Search This Blog

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Ghost Cats in Central Florida - A True Story

As some of you have heard, I've done a few speaking engagements over the past couple of years, mostly discussing the horror genre, writing and my book, The Wash. A question I've been asked on more than one occasion is whether I believe in the supernatural.  You'd think that as a horror fan I'd have a healthy belief in all things paranormal.  After all, I've spent an unusual amount of time reading, watching and writing about the subject.  The fact is though, that when people asked me about it, my answer was always, "I want to."

That was the truth. I wanted desperately to believe that there was something supernatural, otherworldly, downright frightening and unbelievable out there but the fact was I'd never experienced anything like that firsthand.  I'd visited haunted houses, haunted forests and places where stories of monsters abound but I'd never seen one for myself.  Because of that, I had reached the conclusion that there really wasn't any truth to the stories I'd heard. 

Don't get me wrong. I didn't think the people who did believe in that were crazy.  I believed that they honestly thought they'd seen otherworldly phenomena, but I was sure there had to be an explanation for it. I just thought they weren't thinking clearly.

That is, until about a week ago.  Now, I'm a believer.

My father and stepmother live on a lake in Central Florida.  It's one of my favorite places to visit and I don't get there often enough.  It's a great place to reset for me and last week I was there visiting.  For years, they had a solid black cat named Ninja.  He was an indoor cat and was an unlikely addition to the house at first.  My father had always been a dog person but my stepmother agreed to foster him when he was young and my father and he became quick friends.  He lived with them for over 20 years and died less than a year ago.  

I have a major allergy to cats.  Anytime I'd visit, I'd be doped up on Allegra and sometimes even had to supplement it with Benedryl just to get through the week, but Ninja was awesome.  Occasionally, he'd come up and want me to pet him and I gladly would, even though my fingers would begin to itch almost immediately.  He was a cool cat who continued to be playful even when he got older.  So when he died, it left a hole in their household.

I wasn't here to experience just how much of one. I just knew he was a much loved pet.

Last Tuesday, my father and I sat out on the back porch and talked until it was pretty late.  Finally, he decided to call it a night and I headed in and took a shower before laying down myself.  As I lay on the bed in the guest room, I felt something jump up on the bed at my feet and then walk along the side of the bed next to the wall.  I could feel every footstep.  

I bolted upright!  I thought for sure that one of the two outside cats had gotten in.  I hit the light and looked around.  There was nothing there.  Nothing.  Yet, without a doubt, I felt a cat jump up on the foot of the bed and walk along the edge next to the wall, toward my head.  It freaked me out a little but then I started explaining it away.  Maybe I was dozing.  Maybe it was a dream.  All the usual excuses.

The next evening, we were all talking after dinner and I mentioned it to my stepmother. Her eyes lit up and she said, "That happened to me also!"

A month after Ninja died, she felt him jump up on the exact same bed, in the exact same place and take the same route along the edge before climbing onto her chest.  It was something he'd done countless times before when he was alive. I never knew he did that though.  Because of my allergy, when I stayed with them I kept the door closed, so I never experienced Ninja jumping on the bed to come visit.  

I've played it over in my head repeatedly since last week, but I have no doubt about what I felt and having it corroborated by my stepmother has cemented my belief that I actually experienced my first ghost, and a cat ghost to boot!

Pretty crazy, huh?  

Anyway, I thought I'd pass it along because it's truly changed the way I look at some of the stories I've read and heard.  

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Lizards - Big and Small (plus book news)

Hello!  Hello! 

I know many of you probably think I've fallen off the face of the Earth.  After many months of regularly bringing you posts about music, movies, horror, etc., the second quarter of 2019 has been pretty quiet here on the blog.  Some of that is due to weird circumstances that you can piece together from previous posts.  Some of it is due to focusing efforts in other places.  In the end, what you need to know is that things are good overall and progress has been made.

As I write this, I'm sitting on a screened porch looking out at Lake Dora in Tavares, Florida.  Other than my father (who is taking a nap), I'm currently accompanied by an old dog named Toby, a cat named Patches (probably sleeping directly beneath me under the porch in an effort to stay cool) and no less than 30 small lizards feasting on lake flies and trying to stay out of the direct sunlight of a summer day.  

There are larger lizards about also.  A five foot alligator is somewhere off the dock in front of me.  He's not visible but he hangs out in this area.  We tend to see him at dusk.  His larger neighbor runs 10 - 12 feet and while he doesn't generally patrol this part of the lake, he made an appearance yesterday afternoon as he calmly swam about 20 yards off the end of the dock with the confidence of something that is the apex predator of these parts.

