Tuesday, December 30, 2014

2014 Year-End Lists

This year, I learned everything I know about pop culture from Jimmy Fallon.  My wife and I watch all the episodes of The Tonight Show now that he's hosting (usually a night or two after they air).  My favorite guest has been Jerry Lewis.  Not only am I a lifelong fan, but the practical joke he played still keeps Jimmy Fallon scratching his head, I'm sure.  I also check Box Office Mojo, Billboard, and EW on a regular basis to stay in touch.  Some of this list might reflect releases from late-2013, but who gives a shit?

Of the songs I heard this year, these are my five favorite in order:
"Fantastic Man" by David Byrne and the Atomic Bomb Band.  The energy of his live cover makes William Onyeabor's original sound sleepy.
"All the Time" by Bahamas.  Love the James Franco commercial.
"Tuesday" by I Love Makonnen.  I'll rap this every day of the week.
"I Am a River" by Foo Fighters.  No disrespect to Kurt Cobain, but I prefer Dave Grohl.
"Turn Down for What" by DJ Snake and Lil John.  From one of my favorite comedies this year, 22 Jump Street.

Play these albums often and loud (fuck you, I list six):
Rock or Bust by ACDC
1000HP by Godsmack (Reminds me of my younger brother's band The-Furnace - shameless plug, I know.)
.5 The Gray Chapter by Slipknot
Turn Blue by The Black Keys
The Hunting Party by Linkin Park
The Marshall Mathers LP 2 by Eminem

An Interlude.  I vote Taylor Swift as Entertainer of the Year.  Just because I don't listen to (or like) pop music doesn't mean she isn't incredible.  She's all over the internet, magazines, TV.  She writes her own songs, plays her own instruments.  Has a great sense of humor.  Isn't afraid to go public without makeup.  Stands up for artists' rights.  She's the best right now.  Simply put.

Since going to the movies with my family becomes a $50+ event, I only go to see huge blockbusters.  When I'm in that space, I want to hear and see everything blowing up as loud as fucking possible.  My wife and I watch all the artsy/Oscar-shit at home after the nominations come out so we can pause and discuss or throw something at the TV as needed.  Here are some I enjoyed in the theatre (no order):
Guardians of the Galaxy
Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Transformers: Age of Extinction
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
Edge of Tomorrow
Into the Storm

I don't watch TV often.  I don't have the time.  Also, there are so many great shows to choose from that I find the menu overwhelming.  Since I don't have an addictive personality, I'm fine letting all that great programming slip by me.  Someday, I'll blog about the greatest shows I've never seen an episode of.  You'll be amazed.  In addition to The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, I watch the following:
The Big Bang Theory (Sheldon is the funniest character I've seen since Kramer.)
The Walking Dead - I struggle with this one.  It's jumped the shark.  Except for a few standout episodes, the last two seasons have put me to sleep in my recliner on Sunday nights.
NFL Football (every day, all day) - This is at an end, actually.  I've resolved to cancel my Sunday Ticket with DirecTV.  I'm a NY Jets fan.  Enough said.
Bob's Burgers -  My little girl asked me to watch this because Bob's bald spot reminds her of mine.  I love it.

This was an amazing year for books.  Yes, because I published my first novel.  What the fuck do you think I'm doing here?  Crow Creek sold about 300 copies.  I can't complain.  I just hope Queensboro sees print this spring.  If you're looking for another great first horror novel, pick up The Specimen by Pete Kahle.  He won the Kindle award for Horror/Suspense.  I also enjoyed My Name Is Marnie by Tracie L. Carbone.

As a member of the Horror Writer's Association, I made plenty of new friends this year.  None better than Tom Calen.  Check out his Scars of Tomorrow series and start with Torrance.  I also want to mention Jonathan Maberry.  Not only is he a brilliant author (Fall of Night is his most recent, I believe), but he takes the time to support struggling authors like myself.

Stephen King published two novels this year, Mr. Mercedes and Revival.  Although I tend to be harsh when criticizing him, he's still the best, and it's only to his own works that I compare him.  Both books are solid.  Great characters, thrilling plots.  He's our generation's Mark Twain (to paraphrase the late HWA President Rocky Wood).

Finally, Joel Williamson (UNC-CH professor) published Elvis Presley: A Southern Life.  I'll post more about The King on January 8th (what would be his 80th birthday), but just wanted to say that this biography does an excellent job of defining the context of his life and work.

Have a great 2015!  Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Do You Hear What I Hear?

Christmas is the best time of year.  My parents did what they needed to make sure the three of us enjoyed the holidays.  We had parties, friends, and lots of food.  I remember scanning the night sky for Rudolph each year after we were sent to bed.  My brothers and I never slept.  I loved sneaking downstairs to spy on Santa as he placed the gifts.  I'm not sure why my parents didn't treat every day like Christmas.  Might've made their marriage easier.

My wife and I take great care to give our children the best Christmas possible, especially since (so often) we spend the holiday by ourselves.  We've established plenty of traditions (brand new Christmas pajamas, my reading of A Visit from Saint Nicholas, an extra plate for the weary traveler are but a few).  Our celebration is always punctuated by music, so I thought I'd share some of my favorite songs.  The list won't include any traditional carols.  Or anything by Elvis.  That just wouldn't be fair.

"Buon Natale" by Nat King Cole. It wasn't until a couple of years ago that I first heard this gem.  I only knew his signature "Christmas Song" and ended up buying his album.  His backup vocalist steals the track, but the entire song is festive and makes me think of our 2013 trip to Italy.

"Have a Holly, Jolly Christmas" by Burl Ives.  What could be better than Big Daddy playing the most adorable snowman since Frosty?  No Christmas song makes me think of my childhood more than this twangy folk song.  We loved those Rankin/Bass animations.  And I was definitely the Heat Miser to my big brother's Cold Miser.

"Go Tell It on the Mountain" by Andy Griffith.  You might be surprised to know that this NC native and silly sitcom star recorded some great gospel music.  I can listen to this one on repeat for the entire morning commute to work.

"Mele Kalikimaka" by Bing Crosby and the Andrew Sisters.  I love Bing Crosby's smooth baritone vocals and how they contrast with the angelic harmony of the Andrew Sisters.  Plus, there's the pool scene in Christmas Vacation.  Enough said.

"It Must've Been Ol' Santa Claus" by Harry Connick, Jr.  This one deserves to be at the top of the list if I were ranking them in order.  I'm not a big fan of Harry Connick, but this song has the drive of the best bluesy/jazzy numbers ever recorded for the holidays.

"Pretty Paper" by Roy Orbison.  Elvis said he had the best voice in rock-n-roll.  This song proves it.  Written by Willie Nelson.  An ode to the 50's (my favorite era) and downtown shoppers.

