Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Books I'm Embarassed To Say I Haven't Read Yet II: All Heads Turn When the Hunt Goes By

I discovered John Farris as a reader with the paperback publication of "Son of the Endless Night." I knew of "The Fury" but I hadn't felt compelled to read another psychic story when it was released.

SOTEN, on the other hand, promised an excitingly different twist on the demonic possession story. It focuses a young man commits a murder while possessed by a demon.

He's tried and a "demonic possession" defense is mounted. Of course-- need I say it--all hell breaks loose at the trial.

After reading that I rushed right out and found a used--hey, all I could get at the time, we didn't have no Amazon in the '80s--copy of "All Heads Turn When the Hunt Goes By."

As Charles noted recently that phrase is a magnificent combination of words, and the book was touted as remarkable in many Farris articles. It's on many Top 100 Horror lists.

I proceeded to not read it.

That's a super power of mine, even though I knew it was supposed to be fantastic. (David J. Schow discusses just how fantastic it is in this review.)

I read "Shatter" and "Minotaur" and "Scar Tactics" by no "AHTWTHGB."

I don't have an excuse other than the "I was busy defense."

So I've been deprived of the intricate tale of families and history and voodoo it promises. It's one more selection on my shelf of must-read-horror, and I hope to rectify the situation soon.

Monday, February 26, 2007

American Gothic

When I mentioned to the lady who cuts my hair that Christine was contemplating a garden this spring, she suggested that we pose beside it for a photograph mimicing American Gothic.

She was surpised at my lack of enthusiasm for that notion.

It's not a bad idea, I guess, but it doesn't quite appeal to my twisted humor, though you'd think it would. If I warm to it, I'll just make one in Photoshop.

Photos aside, I am enthused about doing a little Square Foot Gardening, the approach Christine has determined we should pursue.

I never knew dirt could be so complicated, but we'll arrive at the right soil mixture eventually.

I fix a lot of salads, so the thought of some fresh produce as an enhancement is a plus, and we haven't had a garden in years. (P.J. O'Rourke once noted some jalapenos can turn a salad into a practical joke.)

Christine sees virtue in doing our own garden vs. buying things shipped thousands of miles, and she's found some heirloom plants we'll be using from Seed Savers Exchange.

Heirloom plants, it seems, are those that, for whatever reason, are not commercial in contemporary times. From what I can tell part of the problem is you have a lot of plants that don't spring up in the color we've come to expect tomatos to be.

Growing some purple tomatos and blue potatos does appeal to my sense of the slightly askew, so we'll see how this goes and maybe I'll have some photos around mid-July.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Arrogance and the Writer

Writers are creative, yet I remain amazed at the things writers can find to be arrogant about.

Some of the nicest people I've ever met are scribes, but writers certainly have the ability to be (fill in the blank)-er than thou.

I was at a conference once where a writer was introduced with the proud preface that he had a novel that had sold 1,200 copies. The underlying message was, of course, that it was such a brilliant work that it was not for the unwashed masses but for those brilliant few with pipes and patches on their tweed elbows.

So low sales=cause for arrogance.

Of course high sales likewise is a cause for arrogance.

I suppose arrogance is the shield against the world's slings and arrows and the world's indifference so well identified by Stephen Crane:

A man said to the universe:
"Sir I exist!"
"However," replied the universe,
"The fact has not created in me
A sense of obligation."

It's not just writers. Pick a profession. All posture and preen.

If you catch me being arrogant just slap me. I don't want to be. I don't deserve to be.

I'm bored with arrogance.

I just want to ramble about my enthusiasms and struggles and breath my share of the air and eat my share of the guacamole dip.

Really that should be enough.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Tales of the City

Headlines about a mummified body found in front of a blaring TV set seemed to be everywhere I looked earlier this week. Just a few days ago Pravda--now as tabloidesque as any Western paper-- reported a similar case.

The New York man was elderly with health problems while the Russian was an alcoholic despondent over his mother's death.

