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.


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."


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."


"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 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.

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."


"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! 

Friday, November 23, 2018

Marry Within Your Thermometer Range

For those about to marry, pay heed. Most folks will tell you to go to counseling, seek religious guidance, look at the astrological charts, bla, bla, bla.
None of that matters more than recognizing your future partner's thermostat level and deciding if you can live comfortably within said range. It's that easy.

Once you have the temperature set, you lovebirds are on an amazingly compatibly temperate adventure!

My lovely wife and I lucked out. We're among the 1% (not the rich 1%) who, together, get cold easily. We have no problem coexisting peacefully in warmth.

Unlike my last job where thermostat wars ensued between an evil, menopausal, cocaine-addicted woman and myself. She'd crank the thermostat down to 63 degrees. In Winter. We'd yell through the thin wall...

"G@dd@mmit, I'm cooking in here," she'd scream. "I'm hawt, you stupid, jack-ass son-of-a-bi%#h!"

"Shut up, you crazy biker," I would lob back, very maturely. "Take off your leather jacket!"

Well. The dial went up and down. So did the name-calling. It wasn't pretty. Nor was I proud of my behavior. But when confronted with the prospect of frostbite, I resort to bestial behavior, the call of the wild.

I think my ex-co-worker did eventually die from frostbite.

On the bright side of life, my wife and I are cozy doing 73 degrees in the Summer and even higher in the Winter. Together, we bask in the heat. (Okay, sometimes I sweat, but she positively glistens.)

Let this be a (global) warning: Be aware of your potential partner's thermal tolerance.

There's a whole lotta freezing going on in my novel, Dread and Breakfast. Taking place during one of the worst winter storms in the Midwest's history, that's the least of all the guest's worries!

Friday, November 16, 2018

Stranded on a Terrifying Island with author Cheryl Low

SRW: Author Cheryl Low's terrific new book, Infernal (out by the fine folks at Grinning Skull Press), is a mixture of riveting suspense, action, and horror, perfect for my needs and I'll bet yours, too. Hey, let's "spontaneously" chat her up!

Howdy, Cheryl. Your book is a riveting read. I enjoyed it thoroughly, particularly as I went into it blind, the way I would recommend to all readers. So, readers! Don’t read blurbs and reviews. Just go with it. Please tell the readers what they can expect without tossing the baby out with the bathwater.

CL: Thank you! Infernal is an island horror splashed with nature turned deadly and something oh-so evil lurking between the trees. I am so happy you enjoyed it!

SRW: (Having said that, this interview will be spoilery, so…you’ve been forewarned.) Cheryl, I liked how the book started out as a rousing adventure tale. Then…not so much. The entire genre of the novel seemed to change a quarter through. Intentional?

CL: Definitely! I like getting to know the characters before things go bad and I think the island/ocean setting really builds something eerie. There’s already a sense of danger, because really, the world was dangerous even before the supernatural element. 

SRW: In the opening chapter, you refer to the ocean as female. I know sailors and songs of the sea have been attributing all things nautical as feminine since the dawn of apes. Is this a comment on female empowerment, particularly since the forces of nature play such an important role in the book? Or am I reading way too much into it?

CL: Honestly, it just came naturally. Like many others, I attribute female pronouns to forces of nature. Maybe it’s a touch of ego on my part? I like writing female characters that are forces of nature themselves, so it seems only right.

SRW: Cheryl, you’re from Sweden, yeah? To my knowledge, there aren’t too many jungles in Sweden. What was the inspiration of this novel?

CL: Ha! No, no jungles in Sweden. And I grew up in Northern California—again, with no jungles to be found, just a whole lot of forests. I have been watching nature programs since I was a kid, though and I never miss a shark week. 

SRW: Speaking of jungles, my wife and I spent time earlier this year in the Amazon rain-forest (I like to lift a snooty pinky finger and say, “Back in the jungle…”) Your book captures the sound, smell, sight, and—most importantly—the absolute fear of being in a totally wild environment. Have you been to a jungle?

CL: Never! I love oceans and jungles in that far away, never to be experienced, sort of way. I wrote what I fear/love in Infernal. You will never catch me on a boat, shark-diving, or trudging through uncharted wilderness. I don’t have a single adventurous bone in my whole body.

