Sunday, September 16, 2018

Riding the Storm Out

Hurricane Florence hit the east coast hard the past couple of days, especially along the North and South Carolina coasts. Here in Greensboro and other areas of the Piedmont, we've all battened down the hatches (and cleaned out the bread and milk from every grocery store), but so far, we've avoided the brunt of it. Florence has been downgraded to a tropical storm, and despite a few deluges and some big winds, the damn-near apocalyptic event so many expected hasn't materialized. This is not a complaint.

That said, it's still dumping rain, and as anyone who follows me on social media probably knows, we lose power here if someone spits on the road. There's been a lot of spitting, and there's still a couple of days left of it in the forecast. I'm immensely thankful to have weathered things so well to this point. Hoping for the best until this beast passes into history.

I can probably go ahead and break into the hurricane snacks I stocked up on. Not bread and milk, I'll have you know.

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Excerpt 2: West Virginia: Lair of the Mothman

Another little excerpt from West Virginia: Lair of the Mothman, now in progress and due from Crossroad Press in early 2019. Look forward to some marvelously fun frights....

“Did you see them?” Vance asked.

“See what?” came the voice over his phone speaker.

Clearly, she had not, or Marybeth would know exactly what he was talking about. “Lights in the sky. Like UFOs.”

“Well, I guess that would explain it,” she said. “Several people from school have posted things about aliens landing. Ken Surber said it looked like something out of Star Wars out there. I thought maybe his dad was shooting off fireworks again.”

“You’re friends with Ken Surber online?”

“I am friends with Ken Surber online. And in real life too. Are you jealous?”

“No,” he said, a little too quickly. “Except that…oh, never mind. Mom and Dad and I all saw them. First it was some red lights, almost like meteors. Then there was this big, glowing cluster of lights over the TNT Area. Remember what I told you about the call my dad got?”

“About lights in the sky. Yes.”

“Dad said that people saw things like this back in the 1960s. When the Silver Bridge collapsed. Do you know anything about that?”

“Not really, no.”

“I think I’m going to have do some research.”

“You think there’s some connection between what happened in the 1960s and now?”

“That’s what I intend to find out for myself....”

Monday, September 3, 2018

Mothman Meets Midland

Chilling on Kimberly's parents' porch swing on a pleasantly cool evening
This August was about the sparsest month for blogging ever, but there's been way too much to keep me otherwise occupied, not least of which is my first entry in Elizabeth Massie's Ameri-Scare series, West Virginia: Lair of the Mothman. I've been pounding away diligently at this one, and am currently about a third of the way through the novel. It's my premiere effort at writing fiction for this age group (about 8–13), and it's been both challenging and refreshing. I'll post excerpts and news here and on the Ameri-Scares Facebook page.
It really wasn't.

This past week, Ms. Brugger and I journeyed to her hometown of Midland, MI, to spend several days with her parents, Del and Fern Brugger. I've had the pleasure of visiting that corner of the world a couple of times previously, and this trip turned out to be hectic, relaxing, productive, and, most of all, memorable. Ms. B.'s folks are surely among the sweetest folks I know, which sometimes makes me wonder how Ms. B. developed her unique temperament.

On Wednesday, 8/29, far earlier than the break of dawn, we headed out of Greensboro on a Delta Airlines MD88, made a connection in Atlanta, and arrived in Flint, MI, in the late morning. The Bruggers met us at Bishop International Airport and hauled our weary butts to Midland, about an hour's drive away. At the Brugger homestead, we were treated to a fine lunch, spent significant quality time together, and then, while the lazy bones among us took naps, the geocacher among us went bike riding and...geocaching. Found several, I did.

Since my visit last year, Midland has added a number of venues for spirits, food, and fun, including a "wine garden," which features wine and beer tastings, music, and various vittles. There, we met Kimberly's friend Darren, whom she has known since their dark, distant school days. We enjoyed tasting several red wines—all old world, somewhat to our surprise—and then wandered into Midland's downtown to check out a classy little establishment called Oxygen. All three of us approved of the atmosphere, service, and drinks. Upon our egress, Ms. B. let me grab a couple of geocaches, and then we returned to Chez Brugger to finish the relaxing we had begun earlier in the day.

