Thursday, February 23, 2017

I've Found the Answer

Ask any writer and he or she will tell you that the question most commonly asked of him or her is, “Where do you get your ideas?” You’ll get the same answer if you ask any writer for his or her least favorite question. It is a question that has no good answer. Ideas fall into our heads or are developed over long periods of time, and they come from everywhere, from...we don’t know where. Writers hate the question because we have no answer.

Well, I think I’ve found the answer.

For some years now, I’ve been having a lot of neuropathic pain on the left side of my body. The entire left side, top to bottom, front and back, and even in my mouth, tongue, and eyeball. It has grown steadily worse, become increasingly disruptive, and has seriously damaged my ability to work.

A month ago, I saw a neurologist who pulled up my records on his computer and showed me an MRI of my brain that clearly revealed a prominent spot in the center of the right side of my brain. A tumor there would explain the weird left-side-only pain I’ve been having. The problem with that MRI was that it had been taken in 2007—and I had never seen it! I stared at that spot, shocked into apoplectic silence. When I told the doctor I had never seen the MRI before, he did not believe me. “Oh, I’m sure you reviewed it with the doctor who ordered it.” But I had not. He said he wanted to take another MRI to see if the spot had grown or multiplied.

That was a month ago. I just got the MRI results today.

In the meantime, while I waited in paralyzing suspense, I decided to do a little research on that 2007 MRI I had never seen. It had been ordered by a neurologist I was seeing back then for pain control. I’d just had the third operation on my right hip, a hip replacement to replace the first replacement that didn’t take. I was having a lot of pain and needed help managing it. But I soon realized this was probably not the man to address the problem. He was disheveled, frequently confused, he forgot an appointment, and his office was a mess. Records were stacked everywhere—on tables, in boxes, boxes on top of boxes. I assumed he was either on drugs or mentally ill and only saw him a handful of times.

I was having a lot of procedures back then because of that hip and I guess I decided it was conceivable that I had forgotten that MRI. I had no memory of having it done and still don't. But I know I would have remembered a spot on my goddamned brain. I never saw that MRI, but knowing who ordered it makes that easier to understand. I found some California Medical Board documents online and discovered that, two years after ordering that MRI, this doctor killed a patient.

He had a female patient on the Fentanyl patch, a pain pump, morphine, and Valium, and he allowed an unlicensed, inexperienced assistant to administer the woman’s pain pump refill. The assistant gave her eight times the prescribed dose and the woman collapsed in the parking lot outside the office and died later that evening. The doctor was stripped of his license, but was told that if he decided to renew his license, he would have to take an extensive course in record keeping, because his records were a disaster.

I wondered if that could be the problem. Maybe that MRI with the spot wasn’t mine at all. Maybe it was someone else's MRI, someone else's brainspot, and had been misfiled, or something, by Dr. Julius Kelp. I could hope. And I did, fervently, for a month. But little could distract me from the gigantic deep-purple neon sign that kept flashing in the middle of my mind:

I was surprised that even more frightening than a brain tumor itself was the prospect of brain surgery. The idea of my skull being cut open and my brain being tampered with probably kept me from sleeping more than anything else. With it came the fear that such an operation might leave me spending the rest of my life begging George to tell me about the rabbits.

Not knowing something about your health, like whether or not you have a tumor growing in your head, is a monster that gets bigger and more menacing the later the night gets. It’s been a rough month.

Today, I saw the doctor to get the results. It turns out that old MRI is mine after all. So is the spot. It’s still there and has not changed in ten years. It’s I didn’t know you could have just damned spot on your damned brain, but apparently you can and I do.

I’ve decided I’m going to carry a picture of that MRI with me wherever I go, and every time someone asks me that question—“Where do you get your ideas?”—I’m going to take it out, point to that spot on my brain, and say, “See this? That’s where they come from. That’s my cerebral idea sphincter. The ideas come out of there. Sometimes in fragments, sometimes in one whole piece. It’s long been speculated that every writer has a cerebral idea sphincter, but mine is the first one that’s ever been captured in an MRI.”

Hey, these days people will believe anything.

