Friday, December 19, 2014

Blogradio Appearance

I'm pretty excited because later on today (Friday, Dec. 19, 2:38 a.m. is when I type this) I'll be doing an hour long interview on the Speculative Fiction Cantina. We'll be discussing To Touch the Sun, among other things. They also asked me to do a 5-8 minute reading from the book and choosing a passage that fits in that time has been difficult but it's been fun practicing with the possible choices. 

There are a number of accents in my book: Heavy Chicago, light Chicago, Indian, British, I've always enjoyed playing with accents so playing with these (not to mention trying to pin down the male voices without it being too obvious that that I'm "husking" my voice) has been interesting.

I'll say this, I've often wondered why most authors don't read versions of their own audio books. You would think it would be perfect since they know the rhythm of the words they put down on paper. 

It can be quite a challenge, however, as I discovered when I read the prologue of TTTS so that the publisher can put something on Facebook the day it was released. It was me, in my living room with a headset and a computer, trying to accomplish the task in a hurry and luckily it was mostly prose so that I didn't have to go in and out of too many accents. Even still, I found myself having to pause frequently to attend to sinal issues, or because I had a tickle in my throat, or Oliver T. Kitty decided I was spending far too much time with that and not nearly enough praising him so he tried to steal my focus with a whiny meow. Or, and this is a huge problem, you tend to assume what the next words will be only discover you're off by a word or a tense. 

Now I know that most audio book readers are locked up in a quality studio with technicians to help them. Still, it has to be a daunting task.

If you want to hear a reader successfully attack a variety of accents in a book, listen to John Lee's exceptional reading of Ken Follett's "Century Trilogy." I have gotten through the first and half of the second book (hoping to finish it soon) and was blown away. I was made fully aware of his talent after listening to the audio versions of Follett's Pillar's of the Earth and subsequent books in that series. It was like listening to a radio play. But in the Century Trilogy, Lee is taking on a variety of British accents, a variety of American accents, German, Russian, male and female...and he does it all seemingly effortlessly. It's astounding. 

Of course the audio versions of the Harry Potter books are classics unto themselves thanks to the voice talents of Jim Dale. He doesn't have the vast amount of different ethnic accents, but he does have the male/female, adult/child accents to perform. I had a friend who made a ritual of reading the Harry Potter book and then made a ritual of listening to it on CD.

I really enjoyed Ron Perlman's reading of The Strain, the first novel in a vampire trilogy by Guillermo del Torro and Chuck Hogan. His was a measured reading, but it was perfect for the subject and added to the tension.

Recently (well, several months ago--unfortunately, with my schedule, that's recent for fiction) I finished the audio book of The Martian by Andy Weir. It was a surprisingly engrossing book (I say surprisingly because it's very subject should have left my eyes glazed over from minutia). The performance by R.C. Bray only helped to pull me into the story. 

Frequently I find myself listening to books on audio because my schedule leaves me little time to read. Popping a CD into the player driving from one thing to another is a lot easier. And if you have a great reader, it can be a fantastic experience.

If you would like to hear me take a stab at a live reading, tune into the Cantina tomorrow. And feel free to call in with any questions. I'll be on at 5 p.m. Central time. Visit

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Craig's Contract with his Audience

Only a few days remain until "The Late Late Show" is no longer hosted by Craig Ferguson. It's been a great ride. I've written posts that contain some of my favorite things from the show. What I want to point out today isn't the bust your gut funny moments, but those moments he made it real. That's one of the things that made Craig's tenure with the show so very special. Perhaps it was the main thing because it enabled Craig to connect with his audience on a deeper level using his own feelings on a national or personal tragedy. It was cathartic for both host and audience.

Again, in no particular order, are ten examples.

This is the first monologue that I saw that Craig opened up about something troubling and it turned out to be a fantastic mix of humor and social slapdown. It's when I truly realized how special this show was with him at the helm.

David Letterman's production company, World Wide Pants, is the company that produces "The Late Late Show" which follows his own "The Late Show with David Letterman" every night. In 2009 news broke of Letterman's affairs with various female staffers over the years. As Craig himself says, this left him in a very difficult position since it was his job to comment on the news of the day.

This is just for fun. Apparently there was a power outage during the taping of his show. What do you do when a power outage occurs during the taping of your monologue? You take a few nips at the hand that barely feeds you.

Craig shared a lot with his audience. A lot.

I mean, a lot!

Five years after 9/11, an immigrant, two years shy of his U.S. citizenship, shared his memories of that horrible day. 

On July 20, 2012, a man went into a movie theater in Aurora, Colo. and shot 82 people, killing 12 of them. Two years ago an some change, we were still horrified by such an event (sadly I fear we've become a bit too accustomed to it now). A pre-recorded show of "The Late Late Show," including jokes about "The Dark Knight" (The film being shown when the event occurred) was scheduled to run, leaving Craig and his staff in a dilemma. So he decided to tape a new opening to the show that would address the shooting (and in fact his dilemma). It's the sort of sincerity that made his show so special.

And in a companion piece: On April 15, 2013 two pressure cooker bombs went off during the Boston Marathon. It was a horrific and cowardly act that left everyone shaken. Craig presents that confusion and anger perfectly.

Craig's mother and father had been on his show, his mother partaking in a particularly charming bit in which she went shopping with RZA of Wu Tan Clan. When his mother died, as he so often does, Craig shared his feelings with his audience. And he almost made it through without breaking.

