Sunday, December 30, 2012

For 2013: I Want To Be Scared

I hear this a lot: "That didn't scare me, and besides, I don't believe in ghosts (or fill in the blank), so this couldn't happen anyway."

I find that a little perplexing.

We react vicariously to fictional situations all the time. We laugh and weep at romances that are imaginary. We grip our chair arms as heroes scale great heights or battle impossible odds. We turn pages to find out if fictional defendants will be acquitted. That's entertainment.

Yet it's horror that really seems to get the jaw set.

Maybe it's that scary books and films represent a challenge to a lot of people. It's as if they're an affront to individual bravery, so many don't want to admit jumping at a film, let alone being subtly chilled by a fiction's crafted atmosphere.

As I contemplate that, I find myself agreeing with Matt Zoller Seitz's semi-controversial contention on Indie Wire that audiences were not watching From Russia With Love in the right frame of mind. OK, he said the film's not unsophisticated, you are.

I suppose I went through a phase where I felt similarly to many about horror. I've been at points where I felt too jaded as a viewer or reader to feel scared. I don't know that I was scared by The Exorcist when I saw it the first time. I probably wasn't watching it right.

But happily I've mellowed and learned to relax. I got nothin' to prove.

I was scared by The Exorcist several years ago when Netflix was new, Christine was taking grad school classes at night, and I had a couple of hours to view it alone in an empty house with the lights turned off.

When Ellen Burstyn checked out the attic, I reacted with her, the way the filmmakers intended.

When the first demonic face appeared on the wall in Insidious as I watched that several years later, I jumped again and even tweeted that a film had given me a legitimate scare.

Ditto watching Paranormal Activity, which I know many of my friends got an MST3K-style laughfest out of viewing. I can remember a laugh riot with one of my buddies watching Revenge of the Creature twenty years after its release. That's one way to watch a horror movie.

Or you can sit back and jump out of your skin when pots fall or symbols from The Lesser Key of Solomon are revealed in an old lady's living room.

I started thinking about all this anew when reading a blogger's 10 best list. Can't find it again, but it was a good list, and the author urged readers not to laugh that she'd included The Pact, having watched alone late and night and felt a chill. It's a modestly budgeted but quite decent haunted house tale with some cool chills, so no apologies should really be needed.

I resolve not be jaded as I experience films, books, comics and games in 2013. I want to be scared when I watch a scary movie.

If you don't, what are you watching for?

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Fantasy Christmas List - A Blue Dahlia What if?

Even Santa can't answer every Christmas wish, but I started thinking about what I might ask for if that were possible. Sure, if you could have anything, world peace would be at the top of the list. Every pageant contestant knows that. After the obvious ones, though, what might it be interesting to have Santa summon up?

Well, I've been talking to students about film noir of late, and something hit me. What literary or film fantasy Christmas gift might I ask of Santa? Besides how Edwin Drood was really supposed to turn out?

Well, wouldn't it be cool if we could get a definitive cut of The Blue Dahlia as Raymond Chandler originally intended it?

As you probably know,  Dahlia is an original screenplay by Chandler, creator of Philip Marlowe and the template for tough-guy voiceovers to infinity.

Chandler worked as a screenwriter as well, contributing to adaptations of Double Indemnity and many others, and The Big Sleep was adapted as a Bogie and Bacall vehicle.

John Houseman, Professor Kingsfield but also producer of Blue Dahlia, and others have spelled out the bumpy production path of Dahlia.

It was filmed in 1945, and star Alan Ladd was about to be inducted into the U.S. Army, so things were moving fast.

Chandler's story was to focus on Ladd as a soldier returning from World War II. His wife is murdered at roughly the time he discovers she's having an affair, so he has to solve the crime to clear himself.

Ladd's war buddies, played by future sitcom stars  Hugh Beaumont and William Bendix, were to join in the action of the story. In Chandler's original plan, Bendix's character, injured in battle and prone to rage and forgetfulness, was to be the killer.

The plan was to have him discover the affair as well, kill in a fit of anger then forget his actions.

With the bus for the induction office waiting for Ladd, filming began. Then military officials stepped in and asked for rewrites.

A serviceman responsible for a murder at the height of WWII didn't seem like a good idea. A new ending had to be devised. The story of how Chandler completed the script and invented a new suspect is legendary. Read some of it on Wikipedia.

The original ending didn't end up on the cutting room floor. It was never shot. Chandler arrived at a new ending with some help from, well, help out of a bottle.

So if I could ask Santa for a fantasy Christmas present, it would be for a "writer's cut" of the film. It would be interesting to see  the original ending, where Bendix is confronted and the sad truth revealed to his uncomprehending mind.

It would have made for a tighter story and a better final product overall, perhaps not a perfect film, but one closer to the original vision.

Too bad decisions to revise were made before the cameras rolled.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Stupid Things I Could Do Holiday Edition

It's been a while since I've had one of those flashes of how things might go horribly wrong, but today...

The Christmas tree is placed in its corner. The ornaments are hung with care, and the lights are aglow, those multi-colored old fashioned style bulbs of red, blue, green and white.

The only problem is the branches on this beautiful fir look just a little dry.

With a watering can, I push back branches and crawl commando style to the tree holder to pour a fresh libation for O Tannenbaum.

My miscalculation is in how much water the tree stand will hold. The label cautions about not selecting a tree taller than six feet, but liquid capacity is not in the documentation.

Lifting branches to allow the proper angle for the tipping of a watering can, I estimate and listen to the trickle.

After a day in place, the tree seems to have drunk the stand dry, so I pour, and pour, and one of those prickly branches slips free to slap me for being too familiar.

Suddenly the water overflows, runs down the side of the stand, and I remember that those bulbs are powered with ELECTRICITY.

