Sunday, December 29, 2013

It's the Most Stressful Time of the Yearrrrrrrr!

Sing with me, everyone! Huzzah! The holidays are nearly over!

No more fruitcakes (no, no, not the food...that ONE uncle. Yeah, you know which one I'm talking about). Say goodbye to the wrasslin' wranglers of the store aisles, the ones who give soccer players a run for their money. So long to false smiles when you open a box of tighty-whities (I killed the snickers when I threatened to model them). And no more uncomfortable hugs. Especially uncomfortable hugs.

I think I'm the only one who has a problem knowing when to hug. Hugging protocol isn't in my armory. In my family, if you accidentally touch someone, the knee-jerk reaction is to jump like an Olympic kangaroo. Yet, there's my wife's family, the huggin'-est family around. No problem with that, as I love 'em all, truly I do. I think it's nice, actually. So I studied and watched them. Maybe it's an Oklahoma thing, I naively thought.  When the Fed Ex man rang the doorbell, I put what I'd learned into play, welcoming him with a big ol' bear hug.

Well, turns out I still have a bit more to learn.

Anyway, Christmas time. I used to look forward to the holiday. Not so much anymore. Call me a curmudgeon or a realist, I'm okay with both.

Yet this Christmas was different in many ways. For instance, I only heard the cloying "Santa Baby" song whenever we went shopping. Usually it's a mainstay that digs into your head like a dentist's drill. But on Christmas day, the song of choice seemed to be "Let It Snow,"  a song I loath because the sentiment is treasured only by children and drunk television weathermen. Obviously the singer lives in Florida.

This particular holiday was filled with more than its fair share of excitement, not the particularly good, cozy gather-around-the-fireplace type, either.

A niece I adore decided to get married on December 21st in Midwest Kansas, home of winter blizzards. So, that Saturday morning at 6:30 a.m. (my wife's a hard-charger), we set off for Hays, attempting to stay one step ahead of "Storm (I think they named it) Dumbledore." You know, the storm that blew the socks off everyone in the States (Canada, I'm looking at you!).

We got there okay, albeit bleary-eyed, delirious, and pumped up on caffeine and sugar. My daughter woke up in the back seat, yawned, and with a happily contented tone said, "Wow, that trip wasn't so bad." Even though she's 21, I grounded her for life.

BOOM! Flat tire after lunch. 22 degrees outside. (Merry Christmas, everybody!) Freezing, yet determined to show my masculine side, I changed the tire in, say, fifty-five minutes. Much cursing ensued. Icing on the cake? My wife ("accidentally," she says) kicked me in the nose. Grease-stained, sniffing, and broken-nosed, we're just in time for wedding pictures.

It was a nice and festive wedding. "The Washing of the Feet Ceremony" was interesting. Word of advice to anyone who plans on doing this in the future...wear loose socks.

The next morning (6:30 a.m. again) I'm dreary and suffering a bad back from the lousy hotel bed. And the ice machine, birthing baby cubes right outside our door, kept us up all night. (Happy Horror-days!) But I pulled up my big-boy britches 'cause it was time to go to Oklahoma to celebrate Christmas with my wife's family. At one stretch, the highway was covered with huge chunks and stalactites of snow. It felt like we were four-wheeling (it's a Midwest thing, folks, don't worry about it). And we nearly got stuck in the parking lot of a "Pilot" store getting gas.

