Gods Of The Grim Nation in Dread Shadows In Paradise

“Research….is a seeking that he who wishes may know the cosmic secrets of the world and they that dwell therein.” – Zora Neale Hurston

On sale now from Golden Goblin Press is Dread Shadows In Paradise, an anthology of Lovecraftian fiction set in the Caribbean Islands.

Edited by GG Press owner Oscar Rios and Brian M. Sammons, the table of contents is as follows:

  • Jamal by Glynn Owen Barrass
  • With the Storm by Pete Rawlik
  • Crop Over by Tim Waggoner
  • Tradewinds by Sam Gafford
  • The Gold of Roatán by Sam Stone
  • Sugar Rush by William Meikle
  • Hearth of the Immortals by Konstantine Paradias
  • Upon an Altar in the Fields by Lee Clark Zumpe

My contribution, Gods Of The Grim Nation follows real-life author and playwright Zora Neale Hurston early in her career as a anthropologist sent to Haiti to collect Voodoun folklore. When a series of ritual murders plague the interior back country, the local police crack down hard on the Vodoun societies. But Zora, with the aide of an accomplished secret society ritualist, sets out to uncover the true menace at the heart of the crime spree.

Zora Neale Hurston was a writer of the Harlem Renaissance best known for her 1937 novel Their Eyes Were Watching God. I first encountered her in college, where, reading her aloud in class, I took a delight in her writing style, which attempted to capture the folksy regional dialects of rural Florida African Americans in the 20’s and 30’s.

cult_ottenbergA fiercely independent and outspoken woman, she had worked her way from the small town of Eatonville to college and into the epicenter of the Harlem Renaissance, rubbing elbows with Langston Hughes and Wallace Thurman, and yet remaining somewhat apart from their unified view, often to her detriment. Hughes and the other literati thought her cleaving to the rural and sometimes undignified depictions of African Americans denigrating to the race as a whole, and she was often criticized for her libertarian politics. She opposed integration, lamenting a loss of black teachers instructing black students in African cultural traditions, and was a staunch opponent of FDR’s New Deal, fearing always a loss of the personal liberty she strove all her life to maintain.

“If I say a whole system must be upset for me to win, I am saying that I cannot sit in the game, and that safer rules must be made to give me a chance. I repudiate that. If others are in there, deal me a hand and let me see what I can make of it, even though I know some in there are dealing from the bottom and cheating like hell in other ways.”

She learned early in her studies to be a chameleon, ingratiating herself with white patrons enough to get a shiny Chevy automobile to bomb around the South collecting folklore in, and convincing the poor people among whom she moved that the expensive car had been earned through bootlegging so as to assuage their fears that she was some kind of detective.

holstersShe traveled armed through the South in the 30’s, recording spirituals and folktales and recording the lives of sawmill workers and their white bosses, burned through two marriages, did some script work for Paramount Pictures, and earned a Guggenheim Fellowship to study the spiritual practices of Jamaica and Haiti. She produced two books on folklore from this, Tell My Horse and Of Mules And Men.

Proud and plucky, she once said;



“Sometimes, I feel discriminated against, but it does not make me angry. It merely astonishes me. How can any deny themselves the pleasure of my company? It’s beyond me.”

Despite her colorful career, she ended her life in obscurity, working as a maid and finally expiring in a retirement home. Half of her personal papers were literally saved from the trash fire in the zero hour by a friend.

Zora_Neale_Hurston_NYWTSThis incident of course, leaves her life’s work open for fictional exploration. What after all, were in the papers that didn’t survive? Much of her folklore writing is dismissed by modern scholars as sensational, but what if she was being deliberately distracting? I love writing secret histories, and  Zora’s strong spirit combined with her openness to the spiritual (in New Orleans she underwent initiation ceremonies with more than a few Hoodoo doctors) and her dizzying array of life experiences made her the perfect sort of fighting scholar protagonist in my mind for the story I wanted to tell here, and, it turns out, keep telling. Zora will be appearing in at least two more stories for GG Press, in the forthcoming Heroes of Red Hook anthology, and in a TBD novella.

Here’s an excerpt from Gods Of The Grim Nation. Look for more Zora later. She’s not done with me yet.



The two dozen hounsi gathered in the yard and the dark, skinny mambo priestess, a rural empress regal in her purple headdress and white gown, traced a complex veve of cornmeal in the dirt, the beacon to call down Papa Ghede.  Her assistants laid out an old coat and pants and a high crowned hat which had seen better days at the foot of the cross. The drums began a steady beat, and the sacred calabash rattled.

“For Ghede, we dance the banda,” León explained, his pelvis jerking and swirling mesmerizingly. “Like so.” He smiled.

I felt my stomach heat up as I matched his movements, and wondered if he had taught this dance to Katie Dunham. He was a dark and beautiful man, but there was the silver ring on his finger with the E.F. inscription. He was promised to the goddess Erzulie and was as unavailable as a collared priest. To break that vow was to invite ill fortune. It was a damn shame.

León broke from the dance to assist the mambo, laying out a dish of peanuts and dried corn beside the bottle of clairin on the points around the veve. The ceremony became wild and as raucous as any juke party back home, the men and women dancing close, reveling in each other. We were not long turning about the cross, the drums thrumming through the marrow of our bones and guiding our hips as sure as a pair of firm hands, when one of the hounsi, a very large and dignified-looking woman, collapsed, her eyes rolling. The mambo and León knelt by her side to assist the mounting of the god upon his devotee.

Haitians take part in a Voodoo festivalThe woman sat up soon, her previously neutral expression entirely changed to one of shifty-eyed mischievousness.  She smiled and leered at León as he set the patched coat over her rounded shoulders like a supplicant dressing his lord. She flitted her tongue in his ear and whispered things as the mambo crowned her with the hat and pushed a cheap cigar into her mouth and lit it. It was amusing to see the attention the woman was giving León, muttering obscenities to him through her teeth and puffing the cigar like an overbearing boss harassing his pretty secretary.

All around, the figures swayed and chanted, and the woman, now possessed, rose and smoked like a train engine. She snatched the ceremonial coco macaque stick from the mambo and placed it between her legs, thrusting herself provocatively at the other women as the mambo dusted her skin in ghostly white powder.

León came to me, wiping the sweat from his eyes. He was about to say something when abruptly the possessed woman seized his arm and spun him around.

The mambo rushed over, and the possessed woman snarled something at her. She backed away, shaking her head, but the big hounsi was adamant, and the mambo went to the drummers. In a few moments, they abruptly ceased.

The silence was startling in the grove, and the worshipers looked at each other in confusion, but the possessed woman drew herself up and spoke loudly in Creole, her eyes bulging and rolling hideously.

“Listen, horses! Do you hear? Do you hear the coco of the world tearing tonight? Do you feel the birth pains of the world? The Master of Pigs has eaten the last of you without salt and now ZoZo Le Entru Fè Nwa is crowning! No living man or woman can look upon it! The living will be the dead!”

I frowned. The Haitian brand of Creole wasn’t my forte, but what I could make out was troubling to hear.

The possessed woman still had a hold of León, and now she gripped his arm and pulled up his sleeve, bearing his forearm and squinting at a mark there.

“What will you do, ti couleve?” the spirit asked him.

“Guide me, Papa Ghede!” León stammered in naked fright.

The loa smiled through the woman and pushed the coco macaque stick into his hands.

“The Master of Pigs seeks to repay his ba moun with the whole of the world this night. ZoZo has promised to relieve his debt, but it will burn the minds of all who look upon it. It must be pushed back into the dark womb, and the bokor must pay.”

Then, to my surprise, she looked over León’s shoulder directly at me. It was strange to share the gaze of those god-taken eyes. She shoved León aside and lumbered toward me. For a minute I thought I would have to lay her out, but instead she stopped, squatted down, and plucked a rounded stone from the tall grass. She traced a shape on it with her pinky finger. To my amazement, I saw her nail was etching the very rock. When she was finished, she held it out.

“Take it, Lapli Pote. We will have need of a daughter of Chango.”

I narrowed my eyes.  In the firelight, I recognized it as one of the so-called sacred stones, a carved tool of an earlier aboriginal people which Voodooists believed to have been cast down by Chango the thunder god. If a person breathed upon one and the stone sweated, it meant there was a spirit inside. She had scratched a crude star shape into it.

“Watch out! The bourresouse are here!” the mad-eyed woman yelled.

It was then that a shrill whistle blew, and a party of newcomers crashed into the grove from the forest, slashing the clearing with flashlights.

The possessed woman swooned. León caught her, grunting.

“What did he say to you?” León hissed at me, ignoring the advancing men.

“He said the bourresouse are here.”

León whirled as the men reached the tree. There were about fifteen in all, dark men in the uniforms and badges of the Garde d’Haïti.

“All of you are under arrest,” announced the leader, a major, by his insignia. “Sergeant, round them up. We have a wagon waiting for you beyond those trees.”

“On what grounds?” one of the milling devotees called.

“There’s been another murder.”

“This is Fête Ghede!” the mambo protested. “No blood is being shed here.”

The major looked at the mambo, and I saw him toss something amid the paraphernalia. A dagger.

“They’re armed!” he called to his men, and to my surprise, he took out his pistol, shoved it in the mambo’s belly, and pulled the trigger, lifting her off her feet, setting the front of her white dress aflame.

