Sunday, October 15, 2017

How to Conquer Quicksand

Damned Rodan with a couple of old men (Diefenbaker & Robgso) in the background
After almost ending up in a watery grave by taking the land route to "Colter's Run" (GC1TM19) last weekend (see "When I Was a Kid...," October 11, 2017), I wondered if I should not go about getting these boat hides — which have been staring at me from the map for years upon years — by the more traditionally prescribed route. So this morning, Diefenbaker (a.k.a. Scott), Robgso (a.k.a. Old Rob), and Damned Rodan (a.k.a. me) set out by kayak to do this thing, and an excellent day on the lake it proved to be.

A kayak is definitely the preferred means of accessing this cache, though the water route is not without its challenges. A time or two we thought we might have to leave Old Rob out here to fend for himself, but in the end, we all made it in and out of the narrow, reed and bramble-choked channel without mishap. After last week's experience, I was certain I knew exactly where I'd find the cache, and that, indeed, turned out to be the case. I absolutely do NOT recommend pulling a Rodan on this one and trying to access it by land. It could be bad.

We picked up a few other caches along the lake bank, though at one, we happened upon some fishermen who had made the mistake of parking their boat right at our GZ. We took care of this little impediment by slowly paddling toward them and adopting the demeanor of psychotic men. Problem solved.

The geocaching has been all too sparse lately, but it has been mostly good. Very good. On the way to 10,000 finds, currently at 9,608.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Far Above the Clouds

The view from Lover's Leap on the Blue Ridge Parkway, about 7:00 AM
Almost exactly five years ago, Ms. B. and I made our annual pilgrimage to the Blue Ridge Parkway, for breakfast at Mabry Mill, wine at Villa Appalaccia, and hiking/geocaching — at nearby Buffalo Mountain, to be precise ("Pilgrimage," October 27, 2012). This morning, we roused our asses well before the crack of dawn to do basically the same thing, for such good things awaited us there. On the way — even before I'd had any coffee — we stopped in Stuart, VA, that I might pick up a relatively new geocache at the library there (BRRL: Hilltop Hub, GC777D2), which was a damned happy thing for me because I've had a bloody long dry spell in the caching department (I seem to have found way too many, according to Kimberly).

On the way up into the mountains, we passed through some very dense fog, and when we reached the top, we made a stop at Lover's Leap, from which we could see the valley below smothered by a massive cloud layer (see photo above). Spectacular indeed, and from the number of photos posted on Facebook showing the same view this morning, we weren't the only ones stopping to take photos.

You never know what kind of crowd you're going to encounter at the restaurant at Mabry Mill, which is fairly small, so we like to arrive early to ensure we get in around their 8:00 AM opening time. This morning, we pulled in just before 7:30 and found a relatively small crowd, much to our relief. Best of all, the restaurant staff was kind enough to let us in almost immediately. COFFEE AT LAST! I drank lots. (I had to pee lots, too.) For Ms. B., scrambled eggs, sausage, and biscuits; for me, three pancakes — buckwheat, sweet potato, and traditional — and sausage. All so good I about couldn't stand it, but I tell you, when we got to hiking up Buffalo Mountain shortly after breakfast, between the backpack and the pancakes, it felt like I was hauling an extra 20 pounds or so.
Ms. B. on the rocks

And that hike. What a beauty! Last time we were there, the mountain was fogbound, the temperature chilly, and we were the only living souls in evidence during our entire time there. Agreeably eerie, that was. Today was somewhat different. At the trailhead, we were once again alone, though the sun was coming out, and by the time we hiked a few hundred yards we were sweating profusely. As the crow flies, it's less than a mile to the summit, but the snaking turns and switchbacks make it over a three-mile round trip, with several hundred feet of elevation change. A good workout, it is.

What really turned out to be a workout was going for the cache up there. Now, this was a somewhat odd situation: the cache had been recently archived because the Virginia Department Parks & Recreation indicated they had removed a cache from the summit, for whatever reason they felt compelled to do so. However, I was almost certain the one they had removed was the older cache at the summit, the one I found there five years ago (Buffalo Mountain Preserve Cache, GCNNZP), and that the newer one (Buffalo Mountain Cache, GC73HPY) would still be there. And happily, as it turns out, it was. Now, getting to this little fellow proved physically challenging, as one must traverse a steep, treacherous wall of rock from which a bad step will send one plunging many hundreds of feet into the valley below, and this morning, the rocks were extra slippery from the recent rains. I'm quite glad Kimberly stayed behind to doodle in her sketch pad because 1) I would have been paralyzed with worry about her, and 2) had I suffered a fatal mishap, she would have never spoken to me again. Of course, all turned out well, and above and beyond claiming that cache, I found the much-needed physical challenge altogether invigorating.
Tired, wind-blown hikers
About the time we started back down the mountain, most of the world, it would appear, was coming up the mountain. Holy cow, it was an endless stream of people ascending the trail — young, old, and all ages between. I suppose it's good to see so many people getting out and hiking, but it's also irritating to run into veritable traffic jams of humanity on a trail through such serene and lovely forestland. The parking area was now full to overflowing, and I'll tell you, that little access road from the trailhead to the main road is windy, steep, and too narrow at most places for two cars to pass. Fortunately, we made it down without meeting very many, and where we did, we had just enough room to pull off to the side.
I feel that someone is watching me.

Our next stop was Villa Appalaccia, which is easily our favorite winery. We enjoyed the obligatory wine tasting in the wine tasting room and then shared a bottle of Toscanella in the terrace area, some distance down from the main building, which we've always been fortunate enough to have to ourselves, as we did today. We had brought picnic goodies with us, but after such a huge breakfast, even after that hike, neither of us were hungry. So what we did was eventually hie ourselves over to Chateau Morrisette, just a couple of miles down the road, have another nice tasting, and set up our picnic over there. Oh yeah, good.

The day turned out to be a true stress-reliever for the both of us, and the timing couldn't have been better, as we've both been dealing with our share of stressors lately — each very different, but equally... stressful. And I've got to say, having done so little geocaching these past few weeks hasn't helped. Somebody needs to get out there and take care of some of that local open space. I kid you not.

And that was this year's Pilgrimage, and our return to Buffalo Mountain. I sleep now.

G'night.
LOVE in the dark—"BRRL: Hilltop Hub" in Stuart, VA
Going up the trail at Buffalo Mountain
View near the summit
The signed logsheet at Buffalo Mountain Cache
Looking into the valley from GZ
The wine makes the shine

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

"When I Was a Kid...

Yeah, I found it. No, not the cache...
the quicksand.

...I thought quicksand would be a much bigger problem."

You see memes with that quote going around from time to time, and—sure enough—growing up in the 1960s and 70s, you could turn on just about any TV show and there would be our hero, having to find some ingenious means of saving himself from the quicksand trap one arch-villain or another had set. But after leaving adolescence behind, all that quicksand, it seemed, proved to be figurative rather than literal.

