Sunday, April 23, 2017

From Brewed Awakening to Galaxy Express

Extensive road and sidewalk construction in the district, not to mention the ever-present threat of rain, likely kept at least some patrons from Brewed Awakening's Spring Book Festival yesterday in Danville, VA, but it still drew a respectable crowd, and I moved enough scary books to ruin a good night's sleep for any number of folks. Since its early days as Binding Time in Martinsville, the café/bookstore, under the proprietorship of John and Bonnie Hale, has hosted the multi-author book event at least once, usually twice each year. I have missed one or two for various reasons, but as a regular participant, I have always enjoyed attending the festival, and — best of all — it has been, without exception, a profitable venue for me.
Jill Van Horn, author of Sheep Eaters, and friends

While I miss having the café right up the street from Mom's place in Martinsville, I certainly appreciate the newer location, in the restored tobacco district in Danville. There's still a lot of work going on in the area; in fact, until 24 hours prior to the festival, the sidewalk where a number of us set up our tables was non-existent — just a big old patch of mud (and there were plenty of big old patches of mud remaining all around the establishment). Happily, while some serious rain came down both before and after the event, the weather cooperated sufficiently to allow those of us who had set up outside to remain there, although the serious humidity did have a less-than-desirable effect on some copies of our books.

In addition to reading material, Brewed Awakening offers a fine selection of sandwiches, soups, coffees, sweets, and other treats that have earned them the 2016 Best of Virginia award, among others. For lunch, I had a delicious roast beef on naan sandwich, with BBQ mayo and jalapeno jack cheese, called The Dibrell, with literally the best potato salad I've ever tasted. And their coffee... oh yeah, it rocks.
Photo by Bonne Helms-Hale

The nice thing about the location in Danville is that it's close to a number of other attractions for both Ms. Brugger and I — namely, 2 Witches Winery and Brewery, which we enjoyed sampling; Vintages by the Dan, a classy little wine shop offering a fine selection of spirits and free wine and beer tastings; the extensive Lou's Antique Mall, where Ms. B. can get lost for hours; and Golden Leaf Bistro, where we had an excellent dinner last night and which we have enjoyed on any number of visits.

After all this, Kimberly and I returned to my place for a showing of Galaxy Express 999, which likely remains my all-time favorite example of classic animé. I've been a fan of Leiji Matsumoto's creations since discovering them via Space Cruiser Yamato (a.k.a. Star Blazers) in the late 1970s, and I've recently been watching the 2002 animé series, Captain Harlock: The Endless Odyssey, which I'd not seen before. While it may not be the best of the series, it has served to reignite my somewhat dormant interest in all things Harlock.

A much-needed good day, and we thank you.
Preparing for the opening (photo by Bonnie Helms-Hale)
Author Tom Perry, who specializes in volumes of Virginia and North Carolina history
A busy alley!
For me, tasty flight of local brew from 2 Witches: a sour wheat ale, a triple IPA, a coffee stout,
and a scotch ale; and for Ms. B., a glass of traminette

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

"The Author Speaks" (or "How to Drive Dozens of Young Innocents into the Pit of Despair")

The author offers words of wisdom to prospective young writers: "I hear there's a lot of money
to be made servicing HVAC systems." (Photo by Stephen Varsi)

My good friend and educator par excellence, Suzy Albanese, recently invited me to speak on the subject of writing to her English and Creative Writing classes at Greensboro's Piedmont Classical High School. Now, I'm always honored when someone considers me worthy of sharing some wit and wisdom to a class full of impressionable young minds, but I will admit to having some trepidation about the prospect, for at various times in the past, I have taught and/or given presentations to human people of all age groups, from elementary school through college. It's not always pretty. There was that nine-year-old girl in a class at the local art center many years ago whose dad was a lawyer, and she assured me that he would sue the pants off me if I made her complete any assignment she didn't consider fun. To this day, I'm not sure how I managed to keep my pants. On the other hand, when I taught an art course for adults at a community college once long ago, one of my students turned out to be my toughest high school English teacher, and the payback was sweet delight. As often as not, though, I've had to nurse that continual worry about losing my pants, particularly when the students are of junior high to high-school age.