Of course two years prior to the send off for his mother, fresh from the funeral, he spoke about his father's death. (The show that night actually became a wake for his father).

And of course honorable, and sad, mention belongs to his announcement that Craig would be giving up the reigns of "The Late Late Show."

Whether it was joy, frustration or grief, what you got with Craig Ferguson was an honesty and wit that couldn't be contained on a cue card. It was indeed his contract with the audience.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Let's Get This Party Started

I'm not quite sure when the puppet cold openings on The Late Late Show morphed into the spectacular lip synching numbers but I suppose it was inevitable in an ever evolving show. As I showed in the previous post the lip synching seemed to start with the puppets. A yodaling monkey, an acid rock wolf, a dinosaur and shark singing "Rain Drops Keep Fallin' On My Head." It was ridiculous and fantastic all at the same time. Eventually, with the help of a talented and playful staff, Craig Ferguson transformed this show opening featuring puppets into musical numbers that helped pump up the audience even more.

The numbers are remarkably notable when you consider the space in which they had to stage them. Some have quite a lot of choreography to them.

Again, in no particular order, here are ten of my favorite musical openings from The Late Late Show.

"Fireball XL5" was a children's show created by Gerry and Sylvia Anderson of Supermarionation fame which Ferguson very likely grew up watching in Scotland ("Fireball XL5" actually did run on NBC on Saturday mornings in the U.S. from 1963-65). It had a curiously poppy closing song considering its science fiction theme that lends itself perfectly to a bit on the Late Late Show.

The Village People's "In the Navy" is a song screaming out for a good lip synching and Craig and his crew are just the folk to provide it.

"Look Out There's a Monster Coming" is a catchy little tune that can be found on the album 1967 "Gorilla" by the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band (one of its members, Neil Innes, would go on to write the fantastic songs to be found in the Beatles-parody band The Rutles). And it's nice to see Geoff Peterson get in on the act.

The Late Late Show's take on "White Lines" (covered by Duran Duran) is one of those numbers that definitely cemented the party aspect of the cold openings.

I think "Wonderful Night" was the first lip synching bit that I saw and it only increased my affection for this show.

It's only fitting that when Craig took the show to Scotland, his country of birth, the opening would need to be big. Add an awesome TARDIS effect and you have a rockin' cold opening.

And when in France:

"Over At The Frankenstein Place" from "The Rocky Horror Picture Show" was one of the more elaborate cold opens and it works excellently.

This next one is one of my favorites featuring a cover of "Istanbul" by one of my favorite bands, They Might Be Giants.

As a "Doctor Who" fan like Craig himself, this last one is probably the penultimate cold open for me. It didn't, however, actually open the show when it was broadcast since at the last minute it was discovered that they couldn't get the rights to the "Doctor Who" theme music. What was filmed was a practice run-through that Craig, none the less, winkingly encouraged should somehow make its way onto YouTube. And so it did. Brightening the lives of every Whovian out there.

These are the things that made The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson, despite the late hour, such a joy to tune in. 

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Craig Ferguson's Puppets

In my last post, I told you about my sadness at Craig Ferguson's imminent departure from the Late Late Show. Tuning into the show every night was like stumbling on an open house party at a neighbor's house, and late night will sorely miss that energy.

I would like to illustrate why I love this show with a few Top Ten lists (borrowing, of course, a concept from another show).

Borrowing a concept from another show, I would like to illustrate why I love this show so much using a few Top Ten Lists (although the the entries are in no particular order). To begin with here, are ten of my favorite cold openings featuring Craig's cast of hand puppets (a cast that seemed to grow as the concept went on):

So one night I tune into The Late Late Show and opening the show, I see a white rabbit puppet talking to the camera in squeaky cockney, an empty set behind him. I think that's when I officially realized that the party had begun. As much as I enjoyed the sketches written for the show (a particular favorite was Michael Caine at Hogwarts), there was something so audacious about a host opening his network show with only a white rabbit hand puppet talking to the audience (Craig doing the puppet's cartoon voice) that I was spellbound. And when he did it again and again (with a monkey, or a unicorn, or a puppet he referred to as a crocodile/alligator) I was a goner. 

Kronos, King of the Monkey People, is another puppet that has made a number of appearances on the show. With his firm, booming voice he professes to being on the verge of taking over the planet. The adorable elevator operator outfit (or is he a bellhop) he wears, however, makes it hard to believe that he'll succeed in these plans.

Kronos made an appearance in a rare multi-puppet opening bit featuring a dinosaur and a shark singing "Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head" before they started a toothy make-out session. 

I mean, come on!! What other show offered that?

Another toothy denizen of the Late Late Show puppet brigade is Wavy the crocodile/alligator. Fresh from the bayou, he apparently has an English cousin whose longer torso is perfect for High Def.

Wavy not only has an English cousin, but also has an English girlfriend, who he introduced to the audience. She seems a shy, retiring type, though I suppose one would be when dating a crocodile/alligator. (This is one of my favorite bits)

In what seemed like a shark week of his very own, Craig was having relationship problems with his shark. Breaking up is hard to do, especially with a shark.

But it turns out, that the shark has quite a personality.

The lip synching to songs became more elaborate as time went on and began to incorporate staffmembers, but there's something so right about puppets "lip" synching.

And speaking of elaborate, here's a little unicorn joined by friends to sing "The Lonely Goatherd."