Thursday, 8/30, turned out to be physically strenuous but otherwise rejuvenating. Early a.m., the lot of us set out for Sleeping Bear Dunes, on the northwest coast of Michigan's Lower Peninsula, in Leelanau and Benzie Counties. Just shy of the dunes, we stopped for lunch and a few geocaches in the scenic little town of Frankfort, MI. Here we found Dinghy's Restaurant & Bar, where we slaughtered some damned good barbecued pig, gigantic nacho plates, and tasty burgers. Then it was on to the dunes.

It's safe to say Sleeping Bear Dunes is one of the most impressive locations I've experienced. The dunes are massive, formed by glaciers and rising almost 500 feet above Lake Michigan. From the landward side, one can hike up and over several miles of dune, if one has the stamina. With Kimberly's parents along, we did not attempt the full hike, but her 81-year-old dad did make a good quarter-mile ascent, which was no small feat even for us non-octagenarians. At the overlook above Lake Michigan, you get a spectacular view of the dune, Lake Michigan, and North and South Manitou Islands out to the north. Although there are signs warning visitors not to descend the dunes because it may take up to two hours to climb back up (and if you need rescuing, you are financially responsible for it), dozens of people went all the way down and, presumably, climbed back up. We settled for taking in the view from the regulation overlooks, which provided perfect views of the location.
Kimberly and Delmar making their way up the dune from the parking area
Don't do it.
Looking down 500 feet. Those little specks on the dune are people making their ways up and down.
Looking out on Glen Lake, to the east, from atop the dune
Our outing at Sleeping Bear Dunes took a full day, so by the time we arrived back in Midland, it was getting late. During this and several periods of down time, I kept myself busy making considerable forward progress on Lair of the Mothman.

On Friday morning, I took a long bike ride around town to hunt some caches. Come lunchtime, Ms. B. and I hit Mancino's for a couple of delicious Italian grinders. (As an aside, Mancino's—and grinders—actually influenced my story "The Veil of Dreams" in Tails of Terror, a new anthology from Golden Goblin Press coming out at Halloween.) During the afternoon, Kimberly and her mom went antiquing, so I made more forward progress in Lair of the Mothman.

There was a geocaching event at the Tridge in Midland on Friday evening, so Kimberly and I dropped by to make the acquaintances of some of the local geocachers. I was familiar with a number of them from having found many of their hides. Ms. B. remarked that cachers there are not unlike cachers here, since they are, in general, amiable, intelligent, and creative. I like to think of our breed as dorky but rugged. Then she and I paid a visit to Maru Sushi & Grill, which wasn't inexpensive but proved quite delicious. For afters, we tried a couple of wine flights at Grape Beginnings Winery, which were pretty good, though I don't foresee Michigan wine achieving international renown in the very near future. And there were caches.

Saturday found us all heading over to Coleman, some miles west of Midland, to visit Del's sister Betty and her daughter Jeannie. I had met neither of them previously, and it may be said they are distinctly Brugger-ish, in the very best sense. We then sampled some of the wines at Coleman's Currant Mist Winery. See the above comments about Grape Beginnings, as they apply equally here. Ms. B. and I did manage to make our way to Whine!, probably my favorite destination in Midland to sample wine, though our visit was limited to a single glass for each of us, as they were closing early for the Labor Day holiday.

Yesterday—Sunday—was mostly mellow, as it was our last full day in Midland, and we had to get up at 3:30 this morning to get to Flint for our 6:00 a.m. flight back home. We did get out to the Freeland Antique Mall so Kimberly could pick up a couple of items that had interested her on her previous visit. And we discovered a couple of beautiful old cemeteries in my quest for geocaches.

We're safely back home now, and Comet TV is running a Godzilla marathon. It's not like I don't have them all to watch whenever I please, but I figure if they're showing, I probably ought to watch them. So I'm watching them and blogging. I hope you're having as nice a day.

You behave.
A fine Halloween setting at Pine Grove Cemetery in Midland
Some of the old stones found at Pine Grove Cemetery

Sunday, August 26, 2018

Excerpt 1: West Virginia: Lair of the Mothman

A little excerpt from West Virginia: Lair of the Mothman, now in progress.

Vance felt a vibration in his back pocket—his phone going off. That was odd, as he was sure no one he knew would be calling him during the school day. He drew his phone from his pocket and looked at the incoming number.

Local, but he didn’t recognize it. He stepped off to the side of the corridor, next to the water fountain. “Hello?”

