Friday, September 20, 2019

Interview with an Old Fart

Last week, writer Fiona McVie interviewed me for her Author Interviews Blog. It's a fairly extensive Q & A, which offered me plenty of opportunity to carry on about things worth carrying on about. I talk about Elizabeth Massie's Ameri-Scares series, Blue Devil Island, the writing process in general, some of my favorite dark fiction, a little geocaching, and why I am, in general, a big old troublemaker. Please do check it out to see what makes an old dude tick:

Saturday, September 14, 2019

We've Got the Belews

For a long time now, Ms. B. and I have been looking to get back together with Skyhawk63 (a.k.a. Tom), Punkins19 (a.k.a. Linda) for a nice geocaching/picnicking/wining outing on their boat. We had last gone out with them on Belews Lake, just this side of Winston-Salem, in August 2016. Recently, opportunities kept falling through due to our respective busy schedules and prohibitive circumstances continually cropping up, but today, the tide finally turned in our favor. We hit the road early this morning, met Tom and Linda at their place, and set out for Belews. Though the weather report called for no rain, rather to our dismay, the sky started out dark and seemingly threatening. However, per the forecast, rain never materialized, and the only water we had to cope with was the very warm lake water when one or more of us hopped out to grab geocaches.

Only a handful of caches remained on the lake that I haven't already claimed, and, over the course of the day, I managed to grab all those I targeted. There was one I didn't hunt, as it appears to be missing, and I didn't bother with the handful of EarthCaches out there, which have no physical containers. Three of the five I did find belonged to Tom and/or Linda, so at least I had a better-than-average shot at finding anything that proved overly difficult (happily, none did). We had ravenous/thirsty folks on the boat, so between the picnic lunches, sweet treats, and variety of drinks/spirits we had on hand, and not a smidgin of our stores went to waste.

As always with the Imbuses, the company couldn't have been better. Good food, good caching, and good folks. Upon our return home, Ms. B. and I put on Casino Royale, one of my favorite 007 films, mainly to check out scenery from Montenegro and Venice, since we plan to visit both those places, among others, on an upcoming big trip.

Happy geeking to the lot of you. There will be geeking here.
Hold onto thy hat, there be a big breeze here!
All that remains of an old railroad trestle
Ms. B. and Linda
Approaching the Duke Energy power plant
An old, abandoned boat we discovered
A quaint little shack we passed

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Ameri-Scares Ohio: Fear the Grassman! Excerpt #1

My next novel in Elizabeth Massie's Ameri-Scares series is for the state of Ohio. This one is tentatively titled Fear the Grassman! because it's about... you guessed it... the Ohio Grassman, which, according to local legend, is a kind of big old Bigfoot creature. And here is a short excerpt, which I hope will scare the pants of you. (But hold onto your pants, or you might end up kind of cold because, in the scene, it's wintertime.)
#
Landon laughed, turned, and began running—or stumbling—toward the edge of the woods with his brother in hot pursuit. A snowball whizzed past his ear. He ran first to the left, then to the right, trying not to trip over his own feet. He heard rapid, crunching footsteps just behind him. Then—WHAM!—it felt like a boulder of snow crashing down on his head.

“Got you with the big bomb!” Tom cried.

Cold, glittering crystals cascaded over his shoulders. This time, Landon lost his balance and went down on his knees. He heard Tom’s footsteps just behind him. He ducked and covered his head with his arms, certain the next bomb was about to fall. Then he noticed something in the snow to his left.

“Hey!”

WHAM!

Another blow, and snow crumbled over his head and shoulders.

He paid it no mind. “Wait a minute! Look!” He pulled one arm away from his head and pointed at the snow-covered ground a few feet away.

For a long moment, he expected Tom to hit him yet again, but nothing happened.

“Wow,” came Tom’s low voice.

Both boys’ gazes now took in what had caught Landon’s attention: a double row of deep impressions in the snow that led through the yard along the edge of the woods.

They looked like footprints.

Huge, gigantic, unbelievable footprints.

Landon and Tom gathered around the nearest print and stared at it in silent awe. It had to be fully two feet long. The next nearest lay at least six feet away. The falling snow had partly covered the tracks. But there could be no mistaking their distinctive outlines: they looked like the prints of a giant man’s bare feet.

“I’ve never seen anybody that big before,” Landon whispered.

“Yeah. And who would be out in the snow with no shoes on?” Tom said.

Landon followed the prints with his eyes. He pointed off to the right. “That’s where they go into the woods. Can’t tell where they go from there.”

Both boys stood motionless, listening to the soft, fluttering sound of falling snow. Beyond that, there was only the low moan of a slight, distant breeze.

Landon heard a heavy crunch from somewhere not far away....
#

Monday, September 9, 2019

Farewell to the Rives

Photo by Martinsville Police Dept.
The last remaining movie theater in my hometown from my youth is no more. Last night, fire ravaged the Rives Theater in Martinsville; it is expected to be a total loss. Fortunately, no one was injured, and property damage was confined to the theater. Although the Rives hasn't shown first-run movies for several years, it was still used for occasional special screenings and had become a popular local venue for musical acts. It's highly unlikely the theater will be rebuilt.
I didn't see Tom Jones or Irma La Douce at the Rives, but
I did see The Ghost and Mr. Chicken there in 1966.

