Friday, December 24, 2010

Monday, December 13, 2010

Upcoming Movies I'd Rather Be Seeing

You ever go to the movies, and see trailers for flicks you'd rather be seeing than the show you just paid for?

I saw a perfectly fine holiday movie yesterday, but the trailers, always look better. They're the "what else is on?" of the theater experience, a couple of compressed minutes of pure imagination, revealing the best of a two-hour movie while sparking your imagination about possibilities as well:

And a Sci-Fi turn based on the novel from James Frey of "A Million Little Pieces" fame. The next Harry Potter?

Who's to say how these will pan out, but what a seven minute ride.

Saturday, December 04, 2010

Doctor Who Christmas Wallpaper

I know I haven't written a Doctor Who post in a while, but I'm a Whovian of a few years now and looking forward to having the Christmas special actually air in the U.S. on Christmas Day this year on BBC America.

That it's a Doctor Who look at "A Christmas Carroll" is an added bonus, because that Dickens classic is another of my holiday-season passions. For Harry Potter fans, there's that guy who replaced Richard Harris as well. OK, I know he's Michael Gambon.

Happily, to help decorate computers for the holiday season and to help with the wait, the BBC has released some Doctor Who wallpaper from the installment here.

My desktop's now decked for the holidays.

Also fun: Ferguson's lost Doctor Who Cold Open

Doctor Who Halloween Wallpaper From the Tennant era

Friday, December 03, 2010

The Young Adult Paranormal Thriller Novel Interview

Crossroad Press is posting videos about its e-book offerings. Here, I talk about the two of my young adult paranormal novels currently available in digital editions. These were originally written under my young adult pseudonym Michael August, which indicates a book suitable for younger readers. Adults can enjoy these as well, of course.

I had a lot of fun writing the YA's, which as I mention are a great opportunity to do  horror where the tension and suspense rely on atmosphere and mood more than visceral scenes. I particularly enjoyed re-editing The Gift for the e-edition.

These books are available from the publisher, Crossroad Press

Or most other e-book outlets and platforms including smart phones or as .pdfs:

Deadly Delivery
The Gift

Deadly Delivery
The Gift

Or search Sidney Williams on iBooks, where The Gift is available.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Her Fearful Symmetry - A Disturbing Literary Ghost Story

(May contain mild spoilers)
It's not, hopefully, giving away too much to say that the most disturbing elements of Her Fearful Symmetry, by The Time Traveler's Wife's Audrey Niffenegger, come late in the novel. That's an essential note to make for horror readers, just to keep expectations realistic.

This is not a haunted house tale, not a tale of rattling chains, cackling spirits or creaking doors. No visceral horror creeps into the mix.

It's a rich, character-driven narrative with a supernatural component that builds its disturbing storyline carefully, allowing the reader to realize what's ahead with a growing sense of tension and dread.

Symmetry's Sphere
Her Fearful Symmetry is first, however, a novel of complicated people and complicated lives from deeply obsessive-compulsive Martin to focal twins Julia and Valentina Poole to ghostly Elspeth Noblin, who spends most of the novel dead though very much a part of the narrative.

Elspeth is sister to the twins's mother, Edwina, and upon her death the mirror twins inherit Elspeth's flat on the edge of London'a Highgate Cemetery, provided they live a year in the residence.

Much of the plot revolves around their stay and their interaction with Martin, a crossword puzzle author upstairs whose wife has decamped. Unable to leave his apartment or give up his ritualistic obsessions, he languishes and befriends Julia, while Valentina becomes infatuated with Robert, Elspeth's significant other who is obsessed in his own right with a never-ending thesis on Highgate.

I've been intrigued of late, as a reader, with the blurring of the lines between genre and literary fiction. In "Stranger Things" (The Writer's Chronicle, September 2009) author Debra Spark examines works with genre elements in which--in her point of view--merit creeps in. She looks at the Michael Chabon thriller The Yiddish Policeman's Union with its alternate history, for example, and Magic for Beginners by Kelly Link.

Symmetry does that beautifully, incorporating elements of the Victorian ghost story into a study of people, relationships and manipulation.

It is a literary drama in its depiction of the relationships mentioned, but from those interactions and personalities, Elspeth's ghostly presence and sinister plans begin to emerge. The title is accurate in spite of Elspeth's seeming benevolence, and, if strong plotting is the stuff of genre, then Niffenegger utilizes the genre tool well in tightening the knots formed by the various strands.

For those interested in horror that stretches mind and imagination, Symmetry is a great choice.

Symmetry for Kindle

Related Posts

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving!

Hope everyone has a great day!

Enjoy the stuffing.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Sanctuary! Fantasy SF Paranormal Fun With Monsters

Is there a name for fans of Syfy/Canadia fantasy-thriller Sanctuary? You know like Trekker? I'm ready for my badge and membership card.

I glanced at the first episode when it aired on then Sci Fi, but didn't get to stay with the series, and I'll confess I was a little dismissive. Just another paranormal investigation show, I thought.

I returned for more sampling when the season became available on Netflix Watch Instantly. Episodes became a nice 45-minute break for the lazy part of Saturday afternoons just before time to start my grill for dinner while I was in school.

And I decided the premise was kind of fun and that Sanctuary wasn't just another X-Files. For the uninitiated, it's about Dr. Helen Magnus, Amanda Tapping, Stargate SG-1's Maj. Carter in a stunningly different persona. Dr. Magnus is immortal due to some Victorian magi-science, and she heads a network devoted to finding and protecting a generous supply of "abnormals" sprinkled around  the globe.

The mythology grows richer as the series moves along, even though there are obviously cost-conscious episodes in which Magnus and right-hand-man Dr. Will Zimmerman (Robin Dunn) are trapped in one-set confines such as the cabin of a crashed aircraft or the belly of an oil tanker. One ep was set entirely in a warehouse, viewed through the lens of a news crew's camera.

Myth, myth
Magnus is part of a circle that includes a misunderstood Jack The Ripper, Dr. John Watson and Tesla. The Sanctuary network is fraught with internecine political struggle, and there's a rival organization called Cabal. (Spoiler warning) One major character was killed off with stylish imagination.

