Me and My…Doppelganger?


Susan Kelly

Susan KellyA week or so ago, I got a nice email from a woman who told me how much she enjoyed a recent podcast I’d done, and added that she had bought my Boston Strangler book in its Kindle edition, and was enjoying it. Of course I wrote back right away to thank her.

The thing is, I hadn’t done a podcast, although I am scheduled to do one at some future date with the interviewer whose name she mentioned as having done this particular one. I thought this was rather odd—my memory is still sufficiently acute to recall any podcast I’d made recently—but then, after thinking about it a bit, I decided that perhaps some audio I’d done for another broadcast at some point had been licensed by the producer of this particular podcast and interpolated with questions from the interviewer. That would be an odd way to go about doing an interview, but not, I suppose illegal. And what do I care if it results in a book sale? And as long I don’t sound like an idiot, which apparently I didn’t.

Are you with me so far? I have a feeling this is going to be hard to explain.

Okay. So. Just as I was sending off my reply to the first email, a second one, from the same woman, appeared in my inbox. This one was a little different from the first. Still very nice and polite, but different. She told me how much she enjoyed meeting me, and then apologized for the condition of her house when I was a guest in it.

I have never met this woman (she gave her name). I have never been in her house. I have never even been in the small city in which she lives. And of course I don’t know the two relatives to whom she mentioned having introduced me.

Cue the theme from The Twilight Zone. I mean, really. Where’s Rod Serling when you need him to explain things?

Narrator: This is Susan Kelly. A little-known writer living in a small town. Her life follows a routine as clearly marked as a highway. But today, she’ll take an unexpected exit off that well-known road, into…The Twilight Zone.


I wrote back to the woman, saying: “I’m terribly sorry to be so forgetful, but could you refresh my memory about where and when we met?”

She wrote back, asking, “Have I made a mistake?”


Actually, I can understand why people—who’ve never seen nor met me—might confuse me with another Susan Kelly who’s a writer. There are about six of them, which is why I don’t bother with my Facebook account, since no one can find it anyway. If I’d known this back in the day, when I first started writing, I’d have changed my pen name to something like Cynthia Ricker Hayes, or Margaret Eleanor Abbott, which would have had the advantage of honoring some of my ancestors (a tougher crew of stand-up broads than you can imagine; I’m honored to inherit their DNA) while distinguishing myself from the other seven hundred gazillion Susan Kellys on the planet.

So I don’t know. If there’s someone prancing around pretending to be me, I can give you a test that will confirm, absolutely, that you have the real Susan. Ask her if she wants a vodka martini, on the rocks, olives, before dinner.

If she says “yes,” it’s me.



IMG_3143Thank you, Kate Layte, owner of PAPERCUTS J.P. Last Friday night was my first public talk, reading, and discussion about my new book Ties That Blind. I shared the stage with Christopher Irvin whose latest novel is Burn Cards. The event was organized by Katie Eelman, the store’s Event Coordinator, and moderated by David Hebb who was very familiar with our work.

When my three books were first published about twenty years ago (now reissued as 2233e-books by Polis Books), I did a ton of speaking engagements, which I thoroughly enjoyed. While I know much more about writing now than I did then, the return to public appearances scared the hell out of me. Especially since I decided that this time around I would actually read from my book, something I had never done in the past. Made for a shaky few days leading up to Friday.

Well, despite my nervousness—especially when actually reading—the evening was a real up. 2015-04-10 20.01.00It felt really good to support a new bookstore in my neighborhood. And Chris and I were able to attract a pretty decent audience that asked interesting questions and had insightful comments. Also, Chris and I come at our work from different enough perspectives, so our give-and-take described more than one side of the writing life. That we liked each other and each other’s work didn’t hurt either. Another added value: David’s knowledge about our books and his ability to keep the conversation flowing. All in all a fine do. Anytime PAPERCUTS J.P. would like me to return, I’m there.


How can I leave Jake out of Matt Jacob?

