Sunday, August 31, 2014

JOHNNY FLASH: Free Novella Excerpt! It's Fun!



Oblivion Press

Copyright © 2014 by William J. Grabowski

All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-9749628-8-7

"God's away, God's away, God's away on business..."
                                                                                           —Tom Waits

Chapter 1
Johnny Flash stood slicing tofu for Korean barbecue when Palmer burst into the kitchen. “Johnny—oh Christ! Man—where's Moody, huh? Where?”
   Johnny dropped his vanadium Global, glared at the other. “Fuckin-A, man—almost amputated my fuckin hand. Calm the fuck down.”
   Gray Palmer hugged himself as if freezing, despite the kitchen's predawn heat. “Sorry, sorry, it's just...I need Moody.”
   Johnny ripped a paper towel from the roll above the sink, dried his hands. God. Was Palmer crying“Okay, I'll get him. He's in the back on inventory, so—”
   “Good, good, that's good.”
   Palmer looked as if he'd just dodged al Qaeda.
   “Yeah, Gray. Relax, willya? What's up? Wait—I probably don't wanna know. I got tofu to marinate.”
   Johnny trotted past the other and his wide, shifty eyes. Jeez! Rehab—table for one....
   Passing the restrooms Johnny could see Just Moody's lanky silhouette beside the walk-in cooler. He held a Spanish onion inches from his nose. “Johnny, you think these reds are better than Pittsburgh's? Hey. What's wrong?”
   “Hell if I know. Your favorite ufological author is haunting my kitchen and shitting nail-guns. Needs to see you like last year, apparently.” He flicked a tofu shred from his shirt, became abruptly aware of two aromas: bacon, and musky rot...old mushrooms?
   Goddamn Billy would hear about that when he clocked in at seven!
   “Great,” Moody said, “like I have time. Take this”—Johnny plucked the onion from empty space—“and check out the others. All of it, actually. Don't forget to marinate the tofu.”
   “You got it.”
   Moody shambled down the dim hall toward his best friend.
When Moody saw his twitchy pal Gray, complicated feelings tweaked his 67-year-old nerves. He'd seen Gray angry, depressed, drunk, stoned, stressed over poor sales, but never like this.
   “The hell, buddy,” Moody said, stepping toward the coffee-maker, “Johnny says you're sort of—”
   “He's right! Can we talk in your office?”
   “Good question—hahaha. Sure, sure we can. How bout a cup?”
   Palmer twitched. "Coffee? God, no. Last thing I need. This is bad...we have to consider this, please.”
   “No problem. Let's head on back.”
   Moody snatched a Monster from the employee fridge, and led Palmer down the hall toward Johnny's thumping, cursing review of the week's produce delivery.
   Moody's joke of an office (until recently a "prep kitchen" he couldn't afford), 14 feet left of the humming walk-in and “lounge,” bled out odors of a neglected bacon sandwich and decades of cooking.
   “Take a load off,” he said, waving at a folding chair leaning against the desk.
   Palmer did this. “Thanks. Whew...” Found sudden interest in his wet shoes.
   Moody eyed the aging sandwich warily, eased back in his leather chair, creaky as his spine. “Sooo...what time did you start drinking—or, more likely, smoking?”
   Palmer sat abruptly straight, clenched jaw pulsing. “Hey, pal, I'm as sober as the Pope.”
   “I doubt it.”
   “That I'm sober?”
   “No, that the Pope is.”
   They both laughed. Two guys sharing a joke.
   Moody popped his energy-drink, took an extended, deliberate taste. Clunked down the can beside his breakfast. “Okay, out with it. Why are you like this? I'm milking my own damned clock here."
   The other hugely sighed, gazed at the abstract Tabasco poster behind Moody. “Yeah...see, you're gonna have to suspend the old disbelief, okay?”
   “You know it. Don't forget, I've read your books—even the good ones.”
   Palmer nodded. “Ha-fucking-ha. Thank you, sir. Well, I was threatened not one hour ago by someone who either is one of the Men in Black, or someone trying—and succeeding—to mimic one.”
   Moody's mouth dropped open—he couldn't help it. “Jesus Christ. What're you talking about? Use short sentences.” His poker-face and its hard angles hid unspeakable dread. No one, not even Palmer, must see this.
   Palmer tried a brave smile, which made him look even more desperate. “Knew I could count on you to be objective.”
   Moody huffed. “And observant. What happened to your neck? And why aren't you wearing a coat? It's November in southwest Pennsylvania. Don't tell me you walked here.”
   “Ran. Talk about long sentences. Moody, look, I...I had to get out of the house. No gun, no nothing. That freak threatened me, man!”
