Sunday, May 31, 2015

Home from Ochelockenee!

Well, we're home from our trip to Ochlockonee River State Park. The only bad part of a great vacation is the trip home. We drove ten hours to arrive back here in Matthews today. But we had a wonderful trip. Saw a little of everything in the way of wildlife in that part of Florida. We took a quick trip to a well-named place called Tate's Hell State Forest. It was, indeed, hellish. I would not want to be caught in that place. We just took a very brief visit to see  a vast grove of dwarf cypress trees in the heart of said "hell". The yellow flies were as thick as leaves on a willow tree. We dashed up the boardwalk to the tower to look down on the cypress grove, took some photos while slapping at the armies of yellow flies biting us to pieces, and then ran back to the truck. But as we got to the bottom of the boardwalk, off to the left...six enormous, FAT water moccasins. Pretty much North America's most venomous and most aggressive snake. We stood at a safe distance and I took a number of photos, some of which unfortunately came out blurry because I had attached a polarizer to the lens incorrectly! I couldn't get all six of the snakes in one frame, but four cooperated. And then I began to wonder if we'd spotted all of the moccasins around us and at that thought I carefully made my way back to the truck.

I have to wonder what they were all doing together in one spot. Some kind of mating ritual?

I couldn't get all six snakes in one shot. The smaller one on the right had much brighter coloration. Not sure if it's because it was younger, or because it had recently shed.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Heading Out!

Well...I likely won't be posting here much over the coming week (if at all). Off to Florida for about ten days of camping and kayaking. Andy and the cats will hold down the fort until we return.




See ya later, Alligator!

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

A New Excerpt.

I have had some projects going for a couple of years, one of which was really holding me back. At last, it's finally done and I can continue with the other ones that I know I need to finish but which have been blockaded by that one angry job that I couldn't quite finish.

I also have two short stories to write for anthologies to which I've been invited. And today I felt so good about working on what I want to do (instead of what I felt I had to do) that I started on a short story that I'm writing for no reason at all, except that I feel like it.

That's a good sign. Here are 300 or so words of it.

“It Won’t be Long”
By James Robert Smith

Jonathan stepped off the curb and into the street. He rarely bothered to check for oncoming cars anymore. There really wasn’t much need for that.

Not these days.

Halfway across the street he heard the almost silent purr of a car engine and looked toward the Park boundary to see a late-model sedan headed toward him. It was going very slow. He couldn’t recall the last time he’d seen anyone driving more than ten or fifteen miles per hour. 

He tried to remember when he’d last seen a motor vehicle driving too fast to dodge. Months, at least. Half a year, maybe.

With plenty of time to stroll casually across the brick way, he ambled to the other side and turned to see who it was driving interminably in his direction. When the car was a few meters from him he recognized the driver’s face, but didn’t know her name. It was that young woman who had appeared in town some weeks back, at the end of May. She was maybe twenty-five years old, if that. Short and well-built with dark brown hair and emerald green eyes. And she was almost always crying when he saw her, it seemed.

Yes. She was crying, now. As she motored past him, her gaze straight ahead, he could see the tears pouring down her face, her complexion ruddy from the exertion of the amazing sadness of it all.

Jonathan averted his eyes as the car purred by, not wishing to accidentally meet her gaze. He recognized the agony in her face. It was much the same feeling that greeted him each morning when he woke up and looked in the mirror.

She was missing someone. Some people. Husband, children, family, friends.

So many were gone, now.

He sighed.

It wouldn’t be long until none of them were there.

Monday, May 18, 2015


When I was a young man you could find amazing underground comics at any number of venues. In those days the world of independent comic book publishing was pretty tough, but quality seemed to find a home and a way. Some comic book shops carried the work of the creators we now think of as masters of the subversive comic book world. And the old head shops almost always had shelves full of comic book works by the likes of Crumb, Spain, Lynch, Irons, London, and the many others who filled pages of amazing comix with disturbing fiction and dangerous facts.

