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To commemorate the anniversary of 9/11 here is a reposting of the piece I did last year for my blog and the Amazing Stories Magazine. 

To this day there are people who believe that the destruction of the World Trade Center buildings caused by the crashing of two hijacked airliners and the damage done to the Pentagon by a third plane didn’t really happen the way it’s been reported. They think it was some kind of inside job caused not by hijacked airplanes but by bombs planted inside the buildings. Various conspiracy theories exist to explain who was behind it all.

I’m here to tell you for certain that as far as the Pentagon attack is concerned such theories are nonsense. The damage was done by hijacked airplanes. How do I know? I know because I saw the plane that crashed into the Pentagon with my own two eyes.

On Sept. 11, 2001 I was an editor/reporter for a news organization by the name of the Bureau of National Affairs, since changed to Bloomberg BNA, Inc. That particular morning I was driving up I-395 in northern Virginia to my office in Washington, D.C., listening to WGMS-FM, Washington’s former classical music station (no longer in existence) when a news flash came on about a plane crashing into one of the World Trade Center buildings. It was shocking news, especially when 20 minutes later there was a report of another crash into the other WTC Tower.

I knew Howard Stern broadcast live from New York so I punched the button for his station and heard Howard and Robin and Bababooey freaking out on the air. Despite the news, I followed habit and eased off 395 onto the off ramp for Washington Blvd., the way I always did every morning. Washington Blvd. runs right alongside the Pentagon. Halfway down the ramp, traffic came to a standstill. Suddenly there was a loud noise over to my left, like a tornado loaded with TNT. I turned and saw a big airliner that seemed no more than 10 feet off the ground flying at the speed of a guided missile right toward the Pentagon. It was a moment of complete shock. Something like that, you don’t believe you’re really seeing it.

The off ramp I was on cuts under an overpass where 395 continues on to D.C. There was an embankment in front of me, so  I couldn’t see the Pentagon building directly, but a second later there was an explosion behind the embankment and a huge ball of orange fire.

At that moment I realized we were under attack and the first thing I thought was how many more planes are coming? How big is this? For a moment everyone in their cars sat there stunned but some of us got out of our vehicles and ran up the embankment toward the pillar of smoke that was rising to see what had happened. At the top of the embankment we could look down and see the Pentagon surrounded in a dense fog of black smoke, orange flames, licking through the clouds, and almost immediately the sickening smell of a burning airplane with humans on board.

It took several minutes before I heard any sirens or saw any flashing red lights, but by the time they started I was climbing back down the embankment to my car, shaken. I got in my car and Howard Stern and gang were jabbering away. I clicked the radio off and sat in silence, and there was only one thought in my head. “I’ve got to get out of here!” How in the world first responders can charge into situations like that escapes me. The instinct for survival is strong, and when there’s danger your first reaction is to run.

But we couldn’t run, we were stuck on the off ramp, and it was an uncomfortable half hour until police arrived and made everyone turn around and drive back up the wrong way and follow detours that took us away from D.C.  I drove home wondering what in the world is happening? I just saw something that I never thought I’d see outside of a bad science fiction movie.

It was a day that changed America forever. There’s no denying it. Some things will never be the same. But other things will. The triumph of courage over fear shown by rescue workers, many who lost their lives trying to help others; the readiness of men in uniform to defend and protect the nation and its people; and the hope that someday things will be better, that love can overcome hate, and reason will vanquish ignorance, those things still remain. Let’s hope they always will.

To quote Inspector Clouseau, “Ze Meestery ees Solv-ed.”

For years I have been trying to find out the name of the movie I saw as a kid in which one of the characters is killed with a rake. It was a western filmed in Technicolor and I saw it in a theater when I was around eight or nine years old. You don’t see the actual murder on screen. You see the aftermath. There’s just an image of a bloody rake leaning against a wall covered in blood. I still remember the vividness of that red-stained rake. up there on the big screen.

I saw a lot of movies growing up. Some you remember most you forget but that was one movie that has haunted me since childhood. But I could never find out the name of it or who was in it. One time I posted this matter on my Facebook page, asking if anyone out there had ever seen it. Nobody had. It became like an obsession. I googled all the key words I could think of. Went on IMDb and searched all over on “rake” “death by rake,” “bloody rake.” Came up with nothing.

