Krampus (2015)

Michael Dougherty's Krampus, a long-awaited picture for many in the horror community, is an interesting film. Many of the critical reviews that I've encountered chided the film for waiting so long in revealing this demonic figure of German holiday lore. I didn't think that was much of an issue, personally; overall, Dougherty's pacing was effective. The first act took just the right amount of time in establishing character and illustrating the antagonism that can sometimes surface in familial relationships during the holidays. It really didn't take long to build in the unsettling visuals, as the yard filled with wraith-like snowmen and the onslaught of the blizzard occurred in the film's first twenty minutes. 

Adam Scott (pictured above) is a good actor--likable and compelling--and I thought that the casting was a real strength in this one. Paired with the excellent Toni Collette, we get a couple trying to do the right thing by their family, and seemingly punished for no apparent reason by the vindictive Krampus. It is Omi's (the grandmother) brush with Krampus as a child (a fun animated sequence fills in the back-story) that actually seems to precipitate his arrival. Having the next generations pay the wages for the sins of their forebears rings true in terms of the story's horror elements. This is an uncanny haunting, and the visuals and mise-en-scene make this a holiday film that I'll probably watch annually.

It's not perfect. There is some ambiguity in the final acts, as little Max Engel squares off with Krampus. And that final scene, while creepy in its own right, leaves some unanswered questions. But, like Dougherty's other feature film, the excellent anthology Trick r' Treat (2007), this is a good movie and worth the effort to catch it in the theater.


Movie Review: Motel Hell (1980)

Pretty odd picture, am I right?
Motel Hell (1980) is one bizarre piece of filmmaking. The production quality here is eerily reminiscent of 1979's Phantasm. The opening credits are piped in neon and set to a strange, haunting score.

The plot is simple. Farmer Vincent makes the best smoked meats within a 100-mile radius. He doesn't distribute nationally because that focused sales territory allows him to keep the food quality high and the prices reasonable. Farmer Vincent believes in quality, you see? The man is a visionary--an altruistic businessman withholding his gift from the world in the interests of his artistic integrity.

Actually, he lives with his deranged sister Ida and plants the travelers that he captures in a garden, where he feeds them through funnels before slaughtering them, smoking them, and adding them to the recipes he creates to make Farmer Vincent's Smoked Meats.

After all, it takes all kinds of critters to make Farmer Vincent's fritters!

Rory Calhoun is unreal. This guy...wow, the performance he gives here is worth watching this campy frightfest unto itself. That saccharine grin. Those glazed eyes. Those hands tucked just so into the overalls. All of it adds up to one unsettling viewing experience.

Throw in the crazy-as-hell marriage plot and the psycho tubing incident and you have an exercise here in the uncanny. Campy uncanny, but uncanny nonetheless.

Here is a clip of Farmer Vincent's garden:

High art this clearly ain't, but it's entirely compelling all the same. This is available on Prime video if you are a subscriber, and it's a fun, kooky, strange 100 minutes of vintage horror.

Give it a watch, friends. As ol' Grannie was fond of saying: Meat is meat, and a man's gotta eat!


Win a Free Copy of In the Walls and Other Stories

Goodreads Book Giveaway

In the Walls and Other Stories by Daniel Powell

In the Walls and Other Stories

by Daniel Powell

Giveaway ends November 10, 2015.
See the giveaway details at Goodreads.
Enter Giveaway


The Walking Dead: "Here's Not Here"

I was fully engrossed in last night's ninety-minute episode of The Walking Dead. The show's producers and writers have done a particularly admirable job over these last two seasons of juggling a few sub-plots within an epic non-linear storyline. These sub-plots have added depth and humanity to what is, admittedly, one of the most brutal shows in television history.

Lennie James (Morgan) and John Carroll Lynch (Eastman) had fantastic chemistry in this episode of rich re-awakening. Morgan's story seems to be ramping up in the television series--a welcome return to some of the humanistic pathos that might be lost if Glenn is, in fact, dead. The simple utterance of his children's names late in the episode--his almost grudging mumble of "Kenny and Dwayne" in the clear zone--was gut-wrenching; it really speaks to the series' innate ability to take the simplest moments and make them utterly profound.

Eastman is a fantastic character. The embedded narrative concerning the loss of his family was harrowing and heart-breaking, and the close-up on his funeral marker served as a stylish reinforcement of this episode's central epiphany: It's about people. Without people, there's nothing. 

I liked it a lot. It's my favorite episode of the season, and the best I've seen in a long while. I've seen it savaged on the Internet this morning, and I disagree that this one didn't need ninety minutes. In fact, there was no wasted time here--no narrative navel-gazing. I think Morgan's influence on the arc of this series is going to be vital, and I feel that the show's producers did the audience a great service in slowing things down, going back to "then," and showing a man's transformation in the face of that brutal environment.

I'm sad that Eastman was only in the show for a single episode, but my--what an episode it was!


The Oregon Ducks

Much has been said and written about the demise of the Oregon Ducks. Let me be clear: It's all a bunch of crap. 

Oregon is in fine shape, regardless of the whining and bluster that has crept into so many message boards and chat rooms. The team lost a generational talent in Marcus Mariota, and a number of quarterbacks transferred out of the program in the last few years as they grew impatient with the lack of playing time. 

