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Roadtrip #2. With Dr. Dick on the Lost Coast

Tuesday, July 29th, 2014
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I’ve always been intrigued by the area of Northern California known as the Lost Coast. This is where the coastal mountains plunge so sharply into the sea that coastal Route 1 bends away from the shore, heads inland, meets Route 101, and expires.

Route 101 runs along north through the redwoods, inland, and eventually bends back to the coast at Eureka through the redwoods.

The zone between 101 and the coast is the Lost Coast, featuring only a few tiny hamlets such as Shelter Cove and Petrolia—these are towns with populations in the 100s, not the 1000s. Some of the land is undeveloped forests, and some of it is carved up into private ranches, quite a few of which are said to contain greenhoused pot farms, or “grows.” The South Humboldt wholesale pot trade centers on the Route 101 town of Garberville.

I’d thought Garberville would have a festive carnival atmosphere, but far from it. The place is gloomy and tattered. Grim. We were glad to turn off at Garberville and head into the true Lost Coast.

The Lost Coast roads are narrow and winding, and the citizens are highly independent. During our long drive to Petrolia, deep in the heart of the wilderness, we smelled the heavy pot fragrance from several of the solar-battery-powered grows—not that we could readily see them from the road, and not that we were going to nose in and look for them.

The journey led us to my old college friend Dr. Dick Scheinman, who, far from being a pot-grower, has been the resident physician of Petrolia, CA, for going on forty years. He’s an idealistic sort, a thoroughly admirable man. He came the the Lost Coast because he wanted to live somewhere away from civilization “in a place where they speak English and where the rivers aren’t full of parasites.”

After several tries, I’d managed to reach Dick on his landline phone, and he told me the landmark for finding his house would be “a truck and a tree.” This seemed a little vague—I didn’t initially grasp that the truck would be in the tree. Dick and his kids hoisted the thing up there some years ago, having removed the engine and transmission to lighten the payload. Why? Because they could. And, since it’s the Lost Coast, no pesky officials were likely to say no. The officials don’t get out that way very often.

Dick is so self-reliant that he built his own home.

And he farms his own cows—he grilled us hamburgers made from them. Did he use a propane-fueled Weber BBQ set up? Hardly. He propped an old refrigerator rack on rocks over a wood fire, broiled the burgers and some green peppers Sylvia and I had in our car, and served the food on home-made pottery plates. Dick digs the clay for his pottery from the river and fires his creations in a wood-fired kiln he built. We’re talking serious D.I.Y. ethic here!

For city slickers like Sylvia and me, it was paradise to be so far off the grid. Dick took us swimming in a river a couple of hundred yards away. His house used to be next to the river, but the river moved. He and his neighbors have a provisional papala set up for shade.

And they do have some store-bought chairs. I like this particular photo, I feel like it captures a little bit of that calmness I felt while visiting our friend. No traffic sounds, no airplanes overhead, no wireless, no cellphone, no rush.

Dick’s friends and the neighborhood dogs were all very pleasant—no cracked, dangerous, types were in evidence. We picked a zillion blackberries off Dick’s monster rows of bushes.

Our kindly host.

I shot a lot of photos. I had my old heavy-duty Canon 5D SLR with me, and all around me were the kinds of things I like to look at. A ladder for picking peaches, a stairway to heaven.

The late afternoon colors reflected in an upstairs window, the glass surface rippled with the ambient gnarl.

The back steps you go down on your way to the outhouse.

Two hoses on the ground, so lovely.

A tree and a field. What more do you want? Okay, a shed and some kindling and a float.

The living yin/yang of the river’s edge.

The wonderful toolshed walls, bedecked with wonder. Seeing this, I thought of the famous “Pied Beauty,” written by Victorian poet Gerard Manley Hopkins in 1877.

Glory be to God for dappled things –
For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;
Landscape plotted and pieced – fold, fallow, and plough;
And all trades, their gear and tackle and trim.

