Thanks to Loren Coleman and Cryptomundo.com!
A fearsome new year to all.
Thanks to Loren Coleman and Cryptomundo.com!
A fearsome new year to all.
The University of South Florida’s MFA Program in Creative Writing invites you to join them for an evening of poetry and fiction as they host the 2009 Writers’ Harvest. The event will be held on October 23, at Karma Bar and Café in downtown Tampa. Come early, the reading begins at 7pm.Featured readers will include John Fleming, Karen Brown, Hunt Hawkins, and Alicia Thompson. There is a $3 admission fee or you can bring 3 canned goods. Authors will sign copies of their books which will be available for purchase and there will be a raffle for a variety of prizes. All proceeds will go to America’s Second Harvest of Tampa Bay. If you have any questions about Writers’ Harvest, please don’t hesitate to email Professor Ira Sukrungruang, firstname.lastname@example.org.
I’ll be presenting at the Festival of Reading Saturday 10/24 from 11-11:45. More than 50 authors and 15,000 attendees are expected. This is the major literary event of the region, and well worth your time.
More info here.
Review: John Henry Fleming’s ‘Fearsome Creatures of Florida’ is suitably creepy
Review By Colette Bancroft, Times Book Editor
In Print: Sunday, October 11, 2009
Some might say the most fearsome creatures in the Sunshine State are the human ones, but John Henry Fleming lets us off the hook (maybe) in his whimsical bestiary Fearsome Creatures of Florida.
Fleming, a professor of creative writing at the University of South Florida who will be a featured author at the Times Festival of Reading on Oct. 24, writes of critters mythical and real — and some that blur that border. Wild things still prowl Florida even if it is encrusted with gated subdivisions “with vigilant, uniformed guards charged with improving upon the gatekeeper of Eden, who, after all, couldn’t keep out the snakes.”
Among his subjects is that giant Everglades python, split open after gobbling a gator — a real animal, but Fleming gives its future a discomforting spin. He writes of another real animal, the beautiful and endangered Key deer, spinning an eerie legend of deer amassing on the road through Big Pine Key during hurricanes to blockade evacuating motorists: “If I’m not getting out, neither are you.”
Some of his more cryptozoological subjects are familiar, like the lonesome skunk ape (“the infamous artist of stink”) and the links sprites, jocularly blamed for missing golf balls but perhaps up to much worse.
Others are less familiar, like the Okeechobee flatwhale and the were-panther. There is only ever one were-panther; it reproduces itself by attacking humans while they’re driving at least 75 mph on Alligator Alley, crashing through their windshields to create an “unblessed union of species.”
An environmentalist’s heart beats behind these stories, but instead of lectures Fleming artfully draws us into the kind of campfire tales we almost believe. As he writes in his disclaimer, “Any resemblance of these creatures to the one now standing behind you is purely coincidental.”
Colette Bancroft can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8435.
Please join me at Inkwood Books for a Fearsome reading, signing, and Q&A. If you’ve never been, Inkwood is an indy gem of a bookstore in Tampa, active in the community and a hot-spot for author events. Buy your books there!
216 South Armenia Avenue
Tampa, FL 33609-3310
Book Review: Fearsome Creatures of Florida
August 27, 2009 at 10:11 am by Shawn Alff
In Fearsome Creatures of Florida, Tampa author John Henry Fleming serves as taxonomist of Florida folklore, producing a wildlife handbook that could have been published by National Enquirer. This book breathes new life into real creatures and popular myths like the Skunk Ape and the Chupacabra. However, the beasts that stay with readers long after finishing the book are Fleming’s creations, like the ghost of the monkeynaut, Gordo, trouncing along the Space Coast in his shiny suit.
From David Hazouri’s sketched illustrations, I expected a Disney World version of swamp monsters. Instead I was confronted by Swiftian creatures that prey on the book’s true monsters: humans. These unnamed locals and tourists are lazy drunks more concerned with stocking their liquor cabinets than evacuating from a hurricane.
