Saturday, February 4, 2023

Wicked Sick: Maladies to Anticipate


A while back, I wrote the introduction to a new anthology featuring work by members of the New England Horror Writers group, and it's now been officially announced. It's something to look forward to — and I'm especially honored to have written the intro since I'm a Southerner, and those other folks are not.

From Editor Kristi Petersen Schoonover:

"I'm over the moon to announce the cover and Table of Contents for the anthology I've been editing with Scott Goudsward, Wicked Sick! How awesome is this cover art by Mikio Murakami?

"If any of you is a fan, this collection will definitely be up your alley, but there's something for every taste — a little terrifying, a little noir, a little lit, a little poetry, a little Poe-esque, a little Lovecraftian... all dark and intense. And Stephen Mark Rainey, an amazing writer whose story "Night Crier" appeared in 34 Orchard's inaugural issue, wrote us a stunning foreword.

"You won't want to miss this. I'll keep you posted!"

TABLE OF CONTENTS:
  • "They Come at Night – Greg Bastianelli
  • "The Cancer Ward at Midnight" – L.L. Soares
  • "Will’s Theory of Free-Floating Fat" – Peter N. Dudar
  • "Worry Wart" – Kurt Newton
  • "Toad in the Hole" – Gevera Bert Piedmont
  • "Moonsickness" – Jenna Moquin
  • "7 Irish Wake" – Mike Deady
  • "Happy Valley" – Harold Odentz
  • "Exorcising Attention Deficit Hyperactive Demons Requires an Order of Operations" – Trisha J. Wooldridge
  • "Author’s Note" – Rob Smales
  • "Body Work" – Nancy Brewka-Clark
  • "House of Tupper" – Meg Smith
  • "Eternal Prison" – Timothy P. Flynn
  • "Ghost Trains" – Tom Deady
  • "The Tall People" – Catherine Grant
  • "The Cancer Eaters" – K.H. Vaughan

Friday, February 3, 2023

The One-Man Chainsaw Brigade, Part Deux


A couple of weeks back, on my regular Pleasant Hill visit ("The One-Man Chainsaw Brigade," 2023-01-27), the backyard was invaded by a couple of grande-size trees, which had the temerity to fall down and go boom (thank you, endless weeks of rain).

So, last weekend, I set to work with newly purchased chainsaw, hoping it would have the blade length and horsepower to show the interlopers who's boss. I cut a fair bit down to size, but for a lone old fart, it's been a pretty damned big job. Now, this morning, I excised another few dozen cylindrical feet of interloper, and for the most part, ye olde 18" Craftsman chainsaw performed well — although getting through the last dozen feet or so of the tree, where it's at its thickest, appears to be problematic, as the saw up and said "nope" once I got down there near the rootball.

The image below shows the latest, possibly final progress (the "before" image may be found at the previous blog entry, linked above). I didn't take a separate photo of the wood pile that left behind by the beast, although you can see a portion of it in the "after" image. That's far less than the whole picture, as there's a separate, smaller woodpile behind the visible one. Initially, I intended to lug the logs a bit farther back in the woods, but once I determined that their actual mass far exceeded their relatively innocuous appearance, I said fuck that noise and started piling them at the nearest possible coordinates beyond the Land Where the Grass Grows. (Yes, I know it's covered in leaves right now, but Summer Is Coming.)
Now, with all that stuff done — as much as will be done, anyway, at least for now — I must ask the rhetorical question: how can so much naughty fit into such a wee little package? (I'll mention that, prior to the snapping of the photos below, yon critter traipsed across the shelves to next to the bureau you see here, prompting every item on said shelves to vacate their traditional stomping grounds and fling themselves to the floor with devastating consequences). It's gotta be rough being a cat.

Thanks, Cannoli.

Sunday, January 29, 2023

Kolchak: The Night Stalker 50th Anniversary Graphic Anthology


My contributor copy of Kolchak: The Night Stalker 50th Anniversary Graphic Anthology from Moonstone Books is in the house. This one features my original Kolchak tale, “Up From the Underground.” This really is one helluva beautiful volume!

Edited by James Aquilone, with tales by David Avallone, Jonathan Maberry, Peter David, R.C. Matheson, Kim Newman, Tim Waggoner, Steve Niles, Rodney Barnes, Gabriel Hardman, James Aquilone, Nancy A. Collins, James Chambers, Nancy Holder & Alan Philipson, David Boop, Bobby Nash, Will McDermott, John Jennings, Owl Goingback, Leverett Butts, Lisa Morton; art by Zac Atkinson, Julius Ohta, Marco Finnegan, J.K. Woodward, Paul McCaffrey, Clara Meath, Szymon Kudranski, Jonathan Marks Barravecchia, Colton Worley, and more.

