Sunday, December 25, 2011

And: Merry Christmas from Nevie Rose!

Definitely the most stylish member of our household.

Best smile, too.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Frankie's Xmas Surprise


From me and mine here at American Frankenstein to you and yours out there in Internetland, here's wishing you a great holiday weekend... with plenty of surprises!

While I'm at it, thanks to the great crew who are always close at hand to help me out with this blog. My wife (and best editor) Tia Travis, webslinger Minh Nguyen, ace illustrator Kevin Nordstorm, google guru/madly skilled library bud Sarah Vital, and all the great writers and publishing folk who've dropped in now and again to say howdy. Happy holidays, one and all!

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Sunday Paper on a Saturday Night (or: Sunday Supplement 12/18/11)


Since this movie looks to be a dark twist on the mythic, you can imagine that the guy who wrote Dark Harvest might really want to see it before Christmas rolls around. Netflix is letting me down -- it's been at the top of my queue for three weeks, and it ain't comin'. Amazon, do your stuff.

If there's a rockabilly fan on your Xmas list, check out The Presley Sessions by Reid Jameson. Been playing this one a lot with the new Chris Isaak Sun Records tribute, and Jameson hangs right in there. Love the stripped-down acoustic feel, and his great versions (especially) of "Trying to Get to You" and "Is It So Strange." Uh-huh-huh. Methinks The King would be pleased.

Now it can be told: Rockin' Randy Fox spins the tale of the night Charlie Louvin met Jello Biafra... with auditory evidence included!

Back to Xmas... and just in case you're wondering. Favorite Scrooge: Alastair Sim. Runner up: Patrick Stewart. Weirdest: Jack Palance in Ebeneezer. And no, I'm not kidding. Jack Palance played Scrooge. Really. In a western. With Ebeneezer as a gunslinger. And card cheat.

The Actor Who Should Have Played Scrooge But Didn't: Boris Karloff. But we got him as the Grinch, so we came out ahead.

Talking to some of the college-age guys who work for me at the library, and the subject of Christmas action movies came up. They all knew Die Hard. Two out of three knew Lethal Weapon. But they'd never heard of First Blood, and only one of them had heard of Rambo. Wow. I officially feel old now.

Want some other Christmas movie recs? Check out my post from last year: Stalkin' Around the Christmas Tree. Enjoy!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

The Horror in the Library


A co-worker left a watermelon on his desk last night. Innocent, unsuspecting... all alone in the dark.

This is what happened during the night shift.

Of course, I wouldn't do this for just anyone. But hey, this is Mike Jung, a fellow keyboard rattler and author of the forthcoming Geeks, Girls, and Secret Identities.* Which, if it's as cool as Mike is, will definitely be frosty.

*And, no... Mike's book won't be available in February. It's an October release, but you can go ahead and preorder it now. Why wait?

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Test Drive Wildest Dreams

Thanks to Kevin Nordstrom for a great illo based on the opening scene from Wildest Dreams. Just a reminder that the one-week 99 cent sale on the WD eBook is winding down.

So click on over to Cemetery Dance and order up. And if you'd like to give the novel a test drive, you can check out the "Look Inside" link for the first chapter-and-a-half over on the Amazon page. You'll find out why the little girl in Kevin's illo isn't quite what she appears to be, but you won't find out what the stranger -- who just happens to be a hired killer named Clay Saunders -- has in that backpack. You'll have to order up to do that little trick... and thanks to all of you who've already done the job.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

The 99 Cent Dream

Just wanted to thank everyone who's grabbed a copy of the Wildest Dreams eBook, on sale from Cemetery Dance this week for 99 cents. Yesterday over at Amazon, the book hit into the high 800s on the sales rank and charted at 19 on the Horror Bestsellers List.

Nice. Gracias! I appreciate it!

Most of all, I'm glad Wildest Dreams is getting a chance at a bigger audience. It was originally published as a 500 copy signed limited-edition, and those can disappear pretty fast. I'm glad folks who've been waiting for a less-expensive edition will now have a chance at it, and I hope you all enjoy it -- of the novels I've done, Dark Harvest and Wildest Dreams are my favorites.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Wildest Dreams: 99 Cents!

For the next week, my novel Wildest Dreams is discounted to just 99 CENTS at the Cemetery Dance Store, Amazon, and Barnes & Noble. This one's usually $4.99, so now's your chance to grab it if you missed the 500-copy limited edition (which is long out of print). Click on over to the CD store and buy direct, or use the links on that page to get to the online merchant of your choice.

Here's the flap-copy-orific scoop on Wildest Dreams, a dark-as-tar novel of hardboiled horror:

A storm is coming to Cliffside, California, and with it comes a killer.

His name is Clay Saunders, and he walks in two worlds. Born with a caul, Saunders sees ghosts. But to him, the world of the dead is very much like the world of the living. It's a realm of eternal pain -- inescapable and relentless -- that cuts as deeply as the razor edge of the hired killer's K-bar knife.

Saunders has spilled blood on Florida sand, and the snow-covered Canadian prairie, and the black lava of Hawaii. His latest target is Diabolos Whistler, leader of a satanic cult. Exiled in Mexico, Whistler is alone when Saunders stabs him just above the first vertebrae... alone, except for the mummies stacked like so much cordwood in his library.

But the living who await the killer's arrival in Cliffside are more frightening than the decayed corpses of the dead. There's Whistler's daughter Circe, a tattooed siren who leads Saunders to a bed of iron and satin... and Circe's bodyguard, a seven foot student of Egyptology whose sarcophagus rests in a redwood pyramid... and Janice Ravenwood, a medium with a startling hidden gift.

And there's a little girl, a ghost held prisoner by vengeful revenants. Only Clay Saunders can save her. To do that, he must bridge the worlds of the living and the dead in an unforgettable climax of darkness and blood.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Another Dance in the Cemetery

Slippin' into Darkness is this week's featured eBook over at the Cemetery Dance website. Thanks to everyone who grabbed a virtual copy yesterday after the email went out from the good folks in Maryland... judging from the numbers over at Amazon, looks like a bunch of you have done that.

To order the Slippin' eBook from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Sony, Kobo, the Apple iBookstore, or CD directly, just click on this link to visit the product page on the Cemetery Dance website... and thanks. Great to see this novel available again!

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Sunday Supplement 11/27/11

After that Thanksgiving Day Silver Age Marvel-fest with Tom Pic, I pulled down my copy of The Incredible Hulk Omnibus, the big fat hardcover with ol' Greenskin's original six issue run and all the Tales to Astonish Hulk stories. Had a lot of fun rereading those. Of course, the Jack Kirby Hulk is the best, and I especially love issues #4 and #5... but I have to admit I've got a soft spot for the Bill Everett Hulk in TtA, and Marie Severin's version, too (though Severin's is definitely the pretty-boy Hulk -- sometimes he looks like Tony Curtis with muscles).

While we're upgrading my knowledge on the Marvel Universe, can someone explain to me the whole "Red Hulk" deal? I get the Planet: Hulk thing, and enjoyed that series... but I missed the boat on this big red guy.

