Wednesday, September 27, 2017

A Random Story of a Narrow Escape

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

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

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

That is all.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Still Believing, Young Blood, and More

Scary author with the novel Young Blood

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

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

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

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

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

Check out the Young Blood Facebook page here.

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

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

See you at the curtain call.

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

Saturday, September 23, 2017

COMING UP: Danville's Fall Book Festival

COMING UP: Brewed Awakening's Fall Book Festival, on Saturday, September 30, at the store, located at 610 Craghead St., Danville, VA 24541 I'll be on location to sell and sign books (yes, my own; I get fussed at for signing other writers' books). I plan to have copies of The Monarchs, Blue Devil Island, Other Gods, The Gaki, and possibly others on hand, so if you are in traveling distance and possessed of exceptional intestinal fortitude, by all means, stop by. I'd love to see you.

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

Mark your calendar and join us.

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

Monday, September 11, 2017

On Never Forgetting

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The very definition of it.

Friday, September 8, 2017

On the Return, at Its End

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

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

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

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

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

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

Would Dougie Jones ever "wake up?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, September 4, 2017

Light the Night

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

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

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Writers' Round at The Daily Grind

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

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

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

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

Saturday, September 2, 2017

On the Fear of the Other

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To paraphrase Longfellow...

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

Friday, September 1, 2017

Young Blood Five-Year Anniversary Event

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some links of interest: