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So I read today that Wrestlemania 36 is happening this whole week long – only without an audience. Why not? Jimmy Fallon is broadcasting in an empty studio. So is the gam show Jeopardy. Some experts are even predicting that this will bring in even bigger virtual audiences, because right now we are all hungry for a little bread and circuits in our cerebral diet. We need something to distract our minds from the crisis that surrounds us all.
Now, I haven’t watched wrestling in a long time – but 35 years ago I watched the first Wrestlemania on a beat-up VHS tape. I remember how blown away I was by seeing all of those people in the audience. Even wished I could be there. These days I don’t watch it at all. I won’t say I outgrew it, I just got burned out by that whole run of soap-opera style backstories.
Still, the thought of Wrestlemania 36 going on for a whole freaking week, without a single member in the audience, is mind blowing. The thought of our whole world suddenly becoming virtual, it is weird beyond measure.
What’s a little funny to me today is how I don’t see as much news out there this morning. I kind of think that this whole situation is becoming a little normal. We are all getting used to it. I mean, I know that I am. It is becoming business as usual.
In some ways that’s beautiful. That speaks of the adaptability of us humans as a species. We get used to shit. Wars, depressions, plagues – nothing phases us for long. Rain fire down upon us and we’ll all start carrying asbestos parasols.
But I’ve got the kind of brain that likes to poke a stick at an ant hill, and I wonder how all of this is going to play out.
I am NOT running around and screaming that the sky is falling, but today I am thinking about how I have always been bothered by the sight of all of the palm people out there, walking around on the sidewalks and sitting on the buses, all staring at various devices in their palms. I always felt to myself that humans were becoming just a little bit too virtual, a little bit too separate from each other. I’m no different, mind you. Last summer I got my first cell phone. Quite a few years before that I jumped into reading e-books. So I’ve got my own palm-staring habit – but it still worries me a little. This COVID shit is likely to push us even further away from each other.
Or it just might bring us all together.
Let’s just wait and see, shall we?
Yours in Storytelling,
If you enjoyed this read, please go and buy one of my e-books. You can read it on your palm, while we all wait for the next page to turn.
I watched a movie this morning, a Sam Elliott flick that I really kind of enjoyed. It is the kind of movie that you will have to stop and think about. Some folks are going to love this movie and some folks are going to hate it. Funny enough, that is the kind of movie that I really seem to enjoy the most.
Okay, so this is one of those movies that you really have to think about.
First off, there’s that title – THE MAN WHO KILLED HITLER AND THEN THE BIGFOOT.
That title intrigued me, right from the get-go. I took a look at the trailer on Youtube and there was this voice-over, talking about how this fellow’s grandfather had always told stories that kept getting wilder and wilder and wilder and I began to think about BIG FISH or SECONDHAND LIONS – movies that are stories that are told about stories. That put me into a wanna-watch kind of mind, because I love both of those movies. I thought it was going to be about Sam Elliott’s grandson trying to figure out if his grandfather was the world’s biggest liar or the world’s biggest hero.
Only it turned out that the trailer was a bit of a red herring. The character who actually says the voice-over dialogue isn’t related to the protagonist (Sam Elliott) at all.
This movie is an allegory and a character study about a man who has come to the end of his road and is trying to weigh his achievements against what it cost his soul.
Some of you folks are going to find it a little dull and boring. Some of you folks are going to love it.
It is a crap shoot as to what part of the audience you are going to fall into.
Me, I kind of dug it. It had some weaknesses and I felt they should have got into the whole Bigfoot hunt part of the story a lot sooner in the script, but Sam Elliott really delivered some solid acting – maybe some of the best he has ever turned in. The dialogue is moody, thick and ridden with meaning – kind of like stirring a shot of good whiskey into a tall mug of strong dark coffee. You have to listen and chew over it slowly. This isn’t a root beer and cheeseburger kind of a movie. This is more like an inch of solid steak, that you want gnaw upon while you ponder out the story.
I’d watch it again. A lot of folks wouldn’t. I borrowed the flick from the public library so it didn’t cost me a single thin dime – but I might have to pick up a copy some day just to watch on a rainy afternoon.
Yours in storytelling,
I might have to see what I can up with.
Call for Submissions
Worst Laid Plans: An Anthology of Vacation Horror
Grindhouse Press seeks short stories about summer vacations gone wrong for its upcoming horror fiction anthology, Worst Laid Plans: An Anthology of Vacation Horror, edited by Samantha Kolesnik. Summer vacation is often romanticized as a time of joy, but sometimes even the best laid plans go awry. Send in your horrifying tales for consideration in Grindhouse Press’s first-ever horror anthology.
●All submissions must be in the horror genre.
●No simultaneous submissions. All submitters will be notified of acceptance or rejection by June 1, 2020 at the latest.
