Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The Next Big Thing

A friend of mine from the New England Horror Writers, Chris Irvin, asked me if I wanted to participate in the Next Big Thing Blog Hop. He shot me an email with the details and it sounded like fun. Maybe somebody will even read this. I wouldn't count on it, but stranger things have happened, so here goes.


1. What is the working title of your book?

The story is set in a distant future on earth, cataclysms have ravaged the earth and brought society to its knees. Technology has disappeared. Magick and monsters have risen again. Civilization exists mostly in small pockets, scattered throughout the land. The title needed to represent hope in a time of darkness. I think it does. The book is called Lightbringer.

2. Where did the idea come from for the book?

Mythology was one of my favorite subjects growing up. I ate up stories about King Arthur, Merlin, the Greek gods and demigods. I wanted to write my own fantasy story that drew heavily on various world mythologies. Joseph Campbell's research into mythology is said to have inspired George Lucas when he created Star Wars. I thought maybe I could do the same kind of thing, creating my own mythology populated with mythic archetypes. So I spent a couple years researching various mythologies, starting with Campbell's Hero with a Thousand Faces, before I started to write down my tale.


3. What genre does your book fall under?

It's fantasy. High fantasy, I guess you'd call it. There's some crossover with horror as well, since I drew heavily on the mythology created by H.P. Lovecraft to give the book a darker feel.

4. Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

I don't have an ideal choice here, but I'm going to throw out an actor from the recent movie The Hunger Games. His name is Liam Hemsworth. I think he could pull off my hero, Deykin.

5. What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

In a distant post-cataclysmic future, a child of the old gods must embrace his destiny in order to save the earth from an unspeakable ancient evil.

6. Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

An agency is my first choice, but I will consider self-publishing next year if I have no luck finding a publisher.

7. How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

Ha! Well if you include the research and outlining I did, probably about eight years. From first sentence to last, seven years I guess. There was a lot of starting and stopping in there.

8. What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

Well, big inspirations for this book are Stephen King's Dark Tower series, The Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter. Some Arthurian literature which influenced me as well would be The Once and Future King, The Mists of Avalon, and Mary Stewart's series which starts with The Crystal Cave. As I mentioned earlier, Star Wars was usually in the back of my mind as well.

9. Who or What inspired you to write this book?

Well, Stephen King has been my favorite author for as long as I can remember. I've wanted to follow in his footsteps and be a successful horror writer for a long time. It was my wife, however, who suggested I write a dark fantasy novel instead of horror. She had no idea how obsessed I'd become and how much time I would invest in it, though. It wasn't something I could just create out of thin air. I had to put everything I had into it.

10. What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

Myths, monsters, magick, heroes and Lovecraftian horror. To add to that, I studied shamanism, reiki and lots of legends and lore so I could have an authenticity feel to my mythic novel. I am planning a seven book story arc that tells the story of my hero from the night of his conception to the moment of his last epic battle to save the world.

Here are some other writers to watch for in the future:

Jennifer Brozek is the author of The Lady of Seeking in the City of Waiting as well as an award-winning editor of numerous short story collections, most recently Dangers Untold.

B.E. Scully's first novel is Verland: The Transformation. Most recently she published a collection of short stories called The Knife and The Wound It Deals.

Theresa C. Newbill is a gifted psychic and witch. She has written an autobiography called Open Diary of a Witch. Check her out on facebook. Seriously.

Scott Goriscak is the author of Horrorism, Dead and Decaying, and Welcome to the Dark Side. On facebook he runs a group of talented horror writers called The Horror Society.


Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Tool Concert


I took my sixteen year old son, Devon, to his first concert last year. Personally, I’ve been to hundreds, so I wanted to introduce him to something that had meant so much to me for most of my life. My favorite band since the late nineties has been Tool. Back when we were still going on all the Cub and Boy Scout camping trips, a Tool CD would always be playing on the car stereo. It obviously rubbed off on him and he has turned into a loyal Tool fan as well. I wanted to make Tool his first concert, but there was one problem. Tool only releases new albums once every five years or so. This has led to speculation that there won’t be a next Tool album. Another issue is, since the last Tool album came out in two thousand and six, Maynard James Keenan, their singer and frontman has become involved in several other projects, including two bands and, more recently, starting his own vineyard. Arguably, he probably doesn’t even need Tool anymore, although I am sure that is where his greatest success lies.

Last year, one of Maynard’s other projects, A Perfect Circle, came to the Boston area. Not knowing if my son would get the chance to ever see Tool, I purchased tickets and I took my son to his first concert. The Bank of America Pavilion is a great place to see a show, and I never hesitate to get tickets if someone I wish to see is playing there. We had a great time that night. We sat at reserved spots at these small tables they have that seat four. There was a married couple that sat with us, and they were very nice to my son and excited he was getting a chance to see his first concert. The husband even tried to convince my son that he was going to be a bigger fan of A Perfect Circle than he was of Tool by the time the show was over. Devon knew nothing about A Perfect Circle before we went to the show, other than the fact that Maynard sang for them. He had never heard any of their music. By the time the show was over, though, he was a big fan, although the guy we sat with was reaching a little. Devon still loved Tool the most.