"That Spirit of Christmas" by Ray Charles.  Another song inspired by Christmas Vacation.  Brings me to tears every time I see Chevy Chase locked in the attic watching old movies.  Jerry Lewis once said great comedians make you laugh.  The best make you cry.  So true.

"Christmas Bells" by Perry Como.  Very Bing Crosby-inspired.  Our first Christmas in NC, a custodian at the middle school recommended Perry Como.  Here I was trying to impress him with my knowledge of all things black and bluesy, and he hits me with a white crooner.  I had to laugh.  But, he was right (no surprise).  After Elvis, Bing, and Dino, Perry Como is my fourth favorite at Christmas.

"Christmas at Our House" by Lou Monte.  I always knew "Pepino the Italian Mouse."  My wife's Meemaw gave me Lou Monte's album for Christmas about fifteen years ago.  Makes me think of the roll of scotch tape she wrapped up in my present.  I still have it.  I miss the days we spent with Alexis' family when we were young and first married.

"I Told Santa Claus"/"Christmas is a Special Day" by Fats Domino.  Nobody rocks and rolls like the Fat Man.  The album was produced as part of a throwback holiday collection that includes a Christmas album by Dion.  Both are must-buys.  Dion sings all the staples, so no specific ones make my list, but I love his version of "Silent Night," especially the ad-lib interlude about growing up in New York.

The Soul Christmas Album.  I put this on the list because it's a collection that every bluesy music fan should own.  All the greats are here.  Otis Redding (his stirring, soulful cover of "White Christmas" is probably my favorite version of the song), Ray Charles, Solomon Burke, Clarence Carter, Carla Thomas (daughter of Memphis legend Rufus Thomas), William Bell.  Also has some stunning instrumentals by King Curtis and Booker T. and the MGs.  You will listen with a smile the whole way through.

And that's what Christmas is all about for me.  Giving happy gifts.  I thank all my friends and family (especially my wife and children) for picking me up, not only around the holidays, but all year long.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

These Are My Rules

I make them up.  Yes, that line comes from George Carlin.  Grandma Nance and I took a trip to Las Vegas in the early 90's and went to his show.  We laughed our asses off.  We enjoyed his Sports routine and Masturbation bit.  While there, we also saw David Copperfield (mesmerizing), Tom Jones (rocked the house), and Wayne Newton (he sucked).  You wouldn't think an 80-year-old could keep up, but she did.  We both went home winners.  She played my number on the roulette wheel, and I used my craps strategy (I'll share both if you want).  We stayed at Caesar's Palace and had farting contests every night.  Well, really, it was me farting and blaming it on her.

But this isn't about Grandma Nance, as much as I would love to keep writing about her (and will again soon enough, I'm sure).  This is my list of rules.  Remember, I make them up, so if you don't like them, write your own fucking rules.  There's no order here.  Only how that pop into my head.  And I'm in the mood to rant.

1.  Don't shake my hand.  I don't want to touch you.  If you must make contact with me upon greeting, a fist bump will do the trick (I can wipe my knuckles later).  A simple nod works better.  'Sup?

2.  Wear shoes.  I don't want to see your feet.  Honestly, I don't know how you fuckers walk around with flip-flops or sandals.  I'd feel naked without my black Reebok walking shoes.  Been wearing that style since my freshmen year of college when I trudged my ass across campus twice a day.  I even wear bathroom slippers and house slippers while indoors.

3.  Don't send me photos with your pets in them or sign their names on my Christmas card as if they're your children.  They're not your children.  They're not human.  Give them a puppy biscuit for me instead.  If you have a cat (or any other exotic animal), have a brief stare down and tell them it's from me.  That'll suffice.

4.  Put dishes in the dishwasher, not pots and pans.  Wash that shit by hand.  I don't give a fuck if there's a setting for pots and pans.

5.  If you're driving in front of me, just drive.  Defensive drivers cause accidents and need to stay off the roads.  If you use your cell phone while driving, I hope you die.  Just don't take any innocent people with you.

6.  Don't post every intimate detail about your life on Facebook, especially not your political or religious views.  If your friends don't already know you, then they're not your friends.  They're just faces that you're trying to impress.

7. If you invite me to your house (and I realize how seldom this happens - I'm not easy to get along with), don't ask me to bring food.  I'll offer.  And don't make me go outside.  I'm not an animal.  I'm happy inside.  That's why we have shelters.  Outdoor parties are for hunters.  I'm proud to be an indoorsman.

8. Courtesy flush, for the love of God.  I don't want to walk into the bathroom and find your shit streaking the bottom of the bowl.  Here's what you do:  take a shit, flush, wipe your ass, flush, pull up your pants, flush, wash your hands, get out.  Three flushes, and we're good.

9. Avoid small noises.  They're annoying.  Don't tap your feet, crack your knuckles, click your pen, rattle your keys, jingle your change, scrape your silverware, slurp your straw, pop gum, sniff, cough.  You get the idea.  Let me add, don't bite your fingernails.  Holy fuck, is that the worst.  Adults don't need to teethe.  If you're that stressed, get a prescription for Xanax.

10. I guess I'll wrap this up.  Here's something that bothers me:  I walk up to you, but you're already talking to someone else.  That's cool.  I'll wait my turn.  But, acknowledge that you know I'm waiting.  "I'll be with you in a moment" or "give me a second" works just fine.  Don't leave me standing there with my dick in my hands.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Drago vs. Stephen Hawking

I have a few moments, so I might ramble.  I spend an excessive amount of time watching my computer think.  The spinning circle of death.  Used to be an hour glass or something stupid.  I hate it.  I prefer the days when I completed my attendance and calculated my grades on paper. 

Did you know that I worked in a single screen movie theatre while in college?  (There's a point to this.  Maybe.)  I ran the box office.  This was back in the days of The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Batman, and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.  Our theatre manager was an old Italian woman with wavy blue hair and spotted hands.  She favored me.  Made the rest of the staff jealous because she was as mean as hell but let me hang out in her office and eat candy (not movie candy - she kept a bowl of peppermints).  I went to visit her a few years after I graduated, but she had died.  I felt a twinge of sorrow despite the joy of the employees who'd worked at the movie house long enough to remember her.  She talked of her desire to return to Italy.  Too bad she never made it back.  The rolling green hills and cool evening breezes.  I see myself ending up there.  My wife and I holding hands as we walk along the beach or sit outside a café eating cannoli and sipping espresso.  My wife has pretty hands.  I like holding them.  She has soft feet.  Makes me happy.  People who don't take care of their feet kind of disgust me.

