Tuesday, October 31, 2006

More Halloween Reading - Contemporary - Ash Wednesday

Note: Ash Wednesday is now available in a new e-book edition from Crossroad Press

It's hard to imagine an eerier, more imaginative story for the Halloween season than Chet Williamson's Ash Wednesday.

I don't know why I didn't buy this book when it came out in the '80s, but somehow I passed. My bad.

I've actually wanted to read it for a while, and I've had trouble finding a copy.

A couple of years ago, while my buddy Wayne was visiting, we dropped in one of my favorite used bookstores and while we browsed horror titles -- we were in the Ws so I was probably, vainly, checking to see what they had of mine--he noticed some Chet Williamson books.

"They don't seem to have Ash Wednesday," he said. "That's a good book."

"What's it about?"

"In this small town, one day all of the people who've been killed suddenly reappear, glowing and blue, in the spot where they died."

Strange and certainly original.

I didn't go searching on ebay, but I probably should have. I've checked for it frequently in used bookstores. Hopefully it's hard to find because everyone plucks it up as soon as they see it.

I certainly did when I spotted it at last on a trip recently.

Not only is it a great ghost story, it's filled with richly drawn characters that trace the life in its fictional small town.

Look it up if you can and read it tonight between doorbell chimes.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Halloween Reading - Classical - John Silence and A Psychical Invasion

It seems anything goes in terms of Halloween scares these days. I saw one haunted house ad the other day promising an alien abduction experience.

I guess on one level that is a legitimate route to go for chills. Alien abuductions do seem to be a modern re-imagining of myths. More or less scientific underpinnings replace tales of magical faries swiping humans. Creatures with big eyes from other planets at least fit the popular conception of what's possible.

(I've long suspected vet visits for my cats seem to them like an alien abuduction. They're whisked in strange containers to a room with bright lights where strangers conduct rectal probes and administer mysterious injections.)

Give me spooky over transporter beams any day
I'm a purist, though. For Halloween I'd rather have spooky scares.

As far as haunted house reading, one of my favorites is A Psychical Invasion by Alernon Blackwood. It features his early version of Kolchak and Fox Mulder, Dr. John Silence.

Silence is a physician as well as investigator, and in "Invasion" he faces a very creepy house. Written in an age when interest in spiritualism was high, it's in fact a sort of bridge between out -and-out folklore and science, if you use the term science loosely.

In some ways it seems ahead of its time, since it was originally published in 1908. Dr. Silence is called on to assist a young humorist who's essentially dropped acid, long before Timothy Leary's influence.

A man under the influence
His young client explains he was hoping for a mind expanding experience that might improve his imagination. Under the influence he's been hearing colors and talking to bookcases and generally getting all psychedelic.

Unfortunately, a dark force also drifts in those realms of consciousness, so he's not able to write funny stuff any longer.

Instead he's constantly compelled to draw a hideous face.

After hearing him out, Silence decides to de-haunt his house and takes a couple of spiritually-sensitive animals in to assist.

He has no easy time of it, as the fabulously eerie experience unfolds with fog and strange sounds and much more.

To me it's a perfect Halloween tale to be read by candlelight.

Read all of the John Silence adventures in The Complete John Silence Stories

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Halloween Songs

Last year I did a post on Halloween songs. I would do it again, but I'll do just as well to point you to the playlist of my new online buddy, Stewart.

While you are visiting his corner of the web, you will also be well served for the season by reading some of his flash fiction. Really, read his tale George.

He has a wonderful gift for telling a story in a few words, something I admire since I am not particularly given to brevity, often creative sentences like William Faulkner's just to express simple thoughts.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

My Halloween Costume Part II

I've done a few plays, but I've never been much of a costume person. Never went that route at conventions, but wow it was kind of a blast doing it for charity.

Found I was freaking out a few folks, however.

My back story was that I was sort of a Cthulhu-conjuring sorcerer like Dean Stockwell in The Dunwich Horror. It's an old movie but you get the picture, a nice fantasy dark sorcerer, generally harmless.

I couldn't find a copy of the Necronomicon to carry, but maybe that was for the best.

Cthulhu lies sleeping
"The problem," said Christine who went in Renaissance dress, is that nobody but you knows who Cthulhu is."

"Apparently not the old guy who's staring at me disapprovingly," I said.

