Thursday, December 31, 2015

A Little Charity

Everyone knows that I am not a fan of self-publishing. My reasons for this are many and varied and I have spoken about them often.

Some people have asked me, (since one of my reasons for disliking the trend is the almost universal lack of quality of the work I have encountered), why don't I single out any of the examples of lousy books?

And I always think back on what David Niall Wilson once suggested: that writers should refrain from criticizing or savaging the work of other writers. And he was right. While I may not appreciate some work, it's wrong to publicly tear into the labor of another writer. There are many reasons for this, not least of which is the fact that it's cruel to stomp on another person's dreams. That's what you'd be doing if you were to single out a specific work by someone for the sake of making light of it, or to turn their hopes into pain.

So. While I may not like something in general there is no way I'm going to single out a particular book or author to make them a point of ridicule. As I've said before...that's cruelty.

Almost what Philip K Dick predicted. Not quite...but I'm sure that's coming soon.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015


I've written about the magazine Mineshaft before. There's not much left of the old underground comic book scene, but the editors/publishers are doing their best to keep the ancient tradition alive with their digest appearing all too infrequently.

The new issue arrived in my mailbox this week. It didn't take long for me to consume the contents and I've gone back and read it all a second time, trying to pick out little details I may have missed the first time around. Alas, I do not know when the next issue will appear. Not soon enough, though.

Old faces are present along with some new artists who are unknown to me. There's Crumb and Fleener and Griffith and Stack and Moriarity and Lynch for the hard core nostalgists among us. And there are some folk displaying inventive material who are new to the scene for me. It could be that these "new" folk are not that at all, but I have been out of the comix loop for so long that I would not know. What I can say is that there's not a misfire in the issue.

As always, highly recommended.

The front cover to MINESHAFT #32. (Tip of the hat to Harvey Kurtzman?)

Back cover complete with a Mr. Natural yarn.

This interior page from R. Crumb struck me for one big reason: it reminded me of  the philosophical musings of Steve Ditko. Not in content, but in form. The illustration, the hand-lettered rambling.
Want to order your own subscription? GO HERE!


This is one of those years where human-caused global warming really is especially horrible. We had no autumn weather of cool days and chilly evenings. The trees are all confused, budding and blooming here at the beginning of winter. We're screwed.

I was looking at photos I shot years ago in Maine. One trip I took there was exclusively for the purpose of climbing Katahdin, the highest peak in that state. There's nothing like that peak (in my experience) on the east coast. It has a lot of territory high above treeline and it has been carved in relatively recent history by glaciers. The signs of glaciation are everywhere you look on that summit.

Yesterday I saw this image on a webcam that I check frequently. From this vantage point one should see the mountain covered in deep snow. The lake in the foreground should have been solidly frozen for at least a month. There should be people walking across that lake, or driving snowmobiles on it with no thought at all of falling through the ice.

Yesterday was the first time that lake had even the slightest skim of ice upon its surface, and the summit that should have been solidly cloaked in deep snow for many weeks is barely frosted.

Katahdin. Touched (finally) by light snow. The lakes around it showing (at last) some ice.

Monday, December 28, 2015

Middle Class?

What is "middle class".

What the USA has drilled into everyone's head is that working class people are "middle class". This is not true. Working class people--those who go to labor/clerk/sales/retail jobs every day and exist on the edge make up the majority of the workers, but they are NOT middle class. The actual middle class--those who are sandwiched in between the real upper class (the very rich) and the working class have to pull down at least mid-six-figure salaries. Contrary to the bullshit propaganda drilled into us from childhood, working class people are NOT "middle class". Middle class people send their children to Ivy League schools. Middle class people get high-paying work in banking and insurance and the energy sector. Middle class people live in gated neighborhoods and have second homes and vacation in exotic locales around the globe several times a year.

This is "middle class": a 5,000 square foot home in an exclusive neighborhood. A vacation home bigger than most working class people can afford to own and situated on a ski slope in Aspen. Your sons enrolled in Yale and Princeton and your daughter married off to a young millionaire. You buy a new, high-priced auto every year that costs more than a year's wages for even a skilled worker. A comfortable retirement at 50 waiting for you. Vacations in Florence and Tahiti (or anywhere else you want to visit). That's what is middle class. Anything less and you're either working class or are living in grinding poverty.

