Sunday, January 13, 2019

A Six Pack for the New Year

If you have enjoyed and/or felt strange or strong emotions reading any of my blog posts, please consider purchasing one of my books, all of which can be found HERE!  They are available in electronic, softcover, and audio editions, except for My Best Friends Are Dead (no audio) and Aural History, which is only available in the kindle store!

Which makes it a lonelier book than the others, in need of staunch defenders and loyal friends (and reviewers!). If you enjoy music, ghosts, musical ghosts, reading, pizza, beagle puppies, sunshine, or hygge, the Danish art of coziness, then you might really enjoy Aural History, for which I have made a special "purchase me" link right HERE!*

*(Disclaimer: while there is music and ghosts in Aural History, there's no mention of most of the other things. But pretty much everyone likes them, so give the book a shot, won't you?

Monday, January 7, 2019

Queer Eye, My Daughter, and I

I'll Explain This Photo Below, Stay With Me

My daughter and I had made a date to binge watch all of Queer Eye reboot on Netflix when she was home from school on break, and we wrapped up Season Two just last night. When she was younger we were frequent watchers the previous Queer Eye and so were interested in seeing the new cast and spin.
Like the original, the new show effectively states and reinforces several very positive messages, both societal and personal. The general message of the show is be accepting, of both yourself and others, but also that  to be accepting is not to be complacent, nor should we settle on anything less than what we as individuals or a society are fully capable of. “Acceptable” is not acceptable in the Queer Eye world, except as a stepping stone to growth, improvement, and self-actualization.  We shouldn't settle on "tolerance" as the realization of a goal, but we should work through it to get to understanding, friendship, community and love. 

A second overall message we saw is the idea we should seek and maintain relationships that feed and sustain us. Many of the episodes we watched featured a key relationship in the “project’s” life, and the ancillary goal to making over the project was always to improve that relationship, whether it was with  a spouse, a significant other, parent, or friend. The episode “Burning Man” was an excellent example of this, as after the makeover the project decided not to move from Georgia to Reno because, once he’d taken on some improvement and motivation, he had everything he needed, and dozens of strong relationships, (including the one with the friend who called the squad on him, who we are informed in the end credits is now in a romantic relationship with him), right where he is. The idea we are left with is that we should be continually looking to better ourselves, because that leads to the inspiration and betterment of others and society.

These messages are constantly reinforced by the overall positivity and acceptance of the team, who speak very frankly about the projects self-defeating behaviors and characteristics but immediately turn into a high-energy “hype squad” the moment the project makes an effort and starts to show incremental improvement. All of their comments are carried forward with such candor, sincerity, and good humor that they can’t help but resonate deeply with the project. Who wouldn’t want a crew of friends, fabulous or otherwise, who wish us nothing but the best at all times, who constantly reinforce the idea that the efforts we make are appreciated and achieve the results we were hoping to?
We felt that the reboot really focused on that positivity, foregoing much of the snark that made the first run so great. There is very little negativity among the hosts, either with each other or in the "post makeover" segments like there was in QE1; the harsh criticism all comes in the first meetings and from then on it is positive vibes all the way. I'd have to re-watch the first run, but it felt like there was more physical affection among the new Fab Five.

Beyond what we saw as the overarching messages of the show, we felt each team member was tasked with conveying a very specific message in nearly every episode. Broadly, they are:

KARAMO: Step up, take responsibility for yourself, continually improve, put yourself out there, grow, learn from mistakes but always move forward

TAN: Make an effort with your physical appearance for yourself and others, because doing so will increase your confidence and alter the way others perceive you in a positive way

BOBBY: Create and maintain a physical environment that encourage productivity, creativity, and inner harmony

ANTONI: Make nutrition enjoyable and healthy, use the culinary arts to enhance your enjoyment of life and enhance the lives of people you love

JONATHAN: Take care of yourself physically, don’t feel guilty about treating yourself as someone special because you are and others think you are as well 

This, of course, led us to giving ourselves ratings on the Fab Five scale: Here’s what I would say for myself in honest assessment, 5 being the best, 1 being the worst:

KARAMO—4.  I think I do well with all of his messages but the “put yourself out there” one.

TAN—1. I rarely “Make an effort” at home or at work. I have some nice clothes that I like and break out for special occasions but that’s about it. Kayleigh clearly beats me on the Tan scale

BOBBY—3. I love my basement office, it is mostly me but it is cluttered and dirty. The rest of the house I love too but isn’t optimized for space or decorated fully.

