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Sunday, September 30, 2007

Saturday night, our friends, the Albaneses, came down from Martinsville for a big old Thai dinner that I cooked up (one of my best, I have to say!) and then we engaged ourselves in one of our favorite pastimes: going to the drive-in theater in Eden, about a half-hour up the road. No Reservations and Balls of Fury were showing, neither of which I'd have gone to see otherwise, but it was all about the drive-in experience, more than the movies themselves. Got rather chilly out there, but we had coats and blankets to bundle up, and there were some good, hot cheeseburgers from the concession stand for dessert. A fine evening all around.

For the last few years, it's been an office tradition for me to read one of my stories at our Halloween "festival," so this year I think I'm going to read "The Devils of Tuckahoe Gorge," which came out a while back in
Dark Discoveries magazine. Spent Sunday editing a thousand words out of it so it'll fit into the 15-minute time slot I have. The end result was a tighter and certainly better tale than what was actually published. Wish I'd done it sooner. Also proofread the galleys of "The Ghost Lens," which will be coming out next month in Elder Signs Press's Horrors Beyond II. Is looking good.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007
Received a very nice note from Brian Yount, editor of Doorways magazine, that my story, "A Tale of the Terrible Dead," will be appearing in issue #4 (December 2007). Looks like some good company—Lee Thomas, Wayne Allen Sallee, John Everson, Stephen Graham Jones, and Bruce Boston.

Frazier discovered his tail tonight. He flipped for it. Several times.

Monday, September 24, 2007
Well, I reckon it's official now. A new addition to the household. A stray tiger wandered around a couple of weeks ago and has been making himself at home ever since. So we did the trip to the vet, got him checked out and vaccinated, and now it looks like he's pretty much moved in. The young lady next door thought Frazier was a good name for him, so it stuck. The other cats are not overly thrilled, but they at least seem to be taking things in stride.

Sadly, when Frazier was outfitted with a new collar and tag, someone had the audacity to do a little outfitting on Chester as well. It's not going over so great.


Sunday, September 23, 2007
Last night was my 30th high school reunion, held at the Elks Club Lodge in Martinsville, VA. There was a bunch of old people there. Peculiar, no? On the whole, I enjoyed it lots, as I was once close with several of the folks in attendance; plus it was just plain nice to see many of the people I haven't had much, if any, contact with over the years. A handful of people I'd hoped to see weren't there, but I did get to spend quality time with some very good old friends. As my wife observed, most of the women looked great; many of the men, not so much.

The FATZ band was very loud. Amusingly, many of the crowd who were once headbangers were wishing for the volume to be lowered. And the bartender was very serious about his drinks. The last few were somewhat stiff, even by my standards...

Looking back, my high school years were generally good ones. Being an introverted, creative sort, I didn't have many friends, and most in school looked upon me as something of an oddity—though at some of these reunions, many have been kind enough to tell me they respected my artistic talent (which, when I consider it with some measure of objectivity, wasn't all that remarkable). Most are not surprised that I chose the path of a horror writer. Some of them have read my work and decided they were right way back when—that guy is an oddity. Typical of any teenager, I guess, a lot of the angst that drove me was born of self-delusion and mistaken perceptions, but I remember numerous episodes of sinking into pretty deep depression. But I also experienced a lot of unadulterated joy in my school days—something that just doesn't seem possible anymore, not with all the emotional and spiritual calluses that nearly a half-century of life wears on one. Last night, I felt some flashes of that old joy, and it's something I opt to treasure. There's a bit of wistfulness mixed in as well, as, somehow, it seems like this will probably be the last such gathering before the real issues of age start setting in for many of us. Next time around, some folks will have retired, some will be ill, and, inevitably, another bunch will have passed on.

So while I'm here, I'm going to carry with me the happiness that one night of interacting with the past can bring. It's a great way to feel young again.

Sunday, September 16, 2007
I didn't mean to do it. Really, I didn't. But yesterday afternoon, I blew a couple of hours browsing YouTube for old television clips that I remember vividly from childhood days. I looked up dozens and dozens of titles, and, only slightly to my surprise, I found just about the lot of them. Perhaps the most meaningful to me is the clip of Officer Don from The Popeye Club, which used to run on weekday afternoons in Atlanta. When we took family trips to visit my grandparents in Georgia, it was perhaps my most anticipated show—at least until Ultraman came on the air, a few years later, since no local stations broadcast it at home.

Just for kicks, here are links to a handful of my favorites.

