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.

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.

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!

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.

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.

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.

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.

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


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.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

A Neighborhood Mystery, Solved

A few days ago something purple appeared high up in the trees overhanging Birchwood Street.

At first, it was easy enough to dismiss as a shopping bag that had been lifted by the breeze and been tangled in the branches. But today, on closer inspection, it revealed itself to be something more.

It appears to be made out of corrugated plastic. I'm not sure if it's a purple box, or a some sort of lampshade, or something much more odd and strange.

Whatever it is, you can see that it didn't get there by any kind of accident. It's been attached to the branch with a twisted length of wire, by someone who obviously went to great trouble to do so. It has to be at least 20 feet above the ground.

Stand beneath it and you can see some kind of metal frame inside, and a few pieces of paper that have writing on them.

The whole thing is a bit bizarre, to say the least. I'd love to know who put it up there and why. But I can't exactly go door to door and ask. The purple thing in the trees is weird, but doing that would be interpreted as downright crazy.

So instead, I'll have to make up my own explanation. It goes like this: The purple thing is a talisman of some kind, installed late at night by a practicing witch living in one of the buildings close by. She -- or he, no point in being sexist, after all -- put it up there to trap a malevolent spirit that has been creating trouble for some time now. The spirit is now caught inside, swirling around, growing more and more enraged with each passing night. Soon, the spirit will break loose, and wreak havoc on us all as revenge.

Or maybe I'll just call the alderman and ask to have it removed.


UPDATE -- I wrote the following email to the alderman's office:


I'm a resident of the 49th ward, living at XXXX N.
Sheridan, Unit D.

The other day I found a strange object attached to
one of the branches of a tree overhanging
Birchwood Avenue, at approximately XXXX W.
Birchwood. A photo is attached.

The object is purple and appears to be an open-
ended box of some sort made of corrugated plastic.
It has a metal frame inside, and several pieces of
paper or cardstock with writing on them hanging
from that. It's been purposefully attached to the
tree branch with a length of twisted wire.

I'm curious whether the object was put there by
the city or a utility, and if so, what its purpose
might be.

I'd really appreciate a response with some kind of
answer if at all possible. Frankly, the mystery of
it really has me wondering. I have some additional
photos if you'd like them, but this is the best.

Thanks for any information or help you can provide.
This evening, they replied:
These are traps for the emerald ash borer, which
is preying on ash trees in certain Midwest and
Atlantic Seaboard states. I beleive it is to test
whether or not there is a problem in our area.
There was a sighting of them in West Rogers Park.
So. I was right about the purple things being a trap of some kind, but for bugs, not evil spirits. Too bad.

They say that truth is stranger than fiction, but a lot of times it isn't.

Previously on "GoodScares"

Back in March I made what was to be my last blog post for two and a half months. If someone had told me this at the time -- if they had gently taken me aside and whispered that things were going to change pretty radically for the foreseeable future -- I might have written something a bit more eloquent than bitching about how greedy AIG is and the screwed up state of America.

Casual readers may have wondered if I was assassinated by a shadowy cabal of angry corporate and political interests, so sudden and unexplained was my departure. This is not the case.

The truth is much more boring. Simply put, time flies when your life is being chewed up and swallowed by a new job. First they lure you in with promises of a steady paycheck and health insurance, then they tear you away from everything you hold dear.

Fortunately, the workaday world seems to have calmed down -- so much so that I've gone from feeling like I'm going to quit to fearing that I'm going to be laid off. It seems that the happy middle is only a point I pass on my way to one of the extremes at either end.

So. I'm back. And the picture above came from the middle of the second page of results when I searched for "two and a half months" on Google Images. How've you been?

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Further Tales of Corporate Irresponsibility

News today that corporate welfare queen American Insurance Group has just paid out tens of millions of dollars in bonuses to its executives.

The self-destructive insurance conglomerate has received more than $170 billion dollars over several rounds of corporate bailouts since September of 2007. Last quarter, it posted an astonishing $61.7 billion loss -- the largest in corporate history.

And yet, the very executives who surely bear some responsibility for that loss and AIG's current financial state are being rewarded with more money than many taxpayers -- who are now footing the bill -- may make in a lifetime.

AIG claims the bonus payments are contractually obligated, which makes me marvel at what must be some pretty remarkable contract terms dictating generous bonuses even in the face of catastrophic losses.

One wonders what kind of gravy these executives would be taking home if the company was actually making money.

AIG Chairman Edward Liddy -- that's his smugly satisfied face on the left -- defended the bonus payments in a snipply worded letter to Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner. "We cannot attract and retain the best and brightest talent to lead and staff the AIG businesses, which are now being operated principally on behalf of the American taxpayers - if employees believe their compensation is subject to continued and arbitrary adjustment by the U.S. Treasury."

To which I say, if this mess is what your "best and brightest" is capable of, I'm willing to fire them all and let the night-time security staff take a crack at this thing.