For a moment, all he heard was strange buzzing and hissing. A strangely alive sound, he thought. Then a sharp, distorted voice said, “The coordinates are three, eight, five, five—”

A cold chill passed through his whole body. “Who is this?”

The voice continued to recite numbers. “Nine, two, six, zero, eight, two—”

“Who is this?”

“Zero, three, five, three, zero.” The voice stopped for a moment, but then started over again. “The coordinates are three, eight, five, five….”

“Oh, jeez,” Vance said and reached into his pocket to grab his ink pen. As the voice continued to say the numbers over and over, he wrote them down on the palm of his hand.

At last, the voice fell silent, but he could still hear a low buzzing, moaning sound in the background.

“Who is this?” he asked in a shaky voice. “What’s your name?”

There was no immediate reply, but the droning grew louder.

Then the caller said, “Indrid Cold.”

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Ameri-Scaring


I've been too busy to blog much these past few weeks, as I'm now well into first entry in Elizabeth Massie's Ameri-Scares series, which I anticipate finishing and turning in to Crossroad Press before the end of the year. My first novel in the series is set in West Virginia and involves the Mothman legend. Next month, I plan to visit Point Pleasant, WV, where the stories of the Mothman originated, for some serious on-location research. I'm also pleased to see there's a regular trove of Geocaches in that area, many of which are Mothman-themed. I will post a detailed report on that excursion after the fact.

Ms. Massie's newest Ameri-Scares entry is North Carolina: Mountain of Mysteries, which has just made its way to my Kindle. I did take quite a shine to her previous Ameri-Scares outing, Virginia: Valley of Secrets. It came in handy for me as something of a guide to writing at the 8–13 age level. While Ameri-Scares is aimed at younger readers, I must say the one I've read so far engaged me as much as any of Ms. Massie's adult-oriented tales—which is to say fully and deeply. I especially recommend it if you have kids in the 8–13 age range. The plot and characters are well-developed, and the writing, while age-appropriate, is not simplistic or condescending. It tells a touching story of a youngster whose early childhood is a mystery, for he has grown up without knowing his parents. His journey to find them leads him to the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, where he uncovers a dark and dangerous secret in which his parents may have been involved.

In the next few days, I'll post an excerpt from my book, tentatively titled West Virginia: Lair of the Mothman, though that is subject to change at any moment. Stay tuned for developments, and by all means check out Ms. Massie's novels in the Ameri-Scares series from Crossroad Press.

Thursday, August 9, 2018

Grudge? What Grudge?

There's a new geocache in town, so this afternoon after work, I went after it. It's a little cache called "Grudge Much?" (GC7VV8G), which brought me to what may be the most haunted house in Greensboro. It's a sprawling structure with three distinct wings, as you may be able to make out from the aerial photo above, from the Geocaching website. (The smiley icon indicates the cache placement and that I found it.) There's no telling how old the old manse is, but the surrounding forest has completely swallowed it, and although a maintained trail passes only a few yards away, getting up close to the place is challenging. I took a shitload of photos of the place, inside and out, and figured I'd share them here.

Weird thing is, when I took a selfie near the cache, my image came out all kinds of wonky. There is a rumor that a longstanding grudge resulted in the house falling to ruin, and I now have to wonder whether that grudge has reached out to touch me as well.

Time will tell, I reckon.
Grudge? What grudge?
The view as you approach
Did I mention the forest has about swallowed the whole house?
It is a welcoming place.
Looking into one wing of the manse
Another view of the interior
The parting view

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Joining the Ameri-Scares Team

It's official! I will be writing at least a couple of new novels for Elizabeth Massie's Ameri-Scares, a series of spooky books for readers ages 8–13. The series will comprise 50 novels, one set in each state, each based on or inspired by a historical event, folktale, legend, of myth unique to that particular state. My first book will be set in West Virginia and involve the legend of the Mothman. Beyond that, I will likely set the next in Maine and chronicle the very scary "Pocomooshine Terror."

I'm set to turn in the first book at the end of the year, so it will likely appear in early to mid 2019. After that, who knows where the series will take us....

Books already published in the Ameri-Scares series include:
North Carolina: Mountain of Mysteries
Illinois: The Cemetery Club
Virginia: Valley of Secrets
California: From the Pit
Maryland: Terror in the Harbor
New York: Rips and Wrinkles


Here are a few links where you may read more about Elizabeth Massie's Ameri-Scares series:
Ameri-Scares on Facebook
Ameri-Scares novels by Elizabeth Massie at Amazon.com

Saturday, July 21, 2018

If You Weren't at The Daily Grind Last Night...

