Monday, October 31, 2011

My Halloween Reading

I love short stories, and I always have. As a reader, I love anthologies for one simple reason: more bang for the buck. Finding an anthology with short stories from authors I like is like finding little gems in the rock pile. Many times, I've bought an anthology full of stories I already had, simply for the one or two stories I didn't have. Especially if the other stories in the book were good. Then you know you're in for a treat.

These two paperbacks were bought at the same time, but I cannot recall which used bookstore I found these in. Regardless, I was impressed with the contents, as well as Christopher Lee's cogent remarks about the authors and stories. It's pretty clear he at least contributed the commentary for the first book.

In honor of this year's Halloween, I broke the books out and worked my way through the stories. Check out the punch in these two slim volumes!

Volume 1

The Spider - Fritz Lieber
I, the Vampire - Henry Kuttner
Talent - Robert Bloch
The Gorgon - Clark Ashton Smith
The Kill - Peter Fleming
Blood Son - Richard Matheson
The Black Stone - Robert E. Howard
The Monster Maker - W.C. Morrow
The Judge's House - Bram Stoker

Volume 2

The Adventure of the Sussex vampire - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
The Lurking Fear - H.P. Lovecraft
Rope Enough - John Collier
Lost Face - Jack London
It - Theodore Sturgeon
The Rats of Dr. Picard - Henry Slesar
The Beast With Five Fingers - W.F. Harvey
Skelton - Ray Bradbury
The 17th Hole at Duncaster - H.R. Wakefield
Gabriel-Ernest - Saki
the Avenging Film -Massimo Bontempelli

I haven't bothered to look and see if there is a From the Archives of Evil #3 or not. I've read most of these stories in other books, but the few I hadn't read before were all excellent.

It's Halloween. Go read something spooky!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

My New Business Idea

Me: So, I've been thinking...

Cathy: Oh, no.

Me: What? You always do that when I start to tell you my great ideas!

Cathy: Honey, it's not that you're...okay, go ahead.

Me: No, forget it. I'll just do it without you, now.

Cathy: Noooo, now you'd better tell me.

Me: Okay. Fine. So, I've been thinking...

Cathy: We got that part already.

Me: I've been thinking about going into business as a wedding planner.

Cathy: (stunned silence)

Me: See, the way I figure it--

Cathy: (interrupting) What on EARTH makes you think up this stuff?

Me: It's simple, really. I see the women of the world as being divided into two camps: those who have had their wedding planned out since they were thirteen years old, down to the tux color and the cake flavor...and those who haven't.

Cathy: Uh huh.

Me: Well, clearly, I've got zero interest in dealing with Bridezillas. That's not something I want to deal with when it's someone I know, much less a stranger.

Cathy: Yeah, that's not your strength.

Me: Buuuuuut...on the other hand...I've got serious planning skills when it comes to doing weddingly things. Which is perfect for the woman who doesn't know and/or doesn't really care, she just wants to be married.

Cathy: Um, Honey...

Me: Or what about those nerd girls who want a Star Trek wedding? I'd be perfect for that! I speak their language.

Cathy: I'm not so sure that's ever the woman's idea...

Me: Think about it! 'Custom-designed wedding ceremonies that reflect your true selves.' I'm telling you, I think I can do this.

Cathy: Okay, do you have any idea how much that--or the time--*sigh* you know what? Sure. Sounds great.

Me: Of course, I'll need a website. Maybe a picture of me, only with six arms, like an aspect of Shiva.

Cathy: What?

Me: Yeah! In the palm of each hand will be something you can click on. Writing, consulting, Wedding Planning...

Cathy: Okay, now I need a drink.

Monday, October 24, 2011

The Obligatory Birthday Post -- And Thanks for All the Fish

This is a weird milestone, one that only you guys will understand: today is my Douglas Adams Birthday. That's right, today I am 42. And as you might expect, not only do I NOT have the answer, but I'm pretty sure one isn't coming anytime soon. I know less now than I ever did. While it's a really liberating feeling, it's also a little frustrating, too. And the things that I DO know, I kinda wish I didn't.

I used to love my birthday, but as I've gotten older, it's become more of a timebomb. Worse, it's become a yardstick to measure myself against my peers, my expectations, you name it. There's no cake and parties anymore. Not really. And I really don't want that, either, to be honest. My needs are many, but they are all pretty simple.

Despite this year being one of generalized suckage for everyone I know vis a vis the economy, it's been a pretty good year for me. I've gained some publishing traction in the comics world, and also got some prose goodness finally cooking. I'm ready to do more of both.

