Wednesday, August 31, 2011

In Honor of Snow

Well, the super-hot weather seems to have finally broken here in Charlotte. It may merely be a short reprieve, but it made me think of the last time I saw snow, which was early this year on a vacation to Blackwater Falls State Park in West Virginia.

In honor of snow, here then are a few photos from that trip.

Yer blog host standing on the far side of Blackwater Canyon pointing across the chasm toward the Blackwater Falls Lodge where we were staying.

Stitched panorama of the really cool lodge. We love staying there!

Something a southern boy doesn't get to see very often. A lake completely frozen over and suitable for ice skating. In this case, it's Pendleton Lake just on the park border.

There is no shortage of white-tailed deer here in the East, but I don't get to see them grazing in a snowy field very often.

The pure power of Blackwater Falls.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

World of Fantasy

Here in my old age I'm getting a real kick out of collecting comics. Almost strictly Silver Age, of course, since that was the era of my youth.

When I was a kid, my dad always had lots of the late Atlas-era comics. These were the books that Martin Goodman and Stan Lee were putting out before they decided to ride DC's coattails into the superhero genre. That was the thing about Goodman and Lee--they were copycats. I can think of no instance in which they were ahead of the pack, and were always doing their best to ape what was selling for other publishers who were, indeed, pushing the envelope.

As the comics industry limped into the late 1950s and early 1960s, there weren't many bright spots in four color publishing. Some westerns were still doing all right--but even that genre was fading fast with the great days of the movie western hero collapsing under the weight of TV competition. Disney comics were holding their own, but they had such a hold on the funny animal business that few could think of competing with them.

In these dark days, Lee had thrown the dice and placed his bets on science fiction and fantasy comics. The HUAC had pretty much killed that off and forced EC comics to abandon not only their great genre titles, but comics entirely. I think it was Goodman's thinking that with EC gone, his company could fill that void in the fans' pocketbooks. However, he wasn't willing to give Lee the kind of money it would take to attract the best artists, and so the Lee efforts never achieved the type of success that William Gaines had enjoyed at EC.

This issue of WORLD OF FANTASY came out in 1959. The Marvel superhero efforts were still two years away, but the talent which was to make up the core of the Marvel bullpen was taking form. This is one of the few comics from this period of early Marvel that doesn't have a Jack Kirby story. I suspect that he may have done the layouts for one of the stories, but by and large his presence in this issue is the cover, which is not quite up to his usual efforts. The interior of the book is dominated by the some of the guys who would soon make such an impact in the industry and in comics fandom.

Don Heck has a nice story that was a variation on the famous TIM BOO BA story by Ditko. I suppose the bare bones plot must have been from Stan Lee who stole it from some musty pulp that was old before he even started editing. The best thing in the book, though, was an extremely nice Steve Ditko effort called "Guardian of the Stars". Again, it's a variation on a morality theme that would have been quite at home in one of the Feldstein-edited issues of an EC science-fiction comic.

I was really happy to land this copy.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Black Bear

When we were out west last year one of my goals was to see a grizzly bear. I saw two. And I figured that I'd see black bears all over the place. However, as it turned out, we only saw one black bear. We were on a low mountain in the Grand Tetons National Park (I've forgotten the name of the peak, but there's a road on it that leads to an overlook). And walking around we saw what we initially thought was a grizzly bear. After looking at it I realized that it was, in fact, a brown phase black bear. It came very close to us--I mean ridiculously close. But it was so intent on grazing on something to eat that it never raised its head out of the brush. I assumed that it was scarfing up some kind of berry, but it could have been anything. I never did figure out what it was eating as it moved along like a vacuum cleaner.

and closer!

Saturday, August 27, 2011

My Cat

Sophie may be strange, but she's my cat. It's a rare moment that she is not somewhere near me when I'm at home. Poor critter.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Waiting for the Shoe...

I've had some near misses in my writing career. And by "near misses" what I mean to say that if things had gone a little differently then I'd have had far more success than I ended up having.

I guess I shouldn't complain too much. Most writers never come anywhere close to the kind of success that Lady Luck failed to deliver. But I've come close.