It's so disheartening to see another of the town's landmarks fade into the past. Martinsville had its share of nice movie houses when I was a kid — the Rives, the Martin, the Town & Country — as well as several drive-in theaters — the 220, the Castle, the Family, and The Martinsville. Every one of them, now gone.

Of all these, the Rives was where I spent the most time as a lad. Rarely did a weekend go by that I didn't attend one of the Saturday or Sunday matinees — always either at 1:00 p.m. or 3:00 p.m. — and I'd occasionally go to the regular evening shows as well, especially once I got my driver's license and could transport myself and whatever company I might be keeping at the time. A pudgy, white-haired gentleman named Tommy managed the theater, and he was a fixture there for more years than I can recount. I saw so many classics and personal favorites from the 1960s and early 1970s in that dark, familiar auditorium: The Wizard of Oz, The Ghost and Mr. Chicken, Swiss Family Robinson, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Bigfoot, When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Planet of the Apes, Beneath the Planet of the Apes, War of the Gargantuas/Monster Zero, Yog - Monster From Space, Skyjacked, Cougar Country, Munster Go Home, House of Dark Shadows/Night of Dark Shadows, Return of Count Yorga, The Legend of Boggy Creek, FrogsThe Poseidon Adventure, Earthquake, The Towering Inferno, The Legend of Hillbilly John, Diamonds Are Forever, Jaws, Godzilla vs. the Bionic Monster, even Star Wars in later years... the list goes on and on and on.

I believe it was in the 1980s that the theater was remodeled and divided into two auditoriums. At that point, it never seemed quite the same, yet it was still undeniably the Rives. A damn fun place to be.

I'm pretty certain that the last first-run film I saw at the Rives was Mel Gibson's The Passion of Christ in 2004. In 2009, I did go to a special midnight showing of Night of the Living Dead there. And it was in September 2012 that I set foot in the Rives Theater for the last time, when Mat & Myron Smith's Young Blood: Evil Intentions premiered. (Some of you may recall I appeared in the movie and in 2015 wrote the novelization of the film.) I have missed seeing movies at that place above all others — well, except for maybe those old drive-in theaters — and I can't say it doesn't break my heart a little that I'll likely never have the opportunity to revisit that favorite old haunt.

Well, time and the world do move on, but history is history, and the Rives Theater played an awfully big part in mine. The Rives, for all intents and purposes, was an old friend, and I will miss it so.

Goodnight.
The Rives Theater in its heyday
The Rives' remodeled facade
Aftermath
Special showings of the 1940s Batman serial at the Rives, which I attended in the mid-1960s

Thursday, September 5, 2019

Options


I figured I ought to check in here on ye olde blog this evening, as it's been way too long since I've had the opportunity to post any updates. It's no exaggeration to say that the past two weeks have been the most uncertain, discombobulating, and stressful that I have ever lived through, topped off by an uncomfortable and infuriating sinus/respiratory bug. My mom's personal circumstances, which have been nominally stable for the past few years, nose-dived recently, when she succumbed to pneumonia and took a couple of falls. This has required an unprecedented level of intervention on my part (and my brother's, to some extent), and a major life-change for her is now inevitable. Beyond that, there's no need to elaborate, so I'll merely ask that those of you who consider me a friend please keep me, my brother, and my mom in your hearts. It's a tough, tough time, and every little bit of support means the world to me.

At this point, things have settled enough that we can  take a breather before the next round. At least, I hope so. The next round is coming, but I feel that we are as prepared as prepared can be under the circumstances.

I've been able to work in only the barest minimum of geocaching (that which keeps me sane), but today, a couple of new trail hides awaited my attention. After work, I met friend Fishdownthestair (a.k.a. Natalie) out at the Kingfisher Trail, just north of Greensboro, where a couple of new caches required my attention. (Fortuitously, one of them — called "Options" because there's more than one method of reaching the well-hidden cache — belongs to Ms. FDTS herself.) Hers proved to be a wonderfully conceived, physically challenging hide, which required a certain degree of acrobatic prowess to conquer (see photo above). That done, it was on to friend Old Rob's newest. Happily, we made short work of it. I also ended up doing unexpected maintenance on one of my own hides out there, which required acrobatics of the same sort you see in said photo. Someone had replaced it somewhat out of keeping with its original intent (again, see photo), and I wasn't about to let that stand. Thing is, when I retrieved her new cache, Natalie had neglected to take any photos, so on our return trip, I recreated my original venture to ground zero (photo) so she could snap the requisite pictures.

Afterward, we ventured forth to Uptown Charlie's, one of our favorite post-caching dining destinations, where I partook of Pernicious IPA and Suicide Chicken Wings. So, for at least this evening, a sense of normality, or something such, managed to prevail, and thus energized, it is back to the writing of my next Ameri-Scares novel, this one for the state of Ohio, tentatively titled Fear the Grassman! Hey, it's Bigfoot, man.

Coming up, one thing I think I might do here — for my own sake — is occasionally post some recollections of my mom from over the years. I feel it will be therapeutic, and a touch of therapy about now could only be a good thing. You may change the channel or go out for a drink if you prefer; it won't bother me. Some things I do share, but they're really about preserving personal history. I trust you understand.