This was in a restaurant, and he was sitting, head propped on one hand, glaring. I wanted to say: "Hey, there's a pimp over there. You're not staring at him."

Purple suit and fur hat, cane. No, no problem with a pimp, but a sorcerer?

Got a gasp from one waitress. "That's not a pentagram is it?"

The packaging said amulet. Note to self for next time, spring five dollars for the jeweled ankh.

"I think it's a pentacle," I said.

"A what?"


Not that that would really be any better in her mind, I guess, but hey if you can't dazzel 'em with brilliance... (Actually my friend, Earl, noted it's a six-pointed star if you look, so it's not a penta anything.)

"Just quit talking to her," Christine said.

Why, I was thinking, is a sorcerer costume such a big deal? It is just a costume at a costume party. If I'd come as the Headless Horseman it would be reasonable to assume I still had a head sequestered somewhere on my person.

One waiter actually was pretty cool.

"Can I get you anything else?" he asked. "Salt? Pepper? Holy water?"

"There's a pimp over there," I said.

It's good to try new things, but costuming is an adventure.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Rant: Spoiler Warnings

OK, do websites and magazine have to blurt out every plot twist and surprise outcome these days? What happened to spoiler warnings?

More and more media outlets are getting like that annoying kid in school who always read the class book project first and told everybody how And Then There Were None turns out.

For a while it seemed publications were being pretty good about saying "In the next paragraph we reveal the fate of Jack, Kate and Sawyer so read ahead at your own risk," but now, when there are more delayed ways to view programming than ever--DVR, VHS, iTunes, the web, My Space, DVDs just to name the legal ones-- I keep seeing publications trumpet details.

I mean "IN YOUR FACE" annoucements vs. just dropping something in a paragraph in the body of an article.

Ruining Runway
I logged on to yahoo.com Thursday to check e-mail, only to be hit with a giveaway of the Project Runway finale that was sitting on my DVR because Christine and I like to watch that together and couldn't on Wednesday night.

I'd avoided blogs since Fashion Week so I wouldn't find out who won in advance, only to have the Yahoo! home page emblazoned with a picture of and blurb about the winner.

The Project Runway winner is such important news it has to go at the top of frickin' Yahoo? Couldn't it just be a link reading "Find Out Who Won Project Runway?" so the revelation is kept a secret for those who want to see it for themselves?

I know there's a long tradition of throwing out things like World Series victories in headlines, but there's a little more immediacy to watching a sporting event than there is a reality show that's taped in advance and kept under wraps, sort of at least.

Even Bravo doesn't expect everyone to watch when its first broadcast, given that there are Runway marathons scheduled pretty much around the clock before and after the finale.

It's for fun, so why take the fun out of it?

Breaking Prison Break secrets
You could say it's my own damn falt for being behind, but I opened the front cover of TV Guide the other day and had a major element of Prison Break shot at me.

William Fichtner kills (_____).

How do you not read that? You can't blink fast enough. That shouldn't be on the first page of a magazine about television, right?

It's a busy world. Everybody doesn't watch television when it airs anymore.

Cut it the f out!

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

My Halloween Costume

Halloween costumes have certainly improved over time. I'm not usually inclined to costuming, other than the work wardrobe I don to look corporate.

Besides what my folks called "false faces," I've never had many Halloween costumes, except for a shirt I bought in the Little Five Points area of Atlanta once. Christine made me give it away after we got married.

I bought a Monk's robe costume for a party once upon a time. It was made out of some kind of vinyl so in photos it looked like a raincoat.

I was kind of pleasantly surprised when Christine and I dropped by a
Spirit Halloween Store to pick up something for a charity event.

They're made out of fabric nowadays, what a concept. Someone had suggested we might want to look at ketchup and mustard outfits.

Like that was going to happen. I went to the vampire, zombie and sorcerer section. Much as I love the Universal Horror films, I figured Dracula's been done.

I briefly entertained a couple of robes with hoods but settled on a Gothic Sorcerer, pictured from the packaging. They don't show it on their website for some reason.

"It's a little dark isn't it asked Christine?" who was shopping the Rennaissance Festival Wear.

"Sure," I said. "It'll keep me from having to work the door."

I probably need a sorcerer's staff to really dress it up. Christine drew the line at the costume. No toys.