●Submissions must not have been previously published anywhere. This includes personal blogs and social media.
●Submissions must be in standard manuscript format and submitted as an attached MS Word document or Google doc.
●Only one submission per author allowed.
●We welcome fiction which is bold, risky and graphic if it’s in…
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Okay, so from the very first moment I watched GAME OF THRONES, I was totally mindblown.
I hadn’t read any of the books. I didn’t know a thing about the storyline. I just watched the first episode in the first season, lo these many years ago, and my mind was totally freaking blown!!!
So right away I wanted to see the whole damn thing. The only problem was, I was economically challenged and could not afford an HBO subscription, which was a lot harder to come by up here in Canada. So I settled for buying each season on DVD and kicking back over the Christmas holidays and watching them.
As each year rolled by I picked up the season DVD and watched them. I usually smoked the whole pack, meaning that when I picked up the season 3 DVD I started out by rewatching season 1 and 2 all over again, before rolling into 3.
I have done that all the way up to season 7.
Oddly enough, I enjoyed season 7 enough to watch it two or three times right on through. Arya getting payback on Walter Frey and his clan. Dothraki taking on the Southerners, with a dragon up the sleeve. Cersei kicking ass and John Snow taking action over the wall, right to that cliff-hanging season-ender. A lot of folks felt that the series had lost a step in Season 7, but I just turned a deaf ear to their grumbling. I liked Season 7 just fine.
Then I had to wait for a whole year or so for the last season, Season 8, to hit DVD. I started watching it yesterday and got as far as the third episode (The Long Night) and decided to adjourn for a family game of Cranium, which was a hell of a lot more mentally stimulating than staring at a blacked out television screen for ten straight hours.
The first two episodes of Season 8 were fine, although a little draggy. They hauled out nearly every single character who had appeared over the last 7 seasons, and kind of pretzel twisted them into place into a sort of super-Jenga Game of Thrones. I mean, before those two episodes were up I was caught up to speed. Besides just the convenience of that whole LAST-SEVEN-SEASONS-ON-GAME-OF-THRONES recap, I was also reminded how to care about these characters and I was looking forward to seeing how these characters ended up in the next episode – the big battle of the forces of life versus the walking dead.
The key word to remember in that last sentence would be “seeing”.
You see, the whole problem with Episode 3 of Season 8 was visibility. I mean, we are talking a white out on a dark, dark night. Now I get that you might tell me that this was nothing more than a demonstration of that “fog of war” and an illustration of what old Red Witch Melisandre was saying to everybody all along – THE NIGHT IS FREAKING DARK AND FULL OF FUCKED-UP TERROR!
And I also get that if I had owned a 4k television set (which is one k better than three k’s but not half as good as a box full of Special K) that I would have been able to see this a little bit more clearly – but I have paid for eight seasons worth of viewing pleasure and it would have really been nice to have been able to see a little bit more of all that carnage and splendor.
So, after a fast game of the previously mentioned CRANIUM, I woke up this morning determined to see this season right to the end.
The next thing I knew I was watching Daenerys Targaryen the Mother of Dragons, Breaker of Chains and Lover of Copious Titles Etc, Etc, Etc burn up a whole entire city with her dragon. Now, that sounds cool, and (for a while) it was bright enough to see – but that visibility soon fell prey to the smoke and the fire that was generated by the dragon’s breath.
Which sounds pretty cool, doesn’t it?
Except I kept on watching and I kept on wondering about one single stupid glitch. We had already seen how readily a well-aimed ballista could skewer a dragon. Here was Daenerys with her VERY last dragon just blasting those ballistas (alright, so they called them scorpions, but whatever you call it, it is a big freaking dragon-killing crossbow) and she is just roaring right in there against that fortress full of big freaking dragon-killing crossbows without a care in the world. All of a sudden she is Eddie freaking Rickenbacker shooting down the Red Baron while Snoopy yells out fighter maneuver techniques from the sidelines.
I mean, why wasn’t that explained? All of a sudden she knew how to avoid and destroy those big freaking dragon-killing crossbows, even though she only one freaking dragon. Did she secretly practice midair dodge-ball techniques? Had she studied with Mandrake The Magician and was gesturing hypnotically while she was flying over those big freaking dragon-killing crossbows and wrecking havoc?
I mean, even they had spent one single freaking scene with her talking a blacksmith into building some kind of armor for that dragon, that would have explained her sudden ability to simultaneously dodge those crossbows and blow the whole city down in flames.
Worse then all of that was the director’s insistence upon taking copious amounts of screen time as their characters stared sullenly at absolutely nothing at all. I mean, you want to take every Sergio Leone spaghetti western gunfight and run it in extra-slow motion and you will get an idea of how excruciatingly slow these all-too-frequent shots were to the average viewer.
