Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Goodbye, Joe.

Big Joe.jpg

On Friday, September 25, Joseph Anthony Wronkowski started his day as usual. He took his dog for a walk; his son, Danny, stopped by for coffee before going off to work; he sat on his back deck to read the morning paper. He was still there a short time later when a friend stopped by and found him sitting in the warm sun, having suffered the heart attack that signaled the end of his time on this earth.
I’m not sure whether he finished the paper.
People were called, and all efforts were made. I don’t know all the details, but that’s okay with me. I don’t want to.
His family (and I’m proud to count myself among their number) was stunned. Though seventy-three, Joe was more full of life than many men half his age. No matter what he was doing, whether it was spending hours riding his Goldwing all over New England, or engaging in a mostly friendly war with the neighbors over who was going to have “the best goddamned Christmas lights,” or cheering at the sidelines during a grandchild-fueled sporting event, Joe Wronkowski took hold of Life with both hands and squeezed until it cried “uncle.”
Hell, when I met the man I was fifteen years old, and he mistakenly called me “Ralph.” It wasn’t until years later, when I married his daughter, Kathy, that Joe started getting my name right on the first try—but every time he got it wrong, it was with a wide smile on his face. I was smiling, too, and I understand why Life cried “uncle”: that man had a wicked grip.
I was one of the ones on Friday making the calls to let people know what had happened, and I’ve talked to people each day since then: Saturday, Sunday, Monday and Tuesday. Everyone I’ve spoken with, every single one, they all said the same thing, their disbelief evident in their voices: Oh, but he was so full of life! The people I talked to in person would often point this way and that, the gesture encompassing the whole world, as filled with sunshine and warmth on each of those days as it had been on the morning Joe sat down with his paper. They would point at the world as if to say Look around you—this can’t have happened. Friday through Tuesday, every day has been the kind of day that makes it hard to even consider loss, difficult to believe that someone can be taken from us and never come back.
Oh, but he was so full of life.
This morning however, on the day of his wake, when we’ll all gather to say goodbye to this man who was so full of life, who held onto it so tightly with both hands, I spent my time splashing through puddles, and slogging across lawns so soaking wet they were nothing but grass and mud. This morning, Life said goodbye to its longtime friend; the sun hid its face, the day was swathed in the gray and black of mourning, and the sky wept. Today . . . today is the kind of day where loss is possible, and goodbyes are real.
And that’s okay.
For as quickly as Joe was taken from us, as unexpected a goodbye this is, there is nothing to change our thoughts of him. There are no memories of his decline—hell, there are no memories of him even slowing down. There are only memories of the man who went to the races, and rode on his Goldwing, and sat in the sun to read the morning paper.
In our memories, he will forever be so full of life.

  Goodbye, Joe.


Monday, September 28, 2015


Greetings, WYMOP fans!

So it was Monday morning. Monday. The day my blog is due to post.
Did I have a post prepared?
Did I even have an idea for a post?
Not a problem, I thought, as I created a new document, one I was going to leave open open my Chromebook all day with the title showing, to inspire me!
What was the title? Well, it was the one you see above, exactly: BRILLIANT BLOG POST, DUE BY THE END OF THE DAY! I would look at that every time I opened my Chromebook, see it all day long, and from out of the ether an idea would strike my brain like lightning—though hopefully without all that frying my brain until it reached the size, shape, and consistency of a single Pringle. BBQ style. And this idea would strike because, as a wise woman once told me, magic!
See? I had a plan.
But while I was waiting for the plan to come to fruition, for the idea to plummet from the ether, for the magic to work . . . well, stuff happened. A forward I was waiting for, from a fantastic author, came in this morning. A seventy-three year old woman gave birth on my route this afternoon, to triplets. A pack of wild dogs chased me across the moors, but I managed to lose them in the fog. I won the American Family Publishers Sweepstakes, and they actually dug up Ed McMahon so he could present me with the funny, giant check . . .
Okay, none of those things really happened except for the foreword from that author—but I’m a geek, so that was pretty damn exciting for me! The upshot, however, is that I came home and realized I hadn’t ever even started a blog.
I stared at the screen, waiting for the magic. I tried saying abracadabra. I tried saying hocus pocus. I even tried the most magical of all words (at least according to my mom), and said please.
But I don’t want to leave you with nothing, do I? You mean more to me than that, don’t you?
Why yes! Yes you do.
There’s a writers group I belong to at a local library, and we meet twice a month and read our stuff to each other. Two of the women read their poetry every week. It’s beautiful stuff, and I can’t write poetry, but I’ve decided I’m going to share some nursery rhymes I rewrote a couple of years ago. It’s pitiful doggerel, but I think it’s funny; hopefully, they will, too. As a sneak preview, here’s one of the pieces I’ll be tormenting them with tomorrow.
I call it “Fit for a King.”

