Background Guys.

  
Something happened when Roy and I were revising Orphans. The characters creeped me out all over again.

I’m quite fond of my home town. I wasn’t always, and there were tough moments there like anywhere else. When I look past those moments, I see a place with space to think and become an individual. In fact, support from teachers and friends kept me typing out words instead of giving up. 

Several people wrote in my yearbook that they couldn’t wait to see my name on the cover of a book. It feels pretty good to make that come true.

When you go to a rural school, it’s pretty hard to hide. You get called on. There’s always a spot for you on the team, even if that spot is the end of the bench. I tried to be shy at my first middle school dance, but my friend stopped a girl I had a crush on, told her to dance with me, and after the song ended I waited by my next crush until another metal power ballad started.

Some men do disappear in small towns, though, if they find a place deep enough inside themselves to hide. People knew their names, but everything after that disappeared.

The sheriff, principal, and mechanic in Orphans aren’t real people Roy and I know. For me, those three men started when I thought about living a lonely rural life, and getting more and more lost. I wanted to see how far they could go, so Roy and I found a few paths into the quiet, small town night.

We can’t wait to share the way with you. 

For more info: click here.

  

Farm-Strong Horror

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There’s strong, and then there’s farm strong. Here in the Midwest, we cultivate our own brand of tough. Farm Strong. It’s strength from working yourself ragged, trying to be the best.

If you’ve ever run into anything Slasher Studios has done, you understand they’re that kind of tough. I listened to their podcast and was amazed at the consistency and quality. I bought their short films, including the flawless Teddy, and was amazed at the consistency and quality. I started writing reviews for their website. When they announced Don’t Go To The Reunion, their full-length feature, I ponied up some cash and waited.

Guess what? Consistently great. High quality.

Don’t Go To The Reunion is an 80s slasher made by people who don’t cut corners. Kevin Sommerfield’s script sets everyone up for success, the cast hits all the right notes, and Steve Goltz’s direction (with Paul Bjorge’s excellent cinematography) holds it all together. If you like slashers, you watch this movie knowing you’ll watch it again.

The movie excels when everything comes together to make 80s slashers a reality again. Don’t Go to the Reunion avoids retro gimmickry and focuses on the mean-spirited, catty vibe that made watching victims-in-waiting charming. The Slasher Studios crew once again muscles itself through the dreck of nostalgia and actually re-creates and polishes the genre standards it loves.

You might call it a revival.

This crew improves with every project. Next time they ask for cash, give ’em double to see what they’re capable of. They’re Midwest tough – farm strong. They put every penny on the screen.

Dreaming for Others at Diversicon.

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Everyone carries a box full of dreams into Diversicon. They come together in conference rooms and around tables with stories in various stages of perfection. Some of the writers are published with a table of titles to prove it, and some are just beginning to put words onto their laptops. Each and every one of them has the dream living in their brains, and we all come to Diversicon to share the stories.

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Guest of Honor Jack McDevitt set the tone in his Q and A session and on a panel exploring researching fiction writing. McDevitt stressed avoiding cliched fistfights and over-description when they clog a story. He reminded his audiences that any alarm bells disrupting the reader from living in your dream are the enemy, and they must be destroyed.

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This theme extended to the other special guests. Roy C. Booth, my HooseCows collaborator, put together a panel with three of his collaborators, including me. Booth stressed the constant struggle to both preserve the author’s voice and flawlessly edit the manuscript toward perfection. In her panel on upcoming authors struggling to make connections with readers, Catherine Lundoff directly addressed the many obstacles between a writer’s dream and the reader.

And yet, everyone at Diversicon dreams their dreams. I think we all got together this weekend to feed our stories. The dreams matter. The fiction sorts out the muddled non-fiction section of our everyday lives.

After this weekend, I’ve improved my tactics and strategies for getting my dark dreams published, infecting nightmares all over the world. It’s a blessed chore, after all.

-Axel

Diversicon Time!

Short notice: I will be a panelist at Diversicon THIS WEEKEND.

I will speak on four panels over the weekend. I’ll discuss collaboration and writing with my co-author Roy C. Booth. I’ll also talk a little bit of gender and romance, and a little bit of lycanthrope.

