Thursday, March 31, 2016

Daisy Zoo


Back in the days of Deathrealm, I tended to read more poetry than I do in my current old age. I cannot lie, poetry has never been one of my favorite mediums — I know, my loss — but for the magazine I certainly managed to home in on some brilliant dark verse from numerous authors, and Jessica Amanda Salmonson's work was something of a Deathrealm mainstay. She contributed both short stories and poetry to the magazine, and her work often managed to define, as much as such is possible, the unique brand of weirdness I sought to present in its pages. From her heartfelt tribute to Wilum H. Pugmire, simply titled "Wilum" (which I think appeared in the premier issue — forgive me if I can't recall them all specifically without digging into the vault) to the psyche-stabbing "The Gorgeous Beast," to the Jonathan Carroll–inspired "In the Looking Glass, Life Is Death," Jessica's poems held an allure for me that few other poets could rival. Author/poet Fred Chappell once told me that reading poetry made him feel smarter, and I think there's something to that. After reading Jessica's latest poetry chapbook, Daisy Zoo and Other Punk-Ass Nonsense, I'm quite sure I got a dose of smartness that I'd never have come by otherwise.

There's not so much darkness in Daisy Zoo; it's more full of whimsy, of vivid sensuality, of quirkiness, of cynicism in many guises. For want of a better term, it's just damn fun. Smart fun. Sometimes gentle and touching and sometimes a kind of "what the fuck?" fun. I don't want to excerpt but so much because most of the poems are quite short, but one of my favorite WTF poems, called "Gotta Love Rats," features this:
     "I love rats — wo yeah
     Love 'em wearing hats — wo yeah
     Love 'em in my trousers — wo yeah
     Make me yell 'yowzehs' — wo yeah."
And there's plenty more. How about this, from "Stop! Stop Right Now!" —
     "I want you to know
     Your haiku are stupid
     Please stop writing them."
For me, that just does it.

For the most part, these are simple-structured rhymes, but in their simplicity they pack all the more wallop. You can read the entire collection in a sitting or two, and while you might get a few chuckles — even more than a few — you may also come away from it feeling as if your emotions have been scraped just a little raw. Jessica pokes and prods your brain perhaps more than you realize, at least until you step away from the verse and take stock of what just happened.

Sometimes feeling smarter is funny. Sometimes it hurts.

While supplies last, you can get your own copy of Daisy Zoo and Other Punk-Ass Nonsense from Jessica for $10 via Paypal. Use jessicasalmonson@gmail.com.

Monday, March 28, 2016

The Legend of Hillbilly John


The Legend of Hillbilly John is a relatively obscure little relic from the early 1970s, based on Manly Wade Wellman's Silver John stories. I saw the movie when it came round to the Rives Theater in Martinsville, VA, most likely in 1973, when I was in junior high school. I have vague recollections of being in old Ronnie Townsend's physics class and making plans to go see the movie with a buddy of mine named Edmond. At some prior movie show, I had seen the trailer, which featured a stop-motion-animated giant bird, and this naturally set off some serious fireworks in my juvenile head. At the time, the name Manly Wade Wellman meant nary a thing to me, though I had actually read "The Desrick on Yandro" in that most wonderful horror anthology Alfred Hitchcock's Monster Museum, probably that very same year. Apparently, my youthful mind did not pick up on the association between the story and the movie, although in later years, it was actually my vivid recollections of the "Desrick on Yandro" segment from the film that prompted me to seek out more of Wellman's works. Two decades or so ago, I picked up a copy of this movie on VHS, which I still own and keep safely stored, since, as best I can tell, no official digital version exists. I recently re-read "The Desrick on Yandro" — not just one of my favorite Wellman tales but one of my favorite horror/fantasy stories — and I got the bug to up and revisit the film.

