Thursday, January 5, 2017

Your Winter Horror, as Ranked by the Geniuses at Thrillist

This is the kind of post that will have doubters claiming I'm secretly on the Thrillist payroll.

In truth, it came from clicking on a random Facebook post, compulsively reading the whole thing, admiring its accuracy and level of detail, then deciding to stop my work on an important project just so I could tell you about it here.


Before you click that link, know that this is not one of those articles you scan for your own state and then ditch. It's worth reading word for word, because the authors have put so much love and humor and well-observed detail into each entry. You'd swear both of them (and a few guest editors from specific locales) had endured a winter in every state.

So take a look. Read through the list. Feel superior to those beneath you (unless you're in Hawaii) and tremble in fear at those above (unless you're in Minnesota). 

Saturday, December 31, 2016

You've Already Seen This Movie

I should have jumped on this Wednesday, when it turned up in my slice of the Internet. That would have been super timely. But life, as they say, got in the way. So here it is now -- 2016, transformed into a horror film trailer. So apt.


For this year that's on its way out and can't leave fast enough, there are just a few things I'd like to say:
Hey, 2016. It is OVER between us. I've met a new, younger year and am ready for a fresh start.
You had your (limited) charms -- thanks for that Cubs win -- but on the whole you've just been way too much of a downer. Plus, I really, really hate your politics.
All your clothes and stuff are sitting out on the street. Pick them up before tomorrow or I'll set them on fire, dance around the flames and piss on the ashes.
Don't write, don't call, don't talk about me to your friends, and if we ever see each other on the street, just keep walking.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

A Ghost Story for Christmas

Image result for whistle and i'll come to you
Christmas is the most haunted holiday.

Yes, we have Halloween. But the ghosts and spirits we celebrate then are abstract and harmless.

Christmas is different. There's something about the season that reminds us of loved ones who are no longer with us. We think about the Christmases past spent with them. We feel their loss all over again, sometimes deeply. We wish them back, so they could be here now. We imagine them with us, at the dinner table, the holiday get-together, when a certain Christmas carol begins to play, or we gather around the tree to open presents.

If that's not haunted, I don't know what is.

The British must have known this, too. This may be why, back in 1971, BBC commissioned a television special under the name of "A Ghost Story for Christmas." It ran for eight consecutive Christmases, then disappeared. It came back In 2005, and has appeared sporadically since.

Mostly it presented classic ghost stories by M.R. James, but has also included a short story by Charles Dickens and two original screenplays.

I watched one last night. The first. "Whistle and I'll Come to You." In it, a shy and awkward academic in his middle age vacations at a strange seaside inn. During one of his walks he finds an old whistle and blows on it, waking up something that follows him along the shore, and back to the inn, and all the way into his room.

The show was in black and white. Sometimes the camera shook a little or the picture appeared to warp or stretch. Some of the dialog and pacing was a little odd. It all started to work on me, so that when the ghost first appeared -- a dark wraith that seemed to twist and turn just beyond the reach of the waves -- I actually felt chills.

So if you have a little time this Christmas, here's a link to "Whistle and I'll Come to You." And here's a link to all the others if you have a little more.

Merry Christmas. May you be surrounded by your loved ones. The living and the rest.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

You Are Listening To

Back in the mid-nineties a band by the name of Soul Coughing made us put down our beers, sit up straight and take a listen. Especially when "Screenwriter's Blues" came on. (There's no official video, but some good soul by the name of Toby Arguello has posted the song on YouTube so you can listen to it today. Do this: 1.) click that link above, 2.) play it, then, 3.) come back here.)

And today, some twenty-odd years later, there's an amazing site called YouAreListening.To that you should, well, listen to. Today, tomorrow, and all the days that follow.

The site takes its name from a refrain in "Screenwriter's Blues." (Are you listening to it now? You should be.) In it, the singer, or narrator, or whatever he is describes a nightmare drive through a Southern California landscape of models and movie screens and on-fire red-eyed sunrises that exist outside of time and space and the bounds of whatever petty sense of morality you might have begun this hellish journey with. And as he does he intones, over and over again, "It is five AM, and you are listening to, Los Angeles. It is five AM, and you are listening to, Los Angeles."