Till the next.

Friday, August 23, 2019

Pleasant Hill

My view from Pleasant Hill. Little has changed here in sixty years.
I've never thought of the house where I grew up in Martinsville as "Pleasant Hill," but my Mom always has. Some years ago, she had a plaque made that bears the name, which she affixed to the outside wall next to the front door. Thus, when visitors came round, which they once did frequently, they knew then and there they had arrived on Pleasant Hill.

This is one of those very personal blogs I am sometimes compelled to write. I'm all about sharing my blog entries, and I hope those of you who visit do enjoy them; however, I do often go into details that surely mean little or nothing to you. But they do to me, and I can't count how many times I've looked back at events I've recorded here and thanked the lord I posted what might appear to be the most trivial day-to-day events. I will tell you, I treasure my memories, especially since for the last few years I've been watching, up close and personal, what it's like to lose everything that has defined a beloved individual, established her identity, made that person who she is — or was — over the course of a lifetime. My mom is a walking ghost, a caricature of the unique person she was. Having lived with this steady decline since 2015, I've come to dread more than anything else losing such vital components of who I am. To become a hollow shell, devoid of all the little details and nuances that define my existence. The tenets of my soul, if you will.
The front porch

I'm here with Mom several times a month to look after her, to handle her affairs, to make sure she's safe when her regular nurses are off. I essentially manage two lives, mine and hers, and yes, there are times it is overwhelming. I cannot deny that I have on occasion utterly lost my shit over the whole business, and I suspect that any of you who have dealt with a loved one suffering from Alzheimers/Dementia can relate. While my dad's long, slow physical decline was horrific enough, until the end, Dad was still Dad. He was never a stranger, an imposter. A ghost. Not like my mom.

On these occasions when I'm here at Pleasant Hill, I often take some time to reflect on life, my family's past, the experiences I've had here over the past sixty years. To remember, even relive, what was mostly joy at this place. Certainly, no home, no life, is perfect, but I was fortunate enough to have the most loving parents a person could hope for, to grow up in a beautiful home, provided by my dad and nurtured by my mom. There was never a more gentle, loving, intelligent, empathetic soul than my mom. The person upstairs bears a superficial resemblance to her, but so little remains of who she truly was. Her body is still functioning, and may yet for some time, but I couldn't have grieved more for her than if she had already passed away.

When she was of sound mind, Mom requested that I write her obituary. She felt I would do her life justice. I had considered writing it tonight, but I just couldn't bring myself to do it, and so I sat down to write this instead.

Once Mom is gone, Pleasant Hill is supposed to pass on to me, should circumstances permit. Who knows if they actually will. Whether the place does or doesn't, right now, I have a lifetime of memories here, and I fervently desire to retain them. Of course, we don't always have a choice in such matters. If offered the choice, I know Mom would never have chosen the place life has taken her, and thus those of us who love her so.

When I am here in Martinsville, I never fail to have a drink or two to Pleasant Hill. Before life is over and done with, I imagine I will have drunk a few more.

Bless you all.
Welcome.
My view as I write.
A pleasant little corner of the kitchen with the wine bottle lamp Ms. B. and I made for Mom a few years ago.
A bit of history on the family room wall

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Deadlines!

It's been a busy, busy month, writing-wise and life-wise. A couple of tight deadlines for short stories have kept my schnozz to the grindstone for most of the past month. Both tales are now finished, the second one sent off to the editors as of this afternoon. Even geocaching time has been sparse these past few weeks, although I have managed a handful of decent outings. Blogging, for better or for worse, has been right out. Next up, I have my third Ameri-Scares novel — set in Ohio — to write. It'll be about the Ohio Grassman — basically, the Ohio version of Bigfoot. I've always been keen on the idea of writing a Bigfoot book, so here it comes, and you people better watch out.

Don't know when I'll get to blog next, but rest assured I will return eventually. In the meantime, here's a spider.

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Big Wildlife, Big Fun in Apex

Team No Dead Weight strikes again: Ye Olde Man, Diefenbaker, Fishdownthestair, and
Old Bloody One-Eyed Rob
The usual suspects — Diefenbaker (a.k.a. Scott), Fishdownthestair (a.k.a. Natalie), Old Bloody One-Eyed Robgso (a.k.a. Rob) — gathered this morning at Casa de Fish and hit the highway in the direction of Apex, bound for geocaching. (Surprised you, didn't I? I bet you thought I was going to say we were bound for geocaching. Oh, wait....) Our primary target was the White Oak Creek Greenway, where a fair crapload of caches lay in wait for us. A considerable length of the greenway runs through the marsh around White Oak Creek on a wide wooden boardwalk, which afforded us a fine view of all kinds of critters, including Daikaiju Gamera's only slightly smaller first cousin, Eugene. When I first noticed Eugene, I thought I was a seeing a large turtle lounging in the water. Then I realized I was seeing just the head of the largest snapping turtle I've ever seen. Big. BIG-ass snapping turtle. I'm kinda glad we weren't slogging through the marsh at that point because we might have gotten snapped at.

