Category Archives: Commentary

A Writer Writes…After Being “Carrie’d” Away

So here we are, exactly six months after my last entry. That’s a good healthy span of time, and I’m glad to say it covers a healthy range of works.

True to my intentions shared here in July, I started small, with a couple of mini-scenes in watch cases from Midnight Steps.  Sheer fluff, but I had fun doing them. I think I spent two whole evenings on these (in front of bad horror movies from the eighties).  You wouldn’t think there’d be that much to them, but it’s the getting it just right that eats up time, not the cutting, pasting, sculpting, yada yada.  The cases were purchased from the steampunk section, very dear to my heart, at Michael’s art supply.

39070739._UY400_SS400_But perhaps a step back would be advisable.  During the summer, I read Mark Dery’s book Born to be Posthumous: The Eccentric Life and Mysterious Genius of Edward Gorey.  Gorey is, as I’ve noted before, one of my “molding muses”, if you will; a huge wellspring of morbid fascination and inspiration, with his one hundred-plus little macabre storybooks illustrated painstakingly in pen and ink. He was, indeed, a genius–the impeccable crosshatching of his Victorian Gothic settings alone are worthy of accolades.


Books like The Doubtful Guest, The Gashleycrumb Tinies, The Gilded Bat, and The Listing Attic are considered classics today, although during Gorey’s lifetime (shades of Poe?) popular culture didn’t recognize him that much, and even his various publishers didn’t know what to do with him. How to market these gloomy (and sometimes controversial) mini-books which might look as though they were designed for children, but whose subject matter (which included poisoning, kidnapping, immolation) was anything but? Adult storybooks, then? However, as this was long before the acceptance of comics and their ilk as a mainstream reading staple, what adults would buy them? His greatest fame resulted, arguably, from his set design for the 1979 Broadway revival of Dracula, and the animated titles for the PBS series Mystery! 

Gorey and I have both faced this perplexing obstacle. I don’t portend to share even a single watt of his creativity or wit or whimsy, but I think my work might face the exact same indifference/confusion as his (and has) if released and promoted on a reasonable scale. I remember the days of my art studio, and the bemused expressions of people who leafed through my books, trying to be polite but with no idea what to make of them.  “So, it’s a play? Oh, it’s illustrated. So it’s a children’s play? Ah, a play that can be read as a book…with pictures.  And it can be put on like a real play? Yes, of course…I see now.”

No, you don’t.

I gleaned much about Gorey’s creative output from Dery’s biography, which I would recommend, although it focused far too much on his (virtually nonexistent) sexuality and upon his obsession for the ballet. Of particular interest to me were the offbeat projects he did at the end of his career, including The Helpless Doorknob, a deck of cards featuring scenes to be “shuffled” into infinite stories (something I’ve always wanted to do, possibly as part of a game); The Dwindling Party, a pop-up book; and most of all, The Tunnel Calamity, which, true to the title, is a throwback to the classic “tunnel books” which present a three-dimensional scene to tell a story.  Here are some examples.

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Aren’t they a phenomenon? I think so. And when I finished reading about Gorey, I decided to build my next project around a tunnel book of my own. I knew I wouldn’t seek to mass-reproduce the piece itself; rather, I planned to use it as a “set” for photography to illustrate the novelette I would write during the second half of 2019. I love trying new writing/art formats, and this one especially tickled my fancy.

But instead, I wound up taking a few months just to develop not one, not two, but three plot scenarios, full-out, with character biographies and backstories, prior to settling on the one that would be the subject of my tunnel project. In brief, the first one, Homestead, resembled The Horrible Hand! too much in its story of a dysfunctional family all home for the reading of the will. Its conceit included an heir born of a (possible) rape and heavy questions about morality and atonement. The next was Smoke for Fog, a rather intriguing to-do involving a three-cornered affair on a slum street, and a semi-retired prostitute pushing her daughter into the family business. I don’t know what made me shelve this one, as it really held promise in regard to both storytelling and art. In retrospect, I think it was my rereading Carrie, by Stephen King, in September, that sent me in yet another direction.

Carrie, in her novel, (three) film, stage musical, stage musical parody, and (it is safe to assume) recently-announced miniseries versions, has been one of the cardinal works to inspire my own writing over the years, ever since I first read it in the eighth grade. Aside from being an intensely powerful portrait of teen angst, its dramatic structure could hardly be improved, and the possibilities for variations of the plot in other settings, with other casts of characters and subplots woven in with its central theme of retaliation against oppression, are limitless. Also, I have always been fascinated by (dysfunctional) mother/daughter relationships, and the one in Carrie is truly the mother of them all.


Here is the same scene pictured above in the gripping musical version.

Teenager Carrie White, having been raised by her psychotic, fanatically-religious momma, Margaret, is the poster child for abuse and bullying both at home and at school. Following a particularly nasty prank played on her in the girls’ shower room when she fails to recognize her first period for what it is, one of her classmates, Sue Snell, develops a conscience and asks her all-star athlete boyfriend, Tommy Ross, to take Carrie to the upcoming prom as atonement. A noble idea, to be sure…but there are two snags to it. One, Chris Hargensen, the school bitch goddess, is hell-bent on getting revenge on Carrie with her bad-boy toy, Billy Nolan, because her punishment for ring-leading the locker-room stunt was exclusion from the prom. Two, Carrie has the power of telekinesis–the ability to move or cause changes in objects by force of the mind. This power has grown quickly to cataclysmic magnitude following her recent development as a woman…

I won’t go any further, because the tale is so ingrained in pop culture that even those unfamiliar with it still know what happens.


They’re all gonna laugh at you!

A personal favorite? The fact that I wish I had written it myself (uncommon for me) speaks libraries.

