Saturday, June 30, 2012

We're All Going To Die During a Zombie Apocalypse... and We Deserve To by Scott M. Baker

That is not a proven fact verifiable by solid evidence.  This is merely my own opinion based on firsthand observations.  Let me explain why I developed that hypothesis.  But first, some background information.

Last night around 11:00 a freak thunderstorm blew through the Washington D.C. area.  One minute I was watching television, the next the trees around my house were blowing violently, the loose items on my back deck were being thrown about, and I could hear the wind slamming into the aluminum siding.  The lights flickered, went out, and came back on several times.  The rain was heavy but brief, and within twenty minutes the storm had passed on and everything had returned to normal.

This morning, after breakfast, I went out to do some errands.  I was surprised to find that half my city was without power, including about seventy-five percent of the traffic lights.  But I was dumbstruck at how people were reacting.

Now mind you, this was just a freak thunderstorm.  There were no tornadoes, or sustained hurricane-level winds, or massive flooding.  And except for one poor woman in Maryland who died in her bed when a tree toppled over onto her house, there were no fatalities.  But the way people acted out there, you would have thought it was the end of the world.

Intersections with non-working traffic signals were insane.  It seemed as if everyone forgot that broken traffic signals are to be treated as four-way Stop signs.  I don't know who was worse -- the drivers who blew through these intersections without even slowing down, or the timid ones who just sat there, too afraid to move.  I came upon one intersection on a back road where five cars blocked five lanes because the traffic signal was out and no one knew how to handle it.  On the main road, all common sense seemed to have left people along with the electricity.  I saw one driver cruising along in the far-left breakdown lane, and another one stopped in the middle of four lanes reading a map.

The police were out in force, but they seemed to be uncoordinated.  At none of the intersections were they directing traffic; they were merely blocking off lanes and forcing drivers to go into directions they didn't want to go.  Actually, I must correct myself since that statement is inaccurate.  I did find a cop at one intersection with working signals who was directing traffic against the light cycle and causing more confusion than anything else.  He would have been much off going west several blocks to the major intersection without signals where no one knew how to respond. 

On my way home I turned to the news channel on the radio (I had plenty of time to listen since the police kept redirecting me farther and farther away from my home) and shook my head.  According to WTOP, those gas stations with power had lines panicky people desperate to fill up on gas, and some grocery stores were reporting increased traffic as people stocked up on essentials.

By the time I got to within a mile of my house me and several others like me (read either "tough, confident individuals who go into battle mode during a crisis and don't panic under pressure" or "arrogant, self-centered buttheads") were ignoring the craziness around us and just trying to get to where we were going.

What really bothered me was the inability of people to cope, both the civilian and the law enforcement.  Did the academy train the police how to direct traffic (stop all traffic, let one lane proceed at a time, repeat until the intersection is clear) or did they just not want to be bothered?  Would the driver who stopped in the middle of a four-lane highway to consult a map have done the same thing if the situation was "normal"?  (Sadly, being northern Virgina, the answer to that could be yes.)  This was a bright, sunny (and hot) day following a thunderstorm that did minimal damage. I shudder to think what would have happened if the dead came back to life (or some other, but not as much fun, natural disaster had occurred).

With regards to the incident above where five cars blocked five lanes because no one knew what to do, the Bostonian in me let out a string of invectives (I'm at my most creative when I'm combining blasphemies and insults into single descriptive phrases) and long, loud blares on the horn.  The writer in me realized that if this was the zombie apocalypse, me and everyone in my vehicle would be overrun and devoured or forced to set out on foot into the hordes of the living dead because of the actions of others.

So now I'm sitting home, venting my frustrations (and pretending it's a blog posting) surrounded by my pets who are staring at me with that "I thought you were going out?" look.  After doing some writing, I'll probably spend the night in front of the television.  But you can be sure I'll be watching Doomsday Preppers and taking notes. 

