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

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."