Sunday, August 31, 2014


I buy a lot of books. Unless I'm really short of funds (I put a lot of money into my 401k, so I do run short of money from time to time), I only buy new books from living authors (to make sure they get royalties). And, since I am not a fan of ebooks and I don't care for the looming publishing monopoly of I tend to purchase my books in bookstores.

For many reason I prefer bookstores and real books. I like browsing the shelves and I enjoy being able to pick up a book and leaf through it, making sure that it's the kind of book that will satisfy me.

This past week I was in one of the few remaining bookstores in my area. Yes, it was a superstore, but there are only a few independent booksellers remaining in my city and I wasn't near one of those. And I like Barnes & Noble bookstores anyway. I get a charge out of just being in a bookstore like that. I can pretend that publishing is not on its last legs and that the industry is dying and that soon there won't be any bookstores.

Walking around the stacks like that I get a sense of delight. I was not alone and the place was crowded and I was not the only one in there buying books. In fact, I had to wait in line to make my purchase. The couple in front of me spent almost $200 on books. I spent $36 and my wife spent $20 and I wasn't around to see how much the people behind me were spending. It felt good. I liked seeing that there is still a place where skilled authors can appear in print and people will stand in line to buy their work. It's going to be sad to see that all come to an end.

My take at the bookstore Friday night: REDSHIRTS by John Scalzi, and THIS BOOK IS FULL OF SPIDERS by David Wong.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

New Cover Art!

Severed Press has commissioned new cover art for my anti-zombie zombie novel (you'll have to read it to understand what I mean), THE NEW ECOLOGY OF DEATH. Based on a comic book story that I sold to Stephen R. Bissette's TABOO horror comics anthology. I greatly expanded the concept and transformed it into a novel.

So, there will be a re-launch of the novel coming up. Here's a cover version I was emailed for critique. I think the artist did a great job of capturing the feel of the book.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Off to the Service Center!

Well, I got our Casita trailer off and away to the service center. Hopefully they can get it ready for our next camping trip (begins September 10). If not, we'll cancel our reservations and make new plans.

Got the trailer ready for transport.

Goodbye for a couple of weeks, Casita!

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Day Off Tomorrow.

My feet are bleeding. Really. All of that walking...sometimes it does that. Two and a half more years and it stops, of course. But until then...shit. It's horrible. Sometimes one or another of my toenails will turn black from the pressure and fall off. Just fall the fuck off and then it takes a new one about six months to grow back. The toenail on my left big toe the foot doctor finally just destroyed to spare me from further suffering. He killed it at the root so that it will never grow back and get my fucking toe infected again. Zap.

So...tomorrow is my day off. I get to rest my bleeding feet for a bit. But I'm not completely off the hook. I have to drive out to pick up our travel trailer and take it to the folk who service it so that they can fix the leak in the water tank and put on a new awning. We reeeeeeeeeeeeeally didn't like camping without an awning. I thought we wouldn't miss it that much, but we did. We decided not to replace it with the Fiamma and have opted to get a Dometic brand awning.

Our Casita, sans awning.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

My Favorite Movie Villains

There are many villains in film and literature. Unfortunately, most of them are one-dimensional, existing only to act as an adversary and to be a foil for the protagonists, or as a tool to move the plot. There are tons of such characters in our favorite movies.

But I don't care for these flat, uninteresting characters. There's nothing about them that inspires me. I want some depth to the people who move through the movies I watch; even the villains need to be human.

For this reason, my two favorite movie villains both appeared in great movies in the same year, 2007.

And I'll list them now in the order that they impress me.

First is Daniel Plainview from the absolutely brilliant Paul Thomas Anderson film, THERE WILL BE BLOOD. Plainview is just an amazing character all around. Tough, self-sufficient, driven, manipulative, intelligent, physically imposing, and utterly evil. This is a villain a person can admire. He does not whine and he does not deviate from his mission.

Plainview, as portrayed by Daniel Day Lewis, is just one of the best character studies I have ever seen on the screen. We see his strengths and his weaknesses. Why Lewis chose to do what appears to be an imitation of the voice of John Huston (or Clint Eastwood's version of John Huston), I can't say. But it works. It was perfect.

The best villains are the ones who are human.

When the film is mentioned it usually is in the context of recounting the "I drink your milkshake" scene. But that is, to my way of thinking, one of the greatest scenes of both revenge and self-destruction I've ever witnessed in a movie.