My quest to find this movie became something of Ahab-like proportions. The bloody red rake became my White Whale. I even went so far as to go on Martin Scorsese’s Facebook page and asked if he or anyone had ever heard of it. I’ve heard he knows everything about almost every movie ever made.  Marty didn’t answer. I wonder if he really posts there anyway. I began to wonder if I had ever even really seen this flick. Maybe I just dreamed it or something. But then one of his Facebook fans responded by saying he didn’t know but I should check with a blog called 50 Westerns from the Fifties.

And so I did.  50 Westerns is a blog run by a fellow named Toby Roan who is a superfan and probably expert on western films from the fifties. He’s writing a book on one of my favorite westerns “One Eyed Jacks,” starring and directed by Marlon Brando. His blog is loaded with stories and pictures from some of the great westerns made between 1950-60. If you’re a fan of that period of western film making you have to check it out.

laredoAnd now I can finally report that someone there did know the movie with the bloody rake. At long last The Hunt is over. Drum roll, please. And so without further ado:  The name of the film is “Streets of Laredo” (1949) with William Holden and MacDonald Carey. It’s a remake of “The Texas Rangers” (1936) with Fred MacMurray. It’s a rarely-seen movie that doesn’t seem to show up on TV very often. IMDb doesn’t even have a poster or picture for it. But a DVD is available through some of the more off-beat channels of distribution.

Now I can rest easy. I used to feel like the man with the long beard who was asked if he slept with his beard inside or outside the covers and after that could never sleep again trying to figure out which way his beard went. Now I can get a good night’s sleep. I don’t have to keep thinking about that damned bloody rake.

Although, now, I wonder how long it will take me to track down the DVD?

 

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The Super Moon of August 2014 is one we will not or should not forget anytime soon. A full moon is always a time when emotions run high. Feelings can become chaotic and events around the world become just as chaotic.

It started with the unbelievable horror in Iraq as the ISIS forces continued their genocidal march across the northern half of Iraq. The grizzly horror came into sharp focus this weekend with the plight of thousands of helpless refugees fleeing for their lives, seeking refuge on a barren mountain with no food or water. Just today we saw on CNN the helicopter dropping off food and water and rescuing a handful of refugee from certain death. The children and elderly in a state of shock.

At the same time the government of Iraq is collapsing as the ineffectual prime minister refuses to step down and sent troops out to protect his regime. Instead of fighting the terrorist, he wants to fight anybody in Baghdad who want him to resign.

The US this weekend began bombing ISIS checkpoints and convoys, getting us once again sucked back into that bottomless pit.

In Missouri an unarmed black teen is shot multiple times by the police for apparently no real reason. The black community explodes in rage and begins looting and destroying their own community. Tonight the streets of Ferguson, Mo. are crowded with police and protesters. This follows a death of a black man by choke hold in New York, further enraging the black citizenry, who are seeing themselves as victims of police brutality aimed specifically at them.

Russia continues to make recovery of decaying remains of passengers from Flight 17 difficult, as war continues to wage in the Ukraine.

This doesn’t include the trouble in Syria, and the Ebola plague in Africa.

As if that’s not enough, the world is shocked by the death of comedian Robin Williams. In fact all coverage of the above events have almost been blocked out for the night by the cable news channels to cover the loss of a man who at least made the country laugh, even though he was seriously depressed himself.

Yes, it’s a Super Moon we won’t soon forget. A devil moon. Hang loose, people. Stay calm, if you can. It’s too easy to become part of the chaos. Over and out.

 

 

 

 

VB951292_DVD_LOC_{b0c94406-4507-e211-a415-020045490004}Just a short note. Check out my review of the Complete Flash Gordon Serials on DVD. It”s my first article for Cinema Retro, a magazine and website devoted to classic and cult films from the 60s and 70s and in this case farther back than that.

Next month I’ll have a special feature article in Cinema Retro’s print magazine. More about that later. I don’t want to spoil the surprise. You can read the Flash Gordon review here.

bringI just bought the limited edition (only 3,000 copies made) Blu Ray of Bring Me The Head of Alfredo Garcia, Sam Peckinpah’s strange, weird, and uncompromising masterpiece. Many revelations contained in the commentaries and documentaries provided as special features.

Warren Oates and Isela Vega apparently were nervous about the famous graveyard scene. So Warren bought some hallucinatory mushrooms, readily available in Mexico at that time, and they both ate some. When time came to shoot the scene they were both stoned out of their minds. Just one of many outrageous stories told about filming that movie.