   Moody took another fizzy sip, wished for a shnoot of Billy McKee's absinthe. Too bad he wasn't here yet. “Okay. Now I'm really worried. Tell me about this guy. Everything.”
Gray Palmer had been at it since two in the afternoon: answering emails sparked by the recent publication of his latest book, Cold War UFOs Over America. In truth, he feared publishing the slick trade paperback ($12.95, Gray Sky Press, 277 pages). For this, unlike his 11 previous, chronicled the “ultra-covert” machinations behind the great UFO flap that besieged Seven Pines and Westmoreland County from 1967 to 1968, events still seething with controversy, ruin, and even death. Gray had been 12; a real wise-ass, nosy as hell, and crazy-smart. Pretty much like he was now.
   A few ticks short of four-thirty ayem, he stood, backed away from his work-station and stretched—vertebrae popped. Man, he needed to brew another pot of Tanzanian peaberry. This was no beer night—too bad. His brain felt as if strapped to a rocket-sled. Ah hell, maybe a few later to take the edge off.
   Stepping across the study (actually, a long book-walled living-room) toward the kitchen, Palmer heard something odd. “You gotta be kidding me.”
   Halting, he listened.
   Someone knocked on the front door.
   “No...” He turned, squinted and—with a rush of fear—could see a blurred shadow at the door's glass inset. Who could it be? At this hour, no one Palmer wanted here.
   Get a grip, he told himself. Center.
   He swallowed hard, clenched his teeth, and stepped toward the door. Goddamned coffee!
   Whoever stood on the porch knocked once more—aggressively.
   “All right,” Palmer managed, “all right for crap-sake, I'm on my way. Christ...”
   Best to get it over with.
   He gazed at the floor; would not look at the door's inset. He feared to see something there, glaring in at him.
   Palmer gripped the knob, turned it and opened the door.
   A grinning man in a dark suit stood there, green eyes cunning and cold. “Greetings Gray Palmer, we have much to talk about.”
   Palmer cried out, immediately regretting it. But something—everything—was wrong here. “No we don't,” he muttered as if through a ball of phlegm. “Who are you and what the hell do you want?” He stepped backward into the living-room, stomach roiling.
   The stupidly weak porch-light tinted the stranger's dark hair blue. “I am crazy-big fan of Cold War UFO book you write, yes.”
   He grinned and grinned.
   Palmer's heart hammered his ribs. “Sure—sure you are, pal. It's four in the morning...”
   “Thank you Gray Palmer, yes.”
   Palmer had to say something, anything, distracting enough to get the door shut and bolted. "What is that?" he said. “The accent. You Russian, or just trying to sound like one? Don't get too many around here. Mostly Polacks, and in fact—"
   The other rushed in, clutched Palmer's throat with a hand like iced iron. “Yes, I am here for facts.”
   Hot breath foul with cigarettes fogged Palmer's face. He was going to die. Freezing air gushed through the room.
   All at once Palmer was released—fell gasping into a bookshelf, sending reference tomes crashing to the floor.
   Paralyzed with fright, he said, “What the fuck? Huh? What the fuck? What was that for?”
   The other grinned. “Oh, just because.”
   Palmer somehow got to his feet. Moody...goddammit Moody set this up. Unbelievable. What a superb gag!
   Now Palmer grinned. “Okay, comrade. You've earned your twenty or however-many bucks Moody paid you. He did pay you, right? Or is this pro bono work for some acting class in Pittsburgh?”
   The other smirked. “Who is Moody, yes?”
   “Uhhh, yeah. Friend of mine. Say, how bout a cup of the ol cafferoony?”
   Something smashed into Palmer's chest—knocked him into his computer chair. After a few numb seconds, he realized the stranger had shoved him there, and now stood glaring down. “Tell me Gray Palmer, where is document?”
   Countless visions flashed through Palmer's mind. Shit. He means it“Document? I don't understand, you—
   The grin returned, and the maniac aimed a black handgun at Palmer's groin. “Oh, I understand, just not enough. It's all on the Google. Someone leaked, yes. All about UFOs here in sixties. Rumors of spies, industrial and science secrets of pussy-head Americans like you, blame on us.”
   Palmer felt a desperate urge to urinate. “You, you saw this on the Net?”
   The gun held still, as if clamped in a laser-sighted vise. “Of course. With link to your book. Nice. The one-stop-shopping, yes. In ten seconds you will die.”
   Palmer's mouth dropped open and he shifted his gaze over the other's shoulder. “Johnny! What're you doing here?”
   The gun whipped toward the door, long enough for Palmer to fast-ball his steel pyramid paperweight at the uninvited visitor's close-cropped skull.