The cataloged beasts are the Frankenstein monsters of modern culture. The Key Deer evolved into ruthless survivalists due to overdeveloped breeding grounds. Some animals were set loose from defunct tourist traps or pet cages, like the Glade’s Python which has developed a taste for “big, slow-moving, sun-worshipers.” The Mangrove Man eats land developers and the lone Were-Panther attacks complacent drivers exceeding 75 miles an hour down Alligator Alley. In the book’s darkest piece, the Hanging Trees come to life. Having learned from the surprising number of lynchings in Florida between 1882 and 1930, these trees strangle unsuspecting victims then mail dismembered toes to the deads’ families.
With no overarching plot, this book’s devilish charm lies in the details–a mix between Carl Hiaasen’s pop-culture wasteland of modern Florida and the unyielding wild of Fleming’s first novel, The Legend of the Barefoot Mailman. Beer cans collect like driftwood between mangrove roots. The state’s topography is like that of a “deflated life raft on a calm sea, interesting only when you get too near the edge or when a hole opens in the middle.” This golf-themed Eden offers residents in gated communities limited postcard views of “sunsets and swimsuits,” along with the aroma of “coconut sunblock and the freshly quaffed Bermuda grass of our finest golf courses.” These contained lives aren’t just blind to swamp creatures, but also the “one-armed vets God-blessing America and begging for dollars at intersections” and “vacant-eyed streetwalkers hustling for drugs.”
Like Where the Wild Things Are, Fearsome Creatures reminds us why we obsessed over monsters as children. This book is required reading for any eco-conscious Floridian. It should be shelved between stiff wildlife handbooks for your children to discover when they’re old enough to explore the truth between the facts.
Fearsome Creatures‘ biggest flaw is its brevity. Readers will finish it in one sitting, wishing Fleming would use his lively style to animate real endangered Florida species that get overshadowed by charismatic manatees and sea turtles. Fleming could do worse than to concoct a Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings knockoff detailing battles between Mermaid Vampires and Globesuckers in Florida’s mystically polluted swamps and perfectly overcrowded beaches.
Readers can’t help but pick up where the book ends, cataloging evermore local species: goblins with a taste for bicycles’ front tires, bloated and brainless zombies prowling the streets of bar districts every weekend; the infamous parking ticket fairy… This, after all, is Fleming’s goal. He instructs us to suppress the “instinct to deny,” reminding us that ignoring our imagination “is a finely honed skill, one that rewards with a flat-line existence of impenetrable satisfaction.”
At least 20% of the royalties from the sale of this book and 50% of the profits from associated products will be donated to the Nature Conservancy to help protect critical natural lands in Florida. For more on Fearsome Creatures of Florida, visit fearsomecreatures.com, and check out John Henry Fleming at these upcoming readings:
-Inkwood Books, Sept. 10 at 7 p.m.
-USF Campus GraphicStudio, Sept. 18 at 6 p.m.
-Karma Bar, Oct. 23 for Writers Harvest
-St. Pete Times Festival of Reading, Oct. 24
Follow Shawn Alff on Twitter or Facebook
Featuring a creepy slideshow and Q&A. Free love advice for the first 100 attendees!
August 7, 6-9 p.m.: Booksigning in front of Little Bookworms Bookshop in Lakewood Ranch, near Sarasota. Part of the Music on Main event.
August 8, 7-9 p.m.: Booksigning in front of the Well Read bookstore in Fort Lauderdale. Part of the Saturday Night Alive event.
August 15, 2 p.m.: Reading at the Wellington Public Library in Wellington, near West Palm Beach.
REVIEW JUST POSTED ON THE FLORIDA BOOK REVIEW WEBSITE
Fearsome Florida Creatures by John Henry Fleming, Illustrations by David Hazouri
(Pocol Press, Paperback, 88pp., $14.95)
Reviewed by Jamie May
“A Bestiary,” according to the website of the Aberdeen Bestiary, “is a collection of short descriptions about all sorts of animals, real and imaginary, birds and even rocks, accompanied by a moralising explanation. Although it deals with the natural world it was never meant to be a scientific text and should not be read as such. Some observations may be quite accurate but they are given the same weight as totally fabulous accounts.” In the Middle Ages, manuscripts like the Aberdeen Bestiary were often presentation volumes for noble patrons, copied on expensive vellum, lavishly bound, and illuminated with gold leaf and precious pigments.