Sing a song of sixpence
A pocket full of rye.
Four and twenty blackbirds,
Baked in a pie.

When the pie was opened,
The King began to scream,
As four and twenty undead birds
up from that pie did stream.

The King was in the dining hall,
A-fighting for his life;
The queen was in the parlor,
A-sharpening her knife.

The witch was in the kitchen,
Her pocket full of rye,
Peeking in the dining room
To see the King did die.

And once the King was just a corpse,
And risen birds dispersed,
The Queen did slit the witch’s throat
So’s not to fill her purse.

So just a note to castle kings,
And wife-beating tough guys:
Beware of bats and burning beds
And zombie blackbird pies.

I know: terrible, isn’t it? But it makes me chuckle, and if I can’t entertain them, at least I’ll be entertaining myself, right?
Talk to you later!

~ ~ * * ~ ~

And, just as an added bonus, check out this trailer for the next book featuring my work:
Insanity Tales II: The Sense of Fear
Available in October!

Monday, September 21, 2015

Being a Horror Writer - "Oh, This Is Gross. Check It Out!"

Greetings, WYMOP fans!
All of you probably know I’m a writer—look, here’s a blog, I’m writing it—and most of you may know that, when I’m working on fiction, much of it is horror. Now, for some reason, being a horror writer isn’t like being any other kind of writer. People look at you differently, or make assumptions about you that they may not make about other kinds of writers.
I don’t know why this is, I just know that it is.
From time to time here at While You’re Making Other Plans, I’ve decided to tell you about some of the odd things that happen to me as a confessed horror writer. A lot of them strike me as a little funny; maybe they’ll strike you that way, too.
And away we go . . .
What people say:
“Oh, this is gross. Check this out—it’s right up your alley!”
“Hey, look at this disgusting picture of a guy who lost his face in a weird fondue accident—you’re into this stuff, right?”
“Here, try these. They’re potato chips that are supposed to taste like human flesh, but I don’t know . . . you could tell me if they really do, right?”
The reality (at least from my perspective):
No, that’s gross, disgusting, and insane, respectively. You keep whatever it is way over there, thank you very much. In most horror fiction, the horrible, awful, sometimes gory stuff is what the characters are trying to avoid, right? I mean, that’s the whole story, isn’t it? Suppose a serial killer knocks on a door, knife in hand, and says “Hey, buddy, I was strolling by and saw you through the window there, and what with it being a full moon, and I’m off my meds, and I just listened to a Beatles song backwards, I was wondering if you’d mind if I cut off your skin to start making myself a human suit. You look about my size—whaddaya say?” What kind of a story would it be if the guy answering the door said, “Well, uh . . .  I wasn’t really doing anything anyway, so sure. Why not?”
Short. It would be a very short story. More a scene, or a vignette, really. There’s no conflict there, you see, and what we’re really writing about is the conflict, not the consequence: I want to write about the lengths that man will go to trying to avoid becoming a size forty, long. Much like people who write action/adventure stories focus on (for example) all the effort to stop the mad bomber from blowing up the school bus filled with dwarf paralyzed nuns, rather than just documenting the big boom and trying to calculate how far two pounds of C-4 will throw a limp, three-foot-tall, wife of Christ. In romances, too, the focus is usually on the chase, or the buildup of sexual tension and play between the characters for a couple hundred pages, before the bodice-ripping, passionate, rumpy bumpy.
So why is it all right to assume horror writers are really into the worst, most visceral parts of their stories, but not everyone else? Why do people bring or send horror writers skulls and bones, or show them the pictures they took at that roadside accident they passed a week earlier, or tell them stories about their best friend’s cousin’s step-father’s uncle, whose testicles were pecked off in a bizarre pigeon-feeding gone wrong, in terrific detail, right down to the screaming? Yes, sometimes it’s cool, but come on, people, enough is enough. No one treats other kinds of writers like that, do they?
But I have a plan. I hope you’ll join me in it.
Rather than try to tamp down the love we horror writers feel from our fans, I say we share the love! If you’re a fan of romance, the next time you go to see a romance writer at a reading or book signing, don’t just bounce slightly with excitement as you ask for their autograph. I want you to slap down a copy of Hustler, Penthouse, Swank, or some other magazine that’s all about the beautiful, physical part of love and romance—the end product, or “money shot,” if you will—and ask if they’ll autograph it for you. Better yet, slide a DVD of Debbie Does Dallas, Romancing the Bone, or maybe one of the Anal Annie series across the table with a wink and a knowing nod. When they look up at you, their expression horrified and indignant, simply repeat the nod with a “You’re into romance, right?” See how far it gets you.
By the same token, the next time your favorite action/adventure author is in town, don’t just walk up to him with a book to sign. Run right at the man and throw a cross-body tackle! Whip out some kung-fu, shotokan, ju-jitsu, or some other word you don’t really know the meaning of. When security comes to politely escort you to the door, rip open your coat to show them the home-made suicide vest you’re wearing—they’ll never notice at a glance that the “dynamite” wired to your torso is really just candlesticks tied together with yarn. Have a little fun! Give them a little action!
And when SWAT responds to your fake bomb scare, remember to stay loose when they take you down; tightening up will only make it hurt more. BONUS: the same advice works well for your cavity search during processing.
In either of these scenarios, if you could please remember to have a friend standing by with a mobile phone in hand, ready to document the whole thing for trial . . . I mean, to share with me the next time we meet, I’d count it as a personal favor. I’d also count it as a solid if you could . . . uh . . . not mention my name during questioning? Thanks.
Mystery authors, shoot someone and try to get away with it. Western writers, shoot someone and steal their land. Fantasy writers, stab someone, then steal and marry their daughter. This is what they’re into, right? Let’s see if we can’t spread the strange love horror fans show their heroes across every genre. I just want to level the playing field.
Don’t you?
 . . . and again, if we could please just keep my name out of it?