For a low-budget picture with relatively limited appeal, The Legend of Hillbilly John features the contributions of several noteworthy names, such as stars Denver Pyle (Bonnie & Clyde, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, The Dukes of Hazard), R. G. Armstrong (Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid, My Name Is Nobody, Race With the Devil), Harris Yulin (How the West Was Won, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Law & Order), Severn Darden (Conquest of the Planet of the Apes, Battle for the Planet of the Apes, The Day of the Dolphin), and Susan Strasberg (The Trip, The Manitou, The Brotherhood); director John Newland of One Step Beyond fame; and country music legend Hoyt Axton, who provided the movie's main tune, "The Devil," among others. Though the plot ostensibly chronicles Hillbilly John's travels through the southland, putting down the devil wherever he may be found by way of a silver-stringed guitar (the devil, of course, cannot withstand the pure power of silver), the movie plays more like a number of cobbled-together set pieces, linked by the common characters of John (Hedges Capers); his girlfriend, Lily (Sharon Henesy); his dog, Honor-Hound; and the enigmatic Mr. Marduke (Darden). Two of the pieces are relatively faithful adaptations of Wellman's Silver John tales "The Desrick on Yandro" and "O Ugly Bird," featuring mostly convincing southern characters and authentic backwoods atmosphere (the movie was filmed in North Carolina and Arkansas). Unfortunately, the character of John himself departs rather drastically from the source material. Wellman drew the character as an educated, worldly, sometimes cynical veteran of the Korean War, whereas the John of the film is a naïve, rather effeminate flower child. While the set pieces themselves move at a fair pace and occasionally generate some tension, between them we are subjected to interminable interludes with John, Lily, and Honor Hound, usually accompanied by meandering, unmemorable ballads, some written by Capers himself.

Screenwriter Melvin Levy and director John Newland managed to conjure a few memorable moments, such as Denver Pyle performing his ill-fated "defy" on guitar (which culminates with the film appearing to actually break); Mr. Yandro's dramatic first appearance at a rather somber country church shindig; the animated Ugly Bird's attack on John; and John's confrontation with a powerful Haitian witch doctor-cum-slave driver named Captain Lajoie H. Desplaines IV (Percy Rodrigues). Our most intriguing character is actually Severn Darden's dowser/magician/narrator Marduke, who is not a Wellman creation but an apparent incarnation of the Babylonian deity Marduk, his nature and motivations unclear from start to finish. While he appears a benevolent enough character, he exudes a certain dark mystery, partly due to Severn Darden's perpetually dour countenance. He is clearly possessed of occult powers (not to mention he owns a mule named Asmodeus), but while he occasionally lends John a hand — such as replacing his guitar which was destroyed as he battled Ugly Bird — he doesn't actively participate in any conflicts with the antagonists. More than once, he goads John to question his own motivation, going so far as to tell him that, if he goes on to defy the devil, those who benefit from his victory will likely not appreciate it. Quite the contrary, as a matter of fact.

Apart from Ugly Bird, special effects work is less than sparse. I can't imagine today's audiences, accustomed to the casting of spells by way of flashy CGI laser strikes, suspending their collective disbelief by anything as simple as a few simple camera tricks, staccato music, and slightly over-the-top acting. One scene that almost impresses is near the end of the film, when John and Lily arrive at the cotton plantation run by Captain Desplaines. They approach a tall wooden gate, and upon opening, find themselves facing a landscape and sky colored a lurid orange. Only after Captain Desplaines has been vanquished by John's silver-stringed guitar does the color return to normal.

Unquestionably, The Legend of Hillbilly John has heart, and at times it has brains. Hoyt Axton's "The Devil" over the opening credits does a commendable job of setting up a dark, expectant mood. In its better moments, the movie can draw some approving nods. At no time, however, does anything in it come close to making you stand up, thump your chest, and holler, "God damn, that was good!" Quite unlike Wellman's stories, which have, for me, done this very thing. It's difficult to find this film, as I don't believe it's available either on DVD or at any digital service. My old VHS tape of it doesn't get much business, but I do like having it on hand, just for when I get in that mood. I expect I'll give it another look in some future year.


Hoyt Axton's "The Devil," as it opens the picture.

