Tuesday, December 31, 2013

2013 in Reading Material


I try to read at least forty books a year, though it usually ends up being more like thirty-five.  Here's my recap of 2013:

Susana Clarke - Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrel
Ernest Hemingway - The Old Man and the Sea
Shakespeare - The Merchant of Venice
Clive Barker - Weaveworld
Clive Barker - Imajica
Clive Barker - The Great and Secret Show
Clive Barker - Everville
Dante - Inferno
Dante - Purgatorio
Dante - Paradiso
Richard Matheson - A Stir of Echoes
Richard Matheson - What Dreams May Come
Richard Matheson - Hell House
Richard Matheson - Nightmare at 20,000 Feet
Richard Matheson - I am Legend
E. E. Rice - Alexander the Great
Christopher Hibbert - Rome: The Biography of a City
Keith Hopkins and Mary Beard - The Colosseum
John Berendt - The City of Falling Angels
R. A. Scotti - Basilica
Ross King - Michelangelo and the Pope's Ceiling
Jonathan Swift - Gulliver's Travels
Rudyard Kipling - The Jungle Book
Rudyard Kipling - The Second Jungle Book
Neil Gaiman - The Graveyard Book
Neil Gaiman - The Ocean at the End of the Lane
Neil Gaiman (editor) - Unnatural Creatures 
Andrew Graham-Dixon - Caravaggio: A Life Sacred and Profane
H.P. Lovecraft - The Best of H.P. Lovecraft
Gabriel García Márquez - One Hundred Years of Solitude
Gabriel García Márquez - Love in the Time of Cholera
Gabriel García Márquez - The Autumn of the Patriarch
George R. R. Martin - A Game of Thrones

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

RELEASE DAY!!!!


Ominous Realities, which contains my story 'Born Bad,' is now available as an e-book on Amazon.com.  The paperback should be out soon.

I wrote 'Born Bad' a year ago, almost to the day.  Usually short stories take me at least a week, but I managed to pump this one out over a weekend.  One Friday night last December, I plugged myself into my computer, and didn't look up till it was finished.  When it was done, I realized I'd missed my friend Julie's Christmas party, but I had a brand-new piece that barely needed to be touched.  Now here we are a year later.  It's found a home, and it helped pay for a flight ticket home for the holidays.

Hope ya'll like it!

Monday, December 9, 2013

Saturday, December 7, 2013

In which I'm compared to one of my heros.

I was very happy to hear from Tony at Grey Matter Press that I've been mentioned in yet another review of Dark Visions 1:

“The Troll,” by Jonathan Balog reminded me of Neil Gaiman’s “Troll Bridge,” even with its description of a young boy trying to escape the bullies who traumatize him every day at school. Life can be lonely, but what he finds under the bridge can more than make up for it.

For years, Gaiman has been one of my favorite authors, and he's provided me with a bottomless well of inspiration.  Needless to say, the comparison is a serious compliment, but it's also a pretty astute observation.  I'd read "Troll Bridge" a few years before I wrote the story of mine in question, and I'm sure it was knocking around my subconscious at the time.  Both stories begin the same way, with a somewhat disenchanted young boy stumbling across the proverbial troll under the bridge.  However, my troll has a less menacing appearance, and the story goes in a much different direction.

One of my prime motivations for writing dark fantasy/horror fiction is the desire to give something back to the genre that's given so much to me.  If something I wrote can be viewed as a tribute to an author whose work has enriched my life, I'm happy about that too.

Friday, December 6, 2013

...he sees you when you're sleeping...

 

Whenever I hear people lamenting the sorry state of today's youth, then arguing that we need tougher teachers and more involved parents, I think, "No, we just need to bring back Krampus."

If you want to get in on the holiday spirit, go read my friend Chris Larsen's story Hoofbeats on the Rooftop.  It's available for free on his blog today.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Bankrupt? Cancer? Tsunami? Buddy, you've got a negative attitude!

This video sums up pretty neatly why I wrote The Truth.


For anyone new to this blog, a few years ago I wrote a Vonnegut-like short story about a detective who discovers a ludicrous self-help book, then attempts to solve a murder case while thinking only happy thoughts.  The story ended up being published in a book dedicated to Vonnegut called So It Goes.  That gave me plenty of happy thoughts.

In my own way, I've debunked the whole power-of-positive-thinking bullshit, because I've succeeded through the power of NEGATIVE thinking.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

DV1 in the Press


Dark Visions is a Book of the Week at The Horror Honeys.  Hardcover Honey wrote a terrific review, mentioning my story about 3/4 of the way through:

And it's followed up by another strong entry in Jonathan Balog's "The Troll", in which a bullied middle-schooler finally meets the troll under the bridge, and is thrilled when it seems all of his dreams will shortly be coming true thanks to the troll's "helpful" suggestions.

Also, I just learned that my youngest fan is a three-month-old from the Netherlands.  Here's Christian Brandenburg-Goddard, reading his new copy.  Looks like he's already scared.


