Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Drago Goes to the Movies or How I Learned to Love Writing Horror Stories (Pt. 1)

Why I Write Horror (Pt. 1)

This is the first in a series of entries about what inspired me to write horror stories. I've started with movies as they've always been an integral part of who I am as an artist. My first ambition was to be a filmmaker. As children, my younger brother and I would spend hours pretending our bedroom was a movie studio. We'd develop scripts and act at our stories as if the cameras were rolling. Those are some of the finest memories I have of my childhood. You'll notice a concentration of movies in the early 80s. This is when I first started writing with intent and absorbed everything I could as an artist. I kept this list to ten. It isn't intended to be a reckoning of the scariest or the best horror movies ever made. Not even close. It's only a compilation of what influenced me at various moments in my life.

Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948)
The first of a handful of scary movies I watched on Saturday mornings while growing up in NYC. This film was really my first introduction to the classics: Dracula, Frankenstein, the Wolf Man. It might surprise you to know that the character who resonated with me the most at the time was the Wolf Man. Lon Chaney Jr.'s portrayal of a disconsolate, misunderstood villain incited my early interest in monsters and my portrait of compassion for those less fortunate. He's the reason I give my heroes flaws. We're compelled to shoulder those who are imperfect.

The Blob (1958)
Clearly, no movie has ever frightened me more in my entire life than The Blob. I shudder even now when I picture that mournful old man digging around in the molten meteor as the film opens. The power to consume is frightening. I have a dread of being eaten alive. Many of the villains I create in my stories are the Blob, often in human form.  

Godzilla vs. the Smog Monster (1972)
My horror stories include their fair share of science fiction. Godzilla as a metaphor for nuclear destruction; the Smog Monster as the embodiment of human corruption and waste. Even as a child I understood these concepts. They scared the shit out of me. Still do. I love cheering for monsters. Godzilla was my ultimate childhood hero.

The Shining (1980)
The first horror movie that gave me pause as an artist. This was before I read the novel. I now understand the film to be something completely different than what Stephen King wrote. Stanley Kubrick used only the title of the source material and the character names. Nothing else is the same. I love both. I watched this movie dozens of times on bootlegged HBO and VHS. It made me start thinking about how characters evolve, interact. The vulnerability of children. The destructive force of humanity. The power of love and thought. I embrace all these themes in my writing. It forced me to understand how films tell stories with camera shots and editing. After seeing this movie, I wanted that authorship and control.

An American Werewolf in London (1981)
Another film watched endlessly on HBO and VHS. Looking back, the movie reminds me more of Dracula than anything else. The mystery of the moor, the insidious locals, the haunting zombies, the graphic violence all quenched my thirst for everything graphic. I appreciated the understated humor. The special effects and rhythmic chords of "Bad Moon Rising" during the initial transformation sequence were enough to captivate my youthful vigor.  A big influence on the early horror stories I crafted with pen and paper in my bedroom after dark.

Silent Rage (1982)
This critical and box office failure retells the Frankenstein story. I loved it. I often wonder if my Sheriff Brad Gleason is the reincarnation of this Chuck Norris character, but without the martial arts expertise. I'm often impressed with the subtle presence of science fiction in horror. The medical lab and genetic modifications are in Queensboro. Like the Wolf Man, I have pity on the monster, a mentally ill patient who violently murders members of his family. I appreciate how the film blurs the lines of good and evil and punches home the notion that evil can never be stopped. It's why I enjoy placing cliffhangers at the ends of chapters and entire novels.

Poltergeist (1982)
Probably my all-time favorite horror movie. Spielberg doesn't get credit for directing, but his signature's all over this nail-biter. My mom lost a baby girl a few short months after this release. In some ways, I always connected her loss with the little girl who gets taken in Poltergeist and equated the terror and heartfelt anger of JoBeth Williams with all the pain my mom endured. This film infuses everything I've ever written.

The Fly (1986)
Jeff Goldblum's best role. My heart breaks for him when that little fly gets caught in the pod. His decay and futile attempts to resist the transformation only serve to increase my empathy. By this time, I was reading and writing horror at a rate I've never equalled. The Fly fed my appetite for the grotesque while massaging my compassion for the diseased. The special effects of Brundlefly impress me even today. The tagline "Be Afraid. Be Very Afraid." could be the best ever.

Event Horizon (1997)
After a lull in writing once I graduated college, I had a short run publishing short stories again in the late 90s. This film reinvigorated my passion for horror while feeding my literary stroke for more science fiction. The mysteries of the universe and the isolation of deep space create an intriguing landscape for this disturbing film and my creative output. I visit its domain in my latest novel Winter where villain Amanda Simmons attempts to build a bridge through space-time and across parallel dimensions.

Super 8 (2011)
This movie was Stranger Things before Stranger Things ever happened. It re-awakened my soul to everything I did and wrote while growing up at the dawn of the 80s. Super 8 is directly responsible for my Crow Creek series. The film explores the relationship between father and son and exposes the challenges of dealing with loss. I watched not only with a nostalgic yearning for my childhood but also with the hope and longing for what the future held for my writing. Since its release, I've written five novels, six short stories, and two plays. The second most prolific run of my career.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Winter Images

Winter is here.

I thought it would be cool to compile a few images I found online that reflect what my new novel Winter is about and/or where I got my ideas. My friend, author Chad Kultgen, told me it shouldn't matter how many books I sell because the worlds I create still exist. I hope you love the Crow Creek universe as much as I do. I've been on this journey for three years now. There will always be more stories here. These photos are in no particular order.

