Friday, October 30, 2009

I'm Done Ravening

I have been without home internet for the last week. Thank you ATT. So apologies to all who expected almost daily postings. Still, I think we've had some good ones this October, don't you?

I have watched both Misery and Romancing The Stone, films about writers. In each of these the author in question finishes a novel with a little ritual. They tap-tap-tap the final page, finish with "The End" and dance off, drinking a glass of champagne or smoking an expensive cigar. It's astonishing to me these people don't reread their work, edit, or proofread. Instead they just box up the manuscript and send it off to the eagerly awaiting editor. I guess wealth and fame has its privileges.

Well, last night I finished The Ravening and this afternoon, I sent it off to the editor for perusal. No ritual. Maybe I'm missing something. Still, it's good to be done. It's great to be done. And now? Am I on my way to Disneyland? Nope, now I'm outlining the sequel and working on a few short stories that have been begging attention.

So, here's to The Ravening, a tale of zombies and survival. I hope it's entertaining and I am sure I will be talking more about this in the coming months.

Would someone call me a "dirty bird"?

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Edgar Allen Poe

It would be a crime to let this season pass without paying homage to this incredibly influential and tragic figure. Edgar Allen Poe, one of the creators of the modern detective story and indeed one of the architects of the modern short story, is a striking individual whose importance shouldn't be allowed to be understated.

For those who haven't visited Poe in some time or who may be somewhat new to him, here is a tremendous site. The Poe Museum is well organized, with interesting information about the author as well as opportunities for young people to participate in short story and poetry competitions. Teachers can find links to suggested readings and even lesson plans. The curious may want to purchase Poe themed t-shirts, coffee mugs, or other items or collectibles.
As for the works of the master himself, since Poe is out of copyright, his writings are available throughout the web. However you may want to visit the excellent

Let me take a moment though to discuss two things about Poe's work that has most affected me. First, for those who have heard me talk about writing, Poe views on the importance on economy should be printed out and mounted over every author's computer screen. Poe once wrote that every paragraph, every sentence, every word, every punctuation mark should further either theme, setting, plot, or character. I have always used this as a compass.

The other thing about Poe that has moved me is his ability to create an image through an amazing word choice. Look, for instance, at this opening to the Fall of the House of Usher.

"During the whole of dull, dark, soundless day in the autumn of the year, when the clouds hung oppressively low in the heavens, I had been passing alone, on horseback, through a singularly dreary tract of country, and at length found myself, as the shades of evening drew on, within view of the melancholy house of Usher."

This one sentence is so rich in technique and meaning, and it brilliantly sets up this story of the decadence of Southern aristocracy and premature burial. Look at the alliteration of the opening breath and then follow, if you will, the descent upon which the reader is taken through the remainder of the sentence. It's like watching a leaf fall, gliding first to the left and then to the right, but ever and inevitably descending.

This sentence is also rich in drama without being melodramatic. Although one can imagine the pounding of an organ with the proclamation about the House of Usher

I could go on and on about this and about other Poe delicacies, but instead let me urge you to surf, discover and rediscover on your own. I would also recommend that you read this marvelous article from The New Yorker. It's a bit long, but well-written and edged with a fine sense of humor.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Dressing Up

There are certain costumes we just don't want to see around Halloween.
First and foremost, anything racist or misogynist. How many times have I seen people attend a party and look at the event as an excuse to exercise bad taste? It's one thing when some idiot attends a private party, but sometimes they actually set example for children. This has gotten worse in the last few years as adult costumes have become more and more inappropriate. Now, I'm not one to shy away from bad taste, but I do tend to hold up my nose at boorishly bad or unimaginative. I was going to post a photo of a toddler wearing a costume with a bloody alien erupting from its chest, but even I couldn't go there.
So instead, here are three tasteless masks and costumes that I CAN show...

Friday, October 16, 2009

Back From The Dead

I have been incredibly sick for the last week. Maybe H1N1? I think. I'm just starting to feel human now and thought I would return to update folks about last weeks' Conclave.

First, congratulations to Jason Lindsey, who was there with his lovely wife, for being the winner of my LAST MAN STANDING TRIVIA CONTEST. As a winner, he is now a character in my new zombie novel, THE RAVENING, and will be gruesomely killed in print. Second Place winner was Daniel Hogan, who will be referenced as the head of the CDC. Immortality is immortality.

Speaking of zombie novels, William Jones and I both read excerpts from our work at the convention. Listening to William's reading, I have to say that I'm looking forward to the release of Pallid Light. The section William read was shocking and edged with humor. Outstanding.

