My chosen category

Having been born in the mid 1950’s, I’m categorized as a ‘Baby Boomer’, which doesn’t bother me. We tend to categorize and compartmentalize everything, and this just happens to be where I fall. So be it. Call me whatever you want, just don’t call me late for dinner and all’s good.

But, back in the late 50’s, I chose another category for myself, one that I hold dear and proudly enjoy membership in, to this day.

I was, and always will be, a Monster Kid!

I knew nothing about the business changes and evolution that Universal Studios had gone through over the years… that would all come later on. What I did know is that I discovered a TV show called Shock Theater, hosted by John Zacherle (a.k.a. Zacherley, the Cool Ghoul), that introduced me to Frankenstein, Dracula, the Wolf Man and all the other classic monsters that originated at Universal.

Zacherley’s antics were hilarious, one of my favorites being when he’d cautiously approach a huge industrial laundry cart on wheels that was thrashing around wildly on the set. He’d lift the lid just high enough to toss in raw meat, which caused the basket to thrash all the more.

He said he was feeding his wife, which had me rolling on the floor in gales of laughter.

The laundry cart!

Zach graced the covers of a few issues of my favorite reading material, Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine.

The combination of his humor and the incredible monsters I’d see in the movies he hosted were the coolest thing ever to my preschool eyes.

All these years later, they still are!

I’m enjoying a great trip down memory lane, courtesy of a new coffee table (or is that coffin table?) book I just received this morning.

This book is a significant history of Universal Studios and their place in horror history, the place where it all began. I find it funny that, as management changed over the years, they tried to walk away from horror movies, only to discover that their monster movies, like the monsters within, simply would never die! Generation after generation discovered the movies and held them in a rightful place of honor. Those monsters are, and will always be iconic, no matter what else comes down the road.

The book is comprehensive in documenting the studio’s history and is lavishly illustrated with great stills from all the films it covers. Studying history back in school was never this much fun!

Boris Karloff in Bride of Frankenstein
Karloff and Lugosi, Universal’s Kings of Horror

I could go on for days about all this, but… life and an appointment for an oil change beckon me away from the keys for now. I know what I’ll be reading while they tend to my car!

What’s next?

As we’ve gone through 2020, 2021 and 2022, we’ve experienced a global pandemic, bodies stacked in refrigerated trailers like wood piles, we’re on the brink of a nuclear holocaust as tensions mount across the world, global supply chains have clogged, making resources scarce, and inflation has exploded to levels that leave us on the brink of recession.

You have to sit and wonder, after all this are we finally seeing the way out of this mess, or will the next year harbor something even worse?

Is that a light at the end of this dark tunnel, or…

Happy New Year?

Well… I was thinking about looking at a new car sometime soon, so who knows?

Back at the keyboard

It seems my old friend, the Muse, has elected to return and spend some quality time with me again. I’ve broken ground on what I hope will build into a novel, and I just finished a new short story about a call center I briefly worked at, titled “The Facility”.

In this one, I tried to develop a sense of unease about the building itself as a lead-up to the main event:

Walking through the door, I exchanged pleasantries with the security guard at his desk, and then the strangeness returned.
There are not many people in this facility, and the few you encounter in the halls generally walk with their heads down, not looking at anyone else. The few that do look ahead return your greeting with a slight nod, the haunted expressions on their faces unchanging, their vacant thousand-yard stare unblinking.
I don’t know if it’s the silence in here, (even more unusual, given the large size of the building), but I find my
senses heightened whenever I’m here, noticing every whisper, every keyboard click, even the shadow of a bird passing by one of the frosted windows high up on the wall over the large clocks displaying the time of day in cities around the world.
I can even hear the soles of my sneakers as I walk along the floor, which is covered in industrial carpeting.
The real question is whether I’m unconsciously reacting to the building itself… or is the building affecting me somehow? Is this the reason for the ghastly expressions on the faces of the silent ones as they walk along the corridors in here?

And then, when the main event occurs, I deliberately chose to focus on reactions, rather than the cause itself. I think I’d rather allow readers to use their imaginations to concoct their own vision of what… well, can’t give it away now, can I? That would defeat the whole purpose.

The good news overall is that the old “What-If?” engine seems to have had a good tuneup, and is purring nicely again, so I need to fasten my seat belt and sit back and enjoy the ride.

All aboard!

Trust the gut!