So…revisiting this incredibly evocative, achingly sad–not frightening, to me–epic rekindled my desire to write, if not my own version of Carrie, then a story vaguely similar in its overtones, with its focus on a mother/daughter conflict of Carrie/Margaret White-esque proportions. That desire resulted in my next endeavor–Eden’s Reach.

Now, with this work, I hope to pay homage not only to Stephen King’s brilliant first novel, but to a certain branch of Gothic literature which has always fascinated me just as much. You know those old paperbacks (1960’s-70’s), their covers usually graced with a painting of a scary mansion, with a girl in a long white dress in front and a menacing storm in the distance? Well, that’s what I’m talking about. The classic fable of the Gothic heroine terrorized by predatory villains inside the gloomy house, but always with a hunk of a hero around to save her at the last moment. A cliche situation without doubt…but show me a popular book or movie that doesn’t have a universally-adored cliche situation at its heart. And this particular genre, along with Carrie (which might be viewed through squinted eyes as an extension of it), is another strong, perennial–maybe even seminal–influence in my own writing.

Lord, I do love the smell of those dog-eared, yellowed, fabulously overwrought throwbacks to the Victorian penny dreadful. Always after ’em at the flea markets, baby.

I write too much. That is annoying, but not as annoying (at least to me) as those who talk too much. So I will do my best to wrap up this self-indulgent aria as quickly and succinctly as I can.

Eden’s Reach. My main projected project for at least half of 2020. The story: Eden Walstad, sixteen, has lived on a tiny island in the middle of a lake in the town of Valhaven, Ohio all her life. Virtually the only other people she has ever known are her aunt, Bridget, and her invalid grandfather, Guthrie. She has never left the island. The Walstad home is, not unlike that of Miss Havisham in Great Expectations, frozen in the past, specifically November 16, 1959. (The present day is September, 1976–my birth month. No particular reason.) Bridget has brainwashed Eden into believing that time in their house has never progressed beyond the night when her parents went away on a very long trip fifteen years ago. Why? In order that everything will be just the same when they return to claim Eden, who has been “permitted” to mature just enough to absorb life knowledge and lessons imparted by Bridget, so as to be ready to accompany her parents back into the outside world. Bridget rules the home with an iron hand and, when she feels Eden resisting her authority or the 1959 illusion, locks her in a room below the stairs, outfitted with all sorts of 1950’s memorabilia, so that she can “realign” herself with the time.


“Go to your closet and pray, Carrie…”


While I freely admit that the volatile relationship between Eden and Bridget bears an intentional resemblance to that of Carrie and her unstable mother, the parallels are limited. Bridget is not fanatically religious, or much of a believer at all. Eden has no otherworldly psychokinetic powers. What’s more, there are no jeering high school students, no prom, no pig blood. There are overtones of both Tommy Ross and Billy Nolan in Zack Archer, a young contractor’s assistant, who shows up as part of his work-release program after a brief incarceration. (The Walstad house is in danger of literally sinking into the ground due to long-ago overzealous digging through a cellar wall which damaged its foundation. What was the reason for the digging? Was something hidden behind it?) One might catch a glimpse of the well-meaning Sue Snell in Diana Seabrook, Zack’s parole officer (and, most unethically, his girlfriend), and of Chris Hargensen in his biker-chick ex, Tiffanie Redwood. But again, Eden’s Reach bears almost no overt resemblance to Carrie beyond the rebellious daughter and stifling mother figures, and various plot twists distance it even further so that it shape-shifts into the more general realm of the Gothic novel. What really happened to Eden’s parents, Althea and Cyrus Flood? Will Zack’s presence in Walstad House unbalance, perhaps irrevocably, the lives of those within, particularly Eden, who crushes on him at first sight through the keyhole of her “reading room”? Will Zack’s crusty boss, Moses Priddle, attempt to blackmail Bridget when he accidentally spies Eden and deduces that she is a well-guarded secret? And who is the mysterious–and frightening–young man in black slouch hat, cape, and dark glasses who keeps dramatically appearing to the characters, and wants more than anything to be “invited” into the Walstad home?

It will, I think, be a lark for both me and my two audiences to find out. Also to see how one of my other pet themes, redemption, plays throughout the story.

Two audiences? Oh, didn’t I mention? Eden’s Reach will be written literally in public, on Wattpad, chapter by chapter, for display through Facebook and this blog. I haven’t attempted this before, and I think it will be good for my pace in telling the story, which I plan to keep fairly short. Just like Carrie. And I’ve decided, while writing it, to simultaneously adapt it into a play as well. It’s been too long since my last one, and I would love to see this tale brought to life onstage.

Real quick…the tunnel book theme for Eden’s Reach visuals. I designed this 3D piece (not a genuine tunnel book, but with the same concept; a real one will come later) to capture the feel and look of Walstad House’s shadowy silence, its loneliness and isolation which, in its way, harks back to the austere and forbidding home of Carrie White.

I think I succeeded. Opposite is a detailed floor plan for the stage version so that I can more easily imagine the action. While the novelette form of ER will definitely contain illustrations, I’m thinking seriously of not showing any of the characters. Just deserted corridors…an empty rocking chair…a door left ajar. Haunting. Somber. Less is more.

24 Wedding confrontation8

My other plans for 2020’s creative output are to publish two older works, Flickers and Draconfyx (illustrations for each above, see links for details). I want to build up my inventory, so to speak, and these, along with (hopefully) Eden’s Reach will be worthy additions. Midnight Steps got a top-to-bottom revision last month in preparation for Draft #2. It went well and I love it, love it, love it…but I need time to mellow before taking that one any further, which will be worth it. As one of my favorite books, it deserves the utmost in nurturing so that it finishes at premium quality. Only the best for Ethan.

Oh, yeah…I wrote an essay about my taste in music which was recently published in an anthology, In Context: The Eclectic Works of the Write Stuff Writers Group. I like it. I don’t know how good it is, because I haven’t gotten one word of response from anyone who’s read it (except my editors)…not even my parents. Maybe I should stick to fiction. All my autobiographical stuff turns out snarky and bitter. No idea why.