ANTONI:--2 I rarely cook for Kim, and when I do I fearfully need to ask her for instructions most of the time. It is weird because I love good food more than garbage food but never take the time. Kim would score much higher than me but we often settle (Kayleigh gave herself a 1).

JONATHAN:--2 I would be a one except for the fact that I run which probably falls under his grooming and physical appearance specialty, so I’m at least trying to get better. But other than showering regularly and shaving my head I don’t--shockingly--do anything for my appearance or use product of any nature at all.
So, twelve out of a possible 25 points. I've a long way to go to be fully actualized. I have a theory that I think is pretty interesting, though--I think scoring high in "Karamo" is probably the most necessary of the factors, but I also think that an initial high score in "Karamo" may actually make you more complacent in the other four! What do you think?
Our final verdict: we loved the show, and loved especially the energy and positive spirit it infused us with. A happy accident, but the show turned out to be a perfect vehicle to encourage a high-octane start to the new year and drive those resolutions and goals forward.
So why the above picture? Well, it is of a moment where I felt as close to being self-actualized as any in 2018 (not a great year overall, as I've mentioned). And if I was to use the QEII rating scale, I would go all the way to a 23. I'm holding a copy Sei Ancora Qui, of the Italian edition of Break My Heart 1,000 Times, and I'm in town for the premiere of I Still See You, the movie based on that book, so clearly I get a 5 for the Karamo factor, its a rare moment where I 'd give myself a 5 on the Tan factor because I like what I'm wearing and I'm comfortable in it, I'm in a beautiful hotel--in Rome--and so I get 5 Bobby points, Antoni would surely approve of the beautiful meal we ate at a host-recommended restaurant that night, so 5 points there, too. Sadly, I only get three Jonathan points, because I still don't know how to take care of my bald head, and I'd managed to give myself a nice two inch gash with my Headblade just above my right ear that I wasn't sure would clot before I had to come downstairs for the photoshoot. Thankfully, this photo--and that rare and winning smile--obscures the gore.
Basically, I'm posting that photo as a reminder that I really can experience moments were I am as close to my fully actualized, real, and most importantly, happy self. It makes me wonder why I would complacently lurk around at a number nearly half that score most of my day to day existence. I think I want to be the guy in that photo more often this year.
Why settle when you can experience and achieve more?
Why be acceptable when you can be fabulous?
Why tolerate when you can understand and love?

Show some love (or at least tolerance) and buy one of my books HERE 

Thursday, January 3, 2019

Secrets of Weight Loss--Revealed

Not Actual Size

The adventures of the Ketosis Kid have begun, as they have every January first or second for the past six years. I'm revealing my secret identity publicly for the first time, and why not? I was denied entrance into the Legion of Super-Heroes in favor of my old partner Matter-Eater Lad, but I can't say I blame them. Terrible Breath and Extreme Irritability aren't very spectacular super powers, especially as so many people share them. But I thought I'd record a few things for posterity in light of last years' epic battle (The Ketosis Kid vs. Oumuamu) which I won by (literally) the narrowest of margins.


My secret origin is quite simple; about six years ago, in a fit of self-loathing and disgust, I embarked on what I termed "The Austerity Diet" on January 2nd, which essentially was the result me taking an honest look at all of the foods and beverages I love and have a tendency to overindulge in and deciding I would not eat or drink any of those things until April first. I was already an avid (if ungainly) runner, good for ten to twenty miles a week, and a vegetarian,  so I figured these factors combined with jettisoning cheese, beer, bread, pasta, snacks, fun, joie de vivre, the will to live, etc. would have some weight loss benefits. More superstition than science, the Austerity Diet produced results (other than the aforementioned dragon breath and irritability) and not only had I reached my "target weight", I sailed past it by more than ten pounds. I lost exactly fifty pounds in four months (some of which were probably my brains and whatever my will to live weighs), or 22.8% of my total weight. The photo of me above is me at my lightest; I was so light that fourth graders could pick me up and toss me in the pond--which they often did. 

On April second I went back to eating and exercising normally, and over the course of the next eight months I would gain back a bunch of those pounds. So, convinced the Austerity Diet was the plan for me, I did it again the following year, but this time saying I would go back to my gluttonous ways as soon as I hit my target weight, which I would typically do by March 1st. As it is a well-known fact that February is an eternal enemy of the Ketosis kid, and I would not enjoy that hated month no matter what I did, I might as well pack it full of suffering. This was a good system and routine for many years.