And how can I leave Jake out of a Matt Jacob event?


I’ve Come Out will be a two-part post. This week I’m somewhat uncomfortably placing every purchase link for each of my books on this page rather than leaving them on their own specific website locations (where they will remain). I’m also listing all the personal appearances that thus far have been scheduled. As of this writing I’ve yet to receive the Box Set links.

I say “somewhat uncomfortably” because frankly, I have a difficult time self-promoting. In fact, for part 2 (next Monday) I’ll write about that and the myriad of feelings I have about the re-birth of my older novels and, of course, my new one.

I’ve placed the links in the order the Matt Jacob Novels were written. For those of you who might want to purchase any or all, here are all the places where you can. Just click on the highlighted links. Thanks.


Be sure to check out this link for exciting news about STILL AMONG THE LIVING!




Barnes & Noble








Barnes & Noble









Barnes & Noble







eBooks & Trade Paperback



Barnes & Noble







April 10, 2015 — PAPERCUTS J.P. BOOKSTORE, 5 Green St. Jamaica Plain, Ma. (7 P.M.)

April 15, 2015 — BROOKLINE BOOKSMITH, 279 Harvard St, Brookline, Ma. (7 P.M.)

April 24-25 — NEWBURYPORT LITERARY FESTIVAL, (Venues and times to be announced.)



by Kent Ballard

I read an article a couple of days ago about a study done on NDEs, near-death experiences. You know the stories some people have said. Looking down on their own body, being yanked through a tunnel towards a brilliant light, seeing dead loved ones, a flash review of their life, and all that stuff. This has been reported by agnostics, atheists, and devout people of all religions.

What the study concluded was there were too many people who came back when resuscitated, telling precise accounts of what went on around them after they died, where people had stood, what they said, what they did, the kinds of noises that medical machines make, to completely ignore. Science doesn’t know how they do this, but it’s now apparently irrefutable some small percentage do. I have a reason to give such articles a moment of attention.

I died in January, 1973. No this isn’t a Halloween story. It’s true.

With the typical perversity of the way things go in my world, I went in for a simple surgery to remove a cyst. I’d had one removed a few years earlier. That time the doc said a couple of shots of Novocaine would handle the pain and I would be conscious for a simple out-patient surgery. Once he started cutting, it turned out the “surface” cyst had wickedly grown much deeper into my body than he realized. Soon things started to hurt. Then hurt badly. More shots followed. Eventually the doc looked into my eyes and said I had to make a choice. I was bleeding out the Novocaine faster than he could shoot it into me. They could either slap a temporary patch on me and finish up the next day in surgery with me unconscious, or—if I could just hold out about ten more minutes—he’d be finished. It was my call.

I was fifteen and there were two cute young nurses assisting him. Naturally I had to be a hero in front of them. It would not be the last time attractive women led me to disaster. When he finished twelve minutes later (yes, I timed the bastard) I hadn’t made so much as a peep, not a whimper, but I was laying in a pool of my own blood and tears.

It gave me a much greater respect for survivors of Civil War surgery.

Nothing like that would or could happen today, but this was over forty years ago in a small one-hospital rural county. I’d had the same doctor all my life. He was our family doctor and knew us all. Medicine had its rough edges then, but there was also an intimacy that medical practice will never have again.

Four years later, another cyst developed and I had the same doc. Neither of us wanted to risk that awful experience again, so he scheduled me as a regular surgery patient with 20th Century advances like real anesthetics and not having to feel that scalpel cut through my living flesh. Cool, I thought. This will be a considerable improvement over the last time. Better living through chemistry.

I was cheerful and joking with all the staff in the O.R. when the anesthesiologist came up and asked, “Ready to take a nap?” He held a syringe in one hand and the tube already in my arm in the other.

