If you've been following the Vic Valentine series, you've noticed a trend: they're getting increasingly bizarre and hallucinatory, surrealistic and psychotic. Essentially I've folded Vic's more or less "conventional" world within the universe of my other books, which are what I call "psychotronic noir": A Mermaid Drowns in the Midnight Lounge, Freaks That Carry Your Luggage Up to the Room, Lavender Blonde, and Things I Do When I'm Awake. These seeds were planted back in Hard-Boiled Heart (Gutter Books, 2015), my first Vic book in twenty years, wherein he migrates northward to my own current home of Seattle. With the introduction of a mysterious "stalker sailor statue" dubbed Ivar, it became apparent Vic was suffering either the early symptoms of a psychotic break from reality or he was being vexed by supernatural forces. Or both.
With the next one, Vic Valentine: International Man of Misery (Thrillville Press, 2017), largely inspired by my stint as an instructor at a writers' retreat down in Costa Rica, I swerved deep into left field with a completely over-the-top quasi-espionage thriller/zombie horror satire wherein the B movie sensibilities that have always informed Vic's world view began to manifest in dangerous and disturbing ways, both physically and psychologically, partly stimulated by forced injection of enhanced, mutated opioids, adding to the mystery of his condition. Then with Vic Valentine: Lounge Lizard For Hire (Thrillville Press, 2018), possibly my most gonzo-meta novel yet, I fused my entire body of fictional work into what I'm calling the "Vihorrorverse," with Vic at the forefront, wherein he confronts my own former longtime impresario doppelgänger "Will the Thrill" as well as my very first creation, Chumpy Walnut, along with oblique references to my other books.
THE MENTAL CASE FILES:
With the latest and final volume in a trilogy I'm calling "The Mental Case Files," called Vic Valentine: Space Cadet, I'm incorporating a few fanciful elements from my two sci-fi novels co-conceived and partially co-authored by amateur scientist Scott Fulks, It Came from Hangar 18 (2012) and The Space Needler's Intergalactic Bar Guide (2015), alternating back and forth between his erotic fantasies while grounding Vic's Earthbound experiences in gritty reality, dealing with issues of mortality, aging, and impotence via a time jump forward from the last few books:
Vic Valentine is lost inside the space between his ears. His lifelong slow-burning mental meltdown, sexual obsessiveness, fatal self-absorption, and epic existential angst have resulted in a complete break from conventional external reality. Now convinced his entire life is a movie, he finds himself trapped on Planet Thrillville, encountering voluptuous alien femme fatales, mutated monsters, intergalactic gangsters, his own unleashed demons, and his arch nemesis, “Will the Thrill,” the evil overlord of Vic’s own alternative internal universe.
Not exactly noir. Not exactly horror. Not exactly science fiction. Not even a story, really. This is a psychotic, psychotronic journey you experience, not merely read.
And now here is a lengthy excerpt, which gives you a strong sense of the deeply psychological and existential underpinnings of an otherwise outlandish odyssey in an alternate dimension of retro sci-fi tropes. Here is the back cover blurb. The photos were taken at Bar House in the Fremont district of Seattle, referenced here:
As I sit and stare at the Space Needle, mesmerized by its retro-futuristic immobility in time, I wonder how I can make it launch and take me back to Planet Thrillville. Of course, I have no idea how or why or when I was returned to Earth, which must’ve been against my will. Will the Thrill. I even miss that crazy bastard. If he ever actually existed. At least Jean Luc still exists, but he’s just an old dog. Like me.
I pet Jean Luc, who no longer talks to me, at least not in human language. I miss our conversations back on Planet Thrillville. I miss the isolation from humanity, especially now that I’m once again surrounded by swarms of strangers who all annoy me, just their very presence. They don’t make me feel less lonely. They make me feel lonelier, because none of them are Val. And even though they can talk, they don’t have anything to say I want to hear. I hug Jean Luc around the neck, pressing my forehead against his, hoping to communicate telepathically. He just licks my face. He can’t talk, and the Space Needle can’t fly. But I can die if I try. I feel ready for the next phase, even if it’s nothing. Especially if it’s nothing. I’m just so tired.