Talk to you later.

P.S.—In case you were wondering, yes, I'm still receiving ads for burial insurance. 

Monday, September 14, 2015

What's in YOUR freezer?

Greetings, WYMOP fans!

Just a quick little story today, because I spent the weekend at the Granite State Comicon. I meant to write something while I was there, and I was supposed to sell books while I was there, but, strangely, I spent all my time watching people walk by who were visible proof that I wasn’t the strangest one in the room for a change. I found the whole thing thoroughly entertaining (and sometimes disturbing) and never found the time to actually sit down to work. So this week: short.
I was speaking with a friend of mine recently—another writer of things dark and scary—and she mentioned that her mother hadn’t read her book. No, not that she hadn’t, but that she wouldn’t. I replied that my own mother reads just about everything I write, and has only missed things if I’ve forgotten to tell her about them. That’s the truth—I’m actually pretty poor at keeping track of what I’ve given her. Having read some of the more horrific things I’ve written (and no, they’re not all bad), my friend replied “Wow, your mother must really love you.”
Well, I thought about that for a while. I mean, of course my mommy loves me; it’s in the contract! But just the fact that she’s okay with most, and possibly all of what I write doesn’t mean she loves me any more than my friend’s mother loves her, whether she reads the book or not. People have different tolerance levels for things, and even like different things, and I do know of one or two people out there who I know love me who aren’t reading my stuff because they find it too disturbing.  These are the kinds of people who hide their eyes for whole movie scenes if there’s the possibility of something icky happening on the screen. They’re a little sensitive, that’s all. We still love them.
My friend, however, had sounded a little bummed out by the fact that my mommy was reading my stuff, while hers was not. I tried for a while to think of a way to explain the difference between our two loving mommies, but since I don’t know her mommy, I couldn’t really make a comparison . . . so I decided not to. Instead, I’d tell her something about my own mommy that would help her understand where my mommy was coming from—and, by obvious extension, where I’ve come from as well.
“When I was younger—which leaves a pretty big range, I know, but I think this was when I was around eighteen or twenty—my parents got one of those big freezer chests for the basement. You know, the kind of thing you see in movies featuring bomb shelters. Someplace to store a couple of years’ worth of hamburgers, with room left over for a matching number of weenies, that kind of thing. But that’s not how my mommy described it. What she said to me, this sweet woman whom my own son refers to as ‘Grandmamรก,’ was this:
“‘We got that freezer today. It’s down in the basement now. It’s pretty big. I think you could fit, oh, three bodies in there, maybe four if you fold ‘em right. Probably six, if they were women. Eight or nine if they were kids, maybe ten, depending on how old they were. And pets . . .’”
That was as far as I got in the story before my friend said “Your mom’s cool.”
“Yes,” I said. “Yes she is. She’s also, I think, a little to blame for the stranger side of my sense of humor. You can thank my father for the puns, though.”
“I don’t think I want to.”
“Never said you had to. Just said you could.”
Yup. Mom is cool. Sometimes creepy, but cool.