Fantastic essay on 1) Peter Straub's Ghost Story and 2) becoming a writer over at Christopher Shearer's A Pulp Solemnity blog. This one's got sharp insights into Straub's novel, an engaging personal story, and (for my library compadres) it notches pretty high on the lib-sci serendipity-meter, too. Love it when I read about someone's game getting change because they stumbled across a book in the stacks -- that's happened to me more than once, and just knowing that it does happen is one of the very best parts about working in a library.

More serendipity. Stumbled across this Cruzados tune while listening to an old (wait for it) mix tape. Yes. On my Sony Walkman. Haven't heard it in twenty years or so, and it still resonates (as some ghosts from the eighties do). Shoulda been a hit, too... but then again, I'm a sucker for any song with a guitar break that sounds like it belongs in an old spy movie.


Saturday, November 26, 2011

Tom Pic, Thanksgiving Turkeys, and The Mighty Thor

Well... Thanksgiving has come and gone. One thing I've come to look forward to about the day itself is that somehow or another I always end up trading emails with my good buddy (and ace crime writer) Tom Piccirilli. We kick meal plans (and progress) back and forth, and compare notes (re: who ends up on the couch in a turkey-induced coma sooner). Of course, other banter goes on during the course of the day, too.

This year, Tom and I were reminiscing about the glory days of the Lee/Kirby/Ditko Marvel comics -- what a blast those early world-building stories were to read, and how they still resonate with us today. For my part, I'm lucky that Pic keeps up with the changes in the Marvel Universe better than I do. He and Brian Keene are my go-to guys when it comes to explaining the character reboots that have left me in the dust since I stopped collecting comics in the early eighties. Anyway, Tom tried to explain what's happened to Thor since then, because I didn't quite get the origin tossed our way in the movie. Pic told me that Doctor Don Blake (Thor's secret identity in the early comics) never existed, and the good Doctor was just a card Odin played to humble Thor... and that somewhere along the line in the Ultimates reboot Thor became a little crazy and only thought he was a god.

Go figure. And here I was thinking the frat-boy Thor from that old Hulk movie was out there in the creative stratosphere.

So no wonder I was lost when I popped the new movie into the DVD player. I kept waiting for ol' Doctor Blake to show up with his twisted little cane. Instead I got a CGI-y Asgard and Anthony Hopkins looking like he was wearing a '55 Cadillac. (And, note to Hollywood: Does Anthony Hopkins have to be everyone's dad in movies? He's the Wolfman's dad... he's Thor's dad... if I remember right, he was Zorro's dad, too.)

Anyway, I got what they were trying to do -- give us Thor by way of the Lord of the Rings movies -- and while I dug the battle with the Frost Giants, the humor drove this one off the tracks for me pretty quickly. When the goofy scientist family showed up for the second time, and Billy Swan's "I Can Help" cranked up on the soundtrack, that was enough for me. I hit eject.

Hey, comic book movies are one thing, but music's music. I like Billy Swan just fine, but not in a Thor movie. At least in the Hulk/Thor TV-movie, Thor got to party to a Dave Alvin tune. That was probably the only reason I made it through the whole thing -- I kept waiting for the flip side.

One last thing about the new version -- Thor and his hammer? Neither of them belong in New Mexico, guys. The Hulk belongs in New Mexico. That's Ol' Greenskin's turf, and no long-haired guy with a hammer should trespass on it.

'Nuff said.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Building Your Resume (w/ a side order of pre-Thanksgiving cheer)

Here's a fun post over at Brian Freeman's blog, demonstrating that even a guy like Stephen King started out taking shots in the dark with his early submissions.

I remember writing cover letters like King's. Mine were always short and sweet -- I can recall a tip in one of the first Writers' Market books I read that advised young writers against giving a rundown of a plot for a submission; the idea was to let the story speak for itself. Just mention your credits, keep your cover letter short and sweet, and include an SASE with appropriate return postage. That was the professional way to do things. Let the story do the talkin'.

But: Hell, that didn't really leave much for me to say to an editor. In the early days, I'd struggle to find something -- anything -- to say in a cover letter. I used to type something like: "I've enjoyed reading your magazine (i. e. yes, I'm not a dolt -- I've done my homework and I think this story is appropriate for you), and I hope you'll find the enclosed story to your liking (i. e. please read the damn thing). I'm an unpublished writer, but I hope that won't keep you from considering my manuscript. Thanks for your time (i. e. I think I'm cut out for better than the slush pile; you tell me if I'm wrong); enclosed find a SASE (but please, for god's sake don't use it)."

It was a great relief when I had a few years of publishing under my belt. First I graduated to writing cover letters that said: "I've been published in some of the newer magazines, including Cemetery Dance, Noctulpa, and Grue..." Later, I upped the ante with my first professional credits: "I've had stories accepted for Charlie Grant's Final Shadows anthology and Joe Lansdale's Dark at Heart..." A little later, I could mention sales to the various Year's Best anthos, and a few award nominations, too. Even the publication of my first novel.

Of course, none of that was done through email. When I started out, email didn't exist. I'm kind of glad about that. I've still got a filing cabinet filled with old correspondence -- you know, that paper stuff the postman used to deliver to your house. Inside are manila folders full of letters I traded with other young writers, proposals I shot out to editors, guidelines for long-lost anthologies (yes -- the infamous HWA "haunted airport" antho!), letters and postcards from grand old writers like Robert Bloch and Dick Laymon and Karl Edward Wagner... lots of stuff like that. I've even got every rejection slip I ever received.

I've got to admit that it's fun to look through those files every now and then. Seeing the old letterheads of magazines that are no longer with us brings back memories, as do those (sometimes) cryptic signatures at the bottom of the page and (equally cryptic) handwritten comments I still can't decipher twenty years later. It's great to channel some of my early enthusiasm, and (yes) instructive to consider some of my early failures, too. After all, it was all part of learning the writing game, and I wonder if young writers will get that kind of one-stop-shopping glance in the rearview mirror as the years pass -- I mean, does anyone really archive their emails or (even worse) text messages? I don't think so.

Taking a look back myself, I'd say the main thing that's changed for me is my attitude about rejection. Used to be, I'd almost always take it personally. I'd get a rejection slip, and I'd immediately want to prove the editor wrong by selling the story to a better magazine. Or I'd want to write a new story that would knock out the editor who'd rejected me, get me a slot in his or her antho or magazine, and get me a check. Of course, sometimes that happened, and sometimes it didn't. What I can say now is that my attitude was fuel for the fire -- and, hey, if taking rejection personally made me write another story, that was something positive right there. We all can use a blast of creative fire, and that particular brand got me to "The End" of plenty of stories.

Mostly, though, I've learned that rejection is nothing personal at all -- it's simply a business decision. Because writing is business. Oh, it can be art, too, but those battles are fought on another front, when you're alone with the page in your office. The business/rejection/acceptance stuff really does break down in a different way.