And what I mean to talk about--briefly--in today's blog is that you need to be careful about your reactions when waiting for the next shoe to drop. A few times I've made a really weird mistake, and I've repeated it a few times.

When I was a lot younger it looked as if I was going to land a couple of really fat scripting jobs in the comics industry. Pitches had gotten through to editors who liked them and in one case it seemed that I was close to being considered for a writing job on a major title for one of the biggest companies in the industry.

In each of these cases I ended up not getting the work. And I'm really good at dealing with rejection. If you can't deal with rejection, then writing isn't the job for you, because most of us are rejected far more often than we're accepted. Dealing with the negative news wasn't the problem.

The problem for me those times, and in a few subsequent cases, was how I responded to the specter of looming success.

And how I responded to it was that I froze and waited for the news.

That's right. I just stopped what I was doing, which in this case was writing. While I waited, nervously, I didn't produce a single thing. No scripts came out of the wordprocessor. No stories occurred to me. No novels-in-progress were pursued.

All I did was wait.

Tick-tock. Tick-tock.

Only when the news--in these cases always bad--arrived could I, and did I, start to write again. The tension was gone, the barricade was down, and I went back to working on my latest projects and continued to pitch to any editor I could reach.

This also happened to me when it looked like I had made sales of manuscripts to publishers of novels. My agent would call or send me a note telling me that things looked good at such-and-such a publisher with somebody-or-other editor. And I'd just freeze up and wait for the news. No work would progress. No dialog would be written. No characters would be created and no plots would unwind. I'd just sit there, frozen, waiting for the news the news the news.

You would think that I'd learn to fight through this, but almost every time I've had some kind of really positive news possible on the horizon, I would just find myself creatively locked up like an engine completely out of oil. In a few cases I didn't allow this to happen, but I can't say how I avoided this particular species of writer's block to come crashing down on my imagination. Once, I let the pressure get to me so bad that I fired my hard-working agent who was, even as I fired him, laboring to make a deal for me. That was a particularly sorry event which I was able to make right, thank Jove.

At any rate, I've been kind of lucky-in-unluck many times this way. Most writers I've known would love to have even been considered for some of the writing jobs that passed me by, and I am happy that some editors thought enough of my work that I made it down to the final cut, only to be passed by. There's a kind of sad optimism to be had there, I reckon.

So if you ever happen to be sitting on the edge of writing success, my advice (to you and myself) is to do your best to put it out of your mind and keep chipping away at whatever you were working on before the possible offer was manifest.
Keep working, no matter what. Take a chill pill and don't let "what ifs" rule the day.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

It's (Not) a Joke, Son!


At last, we come to the tried and true, the traditional, the reason for most of these Confederate Memorials that pepper our Southern landscape.

For those of you who haven't lived in the South or visited the South, almost every southern city, town, or village has at least one standing memorial to either the Confederacy itself, or to the men who fought for it, or sometimes to specific individuals or armies. Next time you're off the Interstate and riding through a small town, just take a look. Usually they're located either on, or near county courthouse property. But sometimes they're put in more imaginative spots.

The defenders--I say--the Defenders of State Sovereignty, sir!

I hear there are a lot of them in New England, too. For the Union soldiers, of course. But they're around.

A few years ago I read an article about a pair of monuments that had been standing in the wrong towns for about 100 years. The statues were made by the same company and one was sent to a town in South Carolina and one to a town in Maine. Only the company screwed up the manifest and sent the Confederate one to Maine and the
Union one to South Carolina. And nobody noticed for about nine decades. Finally a New Englander (it would be the Yankee) noticed the "CSA" letters on his statue's marble belt buckle.

Official communications twixt nawth and souf were exchanged. I think each town let it lie. Which is saying something, if you think about it.

I grew up with a dad who would often say something negative about Yankees. But as my mom was a Yankee, and with the sarcastic voice my dad would use, I always knew that he was kidding. I thought everyone made jokes like that. It was only after spending time with one of my dad's older brothers that I realized that there really were Southerners around who still hated Northerners. It wasn't a Kenny Delmar "That's A Joke, Son" funny, but the real deal. A lot of Southerners who grew up directly in the shadow of the Civil War really did hate Yankees.