I said there was a point to this.  When I worked at the movie theatre, I computed all the transactions in my head.  No calculators.  No computers.  I spent two years in that fucking box office window and never made a mistake.  Never short.  Never over.  I don't know that I can do that anymore.  Or if anyone can.  We're all too dependent on machines.  Drives me crazy.  I'm even at the point where I hate watching television.  I don't want to get addicted to any programming.  The Walking Dead was my last guilty pleasure, but I find myself nodding off this season while that plays.

The other night, while out walking with my little girl (yes, our family takes walks together and eats meals together), she said that robots will take over the world someday because people are getting too fat and lazy.  Reminded me of the movie Wall-e.  The next day I read a news article (online, of course) about Stephen Hawking's prediction that artificial intelligence will bring an end to humanity.  The same thing my twelve-year-old said, only his was in a creepy automated voice, no doubt.  The point remains.  It doesn't take the smartest man in the world to know that something's wrong.  Only the smartest little girl.

If you're looking for a good book to read (as opposed to collect dust on a shelf), pick up a (print) copy of Men, Women, & Children by Chad Kultgen.  He could be my favorite author right now.  Just a warning - his books are pornographic (and I don't mean the sanitized 50 Shades-bullshit), so if you're a prude, don't get it.  I have no idea how they adapted it into a movie rated anything less than NC-17.  Kind of disappointed if they did.  The child-like adults and children in the book lead meaningless lives, go through the motions, and have no control.  Think Carl Sagan's Pale Blue Dot.  The point, I believe, is that we need to find meaning in our lives.  We can't just go through the motions.  We need to take control.  This is all we'll ever have.  All there'll ever be.  (And don't spout any religious hocus pocus at me right now - you know what the fuck I'm talking about.)

Did you know that I'm wearing an old Dracula tee-shirt today that says "Bite Me" on the front?  Funny how some people pronounce it in the traditional way as "Drac-yoo-luh" but some change the middle syllable to "Drac-uh-luh."  I'm OK with either.  Did you know that I can pull my knees up higher than my chest while standing?  I can.  One at a time, of course.  I still run, ride my bike, jump rope, do cartwheels across the stage, and hunt and peck on a keyboard with two fingers.  I laugh, cry, sweat, pick my nose (we all do - only the honest among us admits it), sing, dance, yearn, doubt, wonder.  I watch Chad Kultgen's squirrel videos on Instagram.  I wouldn't miss them.  I have priorities.  Passion.  I love.  I take the time.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Growing Up Drago

When I was a kid in the 70's, my mom was the household teacher and my dad the household preacher.  Mom taught the three of us how to function.  This is how you tie your shoes, comb your hair, brush your teeth, sit at the dinner table, use a fork, read, write, talk on the phone, use a pair of scissors (probably why I use the right-handed ones), do laundry, clean the house, and everything else.  I know it couldn't have been easy on her.  Sometimes I felt like she was teaching my dad those things, too.

But Dad was our Benjamin Franklin.  Hard to believe, I know.  He had his own Poor Johnny's Almanack and was always spouting life lessons. Education Comes First (declared in his thick Brooklyn accent as foist)!  Most remarkable because he didn't last very long in school.  His mom would drop him off at the front door, and he'd go straight through (read as tru) the school and out the backdoor.  That's all right, though.  You always knew he had a quest for knowledge.  Still does.  You find it in the way he spends hours watching the news or anything on the History, Discovery, and National Geographic channels.  And in the way he busts his grandchildren's chops about teaching him how to use his iPod or Kindle.  (He's not allowed to get a laptop - we're all afraid he might toss it out the window or tear it apart.)  Some of his other aphorisms included:  Driving Is A Serious Business (I'm capitalizing these because he's very loud), Leave Well Enough Alone, Keep Your Family In Front Of You, You Wanna Fuck Up Your Life, Do Drugs.  He also had his funny ones.  Don't Lie To Me - Lie To Girls.  Not quite Abe Lincoln, but we got the gist.

Our home was filled with music.  And it was always played loud.  50's rock-n-roll.  Doo Wop, mostly.  Plenty of Elvis.  They had a cabinet full of '45's.  This was their escape.  Ours too.  We could get lost in the world of rhythm and blues.  Bounce to a backbeat.  Do cartwheels across the living room floor aboard the Woo Woo Train like it was our own Promised Land.  Those are the times that are the most meaningful now that I look back.  Makes me wish we never left New York, really.

We always had people over.  Friends, family, neighbors.  Our house was packed and busy.  I feel guilty about this last part now that I'm a parent.  Our home is usually quiet and empty.  Still as warm, just smaller somehow.  We don't have many guests and certainly don't see our friends and family as often as we'd like.  Forget about seeing the neighbors.  This is the 21st century, after all.  I could blame our move across country, but I'm not sure how much we'd see our family and friends if we'd stayed.  Life's not like that anymore.  People are connected in different ways.  We text and make Facebook posts.  I guess it's nice to know you're thought of.  Just not as fun.

Monday, November 17, 2014

The Best Lesson

I had one of those on Friday.  One of those classes where I was firing on all cylinders; the students were focused and making everything happen just as I planned.  Always a good feeling.  Makes me proud that after 23 years in front of the classroom, I can still bring it.  Here's how it went down.

I started the group with warmups.  It's always a good idea to breathe and stretch before you do anything.  Clears the mind, relaxes the body.  We did a few exercises for energy.  Passing an imaginary ball around an imaginary track.  Stealing each other's spot in the circle.  Moving in the space.  Filling the space.  Creating our own worlds.  What I'm best at.  Then we partnered up.  Had the students discuss the key elements of the lesson before a group review.  Objectives, Motivation, Obstacles, Tactics, Status, Subtext.  These are the things that make actors tick.  You gotta know what you want.  Why you want it.  Know what's in your way and how the fuck to get around it.  We did a water bottle demonstration to emphasize the point.  Blindfolded a couple of students and had them crawl around for it.  Create their own circumstances.  Who are you?  Where are you?  Why do you want what you're after?  Simple but effective.  Engaging and fun.  Especially when one of the students kept smacking the bottle away from herself.  That happens so often in life, doesn't it?  We're always pushing what we want just beyond our reach.

Then things got real.  Today, when I asked the students what their favorite part of the lesson was, that's how one girl described it.  When things got real.  I faced off the partners and told them to pursue two specific objectives.  First, get your partner to face the truth.  Then make her take a risk.  Then do both at the same time.  The trick here is to talk to your partner as if she's someone you really know.  As if she's someone you're really trying to make face the facts or take a chance.  Stepped up everyone's game.  You wouldn't believe the fucking energy in the room.  Gave me chills.  And this is a first-year acting group!  They were amazing!  Laughter, tears, silence, noise.  Every response you could ask for.