And so, number one on my short list of movie villains is Daniel Plainview from THERE WILL BE BLOOD.

My second favorite movie villain is Anton Chigurh from the Coen Brothers' 2007 film NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN.

Now...Anton is not wholly human. Since the book and the movie are basically a retelling of the Jesus story, and Chigurh stands in as Satan, you can't very well list him as a man. I prefer to think of him as Satan in human garb, and this works for me.

As with Plainview, Chigurh is a driven, single-minded, implacable character who might be nudged slightly out of the way, but who is ultimately unstoppable and who will not be denied. In addition, his resourcefulness as implied on the screen is simple and beautiful and leaves the viewer with both a sense of dread and one of admiration. Force combined with ingenuity are his major tools, and all he really needs.

A smile from something that is not human.

The supernatural aspect of Chigurh could be a drawback to enjoying the way his actions unfold on the screen, but what keeps this from growing tired is that he is everywhere at once. Where one feels that he is often returning to the scene of a crime, the fact of the matter is that he never leaves, being with each of us all of the time. It's almost like a twisted version of the Tom Joad "I'll be there" speech from THE GRAPES OF WRATH. The only person he is never with in every moment is the Jesus-figure, Llewellyn Moss. And he still dogs him to a pair of deaths and takes his prize in the end.

As with Lewis' performance, I love the way Javier Bardem chooses to portray Satan/Chigurh. His flat, implacable way of speaking and moving is hypnotic and disarming. He knows where he needs to be and what he wants to do, but is almost always genuinely confused by people and the way that they think and emote. He is a frightening individual and I can see how someone could be scared of such a version of Satan.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Some New Golden Age Comics

As I've talked about in the past, my main passion as far as collecting comics are Silver Age titles. Specifically those containing art and stories by Steve Ditko and Jack Kirby. But sometimes I'll land some Golden Age titles for my collection. Especially if the contents are of especially high quality of art and fiction.

And the quality doesn't get any higher than titles from the late EC Comics. At its head was William C. Gaines, whose mission it obviously must have been to publish the finest art in comics at that time. The names of the men and women he employed to work for him have become legend. So I look for EC books to add to my collection when I can find them at the right price.

So it was this week. The latest old comics to arrive as Casa Smith.

CRIME SUSPENSTORIES #2. Back in my youth, I had an extensive EC collection. But most of those were horror and science-fiction titles. I never had many copies of this title, and most of those were later issues.

CRIME SUSPENSTORIES #5. A great, dramatic cover from Johnny Craig.

Another image of high drama from Craig. When the Silver Age rolled around, he worked for a time at Marvel Comics, mainly as an inker.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Contrasts in Restoration.

Even though Carole and I are not really railroad fans, we do like to take a peek into rail museums when we happen to see one on our travels. As we were spending some time in the village of Clifton Forge VA we noticed that they had a rail museum so we drove over to see what it was like. Since it looked like it was fairly impressive we decided to pay the $8 admission fee to take the tour. Carole joined some other folk to take the guided tour while I went off to explore on my own.

The train cars are mostly open and you can just wander about them to see what rail travel was like back in the old days.

Later that same day we drove over into West Virginia to take a look at a town we'd been through years ago: Marlinton. They have a much smaller museum in their downtown area. Both have cabooses to view. But the ones in Clifton Forge have been completely restored, while the single caboose in Marlinton has only had the outside repainted while the interior is rather decayed. I suspect they're waiting for funds to fix it completely for viewing.

Two completely restored cabooses in Clifton Forge, Virginia.

The little restored rail depot in Marlinton, WV. Very nice!

Caboose and two rail cars. Nicely restored on the outside.

But the interior of the caboose is a wreck.

It does look as if they may be starting interior restoration. It's a nice car.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Roaring Run!

One of the places that we wanted to see on our vacation was a spot called Roaring Run. It's the site of an old iron furnace and a small canyon packed cheek by jowl with waterfalls. It was just a relatively short drive from the campground and so we set aside a day to go explore the place.

It's a National Forest site and the trail system there is excellent. The hike up the gorge to the main waterfalls is extremely well maintained and engineered so just about anyone can make the journey. The little canyon is sometimes very narrow and almost every step of the journey is beside a waterfall or cascade or cataract of some kind.