Tuesday, December 3, 2013

The Autumn of the Hundred Years of Cholera


Lately I've been spending a lot of time with Gabriel García Márquez, and I've finally gotten around to tackling One Hundred Years of Solitude.  In all honesty, I didn't enjoy it as much as I'd expected.  I certainly appreciated the rich use of language.  I dug the moments of magic realism, like the insomnia plague, and the trickle of blood snaking its way through town.  But the rapid-fire turnover rate made it hard to feel any kind of emotional investment in the story, or get a feel for any of the characters.  It felt like Catch-22 with a fraction of the humor.  After a while I gave up trying to keep tabs on the family, and just let the narrative consume me like a fever dream.  On that level I can say I enjoyed it, but it wasn't the life-altering experience recounted by so many other readers.


Right now I'm halfway through Love in the Time of Cholera, and I'm having a MUCH better time.  Reading this one after Solitude is like reading Dubliners after Ulysses.  As far as I'm concerned, it's more than worthy of the Nobel prize and all the praise that's been heaped upon it.


Next up on the agenda is The Autumn of the Patriarch, and then I'll be moving on.  All this time with García Márquez is making me feel VERY intellectually stimulated, but deeply in need of stabbings and beheadings.  So, Game of Thrones it is.

Monday, December 2, 2013

first thing you learn is you always gotta wait

One of the drawbacks to life in Rome is dealing with the least efficient public transportation system in Europe.  The trains are routinely delayed, there's a strike every other week, and the part of this video at the 1:35 mark hits the nail more firmly on the head with each viewing:


Dante forgot to describe the circle of Hell reserved for ATAC drivers who fly past their stops without slowing down.  If I designed their poetic justice, they'd spend eternity in great hunger in a place with a very warm climate.  Once a day, an ice-cream truck driven by a little imp demon would fly by, and as it passed he'd stick out his head and scream, "MAYBE NEXT TIME, YOU FUCKING PRICKS!"

A longstanding proposed solution to Rome's transit problem has been the construction of a third metro line.  In this blog post, David Boffa chronicles its history better than I ever could.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

'Ominous Realities' Release Date


On December 10th, Grey Matter Press will be releasing a new anthology of horror, sci-fi, and speculative fiction called Ominous Realities.  It'll feature my story 'Born Bad,' which I just realized was written a year ago almost to the day.

As usual, the e-book will be available first, and hopefully the trade paperback will be out in time for Christmas.  If there's someone in your life who enjoys weird fiction, grab a copy for a stocking-stuffer.  Also, if you have an obnoxious conservative relative, get one for them too.  You probably won't have to deal with them again next year.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

...our lady's selling tissues for the tears, for all the years of blessed rape in the name of our sweet lord...

 

There was a two year period during college when I was completely obsessed with The Legendary Pink Dots.  I devoured every single album of theirs I could get my hands on, and even once took a road-trip to DC to interview them for a Canadian music magazine.  On a certain kind of day and in a certain state of mind, they still do something really good for me.

This has always been one of my favorite Dots songs.  I have no idea how Edward Ka-spel interprets it, but to me it's always felt like a hymn sung by a space cult.  Also, it's about five times heavier live.

Friday, November 15, 2013

ARES MAGAZINE


ARES is a new sci-fi and fantasy magazine due to launch sometime early next year.  The print edition is going to contain 96 pages of fiction and such, and each issue will come with a stand-alone board game.  My surreal psi-fi story 'The Secret Life of the Goldleaf Hotel' has been accepted, but they're not yet sure if it'll be featured in the first or second issue.  This is shaping up to look like one of the cooler projects I've been involved in.  Further details as they come.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Dark Visions vol. 1 Out in Paperback!!!!


I'm very happy to announce that Dark Visions vol. 1 is finally out in paperback!  Ignore the notice that they're "temporarily out of stock," because that's a total lie.  They're there, and waiting to be read.

DV1 contains my story 'The Troll,' which is sort of a mash-up of Donnie Darko, Stephen King's IT, and Ray Bradbury's Something Wicked This Way Comes.  The idea for it came to me last year while I was walking my dog along the Tiber river.  As we passed under a bridge, I had an image of a young boy sitting under a bridge, having a conversation with a strange magician with malicious intentions.  I went home and started writing.  A year later, here we are.

Go grab a copy, and if you're so inclined, drop by here and tell me what you think.


BTW, if for some reason you don't want to shop at Amazon, it's also available at Barnes & Noble.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Born Bad


My story 'Born Bad' will soon be released as part of a speculative fiction anthology called Ominous Realities.  Last night I sent the edited manuscript to the publisher.  They'd sent me a few notes, most of which concerned areas they thought could deal with a little expansion.  As a result it's now a tighter piece with a firm resolution.

I'm really looking forward to hearing everyone's reactions to this one.  If all goes well, the book will be out in December.  Stay tuned.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Dark Visions Giveaway


Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, Grey Matter Press has launched a giveaway on Goodreads!  If YOU'D like a chance to win one of five copies of the new horror and dark fantasy collection Dark Visions (which contains my story The Troll), click here and enter!  BTW, when I say "copies," I mean ACTUAL TRADE PAPERBACKS.  It'll not only keep you up well past your bedtime, but make your coffee table look cool as hell.  Good luck!