Kolchak: The Night Stalker TV series (or, as it was originally known, simply The Night Stalker) — as well as the two original TV movies, The Night Stalker and The Night Strangler, back in the early 1970s, were among those TV productions that made a powerful and lasting impression on me, and so contributing to this volume felt right, to put it mildly. The book has made it onto the preliminary ballot for the Horror Writers Association’s Bram Stoker Awards for Superior Achievement in a Graphic Novel, and it would be awesome to see it go all the way to the top. If you have ever been a fan of Carl Kolchak’s exploits, this is the volume for you.



Saturday, January 28, 2023

It’s the Work... and Then Some


I decided to drag this post from Facebook over to my blog, mainly for posterity’s sake. It is surely vaguebooking to those who don’t know the origin, but pretty clear to those who do.
 
I kept saying I wasn’t gonna wade in... but I’m wading in.
 
It is about the work. No one has said it wasn’t. But is the bulk of the work you see and know representative of a picture that’s bigger than you might have realized, or is it an insular subset?
 
I’ll be very honest: particularly in my editorial capacity, I have historically said that it is all about the work, and once I put out the call, the onus is on the creator who wants me to see their work to get it to me. And sell it to me. It still is.
 
But because I also make it a point to listen when people whose experiences in our chosen field, whose personal and cultural backgrounds might be radically different from mine (and even from the stable of creators and readers that so many of us know so well), speak up and question whether my/our experiences and perspectives could stand some expanding, well, yeah, it might rub me wrong at first, but if that questioning doesn’t give me food for thought — or reason to explore beyond my well-honed worldview — then perhaps that’s my failing.
 
As writers, editors — hell, creators of all sorts — aren’t we among the most passionate, most vocal proponents of education?
 
Do we somehow feel we’re beyond being “educated” ourselves?
 
We all have our prejudices; I certainly own a set. But as far as this business goes, a thought or two (and I’m grabbing this bit from my response on a related Facebook thread):
 
You know, I’m 63 years old, I’m a straight white male, and I’ve been in this business a long time. I have many "old" relationships in the field. But I still consider myself a novice. I am learning — with writing, with editing — with relating to people — and although I can’t begin to read as much as I’d like to, thanks to my aging eyes giving me problems, I strive very hard to stay informed, to welcome and honor different viewpoints, and to do anything but remain stagnant. Everything I write is a practice swing in the game of getting better.
 
Editing-wise, certain lovely things are happening... and while the project I’m heading up honors its old-time roots, above all, it’s for playing the long game. To stay not just relevant but maybe even motivational in this business.
 
I simply feel this is the decent way to be. And that said, despite being a pretty well-educated old fart, maybe I don’t yet know enough about THE WORK to make as informed an evaluation as I thought I did.

Friday, January 27, 2023

The One-Man Chainsaw Brigade

I posted last week that the prodigious rainfall of the past month or so (with yet more in the forecast) did the root systems of the local flora no favors. At Pleasant Hill, a.k.a. The Old Homestead, in Martinsville, after more inches of rain in a few days than we should see in months, the roots of a couple of trees on the hillside behind the house gave up the ghost. Fortunately, the house escaped unscathed (although the Greensboro homestead is still awash in mud). Possibly unfortunately, there are still a lot of trees within falling range. Make no mistake, I love my woods, I like trees, and a totally cleared lot and neighborhood is the bane of my existence.

But I so dislike trees what cost me insane amounts of money.
 
Anyway, this business left me with the question: pay the professionals to do an expensive job or spring for a chainsaw and show the deadwood who’s boss? Well, I can’t say I haven’t lamented not having a chainsaw for the occasional jobs that have begged for one, so... I sprung for a chainsaw.

Picture left, taken on the day of the falling flora. Picture right, after a couple of hours work this morning. I will tell you, that is one heavy motherfuckin tree right there. For a one-man job, it was pretty rigorous, so I'll be back at it again tomorrow — and for the final clean-up, probably next week as well. Did I mention I has a tired?

Well, I do.
Just getting going
Definite improvement. Will hope to finish on my next visit.

Thursday, January 26, 2023

A Graveside Chat With David Niall Wilson

USA TODAY–bestselling author David Niall Wilson has been writing and publishing horror, dark fantasy, and science fiction since the mid-1980s. He has written over a dozen standalone novels as well as numerous novels for his own DeChance Chronicles and Cletus J. Diggs series, plus tie-in novels for Star Trek: Voyager, Stargate Atlantis, World of Wraith, and others, plus ten short story collections (not to mention about 150 stories in various magazines and anthologies). An ordained minister, former editor of The Tome magazine, former President of the Horror Writers Association, and recipient of multiple HWA Bram Stoker Awards, Dave is CEO and founder of Crossroad Press, which occasionally keeps him a little busy. His collection, The Devil’s in the Flaws & Other Dark Truths, is scheduled for release in January 2023.

Thanks for taking time out for A Graveside Chat, Dave.



