Where Are You, Charlie?

When I find that the wickedness of my fellow man is troubling my soul, when the weight of the ignorance and intolerance in our society feels crushing and I start to lose hope, I’m always reminded of a World War II era Charlie Chaplin film my grandfather watched with me when I was a boy. The Great Dictator was Chaplin’s way of speaking out against the terrible atrocities only beginning in Nazi Germany in the late 1930’s and, by the time the film was released, it was not only a political satire meant to openly mock Hitler and his regime but a rally cry to Americans that we must stand up against madmen and dictators and all the vile and unspeakable evil traits of the human condition that they stand for. The final speech delivered by Chaplin at the end of the movie as he impersonates the supreme leader of Tomainia, delivering a message to it’s armies, citizens, and the world that is more relevant today than it has been in nearly 80 years.

Below is the full transcript as well as the embedded scene.

-Dan

Transcript of Charlie Chaplin’s Final Speech, The Great Dictator, 1940

I’m sorry, but I don’t want to be an emperor. That’s not my business. I don’t want to rule or conquer anyone. I should like to help everyone – if possible – Jew, Gentile – black man – white. We all want to help one another. Human beings are like that. We want to live by each other’s happiness – not by each other’s misery. We don’t want to hate and despise one another. In this world there is room for everyone. And the good earth is rich and can provide for everyone. The way of life can be free and beautiful, but we have lost the way.

Greed has poisoned men’s souls, has barricaded the world with hate, has goose-stepped us into misery and bloodshed. We have developed speed, but we have shut ourselves in. Machinery that gives abundance has left us in want. Our knowledge has made us cynical. Our cleverness, hard and unkind. We think too much and feel too little. More than machinery we need humanity. More than cleverness we need kindness and gentleness. Without these qualities, life will be violent and all will be lost….

The aeroplane and the radio have brought us closer together. The very nature of these inventions cries out for the goodness in men – cries out for universal brotherhood – for the unity of us all. Even now my voice is reaching millions throughout the world – millions of despairing men, women, and little children – victims of a system that makes men torture and imprison innocent people.

To those who can hear me, I say – do not despair. The misery that is now upon us is but the passing of greed – the bitterness of men who fear the way of human progress. The hate of men will pass, and dictators die, and the power they took from the people will return to the people. And so long as men die, liberty will never perish. …..

Soldiers! don’t give yourselves to brutes – men who despise you – enslave you – who regiment your lives – tell you what to do – what to think and what to feel! Who drill you – diet you – treat you like cattle, use you as cannon fodder. Don’t give yourselves to these unnatural men – machine men with machine minds and machine hearts! You are not machines! You are not cattle! You are men! You have the love of humanity in your hearts! You don’t hate! Only the unloved hate – the unloved and the unnatural! Soldiers! Don’t fight for slavery! Fight for liberty!

In the 17th Chapter of St Luke it is written: “the Kingdom of God is within man” – not one man nor a group of men, but in all men! In you! You, the people have the power – the power to create machines. The power to create happiness! You, the people, have the power to make this life free and beautiful, to make this life a wonderful adventure.

Then – in the name of democracy – let us use that power – let us all unite. Let us fight for a new world – a decent world that will give men a chance to work – that will give youth a future and old age a security. By the promise of these things, brutes have risen to power. But they lie! They do not fulfil that promise. They never will!

Dictators free themselves but they enslave the people! Now let us fight to fulfil that promise! Let us fight to free the world – to do away with national barriers – to do away with greed, with hate and intolerance. Let us fight for a world of reason, a world where science and progress will lead to all men’s happiness. Soldiers! in the name of democracy, let us all unite!

 

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Revisions, Delays, and Meeting Deadlines.

Ugh. I stress myself out more than anyone or anything could ever hope to do. I obsess, I over think, and I scrutinize unless I’m really excited about something in which case I can’t wait to show it off to everyone. This is great if you’re a toddler who just learned to write your name or draw a pretty picture of a pony, but it’s terrible when you’re a writer trying to bridge the gap between amateur and professional. Reading over some of my published works I cringe at the lack of editing that went into them not only on the publisher’s part but on my own. Most places now rely almost exclusively on the author to provide all the necessary proofreading and editing before submissions so they can save time and go straight to formatting and distributing the work. I feel it’s the major disadvantage that new and small press publishers have when it comes to the old school publishing houses and magazines. Where as the established, older companies and ‘zines have in house editors on staff who scroll through page after page to make sure that silly errors and typos are corrected and that the content coming out is not only free from mistakes but coherent and clear for the reader.