Editors want good stories -- that's a given. But beyond that they also want names that sell books, or magazines, or eBooks, or whatever. And they want to get the best writer they can wrangle with the money they have available. So when push comes to shove, commerce is the part of the engine that drives a lot of deals, and (as a result) success or failure in the marketplace. Most of the time editors are looking for writers who can carry the freight, and get the job done, and deliver the goods both creatively and in the marketplace... and there's a lot more to getting yourself in that position besides becoming a good writer.

Still, ask most of us, and you'll find that the "being good" part of the equation carries a lot of weight. Acclaim is nice. Deals are nice. Money is wonderful. But I don't know anyone who doesn't want to think they've done quality work. In other words: Nobody gets excited about thinking they're a hack, no matter how much money they have.

And, really, if you're a working writer, there's an easy way to size things up for yourself. Just take a look at your personal bookshelf, the one where you keep your solo work and contributor copies of anthologies and magazines where your work has appeared. Run your finger along those spines. Take your creative pulse. See if the work bound up in those volumes satisfies you or doesn't. If there are novels on those shelves you wish you hadn't written, think about the ones you should have written instead... and write 'em. Think about the books you'd like to see up there two years from now... and three years past that. Think about the publishers you've worked with and the ones you'd like to work with, and how you can position yourself to make some of those deals a reality. Think about where you've been, and where you're going, and the fiction that's going to get you there.

Make some plans. Kindle yourself some creative fire. Because it's the fire that will get you there. No matter where it comes from. No matter how you make it. It's the one thing that every writer needs to make good work.

So kindle it up, and when those flames deliver you to the keyboard be thankful.

Rattle those keys.

And let that fire burn.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Building the House

Here's the beginning of a story I'm working on. Actually, it's probably a novella. Whatever the project, I tend to write a piece a section at a time. I'll work on the opening or the first chapter, and I don't move forward until I figure it's set. If you want to use the old house-building metaphor, that's the foundation. The way I see it, you definitely need one of those before you start tossing up staircases, a second floor, all that stuff. So I work from the ground up, section by section, floor by floor. Framing, then putting up the sheet rock and the mud and the paint, then finishing.

That approach cuts down on revision time, at least for me. The story tends to sharpen itself. Working to turn out one final-quality section after another just makes the story better -- direct, unified, solid. Mostly, I try to avoid stuff I don't like as a reader. I don't like false starts, and I don't like side trips that really don't say much, and I don't like fiction that's, well... sloppy. I try to avoid all of the above. (And, yep, I wish more authors would take that approach -- I read too many published stories and novels that read like rough drafts. The way I see it, that's just lazy.)

Of course, I don't plan everything ahead of time. Like I said, I work a section at a time. Usually I'm working a section or two ahead of myself plotwise, but sometimes a full story arc will come to me and hit the paper complete as I first imagined it. The latter happens rarely, though.

Of course, that's what makes some of the magic. I love the process of discovery, love it when things come together, especially when they come together in ways I didn't expect.

And (of course) the process of discovery can sometimes drive you a little mad, too. I've painted myself into plenty of corners over the years. But that's part of a writer's job, and so is learning to cut a trapdoor in the floor so you can find your way out.

Anyway, this hunk of story is a weird western. Right now it's called "The Church at Tierra Dura." I'm working on it along with Oktober Shadows, building them each section by section. Hope you enjoy it.


There are no shadows when the horse dies.

The rider heaves out of the saddle as the animal's legs fold up, twisting in ways they shouldn't. Black lips foam as the Texas pony hits the ground dead. The desert drinks that foam, and in the next second the rider's boots cross it, heels grinding sand as dry as powdered bones.

The sun climbs high as the rider bends low. Her left hand hovers over a dead man's pistol holstered against her thigh as she listens for a sound that doesn't belong, but the only noise out here is the sharp whistle of her own breaths. That's good news.

She sucks another breath -- a deep one. Shadows spill from her right hand as she snatches her canteen from the saddle horn. Water splashes tin. Three swallows in that canteen, and six bullets in the Colt. That makes nine, and nine will have to be enough to get her from here to somewhere else.

The woman moves on. Briskly. Her Mexican spurs notch the sand. Sparkling grains fill each slice as she heads west. She leaves no trail behind. Ahead, it's hard going. Water sloshes in the canteen, riding a dark tin curve as she follows the sun over one dune, then another. Another mile and there are only two swallows left. Then more sand, notched by Mexican spurs, filled by gravity. more of the same with her next step, and more of the same with the step after that. She counts each one, adds them to the sloshes of the canteen. The number grows, and she follows it.

Heat broils down from the sky. Soon the buckle of her belt feels like a branding iron. An hour later, the sun drops a notch. Painted shadows begin to stretch from the towering saguaro. Another hour and the black bars of the shadow fall at the woman's feet. Twenty more minutes and there are three feet of shadowed earth to mark her westward trail. Then the shadows lengthen quickly. Four feet... then six. Eight, as the woman with a dead man's gun measures her steps against the coming darkness.

Night comes on. The moon rises. Now the earth is the color of ash. The woman's lips are blistered. The canteen tips back. Only one drink left now. She stoppers the canteen, lets it swing to her side on its leather strap. Hears it slosh: once, twice, that long last drink waiting like a cool lingering kiss.

That's a strange thing to think out here, and now. The woman knows that. She wonders why she thought about a kiss at all. Her left hand brushes the Colt at her side. Only one swallow left in the canteen, but still six bullets in the gun. That makes seven, and seven is lucky. She listens again, again hears no sound. She moves forward. Now the earth is the color of a shadow. The moon goes away, smothered by clouds. The desert cools. The woman has walked another mile. When thunder rolls, she's forgotten that imagined kiss bottled up in her canteen. She doesn't think about kisses anymore, not in a way that matters.

She's thinking about bullets when the first raindrop hits her, spilling over her cheek like a tear. Thunder pounds the night. Lightning flares above. The rain lasts twenty minutes, drenching the woman to the bone. She opens her mouth, and raindrops needle her lips and her tongue. Her sunburned cheeks grow cold. Then the rain stops. The clouds clear off. The moon brightens. The earth is ash again, a cinder as far as the eye can see, and the desert drinks the succor of the sky.

Once more it's quiet. No sound at all.

Then the knocking begins.

Out there, in the distance, like rolling thunder.

Then: closer

Finally: everywhere.

In an eyeblink, the woman draws her pistol and cocks the hammer. The sound is like the click of a door unlocking, and it coils her guts. But it is the only sound in the desert that sings of metal. The other sounds are earth and flesh. Bony fists hammering wood that speaks of nailed doors honed by the undertaker's art. Fists pounding coffinwood, when there is nothing in reach but air, and night, and darkness.

They are only sounds, but they pound the woman to her knees in an instant. Brutal knocking slams her like a splintery wave. She slaps callused palms over her ears. She's in the middle of the desert but it's like she's trapped in a box, a dozen invisible carpenters framing tight walls around her. Dead fists hammer the wood. Needled splinters jab her eardrums. And even as the walls go up, dead fingers scrape and scrabble, trying to get at the live meat boxed up inside. All of them working together, dragging that box across the sand, cutting a long gristled trench as they move toward a place where the box will be opened, a place of brimstone and fire.