 ...you weren't where you should have been. There was a fine crowd for the Daily Grind's Ninth Songwriters Showcase in Martinsville, VA, with near a dozen individual performers, including the old Geocaching Noisemaking Horror Writer. Songwriters came from all around Virginia and North Carolina, including Martinsville, Chatham, Richmond, and beyond. For my set, I played my original songs "Scan in Progress," "My Love Goes On," and "Paranoid Schizophrenia." And at the end of the show, a bunch of us got together and raised a ruckus with a freestyle jam the likes of which I haven't experienced since my college days. It was great too, since these young guys were playing The Rolling Stones, ELO, Bob Dylan, and such with enthusiasm like I haven't seen in forever. A nice beer tasting ran along with the show, which, for the audience, helped make even the old dude sound reasonably sweet.

The Songwriters Showcase is the brainchild of musician-Daily Grind proprietor Danny Heiss, who played an impressive solo set as well as an intense duet with guitarist Angus Hobson. The event is held on a quarterly schedule—more or less—and there should be another one coming up in the fall, which I hope will work out for me time-wise. Last night's was among the best ever, and those of you who weren't there (you know who you are) missed a helluva treat.
Danny and Angus going to town on one of Danny's original compositions
Old Rodan and Young Angus getting in tune for the jam
ROCK AND ROLLLLLLL!
Today, Ms. B. and I made a day of it in Danville, as she had wanted to visit the Woodwick Candle Outlet in Blairs, a few miles north of town. We caught some sushi for lunch at Tokyo Grill, one of my regular Danville haunts; grabbed a few Geocaches; enjoyed a spot of wine at the always pleasant 2Witches Winery & Brewing Co.; and check out Vintages by the Dan, a nice little wine/brew shop on the fringes of Danville's historic district.

One of my Geocaching targets was close to the historic Grove Street Cemetery, which Brugger particularly enjoyed exploring. In it, there are graves dating back to the Civil War, including a section for local slaves, who were, of course, not individually identified. A somber yet peaceful and scenic location. Here, I ran into old Geocaching friends esddan (a.k.a. Stokes and Joyce), who were among the very first cachers I ever met, back in early 2008, at one the first caches I ever placed. A full but relatively relaxing day of it all around.

Till the next.

Monday, July 16, 2018

Songwriter Showcase at The Daily Grind

As you diehard regulars here have surely deduced, scary fiction and music are among my passions, and while I work at creating the former almost daily, it's less common for me to break out the git-fiddle and make a scary racket. Still, now and again I am known to do this thing and inflict some lovely pain and suffering on an unsuspecting populace. So shall it be this coming Friday, July 20, at The Daily Grind in Martinsville, VA. From 7:00 PM to 9:00 PM, The Daily Grind is hosting another Songwriters Showcase for local musicians to perform some of their original compositions. Now, I haven't written music in decades, but there was a spell back in the 1980s and early 90s where I composed a fair number of guitar-and-vocal tunes, many of them — I'm sure your shock is palpable — featuring scary themes. Come Friday, I'll be performing a few of them.

You folks in the area, please come by and feel free to hurl, heckle, and chuck things. It's all appreciated. The Daily Grind is located at 303 E Church St, Martinsville, VA 24112 (see map below).


Sunday, July 15, 2018

Friends, Wine, History, and Geocaching

Old Geocacher dude and Ms. B. at Delfosse Vineyards near Covesville, VA
Friends, wine, history, and Geocaching, all in one weekend, and for me, things don't get much more special. In the summertime, it's tradition for Ms. B. and I to get with our best friends and travel to some place of interest or another, and this time, it was Charlottesville, VA, with Joe, Suzy, Terry, & Beth, as we've all known each other pretty much since the Cretaceous Period (well, we gentlemen, at least, have known each other that long).

Friday midday, the lot of us converged on Chatham, VA, a very small town some miles north of Danville, where we discovered the Public House, which offers fine food and cordial, attentive service. I also discovered a Geocache — Pitts Bookworm (GC5GHZ8) — as well as a big honking (deceased) female Hercules beetle. Despite being dead, beetle put in an entertaining guest appearance on my dashboard after lunch, at which point Ms. B. vacated the car with heretofore unseen haste and agility. It would be fair to say I am lucky to be alive to tell this tale, and I will say I have behaved at least reasonably well since.