It was sobering as a kid to discover this sad fact as I did on a trip to visit one of my dad's brothers in Florida.

My uncle Ersley was a master fisherman. I mean, if there was anyone better at fishing than he was...well, I don't believe there was, so there! The guy was a magician. If he'd waved his arms over the water and the fish jumped out into his arms I wouldn't have blinked. He was that good.

Once my dad and I were visiting him at his home at Sebastian Inlet in Florida. We were on a pier casting our lines out and reeling in one fish after another. Of course we had Ersley to coach us and tell us what kind of bait to use, where to cast, etc.

After a while, a father and son who were standing farther down the dock and watching enviously as we filled our buckets with fresh fish came over. The dad approached my father (luckily it was my dad he chose and not my Uncle Ersley) and asked him how we were catching so many fish. So I stood there while my father explained how to do it. My dad told the guy that he and his son were using the wrong bait and rigs and explained what kind of hook to use and to switch to shrimp as bait. He told the fellow to walk down to the end of the dock and the bait shop would sell him some white shrimp. Soon the guy and his little boy were catching many fish. He thanked my dad.

But my Uncle Ersley was livid. I watched in horror as he walked up to my father and dressed him down, just short of violence. "WHY DID YOU TELL THAT GODDAMNED YANKEE HOW TO CATCH FISH??!! DON'T YOU EVER DO THAT AGAIN, GODDAMN IT!"

He was serious. He was not kidding. He did not like the idea of that Yankee catching our southern fish. What a tool.

For my dad, the "damn Yankee" thing was a joke. After all, my mom was not only a New York-born Yankee, but half-Jewish, too! For my uncle, the Yankee-hatred was a harsh and unending reality.

This is the only photo I have of my Uncle Ersley. With a big fucking bobcat he killt on his property at Sebastian's Inlet. He bought that acreage in the days when that part of Florida was lightly populated, and he scowled constantly as it became surrounded over the years by new homes. "Goddamned Yankees!" He'd tell me, cursing them one and all. I kept my mouth shut. After all, I was half-Yankee!

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Evolution of a Fictional Character

I had occasion to exchange a few emails with the publisher of my latest novel, THE LIVING END. I was talking about one of the principal characters in the book, Roland Thompson.
At any rate, I have had a few people ask me about how I go about creating a character, and so I'll just mention a few things about this particular cat--one of the leading protagonists of the book.

Some of my characters, despite some strong personalities, remain nebulous to me as far as specific physical features are concerned. Even though I'm writing about them, and creating them whole from my imagination, sometimes it's as if I view them through dingy glass, or blurred vision. However, this was not so with Roland Thompson, from THE LIVING END.

From the beginning I knew what Roland looked like and just about everything about him. I named him after "Roland the Headless Thompson Gunner" from the well-known tune by the late Warren Zevon. And I knew precisely what he looked like. He was tall, and lean and focused. He was a student in a Masters program at the University of Georgia when the troubles break out, and he is trying to get across the ruined miles to his parents in Charlotte, North Carolina when he sets out.

I describe him as "looking like a lion", to me that meant that he looked like the jazz musician Miles Davis. So from the very beginning I knew exactly what Roland Thompson looked like and how he acted and what he was going to do. He was highly educated, devoted to his family, and determined. It was this determination that allowed him to quickly adapt and survive within the confines of the apocalyptic history in which he found himself living.

Miles Davis: The actual physical model for my character Roland Thompson.

In addition, I also knew about the weapon that he carried and which became his signature tool:

The Long Tom shotgun.

Because I own one.

I often tell people that I don't own a firearm. But I do, technically. I never fire it, and I haven't since I was 16 years old, and I have no intention of ever firing it again. It was my father's gun (he bought it some time during the early 1960s soon after we moved from Brunswick to Atlanta), and that's why I still own it.

