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.