Sunday, June 24, 2012

PAIN IS PERSONAL by Lane Adamson

I'd intended to write a brief but enlightening discourse on werewolves, and why they still rock, this week.  Then I got a kidney stone and got distracted.

This was my second go-round with kidney stones.  The first time, the doctor at the emergency room told me that, although I was presenting with the requisite symptoms, I didn't seem to be evincing enough pain to have a kidney stone:  specifically, I wasn't crying or curled up in the fetal position (or even begging for painkillers).  I politely told him that I had a high tolerance for pain--and when the tests showed I did indeed have the stones, he apologized and paid respect to my stoicism.

Jesse Ventura, PREDATOR
Me and Jesse ain't got time for pain

Anyway, after this flare-up, I got to thinking about what one might call the Three Pillars of Fear:  the Unknown, Pain, and Death.  I don't know if this concept is original to me or not (I thought of it on my own, but that means very little); but I think you'll find that you can shoehorn pretty much all horror storytelling into one or more of those three categories.

I'll probably deal with a broader overview of the subject at another date, but I haven't had time to percolate on it yet.  For now, let's look at Pain.

Pain is the most personal of fears--even more than Death, if you think about it.  Death, at least, has finality; they can only kill you once (generally speaking).  Pain, on the other hand, can go on and on almost indefinitely, and (unless clumsily administered) is almost guaranteed not to kill you... but you might wish it would.

That's a powerful thing.

I tend to avoid the more outre movies of the horror genre--they used to be called slasher films (the Friday the 13th series, for example), now they've morphed into what's being called "torture porn" (the Hostel films and others).  I'm a sensitive sort; I don't enjoy watching people get hurt for the sake of watching people get hurt--even if they're promiscuous, drug-using co-eds who somehow "deserve" it.

Eli Roth, HOSTEL 3
I don't like to watch.

Still, just as films like Invasion of the Body Snatchers or Them! helped audiences cathartically deal with their fears of the Unknown, while Dracula and Frankenstein bring us face-to with Death (with a subtext of the Unknown), I suppose I can see a certain value in films like those referenced earlier for subliminally subrogating one's pain.

Or, maybe you're all just a bunch of sick bastards.

Monday, June 18, 2012

A Belated Father's Day Blog by Scott M. Baker

The reason I'm posting this two days late is because I didn't actually come up with the posting until late Sunday and didn't get a chance to draft it until just now.

My mother and father on their 50th wedding anniversary.
Any one who follows my blog knows that I'm an old Monster Kid going back to the 1970s, and that my mother was the one who enabled my passion for the dark side.  But the person I've never talked about is my father, the one who kept my horror habit fed for all those years. 

As far back as I remember, my father and my maternal grandfather had a ritual that they never strayed from: every Saturday morning they would get up early and go out for breakfast.  As I got older, they began taking me with them.  I loved it, and not just because I got to spend time with my dad and grand dad, which was great.  But after breakfast, my father would drive me around in a quest for monster memorabilia. 

I can still remember impatiently sitting at the table in the greasy little diner in downtown Lynn (the habitual breakfast spot), already having wolfed down my English muffin and endlessly fidgeting in the booth waiting for the real fun to begin.  Such was the curse of having a tiny child's stomach.  Only after the men had finished off their eggs, bacon, home fries, toast, and bottomless cups of coffee would the excitement (for me, at least) really begin.

The first stop was always Cal's News in downtown Lynn, not far from the diner.  Once in Cal's, I would make a beeline straight for the entertainment section and thumb through the stacks looking for the latest treasure: The Monster Times, Eerie or Creepy magazine, the dozens of other pulp monster mags that thrived back in the good old days, or the mother lode of all finds -- the latest issue of Famous Monsters of Filmland.  I could barely wait to get back to the car to start thumbing through them and marvel at the images inside. 