It's an effective weapon for both small and large game, but impractical for much of anything else. It's a basic, almost ancient weapon, known for its three-foot barrel. It holds one shell, 12 gauge, and the shot can vary from bird shot to double-ought buckshot to single wads of metal called slugs. That's Roland's load of choice in the novel--slugs. He can take out a zombie across a street or a racist asswipe from a quarter mile distance.

So there he was striding out of the horrors within THE LIVING END:

Roland Thompson, carrying the Long Tom firearm.

The weapon Fate handed Roland Thompson: The Long Tom shotgun.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

All-inclusive Exclusive Memorial

Before I get to the usual suspects, I wanted to post one more out of the ordinary icons in the Confederate Memorial Park in downtown Fort Mill, South Carolina.

It's really strange and somehow curious how the city fathers went out of their ways to be all-inclusive in this park. Not every southern community was full of hood-wearing, lynching and murdering degenerates, I reckon.

This monument was erected to the Women of the Confederacy. Now, I've seen monuments to this outfit before. In fact, these ladies were sometimes completely and totally instrumental in having these monuments and parks created in the first place. Back in the day, I guess, someone had to organize these things, and if they were the ones organizing them, then by God they were sometimes going to get their own due.

So far in this Confederate Memorial Park, we have monuments for Indians, black slaves, and now the wimmenfolk.

And here she is: Monument to the Women of the Confederacy.

Closeup image of the pedestal for puttin' the women on.

I thought I'd put this here because they seemed to be VERY proud of the fact that this here band shell was built without one thin dime of stinking gummint money.

Monday, August 22, 2011

On a Lonely Road

I went down to Fort Mill to be interviewed for an article in a local magazine. I ended up arriving there about an hour and a half earlier than I was supposed to, so I went for a drive in the rural areas around the town. I had my GPS device hooked up on the dash, but I just cleared it and drove aimlessly.

Somehow, I ended up on a very lonely stretch of a (to me) nameless road that went through forest and farmland. It stretched between a weird little industrial/warehouse district and the downtown of Fort Mill. I encountered not one single other vehicle while I was driving on it.

As I drove leisurely along I noticed an historical marker on the opposite side of the road so I turned around and went back to it. Sometimes I like to stop and read these markers and find out what they are and why they are there. In this case, it was to mark again and honor the Catawba Indian Nation. I've read that there are something around 2500 self-identified Catawba natives remaining on Earth, and that less than 200 of them actually live on the Catawba Indian Reservation in South Carolina. The plaque there claims that in return for the friendship and loyalty of the Catawbas, the whites would give them a 15-square-mile reservation. I don't bloody think so.

The lonely stretch of country road where I found the little monument.

For some reason the locals felt the need to erect two monuments. One is the classic cast iron sign and then there was this little carved granite stone.

Yep. The road was so lonely that I could walk out into the middle of it and take photos. I kept thinking about Wile E. Coyote doing this kind of thing and getting run down by suddenly appearing Mack trucks.

This sign looks to have seen better days. I think it's been hit a few times.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Catawba Indian Memorial

It took a few days to get back to this subject. I have even more to say about it in future and I'll try to finish posting some photos and comments tomorrow. For now, I have to rewrite a short story for an anthology. The editor asked for some logical changes and I need to finish that project.

As I said earlier, this is one of the more unusual Confederate Memorial parks that I have ever seen. One of the monuments there is dedicated to the local Catawba Indian nation. Like all of the nations that were here before the Europeans, the Catawbas have suffered terribly. One thing that they did--probably in an effort to ultimately survive--was to bend before the white man. That is, they largely sided with whites against other Indian nations and did their utmost to keep from being wiped out by the flood of Europeans. This they have (barely) managed to do. Of course there hasn't even been a fluent speaker of their native tongue since some time in the 1950s, and most of the Catawbas I've met look whiter than I do. But they still have a dab of a reservation and there is something remaining of their culture. So in that respect I reckon that their ploy to survive worked.

To this end, the local folk who created the park to honor the Confederacy erected a monument there for the local Indian tribe. To pat them on their collective head for being good neighbors, I suppose. Still, it's an unusual marker to see in what in most southern cities is a uniquely white-boys-only club.