It’s a hard lesson to learn, especially when you self publish a serial from your blog into a novella only to read through and find a lot of those same mistakes that a professional editor would have slashed to pieces in the first reading. It’s why I’ve decided to print a true second edition of A Thousand Little Deaths later this year. I’m actively reviewing it now, taking a Sharpie and a red pen to the book as I revise it to make it flow much more fluidly while giving it a more professional look. The last remaining print copies of the original run of the book are coming with me to Dragon Con to be passed out as promotional tools because, let’s face it, everyone loves swag and even with the typos it’s still not a bad story. The new edition, which I’m thinking will still retain the same cover image, will be out likely by the first of the year on Amazon. After that, Those Things’ll Kill Ya’ will be getting the once over before I release the new collection of short stories I’m working on entitled Random Fears.

 

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Second Edition Coming Soon.

 

Then we come across side projects that I’m super excited about that I start talking on before I’ve got a firm groundwork in place. The Super Low Budget Podcast is exactly that sort of project. What I’m wanting to create is a B Movie style round table discussion about horror and geekery while adding in a dash of radio drama with some made up, horror related shenanigans. The very first episode has been written but the problem lies not only with technical difficulties -some of my equipment not being operational yet- as well as scheduling conflicts and finding the right guests for the right topics. Musician and author Ashley Avery and musician and gaming geek Tom Werth were both going to join me for Night of the Living Podcast but, as their expertise isn’t in the zombie genre I am retooling a different episode for them while still filling in the blanks on my other ideas. Between Dragon Con, Women in Horror Film Festival, and the Nashville Zombie Walk all coming up in the next two months and so much time and effort needed to get ready for all three, it will likely be the first of the year before the Super Low Budget Podcast officially launches.

I’m also in the midst of completing a total overhaul of my story for the newest PDI Press anthology that we’re putting together over at Psycho Drive-In and, while I can’t wait to tell you all about, there hasn’t been an official announcement on the title, theme, or any other details. Just know that some really amazing stories are going to be coming to you in the not too distant future. Mine might even be in that mix, provided that I can meet the September 8th deadline. Each time I look at my story, I find myself absolutely disgusted because there is so much more that needs to be said and so little time to write it all out. I’ve rewritten this story three times already and I’m still not satisfied with it. Paul, if you’re reading this, I promise you’ll have my draft on time, I just can’t promise that the author will be happy with what he sends you.

That’s kind of the curse of being creative, though. Some of your best ideas come after you’ve finished that final draft and you’re left with the terrible choice of having to do another draft or leave the thought in a notebook for another story down the line. Sometimes it’s just a matter of adding a few words here or there while other times you literally have to wipe the slate clean and build it back up from nothing. Patience is the key and, quite frankly, I’ve never had an abundance of patience. But enough about me.

I’m excited to talk about some very talented friends of mine who are attending the Action on Film Festival in Las Vegas this weekend. So what is Action on Film? I think the best answer comes right off of the festival’s website:

Now in our 13th Season, Action On Film (The AOF) is the go to festival for filmmakers, writers, producers, actors, DPs, composers and post production professionals to have their work recognized and honored. The AOF has launched a number of careers and continues to use aggressive marketing to bring even more attention and success to filmmakers and writers from around the globe. How do we do it? First of all, we care. It all starts with that. Next the AOF only screens your projects in the finest theaters in the world. Huge screens, lots of seats, great projection, and is in a beautiful location, Las Vegas, NV. And Yes, AOF even has great party places. The AOF works directly with some of the biggest sponsor partners in food, entertainment and hospitality. We’ve also launched a line of Books about our filmmakers and writers and we’ve even become direct distributors for a number of aggregators and even Shorts.tv. We feature our television interviews on the Del Weston Action On Film show which airs Nationwide. Action on Film honors our filmmakers with brilliant awards and prizes in one of the biggest and most exciting award programs. The AOF charity events include more than money. AOF makes sure that you and the kids we support really connect. Dollars are great, but the human experience beats them every time.

I’m happy to say that four groups of people I’ve come to know pretty well over the last year are all competing in some of the same categories with their short films and independent projects at AoF as well as my friend, editor, and screenwriting mentor Jeffrey Potts who is among several talented screenwriters being nominated separately for the work they’ve devoted to various scripts. While I have some admin powers on the 52 Weeks of Horror Facebook page, I’m not going to blow it up with this news because Jeff and Haley aren’t the sort of folks that want to brag about themselves on their own site.

 

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Congratulations, Jeff! Fingers crossed.