(Happily that didn't happen.) 

Sunday, December 02, 2012


The Chicago Sun Times offers an interesting look at a new book speculating that H.H. Holmes, the serial killer of Scarlet Mansion fame, might also be responsible for the Jack the Ripper murders. Read more here.

It's an interesting what-if? if nothing more, right up there with Orson Wells as a suspect in the Black Dahlia case. More on that here.

Perhaps it would make an interesting fictional story. We've seen more than one novel based on historic figures who happen to co-exist.

Now it might be interesting if Sherlock Holmes had to investigate the British murders of his American cousin, H.H.

Has that already been done?

Thursday, November 29, 2012

I Bury the Living revisited

I have a bit of affection for I Bury The Living, a low-budget, late-50s thriller with an is-it-or-isn't-it- supernatural plot.

It aired on one of the monster-chiller-drive-in horror TV shows recently, probably because it's in public domain, and that prompted me to re-watch.

Richard Boone, of Have Gun Will Travel fame, stars as Robert Kraft. Everything revolves around Kraft's appointment as director of a massive cemetery. Deaths begin to occur when he sticks black pins in owned but not yet occupied burial plots on a cemetery map with a few markings on it that remind you of The Lesser Key of Solomon.

Kraft wonders if he possesses some dark magic and struggles to figure out what's going on as more deaths pile up.

There are a few stretches of the imagination, but it's a bit of fun and suspense, and it shows how a decent tale can be told with a few characters and just a few sets and suggestion.

Would a Dark Castle-style remake ruin it?

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Happy Halloween 2012

Hope it's a great and scary day for everyone.

I'm celebrating by listening to an I Hear of Sherlock Everywhere episode called "Re: Vampires."

It's a discussion of Sherlock Holmes and Dracula, including a mention of a film that sadly never happened, Sherlock Holmes and the Vengeance of Dracula, described here by Harry Knowles.

It's helped get me in the mood for a chilling day!

Monday, October 29, 2012

Free Neil Gaiman Audio for Halloween Through Oct. 31 is offering an exclusive Halloween story from Neil Gaiman as a free download, and $1 will be donated to charity.

According to Audible's Facebook page, "Click-Clack the Rattlebag," a ghost story that's "subtle, witty and deceptive" according to the synopsis.

You can read more on Audible's site, where Gaiman describes the tale's origins here.

Audible will donate to when you download.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Favorite Short Stories - The Emissary by Ray Bradbury

In an essay from J.N. Williamson's How to Write Tales of Horror, Fantasy and Science Fiction,"  Ray Bradbury discussed the writing of many of his chilling stories collected in Dark Carnival from Arkham House, his first book. Many would later go into The October Country (1955).

In that piece, "Run Fast, Stand Still, Or The Thing at the Top of the Stairs, or New Ghosts from Old Minds,"  Bradbury wrote that he developed a list of nouns in his early writing life and set out to pen a story for each of those. "The Dwarf," "The Crowd," "The Jar" and many others followed.

One of my favorite of his noun tales is "The Emissary," a touching and beautifully written story that chills.

It's tells of a young boy with an illness that keeps him in bed, and the emissary of the title is his dog. Since he can't get out, he sends his the pet on missions, to bring back scents and signs and occasional friends from the outside world.

Of course, being a Bradbury story, it features the crisp and vivid sense display of autumn.

 Lying there, Martin found autumn as in the old days before sickness bleached him white on his bed. Here was his contact, his carry-all, the quick-moving part of himself he sent with a yell to run and return, circle and scent, collect and deliver the time and texture of worlds in town, country, by creek, river, lake, down-cellar, up-attic, in closet or coal-bin. Ten dozen times a day he was gifted with sunflower seed, cinder-path, milkweed, horse-chestnut, or full flame-smell of pumpkin. Through the loomings of the universe Dog shuttled; the design was hid in his pelt. Put out your hand, it was there…

It's a tale with touching moments, and it creates well the feeling isolation and illness in a past era.

Things go well until Dog fails to come home. There's worry, of course, and much more before the brief tale concludes. To say anything beyond would be to give away too much, but it is perfect reading for Halloween and for the fall and for the late night when the mind is open to suggestions of things not otherwise accepted.

It's a story to be read not with jaded, nothing-scares-me rigidity, but with a sense of dark wonder and willingness.

Check it out. It's a must in the original prose form, but it can be found in many adaptations. It was a Ray Bradbury Theater episode, was read by Tom Baker as a Late Night Story on British television and is a part of many other collections including The Stories of Ray Bradbury. Go on, give it a look, and come back and tell me what you think.

Bradbury's essay also appears in his Zen in the Art of Writing

Sunday, October 21, 2012

American Horror Story Asylum

Didn't get to watch on premiere night, but thanks to the DVR, I'm now caught up on this season of American Horror Story.

Grim, strange, kinky, brutal.

It's immediately quite different from Season 1 in tone, though it continues to shuffle iconic horror tropes in interesting ways.

Ghost hunters in a contemporary haunted house get more scares than they bargained for, and then we flash back to a fifties with a much more horrific alien abduction than the Betty and Barney Hill case it channels, with a bit of  role reversal.

Then there's the '50s mental institution run by a typically stern but unconventionally complicated nun portrayed by returning Jessica Lang, and the ante is upped by James Cromwell as a twisted mad scientist type. Whew, lots of carnage and strangeness and a nasty edge.

I don't always find American Horror Story completely satisfying, but I'm always intrigued by what it does and how it does what it does.

I'll stick around for more.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Carrie: Back to Basics?

The tone of the new Carrie trailer is interesting. I had a ho-hum feeling when I read of another remake, even with the accompanying news that Hit Girl herself, Chloe Grace Moretz, would be joining Julianne Moore as Carrie and her mom, respectively.