The Season 2-ending, Season 3-beginning arc eschewed claustrophobic confines for a glob-spanning, world-threatening feature-like three-parter introducing Bollywood numbers and even more mythology, which seems headed in a Steampunk direction next. That's if an eye-candy holograph recently unlocked is any indication.

Happily with Netflix and Hulu, you can catch up quickly or just begin the series now and forge ahead at your own pace.

You never know what monster will crop up next.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

The Night Oliver Littlechap Spent in Jail

My indoor-outdoor cat, Oliver Littlechap, wandered onto our doorstep five years ago, a thin Oliver Twist for whom we couldn't find an adoptive home. If he wasn't wild, he was close to it.

He lived on our patio for a while and was eventually granted inside privileges around the time Hurricane Rita's inland bluster reached our neighborhood.

Domestic dispute
Oliver's domesticity has always been a little in question. For ages he's liked to prowl the wooded area behind our house and has on occasion been given to staying out all night.

Cats are just not that into doing what they're told.

He disappeared once around 8 p.m., didn't return the next morning and remained missing until Christine and I stood in the back yard calling him diligently in the early afternoon. The vocals finally disturbed him, and he came staggering, blinking and half-asleep, out of a flower bed.

With a little effort, Christine's curtailed some of his roaming, letting him out at night before mealtime. Usually he's been back in an hour, though more recently he's taken to going out the front door when we get home in the evenings.

Bolts out actually, allowing no time for greeting or discourse.

Tuesday was no different when we came home from the gym. An orange streak shot past us, and we went inside to shower and fix dinner.

The front mat remained empty a while later when I looked out. Usually Ollie plops down there after his rounds, waiting to be let in for dinner. Or perhaps for him its supper, the later meal, usually enjoyed after The Theater.

Call back
When he still hadn't shown up in another little while, I called for him. Front first. Then back yard. Nothing. I waited a few minutes and called again.

Still no sign. Shaking the Pounce bag didn't do any good either. Reluctantly, I went to bed without Ollie inside, though I took consolation in remembering he'd done this sort of thing before.

The next morning he still wasn't on the stoop. Christine and I walked up the street calling until we had to go to work, and we toured the neighborhood by car before driving in.

I was worried, but I kept consoling myself that he'd be OK. Maybe he had wandered into the woods again.

After a couple of hours at work, I realized I wasn't concentrating and decided to make a quick swing home.

I breathed a sigh of relief when I saw Ollie in one of those cat huddles on the front lawn. He'd finally decided to come home.

We pause now for a message from our jailer
But when I got out of my car, I noticed something on his collar. It's murder to keep a collar on Ollie. He's lost two dozen in five years. We had one of those chips implanted so that if he ever wandered too far there'd be a chance of getting called, but recently I found one I could keep on him without being too constricting.

I went over to him and rubbed his head, thinking, "My god has someone had him tied up?"

It wasn't a cord but a note secured by a twist tie.

"Your cat spent the night in my armadillo trap," an anonymous neighbor had written. Threats began after that. If he--though the note writer said she--returned to his/her property Ollie would be turned over to animal control.


Five years I've worried about him, but Ollie's done fine in our quiet little cul-de-sac, 'till what I suspect is a newish neighbor with a landscaping fetish shows up.

It took Ollie a day to get back to being himself. His nose was red and his face seemed a little swollen, probably from trying to push the trap door open to free himself. Luckily it was chilly but not that cold the other night.

He's adapting to being indoor only fairly well so far, though there have been a few requests for a word with the management this a.m.

More Ollie

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Gnelfs And E-book Release Interview

David Burton, author of several fantasy thrillers, has an interview with me about Gnelfs posted on his Random Musings blog.

I got to talk a little about what I'm coming to think of as my "B-movies In Print" period of writing fast-paced thrillers.

Check it out and be sure to check out David's titles as well!

Sunday, October 17, 2010

A Visit to Heroes Club The Art of Toys in San Francisco - Horror Collectibles

My buddy Clifford Brooks was showing me around San Francisco neighborhoods when he did an abrupt U-turn and grabbed a parking spot the other night. "You have to see this place," he said, nodding toward a showcase window with a giant blue robot: Heroes Club: The Art of Toys.

We could only stare in the windows at the shadowed array of collectibles since the shop had closed for the day.

But since we both grew up with Aurora model kits and Famous Monsters of Film Land, we returned the next day for a museum-like tour through an array of super heroes, soldiers, Bruce Lees, steampunk figures and a generous smattering of monsters including a full-sized Jason Voorhees looking down from a ceiling perch.  

Before the Icon
Smaller Jason replicas including a Friday the 13th Part 2 version in a pre-hockey mask burlap sack joined various iterations of Michael Myers, Freddy and a host of other vampires and creatures. An incredible life-size Nosferatu offered a sinister gaze from a rear showcase, and a wooden-frame 3-D replica of the Famous Monsters back page monster mask ad graced another shelf. 

"Are you guys collectors?" he asked.

"Just looking," Cliff said, observing a price tag. 

That didn't seem to bother him. He proceeded to show us a Count Dracula ring and a similar Mummy ring with, he noted, finer detail than some other versions. 

A Hong Kong native, he noted his favorite movie is The Exorcist and pointed to a wall where a bas-relief face of Pazuzu stared forward.

Stan's eye
A hand-eye-coordination statue, not for sale, peered from another case. "That was a gift from Stan Winston," he said. On yet another shelf stretched, a monster from a Twilight Zone-like series from Asia, never seen in the U.S. "Asian people know this," the proprietor said.  "U.S. people not so much." 

A Godzilla figure with an actor stepping out of it was a littl more more recognizable for U.S. audiences. 

Stake out
One of the most fascinating items was a hand-crafted vampire hunter's kit (seriously click the link and have a look) from Zom Bee Toys, maker of Frozen Dead figures as well. 

Moving it from a shelf to the counter, the proprietor offered a closer look. It looked Van Helsing-ready with bottles of holy water and a metal crucifix, plus a weighty wooden mallet and an array of stakes.