All things counter, original, spare, strange;
Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:
Praise him.

And seeing this cow, I think of Peter Bruegel’s painting, Return of the Herd. Cows are wider than we tend to realize, and Bruegel knew to paint them that way. Scheinman hypotheses that, with all that cud fermenting inside their stomachs, cows all times have a bit of a buzz on. Calm and bovine. Dick likes his cows a lot, like pets, even though he eats them. It’s the wheel of life. He doesn’t actually make any profit on them, but it feels right to have them around.

On the way out, Sylvia and I took one last look at the dangling truck.

We hit the fiercely wild Lost Coast beach at the mouth of the Mattole River near Petrolia, then wound our way along the insanely scenic and bumpy Mattole road to RV-filled Route 101, hitting gorgeous Bandon, Ore, for a night, and then, feeling pressed for time, stemmed off along a two-laner beside the lovely Umqua River to reach the congested nightmare of Interstate I-5 North. Eeeek.

Near Seattle, we spent a night with my SF writer pal Marc Laidlaw. I always love talking to him. Marc and I don’t live like rugged pioneers, but we’ve turned out some good surfin’ SF stories over the years. Our latest extravganza, “Watergirl,” will be in Asimov’s SF magazine this fall, featuring our usual transreal surfin’ SF doubles, Zep and Del.

Seek ye the gnarl, dude.

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Roadtrip #1. Seastacks.

Sunday, July 27th, 2014
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A couple of weeks ago, my wife Sylvia and I set out for a drive along the coast from San Francisco to Vancouver.

We stuck to Route 1 most of the way, it’s a slow two-laner, but it’s great to be by the ocean. As opposed to being on a giant interstate like Rt. 5. This said, we did take Rt. 5 for most of the way home…two weeks later.

I’d always been curious about the Sea Ranch development on the coast north of SF, but it’s kind of boxy. Good cliffs, though. And a bathroom.

Further north in California we got to the redwood zone. Love those ferns and the greenness.

Later we stopped at a giant log that had been hollowed out to be a trailer home and dragged around the country in the 1940s. Checked out a tree we could drive our car through. And then what?

We saw a lot of big rocks in the ocean, they call them “seastacks.” A cute young couple climbed one of them and hugged.

In northern California, south of Eureka and Arcadia, Route 1 veers away from the ocean because the coast is too intensely rocky, and there’s an area called the Lost Coast where we visited our old college friend, Dick Scheinman. But I’ll save that for the next blog post.

For today let’s jump ahead into driving Rt. 1 along the Oregon coast. We started getting to really big seastacks up there. You feel like an ant among them, which is always a nice feeling.

The greatest seastacks were in a town called Bandon, Ore. You can remember it as Abandon without the A. We stayed at the inexpensive old Bandon Beach Motel near the Coquille Point, where there’s a serious buttload of seastacks.

Pan shot of the stairs down to the beach from the motel.

In the morning it was misty and the tide was low. I walked along the beach for an hour, getting some really nice pictures. It was like being in a painting by Yves Tanguy. You used to see a lot of book covers like this on SF novels in 1950s and early 1960s.

Exquisite reflections and patterns, and the little birds animating the scene.

I was totally, totally into it, natch.

I talked to an old guy who was digging for clams. He’d stick this tube into the sand to, like, chase them down as they were digging to get away from him. He wasn’t having a good day, he’d only bagged about four of them.

Intense wads of anemones as well.

Sylvia came down on the beach, too, and we found a piece of “driftwood” nearly the size of a house. Wonderful gnarl.

And the source code is pocks in the rocks.

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SF Cliffs, Carnival Rides, Digital Pub, “Gorgeous” Show

Friday, July 4th, 2014
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A few weeks ago my wife and I took two of our grandchildren to the Legion of Honor museum in SF, and then the four of us walked south along the clifftops towards Land’s End, and we sat for awhile on a wall looking out at the sea. The big sky. The future. A lady named Chloe, sitting on a bench behind us, took a photo of us and emailed it to me. She’d somehow attached her iPhone to her heavy-duty SLR camera. Wonderful shot.

