Category Archives: Uncategorized

#TwitterFiction Festival 2015: Officially In!

I could not be more excited to report that I will be one of the authors featured during #TwitterFiction Festival 2015, May 11-15!

#TwitterFictionFestival 2015_Facebook

For those who are unfamiliar with the festival, according to twitterfictionfestival.com, the premise is “a five-day virtual writing celebration held entirely on Twitter” that is now in its third year. Each year, authors and writers the world over submit their fiction ideas and a panel of judges from across the publishing industry chooses several official participants; 2015 saw judges from Quirk Books; Little, Brown and Company; Avon Books, HarperCollins; Simon & Schuster; Hachette Book Group; Grove Atlantic; Penguin Random House; and St. Martin’s Press.

This year, for the second year in a row, the Association of American Publishers and Penguin Random House are presenting the event.

Along with writers like me who applied to become official participants, there will be 23 featured authors tweeting throughout the festival, including award winners and #1 New York Times bestselling writers. Do the names Margaret Atwood and Lemony Snicket ring a bell?

While anyone on Twitter can craft and tweet out short fiction using #twitterfiction throughout the year and during the festival itself, the judging panel selects participants that will be featured on the festival site, and retweeted by @twitterbooks and @TWFictionFest, during specific time slots. I found out this past Friday that I was selected to be an official participant and given two, hour-long time slots during the event:

  • 2AM-3AM on Tuesday, May 12th
  • 9PM-10PM on Friday, May 15th

Considering the story idea I pitched is a crime story, I intend to use the lapse between my time slots to my advantage with a killer cliffhanger (pun intended…sorry!).

The Plot

While I do not intend to give too much away before the festival begins, here’s a teaser of my crime story:

Detective Elinor Gibbs investigates a copy-cat murder only to discover that the victim is the same victim from a murder the year before, according to an identifying tattoo. Elinor uncovers the grisly history of a murderer only to have a family secret rear up, forcing her into the killer’s crosshairs. Told through two Twitter accounts – @DetectiveEGibbs belonging to the detective, @brandedsailor to the killer – this story will be told in words, photos, newspaper “clippings” and video.

#TwitterFiction Festival 2015_Twitter Handles

Be sure to follow me @ajwalkley, as well as my protagonist @DetectiveEGibbs and antagonist @brandedsailor, as the story unfolds in just a few weeks.

Stay tuned for a full Twitter festival schedule coming up on April 30th via twitterfictionfestival.com!

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

QUEER GREER Giveaway!

Head on over to Goodreads and enter to win an autographed copy of Queer Greer today!

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Queer Greer by A.J. Walkley

Queer Greer

by A.J. Walkley

Giveaway ends September 03, 2014.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

 

Enter to win

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

The Squatch Watchers: An Interview

Recently, I had the immense pleasure to sit down with two highly talented comedians, podcasters, video game and comic book enthusiasts — who also happen to be friends of mine — to hear all the gritty details behind their new Kickstarter project to fund their web series Squatch Watchers. Much of the interview went down NSFW routes, but the rest I have collected here to share with you. May I introduce Gene Shaw and Jason Inman!


Tell me a little bit about Squatch Watchers. What do you want to accomplish with the web series?

Gene: We want to end the Bigfoot mystery. I mean seriously, in 2013, when EVERYONE has a camera on them at all times, this thing shouldn’t be a mystery any longer. Year after year, show after show, all we get is the exact same story over and over. It’s like the porn industry — these people have been making a living for decades and they’re all just making the same exact movie over and over again. Some people meet, they have sex, rinse and repeat.

Jason: I’d make sure you rinse before you repeat in that case! But seriously, we’ve seen the exact same evidence in the Bigfoot community for years now. “Here’s some tracks, here’s some hair (which turns out to be a wolf or a bear), here’s the Patterson Gimlin film and here’s no one ever solving the mystery.”

Gene: As a side note, have you seen the Freeman footage? It’s like the new Patterson Gimlin — it’s really cool. It starts out with this guy just walking through the woods looking at some tracks — Sasquatch tracks — and then he sees the thing. It walks out of frame and he follows it! This is the kind of stuff that I’m talking about. Unfortunately, it’s still a bit of a “Blob Squatch,” but it’s compelling nonetheless.

What the heck is a “Blob Squatch”?

Gene: A “Blob Squatch” is the name that the Bigfoot community gives to any photo or video that’s totally out of focus and just looks like a blurry blob.

Got it! I also noticed you have DC Comics writer Scott Lobdell (Superman) involved. How did he become attached to Squatch Watchers?

Jason: We’ve known Scott for a while now. We’ve done some really cool videos with him and when he found out that we were doing Squatch-related material, he offered to help out! When he started his career, he was actually writing a book called Alpha Flight which starred Sasquatch. He’s been intrigued by Bigfoot ever since that time.