NOTE: I’ll be selling wallet-sized photos of the MRI showing my brain and its spot—which you can call your own!—to writers only (be ready to show your license) in the lobby.

I managed to keep from spending the past month under my bed thanks to a small group of friends who were extremely supportive and generous. You know who you are. Thank you. I love you.

Friday, October 28, 2016

CRAWLERS: The Story Behind the Book

All writers have influences. One does not decide to become a writer in a vacuum. Every one of us were so moved by other writers, so emotionally marked by their books and stories and movies and comic books and poetry, that we were compelled to write our own books and stories and movies and comic books and poetry. Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary was heavily influenced by Cervantes’ Don Quixote. Edgar Allan Poe’s detective stories about C. Auguste Dupin inspired Arthur Conan Doyle to create Sherlock Holmes. What inspired me to write Crawlers?

Monster movies. Okay, so it’s not Cervantes. But I assure you I was just as moved as Flaubert.
Crawlers was originally published by Cemetery Dance Publications for their Collectors Club as a hardcover novella limited to only 303 copies and it was my first homage to the monster movies I practically lived on growing up. The second was 'Nids, my salute to the big bug movies of the 1950s, which is currently available from Open Road Media. And I’m sure at some point I will write another. I still frequently revisit those old movies and am still inspired by them.

Many of those monster movies were set in small towns, often in the desert, the kind of town where most people know each other. The monsters were sometimes aliens from outer space, as in It Came from Outer Space, and Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Sometimes, they were the result of science gone wrong, as in The Fly or Tarantula, or the product of atomic testing, as in so many monster movies of the era from the destruction wreaked by Godzilla in Japan to the giant ants of Them! crawling out of the southern California desert. And sometimes, they were freaks of nature, like The Creature from the Black Lagoon, or the result of alien tampering as in Attack of the 50-foot Woman. Whatever their origin, one thing is certain—the 1950s had an abundant supply of them.

The flowers in Crawlers invite comparisons to 1962's apocalyptic sci-fi classic The Day of the Triffids, it bears no similiarity to that movie. However, it’s worth noting that the movie inspired a line in the song "Science Fiction Double Feature"  from The Rocky Horror Picture Show, and that The Day of the Triffids was based on John Wyndham’s 1951 novel of the same of name, and it was the opening scene of that novel—in which the protagonist wakes in a hospital bed with his eyes bandaged—that inspired Alex Garland to write the 2002 movie 28 Days Later Monsters are begetting monsters all over the place.

In Crawlers, I wanted to use a monster of my own devising—as opposed to, say, the giant spiders of 'Nids, which had been done numerous times before—and set it in the kind of small town so familiar to those old movies. I decided to set it in the town of Mount Crag—the location of my novellas The Folks and The Folks 2: No Place Like Home, although it is otherwise unrelated to those books—because it is a somewhat isolated mountain town that lends itself well to such a story.

I have rewritten the ending of Crawlers. I explain my rather embarrassing reasons in the book’s introduction. The original ending is somewhat uncharacteristic of my work because it’s...well...happy. Yes, that’s right, I wrote a happy ending. Not just happy but treacly, an ending in which the sun quite literally breaks through the dark clouds. That in itself is not such a bad thing, but the ending...well, it was a bad thing, in my opinion, a logistical mess that urgently needed changing. If you’ve read the Cemetery Dance edition, this isn’t it, and things turn out differently.

I’m likely to pop a monster movie in the moviola any old time, but it’s at this time of year when I most frequently revisit the kind of movies that inspired Crawlers. It’s just not Halloween without some monsters or even some of their remakes, like The Blob from 1958 and from 1988, or 1951's The Thing or John Carpenter's horrifying 1982 remake, or The Spider from Bert I. Gordon, aka Mr. B.I.G., who specialized in giant monsters like The Amazing Colossal Man or the huge grasshoppers in The Beginning of the End.