Sunday, November 3, 2013

"I said to Hank Williams, how lonely does it get? Hank Williams hasn't answered yet."


Leonard Cohen is my favorite song-writer of all time.  I could talk about him for hours, but one aspect of his career that I've always found wonderfully defiant is that he didn't release an album until he was thirty-five years old.  That's an anomaly in a culture that only lends its ears to musicians when they're barely pubescent, then sneers at any of them who labor on past early adulthood.  It should be the other way around.

The songs on Cohen's first album demonstrate a lyrical maturity that would, with a few peaks and valleys, remain consistent throughout his entire career.  One of the reasons for this is that when he wrote them, he'd already seen enough of life to know what he was talking about.  The majority of recording artists cut their first record in their early 20's, and what the hell do you know about life by then?  Looking back, I was barely aware of a world that existed outside of my own raging hormones until I was at least twenty-five.  As I get older, I'm increasingly glad that that wasn't the hour when I produced my life's great work.


Cohen has spoken at length about his admiration for Hank Williams, Sr.  Notwithstanding my respect for Hank, one part of his body of work that's always rubbed me the wrong way is his breakup songs.  While Cohen revels in the complexity of relationships, Hank's tragic love stories are invariably one-sided: he gave his heart to some merciless ice-queen, and she tore it to shreds.  That kind of narrative would have appealed to me ten years ago.  These days, I'd wager the ice-queen was probably a decent girl who saw that the relationship wasn't working, and had the presence of mind to break it off.  One indicator of maturity is a willingness to accept responsibility for your life rather than point the finger.  Hank died at the age of twenty-nine.  In this regard, he never had the chance to grow up.

We like our rock stars young.  That's understandable, because youth lends an energy and fresh perspective to music.  Also, when you're twenty, it's good to hear from others who know what you're going through.  But it's also good to hear from someone who's a little further down the road.  They can let you know what's coming, and on occasion, they can help you put your breakup-of-the-week in context.  At its best, music is a form of moral guidance.  By continuing to assign the very important job of song-writer exclusively to people who are just out of adolescence, we're keeping our culture developmentally stunted.

Monday, October 28, 2013

The End of the Dime Store Mystery


Unless you've been in a coma for the last twenty-four hours, you've probably heard that Lou Reed has passed away at the age of 71.

Honestly, I wasn't expecting this.  Between him, Bowie, and Iggy, Reed was the least healthy and the most self-destructive.  Because the universe is a bizarre place, I always figured he would end up being the last man standing.  Guess I was wrong.

I was introduced to Reed by my friend Jeff.  I was 18, just out of high school, and he was 30, just out of prison.  Over several late-night caffeinated diner hangouts, he turned me on to The Velvet Underground.  After I'd devoured all four albums, I made the natural progression into Reed's solo work.  It was one of those life-long gifts.  I could produce a flow-chart of the friendships that have begun through a shared appreciation of those records, to say nothing of the countless times they've been a soundtrack to the low-budget movie of my life.

One of the things I love about this kind of music is the bonds of friendship it creates.  It might not be everybody's cup of tea, but if it's yours, you'll drink it obsessively.  Then, on the rare occasions when you meet someone else who's into it, you're automatically friends because you already have so much to talk about.  I remember on the first day of Junior year, someone noticed my copy of the collected lyrics book, Pass Thru Fire.  He turned to me and said, "Any friend of Lou's is a friend of mine."  Ten years later, we live on different sides of the ocean, and the friendship continues.

I never got around to catching him live.  Even though I'd heard mixed reviews of his latter-day performances, I thought it was something I should see, for better or for worse.  He played the Parco della Musica in Rome two years ago.  Unfortunately I slacked off on buying tickets in advance, and when I got to the venue on the night of the show, the last available seats were something like €60.  At the moment, it seemed like too much.  Right now it sounds like a bargain.

At this point in my life, I can admit that not everything Reed touched turned to gold.  Occasionally, the demons that gave his work its passion got the best of him.  I can also say, without hyperbole, that everything that's happened in rock 'n roll since (or at least everything worth hearing) owes him a salute.

I considered closing this entry with a list of my favorite songs, but there are just too many.  At any rate, I'm currently listening to the self-titled Velvet Underground album.  The one without Nico.  And I'm playing it loud.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Sneak Preview: The Troll

 

There's a sneak preview of my story 'The Troll' available on the Grey Matter Press website.  Go check it out!  Every good poisoner knows you give away the first dose for free.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Bill Watterson: "Repetition is the death of magic."


Well.  Here's someone you don't hear from everyday.  Bill Watterson, creator of Calvin and Hobbes, granted an interview with Mental Floss.  How they managed to pull that off is beyond me.  Watterson is a notorious recluse who never makes public appearances and hardly ever talks to the press.  Nevin Martell wrote an entire book about his failed attempts at landing an interview with him.  He's like an oracle that only speaks to the priests once every twenty years.