Wild character Peckinpah. Apparently most people who knew him hated his guts but loved him too at the same time.

Alfredo Garcia is a metaphor for life itself. Its about what we all have to do to survive in this world. And it ain.t always pretty. There’s always some one at the top calling the shots. Benny, the main character, finds out who it is and goes after him.

EL Jefe, the man at the top, played by Emilio Fernandez, was the model I used for Don Sized CoverPedro Sanchez in Vampire Siege at Rio Muerto. No reviewer yet has seen how closely the opening scene of the book mirrors the opening of Alfredo Garcia. There are many other references to Peckinpah’s work in Rio Muerto.

Maybe you should go buy a copy from Amazon. Kindle or Paperback.

 

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I received the good news a few minutes ago that my story, “Wolf Water” has been accepted by Emby Press editor Miles Booth for the RECONSTRUCTING THE MONSTER anthology. There’s the cover on the left.

This antho was built around the idea of writers submitting new stories featuring the characters of classic horror films. Mine was inspired by The Wolf Man (1941). It’s an updated tale set during the war in Afghanistan.

I can’t wait for this to come out, It’s not only unusual, but I hope will leave you with feelings you never thought you’d get from this kind of story.

The lineup of writers in this collection is impressive with folks like Darin Kennedy, Larry Underwood, James Newman, Jamie Lackey, Tim Prasil, Kevin Wetmore, and others. Most of the major monsters from classic Hollywood films are represented in the anthology including, Frankenstein, Dracula, the Mummy, The Blob, Gidorah, the three headed monster, the Gorgon and others. The only one I don’t see listed is the Creature from the Black Lagoon. I hope they’ll be a Vol. 2, I’ve got a great idea for that one.

It’s also worth noting that this collection is being co-edited by Miles Boothe and Brian P. Easton, author of the best-selling novel, Autobiography of a Werewolf Hunter. This is one to watch for.

 

amazonAmazon announced big news Friday, July 18. For readers its definitely great news. For authors like me it’s a case of good news,and the potential for really bad news. I’m hoping in the long run the good out weighs the bad.

Amazon has introduced Kindle Unlimited, a new program that lets readers who join pay $9.99 a month to have unlimited access to some 600,000 ebooks. The good news for readers is the low cost they will pay to read all the books their beady little eyeballs can handle. The good news for authors like me is the increased exposure the program will provide. Nothing like having Flying W Press’s Vampire Siege at Rio Muerto in a program that includes Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings.

Also on the plus side is the encouragement Kindle Unlimited will give potential e-book Seige at Rio Muerto ebookpurchasers to take a book like mine out for a spin. Acquiring readers is the hardest task for independent and self-published authors like myself. so any idea that puts my book out there in the public eye is a good thing.

But there is one little catch that could be the fly in the ointment. According to Amazon, authors, whose books are picked up this way, will receive a royalty from a special fund created for Kindle Unlimited. How much of a royalty depends on a number of books ordered overall. But in order for authors to be paid, the reader must read 10 percent of the book. They can’t just order it and let is sit their in their Kindle. Amazon is watching. And there’s the rub. How many of us have ordered ebooks and just let them sit there in their Kindle without ever reading them?

If that happens under Kindle Unlimited, not only would an author lose the royalty from the sale of the ebook, he may never collect a cent from unread books lingering in Kindle “unlimited”  limbo.

On one hand I feel positive about the chance for increased exposure to potentially an “unlimited” audience. But I’m concerned about the chances of losing sales because of this 10 percent rule. I’m also bothered by the fact that Amazon didn’t ask my opinion about including my book in Kindle Unlimited. They just went and did it. Me and the authors of 600,000 other books are in it whether we like it or not.

Interesting they announced this on a Friday, the end of the news cycle. With other disasters dominating the headlines, this isn’t getting much attention. Smart move or coincidence?

It’s too early to really start complaining. This could be a real boon to new authors who are trying to attract readers. That’s how Amazon is describing it, anyway. But I would make two recommendations in case anyone’s listening.  If you as a reader intend to pick up my book under Kindle Unlimited, please read it. At least past the 10 percent mark. My other suggestion to Amazon is to drop the 10 percent rule entirely. What difference does it make to Amazon how much someone reads the book? What’s the point, anyway?