Officer Don & the Popeye Club
Officer Don and the Skylift (This one is just beautiful.)
The Mighty Hercules
Milton the Monster Intro
The Banana Splits Intro
Stingray Intro
Branded Intro
The Odd Couple Intro
Love, American Style Intro

There are so many more—not to mention old TV commercials, many of which I found as well. And to discover that they're not all relegated just to my rusting memory is somehow incredibly uplifting—perhaps even more so when I realize how vividly I actually do remember them; in most cases, my memory was spot-on.

If you're among the late baby boomers, you might find some of these familiar, too.

Friday, September 14, 2007
A number of contributors to the High Seas Cthulhu anthology have posted "behind-the-story" entries on William Jones's blog. Evidently, Library Journal is interested in using the final blog as an article. Go figure that. Anyway, I wrote up a little piece about "Signals" and posted it. You may find it here: William's Ramblings

Monday, September 10, 2007
Received my contributor copies of High Seas Cthulhu (and that nice check!) from Elder Signs Press, and, once again, I am happier than a puma with a cheeseburger with the presentation—with the exception of one very ugly grammar gaffe, which probably cropped up during proofing stage; it was a line for which I had sent in a correction, but the wrong word was "corrected." Ah, well, so it goes in publishing, and this volume is so well-produced overall that I doubt the error will drive readers to go reaching for their seppuku swords. I've only read the first couple of stories so far ("The Idol in His Hand" by Darrell Schweitzer and "The Tip of the Iceberg") by John Shire), but they immediately drew me into the book; they pulled me completely away from the novel I've been slowly ploughing through, as a matter of fact. So now I'm stuck on the high seas, and looking forward to the rest of the voyage. Schweitzer's fiction is generally good for hooking the reader, so editor William Jones made an excellent decision to use "Idol" as the lead piece. Mr. Jones has proven himself to be one of the best editors—if not the best—working in the horror presses these days, and I urge you folks reading this to go pick up any of the books he's edited, as well as Dark Wisdom magazine. I'm oftentimes asked if I would ever consider starting up Deathrealm magazine again, and I always reply "no"—one of the main reasons being that I wouldn't want to be competing for shelf space with the likes of Dark Wisdom magazine. I'd much rather support Mr. Jones with my writing and my subscription dollars—especially since he gets to do all the grunt work.

Thursday, September 6, 2007
Just back from a five-day trip to Chicago, and now it's time to play catch-up. It's looking like a big job.

Saturday morning, we flew up, met our friends Daryl and Melissa at O'Hare, and headed back to their place to sort of freshen up. I say sort of because dear Melissa does not believe in air conditioning. Probably due to having worked in an office that is kept as cold as a refrigerator for the last fourteen years, my body has become acclimated to near-frigid temperatures, and heat and I simply do not get along. Well, it was hot up north this week, and it rarely got below 80 degrees inside the house. Needless to say, Mark was in misery.

Saturday evening, we headed out to the Schaumburg outdoor festival, where Pat Benatar was playing at the local park. I'm not exactly a big Pat Benatar fan, but considering the show was free (except for the cost of a couple of beers), I had a great time.

Sunday, it was off to the horse races at Arlington Park (which is just down the street from where my wife used to live when we were dating). We had box seats right at the finish line. It was my first experience at the racetrack, and I have to say, I enjoyed the hell out of it. Played the horses on most races; won some, lost some, but in the end, pretty much broke even.

They make excellent bloody marys at Arlington Park, by the way.

I can has a bloody mary pleaz?
(The mohito in the foreground belongs
to the photographer.)

On Tuesday, we were going to head downtown so the women could do some shopping for glamorous crap, but my friggin' bifocals broke on me, leaving me half-blind, so we ended up spending half the day at the Woodfield Mall Lenscrafters getting them replaced. Not exactly what I call fun, but at least I can see again.

We managed to get in a number of movies, including The Departed, The Sentinel, Blood Diamond, Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The New Generation, Gladiator, and the recent Pink Panther with Steve Martin, as well as several Cubs games. The women did some antique shopping, and, yesterday, I treated myself to a big old Italian beef sandwich, which was one of my favorite menu items back when I was a Chicago resident. They just don't make those anywhere here in the south, not even reasonable facsimiles.

Daryl and Melissa dropped us at O'Hare again yesterday afternoon—where I discovered that O'Brien's pub also makes superb bloody marys. Not just a shot of vodka and can of mix, but lots of spice, worcestershire sauce, tabasco, lime, and fresh celery. It was a fine send-off.

We got in late last night, and while it was an excellent trip overall, in some of the best company there is, I'm glad to be back home and in working air conditioning.