Robert Garrett Marks informed me that the statue (unfortunately cast from concrete rather than carved of marble) was vandalized by local kids when he was in high school. It has since remained ruined. I guess there's no money in the box to fix Indian monuments.

The Catawba Indian monument in the Confederate park.

Details on the marble support column.

Closeup of the statue itself. Garrett told me that the arms were hacked off by teens some years back and that repairs have never been deemed important enough to tackle. I wonder if those cast concrete limbs are still in the possession of some dim-bulb asswipe.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Ben Grimm

The older I get, the more I revert to my childhood. Old comics, hikes, backpacking trips, monster movies, and plastic model kits.
This is one I've been hunting for a while. It's not old...but I dithered about getting one when they were in production and in every hobby shop. Now they're out of production and I've been having fits getting my hands on one. Finally, I was able to buy one for $7.00 on Ebay.

It's for ages 5 and up. That includes me. It's a snap-together kit, so I'm going to put it together this weekend.

Ben Grimm is one of the more fascinating characters that Jack Kirby created. He was, in many ways, a romantic version of Jack himself. I recall seeing an illustration that Kirby did of Ben Grimm dressed in a tallit prayer shawl. It did not surprise me, as I'd always thought of Ben Grimm as being a Jew. Why? I can't say, exactly. Maybe it's just because I knew the character was near and dear to Kirby's heart and that Kirby was a Jew. It just seemed to fit.

Another thing about him is that I never referred to him as "the Thing", which was his superhero moniker. To me, he was more human than that, and so even when I was a kid I called him Ben Grimm. He was somehow more real to me
than just your regular comic book character.

Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko created the Marvel Universe. Anyone else who says it was other than that is a liar or a fool.

Friday, August 19, 2011

More Old Disneys

I added a few new books to my collection, all WALT DISNEY'S COMICS & STORIES. I bought a #63, #72, and #77. The main appeal to me are the Carl Barks stories, but there's plenty more to see in these great old comic books. I look at this material and mourn for what American kids are missing in these modern times.

WDC &S #64 I wonder about the editorial process for the covers.

Each month the artists had to come up with something relatively original and funny enough to amuse the editor. Knowing Disney's detail-oriented approach to business, I wonder if he ever had a say in any of these. I do know that he hand-picked some of the artists who created the comic books based on his characters.

You can see changes in style and material as the years progressed. This issue was published in 1947 and still had an old-fashioned feel to it. Within a couple of more years the cover art began to change.

One thing about these old comics is that there was almost no need to advertise. The publisher made money just from the sales of the books alone. Of course comics in those days were selling many times more than comics today. Some publishers (such as Quality Comics) even had a policy of royalty bonuses for creators of high-selling comics. For instance, Jack Cole routinely earned sizable bonus checks for his brilliant PLASTIC MAN comic. This issue had a full back cover advertisement for the then-upcoming SONG OF THE SOUTH film.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Da Moon

Last night I took the camera and tripod out in the back yard and played around with taking photographs of the Moon. Some of them came out OK. I really need to look in to buying a better telephoto lens or perhaps a decent telescope with an adapter that I can use with my Canon camera.

At any rate, I do seem to be slowly learning how to use the camera a bit better as the weeks progress.

Messing around with the camera-tripod combination reminded me a lot of my days being fascinated by the Moon and what I thought was the coming Space Age when I was a kid. I really did think that I'd live to see routine flights into Earth orbit and that people would live on the Moon and that we'd have outposts on Mars. Alas, the billionaire elite fucked us all and stole our National wealth.

I tried various ISO and F stop settings. I did manage to capture a few decent images.

These were the two best.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Most Liberal Confederate Memorial Park on Earth

I went to Fort Mill in South Carolina today to be interviewed for a local publication there. I arrived with time to spare and decided to explore the small town for a bit. I strolled into the Confederate Memorial Park in downtown Fort Mill.

