Monday, April 26, 2010

Lee Marvin...on a Train...with a Baseball Bat...

Sorry to have checked out for a couple days -- a case of the flu put me flat on my back. Or maybe it was a boxcar full of the flu. That would explain why I dreamed that Lee Marvin was beating the hell out of me on a flatcar somewhere in the Pacific Northwest.

Let me tell you, there's not enough Extra-Strength Tylenol in the world to take care of that kind of misery, brudda. Today's lesson is that you don't mess with the Emperor of the North Pole. I don't mess with the flu, either. I'll be back soon with more scintillating content for you, including the last part of The Bradbury Shelf feature. In other words, that stuff sitting on my bookshelf isn't going anywhere, and neither am I.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Famous Monsters Speak!

I'll be back with Part 3 of "The Bradbury Shelf" tomorrow, but wanted to cut in here with a new Lesser Demons review from Famous Monsters. Peter D. Schwotzer says in part: "Lesser Demons is a collection of stories that really can't be categorized. Mr. Partridge is able to combine the best of The Twilight Zone, classic monster movies, detective and western fiction into a group of tales that hit hard and stay with you long after you close the book...It appears I have been missing out on a monstrous talent in the short story field, but that is one mistake I fully intend to rectify."

Okay. It's hard to channel my inner fanboy these days. That little sucker is buried down deep. But this review did it. I mean, this in FAMOUS MONSTERS. The mag that helped turn me into a genuine monsterkid. It's a real thrill to have my work reviewed in its virtual pages. Fact is, I can't think of anything much cooler.

Well, if they'd sent me a couple of vintage Don Post monster masks along with the review, that would have been cooler. And maybe all the old issues of FM (including #1) that my mom tossed when I was away at summer camp one year. I wouldn't mind that. But, hey, I don't want to get greedy....

Thursday, April 22, 2010

The Bradbury Shelf, Part 2

Here's a little closer view of the left side of the Bradbury Shelf. You can see it's pretty Universal Monsters-intensive. I love those characters, especially the Wolf Man and Frankenstein (or Frankenstein's Monster, if you're a purist). It's the Karloff version of the Monster you're seeing here, though that is Bela Lugosi on the old Super 8mm box for Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man. (And, yep, I had a collection of Super 8mm monster movies as a dyed-in-the-wool monsterkid -- but this is one of the few I held on to over the years.)

While I'm at it, I'll mention that Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man is one of my absolute favorites among the Universal horrors. Of course, that doesn't mean it's necessarily one of the best of 'em, but it is a whole lot of fun. For my money, FMTWM has one of the creepiest openings in any Universal chiller. Plus Chaney Jr.'s at his angstiest in this one, and it's probably his finest appearance as the Wolf Man. While a lot of people hate Lugosi as the Monster, there's something about him that works for me...though I do do admit I'd have rather seen Glenn Strange take on the role at this point. Now, if it had been old Glenn and Chaney going at it, FMTWM might have ended up being a much better movie.

Over to the left there's an old Bride of Frankenstein VHS -- man, those things took up a lot of space, and about all you can say about VHS tapes these days is that they make great monster-sized dominoes. I can't really remember if the bottle of wine next to it was any good or not, but you've gotta love a label with a red flying saucer on it. Maybe the stuff was flown in direct from Mars -- I hear the canal country is great for Merlot.

Behind the Wolf Man bust, there's a gen-u-ine New Orleans voodoo doll sent to me by writer Poppy Z. Brite. And behind that, there's a shrunken head I picked up in a Calgary magic shop while on the prowl with artist/rocker Tom Bagley. For years, the head hung from the rearview mirror of my old pickup truck. I named him Raymondo, and I used to ask him for directions when I'd get lost. Truth be told, he was never much help -- hey, it's not easy to talk through a pair of stitched rubber lips -- but Raymondo hung around long enough to make it into a novel (The Crow: Wicked Prayer), where he turned out to be a lot of help giving directions to a pair of psycho killers. Now the guy's retired, hanging out on top of a little metal vase decorated with candy corn.