We had already encountered one giant critter on our way to the marsh. A few miles back while stopping at a cache, we ran into Ms. Betty, a surpassing large Golden Orb Weaver (a.k.a. Garden Spider). Ms. Betty didn't seem to mind us poking around her place looking for cache, maybe because she had already signed the log. She did appear rather smug.
Not much sense of scale in these photos, but both Eugene (L—and that is just his head!)
and Ms. Betty (R) were big. BIG.

We also found a couple of trees that afforded us — well, in this case, me — an opportunity to change our vertical perspective a tad. I would consider neither of these big scary climbs, but the smaller of the two actually offered more of an adrenaline rush because the leaning trunk was so rotten I wasn't sure it would hold me for the length of time it took to go up and sign the log. Had the trunk broken, I wouldn't have fallen more than five or six feet, but that's enough to bruise one's pride if not one's backside. The other climb proved a little more challenging, but even that wasn't terribly high; I estimate no more than ten feet. Still, that was enough elevation to inspire me to keep a tight grip on the branches. All ended well, and we did get our team name (the ubiquitous moniker, Team No Dead Weight) emblazoned on the logs.
A welcome opportunity to make a change of elevation. But would someone call the fire
department please? I think I'm stuck
.


Lunch at Sophie's Grill & Bat in Apex made for the perfect post-hiking repast. The chicken fingers and hot sauce really hit the spot, and the fries weren't bad. Thing is, I'd burned my tongue on my super-hot coffee this morning, and that hot sauce really got a mouth fire going. It took a lot of cold beer and water to put that thing out.

On our journey home, we stopped off at a tunnel cache in Siler City that Scott and I had already claimed — "Uncle Hargis's Potato Patch" (GC38ZXD) — but since the young lady still needed it, we stopped to let her do the deed. Since it was a tunnel hide, I went on in there anyway. It seemed the thing to do at the time.

Daughter Allison is in town for a few days, so we went out for sushi at Fuji Sushi this evening. Most enjoyable, and we're planning to have dinner again tomorrow night, with Ms. B. also attending.

Is nice. All very, very nice.
View of the boardwalk and marsh at the White Oak Creek Greenway, near Apex

Sunday, August 4, 2019

Scares That Care 2019


It's been too many years since I've been to a horror convention of any size and excellent calibre, but this year's Scares That Care charity event in Williamsburg, VA, is the one that got me back. Ms. B. and I joined writer, publisher, and longtime friend David Niall Wilson, his wife Trish, and daughter Katie to work the Crossroad Press table for much of the weekend. The crowd turned out to be prodigious, and I understand the attendees this year helped raise a record amount of money for individuals and groups in specific need.

Early morning Friday, Kimberly and I set out for Williamsburg. It's generally about a four-hour trip, but this one clocked in at over six, given that we stopped for a handful of geocaches, broke for lunch at the always excellent Cul's Courthouse Grill in Charles City, VA, and ended up detouring due to an accident that had closed I-85 North south of Petersburg. That re-routing cost us a half hour or so, but it sure as hell beat sitting on the interstate for hours with absolutely nowhere to go.

When we arrived, we immediately headed to the dealer's room and stationed ourselves with the Crossroad Press gang. They had brought a huge inventory with them, and by all indications, they did well—as did just about everyone I talked to. I moved a few copies of Blue Devil Island, Ameri-Scares West Virginia: Lair of the Mothman, and Ameri-Scares Michigan: The Dragon of Lake Superior, which pleased me muchly. That was where Kimberly and I spent the majority of our time, but I did manage to take numerous breaks and explore the various chambers of the convention hall. I ran into many old friends—such as Maurice Broaddus, Chris Harding, Lynne Hansen, Nick Kaufman, Nick Mamatas, Elizabeth Massie, Cortney Skinner, Steven Shrewsbury, Mark Sieber, Jeff Strand, con organizer/writer Brian Keene, and others—as well as meet a number of folks I've known or known of over the years but had never met in the flesh, such as the guys at Tom Deady, Death's Head Press, Jonathan Maberry, Bryan Nowak, Dave Simms, Paul Tremblay, Sidney Williams, Jezzy Wolfe, and many more.
Trish and Katie Wilson at the Crossroad Press table. They only look dangerous,
they really aren't... oh, wait... yeah, they're dangerous.
Okay, so Brugger likes dudes with long legs, but this is ridiculous.
Author Paul Tremblay, looking pleasantly unpleasant.
Friday evening, the dealer's and celebrity rooms stayed open till 9:00 p.m., so rather than try to get a group together for dinner, Kimberly and I went into Williamsburg's historical district and put away a small feast at The Hound's Tale, an atmospheric little tavern that we quite enjoyed. I went for braised rabbit leg with pasta, accompanied by a fair malbec, while the lady chose smoked chicken pierogis and an interesting red blend. Perhaps not the best dinner of the weekend, but an all-around enjoyable one. Fine service bumped up the experience.
Mr. Skinner and his long-lost protegé

Without much ado, we returned to the con and the dealer's room. We hung out there till closing time, then accompanied the Wilsons back to their chambers where we—or at least a couple of us—put away some seriously good bourbon: Basil Hayden's, which I'd never tried before. We retired at a fairly reasonable hour for a big old convention. I don't know what hour that was, but I have it on good authority that it was reasonable. Kimberly and I did not have a room at the con hotel, but at the Mainstay Suites a few miles up the road. The place was spacious, clean, and convenient, so we can stamp it with our stamp of approval.

