Thursday, October 08, 2015

Dark Was the Night

I've always been fascinated by the story of The Devil's Footprints, that unsolved mystery of strange footprints in the snow in Devon England in 1855. Sure, there are skeptical views, but they marks offer a wonderful "what if" and induced a lot of anxiety in their day.

I've wanted to see Dark Was the Night since I read of the Blacklist script "The Trees" by Tyler Hisel and heard that it was finally being filmed. The story transplants those odd tracks to a small town north of a logging operation and pits a local sheriff suffering the bereavement of a child against a mysterious something disturbed in the forest.

Just in time for Halloween, the film is streaming on Netflix and is a nicely creepy and atmospheric monster movie that leaves the imagination plenty of room to play. Director Jack Heller seems to have a great sense of how to deliver a building sense of menace and read.

Frequent villain Kevin Durand is the sheriff and makes a great hero and a sympathetic grieving dad who's also coping with estrangement from his wife and remaining child. Lukas Haas is his ex-New Yorker deputy who's smitten with a local girl and looking to make a quiet home.

Huge and mysterious footprints, like the ones that were  in my upstairs closet when I moved into my current house, appear one morning, stretching the length of the town, and Durand as Sheriff Shields begins first to seek a logical explanation.

He gradually realizes he'd better prep for things worse than skeptics might have expected, and gets some chilling and tantalizing glimpses of what might be lurking in the shadows.

The story builds to an intense third act with the mystery and chills piling on. It's a pretty nice dark night viewing choice.

I'd say: Worth the time.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Night Out with Horror and Science Fiction Professionals

Christine and I decided not to sit home last night. It can be rough when a pet dies. Every corner holds a memory.

We decided to attend the monthly gathering of The Orlando Horror, Fantasy and Sci Fi Professionals group. Organized by Owl Goingback, who I've known since before we had gray hair,  the group was celebrating its one year anniversary.

It was at Eden Bar attached the the Enzian Theater, an open air spot Christine and I enjoy.

So it was a good evening, and I wound up chatting quite a while with Mitch Hyman. He's creator of Bubba The Redneck Werewolf and a veteran of publications like Cracked, the original magazine iteration.

He pointed out horror writers could learn from comedy writers, who are always building up to a punch line.

I agreed, since I'm often discussing with students how Stephen King's top level of fear, terror, as described in Danse Macabre, can be achieved in film or fiction. That's often by a buildup that allows the reader or viewer's imagination to work a while, I think.

It was nice to kick ideas around, and talk Cthulhu with people who know Cthulhu. And it was nice for Christine and I to have pizza and drinks under the stars with friends old and new.

And speaking of slowly building horror, Christine and I will be heading back to the Enzian in a few weeks for a revival screening of The Haunting, the 1963 version, you know, the good one.

I really need to get out more, anyway.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Monty is gone

Monty is gone. It's hard to believe. He'd been with us around six years when I started this blog in 2005 or so. I thought he'd go on forever, but that's not the way of the world.

Our last day together was a good one, peaceful and friendly, with him at my side much of the morning as I graded.

I dreaded the afternoon, but I petted him and talked to him and fed him whenever he wanted to eat.

He passed peacefully in his own bed with a blanket that had often served as curtains for him underneath a toadstool at the bottom of our cat fort.

He was between Christine and me, petted, whispered to and comforted. It came three weeks to the day after Daisy passed away.

We had no idea Monty had a brain tumor when she was diagnosed with lung tumors. In her final week, he seemed as strong and vibrant as ever, especially for a cat with diabetes.

I'm numb at the moment, but contemplating what it means. Daisy and Monty were a part of married lives so long it's difficult to remember life without them.

Pets occupy a special place. They are just there, filling a piece of our worlds.

I'll miss Mon and Dee forever.

Monday, September 21, 2015

And Now for the Bad News

Rain held up a semi-annual inspection of my roof on Saturday. The guy called and asked if he could come by Sunday morning.

I said "sure" and watched for him so I could avoid a ringing of the doorbell which disturbs Monty, my eldest male cat. It's been a bad week for Monty, around 18 or 19, who seemed fine, even robust leading up to Daisy's death a couple of weeks ago. He'd even spend time with her in the closet where she liked to rest those last few days.

His behavior changed a bit after she was gone, which we attributed to the loss of a longtime companion, even though they weren't always on the best of terms. Then other signs took me to the vet with him for some tests on Wednesday.