Along came December and I received an email alert from Live Nation that Tool tickets were going on sale that Saturday. This was a huge surprise to me. I had heard nothing about an upcoming tour, so I had to read the email through several times and finally go to the Tool website before I believed it. I had thought maybe it was just a Tool cover band. It turned out that it was true, so I sat by the computer when tickets went on sale. This is a maddening experience if you have never tried it. You search for tickets at the moment they go on sale. You get to choose how many, and what price range, then you have to type out some nonsense words to prove that you are a real person. Usually you are told there are no tickets available and have to refresh your web page several times before you finally get some. I was lucky enough to not have to suffer very long, and after just a couple refreshes, I nabbed three tickets for myself, my brother, and my son.
Having seen Tool a half a dozen times myself already, I knew this was going to be a completely different experience than A Perfect Circle. I had to prepare Devon for a Tool concert. I told him that, if it was anything like the previous ones I had attended; it would be very different from his first concert experience. Now, A Perfect Circle sounded great live, but there was no real stage show to speak of. They just stood up there and played. At the other Tool shows I have seen though, they have had a lot going on. There have always been intense light shows, and weird videos playing along with the songs. One year they even had two people in skintight body suits hanging suspended over the stage and doing some kind of bizarre air ballet. Devon needed to be ready for the strange and unusual at a Tool show.

Maynard and his pals did not disappoint me. We had a straight on view of the stage in the loge. It was perfect for viewing one of the most elaborate laser and light shows I have seen in a long time. There were large video screens behind the stage that showed images of angels, giant eyes, swirling spirals, grasping hands and many other religious, magical and profane symbols. At times it was just like looking into a giant kaleidoscope. The dazzling lights, brilliant lasers and disturbing images induced a kind of hypnotic feeling. The only other band I can think of that achieves a similar live effect is Pink Floyd, the most psychedelic act I have ever seen.
The problem with seeing Tool is that you are never going to see them play all of your favorites on any given night. The average length of one of their songs is probably seven minutes, with several pushing ten or eleven minutes. That being said, they still did a great job of playing many of their favorites like Stinkfist, Aenema, Schism, and Lateralus, as well as mixing in a couple deeper tracks, like Pushit. In weird way, I find Tool’s music meditative. It’s easy to get lost in for me, and I am sure many Tool fans would agree.

You can’t please all of the people all of the time, though. My son would have liked to have heard one of his favorite songs, Right in Two. I missed Rosetta Stoned and I know my brother wanted to hear Eulogy. That’s the beauty of Tool, though. The last album, I saw them on three different legs of the tour. Each time they had a different setlist, so if you wanted to hear everything, you just had to go a few times. As far as I’m concerned, it was well worth it. I have never left a Tool show disappointed, except for the fact that it was over too soon. There is supposedly going to be a new album. If that is true, then I believe this was sort of a getting to know each other again sort of mini tour for the band members. Gloriously, a new album will follow and I assume a much larger supporting tour. Wonder how many more times we will see Tool in the near future? As many as possible.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Rock and Shock


It's taken me a while to open up about what happened last October, but I've finally decided to tell the world, no matter what the cost. It’s been a while since I’ve been to a convention of any kind, and I’ve never been to a horror convention before. I used to go to the occasional comicon when I was younger, but I gave those up about twenty years ago. I didn’t know what to expect from Rock & Shock, but I went there on a mission: to meet some of the writers of the New England Horror Writers’ organization. My brother, Denny, came with me, since he is a horror fan as well and was curious to check it out.

When we got there, my brother wanted to know if I wanted to find the horror writers first. “Nah,” I said. “Let’s check the place out, and when we find them, we find them.” So we wandered and meandered through the maze of B-schlock horror dvds, gory movie posters, bizarre original art and gruesome dolls that no parent would let there kids play with, unless they were trying to raise a serial killer. In short, it was awesome! Or so I thought.

Denny is a big fan of zombie flicks, so he was drawn over to a guy who was selling zombie swimsuit calendars. He was nice enough, but he seemed really nervous. His eyes kept darting left and right, as if he was expecting something bad to happen. My brother was really interested in the calendar, but we told the guy we wanted to go through the whole place once and get a feel for what we wanted to spend our money on. We promised we’d be back later.

Eventually, we found our way to the NEHW table. I introduced myself to the first guy I met there, John McIlveen, who gave me a big, strong, fuzzy handshake. Did I say fuzzy? Well, his palm may have been a bit hairy, I guess. Maybe I just imagined it. He introduced me in turn to Scott Goudsward, Danny Evarts, and Stacey Longo.

I had the idea that I wanted to get some of the novels that our members had written, so I could review them on Amazon. Still, when I got there I saw there were more books than I could possibly afford at one stop, so I asked Scott what he recommended.