When 1950s audiences were tossing their popcorn during monster movies, the subconscious fears were of more down-to-earth things like nuclear war and the communist threat. The movies were in black and white, as were their morals. Reviewing my monster movie homages has helped me to understand the kind of fiction I’m writing today. It addresses more current fears, both directly and indirectly, and reflects a more complex moral landscape. Paranoia has once again seized the country, the entire globe. Now, rather than communism, it is the mythical Illuminati that is the focus of a lot of fear. Now, instead of worrying about communist infiltration, many fear the activities at Bohemian Grove and the mysterious goals of the Council on Foreign Relations and the Bilderberg Group. Much attention is being paid to shady and nefarious government activities of the past, like Project Paperclip and MK Ultra, and many wonder what the government might be up to right now, what kind of experiments it could be performing on us today, and whether we'll be around to learn about them two or three decades in the future. And then, of course, there are the usual terrors, chief among them the possibility of another devastating nuclear world war.

From decade to decade and generation to generation, many things change, but one remains the same: We are kept in a continuous state of ongoing fear and anxiety. Therefore, we look for relief, for escape.

I humbly offer Crawlers to serve your escapist needs. It can be purchased for Kindle at Amazon. Other outlets will be forthcoming.

Take some time to smell the flowers.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

No, I Do Not Believe In Werewolves.

I really don’t.  I’ve found the most shocking thing about being a horror writer is how many people think I do simply because I’ve written novels about werewolves.

For the last two decades, I’ve been denouncing a book I wrote called In a Dark Place, which was initially published as “the story of a true haunting.”  I’ve been denouncing it because the book and the two “demonologists” who "investigated" the "case," Ed and Lorraine Warren, were frauds.  (I made all of those quotation marks in the air with my fingers.)  I made every effort to make the book entertaining and scary and I encourage people to read it for that, but it's certainly not a "true story."  (It has been reprinted without those claims at my insistence.)  In the process of denouncing the book and the Warrens, I’ve also expressed my feelings about the entire paranormal industry, which are no different.  And yet, people are still appalled to learn that I don’t believe in ghosts because I wrote a ghost story called The Loveliest Dead.  Or that I don’t believe in vampires because I wrote about them in three novels.

Others seem to think that writers condone everything they write about.  My father believed that if I wrote about violence, then I condoned it, and if I didn’t condone it, I wouldn’t write about it.  Of course, my dad left school for good in the sixth grade.  But that particular excuse is not always available.

I once approached a respected, well-educated horror writer for a blurb for one of my werewolf novels, both of which include brutal rapes committed by werewolves.  She explained, quite haughtily, that she had heard my books depicted violence toward women and she could not endorse that.  (I wonder what she would have thought had she actually read them.  We'll never know.)  This suggests to me that because I’ve depicted violence against women in my fiction, she believes that I condone violence against women.  She gave me no reason to come to any other conclusion.  Of course, it doesn’t matter what her reasoning was because I cannot take seriously anyone who judges books not by merit but by agenda—including books she hasn’t read.

Things like rape and other violent acts do exist, they do occur, they are part of life on planet earth.  If fiction cannot reflect that, then it is useless and has no purpose.  If art cannot hold a mirror up to the entire scope of the human experience, then it has no other reason to exist.  And if you can’t endorse horror fiction that depicts violence toward women and only because it depicts violence toward women, what the hell are you doing in the genre?

For those who have not read my fiction, I have always made a great effort to portray violence of any kind, including rape, as horrifically as possible.  I don’t want it to appear on the pages of my work as anything but what it is, one of the many horrible things we humans have been doing to each other for ages now and show no signs of stopping.

Rape is an act of violence, although I have seen it depicted in fiction as a kind of rough foreplay, which I personally find disgusting. That is not how I depict rape in my fiction. I do not, for the record, condone rape. I do not condone rape by werewolves.  Nor do I condone rape by any other fictional, nonexistent creatures like vampires, lizard men, interdimensional monsters, or honest, decent human beings who are successful politicians—none of which I believe in, by the way.

We as a species seem to be having an increasingly difficult time differentiating between fiction and fact, fantasy and reality. I blame video games and binge-watching.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Dropped Names: Famous Men and Women as I Knew Them by Frank Langella

“See anything you like, professor?”  That’s what Frank Langella asked Laurence Olivier after running through the room naked.