These days there is still something of an alternative comics marketplace, but in relation to what was here from the 60s through the late 80s, it's pretty tame and frankly no more dangerous or expansive than watching a kitten at play. The good ol' days in the world of politics and comics are unfortunately faded.

Except for one digest magazine.

MINESHAFT. This publication is produced right here in my current home state of North Carolina. Within the pages of this booklet one can find some of the great old underground cartoonists and some of the best from recent years and some who are completely new to me.

It's like discovering the old magazines for the first time when I was a young man. Within these covers (and actually on the covers!) you can discover some of that old danger that made the undergrounds so exciting and important.

I highly recommend the magazine and suggest that you subscribe. (They accept Paypal!) It's the only place I've discovered in recent years that publishes the type of comics used to set us all on edge.

A new Jay Lynch cover (and interiors!)


Where else can you find a comic starring and quoting Slajov Zizek?!

And exquisite renderings from Robert Crumb's sketchbooks.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Interview With Michael Hodges, Author of THE PULLER.

I discovered Michael Hodges a few years ago when I ended up doing a promotional blurb for a novel he and his agent were shopping around. Later, he sold a novel to one of my publishers (Severed Press) and I was absolutely floored at how well written it is. Truly a spectacular book and a great debut for a guy who I think is going to produce many wonderful works of fiction.

He has agreed to do a short interview here at my blog. And here it is:

JRS: THE PULLER is one of the best monster novels I've read in a very long time. Unique in many ways. What gave you the premise for the critter, and is there a Lovecraftian element to the monster?
Thanks, James. The premise is a combination of things. Back in my late teens I spent the night in my single cab Toyota pickup (the one in THE PULLER) in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. I drove deep into the woods to see where the logging roads ended  (they didn’t). Then I woke at 3 am with terrible anxiety, and proceeded to haul ass down the main forest road. For whatever reason, I felt I needed to flee from something. What exactly I couldn’t say. I remember my headlights creeping me out as they illuminated the tunnel canopy. The other is from the Evil Dead. I loved the camera work where you were the “spirits” zooming towards the cabin while the Pompei-era Pink Floyd noises played. I wondered what it would be like to have this happen in reverse, that if Matt Kearns tried to leave the cabin, he’s pulled back by something he can’t see.

As far as a Lovecraftian element, I was not conscious of it while I wrote the novel. The Being (or the Puller, take your pick) is really anything you want it to be, which is why I don’t truly show what it is. It’s nature’s defense mechanism against over-logging. It’s some random thing that came down during a massive solar flare. It’s your significant other abusing you. It’s your job you hate. It’s a disease. The Puller is anything that keeps you where you don’t want to be.
JRS: What about the setting? Why the Huron Mountains? Have you spent a lot of time there?
Michael Hodges: Yes I did. I spent many weekends there in the summer and falls of my youth. I chose the Huron Mountains because they are one of the oldest ranges on earth and because I am familiar with the flora and fauna. But they really aren’t mountains anymore, more like sad knobs. They were once as tall as the Rockies. There’s something melancholic about that which compels me. It makes us feel small and weak. If these once grand mountains can’t survive, how can the human species? Then of course, there’s the flipside: they’re still there, aren’t they? There’s always a kernel of contradiction which attracts me.

The Hurons, and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan has .01 percent of its original old growth forest remaining. The place was absolutely hammered. Yet it still harbors wolves, cougar, and fisher. It’s taken a beating, but somehow, someway, keeps wriggling its toes. The story of Matt Kearns is no different. Also, some of the best examples of the last old growth exist back in those fold of granite. If value is judged by scarcity, those are some valuable trees.

JRS: I admired the way you made integral characters out of wild animals? Does this reflect your feelings about the creatures who live on the planet with us?