Back to Jack Taylor's House Party


Back on St. Patrick's Day, I had the pleasure of appearing on Jack Taylor's House Party radio show on WFJX FOX Radio 910, and the hosts — Big Knox and Vano — have, for their own inexplicable, possibly sadistic reasons, seen fit to invite me back. I'll be on the show again today, round about 2:00 PM EDT, this time to carry on about geocaching and perhaps a bit about writing horror. You can listen live on the web, or get the Tune-In Radio apps for Android and iPhones to listen anywhere, anytime. Last week's show is available on Soundcloud — it begins the third hour, so you can either listen to the whole entertaining show or skip straight to my segment if you're feeling masochistic. Anyhoo, please do join us today. You might learn something, and you'll certainly go away afeared.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Just Divine

Had to make my usual visit to Martinsville to look after Mum on Friday and first part of the day Saturday, but I was able to get back yesterday afternoon so Ms. B., Kidlet, and I could head out to hit a couple of wineries and enjoy a very pleasant day in the Yadkin River Valley. Our first destination was Divine Llama, which Ms. B. and I have visited a few times in the past. They only have a couple of dry reds — a reserve Merlot and a Cabernet Franc — but they're both exceedingly good for NC wine, and even a couple of their whites weren't too ugly on my palate. Their oaked Chardonel was actually smooth and buttery enough to make me consider having a glass of it. That is all kinds of different, my friends. Now, Ms. B. is all about  stainless steel–aged, crisp-and-citrusy, non-oaky white wine, but everyone is entitled to at least a few minor shortcomings. Alas, there were no llamas in evidence this visit; just a lot of bumbly bees and a few children. (Parents, cut that the fuck out. Wineries are for adults.)

From there, we went over to nearby Cellar 4201, which is a decent enough place, with more choices of dry reds. However, their tastings are way overpriced — $9 for seven wines (with a very small quantity of each wine — about half an ounce) in a stemless glass, or $15 for the same seven in a stemmed glass, which you get to keep. Please! Now, I certainly prefer a glass with a stem, but good lord, you wouldn't even get a half glass of wine for your $15, and the last thing I need is another tasting glass to bring home. For comparable wine tastings, most Yadkin Valley wineries charge you from $5 to $10 for up to ten wines, and more often than not, you get to keep the glass anyway. I confess this little bit of gouging irked me, but it wasn't hard to make the best of things, what with the company and everything. Bottom line is, with so many wineries in the area that offer you a better deal (and some with better quality wine), I am not much inclined to make 4201 a destination to revisit in the near future.

Upon departing the vineyards, our trio headed to Little Tokyo restaurant in High Point for sushi, which certainly proved a high point of the evening. Great food, and a nice two-for-one deal on sake for Saturday evening. One of the better venues for not-terribly-dead fish in the Triad.

Today, there was caching. Fun, happy caching. Sadly, Kidlet will be leaving us tomorrow. It has been a fine two weeks having her close at hand. Well, mostly. I mean, you can see a bit of scariness in the visages down below. Rough stuff, my friends, rough stuff.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

The Browns Summit Chainsaw Massacre?

I love finding haunted places while I'm out geocaching, and I came upon a mighty fine one this afternoon. It's out in Brown Summit, a few miles north of here, on the edge of Bryan Park North, a relatively new extension to the already sizeable park. There's over five miles of hiking/equestrian trails in these woods, only a portion of which has so far been claimed by geocachers. I had gone out after a couple of new ones, and my search led me to the remains of an old homestead, with a crumbling farmhouse in the woods; a couple of collapsed tobacco barns; a field full of abandoned, rusting automobiles; a chugging generator; and an honest-to-god roaring chainsaw somewhere just beyond my line of sight. There's a couple of squalid, dilapidated houses just beyond the woods, both clearly inhabited. The geocache (GC6DNBN) was virtually within sight of this rather forbidding property, and during my search, I kept a keen eye and ear open for the approach of any hostile beings, human or otherwise. Obviously, I lived to tell the tale, and I rightly look forward to heading back out that way in the coming days.
Multiple dead cars... multiple dead bodies?
It fall down!
Still alive to tell the tale — for the moment.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Wining and Sciencing

Kidlet came into town from New York City last week, and she's staying with me this weekend. She wanted to see the Greensboro Natural Science Center, as she hadn't been there since she was a wee youngster and it was a single building with just a few displays — and except for hunting geocaches on or around its premises, I've never been. It's now an extensive, multi-million-dollar complex, with lots of live animal displays, dinosaurs, rocks & minerals, aquariums, and a treetop rope course (which Allison did not care to do, but I'm quite sure I want to give it a go). We spent a good couple of hours seeing the sights, the highlight surely being the pair of tigers who have a nice big area to roam and mingle with guests — well, almost. We were also quite taken with the pair of fishing cats, a passel of penguins, a bunch of otters, and stingrays of all sizes, which you can pet as they glide past through the pool. There's a huge octopus, which we were told only rarely makes an appearance, but it was kind enough to treat us to a brief appearance when it came out from its cover of rocks to check out the passersby. Bet he would have made for some serious tako-su at any of the nearby Japanese restaurants (octopus is one of my favorites, by the way).

