Thursday, August 13, 2015

Off to Glacier!

Well, Andy and I are all but ready to pull out. Carole will fly out to meet us in a few days and we'll pick her up at the airport halfway across the continent. Then we'll all head up to Glacier National Park. A trip one year in the making.

Taken shortly before we left for a road trip in 2008. Essentially the same rig we still use, save for more mileage.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Crossing Over

Recently there has been a humorous account on the Internet concerning alternate realities with the proof being various memories of TheBerenstain Bears. Funny stuff, and interesting in that it illustrates a curious element of human memory and the theory of the alternate universe.

However, I once had a most confusing experience that goes beyond just an addled memory of the spelling of a cartoon/children’s book character.

The master of the alternate reality was the brilliant science-fiction writer Philip K. Dick. The man was just amazing in so many ways. When he wasn’t particularly trying to be, he was a phenomenal visionary. (When he was actually trying to predict the future of technology, not so good.) In the world of his imagination, made almost real by way of his fiction, the results were often unsettling and mystifying.

One of his most well-known and positively received novels was THE MAN IN THE HIGH CASTLE. It relates an alternate history in which the Axis powers emerged victorious in World War II. The story focuses on life in the USA which has been divided between Germany (east coast) and Japan (west coast). I will not here delve too deeply into specifics of the plot, except to mention a couple of elements:

Within the novel is a second novel written by a man who claims that there is another reality in which the Allies won the Second World War. And he lays out that proposed reality in his novel, THE GRASSHOPPER LIES HEAVY. There is a further element that seems to suggest that if enough people believe it, or if the right conditions gather, one can pass over from one of these realities into the other.

I was fascinated by the book. So much so that I read it very slowly. I did not rush the process, going over each passage and every sentence one careful word at a time. The book is just an amazing work to me. I read it carefully over the course of two days (although it’s a short novel and could easily be read in a sitting). At the end of the second day I read the last bit in bed. I finished the book, considering the story, and put it carefully on the table on my side of the bed and turned out the light.
I went to sleep.

Some few hours later I woke up. It was very dark. I had come completely and utterly awake with none of that confused grogginess that sometimes hits you upon awakening. I was just there, eyes wide, staring into the night. I looked up at the window to my right. There were a few stars visible.  Where was I? Was I at home? Or somewhere else? What book had I been reading just before falling asleep?

Or at least I thought that I was awake. Then I realized that I was dreaming very vividly that I was lying in my bed in my own house. And I dreamed that I had just finished reading a book that I had placed on the bedside table before turning out the light. That book was, I realized, THE GRASSHOPPER LIES HEAVY.

I was so filled with the horror of that thought—that the book I had read and placed on the table before going to sleep was THE GRASSHOPPER LIES HEAVY that I was filled with a sense of panic.
My heart was pounding.

Without pausing I reached over and turned on the light and grabbed up the novel and stared at the cover.

It was with a pure rush of relief that I saw that it was THE MAN IN THE HIGH CASTLE.

Yes…some writers are just that good.

Or had I, as one of Dick’s friends once suggested to me, crossed over very briefly into the world where the Allies were on the losing end of that titanic struggle?

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Travis Milloy's SOMNIO

Travis Milloy, who wrote the screenplay for THE FLOCK, has a Kickstarter project up for his independently produced science fiction film, SOMNIO. Give it a look, and give it some support.


SOMNIO Kickstarter.

Monday, August 10, 2015

B'ars, Part II

Not too long ago I wrote a post about bears and posted some photos of various individual bears I have encountered in my treks. So I thought I'd refresh the subject--briefly--since I am going to be camping and walking about in grizzly bear country in less than a week.

I can't count the total number of bears whose paths I have crossed in my years of wandering about in the forests. Many. Since I've done almost all of my adventuring here in the east coast where only black bears live, that is the species I have most encountered. And even though black bears attack (and sometimes kill) more people than do grizzly bears, it's the griz who get all of the bad publicity.

Yesterday there was a story of a man who was killed and partially devoured by a grizzly bear in  Yellowstone National Park. One part of the story struck me because he was killed in an area that I had very seriously considered hiking when I was in Yellowstone, but ended up not doing because I chose to go elsewhere. It was on a medium-sized mountain called Elephant Back. The trail was relatively easy, I had read, and had the payoff of some good views and some solitude.

There are many more dangerous things that can happen to you in the wilds than running into a Grizzly bear. Lightning strikes are a much more likely threat than meeting up with an irate griz. A bison or a moose will gore or trample you before a grizzly bear would consider doing the same thing to you. Basically, being hurt by any kind of animal while hiking or backpacking is pretty darned rare. I'm far more frightened of being hit by a car or being shot by a nut with a gun than I am of being attacked by a bruin.

Still, I will be hiking in what is likely the densest grizzly bear population in the lower 48 states. So I will carry my bear-strength canister of pepper spray. And I'll be sure to make a lot of noise while I'm in the bush so that I have less of a chance of surprising the big ol' beasties. However, I do not want to get mauled and eaten by a grizzly bear, so I will take all due precautions.