Michael Hodges: I  don’t consider animals as “lesser” than human. I believe that every living thing should be treated with respect and kindness.  Writers who focus solely on the human perspective and urban ecosystems lose me.  It’s such a limited viewpoint, and completely self-involved. There’s so much more to this world.
JRS: You mentioned to me that you did not outline the novel. Did this make the act of writing it easier, or more difficult? Was the process thus more organic than it otherwise might have been?
Michael Hodges: Easier. I had a basic premise (a guy trapped by an invisible creature at a mountain cabin), and went from there. Each day I’d get more ideas while writing and jot them down in Windows Notepad if they didn’t fit into the day’s word allotment or sequence. I love how Stephen King describes this as “uncovering a fossil” each day. Others call it “pantsing”. The joy of discovery is like a drug for me. 

First drafts are by far my favorite part of the writing process. And I like your word choice of “organic”. The character is trapped, let him/her work their way out organically. Get out of the way and let them tell the story.
JRS: Have you placed any more novels with any publishers?
Michael Hodges: We are in the process of that. I have seven novels completed and ready to go. I want the next novel sale to be its own thing. I have series-itis. I think I’d kill myself if I had to write fourteen books on the same character….I don’t care how much money they gave me. I  just couldn’t do it. Time is more valuable than money.
JRS: What can you tell us about the film option and the people who will be producing the movie?
Michael Hodges: Well, I’m not sure I can say a whole lot. But I can tell you it’s the talented Sonny Mallhi, producer of THE STRANGERS with Liv Tyler. It’s an amazing film.
The first draft of the screenplay should  be nearing completion. I’m thrilled Sonny has the option, because he makes movies about people being trapped, and I write novels about people being trapped. I think he’s going to make an incredible movie.

I want to say here that Michael is a unique and multi-talented individual. He earns part of his living as a wildlife photographer of great skill. I am hoping to get him to showcase some of his favorite wildlife photos here at the blog in a day or so.

THE PULLER by Michael Hodges.
And here's my review of Michael's first novel. I mean what I say.

"My first reactions was that this can't possibly be a first novel because it is so well constructed and so effectively written. But it is Hodges' first publication in novel form. What he does here is absolutely amazing and THE PULLER is easily one of the best monster books I've read in many years (at least since Owl Goingback's CROTA).

Hodges delivers some exceedingly fine prose throughout the novel and creates a sense of place that is sharp and clear. I've never visited the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, but Hodges makes me feel as if it is now familiar territory. And not just familiar, but at the same time striking and damned frightening.

THE PULLER deals with the story of a young man (Matt Kearns) who retreats to his family's fishing cabin located in the wilderness of the forests in the Huron Mountains overlooking Lake Michigan. He's there to gather his thoughts and collect his emotions after the deaths of his father, his girlfriend, and his loyal dog. While there, he encounters and is subsequently trapped in the isolated cabin by a monstrous creature referred to as "the Puller" (you'll find out just why, and it's not pleasant). It has been a very long time since I've seen a writer create so effective a monster as the Being in this book.

Along the way to this situation we are treated to a number of fascinating characters that include a cast of animal inhabitants of the Upper Peninsula, all of whom have some connection to Matt. Hodges proves himself to be a master of foreshadowing and of connecting disparate strings of plot to weave an absolutely startling tale. His skills are so good that you don't expect the prose to be uniformly perfect, but that is the case.

THE PULLER comes with my highest recommendation. It is, as I said, one of the best monster/horror novels I have read in a very long time."

Wednesday, May 13, 2015


I haven't added a significant book to my Fantastic Four collection in a while. Today I nabbed a copy of issue #13. This was a book I'd been searching for in the right grade at the right price for some time. I finally got lucky and got one from a back issue dealer here in North Carolina.

This book is a nice pickup for several reasons. It features the first appearance of one of Jack Kirby's major creations, The Watcher. And fortunately for me, and for some reason which I cannot fathom, the Watcher's first appearance has not unduly affected the book's price (as yet). If they ever put him in a film, the "value"of the book will insanely go through the roof. But for now I was safe and got it for a very reasonable price.