He knew Bette Davis late in her life, when she was, he writes, “heading toward her grave resolutely maintaining the courage to be hated.”

Rex Harrison was a “son of a bitch.”

Upon their first meeting, Anthony Perkins asked him, “How big is your cock?”

In a TV version of The Mark of Zorro, Yvonne de Carlo played his mother in front of the cameras while treating him “like a pretty girl in the back seat of a convertible on a hot summer night” off camera.

These are some of the names dropped in Dropped Names: Famous Men and Women as I Have Known Them, Frank Langella’s sexy, funny, bittersweet, and sometimes downright sad memoir of his decades as a stage and screen actor.  Each of the sixty-five chapters in the book covers someone he knew or met or had some connection with, however briefly, someone who is no longer with us and can no longer protest or, worse, sue.

Langella happily confesses his own youthful narcissism in what is, however entertaining, a litany of narcissists, people firmly convinced that they are the center of the universe.  While spending time with such people is rarely an agreeable experience for us civilians, Langella, having a typically inflated actor’s ego himself, is able to cut through all of that in most cases and show us the person within all that bluster and pomp.

This is not exactly a showbiz tell-all.  Rather than giving us every sordid detail, Langella teases us with bits and pieces of his life, glimpses of past moments and experiences, and manages to leave us wanting more.  Dishy without being mean, it’s a breezy book filled with familiar faces and names (to people old enough to recognize all the names, anyway) that makes for pleasant reading for anyone who enjoys books about show business.  Best of all, unlike so many showbiz memoirs, it doesn’t leave us feeling like we need to take a shower with lye soap and a steel brush.

While I’m on the subject, I want to point out one of my favorite Frank Langella performances in a movie that never received much attention.  In Starting Out in the Evening, based on the novel by Brian Morton (which I have not read), Langella plays a formerly celebrated writer who has been forgotten by virtually everyone as he works on his final novel, which he has been writing for a decade.  The story involves his relationship with his daughter (Lili Taylor) and a graduate student named Heather (Lauren Ambrose), who tries to convince him to let her pick his brain for her Master’s thesis.  Langella gives a quietly powerful performance in a movie that is just as quietly powerful.  See it if you can.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Here's to Those Who Make Us Laugh

On Thursday, March 24, I logged onto the computer in the afternoon and the first thing I saw was a headline stating that Garry Shandling had died at the age of 66.  I stared at it for several long seconds, then looked for any indication that it was satire, or some kind of marketing campaign, or something, anything but the truth.

No such luck.

The older I get and the more of my favorite funny people die, the more I understand just how much, and how deeply, I value them.  I’m sure it’s a little out of proportion.  When Johnny Carson died, I cried.  George Carlin’s death was like losing a friend.  When I learned that Joan Rivers had died, I wanted to go back to bed and pull the covers over my head.  The news that Robin Williams had committed suicide darkened my mood for days, and it took some time before I could watch his recorded performances, whether in movies or on stage, without tearing up.  On one level, I know it’s absurd.  I knew none of these people, I’d never even met them.  I really have no idea what kind of people they were in their personal lives.  For all I knew, they hated dogs and cats, beat their kids, or drugged women so they could have sex with them while they were unconscious.  But . . .

. . . every time I saw them, they made me happy.  No matter what was going on in my life at the time, no matter how down I might have been, they made me drop my problems and laugh.  The more life I live, the more I understand what an awesome, miraculous thing that is.

There is no way to control laughter.  When we laugh, we surrender ourselves to feeling good, no matter how bad we might feel at the time.  It’s an explosive thing, totally involuntary.  You can try to fake it, and you might fool others with your artificial laughter.  But you cannot fool yourself.  Real laughter is an uncontrollable response to something that — somehow, almost magically — reaches inside of us and tickles us in some mysterious place, pushes internal buttons that cannot be ignored.