Gene: Scott is a very funny guy as well, so he fits in perfectly with everything we’re doing.

Squatch Watchers Jason Inman (left) and Gene Shaw.

Squatch Watchers Jason Inman (left) and Gene Shaw.

What are some of the challenges that come with basing a series around a mysterious creature?

Jason: The real challenge that I see ahead of us is also the reason that we’re making this series. We have to build our entire project without our main character ever making an appearance. We certainly HOPE that we find him, but at the end of the day, there are some extremely intelligent and resourceful people who have been looking for hard evidence for many, many years with no luck. The one way that we hope to overcome this is to go the other way. If we search an area and find no evidence of Bigfoot, then that’s an area that no one else has to spend time searching. If we do find some evidence, then we’re going to follow it. One of our main gripes with all of the shows and various footage over the years is that when people find some evidence, they’re content with that evidence being enough. If they find a bunch of tracks, they just get some plaster.

Gene: When we find some tracks, we’re going to follow those suckers! If we see a “Blob Squatch,” I’m running that f***er down to get a good crystal clear photo of him.

You guys are known mainly for comic book and film-related comedy. I believe you recently won a Geekie Award, didn’t you? Where did the idea for Squatch Watchers come from?

Gene: Well, it’s actually comic books that got us into this! Jason and I were covering WonderCon this year and, of course, Jerry Ahern was there. We ended up spending a ton of downtime just talking, and Jerry and I realized that we both have an unhealthy fascination with educational television. We talked about virtually every Discovery Channel, Animal Planet, Destination America or history type show that there is. From the reality stuff to the speculative alien conspiracy and Squatchin’ shows.

From there, we both started really complaining about how the mystery type shows never solve anything. Not even to say, “Nope. There are no aliens in Roswell, NM.” They just end with, “And the mystery lives on…”

We started talking about the Bigfoot series, which is where I got angry. It’s one thing to be out looking for ghosts, having to rely on little blips on electromagnetic equipment and never really seeing anything. It’s an entirely different set of excuses when you’re showing us footprints and video and hair samples, and then tell us, “But the mystery lives on…” I mean seriously. If you see some f***ing footprints, let your buddy cast them and follow them. If you see a Squatch, don’t hide behind a tree when it walks out of camera range — go get it! It always bothered me that people would have footage of a Squatch and just let it walk out of frame. You follow that sucker until he kills and eats you. Okay, maybe not that far, but still! You follow him!

Jason: So that’s where the idea came from. Within the course of a single dinner, we decided that we could do better. We came up with the concept and the title of the series, and then we decided to drop it on Kickstarter to help us get it made.

Do you have the support of any Bigfoot believers or websites?

Jason: The Bigfoot community is very self-protective. Too many outsiders have come in promising the world and, instead, they just basically mock anyone who believes. When we first decided to actually go out and look for Squatch, we reached out to a few of the scholars who are active in the community and, for the most part, they were very hesitant. That being said, we’ve also reached out to some of the smaller local communities with more success. Currently, some very kind words have been said by the Squatch Museum in Felton, CA, the Bigfoot Evidence Blog and, of course, we have Chuck Testa‘s endorsement.

Gene: I think that once the Squatchers realize that even though we’re mainly comedians, we are actually extremely intrigued by the idea of Squatch and we all believe in Bigfoot, they’ll come around. We’re basically Squatch lovers who are also comedians. Like when Adam Sandler makes a hockey movie, people who play hockey aren’t like, “Oh my god, he’s makin’ fun of hockey!” They’re like, “Awesome! He’s making a comedy about hockey!” We’re doing the same thing for Squatchin’, but we’re also actually trying to put the mystery to rest.

Jason Inman (left) and Gene Shaw hunt for Sasquatch in Squatch Watchers.

Jason Inman (left) and Gene Shaw hunt for Sasquatch in Squatch Watchers.

Why should people donate to the Squatch Watchers Kickstarter?

Jason: There are a ton of reasons to donate! First off, if you’re like we are and are either bored with the mystery of Bigfoot, or just bored watching the shows — we’re going to be entertaining AND we’re going to end some of the mystery. We’re not leaving an area until we determine whether or not there’s a Squatch there.

Secondly, we’re comedians. Even if we don’t find Bigfoot, you’re GOING to be entertained. If you’ve seen our other videos, such as the Walking Dead Christmas Special or James Franco’s Wizard of Oz Special Edition, then you already know what’s in store for you. We’re going to make you laugh.

Gene: That, the rewards and there’s a certain member of our team who, on a recent episode of Chuck Testa’s Tuesday Taxidermy Tips, promised that if our Kickstarter hits $50,000, he’ll cover his entire body from the neck down in styrofoam. That alone will be pretty hilarious to see, even if you think that we’re crazy for spending time looking for Bigfoot.