Last thing…I tried my hand at a thirty-day project in December, from conception to completion. I didn’t quite make it, but that’s okay, because I’m having so much fun with it. Mr. Waverton’s Missing Head is a short little fable about a man who, well…loses his head and goes to considerable lengths to get it back while chilling in a sort of institution with other, similarly maimed and infirm “clients”. It begs the question of whether, by helping others, we can really help ourselves. This one will go in my own anthology that I’ve started building, comprised of short works intended as breathers between major ones. These are some of the illustrations thus far.

I’m not productive at all, am I? Apply myself? What’s that? Nah, I don’t do nothin’. Just sit on my arse in front  of the TV and guzzle beer, watching the Kardashians or whoever the hell’s big on reality shows now, or play video games 24/7. Or sit on the patio and swill Jack Daniels and shoot rats with my pellet gun. That’s how I pass my days. What’s ironic is that if I did, I’d probably have so many friends there’d be no time to write.

It’s lonely at the top.




Draconfyx Text

I’ve made the first draft of this project available for those interested in reading (see details below).

My projects are my children, and when I finish one, there’s a sense of letdown which must resemble that following childbirth.  Incidentally, such creative “labor”, as kindred spirits will agree, can in its own cerebral way be just as messy and painful.

20190708_102751Midnight Steps is done.  The suspense novel set in the 1920s that I’ve worked on for three years.  I didn’t say “finished” because it definitely is not.  It has a long way to go before I will let it out of the laboratory.  Already, since writing the denouement/final chapter, I see a ton of things that won’t work earlier in the book because they just don’t line up with the end result.  Characters need to change and harden or at least act more suspiciously.  And then there are outright asininities…for instance, the male lead, Ethan (oh, how he fought me to survive at the end!  Did he win?), is supposedly hiding out in a secluded boardinghouse from underworld enemies.  Then why does he wind up taking June, the female lead, out all the time in very public urban settings???  GAAAAAHHHH!!!!  That’s the kind of thing that authors bang their heads over, and in this case, it’s my own fault.  I didn’t know the characters as well as I thought I did before I started writing in 2016, nor was I as sure as I should have been about where the plot was headed.  Another fault I admit to is not being well-read on or familiar with the “underworld”, present or past, i.e., exactly how it works.  That’s not as big of a problem as it might have been, because I chose to keep the story’s focus more on the characters than what they do, with just an occasional glimpse of their shady activities.  Is the thing salvageable?  Of course!  These minor quibbles aside, Midnight Steps is probably the best fiction I’ve ever written…personal, at times even profound, and most of all, alive.  That doesn’t mean it’s good.  It doesn’t even mean it’s worthy of selling.  But it represents real progress as a writer, and so I unabashedly award myself a gold star for effort.  By the way…I’ve probably said this before, if not here, then somewhere else, but…it is possible to fall in love with your own fictional character(s).  I did.  Think of it as a Pygmalion/Galatea-type thing.  Or Pygmalion/statue-of-David, rather.  I’m not sure David is Greek, but…whatever, the metaphor works.

As the title to this entry indicates, after a little research on past-perfect tense–the use of product_thumbnail“had” to place an already past event further in the past–I’ve decided to revise The Horrible Hand! one last time to correct my blatant abuse of said grammatical tool.  A lot of the book is told in flashbacks, and so I have a surfeit of sentences like “…He had had to do this”, or “She had met him…he had met her…they had then gotten married and had been miserable ever after…” yada, yada, yada.  Yeah.  ANNOY-ING.  The red flag was when I was rereading a chapter and thought, This ‘had’ thing is really getting old.  So, it’s going to get another pass with the literary lawnmower.  Why?  Who cares?  I care.  Even if no one ever buys a single copy, it still matters to me that when it’s languishing out there in cyberspace, it’s right.  At least as right as I can get it without paying some ridiculously high fee for someone to tear it apart and cajole me into reconstructing it Their Way.

And then?

Well, I’m not very good at it, but I need to rest.  The Horrible Hand! and Midnight Steps were both huge projects which took years to wrap up.  I know that over the past year or so, I’ve often felt creatively tapped-out and just plain tired.  Maybe I’m getting old.  (No, I AM getting old.) In addition, maybe I’m not, after all, as creative or gifted as I was brought up to believe.  Middle age can trigger cruel self-doubts.  I never thought I would become a bestselling author, but it would be nice to know that people are taking in my point of view and acquainting with the characters and scenes I so loved creating.  Still, when I reach the end of the road on a major work like these, and I find myself wondering who I did it for, my honest answer is usually, me.  And those who inhabit the story.   Even when others do read my work and compliment it, they’re only getting that topmost tip of the creative iceberg; same as audiences who view movies and plays and paintings.  They see the finished result only, not the creative process which is the real attraction for the artists, and which is rarely shared with “consumers”, whose reaction to it frequently amounts to nothing more than the following exchange:

ME: So, did you ever finish reading that book of mine?

READER: Yeah.  We liked it.

ME: It held your interest, then?

READER: Yeah.  It was good.

ME: …Thanks.

One of the things writers and other storytellers deal with is the brutal reality that just because we were fascinated enough with our plots and characters to spend three years or so on them does not mean that anyone else will share our fascination.  I used to give copies of my books as gifts now and then–never again, and neither should you.  It is not fair to strong-arm your family and friends into reading your work when they may not be remotely interested.  That is, as I’ve stated, the reason why artists would do well to admit that their true motivations are, fundamentally, as selfish as an only child.  Which I happen to be.