“Well, mine are over there,” Scott answered, “but I don’t want to pimp myself so…”

“No go ahead,” I encouraged. “Pimp yourself. What books have you written?”

“Well, there’s Shadows Over New England and Shadows Over Florida, about haunted locations in those states,” Scott said. “And then there’s Trailer Trash.”

“Oh really, what’s Trailer Trash about?” I asked, curious.

“It’s about his life,” John McIlveen joked.

Scott smirked. “Yeah, well … see, it’s about this kid who becomes a vampire hunter, but eventually he realizes he has a lot in common with the monsters and ends up befriending them.” That sounded good to me, so I grabbed a copy and went over to the other table.

“What do you recommend, Stacey?” I asked.

“There are some anthologies over here,” Stacey said. I saw some of her short stories were in those collections. “There are also some vampire books over here. I don’t particularly like vampire books, she added. “They get everything wrong.”

My brother snapped a phone picture of Stacey and I looking over the anthologies, and then called me over. “Dave, try this one by Jennifer Yarter-Polmatier.” He showed me a book called The Madness Within. “It’s about a girl who grows up to be a serial killer.” That sounded good to me, so I picked up a copy. And hey, who can resist a book of haunted stories set in Disney World? So I grabbed Skeletons in the Swimmin’ Hole by Kristi Petersen Schoonover. John McIlveen was selling Strange Seed, so I took one of those as well. My brother had been talking with author Nathan Wrann while I was shopping around. He introduced me and we started talking about what he was selling.

“Give me your elevator speech,” I prompted.

“Well, I don’t really have an elevator speech,” Nathan admitted.

“Okay, what’s this one about?” I asked.

“That’s a young adult vampire story,” Nathan explained. I picked up a copy of the book called Dark Matter Heart. “Kind of like Twilight without the romance.” Not being a fan of Twilight, I just smiled, nodded and put it down. Nathan could tell I wasn’t interested in the bloodsucker book, so he showed me another. “I also have this one over here, called Europa.”

“What’s that about?” I asked, now a little hesitant after the YA vampire novel.

“It’s like The Thing.” Nathan said. That perked me up. John Carpenter’s The Thing is one of the greatest horror movies of all time, as far as I’m concerned. Nathan explained that this book was about a team of scientists working on a moon of Europa, “so it’s got that atmosphere of perfect isolation.”

Now, personally, I think the best horror stories always have that element of isolation. There has to be no chance of rescue, you know? You’re on your own and have to survive the monster and escape to freedom. Bleak isolation is present in The Thing, Alien, The Shining and Night of the Living Dead, as well as so many other great horror stories. He had me convinced. That was enough for now, I knew I could buy a few more at Anthocon in a few weeks, which was the next con the NEHW would be at. Until then, I had enough reading material to hold me over. I got all the books signed by the authors who were present. An attractive woman in a smokin’ miniskirt had also wandered over. She turned out to be Yarter-Polmatier, so I was able to get her book signed also.


My treasures in hand, Denny and I went to check out the celebrity room. Naturally, there were long lines for the top celebrities like Robert Englund, Lance Henriksen, and Roddy Piper. For reasons I can not rationally explain, Ace Frehley had at least a hundred people waiting to meet him. Denny noticed a few celebrities with the word “zombie” among their movie credits, so we decided to visit them. The first was Addy Miller, a ten year old girl who had the distinction of being the very first zombie on The Walking Dead. We talked a while with her friendly mother before moving on to the next zombie. In the almost exact opposite corner of the room sat Sherman Howard, who played the zombie Bub from Day of the Dead. Denny got an autographed picture of Bub with a razor to his face. Sherman signed it “There’s something about an aqua velva man.”

We decided to check out the rest of the convention and make good on our promise to visit the zombie calendar guy again.

“Oh, it’s you guys again, thanks for coming back,” he said appreciatively. “My name’s Rocky and the calendar was my idea.” We introduced ourselves as well. I told him I was here to see the horror writers, but I was impressed with the rest of the event as well. “Look guys, I was wondering if you could do me a favor?”

“What’s the favor?” Denny asked. Rocky looked quickly to his left and right. When he was convinced the vendors nearest us were busy with their customers, he started hurrying through his story nervously.

“I’m so screwed,” Rocky told us. “I won the lottery!”

“What’s wrong with that?” Denny asked.

“Yeah,” I agreed. “People are usually happy when they win the lottery.”

“No, not that kind of lottery,” Rocky said. “The freakin’ Rock and Shock lottery, man!”

“What’s the Rock and Shock lottery?” I asked.

“Yeah, what could be so bad about dinner with Robert Englund, or something like that?” Denny laughed. “Freddy Krueger give you nightmares?” I chuckled.

“No, it’s not like that,” Rocky said. “With the Rock and Shock lottery, winning is definitely losing. I get to be the lamb!”