On sale now –


Published in: on May 17, 2016 at 10:25 am  Leave a Comment  

Don’t Give Us Barrabas

Now at that feast he released unto them one prisoner, whomsoever they desired. And there was one named Barabbas, which lay bound with them …..who had committed murder in the insurrection. And the multitude crying aloud began to desire him to do as he had ever done unto them. But Pilate answered them, saying, “Will ye that I release unto you Jesus who is called the Christ?” For he knew that the Sanhedrin had delivered him for envy. But the Sanhedrin moved the people, that he should rather release Barabbas unto them.– Mark 15: 6-11

I grew up Catholic, and in a Catholic household you develop a certain mystic mindset. There is magical thinking not just in the transubstantiation at the heart of the Catholic Mass, but also in the everyday unofficial folk beliefs that orbit the Church’s teachings. You bury a St. Joseph statue in the yard of a house you want to sell. You don’t eat meat on Fridays, and during Easter weekend, you don’t watch TV or listen to the radio from 4pm Friday until Easter morning, to honor the silence of Christ in the tomb. To this day I still quietly and instinctively invoke the mantra to St. Anthony my mother and grandmother taught me whenever I lose something;

Tony Tony look around.
Something lost, must be found.

I grew up believing a great many things from the Bible. I could accept parting seas and pillars of fire, resurrections and ascensions, transfigurations and temptations by the Devil. I accepted the reality of God and miracles with the open readiness of a child’s mind.

But there was one thing from my earliest Scriptural studies I could never really understand.

It was the people’s choice of Barrabas the murderer over Jesus Christ.

In the story of the Passion, Pilate the Roman governor, not wanting to condemn Jesus to death, finds what he believes will be a zero hour out for himself and Jesus in a procedural loophole that allows him to release a prisoner to the Judeans on the feast of Passover. He has Jesus scourged and humiliated and then presents him to the people alongside Barrabas, who is described as a murderer (in later readings I’ve heard him described as an insurrectionist, possibly a cultural hero, but as a kid, I always understood him to be a straight up criminal).

The crowd is given the choice of releasing Barrabas, who it is implied is an unrepentant criminal that will go back to his old ways and Jesus, whose crime to me as a kid, was sort of nebulous, but, doctrinal biases and differences of creed laid aside (I’m not flat out not advocating Christianity over Judaism or vice versa here), can be boiled down to preaching change; a change in the law, a change in the word of God, away from the days of stoning women to love-thy-neighbor and blessed-are-the-meek.

barrabasThe crowd chooses Barrabas.

As a kid, this boggled my mind.

“But why did they want him dead?” I would ask my mother in exasperation. “What did Jesus do?”

He healed the sick and disabled. He brought back the dead. He preached love and togetherness, even to the hated Samaritans and the tax collectors.  He fed the hungry, and encouraged charity to the poor.

The only violent thing he ever did in the Gospel narrative is drive the moneylenders out of the Temple.

Now do you see where this post is going to become political?

Belief in God is irrelevant to this analysis. If you think the Bible is fiction, that’s fine. The most enduring fiction retains relevancy to the current human condition. Shakespeare endures. To Kill A Mockingbird endures. The Bible, like it or not, endures.

So, as Jesus would, take the tale of Barrabas as parable if you will. How does it apply to us now in this moment? What is to be learned here?

Given the choice between Barrabas and Christ, to a child, the decision is clear. One is a good man who teaches nothing but love and togetherness, an end to greed, and whose actions bespeak his heart. The other, a man, good or bad, but not loving, not peaceful. A man whose criminality is perhaps symptomatic of the society he is imprisoned by; a man whose actions are destructive. Entropic maybe, but impotent. No one remember Barrabas except that he was freed over Jesus.

One choice representing the progressive, the good, and the new. One representing the path of love.

The other representing the regressive. The static and self-consuming path of violence.

One old, one new.

There’s a great line in Martin Scorcese’s The Last Temptation of Christ where Willem Dafoe’s Jesus hollers;

“I’m throwing away the law. I have a new law and a new hope.”

“Has God changed his mind about the old law?” his heckler retorts, laughing.

“No. He just thinks our hearts are ready to hold more, that’s all.”

Can we not apply this narrative to the current political situation in this country?

A few weeks ago I posted about the dangers of a Trump presidency. I don’t feel any different about the dark prospects of such a thing coming true, but I’ve sobered a bit in my fear of him and his supporters.

I’ve paid attention to a lot of polls. I’m no longer afraid that he can win. I think the backlash against him is so strong with the good people of this country that he probably can’t be elected, no matter who he goes up against, Sanders or Clinton. Even his own party is recoiling from the toxicity of his candidacy.

But there is still a very real and very present, and perhaps, more important choice before us.

This electoral race is not really between Trump’s ultimate darkness and ‘whomever.’ Trump has become so blustery and outrageous as to be a carnival sideshow, an analogy born out by his stint in terrible reality television.  To speak against Trump is as big a waste of time as debating Klansmen or neo-Nazis. It’s like picking a fight with a small child. I have faith that the majority of us see him for the clown he is. He’s so obviously bad as to be cartoonish, just an insecure man preying on the same old s.men like him have used to rile people up since the anti-Chinese movements of the 1800’s.

But are their gradations of what is good?

I have evolved my thinking just a bit. I think now that the choice of which candidate defeats Trump is perhaps more important than a lot of people realize. I think it will decide the direction of this nation for decades to come.

Are we a truly progressive people, or are we content to tread water in the swimming pool of a sinking cruise liner?

Will we still let fear rule us and decide our choices?

I don’t mean to suggest that Bernie Sanders is some kind of messianic figure in comparing him to Christ in the story of Barrabas if we take it as parable. But between him and Hillary Clinton, which is the more Christ-like? Which is the more akin to Barrabas?

In one of the televised town hall meetings, I bet, one you didn’t see, Sanders was asked if he believed in God.

This was his answer;

“Every great religion in the world — Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism — essentially comes down to: ‘Do unto others as you would like them to do unto you.’ What I have believed in my whole life — I believed it when I was a 22-year-old kid getting arrested in Chicago fighting segregation — I’ve believed it in my whole life.

That we are in this together — not just, not words. The truth is at some level when you hurt, when your children hurt, I hurt. I hurt. And when my kids hurt, you hurt. And it’s very easy to turn our backs on kids who are hungry, or veterans who are sleeping out on the street, and we can develop a psyche, a psychology which is ‘I don’t have to worry about them; all I’m gonna worry about is myself; I need to make another 5 billion dollars.’

But I believe that what human nature is about is that everybody in this room impacts everybody else in all kinds of ways that we can’t even understand. It’s beyond intellect. It’s a spiritual, emotional thing. So I believe that when we do the right thing, when we try to treat people with respect and dignity, when we say that that child who is hungry is my child, I think we are more human when we do that, than when we say ‘hey, this whole world is me, I need more and more, I don’t care about anyone else.’ That’s my religion. That’s what I believe in.

And I think most people around the world — whatever their religion, their color — share that belief. That we are in it together as human beings. And it becomes more and more practical. If we destroy the planet because we don’t deal with climate change. Trust me, we are all in it together… and that is what my spirituality is about.”

The message is pretty clear, isn’t it?

Put aside any visceral reactions to this analogy you may have as a believer or non-believer and look at this rationally.

Bernie’s ideas seem radical. But they’re at least 2,000 years old. Take free college tuition and fair taxation of the rich and universal healthcare and distill them to their roots.

Bernie wants to institute a tax on the currently un-taxed practice of stock speculation on Wall Street. He wants to raise the taxes on the 1% of persons and corporations who have been, if not illegally, than immorally withholding their fair share of contributions to our collective society through offshore tax shelters, yet enjoying its benefits.

It’s all right here.


He wants to go after those who aren’t paying their taxes, basically. And there’s enough money there to pay for the programs he wants to institute. Billions of dollars. Currently, billionaire hedge fund managers pay a lower tax rate than nurses. Which profession contributes more to society, do you think?

Hoffman-ChristAndTheRichYoungRulerIn the story of Jesus, there is related an encounter between Christ and a rich and wealthy man who asks the rabbi;

“What can I do to inherit the kingdom of Heaven?”

Jesus replies;

“Go, sell your possessions and give to the poor. Then come, follow me.”

This saddens the wealthy man, who goes away, unwilling to give up his riches.

Jesus says;

“It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”

I used to think of this as a condemnation of the wealthy. Perhaps it is. But as in the best parables, it has a double meaning. It’s a lament. Jesus and the rich man are both saddened and disappointed.

Greed has infected the rich man’s life to the point where his material wealth is more important to him than the fate of his eternal soul.

The wealthy man believes enough in Christ to ask his advice, but his own avarice is a kind of slavery he can’t bring himself to self-liberate from, even hearing the secret of his salvation from the proverbial horse’s mouth. In the context of this story, here is a prominent man of means fortunate enough to be alive during this singular moment in time when he can actually ask of his own Creator how best to live his life, and yet he squanders it in favor of retaining his earthly luxury.

mumbaiI have never understood how the fabulously wealthy of Mumbai can look out over the horrendous slums of their city, at the blameless children rooting in the trash of their society and still sleep contended in their towers of glass and steel. I’ve never understood how the Waltons can live with the notion that their multitude workers suffer under the burden of an unsustainable wage. I can’t fathom the minds of men and women who crush their fellow human beings in favor of attaining wealth and security for themselves.