We also made use of the picnic area at the parking lot. It was nice to sit in the shade beside the rushing creek and enjoy a meal.

Attention to detail in the infrastructure.

We begin the hike! Poison ivy everywhere off trail! It was ALL OVER THE PLACE!

The trail was great! Plenty of bridges for stream crossings and an extremely mild grade. Pretty much anyone who can walk can hike to see all of the waterfalls.

One of the first waterfalls.

One of the first falls on the trail. (Not THE first, though.)

Just a reminder that you are in a gorge.

Plenty of bridges and hand rails.

A vaguely naughty mushroom that Carole saw.

On the way out there were kids using this waterfall as a slide.

This is pretty much the nicest waterfall in the canyon. It's also at the terminus of the trail.

The nicest waterfall, at the end of the trail.

This huge stone ramp leads to the top of the waterfall.

We decided to take a different trail back to the starting point. Instead of going back down the gorge, it climbs to the ridge and follows that.

A nice view near the top of the ridge. Most of the nearby summits are in the 3,000-foot range.

The main reason for the preservation of the area is not the gorge and its waterfalls, but this vast iron furnace. It's in amazingly good shape with most of the stonework intact. Everywhere you look around this area there are pieces of slag--greenish, very light material almost like glass. We picked some of it up.

Carole snapped this one of me in front of the furnace.

A nice illustration of what the furnace looked like when it was in operation. Everything they needed to produce pig iron was available at the site or from very nearby: iron ore, water (to power the wheel), wood, and limestone. The water in the creek has a light greenish tinge from limestone suspended in solution.

A parting shot of the furnace complex as we walked on.
The National Forest sign to mark the roadside parking lot and access to the furnace and the trail system.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

One Moomaw and A Bear

A silly name for a very beautiful lake, Moomaw. It's named, apparently, for some local dude who had the unfortunate last name of Moomaw. Whenever I see a lake in the Appalachians I wonder about the natural resources buried perhaps forever beneath the waters of the impoundments. This comes from watching Carter Reservoir forming over the years in the north Georgia county where I went to high school. I watched the earthen dam being built and the river being plugged and the lake forming. That one buried a vast canyon hundreds of feet deep and which was untouched woodlands with no structures at all. Scores of miles of roadless wilderness was covered by water by the US Army Corps of Engineers to create their hydro electric project.

So it was when I first saw Lake Moomaw. Similarly, this one is formed by another giant earthen dam (the Garthright) to back up a river hundreds of feet deep and for twelve miles. It makes for a very pretty watery scene, but my mind dwells on the wonders of the old Kincaid Gorge which is now gone. Are there even any historical photos of that gorge? How many waterfalls were submerged? How many groves of rare plants and trees were cut and drowned?

Carole and I spent a whole day exploring the lake in our kayaks. We had a great time paddling around the shores and stopping here and there to investigate, to eat lunch, and to go swimming. It's a particularly pretty lake completely surrounded by public property which precludes it from being exploited by millionaires building expensive homes to shut the rest of us out of the shoreline.

That little red dot on the far left is me.

Taken on my cruise alongside the cliff.

Carole leaving the dock. The boat beyond her was owned by the Army Corps of Engineers. The lake level is obviously down--about eight feet according to the locals.
This is the Garthright Dam which creates the lake.
And this cliff was obviously created to supply the earthen (rock) building material for the dam construction.
We had stopped on an island to rest. Far across the water on the opposite shore Carole spotted some movement. She thought it was a raccoon but when I focused on the animal with the camera on telephoto setting we saw that it was a bear. It was the second bear of the trip for me. Very exciting!

There was something about this bear that did not look healthy to me. I think he/she was rather thin, but I could be wrong. It was obviously exploring the shoreline for something to eat. Its movements were fluid and seemed strong, so perhaps my impression about its health was wrong. I hope so.

This was the last we saw of the bear as it returned to the forest. I wish I'd had a better camera along, but I don't like the idea of risking my better cameras to a dunking.
And here's a stitched panorama I took from a very small island where we had stopped to eat lunch.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Thermal Springs

For decades I have wanted to visit the thermal springs in Virginia. I had read about them when I was much younger and once I'd located them I would begin planning to drive up to see them. The main reason I wanted to go was that I'd read that one of them was large enough to swim in, and that's not something someone on the east coast expects to see.