Sylvia’s niece came to visit and we took her and her family out to the Boardwalk at Santa Cruz. (This isn’t the family in the photo.) I love going to the Boardwalk. It’s a park where you pay as you go, paying for each ride separately. So you don’t have to commit to a full day of pukeful chaos.

The only thing I rode was the Big Dipper roller coaster. When we hit the bottom after the first big down-swoop, about half the vertebrae in my lower back and in my neck made little pops. For lack of any other reasonable option, I decided this was good for me. Like a trip to a chiropractor…not that I ever go. I felt loose and wiggly. Glad to have survived yet another “my last ride ever on the Big Dipper.”

There is no ride more terrifying to me than a chair swing ride. For reasons unclear to me, I think of them as being “Swiss Swing” ride, but I don’t think anyone else uses this phrase.

I think I first got really really scared of them when Sylvia and I rode one at a small town Upstate New York carnival in, like, 1976, and the chains were totally puny, like chains you’d have on a swing in your backyard, and we were sure one of them would break. To make I worse, we were swinging out over a crushed, blood-stained “death-car” that the cops had carted to the carnival site to frighten potentially reckless teen drivers.

Look, Ma, no head!

Last week I was in SF for digi.lit, which is LitQuake’s conference about how to succeed in digital publishing. The talks (including mine) weren’t super interesting, although I did pick up a few tips, and I met some nice people. One suggested tactic that I might try, at some point, will be to pay to be part of a mass ad emailing by an outfit called BookBub. Publicity being the biggest prob for self publishers.

My new books, I feel I should mention yet again, are my Beat memoir/novel All the Visions and my SF Transreal Trilogy: Secret of Life, White Light, and Saucer Wisdom.

Skipping some of digi.lit talks, I went to the nearby Museum of Asian Art, where they have a really interesting show called Gorgeous. They’ve paired pieces from their collection with pieces from the temporarily-closed SF MOMA. I’ve always liked the big Koons sculpture of Michael. Koons really is a Warhol for our age. He employs, like, 120 people to fabricate his works, truly a factory process.

The Tibetan Buddhists have a wonderfully gory notion of art that makes you think about the end of the road. Dangling eyeballs, skull brimming with blood’n’brain, what more do you want?

Speaking of fabricating off-kilter works of art, I’m working (slowly) with Bruce Sterling on a new story.

Love the word “howdah.” It means the seating cabin that you set on top of a royal elephant. This was in that Glamour show as well.

The final room of the show is a really strong jolt, quite wonderful. In back, a dimly lit Rothko, in the front, a wonderfully crafted bronze sculpture of a Buddha of some kind. I opened up my head inside this room, forgetting myself or, rather, watching the pieces of myself float by. Best art-rush I’ve had in a long time.

Oh, one more painting I saw this month, this one at the Legion of honor. It’s a smoothly painted and equivocal rendering of Thalia, the muse of comedy. Given a choice (not that you always are), I’ll always choose comedy over tragedy.

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Looking for Visions

Tuesday, July 1st, 2014
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Photo by Susan A. Poague.

I was out at Four Mile Beach north of Santa Cruz with my wife and some friends yesterday. Pulling on a piece of kelp here, wanting to extract a nice long tentacle. The stalk snapped, I fell on my butt, it was fun. A jolt.

This month I read a picture book by Chet Van Duzer, Sea Monsters on Medieval and Renaissance Maps. Found it in Strand Books in NYC. A fascinating theme—and very fitting for me, as I’m in the process of deciding what to put in my next SF novel. Looking for the funky, gnarly monsters that live beneath the blank spaces of my world map.

Here’s a detail of the best and most influential monster-bedecked map of the sixteenth century. By Olaus Magnus.


“Sea Monsters” acrylic on canvas, June, 2014, 18” x 24”. Click for a larger version of the painting.