Out in the zoo area, there were several dinosaur-sized tortoises; a number of playful gibbons in the trees; some shy lemurs gathered together in a hovel and grooving on a pict; and a peacock strutting around the pedestrian walkways, which made me wonder whether we had stumbled onto the NBC lot by mistake.

Afterward, we headed over to Stonefield Cellars Winery in the Stokesdale area — by way of a few geocaches — which made for a most pleasant afternoon, the weather kindly cooperating with sunshine and balmy temperatures. We shared a bottle of their Synchronicity red blend, which is one of their many excellent red selections. It was nice to see that Stonefield has a new winery cat, named Fizzgig (from The Dark Crystal). Some time ago, their original winery cat, Noah — a beautiful bengal cat — passed away. Fizzgig — whom Allison referred to as Francis — proved himself affable company while one is drinking wine in the great outdoors.

Then, finally, we made our way back into town and met Ms. Brugger, Jenny Chapman, and Doug Cox at Casa Vallarta Mexican Restaurant for dinner. Fair Mexican fare, excellent company. Today, the kid is preparing us a nice lunch. I hope to survive to tell the tale.
Brought to you in living color.
Droolie in his dreams
Fishing cats, sans fish
Fizzgig, a.k.a. Francis
Dad and Kidlet

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Coming Up on Jack Taylor's House Party...


Thursday, March 17, 2016 — hey, that's St. Patrick's Day! — I'll be doing a live Q&A session on the Jack Taylor's House Party radio show on WFJX FOX Radio 910 Roanoke at or around 2:00 PM EDT. Co-host Vance Pitzer (or should I say Mr. Pitzer — you know, of Pitzer Hut fame) decided I should get the roast or some such, and what could I do but oblige? We'll talk about my writing, scary stuff in general, possibly some geocaching, who the heck knows? At any rate, it ought to be wicked fun, so if you've got the time, we've got the torture for you.

You can listen live on the web, or get the Tune-In Radio apps for Android and iPhones to listen anywhere, anytime. The shows are recorded, so you can always come back and torture yourself at a later date.

Pop in!

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Discoveries: Best of Horror and Dark Fantasy


Received today: my contributor copy of the paperback edition of Discoveries: Best of Horror and Dark Fantasy from Dark Regions Press. This one features my pleasantly deviant little horror tale "Megan," which originally appeared in the mini-anthology Darker Discoveries in 2008. The new anthology, edited by James R. Beach and Jason V Brock, features stories from various Dark Discoveries Press projects, including the magazine, the newsletter, and the anthologies NW Horrors and Darker Discoveries.

Here, we also have works by Paul Bens Jr., Ray Bradbury, Jason V Brock, Kealan Patrick Burke, Elizabeth Engstrom, Paul Finch, Bill Gauthier, Cody Goodfellow, Gerard Houarner, Richard Laymon, Tim Lebbon, John R. Little, Nick Mamatas, Brett McBean, Michael McBride, James Newman, William F. Nolan, Gene O’Neill, Weston Ochse, Wilum H. Pugmire, David A. Riley, Michelle Scalise, John Shirley, Steve Rasnic Tem, Jeffrey Thomas, Tim Waggoner, and Matthew Warner.

Discoveries: Best of Horror and Dark Fantasy is currently available in ebook and trade paperback; Dark Regions Press will release a deluxe, signed hardcover edition later this year. You can check it out at Dark Regions or at Amazon.com (ebook here or paperback here).