And these know, I never knew there was such a variety of "quick in and out stores." I think we visited them all across the Midwest. There was the aforementioned "Pilot," the downtrodden "Stop-Shop (home of the world's filthiest bathrooms)," numerous "Kum-n-Go's (tee-hee)," and, of course, my personal new favorite discovery, "The Wood Shed." I'm telling you, "The Wood Shed" is Nirvana. It's what the Stuckey's of my childhood used to be. Their logo is great, a Beaver or something glaring at you with googly eyes. When you open the door--just like a carnival funhouse--a ginormous fan blasts you with a ghostly groan and a seriously threatening whirlwind of heat. (While I was waiting for my wife, I amused myself by watching newcomers freak out when they crossed the Barrier of the Damned.)  After you survive tornado alley, a giant blow-up snowman with an evil grin looms over you! Fantastic! And the bathrooms...the glorious, wondrous, old-fashioned, smelly bathrooms with antiquated machines boasting of  mysterious treasures such as "Big Wally" and other enticing sundries. Plus there was a plethora of crap for tourists to get suckered into. Gave me Christmas chills.

Then the trip turned nightmarish. My wife ran over a red squirrel in the highway. His eyes still haunt me. Took me seconds to shake it...

Had a great time with my wife's family. But I was sleep-deprived and loopy the whole time (kinda' like how I was during college). I found myself drifting off on many occasions--taking a Scrooge-like trippy side-trip--looking down on the proceedings as if I'd died or something. Maybe I did for a minute. With a turkey leg in my mouth.

The undisputed highlight was my mother-in-law's riveting rum-cake performance. She taunted us with a rum-cake she'd discovered in the freezer after a year. Then she decided to taste it - the plan was that we'd all get some if it hadn't gone bad. She sat down at the table with much deliberation, fork dangling over the tantalizing, yet ultimately terrifying, chocolocity (new word!). We sat on the edge of our seats, awaiting the final verdict. But my mother-in-law has nothing on Hitchcock. Ever the master of suspense, she'd lift a forkful up, then drop it back on the plate to recite another amusing anecdote. Many, many times. Finally! We had lift-off! And it was good. And tasty.

It's over!

Merry Christmas everyone and God help us one and all!

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Tex and the God Squad is here! Before the New Year! Get used to it!

So I paraphrased a gay rallying battle-cry but it seems somewhat appropriate considering the content of the newest Tex, the Witch Boy book, the final one in the trilogy.
The first two books in the series have been leading up to this one. Everything's about to explode. I tried (don't know if I succeeded; you guys be the judge) to make it bigger, badder, more expansive in action, setting, and, especially, relevant themes. Plus, all of the characters' storylines are resolved. For better or for worse. And if you've read the first two books, you KNOW everyone's expendable. I'm a sadist. But as a writer, finishing the series felt sad, yet somewhat satisfying. However, it's time to put the kids to bed.
Tex and the God Squad tackles teen suicide, gay and lesbian issues, religion, bad food, tornadoes, competitive witches, a hooded murderer, satanic cats, a runaway car, a deadly paintball competition, and questions about what to do with one's life post high school. Sounds as traumatic as a Swedish art film, doesn't it? But, not to worry, there's plenty of humor and romance to smooth over the rough parts. Plus, Elspeth's back (if you don't know who she is, go read Tex and the Gangs of Suburbia).
Then there's the villain of the evil religious sect called "The Clarendon Baptist Church." Well. I live in Kansas. Part of Kansas's sad burden to bear is they host the heinous Westboro Baptist Church. Sorry, sorry, sorry...on behalf of all Kansans, I apologize.
You know, I don't understand how any church--sect, cult, call them what you want--proclaims to spread the word of God when their message is full of hatred, intolerance and ugliness. My understanding of Jesus (and I'm no expert; smoke coils off me whenever I enter a church) is that he was open to everyone regardless of beliefs, sexual orientation, or you know, anything. Kinda' like how my niece described Martin Luther King, "Just an all-around good guy."
I don't know much about religion, but I certainly understand bullying. And the WBC is one of the biggest bullies around.
Read the book and watch Tex take 'em down. 
(Psst. Keep this on the down-low, but Elspeth returns in her own book next Summer).

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Unveiling The Wizard's Shroud with Eric Price

Please welcome Eric Price, author of the YA fantasy tale, Unveiling The Wizard's Shroud! Give it a read and here we go (it still boggles my mind that writers want to be grilled by me, but there's no accounting for taste).