Rick Moore presented a fascinating panel on non-fiction writing. He is quite knowledgeable in this area. Unfortunately, he bailed on doing a ghost hunting panel, but there's always next year, when the name of ConClave will be formally changed to Rick's Show.

We also were able to get a smattering of gaming in. Appropriately enough, a zombie game. If you play with the Joneses, you can usually count on two things. When his opponent stumbles and all seems lost, William Jones will gleefully rub his hands together and intone: "Excellent". Deborah has a bit more mercy. She stops all game play, attends to you with intense scrutiny and inquires: "I just need to make sure...are you ready to surrender? You can give up now, if you'd like." And she does this BEFORE things actually happen. Me? I never indulge in any mind hooligans. No, I just humbly press on in good sportsmanship and applaud my opponent's victories and console him on his losses.

Before was great to see Chuck Zaglanis. The big hearted lug did a reading from his story in High Seas Cthulhu. Kevin was there to provide a charming smile and surprisingly buy everyone lunch. Thanks Kevin. Love ya. Rick bought lunch one day as well. So two love yas are in order. Also it was great to meet Merrie Haskell and Jon David

Thursday, October 08, 2009

The One Thousand and Fifty Sixth Dragon of Creativity...Or Why I Love Zombies

I'm lying..I'm not posting about dragons. Not now...probably not ever. I may post about creativity at some future point, but hell...wouldn't you rather talk zombies? Of course you would.

I'll assume people visiting here have already seen Zombieland. If you haven't, and if you consider yourself any fan of horror, then may I suggest you do so..immediately. Zombieland is a rollercoaster that at once lampoons this subgenre and at the same time celebrates it. Don't think about Shaun of the Dead. This is an entirely and different and equally enjoyable animal.

That being stated, why do we enjoy the undead reanimating and chomping the hell out of us? Where's the attraction? Vampires are charming. Werewolves are powerful and savage. And Zombies? Well...they sort of ooze stuff all over the place and leave bits and pieces of themselves in their wake.

Perhaps we might find the solution to this question in the success of George Romero's classic, "Night of the Living Dead". Let's think...what was going on in the late sixties? Hmmm....the Vietnam War, riots in our urban areas, and a shifting from fifties culture that left many people feeling left behind. As a result, the apocalypse became an attractive theme for some writers and film makers. From this perspective, the zombie represents the world gone wrong, the upheaval of the natural order of things. In the zombie apocalypse, all the institutions of authority that we have trusted since childhood are powerless to help us.

So how is it that with such a bleak canvas to paint a story upon that zombie films seem to be such a strong niche? Well, if we first push aside the gore, we are left with the triumph of the individual. What? Think about it. Cut off from all help and support, the survivor of the zombie apocalypse must rely on his wits and personal attributes. Let me argue that the zombie apocalypse is actually one of the most hopeful of all horror subgenres.

I know..I know...almost every zombie film ends with the heroes dying. However, I would argue that there is still triumph, that although the flesh may be consumed, the hero fights to the end against overwhelming odds.

Below find a clip from the rather delightful LOST ZOMBIES, a delightful online community to help people deal with the plague that has spread through the country.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Scaring the Kids

Halloween began as a religious holiday. I won't discuss the whole Samhain thing here, let's just say it came from an agricultural based philosophy and signified beliefs dealing with the change of seasons and the concepts of life and death. But somehow this event, celebrated as it is in America, metamorphised into something else...into a celebration that encouraged hedonism, recapturing childhood fantasy, and and a celebration of one's fears. There's a good deal of material there and I could several pages just talking about dealing with inhibition from a sociology perspective. However, let's focus on the last, the celebration of fear.

"I want to be scared," someone will say, entering a movie or a "haunted" house. Of course. We can and should translate this into "I want to experience an intense emotion safely so I can deal with it. I want to be vicariously afraid."

Why? Well, first I assume that there is a rush in fear. Some people are adrenelin junkies. To put it clinically, as the system is shocked and a burst of adrenlin is released, there is also a subsequent burst of endorphin. A sensation of euphoria ensues. Charles could probably do a better job describing this.

Next, there is a psychological satisfaction in being presented with a fear response and overcoming it....safely. For instance, we love roller coasters, it allows us to cope with the speed and the illusion of danger. However, put that same person in a car, run it over a hundred miles an hour down an expressway in the middle of a rainy night, and although some of the same sensations might be produced, the danger is real and the event---not as much fun. We might enjoy screaming at Michael Meyers in Halloween. However, open the door at midnight and find a tall, hulking masked figure standing there, a machete danging from one hand....and suddenly...not so much fun. The point of horror is that it allows us to experience this fear from a distance, to handle it safely.