Mushroom Cloud

I'm fascinated with nuclear bombs. The atomic bomb drills we had when I was a kid growing up in NYC left an impression. So did those film strips that showed the nuclear tests. My favorite part in Indiana Jones 4 is when the bomb erupts at the beginning (and yes, he hides in the refrigerator, who the fuck cares?). I love that shit. There's something monumental about destruction. Maybe that's why The Trashcan Man seems so fucking bad-ass in Stephen King's epic novel The Stand. I loved Ozzy's Ultimate Sin album. "Thank God for the Bomb." Winter starts with nuclear bombs. I based them on what happened in Goldsboro, NC, in the early 60s.

Solar Flare

The power of the universe is mind-blowing. I'm sad when I don't see the sun. Our dependency on our home star is something none of us really thinks about. I do. Every day. How incredible would it be to harness that power? So, of course, I did. And I put it in the hands of the most despicable of villains, Amanda Simmons. Remember her? If not, you need to brush up on your Queensboro. She screwed over the Red Queen and toppled Entech. Even though Sheriff Brad and his band of heroes think they did. We know better. In Winter, she sets off a Solar Pulse that fucks up everything.

Bags of Blood

When I wrote Queensboro, I wanted to include vampires. My last name is Drago, for fuck's sake. Yes, we share something with Dracula. It might only be our family crest, who knows? Could be more. But it's not nothing. I also knew I didn't want to recreate anything that's already been done. Bram Stoker's original novel, 'Salem's Lot, Robert McCammon's They Thirst. That's about all we really need for vampire tales, right? So I tied my blood drainers into a social commentary about the health care industry and hooked everyone on a drug that's fueled by blood. That shit comes back in Winter.

Zombie Hands

As a horror writer, I'd be stupid if I didn't throw myself into the zombie scene. Flesh eaters are fun no matter how you look at them. Shaun of the Dead is my favorite zombie film. I kinda feel like The Walking Dead has jumped the shark, but we'll see what Negan has to offer this season (I love Jeffrey Dean Morgan from his Supernatural days). Like my vampires, my zombies are also original. They're a sick side effect of Amanda Simmons' solar mayhem in Winter.


Crow Creek. Pastor Aken. The Cavalli. Need I say more? If you have no idea what the fuck I'm talking about, how did you make it to Winter? You should start at the beginning of the series!


I'm deathly afraid of lightning. It's my biggest phobia. During a thunderstorm, I'll hide from windows. I'm not proud. Just look at the fucking picture. Compare it to the trees. It gives incredible perspective. In Winter, you'll meet Frank Edwards (no relation to the senator from Chapel Hill who fucked around behind his dying wife's back). He's a truck driver struck by lightning while out on the road. He's away from home when the Solar Pulse hits. He's left his wife alone. She's a former Entech employee dying from ecGen2 withdrawal (that's the Red Queen's drug, but if you're with me this far, you know that!). Not good. Frank soon learns "lightnin gits you once, usually gits you again."


Politicians piss me off. JFK's no exception. The idea that a single family could hold power in America for generations is bullshit. We should also have term limits on all elected officials and judges (when not elected). That's your rigged system right there. Anyhow, those nuclear bombs dropped at the beginning of Winter are meant for JFK. Things don't go as planned, so the bombs make a comeback in the current day.


Like my idol Stephen King, I'll go for the gross out when I need to. In Queensboro, you could tell folks were hooked on the Red Queen's death drug if they had maggots squirming under their skin. Kind of how flies are a precursor to dragons in Crow Creek. Both the maggots and the flies return in Winter. Keeps you on the lookout for the monsters they portend.

Big Ugly Fat Fucker

The B-52 Stratofortress that dropped the nuclear bombs over Winter, NC (and Goldsboro). Sometimes, nature isn't the only thing to impress. Look at that fucking machine. Human beings are quite remarkable when they wanna be.


Crow Creek wouldn't be Crow Creek without Black Jesus. He meets up with Sheriff Brad's wife Shana and together they fight zombies and hunt dragons while attempting to save the world from Amanda Simmons. Their narrative line could be my favorite of all that happens in Winter. It's definitely the most action-packed. I can't remember a time as an author when I've loved a character more than Black Jesus. He's also a fan favorite.

1949 Ford

Black Jesus has an ancestor who survives the nuclear bomb detonations. His name's Roosevelt Goods. He's a farmer (and part-time trucker) who befriends Frank Edwards after the lightning strike. There's plenty of Stephen King influence in this character and plot line. I don't want to spoil the story, but Rosie's 1949 Ford factors prominently in the telling. Sometimes they come back.

The Black Cat Trail

I love playing, singing, and listening to blues music, so I wanted to give Winter some soul. I researched NC musicians and found out about Carolina Slim. After the bombs fall, Rosie's old pickup truck will only play Carolina Slim's song, "The Black Cat Trail." I needed an omen and his lyrics didn't disappoint. I avoid black cats like lightning. I suggest you do the same.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Winter - Chapter One

Here's an excerpt from my upcoming horror novel, Winter. Winter is the third book in my Crow Creek series and will be published through Gold Avenue Press in October. Preorders are  now available on my website at www.tsdrago.com/winter/ for only $10 with free shipping. Thank you!

