Saturday, February 28, 2009

Episode 3 of Fear on Demand Horror Fiction Podcast is Live

The third episode of the Fear on Demand podcast is now live at and via iTunes and other podcatchers. 

This month's installment features a new intro by Glen Hallstrom aka Smokestack Jones, and new music from Black Pharaoh. Glen is also the voice of this month's short story, though he will sound quite different than he did reading Charles's story in Episode One.

The story is a really cool piece by M.F. Korn and David Mathew. It's called "The Red Spectre" and it involves a mysterious, classic film and its mysterious impact.

M.F. is from Louisiana and David is from Great Britain so it's an interesting collaboration. The authors will have a new book out soon called "Creature Feature." Learn more at M.F.'s website.

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Thursday, February 26, 2009

Lessons from My Reporting Days - Times Are Tough But Now We Have Cell Phones

(Thanks for Erik for jarring loose a little piece of my memory with his post about Shirley Chisholm.)

I got to meet a lot of famous people when I was a kid reporter thanks to the lecture series at Northwestern State University in Natchitoches, LA. That's the town where they filmed Steel Magnolias, and it was about an hour-and-a-half from Alexandria, where the newspaper where I worked was based.

Sometimes I forget how fortunate I was as a kid reporter. Job paid bubkus, but I got exposed to great people, David McCullough, Robert Ballard and Wendy Wasserstein to name a few.

I also got to interview Shirley Chisholm. It was kind of exciting when I drew the assignment because we'd studied her in school as the first black woman elected to Congress. This was a long time ago, not long after she'd wrapped up her her Congressional service. In her lecture she spoke of that election and of her efforts to get a meaningful committee assignment when she took office.

In the mini-press conference afterwards, I asked if she had thoughts about something or other the Reagan administration was doing at the time, an almost naive query since I was wet behind the ears. She gave me a knowing smile, an "Have-I-got-any-thoughts-about-that!" smile, and discussed the policies of the day for a while.

Filing a story on the road was a little bit of an adventure in those days. Only the government had the internet. We had some Radio Shack computers with acoustic couplers that I may have mentioned here at time or two. In a hurry, it was easier to write long hand and file from a pay phone.

After the press conference, the photographer and I pulled into a McDonald's on the portion of Louisiana's Highway 1 that briefly becomes the main drag in Natchitoches or did in those days. We didn't have Interstate Highway 49 then either.

Through whatever voodoo of publishing we could manage back then, somehow it was possible to write the story, file it by phone to get it edited and the layout started and then drive like a Meatloaf album back to the paper to process the film. We didn't have digital cameras either.

While Lee, the photographer, drummed his fingers on the steering wheel, I scribbled on a yellow legal pad, referring to my reporter's note pad, relying on my memory and generally struggling to put together about 11 column inches in slightly more than 11 minutes. How easy we have it writing now. Word, keyboards. Child's play.

While I worked, some guys pulled up in a pickup truck. I kept scribbling. Lee, finding what they were up to more interesting that watching me produce brilliant event coverage, started staring out the window.

"Oh wow, they've got a rattlesnake out there," he said.

I didn't look up, couldn't, but he gave me a play-by-play of these kids who had a rattlesnake the size of the Buick in the bed of an old Ford pickup. The snake was dead, but that didn't stop everyone from gawking at it.

Eventually I finished my story and went to the pay telephone. Cell phones? I mentioned this was the '80s, right? Cell phones were science fiction.

The phone was outside the McDonald's.

So I called up the paper, and they put someone on the phone to type what I read. In some circles they call that catching. We never had a term for it other than getting stuck on the bleepin' phone with some jackass in the field.

I started reading, on a pay phone, outside a McDonald's on what was then one of the major North-South highways in the state, while a parking lot of teen agers took turns scaring each other with a dead rattlesnake.

"Former Congressman Shirley Chisholm discussed...."


"Watch out they can still bite after they're dead."

"She expressed deep dismay with..."


"It moved. Did you see it move?"

Whonk, whonk.


"In other remarks, the Congresswoman..."

"Get it away, get it away!"

Man I hate to see newspapers die.

Saturday, February 21, 2009


I've found, for me at least, stories have a gestation period. It's as if dormant seeds get implanted somewhere in my brain, waiting for the right drop of magic water to blossom.

I'm sure that's true in some way for everyone in creative pursuits whether working with pen or pallet. I suppose above all it's a psychological process, not mystical or magical. Though I certainly wish I could perform some sort of creative alchemy to bring seeds to blossom more quickly and with more frequency.

For me, it's often the creative stimulation of other writers and creatives that usually provides the final impetus to take seed to story. In what are now the old days for me, I used to produce a story after each major convention, World Horror, World Fantasy etc. Some have seen light and others not, but they were always satisfying. "Skull Rainbow" became a collaboration with Wayne and ultimately earned us a Year's Best Horror honorable mention. 

The creative magic proved true again when World Fantasy was in Austin a couple of years ago. An idea based on a news item I heard on TV while Christine and I were on our honeymoon in 1991 became a short tale. 

While I was in school last week, we had an assignment to read a couple of authors including Borges and produce a piece of fiction that pushed to the outer edge. 