And then the knocking stops, as suddenly as it started.

The woman hears the creak of hinges. A door that is not there begins to open.

The night wind matches the whisper of that swinging door.

The woman scrambles to her feet.

The desert surrounds her.

No framed walls, no dead carpenters. No box, no lock, no dead men.

She runs.


* * *


Even in a desert, there are cemeteries.

This one is fifty miles from the patch of bad sand traveled by a frightened woman who carries a dead man's gun. It is a place barred with iron, chained and padlocked. No shovel has touched this earth in months. In that time burying boxes have been stacked near the gates, soaked with kerosene, torched, left smoking until black tendrils smother the desert sky like dirty veils.

But this place, like the dead inside it, endures nonetheless...

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Drac's Back! Or: Undead from the Movieland Wax Museum


Personally, I think The Count picked the wrong blonde. He coulda taken himself a little walk and scored Nancy Sinatra... on a chopper, yet!

Monday, November 14, 2011

Live (well... almost) from the Movieland Wax Museum!

As a teenager in the mid-seventies, I made a trip with a buddy of mine to the San Diego Comic Con... which, in those days, didn't come anywhere near approaching the amazing colossal con it is today. It was friendly and fun, and small enough that you could pretty much buttonhole anyone you wanted to talk to for at least a minute or two. Mostly, we weren't that brave, though we did attend programming events featuring everyone from Jack Kirby to Ray Bradbury to Chuck Norris, which was quite a treat.

But that's a story for another day. While we were in the neighborhood, we made a side-trip to the Movieland Wax Museum, which was a Southern Cal institution. Looking around online, I see it's closed now. Anyway, I found some old photos from my visit circa 1974 or 1975, and I'll post them in the next couple of weeks. Here's Subject Number One, a gent who needs no introduction to readers of this blog:

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Sunday Supplement 11/13/11

Some songs get stuck in your head... and this is the one that's been in mine all week. I loved the Beat Farmers, and "Riverside" has a halfway spooky vibe that you'd sometimes find in songs by fellow traveler artists like Dave Alvin and Los Lobos. That's the good dark stuff, amigo.

Of course, "Riverside" isn't a Country Dick song, but you can't mention the Farmers without tipping your hat in his direction. Here are Country Dick Montana's Rules of the Road for bands on tour. My favorite: "Do not take souvenirs from the crypt of a voodoo queen -- remember that zombies are even worse drives than drunks."

And speaking of voodoo queens, check out the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry on the tomb of Marie Laveau. Plenty of other interesting articles on this site, too (though some of 'em are as dry as a desiccated voodoo queen).

A few of you have asked me for a book recommendation, re: Joe Frazier. My pick is Ghosts of Manila by Mark Kram. It's not only a great study of Frazier (and Ali), but it's one of the very best books I've ever read about the sweet science (and I have read more than a few).

Smokin' Joe. Philly Soul. You can bet your last money it's a stone gas, honey.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Goodbye, Smokin' Joe

Of the men who held the heavyweight championship in the seventies, Joe Frazier was my favorite. Fact is, Frazier may be my favorite heavyweight champ, period. I loved the way the guy fought. His signature left hook was a miracle of speed, precision, and devastating power, a punch that made a liar of any math geek who'd try to tell you that the shortest distance between two points was a straight line. I loved Frazier's backstory, how he'd come out of nowhere to make himself into a fighter, how he'd torn up his hand in the Olympics and managed to bring home a gold medal anyway, how he'd had to work in a slaughterhouse and bust his ass to become champ even after he had that gold medal around his neck. I loved Frazier's work ethic, and the way he carried himself, and the way he did his business in the ring.

I loved the way Joe Frazier did his business out of the ring, too.

And when it comes to Frazier's life in and out of the ring, you can't talk about Smokin' Joe without talking about Muhammad Ali. While I always respected Ali's skill as a fighter, I lost respect for him as a man because of the way he treated Joe Frazier. What Ali did went far beyond gamesmanship, promotion, or any sense of common decency. Plain and simple, he started off calling Frazier an "Uncle Tom" before their first fight, and ended up calling him a "gorilla" before the third. You can't scrape much lower than that kind of snake-bellied jabber unless you start badmouthing a man's mama.

You can alibi for Ali -- he certainly had a raw deal when his heavyweight title was stripped in the sixties, and he had a lot to be angry about -- but why Joe Frazier became his most frequent target is a mystery. Frazier had done Ali several good turns when Ali's career looked like it was way past gone. But whatever Ali's reason, he wasn't fooling around with the stuff he put on Frazier. He used his words with the same precision and power that he used his fists. Those words were built to hurt Frazier, and wound him in places punches couldn't touch, and I have to think they did their job.

But Joe Frazier did his job, too.

And the thing that always stuck with me is this: Smokin' Joe did his job in the ring.

Looking back, Frazier's first fight with Ali has to stand out as the biggest of all the big fights to come along in my lifetime. I still remember how Ali's trash talk became the focus as the fight built... just as I remember the beating Frazier put on Ali once the bell rang, and the brutal left hook that knocked Ali down that night in New York, sealing the deal and letting the world know who the real heavyweight champ was, for sure and for certain.

Yep. That's what I took from Joe Frazier.

Here was a fighter who did his talking in the ring.

And, man, I'm here to tell you: I liked what he had to say.

The first Ali fight was the top of the mountain for Smokin' Joe. Somehow, I don't think it ever got better than that. To Ali's credit, he took the second fight of the trilogy, nearly putting Frazier out for the count in that one. The third fight is a legend, and much has been made of it. Read what Ali had to say, and it was the closest thing to death a fighter could experience. Read what Frazier had to say and it's a miracle he made it into that ring in Manila, let alone managed to fight the fight he did that night. As the old saying goes, Frazier was blind in one eye and couldn't see too well out of the other by the time he tangled with Ali for the third time. He had cataracts, plus other problems, and still fought one hell of a fight. "I accepted the hurt, and damage, as the price of being the best," Frazier said. "I saw myself as a warrior who was obliged to carry on through thick and thin. I wasn't the best athlete in the world, but I had that fire in my belly. And I was reckless in my determination."

One last memory -- Joe Frazier was one fighter I always wanted to meet, but I never did... though I could have. I was in Vegas when his son Marvis fought Larry Holmes for the title, and I spent a week going to both training camps and watching their workouts. Of course, Smokin' Joe trained Marvis, who was the nicest young guy in the world. But Joe Frazier just didn't seem like the kind of guy you'd walk up to and start a conversation. He didn't give off that vibe. He came into the room (which was actually a big corrugated metal equipment shed behind Caesar's Palace), and he looked like a man who was there to take care of business, not chitchat about it, or talk about his own glory days. He was there to work with his son, and try to help Marvis snatch the belt from Holmes. So I didn't really regret not talking to Frazier. Fact is, watching him work with Marvis that week just cemented the way I'd already come to see the man, so maybe it was better that way.