Both of those lonely men, far from unusual really, seem to be instances of sad isolation and alienation.

Harlan Ellison once wrote a tale—collected in Alone Against Tomorrow-- called "Are You Listening?" in which a man becomes so insignificant he cannot be seen or heard and pleads to be noticed so that he will not cease to exist.

It seems to be made real in the two news accounts, cases of sociological science fiction being proven real in the way we usually think about technology catching up with the pages of Amazing Stories.

I've been saddened by those people passing in obscurity because I think I empathize. A few different twists in my journey and I could have been they.

Or I could be the neighbor failing to notice the absence, thinking sometime while I was not looking the person moved to hospital or home.

Wayne wrote of stopping to give a homeless man a fiver and Charles tells a story of wondering today.

It makes me contemplate how isolated we really are or can become and reminds me of a quote I encountered in school that I'll have to set down to "Anonymous" because I can't resolve the origin on Google or MSN. I suspect it was one German rationalist philosopher or another because those were the ones the fundamentalists were always concerned about us studying.

"We live in a lonely place on the far side of the love we have known."

May those lonely men rest in peace.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Favorite Short Stories: Talent by Robert Bloch

Try thinking of Robert Bloch but not getting "author of Psycho" on the same brainwave.

If you're schooled at all in the classics of the horror genre that's a double bind roughly like "don't think of a pink elephant."

Certainly Psycho is a major jewel in his crown, but its sparkle blinds the eye to many other fabulous works including the humorous Bloch, which I discovered on those Sunday afternoons of my early teens that I devoted to reading scary tales between Sunday dinner and the end of my parents' naps when it was OK to go outside again.

After Horror Times Ten and Gooseflesh, another collection came along, purchased from the paperback rack at the local drug store because the fiery red face of Dracula himself graced the cover. I'd read an interview with Christopher Lee in Monster Times around the same time, so I knew he was a reader of scary tales as well as a star of Hammer Films.

From the Archives of Evil features 10 tales, all introduced with a few paragraphs from Lee, though it is co-edited by Michael Parry. Alas, it is the first of two collections, but I never ran across the second.

In the cauldron
Stirred into that cauldron is Bloch's Talent, a 1960 story about Andrew Benson, a war orphan left on the steps of a Pasadena children’s home. The tale unfolds very matter-of–factly.
What is Andrew’s Talent? He’s a mimic. He can do Groucho Marx, other kids and the villains--always the villains--from Western movies.

Fortunately, the nuns at the orphanage are selective in what they let Andrew watch, so he's not exposed to excessive violence.
Until he's adopted, perhaps because he makes himself resemble the first child of the grieving couple who've come in search of a replacement.

Is Andrew a shapeshifter? Word has it from one childhood friend he had a Jekyll and Hyde quality.
The narrator cannot offer proof of dark deeds on Andrew's part. He can only offer parallels.
Not long after the release of Man in the Attic--featuring Jack Palance as a Jack the Ripper-type--several similar murders occur in Andrew's area.

Then there are werewolf killings in the mid-'50s, roughly the time the Universal horror movies are being revived on television. That's just the start.

"Talent" is a brief masterpiece from Robert Bloch, dark of humor and sly of style with a final line that, like so many of Bloch's, wraps everything up fabulously.

Thomas Montleone once wrote a column listing Bloch among the overrated in the horror genre, postulating that because he was a very nice man he was granted a degree of grace.

I beg to differ. "Talent" is a fine exhibit to refute that contention. A fine example of Bloch's talent.

Monday, February 19, 2007

And in News of the Weird

Today is the anniversary of the rescue of the Donnor Party, according to The History Channel's This Day in History. (Put 2/19 in the upper left corner of their site if you're viewing this after Feb. 19.)

The Donnor ordeal is a tale of true-life horror that's inspired many re-tellings and spin-offs including the chilling "A Child of the Golden West" from Dennis Etchison. Read that story and you'll never look at a bottle of Mountain Dew in the same way again.