John Henry Fleming’s Fearsome Florida Creatures doesn’t immediately look the part. No vellum, no bespoke binding, and the illustrations by David Hazouri are pen-and-ink drawings, not illuminations. Well, blame the price of gold leaf. It may not have the elaborate accoutrements, but make no mistake: Fearsome Florida Creatures is a bestiary in the fullest sense of the word.
In these pages, Key Deer and Everglades-dwelling Burmese Pythons—real Florida fauna—rub haunches and scales with well-known folktale monsters like the Chupacabra and the Skunk Ape. Add some creatures surely dreamed up by Fleming himself, and the menagerie is complete. Fleming’s inventions take their shapes from Florida’s landscapes, both natural and man-made: The Okeechobee Flatwhale, shaped like a giant flounder, which surfaces from the shallows of Lake Okeechobee once a day to take a single, gale-force breath; Links Sprites, responsible for lost golf-balls and the untimely deaths of those who track their shots too far into the rough; the Were-Panther, native to the habitat around Alligator Alley, known to hurl itself through the windshields of speeding cars because it “may only reproduce itself by piercing the flesh of a human traveling at least 75 miles per hour, passing away even as it passes on its mutant genes.” Even those entries concerning animals the reader is more likely to have seen are filtered through his sense of place. I’m skeptical about the reports he cites of Key Deer blockading US1 and dooming anyone trying to flee at the last minute from hurricanes. But then, this book was never meant to be a scientific text, and shouldn’t be read as such.
The moralizing tendency proper to a Bestiary is here too. Okeechobee Flatwhales give Fleming the opportunity to discuss water management in Central and South Florida; the entry on the Were-Panther meditates on the way the interstate system insulates travelers from the natural world they pass through. But it’s not just environmentalism that animates the author. His Chupacabra is the kind of illegal immigrant that might appear in a xenophobe’s nightmares, both an evocation of horrifying otherness and a call to reconsider our relationship with the other: “Hey, Chupacabra, you goat-sucking intruder, where did you come from? You dog-paddled across the Florida Straits. You stowed away in a freighter’s hold. You dug a hole under the fence and squeezed your ugly dog-snout through, giving the rest of us a bad name. And then, like us, you were free.” Fleming’s goal, as stated in his introduction, “is to make at least some readers — those not settled too comfortably into the lanai of their prefab paradise — turn their heads to the man-monster’s shadow next time, to suppress for a moment the instinct to deny. Entertain instead the possibility that what you see may be real after all.” He wants us to see Florida as the snarled, fraught place it is, not the endless vacation it’s made out to be.
No doubt some readers will react to this moralizing with the same disappointment they felt when they realized C.S. Lewis had slipped a religious allegory in with the fantasy of the Narnia books (themselves repositories of some marvelous beasts). Take Fleming’s entry on the Hanging Trees, oaks that lure unwary Floridians into their clutches with shady bench swings, then choke them to death while whispering about lynchings and the KKK. It’s edifying to be reminded of the state’s history of racist terrorism, but the didactic note in “The Hanging Trees” is so insistent that the piece can’t really work as ghost story, horror, or anything but a lecture. It’s possible to be too on-the-nose with moral lessons, no matter how good those lessons are.
That said, there’s plenty of good writing here, as when Fleming imagines a python’s life as a pet before it’s released into the wild: “For a time, the boy basks in the notoriety of his storybook pet. New friends line up out the door to watch the Saturday afternoon feedings, when a live rat tunnels head-first to its death.” That rat may be my favorite creepy-crawly of the whole book: at its best, Fearsome Florida Creatures shows how similar gnawing out a home for oneself can be to being digested.
For a further taste of Fleming’s book, visit www.fearsomecreatures.com. Readers can view the Aberdeen Bestiary and find out more about its history at http://www.abdn.ac.uk/bestiary/.
Jamie May is a Contributing Editor for The Florida Book Review and the Reviews and Features Editor for Gulf Stream Magazine. Known habitats include the FIU Creative Writing Department, where he is a candidate for an MFA in Fiction.
There’ll be a slideshow of fearsome creatures!