So I went and did my own sea-monsters-map painting. Something that made me laugh was the fact that the old-timers believed that every kind of land animal had a sea version. A lot of their confused ideas arose, I think, from occasional glimpses of seals, sea lions, and walruses. Be that as it may, they were sure we could find a sea pig, a sea elephant, a sea Elvis, whatever.

To finish off the narrative of my painting, I put in a youth questing for a princess in a tower. Her expression cracks me up. She’s bewildered, bemused, like, “Oh no.”

On the painting front, I published a new edition of my Better Worlds book of my paintings. You can buy it in paperback or, more immediately, you can browse it for free as a big webpage. It takes a minute to load this page the first time, but it should load pretty fast after that.

Good news from NYC! Dover Books will be reissuing my early nonfiction book The Fourth Dimension this fall. And they made a nice cover. I dig the green, and the mathematical rabbit-hole in the middle, and the transparency of the subtitle. I wrote a short new preface.

Meanwhile I’m just trying to do my jigsaw puzzle before it rains anymore. The puzzle is what goes into the next novel. Dig this book skimming across my dining table like a flying fish. This book is a useful enlightenment book called It’s Up To You by the Tibetan guru Dzigar Kongtrul. The thoughts and emotions in my head aren’t “me,” nor is there any “me” to have a head. So “I” can relax. Let the clouds drift.

Yes! But meanwhile I want to write another novel anyway. Writing helps me forget that I’m alive—a goal for many an artist. First I’d thought my next book might be a YA (young adult) book about an NYC kid. And then I’d thought it might be a sequel to Frek and the Elixir. And today I’m thinking it might be kind of a YA novel—but about an alien on another world. A, like, lizard boy, disturbed by thoughts of fragrant scales and leathery-skinned eggs. Only something stranger than that. I could dream up a whole cosmos, or at least a one-molecule-thick FX illusion of one.

Long story short, I’m looking to escape from consensus reality once again. Alone with the dino-birds in the cosmic stadium. Pull that stalk.

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Two New Books! TRANSREAL TRILOGY & ALL THE VISIONS

Wednesday, June 25th, 2014
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*Two new books out in ebook and paperback today!
* Transreal Trilogy and All The Visions.
*Click the cover images below to visit the book pages.


Transreal Trilogy book page.

Transreal Trilogy includes three of my “transreal” novels, that is, SF about my own life.
* The Secret of Life: A 60s college student learns he’s a saucer alien.
* White Light: A hipster math professor travels to the afterworld.
* Saucer Wisdom: A troubled author tries to write about alien abductions.


All The Visions book page.

All the Visions is a short autobiographical novel that I wrote in 1983. Wanting to emulate Jack Kerouac’s composition of On the Road, I typed All the Visions on an 80-foot scroll of paper instead of using separate sheets. The book describes the adventures of Conrad Bunger: mathematician, writer, seeker, rebel, freak.

Browse Transreal Trilogy and All The Visions for free on their book pages.
Buy the books at Transreal Books.

Many thanks to the 170 people who backed this publication project on Kickstarter.
It’s a new world in publishing.
And I’m still rockin’.

The mystery tour is now boarding.

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Paintings Sale. The “Tentacles” Show in Monterey.

Sunday, June 8th, 2014
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I’m putting all of my paintings on sale for three weeks, with $150 off the price of every canvas. Such low prices that I almost hate to do it. But I have limited storage space and I keep painting new ones, so some of old guys have got to find new homes. You can find the current prices under the “Buy Paintings” link on my Paintings page.

Meanwhile I finished a new painting this week, Cows on the Run.

“Cows on the Run” oil on canvas, June, 2014, 30” x 24”. Click for a larger version of the painting.

This landscape shows the hills above Alum Rock Park in East San Jose. I felt the picture needed something extra, so I went for a saucer and a hungry, starfish-shaped alien. And everyone knows how aliens feel about cows. Even the cows know! I painted the cows a little large for how far away they’re meant to be—but these cows are important, and I wanted to give the viewer a good look at them. They kind of make me laugh.

