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Book Launch

November 23, 2021

We’ll be officially launching The Bourgeois Anarchist on November 30, 2021, via Zoom, at 7 p.m. Eastern.

Being a taciturn curmudgeon, I’m extremely lucky to be joined by Elizabeth (Libby) Mosier, an extraordinary writer who’s a much better conversationalist than I am. Most likely, Libby will ask intelligent questions to which I will give confused, nonsensical answers. It should be fun!

To witness this spectacle, and maybe ask questions of your own, you have to register in advance for the Zoom link. The event will be hosted by our friends at Main Point Books in Wayne, PA, which is offering signed copies of the book.

Blurred Choices

November 17, 2021

Ellen Prentiss Campbell, an award-winning fiction writer and member of the National Book Critics Circle, has kindly reviewed The Bourgeois Anarchist in Tiferet Journal. Throughout the novella, she notes, “the lines between good and bad, right and wrong, blur”–proving she firmly grasped the book’s main theme.

Though the magazine is available by subscription only, I can offer a quote from the end of the piece, summarizing her take on the 66-year-old protagonist, Susie Alioto:

Susie is an irresistible force. Readers, especially those of a certain age, aficionados of Anne Tyler’s quirky heroines, will enjoy Susie. She carries the baggage of years of living and experience with almost reckless, youthful abandon. And begins to reckon with some skeletons in her own closet and to figure out what’s next.

You can purchase the novella on Bookshop.org.

Out of My Shell

November 5, 2021

Over the past couple of months, in an attempt to promote my novella The Bourgeois Anarchist (Finishing Line Press), I’ve done three interviews with obliging bloggers. They were fun, especially when I could give a subversive answer to the questions. Here are the links, with a few selected quotes:

Hasty Book List, by Ashley Hasty:

Q: Book character I’d like to be stuck in an elevator with:

A: Elizabeth Bennet from Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. I might try, with no luck, to woo her away from Darcy. More to the point, she’d understand how to get us out of the elevator.

Q: Place I’d most like to travel:

A: Berkeley, CA, where I went to college. I’d like to connect somehow with the idealist I was then, though it’s probably impossible.

Linda’s Book Bag, by Linda Hill:

Q: What can we expect from an evening in with The Bourgeois Anarchist?

A: You’ll fall in love with Susie [the protagonist], I can almost guarantee it. She’s tremendously good-hearted, an idealist, and about ten times as tough as you’d guess from her diminutive size. And yet she gets entangled in a situation that proves almost too much for her.

The plot includes arsonists, mobsters, sleazy cops and life-threatening violence, but the real focus is Susie’s conflicting loyalties and difficult moral choices. She’s long been an anarchist, at least theoretically—she spent two decades in a militant commune—but now her principles leave her floundering in her time of need. You might say the quandary involves her head versus her heart, but her head is on both sides, and her emotions are flipping about like butterflies.

Jerry’s Circumlocution, by Jerry Harwood

Q: What does literary success look like to you?

A: Groupies! But where are they? Why don’t I have any?

——————

Okay, that’s enough silliness for one post. Check out the links if you want more.

After some production struggles, my novella The Bourgeois Anarchist, featuring 66-year-old militant Susie Alioto, is on track to be released this fall by Finishing Line Press. You can order the book at the publisher’s site, and it will soon be available on Amazon, Bookshop.org, and elsewhere.

Oddly, I haven’t yet boasted about what my distinguished writerly acquaintances have said about the book. I’ll make up for that right now. Here’s the advance praise that’s come in so far (and if you’d like to add to it, feel free, especially if you have a million Twitter followers):

The Bourgeois Anarchist is an engrossing tale of an aging pacifist’s struggle to live her ideals as she’s enveloped by the dangers of anarchic activism and the violence of big city capitalism.
—Alan Drew, author of Shadow Man and Gardens of Water

If you’ve ever wondered what you would do in a time of crisis … you’re doing it right now. Susie Alioto is doing her thing too … marching, banner-waving and trying to reconcile her anarchic principles with her non-violent beliefs, in an America where non-violence seems to be increasingly impossible. As tensions rise in her rapidly gentrifying district of Philadelphia, a motley crew of cops, mobsters, pacifists and pseudo-anarchists invade Susie’s quiet existence. No wonder she’s feeling dizzy. A thoroughly enjoyable, and surprisingly gentle, story of love, duty and politics.
—Orla McAlinden, author of The Accidental Wife and The Flight of the Wren

When it comes to political convictions, our younger selves are bound to judge our older selves, and harshly. The charm of this novella is the way it presents this subject with such a light touch, such generosity, and such affection for its characters.
—Simone Zelitch, author of Judenstaat, Waveland, and Louisa