Another reason to celebrate the fear in Halloween? Because it's a rite of passage. Overcoming certain fears is part of growing up. As we've made different icons of horror safe for the little ones (the cardboard witch with the goofy smile, the gentle and socially awkward Frankenstein monster), we are helping them deal with the discomfort they feel at the unfamiliar or the misunderstood. Some fears are productive and necessary to survival. Halloween is a great time for us to help kids understand that there are rational and irrational fears and that there are ways to overcome some of the irrational ones. Of course, I'm not sure why adults want to do this..there is something delicious about seeing kids run screaming from a paper ghost.

Friday, October 02, 2009


Even a man who is young at heart,
And says his prayers by night,
May become a wolf when the wolfbane blooms....
And the autumn moon is bright.

---Universal Pictures' "The Wolfman"

There is something seductive about power, and the werewolf, the ultimate representation of savagry, is one of literature's most primitive displays of animal rage and power in its darkest aspect. This ancient horror, recounted by the likes of Herodotus, Virgil, Ovid, and Pliny the Elder, has probably been part of our lore long before there was written history. The terror generated by the beast taps into the same unease we feel when we consider the likes of Charles Manson or Jeffrey Dalmer... we are unable to fathom that sort of savagery and we know that without warning we can change from observer to prey. Of course, some would argue that the werewolf acts with the pure motives of an animal, exhilirated by the hunt. I'd argue that the werewolf as it's been depicted isn't a pure animal but a manifestation of our darkest natures, hunting not for food but for the thrill of inciting terror and for the pleasure of the kill.

From a literary standpoint, there are few stories or novels where the werewolf has managed to shine. You won't find a werewolf equivalent to Dracula, for instance. Larry Talbot, (the character portrayed by Lon Chaney Jr. in Universal's "The Wolfman"), is hardly a memorable figure, there are few who would be able to remember his name. Even Stephen King's werewolf novel is hardly considered a horror classic.

The werewolf has fared better in film. Jon Landis has given us a black comedy that brilliant delivers a chill or two--"An American Werewolf In London" is brilliant. If you haven't seen it, you would do yourself a favor putting it on your list for Halloween dvds. A more recent entry into the lycanthrope's lair is the independent horror film "Dog Soldiers". The tag line for this 2002 film says it all: "Six Soldiers. Full moon. No Chance." It's a suspenseful entry that builds to a nail-biting crescendo. Again, perfect for Halloween.

What about the current trend of vampire/werewolf films you ask? What about "Rise of the Lycans". It's good fantasy---mindless adventure with great special effects. What about the sequel to Twilight that's due out? Again, fantasy, urban fantasy, paranormal romance---but not horror. Perhaps the werewolf is becoming as defanged as the vampire has been by contemporary authors and film-makers, but there's still hope. Early next year, director Joe Johnson will helm a re-telling of "The Wolfman", starring Benicio Del Toro as Lawrence Talbot and Anthony Hopkins as his father. And from the trailer, it looks like brutality of the beast is still simmering, ready to explode.

And for those of you who like your lycanthropy from a Judaic perspective----here's Werewolf Bar-Mitzvah......

Stay tuned for the next post: THE PSYCHOLOGY OF HALLOWEEN

Thursday, October 01, 2009


As promised, we're striving for daily posts through October, all with a Halloween motif. Today, I think it is time we explored the critters that we associate with dread. I've noticed, for instance, that there are those folk who shudder at the image of an arachnid (spider) creeping along a web. Some people shrink back at the presence of a snake. Others will run for cover when a bat makes an appearance.

It's interesting how certain animals trigger a response and it makes me wonder if that is a learned behavior or some sort of remnant of an instinctual survival mechanism. One can understand how fears of spiders and snakes may have evolved, but certainly to see those fears carried out in a world of chrome and glass is mystifying. And of course, the things that most people should be terrified of ...squirrels...tend to induce most people to smile stupidly.

As a writer, animals provide wonder triggers and metaphors. Stephen King certainly realized that when he wrote IT! Of course, King also used the most unlikely animal for an antagonist---a St. Bernard (Cujo). Stoker used rats and bats for their greatest effect in Dracula, and let's not forget the image of Renfield collecting houseflies for a feast. Poe and Lovecraft both used cats to inspire a sense of the otherworldly. Film culture has taken the exotic and common animal to create dread. Hitchcock's birds, Spielberg's sharks come to mind. Donner used two mastiffs as guardian's of Satan's kid in The Omen.

Perhaps the use of animals in popular culture and literature to spark fear isn't so much a lingering memory as they are a metaphor for the untamed side of human nature, for the beast that lingers within all of us.