Not to be outdone, however, is Kronos, King of the Monkey People, a monkey of many talents.

As an honorable mention, it seems only fair that Craig should have a puppet all his own.

There are any number of other puppet bits floating around out there on YouTube and I highly recommend an hour of surfing.

My next post will discuss the more elaborate cold open lip synching.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Craig Ferguson's Party

Craig and Secretariat bust some moves

Recently The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson released the guest line up for Craig's final shows and it reminded me of how bitter/sweet the next several weeks will be.
James Corden

Ferguson's last show will be Dec. 19 and frankly I don't want him to go. Oh he'll probably move on to something else (at the moment he's got some game show thing that he's hosting on another station) and the next host (James Corden) of The Late Late Show will probably do a good job, but this show with Ferguson has been magical since he took over in 2005.

I remember early on in Craig's (I call him Craig cause he makes me feel that I can) tenure trying to tell a coworker about the show. I had a hard time explaining the show because it was so atypical of talk shows. What you normally see is rote: Host is introduced, host does monologue, host does wacky banter with sidekick/bandleader (of course hard for Craig to do since he's had neither for some time. Technology solved that problem eventually). After the break the first guest comes out, there's a bit, then the next guest, then maybe a musical act, then end of show. It stays that way for years.

The Dreamboyz
Maybe it was Craig's punk sensibilities left over from a misspent youth that led him to break that format. (During the 80s he played in a band called the Bastards of Hell, later renamed Dreamboyz, which also featured current Doctor Who Peter Capaldi). Sensibilities which apparently also flavored his life some years after. Not only did he depart from standard talk show format with his television show, Craig often departed from the formats that he himself would establish for his own show. 

An early sketch featuring Ewan McGregor

It was like watching one big comedy bit being tried, tested, tailored and trimmed to offer a tighter result.

The show was constantly evolving and it was brilliant to see what he and his staff came up with.

Consider the evolution of Geoff Peterson, gay robot skeleton sidekick. The lack of a sidekick had never hurt the show or Craig's performance. In fact, he seems to have the mutant ability to be entertaining without sake of sidekick, cue cards, band or other late night paraphernalia (which he often joked were lacking due to the cheapness of CBS). Deciding at some point it might be fun to have a sidekick, he took Mythbuster's Grant Imahara up on his offer to create a sidekick. In the beginning, Peterson's vocabulary consisted of seven pre-recorded phrases (one of them the often played "balls"). Craig would interact with the robot using the buttons at his desk which set off the phrases. Later, writers handled Peterson's dialogue using an iPad to control it offstage.

Over time, Peterson's vocal abilities were tweaked as were his motor skills (somewhat) and now voiced by Josh Robert Thompson, he's become an integral part of the show. With comedy and improv skills as sharp as Craig's, Thompson is able to keep up in whatever direction the host goes.

What could have been a prop for a bit lasting a few months evolved into a favorite part of the show for many viewers. But comedy evolution is exactly what the show has been about. Quick, pre-opening bits with puppets turned into puppet lip synching songs which turned into elaborate, choreographed lip synching performances featuring puppets, Craig and members of his staff. I think that's when the show really became a party. There was a sort of "oh well, what the hell, let's try it" attitude not seen since Letterman started the Late Show in the 1980s and went on fast food road trips with Zsa Zsa Gabor or tossed stuff off the top of buildings.

Only Craig takes the attitude to the next level, encouraging the audience to stick with him by sheer force of his enthusiasm for life. Every sketch and monologue is an invitation to join the party. It's clear right from the theme song.

It could be his enthusiasm for life that leads him to share so much of his personal life with the audience. Craig has led a life, and come close to death, and as with most people recovering from something he's almost evangelic with his openness.

When Britney Spears was going through some issues, Craig stood apart from the crowd capitalizing on it with "Britney is so messed up" jokes by delivering a monologue in which he encouraged people to cut her some slack. Using his own, misspent youth as an example he encouraged everyone to just let her work it out. And he was able to deliver the lecture in his usual, funny, disarming way.

On Feb. 1, 2008 Craig became an extremely proud citizen of the U.S. and later showed clips of himself taking the test and his swearing in. 

We met the members of the Ferguson family when he had on his show his nephew, his sister, and his parents. He even arranged a filmed outting for his mother and RZA of Wu Tang Clan and the two actually corresponded afterward. When his father died, followed later by his mother, he opened respective shows with eulogies for them both.

It was instances such as this that helped Craig achieve an intimacy with the audience whether in the studio or at home. It's perhaps that intimacy combined with his comedic inventiveness that will be missed the most.

He addresses all his guests with an easy familiarity as if they are old friends just hanging for a chat. In most cases this easy familiarity is able to loosen up even the stiffest of guests. By the end of the interview they are willing to choose between ending on an awkward pause, playing the mouth organ, a moment of meditation or one of the other interview-enders Craig and his staff has come up with.

But even during the interview he seems genuinely interested in the guest and most times he probably is. If he uses the sort of guest question cheat sheet found on the desk of other talk show hosts you wouldn't know it. His is a very stream-of-consciousness style of interviewing which helps make the interview more enjoyable for the guest, the audience and more than likely himself as well.

So, I'm going to miss my friend, TV's Craig Ferguson. Late night won't be quite the same without him. Though I look forward to what he has in store for his next incarnation. I'm sure it'll be a party.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Mightier than the Sword

Happy Banned Book Week!