“What lamb?” I asked.

“Jesus, I thought you said you were with the writers,” Rocky said, exasperated.

“Actually this is my first time meeting them. It’s my first time at Rock and Shock too,” I explained.

“Freakin’ virgins! Great, just great.” Rocky ran his fingers through his spiked hair and looked around fearfully, yet again. “The lamb,” he continued, “is the sacrificial lamb, man. Every year one vendor is sacrificed to the horror icons on Saturday night. In return for the sacrifice, the horror icons bestow prosperity on the rest of the vendors for one year, until the next Rock and Shock. That’s the lottery that I won.”

“Come on, buddy. You’re messing with us,” Denny replied.

“Yeah, that’s pretty much the plot of the Shirley Jackson story,” I noted.

“Oh really?” Rocky said. “In the Shirley Jackson story, do the horror icons sit around this big table and drink the blood of the sacrifice out of a giant punch bowl? Hmm? Do they? All the other vendors just sit there and watch. I know, I’ve seen it a half dozen times.” He stopped a moment, shrugged, and continued his tale.

“It’s a sickening sight. I bet you expect me to say the horror icons physically morph into the demons they play in the movies. It’s not that simple. It’s more like a possession takes hold of them. Look, these horror icons, they seem like nice, friendly people when you talk to them. But at the sacrifice, it’s like you can see this evil invading their souls. They still look the same, mostly, but you can still tell they’ve turned into monsters. It’s a horrible thing to see. Gary Busey is an animal.” He was even more agitated now as he apparently contemplated his fate.

“Why would the vendors keep coming back, if there was a chance of that?” I said.

“Are you kidding? In this economy?” Rocky said. “People will do just about anything for a year’s worth of prosperity. There’s a hundred vendors here. That’s only a one percent chance you’ll get chosen. It’s worth the risk.”

“Well, then stop complaining about it,” Denny said, playing along.

“I’m not so sure I want to join the New England Horror Writers group if there is any chance I could get killed at a con,” I joked.

“Oh, the writers, they’re not vendors,” Rocky said. “Technically, they’re part of the celeb room.”

“So do they drink the blood too?” I asked, curious to see where he was going with this.

“No, they don’t drink the blood, but they don’t sit with the vendors, either,” Rocky whispered. “They just stand around the table near the horror icons. They drag the body of the victim off. Then they’re gone.”

“Well that doesn’t sound too bad, Dave,” Denny kidded. “Maybe you can join them after all.”

“Listen,” Rocky interrupted. “I’m having this party with all the zombie girls from the calendar. If you guys help me get outta here, you can come. It’s gonna be sick. You’d like that, right? Come on guys, help a brother out.”

“Why can’t you just leave on your own?” Denny asked him.

“Cause they’re watching me, man!” Rocky whined. “Plus, I’m sure they’ve messed with my car by now. I’ll never get away. I need a distraction,” he thought it over for a few frantic moments. “Okay, I’m going to summon my girlfriend; she’s the zombie on the cover. She does this great dance of the dead. After she gets up on the table, people will gather around. It’s really hypnotic. You guys can sneak me out of here then.”

“She’s coming in zombie makeup?” I asked.

“Not makeup, man. She’s a real freakin’ zombie! All the calendar girls are.” Rocky exclaimed. “You guys really are Rock and Shock virgins.”

“All right then,” Denny said. “We’ll come back when your zombie girlfriend gets here and smuggle you out, okay?”

“When will she get here?” I asked.

“In a little bit,” Rocky’s eyes rolled back in his head and a bit of drool slid out of the corner of his mouth. Denny and I just looked at each other. Was he having a stroke? In a few seconds, Rocky snapped out of it. “All right, I just summoned her. She’s on the way.”

“Yeah, okay,” Denny said. “We’ll check back in a little while. Then we can help you escape, or whatever.” We walked away.

When we got around the corner, I said, “What a nut case!”

“Maybe it’s just part of the show,” Denny suggested.

“That’s got to be it,” I agreed. “Like some prank on Scare Tactics. Want to go get zombie caricatures of ourselves?”

“Let’s see how long the line is,” Denny said. Along the way, we bumped into Stacey from the NEHW.”

“Oh, hi again,” I said.

“Hi David,” she said. “Did I see you guys talking to the zombie calendar guy?”

“Oh, yeah, Rocky,” I confirmed. “That guy must have forgotten his meds or something.”

“You were over there for quite a while,” Stacey said, folding her arms in front of her.

“Well, he had this really crazy story to tell,” I explained. “We were actually wondering if it was some sort of trick the Rock and Shock people pull on unsuspecting noobs.”

“What did he tell you?” Stacey asked, blinking innocently.

“Something about a lottery and a sacrifice,” Denny said.

I wasn’t sure if I was going to divulge the whole story to Stacey, just in case, you know? But since Denny started the ball rolling and I am not very good at making up lies on the spot, I decided to relay Rocky’s twisted tale to Stacey. “He’s nuts, right?” I said.