Sure. Let ‘er rip. I was looking forward to that warm feeling everyone told me I’d have as the anesthetic coursed up my arm. As he slowly injected me, I thought something was wrong. Everyone said it would be warm, that it would feel good. I felt as if my vein was turning to ice. It hurt. It wasn’t supposed to be like this. I could actually feel the pain spreading up my arm and into my shoulder and he’d already told me as soon as it got to my heart that within two or three beats I’d be out. “Excuse me, guys, but I think something is wro…”


We never would have found the truth about what happened had it not been for a woman my mother barely knew at church. She was a registered O.R. nurse and that day just happened to be assigned to help in my operating room. It was two weeks before she called Mom, and even then pleaded with my mother never to tell anyone where she got this information. She could lose her job, but she thought our family should know the truth. The doctors had killed her teenage son.

One minute for them, all was a normal minor surgery on a healthy young man in the prime of his life. The next was pandemonium. The EKG alarm shrilly gave off that long unending beep. My blood pressure dropped to zero. Another alarm went off indicating I had stopped breathing altogether. The surgeon had not yet picked up a scalpel. They first poked a few buttons on the machinery, wondering why they all malfunctioned at once. Then someone said, “Jesus, he just had a heart attack!” The surgeon started pressing my chest, almost lifting himself off the floor. Small town hospitals in ’73 had no defibrillators unless they thought they might be needed. They were the size of refrigerators and horrifically expensive. The anesthesiologist had a tank of oxygen, but not intended for me. He rolled it to my table, then found a hose and connected one end to the tank, the other to some kind of pipe he found laying around, and jammed the pipe down my throat trying to force raw oxygen into my lungs. Someone, the nurse said, pulled open my eyelid and shined a light. “No dilation!” One nurse was told to hold that pipe down my throat while the anesthesiologist went around the other side of the operating table, taking his forearm and leaning forcefully into my belly, causing me to exhale. When he let up the air pressure from the tank partially refilled my lungs. Someone took over for the surgeon and began hammering on my chest for all they were worth. He gasped, “No history of cardiac problems. He’s nineteen years old. Great condition. We’re losing him.” The surgeon and anesthesiologist looked at each other as if for ideas. The man leaned heavily into my abdomen again. A pause. Then again. My mother’s friend could not say how long this went on. She said it was too long and she could feel the others giving up hope. Someone shut off the alarms that were driving them all nuts.

The anesthesiologist yelled at my mother’s friend to take his place shoving in on my belly. When she stepped forward she looked at whatever monitors they had me hooked to. Still no heartbeat, and my body temperature was dropping. The anesthesiologist ran to a cabinet and began filling a syringe with something. Manual respiration, even with pure oxygen, was not working. Chest compressions were not working. She said my fingers and nails were a dead gray-blue and my and face was turning dark as she watched. She remembered me going to church with Mom a couple of times and felt so terribly sorry for her…

My mother later told me she was sitting at my bedside in the hospital the next day. She said I raised up, looked at her and winked, then my head fell back into the pillow. I don’t remember that. When I eventually came around again, my girlfriend was there. She said something and I tried to reply. Good lord! What was wrong with my throat? It felt as if I’d gargled a chain saw. The more conscious I became, the more I hurt everywhere. What was this? Why did I feel as if I’d been in a train wreck? I pulled the sheet down and my chest was one large bruise. More were on my abdomen. None were near the cyst, which apparently had not been touched. It was a little like waking up in a hospital at the beginning of a zombie film, confusing to say the least.

When the surgeon showed up, somewhat sheepishly, he explained the anesthetic given me was sodium pentothal, commonly used in those days. No one (including me) had any prior knowledge that I was among the roughly one in fifteen hundred people who were deathly allergic to that drug. I might experience some “discomfort” from the breathing “device” they used on me. Any danger? No, no, of course not. But they did want to wait a couple of days before knocking me out again, this time with something a bit different. And then he was out the door.

They might as have well have pumped me full of Mop-N-Glow. Boom. Gone. Wink of an eye.

