Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Top Secret: Project Blue Rose

“Once upon a time, there was a place of great goodness called the White Lodge. Fawns gamboled there amidst happy, laughing spirits. The sounds of innocence and laughter filled the air. Generally speaking, a ghastly place. But, I am pleased to note, there is another place—its opposite—of almost unimaginable power, full of dark forces and vicious secrets. This place I speak of is known as the Black Lodge. And I intend to find it.”—Former FBI Special Agent Windom Earle

Among the many joys of geocaching is combining that activity with my love of the weird, the esoteric, the outre. A fair number of the caches that I've placed — about 150 currently active — have themes ranging from daikaiju to horror movies, such as Curse (Night) of the Demon, The Blair Witch, and Sinister; from the fiction of Karl Edward Wagner to my own horror tales; from Bigfoot to Twin Peaks. I already had a couple of Twin Peaks–themed caches in the wild — "Fire Walk With Me" (GC35QJY) and "Let's Rock" (GC5W99P) — but I am glad to announce that a bunch of new ones are about to be released in the Greensboro area.

I've spent considerable the past couple of weeks acquiring supplies, customizing and stocking containers, scouting locations, and placing the hides. And at last, everything is in place. The cache listings have been completed and submitted to geocaching.com. They should go live in the next few days.
Jack Rabbit's Palace?

There are seven caches in the series, titled "Project Blue Rose." The first six caches contain clues to lead the intrepid hunter to the seventh, which is titled "The Black Lodge" and is hidden in a fashion well-suited to its name. There's no need to keep it a secret that the majority of the caches are hidden in Northeast Park in northeastern Guilford County. The final, however, resides quite some distance away, in a place that some geocachers — and most of the general public — probably wish to avoid. I'll reveal no further details here, but I'll be looking forward to seeing how well the series is received.

Yesterday, I was off work, so I spent the entire day hiking through woods, clambering in and out of creeks and chasms, hiding caches in places that seemed apt for the subject matter. I did find what might have been the perfect setting for a Twin Peaks–themed cache, but for the fact it is right next to a popular overlook, and I fear that any cache placed there would soon disappear. If you know about "Jack Rabbit's Palace" from Twin Peaks: The Return, the site would certainly stand out to you. Alas, I ended up bypassing it and found another location that seemed apt for a cache related to The White Lodge.

I've set these caches to be available to premium members only, so unless you're a paid member of geocaching.com, you won't be able to view the listings (when they're available), but if you are, I hope you'll find these to be a treat. Here's the list of 'em:

PROJECT BLUE ROSE #2: Mike, the One-Armed Man
PROJECT BLUE ROSE #3: The Arm (a.k.a. The Little Man from Another Place)
PROJECT BLUE ROSE #5: The Woodsman
PROJECT BLUE ROSE #7: The Black Lodge

If you're a local geocacher (I know a number of you follow this blog), I expect you to be out yonder as soon as these are published. I can't help but wonder, though... who among you will — or will not — pass through the Black Lodge and achieve "perfect" courage....

“The legend of the Black Lodge says that every spirit must pass through it on the way to perfection. There, you will meet your shadow self. My people call it ‘The Dweller on the Threshold.’ But it is said that if you confront the Black Lodge with imperfect courage, it will utterly annihilate your soul.”—Deputy Tommy “Hawk” Hill, Twin Peaks Sheriff’s Department

A few of the sights along the way...

Thursday, March 15, 2018

R.I.P. Colie Johnson

From the day I started school... jezus, back in the early 1960s... I was fortunate to have had one excellent teacher after another, many of them being exemplary, inspiring, and memorable individuals. Mr. Colie Johnson was my art teacher in 8th and 9th grades at Martinsville Junior High. A gentleman who was passionate about teaching and who steered me in the right direction when it most counted, back when I was struggling to find an outlet for my budding creative aspirations.

I was an artistic youth, to be sure, and reasonably accomplished for my years — though my opinion of my talents far exceeded my actual abilities. Mr. Johnson recognized whatever talent I had and appreciated it; yet, whatever level I reached with my art, he refused to allow me to be content there. Inevitably, however proud of a composition I might be, he would study it, smile, point out everything that was right about it... and then he would become thoughtful and ask me if anything about the work was missing, if there were any other approaches I might consider. His expression I most remember was "yet and still..." "You've captured this texture just right, yet and still, I wonder if there's anything else you might find, something more you might see." This frustrated me because, no matter how highly he praised my efforts, he also... always... found things I could or should do better. He never specifically identified these things. He left that up to me.

Thank the lord.

Mr. Johnson drew the ire of many of us kids because he pushed us to look beyond whatever level of achievement we might reach in his class. He did this with warmth and humor, which sometimes made it worse because in my brash youth I would rather have told him to kindly piss off. But I couldn't do that. I liked him. I so wanted to be mad at him for foiling me, yet also I wanted to please him. It frustrated me no end that I might so consistently fail, at least in his eyes, even though everyone else around me was telling me I had achieved some level of genius. I could have listened to those voices, I suppose, and been content to rest on my laurels. But no. My appreciation for... any my loyalty to... Mr. Johnson would not allow for that.

I can't say with any degree of certainty that I've ever lived up to the potential Mr. Johnson expected of me, or at least hoped for me. In fact, I'm certain I have not because, over many years of expressing myself through various media, I have determined that, no matter how good I might get, I can always get better. There is great beauty in this, and I'm sure, at some point, I would have come to realize it even if I had never been in Mr. Johnson's classes. But it would not have been with such appreciation, personal guidance, and genuine care.

Mr. Johnson died the other day, at the age of 75. I had seen him a handful of times since junior high school, and somehow, I had it in my head that he'd be around for a long, long time, and that I would at some point be able to see him and talk with him again.