Until 2018, where I kind did away with Austerity. Routines are dull! Self-denial is the hallmark of a boring life! I didn't fully eliminate all of the foods I was supposed to eat, and March 1 came and went and I hadn't hit my target. Probably because by then I wasn't really exercising like I had been for the past decade. Really, I'd been mailing it in since September 2017, logging only about ten miles a month on average when I had been clocking eighty-five to a hundred in those cruddy winter months. Whatever. Running is such a drag, though! is short! Don't worry about it! Back to business as usual. 

But at the start of January, Oumuamua was growing--and moving--inside of me. 

Once Oumuamua was defeated in Sept. 18, I knew it would be a great deal of work to get back to where I was, in multiple aspects of my life. Time once again to become the Ketosis Kid. So after resting up for a few weeks after banishing Oumuamua, I started a regular running regimen again in mid-October, taking it easy to start. I also cut back on a few of the things that I knew would have to go once I went into full Austerity. I faced the new year fully primed to become the Ketosis Kid.

And guess what? In the three days of 2019, I've run over twenty miles, which is more than I ran in total in the months of Sept. '17, Dec. '17, Jan. '18, March '18, April '18, and May '18. It is more than almost any two of those months combined. Thankfully, I'm only about fifteen pounds off my target and I'm feeling great, so maybe I'll be able to quit before March 1st and enjoy part of the crappiest month of the year, February.

Many of want to lose weight and become better people (two desires which can be conjoined but are mutually exclusive more often than not). I go into this at length not to sell you on my particular weight loss plan, which is not fun after the first week, unscientific, and quite possibly unhealthy. It works for me, though...and therein lies my real point:

Find out what works for you, work on what works for you, test it constantly, give it up when it isn't working, but hold on for dear life once you realize it is. I hope it is obvious I'm not really talking about the weight loss thing here, I'm talking about the essential habits and routines that make you your most successful, fully realized version of you. Austerity wasn't the only beneficial habit I quit on last year, and it has taken me many months to rebuild. I can blame Oumuamua, but really, was Oumuamua the cause, or the effect? Either way, I will be better prepared if Oumuamua or one of its hideous alien minions reenters my orbit.

I'm apologize for roping you in, if that is what I did, with the false flag of weight loss promises. Burn more calories than you consume, I guess. Who knows.

With love, 

The Ketosis Kid

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Books I Read in 2018

I read one hundred and sixty three books in 2018. I'm not saying this to impress anyone, as though the ability to sit for long hours and read should be considered an accomplishment. If anything, the sheer volume of my 2018 reading should be an alarming statistic to anyone who knows me, because it is clear evidence of all the things I wasn't doing. I typically read around a hundred books a year (I count graphic novels and the fantasy & SF art books I collect, and I also give myself credit for books I toss after fifty pages, like I did eight times in 2018), and so to hit a "personal best" in quantity is really just an indicator that I was either dealing with Oumuamua (see my year-end blog post) or engaging in aggressive avoidance strategies. An article from April of this year suggests the average American reads 12 books a year, so I did the work for another twelve people. Your welcome.

I read a number of series detective novels, which I love, and they go down easy enough that I could sometimes read two a day. I read the entire Stephen Greenleaf Marshall Tanner series, a bunch of Donald Westlake novels, and about half of the K.C. Constantine Mario Balzic novels, a few of the John Connolly Charlie Parker books, and two Doc Savage novels. I read the entire Patrick O'Brian Aubrey & Maturin series over the summer, mostly floating in my pool, which I think is twenty novels and one that he died before he could complete.

In July I went to NECon, and came home with a massive book haul, most of which I read before the leaves even started to turn. A whole bunch of Ramsey Campbell, a couple from Michael McDowell, three or four Dean Koontz books from the eighties, Clive Barker's first and third of the Books of Blood. At NECon I donated to and won an auction to benefit Trans Helpline, and the prize was a nice collection of fifteen or so screenwriting books, most of which I read over the September and October, and promptly got to work on my first screenplay in November.

I didn't read many books by friends and acquaintances this year, shockingly, but all of those I read were stellar (thank Cthulhu). Michael Rowe's Wild Fell, Gemma Files' We Will All Go Down Together, (I buy many Chizine books; I also read David Nickle's Volk but we've never met), Laird Barron's The Croning, and John McIlveen's Hannahwhere, all excellent people I've met at NECon. I also read Joe Hill's The Fireman last year and I went to a NECon he attended but I was too shy to introduce myself. I read three of his dad's books this year--Creepshow, Carrie, and Elevation, but I've never been in the same room as him. I did trade a couple emails with Owen once, though. I read two of Kim Newman's books, and those always are among my reading highlights of the year, and I read Patrick McGrath's fantastic new book The Wardrobe Mistress.