“Huh,” Stacey said, licking her lips. She looked around and moved closer to me, showing a little too much tooth. I was uncomfortable, so I backed up until I hit a wall. “Listen, David. Jason likes how you stepped up to help out with the publicity committee. He thinks, maybe, that you have something to offer our group, some potential. I don’t know if he’s right, but that’s his call. In regards to Rocky, I just want to offer you this advice. Walk away.”

“Now wait a minute,” Denny said. “We don’t like threats.” Suddenly, two huge Predators came up behind my brother, and seized him. I had seen them earlier in the celebrity room and assumed them to be men in costumes, of course. Up close and personal, I wasn’t so sure those were costumes. My brother is not a small guy, but the Predators towered over him. Denny struggled a bit, to no avail. They had him.

“We don’t want any trouble,” I said. “Let my brother go.”

“I’m sure we can come to an arrangement,” Stacey smiled. “If you guys agree not to interfere with our dinner plans, then I can forget this ever happened.”

“Dinner plans?” I said.

“Of course,” Stacey said. “Rocky’s not a writer, so he doesn’t know what we do.”

“Yeah, he said you guys take the victim’s body and leave. That’s all he knew,” I said.

“The horror icons get the blood,” Stacey said. “But the horror writers, we get the meat!” She had a wild look in her eye and I felt real fear. Adrenaline coursed through my veins. If this was really just some prank, it was working. I wondered if was going to say–no, I prayed she would–“Are you scared? You should be, because you’re on Scare Tactics!”

My prayers were not answered.

“Okay, fine. Look, we’ll leave peacefully,” I said, holding my hands up. “Could you just answer a question for me?”

“What is it?” Stacey said.

“On Facebook, there was an invitation to go out to dinner that was sent to the whole group. Is that when you eat the meat? What if I had accepted?”

“In that case, Jennifer would have cast a glamour spell over you,” Stacey answered. “You would have been served whatever you ordered, but we would have been served the meat. The glamour would have kept you from seeing what we were really eating. All you would be able to see would be cheeseburgers, Caesar salads, quesadillas and the like.”

“Jennifer’s a witch?” I asked.

“She does have that Michelle Pfeiffer Witches-of-Eastwick-look going on,” Denny said.

“True,” I agreed. “Okay Stacey, we have a deal. We’ll leave quietly. When should we go?”

“Now would be good,” she instructed. “There may still be a place for you in the NEHW, but right now, you know too much. Just go home while I do damage control. And remember,” she added with a grin, “we know where you live. Jason mailed you a shirt, remember?”

Of course I remembered. I had ordered one of those cool New England Horror Writers t-shirts almost immediately after I joined the group. Denny and I left the building. It was not the bravest moment for a couple of hockey-playing construction workers, but we had entered a world we were not prepared for. In this case, discretion really was the better part of valor. As for Rocky, we felt bad, but he knew what he was getting into.

It was raining, so we hurried to the parking garage where I had parked my truck. I put the key in the ignition and turned. Nothing. I tried again. And again. Still nothing. Crap! I looked back at the parking garage attendant in her little booth, just a few parking spaces away. She pointed two fingers at her eyes, and then at us. I’m watching you. “We’re not going to say anything. We’ll mind our own business, I promise!” My shouts echoed hollowly in the parking garage. The attendant glared at us for a torturous amount of time, then nodded slowly. I turned the key again and the truck started. We got the hell out of there.

We drove home in silence for a while. About halfway home, Denny decided to look at the pictures on his phone. “Dave, look at this.” I was driving, but I glanced over.

“Yeah, so what. It’s a picture of me looking at books at the horror writers’ table.”

“Right,” he said. “But it was a picture of you looking at books that Stacey was showing you. She was right beside you.”

“She’s not in the picture now,” I said.

“But she should be.”

“Maybe you have the wrong picture?” I suggested.

“I’ve checked them all. I took three pictures Stacey should be in, but she doesn’t show up in any of them.”

“What are you saying. Stacey is a vampire?” I asked.

“Maybe,” Denny answered. “Hey, did you shake hands with John?”

“Yeah.”

“Was it just me, or did he have hairy palms? And I’d swear he sniffed me,” Denny commented.

“I thought I might have been imagining the hairy palms, but I noticed the sniffing too,” I remarked.

“What’s that a sign of, again?” Denny asked.

“Werewolf,” I admitted, my stomach sinking.

“Remember what John said about Scott’s book, Trailer Trash? It was Scott’s life story, an autobiography. What did he say it was about again?” Denny asked.

“Something about a monster hunter who sees the error of his ways and joins the monsters,” I said.

“Yeah, that’s it,” Denny said.

“Okay, so if Stacey’s a vampire, John’s a werewolf, Jennifer’s a witch and Scott is an ex-monster hunter, what about Nathan?” I said.

“I get the feeling he’s a new guy,” Denny said. “Maybe he hasn’t passed the initiation yet.”

I nodded. “What about Danny Evarts?” I said.

Denny thought about it for a minute. “You notice the way he stuck by Stacey’s side? Followed her around?”

“Yeah, so?” Denny said nothing, giving me a second to figure it out. “Oh, you think Danny’s a thrall?” He nodded. “I can see that,” I agreed. “So I guess I won’t be joining that horror writer’s group.”

“Why not?” Denny said.

“They’re freaking monsters man. I don’t know, but maybe that sounds kind of dangerous.”

“So? They seemed like a good group, otherwise. I liked them,” Denny explained. “Take out the whole Stacey threatening our lives thing, and I think it went well.”

“Well…I guess you’re right. I liked them too,” I said. “I guess we could give it another try at Anthocon and see how that goes.”

“I think we should,” Denny agreed. It occurred to me that John was having a potluck supper at his house in December. If I was still invited to it when the time came, I would be careful what I ate.

No mystery meat.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

A Chirstmas Party with Horror Writers

This is all new to me. I finished writing my first novel just five months ago. It’s been a long time coming. There’s been so much to do since I finished the first draft, more than I ever imagined. I new I’d have to edit it, but I never guessed how much work that would be, because I’d only written short stories before. I found out I needed to have a website, start a blog, as well as get active on facebook and twitter. Last and not least, I needed to network. As far as networking goes, the best thing I have done to date was join the New England Horror Writers.

The NEHW seemed like a good, solid group, right away. I immediately got involved in the facebook discussions and tried to help by contributing to the website. I had a chance to meet some of the members at Rock and Shock, and then about a month later at Anthocon. Those two events were great places to start and meet a few people, but the best chance to really get to know some people was going to be the Christmas party at John McIlveen’s.

Driving there was a bit of an adventure for me. I had trouble following the mapquest directions, and found myself wishing I had taken the GPS from my wife’s car. Overall, Haverhill is not that far from my home city of Peabody (pronounced Peebuddy, Jason), but once I got past Georgetown, I was in unfamiliar territory. It probably took me about a half hour longer to get there than it should have, because I turned around and backtracked so many times. In the end, I made it though.

Now, I’ve been an introvert all my life, so meeting new people isn’t really my specialty. I’m sure a lot of you other writer types out there can relate to this. I walked into the conference room where the party was being held and all those old anxieties came to the surface. All the seats at the table were taken, which didn’t make it any easier to blend in. Luckily, Dan Keohane got up from the food table and asked in anyone wanted to play pool. A few of us teamed up and we played some pool. This gave me a chance to mingle with just a couple people to start and break the ice. As an added bonus, our host John McIlveen brought down enough alcohol to supply a frat party. I’ve been in enough social situations to know the lubricating powers of alcohol, so I grabbed a beer and tried to relax.

People came and went, but I had the chance to talk to Paul McMahon, Scott Goudsward, John McIlveen and Tracy Carbone during the day. Eventually, Stacy Longo and Jason Harris showed up, the two people who I’ve had the most contact up until now. I’m not so good at mingling that I had the chance to meet everybody, but hopefully I’ll get there eventually. I’m learning more all the time. Everybody had their own experiences and their own advice to share. The NEHW is a very friendly, supportive community, and I’m glad I can be a part of it. As day turned to night, the partygoers dwindled to a level I was more naturally comfortable with.

At eight o’clock, those of us who had stuck it out that long, gathered around the television so we could check out Tracy Carbone’s appearance on Animal Planet. This was the best time for me. We all got a kick out of Tracy’s appearance on some show that had to do with exotic pets. It lightened the mood up for a fun conversation. At that point, Scott Woolridge and Gardner Goldsmith were telling stories about convention experiences, other writers they have met, and the British sci-fi comedy, Red Dwarf, a show I had never seen before. Gardner really had some great stories to share about Red Dwarf and what the show meant to him. Gardner and a friend of his even flew over to England one year, just to watch the show on tv.

As Gardner was telling us this story, he described his big, burly friend who went with him. He looked around the room, reached over and tapped me on the shoulder, “Kind of like this guy,” he said. I have to chuckle about this. I have been part of a few different social circles over my life, such as hockey players, construction workers, Boy Scout fathers and now writers. Everything being relative, I seem to be some sort of hybrid. When I am around the athletes and construction workers, I am generally one of the smaller guys, but when I hang out with Boy Scout dads and other writers, it goes the other way.