But no. No.

Quite a few of the most influential educators in my life have passed on now, and I've grieved for many of them, but at the moment I am grieving hardest over Mr. Johnson. It's a rare teacher who could touch me on the level he did. I did a little crying today.

If you have a teacher, or teachers, who have touched you, let them know. For god's sake let them know because, before we can blink, they may be gone. Years ago I told Mr. Johnson that he had moved me, and I so hope it registered. I wish I could have the opportunity to tell him again. Just for good measure.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Whose Living Room Is It, Anyway?

I posted this on Facebook, but it's relevant in the bigger picture, so here 'tis:

An actress of my acquaintance, for whom I have considerable respect, often posts links to articles that decry racism, spotlight achievements of women, focus on social injustice, and cover other topics of relevance. A few days ago, a blustery male broke into her thread warning her "not to get political," since doing so was an all-around bad idea—for her.


Of course I see boorish, arrogant, rude, outright stupid posts day after day, and I have become desensitized to most of it. On the other hand, I not only appreciate but expect a show of decent manners if someone posts on my Facebook page. (No, I'm not referring to vulgar fucking language, that's just gonna happen around here.)

In the case I'm referring to, it wasn't even the content of the link that set the chap off. Content can be discussed, debated, debunked, dissected, and/or dismissed. No, this was about the audacity of the lady exercising her freedom to post what she sees fit. In my book, no one has the right to come onto another person's page and tell them they need to shut up (barring terms of service violations, and such) for their own good. If someone comes onto your page to tell you you're doing it wrong, then they are doing it wrong. I posted exactly this on the thread in question, not that Ms. Actress needed me or anyone else to shut Mr. Mansplainer down.

Happily, this doesn't often happen on my page. For one thing, when it does, the offender doesn't get to revisit. If you're on social media, you have your own forum to post whatever you see fit. If you think Ms. Actress ought not be posting what she sees fit on her own page, you need to run back to yours and spew your vacuous noise there.

What she or I or anyone else chooses to post is none of your goddamn business.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Heavens, What a Noise!

Do you enjoy audio books? Ms. Brugger loves to listen to them, particularly while driving to and from the office, because having a book to focus on lowers her blood pressure. That's a fine enough reason, but also, for us older folks whose eyes don't hold up to long spells of reading like they used to, the audio book is a great way to fill that gap.

Several of my novels from Crossroad Press are available as audio books from Audible.com (plus a couple of the Big Finish Dark Shadows audio dramas I wrote, and Intermusings, a collection of stories by various authors co-written with author David Niall Wilson). These books will scare the pants off you, hands-free, and wouldn't that be thrilling? Check them out:

Balak: A Cthulhu Mythos Tale (my first novel), narrated by Erik Synnesvedt
The Lebo Coven, narrated by Chris Andrew Ciulla
The Nightmare Frontier, narrated by Basil Sands
The Monarchs, narrated by Chet Williamson

If you opt for a 30-day trial subscription, your first audio book is free, and you get one free audio book per month with your $14.95/month subscription.

Visit my Audible.com page here.

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Another Day in Tarheel Territory

For Ms. B. and me, Chapel Hill has always been a favorite destination for day trips, what with its appealing assortment of geocaches, trails, wine bars, restaurants, and... Trader Joe's. Oh yeah, we love us some Trader Joe's. For years, we had been making the pilgrimage every two or three months, but lately, our trips have been much fewer and farther between. Given this, Kimberly and I both were suffering the withdrawal, so yesterday, we headed east to spend the day there—by way of Saxapahaw and the Saxapahaw General Store, which is one of our favorite lunch destinations anywhere. For Ms. B., a big old turkey club, and for me, a perfectly cooked burger topped with slivers of duck, which was so good I about went quackers. Fortuitously, there was also a cache to be found nearby ("Superhero Cache" GC6ZP7C).
I say, is that some subterranean Lovecraftian horror
thrusting itself up from the depths of the earth?

The day was a bit blustery but otherwise beautiful, and it proved perfect for hiking and geocaching, which even Ms. B. managed to enjoy. Our favorite cache was one placed at the site of the John Castleberry Mill, in the Carolina North Forest along Bolin Creek. Very little remains of the mill but the crumbling foundation, though just a few years back, more of the stone walls were still standing. The story goes that the mill belonged to John “Buck” Taylor, a noted slave owner and drunk who lived just west of Chapel Hill in the latter 18th century. (Click here for more information about the mill and its history.) At this cache, we ran into another cacher, Mr. Wandering Wolverine, whose moniker I've seen all over the place, but whom I'd never met face to face. I do enjoy running into others of this peculiar avocation out on the trail.

One of our longstanding Chapel Hill traditions has been to visit A Southern Season and its restaurant, The Weathervane, for drinks and occasionally some food. Now, in 2016, A Southern Season declared bankruptcy and was purchase by new owners (Calvert Retail); while the store still offers a sizable, eclectic inventory of home goods, food, and drink, its selection and quality don't quite live up to their former standards. The hot sauce aisle, which used to be among the most impressive I've seen, rates about half its former glory. At the restaurant, the wine list has been significantly pared down from days past, and the quality of the wines we tried (a Bordeaux blend for me and a Grenache-Syrah blend for Ms. B.) were nothing to brag about. I'm sure we'll revisit The Weathervane on future visits, but somehow I doubt that it'll turn out be quite the experience we used to look forward to.
Ms. B. and a weird little bastard, whom we encountered
along the Chapel Hill Public Library's nature trail

Still, in all, we had a massively nice day of it. After A Southern Season and some shopping at Trader Joe's, we hit the nature trail behind the Chapel Hill Public Library on Estes St. for a bit more caching (and a run-in with a strange little metal dude). From there, we hunted down and killed a delicious dinner at Thai Palace, whose doorstep we have darkened with some frequency in the past (and no doubt will again). Then, on our way back to Greensboro, we made a final stop in Burlington to sample some far superior wine at Cork & Cow wine bar.