Jeff Lockie, Mariota's understudy, stuck it out and has tried his hand at running Oregon's high-octane blur offense, but he just doesn't have a very strong arm and he's a little phlegmatic as a runner. He's been a fine, sedulous Oregon Duck (already has his degree) and I'm glad to have him on the team, but he's just not a very good quarterback at this level. 

Royce Freeman and Taj Griffin are stud tailbacks, but when the QB can't keep secondaries honest, it's awfully hard to make yards in the run game. Things will improve for the offense as Vernon Adams, Jr. (pictured), returns to action. He might suit up as the Ducks go for their eleventh win in a row in the series with Washington on Saturday night.

The secondary is young and needs seasoning. Teams like WSU and Cal are tossing the potato around the yard on the Ducks, and we need to elevate the play there.

But, as I said, the sky isn't falling. Look, Oregon has been ranked in the AP top 25 for six years! Six years! We just fell out of it for the first time since 2009 when Utah blew our doors off two weeks ago.

I am a lifelong Duck, and it's funny watching all of these bandwagon fans piss and moan about the team. Honestly, some of these weirdos were five years old when Joey Harrington was taking the Ducks to the #1 spot in the polls. 

Since 2010, Oregon has the country's highest winning percentage. We're recruiting with the best of them, and our facilities are among the finest in the country. I support Coach Helfrich and, while I think Don Pellum needs to make some schematic changes (and blitz more), I'm happy with the team.

Suffering through the lean times makes success just that much sweeter. The Ducks will be fine, and when Travis Jonsen takes the reins next year, you'll see a different outcome on the gridiron.


The Visit (2015)

The Visit (2015) Poster The Visit is a fine return to form for M. Night Shyamalan. As writer and director, Shyamalan had free reign to return to some of the hallmarks that made his early work so spectacular: keen writing and coaching up some fine performances. 

On the latter, this cast simply nailed it. Olivia DeJonge is a revelation as a wiser-than-her years filmmaker bent on producing a documentary that will give her tormented mother a measure of peace. DeJonge plays the role with panache and confidence, and one late interview she conducts with her brother will stir any hardened soul. 

Ed Oxenbould plays her little brother, Tyler. A germophobic hip-hop artist, Tyler operates as an important plot catalyst and, in typical Shyamalan fashion, drops some important narrative hints along the way that figure heavily in the film's final act. Oxenbould and DeJonge feel authentic; they share a chemistry on the screen that compels the audience toward belief in their genuine caring for each other.

Deanna Dunagan (Nana) and Peter McRobbie (Pop Pop) are pitch-perfect as a pair of aging, borderline senile antagonists. This is their first meeting with their grandchildren, and things aren't going so well--especially when the sun goes down.

The film is bizarre. That game of hide-and-seek in the crawlspace is harrowing, right up until you see Nana's exposed rear end as she unknowingly heads upstairs after scaring the wits out of the kids. Her oblivious nonchalance in the face of something that is so clearly wrong is disquieting, and the audience that I watched it with blurted laughter--not out of humor, but out of discomfort.

And that's just it. It's a very uncomfortable film. The vomiting, the incontinence, and the strange speech patterns all point to dementia. But something else is happening here and, in true Shyamalan form, the director has a secret in store for us in those final terrifying scenes.

This is the best horror film that I've seen since The Conjuring. I give it an 'A' mark and I highly recommend that you see it in the theater. Go look at it during one of those early matinees when all of the folks that like to talk to the film are doing other things. It's a smart film that requires careful attention, and I'm glad to see one of my favorite artists back on top of his gift!


A Little Writing Music...

It's a gray and rainy day here in Florida. Funny how the weather and the work combine sometimes to dictate the kind of music one should write to. I often listen to country music or rock when I'm writing, but today feels like some more subdued tunes are in order. Paul Cardall's "Redeemer" is one of my favorites...


Stephen King's "1922"

1922 is one of the better examples of the novella that I can point to in terms of form and content. Stephen King seems naturally at home in his ability to create stories at that length. The Mist, The Library Police, Apt Pupil, The Sundog--of course, Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption. These are fantastic yarns that come alive in about 120-140 pages. King is able to fill his characters out with lively backgrounds while keeping the tension and the action finely tuned. 

If there is a consistent criticism of King's novels, it's that he focuses too closely in some passages. I would never call the man verbose, but there is an awful lot of detail in some of his books.

But a lot of that excess is stripped away in his novellas. 1922 is a lean, mean, terrifying read. It tells the story of Wilfred James in a King staple--the epistolary confession. Wilf has a great voice and a beautiful relationship with his son, Hank. In fact, the story is as much Hank's as it is Wilf's. King's introduction of the Sweetheart Bandits is its own narrative, and I give the author a ton of credit for capturing the history of the dust bowl and the Great Depression in living color here.

You can find the story in Full Dark No Stars. It's a return to the dark, dark stuff of King's early '90s production. Highly recommended for an afternoon read...


Getting Back to Square One...

We had a pretty bad water leak recently. For the first time in nine years of home ownership, we had to file a claim. I received the itemized list of repairs yesterday, and I was amazed by how the contractors are parceling out the various expenses/depreciation.

We reported the claim on August 8. Today is September 9, and they are finally here working on the carpets in my daughter's room. The water crept under the drywall and soaked her carpet and padding. They are supposed to replace the baseboards and drywall, paint the walls, and lay the carpet down.