Anyway, it was a fun day filled with interesting people. I’ve never completely fit in with the athletes and construction workers. Nothing against them, mind you, I’ve been part of that crowd for over twenty-five years. Still, it’s nice to finally find a group of people who can sit around all day talking about H. P. Lovecraft, Star Wars, the next Stephen King mini-series and the zombie apocalypse. I hope I get the chance to get to know more of this group over the coming year. Maybe by the 2012 Christmas party I’ll even know the names of the others that I didn’t get a chance to meet. I guess I’ll wrap this up now. I think I’ll watch one more episode of Red Dwarf on Netflix before bed.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Ode to Channel 56

What makes a science fiction fan? It’s a good question, right? The short answer is a simple one. It’s all about the imagination. While I believe everyone is born with one, some people’s imaginations seem to atrophy from lack of use. It helps to have parents who encourage its use, because not all do. Fans of speculative fiction, that all-encompassing term that includes fantasy, science fiction, and horror, have over-active imaginations. We’re dreamers. Do we daydream a lot? Sure. Do we let our minds wander on to things that many people would not consider important? You bet we do. It’s who we are, and where would the world be without the dreamers? Still stuck in the Stone Age, that’s where.
Okay, so it all has to start somewhere. Someone or something has to have nurtured that imagination at an early age. I am going to give a good chunk of that nurturing credit to an independent Boston television station, WLVI, channel fifty-six. Funny, how you can’t appreciate some things until long after they are gone. I grew up in the seventies, and was raised on broadcast television. We didn’t even get cable until nineteen-eighty or so. Channel fifty-six was a UHF station, that ran a lot of syndicated series and old movies. So what did they air? Only some of the most amazing programs a young mind could soak in. My favorite was the original Star Trek series. My mother was a fan too, so this was something we could enjoy together. The original Star Trek was not perfect, by any stretch of the imagination, but it remains one of my all-time favorite shows. If I happen to be flipping channels and see Kirk, Spock, Bones, or Scotty, I will always stop and watch the rest of the episode. How many shows or movies can you say that about?
Growing up in the seventies was exciting for someone who dreamed about life “out there” and reaching for the stars. Star Trek was so inspirational for me at the time. It hadn’t even been ten years since we first landed on the moon. NASA was actively exploring our moon with the Apollo program and our solar system with the Pioneer, Voyager, and Viking programs. Star Trek seemed like just a taste of what we might out amongst the stars. Who knew, right? I wanted to be an astronaut right up until I entered college. I wanted to find what was out there. Kirk and the crew of the enterprise were responsible for those dreams just as much as our own space program was.
There was another series, however, that gave us some different ideas about what the future could hold for humanity. This series also aired on channel fifty-six. It was called The Outer Limits. The Outer Limits gave warnings about the future, about contact with alien races, and about man’s ever improving technology. It was scary. Like The Twilight Zone, there was usually a moral associated with each story; a moral that said something about humanity. It was a much darker message and not as hopeful as Star Trek, but I took it all in, just the same. As a matter of fact, I even told myself, one day, I’ll be a scientist, but I won’t make those kinds of mistakes. I’ll be one of the good ones.
On Saturday afternoons, The Outer Limits led into one of the greatest programs that channel fifty-six had to offer. This was the show they labeled “Creature Double Feature.” As you might have guessed, Creature Double Feature aired giant monster, horror, and sci-fi movies. All those Japanese monster movies were great, especially Godzilla. That big, mutant dinosaur was nature unleashed. Godzilla was like the earth saying to the people of earth, “You know what? I don’t like your cities and pollution. I’m gonna stomp ‘em. Your military power? Pathetic. I’m gonna swat it away.” Godzilla was large and in charge. How could you not love that?
Another major sci-fi influence I can remember from channel fifty-six was Lost in Space. I know, I know, it was a very campy show after the first season. Still, I really loved that robot. There was just something about the robot that made the whole show for me. The robot was heroic, selfless, funny and often displayed more emotion than Mr. Spock. The best moments of the series were often between the once-evil but now-bumbling Doctor Smith and the robot. He remains my all time favorite robot. “Warning! Warning! Danger, Will Robinson!” Classic stuff right there. I like it when robots show us how good humanity should be. B 9 from Lost in Space, The Iron Giant, and Data from Star Trek, The Next Generation are the kinds of robots that have always appealed to me. If mankind could create something noble like that, it might just say something good about us, and our future.
Speaking of Data, Star Trek TNG is the last sci-fi show that channel fifty-six broadcast that I will discuss. I was a little older when this show came out. I was out of high school and was reading mostly horror at the time. TNG didn’t really grab me right away. I kind of half-heartedly watched season one. I didn’t even start watching season two right away. It wasn’t until a friend of mine brought it up and said season two was much better, that I even bothered with the second season. Once I did, though, I got hooked. The Original Star Trek was about what strange, alien, and sometimes familiar life forms we might find once we travelled to the stars. TNG was different, though, because it was more about what humanity’s place in the universe could be. Even in the face of a fearsome threat like the Borg, Picard and his crew used the human spirit to be a force for good and a defense against the darkness, when necessary.
These are the shows and movies that WLVI, channel fifty-six in Boston, brought to me. Everything I have ever read or seen has influenced me, as a dreamer and a writer, in some way. I will remember the part of my childhood that channel fifty-six influenced very fondly. I have even heard that fans still contact the station asking them to bring back Creature Double Feature. I can understand that. If the Syfy channel broadcast stuff that was half as good as channel fifty-six used to on a Saturday afternoon, I’d have more respect for them. I can’t imagine that the disaster movie knock-offs they show constantly are making any of today’s kids look towards the stars. At least I can consider myself lucky enough to have been exposed to shows that made me think and dream. Thank you channel fifty-six.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Scariest movies ever, Part 1

In honor of October and Halloween, I will be blogging about things that scare me this month, all right? Okay, so let's start off with the mvp of the Halloween season, scary movies.