Hey, you’re a fellow Midwestern writer! Tell us why Iowan’s make for good fantasy writers, Eric.
I’m amazed at the number of writers from the Midwest I’ve met since signing my contract. I don’t know about Iowan’s specifically (I’ve only been one for 2 ½ years; I grew up eating breakfast, lunch, and supper—I incorporated second breakfast after reading Tolkien—but I’m still uncertain what dinner means), but I’m a firm believer in write what you know. I know sword fighting—I fenced in college—and I’ve read enough fantasy to know dragons and magic. All of my other published stories have been science fiction; my fantasy manuscripts kept getting rejected, so I was about to give up and call myself a science fiction writer before I signed the contract for Unveiling the Wizards’ Shroud.

*Wow, so you know your way around a sword. Cool, and I hope I don’t ever get on your bad side! Tell us about your book, Unveiling The Wizards’ Shroud.
Owen is the only son of King Kendrick, which almost guarantees his birthright as heir to the throne, something he does not desire. Magic is the only thing he despises more than the idea of being king. When his father falls ill at Owen’s birthday celebration, he has to seek out an ingredient needed to save him, and the only way to succeed in his quest, is to team up with the very magician he holds responsible for the death of his mother.

*”Owen” seems to me a strange choice of name for a fantasy-based character. Are your Midwest origins showing?
Owen means “young warrior.” When I write, I give all of my characters names based upon their personality. Many writers do this, but the first time I realized it was Heinlein’s ‘Stranger in a Strange Land.’ When I start writing, many characters end up getting new names. Cedric, Yara, and Hagen all started with different names. I intended to change Owen’s name. I wanted something more exotic sounding, but the longer I wrote, the more this young warrior became “Owen.”

Also, I’m a huge Star Wars fan. I won’t discount the possibility it’s a subconscious reference to Owen Lars that my mind refused to let go.
*Huh. Sorry to say I don’t know Owen Lars (yet, I’ve seen all the Star Wars flicks), but that’s awesome. I had no idea “Owen” means “young warrior.” You’ve obviously given a lot of thought to your tale. So, there’s a lot of prejudice against wizards in your tale, Eric. I’m detecting a sorta’ Professor X and Magneto vibe (yes, I’m letting my nerd flag fly) between Cedric and Argnam with Cedric promoting living in peace with mere mortals, and Argnam wanting to wipe humans out.

Anyone who read the post I did for Kai Strand (you can read it here) knows I love myself some X-Men, especially the mid-nineties variety. I’ve always liked the sympathetic villain like Magneto (an extremely brief synopsis for anyone who doesn’t know—his family was killed in the concentration camps in the 1940s, so he has a hard time believing in a world where normal people will live in peace with mutants). I didn’t want a villain just pouring forth evil (not that I don’t like those villains, I just didn’t want Argnam to be one).
*I like sympathetic villains, too, Eric. Some of my fave characters. Is the prejudice against wizards a metaphor for anything happening in the world today?

I think prejudice, fear, and hate will always surround the unknown or the different. I didn’t write Unveiling the Wizards’ Shroud with any particular metaphor in mind—and I certainly didn’t want to preach a message, but even if I did, I wouldn’t say my book means this, because to some people, it may mean that. Now I’ve taken away from the book for them, because I said what they thought meant that actually meant this. See how bad that, or this, could get?
*Ai-yi-yi! Don’t make me think too much. Not a good thing. Yara’s a good, strong female character and Cedric’s a pretty interesting wizard as well. Good characterization, Eric! Are they based on anyone you know?

I don’t have a daughter, but if I did, I like to think she’d be like Yara in strength and attitude. For Cedric I combined three of my favorite wizards: Gandalf, Dumbledore, and Zeddicus “Zed” Zu'l Zorander. Then I made him much more flawed than these three.
*I liked how you interwove various short stories depicting the past Wizard Rebellion throughout the epic quest, making for a richer tapestry. What were your influences?

