About Steve Wiggins

Associate Editor, Oxford University Press.

Internet Nowhere

So I wake up early.  I’ve been trying for years now to learn to sleep in a bit.  Somehow my body got to thinking the outrageous commute schedule to New York City was normal and I can’t convince it otherwise.  That means my most productive time comes before others awake.  It also seems to be the time favored by internet service providers to take their systems offline for a while.  You see, like any system the internet needs down time.  I slept in until 3:30 this morning and awoke to find internet access unavailable.  I use it during my writing, looking up answers to questions which both my fiction and non raise.  When the internet’s out there’s little I can do, but I’m already awake.  Society prefers conformists, but some of us maybe hear a different beat on our march.

The fact is we expect constant connectivity.  Many of us pay a significant monthly amount to ensure that we have it, but this is no guarantee.  Calling your local service provider at 4 a.m. on a Saturday (I’ve done this) is like dealing with IT at work: they really have no clue what’s wrong but they can talk technical to you, if that makes you feel good.  After all, it’s in the middle of the night.  So I try to decide on something else to do.  Reading works.  Books, however, often lead me to want to look something up.  But the internet’s down, at least around here.  We are utterly beholden to the tech industry that can (and does) wink out from time to time.  When the robot uprising occurs we just need to wait for the service maintenance hour.

I reboot my router.  It’s the first course of action when the internet’s out.  I think I’ll check out a personal hotspot, but to do that I need the internet.  It’s a great, constant feedback loop.  I suspect I’m not the only early riser who faces the internet dearth in the wee hours.  I know I’m overpaying because my data (whatever that is) plan on my phone always shows a monthly surplus.  When it comes to the techies, you just nod your head and pay your bill.  I do wonder what’s happening in the wider world.  Without the net you feel especially isolated in pandemic times.  It’s Saturday morning and the internet’s unavailable.  Back in my teaching days I know just what I’d be doing.  Instead I’m waiting for technology to catch up.

Bethlehem

Now that the holiday season is upon us, I guess it’s okay to post about the upcoming.  It’s actually pretty hard to avoid, living so near Bethlehem.  While Easton claims the first Christmas tree in America, Bethlehem was settled on Christmas Eve and named accordingly by the Moravians.  It’s a tourist destination for Christmas aficionados everywhere, and, as my wife quotes about 2020, “we could use a little Christmas.”  So we headed to the Christkindlmarkt over the weekend.  Apart from an abundance of consonants, Christkindlmarkt is a chance for vendors to bring their wares to where tightly shut pandemic wallets are willing to open up a bit.  This year, however, the “markt” was completely outdoors rather than under the usual four large tents with heaters running.

It was an enjoyable morning out, with temperatures near sixty—certainly not something you can count on for late November.  There were fewer vendors here for a variety of reasons.  You get a boost, for example, by getting people gathered together.  Our herd instincts kick in.  Seeing others spending, we decide to take our chances.  Outside the great rusting behemoth of Bethlehem Steel’s famed stacks stands sentinel.  This year, however, socially distanced tents and booths meant having to walk and stay back while others browsed, all while wearing masks so that smiles could not be seen.  Gathering without gathering.  With no interest in leading a charge against the disease on a national level, we’re all left to muddle through.

Several of the vendors had novelties portraying the year 2020 as the disaster that it’s been.  Instead of ending it with wishes for national peace, the incumbent is trying useless lawsuits to prevent the voices of voters from being heard.  Stirring up his followers to protest against frauds that never happened, while having hundreds of lawsuits awaiting outside his own door as his actual deeds have been examined seriously for the first time.  Bethlehem reminds us that peace and hope ought to be in the air at this time of year.  Thinking of others rather than ourselves.  Do we see that being modeled by 45 and his ilk?  Instead I’m standing here outside where there used to be a warm gathering tent.  A place where we each donate our body heat to help keep everyone warm.  Giving, even as the Republican-controlled senate withholds any stimulus package they think is too generous.  Yes, we could use a little Christmas right about now.

