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03-08-03:Carter Scholz Audio Fiction

Carter Scholz Audio Fiction

Carter Scholz's new collection includes his story titled 'The Nine Billion Names of God'.

I love writers with a sense of humor. One of my favorite stories from 'The Amount to Carry' is the hilarious 'The Nine Billion Names of God'. Anyone who has ever submitted fiction for publication will will find this story terrifying and laugh out loud funny. After his interview, he agreed to read the story for The Agony Column website. I have some other authors on tap for more fiction. If you like this feature let me know. I suspect that just about anyone who listens this story will be hurrying to the bookstore to pick up the book. Mr. Scholz used to work in the audio field, and it shows -- he's a great performer of his own stories. Enjoy!

03-06-03: Palahniuk's Choke Finds a Fan

Palahniuk's Choke Finds a Fan

It was only a matter of time before somebody tried to pull the scam described in Chuck Palahniuk's 'Choke'.

Choking Man may be fraud

Malcolm Brenner

The Charlotte Sun-Herald Website

When Denise Tucker performed the Heimlich maneuver on a man who appeared to be choking Monday morning, she thought she was saving a life.

Instead, Tucker was an unwitting participant in a bizarre performance that was acted out at least three more times that day and once in February.

Tucker's encounter inspired several other people to call the Sun and report their own experiences. What emerges is a picture of an apparently life-threatening scenario repeated over and over in a ritualistic fashion. It may even be derived from a novel.

The story of "Choking Man" sounds like an urban legend, but it's not. In each case, the act itself and the actor's description are the same. Only the details and the "leading lady" change, because all those who have come to his aid have been women.

Choking Man is white, middle-aged and "stocky," around 5 feet 5 inches tall and 200-250 pounds. He has short brown hair with a bald spot and a small moustache. Sometimes he wears glasses and a wedding band. One woman described his complexion as swarthy.

Choking Man drives a very dark-colored, small Ford or Chevy pickup truck. One woman said it had stepsides. On Monday, he was wearing a light blue dress shirt and navy blue slacks.

Although he hasn't harmed anyone yet, Choking Man's act is no joke. It sent one of his rescuers to the hospital.

About 45 minutes before Tucker "rescued" Choking Man outside Pulsafeeder, he performed the same act at the County Line Market, 285 Duncan Road, east of Punta Gorda.

Around 8:15 a.m. Monday, "This man walked in holding one hand over his mouth, the other one over his stomach, like he was trying to vomit," said Alice "Sissy" Castillo, a clerk at the store.

The man entered the men's bathroom without closing the door completely, and Castillo didn't hear any retching noises. After a few minutes, she became concerned.

"Then he walked out of the bath room with his hand balled up, like he wanted me to pound on his back," Castillo recalled. "He looked like he was choking on something, but when I tried to call 9-1-1, he jerked the phone out of my hand."

The stranger backed into Castillo and wrapped her arms around his midsection. "He had me push on his stomach twice, and dry bread flew out of his mouth," Castillo said.

The stranger was grateful.

"He said, 'Oh thank you, you saved my life!' He was hugging me and kissing me," Castillo continued. "Then he said, 'I left my truck running,' so I went out and turned the vehicle off," forgetting that the cash register was unguarded. On the truck seat, she saw a bag of sliced bread.

When Castillo came back, "He was shaking so bad I got him a chair and sat him down. He said he was a businessman from Bartow headed to Fort Myers for a 9:30 meeting. I asked if there was anybody I could call for him, but he said 'No no no, my wife would freak out.' "

In spite of that, the man did appear to call his wife on a cell phone shortly after Castillo gave him a bottle of water, which she paid for. When Castillo left work around 2:30 p.m., "My drawer was matched to the penny, like usual."

But on the drive home, she began to feel like she was having a heart attack. She checked into DeSoto Memorial Hospital, where doctors diagnosed an acute anxiety attack, and kept her overnight.

Shortly after Tucker's incident, Danielle Lussier, a radiology student at Edison Community College, came upon a man of the same description getting out of his truck at a stop sign in the campus parking lot.

"His face didn't look purple, like he was choking, but it looked red," Lussier said.

The scenario repeated itself. When Lussier started to perform the Heimlich maneuver, "He grabbed one of my hands and pulled it to his stomach area." After three tries, the man ejected a piece of bread.

Afterward, the man, crying, told Lussier she had saved his life. Then he began to get personal.

"He was giving me a big old bear hug," Lussier recalled. "He brought out pictures of his wife and daughter," like he did with Tucker. He told Lussier that the bread was specially made for people on the Atkins diet, because "his wife was on him about his weight," even showing her the bread.

Choking Man gave his name as Larry or Lawrence and said he plays guitar in his church band. "He wanted to know who I was and where I was from," Lussier said. "He said he wanted to thank my pastor."

They were alone for five minutes, Lussier said. The man so earned her trust that when he asked for her phone number, Lussier gave it to him.

Told of the other incidents, Lussier said, "I knew something was weird." She also told of a similar choking incident in the school cafeteria later that day, but that could not be confirmed.