Saturday morning, we zoomed back to the con, continued the dealer's room gig for a bit, but took time out to attend readings by Dave and Ms. Massie. Both were brilliant and, for me, among the many highlights of the con. Once again, Kimberly and I settled ourselves at the table and sold some books. Kim spent much of her time producing a beautiful little piece of artwork, as she is frequently wont to do.
A very skeered Ms. Massie! (She has somehow noticed the dude behind the camera.)
Maurice Broaddus and Jonathan Maberry. The photo turned out a bit hazy, which leads me to believe these
gentlemen may have been emitting some kind of lethal radiation. Will report any unusual results later.
Ms. Massie reads her story from the anthology Freedom of Screech, while Mr. Wilson is on deck
with his tale of the Right Reverend Cletus J. Diggs.
Now, no con is complete without some scary geocaching in the mix. And not a mile from the con hotel there lay a geocache with the innocuous-sounding title of "Under a Lightpole." However, its difficulty and terrain ratings on the website gave away the fact that finding it would surely involve a terrain challenge. One of my preferred terrain challenges, in fact: delving underground into a storm drain. In this case, based on my inspection of Google aerial view images, it appeared to be a relatively short one. So, after a quick lunch from the hotel deli, I buzzed over to the cache location and scoped out the site. Sure enough, the culvert entrance was there—not far from the lightpole in question, but down an embankment covered with such thick growth that the cache's terrain rating of "4" (out of 5) might apply just to one's approach. No worries for me, though, for I had come prepared with the tools of the trade.

There be geocaching spoilers here....
The entrance to my destination.
Looking up: yep, that there is where Imma going.

I hacked my way to the stream below and found a considerable amount of water lying between the entrance and me. However, the pipe itself was elevated and appeared dry. I used a couple of small trees to swing myself over the pool, and barely even got my feet wet. Once inside the concrete tube, it was a cakewalk. Well, a stooping cakewalk.

About thirty feet in, there was junction and a ladder leading up to a ledge above my head, with another ladder above that led to a covered manhole. I made the assumption, based on the ratings, that the cache surely resided way up there, above my head. So I made the necessary ascent and began my search in earnest.

But for naught. Are you kidding me? The thing had been found recently, and I felt certain it couldn't have disappeared in just the past few days. So, I set about searching the lower section of the junction and... for the love of Pete... here it is, way down here. I'm quite certain the difficulty rating for this one is way too high, but that's just me. Hey, I had much, much fun doing this, and I'm actually quite glad I undertook the greater terrain challenge. Always a good time.

I had barely gotten wet from my venture into the tube, but by the time I hacked my way back to the car, I had become a drippy, hot, sweaty mess from the intense heat and humidity. Fortunately, I was pretty well prepared for this as well. Once back at the con, I found myself a vacant bathroom, scrubbed myself down, and changed into the extra clothes I'd brought.
Mr. Wilson wailing out some karaoke at the hotel bar

The rest of the afternoon, we tended the Crossroad Press table. Sold a few books. We learned that Dave Simms had reserved a place for a dozen of us at the nearby Sportsmans Grille. Now, while this place might be considered a "sports bar," in reality, it offers a massive selection of entrées, burgers, sandwiches, salads, and a fine bar. Our dirty dozen—the Simms clan, the Wilson clan, Mr. Skinner, Ms. Massie, Brugger, and I—occupied a strategic area of the restaurant for conquering huge dinners. I started with a very well-made vodka martini and, for the main course, ordered a pound of steamed shrimp. They were heavenly. Very large, perfectly cooked and seasoned, with excellent cocktail sauce. It looked like everyone else chose wisely as well. I gotta give this place very high marks, and I hope to have another opportunity to drink & dine there.
Old Dude hollering out "The One I Love"

After dinner, some of us got the wacky idea we should participate in the karaoke thingummy going on in the hotel bar. Well, I sometimes play guitar and holler in public, and I've done karaoke before. Ms. B. is a helluva singer. And Mr. Wilson can more than do justice to a tune as well. So, three of us signed up to do the deed, claimed a counter in the bar for ourselves, and we waited. And we waited. And we waited. Holy shit, the karaoke dude kept putting these two fellows who sang in a band behind the mic instead of letting people who hadn't sung yet do their thing. This annoyed me no end, but a couple of hours, a beer, and a Woodford Reserve on the rocks later, our turns came. I wailed out REM's "The One I Love," Kim turned in a beautiful performance of The Indigo Girls's "Galileo," and Dave gave us a fine rendition of...a song I did not know. It was an exhausting evening after a long day of it, but this was that fun kind of exhaustion that is hardly disagreeable.

And for all practical purposes, that was the end of Scares That Care 2019 for us. This morning, Brugger and I got up, made the rounds, and said our goodbyes. Then we hit the road. Before we got very far, I snagged a nice cache, called "Colonial Redwoods," at William & Mary College—where they actually have a couple of huge redwoods—and then, a fair piece down the road, a quick park & grab cache somewhere off I-85 South.