Calvin and Hobbes carries a fanbase with a strong emotional attachment.  I know it did wonders for my imagination as a kid, and if anything, its glamor has only improved with time.  Because of this, Watterson catches a lot of flack for walking away from his creation without looking back.  I'll admit I'd be first in line if he released a new direct-to-book C&H, but deep down, I know he's right.  He gives a good answer to that in the interview:

"Well, coming at a new work requires a certain amount of patience and energy, and there’s always the risk of disappointment. You can’t really blame people for preferring more of what they already know and like. The trade-off, of course, is that predictability is boring. Repetition is the death of magic."

Watterson gave us ten years of one of the most imaginative, moving, intelligent, and beautifully drawn comic strips of all time.  By quitting at the top of his game and refusing the demand for more, he saved the magic from being diluted.  Tough love at its best.

Me, Halloween '11

Thursday, October 17, 2013

We Need to Stop Being the WBC's Free Publicity Agents



A British friend of mine recently sent me this video.  She said while she knew my country was full of awesome people, she wanted to know how I could possibly cope with freaks like these.

I'd seen the video before, and in all honesty...I wasn't impressed.  Since my friend was coming at this from an outsider's perspective, I decided to share a few things to put it in context.  Here's what I said:

The Westboro Baptist Church are a sad, pathetic little cult.  That's all they are.  They have about sixty members, most of whom are related, and they're UNIVERSALLY despised.  Everyone, from your hippie, left-winger aunt, to your tin-foil hat, Fox News uncle, thinks they're the scum of the Earth.  America might be a politically divided nation, but on this issue, we all agree.

Now, having said that...

Russell Brand is a very funny guy, but what the hell was he hoping to accomplish there?  The WBC represent no one but themselves.  I have a huge bone to pick with the Religious Right and their attacks on gay rights, but trying to equate garden-variety fundamentalists with these lunatics is just absurd.  They've been denounced by every celebrity preacher from Billy Graham to Jerry Falwell.  Therefore, this interview can't be viewed as a dialogue on the American political climate.


So what's the deal?  Are we supposed to believe Brand was simply trying to reach these two fools, show them the error of their ways, and bring them a message of love?  Come on.  Everyone knows you can't reason with those people.  They've been brainwashed by Grandpa Phelps into believing in a psycho-god that exists outside of logic.  You'd have better luck talking Satan into an Easter egg hunt.

Again, I love Brand, but he brought them on his show for sensationalism.  Watching the clip, I was reminded of Woody Harrelson and Robert Downey Jr.'s interview scene at the end of Natural Born Killers (which was itself based on Geraldo's interview with Charles Manson).  Yes, those hate-mongers are evil as shit.  It's also pretty evil to capitalize on them.

Americans love to publicly vent about the WBC.  That's understandable, because they're so easy to hate.  But we need to stop.  They don't give a fuck if the whole world hates them.  They just want to spread their demented message, and by giving them airtime and ranting about them on Facebook, that's exactly what we're helping them do.  If you hear that they're coming to your neighborhood, by all means, prepare your defenses.  Otherwise, let's turn our backs on them and let them fade into obscurity instead of giving them the attention they so badly want.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Do Randroids Dream of Electric Sheep?


Today a friend of mine shared a link to this comic bio of Ayn Rand.  It's worth a look, especially if you find her as despicable as I do.

Though I've never made it through one of her novels, I've read enough of her essays and interviews to have a pretty decent grasp of her philosophy.  One of these days, when I'm a greedy, soulless, short-sighted workaholic in need of validation, I'll get around to reading Atlas Shrugged.

Actually, in all seriousness, I do plan on tackling it someday.  If it's anywhere near what I'm expecting, I'll take it home over the holidays, borrow one of my brother's guns, shoot it, take a photo of its carcass, and make that my Facebook profile pic for as long as it took me to read it.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

The First Few Reviews


The first customer reviews of Dark Visions have popped up on Amazon, and so far they've all been very positive.  It got a five-star review on amazon.co.uk (which even mentioned my story), and three five-stars in one day on amazon.com.

Far be it from me to engage in simony, but if you've read Dark Visions and liked it, if you're so kind as to leave a review, on Amazon or wherever, it'll be good for a free drink the next time you see me.

And I swear, the paperback edition will be out soon.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Table of Contents for 'Long Distance Drunks'


Perpetual Motion Machine Publishing, who put out So It Goes earlier this year, have just released the Table of Contents for their upcoming book, Long Distance Drunks: A Tribute to Charles Bukowski.  This one will contain a short story that I wrote specifically for this anthology, as well as a poem I wrote in 2006.  Further details as they come.

To do a dangerous thing with style is what I call art.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Don't you ever laugh as the hearse goes by, for you may be the next to die...


Brendan McGinley's article about Alvin Schwartz's Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark is the most hilarious and insightful thing I've read on Cracked all year.  Go read it, if you haven't already.