"These are hand crafted," the proprietor said, noting the handle-rings etched in the wood and the finely-honed points.

"They sharpen these by hand," he noted, demonstrating the twisting technique and stressing the whittling style of points would be much more jagged. "It takes a lot of time to do that right," he said.

I'll never convince Christine to adopt a collectibles decorating theme, but it was a nice spot to visit. 

Here's hoping the economy doesn't squeeze out this kind of coolness. 

Saturday, October 09, 2010

A Universal Horror Writer Moment

Maybe it's not exactly a moment, but there's an experience shared by many writers of a certain age who've put pen to horror.

In Night Shift, Stephen King's fabulous first collection of short fiction, a glance at the copyright page notes many of the tales first appeared in, shall we say delicately, men's magazines. In the seventies, King found a steady outlet for his fiction in Cavalier and similar publications.

In those ancient of days, the '80s, when I was finishing college and discovering the horrors of general assignment reporting, I began to finish stories that I felt were worth sending out. Keep it down out there. I heard that.

I got Writer's Market like many other young, aspiring scribes  and perused magazines that accepted mystery and horror. Through a lag in editing or updates, Cavalier and other publications that had gone in new editorial directions by the eighties were still listed as outlets for horror fiction.

So, it was a.) where Stephen King was published a few years before and b.) it accepted horror. Seemed like a good idea for submission.

The results for everyone who went through those same paces, I suppose, confirm the writer advice adage that you must read the markets to which you're submitting. Reading stories from the same publication in anthologies isn't always quite the same, especially if there's been a lag of a few years.

When I sent a story to Cavalier, I got a form rejection with--the bright side--a personal note scribbled on it: "It's good, but we need strongly sex-oriented stories."

The world had begun to change. The specialization of newsstand publications and niches had begun. Scarcer were the er, well-rounded editorial styles that offered "readers" pictorials mixed with a couple of stories and relevant articles.

The only fictional narratives in Cavalier--once the publisher of King and tales such as Roald Dahl's über classic Man from the South--were now captions for pictorials of women fighting.

Happily, in this new era, writing marches on, and even as old venues for words die, new venues are born. I guess that's the good news.

And I've got to get back to re-editing some of those stories that were rejected by Cavalier but found other print homes.

Monday, October 04, 2010

Gnelfs Cover Art - October Horror

Especially since it's October, Halloween time etc. that I'd put up a nice-sized view of the new e-book cover art from Neil Jackson. The sad side of e-books is that covers are mostly thumbnail propositions.

The original mass market paperback's art was nice, but this really makes me shudder.

Get Gnelfs via the banner at right for the Kindle. It's a few pennies more but available in multiple formats at Smashwords.

It's about the title characters but also features dueling sorcerers, or OK one bad sorcerer and one mysterious occult investigator and dark trails.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

An Interview about Blood Hunter and Gnelfs

Sonya Clark was kind enough to offer me an opportunity to discuss the e-book release of Blood Hunter and Gnelfs recently.

The interview is now posted on her site.

Sonya is the author of a fantasy novella called Bring on the Night that's now available as an e-book.

I really enjoyed recalling the origins of both novels and talking about writing even a little about my reporting days.

Drop by and see it if you can.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

I Was Dora Suarez: Poignant, Brutal Thriller

Books on cult fiction and many reviews warn about the late Derek Raymond's I Was Dora Suarez, an entry in his Factory series of police procedurals. They seek to alert readers to scenes and references not for the faint of heart nor weak of stomach.

The novel includes all of the shocking references that get spotlighted including the possibly mythical felching, but they're milder than reviews would lead you to believe, and they are there either in character or serve to represent the profane, brutal world in which the unnamed narrator, a police detective sergeant, and the unfortunate Dora Suarez reside.

Raymond strives to find beauty in darkness and decay and paints the backdrop in willfully extreme tones.

Narrator hero and victim
The narrator's tough, just back to police work after what amounts to a suspension, and is prone to violence. He's satisfied with his rank and has no desire for advancement, but the discovery of the book's brutal opening deaths sets him an investigation that will rattle him like no other.

In an almost third-person narrative, that opening describes the dual murder of Dora Suarez and her unfortunate landlady who is thrown through a massive clock.  

Soon the detective is uncovering layers to Dora's life, and a look into her diary makes him understand her soul even as he delves into those darkest corners to which she was exposed.

Deep fascination
His fascination with Dora and her freshly washed hair at the time of her discovery is deepened by his exploration of her thoughts and dreams. Dora is damaged, but her spirit is unquestionably human.

Discoveries drive obsession as the detective and a partner intensify their search for her murderer.

The book drags in a few passages, but those are easily surpassed, and the ending, as the detective closes in on the hideously monstrous culprit provide an intense payoff both on a genre entertainment level and emotionally.

I Was Dora Suarez may not be for those tender-hearted souls who can't take tough fiction, but for those who can face a dark tale with a heart and soul, it's an interesting excursion.

I understand other entries in the Factory series eschew procedural conventions in interesting ways, and so I'm looking forward to sampling more Raymond, as I continue a quest for reading that straddles the literary and genre universes.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Guest Blogging on The Road

I'm literally guest blogging on The Road today. It's a brief meditation on Cormac McCarthy's subtle use of horror in the novel.

Check it out over at Elder Signs Press.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

What's On the iPod/iPhone?: Big Finish's (Sherlock) Holmes and the Ripper

I was pleasantly surprised recently to discover:

a.) The Big Finish Podcast 

b.) That Big Finish is doing Sherlock Holmes stories

c.) You can now download from the Big Finish website

d.) Downloads are less expensive than CDs

I've been under a rock two years, so I'm still catching up on a lot of things.

 Of course when I gained all this knowledge, starting with the podcast, a natural choice for a birthday gift request was "Holmes and the Ripper," an installment based on a stage play by Brian Clemens of The Avengers fame and scores of other TV shows and movies.