Now, it's pretty much average here in the South for just about every town to have a Confederate memorial of some type. Most have a simple statue or an obelisk or at least a plaque honoring the Confederate soldiers and states. It's almost a given. So I wasn't surprised to see this park. What did surprise me was the nature of the memorials there.

I'll post details tomorrow, but there was the expected memorial to the Confederate soldiers, and one in honor of the very concept of the Confederacy (which was a little more unique than most that you see). However, the strangest thing were the memorials to the non-whites that are in the park. Yeah, that's right--Confederate memorials for non-white people.

One was to the local Catawba Indians. I'll post details of that one tomorrow. The one that surprised me the most, because in all of my travels I have never encountered one, is the Confederate Memorial for African slaves.

In total, this particular Confederate park has icons set up for soldiers, for women, for slaves, and for Catawba Indians. This is a first. And keep in mind that I live here in the South and have seen a buttload of Confederate Memorials. This one was out of the ordinary, for sure.

This is the memorial obelisk dedicated to the slaves.

And the artist devoted relief sculptures to the slaves. One for male slaves (this one) and one for female slaves. So even here the patrons were trying to be all-inclusive.

Carved in marble, the reason for this honor.

Weather seems to have eroded the faces of the woman and the child.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Chick Flicks that I Liked

I'm a lout. I admit it. I like most of my movies to be loud and packed with action and explosions and hopefully some monsters. Give me a movie with some folk doing battle with aliens from outer space and I'm generally happy. And of course I like a good war film, or mob picture. PATTON, ALIENS, THE GODFATHER, BLADE RUNNER. These are my kind of movie.

But of course my wife absolutely loathes those movies and anything like them. You can imagine, we don't watch many films together, especially after our son grew up and we stopped going to see Disney flicks and associated kid movies.

But every once in a while Carole will twist my arm and talk me into either going to see a chick flick with her, or sitting down with her to watch one on the tube. And a few times I've been pleasantly surprised.

Here, then, are the chick flicks that I saw with Carole that I quite enjoyed:

INVENTING THE ABBOTTS. Now, this was just an interesting premise. Two brothers from the wrong side of the tracks courting and wooing daughters of one of the richest men in town. One brother (Joaquin Phoenix) because he is genuinely in love with one of the daughters (Liv Tyler), and the other brother (Billy Crudup) who just wants to nail all three of them because he wants revenge on their dad, who he blames for his own father's death and their own family's working class status.

I thought immediately that this was a really cool plot and the story is executed well by all involved. The actors were each and every one perfect. One guy that doesn't get a lot of credit because he's always playing asshole heavies in movies was Will Patton. In this film he gets to show his acting ability and creates a really intriguing character. He's one reason the movie was so much fun. Also, it didn't hurt that you get to see Jennifer Connelly naked. Gawd, wot a woman!

(Nope. No silicone there, boys.)

Also, it has one of the most unique lines I've ever seen in a movie, when Will Patton (the father of the trio of gorgeous daughters) says to Billy Crudup:

"Keep your dick out of my daughters."

Even if you're like me and into the action, adventure, war, scifi/horror genres in film, you should like this movie. If you don't...well, what can I say, other than kiss my ass.

The next one that surprised me was AS GOOD AS IT GETS. This one has Jack Nicholson in it being really good instead of doing a bad imitation of himself. He doesn't ham it up and turns in a great performance. Helen Hunt was also effective in this one and you get to see what an awful time women have with men. And without being crushed over the head with a frozen ham. You really feel sorry for her crazy, pathetic ass.

(Mildly silicon-enhanced, I reckon.)

Also good in this was Greg Kinnear playing Nicholson's gay neighbor. Another winning performance.

This is a movie that I feared going in (you never know if you're going to get the great Jack Nicholson or the I-showed-up-give-me-my-$20million Jack Nicholson). But it's truly a very good film. It's not one of my all-time favorite movies or anything, but it's certainly one of my all-time favorite chick flicks.

The next one you guys can give me a hard time about, but I liked it anyway. It's THE WEDDING SINGER. Yeah, I know. Generally I hate Adam Sandler and would like nothing more than to put my foot up his ass. But now and again he delivers a decent film. This was one of them.