I won't bother gushing over how beautiful those books are.  McGinley's already said everything I could possibly say.  I would like to mention that I'm glad he gives proper credit to Stephen Gammell's illustrations for turning a collection of campfire stories into an anthology of psychological torture.  Those images traumatized my generation, and we're better off because of it.

These are the three that stand out the most in my memory.  Sweet dreams!




Thursday, October 3, 2013

The Man With The Beautiful Eyes

Since I got yesterday's news, I've been on a mini Bukowski kick, so I decided to dig up this video.  It's a short animated film by Jonathan Hodgson that illustrates Bukowski's poem 'The Man With The Beautiful Eyes.'  Definitely worth five minutes and forty seconds of your day.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Long Distance Drunks


With all the shit surrounding the government shutdown in the US, it was a relief and a pleasure to get some good news this morning.

Perpetual Motion Machine Publishing (who put out So It Goes back in April) are releasing a tribute to Bukowski early next year.  It's going to be called Long Distance Drunks, and it'll feature my story 'The Market-Frankford Line,' plus a poem I wrote in '06.

I'd had the idea for the story for a while.  When PMMP announced open calls for the anthology, it seemed like a good excuse as any to get it down.  I decided to employ some Bukowskian methods, and I wrote it in one sitting on a rainy Saturday afternoon, to the tune of cheap wine and classical music.  Beethoven, I think.

Details as they come.  On that note, I'll leave you with three of my favorite Bukowski poems, the first courtesy of the man himself, and the other two read beautifully by Dean Stanton and Tom Waits.





Monday, September 30, 2013

The Bathroom Scholar

If, like me, you view life as a learning experience, you probably want to live your life experiencing and learning as much as possible.  From there, it stands to reason that if there are regular pockets of empty time in your schedule, those pockets should be filled with little educational snacks.  

At a conservative estimate, you spend five minutes per day sitting on the can, which tallies out to about thirty hours per year.  That's a whole day of your life every year, buddy.   This is why all sentient beings should have a stack of books within reach of the crapper.

On that note, I give you the current stock of my washroom library:


Beat Poets (Everyman's Library Pocket Poets)

A gift from some friends on my 23rd birthday.  I've actually read poems from this book on Gregory Corso's grave.


Ambrose Bierce - The Devil's Dictionary

Originally titled The Cynic's World Book when it was first published in 1911, this is the book Oscar Wilde would have written if he'd fought in the Civil War.  Biting, hilarious and devilish definitions of everything from the letter 'A' to Zoology.


Bob Curran - Unholy Popes

Irreverent tales of Vatican Shenanigans.  My favorite is the story of the Cadaver Synod, in which Pope Stephen VI dug up the rotting corpse of his predecessor Formosus, and put him on trial for perjury, witchcraft, coveting the papacy, and whatever else he could come up with.  He even ordered a cardinal to speak on behalf of the deceased in an assumed voice.  I like to imagine he used a high, squeaky one.


Andy Riley - Great Lies to Tell Small Kids

From the author of the Bunny Suicides.  Did you know batteries get their power from tiny peddling mice?


The Hipster Handbook

I was flattered when I got this as a birthday gift, because clearly I'm not a hipster if I need the handbook.  I just read it to be ironic.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Never Forget, The Universe Fucking Hates Your Creative Ambitions


Lately I've been working on a story called 'The Tavern at the End of the Road.'  I got the idea for it when a friend told me about a short story contest being hosted by the oldest Irish pub in Rome.  Entries had to be about pub life.  After mulling it over for a few days, I came up with a pretty good idea.  Unfortunately their maximum word count was way too low for what I'd need to tell my story.  But I loved the idea too much to let it go, so now I'm just writing it for myself.  It's been shaping up nicely.

Yesterday in a burst of productivity I wrote a thousand words.  At the end, when I was ready to call it a day and kick back with a horror movie, I closed it out and the SAVE CHANGES window popped up.  In one of those organ-twisting moments like the seconds before a car crash in which you ache to rewind space and time and zig when you should have zagged, I accidentally clicked outside the window.  Apparently in Apache OpenOffice, this closes the document without saving the changes.  I lost an entire day's work.


Today I'm going to find out if my brain's autosave was turned on, and how effective its backup and recovery features are.  When I'm not doing that, I'll probably be setting things on fire.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Sealing up the Underpass, and Starving out the Trolls

This fucking thing is ruining democracy.
Two days ago, Popular Science announced that they will no longer accept comments on new articles.

After citing studies which illustrate the effect that comment sections have on public opinion, they wrote:
 

"If you carry out those results to their logical end--commenters shape public opinion; public opinion shapes public policy; public policy shapes how and whether and what research gets funded--you start to see why we feel compelled to hit the 'off' switch."

I completely agree, and I wish all major news outlets would follow suit.

I once saw an interview with a sociology professor who argued that the internet had democratized media in the way the Protestant Reformation, widespread literacy, and the printing press had democratized Christianity.  Previously, people had relied on the clergy to interpret the Bible, and so the Catholic Church had a monopoly on the faith.  When people gained the means to read the gospels on their own, they learned that a lot of the major doctrines they were being taught weren't even in the Bible.  Likewise, the news used to be the domain of a handful of mega-corporations.  But now, thanks to the internet, anyone with a Google account can be a virtual journalist.