They determined his blood sugar was low and suggested we step back the insulin he's received for two years. Before that step back could happen, Thursday afternoon, he crashed.

I tried to get some food into him but wound up rushing him back to the vet after he lay prone on my living room floor, unable to move.

An IV drip got him perked up at our vet, and he spent the night at an all-night emergency vet where he could be monitored. He had a seizure around midnight. Then another the next morning as I drove him back to our vet for a follow up.

The seizures shouldn't be happening after drips that restored his blood sugar levels, our vet said. She said the symptoms aligned with a brain tumor. That also would help explain why he suddenly no longer needed insulin.

Christine and I talked and decided to bring him home for the weekend and evaluate our decisions.

It seemed unreal,  not because I didn't trust our vet but just because. Monty and Daisy have been with us since the late '90s. That's the newspaper clipping in the upper left that brought Mon and us together. Daisy had been with us about a year then.

To have both Monty and Daisy decline so quickly within a few weeks has staggered Christine and me.

So I meet the guy from the roofer's Sunday, and I tell him I'm trying to avoid ringing the bell. He tells me he understands. He had a cat who had a brain tumor, he volunteered. This is without me saying what was wrong with Monty. Then he proceeded to describe what are also Monty's symptoms and the experience he had in letting his cat go.

And I understood better what had seemed unreal.

Monty's eating, sitting beside me as I grade, sticking close and being himself. He's a little wobbly at times, but he's hanging in.

We will stick close to him the next few days and decide. And at least we have this time and some clarity to celebrate his life and our lives with him.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Painted Moonlight - my surreal mystery short finds a home

I'm not sure why the timing works as it does. Perhaps it's because I'm on Eastern time and thus asleep while much of the country is still awake, but anyway, I often find acceptances or rejections in my morning in-box.

My ritual works like this: I roll over and pick up my phone to shut off The Archies singing "Sugar, Sugar," my alarm tone. (On the weekend it's Dylan's "Hard Rain.")

Then I check email, and head on to coffee either dismissing rejections or singing when positive things come in. Like the summer sunshine, pour your sweeness over mee.

If there's nothing submission related, which is most days, I just sip coffee and read Zite next until the caffeine kicks in.

Last Saturday morning, I picked up my phone to discover a subtle little mystery tale, "Painted Moonlight," had been accepted by The J.J. Outré Review for online publication. It always feels good, but I was particularly pleased with this placement.

I'd worked on the story for a while. The idea came to me years ago of an artist possibly slipping into schizophrenia who stops in a small Texas town and promptly begins to pursue surreal visions toward the solution to a local mystery.

His wife, who's been coping with his developing symptoms is forced to search for him while he's drawn deeper and deeper into a world of ghostly figures and a compulsion to pursue a truth he can only sense.

I like a tale that kind of lets me, as reader, connect the dots. Robert Aickman's work has always affected me and I love stories like T.E.D. Klein's "Growing Things" and Kelly Link's "The Specialist's Hat."

I'd tried with this piece to provide a tale where the story's truth was present but did not beat the reader about the brow. I worked on the piece a while when I still lived in East Texas. The idea developed after my wife, Christine, and I took a long drive south from Tyler down to Beaumont for a memorial service.

It took things a while to gestate, but I finished the story last year, shaping it to the form I wanted.

Then I began to send it out, first to a literary-horror publication Lit Reactor seemed to think was a desirable market. I let it sit there a while but finally withdrew it after a number of calendar pages fell with neither acceptance nor rejection.

Then I collected some rejections, one for an anthology that felt it wasn't quite right and another from a publication that attached a kind P.S. to the form message: "Nice writing. This story is just not for me."

To paraphrase The Stones in  "Sympathy for the Devil," that's the nature of this game. You craft something as close to perfection as you can make it, and it either clicks or doesn't with someone else's intellect.

So, I moved on, found the home it needed with J.J., which seeks to offer mixed and crossed genre mysteries, and enjoyed the elation of my Saturday morning email.

Then I suspected I could expect a rejection next because that's how it usually goes, some law of the creative universe or something like that. I have a few more stories floating around at the moment, so someone was probably due to let the air out of one of them.

I picked up my phone last Sunday morning, almost dreading the in box, and found another email from J.J. Outré Review.

"Painted Moonlight" made it onto their Top 10 of the year list. It'll be in a print and ebook publication with the other stories as well as online.

So it goes, from ignore to "unfortunately not the right fit" to the right and comfortable home.