That's largely still true, unless you happen to go hiking with me.

This past Sunday, I wasn't planning on going geocaching, both because, between work and having to drive to Mom's several times, I had put over 1,000 miles on the car the last couple of weeks, and also because the forecast called for serious rain. Come midday, and still no rain, I said fuckit, I'm gonna go out to one of our local lakes and see if I can find one of the caches you're supposed to reach by boat. However, I had bushwhacked out to that area a couple of years ago, and though I never spotted the cache, I knew you could at least get to ground zero by land.

That is, if you pick your route well you can get there by land—or at least within 30 ft. or so of GZ. However, I chose unwisely and headed straight for GZ instead of taking the roundabout but much easier route. For the way I chose, there be swamp. Much, much swamp. And...

Quicksand. An honest-to-god, scum-sucking, bottomless pool of quicksand, which, with my one errant step, took hold of me real good. I immediately sank past my knees and, with every attempt to extricate myself, went deeper and deeper. After maybe half a minute, it was up to my waist, and my feet still could find no purchase. Fortunately for me, while deep, the pool wasn't all that extensive, and I was able to maneuver close enough to a good-sized tree, grab it, and, with a disturbing amount of effort, finally drag myself out. (Thank Yog I'd had the foresight to wrap my electronic stuff and other valuables in plastic bags and stow them in my backpack.) Anyone witnessing me crawling out from that pool and lurching to my feet would have probably run screaming, convinced that The Boggy Creek Monster had risen from its watery lair.

Despite my GPS pointing me some distance to the left, I now went right, and managed to find solid, if not dry ground. After some time, the woods opened up a little, so I was able to get back on course and eventually reach GZ. Or damn near. However, Brush Creek was swollen to overflowing and my GPS still pointed to the far bank, about 40 feet away. I decided to test the water's depth; a mere foot from the bank, my hiking stick didn't touch bottom.

On the far bank, I could see a fallen tree with lots of limbs and a huge rootball, and I had the nagging suspicion that was where I'd find the cache. A couple of fallen trees, partly submerged, spanned the stream, so I figured I could use one of them to cross, as long as I didn't mind getting wet. But give me a break — I had just come close to being swallowed by motherfucking quicksand, and this was just deep river water. Since the near end of the log was submerged, walking across was right out. Nothing for it but to scoot. Thus, I lowered myself onto the log, legs dangling in the deep water, and began the scooting process, which went well enough until I was about ten feet from the far bank. Here, the incline became extreme enough to almost dissuade me from continuing. But giving up meant all this had been for naught, so... the word of the day became "perseverance." At last, I was able to pull myself onto the far bank, and my search for the geocache commenced.
My makeshift bridge across Brush Creek
I scoured that big old fallen tree. It looked recent, and I figured if the cache had been attached to a limb that had overhung the stream, that limb would now be pointing skyward. So I climbed one of those skyward-pointing limbs as high as I could go, and searched, and searched, and searched, and — no! The cache was not here!

Damnation.

I began checking every nearby host I could find. There was another fallen log about 20 feet away that looked semi-promising, but I couldn't reach it from the bank due to a barrier of briers that might have given pause even to Robgso (of the "No blood, no fun" persuasion). For the next hour and a half, I hunted and searched and searched and hunted, partly due to a stubborn desire not to get skunked again, but partly to put off repeating the dreaded log crossing. All during my hunt, I could hear heavy splashes; things scuttling through the tall, thick grasses; odd chirps and guttural groans, and I began to wonder if there might be something lurking in that deep water that would make my bout with the quicksand seem a pleasant little paddle. Eventually, though, I had to give up the hunt and reconcile myself to scooting back across—which I managed without mishap, and in the process washed off all remaining traces of my damn near-subterranean sojourn.

I had just regained solid ground when the rain started. Not a gentle, pitter-pattering rain, but the gullywasher from hell. So I got my stuff together and made my egress, steering way clear of the swamp and the quicksand, which meant a much longer bushwhack, but at least this time on solid ground.

A half hour later, a drowned rat would have been far dryer than the old fellow that stepped out onto Lewiston Road amid the Great Deluge of 2017.

And thus, did Damned Rodan not go geocaching on Sunday.
Yeah, that might have been the Boggy Creek monster shambling around over there on the far bank....

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

It, Watching — It, Scary


While it's relatively rare for my stomach to start growling in hunger while reading about cannibalism, several of the stories in Elizabeth Massie's most recent short fiction collection, It, Watching, flung a healthy craving on me. Behind the gorgeous cover (featuring art by Ms. Massie's husband, Cortney Skinner), you'll find seventeen diverse short stories (plus one long poem), ranging from a Walking Dead-esque zombie tale ("Wet Birds") to a drama of personal revenge set in the Civil War ("Tintype"—which made me really hungry) to dark comedy ("Darla and Gina Try to Keep Out of Debt") to political allegory ("Pisspot Bay") to disturbing science fiction ("The Replacement"). Of course, there also plenty of the requisite spooky little horror tales.

Over thirty years or so, Ms. Massie has rightfully become one of the most respected names in the field of dark fiction, and if one should not understand why, then a full dose of It, Watching ought suffice to set one straight. One of Ms. Massie's most consistent and effective authorial traits is that her voice will lull you with a light and damn near comforting tone, only to turn nothing less than shocking in its assault on one's sensibilities, even when said sensibilities have been toughened by long experience with that voice. Mostly set in rural, isolated locations, these stories consistently emphasize a sense of personal isolation, of things being wrong, not just out there, but deep within the characters. As one is drawn into the narrative of each story, it's impossible not to feel a certain discombobulation, a feeling that something, somewhere, is off-kilter, even during the most prosaic of exchanges between characters. Tense dialogue is a hallmark of Ms. Massie's fiction, and almost unbearable tension pervades the best of these stories—"Don't Look at Me," "I Have a Little Shadow," and "The Well." Each have distinct supernatural overtones, each presents characters no less unsettling than the other-worldly elements.

It, Watching is 200-some pages of classic Elizabeth Massie fiction, some reprinted, some previously unpublished. While the reading here is not necessarily comfortable, it's compelling, and it's hard not to finish one story and tear right into the next.

Do not pass this collection by. Pick up It, Watching from Amazon.com here, in paperback or Kindle editions.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

A Random Story of a Narrow Escape

The cheery-looking, sizable winged fellow you see in the photo above is a Cicada-Killer Wasp (Sphecius speciosus). They're about two inches long and are pretty common around this area of North Carolina. While out geocaching, I've witnessed them fighting to the death with cicadas, which makes for a fascinating spectacle. Inevitably, barring human intervention, the wasp will win.