Griz the way I like 'em. Far away from me and not interested in anything but where I'm not. I encountered this one just as I was getting ready to start my hike to the summit of Avalanche Peak in Yellowstone. He saw me and immediately went in the opposite direction. I took this photo from a very great distance.

This confused fellow I surprised while hiking alone in Douthat State Park in the mountains of Virginia. He saw me and bolted. I got this shot (from a good distance) with my telephoto lens because he stopped to take a look back at me to make sure I wasn't going to chase him or shoot at him. He, also, didn't want anything to do with me.

Sunday, August 09, 2015

Glacier is Go!

Well, we only have a few more things to pack and a few more days to wait until we leave for Glacier National Park. The trip has been in the planning stages for over a year. Everything blocked out and ready to roll.

Here are some photos from the online webcams of some of the places we hope to see in the Park.

We can barely stand the wait!

The Many Glacier Webcam.

The St. Mary Entrance Webcam. (This one was clouded with smoke if you'd looked at it last month--from the vast forest fire that is now out.)

The Two Medicine Webcam. We'll be camping near this one.

Friday, August 07, 2015

The West

My experience hiking and backpacking out west is limited. I've taken a few trips there to enjoy the outdoors, but not as many as I'd like. The scenery out there is quite different from that here in the east. There's a reason they call it "Big Sky Country". The mountains are grander. The terrain is more rugged. The wildernesses are more vast. When I'm out there I walk around gawking at the grandeur of it all.

But that's not to say that I think it's all superior to what we have here in the east. Our wild areas may be more ancient, more eroded, the edges filed down and enclosed by the creep of urbanization; but there is still much to love and admire in our wilderness. We don't have have the megafauna to compare, but our forests are far more diverse and generally more lush. There's nothing to compare with the autumns of an eastern hardwood landscape.

We have been planning our Glacier National Park trip for an entire year. The day is coming for us to head out. Provisions are stocked. The vehicles are ready. Funds are in place. What reservations we can make have been made. Expectations are at their highest level.

Here we go.

Hiking the big peaks.

Looking into the wilderness of Montana.

A Montana lake.

Grizzly country.

Hiking above treeline on talus slopes.

Bull moose.

Brown phase black bear.

Tuesday, August 04, 2015


Back when I was a young man, I wrote a short horror story entitled "The New Ecology of Death". The strangest thing about the story was probably that it was about a zombie. Now, that's not strange today, but in the 1980s it was pretty freaking weird. There were--as I discovered--no markets for zombie fiction. That's right. No one published such things, and no one wanted to publish zombie fiction. I was ahead of the curve by a grand stretch--so far ahead that no one would consider it.

After I had retired the yarn to the trunk where it would gather dust, I heard that Stephen Bissette was putting together a comic book horror anthology called TABOO. First I sold him a short story, "Wet". What the Hell, I figured. I'd just adapt "The New Ecology of Death" into comic script format, send the story and script along, and see what would happen. What happened is that he accepted it for publication.

Unfortunately, the story languished in publication limbo as troubles plagued Bissette's brilliant anthology, and it was a long time before the tale finally saw print in the very last issue of TABOO, published at that point by Kitchen Sink.

Many more years passed. I'd  written a zombie novel called THE LIVING END for Severed Press. It did okay and by then zombie novels were selling well. The publisher asked me to write another zombie novel, but I had pretty much said all I wanted to with THE LIVING END as far as apocalyptic zombie fiction was concerned. He kept asking, so I looked at some of my notes that I'd stored away with the original text for "The New Ecology of Death". I'd all but forgotten that I'd written basic notes for transitioning the short story into a novel.

I agreed to do it.

"The New Ecology of Death" pretty much turns the zombie mythos on its head. The zombie in question (Wenzler) recalls his former existence as a living man in detail and is obsessed with seeing his young son before his body disintegrates. Thus, he must face the living as a barrier to his existence if he wants to achieve this end. I fleshed out the notes and started work on the novel, delivering it some months later.

If you want a stranger-than-normal zombie novel, THE NEW ECOLOGY OF DEATH is for you. Follow the travails of Wenzler as he runs the gauntlet of the living to find his son. Why? Even Wenzler does not know exactly why. He only knows that he has to do it.

THE NEW ECOLOGY OF DEATH, a zombie novel By James Robert Smith. From Severed Press.


As we gear up to leave for Glacier National Park, I think I'll spend most of the next few days promoting some of my books.

Next up is my first short story collection, A CONFEDERACY OF HORRORS. It was a very long time coming. Through many false starts with several other publishers who vanished before the book could see the light of print. But now, it's finally on the way, from the excellent Hippocampus Press. I couldn't be happier.

22 short stories ranging over my entire career as an author. Some previously published and several all new stories specifically for this edition. Almost 77,000 words of fiction. Foreword by Jason V. Brock. Afterword by Stephen Mark Rainey. Cover art by Pete Von Sholly.

Available in both ebook and paperback versions! 


Monday, August 03, 2015