I read less science fiction this year than usual--one each from Thomas Disch (who, like McGrath, I met when I was at UConn), Doris Piserchia, Roger Zelazny, Bruce Sterling, and Norman Spinrad. I reread Patricia Geary's Strange Toys, and a couple of those really thin old Richard Matheson short story collections. 

I read some nonfiction as well, some business books, Philip Pullman's--scratch that, Sir Philip Pullman's--excellent essay collection Daemon Voices, What Makes a Masterpiece, a couple books on true hauntings and urban legends, Beyond the Map, and all the aforementioned screenwriting books. 

The last book I read last year was John Hodgman's Vacationland which was the funniest book I read last year.

The most affecting work I read last year was the one whose photo I posted above, Book of Souls by Jack Ketchum, who died in January of this year and who I was very fortunate to have known by his real name, Dallas Mayr, having met him at a Borderlands Bootcamp and also having been able to spend time with him at various NECons. I'd read much of Jack's fiction, but had somehow missed this short collection of his personal essays, which I bought and read the week he died. He was a generous, gracious man and I will miss him.

If you've never read Dallas's work before--and shame on you--read Book of Souls and then read The Girl Next Door back to back, and please send me the selfie of your head exploding.

Monday, December 31, 2018

True Tales of Terror--Goodbye 2018 and Happy New Year

I won't miss 2018 one bit. The year brought with it the deaths of family members, the deaths of friends, the deaths of friendships, job changes, creative frustrations, empty nest syndrome, family health concerns, personal health concerns (including the Oumuamua-sized specimen above, which I believe formed right around January first of last year, and finally left my personal orbit in hideous fashion mid-September). These and hundreds of other setbacks, irritations (the news, ugh), and defeats all conspired to make 2018 a more benighted and harrowing year than most in recent memory.. Good riddance.

Of course it wasn't all bad, it never is, and I've long ago shaken off the self-defeating pessimism that clouded most of my young adulthood. Since launching the monolith from 2001: A Space Odyssey from my body, I've been understandably less anxious and am running regularly again, writing more than I have in months, and even blogging as this post proves. I love the movie, Kim and I went to Europe twice, I've reconnected with a few friends I'd hadn't seen in years, and Aural History went up in the kindle store. Those were all good things, and I will continue to dwell upon those and the thousands of little kindnesses and positive moments until they swell to a size where, if they don't fully eclipse all of the dreck, they will at least obscure it.

I adopted New Year's Eve as a personal high holy day many years ago, and--artificial construct or not--I engage fully in the act of conscious reflection and projection. I feel much stronger going into 2019 than I did 2018 and I'm looking forward to the challenges, the struggles, and whatever victories my family, friends, and myself can earn in the coming year.

Saturday, December 29, 2018

Dan's Favorite Heavy Metal of 2018

I'm wrapping up a two year stint as a reviewer for having reviewed nearly one hundred albums, and have contributed my 2018 "best of" radio show, which will air on New Years' Eve. Here's a sneak peak of my favorite releases of the year:

13-11. Judas Priest--Firepower, Dee Snider--For The Love of Metal, Lizzy Borden--My Midnight Things. I cheated and made my top eleven a top thirteen, putting these battle-scarred veterans and their commendable releases in a three-way tie for 11th.

10. Fantasy Opus--The Last Dream Complexly layered, epic in scope, reminds me of late Arch-era Fates Warning while sounding nothing like them.

9. Last Pharoah --The Mantle of Spiders A very NWOBHM sounding debut from an American band. Lots of fun and what a great title and an especially great title track.

8. Against Evil!--All Hail the King! A thrash band from India that has some sonic similarities to Death Angel, one of my favorite bands, all time. Punchy.

7. Sonic Prophecy- Savage Gods Another fun band with a classic metal sound. "Night Terror" is an especially good track.

6. My Regime--A Peek Through The Pines I fell in love with My Regime with last years' Deranged Patterns. This one is a bit less Slayeresque, sounding somewhat in between Deranged Patterns and last year's Shadows Remain from Band of Spice, ringleader Spice's other current product. He's had a prolific and varied career; check out Spiritual Beggars as well.

5. Witherfall--A Prelude To Sorrow Their second album; get last years' Nocturnes and Requiems also. Intricate, expertly crafted metal that reveals more nuance with repeated listening. "Portrait" off their debut was one of my favorite songs of the year.