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Night Cachers

It's unusual in the extreme to have an impromptu nighttime caching outing these days, mainly because I've had Greensboro essentially cached out for a matter of years now. But with the infusion of damn near 400 caches in town in recent days, courtesy of Mr. Night-Ranger, there's at least enough to keep me busy for a matter of weeks. Tonight, Mr. Robgso, Ms. Cupdaisy, and I decided to get together to go after a dozen or so in northern Greensboro. Well, it took some shaming from the lady to coerce Rob into joining us, but join us he eventually did. We started out at dusk, just in time to witness the rainbow over the golden arches, which you see in the above photo. This was all nice and everything, but it was after the rainbow vanished that the rain actually began. It pelted us for a little while, but once it let up, it left us in peace for the rest of the evening.
Yep, walking dead things in the woods

Most of the caches were of the park-&-grab variety, but there was one that took us into the woods off Lawndale Drive, with lots of tree frogs piping eerily, and something went tromping through the darkness nearby that gave Cupdaisy a start. And my favorite location was one that I didn't realize existed — an old, abandoned apartment complex some distance off the main road, which was pleasantly creepy, with old benches overgrown with weeds, trees growing out from a once-tended pond, and the sounds of wildlife singing and scurrying in the darkness. Once again, caching brings us to interesting, previously undiscovered places in our own own backyard. Happy day. Or in this case, happy night. I don't know if we'll manage anymore night outings in the area real soon, but this one sure was a treat.

My daughter is in town, and she was treated to a couple of cache finds last night, and a couple of more this morning, all quite against her will. There might be a little more of that in her future before she heads back to New York. Let's have a little evil laughter, shall we?

Happy hunting and good-night.
Hurry up and sign the log, Rob, I think there's one of them walking dead things coming this way.


Friday, March 11, 2016

The Creep's New Threads


Yeah, the Sandy Level Creep is watching you. Apparently, the Creep has changed into his best spring attire, as you can see in the accompanying photo. He's shed his tattered gray raincoat and donned a red long-sleeved button-down shirt, off-white slacks, a sassy hat, and a pair of ultra-stylish shades. He still wears his customary broad smile and offers a cheerful wave to folks driving past on the old Axton Road in Henry County, VA, just north of the NC state line.

As friendly as the Creep appears to be, he's very much the strong, silent type, and I've yet to see him engaged in conversation with anyone. Presumably, the Creep's family lives in one of the mobile homes on the property, and I can deny a certain temptation to stop and see if they're the chatty sort. I'd love to hear the story behind this fellow.

At least, I think I would.

Too busy to blog much lately. Life is running me ragged. At least there's a whole slew of new caches to go after in my snippets of spare time, courtesy Mr. Rich "Night-Ranger" Colter — 380 of them, give or take a few. Happily, there are a fair number I can grab on my increasingly regular comings and goings from Martinsville. They do add a sparkle to the day.

Peace out, creeps.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Caching and Wining in the Yadkin Valley

Nice lady and old grump (perhaps less grumpy than usual) at Medaloni Cellars
It's about time, I say. It's been an intense few weeks with all kinds of deadlines, pressing family responsibilities, taxes to tackle, busy days at the office, and very little time for rest or relaxation. Finally got a little bit of that in today, although I headed out early to grab a few new geocaches not far away. Happily, I got first-to-find on three of them. Then Ms. B. and I aimed ourselves westward to visit a couple wineries in the Yadkin Valley — Medaloni Cellars and Hanover Park, the former for the first time, the latter being one of our longtime favorites. Medaloni Cellars had a couple of standout dry reds, and, quite naturally, Hanover Park blew us away with their 1897 and Michael's Blend red blends.

There were only four caches on our planned route, but they were all nicely done, not your typical base-of-sign park and grabs. The NC Civil War Geotrail series has been a favorite of mine, and one the caches took us to the Battle Branch Cafe, out in a nicely hidden part of the county, near Huntsville, which was pillaged in 1865 during General George Stoneman's famous raid. We didn't stop to eat at the cafe, but the fare looks great and the reviews are good. Perhaps next time.

There's caching with the Old Farts slated for tomorrow, and then it's back down the mine for another week of it. Someone's gotta do it.
At Hanover Park, still not too grumpy
Ms. B. at the old cabin at the Battle Branch Cafe, near Huntsville