This is working class.

This is Middle Class.
Sorry. No photos of upper class homes. They don't allow photographers to get close enough.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Too Much!

Yeah. That was my Christmas supper yesterday. I ate everything on the plate. That's why I'm still vegetating today.

Too much Christmas!

Thursday, December 24, 2015


I don't think there has been a horror film of which more has been written of by intelligent critics than Stanley Kubrick's THE SHINING. So I won't belabor any of the statements and conjectures penned by people who have more time on their hands than I do.

But...there are some small things about the movie that always itched at the old gray matter. If you've read the novel you know that the presence of the supernatural is foremost and present throughout the book. It's there from the very first and lingers until the end. But Kubrick took the meat of tale and put a different spin on it. The thing that I walked away with--even as far back as the day I saw it first-run on a big screen in a theater in Charlotte NC in 1980--is that there might not have been anything supernatural going on, at all.

People hate it when I say that. But it's just something that was always there when I watched the movie (and I've seen it more than half a dozen times). Part of it could be that I personally don't believe in the supernatural. The metaphysical world is fiction, as far as I'm concerned, so it wasn't much of a stretch for me to figure that everything that happens in the film are merely psychotic episodes, hysteria, paranoia, and hallucination.

The one exception was, of course, the scene where the bolt keeping Jack Torrance prisoner in the food pantry is released. Who did that? What did that?

For years I argued that it wasn't a ghost, but was, in fact, either Danny or Wendy.

But a friend of mine always says, concerning this film, if Kubrick didn't show it, then it didn't happen. You either see and hear it or you didn't. If you didn't...then don't second-guess the man who wrote and directed it.

Fair enough.

And then, finally, I stumbled upon an interview with Kubrick wherein he speaks about the fact that the movie is about the supernatural (and not just insanity), and he even addresses the specific scene in which Jack Torrance is released from the food pantry.

So. There it is.

A hotel full of evil spirits.

Lloyd. The best goddamn bartender between Timbuktu and Portland, Maine--or Portland, Oregon, for that matter. (And one of the creepiest personalities ever placed on film.) Portrayed by the wonderful actor, Joe Turkel.

And scarier, yet: Delbert Grady, methodical murderer and racist of Victorian ease. Impeccably played by the most frighteningly talented Philip Stone.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

A Week Away!

Well, just a few more days to prepare for Christmas. I took some photos today of the decorations at Carole's mom's place where we'll be having our holiday morning.

The little tree in the den. I didn't photograph the big tree in the living room.

Nutcrackers on the mantle.

And on the china cabinet that used to be a gun cabinet before all the guns were sold.


Snowglobes and such!
Andy Williams was a huge part of our Christmas celebration every year when I was a kid.

Friday, December 18, 2015

An Excerpt, The Vicar.

by James Robert Smith

      At first, there weren't any ghosts.
     This was for a time after the machines stopped working and the fuels everyone once depended upon had become useless. People went into a panic, I've been told. They were like animals for a while, and then everyone learned that life was no worse than before, only different. People died because they were far from help and travel was slow; but the world was bigger. Images couldn't be sent through the air to homes all over the land; but books were precious again. No one could climb into those metal boxes and be transported at great speeds; but the air was clear.
     The Old Vicar had stood on a hill in the day and had pointed at the brilliant, cobalt blue sky and had done his best to explain how dingy the sky had been. It's hard to believe. At night, he had stood on that same hill and we had all looked up at the numberless stars twinkling in the velvet, those untold bits of diamond light scattered, scattered. Before, he had told us, one could not see the stars for the dirty lights mankind had planted all about. I do not think those faded wonders of man could be as great as what we see in a clear night sky.
     Then, the ghosts came.
     The first one arrived when I was a child. For a while, I thought that I had brought it in somehow. I had been trapped in bed with the fever, and been delirious for days. The doctor came to offer medicine and to make sure that water and broth were poured down my throat. On the fourth day of my sickness, when the fever was beginning to break, I saw it come into the room, passing like tobacco smoke through the wall. I had thought that my eyes had fooled me and that it was my mother in there with me. For I saw that the figure was a woman; but my mother would not have come like that into my room. My mother would not stand over my bed and leer at me in such a manner, as if drooling over my misery. When the ghost opened its mouth...rather, when the thing's jaws became unhinged and its tongue settled on my chest, I screamed.
     When the others had come, the thing had not vanished. It had hovered over me, and it had seemed to delight in the fear of the others as they wanted to come to me but could not because they were too afraid. Even my mother had been unable for a while and only when she, too, screamed and raced to take me up in her arms did the thing retreat. For weeks my mother was obsessed with what the ghost's face had done as it went away. Soon, however, she came to see much worse than that and it that first apparition faded to the least of her nightmares.
      For a time, the ghosts came rarely. And they did not linger, usually only long enough to instill fear into those who saw them. No one knew why they were there, for no one could recall them from before. The Old Vicar said that there had been no ghosts in the world before mankind's contraptions ceased to work. Mankind's works had kept them at bay for at least two hundred years, he had told us. Perhaps the ghosts had returned because they now could. Perhaps, he had told us in that mature, but powerful voice, the ghosts had grown weary of being held impotent and now we knew why motors no longer ran, why no fuel other than wood would burn. Perhaps, and maybe not, for the Old Vicar never claims to have all answers.