Despite the fact I am not a cicada, perhaps my most narrow escape in this life—a decade or so ago—involved one of these ferocious-looking beasts. I had sat down to go potty in the downstairs bathroom of my house and was only just making myself at home when I heard a very loud, very deep buzz-buzz-buzz coming from some indeterminate but uncomfortably close location. After a moment's contemplation, I came to the conclusion it might be coming from under the toilet seat. Very calmly, I stood up, lifted the seat, and—sure enough—there he was, a big old Cicada-Killer Wasp sitting there on the rim of the toilet bowl, looking somewhat peeved.

Now, in general, the Cicada-Killer Wasp is not hostile to human beings, and unless you fuck with one, he probably isn't going to sting you. Still, under these circumstances, a particularly sensitive wasp might consider himself being fucked with. As much as I regret doing so, I killed him graveyard dead on the spot, but under the circumstances it was inevitable that this encounter was going to end badly for one of us. I confess I have never been able to shake from my mind the resulting unpleasantness had things gone the other way.

That is all.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Still Believing, Young Blood, and More

Scary author with the novel Young Blood

Ms. B. and I have returned home from a whirlwind weekend in Martinsville, which started Friday evening at The Daily Grind with the Writers' Round Featuring Tokyo Rosenthal and me, turned into a spend-the-night party at Mum's with our good friends Terry & Beth, continued on Saturday with some hiking in the woods (including a bunch of geocache maintenance for me), and more-or-less climaxed at The Hollywood Cinema last night for the fifth anniversary celebration of The Smith Brothers' first movie, Young Blood: Evil Intentions, the novel of which I wrote with Mat & Myron. I had a small small part in the movie as a concerned citizen (see Young Blood: The Movie, March 9, 2012), and you can bet your ass I appeared concerned as hell on the big screen.

Late this past week, I became really concerned that the onset of some fairly severe fall allergy symptoms would do a number on my ability to sing (which many might question at the best of times), but with the benefit of a couple of throat lozenges before the show on Friday, I managed to belt out a dozen songs without completely choking. To say it was fun is a gross understatement—at least for me; I can't speak for anyone else. There's a video down below of my song "Still Believing," which Ms. B. was kind enough to record. Mr. Rosenthal proved himself a consummate professional—one of the most adept acoustic guitar players I've ever met, and a fine singer and lyricist. It was a pleasure to have shared the stage with him.

A couple of my trail caches in Martinsville needed fixing up, so Ms. B. and I undertook a couple of medium-size hikes to repair/replace them, one along the Dick & Willie trail, where I discovered an entire boulder, which housed my cache ("The Boxcar," GC263XX), had somehow gone missing. Odd, the things that can vanish without a trace. The other, on a bike trail out in Chatmoss ("Sticks," GC1WNG9), required the construction of some new Blair Witch–style stick figures, a trail of which will lead an intrepid adventurer to the actual cache container. Yeah, it got kind of hot, muggy, and buggy out there.

The Young Blood anniversary celebration brought many of the movie's actors and fans together again, and the theater lobby was decorated with a couple of tons of memorabilia and merchandise, including posters, DVDs, original artwork, and promos for Myron Smith's Sweded films (not to mention some scary clown props, as the theater was also showing It).

When I was writing the novel, I watched the movie many times over and had it virtually memorized, but it had been long enough that, watching it again, I had a whole different view of it—the humor was funnier, and the more disturbing parts were really disturbing. A neat little movie it is, and I'm quite proud to have had as much a part in it as I have.

Check out the Young Blood Facebook page here.

The celebration resulted in a fashionably late dinner at Yamato Japanese Restaurant, which Kimberly and I enjoyed no end (suffering from the Great Starvation will do that to one—just ask my cats). We had thought we might join Mat, Myron, and other folks in the Young Blood crowd at Mtn' Jax in uptown Martinsville, but by the time we got there, they had already left. So Kimberly and I returned to Mum's and sat out on the back porch until the wee hours of the morning sipping a fine Pinot Noir. At midnight, we were treated to the thunderous sounds of fireworks from the Martinsville Speedway, which—as the crow flies—is only a couple of miles or so from our house, where they'd had their first nighttime NASCAR race. Unfortunately, we couldn't actually see the fireworks, but when they first went off, we thought the bomb had dropped. Big noise! But we actually enjoyed the celebratory racket, and I hope the race brought lots of business into town. In all my years, I've never been to a NASCAR race, nor had any real interest in going, but the Speedway is a real draw in Martinsville, and more power to the fans.

This morning, it was back home for the both of us to deal with our respective cats, who all were suffering from The Great Starvation. Poor little guys! (Note: They're not that poor. Nor little.)

See you at the curtain call.

Original Young Blood artwork on display in the Hollywood Cinema lobby
Posters for Myron Smith's Sweded movies. I have a wee part in Alice in Wonderland.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

COMING UP: Danville's Fall Book Festival

COMING UP: Brewed Awakening's Fall Book Festival, on Saturday, September 30, 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 cafĂ©. Good books, good refreshments, good geocaching.

Mark your calendar and join us.

Brewed Awakening Book Festival 
Saturday, September 30, 2017 • 10 AM–2 PM
610 Craghead St., Danville, VA 24541
(434) 483-2138

Monday, September 11, 2017

On Never Forgetting


Among the many thousands of horrifying images from 9/11/2001, to me, the most haunting may be those of the individuals who plummeted to their deaths before the doomed World Trade Center towers actually collapsed. There's something about these depictions of people who may have chosen to face a thousand-foot drop rather than a thousand-degree inferno closing inexorably on them that hits me in the gut unlike any other. Until relatively recently, I never suspected that among the living—other than the inevitable lunatic fringe—there might be some stigma attached to these victims of such unimaginable horror.

And even now, I'm certain that many of the articles about these victims that have come out in the interim—specifically those that highlight reactions that run the gamut from plain denial to moral condemnation—are based more in sensationalism than genuine insight. To the best of my knowledge, I don't know a soul—I hope I don't know anyone—who would righteously claim that these people who jumped or fell were somehow culpable, that they might be eternally condemned because they chose the coward's way out. That they committed the unforgivable sin of choosing their own door to the great beyond. For the loved ones of those who fell, I'm sure it's easier to not think about the choices that might have been made that day. If it were my daughter, my brother, my mother, who died in such fashion, I don't know how I would feel, how I would deal with my own emotions. I do know that I could never cast any blame on them, whatever my spiritual beliefs. No more than I could cast judgment on any stranger in the same situation. Some of you reading this probably lost individuals close to you on that day. I did know some who died, though I cannot claim to have been close with any of them.

But the fact of it is this: every soul who perished in these incidents of 9/11/2001 was a victim of murder; nothing more, nothing less.