Friday, August 31, 2007
Well, my brother was kind enough to lend me his DVDs of Season II of Twin Peaks, so guess what. I've spent the past two nights devouring the episodes, many of which are completely new to me, and I've still got another couple of DVDs left to go. During the show's first run, I saw all of the first season, but for reasons I cannot fully recall, I ended up missing the latter half of the second season altogether. So yes, it's about time I caught up—particularly since Twin Peaks has always engaged me on a level that few other television shows or movies ever have
. Even though I could use a refresher on the first season, it's been no chore to fall right back into the setting and plot and get reacquainted with the characters. The show's atmosphere was and is unique, and there's something about it so alluring, so intimately familiar, it's like falling into one of my own vivid dreams. And seeing it on DVD is definitely the way to go. Even the show's slow moments, the dramatic aspects that don't always work, the stumbling and wending its way into unknown territory, when you don't have to sit through commercials, all these things are not just made palatable, they make for intriguing side trips.

The "Definitive Gold Box Edition" is supposed to come out next month, I believe, so it's gone onto my Christmas wish list. Can't say as I really care that I'll be done with Season II before getting back into Season I; it's a treat to get back into it in any capacity.

Sunday, August 25, 2007
A pleasant enough weekend, mostly spent hanging around the house to stay out of the heat. We did go out and about last night, as my brother, Phred, came round, and we had a decent dinner at Ham's Restaurant. I tore into some dead bird legs and killed a bison burger.

Anybody remember They Call Me Trinity, the Italian western-comedy from 1971, starring Terence Hill and Bud Spencer? It and its sequel, Trinity Is Still My Name, are at the top of my list of all-time favorite comedies, but I haven't had a look at either in probably a couple of decades. So late last night, I pulled out the old VHS tape, and Peg and I watched the first Trinity as a midnight movie. The fun hasn't worn off after all these years, and, yes, I laughed like a stinkin' hyena through the whole thing. I just discovered that restored versions of both movies are supposed to come out next month as a boxed set, so it has been emblazoned upon my wish list.

I see that High Seas Cthulhu, which features my story, "Signals," has just been released by Elder Signs Press, so I'm hoping to see my contributor copy (and a check) showing up at my doorstep very soon. From what I know of it so far, it looks like it's going to be another damn fine ESP release. Please, Mr. Postman...

Tuesday, August 21, 2007
Most of the reviews of Invasion, the fourth version of Jack Finney's The Body Snatchers, have been less than kind, but a few of them highlighted enough positive elements to motivate me to visit the theater to give it a look.

A wee bit of spoilage below... was worth a look, I'll give it that. But in the end, it was most unsatisfying—partly because, for a while, the film actually had a lot going for it. However, the glaringly obvious "touch-ups," made at the behest of the studio (which wanted it to be "thrilling") pretty much decimated it. I knew they were coming, but that didn't make them even remotely palatable. I will give the cast credit for doing a fine job with the material at hand, particularly some of the supporting members—such as Veronica Cartwright, Roger Rees, and Josef Sumner. Their strong performances helped add the crucial aspect of human sensitivity to the film, something that seemed a bit lacking from the main cast members. Nicole Kidman has always left me a little cold, despite the fact she's done some exceptional work (particularly in The Others, which remains my favorite of her films), but I did find myself liking her in this movie—at least until the action-thriller clichés came piling on one-by-one and damn near put me to sleep (which would have been a Bad Thing, according to the film). By then, her character had been replaced by a stuntwoman, and it suddenly became a chore to give a shit.

The film's first half—the build-up of paranoia as people are replaced—gave me a good case of that eerie feeling that the original Siegel film and the Kaufman remake did so well. In fact, a few of the "changed" characters were downright scary. Alas, the inclusion of a pseudo-scientific explanation for the alien phenomenon fell deathly flat, particularly its bland delivery by Jeffrey "Felix Leiter" Wright—though that seems more the fault of the script than the actor. Then, as the resolution draws near, it would seem that, holy cow, everything that has happened up to now isn't really that big a deal after all; in fact, we come uncomfortably close to ending the movie on the "it was all a dream" note. I mean squeaky close. In the words of Professor Henry Higgins: what an infantile idea, what a brainless, wicked, heartless thing to do. If anything comes close to salvaging the whole mess, it's an effective note of irony that plays as we see things returning to "normal" in the world.

This one might be better than the virtually forgotten third version, which starred Meg Tilly. But only just. Given the film's source material, comparisons are inevitable, so I'll just say stick with the first two versions. In fact, at this very moment, I'm getting a terrible craving to pop in my old VHS of the 1978 version, which is one of my all-time favorite scary flicks.