SRW: Good! The world needs more couch explorers.
Quick! Word association game! Nature!

CL: Struggle. Power. Inescapable.

SRW: What’s the opposite of Nature?

CL: Parking lots!

SRW: (I would've gone with air-conditioning.) I toss these rapid fire questions at you, Cheryl, in hopes of understanding you better. Frankly, I know the answers from your book. Just wondering if you—as a person and separated from your characters—believe in such challenging personifications of what rules us.

CL: Honestly, I think it depends on the day. Sometimes I think we’re governed by some deep and epic fate, souls bounding throughout time and space—a part of nature even when we’re at odds with it. And then other days, I think everything is a random occurrence and we should just be happy we got our moment of existence in a time and place with cookies, wifi, and air conditioning.
SRW: Okay, I’m getting a bit lofty up in here. Enough! (Ahoy, maties, thar be spoilers ahead in this ruff question! Arrrr!). So, Cheryl, you spent some time building characters before the crap hit the fan. You set up a really interesting bad guy. I love bad guys. Wait, wait, don’t get me wrong! I hate ‘em like I’m supposed to, but they’re usually very entertaining. Your poorly mannered jack-ass was the first casualty. As a writer I think you could've got more mileage outta him. SO...why?

CL: Because he was exactly that, a poorly mannered jack-ass, and at the first sign of trouble he saved himself and only himself. I love stories where characters are put to the test and I do enjoy when someone turns out to be better or different than expected, but Oliver was not one of those characters. He was exactly that guy—we’ve all met him before—and we should never trust him in an emergency.

SRW: I gotta ask… Were you a fan of the American show, “Lost?” This reads like the horror-driven second-inbred-cousin version. That’s a compliment! Horror, yay!

CL: Ha! I watched the first few seasons back when it aired. I really did like the set up—a bunch of strangers stranded together on an island. I wonder if that had some influence on this…

SRW: There are many parts of your novel that leaves the reader hopeless. I think that’s the true meaning of horror fiction, honestly. Maybe even the nature of today’s world. But it’s a thing I alternately seek out and despise because it makes me feel ill. Your book accomplished both of those things. Congrats! How do you define horror?

CL: For me, horror is a mix of excitement and anxiety. It’s stressful, but in a good way! And it suggests situations where we’re left wondering how we would handle it. Would I go outside if I heard that sound? Would I run up the stairs? Would I open that obviously cursed box or touch the Ouija board? Could I save my husband? Could I outwit a witch? Repel a ghost? Survive an apocalypse? The realistic answer is usually “no” but it’s still fun to think about.

SRW: From my admittedly poor recall, there’s not a single spider to be found in this jungle tale of terror. That means I can recommend the book to my wife. I’m curious…are you an arachnophobe or did the eight-legged varmints just never occur to you?

CL: Oh no! I’m actually so terrified of spiders that it never even occurs to me to put them in writing. Ever. I honestly never thought of it until now, but in all my life, all the little stories and books I’ve written, there has never been a single spider in any context.

SRW: What scares you, Cheryl? Not as a writer, but as a person. I ask, because, generally, I try to write about things that scare me. Stupid, but therapeutic.

CL: All sorts of things scare me! Both reasonable and completely absurd. I do write about some things that frighten me, like the ocean and sharks and being hunted or eaten (reasonable). But I’m also scared of being on boats, even canoes on pleasant little lakes (absurd). Oh! And people with wide mouths!

SRW: Wide mouths...brrrr. Did you hate the heroine in your book? You certainly put her through the ringer!

CL: Not at all! I really enjoyed writing Val. She’s capable and comfortable with herself. If I didn’t like her so much, she probably wouldn’t have made it as far as she does in Infernal. (Spoiler avoidance there.)

SRW: What’s up next on your keyboard? I’ll be there to read it. Thanks for putting up with my grilling. I imagine you’re well-done by now. Tell everyone where they can find your book.

CL: I just started writing a ghost story I’ve been planning for a while—a little bit romantic and a lot bloody. I think the process of first writing a story is my favorite, so I’m over the moon right now. And this was such a fun interview! Thank you so much for having me!
Please check out Infernal on Amazon and take a second to add it to your Goodreads