Some stories have highlighted not just a lack of understanding and acceptance among the living, but actual judgment against the "jumpers," for want of a better term. Again, I can't speak with any authority as to whether we're talking about a relatively minuscule number of misguided individuals or a broader trend among those of various religious denominations. But I can't imagine a more egregious violation of the edict "Judge not, lest ye shall be judged," most notably because not one living soul can know what was happening in those moments prior to an individual taking flight. Some of these, clearly, were forced by the sheer weight of numbers of those trying to escape the rapidly spreading flames. Some appear to have blundered, blinded and deafened by the force of the plane's impact, into the gaping abyss. And others clung, until the last possible moment, to life and hope, until it was clear that, within seconds, fire would consume them.

How would you react? Would you not panic? Would your body not involuntarily propel itself toward anything but the inferno roiling toward you? The body tries to survive; that's an inherent part of its mechanism. Personally, I'm all for having a choice when death is inevitable. Death is part of the journey we all undertake, and each of us must face it privately and, inasmuch as possible, in keeping with the beliefs we have carried with us through life.

How dare anyone who hasn't faced that fire for the final time cast judgment on someone whose life is destined to end in a matter of moments, whichever choice he or she makes. Anyone so conceited, anyone whose faith—whose primitive, simple-minded belief—assures them that someone else made the wrong choice about dying is precisely the same as the sick bastard who believes that in destroying the infidel he will find 72 virgins in his heavenly domicile.

Death is between an individual and his god, if he has one. I sure as hell have never followed—and would never follow—one who would condemn me for eternity because I chose ten seconds of flying toward physical obliteration over the flame rushing in to consume me. What an awful, horrendous, ungodly conceit—and as far as I'm concerned, a purely human conceit. There's nothing holy about living in such a judgmental state. It's horror.

The very definition of it.

Friday, September 8, 2017

On the Return, at Its End

It's probably safe to say that, as an adult-type human being, I haven't invested as much of my fannish energy and enthusiasm in any fictional property as much as I have in Twin Peaks. During the original series' run, I had just hit 30 years old, was not all that many years married, Deathrealm magazine was going strong, I was writing fiction like a madman, and I semi-frequently enjoyed special times with my brother, who was also an avid Twin Peaks fan. Put all that together, and one might conclude I have positive associations that may have colored my judgment of the show (just a little!). Its characters, setting, atmosphere, music... virtually everything about it hooked me from the get-go. Even the second half of the second season, which, by any objective measure, went south when it should have gone... well, in any other direction... offered considerable entertainment value. But then came its finale. That wonderful, haunting, mind-bending, cliffhanger of a finale.

It's been a love affair ever since. At the time, I was keen enough on the David Lynch films I had seen—Eraserhead, The Elephant Man, Dune (yes, I have a strange fondness even for this one), Blue Velvet, and a passel of his early short films. Since then, Lost Highway and Mulholland Drive have taken their places as two of my all-time favorite films. I never cared as much for Wild at Heart, and Inland Empire, alas, did not connect with me. At all. Someday, perhaps I'll give it another try. Someday.

When Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me came out, I can't claim to have much understood it, but I loved it. And I seemed to be a minority of one, at least among the Twin Peaks fans I knew. Something about the early scenes—those in Deer Meadow, with Special Agents Chester Desmond (Chris Isaak) and Sam Stanley (Keifer Sutherland), and at the FBI office with Phillip Jeffries (David Bowie)—struck me as crucial, as if these plot elements, cryptic as they were, held the key to Twin Peaks' secret heart. Over the years, as I watched, re-watched, and read various impressions and interpretations of the movie—particularly the sequence in Gordon Cole's (David Lynch) office—I became convinced me that it, not the play-by-play of Laura Palmer's murder, was the crux of the film.

Twin Peaks: The Return proved that there was indeed more going on in that early part of Fire Walk With Me than many fans and critics gave it credit for. Long before the new series' premiere, when I discovered that events and concepts from Fire Walk With Me would feature prominently in it, that was all she wrote. Showtime, here I come!

While there are no doubt spoilers here, I won't recap episodes, as recaps are ubiquitous in the blogland, and if you've read this far, you already know what happened, inasmuch as any of us actually know what happened.

If there's any word to sum up my reaction to the early episodes of The Return, it would be impatience. Now, obviously, I know how Lynch works, and I expected much of what he served up, but it was hard to get past feeling frustrated and impatient—for so many disparate plot elements to show some cohesion, for even a hint of an answer to some of the endlessly mounting, nagging questions. Would anything come of the glass box in which we saw the manifestation of what was to be called "The Experiment," which killed observers Sam and Tracey? Would we ever learn the identity of the "billionaire" who made the box—and for what ultimate purpose? When would Audrey Horne appear, and under what circumstances? Might we again hear news of Special Agent Chester Desmond, who disappeared upon finding the ring in Fire Walk With Me?

Would Dougie Jones ever "wake up?"

So many loose plot threads, both from the early days as well as the new season, which piled them up higher and faster with each episode. Lynch and Frost intentionally trod the line with viewers' patience, working us up to the breaking point, certainly to the point where the less devoted would throw up their hands and decide it wasn't worth hanging in there for some nebulous dramatic reward that might never come. Indeed, according to Showtimes' stats, viewers jumped ship in no small number over the course of the series.

In some ways, I can't say I blame them. But never say die, say I.

Rather than propel the action, or deepen the characterization, much of each show's running time was spent on just-this-side-of-tedious (sometimes crossing into tedious-beyond-belief) static shots, drawing out scenes to thoroughly ridiculous degree—a prime example being the scene in episode 12 where Gordon Cole parts ways with a young French woman for an ungodly percentage of the episode's running time. Now and again, such show-stopping moments could be remarkably funny, or even profound, such as a two-minute-long scene in episode 9 of Diane Evans (Laura Dern), Tammy Preston (Christa Bell), and Gordon Cole standing together waiting for Albert (Miguel Ferrer) to conclude his business with the local coroner. During this scene, Diane smokes a cigarette, Gordon reminisces on how pleasant it was when the two of them used to smoke together, while Special Agent Preston fidgets nervously the whole time. It's a wonderfully revealing, amusing two minutes, perhaps the scene that made me more conscious of every little subtlety going on during these weird, extended pauses. The scene wasn't just about killing time; it was about making you feel each moment. The more willing you were to feel, to experience the frustration, the rewards, the mysteries, these endless red herrings, the more willing you were to accept that David Lynch and Mark Frost were in the driver's seat and taking us via the most scenic of scenic routes... somewhere. Not necessarily where any of us thought we might be going. Take your eyes and mind off the destination (something that, as a writer, I find terribly hard to do) and take a good gander at the scenery as we ride.