 

Luckily for them, I run my own page and I have no problem celebrating in the accomplishments of my friends and bragging to the world all about them. They’re short film Puppet as well as Mist Manor (created alongside nominees ProCo Production Company) are in the running for a couple of awards as well as the folks behind Alfred J. Hemlock and the Queen of Screams herself, Jennifer Nangle (better known to some as Malvolia) with Slit and Malvolia: Queen of Screams. Haley from 52 Weeks of Horror is getting some love too for her amazing make-up designs on Puppet. I really cannot tell you how much fun I’ve had getting to know all of these people and doing articles and interviews with them about these amazing independent projects. This is the new generation of horror, folks. These people and groups as well as so many others who will be at Action on Film are going to be shaping your entertainment experience in the years to come and, if what I’ve been fortunate enough to see so far is any indication, we’re in for a bloody good time.

I’m getting all of my gear ready and setting my itinerary for Dragon Con. With two weeks left before the event starts, I’m getting the jitters. Unlike the smaller conventions I’ve worked this summer, this is a pretty major league event and I’m as nervous as I am excited for it to come. Then, at the end of September, I’ll be going back to Atlanta for the Women in Horror Film Festival (which I will be posting a whole series of articles and interviews about after Dragon Con). Truth be told, I’m actually more excited about WiHFF than I am Dragon Con simply because it’s the first event I’ll have attended as a journalist specifically in the realm of horror and filmmaking.

But enough of my mind spew for one post. There’s a lot to be written and very little time to write it in. I get distracted on tangents, lose focus, and it bogs me down. I’ve got some cool new horror shorts I’m hoping to have out plus Act Two of my Plan 9 from Outer Space Tribute that I’m hoping to get up on 52 Weeks of Horror when I get back from Dragon Con.

Music City Zombies, news about the Nashville Zombie Walk is coming soon, I promise. Lucas is trying to nail down the last details of our sponsorship and, as soon as they get the money and logistics talked out, we’re coming at you with a time and a place to assemble. Plus, we’ll FINALLY be able to tell you about all the other cool stuff that is going to happen as we welcome back the strangest parade in town.

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Struggling to Find A New Hope

I went to a dark place on my days off this past week. It was a visit that I’ve really skirted the edge of more than a few times over the last couple of years but I dove head first into it and didn’t stop. See, I like to consider myself a very passionate person but the truth is a lot of my issues are that Irish temper I’ve inherited from my ancestors. When combined with the Ginger temper and some of my other, more misanthropic traits, this becomes a perfect storm of depression, despair, and Dan being asshole.  Over the weekend, the news was full of violence and recriminations that were made even more potent by their distillation through social media. It left me feeling utterly hopeless about the future of my homeland and the world itself. That said, I’m going to avoid making any political statements with the following photographic exception:

 

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The flag should never be displayed with the union down, except as a signal of dire distress in instances of extreme danger to life or property. -U.S. Military Flag Code

 

Meanwhile, as America continues to hemorrhage in a stream of blood and social chaos, I am going to try to make the best of things by throwing some fun horror news at you.

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At 52 Weeks of Horror we’ve been running a lot of interviews and reviews with independent filmmakers and actors and it’s been great. Talking to these creative talents about their projects is always a lot of fun but I wanted to take a break from just reporting on new and noteworthy movies and discuss other facets of the genre that are equally near and dear to me. This allowed me to explore some of the more terrifying elements of Japanese artist Junji Ito’s classic manga series Tomie.

Is a monster frightening because it can physically kill you or is it more terrifying when it robs you of your individual humanity? I’ve often wondered what makes a monster truly terrifying to me. Some monsters are relentless stalkers, hunting their prey the way a werewolf or vampire might. Others are relentless forces of nature in the vein of Godzilla and other kaiju who wipe out entire cities like volcanic eruptions before disappearing into the nothing. But these are monsters that can be overcome, triumphed from in their passing by the indomitable human spirit. But what about a monster that robs us of who and what we are at our core, that absorbs us into its very being until there is nothing left of who or what we were. There are lots of examples of hive minds and collectivist dystopian societies but the monster I’m talking about is more personal and unassuming.

Tomie is quite possibly the most perfect horror story I’ve ever read. Written by Junji Ito the manga series is the ongoing story of a creature that mimics a beautiful teenage girl who exudes a supernatural control over men that drives them so mad with passion that they eventually murder her and dismember her. Each time, however, the individual pieces regenerate and regrow into new Tomies, all of whom possess this ability to drive men to madness. It’s an ongoing cycle of lust, mania, murder and rebirth as she spores and spawns like a mushroom. The she creatures thrive on the genuflect and adoration of these men, feeding their own vanity and egotism while capriciously tormenting anyone and everyone they encounter. In many instances, the Tomie feeds on the flesh of hapless men and women alike and even uses their bodies to generate new Tomies. The idea of this creature in literature is absolutely horrifying on so many levels.