Upon arriving back at Kimberly's place, we put on some Game of Thrones, but by then, the old man was starting to show some wear and tear from the day's adventures, and we only made it through one episode. Today, I enjoyed some seriously good geocaching around Browns Summit and then at the Bigfoot Trail, where i once again encountered alpacas, and this time a nice little pig who, upon my arrival, came running to see if I had any goodies to offer. Alas, none for piggie, but I did manage to find a rather difficult new cache as well as suffer some time with Skyhawk63 (a.k.a. Tom), who appeared on the scene to hunt the cache as well. I plan to hit the trail with him and some friends tomorrow evening as they go to hunt my night cache, "The Witch's Woods" GC70RY0.

Who knows who, if anyone, will survive....
Old Rodan at the site of the John Castleberry Mill, along Bolin Creek
Ms. Brugger could use a little more foundation.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

National Peanut Butter Day CITO

Ranger Fox, Night Ranger, and 3EaglesHigh swap geocaching yarns at The Mellow Mushroom
I had no idea National Peanut Butter Day existed, but then I have no clue about most of these novelty calendar days. The only thing that actually distinguished National Peanut Butter Day around here was that geocaching buddy Night Ranger (a.k.a. Rich) sponsored a "National Peanut Butter Cache-in Trash-out (CITO)" event this evening in downtown Greensboro. It was misty and dreary, but that didn't stop eight of us from spending an hour or so cleaning up trash around a city block. We did have a pretty cool encounter with a dude: while we were scouring a small parking lot, the owner came out to see just what we were up to. When he learned we were a bunch of geocachers voluntarily picking up trash in the area, he about fell over with gratitude. It was nice to be appreciated.

Afterward, we appreciated some good drinks, pizza, and camaraderie at Mellow Mushroom on S. Elm Street. I don't think anyone put peanut butter on their pizza, and I'm kinda glad because that would have sucked.
Punkins19 (a.k.a Linda) and Skyhawk63 (a.k.a. Tom) all trashed out.
Night-Hawk (a.k.a. Tom) letting Punkins19 have it: "All I wanted was a hint. Was that too much to ask?
I actually had to find that cache all by myself!" Punkins19 appears unimpressed.

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Back to the Bigfoot Trail

It's not really called The Bigfoot Trail — in official (but clearly ill-informed) circles, it's known as the Bill Craft Trail — but to me, it is and always will be The Bigfoot Trail. Because Bigfoot is out there. He's big, I tell you, and he's got feet.

The Taylor-Richardson Preserve is an extensive area of pine/deciduous forest and wetlands between Plainfield Road and NC 150 in Guilford County, just north of Greensboro, and the hiking/biking trail (The Bill Craft Trail, yeah, right, ha ha) runs about four miles from end to end. Many, many times during my now decade-long geocaching career I've hiked that trail, and I've placed several caches in the preserve myself. Nowadays, however, new hides out there are rare, since space that doesn't conflict with the existing caches' 528-ft. buffer zones is limited. Happily, though, now and again some determined soul will finagle an opening, and the redoubtable 2McTwins (a.k.a. Daniel and Dustin) who have placed numerous excellent caches, in the woods and otherwise, have done it again with a new cache along the Bigfoot Trail.

I spent the morning caching in Randolph County, south of Greensboro, with regular partners Robgso (a.k.a. Rob), BigG7777 (a.k.a. Gerry), and Suntigres (a.k.a. Bridget), which was most enjoyable, but after lunch at the excellent Compadres Mexican Restaurant in Randleman, I decided I needed to find another cache. For my sanity's sake, I desperately needed to find another cache! Happily, the Bigfoot Trail isn't far from home, and with that one new cache lurking out there, I decided it would be my target.

I'm especially fond of the northern end of the trail, as it's far less traveled than its southernmost reaches. Those woods are quiet and secluded, and today, beneath heavy cloud cover, the atmosphere felt just this side of eerie (which, as you probably know, or can deduce, "just this side of eerie" is damn near the best possible atmospheric quality, perhaps exceeded only by "absolutely fucking eerie"). True to time-proven tradition, as I hiked the near-silent woods, I occasionally heard heavy footsteps in the woods around me, and once, I discerned what might have been a big ugly hairy figure watching me from a distance (there is, admittedly, some chance this was one of the McTwins spying on me to pick up a few geocaching pointers). Several times I heard what I was sure might be the voluminous roar of a critter with huge feet, but each time it turned out to be a jet passing overhead on its way to land at Piedmont Triad International Airport. Bummer, some might say, but as I do enjoy plane spotting, watching them proved a pleasant enough diversion.

On another nice note, I've been informed that semi-frequent caching partner Cupdaisy (a.k.a Debbie) believes she has found yet more free space in the preserve for a cache or two of her own, and I shall look forward to these...hopefully. One can never venture deep into Bigfoot country too often.
Shades of Boggy Creek
View from little footbridge over the stream
There's not only bigfeet, there's beavers!
Little outdoor classroom in the middle of the woods
Near the trailhead on Simpson-Calhoun Road — alpacas!
Also on Simpson-Calhoun—wee little burro and big pale horse

Saturday, February 24, 2018

Test Patterns Is in the House

Happy, happy! Now in the house, my contributor copies of...

Test Patterns, edited by Duane Pesice, which features my story, "Red-Eye."