Then it was off to the Don Elder's in Chelsea, a small business run by a kindly, elderly gentleman out of an old garage.  Mr. Elder sold mostly 35mm cameras and 8mm camcorders and movie projectors, but for me the attraction was his vast collection of Castle Films.  These were 12-minute, black-and-white, silent versions of horror and Sci-Fi movies.  Each one came in a box about six inches square, usually with a reproduction of the movie poster emblazoned across the front.  They only offered a tantalizing taste of the original movie, but in the days before video tapes, they were the only way to be able to see your favorite movies without having to wait for them to be played by the local cable access television station at one in the morning.  (I still have my entire collection of them safely tucked away in a closet.)  After that, it was a quick run to the hobby shop in Malden where I would pick up the latest Aurora monster model, and then back home.  On a good day, I would make it back in time to catch Creature Double Feature on WLVI Channel 56.

And never once did my father complain about schlepping me around the North Shore every Saturday.  I'm sure he always pictured me as a Marine like himself and his brother Bob (who fought on Okinawa).  But he never complained that instead he got stuck with a geek little kid who liked monsters.  (Although I did enjoy watching war movies with him, so that surely softened the blow.)  Like my mother, he has always been very supportive of me in everything I've done, and to this day he still gets on the phone when I'm chatting with the family to tell me he's proud of me.

But those days are drawing to a close.  Over the past few years, my father has been fighting a losing battle with a series of mini-strokes that have caused Alzheimer-like symptoms.  He's slowly slipping into the real-life horror that accompanies the deterioration of one's mind, and every time I go home to visit I recognize him a little less.  Soon all that will be left of my father is the memory of who he once was. 

So before it gets too late to say it, thanks for feeding the addiction, Dad.  You helped make me the man I am today. 


Saturday, June 16, 2012


I was an early, precocious reader.  I vividly recall sitting by my mother's side, exclaiming over the colorful, delightful imaginings and images of one Dr Seuss.  But though Mom taught me to read--a debt beyond repayment--it was my Dad who taught me to love reading.  Funny thing is, I don't thing he had the slightest idea that he was doing it.

Daddy is an inveterate and unrepentant reader; he's more likely to be found reading than any other single activity, including eating, watching television, or sleeping.  Given a brief pause in any other action, he'll break out a book.  (Of late, since his driving has been curtailed by a defibrillating pacemaker that went a little gollywonkers, he has even more reading time.)

As memory serves--and this was back in the early 1970s, when dinosaurs roamed the earth and there were no personal computers or wireless phones--I discovered Daddy's bookcase when I would have been about nine.  It sat in the hallway between the master bedroom and my own, and was loaded with a rich, random assortment of adult texts.  The contents evolved constantly.  Daddy kept open accounts at no less than three used bookstores in the area, possibly more--one simply wasn't sufficient to satisfy his appetites.

I started with the Louis L'Amour westerns.  This budding young Texan read with wide-eyed wonder the tales of rugged individuals building a country from scratch; Ruble Noon, Cullen Baker, the Tinker, and the Sacketts were heroes to me the way Davy Crockett had been to an earlier generation.

Ride 'em, blog boy! 
In the fifth grade, we had a class reading assignment; our choices were The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, by CS Lewis, or The Hobbit, by JRR Tolkien.  I remembered seeing The Hobbit on daddy's bookshelf, so I picked that one--and high fantasy became an integral part of my life.  I spent the entire summer of my tenth year wading through the Lord of the Rings trilogy, and revisited it annually for several years thereafter.  I still go back to it every so often, and never fail to pick up something new from that rich tapestry (like the time in my thirties when I realized that Tolkien was telling us his own version of Ragnarok, and/or Wagner's Ring Cycle--that was a moment of clarity like few I've had in my life).

(I sometimes have a road-not-taken conversation with myself regarding the direction my life might have gone had I chosen Lewis's Narnia books instead of Tolkien, but we'll never know.)

Also on the bookshelf, and soon being devoured by me, were assorted series of action-adventure novels published by Pinnacle books:  Don Pendleton's Executioner; The Destroyer by Sapir and Murphy; the blood-and-guts gore of the Edge westerns by "George G Gilman" (in fact, the very British Terry Harknett).  These were probably really rather too adult (especially the last) for one of my tender years, but my parents were remarkably trusting of my judgment--and I didn't turn out too warped.