I'll tell you this, though. Seeing Joe Frazier up close, I was surprised how small he actually was. Mostly, he's listed as 5' 11 1/2", but he sure looked a lot more like five-ten to me. And, really, that just makes the guy all the more amazing.

Anyway, I've linked this before, but if you've never seen Smokin' Joe in action or want another look, check out this clip over on youtube. If you're a fight fan, you'll notice right away that the timeline is a little off, but hey, what can I say -- its heart is in the right place.

So was Joe Frazier's.

Goodbye, Champ. You'll be missed... and remembered.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Slippin' Into the Seventies


My first novel, Slippin' Into Darkness, is back in print as an Cemetery Dance eBook. That's only fitting, since Slippin' was the first original novel published by Rich Chizmar's legendary little shop of horrors back in the day. To help celebrate the new edition, I thought it would be fun to dig up a little promo essay that ran in The Overlook Connection when the book was first published. So let's backtrack to the nineties and check in on yours truly reminiscing about the seventies... and, hey, that's a double dose of nostalgia all around:

Slippin' Into Darkness is possibly the first -- and probably the last -- novel of what I have come to think of as "disco noir." This is an offhand way of saying that, yes, the book is pretty dark in terms of mood, style, characterization, and nasty plot twists (that's the noir part); but besides that, Slippin' has a lot to do with the decade in which I came of age, the 1970s (that's the disco part).

While deciding what I wanted to do with my first novel, I realized that no one had written much about the days of Jimmy Carter, Donna Summer, The Six Million Dollar Man, mood rings, and the undisputed queen of jiggle television -- Farrah Fawcett-Majors. I already knew that I wanted to write about my hometown -- Vallejo, California --but I was having trouble finding my way home, so to speak. I needed something that would bring the place alive for me.

What better way to do that then revisit the past? One afternoon I got out a stack of old albums put out by K-Tel and Ronco (the same people who brought us the Veg-A-Matic) and made myself a tape of seventies hits. I hadn't heard those songs, literally, since the days when I'd cruised V-Town in a big ol' gas-guzzling '66 Dodge Monaco equipped with an 8-track player (the Dodge took twenty bucks worth of leaded and a quart of oil every week, and you had to wait in line for the privilege of filling up in the days of the energy crisis). I mean, the music on those discs wasn't that old, but it had literally disappeared from the airwaves, and that surprised me. There are oldie stations that feature the hits of the fifties and sixties, and you'll catch plenty of Eagles, Elton John, and Jim Croce on mellow rock stations, but listening to those scratchy records told me that the music of my youth had gone south in a big way.

Hey, I know what you're saying. C'mon, Norm, it was disco music, after all. Good riddance. Thank God for little miracles, right?

Well... I hate to say it, but listening to those songs stuck a chord in me. Whether I wanted to admit it or not, I realized that I had somehow stepped over one of life's little lines without noticing, the one where you suddenly discover that you're old enough for nostalgia.

Songs I'd hated when I was seventeen were making me grin ear-to-ear at thirty-four. Even the most jaded among you must admit that "Kung Fu Fighting" actually is pretty entertaining, especially when you realize that little sucker went to number one on the charts back in '74. Like Don King says, "Only in America."

But my interest was fueled by something more than just simple nostalgia -- I began to notice some recurring themes in the tunes of my youth. I was delighted to find that some of the songs on those old albums were... hot damn... pretty dark and nasty all by themselves.

Hearing War's "Slippin' Into Darkness" again not only gave me the title of the book, it sent a chill up my spine that set those creative synapses firing. Pretty soon I picked up on a theme that really started things rolling for me -- a sub-genre of songs about guys who found perfect lovers only in their dreams ("I Like Dreamin'," "Dreamweaver," "Undercover Angel," etc.). Those songs started me thinking about a guy who had never recovered from a high school infatuation, an infatuation that never amounted to much until after high school was over and the girl had become someone else entirely. Along with this, there were several songs about women you'd best be advised not to mess with ("Lady Marmalade," "Evil Woman," "Bad Blood," "Bad Girls"), so I decided to create some bad girls of my own. And if that wasn't enough, running in those worn groves was a trail of wild violence both physical and psychological (the aforementioned and admittedly goofy "Kung Fu Fighting," plus assorted bad-intentioned funky stuff such as James Brown's "The Payback," Curtis Mayfield's "Superfly," and The O'Jays' "Back Stabbers").

So, after letting all this simmer in my brain for a little while, I started writing. I wrote about the past, about a group of characters who graduated from Hogan High School in 1976, the same year I did. I wrote about what happened to them in the intervening years, how they never quite found the lives they'd been looking for when they were eighteen. I wrote about their secrets, and the bad things they did back in '76, and they good things they failed to do, and how the past returned to haunt them in a tense twenty-four hour period, from midnight to midnight on April 8, 1994.

I made use of the tools of noir and suspense fiction, lessons I'd learned from the Gold Medal writers and the dark dreamers who have followed in their wake. Along the way I discovered a few surprises I think you'll enjoy -- a game called graveyard baseball, a haunted drive-in movie theater, and a dog made from the bones of a dream. Still, I think the single thing that influenced every aspect of the book -- plot, mood, theme, characterization -- is the soundtrack.

When I finished Slippin Into Darkness, I was surprised to find that I'd written a ghost story. But it's a ghost story born in the seventies, those comparatively carefree days of sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll.

Carefree -- that's what some of my characters told themselves back then, in the days before AIDS, crack, and (horror of horrors!) rap music.

It's a ghost story you can dance to... if you remember how to do the hustle, that is.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Sunday Paper on a Saturday Night (or: Sunday Supplement 11/6/11, just a little early)

Forget Vincent Price's rap on Michael Jackson's "Thriller," I wish Uncle Boris had lived long enough to pull this one off.

Just in case you didn't get enough Halloween: Universal Monsters punkins.

Great Ray Harryhausen appreciation at Tor.com.

And courtesy of my buddy Rick Klaw, here's a hilarious Harryhausen quote: "If I had first seen the 1975 (sic) version of King Kong, I would have become a plumber."

My wife says I obsess about coasters, but you'll probably obsess about these, too. Preordered!

From Nashville Public Radio, Rockin' Randy Fox on Sir Cecil Creape: Nashville's Hometown Ghoul.

And I can think of worse ways to close out the Halloween season than this. That's a bigga bigga hunka horror history in seven minutes and nine seconds.