"For your approval: Test Patterns, a new, outré collection of short speculative tales in the vein of classic television SF/F anthology programs such as The Outer Limits, One Step Beyond, and The Twilight Zone. These are the nightmares you wake from after staying up too late to watch that eerie midnight movie, only to find yourself bathed in the glow of the test pattern from the screen. Richly varied stories designed to impart a moral, inspire thought, give meaning, offer hope, or instill dread. Tales told in unique ways, employing provocative twists and revelations, while exploring the universal themes of humanity and self-discovery through the lenses of horror, fantasy, science fiction, the strange, and the weird."

Edited by Duane Pesice,‎ this new anthology features my story, "Red-eye," as well as tales by Scott J Couturier,‎ Rob F. Martin,‎ Joseph S. Pulver Sr.,‎ K. A. Opperman,‎ Ashley Dioses,‎ Philip Fracassi,‎ Peter Rawlik,‎ Brian O'Connell,‎ Sean M Thompson,‎ Scott Thomas,‎ Don Webb,‎ Nathan Carson,‎ John Claude Smith,‎ Cody Goodfellow,‎ Matthew M. Bartlett,‎ S. L. Edwards,‎ Frederick J. Mayer,‎ William Tea, and Russell Smeaton.

Click here to order from Amazon.com.

Friday, February 23, 2018

The Day Mars Invaded Earth

Most of my favorite SF/horror movies from the 1950s and early 1960s became my favorites because I saw them during the most impressionable years of my wee little life and they positively warped my wee little psyche. Some of them are enjoyable to revisit for nostalgia's sake, while others actually hold up as dynamite films. Examples of the former might be 13 Ghosts, Teenagers From Outer Space, Not of This Earth, and The Sound of Horror; a few of the latter would be The Day the Earth Stood Still, The Time Travelers, Night (Curse) of the Demon, and Invasion of the Body Snatchers. It's somewhat rarer for movies from that era to become favorites if I discovered them later in life, but it has occasionally happened. I learned about Attack of the Crab Monsters in my childhood days (no doubt by way of Famous Monsters of Filmland), but I never got to see it until well into adulthood. Stupid movie, but damn it's fun. I love watching it. Likewise for Caltiki, The Immortal Monster. It's only been within the last decade or so that I found that one, despite having known about it since I was around eight. And then... there's The Day Mars Invaded Earth, which I only came across because my ex-wife had recorded it on VHS from some late-night picture show.

I recall when I first started watching it — probably sometime in the late 1990s — it initially left me cold, but I stuck with it. The thing I most appreciated was that it was filmed at the Greystone mansion in Beverly Hills, which doubled as Collinwood in the 1990s reboot of Dark Shadows, not to mention appearing in numerous episodes of the Mission: Impossible TV series, among others. As the movie went on, though, I found it becoming increasingly eerie, even a little unsettling. By the time I got to the end, I was pretty much loving this movie.
The Greystone Mansion in Beverly Hills
The Day Mars Invaded Earth is a low, low-budget thriller, ostensibly a science-fiction film, but in mood, more akin to a spooky ghost story. It begins with a space probe landing on Mars — a dorky little motorized contraption — that bursts into flame and disintegrates within minutes of its activation. On Earth, the head of the Mars project, Dr. David Fielding (Kent Taylor) and his partner Web Spencer (William Mims) unsuccessfully try to figure out what the heck has happened to the probe. When Dr. Fielding is alone, a strange energy force appears to overcome him, but he quickly returns to normal. However, after he leaves his office, we see, seated in his chair... another Dr. Fielding.

The real Fielding leaves for a sabbatical in California so he may deal with pressing family issues. His lonely, restless wife, Claire (Marie Windsor) has about had it with his work schedule and feels it may be best for them to separate. However, the kids — son Rocky (Greg Shank) and daughter Judi (Betty Beall) — are blissfully unaware of their parents' strained relationship. In the interest of preserving harmony during their sojourn in the guest house at Claire's family's estate (the Greystone mansion), Fielding and Claire decide to make the best of things.

This tenuous state of tranquility turns out to be short-lived. Fielding sees his wife wandering the grounds, but she refuses to answer him when he calls to her and shortly thereafter vanishes. However, when he returns to the house, he finds her there, where she claims to have been all along. Later, an uncharacteristically terse Rocky tells his mother that the door to the main house is unlocked, so she goes to check it out. Once done, she hears slow, heavy footsteps that follow her all the way back to the guest house. Her pursuer turns out to be Dr. Fielding, but he is cold, menacing — and dressed in different clothes. After a visit with the Fieldings, Judi's boyfriend, Frank Hazard (Lowell Brown) is killed in a car crash. And late one night, Judi is visited by a strange figure that turns out to be her doppelganger. It's clear now that each member of the family has seen body doubles of the other family members.

When Web arrives for a visit, Fielding tells him of these strange events and that he's certain they are somehow related to the Mars probe. Then, inside the main house, Fielding encounters his doppelganger, who explains that the inhabitants of Mars — energy beings with the ability to assume the forms of humans — consider Earth's exploration of their planet akin to an invasion, and they intend to stop any further incursions by destroying the space program from within.