That said, I’ll go on creating, if on a smaller scale for a while.  Oh!  Draconfyx is finished also, and not to blow my own bugle, but I don’t think it turned out too bad.  It was only a six-month undertaking, text and art, yet it has a sharpness, urgency, and timeliness to it that make me half-seriously regard it as “the one they’ll like best”.  That would be fine with me.









You can’t go wrong with Dracula, or even a spin-off, and a new slant on the drug war might actually be useful.  Plus God’s in it!  He’s been making cameos in a few different projects lately.  I’m toying with the idea of publishing Draconfyx for a Halloween release, but I am not sure that it will be ready this year.

Back to what’s on the agenda.  First, prewriting only for something new: writing a story/novelette in public–on Wattpad or even Facebook–while simultaneously writing it as a play…then illustrating it.  I have this craving to get back to making art, in particular dioramic setups, as of old.  More on that in a minute.  Before that, I may look at illustrating Flickers and writing more on the old memoir, What a World...  And/or, starting my own YouTube channel, which I’ve wanted to do anyway, and recording excerpts of WAW.  So…nothing too big or complicated, just enough to keep me creatively satisfied and productive.

With that said…aren’t these the absolute limit?  This is the kind of art I want to get back to doing, especially to photograph for illustrations.  I have a whole closet full–two, actually–of toys like this.  Miniatures have always intrigued me, and I’ve challenged myself to work as small as I can with this next collection.









And I’ll sign off with some random film images that have stayed with me over the years–some since childhood–and which represent recurring themes in my writing.  An eclectic selection?  You know it.  Disturbing?  Maybe.  But I believe I was meant to tell certain stories, and in order to do that, I needed certain, often very dark inspiration very early on.  And so I must have subconsciously absorbed these representative images and situations, then later incorporated them into my own personal brand of grim, ironic, yet redemptive tales.  I will admit that my endings are usually somewhat more hopeful than those found in the fiction below.  I guess that, too, is a kind of progress.  Besides, there must be shadows if there is to be light…right?















A Vintage “Drug Sting” with Bat Wings

3Just a quick update on the status of my three present projects at the start of 2019.  Two are old and one is new…and slightly borrowed.  (They all keep me from being too blue.) The latter is a work “strongly suggestive” of Dracula.  I’ve long wanted to do my own version of Bram Stoker’s old reliable warhorse, but at least this time, my concept is only (heavily) reminiscent of it.

Draconfyx is centered upon a vintage drug dealer of the title name, who, with the help of his minions, purveys a mysterious, addicting elixir to lost people searching for something to fill their empty hearts. The elixir eventually renders these unfortunates vulnerable enough that Count Draconfyx can steal their souls…and thus, his victims become soul predators–“Users” like him. Geeeeet iiiiiiiiiit???  As Dracula is a classic story of good vs. evil, so is Draconfyx, for while these Users do not actually drink blood, fear the sunlight, or sleep in coffins, they do fear and respect God. And so it is with God’s help that a young girl and retired professor seek to destroy Count Draconfyx and his kind, to prevent other people, especially the young, from falling prey to addiction, death, and eternal loss,

You might call it a Gothic horror/spiritual take on a drug sting…with bat wings.

I’m writing it as a fairly short storybook for youth and adults, with mixed-media illustrations like these. It’s great fun.  Certain iconic elements and scenes from the Big D will be paid homage to, i.e., Dracula’s move to a new country for a fresh smorgasbord of victims; the three vampire women; Professor Van Helsing (Professor Vanover here); the ruined Carfax (Craxton) Abbey; plenty of storm-tossed nights and moonlight; character names with the ring of their Stoker counterparts–Mina and Lucy are now sisters Minnie and Luna, and Jonathan Harker is Jem Harks, a local delinquent youth who corrupts Luna–and so on and so forth.

The story is serving as an exercise in brevity.  I have a tendency to be extremely wordy, and to include much too much detail, to the point of rambling.  Here, I intend to keep the finished product short enough that it can be read in one sitting, like a movie of modest length.  An hour and fifteen minutes is perfect, as such was the running time of most Universal classic horror films of the 1930s which have inspired me.


Midnight Steps marches ever onward.  I’ll soon be into the third “act” of the story, and if I do say so myself, this one is a corker.  More on it later, but…wow.  Even as I write it, I can feel chills at the overwhelming sense of “me” pouring forth in every aspect.  The experience has taught me that you definitely should write what you know–including when you don’t know firsthand the when, where, or occasionally even the what of it.  Sheer emotional honesty will nearly always fill the gaps.

And then there’s that other chestnut, now published.  I plan to embark (not too soon) upon a third and final round of revisions to The Horrible Hand!  It wouldn’t be necessary from a writing standpoint–the story’s text is what it is, after three years.  What keeps tripping me up is the fucking formatting; for example, spacing properly the stupid-assed little logos at the start of each chapter, and keeping the same amount of text on every page so that they’re even and don’t look like some clueless self-published writer put it together.  I keep telling myself that next time, I’ll let a professional do it.  Maybe, maybe not.  Regardless, I’ve learned volumes on what to do and not to do in future works, particularly the Eerie Series.

Don’t misunderstand me, though.  I’ve enjoyed every detail of the work on this project and the rest.  Even the shit work.

I guess that’s why they call it a labor of love.

In with the New…But Single File…as I Grow Older


I’m reminded of a sentiment from the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical Evita.  Toward the end, Eva Peron’s husband, Argentinian President Juan Peron, champions his dynamic wife’s enduring worth and accomplishments to his advisers despite her waning energy as a result of illness.

“But on the other hand, she’s slowing down.

She’s lost a little of that magic drive.

But I would not advise those critics present to derive

Any satisfaction from her fading star

She’s the one who’s kept us where we are…”

I am far from Evita Peron’s level of fame, fortune, and fabulousness (sonofabitch), but I recognize something in her predicament at this point in the show, and in her life.  She wants to keep on doing big things, but she just isn’t up to it.  The same is true for me.

