Friday, June 26, 2015

Justin Bieber Tried to Sell Me Magazines!

Or close to it.

The odd and laminated identification card the kid showed me read "Justin Beiber."

I'm sure he had a good laugh about it later.

I really shouldn't have answered the door. But the tree trimming guys have been running rampant through my neighborhood this week, uprooting birds and busting my fences. Thought it might've been them returning to wreak more havoc.

But, no. Some kid stood at the door, rattling his clearly rehearsed non-stop patter in a strange and slurred (crack-enhanced?) tone. He told me he was trying to earn points to go on a trip. "You know where?" he asked. "They have plenty of meatballs and a leaning tower. That's right, Italy." Didn't even give me a chance to answer his question.

Then he whips out another laminated piece of paper displaying magazine covers (does "Life" magazine still exist?).

I say, "Oh, you're selling magazines."

"No, sir, I'm selling my winning personality." Keep selling, kid.

Basically, I told him to take a hike. In an unprecedented display of boldness, he goes back to his deep pockets and plucks out plan #2: a church brochure. He claims it's another chance to win his Italy trip. Now, I don't know if it's a good idea to have two battle plans, but in the Midwest, he probably should've led with the church's backing. Still, it did seem rather unlikely two separate organizations were conspiring to ship this kid to Italy. (Look out, Italy, you've been warned!).

Either way, God wasn't smiling down on him, not at my house. I told him--again--no thanks. The kid was either stupid or bold, definitely suffering from a toxic case of "moxie." More than likely, though, he had me pegged as a patsy.

"One last you have a cold bottle of water or a glass of cold water I could have?"

I ground my teeth, giving them a tortured work-out. Stunned, I said, "No, I'm out of water." Not true, we don't run out of water in Kansas. Especially not after the torrential rains we've suffered/are suffering. I couldn't believe his gall. Clearly, his plan was to enter my house, try and find "common ground," staging a siege by complimenting my collection of dust bunnies or whatever.
The worst part of this was the kid took me for a rube. I suppose once you hit a certain age, "old people" are ripe picking. I ain't that old yet. I got pissed, remembering the stories of how con-men dupe the elderly. And now I was being profiled as one of them.

Sigh. I shoulda' unleashed the dog on Justin Beiber.

Now if you'll excuse me, I've gotta' go help out this nice Nigerian prince I just met on-line. He's having trouble holding onto his fortune or something.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Drowning Sorrows with Vanessa Morgan

Recently I had the pleasure of reading author Vanessa Morgan’s horror novel, Drowned Sorrow. If you like your thrillers with creepy ambiance, unexpected twists and a plot that’s truly original (I know I do!), then what’re you waiting for? Get thee hence to Amazon where you’re one clicky away from thrills, chills and multiple water spills (that’ll make more sense after you’ve read the book).

So I just knew I had to grill Vanessa on Twisted Tales from Tornado Alley.

SRW: Hey, Vanessa, thanks so much for joining us. Let’s get the rote stuff out of the way first. Tell us a little about Drowned Sorrow, light on the spoilers, natch.

VM: It’s the story about a mother who has just lost her son in a tragic accident for which she is partly to blame. She becomes overprotective with her daughter, leading to a lot of tension. When the two women go on holiday together, the fights between them increase and the girl is doing all that she can to avoid her mother. However, there’s something very creepy going on in this village, something that has to do with the water. If Megan doesn’t react quickly, she might lose a second child.

SRW: One thing I truly loved about Drowned Sorrow is that it’s a bonafide horror book. So many of the books posing as horror these days are thinly disguised paranormal romances, angsty YA navel-gazers or plain ol’ thrillers (not that there’s anything wrong with that). I saw somewhere that a reviewer called you the “female Stephen King.” Disregarding the inherent sexism in that term, I say to you “Huzzah!” The writing world needs more horror authors. Do you intend to stay firmly planted in the genre? Is it your first literary love? Or are you ready to go through a sloppy break-up?