Of course, some of these people are flat out vile. But isn’t it likely that a greater number are imprisoned, as sure as any heroin addict in a gilded cage built by an addiction to wealth hoarding? What’s the difference between that guy with a private skyscraper all to himself in Mumbai and the person trembling in a home stacked to the ceiling with newspapers and cat feces, unable to throw anything out?

On the flip side, there are surely pathetic, hopeless people among the poor. No stereotype comes out of nowhere. There are people who game the system. There are people conditioned to indolence by the very system which fails to help them, unable and unwilling to help themselves because they are without hope for anything better.

But the bulk of humanity does not exist in extremes. We are all of us good and bad. Many of us though, are afraid. It’s understandable. We are fragile creatures ultimately, existing on a pinpoint of existence in a vast and, to our eye, lifeless universe. We live in the moment, and care nothing for what will proceed beyond our time.

All of us are afraid to lose what we have.

Bernie Sanders doesn’t want to take the hard earnings of anyone and give it to the indolent. He wants to level the playing field of his country; give everybody the fair opportunity promised by the American Dream, so that people can proceed with hope that they really can lead better lives.

But the comfortable among us fear that. If there is no one beneath me, how do I measure my success, some might think. More of us probably think, I’m afraid someone will come and take what I have worked for.

It won’t happen. The fabulously wealthy will remain fabulously wealthy, their descendants secure for generations to come. It’s just that a little more of that money they hoard will filter to the rest of the people, to improve our country as a whole. And if you’re not fabulously wealthy, you’ll keep what you have, you just won’t make quite as much.

And to be clear, we’re talking about people earning millions of dollars a year. They’ll be fine.

Everything Sanders proposes is attainable, though it sounds and seems fantastic.

Change always does.

People fear change, though. They want things to remain staid and understandable. That’s just not how life works, though. Resisting the natural progression of change only hurts the resister.  Like the wealthy man in the parable, he loses the opportunity to be more than what he is in favor of his own hoarding. Like a monkey sitting under an apple tree with his hand stuck in a jar holding onto a single apple and refusing to let it go, he doesn’t understand how to let go of that which does not serve him, but forces him to serve it. That’s right out of Kung Fu, so don’t quote me.

What else is there to fear from a Bernie Sanders presidency, besides a decrease in the material?

Some I’ve spoken to fear he can’t deliver on his promises.

It can be done, but as he has said, not by him alone. He is not a messiah. He needs all of us behind him. He needs public involvement in the process. If a Republican senate blocks every positive measure, he needs the people to make them aware it won’t fly.

Watch his rallies, his speeches. Attend one, if you can. He can inspire the people toward this end.  The government only has what power we allow it to have.  Here in Los Angeles, early in his campaign, back in August of last year, he held a rally. My eldest son attended. The venue was at capacity, and fifteen hundred people stood outside in the dark while he spoke. When the event was over, he came out and addressed the people who couldn’t get in. What other candidate in recent memory has ever done something like this? This is why he inspires.

This is a new way of doing things for a lot of people. It’s not enough to elect the guy and sit back and watch him work. A lot of damage has been done to this country for a lot of years.  The checks and balances our political system exists under aren’t the ones we intended. It’s become checkbooks and account balances, and if we’re to move forward, it has to change.

Bernie Sanders represents that change. His movement shouldn’t be crassly and cynically dismissed as a want of the youth for ‘free stuff.’ The system we have now is juvenile and favor based, a Pavlovian black comedy of bell ringing and salivation. What Sanders proposes is a natural maturation, so long stunted by greed.

Our hearts can hold more.

Now, in our parable, any choice other than Sanders, but most especially, I think, Hillary Clinton, is clearly Barrabas.

There is no doubt as to her qualifications from a concrete, technical standpoint. She thrives in our current political system. She is a servant and perhaps an unwitting victim of it.  A capitulant and a glad-hander, opportunistic and subservient to the greed-based culture which currently rules us all. Her morals and ideals are beholden to whatever favor she perceives she can garner for herself and her constituents in any given moment. Bernie Sanders will never see transcripts of the speeches she supposedly gave to various banking concerns for exorbitant fees. I doubt there ever were any speeches, just payouts. A vote for Hillary Clinton is an impotent act, like the work of Barrabas. It’s a vote for another four to eight years of what we already have, perhaps even longer, because a candidate of this caliber will not be allowed to get this close to the highest office in the land in my lifetime.

It is obvious to any person who pays close attention that the established system is attempting to block out Sanders. The media conglomerates in charge of your television news and daily papers are owned by rich persons and corporations who correctly feel that that a Sanders presidency would not be in their best(most profitable) interests.  They give more air time to Trump and Clinton (and donate vast sums to the latter’s campaign), they gloss over Hillary’s inadequacies and go over Sanders with a fine tooth comb looking to spin or exploit the least turn of phrase to her advantage (read the ridiculous story about how Sanders supposedly sided with gun manufacturers over the victims of the Sandy Hook massacre – as if anyone would ever do that and still attempt to run for President).  They dismiss Sanders at every opportunity.  They want this race to be about Clinton and Trump, because this is an event they can control. Everyone knows Trump won’t win. He’s being pumped up as a villain that Clinton must heroically defeat to the relief of everyone. Yes she seems to be a better choice than Trump, but really, her election is a more insidious move to keep things as they are.

A vote for Hillary Clinton is a vote for Barrabas. A vote based on fear of change or else fear of Trump, which is unfounded, as he’s probably not going to win. And let’s consider the latter fear. If you’re afraid Trump is going to win and take away gay marriage and civil liberties and go building walls and pushing nuclear buttons, in every poll anywhere Sanders beats Trump by a wider margin than Clinton. If you truly are afraid of Trump, then Sanders is the safer bet.

We have a singular opportunity in history right now, like the rich man in the parable. We can throw out the old rule of greed and fear and vote in a new era of prosperity for our fellow human beings.  These things being proposed may seem like pipe dreams, but many other nations have them and contrary to what the corporate media tells you, they are not failing because of them.

My best friend lives with his family in Germany. Recently he suffered a back injury. Rather than finding himself out of work and unable to pay for his treatment, his job gave him paid recovery time, and months later he returned to work debt free. He and his children live good lives. They vacation in the countryside, and they want for nothing.

Here in America, my wife and I work forty hours a week. My wife sees our children for an hour at night during the week. We have no savings, we own nothing, and don’t really expect to as we basically shovel money at my wife’s voracious college debt, and at our current rate of payment, we will until we die. We’re facing college tuition for our three children. If we vacation, it means missing payments, which compounds our debt.  We have family to rely on that will keep us from homelessness, but I wonder what our kids’ lives will be like in the future without that safety net. My kids have never had a yard to play in. Never had grass between their toes, or a tree to climb.

And yet, I know there are families much, much worse off than mine.

Why would anyone with a heart vote against the life my friend lives? How could anyone be against free education for children who want to learn, free healthcare for all? Dignity for our elderly? Lay aside your cynicism. Lay aside your fear and the hatred that it engenders, lay aside that part of yourself that says, “Well, that’s tough, but I’m doing fine. Just work harder.”

Understand that the things you rail against in society are only symptoms of the stunted development our country has suffered under due to the constant effort of a greed based power structure, and that they will change, not by building walls, not through clubbing heads and locking people up, but by educating them, taking away their own fear, giving them hope.

These things seem unrealistic, but be honest. They’re not miraculous, are they?

It took me thirty five years to finally understand the reason why anybody would ever choose Barrabas.

For my children. For your children. For the children of people neither of us have ever met.

Please don’t be afraid.


Published in: on April 11, 2016 at 9:58 am  Comments (1)  

The 5-Foot Assassin

I can’t let today go by without marking the passing of Malik Isaac Taylor, AKA Phife Dawg, The Five Footer of hip hop supergroup A Tribe Called Quest fame.

Hip hop was the equivalent of rock ‘n roll for me as a high schooler. My parents didn’t get it, most of my white friends didn’t like it, it was irreverent, and spoke to me on a personal level for reasons I can’t begin to analyze.

Paramount among my favorite rap groups was A Tribe Called Quest, whose colorful video for Check Tha Rhime altered the way I dressed and what I perceived as cool for the next four to five years of my life.

Tribe became my Beatles. My Rolling Stones. I bought tickets whenever they were in town, picked up their cassettes the day they dropped, and most importantly, just road around all night in my baby blue 1970 Oldsmobile Cutlass with the top down feeling the wind in my hair, feeling free and young, listening to their albums over and over.

They had a playful, intelligent, laid back vibe that espoused fun and peace. Perfect summertime listening.

Phife and Q-Tip were as inseparable in my mind as Mick Jagger and Keith Richards and to hear Phife is gone is to hear Tribe is gone too, and now, I guess a little portion of my youth (if you wanna get existential and maudlin).

RIP Phife Dawg and the summer of ’92.

Published in: on March 23, 2016 at 3:35 pm  Leave a Comment  

DT Moviehouse Review: Chato’s Land

Time once more for my blog feature, DT Moviehouse Reviews, in which I make my way alphabetically through my 200+ DVD/Blu-Ray collection (you can see the list right here) and decide if each one was worth the money. Today, I review the Charles Bronson western Chato’s Land.

Directed by Michael Winner

Screenplay by Gerald Wilson

Tagline: The scream of his victims is the only sound he makes.


