Friday, January 11, 2019

Tales From the Sofa

I am Stuart's sofa.

I'm the couch hub of the Midwest, the loveseat heart of suburban Kansas. An upholstery covered melting pot suitable for every race, color, creed, and religious bottom of humanity. There are eight million stories to be told from my cushions and this is one of them. For you see...

Wait. Hold on a minute. It's a lie. All of it!

My life is boring. I get to service Stuart's rear-end only. Day in and day out, he sits on me, writing. Sure, some times his wife parks on me, but as far as variety? Forget about it.

Frankly, watching someone write is really, really boring.

On occasion, though, I'm privy to the insights of the writing process. For instance, Stuart's frequently asked "where do you get your ideas?" Usually--as is his lame and lazy approach--he responds "I don't know." (See what I mean? BORING.)


This hammock thinks it has it bad? Try being me, Stuart's suffering sofa!
But last week, something interesting finally happened. While wearing me down (and would it hurt Stuart to sit on my other side on occasion?), Stuart received a text on his phone.

It read: Hey! It's Theresa! I'm using Tim's phone because I lost mine! See you in a bit! DON'T text back on this phone!

This set Stuart to thinking, never a good idea. He didn't know a Tim or Theresa. He couldn't very well text back, either, tell Theresa she had a wrong number. After all, she'd strictly forbidden him to do so.

Weened on thrillers and mysteries, Stuart started pulling pieces together. Clearly, Theresa was cheating on Tim. The heart emojis sealed the deal. Should Stuart warn Tim? Write back anyway and let Theresa know she had the wrong number?

What did Stuart, the man of inaction, the writer do? Nothing. Altogether now: BORING.

Several hours later, Theresa texted back: Thinking bout you. Had a great time.

Again, Stuart didn't respond. Through-out the day, Theresa kept texting, her anxiety ramping up with each missive: Helloooo? What's wrong? Why aren't you responding? Dammit, talk to me!

Finally, Theresa's final message: That's it. I'm talking to Tim. Even more troublesome? Theresa attached a photo of a baby in a car seat.

Like a Hitchcockian protagonist from days of old, Stuart had unwittingly become an unwilling, silent partner in an affair, the fourth member of a sordid situation that would undoubtedly end in murrrderrrr.

Yes sir, it was the most excitement I'd had since I was a wee settee at the sofa factory.

Stuart deliberated, didn't have a clue as to what to do. In his typically inert fashion, he decided to fashion the incident into a thriller to be written at a later date. The seed of an idea had been planted and his mind began to water it.

So...that's where one of Stuart's book ideas came from.

Wait! Here he comes! Gotta' run. I'll talk to--Oooff!

Friday, January 4, 2019

Putting the BREAK in Spring Break

Worst Spring Break ever!
And I'm not even talking about my failed college attempts at trying to have fun over spring break either. No, this unfortunate adventure occurred well into my adult years. I got some explainin' to do...

First, a little background: for as long as I can remember, my dad was in a wheelchair, a victim of Multiple Sclerosis. Yet it never kept him down. For many years, my parents were "snow-birds," fleeing to the warmth of Florida during the cold, Kansas winter months.

So I grabbed my wife and daughter on their various spring breaks (respectively from work and school) and had the lame-brained idea of visiting my parents at Daytona Beach! Fun in the sun! Except...

The minute we arrived, I knew we were in trouble. The streets were jam-packed with partying kids ("Get outta the way, you damn punk kids!") and bikers ("Excuse me, sir, please allow me to get out of your way."). 


The first night at our hotel, kids were screaming up and down the hallway all night long. A very hammered girl, drink in hand, knocked on our door. 

In a slurred voice, she says, "Hey, can I talk to Ricky?"

"Sorry, you have the wrong room," I replied.

"No, this is the room number Ricky gave me." She looks over my shoulder, puts a foot forward. Sips from her cocktail.

"No, I'm sorry, but you're wrong. I'm here with my wife and daughter."

"C'mon." She rolls her eyes. "Quit jacking around. Let me talk to Ricky."

Desperate now, hoping my wife will get out of the shower, I grab my young daughter, thrust her forward as a visual cue since the drunk girl won't listen to reason. "See!" I point toward my daughter.

Finally, she believed me.

That was our first night. As it turns out, our last night in Florida as well.
The next day, we gear up and go to some small-time, local, cheesy water park. The star attraction? A dolphin who paints pictures (kinda) with his flipper.