The story's core stems from the conspiracy theorized in Jack the Ripper: The Final Solution by Stephen Knight, so it bears similarities to From Hell, the Jack the Ripper miniseries and the earlier Holmes flick Murder By Decree. Chronologically, release-wise, the play falls it the middle. It pre-dates From Hell and the graphic novel on which it's based but followed 1979's Decree by about nine years.

I suppose the conspiracy is too delicious dramatically to be abandoned, even though it's widely discredited.

Familiarity with the source material doesn't minimize the enjoyment of the production, because it's gloriously and freshly executed with a full cast, incredible music and a music suite track that's a dark mind ride unto itself.

Nicholas Briggs is wonderful as  Holmes, pining over Irene Adler--The Woman--yet  up to the challenge of conspirators and mystics in pursuit of the truth behind the Whitechapel killings. Interesting use is made of Scotland Yard Commissioner Robert Anderson, who, I believe, gets a lot of examination in Ripperology.

"Holmes and the Ripper" manages action, chills and excitement, sparking the imagination with its brilliant mixture of sounds and pauses. It's a great starting point for the Big Finish universe.

A note on the download - The download is not like an Audible or iTunes audiobook. You receive the CD tracks in a zip file, which means importing to iTunes and making a playlist. It's relatively painless.

Friday, September 10, 2010

The Red Tree - A Study In Quiet Horror

Now and then a novel comes along that's so subtly eerie it generates fear that seems to affect your central nervous system. The Haunting of Hill House is that way, as are some of the novels of Charles L. Grant.

To me, The Red Tree achieves similar results, with its sense of unease and its gradual, ambiguous journey into the supernatural. It's a true don't-read-this-too-late-at-night experience.

As I followed Sarah Crowe, the protagonist and chief narrator, through her strange experiences, the little creaks and groans of my house, and the sounds of insects or pine needles thumping the window made me look twice or turn on an extra light.

It's the kind of terror that's hard to achieve, but The Red Tree author Caitlin R. Kiernan does it so well Crowe's journal seems like the real chronicle of experiences--both mundane and incredible--hammered out on a battered manual typewriter.

Crowe, we learn early, is from a small Alabama town, but she's more recently lived in Atlanta and achieved a degree of  literary success . The death of her lover, Amanda, has driven her to an ancient house in Rhode Island. There, in the basement, she finds not just that old typewriter but also a manuscript by the house's former resident, a suicide.

While she's supposed to be writing a contracted novel, Crowe begins to delve into the abandoned manuscript and to peruse the red oak on her rental property, subject of the dead author's narrative which explores the tree's myth and twisty tales of New England legend. The tree, for hundreds of years, has exerted a strange influence, and the interspersed passages from the abandoned manuscript add wonderful eeriness.

Rustin Parr's been here
The tree is tied to bizarre ritual killings, strange disappearances and stories of shape shifting, all of which enthrall Crowe even as she begins a troubled affair with the house's new upstairs tenant, a beautiful young artist fleeing her own troubles in Los Angeles.

As strange experiences for both of them escalate, lines between the strange and the surreal blur and Crowe slowly reveals the truths behind her flight from the South, and questions about whether or not she's a reliable narrator build.

Don't come to the book expecting visceral, brutal horror. Come expecting soft chills that become shudders and eventually rattle and shake you. It's whispering horror with one of the best explorations of writer's block I've read since The Lime Works.

Also available in a Kindle Edition

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Teaser For Dennis - Monster Film Short

Dennis is a new monster film short written by Phil Duncan and directed by Kyle Aldrich. They're a couple of my MFA classmates.

The official teaser is now live, and you can get a taste of the style and, uh,  flavor. It really is a masterful script, clever and with a lot of depth.

The Official Dennis Teaser from Phil Duncan on Vimeo.

You can "Like" the offiical Dennis page on Facebook for more information, updates on release dates etc.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

A lesson in self promotion

I hate self promotion.

I'm a shy, retiring and modest type, so I don't like having to proclaim my own virtues, but for the new e-book editions of my novels, such as Blood Hunter and the upcoming Gnelfs, I'm mustering my courage and tenacity and doing interviews and what I can to get the word out.

It's pretty much a necessity. I've noticed about a million books out there. Most are written by James Patterson, but not all, so you've kinda gotta wave your arms and shout.

All of this is making me recall a lesson in self promotion I got at the opening session of a science fiction convention a few years ago.

John Steakley, author of Vampire$ was there. Maybe he was toastmaster, I don't recall precisely. But a microphone was handy, and The Scary Book graphic novel was just out at the time, so that's what got a mention when I was introduced.

"What was the name of that again?" Steakley asked, picking up a mic.

"The Scary Book," I answered when he tipped the mic toward me.

"The Scary Book, you say?"

"That's right."

"I don't think they heard you in the back. What was it? The Scary Book?"

"Yes, The Scary Book."

I was probably a little red by then.

"OK, The Scary Book."

He enlisted someone else to say the title, and this went on for a while. When it all wound down, and the mic was no longer in front of us, Steakley leaned in and said: "That's what you gotta do. Just keep mentioning your title."

So if you pass me somewhere in the various corners of the web, and I'm mentioning Blood Hunter, or the upcoming e-edition of Gnelfs, you'll know that's what I'm up to.

For those of you who don't own Kindles, by the way, Blood Hunter is available in .pdf and other handy formats on the publisher's website. That's Crossroad Press. Just click here.

And if you're a writer, remember Mr. Steakley's advice, because in most fan circles if you mention Armor or Vampire$, they know who you're talking about.

Saturday, September 04, 2010

A brief interview with me

A brief interview with me is up on Kip Poe's blog. It's a discussion on writing habits.

You can check it out here.

Kip has a book of short horror fiction called Closing My Eyes Helps Me See Clearly that's available as an e-book.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Gordon Lightfoot Gold

A few weeks ago Christine thumbed  the newspaper and noticed Gordon Lightfoot's tour was swinging into our region. We've checked his schedule occasionally since we're both fans, but there'd never been a convenient date and location.  

Until now. He was making a stop in Hot Springs, AR. 