Needless to say, we really would like this to happen. All of her furniture is in the dining room. She's been sleeping on an inflatable mattress on the floor in our bedroom for a month. She's wearing the same half-dozen outfits because her clothing is in garbage bags.

And we won't get any relief on this point until after Friday, when they paint and replace the baseboards. 

Then, it's onto the living room (new laminate floors and baseboards, plus painting) and the garage and A/C cabinet.

Criminy, I'm happy that the insurance company was so responsive in coming out to assess the damage. They did an amazing job of dehumidifying the house and drying things out. I only wish that the contracted company doing the repairs was a bit more expedient. We're talking a full month here, and they just took our paint orders this afternoon. 

Home ownership has its rewards, but dang it sucks royally sometimes as well. 


A Few Thoughts on the NFL...

I'm the poor sucker that drafted Jordy Nelson mere hours prior to his ACL injury. I've had Jordy on my teams multiple times, and he's taken me to a few fantasy league championships. His injury hurts, not just because he was in great shape and primed to have another fine season, but because it happened in such a useless game. 

I understand why the owners want to keep the preseason in its present state. It's a revenue cow for them. But I think it needs to be shortened, and here's why:

  • Modern NFL athletes stay in shape year round. With the amount of offseason preparation they do together, they don't need four games to round into form.
  • Injuries derail the hopes of some teams before there is even a meaningful snap. Ask the Packers and the Panthers how they feel about these games. 
  • Fans get hosed. I'd love to purchase season tickets to watch my beloved Jaguars, but two of these games are beyond useless for fans to watch. The first and fourth games are glorified auditions for those final few roster spots.
I'm okay with moving to eighteen regular-season games (if collectively bargained by the players union) and shortening the preseason a bit. That would preserve the owners' skin in the game while giving the fans another meaningful game in the season-ticket package.

I'm also okay with keeping the sixteen-game schedule and switching to two games (the better of the two options, though I doubt owners would leave money out there on the table). 

Here's the deal: with the NFL abolishing the blackout rule and the current owners fat on television revenue, it's already hard to get fans into these stadiums. The product is amazing on television, and paying for season tickets when two of the games mean less than nothing is losing its appeal more and more each year. Something has to change, and there has to be a productive meeting place somewhere in the middle...

If these Jaguars can stay healthy and protect The Bank (Everbank Field), this team can get out of the box really well. Blake Bortles has full command of an improved offense. The offensive line looks really good and I expect big things from Hurns and Robinson. The defense will continue to play well in 2015, I think, and we'll get a huge boost when Marks is off of rehab. The first two games (Panthers and Dolphins) are at home, and both seem winnable. 

Tyler Lockett is tearing things up in Seattle. Exciting player, with a lot of upside.

Lamar Miller looks good in Miami, and is catching the ball out of the backfield really well.

Expect big things from Delanie Walker. He and Marcus will develop a fine chemistry this year in Tennessee.

I wonder what Robert Griffin III could do in an offense that better suited him? His rookie year was amazing, until the knee injuries piled up. It seems that Mike Shanahan was the only coach that could really design a winning gameplan for him.

Jeremy Hill will lead the NFL in total yards from scrimmage this year.

Davante Adams and Markus Wheaton can have break-out years in 2015.

Sam Bradford is going to put up video game stats in Philadelphia, until the inevitable injury strikes.

Jaguars go 9-7 and remain in the wildcard hunt through December!


The Beauty of Literary Diversity

I've spent the last few months in Westeros.

And Dorne.

And Mereen.

And Valyria, and, and, and...

The Song of Ice and Fire series has been great, and I'm thankful that I've read these books. Doing so has added a dimension of depth in characterization and setting that has only enhanced my appreciation for HBO's fine television series. George R.R. Martin's books provide such nuance into the politics, way of life, and social structure of these environments (I particularly love learning the backstories and legends surrounding these various noble houses), and it's a staggering literary achievement to breathe such vivid life into a fictional world.

That said, I can finally see the end of A Dance with Dragons and I'll be happy to check out for a while. Honestly, I know that Martin is hard at work on The Winds of Winter, and that fans are clamoring for its release, but I have a bit of fatigue. I miss my mainstays. I miss jumping around between King, Lansdale, Barron, Hiaasen, Dorsey, Kellerman, Hill and whatever horror anthologies catch my fancy. I miss my weekly forays into digital short stories and all of the good work being written by up-and-coming authors that can be found at places like Nightmare Magazine and Clarkesworld.

I won't deny that I've ducked out along the way. One has to in order to stay sane. I have two half-finished novels that I've been reading on my nightstand, and I've read a few dozen horror short stories in the last year (I knocked out four from Bentley Little's The Collection just yesterday). I re-read everything I'm teaching in my literature section at the college, and that always feels like getting together with close friends.

But the fact is, I'm a hedge knight pushing my exhausted garron down those last few frozen leagues toward Winterfell and, dang it, I'm determined to get there. I've never read a series (Dark Towar or LOTR included) in which I've felt so compelled to stay in the environment and adopt a linear reading approach. This is a compliment to Martin. His world-building is so thorough that full comprehension kind of demands immersion. 

These are great books and, like the rest of the SFF community, I'll be happy when the next one is released. But I'll be honest--I'm also stoked to have these books behind me so that I can get back out there and drink more fully from the stream of great storytelling! 