We all have internal buttons, and when we refer to someone pushing our buttons, we usually mean it in a bad way.  Someone has made us angry or hurt us by pushing a button that elicits a negative response.  I would guess that we all have more of those buttons than the ones that make us laugh.  The laughter buttons are buried deep in our viscera.  They’re much harder to find, especially as we get older.  But when someone does find one (or more) and pushes it, we are rendered helpless and we surrender to that involuntary, explosive response, like a sneeze.  Maybe sneezing is a bad analogy because it’s unlikely that someone can make us sneeze, but a genuine laugh is just as spontaneous and uncontrollable.

As far as I’m concerned, the people who can make me laugh are akin to wizards and witches, people with supernatural powers.  They don’t know me, we’ve never met, and yet they are able to find that button buried deep inside me that makes me open my mouth and throw back my head and let loose.  Think about it for a while.  We take it for granted, but it is a truly amazing and mysterious thing.

I am in awe of anyone who can make me laugh, especially if it is a deliberate act performed by someone who has never met me, knows nothing about me or my life, and yet is capable of reaching inside me and finding and pushing that deeply hidden button.

I’ve wanted to be a writer since I was a young boy.  I started writing as soon as I was capable of it, and most of what I wrote was horror, very dark and violent.  I’ve written a great deal about what a salvation horror movies and fiction were to me when I was growing up because my childhood in a perpetually frightening apocalyptic religious cult, with the added threat of a physically and emotionally abusive father, kept me in a continuous state of terror.  Scary movies and stories were not a genuine threat, I knew they weren’t real, but they could scare the hell out of me in a way that was fun and enjoyable and safe, and it was a release from the more real terrors I faced.  I wrote horror as a natural response to that, as a cathartic release.  It was a way of stabbing my middle finger in the air to all the fears that I lived with back then.

At the same time, I sought out comedy, anything that would make me laugh, whether it was Mad magazine or TV sitcoms.  The funny people who brightened my childhood were Red Skelton, Jackie Gleason, Totie Fields, Johnny Carson, Carol Burnett — don’t get me started, I could go on like this for hours because, my god, the list is endless.  Even though I was an almost obsessive fan of horror and spent so much time watching and reading it and, in my own primitive and childish way, writing it, my secret desire was to be Rob Petrie when I grew up.  For those not familiar with the name, that was the character played by Dick Van Dyke on The Dick Van Dyke Show.  He was the head comedy writer on The Alan Brady Show and wrote comedy in an office — with a piano, no less! — with Buddy Sorrell and Sally Rogers (incidentally, Dawn and I have cats named Buddy and Sally), writing monologues and sketches for the show, with occasional visits from Mel Cooley, Alan’s son-in-law.  That was my dream job.  Hell, it still is, even though I’ve since learned that a room full of working TV writers bears no resemblance to that today.  And it probably didn’t then.  I mean, it’s TV, so everything is softened, watered down.  Alan Brady never held Buddy Sorrell out of a window in the Palmer House Hotel in Chicago, high over Michigan Avenue, as Sid Caesar once did to Mel Brooks.

It was The Dick Van Dyke Show that made me start noticing the names in the credits — written by, created by.  Carl Reiner, the show’s creator, writer of 54 of the 158 episodes, and the man who played Alan Brady, was an early writing idol of mine, as were Mel Brooks and Buck Henry, who co-created and sometimes wrote Get Smart, along with Neil Simon, who wrote The Odd Couple and Plaza Suite and The Star-Spangled Girl and The Out of Towners and other things that made me laugh, along with so many other practitioners of what was, to me, an amazing and mysterious art.  I wanted to be them, too, when I grew up.  Or maybe I just wanted to be Jewish, I don’t know.  As a child, I was mystified by how they managed to get such an uncontrollable response from me as laughter.  Like I said, they were wizards.

How did they do it?  What kind of secret knowledge did they possess?  What they did seemed so impossibly far above me that I would never be able to reach it, like writing music or having a baby.  I knew what was scary and had some confidence that I could work within that, but the ability to create laughter out of thin air — that seemed like magic.  Like sawing a woman in half or making doves appear out of nowhere.  Of course, I soon learned that those things were merely manufactured illusion.  But generating laughter?  That is some real, genuine, unfakeable magic.

