Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Guest Post: Old Man Rant!

Greetings, WYMOP readers!
I know this is showing up a day late, but there’s a reason for that. Last Thursday, some of you might know, I was a guest on an internet radio show. Max Bowen, over at WEMF in Cambridge, had me on his Citywide Blackout show to talk about my book, Echoes of Darkness. He had a lot of good questions, and I had a lot of fun, but one of his comments seems to have had a little blowback. He said something about the old man, one of the characters in “Death of the Boy,” the first story in the book . . . and I guess the old man heard him. He sent me a response to pass on to Max, so if you’ll excuse me I’m going to just step aside for WYMOP’s first guest blogger: the old man.
~ ~ * * ~ ~
I was listenin’ to the radio today. I heard tell someone might be talkin’ ’bout me on this show, Citywide Blackout, so I decided I might need to pay attention. Damn good thing I did. Seems there was this Max fellow on there, talking to my . . . well, my chronicler, I guess you’d call him, if you wanted to put a fine point to it. Sounds a mite jumped up, I s’pose, but it wasn’t like I asked the man to write down everything I say.
Anyway, this Max says he’s been reading what that writer fellow’s wrote about me—and that’s fine, I imagine it’s a real, whatchamacallit, a page-turner—but then he goes and says I’m not a nice man. Calls me a bastard. Done it more’n once.
Well let me ask you something, Mr. Got-His-Own-Radio-Show: you think any of this is easy? Christ! Even before them risen folk started walking around and killin’ the living, ’twasn’t easy out here. The day the dead decided they was done laying down, I was foreman for a ranch it’d take you two days to cross on horseback—and that’s lookin’ at it the narrow way. Something goes wrong out there, you ain’t callin’ for help, or askin’ someone what to do; you figure it out and do it your damn self.
I seen your picture on that website of yours. You look like one of them city fellers what been to college; talks real good, but something goes wrong and you’re sittin’ down calling in an “expert.” Well out here, in this world, there ain’t nobody to call. I’m the expert, and that’s in just one thing: survivin’. The cities are full of folks just like you, nice folks who called for help when the apocalypse came, then sat right there, waiting for the experts to show up. Problem was, we was all busy saving our own skins. Now all them nice folks are still there, but they ain’t waitin’ for help no more. They’s waitin’ for people like me and the boy. They’s waitin’ for food, and there are a lot more of them then there are of us.
So yeah, now I got me this boy, and it might not have been the smart thing to do, ridin’ in there to get him when the zombies took his family, but it was the right thing, and don’t you go tellin’ me nothin’ different. And now I got to keep him alive long enough for me to teach him to keep hisself alive—and if that means I got to push him a little, maybe even show him the hard side of my hand once in a while, well Jeeezus, I’m sorry if that offends your delicate sensibilities, but at least the boy’s still alive, y’unnerstand? And I’m gonna keep him that way if it kills him.
Now, the boy’s about done digging the fire hole. I got to give him the warning bells to string out so’s we can get some rest. You tell that Max somethin’ for me. You tell him if he thinks it’s an easy thing, keepin’ a young’un alive out here in the big empty, teachin’ him how to stay alive while everything walking on two feet out here’s nothin’ but a man-eating meat machine dressed like your neighbor, well hell, he’s welcome to come try. He better hurry his ass, though; I dunno how much time we have left.
~ ~ * * ~ ~
There. I keep telling people that sometimes it’s like my characters have a mind of their own, and they’re writing their story with me—now do you believe me?
If you’re curious about the old man and the boy, HERE’S a link to Echoes of Darkness on Amazon, just $3.99 for the e-book. And as far as what Max said . . . there’s the interview for you to listen to, below.

Talk to you later!

Monday, July 18, 2016

The Kid on the Plane

Greetings, WYMOP readers!