The Fieldings attempt to leave the estate, but find themselves locked inside. Web attempts to free them by jimmying the main gate, but before they can leave, he comes to a very bad end....
Dr. Fielding can't find his wife, Claire, who had just appeared to him as he explores the estate.
Seeing double —Judy encounters her doppelganger in the middle of the night
Doppelganger Dr. Fielding explains to non-doppelganger Dr. Fielding that Martians
don't much appreciate the Fieldings. Or Earthlings in general.
With a relatively short running time (70 minutes), The Day Mars Invaded Earth is a slow burn. For the first half of  the movie, we're getting to know the characters in considerable detail. Since Dr. Fielding wasn't able to be with the family for Christmas, they celebrate it late —  a distinctly touching and wistful scene. We find out that Fielding doesn't care much for his wife's family. And while the powers that be demand that he return to Cape Canaveral to sort out the disappearance of the Mars Probe, he continually puts them off, desiring to spend as much time with his family as possible in hopes of setting things right with Claire.

For a cheap little science fiction thriller, these characters exhibit some unexpectedly authentic nuances. In particular, Kent Taylor as David Fielding and Marie Windsor as Claire turn in thoughtful performances, never going over the top or phoning in their lines. The gradual build-up, the slow reveal that all is not what it seems, conveys a sense of paranoia reminiscent of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, accented by little touches worthy of The Haunting (the slow footsteps of some unseen party stalking Claire through the grounds; Fielding wandering through the eerie, dark-shadowed interior of the vast mansion before he meets his doppelganger).

By the time the likeable Web Spencer meets his rather gruesome demise, accompanying the rush of impending horror is a genuine sense of tragedy, brought home in jolting fashion at the very end of the film. After investing a good hour-plus getting to know these people — who come across as real people — their fates are meaningful, emotionally. These characters aren't just ciphers; they have proven over the film's running time that they had lives, feelings, strengths, and weaknesses. They almost make you forget you're watching a damn-near zero-budget black & white science fiction picture show.

Now, don't get me wrong. The Day Mars Invaded Earth is not a cinematic masterpiece, or even a landmark film of its day. It's not a particularly sophisticated storyline (though the adult concerns portrayed in the script certainly make it more "sophisticated" than most of the teen-oriented monster mashes from that time period). No, The Day Mars Invaded Earth, for a fairly obscure little movie, pushes most of the right buttons and proves itself a solid bit of cinema that deserves some praise — which is exactly what it gets from me. Three and a half out of five Damned Rodan's Dirty Firetinis — with an extra shot of ghost pepper just for good measure.

The Day Mars Invaded Earth is available on DVD — order it from Amazon.com here.
As events become weirder and weirder, marital issues for Fielding and Claire no longer seems so important.
Too late the hero — Web meets a grisly fate just as he's on the verge of saving the Fieldings from disaster.
Never dive into a pool after the water has been drained!

Monday, February 19, 2018

Damned Rodan's Bacon Bloody Mary

I'm off work for Presidents' Day, and I made myself one of these because... why wouldn't I? So, guess what... it's recipe time again!

Damned Rodan's Bacon Bloody Mary
Make a Bloody Mary.
2. Put bacon in it.


Saturday, February 17, 2018

Al Stewart Wins at the High Point Theater

I don't often get to concerts these days, but last evening, Ms. B. and I, along with friends Joe, Suzy, Tom, and Janice, headed to the High Point Theater to see Al Stewart, whose music was an integral part of life during my late teens and some years beyond. These days, for old times' sake, I'll occasionally put on "Year of the Cat," "On the Border," "Lord Grenville," and/or "Time Passages," which did and still rate as my favorites among his songs. I was most enthused about getting to hear the entire "Year of the Cat" album — one of the quintessential albums of my late teen years — performed live along with selections from several of Stewart's other albums.

The band The Empty Pockets, from Chicago — my old stomping grounds — opened the show and also played as Stewart's backing band. In those long-gone olden days when I was a frequent concert-goer, opening bands could wear thin quickly, but The Empty Pockets not only failed to wear thin, they proved themselves an impressive act, offering up melodious tunes, powerful vocals, and heartfelt lyrics. From the start, they displayed the ideal combination of technical prowess and sheer energy, with standout performances by lead vocalists Josh Solomon and Erika Brett. In fact, if I had any complaint, it would be that during Stewart's show, these two could have been given a bit more prominence, even in their roles as backing vocalists.

Stewart opened his show with the spirited “Sirens of Titan,” from his album "Modern Times," which was not among my those I owned back in the day (a situation I could and probably should remedy). Immediately evident was that Al Stewart, at 72 years old, sounds not much unlike Al Stewart in his 20s and 30s, although his voice doesn't quite reach the upper ranges at which he had excelled in those years past. "Time Passages" proved another of the concert's highlights, with particularly impressive musicianship by The Empty Pockets. The performances of "Lord Grenville," "Broadway Hotel," and "On the Border" about brought tears to my eyes, all so poignant and, for me, pleasantly nostalgic.

Providing the critical saxophone accompaniment (not to mention most every other instrument on stage, depending on the song) we had the multi-talented Marc Macisso, whose lungs must hold as much air as an industrial-size oxygen tank. His enthusiasm and energy was infectious, and at the end of "Year of the Cat," he came out into the audience and went to town on the sax, to thrilling effect.

Stewart's stage presence displayed class top to bottom. Between songs, he related personal stories about his music and his life, told with warmth, erudition, and humor, which made him one of the most endearing personalities I've seen on stage. His reminiscences on how his record company insisted on his writing a hit song and how he consistently foiled them — such as by composing a song "about an ill-fated admiral at the Battle of Trafalgar" — about brought the house down. Another favorite was his recollections of having grown up being friends with Robert Fripp, of King Crimson fame, who taught Stewart to play guitar but later lamented that Stewart had made it as a recording artist by "ignoring everything Fripp had ever taught him." One little self-deprecating moment that rang true was when Stewart  indicated he "just knew" some folks in the audience would have come accompanying someone else and actually knew nothing about him (Brugger raised her hand). "You said it was ROD!" such person would wail. I laughed a bit.