Sunday, August 3, 2014


Here's a rejection-letter gag I wrote for Writer's Digest magazine's "Reject A Hit" column. Share with friends, family, potential employers, or that serial killery-looking guy on your sidewalk sniffing his fingers. It's fun!


27 October 1974

Dear Mr. King:
Thank you, I suppose, for letting us look at your manuscript, ‘Salem’s Lot. If anything, it put me off red meat and heavy tomato-based sauces. I dropped the 10 pounds I’d gained after retrieving my appetite in the wake of your previous submission. I wonder whether you’ve ever considered the health-book market. Your work, combined with Primal Scream therapy, may very well prove beneficial. 
   Additionally, does the world really need another supernatural-horror novel? Aren’t Rosemary’s Baby and The Exorcist enough? Too, I can’t see anyone finding interest in vampires. Look what they did to Bram Stoker’s career. Your manuscript, if published, would not do much for Maine tourism—I’ll wager that never snuck up and tapped your shoulder.
   Vampires concealing themselves under trailer homes? Vampire housewives? Blood-sucking children? Must everyone in your book be a victim? I ask you, Mr. King, what’s next? A haunted house? Why stop there? Indeed, a man of your ambition ought to build us a haunted hotel. In fact, I might favor that one. I will say that I found your MS frightening and original. Unfortunately, the original material wasn’t frightening and the frightening material wasn’t original. God, I’m feeling bitter. Must be some sort of iron deficiency.
   In closing, forgive me, sir, but vampires shmampires—I’m off to lunch.
Thaddeus Q. Mire
Fairhaven Press

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Humpty Dumpty Falls to Death in Theme Park

The badly fragmented body of beloved nursery rhyme hero Humpty Dumpty was found in Turner, Oregon’s Enchanted Forest theme park, reported KOIN6 News. Unnamed witnesses claim two men—still at large—attempted to scale Humpty's famed wall and ended up bringing it and Dumpty down. Portland forensics would not comment.
Nursery Rhyme legend Dumpty, well known for his lavish dinner parties and a recently launched big-and-tall clothing line for men, had his share of enemies (coldly chronicled in Dazed magazine). Was this a homicide? Ironic fate? Worse, Enchanted Forest insiders hinted in wooden tones that Dumpty’s drinking had escalated in the wake of the disturbing Snow White scandal. Could Dumpty have conceivably jumped?
Humpty Dumpty's 84-year-old creator, Roger Tofte, had a philosophical take on the loss of his beloved sculpture: "It's going to take quite a few hours just to start from scratch again and try to duplicate what I I hope I have some creative juices left."