EXECUTIONER #1 by Don Pendleton
Later republished as
Somewhere along the way, I picked up a hardback on that bookcase with the slightly unsettling title of Dangerous Visions, edited by a guy with the fuddy-duddy name of Harlan Ellison.  That mattered not a whit; I soon found myself lost in the smoky gambling halls of Fritz Lieber's "Gonna Roll the Bones" and the disturbing, psychosexual dysfunction of Philip José Farmer's "Riders of the Purple Wage," among so many others.  (Later, I discovered Ellison had written one of my favorite Star Trek episodes, and his stature grew in my eyes, if not in real life--but that's another story.)  I dove headfirst into the speculative fiction pool after that; Asimov, Bradbury, Clarke, and Heinlein were then my constant companions for most of the next twenty-five or so years of my life--until they started dying off or at least not writing so much.

The divorce came and went, and reading, in a large way, helped me through it.  As a child, I didn't understand why our family unit was broken.  But I could abscond into another world and not worry about it.  Reading time became something that I shared with Daddy, those every-other-weekend visits--a strangely isolated companionship, but it worked for us.  I say isolated because when we read, we're gone.  We don't hear you talking to us.  We don't see what's going on around us.  We're involved in our books.  But as we were reading together, it bonded us.

I do this with my wife, sometimes, now.  It's very quiet and relaxing, the reading time.  (As an aside:  If you ever want to make a new acquaintance at a moment's notice, just go--alone--someplace busy, like a diner or a bus depot, and open up your book.  Someone will almost always start talking to you within minutes.)

I don't read so much now as I used--too little free time, too much tired.  But I've never forgotten the lessons I learned from that bookcase of Daddy's, some forty years ago:  the best stories are straightforward, involving, and active.  I try to keep these things in mind in my own writing, when I can find time for it; I want to write things my Dad would like to read.

If he's enjoyed this entry, I've done well.

Happy Father's Day, Daddy--and thanks for the books.

Creepshow-FATHER'S DAY
It's Father's Day, and I've got my cake!

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

PROMETHEUS, Or How I Learned To Manage My Disappointment and Enjoy the Lesser Things in Life by Scott M. Baker

No, this is not another review of Ridley Scott's Prometheus.  Believe me, I could rant on for pages about what I thought was wrong with the movie.  But I first want to express my key complaints about the key flaws in this film.  [Begin spoiler alert]  Why is it that every movie in the franchise feels the need to have an android that, in the end, gets ripped apart with copious amounts of white fluid spraying everywhere and innards that contain small white globes?  Why does every encounter with the aliens have to be the result of someone/some entity wanting to militarize the species for profit or exploit it for other selfish motives?  And why does Ridley Scott feel the need to include a twist ending that turns our understanding of the aliens' origin on its head?  [End spoiler alert]

I bring this up only because it bears on a topic of conversation I've heard a lot lately at conventions and on the Internet about whether fans are killing the horror genre (and for purposes of this post I'm including Sci-Fi in that category) by watering it down.  That argument is being made by people who don't fully understand the genre.

I cite Prometheus as an example.  This movie has been hyped for months as Ridley Scott's epic prequel that would be the crowning of the Alien franchise and show us the origins of the species.  I found Prometheus to be all hype.  Sure, the special effects were nominal and Charlize Theron has now been enshrined in my pantheon of epic bad guys.  But overall, I found the movie to be a blockbuster rehashing of old themes. 

Now before everyone skips to the end of this post and starts commenting on how I wouldn't know a good movie if it hit me in the face with 3D, I am using this movie to emphasize my point that there is a general consensus among those who think that if a movie is artistic it somehow brings respectability to the genre, and anything else detracts from it.  That's where I totally disagree. 

It's the schlock that makes the genre so vibrant. 