It’s antifa vs artisanal coffee in this absorbing and timely Philadelphia story about the difficulties of living out one’s radical principles in the most orderly way possible.
—Elisabeth Cohen, author of The Glitch

An earlier post included an image of a poster Susie keeps on her refrigerator: a portrait of her special anarchist hero, Errico Malatesta (a real historical figure), with his most famous saying, “Impossibility never prevented anything from happening.” When I wrote the book, this poster did not actually exist, so I created it. Anyone who requests it via the Contact page can have a high-res JPEG or PDF copy for free, to post in the kitchen (to puzzle friends) or on the front door (to attract police scrutiny).

Susie Finds a Home

March 25, 2021

Some years ago, I wrote a silly novel-length mystery spoof that, thanks to the wisdom of the publishing industry, has never seen the light of day. The characters, though, have begged to come back in a more serious effort, especially Susie Alioto, a 66-year-old anarchist and single mother.

At last Susie is getting her due. Her new venue, a novella called The Bourgeois Anarchist, is coming out in July from Finishing Line Press.

After college Susie spent two decades in a radical commune, and her beliefs haven’t wavered. She marches for gun control, for Black Lives Matter, for action against climate change. She’s a leader in local groups that fight for justice and human rights.

You may wonder how the image on this post relates. Well, Susie’s special hero is the late Italian anarchist Errico Malatesta (1853–1932). For inspiration, Susie keeps this poster on the side of her refrigerator, where she communes with it every day. But her son Eric, an apolitical math nerd—named, to his chagrin, after Malatesta—thinks her politics ridiculous, especially since his mother’s current lifestyle is so middle-class. Privately he calls her the “bourgeois anarchist.”

The plot focuses on conflicts that develop when Susie gets involved with some young militants. It seems that her lifetime principles don’t match up with her intuitive sense of justice, and she faces a kind of existential crisis. The story also includes cops, capitalists, arsonists, mobsters, and a coffee shop (because we all need coffee shops). And of course there’s romance (because we all need romance). Along the way, Eric provides a skeptical perspective and some nerdy humor.

The book is now available for presale. Since my royalty rate for the life of the book depends on the presale volume, I’ll be extremely grateful to anyone who gives Susie a good home.

If you’re not sure you want to read Susie’s tale, here’s another incentive: A paperback novella is the perfect tool for domestic disagreements. When launched at your significant other, it’s big enough to show you mean business but not dangerous enough to hurt anyone. Don’t you need one today?

Being a person who knows little about politics and misunderstands much of that little, I feel it’s incumbent upon me to share my predictions about the upcoming U.S. election. Clearly the experts are befuddled, so the responsibility for commentary falls on us ignoramuses.

Here’s what I predict:

  • President Twitterman will survive the coronavirus. If he suffers mental impairment from the disease, no one will know the difference.
  • He’ll lose the popular vote by a large margin (though not nearly as large as he deserves).
  • He’ll lose the electoral vote by a frighteningly small margin.
  • While making lots of noise about fraud, he will ultimately retire from the fray rather than mount a coup—because, like a typical bully, he’s a coward at heart.
  • Though Biden will promise healing, outrage will continue to multiply on both sides, and some people will get killed.
  • Ultimately the deplorables, as Hillary Clinton called them, will fade from sight, skulking underground like cicada nymphs until their next chance to emerge. Which they will do, in time.

The True Samaritans

December 22, 2019

During the holiday season, from Thanksgiving through New Year’s, Americans give a lot of lip service to the values of charity, compassion and care for the less fortunate. A few shining exemplars of these virtues are held up by the media, with cheery pictures and sentimental language. Typically, though, we fail to recognize the most charitable of all, the true Samaritans among us.

Whom do I mean? Which people are the greatest self-sacrificers?

Actually, they are the people you’d least suspect: the white working- and middle-class straight Americans who support conservative politicians and a right-wing agenda. For short, since their current Great Leader in the White House is President Twitterman, I’ll call them the Lesser Twitters, or LTs.

What’s compassionate about their agenda? you may ask. How can people who favor holding immigrant children in cages be considered Samaritans?

Let’s look at what LTs are giving up and on whose behalf.

Obviously, by supporting policies aimed at benefiting the rich, LTs sacrifice their own prosperity, since the idea that wealth trickles down from top to middle to bottom has been proven a hoax. Nor is it possible that obsolescent, polluting industries like coal mining can ever make a comeback. The “jobs” that right-wing politicians claim to preserve or resurrect will never again be a major force in America. If such activities persist at all in the future, they’ll be done by robots.