My parents honeymooned in Hot Springs, back in the first great age of car trip vacations, and it was an occasional stop years later when I came along, and we hit tourist venues across the Southeast. (In Biloxi, MS,  you used to be able to buy a conch shell with a Last Supper miniature inside.) 

Christine and I took a long weekend in Hot Springs 15 years ago,  but we actually live a little closer now, with access to a route that doesn't zig-zag quite as much like the trip from Central Louisiana up through Central Arkansas.

So, we juggled work schedules and bought tickets and were in the audience Monday night when Gordon walked on stage in a red velvet jacket.

It brought a flood of memories. Gord's gold was on the radio the first summer I really began to listen to music and could recite the Top 40 from memory as played on K Dixie radio.

"Sundown" and "Carefree Highway" were the soundtrack for that summer punctuated by mowing lawns and installing black light in my bedroom.  

The troubadour's voice isn't quite as strong as it was in the seventies, but it was still a thrill to see him live, and to travel through his repertoire from "Don Quixote" to the more recent "A Painter Passing Through." 

Tunes from "East of Midnight" took me back to a late night eighties drive, heading home from a visit to my cousin in Monroe, LA.

Mid-set, when he did a "Sundown" rendition that had Bic lighters ignited, I was back under the AC in my parent's house, watching my black light gleam off the abstract poster I'd crafted on aluminum foil with fluorescent crayons I'd scored at a five and dime called Wacker's.

The baritone was as it used to be for "Sundown" and "Carefree Highway." " They sounded like they did on the album," and "Edmund Fitzgerald" brought a tear like it always does. 

Then there was a moment, as he strummed his 12-string, completely immersed in his music, delivering magic, that made now and then one.

It was 1974, and 1985 and 1998, and  "the thing that I call livin' is just bein' satisfied."

It was quite a night.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Ouroboros - A New Book That Intrigues Me

They really had me at "small coastal town," when the announcement from Dark Regions press hit my in-box.

Ouroboros, co-written by Michael Kelly and Carol Weekes, is coming out in trade paper soon, and it's going on my wish list.  

It's set in said small coastal town, and revolves around  "an ancient force" that  "stirs, drawn by the cumulative power of life and death, grief and sorrow, and ultimately, endless love."

Coastal towns, those post-card-familiar places, have always seemed perfect for tales of fright. Maybe it's because one of the first scary stories that captured my imagination was "The Shadow Over Innsmouth," title story in a Scholastic book club collection, though Captain Company in the back of Famous Monsters of Filmland had teased me with H.P. Lovecraft
titles for some time before that.

It was OK with my parents to order from TAB, The Teen Age Book Club, if not from Famous Monsters back pages.

Dark Regions reports Ouroboros  is the tale of Tom Christiansen whose wife of 35-yearshas passed away. As he grieves, the lines blur between real and unreal, and a strange, pale girl shows up in his back yard.

Sounds like a perfect autumn read, so maybe I'll get it for my birthday

Monday, August 16, 2010

A Writing Prompt Idea

When I did a creative writing teaching practicum last fall, I was always in search of writing prompts. I pulled story starters from writing textbooks and magazines, and I looked around for other ideas to stimulate creativity and imagination. I didn’t have a room full of speculative fiction writers, but one of my more successful prompts involved a surreal painting.

In the middle of one class, I sprung the picture on them and gave them a half hour to create a story. Character studies and other imaginative efforts developed from the image of a woman adjusting a seascape from which real water spilled onto her hardwood floor.

Now that I’m out of school and assimilating into a more normal existence, I’m gradually finding the strength to think about writing new things. With that in mind, I found a way, sort of, to duplicate the prompt exercise for myself.

I’m harnessing settings on my laptop, though I guess  technology’s not really required. 

My computer allows for the cycling of desktop wallpaper, so that’s easiest for me. With scores of great wallpaper sites just a Google search away, I’ve snagged a number of images randomly and stored them.

With my wallpaper set for a 15 minute refresh, whenever I’m weary of editing or stuck, I can minimize and see what’s waiting behind Word. I’ve got one shot of a girl with blue lips and crumbling features that gives me a jolt every time she's there.

We’ll see what comes of it, but so far it's been a nice way of self-inspiring in what’s a pretty solitary game. Writing, above all, is a game with the self, one of motivation and energy.

The qualifier
I think it’s important to use imagery only as springboard and not just to interpret or imitate the visual artist’s work, but letting pictures raise questions as cornerstones seems interesting and promising for getting unstuck if not for generating a full blown story or narrative.

The idea is to force synapses to connect in new ways.

I’d say it’s not limited to surreal images, though I like their effect.

Nature scenes, old photographs for steampunk inspiration and anything you might find on a Google image search could prove useful.

It doesn't have to be a surprise on the desktop if your computer doesn't have the random feature, though a screensaver slide show that kicks in when you're idle might me a good idea. Otherwise it just needs to be something slightly unexpected so you're not anticipating.

Save several images in a folder and click one. Print several and select from a bag or envelope and see where things go. Or just shuffle the stack.

It might even make for an interesting exercise to get started each day, just to get the electrical pulses inpopping.

A few sites:

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Pulp Abounds - New Pulp Fiction

A press release from a friend of a friend announces the release of a new pulp-style thriller with a  little bit o' Lovecraft, The Green Lama - Unbound by Adam Lance Garcia.

The synopsis provided reads:
"When Jethro Dumont’s friend, Jean Farrell, disappears on the small Greek island of Samothrace, he and associates fly off to rescue her.   Upon their arrival, they discover the forces of evil have gathered in this out of the way place in search of the Jade Tablet and the unholy grimoire known as the Necronomicon.  It is the book of rituals that will allow the Nazis and their allies to call forth the Great Old Ones, led by the demon god, Cthulhu. 
Now it is up to the Master of the Mystic Arts, the Green Lama, to uncover the mysteries of those ancient rites and thwart the powers of chaos.  But before he can do so, he will have to use all the unique skills at his command at the same time rely on the bravery and loyalty of his friends.  THE GREEN LAMA – UNBOUND  is a non-stop pulp thriller that explores the Green Lama’s past, detailing for the very first time elements of his origin never made known before."
Looks like fun for readers who enjoy the high energy style of Doc Savage and The Shadow plus the Cthulhu mythos, and it's part of a larger line of books from the specialty press Cornerstone, all with similar slam-bang themes. 