VM: Together with cats, horror will always be my great love. I have several ideas for future horror novels, but I want to explore other genres too (maybe that’s the cheating before the sloppy break-up). I’ve recently written a drama short film about an elderly couple (Next to Her) and a cat book (Avalon). All of my books have one thing in common, though: they explore a dark side of humanity that many of us prefer to deny.

SRW: While reading Drowned Sorrow (every time I type that, I want to pull an “Elmer Fudd” and call it “Dwowned Sowwow” for some reason. Is it just me?), it struck me how cinematic your writing is. I can easily envision DS as a film. The prose flows fluidly, each scene ending on a cinematic stinger, the way cinemaphiles like it. Knowing a little about you, this is a loaded question, I suppose, but tell our readers about your connection to the world of movies.

VM: I’ve loved movies ever since I was a toddler, especially the horror kind. Contrary to many authors, I’ve never set out to be a novelist. I wanted to be a screenwriter. When I didn’t succeed, I decided to turn my stories into novels as a way to get them out anyway. Once I released my first novel, Drowned Sorrow, several directors and producers were suddenly interested to turn it into a film. From then on, I’ve had several movie adaptations of my stories. It’s strange how life goes sometimes.

SRW: Very cool! (I know I wanted to see Vanessa's films, but they're only available thus far at film festivals). 

Okay, this might count as a minor spoiler (it’s hard to get around it), but let’s chat about “water.” I don’t generally equate water as being necessarily creepy, but you made it so. I particularly love the opening scenes with the imagery of the hotel with water dripping down the walls, peeling at the wallpaper. All senses are engaged; I could practically smell the mold, feel the humidity. Are you afraid of water? A closeted hydrophobic? (Or did you just experience a particularly crummy night at a Motel Six?)

VM: Water doesn’t scare me at all. On the contrary, the proximity of water revitalizes me. Drowned Sorrow started with the characters and how they deal with sorrow and loss. The water was symbolic to the story. Water represents (re)birth, the tears of grief, and emotional cleansing (sounds pretentious, doesn’t it?). Of course, I made sure to use that symbolism in the creepiest way possible.

SRW: The entire town of Moonlight Creek is unsettling. Like a movie, you take your time setting up the locale, the mood, the atmosphere. All of which, I think, are important to establish horror. Toss someone into a horrific situation without any build-up, it’s hard to get too excited. So, you (and the readers) know this spooky little burg well. Now spill (not water, though, please)…what town inspired Moonlight Creek?

VM: I’m sure it won’t surprise you when I say that the setting comes from a movie. Do you know Let’s Scare Jessica to Death? The town from that film is the town I described in Drowned Sorrow. I also paid homage to that film in another way, but I can’t tell you how, because it would be a major spoiler.

SRW: Hey, not only do I know that film well, Vanessa, but right now I'm eyeing the DVD from my love-seat!

These days, publishers and agents insist that the leading characters be likable. I didn’t particularly find Megan all that likable, to be honest, and I actually found that refreshing. She’s self-centered, career-obsessed (to the detriment of her family), actually admits to avoiding her family in the past. Today’s “alpha woman”. Now, Megan does go through a changing arc, but it’s hard for her to bury her past, a major theme of the book. Did you intentionally set out to write a somewhat unlikable character, flaws, warts and all? (Or am I just, you know, bringing my baggage to the check-in?)

VM: Absolutely. All my main characters are flawed. It’s part of being human. I know several people who love their spouse and children, but who feel ‘trapped’ and unhappy because they can’t do the things they love anymore. Most of them choose their family and remain frustrated, but others reach a breaking point and become selfish. The same goes for Megan. She adores her family, but they are equally a burden to her.

SRW: The book reminds me of The Wicker Man, Pines, and other closed community spook-fests. And I’m a sucker for them. Put a character into a strange environment and let the reader experience it along with the protagonist. Sure-fire chills. You’re tapping into a deep-rooted anxiety amongst humanity: a fear of anything different. Okay, put on your pretentious cap and wax allegorical for a bit…

VM: It’s funny you mention Pines. I’ve never read the books, but I just started watching the TV series (Wayward Pines). While watching the first episode, I immediately told my boyfriend, “This is so much like Drowned Sorrow. The town, the way people are trapped there, how they pretend to be happy and casual while they’re not, …”

And The Wicker Man is definitely one of my favorite genre films.