One thing I enjoy about this movie is Drew Barrymore's turn as the romantic lead. Despite her beauty, she excels in portraying women who are gorgeous but at the same time vulnerable and unassuming. When she makes these movies I don't have any problem imagining that she's a woman who doesn't know that she's beautiful. That's got to be hard to do, and there's a great deal of appeal in a woman like that.

And this is one of those instances where Sandler skates that fine line where he's able to deliver a performance that's of a likable guy and not allow his inner douchebag to come to the fore. He's made so many shitty films that I don't want to even get into it. But now and again he creates a very neat character that you like. WATERBOY was one of them, of course, but so is THE WEDDING SINGER. With two such emotionally attractive leads, it makes for a movie that's fun to watch. Well...for me, anyway. I'll tip my hat to those of you who can't quite go with me on this choice, but there it is.

(Also, this is one of the first movies that I ever saw that had Steve Buscemi in it, so that's a plus right there.)

Little girl lost. How could you fail to feel for her?

My wife got me somehow to join her to see ROMY AND MICHELLE'S HIGH SCHOOL REUNION when it first hit the screens. This is another movie that surprised me because it was funny and had a silly plot that was also logical if you knew to keep your sense of fantasy front and center.

This one features a pair of ditzy blondes in their 30s, pals since school days, who have been reintroduced to the "in" crowd from high school. Sorvino and Lisa Kudrow play the pals who must now face being forced to endure the winners of their high school days. They are still single, still poor, and still witless. But the movie becomes a kind of funny Horatio Alger rags-to-riches tale that's fun to watch.

If I have any problem at all with the movie, it's that I can't imagine either Mira Sorvino or Lisa Kudrow ever having problems landing a decent man, or having ever not been the most popular girls in any high school on Earth. But recall what I said about checking reality at the entrance. If you do that, this movie is just a tremendously fun couple of hours.

A hard time finding dates. Right. Whatever.
(Yep. Janine Garafalo was in it, too.)

Monday, August 15, 2011

Washin' Our Little House:

Sunday was spent writing a short story for an anthology invitation and going to Carole's mom's place where I washed our Casita. I was really surprised at how much dirt and grime had accumulated on the fiberglass shell. The dirt just rolled off like mud, but underneath that fiberglass body was shining like new. That's what I love about molded fiberglass trailers like Casita, Scamp, Trillium, Escape, etc. Those bodies don't leak and since they're not stick-built, they hold up. It's no wonder they tend to hold their value over the years. Easiest trailers in the world to resell.

Now I have another anthology invitation so I have to brainstorm on a short story again. It's been nice to do that after avoiding the short story format for so long.

The backyard hemlocks are bearing cones again. Thousands of them. But no matter how many it bears, I never see any new hemlocks sprouting. One arborist told me that they'll never produce seedlings while others have told me that there's no real reason I won't someday see some pop up. I've tossed down a couple of nursery logs as someone suggested. Maybe we'll get some baby hemlocks.

Grandmaw's place. She still has that Mitsubishi console tube TV that won't die. Almost thirty years old and still working like new. No computers in that house, either. No WiFi. She doesn't even know what WiFi is, bless her.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Severed Press Promotion Time

I'm just going to spend my blog today posting links for my work from Severed Press, the Australian publisher who picked up and published my zombie novel, THE LIVING END. Just some odds and ends.

First of all, a really good review of THE LIVING END hit the Internet last night. The author understood the book better than most seem to have grasped. I wrote THE LIVING END because I was frankly sick of the thinly-veiled racist, gun-crazed screeds that most zombie novels are. There's a very thin line between most zombie novels and THE TURNER DIARIES. I wanted to write something to change that.

If you like short stories and themed anthologies, buy a copy of DEAD BAIT 2. The theme is "fishing" and if for no other reason, buy it because it contains a new story from Ramsey Campbell, one of the greatest living horror writers. Hell...he might be THE greatest living horror writer. (Sorry, Mr. King.) While he writes excellent novels, Campbell excels in the short story form, and no on can transport you to a completely disturbing world the way he succeeds within those stories. Also, I wrote one of my best short stories for this book--I'm very proud of "The Krang".

