Friday, January 01, 2016

Happy New Year 2016, All!

Had a great time last night with my wife, Christine, at Orlando's Dr. Phillips Center ringing in the New Year via a concert featuring  Kristin Chenoweth of everything and Cheyenne Jackson of 30 Rock.

It was a fun sendoff to a busy holiday season for us that's included a trip to Charleston and a walk through history, taking in a staging of Peter and the Starcatcher, a handful of movies including Force Awakens and the 70 mm Hateful Eight and lots of other activities.

For me 2015 was a mixed year, filled with great things on the creative side. A couple of new short stories were published in cool publications including Black Fox Literary Magazine, DM du Jour, Heater and J.J. Outer Review. The J.J. story was also selected for their "Best of 2015" anthology, and I plugged along on a couple of other projects.

I have a few specific personal goals for 2016. I may not finish all I want to do, but it's good to forge ahead with a plan as January dawns.

I found encouragement from a friend's Facebook post via Janis Ian. It's a quote from Leonard Cohen's "Anthem." "There is a crack in everything/that's how the light gets in."

Good advice to perfectionists.

In other ways, 2015 was a rough year. Daisy, the cat who's been with Christine and me the longest,
passed away in September. Just weeks later our second-oldest cat, Monty, began displaying symptoms of a brain tumor and passed as well. Christine and I agree. We'll miss them forever. 

Their passing reminded us of how swiftly time moves or how swift it feels in looking back, and with that comes the additional encouragement of moving forward with eyes open to the shortness of days and years. That helps in making the most of them.

Ahead there's a road. I'll keep taking steps on it. Happy 2016!







Friday, December 11, 2015

Charleston Nights

My wife, Christine, and I spent a few days in Charleston, S.C., recently, and a little of that time was devoted to exploring dark alleys and a few cemeteries. I suppose walking tours are a bit touristy, but they can be a way to pick up lore and details, especially in a historic city like Charleston. And the tour guides usually have keys to the cemetery gates.

Temps were dipping a bit as we walked toward the tour office for a 7:30 p.m. tour. "Are you sure you still want to do this?" Christine asked.

That's Christine above at Circular Congregational Church cemetery.

That graveyard has historic graves, a mausoleum and an employee who gets a little testy about the gate's padlock.


We also headed down one cobblestone alley where the whistling ghost of a physician killed in a duel can reportedly be heard from time to time. We didn't hear him, and we didn't catch sight of a boo hag, a spirit from Gullah lore, as we traversed a few other dark corners while the tour guide explained the boo hag's characteristics.

Wasn't for want of looking over my shoulder. Into the shadows.

We actually stayed across from another stop on the tour, the restaurant Poogan's Porch.

Reportedly a former resident, a school teacher named Zoe, cruises past windows late at night and isn't really happy about an eating establishment doing business in her former home. Word has it a stovetop fire she may have been responsible for almost claimed the building once upon a time.

Other accounts include patrons who've reported seeing what they thought was an elderly woman in the restroom only to find out the "woman" looked a lot like Zoe.

Didn't see her myself, but had a great BLT with fried green tomatoes there day after the tour.

And we learned the story of the spot's namesake, a little dog named Poogan who lived in the neighborhood when the restaurant opened.

He served as a greeter on the house's porch, and earned a statue when he passed away in 1979.

I was struck most by the story of Sue Howard Hardy, the mother of a stillborn baby. Her ghost was reportedly photographed in St. Philip's Cemetery in 1987. Supposedly she'll reach out to expectant mothers to this day. 

Several establishments have glass floor panels that look down on old tunnels and wells under the current city. I knew of underground Seattle but I didn't know about Charleston.



It's exciting to walk through history, to pass buildings George Washington visited and to stroll past spots where the city's almost forgotten wall once stood.

It was cool also to stroll around the edge of Charleston Bay and to visit White Point Garden. That's the spot where gentleman pirate Stede Bonnet was executed following a betrayal by Blackbeard and his trial and conviction. Bonnet was inspiration for my tale "Admiral of the Narrow Seas".

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Final Girl - Interesting Take on the Maze and the Minotaur Trope

In the intro to Thrillers: 100 Must Reads, Lee Child observes that we, humans,  have a way of re-telling tales in veiled new forms, harnessing tropes from stories that have come before but redressing them in more contemporary fashion.

Theseus and the Minotaur becomes James Bond and Dr. No: Bad actor in isolated location perpetrates evil deeds until a nobleman from afar shows up to intervene.

I watched an interesting variation on that trope that gets there by way of the slasher genre and Carol J. Clover's final girl. It's called  appropriately Final Girl, and it's an intriguing and perhaps a bit eccentric thriller with Abigale Breslin and Wes Bentley.