Anticipation

My work computer was recently upgraded.  I, for one, am quickly tiring of uppity software assuming it knows what I need it to do.  This is most evident in Microsoft products, such as Excel, which no longer shows the toolbar unless you click it every single time you want to use it (which is constantly), and Word, which hides tracked changes unless you tell it not to.  Hello?  Why do you track changes if you don’t want to see what’s been changed when you finish?  The one positive thing I’ve noticed is now that when you highlight a fine name in “File Explorer” and press the forward arrow key it actually goes the the end of the title rather than just one letter back from the start.  Another goodie is when you go to select an attachment and Outlook assumes you want to send a file you’ve just been working on—good for you!

The main concern I have, however, is that algorithms are now trying to anticipate what we want.  They already track our browsing interests (I once accidentally clicked on a well-timed pop-up ad for a device for artfully trimming certain private hairs—my aim isn’t so good any more and that would belie the usefulness of said instrument—only to find the internet supposing I preferred the shaved look.  I have an old-growth beard on my face and haven’t shaved in over three decades, and that’s not likely to change, no matter how many ads I get).  Now they’re trying to assume they know what we want.  Granted, “editor” is seldom a job listed on drop-down menus when you have to pick a title for some faceless source of money or services, but it is a job.  And lots of us do it.  Our software, however, is unaware of what editors need.  It’s not shaving.

In the grip of the pandemic, we’re relying on technology by orders of magnitude.  Even before that my current job, which used to be done with pen and paper and typewriter, was fully electronic.  One of the reasons that remote working made sense to me was that I didn’t need to go into the office to do what I do.  Other than looking up the odd physical contract I had no reason to spend three hours a day getting to and from New York.  I think of impatient authors and want to remind them that during my lifetime book publishing used to require physical manuscripts sent through civilian mail systems (as did my first book).  My first book also included some hand-drawn cuneiform because type didn’t exist for the letters at that particular publisher.  They had no way, it turns out, to anticipate what I wanted it to look like.  That, it seems, is a more honest way for work to be done.

Money Days

Those of us who live in caves (figuratively) have trouble filling all this in.  Not a great fan of capitalism, I find “Black Friday” a troubling add-on to the holiday schedule.  Now I’ve lost track of all the expanding special days: Small Business Saturday, Cyber Monday, Giving Tuesday.  Must we celebrate capitalism so much?  I have no problem with non-Christian holidays, but when money becomes the sole basis for special days I have to wonder.  Mammon is a deity of which we’d been warned a couple of millennia ago.  The real irony is that it’s the very religion that posted that warning that now seems most closely related to the capitalistic system that perpetuates its worship.  It wouldn’t be such an issue except that the religion that has bought into the system so readily is the one that is putatively based on its condemnation.

Irony is something for which historians are always on the lookout.  Perhaps this is especially so among historians of religion.  Religion has come to denote a codification of our highest ideals and aspirations.  When did money attained such spiritual status?  It seems that Christianity was the vehicle.  Although it’s most obvious in American politics, the relationship goes back to the whole colonial enterprise.  Once Christianity became an imperial religion under Constantine, its focus began to shift.  Even those splinter groups that started off with higher ideals soon came under the overarching umbrella of the capitalistic system sprung from the teachings of a poor carpenter from Nazareth.  And so we find ourselves amid a creeping array of money-based holidays that provide the secular answer to Advent.

Of course, Advent itself became a season of anticipating the commercialized holiday of Christmas.  And here as the calendar year winds down the financial year hopes for a shot in the arm because economy is the doctrine of this new religious thinking.  And the irony is that the system is set up so those who already have too much get more while those who don’t have enough end up with even less.  Sounds biblical, no?  Ever since my ouster from academia, I’ve had to cash in vacation days to make myself a little semester break.  A body gets used to a certain schedule, and those rhythms are difficult to shake.  As we work our way through pandemic-laced spending holidays I’ve got my eyes on a bit of time off from my small part in supporting this all-consuming machine.  

No Dolls Required

Moving is a never-ending process.  We’ve had some new neighbors move in next door over the past couple of weeks.  Seeing their boxes reminded me that we have many we still haven’t unpacked and sorted after over two years.  (That’s what attics are for.)  One of the novelties I found while doing so recently was one of those bookstore impulse buys at the checkout counter, “Voodoo Lou’s Office Voodoo Kit.”  This was actually a joke gift given to my wife some years ago.  In all probability it was me that insisted we not throw it out.  Perhaps I was saving it as an object lesson.  One of the religions I very briefly discuss in Nightmares with the Bible is Vodun.  This African diasporan religion is frequently demonized as “voodoo” because of its supernatural beliefs.