Over in the world of Robert E. Howard, I rewrote Blood & Thunder and it will be out by Christmas. I also wrote a rebuttal to a longstanding article about REH and racism, and penned a new Howard Manifesto in a vain attempt to keep everyone's preconceived notions about REH at bay and write something new and original. I also presented a paper on Howard at a national academic conference. Not bad, considering I'm trying to scale back.

What will 2012 bring? More publishing. I've got a couple of long-standing projects that I will conclude and push out next year. Also, some backlist will be re-published, starting with the two Con-Dorks books. After that, maybe the Sam Bowen stuff.

Also, the Violet Crown Radio Players are relaunching in 2012, and I'm going to be writing some new old time radio scripts for them. I love doing that. Scouts! the comic book I'm doing for Ape Entertainment, will debut. And, if all goes well, I'll land a manuscript at a publisher. Cross your fingers.

In the "It sure would be nice" column, I've participated in two documentaries about REH now, and both have yet to be released commercially or otherwise. Hopefully they can land a spot at a festival. Maybe even South By Southwest. Who knows? But I want them out. I'm tired of waiting on them.

In all other things, I am a work in progress. Health, Business, Husband, Friend, and Priest of Elvis. My gift to myself next year is to read more, and for pleasure. A fitting gift, I think, for so literary a milestone. My thanks to all of you, friends, family, and folks who like reading my stuff. You really are the best, and I appreciate you being involved in my life. Who needs presents and a cake? I've got y'all.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Not My Best Moment, I'll Admit...

One Brief moment of normal, before I opened my
mouth and started speaking...
...but it wasn't my fault, honest. I gave them every opportunity to intervene. Let me 'splain. No, there is no time. I sum up.

I married my youngest brother last weekend. To his fiancee. Don't be goofy. As an ordained minister (with the credentials to boot), this was my second such wedding. And it was for my brother! Nice! Cathy would rather I call myself an "officiant" but that sounds like a robot that is released into an office to sweep up dead employees who go missing in their cubicles in some weird dystopian science-fiction movie directed by Michael Bey. Besides, they are ministerial credentials, so what else WOULD I call myself? A Priest of Elvis? Anyway...

Early on, when I found about his pending nuptials, I called to tell him congrats and offer any help I could give. "Including, you know, if you need someone to marry you--I'm legal," I said, chuckling, thinking that there was no way they would want me to perform the service. Well, laa dee daa. Shows what I know.

Josh called me back and said, "we talked it over, and we'd love for you to be the minister."

Cool beans. It's a gig. And it was one I took seriously. I insisted on meeting with them to talk to them about the service, what they wanted, and how they wanted me to do it. I should have known there would be trouble, when, early on, Josh said to me, "We just want you to get up and do your thing. You know, be yourself." Heh, really, Josh? We grew up in the same house. You know what I'm capable of. Here's a recent example of the shennanigans I can get up to.

"Dude, that's too wide open. You've got to give me something to work with," I told him.

"Well, I don't know," he said. "We're not reallysure what we want to do."

So, I made a point of lending him one of my clerical books. It's a wedding planning guide, one that shows the basic structure of the ceremony, and then includes sample weddings for virtually every circumstance. Really. All religions, non-religious, half-and-half, ceremonies for blending bilingual's the works. I told my brother, who has about ten years of college under his belt, to look through, and find some pieces and parts of a ceremony or two that you like, or even kinda like. If you don't like a particular quote, we can substitute Rumi for First Corinthians. It's all good. But give me something to start working with."

"You got it, Markie," he said. He took the book away and kept it for six weeks. Problem solved, I thought.

So, I get the book back, and I said to him, "What did you pick out?"

He said, "Ehh, we couldn't decide. You just come up with something, okay?"

If we weren't in public, I probably would have thrown something at him. A shoe, like when we were kids. Or put a Star Wars figure up his nose. You can still do that to kid brothers. I looked it up.

I got them together a few weeks later and begged them to give me something, anything. Turns out, they had, in fact, been working on some stuff. A few quotes. Nice sentiments. Thoughtful bits that I took and worked into the larger service. Okay, that was four sentences. And while they are nice sentences, I'm going to need a little more.

I started carving a basic ceremony. And as I'm doing it, I can hear Josh, all echo-y and flashback-y, saying, "Just be yourself, Markie..." Well, before I knew it, the Impressive Clergyman from The Princess Bride was just, I dunno, in there. It just happened.

They were getting married in a recreated medieval setting, so I already knew I was going to pop in some He-Man Masters of the Universe jokes (something Josh was obsessed with when he was a wee lad). And I had made a point to address both of them individually with advice for the marriage. Funny stuff in there, too. Appropriate to the setting, of course. Gentle humor.