Check out Squatch Watchers on Kickstarter now!

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

The Suffering of Returned Peace Corps Volunteers

Imagine dropping everything to dedicate your life to your nation and a Third World country for 27 months. Imagine leaving behind family, friends, daily luxuries, and necessities to voluntarily help in a place and under circumstances most people would never intentionally endure.

Now imagine contracting a virus during your time volunteering for others that ravages your autonomic nervous system. Imagine not being able to stay upright for more than four hours at a time, forgetting memories that you cherish and passing out without warning. Imagine being Returned Peace Corps Volunteer (RPCV) Meghan Wolf.

Meghan and I served together in Malawi, Africa, as health volunteers after graduating from college in 2007. We roomed together throughout training, lived in the same homestay village, learned the Chichewa language together, and became very close before we were each assigned to separate areas of the country for our service — Meghan to the south in Maliera and me in central Malawi in a village called Thonje. Once we were each dropped off in our respective villages, we never saw each other again.

From left, Meghan Wolf, Dyna (a Malawian language trainer for the Peace Corps) and A.J. Walkley.

Both of us ended up leaving Malawi prior to the end of service for different reasons; for me it was due to unsafe conditions in my village that the Peace Corps refused to help me with; for Meghan, the circumstances were much more devastating.

A Korean-American adopted when she was just a baby, Meghan is nothing if not grateful for her upbringing and life so far. “I was adopted to a First World country — I would have been dead in my hut had my mother not gotten a hold of someone in [the United States] when I was dying,” she recounted. “If I had been a [Korean] villager, I would be dead. So many people have it much worse off than me.”

Knowing of her beginnings is what inspired Meghan to apply for the Peace Corps to begin with; unfortunately, in her ninth month in-country, Meghan fell ill. She explained:

“I was so sick; every ride to the hospital in a luxury sedan on paved roads was still hell for me and they refused to let me get medications. The one I needed for my nausea costs $27 a pill; they said no meds until I had a diagnosis. Well, that took over three months at a University hospital. Thank goodness for my neurologist at the end. ‘Autonomic dysfunction’ is pretty much unheard of by most doctors. There is no treatment and no cure. They can only give different medications to alleviate symptoms. It’s different for everyone. Mine is bad.”

Likely the result of a virus she contracted in Malawi, Meghan has and continues to experience symptoms including tremors similar to Parkinson’s; chronic pain; dry heaving; vomiting; abdominal cramping; constipation; loss of memory; loss of coordination; falling; passing out; freezing muscles; low blood pressure with irregular heart rate; the inability to control her body temperature; and the inability to be vertical for more than four hours at any given time. To cope, she is on medications to slow down her brain processing which has helped with the vomiting, nausea and retching.

“Basically I’m a really old person who should be in a nursing home,” the 27-year-old says, having been diagnosed with POTS (Postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome), Cyclical Vomiting Syndrome, neuropathy, fibromyalgia and sleep disorders, among other ailments.

One might think that the Peace Corps has likely helped Meghan with her medical needs since returning to the U.S., especially considering that her diagnoses and symptoms prevent her from holding down a job.

This is not the case.

In Meghan’s words:

“The Peace Corps disowned me once I left Malawi…I’m allowed nine ICD-9 codes, which are how doctors bill patients. I have a whole lot more. So that’s what the government covers, otherwise I cannot get health insurance. I cannot even afford Medicare; it’s $300 a month and covers nothing. I’m not eligible for life insurance and I’m not allowed to work. Social Security says I am eligible for $29 a month and they refuse to even pay me that, even after appeal after appeal and a judge ruled in my favor. They give you the run around and there’s nothing you can do. I spend 45 minutes on hold only to get a person who doesn’t really speak English and cannot help me in the least. They tell you they will call you back and never do. They have you send in mounds of paperwork on shoestring deadlines.”

Meghan now struggles daily with no end in sight. All the more troubling is the fact that she is not alone. On the contrary, she is one of dozens, if not hundreds or even thousands of other RPCVs who have come back to the U.S. injured and sick, only to find out that the government they had dedicated themselves to has forsaken them.

Nancy Tongue, founder of Health Justice for Peace Corps Volunteers, related her own struggle that she has been dealing with since the 1980s:

“I got sick at the end of my time in Chile (1982) and have struggled to get help from the Peace Corps and the Federal government for nearly three decades…I may also never be able to work again and it is truly a challenge to live out my life at poverty level (or just enough above it on Federal Workers’ Comp that keeps us ineligible for Medicaid), while fighting to get every bill paid.”