I should also point out that it's in the mid-90's here with humidity in the high 80's.  I'm drenched in sweat.  I tried to write inside but the AC and soft chairs were putting me to sleep.  This might be the only time in my life that I've actually worked up a sweat while writing.  Let's be honest though, in these conditions, you work up a sweat just breathing.

While The Wash was set in Utah, my upcoming book and many of the other books I'm currently working on are set in Florida and Georgia.  You may wonder why this is if all you've ever read is this blog.  After all, I have entire series of posts devoted to weird places in Southern California but nary a mention of Georgia or Florida.  The fact is, I love California.  I love it for its geography, its diversity, its politics and because of the incredible friends and family I've managed to acquire there.  

I once read an interview with the musician Flea from the band Red Hot Chili Peppers.  He said California is like an incurable virus.  It gets under your skin and the rest of your life, no matter where you are, when you're away from it, you just want to get back to it.

That's true but for me the same can be said for this place.  I feel its pull when I'm in SoCal.  No matter how long I stay away, once I come back and feel the heat and humidity, it just feels like home.  I'll be back in California within a week and once I'm there, I'll miss all of this again.  It'll start creeping into all of my writing because that's the best way for me to hold onto it.  

Conversely, I'm sure if I lived in Florida year round, all of my books would be set in California.  That's just the way it works.

Speaking of books, my new one is complete and a publisher is currently considering it.  Keep your fingers crossed for me.  As I've mentioned previously, it's set in the South and it's definitely a different beast than The Wash was.  This one is a lot more fun and involves swamp witches, moonshiners and a kaiju-sized catfish.  No news yet on when it will be available but I'll post more here once I know.  

I've got two more I'm in process on.  One is the fabled "Redneck DaVinci Code" book and the other a ghost story about America.  The latter will be the first I've ever set in California.  Both are about a third complete but moving along nicely.

I'm still determining what the next series should be for this blog.  I feel the movie reviews were getting a bit banal and I don't want this to get stale.  If you have suggestions on what you'd like to see here, let me know.

In the meantime, keep an eye on this space.  I'll have more news to come soon.  

Until then, the lizards, the cat and I wish all of you well.  

The dog is so old it's hard to tell what he's wishing at the moment, but it probably involves either a treat, a nap or a walk.  


Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Lisanne Harrington - Remembered

Last week, I lost one of my favorite people on the planet.  Lisanne Harrington was a fellow author, horror enthusiast and my favorite person to collaborate with.  She had a sharp wit and a direct approach that was refreshing while never feeling antagonistic.  If you wanted to know what she was thinking, you just needed to ask.  She'd tell you.  She'd probably make you laugh in the process.

We initially met when she became a member of O.C. Fictionaires.  She was the only other horror writer in the bunch and soon we bonded over a shared love of monsters.  Lisanne's blog was one of my favorite things to read every week.  It featured a different creature in each post and explored the legends, facts and overall history of each.  

You can find it here.

Not long after we met, I asked if she'd let me interview her for this blog.  We chatted for the better part of two hours and you can read most of that conversation here.

We mentioned doing a followup a few times but never got around to it.

Lisanne wrote three volumes in her Wolf Creek Mysteries series.  They are considered YA, but when I asked her about that, she said, "My publisher did that.  I just wrote a horror novel."

When I pressed her on how she came up with the idea, she told me what she told everyone.  

"The characters told me the story.  I just listened to them."

Her most recent book shifted gears to murder mystery.  Murder in the Family is the kind of book that is grounded in reality but has those little, subtle nods that make you wonder if something otherworldly could be going on.  It's the kind of novel I love and am simultaneously envious of.  You can order it and any of her others at her Amazon Author's page.  

Over the course of the last year and a half, the two of us collaborated on a number of articles on horror writing.  Those were posted on the OC Writer's Blog under the Creaky Hinge title.  We had gotten so used to working together, that we were often finishing each other's sentences, improving each other's arguments, etc.  This led us to think about collaborating on something bigger, so sometime around February of this year, we came up with the idea of writing a book together.  It was going to be nonfiction and would act as a beginners guide to horror.  

The last thing we corresponded on was the outline to that book.  I'd drafted it up and sent it her way.  She'd e-mailed back that it looked good but she wanted to take another glance at it after she got back from the hospital. She was going to have some treatments done that were hopefully going to kick the nasty cough she hadn't been able to shake for months.

I never got a chance to speak to her again.  

She'd likely be annoyed that I'm even writing this post.  

Too bad, Lisanne.  This is what you get for not being here to stop me.

My heart goes out to your family and friends.  I'm going to miss writing with you and talking about horror books and movies.  May there be a marathon of all your favorites wherever you are now.