Middle age has definitely made me record a cold-eyed stock of my life in all departments.  There’s a common trend in several of them: easing up.  Slowing down.  Mellowing.

Specifically concerning my storytelling and art, I’ve found that, while it remains my most fulfilling activity, I don’t have the energy or fire anymore that made me turn out two or three completed works a year.  This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, because it’s led me to focus more on quality than quantity.  The disappointing factor is that I have tended to outline some really kick-ass projects in the last couple of years…but lacked the drive to realize them.  Recent case in point: I’ve spent three months developing and building the outline for what promises to be an absolutely terrific illustrated storybook based on the adage that “It takes a whole village to raise a child”, the concept influenced by Lars Von Trier’s brilliant film Dogville…and the Universal monsters.



It holds up in the telling.

I was ablaze with inspiration,  at a temperature that I don’t think I’ve reached since I started writing seriously eleven years ago.  I built a synopsis, developed the characters, the setting, researched photographs of the type of homes and businesses the characters would have; I wrote an eleven-page detailed treatment, from which I would have worked directly to create the actual story…and suddenly realized that the project had grown too big.  I had overextended myself.  I had set out to write a straightforward parable and wound up with a four-act epic. I didn’t feel I could do justice to it right now, having just published a full-length novel, written half of another, and being about to embark on creating two, going on three, storybooks for an anthology to be compiled many years down the road.  And so with both regret and relief, I shelved A Whole Village indefinitely.

I suppose I have a right to be tired.  I’ve worked my tail off on The Horrible Hand!, newly-published (for the second time; I was unhappy with the formatting at first).  There were three years of my life invested in that book.  Not only did I have to both write and illustrate it, but I had to painstakingly set the foundation for the follow-up novels and ensure that the first book stood on its own in terms of the context of those to come.  I think the effort shows; the story is entertaining (according to those who read early drafts), the concept unique, and the possibilities for future entries in the Eerie Series unlimited.  (For more detail on The Horrible Hand!, check the link I’ve provided here, which leads to an explanation of the ES’s background and projected future, and also a further link to where THH can be purchased.)  The only problem is that the concept may be too unique.  Potential readers may not “get it” because it’s too sophisticated.  Trying to explain that The Horrible Hand! is essentially a mystery within a mystery, but more than that–a novelization of a mystery movie that was never actually made, complemented by the backstories of the make-believe actors who never actually made it, as well as of the director who never actually existed, who mysteriously disappeared many years later, whose fate may or may not be revealed through future books in the series…all that is a little too much for people to chew at one brief sitting.  At least that has been my experience when presenting the book at a recent author showcase, and even among members of the writers group I belong to. Along with other details, there was much confusion simply as to whether the book was really fiction or not.  So…I don’t know if I succeeded with The Horrible Hand!  Ultimately, the best course for anyone who cares is to sit down and read the damn thing…upon which all will make sense.  Including the explanation for my first-ever use of a pen name, Corwin McCloud–even though it isn’t really a pen name–

Oh, hell; just tryyyyyyy it, you’ll liiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiike it.  Alas, in this illiterate Second Dark Age, people don’t want to spend that much time trying to understand high-minded creative concepts, and they don’t read anymore, anyway.  But for what it’s worth…The Horrible Hand! is, at long last, published.


I’m reminded of another play, Terrence McNally’s Master Class, in which opera legend Maria Callas, in the middle of one of her titular addresses, forgets herself and mutters before her students, “It’s a terrible career, really.  I don’t know why I bothered.  I didn’t say that!  I didn’t say that and you didn’t hear it!

Moving on…I’ve decided to work on those aforementioned two small storybooks as a way of decompressing from THH.  One is based on a summer art project, Shelley and the Blue Vampire; a sort of “crime-board” collage which tells the story of a young girl afflicted with depression, and how this influences her life decisions, leading to a tragic end.  It’s a better idea than it sounds, really.  It’s my attempt at timeliness, and to actually address a social problem across a broad spectrum of causes, including political and interpersonal.  So that should be fun, and not too much of a strain, as most of the work, text and illustration, has already been completed.


The other storybook, Not Even Death, will be a quickie horror tale suggested by an eerie ghost story I heard about a year ago, concerning a babysitter’s (supposedly true) experience when the mother of his/her charge returned suddenly from her outing…with a strange, fixed smile on her face…and sat down at the kitchen table with her arms hanging utterly limp, not moving…not speaking…with the babysitter eventually learning hallwaythat the mother was killed in a car crash not long before…  Shivers!  Again, a fun little project that will give me a chance to experiment with illustration, which I love to do.  These “one-reelers” may become a regular form of respite from the heavy lifting of a major project, and as I indicated, I aim to gather them into a collection for publication at some point.  My effort from early1f this year, Bad Medicine, will also be included.

The other project on my agenda is to continue, and hopefully complete, Midnight Steps, the full-length novel that I started around two years ago.  It’s at the midpoint, and this tale of murder, mystery, and melancholy romance–all set against the background of the Roaring Twenties–will really step up its game in the second half.  The characters literally won’t have time to cry.  Hopefully, neither will the reader.  At least, Midnight Steps can be easily classified as a straightforward historical mystery.  And even from my personal perfectionist standpoint, I honestly believe that MS contains some of the very best fiction writing I’ve ever done.

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That’s the plan as 2018 draws to a close.  Notice I didn’t mention any other pending new projects, or the memoir, What a World, What a World, which is tabled at the moment.  There is the possibility of submitting a short piece of writing to an anthology being assembled by my writers group, but I haven’t thought about that yet.

I’ll update my progress on these projects in detail as I go.  For right now, I prefer to do what I’ve committed, in recent years, to doing throughout my life, as well as in my creative work: keep it simple.