On the way out, my mom falls down on the sidewalk. Off we go to the emergency room! She'd broken her leg. As we pushed both of my incapacitated parents out of the hospital in wheelchairs (quite a parade), I knew it was a sudden end to Spring Break, 2004!

What to do next? Clearly, we couldn't leave my parents alone in Florida like that. Plans were formulated. My wife and daughter managed to get my mom on a plane and take her home. I, on the other hand, had to drive my dad from Florida to Kansas. Horrors!

In a way it was a good thing. I sorta reconnected with him (even though he told the same stories. A lot.). I also realized the courage the man had, how he kept going in the face of adversity, every day confronting new challenges to his wheelchair-bound life. But what a giant. He never let his situation drag him down. And even though he's been gone for several years, I still applaud the way he embraced life.

Finally, exhausted, we arrived home where the pampering continued for a while.

But, wait, there's a happy ending to the misery! The cheesy water park--in way of apology for their crappy sidewalks--sent my mom an autographed "painting" from Blippo, their star dolphin!

Speaking of horrors originating from Kansas, give a look-see to my first short horror collection, Twisted Tales from Tornado Alley, just up around the Twilight Zone and next door to October Country. 

Friday, December 28, 2018

The Bear Amenities

Those of you who've been following my blog for a while know I'm not the world's greatest outdoorsman. I never camp. Usually, camping is for masochists and drag queens.
However, my recent trip to the Amazon rain forest opened my mind. A bit, maybe, just a hair; a big ol' burly bear hair!

I'm ready to plunge into camping. But I have some preexisting conditions...

I told my wife I "have conditions." She sighed, said she knows I have lots of "conditions."

I paid no heed to her doubting Thomasina, 'cause I'm a brand new man. 

Let's nature!

I said, "Out in the wilderness, we'll need to rent a cabin. With a hot-tub."

"That's definitely not camping," my wife responded.

"Second," I said, on a roll, "I'm more than willing to give up TV! I can hardly believe it myself. I'm awesome! But we have to have WiFi."

"Yeah, right, that's not--"

"Finally, and there's no debating, I want to hug a bear."

Stunned, my wife just silently stared at me. Clearly, my new affinity for nature astounded her.

Look, as a new-born Grizzly Adams sort, there're three things about nature I know as fact:

1) Sticks shouldn't walk;
2) Squirrels aren't meant to fly;
3) Bears are the most cuddly creatures on the planet.

Duh.


Here's the indisputable truth...

A) There are two kinds of bears: those found in the woods and those lovable lumberjack, hairy lugs found in gay bars, both worthy of hugs;
B) Kids don't ask for "teddy wolves." I mean, seriously...even lil' kids know bears are lovable;
C) Finally, they call really good hugs "bear hugs" for a reason.

This ain't rocket science.

I have to experience one of those once-in-a-lifetime bear hugs. Aww, I can't wait to get my paws around one of those big, huggable lugs!

My plan is to rub honey on myself (Winnie, the Pooh can't be wrong, right? Although, now that I think about it, I do wish Pooh would wear pants. Kids need to know they can hug bears and not feel weird about it.) and open my arms up to all comers. 

I've got a really, really, really good feeling about this.

The new year is nigh (a word I've always wanted to use!) and to celebrate it, how about we all start being nicer to one another, regardless of how the world is being (non) run? Let's start with kind words, tolerance, acceptance. Maybe hugs. Especially hugs to cute strange critters, which you'll find an abundance of in my new horror short story collection, Twisted Tales from Tornado Alley. Um. Maybe lay off the hugs on these particular critters, though. Put out by the fine folks at Grinning Skull Press, take a tour of my imaginary  bestiary HERE.



Friday, December 21, 2018

The Christmas Goldfish Massacre!

Ho, ho, HORRORS!

Gather round, kiddies, as I tell you a true Christmas tale; one of pathos, heartbreak, terror, and stupid fish...
Years ago, when my daughter was a wee lil' lass, I thought it'd be cool to get her a couple of goldfish for Christmas. For you see, she'd been asking for a dog. I thought I'd start her out on a trainer pet. I mean, how hard can it be to take care of goldfish, right? RIGHT?

So, I enlisted my brother's help. Together, we conspired and planned and set off to Walmart to pick up the golden goods. The dunderhead West brothers filled that cart up with a bowl, fish food, junk to stick in the bowl, a pump, anything else I could think of. I mean, it was for my daughter, I wasn't gonna skimp. The last item on the list, of course, were two of the perkiest goldfish I could find. Plastic bag in hand, we went to my brother's house and set the goldfish up in their brand new bowl.

