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. 

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

So Hollywood

So being the entertainment mogul that I am, I stopped at my local Walmart so I could pick up some copies of I Still See You, the beautiful movie based on my novel Break My Heart 1,000 Times (I coughed up the extra two bucks for Blu-rays cuz I'm a big spender). My first thought was to buy them all up so that nobody in my town could see my performance in the bonus features, but my second thought was that I'd just give them out as Secret Santa gifts.

The DVDs are still there if you want to get one.

Thursday, December 6, 2018

Pete Shelley

A Different Kind of Tension by Buzzcocks was one of the primary texts/soundtracks of my college years, which of course inform everything that comes after. The rest of the catalogue, and Pete's solo material, is great, too.

Thank you, Pete Shelley, for your songs and your sensibility.

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Starro Goes Hollywood

Starro the Conqueror has let this whole Hollywood thing go to her head. I have to hand-separate the kibbles from the bits or she gets all snooty. Or snouty. She hasn't even seen I Still See You yet, the lovable mutt.

She tells me: "There's a reason I was named Star, Dan."

Speaking of dogs, there are several of them in the Generation Dead series (not Star; her head is swelled enough already). The OMZ edition of GD1 is still on sale at the kindle store for 2.99. I have physical copies of the Disney first editions I can sign and send for cover price and shipping to anywhere in the U.S. if you are looking for a last minute holiday gift for that special zombie-loving someone. Like the cute Christmas-y couple below.

Monday, December 3, 2018

How Mario Bava Saved Me

One of my favorite moments in Rome promoting Sei Ancora Qui, the Italian language version of I Still See You, the stellar film based on my novel Break My Heart 1,000 Times ,was a trip to Radio Rai to give an interview.  Gabriel, the publicist chaperoning Kim and I, let me know the interview would be live during our cab ride. This was only the second-most terrifying part, believe it or not. The most terrifying part was that the show I’d be appearing on was focused on films and not books like I’d foolishly assumed. The Italian edition of Sei Ancora Qui was coming out later that week and, because I am often an idiot, I assumed that people would be more interested in talking to me about that than the movie.
It has been a long, long time since I have been a movie expert. My days of being an assistant manager/usher at a local megaplex are in the distant past, and while I can speak definitively about the movies that came out during those years, I haven’t kept up. Writing, day job, writing, parenting, writing, reading--there hasn’t been nearly as much time for watching films as I would like. I’ve read far more books than I’ve seen movies over the past decade—hundreds of books; maybe three or four dozen movies. I try and keep up with del Toro and the Coen brothers and a handful of others, but that’s about it. My passive screen time has mostly been reserved for binge watching multi-season television shows and NBA basketball. So when Gabriel said that the interviewers would likely want me to talk about movies, I panicked. I felt like my brain dumped its hard drive; I couldn’t even recall any of my favorite ghost movies, which they would almost surely ask me about (The original Poltergeist, the original The Haunting based on Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House, The Sixth Sense, and the remake of Thirteen Ghosts spring to mind. I hadn’t even seen my own movie yet!
Gabriel led us through the security checkpoint, where we admired the friendly guard’s origami handiwork, a collection of butterflies and bugs lining his desk, and into the studio. I was in a cold sweat, literally, when I sat down, and the interviewers started their show. It was amazing watching and listening to them work; they clearly enjoyed their jobs and were bantering back and forth in that delightful lyrical and physical cadence that characterizes Italian conversation. I looked through the glass into the mixing room where my wife and Gabriel sat with six or seven staff members, most of whom were engrossed in watching a soccer game on a screen set on the opposite wall. I smiled, weakly. No one wants to bomb in front of the woman they love, especially me.
Then the questions started coming—in English, thank God—and the main radio host had the unenviable task of translating my halting replies into Italian and make me sound interesting. My intro was encouraging, and they seemed to like my anecdote about wanting to write a “large-canvas ghost story”, because most ghosts stories are “small in the sense of being confined to a specific location, a haunted house or a church. I warmed up in talking about my trip to Canada and watching Scott Speer, I Still See You’s brilliant and tall director, encourage spectacular performances from Bella, Richard, Shaun, Dermot and many others—in scenes that scriptwriter Jason Fuchs had drawn directly from scenes I had written. Then they asked me about my favorite films and film makers.
“Mario Bava,” I blurted, truthfully.
It turned out to be a great answer.  The radio hosts both sighed and nodded appreciatively, and Kim would tell me later that the tech staff in the booth stopped watching the game for a moment and actually cheered my answer.
I really wasn’t pandering, although picking a native son like Bava (Black Sabbath, Black Sunday, Lisa and the Devil, Bay of Blood, Shock, to drop a few of the English titles) certainly seems like an obsequious move in hindsight. I think he came to mind though because when my mental hard drive crashed, taking with it most of my handy responses, stories, and anecdotes, images remained. Images that I’d seen in the trailers and bonus feature footage I’d seen of I Still See You.
Here’s the thing: the film looks gorgeous. It is wonderfully shot, framed—and this is especially important when trying to trace down the synapse that led me to say “Bava”—stunningly well lit. Every scene in Ronnie’s (oops, my Ronnie is Roni in the movie) house, the scenes in the water, the scenes in the No-Go Zone, the icy expanses—the cinematography is beautiful throughout and I feel especially fortunate that Simon Dennis brought his genius to the film. I so wanted to ask him during the filming if Bava had influenced him—the black and purples in the scenes with Brian, the amber tone in the last scene of Ronnie’s house—but I never got the chance. I recently watched Bava’s Black Sabbath for the fortieth time recently and I’d be shocked if Mr. Dennis hadn’t studied and loved Bava intensely, like I had.
Bava was a painter before he was a director, and that sensibility carries over to the best of his films, which look painted with light. One of the benefits in seeing Sei Ancora Qui before seeing I Still See You, and not speaking Italian, is that it allowed me to focus fully on the visuals and the look of the film. It’s gorgeous, in my only slightly biased opinion, composed with a similar painterly eye but enhanced by modern technique and technology. In retrospect it is quite clear why I made the synaptic connection I did between the I Still See You footage I’d seen and Bava’s work.
We wrapped soon after my sound booth ovation. On the way out, the mostly attentive guard had made a paper butterfly for Kim, one of the greatest treasures from a trip filled with them. We thanked him, thanked Gabriel, thanked everyone, and said our goodbyes. We had a movie to watch.