Not many artists could get away with such self-indulgence, and for many, I'm sure, it's arguable whether Lynch actually did. I can't count how many times, knowing that co-creator Mark Frost favored a tighter narrative structure than Lynch, I wished Frost's hand would become the more dominant, and at times, I suspect it did. Particularly in the later episodes, we actually got a number of narrative dumps that addressed various loose ends, tied them up, and tucked them away. The triangle between Big Ed Hurley (Everett McGill), Norma Jennings (Peggy Lipton), and Nadine (Wendy Robie) at long last found a happy resolution. We received a definitive answer on the significance and origin of the "Blue Rose." We discovered what happened to the missing pages of Laura Palmer's (Sheryl Lee) diary and how they tied into events in Fire Walk With Me. We experienced, with true grief, the passing of Margaret Lanterman, a.k.a. "The Log Lady," almost in real time with actress Catherine Coulson's death. We witnessed, in one of the most vivid, dreamlike odysseys ever produced for the screen, the release, if not the origin, of Killer Bob (the late Frank Silva) into the world, following the blast of the first atomic bomb at White Sands, New Mexico, in 1945. This, in episode 8, truly set the direction for the rest of the season.
While watching episode 8 as it was broadcast, I kept hoping against hope for more of the plot-propelling moments that had dominated the couple of previous episodes, and thus I deprived myself, at least in that short term, of appreciating the sheer fortitude, the sensual fulfillment, the brilliance of the vision unfolding before me. Mostly, I was, with remarkable accuracy and no little dismay, occupying myself with predicting the over-long running time of each segment of the episode: the journey through the A-bomb blast, the herky-jerky infiltration of the woodsmen into the convenience store, the sojourn at the White Lodge. Someone lurking outside my front door could have borne witness to considerable, sometimes loud swearing about the waste of screen time that might have been better utilized tidying up any number of the messes that had been made in prior episodes.

But I knew I couldn't leave Lynch holding a grudge. I had to re-watch the episode. I had to clear my mind of so many preconceived notions I should have known better than to harbor. And so I looked at it again. And then a third time.

Episode 8, the episode that, as it first ran, I swore I'd not watch again, became the one that dragged me fully into the deepest, darkest folds of Lynch's vision. As it stands now, I find that hour one of the most compelling events I've ever seen on a screen, large or small.

And that sums up much of my frustration with this incarnation of Twin Peaks and, to some extent, Lynch's work in general: I oftentimes cannot trust, or put even reasonable faith in my first impressions. I rarely experience the fullness, grasp the depth, or appreciate the spirit behind/within his work on first viewing. In most cases, my first impression of a work, while perhaps incomplete, is still the truest. I was editor of Deathrealm magazine for a decade, and I read mountains upon mountains of slush, and out of necessity, over long experience, I learned to trust first my impressions implicitly. Naturally, first impressions are just that—impressions—and subject to modification, refinement, sometimes reversal, but over so many years, they proved themselves sound over and over again.

Here comes David Lynch, who proceeds to beat me over the head with my own conceit. Make no mistake, I have countless times enjoyed journeying into other creators' universes, taken great pleasure in having my impressions re-molded, sometimes turned upside down and inside out, but I think I can say that there's no other creator that I would allow to manipulate me to the extent I have David Lynch (and, by proxy, Mr. Frost).
As we came to the end of the season this past week, I still desperately hoped there would be some closure, a conclusion as gratifying even as the open-ended finale of the second season of Twin Peaks or the surreal but emotionally charged ending of Fire Walk With Me. With both of those previous properties, I came away feeling energized, hungry for more yet still satiated.

But no. We would have none of that. The penultimate episode, #17, checked off a few items on the list, offering up some small moments of gratification. But so many compelling, crucial questions remained unanswered. How could we even begin to address them all in one final hour of Twin Peaks?

By diverting us onto a whole new road, that's how. By turning the series' history back upon itself, ostensibly even wiping out this intricate world constructed and developed over 25+ years. By giving us more, incredibly long static scenes—at least on the surface—and switching out the very identities of the most important individuals in the entire drama.

To say I hated it is an understatement. The morning after watching the finale, I woke up actually depressed, my first thought being, "Please tell me that was a bad dream."

We live inside a dream. But who is the dreamer?

As with episode 8, something told me I could not leave Twin Peaks holding a grudge. I had to go back, I had to re-experience the series final moments, I had to know what I was missing because, surely, the fault in this was mine.

And it was. Maybe. After going back, things I hadn't seen before came clear, or at least less nonsensical—subtle and even not-so-subtle links to important events, places, and characters we had experienced before. The sex scene between Cooper and Diane, rather than grotesque and tedious became disturbing and actually tragic. The long, damn near real-time time drive Cooper and Laura (or Carrie) make to the town of Twin Peaks, rather than interminable became tense and nerve-wracking. The last few moments, ending with Sarah Palmer's chilling voice calling for Laura, and that long, piercing, hopeless scream—it floored me with horror. This episode, and indeed, the entire season, was a jigsaw puzzle of an abstract work that had been scattered, with a few pieces still stuck together. The thing that came to mind, at last, was that this season seemed, by god, in so many ways, an 18-hour reinterpretation of Lost Highway, which I consider a masterpiece. A reinterpretation that took on an entirely new life and went in entirely new directions.

A splintering of characters into other characters. Loops in time and space. Jumps between physical dimensions. A trap or perhaps an arena set up by powers that exist in the realm of dreams, yet capable of exerting their influence on our reality, or some version of our reality. As with so many of Lynch's properties, theories do abound, and I have formulated a few, though nothing conclusively, if such is even possible—or desirable. Those will yet come with time.

No, I can't say that so many later revelations necessarily made Twin Peaks: The Return less frustrating or even less maddening. But I can say my love affair with Twin Peaks and David Lynch continues, enhanced and emboldened. Best of all, all these impressions, re-evaluations, and re-examinations actively affect how I approach the creative process for my own writing. That's something that always needs a good shaking up.

Here are links to a handful of sites that offer some insightful commentaries, particularly on the finale of Twin Peaks: The Return.

Monday, September 4, 2017

Light the Night


On Saturday, October 7, I'll be participating in the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society's "Light the Night" event as part of "Team Lori," which consists of several of my co-workers at The Mailbox. Our effort is dedicated to our friend and former co-worker Lori Henry, who has had a long, difficult struggle with blood cancer.

The Lymphoma & Leukemia Society does important research and has been instrumental in devising new, highly effective treatments for blood cancers. Please consider making a donation to this worthy effort. Visit my "Light the Night" page here.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Writers' Round at The Daily Grind


September is going to be a busy month, the weekend of 9/22–9/23 busiest of all, with two events in Martinsville, VA. On Friday 9/22, I'll be performing a bunch of original songs at the Writers' Round at The Daily Grind in Uptown Martinsville, and on Saturday 9/23, I'll be on hand at the Young Blood Five-Year Anniversary Event at the Hollywood Cinema.

Having made a racket at several of the regular Songwriter Showcase events at The Daily Grind, I'll be back to share the stage with songwriter Tokyo Rosenthal for a two-man show, which runs from 8:00 PM to 10:00 PM. You may look forward with mounting dread to a dozen or so of my original compositions, many of which —shockingly enough—gravitate toward the spooky side of life (and death). Admission is a mere $5, and along with a variety of sandwiches, wraps, salads, and specialty coffees, The Daily Grind offers an excellent selection of wines and craft beers.

