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.