I had to get the back story incorporated into the book. Had I just let Cedric tell Owen everything, I’d have lost 90% of my readers by the end of the third chapter. Stephen King’s “Wizard and Glass” (The Dark Tower IV) is almost entirely back-story, but it’s written like the events are currently happening. I tried mimicking his style, and I think it works in Unveiling the Wizards’ Shroud, and I’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback from readers about it.
*There’re more beasties in this tale than a Ray Harryhausen film, the way I like my fantasy. So, tell me, did the shadow lizards originate from a dream? Or somewhere else?

I’m a recovering video game addict. I played a lot of The Legend of Zelda and Final Fantasy. If these games teach us anything, it’s that beasts are everywhere in fantasy. The whole cave scene is my homage to a Zelda game. I just didn’t include a map, compass, bats, or a master key.
*Eric, there are support groups for recovering video game addicts.

Obviously, Unveiling The Wizards’ Shroud is set up for a sequel. Are you currently at work on it? When can we expect it? Give us a few hints on what to expect.
A sequel? Hmm, the idea never crossed my mind. Oh, who am I trying to fool? Well, I’m not actively working on it. My son asked me to write a baseball book for him, so that gets done first. But then I’ll be back to Wittatun. I actually have plans for a lot of stories in this world, but I don’t want to say this is part 1, this is part 2, etc. I do plan at least one direct sequel to Unveiling. I have two more quests to take care of (one for Yara, another for Owen). The two stories will take place simultaneously; I’m just not sure if it will fit in one book, or if I’ll need two.

*Can’t wait to read your baseball book. Sure it’ll be awesome.
Finally—and for no reason, really, other than your last name is “Price”—what’s your favorite Vincent Price performance in a movie. Bonus points if you write the answer like Vincent Price would say it—over the top, hammy, and dripping with menace!

The ten thousand dollars offered by a millionaire to stay in a spooky house with him and his wife seems like easy money. But when the doors are locked, the screams are unleashed. This makes The House on Haunted Hill the best of them all.

By the way, I wanted to name either of my sons Vincent. My wife rejected it so hard, the word Vincent disappeared from our book of baby names. I still don’t see the big deal. We could have called him Vince.

Give a big hand to Eric Price for being a good sport! And look for his YA fantasy epic, Unveiling The Wizards’ Shroud, available now. And Eric and I are in a particularly giving mood now, since the holidays are upon us, so…the first person who can do another stellar, hammy Vincent Price impression via words, gets a free copy of Eric’s book and my first tale, Tex, The Witch Boy.

Make it over-the-top and dripping with creepy. Go!


Where you can find me:

Website/Blog I’m always running contests!

Twitter: @AuthorEricPrice


Friday, December 6, 2013

Bunny-Foo-Foo Is Dead

Apologies to everyone, but my dog ate Bunny Foo Foo.

It doesn't thrill me, but it's my job to report the facts.

Couple days ago, I kicked my Dog Of Destruction, Zak, outside. After that, the quiet, calm atmosphere that overlay the house was unsettling. No barking, tearing of furniture, dropping of dog-toys in my lap. It was quiet. TOO quiet. Just like the war films from the forties.

When I opened the back door, I saw something horrific, unsettling, something I'll never forget in my life.

Two grey, long legs drooped out of Zak's mouth like the world's worst walrus mustache. Blood splattered his jowls. Somehow his tongue worked its way around the (half) carcass to show just how tasty his impromptu yard meal was.

Yet he didn't look like a demonic hell-hound. His eyes were round and full of good-time fun, his demeanor one of "hey, look what I did!" His tail wagged more than a politician changing his mind. He was dang proud of his catch.

Panic set in. I didn't know what to do.

First thing? I called my wife, couldn't get ahold of her. Crap.