Say hi if you’re in the neighborhood. If you ask really nicely, I’ll do my world-renowned Lon Chaney Wolfman face!

-Axel

The Haddonfield Women’s Studies Department.

Finding a good podcast is like opening the door to a diner where they’re always discussing life as you know it.

Michael Gets Educated
Never too old to learn, I guess.

 

I enjoyed three episodes of Faculty of Horror today, and I was glad to settle in for their conversation. Andrea Subissati and Alexandra West offer feminist views on horror flicks. Their thoughts are often critical and always insightful, but sitting to listen for a spell never feels like receiving a stern lecture. The Faculty of Horror is a true conversation;a pla ce where there’s room to think and form your own opinion.

Here’s the problem – you can’t talk back at podcast diners.

Because of this, I had to rush home to write some words about the women of Haddonfield, who I believe were slightly misunderstood in Episode 1: Halloween vs. Black Xmas.

Much of the discussion from Subissati and West, as I interpreted their conversation, was based on the idea that the women from Halloween were less well-rounded than the women of Black Christmas. I agree with this statement, and I also believe Halloween exists in a very masculine, patriarchal world where women are punished for not behaving.

My complaint? I believe regionalism must be taken into account when viewing Halloween. The massacre takes place in Haddonfield, Illinois, after all.

Laurie Strode and her friends are more believable as Midwestern women. I view Laurie as a character whose innocence is stifled desire, where Annie’s great energy and spirit are suppressed to focus her attentions on her rather unimpressive boyfriend. I see Lynda as smarter than her beer-swilling lover, but having too much fun to rock the boat by letting her intellect show.

Are these simply projections of my own values and beliefs? Quite possibly, but these ideas do add something to Halloween. These women have not really lived yet. They are trapped in a culture of rules and values. They speak in cliches because it’s the only language they possess. Maybe if they were more free they could better help themselves.

This isn’t really a complaint. It’s  more of an attempt to keep a great conversation going by adding my two cents.

They’re planning on doing a new podcast every month, but I plan on hanging out in this diner in the hopes they just keep talking the whole  month long.

Or twice a month. Twice a month would be pretty good.

-Axel

Thurgood the Teen Mummy – A Poorly Written Grab For Teen Dollars.

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Thurgood the Teenage Mummy:

Horribly Written to Steal Tween Dollars!

by I. M. Non-Threatening

As I expected, the first day of school was completely wretched and awful. I didn’t know anyone there, and all of the other girls were six feet tall with flawless skin, as if hewn from rocks only found in Heaven itself. They had shiny blonde hair and they wore only the best clothing. I don’t think I could have made it through the day at all if I hadn’t had Thurgood to stare at.

He sat two seats in front of me in World History class, and he was a new student, too. DJ, the spunky girl who had instantly befriended me upon arriving at school, gave me all of the delicious details.

“He skipped out on last week, when we were discussing the ancient Egyptians,” DJ said. “No one knows why, but then again, no one knows much about the Bangles family.”

Thurgood Bangles sat only a seat away from me. I tried to make eye contact with him, but my whole body quivered in fear he might notice how ridiculously moronic my face looked. To avoid embarrassing myself further than I may have already, I slammed a textbook into my own face to cover up my own hideous face. I would have plunged a dull pencil into my own eye and twisted it around slowly, to punish myself for daring look on such a handsome man, had DJ not taken the pencil out of my hand and giggled.

“Boys!” she said. Then, she popped a piece of bubble gum loudly.

Thurgood Bangles was normal in height and weight, except that his massive biceps nearly tore through the tight sleeves of his polo shirt. He had eyes. I looked at his eyes a lot. I sure did like those eyes. I knew when I got home, I’d be saying “eyes eyes eyes eyes eyes” like some sort of cartoon lunatic, while shaving pictures of eyes on the cat’s back with an electric shaver. I like eyes!

Of course, then Dad just wouldn’t get it. Dad doesn’t understand girls. The other day, he asked why I didn’t use the urinals in public restrooms! Maybe he doesn’t know a lot about girls because he and mom weren’t married all that long. he definitely wouldn’t understand anything about boys. He’d just tell me, “Jesse, I love you no matter what you do.” He so doesn’t understand, but he’s still sweet in a dumb kind of way.