      So he says.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Snow on LeConte

Back in 2005 I did a really neat hike in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It was a day hike that started near Gatlinburg and took us to the summit of Mount LeConte (one of the east's highest summits). When we started the hike the temperatures in Gatlinburg were in the high 50s. Slightly overcast. But by the time we reached the top of the mountain (almost a vertical mile higher from where we began the hike) we had walked into dead winter. A seventeen-inch snowfall had covered the mountain in purest white and it was very darned cold.

It remains the only time I have hiked to the top of that mountain in the snow. I had tried once before some years earlier when a late Spring storm of freakish proportions had dropped three feet of snow on the trails. On that trip we gave out of steam from having to slog through the drifts and ended up camping on a ridge in the forest. We never made the mountaintop on that trip.

This is still one of the prettiest winter hikes I have ever done, in March of 2005.

I'd heard of these formations but had never seen them. In fact, this remains the only time I have seen these snowy pinwheels. Snow falls off of tree branches and begins rolling down steep slopes, becoming little wheels of snow. We saw one that was about two feet across.

The trail leading up. One other hiker had blazed the trail for us.

There are not many things prettier than spruce trees heavily laden with newly fallen snow.

Sam Baucom took this shot of me at Myrtle Point, near the summit.

The view that day from Myrtle Point.

I got Sam to take this one of me as we left the top of the mountain to head back down.

This is from a hike when I was barely 21 years old. We were trying to reach the summit but drifts that were just too deep exhausted us and we had to make camp on a ridge as the sun was setting.
This was what it was like at the base of the mountain. No snow, at all. Mount LeConte here is the only peak in the eastern USA that is one mile tall. That is, from the base of the peak to the top of the peak it is over one mile of altitude gain. The bottom is at around 1200 feet, and the summit almost 6600 feet.

It Sells!

Years back when I was still working in the comics industry I had been hired by a successful small press publisher to plot, write, and dialog some of his titles. I got busy on the job and was soon making decent money delivering the scripts based on characters that belonged to the publisher.

One of the books was a title about vampire teenagers that I quickly grokked as being a theft of the basic premise of the movie The Lost Boys. He had a very derivative title--a riff on the movie title--but I did my best to make it different and create something new. The artist on the book was a then-unknown Eric Powell. 

I was also writing another title for the publisher based on the idea of a demon in Hell. When I read the source material he gave me I was apalled at how stupid and disgusting it was and asked if I could have some creative freedom to reinterpret. He agreed to the request.

While I was working on the scripts one of my comic artist pals asked me what I was doing in the industry and I told him. "You're working for that guy??!" He was horrified.

My response was that he was paying pro rates and on time, plus giving me creative freedom to interpret the properties. "Have you seen the sick shit he's publishing?" I had not.

Said friend proceeded to find some books and showed me what the company was putting out. I had to admit that it was sobering. Hyper-violence. Torture-porn. Violent female bondage. Splatter. Gore. Some of it was akin to a comic book snuff film. It was pretty damned disgusting.