We wrapped up with a few improv games before closure.  I told them that they had given me exactly what I wanted.  Then asked what they'd learned about themselves.  Sum it up in one key word.  That's all they got.  Every student had an answer.  Perfect.  For the record, I borrowed from Stanislavski, Spolin, Meisner, Tom McNally, Hope Love, and every other acting coach I've ever had.  No one person makes this shit up.  The point is this.  If you're a teacher, use what works.  Take this fucking lesson from me!  Own it.  You need to know you can make a difference.  Fuck all the other bullshit.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Chained and Bound

Despite the obscure Otis Redding song reference in my post title today (I love Otis Redding), I'm none too please right about now.  Don't worry - I'm not going to rant about how we're all trapped in our roles in society or about how we're all stuck in the rut of our daily lives; we're all where we want to be or else we'd change, right?  (Thanks to my favorite mentor teacher who taught me that lesson almost 20 years ago.)  I'll make this short and sweet:  I'm pissed off at Verizon, and the problem is I don't know if I want to change.

We bought our son a new smartphone when he started high school last month and just got our updated bill in the mail.  We're paying $285!  That's up over $100 from what we were paying monthly before the purchase.  Sure, we have four lines (three smartphones - and mine is an outdated piece of crap, by the way), but this seems outrageous (isn't that a Seinfeld quote, Mike?).  Our wireless service is now costing as much as our electricity, gas, and water bills combined.  What exactly are these smartphones doing for us anyway?  Have they become more important to us than the most necessary of basic needs?  Clearly.  My fear is that if I change providers, I'll lose the excellent coverage that I get with Verizon.  We hardly ever drop calls and rarely find ourselves in a mobile dead zone.  Looks like Verizon has us by the proverbial balls and knows it!  If I threaten to leave, they'll probably scoff without even a departing "it's been nice knowing you these last 10+ years."

This is just another example of how corporate America is anally raping the average middle class consumer.  Unfortunately, I don't feel competent enough to argue politics or even to defend my rather helpless position.  All I get to say is that I'm pissed off and live with it.  Author Chad Kultgen wrote that the worst thing about getting old isn't the getting old part.  It's accepting it.  I guess the same rule applies here.  Thank you for fucking me up the ass, Verizon.  Give me some advance notice next time so I can least provide the lube.

Thursday, September 18, 2014


For over 20 years, I harbored a grudge against a couple of football players who pulled me out of a fight my older brother had against a bully on the last day of my freshmen year of high school.  It wasn't until I told the story to my son a couple of years ago that I finally realized how those boys only did so to protect me, despite what it looked like at the time.

The whole thing started about a week before school let out.  My older brother was hanging out with friends, (they were cursing and messing around with each other - typical teenager shit), and this punk thought some of the comments were directed at him.  He harassed my brother for several days until they decided to settle the score in the parking lot after the bell rang to end the school year.

In the car that morning, my brother only told me the following (by the way, this was all after my mom had already given him the third degree about the crappy T-shirt he was wearing): "I'm having a fight after school."  I said, "OK."  He said, "There's a bat in the backseat."  I again replied, "OK."  He answered, "Use it."  No explanation.  No special combat training.  No "Tommy, I know you're only a buck fifteen, and you'll probably get yourself killed, but who cares?"  Just two words: Use it. 

What the fuck was I supposed to do with a baseball bat?  Fighting was my brother's thing.  My dad's thing.  Not mine.  But I knew I couldn't let my brother down, so I sweated the whole mess until I walked out to his car that afternoon when the fight started.  Not at all how I figured the last day would go.

It was kind of funny at first.  I laid low by his car with a buddy and watched from a slight distance.  There was a mob of people crowding the parking lot.  Mind you, both boys were hulking masses compared to me.  Muscles popping, veins surging; the whole scenario predated the UFC contests you see on TV today.  The two combatants circled each other a couple of times with fists raised and then kicked each other.  No harm done.  Just feeler kicks, really.  Then my brother punched the other kid squarely on the nose and knocked him to the pavement.  I'll never forget what it looked like to see that huge boy collapse like a wet noodle. 

As soon as that happened, a flood of kids swarmed the fight, and I lost sight of my brother.  I took that as my call: Use it!  (In my head, I might've added a "you fucking asshole" in my brother's voice.  His short temper has always been part of his charm.  Kind of like my dad.)

I grabbed the baseball bat and charged into the crowd, swinging. 

Almost immediately, I realized two things.  First, the majority of the kids were chanting for the other boy (funny how bullies tend to be popular).  Second, my brother was bashing the kid's head squarely into the pavement and didn't need my help at all.  I wasn't using the bat for anything more than to make myself an easy target for an angry crowd of spectators whose prized fighter was getting his ass kicked but good.

A couple of large arms grabbed me and asked me what the fuck I was doing.  These were the football players.  They were gigantic.  I recognized both of them because they worked out with my brother in the weight room where I would sometimes be forced to wait when I'd rather have been off playing Dungeons & Dragons with my gang of nerdy (but very safe) friends.  When you're a tiny freshmen and your big brother plays football, it's just what you have to deal with.  How did I get such scrawny fucking genes anyway?

While in their grasp, I got popped in the forehead with the bat someone had snatched from my hands and cold-cocked on the left jaw before the two ballplayers could get me out of harm's way.  All the while, they were yelling at me and making sure the angry mob never thought for a moment they might actually be on my brother's side.  They held onto me until they handed me off to one of the gym coaches who eventually arrived to break up the fight.  By that time, my brother had turned the bully into an unconscious bloody mess and had gone apeshit in the parking lot.  He would've destroyed the whole crowd that day if they'd dared to step up to him.  One jerk did, in fact.  My brother shoved him hard in the chest with both hands and screamed "Nobody fucks with the Dragos!" about two inches from his face.  The boy vaporized into the simmering crowd.

I remember walking to the Dean's Office.  The gym coach clutched me tightly under the arm to make sure I didn't get lost in the sea of angry kids who might be looking for an easier target given that my brother was fairly indestructible at that moment.  I can't tell you how many coaches eventually wrangled him to the office.

I started out thinking I would be my brother's life-saver but ended up needing a couple of guardian angels of my own.  I think my brother would still tell you I'm his hero for doing what I did.  We're brothers.  That's all that matters in the end.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014


I like to think I help others in need.  I'm a schoolteacher, after all.  I wouldn't have gotten into this business or have lasted these past 25 years if I weren't somewhat altruistic. 

But not all that I do is selfless, obviously.  I enjoy it.  Teaching is an effective outlet for the creative artist inside me.  Along with writing, playing the guitar, acting, directing, cooking, and everything else I do to express myself, teaching always gives me that platform.  Each time I step in front of a class, I imagine that I'm a celebrity speaking to his fans.  Maybe a rock star or a famous athlete.  Either way, I know I have the power to motivate young people, and although I might not reach as many in a single setting as I would if I were making movies, over the years I hope I've made a lasting impression.  And I know not everyone's gonna love me or appreciate me - that goes with the territory; same with celebrities, right?  For those who haven't, they've probably tried too hard not to be inspired by me.