No, what was missing was a quote. Something to get us into the vows, which they themselves will be reading to one another. Hey, why not, already this thing couldn't be any less traditional if we had killed a fatted calf and put it on an altar.

There are a metric ton of love and marriage quotes online. Whilst I was perusing twenty pages of them, I came across a great quote by Helen Keller: The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched. They must be felt with the heart.”

Perfect. Just the thing to lead into the vows. I typed out, "Helen Keller said...

Then my brain kicked in. Well, no, she probably didn't SAY it. I mean, come on. She wrote it. Or she signed it. Or maybe she dictated it. But if she said it, it would have come out like this: "ARAAAARAAGH." And then her dog would have come over, because he thought she was calling him.

Go on. Hate me. Especially all of you out there who've never told nor laughed at a Helen Keller joke in your life. Throw the first stone, if you must.

Now, I'm not proud of what happened next, but this is what I used to get us to the wedding vows last Saturday:

Helen Keller once said, “ARARAHRAHRHA!” Then, much later, she said this: "The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched. They must be felt with the heart.” I want to remind you that marriage is a precious gift; a lifelong dedication to love and a daily challenge to love one another more fully and more freely. Bear this in mind as we now exchange the vows you have written to one another.

You may well be wondering how the wedding turned out. No blows were exchanged, if that's what you're really curious about. My side of the family, Josh, his best man Colby, and even Jillian, were pretty prepared for just about everything that came out of my mouth. Her family? Not so much. I don't know what they were expecting. First Corinthians, most likely, but they sure did not get it. But that's okay. It wasn't their day. It was my brother's and his wife's day. And they liked it just fine. We are nothing if not irreverent.

I think the blessing from Elvis was maybe a little much. At least, my mother thought so. Not the Helen Keller joke, oh no. The Elvis blessing. Hey, I told everyone to bow their head in an ATTITUDE of prayer. No actual praying was ever asked for, nor fully expected.

Personally, I think I stuck the dismount. You be the judge:

Joshua and Jillian having witnessed your vows for marriage with all who are assembled here, by the authority vested in me by the Universal Life Church, and BY THE POWER OF GREYSKULL! I now pronounce you husband and wife. And what you two hath put together, let no one, not even Skeletor, tear asunder.

Kinda brings a tear to my eye, it does...

Sunday, October 16, 2011

My thoughts on Occupy Wall Street

I don't know if I've ever liked the big banks. I'm talking Bank of America and so forth. Despite all of their warm, professionally printed and market-researched signage in the lobby, I always did, in fact, feel like a number and not a name. And while we're at it, I've never fully understood why Wall Street is the backbone of our economy. I'll be the first to admit that I don't fully understand all of the ins and outs of it, but my gut reaction is that anything that is designed to spike wildly up and down, and actually CRASH from time to time cannot possibly be a good and stable thing to base an economy on. A side-venture? Sure, okay, if you've got the money to lose. Maybe at one time, we did. We certainly don't now.

It's taken me a while to educate myself  on the bailouts in 2008, and all of the fallout that followed. It's not light reading, but it is stomach-churning. Not just because of how much money we gave these financial institutions and what they in turn did with that cash, but mostly the shennanigans that led up to the crash just made me so angry. I nearly ran out into the street and protested, myself, but I thought, Nah, no one cares what I think. I'm just the one guy, over here, whose concerns are never ever addressed by national political candidates of any kind.

How little did I know.

Maybe you're not following the OWS movement, because it's already white noise in the media--check that--the corporate-controlled media. Maybe you've already seen pictures of unwashed youngsters in hemp clothing playing the bongo drums. Yeah, I know, it's not exactly the best foot forward to be taken seriously, but I submit to you that neither was that guy with teabags hanging off his tricorn hat at the Tea Party rallies, either. That's never the norm. It's always the nuts on the fringe that the news guys just love to cover. It's so much easier to shoot the freaks than it is to try and break down a complex issue for people who are just wanting to watch the weather and get the sports scores.

Yeah, I'm having problems with TV news, too.

OWS and the Tea Party have--or had--one thing in common, at least initially: they all came together and fairly calmly rioted over the amount of money we just handed the big banks, with no accountability, no reprisals, no strings attached. I got the distinct impression that the Powers That Be didn't know what they were going to do with the money, either.  It was just, "Um, do what you need to do, okay? And hurry!"

