Book Review: The Mystic Arts of Erasing all Signs of Death by Charlie Huston

Sometimes you read a book and the author pulls you in to the story before you even realize you’ve been pulled in. This book is like that. With The Mystic Art of Erasing all Signs of Death, Charlie Huston has written a story about a Los Angeles slacker named Webster Fillmore Goodhue. Web has divorced parents that are deeply flawed but deeply care for Web. Web was a 5th grade teacher who witnessed a tragedy that shattered him. Web withdrew from teaching and now works as a gofer for a tattoo artist. One of the things I loved about Mr, Huston’s portrayal of Web is his sense of sarcasm that masks his entire being. It’s a false front that we on the outside can see is a facade for Web’s response to that tragedy.

Web takes a job working for a crime scene clean up crew and we meet more characters that deeply care for Web. People trying to restore Web.. Without a major spoiler reveal, I’ll just say that what started as a story about a shallow profane human being ends up as a restorative process to recover his humanity.

I highly recommend The Mystic Arts of Erasing all Signs of Death and encourage you to checkout Charlie Huston’s other works. He won an Edgar Award in 2006 for his book “Six Bad Things.” Stephen King thinks so highly of The Shotgun Rule that he wrote: “Anyone not acquainted with Charlie Huston’s blistering, unputdownable novels will want to tie their sneakers nice and tight before starting The Shotgun Rule, or they are apt to be blasted clean out of them.”

Scrivener vs Ulysses First Thoughts

I’ve been working with Scrivener for about a year now and one of its strengths is the ability set one flat file as your main file that contains all your research, characters, locations, and subplots. In addition, It was easy to setup automatic backup to my Dropbox account so that using it from any device, I would see the same content. My primary device is my iOS device but on occasion, I will be on my iPhone with ideas. The same goes for my windows notebook as well as my macOS vm both running Scrivener 3.

After reading that David Henson, the British writer of Spain and The Killing, completely did a 180 and instead of endorsing Scrivener, he now prefers Ulysses, I figured I’d better do some due diligence and try Ulysses.

One of the first things I noticed about Ulysses is that there is no Windows version, it offers a direct WordPress blogging feature (which Scrivener does not) and beyond the 14 day trial, available via subscription only for all devices at $4.50/month or $39/year. This contrasts with Scrivener which is $19.99 for the iOS version, $45 for the macOS version and $40 for the Windows version (there was a Linux version of Scrivener but that project was abandoned.) From an return on investment standpoint, a user of Scrivener on all the devices that I use will have paid $104.99 vs $39/year for iOS and macOS platforms. It would seem that you would get upgrades and be ahead of the game for almost three years if you went the Ulysses route. Scrivener has a very slow development cycle so the time from Scrivener 2 to the recent version 3 for macOS and the upcoming windows release (currently in beta) means you would actually be ahead of the game if you went the Scrivener route.

Both Scrivener and Ulysses offers Dropbox external sync but Ulysses also uses Apple’s own iCloud storage for sync services.

Personally I did not find Ulysses to be very intuitive. Setting up Dropbox worked well enough but it wasn’t readily apparent how to make sure automatic backup works. Scrivener specifically has a preferences dialog that sets the auto backup function (and complains if you use the same folder for backup as your main document repository.) Making iCloud work was supposed to be automatic but I wasn’t able to get it working yet between my iOS platforms and macOS vm.

Ulysses offers Markdown support and Scrivener also can import and export markdown using the Fletcher Penney multimarkdown syntax. Numerous bloggers use Scrivener for blogging and have published templates here. This site includes the steps for utilizing the Markdown language into WordPress.

Both programs offer a full screen mode that i personally use to great effect but I preferred the complexity of Scrivener should I want it vs. the simplicity of Ulysses.

Gary Gibson offers his reasoning for preferring Scrivener over Ulysses here. That review was before the iPad version of Scrivener but his conclusions are valid.

What Inspires Me

This is a story of an author and how his works have inspired me. John Sundman has written several novels including “Cheap Complex Devices” and “Acts of The Apostles” as well as “Biodigital” and “The Pains.” I first learned of John’s works with AOTA and never looked back. I read this book 17 times the first year I bought it and even jumped at a chance to own a draft copy of the book that John signed for me. As the years passed by and my kids were grown, I would continue to refer to AOTA during difficulties and tribulations. There is a reoccurring theme (in my mind mostly) of a main character liking the works of a certain guitar player’s band playing at the Royal Albert Hall. I don’t want to ruin even one iota of this ground breaking book for anyone. Suffice to say, I pretty much say this all the time. Really. 

Throughout the years I would hear from John either with a tweet or I would checkout his website HERE. John lives in Martha’s Vineyard and is a retired firefighter (I know, he’s an amazing human being) as well as a husband and father. His bio is the bio by which all bio’s would be judged (and found wanting.) You’d think that this successful author would be one of those guys whom you would see at comic cons surrounded by sycophants and no way would you ever get a word with. You’d be wrong. John is one of the nicest and caring individuals you’d ever meet and I have had the honor of trading emails every now and then. Writing was what I wanted to do from the first time I read “The Iron Arm of Michael Glenn” when I was a kid. John helped me to find my voice and shape the man I am and by definition, the writing that I do. So if you are ever by chance at the Royal Albert Hall someday, turn it up. Thanks John.

You can get a copy of “Biodigital” here at: http://johnsundman.com/mail-list-sign-up/  for the price of a simple email subscribe to his newsletter. He is as unpretentious as they come.