A great tool for terror writers can be found at How Stuff Works - How Voodoo Works

Maybe, I'm Intrigued

Kate and Charles' buddy Steve have both mentioned a British article on the rebirth of horror which lists some upcoming releases.

I was particularly intrigued by The Raw Shark Texts by Stephen Hall, which has its own quirky website complete with an ink blot test. (Find another for fun here. Have those been dismissed as useful?)

Poking around the Raw Shark website there's also an excerpt to be found in .pdf format and a few other interesting features.

The novel itself sounds a little like Sandman so I'm looking forward to it.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Now Where Was I?

Other than a few exteriors, the film crew is finished. I'm not expecting any calls this morning. By tomorrow I shall have recovered. (That's a tense you don't get to use very often.)

It's actually fun work, kind of interesting, and it makes me channel my inner used-car salesman. I test so far to the introvert side of the spectrum I'm one notch to the right of comatose, I think.

When there are trucks to park, dolly's to move, talent to arrange, stuff to borrow and a line producer who's excellent at her job but also relentless, my shy-and-retiring self gets replaced by a hawker.

For two days I've had my cell glued to my ear, making deals all the time. My buddy who's head of one of the departments we stormed yesterday morning joked: "Your fingers are going to fall off before this is over." I was furiously thumbing a phone number in as he spoke.

It's sort of the flip side of writing, that loneliest of endeavors and in many ways it leaves me more tired than other work. It's summoning from a different inner place than creative effort.

Some people summon that strength more easily yet creativity with greater difficulty than I. Some worry less about feelings being hurt than I do.

I guess it's been like being a different person for a few days. That's probably valuable insight.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Filming Day One

Well, I survived the first day of filming, and we got all of the shots on a fairly ambitious schedule in spite of a host of mishaps.

Would that I could tell you of the things I saw and did, but alas this is no anonymous blog in which I can speak freely of my day job.

Let me focus instead on the fact that inspiration for my real calling can sometimes flow through the conduit of my work.

In my current project, I've had a scene that's plagued me for a few days. It's one of those Da da da then x happens scenes. What the F is X going to be?

Well, I was talking to the makeup artist--

We were just chatting while the small army of crew members set up all of the things they set up, things like "apples" other huge devices that look like they were borrowed from the Death Star.

--And she started telling me about being on an airplane that was struck by lightning. It sent a blue-blazin' burst of St. Elmo's Fire down the center aisle.

It was terrifying at the time for her and her family, but of course in my mind I started thinking: "Cool, St. Elmo's Fire. That's what I needed."

Hopefully it will illuminate my scene in more ways than one.

And the moral of the story is always listen to the makeup artist.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Commercial Ventures

We're shooting commercials this week at my day job.

I don't know how they finnish major motion pictures. We're shooting two 30-second spots.

I say "we." Actually a small army will arrive tomorrow night to do the actual shooting. Maybe not an army. It's more like a regiment. If we did any dialog that would take a brigade because then we'd need sound guys, too.

I'm just doing the coordinating, and boy are my arms tired.

I've been scouting locations with the director, the line producer and the producer. There's a lot of walking involved in location scouting.

It's the pointing that starts getting the arms tired. How about this hallway? No, OK let's go a couple of hallways over. Hmm, OK, let's look at the sixth floor the light is better up there.

My arms continue to get tired because I move them a lot when I rant.

That occurrs when I'm on the phone with people asking if I can use a corner of their area for a shot. It's really hard to stage Apocalypse Now in the midst of a functioning business. It's roughly like it would have been if the producers of Apocalypse Now had stuck with their original plan to film in Viet Nam during the war.

Then there are the explanations. I have to go through those with supervisors when they ask: "How long are you going to be in my area?"

"About two hours."

"Two hours! How much film are you shooting?"

"Well it won't be but a few seconds. But we have to have time set up lights. And there's going to be some track."


"For the dolly shot."

"Why do you need a dolly shot?"

"Because it will be really cool."

"OK, you want a corner of the room for two hours and you're going to lay track."