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Literary Classics Made Easy 101

In the spirit of Twitter's draining all meaning from our collective humanity, and saving us all from the demands on our time, I give you Literary Classics Made Easy 101. Brief blurbs of books in 140 characters—or fewer!

The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald: Over-privileged man confronts death, knocks back a few drinks, and sees a green light from a pier.

Youngblood Hawke, by Herman Wouk: Fledgling writer learns that one must write to be considered a writer.

A Tale of Two Cities, by Charles Dickens: Never—but never—think you're better than the French. Ever.

Madame Bovary, by Gustave Flaubert: Doctors' wives are better off pinching Vicodin than looking for meaning in provincial life.

The Red Badge of Courage, by Stephen Crane: If drafted into war, never piss off Ambrose Bierce.

The Old Man and the Sea, by Ernest Hemingway:  Don't let the primordial, vicious marlin of life defeat you. I mean it.

Walden: or, Life in the Woods, by Henry David Thoreau: Pre-Starbucks screed on the hazards of living 2 miles from other people.

The Brothers Karamazov, by Fyodor Dostoyevsky: Anyone who spent two years looking for God simply hasn't heard the comedic stylings of Yakov Smirnoff. Word.

Journey to the End of the Night, by Louis Ferdinand-Celine: The Kurt Cobain of serious literature. Didn't kill himself. Nor should you. Seriously pissed.

Naked Lunch, by William S. Burroughs: The hard-ass American Celine. Lovecraftian creatures symbolize the horrors of addiction. Good way to avoid showing up for Finals.

Lolita, by Vladimir Nabokov: Aging narcissist ogles young girl. Exhausts expense account. Guys, just say no.

As I Lay Dying, by William Faulkner: Avoid descending into Hades before reading this. Prefigures mistreatment of power-plant workers.

A Room of One's Own, by Virginia Woolf: An essay, sure. Women, never lock your libraries, no matter how many times Norman Mailer comes at you with a knife.

Zombie, by Joyce Carol Oates: Like having Jeffrey Dahmer finger your underwear drawer. Really.

The Orange Eats Creeps, by Grace Krilanovich: Not on any college curriculum, but should be. Joyce Carol Oates hallucinating after sipping Ajax. A compliment.

You may well ask why I last-listed women. Good question, because it shows—even in me, who should know better—the overbearing influence of male literature. What about Djuna Barnes? Jane Bowles? Anne Rice, and J.K. Rowling? I'm not sure, because I do admire them. You ought to confront your English professor about this teaching of male American and European authors—seriously. A simple fact since my Kent State days in the 1970s. I hope this sorry state has changed.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Why I Cry Every Day...

1. When opening a jar of hot pepper rings involves vise-grips, hot water, and using my rubber mouse pad for superhuman grip, what am I going to do when I'm 70?

2. Is there any 6-year-old on Earth who can't ace Metallica's "Master of Puppets" on Guitar Hero?

3. Because your disturbing big-headed cat, Mister Fluffy Frog, has 712 friends on his Facebook page.

4. The foul-mouthed city workers who empty my garbage cans apparently think people who live 10 blocks away need my lids.

5. The ass-goblin who walks his dog at 5 AM and lets it shit on the street in front of my house results in me being summoned to small-claims court because a cigaretty old lady I've never met noticed my ball-cap is blue--just like his.

6. Local news team nobody gives a rat's ass about interrupts Person of Interest every 7 minutes with: "Severe weather coming our way? We'll let you know on News at Eleven."

7. When my failure to correctly enter nd8rhj3-jgfn-ngr4n after 54 attempts vaporizes a favorable website comment I spent 30 minutes writing--with research.

8. That guy and his shitting dog are back! Where are my shoes?

9. Too exhausted to toss out the spider in my water glass. Woke up after a nap and drank it.

10. The well-intentioned but ill-educated Walmart associate in Electronics directs me to Grocery where I might find The Milagro Beanfield War.