Tomie represents the perfect embodiment of malignant, virulent evil. Everything we fear about the unknown, about an inescapable, unstoppable force literally and figuratively consuming everything about who and what we are thrives in her very nature. She also represents those same fears on a societal level. The customs and niceties of society, the traits and unspoken vows that keep order and organization to our lives are swallowed by the vainglorious obsession with physical and social perfection. Ego and self image over true substance is personified in who she is. The idea of losing our individuality, being completely consumed into a homogenous and uniform mold cries out against every last fiber of human independence. Who we identify as within society is arguably what keeps that society alive and thriving. The evolution of our culture depends on individuals continuing to change and grow and create. But introduce a force so overwhelming, so maddeningly powerful that feeds on all the most puerile notions that mankind has been known for that amuses itself in the petty torment of others all the while choking out the individual spirit to replace it with the uninspired, incipient desire of a substanceless oneness horrifies like nothing else. It’s the Utopian ideal devouring individual thought and sensation until nothing is left.

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But, not everything is dark and foreboding. Despite the overall tone of Tomie and the current social upheaval in America, there is still some brightness and hope left.

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The Tick, another comic book that has made a huge impression on me through the years with its irreverence and tongue-in-cheek commentary has long been a source of great joy in my life. From page to screen in the sanitized, Saturday morning cartoon version than ran for years on Fox to the short lived live action series starring Patrick Warburton as the titular hero, the character has always spoken volumes about hope and the need to press on through even the toughest of situations. The nigh invulnerable blue super hero comes at every challenge with this child like naivety and persistence that makes it impossible not to root for him. When Amazon announced they were bringing him back in a grittier, live action series, I was skeptical but, after seeing the pilot episode, I think we’re going to see a lot more of the original Ben Edlund story come to life.

San Diego Comic-Con exploded with panels, interviews and all kinds of Tick love recently and, I mean, how could they not? I’ve been a fan of the nigh-invulnerable hero since I first saw him as a Saturday morning cartoon in the early ’90s. I quickly began reading all of the Ben Edlund comics I could find, seeing the evolution of a one-shot character, an escaped mental patient trying to do good into something beyond wacky, irreverent and altruistically heroic. With his sidekick Arthur, a neurotic everyman who wants to be a hero, the mighty duo has charged themselves with protecting The City from the forces of evil.

I even found myself being one of those scattered few who loved the short-lived 2001 live-action rendition played by Patrick Warburton. When I saw the pilot episode that ran on Amazon several months ago, I was hooked. Taking everything I loved about the characters and their universe, adding a little bit more grit and dark humor, and topping that off with a more involved backstory — specifically around Arthur — it was everything I had hoped for.

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Times are tough and it stands to reason that things are going to get worse before they get better. I’m trying not to get sucked into that black pit of hopelessness, to not lose who I am to this mixture of cultural ennui and manic depressive societal rage. I’m struggling against the Tomies who seem to be multiplying daily, flooding every facet of our lives with the poison of fanaticism and division. I’m waiting for that hero to emerge from the shadows, to stand aloft the rooftops and look out over our society with a promise of hope the likes of which hasn’t been known in my adult life. Who knows, maybe that hero is already out there, waiting for the right moment to charge into battle against the forces of evil, of intolerance and hatred, crying “Spoon!” as he guides us back to the path of truth, justice, and the American way?

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Until then, a man can dream.

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Kaiju, Creeps, and Bull Shit Stories

Anything that begins with “Based on a True Story” or some variation of that phrase is almost always going to be complete and total bullshit. Take for example The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. This film introduced generations of people into the gritty, gory subgenre of the slasher movie and, from the standpoint of horror, is a true masterpiece by Tobe Hooper. But the film itself is “based on a true story.” You ever looked up the “true” part of Texas Chainsaw Massacre? No? Well, it is based on an infamous American serial killer and necrophile named Ed Gein. Gein is known to have murdered two women but dug up and desecrated the corpses of dozens of others using flesh and bone to create everything from belts and bowls to a woman suit that he was in the process of tailoring when he was finally arrested. Gein and his unresolved mother issues served as the inspiration for numerous other horror icons including Norman Bates but it was his woman suit that inspired the now equally infamous Leatherface.

That’s it. The true story behind Texas Chainsaw Massacre is that the main villain has some clothes made out of long pig leather the same as Ed Gein.

Kind of a let down, really.