The problem with that theory is that it leaves out the fact that most people on the internet have no idea what they're talking about.  If you're wondering if that includes me, fuck yes it does!  I'm not qualified to talk about ANYTHING outside of geek culture.  And I probably don't know what I'm talking about there either.

While it's certainly good to have an alternative to the corporate-serving rodents of mainstream media, idealism and good intentions don't equal credibility.  Major reporters might be corrupt, but they usually have first-hand access to the stories they cover, and many of them have advanced degrees in law and political science.  The majority of independent bloggers, on the other hand, are at best sharing a layman's take on second-hand information.

There's nothing inherently wrong with regular people sharing their views.  In fact, it's kind of the cornerstone of democracy.  It becomes a problem when we lose sight of the fact that not all views are equally valid.  Over the last generation it's become American dogma that personal belief is just as important as professional opinion.  We have an abundance of evidence supporting Darwinian evolution, yet people insist that Creationism, which has no logical support whatsoever, be treated with equal regard.  When they get argued into a corner, their trump card is invariably, "Well, that's what I believe."

Also, I can't help but notice that the people who champion this mode of thinking are usually the ones who are so in love with their hatred of egalitarianism when it comes to fiscal politics.  We constantly hear the line, "I believe in equal OPPORTUNITY but not equal RESULTS!" (as if anyone actually believed otherwise.)  Yet when it comes to the market of ideas, they want total socialism.  Their views, regardless of whether or not they're informed, well-reasoned, or even based in objective reality, should be given the same respect as any other.


Personally, I don't give a shit if Joe the Plumber believes in climate change.  I care if climate scientists believe in climate change.  Yes, there should be forums where Joe can share his views and have it out with everyone else.  But when it comes to our primary news sources, it would be nice to have an environment where the debate is limited to the experts.

Undoubtedly a few of you are wondering why I don't just ignore the comments section and move on with my life.  To you I say: look, I'm a horror writer.  I'm irresistibly drawn to things that disgust me.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Einstürzende Neubauten



You will find me waiting through spring and summer
You will find me waiting for the fall
You will find me waiting for the apples to ripen
You will find me waiting for them to fall
You will find me by the banks of all four rivers
You will find me at the spring of consciousness
You will find me if you want me in the garden
unless it's pouring down with rain

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Happy Birthday to the Nasty, Thieving Little Hobbitses

In case you didn't know, today is Hobbit Day, the mutual birthday of Bilbo and Frodo Baggins.  On that note, I'd like to share one of my favorite Alan Lee paintings:


Now go smoke some pipe-weed and have yourself a Second Breakfast.  It's OK, you deserve it.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Unnatural Creatures


Lately I've been reading Unnatural Creatures, an anthology of sixteen monster stories chosen by Neil Gaiman.  All the proceeds from this book go to 826DC, who serve to promote literacy and creative writing in young people throughout the DC area.  I seriously recommend this book.  It's certainly a worthy cause, and the stories Gaiman picked are a pleasure to read.  They're delightfully whimsical, and they run the gamut from the nineteenth century to the here-and-now.  I'm certainly digging it a lot more than the collection he edited with Al Sarrantonio two years ago.  Also, groovy jacket design!

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Goblin



You hear that?  That's Goblin's theme music for Dario Argento's 1977 giallo masterpiece, Suspiria.  Some of the most chilling movie music ever recorded, right up there with Psycho and Halloween.

Goblin are an Italian prog-rock band that formed in the '70s.  They did the score for most of Argento's films, as well as Dawn of the Dead and a handful of B-movies.  Like Danny Elfman in Tim Burton's movies, their music is such a crucial ingredient that without it, the atmosphere just isn't complete.  I swear Inferno would have been twice as good if they'd been behind the soundboard instead of Keith Emerson.

I saw a documentary about Argento with a clip of Alice Cooper trying to describe Goblin's sound.  "I don't know what it is, man.  It's just...European."

Next month, they're embarking on their very first North American tour.  So far a quarter of the shows have already sold out.  Going to one of those gigs would be worth the price of admission just to see what the crowd would look like.  Alas, they haven't announced any European dates.  The irony of me being an American living in their hometown of Rome does not escape me.

Legitimizing the tour, they're about to release a new EP on 180 gram red vinyl.  It'll contain re-recordings of four of their best tracks, including Suspiria and Profondo Rosso.  Before you ask, yes, I'll be buying that.  Also, if you're wondering if it'll be played at my next Halloween party, yes, yes it will.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Dark Visions is on the (Virtual) Shelves


Today's the day!  Or yesterday, depending on your time zone.  Dark Visions (Vol. 1), which contains my short story 'The Troll,' is now available as an ebook on the Amazon Kindle page.  The trade paperback should be out very soon.  So, if you're an e-reader reader, please go check it out.  If on the other hand you're like me, and you prefer your books made from the slaughter of innocent trees...wait for it.

Also, if you want to know what you're in for, here's an interview where I talk about the story.

