Book Passage of the Week – from Suttree, by Cormac McCarthy

Suttree and A Death in the Family are the two famous Knoxville novels. They even have similar openings; Agee’s book gives us Knoxville: Summer of 1915 and McCarthy gives us:

Dear friend now in the dusty clockless hours of the town when the streets lie black and steaming in the wake of the watertrucks and now when the drunk and the homeless have washed up in the lee of walls in alleys or abandoned lots and cats go forth highshouldered and lean in the grim perimeters about, now in these sootblacked brick or cobbled corridors where lightwire shadows make a gothic harp of cellar doors no soul shall walk save you.

Seven un-indented paragraphs of that, introducing us to Suttree’s Knoxville.

I’m in the middle of reading Suttree. I can’t say I enjoy the book — my favorite remains The Road  — but there are some nice passages:

In the long days of all they went like dreamers. Watching the sky for rain. When it came it rained for days. They sat in groups and watched the rain fall over the deserted fairgrounds. Pools of mud and dark sawdust and wet trodden papers. The painted canvas funhouse walls and the stark skeletons of amusement rides against a gray and barren sky.


A dim world receded above his upturned toes, shapes of skewed shacks erupted bluely in the niggard lamplight. The rusting carcass of an automobile passed slowly on his right. Dim scenes pooling in the summer night, wan inkwash of junks tilting against a paper sky, rorschach boatmen poling mutely over a mooncobbled sea.

And this, from a fever dream. Shades of The Road?

By the side of a dark dream road he’d seen a hawk nailed to a barn door. But what loomed was a flayed man with his brisket tacked open like a cooling beef and his skull peele, blue and bulbous and palely luminiscent, black grots his eyeholes and bloody mouth gaped tongueless. The traveler had seized his fingers in his jaws, but it was not alone this horror that he cried. Beyond the flayed man dimly adumbrate another figure paled, for his surgeons moved about the world even as you and I.

While you’re here, check out Yelping with Cormac. My favorite is The Apple Store.

Listen to me read from my new book, ‘Kale & Jason’

Listen to me read a passage from my upcoming book, Kale & Jason. And if you like it?

Consider a pre-order. Right now I’m sitting at 12 out of 250.



Click here to go to the pre-order page, where you can read more samples. Follow Kale & Jason on Inkshares for more samples, including audio recordings.

Book Passage of the Week – from The Corpse Walker (9/17/2016)

Just finished The Corpse Walker by Liao Yiwu. I’m writing a full review as we speak.

From Zhou, the Public Restroom Manager:

My monthly profits are about two hundred to three hundred yuan. I’m pretty content with that. And for an old guy like me, managing toilets is easy work. Life is tough and tiring. All my nerves are strained. One of these days, one of the nerves will snap, and then I’ll be gone.

Luo, The Corpse Walker:

Country folk seldom got to visit the city and had no access to entertainment all year long. Public denunciation meetings offered free drama for many onlookers. None of them wanted to miss it.

Huang, the Feng Shui Master:

At the moment, my life is coming to an end, reaching zero. Zero is nature. The mountain is my home.

Deng Kuan, The Abbot:

When you turn one hundred, and look back on the early part of your life, a couple sentences are sufficient.

And let’s not forget the introduction, written by Wen Huang:

During the famine, [Liao Yiwu] suffered from edema and was dying. Out of desperation, Liao’s mother carried him to the countryside, where an herbal doctor “held me over a wok that contained boiling herbal water.” The herbal steam miraculously cured him.

There is a lot of mythologizing about Liao Yiwu. Not only was he born the year The Great Leap Forward was launched, he was also “miraculously cured”, a presumably divine act that would later allow him to live on the lam as a dissident writer, barely known in his own country.

Also, this is an abridged work; according to the introduction, Wen Huang chose twenty-seven stories they felt were both representative of the work and of interest to Western audiences.

I’ll be covering this and more in my full review.

How (not) to Prepare for Your Advancement Exam

To advance from E3 to E6 in the Navy, you have to take the Advancement Exam.

For some, this is more of a chore than others. I’ve been lucky to be an AG (Aerographer’s Mate) with near 100% advancement the past few cycles. That’s how I made E4 and E5 despite my P (for Potential, among other things) evals.

Other rates?

When I tested for E5, I had the fortune of doing it on the ship. While we waited for our tests, I overheard people from other rates talking.

“Yeah this is my fifth time.”

“Will I get in trouble for Christmas-treeing it? There’s no way I’m making it.”