There was something different about that Thurgood Bangles I’d have to figure out this school year. Maybe it was the way my heart stopped when he looked into my eyes. Maybe it was the way the sun made his sandy blonde hair seem alive and on fire with aliveness. Maybe it was the small strips of bandage peaking out from his shirt sleeves, or even the way his entire face was covered in old, rotten bandages. Something about that boy seemed different to me, Jesse Blume. I’m a teen girl just like you!

Thurgood did something that filled me with amazement.

It happened on my way home for the day. I was busy putting on my second hoodie to make sure I gave everyone that extra-frumpy vibe. As I pulled the second hood over my head and slid in earbuds blaring sensitive, non-threatening feminist rock music, I couldn’t help but notice how much more sensitive and soulful I was then the tall, blonde, pretty girls.

Then my friend Stephen asked if I was going to the fall dance, and I actually cried that he thought I could ever view him as more than a human puppy dog. Stephen is nice and friendly, but the idea of him even holding my hand makes me want to punch him in the face.

When I got outside, I knew I had walked out of the wrong door. I had run into the no-goodniks from town. There were three men, of no discernible ethnicity or age. None of them appeared to be armed, and none of them had facial expressions.

“Give me your milk money,” the one closest to me said. Then, he added, “Please.”

I knew he was serious. My face nearly contorted into something resembling a human emotion, something that might make a reader like me. Fortunately, I stopped that from happening. I knew I was totally in some serious bad business.

“Get away from her,” Thurgood the Mummy Teen said. I had barely heard him slowly dragging his dusty, sandy teen body toward me. Just looking at him made my heart tingle, even as my face was free from any recognizably human emotion.

“Okay,” the troublemaking bad guys said. They walked away together, all at the same time.

“I’m sorry that got so rough,” Thurgood said. “Even though I never actually move or do anything at all interesting, I want you to know I would have done some very bad things to them.”

At that exact moment, his bandaged arm fell off and fell to the floor.

“You’re just going to have to trust me on that,” he said.

Thurgood showed me something magically magical today.

I sensed something was different about him. I had been up for hours at night, using my computer to look up information about ancient Egyptians. Dad was downstairs watching a bowhunting TV show and drinking beer. I could have used some time with my mom, but she was off giggling with her new boyfriend, the cabana boy who wasn’t much older than me but was pretty nice because he bought me a pair of cute boots for Christmas.

Then, Thurgood Bangles appeared in my room. He very slowly appeared. He tossed one of his bandages into my open window and crawled up it, being careful not to let the strain tear off his newly re-bandaged arm. When he finally crumpled over my windowsill and collapsed into a heap, then stood up and walked beside my bed.

“There’s something different about you,” I said. A giant Egyptian scarab crawled out of his collar and scurried down his back.

“I want to show you something,” Thurgood said. Slowly, he unraveled the dirty bandages covering his face. The first thing I noticed was his perfect hair, which was tousled to precision. Then, I saw his face.

Thurgood’s face was smooth, free of blemish and anything resembling an actual facial expression — just like me! The amazing part, however, was the way his face glowed. It did not glow in any colors that might upset or raise a person’s blood pressure in any way, like in baby blues and soft pinks. Even more than that, I could see beautiful phantom spirits of unicorns, kitties, and puppies. They crawled over my face and cooed and purred.

“Thurgood, you’re a magical, wonderful creature!” I said.

“”Being a mummy is my sad, sad curse,” he said.

“Do you live in a pyramid?” I asked Thurgood. We were in the lunchroom. I had gotten a plain ham sandwich, an apple, and a lukewarm glass of water. Normally, such an exciting meal would have held my complete attention, but I had so many questions.

“No,” Thurgood said. “But I do still sleep in a sarcophagus.”

“Do you miss your internal organs? Are they all still in jars?” I asked him later, as he was driving me to a building outside of town. Thurgood had heard they had just painted, and he thought, if we hurried, we could get there in time to watch the paint dry.

“I use tupperware now,” he said. “And know, I don’t miss them. My clothes fit so much better now.”