AGC: You’ve been a prominent figure in the speculative fiction field for four decades, there or about, and you’ve not only kept up with its evolution but influenced it, particularly with Crossroad Press. What are some of the biggest changes — and challenges — you’ve experienced in this business over these decades, be it from the perspective of author, editor, and/or publisher?

DNW: The Internet has changed the world, and writing is no exception. Ebooks and simpler avenues for self-publishing have opened a lot of doors, which, in one sense, is good. The world of publishing, when I started, had clear boundaries. Success was a sale to NYC, and you could get there through the other side of the boundary, the small press. But slots were very limited. Agents and editors were like gatekeepers and thousands of books, good, bad, wonderful, and awful were simply never in a position to have a legitimate chance. That has all changed.

That’s the upside. The downside is those thousands of books are all out there now. Some are good, some are awful, many are edited poorly but packaged with professional covers. More are awful than good, and as this becomes clear to consumers, it becomes more difficult to sell an independently published book. It’s also a totally one-sided marketing war — NYC with millions of dollars, and the rest of us with, well, Bookbub, who now take too many titles, still charge a fortune, and have become hit-and-miss. More than ever before, the key to writing success has become a mix of talent and visibility, the second being the hardest thing to achieve. I think the floor has leveled over the years, but you have to be very active, you have to remain relevant to the world, read what is selling now and not what sold twenty years ago. It’s a very volatile industry.

AGC: You’re widely read, not just in speculative fiction, but in all varieties of literature. Who do you consider some of your primary influences as a writer? What most inspires you as a storyteller?

DNW: Sometimes questions like this flummox me. I am probably influenced by thousands of books and writers, but I can trim it down and offer reasons. I love the work of Edgar Allan Poe, his themes, and his sense of dread. Modern writers I have learned pacing and formula from Stephen King, writing on different levels from Peter Straub, Kathe Koja, and Poppy Z. Brite showed me how inconsequential limits are…

More recently I’ve learned things that limit my writing by reaching beyond my normal reading… authors like Hailey Piper, Eric LaRocca, and Gemma Amor have shown me different perspectives. Stephen Graham Jones, a recent obsession, has a voice he can hit where it’s him telling the story, and it’s mesmerizing. Grady Hendrix, Paul Tremblay, I steal bits and pieces. And books like The Things They Carried, where you pick up on how objects and settings can anchor your writing. It’s an endless stream. Lately, I’ve found rabbit holes while writing letters to my daughter in college, adding trivia to each one, which have given me things I know I will use. Maybe I influence myself? I hope I never cease finding new inspiration.


AGC: You’ve collaborated with other authors on numerous works — many of which appear in the volume, Intermusings: A Cabal of Dark Fiction, which features a broad sampling of your collaborative stories. Do you particularly enjoy collaborating with other authors? Is there anyone with whom you’d especially like to collaborate that you haven’t yet? Do you have more upcoming collaborative work scheduled?

DNW: Currently I’m not collaborating on anything. I think my last major collaboration was with my wife, Trish, when we wrote Remember Bowling Green (all proceeds to the ACLU). I have had a lot of interesting collaboration experiences. I’ve written the most with Brian A. Hopkins, Brett A. Savory and Trish, but, as you know, that book is FULL of collaborations. I find that when it works, when the editing goes back and forth a few times, a new voice arises. It’s not what either author would have done, but it builds on the strengths of both.


AGC: You are an insanely prolific author, even with Crossroad Press (and a full-time day job) occupying what is presumably more than a negligible amount of your time. (Do you ever sleep???) What do you have on your upcoming agenda(s) as a writer, editor, and/or publisher that you can talk about here?

DNW: It’s funny you say that. Up until last spring, I was becoming less and less prolific. I’ve started publishing stories again, have a lot of things in the works, a novella upcoming, and other things in anthologies, but only recently. Before that I have done nothing but poke at it since around the time the Orange Anguish became president. I’m pulling it all back together and feel as if I’ve written a lot of things lately, new things I’m proud of, pushing some boundaries. I have at least two stories in anthologies this year. I have an NFT-only book of stories involving Potatoes coming out through Book.iO (It would take an entire separate interview to cover all of that). I have at least two novels in serious progress, a novella, and some stories that are for markets who have solicited me. It’s a sort of rebirth. I’ve been asleep creatively for a very long time.

This year, finally, my anthology The Canterbury Nightmares will be published, and I had a lot of fun with that, but the general miasma of the last few years has prevented it from happening as quickly as it should. You keep moving or you grow moss and mold, so I’ll be writing a lot. My collection, The Devil’s in the Flaws & Other Dark Truths, just released and seems to be doing pretty well.


AGC: You have written a lot of series projects as well as standalones. Which do you prefer, and why? What can we expect to see in the future?