What It’s About:

When mestizo Apache Pardon Chato (Charles Bronson) is harassed and challenged in a saloon by the racist local sheriff, he turns and kills the lawman, fleeing into the desert. Ex-Confederate Captain Quincy Whitmore (Jack Palance) gathers a posse to track him down, slowly losing control of the situation and the unruly bunch of men under him.

Why I Bought It:

The 70’s is a great era to drag for hidden gems of westerns, and Chato’s Land is among the best. It’s definitely overshadowed in Bronson’s ouvre by his better known work, and is probably mostly forgotten even among his turns in westerns like Once Upon A Time In The West and The Magnificent Seven. John Landis, who worked in some small capacity on the picture, called it by the numbers, but I couldn’t disagree more.

ba99I love the washed out, ugly, pared down look and feel of Chato’s Land. The Almeria (doubling for Arizona) landscape is ugly, beige, alkali-covered and barren. It really looks hellish, crawling with flies and rattlesnakes. The characters who eke out their living in this place are almost uniformly unkempt and ugly, particularly the posse members, who are cast with some fantastic character actors like Little House On The Prairie’s Victor French, Richard Basehart, James Whitmore, and particularly the loathsome Hooker brothers, Ralph Waite (the father on TV’s The Waltons), Richard Jordan, and Psycho’s psychiatrist Simon Oakland, whose patriarchal Jubal is a standout here. The Hookers are horrific villains. Earl is introduced apparently trying to rape his sister while his brother Elias sits by shaking his head and Jubal takes his belt to him. They’re a pack of wild dogs Quincy calls upon in the hunt, but who end up biting him in the end.

3Bronson, when he strips to his breechclout toward the end, looks to be carved out of sandstone, sprung from the land itself. The most significant chunks of his dialogue are spoken in Apache, so it’s a Conan The Barbarian-esque part, with Bronson doing all his acting with his physicality. He still manages to bring a humanism to Chato in the interactions with his son and the gorgeous Sonia Rangan, his wife. Rewatching it though, I wonder at his initial motivation for drinking in the saloon of an apparently notorious racist sheriff (one of the rancher’s sons describes him as a no good hillbilly who got what he asked for later on). It’s apparent the town and its lawman has a reputation, so it feels like Chato intends to kill the man. Why is he in town at all if he has a hacienda with a wife and son in the remote mountains? Why is he making a point of bellying up to the bar? He has a reputation himself as the Mexican tracker in the posse knows him and the horse he rides. One wonders if the movie opens with some kind of climax to an untold story between these two. Maybe Chato and the sheriff had a lot of previous run ins.

At any rate, once Chato guns down the sheriff and rides out of town, the first person anybody runs to is Jack Palance’s Captain Quincy Whitmore, ex-Confederate officer, ex-scout for Tom Jeffords, who famously ran down the Apache guerilla Cochise, and the most able man in town when it comes to organizing a posse.


Palance plays the character pretty much as he’s written, a man eager to relive past glories. The first thing he does when he hears there’s a fugitive killer is go upstairs and don his old Confederate duds. It’s kind of a weird thing to do if you think about it, but it’s a telling character moment. The man sits dreaming of the past. Later, in a dying fever, he curses an enemy commander and several times speaks wistfully about watching tides of gray clad men crashing against lines of bluecoats. He’s never gotten past that part of his life. The character Nye observes that Quincy is ‘chasing down a breed and dreaming of Yankees.’

It seems to be a running theme among the most prominent characters, that they can’t overcome some self-made obstacle in their lives, some obsession or obstinacy which drives them to the inevitable. Quincy must lead men. Jubal must avenge his no good brother. Earl must have a woman. Even Malachie, the most progressive of the bunch must respond to his neighbors’ call, even when he knows it’s probably not right.  The inevitability each of them faces is Chato himself, who is the dead that comes with folly.

chatos-landYet he’s a surprisingly kindly reaper at first, gently urging them all to drop it and let it go. Chato killed the sheriff, but he has no quarrel with them. When they pursue, he spares the Mexican scout, knowing they will use his abilities to follow his track. He leads them in circles, sneaks in and night and spears their waterskins and canteens while they’re sleeping (sparing them again), shoots their horses, tries everything to discourage their pursuit. I think at one point he even discourages a raiding party of Comanche and Kiowa from tangling with them, telling the hostile Indians the posse isn’t worth the trouble. Returning to his hacienda and speaking to his Apache father? Brother-in-law? He even seems reassured that they will have learned their lesson.

The movie is something like the anti-Searchers, with Palance standing in as a reluctant Ethan Edwards. He even paraphrases John Wayne’s famous line about the Comanche, adapting it here for the Apache.

“Injun’ll chase something until the chasin’ begins to cost too much, then he’ll drop it. That’s how he thinks. Now he don’t plan on somethin’ comin’ after him no matter what.”

1118full-chato's-land-screenshotWhen Quincy’s posse lucks upon water and discovers Chato’s hideout while he is away wrangling wild horses, the Hooker brothers and some of the other possemen gang rape his wife. Then of course, Chato strips away his ‘white’ clothes and goes First Blood on them, rescuing his wife, running off their horses, torturing and killing Earl, and mercilessly picking them off one at a time in a variety of ingenious ways (my particular favorite being flinging a live rattlesnake into a guy’s face and watching him expire).

Their intractability has led them to their ends, and not even the mildest among them, who deride the acts of the Hooker brothers but who do nothing but stand by hemming and hawing while they are committed, is spared. Quincy swiftly loses control of the Hookers and Jubal wrests leadership of the posse from him in the wake of Earl’s death, forcing them all into the maw of Chato like a mad Ahab, until Malachie and Brady, the two Scotts rebel. But it’s too little too late.

Chato’s Land feels like a pretty brutal movie, even though much of the violence is implied rather than depicted. It’s tame by today’s standards, but it has an adult hard hearted-ness that make it ring true. As a personal note, it was a huge influence on my own feature film Meaner Than Hell.

I find the score kind of forgettable, but there are some noteworthy sound and editing choices. There are a lot of match cuts in the transitions, a zoom of a belt turning into a horizontal fire log burning, and my favorite, the screams of Chato’s wife turning into the keening cries of horses at one point.

Best Dialogue/Line:

“To you this is so much bad land – rock, scrub, desert and then more rock. A hard land that the sun has sucked all the good out of. You can’t farm it and you can’t carve it out and call it your own… so you damn it to hell and it all looks the same. That’s our way. To the breed, now, it’s his land. He don’t expect to give him much and he don’t force it none. And to him, it’s almost human – a living, active thing. And it will give him a good place to make his fight against us.”

Best Scene:

For me, it’s got to be the ending.

Malachie and Brady, the two most reluctant of the posse members, both Scot immigrants, finally turn on Jubal and gun him down.

They immediately turn to the long trek home, short on water. One horse dies on them, but they keep going. Then, at night in camp, a rifle bullet comes out of the dark and leaves Malachie burning on the fire.

The last scene is of Brady, the lone survivor, stumbling on foot through the white, dusty rocks bordering his home, lips cracked and sunburned. He scrambles up an embankment only to find Chato sitting there atop his horse, denying his final escape. He tries to pass, and Chato simply moves left or right, herding him like a wayward steer.

Brady falls back and stumbles into the wasteland as the camera rises into a final, shaky helicopter shot, Chato ushering Brady back into the empty landscape, not lifting a finger to kill him, though his fate is pretty clear.

Would I Buy It Again? Yes

Next In The Queue: Children of The Damned

Published in: on March 10, 2016 at 12:15 am  Leave a Comment  

To The Undecideds

Well my last blog post broke my rule about not giving writing advice, so since I’m on a roll, I’m now gonna make the one and only political post you’ll ever read here. Feel free to skip. Next time I’ll be back to talking about movies and comics and hawking books. I swear.

august-landmesser-man-refused-salute-hitler-1936I am an idealist and a fantacist. I make no claims to being a realist. I’ve never voted for a winning president (or governor) in an election.  I’ve also never voted against anybody in my life, only for the person I thought was best suited to the office.  I was told again and again that third party candidates can’t win, and the last election had me pretty convinced. I saw the best man lose over and over, and had just about resolved never to vote again, because I had come to understand that my vote doesn’t count.  That’s just the way of the world, of politics. It’s a two party system, and I swore I’d never vote Republican or Democrat. They have always represented to me two sides of a coin I didn’t care to pocket.  There are differences in policy, in approach, but they ultimately serve the same unchanging system.

Then, last year, breaking yet another of my own rules, I registered as a Democrat.

I think you can guess which candidate convinced me to do that. It wasn’t Hillary Clinton.

But I don’t want to sit here and sling mud at her. My candidate wouldn’t like that.

I’m not gonna sing his praises either (much), or post a bunch of dank memes, or try to convince you of what’s great about him. Go to his website.  Watch his speeches. Seriously, do it. Listen to the man.

Instead, I’m gonna talk about something very important.

This election is going to be won or lost in the next two weeks, when the delegates and superdelegates choose the nomination for the Democratic party. Everybody knows it.

Our country is on the precipice of a very steep drop into a darkness it will be very difficult for us to climb out of should we choose to let ourselves fall. And it is a choice, make no mistake.

Is it our choice? Yours and mine? I really don’t know. I hope it is. I hope the collective will of the people counts for something in this election. Even more than that, I hope it’s a good and just will that animates the majority of us, that idealism and benevolence can prevail against ignorance, greed, and hatred. If it doesn’t, then no, our votes don’t count for anything in the end. Not if they’re misused.

