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Jim Musgrave’s award-winning story, “Letter to the President of the United States,” appears along with 15 other excellent stories in this year’s Eric Hoffer Award Winners.  You can purchase a copy online today.

Jim’s story is a psychological drama that takes place at the beginning of the war in Iraq in 2003.  An Iraqi engineer who worked for Saddam Hussein has lost his memory due to traumatic events, and a U. S. Marine Sergeant and Arab-American translator gets his psychiatrist father to assist him in recovering the engineer’s memory along with what might be called his “soul.”

The Reluctant Zombie

(based on a true story)

My name is Lance Corporal Daniel Prophet.  I served with Easy Company, Second Battalion, Second Marine Regiment during the summer of 2007 in Mahmudiya, Zadon, and Falluja.  I am now in a freight box headed for Dover Air Force Base.  From there, they will ship me to my home town, San Diego, California.  My body is 22 years old, but my mind is timeless.  That’s correct.  I am one of your fallen heroes.  How can I be talking to you like this?  Let me tell you one little secret they don’t tell you when you’re alive:  you don’t get to see the big picture until you’re dead.

For example, I cannot leave this body of mine until I have been given a proper burial.  This doesn’t mean that I need a big deal burial.  No, it just means I must be given the respect that the dead deserve.  And, in this instance, it means the respect of being allowed to return home.  That’s my problem.  Since the United States Government does not want you to see my dead body, for political reasons, I am being transported home as freight.  That’s correct.  I am now right next to boxes of beef jerky, canned ham, condoms and new issues of the horror magazine, Shroud, which has an awesome story in it by Brian Keene about a zombie that loses his will to kill.  The reluctant zombie–that’s me!

I read mostly science fiction and horror when I was alive.  I used to get a lot of it off the Internet, as most publications now have their stories in full online.  As a communications technician, I was able to use the Internet quite often as part of my job.  That’s part of the reason why I now have this ability to see the big picture now that I’m dead.  The Buddhists must be partially correct, also, because the book I was reading when my Armored Personnel Carrier hit an IED (Improvised Explosive Device) was an old one by Kurt Vonnegut Jr. Called Slaughterhouse Five; or the Children’s Crusade: a Duty-Dance with Death.  By the way, the word “crusade” was blacked out on my copy because the government censors did not want the word to be used over in the Middle East.  The Buddhists say that the last thing you’re concentrating on when you die determines what you will be in the next life.  I was concentrating on this book wherein Billy Pilgrim, a sensitive Chaplain’s Assistant in World War Two, is able to slip in an out of time, and he simultaneously lives as a human zoo specimen on the planet Tralfamadore and as a prisoner of war inside a slaughter house below the ground in Dresden, Germany.  It’s an awesome book.  I learned that we experience life from what Vonnegut calls our “peephole” of reality.

Paul Lazarro was Billy Pilgrim’s nemesis in the novel by Vonnegut.  Sergeant Steve Haggard was mine.  Steve was like many of the other big guys I knew growing up.  He liked to pick on small guys.  In fact, I joined the Marines because I was small, and I wanted them to make me a man, as they claimed they could do in their ads.  However, although I did become much stronger, and I had big muscles, I was still a short dude, only 5 feet 3 inches tall.  Sergeant Haggard liked to play practical jokes on me.  He was always putting itching powder in my desert boots or holding a Chinese Fire Drill, whereby his squad would wait until I was on the commode and they would toss a burning paper bag under the stall and Haggard would yell “Fire!”  The rest of the squad then threw helmets filled with water over the stall and onto my head.  Once, when I was doing duty in the mess hall, Sergeant Haggard super glued some silverware to the table top.  When I went to pick-up the spoons, knives and forks to take them to the scullery, he laughed his ass off, as I tried to pry them off the table.  Haggard, my squad leader, always forced me to sit near the center of the APC whenever we traveled in Iraq.  This was the most dangerous spot, and this was where I lost my head from flying shrapnel.  They sewed my head back on my body for the trip home.  I never got to kill a single insurgent.

But Haggard’s final joke was to fill-out the chit that sent my body state-side.  Instead of having my body shipped to a funeral home in San Diego, he had it sent to Sea World, marked as “Killer Whale Food.”  Thus, instead of having my body get the proper ceremony it deserved, I was headed to an amusement park.  This also proved that Haggard had become a psycho.