Now there's riots, and police are herding people away, and everyone is in an uproar, and they are even allegedly arresting protesters who are closing their CitiBank accounts. Wow. I don't like sounding like one of those conspiracy theory guys, but what else does it sound like to you? Big Brother? Oh, it's way past that, now.

I've read some of the demands of the protestors, and I've heard some of the statements, and while I am not questioning the moral and ethical truth of what they are saying, this isn't something that can happen overnight. These issues have GOT to be folded into the political process. And if a candidate isn't willing to talk about them, then guess what? He doesn't get our vote. It's that simple. It's pretty clear to me that we've all been focusing on the wrong stuff for the past couple of decades.

In the midst of all this bumper sticker political canvassing that has gone on across FaceBook and the blogosphere these last couple of weeks, I want to put forth my two demands. These aren't simple things. Lots has to happen, and I know that. But unless we start asking for what we really want from a politician, and unless we start prioritizing what's most important to us as Americans and demanding it from our public servents, then the debate over gay marriage will continue, and corporations and banks will run amok all over us.

My demands for the movement:

1. Strip away all laws and legal rulings stating that corporations are people. Replace with a set of concrete guidelines for what corporations can and can't do, and what they are responsible for regarding their actions.

This should never have gotten to this level, and we should all be ashamed of ourselves for letting it. Mitt Romney actually said "corporations are people." And he was serious. Now, this is not to say that every corporation is bad. There are some really good, responible ones out there. But due to how they are currently structured, it's very easy for a not-so-scrupulous corporation to, say, anonymously fund political candidates, giving them literally millions of dollars that do not have to be disclosed. If I'm handing someone millions of dollars, how much do you want to bet that I have a list of conditions that goes along with that cash? Congratulations, we have just cut ourselves out of our own political process.

2. Reform banking, finance, and the stock market with a concrete set of rules as to what can and cannot be done with the people's money. Break up the monopolies so that the big banks cannot grow past a certain size. Set limits and caps on what they can do, and how.

Honestly, after all this time, after so many sayings such as "money is the root of all evil," you'd think that people would have learned. Jesus didn't even like these guys! Come on! It's our money, and we're just letting them play with it as if it wasn't.

Again, I don't presume to think that the above two things fixes everything. But it would fix alot. I'm in the 99%, as is literally everyone I know. We've all had to work our whole lives. Some of us are still working. I don't know of anyone who's doing super great right now. I only know of a few, maybe a dozen or more, who are actually sitting on Middle Class right now. And you know what? They keep their mouths shut and their heads down, because they don't want to crow about it. Yeah, it's gotten that bad. I'm not telling you anything you don't know already.

So, what are you gonna do about it? Are we going to keep letting ourselves be distracted by things like "the war on Christmas," if there ever really was such a thing? Or are we going to start looking for politicans who really want to change the system? Because that's what it's going to take. We need people who can change the system from within, gradually over time.

Of course, that would mean that everyone will have to work together. This whole two party system we have would need to...oh, wait, I'll finish this blog post later. Boardwalk Empire is on HBO right now...yeah, we'll just, um...

Viva El Revolution, OWS! You've got your work cut out for you.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Classic Rock Can Kiss My Ass

I'm not really one of those people that freaks out about my age. I don't think I act like I'm forty-one. I sure don't dress like I'm forty-one. Sometimes, I don't look forty-one. It doesn't bother me, aside from the normal concerns about my health now that I have crossed the threshhold into my 40s.

But every once in a while, I feel my age in an overly-dramatic way that only a born performer can. Today's culprit was the Grateful Dead and their song, "Touch of Gray." This one really got to me because I was, what, fifteen or sixteen when the song came out? You know, that time of life when you are bulletproof and rocket-powered, and the whole concept of fortyfive and fiftysomething guys singing about a touch of gray is just side-splitting.

And then YOU become a fortysomething, and guess what? The Stones are celebrating their 50th freaking anniversary next year. And you've got gray in your hair, and the kids still can't read at seventeen, and oh, lordy, I'm a cliche. I'm pretty sure this is how bourbon was invented,  but don't quote me on that.

I've got to take a break from classic rock anyway. Overexposure to Roger Daltrey trying to act in the 1980s has conditioned me to not like The Who, and overexposure to real life in general has conditioned me to never again listen to Pink Floyd for any reason, ever again. So, I've always got to be ready to flip from Classic Rock over to another, similarly programmed station on my XM radio, whenever one of the above offending bands comes on. Which happens about once an hour, give or take. Sometimes one station is playing The Who and the other station is playing Pink Floyd. This is what's known in baseball terminology as a 'pickle.' Usually I just turn the radio off and hum Nirvana for three minutes.