Friday, November 4, 2011

The Great Pumpkin Giveth

Around here, Halloween comes with presents. The bride and I have been exchanging gifts in honor of the dark season since we first got together -- truth be told, my novel Dark Harvest started off as a short story that I was going to give Tia for Halloween one year. And while it was hard to find appropriate wrapping paper when we first started exchanging October-y gifts, it seems to be getting easier these days. Who knows, maybe a couple more flips of the calendar and I'll wander into a store and find Universal Monsters gift wrap. That would be cool. In the meantime, so is the swag I found this year under the twisted branches of the Halloween tree:


Creepy Presents Bernie Wrightson: As a teenager in the seventies, I loved horror comics. Wrightson and Mike Ploog were my favorite horror artists, and I'm proud to say I bought Wrightson's Swamp Thing comics off the rack down at the local bottle shop back in the day. This Dark Horse collection of Wrightson's work for Creepy and Eerie is a bang-up knockout of a book, and what surprised me most is how many of these stories I missed the first time around. While creepy nasties like "Jenifer" and "Country Pie" have long been favorites and sharp examples of the kind of Warren mag story that pushed the sex 'n' horror envelope in ways fifties EC comics rarely managed to touch, it's the stories I never read that have me slowly rationing this collection to my inner monsterkid. In other words, I'm working my way up to Wrightson's adaptation of Lovecraft's "Cool Air," and I'm doing the job slowly. Hey... that's called anticipation, and I'm lovin' it.



Call of Cthulhu (2005): I caught this modern-day silent a few years ago, and I've got to say it's the only Lovecraft adaptation I've ever seen that truly does justice to HPL. Hitting the creative wayback button and reimagining the story as a 1920s feature film was a genius idea. For my $, the gents who made this one pretty much got everything right, and viewers have the added pleasure of watching a film made by folks smart enough to make a dark fantasy fly solely on the power of a (black) wing and a (darker) prayer (i.e. the effects here are driven by imagination and old-school silent-era ingenuity... not an easy trick to manage). I especially enjoyed the bayou scenes, and that ending? Wow. It really sang with a strange magic that was one part Lovecraft Mythos and one part Willis O'Brien's King Kong. If you haven't seen this one, don't miss it.

Island of Lost Souls (1932): I've been waiting years for a reissue of this one -- it's far and away my favorite adaptation of H. G. Wells' Island of Dr. Moreau. As above, there's a little bit of King Kong jungle magic going on here, but it's mixed up with a vibe straight out of Tod Browning's Freaks. Charles Laughton knocks the ball out of the park as Moreau, while Island itself serves as a poster child for everything that made thirties horror great. In other words, you've got 70 minutes, and every one of 'em counts. Plus, you've got BELA LUGOSI as the Sayer of the Law. And finally: no CGI, only shadows, mood, and plenty of style. Need I say more? Anyway, Criterion has served up what I'm sure will be the definitive presentation of this film -- I haven't peeled the shrinkwrap on my copy yet, but I'll make like a vivisectionist and do the job soon. No doubt.

A Sci-Fi Swarm and a Horror Horde by Tom Weaver: This is the kind of book that makes me feel like a sixties kid with a brand new issue of Famous Monsters in my hands... only Weaver's the kind of writer that sinks his fangs much deeper than the gang at that classic mag ever managed. He knows his stuff, and that pays off both for his interview subjects and his audience. This latest volume features 62 interviews, and along the way you'll enjoy listening in on conversations with folks who worked with Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi, and Lon Chaney, Jr. (who apparently made great chili but could be kind of a jerk). Great bits on lots of fifties frights, too, including The Undead, The Screaming Skull, and Monster on the Campus. Plus, a cool section focusing on TV's Wild Wild West, with insights from Richard Kiel and stuntman Whitey Hughes. Lots of great stories there. According to Hughes, he and Robert Conrad went toe-to-toe one night in a club on the Sunset Strip, and what the beef boiled down to was an argument over Hughes' brother's Nehru jacket... stirred up by a bunch of Chicago cops who were in town investigating Ramon Navarro's murder (!). Crazy. Anyway, it sounds like there was usually just as much action behind the scenes on WWW as there was onscreen, and I'd love to read more about it. What a wild ride it must have been.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Photo Flashback: World Horror 2006

Steven "Killer" Shrewsbury, me, and Nate Southard at World Horror San Francisco in 2006. They were young writers; I was not... and what do they feed these guys, anyway? I felt like I was standing between the Giant from the Unknown and the Amazing Colossal Man, and both of 'em were hungry for some bbq'd Partridge.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

A Bucketful of Bad Business

Here's a new horror/noir antho slated for publication later this year that you folks might want to check out. Preorders end this Friday, so now's your chance to grab one (and while you're at it check out the Yellow Rose website, too). Anyway, here's the word from yours truly:

"Take warning, Tales from the Yellow Rose Diner and Fill Station isn't what you'd call popcorn horror. This roadside joint's made of wood and glass, nailed up shadows and curtains of smoke, and the people inside it damn sure aren't the kind you'll find in the latest teen-scream feature. They're the real scuffed-down American deal, and their stories cut both to the bone and the heart. In other words you'll want to keep your eye on these folks as you belly up to the bar. And keep your eye on the writers who created them, too -- Erik Williams, John Mantooth, Kim Despins, Sam W. Anderson, Petra Miller, and Kurt Dinan. They've done good work here, and if you're thirsty for a double-shot of horror and noir you ought to grab this one. I'm glad I did."

Monday, October 31, 2011

...And The October Girl!

...and Happy Halloween from Nevie Rose who says: "Punkin! Ghoooost! Black kitty! Amercan Fankstein!"

The October Boy 2011...

Happy Halloween from Sawtooth Jack to you and yours!

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Sunday Supplement 10/30/11

Richard Sala is new to me, and I loved The Chuckling Whatsit. Part Old Dark House mystery, part Universal Horror, and the best Halloween surprise I've had this season. If we've got a Charles Addams today, it's gotta be Sala (and I'd like more Mandrill and Septimus A. Crisp now, please).

Nice Bradbury shelf over at Macabre Republic. Hey kids, start your own today and honor Uncle Ray!

Monsterkid commercial #1.

Cool namecheck in a cool piece of work.

Monsterkid commercial #2 (special creepy doll reboot for the grrls).

Just in case you missed it the first time around: check this twisty hunk of darkness from Orrin Grey. Just what you need for an October night.

Speaking of Charles Addams, here's a bigga bigga hunka raveup for monsterkids everywhere. I remember this guy... and Shivaree!

Friday, October 28, 2011

Five Favorite Universal Horrors for Halloween

First off, "favorite" doesn't necessarily = "best" for me, so this list often favors fun over quality (i.e. if I stuck to "best" I probably wouldn't even make it past the thirties movies). Anyway, here are five Universal classics I always enjoy.

BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN: What a beaut. This is one horror movie where they really got everything right, including the brilliant Franz Waxman score. Plus: Karloff manages to top his initial performance as the Monster, and Ernest Thesiger manages to eclipse Boris in the creepy department. If that ain't enough raving for you, check out my post from last year here.