I wish I had the money to donate to charities on a regular basis.  That's the downside of teaching.  We don't get paid much.  Let me tell you a secret ... none of us does this for the money.  But let's say that I made enough to give some away.  I'd start with lupus.org since my wife's had that disease for longer than I've known her.  I'd also give to jdrf.org since my niece was diagnosed with Type-1 Diabetes a few years ago.  Beyond those obvious choices, I'd like to help stjude.org for their unending fight against childhood cancer.  By the way, Alex's Lemonade Stand is also an outstanding organization.  We donated the proceeds from our production of Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog a couple of years ago.  I don't know that I've ever been more proud of an accomplishment involving my students.  If I had to pick one more, I'd probably choose mda.org.  Jerry Lewis might have been a silly funny man, but the work he did for his kids was unsurpassed by anyone I can think of.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Out of Gas

After the long, narrow escape from Camp Verde, my buddy and I made it back to Flagstaff that Sunday night.  We'd left Phoenix after sunset.  After the trip to Mexico.  After the hotel party.  After the street fight.  After my dad nearly killed the repo man for parking in front of our house with sights set on a neighbor's pickup.  Honestly, I wouldn't have cared if we had gotten abducted in the middle of the desert where we ran out of gas.  I'd had a rough weekend.  Fucking crazy, really.

It all started when my sociology class went to Nogales on a Friday night.  The professor who organized the trip wrote his doctoral thesis on drug addiction.  On the first day of class, he told us that he'd tried every drug he could get his hands on at least once.  Some he liked; others he didn't.  Mostly, he felt that we all needed the same exposure.  Thus, Mexico.  (This was also the instructor who once told our class that he liked cursing during his lectures, and if anyone was offended, she should just get the fuck out.  I thought he was pretty bad ass.  Not enough to try drugs, mind you.  But enough to go along for the ride.)  He abandoned us shortly after we crossed the border.  He hooked up with some dope dealers on a busy street corner, told us to partake of their good shit, and then disappeared.  We didn't see him until the next morning when we loaded up the van for the drive home.  Most of us got lost hopping through dingy Nogales bars.  Those places didn't charge Americans cover (or check ID's), so we might as well have been given an open keg line from place to place.  Fortunately, we all wandered the streets on foot and even walked back to America before sunrise.

On Saturday, we stopped in Phoenix at a dumpy motel near the interstate.  The instructor told us not to throw any parties.  Of course, we threw a huge one.  While he spent the night toking up in his room, naturally.  Once the police kicked us out (we left one fallen comrade puking on himself in the bathtub), we walked to a nearby Jack-in-the-Box for ridiculously thick burgers until we caught a ride to a local party.  Some old friends of mine were getting together.  Mostly a sausage-fest.  A few cute girls, though.  Nobody I would bother chasing.  We had a good time until a couple of football players started pushing one another in the kitchen.  Fists started flying, and the next thing I knew, my very best friend from high school was sprawled out unconscious in the street, having hit head on the pavement after he lost his balance throwing a drunken punch.  We rushed him to the emergency room.  His parents weren't thrilled.  Not about the beating he took or the blood or the bruises.  Or his broken eye socket.

I ended up calling my parents for a ride back to their house (I sent word to the professor that I'd find an alternate ride back to school).  Needless to say, my dad was fucking pissed.  (Hence his nearly killing the repo man.  Dude had been given plenty of warnings, too.  I just remember hearing my dad yell, "The cops won't get rid of you, I'll fucking kill you!" and then seeing him jump through the driver's window and start choking the guy until my big brother pulled him off.  My dad was territorial that way.  Still is, I imagine, but I think he picks and chooses who he'll choke now that he's almost 70.  Back then, he had zero tolerance and no fear.  Kind of admirable, really.)

Afterwards, I called another buddy to hitch a ride back to Flagstaff on Sunday.  We ran out of gas about an hour out and carried an empty plastic jug a couple of miles in Stygian darkness until we found a filling station.  Somewhere along that stretch, my friend said, "Wouldn't it be hilarious if someone abducted us right now?  Right now while we're in the middle of nowhere?  Nobody would know where the fuck we are or what happened to us."

I just shrugged my shoulders.  "Yes, that would be hilarious.  Pretty fucking hilarious at that."

Monday, September 15, 2014


I teach a creative writing course at the high school this school year and require the students to enter a daily blog during the first 15 minutes of class.  I think I'm finally at a point where I can complete the assignment as well.  You can find the daily prompts on my Twitter page at #dragocwprompt.

Although I don't believe in anything I would define as hocus-pocus, I certainly have my fair share of superstitions.  I don't like black cats (thanks, Poe), I don't step on cracks (you're welcome, Mom), and I avoid the number 13 whenever possible. 

This last one I take to the extreme.  I won't stop reading or writing a page at number 13 (or any multiple), I won't leave the volume when listening to music or TV at 13 (or any multiple), and I won't leave the house or get in or out of bed if the numbers on the clock add up to 13.  Crazy, huh? 

I used to be superstitious about sports but have since given that up (thank God - competition is really so vain).  But there was a time when I would sit in the same spot, have the same drink, and wear the same clothes while watching (just like DeNiro's character in Silver Linings Playbook) all because I thought in some insane universe those had bearing on the outcome of the game.  Maybe if I were the starting QB for the New York Jets that would make a difference.  And the Jets could use every ounce of help they can get.  But losing year after year quickly cures one of any irrational mental exercises.
This is all quite excessive and pointless, I realize.  But neurosis isn't necessarily a bad thing (right, George Costanza?).  Sure, I might have Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.  I kind of enjoy it, really.  Nothing entertains me more than my own mind.  What about re-checking to make sure I've locked the door wouldn't give me some peace of mind?  Maybe you should try it some time.

Saturday, July 26, 2014


As of this afternoon, my first published novel Crow Creek has sold 114 copies.  Thank you to all who have purchased one or have otherwise supported my efforts.  The process has been challenging, thrilling, and rewarding.  This has been a roller coaster ride and a lifelong dream come true.

The good news is that I haven't stopped writing.  I just completed the rough draft of Queensboro, my follow-up horror novel to Crow Creek.  I'm quite proud and very excited about this sequel.

The story picks up where Crow Creek left off but takes place mostly in Queensboro, a neighboring town in Holt County and home to Carolina Entech, a mysterious clinical laboratory, and Jacobs Court, luxury apartments renovated as part of a local gentrification effort.  This time, the protagonists are asked not merely to question their faith but to redefine themselves and where they belong in the imminent chaos.