But maybe I'll come up with something before the party.

Searching for a Friend

Monty, our oldest tomcat, rarely spends more than a few minutes in our closet when he conducts perimeter checks, but one day recently he decided to nap there.

Failing to realize he was pausing from his companion animal duties for a few Zs, Christine closed the door and promptly left the house.

It's a roomy, air conditioned walk-in closet, so Mon's temporary accomodations were not too bad.

He was able to do pretty much what he does when he's not in the closet - doze.

When Christine came home she discovered all of the cabinets in the house opened, however.

Ash, our half-blind cat pictured at right, and Monty have become best pals. They are not inseparable but they are definitely buddies.

Apparently Ash noticed Monty was not in his usual spot of repose and grew concerned
enough to launch a search effort.

Bathroom cabinets, lower kitchen cabinets and probably every corner Ash could think of were scrutinized.

Monty evidently remained unaware of his friend's concern, slept through most of the experience and was ready for a stretch when Christine returned.

Ash began cleaning his head for him. As usual that deteriorated into a bit of a tussel, but I guess Mon was glad to know Ash had his back.

(Mon is at left, seen where he usually naps.)


Doctor Who for Halloween

There's a fabulous Dr. Who image on the BBC website, a publicity collage for the Tooth and Claw episode, which pits The Doctor against a werewolf.

There's a scientific explanation of course, but it's still a horror installment, and with its full moon and sprinting werewolf it makes a great Halloween season desktop.

To me the episode is an exceptional installment in the second season, and hopefully we'll see a rebroadcast before the 31st.

Season 2, now airing on The Sci Fi Channel has many scary moments. Just on was "School Reunion" with a guest shot by Buffy's Anthony Stewart head and some fabulous winged gargoyle type creatures.

I love winged gargoyle type creatures.

We still have Cybermen to come on Sci Fi and more monsters, possibly even the devil.

I can't wait!

Sunday, October 15, 2006

At Black Beauty Ranch

"It will be interesting to see, but it will probably be sad," Christine said on Friday as we discussed going to an open house at Cleveland Amory's Black Beauty Ranch.

"No," I said, "These are the success stories, it'll be fine."

So of course it was me fighting tears the most as we stood in a rare East Texas rain looking at the animals cared for at Black Beauty, originally created as a spot for Grand Canyon-area burros that were to be shot by the National Parks Service in the '70s in order to free up grazing lands.

Now a host of animals are housed there -- camels, horses, chimps once kept in zoos or research labs, and burros including one named Friendly who was part of the original airlift from the Grand Canyon.

It's only on occasion that Black Beauty's gates are opened for visits because, as the keepers stress, it's not a zoo. The animals are there to live out their days following harsh and inhumane treatment in many settings, not to be viewed.

Babe, the lone elephant, was left an orphan in South Africa by culling procedures there and wound up in the U.S. as a circus elephant.

Her legs on her right side were injured and untreated during that stint and require ongoing care.

A huge pile of sand is kept in her living area so that she can lean against it to take weight off those legs. She's kept on a strict diet to hold her weight down and relieve stress on those legs.

She lives alone now, her companion, an elderly Asian elephant having died. Upon that death, volunteers say Babe issued a rare trumpet sound from her trunk.

A sign of sentience? Who is to say?

Black Beauty also houses blind ponies, their sight lost to disease. Two of the blind ones are frequently guided by a third resident pony who stays beside them.

The burros, calm and docile were the last animals we visited. They were quiet hosts, mingling with visitors as they frequently do with other animals at the ranch.

Friendly, now around 30 years old, and another named Eeyore stood close to us and to others, allowing their fur to be stroked by children and often bowing their heads.

When their heads tilt now, the markings across their fur become more obvious, dark brown on their coats.

Legend holds those markings were left by the shadow of the cross of Jesus Christ as the donkey He rode into Jerusalem gazed up at His crucifixion.

Yes, it was sad, but it was also wonderful.

For more on the story of Black Beauty Ranch check out Making Burros Fly.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Desperation or How Long's It Been on The DVR?

So what's the longest you've kept something on your DVR?

I got interviewed by a Wall Street Journal reporter a while back who was working on a story about letting Netflix movies linger unwatched yet unreturned. I got the call because I'd answered a poll on Hacking Netflix. (Elektra, most of summer 2005, thanks for asking.) I don't know that the story saw the light of day, but he was interested in the real cost of "no late fees." Netflix after all benefits from you holding onto a title longer.