As always, if you like what you read, stop by here and say hi.

Monday, September 16, 2013

The Ocean at the End of the Lane


I finally got around to reading Neil Gaiman's new novel, The Ocean at the End of the Lane, his first book for adults in almost a decade.  I managed to snatch up one of the very last pre-signed copies from Barnes and Noble (even after Neil himself told us they were gone.)  You've probably heard the rave reviews from critics and die-hard fans alike.  In this case, you can pull a reverse Public Enemy and believe the hype.  It really is his best book since American Gods.  Go read it.  Like, now.


Sunday, September 15, 2013

Top 13 Stephen King Movies



Recently I came across a terrific YouTube series by NecroVMX called Stephen King - 28 Reviews Later.  In it he reviewed one Stephen King movie a day for an entire February.  In each installment he compared and contrasted the film with the source material, and discussed where it worked and where it didn't.  I really enjoyed this feature.  The reviews are fucking hilarious, and even when I disagree with him, his command of the King Universe is strong enough that I can't help but respect the guy's opinion.  If you grew up on this stuff like I did, check it out.

Watching this series inspired me to put together my own King list.  Before I begin I'd like to make a few disclaimers.  First of all, this is a list of my personal favorites, not an objective list of great films.  For instance, I'll never argue that Stand By Me isn't a brilliant piece of art, but coming-of-age stories just aren't my thing, so it's not included.  Second, there's still a ton of King-related material that I haven't seen, such as Rose Red, Bag of Bones, Hearts in Atlantis, or the new 'Salem's Lot, so this can't be seen as an assessment of his entire filmography.  The thirteen on this list are the ones that I loved as a kid, the ones that inspired me, and the ones I still get a kick out of, for one reason or another.

Got all that?  All right, let's do this.


The Green Mile (1999)

The Green Mile is not only one of the most successful book adaptations in history, but one of the best damn movies ever made.  It only took thirty years, but with Frank Darabont we've finally found a director capable of pulling off the perfect King adaptation.  Translating a story from one medium into another is always a tricky business, because some things that work on page don't necessarily work on screen.  Darabont succeeds in every aspect of film that can be objectively measured, deviates from the source material conservatively and with wisdom, and most importantly, preserves the essence of the story.  My only complaint is that he hasn't done more.  I'd also like to mention that when I first read The Green Mile as it was being published as a serial novel, I thought to myself that if it were ever turned into a movie, Tom Hanks would make a perfect Paul Edgecomb. 


The Shawshank Redemption (1994)

Darabont's brilliant directorial debut.










The Mist (2007)

It's been noted that the best films based on King's work tend to be the ones where the supernatural element is absent, or at least kept to a minimum, ie., Stand By Me, Dolores Claiborne, Shawshank, and The Green Mile.  I was very happy when Darabont decided to turn his guns on one of King's straight-up horror stories.  The Mist is both a good film and a great horror flick.  The tension amongst the people trapped in the supermarket builds and builds, so when the monsters finally show up, it's like striking a match in a room with a gas leak.



Pet Sematary (1989)

NecroVMX gave this one a negative review.  Totally disagree!  Despite the occasional awkward performance or silly bit of dialogue, Mary Lambert succeeded in creating an atmosphere in this movie that's relentlessly creepy.  Even for people who haven't read the book, there's a cold sense of dread right from the opening credits, and you just know things are going to keep going from bad to worse.  The cast is more or less how I imagined them as I read the book, particularly Fred Gywnne as Jud.  Also, I have to admit something here: as a life-long horror fan, I don't scare easy.  The way Zelda is depicted in Rachel's dreams terrified the living fuck out of me. 


IT (1990)

OK, I have a soft spot for this one because I loved it so much as a kid.  If I'd first seen IT as an adult, I don't know how impressed I would have been.  The adult actors are average at best, the giant spider at the end looked ridiculous, and it only tells the Cliff Notes of the book.  But to be fair, Tommy Lee Wallace had his work cut out for him.  Translating an epic horror novel into a three-hour TV film is like shoving a lion through a cat-door, so I think he did all right under the circumstances.  The score is great, the kid actors are top-notch, and the overall atmosphere is deliciously creepy.  And really, no one can deny that Tim Curry's performance as Pennywise is anything short of terrifying.  He ruined clowns for an entire generation.  That alone has to be worth something.



The Stand (1994)

Despite Jamey Sheridan's unfortunate mullet, The Stand remains an example of how good a network TV miniseries can be.  Mick Garris, usually grossly inept, rises to the challenge of adapting one of the thickest (and most powerful) epics King has ever written, and does so with skill.  It's driven by fine performances by Gary Sinise, Rob Lowe, Molly Ringwald, Corin Nemic, and even King himself.  One thing I find particularly interesting is that the novel was written in the late '70s, but the film, despite being hardly changed from the source material, seems very much a product of the '90s.  It encapsulated the omnipresent millennial dread fueled by the spread of disease, rampant technology, the vulnerability of the planet, and distrust of American government, asking the most popular question of the day: just where the fuck is this all going?  The Stand might seem dated once in a while, but I wouldn't have wanted it made in any other decade.