Another thing I quite like about this issue of the comic is that it was inked by Steve Ditko. Ditko did not ink very many of Kirby's stories, so it's always a treat to see the results when it did happen. I especially like his interpretation of Ben Grimm as the Thing, which is so different from that of most other artists who inked Kirby's pencils.

All in all, I was extremely happy with this addition to my collection!

My copy of FANTASTIC FOUR #13.

Sunday, May 10, 2015


Carole and I both love visiting the various large freshwater springs in Florida. Whenever we head down there we research the area to see if we're going to be anywhere near one that we haven't seen. Our favorites are the largest of these--known as "first magnitude"  springs. The more isolated they are, the better. Since we bought our kayaks we've begun visiting the more hard-to-find springs and enjoying the solitude and the vast array of wildlife that surrounds them.

While doing research on the panhandle area where we'll be camping, Carole found information on one that not only have we never seen, but which we didn't even know of. It's a really big, first-magnitude spring so we'll take our kayaks along and explore the spring run that flows out of it. We are really looking forward to this trip.

Blue Spring.

Silver Glen Spring.

Friday, May 08, 2015


My favorite places to hike and backpack are in wilderness areas. The main reason for this is that I have found that many wilderness areas give me the best chance to find solitude which is often lacking in many National Parks and National Trails (such as the Appalachian Trail).

Following are some videos that I've made while hiking or backpacking through various wilderness areas (the first, ironically, along the Appalachian Trail).

Wednesday, May 06, 2015

The Last Word on the Subject

I have been hacking away--let's call it wetwork--on the third and final chapter of my zombie series THE COALITION. I thought it would come easy, but it has been anything but. For reasons I won't belabor just now. (That's a story for another day.)

But it's almost ready to be born. Soon it will be alive, I hope.


Excerpt by James R. Smith.

He hadn’t foreseen the sheer volume that had appeared from the wilderness like a great, dark wave. They came swarming out of the overgrown woodlands that surrounded the city in numbers that he had not imagined.

Radio transmissions were raging with warnings coming from the airport. The voices were strained but so far composed and without the panic that would have been present from civilians.

“They’re in the tens of thousands, Dale!” The voice was that of General Martinez, one of the few people who Dale actually respected and feared. “I thought we’d have better intelligence on this than what you provided us, Colonel!”

Dale peered at the screen on the desk. It was a live transmission from a geostationary satellite that they’d painstakingly maneuvered over Charlotte in fits and starts, almost depleting its supply of propellant. The eye-in-the-sky wouldn’t likely be useful for much longer, but for now it was invaluable.

Leaning in close to the flat screen he watched the real-time images of the area around the airport. Through the leafless trees he could see that masses of dead marching inexorably toward the buildings and the runways. As the general had said, they were definitely in the tens of thousands. Already the vanguards of the enormous migration of deaders had infiltrated the city proper. If he took the time to go to the windows he would now see them in their hundreds stalking the city streets. He could only hope that the inhabitants of the city would weather this particular storm.

“You have the same view of the situation as I do, General,” the Colonel said. His voice was even, cool. It would do no good at all to grow excited at this point. “Hold your ground. The fences to your east should hold, so keep your forces front and center. Burn anything that comes at you from the west. The concourse to the north will keep them at bay, so you really only have one front deal with,” he added.

There was a moment of silence from the General. Dale knew that the officer was calculating their odds and even considering the probability for a breakout. Finally, he spoke.

“How much longer before air cover arrives?”

Dale turned his head, slightly, and glared at Leiber. He didn’t have to ask.

“Five minutes,” the hacker whispered. “Six, tops.”

“Five and a half minutes,”  Martinez told his counterpart. “Hold fast.”



Monday, May 04, 2015

My Native State.

I was born and raised in the great state of Georgia. I lived there almost constantly for the first 23 years of my life. These days I have a love/hate relationship with the place (and I probably always did and always will). Physically, Georgia has a gorgeous and varied landscape.