Al Stewart's songs encompass history, allegory, personal chronicles, and pure narrative, and thus resonate powerfully with me. Last night, he left the stage to a long, standing ovation, and I was as pleased as I ever have been to raise my hands in applause — for Al Stewart as well as the capable musicians who accompanied him.
The stage lighting — and my not-so-great phone camera — in most of my photos turned Al Stewart into an ill-
fated victim of The Invaders' disintegration weapon. In this photo, it's poor Marc Macisse disintegrating.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Again with the Jabberwock!

It's not just ugly tree — that is photobombing UGLY tree!
Too long it has been since Old Rob and I took a wee trip out of town to hunt geocaches, so since I was off work today, Old Rob and I took a wee trip out of town to hunt geocaches. The Lake Crabtree area, near Cary, NC, was our destination, for there one can find a plethora of trails and caches... or, as in a couple of instances for us, just trails.
Old man can't find geocache, commiserates
with ugly tree

We started out on a sour note, or two — a couple of long, ill-fated hunts, effectively tiring out the old men before we could even get started. Once we got moving on down the trail, though, the fairly rugged terrain tired us out even more. I had on relatively new boots that were still stiff, so my feet called me names for a while. And then...

Have you ever been bitten by a honey locust tree? Mother of Yog, these are evil trees. I described an encounter with a honey locust tree some time ago, here. I had another one today. Didn't even know the rotten bastard was lying in wait for me. At one point during a short bushwhack, I pushed my way through some spindly limbs blocking my passage, and as one of them whipped back toward me, it planted a two-inch long, molten hot spike in my leg.

Ask Old Bloody Rob whether I hollered. I might have hollered. I might have hollered ugly words. I don't know, I was too busy hollering. After a healthy round of hollering, I worked up my nerve and tugged the nasty little spike out of my leg and called it mean names. I'm pretty sure it came out cleanly, without leaving little fragments of itself lurking somewhere in my flesh (I should very much like to think the damned thing would have done nothing that hateful). Rob is the one who always says that, when geocaching, if you don't bleed you're not having fun. Today, at least one of us had fun.

We did find a fair number of fun little hides in the woods, so our day was tiring and painful but ultimately satisfying. At one point, I found an ugly tree with an even uglier head (see photo above), but there was no cache there. There should have been a cache there, as it was a pretty neat ugly tree. We didn't add a vast number of finds to our respective tallies — seven altogether; my find count now stands at 9,812 — but we had gone out looking to get some exercise, and I can tell you, some exercise we done got.

I sleep now.
A troll in the Upside-Down
Crabtree Creek to the north, with I-40 in the distance
Crabtree Creek to the south, with some dude wandering about in the water

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Win The Nightmare Frontier for Your Kindle!

Up to FIVE lucky — or perhaps unlucky — souls can win the Kindle of edition of The Nightmare Frontier just by following me at Amazon.com and entering the contest, which ends on Bloody Valentine's DayFebruary 14, 2018. CLICK HERE to enter! Then hold your breath and pray....

The Nightmare Frontier is one of my older novels — originally published in hardcover by Sarob Press in 2006, then as an ebook and audiobook by Crossroad Press in 2010. It's also what I would consider one of my most unsettling novel-length works. Reviews will be much appreciated!

About The Nightmare Frontier:
The town of Silver Ridge, West Virginia, has disappeared from the face of the earth. A vast chasm prevents any living soul from crossing into the community. From above, only an impenetrable layer of mist marks the spot where the town had existed.

Inside Silver Ridge, the nightmare is just beginning.

Confined by this unimaginable barrier, the townspeople find themselves confronted by the denizens of a distant dimension: horrifying creatures that intend to transform the valley town into an outpost hospitable to their existence. To these extra-dimensional travelers, human beings are nothing more than pests to be exterminated.

Russ Copeland and Debra Harrington are determined to resist… but as they face death to restore Silver Ridge to its rightful place on Earth, they find that their true enemy may not be the incomprehensible invaders, but an insidious evil whose origin is closer to home than they can imagine.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

At the Crossroad

Crossroad Press — publisher of my novels The Lebo Coven, The Nightmare Frontier, The Monarchs, and Blue Devil Island — has been upgrading its website and offering special deals on numerous of its titles, including The Monarchs. Crossroad Press offers my novels in the following formats:

The Lebo Coven: audiobook, ebook
The Nightmare Frontier: audiobook, ebook
The Monarchs: audiobook, ebook, hardcover, paperback
Blue Devil Island: ebook (paperback and hardback available on Amazon.com)

You can also order from various third-party vendors, such as Barnes & Noble and Amazon.com, directly from the Crossroad website.

If you've not read my work before, now is the perfect time to check it out. I'll go on record as saying Crossroad Press is the most author- and customer-friendly publisher I've ever worked with, so I urge you to support them, either directly or via other online vendors such as Amazon.com.

Tell them I sent you (and then duck and cover)! Well, don't worry about the ducking, necessarily....

Monday, January 29, 2018

"Smoothpicks" by Elizabeth Massie

"Oh. There is blud..."
It was relatively early in Deathrealm's ten-year history that I became acquainted with Elizabeth Massie's short fiction, and not long afterward that I became acquainted with Ms. Massie herself. At the time, her work had been published in numerous reputable small press publications, such as 2AM, Grue, The Horror Show, and Space & Time, and when I met her at the 1987 World Fantasy Convention in Nashville, TN, I confess I was a fanboy. On a personal level, we pretty much hit it off, especially when we discovered we had attended the same college, though some years apart (I will be a wretched man here and tell you that she preceded me there by a few years, though I will not reveal how many). The fact that Ms. Massie [and her hubby Cortney] later took up geocaching proved she was a human of appealingly deviant character.