The pros make it look effortless.  A comedian walks onto the stage, goes to the microphone, and starts talking to us in a way that makes us laugh and makes us believe that those words are spontaneous, those movements and gestures and that body language are natural and unrehearsed.  A stand-up comedian is an actor, and as with all actors, the really talented ones convince you that they’re not acting, they’re just standing there, talking to you, and being funny.  But first, a stand-up comedian is a writer.  The entire performance on the stage is first written.  That’s a damned juggling act, and I am in awe of those who do it well.

When I write, I do it alone in my office, and when I’m done with the story or book, I deliver it to its destination, and move on to the next, which I also write alone in my office.  The worst thing that can happen to me as a writer is having to write a synopsis of a book, whether it’s one I haven’t written yet or one I have, it doesn’t matter.  I complain about this bitterly at every opportunity.  A stand-up comedian, on the other hand, then has to test the written material on stage in front of a group of strangers at various levels of inebriation.  What a terrifying thought!  The response is immediate — laughter or silence, possibly heckling.  (If you’re a novelist, now that I’ve made you consider that for a moment and imagine yourself having to do that with your work, you’re probably going to have nightmares about it.)

What I’m trying to say is that we tend to take comedians for granted and enjoy their work without ever giving any thought to precisely what it is they do while standing at that microphone.  It’s astonishing how much they have to master to convince us that they’re just telling us some funny stories and observations in a conversational way that happens to bend us over laughing.

When they leave us, people who have that talent and go to all that work to make us laugh always leave behind a painful silence once filled with laughter.  In the last five years, we have lost some spectacular talent in comedy.  People like Patrice O’Neal, Jonathan Winters, Sid Caesar, David Brenner, John Pinette, Rick Mayall, Robin Williams, Joan Rivers, Jan Hooks, Taylor Negron, Mike Nichols, Reynaldo Rey, Rick Ducommun, Stan Freberg, Anne Meara, Jack Carter.  Garry Shandling is the latest, and unfortunately he will not be the last.  But like all of those other people, Shandling made us laugh in his own unique way.  Other comedians do impressions of his distinctive voice, facial expressions, and mannerisms, as they do of other legendary comedians from Jack Benny on, and they will be doing Shandling impressions for a long, long time to come, but they are only impressions.  They cannot not push our buttons in the way that only Garry Shandling could because they are not Garry Shandling.  No one is Garry Shandling.  Now, not even Garry Shandling is Garry Shandling.  He’s been cancelled.

But we still have the reruns.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

VORTEX: The Story Behind the Book

Mt. Shasta is many things to many people.  In its mystical slopes, some people see a sleeping woman, others a sleeping Indian, and still others an Indian princess.  I see horror fiction.

It is a beautiful sight, with a lovely, small town at its foot bearing the mountain’s name.  The drive alone — from my house, it’s 45 minutes on I-5 — is breathtaking as it winds past dark forests and craggy, gray peaks.  If it weren’t for all the traffic, you’d swear you were in Middle Earth.  I have returned to Mt. Shasta many times over the years.  In 1987, I attended the Harmonic Convergence there, a New Age fair of channels, psychics, healers, drum circles, and vendors selling just about every woo-woo goo-gaw you can think of and some that never occurred to you.  Dawn and I have stayed at the nearby Dunsmuir Railroad Park Resort on a few occasions, and we enjoy visiting the town of Mt. Shasta.  But I’ve returned to Mt. Shasta a few times in my fiction, as well.

My novel Dark Channel was the first story I set there, inspired by a combination of my visit to the Harmonic Convergence and popular channel J.Z. Knight.  In The Loveliest Dead, psychic Lily Rourke owned a New Age book store called the Crystal Well.  The area has shown up in disguise, as well.  In The Folks (1 and 2, both of which will be available later this year), Pinecrest and Mt. Crag are pseudonyms for the Mt. Shasta area.  My novella Vortex returns to Mt. Shasta, and it takes Karen Moffett and Gavin Keoph with it.