As I contemplate my few options, I hear a saxophone playing a melancholy melody nearby. Since it’s Christmas Eve and very cold, no one else is around. Just this lone sax player and me and Jean Luc. Then I recognize the tune: “Windswept,” by Johnny Jewel. Not exactly a standard. It became one of my personal signature tunes when I first heard it on Twin Peaks: The Return, many, many years ago, or so it seems now. I would play it on Planet Thrillville all the time, when sitting alone by the lake, watching the nymphs and mermaids frolicking in the placid water beneath the falls. It seems unlikely a sax player would play such a relatively obscure tune. It’s not exactly a standard. Most wouldn’t recognize it. It’s as if he’s playing it only for me. Unless I’m just hearing what I want to hear and he’s actually playing “Silent Night” or something more seasonally correct. We all just hear what we want to hear sometimes, right? Maybe it’s just me.
What difference does it make what we perceive to be real or not. It’s all so ephemeral anyway.
Finally I drop Jean Luc off and go home to my studio apartment. I no longer have cable or Netflix or any of that hi-tech jazz. Just remnants of my once epic DVD/Blu Ray collection, almost all vintage horror/sci-fi/noir films. I have the entire Ultra Lounge CD series from the ‘90s, and some West Coast Jazz LPs, but that’s it, music-wise, though I do tune into KNKX, the local jazz station now and then. I also have a modest stack of books, mostly Raymond Chandler, John Fante, and Charles Bukowski. I’ve distilled my possessions down to their very essence. Just enough to keep me preoccupied between dog walks.
My place is not only small but sparsely furnished. All of my books and movies are neatly stashed in fruit crates set side by side and atop each other, then over the very top was my TV and Blu Ray player. I sleep on a comfortable couch that pulled out into a bed, though I never bother to do that, preferring to crash on it and doze off while staring at the screen. I lead the life of a solitary hermit. I like it. I feel content with my spartan lifestyle. I just wish I had someone to share it with. Sometimes. Mostly when I’m out and about on the street I keep my head down and avoid any eye contact with other humans. I just can’t relate to my own species. I belong someplace else, I think. A breed apart, unto myself, drifting aimlessly through my own little fabricated universe. I’m only here to mate with Earth women. But not to propagate my own kind. The Universe can barely stand one of me. I’m meant to be in solitary confinement. It’s a life and possibly a death sentence.
Well, there’s Ivar, the sailor statue. He’s still here, believe it or not, keeping me company or haunting me, depending on my mood. But here he’s back to his normal size, and eerily silent, though I swear I hear him clopping around on his peg leg late at night in the dark sometimes. Maybe it’s just my imagination, which, as you’ve probably deduced by now, is pretty active, even if the rest of me isn’t.
While taking a leak in the tiny bathroom, I open the cabinet above the tiny sink. It all reminds me of residential hotels I lived in when I was young, but neater, cleaner. I study an array of prescription bottles with names I cannot comprehend or decipher. I assume they’re meant for my blood pressure and other old man ailments. I reach for one bottle, but then put it back. I just don’t feel like self-medicating at the moment, especially since I’m not sure what’s wrong with me, besides the ache in my gut, the same one that plagued me as a solitary youth, after Rose left.
Since I am missing Planet Thrillville, where I have been quite recently, or so it feels, I select one of my old favorites, Angry Red Planet, from 1959. I wish I had a pet. Why don’t I? Maybe I’ll go adopt one tomorrow. Oh, it will be Christmas, so all the shelters will probably be closed. The day after.
Other than a TV, Blu Ray player, and combo LP/CD player, I don’t have any other technological amenities besides my cellphone, which I maintain mostly to keep in touch with my canine clients. No computer. I never had a social media account in my life, anyway. Too many crazies out there. I just wanted to be left in peace.
Now here I am, crazy and alone. I’ll probably die that way, just like my mother. I guess I deserve it.
As I watch the movie, the giant rat-bat-crab-spider monster shows up in a nightmarish sequence presented the lurid glory of “Cinemagic,” a process pioneered by this film (and which frankly never caught on), which makes everything tinted red due to a reversed negative or something. It reminds me of the Space Bar. That’s when I notice something I had never noticed before, despite how often I’d seen it: one of the crew members of the stranded rocket-ship is me.
I get up and look closer into the screen, squinting for confirmation. Yep, it’s my younger self, all right, shooting lasers at the monster. I close my eyes and concentrate and suddenly I’m back on Planet Thrillville, but in the lurid, crimson ambience of Cinemagic, defending Doc and all my friends from the rat-bar-crab-spider monster with my ray gun, dressed in my astronaut duds. In the distance I see the Space Needle parked in its usual spot. Jean Luc runs up and hugs me and says hello, welcome back. I mean, like, literally.