I've been told--and since it's on the author's website, I reckon it's okay to talk about it--that Len Barnhart's zombie novels are ALL moving to Severed Press! Len Barnhart is a true innovator. He started the zombie wave in horror fiction when his novel REIGN OF THE DEAD initially appeared from iUniverse Books some years back. No one--and I repeat "no one"--was writing zombie novels in those days. But after Barnhart tapped that particular vein in horror fandom, the floodgates opened. First dozens, then scores, then hundreds of other writers tumbled onto the market with their own takes on the zompocalypse. Len took the time and the effort and the risk when he was the only one willing to do it. And now we're going to see re-edited versions of ALL of his zombie novels coming to Severed Press! If you're a zombie fan...well, this is going to be the jackpot!

Coming soon from Severed Press! ALL of Len Barnhart's revised novels!

Saturday, August 13, 2011

The Short Story Form

I'm currently working on two short stories. Both are for anthology invitations. For years, while I pursued the writing of strictly novel-length manuscripts, I ignored the short story form. Then, a couple of years ago after being invited to submit short stories to some anthologies, I took brief breaks from novels to work again on short fiction.

I enjoy writing stories, but they're an awful lot of toil, and I think it's true what many writers say about the form. It really is harder to write a short story than it is to complete a decent novel. I was exceptionally pleased with my effort for the anthology DEAD BAIT 2, and that got me working at the short story form again.

Now I'm signing contracts for my short story collection A CONFEDERACY OF HORRORS and I'm hoping that will soon appear as an ebook. I'll post here when it's ready for purchase.

Some of the illustrations that were originally to grace A CONFEDERACY OF HORRORS (by the late Harry Fassl). Click to embiggen.

Friday, August 12, 2011

The Erwin Fish Hatchery

Another place we made sure to visit while we were on vacation at Rock Creek Recreation Area was a spot we kept passing on our ways to visit waterfalls, hiking trails, lakes, etc. It was the Erwin Fish Hatchery. This is one of our oldest continuously operating fish hatcheries, having been established in 1894. They work exclusively on one type of fish: the rainbow trout. These days it's considered an invasive species in many of the streams and lakes into which it has been introduced, but where it is native and where it does not push out native types, it's a great game fish. While this hatchery is located in Tennessee, it sends its eggs and fingerlings to fisheries all over the USA.

The grounds of the hatchery were impressive, and I even managed to notice one large old hemlock growing on the property. It has been treated, and none too soon, I think, but it looks to be recovering from the adelgid infestation. It would be sad to lose this old tree. Especially considering that it offers the only shade in the corner of the grounds where it stands.

The lab section of the hatchery was rather smaller than I expected, but functional and obviously effective, considering how far and wide they ship to other fisheries. Outside the holding tanks were packed with older fish, since the fingerlings seem to have all been kept in the smaller tanks indoors.

If you're in the Erwin Tennessee area, make sure you visit the fish hatchery. It was quite the educational experience, and my hat's off to the employees there. Not only are they doing good work for sportsmen, they were awfully friendly and eager to answer all of our questions.

After touring the small museum, we strolled out into the indoor lab section. Here Carole is looking down at a huge vat of fertilized rainbow trout eggs.

The "white" looking eggs are unfertilized and will be discarded. The others are fertile and will produce trout.

Some of the runs of fingerlings.

Looking back across the lab. Sometimes all the pools are full, but when we were there only a few contained young trout.

This poorly stitched panorama was made to show the extent of part of the outside pool section. The fabric domes were there to reflect sunlight and to keep the water cooled. It has been a very warm summer and rainbow trout are a cool water species.

The contents of part of one pool. There were plenty of breeding rainbow trout at this facility.

The hemlock I saw growing on the grounds.

I had Carole take this one of me with the hemlock for reference with a human figure. The tree looks rather sickly from this angle, but actually it was putting out a lot of new, vigorous growth, so I think it will survive.