Many religions, of course, harbor supernatural beliefs.  The ballots are still being counted on whether such things exist because we can never wrestle them into the laboratory to measure them with instruments designed for physical applications only.  Vodun isn’t the source of evil perpetrated by the cheap (and often exploited by horror) “voodoo doll” narratives.  It is a complex blend of traditional African religions brought into forceful contact with Roman Catholicism.  We shouldn’t treat it as exotic, nor should it be a codeword for evil.  Like most religions vodun is an attempt to navigate the world of the gods and spirits that people everywhere believe in, even if they can’t be quantified.  The religion was mysterious when first noticed by travelers from the United States and it quickly became fodder for horror films.

We tend to judge religions just because they’re different.  One of the more insidious aspects of global religions is that they create the illusion among their believers that they are the “only true religion.”  Those who study religion professionally know that all religions are “syncretistic.”  There is no such thing as a “pure” form of any religion.  Just try getting a Calvinist and Catholic to come to a common understanding of what Christianity is.  Both want to claim their version as the true one.  Religions, however, have developed as ways for people to cope with the world as they’ve experienced it.  Just because fewer people believe one way we can’t assume their religion is inferior.  Vodun, in which I’m no expert, is far more complex and sophisticated as might be suggested by and impulse buy for frustrated office workers.  Still, it works as an object lesson.

New Twilight

The strange thing about The Twilight Zone is its ability to endure in the minds of those exposed to it at an early age.  Often it’s more the image of it, that feeling of awe and wonder, that remains with me.  Rod Serling cut a sophisticated figure with what, for the time, was an unbounded imagination.  New Stories from the Twilight Zone was the last of the three standard collections of his tales.  Another book of stories published the same year, From the Twilight Zone, is a little difficult to pin down from online descriptions.  It’ll probably be the subject of a future nostalgia-laden post.  Reading the current collection is like déjà vu; some of the stories I remember from seeing on television, and others I’d probably read before.

In some ways these stories are time machines.  A slice of the early sixties.  The cover of my edition emphasizes that dramatically with Serling’s head hinged open and colorful ideas (“weirdies” in the copy) flying out.  Over half a century later the Zone continues to fascinate, despite the obvious context in which Serling originally wrote.  The enduring nature of his contribution somehow validates me, and probably many other kids of the sixties too.  The stories all suggest that the world isn’t quite what it seems.  It relates to what I posted on a couple days back, the weird, the eerie.  In other words, these are good stories.  Timeless in their own way.  Reaching back toward childhood, they help with the aging process.  

Weird tales have become a popular genre, and I suspect the popularity is due largely to the internet.  Those of us who liked stories such as these were an earlier generation of nerds (of the non-technical variety), those who didn’t find sports or girls or controlled substances—the more mainstream forms of diversion—to our liking.  We were perhaps misfits, but we knew we could well find a place in The Twilight Zone.  This may have been its great, subliminal draw; anyone could find her or himself in the Zone.  Some of the narratives were scary, some were funny.  Others were just odd (“weirdies”).  But they could sell books and Serling was able to make himself a household name through his imagination.  The internet has, in turn, made it more difficult to get noticed in its democracy of expression.  Indeed, it has become a twilight zone of its own.  At least it’s one where it’s a simple matter to still find the books that made us who we are.

Recent Religions

A project at work has made me curious about Christian Science.  Oh, I know the basics, as many religionists do, but when trying to find a neutral treatment of the tradition I was struck by how little was out there.  It is a symptom of academia, I fear, to ignore that which isn’t conventional.  I’m fascinated by what are called New Religious Movements (NRMs)—many of which have sprung out of some form of Christianity.  New religions never cease to emerge, but the nineteenth century was a hotbed of new faith explorations.  The Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Shakers (started a little earlier, now extinct), Christian Science—these traditions hold fascinating beliefs and even though some are thriving (Mormons), others seem to be slowly dying out (Christian Science).  