Happily, this most recent adventure rendered my concerns moot, for the crew of students attending my (totally improvised) talk proved intelligent, attentive, courteous, and personally engaging. (I suspect they have some good teachers and — clearly — more than a dash of home training.) Many of them were able to converse knowledgeably about not only the fundamentals of writing in general but about horror in particular. Now, some of them might have been disappointed to learn that I do not hang out regularly with Stephen King, or live in a huge haunted house overlooking an ancient graveyard, or write a bestseller every night so I might travel the world in luxury, but no one appeared to be discouraged from diving into the pit and exploring the various shadowy corridors of their own creative minds. Try as I might, I don't believe I convinced anyone to abandon their literary aspirations for more secure and exhilarating adventures in the world of certified public accountancy. More's the pity, for surely we need more accountants; I certainly do come tax time.

At the end of the scheduled talk, several of the students came to converse with me one-on-one, which I must say I appreciated. All in all, I came out of the school with a bit more faith in at least some members of the younger generation than I had going in.

Thank you, Mrs. Albanese, for the experience was a pleasure.
These young folks are actually listening and taking notes, not fiddling with their phones.
C'est magnifique! (Photo by Stephen Varsi)

Sunday, April 16, 2017

From Burger Warfare to Round Peak and Beyond


It's been one of those nonstop, on-the-go weekends involving lots of socializing, some wine, a bit of travel, occasional geocaching, and plenty of good food — not to mention making considerable progress on my current work-in-progress, the deadline for which is rapidly approaching. All very gratifying, but in the end more exhausting than relaxing, and damn if I don't need some time to rest and recuperate, for I am old.

It began on Friday evening, when Ms. B. and I met our friends Doug and Jenny for dinner at Greensboro's Burger Warefare, a reasonably decent joint with an entertaining military theme that includes numerous giant battle robots situated both within and without. Before we knew it, we were doing the middle-aged barhopping thing, stopping in at the nearby Tap Room to sample their wares, and finally 1618 Midtown, which Kimberly and I had visited several Halloweens ago, only to find ourselves not overly enthused by its fare or ambience. Things have changed there, however, all for the better, and we were both quite taken with the improvements. We shall no doubt return.
A couple of grumpy old people
A somewhat less grumpy couple
Saturday, it was up bright and early to meet our friends Terry and Beth for a picnic lunch at Round Peak Vineyard and Brewery out beyond Mount Airy, home of the beautifully named "Skull Camp" brands, which we enjoyed sampling. Here we found great atmosphere, beautiful views, and good wine, at least by North Carolina standards. From there, it was on to Mount Airy and Old North State Winery, which we've visited a number of times, though in the past we've been more taken with their offerings than the current. Only three dry reds available this time around, one of less-than-stellar taste, two of better but hardly superlative quality. After all that, we headed to Winston-Salem and a pizza dinner at The Mellow Mushroom. Well-stuffed, that would be us.

The geocaching, while not extensive on our western outing, was gratifying, at least. I was most taken with a cache called "Freeman Homeplace" (GC4P3ER), the search for which led us out to a wonderful old cabin on the lonely back roads not far from Round Peak. Years and years back, this was a favorite location for Round Peak musicians to gather and play their old-time music and hold weekly square dances. I can certainly see setting a good, old-time horror tale out in that area....

Today's geocaching outing with Bloody Rob took us out to the Union Cross/Wallburg area, southeast of Winston, where we picked up about a dozen mostly park & grab caches, with a couple of slightly more involved hides thrown in for good measure.

I figure if World War III is on the way, we may as well get in the good stuff now. But I tell you, it's tiring, this socializing thing.

Next week... the Brewed Awakening Spring Book Festival. Hope to see you there.
The Freeman Homeplace
A nice ride for Ms. B.
The view from the porch at Round Peak Vineyard
Terry, Beth, Old Man, and Ms. B. at Old North State in Mt. Airy

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

2017 Spring Book Festival at Brewed Awakening

COMING UP: Brewed Awakening's Spring Book Festival, on Saturday, April 22, at the store, located at 610 Craghead St., Danville, VA 24541 I'll be on location to sell and sign books (yes, my own; I get fussed at for signing other writers' books). I plan to have copies of The Monarchs, Blue Devil Island, Other Gods, The Gaki, and possibly others on hand, so if you are in traveling distance and possessed of exceptional intestinal fortitude, by all means, stop by. I'd love to see you.

