Friday, February 28, 2014


Many of you might remember a few years ago when I suffered from a mysterious illness that caused extreme pain in the middle of my stomach and extreme vomiting. After 13 ER visits and 4 hospitalizations, as well as more tests that I knew we had as a civilization, it was determined that the cause was my digestive system. It runs a quarter of the speed of everyone else’s. Things just got jammed up in my guts, and since it couldn’t come out the correct way, it had to go back up the way it came.

Since then, I’ve been careful about how much I eat and how quickly I eat it. However, it was only a matter of time before my vigilance failed me. My bowels dried up on me the weekend before, and that’s a sign that my troubles were about to begin again. By Tuesday, I started feeling odd. By Wednesday, I started feeling discomfort in my stomach, and by Thursday, I started feeling sick. It got to the point where I had to leave work early that day. I barely made it home before I puked my guts out. Over and over and over again for at least fifteen hours. The next day, I gave up and decided it was time to go to the ER. I’d go in, get some Zofran for the sickness and some Dilaudid for the pain, I’d get some sleep for a little while, and they’ll let me go home so I can get more sleep.

It didn’t turn out that way.

They got me through triage pretty quickly, and as soon as I got dressed in the awful gown, they stuck an IV in me and strapped a whole bunch of wires to my chest to monitor my heart. Then, they gave me my shots, which made me very happy.

Let me take a moment to talk about Dilaudid. I can’t tell you how much I love this wonderful drug. If it was readily available to me, I’d be a junkie, proudly sucking dick for my next fix. It works, and it works fast. When the plunger goes down, the heat just fills your heart and lungs, and then it fills your head with a wonderful numbing cloud. Just typing this makes me want to go back and pretend to have pain so I can get more.

Unfortunately, they didn’t allow me to enjoy that beautiful rush. They took me for x-rays and then a CT scan. They surprised me on that one by telling me there would be an enema involved.

I don’t like things going in my ass. I don’t even like the mid-blowjob finger back there. But I gave them permission, because I didn’t want to suffer anymore. They told me to relax—how can you relax when something is about to be shoved in your asshole?!—and they stuck it. The pressure nearly blew my eyes out, and they kept sticking it in further and further. The juice went in, and the nurse said that I had to hold it in.

They then put me into the machine. My guts wanted desperately to shit all this juice out of me. It became painful, but I had to keep it in. Imagine having the worst diarrhea you’ve ever had, and then imagine having to hold it inside of you. That’s how it felt. Mercifully, the scan was short, and they let the juice back into the enema before they pulled it out.

As soon as I got back to my ER bed, I rushed to the bathroom and let out a torrent of diarrhea, which was for the best. I hadn’t defecated in five days.

I managed to get some rest for a while, and then a doctor came in and gave me the bad news. At first I was concerned because they were asking about my appendix, and I didn’t want to have to go through an operation. Thinking back, I changed my mind. If only appendicitis had been the case.

“You have pancreatitis.”

I’d heard of the condition and knew a little about it, but the way he said it made it sound like I was dying. Jokingly, I said, “That doesn’t sound good.”

“No. You almost died. You still might. Your pancreas is as hard as a brick. It’s supposed to help you digest, and nothing is getting through. It’s stopped working, which means it has also stopped making insulin for you.”

I almost missed most of that. I kept thinking about that part about how I might still die. A million thoughts went through my mind in that moment, and here are a few of them, in no particular order:

--Fuck. I just ordered the complete series of THE TUDORS.
--I’m never going to swap orgasms with a woman again.
--I don’t have access to Twitter. How are my followers going to know that I died if I don’t tweet about it?
--I just added minutes to my phone. That’s $30 wasted.
--When I die, I’m really going to miss Wild Turkey 101.
--I have a lot of submissions out right now. What am I going to do if I get posthumous acceptance letters?
--I’ll never get to impress my dentist with how well I’ve been looking after my teeth this time.
--I’ll never know how Clive Barker’s NEXT TESTAMENT is going to end, and THE WALKING DEAD is going to continue without me.
--What are my grandparents going to do without me?
--Why couldn’t it have been a quick heart attack?
--I still owe Forced Viewing a review for GODS AND MONSTERS.
--Next Thursday was supposed to be an unofficial work outing with Fitz, and I can’t make it because I’ll be dead.