While in Boston as a student I made a point of visiting the Mother Church of Christian Science.  The campus is impressive and architecturally pleasing.  I took a tour and I still remember the vast and impressive map room.  The denomination is having difficulty because, I suppose, of lawsuits against parents refusing medical treatment for children.  This puts their theology at odds with the larger society’s understanding of children’s rights.  Indeed, if you look for books on Christian Science the most prominent are those from people who’ve left the religion.  Many NRMs have become extremely secretive and some have tried to make leaving difficult.  The same, however, could be said for mainstream Christianity.  We tend to think moderate Christianity benign, if benighted.  But all religions possess the power to abuse.

Religious beliefs make people behave in unconventional ways.  I think of how politics in this country is dominated by a biblicist agenda.  It doesn’t matter which party is in power, it’s the material with which we have to work.  The beliefs, from any quasi-objective point of view are strange.  The Bible, for example, says nothing of abortion.  Life in the biblical world began with the first breath.  Their concept of conception didn’t involve eggs and sperm.  In other words, it’d be ill-advised to take your biology lessons from the Good Book.  But this single issue drives many thousands of voters to one particular party.  I don’t know about you, but I would think that few topics deserve more thorough consideration than religion.  It’s what motivates people.  Instead, we live in a fascinating array of beliefs, often merging official teaching and personal experience and when we try to investigate we find a dearth of interest.

Eerie Weird

We each approach the world from a unique angle.  It’s bewildering if you stop and think about it—billions of individuals (more by orders of magnitude if we add animals) looking at the world like no-one else.  Given the numbers it’s no mystery that some individuals will share fascinations, and I was glad to learn of Mark Fisher’s book The Weird and the Eerie, since it tries to capture the essence of these two terms that characterize so much of my reading.  The introduction explores what these words might mean in regard to Freud’s unheimlich, a term with which many writers are familiar.  What makes many stories interesting is their unusualness.  Fisher considers what it means to be inside or outside, and these categories often play into our perceptions of the weird and the eerie.

The study is divided into two sections (weird and eerie) and explores these concepts through a variety of media—literature, film, and popular music, especially.  Here’s where the unique angle comes in.  While I’ve read quite a bit of “weird fiction” and certainly eerie tales, Fisher has a different spectrum of materials than I do.  We share some resources, of course, such as H. P. Lovecraft, but The Weird and the Eerie gave me a new set of books to read and movies to watch.  Or read and watch in new ways.  Fisher’s reading of these various sources is sharp and perceptive, and he has a wealth of experience on which to draw.  The intertextuality here is rich.

When I think of reading for leisure or pleasure, it occurs to me that without something unusual happening in a tale, I have little with which to gain a grip.  The unheimlich makes for compelling reading.  Fisher sheds considerable light on this—what is it that we mean by saying something is weird or eerie?  It’s not that we should avoid them.  Humans are innately curious creatures, and we’re drawn to the strange in a way that we can seldom help.  Learning to avoid the weird and eerie means missing out on opportunities to learn.  And stories that we might tell to reflect our individual experience of the world.  This brief book contains more than first appears from a cursory glance.  There’s depth here, and for those of us individuals drawn to these aspects of both human and literary expression, much to mine.  The Weird and the Eerie is a flashlight for going into areas sometimes considered dark and learning much along the way. 

Wild Oats

The day after Thanksgiving, although it’s too late for millions of industrially slaughtered animals, is a good time to think about plant-based diets.  I’ve been a vegan for three years now, and it has led me to some interesting places.  One of them is oat milk.  Like most Americans, I eat cereal for breakfast most days.  (When I volunteered for the dig at Tel Dor in 1987, however, olives, Nutella, and bagels made quite a passable morning meal.)  Apart from cereal breakfasts being a religiously motivated practice, they’re easy to prepare but difficult to do without milk.  You can (and many sometimes do) eat dry cereal, but we’ve been conditioned to pour milk on it to make a kind of soupy, grainy start to our day.  It feels familiar.

We started out, after much research, using soy milk.  It has to be a particular brand, though, because it can have an oily taste.  We eventually switched to oat milk.  Unlike soy, I can actually drink it like regular milk.  We’ve been buying Planet Oat, but recently we tried Oatly.  Now, I’m one for a working breakfast.  Time is precious and work begins uncompromisingly early.  That means I don’t read cereal boxes or milk cartons any more.  That changed with Oatly.  I found an entertaining and eloquently stated kind of creed on the back of the carton.  When’s the last time someone brought spirituality to the breakfast table (apart from introducing the eating breakfast cereal craze)?  It makes me feel more grounded.