It is the largest state in the eastern USA and it takes a long time to travel across it. In the southern low country one encounters Atlantic beaches and vast swamps and flatlands divided by vast, meandering rivers. Move inland and you encounter the Piedmont and the forests change from live oaks and water-tolerant trees like tupelos and cypress to other species hardwoods and pine plantations. Farther north and you hit the Appalachian uplands from the plateau that supports Atlanta to the rugged peaks of the Blue Ridge with their vast gardens of heath laurels and cove hardwoods.

There's a lot to see there.

When I fled the state I really had no intention of heading back. Not even for visits.But the decades have tempered my distaste for the less pleasant aspects of the place revealing the affection that never left me for the sweeter visions that I never quite forgot.

This has left me to ponder the probability of a slow and lazy tour around the state. Likely such a journey will have to wait until I retire. But already I have begun making a list of spots I want to see again, and new areas that I would like to discover.

I want to camp on Cumberland Island again. Sometime along the way I want to spend a few days staying in Stephen C. Foster State Park where I can paddle the watery wilderness of the Okefenokee Swamp. There are farms I want to see and restaurants where I would love to eat. I wouldn't mind venturing into the part of the state where my father was born and spent the early years of his childhood.

When I was a kid I used to climb on the vast Ocmulgee Indian Mounds. And even though I never cared for Macon Georgia, I would go there to see those ancient earthen structures left behind by the original human inhabitants of the state.

One area of Georgia that I never visited much was the northwestern corner. I would like to see Cloudland Canyon. And perhaps spend a few evenings at the legendary campground called simply, "The Pocket".

We'll see. Time will tell. And Georgia beckons.

The Okefenokee Swamp.

The Ocmulgee Indian Mounds.

Ruins, Cumberland Island National Seashore.

The North Georgia Blue Ridge Mountains.

Cloudland Canyon, northwest Georgia.

Sunday, May 03, 2015

A Mildly Lazy Day...

We spent kind of a lazy Sunday mainly taking it easy. We grilled out on the barbecue, and then Carole and I washed the linen for the Casita, then scrubbed down the kitchen and bathroom areas of the trailer before stocking some things for our next trip. Just three more weeks until we head out for a camping/kayaking vacation stretching over eleven days.

Getting ready for these trips is almost half the fun.

I opened the new awning to clean it off after our trip to Mills River.

Carole swept and vacuumed the trailer and aired out the area rugs that we keep inside to cut down on dust and dirt.

I climbed into the bed and almost instantly fell asleep for about two hours. This was my view looking out the window at the new awning.

Here's a link to my latest book, my first short story collection from Hippocampus Press: A CONFEDERACY OF HORRORS.

A CONFEDERACY OF HORRORS by James Robert Smith. Foreword by Jason Brock. Afterword by Stephen Mark Rainey. Cover art by Peter Von Sholly.

Friday, May 01, 2015

Internet Good

There are some cool things about the Internet. One of these cool things is that I get to meet some interesting folk that way. A couple of years back I got a message from a fellow named Michael Hodges. I've forgotten specifically why he wrote, but I seem to recall that it was over my novel, THE FLOCK. We struck up a friendship that way and I quickly learned that he was both a photographer and a writer.

Eventually, I ended up reading (and then writing a promotional blurb for) a novel his agent was shopping around. I was glad to help, not least because it was a good book.

Some months back he let me know that he'd sold his first novel. Not the one I'd blurbed, but a new one: THE PULLER. Not only had it been picked up by one of my publishers (Severed Press), but he had also optioned the movie rights before the book even saw the light of print!!

As soon as I could, I read it, and I can see immediately why it was picked up by Severed, but also why it was such a good property for a motion picture.

As to what I thought of the book, see the review I did for it at

(And I have to say that when Michael asked me to keep my mouth shut about the movie option I did just that. Uttered not one syllable about it until he and his agency announced it. Bravo!)

Hopefully, I can get Michael to agree to an interview here at the ol' blog.

THE PULLER by Michael Hodges.