Sunday, August 19, 2007
Since Thursday was a bust, celebration-wise, Peg and I had a fine anniversary dinner last night at Chateau Morrisette, on the Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia, accompanied by our friends, Joe and Suzie Albanese. It turned out to be a beautiful evening, at one of the most scenic areas around. We put a nice dent in the Chateau's wine cellar, feasted on veal and other assorted dead animals, and made much in the way of merriment, none too shabby for a table full of old farts.

If I were wearing a hat, I'd tip it to the Chateau's chef and wait staff, who really did a nice job and helped make the evening special for us. Initially, we were a little miffed when we ordered prime rib, only to to be told it was all gone. But in its place, they gave us a free bottle of wine and a delicious dessert, so all turned out well. Major thanks to the Albaneses for celebrating with us.

In the photo, Mark is somewhat bamboozled by Peg's boob flashing at the passersby.

Thursday, August 16, 2007
And today is the 21st anniversary of my marriage to Peg (nice hat, don't you think?), shown at left with some strange character who still has a wee bit of hair. Not quite sure where all the years have gone, but at least I remembered the day. Certain other parties in the relationship, well, kind of didn't.

Unfortunately, I'm a wee bit ill with a sinus bug and am staying home from work today so as not to spread vile germs around the office. It may be a futile gesture, since the office is almost certainly where I picked them up in the first place.

Last night, before I started feeling much bug-ridden, I had a nice dinner with writer Gina Farago and the Banes of my existence, Terry and Glenn, at Phoenix, one of our reasonably good but overpriced Thai restaurants (two martinis cost more than the crispy squid appetizer and very large Thai beef salad). Terry brought along my contributor copy of her brand-new book, The Actual, Factual Dracula, for which I wrote the introduction. It's a staggeringly large encyclopedia of the world's vampires, from pretty much every culture throughout history. The book, beautifully produced in hardback by NeDeo Press, is not just informative reading, it's big and heavy enough to make for a solid weapon against assailants who are not necessarily undead. If your life is in imminent danger, you should pick one up right now.

Sunday, August 12, 2007
Today would have been my parents' 51st wedding anniversary, if my dad were still with us. Just talked to my mom on the phone, and my brother was staying with her for the weekend, so I know that will help bolster her spirits. The picture on the right is one of my favorite of their wedding photos. I think it captures the perfect moment for the two of them at their happiest.

I'm happy as a cat who just snagged a big bowlful of Fancy Feast Wild Salmon Florentine With Garden Greens because I've gotten word that my latest short story, "Sarcophagus" (which I finished last Monday) is being picked up for Magus Press's as-yet-untitled winter-themed anthology. It's a nice-paying market, from a publisher that looks to be putting together some fine-looking products. Visit them here for a look at their line.

Last night, we hung out at the palace of Mr. William "Bill" Trotter and Elizabeth Lustig, for a dual birthday party—both Lizzie and their son Michael were turning older this year. We partook of some very refreshing beverages and had a feeding frenzy on pizza and Mrs. Wimmer's Fabulous Fried Chicken.

I've got some disjointed ideas for a possible new novel, so this week, I will probably be damaging my brain coming up with ways to make them jointed. If you hear someone's brain exploding way out in the distance, well, it's probably mine.

Saturday, August 11, 2007
Woke up this morning to the sound of thundering, thudding, rattling, and squalling, and I thought maybe the end of days had arrived. Turned out it was just the cats, who'd found an ink pen to play with.

Finished up Robert Masello's Bestiary the other day and thought it worthy of a few remarks. The story is a series of plot threads that more or less converge, with only marginal success. A mysterious Iraqi millionaire named Mohammed Al-Kalli possesses an equally mysterious, ancient book called The Beasts of Eden, which is a catalog of fabulous, monstrous creatures, including gryphons, gorgons, manticores, and the like (which we know early on will turn out to be quite real). Al-Kalli gives the book to Beth Cox, an expert in medieval texts, to translate. Just so happens that Beth's husband, Carter, is a renowned paleontologist and finds himself in a position to assist her—and eventually Al-Kalli—in identifying the monstrous creatures illustrated in the book. Meanwhile, a greedy, ex-army officer, who had indirectly worked for Al-Kalli in Iraq, gets involved with a dangerous, radical militia, and the paths of all our characters slowly begin to converge.