Sheriff Brad, Black Jesus, and Big Ben Gleason all play major roles, but the story focuses more on Mrs. Scott, whose son and husband lost their lives in the aftermath of the King Street sinkhole; Curly, the gullible deputy who protected downtown after the explosion at Gallagher's Pub; Gus Pappas, a Greek restaurant owner in Queensboro; and Earle Pruitt, an elementary schoolteacher.  Together, they search for a missing girl and uncover the truth about a dangerous biological experiment.

I committed to this project last spring after Crow Creek debuted and continued writing at least a thousand words per day even while on summer trips to Florida, Pennsylvania, and Canada.  I plan to revise and get feedback from close family and friends before pursuing the market.  I'm hopeful my fans will enjoy reading Queensboro as much I did writing it.

If you would like to see some professional reviews of my work, please check out these links:
Kirkus Reviews
Self-Publishing Review

If you are interested in reading an interview I gave about my writing, check this out:
An Interview with Author Thomas Drago

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

"Gentle Hands" - A Short Story

I thought it would be nice to share the most recent short story I published.  It's called "Gentle Hands" and was written about 18 months ago in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook shootings.  It was published as the Editor's Choice last fall in The Explorer literary magazine.

Gentle Hands by Thomas Drago
The four men walking behind me toward Palo Verde Elementary School carried assault rifles.  I only knew this because I’d watched CNN every night since the Newtown shootings last December.
            I could see their reflections in the glass doors as I approached the front entrance.  Not wanting to trigger an alarm, I dropped my gaze, slowly unbuttoned my shirt collar, and loosened my tie.  Like any good teacher, I was prepared to defend my students with my life.
            I scrambled to text my wife to tell her I love her and to ask her to kiss our little nine-month-old Sabrina, undoubtedly awake in her crib and shaking her Winnie the Pooh rattle.
            As soon as I reached into my front pocket, a rough hand fell on my shoulder.  I gave into inhibition and turned to face the second biggest threat of my life, fists clenched.
*           *           *
            I grew up in an Italian neighborhood in Brooklyn in the 1970’s, the second youngest of six boys.  You can’t imagine the job my poor mother had wrangling the pack of us with my dad always out on the road.  He hauled coal from Eastern Pennsylvania in his father’s beaten up Mack truck and always came home on the weekends blackened and smelling of diesel fuel.  Like most Italian men, he was short-tempered, but he was also very sweet and gentle and raised a tomato garden on our front porch.  I was amazed at the great care he put into tending those budding plants on Sundays after church. 
Clearly his favorite, Papa let me sit on the steps and listen to him pacify each little fruit while my brothers were either wrestling in the two bedrooms we all shared upstairs or racing down the street to Rimpici’s Bakery to grab a couple of loaves of hard bread for that night’s spaghetti and meatballs.  I could play rough when I wanted but didn’t always feel the need.
If I waited patiently, Papa’s attention would eventually turn to me.  He’d ask about the Mets if it were summer and casually remind me that he never forgave the Dodgers for leaving Brooklyn.
“Broke my heart when them Bums left, Sammy,” he’d always say in his soft, scratchy voice.  I’d smile and adjust the brim of my ball cap. 
If I were extra lucky, he’d call me up to the garden and let me lend a hand tying the plants off to the lattice.  I loved being in his arms as he wrapped himself around me and guided my fingers, which always seemed so tiny in his large, plump misshapen ones.
“Gentle hands,” he’d whisper if I’d snap a branch.  “Your hands will protect you when you need them to.  For now, be gentle.”
Even now, I can feel his warm breath on my neck and his roughened cheek against mine when he’d kiss me and tell me to go wash up.
*           *           *
            As I turned, I lifted my eyes.  Each of the four men wore black berets.  One was clearly the oldest and in charge, and he tightened his grip on my shoulder.  His unshaven face sprouted grey stubble.  His cracked lips opened, revealing crooked brown teeth as he spoke.
            “You’re gonna keep walking,” he whispered, his face a few inches from mine.  His breath smelled unclean.  “And when we’re inside, you’re gonna get on your knees and put your hands behind your head.”
            Two of the younger men chuckled over his right shoulder and shifted their weapons.  The fourth looked past me, scanning the front windows for activity inside.  Since school wouldn’t start for another 45 minutes, he’d only be able to spot Flora sitting at the reception desk taking calls for the children lucky enough to be out sick this morning. 
The 60 or 70 students in Morning Care were in the cafeteria finishing their breakfast with either one of the assistant principals attending.
“Don’t think so,” I said calmly and licked my lips.
Each of the four men staggered a step back.  Even the militant who had been looking through the front windows was a bit stunned.  He raised his weapon.  The hooking black cartridge pointed up at me like a twisted dinosaur tongue.
The older man regained his composure and moved even closer to my face.  His lips barely parted as he spoke.
“I’m not gonna tell you twice.”
I leaned in, suddenly hoping to buy some time, because maybe, just maybe, Flora was watching from inside the school and was calling the police right now as my heart pounded in my chest. 
Just buy some time, I told myself.  The first responders were at Sandy Hook in minutes.
“You’re gonna have to do better than that,” I replied.
“What - ?”
But before he could continue, I puffed my chest.  “You heard what I said.  You wanna get past me?  Pull the trigger.  Go ahead.”
“Can you believe this fucking guy, Carl?” one of the younger men said from behind.  He was standing near the flagpole at the center of the front courtyard.  Ray, the morning custodian, had already raised the flag high above our heads.
“Yeah, Carl,” another said.  “Just take him down already.  We need to be in position before the first bus arrives.  We’ve gone over this drill a hundred - ”
Carl broke his gaze, relaxed his hand, and turned his face as he started to yell, “Don’t you think I know - ”
But then, I moved.  I gave Carl a slight shove and a spin and reached under his left arm to grab hold of the back of his head.  I grabbed his right arm with my free hand and pulled back, keeping him close to me.  He was somewhat taller, but I could see just over his right shoulder.  The rest of him kept me hidden from the other three assailants.  I pushed his head down and squeezed my fingernails into his arm.  He squealed.
The three others immediately cocked their weapons as I backed up to a nearby pillar, shielding myself with Carl.  He struggled under my grip but couldn’t get his balance or move his weapon.
“Should we shoot, Carl?”
“No, of course not, you idiot!” Carl screamed.  “You might hit me!”
I pulled on a large tuft of Carl’s hair and yanked his head back so I could whisper in his ear.  He howled.
“I’ll tell you how this gonna go down, Carl,” I said.  “You listening?”
Carl slowly nodded his head.  Spittle shot from his lips as he tried to slow his breathing.  The other three men kept their rifles aimed but quieted enough to hear me speak.
“You think you’re tough?” I asked.  “I’ll make a deal with you.”
“Come on, Carl,” one of the other men yelled.  "We ain’t got time for this.”
I wasn’t even looking at them now.  It was only Carl and me.
“Shut up,” Carl snapped.  His breathing was still labored.
“You’re not tough,” I whispered.  I was so close to Carl’s neck I could taste his salty sweat.  “Don’t take no courage to pull a trigger.  Tell your men to put their guns down.  Then I’ll let you take me out fair and square.  Hand to hand.  The four of you get past me … the school is yours.”
Everyone was still for a moment. 
Then, the three other militants glanced at one another.  “You think you can beat the four of us?” one asked.  “All four of us against you?”
Carl tried to get his arm loose, but I overpowered the older man and held him steady.
“I didn’t say that,” I answered, lifting my head and voice with confidence.  “I might get my ass kicked.  Might not.  But, I’ll go down swinging.” 
Please, Flora, my mind raced.  Please see this.
“Whatta you gotta lose?” I whispered and then suddenly the sound of police sirens filled the front parking lot.
Carl abruptly pushed back against me, smashing my head against the pillar, and I bit his ear, tearing at the lobe until blood sprayed on my face and collar.  Carl screamed and fell to his knees.  I dropped with him and kicked his firearm free as he loosened his grip.
Startled, the other three militants whirled and ran for cover.
And then tears burned my eyes.
*           *           *
Papa died in 1979.  He was only 52.  I was 12.  I didn’t know anything about colon cancer or even that my dad was sick.  Like so many of those in his generation, he never quit working or sought treatment, from what I recall. 
I only knew that my hero was gone. 
My brothers each took the loss in his own way.  Neither was as devastated as I.  At the funeral, the twins, Rocco and Al, had a shoving match next to my dad’s coffin because they couldn’t agree on who would walk in front when carrying Papa down to the lawn at Green-Wood Cemetery.  Mama slapped them both upside their heads and moved me to the front.  The twins were put in the middle, each on separate sides.
Our family drifted apart in the 1980’s.  And it might’ve split even if Papa had lived longer.  My older brothers just didn’t want to stay in Brooklyn.  The city was beaten and ruined, quite frankly.  Joseph, the baby, stayed with my mom until she passed in 1997, but even he moved to the Pacific Northwest about ten years ago.  He finally married.  They’re expecting their first child later this spring.  If it’s a boy, I hope they name him after Papa.
I was lost without my dad.  My mother would tell me to pretend he was just out on the road again.  But I knew he wasn’t.  I knew the truth.
I’ve never felt as alone as I did in those years immediately following Papa’s death.  I didn’t know whether or not I could survive without him.  The isolation hardened me at first, and I didn’t realize how much he’d taught me in those quiet moments we spent tending to his tomato garden.
Not until I finally held my own child in my hands and remembered what he said about being gentle.
After attending college in the Southwest, I started teaching and then married later in life.  I found myself living in the suburbs of Los Angeles, less than twenty miles away from Chavez Ravine, where the Dodgers have called home for over 50 years now.
Papa would be proud.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Monster Movies