4. Dark Hound--Dawning American stoner/thrash metal; seek out their first couple independent releases. Hard hitting and heavy.

3. Sin Theta--"No Allegiance" My #3 pick isn't for an album at all, but an unreleased demo track that I just happened to run across in the metalexpressradio folders. Eight minutes of metal bliss, stellar performances at every position in a song packed with great ideas and riffs. I must have run twenty miles on the treadmill this year just listening to this song. 2019 should see them release their debut EP.

2. Ascendant-A Thousand Echoes  Debut album from a Dubai-based band, three members of which grew up in Syria. Unbelievably good songcraft from a new band whose emotive power and song structures hearken to Powerslave-era Iron Maiden. Lindsay Schoolcraft lends vocals on the haunting "Morning Light", a standout track (a ghost story!) on an album utterly devoid of weakness. I can't recommend this one enough.

1. Voivod--The Wake Their best album, especially when packaged with the Post Society EP of a few years ago and a live set. The spirit of Piggy is strong in this one, an endlessly thrilling album from an iconic and sui generis band.

Thanks to all at for some great times and great music!

Thursday, December 27, 2018

Aural History, Investing In Yourself, and Taking Risks

Buy Aural History HERE

Before I wrote Generation Dead, I wrote a novel about a college-age musician trying to make sense of life and art--and all of the ghosts haunting him. I hadn't yet developed the boss-level networking skills I would later in life (basically, I hid in my home office hoping that sunlight wouldn't touch me) and after a couple rejections I decided to self-publish the novel. This was before the days of kdp and CreateSpace, and I didn't realized that the "royalty" scheme was such that I would actually lose money if I sold a copy through a chain bookstore (I sold three, which nearly drove me to bankruptcy). I didn't know any better. I was proud of the novel and wanted people to read it, believing if they did it would lead to other writing opportunities. So I sank some money into the book and had them print off about forty copies, most of which I sold to family and friends, quite possibly testing the limits of their supportive natures. Even with their charity, I didn't come close to making my money back.

I held a few back for "marketing" purposes--a few I sent to publishers under the (then) mistaken belief that they would be wowed by how "serious" I was. Of those, I heard back from one publisher who didn't believe a "rock 'n' roll" novel, as she termed it, would sell but said she'd read something else when I was ready. Not much of a return on my total investment.

Flash forward a couple years. I've sold a couple short stories and have written a regular music column for pay. I've found gainful employment a job that has helped me develop some basic business skills beyond those in my previous retail-heavy background. I make the momentous decision to "leave the cave" and try and meet other writers and people in the industry. In a complete "jump and the net will appear" moment, I come across an advertisement for a new writing workshop sponsored by Borderlands Press. The instructors are three writers I had been reading and admiring for years--Thomas Monteleone, F. Paul Wilson, and David Morrell, and the fourth guest is editor/publisher (and now Stephen King collaborator) Richard Chizmar. I send in a writing sample and--for the hell of it--my second-to-last copy of Aural History. 

I was accepted into the workshop, called the Borderlands Bootcamp. Maybe my acceptance had something to do with Aural History, which a couple of the instructors read, and maybe it didn't. But one thing is absolutely clear--my attendance at the Borderlands Bootcamp directly led to my first book deal (I attended twice; the second time I workshopped the first chapter and outline of Generation Dead), becoming agented (on a referral from one of the instructors), and all of the changes in my life resulting from having attained my most dearly held goal, and doing so at a level exceeding all my dreams and expectations. Tugging on the narrative thread, none of that would have happened had I not at least written Aural History, and maybe it would not have happened if I hadn't also dropped some cash, taken the time, and taken the risks on my creative self. Tomorrow never knows. I have no regrets; I cherish every dollar I lost in the early self publishing venture.

A few months ago, a good friend who also is a great reader let me know his favorite book of mine is still Aural History, and asked me why I didn't publish it again. My first reaction was to laugh until I realized he wasn't kidding, and then I thought, why not? I love the book, he loves the book, and at least half of the thirty people or so on earth who've read seem to like it. I spent considerable time cleaning up many of my youthful mistakes (but not the cover, which I shot wanting to summon the "DIY" spirit haunting many favorites in my record collection) and have tricked OMZ Press into offering a kindle exclusive of the book on Amazon, where it retails for the thoroughly reasonable price of $4.99. It skews a shade older than my other books--my protagonist is post-college age as opposed to being in high school--but if you've read my other stuff, or are a fan of music, or art, or ghosts, I think you might like this one, too.