Because make no mistake. The front-running Republican candidate is not a clown to be laughed at. I have never laughed at him. I remember 2004 and the re-election everybody said would never happen in a million years. I remember the bona fide war hero they put up against the draft dodging goof. I remember who won.

Moreover, I have seen the power of celebrity with people. It overruns reason. It whips up passions. It’s infectious. Level heads do not prevail.  The celebrity always wins. Always.  You have to consider all the prior years of entertainment as free campaigning. Name recognition is greater from the get-go.

Combine the influential power of celebrity, the vapid but forceful cult of personality, with bad or selfish intentions, and you have disastrous consequences. It’s happened before elsewhere throughout history. Are we going to let it happen here?

Just as I’m not going to champion my candidate (much), I’m not going to tell you what’s wrong with Donald Trump if he’s yours. If you’re honest with yourself, you know the answer to that in your heart.  Any reason you may have to support a man like that is yours to live with.  Nothing I can say will dissuade you, so I’m not addressing this post to you.

Who I am addressing is the undecided. Those delegates in states whose votes haven’t yet been tallied, those superdelegates who have not yet publicly backed a candidate.

You have a very important decision before you.  Not many people are given the opportunity to make a direct, positive influence on the course of human history. Not many people find themselves with the chance to affect the lives of their fellow human beings for the better.

But you do.

Hillary Clinton will not defeat Donald Trump in a general election for the Presidency of the United States. She can’t win. She’s evasive, unlikable, untrustworthy, and uninspiring.

A hypothetical clash between her and Trump has been thoroughly analyzed elsewhere, but I’ll summarize it here.

She has too much baggage. Too many poor decisions and unpopular stances to be taken to task for. Too much fodder for a juvenile bully like Donald Trump. Trump is a muckraker and he will not hesitate to loudly attack these many years of misdeeds and character defects.  His supporters will froth and cheer him on. Hillary will constantly be on the defensive, making her look weak and ineffectual. The din of Trump’s crowd will drown out anything she says in retort. Eventually, she will go on the attack herself, and the entire thing will devolve into the sort of mudslinging fracas a guy like Trump thrives in.

She can’t win.

In a fight with Bernie Sanders, Trump can’t attack his opponent’s integrity, or poke at his inconsistencies. He can’t dwell on the mundane or resort to ridicule. Bernie is nothing if not consistent. Finding no purchase for his usual tactics, Trump will look like the buffoon he is. He will be forced to address the core issues he has danced vaguely around thus far. Without his trademark sideshow distractions and schoolyard taunts, his woeful inexperience will be more apparent.  Yes, Hillary is more experienced than Bernie. But taking all her perceived character defects into account (rightfully earned or not), it just doesn’t matter in this instance.

I can’t guarantee Bernie Sanders can beat Donald Trump. Ultimately, that decision will define the character of our nation. If the majority of us elect to give in to the basest, most reactionary, most unworthy aspects of our own souls, then America deserves every subsequent disaster that befalls it.

But first, we have to get to that fight.

You have to decide now who’s better suited to face this threat to our integrity. This election is a clash between the summit of the most humane ideals our country is supposed to embody and the lowest, most unscrupulous, barbarous, and inhumane depths to which we unfortunately sometimes fall. There can be no compromise, no middle of the road.  Pandering will not get us past this. Untruths can’t prevail. Moderation will not sustain. Party loyalties won’t serve. It’s all or nothing.

My candidate is not a messiah. He won’t solve these deep divides overnight. I know that. But last night, when he said –

The truth is at some level when you hurt, when your children hurt, I hurt. I hurt. And when my kids hurt, you hurt. And it’s very easy to turn our backs on kids who are hungry, or veterans who are sleeping out on the street, and we can develop a psyche, a psychology which is ‘I don’t have to worry about them; all I’m gonna worry about [is] myself; I need to make another $5 Billion.’

But I believe that what human nature is about is that everybody in this room impacts everybody else in all kinds of ways that we can’t even understand. It’s beyond intellect. It’s a spiritual, emotional thing.

So I believe that when we do the right thing, when we try to treat people with respect and dignity, when we say that that child who is hungry is my child… I think we are more human when we do that, than when we say ‘hey, this whole world , I need more and more, I don’t care about anyone else.’ That’s my religion. That’s what I believe in. And I think most people around the world, whatever their religion, their color — share that belief. That we are in it together as human beings.

The truth of the matter solidified in my mind.

The most important question to be answered in this election cannot be are we more Hillary or more Bernie.

It’s are we Bernie or are we Trump?

Please, for my children, for my daughters and my sons, and for everyone’s, look directly and truthfully into yourselves and do not flinch from the importance of the contention that lies directly before us all. Forget your loyalties if you have them, try to look past the misgivings or doubts you might have, don’t worry about your careers. Remember that policies and economics aside, the American dream is first and foremost a dream.

Don’t let it become a nightmare.


Now to the rest of you who are like me, and feel pretty powerless to affect what’s about to happen, if you agree with me, let these people know.

I couldn’t compile a list of every undecided Democratic superdelegate  on Facebook. Some don’t allow public posts, some don’t have profiles at all or I couldn’t confirm their identities, some already have banner pics of themselves smiling beside Hillary Clinton.

But the rest are below.  52 of them, culled from the list of undecideds on Wikipedia.

The first fifteen are from California. When I got to the end of that list, I decided it might be best to find as many as I could, not to limit myself. Tell them who you, the people want to represent you in the 2016 election this November.  I don’t know if this system is rigged against us all or not. I don’t want to believe it is. But this is all I can do.

You know his name. Tell them.





















































Hey Hilario – Writing and Publishing Advice for Kids

Hey folks, I’ve been remiss in posting here, but like a man purchasing a box of prunes, I vow to be more regular.

I said (well, to myself anyway), that I would probably never write one of these writing advice blog posts. Who am I to give advice anyway? My success is very very modest and I’m a bit of a babe in the woods when it comes to the business end of publishing.

Then, when my daughter Magnolia showed some of the stories I helped her write and get published to her 5th grade class, one of her friends (through her) asked me if I could give him any advice on how to get his own stories out there.

Below is the letter I sent him. Maybe, if you have creatively minded children (God help you) or, if you yourself are just starting out and are a metaphorical child in terms of writing, or, if you stumble through life sort of childlike as I do (again, God help you), maybe you can glean something helpful out of this.

Thanks to my writing and reading buddies on Facebook who helped out by recommending me some kid-friendly weird books back when I wrote this.

Hey Hilario,

Every writer gets started a different way, but they all have one thing in common. They don’t just think about being a writer –they write.  You start by just coming up with ideas and writing them down.  As long as you keep having ideas, you should always be able to keep writing. Writing’s like any muscle. It gets stronger if you exercise it regularly. That means the same as a boxer gets up in the morning and runs a couple miles or hits a bag, if you want to write, you should set aside an hour or two a day just to write, if you want to get better. Stephen King writes four hours a day, every day, at the same time. I write two hours, after my kids go to sleep at night. Some guys get up early and do it. Going to school and having homework and all that, you’ve got to do what you can afford to do, but commit. Try to write every day.

You should also read a lot. If it’s horror you want to write, start out by reading that. Read the guys whose names you’ve heard, and I’ll give you a list at the end here of others. But don’t confine yourself to reading only spec fic (spec fic is speculative fiction or genre fiction – basically science fiction, horror, adventure, superheroes, fantasy, anything that’s a bit weird or out of the ordinary). If you only read that stuff, you’ll miss out on an important part of making a story work, which is making your own story and characters believable. It won’t matter if you can vividly write about a guy’s face melting off or somebody punching through a wall if you can’t get your reader interested in the story in the first place by investing time in filling out the world it takes place in. When you write weird fiction, if you make the normal/boring stuff believable, it makes the cool stuff that much more awesome when it happens. If you write about a bus driver running down zombies in the zombie apocalypse, where’d he get the bus? Was he a regular bus driver when the plague hit? How did he react when zombies started showing up? What’s it like to drive a bus? Did he have a girlfriend, a wife, family? If you’re writing a ghost story, why’s the ghost haunting people? Who were they in life? Do the people in the story believe in ghosts? Why or why not? Think about Spider-Man. Before he becomes Spider-Man, he’s just a kid who’s kinda nerdy, gets picked on in school. Then he gets his powers, and his whole life changes. What makes him put on his mask? How does he deal with being Spider-Man in his off time? Because the kids who picked on him before don’t know he’s Spider-Man. Why doesn’t he tell them? If you don’t have that stuff, it comes across as kinda cartoony (in a Digimon sense, not say, The Last Airbender). No good writer writes in a vacuum, ignoring the world around them. In fact, you should watch and listen to everybody around you. Your whole life, everything and everyone you experience, is research. You never know when some little detail you notice and file away might come up in a story later. And again, you should read everything. Stephen King says you should read a hundred words for every word you write. It really will make you better.