Saturday, September 17, 1960

            Pastor Aken dragged the limp teenager out of the passenger seat of his blood-red Chevy Corvair. She didn’t make a sound. Her smoky eyes fluttered, but she kept quiet.
It was after midnight. He’d kept Bishop Lundby waiting for over two hours. The girl had been difficult to snatch. Not because she’d struggled. She’d stayed with her boyfriend in Braxton Park longer than her parents might’ve wanted, had they known of her whereabouts. But that didn’t matter. The pastor had considered interrupting their tryst and slitting the boyfriend’s throat (he despised his oily hair and faded motorcycle jacket) but didn’t. They’d need someone to blame for her disappearance.
The early-morning sliver of moon glimmered as he traveled with her across the empty parking lot. He glanced at a toppled oak tree. Several thick branches rested against the roof of the church, peeling away the weathered shingles. Muddy leaves tap-danced against the siding in the cool breeze. There were a dozen broken windows, and the gutters had partially dislodged. The remnants of Hurricane Donna.
Pastor Aken hated the bishop. Despised his entire congregation and Mount Olive Church. Would burn each and every member alive if he didn’t have to follow protocol. He’d spent the entire ride to Chasm County digging his fingernails into the steering wheel and talking himself out of driving back to Crow Creek. He could’ve finished the job in the root cellar under First Baptist. No one ever went down there. The place was dark and musty. Put a lock on the door, and they’d have no idea. He could’ve been fast asleep by now and dreaming of his own family, not satisfying someone else’s needs.
He had his sights on Pattie Lynn Briggs, Jake Riddle’s wife. She was just fine. Flowing red hair. Crystal blue eyes. Skin as fair as fresh snow. His chiseled Native American jawline and her Yorkshire complexion would produce bold, handsome progeny. And if her firefighter husband somehow died in the line of duty, all the better for the pastor and Crow Creek. Folks needed a little prodding now and again.
            The languid girl winced. He’d yanked on her blonde hair without realizing, curling the locks into his fist.
            “Just a while longer,” he told her.
She sighed but seemed comforted. He was confident she and her boyfriend had consumed enough Old Fitzgerald to put all of Holt County to sleep. Her father managed the flat yard in Queensboro for Southern Railways and probably had no idea she’d been nipping his supply. The freight companies knew how to grease their engineers, especially with Southern bourbon, and the softer taste of Old Fitzgerald had the local teenagers scrounging to imbibe. The pastor understood. Sneak off with a bottle of sour mash from your old man’s liquor cabinet, pocket a pack of Lucky Strikes from the corner store at Ninth and Mill—what juvenile could resist such carnal paradise?  Partly why he loved his own church as much as he did. Something about the company of sinners.
He wrenched her up the short set of wooden steps at the rear of the church. The doorway was unlit. Not surprising. Bishop Lundby dwelled in darkness. Pastor Aken preferred the spotlight. The perfect metaphor for their contrast. With any luck, this fourth and final girl would complete the bishop’s cycle, and the pastor would earn the right to sire his own flock and never return to Winter again. He’d serviced the state elders for more than a century, biding his time. His devotion had even included a murder of the Cavalli (an ancient order of knights) during World War II. While presiding over the Baptist church at Fort Bragg, he hunted the high-ranking officers until he’d located the right one. Flat-topped bastard never saw him coming. Drove the penknife squarely into his temple while he slept in his barracks. Didn’t spill a drop of blood.
Pastor Aken knocked. The door rattled on its hinges and squeaked open. A business of flies hovered about the musty sanctuary. The pastor swatted at them with his free hand.
The man slouching in the shadows wasn’t Bishop Lundby.
“McCrory?” the pastor shouted. “What the fuck are you doing here?”
The hunched furniture salesman licked his lips and pushed wire-rimmed glasses up the slope of his greasy nose. The pastor heard the crooked man sucking on candy. The scent of peppermint wafted in the humid air between them.
“Lundby told me you’d be coming.” His eyes widened. “With a girl.”
Pastor Aken stepped in front of the subdued teenager and shoved McCrory inside the church. He released the blonde’s hair and grabbed her wrists as he hurried inside with her and closed the door.
The church was almost too dark. Too quiet. Pastor Aken kept his eyes on McCrory. He knew the runt wouldn’t hesitate to snatch the girl if the pastor dropped his guard even for a moment. Not because he would ever take a meal from the bishop. That was out of the question. He’d do things that were worse. Dirty things.
“She’s special,” McCrory hissed. “I can smell her from here.”
Pastor Aken puffed his chest. “Where’s Lundby?”
“Can I have her for a moment?” McCrory slid into a wooden pew and raised both palms, wheezing softly in the darkness and ignoring the pastor’s question. “I just wanna take off her shoes and sniff her feet. That’s all. I promise. Nothing more.”
The massive oak tree slapped the outside of the church, knocking loose a few window slivers. Pastor Aken jumped and narrowed his eyes.
“I’ll only ask you this one more time, McCrory. Where’s the bishop?”
McCrory dropped his shoulders.
“William Blount Air Force Base.”
The pastor scratched his pointy chin and waved slender fingertips at a fly buzzing his ear. “Near the coast?”
McCrory nodded. His eyes never left the slumping girl.
“Yes, Ethan. Bishop Lundby phoned my father’s shop yesterday and asked if I’d come wait for you. Keep an eye on your delivery till Monday. What was I supposed to say?”
Pastor Aken flickered, his skin melting. Thick black scales flashed. For a moment, he felt his wings pull at his shoulder blades, threatening to erupt.
“He expects me to leave her with you all weekend? After all the work I did collecting her?”
McCrory’s response was more of a grunt than anything else.
Pastor Aken grabbed him by the throat. The hunched man squealed.
“I owe your father, McCrory. He helped me with my first feed. He’s the only reason I don’t kill you right now. But, someday, after your father’s long gone, I’ll run Crow Creek. Then I’ll have you. You’ll slip up, and you’ll be mine. Mark my words.”
The pastor withdrew, tossing McCrory to the hardwood floor in front of the rotting pew. The slimy man scrambled on his knees toward the feeble girl.
“Her toes,” he begged. “Let me kiss them. Just once. Please! You have no idea how much I need—”
Pastor Aken kicked McCrory as hard as he could across the jaw, slicing open his translucent skin with the sharp edge of a polished Italian loafer. The wretched creature bounced off the back of the wooden pew and collapsed to the worn floorboards in a puddle of his own drool.
“As much as I’m sure you’d love that opportunity,” Pastor Aken shouted, twirling on his heels, “I have other plans for her now.”
And with that, he stormed toward the altar, towing the girl by his side. He thought she might’ve giggled but no longer cared. He would be finished with her directly. He was through playing second fiddle to the bishop. And to McCrory’s father. And to anyone else ignorant enough to get in his way. Crow Creek would be his now. And if the bishop wasn’t careful, so would Winter. The people needed him. Loved him. Wanted his leadership and spiritual guidance, especially at the start of a decade that promised to be as turbulent as any in recent memory.
He thought about the black hitchhiker who’d been lynched (misdirecting blame was easier with colored folks) on Route 119 after the last girl he’d collected for the bishop. Out near the new subdivision beside Braxton Lake. Since Martin Luther King’s appearance on the cover of TIME magazine, radical white Southerners jumped at every chance to hunt, innocent or not. A recipe for disaster. The pastor imagined the horrors that would define the nation by the end of the 1960s and smiled.
As he approached the altar, he scooped the girl in his arms and plopped her hard on top of the communion table. She stopped giggling and arched her back, dividing her pouty lips. Before she could speak, Pastor Aken drove his fingernails into her neck and tore open her throat. Blood sprayed the clean satin tablecloth. The girl tried to scream but only gurgled. She kicked her feet and tossed her arms, but the pastor snapped her neck with a quick flip of his wrists. She lay motionless. He ripped the lavender little-nothing dress away from her chest and opened his mouth, gnashing his teeth as he dipped into her ivory flesh.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Why I Wrote Winter