From Chatham, we headed to Delfosse Vineyards, located in a lovely mountain setting near Covesville, VA. To get there, one must leave US Hwy 29 and ascend a long, narrow, gravel road that is strikingly similar to the fictional location I described in my as-yet-unpublished short story, "When Jarly Calls" (which I hope will be seeing publication in the not-so-distant future).
The full crew at Sal's Caffe Italia on the
Downtown Charlottesville Mall

A handful of Geocaches later, we arrived at The English Inn, and here, I must sadly report, things took something of a nosedive. Rather than relate the tale in its entirety here, I invite you to read my review of our direful experience on here on Yelp.com. Suffice it to say Ms. B. and I, along with Terry and Beth, successfully sought other accommodations for Saturday night. Apart from that, Friday night proved an enjoyable time as we all caught a Lyft ride to the Charlottesville Downtown Mall, which offered lots of food, drink, music, shops, and Geocaches. For dinner, we found ourselves at Sal's Caffe Italia, which we chose more or less at random, and it proved beyond satisfactory. Excellent wine, and most of us had varieties of pasta. Ms. B. and I both selected Bolognese on rigatoni, which, despite the huge portions, refused to allow us to stop eating it. Seriously. Halfway through it, I was thinking "I gotta stop eating this." Two-thirds of the way through it, I was thinking "I gotta stop eating this." Three-quarters of the way through it, I was thinking "I gotta stop eating this." When I had a few bits of rigatoni left, it finally allowed me to stop eating.

Afterward, we wandered a bit, found a little more refreshment, and went after two very satisfying Geocaches. We all retired relatively early — Ms. B. and I, unfortunately, to a most uncomfortable room (again, see above). Still, we were determined to make the best of things. Saturday morning, I was out of there at the crack of dawn so I might work in some serious Geocaching, which included not one but two underground tunnel hides (GC3AM81 and GC2YXZ2). The first was short and sweet, the second quite long and, though not too physically challenging, so deep and dark it convinced me that a deep dark culvert is not the place to be should a Deep Dark Culvert Monster go on the attack. Now, I've been in many a tunnel, and I know how sound carries and becomes distorted in those winding stone and metal passageways. But about the time I reached the cache, I heard sounds I had never heard before — some kind of groaning, grating noises, almost like an old man snoring at incredible volume, some unknown distance away. I was far enough in that when I switched off my flashlight, it was that profound void you can only experience within the bowels of the earth — which Ms. B. and I had once discovered together while caving near Johnson City, TN (for that chronicle, see "The Darkness Out of Time," Sept. 5, 2011). I dunno what I was hearing here, but when I made my way back into daylight, I was maybe just a little bit glad.

Following these adventures, I joined our group for our daylong winery tour, which included Blenheim Vineyards, owned by musician/artist Dave Matthews, where the stunning mountain scenery exceeded the wine quality — which I would call satisfying but mostly fair-to-middlin'; Cunningham Creek Winery, which I believe was our favorite of the day, due to its decent wines, exceptionally friendly and courteous staff, and relaxed atmosphere; and Jefferson Vineyards, where we found the biggest crowds and reasonably good but somewhat overpriced wine. I complain not one bit here, as the day proved enjoyable (though stifling hot) and mostly relaxing.
Ms. Beth at "the writing wall" on the Mall.
"Supper Club was here."