11. They're out of hot pepper rings.

Friday, May 9, 2014


So my 10-year-old self e-mailed me: "What's your deal? How come you don't go out in the woods and dig foxholes no more?"

Not sure how—or, in truth, why—to respond, I eventually replied: "Good to hear from you. Thanks for the 46-year lapse in communications. In answer to your query, it is illegal to 'go out in the woods and dig foxholes,' even though some people ignore this. Their photographs can be found in your local Post Office."

The speedy reply: "Huh? Well how come you don't go out at night no more and climb on people's roofs and junk?"

Struck a nerve, there: "Who says I don't?"

Could have been more subtle with that, but what the hey, right? Two weeks later I heard back: "OH HA-HA-HA-HA-HA stupid head!"

No wonder this kid grew up to be me.

In honor of me—him I mean him—I've assembled 10-Year-Old Me's Greatest Hits. Basically, a crazy-quilt of quips, one-liners, and neo-existentialist philosophy shared with friends and mean Mr. Silvewski who probably had a pile of kids in his basement next to the train set.

1. We should climb this tree and spit on Brian Britz.
2. We should climb up on your garage roof and pee on Brian Britz.
3. We should climb up on the Ridd's barn and chuck apples at Brian Britz.
4. AHHH! RUN! Britz and his fat-ass brother are after us!
5. When you drop a brick on a toad it really stops moving.
6. Let's empty all the firecrackers and build a rocket engine.
7. I tried breathing under water and it hurt. Aquaman's fake!
8. If we build a tree-house, we'll be able to see Canada and stuff.
9. Flush your sister's shoe down the toilet and watch her face turn colors.
10. Pro'ly I shouldn't have let Mr. Silvewski's dog eat all that chili.
11. We should build a tree-house, carry Silvewski's dog up there, feed him more chili, and aim his pooper at Brian Britz.
12. We should blow up Silvewski and blame it on Brian Britz.
13. Yesterday I burped and junk came up and tasted like the time I ate a leaky battery.
14. I bet those guys on the Moon can see Canada.
15. I'm gonna hook up my dad's generator to my bike, drink a bottle of Coke with peanuts in it, and see if I go into the future.

You know, given a viable budget and more prudent management oversight, #15 might have gotten off the ground instead of ending in catastrophic failure and projectile vomiting.

Oh well, it was good to hear from me. As for the rest of you, in the well-intentioned but ill-applied English of Mr. Silvewski: "Ya damn kidz get outta my yaaard!"

Saturday, April 12, 2014


As a prolific ghostwriter—and in-general writer—I'll do just about anything to avoid the terrible Blank...White...Page. At this moment, typing these words, I am in fact not writing. How is this possible? Could I, respected practitioner of transparent falsity, conceivably be fibbing?

Basically, a writer is a guy sitting alone in a room making stuff up. I'm doing exactly that, right now—see? There. It's done. Let the philosopher's stone wake to foggy gloom, and find itself Day-Glowed with graffiti based on my Easy 10-Step Program. Did it again.

As in many endeavors, the problem with active procrastination lies in simply getting started. How to begin. Stick to familiar patterns that—once you get going—seem to work. Never over-complicate such practical matters. In short: eschew obfuscation. I'll share an example:

Let's say I am commissioned to write a 40,000-word novel (some would call a piece of this length a novella, and I don't refute that), and sign a contract promising Final Deliverable in five weeks. Man! Did I really agree to that? Hey, they don't call me prolific for nothin', Hoss. Immediately I head over to Amazon, and start reading samples for 2, or 3, maybe 27 new novels. Wait—there's a really cool article over at Fortean about some Iowa guy who hears voices coming from a Briggs & Stratton lawn-mower engine with 8.75 Gross Torque. But, really, I better get to work writing this novel.