“But don’t you have a pet sphinx or something?” I asked him, as we sat on a park bench, measuring how much the grass grew by the hour. He had taken me on a wild date straight out of my loveliest dreams.

“Shouldn’t we be doing something, other than just sitting around while you ask me all of these questions?” Thurgood wondered out loud. “It feels like we need some sort of conflict right now. I mean, doesn’t it?”

“So do you have a sphinx?” I asked again, stroking the bandages around his head.

“No,” he said. He sighed.

Then there was a bad mummy, and Thurgood beat him up.

He came to visit me in the hospital. Somehow, in the short amount of time the bad mummy was around, he had pushed me and I broke my toe. I sure would look pretty cute and vulnerable in a cast!

“Take me to the big dance,” I asked him.

“I’m a mummy,” he said.

I started to talk.

“Fine. I’ll take you to the dance,” he said.

“Make me a mummy,” I said.

“Not until at least book three and a major motion picture deal,” Thurgood said. He looked at me, gave me a thumb’s up, and smiled.

Then, his thumb fell off.

There Ain’t No Hockey Mask On A Gold Statue.

The weather in the Midwest doesn’t usually change after the Academy Awards. Winter keeps us trapped in our houses, watching movies electronically and giving Hollywood less money per viewing than they’ve come to expect.

After the Oscars are finished, there might be a day or two of arguing about who won versus who should have one. People might even take the time to remember a past winner or two. If those movies are very lucky, they’ll get dusted off and watched again. After that, caring about the Academy Awards gets boxed up like a holiday decoration and tossed in the basement to wait for next year.SAMSUNG

Maybe that box of Oscar joy gets set next to the Halloween decorations. Maybe on top of that box of Halloween decorations lies a bloody hockey mask.

The Friday the 13th film series is one of the least critically respected series in one of the least critically respected subgenres (the slasher) of one of the least critically respected genres of film (horror). It started off as just a title, and its famous  murderer Jason Voorhees was never really supposed to exist. He was tacked on as a jump scare in the first movie, came to stay in the second, and didn’t get his hockey mask until the third.

In fact, the entire Friday the 13th series came into this world as a combination of dumb luck and blatant commercialism. You can read all about it in Peter M. Bracke’s excellent book Crystal Lake Memories.

And yet, if you imagine those two boxes in the basement again, which do you think gets to come out and play out of season? Academy Award fever or love for the big, dopey slasher villain Jason Voorhees? Like the saying goes: It may not be art, but people know what they like.

I have to figure ole Jason is shaking his gunny-sacked head as he sits beside Crystal Lake, his battered hockey mask in his hands. Like the films he stars in, he’s put together to get the job done without looking pretty doing it. He’s done his job so well he’s been in remakes, tattooed on flesh, featured as a toy, and impersonated for holidays. For whatever reason, he’s clearly in demand.

The cultists of the gold statue? They spend hours analyzing movies, many of them breathtaking works of art. And yet, how many of those films last as long as a character rarely played twice by the same actor? Are they out-of-touch elitists, or are we witnessing the death of high culture?

Then again, maybe the real answer lies somewhere in-between. If filmmakers can bring high art to the fears and anxieties that truly connect with people. Maybe Oscar needs to get his hands dirty.

And if Jason Voorhees doesn’t know what that looks like, perhaps an old friend could have him over for dinner and show him what that would look like.

-Axel

2012 Was The Opening Band for 2013.

2012 had its flaws, especially since it ended with my dear lil Great Dane Stella surviving serious medical problems.

However, when it comes to writing, 2012 was positively charmed. I was able to make connections with amazing people who have provided me with instruction and inspiration. I’m still working with some of these people in 2013, and I’m excited to see where this work will lead me.

The HooseCows did not get published in 2012. I’m going to review my draft and attempt to find a new home for the baseball horror novel. Still not sure if it’s a baseball novel with horror in it or a horror novel with baseball in it — a distinction important in finding the right publisher. Thoughts?

I’m keeping busy on several writing projects, but one you can check out every week is my Not Quite Horror series at Slasher Studios.In this column, I explain how some non-genre films can be watched as horror films – with interesting results.