"Well, I'm not writing that kind of thing," I told my friend.

"Yeah, well, stink rubs off when you step in shit," he told me.

He was right.

Some time later I got a call from an editor working for this publisher. They were having money troubles and needed to cut the rates they were paying. By half. I shrugged, told them okay, and that I'd finish the two series that I'd started. "Thanks. Everyone else is pissed off," the editor told me. Well, I had a day job and I knew what it was like to run a small business. You just could never tell.

That obviously made the publisher very happy. He called me a few days later to chat. During the conversation I mentioned some of those titles he was publishing and the content. Just offhand. I'm not generally that judgmental.

"Yeah," he agreed. "That is some sick shit. But sick shit sells."

Aha. So it does.

Then, after a few more days, I got another call. The publisher couldn't pay, at all, for the work I'd just turned in. He was having money trouble. So I stopped working on the issues I had yet to deliver. He was stuck without scripts for them. He was angry that I wouldn't finish the work for free (and a promise of pay at some later date). "I don't write for free," I informed him. Not for anyone. Not for any reason. This really pissed him off.

"Well, no one can understand your stories anyway! I can't figure them out!"

"That's because you're not only a crook, but you're stupid," I told him. (I like to immolate my bridges when the time comes.)

And it went downhill from there.

I told him not to print anything I'd written for him for which I had not been paid. Further, that if he altered my scripts and put my name on them that I would sue him. The books I had written never (to my knowledge) appeared. I was told by someone that some kind of graphic novel using part of one of my scripts had been published, but without my name on it. I never saw it, so I can't say.

The thing that I was left with--more than the crooked aspect of most comic book publishers--was the willingness of them to publish "sick shit" because "that sick shit sells".

These days I see some of the small press folk with whom I've worked doing similar things. They sell books that are basically Fascist, neo-Nazi, racist gun porn and are fine with that. It sells, and they make no judgments because "that sick shit sells" and it lines their pockets.

For myself...I've decided to walk away from the publishers of that sick shit. Two of them actually promote racist (but popular) books as templates for what they are looking to publish. Ugh. Permutations and severed accountability.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Mystery Peak

Some years back (2008) I was hiking on Apple Orchard Mountain in Virginia. Off to the west I was admiring the line of peaks in that direction, like waves breaching toward West Virginia. And I noticed one mountain that stood apart, almost by itself, looming above the gaps that separated from the main ridge.

Curious, I got out my map and tried to find it, to see what it was called. But I couldn't find it on the topo. Later, I showed the photos of it to other hikers and none of them knew what its name was. I'll figure it out eventually.

Addendum: I have now discovered the name of the peak: House Mountain. I was also pleased to learn that a great portion of the double peaks (Little House and Big House) is protected in a 1000 acre preserve. Another hiking destination!

The peak I noticed as I was looking at the horizon.

Grainy closeup. You can see that it has a significant cliff on the north face.

This was the reason I was hiking on Apple Orchard Mountain; to see the peak's namesake waterfall.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Same Spot, Different Year

Carole and I have enjoyed our trips to Blackwater Falls State Park in West Virginia. Today, I'm only going to post a couple of photos taken from the same spot four years apart. There's a particularly good overlook on one rim of the canyon near the parking lot. I walked out to it and did a self-portrait using my tripod on a June day in 2007. Then, in February of 2011 we went to experience the park in winter. I took another self-portrait from the same spot.

Blackwater Falls State Park, June 2007.

Same spot, February 2011.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Winter Star

In 2004, after a number of years spent away from backpacking and hiking I began to venture into the wilderness again. One of the fist places I went to explore was the Black Mountains in western North Carolina. These are the highest mountains in the eastern USA.

Tomorrow I'll write more about these first experiences in getting back into returning to the forests after years of not being able to enjoy them.

For now, I'll leave you with a stitched photo that I took with my first digital camera on one of my initial return to the wild places I have always loved. This is an excellent mountain in many ways. It's one of the rare eastern peaks that exceeds 6,000 feet in elevation, and it's relatively isolated from roads and crowds. As a bonus, unlike so many eastern peaks, it has a wonderfully poetic name: Winter Star.

Winter Star, along the Black Mountain Crest Trail.