Hand writing a story out on paper is OK to start. Some professional writers still do it, but I think it’s kind of a waste of time. The best thing to do is to type it right into a computer program like MS Word or WordPerfect or something like that. Publishers have guidelines (ways they expect a story to look or be formatted, the same as a paper at school), and most of them will accept stories you send them through email, so you should write your story in a program like that. If you don’t have a computer at your house, you might be able to type your story into a program and save it at the library. You can ask your teacher or the librarian or your parents how to do that.  Writing in a program is a good habit because it will also correct a lot of your spelling and grammar as you go – which is very important. If you send a story to an editor full of spelling errors, they’ll give up before finishing it and throw it out. The basic format for a story submission is, you set the type font to size 12 Times New Roman, indent your paragraphs with a .5 inch margin, and set the entire document to double spacing, which means there’ll be a blank line between every line so the editor can read it easier. This is in submission format – (NOTE: WordPress probably isn’t gonna let this show up correctly. For proper submission format, check here – http://www.shunn.net/format/novel.html

The interior was dim and cluttered, the house of a man with no partner to tend to it. There were stacks of books and newspapers. Antlers and carved wooden masks covered the mantle. A pair of handmade snowshoes hung on the wall, and a harpoon. Hal took off his parka and draped his suit jacket over a chair, the red and gold medal dangling forgotten.

“I’ll make some coffee,” he said, and got busy doing it. “Get that fire going. You think it’s cold now, it’s gonna storm tonight.”

See the difference? (Nope, me neither. Sorry! Check the link)

There are a lot of markets that will buy short stories. Some of them don’t take work from writers under the age of eighteen.  This is usually for legal reasons, taxes, payment, that kind of thing. Magnolia was able to publish her first story where she did because I co-wrote it. It was entirely her idea, but I wrote it out and let her have the pay. The second story was all hers. I had her tell it to me, suggested changes, but it was her. Sometimes there are calls for short stories from kids. You just have to keep an eye out for them. Magnolia’s third story is for an all-kids horror book.

The site I use to look for places to sell my work is called Ralan.com. Just type it into Google and it’ll pop up.

When you go there you’ll see, on the page, links for Pro , Semipro,   Pay,  Token,  Anthos, Books,    Under1K/Poetry/Audio,  Humor/Greeting Cards,   Contests.

Pro, Semipro, Pay, and Token are levels of reimbursement – the money you can get for your story. Pro rates begin at 5 cents a word and can go as high a 25 cents a word, which is pretty good. That means if you write a 2000 word story, you can make $100.  It’s good money if you can get it. It also teaches you to pay more attention to description and detail when you write. The more you write, the more you get paid. I got $600 for a Star Wars story. But the first story I ever sold, I sold to a small magazine in England for $28.  That’s a token payment.  Semipro is usually about three cents a word, which still isn’t bad. But a token payment is a one-time payment of anywhere from $5-$30.  Some places will offer to publish your story for what they call exposure, or royalty only. You should never send a story to these places, unless it’s for charity or something, because basically you’re giving your story away. Your story can only make you as much money as you believe it can. A writer should be paid what he’s worth. Nobody asks a plumber to come and fix their toilet for free, promising them they’ll tell all their friends how good the work was and maybe next time the plumber will get a paying job. Never give your work away.

Anthos means anthologies. That means the editor is putting out a book of short stories, not a magazine.

Books means the editor is looking for full length novels. That’s 60,000-150,000 words and up (10,000-49,000 words is usually considered a novella or a short novel).

Under1K – Under 1,000 words. Sometimes people call this flash fiction. Really short stories. 2,000-9,000K (I don’t know why they use a K. As an adult I should, but I don’t.) is a short story.

Poetry is just what it sounds like. Editors looking for poems.

Audio means somebody is looking to buy stories for audiobooks or for a podcast (kind of an internet radio show where somebody reads a story out loud).

Humor/Greeting Cards – yeah like those funny Hallmark cards at Target.

Contests – You submit your story, it’s judged, you win a prize. Just like an essay contest at school. Sometimes you get money for these. I personally never pay to enter one, but it’s fine to do so.

So basically, if you click on any of those headings on Ralan, it’ll take you to a list of editors looking for that type of writing. Somebody’s always looking for something. And check back often, because the listings change every week.

So here are some pretty good horror authors and stories/books you might read. They should all be at the library. A couple of them you can even find their stories online for free.

Short stories:

Edgar Allen Poe – The Premature Burial

Robert E. Howard – The Horror From The Mound, Pigeons From Hell, The Black Stone

Ambrose Bierce – The Man And The Snake

H.P. Lovecraft – The Call of Cthulhu, At The Mountains Of Madness

Richard Connell – The Most Dangerous Game

Shirley Jackson – The Lottery

Henry James – The Turn Of The Screw


Stephen King – Cycle Of The Werewolf

Clive Barker – The Thief Of Always

Roald Dahl – The Witches

Ray Bradbury – Something Wicked This Way Comes

Neil Gaiman – Coraline

Well, good luck! Write the stories you like reading. If you have any questions, just ask me through Magnolia.

Keep writing!

Ed Erdelac

Published in: on February 11, 2016 at 8:43 am  Leave a Comment  

Happy 110th Birthday, Robert E. Howard

4PalmTreeI’ve been enamored with Robert E. Howard’s writing since seeing his name in the credits of Conan The Barbarian and hunting down as many of the Frazetta and Vallejo illustrated paperbacks of his work as I could find in the local used bookstore.

His works have set my imagination racing from the time I was twelve or so.

I blogged a while back about the three pop culture items I would waste money on to mark my career milestones as a writer, and the first tier was the Father’s Sword famously forged in the opening of the John Milius movie to the hammering strains of Basil Poledoruis’s monumental score. 

As many of you who follow this must know, I sold my first major professional rate novel, Andersonville, to Random House’s Hydra imprint a couple years ago, and it was published last year, putting me, for a time, ahead of Stephen King in the horror category on Amazon. Yep, I was King for a day.

I really wanted to mark this achievement with my first really foolish purchase of the big old Father’s Sword Windlass put out, but we were in a shaky financial state in Chateau du Erdelac around that time, and my better judgment won out.

I was supremely surprised then, this past Christmas, when one of my two gifts came in a weighty oblong box. My wife and eldest son had gone ahead and chipped in for the sword. On top of that, my uncle, who has always sort of poked fun at my writing aspirations and been pretty blunt in his critiques of my work (he’s not really a fan of ‘weird’ writing), carved a sturdy, rich wood plaque to hang it from and marked the date on the back.

No pics yet, as I haven’t had the time to hang it yet. I’ll post it here when I do. But it was a great gesture.

Anyway, whenever my creativity or enthusiasm wanes, I return to the well that Howard sank. This year, it was partially inspired by the re-reading of the Conan series authors Howard Andrew Jones and Bill Ward did over on Jones’ blog. 

As ever, I have no new praise to heap upon Howard. Every year here at Delirium Tremens, I let the master’s words speak for him.

This year, on the occasion of his birthday and perhaps in celebration of my ‘taking up the sword,’ I present my favorite passages from the King Conan tale The Scarlet Citadel. Conan has been unseated from his throne of Aquilonia by his enemies and a plotting wizard, replaced by a despotic prince and locked away in a dungeon of horrors presumed dead by his subjects and the rest of the world.

In his absence his kingdom wavers at the brink of chaos….
Jayem_Wilcox_-_The_Scarlet_CitadelWhile Athemides pleaded with Trocero, the mob still raved in the city with helpless fury. Under the great tower beside the royal palace the people swirled and milled, screaming their hate at Arpello, who stood on the turrets and laughed down at them while his archers ranged the parapets, bolts drawn and fingers on the triggers of their arbalests.

The prince of Pellia was a broad-built man of medium height, with a dark stern face. He was an intriguer, but he was also a fighter. Under his silken jupon with its gilt-braided skirts and jagged sleeves, glimmered burnished steel. His long black hair was curled and scented, and bound back with a cloth- of-silver band, but at his hip hung a broadsword the jeweled hilt of which was worn with battles and campaigns.

“Fools! Howl as you will! Conan is dead and Arpello is king!”

What if all Aquilonia were leagued against him? He had men enough to hold the mighty walls until Strabonus came up. But Aquilonia was divided against itself. Already the barons were girding themselves each to seize his neighbor’s treasure. Arpello had only the helpless mob to deal with. Strabonus would carve through the loose lines of the warring barons as a galley-ram through foam, and until his coming, Arpello had only to hold the royal capital.

“Fools! Arpello is king!”

The sun was rising over the eastern towers. Out of the crimson dawn came a flying speck that grew to a bat, then to an eagle. Then all who saw screamed in amazement, for over the walls of Tamar swooped a shape such as men knew only in half-forgotten legends, and from between its titan-wings sprang a human form as it roared over the great tower. Then with a deafening thunder of wings it was gone, and the folk blinked, wondering if they dreamed. But on the turret stood a wild barbaric figure, half naked, blood-stained, brandishing a great sword. And from the multitude rose a roar that rocked the towers, “The king! It is the king!”

Arpello stood transfixed; then with a cry he drew and leaped at Conan. With a lion-like roar the Cimmerian parried the whistling blade, then dropping his own sword, gripped the prince and heaved him high above his head by crotch and neck.

“Take your plots to hell with you!” he roared, and like a sack of salt, he hurled the prince of Pellia far out, to fall through empty space for a hundred and fifty feet. The people gave back as the body came hurtling down, to smash on the marble pave, spattering blood and brains, and lie crushed in its splintered armor, like a mangled beetle.