SRW: Jenna, Megan’s teenage daughter, is a scrappy heroine, one who managed not to grate on the nerves in the least. (Usually, in books, “scrappy” equates to “annoying.”) I was pulling for her, possibly more than for Megan. Who do you see as the heroine, Megan or Jenna? Answering both is cheating.

VM: Drowned Sorrow is about Megan and how she deals with loss, entrapment, and sadness. But it was important to get the reader inside Jenna’s head. The better they knew her, the more I would be able to shock them in the end.

SRW: I’m sitting on the casting couch. For the movie of Drowned Sorrow, I’d like to see Julianne Moore as Megan; India Ennenga (from The Returned and Treme) as Jenna. Both very fine actresses and they look like they could be related, too. Let’s see…for the teenage boy love interest, I’m thinking of Justin Bieber for marquee value. (Kidding!) Who do you want to cast? Or, um, has it been cast already?

VM: Actually, I had Naomi Watts in mind when writing Drowned Sorrow. Strange that you mention Julianne Moore because many friends compare me with her. And, oooh, India Ennega is a PERFECT choice for Jenna. Have you never considered becoming a casting director? Not sure who could play the teenage boy love interest, though. Definitely not Justin Bieber, haha.

As I mentioned before, I got several directors and producers interested in Drowned Sorrow (but the film never got made). I think they planned to have Alison Carroll as Megan, and Norman Reedus as… I don’t even know, maybe the hotel owner or the rock star dad.

SRW: Norman Reedus, you say? Cool. (Now, um, if you ever should meet him, Vanessa, please PLEASE tell his character on "The Walking Dead" to take a shower, kay?)

Along these lines, tell folks about your movie work. And what else is up for you, either in book or movie form.

VM: So far, two movies have been based on my stories: A Good Man (about an altruistic vampire) and The Strangers Outside (killer monks). A third film, Next to Her, is currently in the making.

I’m also working on my first movie reference book for which I’m collaborating with several talented writers. It’s about animal attack movies. You know, the kind like Jaws, The Birds, and many others that no one heard of. It’ll be the first of many movie reference guides.

SRW: Hey, I'll have a chapter in that book and I betcha' the movie I chose to write about is the most obscure in the book ("Snakes!").

Now go grab Vanessa's book, already. You won’t be sorry. Drowned Sorrow at Amazon.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Attack of the Creatures from the Indoor Swimming Pool!

Brrr. Be afraid, be very afraid.

Last weekend, we were in Oklahoma City for my wife's brother's wedding. (Terrific wedding for a terrific couple; Hi guys!)

Normally, I enjoy a hotel with an indoor pool and hot tub. But this particular hotel's hot tub was set to "stun," if not "destroy." The jets (turned up to 11) pummeled my body into mincemeat, exploding into great fountains of devastation. Unbeknownst to us, the destructive force of nature was salt-water, eating away at our flesh and corroding my wife's silver ring. Let's call it the "Typhoon of Terror."

Even worse were the peculiar creatures who lurked there. 

Before the wedding, I thought I'd take a relaxing swim. Peering through the door, I saw two people, one in the tub, one in the pool. Alright, quiet enough.

But once I stepped through the portal of Hell, everything changed. A little, roundly cherubic girl--possibly 8 or 9--stood up in the hot tub. All the pretty, pretty pinks and oranges and yellows of a princess's world adorned her swim-gear. A cutesy little fringe encircled her formidable belly. Duckies blissfully swam across her midriff. Tight green swimming glasses cut off her head's circulation, puffy sun-burned cheeks cementing them into place. Apparently thrilled to see me, she asked, "Are you going to swim?"
I thought it kinda obvious, my embarrassing body squeezed into too tight swimming trunks. But I answered anyway, "Yep."  Mistake number one.