The second trailer now available on, along with that official URL and preferred hashtag, brings a little more enthusiasm.

In wonderful Stephen King fashion, you'll recall, the novel looks back on the event with a pop culture scrapbook approach that includes excerpts from articles including preliminary reports of a rain of stones from the Wendover, Maine, Enterprise, a  Reader's Digest "Drama In Real Life" account and references to a memoir called We Survived the Black Prom. 

Maybe the trailer's misleading, but I find myself intrigued by a potential point-of-view that looks at the town in flames and attempts to explain how things got that way. That gives things a little distance from the Brian De Palma original and even takes a step or two away from the 2002 version which flashed back from a police interview.

A remake's really uncalled for, but if there's gotta be one...

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Zoran Drvenkar's SORRY - Dark Thriller "for readers with quick minds and strong stomachs"

I have word of a new British horror novel coming down the pike. It has an interesting trailer (above)  that hints at its content.

It's the tale of a trio who set up an agency named "Sorry" to right wrongs and help the wrongly accused.

The synopsis describes the point where things go wrong thusly:

"What they hadn't counted on was their next client being a cold-hearted killer. But who is the killer and why has he killed? Someone is mocking them, and hell is only just beginning."

The book, by Zoran Drvenkar, a German-speaking author, earned praise from The Times and The Guardian, so it might be an intriguing, dark thriller. The Times warned it's for readers "with quick minds strong stomachs."

It's available via Amazon UK.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

T.C. Boyle in The New Yorker

Let me switch over to my literary fiction hat for a moment, literary fiction being shorthand for things harder to classify.

"Birnam Wood" by T. Coraghessan Boyle sets a near perfect emotional tone as its first-person narrator describes a relationship on the precipice.

A struggling young, but not quite married, couple try to make ends meet as they move through a series of challenging and chilly residencies until they stumble upon a great housesitting opportunity in a mansion with a pool table.

Of course, things aren't perfect even with great digs, and Boyle makes relationship woes and their roots all new.

It reminds me a bit, in a remote way, of Raymond Carver's "Chef's House." It's a great read for anyone interested in crafting realistic characters in the midst of realistic travails.

Check it out while it's free in its entirety. 

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Mrs. Bates

I'm not sure I'm 100 percent enthusiastic about a  Hannibal  or a Bates Motel television series, but the announcement Vera Farmiga of The Departed and Up in the Air will be take the role of Mrs. Bates in the latter suggests the level of the game for the A&E Series.

I know, I know, a branded property is a probably easier to launch than something unknown in today's busy landscape of entertainment options. So, if this gives Carlton Cuse of Lost an opportunity to tell great stories, I understand.

I suppose the casting hints at the point at which the story will drop into the lives of Mrs. Bates and her son and future Psycho, Norman.

Unless the plan is to have Farmiga in heavy aging makeup--and really, why would you?--we'll be dropping in on a young Norman and a youngish mom.

I remember the old NBC pilot called Bates Motel. Hey, we had like three channels in those days, OK?There wasn't much on.  That would have had  Bud Cort of Harold and Maude as Norman's buddy from the mental health facility taking over as hotel proprietor. Each week he would have played host, Love Boat and Fantasy Island style to different quirky guests.

Sounds like the new series will be a little different, with interesting character and event territory to explore. Norman's taxidermy training?

With A-list actors, it doesn't sound like it's going to be allowed to be low rent.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

How to Write a Short Story - A Review

I periodically stop by Joe Bunting's Write Practice blog, which as the title suggests, is a spot designed to  keep writers churning out words. I was, thus,  pleased to receive a review copy of his new e-book Let's Write A Short Story, which is just hitting the downloadable realm.

Flipping through the electronic pages I could quickly see it's a great and concise guide for understanding what a short story is, how to craft one, and how to fight writer's block. Who could ask for more?

Beginners need the first two, and seasoned keyboardmeisters sometimes need help with the third.

Bunting also offers an interesting argument in his opening for the short story as laboratory. That's what I found most interesting, and he substantiates his ideas with compelling evidence. Chiefly, Hemingway.

In the Nick Adams stories, Bunting contends Hemingway explored character territory that later turned up in many of his lead characters including Santiago in The Old Man and the Sea. That suggests a short story can be a place to develop ideas and themes for whatever longer work you have the burner.

As mentioned, the book is not short on writing advice. Bunting breaks down the role of plot, character and length in the short story and looks at when it's possible to break the rules. He also throws in a generous offering of writing prompts to explore themes such as death and more.

It's a great guide for writing with an inspirational tone, so it's well worth a look.

Additionally, Bunting is planning a Let's Write A Short Story community, so this effort looks like an interesting experiment in numerous ways.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Settling In

I think I'm settling into the whole creative writing instructor gig, and I'm finding I like working with student writers to polish their fiction quite a bit

I'm sure I'll get tougher, but at the moment, I'm working to deliver criticism with a gentle touch. I've had times when criticism was needlessly brutal. I've also heard stories from friends of brutal feedback.

I suppose it has its place, but when I was on the receiving end, I didn't care for it as a pedagogical approach.

If I can achieve improvement without turning into a curmudgeon, or more of a curmudgeon, I'll continue the gentle approach.

Life's still a little in flux beyond the teaching. We've found a Florida house, and I'm in it, but I'm feeling a little like a squatter. I'm sitting on cardboard on the floor to read, standing up to eat and sleeping on a cot. The guy at the wilderness store was right. It's a pretty nice cot, but I'm still a stiff in the morning.

Transitions aren't always easy, but so far, I don't miss the corporate world as a day gig at all. 

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Dark Night in Colorado

I always feel saddened more when tragedy strikes as people are in the midst of a happy time, when there's an accident on a boating excursion or a heart attack at a birthday dinner. Maybe I'm wrong, but somehow it seems to deepen the loss. It's fun interrupted, marred.