Talk to you later!

Monday, September 7, 2015

Iron Chef: Incompetent

Greetings, WYMOP fans!
This evening I'm giving you a little taste of home. A home with a son who loves video games and little else, but still, a boy's got to eat . . .

I stuck my head through the doorway, into my son’s room. “What would you like for dinner?”
“Pork chops,” said the boy.
“With potatoes and corn?” I added.
“Then you’re making the potatoes,” I said.
His thumbs hesitated a moment on the game controller, but he didn’t actually look away from the TV screen. “Never mind. I don’t want potatoes.”
“Yeah,” I said, “but I do. Give it about ten minutes, then come out and make them, please.”
“Awww . . .”
And that was how my son wound up slaving over the hot stove, measuring, heating, and stirring. And grumbling. But to be fair, there was more a lot more cooking than grumbling. He was making instant potatoes, and the directions were printed right on the back of the box, so I went off to work in the other room and let him get on with the business of food preparation without having to feel watched.
My mistake.
“I think we’re going to have a lot of potatoes,” he called through the door.
“Well, the directions said to put in a cup of water, so I put in the whole cup.”
I could feel my forehead puckering as my brows drew together in confusion. “And that’s a bad thing . . . why, exactly?”
A hand thrust into view around the doorframe, holding our measuring cup, a plastic tumbler with markings on the side clearly indicating each of twenty-four ounces—as well as the quarter, half, and full cups making up those two cups—that actually holds two and a half cups when you fill it to the rim.
“Because I put in the whole cup.”
“Oh,” I said. “Right. Well. That would be more than the directions were asking for, wouldn’t it.” I shrugged. “Okay, so we’ll have lots of potatoes.”
“But the box said to add a quarter cup of milk.”
A second hand joined the first, one finger pointing, not toward the eight-ounce marking, one-fourth of the way up the side of the cup, as I expected, but much closer to the bottom. At the two-ounce marking. An actual quarter of a cup. I thought for a moment I was getting a headache. Then I realized that my brows, having decided my forehead wasn’t big enough for the two of them (a foolish conclusion—my forehead goes all the way back to my ass), were actually wrestling for dominance.
“So,” I said, slowly, for just speaking it aloud seemed to spur my eyebrows on, “you used the cup wrong, without thinking, and then, a minute later, used it right without thinking?”
The hands disappeared, along with their evidentiary cup, as my unseen son cried “Dude, I don’t know!”
There was a beat of silence, during which I attempted to separate my eyebrows and send them off to neutral corners. I hadn’t succeeded yet when:
“And I may have added too many flakes.”
Okay, now I think I did have a headache. “Too many for the milk?” I said. “Or the water?”
Yup, that was a headache all right. “How much did you put in?”
“I dunno,” he said, though I could barely hear him. “I didn’t measure.”
I was actually airborne for a moment, my sigh propelling me from my chair as neatly as any super-spy’s ejection seat. “You mean to tell me”—twin thuds from my feet as I landed—“that after measuring wrong once, then measuring right once—which, in essence, made the right measurement wrong—you just gave up on the whole measuring thing and decided to wing it? What is that?”
That last came as I entered the kitchen behind him and saw the empty butter container next to the potato-flake-covered stove. I was pointing.
“That was new. We hadn’t even opened that.”
“The box said to add some butter, so—”
Some,” I said. “That was a pound.”
“Well,” he said, turning to face me. “I was trying to compensate for the milk. I mean, they both . . . come from . . . cows . . . and . . . what’s wrong with your head?”
His wide, blue eyes were focused on the spot just above my own, and I realized the rhythmic sensation I had assumed was my pulse pounding in my head was actually my eyebrows. I’d been so distracted I had failed to notice them passing through the wrestling phase and into the making up phase . . . and then beyond, into something far more passionate and adult than anyone had expected. I snatched the pot of potatoes from the stove and turned my throbbing, pulsing, amorous brows away from the gaping twelve-year-old, giving the spuds a quick stir and taste with the mixing spoon still thrust into the mass.