DNW: I’ve noticed over time that almost everything I’ve written ties together. I mention a place, or an event, and suddenly there is a link between Deep Blue and Donovan DeChance. I write in a set number of fictional locations, which probably facilitated this. I’ve created a sub-page on my website called “The Worlds of David Niall Wilson,” where I’m relaunching all of the books, one at a time, as NFT collectible editions (and eventually readers editions) through a company called Book.IO.

The first to come out was Heart of a Dragon, so the DeChance Chronicles will come out first. Readers of my work will know this ties in with the Cletus J. Diggs stories, the works I’ve done with Poe as a character, and the novels of the O.C.L.T. – but the standalone novels like Deep Blue, Ancient Eyes, and Darkness Falling intersect again and again.

I see myself taking twin paths going forward. I intend to continue the series books because I love the characters, but I am also working on new stories, a novella, and at least two novels that don’t directly connect — at least not yet. Still hoping for that one break-out, as are we all.



Sunday, January 22, 2023

When It Rains...

Old Rodan at the Old Leaksville Cotton Mill Dam in Eden, NC

Well, you know the old adage. An interesting weekend, to say the least. I had intended to make my customary weekly trip to Pleasant Hill in Martinsville on Friday, but friends Joe & Suzy invited us to dinner, so I decided to push Martinsville back a day. It was definitely worthwhile — Suzy made pasta é fagioli, which we found incredible. There were Campari spritzes, Negronis, Ouzo, and plenty of vino (not all at once, or anything, haha). In remembrance of David Crosby, we rocked out to lots of Crosby, Stills, Nash, & (sometimes) Young. A lovely evening with good friends.

Saturday, I hit the road early to hunt a passel of new geocaches in Eden, which is right on my way to Martinsville. I got in a good bit of hiking — about three miles — and found all the caches. A very satisfying start to the day. However, Allison had forewarned me there was a plumbing issue at Pleasant Hill: the kitchen sink was totally stopped up. I gave it a couple of treatments with Drano, to no avail. So, being that plumbing work and I are not good friends, I feared a call to our regular plumbers in Martinsville was inevitable.

As it was, I had made plans for a late lunch with old friends Bob & Yvonne at Forest Park Country Club, so I decided that I’d call the plumbers when we were done. Allison and I met them at the grille and enjoyed an excellent lunch. Back in my old golfing/swimming days in Martinsville, I spent uncountable hours at Forest Park, so it was mighty pleasant to visit again. During our conversation, I mentioned our little plumbing issue, whereupon Bob indicated that he was skilled in the plumbing trade, thanks to his father. So, being true heroes of the day, Bob & Yvonne took it upon themselves to set our problem to right, which they did. They also invited us to spend the evening at their place for drinks and light hors d’oeuvres.

Those aren’t saplings that toppled
into the yard.

However, going back to the title of this blog entry, after lunch, upon our arrival at Pleasant Hill, I discovered that all our recent rain had taken a toll on a couple of trees on the wooded hillside behind the house. Boom! Two huge trees had just fallen into the yard, one fully uprooted. Thankfully, they missed the house, but there are now two big trees lying more or less horizontally in the yard, as opposed to standing vertically in the woods where they belong. I have been planning to buy a chainsaw, as in relatively recent days, there have been several situations where one would have come in handy. Well, now’s the time because I’d rather just get the chainsaw and cut those fuckers down to size than pay someone else an arm and a leg to do the job. It’ll take considerable work, but I would say both Allison and I can use the exercise. Again, we were truly fortunate that the trees did not hit the house. That could have been very, very bad news.

Anyway, for the evening, Allison and I enjoyed refreshments of many varieties at Casa di Bob & Yvonne — and, once again, lots of Crosby, Stills, Nash, & (sometimes) Young filled the evening. Plenty of other great tunes as well. Much like our old next-door neighbors Paul & Jamie, Bob & Yvonne are masters of the magically refilling drink glass. One could not look away for a minute or so to find that, upon turning around, one’s glass was again completely full. And Yvonne’s guacamole is probably the best I’ve ever tasted anywhere. That’s not hyperbole.

So, another lovely evening with friends. At least our plumbing problem was solved, and without having to engage expensive plumbers. So many many thanks to Bob & Yvonne. I hope I can return the favor in some fashion.

I did have considerable difficulty getting out of bed this morning, courtesy of Allison’s little terror, Cannoli. He had me pinned for a good hour or more after I woke up. Then, during a spell of zoomies, he knocked off a whole shelf full of items in the den. And then had the audacity to gaze sweetly at me so I wouldn’t fuss at him.

I reckon the next order of business is getting that chainsaw. What a job I’ll have coming up soon...

A view of the bar in Bob & Yvonne’s basement. A thing of beauty, I would say.
 A lovely spread
Why getting out of bed at Pleasant Hill is problematic

Saturday, January 21, 2023

Tales From Arkham Sanitarium


At last! Dark Regions Press has released the hardback edition of Tales From Arkham Sanitarium, which features my story, “Clicks,” a tale of Lovecraftian madness and horror.