Bentley's Williams, a man who's lost his family to killers. Breslin's the teen version of a character who faced similar horrors as a child and agreed to be reared as a trained warrior to take out other killers. Guess there's a little Hitgirl in there too.

In a town that seems to consist of woods and a diner, a group of young men perpetrate Most Dangerous Game-style mayhem. Dressed in tuxedos, they lure unsuspecting girls to the woods and pursue them in deadly hunts. The body count's pretty high, and one missing girl's the subject of local "unsolved mystery" fascination it seems.

It's a situation in dire need of Veronica's (Breslin) talents, which are considerable thanks to training from William. We get just a taste of that early on.

Placing herself in the role of victim, she sets off to do battle in a prom dress.

There's a bit of timelessness--helped by the fashions--to the setting that vaguely suggests a time few years back in the vein of Stoker. Or perhaps it's just an alternate universe. Either way it evokes an effective atmosphere, and things are engaging as the story builds.

Tension rises not with excessive brutality but with subtle touches like a game of truth or dare that winds the trap for battle.

The killers are a twisted and colorful band headed by Alexander Ludwig, who trained for the role by playing Cato in The Hunger Games. Cameron Bright is the most subdued of the bunch with leanings toward normalcy, while Logan Huffman's dark, giggling and wild eyed. His dance with his axe, Anna Belle, offers a standout moment.

It's definitely a striking refurbishing of its sources, directed by Tyler Shields and conceived by a number of credited writing contributors. A harsher judge might ask for more compelling traps, tricks or twists, but I liked it and found it a nice "something a little different."

In the VOD universe, it's a nice and dark little trail to wander down.

(I watched by Hoopla, but it's available on platforms including iTunes.)


Wednesday, November 18, 2015

What's on the iPod: Locke&Key

I finished the adaptation of "Locke and Key" while on a walk this morning.

I got the free download from Audible a while back, and the 13-hour experience took me a while. It's a great way to re-visit the world of Lovecraft, Mass., and the Locke family envisioned by writer Joe Hill and artist Gabriel Rodriguez.

I say re-visit, because I think experiencing the comic/graphic novel in its original form is essential for full enjoyment of the audio. And it's a great horror-mystery excursion that really should be on any horror aficionado's "To Read" list. It's a saga in comics form that's comparable to Michael McDowell's "Blackwater" multi-part novel.

As a character notes in the opening of the tale, it's impossible to understand what's going on if you come in in the final chapter of a story.

As the story's protagonists, the Locke children Tyler, Kinsey and Bode, discover as the tale unfolds,  a lot has gone on in their ancestral home where they seek refuge after their father's murder. Relevant events stretching back years, even centuries.

Various mysterious keys and a dark and mysterious woman living in the house's well gradually reveal the details over six collected volumes of comics.

The audio follows that and all of the spooky encounters with giant shadow creatures, vicious wolf-creatures, demons and deadly possessed characters.

The power of audio to stimulate the imagination is true and grand, but at times that's where the audio falls down. At times it seems you're hearing powerful action in a dark room. You know something's happening, but you can't quite ascertain what's going on. Contemporary audiodrama writing eschews the old technique of having characters spell out their actions in dialogue: "I've reached the gate, Shadow. I'm aiming my gun at the lock." But at times just a little more guidance would be fun in "Locke and Key."

I think the ideal experience would be reading the graphic novels first. They're all available in book and digital forms. Then listen to the audio as a way of reliving and appreciating the intricate plotting and the finely crafted characters.




Monday, October 19, 2015

Speaking at Florida Writer's Conference 2015

A photo posted by Roland Mann (@therolandmann) on
Thanks to Roland Mann for a snapshot of me discussing subtle horror at the Florida Writer's Conference October 18, 2015. My presentation included an appreciation of W.W. Jacobs "The Monkey's Paw" and plugs for Charles L. Grant's Oxrun Station books, Black Fox Literary Magazine and Robert Aickman.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

The Weekend and Art Impulses

Christine and I went over to the Winter Park's Autumn Arts Festival on Sunday and wound up impulse buying some art including this piece:


It's called "Smiley" by Michael Nemnich. Christine was enamored of it on sight, so after walking around and mulling it over a bit, we back to his both and bought it along with a tall and narrow piece that should fit nicely on one wall or another in our downstairs hallway.

We had the interior of the house painted last year but haven't really had time to focus on putting things on the wall. We're trying to remedy that, and we reasoned in our discussions as we walked around Sunday that there's much better thing to impulse buy than a piece of art. If it speaks to you, there's something there.

We passed on a $2,000 work that struck us both, though I'm mulling over a print vs. original version of that piece for my office wall.

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.
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