Above all that, there's an old-fashioned Halloween card I gave my wife. As you can imagine, Halloween is kind of a big deal around here. More about that next time, and about the other side of the shelf.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The Bradbury Shelf, Part 1

When I first started getting serious about writing back in the eighties, there was a weekly cable series called The Ray Bradbury Theater. Each episode would begin with the grand old writer riding that wonderfully ornate elevator in L.A.'s Bradbury Building. He'd enter his office (a.k.a. "my magician's toyshop"), which looked just like the kind of place Mr. B would cook up his stories. I can still see him sitting there in his horn-rims, peering around the room, looking for inspiration as the camera caught a dozen little details amid the glorious clutter -- rubber dinosaurs, an authentic Wonderful Ice Cream Suit, rocket models (and Captain Nemo's Nautilus!), old movie stills, a little Abraham Lincoln doll, bottles of Mr. Dark's Elixir, and even what looked like (gasp!) a first-generation Mr. Coffee coffeemaker -- while Bradbury's voice crackled, "What shall it be...out of all this...what do I choose to make the story?"

Of course, I'm sure that jammed little suite of rooms was mostly the dream of a set-designer. I don't think Bradbury had an office in the Bradbury building. But I don't doubt that his office was at least a little bit like the one we saw in those opening credits. I hope so, anyway.

I've tried to do a little bit of that in my own office. I've got a few "Bradbury Shelves" -- that's what I like to call them, anyway. They're little collections of things that have inspired me along the way and inspire me still. A couple touchstones jammed in there, too...and a couple memories. Here's a look at one of the shelves:

I'll be back tomorrow with a little more detail about some of the contents. Until then, have fun looking around....

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

One-Line Review: Race with the Devil

Racing with the Devil in a mobile home is kind of like Old Scratch trying to cook up a hell's worth of brimstone in a four-slice toaster.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Howl of the Yeti

There's a great piece on Lesser Demons over at Stomping on Yeti. I've got to say that this is my favorite kind of review -- long and thoughtful, one where I can really peg what the reviewer felt when he slapped covers closed on one of my books. I'm gratified to say that the new collection did its work the way I intended with this reader, and that means I did, too. And, sure, there's some criticism along with the praise, but that's all right. Gives me something to think about as I batten down the hatches on a few more stories (juggling three right now).

Of course, as a writer you have to learn to take the good with the bad. Not all the reviews you'll get are of the glowing variety (as this one is). The bad ones tend to put a dent in your day. The best you can say of them is that they can provide fuel for the fire. Spark it up and make it blaze a little. As in: "Okay. I'm feeling like I've got something to prove. Let me get in there and rattle that keyboard."

After a review like this, I'm feeling more of a well-stoked glow than a blazing fire...but, hell, I think I'll go write anyway.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Library Tough Guy

Actor James Cagney came up tough. Born above his father's saloon in 1899, he spent his childhood in the Five Points neighborhood on the Lower East Side in New York City. His family led a hard-scrabble existence, and Cagney held at least a half-dozen jobs as a kid -- he was a bellhop, a night doorman, and a copy boy at the New York Post. He also worked a stint as a book custodian at the New York Public library, where he cleaned up tables and shelved books.

Cagney came to the job with a love of books and learning. He fed that fire with a library card. Doing that, he developed a view of the public library you don't hear about much today. For Cagney, the library was the Poor Man's University. The key to that university was a library card, and the cost of the education it offered wasn't measured in dollars. Instead, it was measured in time, and determination, and discipline.

As a kid in Five Points, Cagney had all three in spades. He invested the first, and developed the other two at the Poor Man's University. "I saw a television program once on CBS about young men from the mean streets of town who were seemingly not able to advance themselves," Cagney said later in life. "The program showed footage of the young men sitting on the stoops of old houses, doing nothing, just sitting there obviously ripe for mischief. And the commentator droned on, saying over and over again until it drove me absolutely nuts: 'Where can they go? Where can they go? Where can these young men go?' Which just infuriated me to the point that I actually jumped out of my chair and shouted -- after I had heard that god-damned 'Where can they go?' just too many times. I got up and shouted, 'To the library. That's where they can go. To the god-damned library!' I meant that, and I mean that, with every fiber of my being."*

*Cagney quotation from Cagney by John McCabe.