I would bet that the first monster movie I ever saw was actually Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein.  My family and I used to watch all their comedies on Sunday mornings when I was a child growing up in New York in the 1970's.  That movie started a bit of a revival for the great comedy duo whose career turned a bit stagnant after they had conquered vaudeville, radio, and then the big screen.  (They ended their run on TV, of all places.  Their hilarious and innovative sitcom proved highly influential on Seinfeld, by the way.)  Abbott and Costello eventually battled the Mummy, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, the Invisible Man, and monster legend Boris Karloff, billed simply as "The Killer."  I watched all those movies religiously.  As a child, their motion pictures were my church and theatre.  Their chemistry and timing remain unmatched, in my humble opinion.  Or at least set the standard for all comedy teams that followed.

A long line of favorite monster movies followed, including the original Frankenstein, DraculaWolfman, and Mummy films, The Creature from the Black Lagoon, The Blob, Godzilla (the Shōwa series), Night of the Living Dead (and Dawn of the Dead), JawsAlien (the entire series), The Thing (John Carpenter's version), The Fly (with Jeff Goldblum), Hellraiser, Jurassic ParkKing Kong (the Peter Jackson film), The MistSuper 8, and if I were to include slasher films (and we all know that people are always the worst kind of monsters), The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Halloween, Friday the 13th (from Part 2 on), and A Nightmare on Elm Street.  (If I've forgotten any, please shoot me an email - and I'm talking to my little brother here.)

Except for possibly Super 8, none of them prepared me for how much fun I would have this weekend watching the brand new Godzilla film at the theatre with my family.  This movie, directed by novice Gareth Edwards, gives true fans of the monster movie everything you expect and remains completely loyal to the Godzilla franchise, much more so than that 1998 piece of shit directed by Roland Emmerich and starring, of all assholes, Matthew Broderick.  Why the hell put Ferris Bueller, one of the biggest heroes of my teenage years, in a Creature Feature?  Is there any logic in that at all?  So fucking stupid.

When Godzilla roared for the first time, I felt a chill run through my bones.  Then, my little girl snapped me out of that brief moment of terror by joyfully declaring, "He's so cute!"  Exactly what you want to hear when Godzilla wreaks havoc.  Who doesn't love a good monster, after all?   Probably why I always root for the heels in professional wrestling.  The faces always get away with cheating.  The greatest moment of Godzilla for me (SPOILER ALERT) was when Godzilla's spine electrified and he shot his atomic breath at the M.U.T.O.  I jumped from my chair and pumped my fist.  You'd think I was watching the Jets finally win the Super Bowl again.  (And maybe this is as close as I'll ever get!)

The next day, I spent most of the afternoon researching the Godzilla franchise.  I was pleased to know that the monster traces his roots to a little known short story by Ray Bradbury.  It's called "The Foghorn," and they turned that into the 1953 film, The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms.  The element of science fiction is what really sets apart the best of the monster movies, in my opinion.  I also rediscovered the son of Godzilla and introduced him to my daughter.  She loves him.  He's even more adorable than his dad, apparently.  If you're looking for some parenting tips, this clip might help you: "Godzilla as Father Figure."  Otherwise, just find the old film on Netflix.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Lupus Awareness

Most people don't know that my wife has had lupus for about 30 years.  That's what makes the illness so fucking tricky.  Like most autoimmune diseases, it's practically invisible.  How do you see body aches or hear inflammation?  My wife is the strongest person I know.  She's also the most selfless.  Too often, I forget that she's sick because she never complains.  That's what she wants, I'm sure.  She doesn't want anyone treating her differently or lowering their expectations of her.  She feels guilty because she's sick (which is crazy, of course).