There's something wrong in a country professing a right to freedom of speech needing to have a week highlighting books that people have attempted to ban. Of course the U.S. isn't the only country that's had its battles with banning, presently or in the past. The Nazis made a whole thing about it, deciding to "purify" their Aryan culture the way they were trying to "purify" their Aryan genes.

We are far from that. Although there was that time in the 60s...

It's easy to let passion get ahead of judgement. (Your message, for example, gets a bit fuzzy when you allow members of the KKK represent your movement).

Per the saying, the pen is mightier than the sword. Honestly, in a sword fight, I think I'd reach for a blade over Bic, and yet if handled correctly, a pen could take down an entire regime. The sword has more immediacy. With the pen, you have to be patient as the ideas that spring from it have to sink in.

Like ink on a page.

Malala Yousafzai, ten tons of bravery packed in a young girl's body, was shot in the head by men terrified of her ideas about women's education and peace. They chose the "sword" because they were scared of her pen. And when asked by Jon Stewart what she would do if confronted again by terrorists...well you listen to what she had to say:

The freedom she's fighting for may not even be won in her lifetime (though I truly hope it is. No woman should have to fear seeking an education). But she's planted the seeds and has been tending to the garden in the hopes that eventually the blooms will come.

Now many of the books on the banned/challenged lists aren't even nearly that important to the social fabric. Their messages aren't quite that earth shattering. They're really not. But what Banned Book Week highlights isn't necessarily the books themselves, but rather that method used far too often of silencing the unsettling. Silence the message that might make people think beyond what we tell them to think. You cut this one for this reason, then you cut that one for that reason, and the next thing you know you have a lovely bonfire and people standing around watching as important questions and ideas go up in smoke.

Banned Book Week is a reminder to take our right to free speech responsibly. It's a responsibility born not only by those speaking, but by those listening. If you don't like what you're hearing, don't try to silence the argument. Offer a better one instead.

For a list of frequently challenged books, click here.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Bustin' Makes Me Feel Good

On June 1, 1984 a movie was released that remains so iconic 30 years later. that it is one of the most often quoted movies with scenes and jokes that still seem fresh. Even the special FX, archaic by today's standards, are still memorable (perhaps because the movie hinges on the scripts and performances rather than the FX which are there to flavor the story, not overwhelm it).

The theme song by Ray Parker Jr. was the subject of a plagiarism lawsuit by Huey Lewis who claimed that Parker lifted the song's melody from his song "I Want a New Drug." Thirty years later, when that melody is heard, most people think of one thing: "Who you gonna call?"

That's right, "Ghostbusters"!

As I remember it, with myself two years out of high school, "Ghostbusters" sort of came out of nowhere. By that time summer blockbusters had become the norm: "Jaws," "Star Wars," "Indiana Jones." But those were action adventure or science fiction movies. "Ghostbusters" seemed a whole new breed. A full blown supernatural comedy with major special effects. As big and beautiful as it looked in the trailers, I can't say that I ever imagined the popularity this movie would have through the decades since its first release (It was number one at the box office for 5 weeks). That is, until I saw it.

All the comedy elements were there. "SNL" alums Bill Murray and Dan Aykroyd. Harold Ramis and Rick Moranis from "SCTV." Ivan Reitman directing, Ramis and Aykroyd handling the script. Even the love interest of Dana was expertly played by Sigourney Weaver who could hold her own in the generally male comedic funhouse. Those elements mixed together perfectly creating a masterpiece.

Okay, one could argue that I'm laying it on a bit thick. And yet to me it is a masterpiece because it delivers what it intends to: Laughs. Jokes and scenes that can still make me smile thinking of them thirty years later.

And it's not only laughs. The truly amazing thing about this paranormal comedy is that it delivers shocks as well as laughs. If done well, comedy and horror can mix surprisingly well. Both rely on the element of surprise and depending on the laugh or the fright, both can elicit similar adrenalin spikes.

There is something really eerie about the library ghost in the beginning. You snicker at the geekiness of Ray and Egon as they study their readouts and the frustration of Peter as he collects their ectoplasmic sample ("Egon, your mucus"), but it's an uneasy snicker cause you're not really sure what they're going to come across. The music and direction draws you into that uncertainty. And the stunned reaction on the faces of the three as they see an actual apparition floating there is the very same we would wear if we rounded a corner and discovered that (especially if we had no clue on how to deal with it, as they apparently don't).

And as hilarious as their very first hunt in the hotel is, the later attack and possession of Dana by Zuul is pretty chilling.

The seeming authenticity of the paranormal aspects (yes, I know how that sounds but either you believe or you don't) is partly due to Dan Aykroyd who is seriously interested in the subject. There is no trace of irony when Ray (Aykroyd) and Egon (Ramis) toss around paranormal ideas because theirs are the voices of the believers. I mean after all they invented all sorts of equipment to measure this stuff, like the little hand held doohicky with the blinking wings that raise up in the presence of a ghost. Why the hell else would they invent something like that if they didn't believe something would raise those blinking wings.

The voice of the skeptic is that of Peter Venkman (Murray) who can't help but see the ridiculousness in the situation and even when the ridiculousness turns out to be anything but, his first instinct is to crack a joke as if it will protect him from the reality of what's happening. He cares more about putting the moves on Dana than he does about getting to the bottom of the strange occurrences going on around her. And wouldn't you know it, just as she finally starts succumbing to his charms, all hell breaks loose and she turns into a dog...literally.