Choking Man appears to have first struck on Feb. 10, outside The Dog House, a small pet-grooming business on East Marion Avenue in Punta Gorda. East of Marlympia Way, the avenue is quiet and little-trafficked.

Around 9 a.m., Jackie Roman noticed a small, dark-colored pickup stopped in front of her sister-in-law, Rose Harper's, business, blocking westbound traffic. "As I went around truck I noticed the driver either sneezing violently or coughing," Roman said.

The man pulled into the driveway, got out of his truck and "was walking around throwing his hands in the air, looking wild-eyed," Roman recalled. "He didn't seem like he was really choking to me. He wasn't purple or blue, just very red-faced."

When a waiting customer tried the Heimlich but failed, Roman yelled at Harper to call 9-1-1.

"I used to work in an ambulance service in Michigan and the Heimlich came back to me," Roman said. This time, the man ejected a piece of celery.

The man, who gave his name as Mark, didn't want 9-1-1 summoned. "He said he was on the way to college and sat for about 10-15 minutes," then went on his way, Roman said.

Choking Man's motive remains obscure, but it may be related to "Choke," a novel by Chuck Palahniuk, author of "Fight Club." The main character of "Choke" stages choking incidents in restaurants hoping that the people who "save" him will feel responsible for him and support him.

Or he may be mentally ill.

"It sounds like factitious disorder," said Dr. Katina Matthews-Ferrari, medical director of Charlotte Community Mental Health Services Inc. The Diagnostic Service Manual defines the disorder as "intentional production or feigning of physical or psychological signs and symptoms," to assume the sick role.

The incentives can be economic gain, as in Palahniuk's novel, avoiding legal responsibilities, getting health care or fulfilling an emotional need.

Addressing Choking Man, Matthews-Ferrari said, "If you're reading this, get professional help."

Detective Ritchhart with the Charlotte County Sheriff's Office would like to hear any other stories about Choking Man. Contact him at (941) 575-5210.

You can e-mail Malcolm Brenner at

03-05-03: Charlie Stross 'Singularity Sky', THE!!!!!! Crop Circle Conspiracy!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Charlie Stross 'Singularity Sky'

Charlie Stross updates a favorite quote from 'Logan's Run'.

In my hurry to get up a column, I of course forgot a major author I'm very interested in, Charlie Stross. I made a point of meeting him at Worldcon, because I've seen his posts on Usenet since the time when Dinosaurs walked on the earth. He wrote me to tell me that:

"(Seriously, I've got one novel coming out this year: "Festival of Fools" is the title in the UK, "Singularity Sky" in the US -- they're the same book, and it's due in April and August from Big Engine and Ace respectively.)

I'm also slightly aghast to report that I've got three novels coming out in the US in 2004 -- one of them is the hardback edition of "The Atrocity Archive", but there are also two entirely new ones."

It's pretty amazing that Stross can get three novels out in one year - a sign that the Big Boys have confidence he can make them some money, and a sign that on occasion, the publishing world can do things right.

THE Crop Circle Conspiracy!!!!!!!!!

If you're a fan of frothing-mouth rants, you owe it to yourself to give this hilarious bit a listen. It's very short. Courtesy Loren Coleman of the Fortean list. Thanks Loren. We're all looking forward to your latest and presumably it will not engender a reaction like this one, directed at the Discovery Channel. This rant is rated R for profane language.

Crop Circle Rant

03-03-03: James Lovegrove's 'Untied Kingdom', VanderMeer's 'Veniss Underground' Website

James Lovegrove's 'Untied Kingdom'

The problem with writing near-future SF is that sometimes the present accelerates a little faster than you expect, and your SF ends up being mainstream fiction!

Here's what the back cover of my proof of James Lovegrove's 'Untied Kingdom' says:

A Nation in a State
After a series of catastrophic political decisions the United Kingdom has finally fallen foul of the International Community. Ostracized and bombed at random the coutry has fallen apart. With the infrastructure in ruins, tiny communities struggle on relying on ancient trasitions and myth for their structure and identity.

In the small town of Downbourne the mayor has tyled himself sa the most ancient and powerful of England's archetypes, The Green man. But even he is powerless to stop a raid on the town by a London based gang who kidnap a number of women.

One of them is the wife of the schoolmaster Fen Morris. Their marriage has become an arid disaster but Fen feels bound to do the right thing and sets off on a journey through an ebngland at once terrifying and magical to get her back. But does this particular damsel even want to be rescued?

Lovegrove is a wonderfully talented writer who has been shortlisted for the Arthur C. Clarke award for his novel 'Days'. He's written horror, science fiction and stuff that is both and neither. This book looks particularly timely and should be most entertaining. A full UN weapons inspector-style report will be issued shortly.

VanderMeer's 'Veniss Underground' Website

The cover of Jeff VanderMeer's new novel in a viewable size. Check out the rotating Meerkats at his website.

I mentioned Jeff VanderMeer's new novel last week. Had I known about it earlier it would have been in the column, but to make up for it, here's the URL for the novel. There are excerpts, reviews and rotating meerkats. One cannot ask for more.