Not to mention the fact that Cersei Lannister – one of the most under-used characters in the whole damn series, spends damn near the whole six episode season standing on her balcony staring wistfully at the end of her paycheck.
That’s all I have to tell you. I hope I haven’t spoiled too much of the series for you. I figure that because this has been on the air for almost a year that I am safe in popping a few bubbles. I am glad I saw it finally, but I don’t if I will ever feel starved enough for entertainment to ever sit down and watch it again. I mean, these guys could teach a workshop on how to fuck up a good thing.
Yours in Storytelling,
Elizabeth Massie is a Bram Stoker Award-winning and Scribe Award-winning author of novels and short fiction for middle-grade readers, teens, and adults. Her favorite genres are historical fiction and horror fiction (which she often calls “skeery stories!”) She also writes nonfiction and fiction for nationwide educational programs. A former 7th-grade science teacher with 19 years in the classroom, she now spends her time writing, presenting creative writing workshops, and drawing ghosts, monsters, and other creatures–all part of her Skeeryvilletown cast of cartoon characters. She lives in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia with her creative and wonderfully wacky counterpart, illustrator Cortney Skinner.
Elizabeth is a kind person and a terrific writer. We discussed middle-grade and YA horror, Ameri-Scares, and what horror can teach young people today.
NTK: Thank you for chatting with me today, Elizabeth.
EM: You’re welcome.
NTK: How old were you when you first discovered horror?
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Okay – for starters, let me tell you that I have watched the Rocky series a whole lot of times. How many times? Hell, I don’t know. Count to ten. Maybe more.
I even enjoyed the first Creed movie – but CREED II sucked out loud. Sure, all of the Rocky movies ever made were just pulpy escapist boxing movies. You want to watch Sylvester Stallone and make those twitchy little shoulder moves that grown men do when they are watching a pulpy escapist boxing movie. I mean, this isn’t classic cinema. The Rocky series is all about coming out of the movie and heading for a tavern and feeling good about the whole experience.
But CREED II just plain sucked.
For starters, it was like they were trying to reboot ROCKY 4 – the one where Apollo Creed got killed in the ring by a ten foot tall Russian boxer by the name of Ivan Drago – (Dolph Lundgren) – and then Rocky booked a revenge match with Drago only he had to fly to Russia to fight it. Only first he had to create a homemade training camp in a Russian bed-and-breakfast being watched by a pair of KGB guards. Rocky chopped down half a Russian forest and did Roman sit-ups and Bruce Lee Dragon Flag sit-ups. Then he did military presses with Paulie and Adrian and half of a small Russian city sitting on a donkey cart. Then he outran a Mercedes Benz being driven by those Russian KGB watchdogs and ran up a snow-covered mountain range until he reached the top and he stood up there and shouted “DRAGO! DRAGO! DRAGO!” until those three dragons (named Drogon, Rhaegal and Viserion if you REALLY need to know their names and are too damned lazy to Google) from Game of Thrones shivered in their sleep and screamed themselves awake yelling out “ROCKY, ROCKY, ROCKY!!!”
Now that is freaking entertainment.
So CREED II decided that they were going to reboot ROCKY 4. Well, the line they used was they were going to make a movie that portrayed the sins of the fathers. Or it might have been the sons of the fathers. None of the actors were all that much into articulating their dialogue. I mean, I know that they don’t have all that much articulation to live up to when they are standing on the same sound stage as Rocky “Yo, Adrian” Balboa – but I really had a hard time understanding what half of them were saying.
I had a real beef with how they portrayed Ivan Drago. I mean, Dolph Lundgren has some serious acting chops, even though he mostly made a career out of being a muscle-bound hero in a whole lot of Grade B pulp movies. You see, Ivan Drago wasn’t really allowed much in the way of dialogue beyond him telling his son “You got to kick Rocky’s ass – I mean Adonis’s ass – I mean, shit, don’t let me down, boy.”
I would have rather seen that Drago had learned a bit from his experiences and was just doing his best to raise his son properly. But instead, he was all – “Don’t be a wussy candyass, train like I taught you and beat the shit out of Stallone, I mean Rocky, I mean Adonis Creed.”
Then they spent way too long dragging out all of Adonis’s family problems. First off he couldn’t figure out how to propose to Valkyrie, I mean Tessa Thompson, I mean Bianca. At the same time they keep reminding us viewers that she is going to deaf and I guess that might ruin her singing career, only she gets pregnant and then everybody is worried that her baby is going to be born deaf because deafness is hereditary – or that’s what she tells her husband – because I guess they got married sometime in the middle of the movie only I forget because by that point I just really did not freaking care.
Anyways, Apollo Creed’s (he’s dead, remember?) son Adonis Creed fights Viktor Drago (Dolph Lundgren’s son) and Adonis gets the shit kicked out of him only Drago hits him one too many times for the ref’s liking and gets disqualified so there has to be a rematch.