“There are things man was not meant to know and knowledge that burns those that learn it. Knowing too much, getting a glimpse of the truth behind the curtain we call reality, casting aside the bliss of ignorance and succumbing to the insanity that follows in the pursuit of damnable truths, is at the core of many of the stories of the Cthulhu Mythos. Insanity is central to Lovecraftian horror, so there is no wonder that a cathedral devoted to mending broken minds was raised: Arkham Sanitarium. Where the screams and cries of the damned are commonplace. Where those that have seen the faces of cosmic entities gibber with regret over their curiosity. Where men and women are cosigned to never ending purgatory for knowing too much. The machinations of the Old Ones are beyond the mental capacity of mankind, and these are the tales of those who learned that too late.”

Table of Contents
 ● “The Crying Man” by Tim Waggoner
 ● “Cosmic Microwave Background Radiation” by William Meikle
 ● “Malformed Articulation” by W. H. Pugmire
 ● “Bit by Bit” by Don Webb
 ● “Let me Talk to Sarah” by Christine Morgan
 ● “The Hunger” by Peter Rawlik
 ● “The Colors Of A Rainbow To One Born Blind” by Edward M. Erdelac
 ● “The River and the Room” by Joseph S. Pulver, Sr.
 ● “Veteran of the Future Wars” by Orrin Grey
 ● “Folie et déraison” by Nick Mamatas
 ● “Red Hook” by Glynn Owen Barrass
 ● “Clicks” by Stephen Mark Rainey
 ● “...& My Shoes Keep Walking Back To You” by Edward Morris
 ● “Forbidden Fruit” by Cody Goodfellow
 ● “Stained Glass” by Jeffrey Thomas



Friday, January 20, 2023

The Legend of Sam Lion

This remnant of one of the Hairston family’s old farming roads still lurks in the woods near my house.
I have posted links to this story before, but an editing project I’m currently working on brought it back to my mind. In Martinsville, VA, where I grew up, there’s a long, winding road in my neighborhood called Sam Lions Trail. As a youngster, I had no clue — or much curiosity — about the name’s origin. However, a local legend (with a couple of different permutations) explains the road name’s history. The most commonly told story goes as follows (condensed by yours truly from articles in The Martinsville Bulletin):

“The story of Sam Lion is a 175-year-old narrative of brutality and deadly revenge between a slave and his overseer. While several minor variations of the tale exist, the principal character has been immortalized in Martinsville by having a road — Sam Lions Trail — named after him.

“Sam Lions Trail is in the Forest Park neighborhood, an area of about 750 homes in the southeast part of the city. In the mid-1800s, this 1,050-acre tract belonged to the Hairstons, a prodigious family of farmers and slave owners who were headquartered at the Beaver Creek Plantation (now off Virginia Highway 108).

“The story goes that Sam Lion, the son of an African chieftain, was brought to this country, along with about 150 other slaves, and bought by one of the Hairstons. As the slaves started to walk from the auction stand, the hot, tired Prince slipped and almost fell. “Watch it there, Sam!” came the harsh voice of a red-headed overseer named Red Tupper. From then on, the Prince was known as Sam. Legend has it that the slave acquired his last name because he acted nobly and with the courage of a Lion.

“The Hairstons had divided their land into sections, and they sent Sam Lion and other slaves to clear one of the biggest tracts. Instead of climbing the long, high hills to get to work, Sam Lion cleared a path around them.

“Red Tupper was a cruel overseer, notorious for beating his slaves for little or no reason. One day he beat Sam Lion. Lion, knowing little English, responded, ”If you beat again, I kill.” Tupper merely laughed. But the next day, Sam Lion stopped to pick up a chain he had dropped, and Tupper hit him with a whip. Lion straightened up and roared, “Didn’t believe?” The slave then picked up his axe, swung it, and killed his overseer. Lion fled into the nearby woods, and for the next three years, he lived off the land, sheltering in caves and watching for signs of anyone searching for him.

“Eventually, some of the locals happened upon Sam Lion while he was sleeping in a cave. He was taken to jail, found guilty of murder, and hanged in the public square.”

Over the years, some have claimed to have seen the ghostly figure of Sam Lion roaming the woods in Martinsville’s Forest Park neighborhood. Me, I’ve never witnessed any such apparition... dammit... but as one who loves history (particularly local history), I find it both sobering and intriguing that the woods, creeks, and trails where I played as a kid — and still frequently haunt — provide the backdrop of this grim legend.

A hillside covered in clusters of huge boulders along what historians believe was the original trail cut by Sam Lion. I’ve always called it “Castle Rock.” Several years ago, I placed a geocache here, which bears that name.