My only real regret about this con was that, other than Dave and Beth's readings, I didn't get to see or participate in the programming. Such are the rigors of manning a dealer table. Regardless, that in itself was a task I was happy to do, and I got to meet quite a lot of folks as they passed through the room. Back in the late 1980s through the early 2000s, I frequently went to and participated in many of the big, professional cons, and Scares That Care most reminds me of Horrorfind, which used to be held in Baltimore. It has much of that same atmosphere, with so many big-name media, author, and artist guests in attendance—so many of whom used to go to Horrorfind. It's all for a worthy cause, and I'm happy to support it for that reason.

I hope to get back to Scares next year. It is most definitely an event to anticipate.
Bryan Nowack and Sidney Williams manning the HWA table. It is best not feed these gentlemen,
for I am told they are voracious and don't know when to quit.

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

‘Ameri-Scares’: Margot Robbie’s LuckyChap & Assemble Media Developing Family Horror Anthology

A bit of happy news regarding Elizabeth Massie's Ameri-Scares series....

This deal has been in the works for a while, and Ms. Massie can finally announce that Margot Robbie and her LuckyChap Entertainment are teaming with Assemble Media and Warner Horizon to develop the Ameri-Scares book series as a family-friendly horror anthology broadcast and/or streaming series.

There are fifty books planned for the Crossroad Press series, one for each state, each involving legends, folklore, or historical events from that particular state. Eleven have been released so far, including two of my own contributions, West Virginia: Lair of the Mothman and Michigan: The Lake Superior Dragon. I do have more in the pipeline, including books for Georgia and Ohio. At this point, the TV series is still in development, and I will of course post more news when it's available.

Visit Deadline.com for more details.

Monday, July 22, 2019

Remembering Greg Shoemaker


This weekend I received the devastating news that Greg Shoemaker — consummate giant monster fan, gifted editor, friend, and, in many ways, one of my earliest creative mentors — passed away on Friday. If you're reading this blog, there's a fair chance you either knew him or knew of him. Greg rightfully earned the reputation of having birthed daikaiju fandom in the United States, most notably via his long-running fanzine, The Japanese Fantasy Film Journal, which I discovered as a lad of 10 or 11 in 1970. At that time, living in the little town of Martinsville, VA, I was already a diehard Godzilla fan and an aficionado of giant monsters in monsters in general. As such, every month, I picked up a copy of Famous Monsters of Filmland, always hoping to find photos of and articles about Godzilla, kith and kin. In one issue, in the Classified Ads section, I happened upon a listing that advertised the "Godzilla" issue of something called The Japanese Fantasy Film Journal. It cost a whopping 35¢, so I sent off a quarter and a dime to the editor.

For a while, nothing arrived, and I began to get frustrated. Then, one day, a manila envelope showed up in the mail. The return address indicated it was my long-awaited issue of what came to be known as JFFJ. When I opened it, I found, not a "Godzilla" issue, but one devoted to Frankenstein Conquers the World, a movie I had never seen but had heard of — once again, in the pages of Famous Monsters. In the editorial, called "In Right Relations," ye editor, Mr. Gregory Shoemaker, apologized to readers who had ordered the Godzilla issue via FM. Due to the lag time between the ad's submission and publication — and because the ad had drawn considerable attention — that first issue was no longer available. Thus, Greg filled the order with the most recent issue, which was #4. At first, I felt a tad disappointed. I had really wanted Godzilla.

Well, I was disappointed until I started reading the text in the cheaply printed mimeographed fanzine. Holy cow, this thing was filled with serious, critical writing. The editor and the various feature writers took these movies as seriously as I did. It wasn't like the pro magazines of the day, which mostly made fun of my favorite monster flicks. And thus I was hooked. I sent in my couple of bucks for a subscription. And thus began my love affair with JFFJ. Not only that, I fired off a letter to Mr. Shoemaker, expressing in gushing terms how much I enjoyed the fruits of his labor.

Greg wrote me back a long, thoughtful, appreciative letter. He was clearly a bit older than I, and most definitely wiser. In my decade-plus-change-long existence, I had never met anyone as well-informed about my favorite movies as Greg. We began a longtime correspondence that lasted decades.

In those days, I wrote and illustrated my own Godzilla stories, which I confess were dreadful, but I sure enjoyed creating them. I sent several of them to Greg, hoping he might find them thrilling beyond words. He promptly wrote back with encouraging but brutally honest criticism. That he failed to recognize the brilliance of my work disappointed me no end, but somehow, I took heart in the fact he had taken the time to recommend artists I should study, authors he thought might positively influence me, thus giving me hope I might improve enough for my work to one day grace the pages of JFFJ. He motivated me, creatively, like no one else to date ever had. I drew. I practiced. I threw every bit of my creative energy into producing work that might somehow impress the one guy on earth I knew I had to impress.

Greg did it. He accepted some of my art for publication.