Those are my thoughts on this incredibly big development in the ebook publishing world. I’ll reserve final judgment until I see the results. Meantime, I’ve got another idea. Skip the Kindle and get the paperback. Over and out.

 

 

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Amazing Stories’ special 88th Anniversary issue, containing my story, “Where the Space Pirates Are,” is now available free to Amazing Stories Subscribers.

The issue has new and reprinted fiction, articles and interviews from some of today’s top talents, including Douglas Smith, Michael Sullivan, Jack Clemons, Felicity Savage and many others. Amazing Stories publisher Steve Davidson says “this issue marks a major milestone in Amazing Stories’ return to regular publication.”

It’s available in Epub, Mobi, and PDF. If you are a subscriber to AS you’re entitled to a complimentary copy of the issue before it goes on sale.

My contribution is one of the series of stories I wrote for Raygun Revival, featuring futuristic trouble shooter Frank Carson, and it’s one that combines action with a bit of comedy, something unusual for me, at least in the fiction I write.

So click on over to Amazing Stories and get your free issue. 

 

 

I still have a working laser disc player. I’m surprised how many people have never heard of laser discs. In the 80s and early 90s it was state-of-the-art technology. There was a kind of a cult of laser disc enthusiasts who bought laser disc players and set up home theaters at a time when home theater was not the common place thing it is today.

The players were not too expensive, around $300-to $500 for an average player, maybe up to $1,000 higher end models. I bought a used Pioneer  CLD S 201 for a couple hundred at a local hi-fi store (remember them?). It needed some work which the store did for free and it’s worked perfectly ever since.

laser discThe laser discs themselves were 12 inches in diameter, same as a vinyl LP, and like LPs they were analog not digital. Some came with digital sound, but the video was all what they call “interlaced,”  rather than progressive. Also the video information was not “anamorphic,” which means that when you play it on the new digital widescreens it has lots of black space all around it. To fill the screen you have to use the Zoom feature on the TV.

One bad effect of zooming is magnification of the flaws in the picture. However, there are enough ways to offset the defects by adjusting noise reduction, contrast, brightness, and all the other adjustment options that are available on today’s television. As a result you can get a pretty decent picture out of a laser disc. Not as good as Blu-Ray, I grant you, but pretty damn good.

Laser discs were considered a high-end product, and were produced by Sony, Image, MGM, 20th Century Fox. Most titles went for around $35-$40. But the thing with LDs was that they catered to the movie laserdiskconoisseur who didn’t mind paying a higher price for premium movie fare. I can remember shelling out around $90 for Vertigo.  A special box set of the original Flash Gordon serial went for about the same amount.

Among the discs in my collection, and regrettably I don’t have that many, maybe around 30 or so, is the laser disc version of the original, unenhanced version of The Empire Strikes Back. It’s got very good sound quality. That was one of the things about LDs that made them cool. The soundtracks on some were and still are better than some Blu Rays today. You have to hear it to believe it.

There’s also something about the Laser Disc picture quality that actually seem more like film. Sure, up close you can see the roughness in the texture, but that’s the way film looks when its projected on a big screen too. When you’re sitting back in your chair at viewing distance, the picture actually feels more like a theater viewing experience.

My_name_is_nobodyI just watched my LD copy of “My Name is Nobody,” the Italian western with Henry Fonda that most people think Sergio Leone actually directed, instead of ToninoValerii, the director who was given credit. It was about a gunfighter trying to retire and a fan who wanted him to make one last play and find his place in history. It’s a good film and thoroughly enjoyable on Laser Disc. Like aging gunfighters, Laser Discs were made obsolete by history, but they’ve still got a few good plays left in them. At least until parts are no longer available.

 

 

[The Great American Fourth of July is once again upon us. I have noticed in the last week quite a few people are digging into the archives to view this post that I wrote two years ago as a tribute to both the 4th and to the late great humorist Jean Shepherd. So rather than leave it buried among the 100 plus items in this blog, why not bring it right out front. Meanwhile, don't forget, the holiday weekend would be a great time to catch up on your monster hunter reading. Vampire Siege at Rio Muerto is available in Kindle and paperback. Have a great holiday!]