Art and Words Go Hand in Hand

This year, I decided to follow my passion, come what may; be that poverty (too late), famine, war, Judgment Day, etc.  And I’ve kept to that resolution.  Midnight Steps and What a World are both back on track, and accomplishing that was easier than I expected.  I’ve finally breached my junior high years in the memoir (latter), which I had been dreading, and I’ve entered the much darker (and faster-paced) half of the thriller (former).  Very excited about both projects, but was inspired by a recent flyer from a local art museum to submit some work for their upcoming exhibit…so, now, this temporarily will take priority over the books, as the submission deadline is July 22.

The first project is one that I created last year, an enclosed diorama which I call “Tower of Power” because it essentially represents the classic power hierarchy in the form of an expressionistic castle tower, outfitted with windows revealing the innocent, idealistic, and workaday population (bottom); the affluent  (second level); the ruling elite (third level); and at the very top, a sort of Eye of God, symbolizing the supernatural and spiritual forces beyond human comprehension which truly govern everything.  Interspersed are images and small sculptures/figurines carrying this concept further, i.e., faceless figures “behind the scenes” making things happen, and miniature chess pieces that suggest power games/political plays.



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It’s a rather highbrow, cerebral idea, but I like it, so we’ll see what happens.  I’d also like to turn the concept and visuals into a nifty little storybook, eventually.

Equally highbrow and pretentious–but with a much stronger message–is the other project that I recently started.  Shelley and the Blue Vampire is a visual story modeled on those “crime boards” used by police and detectives (at least on TV) to map out exactly how a crime was committed, when, by what possible suspects, and so forth.  I’ve wanted to do an art piece around this idea for a long time, and when I thought of how I wanted to realize Shelley, a haunting little tale that I had dreamed up around Christmastime along with Bad Medicine, I found the crime board theme perfect for it.  In short, the plot will be illustrated in 3D “photographs”, inside a glass-fronted shadowbox, of each scene, with a brief narration card beneath, reading to the effect of “Shelley at nine years, when such-and-such happened to her”.  The events–bleak and dire, in the style of a delightfully morbid little Edward Gorey Gothic titled The Hapless Child–will culminate in tragedy most timely–by gunfire, in a public park, which kills two innocent people.  The “Blue Vampire” will signify the depression which runs in Shelley’s family, and he will grow in stature with each appearance along the way, in a sense feeding on her as her mental condition deteriorates.  The timeliness is abetted by the presence of bullying, a failed welfare system, and of a firearm either held by a character or visible in the background of every scene, among which will be a drug dealer’s derelict abode and a politician’s office.  I want to turn it into a storybook as well, not too far down the road.



Yes, I’m expanding my comfort zone with this one, for my stories/projects almost never venture into politics or social issues.  But again, I thought this might be a neat idea to pursue, and I’m curious to see how it will be received (if at all) by the museum.  To be honest, I don’t even remember what the prizes are for winning submissions.  It’s the trip, not the destination, right?

The other time-sensitive work that I’m looking at completing, by early September in this case, is The Horrible Hand!  The head of the writer’s group, The Write Stuff, that I belong to has fixed a showcase at a local bookstore for eight members, on September 20th.  I immediately thought of this as a chance to show off HH and its concept, and see how people react.  Plus I would just like to see it completed, formatted, and in book form.


The creative juices are flowing, if nothing else is at this time.  I even plan to start going to a local open-mike night for writers, and get this–I’m auditioning next Saturday for a local independent film about the day-to-day events in a comic book shop.  I’m kinda looking forward to it, even though I know that, should I be cast, shooting will diminish my own artistic time.  But…that’s what happens when you’re multi-talented, I guess, ha.

Oh yes…I’ve also decided to send The Blue Candle script to a theatre group I’ve worked and been acquainted with for years.  Just to get a response.  And for the same reason, I will be advertising Flickers on my local performing arts list, specifically in search of a photographer to take the shots of the characters in the “silent movie” scene fragments/illustrations throughout the book.

No one can say I’m not trying.

Good Medicine

A whole year has passed since my last entry here?  I guess it has.  The reason for that long hiatus is simply that I haven’t felt compelled to write about the projects I’ve been working on, because they hadn’t developed far enough until recently to really discuss them.


The Horrible Hand! is completed, not finished.  It’s written, and it’s been read by a few people who seemed to like it.  The illustrations are done, so it’s just a matter of putting it together.  I’m in no hurry, though, because I want this book to turn out right.  It’s a personal favorite of mine, as well as the “pilot” for a series of other books to be created through the same concept–a novelization of a fictional film, accompanied by bogus history and behind-the-scenes articles, actor bios, etc.  And, yes, I would like to continue shopping it to various publishers and agents as I haven’t with most other projects.  I made a vow to myself at the beginning of 2018 that I would get my work out there, one way or another, whether through submitting to publishers, self-publishing and promoting, or publishing online.

Which brings me to the project I just finished.  Last November, I was suffering a serious depressive episode, made all the worse when my beloved Scottie, Finnigan, died just after Thanksgiving.  My heart was broken, even though I had had fifteen-and-a-half good, memory-filled years with him.  The grief made it hard to concentrate on Midnight Steps, the book I had been working diligently on for many months, and so, I shelved it at the halfway mark, and tried my hand at something new and different–a web comic.  Comics and graphic novels have perhaps never been more popular than they are now, or regarded more highly as an art form.  So, I decided to hop on the bandwagon.  I wrote a script, just as I would for a movie, and carefully gathered the images I needed to represent the characters and settings, which I planned to combine with my own black-and-white sketches to illustrate the action.  I did not anticipate that it would take me more than a couple of months, at most, to complete, but I rapidly found that even a short web comic such as Bad Medicine, as I titled it, is extremely time-consuming and exhausting to make.  That said, I enjoyed every minute of the process, even when I was ready to scream from the endless technical challenges, particularly making the lead character’s face and features consistent throughout.  At the end of the construction, I decided to add film grain and “weathering” to each of the frames, for I had wanted to give the impression in the images of an old, badly-preserved movie.