The anesthesiologist knew he could do no harm at that point, so he played on a hunch. He shot me directly with an antidote to sodium pentothal, refilled the same syringe, and gave me a gorilla’s worth of adrenaline. The surgeon was still pounding on me. Several people had been by then. CPR is damned exhausting when you do it correctly.

Beep. A heartbeat.

Everyone looked at each other. Presently, beep. Another one.

A few more seconds and I coughed, choking on that damned pipe they’d jammed and scraped down my throat. Beep…beep…nothing. C’mon, kid. Come on back. Beep…beep…beep-beep-beep.My mother’s friend said she literally watched me come back to life. My color began to change. Blood pressure started to rise. Body temp was still alarmingly low, but they saw it gain a couple of tenths. I don’t know where I’d been but I wound up back where I’d started, and with the same nasty problem too.

When I found all this out I thought of myself as lucky. Looking back, I think I was cheated. I mean, if you’ve gone to all the trouble of dying and scaring the hell out of everyone, shouldn’t you be allowed to float around watching them pound on your dead body for a while? Is an audience with the Creator too much to ask at a time like that? I don’t recall the tunnel ride, but I paid for the ticket. I didn’t even get booted back into my body by an angel. Never saw any dead relatives, no brilliant white light called me, didn’t hear so much as a note on a harp. Bummer. Your average run of the mill death.

The next time I die, I’ll ask for the “A” ticket. Dead relatives, beautiful lights, the whole nine yards. Next time, I want the whole grand tour. Next time I’ll probably stay and not come back. But with my deranged luck I won’t make any bets. The next time I might wind up waking with a sore butt. Who knows what medical wonders they’ll come up with tomorrow?

Me, I don’t care to find out. If I have to pay for the ride, I want to take it. I intend to go careening through space and time and slam sideways into eternity, dust myself off, and have a look around. It sounds like a dandy place. I’ll probably see you there eventually. Look me up and we’ll go have a cold drink. Living through this life was problematic enough. Eternity will take some planning.


by Kent Ballard

No, I’m not a man of wealth and taste, nor did I hold a general’s rank when the Blitzkrieg raged. That title may have confused me with someone else. But you won’t confuse me with Zach.

When Zach first approached me with the idea of a joint blog, him taking it one week, me taking it the other, I naturally assumed, “Jeeze, he’s far more desperate than I thought…” Then I remembered his recent shoulder surgery and figured he tires easily while hanging upside down like a bat to type. That was understandable enough. If the eyebolts in his ceiling ever work loose, he’d crash face-first into his computer and that would be the tragic loss of a good laptop.

So after some emailing and yakking over the phone, I’ve agreed to take over Just Sayin’ every other week for six months. When that time is up, we’ll figure out if we want to continue this odd marriage or if we want a divorce. (I’m going to hold out for the house and the furniture if it comes to that.)

I’ve known Zach for thirty years. I only met him face to face once, and then for only seven hours at another writer’s house. I remember the food being good and the liquor flowing freely. I quit drinking in 1999, and was amazed to see his photo when he started Just Sayin’ because I always thought he was the Chinese guy at the party. Turns out I’d been wrong all these years. This explains the strange looks I got from the Chinese gentleman when I began a tirade against him and the city of Boston over the Big Dig.

I agree with Zachary on many things. With everything else, I am right and he is wrong. That’s the American Way on the Internet, and I’m a proud supporter of my own beliefs. Years ago, on another forum, I pointed out that he was to the left of Vladimir Lenin. He unkindly reminded me that I had once called for a nuclear first strike on Massachusetts to rid the nation of socialists and ne’er-do-wells. I had in fact made that statement, but of course was simply joking. Multiple hydrogen bombs landing on Boston would only cause the Department of Homeland Security to take away yet more of our civil rights. Hey, if they can do it with a kettle bomb powered by charcoal…

Mr. Klein and I live not only in different worlds, but in different centuries. He lives the easy city life, where you can flip open your cell phone and get a pizza or chop suey dinner delivered to your front door. The city plows the snow off his streets. He has limitless luxuries like a four-minute police response should he call them, a fire department, hell, even paved streets. I used to have such things myself, for I lived in Indianapolis for twenty-three years. I hated it.