The Ultimate Anthology: "The Man in the Woods"

I read this amazing short story last night, and it's been bumping around in my head all morning. Jackson's writing is just so...urgent and compelling. Even when she's holding things back, the prose is luxuriant and evocative. It's a rare writer whose use of adjectives is just so calculated and precise that one stops mid-sentence to marvel at just how that apt term was employed.

This one drips with mythology and menace. It's a slow build to a haunting final scene. And that last line? My, what a way to pay off a story.

While I adore "The Lottery" and all of its wicked charm, I think this is actually a better story. It certainly becomes a highlight of the grand little collection I'm putting together here...

The Ultimate Anthology

"The Man in the Woods" ~ Shirley Jackson
"The Drowned Life" ~ Jeffrey Ford
"Mrs. Todd's Shortcut" ~ Stephen King
"Voluntary Committal" ~ Joe Hill
"The Pear Shaped Man" ~ George R.R. Martin
"The Small Assassin" ~ Ray Bradbury
"Professor Gottesman and the Indian Rhinoceros" ~ Peter S. Beagle


Jags are Camping!

Love it! Quarterbacks and rookies reported today. The rest of the squad will be in camp beginning on Thursday.

I have a lot of optimism for this team, and much of it rests with T.J. Yeldon. I think he's got a great package of skills, and that his running style will complement the type of ball-control offense Coach Bradley wants to run. 

The Jags want to play hard-nosed defense and take care of the ball on offense. I think they'll put a premium on sustaining long drives, and a lot of that will come down to the recently renovated offensive line and Yeldon's ability to get those tough yards between the tackles. 

It was fun watching the RBC Canadian Open last week (great showing by Day and Hearn), but I have to admit that I'm really happy that the calendar is turning back toward football. 

Think about it...

From here until February, we'll have no more weekends without the sport!


Emaciation and Dread...

It's always baffled me how such an inconsequential little virus could have had such a great influence on humanity throughout our history. The flu, that same industrious contagion that spells doom for the alien invaders in H.G. Wells's War of the Worlds, has cyclically laid waste to the human species in our short and difficult time on the planet. 

I've largely avoided any major bouts of influenza in my life. I've had the occasional passing cold, but nothing on the magnitude of what I experienced last week.

My daughter might have brought the stuff home from day camp, because she was impacted first. Last Friday night, she awoke shortly after midnight and began to vomit. The unpleasantness impacted her for a few hours, but she was chipper and back at the business of being six the next day. 

Kids--so resilient!

And yet, when I look at the 2014 flu mortality rates, I see that last year's strain really did hurt a lot of children. When I think about how bad it hit me, I'm grateful that Lyla was able to whip it so easily. In the future, we'll never take a bug like this for granted again. Kids and the elderly face particularly tough battles with influenza, so it's prudent to take any early signs of the illness very seriously.

Anyway, we had an ordinary weekend. On Monday, I called my wife and asked her if she wanted to go out on a hike.

"Uhhhmpppllffff!" she moaned into the phone. "Sick..."

And indeed, when I arrived home she was lying on the bathroom floor. She'd filled a garbage bag with vomit in the car on the way home from work, and she was still having a hard time of it when Lyla and I made it home from camp. It was brutal. 

I took Lyla to the YMCA and we had an ordinary time there. I weighed in at 192 (healthy weight for me) and brought Lyla home after our workout, and that's when I noticed a peculiar, terrible, horrible thing.

Damn, was I ever sick.

Not just any sick, but the sickest I've been in thirty-eight years on the planet. Between about 7:30 and 10:00 p.m. I puked more than I've ever puked in my whole life--probably in all other instances put together. I lost so much water weight that I spent the entire night cramping. My calf muscles balled up into little iron knots, and I had to pace the room dozens of times just to keep from crying out in pain. 

I couldn't keep any fluids down, and it wasn't until we went to our family practitioner on Tuesday that I saw the full extent of my illness. I weighed in at 175.7, less than 24 hours after tipping the scales at the YMCA. I was given a shot to ease my nausea (thankfully, it allowed me to begin forcing fluids and I was able to infuse some life back into my frame, which had pulled tight like a the strings on a guitar) and a prescription for Tamiflu. Jeanne got one as well, and we've been on the road to recover over this past week. 

I'm back up to 192, and I've been able to get a few longer runs in over these last two days. What I'm stunned by is the general destruction that the flu--which the CDC noted mutated in late 2014, making last year's vaccine largely ineffectual--wrought on my body. I didn't get my full wind back in terms of running for a week. The headache associated with my dehydration was unlike anything I'd experienced before ("blinding" isn't merely some folksy idiom), and the cramping was so painful that I thought I might tear some of the muscles in my legs. Worse than anything was the thirst. I simply lie there in bed with a cold glass of ice water within reach, knowing full well that my body would not tolerate it.

When I read about the 20-40 million people that perished in the great influenza epidemic of 1918, my heart goes out to them and their families. It's a horrible illness, and one that we too often take for granted. Thankfully, the Tamiflu and other medications that we took turned things around quickly for us.

Never again, though, will I think of the flu as some innocent little bug--some cartoon germ that can be suppressed with a can of chicken noodle soup. No sir, the flu is one bad dude, and I'm going to remember that come November when the annual news cavalcade about washing hands and covering coughing mouths hits the airwaves.


Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)

The Doof Warrior

What's not to like about Mad Max: Fury Road? From scene one--a tight closeup on a two-headed lizard--to the show's redemptive final act (ascension of the victorious women juxtaposed with the cascading streams of precious, liberated water) there is a visual consistency and narrative urgency that never lets up. I literally squirmed in my seat in spots while watching this well-received masterwork (it's been hovering between 8.5 and 9.2 on IMDB since its release). 

Tom Hardy barely speaks in his turn as Max, but that's okay. His actions and expressions say as much as we need to know about him. He's tough, singularly driven, compassionate (in spots), creative, and pure. This guy makes a hell of a blood bag, folks. He's also nigh impossible to kill.

Charlize Theron gives a spell-binding performance as Imperator Furiosa. I forgot she could be this good, and that's a shame, because when given a good vehicle she is the best there is. She plays a feminist with one arm--a rebel with the combination of skill and morality that this war-torn hell needs to lift itself up out of the debris of the apocalypse.

Oh, and then there's that. George Miller killed it here. This landscape, from those creepy crows on stilts to the dunes outside the former green place to Immortan Joe's skull castle, is amazing. I don't know where they get the extras, but these poor folks look so emaciated and ravaged by the end times that it makes the audience uncomfortable. Give Miller credit. He wanted to make a two-hour car chase, and he did that. But he gave it a true heart and soul. It's so much more than a mere "Mad Max" film. There's beauty in the staging as well; take a look at that night scene if you need evidence. I like the authentic '80s corn (that clinking "Fury Road" in the opening credits) in comparison with the modern use of filters and effects. 

Immortan Joe is creepy. That doof warrior is creepy. The fall-out boys are creepy. Rictus Erectus is creepy. Anybody who goes to war with his own rock band is awesome. Hell, the whole damned thing is creepy, and awesome, and delightfully so. 

I'd like to see it again real soon...

This is a solid 'A' film and the best thing I've seen since last year's Interstellar.


The Visit (2015)

So looking forward to this one. Seems like a great example of the uncanny in film...


It Takes A Village...

No matter how many times you go through a manuscript, there is likely a number of errors that will escape your critical eye. Man, I've worked with some great editors over the years, and I'm always stunned when they return a story and there are mistakes that stick out like a vestigial tail when you get a second set of eyes on the work.
Building a book is not a solitary venture, that's for sure. Thank your local copy editor...


Making Progress in a Post-9/11 Surveillance State

Politicians of all persuasions--including Ron Wyden, Mitch McConnell, and Rand Paul--compromised on the American Freedom Act, a bill that President Obama signed that is designed to limit the widespread, suspicionless surveillance of American citizens. The legislation leaves in place some NSA provisions for spying (lets hope that the abuse of stipulative labeling is minimal here) on suspected "lone-wolf" terrorists and those that frequently dispose of cheap cellular phones.

But all in all, the legislation draws some pretty clear lines between what the government can collect and warehouse in terms of the telephone conversations of average American citizens. It would now take a court order to access the private telephone conversations that are no longer be curated by the NSA. Instead, these conversations are held by private vendors, creating another barrier that acts as a protection of privacy.

While the Electronic Frontier Foundation applauded the legislation, they do lament that it could have gone further to protect the civil liberties of American citizens. ACLU deputy legal director Jameel Jaffer called this a milestone victory, and noted that this legislation does, in some ways, exonerate Edward Snowden as a whistleblower and patriot.

I've been waiting for this for years, and I think that it signals a significant healing in the wake of the terrorist attacks of 9/11 and an important restoration of privacy protections to the U.S. people. I don't think that we can allow President Obama to take the credit on this one. It took democrats, republicans, and libertarians alike--along with the sustained and meticulous pressure of groups like the ACLU and EFF--to make this happen. And in what is surely one of the largest personal sacrifices in matters of recent public controversy, we can't overlook the actions of Edward Snowden in exposing these data-collection practices. I hope the American Freedom Act signals the beginning of the creation of a pathway home for him.


A Pair of Interesting Texts...

Matt Kaplan's Medusa's Gaze and Vampire's Bite is a fascinating amalgamation of history, myth, media theory, and popular culture. Kaplan is a science writer with a keen ability to turn a phrase and a nice eye for detail. These chapters tread the line between the academic and the popular effortlessly, and it's one of the more interesting non-fiction pieces I've read in recent years. 

W. Scott Poole's Monsters in America has a similar approach to prose style, but it looks much more deeply into how history and popular culture both inform and remediate each other and our narrative tradition. Poole has a deep knowledge of film and narrative, and his work represents an accessible, insightful tour of twentieth-century America.