Then you have those “true stories” that are complete and total fabrications and fairy tales from the minute the house lights go down. Take, for example, The Amityville Horror. I love the story, don’t get me wrong. I’m always a sucker for a good demonic possession tale. But I’ve learned over my years as both a horror fiend and an amateur paranormal researcher that anything and everything documented by the duo of Ed and Lorraine Warren is bullshit conjured up by the pair to make money. The internet is full of information on the couple whose paranormal research and expulsion techniques were both revered and refuted from the late 60’s through the late 80’s. Did they really do battle with the same demon over and over again through New England? Is the now famous Raggedy Ann doll known as Annabelle really the most dangerously possessed object in the world? Did they help take advantage of a senseless act of family violence and claims that “the devil made me do it” in order to make a quick buck and build their reputation. I can only answer “yes” to one of those questions and I think you know which one it is.

Even so, I decided to go see a press screening of Warner Brother’s new addition to their Conjuring Universe (or Conjurverse as I’ve been calling it) and, I have to say, aside from the claims that it was a “true story” I enjoyed the hell out of it.

ZIMBlogogr-1I don’t often have anything complimentary to say about big-studio horror movies. Most end up being watered down, PG-13 knock-offs of popular themes in the genre with a certain degree of fan service and pseudo-self awareness meant to be clever, but that always makes the cast and writers look like buffoons.

The Conjurverse (The Conjuring, The Conjuring 2 and Annabelle) falls into this category, with very few exceptions across the three films so far in its canon. To add to this reputation of superficial, unimaginative horror, you’re selling the stories as “Based On True Events” from the files of Ed and Lorraine Warren, who have a contentious reputation as charlatans and frauds in paranormal circles. All of this aside, sometimes it just takes a while to get some momentum before you really take flight.

Annabelle: Creation begins setting tone and atmosphere from the opening credits and punches you right in the expectations in the first 10 minutes. I was honestly shocked. I rolled my eyes as the house lights when down and the film began because I was expecting more of the banal and unoriginal. But this film pulled out all the stops in terms of pacing and storytelling. The film focuses on the Mullins family, who open their home to a small group of orphan girls in the wake of their daughter’s tragic and sudden (not to mention a bit shocking) death at the start of the film.

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Meanwhile, I also finally got the chance to watch one of my favorite creatures in his latest, and in my opinion greatest appearance to date. Shin Godzilla (alternately Godzilla Resurgence) is the latest installment of Toho’s now synonymous giant monster series returning to the genre’s roots by telling a political story against the backdrop of an atomic holocaust brought on by a kaiju wrecking Tokyo. I watched this movie just days before the passing of Haruo Nakajima, the actor who originally dawned the rubber lizard suit in the original Godzilla decades before. The genre has become the Japanese equivalent of the zombie movie, in my opinion, being used to tell stories relevant to the society and culture in a manner that can entertain and terrify.

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The passing of Haruo Nakajima came just days after I was able to watch Shin Godzilla for the first time. It’s made me pause to reevaluate the way I was going to write this article. Initially, I’d intended it to be a straight review of the latest episode in the life and times of the most well-known lizard beast in cinematic history but now, thinking on what I was going to say, I’ve gone back and watched the original Godzilla (or Gojira) and I think there are some parallels to be found in these two movies made sixty years apart from one another.

Shin Godzilla is the most recent addition to the Toho series of movies surrounding the legendary King of the Monsters. The story itself, however, is an origin story and an entry into an entirely new universe of stories about the titular monster. While this isn’t the first time we’ve had the character reintroduced, it falls more in line with a much older trope in which the creature is far from the heroic defender of mankind that we’ve come to know in American and Japanese cinema over the last few decades. However, he’s also no villain. The Godzilla of this latest film is a natural disaster, an unprecedented nuclear creation that washes onto the shores of Tokyo and threatens the modern mega city with its very existence.

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And since we started this post off talking about classic slasher films I figured I should end it talking about what is arguably the coolest indie slasher I’ve seen in a while. The film is appropriately titled WTF!

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Never have I seen a movie that so perfectly lived up to its title like WTF! and I’ve seen my fair share of slasher movies over the years. I’ve watched all the classics and I’ve dug down into the dregs and I can safely say that, despite the overwhelming popularity of the genre, it’s very hard to make a timeless classic about a crazed killer. But there are always exceptions. Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Halloween, and Friday the 13th set the bar for fans and filmmakers while others like Hatchet and The Strangers have elevated the notion over the years. WTF! adds to this proud tradition while making some genuinely different and memorable marks through a narrative that is both familiar and completely unique. The film is about a young girl (Rachel) who survives a terrifying slaughter while on a spring break vacation with her friends to a cabin in the woods. The final girl, she spends the next three years rebuilding her life, making friends, and struggling to graduate as she come to grips with the horror she witnessed only to allow herself to be drug along on another rustic outing destined to end in bloodshed. Unfortunately for Rachel’s friends, some traumas are too powerful to be forgotten.