As soon as I waded into the pool, another creature rose from the depths like a monster invading Tokyo. Seriously invading my personal space. A lean and muscular boy, acne spattering his face, grilled me like a seasoned police detective. The girl joined him. I sat on the steps in the pool, lobbing answers to their questions: "What's your name?" "How old are you?" "Where are you from?"

I found out everything about them. They shared the same father, had different mothers. Their Daddy Monster dropped them off at the pool daily while he attended to  "business (or maybe he was seeking a future wife; the explosive tub made it impossible to hear)."

Then the boy asked, "Hey, wanna' see what I can do?"

Huh, I thought, not really. But my lips were out of alignment and said, "Sure." Mistake number two.

The Creature hopped out of the pool, backed up, ran. Flipped. Landed in the pool and nearly careened into the wall.

Nervously, I gnashed my teeth, waiting for blood to rise. Finally, I breathed easily when he broke the water. Grinning. Staring at me expectantly, waiting for my critique.

"Um, wow...that was..." I didn't know what to say. Even dumber, I tried to speak "their language." Something my wife hates mightily. "Dude, that was awesome!" Mistake number three.

The Midwest Monster Olympics had begun! I was the judge! But unlike Johnny Weir, I had no flamboyant clothing or crazy hair to fall back on. I sat, imprisoned in the water, uncomfortable in my trunks, trapped between them. I'd given in to water terrorism.

The girl vied for my attention, begging me to watch her dog-paddle the width of the pool on water wings and a wing of a prayer. Meanwhile, the boy was getting more amped up, jumping, running, leaping. Damn near exploding.

Then he dropped the big one on me. "Hey, hey, hey..." His elbow nudged me. "Wanna know what else I can do?" 

Oh God, no, I thought. "That'd be sweet," my inner wannabe teen said. The biggest mistake yet.

"I'm into extreme sports! We call it rad, that's what we call it!" His voice rose, his caffeine and candy cocktail kicking in. "Man, I put torque on it! I just press down! UH! UH!" I had no idea what the hell he was talking about, but he pumped his arm, bashing the water, coming close to smacking me. Which would've been embarrassing trying to explain how a 11 year old gave me a black eye at the pool. "All of Oklahoma City's my gym," he continued, "my playground! Dude!"

I scurried out of the water. Couldn't get my shoes on fast enough.

"Check this out! Check it out!" He started running around the rim of the pool, hurdling over the hand posts. Then it happened, the inevitable. He tripped over a rail, crashed, rolled, his head splatting into the wall.

"Whoa! You okay?"

He jumps up, says, "Yeah." Forced a pained smile. Then limped to a lounge chair, holding his leg in pain.

All I could give him was a weak, "Um, you might wanna get ice on that."

I made my getaway. But they weren't done with me yet. They followed me toward the door, still talking, bragging.

"I, ah, gotta get to a wedding." My story fell on deaf ears. But I finally escaped, their shouts following me--haunting me--down the hallway. 

Later I did the only thing a mature, responsible adult would do. I sent my daughter down to scope it out before I revisited the pool.

For more frightening tales, head on over to my Amazon Page!

Friday, June 5, 2015

New Jerk Birthday Rule

Recently I celebrated my *mumble-mumbledy-th* birthday.

I decided on a new rule. For 24 hours, I get to act like a jerk. It's kinda' like the movie, The Purge (you guys seen this? You should. For one day each year, people get to legally kill. You know, Kansas style).

So on my recent birthday, I didn't shower. Hung out in my lawn-mowing clothes all day.

I swept my arm across my wife's cluttered desk, and bellowed, "That's what I'm talking about!"

I tap-danced down the stairwell, kicking accumulated stuff off the stairs.

Went to the bathroom in my backyard, just 'cause. Marking my territory.

Yelled at people to "Get outta' my yard" even though they were nowhere close.

It was good. Empowering.

I felt like those lumberjack cavemen in the musical 7 Brides For 7 Brothers, a jaunty ode to unfettered human sex trafficking.

Of course it was all a dream. A very, very good vicarious dream.

Then I woke up and prepared my wife dinner, a return to civil behavior. But it was good to be King for a while, even if only imagined.

What say you all to my new proposed holiday?