My cellphone rings, still the Theme from Peter Gunn by Mancini, snapping me back into Fremont. I answer, but it turns out to be my alarm, which I guess I’d set by accident since I’m always accidentally hitting buttons that do weird shit on that thing. I look around. My studio apartment is dark and empty and cold. I figure it’s time to go out for a drink. But Nurse Shiela had told me my credit card had been declined, so it must’ve been maxed out. I didn’t even know I had one. Then instinctively, I look under my mattress.
Thousands of dollars in cash is there, hidden in plain sight. Without questioning it, I grab a wad and head down to Bar House for some bourbon. My true medicine.
A festive row of glowing plastic Santa statues gleams along the top of the porch as I enter. Friends of Ivar’s, no doubt. They’re closing up early since it’s Christmas Eve, so I only have time for a couple of shots as Dean Martin sings “Christmas Blues.” The joint is almost empty, both up front and in back. I take another weak leak in the bathroom just so I can dig the virtual porthole into an ersatz undersea kingdom filled with coral reefs and radiant jellyfish and other exotic aquatic wonders, which reminds me of the old submarine ride at Disneyland. My parents took my brother and me there once as a kid, my first trip to California. I barely remember it except for the submarine and the Enchanted Tiki Room and Haunted Mansion. I hear Tomorrowland has been ruined, all the vintage retro-futurism replaced by contemporary crap. Oh, well. That’s what’s considered progress, I guess. I remain happily stuck in the future of my past.
I’m in the Space Bar alone, basking in day-glow green and neon purple, surrounded by fake painted planets and kaleidoscope milky ways, all bathed in dreamy ultraviolet. I’m the last one to leave as the interstellar lights go out. I walk back home and put in another disc, Journey to the Seventh Planet (1962), another hypnotic, surrealistic sci-fi classic from the same team that brought us Angry Red Planet, Sidney W. Pink and Ib Melchior. This one is set on Uranus, not mine. The astronauts hallucinate vivid mirages of women and places from their past courtesy of an alien brain. That always explains everything.
Gradually I fall sleep, perchance to dream, so I can wake up again someplace else.
Here's one more:
Behind the bar stands Val Valentine, my wife, in all her naked glory, wearing nothing but high heels and a flimsy silk nightie since I see everything and everyone from a woefully outmoded, middle-aged moldy, hopelessly heterosexual male point of view, which many would distill down to simply being “a sexist pig,” at least back on Earth. In any case, Val is standing where Monica Tiki Goddess was only an instant before. At first I thought they had merged, but then I notice Monica sitting on a bar stool, chatting up Don Draper, whom I imagine she conjured up after binge-streaming Mad Men in her private, plushly appointed, midcentury modernist luxury suite upstairs, one I knew she had, if only intuitively. It sure beat banging that lounge lizard loser Will the Thrill in my dingy little San Francisco office above The Drive-Inn, if only virtually-speaking. Unless she enjoys slumming.
“You again,” I say, realizing just how much Val resembles Nurse Shiela and vice versa. Maybe my lonely little old man life down in the Fremont district of Seattle is the true delusion. I can only hope. “Are you telling me that you’re in charge of this overpopulated dreamscape?”
“Is that any more or less credible than the load of crap this clown is feeding you?”
Will the Thrill is oblivious to the insult, too immersed in abject lust as he gazes longingly upon my wife’s luscious form. “Any time you wanna trade up, baby, just let me know,” he says with a smug smirk.
Val nods, smiles, mixes a flaming tiki drink, and throws it in Will the Thrill’s face. He runs upstairs crying because he needs to clean his leopard skin fez now, before it stains. Val walks around and sits on the stool beside me, gazing into my mesmerized eyes. Les Baxter and his band just keep playing their Ultra Lounge music live.
“Vic, it wasn’t him who called you on the Interocitor. It was me.”
“Are you saying you and Will the Thrill are one? That could add up to a lot of deeply weird things, none of which I want to ponder.” For an instant, I considered the fact that back on Earth, whenever I beat off to a voluptuous feminine fantasy, before they were all projected into corporeal flesh here on this tangible if imaginary world, I was actually having sex with myself.