Last summer, I wrote the rough draft of Winter in about 10 weeks. At that point in my career, I'd signed contracts with Samhain Publishing to release the first three books in the Crow Creek series over a period of eight months. I was excited and couldn't crank out the pages fast enough. The first draft wrapped shy of 90,000 words (I've since trimmed some 5,000 off the total). If you've followed my career at all, you know that my deal with Samhain fell to shit. They downsized their company, threatened to close their doors, announced their resurrection, threatened to close again, and I don't have any idea where they stand now. They reverted my rights, however; so I restored Crow Creek and Queensboro with Gold Avenue Press and await the release of Winter. I've been out of the author game for 18 months, so trying to regenerate interest in my work has proved daunting.

Anyway, as the presidential election gained momentum last year, I watched the rise of the candidates and assumed Jeb Bush and Hillary Clinton would win the nominations. I thought for sure we'd see a rematch of the 1992 election, only with different family representatives and a bigger, crazier billionaire as the third-party candidate (sorry Ross Perot, but the Donald trumps you). Things didn't turn out exactly as I expected (what the fuck happened, Jeb?), but I think the novel's premise still holds water. I have concerns about the concept of an American royal family and political nepotism. The Kennedys are probably the most recent example of an elite American dynasty, so I knew when I drafted the book that I wanted to connect the Kennedys with the absurdity of the current presidential election and my fictional Crow Creek universe.

Enter the Goldsboro bombs.

For those not up to speed, two Mark 39 nuclear warheads were accidentally dropped in rural North Carolina in the early 1960s. They didn't detonate. I can't recall exactly why I remembered hearing about those, but at some point, I posed the question to myself, what if those two bombs had been a failed attempt to assassinate JFK a few years before the real hit in Dallas? Further research told me that JFK toured North Carolina during his 1960 run (the first candidate since George Washington to do so, by the way) against then incumbent Vice President Richard Nixon. How perfect! I tweaked a few dates, combined some events, created a fictional mastermind, and presto - I had my conspiracy: kill Kennedy. The bombs go off and wipe out the entire town of Winter (yes, I couldn't resist the nuclear winter play on words - I'm a smart ass, remember?), save one farmer and his pickup truck and lazy old hound dog.

Flash forward fifty odd years and Amanda Simmons, the covert rascal who devastated the Red Queen in Queensboro, finds herself at the center of a new assassination attempt with her fingertips on the nuclear trigger. Sheriff Brad Gleason returns, so do his ex-wife Shana, shaman Black Jesus, my original breed of dragons, vampires, and zombies, familiar villains, new heroes, and plenty of jiggery-pokery to go around.

I hope you have as much fun reading this one as I did writing it. The action is nonstop; the emotions, a rollercoaster ride; and the twists and turns exactly what I hope you'll want from my series. I don't think I'll ever leave Crow Creek, honestly. The people and places have become my friends and neighbors. I see them in my dreams. Well, they haunt my nightmares.

If you'd like to read a couple of good books about the historical incidents, try The Goldsboro Broken Arrow and John F. Kennedy's North Carolina Campaign. They both helped me a great deal.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

How Will We Afford College?

My wife and I have no idea how we'll be able to afford to send our children to college. I imagine many parents have the same concern. Maybe a tuition fairy will reduce the costs or provide assistance? If not, we're fucked. Well, our children are.

Before you start giving me bullshit like we should've saved more money or minimized our debt, you should know we've done both. We've put as much money away for our children's education as we could possibly afford since each was born. Their 529 plans haven't exactly yielded the best results, but the money remains nonetheless. It barely scratches the surface of what we'll owe. And except for the 3% interest on our 15-year home loan, we have no debt. Our credit score floats around 850. Actually, I think this hurts us. We might have a better chance of being awarded financial aid if our credit was in the toilet.