On the surface many LTs refuse to accept these truths, but in their hearts they understand, and they realize they are making a sacrifice. They don’t believe, of course, that they are giving up their well-being for the sake of obscenely wealthy corporate leaders, hedge fund managers, and lobbyists. No, in their view they are acting to preserve important social values, such as the right to life and the sanctity of marriage, the issues that Republican politicians have played up for at least two generations, since Richard Nixon and Spiro Agnew (both later disgraced and chased from office) began appealing to the “silent majority” in 1969.

What’s interesting is that these so-called family values do not generally affect LTs themselves. If you’re against gay marriage, for example, you won’t marry another person of the same sex, and probably your family members won’t either. Similarly, if you’re against abortion, you don’t have to have one, nor does your partner. These are issues that pertain to other people. By opposing liberal laxity on these matters, LTs are trying to save the rest of us from sin.

Arguably, this is true for even the hottest of hot-button issues, immigration and refugees. Most LTs have scant personal experience with immigrants. Maybe, speeding past in their SUVs, they’ll glimpse a Latino mowing a lawn, or on occasion, through a swinging kitchen door, they’ll catch sight of a swarthy person washing dishes in a restaurant. Hardly a threat in either case. Again, this is a matter that applies to other people, and in screaming their support for cruelty at the border, LTs are acting to save the rest of us who might actually need those jobs mowing lawns or washing dishes, at least until the robots move in.

Let’s take a moment, then, to recognize the LTs as the true Samaritans among us. Yes, they may be rewarded at Armageddon—and at that point they’ll certainly get to shout “I told you so”—but we should offer some appreciation in this life as well.

Let’s each light a holiday candle for the LTs. If you don’t celebrate a holiday involving candles, you can make a cross of two sticks, set it on fire and plant it on a suspicious person’s lawn. It’s the least we can do.

Democracy and Frogs

June 29, 2019

In my day job, I’ve recently had the pleasure of doing layout on a new translation of an ancient Greek mock-epic poem, “The Battle Between the Frogs and the Mice,” a spoof of heroic war sagas. The new translation by A. E. Stallings, with drawings by Grant Silverstein and an introduction by “A. Nony Mouse,” is due out later this year from Paul Dry Books. The text and illustrations are both gruesome and hilarious.

To summarize the poem’s narrative: After committing a selfish and deadly error, the Frog King concocts lies to evade responsibility, and as part of his cover-up he leads his subjects into a war on false pretenses. Things go badly for the amphibians, and the entire race will be wiped out—until the gods intervene to stave off genocide.

Could there be parallels to the current day?

After pondering this matter, I’ve decided conditions are very different in our democratic era. Because we no longer believe the gods will intervene.

Time to Get Crazy

October 22, 2018

November approaches, and it’s time for one of my periodic screeds about voting. Few things perturb me more than Americans who don’t vote.

Well, President Twitterman gets top rank among bugbears, of course. And there’s the Saudi autocrat who’s finally being bashed in the press for murdering one journalist while his mass slaughter of Yemeni civilians continues to be ignored. Yet I don’t know that princely thug called MBS, he’s never bought me a beer, and my outrage at him merges with my general disgust for the fat-cat gangsters swarming the White House and other seats of government.

In comparison, my displeasure with nonvoters is much more personal. You know the truism that sibling feuds are the worst of all? Americans who don’t bother to vote—especially college-educated, middle-class types like myself—those people are family, and so I get really mad at them. There’s no excuse for their behavior. Voting is so simple—how can they not do it?

Do I sound like somebody’s grumpy old uncle?

I am.

Let’s survey some apparent reasons people don’t vote. I’m excusing, of course, those who are blocked from voting by electoral machinations (“you put a period after your middle initial on one form but not on another; therefore we can’t verify your identity”), and those who juggle three jobs and three children and have no time in between, and those whose polling place is conveniently located 153 miles away. Etc. (Although in the latter cases people might use absentee ballots.) I’m aiming this diatribe at people who could vote easily but somehow don’t. The people who elected Twitterman by abstaining. The people who make the United States notorious as a nonparticipative so-called democracy.

Reason for Not Voting #1: “I don’t like any of the candidates. They’re all flawed.”

My response: I hope you believe in a Messiah. Because your perfect political candidate will come along sometime after the Messiah.

Reason for Not Voting #2: “I’m sick of voting for the lesser evil. I can’t compromise like that anymore. From now on, I’ll stand on principle.”

My response: Congratulations on your moral purity. Have you considered moving to a place where none of your principles will be compromised, such as Antarctica?