Sometimes They Come Back (1991)

Highly underrated TV movie from the early '90s about dead greasers who come back from the grave to haunt a high school teacher.   Despite being a tad too sentimental in the last five minutes, it's wonderfully spooky, and works well within the confines of a network TV budget.  Also, fantastic corpse makeup.





Children of the Corn (1984)

I've noticed a lot of critics have a problem with this one, and I don't see why.  It's respectably scary.  The acting is horror-movie-passable.  It rocks a score as memorable as Psycho or Halloween.  Most interestingly, it achieves a sense of American Gothic through all its images of cornfields, crucifixes, murder by farm tools, and malicious rural children.  It's a classic, and it deserves its spot in the Pantheon.  Also, I'm very proud to say that I went to the same college as Linda Hamilton.  Or should I say, Dr. Linda Hamilton.



Sleepwalkers (1992)

This was the first R-rated movie I ever saw in the theater.  I remember feeling like the coolest 5th grader in the world when my mom took me see Sleepwalkers at the New Castle multiplex, and on a school night no less!  This is one of those movies where you can count yourself lucky if you saw it when you were too young to tell the difference between good acting and ridiculous acting.  I say that because the premise and story are actually pretty cool: mother and son human-cat shape-shifters who feed on the life force of virginal women move into small-town America and commence stalking their prey.  Most of the time you aren't sure if you're supposed to be rooting for the humans or the monsters.  For what it's worth, Mick Garris turned King's screenplay into a decent midnight movie.  He gets bonus points for including a graveyard scene with cameos by King, Tobe Hopper, and Clive Barker.


Golden Years (1991)

Mostly forgotten sci-fi series from the early '90s.  An elderly man begins growing younger after being exposed to regenerative chemicals in a lab explosion.  When The Shop (King's shadowy government agency) take an interest in him, he goes on the lamb with his wife and a sympathetic FBI agent.  The series had a bit of a slow start, but by the end of its seven-episode run it had gotten really interesting.  Tragically, it ended on a cliffhanger, and the show wasn't picked up for a second season.  Golden Years is in the same camp as Twin Peaks: there will never be a resolution, but the existing episodes are great for what they are.  Having said that, DON'T BUY THE DVD.  They cut out over two hours' worth of material, and slapped together a bullshit ending to bring the whole thing to a close.  If they ever release an uncut DVD, I'll be first in line.


'Salem's Lot (1979)

This early miniseries is campy yet earnest.  Back in those days, it was a given that the top names in horror would one day direct a King movie, and Tobe Hooper was one of the first to take a stab.  He's been quoted as saying, "A television movie does not have blood or violence. It has atmosphere which creates something you cannot escape - the reminder that our time is limited and all the accoutrements that go with it, such as the visuals."  If it was atmosphere he was going for, he succeeded.  He paints a picture of the entire community, and lets the viewer feel the evil spreading like a virus.  Also, some of the images, like the boy floating in the mist outside the window, are now stitched into the fabric of horror history.  One of the most important vampire movies ever made.


Silver Bullet (1985)

Another decent midnight movie.  Like in 'Salem's Lot, this one showcases the King trademark of a vividly realized sense of place.  Many of King's stories contain an almost Rockwellian nostalgia for small town America, yet are mixed with the unique kind of horrors that percolate in such a culture.  In this one, Cory Haim, sister Megan Follows, and nutjob uncle Gary Busey give us a likeable trio of protagonists.  But the main character in Silver Bullet is the community as a whole, and the story is about the devastation visited upon the community by the werewolf, referred to in Mary's opening monologue as "our town's long nightmare."  What I love about this movie is that the underlying tone is one of optimism.  In between the brutal killings, we see Haim riding his jet-powered wheelchair bike, climbing trees, and flying kites, as if to say that even in the worst of times, we can still have our fun.  In a scene where Busey gives his nephew a box of fireworks to compensate for the cancelled fair, he says, "It's not just the fireworks.  It's that no crazy shithead can stop the good guys, if you can dig that."  Right the fuck on, Gary.


Misery (1990)

I think I should mention here that I had a really hard time deciding if my last pick should go to Misery or Creepshow.  In fact it was such a close call that, while I was stuck in bed with a cold, I watched both back-to-back.  As much as King and Romero working together is on par with a lunar eclipse, I have to give the prize to Reiner.  As a King fan, you get used to seeing your favorite stories mangled by fifth-rate hacks.  On those rare occasions when they happen to fall into the hands of a craftsman, give the man his credit.  From the opening shot of the champagne bottle to the climactic battle-by-typewriter, this movie is a work of art.  William Goldman gets bonus points for incorporating the story arc of the sheriff to alleviate the tale's claustrophobia.  Nothing really needs to be said about the performances of James Caan and Kathy Bates that hasn't already been said a million times.  Their dynamic is simply one of the greatest and most iconic in film history.  Though I've gotta admit, I still think it woulda been scarier if she'd chopped his foot off.