Thursday, May 2, 2019

Forgotten Horror Gems Vol. 13 - The 27th Day

One thing about going back and looking at old horror movies is that every now and then, you get bad information.  For instance, this was recommended via a website article on obscure horror movies.  It was a listicle of 10 or 15 films they recommended you see.  This is not a horror film. This is a sci-fi film.  That said, we still watched it and were pleasantly surprised at some of it. 

The premise is interesting.  Aliens abduct people from different countries and give them each a special device that has three radioactive weapons in capsule form.  Only the abductees can open the case, but once the case is open, anyone could set off the weapons.  To use the weapon, you simply speak the latitude and longitude and press the button.  Then all human life (only human life) within 1,000 miles of that location will disappear. 

Why would aliens do this?  Well their planet is dying but they are a peaceful bunch.  They won't invade but if humans can't overcome their warlike nature and happen to blow each other up, then the aliens can move right in. Great plan, right?  Here's the next catch.  If everyone can hold out for 27 days then the weapons become unusable.

All the abductees are sent back and then the aliens do something completely unexpected.  They make an announcement to everyone on Earth about what they've done and name the people who have the weapons.  This sends all the governments of the world scrambling to find the people and gain access to the devices.  

Now, that does sound like a decent (if overly complicated) plot.  It's not actually that bad either.  It's just slow at times.  The ending is quite a surprise and ends up being a great example of Hollywood playing up the Cold War in these films.  Here's what the girls thought.  

The 27th Day Scoresheet

Was it ever night time?  -1
Did it focus on any other day? - 1
Was there Tuna Rarebit?   0 
Were there aliens? +1
Bonus - did the aliens speak English? +1
Was there atomic stuff? + 2
Was there an educational short? 0
Were there fancy hats? 0
Did anyone slide over from the passenger seat to the driver seat of the car? 0
Was there a housewife? 0
Was there a threat of the world ending?  +1
Were there more than three people who smoked? +1
Was it set in the arctic, a desert or swamp?
Was there a decent plot that progressed? +1

Total - 5

The 27th Day can be found on YouTube.  Here's the link!

Monday, April 29, 2019

Procrastination and The Art of Ignoring Your Own Advice

For those of you who don't know, I've been collaborating with fellow author Lisanne Harrington on a series of columns for O.C. Writers Blog.  Over the last year and a half or so, we've tackled all kinds of subjects and on more than one occasion, we've discussed different techniques for buckling down and getting your book finished.

Fast forward to the last two months where I have actively worked on any other project except completing my next book... WHICH IS LITERALLY ONLY ABOUT EIGHT OR NINE CHAPTERS AWAY FROM COMPLETION!  So why don't I take my own advice and buckle down to finish it?

No excuses.  The bottom line is that I've just been lazy about it.  I could list out a million reasons why from work to being sick to wanting to spend time with family, etc.  They'd all be true, but at the same time I have a laptop and I could easily carve out an hour a day to work on it.

All of that to say this.  I'm getting it done in May.  That's my promise to those of you who still check in on this blog and who enjoyed The Wash.  By the end of May, I will have it in a condition where I won't feel embarrassed to send it to some trusted beta readers.  The goal is still to publish by the end of the year.

What's it about, you ask?  

It's about a man named Phil.  

Oh, and it's also about southern swamp witches, a giant catfish monster, Russian folk magic and a girl named Arlene who would just as soon kick your ass than wave hello. Also there's the occasional reanimated dead thing.  

So, you know... the usual.

Watch this space for updates.  You may also find a preview or two in the coming months.  

Until the end of May, this blog will continue to host the weekly b-movie reviews and I'll post up links on FB. 

See you soon!

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Forgotten Horror Gems Vol. 12 - The Phantom from 10,000 Leagues

So this week's movie was a total mystery.  I don't even remember how I found out about this one but here we were about to fire it up on a Sunday night and Karen and Lil were trying to get an idea of what their criteria for the list would be.  We looked at all the clues we could pull from the title and the poster art, then came up with something we figured would yield some results.

For instance, if you're watching any horror or sci-fi movie from the 1950's then you can probably bank on there being some talk about atomic radiation.  Also, it's a general rule of thumb that in every big bug movie someone will put on an educational short film to explain what's happening (a favorite of Karen's and why it exists on every list she makes for these).  So after some debate, we hit play and settled in to one of the worst but funny movies I've seen in a while.  I'm not sure I can recommend it.  At the same time, I kind of want to see it again.