Then there's fourth Ghostbuster Winston Zeddemore (Ernie Hudson) on the job only a few weeks before the "Big Twinkie" theory comes into play. 

It doesn't take long for him to become a believer because, as he tells the mayor of New York, on the job he's "seen shit that would turn you white!" Winston, like Dana's socially inept neighbor Louis Tully (Moranis) and Ghostbusters' snarly secretary Janine Melnitz (Annie Potts), are the ones the audience can best relate to. They find themselves swept up in events the way the audience is swept up into the story line. And it is quite a ride.

This is one of those movies that I could see over and over (and in fact the summer it first opened, my friends and I did indeed go to see it over and over). It's in a long line of great summer comedies like "National Lampoon's Animal House," "Caddyshack," "Stripes" and "The Blues Brothers" that continually make me smile every time I see them. Which is why I'm going to see when it when it's rereleased to theaters Labor Day weekend.

Besides, how could you not love a movie in which the destroyer of worlds turns out to be...a marshmallow man.

Monday, July 28, 2014

A Discussion with Dennis Villelmi

I have another special guest appearing on the blog today. Dennis Villelmi is a poet and author whose work has appeared in Dagda Publishing's All Hail the New Flesh, an anthology of dystopian fiction.  

You've tried your hand at both, which do you feel more comfortable writing: prose or poetry?

Between prose and poetry I've always felt more at home in the latter, mainly because, when writing, I have a natural tendency towards a personal brand of esotericism which says as much in the "abysses" between the written lines as the lines themselves. However, that isn't to say that I don't bother with prose; I do occasionally, when I feel the subject is more an ocean than a river or stream.

Arthur Rimbaud
What are a few of your favorite authors or poets?

Foremost among my favorite authors are Arthur Rimbaud and Howard Phillips Lovecraft. Though Rimbaud was a poet and Lovecraft a master of the straight narrative, both were seers, or prophets to an extent; both were also tortured souls, which I've always been able to relate to.  I also enjoy reading Robert E. Howard, Clive Barker (a literary demigod to me and millions of others, no doubt,) Poe, and several of the authors of antiquity, viz. Virgil.  

When did the writing bug bite?

Wow, I'd say the desire to write first made itself known when I was fourteen. I had seen Clive Barker do a commercial in 1990 promoting his latest work at the time, The Great and Secret Show. About a year or so later when I was in a shopping mall bookstore I happened upon the paperback edition and, remembering the commercial, decided I had to buy it. As early as the first two chapters I realized, "This is what I want to do." So I've been penning stuff ever since.

Were other members of your family interested in literature?

My late mother certainly loved books. The memory of her bookcase is still vivid, really due to the fact that it towered over both child and adult.  She had Shel Silverstein, Will Rogers, Chaucer, and many more names which now elude me.

Have you seen a marked difference in your writing since you started? Not necessarily in quality but perhaps direction? Do you perhaps approach it differently than you once did?

Over the years the direction of my writing really hasn't altered. I'm just as fascinated by the same themes now as I was when I was much younger. However, my style has become more set in stone, as I make it a point to set more and more time aside for writing. Admittedly, my earlier efforts were haphazard at best, but you don't get anywhere like that, because you don't give yourself the time to learn who you are as a writer. Now, I have a better definition of myself, though it's still begging for completion.

Have you ever written anything that, once you were done, sort of took you by surprise? For example, as you were writing you didn’t realize there was a subtext there that you caught later?  

Seldom am I ever taken by surprise with anything that I write. (I'm not one for surprises in any case.) In my approach, I start with the undercurrent, in other words I go to the darkest depth and bring it up to the surface in all its ugliness. I prefer guidance by shadows as opposed to that of the light that many a writer takes as catechism.

How would you describe the poetry you write? 

The poetry I write is in two words: occult and blasphemous. I aim to unsettle and haunt anyone who reads it. By varying degrees there's Gnosticism involved, as well as the concrete world. But when I write, I keep in mind it's a soul's rebellion against the existing order dating back to Genesis 1:1.

What’s your favorite genre in general? Why?

In terms of genre, my appetite is singular: horror. Horror, and I'm sure Lovecraft, were he here now would nod in affirmation, is "the way, the truth, and the light." Yes, I know I just used the word "light;" but I mean a light of a much different kind. It's a light that the abyss guards hermetically. Horror is more than what we've taken for granted courtesy of celluloid and campfires; it's the scalpel, and the fire of Prometheus that shows us that the greatest monster is the so-called Almighty. 

What genre would you like to try?

Beyond horror, I would like to try my hand at science fiction again. Last year, I wrote a short story titled, "The Apian Way" for Dagda Publishing's anthology, All Hail The New Flesh and I rather enjoyed it due to the research I did and the feeling of playing Creator. I always keep an eye to the future with the hope of a future governed more by science than political folly and antique religious notions.

What are some of the books considered classic that you like?

Naturally, I like the Gothic masterpieces Frankenstein and Dracula. Anything under Edgar Allen Poe, of course. And I'm just as at home in Dante's Inferno as I am in Philip K. Dick's Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, the seminal scifi classic.

Do you have a ritual you follow to get you in the writing mood or can you sit down and just let it flow?

Oh there's no ritual; when the the open moments are there, I sit down with pen and legal pad or laptop and crash write. It's very liberating.

Any favorite music while you write?