That was another month of work, not to mention replacing the dialogue balloons which were rendered illegible from the special effects.  Incidentally, for the balloons, I used a site called SuperLame, which allows for free creation of these.  This was a new experience, because I hadn’t worked with dialogue balloons, print or digital, since I was probably ten.  I guess I didn’t do a bad job for not knowing a thing about what I was up to.  The finished result was one hundred thirty-three frames, and took from January to mid-April to complete; a far cry from the “doodle” project I had envisioned it as, just something different to distract myself from life and the loss of my companion.  No matter.  I learned volumes from attempting it, and would love to do another one, although not for a very, very long time.  The story of Bad Medicine mixes and mingles themes old and new…a young psychiatric patient, Timthie Draven, is riding with his doctor, Dr. Pivott, through a bad storm when their car goes off a bridge.  Dr. Pivott vanishes in the river and Timthie is left to take shelter at the forbidding Hemlockhurst mansion, where a group of calculating relatives and friends have gathered to celebrate Lord Job Hemlockhurst’s birthday–except that he died not a half-hour ago from a fall on the stairs.  An accident?  Among these kin to the deceased is Chamelea Hemlockhurst, Lord Job’s granddaughter, who turns out to be in withdrawal from the same psychotrophic drug as Timthie, a (fictional) mood stabilizer, Gannerall.  Whose mental state is improved by the absence of the drug, and whose has suffered from it?  Was Chamelea deliberately not given her medication so that she would act suspiciously…the better to frame her for her grandfather’s death and get her institutionalized, thereby allowing the rest of his family and friends to assume control of it?   Or, did she really commit the crime in a psychotic blackout?  Most important of all…what does the story have to say about the threat of over-medicating those with mental illness, as is a very timely issue?

I’ve uploaded the first thirteen frames as the beginning episode of Bad Medicine here, at a web comic site called Tapas, reputedly the best one out there to showcase amateur comics.  It’s already gotten some views, and I’m intrigued as to where this might lead, even if I just make some new friends who are into expressing themselves in this way.

I didn’t write much new material for the memoir–What a World–but I spent a lot of time this past year editing it.  Had to rethink it, as well, and now I know I have to cut it back significantly (it’s only one-third finished and already one hundred sixty-odd pages).  But the concept, of exploring a hypersensitive man’s life and times, from childhood on through middle age, I think is on-target.  Those who have read excerpts have enjoyed it, most vocally.  I like the process of writing it, but there is always the emotional toll it takes, as well as the necessity of walking every memoirist’s tightrope–the balance between being nice and being honest.  I’ve dreaded attacking my junior high and high school years…especially since my college years weren’t much better and my young adulthood was, in many ways, worst of all.  I can’t help but think that I’m a late bloomer.  I really hope so.

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Predictably, Midnight Steps outgrew my original idea for it as just a short storybook, whimsically illustrated with, literally, rock-faced characters.  Once it took off, I knew I had a novel on my hands, and even though I had just finished The Horrible Hand!, my previous novel-length work, I leapt into it with both feet and was astonished at how my original idea shifted and morphed into something deeper and richer.  The central change involves the leading character of Ethan Hyde, whom I first envisioned as something of a sociopath, an irredeemable bastard who would come to a well-deserved, and very unpleasant, end.

But then I fell in love with him–it does happen with fictional characters, even our own–and so relented and have given him another chance, plus a kinder, if still flawed, disposition.   That doesn’t mean that Midnight Steps will be a fluff piece, oh, no.  These people, especially the leads, are going to suffer, grievously.  But I already know that they, and the story overall, will be better for it.  Ask me how I know that.

Ch3Chess Game

For the illustrations on MIDNIGHT STEPS, I’ve gone with a sort of blurry, indistinct look which matches the murky tone of the story.

So…next on the agenda is a continuation of M.S. and What a World.  I’ve discovered, though, that despite my intent to keep my life simple (creative life included), I cannot function with only two projects bubbling at a time–I have to have something else; a third, somewhat smaller and more visual project, which allows me to really be artistic.  Bad Medicine is a perfect example of this.  I haven’t settled on what the next one will be, but I have some ideas.  And that’s actually the venture I look forward to working on the most, I suppose because it’ll be something completely new.

Other than that…I’ve joined a writer’s group here in town, and am slowly but surely making some acquaintances who “get” this creative craziness that overwhelms me to the exclusion of most other pursuits in life–relationships, marriage, accumulating “stuff”.  For a while there, I had grown a little wary of how much I was isolating myself in the name of art…but after pushing myself to get out there now and then, I was reminded again of just how boring most people are, and consequently, just how little I was missing by directing my energies toward satisfying my inner muse instead.  I’ll always be devoted to my family, and my few close friends, but I honestly have grown less and less comfortable around most people as I’ve matured.  I can’t help but think this must be intended…for if we artists weren’t inclined to keep to ourselves, how would we ever do what we do?

Everything Old is New Again


Toward the end of 2016, I completed the monumental task of realizing my ambition for The Eerie Series, with its first installment, The Horrible Hand! As a review…the concept for the ES is a lineup of novels based on grade-B horror/suspense films made in the 1950s-60s by a fictional director, Anthony Miles.  The books focus on the action both before and behind the camera, the theme of redemption which runs throughout, and the tumultuous life of Miles himself.  The books are illustrated with public domain photos of people as actors, and of settings with which they are merged digitally.

The genesis for this project was, again in review, my childhood fascination with the Crestwood House Movie Monsters storybook series, which briefly retold the classic Universal horror films, augmented by stills of scenes from them.  Over all the intervening years, I felt that there was something there that could be built upon for a more adult (and completely unique) method of storytelling.  After several false starts, I set forth to put my inspiration to work.  And now, everything old is new again.