Not only does Brewed Awakening sell books, they serve first-class sandwiches, wraps, and beverages (I'm especially fond of their hazelnut latte). And for you intrepid souls who enjoy geocaching as much as braving Rainey's terror tales, Danville offers plenty of caches — in fact, there's one ("The Crossing," GC1BR2C) directly across the street from the café. Good books, good refreshments, good geocaching.

Mark your calendar and join us.

Brewed Awakening Book Festival 
Saturday, April 22, 2016 • 10 AM–2 PM
610 Craghead St., Danville, VA 24541
(434) 483-2138

Friday, April 7, 2017

Softly Whispering I Love You

I did, I told you the other day that if you weren't good, there was more where "Soul Coaxing" came from. Well, I've been wondering about some of you, as the goings-on among my congregation of kindred souls have been somewhat suspicious. Thus I am posting another old "bad" favorite from my youthful days, and don't say I didn't warn you.

"Softly Whispering I Love You" by the English Congregation (1971) may be one of the most overwrought, saccharine pieces of music that anyone ever came up with, but when I was in seventh grade, I heard it on the radio from time to time, and it struck some meaningful chord in my then-lovesick little self. I was just discovering the crushing heartbreak of unrequited puppy love, and something about this song made me feel a little weepy (probably not for the same reasons it might make you feel weepy). Bear in mind, for my personal music library I have collected just about every 1970s hit that ever existed, good, bad, and bloody awful; there are worse things than this. Pray I don't foist them upon you.

But I did, I warned you. So here it is.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Damned Rodan's Buffalo Scorpion Wings

What You Need (for ten pieces):
For sauce:
  • 1 tbsp butter, melted
  • 1 tbsp honey
  • 1/4 tsp coarse black pepper
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup hot sauce (Frank's, Texas Pete, Tabasco, etc.)
  • 1/4 to 3/4 tsp scorpion pepper sauce (Tropical Pepper Co.'s is good, though not as hot as some; adjust amount to desired heat level)
For chicken:
  • 10 wing pieces (I prefer all drummies to flats)
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp coarse black pepper
  • 1/4 tsp garlic salt
  • 1/4 tsp lemon pepper
What You Do:
  1. Preheat oven to 250°. While waiting, thoroughly mix the ingredients for the sauce and set aside.
  2. Drizzle the wings with the olive oil and rub to coat evenly. Pour the flour, salt, pepper, garlic salt, and lemon pepper into a lunch-size paper bag. Dump the wings into the bag, close securely, and shake vigorously until the wings are evenly coated.
  3. Place a wire rack in your baking tray and give it a good shot of cooking spray. Arrange the wings on the rack so air will circulate beneath the chicken. Bake at 250° for 30 minutes.
  4. Crank up the oven temperature to 450° and bake for 40 minutes. You may want to turn the wings about halfway through. These will be good and crispy.
  5. Just before the wings are done, pour the sauce into a saucepan and bring to a boil. Then drop each wing piece into the boiling sauce (two or three at a time is okay) for about a minute, turning with tongs every few seconds. Boiling the sauce allows the sugar in the honey to bond the sauce to the wings.
  6. Place the dead bird on a plate, devour, and holler.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Hanging with Bigfoot, and Other Amish Tales


Back home from a trip to the Ohio Amish country with Ms. Brugger, where we went for a few days to spend time with her parents, who enjoy visiting that area. I don't usually hear things like, "I'd like to visit Ohio" or even "Ohio doesn't suck," but I gotta tell you, in central Ohio, we found abundant beautiful scenery, with extensive flatlands that ended abruptly at dark, looming hills, laced with shadowy, winding country roads; numerous quaint, picturesque communities; and plenty of colorful characters, even though they dressed in black. Not to mention Bigfoot. Yes, he was there! Note the photo to the left. I can't say I had ever seriously considered going to visit Amish country, but when the Bruggers invited us to meet them there for a few days, taking them up on it seemed just the ticket.