Second thing? Told my daughter about it while she ate breakfast. Explained how she'd better watch out if Zak licked her (Essential step? Probably not, but I did derive a little sadistic satisfaction out of her reaction. Let's call it payback for all the sleepless nights she's caused me.).

Third step? I donned blue rubber gloves (the kind only TV show medical examiners and housewives in commercials wear), snapped 'em up past my wrists. Grabbed a shovel and a trash bag. Whipped on a painting mask like I was a rock star. Took it off again so I could moisturize, because my wife says I must, then put it back on. Slapped the shovel in my hand and said, "Let's do this" in a gravelly voice.

Zak decided it was a good time to play "keepaway." After futilely chasing him around the yard, I went inside, tried a different tactic. Enlisting my daughter in the war against grotesqueries, we concocted an elaborate plan to lure him inside while I bagged the gory Grail.

My bravado failed me once I approached the half-bunny. Hugest half-rabbit I'd ever seen in my life. I'd like to think Zak didn't gnaw off the top half.

But the other option was even more unsettling...Monsters. Under the deck.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Movie-going adventures in 2013

Today, my friend and I went to see "Oldboy." Okay. First of all, when did Josh Brolin turn into Nick Nolte on a bender? Second? Movie-going has changed.

Bought the tickets, automated. A human (yay!) ticket tearer tore our tickets, asked how we were doing. At first my friend replied, "Just fine." But,since he's going through a divorce, he changed his answer. He came back with, "No, I lied. Nothing's fine. Everything's terrible." The ticket-tearer did her job, tore paper like the wind, stared at us dumb-facedly, ignored my friend's impassioned plea for humanity, and handed back our worthless half-tickets. But we were on target. Still plenty of time to urinate. Twice.

But then trouble hit. I couldn't, for the life of me, figure out how to put ice in a cup. Everything's automated now. No more pimply-faced staffers willing to help you out. You gotta' do it on your own. Overwhelming to a point, I felt like raising my fists to the Heavens and screaming, "How do you get frickin' ice?" I tried several different machines, none of them worked. Just push buttons. That's what I was supposed to do, still couldn't get ice. There was even a "wheel-chair button" on the automated soda machine and, desperately, I pushed that. Nothing happened. Why is there a "wheel-chair button" on the soda machine anyway? I mean, it's not like handicapped people can't push a button. But, apparently, you need to be a rocket scientist to figure out these damn things. Some guy next to me gave me an understanding "been there, haven't done that" nod. In times of movie-viewing crises, friendships are born.

At first my pal and I were ecstatic to have a private viewing, being the only ones in the theatre. He felt free to drop loud "eff-bombs." Liberating. Then another guy shuffled in, smelling like a bag of potatoes. Okay, the theatre's empty, did he have to sit DIRECTLY behind us? Apparently so. Felt his breath on the back of my neck through-out the movie.

Finally, two others entered the theatre. A big dad with a kid. Really. Even though the movie's known to be uber-violent, it's perfect for a nice father/son outing.

The movie's good, gripping, disturbing as all get out. But we ended up cracking up at one of the most outlandish plot twists. We really shouldn't have. But we did. If there were more people in attendance, I'm sure we would've been kicked out. The father in front of us actually moaned, tossed out a "Good Lord!" at the plot-twist while we giggled like sorority sisters. The serial killer behind us remained frighteningly quiet.

Well. A fun day for all (except for the other three film-goers who probably hated us). But it's like vomiting. If my friend cracks up, I do it, too.

We saw an awful trailer for "Grudge Match," some stupid boxing film with Sylvester Stallone and Robert DeNiro. Chock full of old people unfunny jokes; a youthful, vibrant, "hilarious," wise-cracking black sidekick; Alan Arkin standing in for the Burgess Meredeth role; and bombastic music. Comedy of the year, even if it's supposed to be a drama. Can't wait.