Tongue’s site describes the problem as having started with the Peace Corps’ beginnings in 1961:

“No one, when the Peace Corps was founded, had the foresight to create an appropriate infrastructure to care for the acutely or chronically ill or injured. When our Americans went to the front lines to help improve the lives of others in impoverished areas of the world, the fact that they could return home broken from diseases such as tuberculosis, parasites, meningitis, encephalitis, malaria, side effects from anti-malarial medications and other rare tropical and infectious diseases that exist in the 139 countries in which volunteers have served, seems not to have been considered.”

There are multiple testimonials on the site Tongue has set up that intend to raise awareness about this systemic problem that has not been dealt with properly now for over 50 years.

One of the RPCVs who are involved in Tongue’s organization is Roger Landry, who served in Zambia, Africa, between February 1995 and September 1995 at the age of 55. While serving, he was involved in a motorcycle training accident on June 6, 1995, that left him with right-sided sciatica; he has been experiencing numbness in the right anterolateral thigh and right medial calf, and difficulty walking on uneven surfaces as a result and these symptoms have only worsened with age. He has been diagnosed with a Class II gait disorder, as well as a loss of function due to sensory deficit/pain in the right lower extremity, leaving him with a total disability of 25% of his entire body.

Now 71, Landry has been dealing with the Department of Labor (DOL) and the Office of Workers’ Compensation Programs (OWCP) for over 18 years with nothing to show for it. Landry explained:

“Because I am dealing with the DOL/OWCP, I live in poverty. Because I was not a lawyer, I do not write my appeals in a lawyerly manner, so I get a reply, ‘Has not met the burden of proof.’ When I ask them, ‘Where can I fix my appeal to be suitable?’ they tell me to go on the website. I suffer from PTSD from my injury and dealing with the DOL/OWCP. I’m always being denied help. This is no way to treat a volunteer. I am not ashamed to be a return volunteer, but I am ashamed on how we were all dumped into the DOL/OWCP. When I got out of the Peace Corps, I was not able to walk; it took the DOL/OWCP six years to admit I was injured in service — six years that caused scar tissue to form and made it impossible to be repaired. I started to fall without notice and was allowed $1.35 a day on food stamps. In December 2003 I was awarded a 7% disability. It is criminal the way a volunteer is treated. We gave you our lives and ended up in poverty for life.”

While Peace Corps volunteers knowingly and willingly agree to live at the poverty level during service, they do not agree to do so upon their return to the States, nor should they have to.

According to the DOL website, “The Federal Employees’ Compensation Act (FECA) provides federal employees injured in the performance of duty with workers’ compensation benefits, which include wage-loss benefits for total or partial disability, monetary benefits for permanent loss of use of a schedule member, medical benefits, and vocational rehabilitation.”

However, not all RPCVs are eligible for FECA. As explained on the Peace Corps website, “As a returned Volunteer, you may be eligible for certain benefits under [FECA] if the illness or injury is related to your activities as a Volunteer, or is incurred during overseas service. FECA is administered by the [OWCP], [DOL]. OWCP, not the Peace Corps, decides whether you qualify for medical treatment and compensation under this Act.”

After requesting a comment from the Peace Corps on this situation, I received a response from the Director of the Office of Communications Maureen Knightly. While Knightly could not comment on specific volunteers and their cases due to privacy, she stipulated the following:

“The Peace Corps is committed to providing the best medical care and support to all volunteers throughout their service. Once volunteers complete their Peace Corps service, however, the agency does not have legal authority to provide them long-term medical care. Instead, all return volunteers are eligible for workers compensation, including medical care for service-related conditions and disability payments, through [FECA]… The Peace Corps provides on-going assistance to former volunteers in working with DOL. The Peace Corps is also working with the Government Accountability Office [GAO] to explore ways to improve the FECA process for former volunteers and it continues to work with the [DOL] to better coordinate FECA claims.”

National Peace Corps Association President Kevin Quigley also issued the following comment:

“We are hopeful that a GAO study that is underway will provide guidance to the Peace Corps and U.S. Labor Department that will ensure that Returned Peace Corps Volunteers seriously injured or ill during service receive the care they deserve. Just as our nation expects proper care and support for those serving in our military, we should expect no less for those who serve in the Peace Corps.”

It is the hope of Tongue and all RPCVs who continue to encounter red tape in dealing with their medical needs that change is coming, and soon. As Meghan Wolf says, “I wanted to ameliorate the ‘have-nots’ situations, not become one. The government likes good propaganda for its institutions — I wish it would look at individuals first instead of the organization, because that’s where it falls apart.”

15 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

Queer Greer Book Trailer

After over a month of hard work on behalf of my good friend Hunter LeMoine (videographer/editor) and Lou John B (musician), the official book trailer for Queer Greer is here!

Leave a comment

Filed under Queer Greer, Uncategorized