"Uh, yeah, and uh, you might want to let the patrons know that there's going to be a lot of white light in the area during that time."


"We're going to park a truck with a spotlight on it outside the window and shine it in."


"The lighting guy thought it would look really cool."

"Anything else."

"I'm going to need to borrow your staff for a while. We've found actors can't really fake the expertise. Except we are going to use an actor for what we call the `hero' shot. Can we get one of your jersey's for him in a medium?"

You may or may not hear from me the next few days, depending on how bad my headaches get.

Monday, February 12, 2007

War of the Worlds Positive Feedback

Troy Thayne, producer of the full-cast audio drama I scripted, received an e-mail from a listener.

" for your production of (H.G. Wells)"War of the Worlds" bravo. bravo. bravo. excellent, top notch job. everything from the script selected to the actors and sound effects (which were extraordinary and appropriate) we enjoyed the play immensely. please do more productions. we'd listen to each one, without a doubt. thanks again."

Always nice to get messages like that forwarded.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Naming the beast

I was tapping into my buddy Wayne's urban survival skills the other day when an epiphany struck.

He has traversed Second City streets for ages with only the occasional mishap, which he may mention over on his blog.

He once got me so familiar with the Windy City people were stopping me for directions. I looked like I knew where I was going.

Their desire to tap into my knowledge of the vicinity evaporated when they heard my accent. I didn't have to say "I'm not from around here." Most people could figure out that I couldn't get them much further than Borders.

Back to the point sorta
Anyway, because he knows pedestrian cities, I asked him how a clever person might deal with a dangerous situation on a crowded street, albeit in a different city.

Living in a place without much public transportation, I stay mostly ensconced in my car when I go place to place. That has its own set of dangers. There's a personal injury lawyer on local TV who scares the hell out of me. I'd rather have the Wolf Man after me than that guy.

What's in a name?
So anyway, I described my set-up so that Wayne could put his brain to work on it.

And as I did, a working title presented itself.

I'd had a working title up to that point, but it was a functional one-word title so that I had something to name Word documents. It wasn't a word I liked for the project.

Suddenly to the front of my mind jumped a longer, poetic and perfect title. One I think I'll keep.

And the gaps in the outline started to suddenly fill themselves in. I knew things about the villain. I had answers that had puzzled me.

Perhaps it's true that you gain power over a demon once you learn its name. A working title certainly seems to be a major hurdle in sparking the magic of creativity.

In truth, I'd been researching and mulling over plot points for a while and things probably just began to converge. My title grew from some reading and a factoid I picked up, and that gelled when I needed a name to relay to Wayne.

But a name for the beast also made it seem more managable. It's funny the difference a few words can make when they're the words that go at the top of the first page.

Handy Tool - Demon Name Generator
Not exactly the kind of demon my project is, but check this out - Angel/demon Name Generator from Seventh Sanctum .

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Ashley's Eyes II

Ashley, our cat who is blind in one eye, went for his annual checkup with his veterinary ophthalmologist last week, and we learned he now has glaucoma in that eye, apparently a common problem when a retina is damaged.

The prescription: the same eye drops a human would receive.

They made the diagnosis with a pressure check, much like my dad received. My dad suffered from a number of eye complications in his final years and I took him to quite a few specialists visits as did my cousin.

Now I'm doing it for my cat.

Ash's pressure in the blind eye was 27. When it gets into the 40s it apparently causes a good deal of discomfort and pain.

You determine the pain because the cat sleeps all the time. "I know," said the vet. "It's hard to tell with a cat since they sleep all the time anyway."

Ironically for my cats, "all the time" is when I'm awake. They get wide awake when I'm asleep, and they cease to get along with each other then also.

The drops will serve for a while. When discomfort gets severe removal of the eye will be required.

Ash's partial blindness does not seem to slow him down. He even watches some television. He's particularly fond of commodities tickers, but he finds general news crawls fascinating as well. Weather panic updates, not so much.

I've toyed with the notion of a short story, something supernatural that explores what his eyes might have seen, but the notion is still processing through clockwork cogs of my brain.