I've got other problems with Classic Rock (and what they now include as Classic Rock), and most of them are lyrical. As much as I love the Rolling Stones, Mick Jagger needs a translator. Seriously. I've been listening to the Stones for years and I still can't figure out half the crap he says. It's like he speaks literal heiroglyphics. I've tried slowing him down and speeding him up. Backwards, he sounds exactly the same. It's a conundrum. And the potential to mis-hear what his says is infinite.

But that's his style, and kinda like Bob Dylan, if you're going to be a fan of that stuff, you just shrug and grin and bear it. Cathy's always asking me what that line is, and I have to say to her, "Honestly, honey, I think he says 'all that sickness, I can suck a duck.' And please don't ask me what that means. I don't think even Mick knows."

Sometimes the lyrics are just baffling. Clearly stated, but practically nonsensical. Jimi Hendrix is a great example. Inarguably one of the most influential guitarists of all time, and much of his stuff still holds up. But where did he come up with his songs? Mind you, they weren't all Jim Morrison weird. That is to say, he wasn't trying to be an obfuscating poet. Sometimes, little things just popped in there. Case in point: "Fire."

Great song, right? Fast, cool, covered more than once, always a great guitar solo, but just before that solo, he drops a lyric on us. Now, this whole time, the song has been about a guy, trying to convince a girl to let him stand next to her fire (and let's just go ahead and assume THAT'S a metaphor for sex, unlike so many other rock songs from the sixties). Just before the solo, he says, and I quote, "Aw, move over Rover...and let Jimi take over...yeah, you know what I'm talkin' about..."

Um, no, I don't. All of a sudden, there's a family dog in the picture? Was rover the one trying to get next to the fire this whole time? And did Hendrix just cock-block the dog? I don't know! I've never been able to figure it out. Come on! And then right after the solo, the girl tries to give (presumably Hendrix) some money! I love the song, but by the end of it, I'm just in a lather, trying to make sense of it all.

I'm ready to take some of the blame for myself. Sometimes in my weird little brain I'll just get it wrong, or have a different association. To this day, whenever I'm singing Warren Zevon's "Werewolves of London," and we both get to the part about the 'hairy headed gent who ran amok in Kent..." and then shortly thereafter, "You'd better stay away from him, he'll rip your lungs out, Jim. Huh. I'd like to meet his tailor," I've got to stop myself from singing "I'd like to meet Liz Taylor," which is what I thought the song said for years. And what a non-sequitor that would have been. One second, we're talking about a well-dressed werewolf, and the next minute, Zevon's breaking the fourth wall to talk about Liz Taylor. It made no sense. Of course, I figured that one out on my own.

Not so with Manfred Mann. Ooh, God, that song. You know the one. The Springsteen cover. The one hit that everyone knows. I'm talking about "Blinded by the Light..." go on, finish the lyric. You know what comes next. "Wrapped up like a douche, another ruler in the night." Har-de-har-har-har. Of course, that's not the lyric. Manfred Mann, in his infinite wisdom, changed "Cut loose like a deuce" to "revved up like a deuce." I know, it still doesn't make any sense.

You have to know that a Deuce is a not-too-common nickname for a 1932 Ford--basically, a hot rod roadster. "Cut loose like a Deuce" now sounds like a drag race, or maybe even a joy ride. In the context of the song Bruce sung, it makes perfect sense. As for Manfred Mann...

Don't tell me that he clearly says "Deuce" in his version, because he doesn't. His over-produced, echo-y vocals are crystal clear until that one word, and then all of a sudden, he's got reverb on his voice, which gives it that CSHHHHHH sound that we have all sung a thousand times, even as we knew "that can't be right--douche? Really?" I've since heard the original Springsteen version, and you know what? It's infinitely superior in every way. For one thing, Springsteen isn't trying to sound like the Electric Light Orchestra. For another, his lyrics are audible and contextually correct. So, to sume up: Manfred Mann can go jump up a rope.

In my twenties, I started listening to the great American standards. Lyrically, they can't be beat. But best of all, I could hear everything clearly. Now, I'm over forty and while I don't feel old, I have the musical tastes of a 94 year old male. Seth MacFarlane, a guy whose television shows I don't watch, just released an album of standards, sung in vintage Rat-Pack-channelling style, and he really pulls it off, too. Now I tool around town in my Vibe and belt out "I've Got You Under My Skin" and sometimes, I wear a jaunty hat. I'm literally an inch away from wearing black dress socks with the garters to hold them up, along with Bermuda shorts and a floppy shirt.