Now, my knowledge of goldfish was pretty limited. I kinda thought it was all about sprinkling some flakes on top of the bowl on occasion. Maybe tap the bowl a couple times daily to scare the fish. That's it.

But, Ken, the Walmart fish guy, set me straight. "No, no, goldfish are a lotta work. It's a privilege, not a pleasure to own goldfish. You have to change the water and clean the bowl regularly." Ken went on to tell me exactly what I needed to do. Man, talk about a full-time job.

After the first day, I thought it was time to change the bowl. Healthy water, healthy fish. I scooped the lil' buggers out, threw them in an alternate bowl. Cleaned and washed and did everything I was supposed to do.

That night, my brother calls. "Um, they're dead."
Crap. Oh well, better they die before my daughter gets them. Off we went to Walmart. Ken wasn't there, but Roger was. We explained our dilemma. Roger--king of sympathetic, puppy eyes-- nodded a lot and finally held up an authoritative finger. "I see where you went wrong. You need to blow oxygen into the fish bowl for them to breathe."

Huh. Okay, fine, whatever. I picked up a box of straws. Every chance I got, I ran to my brother's, took out a straw, and felt like an idiot blowing bubbles into the water. (The backsplash didn't taste very good either; no wonder the first two died.)

The next morning, I went over again to blow more bubbles. Alas, things--and the fish--had gone belly up again.

With Christmas fast approaching, I trundled off to Walmart again. Petey, the newest fish expert (and just how many did they have, anyway?) sold me on the ultimate in high-tech (for Walmart) pumps. "Yes, sir, this baby here, Stu ( I can call you Stu, right?)"

"Um, I don't really--"

"As I was saying, Stu, with this Turbo-Blaster Fish Air Express 3,000, you'll never have fish dying on you again."

Clearly Petey's last job had been a car salesman as he knew a rube when he saw one. I left with an armful of expensive crap and a couple more fish.

This time the Express 3,000 did the trick! The fish survived two, count 'em, two days, just hours before Christmas. Huzzah! Hark the hairy angels sing and whatever!

It was worth it. On Christmas morning, my daughter was overjoyed when I unveiled the bells and whistles and fully stocked fish bowl. A Christmas miracle.

That night, we stayed up late, cleaning out the bowl and changing the water. Just a good, instructional, warm, close father and daughter bonding experience.

The next morning I wake up to my daughter shaking me. "Dad? I think the fish are dead."

Noooooooooooooooo!

Sure enough, the sad fruits of my labor (and cash and good intentions) floated like so much driftwood.

I'd had enough.

"They're in Heaven now, Sarah. You want a puppy?"

Happy holidays! Let's be kind to everyone this new year, deal?

Speaking of holiday horrors, how 'bout stuffing your stockings with one of the fine Christmas horror short story collections from Grinning Skull Press? All proceeds go to an excellent charity: The Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation. I'm particularly fond of The Shadow Over Deathlehem (Fine, I'm biased because I have a frightful holiday tale in the book!).





Friday, December 14, 2018

Late-Breaking Bible News!

I know I shouldn't do it. Call me a masochist (maybe a sadist), but I'm often tempted to challenge my mom on some of her more "interesting" beliefs.
The other day, I told her global warming might destroy the earth if we continue on the toxic path we're treading.

"Mom," I said, "according to the news, scientists predict the end of earth soon."

Silence. Quivering lip. Glazed-over stare.

Finally, she says, "Well, I have Bible news, too."

"Bible news, Mom? Really? Is it late-breaking news?" All irony was lost on her. I mean, the word "new" is in "news" for a reason. Call it current, up-to-date information.

Things like this don't matter to her, though.

"Yes, Stuart," she said, "Bible news."

"Okay."

"It's all in there in the Bible, all of it's predicted. The world's coming to an end. The bible says we're in the Book of Revelations."

"Hmm." I plunged and poked deeper. "Well...maybe that's right. And the Anti-Christ is in office, unleading the country. I betcha he's got a "666" marked on his head beneath that horrible, orange comb-over."

Silence. Dead glare. Anger simmering. At long last..."Huh." That's all she said, but that single word contained more contempt for my views than all of the ranting and raving of a Facebook political "debate."

Which really makes for fun holiday gatherings, a real hoot-and-a-half! This Thanksgiving, I couldn't help myself and goaded my mother again. (It was a repeat, too, but I hoped she'd give me the same response. She doesn't disappoint!).

