Friday, July 31, 2015

All Three Books!

Here are the great covers for my apocalyptic zombie series, THE COALITION published by the always excellent Severed Press. Along with links to the ebook versions. But keep in mind that you can order them in paperback versions, also.

Part One: State of Extinction.

Part Two: Lord of the Living.

Part Three: The 2% Solution.

Thursday, July 30, 2015


The third and final chapter of my COALITION zombie series is out.

Time has passed. The city of Charlotte has become a haven from the apocalyptic plague of the undead. The zombie hoard has been held at bay beyond the scorched perimeters of the urban center. Cutter, his wife Jean, and their adopted son Oliver live at peace, but under constant pressure from the threat of the shambling dead. A resurgent military with supplies and great firepower suddenly appears, bringing the promise of restored technology and order. But are they what they seem?



Monday, July 27, 2015

A Grand Tradition: Ghost Stories

When I first began to assemble my work for what became the short story collection A CONFEDERACY OF HORRORS, I surprised myself because I had never quite realized that I had written so many ghost stories. To my way of thinking, ghost stories are the origin of horror fiction and at the base of almost every type of weird tale. One can write of monsters and of dragons and killers of all sorts; but at the source of them all is the fear of one's own mortality and of what might lie beyond (even if one does not believe in the "beyond").

I started reading ghost stories when I was a very young kid. Some of the first things I read were ghost stories, or weird stories, or--as one of the finest craftsmen of such tales (Robert Aikman) called them--strange stories. These tales must have stuck with me and influenced me far more than I realized, for a large percentage of the yarns I ended up spinning have been ghost stories of one sort or another.

One of the greatest authors of such tales was M.R. James. An intellectual of both religious and scientific influence, he created what many readers consider among the finest ghost stories written. And occasionally some of his work has been hammered into various films, most notably the excellent 1950s-era movie: CURSE OF THE DEMON, adapted from his short story "Casting the Runes".

But another great one from the pen of M.R. James that was loaned to cinematic excellence was "Whistle and I'll Come to You", adapted in 1968 as a short film. And here it is:


Saturday, July 25, 2015

Brick and Mortar Versus the Internet

Some time ago we purchased an external holding tank for our Casita travel trailer. This little contraption is a small, two-wheeled tank that takes in waste water from our onboard holding tanks (both gray and black water). It's convenient because we can unload to it and haul it to a dump station without having to move the entire travel trailer to do so.

However, after several vacations we realized that we'd opted for a tank that is just far too small (12 gallons). So, since we were getting ready for a long trip where we will be parking the travel trailer in one spot for over a week, we realized that we needed a larger external holding tank. And we started shopping around for a new one.

Generally, we tend to buy items like this from specialty RV stores. There are a number of these places located in this general area. Also, a number of companies produce various models for what we needed. Instead of a smaller tank with two wheels, we would need a much larger tank with four wheels. We also needed the option of being able to hook the new tank to the back of the truck to haul it to a dump station.

After reading up on a number of these tanks we made our decision. We called the brick and mortar stores where we tend to make this type of purchase. And what we found was that either the item was out of stock, or the price was far higher than what we were able to find online. Carole and I like to stay loyal to local merchants, but sometimes the difference in price is just too extreme. Today, every dollar counts, especially when your working life is winding down toward retirement.

After worrying over it for a bit, we opted to buy online. We finally made our purchase and saved sixty dollars by buying online (and that is counting the modest shipping charge of $9.99).

Typical Smith campsite.

The old, 12-gallon holding tank.

And the new 35-gallon tank.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Dinosaurs and Cheesecake!

As we continue to tinker on the final details of the trip to Glacier National Park, we are getting news of a severe forest fire there. It's not in part of the Park where we'll be staying, but troubling to hear about it. The latest I've heard from a friend in that area is that the Park is getting torrential rains which will hopefully kill of the blaze.

Yesterday I went to hang out with my pal, Budd Root, who is famous for creating, writing, and illustrating the popular comic book title CAVEWOMAN. He was busy producing pen and ink illustrations for clients, but we were able to talk and brainstorm on a project we want to do together. Details as they come.

Good ol' Budd at work.

Dinosaurs and Cheesecake!

Sunday, July 19, 2015


Before we go on long trips with our truck/travel trailer rig, we prepare carefully for it. We always spend a lot of money on vehicle maintenance which is a pain, but better than facing engine trouble out in the middle of nowhere. Carole spends literally months hoarding and packing things we will need on the trip; everything from clothing to cooking utensils to toothpaste, foods, and a thousand items that never fail to surprise me along the way.