“Hey,” I said, keeping my back to my son as the pumping on my forehead grew more passionate and frenzied. “These aren’t that bad.” Another stir. Another taste. “They’re actually pretty good.” Another stir. Another . . . wait a minute. “What’s this?”
I held out the wooden spoon, a glob of potatoes stuck to the end like some sort of spudcicle. Right on the tip of the yellow (and oh, so buttery) ball of goo was a chunk of black gunk. He stared at the gunk, studiously avoiding casting his eyes toward my distracting eyebrow action. “I dunno,” he said. “Did something fall in the pot?”
I stirred some more, turning up more little bits of black. I dug deep, gouging the spoon across the bottom of the pot, and a thin strip of black surfaced through the churning mess, like a diver’s bubble trail rising through deep water. I considered the pot in my hand, trying to remember the last time I’d seen this particular bit of cookware in service. When the memory hit, it was my stomach’s turn to leap into action, with a rather large flip-flop.
“Hey,” I said. “Do you remember last week when I made that mostaccioli with white sauce? And I used this pot for the sauce? And the pot wound up in the sink when it was all done? The next time you filled the dishwasher . . . what did you do with the pot?”
“You washed it in the sink,” said the boy. “I let it dry on the rack, then put it away.”
“No,” I said. “I put it to soak in the sink, to loosen the layer of milk, flour, and butter that had cooked onto the bottom of the pot. I never actually washed it.” I looked at the black flecks now scattered all over the surface of the spuds. “You didn’t look in the pot when you put it away?”
“I guess no—”
“And you didn’t look in the pot just now, when you put it on the stove and started pouring in way too much water?”
“I guess no—”
“What’s up?” said a new voice. The boy’s mother had come into the kitchen, three small dogs crowding about her feet. I turned to her wielding the pot and spoon, and I think steam was actually coming out of my ears—though, now that I think about it, it may just have been my eyebrows, sharing a post-passion cigarette.
“The boy’s trying to poison me!” I said, and proceeded to tell her the whole story, starting with the strange, inconsistent use of the measuring cup, and ending with the week-old, festering cheese I was now scraping from the bottom of the pot. “ . . . and I’ve never seen anything done so completely wrong in my entire life!” I finished.
She didn’t even look at me (it may have had something to do with my eyebrows at the time), but rounded on our son. “You make potatoes all the time. I’ve been having you make them for months. What the hell are you doing?”
“I—I—but—” was all he managed, blue eyes round and huge, while making little shuffling foot motions, as if, had he not already been in a corner, he would have been backpedaling furiously.
“Wait,” I said.
“One,” I added.
“Minute,” I finished.
I’d taken a step with each word, and now stood quite close to him, a wooden spoon smeared with seven day’s worth of bacterial growth pointed at his chest. His eyes had gotten larger and rounder, though his feet had stilled. “You didn’t want to stop playing your game and make these potatoes, did you.” It was worded as a question, though there was no query in my tone. I continued in the same manner. “You screwed up this badly on purpose, hoping I’d throw in the towel and never ask you to make the potatoes again, didn’t you.”
“Would I do tha—”
“Apparently, yes.”
“Do you want me to—” he began, but I finished it with him, three words spoken in two voices, neither of them asking a question.
“—make them again.”
He got to work at the stove once more, while I turned to the three small dogs that had come in with his mother; six soulful brown eyes that followed the motions of the gloop-covered spoon without missing a twitch.
“Oh, what the hell.”
I shared some of the pot’s contents with the family pets, and they loved me all the more for my generosity. They didn’t need to know I was using them as the gastric equivalent of a canary in a coal mine. You’ll be happy to hear that the potatoes we eventually had with the pork chops and corn were excellent. And the dogs and I were just fine, no trips to the veterinarian or emergency room required—though the dogs did wind up being quite gassy after dinner.

Yup. It was the dogs.

Talk to you later!