Those white-flowered plants in the foreground are meant to be a certain plant that you often see in California. For years, I’d though these plants were Queen Anne’s lace, but, on our hike in the hills, a somewhat eccentric, but botanically well-informed, volunteer-ranger-type guy told me these plants are in fact poison hemlock, originally native to Greece (cf. the death of Socrates.) What makes this confusing is that “hemlock” can also mean a type of pine tree.

This weekend we were down in Monterey. We went kayaking from a very handy spot, right in an interesting area of the bay near the aquarium, it’s Adventures by the Sea, at their 299 Cannery Row location. Such clean clear cool water, so many seals and sea otters. Lovely.

And after that we checked out the Tentacles show at the Monterey aquarium. I’ve learned to go there later in the day, like after 2 pm, when most of the school tours have cleared out. We visited with the cephalopods and the jellyfish. Old fictional faves of mine. I’ve worked cuttlefish and/or jellyfish into very many of my novels. They’re about the most alien creatures sharing the planet with us.

By the way, the first time I saw a jellyfish show was in May, 1992, at the Monterey aquarium with Bruce Sterling, and we wrote our classic tale “Big Jelly” about giant jellyfish, you can read it free online.

I do have to say that the quality of the Monterey aquarium experience has gone down over the last twenty years. At this point they seem to be pandering to distractible kids on school tours. Or something.

In the old days, the place was like a quiet cathedral, dimly lit, no distractions, no ceiling-high models, no flashing lights, no horrible ambient music, no braying amplified narration. Just you and the sea creatures.

But now they’ve gone all multimedia on our asses. And the special exhibits don’t have nearly as many actual aquariums as before. I don’t like it. Yes, I’m old.

But they did have a few of my faves there. I liked these “stumpy cuttlefish,” especially set off by a young woman’s manicured hand. We wave our fronds, whoever we be.

And they had an impressive tank of nautiluses, about twenty or thirty of them. I had some giant, man-eating flying nautiluses in The Hollow Earth (pb, ebook, or free CC). Love these guys. Ninety tentacles, baby.

One of the best tanks held some critters that I thought were cuttlefish, as their tentacles are fairly short, and they have those nice, undulating cheerleader-skirt-fins all around their midriffs. We’d seen a couple of these while snorkeling off the north shore of Oahu last year, and we’d been proud and happy to have “seen cuttlefish.” But it turns out these are “big-fin reef squid.” Very good performers in a tank, not cringing, just relaxed and doing their thing.

We did see a tank full of orange-and-white striped “common cuttlefish,” as well, but I didn’t get a good photo of them, maybe because the cuttles teeped into my mind and hypnotized me. They’re very interactive, coming up to the glass and waving their facial squid-bunches of tentacles at you if you wriggle your fingers near the glass. Hail Cthulhu!

I’m kind of thinking of having an undersea cephalopod civilization on our own Earth in my vaguely planned Frek 2 novel…

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Frek 2? Recalling Early Glimmers of Frek 1.

Monday, June 2nd, 2014
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These days I’m caught up by the idea of writing a book aimed at younger readers. I really liked Cory Doctorow’s Pirate Cinema . On my end, I’m starting to think about writing a sequel to my 2004 young reader novel, Frek and the Elixir—you might call that one Frek 1. It was marketed as a regular “adult” SF novel, but the hero was twelve years old, and the material is kid-friendly. I’d like to come back and do a Frek 2 where he’s fourteen.

I’ve been thinking about a Frek sequel for a while. You can find a January, 2008, blog post of mine that includes an an interview on Frek and the Elixir and Postsingular, where I say a bit about this…although some of my thoughts on Frek 2 have changed—and I’ll get into that in some upcoming posts.