Buy It Now

E-bay got me into this. I know I shouldn’t blame an internet service for my compulsive behavior. I mean, personal responsibility and all of that shit, right? But damn, if that site hadn’t made it so easy to just spend the afternoon mining for treasures.
I’m not sure where she might be hiding. I heard her in the attic two hours ago, creeping over the eaves. I strained my ears, made a mental picture of her slinking quietly above my head and put a round of buckshot through the ceiling. There was a muted scream and then I heard her scampering away. Her footsteps didn’t make much more than a whooshing sound—I mean, she’s nothing more than plastic and air, after all—but I could hear her just the same.
Her name is Annette. That’s what it said on the little business card that came taped to the shrink-wrapped plastic she shipped out in.
Hello! My name is Annette. Will you take care of me? There was a set of red pouty lips stamped beneath the message. That was it—no invoice, no receipt. Just a plastic blow-up doll and that silly card.
It’s been two days since her arrival and I need to end this. If she gets two more days, well…better not to think about that just yet.
She came from a business up in Canada. Great Northern Novelties was the name of the company—some podunk town called Pilot Butte, just outside of Regina. I should have known better than to buy her after that fiasco with Ronny and the rubber nipple. But hell, part of me wanted to see what would happen. I can’t deny that and so I won’t. I was curious.
Poor Ronny.
It was Ronny who had passed out in the spare bedroom at our Halloween party. The place had been filled to bursting that night. The elections were in full swing and there must have been a half-dozen Sarah Palins drifting about.
Ronny was a good guy, by the way. I liked him a lot. I think we all did.
But he was that one guy in every crew, you know? Always drinking too much. Always needing a babysitter. Always passing out first. I mean, he hadn’t even made it to 11:00 on the night it happened.
Berg Jones (his parents had named him Bergstrom—weird, right?) had been running around the house all night with a video camera. I find that shit annoying, but it seems to be in vogue now after Cloverfield. Got to catch the weird stuff on tape.
Well, it turns out that Berg got his money’s worth.
Let me go back a second. As I said, I like e-bay. A lot. I’m on there a couple hours a day. I collect old speculative magazines, superhero figurines, antique photographs—I like weird stuff. Well, I’m zooming around there one day and I come across this listing:
So real it might scare you! This novelty nipple suctions to skin. Fool your friends! Freak out your neighbors! Perfect condition.
Great Northern was the seller and the last bid was a paltry $2.25. The auction closed in under an hour, so I impulsively punched in $2.50. I won the auction and the nipple arrived in the mail a week later. The rest, as they say, is history.
Now, about this nipple. What came in the mail didn’t look a thing like what was shown on the website. The one on the website was clearly a fake. It was plastic or latex or whatever and dyed that phony flesh color that is just so obviously fake that everyone associates it with CPR dolls from high school health class.
But that wasn’t what came in the mail. This thing was light and pliable—way closer to the feel of actual flesh than plastic. It was stippled with pores, and there was an off-center indentation in the nipple itself. It looked waaaaay too real.
I mean, that little booger had a hair stuck in the outer band of the areola. An honest-to-goodness hair!
“Jesus. That thing is creepy,” Jane had remarked. She and I were maybe sort of starting something. It was hard to tell. She’d dressed up like the genie from I Dream of Jeannie and was attracting more than her fair share of stares that night. I was a little jealous, I admit. At any rate, Jane didn’t like the thing from the start.
And I agreed with her, straight up. When I took the thing out of the cellophane wrapper, it felt like it was…I don’t know, alive, I guess. I could feel it trying to stick to me. It felt like a centipede crawling over bare flesh, like it was trying to sink a hundred little anchors into my index finger.
I guess that was an indication we shouldn’t have slapped it on Ronny. But we did anyway, of course. We were buzzed and riding that special euphoria that invariably tags along with the drunken mob, so Berg rolled tape and Jane and Sharon and Ryan and Josh and Erin and I went back to where Ronny was snoring in the center of the guest bed. He’d dressed up as Mario. I pulled his suspenders down and pulled his shirt up to reveal his pale chest.
“And now, ladies and gentleman,” I said theatrically into the camera, “watch as we change this man forever!”
Sheesh. I can’t believe I actually said that.
I pulled the nipple from the package, disgusted again by that grabbing sensation, and stuck it in the center of Ronnie’s chest, on the tip of his breast bone.
And the place broke up. I mean, people were just dying with laughter. We collected our footage and I dressed him back up and we left him there and didn’t see him until the next morning.
The party finally died around 3:00, and the place had mostly cleared out by the next morning. I was making breakfast in the kitchen for Jane and Berg when Ronny sauntered in, stretching and yawning.
“Nice party last night champ,” he said to me, taking a barstool at the counter. “Can I have one?”
I poured him a glass of O.J. and we razzed him about passing out early. After ten minutes or so, he started to scratch his chest. “What in the hell?” he muttered, and I suddenly remembered what we had done.
I started to snicker. Jane and Berg followed suit. Ronny just stared at his t-shirt, where there was a silver-dollar sized wet patch in the center.
“That’s funny,” he said, pulling his shirt up. But it wasn’t. Not by a long shot.
The nipple had stuck. It had become a part of him. A thin dribble of yellowish milk seeped from the center of it. I almost lost my coffee.
“What the fuck?” he shrieked. “What the fuck is this?”
He streaked for the bathroom and the three of us just sat there in silence. I mean, what can you say?
So that’s the story of Ronny and the rubber nipple. But not quite, I guess. The thing continued to grow. It lactated all day. Ronny couldn’t go to school (we both attend the University of North Florida) because he had a 36C hanging there in the middle of his chest.