Wanna tell me to work harder or earn more? Go fuck yourself. I've worked at least two jobs at the same time since I graduated high school 30 years ago. Work ethic isn't my problem, believe me. I have no more blood to drain or sweat to perspire. I've sacrificed more life as a working parent - missing ball games, recitals, etc. - than I ever should've. I could've seen my boy swing a bat or my girl kick a soccer ball; instead, I was teaching a class or running a rehearsal. Yes, we made the decision for my wife to be a stay-at-home mom. Should we be penalized for not wanting our children to be raised in daycare because that's the expected standard for our generation? I don't think so.

Look, I have a master's degree. I've taught for 25 years. I'm about maxed out at what this backwards-ass state is willing to pay me to teach kids. You wanna know what that is? Just north of 50K. That's all. What a joke! How many professionals with a master's who've given 25 years to the same career are only making 50K annually? It's pure bullshit. Finished laughing at me? Hope you choked.

Here's the kicker: my son's up first for college. He wants to go to film school at USC. He has good grades but doesn't play the "let's take as many advanced placement courses as possible so I can graduate at the top of my class" game. I hate that fucking game, as a teacher and as a parent. He takes the classes that mean something to his future. He's done the research to see exactly what courses a filmmaker needs. It's not AP Calculus, I assure you. I took that class in high school. Totally worthless.

USC costs 67K each year for out-of-state tuition. Remember how much I earn? Still laughing? It gets better. My wife and I completed the Expected Family Contribution online calculator to determine how much money colleges will expect us to pay out-of-pocket when our first child attends. We filled out an application and provided information about our income and assets. It's a simple formula. They expect us to pay a little over 12K each year. Okay. I accept that. We can do that. I work more than one job, to be fair.

But, wait a minute, USC costs 67K annually. Where does the rest of the money come from? I'm not a math teacher, but I think we'll need to come up with 55K each year. That's more than my base salary teaching high school! Will we get financial aid? I don't think we'll qualify. Not for that much. No way. And what about when my daughter goes to college? Guess what she wants to be? A plastic surgeon. Medical school! I don't even wanna think about those costs.

Yeah, I'm pissed. You know what I've learned? Hard work only pays off if you pick a career the public respects and values. If not, better hope you're born into a rich family or qualify for some serious financial assistance. Otherwise, you're fucked. Well, your children are.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Why Donald Trump's Running for President

If you're expecting to hear my political views, I keep those to myself. So, you won't find out who I'm voting for here or why. I'm only telling you why I think Trump's put himself out there.

You should also know I'm not a conspiracy theorist. Never have been. As proof, I offer this: I believe Oswald acted alone, I don't think the government is covering up anything in Roswell, and (sadly) I'm confident Elvis dropped dead on the toilet and isn't wandering around Kalamazoo, Michigan, right now eating fried peanut butter and banana sandwiches. There are other examples. We can argue about those later.

Since the beginning, I've believed that Donald Trump entered the race to help Hillary Clinton get elected President. By since the beginning, I mean at least since he announced his candidacy in June 2015, but I could be convinced that this goes back to the 90s when Bill was fucking around with Monica. In my mind, here's how the conversation might've gone:

Hillary: Okay, I'll put up with this bullshit now, but I get to be President someday.
Bill and the Political Powers That Be: You got it. Give us time.
Hillary: Take all you want.

But forget that. I'm only screwing with you. I realize Hillary has an impressive résumé.

Below are the points of my argument. Take them as you will.

1. Trump's craziness prior to his nomination has only gotten worse since the convention made it official. Insulting parents of a dead soldier, kicking a baby out of his rally. The list goes on, right? Beyond lunacy. Okay, by itself, it offers little to no proof of my thesis, but his antics certainly haven't helped the GOP. And if he's not helping the Republicans, Hillary benefits. Every time.

2. Three extremely popular billionaires have endorsed Hillary. Those are Mark Cuban, Mayor Bloomberg, and Warren Buffet. Again, absolutely no evidence here. Total conjecture. But if three billionaires can get together, why not four? It's an exclusive club. They know each other. They talk.

3. Believe it or not, Trump and Hillary are friends. Their daughters are close friends. Trump used to be a Democrat. As recently as July 2015 he said he identifies more as a Democrat. He supported the Clintons. Political rival Jeb Bush tweeted this theory last December!

4. Trump didn't release his first campaign ad until last week! Last week! That's unreal. Hillary's run over 30,000 of them! If he's not helping her, he's making very little effort to win. Clearly.

5. Trump employs anywhere from 30-60 campaign staffers. Hillary has over 600! "I alone can fix it." Really? Who takes that seriously? Nobody with a clear understanding of how a three-branch democratic system of government works.

6. Since announcing his candidacy, Trump has raised slightly more than $90 million. Doesn't sound awful, right? Only 3% has come from Super Pacs, by the way. Hillary has raised almost $375 million! Nearly 1/3 has come from Super Pacs. Pretty fucking interesting.

Don't believe those last three stats? Fine. Google them for yourself like I did. Or maybe you can get Bill O'Reilly to fact check me and stop me if I'm spinning.

7. For me, here's the real clincher: Trump's VP pick, Mike Pence, was the worst possible choice he could've made. With so many Independents and moderate Democrats declaring they're undecided because they don't trust Hillary, Trump should've picked a moderate like she did. Tim Kaine was the near-perfect choice to sway those middle voters. Pence is one of the most conservative members of Congress! He's not bringing anyone to the table. And don't give me evangelics and Tea Party conservatives. They won't vote for Hillary unless Jesus tells them to. And maybe not even then.