Which is pretty much how Rocky 4 went, only it was Apollo Creed who fought Ivan Drago who killed him, so there couldn’t be a rematch, only Rocky stepped in and demanded that rematch with him standing in for Apollo.
Fuck yes, a revenge flick.
To make it even more of a Rocky 4 reboot they decide that the rematch has to be fought in Russia? Nobody says why. They just say okay, it’s got to be Russia.
So then, just like Rocky in Rocky 4, Adonis had to train himself in a remote location, only they had already gone with a Russian location – so to be different Rocky drove Adonis out into the middle of the freaking desert where a bunch of postapocalyptic looking boxers were training out there with absolutely no equipment.
I mean, instead of a heavy bag they had a bunch of truck tires strung together. And when they worked out with a sledgehammer they just pounded the desert floor, because all of the truck tires were busy being used as punching bags.
So Rocky drove around the desert making Adonis run after his car, which is kind of like roadwork without the road.
I’m pretty sure I caught a glimpse of the meth lab motor home from Breaking Bad or that might have just been some sort of a weird acid flashback.
So then the two of them step into a transporter and Scotty beams them over to Russia where Adonis and Drago fight their big rematch and Rocky stands around wearing his hat and trying to look like Heisenberg meets Mr. T and then the movie ends.
Now, I have heard that Stallone has sworn a sacred vow to never portray Rocky again. I have also heard that they are hoping to make another Creed movie eventually, in which Creed is going to fight Rocky’s son or else maybe the ghost of Adrian or even better the ghost of Paulie.
Either way, this one really bit the biscuit. And I am talking moldy, cockroach infested biscuits.
I am so glad that I just borrowed this movie from the library instead of buying a DVD copy.
Because it really, truly sucked.
Yours in Storytelling,
A page is like an empty box. It always seems to ask just what exactly you are going to type upon its untrammeled surface – although hopefully you can find a better phrase to use than “untrammeled surface” which sounds a little pompous and somewhat overwritten in retrospect.
And then, once you have filled that empty pages with words and story then you have deal with the damnable curse of creative hindsight.
Did I do that right?
Could I have done it better?
Gwendy’s Button Box is a charming and compelling novella that is one part monkey’s paw, one part Hellraiser Lament Configuration, and one part The Devil and Daniel Webster.
Oh, and you can throw in a sprinkle of Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life and it wouldn’t hurt to mention that the novella is written by a couple of the creepiest wordcrafters that you have ever heard tell of – namely, Richard Chizmar and Stephen King.
All right, so I know that everyone reading this review knows or has heard of Stephen King. He’s that dude with a triple dozen bestselling horror novels, a billion or two short stories, not to mention his many television series and movies and probably even a couple of nasty bloodstained postcards that he mailed to Santa Claus.
But only the true died-in-the-blood-of-the-printing-press fans of horror fiction will recognize the name of Richard Chizmar, which is a damn shame. Me, I know Rich from a long way back. I know him from back when I first started trying to actually sell my horror fiction. One of my very first stories appeared in the pages of the second issue of his long-lived magazine, Cemetery Dance.
Okay, so you are thinking to yourself that because I call Richard a buddy of mine, means that my review is most likely biased.
I used to write reviews for magazines. I was tough on other writers. I remember being asked by a publisher if I could find something nice to write about a book that I had reviewed.
“Nice?” I asked. “Why? I was honest and true.”
“Well, yes,” the “But the author of that book purchased an advertisement with our magazine. It would only be polite if you wrote something nice in your review.”
“All right,” I said. “Write this in my review. The book had pages, which is a good thing for books that are meant to be read. Too bad the author muddied up those pages with poorly written words.”
I’m not saying that I was all that kind.
It was shortly after that, that I decided to get out of the book reviewing business, on account of I am awfully funny about what I like to read and I do not like to say good things about books that I did not particularly like.
Well, I liked GWENDY’S BUTTON BOX. I liked it a whole lot. I like the size of it. I really enjoy reading a good novella, and this one was tight and lean. It reminded me of the stories in Stephen King’s first collection, NIGHT SHIFT. Each line was taut and pure and clear – and I kind of have a sneaking suspicion that Richard had something to do with that purity and clarity. In fact, I am pretty sure that Richard might have held old Stephen King’s feet to the fire for a while to make sure that he kept his own words honed close to the bone.
I know that for an honest to blue pencil fact because I have felt the edge of Richard’s editorial knife a time or two. And I have read an awful lot of Stephen King’s fiction. I love most of it, but GWENDY’S BUTTON BOX made me grin out loud as I read it.
You ought to read it too.
You can order a copy directly from Cemetery Dance Publishing or pick up a copy in most local bookstores. It’s written in a young adult voice that is perfect for an avid teenager – but this old fart enjoyed it just as well.
Yours in storytelling,