"Mom," I said while gnawing on a turkey leg, "you know, many historians say Jesus was black."

Silence fell over the table. Most everyone stared down into their plates. My wife kicked me beneath the table. 

My mom's fuse lit. Color bled to her cheeks. That lower lip quivered in anger again and this time, I'd pushed too far.

"Bah," she at long last spat, "what do historians know."

Happy holidays, everyone!

Speaking of which, how 'bout stuffing your stockings with one of the fine Christmas horror short story collections from Grinning Skull Press? All proceeds go to an excellent charity: The Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation. I'm particularly fond of The Shadow Over Deathlehem (Fine, I'm biased because I have a frightful holiday tale in the book!).





Friday, December 7, 2018

Time-Tripping with YA Author, Tammy Lowe


This week, I'm turning my blog over to long-time friend and terrific YA writer, Tamara Lowe. She'll take you through time based on her travels through Rome which informs her fascinating new book, The Sleeping Giant
So instead of stinking up the joint (as I usually do) with tales of woe about my posterior, I now hand you over to a class act, Tammy...

As a young girl, I dreamed of being a time-traveller. I wanted to wear long dresses and bonnets and have daring adventures like the heroines in my favorite books. 

When I grew up, it became clear that my passport is the closest thing to a time-machine I’ll probably ever own. The historians and Egyptologists I meet are the far-way friends in distant lands, leading me through their ancient worlds.

Marissa was a gorgeous Roman archeologist, with long brown hair and a thick Italian accent. She looked like the real-life female lead in any Dan Brown novel. You know…the incredibly intelligent woman who ends up tangled in Robert Langdon’s latest feat. We’d just left the Coliseum’s “backstage” area beneath the floor of the arena—where gladiators awaited battles, often to the death. 
 
After a short walk along the cobblestone streets, Marissa stopped outside of a rather boring-looking building. I had no idea its faded yellow walls hid what could almost be considered a time machine.

What’s the rush? I wondered as she raced through a 12th century basilica and down a flight of stairs.

It was then I realized we were traveling back in time. 

Hidden beneath the medieval basilica was another church—this one built in the 4th century. Painted frescoes decorated the dark, underground space. I noticed the craftsmanship of the brick walls were more primitive, even to my untrained eye, than those of the church built above it.

“Follow me,” Marissa insisted, leading the way even further back in time.

After descending another flight of stairs, we stopped in the 2nd century AD.  Here, we stumbled upon a pagan temple dedicated to the god Mithra— its stone altar positioned in the middle of the room. My eyes widened, noticing that instead of being even more primitive, the ancient brick walls were skillfully built. I couldn’t help but wonder how much knowledge was truly lost during the Dark Ages.

In the distance, I heard water flowing. Curious, I asked where it was coming from.
   
With a grin, Marissa led me still further back in time...now to the 1st century, where the main sewer of Ancient Rome still flows. 

In 64 AD, legend says that Emperor Nero played a fiddle while Rome burnt to the ground. Many of the destroyed buildings were filled in and used as foundations for the new construction. The one Marissa and I stood in is believed to have once been the Imperial Mint before it was destroyed by the Great Fire. A mansion and apartments were then built in that spot and later several churches, each one layered atop the last— like lasagna.

As I stared down at the dirt floor, I couldn’t help but imagine the sort of people who’d walked that very spot two thousand years ago; perhaps a young runaway slave being pursued by a ruthless slave trader or a wise old philosopher on his way to advise some long-forgotten senator.
Figure 1: Ancient Roman sewer grate at city sidewalk. 1st century AD.

If you travel south of Rome, toward the Bay of Naples, you’ll find an infamous town frozen in time: Pompeii.

In 79 AD, Mt. Vesuvius erupted with the force of over a thousand nuclear bombs. However, many people didn’t even try to flee the volcanic eruption because they didn’t understand what was happening. They thought the gods were angry. Within twenty-four hours, not a trace of Pompeii remained. The city—and its inhabitants—were buried beneath layers of volcanic ash and pumice.

Over the centuries it simply became a forgotten legend. 


But…in the 1700’s, men working on a new palace for the King of Naples rediscovered Pompeii hidden twenty feet below them.

The amazing part is that as the volcanic ash hardened over time, the bodies trapped within decomposed, leaving behind what was basically…a mold. When these molds were filled with plaster, the results were life-like statues of the people who died that day; their agonizing final moments preserved forever.
 Figure 2: Plaster casts of victims killed in Pompeii. 79 AD.