Your opportunity to chuck things at the old man is here. Let's fill the place up, people!

I want all your garmonbozia....
  • What: Writers Round Featuring Stephen Mark Rainey and Tokyo Rosenthal
  • When: Friday, September 22, 2017, 8:00 PM
  • Where: The Daily Grind, 303 E Church St, Martinsville, VA 24112
  • Admission: $5.00


Saturday, September 2, 2017

On the Fear of the Other


Any literate soul who has read a word of my fiction, or at least taken note of the venues in which more than a small percentage of my work appears, would surely recognize the fact that H. P. Lovecraft's Mythos has been pivotal in whatever success I have achieved as a writer.

Unlike many of my contemporaries, who discovered Lovecraft in their adolescent years, I was well on my way toward graduating college before I read my first HPL story. His name, of course, had been on my radar for many years, and as as kid I had seen AIP's The Dunwich Horror (1970), but it wasn't until a friend gifted me with a slew of those old Ballantine paperback collections—in late 1981—that I read any of his work, and that turned into a binge reading, undertaken over a couple of weeks' time. To say I was captivated is a gross understatement. But as much as HPL's work grabbed me, it was as much the myriad authors whose work appeared in those Cthulhu Mythos volumes—not to mention others I discovered later—that made this particular dark universe all the more irresistible to me.

Over the years, to the best of my knowledge, I've read every word of Lovecraft's fiction that's been published (most of it many times over), his essays, and some number of his letters. For me, his work's most powerful allure was his intimation of a soul-deep dread of the unknown, a fear of the other, that which was not like him—or like us, the "us" being the more-or-less given readership of the day. It was this fear of alienness that struck a nerve with me because, looking back to my childhood days, my first reaction to things I didn't understand oftentimes was fear. To be clear, for me, this "other" tended to exclude human beings, for in my book, people were people, ultimately as mortal and as frail as I, and therefore, however horrible they might be, limited in their potential to instill true terror. It was more the nonhuman life form that filled me with fear—the merciless, unreasoning, primeval predator, such as the shark, the spider, or the snake (or to take it further into the realm of the imaginative, a dinosaur or a Sasquatch or a space alien). Or on an elemental level, a violent thunderstorm, a tornado, an earthquake... whatever unstoppable force of nature one might imagine. It was these things that Lovecraft's work brought to mind, personified by the Great Old Ones, kith and kin. They were things so removed from our sense of rationality, or morality, that one could never hope to communicate meaningfully or reason with them.

Amid these excesses of otherworldly terror, I recall being vaguely struck by the misanthropic, xenophobic tone of stories such as "The Horror at Red Hook" and "The Shadow Over Innsmouth." In these and other cases, Lovecraft showed his fear of the "human other" by depicting debased, brutish, often beast-like characters, usually as objects of contrast with his typically erudite, intellectual, gentlemanly, Caucasian protagonists.

That these depictions were overtly racist didn't slap me across the face early on, for it wasn't until relatively recent years that racist stereotypes in the media weren't prevalent. I grew up on cartoons and juvenile live-action programs aimed specifically at white children, with caricatures of blacks, Asians, and others oftentimes being the objects of ostensibly benign japing (and sometimes, clearly less benign). I had relatives from way back who were known to refer to black people as "niggers," supposedly without specific vile intent—this, at least, by way of their explanations to me when I got older. By all indications, to them, the word was simply an epithet they would have seen as scarcely different from the more acceptable "African American" label of today. To those simple, very Christian, very decent white folks, it was their way of describing "the other."

"The other" meaning those that weren't white. It didn't dawn on me until later years that, to them, white meant normal.

Now, my relatives treated every human soul—black, white, yellow, red, or otherwise—with equal courtesy and care. However subtly toxic their deeper views might have been, it never showed in their actions and interactions with others. I can't help but believe, had they ever turned their minds and hands to the written word, they would drawn a line at writing anything quite so darkly revealing as Lovecraft's.

My later readings of HPL's fiction, its context enhanced by exposure to his letters and increased discourse on the subject of his racism among his fans and detractors, made it abundantly clear how much his fiction was shaped by his deep xenophobia. Was he a product of his times? Of course he was; it's probably safe to say he could have passed for a product of any decade in the early to mid 20th century; his ideas simply fell under a brighter spotlight because of his writing and its widespread influence on horror literature in subsequent decades. His words—his attitudes—might have been as much the norm for a larger segment of white Americans than I like to think about up through even more recent years.

I have lived in the north. I grew up and currently live in the south. The place hardly matters. I still see attitudes no less toxic than Lovecraft's in too many of my neighbors. Unfortunately, while I consider myself anything but xenophobic, I find it easy to lapse into a misanthropic mindset, simply due to so much exposure to ignorance and bigotry that, while generally less obvious than in my early years, still lingers in insidious ways, in anything but inconsiderable quantity. Truly, it facilitates a two-fold reaction: the aforementioned misanthropic response, in which I sometimes feel the great human extinction event can't come too soon; the other being one of pity for the blindness of our species overall. We are all, in our own ways, to varying degrees, blind to the human condition, no matter how enlightened we like to consider ourselves. Like Lovecraft, I often see human beings in the bigger picture as oftentimes ugly, essentially insignificant creatures muddling through the cosmos.

Not always, of course. The flip side of that negativity is a deep marveling at how spectacular the human race can be, borne out by evidence as compelling as the negative's, day after day after day. These conflicting emotions actually breed some semblance of empathy for others—a deep relating to every positive and negative emotion or inclination of those around me because I feel I am sufficiently self-aware to recognize my own damned awful side as well as whatever goodness I possess.

So where does that put my feelings about Lovecraft, the man? For him, a man long gone, whom I never knew personally, I cannot feel loathing, or condemnation, or really... anything. If I were to describe any feeling, it would have to be one of pity, I think. Pity that he suffered such fears and prejudices, and that he willfully nurtured that blindness when many of his time were long past such unhealthy myopia. Would I be so charitable to a living individual, of less import to my development as an author? Possibly not. But I try to avoid casting too many stones, for there are so many glass houses in our neighborhoods.

I don't much blame people who are so repulsed by HPL's racist attitudes that they are disinclined to read or in any way support his work. For many, that's simply a natural response. I find myself still enamored of the genuine fear, whatever its basis, that drips from Lovecraft's most powerful stories. What has changed for me in more recent years is my critical view of his various works. His great fiction seems all the greater (though less in proportion to his overall body of work than I might once have believed) and his lesser stories little more than insignificant filler.

Whatever my evaluation of Lovecraft and his work, however it might evolve with time and exposure to other works of literature, as a writer, I owe a debt to the fear that Lovecraft's fiction conveyed to me back when I needed that jolt as a writer.