This time we're even hauling some things such as extra tanks of propane, and we picked up a genuine jerrycan for gasoline. You never know if you're going to run out of gas on some of those long stretches of highway. This last item is something that we have thought about for a long time--ever since we came very close to running completely out of gas in the wilds of Missouri one year.

This will be the longest trip we have ever taken with the travel trailer. To date, the longest trip we've had to haul the Casita was the round-trip to Key West and back. Even though we only journeyed through four states, the drive is far longer than one would think. This trip we'll log roughly 5,000 miles. Yow!

So, we're bearing down on the final preparations. Most of the stuff is ready. Just a few details to take care of, and then it's off!

Friday, July 17, 2015

Little Discoveries

A couple of winters ago I was hiking in an area of the North Carolina mountains called "Big Ivy". It's a heavily forested plot of acreage that is dotted with stands of old growth timber. I haven't hiked in there much, but I would like to explore it a lot more.

On that particular hike, on the way back to my truck, I passed a vast rock shelter. On closer inspection I found that I was not the only one to have inspected this spot. Apparently it's enough well-known and is sufficiently popular that people have built a rock wall at the lip of the entrance. I saw evidence of recent fires just under the overhang. Thus, any idea I had of ever camping there fled into the cool air. Not well enough hidden from sight for me, and too friendly to the locals for me to find any guaranteed peace and solitude.

Still, it was a nice find, even if I'm not going to try to ever camp there.

Plenty of big trees in Big Ivy.

Spruce to remind me that I'm in the really high country.

Giant rock shelter with artificial retaining wall.

Shelter and nearby water supply. But too familiar with the locals for my taste.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Get Busy.

This was The Senator. It was the largest tree in eastern North America. Located in Big Tree Park near Orlando, I would often implore friends and acquaintances to visit it if they were anywhere near that part of Florida. Every time I was in that part of the state I would go to see it. Unfortunately, it's dead now. A couple of meth freaks climbed over the fence, crawled inside a hollow in the tree, intentionally started a fire inside of it and burned it down. What little that remains of our world that has not been utterly wrecked by humans is quickly fading. If there's any of it that you want to see, I strongly suggest that you get busy seeing it.

A stitched panorama I made of The Senator the last time I saw it.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015


When I was a kid I never had to wonder about what it would be like to be old because I was a pretty active fellow. Even when my weight would balloon and I would become as fat as an October hog I was still always active. I'd have to carry the lard up the mountains I liked to climb, but carry it I would.

And every time I'd use muscles I had either never used, or hadn't put to the test in a while, I'd get sore. For a day or two those sore muscles would have me limping around or aching with every exertion. And I'd tell myself: "When I get really old, this is what it will be like all of the time."

I reckon I was a kid with a fatalist's take on the world.

Earlier this year my left hip finally gave up on me. My job entails walking and walking and walking. Many miles per day. With a heavy sack of mail and parcels on my shoulder. I reckon it was bound to happen sooner or later. The strain and the arthritic build-up in my left hip finally made the old joint effectively fail on me. I didn't quite see it coming, but I knew that the day would come, eventually.

And it did.

My first idea was to see if I could tough it out a couple of more years until retirement. But for the last two weeks the pain has become so intense and overwhelming that I can't even sleep. I close my eyes, drift off, and the first time I so much as budge my hip begins to scream at the rest of me and I come fully awake.

Thank Jove for pain-killers. They don't take the pain completely away, but they dull it.

So. I suppose I'm going to have to resign myself to hip replacement surgery sooner rather than later. This year,  rather than in two years.


Before the hip failed.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Tom Mix!

Once again I find myself buying a back issue I don't normally collect. The reason I grabbed it? The price. Perhaps I'll use it as part of a trade deal at some later date to get a book that really is high on my want list.

Back when I was a collectibles dealer I would run into roughly one Golden Age collection each year. Some years were dry, but then I'd land two or three big Golden Age deals in one twelve-month span. One of the biggest Golden Age comic collections I ever found was back in the 80s and it consisted of thousands of issues, mainly old westerns and Fawcett Captain Marvel books. In that one I purchased so many westerns that I had never seen. I can't say for sure, but I think TOM MIX #2 must have been in there. They didn't stay in my possession for long. Golden Age comics never did hang around for more than a few weeks after I purchased them because there were just so many fans willing to shell out the dough for these genuinely rare items.