There were other thoughts, but those were the most prominent.

“What’s next?” I asked.

“We’re admitting you. We’ve got to get your pancreas working again. It’ll take some time, but if we don’t do this, you’re going to die.”

“What caused this?”

“Primarily, gall stones or alcohol.” Since I didn’t have a gall bladder anymore, there could have been one primary cause, then. He told me that alcohol is a poison, so the pancreas isn’t very good at processing it. He also told me that it’s not suited for handling all the greasy fast food that I’ve been eating almost every day since I was in junior high. And because I need the pancreas to make insulin (I’m diabetic), the soft drinks didn’t help.

“By the way,” he added, “you can never have another alcoholic beverage again for the rest of your life, or you’ll end up back here, or worse.”

That just fucking figures.

My mouth was dry—and had been for about a week or so—and I asked if I could have water. He said no. I can’t ingest anything because my pancreas isn’t working. He said I could suck on some ice chips, but that was it.

They took me upstairs, where they proceeded to fill me full of Dilaudid. A lot of it. I liked that, but it also concerned me a bit. The doctors are usually stingy with their opiates because they don’t want to create any junkies. Becoming a junkie is usually a secondary concern for me, since I’d rather not feel pain if I’ve got it. I can deal with an addiction later. This time, they all but gave me my own drip. I didn’t realize it at the time, but afterward I discovered that they weren’t sure if I was going to make it or not. They were giving me so many painkillers to ease my passage into the next world.

The next day was very strange. I was in and out of a haze, completely uncomfortable because of the IV (and as a result, I couldn’t bend my arm, or an alarm would go off), the wires attached to my chest, the oxygen tube in my nose and the blood pressure cuff on my arm, which went off every hour. I couldn’t even enjoy the Dilaudid because every hour, they had to wake me up to take my blood sugar. By the time I left the hospital, all of my fingertips were covered with red dots, except for one. That one had a pulse monitor taped to it. Because of that motherfucker, I had to learn how to wipe my ass with my other hand.

But that was just the shitty part. The weird part came when I started hearing voices. I started seeing people who weren’t there. I started getting the feeling that there were animals walking around my room. And in one instance, I saw a nurse’s shadow shimmer under her before flying across the floor and disappearing into the wall. I had dreams about friends I haven’t talked to in maybe fifteen years. Three women I used to fuck came to sleep with me in the hospital, but there was nothing sexual about it. One time, I forgot where I was and started rolling backwards. Someone told me I shouldn’t do that, or he was going to score me on a 20 point dive. I caught myself just in time before I rolled off the bed, but no one was in the room with me to say anything.

None of this can be attributed to the drugs, but I’ve talked to a few people who have been hospitalized under similar conditions, and they all say they experienced the same sort of thing. Maybe it’s just the vibe in such places, or maybe it comes from being so close to death. I can’t explain it.

I didn’t know it was Monday, but that was when they decided I was going to live. They moved me upstairs, where the non-critical people are stored. First, they had a nurse give me a sponge bath, wash my hair and get me into a new gown. As she went over my hair, she couldn’t stop complimenting me on it. At least there’s that. My awful, wrecked body has a great head of hair up top. She didn’t mention the beard, though. Women tend not to like it. Ah well. Can’t have everything.

I hoped they’d take those awful wires off of my chest, but they didn’t. However, when I was critical, they were all attached to the wall, so if I needed to get up, I needed a nurse to disconnect me. Now, they decided to put a box around my neck, which would monitor my heart just as well. I believe it was called a Holter Box, and that motherfucker weighed me down for the rest of my hospital stay. It was so bad that it felt like it was choking me sometimes, especially when I was trying to sleep.