I grew up on scary movies. I've always loved them. I was watching Creature Double Feature on Channel 56 as far back as I can remember. Some of you may or may not know that I spent much of my childhood in and out of the hospital, with stomach problems. One of my earliest memories is watching some old version of "The Mummy" with some of the older kids in the hospital ward, late at night. Absolutely freaking terrifying. At least it was when I was six or seven years old.

Let's start off with the only movie that truly scarred me for life and gave me an honest-to-goodness phobia. I think this was sort of the perfect storm. I've always had an over-active imagination. This is a good thing for an aspiring writer, but maybe it wasn't so great for a scared little kid. I tried to google a name for this phobia. There are some phobias that are close, but not quite right, like for instance, aquaphobia (fear of water and swimming), thalassophobia (fear of the sea) and galeophobia (fear of sharks). None of these exactly describe what I felt, so I came up with my own name for it. Let's call it "scary-things-live-under-the-water-and-want-to-eat-me-phobia." The movie is, of course, Jaws.

I saw Jaws in the movie theater when I was eight years old. Now, don't be too hard on my parents. It was only rated PG, remember, and I was the kind of kid who watched scary movies on tv every Saturday afternoon. Can you believe they got away with giving Jaws a PG rating? I heard they invented the PG-13 rating because Spielberg kept pushing the limits with movies like Jaws, Gremlins, and Poltergeist. Okay, so I don't want to go into too much detail that would mirror much of a story/article I wrote called "Shark Bait," but let's say swimming anywhere that I could not see what was under me became a nightmare.


I'm not sure I even knew the movie was about a big man-eating shark when I went to see it. Remember that first scene, where the skinny-dipping girl get's attacked and bounced off the buoy? What a way to start a movie! It was so much worse because you didn't see what was happening below the water. You could only see the girl's terror above the surface as she got pulled back and forth by some unseen force. John William's musical score from Jaws is probably the most fitting and recognizable soundtrack ever. It does such a great job of building tension throughout the film. There are so many tense scenes in the movie, like the boys on the sailboat or when Richard Dreyfuss dives the wrecked ship and the head pops out at him.

Jaws is, for me, one of the scariest movies of all time. Oh sure, there are others that do an even better job of keeping you on edge for most of the film, and I'll get to them too, but Jaws made me afraid to swim for a long time. How many movies can claim their scares last for a decade or two?

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Building a team

This one is going to be tough for a lot of you aspiring to be writers out there. Many of us writer types are introverted and private by nature. I think that comes with the territory. Still, from my experience so far, this has made a huge difference for me. Maybe I'm lucky, but maybe not too. Maybe this just has to do with having the right attitude.

After I finished writing the book, came the question, "what next?" Well, first of all I knew I needed to edit the book, but even more importantly, I needed opinions. Was it any good? I thought so, but since I wrote it, I'm biased. I needed some slightly more unbiased opinions. Naturally I reached out to friends and family, but obviously there will still be some bias there, because they want to be supportive. So I took a chance offering it out to some gaming friends on facebook. These were people I didn't know at all. I also made it available to some people who were in the same yahoo group as me. I've had mixed results with that experiment but let me offer this advice. Don't send anyone the PDF to anyone unless they have an e-reader like a Kindle or Nook. It became obvious to me that well-meaning people who thought they would sit down in front of their laptop and read it, really couldn't find the time.

My best friend and web designer, Mark Buckley, offered to help me with the book as sort of a side project. His wife Janet graciously agreed to do the editing. Reviews came back and, while there have been some minor criticisms, the response has been positive and encouraging. The side project has evolved into a team since we started working on it. This team consists of me and my wife, my brother Denny and his wife, Berny, and the aforementioned Mark and Janet. We all have very different personalities and I think that has been crucial to the dynamic of the team. We put together a business plan and started working towards weekly or bi-weekly goals. Everybody gets homework to take home.

Now, it helps to have a detail-oriented, spreadsheet-loving business manager like my friend Mark. Seriously though, if he could bottle up what he has and sell it to other aspiring authors, I would recommend it highly. You have to work on all those little goals, though. Being able to check off all the small accomplishments helps you get closer and closer to your ultimate goal, which is getting published. If I had tried to do this all myself, well, let's just say it would have been messy. If at all possible, build that team of people who believe in you and your book. I don't recommend trying to go it alone, and you know that is what most of you are doing. Good luck.