Thursday, January 19, 2023

Two Years Since the Universe Reached for a Good One

Two years ago today, my brother, Alan “Phred” Rainey, passed away after a long struggle with leukemia. One of the last things he said to me was “The Universe is getting the better end of this deal. It’s taking me away.”

The Universe got a hell of a deal.

After he died, I wrote up a collection of memories of him — you may find it here: “The Universe Takes a Good One” — January 19, 2021 


Tuesday, January 17, 2023

The Cache Maintenance Department

I’ve worked in a bit of geocache hunting this past couple of weeks, but mostly I’ve been out and about either setting up new caches or fixing up old ones that have fallen on hard times. I ventured out to Elon University a couple of times to set up a new Adventure Lab cache (which put me close to Simply Thai restaurant at lunchtime, so there’s a no-brainer). Worked in a hike on the Haw River Trail in Swepsonville for a couple of first-to-finds. And the Three Old FartsOld Diefenbaker (a.k.a. Scott), Old Rob (a.k.a. Old Rob), and Old Rodan (a.k.a. me) — got in an of outing out east, which included a fine lunch at Hillsborough BBQ Company. I’ve been craving hiking for exercise, particularly since during the winter the outdoor activities tend to be less frequent, but I’ve managed a pretty good job of it.

I did have a game of indoor golf with friend Terry at Under Par Golf Lounge in Kernersville, but the less said about that the better. I was once quite the avid golfer, but I play too infrequently these days to have developed even the slightest sense of rhythm, timing, etc., so I suspect I might better stick with geocaching.
High Haw, high Haw...
High, rushing water at the Haw River Trail in Swepsonville
...Is where I drew some blood...
Strayhorn family graveyard near Hillsborough
Old farts on parade — Old Dude, Old Rob, Old Diefenbaker

Saturday, January 7, 2023

From the Spooky Place to the Haunted Island

I was in Martinsville this weekend, and I needed to perform maintenance on a few of my geocaches in the area, a couple of which lurk along the Fieldale Smith River Trail, just outside of town in Henry County. It’s probably my favorite trail anywhere, for it offers a scenic walk along the Smith River, in terrain that isn’t very difficult (unless one leaves the trail to hunt my geocaches). Walking south from either of its trailheads, one will eventually see, across the river, the hulking, ancient shape of the old Koehler warehouse, which, since childhood, I have called “The Spooky Place.” In my early teens and for some years beyond, for Halloween, the warehouse served as the setting for the local Jaycees’ haunted castle. I had a significant hand in that chapter of local history (the highlights of which you may read in the Horror Writers Association Halloween Haunts Blog), and it rates among my most prized memories.


This morning, I set out bright and early on the trail carrying my bag of geocaching supplies. After a while, even from a fair distance away, I could see the smokestack of the old monstrosity rising above the trees along the riverbanks. As I drew nearer, the bare winter trees offered me a relatively clear view of the building across the river. It’s been a few years since I’ve hiked out here, so I snapped a fair number of photographs, a couple of which I’m posting here.

My primary target was a cache called “Haunted Island,” a short distance farther down the trail from the Spooky Place. It does indeed reside on an island — which typically isn’t very hard to access unless the water is running high. Since we’ve had a lot of rain, the water level was pretty high, but my waterproof boots kept my feet dry. If you’re hunting my cache, it’s when you’re on the island that your terrain challenge begins, for the cache may be found some distance above your head. Your difficulty retrieving it largely depends on your vertical stature and upper body strength.

And how a cache in such a location goes missing is a perpetual mystery (if you zoom in on the proper spot, you can see the cache in the photo at left; note that it is tiny). Still, on occasion, go missing it does, so this morning, I performed the necessary acrobatics to put a new container in place. It’s back in play, and I’ll thank Mother Nature and nosy (and/or inordinately agile) muggles to leave the damned thing be, at least for a while.

After “Haunted Island,” I headed over to another of my caches called “Cachefishing,” which also resides above your head, though this one can be retrieved without any extraordinary acrobatics. I was somewhat dismayed to find that, in the recent past, a huge, fallen tree all but obliterated the cache’s hiding place. I expected to find this cache container missing as well, but — much to my surprise — it was still there and in good condition. Happily, it only took a small amount of adjustment to reset it, and it may now be retrieved as I originally intended it.

So, that’s another round of cache maintenance completed. Ordinarily, I find repairing and replacing caches one of the least satisfying aspects of geocaching, but in cases like this, it was downright fun. Not that I want to have to do it again right away.

Cache on.

The half-obliterated setting for "Cachefishing." Do you see the cache's hiding place?
Another view of "The Spooky Place"

Friday, January 6, 2023

The Monarchs on Audible


I rarely revisit my older works, as I tend to dislike them intensely. When one of my books is released on audio, I usually listen to a portion of it to get a feel for the narrator, and that’s about it.