THE RAVEN: My Karloff/Lugosi pick. I love THE BLACK CAT, too, and it's probably a better movie with great turns by Karloff as a satanic priest and Lugosi as the hero(!), plus it's got that Art Deco creeper of a house and a really twisted plot (Boris stole Bela's wife and keeps her corpse in a glass case in the basement, and worse than that -- he married Lugosi's DAUGHTER, too!). But for my $, THE RAVEN is a lot more fun. Lugosi's completely over-the-top as Poe-obsessed surgeon Richard Vollin. Probably my favorite Lugosi role, with Ygor a close second and WHITE ZOMBIE's Murder Legendre coming in third (and, yep, I know I'm leaving out The Count... sue me). Anyway, forget the scenery and the hidden torture chamber and all that jazz in THE RAVEN... this Vollin cat could chew through granite, and Bela's just the guy to do the job.

FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE WOLF MAN: Universal really made a mess of this one when they cut the Monster's speaking role, but I do enjoy what's left. Plus, the scene in the cemetery with the grave robbers raiding Larry Talbot's crypt gets the prize for the best opening in any Universal horror movie. Add to that Lon Chaney, Jr. at his angsty-est and you've got a real winner. For me, FMTWF is THE Larry Talbot movie. The poor cursed bastard will do anything to die, and the fates just won't let him. And hey... here's a way to have even more fun with this one. Next time you pop in the DVD, turn on the subtitles and sing along with that song in the wine festival scene. Invite your friends. Get a whole roomful of people to do it. Several glasses of vino from your own private cellar will help. And you can wear your lederhosen, too.

THE OLD DARK HOUSE: James Whale does crazies. A whole houseful of 'em on a dark and stormy night. With Karloff, and Charles Laughton, and Ernest Thesiger (again, the greatest scene-stealer in the Universal canon). Plus Gloria Stewart, looking like a white flame! "That's fine stuff, but it'll rot, too!" WOW! Need I say more?

ABBOTT & COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN: Go ahead. Hate me. But this was the first Universal monster movie I ever saw and I love it still. Chaney and Lugosi play it straight pretty admirably, and Glenn Strange's Monster scared the hell out of me as a kid. Mr. Strange was the murderous dreadnaught of my nightmares, and the way I see it his performances as the Monster are underrated to this day. And while I'm at it I'll just mention that I watch this one every Halloween while I carve my pumpkin. "Oh Chick!"

One more to grow on, i.e. my favorite Universal Horror Movie That Isn't. That would be THE GHOUL, a Gaumont British production. It's got Karloff and Thesiger, and it plays like a James Whale movie. The plot's a combination of THE MUMMY and THE OLD DARK HOUSE, and it's as fine a little rollercoaster ride as an old school monsterfan could hope for on a Halloween night.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Johnny Halloween eBook

Just wanted to let folks know that Johnny Halloween is the featured eBook of the season over at the Cemetery Dance website. This collection features all my short Halloween fiction to date, including "The Jack o' Lantern," a prequel novella set in the world of Dark Harvest. That one's a real hardboiled horror tale, and it introduces one of the novel's main characters. Besides a half-dozen stories and an original introduction, the book also includes a nonfiction piece called "The Man Who Killed Halloween," in which I share some memories about growing up in Vallejo, California during the Zodiac Killer's bloody spree.

Anyway, the limited hardcover edition of this collection is long out of print, so it's nice to have the eBook out in time for Halloween. Right now you can grab Johnny Halloween for $2.99 from CD. There are links from the CD page for readers with Kindles and Nooks. Just scroll on down... and enjoy!

And while I'm at it: I'm a big fan of Alex McVey, and a big fan of his cover for this collection. It's a fine piece of work (as was the original cover Alex did that we didn't use -- one that will surely find it's way onto another book one of these days). So needless to say, I'd love to work with Alex again... especially if he carries through on his threat to craft a sculpture based on the Johnny Halloween cover.

Just so you know, Alex, I'm saving room on the bookcase for that.

Like, definitely.

FEARnet.com Reviews Dark Harvest

...and those are some fine words indeed. Thanks to Blu Gilliand for the shout out. And if you haven't checked out Blu's other picks for the scariest night of the year, I'm here to tell you that you can't go wrong with one of those, amigo. Blu's carved you a path to some fine reading... and put yours truly in some fine company while he was at it.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Not Dead... Only Dormant

Well, it's been a while. Not much blogging in the last few months. Of course, I could give you a bucketful of reasons for that. They'd make sense to me. Hey, they might even make sense to you.

But to tell you the truth, explanations always end up sounding like alibis to me. Let's just say that American Frankenstein is coming back, and these days I'm working hard on an overdue project called Oktober Shadows. The going hasn't been easy with this novella. In fact, some days working on it has seemed a metaphorical exercise in battling burning windmills that'd test the Monster himself (and you can toss in a few bubbling sulphur pits, too). But the story finally feels right, and it's going well, and that is more than okay with me.

After all, this is October. It's the perfect time to be writing this piece. Another long California summer is dying (finally), and it's almost my favorite day of the year. Right now the page I've got minimized down there on my task bar is littered with dead werewolves, and it feels good to be the guy who put them there.

Which is really kind of odd, if you think about it. Getting so wrapped up in a world that only exists on paper. Maybe you have to be a writer to understand something like that. Or maybe not.

Still, when all is said and done, I hope those of you who pre-ordered Oktober Shadows from the fine folks at Cemetery Dance will find it worth the wait. Thanks to Rich Chizmar and Brian Freeman at CD for their patience, and thanks to those of you who ordered the book for the same. Believe me, I appreciate it more than you know... especially you readers who've taken time to drop me a line and tell me how much you're looking forward to the book, regardless of the delay.

Now, time to post this and get back to another dark land.

A place called Oktober.

The werewolves there are dead.

But to the north there are vampires...

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Last Call at Vampire Lake

Just saw that the trade edition of Subterranean: Tales of Dark Fantasy 2 is now sold out over at the Subterranean Press website. Looks like copies can still be had over at Amazon... but my Spidey senses are tingling on this one (i.e. if you snooze, you lose, amigos).

My novella "Vampire Lake" is in this anthology, and thanks to all of you who've written to tell me how much you enjoyed it. The San Francisco Book Review just chimed in, calling my tale "a new classic." "Vampire Lake" also earned great reviews from Fantasy Book Critic and Locus, so I'm pleased with the reaction to this one.

And if you'd like to pull up a bucket of water from subterranean depths and have yourself a free taste, just click here.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Johnny Halloween OOP

Just had word from Brian Freeman at Cemetery Dance that Johnny Halloween: Tales of the Dark Season has gone out of print. You can still grab copies at Amazon and Camelot Books, and probably a few other places out there, but you probably don't want to wait too long to pull the trigger.

And: Thanks to all of you who already dug into your wallets and picked up a copy. I appreciate it!

Friday, May 6, 2011

A Dark Harvest at Seton Catholic Central High (Part 4)

Here's the last part of my Dark Harvest interview with Kevin Lucia's Creative Writing students. Enjoy!

Dave: Why didn't anyone question the ritual before Pete?

There were people who did -- Kelly Haines' dad for one. But people like that ran up against the Harvester's Guild. And you can figure out what the Guild did to them. They ended up like Kelly's dad, just another example to everyone in town of the cost of stepping out of line.

Marieke: Why didn't the parents stand up and do anything?