As soon as I got settled into my new bed, I got my Dilaudid and went off to . . . I won’t call it sleep. I never truly slept in all that time. There are no comfortable sleep positions in the hospital, especially when you have to keep one arm straight and when you’re wearing wires on your chest. But it was in this moment that I did something I’ve never done in my adult life: I shit myself.

It wasn’t a lot. As soon as it happened, I became wide awake, and I could already feel diarrhea setting into my boxers. Groaning, I pulled myself out of bed, disconnected my IV from the wall and staggered to the bathroom. I kicked my boxers off and sat on the toilet, practically filling it with mush. (It was still tinged yellow, which was the same color of the stuff in the enema, so I think that might have actually been the culprit.) I got a chance to examine my boxers, and there was just a tiny slash of shit on them. Not bad, but I didn’t have anything else to wear in the hospital.

I washed them in the sink and hung them up on a bar in the bathroom after checking to make sure the stain was gone. In the meantime, I tied a bed sheet around my legs to act as a diaper. The next morning, the boxers were dry and actually smelled pretty fresh, so I put them back on.

The next couple of days weren’t so bad, aside from the lack of sleep. I tried to read, but I knew that wouldn’t work out. I can’t read when I’m sick. The words danced on the page, and it hurt to keep them straight, so I gave up and watched TV. In fact, that’s pretty much everything I did until I was released on Wednesday.

When they brought me up to the fifth floor, they let me have fluids. Now, they let me have solid foods. The doctor was surprised by how soft my pancreas felt now, considering it had been a rock a few days ago. He told me to eat right and stop drinking. I was lucky. My pancreas was recovering at a very quick rate. He told me I’d be out in a couple of days, provided I could keep solid food down.

Holy fuck, I don’t know how people can stand watching daytime TV. Even channels like FX had the worst fucking commercials imaginable. I saw more about walk-in bathtubs (with Pat fucking Boone!), buying gold, generic internet services, depression pills that might kill you, JG Wentworth and alerts for old people who have fallen and can’t get up. But that’s not the worst part. You get maybe seven minutes of actual programming, and then you get 10 minutes of commercials.

But I did get to watch good things. I saw a few episodes of GUNSMOKE from the ‘Seventies, including one with Martin Landau about a group of robbers disguised as army men who commandeer the blacksmith shop in Dodge in order to break down a giant hunk of gold. Before that, there was an episode of ANDY GRIFFITH that shits all over the Robin Hood myth and, as a result, the poor. I caught a lot of RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES, and I was surprised to find it was actually good. I caught half of TRON 2 and was actually impressed. I swear,             TRON didn’t need a sequel, but now I’m thinking maybe they should have made the original 20 years later than they did.

But the best thing I found on TV in all my time in the hospital was a movie called THE BAREFOOT CONTESSA. This is a movie starring Humphrey Bogart and Ava Gardner. It’s a romance, but it’s the greatest romance I’ve ever watched. I think it’s required viewing for anyone who wants to be a writer. It’s perfectly structured, and it’s got great characters spouting great lines. It’s one of Bogie’s best performances. His Faust speech is truly something to behold. It might be one of the best things ever written.

They let me out on Wednesday, but not before a doctor had a talk with me about my ‘Beetus. She said my percentage was 8.1, which is insane. The last time I had it checked, I was down to 6.1, which is excellent. As a result, she decided that I needed to go home and start injecting myself with insulin once a day at 10 pm. They made me inject myself before I left the hospital. It sucks, but it’s doable. The worst part is the cost. When these insulin pens are gone, I’m just going to have to do without.

You should have seen the list of foods they want me to avoid as I build my pancreas back up. They say I need so much of dairy products, but then they take just about every dairy product away from me. The only thing I can think of that wasn’t on the list of stuff to stay away from was skim milk. Essentially, they wanted to keep me to chicken broth, bread, vegetables (unbuttered) and lean meats. No hot dogs, no pizza, no cheeseburgers.