Oh, yeah. Tom Mix wasn't just a comic book character. He was a real guy. One of the first hugely popular western stars. People today have forgotten just how huge some of these guys' careers were. Although the Mix's popularity went back far before I was born, I knew about him as a kid because my dad liked him. Not sure why my dad liked him, but he did. I always lumped Tom Mix in with various actors and performers that my father liked for reasons that were never quite clear to me; among them being Edward G Robinson, Humphrey Bogart, Oscar Levant, Jerry Lewis...the list was really weird and disparate.

My copy of TOM MIX #2.

Sunday, July 12, 2015


I went to visit my sister Nancy and her husband, Arnold today in South Carolina. They live out in a rural area in a nice neighborhood with a small lake. We ate a very tasty lunch and then went out in the yard to observe any small critters that might happen by. A few did. Notably hummingbirds, what I think was a Northern flicker, and a great blue heron that showed his skill and nabbed a nice fish while I watched (but was on the far side of the lake, so the photo of him with his catch is a tad blurry).

I love watching hummingbirds. But they are tough to photograph.


Don't blink!

I was surprised at the size of the fish this heron caught. Keep in mind that this is one of the biggest Great blue herons I have ever seen. This particular bird is HUGE!

This is a really ingenious bird feeder made to confound squirrels. This flicker was also having trouble trying to figure out how to negotiate its mysteries.

The front of the house with Arnold.

There were scores of these baby toadlings around the lake. They were oh-so tiny!

Andy, Nancy, Arnold, and Carole relax beside the lake.

We pause so that Arnold can take a family photo.

The back of the house. Andy went swimming, but Carole and I did not.

Rivals at the nectar source!

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Camping Friends!

While we were camping at Van Hook Glade we had company. Carole's friend from work Kelley Parker and her husband Adam and their little boy, Logan. Kelley is a nurse where my wife works as a surgical tech in the maternity ward. Adam is a police officer. Their son, Logan reminded us so much of our son, Andy at the same age (five) that he was nothing but fun for us to see and hear.

I think this was their first family camping trip. Kelley had found our many camping adventures so interesting that she wanted to join us and see what it was all about. Even though it rained on us all for four days straight, they still had a good time and we saw a lot of beautiful scenery and waterfalls. My impression is that Logan really enjoyed the forests and the streams because he sure was smiling a lot as he raced up and down the trails, leaving us all in his wake.

Kelley, Adam, and Logan on the top of Whiteside Mountain.

Logan, Adam, Kelley, and Carole cross Laurel Creek on the way to Laurel Falls.

Kelley, Logan, and Carole.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Very Little Wildlife

The last few trips I have taken to the North Carolina mountains have been disappointing as far as spotting wildlife is concerned. Over the past year I have seen almost nothing of note in my wandering through the wild and rural areas of our high country. I know it's just the luck of the draw, but it had been disappointing to be ready to see wildlife but encountering very little.

On the last full day we had at Van Hook, our camping companions Adam, Kelley, and their little boy Logan wanted to go fishing. So we went over to Cliffside Lake adjacent to the campground so that Adam and Logan could toss out the lures a few times. It was later in the afternoon, and the almost constant rain of four days had slackened enough to be able to allow them to go fishing.

While everyone else stayed to fish or watch someone fish, I opted to hike around the lake and try to spot some wildlife. And I did manage to see just a few things, which follow as photos and captions:

This is the dam which forms the lake. I haven't looked it up, but I would not be surprised to learn that it was a project of the Civilian Conservation Corps.

Looking across the lake. The dam and spillway are on the left.

I took this one while sitting on a picnic table on the far side of the lake from Carole, Adam, Kelley, and Logan. There was another family at this spot and they had me use their camera to take a family photograph of them.

Not sure what species this is. It was on the ground hunting for food.

This is a Pileated woodpecker. They are really big birds and their wings make a lot of noise when they take flight. Unfortunately, the ones I do encounter are really skittish and flee and move a lot to avoid humans. I couldn't quite focus my telephoto lens on this one before it vanished into the trees.

And this was one of two baby snapping turtles we saw at the edge of the lake. Well, that was some wildlife, but not what I was hoping to encounter. We did hear a couple of raccoons ramble through the campsite deep in the night (they woke Carole up). They didn't cause any mischief with us, but they did somehow steal two sticks of butter from the guy camping adjacent to us.

Thursday, July 09, 2015


I'm working hard to finish what I have promised will be the last zombie book I will ever write. Yeah, I know: 'Never say never'. But this is it, for me. No more zombie novels. With any luck at all I should wrap it all up by Saturday and get it to my publisher.

Then I have two more projects to polish off. A fantasy novel to hand in to my agent and another book I'll be working on with an old friend (details later).