Final thoughts. I don't take Trump seriously. Never have. He reminds me of the old Andy Kaufman character, Tony Clifton. If you wanna believe in conspiracy theories, here's one - maybe Andy didn't die and Trump is the Clifton character. They'd be about the same age now. Judge for yourself. Here's a graphic I found online.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

An Ice Cream Cone and the American Dream

When my grandfather died almost 25 years ago, I was surprised by my uncle's (my mom's brother's) eulogy. Not because he discussed the shortcomings of their relationship as father and son, but because he characterized it by saying his father never took him for an ice cream cone when he was a child.

It wasn't until this summer that I understood what he meant. I'm sure I knew all along, but I finally made a connection.

When my wife and I went to Florida last week to visit my best friend from high school, he mentioned in passing that he picked up a gallon of ice cream for me so I would have some while we visited. (This was later coupled with a quest to find an ice cream stand I remembered from an earlier trip. We found it, eventually. The line was as long as shit, so we didn't wait.)

Of all the things, my buddy could've grabbed for me, why ice cream? It made me curious. Ice cream means something. Kind of like that fucking mountain of mashed potatoes in Close Encounters of the Third Kind. But why?

Slowly, the pieces fell in place. My parents were both raised in poverty. They didn't get along as best as they could've as a married couple, but they both worked their asses off to provide a better life for their children. My brothers and I (and our wives) all do the same. We work until we have no energy left and then work some more so we can give our children the best possible lives. We want better for them. That's the American Dream. It's all shown in our love of ice cream. It's a fucking rite of passage. Handing our children an ice cream cone and saying, "Here, this is for you. I'm taking time away from everything else I do to give you this because I love you and want you to be happy in life." We take ice cream seriously. We go from place to place trying to find the best. My children can tell you exactly where to get my favorite.

Consider this. My dad travels to NC to visit us twice a year. He always includes in his trip a weekend jaunt to PA. He goes there under the guise of attending a Mack truck show. (Yes, he's a bad-ass truck driver.)

He really goes there because he wants ice cream. I have proof. He took over 100 photos when he went up there earlier this month, but only two of them were of ice cream. The rest were all Mack trucks. So? Guess which two he made me download onto my computer so I can show my children? They mean something. He knows how to show he loves us. His grandchildren might not drive trucks, but they'll sure as fuck appreciate good ice cream.

A couple of nights ago, he calls me while watching the Mets lose. This is typical. Like the football Giants, he's the biggest fan I've ever met but hates all the players. Anyhow, during the talk, his tone changes abruptly. "Seriously, Tommy," he says. This is the voice of my childhood. The voice that wants to know exactly what that bus driver did to me before my dad goes to have a "talk" with him. This is I'm a little scared right now, Daddy. "What's up, Dad?" He says: "How can you say you like that ice cream place near your house better than the one in Pennsylvania, if you've never even tried it?" I sigh. "Dad, I'm teasing you." There's a pause. Then he says, "Cause you know they have more flavors up there, right?" "I know, Dad." Then the conversation goes back to the Mets or music or one of the hundred other things my old man enjoys talking about, and I daydream about stories he's told me of how he'd run to the corner store with a quarter in his pocket when he was a kid so he could bring ice cream back home to his parents.

This isn't to exclude my mom and her love of ice cream from the conversation. I can't remember going anyplace or anywhere with her when we were young without this inquiry: "You want ice cream, Tommy?" Which really means she wanted it, of course. I have more Daddy stories because I'm a Daddy's boy, not because I don't recognize the love and hard work my mom put into taking care of her three boys while my dad was out on the road.

I can't tell you how to raise your children. You have to do that for yourself. Sharing an ice cream cone is a way of showing love in our family. Apparently, it rubs off. Think of my Florida friend. And this: on the last day of school each year, my wife takes our children to ice cream for dinner. Pretty fucking awesome, huh? If you're looking for a way to connect with your kids (or your grandkids), steal this idea. There's plenty of ice cream to go around. And I get the feeling they won't stop making it anytime soon.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

The Norton Poltergeist by Catherine Cavendish

My new novel – The Devil’s Serenade – mostly takes place in an imposing Gothic style mansion built by Victorian industrialist Nathaniel Hargest. When Maddie Chambers inherits it from her Aunt Charlotte, she soon discovers she has acquired far more than mere bricks and mortar. From the strange appearance of tree roots growing in the cellar to the manifestations, noises and a nostalgic wartime song played again and again, Maddie’s fears grow and intensify. What is going on here – and who, or what, is seemingly hell-bent on driving her insane?

Of course, my novel is just that – fiction. But, in real life, there have been numerous reports of houses cursed, or possessed by demons. Sometimes these emanate from the ground on which the house was built. Other times, the builder of the house has somehow managed to impart his – or her – evil into the fabric of the place so that it becomes irrevocably woven into the walls.

Sometimes the activity seems to start spontaneously, only to stop just as abruptly. In these cases, poltergeists are often blamed – quite often linked to the presence in the house of a girl entering puberty. One such case has been reported by Daniel Simms, a Paranormal Investigator from Staffordshire, England.

He writes of a twelve year old girl called Tegan – a child of strict Catholic parents who had been taught that lying was a sin. She and her two sisters attended their local church at least twice a week and were devout in their beliefs.

Back in 1999, Tegan kept a diary, which she still retains to this day. In it she reported the strange events that took place then.