Friday, April 16, 2010

$ubPress $ale

Subterranean Press is having a 50% off pre-order sale thru the end of today (Friday, April 16). If you're looking to line up a copy of Lesser Demons and a fistful (or two) of other fine books at bargain prices, now's your chance.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Pic of the Litter

If you read my piece about Tom Piccirilli and his wife Michelle a few days ago, you know I ponied up for a box of Pic goodness. WHAM! A UPS brownshirt dropped that sucker on my porch Wednesday morning, and I ended up with three aces to draw to: Hellboy: Emerald Hell, Shadow Season (an upgrade from my homegrown ARC), and The Fever Kill.

That last one drew me like a magnet. I snatched it up, because the retro beat-up-back-pocket paperback cover design by the folks at Creeping Hemlock Press was irresistible to a guy like me. And what did I find inside? Well, check out this opening:

"Crease had spent seven years carting his father home from barrooms and whorehouses, picking him out of the alleys and gutters and carrying him on his back through the frigid streets of Hangtree. The old ladies who woke before dawn would tsk loudly on their porches or smile with all the small cruelty they felt they deserved to pass back to the world. Edwards and the deputies would pace their cruisers alongside and follow mile after mile while Crease struggled beneath his father's weight. The cops would keep their dome lights on so he could see their eyes, the way they grinned. Crease didn't know who he wanted to kill more, them or his father or himself."

Uh-huh. Now that's the way you start a crime novel. That's the sound of the opening bell, looking up from your stool and seeing a guy with Sonny Liston eyes waiting across the ring. In other words, you haven't been hit yet, but you sure as hell know you're going to be.

And not just a little bit...a lot.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Heart of the Demon

Spotted a new review of Lesser Demons over at Dark Scribe Magazine. Writing in the style of a guy you might recognize, Blu Gilliand has this to say:

"Lesser Demons by Norman Partridge is a collection of tales as hard as sun-bleached bone and as sharp as Hell-forged steel. These are stories that dig deep into your gut, claw your heart out of your chest, and force you to watch as it shudders through its last desperate beats."

Well, there's a keeper image...and one I might just hijack someday. If you're interested in more, check out Blu's full review right here.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Tom & Michelle: The Comeback Kids

Ace crime writer and all-around good joe Tom Piccirilli and his wife Michelle Scalise-Piccirilli had one tough week. Michelle ended up in the hospital after a heart attack, undergoing surgery to insert a stent. Just as she was beginning to get back on her feet, Tom made his own trip to the hospital with soaring blood pressure and some concerns about his heart. In other words, these folks have had a bucketful of misery tossed in their faces, just in time for (yep, you guessed it) tax season.

The good news is they're both home now, taking some serious steps on the road to recovery. Tom tells me he's already dropped twelve pounds, and that he and Michelle have started adjusting diet, exercise...the whole nine yards. Of course, Pic also passed on some hilarious tales about his night on the ward, which is what I'd expect of the guy. The big bruiser didn't get any sleep in a hydraulic bed that kept kneading him like bread dough -- and I'll bet listening to those Bonanza reruns while he dozed didn't help.

But that's all in the rearview now. Tom and Michelle are survivors. I know that together they'll move forward and do just fine, even if the road is rough. But the whole deal set me thinking, too. After all, Tom's one of my best buddies -- more like a brother, really -- and I wanted to do a little something that would make the coming week a lot better than the week before.

But what? Well, I could buy Pic a get well card and send it his way, but in the longrun that didn't seem like the right thing to do. After all, it's not like Tom's the kind of cat who keeps a scrapbook or anything. Then it hit me. Instead of sending Pic a card, I'd yank my plastic and order some Tom Piccirilli books online. Fill in my collection with a few of the titles I don't have. Help make Tom's sales numbers climb. You don't need to be a writer to understand that sometimes that kind of jolt just might be the best medicine of all for a guy like Mr. Piccirilli.