He saw doctors and specialists. You want to hear the strange thing? He never got too mad at us. He couldn’t believe what had happened to him, but he didn’t shut himself off from us. He knew we thought we were playing an honest goof on him, and he just wanted the damned thing gone.
But it was pretty much there, at least for the time being, and so Ronny dealt with it by boozing. He had a titty in the center of his chest—what would you do?
About five weeks ago he had an accident after getting his load on. We’re all still trying to deal with it—processing it, as the counselors at the university say.
Christmas came and went and the spring term started in the first week of January. They call it spring term in Florida, but it can still get pretty danged cold here in Jacksonville.
The college held a memorial for Ronny; it was well attended. I felt the most guilt about what had happened. Hell, I still feel guilt. But now, writing these words and knowing that she’s up there—well, I think the game has changed, my friends.
I’d cut back on the e-bay after Ronny died but, like most addictions, it crept back into my life in both trickles and torrents. I wouldn’t touch the thing for almost a week. Then I’d blow off class and stay on it all day.
It was on a sunny day in the middle of February when I came across the listing:
Get in the game, Tiger! So lifelike you’ll wonder why you’d ever gone without. Annette is waiting for you. Pull the trigger! Perfect condition.
The seller was Great Northern and the last bid was, again, a paltry figure. $4.75. The auction closed in a little over an hour. I bid $5.00 without thinking about it and continued on my merry way through the aisles of the world’s largest auction, barely registering it ninety minutes later when I learned that I had won and Annette would ship the very next day.
I don’t know why I did it. I guess part of me wanted to see if it could be true. I honestly don’t know, to tell the truth.
Well, she arrived about a week ago. I left her in the package, too scared to open the thing. From what I could see through the cellophane, she was pretty lifelike. She had black hair and dark eyes and a huge set of pouty lips like the stamp on the card. I left her on my dresser and put her out of my mind, that is until I returned from Environmental Science and found Berg sitting with the fully inflated doll on the couch.
“Pretty neat, Jimmy,” he said. I hated it when he called me that. I prefer James—always have. “Things must not be going well with Jane if you bought this ol’ gal here.”
“Why did you do that?” I asked.
“What? You mean blow it up? It’s a blow-up doll, for chrissake!”
“You should put that thing back,” I said. “That came from Great Northern. Same place the nipple came from.”
“Fuck!” he shouted, pulling his arm from the doll’s shoulders. “Wow! That explains it. It’s…it’s warm. Feel it.”
I did, and he was right. It didn’t feel like flesh, but it was close. There was a solidity to it that I hadn’t expected either. I pulled the plastic nozzle out of the doll’s thigh and let the air out. When it was nothing more than a wrinkled plastic sheath, I balled it up and stuck it in the corner of my closet.
We smoked a joint and drank some beers and played a couple rounds of Madden on the X-Box, and I put the thing out of mind until two days ago.
Jane. Well, Jane is dead. Her body is in the laundry room. I think the doll was jealous, and if I felt a little guilty about Ronny, well, I feel terrible about Jane. I will call the authorities. I have to. But not until I end the thing with the doll first.
Wait a second—just heard something. Yeah, she’s in the attic. I can hear her up there, calling my name. She knows my damned name!
The thing with Jane happened yesterday. She’d slept over for the first time (kind of a big step) and she was the one that found the doll in the closet.
“Oh, very nice James! Is there something I should know about you?” she said when she opened the door to collect one of my shirts. She stood there in panties, looking down at a fully inflated blow-up doll named Annette.
“Aw shit,” I muttered. “Berg.”
But Berg hadn’t inflated the doll. The doll had done what the doll wanted to do, and that was come back on her own. Jane grabbed a shirt and I slammed the closet door, late for my morning business class. I kissed her forehead, grabbed a bagel and hauled ass to school.
When I got home I found Jane in the laundry room, a kitchen knife stuck up under her ribcage. She wore one of my dress shirts and a pair of panties and there was an amused look on her face. A set of bloody tracks, the feet maybe four inches long, extended from the body and over to the attic access. The panel in the ceiling was slightly askew, so that’s how I figured out where she was.
If the thing with the nipple has run its course here, she’s more flesh than theory now, my friends.
And there it is. I’ve put it all down on paper. Maybe I’ll get to explain it all. Maybe I won’t, but at least it’s here.
Oh. Oh, ok! Laughter. Peels of it, from the corner of the attic. I’m going up. I have the gun (only been hunting twice, and never killed a single bird—go figure) and I’ll try to fix what I started.
Oh, wait. One more thing. I tried to contact Great Northern Novelties yesterday afternoon. The number was disconnected—no great surprise there. So I tracked down the local rag up there, a weekly paper called The Pilot Butte Record. The editor/reporter/photographer/publisher informed me that Great Northern had gone belly up almost three years ago. Simply wasn’t much of a market for novelties in this day and age the reporter, an amiable fellow named Perkins, had said. He’d attached two pictures of an old storefront, the window covered in gray dust and strewn with cobwebs.
And then there’s this: my PayPal account was never dinged for either purchase. I didn’t pay a thing (at least in terms of money—ha, ha, I think I’ll pay a lot when this is all said and done).
So is there a lesson in all of this? Maybe. My stepdad, asshole that he is, once told me that you couldn’t learn anything in college that would be useful in the real world. He was awfully big on that “real world” stuff, like life was some infinite puzzle or something.
But I did learn something, on the very first day of business class, when the professor had scrawled these two words up on the dry-erase board before he even wrote his name there: caveat emptor.
Buyer beware.
No shit, right?
Ok, she’s laughing again. Cackling, really. That’s enough. I’m going into the attic for awhile…