The acts of James Holmes in Aurora seem more horrific today as the stories of the victims emerge, as they always do, putting faces on the calamity. 

There were people together with high school friends for the first time in a while, people with other pals, people on dates.

Close to midnight
An air of excitement, energy and anticipation permeates midnight showings of Hollywood blockbusters. It's a chance to see a long-awaited film early, a chance to break your usual routine and a chance to participate in the carnival a little. 

Just before I left Texas, I met some friends for The Avengers opening. We managed to find each other in the lobby as other friends texted they were grabbing seats in different theaters in the multiplex. 

We blazed a trail into an already packed house of college kids and other geeks, some sporting Thor headgear or homemade tees with superhero emblems drawn on in marker.

It was my last chance to see some of my friends, and seeing a hyped film may have been part of Hollywood marketing, but it also gave us a sense of occasion. 

A sense of the occasion. So many quotes rush in at a moment like this. A silly one strikes me first on the heels of that last thought. A host at Millyways, The Restaurant at the End of the Universe, says: "People like to get dressed up for the end of the universe. It gives them a sense of occasion."

This is not the end of the universe, but it strikes a significant blow to a piece of our culture, our shared dreaming, our good times.

We can never go to midnight showings again in quite the same way, with quite the same anticipation and energy.  We'll never look at geeked out kids in makeshift costumes the same way again. 

James Holmes robbed so many people of their special night, and he robbed people of their lives and struck all of us with a deeper horror. So did Jared Lee Loughner and countless others. 

That's tragic. 

That's terrorism. 

It's not the end of the universe, but it was another dark night for America. 

Friday, July 13, 2012

New Online Horror Series - The Unknown

Free episodes of a new online horror series, The Unknown, are now available. Episodes are short and twisty.

Seems like this came around quickly. I read a while back that it would be developed with Dominic Monaghan of Lost. 

Episode One can be watched on Crackle, Sony's online movie site.

Monaghan is sort of the framing device for an anthology format. He's a blogger stalking tales of the paranormal. He's working on an article on artificial intelligence as things kick off in "Yesterday," but the story focuses on a man's struggle to cope with reality.

William Atherton, who was responsible for unleashing all of the badness in Ghostbusters, also appears in the opener. Check it out at this link:

Watch The Unknown, Yesterday, Season 1, Episode 1 Online Free - Crackle

From Crackle: Yesterday

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter - Better Than It Has A Right to Be

For a film that exists solely because of it's high concept, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is far better than it has any right to be.

I know it's based on a novel whose reason for being is the title as well, and I haven't had a chance to check it out yet. As a summer blockbuster, though, Abe proved a pleasant surprise.

Check back with me after I've mulled it over a little, but I may decide I like it better than Prometheus, which I liked quite a bit.

Benjamin Walker is one key, delivering a likable interpretation of the young Lincoln as well as the older version we're most familiar with from paintings, coins and monuments.

He's backed up by a cool-looking Dominic Cooper as his mentor and Rufus Sewel as the key vampire opponent, who's, well, Rufus Sewel.

The alternate history of vampires as a factor in the Civil War doesn't seemed as forced as I'd expected either, and what real events that wind up getting utilized weave nicely with the fabrication.

Escalating set pieces are really the focus, however, and they're well conceived and fun beginning with Abe's first attempt to off the vampire responsible for his mother's demise. That's how the whole vampire-hunting business gets injected.

When a pistol shot fails to defeat his opponent, deft action and visuals follow, especially when Cooper's  Henry Sturgess, who has vampire-hating cred of his own, begins to train Abe to wield a rail-splitting ax as a weapon.

That inspired touch and the fight choreography that goes with it keep things moving, and horse stampedes, vampire battles and more soon follow.

Train sequences are a cinematic corner stone, and ultimately a train battle delivers a fun, visual and energetic conclusion.

While it sounds a bit like a front office decision for a film, don't dismiss Abe too quickly. If you can allow yourself to slip into the right frame of mind, it's a blast.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

New in Young Adult Horror Audio - Deadly Delivery

Deadly Delivery, the first young adult novel I wrote as Michael August, has just become available as an audiobook from Crossroad Press. It's read by actor Maxwell Glick, who also read New Year's Evil.

The Kindle edition has been the bestseller among my titles of late. It's always hard to tell what makes one title take off, but it's unseated Blood Hunter, longtime champion.

Deadly Delivery is the tale of a group of teens who decide to play a monster-making game one summer. It seems a little lame, but they're bored. Soon their monsters have come to life, and they have to be stopped.

The tale's release comes at an interesting time since I'm in the process of creating monster-building activities as an instructor.

I'm not imitating the novel for classroom activities, but the current effort does bring back memories.

Thursday, June 07, 2012

RIP Cosmic Ray

I was chatting about Ray Bradbury with someone just the other day. When I mentioned that I was thinking of including discussion on his work in the horror section of my genre course, the inevitable question arose.

"I thought he was just a sci-fi guy."

"Well the Mars tales are famous," I said, "But then there's Something Wicked This Way Comes."

And The October Country and scores of tales that fall on the darker side plus the haunting The Foghorn, technically SF but poignant and chilling. 

Many of the Ray Bradbury Theater episodes reflected the chilling side, of course, but adaptations  came long before that. 

Some of my class prep is immersion, so I watched The New Alfred Hitchcock Presents version of "The Jar" the other night. It's on You Tube at the moment at least.

It recasts the original backwoods setting to the modern art world, an interesting re-tooling, though I think the original, which can be found adapted in black and white on The Alfred Hitchcock Hour is a bit more eerie. 