For some happy reason a photo of Frek and the Elixir appeared in a Barney’s ad. A high point. The way it happened was, I seem to recall, that the photographer just happened to be reading Frek, and they wanted a shot of the model looking “brainy,” so they gave her lorgnette-type glasses and had her holding the book. No doubt she insisted on taking Frek home and stayed up all night reading it…

Looking back through my book-length writing notes for Frek and the Elixir, online as a free PDF file, I came across an entry I wrote in Tucson on December 15, 2000. This was when I had the first glimmerings of the book that turned out to be Frek.

[===Begin old Journal Excerpt===]

I’m in Tucson to give an after-dinner talk at a conference on genomics, which is the latest word for what we were calling biotech or genetic engineering. Supposedly genomics is to biology as electronics is to electricity. A modern, high-tech spin on an old-school science.

I haven’t been able to locate any of the conference people at the resort, so I pretty much wonder why the f*ck I’m here. My room is in the basement, and I’m down here typing on my laptop.
I keep thinking about On the Road, which I’m rereading this week. I got a copy at City Lights in SF last week. I’d always fondly thought of my novel Secret of Life as being my On the Road, although now, rereading Road, I have to admit I don’t hold a candle to Jack. I did what I did, that’s enough, and I don’t need to go and pretend I did more. My routine of comparing the cyberpunks to the Beats—what a crock.

As I writer, I’m more inner-directed, more self-centered, less generous and less lyrical than Jack. The way he describes the weather and the sky and the sunsets! And, most specifically, my Secret doesn’t have any character like Dean Moriarty—I don’t have a really complex foil for the narrator.


[Rudy with college friend Roger Shatzkin at the W Hotel in NYC.]

So now my clever simian mind turns to thinking about how I might better ape the Master. What if I did an SF novel that set out from the start to be an homage to Road? That might be fun. It could be a picaresque planet-hopping kind of thing. Call the homage novel, say, Galactic Kicks. It could be transreal or I could do it as a pure fabrication. Or a mix. Another plus is that it would be way to do a space-opera thing, which I’ve never yet tried.

My Dean Moriarty character would need to be tragic—Dean’s tragic quality feeds the richness of Road. Over the course of the book, Dean is losing his mind. A desperate downward spiral. But maybe I don’t want to write a book like that. Maybe I’d like a galactic kicks quest that was a little more G-rated and little sunnier.

Anyway, reading another page of Road here in my dismal room, I read this amazing scene about sleeping in a cheap all-night movie theater in Detroit. He says, “The people who were in that all-night movie were the end.” Love that use of “the end.” Jack talks about how the theater’s double bill of movies goes deep into his mind, because he’s seeing and hearing and sleeping through these movies over and over during the night.

All my actions since then have been dictated automatically to my subconscious by this horrible osmotic experience.

What a beautiful line. What a genius to write that. Yes, Jack’s unmatchable. As it happens, Jack himself addresses the issue of trying to model your work on the work of an unmatchable artist. He writes about some musicians trying to play right after the legendary jazz pianist George “God” Shearing has performed.

Everybody listened in awe and fright…and the boys said “There ain’t nothin left after that.”

But the slender leader frowned. “Let’s blow anyway.”

Something would come of it yet. There’s always more, a little further—it never ends. They sought to find new phrases after Shearing’s explorations; they tried hard. They writhed and twisted and blew. Every now and then a clear harmonic cry gave new suggestions of a tune that would someday be the only tune in the world and would raise men’s souls to joy.

Galactic kicks, man, galactic kicks. Two gone wigged cats roistering across the Milky Way in 3001.

What if my hero’s road pal is human-sized alien cuttlefish? My version of Neal Cassady. The cuttlefish looks “demure” just like Kerouac always says about Dean Moriarty. I saw some cuttlefish at the Monterey aquarium the other day, and they did indeed look demure, their bunched tentacles pointing tidily down, their hula-skirts wavering about their middle. Neal Cassady as a cuttlefish, yas. Love it.

[===End old Journal Excerpt===]

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