Part of the answer to that one is in the answer above. Another part is human nature, which is something most horror writer's explore. I believe most people cling to a sense of stability, sometimes at a great cost. And the cost of the Run in Dark Harvest may seem extreme at first, but not when you place it within the parameters of human history. Take Nazi Germany, for example. People lived in that society, lived their lives day-to-day, got up and went to jobs and came home and made dinner. Laughed and cried on the weekends. I'm sure some of them didn't know what was going on, and some of them chose to ignore it, and some of them were knee-deep in it but still managed to close their doors at night and sleep like babies. I'm sure others battled nightmares, and some couldn't sleep at all. None of that's pretty, or pleasant, but for me it reflects one of the darker and more frightening truths about the human condition.

John: You don't give much history or background to the rituals. Why?

Good question... and one I get a lot. Again, part of this answer is in the one above. For most people, I think why isn't necessarily the most important question when it comes to day-to-day existence. The important question is how. As in: I don't care why this is happening; I care how I'm going to get through it day-to-day.

That's something I've explored in a lot of my stories, and for me it's a much more interesting question than why. Really, why's are a dime-a-dozen. If I wanted to toss one into Dark Harvest, it could have been as simple as one line or a paragraph: Well, the town was built on an old Indian burial ground, and there was this curse, and the October Boy was part of a ritual to make a deal with the Devil, and... You get the idea.

To tell the truth, I didn't care about any of that. I wasn't concerned with why's. I cared about how people would live within the very dark parameters they faced in that town. I cared about the how's. For me, those were the questions that made things interesting, and those were the questions that shaped the story. Seeing how each character dealt with the situation. The environment. The horror. Seeing how reactions and actions shaped them. For me, that's the real meat of most stories, and that was my focus in Dark Harvest.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

New Cemetery Dance Website

I'm bumping Part 4 of my interview with the students at Seton CC High to Friday to make way for some news that rattles one of the Horror genre's favorite boneyards: Rich Chizmar and Brian Freeman have unveiled a reboot of the Cemetery Dance Website. Poke around the grounds and you'll find a Forum (I just registered), a Norman Partridge page, The Writer's Corner (where you can get some great advice from CD authors, including yours truly), Breaking News, and Interviews with some of your favorite writers.

And hey. What's that? There's even a tab for forthcoming eBooks?

Cue afterburners. These guys are ready to roll.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Big, Bad, and Red

You can file this one in the Department of You Say It and He Plays It: My artist buddy Kevin Nordstrom couldn't figure out why he had a bunch of emails on Sunday morning asking him to draw the Red Skull. Then he clicked over to American Frankenstein and saw the last installment of the ever-popular Sunday Supplement. And then (lucky for you) he sat down and whipped up the cool piece you see above.

And wow. This just gets me more excited about Captain America: The First Avenger. I loved the trailer for that one, and it's probably my most-anticipated summer movie. First off, it looks like a great thrill ride. Second, I can't believe they actually did it straight-up as a period piece set in World War II. This makes me happy, because (if you ask me) you can't drop Cap into the filmic version of the Marvel Universe without his backstory. Anyway, as a child of the late fifties and a definite First Generation Marvel Maniac, I can't wait to see how it plays.

Now, it's probably no surprise when I tell you that my favorite Marvel characters are the Outsiders. Misfits like The Hulk; semi-misfits like The Thing. But Captain America? Hey, he's Mythic. He's Tortured (w/ a capital "T"). And when you get right down to it, there's just something about a guy who's (literally) spent a chunk of his life frozen in ice.

Man, I can identify with that.

Think about it.

I bet a lot of you can, too.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

A Dark Harvest at Seton Catholic Central High (Part 3)

Here's Part 3 of my Dark Harvest interview with Kevin Lucia's Creative Writing students:

Victoria: Who exactly is the omniscient narrator meant to represent?

That's a question with a few twists and turns I'll have to leave alone for those who haven't read the book... but basically the narrator is the town's Everyman. He's lived there, and died there, and seen it all.

Dave: How did you develop the concept of the October Boy himself?

I've always loved horror stories about scarecrows that come to life. I've been trying to write one for years. In fact, I wrote one novella called "Red Right Hand" several years ago that involved a gang of Depression-era bank robbers who come nose-to-nose with a scarecrow and some bad mojo in a cornfield -- but something else happened when I got to the part of the story where I expected the scarecrow to come down off the pole. And since that something was better for the story, I went in a different direction than I'd originally intended and figured I'd save my scarecrow story for another day.

When I got the idea for Dark Harvest, I knew it would be my scarecrow story. Kind of. Because the other thing every horror writer wants to do is create their very own monster, one that hasn't been seen before. That's what I did with the October Boy, and it's one of the things I liked best about crafting Dark Harvest. Sawtooth Jack is my guy, from his flaming pumpkin head right down to his twisted root feet. Making him up was a lot of fun.

Emily: Why are the boys starved before the Run?

I wanted the night of the Run to be a wild, anything-goes kind of thrill ride. Starving the boys was just a way of amping up their internal hunger -- both in their bellies and their souls. They're desperate. They want the October Boy so bad they can taste him, and since he's packed with candy that's a literal possibility.

* * *

Check back for Part 4 on Thursday, when we'll talk about questions and answers, and a writer's obligation to the reader when it comes to both. On Wednesday we'll have a little intermission and a surprise you may have anticipated if you've been paying attention. Tune on in!

Friday, April 29, 2011

A Dark Harvest at Seton Catholic Central High (Part 2)

I'm back with a few more questions about Dark Harvest from Kevin Lucia's Creative Writing students... and thanks to Victoria for the Sawtooth Jack sketch!

Dominick: Is there a direct connection between the October Boy and the candy (stuffed in his guts and pumpkin head)?

Sawtooth Jack is the walking, talking embodiment of Halloween, so I guess the answer to that question is yes. Plus, I'm a third-generation Californian, so a little Mexican influence crept in. In other words, I remember swinging at plenty of pinatas as a kid. Only this pinata is alive... and the October Boy is just as dangerous as those who are stalking him with baseball bats and pitchforks on the night of the Run.

Clarissa: What inspired you to write this story?

Dark Harvest started out as a Halloween present for my wife (writer Tia V. Travis). I thought I'd surprise her with a short story for the holiday. But as soon as I wrote the first few scenes, I knew I had a novel on my hands. And that means it took a little while for Tia to get her present, but I think she'd say it was worth the wait (and, yep, you can insert a virtual wink right ).

Pat: Did an editor/publisher ask you to change any part of the story?

No. One of the great things about working with Richard Chizmar at Cemetery Dance is that he gave me the keys to the car and didn't ask for them back. Rich and I have a long-standing relationship -- he published my first short story in '89 -- and he let me crank up the story and drive it my way. Dark Harvest hit the page just as I wrote it. When Tor picked up the novel for paperback, things were the same way... so it was a great experience for me all around.

* * *

That's it for today's segment. We'll take a little break this weekend, then check in next week for a few more questions.