It wasn't long afterward that I decided to try my hand at publishing a fanzine of my own. I studied the layouts of JFFJ, the styles of the various writers, the placement of the wonderful art that accompanied the articles and filmbooks. And in 1974, at age 15, I produced the first issue of Japanese Giants, which was devoted to Destroy All Monsters, a movie JFFJ had not yet covered in depth.

The history of JG is a whole 'nuther story. The first issue wasn't much to look at, but it was a true labor of love. By way of a couple of other publishers I became acquainted with, JG actually lasted until the early years of the 21st century. Without question, Greg Shoemaker had more than a small hand in JG's success, despite the fact he considered it "the competition."

I met Greg face-to-face for the first time in 1982, when I went to Chicago to visit my friends Ed Godziszewski and Bill Gudmundson, fellow monster fans who had also come together via JFFJ (not to mention they became the Japanese Giants Guys). I had visited Ed and Bill in 1978 and 1979, and in 1982, I began dreaming of actually moving to Chicago to be there with the Japanese Giants Guys because, really... where else would I want to be? In August of 1982, I flew back to Chicago for an extended visit, having no idea that the World Science Fiction Convention was happening there at the time. But it was... and Greg had come into town to attend. Wow, what a serendipity. I met him for the first time at the convention center and thought, holy cow, this guy is Neil Diamond. Well, he did kinda look like Neil Diamond (except he was far more handsome).

In our continuing correspondence, above and beyond monster business, Greg and I talked music, art, life, everything. His tastes influenced mine, always for the better. He spoke his mind honestly, sometimes bluntly, but never without empathy. Despite his strong convictions, he communicated with humility, compassion, and respect. He loved animals. Like me, he sometimes seemed to relate to them more strongly than people.

Sure enough, in 1983, I moved to Chicago. In 1986, when I got married, Greg came to Chicago to attend the festivities. He met my parents, who remembered how profoundly he had influenced me during my teens. In the early 2000s, I had the pleasure of hanging out for a few extended periods with Greg at a G-Fest or two in Chicago. Perhaps ironically, it was about the time that Facebook became the preferred means of communication that our contacts became less frequent. But Greg had always told me he was somewhat reclusive. He had little affinity for social media.

In this past decade, my communications with Greg have been relatively few — mostly via Facebook. Greg wasn't old (he was 72). I guess I somehow expected him to be around for a long time yet. I've never, ever stopped admiring him or remembering how deeply our interactions in my formative youth affected me. I recall that, in our correspondence in the 80s, I had let him know this, at least to some extent. Now more than ever, knowing he's gone, I wish I could have the chance to reiterate that fact. To let him know that he influenced my life not only directly, but indirectly. Despite the recent, relative rarity of our communications, at no time has Greg not been close to me in heart and mind.

To be honest, I have no idea how my existence impacted his, if at all; all I know is that he cared enough for me and about me to willingly share quite a bit of his life with me. I respect and love that. I am, at this moment, heartbroken. But we are all bound for the same destination, and I trust Greg has gone at peace and with the knowledge that his existence touched others deeply. I know I am far from the only one he touched in similar fashion.

Farewell, my friend Greg. I will remember you always.
Thanks to Darlene Michalski for the photos of Greg. I have a few of him from Chicago in the 1980s, tucked away in the vault. It's a massive job, searching the vault, but I do hope to turn up some of those pics.

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

The First Batch Is in the House!

The first copies of Michigan: The Dragon of Lake Superior just darkened my doorstep. It's my second entry in the Elizabeth Massie's Ameri-Scares series, and the design — as always from Crossroad Press — is top-notch. These books are perfect for young readers, ages 8–14, and also for adventure-loving adults. Please check out this one, and our other Ameri-Scares novels. And reviews are always appreciated. Thank you!

Monday, July 15, 2019

BBC's Quatermass & The Pit


Director Roy Ward Baker's Five Million Years to Earth (a.k.a. Quatermass and the Pit, Hammer, 1967), has long been one of my favorite horror/SF films. I saw it for the first time in my very early teens, and it has haunted me since then, much in the way Jacques Tourneur's Curse (Night) of the Demon has haunted me over the years. Having pre-ordered the upcoming Blu-ray of the 1967 film, I decided to also pick up the DVD of the 1958–59 BBC six-part serial Quatermass and the Pit, which I had never seen except for a few clips online. Last year, a remastered version of the serial was released on Blu-ray in the UK, but the domestic DVD that I picked up, from 2010, features video quality that is only fair.

Regardless, the original television serial proved a delight. Renowned screenwriter Nigel Kneale scripted both the television production and the Hammer film, and while both follow the same story, the serial, by way of its longer running time, more thoroughly develops the characters and concepts. In both serial and film, the story tells of eerie events that have been going on for centuries in the area known as Hobbs Lane (originally spelled "Hobs," referencing the devil). The serial devotes most of an entire episode (#2, "The Ghosts") to chronicling these events, which appear to be of supernatural origin. The discovery of fossilized remains of dwarf-like "ape men" and what appears to be a spacecraft buried at a Hobbs Lane construction site convince Professor Quatermass (André Morell) of the British Rocket Group and paleontologist Dr. Matthew Roney (Cec Linder) that the source of the creepy goings-on is extraterrestrial rather than supernatural.