For the evening, we found excellent burgers at a place called Zinburger near our hotel(s). I had a thing called the El Diablo, comprising Kobe-style beef, pepper jack cheese, fire-roasted jalapeƱos, braised onions, lettuce, and chipotle mayo. I liked it, I did. Then we returned to the Downtown Mall, where in seeking a particular cache — "Number Nothing" (GC69WC1) — we heard Celtic music and stumbled upon a most wonderful little Irish pub called The Tin Whistle, where a trio called The Severed Heads of Guion Pond was performing in an appealing little courtyard outside the pub. Well, damn, this was fun. So we settled in for the evening and listened to some melodic, bawdy, rowdy, soothing Irish tunes until our aging bodies could no longer stand it, at which time we retired, again via Lyft, to our respective hotel rooms.
The Severed Heads of Guion Pond at The Tin Whistle Irish Pub
This morning, Joe & Suzy hit the road early, so Terry & Beth and Ms. B. and me decided to have breakfast somewhere, and that turned out to be The Pigeon Hole, near the University of Virginia campus. It's a quaint old house on a cobbled side street off University Avenue, and the breakfast proved superb, with eggs over medium, crisp bacon, coarse-ground grits, and plenty of good hot coffee. Afterward, we spent a bit of time wandering about The Rotunda on campus, where I found a virtual Geocache and where, in the early 1980s, I had occasionally spent time in the company of my then-girlfriend Allison Ferrill (who has since gone on to become a high-ranking official in the US Navy). Had we gotten married way back when, as we sometimes half-seriously considered, I can't help but think that today, either I would be much richer or she would much poorer.
The Rotunda at UVA
We parted ways and returned to our homes. I received reports from the cats that there wasn't much point in me coming back since they were quite taken with Hailey, the young lady who often looks after them when I am gone. Not that I feel useless, or anything.
You think Imma going in there? You dang right.
The long darkness, filled with eerie sounds
And you spent your Saturday morning... how?
Don't go into the light. Just don't.

Sunday, July 8, 2018

From York Hill and Rostau to Belews Lake

One couldn't have asked for a much nicer weekend to go Geocaching, as the murderous midsummer heat has largely subsided for a couple of days. Yesterday, Bloody Robgso (a.k.a. Robert), Skyhawk63 (a.k.a. Tom), and Old Rodan (a.k.a. me) headed down Lexington way to go after a new series of caches as well as several older ones, a journey that led me to a few of my favorite settings in the world: old, damn-near-creepy ruins, a perch high above the rest of the world, and the darkness deep beneath the earth.

The Watership Down Run, recently placed by Rick247 (a.k.a. Rick), proved pleasant enough — 16 caches along a winding, 3-mile road through a pleasant woodland neighborhood — but the day's highlight came at a place called York Hill, just outside of Lexington, near the site of the last battle of the Civil War in North Carolina. Here, along what at one time was the main highway but that's now a little-used side road, we came upon the remains of an old hotel and restaurant, which included a massive, foliage-covered sign, some fifty feet high; the concrete and brick walls of the structure itself; and a precarious parapet that overlooks US 29 and the Yadkin River (see the old fart in the image above). There were two caches here, both of which we quite enjoyed.
The old sign for the York Hill Restaurant/Supper Club. It's about 50 feet high,
and all but hidden from view by the encroaching foliage.
Ain't they cute?
Looking down from the old York Hill overlook
From there, we proceeded to "The Entrance to Rostau" (GC7NX91), a venture into the cool subterranean darkness beneath the convergence of several major highways south of Lexington. "Rostau," in ancient Egypt, referred to a hidden, mystical region, locked in darkness, where the corpse of Osiris resided. Here, we had to determine the correct path into the mystical depths, as there were several entrances to choose from. Inside each passage, as we learned from cache owner Pharaoh9500 (a.k.a. Daniel), one might find a clue indicating a right or wrong choice — if one can determine what to look for. Fortunately, we chose wisely and located the well-placed cache without undue difficulty.

For lunch, we decided, more or less at random, to try Smokey Joe's BBQ Restaurant near downtown Lexington. Now, I've had a fair sampling of Lexington barbecue over the years, and for the most part, I've always found it fair-to-middlin'. But our dead pig at Smokey Joe's turned out to be downright heavenly, as was the fried squash I had on the side. Absolute top marks go to Smokey Joe's, and I may need to revisit Lexington to snag the remaining Geocaches in town and tear into some more Smokey Joe's. What a treat!

Today, more or less on the spur of the moment, I undertook a solo run over to Belews Lake, just this side of Winston-Salem, to hunt a couple of hides that are meant to be reached by boat but that can be accessed by land, albeit with considerable difficulty. One was at an old, abandoned, overgrown marina, which proved enjoyable and relatively easy; the other was just across the lake from the huge Duke Energy plant, and required a strenuous hike up and down long, steep, rocky hills that just about did me in, even in the less-than-severe temperatures. This cache, "Celebrating Pharoah's 8,000th Find" (GC79GH4), proved difficult to find, but find it I did, and after that, I was quite done for the day.