The archers on the tower shrank back, their nerve broken. They fled, and the beleaguered councilmen sallied from the palace and hewed into them with joyous abandon. Pellian knights and men-at-arms sought safety in the streets, and the crowd tore them to pieces. In the streets the fighting milled and eddied, plumed helmets and steel caps tossed among the tousled heads and then vanished; swords hacked madly in a heaving forest of pikes, and over all rose the roar of the mob, shouts of acclaim mingling with screams of blood-lust and howls of agony. And high above all, the naked figure of the king rocked and swayed on the dizzy battlements, mighty arms brandished, roaring with gargantuan laughter that mocked all mobs and princes, even himself.


Published in: on January 22, 2016 at 11:48 am  Leave a Comment  
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What’s Coming In 2016

Happy New Year All. Just a swift post to let you know what to expect from me this year writing-wise.

First off, I’m experimenting with Patreon, so head over to here and check that out. Five bucks a month gets you a brand new never before (or very little) seen short story from me. This month it’s a little story called The Mound Of The Night Panther about the secret history of the mound city of Cahokia and how it was brought down by weird happenings.

Next up will likely be my short novel Perennial, appearing in Emergence, the first of Ragnarok Publications’ new shared world superhero universe, Humanity 2.0. It’s about a man who gains incredible abilities but also has his physical aging process halted at age fourteen. That’s him on the cover, Pan. It features a scenario that is basically Die Hard with a skyscraper full of supervillains.  You can read more about that here. 


At some point early this year I’ll be sharing novel space again with author Willie Meikle in Canadian publisher April Moon Books’ new James Bond pastiche series, Bond: Unknown. Entitled Mindbreaker, this one’s a 1960’s era Lovecraftian mashup with Bond being seconded to an ultra secret branch of the service to chase down the abducted Princess Royal and stop an obscure Corsican cult’s plot to activate a prehistoric weapon. I’m an immense Bond fan, so this is one I’m looking forward to you all reading, as despite the Cthulhu stuff, it’s very much written with Fleming in mind. Were you aware the 16th century mystic philosopher and mathematician John Dee signed his letters to Queen Elizabeth 0-0-7? Ian Fleming was. You will be too…


I’ll have a few short story appearances scattered throughout the year, in books from Golden Goblin Press and possibly Chaosium, and, if things work out, a new Star Wars story (keep your lightsabers crossed for that).

Then in the last part of the year you’ll see my Arthurian fantasy debut The Knight With Two Swords again from Ragnarok, which is a high fantasy retelling of the story of Balin Le Savage from Mallory and a slew of other sources.

I’ve also dipped my toes back into the screenwriting waters this year, with the hopes of putting out a short film at some point. We’ll see how that goes.

Hasta pronto!

Remembering Tartakovsky’s Clone Wars

titleWith the release of The Force Awakens imminent, Star Wars saturation has reached critical levels, with BB-8 appearing on bunches of oranges at the grocery store and Princess Leia having her own line of cosmetics or something. I don’t know. I haven’t had broadcast television or cable in over 15 years so I’m not quite as inundated as my friends on Facebook seem to be.

But it’s inevitable that my own thoughts turn to a Galaxy far far away.

Like a lot of people I’ve had my heart lifted to soaring heights and dropped to shatter like an Adegan crystal by George Lucas’ much imitated and revered saga. I’ve even enjoyed adding to the EU juggernaut in the days before the House of Mouse took over. Actually, I think the check for my last effort, the short story Hammer, which briefly introduced the franchise’s first racially Black Dark Jedi (would’ve been a Sith had the story developed later) in the pages of Star Wars Insider might’ve come via Disney. I’m not sure.  I managed to work portmanteaus of my wife and all my children into my beloved Star Wars before all of it was officially regulated to Legendary status.

I don’t know if the new Star Wars will be good or not. I’ve got to wait till Christmas Day to form that opinion.

But I’ll always love the original Star Wars, whether it is or it isn’t.  And in 2003, something came about that brought that warm, exciting feeling back for a while, something that seems to have gotten a bad rap over the years in certain corners of fandom, which isn’t deserved at all.

tumblr_noay9njdSW1te20ggo1_1280.pngFrom 2003-2005 the very talented Genndy Tartakovsky of Dexter’s Laboratory and Samurai Jack fame was given carte blanche by George Lucas and Lucasfilm Ltd. to fill in the mysteriously absent events of the much anticipated Clone Wars between Episodes II and III via a series of 20 three minute, (mostly) traditionally animated mini-episodes on Cartoon Network.

I didn’t expect a whole lot from these vignettes. I barely remember Nelvana’s 2D animated forays into the Star Wars universe. How much story and feeling could you possibly pack into a bunch of three minute, action-oriented cartoons?

It turns out, a whole lot. More than has been in Star Wars for a long time.

I had forgotten the Nelvana cartoons. Tartakovsky had not. He incorporated some of those old designs into the look of the droid characters in his series. He hadn’t forgotten much of anything. Certainly not the most important thing about Star Wars.


Star Wars is itself an homage to 30’s space pulp and adventure movies. Star Wars is a new coat of paint on old ideas. Star Wars does not work when Star Wars homages itself.  That’s like a third generation dub, or a movie based on a video game which was itself a barely disguised homage to another movie. The quality of the story begins to degrade as the generations copy themselves.

For Star Wars to be interesting, it has to be familiar, and yet, show you something you haven’t quite seen before.

suitingupIt’s also not for kids. It’s a family series, yeah. But that means adults can find it entertaining as well.

Tartakovsky’s Clone Wars got that.

Clone Wars isn’t just a continuation of the prequels, it isn’t just a nostalgia trip in a Galaxy Far Far Away. It’s the old magic Lucas infused in ’77 with the adventure serials of his own youth. It’s Top Gun, Lawrence of Arabia, classic pirate movies, Bruce Lee kung fu flicks, anime, wuxia, and probably a thousand other things I’m sure I recognize but can’t call to mind, all filtered through the rose-colored macrobinoculars of Star Wars.



Tartakovksy, like Lucas, is steeped in film lore. He tells his story cinematically, with little dialogue. Action informs character, not plot.  Clone Wars is full of wild action, imaginative sequences, and it’s easy to dismiss it as superficial. It’s not. Not at all. There are amazing character moments peppered throughout the series which say more in milliseconds of screen time about the characters than has been said previously with minutes of film and pages of dialogue in Attack of The Clones and The Phantom Menace.


As a kid I watched not only Star Wars, but the old making of documentary, From Star Wars To Jedi, and one bit from Mark Hamill’s narration I have always retained. Spoken against the backdrop of the gathered Rebel Alliance fleet in Return of the Jedi as the Millenium Falcon banks gracefully back and forth, it goes;

“The Star Wars style is based on two things. The editing pace of sequences…and the speed of movement through the frame. Of course we sometimes slow down to catch our breath, and to reflect on the often astonishing beauty of our imaginary world. But not for long.”

I think in the prequels, there was a lot of lingering on the masterful work of the FX crew, the beautiful alien backdrops, the smooth lines of the ships, even the graceful physicality in the lightsaber fights. In the opening of Revenge of The Sith, Obi Wan and Anakin’s fighters take us on a drifting tour of an immense ship to ship battle in high orbit, weaving dreamily in and out of exploding hulls and swarms of automated fighters, spinning through hails of green and red laser bolts.

This is quite lovely, but it’s not the Star Wars style. Neither is the thick blocks of dialogue.

spacebattleTartakovsky’s Clone Wars takes its cast and setting from the prequels, but its style is informed by the original trilogy. Spaceship battles are cluttered affairs, so blindingly fast you have to freeze frame to take it in at times, like the climactic fight at the end of Return of the Jedi, still, for my money, the best filmed space fight of the series. Tartakovsky’s version of the battle over Coruscant seen in the beginning of Revenge of The Sith, like his establishing shots of the awesome Mace Windu sequence on the plains of Dantooine is like the depiction of the Battle of The Five Armies in Rankin and Bass’ Hobbit cartoon. It’s a swarm of angry termites, just raging fleas circling frenetically each other until the camera zooms in to the crowded space, focusing on a bit of the combat, capital ships zipping in out of hyperspace to collide and explode against others already there. It’s a logistical nightmare and it’s awesome.

lancingWitness the speeder bike/swoop gang battle between the IG-86 droids (a nice throwback design to the IG-88 bounty hunter from Empire) and Obi Wan and his mounted clones.  The mounted fighters clash into each other like the knights in Brannagh’s Henry V or Gibson’s Braveheart, or the horse charge in Kurosawa’s Ran or Gunga Din, or a John Ford cavalry scene. Just blurs of motion and one bit of nastiness in the foreground (in this case, a droid pierced by a broken lance head, shattering to fragments and bouncing along the ground as the combatants whiz by unconcerned in the background).


And has the imagined balance between medieval knight or samurai and quasi-mystical David Carradine Taoist monk ever been depicted so spot on as here? Putting Obi Wan in partial trooper armor and having him lead a mounted charge of lancers against the hulking Durge and his droids is just perfection.  Tartakovsky looks not only to his own influences, but those Lucas has cited in interviews. The foot battle between Kenobi and Durge is out of a Kurosawa samurai movie.


During his clash with Kenobi, Obi Wan slides his speeder bike sideways, mimicking the classic Kaneda bike shot featured on so many posters and t-shirts in the early 90’s. This isn’t just a pointless shout out, it’s a clever visual hint to the true nature of Durge, who, when revealed as an amorphous, regenerating flesh monster out of his armor later, is right out of the end of the groundbreaking anime Akira by Katsuhiro Otomo, clearly an inspiration to Tartakovsky’s unique animation style.