It all began one Saturday morning as the sisters were eating their breakfast at the kitchen table. Tegan reached across the table for the salt cellar. Before she could pick it up, it moved. By itself. The sisters watched it, mouths wide open in disbelief. Tegan reached for it again. This time it jerked away from her.

The girls were shocked and scared. They told their father but he remonstrated with them, accusing them of lying to him. They weren’t able to convince him and tried to put the whole incident behind them.

But just two nights later – Monday, May 10th – Tegan recounted in her diary a night she would never forget.

A thunderstorm brought lightning and hail and, when it had passed over, the air felt “strangely static” in their home. By now it was their bedtime and the girls made their usual preparations and settled down to sleep in the room they shared.

But sleep would not come that night. Within minutes a scratching noise circulated around the floor. The sisters sat up in their beds. The noise grew louder and moved closer to the girls’ beds. By now, Tegan was crying silently, too scared to make a noise. She hugged her legs close to her body, trying to make herself as small as possible and to keep away from the invisible intruder.

The noise moved directly towards her, stopping at the foot of her bed. Then silence.

She waited. Still nothing. Tegan moved to get out of bed sideways in order to escape to the relative safety of one of her sisters’ beds. As she did so, her bed started to shake violently, throwing her around as if she were a rag doll. She screamed and the bed stopped shaking.

The terrified sisters told their father what had happened and this time, seeing how scared they were, he believed them and called in the services of the local priest. He performed an exorcism and, since then, there have been no further instances of poltergeist activity.

But to this day, Tegan maintains her story is true and that she still feels the fear when talking of what she went through. Where this particular phenomenon emanated from, who can say? But, In Daniel Simms’ opinion, there is no doubt that Tegan believes she was subjected to some kind of supernatural force that no one has yet has managed to satisfactorily explain.

Now, to give you a taste of The Devil’s Serenade, here’s the blurb:

Maddie had forgotten that cursed summer. Now she’s about to remember…

“Madeleine Chambers of Hargest House” has a certain grandeur to it. But as Maddie enters the Gothic mansion she inherited from her aunt, she wonders if its walls remember what she’s blocked out of the summer she turned sixteen.

She’s barely settled in before a series of bizarre events drive her to question her sanity. Aunt Charlotte’s favorite song shouldn’t echo down the halls. The roots of a faraway willow shouldn’t reach into the cellar. And there definitely shouldn’t be a child skipping from room to room.  
As the barriers in her mind begin to crumble, Maddie recalls the long-ago summer she looked into the face of evil. Now, she faces something worse. The mansion’s long-dead builder, who has unfinished business—and a demon that hungers for her very soul.

Here’s an extract:

A large flashlight rested on the bottom stair and I switched it on, shining it into the dark corners. There wasn’t a lot to see. A few broken bits of furniture, old fashioned kitchen chairs, some of which looked vaguely familiar, jam jars, crates that may once have held bottles of beer. 

The beam caught the clump of gnarled and twisted roots that intertwined with each other, like Medusa’s snakes. I edged closer to it, my heart thumping more than it should. It was only a tree, for heaven’s sake! The nearest one was probably the willow. Surely, that was too far away? I knew little about trees, but I was pretty certain their roots couldn’t extend that far.

I examined the growth from every angle in that silent cellar. The roots were definitely spreading along the floor and, judging by the thickness and appearance of them, had been there for many years. Gray, like thick woody tendrils, they reached around six feet along and possibly four feet across at their widest point. I bent down. Close up, the smell that arose from them was cloyingly sweet. Sickeningly so. I put one hand over my nose, rested the flashlight on the steps and reached out with the fingers of my free hand to touch the nearest root. It wriggled against my palm.

I cried out, staggered backward and fell against the stairs. The flashlight clattered to the floor and went out. Only the overhead bulb provided any light, and it didn’t reach this darkest corner. Something rustled. I struggled to my feet, grabbed the torch and ran up the stairs. I slammed the door shut and locked it, leaned against it and tried to slow down my breathing. A marathon runner couldn’t have panted more.

I tapped the flashlight and it flickered into life, seemingly none the worse for its accident. I switched it off and set it on the floor by the cellar door. Whoever came to fix those roots was going to need it.

You can find The Devil’s Serenade here:

And other online retailers

About the author:

Following a varied career in sales, advertising and career guidance, Cat is now the full-time author of a number of paranormal, ghostly and Gothic horror novels, novellas and short stories. She was the 2013 joint winner of the Samhain Gothic Horror Anthology Competition, with Linden Manor, which features in the anthology What Waits in the Shadows.  Other titles include: The Pendle Curse, Saving Grace Devine, Dark Avenging Angel, The Second Wife, Miss Abigail’s Room, The Demons of Cambian Street, The Devil Inside Her, Cold Revenge and In My Lady’s Chamber.

You can connect with Cat here:

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Serve Your Queen. Spoil Your Princess.

This one's for the boys.

Wanna be happy? Take my advice. Serve your Queen. Spoil your Princess.

I'm not saying every girl you'll ever meet falls into only two categories. They don't. They shouldn't. My advice applies across the board. Assess. Monitor and adjust. Play in the moment. Know when to serve and when to spoil. Use some fucking common sense.

But, above all, know this: she comes first. Got it? If not, go fuck yourself. Because she does.

And you're not gonna be perfect. I sure as hell ain't. My needs come first way too often. Sure, I could blame my wife. She aims to please. She sets the trap. I should know better by now. She plays the "Serve your King; Spoil your Prince" game every day. I can't let her.

Remember, she comes first. Got it? If not, go fuck yourself. Because she does.