I can feel them hauling me off the plane.  After the bumpy ride, I can hear the top of my container being pried open.  I can see light pouring down on my face, and my infinite mind can see the person bending over me.  She is about 25 years old, blonde, and she begins to scream as she sees that I am not sea food and that I am naked.  People begin to scurry around my box, and then someone with a suit on says, “Ship him to the coroner’s office.  There’s no return address on this shipping bill.  Where the hell did he come from?”

I have ended up in a poorly constructed, refrigerated trailer outside the San Diego City Coroner’s Office.  I can hear the rats eating into my box, and I want to say that I am frightened, but it’s actually kind of cool to be in here.  It’s like the end of some horror story that I would have read when I was alive.  Maybe something by H. P. Lovecraft or George Orwell.

As I pointed out, it is now my duty to haunt you in your world.  I will begin with Steve Haggard.  He will see me in his dreams over in Iraq, and this will lead to his getting a mental discharge, but he won’t get one cent of disability because the shrinks will claim he was crazy before he came into the Marine Corps, and it’s actually true.  He played many other pranks on animals and humans when he was a civilian.  As a result, Steve will get drunk on leave on a half-day fishing boat out of San Diego, and he will jump overboard, where he will be eaten by sharks.  We Buddhists call this type of revenge “karmic justice.”

As for the rest of you, I will also enter your dreams, showing you pictures from the dark side of our global quest for wealth, power and industrialized greed.  These are pictures that were taken by a Canadian who wanted to capture the real scenes of environmental devastation caused by Globalization.  He called it “Manfactured Landscapes.”  He said his epiphany to take these pictures came as he was driving his car, with its plastic steering wheel, and its gasoline, and its oil, and all the other connections he personally had to our petroleum-based economy.

But I’m not buried yet.  You could discover me and give me my burial.  There’s still time for you to wake up and use your infinite mind and forget your lousy peepholes.  There’s still time to release me.  Are we there yet?

You can listen to my reading of “A Betting Man,” from my President’s Parasite short fiction collection.  This was on the Canadian Blogtalk program, “Authors Read.”

Click on the player or the link below to listen to the Nikki Leigh Talks WIth Jim Musgrave About The President’s Parasite show

BlogTalkRadio Player

http://www.blogtalkradio.com/nikkileigh/2008/07/21/Nikki-Leigh-Talks-WIth-Jim-Musgrave-About-The-Presidents-Parasite

Special Offer:  Listen to a story to see if you like the audio format.

Download this .pdf (must have Adobe Acrobat Reader installed) sampler to get a taste of what’s in the entire collection of short stories.

Click to download the sampler

Click to download the sampler

 

Cheryl Malandrinos of The Book Connection will be hosting me on the 24th of July, and this is a preview of what I’ll talk about:

My Moral Universe and the Impudent Imagination

 

By Jim Musgrave

 

Albert Camus

Albert Camus

My collection of short fiction, The President’s Parasite and Other Stories was written over the course of 15 years, with many of the stories being updated recently in order to improve their depth of emotion.  I was asked to write about “taking your beliefs—moral and political—and working them into your fiction and why your beliefs have caused you to write a book of this nature.”  Thanks, Cheryl, I needed that!

 

I used to have this weird idea that nobody would care where the heck I got my ideas or what I thought about in my non-writing, conscious state.  That’s right; I’m of the opinion that I am writing at my best when the effort seems “unconscious,” or what the late Dr. Carl Jung called “tapping into the Collective Unconscious.” 

 

So, now, here I am, trying put into words exactly why I write stories the way I do and what makes me choose the subjects.  This may sound strange, but I try not to impose my own moral beliefs on a story.  I know, you’re all saying, “That’s impossible!  At some level one must know what one believes, and this must inevitably come across in the writing.”  Au contraire, I say, because my moral and political beliefs are such that I believe any and all things are possible, and that any artist who attempts to impose his conscious morals upon a work will, ultimately, fail.  My philosophical hero, the late absurdist French playwright and novelist, Albert Camus, probably expresses my moral and political (and artistic!) beliefs best when he says, “All great deeds and all great thoughts have a ridiculous beginning. Great works are often born on a street corner or in a restaurant’s revolving door.”  Or, how about this, “Without freedom, no art; art lives only on the restraints it imposes on itself, and dies of all others.”  And, finally, the coup de gras, “Without culture, and the relative freedom it implies, society, even when perfect, is but a jungle. This is why any authentic creation is a gift to the future.”