The intricately interconnected web of life makes me think that we should be cognizant of our food.  What we eat should be approached reflectively.  If we had government subsidies for fields of oats rather than industrial farms for the inhumane treatment of “food animals” it seems to me the world would be in a better place, spiritually.  There’s been some comeback of wildlife since Covid-19 forced us all indoors.  I am glad to see it.  These creatures are our siblings.  Even if that seems to be going too far, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to deny that animals have emotions and minds, particularly those that humans eat.  Given the foodieness of contemporary society (everyone’s talking about food rather worshipfully these days) it would seem that pondering at least how we treat animals before we eat them should be a matter of common courtesy.  Being so far removed from our sources of sustenance has done something to us, I fear.  There are great alternatives out there, and some even make you smile while munching your cereal.

Rest and Be Thankful

Many years on Thanksgiving I find myself distressed.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m thankful for all the good things in my life—and they are more than I regularly stop to count—but life has a way of tossing reality bombs into the mix.  This year, though, there is much for which I’m feeling particularly grateful.  Family and friends foremost.  Fairly good health and a day or two off work.  These are all wonderful.  This year gave us a couple more great gifts: the rejection of a leader who always and only thought of himself and convinced millions that he cared for their interests and beliefs.  A “leader” who refused to acknowledge defeat but just this week began a transition that should’ve begun nearly three weeks ago.  Many are inexpressibly thankful for this.

Although on a much smaller scale, I’m thankful for Nightmares.  Nightmares with the Bible, that is.  Although it’s expensive (I’ll thankfully give a discount code to all askers), it is with a publisher that will promote it better than Holy Horror.  It was a very pleasant surprise to receive the book before Thanksgiving, even with its Halloweenish theme.  Anyone who puts years of their life into a project knows the gratitude in seeing it come to fruition.  Nightmares was a labor of love and I hope all who venture to read it will be thankful that they did.  I know I”m grateful for having lots of other book ideas.  That’s one area where there’s a substantial surplus.

Like many people I’m becoming aware of the dark under-narrative to the American Thanksgiving myth.  What we were presented in state-sanctioned school curricula was a story of grateful pilgrims wanting to share abundance with the American Indians.  History shows that their motivations in colonizing were actually subjugation and making slaves of the indigenous people, something we now recognize as a form of evil.  Such lessons are difficult to learn as an adult when the holiday has so many happy, cozy memories associated with it.  We have just been through four years of national chaos in which “othering” became a wedge intended to fracture the fragile unity of this country.  Yes, the guilt is real.  We cannot, or at least should not, deny what history reveals about our motives.  Instead we should widen our tables.  Invite others to join us.  (Virtually this year.)    And be truly thankful for the many good things—some very large, and others very small—which we have.

Timely Terror

Fear comes in many colors.  Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s Mexican Gothic was getting such positive press that I didn’t wait for the paperback.  At first the title threw me a bit, but creepy old houses can be found in many places around the world, and the gothic often lurks in such structures.  The story builds slowly until the supernatural begins to seep in steadily and the reader realizes they’ve been hooked along the way.  In some ways it reminded me of Jeff VanderMeer’s Annihilation, but the setting in Mexico gives Moreno-Garcia’s tale its own kind of zest.  Having a strong hispanic, female protagonist is a nice corrective to the political rhetoric we’ve been fed for the past four years.  As I said, fear comes in many colors.

Perhaps I’m not as afraid as I used to be when I read fiction.  Gothic, however, is all about setting the right mood.  It’s a creepy sensation that boundaries are being crossed and such things often take place in isolated locations.  The house owned by the Doyles—not exactly colonialists, but symbols are seldom exact matches—is marked by greed and power.  A kind of rot is everywhere evident, but the family must keep power within its own circle.  The parallels to a Trumpian outlook were perhaps not intentional, but national trauma can make you see things in a different way.  As Noemí attempts to rescue her cousin from the house, High Place itself participates in thwarting their escape.