And when some rates have a 1% or even 0% advancement rate, you realize how damn lucky you are to be an AG. “Choose your rate, choose your fate”, and when you’re at the MEPS station, understand that you’re rolling the dice with your future.

“Nothing good lasts forever”, and perhaps in the Navy you could change that to “Nothing good lasts very long, assuming it isn’t miscarried”. The advancement rates have been dropping the past few cycles. E6 was 100% a couple cycles ago.

Last cycle it was 55

To prepare for the E6 test, I decided to focus on areas that we don’t normally do where I’m stationed. For a test aimed at weather forecasters, there is surprisingly little forecasting. Instead there’s oceanography, tactical decision aids and admin questions.

A few nights before, I decided to draft a dump sheet. On it I intended to write down all the information that wouldn’t come to me naturally.

Here it is:



I began with Instruction Numbers:


I chose the top METOC instructions and for general Navy instructions, I took a risk and picked the ones I thought were more important.

Next I picked Icing and Turbulence TAF code:


A TAF is a Terminal Aerodrome Forecast, written in code and used air stations all over the world. I can read TAFs pretty well, but on my previous tests there were questions about turbulence and icing. I felt better having a reminder.

Icing Temperatures:


The temperatures at which you find each kind of icing. Pretty self-explanatory.

Turbulence Criteria:


I’m not sure if this is the same as the civilian world. The numbers to the right are the change in wind speed (knots) per 1000 feet.



Here we get into electromagnetic propagation. Without making this sound like a training manual, N-Units measures the bend of EM energy and M-Units measures the bend of EM energy in a duct. They are opposites, so if you know one you know the other. Previous tests had questions on both.



The change in sound speed for Temperature, Salinity and Pressure.

Refractivity Changes:


Temperature and refractivity have an indirect relationship. The others, a direct relationship.

Sound Speed Profile:


The classic behavior of sound in water. It has different parts (Sonic Layer depth for max near surface speed) and I made sure to jot down Convergence Zone too.

Surf Observation:


I’ve had questions about this on previous tests. I have never taken a surf observation, where you observe the waves that crash onto the beach and write down height, type, etc. It’s gotten me on my last exams.

I won’t get me this time.


Okay, so…did my dump sheet help?


The test was heavily slanted towards oceanography and TDAs, which I expected. It was also mostly admin, with questions about different commands, their purpose.

I was not a difficult test, in the way you might think. What made it hard was that I felt like I overprepared for the wrong material; that if I’d studied the types of commands and odd admin trivia (do you know what the Marine Corps MOS is for their weather forecasters? I wish I did) then I’d have E6 in the bag, P (for Potential, among other things) eval be damned.

So that’s it. I still think the dump sheet is a good idea, though next time I’ll focus more on admin.

March 2017 is only six months away…

Take Pills

AG2 William Benson has a wife: Alisha. Their marriage is far from storybook…


Alisha picked up Davin from Jess’s and headed home.

She’d stayed out late last night. Alisha wasn’t one for getting dead drunk, especially in a bar full of strangers, especially now. She stuck with water. Going out with the girls, that was how she’d put it, and for all she knew, Will believed her. But the only girls were the ones Alisha didn’t know. They hung out in their groups, some here to enjoy themselves, some here to meet men. Alisha had never enjoyed the interplay between groups of girls and horny guys. Some guys said women trusted women, but Alisha must be weird. She trusted no one.

She sat alone at the bar. A big girl, some men did come on to her and in the end she went out to her car with a baldy named Nick. Nick finished quickly, grunting like he was deadlifting. But Alisha didn’t mind. She got what she wanted, an honest lay, and she sent him on his way with the number for Pizza Hut.

She couldn’t keep doing this. Her condition was worsening. This morning she woke up queasy. Feelings she’d known before, but at least she hadn’t thrown up yet. Now that Will was back, she hoped she could keep from doing it until he left again.

One baby was enough for Will, both financially and mentally. They hadn’t planned Davin, but so what? Planned baby, accidental baby, they all got here the same way and deserved the same amount of love. So, Alisha had put on her big girl pants and carried Davin, giving birth to him while the Roosevelt was on its first sea trials. When they pulled in, they allowed Will to leave the ship first — one of the perks of having a new baby at home — and Will had held his son, but the look on Will’s face. Alisha had seen it before, after the first few months of marriage.

In nine months, she might see it again.