In the meantime, he likes to sit on my lap when I'm at the computer, perhaps watching the cursor to see what I'm saying about him.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Father Allison

I met a lot of interesting people when I was a reporter. It was one of the best parts of the job. I wrote a column not long before I left my newspaper job, noting that in many ways there is no finer job in the world when you're young and filled with piss and vinniger, as the old salts in our newsroom used to put it.

One of the coolest people I met was Father Allison. I actually learned about him from another reporter, guy who worked at one of the TV stations in town. We were competitve but it was a friendly competition.

Father Allison was easing into retirement, working as an assistant pastor, but he'd spent a number of his years in church service in California.

And there he served as a consultant on church matters for film and television. He had some great stories, and I used to go to lunch with him after our interview.

He'd advised Helen Hayes on a Western television show in which she played a nun. He was at first hesitant to give her instructions, but she insisted he help her get things right.

He worked a lot on the television version of "Going My Way" with Gene Kelly, and he donned a cowboy hat as an extra on "Wagon Train" or one Western or another. Union rules precluded him from doing much acting, though.

I loved to hear his stories and his jokes, and when he figured out I wanted to write he encouraged me with the advice to do something every day even if it was a small bit of progress.

He said once Oscar Wilde left a gathering to write. He returned a short time later and when asked what he'd done he responded: "I put in a comma. I took out a comma."

Some days that's all I do but I try to force something from my brain through my fingers and across the keyboard.

I lost touch with him after a while. I kept meaning to get back to talk to him, but eventually I heard he'd gone to a nursing home. I should have gone by to see him and heard a few more tales of Hollywood.

(Thanks to Charles for reminding me to plumb my memory once in a while.)

Monday, February 05, 2007

Testing Book Mooch

I'm an advocate of buying books new whenever possible. Writers don't make royalties off second-hand book sales after all.

That's not to say I don't frequent used book shops because I love them and I love finding forgotten treasures in hidden corners. And writers know they increase their readership in used bookstores, which ain't a bad thing.

The web of course opens up whole new avenues for finding lost treasures. Ebay has made just about any book printed since the beginning of time available to bidders. I've added to my Doc Savage books via ebay and online used bookstores.

Online book trading came to my attention via Library Thing. They link to a number of book swap sites and people talk about them on the Library Thing message boards.

I'm test driving Book Mooch because it seems user friendly, becuase I'm a biblioholic and I have some books I've read that I don't need to keep inventoried, and I also have duplicate copies of some titles.

The most important of those reasons is: I'm a biblioholic.

Apparently you list books you're willing to trade. Other users request books from the list and you mail them out book rate.

When you send a book you earn the right to request a book, and someone mails one to you.

My first request is in - so I'll be dropping by a mailbox today.

We'll see how it goes.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Naming Names

Wayne asked me once if I sought to apply character names with meanings, adding myth or mystery to enhance with a single word.

The answer was sometimes, but I've paid more attention to it ever since. Wayne is a genius after all.

I wish I could come up with a host of relevant Cassandras this morning, but Mr. Dark in Something Wicked This Way Comes leaps to mind and suffices. You know he's going to be a baaaaaad guy as soon as he presents his buisiness card.

I sometimes use baby name sites to research name meanings and to choose names for my fictional peeps.

And I ran across a rather handy one this a.m., It doesn't provide name definitions, but it's a clearing house for the offbeat and the exotic including Science fiction names and Goth and Vampire names. It strikes me that both of those are probably better put to use by fiction writers than parents.

If the kid happens to choose different interests and paths in life, a name like Mink or Nightshade might be a bit of a liability in, say, a Congressional campaign ad.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

The Face of Inspiration

This is an illo from Jimmy Hildebrandt, nephew of Troy Thayne, producer of the "War of the Worlds" audio.

You really need to click for a larger view to fully appreciate the picture. This is one of two pieces he sent me so I'll post another soon.

Perhaps it will inspire some story ideas for someone.
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