Aside from all that, what makes the site interesting and worth mentioning here is that it allows you to combine ambient music with police and fire department radio feeds from 25+ cities, as well as airports, the New York Times, NASA, and those conspiracy-worthy numbers-only stations most of us first heard about on Lost. Go ahead. Choose your own adventure.

If you need to work, or write, or run errands with a strange sense of purpose, or just put some goddamned distance between you and whoever's on your very last nerve, YouAreListening.To is a strange, yet strangely calming, place to go.

Go there. Now. Then come back and tell me I'm wrong.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

"Into the Forest"

2016; directed by Patricia Rozema; written by Patricia Rozema and Jean Hegland

In any kind of survival situation, life gets stripped down to its essentials: food, water, shelter, safety from the people, animals and/or things that are determined to rob, rape, kill and/or eat you.

You could say the same for some film adaptions of novels.

Jean Hegland's Into the Forest blew my mind so much when I read it in 1998 that I recommended it to Oprah Winfrey for her wildly popular book club. I was working for Harpo Productions at the time, so I personally handed it to the producer responsible for her monthly book club series, as opposed to just driving by and tossing a dog-eared copy at the Carpenter Street entrance while shouting, "This would make a kick-ass Oprah's Book Club selection!"

I didn't see how it could lose. Into the Forest had everything Oprah was preaching at the time. Two sisters (female protagonists!) face a post-apocalyptic world in which life's little luxuries disappear one by one, followed by its necessities. As they navigate challenges of death, rape, pregnancy and birth, the two sisters grow increasingly grateful (gratitude!) for the things they still have, while gaining newfound confidence in their ability to survive with what nature provides.

Maybe it was too on-the-nose. I don't know. No one ever got back to me.

It's taken almost twenty years for Into the Forest to become what paperback books used to trumpet as "a major motion picture." Who's to say why, except that the wheels of Hollywood grind exceedingly slow and sometimes things get into turnaround and don't come out for quite a while.

Here's what I can tell you: the film version of Into the Forest gets the essentials right. Ellen Paige and a pre-Westworld Evan Rachel Wood play sisters facing the apocalyptic scenario. What starts out as a power outage eventually leads to the end of civilization. Wood is the older sister, a dancer so intent on an important audition that never comes she practices to the tick-tocking of a metronome, and throws a fit when her younger sister, played by Paige, won't let her use some of their remaining gasoline to power a generator so she can once again dance to music.

Maybe Jean Hegland held out for the opportunity to adapt her own novel. If so, good for her, because she and co-writer Patricia Rozema managed to capture all the book's major movements. And Rozema does a fine job of envisioning its sense of gradual loss as the sisters first adapt to living in a world of ever-decreasing expectations, then choose to leave it behind entirely.

And yet. The parts of the book that stuck with me then (and stick with me still) are the parts I wish the movie had more of, like the sisters carefully rationing the contents of their last remaining tea bag. Some Hegland's language around the idea of lack and want was beautiful, and I almost wish there had been some voice-over narration in the film.

Still, these elements aren't totally missing. Toward the film's mid-point, after Wood's character has been brutally assaulted, she refuses the last aspirin in the house, insisting that it be saved for something more worthwhile. Which only made me wonder how much worse things would have to be for that aspirin finally to be worth taking, and at that point what possible good it could do?

However, while the power's still on, the Internet's up and you're able to stream Into the Forest from Amazon Prime (among other online services) the question remains: is it worth your time, one of your precious remaining evenings? Yes. There's plenty of suspense, sadness and unexpected joy here to reward all but the hungriest of viewers, which just happened to include me.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

I'm Just Here For All the Awesome Self-Promotion

That headline up there? That was my Facebook status a while back. A little snark aimed at all my friends who were busily promoting their books, movies, plays, albums, art openings, poetry readings, fireworks shows, children's tap/jazz dance and ballet recitals, and public displays of affection on Facebook.