Interestingly, they seem to be utilizing the Lulu print-on-demand service for publishing and distribution. 

This new era keeps expanding in interesting ways. I've run across some small press magazines utilizing Lulu, but this the first instance I've seen of an established publisher harnessing it, though I'm sure there are others.

Thursday, August 05, 2010

The Return of Blood Hunter

Blood Hunter e-edition
Just a few thoughts as a new edition of my third novel rolls out.

Almost every writer with a slightly darker tone has probably read Stephen King's Danse Macabre. I did, even before I turned from a desire to mimic Ross MacDonald and Raymond Chandler.

It was certainly in the back of my mind when I settled down to write Blood Hunter. In DM, King categorizes monster archetypes, and shape shifters get a good deal of attention.

Blood Hunter is my werewolf novel, after a fashion. Or it's my shape shifter novel.

It incorporates European legends of the werewolf into its internal mythology. Though the monsters in the story aren't wolves, they do reflect the beast within.

Blood Hunter then.
It seemed like appropriate territory coming on the heels of my vampire novel, Night Brothers, and it melds a few threads of mystery and thriller fiction.

I don't know that I set out to do that consciously as much as it reflected the kinds of things I liked as a young reader. Chandler, Ludlum, King, Koontz.

I wrote purely from intuition and instinctively in those days, driven by those books I'd read and enjoyed and fueled also by a feeling that the world was losing a sense of mercy and compassion. I tried to weave that notion into the tale.

I don't want to sound lofty, however. Blood Hunter was written as entertainment first, and I strived for action, twists and shocks.

Splatterpunk was on everyone's lips in those days, pushing things to extremes, so I wasn't given to restraint.

The New Version and Secret Origins
In the foreword to the new ebook version, I note the story started as a screenplay. When I was a young reporter--I wrote late at night, casting about for the stories I wanted to tell and the medium as well.

For a while I tried screenplays, and an early one was called Ghouls. This was before Edward Lee's Ghouls, which led me to submit to Pinnacle Books.

In my screenplay, a reporter and photographer had an automobile break down near a strange sugar plantation. They sought shelter at the plantation's main house where a grim father and his sheltered daughter resided. Awaiting help, the journalists got to know the daughter better and began to uncover the dark secrets her father concealed. People got eaten by monsters too.

I expanded the story a little after talking with my editor of the day, setting up an investigation and shifting genders and motivations a little for the main characters.

Re-editing the text for the new edition from Crossroad Press after almost 20 years afforded about as cold a reading as is possible. It was kind of fun to get reacquainted with the imagination of my youth.

Then and now
Is Blood Hunter the book I'd write today? Not quite, but when I received the electronic manuscript, I tweaked mostly the prose of a young man hunched feverishly over a Commodore 64, striving to tell a fast paced tale and meet a deadline.

Crossroad Press publisher David Niall Wilson and I talked about possibly giving the book a new title, returning to one of the suggestions the original publisher passed over or coming up with something new. Spirit of the Beast came to mind.

But I decided no.  Let it stand. And let the characters run.

Monsters are in those woods on the wonderful and moody new cover by David Dodd.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

I'm Younger Than That Now

Roland Man sent me the link to this video, and Christopher Mills--who's in it too--posted it on his blog as well, but in case you haven't seen it, check it out. It's from Coast Con in Biloxi back in the day.

CoastCon was a busy spot for Southern fandom, and dropping in was always a blast.

I'm interviewed at about 4:02 or so, and they did a great shot of my book Blood Hunter.

I can remember the guys setting up the shot and doing the interview, but I'd never seen it until yesterday. It aired after I left town. I think I still look about the same, right?

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Netflix Noir

With cable/satellite channels increasingly becoming an interchangeable array of pointless reality programming, Netflix is increasingly my refuge when I find sofa time. Wait five minutes, and some films below might become unavailable, but as I write this, Netflix "Watch Instantly" has an array of film noir classics available for streaming.

Laura: One of my favorites, a true mystery with clever plot twists, based on a novel by Vera Caspary. Dana Andrews, who'd later cope with dark runes in the horror classic Night of the Demon, is the detective hero looking into the murder of the title character played by Gene Tierney. An also pre-horror Vincent Price rounds out the cast.

Experiment in Terror: A late-era noir and FBI procedural based on the novel by The Gordons, who also penned That Darn Cat. It's directed by Blake Edwards. Glen Ford is The Gordons' recurring Agent Rip Ripley, out to help bank teller Lee Remick thwart a psycho's push to force her help in embezzlement.

Elevator to the Gallows: French noir from Louis Malle, this is James M. Cain, Jim Thompson-style crime drama with the focus on scheming lovers and the slow unraveling of their perfect murder.

Gilda: Source of the iconic, Rita Hayworth hair-tossing moment, this is grand-style thriller with a young Glen Ford looking like Jake Gyllenhaal. Set in South America the tale revolves around double crosses in a casino and around a tungston mine.

The Dark Corner: Lucy before she was loved is secretary to a wrongly accused private eye. They have to solve a murder together before they can move on with their lives.

The Strange Love of Martha Ivers: Van Heflin's the good guy. Barbara Stanwick's the femme fatale, and Kirk Douglas is a crooked D.A. When Heflin returns to the town, his potential knowledge of a years-old crime stirs trouble and complicates his romance with good-girl-with-a-criminal record Lizabeth Scott.

I Wake Up Screaming: Worthy for the camera work alone, Victor Mature and Betty Grable cope with a tough cop and a bum rap.

For the rental que: Detour, signature noir unfortunately requiring a disk from Netflix though free on Directed by The Black Cat's brilliant Edward G. Ulmer on a real shoe string, this stars Tom Neal as a traveller with a sad tale of a dark encounter with misunderstanding and an exploitive blackmailer.

Saturday, July 03, 2010

Breaking Radio Silence From Down in the Hole

I received an e-mail yesterday from my master's program. How would I like my name to appear on my diploma?