Today, I picked up an old comic. This is the way it is with comic book collecting. You stumble upon something that's nowhere near your target for collecting, but the  price is right or it just seems like a weird and unique item. So it was with TOP SECRETS #5. It's just a strange little title from the Golden Age that had never even registered for me. But the cover and some of the interior artwork is by Bob Powell who often turned in unique and borderline brilliant work. His cover art here is intriguing and the price was right, so I bought it.

TOP SECRETS #5, cover art by Bob Powell.

Wednesday, July 08, 2015

Land of Waterfalls

The area around Highlands, NC is often termed "The Land of Waterfalls". And it's for good reason that this name stuck, because I'm not sure that there has ever been an accurate count of the number of notable waterfalls in that area. I've met people who have spent years scrambling around off trail in the back country areas of this part of North Carolina seeking out hidden waterfalls and cataloging as many as they could find. Some of these people share information regarding previously unknown features, and others keep those places secret.

In my own experience, I have yet to find a spot with as many waterfalls per square mile as this part of Nantahala National Forest. It's hard to fathom just how many there are in this patch of land on the eastern facing slopes of these mountains.

The reason for this is, of course, geology. The rocks here are very tough and unyielding, mainly in the form of granite and gneiss. In addition, there was some relatively recent mountain building going on in this compact geography. The current explanation for this is that about eight million years ago the mantle extended a region of hot material upwards, forcing the otherwise dormant and eroded range here to be in turn pushed up, resulting in very steep slopes that, in conjunction with the toughness of the rocks, created many, many hundreds of waterfalls.

Here are three that we visited on this latest trip.

This is Ranger Falls. This one was only a one-mile stroll from our campsite. It's a mere 35-foot waterfall and not as spectacular as many in the area, but well worth the short hike to see it. It acts as a barrier along Skitty Creek, protecting the native Brook trout habitat above the falls from the introduced Rainbow trout below it. Waterfall photography is difficult in bright sun, and just about the only time the sun showed its face on our entire trip was when I got to this waterfall to photograph it. Wouldn't you know.

Dry Falls, which I covered a couple of days ago. Easily one of the most impressive waterfalls I have seen in the southeastern USA.

This was my third trip to see Laurel Falls. It's an easy hike along a trail from Forest Service Road 67 near Standing Indian Campground. The water looks a bit muddy here, but this was not the case. It had been raining intensely for days and the runoff had been filtered through the deep, rich soils of the forest, staining the water with tannin. It was still relatively clear, but darkened from the mildly acidic staining of the soil and leaf litter.

Tuesday, July 07, 2015

Full Bloom

One of the most beautiful things about the southern Appalachians are the blossoming heath shrubs in late Spring and into Summer. It all begins with the various wild azaleas which lead to the opening of the Mountain laurel, and then the glorious display of the rhododendron.

I managed to miss both the azaleas and the mountain laurel blooms this year, but we arrived in the Highlands area to find the rhododendron at peak. Thus, following here are just some photos of the flowers without further comment.

Monday, July 06, 2015

Avoiding the Good Stuff

Sometimes, somehow, I will miss seeing some amazing places all around my outdoors stomping grounds. Such a case has been one of the most famous waterfalls in North Carolina, Dry Falls. I have driven right past this waterfall many, many times. And there's really no good excuse to avoid seeing it other than, perhaps, missing out on it because one doesn't like crowds. For this waterfall is adjacent to Highway 64 outside the village of Highlands. There is a vast parking area and a set of expensive, well-engineered stairs leading to the waterfall, along with excellent guardrails to keep all but the most idiotic of humans from harming themselves on the rocky terrain.

The falls got its name because it is said that you can walk behind the falls and still stay dry, due to the prominent overhang that allows you to negotiate your way under it. Of course you don't stay completely dry because of the huge clouds of mist that billow everywhere around the falls. But you certainly don't get drenched.

And even if Dry Falls didn't have this feature, it's still an amazing sight. It plummets in a sheer drop for quite a distance, unlike many southern waterfalls that are actually a series of connected cascades. Also, it has quite a volume of water, being the entire channel of the Cullasaja River driving over the edge of the granite and gneiss where it has carved an impossible gorge into the almost unyielding stone.

Well, chalk this one up to many missed opportunities. And now I can mark it off my list of the South's great natural wonders. The next time I'm in that area I will be certain to visit it again.

Dry Falls as you descend the staircase from the parking area.

After walking under the falls I turned and took this photo.

People enjoying the power of the falling water.

Ferns and mosses and tiny plants are constantly washed with spray.