As I've mentioned here before, I was fortunate enough to meet and interview Mr. Bradbury for a newspaper article in the '90s

It was one of the highlights of my journalism days, and I'm very sad to see one of the world's true visionary talents passing.

Sunday, June 03, 2012

Driving, Reading and Re-Reading Runes and Yellow Wallpaper

The last few days, I've been driving across the Southeast by day and continuing my reading and re-reading of mystery and weird fiction by night. Planning a creative writing class has its perks.

The drive
As I mentioned in a previous post, I'm going to be teaching in Florida. Christine and I decided not to red line the car trip from Texas. We broke it up over a few days, a few hotels along the Gulf Coast and quite a few chain restaurants.

A long car journey  took me on more than a geographic trip. I went back in time a little, to vacations of my youth, with my old man at the wheel of  a series of Fords.

Christine and I took a different tunnel under the Mobile River than my folks did in the sixties, but I recalled the thrill of the old days as we took the plunge then drove the bridge across Mobile Bay.

I kept thinking of my parents and their era as we drove. Destin was the destination in the old days, a vacation spot with beaches and Western ghost towns as well. How did that get to be so long ago?

Christine and I drove further, through some of the mid-week storms in fact. The Florida panhandle sure is long, but overall we had fun.

The reading
I've been re-visiting, or in some cases visiting, some of the genre classics. I won't be using each and every one for class, but I wanted to make sure I was well versed in some of the seminal pieces.

Those took me back as well.

I don't remember when I first read "Casting the Runes" by M.R. James, but it was a great one to delve into again. Re-reading removed some of the blur from various old time radio adaptations I've listened to since we got the Internet, and since I first saw Curse of the Demon, Jacques Tourneur's tampered-with masterpiece.

The original tale makes clear how perfect the film would have been without the tacked-on creature, who always looked cross-eyed to me when I encountered his features in Famous Monsters of Filmland, long before I got to see the film.

I'm not sure I'd ever read "The Yellow Wallpaper," though I've listened to various audio versions over time.

Engaging with the words allows a  better immersion into the narrator's madness, I believe, and I picked up a bit of trivia. Character actor Silas Weir Mitchell of "My Name is Earl" and "Grimm" is apparently named after his ancestor -- the doctor whose treatment methods Charlotte Perkins Gilman was attempting to influence in penning "Yellow Wallpaper."

All in all, it's been an interesting few days, and the journey continues.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Lovecraft Is Missing - A Web Comic I'm Reading

I've  been reading, re-reading and seeking out new things as I prepare for my teaching gig. I'm thinking of  a Serverus Snape wardrobe too, but that's a different discussion.

Lovecraft is Missing is an interesting web comic I ran across via the io9 blog. If you haven't discovered it ahead of me, it's an intriguing, ongoing tale, and it's perfect for tablet reading. Check it out.

It's written and illustrated by Larry Latham, who posts status updates about new pages in his production schedule.

That may generate some cliffhanger suspense for you down the road because he's running a little behind, but there are hours of happy reading in store before you get as far as having to wait for new content.

The story focuses on a Brown University Scholar, a pulp writer and a priest. When Lovecraft goes missing, possibly with illustrations from an occult volume, the protagonists become embroiled in occult battles and investigations.

So far I see hints of Innsmouth and other familiar Lovecraftian tropes, so I'm anxious to keep reading.

Start here, at the beginning, in Boston's North End, 1926.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Third Act

Long ago, my freshman English comp teacher told me if I decided to pursue teaching, I should look at a special focus. He didn't use the marketing term differential advantage, but that's what he was suggesting.

I'd written a paper on the American detective and Don Pendleton's Mack Bolan in particular, springboarding from ideas in The Great American Detectives edited by William Kittred and Steven M Krauzer. Their acknowledgements had led me also to Saint with a Gun: The Unlawful American Private Eye by William Ruehlmann. For my paper, all appropriate footnotes were copiously indicated and formatted in MLA style with the help of Liquid Paper.

A specialty such as detective fiction, my prof noted, might make me more viable in the halls of ivy. I cataloged that notion, and went off to be a writer, with day gigs as newspaper reporter, librarian and  corporate communications specialist and webmonkey.

Now I find myself rewinding that old conversation, as I contemplate whether to include Raymond Chandler's "Red Wind" in reading assignments for my new teaching job.

I'm taking a position teaching creative writing at Full Sail University in Orlando. My emphasis is mystery, suspense and horror.

I guess since freshman English, I've been subconsciously heeding that advice indirectly and shaping myself, impulsively and intuitively following interests and opportunities as they've come along.

I corresponded with Vance Bourjaily in the late eighties about pursuing an MFA at LSU, but that never came about. I told myself I'd try to sell a novel, and if that didn't work out then I'd pursue a higher degree. I sold Azarius, a mixture of the mystery tale and horror, and that afforded me a lot of opportunity to write and meet people and move in different directions.

I didn't know until it was mentioned at the AWP conference last year that Raymond Carver wanted to study with Bourjaily. Oops.

I was on vacation in Portland in 2007 when I learned of Goddard College's low residency MFA program. I was staying in a boutique hotel with Bogart photos in the hallways, and we went to a literary festival called Wordstock where I found the brochure. That finally led me to a graduate degree, and a fresh perspective on writing.

Now, how can I help but think about that Green Day tune "Good Riddance"? Since the Seinfeld finale, it has become a standard in the American songbook, pop culture edition, category: transition tunes.

"Time grabs you by the wrist, directs you where to go..." 

Roland Mann, who edited a lot of the comic book work I've done over the years, e-mailed me last September to tell me he'd taken a position at Full Sail. I think we both completed MFAs around the same time, but I was only in the thinking stages about whether or not I wanted to teach.

