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
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
|This fucking thing is ruining democracy.|
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.