Have you flown lately?
Not a lot of fun. I’m an average-sized guy, and there isn’t enough room in that seat for me; I can’t imagine what it’s like for any plus-sized person to sit on a plane, whether they be taller or wider than the norm. I always like to have my computer bag handy, so I can read or write, and that necessitates sliding it into the storage space under the seat in front of me. Since the seat in front of me is only about one molecule-width away from touching my knees, this is always an exercise in grunting and straining and reaching blindly—picture someone going for something in the back row of the salad bar at Wendy’s, face turned sideways, cheek pressed to the slightly sticky sneeze guard, and making hopeful sounds as their tongs snap-snap-snap a half inch away from that delicious-looking cherry tomato. It’s like that, but with complimentary peanuts.
Little folks have it all over us on a plane. I once sat next to a woman (I was in the center seat, she had the window) who, after watching me grunt, strain, and reach blindly for a while, bent down to remove the boots she was wearing (it was wintertime), slide into some sort of slipperlike shoes, pull a mat out from beneath the seat in front of her, and run through her whole yoga routine shortly after takeoff. Meanwhile I was trying to type with my Chromebook pressed tight against my belly (the man in front of me had reclined his seat) and even with my elbows pressing back into my own seat my fingers were out beyond the keyboard. I was reduced to pecking at the keys with my thumbs, while beside me the tiny woman cheerfully shifted from pose to pose.
Extended triangle.
Twisting triangle.
Balancing stick.
I quit, grunted and strained to put the Chromebook away, then turned as far from the woman as I could manage in my ridiculously close seat and actively tried (with moderate success, I might add) to fart for the rest of the flight.
But I digress. My point is that flying isn’t usually a lot of fun—and that brings me to my last flight out of Logan International, on my way to Colorado last month.
There were only center seats left as I walked hopefully down the aisle, and I was looking for two smaller-than-average people to wedge myself between. I spotted a promising-looking spot with a woman in the window seat (is it misogynistic to point out that y’all are, on average, smaller than us? Too bad.) and a fairly skinny youth of around seventeen or eighteen sitting on the aisle.
“Is this seat taken?” I said.
“Oh, no. Here you go,” said the boy, and he promptly pulled his bag from beneath the seat in front of him and slid over into the center seat, giving me the aisle.
Holy shit, I thought in dismay. I’ve gotten so old polite kids are giving up seats for me!
Quickly following that thought was the delightful realization that I would have elbow room on this flight, which is almost as good as having elbows room, which we all of us have until we sit on a plane. I thanked him—to the point of embarrassing myself, I think—and sat, and as soon as we were through takeoff I pulled out the Chromebook and got to work. The Chromebook was somewhat sideways on the tray, and I was twisted a bit awkwardly in my seat, but it was gloriously manageable, and I banged away. I had edited one short piece and moved on to writing another when the conversation going on beside me began to penetrate my focus.
“So I’ve been working a lot on world building,” said the boy. “I have maps and charts and lists and stuff, and I know, like, all about the political systems and laws and stuff like that. My problem is I can’t figure out how to put any characters in there in any kind of situation people would care about.”
“Have you tried taking a class?” said the woman. “I mean, I’ve never worked with fiction, all my editing has been for the university press—all academic works—but I know they have classes where . . .”
My typing fingers slowed to a halt. Okay, that’s not exactly accurate—I don’t type so much as I hunt-and-peck like a starving chicken: it’s somewhat frantic and I miss a lot. Chickens may swallow a little gravel, I write things like Rhe qwuic; brownm fox jum[ed ober the laxy dogd. But whatever I was doing, it came to a halt. Was I sitting beside a budding writer and a working editor?
Those of you who don’t write might not understand. We writers like to talk about writing. We like to, as much as sports fans like to talk about the recent game or TV buffs want to discuss the plots of their favorite shows. We like to . . . but no one else does. People who know me have learned not to ask about any current projects, or how the writing is going, because they don’t really want to know that much, and to them it sounds a lot like school. I’ve learned not to start one of those conversations, afraid it’ll degenerate into them running from me like I’m the slasher in a horror movie, casting furniture in my path and slamming doors between us as I follow along, an unstoppable force saying things like but it turns out there’s no way that character would do that, and all that is in support of the twist—wait ’til I tell you the twist!
I slowly—tentatively— raised a hand.
“Did you want to say something?” said the woman.
“Ah,” I said, “I couldn’t help but overhear.” I looked at the boy. “You want to be a writer?”
“Well, I’m a writer.”
“We can see that,” said the woman, indicating my Horror Writers Association t-shirt.
“Could you give me some advice?” said the boy. “I’m having trouble writing characters.”
I looked around the plane, taking in the fact that not only was there a complete lack of furnishings to topple, he literally had nowhere to run, and hoped he really wanted to talk about writing.
He did.
What followed was, hands down, the best flight I’ve had in the past twenty years. The three of us talked about writing—the boy asking questions, the woman and I answering—until it was time to get off the plane. We talked about both the craft and the business, she from the academic editor’s perspective, me from the fiction writer/editor’s. We got to know a little about the world the kid was building for his fiction, and he walked off the plane with a copy of my book—my copy, incidentally. It wasn’t like I was handing them out or anything.
“It must have been fate,” he said, grinning as he tucked the book into his carry on. “Here I am, wanting to be a writer, and I just happen to sit between the two of you on the plane. What are the odds?”
You have no idea, kid, I thought, remembering my trepidation at even breaking into their conversation. You have no idea.