Back in late May, I decided to set up my own cloud for the purpose of archiving all the photos we’ve taken, the music I’ve made, and all the stories I’ve written, as well as to make daily backups of both our computers that would serve to restore them from bare metal, in case of a drive failure.

The Synology DS220+ – outfitted with dual 8 TB drives in a RAID array, this little server is truly a gem!

It works perfectly, and as a bonus, it supports Plex, which allows me to have my own movie and music server on our living room setup!

There is one “but”, however. We’re now in summer, and our local forecast is calling for a heat wave this coming week, with 4 days of 90 degree plus heat in a row, and we know how often that will trigger power drops.

So, I’ve now added an APC UPS battery backup to my setup, and it proved itself more than worthy earlier this afternoon!

Not only will this model provide me with ample time to perform a normal shutdown of the server, but it also connects to my desktop via USB and will send a signal to shut down the desktop normally before the battery runs too low.

Although the radar looked clear, the sky did not agree, so I trusted my gut and closed the car windows. In less than 10 minutes, we had a downpour going, which is great for the landscape, as our area is in a moderate drought.

I didn’t see or hear any lightning or thunder at all, but our power dropped very briefly (less than a minute duration) and with the backup in place, neither my server nor my desktop skipped a beat. No crash, no corruption, no data loss.

Of course, we still have to reprogram the alarm clock as well as the stove and coffeemaker in the kitchen, but those are minor irritants. Although, it does make me curious about looking at a Generac genny for the house… runs on natural gas, so always has power, kicks in automatically when power drops and keeps everything running.

Hmmm… guess I’d best get to work on that book I’m starting and hope it does well enough to bankroll a chat with the Generac folks!

Back to the Zone

I have three distinct influences that often arise when I’m writing something new. Stephen King and his ability to make people and places so relatable that you think you’ve met them when you were in that place is certainly one of those influences.

The late, great EC Comics, banned in the fifties is another, when I choose to let a story stray far off from anything slightly resembling normalcy.

And then, there’s Rod Serling’s original Twilight Zone. When the mood strikes, I write as though I’ll be handing my manuscript to Rod for his consideration to possibly develop as an episode.

One such story in that mold is called “Taxi”. It’s about Dave Ericson, a reporter for the Sentinel, on the last day before his retirement. We see the unusual going away gift he’s given by his editor, and his last commute home from the office as a working journalist.

I can picture Rod Serling delivering his introduction to the camera, a busy bullpen behind him with reporters hammering away at their keyboards, copy boys running between them with sheets of paper or manilla envelopes clutched in their hands, telling us that Dave is about to leave the office for the last time and his next stop… well, you know the rest.

This story, along with 14 others, has found a home in a collection titled (very appropriately) Particular Passages 3: West Wing, from Knight Writing Publishers in Parker, CO.

Sam Knight, the Editor and Publisher of Knight Writing Press, is planning to get this collection ready for pre-order by July 31, barring any unforeseen issues.

My fellow authors and I have had a chance to look over a proof copy and to relay any corrections or questions back to Sam, to assist in his effort to let the stories tell themselves in their own voice, which is both admirable and highly appreciated. I’ve enjoyed working with Sam very much on this project.

As soon as I have the pre-order details, I’ll post them here for anyone who might be dealing with cabin fever and want to take a trip down a particular passage. We’ll be sure to save you a ticket.

And there goes that

In early June, I took a full-time job in a call center, knowing that my decades of experience in hardware/technology break/fix scenarios would serve me well providing support, and indeed it did.

After a full month of training, I took live calls for issues with scanners and printers and had them fixed within minutes by guiding the callers through simple steps to correct the issues. This was well within my wheelhouse, and exactly the comfort zone I’d been looking for.

However…

What I did NOT anticipate was that they would also expect me to assist callers with issues concerning third party insurance companies, rejected claim payments and such.

If you’ve seen the film version of The Shining, there’s a shot of Nicholson looking down at a large-scale model of the hedge maze in the Overlook Garden. I’m here to tell you that the labyrinth of insurance contract specifications makes that maze look like a long, flat ribbon of 4 lane highway in the plains.

I now know exactly what a deer staring at oncoming headlights feels like.

So, I went in yesterday, shook the manager’s hand and thanked him for the opportunity and handed him my badge. In retirement, seeking something comfortable to supplement my SS and pay down debts, this was not going to serve as a long-term solution. I’m back to looking for something, preferably part time, where I can use all that experience to help people with technology issues.