 I’ve seen a lot of low budget and indie slasher movies and very few of them have been good. In fact, I try not to write about them unless there is something redeeming to mention. Usually the camera angles are terrible, the editing is amateurish, and the acting is on a par with an amateur porno. WTF! , however, has to be one of the more professionally and skillfully made indie slashers I’ve ever seen. From the opening scene as a topless woman covered in blood runs screaming from a darkened cabin only to be struck down by the killer, the film hooks you from the start and won’t let you go. The cinematography is on point with the writing while the director and cast make this one of the more relate-able, and bizarre, crazed killer flicks I’ve had the pleasure of watching.

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Dragon Con is a few weeks away and, as of last night, I finally got my lodging sorted out. I also found out that I’ve been approved to attend the Women in Horror Film Festival in Atlanta at the end of September. I’ll be covering that for 52 Weeks of Horror and, hopefully, getting a chance to talk to a lot of amazing women working in front of and behind the lens on horror films and in the industry over all. Truth be told, I’m more excited about this than Dragon Con. I mean, horror cinema and horror literature are my two artistic passions and meeting and connecting with people in those circles is what I need to be doing as I continue to try and get my career off the ground. It’s going to be incredible and I honestly can’t wait.

Meanwhile I am, unfortunately, no closer to an official announcement on the zombie walk than I was the last time I spoke about it. We’ve got a major sponsor on the line to cover the costs and the insurance it’s just a matter of getting the time set up with them to actually get things done. I wanted to announce a date, a time, and a route by this point in August but, you know what they say about good intentions and the best laid plans. All I can tell you for sure is Halloween weekend, downtown Nashville, and it’s going to be great.

In the meantime, take a look at this video courtesy of 52 Weeks of Horror and Haley Joanna FX that might just give you some ideas on how to make a gruesome zombie face for the Nashville Zombie Walk.

Until next time.

 

 

 

 

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New Story and Some Uncomfortable Thoughts

So, I’ve dealt with a lot of death and loss thanks to the career path I’ve chosen. Working in emergency services, from a family that has devoted itself to emergency services, I’ve always been keenly aware of just how fragile and fleeting life can be. The fact that I’m more than a little curious about the macabre and morbid doesn’t help matters either. But a terrifying thought occurred to me one night many years ago and has been in my head ever since. They say that when a man loses his head, the brain remains active for several seconds. But no one has ever been able to ask about or truly study this phenomenon because, I mean, no one comes back from that. So what if, when we die, our minds are the last of us to go. What if as we’re lying there, eyes staring unblinkingly open, we’re still fully cognizant of the fact that we are dead. Seeing, and hearing, and maybe even feeling all that is happening around us. Could there be a worse kind of hell to endure?

And, with that cheery thought in mind, please enjoy this little tale I like to call, One Last Hell.

They didn’t know. How could they? Even as I lay there, my eyes frozen open looking at the stained ceiling tiles, screaming internally because my lips and lungs would no longer cooperate, I knew they couldn’t begin to understand the sort of hell I’d entered. I could feel the cells in my body dying one by one, felt the unfortunate release of my bowels and the bile that had erupted up my throat to dribble weakly down the corners of my lips and over my chin. I’d felt the sudden cessation of my own heart as it thudded one final time and became silent. Then there was the rattle. God, how many times had I heard that terrible, croaking last breath over the years and continued on with my work as another body fell silent and still in a bed below me? How many times had I looked on, emotionless into those milky eyes and pronounced them dead? Were they like me? Were they still aware of all of this, screaming in voices that would never be strong enough to convulse the lungs or utter out a whisper of the horror thrust upon them?

I wondered how long this would last as my wife, my brother, and a handful of other grieving, secondary kin looked down into my eyes and wept. Their tears spilled onto my frozen face and into my eyes, the saline burning as I was unable to blink or rub it away. I wondered when I’d see that white light and hear the heavenly chorus. I hadn’t been a devout believer by any means, but I’d lived a good life and I’d tried to be a good man. As the local funeral director and his son covered my face with a bedsheet and hoisted me onto their gurney, I knew I was damned. Unceremoniously they thrust me into the back of the hearse. My head bounced, smacking hard against the bed I’d been strapped too.

“Jesus, Hank. Be careful.” One said to the other.

“Not like he felt that.” The other said, half laughing as he slammed the door.