Bestiary is generally well-written, though Masello commits the cardinal sin of frequently switching point of view from one paragraph to another—something for which few writers would be forgiven—yet, to the writer's credit, the prose is smooth enough so that it doesn't much distract. The sprawling plot barely holds together, given all the disparate threads, but the most noticeably out-of-place (and highly unsatisfying) element is a character named Arius (from Masello's previous novel, Vigil), who pops in briefly to light a fire under the Coxes just when it's needed. It's a silly thing, and it seems to be there solely for the purpose of goading the reader to pick up Vigil, if he hasn't already. Well, I'm not all that likely to.

There's a lot to admire in Bestiary; for its vast size, the book moves fairly quickly, the characters are well-drawn, and the action is vividly rendered. Still, there doesn't seem to be much passion in the writing just when it needs it most, and a few of the more cliched elements—such as the Coxes' "perfect baby"—serve only to induce groans of frustration. I'm going to give it three out of six beers, with maybe a shot of tequila on the side. Enjoyable enough on its own, but it doesn't much inspire me to seek out more of Masello's work.

If you're here, perhaps you noticed, but I've been tweaking the Web site a little over the past few days. Nothing major, mostly just touching up graphics and such. Gives it a little extra pep, I think.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007
Finished a new short story called "Sarcophagus" that's intended for a particular anthology; we'll have to see what becomes of it. I did receive some good news on a project that I'll post about when the all-clear siren sounds.

Yesterday, had the pleasure of seeing an old friend from my post-college days—some 25 years ago—and we yapped much about the old dark days over a coupla beers. It's been a pretty good year for rediscovering old friends and acquaintances. Next month, my 30th high school reunion is coming up. Wonder how come all these other folks are getting so old while I just keep getting sillier?

Speaking of old... Today, the day-job was such a bear that, tonight, I pretty much turned into a vegetable. Get that salt and pepper out of here, please...

Sunday, August 5, 2007
Just returned from Trinoc*Con in Raleigh. I'm lucky to have made it back, since my car started giving me trouble before I was halfway home; engine skipping and lurching, and the "Service Engine Soon" light flashing at me like a goddamn airlock warning alarm. I managed to get it to a garage, so hopefully it'll be all better come tomorrow. No doubt it will cost a number of dollars we don't exactly have to spare, alas.

The con was fun enough; fairly good attendance, though I'm not sure what the final numbers were. Sold and signed a few books, had a reading, was on a few well-attended panels, and got to see lots of good folk, some I already knew and some I didn't. I roomed with Greg Hill, owner of Lazy Lion Books in Fuquay-Varina, and he was surprisingly tolerable, for the most part. We got along famously, actually, as we're both aging with no grace whatsoever and have many of the same aches and pains. Really enjoyed meeting Elizabeth Hand, George R. R. Martin, Alexandra Sokoloff, and Alex Wilson, who were also very good co-panelists, and it was a treat to see old friends/acquaintances such as Andreas and Luna Black, Alethea Kontis, James Maxey, Scott Nicholson, Warren Rochelle, Ed Schubert, Graham Watkins, Bud Webster, Drew Williams, and Allen Wold.

Was on a fairly lively panel about Heroes and Villains in F/H/SF with George R. R. Martin yesterday, which was standing room only, and this morning I moderated a panel on story construction, which wasn't a total catastrophe—an especially good thing since I am about as adept at moderating panels as I am at repairing cars. The North Raleigh Hilton really is a decent hotel, with exceptionally comfortable beds and a good layout, so—apart from consistently slow service at the restaurant—I found it a fine place to hold a con. For once, my room was on the ground floor, just a short distance from the lobby, so it was very easy to get in and out to do stuff.

I'll give a Trinoc*Con a decent recommendation; from a business standpoint, not particularly valuable, but from a strictly social view, a nice thing all around.

Thursday, August 2, 2007
Goodness; and so another edition of the log retires to the archive....

Tonight's movie was Lost Skeleton of Cadavra, from Larry Blamire and company, who've been entertaining us recently with Tales From the Pub on YouTube. If you're visiting here, there's a better than average chance that you've seen the movie, and that you're lousy with Atmospherium. My bwudda Cortney Skinner designed and constructed the very skeery mutant that occupies a prominent spot in the filum. Suffice it to say that Lost Skeleton is a not too terribly silly homage to the great B movies of the 1950s and 60s, and if you have even a slight appreciation for such treats, then this movie is for you. There's a host of extra features on the DVD, including an astounding cartoon short called "Skeleton Frolic," which is nothing short of masterful, rendered in the style of the classic animated shorts of the 1940s.

On deck from Blamire and company is a new adventure called The Trail of the Screaming Forehead, which I hope will not be long in coming. The trailer does fling a craving on one.

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