Despite being a Victorian and Regency loving-little-soul, it was intimidating Ancient Rome that somehow stole my heart. I knew I had to set my latest novel in this time period. I longed to play off the terrifying volcanic eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in the final scenes.

But…was I crazy enough to attempt to write a book set in Ancient Rome? The research alone would take forever.

Apparently, yes.

I am crazy enough.

After three more years of research, a second trip to both Rome and Pompeii, I’d completely fallen head-over-heels in love with that ancient world.

I hope you will too.

YA Historical Time Travel Adventure

Lured into time-traveling to Ancient Rome, weeks before a volcanic eruption will bury the city of Pompeii, a shy teenager finds herself falling for the adventurous runaway slave she is supposed to rescue.

*Print Copy Coming Soon*

About the Author:
An adventurer at heart, Tammy Lowe has explored ruins in Rome, Pompeii, and Istanbul (Constantinople) with historians and archaeologists.

She’s slept in the tower of a 15th century castle in Scotland, climbed down the cramped tunnels of Egyptian pyramids, scaled the Sydney Harbour Bridge, sailed on a tiny raft down the Yulong River in rural China, dined at a Bedouin camp in the Arabian Desert, and escaped from head-hunters in the South Pacific.

I suppose one could say her own childhood wish of time traveling adventures came true…in a roundabout way. 
www.tammylowe.com



Friday, November 30, 2018

A Twist in the End

No, I'm not talking about the twists and turns in some of my trickier cat and mouse novels. Nosiree! This is a true tale of torrid trauma. Stay for the shock in the end if you know what I'm talking about (and I think you do).
Years ago, I never bothered settling on a regular doctor. So when the time came that I got sick enough to go (a herculean effort in itself), I'd just pick one at random based on the criteria of location and if my insurance covered it.

Enter Doctor FeelGood (of course that wasn't his real name, and he definitely didn't make me feel good, but I can't remember his name. I'm old!). Located in the Plaza shopping district and covered by my insurance, the good doctor was accepting new patients. Sold!

For you see, I'd developed a strange headache that had lasted about ten days. Naturally I was convinced I had a brain tumor and this was before the days when I started diagnosing myself via the intronets.

Off I trundled, my head a-pounding. When I was finally summoned into the doc's chambers, something didn't seem right. An older, very tall man sat behind a desk in what could best be described as a large, stylish office with an examining table. He gestured for me to have a seat across from him so we could chat.

Very inquisitive, he put me through the ringer.

"What the hell brings you in today?" (Those were his exact opening words.)

"Um, brain tumor, I guess."

"Uh-huh, mm-hmm. I see. What do you do for a living?"

"I'm a graphic artist."

"Interesting. Interesting." He rubbed his chin, very professorial. "So..." His chair swiveled back and forth as he perfected his grilling technique. "Do you ever put hidden faces or messages in any of the designs you work on?"

"I'm sorry?"

"Do you ever hide things in your artwork? You know, like little people or obscene messages?"

"Um, no."

"Okay, here's my card." Reaching across his desk, he handed me a card that read, "Dr. FeelGood, Psychiatrist and M.D."  

Uh-oh. How'd I miss that?

"I don't think you have a tumor," he said, without once physically examining me. "But I'll give you a prescription for some extra-strength Ibuprofen."

"Ah...okay."

"Say, how old are you anyway?" For the first time, he sat up, suddenly interested.

I told him.

"Okay, you're old enough."

For what, I wondered. FOR WHAT?

"Go on over to the examining table, drop your pants, and lean over," he ordered.

"Wait...what?" Clearly my brain tumor had affected my hearing as well.

"You're old enough to get your first prostate exam."

"But...I have a headache, not--"

"Get over there and drop your pants!"

Blindsided, I had no choice but to obey. Next thing I know he's got his finger in my backside, wiggling and twisting.

He finished with a sigh. "Nope. You don't have prostate cancer. But don't sit on the toilet and read and all that crap. You'll get hemorrhoids." (Actually, he proved to be prophetic there, but that's a different tale of horror.)

While I was totally freaked out and in shock, he hurried me out the door. Done and out in seven minutes.

Now I know everything in the human body is connected, but I thought this was taking that idea to an extreme end (if you catch my drift). I need a T-Shirt that says, "I went to the doctor for a headache and all I got to show for it was a finger up my yazoo."

Speaking of twist in the ends (see what I did there?), my short story collection, Twisted Tales from Tornado Alley, is full of 'em!