 

How do these quotes relate to my stories and to my creative force?  Let’s take the first one, “All great deeds and all great thoughts have a ridiculous beginning.”  Several of my stories began with an absurd experience—something that happened to me that made me confront the absurdity of existence in the post-modern, deconstructionist world.  For example, the title story in my collection, “The President’s Parasite,” happened after I was reading about the life of the tapeworm.  I then saw a blurb about the tapeworm being the name they gave the first computer “bug,” back in the old Univac days.  Those two absurd combinations of realities led me to think about the G-8, the present President of the United States of America (and other G-8 members), and my satire began to write itself as soon as I took that “cosmic leap” that guys like fellow absurdist artist, Franz Kafka, know so well.  I became that tapeworm, trapped inside the President of the United States, George Walker Bush.  And, this was no ordinary tapeworm, oh no, not for these times!  This tapeworm was bent upon world conquest.  How absurd can that be?  Karl Marx said the revolution should begin “within,” didn’t he?  Ha!  What better way to begin a story?  Jonathan Swift did it with his “A Modest Proposal” (why don’t we just eat the Irish babies and fix this population problem?).  So, Camus’ quote is very prescient, is it not?  Another story in my collection that takes from this absurdity quote is “The Lupercian Festival,” which is about a Mi’kmaq Canadian Aborigine on a New Brunswick reservation, who just happens to have been “blessed” with the longest penis in world history.  Isn’t that a lot better than waking up and finding out you’re a cockroach?

 

At any rate, let’s take the second Camus quote, “Without freedom, no art; art lives only on the restraints it imposes on itself, and dies of all others.”  I dare say, unless an editor of one of the big publishers out there had been imbibing on the job, neither of these stories would have seen the light of print publication.  However, since I am a self-published author, thanks to the miracle of Print-on-Demand (that means the populace still can say when and if they like something), I was able to use my “freedom” to create the art as I saw fit.  Without this freedom, in my opinion, art dies with it. 

 

Many of my other stories also have socio-political content, so these would have also died on the editing room floor (for their own good, mind you), but Camus’ life’s blood lives on, in my stories, even though my mentor’s body was absurdly wrapped around a telephone pole (inside his publisher’s new sports car!), on that fateful day, which cut him off in the height of his artistic career.  Finally, there is, “Without culture, and the relative freedom it implies, society, even when perfect, is but a jungle. This is why any authentic creation is a gift to the future.”  This one, in all actuality, keeps me writing, even though the odds are against us absurdist artists.  Jonathan Swift told me that the ones I make fun of in order to change them really will never see themselves in my satire, and I agree.  George W. Bush, as a matter of fact, would only be told what my story said, and then only if thousands of readers were reading it and ridiculing him on blogs (since when has George W. read any blog recently?).  Are we not already in this “jungle” that Camus mentions?   The multi-million dollar “best-sellers” do not make one think about the nature of reality—either as a concept or in an altered, artistic state.  Instead, the same old, tired and ignorant consumer traits are pushed upon us:  lust, envy, sloth, greed, wrath, gluttony and pride (hey, wait a minute, aren’t those supposed to be sinful?).  However, just pick-up a trashy novel (the best kind!) or watch a music video or video game for adults.  Those “sins” are right out there, in your face, waiting for you to react and go buy or do something to provoke the economy into “wealth and more wealth.”  Please.  Read a Nora Roberts novel from beginning to end.  Then, look at this list of sins.  See what I mean?  The difference between the Nora Roberts’s of the world and authentic artists (according to Camus) is the fact that we write with a free conscience.  In fact, according to Camus’ mentor, Jean-Paul Sartre, we are all “condemned to be free,” are we not?  Even good old Nora. 

 

Although, if the Nora Roberts’s of the world are truly happy with their job, then so be it.  I’ll leave you with this quote by Camus on the nature of happiness (I’ve got it memorized for my dark days when blog editors ask me about the nature of my morals), “You will never be happy if you continue to search for what happiness consists of. You will never live if you are looking for the meaning of life.”  If you read my collection of stories, I think you’ll agree that my characters haven’t quite gotten the hang of it yet.  Have you? 

 

 

Wild West of Zinggong

Wild West of Zinggong

If you enjoy a good scifi story, then you might want to check-out my new audio fiction being sold at Sniplits.com (same place that sells “What Were You When You Were Alive?” I may be working this into a novel, but I want to get some reactions to the first chapter.

“Zinggong” ByJim Musgrave
In 2852, the U.S. is a wild west tourist attraction, where police sergeant Julian Gaston discovers the secret behind the shooting death of Duplicant Sheriff, Wyatt Earp…
Time: 28:14 / $0.88
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