The last temptation
The DVR is a bigger temptation for procrastination than "no late fees." I usually watch episodic TV shows within a few days, but movies linger a little longer because it's harder to carve two hours out of a day. I only watch a couple of things "live." Lost being one of them. Who can wait for a new installment?

Stephen King's Desperation
Well anyway, I started watching Stephen King's Desperation the other night. It's three hours long so I finally had to watch it in pieces. Otherwise I wasn't going to see it at all.

I got curious about how long I'd had it and checked the time stamp.

May 23!

That's not saying anything about the quality of the show, just about the convenience of modern technology. As Peter Hyman notes in The Reluctant Metrosexual, we can now record everything on TV simultaneously.

Watching is a different matter.

I don't manage to read every Stephen King book as it arrives on the scene as I once did, though I listened to the brilliant Cell as an audiobook.

Desperation, like Cell and many King works, involves a broad cast of characters thrown together in a strange situation. It's a good telefilm, sort of reminding me of the days of cool movie-of-the-week thrillers like Scream of the Wolf, Gargoyles and Trilogy of Terror.

OK, it was technically better than those but it harkened.

As I watched, though, I kept thinking that I should have read the book to experience the full effect of King's characterization that even a three hour TV movie couldn't provide.

And that's the real problem with Netflix and DVRs and movies for iPod.

I have books that sit around waiting for me longer than any DVD or recorded program, and that's my real loss.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Fiends by Torchlight by Wayne Allen Sallee

You should buy this book, and I don't usually say that about things I haven't read yet.

But I have no doubt it's a collection of top quality short fiction of the wry and twisted variety. Wayne, a Chicago-based writer frequenly found on the "L" Train, has been my friend for many years now, and he has consistently produced out-of-the-ordinary tales that frequently landed in "Years Best Horror" collections.

I will give more specifics about Fiends by Torchlight, but trust me, don't wait for that. Find a copy now and look for other stuff by Wayne including the chapbook "For You, The Living," one of the finest zombie stories ever, and his novel The Holy Terror, a piece of urban literature in the guise of a serial-killer thriller.

It features a character known as The American Dream, and you should also look for short stories by Wayne about TAD in any guise.

Monday, October 02, 2006

The Spot Across the Bay

I know there have been a ton of movies and TV shows set on Alcatraz.

I saw The Birdman of Alcatraz when I was a tiny lad and Escape from Alcatraz when it was in theaters when I was a little less callow. And of course I saw The Rock as well as and Point Blank with Lee Marvin.

But I knew the movies based on true stories were not particularly accurate, and I'd never developed more than a passing interest in Alcatraz history until I took the cellblock tour.

Strolling history
Strolling the prison's Michigan Avenue and Broadway quickly transported me back in time, and I was quickly fascinated and imagining the men housed and the guards.

The occasional photo exhibits and the faces evoked a feeling of the era, the tension and the desperation.

The Battle of Alcatraz
I had only peripheral knowledge of the Alcatraz siege, but the tale of Bernard Coy and his accomplicies, Joe Cretzer, Marvin Hubbard and Sam Shockley, told in the cage that once housed the library really nabbed my attention.

I was excited when I returned home to discover emusic featured an audio dramatization of Kentucky bred Coy's 1946 escape attempt from Actors Scene Unseen.

It turns the facts into an interesting and compact program in two parts that captures some of the frustration that must have fueled the convicts' actions. Coy, who worked in the library and took reading materials to prisoners who'd earned the priviledge, plotted the escape which involved getting guns from the gun gallery with a makeshift bar spreader and obtaining a key to the recreation yard.

They got the guns but not the key and the battle that ensued resulted in guards being shot and required the U.S. Marines.

I'm sorry now I missed Alcatraz: The Whole Shocking Story when it aired on NBC back in the day. How can that have been 1980? I can still remember the on-air promos, God as my witness.

I've asked my local library to track down Clark Howard's out-of-print Six Against the Rock, a novel about the Coy escape that was also adapted for TV. I've read his short stories forever in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine and never been disappointed.


Parks Service Official Alcatraz Site

Bernard Coy's Last Words

Escapes from Alcatraz

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