And now... damn, I really want some more Smokey Joe's.
I'm glad people take the time to leave these public service announcements, else we would
never know what actually goes on in the world.
The image doesn't begin the convey the size and steepness of the hillside. Gods, what a monster!
Old Rodan with Belews Lake and the Duke Energy plant in the background

Sunday, July 1, 2018

On the Death of Civility

In the wake of The Red Hen Restaurant in Lexington, VA, giving Sarah Huckabee Sanders the boot a week or so ago, the big question seems to be "What has happened to civility?"

So I made the graphic above. Little more needs to be said.

Thursday, June 28, 2018

My Memories of Harlan Ellison


Harlan Ellison has passed away.

He will be remembered as a masterful, influential author for years to come. His literary achievements are a matter of record, and as an outspoken advocate for working writers getting their just due, he was admired, loved, loathed, and despised, depending on which side of his legendary ire you might be standing. Just about everyone who has been around for any length of time in this business of writing for money has his or her own Harlan Ellison anecdotes, and they will be flying around like turkey buzzards for the foreseeable future. Still, I'm going to add mine to the mix because my interactions with him were memorable and personally meaningful.

In the mid 1990s, when Deathrealm magazine was going great guns under the Malicious Press label, the late, also legendary Karl Edward Wagner, who wrote a regular column for the magazine, had picked up the rights to what, by all indications, was the last and only unpublished story by celebrated North Carolina fantasy author Manly Wade Wellman. Karl felt the story, "The Finger of Halugra," was a natural fit for Deathrealm and said that if I was interested in running it, the story was mine.

Well, what do you think? This was something of a coup for a niche magazine devoted to the weirdest of weird tales, so "The Finger of Halugra" ran in issue #23 (Spring 1995), the cover of which boasted the blurb, "The last known unpublished short story by Manly Wade Wellman."

It wasn't long afterward, as I was in the shower getting ready for work around 6:30 a.m. one morning, I heard the phone ring. My (now ex-)wife, Mrs. Death, popped into the bathroom and said, "Mark, Harlan Ellison is on the phone for you."

"He is not."

"Yes, he is."

Yes, he was. He had apparently seen an advertisement about the Manly Wade Wellman story in Deathrealm, and it had more than piqued his interest because he too had in his possession an unpublished story by Manly Wade Wellman — which he intended to run in the (also legendary for its non-existence) anthology The Last Dangerous Visions. He was concerned that he and I might be in possession of the same Wellman story, and California being three hours behind us on the east coast, he had stayed up all night that he might get in touch with me by phone before I left home for my daily routine. It was a cordial exchange, and, happily, we determined quickly that we both had different Wellman stories. Well, how intriguing is that?

All that seemed settled, but a couple of weeks later, Harlan called me again, having picked up a copy of Deathrealm #23, this time beyond peeved that the cover bore that blurb about the "last unpublished story by Manly Wade Wellman." Apparently, when Harlan called me the first time, he was under the impression the issue had yet to be published. He went off for a pretty good while, and all I could do was hold the phone away from my ear until he took a breath.

Finally, I said, "Harlan, that issue has been out for a month — since before you called the first time. I thought you knew that."

"Really?"

"Yep."

"Oh. Never mind."

And I figured that would be the extent of my interaction with Harlan. But no. It was probably at World Fantasy Con that year or the next that Mrs. Death and I ran into him, and I introduced myself as the editor of Deathrealm, and we got to having what turned out to be a fairly prolonged conversation about fiction in general. During this time, Peg was standing next to me, taking in the goings-on, and Harlan stopped, looked at her, and said, "And just who are you?"

"I'm Peg, Mark's wife."

"Oh." He smiled. "Then you can stay."

Over the next couple of years, I heard from Harlan on occasion, stunningly to me, usually about relatively trivial stuff. Then, somewhere along the line, I had mentioned on GEnie, the old online forum, something he had said to me personally, and he really, really didn't like that I had repeated it, although it never struck me as something said in confidence (and honest to Yog, I don't even remember what it was).

I had planned to run an interview with Harlan in an issue of Deathrealm, and I had received a draft from the interviewer, but Harlan wasn't happy with it. He promised to redo the interview to our mutual satisfaction, but sadly, before he could furnish it, Deathrealm reached the end of its run. I gave him a call to tell him not to bother finishing the interview, at least for me, as its venue was on the verge of pushing up daisies. He offered his condolences and expressed what his admiration for the magazine, which he had clearly given more than passing attention. In all my days as a writer-editor-publisher, I think that may have been one of the most meaningful and gratifying conversations I ever had.