But I really want to tell you how to do these things, not yell at you. So pick and choose what you need. Take what you want. Figure out when you need to serve and when you need to spoil. But do both. Often. And you'll have plenty of fun along the way.

How to serve?
This one's easy. Do the little things.

For example, I know my wife hates doing the laundry, so I try and pitch in every chance I get. Even if it's carrying the dirty clothes to the laundry room. I'll make the bed before she gets a chance. Do the dishes. Run the vacuum. Write the grocery list. Put up coffee. Cook dinner. I'm not much for taking care of her dog, but I'll walk and feed him if it means my wife can sleep in on the weekends.

I realize this is 2016 and couples are meant to share domestic duties. I get it. And I hope every couple does. But it's hard to shake antiquated notions, especially when your wife is a stay-at-home mom (or whatever it's called these days) and feels guilty if she's not doing every single household chore.

Here are some other ideas: go get her car washed, serviced, or fill the fucking tank for her without being asked. Hire a housecleaning service for the month. Mow the lawn. (This one's especially tough for me because I hate being outside. The flying insects target me. They do. And they bite.) Run errands for her. Go to the bank, the post office, the drug store. Pick up the kids, for a change.

You get it? Serve! It means doing the little things for her. Making her life easy. Your Queen wants that. And so should you.

How to spoil?
This one's harder. You have to know how to romance and shower with affection.

Rule #1: tell your Princess she's beautiful every day. In my opinion, this means more than saying, "I love you." Your Princess needs to know that you see her beauty. She's like sunshine.

If you want to go the flowers and chocolate route, don't offer those only on special occasions. Your Princess should throw those at you if you wait till Valentine's Day. There doesn't need to be a reason, if you're spoiling right.

Book a massage, splurge at the salon, take her shopping, wine and dine, let her pick the Saturday night movie for a change. Take a walk with her. Go to the gym together. Break out her favorite board game so you're not parked in front of the TV all night. Let her wake up to a Victoria's Secret gift card sitting in her inbox. Make sure your Princess knows she comes first!

And here's a big one: let your Princess have girls night when she wants. I struggle with this, ain't gonna lie. I get lonely. I like attention and proximity. But distance can work to your advantage. Let your hearts grow fonder. Missing a person says a lot about how you feel. About how you're connected. You can't be up each other's ass all the time. That isn't healthy.

This last part's tough, boys. Don't be selfish in the bedroom. You can't spoil your Princess if all you care about are your needs. Take your time. Rub her feet, massage her back and shoulders, kiss her tenderly on the lips. I have students who read this blog, so I'll stop there. But you get the picture, right? Go slow. Your Princess won't enjoy herself otherwise. It's all about being relaxed. If you want it over fast, just go to the bathroom and jerk off.

But your Princess won't have any fun, and nobody wants that.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

I Want to Teach or Retire

This follows up an entry I wrote in September and a promise to my family and my students to remain positive this school year. I've kept up my end of the bargain. I'm having a solid year. In fact, this is probably the best schedule I've ever had, certainly since I started working in my current school district eleven years ago.

But we got dumped on again yesterday, and it fucking pisses me off. The state issued new requirements and imposed new regulations for hiring independent contractors to work in our schools. The application is about four or five pages long and requires multiple levels of red tape for approval once completed.

Look, I understand the need to make sure our students are safe. I have two teenagers. I know. But, this is not at all about the students. It's about protecting the districts so they aren't held liable or accountable should anything go wrong.

But that's just the start. We're also required to initiate contracts now when we rent equipment. That fucking document is about ten pages long and requires an attorney to translate.

So that means when I need props, costumes, scenery, or anything else for my theatre program (and I rent one thing or another for every show I produce), I have to complete multiple applications, and then fax, email, or snail mail them for signatures before submitting to the school and district for approval. Those procedures will take weeks at the least! School districts take several days just to put toilet paper in the bathrooms so we can wipe our asses. Tell me how the fuck all that serves the best interests of our students? Not to mention art and artists don't work that way. We need what we need when we fucking need it.

Since when did public schools become corporations? We're micro-managed every step of the way. I'm almost 50 years old and have been in the business nearly 25 years. That's half my life. Why can't I be trusted as a professional? Why do I need to ask for permission to make decisions that I feel are in the best interests of my students and my program?

Despite all this (and this doesn't take into consideration any of the dozen initiatives launched in our schools each year), we're expected to wake up each morning and give our students our best.

Maybe it's easy when you're young. You know, to look at the smiling faces and think, this is why I do this; I don't care about all the bullshit. I got news for young teachers - those feelings go away. And it's a shame. They want us to be bookkeeping, data-crunching valets, but we're not. I didn't go to school for accounting. I'm no one's doorman. I want to teach or retire.

But here's another kick in the ass. The pension I earned in the state where I worked previously is locked in their retirement system. There's no reciprocity. I can't transfer those years. Not unless I want to pay about $100K per year. Oh, I'll still collect my pension, of course. But what good will it do when I can't combine it with the years in my current state? I don't even think it'll be enough to pay my monthly electricity bill.

There are things I'm good at. I read, write, edit, sing, play guitar, photograph, film, cook, make people laugh. I'm an artist. I won't be able to make a living that way, even while collecting both pensions, but I'll drive a fucking forklift at Costco if I have to. I hear they're an amazing company. And at least there I'll know what I am.

I've only got four years of teaching to go after this one. I'm thankful for my wife. Not only does she listen to these complaints every night, but she supports every thing I do. Helps me fulfill every dream. She never thinks she's enough. But she's everything. I look forward to the day when I close the lights in my classroom for the last time and go home to hold her.