The Horrible Hand! was written over a period of roughly two years.  I took my time with it, because I wanted it to be right; the ES project was a brain child of mine, and I felt I owed it as much time as it took to be realized.  Set in a greedy clan’s family mansion following the murder of their patriarch, the “novelized” version of the bogus title film follows the dark and stormy night after the reading of the will, which includes mysterious disappearances, vicious quarrels and ominous threats, secret skulduggery, and much soul-searching on the behalf of nearly all the characters.  Plus the phantom specter of the dead patriarch’s hacked-off hand, which terrorizes the household.

The story may not sound like much (and it isn’t), but my intent was not so much to tell a brand-new tale as to tell an old chestnut with a brand-new slant to its plot.  In this case, most likely as a reflection of my own life in recent years, I chose to bring out the theme of redemption for the characters involved.  Essentially, I saw that theme as a gift offered to each person in the story, who would then decide for themselves whether or not to accept it.  Just as we do.  And this theme, I have decided, will be the backbone of the entire Eerie Series.  It’s unusual.  It’s risky.  It may not be successful at all.  But I feel that it’s right.

It didn’t start out that way.  As originally conceived, THH was to be just another old-fashioned horror story told in a fairly unique way, with the background information of the director and players added for further intrigue.  But what I found happening as I progressed along with the writing was…I started to like the characters.  And not only to like them, but to feel for them.  I saw so much of myself in them and their various personal “traps” (and how could I not, for every writer exposes his subconscious in his work?) that I softened toward them, and decided to give at least most of them another chance.  And by so doing, I believe I added a layer of depth to the work which raises it reasonably above the routine.

The writing was a pleasure throughout.  I never felt roadblocked or stymied, or as though I had written myself into a corner.  The story really wrote itself after I had worked out the details of plot and character; this is usually the case, which is why it pays to do your homework in the prewriting.  And when the book was completed, I understood somewhat the notion of post-partum depression.  I didn’t want it to be over.  I literally MISSED the people I had created more than I ever had before.  I was actually sad to let them go!  And maybe this is because of that extra layer added by the redemption theme, which humanized them, through the influence of a spiritual author far greater than me.

Who knows?  All I can say is that after the last four years, and what I’ve seen and been through, I’m willing to freely admit that anything is possible.

By the way, I’ve already had a couple of people ask me if Anthony Miles, the creator/director of the ES “films” is me.  My answer to that is, yes and no.  The best way of putting it is that Miles and I share many attitudes and character traits, but he possesses guts and ambition as I could never match, to fulfill his dreams.  His history is not, in relation to me, at all autobiographical, but in essence, he is what I would be if I could.  Get off my ass.


There is also Miles’s passing similarity to the much-celebrated Worst Director of All Time, Edward D. Wood, best known for his 1959 schlock opus Plan 9 from Outer Space.  Like Wood, Miles struggles against great odds early in his career to make his artistic vision a reality…however, unlike Wood, Miles has genuine talent and knows what he’s doing.


My goal now is to self-publish THH by mid-September, around my birthday.  After that, I plan to give it a showcasing at two local libraries and a Books A Million.  It is currently being read by a circle of friends and acquaintances, to obtain their opinion; two or three have already responded very favorably.

2016 was not a good year for me (or anybody, apparently), so having THH to distract me was extremely helpful.  But around Christmas and immediately after, I went through a very dark period where I simply could not create.  It wasn’t that I was roadblocked; I have a million ideas.  I just lacked any kind of motivation or will to see anything through.  I know that another severe depressive episode was largely responsible, but I guess it may also have been that THH had taken so much out of me that I was tired, and needed recharging.  For over two months into the new year, I just scribbled out plot scenarios, and a few of them are really good; I plan to eventually use them.  But it wasn’t until about a month ago that I came up with what I think of as my “rebound” project.

Midnight Steps is a photonovel, a term that I coined myself.  Like Flickers and the Grymwyck series, it’s a long short story, or novelette, with illustrations.  In this case, I’m going all out in making the piece a homage to silent horror/suspense films, with its plot partly borrowed from three of Hitchcock’s earliest films–The Lodger, Blackmail, and Sabotage.  

Set in an unnamed city in 1927, MS is the story of a highly dysfunctional family who run a bookshop, which is merely a front for criminal activities.  The teenage daughter, June, falls in love with the family’s new boarder, Ethan…only to find out that he may be the psychopath stalking and murdering young girls in the city.  When Ethan gets June pregnant, and hits her, causing her to lose the baby, June’s formidable mother seeks revenge by poisoning him.  June finds out…and the pivotal question is, will she simply stand by and see it happen, or try to save him despite how he has treated her?

A lot going on there.  I think it’ll be fun, especially the illustration process.  I was inspired there by, of all things, the rock bed beside my patio, because every time I go outside, I see faces in the rocks.  Strange as it sounds, I developed a yen to do something artistic with this, and so my characters’ faces will be the various rock faces that have stood out to me, photographed, given expressions through photo editing software, and connected to other photos of the characters’ bodies, which I will draw.  The complete figures will be set against appropriate backgrounds found online.  I’m going for fun and for atmosphere, even calling the project “an On-the-Rocks Production”.  My thinking is that it will be a fairly brief endeavor, and not so demanding that I can’t see it through, but demanding enough to hold my interest until it’s time to wrap up The Horrible Hand!  MS is another instance of old fascinations breeding new works, for I have always loved and been inspired by the silent era.

Future projects?  I’d like to (maybe) do another puppet storybook featuring Mr. Teeth, and/or start another major project, which will most likely be a play.  I have several interesting ideas in mind for that.

Oh, by the way, I also played Scarlett O’Hara last fall.  No, really.