When Ms.Massie submitted a story to Deathrealm a couple of months or so after our first meeting, I truly was over the moon, especially because, unlike a select number of "name" authors at the time, she did not send me a trunk story*, but a first-rate piece of fiction, which was at once horrifying, heartwarming, funny, and tragic. It was called "Smoothpicks," and it became one of Deathrealm's most acclaimed published works, for very good reason. It read as both a spontaneous graphic narrative as well as a stylized fable. Based on reader feedback, for some, it tiptoed into the "I-Can't-Suspend-My-Disbelief" zone, but if one read it as this editor believed it was intended, the more far-fetched aspects of the story were an absolute non-issue.

The story is a "jernal," penned by an inmate in a home for "mental dessectives." Mary is her name, known to some as "Hary Mary," not because she is a hairy girl but because "she so hary to be wit." Mary's best friend in the institution is a gentleman who goes by the name "Buggy," incarcerated after a personally devastating tour of duty in Vietnam. Although Buggy brought back memories of untold horrors from the Far East, he also returned with certain esoteric knowledge, which some modern medical practitioners might describe as a form of acupuncture, but which Mary merely calls "smooth stiks to help the hurt"—a.k.a. "Smoothpicks."

Buggy is occasionally taken with violent, destructive fits, yet when one of the inmates is in pain, he is the one who selflessly alleviates their suffering, by way of his "smoothpicks." After Buggy reaches a point of crisis, where he can only kill his personal demons by using a "big" smoothpick—a butcher knife—he leaves Mary with a special gift: an application of smoothpicks that brings her a clarity of mind she has never before known.

At this point, Mary faces an unimaginable choice. Whatever her choice, it is horror. It is tragedy. It is unbearable.

For her choice to have meaning, the reader must willfully suspend his or her disbelief; however, in the context of the story, such suspension is not just simple but natural. Over the course of the tale, Ms. Massie has drawn us into the realm of the impossible. And because her storytelling has captured most of us fully and without reservation, in context, the impossible no longer seems even implausible. At once, we both want and dread the final, nerve-shattering revelation. Without it, there is no catharsis. And in a story such as this—the kind of story at which Ms. Massie excels—we desire catharsis. Even if it hurts.
Elizabeth Massie, or emvirginia, as
she is known in geocaching circles

Though it springs from very early in Ms. Massie's long, varied career as an author, "Smoothpicks" displays the hallmarks of an expert storyteller: engaging, memorable characters; a distinctive voice; critical conflicts, both internal and external; and imagery that haunts the mind long after the reading is done. Over the years, I've read countless of Ms. Massie's stories and novels—I've even co-written two novels with her—and while she has gone on to explore endless new avenues in fiction, "Smoothpicks" remains a landmark work, both for her and for Deathrealm.

Copies of Deathrealm #7 are difficult, though probably not impossible, to find. "Smoothpicks" was reprinted in the anthology Deathrealms (Delirium Books, 2004) which may be marginally easier to acquire. You might check with eBay or Amazon.com to find available copies.

*More than one well-known author did this early in Deathrealm's run, for the professed purpose of "testing" my editorial prowess. I've never understood such a mindset, but apparently it exists. Submissions that struck me as being trunk stories always got bounced, no matter who they came from.

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Star Trek Continues

Are you a Star Trek fan? Me, I have always been fond of the original series (mostly) as well as the movies (mostly) and several of the spin-off series (somewhat). Until recently, it had been decades since I've seen any of the original series' episodes—probably the mid 1980s, when the show was still in regular syndication. However, when I discovered a year or so ago that the original episodes had been remastered and were available on Amazon Prime, I decided to give them a look. Once again, I enjoyed watching them (mostly), particularly the digital upgrading of the old special effects, which were primitive even in their time and disappointed me as far back as I can remember. Unlike some significant percentage of Star Trek fans, I'm not such a purist that I would stand by some unwritten law to the effect of "thou shalt not tamper."

I believe it was on Facebook that I recently caught wind of the existence of Star Trek Continues: a fan-made production that continues the timeline of the original series (1966–1969), made to resemble the show to an uncanny degree. Produced by Vic Mignogna, who also stars as Captain Kirk, the series of eleven episodes purports to complete the USS Enterprise's five-year mission, leading up to where Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979) begins. A week or so ago, with most of Star Trek's original series episodes fresh in mind, I took it to heart to watch Star Trek Continues in full over a period of several days.

And I really, really enjoyed it (mostly).

Indeed, the most striking aspect of the show is its resemblance to the familar Star Trek of old, down to the sets, the costumes, the camera angles, the four-act structure of the episodes—including fade-outs at the ends of scenes, where one might expect to see commercials. The majority of the music comes directly from the original series, with some additional compositions contributed by the ubiquitous Vic Mignogna. The special effects, courtesy of Emmy-award-winning SPFX artist Doug Drexler, are very much in keeping with the digital effects in the remastered episodes, so if you have watched those, the visuals prove gratifyingly consistent across the properties, and if not, the new effects work is many steps up from the old.
The USS Enterprise (NCC-1701) as rendered for Star Trek Continues by SPFX artist Doug Drexler
While the improved digital special effects work in the new series' favor, perhaps paradoxically, so do the the full-size interior and exterior sets, by way of their resemblance to the original's less-than-budget-busting constructs. The interior of the Enterprise—including the bridge, corridors, crew quarters, the shuttlecraft and bays—as well as planetary surfaces and structures, all match the appearance of the original series' sets to the detail. Indeed, the look, sound, and feel of Star Trek Continues makes it almost difficult believe one is not watching a licensed extension of the show.