I started one piece but threw it away because another idea crowded it out. That was a piece based on a news story I read while in San Francisco in 2006 or so. It was one of those true stories that had haunted me in much the way Harlan Ellison was always haunted by the tragedy of Kitty Genovese, who died of a stabbing while a host of people looked on without acting. Ellison penned "The Whimper of Whipped Dogs" about the Genovese incident.

My little piece, "The Desk," drew some positive responses when I read it in class even though I stumbled over some complex passages. After a little more polishing I'll get it in the mail, snail or electronic as required.

It was a completely satisfying process, more satisfying than the struggle with a novel can be. 

How does it happen? It's certainly different for each writer because everyone has varying degrees of output. 

If I could somehow bottle it all or refine the process, well, I'd need help marketing the elixir for starters, but it would save a little time in the gestation. 

The takeaway: Keep your eyes open, I guess. You never know what will plant the seeds that the magic will find.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

The Sailor is Home from the Sea

Made it home yesterday a.m. after a long 24 hours of traveling and a longer week of workshops and discussions at Goddard in Port Townsend, WA. 

It's hard to describe exactly how it all works, but somewhere in the mix of reading and talking about great books of all sorts and breathing the same air as a host of very, very--I cannot emphasize this enough--very creative people, the energy almost feels mystical. I don't think it is quite mystical, but it's magical, at least.

  • A two-part workshop called "Wildness of Mind" led me to a short story I might not have written otherwise, a new sort of piece for me. Will have to see what I can do with it with a little polish.
  • Exercises in my advising group crystalized the creation of scenes for me.
  • One of my fellow students turned me and others on to poet Tao Lin whose work is found here.
  • I read a portion of my master's thesis and the flash pieces that appeared here on the blog around Halloween and got good responses on all of them.
  • Heard my friend who's a better writer than I'll ever be read two incredible pieces.
  • Heard the graduates talk about their experiences and the struggle of creation. Wept.
  • Heard faculty, graduates and other students read in numerous settings. Great times.
  • Ate a great seafood sit-down meal at Sea-Tac waiting for my flight to leave.
These are wild times. It's good to get away from the world for a while, to escape and think about the things that matter, really matter, matter in the grand scheme of the world and not the moment. 

As much anxiety as the world has to offer, the reminder that there's more, that there's substance and hope is all good.

It's hard, but it's good. 

Saturday, February 07, 2009

Gone A Long Journey

I remember reading a columnist or writer of some sort once. He wrote of  taking a train home from prep school at Thanksgiving. That was alien to my experience, and sounded a little melancholy and lonely. That's perhaps why it stuck with me while the rest of the article is lost. I've usually gone to school close to home.

Now, I go a long way, and my literal and symbolic journeys begin again tomorrow. The literal journey is by plane, by boat, by bus, taking me practically off the continent to Port Townsend, WA. 

I'm not really looking forward to the traveling, but I'll take reading material. I have at least an idea of my reading list for the next semester, though it will be molded in discussion with an advisor. 

I've found inspiration for a few titles in a fabulous podcast I discovered recently, Out of the Past, named for the Robert Mitchum classic.

I have not read The Ice Harvest by Scott Phillips, for example. Film and book are subject of one OOTP episode, and I'm hopeful of getting it green-lighted since Goddard is pretty flexible about letting you pursue titles that reflect sensibilities that might benefit your work.

My master's thesis novel  is a Southern Gothic mystery with a hint of magical realism, an effort to create something with perhaps a bit more weight than my early thrillers, so crime and noir have relevance as do works of Faulkner and The Woman In White, as I've mentioned in earlier posts.

There's a reading journey as well, I guess, enfolded inside the travel and extending beyond.

I'm nervous but excited. Both the trip and the journey will be challenging, but it's time to focus again after a little break, time to contemplate character development from new perspectives and points on plot with my professors.

It's a long trip but a good one. 

Miles to go before I sleep and all that but good miles. I'll keep in touch and keep you posted.

Monday, February 02, 2009

Terror on Netflix Watch Instantly - Severance

I probably should have been more aware of Severance (2006), a British horror thriller with a healthy dose of humor. Somewhere I picked up a vague notion that it was a slasher film with a little something extra, but I was more than pleasantly surprised when I watched a few minutes on Netflix watch instantly.

A Cut Above
It's more than a bit of all right, just when I was starting to think, there's not much new to be done with the slasher film. Belay that notion. Severance is Hostel meets The Office, both brutal and relentlessly wicked.

It concerns itself with the sales office of an arms company headed for a remote lodge in central Europe for a team-building experience. I don't know why it's a remote lodge and not a motel with meeting rooms, but there wouldn't be much of a story, I suppose.

A slice of the familiar
The heroine is Laura Harris of The Faculty and 24. Speaking of sales offices, I'm sure someone in Severance's decided an American lead would help sell it to Americans.

Also familiar to Americans is James Bond bad guy Toby Stephens, who also provided the voice of Bond in the recent BBC radio adaptation of Dr. No.

A little dialog establishes that there are possibly people at large who hate the office mates'
Severence offers great suspense, interspersed with the occasionally zany moment. To say much more would require that I precede the statements with spoiler warning so I'll count on you getting to experience it for yourself or suppose that you're way ahead of me and you've already discovered Severance.

If not, and if Netflix's recommendation algorithm and site search are failing you, well, this one's a good choice if you have a taste for thrillers.

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