The good news, however, is that my time at the center for training provided me with two fresh story ideas. One has been started and is a couple thousand words in, and I’ve scribbled down a bunch of crib notes to launch the second with, so there’s that. I’ll come out of this experience a little worse for wear, but not down for the count by any means!

They say it’s your Birthday…

Here we are, on the eve of another Independence Day in 2022. It’s fair to call it the country’s birthday, as it celebrates our independence from British rule, allowing us to forge our own path as our own country.

I wonder, though… how many more of these will we see?

Yes, we’ve survived our own Civil war, the north against the south, the blue against the gray, but we’re now facing a far deeper divide in the country, one that encompasses the entire population.

It’s the blue vs. the red.

The individuals who’ve been elected to represent us are instead joining a party (or in some cases, a cult) with their own agendas, pushing them hard with absolutely no regard for the choices of, or the collateral damage that affects the public.

Remember the public? You know, the folks you “represent”?

“Social” media is the flashpoint that truly shows us how deep the divide has become. I’ve left all of it behind, having grown tired of the vindictive verbal attacks that fire up with little or no provocation. I’m not talking about political groups, either… I’ve seen it occur in groups dedicated to writing, to photography and so on.

Places you’d think would be safe havens to enjoy common interests and share knowledge and ideas with like minded people.

Until they weren’t.

So, I’ve left those all behind some time ago now, and I don’t watch the news or read the newspapers as often as I used to. There isn’t much in the way of good news to report, or so it seems.

I’ll simply sit in our yard with my wife and watch nature instead… far more peaceful this way, and who knows?

I might just think of a story idea or two.

In The Works…

I’m cobbling together a collection of short stories, the best of the ones I wrote between 2016 and 2022, which includes the three I’ve done very recently.

Why? No particular reason. I just thought it would be nice to put them all together between one set of covers and do a limited print run of about 10 copies.

I’ll keep one for my bookshelf and give the remaining 9 to friends as gifts.

It’s a healthy group. The manuscript runs slightly north of 500 pages, containing about 50 or so stories, so there’s a lot to read.

Did I include all of them? Oh, hell no… there are some early ones that are terrible, and those will never see the light of day again. I bet even Stephen King has some early clunkers tucked away somewhere as starters for his fire pit.

I’ve been playing with cover ideas, and I kinda like the latest one…

It’s plain, yet bold in its design, and I think it suits the project well. I’m doing what I believe will be the final tweaks to the manuscript this weekend, and once I’m finished, I’ll upload the cover and manuscript files to the printer and have a proof copy done.

A boy needs a hobby, no?

Sleep well…

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot?

With each new day, I find myself wondering if I’d woken in the Twilight Zone or bypassed that and gone right into the Outer Limits.

When I retired in 2019, I’d set up a comfortable retirement, one that allowed us to maintain our lifestyle and enjoy life. Today, that’s become about as comfortable as trying to wear the clothing I wore in the ’80’s.

Tight. Seriously tight.

So, I’ve retired from retirement, at least for a while, and landed another job in tech support/customer service. At least there’s a comfort zone there, as it’s what I’ve done for decades. Adding a steady paycheck restores balance and gives us the opportunity to get our bills paid and maybe… maybe, get just a little bit ahead of the game.

We can only hope.

My good friends at the Horror Tree are releasing their yearly collections soon, and I’ll have a few things between those covers, and I just finished reviewing edits on a story I’ll have appearing later this year in yet another collection:

Appropriately enough, the story I’ve submitted for this one is very much in the Twilight Zone theme, which wasn’t even intentional when I sent it in.

Funny how things work out, isn’t it?

As a Father’s Day gift, Anita has brought my camera bag to Midstate, where Mark is going to give the whole kit a good once over, sensors cleaned, lenses cleaned and checked… the whole enchilada! Knowing his work, as he’s done a CLA (clean, lube, adjust) on my venerable F4 in the past, I know the next time I open the bag to shoot, it’ll be like having a guitar handed to me by David Gilmour’s tech, ready to all but play itself.

I’m so looking forward to enjoying the result of this incredible gift!

Well, that’s it for now… have to hit the shower, do a booze cruise to stock the fridge, and then hit a couple projects waiting in the wings for later today. To quote the late, great Stan Lee…

Excelsior!