—Talk to you later!

Monday, July 11, 2016

Hunting Bigfoots. Bigfeet? Feets? Uh . . .

Greetings, WYMOP readers!
Some of you, if you’re paying attention, may have noticed I write a monthly column over at Cinema Knife Fight, called (and you’ll find a link over in the sidebar) “Monster Movie Madness.” It’s a little thing where I review—wait for it—that’s right, monster movies. I have a lot of fun with it.
Along the way I've taken a ride in the world's hairiest police cruiser in  Wolfcop, and witnessed a German-style zompocalypse with Extinction: the GMO Chronicles. I've watched a young William Shatner in Kingdom of the Spiders, and an old Lance Henriksen in Harbinger Down. I've watched things come from underground in Cowboys vs Dinosaurs, under the sea in Deep Rising, and down under in Wyrmwood: Road of the Dead. I've even gone so far as to compare two versions of the same movie filmed 32 years apart with Willard, 1971 and 2003.
I've  reviewed zombies, werewolves, and leprechauns. I visited Westworld where I went Buck Wild, then had to Pay The Ghost to get  Uncaged.
Hell, I’ve even watched Paul Bunyan a time or two.
The question was: what was I going to do next? I seem to like zombie and werewolf movies, but I was looking for a little variety: my readers probably don’t want to read about the same thing all the time. So I turned to my son, and said, “Quick, boy, give me a monster!”
Huh?” he said, not quite a high point in teen repartee.
“A monster,” I said. “Just off the top of your head, give me a monster.”
Now, I was expecting something like vampire. I wouldn't have been surprised to hear zombie come out of his mouth. But he gazed at me with a puzzled look on his face, shrugged, and said, “I don't know . . . Bigfoot?”
Bigfoot. To be honest, I can't recall ever seeing a Bigfoot  flick. it would be different, that was for sure. I clapped the boy on the shoulder, thank him heartily, and walked out of his room, leaving  the bewildered teenager gazing after me. He'll figure it out.
Well . . . maybe.
So I started searching for a Bigfoot film to review. Did it have to be great? No, of course not. The column is set firmly in the world of movie monsters, and most of them fit comfortably in with the B-level films. All the same, this is going to be my first Bigfoot flick, so I wanted it to be good. Note: I was spurred on in this quest for a decent Sasquatch movie by SL, one of my fellow Cinema Knife Fight reviewers. SL writes the Trashterpiece Theater column, and she wrote a terrific review of Exists. Now I haven't actually seen Exists yet, but after that review I know there are good Bigfoot films out there.
They’re out there. I know it.
I started to look at Throwback, a film featuring the Yowie, Australia’s own answer to Bigfoot. Strangely, although it is available on Amazon, I can’t find it on the Internet Movie Data Base (IMDB). Hmm . . .
I moved on to Snowbeast. Amazon said it was made in 2013, and I liked the premise: a small town in Colorado, terrorized by a two-legged beastie who eats skiers! I spent almost two hours downloading the movie into my Kindle so I could watch it on a plane . . . and then at 30,000 feet I discovered Snowbeast had only been digitally remastered in 2013. It had been released in 1977, and starred a stiff Bo Svenson.
I fell asleep. So much for terror at 30,000 feet.
Just today I had someone suggest Suburban Sasquatch. I thanked them heartily and checked it out. I found the official trailer on YouTube, and . . . no. Just no. I managed to pause the trailer at just the right time to see the incredible gorilla suit they’d slapped on an actor to use for a Bigfoot, and one of the things I noticed right away was that the nipples were painted on.
Nipples. Painted. On. Badly.
So I’ve come to realize that my quest for a decent Bigfoot film might just be like the cryptozoologist’s quest to find the real thing: filled with frustrating bits of circumstantial evidence and leads that fail to pan out. If you’ve ever seen a halfway-decent movie about the Bigfoot, Sasquatch, Yeti, Yowie, or any of the other incarnations of the missing link mythos, or you know someone who has, please, let me know, would you? Hell, I’m about ready to settle for a decent home movie of your uncle with the hairy back, as long as he’s facing away from the camera.
Talk to you later!

Just so you know what I’m dealing with, here’s a quick little clip I found on YouTube that was titled Suburban Sasquatch—the Best Part.
Feel my pain.

Monday, July 4, 2016

Lines and Whines. And Orange Chicken.