Slasher Studios has a cool site, too. They update it regularly. While you’re there, you might as well go donate to support their feature length slasher film Don’t Go to the Reunion? If you loved Jason, Michael, and Freddy when you were a kid, this is a way to keep the tradition alive for the youth of today. They do good work.

My blog at Twins Daily is going to see more action this year. Taking inspiration from King and O’Nan’s Faithful, I’m going to write about the Twins 2013 season from the perspective of a grouchy fan. Expect zero quality analysis (the other writers on the site provide more than enough of that), but count on plenty of attitude.

Between those regular gigs and three projects still getting going, 2013 is the year I’m really a writer doing things and not a writer talking about doing things. No matter how successful any of these projects are, I’m still proud to be right where I am at this moment.

-Axel

Picking My Vacation Book.

In celebration of 10 years of marriage, I am loading up my Kindle with travel reading. When I was a kid, picking up a new book to read during travel time was my favorite part of preparing to travel.

This year, my reading choices are even more important to me.

I am filling my Kindle with books by Tom Piccirilli for this trip.

Tom is an amazing writer, and I’ve been a fan of his for years. He blurs crime and horror seamlessly, and nobody handles dark subject material better. Somehow, even though he writes without flinching or pulling his punches, he makes awful human beings likeable.

Off the page, Tom is accessible and friendly. He’s helpful and friendly on Twitter. He uses his Facebook page to let people promote writing they admire and ask him questions about the business. Without him, I never would have found out what an excellent write Gillian Flynn is. He even answered a question I had about paying homage to Manly Wade Wellman in The Hoosecows. I tossed his first name into the last chapter as a subtle way to say thanks.

Right now, Tom is battling brain cancer. He’s a writer, so he’s going to need financial help from his fans to keep up on his bills. Brian Keene, another writer who’s friends with Tom, highlighted ways of helping out in this blog post.

I’m glad I can take Tom’s writing along with me on my trip. Crossroads Press is sending 100% of the money Tom’s way, and I get a Kindle filled with excellent writing.

Give yourself a Halloween treat, and stock up on Tom’s writing, too. You’re helping a great guy fight a crappy disease, and then you get to spend the winter reading great books. Everybody wins.

-Axel

Bare Bones of a Scare.

Pleated Jean Nightmares 9

In the 80s, I watched all of the television shows no one else in my age group would watch. With the cool cartoons on cable networks we didn’t get, and with shows like Miami Vice considered too violent for family viewing, I often ended up loving shows that lasted for a few seasons, if they were lucky. One of these shows was Blacke’s Magic.

The show was about a father and son magican and a con artist who solved crimes, but I’m sure it’s mostly remembered today as “that one show with Barney Miller and the guy from MASH.” It lasted for one year, and I’m fairly sure I’m the only person in the world to think about it this millennium.

The last episode of this forgettable show somehow managed to throw a scary image into my brain that has remained there for over 25 years.

I was giving the TV show some of my attention that night, but I was mostly playing with some knock-off Legos. They had much cooler pieces than my real Legos, but they wouldn’t connect with the official blocks. The show was going on about something Edgar Allan Poe wrote and then it added in a wax statue of Poe, purportedly built over a real human skeleton. At some point a dead body appeared, bloodless and peaceful like all nice family drama dead bodies must appear. Then, a woman began screaming and pointing.

The hands of the waxen image of Poe had been abraded, and skeletal fingers were peeking out from beneath the ruined wax. I remember staring at first the hands, and then the dead, dummy eyes of the wax figure. Then, back to the hands for one last stare at finger bones. The television show was turned off after that, and the show wasn’t on next year. I’ve never learned “whodunnit?” and I don’t care if I do.

Next time you’re at a store or museum, or anywhere they store fake humans, just remember murderous bones under fake flesh.

In fact, imagine wax and plastic dripping off of those skeletal bones as each figure turns to you. You see those finger bones flex as the plastic cracks and flakes off. You look into its eyes, but there’s no life to be seen. Then, you look back to the parts where the skeleton has broken the surface.

After all, you don’t really know what all those fake people are made out of, do you?

-Axel