So there's this town on the California coast where sailors/fishermen are being killed by something.  Our hero looks like a walking ad for hair oil and nicotine.  He happens to be a doctor who's published papers on the effects of atomic radiation on marine life.  He's here to see a local scientist who may also be doing experiments on this topic.  Let's just say that there is intrigue and red communists everywhere in this flick... Well, sort of.  I mean, there are some kind of shadowy agents who we can assume are communists and there's a lot of double crossing and spying happening which should be intriguing but is really just slow.

There is a "Phantom" of sorts. It's a mutated something or other that looks like that lizard guy from Star Trek only with bigger teeth and a ridge on his head.  He's guarding a uranium deposit that everyone's trying to find the location of.  Those that do, even by accident, get killed by the creature pretty quickly.

So, how did the girls do in their guessing and scoring?

The Phantom from 10,000 Leagues Scoresheet!

Was there a Phantom? +1
Was there an Opera? 0
Were there submarines? -1
Was there atomic stuff? +2
Was there an educational short?  -2
Were there commies?  0
Was there military might on display? 0
Were there octopus or squid? 0
Was there a "man meeting"? 0
Was anyone sea sick?  0
Was there a scene where a character mansplained to a female? 0
Was there a decent plot?  0.5

Total:  0.5

Yeah, it's pretty bad.  Not quite funny/bad enough for me to recommend to anyone, but I'll probably catch it again at some point.  You can find the complete film on YouTube if you're interested.  Here's the link!

Next week, we'll be checking out a sci-fi film with a great premise.  See you then!

Monday, April 22, 2019


Yes, it's that time of year when my family journeys up to Pasadena to experience my personal favorite convention, Monsterpalooza!  Once again, the experience was fantastic.  For those who don't know, it's a horror convention that began as a showcase for makeup and mask-making companies.  It's morphed into a celebration of all things horror.  There are still makeup and effects companies showing off their wares, but now there are celebrities signing autographs, special film premieres and panels that span subjects from upcoming blockbusters (like Godzilla: King of Monsters) to previews of this year's Universal Halloween Horror Nights.  There are even makeup tutorials if you're so inclined.

This year, we got to see some old friends like Lisanne Harrington and James, Matt, Shawn and Larry from the Monster Party podcast.  This was also the first year that Karen went with Lil and I so we got to experience it through a first timer's eyes.  That's always fun.  Here are some of the cool things from this year's con.

This larger than life fly model chilling out and eating popcorn with it's "baby" was just awesome.  As weird as it sounds, I'd have loved to have this sitting next to the stereo in my home office.

This macabre Easter get together was another highlight.  Unlike the fly above, this one was tiny with the whole scene only measuring about a foot and a half on each side.

The deer head above is by one of the most unique artists I know of.  Brooke Weston is a "rogue taxidermist" who creates miniature worlds within taxidermy animals.  This particular piece is called Vermillion Temple and I encourage you to go to his website (linked here) to get a better look.  Lil and I were in Burbank one time and managed to run across a number of Weston's pieces at the Bearded Lady Oddities Shop.  They are amazing.  I honestly hope that one day I'll have one hanging on my office wall.

Of course the cosplay is insane.  The woman in black above was especially stunning and I had to get a picture with the Tar Man from Return of the Living Dead.  Speaking of makeup, there were fantastic examples and demonstrations all across the convention floor.  Check some of these out.

And no visit to Monsterpalooza would be complete without a trip through the museum.  This year, my favorite pieces were The Right Hand of Doom from Del Toro's Hellboy movie and the actual puppet prop used during the transformation scene in the classic snake/man hybrid movie Ssssss.

There are a lot of horror conventions out there but Monsterpalooza is something special.  By the next morning, I was already wishing I had another day to go back and take everything in again.

If you get a chance to visit SoCal in the spring, you should try to coordinate your visit to check this out.  It really is fantastic!

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Forgotten Horror Gems Vol. 11 - The Alligator People (1959)

There are plenty of cheaply made horror movies out there that I haven't seen. With the boom in the genre that happened in the 1940's and 50's, bottom of the barrel companies came out of the woodwork to cash in on the craze.

The Alligator People (1959) can easily be considered one of those. That said, there are a few actors out there who I strive to find anything they've done. Lon Chaney Jr. happens to be one of those. I knew that this film came late in his career and that he wasn't in the best shape both as a human being and an actor. At this stage in his career, Chaney reportedly was almost impossible to work with after lunch due to an epic alcohol issue.
Still, he's great in most of these types of films so it had to go on this list. I knew to expect a crappy plot, cheesy effects and questionable acting. I was not disappointed on most levels. That said, Chaney's worth watching and the plot is a lot of fun even if it is horrible.