I wrote The Monarchs in 2007–2008, and Crossroad Press published it in 2012. I reckon it's my most messed-up book — by that, I mean it’s the novel that, when they read it, my friends either quietly drift away or send me their recommendations for getting therapy.

Recently, I realized I had listened to only a wee sample of The Monarchs upon its release, so, on a lark, I decided to listen to the whole damned thing. The incomparable Chet Williamson narrates it. He excels at grabbing and holding one’s attention, and turning the despicable into the respectable. Well, maybe. Sort of.

I reckon I owe Chet a debt.



Wednesday, January 4, 2023

FREE: “Masque of the Queen”


 A FREEBIE! Submitted for your approval: a sampling from my short story collection, Fugue Devil: Resurgence... a tale of eldritch horror titled “Masque of the Queen.” This one originally appeared in In the Court of the Yellow King (Celaeno Press, 2014), a volume of stories inspired by Robert W. Chambers’ “The King in Yellow” — a play that brings madness, despair... or death... to anyone who reads it.

Masque of the Queen” follows a young actress slated to play Queen Cassilda in an off-Broadway production of “The King in Yellow.” Unaware of the play’s dreadful reputation, she finds herself desperate to escape the clutches of something intent on dragging her into a realm of madness and horror.

It’s downloadable as a PDF or ebook (mobi or epub file) from my website.

Sunday, January 1, 2023

A Carolina Beach New Year’s

Following what has become a longstanding New Year’s tradition, Brugger and I joined up with frequent traveling companions Terry & Beth to celebrate, this year bound for Carolina Beach, NC, about four hours down the road from us. Late morning on Friday, 12/30, Ms. B. and I departed Greensboro, and after stopping for lunch and a few geocaches, we arrived at our destination no more than five minutes before our compadres. None of us had been here before, so we weren’t sure what to expect crowd-wise; happily, the locale isn’t deserted, but neither do we face a huge and/or oppressive crush of homo sapiens. I suspect, however, that on our return trip, traffic will be a monster, particularly as we approach the fuckin Triad. Because it’s the fuckin Triad.
A lovely little graveyard we found while
geocaching on the way into Carolina Beach

Some time ago, food evangelist Guy Fieri apparently gave the nearby Cork and Fork restaurant a glowing recommendation on Drive-Ins, Diners, and Dives, and it’s now Carolina Beach’s top-rated restaurant. So, for dinner, we decided to check it out. It’s an appealing enough location, with a menu that features a wide variety of burgers, eclectic bar food, and an extensive wine list. Unfortunately, they did not have our first wine selection in stock, nor any of their renowned duck wings, which I had hoped to sample. We ended up ordering a bottle of a decent syrah, and I went for the Hay Dios Mio burger, a massive construct of dead cow, chipotle mayo, jalapeño jack cheese, ghost pepper jack cheese, lettuce, tomato, onion, avocado, and jalapeños on a brioche bun. Make no mistake, it was danged good, yet I couldn’t say that it racks up with some of the better burgers we can snag back home. That said, apart from some of our choices being unavailable, we had no complaints about the food.

Afterward, we hung out in our apartment for a while, mostly sampling various treats we had on hand. A late and most enjoyable night it turned out to be.

Saturday, 12/31, most of us slept in until at last 8:00 a.m. (we are old) and, once up, drank massive — MASSIVE — quantities of Good Morning America. Brugger and I took a long walk on the beach, which was shrouded with a dense layer of fog. This fit in perfectly with tradition, I reckon, for each New Year’s that we’ve spent at the beach, thick fog has been a constant companion. Hey, I like it.
A foggy morning on the beach
A well-fed seagull taking flight, caught by Ms. B.’s camera
Eventually, we trucked up to Wilmington proper, where we found vittles and wine (a lovely syrah) at a little place called The Vine. I ordered a trio of pulled pork sliders, which I rate very, very high on the scale of pulled pork goodness. The service and atmosphere were perfect, so we give top marks all around to The Vine.

We rambled forth, shopped, geocached, and eventually ended up at another little wine bar called The Fortunate Glass. Fact: this wine bar has the most extensive wine list of any establishment in my experience that I can recall. It took a while, but we selected a bottle of wine — this one an incredible Crianza — and ordered a few munchies (or maybe a few too many munchies). I chose a paté plate that I thought would probably be a wee appetizer-type thingummy, but no... it was a massive bunch of puréed dead critter, and though I enjoyed it, it was too much to finish.

I grabbed a few more geocaches, one at a fascinating location — a military surplus store at which one may find a vintage jet fighter, a couple of cannons, and a few other examples of military hardware parked right out front. The geocache lurks in a somewhat difficult-to-access location amid the fixtures, which presented me with an unexpected challenge. Eventually, I ended up calling geocaching buddy Mike, a.k.a. MWFerrell65, who lives in the Triangle but — coincidentally — happened to be caching in the Carolina Beach/Wilmington area at the same time as us. How handy!