Frankenstein (1931) and Dracula (1931) are both recognized as a classic movies that set the trend for horror until the 1930s, yet Monster Kids and fans loved all the various permutations of these films, from Ghost to Houses to Abbott and Costello.  The Thing from Another World (1951) and Day the Earth Stood Still (1951) are the quintessential extra-terrestrial movies, yet we got just as much of a thrill from being invaded by the giant carrot from It Conquered the World and the Green SlimeNightmare on Elm Street and Friday the 13th scared the shit out of us so much that we continued going back through endless sequels until our two favorite modern monsters finally squared off.  And two of the most well-known names of classic 1950s horror, Roger Corman and William Castle, based their entire careers on a proliferation of cheap B-grade movies, and we love them for it. 

The same holds true for fiction.  For every Stephen King, Clive Barker, and Richard Matheson novel, there are hundreds more than fill the bookshelves, many by authors few people have heard of. 

Does it mean that fans' standards have sunk so low that we're strangling our own genre?  Hell no.  It means we embrace the genre as a whole, from the phenomenal to the laughable.  We don't ask for an Academy Award or a Bram Stoker winner with every movie or book.  That would become boring after awhile.  What we ask for is honesty.  I love the SyFy Channel original movies not because of their quality but because they are purposefully made to be like a B-grade drive-in film.  I love the occasional zombie book with little plot or character development as long as there's at least one gore-laden zombie on every page. 

What I don't like are pretentious movies or novels that pawn themselves off as masterpieces but only live up to the expectations of the critics who do not know better. 

Sunday, June 10, 2012

From Triffids to Zombies

I blame my love of zombies on triffids.

Until I was twelve years old, my reading list was pretty tame.  It consisted of classics like the Prisoner of Zenda, horse stories such as My Friend Flicka and cute mysteries like Trixie Belden.  My deepest desires were to uncover a jewellery heist in the neighborhood and to own a horse that ran like the wind (courtesy of Black Stallion).

And then I read The Day of the Triffids.  A meteor that renders the world blind.  Flesh-hungry walking plants that roam the streets.  What a dream combination! 

I was captivated by the book’s many haunting scenes, some of which have been copied in movies like 28 Days Later.  The scene when the man wanders down London’s deserted main street?  Straight out of the pages of Day of the Triffids.  

There is another scene which haunts me every time I read the book.  The hero hears a young girl, somewhere in the city, singing a melancholic song.  Her sweet voice travels clearly through the deathly still streets.  It is a haunting image because the hero, and the reader, knows she is doomed.  I could go on, but suffice it to say, the book changed my reading list overnight.

Out went the Gnid Blytons and in came John Wyndham’s and Andre Norton’s post-nuclear apocalyptic landscapes.  I was entranced by the idea of living in a world transformed by disaster and having to rely on my own skills to survive.  For that is the appeal of the apocalyptic and disaster genre, isn’t it?  When we read these books, we imagine ourselves in the same situation but, of course, our character, steely determination or unusual skill set gives us an advantage over our unfortunate fellow man.

Zombies are just another subset of this genre.  Instead of nuclear bombs, viruses or earthquakes, there are mindless, hungry automatons.  It helps that they spread faster than juicy gossip.  I adore this form of the apocalypse because it requires the hero or heroine to be intelligent to stay alive, not just be in the right place at the right time.  One of the reasons my book is placed in the midst of a zombie apocalypse is because it provides the perfect scenario to test my heroine, a mother desperate to protect her young family, and discover what qualities she possesses which set her apart from others. 

It would be nice to be armed to the teeth in a zombie apocalypse but , in the meantime, a kickass attitude helps a lot!