But it really isn't. The new series was made as an unlicensed, non-profit fan production that CBS and Paramount Pictures, as well as Gene Roddenberry's estate, could have squashed before it began. But they didn't. In fact, Gene Roddenberry's son, Rod, has been quoted as saying, "I'm sure my dad would consider this canon, and as far as I am concerned, it is canon." I personally would go so far as to say I absolutely accept Star Trek Continues as canon. Given its serious, thoughtful scripts and performances, not to mention its near-flawless continuity, it would seem rather silly not to.

For the most part, it's the members of the main cast that represent the greatest departure from the feel of the original series. Few of them come as close to resembling the original characters, in either appearance or personality, as those in the J.J. Abrams reboot film series from the past few years. Regardless, once one becomes accustomed to the strange faces in the familiar roles, it's not difficult to accept these actors as the characters they portray. Although his tenor voice doesn't sound like William Shatner's, as Captain Kirk, Vic Mignogna captures many of Shatner's mannerisms and vocal rhythms such that, in no time, he becomes, for all intents and purposes, the real Captain Kirk. The same might be said for Todd Haberkorn, who neither looks nor sounds much like Leonard Nimoy, but whose earnest portrayal of Mr. Spock becomes easy enough to accept.
Todd Haberkorn (L) as Mr. Spock and Vic Mignogna (R) as Captain Kirk
The ladies of Star Trek Continues: Kim Stinger at Lt. Uhura, Kipleigh Brown as Lt. Smith,
Michele Specht as Dr. McKennah, and Cat Roberts as Lt. Palmer
If you close your eyes and listen, you would swear that the voice of Chief Engineer Montgomery Scott is none other than the late James Doohan, and you would be incorrect, but only just. Mr. Scott comes to life courtesy of Jimmy Doohan's son Chris, who seems as tailor-made for the role as his dad. And while his physical appearance doesn't much match Walter Koenig's, actor Wyatt Lenhart has captured Mr. Chekhov's voice and personality with striking precision.

While still "acceptable" in their parts, none of the other main cast members quite hit the right notes for their characters. Chuck Huber looks and sounds not so unlike Dr. McCoy as played by the late, great DeForest Kelley, but his rather wooden, by-the-numbers performance lacks assurance and, most crucially, a strong chemistry with Mr. Spock. And unfortunately, neither Grant Imahara as Mr. Sulu or Kim Stinger as Lt. Uhura offer performances matching the caliber of Mignogna, Haberkorn, or Doohan, although both actors do manage to shine at various moments.

As a favorable balance, Kipleigh Brown plays a strong Lt. Smith, whose character first appeared in the original series episode "Where No Man Has Gone Before," and who offers a few dramatic surprises, particularly during the last few episodes of the new series. Michele Specht comes aboard the Enterprise as Ship's Counselor Dr. Elise McKennah, whose character paves the way for future ships' counselors on board Starfleet spacecraft, the primary example being Counselor Deana Troy in Star Trek: The Next Generation, played by Marina Sirtis—who also provides the ship's computer voice in Star Trek Continues.
Mother and daughter play the same role. Joanne Linville (L) from the
original series, and daughter Amy Rydell (R) from Star Trek Continues

Several veteran Star Trek players, as well as other noteworthy actors, make appearances in the show, such as Michael Forest (who reprises his role as Apollo from the original series episode "Who Mourns for Adonais?"); John DeLancie (Q in Star Trek: The Next Generation, though here he plays an unrelated character); Colin Baker; Jamie Bamber; Lou Ferrigno; Anne Lockhart; and many others. Perhaps most notably, actress Amy Rydell appears as a Romulan Commander, the same role played by her mother, Joanne Linville, in the original series episode "The Enterprise Incident." In character, Rydell is a spitting image of her mother, as you may notice in the photo above.

Happily, for the most part, the new series' scripts are patterned after the best of the old and, with a few exceptions, deal admirably with non-fluffy topics, such as discrimination, personal ethics, and self-sacrifice. Many of the episodes relate directly to events from the original series, such as the aforementioned "Who Mourns for Adonais?", "Mirror, Mirror," "The Tholian Web," "The Enterprise Incident," and "Where No Man Has Gone Before." It is, in fact, the latter episode—the "second" pilot for the original series, and the first to star William Shatner as Captain Kirk—that provides the basis for the final two-part episode of Star Trek Continues ("To Boldly Go"), thus bringing the two series full circle. "To Boldly Go" also addresses and settles major plot points that have developed over the course of the series, as well as opening the door for the events to come in Star Trek: The Motion Picture, making it the most satisfying and all-around best episode of the new series.

Is Star Trek Continues a worthy successor to the original series? Apart from the generally less-accomplished cast, I'd call it far superior to the J.J. Abrams reboot films, and possibly go as far as saying it is equal to or better than most of the myriad Star Trek spinoff series. As a labor of love, it stands out far beyond any fan-made production that I have ever encountered. To say that it is sincere is an understatement; it is an expression of rarely matched creative integrity, succeeding on multiple levels—thematically, artistically, and dramatically.

If you are even a casual Star Trek fan, do yourself the service of checking out Star Trek Continues. It's not perfect—sometimes far from it—but in general it embodies the best of what Star Trek stood for from the beginning, sometimes in ways that exceed the original.

You can watch all the episodes for free, as well as find additional information about the production, at Star Trek Continues. Also visit Star Trek Continues on Facebook.
Vic Mignona as Captain Kirk
Michele Specht as Counselor Dr. Elise McKennah
Chris Doohan as Mr. Scott
Kim Stinger at Lt. Uhura
There's trouble in Engineering in "Come Not Between the Dragons"
Mess not with these gentlemen!