Coffee sounds good, and possibly even required, 'cause all that web-surfing wears on a soul. After repeated attempts to stand, walk into the kitchen, and brew a pot of West Borlo Gin-Roasted Triple-Peel Barn-Builder, I give up. A short-cut enters the prolific mind itself: in the microwave, heat to boiling one cup of water, and add two heaping tablespoons (tblspns?) of instant coffee. Stir. Return to sitting position, and enjoy. This brief excursion into efficiency, worthy of that future hero himself, John Connor, will provide caffeine sufficient to give me the power to brew a pot of slow-drip. There. I did something.

Really ought to start work on this novel or I'm gonna regret it.

Returning from finally brewing "real" coffee, I spy a cock-eyed canary bookmark poking from a moldering paperback copy of Fred Spackleman's 1963 thriller, Call Me Boris and I'll Clean Your Basement. Just under 7 hours later, I've managed not only to drink my coffee, but finish the Spackleman opus, and plow through the first 191 pages of a seed catalog.

Novel. Commission. 40,000 words. Five weeks.

Those cargo pants upstairs, and that Shempish T-shirt from 2002 really could stand a washing.

Around 4AM, I am ready to begin my writing day, thinking only prolific thoughts. Those 10 Easy Steps will just have to wait.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014


So, it looks like this Internet thing is really catching on—amazing! Zing-zow-dippity-bang!

I'd like to take a few minutes of your obviously very valuable time, and annihilate them. How can this be accomplished? The answer is simple, fat-free, artisanal, and even more annoying than you might imagine: UGD. Sorry...I meant to write User's Guide Digest, but a Yahoo! trend-drone smashed through a window and forced me to watch a hyper-blip video of some ironic bearded hipster trying on moccasins.

What was I saying? Oh yeah—of course. User's Guide Digest: for those busy, over-caffeinated days when you just wanna say, "Ya know, I'd really like to get this friggin' Personal Coffee Bean-Roaster assembled before the world ends again like it did in 2012." Ah, who hasn't been there?

There are, however, problems.

The User's Guide is written in a language apparently combining elements of poorly dubbed Japanese science-fiction films from 1964, scripts from industrial training films, the William S. Burroughs "cut-up" technique, and possibly trigger-switching diagrams culled from  Russian Cold War archives—but I wouldn't know anything about that.

You down another quintuple espresso and crack open your guide, its green-friendly soy ink staining your shaky fingers. "What the Sam Scratch is this shit?" you exclaim in perfect vacuum, noticing the helpful schematic shares aspects of early Bauhaus and a prison tattoo. The easy part is over, and you make the bad call of questioning the purchase of a home coffee bean-roaster that requires assembly.

Just hold on Mister, or Missy, or insulting label of your choice: Caffeine is King. You grind your teeth, and begin reading:

Hello and we prefer happy you find 4077 Home Personal Coffee Bean-Roaster welcome friendly appliance indoors, only. If not recommended, do not inhale fumes from liquids may have fire hazard unhappy location. The urge you to always follow along ignoring all safety yourself, and no hope injuring of others, inside.
  1. Open closed product container, not sharp cutting tool injure self product 4077.
  2. Remove 4077 of contents not inhale of plastic packaging to suffocate, or others. Discard others of plastic to injure not animals and children in trash can.
  3. Place 4077 product on all flat surfaces, indoors. Give away choking hazard to pets and avoid.
Following these guidelines simple assembly take happy indoors, only, the 1 hour to avoid unplugging of all electrocution.

Tears are close, I know, but you slog on regardless.

You will not be defeated by inferior translation on a Friday, dammit, and that Robinson 401-k portfolio due at work can wait.

Sorry to leave you hanging. I accidentally washed dishes, hung a little drywall, wrote a new chapter for my forthcoming  Cleveland Killjoy Oven Mitt Mangler series, and prepared a batch of habanero chile oil to spill later. But I'm sure you've done the same.

Oh wait—I don't have time to finish this. My TrendSetter App is beeping like a bastard—it's time for another episode of Kurt Steel's Paranormal Road Trips Rockin' Microbrewery Hour.