My passion for science fiction and disaster stories, in particular, has remained steadfast for over thirty years.  So, when you come down to it, I have to thank the triffids for leading me to write my first novel.  The mindless feeding machines of The Day of the Triffids have morphed into the mindless feeding machines of Dead Tropics.   Zombies may roam the streets instead of triffids but the spirit of the Wyndham's book is still present in the zombie books of today. It is in the modern hero's struggle to retain their humanity in the face of terrible choices; it is present when they discover inner strength they did not know they had, and, most especially, it is in their determination to fight to the death for the people they love 

Every decade or so, I feel the urge to dust off my copy of The Day of the Triffids and lose myself in it again.  I have a feeling it is that time of the decade again...

Sue Edge


There's been a lot of talk lately about how zombies are the "new" vampires; the formerly top-shelf undead have been co-opted by the tween set and relegated to sparkly irrelevance.

I respectfully call BS.

While the pop-culture phenomenon that is the zombie/ghoul, the rotting risen dead returned to feast on the flesh of the living, has reached new heights, I don't think we can say the vampire has been thoroughly staked just yet.  Let's discuss.

The vampire first rose--if you will--to international pop-cultural prominence with the publication of Bram Stoker's Dracula in 1897 (if not with John Varney's The Vampyre a little earlier).  A new peak was reached, then surpassed, with the archetypal performances of the elegant Bela Lugosi in Stoker's iconic role on first stage, then screen.

Bela was a debonaire Dracula

Christopher Lee made Dracula a snarling, brawny predator in the Hammer films from the 1950s through the 1970s.  Louis Jordan, Frank Langella, and even Jack Palance all essayed the part with some success in the 70s.  Since then we've also seen such notables as George Hamilton, Gary Oldman, and Gerard Butler sink their teeth into the part (we'll overlook Mel Brooks for the sake of this discussion).

Christopher Lee embraced the dark side

Also, let's not forget our off-Dracula vampires:  (just-departed) Jonathan Frid as the elegantly menacing Barnabas Collins; the tragically super-fly William Marshall as my main man Blacula; Geraint Wyn Davies in the Forever Night TV series; a younger, pre-Bones David Boreanaz as Angel; Alex O'Loughlin as Mick St John on Moonlight; and of course, Tom Cruise, Brad Pitt, and Antonio Banderas as Anne Rice's immortals in 1994's Interview with the Vampire.  Oh, yeah, and that aforementioned, scintillant, Pattinson guy.

William Marshall:  so sad, but so bad

(There's also that True Blood thing on HBO, but I don't subscribe and so can't comment intelligently.)

Anyway, are we detecting a common thread yet?  I'll spell it out for you:  all of these gents brought the sexy.  I say that with the honest appraisal of a happily married Texas boy without a homoerotic bone in his body; just appreciating the facts.

Zombies may be a lot of things, but they've got all the charm and charisma of used toilet paper.  (No offense intended to any coprophiliacs in the audience.)  Almost no one wants to be one--though many of us might feel as though we are, in a spiritual sense; stripped of our last human vestige by an increasingly egocentric society seemingly intent on self-cannibalization.

Vampires, on the other hand, like Clara Bow, have it:  that indescribable combination of threat, power, and allure that makes them both fascinating and frightening all at once--rather as some feel toward bikers, or perhaps politicians.

Folks might dress up like zombies for Halloween and other assorted events, but I think very few actually want to be a reanimated, flesh-eating corpse.  Vampires, on the other hand, have got it going on.  Superhuman strength, eternal life--many feel that the night life is, indeed, the right life... and what's a little exsanguination among friends?

Why, heck.  As a youngster, I dumped all the junk out of my toy-box precisely so I could climb inside and pretend to be Barnabas Collins or Count Dracula (depending on my mood; Dracula was generally more peeved).

Now, we may be a bit short on drop-dead deadly bloodsuckers just today--but they'll be back.  They always come back, after all.

Don't they?

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Welcome to My Nightmare

Alice Cooper is everything that’s right about rock and roll.

It almost seems like he’s the hard-rock equivalent of Savoir Faire. Everywhere you look, if there’s a trend, odds are good that Alice Cooper was there first. Marilyn Manson and Rob Zombie in particular owe a lot to him.