If you've enjoyed Tom's work, you might consider doing the same. He's one of the best noir writers going, and his novels hit on all cylinders. So hit Amazon. Or Barnes & Noble. Or the independent bookseller of your choice. Do a little bit to make the big guy smile. Hey, I bet Tommy watches those numbers (most writers I know do that, even if they won't admit it). And while you're at it, spread the word. Blog, Twitter, Facebook...all that stuff. After all, last week was rotten for Tom and Michelle -- the way I see it, we've got a fistful of days (plus two) to make this one great.

'Nuff said. I've got my plastic in hand. Time to get the ball rolling.

Friday, April 9, 2010

First Encounters

With some books, you always remember the first time you read them. I mean: you remember. How old you were. Where you were. Maybe even where you were sitting.

Those are great little flashback moments. Here are a few of mine.

The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury: It was the tail-end of the sixties, and my brother Larry took me up to Sonoma State U for the day. His girlfriend (now wife) was in class, so we set up camp in the library. Larry did some work of his own, and I got bored (as kid brothers will do). After awhile, Larry dipped into the card catalog, snatched a book from the stacks, and dropped it in front of me. "I think you might like this one," he said, and he wasn't wrong. Inside the library, it was quiet. Outside, sirens blared as a Vietnam War protest started up. I didn't hear much of it -- I was on Mars with Ray Bradbury.

The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger by Stephen King: A little more than ten years later, I was working in a library myself. I'd decided those were pretty cool places, and once I nailed down the corners on my college career I went to work at a small public branch out in Brentwood -- not the LA neighborhood, but a (then) mostly agricultural town in the California Delta. Brentwood's grown a lot in the time since I worked there, but in those days it fit the definition of sleepy. There were lots of fruit stands and pick-your-own produce orchards, and the only place in town to eat was the truck stop.

The library itself was pretty new. The break room was a nice little corner -- only problem was that no one could afford furniture for it, so what we had was someone's old patio set. I used to sit back there on a white mesh chaise lounge and read. I blasted through several early Stephen King novels while catching breaks or lunch -- including 'Salem's Lot -- and then one day I read about a new King book in one of the trade magazines. It was from a small publisher, and (if I remember correctly) the reviewer described it as Stephen King meets The Good, the Bad, & the Ugly.

Well, that was enough for me. I wanted that book. Only problem was, it was a little on the pricey side. I figured I'd keep my money in my pocket, see if I could track down a copy through inter-library loan (man, who knows what that book would be worth today if I'd snagged a first edition). Anyway, I was persistent. And that was a big plus in those pre-computer days, because inter-library loan involved forms with lots pages that were one step removed from carbon paper.

Wonder of wonders (and a few month later), I ended up with a copy of The Gunslinger. I sat in the break room and cracked the spine -- yep, that nice sharp sound told me no one had read this copy yet. That first sentence grabbed me by the collar and yanked me into King's world: The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed.

I followed, too.

True Grit by Charles Portis: I read this one on a beach in Hawaii. Maui to be exact, on the dry side of the island. I had brought a beat-up retired library copy on vacation, the kind of book I'd snag so I wouldn't feel guilty about leaving it behind somewhere. I flipped to the first page sitting on a lounge not much different than the one at the Brentwood library, and I was mesmerized by the voice of Mattie Ross, a girl on the hunt for her father's killer with the aide of one crusty U. S. Marshall, Rueben "Rooster" Cogburn. Way I remember it, I didn't even make it into the water that afternoon...but I could smell gunpowder on the trade winds, and that was a memory worth keeping.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

A Dark Discovery

I started publishing short stories in the (very) late eighties. When it came to magazines, the big dog in those days was Rod Serling's Twilight Zone, but it was on its last legs. TZ vanished just as a new generation of dot-matrix pulp mags were gearing up.