“No. I’m me and you’re you, Vic. And thankfully neither of us are that idiot.” She puts her hand on my knee and I get a boner, which she notices and ignores. “I’m telling you this world is mine, not yours, and certainly not his. And you need to go home now.”
“I won’t leave without you.”
“But that’s how you got here, Vic. You left me down on Earth.”
“Okay, even if that’s true, you’re here now.”
“I’m also there.”
“Because here is there and there is here?”
“Now you’re getting it. You need to make here there and there here. Once you do, you’ll understand I never left. You did. But the only way we can reunite is for you to leave me here and go back there.”
“But…I’m here with you now. If I leave, I’ll be there. Without you.”
“I’m not the same me there as I am here, and once you’re there, you’ll be with me there, too. Then we’ll both be here, because there will become here.”
“But if we both stay here, won’t there still be here?”
“No, it will still be there.”
“Can’t we bring there here?”
“NO. You have to bring here there.”
“By leaving here and staying there until both become the same.”
“You sound as confused, and confusing, as Will the Thrill now.”
“Vic, Will the Thrill is just a figment of your imagination. There is no Will the Thrill. He claims to be your overlord when in fact, you’re calling all the shots.”
“But I thought you were?”
“Only up here. Not down there.”
“So I don’t need to merge with him and lose my identity?”
“They, I mean, both of you, already co-exist in parallel planes, but not always on the same plane. He wants to be the dominant aspect of your personality, but you’re resisting in order to maintain your own identity.”
“If you stay here, you won’t be able to sustain this split personality, either physically or mentally. You’ll lose all memory of Earth, of Vic Valentine, and become this fictional character with no past or future, only an eternal present inside of a cartoon bubble. You see what I’m saying.”
I think about it a while, then finally I just say, “No. I think you’re both crazy. I’m going back home now. You can join me if you want.”
“Which home is that, Vic?”
“The one I live in.”
“Are you sure?”
“That I live someplace?”
“That you’re living.”
I shake my head in the negative, and walk out into the cold, rainy, Blade Runner-esque landscape, singing “A Man Without Love,” but slowly and sadly, so nothing blooms. It’s all just a murky puddle of desolate isolation, no matter where I go.
So why leave? Unless it’s involuntary. That would be the scary option. Losing control. Even the illusion of it. Val and Will the Thrill and this mysterious unseen Deity he keeps referring to may claim rights over my destiny, but as long as I can keep manifesting my own, I’ll pretend it’s all my idea.
Then a massive wind blows me into the black sky, and I disappear into a void of nothingness, where I remain, without any sight, sound or sensation, for what seems an eternity, and maybe it is.
Except then I’m back in my cot in Fremont. My alarm is going off. I pick up my phone and look at the time. I put on my dog walking shoes and head out the creaky door into the dark dreamworld of my daylight dementia.
There you have it.
I'm aiming for publication in early spring 2019. (Check back here and also my Fiction Page for updates). Meantime, this gives you a good idea of where I'm headed, the influences, and the agenda.
Here is the evolution of the fantastic cover art:
FRONT COVER by Matt Brown, with my images as inspiration:
BACK COVER by Dyer Wilk, also per my instructions, though like Matt he added his own unique artistic flourishes to make it his own:
|Photoshop by Michael Fleming|
Additionally, I'm very proud to announce the publication of my story "Fish out of Water" -- inspired by the Creature from the Black Lagoon film trilogy -- in this amazing anthology:
Cheers to the Future.
|Highline: a heavy metal vegan bar in Seattle|
You may also dig:
"Thrillville," my official theme song by The Moon-Rays
Interview conducted by Drive-In Radio host Alec Cizak, October 24, 2017,
broadcast from Missoula, Montana.
Podcast interview by Steven Gomez for The Noir Factory, August 2017
Promoting the first edition of A Mermaid Drowns in the Midnight Lounge on San Francisco's Creepy KOFY Movietime, 2010
ONLINE SHORT FICTION
A WRONG TURN AT ALBUQUERQUE (1982) and THE IN-BETWEENERS (1987)
PEOPLE BUG ME (2013)
ESCAPE FROM THRILLVILLE (2014)
New! VIC VALENTINE: INTERNATIONAL MAN OF MISERY
HARD-BOILED HEART from Gutter Books!
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