The clinic had just confirmed what she already knew. At her request, they’d given her a pamphlet outlining her options. Will had made it very clear that he did not want another kid. During the pregnancy scare to ring in 2014, he had told her, “Take pills”. Take pills. The monumental choice to keep a child or not, a decision that involved many days of tremorous thought, of debate, logical moral and philosophical, and Asshole had reduced it to two words.

Take pills.

She began cheating on him after the pregnancy scare. She did it when he was in, when he was out, and he didn’t notice. He did his fatherly duties with Davin, worked on his novels — he’d been working on them since before Alisha met him and as of yet, Barnes and Noble carried none of his books — and helped with the housework. They never had sex. Sometimes Alisha would test him, to see what he’d respond to. She knew he had a sizable porn collection on his computer. He preferred watching Latina women, and if he had something on the side, then fine. She had plenty, all strangers.

Then she’d turned up pregnant.

Alisha got on the interstate. Right now Will would be listening to music or reading. He had just spent twenty-five days at sea. But the freedom to move with him here changed little from the freedom to move without him. Will liked to read to Davin — the boy’s favorite was Curious George Goes Fishing — and Alisha figured that’s what Will would spend the rest of the afternoon doing, all the nice to see you again’s covered in a quick two seconds.

She parked. At the door, Alisha unlocked it and laid her hands on Davin’s shoulders. She whispered in his ears, “Go give Daddy a big hug and kiss.”

Davin took off running and Alisha went to the kitchen, listening to sounds of reunion. Will had put her note by the coffee maker. Alisha picked it up, shook off stray coffee grinds and tossed it in the garbage. She looked up. Davin ran into the kitchen, his father behind him.

“Hello,” Will said.


“Did you have a good time last night?”

“It’s the usual.” She opened the coffee maker and dumped the leftover coffee. “Desperate guys pawing all over you.” She poured in new grinds and filled the reservoir with water. “You’d think some of these guys just got out of jail or something.”

“Well you can’t discount it, not around here.”

She pushed Brew. “What about you? Did you have fun last night?”

“I stayed here.”

She nodded. He did not, of course, stay here, even the dullest rock could have seen that. He also did not, she was almost positive, see another woman. He may have tried . . . but no, sadly, not even that. She hoped he would grow some balls, and soon.

“How was the underway?” she asked. Davin was watching them like a pupil. She tried to look happy. She’d read in Parents magazine that the parents’ interactions set the stage for their child’s development.

“I’m too exhausted to even think about it,” he said. “We had the squadrons onboard.”

“A lot of people.”

“Tons.” He tussled Davin’s hair. “Missed our little mirror here. Did you teach him that?”

“Teach him what?”

“Hang on.” Will hurried out of the kitchen and hurried back, carrying a book: Winston is Worried. Will had bought books for Davin on Amazon while underway. Boxes had arrived here, the boy ripping them open like Christmas presents, and Alisha had checked through the books to make sure they were appropriate. The boy liked Curious George. He hadn’t touched this one.

“Davin,” Will said, flipping through the pages. “What’s the doggie doing?”

The doggie was trying to climb the tree to get a cat. Davin glanced at the picture, went over to the wall, and pretended to climb. He did this three times.

Alisha applauded. Little mirror was right.

“And you know what? I didn’t teach him that. He brought me the book and showed me.”

“Oh,” and she stopped. Now that was weird.

“What’s wrong honey?”

Honey? Since when had he called her honey? She nodded at the microwave. “Is the clock wrong?”

“I haven’t messed with it. Why?”

“It seems like . . . ” But she had trouble saying it aloud. Seems like time just jumped ahead several minutes.

“Time flies when you’re having fun.”

“It moves too quickly, always.” Not long ago, Davin had been a little growth in her belly. Now he was two, pretending to climb walls. Not long ago, she’d thought she was pregnant, and her husband had given her advice.

Take pills.

What advice would he give now? He had that lost look he often got. It used to be rare — Alisha would catch glimpses from time to time, like a rumored animal on the loose — but these past few months it had become more frequent. Lost, like all the gears were still turning but the engine they ran had to cool down for a few seconds.

Davin wanted to show them the doggie.

“What’s the doggie doing buddy?” Will said, and Davin pretended to climb the wall again.


If you liked this sample from Keepers of Time, consider following me on Twitter or Facebook. The samples, in order:

  1. A Step Ahead
  2. Thirty-Four with a Shrug
  3. An Encounter at the Thirsty Camel
  4. Take Pills

Thanks for reading!