2004, the first time I climbed Winter Star.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Lions and Bears and Cliffs!

Because I like to spend as much time as possible outdoors, and as often as I can in very wild places, some of my friends and acquaintances think I take chances or visit dangerous spots. This is not so. In fact, because I do spend much of my time wandering around on foot or in a kayak--or often just chilling out at the campsite, I tend to be far safer than those who find their pleasures inside the cities and towns where they live.

People will see a photo of me standing on a mountaintop and think I could fall off. Most of the time such photos seem risky when in fact they are not, at all. I know people who climb cliff faces while hanging by their fingertips above sheer drops of over a thousand feet. Now, that is taking risks. I don't do such stuff.

Or I will show someone a photo of a bear I encountered while hiking and they will ask me why I take such chances or be horrified that I don't carry a gun with me when in the deep forest. And my answer to them is that the chance of being injured by a wild animal is far less than being struck by lightning (I do take shelter when I encounter thunderstorms). Far more likely is the risk of being injured in your auto or shot by stray gunfire in town. If I hike in grizzly bear territory I will carry pepper spray. No grizzly bear has ever been within 300 meters of me and even those run the other way.

What I do when I can--those camping trips, those hikes, those kayak journeys on rivers...those are all very safe endeavors. Is there any risk at all? Sure. There is risk in pretty much everything one does. But I never feel unsafe when I'm in the forests and on the rivers unless a thunderstorm seems imminent. Cliffs? Wild animals? Just practice common sense and everything is cool.

Not dangerous, at all. Like walking on a sidewalk.

Alligator Rocks, North Carolina.

McAfee Knob, Virginia.

Lindy Point, West Virginia. Yeah, the temptation to scale that tower was there, but I didn't go for it.

The bear and I startled one another. He ran away. Douthat State Park, Virginia.

Talus field, Sherando Lake Recreation Area, Virginia.

Cliffs of Hawksbill Mountain, North Carolina.

"Preach it, brother Bob!"

Carefully hiking the Highline Trail in Glacier National Park.

Wednesday, December 09, 2015


Various covers for some of my novels, anthologies, short story collection, and such in which my work has appeared.

THE FLOCK was the first novel I sold. Originally it appeared in hardback from Five Star Books. The artist did work with me on the cover art.

After the book was optioned for film through Warner Brothers it was picked up by Tor Books. They asked for references on the terror birds from my novel and I exchanged many emails and renderings for the creatures so that the artist would be able to create the most effective art. What ended up was this--easily the shittiest cover for any of my books.

A CONFEDERACY OF HORRORS is my first short story collection. It finally appeared from Hippocampus Press in 2015 and has what I consider to be the best cover for any of my books (by the amazing Pete Von Sholly!).

THE LIVING END was my first zombie novel.

My COALITION series was actually my swan song in zombie novels. I decided to write a more traditional shoot-em-up with this one.

The second installment.

The third and final volume.

THE NEW ECOLOGY OF DEATH is the last zombie novel I will ever write. I promise. This is the art initially published. Severed Press wanted it to look like a comic book cover since the premise for the book was based on my comic script of the same name that appeared in TABOO #9.

The current cover art for the book. It is much closer to the spirit of the novel.

The initial cover for WITHERING.

Essentially, the monster in WITHERING is a kind of conjured dinosaur.

HISSMELINA, my take on rural horror by way of paranormal romance. In this one the hero is a woman and the damsel-in-distress is her hulking boyfriend. In addition to the strong feminist message, the book also has a Lovecraftian tint.

The HORROR FOR THE HOLIDAYS anthology contains my very well received short story "Translator".

TABOO #2 from the amazing Stephen R Bissette who has been so kind to me over the years. He's a real mensch. This was my first sale for which I received professional rates.

TABOO #9 which contains my comic script for "The New Ecology of Death". Years later I would expand that script into the novel of the same name.

The first sale I made to the Marvel comic book based on Clive Barker's HELLRAISER films.

My second script sale to this title.

My third and last sale to Marvel Comics. My editor quit and the door slammed shut on my foot.

SONG OF CTHULHU contained a Lovecraftian story I wrote for the excellent editor, Stephen Mark Rainey.
There are more...but that's all for today.