There are, in fact, only a small handful of thermal springs here on the east side of the continent. Warm Springs in Georgia, Hot Springs in North Carolina, and the cluster of warm and hot springs in western Virginia north of Covington. This small region in Virginia actually hosts several thermal springs, the most prominent of them being the ones at the Homestead Resort in the village of Hot Springs (use reserved only for guests) and the Jefferson Pools in the nearby village of Warm Springs which are open to the general public even though they're owned by the folk at Homestead Resort.

Without knowing exactly where Jefferson Pools could be found, we struck out for a drive north of Douthat State Park toward Hot Springs. We passed by and stopped to see Falling Springs Falls along the highway (VA 220). It's an impressive waterfall with a sheer 80-foot drop. It was only later that I learned that it, too, is produced from a thermal spring that emerges at 85 degrees from private land nearby.

After that we came to the Homestead Resort in Hot Springs. The place is enormous and caters mainly to golfers (about half of everything around there seems to be named for Sam Snead). We looked around a bit, took some photos, and then moved on. Too rich for our working class blood. Heading north on 220 we came first to the tiny village of Warm Springs and there, right beside the highway, were the enclosed thermal springs called Jefferson Pools.

I quickly pulled into the parking lot, went to the office, and paid the $17 fee to soak in the thermal pools. There are two for soaking: one meant for men, the other for women. A third pool is outside the office and I was told that it is used for bottling the mineral water that bubble to the surface there.

Going into the main pool building I went to a dressing room and got into my swimming trunks. Every day from 10am until 1pm the pools are for family use. But after one they become bathing suit-optional and one pool is for male adults and the other for female adults. I wasn't keen on hanging out with a bunch of naked dudes so I was fine with the earlier soaking times.

The buildings are very old, dating back to the early 1800s. And named for Thomas Jefferson who, I was told, once owned them. The main pool is 6'8" deep and the water is clear with a slight greenish tinge. A pool attendant scoops out algae from time to time that is dislodged from the rocky bottom and sides. Bubbles of CO2 are constantly appearing from the floor of the spring to journey to open air. The roofs of the pool buildings are open--I assume to aid in dissipating the CO2 gas. You don't want to kill your customers. The water is very warm--88 degrees. About ten degrees cooler than the springs up the road at the Homestead Resort.

No active swimming is allowed, and patrons are asked only to whisper if they feel the need to speak. Being there was very relaxing and I quite enjoyed the hour I was there.

Falling Springs Falls.

I'd love to hike down to the bottom and get some photos. There is, apparently, a lot of travertine there accumulated over the years which would likely make for some inspiring shots.

The Homestead Resort.
Jefferson Pools! Right beside VA 220!
The office. The pagoda sits above the third, smaller spring. The women's pool house is there beside the office.

This is the spring below the pagoda.

The men's pool. With a depth of 6 feet 8 inches. I chose to soak in this pool because it's a good two feet deeper than the women's spring.

Inside, frog's eye view as I floated in the 90-degree spring water.
I took this shot just as I walked into the building. There is a wooden plank walkway around the perimeter. Stairs which you use to lower yourself into the very warm water.
Looking up toward the roof. It's mainly open with screen on the open spaces.

I took this while floating in the pool. You can see the constant rise of CO2 gas.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Cruise Down the Mountain (Part III).

I was going to post some stuff about the forests through which I hiked on the way down Middle Mountain. But I decided that most of it was just boring crap, so I'm going to can that part.

And, truly, the remaining part of the hike was just a steady cruise downhill all the way until I trudged back into the campground at White Oak. I do have to mention, though, that I had grossly miscalculated the length of the hike which only occurred to me when I encountered a sign on the way down. Initially, trying to cobble the numbers together on the admittedly crappy trail map from the state park, I had figured a round trip of about five or six miles. But when I saw a sign informing me at one point that I had 5.8 miles remaining just to get back to the campground, I knew I'd made some major errors in simple addition. So I sat down and totaled it up and realized that I had put together a loop hike consisting of parts of five different trails that covered a tad over 13 miles of hiking.

But that's okay. Because I was on vacation and I could do as I pleased and do it at my own pace.

This tree was dancing.

A young hemlock tree, so far ignorant of the hemlock wolly adelgid.

Strangely, this part of Virginia was experiencing a minor drought. Many of the creeks and streams were just about completely dry.

The last directional sign I saw before reaching our campground.