Clone Wars opens with a squad of ARC troopers attacking the droid army’s artillery installation high on a building in an advanced cityscape. Stormtroopers have never appeared more fearsome onscreen anywhere before or since. They execute their attack in precision commando fashion, knocking out tanks and droids. We’re in the middle of an old school military movie. Tartakovsky masters the small scale action sequence without having to resort to lightsabers. Again, as was the philosophy of the old West End Games RPG, Star Wars works best when familiar things from the real world are translated into Star Wars-ese. Instead of calling for a UAV to give them a birds eye view of the terrain, one of the clones throws up a little beacon sphere like the one Luke trained with in on the Falcon in the first movie. Then he produces a handheld device which projects a neat little 360 degree hologram of the city. In these few seconds, Tartakovsky has masterfully married the old (beacon) to the new (little holo-projector as established in the prequel movies) and the real world (military UAV/drone).  This is part of the brilliance of Clone Wars. It does a lot in very little time.


Most surprisingly, the episodes accomplish some brilliant character moments in the span of seconds. A look, like the one Amidala gives to Anakin through the window of her apartment as he departs with the army. She puts her hand to the glass and says more than a two dozen stilted platitudes.  Thirty seconds or so are devoted to Obi Wan just trying to find a dry space to sleep in his command tent on a rain soaked world. Yoda mind controls one of Amidala’s subordinates to divert their ship to aide a pair of besieged Jedi, and the guy repeats his command Obi Wan fashion (These aren’t the droids you’re looking for) but in Yoda’s reversed syntax.  How great is the knighting ceremony of Anakin, when he comes into the council chamber expecting another dressing down and finds himself surrounded by lit lightsabers? His pride is palpable, even on a deceptively simple 2D face, when Yoda, King Arthur fashion, strikes off his padawan braid with his lightsaber and declares him a full-fledged Jedi.


One of my favorite depictions of the master manipulator Palpatine is in Clone Wars, in the scene where General Grievous attacks his office guards, intent on kidnapping him. Palpatine backs away, his face a mask of fear as Grievous slaughters his clones. As soon as he enters the shadows of the corner, his mock fear falls away to an expression of aloof disinterest, as he’s planned all of this, of course.




The climactic lightsaber battle at the end of the first season between fallen Jedi Asaaj Ventriss (wonderfully voiced by Grey Deslisle) and Anakin atop the familiar Mesoamerican style pyramids of Yavin IV is a great example of characterization through action. Anakin’s ever-increasing anger begins to overcome him, the emotional volatility of the sequence starting with the sizzling of rain on the lightsabers and reaching a crescendo as the light of the red and blue weapons contrast in the utter darkness of the temple, casting the characters in aligned shades (and remember, this is the location of the celebration at the end of A New Hope).


Anakin loses his blue saber, takes up one of Asaaj’s red ones, and ultimately drives her to her apparent death under the light of the looming red moon. Anakin is bathed entirely in red, the traditional color of the Dark Side in Star Wars, having given himself over to the Dark Side to defeat her.  This on the surface simple duel does more to explain Anakin’s fall than the entire prequel trilogy, but not content with that, on a primitive world in a later episode, Anakin undergoes his Jedi trial and hallucinates his own eventual destiny in the flickering cave paintings on a wall as he inhales hallucinogenic volcanic gases.




I’ve read a good deal of negativity leveled against the power levels of the Jedi in this series. The Mace Windu episode is always held up as evidence of the unbelievability of Clone Wars. It’s really one of the most memorable action scenes in any animated work of the last ten years. I don’t understand how anybody can watch it and not thrill to the artistry at work. Mace Windu and his clones face an army of super battle droids on a grassy field when an immense seismic tank arrives and proceeds to stomp on the troops, flinging the survivors in every direction on tides of disturbed earth. This is a great bizarre superweapon, well in the Star Wars wheelhouse. Mace loses his lightsaber and has to take on the droids with his bare hands, pummeling metal and shredding steel, using the Force to disassemble automatons and then ripping their fellows to pieces with the makeshift shrapnel. There’s a great overhead shot of Mace turning and dispatching oncoming droids one at a time that’s right out of Fists of Fury.


Lucas has in the past cited, I think, the wuxia knights of Hong Kong cinema as inspiration for the Jedi. Chang Cheh’s Venom Mob and the warrior monks of the Shaw Brothers classics come immediately to mind when watching the thrilling Jedi battles in this series. In those old movies, long haired mystic warriors leapt from rooftop to rooftop, up and down stalks of bamboo, and took on dozens of enemies, driving them back in awe with their martial prowess. If you like that kinda stuff, you’ll love it here. It’s an obvious inspiration. The battle between Shaak Ti and the Magnaguards reminded me of Michelle Yeoh staving off hordes of bandits in Wing Chun.


That’s not to say that Clone Wars is nothing but a slew of familiar homages. It’s thrillingly fresh and imaginative. There’s a great underwater battle sequence early on, the aforementioned speeder bike lancers, and my favorite, a spaceborne boarding action between a failing capital ship and a droid vessel. Jedi Saessi Tiin dons a somewhat familiar looking exposure suit and leads his deep space clones in leaping across space to the other ship. As half the troopers charge along the hull destroying turret emplacements, the Jedi cuts his way in and leads his boarders to the bridge, cutting down droids till he grabs the ships’ wheel controls Errol Flynn style and jerks it starboard.



The character of General Grievous was introduced to great effect here, so great, in fact, that his comparatively lackluster depiction in Revenge of The Sith disappointed both my son and I at the time.


There was an explanation I sort of liked that Tartakovsky’s Clone Wars existed in the Star Wars universe as a kind of underground animated media presentation made by the young boy who witnessed Mace Windu’s battle on Dantooine and gave him the jug of water at the end (that being a reference to an old commercial where a boy passes a refreshment to football star Mean Joe Green after a game), sort of an underground cartoon made as protest against the oppression of the Empire. I suppose this was meant to pacify the fans who didn’t care for the series and to explain its existence once the new, more realistically grounded 3D Clone Wars series began.


Tartakovsky’s Clone Wars was an exciting show that perfectly captured the look and feel of classic Star Wars more than anything since the original trilogy, and still managed to update it for a modern family audience. Although it’s been mostly forgotten and I suppose shelved with the rest of the Legends brand for good or ill, in my mind, it’s still the iteration to top. If The Force Awakens can at the very least match its heart, imagination, and cinematic savvy, it’ll be worth a watch.

Here’s hoping.

Andersonville On Sale For 99 Cents

If you’ve been waiting to pull the trigger on my historical supernatural novel Andersonville from Random House Hydra, it’s on sale for 99 cents till December 19th.

In 1864 30,000 half starved men pray for a way out of Andersonville prison, unaware they are about to become accomplices in a dark ritual enacted by a madman to turn the tide of the Civil War.

One man, Black Dispatch agent Barclay Lourdes, fights his way in to stop it.


“[Edward M.] Erdelac makes a heady brew out of dreadful true events, angel and demon lore, secret societies, and the trappings of Southern gothic novels. This is thoughtful horror at its best, and not at all for the faint of heart.”Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“The true story of Andersonville is one of unimaginable horror and human misery. It’s a testament to his unmatched skill as a storyteller that Edward M. Erdelac is not only able to capture that horror but to add another level of supernatural terror and reveal that the darkest evil of all resides in the human soul. Highly recommended to fans of horror and history alike.”—Brett J. Talley, Bram Stoker Award–nominated author of That Which Should Not Be and He Who Walks in Shadow

Andersonville is a raw, groundbreaking supernatural knuckle-punch. Erdelac absolutely owns Civil War and Wild West horror fiction.”—Weston Ochse, bestselling author ofSEAL Team 666

“Edward M. Erdelac is a master of historical reinvention. In Andersonville, he peels away the façade of history to reveal the horror and sacrifices that led to the end of the Civil War. Clandestine operations, mystical battles waged unseen, and unlikely heroes combine to save a nation, not only from itself but from the demonic forces threatening to tear the whole of existence asunder. Forget what you know about the War Between the States, this is the story we should have been taught.”—Tim Marquitz, author of the Demon Squad series

“If you took a tale of atmospheric horror by Ambrose Bierce and infused it with the energy of Elmore Leonard, you would come close to what Edward Erdelac has accomplished with Andersonville. But even that combination would sell the novel short. What Erdelac has done is not just splice genres together but create his own voice in telling of the horrors, real and supernatural, inhabiting the most infamous prison camp of the Civil War. This is U.S. history seen through the eyes of the tortured dead, told with amazing skill by an author who knows how to create genre literature with a purpose.”—C. Courtney Joyner, author of Shotgun and Nemo Rising

“Those who have enjoyed Robert McCammon’s historical novels featuring Matthew Corbett should find quite a lot to enjoy here, particularly if they’re looking for a more straight-up horror-based historical read.”—Michael Patrick Hicks, author of Revolver
Andersonville definitely stands out . . . with its nuanced language, complicated characters, engrossing narrative, and subtle commentary on the past and the present.”LitReactor
Andersonville may not have been the book that I thought it would be when I started, but it became more than I had hoped for. I would highly recommend this book for fans of alternate history fiction novels as well as for fans of quiet horror.”Examiner.com
“Read this if you want a gritty, reality-based horror story, if you are fascinated by the Civil War, or if you just want to dive into a story that is both provocative and perfectly chilling.”—Bibliotica



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