Really, truly? Tell me a story. I so love stories.

But, for a moment, let’s put aside his rock-awesomeness. Recently, there has been a lot of stir on Facebook and across blogs about shoddy and shady practices by some publishers, and that is what really sparked this blog entry.

For all the controversy and furor Alice Cooper has sparked, for every set of parents whose teeth he has set on edge, for every time a politician has called for his act to be banned somewhere (and that has happened a lot) there is a good deed hidden somewhere in A.C.’s wickedness.

In the late 70’s and early 80’s, Alice Cooper was something of a drinker. In an interview, he’s said he doesn’t remember much of writing, recording, or touring behind a couple of albums from 1982 and 1983. Recognizing he had a problem, he checked himself into a sanitarium and got off the sauce. Since then, he’s been something of a one-man outreach program for other rockers and metalheads, most notably for Dave Mustaine of Megadeth. Who better to understand the rigors and stresses of the road than one of their own? In 2008, he received an award in recognition to his efforts to help his fellow musicians and showmen.

Another thing that sets him apart is the name, Alice Cooper. He was born Vincent Furnier, and the band name was Alice Cooper. After some time, he legally changed his name, and after going solo, has continued to pay an annual royalty to the band members to use the name commercially.


That’s right. Instead of waging legal, lawsuit war over the name (Pink Floyd) or just out and out screwing his former bandmates (Ozzy Osbourne) Alice Cooper did it the right way.

Which brings me to the current fracas. I’ve been reluctant to talk about it in anything but broad strokes, but I will say this much: don’t be that guy. That means you, up and coming writer, and it means you, small-press editor/owner whatever. There is a lot of opportunity in this business to do things in an underhanded way, and there are a lot of pitfalls for novice writers, and it’s a shame when the two intersect like they have recently.

Writers, do your homework. And read your emails and contracts. Publishers/editors, however easy it is to make changes and send them off without offering a proof, or to push an anthology through to meet a deadline, or to slip things into a contract that (how do I put this gently?) fuck the author, I implore you, don’t.

Be like Alice Cooper. Enrage the masses, scandalize the establishment, entertain the buyers, and watch out for your fellow writer/editors. Face paint is optional.

And that’s it, because the whole mess makes me sad. I had a lot I wanted to say about how inspired I am by Alice Cooper’s music and thematic albums and the way he’s changed with the times but still remained himself, but no. Thinking about all the business has depressed me.

Next week, I want to talk about Nikola Tesla.

-Thom Brannan

Monday, June 4, 2012

Tales From the Crypticon by Scott M. Baker

[This was originally posted on my own blog on Friday, 1 June]

It has taken me almost a week to get caught up, so I wanted to take a few minutes to post about last weekend's Crypticon convention in Seattle. 

It was a tedious trip out to the west coast.  I left Washington D.C. at 7:00 AM, flew five hours out to Long Beach where I then suffered through a five-hour layover (and for anyone who has ever been through Long Beach Airport, you know how little there is to do there), and then completed the final two-hour jaunt up to Seattle.  I checked into my hotel after nearly fifteen hours on the road, arriving about an hour before my first panel session.  But the seemingly endless trip was definitely worth it. 

I sat on the usual zombie panels.  "Are You Ready for the Zombie Apocalypse?  Do You Plan To Survive?" is always fun because I love to compare bug out versus hunker down strategies, and I always pick up some good survivalist tips.  (And thanks to Tony Favile for all his great advice.)  "Zombies: Why the Fuck Won't They Die?" took a good-natured look at why the living dead not only have remained so popular in our culture but have not witnessed several break away subgenres as vampire fiction has.  And there were numerous groans of protest when I mentioned the concept of sparkling zombies.  (I promise that is not the plot of my next novel.)  And it was an honor and a thrill to join my fellow authors at the Permuted Press Q&A session on Friday night and the joint reading on Sunday.