Sometimes getting up on the weekends doesn't mean facing a hard rain but a more gentle delight.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Discovering The Hidden Face

My classes meet on a monthly basis. Students join me to discuss horror, mystery and suspense, and then they move on, usually to study science fiction and fantasy.

In our final week, I invite, all right, I compell students to bring in properties they've discovered to discuss. The only stipulation is that the selected piece fall somewhere under the horror, mystery and suspense umbrella.

I can't see everything. That guy from FX was right. There's a lotta TV out there in addition to movies, books, games, graphic novels and web series.

So we crowd source, and we get more than just Dad's movies --i.e. selections I root out--to explore genre elements.

It produces the usual suspects like Dead Space and Silent Hill, assorted anime and sometimes graphic novels.

And sometimes things turn up that I haven't encountered. Such as The Hidden Face aka La Cara Oculta, a 2011 Spanish-language thriller from Columbia.

The presentation in class included a couple of spoilers, which disappointed me a bit. I usually like to experience a piece without knowing major twists, but I was happy to have the film brought to my attention

I learned in watching the film, it's hard to discuss it without spoiling something.

 The trailer spoils a bit, in fact, removing some of the fun of the first act, so don't watch the trailer. Just dive into the film, which focuses on orchestra conductor Adrián (Quim Gutierrez) and the women in his life.

He's broken down in the opening when he gets a farewell note from his live-in girlfriend Belén (Clara Lago). The two have moved together from Spain for him to take the post as conductor of the Bogata Philharmonic, but she's apparently grown disillusioned with their relationship.

Odd occurrences soon plague the house when Fabiana moves in. Eerie ripples disturb her bath, and she hear odd sounds which compell her to explore the house more.

To further complicate matters, Adrián is soon the target of a police investigation. There's no sign that Belén left the country or is alive anywhere.

What follows is twists, with shifts in perspective on key events and a number of surprises, all unfolding as the quirky nature of love and desire are explored.

It's paced a little different than an American film, and it's hard to know what to expect, which is kind of refreshing, and the twists continue to the film's final seconds.

It can be an interesting experience for the horror and thriller fan who's not all about blades and car chases.

Streaming availability seems limited, at least through current subscription services. I ordered the disk from Netflix or it can be rented via Amazon.

Monday, September 07, 2015

Birthday reflections

And so it's time for another birthday and a few rambling thoughts. I shaved off my beard for the first time in a while, to see my face and because a birthday seems like a good time to do something a little different.

I don't feel older today or old, though the world feels a little empty without Miss Daisy.

One of my male cats, Ash, is on my lap on the other side of my laptop, filling the spot she often occupied while I work. Sometimes both of them spaced themselves along the length of my legs when I propped them on the coffee table. I've been fond of interpreting Ash's thoughts in those moments as: "Great, I get stuck with the shins again."

He's just looking for a warm spot and not really conscious of offering comfort, but it's nice to have him on hand and Monty beside me. Oliver is on the prowl somewhere, perhaps on the second floor.

Daisy spent a lot of the last couple of weeks in our bedroom closet, and Monty often lay in there as well, beside her in a cat bed she rejected for a green towel. He hasn't gone back in there to sleep since she's been gone, so perhaps he was keeping her company. Now, the sofa is his domain again.

Other than the loss of Miss Daisy, I've had a pretty good year. I've had several new short stories published as mentioned in posts below, and I have several others out. There's a certain satisfaction in short fiction and in sending my notes to the sea in bottles.

Inevitably there are arbitrary rejections and editorial notes you don't agree with, but those are kind of signs of being alive. It's kind of exciting to have so many outlets for short fiction these days.

I've become more prolific since leaving the corporate world for my current teaching gig, an experience that's been as educational for me, in my world, as I hope it is for my students.

It's forced new research into writing and horror, mystery and suspense theory, and it's freed my spirit a bit as well as putting me into the company of brilliant and creative people.

I'm fortunate, and I march on.

Saturday, September 05, 2015

Steampunk Graphic Novel Kickstarter - Citizens

My buddy, comics writer and former Marvel editor Roland Mann has a Kickstarter campaign going for a steampunk graphic novel called "Citizens." It will be drawn by Joe Badon, who's done work for a number of comics companies since 2009.

"Citizens" is the tale of an injured soldier who must accept a government-sponsored, biologically fabricated body following war injuries. It's all in pursuit of acceptance and the love of a girl. The world created for this story looks intriguing.

Donations have been good so far, but there's a ways to go and there's still time to kick lend your support.

Head over to the Citizens Kickstarter page.
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