 

Hey, Gang, How’s it hanging? The Fourth of July, the day we celebrate our Independence in the U.S., is here once again.  Amidst the continuing threat of terrorism, war in Afghanistan,  some of the worst hot weather we’ve had in recent years, wildfires out west, a society fragmented by political differences, and a struggling economy, we’re still hanging in there.

For me part of the Fourth of July tradition includes family gatherings, patriotic movies on Turner Classic Movies, a barbecue, some time at the local swimming pool, fireworks of course, and a reading from Jean Shepherd’s classic book, In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash. Some of you may know who Jean Shepherd is, others may not. Most people familiar with the name know him from the classic holiday film, A Christmas Story, which is based on Shepherd’s book. This is the movie about Ralphie (who is really Shepherd as a kid), growing up in Indiana, and wanting more than anything in the world a Red Ryder BB gun. The movie is shown in a 24-hour marathon every Christmas on one of the Turner Cable Channels. It’s Shepherd’s voice you hear narrating the story.

The real insiders know Shepherd from the nightly radio show he had from the late fifties to the mid-seventies on WOR radio in New York. Every night he would come on the air, alone and unscripted and talk. It wasn’t like talk radio today, though. He didn’t take phone calls. And he didn’t have a political ax to grind. He just sat alone and told stories. When he wasn’t telling stories, he did social commentary, or read haiku to “cheap guitar music.” Some of the stories he told ended up later as short stories in Playboy magazine and became the basis for the novel and two films: A Christmas Story, and My Summer Story. 

Among the many tales Shepherd told of growing up in the Midwest, one about an historic incident that took place in his neighborhood on the Fourth of July is one of my favorites. Ludlow Kissel and the Dago Bomb That Struck Back, describes one hot Independence Day when the town drunk (the term alcoholic wasn’t widely used back in the 1930s) showed up in the middle of his street carrying a lethal looking firecracker that in those days was known as the Dago Bomb. This was not an anti-Italian appellation, Shepherd explains, but was actually pro-Italian, the ne plus ultra of fireworks. In more effete circles is was known as an aerial bomb. It was big and looked like one of those non-existent firecrackers that show up in cartoons. It had a warnings on it, that indicated it should only be used by professionals.

So this one Fourth of July Ludlow Kissel appeared on the heat-shimmering horizon, “weaving spectacularly, and carrying a large paper bag as carefully as a totally committed drunk can. He was about to celebrate the founding of our nation, the nation which had provided such a bounteous life for him and his.” No one paid much attention as he inched his way from lamppost to lamppost and fire plug to fire plug and went into his house. He came out minutes later with the largest Dago Bomb anyone had ever seen. It was the first all-black Dago Heister anyone had ever laid eyes on and was suspected of actually being made in China!  Later some witnesses would argue that it wasn’t a firecracker at all, but was some sort of mortar shell.

Kissel staggered out to the middle of the street, set the firecracker on the ground and tried to light it. Neighbors peered nervously through windows, others came out on their front lawns. Several attempt to light the fuse with a match failed and a kid came up to Kissel with a lit punk and handed it to him. A crowd gathered. He lit the fuse, the crowd drew back. The fuse sputtered out and Ludlow lit it again but being too soused to know what he’s doing, he just stood there. “Hey Kissel, for god’s sake! It’s lit,” somebody yelled. “What’s lit?” Kissel said. He staggered around and knocked the Dago Bomb over and it went off.

Do I have to tell you what happened next? The expelled cartridge shot through the crowd, which ran for cover, and landed under Kissel’s front porch. It blew the porch off, then skittered next door, took down a neighbor’s rose trellis and ended up finally exploding under another neighbor’s car. Total devastation!

When it was over Kissel was still there in the middle of the street, on his knees and made his statement, which is even today part of the great legend. “My God! What a doozy!”

That was Jean Shepherd’s America. A different America in many ways from ours to be sure, but in some ways maybe not that different. We still watch fireworks, have barbecues, eat too much, and drink too much on the Fourth. We still have that urge to light that fuse and see the ultimate firework display of all time. Shepherd died in 1999 and I often wonder what he would say about our world today if he was still sitting behind the mic in a radio studio. He always knew that life was insane and that civilizations come and go, and most of us will be unremembered after we pass on. Probably he’d advise us to keep our sense of humor about it, and remind us,  as he always did to: “Keep your knees loose, and your duff close to the ground!”

I hope your Fourth is a doozy.

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