Reflection after reading draws out some further insights.  Not only is the white Doyle family the  oppressive element here, they do so by religion.  Secret rituals and practices have made the patriarch a god—and here let the reader ponder—who builds his power on the oppression of others.  I have no idea if Moreno-Garcia was influenced by the nepotistic White House we’ve just experienced—eager to use political office for overt personal gain, and yes, worship—but she’s laid bare the ugly truths of white power.  I dislike racializing people, but race was invented by Europeans as a mean of oppression and keeping wealth within the grasp of a few individuals who would be surrounded by an empowered “white” race.  It worked in Nazi Germany and it came close to working officially in the United States that fought to vanquish it just seventy years ago.  Mexican Gothic is a moody book indeed.  It’s also a book, whether intentionally or not, that is an object lesson for our times.

Predatory Birds

Maybe it’s a pandemic thing, what with humans huddling away more, but the big birds have come back.  Turkey buzzards and Canada geese are pretty common most of the time, it seems, but other large birds have been putting in an appearance around here lately.  Perhaps the most spectacular are the bald eagles.  My wife and I saw a couple on election day.  (I’ve been a lifelong believer in signs, as much as I try to deny it.)  We were out on a rare errand when one of them flew right over our car.  A couple days later I saw one out the window while I was at work.  My home office has a window that looks out over a small local park.  There are trees and a creek runs through it.  The eagle was likely keeping a look out for fish.

Image by Kathy Büscher from Pixabay.

This past week, however, the activity stepped up.  On a bleary-eyed Monday I sat in my office chair thinking that there were five whole days until I could relax again.  Mondays are hard.  I glanced out my west window and a bald eagle was heading straight toward our house.  I got a good look, but didn’t have time to grab my phone for a photo.  Two days latter, as I was getting through my email, a flash of wings caught my attention.  A great horned owl swooped up into a tree across the street.  Since the leaves are down, I had a chance to grab some binoculars and get a good look.  It was far enough away that a photo would’ve shown only a blur.  I should’ve been working, but sometimes you simply have to stop and look.

On Thursday, again in the morning, a broad winged hawk came and landed on the large electric wire that runs down my street.  The electric (I presume) cable is quite thick and sturdy.  With the binoculars I could see the bird’s claws gripping the twisted contours of the cable.  We regarded one another for some time.  We’ve only lived here for just over two years but I sit in that office nearly every day and I’d not seen such a slow riot of predatory birds.  As I said, I tend to take things as symbols.  I don’t always interpret them correctly, of course.  One thing that makes me glad is that seeing a bald eagle around here, at least for the time being, isn’t such a rare sight.  And I think I know what it means.

At Sea?

Brian Fagan is a name I’ve long known.  Not exactly the consummate stylist, he is a very prolific archaeologist and anthropologist.  I’ve read a few of his books.  Recently my wife and I read his Beyond the Blue Horizon: How the Earliest Mariners Unlocked the Secrets of the Oceans (you see what I mean about style?).  Divided into different regions of the world, the book explores early boat-craft, sketching how people without our technology navigated oceans, often reaching remote locations.  What interests me is when anthropologists make statements about ancient religions, often before the advent of writing among the peoples studied.  No doubt such peoples realized the dangers of open water—open water is still dangerous with all our tech.  It is reasonable to assume their response was religious.  What exactly it was, we don’t know.

The one that really caught my attention was on the Maya.  Coastal Mayans valued the spondylus, or spiny oyster.  This particular mollusk is seasonally toxic—itself an interesting phenomenon—that becomes a hallucinogen.  Hallucinogens have frequently been associated with religion for indigenous peoples.  If archaeology is to be believed, even temples in ancient Israel burned cannabis, so who’s to judge?  Fagan writes that this practice led to shamanistic trances, and this seems likely.  He goes on to suggest that the spondylus was thus a gateway to the supernatural world.  Of course, in the biblical world shellfish were a forbidden food.

While Fagan likes to reminisce about his own past sailing, and likes to describe boats in detail, and show off his nautical language skills, I think about the religious aspect of the great waters.  We still have only a small understanding of the oceans that cover most of our planet.  We can fly over them these days, and miss the intensity of being where no land is in sight.  It can be a transcendent experience, I’m sure.  I’ve seldom been that far from land.  On a ship bound for the Orkney Islands from John O’Groats we were on the North Sea beyond the sight of shore, if I remember correctly.  Although I can’t recall how long the voyage took, I can imagine the feeling of nerves aching for a sight of coastline.  Even with minke whales off the starboard bow, I knew my feet belonged on terra firma.  It’s more comfortable to read about the gods of the ocean in books like Beyond the Blue Horizon.  And when I’m out to sea, I always pray the mariners know what they’re doing.  