Now pulp is a familiar term. The dot-matrix refers to a generation of magazines designed on that wiz-bang first generation of "home computers." Mostly these mags were put together by young editors looking to have some fun and maybe claw their way out of fandom into the big leagues while they were at it. A lot of these 'zines were run off at local copy shops or printed through small regional printshops. Some of them even hung around long enough to become the real deal -- Dave Silva's The Horror Show, Rich Chizmar's Cemetery Dance, Peggy Nadramia's Grue, and Mark Rainey's Deathrealm, to name a few.

I cut my teeth selling stories to those magazines...and, hey, though I never did crack The Horror Show, I have fond memories of my interactions with Dave. Of the others, it was a pleasure to watch them grow and to grow with them. Unfortunately, I don't see too many venues like that today, and young writers are looking elsewhere for opportunities. A lot of the markets for short fiction have moved online, and there aren't too many publishers interested in marketing a hold-in-your-hands magazines today. More's the pity.

An exception is James Beach with his quarterly mag, Dark Discoveries. I've been following DD for several issues now, and it's gotten to the point where I count on losing an afternoon every time a new one shows up in my mailbox. The last several DD's have been especially good -- with special issues devoted to The Twilight Zone and the core group of SoCal writers who drove the show, a Forrest J. Ackerman special, and the latest issue -- a special devoted to H. P. Lovecraft. This one is chock-full of good stuff, with fiction by Lovecraft himself (w/ Brian Lumley), W. H. Pugmire, and young-gun Cody Goodfellow. Not to mention interviews with Lumley and Lovecraft scholar/editor S. T. Joshi, along with plenty of other top-drawer nonfiction (including a really fun piece on Lovecraft's Mythos in Marvel comics which sent me digging through boxes of seventies issues in search of some of the source material).

My only beef with Beach's mag is the occasionally wonky design work, which sometimes makes me wish I could pluck out an eyeball and roll it across the page like a scanner. But I'm hoping that will calm down a bit in coming issues. In the meantime, you can check 'er out yourself over at the Dark Discoveries website. After all, if you like horror, this is the good stuff. Here's hoping DD will be around for a long, long time.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Great Openings #2

"The desert is an amphitheater. Eternal in its architecture, infallible in its silence, it marks the disturbed pebble, the broken blade of feathergrass in never-decreasing reverberations to its outer edge. At a distance of fifty miles the click of an iron shoe against sandstone is as the scrape of one's own fork on the plate before him. This is how I became aware of the long man the moment he crossed into old Mexico."

--Journey of the Dead by Loren D. Estleman

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Reading/Watching/Listening #4

READING: Temporary Monsters by Ian Rogers. I miss chapbooks. Back when I started out, getting one published was a sure sign that a writer was stepping up his or her game and making a move towards solo projects. That's the way it is with this novella from Ian Rogers and Burning Effigy Press. The tale follows P. I. Felix Renn's encounter with the dark side courtesy of a dimension called the Black Lands, a Twilight Zone which churns up some nasty creatures of the supernatural variety and tosses them into Toronto's simmering film industry. I'm sure this one will earn Rogers more than a few comparisons to Jim Butcher -- and those are apt -- but Rogers' work hits just as close to the good old P. I. stuff you'll find in yellow-paged paperbacks. He's got the rhythm and the wryness ("He tossed me across the restaurant like a lawn dart..."), plus dialogue and description that snaps. Most of all, Rogers has a hardluck character in Renn who's a keeper. Here's hoping the next step for this young writer will be a collection, because it looks to me like he's got a bibliography that will fill up a table of contents page just fine.

WATCHING: All four Lethal Weapon movies. Snatched these up in a two-disc set at Target for around ten bucks. And who knows why, but during my last few days of paternity leave Tia and I decided to watch a Lethal Weapon movie every night. Maybe this is what sleep deprivation does to you.

Of course, we battened down the hatches and hid the kidlet in her crib first. But, wow, I forgot what fun this series is, especially since the Lethal flicks are action movies made in the days before CGI. Or to put it another way: when a gas station blows up in a Lethal Weapon movie -- yep, they blow up a gas station. When cars get smashed so badly they look like Godzilla had his way with them -- yep, those bumpers weren't dented by computer techs juggling Coke cans and empty Pixy Stix straws. And when a guy in street armor lets loose with a flame-thrower -- watch out cast and crew, that Johnny Storm Flame On! action could sure enough toast your marshmallows and then some.