Moffett and Keoph first appeared in Night Life, the sequel to Live Girls.  Martin Burgess, a wildly successful horror novelist, has an insatiable curiosity about the paranormal.  He wants to know if the stuff he writes about — ghosts, vampires, werewolves — really exist, and he has a small army of computer geeks and conspiracy theorists seeking out bizarre incidents and esoteric activity for him.  When they inform him of the possibility that vampires are active in Los Angeles, he searches for the right private investigators to hire for the job.  After deciding on Karen Moffett of Los Angeles and Gavin Keoph of San Francisco, he hires them and send them in search of vampires. In Bestial, the sequel to Ravenous, Burgess hires them again to look into the possibility of werewolves in the northern California coastal town of Big Rock.

I wanted to do more with Moffett and Keoph, but instead of having them show up in a sequel to investigate vampires or werewolves, I wanted to do something completely different with them.  I decided to have Burgess send them to Mt. Shasta and see what would happen.  I didn’t have many specifics in mind when I started VORTEX, but the novella has opened a lot of possibilities.

In Mt. Shasta, the investigators meet Penny Jarvis, a young woman with some extraordinary abilities who comes from a secret, government-run school called Aquino Academy, where all of the students have extraordinary abilities.  The first thing I wanted to do after finishing Vortex was to start on a novel about Penny and Aquino Academy.  I was committed to do other things, though, and had to set that idea aside.  But the academy is a fertile subject and I would like to do that sometime soon.  I’m not sure how, but Moffett and Keoph would be involved, as would the new nemesis they encounter in Vortex when a creature named Pyk comes out of —

Whoa.  I’m getting carried away.  I don’t want to spoil the story for you.  My point is that Vortex is going to be a new jumping-off point for Moffett and Keoph.  In it, the possibility of a relationship between the two investigators is introduced, and I will be pursuing that in future stories, as well.

But for now, I will shut up and leave you to read Vortex.  At the moment, it is available for Kindle, but other formats and a paperback edition are coming very soon.  If you enjoy Vortex, I hope you'll post a review and spread the word.

Go with Moffett and Keoph to Mt. Shasta.  Enjoy the scenic beauty.  Have a bite to eat.  But don’t let your guard down.  Something has come out of the mountain . . . and it’s hungry.


Thursday, December 31, 2015

Obligatory Year-End Blog Post

I’m not going write about what a depressing year it’s been.  If you’ve been paying attention, you already know, and if you haven’t, I don’t want to be the one to break it to you.  You can’t turn around these days without getting hit with some bad news.  Instead, I’m going to focus on the things and people that got me to the end of this year intact.

2015 was the year I read some of the work of Clark Asthon Smith thanks to my friend Scott Connors, who has written articles and reviews for a variety of publications, from Weird Tales to Publisher's Weekly.  He co-edited some Smith collections with Ron Hilger, including Star Changes: The Science Fiction of Clark Ashton Smith and The End of the Story, and on his own, like The Selected Letters of Clark Ashton Smith, and he is currently writing a biography of Smith.  Scott is the perfect person to introduce one to Smith because he’s so knowledgeable about his work.

As a boy, I could not get into the work of H.P. Lovecraft because he kept telling me that things were too horrible to describe and I kept thinking, Then hire somebody because I want to read about it!  I was 10 and I wanted bloodshed and monsters, preferably in plainer English than Lovecraft, who’s writing, back then, reminded me of the writing of Ellen G. White.  That’s not a good thing.  That changed as I grew older, of course, and learned to appreciate what Lovecraft had created in all those stories.  Clark Ashton Smith was a member of the Lovecraft circle, of course, and their work has a lot in common.  I think I prefer Smith’s prose to Lovecraft’s.  He had a one-of-a-kind imagination and a sense of humor and irony that I enjoy.  I look forward to reading more of his work.

Among the new things I've read this year, Mister White by John C. Foster stands out.  I was a tremendous fan of Robert Ludlum’s spy novels growing up.  I had already cut my teeth on Ian Fleming, but Ludlum did not write about James Bonds, he wrote about mostly regular people who happened to be in the intelligence business or were drawn or stumbled into espionage.  Foster does the same thing, but he combines an espionage thriller with a mystery — half the time, I had no idea what was going on, but in the most entertaining and compelling way possible — and a horror novel.  It’s a tense, unnerving labyrinth and you should pick up a copy when it’s released in April 2016 by Grey Matter Press.