And the angels sang.

Seems like a good time to break radio silence, or blog lethargy.

A few things could still go wrong, but I think that's a guide with a candle at the end of the tunnel and not the express train.

A few other things are looking positive also, so while life's never perfect, it's nice to lean back for a moment this weekend and draw a deep breath, even as beyond all the times insist on being interesting.

I wish I could find the exact quote, but Alexander Solschenizyn once wrote of looking at apple trees after a rain.

As long as there are moments like that, he noted, it's possible to go on and persevere a little longer.


Sunday, May 16, 2010


OK, I'm kinda back. Stewart Sternberg, whose The Ravening everyone should already have on pre-order, gigged me a bit a while back about repurposing Twitter tweets, but I've been a little swamped of late, and I did want to preserve some of those thoughts.

Hopefully I'll be back to the blogosphere full steam soon and fresh with ideas and energy. I've just been busy with school, work, and well that's about it, but that's been plenty.

For those of you who still have me in your RSS feed, let me get a few things on record on things nerd. I've managed to keep up with a few things in spite of the swamping.

Iron Man 2: liked it but the critics aren't really 100 percent wrong.

V: Like it, glad it survived, sorry it had to be between it and FlashForward which I liked marginally better.

Lost: Looking forward to the finale. Is The Source the same thing that's in the suitcase in Pulp Fiction or that box Mike Hammer had in Kiss Me Deadly?

Inception: Looks interesting and I like Christopher Nolan.

Reading: The Outside Man by Richard North Patterson.

Next Up: I Was Dora Suarez by Derek Raymond. Wish me well.

Miss Daisy is hanging in.

Monday, March 01, 2010

A Few of My Favorite Tweets

Before they're lost, I thought I'd save for posterity--or the life of blogspot--a few of the tweets that have erupted from my brain over the past few weeks:

My body's vertical, but my brain's still horizontal.

If John Krasinski is cast as Captain America, I'm trying to imagine him rolling his eyes in response to Nick Fury.

When did reconciliation become so divisive?

What is the deal with Facebook's news feed? I just wished happy travels to somebody who's back already.

I'm pretty sure the coyote I'm looking at isn't as scared of me as I am of him.

Die unneeded sentences. Die!

The one rule that's really set in concrete at our house is "No Brando Impressions."

Spartacus: Blood and Sand = Original Spartacus + Red Shoe Diaries x 300.

Apple is introducing a new device for activists. It's called the iMad.

I'm having a nosebleed. I may be unstuck in time. How'd they fix that on Lost?

Passive sentences do vex me.

Not 'aints no more.

"Select theaters" usually means nowhere near you.

A lot of warnings tell you caffeine will make you more tired later, but I live in the now!

My fortune cookie today read: "A peaceful mind is a source of power." Good sentiment, especially today.

Keyser Söze is rumored to be using an iSlate. (Note: That's what everyone thought the iPad was going to be called when rumors were flying.)

Why do they call them car coats? I have a heater in the car. I need my coat when I get OUT of my car.

You are not in Kansas anymore. This is Pandora. Please select a song or artist to create your playlist.

You can call me Sid if you're feeling monosyllabic.

I drink so much green tea I should be invincible by now. Wait, I think I just saw a demonic monkey.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Found Art

Below is material from what may seem an esoteric exercise from my last MFA residency, but I kind of liked what came out of it. This is actually just a part of the whole process, which involved the insertion of some other text between sections.

When all of it's said and done the process winds up being a bit of a psychological exercise that mines your thoughts about your writing. It really provides insight. I was amazed.

Our assignment was to seek out signs or words in our environment then write a few lines about each. Made me notice things I was walking past, for sure.

Outside the process, as a mixture of found art and text, this is what came about:

Waiting, unseen
To be of
Waiting underfoot
Service underground

Walk this way
Give me a hand
Give me feet
Give me a heart

The way you're supposed to be going is behind you
The way your are going is ahead
Gate keepers say turn back
Something says keep going.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

New Horror Podcast Episode - A tale by Martel Sardina

We have a new episode of Fear on Demand live. I guess an "at last" should be added. I was so fried after the past academic semester that I found it hard to lift a finger for most of December.

Happily, now that it's time to start writing school again, I have an episode ready and a couple of more I can launch down the road in timely publication fashion.

This episode features a tale called "The Color of My Wounds" by Martel Sardina, who has several Twilight Tales publications, making her contribution a nice fit for FOD. Wayne Sallee who is a dear friend of mine and who contributed a story to Episode 2 of FOD, is a Twilight Tales alum as well, and many other Twilight Tales contributors are friends or friends of friends.

All writers who put pen to the darker genres share a certain kinship, and more roads lead to the Chicago Mafia of horror writers than many people realize.

Anyway drop by the FOD blog or search for it on iTunes and stay tuned for some more chilling tales in the near future.

You might also want to check out David Byrd, The Blue Jeans Guy, who lent his voice to Martel.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Steampunk iPhone Wallpaper

I don't know that you can call my first effort at making iPhone wallpaper steampunk with 100 percent accuracy, but I had the spirit of steampunk in mind as I crafted it for the SidiPhone with the help of a few tutorials and Photoshop accessories.

I'm not sure why I felt a desire to trick out my new phone with steampunk touches. Maybe it was the new Sherlock Holmes movie, which felt a little steampunky and drove me back to the Sherlock canon for a December/January binge, or maybe it's just that turbulent times always make us look in different directions, namely backward.

There's a poem called 221B Baker Street, written in the '40s after the 20th century had been shaken by two wars. It celebrates the simpler time and world of the canon, a time where it's "always eighteen ninety-five" and where Holmes can always tie up things in tidy fashion.

Perhaps the constant improvement of technology and it's encroachment on our lives fuels--if you will--some of steampunk's current popularity.

At any rate, it resonates with me a bit at the moment. My effort above is ready for right-clicking if you're inclined to use it. Or if you want to make your own here's roughly how I got there, though this is by no means a step by step tutorial.