I was born and raised on a small farm one county east of Indy. I got a job in Indianapolis, met a girl, got married, and soon was tripping over kids toys in my yard. Turns out I had married the wrong girl so a divorce followed ten years later. I kept the house, the major appliances, and got joint custody of the kids. I am one of the very few men you will ever meet who actually won a divorce. (The judge thought she was awful too. He was right.) I then set out on a quest to get to know the rest of the ladies in Indianapolis in the Biblical sense, and was about halfway through the project when I found a quiet, meek, shy beauty and fell head over heels in love. Twenty-eight years later we are still together, and living with me has had its effect on her. She can cuss, clean fish, shoot her 9mm with deadly accuracy, and fears no living thing.

When our kids were grown and gone, it was during our peak earning years. I wanted out of the city, and she was happy to follow me. It took three solid years of searching, but we found our new home.

I can’t tell you which town I live in, because the nearest thing that would pass for a town is fourteen miles away. My home is in far west-central Indiana, in the middle of what is known as a “geologic anomaly.” The great mile-high sheets of frozen ocean paused here during the last Ice Age and carved out some extremely weird topography. Then it covered itself with forest. I own 71 acres of that land, my home being in the middle of it. My driveway is a half-mile long, going back into what appears to be the Black Forest. Beyond that is my dead-end road. Beyond that, and you have the most wretched mud-and-dust roads imaginable to the nearest blacktop. A very peculiar location, as I have the telephone number of one county, the mailing address of a second, and my home is actually in a third.

It keeps the riff-raff away. I value my privacy. We supposedly have a sheriff’s department around here somewhere, but they’re never seen this far into the boonies. My insurance company charges me the maximum rate for fire insurance, because in the event of a fire—as my agent explained—there will be nothing left except for the basement. The deep forest starts twenty yards to my south and east, about twelve yards to my north, and all the storms, lightning and snow come from the west. You could literally become hopelessly lost and never set foot off my property. I know. I did that for a couple of years.

We love it here. This is the kind of land you see in picture books and winter holiday greeting cards. It will also probably kill me someday when I grow too old to care for the land properly. When I want to hunt, I go out the back door. When I want to fish, I go out the front. I couldn’t do that in any city.

I’m the Police Chief, Fire Marshal, Mayor, and Chief Engineer here. I can pee off my front porch and shoot out my back door. We skinny-dip in our largest pond. The only loud sounds here are the ones I make. It’s very different from Boston. There is no pizza delivery, no Chinese delivery, no sirens, no door-to-door unconstitutional searches by paramilitary SWAT teams. Indiana is the only state in the Union which has a law on the books allowing you to shoot a uniformed police officer if he breaks into your home. (And a very strange court case behind that.) In the winter when the power goes out we simply step back 150 years and carry on. Our ancestors made out pretty well with kerosene lamps and wood burning stoves. We can too. And I defy anyone on the planet to show me a more serene, peaceful, and meditative spot than my little four-inch deep creek that bubbles through the forest at my extreme northern boundary. If I could bottle that sound, Prozac would go bankrupt.

I registered to vote during the first year 18 year-olds got suffrage, 1971. I was and am a registered Independent, though very few Independents run for anything nowadays. I consider myself a Libertarian and often wonder why Zach and I have not strangled each other over these many years. It’s because he’s a great guy and I’m not too bad a soul either. We are both well educated, stay well informed, both listen carefully to other points of view, and both see in shades of gray—not black and white. And when he comes away with some ridiculous, half-wit idea of how this world should work, it ain’t my fault.

I hope you’ll find me acceptable for this while. At one time or another I have argued with everyone I know and yet if I have an enemy, I’m not aware of it. All I ask of you is a chance. You may grow to like me too if you’re not careful.