To paraphrase Longfellow...

"When he was good,
He was very, very good;
But when he was bad, he was horrid."

Friday, September 1, 2017

Young Blood Five-Year Anniversary Event



What: Five-Year Anniversary Celebration of Young Blood: Evil Intentions
 

When: Saturday, September 23, 2017, 7:00 PM

Where: Hollywood Cinema, 606 Commonwealth Blvd, Martinsville, VA (across from Walmart)

Who Will Be There: Moviemakers Mat & Myron Smith; yours truly, Stephen Mark Rainey, author of the Young Blood novel; numerous members of the cast.

Autographed copies of the Young Blood novel, DVDs, shirts, posters, and other memorabilia will be available for purchase at the theater. In addition, there will be a Young Blood Exhibit, door prizes, & raffle. Beer and wine is available at the concession stand, along with the usual popcorn, Pepsi products, assorted candies, and other snacks.

Doors open at 6:00 PM for a meet and greet. Tickets are $7—Call (276) 224-8707 to reserve yours. Order now, as seating is limited!

Some links of interest:

JOIN US!

Thursday, August 31, 2017

That Which Is Not Dead... Part 4

READ PART 3 HERE.
Awards and Such
In 1990, the Small Press Writers and Artists Organization (SPWAO) awarded the Best Magazine Award to Deathrealm. In the early 90s, the organization changed its name to Small Press Genre Assocation (SPGA) to be more inclusive of other media, and in 1994, Deathrealm again won their Best Magazine Award. The following year, the newly formed International Horror Guild awarded Best Publication of 1995 to Deathrealm at the World Horror Convention in Eugene, Oregon.

Stan Tal, during his tenure as Deathrealm's publisher, came up with the idea that we should sponsor a prestigious award for various categories in the horror genre. I confess I was a little dubious as to how well this would work, since Deathrealm, as a magazine itself, would of course be ineligible, and impartiality would be paramount. He suggested that the readers themselves should vote on the awards, and this is indeed how we proceeded. In 1995, the first Deathrealm Awards (for calendar year 1994), in the form of quite expensive engraved plaques, were awarded at the World Horror Convention in Atlanta, with a nice presentation ceremony that Tal and I put together. The winners were:
  • Best Anthology: The Year's Best Horror XXII, edited by Karl Edward Wagner
  • Best Artist: Alan Clark
  • Best Collection: Bibliomen, by Gene Wolfe
  • Best Fiction Magazine: Terminal Fright, edited by Kenneth Abner
  • Best Non-Fiction Magazine: The Scream Factory, edited by Peter Enfantino and Robert Morrish
  • Best Novel: Strange Angels, by Kathe Koja
  • Best Short Fiction: "Driftglider," by Jeffrey Osier
When Malicious Press assumed responsibility for Deathrealm, publishers Lawrence Watt-Evans and Terry Rossio agreed that continuing the awards would be good for keeping the magazine's name in the public eye. LWE took responsibility for creating and presenting the awards for 1995 at the 1996 World Horror Con in Eugene, Oregon. The winners were:
  • Best Anthology: Dark Love, Edited by Nancy Collins, Ed Kramer & Martin Greenberg
  • Best Artist: Chad Savage
  • Best Collection: Pentacle, by Tom Piccirilli
  • Best Magazine: Lore, edited by Rod Heather
  • Best Novel: The Safety of Unknown Cities, by Lucy Taylor
  • Best Short Fiction: "Chatting with Anubis," by Harlan Ellison
The Deathrealm Awards existed for only two years, but they did succeed in drawing considerable attention to both the award winners and the magazine itself.

Aftermath
When Deathrealm closed its doors in 1997, I had no illusions about it ever rising again from the dead. While I dearly loved the magazine—and being recognized in the horror community as "Mr. Deathrealm"—the burden of it during that last year or so was crushing. When I wasn't at my day job, I was spending most of the rest of my waking hours playing collection agent, trying to get distributors and book dealers to pay the often substantial amounts they owed. Distributors certainly had some creative accountants, and it may be that dealing with them in 1996 and 1997 is why I lost my hair and developed high blood pressure.

For a full two years after Deathrealm's demise, I continued to receive almost as many submissions by mail as I had during the magazine's heyday. Any number of hopeful writers urged me to hold onto their manuscripts "just in case" Deathrealm might be resurrected yet again. Even three, four, and five years later, though the quantity tapered off, I still regularly received fiction submissions and queries. At one point, I had to convince one aspiring writer that the magazine really was closed, that I wasn't just trying to put him off.
Cover of Deathrealms
(Delirium Books, 2004)

Deathrealms
A year or so prior to Deathrealm's cancellation, a publisher by the name of Tangram expressed an interest in releasing a Best of Deathrealm anthology, and the proprietor and I set about making the project happen. Contracts were signed, writers were notified, payments were promised. In its relatively short lifetime, Tangram had produced some high-quality work, but as time went on, communication became more and more infrequent. Calls were not returned. At last, mail to Tangram began bouncing back to me, and it was clear that this project, as great as it had promised to be, was not going to happen. Tangram, as a publisher, was never heard from again.

The anthology, however, was not as dead as the magazine. In 2004, Shane Staley, owner of the prestigious Delirium Books, agreed to publish a signed, limited-edition hardback titled Deathrealms, a collection of stories from the magazine. It turned out to be a gorgeous book indeed, featuring 15 stories from various issues of the magazine, with striking cover art by Mike Bohatch. While many may have called it a "Best of" volume, my personal feeling, which I conveyed in the editorial, was that the book was not truly a best-of, but more a representative sampling of the stories that I felt defined the magazine's character over the years.

And that, I suppose, brings us back around to the first entry of this little blog series ("That Which Is Not Dead... Part 1"). For some time, I've been wanting to write up something that might pass as the "definitive" history of Deathrealm, since there's not that much about it to be found online these days, twenty whole years after the final issue hit the street. The magazine—the experience—for all its hard work and hard lessons, is one I wouldn't have traded it for anything. I'm confident Deathrealm has earned a respectable place in the annals of fiction magazines, and I hope it will be remembered even when I have shuffled off to the Black Lodge, or wherever it is that old horror writers/editors shuffle off to.

I hope you've enjoyed these musings of mine, which I hope to preserve for posterity—or at least for me later in life. Who knows... there may come a time I won't remember any of this.

Toodles.

A couple of links of interest: 

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

That Which Is Not Dead... Part 3

Deathrealm #23, Spring 1995

READ PART 2 HERE.

After Stan Tal and I decided in 1994 that retiring Deathrealm was for the best, I had few hopes that it might play phoenix from the ashes a second time. But Tal did put the word out that interested publishers ought to inquire, and that's exactly what happened. Well, almost.