A tutorial from Abduzeedo on creating a vintage travel diary was my starting point and has links to stock art and many of the great Photoshop brushes that made it an easy job. The background is done with a brush from this Waterlogged Map collection.

Some of the gears and tools are from a couple of sets of steampunk Photoshop brushes found here and here. A few I didn't use are here. Maybe for Steampunkwallpaper 2.

I really just added a few bevels, texture touches and drop shadows to make the tools and gears look more real.

More steampunk fun
I ran across quite a few bits of steampunkery as I researched resources. Here are a few more links for browsing enjoyment.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Four On The Floor

So we’ve got the “Big Bang Theory” paused on the DVR while taking care of a couple of things around the house when the sound of thumping begins...

This was one night last week. You may have read my Twitter posts about it. Thought they might be my last words if not just a chance to get more handy with Twitterific.

“The weather’s really getting bad,” Christine said from across the room.

I was thinking I must be hearing pine needles hurled at the house like darts. My brain didn’t process hail as a possibility for a few more seconds.

“Yeah, it’s pretty bad,” I agreed.

Then the sirens started.

The next voice you hear
This burg’s early alert system looks like alien technology atop strategically placed poles. One stands about 30 feet from our back door. When they test it, it sounds like the voice of God booming through the evergreens.

I didn’t hear any spoken word messages. The howling winds must’ve drowned them out.

Please stand by
We flipped back over to broadcast TV to see if there were any reports, but the howling winds were interrupting the satellite signal.

Generally I feel invincible where weather is concerned, but things started to seem a little hairy. Christine, who is likewise not particularly skittish, said: “Maybe we should go a central location.”

I shrugged and followed her to the hallway. Something had to be making the sirens go off, right? Sitting on the floor, we called the cats to join us. You may recall from previous posts there are four of them. They sauntered in as if to ask: “Why are you sitting on the floor?” Then they sauntered back out.

“Maybe we should get in the bedroom closet,” Christine said.

“I’m getting the laptop,” I said, thinking wireless might work even if nothing else did. I’d already checked the weather on my iPhone, but the outlook for Cupertino was fine.

So we took the laptop with a streaming report from a local TV station to the closet, and I started catching cats one at a time.

The phone rang as I cornered the last feline.

“Let it go,” Christine said, thinking it was probably her father who lives one state over. He calls about the weather. He called once to see if we had snow seconds before I started seeing flurries outside. I’ve never figured out how he managed that.

Actually we learned later that omniscient early alert service telephones you to tell you you're doomed, just in case howling winds are drowning out the outside audio message. I’m kind of glad I didn’t answer. That might have made things seem serious.

So we found ourselves sitting on the floor watching the weather man report circular swirling motions detected on radar about five miles south of where we were sitting.

The cats didn’t like the sound of hail on the roof and wondered why we’d imprisoned them in the closet, but otherwise they seemed calm. Ash was particularly happy to have Christine’s polar fleece robe spread out for him.

That'd be, you know...
I looked toward the ceiling where boxes of comic books were arranged on a top shelf. The Joker’s face from the back of The Killing Joke grinned through the hand-hold of one carton.

How ironic it would be, I thought, if my comic book collection fell and crushed me to death.

Otherwise nothing really profound flashed through my brain, no PowerPoint show of my life, no real panic. Guess I wasn’t really convinced by the Sturm und Drang usually reserved for a night Lost is new.

The web stream continued to work through the whole period we sat there on the closet floor. I guess it was about 45 minutes.

In the old days—early 2008—we would’ve just had to sit in the closet until we stopped hearing sirens. Instead, we watched the orange and green Rorschach pattern gradually move East on th Doppler radar.

Happily I don’t think anyone was seriously hurt, though some surrounding areas experienced property damage. Eventually we crawled out of the closet and set the cats free and went on with the evening routine.

We finished The Big Bang theory the next night when things were quiet. By then, we could laugh.

Saturday, January 09, 2010

Kersh Without Covers

Besides a couple of 19th century horror novels, one of the first books I nabbed for my iPod's e-reader was Men Without Bones by Gerald Kersh, Harlan Ellison's favorite writer.

My Kersh is a little lacking.

Bones is proving to be an excellent way to catch up. The collection came out in the fifties and many of the stories appeared in The Saturday Evening Post and Esquire. They have the feel of other short stories of that era.

They remind me a little of the slightly skewed weirdness of Shirley Jackson, meaning they're chilling in very subtle ways.

The title story is science fiction horror with a twist, recounted by a narrator who has just encountered a man from a lost expedition. The man details encounters with the men without bones, leading up to startling and eerie revelations.

My favorite story so far is one called "The Shady Life of Annibal," another as-told-to-story in which a scandal sheet journalist interviews a famous actress. She reveals secrets of her parents and her slightly askew early life.

It's a really nice find for the new year, and I'm looking forward to turning a few more of the e-pages.

Further reading
Get more details on the featured stories here.

Friday, January 01, 2010

The SidiPhone

I used to say, in those ancient days of 2005, it would certainly be nice to have my iPod and my cell phone wed.

Around that time Christine crunched some numbers and determined we'd come off well going to pre-paid cell phones.

They announced the iPhone, right after we bought these really nice LG phones that looked like racing cars. Alltel apparently sponsored a NASCAR driver. Who knew?

Anyway, with new phones and an insanely cheap payment plan, let's just say we weren't going to be moving to mechanized looms very quickly in our household.

Flashforward. I've finally worn Christine down. I got an iPhone for Christmas, so 2010 will be my 2007.

I promptly seized the 21st century technology and downloaded a couple of 19th century novels via an app called Stanza, though I got an app called Epi from shortly afterwards.

That puts recipes and beer ads at your fingertips, so if you find great mahi mahi at the grocer--no more regretting you didn't look up a mahi mahi recipe before you left the house.

I'm hopeful that Christine will see the value in that just like The Bob Newhart Show reruns on Hulu helped her understand the virtue of an HDMI cable stretched across the living room from computer to TV.

I don't know if it will radically revolutionize my life otherwise, but utilizing the Twitterrific may soon improve my ability to type with my thumbs.
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