Basically, this movie comes off as a southern gothic tragedy except with alligator people.
The story begins with a woman going under hypnosis to recover a lost memory. The story that unfolds includes her disappearing fiance, an old plantation in Louisiana, experiments with atomic isotopes and yes... Alligator/human hybrids that are hilarious!

Don't take my word for it though. Karen and Lil also loved this one. They decided to keep separate lists this time but hey, the results speak for themselves!
The Alligator People Rubric
Are there alligators? +5
Are there people? +5
Are there actually alligator people? +100
Lil's total: 110

Were there educational shorts? 1
Were there atomic references? 2
Was there a lady science assitant? 1
Were there fancy hats? 0
Was there a decent plot? 2
Was there nonrepetitive music? 1
Was there a tiny pony? 0
Was there a love interest? 2

Was there an expert in a weird science field? 1
Was there an expedition? 0
Karen's Total: 10
For those of you who haven't been following this arbitrary rating system, those are two HUGE scores!

Another great thing about this movie is the overall lesson it tries to teach. That lesson is simply to repress anything unpleasant. Seriously.
Great 1950's thinking!
Anyway, The Alligator People is a fun time if you're into this sort of thing. At the very least, you'll have a good time watching the actors (yes, the actual actors) running near, over and practically on top of live alligators. It's not as exciting as watching Roar!, but it's still pretty funny. You can stream The Alligator People in its entirety (and 100% free) on YouTube.

Monday, April 15, 2019

Exploring Japan Vol. 24 - Funny Stuff!

For what seems like it will be the final installment of this series for now, I want to take a minute to just point out some of the funny things that we've seen while visiting.  As Americans, if you don't speak the language then there are things that just won't translate the same way visually.  We've had a great time over the years wandering grocery or drug stores and just giggling over the product packaging.  Here are some of our favorites.

When you're buying a sticky mouse trap, do you really need to see the weeping mouse stuck to the pad?  Apparently, you do!

Want to get rid of those pesky nose hairs?  This nostril waxing kit will do the trick, but this guy's expression kills me every time.  He's so excited!

This was literally on the back of a Wendy's takeout bag.  We have no idea what it's about.

You know that problem you have where giant sheets of skin peel off your feet?  You don't?  Neither did I but apparently it's a thing and this will make your feel baby smooth!

One of my favorites was on the wall of the Shinkansen.  This ad featuring Steve Wozniak was on every train we rode during our trek down to Hiroshima.  After a while, it went from being funny to just creepy.

Product ads aside, there are also great signs around that are designed to steer you in the right direction.  Some explain everything with an image.

Beware the pigeons.  They're evil and they have good aim.

Other signs are meant for English speaking visitors and sometimes the fun is in how they're phrased. Other times, it's about the imagery behind the wording.

I love the idea that if you change your clothes in this bathroom stall, you will be transported to an old graveyard and preyed upon by bats.

Other times, it's just something lost in translation.  For instance, this sign advertising "A Thousand flavors that blow."  I believe it wraps around to the other side of this store and says "your mind", however when you walk up on it, you just see the first line.

My all time favorite though comes at the expense of someone who does speak English and decided to be an asshole.  At the fish market in Tokyo, we were wandering the stalls when we saw this sign.  We're used to seeing broken English and in fact, it doesn't even phase us.  We get what the meaning is and we move on.  

However this sign was the gift that kept on giving.  Some jerk had decided to try to correct the sign in an obvious comment on the broken English.  They (of course) made a mistake and got schooled by someone else, but it didn't stop there.  I could not stop laughing.  I've blown it up so you can take it all in. If you're having trouble seeing how this works, I'll break it down below.

1. The sign originally read "Please do not eat this place."

2. Some jerk wrote "at" and put an arrow in as an obvious slam on the quality of the sentence.

3. Someone else wrote "IN" to correct the first person.  Had they left it at that, it would have been fine, but they added "Grammer issues roll eyes" and "Don't be a shitty tourist".

4. But as you can obviously see, they misspelled "Grammar" so a third person took a green pen and corrected that.  

I'm not kidding.  I literally laughed at this for hours after seeing it.

Anyway, thanks for reading these posts.  It's been great fun writing them and reliving our trips.  For those wondering if we'll be going again soon, the answer is, "some of us will".  The girls head to Tokyo for a full month later this year.  I'll be staying back as I have some deadlines approaching that include delivering my next book as well as writing on a brand new project.

With any luck, I'll go back a year from now. Don't worry though.  I'm sure that they'll come back with brand new adventures to report on and I'll see if I can't pull together some fresh installments.

See you soon!