Reason for Not Voting #3: “None of the candidates talk about issues important to me.”

My response: If you like that situation, keep on not voting. By not expressing your opinion at the polls, you make certain that candidates will disregard it.

Reason for Not Voting #4: “It makes no difference anyway. In my gerrymandered district, people with my views are so outnumbered that my candidate can never win.”

My response: Gerrymandering is a big, big problem. But the canny politicians who divvy up voters for their own advantage are counting on the continuation of established political patterns, including the pattern of people not voting. A sudden swell in ballots from groups they are trying to marginalize could upset their calculations—and maybe set the stage for legislative action to end gerrymandering.

Reason for Not Voting #5: “Votes change nothing. Politicians do whatever nasty things they like regardless of what the public thinks.”

My response: Um, politicians can’t do that nefarious stuff if they’re not in office. Vote them out and they’ll be reduced to making millions as lobbyists. That’s not quite as bad for the rest of us.

I’ve said all this before, in one way or another. But the other day, inspired by a conversation with a politically involved friend, I turned the problem around in my mind, reflecting on what it takes to become a committed voter, someone who turns out in every election:

  • A sense of morality or justice. People are said to vote their pocketbooks, and many do, but in our divided times what seems to drive citizens to the polls is a belief that certain actions and policies are right and others are disastrously wrong.
  • Faith. Not religious belief necessarily, but a conviction that there’s some hope left for the world and that human actions—our actions—can make a difference. Admittedly, if science says the Earth is likely to be uninhabitable in a few decades, faith stretches thin; but there have been Doomsday scenarios in the past that we managed to escape, and it wasn’t by hiding under our school desks to avert the atomic bomb. We must believe that our flawed and compromised democracy can be salvaged and that its fate is important to the world.
  • Irrationality. In the most local of elections, one vote can actually matter. In a 2017 contest Phillip Garcia won the post of judge of election in a Philly precinct because he wrote in his own name—the only vote cast for that office. Still, I have to admit that one vote, which is all each person can control, will change nothing in a statewide or national election. Making a point of casting a ballot is therefore irrational, or at best a stroking of one’s own moral sensibilities (cf. Reason #2 above).

It seems I’ve put myself in the position of urging people to be irrational. Okay, I’ll own up to that. I’ll double down, as Twitterman always does.

Get out there and go crazy, people! Against all reason, act like it makes a difference what you do. Vote for somebody! If necessary, embrace the lesser evil, the best of the bad choices.

Maybe there’s some hidden good there after all.

My Garden

My Garden

After the latest school massacre—and there may be another before you read this—our politicians have done the usual dance around the topic of keeping our kids safe in school.

In every such situation, liberals overreact by proposing to deny decent individual folks—you and me—the right to own a personal collection of assault rifles, grenades, mines, and chemical weapons. This is truly un-American. Everyone knows we’re the murder capital of the civilized world because we want it that way. I, for one, will never give up the M-1 Abrams that I have in my backyard disguised as an interactive rock feature (see illustration). Besides, the Abrams is a good place for storing my canisters of chlorine gas.

On the other side, the conservatives have now proposed arming teachers, on the principle that one middle-aged scholar with a rifle can neutralize a determined assassin with an AK-47, a bulletproof vest, and 3,000 rounds of ammunition. This seems ridiculous on the face of it, especially given the frazzled, exhausted condition of many teachers. You can just hear the designated first responder yelling, “Where’s my gun?! Did someone move it? Who’s been in the closet!!!!”

So, can a real solution be found, other than asking Sweden to annex us?

Here’s my idea: USE OUR GREATEST ASSET, TECHNOLOGY!

We’ve already committed to having drones fight most of our overseas battles for us. Even Obama liked this option. Then why not have machines protect our schools?

One Hall-Sweeping Robot (HSR) would be sufficient to guard most elementary schools, and two could manage a large high school. At a top speed of 45 mph, an HSR would patrol the hallways every few minutes, ready to gun down any intruder. It would be equipped with facial-recognition technology to identify students, teachers, and support staff. Any unauthorized person, such as a textbook salesman, would get blasted. Outside, above the schoolyard, Playground Drones (PGDs) would circulate, searching for anyone with suspicious packages or a sloppy haircut.

This is surely doable, and it’s a solution that would appeal to conservatives and liberals alike. Conservatives will be pleased that no one at school is denied a gun. Liberals will be pleased that no one at school needs one. The only unhappy folk will be the parents and community members who thoughtlessly wander onto school property without authorization. But wouldn’t we rather sacrifice a few clumsy parents instead of scores of children?

Do think about it while cleaning your rifle.