Street lights flickered through the window, across the white sheets draped over my face in flashes of orange and white. From the front seat, the two men babbled on inanely about the start of football season, about what they’d seen on television the night before, and how they wanted to give the young girl from FedEx, the one who delivered to the funeral home, their own special package and laughed at the thought of defiling her in their own lackluster way. My head slapped against the gurney once more as we hit a speed bump then came to a stop at the funeral home.

The duo brought me into the mortuary with the same grace and tact they had used loading me into the hearse. The sheet slipped down the side of my cheek as they wheeled me to a stop under the fluorescent bulbs of another cheaply tiled, clinical  looking ceiling with brown water stains to the left of the light fixture. They continued to go on about whatever personal nonsense was filling up their lives as they filed their papers and rummaged around the room.

“Go ahead and fire up the oven.” one said to the other. “Wife wants him cremated.”

My blood would have run cold at the thought if I weren’t already freezing on the table where they’d placed me.

“She doesn’t want a visitation?” The other asked.

She doesn’t want a visitation?!

“No. Said they’ll ‘celebrate his life’ when they get him back.”

There comes a point in any traumatic experience where shock sets in and a sort of peace washes over you. Fear accompanies the possibility of death but calm shepherds its certainty. I wanted to scream. I wanted to climb off the rack and run as if my life depended on it. But my life was done. Whatever this was, this personal hell I’d found myself in, it was nothing I could do anything about. I knew how this worked. They were going to load me into a small, flimsy wooden container and shove me into a giant oven. The heat and the flames would take nearly a day to reduce my body to ash and, given that my brain was solidly ensconced inside a thick, durable skull, I’d be aware of the searing pain and heat for hours to come before gradually drifting into nothing. Not that my other options were any more enticing.

Burial or donation, I’d be in hell either way. A traditional burial would have subjected me to the prowess and skill of the embalmer. Aspirators would slice into my arteries and drain every last ounce of blood from my body, replacing it with preservatives and fluids to prevent decomposition for years to come. My eyes and lips would be sewn shut, a valve screw up my ass to prevent gases from choking the gathered mourners out of the room. They’d lay me out like this for a day or so before burying me in total darkness  for ages to come. There again, I could have been donated to the hospital as part of their medical program. A bunch of slack jawed, terrified students who had never seen a cadaver before would have spent weeks dissecting me, breaking and rending, and slicing apart my body to learn what no book would ever be able to teach them.

I am still here!

How could they know? How could anyone know? The dead are supposed to be dead. But there I was, staring at the ceiling as two clueless morticians prepared me for the flames. But they’d all know in time. They’d all experience the little hell that had been prepared for me, for them. I could only wonder, as the gurney rolled into the furnace room if my mind would slip before the fires consumed it, consumed me, or if my own terrifying awareness would remain until there was nothing left but ash? The door groaned open. At my feet a gust of hot air began to prick along my frozen flesh.

I guess it’s time to find out.

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Why Am I Going to Dragon Con?

Why am I going to Dragon Con? I’ve been asking myself the same question for weeks now? I’m not getting paid for any of the articles I’ll be writing, I’m not a special guest or vendor making anything out of it, and I certainly don’t have a reputation in the community that is going to get me recognized by anyone or that might translate into any paying work. In fact, with a wedding in the works for next May and the zombie walk coming up quicker than you’d think, truth is I probably shouldn’t be covering this event at all. I’m going into this completely blind in the sense that I’ve never been to Dragon Con and covering a convention by myself is also completely unexplored territory to me. As a writer the goal is to earn something for your efforts. Either a publication credit or, hopefully, a little cash to keep the dream alive for another day. In this case, I’m doing neither and, factoring in fuel, food, lodging, and incidentals, I’m actually going into the red in order to write and produce a week or two of content.

So why the hell am I doing this?!

Because I need to. I’ve spent a lot of time in my life and my professional career lamenting the fact that I couldn’t get published if I owned a printing press. But, as the last few years have shown, it has very little to do with what I’m doing but how I’m doing it. At end of 2015, I was running a blog that literally only saw two to three hits a month, had no social media platform to advertise from, and was struggling to get my stories in print. In the last year and a half, however, I’ve had articles, reviews, editorials, and stories run in numerous publications online and in print. The only reason this has happened is because I started putting myself out there, testing my limits and leaving my comfort zone. I started taking a chance and saying “yes” to things I’d have never even thought about doing a year before.

 

 

Want to write some editorials for a modeling magazine?

Sure!

How about interview an actress about a web series she’s starting?

Absolutely!

Interested in seeing some B movies for free?

Hell yeah!