Inside the spacecraft, the science team discovers a number of insect-like creatures with three legs and devilish-looking horns on their heads. Quatermass postulates that the creatures and spacecraft originally came from Mars. Using Dr. Roney's remarkable invention known as the Optic Encephalogram, which televises images generated within a human brain, Quatermass determines that, roughly five million years ago, Martians came to Earth and genetically altered the indigenous primates to be their slaves — ultimately resulting in the human race. Over the years, psychic emanations from the buried spacecraft triggered ancestral memories in sensitive individuals, thus generating the belief that "ghosts and demons" haunted Hobbs Lane.
Professor Bernard Quatermass (André Morell) and one of the locust-like creatures from the Martian spacecraft
The alien spacecraft unearthed at the construction site in Hobbs Lane
Much to Quatermass's dismay, the British government has transformed the Rocket Group, which he had created for peaceful space exploration and research, into a military organization and assigns Colonel James Breen (Anthony Bushell) to oversee the excavation. The high-strung and strident Breen believes the spacecraft to be nothing more than an experimental German buzz bomb from WWII, the creatures from within nothing more than fakes. Needless to say, sparks fly between the two opposing personalities.

André Morell as Quatermass and Anthony Bushell as Breen play well off other, perhaps even better than Andrew Keir and Julian Glover in those same roles in the 1967 film — not that either of those actors are slouches; they are, in fact, quite imposing in their talents. Although I grew up knowing Keir as Quatermass (and in my adult years, I saw Brian Donlevy in the role in The Quatermass Xperiment [a.k.a. The Creeping Unknown, 1955] and Quatermass 2 [a.k.a. Enemy From Space, 1957], having now experienced Morell in the part, I can't help but consider him the "definitive" Quatermass. His mannerisms and appearance convey the character's typically stern demeanor while displaying a tad more wit and humor than either of the other actors. (I recently caught a portion of 2005's The Quatermass Experiment, featuring Jason Flemyng in the role, and I cannot say I was wholly impressed.)

Bushell's portrayal of Breen is anything but reserved. Initially, he appears a reasonable enough personality — stoic, tempered by military discipline — but as events spiral beyond his control, he becomes shrill and willfully blind to the mounting, irrefutable evidence regarding the aliens. Cec Linder (probably best known as Bond sidekick Felix Leiter in 1964's Goldfinger) as Dr. Roney acts brasher and more boyish than the taciturn James Donald as Roney in the Hammer film. While Linder plays a believable and likable character, he cannot rival Donald's striking screen presence. Still, he provides a fitting counter to Quatermass's grimmer personality. Christine Finn as Roney's assistant Barbara Judd, despite having several strong moments, such as when she volunteers to use the Optic-Encephalogram, never conveys the intense, haunted quality actress Barbara Shelley brings to the role in the Hammer film.

When an electrical accident jolts the spacecraft, all hell breaks loose in the city of London. Much of the city's population succumbs to a "hive mind" mentality and begin to attack, en masse, individuals who are not part of the hive. Quatermass calls this the "Wild Hunt," a recreation of an ancient Martian purge of all life forms different from themselves. London becomes an inferno as the Martian mastermind — "Hob," as it is known — asserts itself across the land. Roney and Quatermass determine that electricity fuels this phenomenon and devise a means of countering and ultimately defeating Hob, though at the cost of Roney's life.

Being so familiar with the 1967 film, it's virtually impossible not to compare the two productions. In both, events proceed in mostly identical order, both generally well-paced and developed. Despite its relatively low budget, the serial does provide some striking visuals, especially those involving the locust-like Martian creatures. I daresay their design is superior to the film's, with more realistic — and believable — detail. In both productions, the original Martian Wild Hunt as viewed through Roney's Optic Encephalogram features distorted video of the event, but the serial's imagery plays far better, as in the film, the Martians appear to be nothing more than rigid miniatures, crudely controlled by puppeteers.

The build-up to Hob's corporeal manifestation, increasingly charged with tension, may also be superior to the film's. Conversely, though not unexpectedly, due to budget constraints, there is only a brief, not altogether satisfying shot of the monstrous Hob rising from the remains of the spacecraft to hover above London. Similarly, in the film, Roney's sacrificial act to destroy the alien is spectacular and memorable. The serial's necessarily low-key resolution feels at once tragic and anticlimactic. I can only imagine the impact it might have had to viewers long before the film came to be.

Story-wise, Quatermass and the Pit is the quintessential blending of science fiction and horror. Both BBC serial and Hammer film easily hold coveted places at the pinnacle of alien invasion scenarios. Having now seen both, it feels like I've experienced the best of all worlds, for both productions shine in their respective milieus.

The domestic Blu-ray release of the Hammer film comes later this month, and I am eagerly awaiting the opportunity to view it again, this time with its predecessor fresh in mind. Together, in their own ways, these productions showcase Nigel Kneale's brilliant vision and screenwriting prowess as well as the vast talents of those involved in both serial and film.
Captain Potter (John Stratton), Colonel Breen (Anthony Bushell) and Quatermass (André Morell)
Barbara Judd (Christine Finn) and Dr. Roney (Cec Linder) with a reconstruction of a genetically altered primate
A manifestation of "Hob" towering over the city of London