They took everything I love away.

Well, the food isn’t forever. I’m starting to get back to a bigger menu now. I still have to avoid fast food at all costs. To keep my blood sugar down, I have to avoid drinking just about everything. I can have water, and that’s it. (Well, I allow myself my morning Tang, because I can’t let them take everything away from me.) But the big thing is, I’ve been forbidden by the hospital to ever have another drink of alcohol, which sucks because I have three-quarters of a handle of Old Crow Reserve, a half a fifth of Glenfiddich, an entire fifth of Maker’s Mark and an airplane bottle of Wild Turkey 101.

I just couldn’t accept the fact that I could never drink again. I understand the importance of staying away from booze for now, until my pancreas is tip-top again. But forever? When I went to see my regular doctor, I asked about it. He said, “Do you drink to get drunk?”

Well, of course. No one drinks just ‘cause.

“Then, when you drink, you have a lot, not just one or two.”

Fuck. “Yeah.”

“Then I don’t recommend ever drinking again.”

That’s bad news. But! His answer suggested I could drink again. I just can’t drink a lot or often, that’s all. I’m thinking by the time my birthday rolls around, I can maybe treat myself to a couple of drinks.

He wants me down to 200 lbs. He says I can do it if I stick to an 1800 calorie-a-day diet and get my exercise in. If I can do that, he promises I won’t need the insulin pens. I might not even need my oral meds. That gives me hope, and that’s why I’m actually going to listen to him this time. I could definitely stand to lose the weight. (It did, however, take some restraint not to mention the weight I lost in the hospital. I went from about 263 to 248, and I had to punch a new hole in my belt.) With that few calories, I might even get down that much by next winter.

Just before the doctor let me go from the hospital, he told me that I was very lucky. A lot of people who came in as bad as I did didn’t get to go home. They usually just died.

Wish me luck, folks. I hope to never have to go through this again.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

COOL SHIT 2-13-14

KICK-ASS 3 #6: This is a bit of an odd story to tell this late in the series. The prison shrink is trying to get to the base of Hit-Girl’s problems by asking her to tell the story of the first time her father made her kill someone. It’s a walk down memory lane for her, where we get a little more of her backstory, even though the series is almost at its conclusion. Still, it’s a lot of fun, especially since she had performance anxiety at first. Big Daddy came up with a spectacular way to make killing fun for her, as well as to help her overcome her issues. Not a lot happens to move the main story along, though . . . except that last panel, of course. 2 MORE ISSUES TO GO!

THE TRANSFORMERS: ROBOTS IN DISGUISE #26: Dark Cybertron has been sucking pretty badly, but IDW seems to be pulling it around. In this issue, Megatron actually helps save the day. Not only that, but the Lost Light has returned, reuniting the two books. And we learn a lot about Orion Pax in this one. After he learned how all of the Primes were scumbags, he couldn’t go on endorsing them by keeping the name Optimus Prime. However, Rodimus, of all people, turns him around on this by saying he’s always wanted to be, not just a Prime, but Optimus Prime. In his time as Optimus, Orion brought greatness back to the title. And yes, due to this, we have Optimus back!

FATALE #20: It’s great to see Jo back in action now that she finally knows who she is again. She’s making her way through the world, killing the cultists on her trail and . . . saving Nicholas? Could it be that she actually likes him? Is that why she “lets all of her nightmares” into Nelson? Or does she have something else planned for poor Nicholas? It was interesting to see Jo’s suicide attempts over the years. But even better is Nicholas’s revelation that maybe, just maybe, Jo is not a good person to have in his life, even if she just saved it. FOUR ISSUES TO GO!

THE WALKING DEAD #121: Oh shit. Rick has lost his number one secret. Negan has found Eugene and his bullet factory. Things don’t bode well for the Community. Not to mention the fact that Dr. Cloyd is gone, and the Community is so fucked up Rick can’t defend it. They actually have to flee to the Hilltop, and even Ezekiel has given up. But my favorite part is when Carl calls Rick a “wimp” for passing out. Seriously, Rick passes out more than a governess in a bodice-ripper. Good for Carl for pointing out what we all want to say. Well, maybe my favorite part is when Negan consults his, uh, crystal balls.

Monday, February 10, 2014


J. Michael Shell has made his rounds as a writer, having work that has appeared in many publications, most notably BOUND FOR EVIL, which was nominated for the Shirley Jackson Award. (And, *ahem* TABARD INN: TALES OF QUESTIONABLE TASTE, of course.) When he attended the University of South Carolina, he actually studied under James Dickey, who wrote TO THE WHITE SEA, THE EAGLE’S MILE and, most famously, DELIVERANCE.

ME: We became friends because of my old fiction magazine, TABARD INN. I published a story by you, “Dick Dog,” in issue three. However, there was one story that almost made it into issue two. If you’ll recall, I liked the story, but I disagreed with the ending, and I said I’d buy it if you changed the ending. You stuck to your guns and politely declined when a lesser writer would have probably caved in, afraid to lose a sale. What advice do you have for up-and-comers in regards to holding your own with editors?

JMS: If I remember correctly, the story you’re referring to was, “Home to Roost (The Missionary’s Position).” Your objection was that humans as a food source for aliens had been done before. You might even have referenced an old TWILIGHT ZONE episode, but this was some time ago, and I can’t be sure. I do remember being polite about it, and I can almost quote verbatim what I told you: “A writer should never be held responsible for what has been written before by somebody else.” I did, by the way, end up selling the piece, and it was published “as is.”

I mentioned that I was polite about it for this reason—it’s always a good idea. Especially if the venue is one you’d like to break into. TABARD INN was one of those. I knew its editor had an excellent, literary eye (not to mention magnificently questionable taste). I showed respect because I HAD respect (and ultimately ended up with a story in a truly great issue of a splendid magazine).

HOWEVER, I would never tell a writer not to burn a bridge if it needed burning, and I’ve burned a few with some serious invective. Some editors are dilettantes, some are failed writers holding a grudge. These you need to guard against. NEVER let one of these have their way with you just to get something into print. It’s whorish and pitiful.

That said, I have, on occasion, made suggested edits when I found them thoughtful and intelligent, OR when I didn’t think they were harmful to the piece and I really wanted the sale. I have to admit, I never LIKE making changes. SO, when it comes to short fiction, I don’t submit until I’ve read the piece at least thirty times with a red pen in my hand. If the manuscript is clean as a fat-tongued cat’s ass, and exactly the way you want it, you’ll absolutely know if an editor with critical remarks has the wherewithal to diddle your work. If you don’t like what he’s asking for, tell him nicely that you simply cannot make those changes, but the piece is still available as is. If he rejects, fine, that’s his legitimate prerogative. Send it elsewhere. If he still clamors about the changes he wants, tell him to fuck off.

The great author Muriel Spark (who was big enough in her day to forbid ANY editing) said, “If I wrote it, it’s grammatical.” I love that kind of chutzpah! But a good editor—especially if we’re talking about a novel—can be an asset. Let’s face it, if you’re a serious writer, you’re much too close to your work. And even if you edit the thing fifty times, in three hundred or more pages, you WILL MISS SOMETHING. Usually it’s something that will piss you off royally if it appears in print. So don’t be a dick. Listen carefully and think before you explode. If you DO, however, decide on detonation, go ahead and be bloody brilliant about it. If nothing else, it feels good.

Oh yes, Mr. Bruni. If you remember correctly, I DID allow you to change the title of my story “Change of Venue” to “Dick Dog.” See how much I liked you—even when you were rejecting my work right and left! (Author smiles.)