Greetings, WYMOP readers!
So, Sunday night I came back from Colorado, and as usual my trip through the airport was . . . eventful.
If you’ve never been to Denver International Airport, you may not know what their security checkpoint looks like. Well, it’s big. Recently I’ve really only seen Logan International in Boston and Orlando International inyup, you guessed itOrlando, Florida, but compared to those two the setup in Denver is huge. Rather than having a security point at each terminal (which makes five in Boston, terminals A–E), they have a single point every passenger for every airline funnels through before moving on to their terminal. It gets really crowded sometimes, but it’s a terrific system, and one you can actually watch in action.
The area where they have the security setup is also huge, and you enter it on the second level. That second level forms a balcony, kind of an immense square 8, with a shopping/food court to keep you occupied while you buck up the nerve to stroll through the body scan machines. Can they tell I’m sucking in my gut with those things? Does anybody know?
Also, I almost always go to Panda Express for their orange chicken before I get on the plane, and I’d like to apologize right now to anyone who’s wound up sitting next to me in that little flying tube for three or four hours. And to anyone who I sit next to in future . . . look, that little air nozzle blows pretty hard, right? I’d make liberal use of that if I were you. Especially if I’m actually moaning and rubbing my stomach.
Anyway, you can look down from this double balcony, into the “holes in the eight” as it were, to watch the goings-on in the two security areas on the first floor. Each area is autonomous and not connected (publicly) to the other, but can only be reached (again: publicly) by the escalators at the top and bottom of the eight. From the balcony/shop court you can gaze over the railing and right down at the zig-zagging line of people waiting to shuck their shoes and jettison their jewelry—I don’t even want to tell you what they do with their belts—and go completely high school on them.
“Look at that bald spot!”
“Check out that hat. No . . . wait . . . strike that: it’s a rug. Holy crap, check out that rug.”
“Did her mother let her leave the house dressed like that? Oh, that is the mother? You’re kidding.”
Another fun—and useful—thing you can do up there is run back and forth and look from one security area to the other, counting noses and estimating numbers to see which side has the shorter wait in line. After a good round of orange chicken it’s more like mediocre jog back and forth, unless I’m moaning and rubbing my belly. Then it’s a slow walk. And there’s whining involved.
So there I was on the night of my return from Colorado, slowly jogging back and forth, though there was no actual whining or moaning (Remember: air nozzle!). One side looked to be about average busy, but the other looked almost vacant. I didn’t even try to lug my big, fat, orange chicken-filled ass back to double check (besides, it was so far!) I waved SB over and brought her down the escalator to the mostly empty TSA security checkpoint, rubbing my hands with glee.
Okay, occasionally my stomach, but mostly my hands.
“Look at this,” I said, gesturing toward the nearly empty lane leading toward the scanning machines. “This looks like it may be my quickest trip through security yet!” I was already dreading having to suck in my gut, though I wasn’t actually moaning yet. I turned to SB to say goodbye, and I swear I only had my back turned for a few seconds. Ten at the most. Maybe twelve. Okay, it could have been fifteen, but I’m telling you it wasn’t long. But when I turned back . . .
 . . . when I turned back, the space leading up to that empty lane toward the machines was filled with children. Dozens upon dozens of children, all Asian, all around nine or ten years old. Obviously on a school trip to the United States, some were speaking English while others spoke in . . . something else. Cantonese? Mandarin? Japanese? How the hell should I know? I was busy watching them still coming around the corner in a long, long line.
“Wha . . .?” I said, followed quickly by, “But . . . where? . . . I thought . . .”
This was as far as I got in my intelligent commentary before the woman at the head of the Asian invasion (tall, thin and nasal), walked up to the TSA agent womanning the mouth of the path between the ropes (short, cornrowed, and less than thin—though shouldn’t that really be more than thin?), and sort of shouted at her in a flat, and yes, stereotypically Asian, accent.
“I have one hundred children. That okay?”
The agent replied, but it was drowned out by a shout from just behind me.
“Jesus! I thought this one was empty—what happened?”
I turned to see a group of four twentysomethings who had just come down the escalator, all gaping at the now full line ahead. I opened my mouth to tell them that Hell appeared to have broken open and it was populated almost entirely by children, but I was too late.
“Let’s go back to the other side,” said the original speaker. “This side’ll take forever now!” Then they all moved off at a jog—rapidly increasing toward a run—heading for the stairs back up the balcony to go all the way over to the other escalator.
Yup. Stairs. The bad kind: up.
I looked at the short army assaulting the TSA agents. I gazed after the rapidly retreating twentysomethings. I put my hand to my belly and moaned. I hugged SB once more, picked up my bag, and shuffled dejectedly to the end of the now long line.
The whining began.

Talk to you later!