The Malicious Press Years
In these golden olden days, the online network GEnie—one of the precursors to what we know today as social media—had brought together writers from every field, with forums and chat rooms that quite a few of us put to substantial use. Through GEnie, I had gotten to know Lawrence Watt-Evans (author of The Lords of Dus series, the Legends of Ethshar series, a couple of Star Trek novels, and a host of other H/F/SF series and novels). Having heard of Deathrealm's apparent demise, Lawrence—or LWE (pronounced "Louie") as he was often known—expressed some interest in stepping in as a possible publisher. At the same time, screenwriter Terry Rossio (The Puppet Masters, Pirates of the Caribbean, Aladdin, Shrek, and many others, including the upcoming Godzilla vs. Kong), who was also a Deathrealm subscriber, contacted me stating a similar interest. With both individuals interested in keeping Deathrealm from its entering final resting place, it was only natural for LWE and Terry to schedule a meeting of the minds, which eventually resulted in a conference call between the three of us. And at the end of it, the deal was done.

Somewhere in the conversation, LWE and Terry figured the partnership would need an official company name, and I jokingly tossed out "It ought to be dark but kind of warm and fuzzy. Something like 'Malicious Press.'" I had never intended that to be serious, but both of them thought it was just the ticket. So, Malicious Press was born. In this arrangement, LWE and Terry were totally silent partners, while I took over not only the editing and production work, but once again the whole sheboygan—sales & marketing, accounting, promotion, you name it.

I tell you, I knew I had my work cut out for me to make this thing succeed. But Deathrealm was once again alive. I immediately set to work putting together a new issue, keeping the best features from the Tal days, such as Karl Edward Wagner's "View From Carcosa" column, but shifting the focus once again to less noisy, more subtle horror fiction. At the time, Karl Wagner held what he believed to be the last unpublished story by the late, celebrated North Carolina author Manly Wade Wellman, a piece titled "The Finger of Halugra," which he had planned to run in an anthology that never came about. He offered it to Deathrealm, and so it became the centerpiece for issue #23. In the spring of 1995, the issue came out with something akin to great fanfare.

Now, prior to the issue's release, I had advertised that it would feature the last known unpublished story by Manly Wade Wellman. Early one morning before heading to work, I was taking my customary shower when my wife hollered to me, "Mark, Harlan Ellison is on the phone for you."

"No. No, he isn't," I said.

"Yes, he is."

Yes, he was. Imagine my surprise when he told me that he, too, had an unpublished story by Manly Wade Wellman for The Last Dangerous Visions, and he wanted to find out which story I had in my possession. When I informed him that it was "The Finger of Halugra," his relief was palpable, for that could have been a complicated situation indeed. And all was happily resolved (although, to date, The Last Dangerous Visions, featuring Manly Wade Wellman's "Not All a Dream," has yet to see daylight).

Sadly, in October 1994, Karl Edward Wagner passed away, so Deathrealm #23 featured not only his "gift" of the Wellman tale but the last of his most wonderful "View From Carcosa" columns.

During Malicious Press's ownership, Deathrealm featured fiction, poetry, interviews, and columns by Clive Barker, Poppy Z. Brite, Ramsey Campbell, Douglas Clegg, Don D'Ammassa, Stephen Jones, Elizabeth Massie, Brian McNaughton, Thomas F. Monteleone, Billie Sue Mosiman, William F. Nolan, Tom Piccirilli, Wayne Allen Sallee, Jessica Amanda Salmonson, David Niall Wilson, and many more. Artists such as Michael Apice, Harry Fassl, Lew Hartman, Keith Minnion, Phillip Reynolds, Chad Savage, and many others provided covers and gorgeous interior art. By almost any standard, Deathrealm, now more than ever, was at the top of its game.

Deathrealm #27, Spring 1996
Banned in Canada!
Banned!
In the spring of 1996, issue #27 featured a cover by writer/artist Ian McDowell (also of Greensboro) that was nothing more than one of his cute baby pictures, altered to be perhaps a little less cute.

I loved it. It was creepy yet whimsical. Apparently, however, Canadian customs failed to appreciate the whimsy, for I received word from distributor Gordon & Gotch that the shipment of Deathrealm #27 had been stopped at the border and would not be allowed to enter the country. Now, truly, I love Canada and its people, but I did feel that in this case they might have erred by expecting too much non-horror on the cover of a horror magazine. As it was, some thousand copies of issue #27 ended up in a Canadian recycling bin, as the expense of having them shipped back here, with no place to put them, would have been prohibitive.
Deathrealm #28, Summer 1996

However, with issue #28, Ian and I had some measure of revenge. He also provided the cover of this issue: another Photoshopped image, but one at least in some measure less disturbing than that cute lil baby picture. This one, happily, presented no problem for Canadian customs. But most gratifyingly, after word got out about the issue being banned, distributor and subscription orders from Canada damn near tripled. Not only that, on the interior back issue page, I ran a large reproduction of #27's cover, so that Canadian readers actually could see what they had been missing a few months earlier.

The Final Days
Needless to say, managing the beast that Deathrealm had become was a full-time job, squeezed into part-time hours. Regardless, issues usually came out right on schedule, with a couple of minor delays along the line. However, we were having to work against increasingly prohibitive economic factors. Having fallen on hard times themselves, newsstand and comic distributors were cutting rather than increasing orders. More than one demanded that all distribution go through them, essentially forcing us to put all our eggs in one basket. Subscriptions fell somewhat. Printing prices increased substantially. And then, the coup de grace: Fine Print Distributors, which distributed to Barnes & Noble, our biggest retail outlet, went bankrupt, owing Malicious Press something to the tune of $12,000. This was an amount we couldn't just bounce back from, not to mention putting a huge dent in our circulation.

This time, it looked like Deathrealm was doomed. If this had happened five years into its run, I might have decided to regroup and rebuild as best as possible, but after a full decade of it, I was tired. I couldn't essentially start the magazine from the ground up all over again and even think about working on my own writing, which was doing pretty well for me at the time.
Deathrealm #31, Summer 1997
The Grand Finale

Once again, the partnership decided it was in everyone's best interest to publish all the material we had purchased and close the doors once and for all.

And that was that. The final issue of Deathrealm, #31, came out in Summer, 1997, just over a decade since the first issue had seen the light of day. It featured a gorgeous cover by renowned artist Richard Corben, with fiction by Jeffrey Osier, who had almost single-handedly put Deathrealm on the map with his story "Encyclopedia for Boys" in the first issue; Eric Brown; David Niall Wilson; Wayne Allen Sallee; Tim Emsweiler; and several others.

Ten years; 31 issues; hundreds of writers and artists, many of whom had work from Deathrealm go on to appear in numerous Year's Best anthologies; awards and accolades. An endeavor that, now 20 years later, I could hardly be more proud of.

I think there will be one more entry following this one—the aftermath, perhaps some supplemental info, and final thoughts. Bear with me one more time.

For now, good night.

MORE TO FOLLOW LATER....