All of these are questions I was asked that I never in my wildest dreams expected to hear. I’ve talked to rock stars in Australia, and painters in L.A. and used some of my passions and personal travel as fodder for some great articles. And the weirdest thing is, the more I’ve said “yes” to these seemingly impossible questions, the better the opportunities have been. I’ve met some amazing people over the last two years, in person and via the internet, and done some things I never actually thought I’d do. I’m writing for three separate websites, all of which have ambitions that guarantee a by-line for years to come as well as the potential to make some money in the future. I’ve opened my mind to new ideas about art and social structure that I’d have otherwise been turned off by in the past, and, best of all, I’ve managed to write some stories and articles that I am really proud of. I’ve even been encouraged enough to start putting myself out there as a for hire freelance writer and, despite the fact that I haven’t actually earned a commission yet, I’m still excited about the chance to be doing what I love.

Yeah, it sucks that I’m really only going to lose money on this trip. I won’t lie, I’m a little bummed by the prospect. But what will be amazing is spending four days surrounded by people who love the same sort of geekery that has made my life awesome. I’ll have a chance to meet new people, learn a lot of new things, and market myself to an audience that will hopefully expand the readership of the sites I write for as well as the fan base I hope to one day cultivate for my own fiction. With authors, publishers, and other people who work in the industry that I’m trying to break into, there’s nothing to lose and everything to gain.

If you see me at Dragon Con -I’m definitely hard to miss- come up and say “Hi” and let’s chat for a while. Tell me what brings you to Atlanta and let’s have a drink and celebrate the things that are bringing us all together.

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Oh, and since I included a still from Never Hike Alone while mentioning the people and projects I’ve written about, I should let you guys know that they’ve set a release date of Friday October 13th. Here’s the trailer.

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Generic Getting Fit Post

Danno 2013

This picture was taken on October 5, 2013. I had just arrived with some friends to run in my very first 5k -which sounded so much more impressive before I realized it was only 3 miles- and I was stoked. A week later I would be lying on a gurney in an emergency room, my pancreas and liver wrecked and my kidneys on the verge of a complete shutdown. I wasn’t in my prime here, but I wasn’t a slouch either. It’s been nearly four years and eighty pounds and I feel terrible. Health issues, an ongoing back and forth with depression, and just generally being lazy have all contributed to a huge weight gain which has gotten way out of control. Today, sitting at my desk I felt my pancreas twinge the way it has from time to time since the first of two near death experiences that my lifestyle led me to in the last few years. I’m sick of this.

It’s embarrassing to me, the way I look, the way I feel, and the fact that I just don’t have the energy to do things like I did before I got this way. While I don’t know that my damaged organs will definitely benefit from a complete physical overhaul, I know that my perception of myself and my quality of life will improve. I also have the added incentive of a wedding that is nine months away and a very real desire to not look like the ginger Peter Griffin when I stand next to my ridiculously hot wife in all the photos. There are other benefits to getting healthy too, not the least of which being improved mood, stamina, and, oh year, maybe not dying at 35 from a heart attack.

It won’t be easy. In fact, given my propensity for being lazy and making excuses, especially when it comes to my physical health and appearance, this will be an up hill battle from the first step until I say “I do.” But unlike the self loathing and severely depressed Dan in this picture who literally self medicated and ignored a medical problem until it became a life threatening emergency (twice!!!) I’m a completely different Dan. The bleak, some might even say pessimistic attitude full of snark and sarcasm remains, but the desire to improve myself and my future is new and powerfully strong.

So why am I posting this here?

In part, narcissism. I want to announce to the world my intention to become a better Dan, even though I’m aware that very few people actually care and the genuflect of peers and fans will do absolutely nothing to improve my physique or health. Like so many people in the Internet Age, I’m just being vain and talking about “my journey” to make myself look more acceptable to societal norms.

I’m also doing this as a sort of reminder. I’ve announced and shared right here on my blog, the platform for all my vainglorious attempts to make myself a common name in the literary world. I’ve got a readership of…you know…tens of people. I can’t let myself look bad by posting this uplifting thing about overcoming bad health and bad decisions only to end up on the ten o’clock news  when the fire department has to knock out a wall on the side of my house to extract me from my bedroom.

Seriously, though, I have been given a second chance in my life on so many levels. I lost my home, my first marriage collapsed, I lost a lot of friends and loved ones both emotionally and physically, and I almost abused my body to the point of no return. Now, I have a second chance to be a father to my son, I’m marrying a woman who I am madly in love with, and my career as a writer is finally getting some traction. It’s time for me to make a change in my life and get back to where I need to be.

Wish me luck.

 

 

 

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