When writing I oscillate between musical scores by Ennio Morricone and Moby and Black Metal.


Have you published before? 

Prior to my first successes via Dagda Publishing of the UK, I had never really been published. I had about thrown in the towel when Reg Davey emailed me to inform me that a poem I had written several weeks prior, and which I recall composing in just a few minutes, was featured on Dagda's website that day. It was then that I knew that I had to continue.

How do you like working with Reg Davey and Dagda?

Reg Davey is awesome! I mean, he's the kind of editor struggling writers the world over have been waiting for. He's supportive of all his authors and he and the team at Dagda  have proven themselves phenomenal in such a short period of time. To date, everything that Dagda has marketed has shown a remarkable level of professionalism that points in the direction of forthcoming citadel on the publishing landscape.

What are your thoughts on Indie Publishing?

Indie Publishing is the best bet, definitely. When you're an author incognito, you can count on remaining as such if you try and try with the mainstream. Indie Publishing on the other hand is that door left open during the night should you be in desperate need of shelter for yourself and your children, i.e. your short stories, poems, novellas, or what have you. 

What author or poet would you love to meet?

Before much longer I'd love to meet Clive Barker. (Bet you already guessed that one.) I'd also like to meet Kim Addonizio, as she has been an influence.

Thanks for hanging out on the blog today, Dennis. Good luck with your next project. 

For more information on projects by Dennis, visit 

Monday, July 21, 2014

Bertena Varney's Lure of the Vampire

I'd like to introduce you to another friend of mine. Her name is Bertena Varney and she's quite the expert on things vampire. I met her a few years ago after Vampires' Most Wanted was published when I drove down to Kentucky to be in the Southern Kentucky Book Fest (I detailed it in my blog posts The Road to Kentucky Pt. I and Pt. II). She was my neighbor during the fest and it was great to meet her and exchange ideas with her. We've kept in touch ever since.

Bertena is a sociology professor at Southcentral KY Community College (SKYCTC)  in Bowling Green, KY. She holds masters’ degrees in sociology, criminology, social science and education. She is from Winchester, KY and attended Morehead State University in KY. 
She was named to the Top Women in Horror in 2012 by Venom and Honey and Blaze McRob’s Tales of Terrors in 2014 and has been nicknamed the Vampire Professor.

She is an Amazon and Kindle Bestselling author of Lure of the Vampire and Lure of the Vampire: Revamped. She is also contributor and co-editor for Vampire News: Tasty Bits to Sink Your Fangs Into, Vampire News: The Not So End Times, Vampire News: Really...Vampires Suck!, and contributor to Vampires Romance to Rippers an Anthology of Risque Stories; Vampires Romance to Rippers an Anthology of Tasty Storiesand The Witching Hour and Sirens Compendiums.

She's also the expert on "True Blood," vampires, television, movies, and more.

She does lectures at libraries, conventions and conferences, including the Harry Potter Convention in Salem, Mass., The Sirens Convention in Vail, Colorado, ScareFest Horror Convention in Lexington. She's also conducted talks at smaller events and discussions in New Orleans, Chicago, London, Paris and other fun places.

Recently, she released the third edition of her book Lure of the Vampire. I bought a copy of the first edition at the fest and was really impressed with the work she did on the subject. I asked her to send me something about her latest edition that I could post on the blog. So let me let her explain to you about her new book:

"The Lure of the Vampire is a pop culture reference book for writers, vampire fans, students and teachers who love to study the mysterious creature of the night. This book is for the fanatics who sit up at night and watch reruns of Buffy for the hundredth time, the Twi-hards that line up for hours before the show just to glimpse the newest "Twilight" movie, the Truebies who all knows that “waiting sucks” between each season of "True Blood" and for those diehard traditionalist that balk at all of this “new” vampire craze.

The Lure of the Vampire is also for the new writers who love creating their own worlds where the vampires may be aristocratic and romantic or dark and dangerous; the world where there are castles, heaving bosoms, chivalry and danger of loving a vampire, the dreams of so many women in today’s world.

And finally, The Lure of the Vampire is a book for those who love to study all aspects of the vampire in both pop culture and the world. Whether they are the historian who loves tracing the evolution of the vampire or the sociologist who wants to explore the world of those that live the lifestyle, the reader will find resources here to help them in their quest for knowledge of this lifestyle.

The Lure of the Vampire is divided into ten sections beginning with mythology and ending with modern vampires. Within each section there are lists that will help the reader learn basic and fun facts about that section’s topic. Links to websites are provided to ensure that the reader may find more information about that section without having to search for it on the Internet or in other books. To help supplement a particular subject within that topic, there are personal essays or interviews that give the reader a personal look from the author’s perspective. For example, Lure of the Dead Boyfriend provides the reader with a look at why women love vampire romance while exploring the vampire as a soul mate, an erotic lover, and an escape from the real world.

Lure of the Vampire provides unique interviews with vampire authors, role players, and those that live the lifestyle. The reader can delve into the world of a creator of an alternate reality or learn more about those whose lives lead them to embrace vampirism as a way of life.

Lure of the Vampire is a complete pop culture reference book for those who enjoy vampires and their impact on society. It provides an extensive bibliography that will allow the reader the opportunity for additional independent study."

Her book originally began as a master’s thesis and then was edited and formatted differently so that vampire fans would enjoy the information as well. Over the last three years she has been asked by fans to create a course online, like the one she teaches in person, and that class has finally been created and will be ready to begin when the book becomes available for sale hopefully on Aug. 1.