If you've ever experienced the same degree of frustration (and let's not bullshit each other here, envy) feel free to copy and paste it with my compliments.

But don't expect miracles. My passive-aggressive post didn't stop anyone there and then, so there's no good reason it should stop me here and now.

I'm happy to announce that my short story, "The Night Crier," will appear in The Horror Library, Volume 6.

The story is about a recent widower who can't sleep because of an obnoxious bird and its constant tweeting to attract attention. (Hmm. Notice any parallels?) He decides to find and kill the damned thing, and that's where everything begins to go horribly wrong.

Here's a little excerpt to whet your appetite:
Ed hurried downstairs. He grabbed the rifle and flashlight and went outside. 
The night air felt like ice water against his skin. He headed toward the woods, stopping every few yards to listen, adjusting his course each time the bird cried out. He marveled at the darkened houses around him, at the way others could sleep through this, their husbands and wives beside them, their children safe in the next room. 
He crossed the street and stopped at the tree line. It was colder here. Darker, too. It smelled of moist earth and life waiting to emerge. 
He waited for the night crier’s call…
It's my first sale in a while (honestly, it's the first story I've finished in a while) and I have Eric J. Guinard -- a fine editor and a great writer himself -- and Farolight Publishing to thank for picking it up.

The Horror Library, Volume 6 is scheduled to come out this spring, so look for me to mention it again at least one other time around then.

Until then, thanks for your kind attention. I now return you to your normally scheduled Internet.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Is This Thing Still On?

It's been a while. Seven-some years, I'm ashamed to say. It's not that I haven't had things to say. I just haven't been saying them here.

But 2016 has been a year with a lot of loss and weirdness and horror, so the time seemed right to suit myself up and jump back into the game.

Plus, there's news. Good news. I sold a short story to a well-known anthology series. I can't say what or where just yet, but watch this space for details and, if I'm fortunate, more good news to come. Because there's more than one story making the rounds.

And in case you're thinking, "Oh, great. Another blog chock-full of awesome self-promotion," (and I wouldn't blame you if you were) there will be reviews and news as well. 

Just give me some time. Like I said, it's been a while. But it won't be that long again.

Monday, August 3, 2009

If Other Government Services Were Run Like Private Health Care

What those who equate "government-run health care" with "socialism" seem to forget is that socialism already exists in America, and has for a long time. The government already runs all kinds of important services that people need every day.

So I thought it would be interesting to look at how these other "socialist," "government-run" services we depend on would operate under a pure, free-market system similar to American health care.

THE WATER DEPARTMENT
Without a job, you probably won't even have access to water. More and more companies can't afford to provide their employees with water. If you can afford it, you can buy water on your own. But you'll pay a much higher price than most people. However, that water can't be used for a lot of things, like showers or washing the dishes. And if you ever "too much" water, the Water Department can cut off your supply.

EDUCATION
The more children you have, the more you'll pay to send them to school. If one ever has trouble in a subject, like math or reading, their case will go before the school board, which is staffed by a bunch of twenty-somethings who follow a strict set of rules. They'll look at your child's report cards and decide whether his or her teacher can spend more time with them on that subject, or even get tutoring. If the school board can refuse extra help or tutoring for enough kids, they'll get a big bonus at the end of the year! Which you'll pay for!

STREETS AND HIGHWAYS
The Department of Transportation would charge you a monthly fee to use your car, but do everything in its power to make driving inconvenient. After all, the more people who pay for streets and highways but don't use them, the more money the Department of Transportation has on hand to pay its executives and shareholders.
And if you do manage to take your car somewhere, the Department of Transportation will charge you more to use the streets next time.

THE POLICE
If you've ever called the police before, you could never call them again for the same reason. That means if your neighbor is playing music so loud your bedroom walls are shaking at four in the morning, you'd better think long and hard before calling the police about it. Because the next time your neighbor plays music too loud, the police won't respond. They'll consider it a "pre-existing condition" and you'll be out of luck.