Then came word of an opportunity in their creative writing program to shape and teach a bachelor's course on mystery, suspense and horror.

It's an interesting challenge, an interesting opportunity to dissect and contemplate great genre works and pass on elements to students who've been struck with that infectious blood disease of all those cursed with the need to put pen to paper.

I could quote another line or two from Green Day, but that would be cliched.

I'll just note that at the moment it feels right, and it seems a better fit for me than my current day gig.
There are details to work out, but I start June 4 if all goes well.  

Friday, April 06, 2012

The Dusk Society on BlackBerry

I can't really testify as to the reading experience. Christine is the BlackBerry user in our household, but Campfire has released the graphic novel I created, The Dusk Society for BlackBerry devices.

Actually Christine uses a Storm, and I'm sure this is targeted more to tablets, but if you're a digital comics reader you now have one more option. It's also in the iBooks store, if you're among the few who happen to own iPads.

Someday, I may do a post detailing editorial changes made to my original script. For example, I didn't telegraph the monster on the first page, and some of the more "expository" dialogue isn't mine.

Still, my core story is in the pages, however you get to the tale, and I particularly like the way one of the young heroines gets chemistry class dismissed, before focusing her intelligence on more meaningful pursuits like monster hunting.

The BlackBerry version is here

Saturday, March 31, 2012

77 Shadow Street by Dean Koontz - Spooky Slight of Hand

(Disclosure: I received a review copy of the British edition of 77 Shadow Street. This look inside includes mild spoilers, though no more than the Amazon entry on The House of Thunder.)

Things are always incredible, but an ah-ha is usually in store somewhere in the pages of a Dean Koontz thriller. A slow reveal often twists and explains seemingly supernatural events in a rational or scientific manor, or there's an inversion you weren't expecting.

77 Shadow Street, his latest novel, features many Koontz hallmarks juggled into new alignment. It's a standout among his recent offerings, though Koontz novels never fail to entertain.

When the book opens, odd things are going on at the luxury apartment building known as the Pembleton, conveniently located at the title address. Could you expect less than strangeness if you were living on Shadow Street?

In the opening, a drunken ex-Senator boards an elevator for his floor only to be whisked to a basement of terror. We're talking Buffy-style hell mouth.

Then Bailey Hawks, one of the protagonists, is menaced by a strange creature in the swimming pool, and retired attorney and Pembleton expert Silas Kinsley is awakened by a building tremor.

Odd voices are heard in apartments and hallways, and soon an assemblage of distinct Koontz characters are seeing Victorian-era people appearing from nowhere, more odd creepy crawlies and shimmers of blue electricity pulsing from ceilings and floors.

The Characters
Bailey, a financial advisor with a military background to give him heroic cred, almost takes a back seat to Shadow Street's eccentrics.

Mickey Dime is among the most notable, an assassin who's psychologically scarred by his upbringing. His mom was a rigid and stoic intellectual more focused on self aggrandizing than true philosophizing. You can speculate on who she might be based on. He's a bit like the villain from Koontz's The Husband, whose inspiration can also be a fun speculation game.

A novelist, a country songwriter, elderly female entrepreneurs, an autistic girl who communicates using the novel Bambi and a precocious young introvert round things out.

Their paces
Koontz keeps his band busy once the set-up is complete, and about mid-book answers begin to come as more devilish doings unfold.

To say more would really be unfair if you're going to pick this up, but I will note what you probably think's going on ain't what's going on. But then, if you're a Koontz reader, you'll know that.

With rumblings of Crichton and Vonnegut, the author delivers a page-turning and thrilling tale with a mask-off scene in the final pages that delivers the payoff. That makes up for perhaps just a bit of a fizzle in the climactic action. 

Overall, this is my favorite Koontz book since Life Expectancy. Koontz is a master story craftsman, and it's always fun to experience his latest effort.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Tagged: 7-7-7

(I actually got tagged twice - drop by the blog of Robin Ashe also)

Jalisa Blackman (@J_M_Blackman) hit me with an interesting meme arrow on Twitter a little while ago. You've seen them before they're always interesting little experiments.

Here are the rules as I was given them:

1.) Go to page 77 of your current MS.
2.) Go to line 7.
3.) Copy down the next 7 lines/sentences, and post them as they're written. No cheating.
4. Tag 7 other victims, authors.

So, no cheating means no editing or tweaking, eh. OK, here goes. This is from a work in progress that's been in progress for a while, and I'm doing more research than writing on it at the moment. Still, it's what's at the forefront in the middle of here and now.

Those 7-7-7 coordinates within the 24,000 words I've written lead to a bit of dialogue that hopefully works as a snippet, though perhaps a little cryptically. This is roughly seven lines from Word:

“You could have stood up fa’ me a little more, couldn’t ya?”

“I tried to explain it was religious beliefs. My boss wouldn’t listen. Besides religious beliefs don’t justify theft.”

“I was going to get them blessed and bring them back, and besides it was for the good of the customers.”

“I told her that. I don’t know she doubted the `get them blessed’ part. It was the `bring them back’ she was questionin’.”

She stares at him for tense seconds, her eyes ablaze, her expression an angry mask. It melts in slow motion, like a time-lapse photograph, her shoulders and arms relaxing simultaneously.

“It’s a bygone,” she says. “I found a better job anyway.”

Now to try and tag some people who might be up for the game:
1. Natasha Oliver
2. Charles Gramlich
3. Icess Fernandez
4. Avery Debow
5. Stewart Sternberg
6. Kate Sterling
7. Larry Enright

Monday, March 12, 2012

What's on the iPod? - Gnelfs - A Dark Fantasy

My dark fantasy novel Gnelfs is now available as an audiobook. It's read by Derek Hames. If you have an Audible credit, spend it now.

