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.