We headed out at the ass-crack of dawn on Wednesday morning, bound for Zinck's Inn in Berlin, Ohio, where we planned to meet the Bruggers. Things started on a rather ominous note because, not long after we hit the interstate, we found ourselves behind a big old logging truck, whose trailer began swaying perilously in the wind, so that scenes from Final Destination 2 came flying fast and furious. It was quite the relief when we put some distance between that beast and us, and if it took out a slew of obnoxious young adults somewhere on the road, we were not around to bear witness. Or participate.
Oh, shit.
The Inn provided comfortable lodgings, very convenient to the central business district and other places of interest to antique treasure hunters, which comprised the majority of our party. I am hardly what one could call an aficionado of antiques, though I do rather enjoy wandering through antique shops and finding intriguing items from days of yore. And while this was not primarily a geocaching trip, you can bet I set my sights on all kinds of caches, which often kept me occupied during our antiquing trips. Oh, yes — there were a handful of wineries in the area, a couple of which we visited and enjoyed, particularly Silver Moon winery, near Dover.
Don't step too far backward, Ms. B!
Now, even though Ms. Brugger is anything but an avid geocacher, she does appreciate the unusual destinations to which geocaching often takes us. In this area of Ohio, oh, my lord, there are dead people everywhere, going back years and years, even centuries, and thus there are graveyards scattered all over the landscape, and at many of them, yes, caches to hunt. Geographically, this region is not all that far from the setting of the original Night of the Living Dead, so at most of the graveyards we visited, the landscapes appeared eerily (and agreeably) familiar. I didn't exactly see any walking dead at close range, but at one old church graveyard we explored this morning, I did notice a strange, shambling zombie wearing fluorescent tennis shoes and a fleece jacket from our workplace in Greensboro. Funny, that.
I had a hard time restraining myself at Lehman's,
so they did it for me.

Yesterday, we took a little road trip up to Kidron, a few miles north of Berlin, which is home to Lehman's Hardware, a huge, damn-near Lowe's-sized installation stocked mostly with old-fashioned hardware implements appropriate to the Amish way of life, not to mention all kinds of just plain cool specialty items (and caches on the premises). I even found a stock of Kickapoo Joy Juice (based on the moonshine in the old "Lil Abner" comics), actually a citrus soda kind of like Mountain Dew, which I enjoyed when I was a little kid. Apparently, it's still being produced.

And yes, there were Amish folks everywhere, their horses and buggies clip-clopping up and down the country roads, the men farming the land everywhere you looked beyond the limits of the little town, and all going about their lives almost as if the myriad tourists around them didn't even exist. In the darker reaches of Holmes and Stark counties where we ventured, I couldn't help but recall T.E.D. Klein's novella, "The Events at Poroth Farm" (and his novel, The Ceremonies, based on that work), which chronicled some frightening goings-on in a quaint, religion-based community — not Amish but similar enough in aspect that comparisons are inevitable. I doubt any such supernatural horrors simmered beneath the surface of mundane life here, but by God, there was Bigfoot, and that simply cannot be denied. Remember the photographic evidence, people!
Sunset over the Old Berlin Cemetery, March 29, 2017
I did find it amusing that, one night, I haphazardly left a copy of Stephen King's Salem's Lot on top of the Bible in our room at the Inn, and the next morning, after breakfast, I discovered that our housekeeper had moved the King novel elsewhere and placed the Bible prominently on a tabletop. Touché.
Ms. B. goes to church.

The only thing that might have spoiled our enjoyment of the trip was a barrage of physical infirmities — primarily age-related — that befell both Kimberly and I, which in some respects left us in less vigorous condition than her parents, which they no doubt found rather amusing. None of it was really funny, but hopefully all temporary, so that the lady and I will both be back to our typical, young-at-heart selves in the nearest of futures, barring trips to see back specialists, X-ray techs, and other related medical personnel. This getting older crap does get in the way of living sometimes, it really does.

The lot of us are safely back to our respective homes, with all kinds of wonderful memories of great company and experiences, and at least one of us twenty-some geocaches richer. I'm thinking a long soak in a hot bath might help relieve some of these blasted old-people pains.

Doncha just hate it when the older generation runs you ragged?

Click on the photos to enlarge.
There's a geocache in that photo.
Old gravestones in a cemetery off the Winklepleck Road
More graves in the cemetery off the Winklepleck Road
Hans is watching you!
A bridge, leading to nowhere, at which I located a nice little cache
Another bridge, leading to not quite nowhere, at which I also located a nice little cache
One of the most common sights on our trip