Trade Wars?

A few friends are suffering sticker shock at the cost of Nightmares with the Bible.  I offer my sincere apologies.  To those in the normal world (outside academia) such pricing appears predatory.  It is, but you’re not the intended prey.  One of the pillars upon which capitalism rests is “what the market will bear.”  You price up any product until people stop buying it, then you retreat.  I’m no fan of the dismal science, but I am certainly not in the cheering section for capitalism.  Institutionalized greed.  Still, I can explain a little of why Nightmares comes with such a high price tag.  Publishers have long indulged in “library pricing.”  Although many libraries now buy ebooks instead, the model persists.  The idea is that libraries can afford higher prices than mere mortals.  For those of you not in academia, $100 is actually on the low end.  Believe it or not.

In researching Nightmares I saw monographs I coveted.  Some of them priced at $175.  Considering that some of these were under 200 pages, my primitive math sets the rate at about 87 cents per page (single-sided).  Here’s where the disconnect comes in.  Nightmares was written for general readers.  I long ago gave up the idea that to be intelligent a book must be impenetrable.  And academics wonder why people question their utility?  Only after I signed the contract did I learn that the Horror and Scripture series, of which Nightmares is the second volume, would suffer “library pricing.”  There is a discount code for those who may not be libraries.  But please, have your library buy a copy.  That’ll give me fuel for a paperback argument.

In a “catch-22” scenario, it goes like this: a publisher tells an author, “if your book sells well enough at this price we’ll issue a paperback.”  The truth is your hardcover only sells well if you’re well known or if your choice of topic is truly compelling.  If the unit cost were actually the same as the library pricing I’d be a rich man.  Where does all that money go?  It’s a legitimate question.  It’s not royalties!  Academic publishing is an expensive business to run.  Apart from overheads—there are always overheads—you need to pay tech companies to ready your files so they can be printed.  Unless the print run (generally under 200 now) is intended to sell out you’ll have it done domestically so that you don’t have to pay warehousing costs on unsold stock.  I knew a single-man academic publisher who stored his stock in his basement.  Excuses aside, my apologies that Nightmares costs so much.  I’ll send the discount code to anyone who’d like it.

Arrival

Excitement that comes during the work week gets sublimated.  Work, you see, is like a huge ship chugging ahead at about 30 knots.  It takes some time to stop, or even change direction.  So on Thursday, while I was still at my desk, Nightmares with the Bible arrived.  Since all work—even salaried—is measured by the clock by HR,  I couldn’t take off time to enjoy the birth.  I opened the box, cursorily flipped through a copy, and got back to the task for which I’m paid.  After work it’s time for supper and I can’t stay awake much beyond seven or eight, which meant I neglected my baby.  Friday was another work day, and although I wanted to do all the things marketers tell you to do, I had other duties.

So now it’s Saturday and I can officially say Nightmares have been released.  I have a discount code flyer, about which nobody has yet emailed me, but the offer still stands.  You can get a discounted (but still expensive) copy by following the instructions below.  Feel free to share with your rich friends.  Better yet, have your library order a copy.  I’m hoping for a paperback on this one, but that’ll be a couple years and I know paperbacks seldom outsell hardcovers, even expensive ones.  Raising a child can be a costly venture, no?  Adding another book meant that my display copies had to move out of their cubby-hole onto a bookshelf.  Hopefully, if things go well, there will be more siblings.  Perhaps better priced.

A Reassessment of Asherah was published by a European academic press and put at the incredibly high price of $78 back in 1993.  Gorgias Press reissued it, with additional material, but made it even more expensive.  I can’t even afford to buy a copy.  Weathering the Psalms was only $22, but wasn’t a gripping topic for many.  Cascade Books, at least, know how to price things.  Holy Horror, at the shockingly high $45 for a paperback (McFarland), languished.  It missed its Halloween release and no reviews have appeared.  “Nightmares” might well capture my sense of the price for my second missed Halloween release.  There are other books in the works.  If any of them get completed I’ll be seeking an agent to try to bring the prices down.  Until then, Nightmares will be the final word.  It’s out there now, for those brave enough to engage with it.