Me and Ricou Browning
One of my favorite panels was "Universal Monsters and Their Forms Through the Years."  That was partly because I was enthralled by the Universal monsters as a kid.  I watched them so many times I knew every scene in every movie by heart.  I even had the entire Aurora Universal monster collection and owned my favorite films in the twelve-minute-long Super 8mm versions distributed by Castle Films.  The other reason this was one of my favorite panels was because it prompted me to go meet Ricou Browning, the actor who played the Gill Man in all three Creature from the Black Lagoon movies and the only surviving actor to portray one of Universal's iconic monsters.  (For more on my meeting with Mr. Browning, please check out my blog posting Enjoying the Apocalypse: The Permuted Underground.)

By the far the best part of the entire convention was sitting at the Permuted Press table.  It's a great publishing house, and I'm excited to be a part of the Permuted family. Thanks to Jacob Kier, the publisher, for inviting me.  Many thanks to the other Permuted authors who made me feel so welcome:  D.L. Snell, Tony Favile, Craig DiLouie, Timothy W. Long, Gareth Wood, Peter Clines, Eloise J. Knapp, and Jessica Miegs.  And many thanks to Tony for introducing me to "sweetened Coke." 

I came home exhausted (my flight back into Washington landed at 4:40 AM), but had an epic time and am looking forward to attending in 2013.  The next stop for me on the convention circuit is Infect Scranton 21-23 September where several Permuted Press authors will also have a table.  Hope to see you there. 

The Permuted gang at Crypticon. From left to right: D.L. Snell, Tony Faville, me, Craig DiLouie, Timothy Long, Gareth Wood, Peter Clines, Eloise J. Knapps (holding the assault rifle), Jacob Kier, and Jessica Miegs.

Friday, June 1, 2012


Ha.  Made you look.

Zombies--dead that rise and feast upon the flesh of the living, ghouls, to be more technically accurate--are all the, um, rage (as it were) nowadays.  From the recordbreaking ratings of The Walking Dead on AMC to the bestselling (and soon-to-be Brad Pitt cinema vehicle) World War Z by Max Brooks, way back to the effective progenitor of this "generation" of the genre, George A Romero's Night of the Living Dead (and its sequels, and the remakes of each)--what is it about these grisly creatures and their ghastly antics that so captures the imaginations of so many?

As I see the zombie story (we'll stick with the Z-word because that's the familiar term, right or wrong), it's all about nihilism.  Which is a 50-cent word that bears definition (credit American Heritage Dictionary):

nihilism [( neye -uh-liz-uhm, nee -uh-liz-uhm)]
An approach to philosophy that holds that human life is meaningless and that all religions, laws, moral codes, and political systems are thoroughly empty and false. The term is from the Latin nihil, meaning “nothing.”

In a nutshell, that pretty well explains the ending of Night of the Living Dead.  (If you haven't seen it, I won't spoil it.  But go see it.  Right now.  I'll wait for you to come back.  All done?  Good.)  I've embraced this... ethos, for want of a better word, wholeheartedly in my own zombie writing; first and foremost in my approach to the subject is that there are no happy endings, ever.

How can there be?  Think about it.  The world as we know it has been decimated (or worse) by whatever apocalyptic scenario it is that has brought corpses, I SAID DEAD FREAKING CORPSES, JESUS H TAPDANCING CHRIST DID YOU HEAR ME, shambling to life and eating the faces off your friends, neighbors, and family.

Many of these godawful undead face-eaters are, in fact, your friends, neighbors, and family.  And the only way to keep them from eating your face is to shoot them in the head, or whack them in the noggin with a machete, or otherwise do something nasty, gory, and devastating to what passes for a brain in what's left of their mouldering zombie skull.

Face it.  There's just no way this ends well.  The best one could hope for is to die peacefully in your sleep and then have your house burn down with you in it, before your remains rise to become one of the face-eaters.  How in the name of Harold Robbins did this sort of thing become the stuff of best sellers and big box office, anyway?

That's a darned good question, little one.  Why don't you go and ask your Mother?