So from a guy-movie perspective, part of the fun of the Lethal Weapon series is watching things blow up for real. After a decade of CGI, I kind of forgot exactly how much fun that can be. Amazing to see a guy surf SoCal freeways on an upturned table tied to a rampaging big rig, and realize that some crazy stuntman really did that. Wild to watch a million-dollar mansion (or reasonable facsimile thereof) get pulled off a Hollywood hillside. Insane to see a building demolished with explosives -- and realize that Richard Donner & company decided to foot the bill for that action just to have a knockout tag scene after the end-credits for one of the sequels.

Even better: my wife liked these movies. Maybe Tia's just into the Gibson/Glover bromance thing. Or maybe she just liked watching Rene Russo kick ass while playing a character who's nine months pregnant. To tell the truth, I think any new mom would dig that after what they've been through.

Me, I liked all the aforementioned stuff blowing up, and Gibson and Glover, too. Plus: you won't find a scarier psychopath than Gary Busey's Mr. Joshua from the first movie. That's a cat built for top-drawer mayhem, and a really great villain. Too bad they didn't stack up Mr. J against Jet Li in LW4. Now that would have been a brawl fit for the villains hall of fame.

LISTENING: Where the Roots All Grow by The Builders and the Butchers. If there's a better rockin' hillbilly tune about an underground lake inhabited by sixteen vampires than the one by this crew of wild-eyed ex-Alaskan roots musicians, I haven't heard it. If you want to take these gents for a test-drive, your youtube link to a shaky-cam live recording of "Vampire Lake" is right here. You can thank me later.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Writer's Detention Hall

Yep. That's where I'll be this weekend, folks. In other words: signature sheets for my next Cemetery Dance book hit the doorstep yesterday -- more than 1,500 of 'em!

By the time I'm done signing these things, I'm sure my hand will look worse than Chaney's in "The Iron Dead." And if you don't get that reference, you're just going to have to wait a few weeks until my new collection Lesser Demons hits the street and you can eyeball Chaney's adventure yourself.

That's a not-so-subtle hint to those of you who haven't yet ordered Lesser Demons. Your plastic's no good to me in your pocket, pard. Yank that sucker and get to work. In the meantime I'll be scribbling, cramping, groaning, tossing dead pens over my shoulder, and looking around for a bucket of Tiger Balm....

Thursday, April 1, 2010

From the Writing Trenches: Hugh B. Cave

Pulpster Hugh B. Cave to Carl Jacobi, from a letter written knee-deep in the Great Depression, November 17, 1932:

"This is one of those days that knock a writer's ambitions to hell. Warner Bros., the first of the movie outfits to report on 'Murgunstrumm,' returned it because of the madhouse angle. Then Western Story returned my last attempt after holding it long enough to make me think it was a sure sale -- so sure that I had just finished writing a sequel to it. Then I got one back from Chatelaine which had already been accepted. The Editor was strong for it, but the Editorial Director said no at the last minute. Cosmo returned the one they were holding with this comment: 'This is a fine story, very humorous and well worthy of publication. The trouble is, we positively cannot consider anything until the first of the year.' And Good Housekeeping returned theirs with the following: 'We are genuinely sorry to return this. It is excellently done, and has a very nice appeal. The writing is vivid. It's by far the best you've sent us, we think. However, we can be very choosey these days.'

"Damn the Depression. You plug along day after day, making yourself so damned irritable you can't even get along with the girl friend, and still the disappointments pour in relentlessly. If some kind editor would tell me straight out, 'Cave, as a writer you're a damned good peanut vendor,' I'd go out maybe and buy a peanut wagon. But these blasted 'almosts' keep coming from the best mags in the country."

--from Magazines I Remember by Hugh B. Cave, Tattered Pages Press, 1994