Back at our apartment, we hung out and made merry for a while. Ms. B. and I took another long walk on the beach before heading back to prepare for the chiming of the hour. That put our hoofing-it distance at about four miles for the day. Once again settled in our place, we celebrated the changing of the year with a toast — not champagne but some excellent red wine.

Woo-fuckin-hoo, goodbye, 22.
Terry, Beth, Brugger, Old Dude
The jet plane appears to have sprouted a pair of legs. Wonder what that could be about?
Our Carolina Beach lodgings by night
The bombs bursting in air a mile or so up the beach
Sunday, 1/1/23: Most of us (well, only Brugger, really) slept in a bit later than usual. Once we were all up and going (hurry up, Brugger!), we buzzed back to Wilmington, where we took to wandering along the Cape Fear River on the River Walk. We found lunch at a nice enough establishment called Rooster & The Crow. Again, a few menu items were unavailable, but none of us came away hungry. I had fried chicken, one of their house specialties. Not bad — though, again, no more remarkable than the fare we can find at numerous joints back home. Mind you, I’m so not complaining, for I quite understand the difficulties resulting from supply issues, and none of us are scratching the earth to seek subsistence. It was all a treat, as far as I am concerned.

Once done with the feeding frenzy, we split up — Terry to hunt drinks and football at a sports bar; Brugger and Beth to shop for all kinds of shopping things; and I to geocache. I found a bunch — enough to damn near clear out Wilmington’s historic district. A couple of these were ingenious, highly creative hides, and I had a physical challenge or two to keep me invigorated. A lovely afternoon indeed!

And tomorrow... off we go.
The USS North Carolina, seen from Wilmington’s River Walk
Another view as the sun settled lower in the sky
Our last toast as our evening drew to a close
Some great things happened in 2022. The most significant include the releases of my collection, Fugue Devil: Resurgence from Black Raven Books, and my latest entry in Elizabeth Massie’s Ameri-Scares series for young readers, Georgia: The Haunting of Tate’s Mill from Crossroad Press. On the writing front, I’ve got a new novel in the works as well as a new editing gig — easily the biggest such project I’ve taken on in decades. It will be announced in the coming weeks. Now, it behooves me to ask: if you’ve read any of my work, please leave a review on Amazon or Goodreads, or any site that will help spread the word. Reviews are critical to authors, and I assure you, every little bit helps. I very much appreciate everyone who has taken the time to post a review, whether short and to the point or long and in-depth.

Early in 2022, I retired from my position of 23 years at The Mailbox, although I continue to do freelance work for the company. Brugger and I took a few trips to Michigan to visit her parents, who are still managing pretty well on their own but are reaching that age where they need a bit more assistance. In the fall, Kimberly and I also visited Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, which is one of my favorite places on Earth. Such a beautiful location, with countless waterfalls, trails, quaint little towns, massive forests, and many opportunities for hiking and geocaching (I claimed my 14,000th geocache in Michigan on our Thanksgiving trip, thus maintaining my average of about 1,000 cache finds per year).

In May, Ms. B. and I spent an excellent week in Chicago, visiting my old stomping grounds and many good friends from days of yore — Bill Gudmundson, Ed Godziszewski, Bob Issel, and more. On this trip, we spent a few days in Nashville, TN, and saw Colin Hay perform; an excellent show. The only downside was that we came home with the covidz. Fortunately, they turned out to be very mild cases.

In July, I attended my first Necon in a quarter of a century. Reigniting some personal relationships, building new ones, and simply hanging out with so many of my peers in the writing business was the proverbial breath of fresh air and helped jump-start some projects I’ve had in mind to produce.

I made two pilgrimages to Gainesville, Georgia, where I spent so much time as a youth at my grandparents’ place (and in the fall, I made a day trip to my old alma mater, the University of Georgia, in Athens). The highlight of my most recent visit was making the personal acquaintance of author and professor Leverett Butts, whose book, Guns of the Waste Land: Departure, I reviewed here. I will be speaking to his literature class about Fugue Devil: Resurgence coming up in February.

In November, after far too long, I was able to visit with friend, fellow writer, and proprietor of Crossroad Press, Mr. David Niall Wilson, plus his wife, Trish, and their family in Hertford, NC. That was an excellent, memorable, and much-needed trip. We’ve all been friends for many, many years, but it’s far too rare for our paths to cross. I hope the next gap between visits isn’t nearly so long.

Along with all the loveliness, challenges and stressors aplenty struck over the course of the year, though none as dire as those we dealt with during those years of my mom’s long decline and eventual passing and then my brother succumbing to leukemia. It’s clear that 2023 will pose plenty of challenges of its own; I hope we all not only weather them but prosper in every respect.

Be well, and Happy Fookin’ New Year to the lot of ye.