I remember when she first told me she had lupus.  We were driving in my old Dodge Ram (which wasn't so old at the time) to the Arby's near 99th in Bell in West Phoenix for a quick sandwich.  We had been dating for at least a month.  She asked, "Ever heard of lupus?"  It was kind of random, but not odd.  We talked about everything.  Still do.  I told her, "Yes, actually.  My mom's aunt had it.  She died a few years ago.  She was only 50 or something like that.  We used to call her Millie Rockefeller because - "  My wife nodded and interrupted (which she seldom does), "Well, I have it."

Here's what I think:  my wife knew we were at the tipping point in our relationship where we were about to get serious, so she figured she had better throw that out there to see if it would scare me off.  It didn't.

"Aunt Millie," I replied without missing a beat.  "Aunt Millie, you see, one time, she took my brothers and me out for pizza …" and then I finished the story of how after my older brother ate so many slices at the pizzeria she told him he had better slow the fuck down because she didn't have enough money to buy us another pie.  "I'm not Millie Rockefeller!" she yelled in a very loud, Italian way.  We laughed.  I don't remember much about her anymore, except that she looked and acted a lot like my grandfather, who was totally fucking hilarious, so we loved her.

Honestly, it didn't matter what my wife would've told me in the truck that day.  I knew we were going to spend the rest of our lives together from the very first conversation we ever had.

Today's Mother's Day.  My wife gave me the gift of children.  Without them, I wouldn't be able to breathe or even know that I'm alive, really.  I'm sure my wife realizes I would take the illness away from her and keep it for myself if I could, but life doesn't work that way.  We're played the hand we're dealt.  About 15 years ago, when my wife was pregnant with our son, they started treating lupus patients with Plaquenil, a miracle drug first used to fight malaria.  I can go on about our relationship, and about all my wife endured as an adolescent (she was a Make-A-Wish child, if that gives you any idea), and maybe I will someday, but for now, let me just say I'm grateful for that drug because, although not a cure, it's certainly made my wife's life easier.

Thursday, May 8, 2014


I think I can step away from Crow Creek long enough to write about my grandmother who would've turned 100 years old today.  I keep telling myself not to cry, but it's not working.  This should be a day of celebration, except that she's not here to enjoy it with us.  She died in February of 2011.  Congestive heart failure.  She got sick early on a Thursday morning but didn't want to bother my mom, so she called 911 and got an ambulance to take her to the hospital.  By the time my mother got there, they had already placed Grandma in a coma as they tried to suck the fluids out of her lungs (or whatever it is they do).  Somehow, we all knew in our hearts that this was the end, even though my grandmother had barely been sick a day in her life.  At almost 97, she was still living independently in her own apartment.  Sure, she'd slowed down some (who wouldn't?), but she was also as sharp as a tack right up until the end.

She came out of her coma long enough that weekend to say goodbye to everyone in her own way.  My mom, brothers, and uncle were all with her.  The rest of us, her grandchildren across the country, talked by phone and tried to comfort.  The last conversation I had with her was on Sunday night just as the Oscars were starting.  We each guessed the winners just like we did every year for as long as I can remember.  I also asked her how they were able to find an oxygen mask big enough to fit over her nose, which made her laugh as we told each other goodbye and said "I love you."  What a great final memory to have of my grandmother, whose constant joking was responsible for so much laughter throughout my life.  She had heart failure again the next morning while my mom was feeding her breakfast and was gone by the end of the day.  At her funeral, I dropped a lock of my hair into her coffin along with a small piece of a blanket she gave me as a gift the day I was born.  I gently sang a few words of "Heart of Rome" as I bent over to kiss her beautiful face one final time.  "Hold me very close before you leave me."

Honestly, I don't think about the day she died that much anymore.  I prefer to remember the good times.  I treasure our relationship.  I wish my own children had that kind of connection with their grandparents.  I guess what we shared really wouldn't mean anything to anyone else, but that's just how it goes with any close bond, right?  Impersonating Clouseau, strutting like Jessie "The Body," passing pinochle cards under the table, easily distracting her with flattery while playing any board game with a timer, eating the rotten bananas, hiding everything in her apartment, going to Vegas to see Tom Jones (and Wayne Newton and George Carlin), running to her place for a quick bite while on lunch break at Lucky's, switching movies on 50-cent Tuesdays, bouncing on her knee to "See Saw Knock at the Door," listening to her recite "The Night Before Christmas" and tell dirty jokes.  Her being there for every important event in my life from my first school play and her visit to NC to see the beautiful baby girl I named after her.  Her hands.  My God, how I miss holding her hand.  The list goes on and on.  Grandma Nance will always be part of my life.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Spotlight on Crow Creek

Well, it's taken me 20 posts to get here, but I've finally made it.  Crow Creek has been on sale for a few weeks now.  Thank you so much to those who've purchased a copy.  I would love to hear your feedback.  Feel free to message me on Facebook, leave comments here, or post an Amazon review.  For those who haven't ordered one yet but are considering it, here's a little background on the story.

Early in October last year, as I was closing my classroom door before the start of study hall, I had this disturbing vision of a woman scrambling into the backseat of her car.  She jumped over to comfort her little girl as their vehicle plunged into darkness.  I could vividly hear screams and crunching noises as their car was consumed.  I got the chills (like someone had stepped on my grave) and even a little teary-eyed.  I rushed to the computer after class started and quickly wrote the first draft of a story I called simply, "The Sinkhole."  This powerful image became the first chapter of Crow Creek and a central plot element of the novel.

The next afternoon, while eating a ham sandwich (my favorite) at the kitchen counter, I had another vision.  This time of a dark figure baptizing people in a pool of muddy water.  The dark figure became Black Jesus, my favorite character in the novel.  He's a superhero who doesn't believe he has any special powers.  He's part my dad, part Bruce Willis from Unbreakable, part John Coffey from The Green Mile, and part Daryl from The Walking Dead (which is where I got his real name, Darrell).

A week and a several chapters later, I realized I had the start of what could be a rather fascinating novel about people in a small town dealing with the worst kind of tragedy: the loss of a child.  I connected the  dots between the sinkhole and an idea I had in an earlier story about young girls jumping in front of freight trains.  All I needed was my villain.  While doing research on Native American mythology for Pastor Aken's backstory, I read a blurb about shape-shifters and knew I had what I needed.  I was so excited that I ducked out of study hall that day to call my wife.  I was beaming!  She could probably hear me smiling over the phone.

What I enjoy the most about Crow Creek is the world I've created.  It's my home away from home in so many ways.  I can go there whenever I want.  That town has been around for over a decade now.  Since 9/11 when my wife and I first wrote Points South together.  I've used it as the setting for several stories.  My son even wrote a concordance for me so I can keep track of all the people, places, and things.  Once I finally put Crow Creek to rest (the publicity is killing me), I'll write a sequel.  I'm thinking about calling it Queensboro.  I had visions of a disappearance and an injection.  That should be enough to get me going.