For a taste of the tale of a single mother struggling to protect her daughter from spiritual attack, you can read the short story that grew into the novel here.

And, of course, the novel is available from Crossroad Press in ebook format wherever you buy ebooks.

Sunday, March 11, 2012


Got to talking e-book reading on different devices with a guy the other day.

Before the iPad or the Kindle, I used to read e-books using the Notes feature on my iPods. My iPod with video is still going, though the clock appears to be a little off.

There's a little more surface area for the text view on newer devices.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Miss D Abides

I haven't done an update on my cat, Miss Daisy, for a while now. She was diagnosed with kidney disease a few years back. Hard to believe how long its been.

Happily she's still hanging in and going strong. We do subcutaneous fluid treatments every night. Just takes a few minutes with an IV drip. She forgives that and sits on my lap afterwards. 

She's less forgiving of Oliver, the first rescue cat from the woods behind our home. Him, she keeps on a short leash. Infractions draw hisses. 

She's done far better than we expected when we first received the diagnosis. As I write this, she's strolling past me, headed back to help Christine work on the household budget. 

She has opinions about everything, and she's happy to express them.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Awake Early

I heard talk of "Awake" a few weeks back. It's an NBC series starring the great Jason Isaacs of Harry Potter etc. Until recently it didn't have a slot on the network's schedule.

That's changed. It's due now March 1, or you can watch the pilot ahead of time on Hulu.

Seems to have a cool if complicated premise. Isaacs is a cop who has the misfortune to crash his car. When he awakens after the wreck, he faces two realities, or perhaps a reality and a dream state that seems real.

In one, his wife is alive, his son a victim of the crash. In the other, his son lives, and his wife is gone.

Amid the confusion, he solves crimes.

Watching the opener, you start to see how it call all work, and how you can follow it. It's not as hard as it sounds.

The realities are just different enough, and there are enough cues to help you keep things straight.

Couple the slightly surreal set up with stunning visuals and Isaacs on the side of the angels, and it makes for interesting viewing.

Will it catch on? I'm afraid odds are against it, but it certainly would be fun to see it get a decent run. 

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Claustrophobia and a Little Imagination

Years ago I was in St. Louis to cover a meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention as a reporter. I didn't make it to the arch because I stayed in neighboring Frontenac. It used to be hard to get a room in a town where they had a Southern Baptist Convention. 

Last week I had to go to a conference in St. Louis, and I stayed a short hike from the arch, so I finally got see it. And make the trip to the top. 

The small tram cars sure are tiny. With just a little imagination, it's possible to envision many things that could go wrong. I have more than a little imagination.

What if this gets stuck?

What if there were a nuclear strike while I'm locked in here?  

How long would it take to gnaw through the door and climb down the elaborate network of metal steps, ladders and spiral stair cases?

While I was at the top, something came up I hadn't thought of. "What was that?" a staffer asked when something sounding like a plane flew over.

Then they explained that the arch is a no-fly zone.

That gave me a whole new cause for sweating on the way down, but I'm glad I got to take the trip, plus get the view of the Mississippi and the City of St. Louis from above.


Saturday, February 11, 2012

What I Like About Haunted Manor HD: Lord of Mirrors - A Quiet Horror Game For iPad

A lot of hidden object games exist for the iPad and tablet universe. I've picked that up even though I'm fairly new to this magical land.

They seem perfectly suited for the devices since they lend themselves to tapping the screen a lot and require a time-killing level of engagement by the brain.

I've become a bit enamored with one of the many games offered by Big Fish Games.

Haunted Manor HD: Lord of Mirrors has the same impressive and eerie graphics found in other Big Fish Games. Unlike some titles from other companies, it also features something beyond spotting things mingled among other things: a story.

Poor Stan Riddle
The tale focuses on Stan Riddle, catchy surname, who has the misfortune of running afoul of the title villain. Stan's image is captured in a mirror, and he's forced to travel through a number of rooms and puzzles in order to reassemble the shattered shards of his image and escape.

That means a series of beautifully realized graphics plus encounters with a host of spooky characters also trapped in the manor. Think of this as a participatory Hammer Film.

I find it superior to some other found object games in another way. The business model seems to be toward unit sales, so you can play a level or two for free to decide if you want to spring for the full game.

Some other hidden object games rely on sales of in-game currencies and totems with play becoming increasingly difficult or unsatisfying without some sort of purchase.

The flat-rate theory
I like the flat rate approach, and I'm sure after I've found my way through the manor, I'll be making some other purchases from Big Fish. That's a nice way to earn repeat business. It's available for PC and Mac as well as the iPad, by the way.

It's not as immersive as the old Infocom games, which had no graphics, but it still draws you in. Can you escape?

Monday, February 06, 2012

The Woman in Black - a ghostly thriller

I was fortunate to see The Woman in Black in a Carmike Cinema "BigD" theater, offering a big screen and enhanced surround sound.

That meant the haunted house Danial Radcliff was exploring filled one wall of the cinema, and all of the creaks and bumps were right next to me.

It was a good way to see a ghostly thriller that puts some of the eerie tropes that have been making audiences jump anew,in flicks like Insidious and Paranormal Activity, back in the Edwardian era in creepy style. 

The tale focuses on Radcliff as grief-stricken lawyer Arthur Kipps who's sent to an isolated seaside village to organize the papers of a recently-deceased client. Despondent over his wife's death, the assignment is sort of a last chance from senior partners.

He finds most villagers unreceptive to his presence and is soon working to unravel a dark mystery that ties the history of his firm's client to contemporary deaths that appear accidental. His one ally is the great CiarĂ¡n Hinds in a non-villainous role.

The film's at its best when Kipps is alone in the house, piecing together past events amid encounters with strange presences including the title figure, a well-realized image of darkness.