She is enrolling students now at a 50 percent discount of the normal class tuition. Once the student pays for the class via PayPal or credit card and purchases the book, they should email the her to get the invite to the class. The class covers each chapter in the book and provides the student with the questions that they must answer, videos for them to watch, an essay for them to write and final: there are also discussion boards that are open for class discussions. Upon completion the student will receive a certificate of completion via email to show that they have completed a course in Vampirology (the study of vampires).

Anyone interested can  check the course out at this address:

Then  email her at or message on her Facebook profile - to get payment and registration information for the class.

You can also check out her website at

Monday, July 7, 2014

An Interview with Erik Robert Nolan

I thought I'd change up a bit here and introduce you to one of my fellow Dagda authors, Erik Robert Nolan, who has a new novel out (available on Amazon) titled The Dogs Don't Bark in Brooklyn Anymore.

The cover of Erik's novel
In a post-apocalyptic future, mankind is at war with a mutated race of super-intelligent wolves. Rebecca "Red" O'Conner is a Captain in America's elite Special Animal Warfare Service, striving every day to protect the desperate East Coast cities from the cunning animal armies that have overrun most of North America. But for Rebecca, there are battles to wage both within and without, as she struggles to cope with memories of a childhood brutalized by violence, loss, victimization,and estrangement from those she loves.

Erik was nice enough to agree to do a Q&A with me so here he is to talk a little about his writing and himself.

What inspired the plot of The Dogs Don't Bark in Brooklyn Any More?

I've been a fan of survival horror since I was boy. I grew up on the George A. Romero zombie classics and the "Planet of the Apes" films. Among the the first horror movies I ever saw were "The Last Man on Earth" and Alfred Hitchcock's "The Birds." My two favorite novels are the seminal Stephen King works The Stand (preferably the 1990 unabridged edition) and The Gunslinger, both of which depict post-apocalyptic or devastated worlds.

End-of-the-world scenarios make for great horror. They give us omnipresent threats that affect everybody, and not only those few unfortunates targeted by slashers or boogeymen. They also give us great opportunities for world-building -- exploring how people and institutions react to their impending end.

Did the story evolve over time or did you have a clear vision from start to finish?

It did evolve over time. I originally crafted the first draft of the first chapter as a standalone short story, entitled "Warning: Do Not Speak To The Animals." The characters acquired voices in my mind -- that is how characters grow with me -- and then they grew in depth. The sense of antagonism between Rebecca O'Conner and Francis Lestrade became something I wanted to follow and then share, and the world-ending war is really just a particularly big canvas for that.

At the same time, some things are clear for me. I know the fates of nearly all the characters, and those will be brought to page as the book series progresses.

How would you describe your main character?

She is a soldier doing her best. She didn't ask for the world she was born into. She did ask to joined the armed services, but she didn't ask for the trauma and consequent obsession that made that seem like the only choice for her.

She's no saint, but there is good in her. She's no genius, but she's a sharp girl and a quick study, and she has a few unique talents that will prove useful to herself and her colleagues, despite her very human shortcomings. She's driven, and committed, with a sense of service derived from Freudian sublimation. She'll be trouble for her adversaries.

Any significance to the title?

"The dogs don't bark in Brooklyn any more!" is a taunt spoken by one character to another at a key point in the novel. Revealing its context or speaker would be a major spoiler.

What authors influence or inspire you and why?

My love for language is nourished by the poetry of W. H. Auden. To be honest, I cannot always understand what he is saying. He was a sublimely cerebral man, and I am not. But an average man can recognize beauty when it is captured by language, and I am fortunate for that.

Stephen King is my most obvious influence. I believe he is under-appreciated even despite his fame, because people often don't realize how creative he really is. It's got nothing to do with the ghosts, the demons or the UFO's. It's the fully realized characters he creates, and his ability to render their thought processes and point of view. He creates what seem like real people, then renders their thoughts and voices perfectly. To me, that's amazing.

What's your take on indie publishing? 

It's the great equalizer. Indie publishing allows me to meet, work and interact with people like me -- just regular folks who enjoy stories and like to make up their own. The writers, readers, editors and publishers I meet are ordinary people who are excited about prose and poetry.

They're often very ambitious people, because that's what it takes in this business just to get your name out there. And they are occasionally eccentric, but I like that.

I honestly think there is a sense of connection there that you just wouldn't find with a major corporate publishing house -- a sense of commonality and community. I identify with them. And I have a hell of a lot of fun. It's why writing, for me, is more avocation than vocation.

And that's not even broaching the issue of the range of opportunities for new authors.

How do you like working with Dagda?

Dagda Publishing is a tremendous boon to poets and authors who want to find their voice and reach an audience. It has a firm commitment to new and emerging writers, and its editors and staff are not only highly professional, but also quite easy to work with. I have a blast working with them, and I can't think of a better publisher for an new independent creator. 

Do you have a project you're working on now?

I am currently working on the sequel to The Dogs Don't Bark In Brooklyn Any More. It will be the next book in "The Wolf War Saga."

Is there anything about the novel that took you by surprise once it was done? Perhaps a significance that you hadn't planned on but you caught after reading through the finished work?

I was surprised at how quickly and fully secondary characters developed. This book is largely Rebecca O'Conner's story, and it is told almost exclusively from her point of view. I tried to portray her fully, and let the reader know her and see her world through her eyes. I've gotten some very nice feedback from readers who said they enjoyed that character-driven narrative, and I've been really flattered by that.