All of the above is true, but it wasn’t “Home to Roost” that I was thinking about. It was another story, “Fishing Whole.” It would seem that the editor in me hasn’t died off, because I asked for a rewrite of the first paragraph. He chose to let his answer stand and added the following:

JMS: Having had my dubious memory (Oldtimer’s Disease) properly chastised, I am now aware that it was NOT “Home to Roost” that John wanted me to change, but “Fishing Whole” (which, to this day, I haven’t sold). “Home to Roost” John rejected outright for the reason stated above, and I simply wrote back to bitch. By that time (this was AFTER “Fishing Whole”), John and I (writers of similar ilk) had a rapport that allowed such bitching. DON’T DO IT WITH AN UNKNOWN EDITOR. If he rejects, suck it up and send something else. Burning a bridge is one thing (on a rare and well-deserved occasion), but bitching to an unknown editor is just stupid, and will get you nowhere.

J. Michael Shell’s recent novel, THE APPRENTICE JOURNALS, is out now and can be bought here.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

COOL SHIT 2-6-14

FAIREST #23: All right, I don’t really care for this story arc. I only mention it here in Cool Shit because I love the fuck out of that cover! Look at that rat’s ear on Cinderella’s ass! Perfect!

THE TRANSFORMERS: MORE THAN MEETS THE EYE #26: God-fucking-dammit. The “Dark Cybertron” crossover has been boring the tits off of me. It’s like IDW is trying to destroy all the awesome shit they’ve done with the title over the years. But . . . this issue is different. It’s actually gotten my attention. Bumblebee working with Megatron? (Or rather, half of Megatron.) Starscream’s dreams crushed so badly that he’s actually given up? Prowl willing to accept Decepticons on his side, even Soundwave? This book’s getting kind of strange. Not only that, but Rodimus confesses his weakest moment to Orion Pax, and Orion Pax doesn’t give him a feel-good speech? I love the fact that Orion Pax gives him shit for it and tells him that Rodimus should have given up his leadership role. How cool is that? And then, of course, there is Bumblebee’s speech in the end of the issue. It’s even better than Rodimus’s till-all-are-one speech from the animated movie. This issue turned me around on “Dark Cybertron.”

GOD IS DEAD #6: Only Jonathan Hickman would have all the gods come back to earth, and the top minds of our world turn themselves into gods in order to save humanity . . . only to have the new gods get big heads and want to rule in their own right. Judging from how this issue ends, I have no idea how Avatar Press will continue this story. It should end here. But there are ads for further issues. A part of me is afraid to find out how they continue, but I’m more consumed by my curiosity. My favorite part of this issue? When Zeus faces off against Stephen Haw—I mean, Dr. Rhodes.

Monday, February 3, 2014


Jon M. Lennon is the lunatic behind PRODUCT OF SOCIETY and the star of Matt Zingale’s documentary of the same title. Easily the most offensive artist you’ll find at any convention’s Artists Alley, he is a major force in indie comics.

ME: Your work has taken a new direction of late. What broke you out of your regular style and propelled you into this new transgressive style?

JML: Real life happened. I was shocked out of stagnation and complacency by a sudden, unexpected confrontation with my own mortality. In February 2013 I spent three days in the hospital with pancreatitis. A week later I fell in love with a woman who had no interest in me. These two events sent me on a new course that altered my life, art and future. I gave up fast food and pop and started exercising. The woman I was obsessed with was also an artist, so I started pushing myself to make better art to impress her. I eventually lost over a hundred pounds and was rejected by the woman who had been such a motivator for me. As an unexpected consequence of the weight loss more women began showing interest in me but I hadn’t really dated anyone for five years so I found myself unable to deal properly with normal dating experiences. As the physical changes and emotional trauma piled up inside of me I constantly worked on new art. I pushed my style and technique in ways I had never attempted before as the content of the pieces became darker and progressively nightmarish. The dust has still not settled on 2013 for me but what is clear is that I am physically and mentally healthier and I am more satisfied and excited about the artwork I am creating than I have been in years.

Jon can be found here. Be sure to buy his work here. Follow him on Twitter here.