Eerie moments including the sudden gaze from a ghost through a zoetrope device deliver real chills even to a jaded film viewer.  Other period toys in general are used to great effect.

It's all wonderfully unsettling, with some intense moments and a period set-piece that provides a tense climax.

In the end, the plot may not be 100 percent satisfying. I've not read the Susan Hill novel nor seen the original BBC adaptation, but I wondered if the ending was from the page.

It's still a great ride, though, especially for those who appreciate the roots of the modern horror genre. It's also a great chance to see Radcliff transition to non-Harry Potter roles with a character that shouldn't disappoint fans.

Friday, February 03, 2012

The Boy Who Shoots Crows

The Boy Who Shoots Crows by Randall Silvis is set in a small Pennsylvania town, but its style and grim tone make me think of atmospheric British crime fiction, or perhaps a little of Patricia Highsmith.

Silvis, author hisotrical thrillers including On Night's Shore and other novels, introduces his small cast of characters quickly, starting with Charlotte Dunleavy, an artist who's fled a bitter divorce to recover in the quiet countryside.

She's familiar with the boy of the title, a sullen youngster given to taking out frustrations in nearby woods by blasting at crows and shattering Dunleavy's peace, especially on days she suffers migraines.

When the boy, Jess Rankin, disappears, Sheriff Marcus Gatesman arrives on Dunleavy's doorstep, to begin an investigation that opens a study of dark  places within each character's soul.

Dunleavy is damaged by her divorce, Gatesman by the deaths of his wife and child years ealier. Loss, regret and sadness are explored as the disappearance triggers grief and suspicion.

Perhaps, under other circumstances, the two might have become lovers, but life has dealt them different cards. Silvis explores the depths of regret as he sprinkles clues about what might have happened to Jess throughout the narrative.

It makes for an immersive reading experience that may not be for fans of action-packed mystery thrillers, but it's a rewarding for those who appreciate a literary tale with dark shadows.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

A Writing Prompt - The Mardi Gras Mask

(Since festival time is approaching in Louisiana, this seemed like it might be a fun prompt.)

The local museum is offering an exhibit of Mardi Gras art. It's a stunning display of those familiar festival hues -- purples, greens, golds. Posters, feathers, costumes and, of course, beads, are spotlighted in glass cases.

You stroll amid the displays, bolstered by the carnival spirit the artifacts suggest. You can almost hear jazz tunes and the shouts from the crowd.

Then you come upon a showcase with a full-head mask, displayed on a mannequin bust. It's a full face and skull of silver beads so shiny they seem to send back flares from the spotlight.

You're staring into empty spaces where eyes might be, but you're entranced as you gaze into the emptiness. You realize there's something unusual about this mask, or the person who wore it. Your thoughts begin to swirl, and then they seem to fill with images...

(Feel free to use as you choose. If it takes you to somewhere creative, that's wonderful.)

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Midnight Eyes In the Spotlight

Midnight Eyes is featured on The Indy Spotlight today with a brief Q&A.

View it here.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

What's on the Kindle?: Fer-de-Lance - A Brief Appreciation of a Mystery Classic

I probably read about Nero Wolfe and his leg man Archie Goodwin long before I ever read a Wolfe story. Sherlock Holmes was plentiful in school libraries when I was a kid, but, despite creator Rex Stout's output, the Wolfe titles weren't as accessible.

Ironically, in the first story I encountered--a reprint in an issue of Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine--Archie became embroiled in a case and actually convinced Wolfe to leave their Brownstone. Threw the whole armchair detective business into question for me.

Wolfe's rigid schedule and other eccentrics are entact in Fer-de-Lance, the first novel in the series from 1934. I read it recently on my Kindle, having purchased it a few months back. (At the moment it seems to be unavailable, not sure what that's about.)

Pricing on the Wolfe novels is unfortunately a little high for e-books, especially since the paperback editions can be had much cheaper, but I'm glad I bought the first title.

Everything from Archie's Panama hat, which Timothy Hutton duplicated in many of the A&E series adaptations, to Wolfe's orchid and appetite obsessions are in evidence along with a plot that twists as much as the Fer-de-lance of the title.

The Plot
Wolfe is drawn to the novel's core murder in a twisting opening that notes Depression era conditions and introduces a specially-designed golf club, one of those devilish devices so often found in classic mysteries.

Wolfe's faced not just with solving a murder but also with getting paid for his investigation, an effort that makes for a rollicking ride for Archie. He has to yank the chains of D.A.s and other public officials, provide Wolfe with an array of clues and face down life-threatening situations.

The title, incidentally, has a dual meaning, but the literal instance makes for an intense scene.

A few non-PC moments are found since this novel is from a different era, but it's generally a blast.  I read recently that Stout said he knew he was not a great writer, but that he was a great story teller.

The latter's definitely true here. 

Friday, January 06, 2012

A Writing Prompt - What's in the Bag?

(I've always found writing prompts fun and sometimes inspirational. When I taught a writing class a while back, everyone seemed to enjoy them, so I thought, with the new year, that might be an interesting, occasional thing for the blog.)

The Black Bag

You're awakened from a sound sleep by a shrill but hard-to-identify sound. You move to the window to gaze toward the wooded area behind your home. It's bathed in silver moon glow, and through the planks of the tall wooden fence, shadows suggest movement. Perhaps a couple of rickety figures are there, but you can't tell.

Choosing not to go outside, you return to bed for a fitful sleep, rising again only after dawn.

Then you're tugging on a robe and heading outside. When you reach the fence, you curl your fingers over the planks and hoist yourself up to peer over.

Resting on the ground in the woods is a large black bag. It has no markings, and it's cinched closed with a dirty length of rope.

Before you lower yourself back to your feet, something inside the bag moves, and there's an odd sound.

What's in the bag?

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