A time or two, our paths crossed again at some convention or another, but to me, it was those calls out of the blue from him that have always been most memorable, mainly because I had to struggle so hard not to go all fanboy and such. Sure, I was one of a gazillion people in the business with whom he shared a wee bit of his time, but those wee bits meant the world to me then — even when he took to yelling at me — and they still do.

With Harlan Ellison, you got what you got. He didn't beat around the bush, he didn't mince words. He was basically honey badger. Now, he was getting up there and had some health problems, so his passing was not exactly unexpected. But because our respective worlds did collide those times in years past, the death of this particular legend hits me with unexpected force.

One thing is certain: whether you loved him or hated him, Harlan Ellison will be remembered long after most of us alive today have composed our final lines.

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Down in the Boondocks

A lucky couple got hitched this weekend — no, silly, not Ms. B. and me, but our friends Bryon Nelson and Mary Miller — out in the wilds of Tennessee. For us, getting to the ceremony would have been prohibitive, but the reception in West Jefferson, NC, at Boondocks Brewhaus, was eminently doable, so yesterday afternoon, Brugger and I loaded up the wagon and set our sights on West Jefferson. On the way, we made a relatively brief stop at Laurel Gray Vineyards, an old favorite of ours, for a wee spot of wine. As you can see in the photo above, I opted for a white — their Chardonnay — which, if you've ever taken note of my wine preferences, is kind of like the Pope opting to sport a hijab. But Laurel Gray's Chardonnay is oaked and buttery and, for me, quite delicious. Ms. B. tends to prefer a crisper Chardonnay aged in stainless steel, but she also prefers boneless chicken to filet mignon, so that can just speak for itself.

Did I stop for a few geocaches? What a silly question.

This was our first visit to West Jefferson, and we both found ourselves taken with the place. Technically, there are two communities here — Jefferson and West Jefferson — but they are basically Siamese twins, and where one stops and the other begins, who the heck knows? Anyway, the setting, right smack in the middle of the Appalachian Mountains, near the Blue Ridge Parkway, could hardly have been more beautiful. For such a small community... er, pair of communities... there are numerous eclectic shops, pubs, restaurants, historical sites, and geocaches. Upon our arrival, we checked ourselves in at the Days Inn (in the Jefferson that's not West Jefferson) and then made haste to the Brewhaus.

An appealing, mid-size establishment, Boondocks Brewhaus makes a wide variety of beers, a couple of which I sampled. My favorite was a barrel-oaked Belgian ale called Truth Serum, which was even oakier than Laurel Gray's Chardonnay. It was kind of like drinking a tree. A damn good tree. The reception itself was appropriately festive, with damn good vittles, an excellent DJ, and lots of rocking tunes. Bryon and Mary showed the world how to dance a romantic dance, and Bryon's dad — our good friend Terry — showed the world how to do tequila shots and cut a rug with a friend. Indeed, the spirit (or spirits) had gripped just about everyone at the place, and at the end of it all Bryon summed up the evening's exuberance with "I can't even find my keys, and they're in my pocket." Of our group, though, absolutely no one who should not have driven did drive, and I'm certain a safe and happy evening was had by all.

This morning, I rose much earlier than our sleepy Ms. B. and went out to clean up most of the caches in the Jefferson/West Jefferson area. There are some fun ones to be found there, and with that bit of business taken care of, Ms. B. and I went in search of breakfast, which we hunted down and killed at The Hillbilly Grill. I went for the stuffed French toast (with strawberries & cream) and bacon, and Ms. B. had a couple of pancakes that were bigger (and probably better) than a giant barrel jellyfish. The service was a bit slow, as Sunday morning is clearly a busy time, but the food and coffee hit the spot. The decor is kind of fun — the flatware comes in little brown paper bags, and customers often doodle on the bags and pin them to the walls. I did not.

On the way home, I found a few more nice geocaches, though the relative cool of the mountains was giving way to the scorching heat of the Piedmont, so I didn't tarry at any hides that took more than a minute or so to get out and grab.

I trust Bryon and Mary are off and running in the happiest and best relationship they've ever known, and that friend Terry managed to find a suitable hangover remedy. Bonne chance to all.
Rejects from Game of Thrones? At "Don't Let the Power Get to You" (GCMYPB)
The walls at the Hillbilly Grill, decorated by customers' doodles on the paper flatware bags
Ms. B., you shameless hussy!
"We out here doing bad shit."
Don't take this road.