Florida's Grapefruit League

Western Florida is hopping this time of year, when hundreds of thousands of baseball fans make the annual pilgrimage to sunnier climes. Every other SUV last week in the parking lot outside of Joker Marchant stadium had Michigan plates. 

We've seen the Orioles in Jupiter, the Astros in Kissimmee, and we've been to Tigertown these past two springs. Marchant Stadium, the country's oldest minor league park (1966), is a fantastic venue. Great sight lines, intimate feel, a sunny berm, and some good cold beer and great food. 

Lakeland is a great city. It's got a fantastic downtown, some great gardens and picturesque buildings, and a nice vibe around the stadium. Spring Training and the Grapefruit League is just one more reason why we have it really good here in Florida.


Crafting a Community Identity

In the realm of science fiction, the city represents the pinnacle of technical prowess. We watch films like Metropolis (1927) and Blade Runner (1982) and bear witness to these labyrinths of concrete skyscrapers while a backdrop of pounding, humming industrial machinery executes the work of the system. It's the kind of busy, monotonous, disconnected "utopia" that might have inspired George Tooker to paint this little dandy:

Portland, Oregon, doesn't fall into those traps, though. Portland's motto: The City that Works. That's a clever little turn of phrase, evoking both its blue-collar roots in the shipping industry and its non-traditional approach to urban planning. In the 1970s, visionary Oregon Governor Tom McCall asked that all Oregon cities draw an urban-growth boundary around their periphery. This allowed farms and other agricultural concerns to maintain some autonomy, while also requiring cities to plan development carefully. Portland was sprawling at the time, and McCall's edict led to a Renaissance in the downtown core. A beautiful public park was built along the river. Neighborhoods reinvented themselves. Portland grew cautiously, designing a city that is pedestrian and biker-friendly. Even though this message recently was ordered to be removed, it's an apt visual metaphor for my hometown:

I love Jacksonville, Florida. It's been an awesome place for us, and it's exciting to see how the near future will shape up. We love it for the beaches, fishing, golf, camping, and climate. The people are friendly and the town is growing quickly. There's a ton of great food here, and many of the elements that made Portland so livable (arts and entertainment, chief among them) are evident in our city. Take a look at the city that Jaguars' owner Shad Kahn envisions for our future. While nothing is set in stone on how quickly this may come to pass, Kahn is energetic and he gets results. I expect that this will, in large part, take place, bringing that final element into the identity that Jacksonville sorely needs: the downtown core.

As Kahn loves to say to the local media when it comes to breaking news, stay tuned!


Cold on the Mountain

All they wanted was a vacation to the Grand Canyon. Instead, they found themselves on a collision course with a terrible, timeless darkness.

Welcome to Adrienne, home to history’s worst serial killers and mass murderers. Nestled in an isolated meadow high in the Sierra Nevada, Adrienne is sort of like a cosmic lint trap. It collects the universe’s negative energy—all of our blackest human impulses—before purging that darkness back into the world in a yearly lottery. From Hitler to Bin Laden…Bundy to Gacy, Adrienne is the way station for dark energy that doesn’t just pass on—it passes through.

When Phil Benson decides to take an unmarked detour over the mountain, he drives his family into the mouth of madness, where they are forced to join a captive labor pool with little hope for freedom. Escape is pointless and time stretches out into eternity, with every new day the same as the last.

Sometimes, it’s better just to skip the shortcut.

With echoes of Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery,” Stephen King’s Needful Things, and Blake Crouch’s Pines series, Cold on the Mountain treads the boundary between horror and supernatural suspense.

Purchase a digital copy for your preferred reading experience:

Thanks for your support, and I hope the novel provides an entertaining escape!


Observations on Horror...

I enjoyed Tusk (2014) quite a bit. First off, it's bizarro stuff. The lunacy at the center of the film, coupled with the sharp writing and silly exchanges between the film's American and Canadian counterparts, makes this a guilty pleasure for me. 

Throw in the frequent Kevin Smith collaborator Michael Parks, who is pitch perfect as Howard Howe, and Justin Long, whose turn in Jeepers Creepers is still one of my favorite recent horror performances, and you have a positively lovely way to spend ninety minutes. 

It's strange to see Haley Joel Osment in this role. Watch the film and you'll see what I mean. He's great--don't get me wrong. It's just...well, just watch it. 

I thought this weekend's bleak episode of The Walking Dead ("Them") was really well done. I have read a lot of negativity about it, but I think it was just what the show needed, and at the right time. With the back-to-back deaths of Beth and Tyreese, the show needed to step back and show the minutia of the survivors' plight. Look, I love character development. Like Stephen King says, character is king (he, he). I like longish films (I really enjoy that 120-minute slot) because we get to see more of the moment-to-moment experiences that color our attachment to these people. 

This show has done a really fine job of filling these characters with life while still keeping the action at full throttle. It's tricky, to be sure, and they are to be commended that, from time to time, they can step back and let us live a little in this universe as opposed to moving on to the next abandoned building...


Cold on the Mountain

Grab an advance reader copy of my new novel Cold on the Mountain!

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Cold on the Mountain by Daniel Powell

Cold on the Mountain

by Daniel Powell

Giveaway ends February 15, 2015.
See the giveaway details at Goodreads.
Enter to win

You Know When It's Good

If you spend any real time at the word processor, you understand that sometimes the writing flows and you just know in your heart and in you...