I discovered a lot of streaming services in 2016, like The Grindhouse Channel and TubiTV and Reel Flix.  Browsing through their selections lit up all of my nostalgia neurons.  Unable to go to movie theaters for religious reasons as a boy, I used to cut movie advertisements out of the newspaper, tack them to a corkboard on my bedroom wall over my desk, and gaze at them as I did my homework, wondering what all of those movies were like on the big screen, uncut and without commercial interruptions.  Most of them were horror movies, of course, and a whole lot of them are now available on these streaming services.

One of the great movie ad campaigns of the 1970s was for a double feature, I EAT YOUR SKIN and I DRINK YOUR BLOOD.  The advertisement in my local newspaper, which quickly ended up on my bedroom wall, looked like this:

Along with the short TV spots that seemed to run in every commercial break around the time of release, that newspaper ad had my imagination spinning as I wondered what those movies would be like.  The double feature I concocted in my head as I stared at that newspaper cutout tacked to my corkboard was an epic, bloody nightmare, and I knew it would have to do because there was no chance I would ever see those movies.  Now, thanks to The Grindhouse Channel, I have.

Some things are better imagined than seen.

If you like obscure horror, science fiction, and exploitation movies, I suggest giving these streaming services a look.  If you’re like me, you’ll enjoy scanning the rows and rows of lost cheese treasures and forgotten schlock gems.  As I write this, I have Blood Beach running on TV, a 1980 movie with another memorable ad campaign.  I loved the poster so much, I had it on my wall for years, but I had never seen the movie until now.

At the end of March in 2016, a young man named Philip Ault (you might remember reading about him here) chased our neighbor Megan onto our porch, punched her in the face, and threatened to kill her.  I managed to get her through the door and into the house without letting him in, too.  Spouting a stream of meth-induced gibberish, he began threatening to kill all of us and threw a brick through our kitchen window before trying to climb into the house.  I stabbed him in the arm twice with a decorative fantasy knife, the most available weapon at the time, to keep him from getting inside the house until the police arrived.  They had to tase him twice to get him on the ground.  We received a call from the District Attorney’s office about six weeks ago informing us that Mr. Ault, who was not competent to stand trial, is currently a guest of Napa State Hospital, where efforts are being made to rehabilitate him to a state where he can stand trial.  They have three years to achieve that, and if it cannot be done within that time, Mr. Ault will become a permanent resident of the hospital.  I got a story out of the whole thing called “A Flat and Dreary Monday Night,” which you can read in Cut Corners: Volume 2.

While my health problems have continued with dogged persistence, I work when I’m able and have written a lot of short stories in 2016, including one I’m particularly proud of, “Paranormal Quest,” in the anthology The X-Files: Trust No One, a collection of original X-Files stories by horror and science fiction writers edited by the great Jonathan Maberry.

I'm fortunate to have a lot of friends who have been so good to me over the past year that I want to give them a nod of thanks in no particular order:  Steven and Nancy Spruill, Latrice and Ken Innes, Jason and Sunni Brock, Rhonda Blackmon Walton, Heather Fish, Sharon Turner, William F. Nolan, Cheryl Burcham, Jane Naccarato, Scott Connors, Damian Wild, Richard Chizmar and Brian Freeman and everyone at Cemetery Dance Publications, Emma Pulitzer and everyone at Open Road Integrated Media, Sharon Lawson and Anthony Rivera at Grey Matter Press, Fred and Lois Rose, and I’m probably forgetting someone because that just seems to be how I role in middle age.  My life is a better place with you in it.  I owe everything to my readers, the people who've been reading me for decades, the newcomers who just found me, and everyone in between.  I know from my experience with them online and at conventions that my readership includes some of the kindest, most generous people imaginable.  Thank you for everything.  As always, I'm grateful to Dawn for putting up with me for another year, for sharing her life with me for the last 27 wonderful years.

I hope 2016 brings you everything you need, as well as a bunch of stuff you don’t need but really want.  Stay healthy, take good care of the people in your life, and read more horror fiction.  Happy New Year!