelves like speleotherms coagulated from letters dripping off the stacks.
And of course the place is full of artifacts. Masks. Paintings. Glass cases holding delicate leather-bound first editions over a hundred years old.  There’s even a full-size plaster Egyptian sarcophagus (I really should ask what the story is behind that). The front desk has a little jar labeled “take a marble, leave a marble”. You can probably guess what it’s filled with.

I’ve been getting books from Dawn Treader ever since middle school. And will keep going back as long as they’re in existence.  

So here’s what I picked up this time.

Gentlemen Junkie and Other Stories of the Hung-Up Generation
by Harlan Ellison

Despite being a fan of science fiction and fantasy, I haven’t read most of the authors I’m “supposed” to read. Never read any Heinlein. Nor Asimov or Card. Never even touched A Song of Ice and Fire or its sequels. Never cracked open Dune. Only read a bit of Arthur C. Clarke and Edgar Rice Burroughs. Heck, I don’t even think I’ve read all of the Lord of the Rings.

 At least I’ve read Lovecraft, LeGuin and some Poul Anderson. And one or two Larry Niven novels. Plus a bunch of Fritz Leiber and Michael Moorcock. But honestly, it’s exhausting trying to keep up on the speculative fiction culture.

So, anyway, I feel I should try to familiarize myself with at least a few of the famous authors. I’ve read a little Harlan Ellison before, and I like his style. Plus, I gotta be honest, I was amused by the fact that Ellison appeared as himself in this new Scooby Doo series my son has been watching lately (Mysteries Incorporated, in case you were curious).

The inside blurb says, rather breathlessly, “This is it! This is the book that established Harlan Ellison once and for all as a master of short fiction; this is the book that took Ellison to Hollywood; and this is the only paperback book, ever, reviewed by the legendary Dorothy Parker in Esquire magazine.” 

Sp apparently I picked out a good book to start with.

Un Lun Dun 
by China MiĆ©ville. 

I became a fan of Mieville after reading the first two books of his Bas-Lag series, Perdido Street Station and The Scar.  His stuff is frequently fantasy, but veering more towards the capital W Weird of 1930s pulp like Lovecraft, William Hope Hodgson and Clark Ashton Smith. I’ve read that he’s trying to write a book in every genre, and it seems like Un Lun Dun is his Neil Gaiman/Phillip Pullman-style Young Adult Adventure fantasy.

Star Rider 
by Doris Piserchia

Outside of the Dawn Treader are a couple of racks of “last chance” books for 50 cents. I’ve been trying to get back into the lifestyle of a reader/writer, voyaging through as many imagined worlds as I can. So I figured I’d pick up a couple “wild card” books out there. Maybe I’ll find a gem in one of these.

The back of Star Rider reads: “They called her Galactic Jade, a footloose, star-flung loner who roved space on her telepathic mount Hinx, ever searching for the fabled city of Doubleluck with its waterfalls of diamonds, lakes of sweet perfume and streets of flowing gold. But she held a secret the whole universe wanted, a secret that sent her on a galactic odyssey of self discovery to escape the prisons of her own mind.


The Shadow of the Ship
by Robert Wilfred Franson

 Sounds like it’s about a man, Eiverdein, looking for a lost ship to help him return to known space. I mostly picked it up because the cover looks like a mid-80s Tangerine Dream LP record. I can practically hear this thing pumping out “Love On A Real Train”.

 I’ll give you more details once I have a chance to read it.