GARBAGE COLLECTION
In order to have your trash collected, you'd have to fill out an application listing all the times your trash had already been collected, and all the things you threw away. If you ever needed to get rid of something you forgot to list, the Department Sanitation could refuse to pick it up. Even if you had listed it, they might refuse to pick it up anyway. See "The Police," above.

THE FIRE DEPARTMENT
After calling the Fire Department, you'll begin receiving bills from the Water Department, the Police, the Fire Chief, the Sheriff, the Department of Transportation, and the Department of Sanitation. They'll charge you for using the streets that lead to your house, and turning on the fire hydrant, and cleaning up the mess afterward, and for whoever else decided to show up and get paid for doing it. These are all things the Fire Department doesn't cover.

YOUR GOVERNMENT
Without access to a lot of money, you won't be able to communicate with the people who've been elected to represent you in state and federal legislatures. Sure, they might set aside a night to meet you and a lot of other people for an hour in a church basement or high school gymnasium. They might even pretend to listen to what you say. But afterward, they'll be having a nice dinner and drinks with someone who's willing to pick up the bill. They'll listen to everything that person has to say, and probably do whatever they want.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Unknown

Author and editor Vince Liaguno turned me on to this video.



What is it? The explanation on the video's YouTube page claims that it's an unknown life form found in the sewers of North Carolina.

Among those less gullible, word is that it's part of a viral marketing campaign for a soon-to-be-released horror film.

Me? I think it's the video from someone's colonoscopy.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

My Bad

If one of this blog's main functions is to serve as a source of promotion for my (fledgling? off-and-on?) writing career, I have really fallen down on the job.

And for that, I blame my real job, which, as you might know, really believes in the idea of quantity over quality.

So cast your minds back to a few months ago, when I should have (enthusiastically? with false modesty?) written about the two anthologies to which I sold stories last year -- Unspeakable Horror, edited by Vince Liaguno and Chad Helder, and Horror Library, Vol. 3, edited by R. J. Cavendar -- being nominated for Stoker awards.

The Stokers are the highest awards in the horror genre -- the Oscars of literary blood and gore. To be part of even one nominee for Best Achievement in an Anthology would have been cause for any new writer to shout from the mountaintops. To be part of two is good fortune that will probably never be equaled. At least by the likes of me.

But, because I was busy busting my hump for The Man, I let it go, thinking that I'd get around to posting about it some evening or weekend that I'm willing to bet was, instead, consumed by a Powerpoint presentation of some kind.

Worse yet, I didn't even attend the Stokers. I thought about it. I hemmed and hawed and even looked into making arrangements, but something inside me -- perhaps that small but powerful kernal of self-doubt that loves failure and prevents me from living a full and happy life -- kept me from pulling the trigger. It's a regret I'll no doubt take to my grave, and beyond, with good reason.

And so, to learn this past weekend, that Unspeakable Horror won the Stoker for Best Achievement in an Anthology, was a bittersweet occurrence. Mostly sweet, because I think Vince and Chad have put together a terrific collection of stories, and they deserve it, and I was a small part of it. But bitter, too, because R.J. put together an equally impressive collection. And also, of course, because I wasn't there to enjoy it and bask -- even if just a little bit -- in the reflected glow of their success.

We new authors -- time allowing -- will soak up all the limelight we can get.

So congratulations to Vince and Chad. Their queer horror anthology shattered a "pink ceiling" in the genre that will forever after be wide open thanks to their vision and faith. And congratulations to R.J. and all the other nominees, too, who also put their heart and soul into projects that deserve all the success in the world.

And me? I'm going to keep writing -- on morning buses downtown and evening buses headed back, during early mornings and late nights, whenever and however I can -- and submitting when I feel the end product has reached a level that doesn't make me cringe. As it turns out, I'm a dreadfully, painfully slow writer. But, at least this time around, I've got to believe in the power of quality over quantity.