What I didn't expect is how secondary and supporting characters became real to me: Janey Auburndale, Danny Ogilviie, Michael Donlon and Brian Keller. They are full characters and are "real" to me in much the same manner that Rebecca is. Martin Trask is one character I just need to expand on in subsequent books. And I currently have a disquieting vignette rolling around in my head told from the point of view of Marie Lestrade, Francis' mother, when he was only a small boy. Maybe that will become a short story, or maybe it will be an element in the later books.

Do you have any favorites in music? Does music inspire your writing process?

U2, Depeche Mode, Tori Amos, and She & Him are my everyday standbys. As far as inspiration for writing, I routinely turn to Sigur Ros, Brian Eno and Richard Wagner.

Which do you think is more important: Character or plot?

Character. Plots are easy to come by. But if you can't humanize your protagonist, or at least arouse the reader's interest in him or her, your story will fail to sufficiently involve the reader.

What are some of the books considered classics that you like?

F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby, George Orwell's 1984, Viktor Frankl's Man's Search For Meaning, The Analects of Confucius, and the short stories of Arthur Conan Doyle and O'Henry. I also love Tennessee Williams' "The Glass Menagerie." Rebecca's shelf of "blue and pink glass figurines" in Chapter 6 of my book is a direct reference to this.

Would you like a movie made out of your novel? If so, would you like to write it or would you leave it to others?

I'm not sure I would want a movie made out of my novel. If I did, I would leave the screenwriting to others. I don't think that dialogue is my strong point.

Who would direct it?

David Fincher. I loved his work on the much maligned but brilliant "Alien 3" (1992), and I am one of that film's rare fans. But it would be just great if Ridley Scott was called in to handle the battle scenes, and Terry Gilliam handled the dream sequences.

What about a cast?

I've been asked this before. It is always a fun question, and I believe my answers change because I am a movie nerd and I am constantly seeing new films and remembering old ones, and remembering which actors I like.

Elijah Wood in "Sin City"
Right now, I'd select Ellen Page as Rebecca -- she's an amazing actress in films such as "Hard Candy" (2005). And I think she's short, enough! Annabeth Gish could be Molly Landers, and Elizabeth Mitchell could be Janey Auburndale, 
Elijah Wood could be Francis Lestrade. Forget the innocence of Frodo; he does genderless psychopath just fine in "Sin City" (2005).

Would you ever try other genres?

I think about it all the time. Lately I've wondered what it might be like to try historical fiction. But I know that would be challenging because of the need for accuracy. It's so much easier inventing fictional futures and then just making things up.

If you met them in real life what would you think about your characters?

I would admire them. They are little different than American soldiers in the real world, protecting the lives and freedoms of their family and neighbors. I would also worry about them. The fictional world envisioned in the novel is one that often visits tragedy upon those who act heroically.

Francis Lestrade would be the exception. He would make me uncomfortable.

If I met any of the wolves, I would run like hell -- and probably not fast enough.

Erik Robert Nolan
Where can readers find out more about your writing?

You can visit my website here for more information about The Dogs Don't Bark In Brooklyn Any More, as well as my poetry and short stories:

Thank you for this interview, Laura! Congratulations on all the success and great reviews you are receiving for To Touch The Sun. And I'm honored to be able to appear here on your blog.

Thanks for stopping in, Erik.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Printers Row

Well, this weekend is the big weekend. The birds are singing, the trees are budding and on Saturday and Sunday book lovers will converge upon Harrison and Dearborn Streets in Chicago to cure their book hangovers with a little hair of the dog.

The 30th annual Printers Row Literary Fest will be held June 7 and 8 around Dearborn and Harrison Streets in Chicago,

It's a great way to see not only big name authors but also a lot of local talent. Chicago, along with its many other talents, has a long history with the the printed word. It may be apocrophyl but it's claimed that after the great Chicago fire of 1871, the Queen of England donated 8,000 books because, "Surely the library of your poor city must have been destroyed." (or something to that affect). Only, at the time Chicago didn't have a grand library nor was it known for a storied literary tradition. It was a workhorse of a cowtown soon to bloom into so much more once it embraced the cultural potential that it had been ignoring for so long.

In fact, it was the fire that helped with that process. Chicago has since made up for its previous lack of culture. Eventually it became home to a world class art museum, and live theater to rival Broadway. It would transform musical styles like jazz and blues while creating new ones like gospel, and would be home to the dynamic Chicago Symphony Orchestra. It produced legends of comedy and movies, has had a number of great newspapers and boasts a beautiful library in the Harold Washington Library (It was in the Winter Garden of the Harold Washington Library where Narain Khan and Cassie Lambert meet in To Touch the Sun).

It has been home to great writers such as Richard Wright, Carl Sandburg, Nelson Algren, Gwendolyn Brooks, Mike Royko, Studs Terkel and Sara Partesky to name but a few.

And me! day my genius will be recognized. In the meantime I pay my dues.

And for the first time since Chicago's Most Wanted was published in 2005, I will be participating in Printers Row as part of the Chicago Writers Association Tent (Tent F), selling and signing copies of all three of my books from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Sunday, June 8. It's a great opportunity that I might not have been able to take advantage of if I didn't belong to the CWA, a wonderful organization for area writers.

So if you are in the area stop by and say "hi".